Lebron James improves his shot

If you’ve been watching Lebron James this season, you’re seeing an all-time great actually improve his game. Lebron is shooting the ball so much better this season, and you see a greater emphasis at times with posting up and using the fade-away jumper. And then you see him hitting his threes.

This article explains how Lebron has committed himself to improving his shot. The results have been impressive – “This season he is shooting 58.5 percent from the field, 42.7 percent from beyond the arc and 78.2 percent from the foul line — all career-bests.”

I think having Kyle Korver as a teammate has helped as well. Lebron was always the hardest worker on the team, but now he has Korver as well – someone who is obsessive about working on his game and his shot.

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Discussing some smaller NBA moves, Part 1

There has been so much focus on the big names in free agency that sometimes the complementary players are overlooked. Here’s a rundown of some of the mid-level names that have changed teams this summer:

Raymond Felton signs with the Knicks. (2/$15 M)
When life gives you lemons… Donnie Walsh managed to sign Amare Stoudemire, but struck out on LeBron, Wade and Bosh. So instead of overpaying for another big-name free agent, or even re-signing David Lee, Walsh signed a capable point guard in Felton to run Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo system. Most importantly, he negotiated a short, two-year contract (with a possible third season as a team option) to allow the pursuit of Chris Paul if/when he becomes a free agent in two years. Felton averaged 12-4-6 and shot 46% from the field for the Bobcats last season. His numbers are sure to rise in New York assuming he gets the same run (33 mpg).

Jermaine O’Neal signs with the Celtics. (2/$12 M)
Rasheed Wallace is retiring, so the C’s needed to shore up its front line in order to contend with Dwight Howard, Carlos Boozer and Chris Bosh in the playoffs. O’Neal isn’t the player he used to be, but he averaged 14-7 and shot a career high (53%) for the Heat last season. He’s a big body and decent defender and he’s capable of hitting a face up jumper when given the opportunity. As long as he holds up, this is a nice signing by Boston.

Kyle Korver signs with the Bulls. (3/$15 M)
Chicago lacked three-point shooting last season and Korver fills that need. He hit almost 54% from deep last season and is a career 41% shooter. He should be a nice fit as a spot up shooter with Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer, but needs to shoot 40%+ from 3PT to justify a starting spot. He’s better defensively as a small forward than as a shooting guard, so it’s not clear how he and Luol Deng will play together. I expected Korver to get a full mid-level deal in this market so the Bulls got him for a relatively good price.

Tiago Splitter signs with the Spurs. (3/$11 M)
This deal happened rather quietly, but San Antonio finally has its 2007 first round draft pick under contract… at a bargain. Splitter is a 25-year-old, 6-11 center who was named the MVP of the Spanish League last season. He averaged 16-7 and shot 58% from the field in 28 minutes a game. While he’s not a great rebounder, he’s good defensively and can take some of the scoring load off of Tim Duncan. At under $4 million a season, he’s a steal.

Al Harrington signs with the Nuggets. (5/$34 M)
Harrington’s 18-6 line from last season needs to be taken with a grain of salt since he was playing for a pretty bad Knicks team that played at a very high pace. The Nuggets outbid the Mavs for Harrington’s services and Denver had to overpay to lock him up. The Nuggets will be without Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen to start the season and Nene is always a threat to miss time with injury, so Harrington gives the team a big body who can score when called upon. He’s 30, so this contract is not going to look very good in 2-3 years, but such is the market for big men.

Part 2: Tyson Chandler, Brendan Haywood, Tony Allen, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Kyle Lowry, Steve Blake

Where do the Jazz go from here?

First of all, after watching the first few episodes of “Treme,” I find it even more ridiculous that the Utah Jazz took the “Jazz” nickname with them to Salt Lake City. The franchise should apologize to the city of New Orleans and give the name back to the Hornets, who took their name from Charlotte, whose team is now named “Bobcats” after the franchise’s former owner, Bob Johnson.


But back to the Jazz. They were swept out of the playoffs last night by the Lakers, which marks the third straight year that L.A. has eliminated Utah in the playoffs. Over the past three decades, the team has been the model of consistency, with just one losing season in the last 27 years. That has a lot to do with the guy at the top, Jerry Sloan, who has coached the Jazz for 21 straight seasons. One of the biggest travesties in the history of the league is that he’s never won the Coach of the Year award.

Looking ahead to this summer, one big name free agent comes to mind — Carlos Boozer. The 28-year-old forward averaged 20-11-3 this season and shot 56% from the field. Of course the Jazz want him back, right? Not so fast. This was one of Boozer’s “healthy” years. He appeared in 78 games, which marks just the fifth time in eight years that Boozer has played in 52-plus games. In short, he’s an injury risk, but when he’s healthy, he’s an All-Star. Throw in the fact that he’s getting older and it’s obvious why the Jazz are a little leery about handing him a big contract.

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Lakers survive, win Game 3

Despite a Goran Dragic-type effort from Kyle Korver (9-of-10 from the field, 5-for-5 from 3PT, 23 points), the Lakers were able to edge the Jazz, 110-109, and take a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.

The Lakers got 35-4-7 from Kobe, but it was Ron Artest (20 points, including a surprising 4-of-7 from 3PT) and Derek Fisher (20 points) that kept the Lakers in the game for much of the second half.

This game featured a great stretch of shooting late in the fourth quarter. Check out this series of shots:

2:25 Lamar Odom makes 24-foot three point jumper (Lakers lead, 101-100)
2:10 Paul Millsap makes layup (Jazz lead, 102-101)
1:43 Kobe Bryant makes 18-foot two point shot (Lakers lead, 103-102)
1:23 Kyle Korver makes 24-foot three point jumper (Jazz lead, 105-103)
0:54 Kobe Bryant makes 24-foot three point jumper (tied at 106)
0:42 Deron Williams makes 18-foot jumper (Jazz lead, 108-106)
0:28 Derek Fisher makes 24-foot three point jumper (Lakers lead, 109-108)

If you’re counting, that’s six made jumpshots from 18+ feet to tie or take the lead in less than two minutes. That is some seriously good shooting.

Unfortunately for the Jazz, that’s where it ended as both Wesley Matthews and Deron Williams missed jumpers that would have given Utah the lead with less than 0:10 to play.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Which NBA teams will have cap space this summer?

The NBA free agency period starts July 1st, and as that date approaches I’ll preview this year’s free agent class in more detail. But for now, I’d like to take a look at which teams have the cap flexibility to be major players in free agency this summer. (Mind you, just because a team has cap space, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll use it. Just sayin’.)

Not familiar with the NBA salary cap? Here’s a quick primer…

1. The cap for the 2008-09 season was $58.7 million. The general consensus is that the cap will stay flat or decrease slightly. We’ll assume it sticks at $58.7 million.

2. If a team is over the cap, the only free agents they can sign are their own, unless they elect to sign a player to the mid-level exception (~$5.8 million per season), the bi-annual exception (~$2.0) or to a minimum contract. (The bi-annual exception may not be used in two consecutive years.)

3. If a team is under the cap, they can sign any free agent they want as long as they do not exceed the cap. They can also take on salary via trade up to the cap, so a team like the Grizzlies (with almost $20 million in cap space) could conceivably trade their first round pick to the Suns for Amare Stoudemire or to the Raptors for Chris Bosh.

Here’s a list of the bigger names in the free agent pool this summer:

Unrestricted: Carlos Boozer, Ben Gordon, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Andre Miller, Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd, Hedo Turkoglu, Allen Iverson, Mehmet Okur, Rasheed Wallace, Mike Bibby, Anderson Varejao, Grant Hill, Kyle Korver, Trevor Ariza, Brandon Bass, Chris Andersen, Zaza Pachulia, Chris Wilcox and Drew Gooden

Restricted: David Lee, Paul Millsap, Ray Felton, Josh Childress*, Marvin Williams, Glen Davis, Ramon Sessions, Charlie Villanueva, Nate Robinson, Leon Powe, Hakim Warrick, Linas Kleiza, Jarrett Jack and Shannon Brown

* It appears that if Childress does return to the NBA, the Hawks still hold his rights, so he would be a restricted free agent.

There are eight teams that project to have more than $5.8 million (the value of the mid-level exception) in cap space this summer:

Memphis Grizzlies
Projected Cap Space: $19.7 million
Memphis has been reluctant to spend for several years now and is probably one of the franchises that’s struggling the most in the current economy. I lived in Memphis for three years, and given its small size and overall lack of wealth, I always thought that it would struggle to support a professional sports team. With a core of Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo and Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies have to feel pretty good about what they have at off guard, small forward and center. The big decision this summer is what to do with restricted free agent Hakim Warrick. When dealing with bad teams, numbers can be deceptive, because no matter what, somebody has to score and rebound, right? Warrick’s PER (16.91) is #24 amongst power forwards, so ideally he’d be coming off the bench for a playoff team. The Grizzlies projected cap space assumes they make the qualifying offer to Warrick ($3.0 million). Memphis is one of those teams that could really use the services of a Carlos Boozer, David Lee or Paul Millsap, but in this economy, are the Grizzlies willing to make that kind of a commitment? They could try to make a run at Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire next summer, but the odds are long that either guy would want to play for the Grizzlies.

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