VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 4
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Divac nearly cancelled Kobe trade to Lakers — Today, Vlade Divac is the Sacramento Kings’ general manager after a 16-year NBA playing career from 1989-2005. In early-to mid-1990s, Divac was a solid young center on the Los Angeles Lakers who was a part of one Finals team with Magic Johnson (1991) and a key cog in a youthful Lakers group (including Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel and others) that seemed primed for big things out West. Yet come the night of the 1996 Draft, Divac was dealt to the Charlotte Hornets for the rights to rookie (and future franchise icon) Kobe Bryant. As Divac explains to Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears, though, he wanted nothing to do with the trade and nearly axed the deal by retiring rather than play in Charlotte:
“My feelings were that I play basketball for fun. This is not fun,” Divac recently told Yahoo Sports about the 1996 draft-day deal that sent him to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Bryant, who is expected to play his final game in Sacramento on Thursday. “If somebody asked before, ‘Vlade, are you going to play basketball over there [in Charlotte]?’ It’s not going to happen. I talked to my wife and told her, ‘Look, I’m going to retire.’
“It would have been so bad. I would have been the most hated guy in L.A.”
The Serbian quickly fell in love with Los Angeles and was in even deeper love playing for the Lakers, averaging 12.2 points and 8.5 rebounds primarily as a starter from 1989-1996.
But before the 1996 draft, then-Lakers general manager Jerry West became infatuated with Bryant, the high school kid from Philadelphia who was destined to become a superstar. West worked out a deal to send Divac to Charlotte for the 13th pick in the draft, which the Hornets used to select Bryant for the Lakers. By trading Divac, who was set to make $4.7 million in the 1996-97 season, the Lakers would clear the needed salary-cap space to make a lucrative offer to Shaquille O’Neal in free agency.
Divac was in Europe and was stunned when his agent told him about the trade. Days later, Divac said he informed the Lakers he planned to retire, which would have prevented the team from trading him for Bryant.
“It felt like someone from behind hit me with a hammer,” Divac told Yahoo Sports. “It was the first time in my career that something happened in a way I didn’t plan. I was devastated. I was thinking, ‘I play basketball for fun.’ My father said when I brought my first [basketball paycheck] back home, ‘Who gave this to you? Are they crazy? Do they know you would play basketball even if they don’t pay you?’
“I am not going to play basketball because I have to play. I am going to play for fun. I was 28. I am not going to go somewhere and be forced to play basketball. I told my agent that I am not going to Charlotte. I loved L.A. I loved the Lakers. For every kid that played basketball, it was basketball heaven being with Magic and the other guys.”
Within 10 days after the draft, Divac said he returned to Los Angeles ready to retire, yet he agreed to meet with West. After an “emotional meeting” with West, Divac changed his mind and agreed to the trade.
“Jerry called me and I flew back to L.A. and we had lunch,” Divac said. “The trade happened [in principle], but I was holding it up. … It was a great conversation. He said, ‘Why don’t you go over there and explore and see if you like it or not?’
“Me and Jerry had a very good relationship. He was the guy who was waiting for me at the airport [after being drafted in 1989]. It was an emotional meeting for both of us. And I trust him so much. He is the best basketball mind in the world. When Jerry tells you something, you believe it.”
Divac decided to have his wife and children stay in Los Angeles for stability while he played the next two seasons with Charlotte. Despite initial struggles, he averaged 11.7 points and 8.6 rebounds with the Hornets in two seasons from 1996-98.
“We played sellout basketball in front of 24,000 people who love basketball in North Carolina,” Divac told Yahoo Sports. “Each year we had 50-plus wins, and when you win it’s fun. But my first 10 games, I was awful. I can’t explain it. I was fumbling the ball. The funny thing was one of my first games was against the Lakers. I was like, ‘What am I doing here?’
“I felt like I started playing basketball two days ago. There was still mental stuff. I was thinking negative stuff like, ‘Why did they trade me? Was it worth it [coming here]?’ Then I said to myself, ‘Come on, Vlade, it’s just a game.’ I knew that after two years I would come out West and move closer to my family.”
Divac signed as a free agent with the Kings in 1998 with his family and a return to the West Coast in mind. Divac and the Kings pushed the Lakers to brink of elimination entering Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals, but the Lakers would win the next two games to stop Sacramento from making its first Finals appearance.
No. 2: Warriors get Curry, Barnes back in the mix — The Golden State Warriors are slowly but surely getting their whole roster in place for the 2016 portion of the schedule. Last night, not only did reigning MVP Stephen Curry suit up again, but he put forth a Curry-like effort (30 points on 12-for-21 shooting in 32 minutes) as Golden State toppled visiting Charlotte. As well, forward Harrison Barnes played for the first time since Nov. 27, finishing with eight points, two rebounds and an assist in 19 minutes. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons was on hand and has more on Curry, Barnes and the Warriors’ roll:
Curry had 30 points two nights after reinjuring his left shin, Barnes added eight points after a 16-game hiatus, and the Warriors breezed to a 111-101 victory over Charlotte on Monday at Oracle Arena.
The Warriors (32-2) led for the game’s final 38:58, were up by as many as 22 points and had surpassed the 100-point mark with 10:10 remaining to become the fifth team in NBA history to win 35 consecutive regular-season home games.
Curry, who left in the second quarter Saturday after getting kicked in the shin, played 32 free-moving minutes.
“I didn’t even think Steph was going to play tonight, to be honest,” Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton said. “… If Steph Curry is going to play, then I’m never surprised that he’s going to score 30 points.”
Barnes, who hadn’t played since Nov. 27 because of a high left ankle sprain and bone bruise, logged 20 minutes without a hitch.
“No matter how he plays, we’re fine with that,” Walton said. “It’s about getting him back into game shape, where he can play bigger minutes and be a huge part of our team again. If he’s playing this well, it’s just a bonus on top of trying to work him back into things.”
Klay Thompson added 30 points — his 12th game with at least 20 points in the past 15 tries. Marreese Speights had a season-high 15 points and Brandon Rush chipped in 10 points in his return from a tight right hamstring as the Warriors shot 51.7 percent from the floor and 44.1 percent from three-point range and dished out at least 30 assists for the league-leading 17th time.
Even with Barnes, Curry and Rush back in the rotation, the Warriors were somewhat shorthanded. Festus Ezeli (toe) was available but didn’t play, and the Warriors were still without Leandro Barbosa (left shoulder) and James Michael McAdoo(toe).
Little of that seemed to matter to the Warriors, who used a 15-2 run in the final 3:52 of the first quarter to take a 32-22 lead. Speights, who is averaging 5.1 points in 10.4 minutes per game, had six points during a 91-second stretch of the spurt.
“It’s 2016,” said Speights, who made a resolution to play better in the new year. “I don’t know what happened in 2015. Oh, yeah, we won the championship in 2015.”
VIDEO: Warriors take down Hornets in Oakland
No. 3: Thunder fall apart late vs. Kings — The Oklahoma City Thunder knew early on yesterday that superstar Kevin Durant (toe) wouldn’t play in their home game against the Sacramento Kings. That aside, the Thunder had never lost to the Kings in OKC and had to feel pretty confident that even sans Durant they could keep that run going. As Erik Horne of The Oklahoman points out, though, mistakes and frustration late in the game helped the Kings end their long-running issues in Oklahoma:
The Thunder’s fourth quarter against the Sacramento Kings was a picture of frustration, from fans to players.
Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins spent one fourth-quarter stoppage exchanging barbs with the fans behind the scorer’s table. Called a “crybaby,” Cousins said, “that’s all you’ve got?” firing back with a thumbs up.
In the fourth, Nick Collison was charged with a technical for arguing a foul, after the sequence Russell Westbrook continuing to plead with the officials. A few possessions later, Collison went to redeem his foul with his patented move — establishing position to take a charge — but was called for a blocking foul on Cousins.
While Cousins was at the line, Collison looked up at the replay on the video board in disbelief. A similar look was on Westbrook’s face in a quarter in which the Thunder shot just 37.5 percent.
“(We were) just frustrated that we were losing the game,” Westbrook said. “The calls and all that stuff will play out on its own.”
Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “There were some times where there could have been some fouls called for us, there were some times there could have been some fouls called for them.”
The frustration was also internal. With the Thunder trailing 113-104 with 1:09 to go, Westbrook came down with a rebound and passed quickly to Anthony Morrow, who passed to Serge Ibaka who had an open corner 3.
Ibaka didn’t take the shot, electing to pump fake and drive — in the process stepping out of bounds. Morrow grabbed at his hair with both hands and grunted in frustration. Donovan said he appreciated Ibaka’s unselfishness, but that Ibaka also passed up some open looks.
“It was difficult,” Donovan said. “There was a stretch there where our guys are trying to fight their way back, and maybe there’s a bit of emotion.
“The officials have a hard job with how physical the game is, but that had nothing to do with the outcome.”
VIDEO: Billy Donovan discusses OKC’s home loss to Sacramento
No. 4: Scott: Randle has to ‘grow up’ — As a team, the Los Angeles Lakers’ average age is 27.5 years old. There are some veterans on the team — such as Roy Hibbert, Louis Williams, Kobe Bryant and others — but by and large the Lakers are a young bunch. Power forward Julius Randle falls into that category (he’s just 21, mind you) and is learning the ins and outs of the NBA game in his second season (and first full one overall). He was miffed the other night after being pulled from a game against the Phoenix Suns, something his coach, Byron Scott had a pointed criticism about. ESPN.com’s Baxter Holmes has more:
After Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle was visibly upset at being taken out late in his team’s blowout win over the Phoenix Suns on Sunday, coach Byron Scott had a message for the team’s promising power forward.
“He’s got to grow up,” Scott said Monday after the Lakers’ practice at their facility. “Simple as that.”
Scott added, “I think the main thing I don’t like is, when you take him out of a game, how he acts sometimes. But again, I chalk it up to immaturity and just being inexperienced at this level because it’s going to happen again. I’m going to take him out of other games that he’s not going to like.”
Scott singled Randle out for playing poor defense in the Lakers’ 97-77 rout of the Suns, the Lakers’ third straight win. Randle left without speaking to reporters after the game.
“I don’t think there was defense on the court at all in the fourth quarter, and he singled me out,” Randle said Monday after practice. “I think it was a team thing.”
The back-and-forth marked another bump in what has at times been a rocky relationship between Scott and Randle, the former Kentucky standout and No. 7 pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
Of all the players taken out late, Scott said Randle “took it probably the worst, and he’s going to have to learn from it.”
Randle was consoled on the Lakers’ bench by veteran swingman Metta World Peace.
“I was frustrated I wasn’t on the court. Simple,” said Randle, who finished with two points on 0-of-4 shooting in 16 minutes, the fewest he had played since Oct. 30.
Randle defended his play by saying, “It wasn’t like I was 0-for-25 or something. I took four shots. I still had 12 rebounds, still had three assists. I took what the defense gave me.”
Asked about Scott’s remark on his attitude, Randle said, “Regardless, basketball is an emotional sport. I’m going to feel some type of way about it. … I’m going to feel frustrated or happy or whatever it may be.”
Along with rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft, Randle was removed from the starting lineup Dec. 7 after starting the team’s first 20 games. Larry Nance Jr. was promoted to starter in place of Randle and has thrived lately. He is averaging 11.6 points and 10.4 rebounds in his past five games.
Nance said he is rooting for Randle as much as anyone.
“I want him to be an All-Star,” Nance said. “I want everybody on this team to be the best they can be. So if I come out and he has a double-double, awesome. If he comes out and I have a double-double, awesome. Either way, I’m just trying to win. If he gives us the best chance to win, play him. If I give us the best chance to win, play me. I think, personally, we’re a pretty cool duo, like a tag team. Tag me out and tag him in, and let’s go.”
Asked whether he is trying to regain his role as a starter, Randle said, “It’s not my decision. I don’t make those decisions.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: A Jazz fan got kicked out of last night’s Houston-Utah game for directing a laser pointer at James Harden‘s eyes while he shot free throws … Is Mo Williams miffed about his role on the Cleveland Cavaliers? … Count former Oakland A’s superstar Reggie Jackson among the endless throng of Stephen Curry admirers … Damian Lillard returned last night, but he looked pretty rusty … Phoenix Suns might be interested in hiring Mike D’Antoni back as coach if the job becomes open … Awesome Burger King commercial from back in the day featuring a very young Stephen Curry and his dad, Dell …