NBA AM: Blazers’ Smith Sees Playoff Berth in 2013
The Portland Trail Blazers entered last season as a sleeper team candidate poised to make noise in the playoffs behind the coaching of Nate McMillan and the play of All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, former All-Star Gerald Wallace and veteran guards Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford.
Heading into the 2013 season, only Aldridge remains from the above cast and the Blazers have seemingly ushered in a rebuilding period.
However second year guard Nolan Smith isn’t sold on the mainstream perception that the Blazers will be sitting out the postseason for the second straight year. Smith believes the team has the talent to be in the playoff discussion late into the season and sees the squad potentially walking away with a spot.
“We’re very excited about the season,” Smith recently told HOOPSWORLD at Adidas Nations. “We’re going to be young but we feel we have a lot of talent that can out every single night and compete. If we do that every single night, we can make a run for the playoffs.”
Spurring most of the recent optimism surrounding the Blazers is the addition of this year’s crop of promising rookies. Portland drafted point guard Damian Lillard No. 6 overall, center Meyers Leonard No. 11 overall and athletic wing Will Barton with the No. 40 pick. During the team’s appearance at Las Vegas Summer League in July all three of the youngsters showed signs of possibly being able to step in and contribute right away.
Smith, who also played with the team’s summer league unit, also left Las Vegas impressed with the team’s newest batch of rookies.
“They played great,” Smith said. “Damian, Meyers and Will Barton. All three of those guys we just drafted played great basketball out there and were able to gain a lot of confidence. I think they’re ready to go into the season. We’re just excited. We’re going to have a very young team that’s anxious to get on the court and make things happen. We’re anxious to find out who our coach is going to be, but whoever it is we’re going to have a great season.”
Kaleb Canales took over coaching duties on an interim basis after McMillan was fired and compiled an 8-15 mark while leading the club down the stretch. The Blazers are reportedly in the final stages of their interview process to name an official sideline general going forward, but if it were up to Smith there’s no doubt Canales would get the final nod.
“I have a great relationship with coach Kaleb so I’m definitely in favor of him getting the job,” Smith told HOOPSWORLD. “But if he doesn’t I’m sure he’ll still be a part of the Blazers organization. We’ll see what happens. He’s a great guy, somebody who loves the game of basketball. He still sleeps in the gym.”
Milwaukee Bucks Shoring Up Their Interior
The Milwaukee Bucks traded oft-injured center Andrew Bogut to the Golden State Warriors at the trade deadline last season in exchange for high scoring shooting guard Monta Ellis, which signaled the start of a new era for the franchise. Bogut was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 draft and the franchise’s centerpiece.
The addition of Ellis, paired with the emerging Brandon Jennings, gave the Bucks one of the most explosive backcourts in the league. However it also made the tandem one of the most undersized starting guard duos in the process. Undersized starting guard combinations have been successful in recent years but teams usually have to strengthen up their interior defense to compensate.
The Bucks have been busy this summer trying to do just that by acquiring veteran center Samuel Dalembert from the Houston Rockets and drafting former University of North Carolina standout John Henson in the first round of June’s draft. Bucks team officials also watched former All-Star center Jermaine O’Neal workout in Las Vegas this summer, although no deal is imminent.
During Las Vegas Summer League Bucks GM John Hammond told HOOPSWORLD the team wasn’t finished shaping their roster for 2013 and the latest news is the team has added more size up front.
According to the Gery Woelfel of the Journal Times, the Bucks have agreed to terms with league veteran Joel Przybilla. Although terms haven’t been officially released, the deal is expected to be a one-year contract at the veteran’s minimum. Przybilla reportedly chose the Bucks over the rebuilding Portland Trail Blazers and the 2011 NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.
Przybilla, 32, appeared in 27 contests last season averaging 2 points and 5.1 rebounds while logging 17 minutes per outing. Przybilla’s rebound production last season, 11.1 per 36 minutes of floor time, is particularly strong for a team who desperately needed depth in the frontcourt.
Sacramento Extends Head Coach Keith Smart’s Contract
The Sacramento Kings have extended head coach Keith Smart’s contract through the 2014 season according to Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee.
Smart took over for Paul Westphal who was fired by the club in early January after repeated clashes with second year center DeMarcus Cousins. In 59 games leading the team Smart compiled a 20-39 record, but more importantly was able to connect to Cousins and the other talented younger players on the roster in much better fashion than Westphal.
Cousins, for example, averaged 19.8 points and 10.6 rebounds after the All-Star break last season as he became more comfortable in Smart’s system.
The connection with the young players and them buying into his system gave Kings president of basketball operations Geoff Petrie all he needed to see before deciding to offer the contract extension.
“We had talked about it at length somewhat after the season, after the draft,” Petrie said according to the Sacramento Bee report. “We just really moved forward on it in the last couple of weeks. It’s something I’m really in favor of. He’s the right coach at the right time for the group of players.”
Petrie also hinted the move was aimed at not giving the perception Smart didn’t have the full support of the Kings’ front office by not having a new contract in hand.
“I think it gives us stability and gives him a reasonable period of time to implement the style of play and type of teaching he wants to use,” Petrie said. “We’re still essentially a younger team that’s in development, and he has a strong commitment to working with players and getting them to improve.”
The Kings are one of the youngest teams in the league but added veteran guard Aaron Brooks in free agency this summer. Smart is hoping the team continues to make positive steps in the right direction.
“I’m excited to continue this process with the Kings,” Smart said. “We’re trying to get our franchise moving in the right direction. The goal is to keep moving in that positive direction, and I’m glad that I get that opportunity.”
Free Agent Guard Jodie Meeks Won’t Play For The Minimum?
With the free agency market starting to dry up as we near the end of summer, one of the most intriguing free agents left on the board is shooting guard Jodie Meeks.
Meeks started 114 games over the past two seasons for the Philadelphia 76ers but saw his playing time and role steadily diminish toward the end of last season and the playoffs.
The Sixers signed guard Nick Young in free agency this summer and appear focused on opening up more minutes for Evan Turner, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft.
Meeks is just the type of player a veteran playoff team could use to bolster their bench depth. The problem is most teams in this position are already over the salary cap and have exhausted their salary exceptions, leaving only the veteran minimum as an option to bring in any additional talent.
And veteran minimum deals aren’t in the equation for Meeks according to his agent David Bauman.
“We’re happy to talk, but we’re not talking minimum [deals] for a guy like Jodie,” Bauman told the Los Angeles Times in a phone interview. “He’ll get more than the minimum wherever he signs.”
Bauman’s message was seemingly aimed at the Los Angeles Lakers who reportedly are one of five teams who have interest in signing three-year veteran.
The Lakers can offer a mini mid-level exception worth a little over $3 million, but the team doesn’t appear ready to utilize the option. For instance, former All-Star forward Antawn Jamison signed a veteran minimum deal earlier this summer after averaging 17 points and 6 rebounds for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2012.
For now it appears if the Lakers want to add more youth to their aging backcourt, they’ll have to pony up more cash to do it – at least if they want to seriously pursue Meeks further.
Bulls’ Deng Electing Not To Have Surgery?
Chicago Bulls All-Star forward Luol Deng caused a mini stir earlier amongst the team’s fans this summer when he decided to stick to his original plan to represent Great Britain in the 2012 London Olympics, despite a torn ligament in his left wrist.
By putting off the surgery until after the Olympic Games could mean Deng will miss a portion of the 2013 season while rehabbing. For the Bulls it would be another huge blow for a roster already expecting to miss 2011 MVP Derrick Rose for a significant portion of next season.
Deng doesn’t have any regrets on his decision and would elect to do it all over again if presented with the choice again.
“If the Olympics were next month, I’d play again,” Deng said according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. “This is something no one will ever take away. I’m always going to remember this moment, walking out for the opening ceremonies and playing with guys I played with my whole life. Seeing my parents out there and (youth coach) Jimmy (Rogers), I can’t explain it. It’s one of those stories, if I missed the Olympics, I’d always think about that.”
Overall, Deng looked sharp for the Great Britain team throughout the games and the forward is now hinting toward postponing the surgery altogether or at least until the end of the 2013 season so he can be ready for training camp.
“Did I look like I needed (surgery)?” Deng said. “I’m fine right now. I feel great. There are a lot of things I want to improve in my game that I want to focus on now. I want to be a better player than I was last year. I have time to make decisions and be healthy by the time we start (training camp).”