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NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Walton was right for Warriors’ job — When Steve Kerr developed complications from back surgery and had to take an indefinite leave of absence, folks rightly wondered if the Warriors had a decent replacement. Remember, Alvin Gentry bolted months earlier for the Pelicans job and the Warriors didn’t hire an experienced replacement to lend an ear to Kerr. Luke Walton, who didn’t bring much seasoning, took over and the Warriors haven’t looked back. With Kerr bracing for a return, possibly this weekend, Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group writes what we all now know: Walton was a good choice …
With Walton guiding them as the interim head coach, the defending NBA champion Warriors have gone on a dream ride and steamrolled the competition on their way to the best start in league history at 30-2. As Walton appears to be winding down his stint, his success should not have come as a complete surprise.
Kerr, who could soon return from his leave of absence after a spinal fluid leak sidelined him, trusted the 35-year-old caretaker of the team to strike a familiar tone that balances competitiveness with calm.
“When he delivers a message, he’s comfortable,” Kerr said. “He’s really made for it. Nothing rattles him.”
Walton did have his sense of security shaken off the court during the Warriors’ undefeated November. The 2014 Mercedes-Benz sport utility vehicle that his wife, Bre, drives was allegedly stolen from their home and crashed. Even for the 20-year-old man arrested on felony charges of first-degree residential burglary and unlawful driving or taking of a vehicle, Walton offered compassion.
“I feel bad for the kid,” said Walton, who grew up in an area of San Diego where the front door was rarely locked. “I mean, seriously, you’ve got a 20-year-old kid. What’s going on in his life that that’s what it’s coming to at the age of 20 years old?
When Walton was 20, he was a 6-foot-8, curly-haired redshirt freshman point forward at the University of Arizona. He was just starting a playing career molded by the Hall of Fame voices that are still in his head today as a coach on a meteoric rise.
Walton’s free-spirited father, Hall of Fame player Bill Walton, considered Arizona coach Lute Olson to be the modern-day version of UCLA’s John Wooden, whose sayings (“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” “Don’t mistake activity with achievement.”) were scrawled onto Luke’s lunch bags as a child.
“He was a master at the fundamentals of the game and paying attention to the smallest details in practice, and I — probably from him — am a huge believer in those things,” Luke Walton said of Olson.
“Whether it’s footwork or it’s the way we’re defending a screen-and-roll, the positioning of our screens, those type of things I’m naturally always looking for from the sideline.”
Walton led all frontcourt players in the country in assists as a junior in the Wildcats’ up-tempo offense. He flourished as a cerebral and outspoken player who could read defenses and direct his teammates to the right places on the floor. He could command a huddle, according to point guard Jason Gardner, who with Walton served as senior captains.
No. 2: Does robbery make Knicks a tougher sell? — When Cleanthony Early was robbed at gunpoint outside a Queens’ club in the wee morning hours a few days ago, it shed more light on the potential dangers of athletes being in nightclubs because their wealth and celebrity can make them targets. Because this happened in New York, where everything is magnified, it wasn’t a surprise when a New York writer wondered aloud if the Big Apple could be off-limits to some free agents who don’t like big city living. Frank Isola of the Daily News took it a step further and weighed whether the Early robbery was a red flag for those free agents:
In the span of eight months, Chris Copeland was stabbed outside a Manhattan nightclub; another NBA player, Thabo Sefolosha, had his leg broken by a New York policeman; Derrick Williams was allegedly robbed by two women he invited into his apartment, and our newest victim, Cleanthony Early, was robbed and shot outside a strip club in Queens.
This all occurred within a 10-mile radius of the NBA league office and Madison Square Garden, two institutions damaged the most by a string of crimes in which the victims are mostly guilty of poor judgment.
That was certainly true of Early, a 24-year-old second-year role player who was fortunate not to lose his life in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday in Queens. His career, however, could be in jeopardy.
Early becomes the latest example of the old adage that nothing good happens after midnight. The same can be said of his Knicks teammate, Williams, who was allegedly robbed of nearly $700,000 in jewelry by two women 10 days earlier.
Early’s case is much more horrifying and evil. It was around 4 a.m. Wednesday when Early was robbed at gunpoint and shot in his right knee for good measure.
Really, what more can the NBA do than just hope its players will avoid trouble and exercise good old common sense. Some of the league’s bigger stars are accompanied by security guards when they venture into public places, including nightclubs.
But security detail and curfews won’t prevent NBA players from entering clubs and enjoying the spoils of being rich, young and famous. Besides being famous, Williams and Early are no different than some hot shot young attorney or hedge fund guys with plenty of disposable income. The motto is simple: have money, will party.
“We all are targets at the end of the day,” Carmelo said on Wednesday. “Regardless of how much love people will show you and whether you feel comfortable being in this place or that place, it will always be that one person who thinks differently, who feels you shouldn’t be in the position that you’re in, that you shouldn’t be as blessed as you are.
“So it will always be the 99 people who are bigging you up and then the one person over here who is trying to take you down.”
No. 3: Porzingis takes the safe route as a rookie — Of course, New York can be a very safe place if you take precaution. That’s what a certain Knicks rookie has chosen. Maybe it’s because he’s 7-foot-3 and easy to spot, and because he’s already a celebrity, and because he makes millions. But Kristaps Porzingis, only 20, has not only stayed away from certain hot spots in New York, he has “security” in the form of his parents. Here’s Mark Berman of the New York Post with more:
If any Knick is a good bet to stay out of trouble, it is Porzingis, who often has said he is in New York City only for the games.
Porzingis, who claims to not drink, is living in a cocoon in White Plains with his parents from Latvia and his two brothers.
“It’s always good to have support around as young as I am and New York with a lot of attention,’’ Porzingis said at the United Center on Friday. “My family’s around to make sure I’m doing the right thing and staying out of trouble and focused on basketball. For me, it’s great to have family around.’’
The Knicks are reeling from two ugly incidents in a space of 11 days that prompted GM Steve Mills to give a talk to the players before they flew to Chicago for New Year’s Eve. The Knicks face the Bulls on Friday night.
Knicks forward Derrick Williams allegedly got robbed of $750,000 worth of jewelry two weeks ago by two women he met at a club and took back to his apartment in the wee hours.
On Wednesday at about 4:15 a.m., Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was robbed and shot in the right knee after leaving a Queens strip joint and being held up by at least six bandits.
“It’s sad that things like that happen,’’ said Porzingis, the first Knick to tweet a sympathetic message to Early on Wednesday morning. “It shows how careful you have to be in those situations.’’
Although the drinking age in Latvia is 18, Porzingis says he does not drink at all. And as far as going out to a nightclub, Porzingis said, “I’m 20 years old.’’
No. 4: Is Jabari Parker taking a step backward? — He was widely considered by scouts to be the most NBA-ready player taken in the draft a few years ago. Then Jabari Parker got hurt less than two months into his rookie season and missed almost a year following knee surgery. He has made a triumphant return this season and shows flashes of being the player the Bucks projected when he left Duke. But he hasn’t put it all together just yet. Does Parker deserve the benefit of time, or does his sporadic struggles mean he’s in for an inconsistent season? Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel takes a look:
The 6-foot-8 forward firmly believes he will break out of it soon.
“I know what skills I have,” Parker said. “I’m just playing my role. It’s there. It’s always been there.”
Parker was 2 of 11 from the field and scored five points in the Bucks’ 131-123 loss to Oklahoma City on Tuesday night and was 2 of 7 with six points in a 103-93 loss at Dallas to begin the Bucks’ four-game trip Monday night.
He played just 18 minutes in each game.
In the past six games he has connected on just 22 of 60 shots (36.7%), and that includes an 8 of 10 performance against the Philadelphia 76ers last week.
Parker tore his left anterior cruciate ligament last December and missed the final 57 games of his rookie season after undergoing surgery. He worked hard throughout the summer and returned to action Nov. 4 against Philadelphia, in the fifth game of the season.
He has showed explosiveness at the rim and finished some spectacular dunks, but he has struggled with his medium-range jumper while shooting 45.7% from the field. Parker is averaging 10.5 points and 4.1 rebounds in 27 games, including 23 starts.
“He has had some very good games,” Prunty said. “He’s been very helpful and he’s important to what we do. Obviously there are games where he’s going through a learning curve.
“I think people tend to look at offensive statistics, but we’re always trying to grow on both sides of the ball. So defensively and offensively he’s made great strides. We like where he is. But like all our players, we’re trying to get better every single day.”
Donovan said Parker — the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft — would not necessarily remain a power forward as he continues his NBA journey.
“Seeing him in high school, I don’t think people realize this,” Donovan said. “He played the center spot; he played the point guard spot.
But he admitted the last few weeks have been rough, not only for him but the team, as it has dropped nine games below the .500 level. He said it’s a matter of confidence with his jump shot right now.
“We’re losing; everyone is always disappointed,” he said. “I have to stay positive, do what I can control, just play hard.
“I still believe in my team, regardless of anything. I still believe in us.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stats really don’t tell how good a season LeBron James is having … Marcus Morris of the Pistons, twin brother of recently suspended Markieff Morris, gives his thoughts about the Suns … Rudy Gobert is angling for a recovery and return for Utah … The Nuggets could use a breather for some of their workhorse players … Dwyane Wade is going strong to the rim again.