Portland Trail Blazers

Column: Indiana Ready To Move At Different Pace

Sam Amico, the founder and editor of AmicoHoops.net and a broadcast journalist for Fox Sports Ohio, will write a weekly feature for Hoops Rumors with news, rumors and insight from around the NBA. We’re excited to present the first installment here:

It should be an interesting season for the Indiana Pacers.

Two years ago, the Pacers were a real contender. They lost to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals but appeared to be on the brink of very good things. They were making major strides, seemingly a franchise that would soon get over the hump.

Then Lance Stephenson left in free agency.

Then Paul George suffered a horrific leg injury while playing an exhibition with Team USA.

Then the Pacers suddenly became a middle-of-the-road club, fighting to make the playoffs, but not quite good enough to get in.

So president of basketball operations and basketball icon Larry Bird decided to give them a bit of a makeover. Bird and coach Frank Vogel aimed to get the Pacers to move at a quicker, well, pace. They want to push the ball, force the tempo, and move away from the smash-mouth style of the previous five or six years.

That style worked well for the Pacers — but it truly was an elbows-out, feet-on-the-floor type of game and it only carried them so far.

So plodding 7’2″ center Roy Hibbert was shipped off to the Lakers (for virtually nothing), aging power forward David West left for San Antonio, and Bird suddenly started talking about the possibility of George, a swingman by trade, playing some power forward.

(As an aside, when George hinted he may be less than thrilled with the position change, Bird uttered a line only a man with his credentials can utter. “He don’t make the decisions around here,” Bird said, drawing laughter.)

Either way, the Pacers will be playing an entirely different style — and they believe that with the addition of a healthy George and free agent signees Monta Ellis and Jordan Hill, they are ready for take-off.

Bird and Vogel also seem especially excited about rookie lottery pick Myles Turner, a big man with a perimeter game, and even Joseph Young, a push-it-up and fill-it-up combo guard drafted in the second round.

Also, even after the signing of Glenn Robinson III, the Pacers may still have a few minor moves in the works.

Right now, Turner is likely the starting center, with Hill and George in the frontcourt, and George Hill and Ellis at guard. Word is, Bird wants another experienced big, and someone such as Carlos Boozer may eventually come cheap.

But no matter who comes and goes, it’s clear that Bird, his front office team and coaching staff are taking a different approach to finding success. And with good health and smooth adaptation to a new playing style, the Pacers just may be on to something.

Around the NBA

1. Several league execs have said this could be a breakout season for Perry Jones III, a fourth-year forward who was recently traded from Oklahoma City to Boston. “I’m just happy to have a fresh start,” Jones told the media Monday, including Jay King of MassLive.com (Twitter link). “It’s something that I needed.”

2. Since last season, the Celtics have added David Lee, Amir Johnson, Jones and draft picks Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter. “It feels like we’ve taken a step forward in this offseason by adding these guys and our draft picks,” owner Wyc Grousbeck told reporters Monday, including Ben Rohrbach of WEEI.com (Twitter link).

3. One untrue rumor making rounds is J.R. Smith to the Lakers. But Smith is considerably more likely to return to the Cavs than go anywhere else. And the Lakers aren’t interested. A deal between the Cavs and Smith could be finalized within the next seven to 10 days.

4. Tayshaun Prince and the recently released Henry Walker are both drawing interest from Portland.

Blazers Acquire Brendan Haywood, Mike Miller

MONDAY, 12:55pm: The deal is official, the Cavs and Blazers announce. Miller receives $428,241 from Cleveland thanks to his 15% trade kicker, though that amount will apply to Portland’s cap, lifting Miller’s total cap hit to $3,283,181, notes former Nets executive Bobby Marks (Twitter link).

8:49pm: The Cavs will not receive draft picks in the deal, Wojnarowski tweets. The Blazers, however, will send cash, according to Wojnarowski (Twitter link).

SUNDAY, 8:19pm: The Cavs have agreed to trade Brendan Haywood and Mike Miller to the Blazers, reports Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski (on Twitter). Cleveland is set to gain two trade exceptions in the deal — one for $10.5MM and another for $2.85MM — Wojnarowski tweets.

Mar 10, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers center Brendan Haywood  shoots prior to the game against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

The Cavs are also set to send the better of the 2019 second-round picks that they own from the Lakers and Timberwolves plus their 2020 second-round pick, according to ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst (on Twitter).

Haywood’s contract is non-guaranteed for next season at $10,522,500. It will become guaranteed on August 1st and therefore the Blazers are expected to waive him, Windhorst writes in a full story. The Cavs, of course, had been shopping Haywood and his sizable contract for months to no avail.

The Cavs are still interested in making deals with Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova, but at the moment, are set to cut their luxury tax bill from a little more than $32MM to just over $4MM by shedding the salaries of Haywood and Miller, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein tweets.

Latest On Mike Miller

MONDAY, 8:04am: Miller asked the Cavs to move him, one source tells Lloyd, who writes in a full story.

SUNDAY 8:35pm: Mike Miller, who was reportedly traded from the Cavs to the Blazers tonight, will likely be released by Portland soon, Marc Stein of ESPN.com reports (on Twitter). Miller, who is owed $2.8MM in the final year of his contract, is a strong candidate to negotiate a buyout with the Blazers, according to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski (on Twitter).

The Grizzlies, Thunder and Mavericks are three teams already interested in Miller, Stein tweets. LeBron James was OK with the Cavs dealing Miller, reports the Akron Beacon Journal’s Jason Lloyd (on Twitter), who cites a source who said Miller wanted out and a chance to play again. James was upset when the Heat cut Miller two years ago, as ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst points out (via Twitter), but does not feel that way about this move.

If Miller is waived by the Blazers, the veteran sharpshooter is prohibited from signing with the Cavs for one year, former Nets executive Bobby Marks tweets. Miller is coming off his worst season and only played 13.5 minutes per game in 52 appearances.

Northwest Notes: Marshall, Blazers, Thunder

Coach/executive Flip Saunders said the Wolves have had no conversations with Kendall Marshall, tweets Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press. Minnesota has been rumored to have interest in the free agent guard, whose 2014/15 season was cut short by an ACL tear.

There’s more this evening from the Northwest Division:

  • It wasn’t entirely by choice, but the Blazers are adopting a youth movement this offseason to build for the future, writes Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. Faced with the reality that free agent LaMarcus Aldridge might depart, Portland began targeting young talent. The team signed Ed Davis, Al-Farouq Aminu, Phil Pressey and Cliff Alexander, and traded for Maurice Harkless, Mason Plumlee and Noah Vonleh. Add in draftee Pat Connaughton and there are a lot of fresh, young faces on Portland’s roster. “I know for myself and the coaching staff, it’s going to be a fun year,” said coach Terry Stotts. “There’s a lot of young talent and I think it’s really exciting for them. We’ve got a lot of guys who are looking for the opportunity to get more playing time and show what they can do in the league.”
  • Andre Roberson could be cut out of the Thunder’s rotation entirely if he fails to win a starting job, speculates beat writer Anthony Slater in a roundtable for The Oklahoman. Slater’s theory is that if Dion Waiters or Anthony Morrow is the starter, Roberson’s role on the second unit could be seized by Cameron Payne or Kyle Singler. Roberson is slated to earn more than $1.2MM next season, with a team option for nearly $2.2MM in 2016/17.
  • The Thunder didn’t make any flashy offseason player acquisitions, but they shouldn’t be overlooked as contenders, writes Zach Harper of CBSSports.com. Oklahoma City’s major moves were the hiring of coach Billy Donovan and the re-signing of Enes Kanter and Singler, but an injury-free year from Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka would put the Thunder back in the title race.

Northwest Notes: Jazz, Mudiay, Blazers

The Jazz have a logjam at point guard behind Dante Exum that they must sort out prior to next season’s opener, Randy Hollis of the Deseret News reports. The trio of Trey Burke, Bryce Cotton and Raul Neto could be fighting it out for two roster spots during training camp, though GM Dennis Lindsey indicated that it’s possible the team could carry four point guards into next season, Hollis continues. Cotton’s quickness and entertaining style make him a candidate to be the second-stringer and displace Burke, a lottery pick whose shooting issues have pushed him to the bench, Hollis adds. The logjam could be broken by trading Burke, who is rumored to be on the block and doesn’t seem to fit coach Quin Snyder’s system, Hollis concludes.

In other news around the Northwest Division:

  • The Nuggets’ lottery pick Emmanuel Mudiay will be the starter at point guard, Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post opines. While Denver has a safety net in veteran Jameer Nelson, it’s clear that the Nuggets are committed to making Mudiay their floor leader in his rookie season, Dempsey adds. The only concerns are monitoring his workload and allowing him to work through his mistakes, something Nuggets GM Tim Connelly addressed with Dempsey. “We don’t want to put too much pressure on him,” Connelly said. “He’s a 19-year-old kid. We saw some good in summer league and we also saw some bad. I thought that he struggled shooting the ball. We’ve got to improve his free throw line percentage. But I think you see things like positional size, natural playmaking ability, and kind of the will and the approach to be great that excites us.”
  • Blazers coach Terry Stotts spent a sizable portion of the summer league evaluating five players under contract with the team — Allen Crabbe, Noah Vonleh, Luis Montero, Pat Connaughton and Tim Frazier — and was particularly pleased with Crabbe and Vonleh, Mike Richman of The Oregonian writes. The Blazers added nine new players and are entering a transition season after LaMarcus Aldridge‘s departure. Portland does have some young and athletic talent, however, which has Stotts optimistic, Richman adds.

Dana Gauruder contributed to this post.

Blazers Sign Cliff Alexander

6:07pm: The Blazers have officially announced the signing.

4:18pm: The Trail Blazers have signed undrafted free agent Cliff Alexander, the player announced via his Twitter account (h/t to Mike Mazzeo of ESPN.com). The length and terms of the agreement are unknown, and it is likely a training camp deal, though that is merely my speculation. There has been no official announcement from the team as of yet.

The 6’8″ forward out of Kansas began the 2014/15 NCAA season as a top five recruit and a projected 2015 NBA lottery pick. But inconsistent play and effort saw Alexander’s stock rapidly fall, and his decision to leave school after a single campaign was directly tied to an NCAA investigation related to Alexander receiving improper benefits. The 19-year-old just completed a run playing Summer League ball for the Nets.

Alexander made 28 appearances for the Jayhawks last season, averaging 7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks to go along with a slash line of .566/.000/.671.

Trail Blazers Sign Phil Pressey

6:05pm: The deal is official, the team announced.

5:21pm: The Trail Blazers have agreed to sign unrestricted free agent Phil Pressey, Chris Mannix of SI.com reports (Twitter link). The length and terms of the deal are unknown at this time.

Pressey was waived by the Celtics last week, though the team reportedly was reluctant to do so. “Phil may be my favorite player I’ve ever been around in the NBA, as a player, a coach or as an executive,” Celtics executive Danny Ainge said. “It was a very difficult morning for me today. He’s a player I’d want on my team all the time. Unfortunately, we just have an abundance of small guards already. It’s unfortunate. He’s helped us a lot in the last two years, and he’s a classy and hardworking player.”

The 24-year-old will compete to become the primary backup to Damian Lillard in Portland. Pressey made 50 appearances for Boston during the 2014/15 campaign, averaging 3.5 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in 12.0 minutes per contest. His shooting line was .368/.246/.673.

Latest On Brendan Haywood

The Cavaliers have not had any luck in trying to deal Brendan Haywood and his sizable non-guaranteed contract, and the team now is focused on flipping Haywood for a traded player exception, Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com relays. The trade Cleveland made earlier today which sent the rights to Rakeem Christmas to the Pacers was intended to give the Cavs roster flexibility and an asset they may use in moving Haywood to create a large trade exception within the next week, Windhorst notes.

While the Cavs haven’t made a final decision regarding what to do with Haywood, the franchise has arrived at the conclusion it will not be able to find a suitable deal to use Haywood’s $10,522,500 non-guaranteed contract, sources told Windhorst. The Cavs are now considering all options to move Haywood before August 1st, when his contract becomes guaranteed, as is shown by our schedule of guarantee dates.

The only teams currently possessing enough cap space to absorb Haywood and create a trade exception for Cleveland are the Trail Blazers and the Sixers, notes the ESPN scribe. The Jazz are also a possibility, but they would have to trade or cut several players with non-guaranteed contracts to engineer a trade for the big man. Cleveland will likely need to include a draft pick to facilitate a deal, which is a big reason that Christmas’ rights were dealt, Windhorst relays, and the 2019 second-rounder the team acquired from Indiana could be utilized in this endeavor.

Windhorst also notes that the Cavs felt comfortable dealing Christmas because they have another backup big-man option in Sasha Kaun, a 2008 Cavs draft pick who has been playing in Russia. The team still has $1.2MM left of its taxpayer midlevel exception, and they might use it to ink Kaun, according to Windhorst’s sources.

And-Ones: Playoffs, Aldridge, Teletovic, Mekel

The NBA is leaning toward no longer guaranteeing a playoff spot to division winners, commissioner Adam Silver said Wednesday, as Brian Mahoney of The Associated Press observes. It would be one more step away from a divisional structure that long ago ceased to have much relevance on roster building, though Pelicans GM Dell Demps recently cited the preponderance of strong post players in the Southwest Division as he spoke about the team’s decision to re-sign Omer Asik. Here’s more from around the NBA:

  • LaMarcus Aldridge kept the Trail Blazers in the running for him right up until he committed to sign with the Spurs, as Aldridge said this week in an appearance on ESPN Radio’s The Russillo Show, as Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com relays. Aldridge also insisted that he didn’t exit Portland because of any jealousy toward Damian Lillard“We got along very well during the season,” Aldridge said. “I thought we played well off of each other. So, all of that stuff is just rumors that I’ve dealt with before. Me leaving had nothing to do with any of that. It was just me feeling like being close to home, by my family, being able to see them more and just a change of scenery. I had been in Portland for nine years. I had been through a couple of rebuilds. So it was just time to try something new. It wasn’t anything toward Damian or the organization.”
  • The decision to cancel the meeting between Aldridge and the Knicks was a mutual one, Aldridge also said in his radio appearance, notes Ian Begley of ESPN.com.
  • The Nets wanted to keep Mirza Teletovic, offering him a two-year deal that included an option, and the Kings also offered him a two-year deal, but he thought the Suns were a better fit, as Teletovic said to Bosnian media and as Igor Marinovic and NetsDaily relay (Twitter links). Teletovic signed for one-year with Phoenix.
  • Former Mavericks and Pelicans point guard Gal Mekel is in talks with three NBA teams, as Marc Stein of ESPN.com hears (Twitter links).
  • Many scouts say Dragan Bender is the best international prospect, but whether Bender, who won’t turn 19 until November 2016, enters next year’s draft will depend on where he’d likely be drafted, sources tell Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders, who looks the 2016 draft class.

Northwest Notes: Lawson, Contract Details, Exum

Nuggets team president Josh Kroenke told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports that the team had been privately trying to help Ty Lawson with his drinking issues for the past couple of years and that there had been problems for a long time. Kroenke indicated that he had repeated conversations with Lawson about his struggles, and noted that Lawson often said he would attempt to fix his issues but he could never fully shake them, Spears adds. Lawson was recently traded to the Rockets.

He always had an affinity for burning the candle at both ends,” Kroenke said. “We want to give our players freedom to be young guys as well. We’re not going to be drill sergeants. But we want our guys to be able to handle their personal lives on their own. Ty … there were times when he was better than others. But the problems have been there for several years, going back to when we were having a lot of on-court success. I don’t want to go back too far. There were just a lot of times where you were at practice and you just know. You could smell it. You know there is probably deeper issues than he would probably let on.

Here’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • GM Tim Connelly said it was a difficult choice for the Nuggets to trade Lawson, Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post writes. It was a tough day,” said Connelly. “Ty was a huge part of our success here. He’s certainly one of the really talented lead guards. Sometimes a change of scenery is best for both parties. Where we were, it made sense to make the move.
  • Raul Neto‘s three-year pact with the Jazz will see him earn $900K for the 2015/16 season, $937,800 the following season, and $1,014,746 during the 2017/18 campaign, Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders tweets. Joe Ingles‘ two-year deal with Utah will pay him $2.150MM for each season, Pincus adds.
  • Al-Farouq Aminu‘s contract with the Blazers will pay him $8,042,995 this season, $7,680,956 in 2016/17, $7,319,035 the following year, and $6,957,105 in 2018/19, Pincus relays (on Twitter). Ed Davis‘ three-year deal will pay him $6,980,802, $6,666,667, and $6,352,531 respectively, notes Pincus.
  • Jazz point guard Dante Exum knows that he needs to improve his outside shooting if he hopes to emerge as a star in the NBA, Moke Hamilton of Basketball Insiders writes. “I think just the consistency of it, being straight, being on target, even if I’m not making them—as long as it’s still a good looking shot and it feels good,” Exum said regarding the progress that he has made over the summer. “I think that’s the most important thing. … Once it gets into the game and I start playing one-on-one and five-on-five that I get that carryover.

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