HT News

Morning shootaround — Feb. 9


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Karl to be fired before All-Star break | James ’emotional’ over Kobe’s farewell tour | Communication issues dogging Bulls

No. 1:UPDATE, 1:37 p.m.

With the earlier news passing as an almost foregone conclusion all day long regarding coach George Karl‘s future, the Sacramento Kings reversed field Tuesday afternoon and decided they will not be firing Karl anytime soon, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.

Reports: Karl to be fired soon — On Jan. 23, the Sacramento Kings beat the Indiana Pacers behind a monstrous 48-point night from All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins. That victory was the Kings’ fifth in a row and had them solidly in the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. But, oh, how things have changed since then. Sacramento has lost eight of its last nine games and is on a four-game slump, all of which has turned those good feelings a few weeks ago back into turmoil for the Kings. And in the wake of coach Derek Fisher surprisingly being fired by the New York Knicks on Monday, it seems Kings coach George Karl is next in line to be fired. Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee has more, as does ESPN.com’s Marc Stein:

League sources said the Kings will fire coach George Karl in the coming days amid the team’s worst stretch this season.

The sources said Karl will not keep his job beyond the All-Star break. The Kings’ final game before the break is Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers.

A season that looked to be on the upswing last month has gone awry, leaving the players to wonder if they have the fortitude to turn things around.

“I hope that’s the case,” guard Rajon Rondo said after Monday night’s 120-100 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. “But with optional shootarounds, it’s tough. We’ve lost eight of nine. When three or four guys show up for shootaround (Monday) morning, how can you expect to win?”

Optional workouts are nothing new for the Kings under Karl. But with the team in a tailspin and its defense faltering, players questioned the logic behind making anything optional.

After firing Michael Malone and Tyrone Corbin last season, the Kings hired Karl at the All-Star break to provide stability. But that hasn’t been the case, dating to Karl’s feud with center DeMarcus Cousins last summer. Several players also have been unhappy with Karl’s coaching style.

Assistant coach Corliss Williamson, a former teammate of Kings general manager Vlade Divac and the lone holdover from Malone’s staff, is a logical choice to be interim coach.

Players’ rumblings over the lack of defensive adjustments have grown louder during the current rut as offensively challenged teams like the Brooklyn Nets post multiple season and career highs against Sacramento.

The Kings often look unprepared defensively, leaving shooters open and watching as opponents execute the most obvious game plans against them. They’ve given up 120.8 points per game during their current four-game losing streak.

“We go into the game knowing that we’ve got to protect the (three-point) line, knowing that LeBron (James’) favorite target is J.R. (Smith),” Rondo said. “And what do we do? We come in and let LeBron find J.R. We’ve got to stop making excuses; that’s the bottom line. We make too many excuses as a team.”

A separation between Karl and the players has existed at various levels throughout the season. But it is at its greatest when the Kings are playing at their worst.

As the point guard, Rondo was supposed to be a bridge between Karl and the players. Rondo has even said he believes he and Karl should speak more to each other.

Asked if his talks with Karl still are productive, Rondo said, “After every meeting on a game-day shootaround, we talk. He asks me questions, and sometimes I give him my feedback and sometimes I don’t say anything.”

After Monday’s loss, Karl acknowledged a lot of “mental frustration” was surrounding the Kings.

And here’s Stein’s breakdown of the situation in Sacramento:

The Sacramento Kings are going ahead with a coaching change and plan to fire George Karl in the coming days, league sources told ESPN.

NBA coaching sources told ESPN that the Kings have decided internally that a change on the bench is needed and is likely to happen after Sacramento plays its final game before the All-Star break Wednesday in Philadelphia.

Within the organization, according to sources, concerns have been mounting for weeks that Karl was not providing the stewardship Sacramento expected when it hired the 64-year-old from ESPN during the 2015 All-Star break to replace then-interim coach Tyrone Corbin.

Sources said rising dismay, both within the front office and among players, with Karl’s defensive schemes, practice policies and general leadership have had a demoralizing effect on the players, who have slumped into a 1-8 funk in the wake of a recent five-game win streak that briefly had Sacramento in the West’s eighth playoff spot.

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive has made no secret of his hope to see his team reach the postseason and bring a halt to the franchise’s nine-season playoff drought in its final season at Sleep Train Arena before moving into a new building in Sacramento.

Divac, sources said, is seeking only an interim coach for now and wants to take his time with a proper coaching search, in hopes of bringing some much-needed stability to the position and the organization.

The Kings’ next coach will be their league-most ninth since 2006-07, the season that began the postseason drought.

Sources said Ranadive, who took ownership of the Kings in May 2013, has left the decision of whether to fire Karl fully with Divac. The owner twice bucked NBA convention by hiring a coach — first Mike Malone, then Karl — before hiring his GM.

Former Kings guard Bobby Jackson, who played alongside Divac on Sacramento’s best teams in the early 2000s, essentially called for Karl’s dismissal on the team’s local postgame show after the Brooklyn defeat.

Karl has an estimated $10 million in guaranteed money left on his original four-year, $15 million contract with the Kings. His ouster would be the sixth coaching change of this NBA season, which is two shy of the league’s record of eight before the All-Star break, set during the 2008-09 season.


VIDEO: Cavaliers dominate to keep Kings reeling

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It’s open season on coaches in NBA


VIDEO: Derek Fisher got ejected for arguing a call earlier this season. The Knicks fired him today.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Technically, the New York Knicks “relieved” Derek Fisher of his duties as coach today, which is a fancy way of saying they fired Phil Jackson‘s hand-picked choice to lead the franchise.

Kurt Rambis has been elevated to the top job in Fisher’s place, leaving yet another franchise with an interim (or replacement) in place of the coach they started with this season. It’s the latest in a somewhat shocking run of coaching decisions around the league.

And it just goes to show that no matter if you’re winning or losing, when it’s open season on coaches in the NBA, anybody could be on the firing line — just ask George Karl, who is reportedly on the hot seat in Sacramento.

Kevin McHale was the first to go this season, lasting just 11 games in Houston before being shoved out and replaced by J.B. Bickerstaff. Lionel Hollins got the boot in Brooklyn after a dreadful start and was replaced by Tony Brown. David Blatt, fresh off of a trip to The Finals and his team sitting at 30-11 and first place in the Eastern Conference, was next. Tyronn Lue was tabbed as his successor and is 6-3 since making that 18-inch move over to the big chair. And just last week Jeff Hornacek was tossed out in Phoenix and replaced by Earl Watson.

And now comes the news that Fisher, a Phil Jackson disciple but a coaching novice, is out after a season and a half and just 136 games (with a woeful 40-96 record).

With the Knicks mired in a 1-9 slide, including five straight losses, and seemingly no relief in sight, Jackson apparently decided that enough was enough. We’ll find out what the final straw was late today when Jackson addresses the media after practice.

But it’s clear that in New York and everywhere else, if ownership and the front office believe that there is a disconnect (real or simply perceived) between the talent on the roster and the coach responsible for getting the most out of that talent, the coach is expendable.

The five coaching changes prior to All-Star Weekend is the most since the eight coaching changes prior to the break during the 2008-09 season.

The term “crazy season” is usually reserved for the rumors and drama surrounding this month’s trade deadline. It seems a more appropriate title for all of the coaching changes going on this season.

Blatt’s contemporaries, notably Rick Carlisle in Dallas and Stan Van Gundy in Detroit, expressed their outrage when he was fired and Cavaliers GM David Griffin did his best to explain why a coach with a sterling record was out of his league, and ultimately out of a job, trying to coach a star-studded roster.

Carlisle and Van Gundy should know better than anyone how this works, since they were both fired from previous jobs in the league where they were wildly successful.

There is no real rhyme or reason to these things. Sometimes it’s a gut feeling, sometimes it’s the things we can’t see from the outside and sometimes it’s just clash of personalities or philosophies that lead to a coaching divorce.

Fisher had no coaching experience prior to being selected to coach the Knicks. And he wasn’t even Jackson’s first choice, that would have been Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who in hindsight obviously made the right choice.

The most important choice for Jackson going forward is getting it right this time. He’ll have his pick of out-of-work coaches, like Tom Thibodeau, or he can wait on an up and coming assistant like Luke Walton. Whatever his choice, it has to be someone that can get the most out of the Carmelo AnthonyKristaps Porzingis combination and perhaps more importantly, someone with the toughness and resolve to survive the “crazy season” expectations that all of these franchises are caught up in.

Data curated by PointAfter

Knicks fire Fisher, name Rambis interm coach

From NBA.com staff reports

Derek Fisher posted a record of 40-96 over one-plus seasons in New York.

Derek Fisher posted a record of 40-96 over one-plus seasons in New York.

After 136 games and roughly 1 1/2 seasons, Derek Fisher is out as coach of the New York Knicks.

According to ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein, who first reported the news, Fisher has been fired 54 games into the 2015-16 season.

The Knicks made the news official shortly thereafter and said in a team release that assistant coach Kurt Rambis would take over as interim coach.

The Knicks hired Fisher on June 10, 2014 in hopes that his playing pedigree (five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers) would extend to the team as they tried to revive their championship days of the past. The Knicks paired him with his former coach in Los Angeles, Phil Jackson, who was now the team president.

But the Knicks have stumbled under Fisher, going 17-65 last season and are 23-31 this season, five games out in the race for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference. Overall, he was 40-96 in New York.

Shelburne first reported that Rambis (another former Jackson disciple) would take over the team on an interim basis. But other names — and Jackson disciples — could enter the mix, including former Denver Nuggets coach Brian Shaw and current Golden State Warriors assistant Luke Walton

L.A. Clippers player with broken hand? Now it’s Austin Rivers


Your first thought: Who’d he punch?

Because it’s another broken hand, because it’s the Clippers and because the estimated recovery time is identical (four to six weeks) that was projected in Blake Griffin‘s case, it stands to reason that Austin Rivers similarly might have fractured his left hand by punching a team employee.

Turns out, Rivers actually suffered his broken hand on the basketball court, taking a blow in traffic against Minnesota Wednesday in what he and the Clippers initially thought was just a bone bruise. The injury proved more serious than that, however, and now Rivers, son of coach Doc Rivers, joins Griffin as an L.A. player with a clipped wing.

Rivers’ broken hand at least came in the line of duty. Griffin has been called out by Clippers owner Steve Ballmer and by Doc Rivers over the unacceptable, extracurricular nature of his injury, the result of punching an assistant equipment manager. Now it’s the coach himself feeling some heat in both his roles.

Things haven’t gone as smoothly as L.A.’s roster and potential would have suggested. The Clippers rack up technical fouls at an alarming rate. And now both an All-Star starter and a helpful role player are out. Griffin was averaging 23.2 points and 8.7 rebounds before he went out, while Rivers is chipping in 8.1 points in 21.6 minutes.

Doc Rivers spoke recently with the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn about the expectations and pressure that’s only getting dialed up these days:

With [Ballmer] paying a record $2 billion for the team prior to last season, there is immense pressure to win. Rivers is still as smooth and savvy as before, but he fully realized the job would be challenging.

Griffin is facing sanctions from the league as well as the Clippers.

“Really, it’s nothing you want to go through,” Rivers said of the Griffin situation. “You learn that they’re still young. They’re still learning. It’s not anything you want to go through as a team but you keep remembering that they’re young guys that are in the spotlight and it doesn’t take but a minute or two minutes and something happens.”

It was supposed to be a smooth transition for Rivers, but he has found himself playing counselor, mentor, and life coach with his new Big Three (Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan).

“You’re probably being all of them at this point,” he said. “You’re being a coach first because your job is still to get the team to function and then you become a life coach. But I don’t have all the answers. I make as many mistakes as these guys. I’m human, too. But I tell them about the mistakes I made, the mistakes I still make. I tell them you’ve got to stay in life and hang in there and good things will happen.”

Pelicans shut down Evans through break


If it’s a Pelicans headline, it almost certainly has to do with injuries. That’s how 2015-16 has gone for New Orleans and, sure enough, that’s the reason for this post: Wing Tyreke Evans, sidelined with right knee tendinitis from the Pelicans’ past five games heading into Saturday, has been shut down at least through the All-Star break.

Evans was unavailable for the night’s game at Cleveland, coach Alvin Gentry confirmed, and won’t participate in the Pelicans’ three other games (at Minnesota, against Utah and at Oklahoma City) before the break. John Reid, beat writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, offered some details:

”It’s just a little tendinitis and it’s always there,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told reporters before Saturday’s game at the Quicken Loans Arena. ”We’re probably going to hold him out until after the All-Star break.

”That gives him a situation where he has almost two weeks where he can rehab and get it back. Hopefully, he’ll be ready to go right after the All-Star break and we’ll be able to play him for the rest of the stretch.”

In all, Evans is expected to nine games before possibly returning for the Pelicans’ first game after the All-Star break ends on Feb. 19 against the Philadelphia 76ers. Pelicans general manager Dell Demps continues to listen to trade offers and the franchise is no longer reluctant to trade Evans, sources say.

After this season, Evans, 26, has only one year left on his existing contract that will pay him $10.2 million. Evans missed the first 17 games this season after undergoing surgery in October to remove bone chips in his right knee. After 25 games, Evans was averaging 15.2 points.

New Orleans – currently without Eric Gordon (fractured right ring finger) and Quincy Pondexter (left knee) – has had 15 different players start at least once this season. Gentry used 13 different starting lineups in the Pelicans’ first 19 games and 22 lineups overall.

Bulls’ Butler heads home from road trip with (only) strained knee

VIDEO: Jimmy Butler injury impact

As bad as it looked, Jimmy Butler, the Chicago Bulls and their fans had to feel relieved that their leading scorer and two-time All-Star selection only suffered a knee strain Friday night in Denver.

“Only” is what you say about an injury that happens to someone other than you, of course. Butler is the one who had to be carted off the floor at the Pepsi Center in the second quarter. He was the one headed back to Chicago even as the Bulls were moving on to the final two stops on their seven-game road trip, at Minnesota Saturday and at Charlotte Monday, without him.

But the way Butler landed under the basket, all his weight coming down on his left leg after taking contact from the Nuggets’ Joffrey Lauvergne, many feared a far worse diagnosis than what the MRI exam Saturday revealed. Something even from (gasp!) the Derrick Rose hospital charts. Yet Butler’s personal reputation for durability continued, and the Bulls’ worst fear were allayed even before the game ended. Their miserable fourth-quarter collapse (getting outscored 42-21 to lose) was their greatest anguish, not Butler’s mid- or long-term availability.

Short-term, Butler will be evaluated further back in Chicago, with his response to treatment determining the timeline for his return. The Bulls’ first home game after the trip is against Atlanta Wednesday.

Love leaves game with bruised thigh

VIDEO: Kevin Love missed final quarter.

As if watching Avery Bradley’s 3-point buzzer beater that cost them the game wasn’t painful enough, the Cavaliers also were hurt playing the final quarter Friday night without Kevin Love, who suffered a bruised thigh.

The Cleveland power forward had scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds when he went to the floor with 1 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter.

 

Bulls’ Butler sprains left knee

Whatever problems the Bulls have been having with inconsistent play as they muddle around in the lower half of the Eastern Conference playoff race went out the window when All-Star guard Jimmy Butler fell hard to the floor and had to be carted to the locker room with just over a minute left in the first half Friday night at Denver.

Butler was cooking with 19 points and five assists when he drove in from the right side of the basket and landed hard after a collision with the Nuggets’ Joffrey Lauvergne.

After an examination, it was determined that Butler suffered a left knee sprain and was in good spirits.

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Rescheduled game throws post-All-Star hurdle at Wizards, Jazz

Imposing some sanity on the schedule was a priority for the NBA again this season, and the league was successful in reducing the number of back-to-back games – and a near-vanishing of the old four-games-in-five-nights grind.

But Mother Nature can be mightier than the agenda at NBA HQ in Manhattan, as the Washington Wizards and Utah Jazz learned Friday the steep schedule price they’ll be paying for the Jan. 23 date that was postponed by the severe winter storm that hammered the East Coast that weekend.

The NBA announced Friday that the Wizards and the Jazz will make up that game on Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. ET at the Verizon Center in Washington. As our own John Schuhmann noted on Twitter, there is serious inconvenience awaiting both teams:

So everybody has to cut short their All-Star break by one day, the Jazz have to haul back three-quarters of the way across the country to Salt Lake City for their back-to-back, while the Wizards face the dreaded three-games-in-three-nights that’s been avoided by the schedule makers for decades.

Still, 82 games means 82 games. Playoff positioning could be impacted. And given the limited availability of open dates for two teams and one multi-purpose arena, the Wizards and the Jazz weren’t working from a position of strength in squeezing in their make-up date.

Analytics Art: Bradley, Anthony among worst shooters of week


VIDEO: Take a look back at the week that was for the Knicks

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

The NBA announced the 2016 All-Star reserves last week, but even those honored were not safe from criticism. John Wall of the Washington Wizards was named among the best of his peers, but he found his way onto the PointAfter team’s weekly roundup of the worst shooters.

Even the best players in the game are not immune to shooting woes. That trend continued into this week, as one of our three representatives will also represent the Eastern Conference with Wall on Feb. 14.

Note: Statistics in this article cover games between Jan. 29-Feb. 4.

Guard: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics

The Celtics experienced a solid stretch over the past week, going 3-1 and dispatching both the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons along the way. Combo guard Avery Bradley, however, sputtered offensively during that stretch. The culprit for his woes? Long twos.

As you can see, Bradley couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from around 16-to-19 feet — an analytics fanatic’s nightmare. In fact, his long-range shooting abilities in general were completely out of whack. He finished the week’s four games 4 of 21 from beyond the arc (a ghastly 19 percent).

Usually a reliable asset for his tenacious defense and ability to make corner 3-pointers, Bradley had a rough go of it over the past four contests. Interestingly, in his best game out of the trailing seven days (a Feb. 3 win over Detroit in which shot 7-for-15), Bradley wound up with a team-worst -8 plus/minus.

Wing: Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks

Khris Middleton inked a five-year, $70 million deal last summer to remain with the Bucks. As one of the premier ‘three-and-D’ wing players in the league, Middleton has continued to improve his offensive output and live up to that price tag.

His scoring has increased to the point that he’s now the team leader in the category. But when your team’s best scorer isn’t shooting well, you’re going to lose games. That’s exactly what happened to the Bucks this week.

Dating back to Jan. 29, Milwaukee went 0-3 and watched Middleton shoot 15-for-53 along the way (28.3 percent).

The swingman’s inability to find his stroke from 3-point range above the break contributed to three straight losses. To date, only the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers are have a worse record in the East than the Bucks.

Forward/Center: Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

Carmelo Anthony was voted in by the fans as an Eastern Conference All-Star starter. It’s the ninth All-Star nod of his career, and while he’s not undeserving, he definitely looked it over New York’s past four games.

Anthony mixed inefficiency with the usual shooting volume to create shameful results.

The 31-year-old could not find his rhythm, shooting 31.8 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from long range. That resulted in a 1-3 record for the Knicks, though they did have to face the mighty Golden State Warriors.

Anthony is shooting 42.8 percent this season, which is the lowest mark since his rookie year with the Denver Nuggets.

If the Knicks are going to have any hope of making the postseason in the improved Eastern Conference this year, they’ll need their superstar to bounce back to form.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA Players, NBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.