Joe Johnson

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Joe Johnson working to prove Big3 is path back to NBA roster

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When Joe Johnson signed with the Detroit Pistons, the headline everywhere seemed a variation of “The Big3 Is A Path Back To The NBA.”

Except Joe Johnson is not on an NBA roster yet — the contract he signed with the Pistons was only partially guaranteed. Meaning they can cut him at any point without too much pain. Johnson and Christian Wood are the guys considered to be battling for the final roster spot (Wood is on a non-guaranteed contract as well, although reportedly with a smaller guarantee).

Johnson, however, understands he is carrying the hope of a lot of Big3 players on his shoulders, and he takes that seriously, as he told Eric Woodyard of ESPN.

“That was another reason why I thought it was very important for me to take this opportunity, because those guys in the Big3, a lot of them anyway, have hopes to at some point to be able to get back in the league,” Johnson said. “So I just wanted to let everyone know that it’s possible just to get to this point. I mean, I’m not even all the way on the roster, but to get to this point, get your foot in the door. Then whatever you do from that point, it’s up to you.”

Johnson reportedly has been in good shape and performed well early in camp, but we’re weeks away from decisions being made.

Whether he makes the roster or not may come down to what the Piston coaches and front office prioritize. Johnson can provide depth at the three behind Tony Snell, and maybe a little stretch four at points, plus is a pro in the locker room. Johnson is a “we want to win more games now” kind of choice. Wood, at 24, is 14 years younger, is more athletic, and at this point has more upside, but he is a project.

If Johnson can make the Pistons’ roster the Big3’s pitch to guys such as Jamal Crawford or Corey Brewer (or even Carmelo Anthony) is “we can be your path back to the NBA.” Just getting into training camp provides some of that.

Roster battles are rare in an NBA of guaranteed contracts, but Johnson’s fight for a roster spot is worth watching.

Carmelo Anthony fits mold of washed-up former star

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So much attention has been paid to Carmelo Anthony‘s fit with the Rockets. How does he fit on a team that loathes mid-range shots? How does he fit Houston’s switching defense? How does he fit a team trying to match up with the Warriors? How does he fit with Mike D’Antoni, his old coach on the Knicks? How does he fit with James Harden and Chris Paul?

But maybe we’re asking the wrong questions.

Perhaps, the first question ought to be: Is Anthony still any good?

Anthony performed terribly with the Thunder last season. He shot inefficiently from the field, fell way off in drawing fouls, defended like a sieve, rebounded poorly and did even worse at setting up teammates.

His box plus-minus was -3.8. Just how low is that? Since 1974 (the first season plus-minus can be tracked), someone played at least 2,500 minutes 2,478 times. Anthony’s box plus-minus is tied for 2,476th in that group.

Shouldn’t a player of his perceived caliber avoid a season that disastrous? They usually do – unless they’re washed up.

Previously,* 85 players posted a box plus-minus of -3.0 or worse after achieving All-Star status in a previous season (minimum: 41 games).** Of those 85, 84 never had another positive box plus-minus season.

*In addition to Anthony, Joe Johnson and Jameer Nelson did it last season. They are not counted here, though Johnson and Nelson are out of the league.

**Including Tony Parker, a current player who still has a chance to bounce back.

The lone exception: Rashard Lewis with the 2014 Heat.

Lewis’ box plus-minus was just +0.1 that year. He was on the fringe of Miami’s regular-season rotation, but he was OK then had some nice moments in the playoffs. It was hardly an exemplary year, but it was fine.

Maybe that should be the bar for Anthony.

Instead, he’s the most hyped minimum signing since Shaquille O’Neal with the Celtics in 2010.

Part of that was circumstance. Anthony got his name in headlines during a lengthy process to get from Oklahoma City to Houston. It became known he’d leave the Thunder. Then, he got traded to the Hawks. Then, he got bought out by Atlanta. Then, after a while, he finally signed with the Rockets. Each step brought more attention to Anthony.

But it’s also because of Anthony’s reputation. He’s a 10-time All-Star who was very good in his prime. His box plus-minus was steadily positive, peaking at +3.6 in 2014.

Yet, signs of decline existed even before last season. His box plus-minus tumbled from +2.6 in his penultimate season in New York to -0.7 his final year there. The drop to -3.8 in Oklahoma City might just be a continuation of a trend for the 34-year-old.

The Thunder didn’t present a perfect situation, but it wasn’t as bad as some – including Anthony – make it out to be. Remember, Oklahoma City was one of just a few places Anthony would waive his no-trade clause for. He clearly didn’t think it was such a boondoggle when traded there.

It’s hard to see how the Thunder defied reasonable expectations at the time of the trade. He had to adjust to playing with Russell Westbrook and Paul George, no doubt. But those other stars were already in place. Was Anthony really surprised his touches declined sharply? And will he get many more playing with Harden and Paul?

Harden and Paul are better passers than Oklahoma City’s stars. Anthony has expressed more openness about coming off the bench in Houston. The Rockets were his first choice all along. There are plenty of reasons this could work.

But don’t ignore this fact: If Anthony flourishes in Houston, it’d defy a long history of players like him being over the hill for good.

Paul Pierce: ‘There is no loyalty to a franchise anymore’

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After Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors, Paul Pierce criticized players for changing teams to win.

Now, Pierce is providing an assessment of players just changing teams generally.

Brian Robb of Boston Sports Journal:

To be fair, Pierce doesn’t criticize players for not being loyal to franchises. In fact, he brings up that players are exercising their power.

But it’s still hard not to infer at least some disapproval from Pierce.

Why should players be loyal to franchises, though? Top players are assigned to teams through an anti-labor draft, the least successful teams getting the highest priority of selection. Those players are kept on an artificially low wage for five years can’t unilaterally leave the team for five years. If he plays well enough, his original team has a huge financial advantage in keeping him for up to 14 years. In this system, teams exercise far more control than they earn loyalty.

Players have such short careers. They should chase whatever they want. Money, winning, role, location, even steadiness with a franchise – if they choose.

Pierce spent 15 years with the Celtics, but let’s not forget:

Pierce asked the Mavericks to trade for him in 2005 so he could play with Dirk Nowitzkion a team one star away from contending. In 2007, he reportedly told the Celtics to trade him if they didn’t add a second star. Boston, of course, traded for Ray Allen and then convinced Kevin Garnett to waive his no-trade clause. In 2013, Pierce helped engineer a trade to the Nets. He and Garnett joined Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopezin Brooklyn and Pierce said, “We’re all about winning a championship and Brooklyn, we feel, gives us the best opportunity.” After stints with the Nets and Wizards, Pierce signed with the Clippers, which he described as a super team.

Five free agents still available who can help teams

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The NBA summer is basically over. We are now closer to the start of the new season than we are the end of the NBA Finals and most teams have their rosters set, they are just adding training camp invites. Or, guys who could maybe get the 14th or 15th roster spot.

Still, some name free agents can help teams.

Here are the big five on the market still.

1. Rodney Hood (restricted). At this point, he’s going to remain a Cavalier next season. No team is making an offer the Cavaliers wouldn’t just match (only Sacramento has the cap space to do it, and they are focused on others at the wing), meaning the only question left is if he plays for the $3.4 million qualifying offer or if the two sides work out a different deal.

How his stock has fallen. One year ago he was preparing for a season where he expected to be the go-to scorer of the Utah Jazz. By the end of the season he barely got off the bench in Cleveland (and in one case would not get off the bench).

That said, he can help a Cavaliers team that doesn’t want to just tear it down despite LeBron James leaving (see the Kevin Love contract). Hood is a 6’8” wing who can get buckets, and the Cavaliers could use that. Play well, rehab his image, and he will not be in this situation a year from now.

2. Jamal Crawford. He’s 38 years old (which scares some teams), and his efficiency has slipped, but the man can still get buckets off the bench (10.3 points per game last season) and more than a few teams could use that. Plus he’s seen as good in the locker room. He turned down a $4.5 million player option with the Timberwolves because he wanted a bigger role (he was getting 20 minutes a game last season) but at this point that is apparently off the table. Still, some team is going to pick him up.

3. Dwyane Wade. He’s made it clear, if he comes back it will be with the Miami Heat for one year. While a rumor got going on Twitter Tuesday that he was close to signing a contract with the Heat, I was told by sources that is not the case. Then Wade Tweeted this:

Nobody knows for sure, but I would lean retirement over return at this point. That said, the decision will come when Wade is ready, not before. He’s earned that right.

4. Nick Young. No team could use some Swaggy P? He’s a character, often doesn’t play within the flow in the offense, he doesn’t play great defense, but he just played 17 minutes a game for the NBA champions, hr hit some threes and shot 41 percent from deep, and made some plays. Another guy who is not young (11 years in the league) but some team will likely give a chance (if not at the start of the season, as a mid-season replacement).

5. David West. His role shrank with the Warriors last season — he averaged 6.8 points last season on 13.7 minutes a game — but he was still efficient when he was on the court (a 20.9 PER). Plus, he is excellent in the locker room. A lot of younger teams could use his presence in the locker room, but he may be a mid-season replacement for a team looking for front-line depth.

Honorable Mention: Joe Johnson. He’s 37-years-old and has 17 seasons of miles on his legs, but he still knows how to play the game. He struggled to help Houston or Utah last season, but don’t be shocked if he is a mid-season pickup by a team.

• Added note: Trevor Booker would have been on this list, but he decided to take the cash in China for a season.

How the Rockets’ cold shooting sunk them

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The Rockets shot 5-for-30 (17%) on open or wide open 3-pointers in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, per NBA.com.

If those same players shot their season-long percentages, including the playoffs and last night’s disaster, based on whether the shot was open or wide open, Houston would have shot 11-for-30 (37%) – scoring 18 more points.

Player Attempts Made Expected Difference
Eric Gordon 8 2 2.9 -0.9
Trevor Ariza 7 0 2.5 -2.5
James Harden 6 1 2.3 -1.3
P.J. Tucker 5 2 2.0 0.0
Gerald Green 3 0 1.1 -1.1
Joe Johnson 1 0 0.3 -0.3
Total 30 5 11.1 -6.1

Houston lost to the Warriors by nine.