Sam Smith's NBA news and notes | 01.20.2014

-- Remember when that 2014 draft was so great? Last month? It’s taken some hits of late with Andrew Wiggins, the star of stars last year in high school, drawing questions from NBA scouts on readiness and even where he plays. Joel Embiid, now the consensus No. 1, has a high ceiling but is young and thin and in need of development. Marcus Smart can’t shoot. Julius Randle’s Kentucky team is out of the top 10. And the growing view among NBA executives seems to be Jabari Parker will not leave Duke this year. Chicagoan Jahlil Okafor, a Parker friend and big man, is going to Duke next season. Parker is a bright young man with a strong family and the feeling is he understands both the importance of education and feels he owes Duke and the chance to have a great Duke team, which more than likely is the next two seasons. Plus, Parker has seen what staying in school has done for other greats compared with the tough starts for even stars like Kobe Bryant. … That’s a lot of dancing and preening the Pacers now do with Paul George pulling off that 360-degree dunk in the win over the Clippers and Lance Stephenson dancing like the old LeBron over fallen opponents. But, hey, it’s Indianapolis, not exactly a foot loose place. Someone needs to dance there. We’ll give them a pass. … Should the Pacers bring in Andrew Bynum just to keep him away from Miami? They don’t seem inclined at this point as it’s been very quiet on the Bynum front. He may just enjoy not playing too much. … The Bucks seem in full tank mode now barely playing Caron Butler and O.J. Mayo, the latter even with a very generous $24 million contract last summer. You can’t say the Bucks don’t spend money. Mayo pretty much told the Milwaukee Journal the team is disorganized and unpredictable. The team; not him. … Tough one for the Pistons last week as Trey Burke, the overwhelming fan favorite from nearby University of Michigan in last year’s draft but passed over by the Pistons, torched the Pistons in a Jazz win. The Pistons were booed off the floor. Media and fans are screaming for trades as the team slides in the weak Eastern Conference. The Andre Drummond/Greg Monroe/Josh Smith grouping remains an issue and the belief is Smith or Monroe will be traded next month, though Smith’s huge contract makes that seem unlikely. Meanwhile, Brandon Jennings continues a career tradition of being among the worst shooting point guards in the league and still under 40 percent.

-- It sounds more and more like with Rajon Rondo’s return and a ceremonial bestowing of captaincy the Celtics plan to keep Rondo and try to get him to extend. It makes sense given the importance of point guards. More executives think the Celtics want to trade Jeff Green. They’re probably trying to persuade someone to take Gerald Wallace along with Green, though many figure they’ll eventually move Green. A nice exchange could be for Omer Asik, giving the Celtics a point guard/defensive center core to move forward with along with Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk. And Houston could use Green as a stretch four scorer. … How about Keith Bogans going home despite making $5 million this season in Boston because he wasn’t playing enough? Yes, I didn’t know either. He’s still in the NBA! … Sorry to see Brad Stevens hacking Dwight Howard seven times in three minutes, though the Celtics still lost. I know: Make the free throws. But no purity of the game even from the Butler guy? … Though Jordan Crawford and Marshon Brooks were known as difficult wherever they’ve been, their additions do fortify Golden State’s bench and give them a legitimate chance to be get to the Western finals. Along with probably five other teams. And for one season Mark Jackson can talk anyone into believing they are someone else.

-- Toronto’s Kyle Lowry is having one of the great contract runs ever. With a limited free agent class this summer, Lowry could cash in big. He’s even been promoted as a potential All-Star with career highs this season in scoring, assists, minutes played, overall shooting and three-point shooting of 41 percent and 52 percent in January and career lows in making coaches mad for a very confident nature. Lowry even has become extra fan friendly to offset apparent Chicago hooliganism. Lowry promised his sneakers after the New Year’s Eve game in the United Center to a fan who flew in from Toronto. But a Chicago fan stole them away. Lowry made sure the Toronto fan got sneakers when the team returned to Toronto. … The 76ers seem to be fighting with Dr. James Andrews, who performed the ACL surgery on Nerlens Noel and it apparently leaked that Noel could play in a month. Funny how that stuff happens. Noel and the 76ers are disputing that timetable. … There are All-Star game controversies everywhere. Ed Odeven from the Japan Times wrote of Jermaine Dixon from Pitt and Brandon Fields from Nevada being left out so a local player who was 11th in minutes played and averaging two shots per game on his team could make the league all-star team which plays this week. … Where are they now? Jason Richardson? He’s still on the 76ers roster. Charles Barkley certainly didn’t know that. Who did? He told Philadelphia media he could play this season. The 76ers aren’t quite jumping up and down yet. … Michael Carter-Williams had that great start in wins over the Bulls and Heat and a lot of Rookie of the Year talk. That’s good. That also gets you on scouting reports more quickly, and teams continue to take it out on his slight frame as he’s down to 40 percent shooting and 27 percent on threes. Said coach Brett Brown: "Were trying to help Michael get through the physical nature of this league. We're desperately trying to embrace the hits, to get through no-calls. We want him to grit his teeth, get through it, show the league he can endure it, show the refs he can endure it, show his team he can endure it. He needs to have that resilience. He needs to have that reputation." Sometimes it’s better to sneak up on the league.

-- You’d like to think your goals are higher. After all if your goal is to get out of the mail room to become a clerk instead of the president of the firm what happens when you become the clerk? The Washington Wizards continue to talk about .500 like it’s an NBA title and lost to the Pistons Saturday with a fourth time trying to reach .500 this season. John Wall says it’s making them nervous. "I don't want to think about it really,” Wall said after the win over the Bulls last week. “I just want to get over it to be honest. I think we get too anxious about it and too nervous and hyped and trying to finally get over it then we don't come out and play the right way.” How’s this stat: Wall has now gone 223 games without ever being over .500 in his career, the third most ever for a No. 1 overall pick behind Joe Smith (241) and Michael Olowokandi (227). … The Spurs are 1-7 against the top teams in the Western Conference. But they are pacing themselves. The lone win was against the Clippers without Chris Paul. Interesting comment to the San Antonio Express from Manu Ginobili, which also is why everyone discounts the Spurs, though not anymore after last season’s playoffs: “I guess at the moment we’re not ready to beat them (good teams). They’re very talented. Everybody is more athletic than us.” … Blake Griffin is averaging 25.2 points and nine rebounds this month, mostly with Paul gone and the team winning five straight when Paul went out. Probably helped Griffin some that Paul wasn’t there to yell at him all the time. … The Mavs are 1-6 against the West’s top seeds. Of course, we all expected them to be.

-- The Grizzlies have quietly nosed above .500 with Marc Gasol back. But it’s also been a couple of subtle moves with the addition of Courtney Lee and the signing of former Bull James Johnson. Along with Tony Allen, the Grizzlies may have the league’s best group of perimeter defenders to alternate against teams in going back to their defensive game and presumably playing Tayshaun Prince a lot less. … Playoffs! Rick Adelman told Minnesota media he told his team: “We’ve got to face fact that we’re a .500 team. Right now we’re below .500. I told them today that if you think you’re a playoff team why don’t you just forget it. Because you haven’t proven that you are. You haven’t gone out and really established yourself yet. You make some changes, and it looks good on paper, but it means nothing.’’ The Timberwolves are 2-3 since Kevin Love blistered the team and a couple of teammates following the last second loss to the Suns and Love has scored 20 points just once since then. Love has an opt out after next season. Love has never made the playoffs. If the Timberwolves continue to fall, you figure they’ll have to consider moving Love while his value is still high because he’d have to be with that team at least through the end of next season. It could be a franchise changing time for them in the next month. … Rookie Shabazz Muhammad could be a D-League star. He had eight dunks in one game and averaged 24.7 points and 9.7 rebounds in four games there. … So what was LeBron James up to last week when he said he was jealous of all the shots Kevin Durant gets. They are friends and work out together in the summer. But it sounded like James was taking a shot as a selfish shooter at Durant, a bigtime threat this season to wrest the MVP award away from James, for earlier in the season when Durant said Dwyane Wade was no longer an elite player because of knee problems, or, at least not as good as former teammate James Harden. Wade was upset and James does like to have the back of his better friends. … Will the Warriors make a run? They have 11 of the next 14 games at home after playing an NBA most 25 road games in their first 42. And quietly iron man Andrew Bogut played in every game but one in which he was suspended. Yes, iron man Bogut. … Wonder if his last two teams, the Pistons and Nuggets, would like to have shooting guard Arron Afflalo instead of whomever they have playing the position. … The Bulls host the Lakers Monday for the Martin Luther King Day game with Kobe Bryant competing with Derrick Rose in best dressed on the bench. So ESPN dropped the game. It’s a great day in the NBA as Luol Deng makes his home debut in Cleveland with the Bulls there Wednesday. The Knicks play the Nets in a game we once cared about and the Pacers get a good test in Golden State to open a road trip. For their part, the Lakers are just glad to be out of Los Angeles, where Magic Johnson absolutely torched them last week—so much for that former ownership role—blaming Jim Buss for everything but the Adventures of Pluto Nash and saying Bryant ought to go home for the season. Kobe’s not listening, for one, and said he should be back next month no matter the record. Which should still yield them a nice place in Secaucus.

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