AP Photo/Bob Leverone

Hornets, full of expiring contracts, pulling together

1 Comment

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Free agency stunned Jeremy Lin last summer.

He knew his value had slipped after a rough season with the Lakers, but some teams wouldn’t even offer a minimum contract. Lin couldn’t believe how far he’d fallen.

One team offered salvation: The Mavericks. They had agreed to terms with DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews, using all their cap space without addressing their need at point guard. With only the room exception available, Lin seemed like an ideal fit. You couldn’t find a better point guard for the money, and Lin would thrive running pick-and-rolls with Jordan while Matthews and Dirk Nowitzki spaced the floor and Chandler Parsons served as a secondary playmaker.

Lin was sold.

“I thought it was Dallas the whole way until the end,” Lin said.

Of course, that dream died when Jordan reneged and returned to the Clippers. With money pledged to him suddenly freed, the Mavericks signed Deron Williams.

Lin, knowing the marketplace had been unkind, was in a bind. He signed a two-year, $4,374,255 contract with a player option with the Hornets.

“Charlotte came out of nowhere,” Lin said. “Had I known it was going to go down the way it went down, I would’ve definitely planned things a little differently.”

If Lin seems like he might just be passing through Charlotte, he’s not the only one.

The Hornets have three starters (Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams and Courtney Lee) and two key reserves (Al Jefferson and Lin) on expiring contracts or deals with a player option. Yet, this potentially transient group is one of the NBA’s most cohesive.

In a situation ripe for selfishness and jealousy, Charlotte players share the ball and trust each other defensively. There’s a reason the Hornets went 48-34 – the franchise’s best record since reemerging as the Bobcats – entering a first-round series against the Heat.

“The way that guys get along, I literally – 1 through 15 – I could choose any two people, and I could see them hanging out off the court,” Lin said. “We all enjoy being around each other.”

In five other seasons with the Lakers, Rockets, Knicks and Warriors, Lin has seen the other side. Pending free agencies can rip apart teams.

But its roster construction hasn’t bitten Charlotte.

“This is rare,” Lin said. “I’ve been around long enough. This is rare.”

After the trade deadline, 60% of the Hornets’ minutes have gone to players with expiring contracts, including those with a player option for this offseason – the most in the NBA:

image

In practicality, the Hornets are further ahead of the pack than the above chart indicates. The second-place Mavericks rank so highly, because Dirk Nowitzki holds a player option for next season, but he has already declared intent to opt in.  Lin is the only Hornet with a player option, and he seems likely to opt out.

Miami is the only other team doing anything near Charlotte – winning while willingly stocking the roster with expiring contracts. The Lakers, Nets and Wizards are done. The Clippers’ percentage was raised only because Blake Griffin, who’s locked up next season, was injured/suspended for most of the season’s second half. They’ll rely on players contracted long-term much more in the playoffs.

On the other hand, this is who the Hornets are.

They made a risky trade before the season, acquiring Batum – who could walk this summer as an unrestricted free agent – for the promising Noah Vonleh, who’s set to reach restricted free agency not until 2018. Then, Charlotte doubled down by dealing for Lee before the trade deadline.

One reason it works: Hornets coach Steve Clifford, who confronted the challenge head on with a speech on day one.

“You want to make money,” Clifford said, “play on a team that wins.

“For every player, at the end of the day, winning is the best way for them to make more money and have more worth. People are always wary of guys who put up numbers on teams that don’t win.”

Clifford gave his team specific examples, and though the coach declined to reveal them, Jefferson brought up two: Monta Ellis and DeMarre Carroll. Both players signed four-year contracts last summer coming from different circumstances the season prior.

Ellis:

  • Scored 18.9 points for the Mavericks, who lost in first round
  • Got $43,981,000 from the Pacers

Carroll:

  • Sored 12.6 points per game for the Hawks, who reached conference finals
  • Got $58 million from the Raptors

“You want guys who compete well, and I think the good competitors are going to play better when their contract is on the line,” Clifford said.

Compare that attitude to Randy Wittman, who was just fired after overseeing the disjointed Wizards. Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post:

Beyond using his players’ contracts to motivate them rather than shrinking from the challenge, Clifford had another advantage. He’s a good coach. His players could reasonably trust that, if they sacrificed for the team, they’d win. It might be difficult to enter free agency with lower numbers, but it’d so much harder without winning on the résumé, either.

As much credit as Clifford deserves, don’t underestimate the professionalism of the players involved. They made this work.

Jefferson’s teammates took notice when he returned from injury and suspension. In Jefferson’s absence, Cody Zeller came into his own as the starting center. So, Jefferson embraced a reserve role rather than sulking about his opportunities.

“I’ve been around too long. I’ve made a lot of money,” said Jefferson, who’s in the final season of a three-year, $40.5 million contract that followed a five-year, $65 million extension. “I can’t have that type of attitude. You’ve got to do what’s best for the team.”

Jefferson admits he probably would have handled this differently when he was younger, but…

“I’ve never been on a team like this,” Jefferson said.

Neither had Batum, though for different reasons. He’d always taken a complementary role behind Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard with the Trail Blazers. Charlotte has given him the ball more than ever and asked him to run the offense. So, how could he complain when  a little sacrifice was necessary from time to time?

Like Jefferson, Batum has enough experience to understand the bigger picture. All five Charlotte rotation players who can become a free agent this offseason are in at least their sixth NBA season. They’ve seen other similar circumstances and learned from them.

For Batum, it was while he was playing in Europe and trying to impress NBA scouts before the draft.

“I was playing for my own situation,” Batum said. “I said, maybe if I played that way, people are going to look at me differently. So, I started playing bad. I can’t do that.”

Lee has seen more than most. The Hornets are his sixth team in eight NBA seasons, and he doesn’t wish for stability. “That’s boring,” Lee said. Instead, he welcomes the uncertainty that surround this team.

Multiple players recounted Clifford’s preseason speech using similar terms. Even Lee, who began the season with the Grizzlies, parrots a the theme after a couple months in Charlotte.

“I just think you have a lot of mature players on this team and that we all understand that, if the team does good, we’ll do good,” Lee said. “If we win, everybody wins. So, that’s just our mindset – to go out there and compete for a championship, and the rest will take care of itself.”

Lee said he’s happy Hornets have his Bird Rights, and he likes his situation in Charlotte. But, with so many Hornets entering free agency, what if the outlook looks dramatically when Lee is ready to sign somewhere?

“As team change, scenario changes. So, just have to wait it out and see how it goes in free agency,” Lee said. “But I’m pretty sure a lot of guys will be back.”

Derrick Favors, Mason Plumlee ejected after scuffle during Jazz, Nuggets game (VIDEO)

Associated Press
Leave a comment

The most pressing question out of this is not even the fight itself.

In the first quarter of Utah’s eventual win over Denver, Jazz big man Derrick Favors got tangled up with Denver’s center Mason Plumlee. Favors pulled Plumlee’s arm, at which point Plumlee came back and got in his face, then Favors shoves Plumlee and a little scuffle breaks out.

Both Favors and Plumlee were ejected for the incident. Utah’s Royce O’Neale and Denver’s Will Barton picked up technicals.

None of that is what people are talking about.

Watch the video again: Denver’s Nikola Jokic leaves the bench during the fight and heads down the baseline — by the rule that should lead to a suspension. Jokic never steps on to the court (he stays along the baseline) and never engages with the combatants. Still, guys have been suspended for less.

Jokic went on to score 28 points, grab 21 rebounds, and he dished out 6 assists. It wasn’t enough as Rudy Gobert had 15 points and three blocks, and Donovan Mitchell had 35 points in a 114-108 Jazz win, one of their best in the season in what was a highly entertaining game.

James Harden scores 61, ties Kobe Bryant’s Madison Square Garden visitor’s record (VIDEO)

6 Comments

James Harden has been on a Wilt Chamberlain-level streak the past few weeks, it’s unlike anything we have seen in the modern NBA.

Wednesday night he topped himself.

James Harden scored 61 points against the Knicks. That would be:

• Harden’s career high.
• Tied with Kobe Bryant for most points scored by an opponent in Madison Square Garden (Carmelo Anthony holds the overall record at 62).
• A Rockets’ franchise record.
• His 21st consecutive 30-point game, tying Chamberlain for fourth-longest such streak in league history.

Oh, and Harden had the seal and dunk that sealed the win.

Harden also had 15 rebounds in the game. The last player to have 60+ points and 15+ rebounds in a game? Some guy named Shaquille O’Neal back on March 6, 2000, with the Lakers.

Harden is playing like an MVP — and the banged-up Rockets need him to if they are to have a chance to win every night.

Report: Wizards not trading Bradley Beal, but if team slips Otto Porter could be available

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Washington Wizards have won 7-of-10 and have climbed up to the nine seed, just a couple of games out of the playoffs in the East. Without John Wall, the Wizards are making a push to get into the postseason.

Which impacts whether they are willing to trade players at the deadline.

The Wizards are not trading Bradley Beal — the most coveted of their stars — but might be open to Otto Porter trades if the team slides back, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Wizards star guard Bradley Beal is not going anywhere, which Washington has made adamantly clear, league sources told The Athletic. Depending on how the next week to two weeks shape up, the Wizards could look more aggressively toward moving Otto Porter. The Utah Jazz have been an interested suitor for Porter, league sources said.

History suggests the Wizards will not be sellers. The pattern for owner Ted Leonsis and GM Ernie Grunfeld has always been to think short term and make the playoff push, even when it was not the smart thing to do. We should expect that again. Maybe Washington crawls into one of the final playoff slots in the East, but is that the smart play?

Don’t expect the Wizards to move Porter, even if they wanted to finding a team to take on his $26 million for 13 points a game this season would be difficult (although Utah would be a good fit), plus Porter is owed $27.3 million next season and has a player option he very likely will pick up for $28.5 million two seasons from now.

Pacers’ Victor Oladipo stretchered off court after scary knee injury (VIDEO)

Associated Press
1 Comment

Let’s hope this is not as scary as it looks.

Pacers’ All-NBA, All-Star guard Victor Oladipo was trying to defend a length-of-the-court pass to Pascal Siakam when Oladipo went down with a brutal knee injury were his kneecap was clearly not in the right place. Oladipo had to be taken off the court on a stretcher. The video is below, but be warned this is not pretty.

The team’s official announcement called the injry “serious.”

Oladipo is the Pacers’ best player and was a lock to be an All-Star reserve averaging 19.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.2 assists a game this season in Indiana. His efficiency had dropped his season as teams game planned more for him. Beyond that, you’d be hard pressed to find a kinder, more genuine person around the NBA than Oladipo.

Quickly the NBA community rallied on social media to Oladipo.