NBA@2: J.J. Hickson’s Last Chance?
Once upon a time, J.J. Hickson was a Cleveland Cavalier for life. The Cavs were confident that he would be a fixture for them at center, and teams calling in attempts to acquire him quickly met a dial tone of disinterest. Hickson improved steadily over his first three seasons in the NBA, but Cleveland gradually became aware that he simply wasn’t going to be an NBA center. Since they had Anderson Varejao at power forward, a player who was more effective with fewer touches, they ultimately traded Hickson to the Sacramento Kings for Omri Casspi and a protected first-round pick.
Hickson had a hard time finding a role in Sacramento, where the Kings were already loaded with front court talent. Since Hickson needed touches to be effective, and he was playing in a front court with DeMarcus Cousins, who also needed touches, the Kings opted to waive him in favor of keeping Jason Thompson long-term. Now, Hickson is a member of the Portland Trail Blazers, and could be playing for his NBA life as the last few games of 2011-12 play out.
This time, it seems fortune may favor Hickson. The Blazers’ latest injury disaster claimed All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, opening an opportunity for Hickson to show what he can do.
“I don’t feel like I need to show anything, but just go out and play hard,” Hickson told HOOPSWORLD. “I’m not trying to prove anything to anybody, but I’m just going to play hard for the guys in this locker room and the coaching staff and that’s all I’ve been doing since I’ve been here.”
“You have to give credit to (acting GM) Chad (Buchanan), his staff and our front office for making that transaction,” said interim head coach Kaleb Canales. “We know what he’s capable of. We’ve seen him play all those years in Cleveland in the East and Sacramento out in the Western Conference and we know he’s a terrific player. He’s been terrific for us and we’re excited to have him.”
For Hickson, the Blazers were always a tough opponent to face, so he’s all the more excited about the opportunity to be a part of the team.
“Playing for other teams you don’t really recognize the Portland Trail Blazers, but year in and year out they have teams that can go to the playoffs and they have great teams that can beat you and they’ve always been a tough team to play against,” Hickson said. “They’re one of those teams that I’ve always been like, ‘Man they’re tough,’ and they had two trees in the paint when they had LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby. But they’ve always been a hard time for me to play against, personally, so for me to be here I’m ecstatic.”
Hickson had no trouble fitting in with the Blazers, who have a tight locker room. The first to welcome Hickson to Portland was none other than the resident veteran leader.
“Kurt. Kurt Thomas,” Hickson said. “The vet. The savvy vet, but not just him, all these guys. When I came to the team, all of the guys welcomed me with open arms. It’s a great camaraderie here. We have a great coaching staff and a great front office. We have a great team period. Like I said, we’re just trying to get to the playoffs and get to this postseason.”
The Blazers are more than a long shot to make the playoffs, especially with Aldridge out, but that’s still the goal Canales has on the table for his team. Hickson explains the only way the team can keep fighting is by focusing on the immediate present.
“You’ve got to. In the position that we’re in, we can’t just sit back and relax and look to see who has the third or fourth seed, who’s going to play who in the playoffs. We have to be ready for this game today and not worry about the one tomorrow, even though we want to make the postseason. We’ll have to take it one game at a time and that’s what it’s going to take,” Hickson said.
To his credit, Hickson is taking full advantage of his situation. In 14 games as a Blazer, Hickson is averaging 13.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, and set a season-high with 29 points and 13 rebounds in Portland’s 97-98 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Clearly Hickson is showing his value to Portland, but can they afford to keep him long-term?
If they issue him the Qualifying Offer this summer he counts as a $7.1 million cap hold (three times the salary of the final year of his rookie scale deal), which stays until either Hickson signs with another team, with Portland, or the two mutually agree to rescind the QO.
If they do not issue him the QO, he counts as a $4.4 million cap hold (double his previous salary since they have Bird Rights and it’s under the NBA average) until he signs with Portland, with another team, or the Blazers renounce their rights to him.
Given that the Blazers are looking to keep Nicolas Batum and add a significant upgrade at point guard, will they spend the money to keep Hickson in town?
One thing’s for sure – Hickson is proving that if he’s put in the right situation he can be a very productive NBA player. The question now becomes whether or not he will continue to be a Blazer, or find yet another team to carve out his next role.
Steve Nash: HoopsHype Tweeter Of The Year
Phoenix Suns All-Star Steve Nash was once again voted the HoopsHype Tweeter of the year. He talks about the impact of Twitter on the NBA, his approach to Tweeting, why he sees back-to-back Twitter awards as critically important and more in this interview:
Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley isn’t getting much love in the buzz around the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, and perhaps that’s because his radical improvement started too late in the season. Regardless of when it started, though, he has been incredibly important to the Celtics’ unlikely playoff push that started after the NBA trade deadline passed.
Before the deadline, there was talk that the Celtics might just blow it up. They were struggling to cling to the final slot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture and GM Danny Ainge was involved in conversations involving everyone from Rajon Rondo to Paul Piece. The Big Three era in Boston appeared to be over.
Instead, Ainge kept his group together, and since the deadline they have been on a tear. Boston went 12-5 in March and are 7-3 so far in April, boasting two wins over the Miami HEAT, as well as wins over the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks. As much as anyone, Avery Bradley has been the driving force behind Boston’s resurgence.
Before the All-Star break, Bradley averaged 4.3 points per game while shooting 44 percent from the field, 8 percent from three and 68 percent from the free throw line. Since then, he’s upped those numbers to 9.1 points per game on 52 percent from the field, 52 percent from three and 86 percent from the line.
Bradley says the key to his improvement is the confidence instilled in him by Celtics head coach Doc Rivers.
“It’s amazing, because you honestly feel like he’s suiting up just like you,” Bradley told HOOPSWORLD. “When he talks before the game you feel like he’s in a jersey just like us, because of all the family in here. We’re all playing for each other and we all take responsibility. If we lose a game, the coach might even say it’s his fault, just as much as it’s ours, just to show us we’re all together, we’re all one. All we do is care about winning. It doesn’t matter who starts, who’s playing the most minutes, who’s scoring, we don’t care about that as long as we’re winning and we’re doing the right things everything else will work out.”
Indeed, Rivers has shown so much confidence in Bradley that he’s currently starting ahead of All-Star shooting guard Ray Allen. It’s been a big responsibility for Bradley, but again, his head coach keeps finding ways to inspire him to reach new heights.
“I did not know he was that good of a motivational speaker,” Bradley said. “You hear stories about it, but I didn’t know he was that good. He could really, say one game you’re really tired, and you’re not ready for the game, he’ll already sense that because he was a player so he can already sense that in the locker room. He can get everybody fired up that quickly, have everybody that ready so having a coach like that I feel like is amazing.”
Boston’s playoff run may not be “amazing,” but it has been unexpected. The rise of Bradley has been a surprising story in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, and he could turn out to be the piece that helps Boston push for the Finals one last time before they really do start rebuilding.
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