Free agent Anthony Tolliver told me Lakers have entered mix as possible team for him & he visited Charlotte Monday. Tolliver said the Lakers recently called his agent, Larry Fox, to express interest. He said talks are still preliminary but he would have definite interest if the Lakers turn out to be a serious option. “Obviously, to have a chance to play for a franchise like that, you’d have to think long and hard about that,’’ the forward told FOX Sports Florida. Sulia
While he waits to learn more about the Lakers' situation, other teams on Tolliver’s list are Charlotte, Utah and Chicago. Tolliver said the Bobcats have made a contract offer (for the minimum) and he visited Charlotte last Monday. Sulia
"John’s been around the pro game all of his life because of his dad," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said."And he’s had to fight and claw for everything he’s gotten. He’s a smart player, he’s a great worker, I think it’s the perfect fit for him."
Lucas was a safe choice for the Jazz, in as much as he won’t threaten Burke or expect to be the point guard for the long-term. But the Jazz believe they have more than a capable stop-gap and more than a positive locker room influence.
The sad part is based on what we saw from Burke in Summer League is he may be forced into a larger role than just a back-up/mentor.
To understand what John Harding Lucas III has to offer the Jazz an observer would have to go back more a decade.
To the haircut he didn’t want to get.
Changed by tragedy
It was 2003 and Lucas was freshly arrived in Stillwater, Okla., a refugee from a Baylor program shattered by the shooting of player Patrick Dennehy and the subsequent arrest of forward Carlton Dotson for his murder.
Dennehy had transferred to Baylor from New Mexico that summer, and spent time training with Lucas and his father in Houston.
"I still think about Pat Dennehy and Carlton Dotson to this day," Lucas said.
The murder led to an NCAA investigation that revealed numerous violations, and Lucas was one of four players who opted to transfer from the program without sitting out a season. Which is how he found himself at Oklahoma State in a face-off with Eddie Sutton. Lucas describes himself as "still kind of wild." He wore his hair in braids.
Lucas remembers Sutton telling him, "We want you here, but you got to do one thing: You got to cut your hair."
"It didn’t really hit me," Lucas said. "Iverson, everybody got braids. What are you talking about?"
This turned out to be a critical time for Lucas. He led Oklahoma State to the 2004 Final Four, hitting the game-winning shot in the Elite Eight to beat St. Joseph’s.
Asked how the tragedy and transfer impacted Lucas, former Oklahoma State coach Sutton said, "I didn’t give him the fifth degree asking him about it. He just epitomized what everybody looked for in a student athlete."
However, he considered for a moment more and added, "No way it couldn’t affect you some way."
While Jazz fans may be quick to look at Lucas’ numbers to support an argument that the Jazz should have made a bolder move at point guard, the number for which Lucas will always be known is the one behind his name.
He was the perfect move for a team obviously tanking. He's the clearest example of their intent.
The first John Lucas, now 93, was an important Civil Rights figure in North Carolina and sits on the board of the National Educators Association. The second was a basketball star who overcame a cocaine addiction to become a coach and personal adviser.
"I take pride in my name," Lucas said, "because I’m also named after my grandfather. I never want to do anything to let him or my father down."
That discounts, of course, the time LeBron James dunked over him. It was January 2012, and Lucas, then with the Bulls, was providing baseline help when James took a lob and went up and over the 5-foot-11 point guard.
"Our family just joined the witness protection program and changed its name," Lucas II quipped to the Chicago Tribune.
Lucas now jokes about the play, and it catapulted him to a certain level of fame, leading, he said, to being a verified member of Twitter.
"Every time I see him I’m like, ‘Thanks for the check,’" Lucas said, "‘the blue check next to my name.’"
With verification in hand, Lucas is still looking for validation. He backed up his strong two seasons in Chicago with a nondescript year in Toronto, averaging 5.3 points in 13.1 minutes per game.
Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsey had a bigger pool of information from which to draw, however. He knew Lucas since he was a child, and Lindsey worked for the Houston Rockets. Lucas II ran the tennis club where the Rockets practiced, and Lindsey became acquainted with his sons.
And that’s part of the undeniable truth about John Lucas III, which is no different from any story about a son following his father’s footsteps into business. For all that Lucas III overcame on his own and accomplished through his own hard work and dedication, it was on a trail previously blazed by the men in his family.
"It was a gift and a curse, too," Lucas said, "because people would be like, ‘He’s just there because his dad was in the NBA.’ But it’s not like that. I knew a lot of coaches’ kids and players’ kids who don’t have that shot."
Lucas is known for being a fearless shooter, even to a fault. But that doesn’t necessarily equate to being selfish.
"I know in Chicago all his teammates loved him," Thibodeau said. "I think his confidence comes from his work."
And that is Lucas’ defining characteristic.
"At the end of the day," he said, "I want people to know I worked hard. My dad didn’t pull any strings for me. He never did, he never would."
"It made me feel so good that there's a team out there that has so much belief in my game," Jefferson says of his dinner with Higgins and Clifford. "I was like, 'Done deal.' And then when they started talking money, it was like, 'Oh my god!' It was icing on the cake."5 Grantland
"They used to call me The Black Hole, and that's really who I was," Jefferson says. "But going to Utah just matured me in so many ways. I'm past the stage in my career where I feel like I have to take all the shots." Grantland
Good luck to Al and the Bobcats with that. Pretty sure they'll need it.
No team has had a more interesting offseason than the Utah Jazz.
General manager Dennis Lindsey passed on re-signing four starters, traded up to the No. 9 pick in June's draft, acquired three veterans who rarely played last season, signed a journeyman point guard, and grabbed the MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League championship.
He was like one of those guys in your fantasy league that unceasingly adds and drops just for the sake of it.
Now here's the $55 million question: What will these changes result in?
To make a decent guess, I used Basketball-Reference's 2013-14 per-36 projections to estimate win shares for each player on the Jazz's roster. Check it out:
Enes Kanter (31 min.): 4.0
Derrick Favors (35 min.): 5.2
Gordon Hayward (37 min.): 5.4
Alec Burks (28 min.): 2.2
Trey Burke (28 min.): 2.2
Rudy Gobert (10 min.): N/A
Jeremy Evans (10 min.): 2.2
Marvin Williams (16 min.): 1.9
Brandon Rush (17 min.): 2.1
John Lucas III (10 min.): 1.1
Ian Clark (10 min.): 0.7
Richard Jefferson (5 min.): 0.6
Andris Biedrins (3 min.): 0.4
Yikes. Last year, 28 wins would've tied Utah with Sacramento for the third-worst record in the Western Conference. (Note: I realize my guesstimate on minutes won't be perfect -- who knows how much time Ty Corbin will give to any of these guys, especially veterans like Williams and Rush -- but I think it's a decent approximation.)
28 is pretty optimistic I'd say.
Here's the good news: When compared with the ex-starting five, the new lineup looks pretty strong. They combined for 19 wins -- just seven less than what Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward, Randy Foye, and Mo Williams collected last season. Not bad for group that has an average of just two years of experience per player.
Exactly. Very optimistic!
Based on the same numbers, we can expect some solid per-game averages from Utah's collection of lottery picks.
Gordon Hayward, for instance, would up his scoring from 14.1 points per game to a team-leading 16.7. He'd also grab 4.2 rebounds and hand out 3.7 assists.
I'd hope to see more assists from him.
As for the bigs, Derrick Favors would collect a double-double -- 14.5 points, 10.6 rebounds -- and block 2.2 shots per contest
About what I figure based on his numbers last year but as his number of shots has went up his FG% has went down so who knows what he'll do playing against starters and not bench players.
while Enes Kanter's averages would jump from 7.2 points and 4.3 rebounds to 13.8 and 9.0, respectively
And, although they come from the smallest players of the bunch, Burks' and Burke's stats would be big: No. 10 would average double figures for the first time with 11.8 PPG, while the rookie floor general would gather 4.7 assists an outing.
stats for Derrick Favors are predicted to jump from 9.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks to 14.5 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. Although these numbers are estimates calculated by one guy, the projections at least look hopeful.
Hopeful for the supposed franchise player would be closer to 20/12/3.
Another hopeful prediction is the NBA success of rookie point guard Trey Burke. A recent article by Purple and Blues predicted the Minnesota T-Wolves, who drafted Burke then promptly traded him to Utah, will be kicking themselves for giving him up.
The article suggested if Burke can get a way from his 3-point shooter mentality, he can become a versatile NBA guard. It also referenced a highlight video in which Burke didn't make a single 3-pointer, yet was still effective. Purple and Blues believes Burke will be the next big thing for the Jazz if he allows himself to grow and improve each year.
Minnesota will be sorry for giving up a guy they drafted for another team? Did anyone else see the summer league?
During Al Jefferson's three seasons in Utah, the Jazz routinely finished in the bottom half of the league in a variety of defensive statistics.
From the 2010-11 season to this past year, the Jazz were never ranked among the NBA's top 15 teams in opponents' points per game or opponents' field-goal percentages.
Jefferson was particularly weak against the pick and roll. According to Yahoo Sports! writer Dan Devine, the Jazz finished in the 20s (24th, 20th and 21st) in opponent points per possession during Jefferson's time in Salt Lake City, and the Jazz allowed "an eye-popping 9.2 more points per 100 possessions with Big Al in the middle than when he sat last season."
Who wanted to bring Al back? They will definitely be a lot better defensively this year.
During a recent interview with Grantland's Zach Lowe, Jefferson acknowledged his defensive deficiencies.
"It ain't no secret around the league that I struggle with my defense," Jefferson told Lowe. "My pick-and-roll defense is my weakness. And that's mind over matter. I just gotta suck it up … and do it."
The Bobcats signed the former Jazzman to a three-year, nearly $41 million deal in early July. What Charlotte gets out of the deal is an offensive-minded center — he ranked 20th last year in the NBA in points per game — with a high shooting percentage.
His % is actually pretty low for a guy with the supposedly greatest post moves in the game. Rarely draws fouls either.
Lowe said he met with Rod Higgins, Charlotte's president of basketball operations, and new Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford over dinner. It was at that meeting that Jefferson realized just how much the Bobcats were willing to invest to get him, an incentive the big man called "icing on the cake."
"It made me feel so good that there's a team out there that has so much belief in my game," Jefferson told Lowe. "I was like, 'Done deal.’ ”
The fact that no one else was offering you the same kind of money I'm sure had nothing to do with it!
During his three years with the Jazz, Jefferson averaged 18.6, 19.2 and 17.8 points per game while shooting right around 49 percent from the floor.
Based on those numbers, he goes into Charlotte as the team's top offensive option. Last year, point guard Kemba Walker led the Bobcats by averaging 17.7 points per game.
Be interesting to see how that plays out. Kemba should be given the chance to score more and he's the one that wanted Al.
His assists-per-game ratio also hit a career high in Salt Lake City as he averaged more than two per game in his final two seasons with the Jazz.
Jefferson credited his time in Utah with helping him mature in his offensive game.
"They used to call me The Black Hole, and that's really who I was," Jefferson told Lowe. "But going to Utah just matured me in so many ways. I'm past the stage in my career where I feel like I have to take all the shots."
Lowe wrote that "skeptics around the league will tell you the Jefferson signing might represent the perfect 'best of both worlds' endgame for Charlotte." What that means is Jefferson could help lift the Bobcats — who had a 21-61 record last year and a historically bad 7-59 in 2011-12 — a bit out of their recent winning woes while still leaving themselves in a position to obtain high lottery picks.
"Having a starting, big-minutes center who's a confirmed liability in pick-and-roll coverage … makes it awful hard to build a winning team, and awful hard to justify the whopping $13.5 million annual price tag Al now carries," Devine wrote.
His ball stopping at the other end is hard to justify to.
Skeptics around the league will tell you the Jefferson signing might represent the perfect "best of both worlds" endgame for Charlotte — that Jefferson's post-up efficiency could remove the stench of historic awfulness, a must for any franchise wishing to attract even quality midlevel veteran free agents, without pushing them out of the top five in the 2014 draft.
Higgins and Steve Clifford, the Bobcats' well-respected new head coach, scoff at that notion. They view Jefferson as a building block who will make things easier for their young perimeter players by drawing constant double-teams, and who will work as the pick-and-roll partner Kemba Walker desperately needs.
Pick and roll isn't really his game. Jazz went to Al ball despite their long histroy with the pick and roll game.
"Al instantly helps the development of everyone else," Clifford says. "Or at least he should, if we are organized the right way and execute the way we need to."
Charlotte, in other words, patiently pursued a "one step back, two steps forward" strategy, but lost patience with it right before the draft class that represented pay dirt. That may be wrong in the eyes of the calculating strategist thinking about those 55 wins, but not every franchise approaches team-building that way — at least not on every step of the team-building journey. Owners can lose patience if things still look bleak after two years of rebuilding; Michael Jordan, the team's majority owner, is famously competitive and impatient, and executives around the league still aren't sure who makes the final calls among Jordan, Higgins, and Rich Cho, the team's GM. Multiple lotteries might fail to produce a franchise-level star, damn near a must-have for any true title contender, an unfillable hole that leaves a franchise in a non-glamour market like Charlotte with a question: continue to go all-out in pursuit of one, or see if we can build to something "pretty good" over the long haul? The media views the Joe Johnson–era Hawks, built from the ashes of a 13-win catastrophe in 2004-05, as a boring failure, but a lot of executives around the league think of them much differently.3
Charlotte, of course, isn't giving up on the idea that this insanely young core could one day grow into a 55-win contender, provided that it gets the right veteran help. It certainly pursued Jefferson aggressively. He didn't meet with any other teams, save for the Jazz, who politely told Jefferson at the start of free agency they had no intention of re-signing him, he says. "They called me on July 1 and told me they wasn't gonna go in my direction," Jefferson recalls, adding that he wasn't surprised. "I told my teammates all season, 'Utah would be a fool to bring me back, with Enes [Kanter] and Derrick [Favors]. Them boys are gonna be the truth!"4 Utah offered to sign-and-trade Jefferson to a better team lacking cap space, but Jefferson short-circuited the free-agency process early after Higgins, Clifford, and other officials wooed him over dinner. Higgins says the team had been talking about Jefferson for several months, and they offered him big money early in free agency, even though there do not appear to have been any other serious suitors.
"It made me feel so good that there's a team out there that has so much belief in my game," Jefferson says of his dinner with Higgins and Clifford. "I was like, 'Done deal.' And then when they started talking money, it was like, 'Oh my god!' It was icing on the cake."5
Walker emerged as a more efficient scorer last season, and the Bobcats hope Jefferson will provide him with the kind of pick-and-roll partner the team just hasn't had. Walker and Clifford have already watched film together for hours, and, Clifford says, Walker began one session with a plaintive question for his new coach: "Why can't I ever hit the roll man?" Walker's game probably leaned too far in the "score-first" direction last season, but that was understandable given the sub-replacement big-man contingent on hand — and the spacing issues that cramped Walker's passing lanes.
One reason for those spacing issues: Kidd-Gilchrist, the Davis lottery consolation prize, cannot shoot at all. The Bobcats have hired Mark Price to work with Kidd-Gilchrist on his jumper, but they know it is going to be a long process. Clifford wants Kidd-Gilchrist focusing on his strengths — defense, cutting, and crashing the offensive glass. Having a wing chase rebounds like that can be dangerous for a team's transition defense, but the Bobcats will have rules in place allowing for Kidd-Gilchrist to attack the glass, the coach says. Clifford was an assistant with the Rockets under Jeff Van Gundy, and Houston during those years made allowances for Steve Francis's above-average offensive rebounding, Clifford says. The rules were simple: If Francis sensed an opportunity for an offensive board, at least one of the team's big men was to sprint back in transition, along with the other perimeter players.
KENT SMITH/GETTY IMAGES
Clifford is also working with Kidd-Gilchrist on his post game and some isolation moves from the elbow area, he says. Kidd-Gilchrist is probably the wild card here — the young guy with the best chance to become that franchise-changing All-Star. Walker still has room to grow, but he's 23, and he hasn't flashed the passing skills of a franchise-lifting point guard. Zeller projects as a nice complementary starter, and the team is already growing impatient with Bismack Biyombo. Gerald Henderson finished the season strong, flashing an improved 3-point stroke and taking on more ballhandling duties, but he's almost 26 and might peak as a league-average wing starter.
If Kidd-Gilchrist tops out as a fringe All-Star with a defense-first game (Gerald Wallace 2.0?), it's hard to see 55 wins from here — especially since the front office seems content to let this core grow as their rookie contracts creep toward expiration. The coldest long-view move would be to use Walker as the Sixers just used Jrue Holiday — as a young piece of surprise trade bait for future assets, including a 2014 first-round pick.6 But a trade in that vein doesn't appear to be in the team's immediate plans, though Higgins, of course, cannot rule it out. "If there are opportunities to make this team better via trade, we will do that," he says. (He also denied that the Bobcats ever seriously discussed trading the no. 2 pick in the 2012 draft, which became Kidd-Gilchrist, to the Thunder for James Harden.)
Those 55 wins recede further into the distance if Charlotte wins just enough games this season to fall outside the top five in the 2014 draft. Depending on health, luck, and player development, sticking within that range might be tight. Orlando and Philly are gunning for the top of the draft; Utah and Phoenix are in similar developmental stages; Sacramento is always a good bet to malfunction; and Boston wants a shot at a high pick. Toss in one or two injury- or trade-ravaged disappointments, and the Bobcats could suddenly be looking at a pick in the lower half of the top 10. And they won't seem to care.
"You just can't predict what's going to happen in the lottery," Higgins says. "We've been in the top three spots going in the last two years, and we've moved back both times. What does that tell you?"7
In the meantime, Clifford, a defense-first guy, faces the challenge of repairing a sieve that now features Jefferson at center. Jefferson's teams have always failed on defense, and the big man knows his issues against the pick-and-roll have often driven those struggles. He's a bit plodding in space, and has struggled badly to corral opposing point guards. "It ain't no secret around the league that I struggle with my defense," Jefferson says. "My pick-and-roll defense is my weakness. And that's mind over matter. I just gotta suck it up, get my ass out there, and do it."8
Jefferson is confident he can be better, and working within a more consistent scheme might help him. The Jazz were constantly asking their bigs to do different things against the pick-and-roll, switching almost possession-by-possession from schemes in which Jefferson hung back around the foul line to strategies that demanded he lunge to contain the ball handler 30 feet from the rim.
Clifford won't say what sorts of scheme he'll use, and some game-by-game tweaks are always necessary. But he's a proud Van Gundy acolyte, especially in terms of shot selection. "We want to take away layups, defend without fouling, and take away 3-point shots from better shooters," Clifford says. The flip side: hoping opponents fire away from midrange.
Jefferson might manage better in a system that allows him to hang closer to the paint on nearly every pick-and-roll, similar to how the Pacers and Bulls use Roy Hibbert and Joakim Noah, respectively. Such a scheme might also help the Bobcats clean up the defensive glass, a big Clifford goal; only Sacramento rebounded a lower percentage of opponent misses last season, and flying around in blind chaos to contain all those second chances contributed to Charlotte's very high foul rate — a major Clifford no-no.
One thing neither Jefferson nor Clifford is worried about: Jefferson hogging the ball on the left block on offense, stunting the development of his teammates.