HOOPSWORLD Week In Review
Can Nuggets Sustain Recent Success?
By Lang Greene
The Denver Nuggets have been one of the most consistent teams in the league over the past decade, currently boasting a streak of 10 consecutive playoff appearances. However, expectations for the franchise heading into training camp will be different as the club has experienced numerous changes in its front office, coaching staff and player personnel.
For starters, Masai Ujiri, the team’s general manager, left the organization after signing a lucrative deal to join the Toronto Raptors’ front office. Next, longtime head coach George Karl was fired with one year still remaining on his contract. The final domino to drop was former All-Star forward Andre Iguodala’s decision to opt out of the last year of his contract in order to test free agency. Iguodala would ultimately sign a four-year deal to join the emerging Golden State Warriors and would later cite the departures of Ujiri and Karl as heavily factoring into his own defection from Denver.
The Nuggets won 57 games last season and finished with the third-best record in the Western Conference. However, most expect a steep decline due to offseason defections.
Parsons Confident Houston Can Contend
By Jabari Davis
Chandler Parsons certainly isn’t lacking for confidence these days. Quite frankly, coming off a personal breakout season in 2012-13 and arguably the biggest offseason in Houston Rockets history with the acquisition of Dwight Howard, Parsons has every reason to be so comfortable.
The 24-year-old small forward believes that Howard will make a huge impact in Houston, and describes the Rockets as “immediate contenders.”
Parsons, one of 29 players currently participating in the 2013 Team USA mini camp in Las Vegas, was very candid in his interview with HOOPSWORLD. He described the communication between himself and James Harden as “constant” and acknowledged that he went out of his way to assure Howard that Houston was the best fit for him.
Thompson Unfazed By Additions
By Joel Brigham
It was just two years ago that the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson in the top four picks of the 2011 NBA Draft, with the hope that those two players would flourish into All-Stars that could help Cleveland push themselves back towards postseason respectability. Everybody knew it would take time, but having those two players succeed has been a major part of the Cavs’ rebuilding plan. So far, Irving has pulled his weight (and then some), while the jury is still out on Thompson.
There were times last year when Thompson really started to show what he could do. Thanks to his tremendous work ethic and tireless desire to get better, Thompson showed major strides on both ends of the floor last season. His PER rose from 13.3 his rookie season to 16.1 last year, and he saw an increase of 3.5 points and 2.9 rebounds over the course of just one full season.
With a crowded Cleveland frontcourt that now includes not only Thompson, but first overall draft pick Anthony Bennett, free agent Andrew Bynum and a healthy Anderson Varejao, it’s hard to know if there will be enough minutes available to Thompson to see even more statistical improvement, but so far he doesn’t seem all that bothered by the depth at the four and five.
Davis, Pelicans Prepared for Playoff Push
By Richard Hardy
For New Orleans Pelicans second-year center Anthony Davis, there is only one goal on his mind for the upcoming season and that’s getting into the playoffs. Last season, the Pelicans ended the season with a 27-55 record, but the team is hoping to improve on that win-loss total this year, especially after an offseason of changes that netted Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans among others.
“Our expectations are always high,” Davis told HOOPSWORLD. “We definitely want to make the playoffs, and beyond.”
Despite missing 18 games due to knee injuries during his rookie year, Davis averaged 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds. He finished second behind Damian Lillard in Rookie of the Year voting, living up to the hype that was built up after a stellar freshman season at Kentucky.
That acclaim continued when Davis got his first taste of post-collegiate basketball in the form of the 2012 Summer Olympic, where he averaged 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in seven appearances with Team USA. At 19 years old, Davis became the youngest player in USA Olympic basketball history to win a gold medal. It was an experience that helped Davis make a smooth transition to the NBA.
Memphis Grizzlies Ready to Contend?
By Bill Ingram
The pecking order in the Western Conference has been as tough to predict in recent years as in any time in NBA history. The competition for the top four seeds has been as brutally tough as the race for the final playoff seeds, and some very good teams have gone down in pursuit of a berth in the NBA Finals. In the 2013-14 season, the competition will be even stiffer with teams like the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers making radical offseason improvements, but the Memphis Grizzlies believe they are ready to ascend to new heights and take that top spot when all is said and done.
“I think we learned what it takes to be a championship team,” Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said of the 2012-13 campaign, in which the Grizzlies recorded a franchise-best 56-26 record. “When we played against San Antonio (in the playoffs), we saw how they executed down the stretch, how they came out in the first quarters, I mean, the way that they executed was unbelievable. I think we learned a lot and took a lot away from that to where if we get into that position again, hopefully we can change the outcome.”
Of course, next season the Grizzlies will be without the head coach who led them to new heights, as the organization opted not to bring back Lionel Hollins. They replaced him with his lead assistant, Dave Joerger.
Kyrie Irving Committed To Cavs
By Steve Kyler
To say the Cleveland Cavaliers felt the proverbial floor creaking under their feet was an understatement. They will surely never admit to having concerns about Kyrie Irving, but the writing was on the wall. Last season Irving started checking out; his frustrations were evident and there was growing doubt that unless the ship turned pretty quickly, keeping Irving in Cleveland long-term might become a problem.
When you look at the moves the Cavaliers made – firing Byron Scott, drafting some duplicate talent to create depth, spending on complimentary free agents that can contribute and, of course, gambling on Andrew Bynum – there is a win-now attitude being installed in Cleveland and much of that was done at the behest of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, because he knows all too well that stars in the NBA won’t tolerate losing for long.
Irving is in Las Vegas as part of Team USA’s minicamp, and was swamped by reporters asking about the rumors of his unhappiness.
Irving told HOOPSWORLD’s Yannis Koutroupis that he understood being the face of the franchise comes with rumors.
Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan Over Non-Trade
By Eric Pincus
Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan is representing the franchise as part of the USA Basketball Men’s National Team, spending the week in Las Vegas for their minicamp. This is Jordan’s second stint with Team USA after a 2007 appearance in Serbia in the Under 19 World Championships.
“I’m excited about it,” Jordan said. “I’m really excited to play with the caliber of talent that is here — and just to improve and learn.”
This summer has already been a learning experience for Jordan after the Clippers attempted to trade their young center to the Boston Celtics for veteran Kevin Garnett.
NBA commissioner David Stern blocked the trade because of entanglements with the Clippers’ pursuit of Doc Rivers. Ultimately Rivers joined the Clippers, Garnett was dealt to the Brooklyn Nets and Jordan is still in L.A.
“Boston is cold, man,” Jordan said. “It’s not really something I’m concerned about. If you get traded, you get traded — it just means someone else wants you.”
The Celtics released Rivers from his contract with a first-round pick coming from the Clippers as compensation. As part of the agreement, Boston and Los Angeles cannot make any player transactions together until July of 2014, but it’s a moot point given Garnett’s departure to the Nets.
“At the end of the day, I’ll still be playing basketball — something I love to do,” Jordan said. “There’s no hard feelings or anything like that.”
Damian Lillard Setting Lofty Goals
By Alex Kennedy
Last July, Damian Lillard sat in the stands of the Thomas and Mack Center between Las Vegas Summer League games and candidly discussed his expectations for his rookie season. The young point guard didn’t lack confidence during this conversation, predicting that he would take the league by storm and separate himself from the other players in the 2012 draft class. While Lillard seemed to emerge as a star out of nowhere for the Portland Trail Blazers, he saw his success coming all along.
At the time, Lillard was still a relatively unknown player who hadn’t yet proven himself against professionals. He had been selected sixth overall after a prolific college career at Weber State, but there were still a lot of questions surrounding him since he wasn’t a traditional point guard and he had never played against top-notch competition on a nightly basis while in the Big Sky Conference.
However, Lillard never had any doubts about his game, and he believed that his transition to the NBA would be smoother than expected due to everything that he faced with the Wildcats. At Weber State, Lillard was one of the top scorers in the nation despite facing everything from triple teams to box-and-one schemes. His supporting cast on the Wildcats was decent for a mid-major school, but he couldn’t wait to play alongside other star-caliber players such as LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum in Portland. Lillard also knew that he had translatable skills such as his jump shot and ability to run the pick-and-roll, which would help him adjust to playing in the best league in the world.
Cousins Ready To Lead Kings
By Yannis Koutroupis
This season will mark the start of a new era for the Sacramento Kings. Gone are the questions of the past over what city they will be representing, as is the previous ownership, management group and coaching staff.
Changeover has been aplenty in Sacramento, but young, talented and sometimes explosive center DeMarcus Cousins remains one of the core pieces of the team. Cousins recently participated in Team USA’s mini-camp in Las Vegas, and during that time he voiced his excitement over the team’s new direction.
“We got a chance,” Cousins said to HOOPSWORLD. “We’re moving in the right direction. I’m excited, I’m ready to get going.”
Cousins, who is going into his fourth season as a pro, will be playing for his third head coach in Mike Malone this upcoming season. Cousins went to Las Vegas early in order to see Malone in action with Sacramento’s summer league team.
“[He’s a] cool dude,” Cousins said of Malone. “[He’s] honest, upfront. That’s what we need. I’m excited with where Sacramento is going.”