One of the last weeks of good NBA basketball before the NCAA hijacks March and takes away all the league’s good announcers and public attention. Good thing we’ve compiled all the news you need to know so you can cut through all the noise of 35-second shot clocks and ill-advised three-point attempts.
(Kidding, college basketball fans!)
George might not return. – After initially sounding pretty gung-ho about a mid-March return from his broken leg, Paul George seems to be backing off that prognosis.
While George says he doesn’t want to mess up what the team has going right now––the Pacers are 7-1 in their last 8 games––the team isn’t exactly lighting up the likes of the Warriors or the Hawks, and the rest of the squad would surely welcome a return from the team’s best player. No, it seems more likely that George is just getting some cold feet on such an aggressive return, which is completely understandable after the seriousness of the injury he suffered.
The Pacers would surely love to have him back for the playoffs, and he would make Indiana an interesting first-round matchup for whatever team they face.
Jackson benched, again. – Just a few weeks ago, Reggie Jackson was traded from the Thunder to the Pistons at the trading deadline, and gauging the reactions of his former teammates after the trade, his departure didn’t cause anyone to cry a lot of tears.
Still, Detroit was supposed to be a new start for the impending free agent––a chance to reclaim his falling stock under coach Stan Van Gundy. That hasn’t been the case.
Things got bad during the Pistons’ Saturday loss to the Jazz. Jackson didn’t hustle for a ball that he later said he assumed was going out of bounds, and as a result, Van Gundy benched the point guard for the remainder of the game.
Despite Jackson’s repentance after the game, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this kind of thing from him, both in Detroit and OKC. His summer free agency continues to become more interesting, and he could find himself in Lance Stephenson territory, a clearly talented guard who teams can’t trust to fit in.
Whiteside blindsides Olynyk. – Hassan Whiteside has been an exciting find for the Miami Heat this season, a super-athletic young big man who’s already a lockdown defender and roll-man with a seemingly infinite ceiling. His intensity might just need some corralling.
Just one week after spearing Alex Len to the court, Whiteside checked the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk in the back after the two had been going back-and-forth with some typical big-man positional jockeying. While it was certainly a dirty play, some made it seem like Whiteside was the second coming of Bill Laimbeer. The young player has a long way to go for that, and he seemed truly remorseful afterward.
Only time will tell, however, if Whiteside’s emotions prove to be another barrier that he must overcome in order to continue enjoying his career.
Kyrie drops 57 on Spurs…
Maybe most amazing part about Kyrie Irving's 57-point night: No Gregg Popovich team, in Pop's 19 seasons, had ever allowed a 50-point game
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) March 16, 2015
What was this about him not being a capable sidekick for LeBron?
…who, despite that, are starting to play better.
Still, San Antonio has been picking things up recently; in fact, it was as soon as I wrote about them maybe not being able to pick things up down the stretch.
The key for the Spurs has been Tony Parker’s health. Their point guard was a mess during the early part of the year, not getting into the lane with his normal frequency nor showing his usual zest with the ball. They have enjoyed Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobli returning to better health as well, although Ginobili will miss some time with a sprained ankle.
As usual, this team seems to be getting fit at the right time, and that’s always a dangerous proposition for the rest of the Western Conference.
Griffin returns for Clips. – Speaking of crucial returns from injury, the Clippers welcomed back Blake Griffin on Sunday. The team went 9-6 in his absence, keeping things afloat admirably without one of their best players. Chris Paul has elevated his play with Griffin gone, and so has DeAndre Jordan, who will be glad to have Griffin back so teams will stop hacking him as much.
LA isn’t a great defensive team to a man; they rely heavily on their timing and communication as a unit to stymie other teams. With his athleticism and experience in that system, Griffin is a key component of that, as well as the obvious skills he brings on offense. The Clippers have been doing good things without him, and they’re hoping Griffin’s return will only keep that going.
Got the cap goin’ up in 2016. – Last Wednesday, the NBA Players Union officially rejected the league’s cap-smoothing proposal for the new TV revenue, which means the salary cap will jump to somewhere around $90 million in the summer of 2016.
Things will surely get crazy, and for a fuller breakdown, check out our coverage of the development from last week.
Don’t worry, guys: Phil Jackson has a plan. – Knicks fans surely aren’t laughing along with the Zen Master as they watch their Carmelo-less squad stumble its way to the league’s worst record.
Jackson, however, is optimistic for a quick turnaround, not because he’s going to have a probable top three choice in a super-talented draft class, but because they’re the Knicks, baby, and Jackson isn’t worried about attracting free agents to sign there, per Al Iannazzone at Newsday.
This type of rhetoric seems laughable, given how important the draft is and what a bad job Phil has done running the show thus far in New York. But it is Jackson, who’s one of the greatest coaches of all time, and it is New York, which is apparently a place many people enjoy living. We’ve seen how one or two big free-agent signings can change a championship chase, so all it would take is a coup or two for Phil. So until he’s fired, I’m laughing with Phil, not at him.
Nuggets playing better post-Shaw. – It’s official: Denver hated playing for former head coach Brian Shaw.
Being an old-school coach, Shaw’s struggles to relate to such a young team were well-documented and often quite funny. However, the results weren’t, and since Shaw left the sidelines, this team has won four games in a row. They’re playing at a faster pace under interim coach Melvin Hunt––who was also part of George Karl’s staff in Denver––and look like a weight has been lifted.
This could just be a honeymoon status in light of a disliked coach being run out, or it could be a true example of how a really bad coaching fit can negatively affect a team.
Proposal for more patience for undecided underclassmen. – Last thing on the docket this week was a news item that slipped through the cracks a bit: the league is looking at a proposal that would push back the date for underclassmen to withdraw from the NBA draft by five weeks, from April to late-May. The proposal also includes the addition of an invitation-only combine in mid-May, the invitation to which is essentially a litmus test for players’ draft stock. If you’re not invited, you probably shouldn’t enter the draft.
This would allow players to not only gather more information about their draft stock (i.e. strengths and weaknesses), but it would also prevent fewer bad decisions from players who might make a risky entry into the player pool and go undrafted. For once, it’s actually a huge step forward with regard to the way young players enter the league, and John Calipari agrees, per Andy Katz of ESPN.com:
“This may be one of the best things the NABC has ever done,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari, who has had players leave school who weren’t lottery or first-round picks — players who could have benefited from knowing where they would be drafted. “This is the first time the NABC understood that they represent the players.”
Now, if only we can get rid of that darned age limit.
DUNK OF THE WEEK: Rudy Gobert has been playing like a different man since Enes Kanter left town. Terrence Jones now recognizes this: