NEWS OF THE MORNING
Report: Westbrook’s return ahead of schedule | World Peace, not Bargnani, likely to start | Parsons says Beverley will start at PG | Malone rips Kings’ effort in practice | Suns trying to determine Bledsoe’s value
No. 1: Report: Westbrook may return in 2 weeks — Earlier this month, the Thunder got news that All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook would need a second surgical procedure on his ailing right knee. That meant that Westbrook would likely miss the first 4-6 weeks of the season, putting his return to OKC’s lineup somewhere in December. But the Thunder may be getting some good news soon, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!Sports.com, as Westbrook is healing up quick.:
Oklahoma Thunder star Russell Westbrook has made significant progress in his recovery from a second surgical procedure on his knee and could return to the Thunder’s lineup within two weeks, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
The Thunder issued an original timetable of six to eight weeks from Wednesday’s opening night for Westbrook, but barring an unforeseen setback he could be back in the lineup by mid-November.
Westbrook began participating in Thunder practice sessions and has impressed everyone with his explosion and fast return to form, sources said.
No. 2: Knicks likely to start Metta World Peace, not Bargnani — As we reported in this space a few days ago, Knicks coach Mike Woodson didn’t sound totally committed to a Carmelo Anthony–Andrea Bargnani–Tyson Chandler frontline for opening night. That appears to definitely be the case now as Marc Berman of the New York Post reports that Woodson will more than likely start Metta World Peace alongside Anthony and Chandler and use Bargnani as a sixth man:
Andrea Bargnani, who started all seven preseason games in an experimental jumbo frontcourt, is expected to be demoted to the bench for Wednesday’s season opener against the Bucks at the Garden.
Though coach Mike Woodson refused to make it official, all indications point to Bargnani becoming a reserve, Metta World Peace starting at small forward and Carmelo Anthony heading back to power forward.
Consider the big frontcourt experiment of Tyson Chandler-Bargnani-Melo a preseason failure.
Woodson still said he wants to “sleep on it’’ but Anthony said he believes it’s happening.
“I didn’t expect it, we didn’t expect it,’’ Anthony said. “That’s what he’s going with. I think guys are ready for the move. Everyone seems on board with that. Whatever position we have to play, we have to go out and do it.’’
Anthony thrived at power forward last season in his career year in which he finished third in the MVP voting. Woodson is going with what he knows worked, but if Bargnani had thrived, this wouldn’t have happened.
“It really doesn’t matter to me,’’ Anthony said of playing the 3 or 4. “I’ve been successful in this league at the three. Last year I was successful at the four. Whatever adjustments I have to make, I have to make. I’m willing to do that.’’
VIDEO: Mike Woodson on his possible plans for the starting lineup
No. 3: Rockets’ Parsons: Beverley, not Lin, to start — As the Houston Rockets ready for the season opener tonight against the Charlotte Bobcats, Rockets coach Kevin McHale was very non-committal about who would be in his starting five for the game. But one of his players, small forward Chandler Parsons, revealed a bit of information regarding the starting point guard job between Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley, writes Adam Wexler of CSNHouston.com:
Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale again was reluctant to acknowledge who his starting five would be on opening night. One of his players was more forthcoming.
“Yes,” McHale said when asked if he had a starting five set for Wednesday night. That was followed by a question asking if he’d tell the media who that is. “No,” McHale answered.
Chandler Parsons was asked if the players had been told who the starters would be and he sounded almost surprised that McHale had not shared that with the media.
“I don’t know why it’s a big surprise,” Parsons said. “It’s the same as how the preseason ended.”
That means Patrick Beverley will not only make his first opening night roster, he’ll be making his first opening night start.
“I haven’t had the fortune to play in the NBA on opening night,” Beverley said. “It’s going to be my first. I’m definitely excited.”
The starting five last year was Asik, Marcus Morris, Parsons, Harden and Jeremy Lin.
No. 4: Malone lays into Kings after practice — New Kings coach Mike Malone is trying to build a winner in Sacramento while also attempting to reverse the losing culture that has permeated the franchise in recent seasons. As such, he’s tried to instill a stronger work ethic and more overall effort from the Kings each game and — at least based on the preseason — his strategy might be working. The Kings wrapped up the exhibition season at 5-2, but a lackluster effort in Tuesday’s practice drew Malone’s ire, writes Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee:
“I asked what their record was in the preseason last year, and guess what it was?” Malone said. “It was 5-2. So the preseason doesn’t mean a damn thing, and for those guys who thought being 5-2 and doing some good things meant a lot, they couldn’t be further from the truth. And they’ll have a rude awakening Wednesday night when they play Denver.”…
“I would say (Monday) was probably our worst practice of the year,” Malone said. “If we (had played) a game (Monday), we would be zero and one to start the season.”
It was the first time Malone ripped his team’s effort after a practice. He said it was a collectively bad effort.
“The energy, the effort, the discipline, the focus just wasn’t there for whatever reason,” Malone said. “I can’t explain it. No excuse, no explanation. It was just a bad day for us, and we have to have a much better practice (today) heading into the regular season, three games in four nights.”
Some problems on the court occurred in areas Malone is adamant about improving – turnovers and defense.
The Kings have been one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA for a few years and cannot expect to change that by giving up easy points off turnovers.
“Carelessness with the ball, too many turnovers,” forward Patrick Patterson said of Monday’s practice. “Not getting back in transition, lack of communication, too many people not focused and people just taking it as a day to get by.
“Our coach said we have to get better every day. We can’t let one day get away from us.”
Patterson came to the Kings from a playoff team (Houston) in a February trade.
“Despite what we did in the preseason, we’re not that great of a team,” Patterson said. “We still have a lot to prove. We have a lot to work on.”
No. 5: Suns trying to nail down Bledsoe’s value — Phoenix has been impressed with the play of its new, young point guard, Eric Bledsoe, in the preseason. And the Suns have until Thursday at 9 p.m. to lock the guard into a long-term extension if they so choose to do so. The Suns like the idea of locking up Bledsoe, but where they’re having trouble is figuring out a fair-market value contract for him before that Thursday deadline, writes Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic:
Eric Bledsoe is as difficult to compare in contracts as he is in skills.
The Suns point guard’s unique talents make for a redeeming quality. His incomparable contract value makes for a problem with a Thursday extension deadline looming.
With the roster and contract options settled, Bledsoe’s extension talks are the most pressing item on the Suns front office’s October to-do list.
The “to-do” is whether to do it or not. The Suns valued Bledsoe enough to be the aggressor and architect of a July three-team trade obtaining him. Making a long-term commitment to Bledsoe at an annual eight-figure salary would be a deeper pledge to potential.
The money part is the conundrum. Bledsoe is not going to be paid based on averaging 8.5 points, 3.1 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game last season for the Clippers. He was All-Star Chris Paul’s backup, logging 20.4 minutes per game. It had to be a bit scary for Phoenix to see Utah reward Derrick Favors, a three-year backup like Bledsoe, with an extension worth at least $49million over four years.
Bledsoe’s other draft classmates who received extensions are incomparable in talent, results or position — Washington point guard John Wall (five years, $80million), Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins (four years, $62million), Indiana All-Star swingman Paul George (five years, $80-plus million) and Milwaukee center Larry Sanders (four years, $44million).
The only backup to receive an extension from the previous draft, Chicago power forward Taj Gibson (four years, $38million), is also a hard comparison because he plays a less-valuable position and was with the Bulls for the prior three seasons. Since Bledsoe arrived in late September, the Suns barely know what they have in him and he has yet to play a regular-season game for them.
Bledsoe has not even achieved what Detroit’s Brandon Jennings did (averaging 17.0 points and 5.7 assists over four seasons) but likely expects more than Jennings’ three-year, $25million deal.
Bledsoe’s statistics and play will get better with an increased load and his untapped talent. Allowing him to raise his value during the season and become a top restricted free agent in July is dangerous.
The Suns have to weigh that against how a Bledsoe contract would eat into salary-cap space they have created for a major trade or free-agency signing (during Bledsoe’s would-be offer-sheet process).
But does Bledsoe even want an extension here? He has not talked about wanting Phoenix to be his long-term home when given the chance.
It might be hard for an organization that offered Eric Gordon $58million over four years to come in with less for Bledsoe. At the same time, how does it offer Bledsoe more than the annual $7.5million salary it gave Dragic? The good news: Restricted free agents rarely leave with nothing in return. Even the Joe Johnson debacle netted Boris Diaw and two first-round picks.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Surely, being Derrick Rose is nice life to lead. It’s probably even nicer when the President of the United States gives you a shoutout on Twitter … Great read by the Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell on the two grandmas who helped raise Al Jefferson … Nuggets guard Ty Lawson will be a game-time decision tonight … Solid Q&A with Pistons owner Tom Gores, who fields questions on Joe Dumars‘ future and more … For the record — Kevin Garnett is a Wolverine guy, Brook Lopez is a Batman guy …
ICYMI Of The Night: Heat reserve guard Norris Cole better save this highlight on his computer, because you know Derrick Rose will get him back for it sometime this season …
VIDEO: Norris Cole crosses up Derrick Rose