Morning Shootaround

Morning shootaround — Dec. 18


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Five teams chasing Rondo | Blatt blasts Cavs after loss to Hawks | Crawford would welcome Allen on Clips | Report: Clips in pursuit of Brewer, too

No. 1: Report: Five teams pursuing Rondo — Late last night, Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski and ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported that the Dallas Mavericks were in hot pursuit of Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. Since that news happened first broke, though, four more teams — the Sacramento Kings, New  York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets — have joined in on the Rondo chase, writes Stein:

Sources told ESPN.com that the Celtics and Mavericks have been discussing a swap that would furnish Boston with multiple draft picks — including at least one future first-rounder — as well as blossoming Mavericks center Brandan Wright and other players needed to make the salary-cap math work.

Sources say the Celtics also have been talking to teams such as the Sacramento Kings, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets about potential Rondo deals, but that the most advanced discussions have been with Dallas.

Because Rondo is in the final year of his current contract, sources say any team that can come to terms on a trade with Boston likely will request permission to confer with Rondo and his representatives to get Rondo’s input on the destination, giving them a level of influence into where he might be dealt.

Rondo shrugged off the latest trade talk Wednesday night after Boston’s 109-92 win over the Orlando Magic.

“[Trade talk has been] a way of life since I’ve been here,” he said. “It’s just part of it.”

Rondo, while maintaining that his preference is to continue his career in Boston, has left little doubt in recent months that he intends to test the market as a free agent in July as opposed to signing an extension with the Celtics. However, sources say that Dallas, amid growing concern about its point guard play and sensing the opportunity to acquire a top-flight player it has coveted for some time, is confident it could win over Rondo for the long term if trade terms can be finalized with the Celtics.

If a trade comes to fruition, Rondo would join Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons in a high-octane starting five.

The risk for Dallas, of course, is that Rondo could leave town in free agency in the summer if he is determined to move on or can’t come to terms on a new deal with the Mavericks. That scenario could burn the veteran-laden Mavs, given the multiple quality assets they would have to sacrifice to get him.

It remains to be seen whether Celtics general manager Danny Ainge will continue to try to shop for offers or jump on the assets Dallas is offering in exchange for the mercurial point guard, knowing that he could leave Boston in the summer without the Celtics receiving any compensation.


VIDEO: Rajon Rondo flirted with a triple-double in the Celtics’ win Wednesday

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 17


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Kings talk with Jackson | Reports: Cavs, Rockets still interested in Brewer | Bucks’ next moves after Parker’s injury | Kobe offered support to George

No. 1: Report: Kings’ brass meets with Jackson — Two days ago, the Sacramento Kings fired coach Mike Malone and replaced him with his top assistant, Tyrone Corbin, on an interim basis. Since then, there have been names aplenty — the foremost being George Karl and Chris Mullin — who have popped up as potential Sacramento hires for the coaching gig. Add another name to the list, writes Sam Amick of USA Today, as the team has also spoken with former Golden State Warriors coach and current ESPN analyst Mark Jackson:

In the days that have followed the Sacramento Kings’ surprising firing of coach Michael Malone, the only thing certain about where they go from here has been the uncertainty.

Tyrone Corbin was deemed the interim for the foreseeable future, though no one was quite sure how long that term might last. Longtime head coach George Karl was widely seen as a frontrunner to replace him, but his reported candidacy was followed by proverbial crickets. Golden State Warriors legend and current Kings advisor Chris Mullin was and remains an intriguing possibility, but early indications are that he won’t be taking on the head coaching title anytime soon.

Yet late Tuesday night at Sleep Train Arena, after the Kings fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-92, another possible candidate emerged in the most convenient of ways: former Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson. After calling the game courtside for ESPN, Jackson had a lengthy meeting with Mullin, Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro and franchise centerpiece DeMarcus Cousins inside the “Chairman’s Lounge” where they had requested that arena workers and others give them some privacy.

Jackson, Mullin, and Cousins entered the room at approximately 10:20 p.m. Pacific time, with Cousins sporting a black suit as he continues to recover from his bout with viral meningitis that has kept him out of action since Nov. 26. D’Alessandro joined them approximately 20 minutes into the meeting, and the group finally exited just before midnight, long after the room had been cleared so that they could have a moment to discuss, well, connect the dots yourself.

Or, of course, maybe it was just a couple of old childhood pals sharing stories with their Kings friends. Mullin and Jackson have been the best of friends since their high school days, when Jackson was coming up at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn and Mullin was a star at Power Memorial Academy in New York City. They played together at St. John’s University as well, then later spent three seasons side by side yet again with the Indiana Pacers (1997-2000).

What’s more, D’Alessandro was a video coordinator at St. John’s during Jackson’s senior season. Jackson, Mullin, and D’Alessandro have made a habit of visiting in this nature whenever their paths may cross, but the involvement of Cousins was certainly enough to warrant notice.

The Jackson possibility was previously known, and the dynamics on display leading up to their meeting said everything about why the Kings might be seriously interested in bringing him aboard. According to one of the participants, Cousins expressed a desire to meet Jackson, whose ability to connect with his players during the last three seasons with the Warriors was a very real and valuable part of his successes there.


VIDEO: Who should be the next coach of the Sacramento Kings?

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 16


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kings, Malone were a stylistic mismatch | Monroe denies trade rumors | Bucks win thriller but lose Parker | Blazers lose Lopez for ‘a while

No. 1: Kings, Malone were a stylistic mismatch — Two days after the surprise firing of coach Michael Malone in Sacramento, we’re finally starting to get a few explanations. In a session yesterday with the media, Kings GM Pete D’Allesandro said it didn’t matter what Malone’s record was, it was more about the team’s style of play and philosophy. As Jason Jones writes in the Sacramento Bee

Malone was a coaching disciple of defensive-minded Jeff Van Gundy and Malone’s father, Brendan, an assistant with the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons when they won NBA championships in 1989 and 1990.

But defense is not what the front office or ownership wants to sell to fans.

“It wasn’t about wins and losses,” D’Alessandro said. “I didn’t really care about what our record was. It’s about who we want to be, what we want our identity to be as a team.”

That vision is a team that plays a fast-paced offensive style Tyrone Corbin will try to implement as interim coach.

D’Alessandro would like to see the Kings play like the Rick Adelman-coached Sacramento teams more than a decade ago, when they piled up wins with a dynamic offense – especially with the new downtown arena expected to open in 2016.

“What we’re trying to do is put a style in that reflects the Sacramento fan base, which to us is a free-flowing, up-and-down style of play,” D’Alessandro said. “That’s what we’re striving for; we have time now to install it before we get there. I think it’s going to ignite the arena when we’re playing with the style of play we intend to play with.”

Now the questions are whether the Kings, 11-13 overall and 2-7 without Cousins, have the players to make that style work and direct the team long term.

D’Alessandro wouldn’t commit to Corbin for the rest of the season, though he said Corbin has his support. The Kings are interested in veteran coach George Karl, an analyst for ESPN who was fired by Denver following the 2012-13 season, according to league sources. D’Alessandro worked with Karl in Denver.

Chris Mullin, a Hall of Fame player and an adviser to primary owner Vivek Ranadive, might be interested in the job, league sources said.

Until a permanent coach is hired, Corbin will have the challenge of changing the team’s style.

“It’s so new right now,” Corbin said. “I’m just trying to weather the storm right now and get these guys ready to play a game (Tuesday).”

***

No. 2: Monroe denies trade rumors — A day after a story in the Sporting News reported that he “badly” wanted to be traded by the Detroit Pistons, both Greg Monroe and Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy strongly refuted the rumors that Monroe was on the block. As Vince Ellis writes in the Detroit Free-Press

“They put that stuff out there, say somebody said it and then I got to answer for it, I really don’t have time for that,” Monroe said before tonight’s game at the Los Angeles Clippers.

On the rumors, he added: “It’s getting more irritating. We lost 13 games in row, won a couple of games, and now you got to hear this.”

Sporting News writer Sean Deveney, citing sources, says Monroe “badly” wants out of Detroit and that the team is seeking a first-round pick in return.

He emphatically said he is open to re-signing with the Pistons.

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy also denied the aspect of the Sporting News report saying the Pistons were seeking a first-round pick for Monroe. “I don’t know where that stuff comes from,” Van Gundy said. “We haven’t talked to anybody about trading Greg Monroe.”

***

No. 3: Bucks win thriller but lose Parker — On the one hand, it was a big night for the Milwaukee Bucks in the desert, as they battled the Phoenix Suns and won on a game-winning buzzer beater. But on the other hand, the Bucks had to play most of the second half without rookie of the year candidate and franchise building block Jabari Parker, who went down with a non-contact knee injury and wasn’t able to return. As Charles Gardner writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Parker’s left knee buckled without contact as he made a drive in transition and he was unable to leave the floor under his own power. He was carried off the court by teammates Zaza Pachulia and Johnny O’Bryant.

“As of right now we don’t know anything. They’ll do all the tests tomorrow and we’ll be able to report something then,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said after the game.

Pachulia, who played a key role in the Bucks’ comeback victory, said all of Parker’s teammates were wishing him the best.

“I hope he’s going to be OK,” Pachulia said. “He’s a great young player. This team and this organization, the whole city counts on him. He has a lot of years ahead of him in his great career. Injuries are part of the game.

“I hope it’s not anything serious. We are all praying for him.

“It was tough to see your teammate going down and not being able to walk himself. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. The doctor is going to make a decision, obviously. But we want to him to have a speedy recovery, whatever it is. We really need him.”

Parker was driving to the basket but his knee gave way before he had mild contact with the Suns’ P.J. Tucker. A double foul was called on the play but there was little contact to merit that.

Jared Dudley said Parker “is the franchise.”

“He’s young; he’s a rookie,” Dudley said. “The good thing about it is he was smiling when he came in, so that’s always good. He was in, I don’t think it was a cast, but something where you couldn’t bend it, obviously.

“He’ll get an MRI. We’re hoping it’s just a sprain where you get him back in a couple weeks. You don’t want to have anything with him, so keep him in your prayers.”

***

No. 4: Blazers lose Lopez for ‘a while — Meanwhile in Portland, the Blazers knocked off the defending champion Spurs, but in the process lost starting center Robin Lopez to a fractured hand. According to Portland coach Terry Stotts, Lopez will be out “a while,” and having to make do without Lopez is not something that the Blazers are relishing, writes Joe Freeman for The Oregonian

“I don’t even want to think about having to play without RoLo,” All-Star point guard Damian Lillard said.

Lopez said he wasn’t sure how he suffered the injury, but it looked like he smacked his hand against the back of Boris Diaw‘s head while pursuing a rebound under the hoop. Lopez didn’t show any immediate pain or discomfort and he continued to play with the fracture for a few minutes. Eventually he was pulled from the game, however, and preliminary tests indicated that he fractured his hand in two places.

“At first I thought I just jammed a finger or something,” Lopez said. “I didn’t hear a pop and I didn’t feel any pain or anything. So I was just trying to shake it off. But as play went along, my hand never could regain any strength, so I figured I was more of a liability out there.”

The true liability lies in Lopez’s absence, particularly a lengthy one. In many ways, he’s the heart and soul of the Blazers’ starting lineup, a selfless, rugged, lane-clogging big man who is the unsung hero to their free-wheeling offense and linchpin to their improved defense. Lopez is averaging just 9.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, but his value is not measured solely in statistics. He’s the team’s best screener, best interior defender and most unselfish player.

How important is he to the Blazers’ success? They are 73-34 with him on the roster and last season — his first in Portland — he was an integral part of the first Blazers team in 14 years to win a playoff series.

“I don’t like it, I don’t like it, I don’t like it,” LaMarcus Aldridge said, when asked about the prospect of playing without Lopez. “That’s it. I can’t get past I don’t like it.

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: Pacers owner Herb Simon says he’d be fine with a trade to bring back Lance Stephenson, but it’s not his call … Billionaire businessman Warren Buffet sat courtside in Cleveland last night to see LeBron James play … Kobe Bryant on passing Michael Jordan and the time he almost quit basketball for soccer … Mike Fratello will remain coach of the Ukraine National Team for at least a few more years … Darko Milicic will make his kickboxing debut later this week …

Morning shootaround — Dec. 15


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sacramento fires Mike Malone | Kobe more like Mike than ever | Stephenson on the move already? | Cavs getting healthy at the right time

No. 1: Sacramento fires Mike Malone — Christmas promises to be interesting in Sacramento, where the coaching search is on now that Mike Malone has been fired and replaced by Ty Corbin just 24 games into this season. The production on the floor (11-13) apparently did not meet the internal expectations for a team that was trying to dig its way out of the lottery mix in the Western Conference. TNT and NBA.com’s very own David Aldridge provides some context:

The Kings, 11-13 and losers of eight of their last 10 games, had high expectations of making the playoffs this season, having signed free agent point guard Darren Collison last summer, giving forward Rudy Gay a contract extension and building around Cousins, who got a max deal from owner Vivek Ranadive last summer. Ranadive and management believed Sacramento could compete now for a playoff berth.

Sacramento got off to a good start this season. But after Cousins came down with the ailment late last month, the Kings slumped. They are currently a half-game out of the final playoff spot in the west.

Sources indicated management was not happy with the team’s style of play or the direction of the team under Malone, who was hired in 2013 and went 28-54 in his first season.

***

No. 2: Kobe more like Mike than ever — The pursuit of Michael Jordan, at least on the all-time scoring list, is over for Kobe Bryant. He handled that business Sunday in Minnesota, pushing past MJ for third on the list with a 26-point outing in a win over the Timberwolves. After years of fighting the comparisons, Kobe is looking more like Mike than ever, so says Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times:

It wasn’t as climactic as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook to make him the league’s all-time scoring leader. It wasn’t as uncontroversial as Karl Malone’s steady stroll to second on the list, one pick-and-roll at a time.

It wasn’t even guaranteed to be the biggest Bryant news event of the past week, his “soft like Charmin” rant at practice taking plenty of spins in the national sports cycle a few days earlier.

But it finally happened, 1,269 regular-season games into a career that began with a trade, Charlotte to Los Angeles, and filled with individual visions of topping Jordan in championships and accolades.

“He knows how much I’ve learned from him, from the other legends, and him in particular,” Bryant said after dunking his feet into his postgame ice bath. “That’s the most important thing to me, I think, is playing for the respect of the greats and feeling like I’m a part of that culture, part of that brotherhood.”

***

No. 3: Hornets’ Stephenson on the move? — Independence day for NBA teams eager to fix free agent mistakes has come. Today marks the fist day teams can move players signed to new contracts over the summer. And the player whose name has surfaced prominently in those discussions is Lance Stephenson. The Hornets’ swingman could be on the move, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, who reports that the Hornets are exploring all of their options:

Sources told ESPN.com that the Hornets, just 23 games into the Stephenson era, have already begun the process of searching for potential trade partners that would be willing to take the talented but enigmatic former Indiana Pacer off their‎ hands.

Although sources say no deal involving Stephenson is imminent, Monday is the first day that players signed to new contracts in July are eligible to be dealt, which typically triggers what teams leaguewide regard as “trade season” over the next two months leading into the annual February trade deadline.

One factor that could ultimately lead to a deal, despite Stephenson’s ragged and discouraging start, is the fact that the three-year, $27 million deal he received over the summer from Charlotte owner Michael Jordan is only guaranteed through next season. The third year of the deal is not guaranteed, which theoretically enhances Charlotte’s chances of finding another team willing to gamble ‎on the mercurial swingman.

Sources say that the Hornets are not in a move-him-at-all-costs mode with Stephenson but made it clear that Charlotte is ready now to abandon the experiment if a palatable deal presents itself.

Stephenson has quickly proved to be a poor fit alongside the Hornets’ established core twosome of Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker, shooting 38.9 percent from the floor overall and 8-for-48 percent on 3-pointers during Charlotte’s 6-17 start.

***

No. 4: Cavaliers getting healthy at the right time — The Cleveland Cavaliers are getting better and better, literally. They are getting healthy at just the right time. The Christmas rush is upon us all and this is important a time for contenders as any in the early part of the NBA season. The Cavaliers struggled with different injuries, bumps and bruises to kick off this season. But now they are on the mend and ready to chase that top spot in the Eastern Conference standings, writes Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

All but one player fully participated in Sunday’s practice. LeBron James — having missed the Oklahoma City game Thursday with a sore left knee — said he went through the entire practice with the exception of the final drill.

Coach David Blatt pulled him out of that as a precaution.

“It’s OK,” James said of his knee after practice. “It responded well to the flight back home so I’m happy about that. I’ll get my treatment tonight and get my treatment tomorrow [before] the game.”

Guard Dion Waiters participated in Sunday’s practice, but Matthew Dellavedova wasn’t ready. He was relegated to light shooting and movement drills. On Friday, both players became ill in New Orleans and were held overnight for tests.

Waiters had abdominal pain and Dellavedova an extreme case of vomiting.

“We don’t know whether it was a virus or food poisoning,” Blatt said. “But the effect of it we know, and it was not pretty.”

The team is listing Dellavedova as questionable for Monday’s home game against Charlotte.

Mike Miller is close to returning to action after sustaining a concussion during the road win over the Knicks on Dec. 4. He is in the fourth of five stages in the league’s concussion recovery protocol.

“We were able to get him out there today for some 3-on-3 here after practice,” Blatt said. “And tomorrow we’ll evaluate his response to that and know where to go for the next step.”

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: Kevin McHale has nothing but love for Trevor Ariza … The Wizards are as good as they’ve been in a decade, in so many ways … Warriors needed overtime for Sweet 16 … Tobias Harris has emerged as the Magic’s go-to-guy …  Chris Bosh calf injury is latest blow for injury-riddled Miami HeatDerek Fisher says Knicks players are more focused on the future than this season? … Steve Kerr says the Warriors are not chasing a 72-win season …

Morning shootaround — Dec. 13


VIDEO: Top plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Swaggy P goes primetime | Down goes Davis | Nets’ patience running short | Pistons snap 13-game skid

No. 1: Swaggy P goes primetime — Last night in San Antonio with the Lakers in town, all eyes were on Kobe Bryant, who entered the night 31 points from passing Michael Jordan for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. But during the pursuit of the record — and one day after Kobe publicly criticized his teammates while the media was at practice — something interesting happened: The Lakers knocked off the Spurs in overtime for their second straight win. And while Bryant finished with 22 points, the game-winning bucket came from Nick “Swaggy P” Young, who, according to ESPN’s Baxter Holmes, fully enjoyed the moment

Nick Young is all jokes, all the time. But Friday, after playing the surprise role of hero in an overtime win here against the San Antonio Spurs, the quirky Los Angeles Lakers guard turned his cartoonish personality all the way up.

Exhibit A, referencing his remarkable, go-ahead 30-footer with 7.4 seconds left in a 112-110 victory, a highly contested prayer of a heave that turned AT&T Center silent:

“Once it left my hand, I kind of knew it was cash,” Young said. “I’m like, ‘I don’t miss.’ That’s my new name — ‘I.D.M.’ Call me ‘I.D.M.’ You feel me?”

Exhibit B, referencing his game and season-high 29 points off the bench on 9-for-14 shooting, including 6-for-9 from 3-point range:

“Man, you know, I’ve just got to do what I’ve got to do when I’ve got to do it,” Young said. “So basically, I’m just doing what I’ve got to do every time that I step on the court to do what I’ve got to do. You feel me?”

Then Young offered more not-so-veiled remarks — hard truths and backhanded compliments, if you will, that made it once again difficult to tell when exactly he’s joking and when he isn’t.

Such as here:

“I’m glad I had a chance to hit a game-winner with somebody like Kobe [Bryant] on the floor, who normally has the ball in his hands all the time,” Young said.

Or here, when he nodded to Bryant’s chase of Michael Jordan for third place on the all-time scoring list (Bryant stood 31 points shy of passing Jordan entering Friday):

“No offense to Kobe, but I didn’t think I was going to get the ball that much [Friday],” Young said. “I thought he was going to break that record — at least get 40 or 50 [points]. With all the cameras that were around, I didn’t think I was going to get the ball that much.”

Young, known as “Swaggy P,” in a nationally televised game indeed stole the spotlight away from Bryant, who many expected would gun for Jordan’s record. Instead, Bryant shot 7-of-22 from the field and scored 22 points, leaving him nine shy of passing Jordan’s total (32,292).

“It’s going to come,” Bryant said of the milestone.

But the fun-loving Young also touched on Bryant’s trash-talking tirade in practice Thursday, when Bryant called his teammates “soft,” comparing them to Charmin toilet paper, among other things.

“When I’m out there, I don’t play like Charmin,” Young said. “I like Scott Tissue. It’s a little rougher.”

***

No. 2: Down goes Davis — One of the most versatile players early this season has been New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, who has averaged a double-double and established himself as an MVP contender even with the Pelicans hovering around the .500 mark. But early in the first quarter last night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Davis went down with what is being called a “chest contusion.” While the Pelicans managed to hang on for the win without Davis, they obviously need to get him back if they want to continue to fight for a playoff spot. As John Reid writes

Despite Friday’s win, the focus was clearly on Davis’ health. He never came out the locker room after suffering the injury. The Pelicans had initially listed him as questionable to return.

However, when the Pelicans took the court before the start of the third quarter, there was no sign of Davis. At the end of the quarter, the team announced that Davis would not return.

It appears unclear when Davis’ chest problems began. But midway in the first quarter, forward Tristan Thompson bumped into Davis at mid-court. However, Davis continued playing.

During a timeout with 5:44 remaining in the opening quarter, Davis had his hands on his chest appearing to be in discomfort. He returned to the court but asked out of the game at the 5:30 mark.

“I just know when he was on the bench, he was wincing as if he couldn’t breathe,” Williams said. “So I was hesitant to put him back in the game and he then he wanted to go back out. We watched him for awhile and he took himself out. That’s when I knew he didn’t feel right. And he was waiting for himself to feel better when he was in the back (locker room), but it never came back. So we’ll have a better idea of what’s going on (Saturday).”

***

No. 3: Nets’ patience running short — Reports of the Brooklyn Nets’ hastened demise have been greatly exaggerated…this according to Brooklyn GM Billy King. At a press conference last night, speaking before the Nets’ 88-70 win over Philadelphia, King said stories about the Nets attempting to quickly trade their core three are exactly that: Stories. With the team currently sitting at 9-13, however, King acknowledges an urgency to get things turned around. As the New York Post reports

“My job is to listen to people and to make calls and to make calls back,” King said before the Nets’ 88-70 victory over the 76ers on Friday night at Barclays Center.

“Does that mean we’re having a fire sale? Absolutely not. I’m doing my job, as well as asking the players and the coaches to do their job. But my job is to work the phones, see what’s available.

“If things make sense you make trades. If they don’t, you don’t do it. But we’re not shopping or having a fire sale.”

King’s comments came in the wake of reports Tuesday the Nets had made their three highest-paid players — Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez — available in trade discussions recently after Brooklyn got off to a rough start for a second straight season.

But while King said there are reasons why the Nets haven’t played up to expectations, he wasn’t ready to say everything about the team’s slow start could be attributed to outside factors.

“I think one, Brook was playing himself back into shape, after being out so long,” King said. “I think a lot of guys were trying to adjust to the new system.

“But some guys just haven’t played up to the level we need them to play.”

The Nets have sputtered out of the gate each of the past two seasons, and since the start of training camp, coach Lionel Hollins repeatedly has said he expects them to play much better in January and February than they are now, once the group grows more comfortable with him and vice versa.

King, however, said the Nets can’t afford to simply wait for things to get better with time. They entered Friday with an 8-12 record and were riding a three-game losing streak.

***

No. 4: Pistons snap 13-game skid — When Stan Van Gundy signed on this summer to take all things basketball for the Detroit Pistons, there was an expectation that things would improve from last year’s 29-53 season. Thus far, however, things have been worse before they got any better, as the Pistons entered last night with a 3-19 record and 13 consecutive losses. But the Pistons finally got summer signee Jodie Meeks back from injury, and went into Phoenix and squeaked out a 105-103 win to end the streak. As Vincent Goodwill writes

All the stops were pulled Friday, as Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy went back to Greg Monroe in the starting lineup, used Jodie Meeks for the first time this season and even did what he’s been previously reluctant to, playing his two point guards simultaneously.

The Pistons were desperate, doing everything they could to counteract the balanced Phoenix Suns attack.

Buzzer-beating triples, passionate pleas to the officials followed by calm diplomacy when the emotion died down, but in the end, they had to make plays, and did just enough to beat the Suns, 105-103, at U.S. Airways Arena.

Easy, it surely wasn’t, and the ending will never be confused with being smooth or a coaching clinic, as the Pistons nearly gave it away multiple times in the final minutes.

Andre Drummond, an unlikely figure to be sure, hit one of his two free throws with 2.5 seconds left to give the Pistons a two-point lead before the Suns’ final attempt made its way to Drummond’s massive mitts before the buzzer sounded, ending the misery, punctuating his 23-point, 14-rebound night.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the player who was alleged to have “no heart” by Suns forward Markieff Morris during their earlier meeting, hit a corner 3-pointer with 1:13 remaining to break a 97-all game, and the quiet kid shot a cool stare at the Suns bench on the way downcourt, the last of his 14 points.

“Ha! Nah, I did kind of look at the bench or whatever, let them know I do have heart. I’ll take that shot any day,” Caldwell-Pope said with a bit of a grin afterwards. “It felt good. Jodie had a nice cut to the basket, (Eric) Bledsoe helped and I was wide open. I spotted up and knocked the shot down.”

Meeks played 22 minutes off the bench, hitting four of his 10 shots to score 12. Meeks, who’s rather mild in most instances, was fouled with eight seconds left after a Goran Dragic layup, and after his two made free throws, pounded his chest in joy.

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: Don’t look now, but the Hawks have won 9 straight … The Knicks got a win but lost Iman Shumpert with a dislocated shoulderDion Waiters spent the night in Cleveland after experiencing abdominal pain … Bulls forward Doug McDermott will undergo an arthroscopic procedure on his knee … Jermaine O’Neal will make a decision about returning after the holidays … While Kobe closes in on Michael Jordan’s scoring record, Byron Scott doesn’t think anyone will catch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar … Someone allegedly stole a truck filled with 7,500 pairs of LeBron‘s signature shoes

Morning shootaround — Dec. 12


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Carmelo got cake, wants to eat it too | Wall ranks top PGs | Cavs exhale after Irving injury scare | Durant doesn’t ‘give a damn’

No. 1: Carmelo got cake, wants to eat it too — Maybe a better version of the old “cake” proverb in this case would be: Carmelo Anthony can’t have his Big Apple and beat it, too. Or can he? The Knicks’ scoring star had a chance to sign – unencumbered – as a free agent with one of several legitimate NBA contenders over the summer. Instead, after wining and dining, he went about re-signing for the biggest paycheck – a five-year, $124 million deal – returning to New York despite an obvious rebuilding plan under new boss Phil Jackson and new coach Derek Fisher. So now Anthony is whining, or at least is glum enough to consider “dropping his no-trade clause.” We’ll offer the standard “reader beware” warning on this one because it’s one of those nebulous, unprovable, “so-and-so might be thinking about” types of stories. And it has been labeled “a fiction” by one of the New York Post‘s competitors. But here are the details, regardless of how untradeable Anthony’s contract might be or how unappealing his lack of leadership through these tough times makes him:

For now, Anthony has no desire to be traded, but his willingness to consider giving up the no-trade clause shows how frustrated he has become with the Knicks’ historically bad start to the season.

The Knicks have lost 10 straight games — two shy of a team-record — and at 4-20 have the most losses in the NBA, one more than the laughingstock Sixers.

On Wednesday, it was revealed Anthony got into an on-court scuffle with teammate Tim Hardaway recently, which resulted in a players’ only meeting on Saturday.

Anthony can be traded beginning Monday — the unofficial start of trade season when all free agents and draft picks signed over the summer can be moved.

A trade to a contender would be a financial boon to Anthony as he has a trade kicker attached to his contract that is worth 15 percent of the remaining value at the time of the deal. That kicker was put in place by Anthony’s handlers to deter teams from approaching the Knicks about Anthony. He would receive a lump-sum payment of roughly $17.5 million if he is traded Monday.

“He thought things would be better than this, but he still wants to stick it out for now, ’’ a source said. “He trusts Phil, but I think he’s afraid of Phil.’’

***

No. 2: Wizards’ Wall ranks top PGs — We’ve been through this before, as far as NBA players ranking themselves atop some particular pile. OKC’s Kevin Durant did it again this week when he said he believes he’s the best player in the league. Houston’s James Harden did it in the offseason when he proclaimed he was the best player in, what, the world? The universe? Anyway, Washington’s John Wall was asked about the league’s current crop of point guards and acknowledged that, yes, in his mind, he’s No. 1. Remember now, CSNWashington.com asked Wall, he didn’t volunteer it. His next four, in order: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard. And it all had to do with the start of 2015 All-Star Balloting and Wall’s desire to start for the East squad (notice where his other top PG picks play):

[Wall] has made it clear that he will deserve to start for the East when the All-Star Game is played in New York’s Madison Square Garden on Feb. 15.

“Yeah, I think so,” Wall told CSNwashington.com on Thursday, when balloting opened for fans to select two guards and three frontcourt players as the starters. “You definitely want to be the starter in the All-Star game because you want to be able to play them last six minutes of the game. Last year, I was itching to get out there. I was playing good and they had to sub me out. I was like, ‘What?” I’m used to being in in those situations. You definitely want to be a starter.”

Wall had to wait to be voted in as a reserve to make his first All-Star appearance, playing behind Kyrie Irving who was the more popular choice but wasn’t the most deserving in terms of accomplishment. Wall had a better team, leading the Wizards to 44 wins and a second-round playoff berth. Irving, who was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2011 which was the year after Wall went in the same spot, never led his team to the postseason.

“As an individual that’s one of my biggest goals. It’s a big honor for me to go back if I get the opportunity,” Wall said. “It all comes from me helping my team to play the right way and win games. Everybody has got individual goals.”

***

No. 3: Cavs exhale after Irving injury scare — When the TNT broadcast of Cavaliers-Thunder went to the “Inside The NBA” crew at halftime, the tone was somber enough to have all those holiday poinsettia plants on set swapped out for black crepe and lilies. Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving had just gone down – and out – with what looked, in repeated and unpleasant video replays, to be a serious knee injury. But a surprise put the fun back in funereal moments later when Irving was shown running before the third quarter started. He played nearly 23 minutes after halftime and scored 11 of his team-high 20 points in the loss in Oklahoma City. Clearly, the Cavs (already without LeBron James for the night due to knee soreness) had dodged a major mishap, and our own Fran Blinebury wrote about it:

“Fear. Worry. Concern,” [coach David] Blatt said when asked to describe his emotions at the moment when Irving hit the floor with 1:31 left in the second quarter Thursday night. “And hope. Which ultimately won the day.
“There’s a great saying in Russian, which means: ‘Hope dies last.’ And thank goodness he got up and he was able to play.”
It is no exaggeration to say those who did watch the replays with eyes uncovered inside Chesapeake Energy Arena were shocked to Irving standing back on the baseline bouncing all around and loosening up before the end of halftime.

In those first few seconds, after all the worst thoughts raced through his mind, Irving was able to calm himself down.

Steve Spiro, our head trainer just coming out there and letting me know the necessary steps to take and when to bend my knee and how to control my body to make sure I’m alright,” Irving said. “He takes a look at it and asks me if this is OK and that’s OK and just make sure I can get up and walk to the locker room.

“When we came back in the tunnel the Thunder’s doctor looked at me. I told our training staff as I was walking back and LeBron and D. (Damon) Jones were helping me, I kinda started walking on my own and we did some tests and decided to go back out there.”

Irving nodded at the memory of James literally being there to pick him up and support him.

“It meant a lot, just that he sprinted out in just his tights and his t-shirt,” Irving said. “It’s just great. He’s awesome and sincerely cares and that’s just the relationship that we have going around this whole entire locker room. We’re more than teammates. We’re friends and to know that your teammates care about you like that, it goes far.”

***

No. 4: Durant doesn’t ‘give a damn’ — About the perceived woes facing his team in Oklahoma City, that is. Or about your sympathy for the Thunder’s plight, created by both Kevin Durant‘s and teammate Russell Westbrook‘s injury absences. Or about the criticism that might come his way anyway if OKC doesn’t reach and make serious noise in the postseason. Michael Lee of the Washington Post spoke this week with the 2014 MVP, just revving up in an NBA season that began 17 games late for him:

Kevin Durant is in a hole that is mostly not of his own doing but he has been around long enough to know that he won’t be forgiven if another season ends without the Oklahoma City Thunder capturing an NBA championship.

Durant, the reigning NBA MVP, doesn’t want or expect to get a pass with his eighth season starting at a decided disadvantage after he suffered a broken right foot in the preseason, Russell Westbrook broke his right wrist on opening night, and the Thunder piled up more devastating injuries than wins in the season’s first six weeks.

“I really don’t give a damn what people got to say,” Durant said. “I really don’t care if they cut me slack or they don’t. I’m not looking for no sympathy from nobody. I’m not looking for no praise from nobody. It’s all good, either way with me. I just look for respect from teammates as a player and as a man. That’s what I want. All that other stuff, I learned how to tune that stuff out and not worry about. I used to think about it. ‘Are they going to cut me slack? Do they love me if I play this way.’ I really don’t give a damn.”

Durant, 26, has developed more of an edge as he’s matured in the league, hardened by the disappointment that has come from losing in the NBA Finals in 2012 and having injuries to Westbrook and Serge Ibaka derail Oklahoma City’s chances of getting back the past two seasons. He also understands that four scoring titles and an MVP trophy won’t shield him from criticism after depositing seven seasons into his career without winning a championship ring.

“You can’t please everybody,” Durant continued. “I can go out there and average 50 points a game, it’s always going to be something people say. If you don’t like me for it, so what?”

And:

Oklahoma City entered training camp as a team seemingly poised for a title breakthrough. James broke up with Miami and got back with his first love and San Antonio got a year older after making it through a six-game series with the Thunder last postseason. With Durant under contract with Oklahoma City through 2016, the pressure for the organization to win a title has been magnified, with each wasted opportunity sure to increase speculation about his future.

“Everybody wants to tell you when your window is closing. Everybody want to tell when they think you can win a championship or ‘you will never win.’ It’s not about the outside noise,” Durant said. “We feel as though, in this organization, we can compete every year. Injuries have hit us, but it’s a part of the game, and we’re going to push through that. But when you start listening to people who aren’t experts of the game of basketball, who have never been inside a huddle … you can’t listen to that stuff. Even if they tell you you’re a great player or it’s your turn to win. We’re not going to worry about windows here.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kobe Bryant did a whole lot of cursing at teammates, but it was just old Kobe being young Kobe. … Golden State’s David Lee did some 3-on-3 work in the Warriors’ practice but has a ways to go before he’s playing again, post-hamstring injury. … The Spurs got some good news in the negative about forward Kawhi Leonard‘s sore hand. … Sam Cassell lured Paul Pierce to Washington, then abandoned him there. It sounds like D.C. political intrigue. … Former Phoenix player Richard Dumas has run afoul of the law again. … Is there anyone who would protest against a shortened NBA preseason? Anyone? Bueller?

Morning shootaround — Dec. 11


VIDEO:
Highlights from games played Dec. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nets move Kirilenko | Knicks project united front | Rondo, Stephenson get physical | Warriors introduce new arena redesign

No. 1: Nets move Kirilenko — It’s not a member of their core, but the Nets have agreed to a trade that clears a bit of cap space. Forward Andrei Kirilenko goes from Brooklyn to Philadelphia, saving the Nets some cash, and the Nets add forward Brandon Davies and his non-guaranteed contract. As our John Schuhmann writes, it sure looks like neither player may be long for his new team…

Brandon Davies isn’t completely awful, but his contract is non-guaranteed, so the Nets could waive him and not have to pay him anything. Assuming they do, the trade would save them about $6.6 million in luxury tax payments, in addition to about $2.6 million of Kirilenko’s salary. If they include another player in the deal, they save more.

The deal will also give them a trade exception and an open roster spot. Both of those give them a little more flexibility in making future trades.

The Sixers get a little closer to the salary floor, not that it matters. They probably won’t keep Kirilenko, who hasn’t played since Nov. 13, hasn’t made a shot (or been in the Nets’ rotation) all season, and is dealing with a personal issue that has kept him away from the team.

***

No. 2: Knicks project united front — The Knicks have only won four games this season, but that hasn’t kept them from making headlines early on. According to a report yesterday from ESPN’s Chris Broussard, things behind the scenes with the Knicks have been as calamitous as their play on the court has been. Writes Broussard…

The New York Knicks were en route to their fifth straight loss last week against Brooklyn when a frustrated Tim Hardaway Jr. screamed angrily, “Get the rebound!”

Certain his second-year teammate was speaking to him, Carmelo Anthony approached Hardaway on the way down the court and used an expletive to ask Hardaway who in the world he thought he was talking to.

Anthony, according to sources, used another expletive in telling Hardaway he was going to beat him up when they got into the locker room after the game.

While the two players never wound up fighting, the episode was emblematic of the volatile state of the Knicks. Off to their worst start in franchise history at 4-19, the Knicks are a team full of discord, defiance and doubt, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

“Nobody’s taken a swing at anybody, but there’s a lot of arguing and cursing each other out after games,” one source said.

In addition to the Knicks’ lack of chemistry, sources say the players believe coach Derek Fisher’s insistence on running the triangle offense is another key reason for New York’s struggles.

After the ESPN report was published, the Knicks players met with the media while on the road in San Antonio and said things were not as bad as they sounded, noting that they had recently held a player’s-only meeting to help get everyone on the same page…

The Knicks started the day tied for the most losses in the league — seemingly ripe conditions for a story to emerge about internal discord. The article said that Anthony had a verbal spat with teammate Tim Hardaway Jr. during a game last week against the Nets. The report also said that Knicks players told Anthony that they were unhappy with his style of play — that he was not playing team basketball — and also that many players were displeased with Coach Derek Fisher’s systems.

Neither Anthony nor Hardaway denied on Wednesday that they had clashed on the court, but both men said the issue was behind them and described a fruitful mentor-student relationship. Anthony, meanwhile, reiterated his commitment to the team and to perfecting Fisher’s system, including the triangle offense.

As far as hearing criticism from his teammates, Anthony revealed that there was a players-only meeting on Saturday at the team’s practice facility in which various concerns were raised, but he denied it had become particularly contentious.

“Everybody had a platform to speak their piece, and what they felt about what’s going on, and how we can better the situation,” Anthony said. “But it wasn’t no pointing fingers or anything like that, or solely pointing me out to be blamed.”

While reports of relationship issues may be overblown, a 4-20 record doesn’t lie: The Knicks lost big last night to a Spurs team missing Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard.

***

No. 3: Rondo, Stephenson get physical — During last night’s Celtics/Hornets game, with both teams desperate for a win, two of the NBA’s more competitive players found themselves in a battle neither could really win. Boston’s Rajon Rondo and Charlotte’s Lance Stephenson ended up banging into each other more than once, and as Jay King writes, to hear Rondo tell it, there may have been some flopping involved…

About five minutes into the third quarter of a 96-87 Boston Celtics loss, Rondo threw a high elbow that sent Stephenson tumbling to the court. The Charlette Hornets wing stood up and got in Rondo’s face; later in the same possession, after what looked like some jawing, both players were hit with technical fouls.

Asked about what happened, Rondo initially said, “Nothing at all. I said something to him and I didn’t know what I said could get a tech.”

Pressed on the elbow, the Celtics guard obviously implied Stephenson took a dive.

“He weighs about 60 more pounds than me, but that’s part of his game,” Rondo said.

“The game is contact. The game we play is contact. Whatever you saw, I don’t know,” he added. “I am strong. But I don’t think I was that strong on that play in particular to knock him down.”

Rondo notched his third triple-double of the season with 12 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds, but committed three costly turnovers down the stretch. He also got beaten baseline by Kemba Walker for an and-1 with 3:46 left that pushed Charlotte’s lead to 90-85.

“We did (let an opportunity slip away),” Rondo said. “It started with me. I had some key turnovers in the fourth that I should have been able to take better care of the ball. And Kemba Walker had a backdoor play layup. So we’ve got to do better as a team, as a whole. And it starts with myself.”

***

No. 4: Warriors introduce new arena redesign — A few months ago the Golden State Warriors showed off pictures of their planned arena in San Francisco. It was touted as a step forward for the franchise, which currently has the best record in the NBA and has been based in Oakland’s Oracle Arena since 1971. There was one thing people noticed, however, about the new arena drawings: From above, it seemed to look like a toilet. Rather than sit with those criticisms, yesterday the Warriors dropped new sketches of the planned facility that should streamline the exterior of the new space

Gone is much of the rectangular viewing deck that, when coupled with the oval arena, gave the overhead view of the place the appearance of a giant toilet seat with the lid down. The deck has been shaved down to about half its old size, dropped about 13 feet below the roof line and given a sweeping curve.

“We are trying to flush the toilet bowl forever out of people’s consciousness,” said Warriors arena consultant Jesse Blout.

Instead, it looks more like an old Discman CD player, less likely to be the butt of humor.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwight Howard hopes to return Saturday for the Houston Rockets … Tom Thibodeau says any talk of trust issues in Chicago is “garbage.” Taj Gibson respectfully disagreesByron Scott is thinking about starting Kobe Bryant at point guard … The Mavericks are considering options regarding adding another big man … ABC is developing a sitcom about a foreign-born NBA player and his translator.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 10


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers tank? C’mon, Magic | Rodman questions Knicks’ blueprint | Best customers for Brooklyn fire sale | Davis leads early Most Improved candidates

No. 1: Lakers tank? C’mon, Magic — The headline was provocative enough (“Magic Johnson: I hope Lakers lose”). But what the former L.A. Lakers great had to say at an event in New York Tuesday grabbed NBA fans’ attention, too, and not necessarily for the right reasons. The Lakers should (gulp) tank? Really? That’s like saying the Buss family should have cooked their family books to qualify for student loans or that MLB team Magic’s involved with should shrink the business part of its Dodger Dogs to boost the profit margin. C’mon, tanking is for the NBA’s working class, not its royalty such as the Lakers or Knicks. If team-building can be described (lifting this from the retirement-planning realm) as a three-legged stool of trades, free agency and draft, the last of those – the target of tanking teams – is most important to small-revenue teams lacking the fat wallets, grand legacies, balmy climate and/or glitzy appeal of L.A., New York and maybe Miami now. Fans in those markets expect better and the Lakers’ many advantages ought to preclude slumming through 82 games to swipe a player desperately needed in … Philadelphia? Here are details from a mash-up report on ESPN.com:

Johnson, speaking at a promotional event Tuesday in New York City, said he wants his former team to lose enough games to contend for a high lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft.
“I hope the Lakers lose every game,” Johnson told reporters. “Because if you’re going to lose, lose. And I’m serious.”

Johnson hit Twitter to reinforce his point for his fan base:

And from Kobe Bryant after the Lakers’ victory Tuesday over Sacramento:

“I don’t see teams tanking. It doesn’t happen. Maybe there are certain teams in the league — and this is not one of them — where ownership sits up there in their office and they’re crossing their fingers quietly and hoping,” Bryant said. “But the players themselves? Never. Players play. Players play and players try to win every single game. That’s just what we do.”

And from Lakers coach Byron Scott, who isn’t eager to take on a bunch of losses after suffering through the immediate post-LeBron James years in Cleveland:

“It’s more of a laughing matter to me than anything,” Scott said. “I know [Earvin] and how competitive he is and I understand where he’s coming from — ‘Yeah, lose every game and hopefully you’ll get the No. 1 pick.’ That doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to get the No. 1 pick. You go out here and try to win as much as you can to try to create that culture of winning again instead of having that loser’s mentality. That’s how I look at it.”

The Lakers are expected to have substantial salary-cap space this upcoming offseason. Aging superstar Kobe Bryant, who will make $25 million next season, swingman Nick Young, [Julius] Randle and second-year forward Ryan Kelly are the only Lakers who have guaranteed contracts beyond this season.

Scott added, “I just think karma is a you-know-what and if you try to lose games, you’re not going to get the first pick.”

***

No. 2: Rodman questions Knicks’ blueprint — As far as former NBA stars critiquing a storied franchise, the level of discourse slips now from Magic Johnson the team for which he labored to Dennis Rodman questioning the New York Knicks of Carmelo Anthony and Derek Fisher. Rodman might surpass Johnson in North Korean street cred, but the fellow Hall of Famer seemed driven in his comments more by his loyalty to his former Chicago coach Phil Jackson than in any true turnaround at Madison Square Garden. The 4-19 Knicks, off to the worst start in franchise history, have a somewhat hobbled Anthony these days, according to the New York Post. So they were easy for the flamboyant former rebounding star to pick at, as chronicled by ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Begley:

Former Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman weighed in on the team’s poor play Tuesday, questioning whether Carmelo Anthony was the right fit for the Knicks and wondering if first-year coach Derek Fisher is the right candidate for the job.

“If I know Phil [Jackson, Knicks team president], he just feels like [crap] right now,” Rodman told reporters at a promotional event in Manhattan. “I think he just feels like, ‘Wow, I thought I came here to do a great job and revitalize the city of New York.’

“He didn’t expect this. I saw him a couple of times on TV when I was in L.A., and I’m like, I know what you feel like, Phil. You came to be the savior and all of a sudden it’s like, ugh. Then you went and got Derek Fisher. Really, is he coaching? Is Derek Fisher coaching? I don’t get it. I don’t know what’s up with that team, man. You’ve got Carmelo and after that who else do you got?

“They’re not running the triangle. Derek Fisher’s not really coaching. I know Phil is trying to throw his input in the background, but who expected this from Phil? They expected him, we’re going to give you $15 million a year for the next six years and this team is — wow — they might not even make the playoffs.”

In mentioning Jackson’s vaunted “triangle” offense, Rodman kept the blame at floor level:

“I learned that in probably 15 minutes when I was in Chicago,” Rodman said. “It’s not that difficult. It’s a triangle.

“Everybody has an opportunity to touch the ball and shoot it. It seems like it goes back to Carmelo Anthony and then everything stops. What are you going to do?”

***

No. 3: Best customers for Brooklyn fire sale — The Brooklyn Nets are contemplating a fire sale of veteran stars Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez? That’s the word, as reported by ESPN.com and other outlets. It’s the stuff of which serious buzz can be generated in the NBA, but it’s also reminiscent of a massive story that’s almost four decades old. Sports fans of a certain vintage might recall the great purge of the Oakland A’s in the summer of 1976, when mercurial team owner Charlie Finley tried to sell off pitcher Vida Blue (to the Yankees for $1.5 million), closer Rollie Fingers and outfielder Joe Rudi (both to the Red Sox for $1 million each). Finley felt the A’s days as contenders were over and feared looming free agency of his stars, but the transactions were killed by commissioner Bowie Kuhn as not being in ‘the best interests of baseball.” The Nets’ days as contenders apparently are over, too, in the eyes of owner Mikhail Prokhorov, and Brooklyn would be trying to get out from under the massive salaries of Williams, Johnson and Lopez. Bradford Doolittle of ESPN Insider cooked up some possible trade destinations for the Big 3 and here’s a glimpse at the point guard’s (you might have to pony up to see the whole piece):

Williams is not as explosive as he was a few years ago in Utah, but he’s still good enough to be a top-three player on a playoff team. However, besides his non-star production and large contract, Williams also toils at a time when the NBA is rife with quality point guards. However, the upshot is that Williams is a highly skilled player who could develop a floor-based style of running the point (a la Mark Jackson) that might play well for quite a few years.

Best fit: Indiana Pacers. The Pacers were one step shy of the Finals last season, but the top tier of the East has since become more crowded. Williams would give the Pacers the upper-echelon point guard they’ve lacked and, on this team, a ball-dominant PG can work. You plug Williams next to emerging shooter Solomon Hill, the currently injured Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West, and you’ve got a contending veteran team, albeit one likely shy of championship status.

A possible package would be something like George Hill, Luis Scola, Ian Mahinmi and Chris Copeland for Williams. The Nets’ motivation would be mostly financial. Hill might be a keeper to run the point in his combo-ish manner, but Scola’s expiring contract is mostly nonguaranteed, Copeland’s deal is expiring and Mahinmi has just $4 million left beyond this season.

Other fits: Detroit Pistons or the Los Angeles Lakers. …

***

No. 4: Davis leads early Most Improved candidates — The NBA season is barely one-quarter completed, so speculation about any of the “annual” awards is, by definition, premature. But such chatter isn’t illegal and it drives conversations, debates and occasional arguments, so our own Fran Blinebury offered up some players worth considering for the league’s Most Improved trophy, at least after the first six weeks. Eschewing the ever-popular “top five” or “top 10″ of Internet list-making, Blinebury limited his field to just four. And only one of them, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, was in action Tuesday night, finishing with 18 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in the home victory over New York. He was Blinebury’s early MIP leader:

It only seemed as if the long-armed forward was reaching his peak last season. Now he’s threatening to leap and put his head right through the ceiling. We saw it coming over the summer when he led the way for Team USA in the gold medal-winning effort at the World Cup in Spain. He used that experience to throw off whatever shackles he still had on himself and returned to New Orleans ready to lead and dominate. Averaging more than 25 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots and two steals per game, Davis has forced his way into the conversation for MVP. What’s more, he’s making a real case for overtaking soon-to-be-30-year-old LeBron James as the best all-around talent in the game. Even though his Pelicans are bobbing around the .500 mark and will struggle to make the playoffs, he’s the reason to have League Pass and dial him up any time New Orleans is on the schedule. He’s always had the talent, but now there is an edge and attitude to A.D.’s game that commands respect.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: High praise for Cavs guard Matthew Dellavedova from LeBron James after Cleveland’s big fourth-quarter comeback against Toronto. …  Another game night, another round of “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts during warm-ups, this time out West. … The losing in Philadelphia can be seen as a half-full opportunity, even for a seasoned NBA vet like Luc Mbah a Moute. …  But Earl Clark apparently doesn’t feel that way about what’s going on with the Lakers, preferring a lucrative deal in China. … For anyone still counting, this is Year 7 for the city of Seattle without the NBA. …

 

Morning shootaround — Dec. 9


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

John Wall fights through emotions | Phil Jackson must deal with the Knicks | Royals land in Brooklyn

No. 1: Wall wins, then bemoans a loss — It was a bittersweet night for Wizards guard John Wall, who somehow survived his emotions. He led the Wizards to a pulsating 133-132 double-overtime win over the Celtics by scoring Washington’s final 10 points. Wall had a career-high 17 assists and tacked on 26 points. But his postgame was anything but euphoric. Wall spoke through tears while describing the death earlier Monday of Miyah Telemaque-Nelson, a 6-year-old fan he’d met in March and supported her fight against Burkitt’s Lymphoma. J. Michael of CSN Washington brings some clarity:

“It said my little buddy has passed,” Wall said. “I didn’t respond. I went back to sleep and didn’t really want to think about it. It was kind of tough throughout the day knowing how hard she fought for it. Her last game she was supposed to be able to come to was the Lakers game [last week] and she couldn’t make it. It was tough for me. It was tough for her family. I haven’t had the opportunity to talk to them today. … This game was really meant for her. It would’ve been even tougher to lose it. God has a plan and I just went into a mode where I didn’t want to lose this game.”

Wall had a tearful walk-off interview with CSN Washington that made your heart ache. It showed how truly affected he was about someone who clearly meant plenty to him, even though she wasn’t part of his life until recently. Wall also took to Twitter to convey his grief:

“If you were blessed to meet and get to know Miyah you know how special of a little girl she was. I’m saddened by the news but I know that she’s in a better place. Keep her family in your prayers. I’ll definitely miss my buddy. Rest In Peace Miyah.”


VIDEO: John Wall emotional speaking about young girl

***

No. 2: Phil gets Phrank about the Knicks — Phil Jackson gave a rather pointed analysis of the Knicks in a semi-regular meeting with reporters and there was no sense candy-coating the worst start in team history. The team president said the Knicks have a “loser’s mentality” right now because they’re not finishing games. Ian OConnor of ESPN New York went a bit further and put the plight of the Knicks right in Jackson’s lap. He wrote:

Those aren’t Dolan’s 4-18 Knicks with the loser’s mentality. Those are Jackson’s 4-18 Knicks with the loser’s mentality and the potential to inflict unnecessary damage on what had been a near-perfect NBA career.

As a rookie team president marrying into a dysfunctional corporate family, Jackson knew he was taking a high-stakes gamble here. He knew the Knicks owner and amateur-hour musician could put down his guitar at any moment and, without notice, that James Dolan could go back to thinking he was James Naismith.

But there’s been little evidence of much meddling to date, and here’s the truth: Dolan paid Jackson superstar money, in part, so the executive would also take the blame if the new program unraveled like all the old programs did. So Jackson has to be looking around now and wondering if this was all some big mistake, wondering if he has any chance over the next five seasons to make it out of New York alive.

***

No. 3: ‘The King’ meets real Royalty — So there was a big buzz in Brooklyn Monday night; maybe you heard. No, it wasn’t about the Nets; expectations have been lowered about them for some time. Prince William and Kate Middleton were in the States on a goodwill tour (and yes, some shopping as well) and Barclays Center was filled to the gills with paparazzi and whatnot. It takes quite an event to make LeBron James the No. 2 attraction; he and the Cavs were the “other” visitors in the building. Fil Bondy of the New York Daily News thought it was quite odd that the Royal Couple would take in a basketball game, of all sports. His take:

The Brits are so much like us, they’re practically Canadian. They speak our language, join us in both our valiant and wrongheaded wars. It’s only natural we want them to love us, love our games.

Except they don’t. Not really, no matter how hard we try to transplant our professional sports overseas and generate even more revenues. The Brits don’t need our American football because they have their beloved rugby to fill that violent niche. They don’t really get our basketball, not viscerally, not like the Italians, French and Spaniards.

Why not? Simon Barnes, the former Times of London columnist, once summarized his indifference toward basketball in two words: “No midfield.” There you have it. Football isn’t rugby. Basketball isn’t soccer, or tennis. Odds are that William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, prefer sitting quietly in the royal box at Wimbledon watching Andy Murray moan and groan his way to another Grand Slam quarterfinal. We still remember how Princess Diana was uncannily transfixed by Pete Sampras’s one-handed backhand.

Still, for the sake of their charitable Royal Foundation and a partnership with the NBA in wildlife conservation, William and Kate headed to Brooklyn on Monday night to watch several minutes of the Cavs’ 110-88 victory over the Nets, featuring the world’s greatest basketball player. Or, as one perplexed British news-side journalist asked on the phone, back to his editor, “Luh-Braun James, is it?”

The Duke and Duchess arrived with seven minutes left in the third quarter to a standing O and sat next to Dikembe Mutombo, the popular NBA ambassador. They later posed for pictures with commissioner Silver and LeBron. In all, it was a jolly good time.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Steph Curry thinks recent comments by Warriors owner Joe Lacob were a distraction  …  Steve Clifford‘s final deal with the Hornets is now guaranteed for 2015-16

ICYMI of the Night: Blake Griffin‘s final points in a 45-point performance against the Suns came on a 3-pointer, of all shots


VIDEO: Blake Griffin nails the game-winner 3 at the buzzer

 

 

Morning shootaround — Dec. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron fired up to play before the royals | Changes don’t fix Lakers’ problems | Reality bites the Heat

No. 1: LeBron relishes opportunity to dazzle the royals — LeBron James, a self-anointed “King”playing before Britain’s Prince William and his wife, Duchess  Kate Middleton tonight in Brooklyn has a certain royal ring to it, no? It does for Cleveland’s King. LeBron is looking forward to showing off for the high-profile visitors, yet another opportunity for the world’s best player to brandish his global brand. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com has more:

“It’s an honor,” James said before the Cavs practiced in New York City on Sunday. “It’s a huge honor. The stuff that you read about, people like them are only in books growing up. And to hear that they’re coming to town to see me play and they want to see me do what I do best, it’s a huge honor.”

The royal couple will also meet with President Barack Obama on their U.S. tour. Count the president as another dignitary who has come to witness James play in person.

“Well I’ve had people from all across the board as far as stature, but the President of the United States, that was pretty huge,” James said. “To have those two, to say they were traveling here and one of the things that they wanted to do was see me play, it’s a pretty big deal in my household.”

James told reporters he has only seen Will and Kate “on television and the Internet and things, just like the rest of you,” and hopes to get a personal audience with the pair at Barclays Center.

“I would like to,” James said. “They are going to be at the game so hopefully I get the opportunity to interact with them a little bit. We’ll see what happens.”

Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving joked that he owns a DVD of the prince and duchess’ royal wedding from back in April, 2011.

“It will be great to see them in person,” Irving said. “I mean, for me, seeing celebrities in person is awesome. I don’t really know too much about them, but they’re celebrities in our world so I guess it’s great to see them.”


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook throws down the thunder dunk

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No. 2: Changes don’t fix what’s wrong with the Lakers — Change Lakers fans can believe in still hasn’t come. Byron Scott shook up his lineup, benching Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin for Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans, and got the same result as usual this season. Another loss for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers means that Scott is still searching for the right mix as time is quickly running out on any faint hope for this season in Los Angeles. Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times sheds some light on the dark times in LA:

Fans booed as the Lakers fell behind by 20 points going into the fourth quarter at Staples Center.

Kobe Bryant took nearly an hour before talking to reporters after the game. Boozer tried to one-up Bryant by not talking to reporters, period. Lin called the demotion “one of the toughest situations I’ve been in.”

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014-15 Lakers.

“If you look at our record, you have to make changes,” Scott said. “I’m not going to stand back and just watch it continue to be played this way. To me it was a no-brainer.”

Ed Davis had 12 points in place of Boozer and Ronnie Price had three points and three assists in Lin’s spot.

Bryant spoke matter-of-factly, not angrily, when he finally emerged to talk to reporters.

“Not everything is going to be great, champagne, celebrations and winning championships,” he said after scoring 14 points. “You’ve got to go through some hard stuff too. If this was the Titanic, I’d go down with that. … I’m not jumping off.”

This is all too familiar for Lin, demoted last season in Houston after being outplayed by Patrick Beverley. Boozer also had his time shortened in Chicago, benched in the second and fourth quarters toward the end of last season in favor of Taj Gibson.

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No. 3: Reality bites the Heat after fourth straight loss — All of those conversations about the Miami Heat and their place in history that were had over the past four seasons seems like a lifetime ago these days. The Heat, losers of four straight games after falling to the Memphis Grizzlies Sunday, are feeling reality’s bite right now. They are no longer the juggernaut they were with Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh headlining the show. It’s a different world for the Heat, as Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald explains:

Chris Bosh slammed the ball against his head in a display of exasperation.

Dwyane Wade just walked off the court laughing and shaking his head.

Even when the Heat did everything right defensively, the Memphis Grizzlies still scored and scored and scored on Sunday at FedEx Forum in their 103-87 victory, but Courtney Lee’s desperation three-pointer from 30 feet seemed especially cruel.

Both Mario Chalmers and Josh McRoberts had their hands on the ball, but neither player could come away with the steal. Instead, the loose ball found Lee, who heaved a prayer toward the rim. It swished the net, of course, because everything goes down against this Heat defense these days.

The Grizzlies shot better than 60 percent until the final two minutes of the game, settling for 58.9 percent from the field. It was the highest shooting percentage of the season for Memphis (16-4), and the high-water mark came on a night star center Marc Gasol was 1 of 6 from the field for two points.

“They didn’t even hurt us in our normal game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s what’s disappointing. It was all the miscellaneous actions.”

The Heat (9-11) has lost five of its past six games, including four in a row, and in each of those losses opponents shot at least 54 percent from the field.

“It’s open season,” said Bosh, who had 12 points and two rebounds. “Until we take more pride in that as a unit, it’s just not going to happen. We’ve got to individually guard the ball with passion, and everything else with follow.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rockets coach Kevin McHale says Dwight Howard isn’t coming back anytime soon …  Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob apologizes for his comments about former coach Mark Jackson …  Thunder stretch reeling Pistons’ slide to 12 straight … Mum is the word from Phil Jackson on the Knicks …

ICYMI of the Night: The entire cast of Top Five, Chris Rock’s latest comedy, sat down for an interview with our very own Lang Whitaker of the All Ball Blog … 


VIDEO: Lang Whitaker sits down with the cast of Top Five