Klay Thompson was one of many Warriors players who expressed support for Mark Jackson in the days leading up to Golden State’s firing of its former coach, but the extension-eligible Thompson tells USA Today’s Sam Amick that he’s optimistic about working with Steve Kerr. “It was tough seeing Coach [Jackson] go, but at the end of the day the front office did what they felt would be best for us to win,” Thompson said. “They’ve made great moves in the past, so no reason not to trust them on this move. I’ve talked to Steve and he seems really good, like a guy who is really going to open it up for us. I’m excited to work with him.”
Executives with two NBA teams were optimistic that Greg Oden could still prove a useful NBA player after seeing him with the Heat last year, as they told Michael Wallace of ESPN.com. Still, his chances of finding work in the NBA anytime soon are in serious doubt as he faces a felony domestic violence charge stemming from an incident last month, as another exec tells Wallace.
The Celtics have hired Scott Morrison, the longtime coach at Lakeland University in Canada, to coach their D-League affiliate, the team announced.
The 2014/15 NBA regular season doesn’t officially begin until Tuesday October 28th, when the Spurs raise their Championship banner, and host the rival Mavericks. This is the time of year when most fans can still bask in the warm glow of hope, and every team is still undefeated. It’s also the time of year for predictions to start rolling in on how the upcoming season will shake out. Today we’ll be seeing who you folks think will win the Atlantic Division. Let’s take a quick look at the possible contenders…
Note: All projected starters taken from the respective team pages at ESPN.com.
The most compelling storyline in Boston this season will be if and when Rajon Rondo is dealt, and what pieces GM Danny Ainge is able to get back for his star player. This seems like another year of draft position jockeying in Boston, but there are some nice young building blocks in place for the future. The franchise is still very much in rebuilding mode, and isn’t expected to compete for a playoff spot this season. Instead the focus will be on developing those building blocks, players such as Marcus Smart, James Young, Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller, and Kelly Olynyk.
The Celtics best outcome would be to deal Rondo after he establishes that he’s healthy, which would up the potential return, which in turn would hopefully include a lottery pick or two. The franchise is moving in the right direction, but this isn’t the year the team can compete for the top spot in the division. Better to spend another year near the bottom, score a better draft position, and aim for 2015/16 for bigger and better things.
It’s hard to predict what we’ll see out of Brooklyn this season. Health will be the make-or-break factor, and “if” will be the key word for the team. The team can be a factor in the Atlantic “if” Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and Joe Johnson stay healthy. “If” Kevin Garnett still has anything left in the tank “if” he returns for another campaign. “If” new head coach Lionel Hollins can win over the locker room while implementing his hard-nosed defensive system. Quite a few question marks for a veteran team, and Brooklyn’s fans might not like how all the answers turn out.
Despite losing starting small forward Paul Pierce to the Wizards, there is still quite a bit of talent on the roster. If the team can get full seasons out of both Williams and Lopez, the Nets have a decent shot at taking the top spot in the Atlantic. A long playoff run is another story, and a deeper, more talented roster away from happening.
The Knicks are a franchise still transitioning from one regime to the next. There is a sense of hope in New York, thanks to the arrival of Phil Jackson as team president, and owner James Dolan’s promise to give Jackson the space he needs to shape the franchise in his image. It remains to be seen if Jackson can be successful as an executive, or if Dolan can keep his promise of being “hands-off.”
Also adding to the uncertainty of what to expect from the team is the arrival of rookie head coach Derek Fisher and the decision to implement the triangle offense. Fisher has plenty of experience as a championship player, but how quickly he can adjust to being a head coach who has to manage egos will be a big factor early in the season.
The roster has improved from last year’s campaign, Carmelo Anthony has re-signed, and Jackson made a number of interesting moves so far. The most important addition will be Jose Calderon at point guard. The Knicks suffered from some of the worst point guard play in the league last season, and though Calderon isn’t a strong defender, he is a solid distributor and his shooting efficiency should be enhanced by the triangle offense.
I expect a bit of a bounce-back year from the Knicks, but with all the new pieces on the roster, and the new system that is being taught, expect the team to start slow and improve toward the end of the season, similar to what we saw from the Nets last year.
The Sixers intend to compete for the top spot next season, only it isn’t the Atlantic Division that they hope to win, but rather the top spot in next year’s NBA Draft. Whether you refer to it as tanking, or rebuilding, Philadelphia is going all in on its plan. The Sixers have stripped away almost every veteran player of note, and they have a very real shot at breaking the franchise’s own league record for losses in a season.
The most compelling aspects of the 2014/15 season in Philadelphia will be the development of Nerlens Noel, the recovery of Joel Embiid, and just how low the team can sink. While I applaud the Sixers’ attempt to speed up the rebuilding process by hitting bottom instead of laboring in mediocrity, it might not bear fruit this season. Next year’s best prospects are primarily big men, and Philadelphia has already spent two high draft picks on interior players. If a dominant wing or guard doesn’t emerge as a potential top pick, it could create an interesting logjam on the Sixers depth chart.
Unless the franchise gets into a situation like the one portrayed in the film “Major League,” and finds some way to defy every sane preseason prediction of a last place finish, another year of living in the Atlantic Division’s basement is most definitely in the cards.
The Raptors were one of the league’s surprise teams last season, winning the Atlantic Division with a record of 48-34. They kept the core of the team intact and are in good shape to repeat as division champs. The Eastern Conference will be extremely competitive next season, and the Raptors could arguably be considered the third or fourth best team in the conference behind the Cavs, Bulls, and Wizards.
Health will be a big key, as Toronto isn’t an especially deep team at key positions. It will also be interesting to see if Kyle Lowry‘s big year was a fluke, the product of a contract-year push, or if he is indeed ready to be a franchise star. The continued development of Jonas Valanciunas will also determine just how far this franchise can go in the postseason. Toronto has enough talent to win the division and a playoff series, but more than that is probably wishful thinking.
Former Hawk and current director of player personnel and GM for the Kings D-League affiliate Shareef Abdur-Rahim penned an open letter to Yahoo! Sports regarding the Hawks scandal. Abdur-Rahim recalls his time with Atlanta as a player as having little fan support, pointing out that African-American cheerleaders and fans weren’t the cause for a struggling franchise then, and aren’t now. “I personally interacted with both Bruce Levenson and Danny Ferry on multiple occasions; my experiences with both have always been pleasant,” said Abdur-Rahim. “However, their comments represent a lack of respect and sensitivity for individuals with different experiences and backgrounds than themselves. I pray both individuals learn from this situation and work to regain the trust of the great people of Atlanta.”
Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution finds it suspicious that the leaked scouting report on Luol Deng was released after the audio of the conference call was leaked, although he stops short of asserting it was doctored. Schultz thinks the purity of the report is ultimately beside the point, considering Ferry’s failure to filter the offensive comments before reading them in any case. The Journal-Constitution scribe is disappointed in the shifts in the story from team brass, and believes the damage control attempted by Atlanta will ultimately prove to be more harmful than a more transparent approach would have been.
Tobias Harris tells Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel that he wants to reach an agreement with the Magic on a rookie scale extension, but isn’t sure if a deal will be struck this fall. “Obviously, I want to be here,” said Harris. “I love the fans, the city of Orlando and the guys. Management knows I want to be here. It’s the perfect situation for me…I don’t know. That’s up to [Orlando].”
A group of Basketball Insiders writers previewed the upcoming season for the Magic, Celtics, and Knicks.
SEPTEMBER 11TH: The Hawks and Bazemore finally put pen to paper Wednesday, according to Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders (Twitter link). The team has yet to make an official announcement. It’s likely that the signing took so long to complete because Atlanta wanted to preserve cap space, though that’s just my speculation. The Hawks could have used cap space to acquire other players and circled back to sign Bazemore using the room exception. As it stands, they’re using cap space to ink Bazemore.
JULY 11TH: 9:50pm: Bazemore’s agent, Austin Walton, confirmed the deal and that it is fully guaranteed, tweets Michael Scotto of Sheridan Hoops.
9:31pm: Kent Bazemore has reached an agreement to join the Hawks, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.com (Twitter link). The deal is for two years and $4MM, according to Stein. Shams Charania of RealGM tweets that the deal is fully guaranteed, and contains no options.
The shooting guard was traded along with MarShon Brooks from the Warriors to the Lakers in the Steve Blake deal on February 19th of this year. Bazemore’s career numbers are 4.1 PPG, 1.1 RPG, and 0.9 APG.
The 25 year old who originally went undrafted out of Old Dominion also received interest from the Hornets, Lakers, Rockets, Spurs, Warriors and Celtics.
There are two remote possibilities for the Pistons to keep Greg Monroe past this season, Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press writes. The first way would be for Detroit to offer Monroe a max contract, something they have been unwilling to do thus far, Farrell notes. The second would be for coach Stan Van Gundy to convince Monroe that his future would be best served by staying with the Pistons, something that can only happen if Detroit starts winning, opines Farrell.
Here’s more from the east:
Sixers coach Brett Brown was in Spain to check out Dario Saric, the No. 12 overall draft pick that Philadelphia acquired from the Magic in a draft night trade, Rigas Dardalis of Eurohoops.net reports. Saric won’t play in the NBA this season, but when asked what he thought of Saric’s potential, Brown said, “I think he can play [in the NBA] now! I think that in Philadelphia we are about development and about opportunity. He would look around and see a lot of fellow young players that just want a chance to play. Our whole emphasis in Philadelphia is about development and help our players. We are trying to be as good as we can be in sport science and growing up players physically and from a skill perceptive. He is an other one of our young lottery picks that we hope to grow the program with”.
Celtics team president Rich Gotham is excited for the potential of Boston’s two first-rounders, Marcus Smart and James Young, Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com writes. “I’ve been loving Marcus Smart’s play, because he’s just tough. He goes out there and he competes. I saw James Young for the first time the other day, and I saw him stroke a couple of lefty 3-pointers from a couple feet beyond the arc and I was like, Hmmm, we could use that.”
One single play may have led to David Blatt becoming the first European coach to make the jump to being an NBA head coach with the Cavs, and Ettore Messina becoming an assistant with the Spurs, Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News writes.
The crew over at Basketball Insiders ran down their predictions for the Sixers 2014/15 season, and the consensus was that Philadelphia would finish fifth in the Atlantic Division and miss the playoffs yet again.
Derrick Rose was held scoreless in Team USA’s 86-63 victory over Mexico, but Bulls head coach and Team USA assistant Tom Thibodeau wasn’t the least bit concerned, Sam Amick of USA Today reports. Of Rose’s progress, Thibodeau said, “There’s nothing negative about this. This is all positive. As I said, the more he practices, the more he plays, the better he’ll get. He’ll be fine. Just take it day by day, keep doing the things that he’s doing and get ready for training camp when we get there. The important thing is to concentrate on what he’s doing right now, which is here, and do the things that we’re asking him to do here.”
Here’s more from around the east:
The Celtics‘ signing of Evan Turner hasn’t been made official yet, but Jared Sullinger is excited that Turner will be playing for Boston next season, A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com writes. “Everybody is down on (Turner) because of how the ‘trade’ happened and what happened in the trade and how Indiana played,” Sullinger said. “People misunderstand Evan. He’s a great basketball player, a great teammate. I’ve known him for years. He’s all about winning. That’s his main goal.”
Sullinger has lost weight and is primed for a big season, writes Blakely in a separate article. Sullinger is free of the post-surgical limitations he faced heading into last season, and he said, “I couldn’t play until September, full-go with contact playing one-on-one, things like that. I was kind of behind the eight-ball and stayed behind the eight-ball. My biggest thing was health last year. I think I was a little afraid at the beginning of training camp due to my back, contact and all that good stuff. I was afraid of what was going to happen…but now I know what I can do. I know how my back is going to hold up. The beautiful thing about it is I have another year to show who Jared Sullinger can be.”
The crew over at Basketball Insiders preview the upcoming season for the Bucks, and the consensus is that Milwaukee will finish fifth in the Central Division, and miss the playoffs yet again.
Piggybacking on his denial that Boston is dealing with a trade demand from Rajon Rondo, Celtics president Rich Gotham told Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com and other reporters that the team is primarily concerned with the point guard’s return to form following ACL surgery in early 2013. Gotham also touched on the Celtics’ roster and team-building strategy moving forward. The whole piece is worth a read, but we’ll round up some of the highlights here:
“When we talk about Rondo, we talk about his development and recovery from his ACL [surgery],” said Gotham. “So we talk about getting him ready to perform this season and we’re excited about having the old Rondo back. That’s what we talk about. The stuff that gets reported in the media, it’s out of our control. Sometimes you laugh a little bit, sometimes you shake your head a little bit, sometimes you say, ‘Geez, I haven’t heard that, I wonder if there’s anything there?’ But we can’t allow ourselves to pay too much attention to that. What’s important to us is getting the team ready, and paying attention to media rumors doesn’t help us get the team ready.”
On the team’s flexibility in developing or dealing assets:
“The franchise, we’re committed to being patient as we need to be to get the team to where it needs to go. What you want, most importantly, is to have options. Whether it’s developing your young guys and utilizing those draft picks–and utilizing them well–and getting guys that can help you hang that next banner. Or it’s using those picks and cap space as assets to acquire other players, whether it’s via trade or free agency. I think we have all those options available to us, and they’ll continue to be available to us for the foreseeable future. And that’s really all that you can ask for. You can’t be too hasty in trying to make things happen just for the sake of trying to make it happen in order to appease any sense of impatience. You gotta stay true to the process.”
On Boston’s rookie additions:
“I’ve been loving Marcus Smart‘s play, because he’s just tough. He goes out there and he competes. I saw James Young for the first time the other day, and I saw him stroke a couple of lefty 3-pointers from a couple feet beyond the arc and I was like, ‘Hmmm, we could use that.’”
On the other young players on the roster:
“I love thinking about what these guys could become. I watched our draft workouts, but the best workout I saw all summer was Kelly Olynyk putting on a shooting clinic hitting threes. We bring in all these guys, but we’ve got great guys on our team. It’s exciting to think about how these guys will develop over time… I think the expectation for this year’s team is that the future will come a little bit more into focus. Some of the guys who showed promise last year, guys that took a step last year like Jared [Sullinger] and Avery [Bradley] and [Olynyk], I think their continued development is a great reason to be optimistic. The addition of Tyler Zeller helps us a lot as we have a pure center on the roster now. I think a healthy Rondo is a huge difference-maker for us. And so I think, while we were very competitive last year, in a lot of these games, I think we have a better shot to take some of those games that come down to the last two minutes. Guys will have another year in [coach] Brad [Stevens'] system, I think we have great depth on this team, we have quality depth. We just look forward to taking the next step in our progression.”
3:01pm: A multitude of executives from teams around the league tell Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher that the Celtics have made Rondo available to them. Teams have been reluctant to give up either promising young players, high draft picks, or both in return for Rondo out of concern about his temperament, his health, and his lack of experience leading a team without stars around him, Bucher writes. An Eastern Conference GM also cites Ainge’s demands as reason why no trade has materialized. People around the league believe that Ainge would have been more willing to commit to Rondo if he’d drafted Joel Embiid, Bucher adds.
FRIDAY, 12:31pm: Celtics team president Rich Gotham dismissed the idea that Rondo is bucking for a trade, as Gotham said in comments to reporters, including Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe (Twitterlinks). “If he’s made that demand it hasn’t been directed to the Celtics,” Gotham said. “I’ve not heard [about wanting out]. Rajon’s been working out all summer. He’s been here. This is his home.”
TUESDAY, 12:14pm:Sean Deveney of The Sporting News largely seconds Blakely’s report, having heard denials from both Rondo’s camp and the Celtics that the point guard has made a trade request. Rondo intends to play out the final season of his contract as a member of the Celtics and the C’s plan on starting the year with him on the roster, Deveney writes.
MONDAY, 4:04pm: People close to Rajon Rondo indicate to A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com that he never told the Celtics he wanted out, countering this weekend’s dispatch. Multiple sources from around the league tell Blakely that Rondo wants to begin the season in Boston and see how the situation develops from there, and people within the Celtics organization echo that sentiment, according to Blakely. The most likely scenario involves Rondo remaining with the Celtics at least at the beginning of the season, though the C’s are open to dealing Rondo for the right return, Blakely hears.
A rival GM suggested to the CSNNE.com scribe that the presence of Marcus Smart gives the Celtics greater leverage against Rondo if the All-Star were to demand a trade, given Smart’s upside. Blakely reiterates an earlier report that indicated that teams around the league are anxious to see Rondo at full health, dampening the market for a trade at present.
It’s a pivotal juncture for the point guard, who’s played just 30 games since tearing his ACL in early 2013 but faces unrestricted free agency in a year. Trade rumors have swirled around him ever since last year’s Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett blockbuster, but president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has continually denied that he’s looking to trade the last remaining mainstay from his 2008 championship team.
Rumors of Rajon Rondo‘s departure have been greatly exaggerated, apparently. A clip emanating from ESPN’s “Around The Horn” had the internet wondering if Rondo had asked for a trade out of Boston. However, Rondo’s agency quickly denied such speculation. Furthermore, ESPN took the video down and a network spokesperson told our own Chuck Myron today that it was pulled because the clip was being characterized as reporting rather than “an informed conversation among our panelists.” In short, Celtics fans, don’t go putting your No. 9 jerseys on eBay just yet.
Rondo, who has said that he isn’t a big fan of change and wouldn’t mind spending the rest of his career in green and white, is apparently more patient than some have given him credit for. After watching his star teammates get shipped off and missing roughly one calendar year due to an ACL tear, many believed that Rondo would aim for a fresh start with another team. If we are to take Rondo and his reps for their word, he’s still eager to help Boston get back to glory.
Still, even if Rondo is on board with rebuilding, that doesn’t mean the C’s won’t explore trading him anyway. At 28, Rondo stands as one of the league’s very best point guards and as he enters his walk year he could bring Boston a windfall of even more young assets and draft picks to build with. The Kings could be a trade partner and although Rondo might be reluctant to sign a new deal with them, they were reportedly willing to deal for Kevin Love without any such guarantee, so it’s possible Sacramento would roll the dice anyway.
The Celtics have a promising rookie one-guard in Marcus Smart and they can afford to wait on his development as they’re ostensibly future-minded. Still, Rondo isn’t exactly a graybeard like ex-teammates Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. He could fit into Boston’s timetable and Danny Ainge seems to believe he and Smart could co-exist just fine.
“Absolutely. No question,” Ainge said in June when asked whether Smart and Rondo could share the floor. “And [Smart] and [Avery] Bradley. No question. [Smart]’s a very versatile player. He can play off the ball. He can handle the ball. With his length and his size, he can probably play against a lot of small forwards — 6’3″, long wingspan, 230 pounds. He’s a very versatile player. Easily those guys can play together, and I think they would really thrive playing together, all of them.”
For now, it seems as though Rondo wants to remain in Boston and Ainge has told anyone that will listen that he wants to keep him there. If you were at the helm of the Celtics, would you trade Rondo between now and the February deadline or hang on to him?
2:58pm: An ESPN spokesperson released a statement to Hoops Rumors via email explaining why the video was removed.
“Around the Horn producers felt they had put Jackie in a difficult position since the discussion was being characterized externally as reporting rather than as an informed conversation among our panelists. For this reason, the decision was made to remove the video,” the statement read.
MONDAY, 9:42am: ESPN appears to have removed the video that featured MacMullan’s comments from the “Around the Horn” YouTube account, though it doesn’t look like the network has given a reason just yet.
10:05am: Rajon Rondo has informed the Celtics that he wants out of Boston, as ESPNBoston.com writer Jackie MacMullan said in a recently published video featuring excerpts from the ESPN show “Around the Horn” (hat tip to Jay King of MassLive.com). In the video clip, MacMullan responded to a question about whether or not Boston should trade Rondo, to which she answered, “Oh, I hope so. Just get it done. And it will happen because he’s told them he wants out. And no one believes me, but that’s the truth.”
This conflicts with previous reports that Rondo was content in Boston. Rondo had been quoted as saying, “I don’t like change much” and “I wouldn’t mind staying here the rest of my career,” writes Jay King of MassLive.com. The Celtics organization has also maintained that they intend to keep Rondo, in part because they’re eager to see how he plays at the beginning of this season, when he’ll be more than a year and a half removed from tearing his right ACL. If Rondo shows he’s still capable of performing at his peak level, then the team could potentially garner a larger return for their star player.
If Rondo presses the issue and the Celtics are forced to trade him prior to the season, the Kings appear to be the number one suitors for Rondo’s services, MacMullan notes. The Kings have enough enticing pieces to catch Boston’s interest, but according to MacMullan, Rondo has already told the Kings that he would not re-sign with them. It remains to be seen if Sacramento would be willing to make the deal knowing that Rondo intends to leave as a free agent next summer. The Kings were willing to trade for Kevin Love without such assurances, so it’s possible they could take the same gamble with Rondo.
During the video, the potential scenario for Rondo to join the Clippers was broached, to which MacMullan responded, “He [Doc Rivers] doesn’t like Rondo, remember that. I mean, he’s done with Rondo. They went a good, long way together, but that guy — Rondo drives him nuts. And then (the Clippers have) Chris Paul anyway, they don’t need him.”
As for the rest of the potential trade market for Rondo, MacMullan speculated that teams like the Knicks, Rockets, and Mavericks would be interested, but wouldn’t be able to offer Celtics GM Danny Ainge enough to get a deal done. She also listed the Lakers as a possibility, though Rondo might not be willing to re-sign with them either. The other possibility she raised was a sign-and-trade deal with the Suns for Eric Bledsoe, but he’s also looking for a max contract, which the Celtics would most likely be hesitant to agree to.