NBA PM: Who Needs a Change of Scenery?
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Who Most Needs a Change of Scenery?
The most important factor in having a long and successful career in the NBA is, of course, talent. However, talent isn’t the only factor, as we’ve seen players with talent who couldn’t make in the league just as we’ve seen players who don’t appear to have any special ability stick around for years. After talent, the most important determining factor for a player is what we call “fit,” or how well a particular player fits into a particular team’s culture and community. In today’s NBA PM, we take a look at five players who needed and got a change of scenery this summer, as well as what’s at stake for them in their new situations.
Dwight Howard – There is no question that Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard is the best center in the NBA. He has more natural ability than any player in the league outside of LeBron James and perhaps Kevin Durant. The issue with Howard is, of course, what happens around him when he’s not dunking the ball. His time in Orlando went south in a hurry when he began complaining about his team, resulting in his head coach being fired and, not long after, a trade that sent him out of town. When Howard landed in Los Angeles, the Lakers’ faithful dubbed him the next great cornerstone of the storied franchise, with comparisons being made to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and other great big men who once wore the purple and gold of Showtime. That didn’t last long, however, as Howard was not content to play second fiddle to Kobe Bryant. After playing a role in the firing of yet another head coach, Howard skipped town for Houston, where the pressure to be a superstar is considerably less. This time, however, Howard has even more to prove. Rockets fans are prepared to embrace him with open arms and the team has even convinced retired legend Hakeem Olajuwon to come on board to work closely with him. Howard needs to work harder than he’s ever worked, play better than he’s ever played and put up numbers that make even Olajuwon smile. Anything short of that and Howard’s legacy is in real jeopardy. He’s still the second-best player on his team, but the best player – James Harden – is happy to let Howard have all the attention and credit. He couldn’t ask for a better situation.
Andrea Bargnani – Being the top pick in the NBA draft can be both a blessing and a curse. Known as “The Magician” for his remarkable play overseas, Andrea Bargnani’s NBA career has been something short of magical. It hasn’t been entirely his fault, of course; the Toronto Raptors were in a long succession of rebuilding phases during his time there, but because he was a top overall pick the expectation was that he would lead the team somewhere. For that reason he often bears the brunt of the blame for things being as bad as they were in Toronto. When the Raptors traded Bargnani to the New York Knicks they gave him just what he needed. Knicks fans aren’t expecting him to lead the team to anything – that will be Carmelo Anthony’s job, and then perhaps Tyson Chandler, but even J.R. Smith will be ahead of Bargnani in the blame game if the Knicks fall short of expectations. If he’s healthy, Bargnani could prove to be an enormous steal for the Knicks, which will make him an instant hero. If he isn’t healthy or can’t contribute at a high level, Knicks fans will forgive him due largely to the fact that they got him at a bargain price.
DeMarcus Cousins – There’s little doubt that one of the most interesting young players in the NBA today is Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins. He can shoot from anywhere on the court, he can handle the ball like a point guard and he has a competitive edge that can drive him to achieve impressive things. For all of that, however, Cousins has issues off the court that are quickly conspiring to derail his career. He doesn’t respect authority, he has his own agenda that is often at odds with that of his coach and his team, and he doesn’t respond well to disciplinary measures. Rather than trade Cousins, the Kings organization changed the environment around him, from the front office to the coaching staff, in hopes of reaching him and helping him realize his considerable potential. The only question now is how well Cousins will respond to the changes. He had more of an old school coach in Paul Westphal, then got the softer approach from Keith Smart before he finally wore out that welcome, as well. Mike Malone is tougher, and while that could be what Cousins needs, it could also mean the Kings have a lit a match very close to Cousins’ notoriously short fuse. Cousins has a new management team saying all the right things about cultivating his talent and he has great veteran players around him, but if he can’t focus his attention on being a dominant post player for the Kings, he may find himself in another city before this year’s trade deadline.
Brandon Jennings – This was supposed to be a big summer for Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings. Prepared to be a restricted free agent, Jennings was expected to get a sizable offer and either take that money to play elsewhere or have the Bucks match the offer to keep him in town. Instead, Jennings drew almost no interest as a potential free agent, and the Bucks weren’t in any hurry to keep him, either. They first tried to move on with Jeff Teague, and when the Atlanta Hawks matched their offer sheet Milwaukee started pursuing sign-and-trade scenarios. They eventually found one with Detroit, a move that netted them Brandon Knight in a package and made Jennings the new starting point guard for the Pistons. In Detroit, Jennings has a chance to grow tremendously as a player as well as a person. He’ll be playing and working with Chauncey Billups, one of the game’s true pros, and he will be surrounded by prime assist targets, giving him the potential to not only make his teammates better overnight, but also get higher percentage shots for himself. Jennings needs to show that he can lead a team and be part of a winning culture, and in Detroit he has been handed such a situation on a silver platter. Now it’s up to him to show just how wrong it was for teams to completely pass on him as a potential free agent.
Monta Ellis – Most everyone around the NBA has a pretty good understanding of who and what Monta Ellis is. If you need a volume scorer, someone who electrifies the crowd and makes highlight-reel plays on both ends of the floor, Ellis is your guy. If all you see are the highlights of his games, you’d think he was in a class with Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and a handful of other elite shooting guards. Unfortunately, the highlight reel only tells part of the story. Ellis gets steals, yes, but he’s not a great isolation defender by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, his tendency to gamble for steals often means his guy has an open shot. Ellis will drill dramatic threes, power your transition game and make tough baskets look easy. He will also shoot you out of games, as he is one of the lower-efficiency guards in the league, ranking in just the 33rd percentile last season. All of that said, Ellis is absolutely capable of growing into a more efficient player, and if he’s going to do it, why not under the watchful eye of Rick Carlisle and playing alongside Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas? Carlisle excels at helping older players re-imagine themselves, and in so doing help redefine and even extend their careers. The Mavericks are going to need a lot from Ellis if they’re going to have any prayer of making the playoffs, and they will put him in a situation where he can grow into someone a franchise can truly rely on. If he grasps that opportunity and makes all the right improvements, Dallas just might be the place where Monta Ellis becomes an indispensable part of a winning team.
Kobe Bryant Ready For Season Opener?
It’s hard to keep great players down, and few have proven that over the years as often as Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. Bryant doesn’t like to miss games, and he will take extreme measures to give himself the best chance to be there when his team needs him.
In the wake of Dwight Howard’s departure, the Lakers need their long-time franchise cornerstone more than ever, and if he has his way he will once again shrug off surgery recovery time and be ready when his team takes the court in 2013-14.
“The surgical procedure was different, and because of that the recovery has been different,” Bryant told NBA.com while in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. “The normal timetable for recovery from an Achilles, we’ve shattered that. Three-and-a-half months I can already walk just fine, I’m lifting weights with the Achilles just fine and that’s different. So we don’t know what that timetable is going to be. It’s kind of new territory for us all.”’
Bryant ruptured his Achilles’ tendon on April 12, 2013, while playing against the Golden State Warriors, and an initial recovering timetable was set at six-to-nine months. It’s not only improbable, but nearly crazy to think that he could be back and up to full speed by late October, ready to play basketball at the NBA level and carry the kind of load that Bryant is accustomed to carrying, especially at 35 years of age.
Then again, this Kobe Bryant we’re talking about. A similar timetable was set for him after he had knee surgery in 2011, and many said he would never be the same player again. He proved everyone wrong then, due in large part to a new treatment called platelet-rich plasma therapy, consisting of centrifuging the patient’s blood to isolate platelets and growth factors. The mix is then injected into the injured area to accelerate healing, and that’s just what it did for Bryant. The procedure was done in Germany because it was still viewed as “experimental,” but it was a huge success and vividly demonstrated Bryant’s drive to succeed.
This latest news that he’s ahead of schedule may seem unlikely, but he’s proven his doubters wrong before and it wouldn’t be wise to bet against him now.
There is a very good chance that Kobe Bryant will be in uniform and 100 percent ready to compete at the highest level come October.
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