NEWS OF THE MORNING
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 Heat … Derek 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 …