NBA@2: Are Pacers Contenders With Kaman?
If the Denver Nuggets hadn’t agreed to give free agent big man Nene a fifth year when they offered him a new contract in December he would now be a member of the Indiana Pacers. It was that close to happening. Pacers GM David Morway didn’t want to make substantial changes to the team that had come together so quickly and played so well under new head coach Frank Vogel; rather, he wanted to make one or two key additions to solidify their front court. His first step was adding All-Star power forward David West, and he would happily have spent the money to add Nene, as well.
The Nuggets did give Nene the fifth year, of course, and the coveted big man returned to Denver, but that doesn’t mean Morway isn’t still interested in adding size to his front court to complement budding star Roy Hibbert at center.
Enter the New Orleans Hornets . . .and center Chris Kaman.
The Hornets weren’t looking for a center when they started shopping Chris Paul. They were actually looking for help in the backcourt. The trade they initiated with the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets brought Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and Luis Scola to town . . .though, of course, that trade was nixed by NBA Commissioner/Hornets owner David Stern. When the subsequent (approved) trade with the Los Angeles Clippers brought Chris Kaman to town it was really more about his ending contract that any desire on the Hornets’ part to add a second starting center behind Emeka Okafor.
That part of the relationship didn’t last long, either, as Kaman has been asked to stay away from the team until GM Dell Demps can complete a trade sending him elsewhere.
Naturally, a number of teams are interested in Kaman, as quality starting centers are in increasingly short supply in the NBA. Make no mistake, when Kaman is healthy he is a quality starting center. He averaged 18.5 points and 9.3 rebounds in 76 games in 2009-10, but has struggled with a number of injuries since then. He was off to a solid start to 2011-12 with the Hornets, though seeing limited minutes, averaging 9.2 points and 6.6 rebounds.
The Pacers are said to be the frontrunners in the Chris Kaman sweepstakes, though the Houston Rockets are also actively engaged in the discussion. Indiana has enough cap space to absorb Kaman without sending any contracts back to New Orleans. The Rockets have the 2012 draft pick New Orleans wants, but they would need to send contract dollars back to New Orleans and that might be a deterrent for the Hornets. Houston is looking to unload baggage – Hasheem Thabeet, specifically – or underachieving players like Jordan Hill, Terrence Williams or Jonny Flynn.
The Hornets are believed to favor sending Kaman to Indiana, thus avoiding unnecessary salary burden, and it’s a move that could make the Pacers scary good. They are already right on the heels of the Chicago Bulls and in a virtual tie with Philadelphia, Miami and Atlanta for second in the Eastern Conference. Adding one more big man to the mix could put Indiana a step ahead of the rest of the East, save probably Chicago and Miami.
Stay tuned . . .it sounds like the Hornets will make a decision on where to trade Kaman in the next couple of days.
Up Close: Paul Millsap
Paul Millsap has done it all in Utah, from waiting his turn behind Carlos Boozer to nearly becoming a Portland Trail Blazers to now being Utah’s franchise player. He talks with HOOPSWORLD about his NBA journey, helping Devin Harris through his issues, Ty Corbin’s system, and more in this HOOPSWORLD exclusive.
If the move had been any more under the radar you’d have had to search for it using sonar instead.
On December 9th the Sacramento Kings re-signed guard Marcus Thornton, whom they acquired in a trade that sent Carl Landry to the New Orleans Hornets, to a four-year contract that would pay him $33 million.
Admittedly, that number seemed a little high at first glance. Sure, Thornton is a great shooter. Steve Kyler and I once stood by and watched him knock down 98 of 100 three-pointers as he was preparing for the NBA pre-draft combine in Chicago. But did that make him an $8 million per season player?
Thornton made a name for himself in New Orleans, where he filled up the stat sheet for a team that was decimated by injuries and, in the wake of Byron Scott’s firing, being coached by then-GM Jeff Bower. He averaged 14.5 points in that, his rookie season, only to be traded the following year once the rest of the Hornets got healthy.
Upon arriving in Sacramento, Thornton wasted no time making himself at home. He averaged 21.3 points per game over the final 27 games of the season, far exceeding the Kings’ wildest aspirations for the second-year guard out of Louisiana State. As for Thornton, he says the Sacramento system is just right for his style of play.
“It’s a play-free system,” Thornton tells HOOPSWORLD. “You use your strengthens to your advantage. If you can do a certain thing to help this team win, coach (Keith Smart) lets you go out and do it. There’s nothing like having the confidence of your coach and your teammates to. It makes everything better.”
Signing a long-term deal doesn’t mean Thornton is finished growing as a player; in fact, he’s looking to be one of the Kings’ vocal leaders.
“I continue to work on being more of a leader and a vocalist out on the court. I’m working on stepping out of my shell and having the team follow me. I want to set a good example for this team.”
On many nights, that means helping center DeMarcus Cousins keep his cool, and in his short time with the Kings Thornton has already won the confidence on his explosive big man.
“I’m the first one that talks to him. I try to settle him down and for the most part he listens. What works is when you don’t come at him screaming and yelling. If talk to him like a human being, he’s receptive.”
Thornton has had some success, but it hasn’t come easily. In just over two seasons he’s already had to adjust to four different coaches, though he couldn’t be happier with Keith Smart.
“He’s been my fourth coach since I’ve been in the league. Keith’s a good guy. He’s from Baton Rogue so he knows a lot about my family and I and I know a lot about him and his family. To have a guy like that is great. He’s a teach-first coach and you’re going to learn a lot from him if you listen to what he has to say.”
The victories have been few and far between for the this season, with injuries and a coaching change playing a part in their early struggles. Still, at this point it’s about more than just wins for the rebuilding Kings, and Thornton is optimistic that this will be a positive season when all is said and done.
“It’s a positive year if we come together and everybody starts playing as a team. Getting into the playoffs is a long way down the road. We have to take it game by game. It’s on us as a team to go out on the court and do the things that we need to do to get there. I think we have it in us.”
The Kings were actually starting to put some things together before a thigh injury sent Thornton to the sidelines. They had won two in a row, beating the San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers, but have lost five games in a row as they await Thornton’s return. He participated in a full practice on Wednesday, and should be back in the lineup soon. With his scoring and his surprising leadership back in the mix, things could turn around quickly for the Sacramento Kings.
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