NBA PM: Plenty At Stake In Preseason Action
NBA preseason is in full swing, and while preseason games don’t always tell a complete story about teams and players, they can be a strong indication of what’s to come. With that in mind, here are some players to watch in tonight’s preseason action.
As the Oklahoma City Thunder pay a call on the Houston Rockets there are a number of players to keep an eye on. First and foremost, Hasheem Thabeet, a former Rocket, is now a member of the Thunder, and we’ve been hearing all the right things out of OKC. Thabeet seems to understand that this is his last shot to prove he belongs in the NBA, and the Thunder front office and coaching staff are confident that he will be able to play a role for them this season. The Rockets are thin on the front line and were the last team to give up on Thabeet, so there should be some motivation for him to play well. Still, there are many questions about Thabeet’s heart, and whether or not he is willing to put in the work required to be good at the pro level. Tonight’s game could show us whether or not there is hope for Thabeet, both in OKC and in the NBA.
On the Houston side, of course, Jeremy Lin is the big draw. The Rockets passed on him before he made his big splash in New York; can Lin now reward the Rockets for working to correct their mistake by hiring him away from the Knicks? That’s the top of the proverbial iceberg for Houston, which has basically a clean slate waiting for an almost entirely new team. There were few defined roles coming into training camp and preseason, so young players like Royce White, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas are looking to prove that they belong in the rotation. Omer Asik also faces high expectations, as he has been a career backup in Chicago and is now expected to be a starter in Houston. There is plenty to watch for tonight for Houston fans. Sadly, White will not be with the team, as he has not had enough practice time to get into game shape.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have some intriguing new pieces in place, but none more so that Brandon Roy. Roy wants to start and play a significant role for the team as he looks to prove that his retirement was, indeed, premature. There is no questioning Roy’s heart or his determination, but can his knees hold up to the pressure? Timberwolves fans will also get their first look at Alexey Shved, who turned heads in international play and could see major minutes behind Roy.
Indiana Pacers fans are anxious to see how much Paul George has improved over the offseason, as well as whether or not Miles Plumlee can actually play. It will be interesting to see how George Hill responds to finally being a full time NBA starter, as well as how D.J. Augustin does in his return to a reserve role. Finally, keep an eye on Gerald Green. His improved play in New Jersey last season earned him a new NBA contract. He needs to make the most of the opportunity.
As the Atlanta Hawks take on the San Antonio Spurs tonight it seems there is one veteran who needs to lay the groundwork for a great season. Don’t expect to see much more than cameo appearances from the Spurs’ big three, but Hawks point guard Devin Harris has a great deal riding on this season. It wasn’t so long ago that Harris was leading the Dallas Mavericks to postseason wins, many against the Spurs, and to the NBA Finals. He has even enjoyed All-Star status in 2009. Since then, however, Harris has been shipped around, failing to find a true NBA home. Will Atlanta be that home? Tonight’s game will also mark the beginning of the post-Joe-Johnson era in Atlanta, which is no small thing.
Another player who needs to find a home is Michael Beasley, who will make his Phoenix Suns debut this evening against the Sacramento Kings. Beasley and former Timberwolves teammate Wes Johnson are both expected to play big roles this season as the team moves on from the Steve Nash era, though not as big as that of former Suns reserve point guard Goran Dragic. Dragic learned a lot from Nash while they played together, and showed he is capable of being a solid starter in his own right when he took the reins in Houston last season. If the Suns are going to be anywhere close to the playoff picture this season all three of these young players are going to have to step up, and that begins tonight. Kings fans will want to keep an eye on Thomas Robinson, who looks like an early candidate for Rookie of the Year.
Kyle Lowry won’t be in uniform tonight as the Raptors take on the Detroit Pistons, but Jonas Valanciunas is expected to see a limited number of minutes as Raptors fans get their first look at the team’s most significant new addition on the frontline. It will also be interesting to see Terrence Ross in his first NBA game since being a lottery pick in June. On the Pistons’ side, the spotlight will be on the front court tandem of Greg Monroe and highly-touted rookie Andre Drummond. Will they play together? Will they platoon? Lots of questions to be answered there as preseason gets underway for Detroit.
Finally, the game most are waiting for has Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers playing their second preseason game, and against an old rival, no less. The Portland Trail Blazers are in a very different place as a franchise obviously, but their fans have just as much to look forward to tonight. Dwight Howard will not play tonight, but Pau Gasol, Nash and Bryant offer plenty of excitement for Lakers fans. They looked promising in their first outing together. In Portland it’s all about the young players who expect to form the foundation of the team for years to come. How will Damian Lillard fare against Nash? How will Myers Leonard fare against Gasol? How will J.J. Hickson respond to having a nice, new contract? Can young players like Adam Morrison, Will Barton and Luke Babbitt make their marks this season? There is no shortage of drama waiting to play out as these two teams tip off their preseason schedules.
Brandon Roy: On The Comeback Trail
One of the most anticipated players of the 2012-13 NBA season is the aforementioned Brandon Roy. Forced into retirement due to bad knees, Roy is back, and in an interview with KFAN in Minneapolis he says his knees feel fine.
“The knees have been great,” said Roy. “We went at it pretty hard the last five days, been going for about three hours. I think a big question in the back of my mind was, ‘How will the knees hold up with some grueling practices?’ And after coming out of all those practices, I feel just as good as I did going in. I’m really excited. We’ve got a game tonight, finally, so I can get out there and play my first game in a very long time.”
Roy is also confident that despite his time away from the game he can still handle the ball in key situations, as he did in Portland.
“I think the handle is still there,” said Roy. “The thing I really like with being on a good team is Coach (Rick Adelman) has given me the opportunity to have that ball. Luke (Ridnour) is a long-time friend of mine and when we’re on the same team, he knows my capabilities. I think one of my greatest strengths was being able to create in the pick-and-roll. A lot of two-guards aren’t used to having the big guys that can handle the ball and create off the dribble. That’s still one of my strengths.”
He also feels that the explosiveness which characterized his game before the injuries will be back as he resumes his career in Minnesota.
“Yeah, that’s a big part of my game,” said Roy. “If I’m able to make a move on a guy and get a step, my first mindset is to get to that basket and draw a foul or draw some kind of a response where we create a shot for our team. That’s a huge part of my game. If I wasn’t able to get to the basket and have confidence in doing that, then I wouldn’t have tried to make this comeback. That was the first thing that I told myself, ‘Can I still create and get to the hoop?’ And I’ve been able to do so. I don’t want to just sit out there and settle for jump shots.”
The question most people have had about Roy’s return is whether or not he will be under a minutes restriction, and that’s a question Roy admitted he can’t fully answer just yet.
“I’ve been asked that question since I came to town and signed the contract,” said Roy. “Me and Coach are going to talk about it. When he brings it up, I don’t know yet, but I may go bump him on the shoulder and say, ‘Do you have any idea how much you’re going to play me?’ We’ll have that conversation. We’ll do our best to try to somewhat keep it in house. We don’t want other teams preparing and saying, ‘Brandon’s only going to play this much.’ I’m sure he’s going to use me as best he feels and I’m on board.”
Plenty of preseason prognosticators are ready to call the Timberwolves a playoff team, but Roy isn’t quite ready to go there. He does feel the players have been doing the right things, including developing chemistry off the court, to prepare for that kind of season.
“We’ve got a lot of really, really good pieces along with the guys that were here last season,” said Roy. “I think our biggest thing is trying to build chemistry as fast as possible. That stuff starts before the season. Guys got out here a couple weeks early, started playing together, lifting weights, just really trying to hang out and build friendships off the court. In training camp, Coach has been throwing a lot of different lineups out there just trying to get guys to get a feel for one another. We have the pieces, we feel, to try and make a run, but the NBA season is long and you have to play together.”
Cuban Responds to Deron Williams
In sort of a strange admission earlier this week, Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams said that if Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had attended his meeting with the team, he might have chosen the Mavericks over the Nets in free agency.
“A lot of the questions that me and my agent had for them really didn’t get answered that day — you know, pertaining to the future,” Williams said, according to the New York Times. “I think if he was there, he would have been able to answer those questions a little bit better. Maybe would have helped me.”
Williams said that the Mavericks’ brain trust, represented by team president Donnie Nelson and head coach Rick Carlisle, pointed to the team’s track record or landing key free agents as they discussed how the team would fill out behind Williams and Dirk Nowitzki. Williams said that wasn’t enough to justify him switching franchises.
“I’m flattered that he thought my presence would have made more of a difference than what the Nets’ management did,” quipped Cuban in response, taking some liberties with the meaning behind Williams’ words. “Again, I’m a big D-Will fan, but it’s not about individual players, it’s about building a team. I really think we put together a good team for the current team and the future.”
The Mavericks recovered nicely after losing out on Williams, adding Elton Brand, Darren Collison, Chris Kaman, Dahntay Jones, and O.J. Mayo, in particular, with the cap space that would otherwise have been largely consumed by Williams’ contract. It’s frankly difficult to see how the Mavericks could have added such a stellar group of supporting pieces if they had blown the bulk of their money on Williams.
It’s all water under the bridge now, of course. Williams has quite a cast around him, including All-Stars Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace, as well as potential All-Star Brook Lopez. The Mavericks are hoping to keep Dirk Nowitzki’s championship hopes alive with a very deep, talented and veteran squad. Neither team is being picked to rank among the NBA’s contenders, but it’s not a stretch to see them contend, either. Perhaps Deron Williams and the Dallas Mavericks would have been better together, and perhaps not.
But, Cuban or no Cuban, Williams made his choice and the teams will move on without dwelling on it nearly as much as the media will.
HOOPSWORLD Season Previews
The 2012-13 NBA season is rapidly approaching and there are plenty of early storylines emerging.
Can the Miami HEAT repeat their championship quest from last season? Is this the final championship run for the aging Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs? Will Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks finally put all of their talent together and join the league’s elite? Can the new-look Los Angeles Lakers, now boasting Dwight Howard and Steve Nash unseat the Oklahoma City Thunder as Western Conference champions? Is this the year the Minnesota Timberwolves reach the playoffs behind All-Star Kevin Love? Likewise, the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors are poised to make playoff runs of their own, but can they seal the deal? Are the Dallas Mavericks toast, or will their new group of hungry veterans surprise us all?
The HOOPSWORLD team has these questions and more all covered and you can find season previews for all 30 NBA teams by following this LINK.
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