Blogtable: Your All-Star starters

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Build with offense or defense? | Who will get traded? | Your All-Star starters



VIDEO: The Starters reveal their early All-Star starter picks

> You’ll get a chance to you change your mind in about three weeks, but give me your starting five (East and West) for February’s All-Star Game, based ONLY on performance this season.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The guys I think earned it in the West are names who might actually get enough votes in the real balloting: Stephen Curry and James Harden in the backcourt, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge in the frontcourt. Out East, I’m not sure my five all would prevail in the popularity contest but on merit, they should go: John Wall and Kyle Lowry at guard, with LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Kyle Korver up front. Korver, you ask? He’s having a season to make analytics fans swoon, someone from Atlanta deserves a spot and I like the idea of two Kyles in a five-man lineup.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comEast: Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol. West: Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol. Durability counts, that’s why Dwyane Wade loses out to Irving and DeMarcus Cousins to Marc Gasol.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comEast: LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh (forwards), Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry (guards). West: Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and DeMarcus Cousins (forwards), Stephen Curry and James Harden (guards). The option to change my mind in three weeks comes in especially handy with Cousins. If he returns strong from the viral meningitis, he holds the spot. If he struggles physically for long, his place becomes more precarious. It gets even worse if the Kings continue to drop in the standings — which dooms Carmelo Anthony on the East front line –or Cousins has a choppy adjustment to the Kings’ coaching change increased emphasis on playing up-tempo. Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge are waiting.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWest: James Harden, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol. Pretty clear-cut there. They’ve been healthy and productive. East: Kyle Lowry, John Wall, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony. Yeah, folks will hold their nose about ‘Melo, but that’s more because of the Knicks. He’s No. 6 in scoring and the East is lacking in star power on the front line.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Going by the positions on the ballot (veiled shot at my colleagues who included Lowry, Wall and Butler) … East guards: Kyle Lowry and John Wall.  East frontcourt: LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol. West guards: Stephen Curry and James Harden. West frontcourt: Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis and Tim Duncan. Duncan gets my final spot in the crowded West frontcourt (for now), because he’s more of a two-way player than LaMarcus Aldridge and his minutes are over 30 per game this season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Based only on performance, in the East it has to be Kyle Lowry, John Wall, Jimmy Butler, LeBron James and Pau Gasol. In the Western Conference, where a preposterous surplus of candidates for five spots, I’m going with Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol. I don’t think I’ll need that mulligan in three weeks either, even with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant coming on the way they are for Oklahoma City and Kobe Bryant playing the way he has all season. I want to reserve my injury replacement spot for Klay Thompson, too. He’s been that good this season and the Warriors are rocking. He belongs in New York for the festivities.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: In the East, I’ve got LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh in the frontcourt, with Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler in the backcourt. In the West, it’s Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Anthony Davis up front, with James Harden and Stephen Curry in the backcourt.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogEast: John Wall, Kyle Lowry, LeBron James, Jimmy Butler, Chris Bosh. If I could put Kobe at the 3, I would, because I think he deserves to make the starting five. But there are literally only two players in the West that I’d rate ahead of him, and they are both guards. Sorry, Mamba. West: Steph Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: A looming trade?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Build with offense or defense? | Who will get traded? | Your All-Star starters



VIDEOShould the Warriors think about dealing David Lee?

> Give me a name or two, guys who you think almost certainly will be traded between now and the Feb. 19 trade deadline.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comLance Stephenson back to Indiana as a do-over of sorts would be interesting, because it’s not something we’ve seen often (ever?). David Lee done got “Wally Pipped” in Golden State – the team didn’t miss him and might be better without him – so he’d be a likely suspect to move, if someone were willing to swallow his contract. I would have said Ersan Ilyasova for sure until Jabari Parker went down, thinning the Bucks’ frontcourt.  If LeBron James wants Corey Brewer, then I’d imagine Brewer will be headed to Cleveland for something or other. Then there’s Greg Monroe, though any trade would hinge on his determination to leave Detroit (no more Bird rights) and the Pistons’ asking price for a half-season of his services.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comLance Stephenson and Dion Waiters. It seems there wasn’t a bigger mistake made during the offseason than the Hornets trying to add Stephenson as a pinch of spice. He’s been a bad fit since Day One and team owner Michael Jordan would most likely enjoy a shot at a do-over. The bad blood between Waiters and point guard Kyrie Irving might be in the past, but Waiters is still most often like a fifth wheel on the Cavs’ machine and is likely never going to stop being frustrating.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comIt’s tough not to think Lance Stephenson right away. The contract is very moveable — $27 million over three seasons, but the final campaign as a team option — and Stephenson can be a productive player, certainly more productive than he has shown so far in Charlotte. It’s early in the relationship, but the Hornets can’t wait much longer before deciding it’s a bad fit. Separately, the Pistons are a candidate to trade. Offloading Josh Smith would be an ideal scenario, but he won’t bring much in return. Greg Monroe is a possibility, before he becomes a free agent, but not at a fire-sale discount. He’ll still cost.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: There are dozens of players that teams want to dump, but for various reasons might be unable to do so. Case in point: Josh Smith, Pistons. Anyway, my candidates: Gerald Green, because the Suns may not want to pay him; Arron Afflalo, because his return to Denver has been largely a bust; Corey Brewer, because the Wolves will be crummy with or without him; and finally Lance Stephenson, just because.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: There are a lot of guys who teams don’t want anymore, and there are a lot of guys that other teams desire. But Draft pick compensation and the heftiness of certain contracts (hello, Joe Johnson) often get in the way of potential deal. Dion Waiters, in my opinion, should fall into the first category and is still on an easily-tradeable rookie contract. So I see him as the most likely to move. The Cavs need defense and have plenty of guards — Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Harris, James Jones and Mike Miller — who can absorb Waiters’ minutes.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comJosh Smith and Lance Stephenson serve as the easy picks and for good reason. I think one or both of them will certainly be on the move. There is no doubt they’re both being shopped by their respective teams. They are both talents with skills that will be coveted by teams convinced that they’ll be able to clean up whatever messes they’ve made in the past. Neither one of them is a great (or even good) fit in their current situations. The Pistons aren’t going anywhere this season, so they might as well start the rebuilding process at the deadline. The Hornets had high hopes and had them dashed early. They need to free themselves of Stephenson and allow him to start fresh elsewhere as well. My wild card at the deadline is the Phoenix Suns. They had a glut of point guards and should take a hard look at which one of them is expendable.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI’m going to say Josh Smith and any other number of Pistons. The coach has the authority to make trades in Detroit, and after complaining steadily about the effort of his players, Stan Van Gundy isn’t going to allow the trade deadline to pass him by.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI wouldn’t be surprised to see the Knicks move Amar’e Stoudemire. He’s playing better basketball than he’s played in years, and could lend a hand on a contending team in need of frontcourt depth. Plus, with a $19 million expiring contract, maybe the Knicks can get something of value for him that will help with their rebuild going forward.

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?

 

Reports: Jabari Parker out for the season


VIDEO: Jabari Parker is likely out for the rest of the 2014-15 season

Jabari Parker, an important part of the foundation of the Bucks and the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, will miss the rest of the season after it was determined Tuesday that he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, ESPN.com first reported.

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski also reported the news.

The Bucks did not initially say anything about Parker’s status on Tuesday night, but the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said a league source had confirmed that the rookie had suffered a torn ACL.

The No. 2 pick in the draft was hurt in the third quarter Monday night at Phoenix. He grabbed a defensive rebound, pushed the ball up court in transition, got into the lane, and planted the left leg awkwardly. He left the game immediately and returned to Milwaukee on Tuesday to be examined.

Parker, a Chicago native excited for the chance to play close to his hometown, averaged 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in 29.5 minutes while shooting 49 percent while starting at both forward spots for the Bucks. He played 25 games.

Milwaukee is 13-12, good for sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

 

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 181) dollars and sense

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Go ahead and scan the top 10 players on the salary list of your favorite sport and ask yourself, who belongs and who does not?

In the NFL it’s easy to spot the impostors (you know who you are .., Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan and others) the guys who have collected $100 million contracts without so much as changing the culture in their respective locker rooms, let alone the franchise that lavished those sorts of riches upon them,

The NBA’s top 10 is a much tougher list to decipher. Kobe Bryant, the third leading scorer in the history of the game, sits atop the list. And even though he’s playing on a woeful Los Angeles Lakers team this season, few can argue that he’s worth the what he’s being paid based on the box office draw he is at home in LA and everywhere else he goes.

Dollars and sense is the topic on Episode 181 of the Hang Time Podcast, who and what makes sense and at what price? We also dig into the Sacramento Kings’ firing of Mike Malone and what that means for the immediate and long-term future of the franchise.

We go off the rails early and often, like always, on Episode 181 of the Hang Time Podcast … Dollars and Sense …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the new best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Andrew Merriam.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

VIDEO: Kobe Bryant’s career milestones

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 …

Report: Kings fire Mike Malone

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Mike Malone was 39-67 during his tenure in Sacramento (Photo by NBAE via Getty Images).

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In a rather bizarre move, the Sacramento Kings fired head coach Mike Malone Sunday night, according to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The Kings were the surprise team of the first few weeks of the season, going 9-6 before losing star DeMarcus Cousins to what eventually turned out to be viral meningitis. They’ve gone 2-7 without Cousins, having lost to both the Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons in the last six days.

The Kings have outscored their opponents by 11.1 points per 100 possessions with Cousins on the floor and have been outscored by 8.8 with him off it. He’s been critical to both their offense and defense.

Still, the Kings were 1/2 game out of eighth place in the West when they lost Cousins. And right now, the Kings are still 1/2 game out of eighth place. Basically, the Phoenix Suns have been just as bad as they have over the last 2 1/2 weeks.

But apparently, Kings management expected more. And now they turn to Tyrone Corbin, whose Jazz ranked 20th or worse defensively in each of his four seasons as their head coach.

Malone was in his second season in Sacramento. Despite Cousins’ absence for nine of their 24 games, they were improved in both offensive and defensive efficiency from last season.

Kobe Bryant passes Michael Jordan


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant passes Michael Jordan

With a pair of free throws with 5:24 to go in the second quarter in Minnesota on Sunday night, Kobe Bryant tied and passed Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list. Bryant currently sits at No. 3, trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone.

Bryant was a willing passer early on Sunday, and shot just 1-for-5 in the first quarter. Upon re-entering the game in the second, he quickly went for Jordan, hitting a fast-break three on his first offensive possession of the period, missing a turnaround jumper in the post, and then drawing a foul on Zach LaVine on an early baseline drive. After a timeout, he nailed both free throws and the game was stopped so that both teams could acknowledge the achievement and Wolves owner Glen Taylor could award him the ball.

Bryant finished with 26 points on 7-for-20 shooting, capping his night with the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:02 to go.

Indications are that Bryant will retire when his contract expires at the end of the next season, his 20th in the league. So it’s doubtful that he’ll move further up the list. He would need to avoid injuries and a scoring dip just to catch Malone by the end of the 2016-17 season, when he’ll be approaching his 39th birthday.

But no matter what happens down the line, Bryant now reigns as the most prolific scoring guard in NBA history, having passed the guy he’ll forever be compared to. It’s a tribute to his talent, his drive, his work ethic and his longevity.

No. 24 has passed No. 23 to become No. 3.

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VIDEO: Kobe talks about passing MJ

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Reports: Hornets shopping Stephenson


VIDEO: The Starters: Is Lance Stephenson stealing rebounds?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The honeymoon is over in Charlotte, apparently.

The Charlotte Hornets were supposed to be an improved team this season, with the addition of Lance Stephenson giving a boost to an offense which ranked 24th last season. But Charlotte has been the most disappointing team in the league thus far, having regressed on both ends of the floor.

The Hornets have played the toughest schedule in the Eastern Conference and Stephenson isn’t completely to blame for their 6-17 start. But he hasn’t fit in well and has shot just 39 percent (16 percent from 3-point range).

And now, with Stephenson eligible to be traded on Monday, the Hornets are looking for a mulligan, as Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports

The Charlotte Hornets are targeting the Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets as destinations to unload guard Lance Stephenson, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Stephenson becomes eligible to be traded on Monday, and Charlotte has rapidly lost hope that its brief partnership with Stephenson can stand the test of time.

Indiana hasn’t ruled out the possibility of bringing back Stephenson, but appears unwilling to seriously engage the Hornets without the inclusion of a first-round pick in a potential deal, sources told Yahoo Sports.

So far, Charlotte has shown no inclination to package a future draft pick to move Stephenson, league executives told Yahoo Sports.

ESPN’s Marc Stein has more

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.