VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 31
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Kerr getting closer to return to Warriors’ bench — Last year couldn’t have gone much better for the Golden State Warriors. Not only did they close out the 2015 portion of this season with an NBA-best 30-2 mark, but they finished with the second-most wins in a calendar year in NBA history, too. Last night, they handled the Houston Rockets on the road in a game that may very well have been interim coach Luke Walton‘s finale as the lead man. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more on coach Steve Kerr potentially returning to the bench this weekend:
Head coach Steve Kerr, who has been on a leave of absence while recovering from two offseason back surgeries and a spinal fluid leak, traveled with the team for its back-to-back set in Dallas and Houston — something he hadn’t done since the Warriors played at the Clippers on Nov. 19.
During the 17-day home span before the Texas two-step, Kerr was more involved in practices and game-planning. He even addressed the team after Monday’s sloppy first half against Sacramento.
Most signs are pointing toward Kerr’s return to the bench in the near future, maybe even Saturday for a home game against Denver.
Walton said Kerr wanted to make the trip to see how his body and mind would respond to the travel and because he was going stir crazy when the team was on the road.
“He seems good,” Walton said. “He’s in good spirits. He’s furious at me for getting him another loss (Wednesday) night, but other than that, he seems like he’s handling it pretty well.
“If it is (my last game), it was a lot of fun. I’ll be thrilled to have Steve back coaching us again, but I haven’t spent any time thinking about this possibly being my last game as head coach.”
The Warriors responded to their 114-91 loss in Dallas on Wednesday by getting contributions from nine of their 10 healthy players. Stephen Curry (lower leg) and Festus Ezeli (toe) missed their second consecutive games, and Leandro Barbosa(shoulder), Harrison Barnes (ankle) and Kevon Looney (hip) were left in the Bay Area to continue their recoveries.
The Warriors (30-2) haven’t lost consecutive regular-season games since April 5 at San Antonio and April 7 at New Orleans, and they seemed determined not to let it happen again.
“I can’t wait to have Steve back. When he’s back in the gym, we’re on extra edge, because it’s like, ‘Oh shoot, we don’t want to disappoint Coach,’” Klay Thompson said. “When he does come back — whenever that is — I hope he gets a huge ovation, because he’s the one who puts this all together.…
“Shoot, this won’t be Luke’s last game as a head coach. He’s got a great future in this league. His record exemplifies that, and he’s a lot of fun to play for. He keeps it light around here, but we also respect his knowledge. There’s a reason we’re 30-2.”
VIDEO: Golden State handles Houston on the road
No. 2: Report: Nash, Sarver teaming up to buy Spanish soccer club — Former NBA MVP Steve Nash has a well-known deep love of soccer. HIs connection to the game runs nearly as deep as the one he shares with Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver, who was Nash’s boss of sorts during his heyday in Arizona. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, Nash and Sarver are partnering to buy a soccer club in Spain:
Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver and former Suns star Steve Nash are partnering in the purchase of Real Club Deportivo Mallorca in Spain’s Segunda Division, according to league sources.
Sources told ESPN.com that Nash is a key member of a consortium Sarver has assembled that, according to Spanish media reports, will soon clinch the purchase of the Palma-based side.
Sarver, Nash and their group have been trying for months to purchase a football club in Spain and nearly completed the acquisition of Levante from the first division over the summer before talks collapsed in August.
Sarver also made a very serious run at purchasing fallen Scottish giants Rangers in early 2015 before that attempt was also ultimately resisted by local club officials.
For a year now, Sarver has been open with his desire to invest in football, saying repeatedly that he’s intrigued with the sport’s growth potential.
ESPN.com reported in January 2015 that Sarver’s interest in Rangers was initiated by former Rangers and Scotland defender David Robertson, who now resides in the Phoenix area and has coached Sarver’s sons in youth football.
In his first full season in retirement, Nash is serving as a part-time player development consultant for the Warriors while also maintaining his lifelong interest in football, which includes a minority ownership stake in his hometown Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer.
According to a report in Spanish daily AS, Mallorca’s current owner, Utz Claassen, has issued a share-option campaign so a new owner can take over operations.
Spanish reports say Sarver’s consortium is set to become maximum shareholder, having proposed a major overhaul at the club.
Sarver’s group has reportedly outlined a three-year strategy to secure a return to top-flight football for Mallorca, with Claassen remaining at the club for the rest of the season.
No. 3: Early opens up about robbery, shooting — In the early-morning hours of Dec. 30, New York Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was the victim of a robbery and shooting outside a Queens-area strip club. Since then, the team, his coaches and teammates chimed in on the incident and now, Early is doing so as well. ESPN.com’s Ian Bagley has more from Early, who took to social media yesterday to talk about the robbery:
A day after he was shot in the knee during a robbery,Knicks forward Cleanthony Early thanked fans for their support and expressed relief for having avoided serious injury.
“I got shot but ironically I dodge[d] a bullet,” Early wrote on Instagram. “It could have been way worse and I’m thankful and grateful that it wasn’t.”
Several masked robbers boxed in Early’s cab with their vehicles as he left a Queens strip club early Wednesday morning and robbed him before shooting him in the right knee, according to The Associated Press.
The bullet went through Early and was not lodged in his knee, according to sources, and there was no major structural damage to his knee. Surgery will not be necessary at this point, but Early is still being monitored for infection and tissue damage in the affected area, sources said.
Several members of the Knicks organization, including most players, visited Early on Wednesday evening.
“He’s good, relatively speaking,” Carmelo Anthony said. “He’s in good spirits. … For him not to have surgery and have a chance to heal quickly, he was blessed. He was fortunate.”
Anthony, who is close with Early, added that the incident put a lot of things into perspective” for the 24-year-old forward.
“You definitely can’t take nothing for granted, and this is a situation where it makes you re-evaluate a lot of things in life.” Anthony said.
Early echoed those thoughts in his Instagram post.
“This is a lesson [learned] for me and for you all as well, be safe out there,” Early wrote. “[There are] people out here that want to hurt you just to hurt you.”
Early was out celebrating a friend’s birthday after the Knicks’ home win over the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday, according to his Instagram post.
“A simple celebration of a friends birthday easily turned into a day that will change my life forever but for the Better,” Early wrote. “There was no major damage done, Thank God, but this is one hell of an experience to recover from.”
There is no timetable for Early’s return at this point, according to coach Derek Fisher.
VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony talks about Cleanthony Early’s condition
No. 4: Time for Cousins, Kings to shape up — The Sacramento Kings have been no strangers to drama this season. From players-only meetings to talk of discord stars DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo have had with coach George Karl to just plain inconsistency on the court, Sacramento can’t seem to get its legs under itself. While Karl recently said he’s been impressed with the makeup of the roster, the truth is the Kings are 12-20 and aren’t looking like a true playoff contender out West. The Sacramento Bee‘s Ailene Voisin writes that Karl, Cousins and Co. need to either get in shape or think about a trade:
Offense, defense, camaraderie, desire. The Kings are about as appealing as week-old turkey. Their 2015-16 version of “Star Wars” has been anything but a hit. Those were boos directed at the Sleep Train Arena floor during Wednesday’s loss to the lowly Philadelphia 76ers. And while simple math reveals a lot – starting with the Kings’ 12-20 record and all those awful defensive stats – the organization’s predicament is significantly more complicated.
Changing hearts and minds takes more than a few months. Assembling a roster of skilled, complementary professionals takes even longer. General manager Vlade Divac came back to a tough job, though as he likes to say, he is just getting started.
The roster flaws are increasingly evident, and some are inherited. The absence of a legitimate starting two-guard and elite wing defender are factors, and while injured Willie Cauley-Stein was inconsistent, as are most rookies, his length and athleticism help slow penetration and protect the rim. Fortunately, the lanky 7-footer is expected to return for the upcoming trip to Oklahoma City and Dallas.
But a team – any team – is only as good as its best players, and DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay are about as compatible these days as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. And not nearly as engaged. Gay is a prototypical stretch four who envisions himself as a small forward and, despite the presence of his friend and playmaking point guard Rajon Rondo, appears to have completely lost his confidence and his way.
The underlying issue to this Cousins-George Karl tango – the issue that must be resolved for the Kings to earn a mention in any playoff chase – is the center’s poor physical conditioning.
“His biggest problem is that he is out of shape,” Charles Barkley said during his recent visit. When it was noted that the Round Man was never an Adonis, the Hall of Fame forward and TNT analyst laughed but added: “I learned during my career. Moses Malone told me to lose weight in 10-pound (increments). I started at 292, then got down to 282. Then down to 272. Then to 262. When I got below 250, we realized that was too light. So I was always best around 252. DeMarcus needs to figure out where he needs to be, and then get there. Otherwise, he’s never going to be healthy.”
The Kings closely guard the 6-foot-11 center’s weight and body fat percentage. Clearly, he’s not the player who labored during the Las Vegas Summer League before his rookie season. But his condition fluctuates wildly, and for large chunks of the past two seasons, he has been ill, slowed by nagging injuries and perhaps most noticeably gimpy and unable to gain any lift in the low post.
His numbers reflect the confounding nature of his talent. He is averaging 24.1 points and 10.3 rebounds but is shooting a career-low 41.8 percent. The drop in his production and his philosophical differences with Karl continue to generate conversation within the league. Unless the two figure out a two-step, eventually one or both will be gone. That’s how the league operates. For Cousins, who is 25 and approaching his prime, who battles his temperament as well as his weight, an All-Star and Olympics berth also are at stake.
So what are the odds? For either squad?
“We’re monitoring everything,” USA Basketball executive director (and new 76ers executive) Jerry Colangelo said Wednesday. “I’m not going to get into any names or talk about candidates, but we want to see how they play this season, what kind of shape they’re in, look at their relationships on and off the court.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The stats leaders for the calendar year of 2015 … Willie Cauley-Stein may be back in the lineup by Monday … New Orleans Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday is no longer on a minutes restriction … Making sense of all the problems in Phoenix, one of which may be tension in the backcourt … The top 10 plays, dunks, blocks, circus shots, clutch shots and best bloopers of 2015 …