NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Cousins to return vs. Spurs? — The good news for the Sacramento Kings and their fans is that center DeMarcus Cousins, sidelined since suffering a right Achilles tendon strain on Halloween, expects to play Monday night against the San Antonio Spurs. The bad news is, that timetable would mean Cousins will miss the Kings’ meeting Saturday night with Golden State. Sacramento is 0-3 since Cousins went out last weekend and 6-31 in its last 37 games forced to play without him. So this injury update from Yahoo! Sports‘ Marc Spears arrives not a minute too soon:
“I feel good. If it were up to me I would be playing tonight,” Cousins told Yahoo Sports prior to the Rockets game.
Cousins averaged 26.5 points and 12 rebounds the first two games before injuring his right Achilles tendon in 15 minutes of play against the Clippers on Oct. 31. Kings general manager Vlade Divac told Yahoo Sports there was a “50-50 chance” Cousins would play on Monday and said he would return no later than Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons. Cousins shot prior to the Rockets game.
“Our doctors are worrying about Cousins over the long haul,” Divac told Yahoo Sports.
No. 2: For Kobe, victory lap beats farewell tour — He isn’t looking for any Harley-Davidson motorcycles or vintage rocking chairs as lovely parting gifts. The applause from rival teams’ fans is appreciated and a little surprising to him but certainly not expected. Overall, in fact, Kobe Bryant would be fine if folks made a small deal rather than a big deal out of what could be his final NBA season. Were it entirely left up to him, he would settle for toting back to Los Angeles a steamer trunk full of W’s, in the way his Lakers team picked up its first victory of the 2015-16 season at Brooklyn Friday. What could be Bryant’s last weekend in New York as an active NBA player triggered all sorts of interesting stories, including this one from Yahoo! Sports‘ Adrian Wojnarowski:
The long goodbye for Kobe Bryant made it out onto the road on Friday night, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn playing the part of the prelim to a Sunday matinee at Madison Square Garden. Bryant could feel the strength starting to regenerate in his legs here, delivering him a modest improvement over a dreadful Staples Center performance on Tuesday.
As Bryant begins what appears in every way to be his farewell tour, the truth becomes clearer and clearer to him. He isn’t chasing the playoffs, nor a championship. Kobe Bryant is chasing a ghost.
“I get held to much higher standards than most of my peers,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports on his walk out of the Barclays Center. “If I have a bad shooting night, it’s, ‘He’s in the grave. He’s in the coffin.’
Look around the league, and other players have bad shooting nights – and it’s just a bad shooting night.”
But the expectations that they have for me, they’re actually something that I appreciate. Achilles injury. Fractured knee. Torn shoulder. Twentieth year in the league. Thirty-seven years old. All that, and the expectations are that I average 30 points.
“But I appreciate those standards, because it’s something that still pushes me, still drives me.”
He laughs and nods in agreement with himself.
“Let’s see what I can do,” Bryant said.
No. 3: Imagine Celtics’ Stevens with All-Stars — Before USA Basketball announced its wise and proper choice of San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich to take over as coach of Team USA when Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski steps down after the 2016 Olympics, much speculation about Coach K’s replacement included Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens. Stevens’ reputation as a respected and admired sideline strategist, teacher and mentor got polished a little more with Washington forward Jared Dudley‘s comments. Dudley talked up Stevens’ coaching chops to MassLive.com:
On top of all that is Stevens’ ability to manage a team, which Dudley said is obvious to players around the league.
“With Stevens to do what he’s done here (in Boston) — I mean, imagine, give this guy a couple of All-Stars, what he could do,” Dudley said. “But that being said, he hasn’t had that. He has good players, young players, hungry. And to be able to, with a young team where guys want to get stats, and sometimes that’s a little more important than winning, buying in, he’s done a great job.”
“Just knowing his Xs and Os, ball movement, giving players chances to play,” Dudley said. “Obviously it’s a lot easier when you don’t have any stars, technically, on this team, but they can play 15 guys on any given night, any given day. His Xs and Os out of timeouts are great.
“They were first half of the season dead in the water. To have a young team compete, come back, make the playoffs, and we saw them improve year by year. So when it comes to the rest of the body, taking days off, knowing when to prepare, put the time in, Xs and Os. Then he’s a young coach on a young team that would be hard to win. He found ways, and that puts him up there.”
Over the summer, Dudley told Grantland’s Zach Lowe he would put Stevens in his “top two or three” coaches to play for. Coaching isn’t the only factor when players decide where to sign, of course, but Dudley estimated it’s about “30 to 40 percent” of the equation.
“Obviously the big thing here is money,” Dudley said. “The big thing is how good the team is, and city and coach go hand in hand. You’ve seen LeBron (James) go back to Cleveland and it was a rookie coach. So obviously it didn’t matter to him to a certain degree. But you saw guys go to Doc Rivers. You saw LaMarcus Aldridge go to Pop (Gregg Popovich). So it does matter. And usually when you have a good coach, more times than not it’s a winning situation. So it makes it a lot easier.”
No. 4: Joerger on the hot seat? — A 1-2 record in their past three games and a 3-3 start to this season through six is not what the Memphis Grizzlies and their followers had in mind. Nor was hearing head coach Dave Joerger comment on how “old” his guys were looking. But with veteran stars who look a little out of place in the new, smaller, long-distance NBA, the Grizzlies aren’t apologizing or protesting too much over the urgency that’s leaked into their season a mere 7.3 percent of the way through their schedule. Beat writer Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal looked not just at Memphis’ record but at the way in which the team has been losing:
[General manager Chris] Wallace, though, sounds confident that what ails the Grizzlies is easily fixable.
“Overall, we’re not playing extremely well on either side of the ball. No one is satisfied with the start,” Wallace said. “But we’re a team that’s faced adversity in the past. It’s a very resilient group that’s proven we can get off the mat and win games. We’re 3-3. We’re not 0-6. Granted, the aesthetics in three losses haven’t been good, but those losses don’t count three times in the standings.”
The Griz have lost by 30 points (against Cleveland), 50 (Golden State) and 19 (Portland). Memphis trailed by 26 late in that road loss at Portland. The Griz have been out-hustled and flat-footed in every defeat. The extended times of disinterest and lack of fight are major concerns.
Players routinely express frustration about a sudden lack of chemistry and execution.
Opponents are shooting better from 3-point range against the Griz (41.5 percent) than the Griz shoot overall from the field (41.4 percent). And Memphis is nowhere near its defensive prowess of the past five seasons. The Griz rank 26th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing 107.9 points per 100 possessions.
In other words, the first six games have made it look as though the Grizzlies’ patented grit-and-grind style is just about in a grave.
A recent ESPN.com article even suggested that Griz coach Dave Joerger is on the hot seat, a candidate to be fired early this season because Memphis has trailed by 20-plus points for 62 minutes over the first six games.
The Griz operated from a 20-point deficit for a total of 88 minutes during the entire 2014-15 season.
Wallace defended his coach.
“When things aren’t going well, there’s always a lot of noise from the outside,” Wallace said. “You can’t let it permeate the air you’re breathing as a team. You just have to keep your head down and do what you’ve done in the past to be successful.
“I don’t see Dave on the hot seat. We’re six games into the season. We’re struggling right now, but Dave’s a proven commodity and he’s got a talented staff.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The flip side of the Lakers’ first victory of the season in Brooklyn was the Nets’ continued slide toward irrelevance. … Chris Bosh is making his own comeback this season but the Miami forward spoke in Indianapolis Friday of Paul George‘s for the Pacers. … An 0-3 start for Indiana has been spun more recently into a 3-0 stretch that has the players and coaches accentuating the positives. … “Old school” Lakers coach Byron Scott and “new age” draft pick D’Angelo Russell may have found their time machine to help close philosophical or personality gaps between them. … ESPN.com theorizes on how life might have been different had the Nets drafted Kobe Bryant 20 years ago. … Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker is said to be in the market for new representation, severing his ties to agent B.J. Armstrong and the Wasserman Media Group. … By the time this season is half over, former Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau probably will have had contact, inside and outside the gym, with most of the coaches and teams of the NBA. And we’ll still likely see dispatches informing us of Thibodeau’s travels and meals with notable league executives. …