NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Pistons owner Gores has more work to do fix Motor City mess — Tom Gores took the first step in attempting to fix the mess that is the Detroit Pistons by firing his head coach, Maurice Cheeks. That’s only the beginning of the heavy lifting he’ll have to do to fix what ails the once-proud Pistons, according to Terry Foster of the Detroit News., who reiterates what our Steve Aschburner said in the immediate aftermath of Cheeks being fired. And the list is long and starts with Pistons president Joe Dumars and includes several players who should all be in the crosshairs for a franchise that expected so much more from this season:
Gores owns this shipwreck and he probably doesn’t know what to do with it. Let me give him some advice:
He’s already issued his playoff-or-else edict for the season and can’t back down now. However, he can’t ignore long-term goals — that should be his most pressing concern.
Rodney Stuckey, Greg Monroe and Charlie Villanueva have been dangled as trade bait. The Pistons could go one of two ways. They could trade these pieces and try to get a small forward that could help them win now. Or they could trade these guys to free up cap space and retain their draft pick by slumping to one of the eight worst records in the league.
Option No. 2 means the Pistons would miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season. I am OK with that as long as they have one of the league’s eight-worst records so they can keep their pick in this talent-heavy draft.
The Pistons are a half-game behind Charlotte for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The last time the Pistons made the playoffs as an eight seed was 2009. They were swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
How did that experience work out? The Pistons are 132-226 since.
The Pistons likely would play the Pacers as an eight seed or the two-time defending champion Heat as a seventh seed. Both teams would sweep the Pistons. So what is the point?
The Pistons are a young team and playoff experience is an important learning experience. However, the Pistons might get drummed out before they can get their notebooks out.
“I still have a lot of hope for this season and I expect our players to step up,” Gores said.
Speaking of players, black marks on Cheeks’ record undoubtedly were the run-ins he had with Josh Smith and Will Bynum — which continue a trend of Pistons players having too much say. Does anyone remember the John Kuester mutiny?
Gores has to provide direction to this franchise. He has to establish a vision. If he doesn’t the Pistons will continue to play in front of a lot of empty seats.
No. 2: Lob City was alive and well in Chris Paul’s return to the Clippers — Life without Chris Paul for the Los Angeles Clippers was certainly manageable. In fact, Blake Griffin ripped it up in Paul’s absence. But it’s good to have their All-Star point guard and floor leader back, as the world saw Sunday in the Clippers’ rout of the Philadelphia 76ers. It was a welcome back party, of sorts, that signals a second-half charge for the Clippers that should include a rise up the Western Conference food chain. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times recounts the return of Paul in the biggest (literally) win in franchise history:
It was Showtime at Staples Center on Sunday night, starring the return of Chris Paul, the comeback of Blake Griffin from an injury scare and the rest of the Clippers playing their roles.
Playing in his first game since he separated his right shoulder Jan. 3 at Dallas, Paul had seven points and eight assists in the Clippers’ show-stopping and franchise-record-setting 123-78 victory over the overmatched Philadelphia 76ers.
With Griffin overcoming a bruised left shin suffered in the first quarter to score 26 points, grab 11 rebounds and hand out six assists, the Clippers set a franchise record for biggest margin of victory.
The Clippers held the 76ers to an opponent franchise-low 27% (27 for 100) shooting. The Clippers set a franchise record for biggest lead at the half when they opened a 69-30 lead after two quarters.
They built a lead as big as 56 points, their largest of the season. So after missing the last 18 games recovering from his injury, this is what Paul came back to.
“It felt great to play,” said Paul, who played 22 minutes 44 seconds. “It’s one of those things you never know what it’s going to be like until you actually get out there and compete and play. It just felt good.”
Griffin went down late in the first quarter after Tony Wroten slipped while driving and stumbled into Griffin.
After he limped to the locker room with head athletic trainer Jasen Powell, Griffin checked back into the game with 7:31 left in the second quarter.
In case anyone was wondering if Griffin was fine and that he and Paul were on the same page, they got their answer twice in the second quarter.
Paul had a breakaway layup, but threw the ball off the backboard, allowing Griffin to catch it and throw down a windmill dunk.
Then later in the second quarter, Griffin dribbled up court, made a behind-the-back pass with his left hand to Paul, who threw a lob that Griffin dunked, bringing the crowd to its feet again.
So, Griffin was asked after the game, how hard was it play with Paul again?
“It was tough, but we managed,” Griffin deadpanned, laughing along with the media.
No. 3: World Peace has words of wisdom for Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart — If there is any one man on the planet who knows what Oklahoma State Marcus Smart is feeling in the aftermath of the fan-shoving incident he was in the middle of Saturday night, it’s veteran New York Knicks forward Metta World Peace. He, as Ron Artest then, was at the epicenter of the infamous Malice at the Palace of Auburn Hills. World Peace insists there are plenty of lessons to be learned from what Smart is going through now and will during and after his three-game suspension:
World Peace said Smart — who is projected to be a high NBA draft pick — might benefit from learning how to deal with obnoxious fans at age 19, before he becomes a pro and millions of dollars are on the line.
“Just in general, I heard the kid is pretty good and a potential pro,” World Peace said Sunday before his game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. “So those types of challenges on the court when you’re playing and fans are rooting against you — that was a great lesson learned, so that hopefully when he does become a pro, he’ll be able to kind of withstand the fans that are rooting against him on the road.”
World Peace also said Smart needs to learn to control his energy.
“I think that emotion and that fire could be directed towards winning on the court instead of directed other ways,” he said.
World Peace said given the chance, he would advise Smart to be aware of the big picture when making decisions.
At 19 years old, when I came out of St. John’s, I was fresh out the ‘hood. I was fresh out of Queensbridge,” he said. “So my mentality was still struggle, defensive and things like that. I wasn’t really conscious. I’m 34 years old now. So he’s a young kid. I wish I would have listened when I was a kid to my elders or people who had my best interests at heart, and then I wish I would have been more conscious at that age also. Those are two things that, if you were to reach out to a kid like Marcus — a talented kid, future leader in the community — you would tell him those things.”
World Peace said more guidelines should be in place for college fans because college players don’t get paid. He said fans should have more leeway at NBA games.
“As far as the pros, people pay to come and see us, and I appreciate it because I’m able to take care of my family,” he said. “So I don’t really judge fans about what they say, good or bad.”
No. 4: No change for Kobe’s return and another injury scare for Nash — For all of us who think we know what’s best for Kobe Bryant, save the advice. Bryant isn’t making any changes to his comeback plans for the Los Angeles Lakers this season. He told ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin as much over the weekend:
Despite continuing to be sidelined with a left knee injury and seeing his team continue to fall further out of the playoff picture, Kobe Bryant remains steadfast in his intention to return to the court this season.
“My plan hasn’t changed,” Bryant said Sunday at an event to promote his newest signature sneaker, the Nike Kobe 9 Elite Masterpiece. “I’m just going about it every single day just trying to get better. That’s my job. My job is to get my butt back out there on the court when I’m healthy enough to play and that hasn’t changed.”
Bryant, out since Dec. 17 with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee and averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 42.5 percent shooting this season, has missed the Lakers’ last 26 games. He missed the Lakers’ first 19 games this season because of a torn Achilles in his left leg.
The 18-year veteran is scheduled to be re-evaluated after the All-Star Game next week, but wouldn’t venture a guess as to when he could actually return to game action.
“That I don’t know,” Bryant said. “It’s completely out of my control. I really got to sit here and just wait until this thing heals up and then go out there and do what I do.”
He reiterated his confidence that he would not miss the rest of the 2013-14 season, however.
When asked what his best-case scenario would be upon a return this season, Bryant replied: “Play like me. That’s it.”
The news on Steve Nash isn’t quite as positive. He didn’t finish Sunday’s game against the Bulls, exiting with a nerve irritation in his left leg. He’s scheduled to be evaluated today. But things don’t look good for the NBA’s elder statesman:
Nash received contact to his left leg from Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich as he turned the ball over with 9:18 remaining in the third quarter. The contact was near the same spot where he suffered a fracture in the leg last season. He stayed in the game until there was 5:00 remaining in the quarter and went straight to the locker room.
“I just took a knee to the spot where I broke my leg,” Nash said. “Ever since I did that I’ve had a lot of nerve issues there and it just really flared up on me. I don’t think it’s going to be a long-term thing at all. Hopefully it’s something that can just settle down this week, hopefully by Tuesday.”
The Lakers host the Utah Jazz on Tuesday.
“[Once] that nerve flared up and I started to compensate, I wasn’t going to be very effective … and I also was going to risk going back on all that work I did to get back on the court,” Nash said.
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said Nash’s back started to tighten up from the nerve issues, causing the veteran point guard to limp on the court.
Nash, who turned 40 on Friday, had played in three of the Lakers’ last four games after missing nearly three months of game action because of nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings.
“It wasn’t like I broke it again,” Nash said. “I just kind of irritated the nerve and I’m hopeful that all the stuff that I’ve been doing will be able to overcome that little bit of irritation. It’s kind of transient and hopefully I’ll wake up tomorrow and feel better.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: You’ll have to forgive the Magic for acting like they won a championship when they knocked off the Pacers but every win, especially against an elite team, matters when they come as sparingly as they do in Orlando … Acting Cavs GM David Griffin says they are buying at the trade deadline in Cleveland … Thunder star Russell Westbrook is gearing up for his return after the All-Star break … Rick Carlisle couldn’t resist the inevitable Dirk Nowitzki–Larry Bird comparisons over the weekend in Boston …
ICYMI of the Night: The Clippers went to town in their rout of the Sixers and no one had more fun in the blowout than the Clippers’ All-Star power forward Blake Griffin, who shows off a bit with one of his many dunks …