Posts Tagged ‘Mike Malone’

Morning shootaround — July 18


VIDEO: Sophomores delivering at Summer League

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Giannis sees Bucks as (more) family | Project Durant on track in Washington | Knicks, if not Jackson, kept ‘Melo in loop | Smart to miss Africa game

No. 1: Giannis sees Bucks as (more) family — It’s too bad, when Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo writes about himself on his official blog, that he doesn’t lapse into third-person references to himself. If he did, he’d face the same challenge – spelling and typing that last name repeatedly – other scribes face. Nonetheless, the Bucks’ rising star posted Friday about the bond he feels with his team and how his sense of family extends these days to his workplace:

The Bucks and John Hammond chose me in the draft, got me in the NBA, kept me in the team with a role from my very first season and they are my basketball family. Not only that, but already at this young age, they have enough faith in me as a leader and they are doing everything in order to develop all of my potential. From my side, I feel that I want to be playing in the Bucks. I’m not talking about my next contract. The way I feel now, I want to keep playing for the Milwaukee Bucks for the next 20 years!

You never know how life turns out. Three years ago I was thinking that I might be playing for Filathlitikos forever! All of a sudden, the draft emerged, the NBA, the Bucks and everything that followed. I don’t know how I’ll be feeling and thinking in 2, 3 or more years. Right now I feel like I want to play for the Milwaukee Bucks forever.

I’m a guy who doesn’t really care about glamour and big markets. I like to be home all day. I get up in the morning, I take a shower and I go to practice. When I’m finished, the only thing that’s on my mind is to go back home and spend time with my family. I usually feel that I prefer to hide from people.

Okay, if LeBron said to me ‘Come to my team and play with me,’ I’d think about it! (laughs) He’s the best player in the world and a member of that exclusive group of the best that have ever played the game. Still, though, the Milwaukee Bucks would come first. They will always be the team that gave me my chance and opened up the doors to paradise.

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No. 2: Project Durant on track in Washington — The Washington Wizards aren’t running afoul of NBA tampering rules, but within the letter of the law, they’re not hiding the fact that they hope to be players in what most expect to be a Kevin Durant Sweeptakes next July. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post looked at the Wizards’ plan, which will be competing with approximately 28 other teams’ plans 11.5 months from now in trying to lure the NBA’s 2014 MVP away from Oklahoma City:

The Washington Wizards have meticulously prepared for the opportunity to coax Durant, born in the District and a product of Montrose Christian School, to Washington once the clock strikes midnight on July 1, 2016. But the courting of Durant, 26, will be wildly competitive: Thanks to the coming flood of money from a new television contract that will kick in next July, a bevy of franchises will have the salary cap space to offer the maximum possible contract to Durant, the 2014 league MVP. Other teams are only a couple moves away from getting in the mix. It could become a free-for-all, raising the risks of going all-in for one player.

“The one thing I know about my brother is he wants to win,” said Damion James, Durant’s best friend and a member of the Wizards’ summer league team. “He’ll do whatever it takes to win. Whoever gives him the best chance to win is where he’s going to end up.”

“It’s difficult to imagine him leaving [the Thunder],” said a Western Conference executive, who spoke under condition of anonymity because league tampering rules bar discussing potential free agents who are still under contract with another team. “That team is loaded. If they can stay healthy, they’re championship favorites.”

Oklahoma City is one of the NBA’s smallest markets, a factor that would’ve repelled a player of Durant’s caliber just a few years ago, but technology has altered the NBA terrain. No longer does a player need to play in a metropolis to become a superstar and procure endorsement dollars. Every game is available to anyone, anywhere. Highlights are instantly accessible on the Internet. Social media is replete with NBA fandom. Durant, a Nike pillar, and [Russell] Westbrook, a fashion impresario of sorts, are two poster boys of the shift. The fact that [LaMarcus] Aldridge spurned a meeting with the Knicks and turned down the Lakers to sign this month with the San Antonio Spurs seemed to solidify the change.

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No. 3: Knicks, if not Jackson, kept ‘Melo in loop — Lest anyone fret that Carmelo Anthony was being kept in the dark on the New York Knicks’ offseason maneuvers, the New York Post stepped up to report that the veteran All-Star scorer actually was in the loop on team transactions. Certainly no Knicks fan could aide Anthony not being consulted, considering how, er, well thing have gone around Madison Square Garden lately:

According to an NBA source, general manager Steve Mills has been in communication with Anthony across the free-agent process to explain the recent additions.

As president, [Phil] Jackson delegates a lot, and Mills is in charge of directly speaking with agents and other teams regarding potential trades or free-agent acquisitions. According to the source, Mills also handles reaching out to players on matters such as recent transactions.

In fact, Mills has said publicly Anthony spent a lot of time in his office going over “the boards’’ regarding potential free agents they were after. One of the combinations, Mills has said, was the trifecta of Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo and Kyle O’Quinn. The Knicks still had enough cap space to sign 2011 draft bust Derrick Williams and re-up with Lou Amundson and Lance Thomas for more than their minimums.

Jackson raised eyebrows on Monday when he said he had yet to speak with the vacationing Anthony, sparking speculation perhaps the Knicks rehabbing superstar was displeased with the signings. The Post reported on Wednesday Anthony had been in touch with Knicks officials this week and expressed frustration he was being perceived as a malcontent, and said he still “had trust in Phil.’’

After the draft, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith reported Anthony felt “hoodwinked’’ by Jackson’s selection of European project Kristaps Porzingis with the No. 4 overall pick. The Post reported Anthony was indeed disappointed on Draft night but more because his friend Tim Hardaway Jr. was traded for a college prospect he barely saw play — point guard Jerian Grant. No one, other than Anthony, remains from the roster since Jackson took over 16 months ago.

Since, Anthony has been outspoken about his “love’’ for Porzingis and called him directly to tell him he wasn’t upset. Anthony watched Porzingis’ Knicks workout and multiple sources said he felt the Latvian big man would be a good pick.

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No. 4: Smart to miss Africa game — The good news for Boston guard Marcus Smart and the Celtics was that the two fingers on his right hand that Smart injured Thursday in the Las Vegas Summer League won’t require surgery. The unfortunate news is that Smart will miss participating in the NBA’s exhibition game in South Africa Aug. 1. Here is some more on that situation from the Boston Globe:

Smart, guard Evan Turner, and coach Brad Stevens were to be among a contingent of NBA players and coaches taking part in the first NBA game played in Africa. But Smart will now stay in Boston as his fingers heal.

Smart has not been available to speak to reporters since suffering the injury. One source said the guard is disappointed about missing the game in Africa but relieved that his injury is not more serious.

With 6:34 left in the second quarter of Boston’s summer league game against Portland, Smart, guard Terry Rozier, and Trail Blazers forward Noah Vonleh all converged on a loose ball. Smart braced himself with his right hand as he fell, and his right index and middle fingers were dislocated.

A bone in Smart’s hand also punctured his skin, requiring five stitches. Those sutures could slow Smart’s recovery, as they will affect his ability to regain range of motion in his fingers. Still, the Celtics were relieved that the X-rays on Smart’s hand were negative.

Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry said Smart will remain with the team as long as they are in the summer league playoffs, partly because he wants to support his team, and partly because the medical staff is here. Smart will undergo further evaluation when he returns to Boston.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Cleveland Cavaliers might be adding another Russian center, this one a player whose NBA rights they’ve had for the past eight years. … Jimmy Butler said again, on yet another media platform, that his relationship with Derrick Rose is friction-free. … New Nuggets head coach Mike Malone talks with Grantland.com about Ty Lawson, what he learned in Sacramento and a little Boogie Cousins. … Seth Curry writes about what he hopes is the end of his D League days. … Everything old is new again, as some NBA rookies remind ESPN.com of certain predecessors. …

Morning shootaround — June 16


VIDEO: Should the Cavs go to their big men more in Game 6?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant motivated by Curry, LeBron in Finals | Malone gets his chance in Denver | More moves ahead for Clippers? | Report: Embiid could miss all of 2015-16

No. 1: Durant motivated by Curry, LeBron in Finals — For five games through these NBA Finals, reigning MVP Stephen Curry and four-time former MVP LeBron James have keyed an epic series. Yet as the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers ready for Game 6 tonight (9 ET, ABC), one former MVP is keeping an eye on things as he recovers from injury. Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant tells ESPN.com’s Royce Young he can’t wait to get back on the court and have a shot at the 2016 Finals:

Once upon a time — as in a little more than a year ago — Kevin Durant was probably the only player worthy of being included in any discussion alongside LeBron James for title of best player in the game.

But after three surgeries to repair a fracture in his right foot that caused him to miss 55 games this past season, the 2014 MVP understands why his name has slipped from a lot of minds as fans marvel at James’ and Stephen Curry’s electrifying performances in the NBA Finals.

“It used to piss me off, but I love it now,” Durant told ESPN.com. “Just gotta show and prove. I don’t deserve to be up there with them this year. Next year is a different story.”

In ESPN.com’s 2014 NBA Rank project, Durant finished a stunning eighth overall, after coming in No. 2 overall in 2012 and 2013. With his season clouded by foot surgery, the reason for the drop was obvious. But that doesn’t mean Durant isn’t using being overlooked as motivation.

“Sometimes you gotta remind people what you do,” Durant said last season. “They tend to forget.”

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Report: Nuggets to hire Mike Malone


VIDEO: Mike Malone breaks down the pace the Cavaliers are dictating in The Finals

SAN FRANCISCO — The Denver Nuggets will hire former Sacramento Kings coach Mike Malone as their next coach, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.

Malone was fired by the Kings 24 games into the 2014-15 season, just months into his second season on the job. He takes over a Nuggets team that suffered through a tumultuous 30-52 season that included the firing of head coach Brian Shaw in March.

Melvin Hunt replaced Shaw as the interim coach for the remainder of the season and was a strong candidate to replace him, before Malone entered the mix and won over Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly and president Josh Kroenke.

Malone, a longtime assistant before ascending to the top job in Sacramento, has a history with helping reshape the culture of organizations. He was an assistant with the Golden State Warriors from 2011-13 and Cleveland Cavaliers from 2005-10, having a hand in the development of the players and systems of the teams currently battling it out for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Hawks well represented, except one


VIDEO: Coach Mike Budenholzer talks about the Hawks’ success

NEW YORK— The Big Apple is Atlanta North for the weekend with Hawks all over the place, competing in events on Friday, Saturday and finally Sunday when four players and the entire coaching staff will represent the East in the All-Star Game.

“It’s awesome to have everyone here,” said Hawks forward Al Horford. “When we get on the bus, almost half the bus is Hawks. I’ve been here before at the All-Star Game but never has it been to this magnitude, mainly because we have a number of players and our coaches here with me.”

Well, there is one notable absence. Somewhere in Atlanta, the person who put the Hawks together is observing from a distance, to say the least. Danny Ferry took a voluntary leave of absence after the events of this summer, when he read a scouting report that was viewed as racially if not culturally insensitive, and has been a ghost while the Hawks surprisingly soared to the top of the East.

Ferry was responsible, either directly or indirectly, in every member of the Hawks’ All-Star contingent with the exception of Horford, whom he inherited when he became GM three years ago. Ferry matched an offer sheet to keep Jeff Teague, signed Paul Millsap, traded for Kyle Korver and signed coach Mike Budenholzer. That’s one-third of the East team, plus the coach.

The question now is, will Ferry ever get to enjoy the benefits of his hard work from a point-blank range, instead of his TV set?

Well, all indications say that will be up to the next owners of the Hawks, whenever they’re sold, which might not happen until this summer or fall. If left up to the players, however, there’s a pretty clear consensus.

“He brought us all together,” said Teague. “I don’t think anyone would be against it.”

Millsap: “I would welcome him back. We still don’t know the truth as far as everything that’s going on or everything that happened. I try to stay out of it. But we had a great relationship before all of this happened. I’m not going to let one day throw that relationship down the drain. People make mistakes.”

Remember, Ferry wasn’t told to stay away by the league or even the fractured Hawks ownership. He took it upon himself. And technically, he could return on his own accord, although there probably would be some awkward moments if that happened. In any event, one of the groups trying to buy the Hawks is led by Grant Hill. They both attended Duke and remain friends, so you can guess what might happen should Hill’s team win. If another group wins, then all bets are off.

“He’s definitely a great GM,” said Millsap. “And I’m sure this must be tough for him.”

Elsewhere around All-Star Weekend:

Melo will play at least one more game:

Carmelo Anthony will play in the All-Star Game. Otherwise, that’s all he would guarantee.

There’s bait of controversy surrounding the Knicks forward. On one hand, Melo has complained about a chronic left knee problem, which forced him to miss games. But he felt fine enough to play in London in the Knicks’ game against the Bucks, and has played since, leading up to the All-Star Game.

Therefore: With the 10-43 Knicks comfortably out of the playoff hunt and three months to go, will Melo suddenly feel unfit to play once the All-Star Game is over?

It looks that way, and can you blame him? Melo felt he had a responsibility to suit up in London, if only because he was clearly a drawing card, and also serve as host of the All-Star Game since it’ll be played at the Garden.

“I really want to embrace that,” he said. “This will be a moment I’ll never forget. New York won’t forget. I want to be a part of that moment.”

Melo added: “It’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. Because if I said I’m not participating, I would’ve gotten backlash about it. I’m saying I’m participating, I get backlash. It’s here in New York, the fans voted me in and I’m going to play in the game.”

DeMarcus is good with Karl:

There won’t be any push-back from DeMarcus Cousins when George Karl begins coaching the Kings next week, so says DeMarcus Cousins.

“He’s a good coach,” said Cousins. “I haven’t really had a chance to talk with him, so may things were going on when they brought him in. I’m excited to see him and move forward.”

Cousins dismissed the idea that he was against the hiring of Karl and insists he has no voice in major decisions. If Karl can help the Kings return to a level of respectability they had under Mike Malone, Cousins is fine with that.

“I didn’t want them to fire Mike Malone,” he said. “That wasn’t my doing. And this hiring wasn’t my doing. But I’m fine with it. Look, everybody needs to be on the same page. That’s been the biggest issue so far. We were a team above .500 when Malone was there. Things happen for a reason and there are things beyond our control as players, beyond my control.”

Cousins did say one thing will continue: If the Kings sleep-walk through games, they will hear about it from him.

“As leader of my team, I’m supposed to voice my opinion about how we’ve been playing. I should be in that position.”

Boogie Barks Back:

Cousins also had some harsh words for Charles Barkley. The two aren’t exactly friends; Barkley has criticized Cousins on-air (although Barkley did say Cousins deserved to be on the All-Star team) and Cousins took exception to it then, and now.

“I mean, that’s Charles being Charles, man,” he said. “A lot of people don’t really know the real story about it. I never really had anything to do with it in the first place. It ain’t personal. I mean, I really respect the guy but at the same time I don’t really care what he thinks either. I don’t respect him and I don’t care what he thinks.”

Curry ready for prime time:

You come to New York expecting to see LeBron James and Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony dominating the billboards. But … Stephen Curry?

Curry is splashed on a huge neon billboard overlooking Times Square, as the spokesman for Express, the men’s casual sportswear company. And others are featuring Curry in ads. And Curry, the leading vote-getter in the West, finds it … amusing if not overwhelming.

“Two years ago I wasn’t here,” said Curry, meaning on the All-Star team. “Now, to have all of this support, from all over the world, fans of the NBA and fans of myself and how I play the game, I feel very humbled to know that we have an impact on so many people.

“There are guys here who are MVPs and who have won championships. That’s what I’m striving for. To know that along the way these kinds of acknowledgments happen, it’s encouraging to keep doing what I’m doing.”

Wade gives thumbs-up to Korver:

Dwyane Wade won’t play in the All-Star Game because of a lingering hamstring injury but he almost pulled another muscle when he was approached by his replacement, Kyle Korver.

Korver was extremely apologetic and Wade was caught off-guard.

“It’s funny,” Wade said. “He had this look on his face like, ‘I’m sorry that you’re not able to play, but really I’m not sorry.’ It was hilarious. So, I’m happy for him to get his All-Star nod.”

Wade added: “Obviously, we came in the league together. So it’s cool that he’s getting his nod. And they deserve it, man. When you play the way they’ve played all year, you deserve to be represented and showcased.”

Davis says Pelicans are all in:

The race for playoff pole position in the West is fierce, with the Suns and Thunder, separated by a half-game, largely considered the favorites for the eighth spot. But Anthony Davis believes the Pelicans are in the picture for the long haul.

“I believe so,” he said. “It’s easy to kind of count us out because of where we’re at in our development, but everyone on the team thinks the playoffs is in our reach. So, yeah, we’re going for it.”

New Orleans has lost 3 straight games and fell a game behind OKC, which is trying to recover from losing Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant for a chunk of the season due to injuries. Still, the Pelicans recently managed a split with OKC and Davis is having an MVP-like season.

“We’re not going to give up,” Davis said.

As for OKC?

Durant: “Man, I’m not even thinking about that right now. I just want to enjoy this All-Star Weekend.”

Awkward media/player interview exchange:

Reporter from Europe: “Chris Bosh, you are elegant.”

Bosh: “Thank you.”

 

 

Report: George Karl agrees to deal to become Kings coach


VIDEO: Karl, Kings agree on framework of deal

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — The Kings are ready to crown a new leader. After several days of rumors, the Sacramento Bee reports that longtime NBA coach George Karl will be the next coach of the Sacramento Kings.

As Ailene Voisin writes in the Bee

After several days of intense negotiations, George Karl has agreed to take over as Kings head coach after this weekend’s NBA All-Star break, The Bee has learned.

An official announcement is expected within the next few days. Terms of the deal were not available, though Karl was seeking a four-year contract in excess of $4 million per season.

An introductory news conference will be held next week in Sacramento. Team executives are postponing the formal media session to avoid detracting from center DeMarcus Cousins’ All-Star debut Sunday in New York.

Karl’s first game will be next Friday, Feb. 20, against Boston at Sleep Train Arena.

The Kings fired coach Mike Malone on December 15 after starting the season 11-13. The Kings began the season 9-5, but went 2-8 while All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins was out with meningitis. Malone was replaced by Tyrone Corbin, who has since gone 7-20.

Karl last coached in Denver in 2013, when he was named Coach of the Year. His career regular season record is 1131-756, and his postseason record is 80-105. The furthest a Karl team has gone in the postseason was when he took the 1995-96 Seattle SuperSonics to the NBA Finals, where they lost the Chicago Bulls.

Karl to the Kings has been discussed for several weeks. When asked about the rumors this weekend, Cousins said, “I ain’t pumped up. I’ve just got a lot on my mind,” he said. “The crazy thing about it is, I’ve just got a question for y’all: How you gonna stop God’s plan? How you gonna do that? How you gonna do that? That’s all I want to know. How you gonna stop God’s plan? The marathon continues. I’m out.”

Report: Kings, Karl inch closer to deal


You might think that Vivek Ranadive, owner of the Sacramento Kings, would trust his basketball executives, learn from the team’s recent history and just get on with it. Firing Mike Malone as head coach two months ago hasn’t exactly worked the way Ranadive intended so a big step back by the owner would seem overdue.

You might hope that DeMarcus Cousins and his so-called “camp” would welcome anything that might pull the Kings out of their dreary nosedive since Thanksgiving. The Kings, after winning nine of their first 14 games, have won just nine of their last 36 and only twice in the past 29 days.

And you might expect George Karl, if he truly is as close to being hired by the Kings to replace Tyrone Corbin as reports Monday afternoon made it seem, would stop pushing for every last dollar and contract concession if his life’s desire at age 63 truly is to get his hands on one more NBA team with games to be won.

The bottom line to all this, of course, was that the Karl-to-the-Kings story that gained momentum rapidly Monday was in the sausage-making stage. While the actual event had moved into its third day, the back stories were dominating, with none of the constituents looking particularly good in the wrangling.

There was a lot more smoke than hire as NBA action tipped off Monday evening. The most authoritative came from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

Others tracked the unfolding events, as the sides inched closer:

Even those who relate to Karl as a two-time cancer survivor were watching and waiting for an actual resolution to the coach’s and the team’s slow-paced dance, with the Twitter account Cancer Daily @Cancrdaily providing updates.

The Yahoo! report offered the most specifics, while reminding readers that Ranadive hadn’t done a lot for his credibility – already frayed when he talked of using 4-on-5 defensive strategies to station cherry-pickers at the other end of the floor for fantasy easy baskets – when he insisted that Malone be fired. The Kings were 11-13 when the second-year coach was sent packing, to the chagrin of multiple players. They have gone 7-19 under Corbin heading into Tuesday’s game in Chicago.

Karl, after basically campaigning for another opportunity, looked to be on the verge of adding to his 1,131-756 NBA coaching record (with 22 playoff appearances in Cleveland, Golden State, Seattle, Milwaukee and Denver). So he would seem to have his priorities jumbled if he was going to let the dollars in the deal, or the disposition of the contract’s final year (team option vs. guaranteed), get in the way of what he claims he really wants to do again.

As for Cousins, any resistance to any particular coach would seem to be a grave mistake. The Yahoo! piece reported that the Sacramento center’s agents – Dan Fegan and Jarin Akana – primarily were concerned that the Kings, what with all these coaching changes, pick a direction and stick to it. And that’s fine. But any suggestion that Cousins might disapprove of Karl specifically – lest he be asked to work hard or take some criticism – would reflect poorly on the player, who still has potential to be tapped.

Bottom line: This is a deal that make sense for all involved, and the sooner Ranadive, GM Pete D’Allessandro, Cousins, the agents and Karl all get that through their heads – and do whatever’s necessary to get on with the business of basketball rather than business – the better off they’ll all be.

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. 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.

NBA coaching in the time of social media

One by one they arrive, each man pulling up in his elegant sedan, sports coupe or luxury SUV and, for all intents and purposes, bringing his family, his friends, his fans — his peeps — and his digital world along with him.

Denver coach Brian Shaw says keeping players off social media and engaged with the task at hand is one of his biggest challenges. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Denver coach Brian Shaw says keeping players off social media and engaged with the task at hand is one of his biggest challenges. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

In the locker room, where they dress and tease and bond and strategize, it’s all about chemistry. Except when it’s about technology.

“Say we have a shootaround or a team meeting that starts at 9:30. Guys start trickling in at 9:15,” Denver coach Brian Shaw said the other day, talking about these modern times. “We used to come in and sit around and talk to one another face to face. Now these guys have their devices and they’ll all be sitting at a table and nobody’s saying anything to anybody. They’re just punching buttons and looking down, and there’s no interaction.”

That novel about Love in the Time of Cholera? The men who oversee NBA teams are coaching in the time of social media, which might just be trickier.

Red Auerbach never had to worry about some tabloid photographer popping out of a darkened doorway to snap a photo with his date. Lenny Wilkens and Don Nelson barely stuck around long enough for cell phones. Coaches today face the full arsenal of gadgetry, as far as where their guys might turn to lose themselves or what a civilian might use to catch players unawares. TMZ, remember, pays real folding money and, after all, 15 minutes of fame is better than none.

“It’s a big challenge coaching now,” said Shaw, who  — when he was an NBA rookie in 1988 — needed a quarter and a glass booth if he wanted to fiddle with a phone at the Boston Garden. “There are so many more options for them, so many more things to take their attention away from what you’re trying to do as coach. You have to constantly bring them back in and keep them engaged.”

Twenty years have passed since Magic Johnson, in his unsatisfying 16-game stint as Lakers coach, threw Vlade Divac’s cell phone against the wall after it rang during a team meeting.

Sounds quaint now.

“I feel his pain,” Shaw said, chuckling. “A coach like Phil Jackson, the majority of the years that he coached, these are challenges that he didn’t have to deal with. To me, the X’s and O’s kind of cancel each other out, between me and the coaches I’m opposing at the other end. Keeping everybody dialed in and not being distracted by outside forces — that’s what the real challenge is.

“I’m contemplating making the players, an hour before practices and an hour before games, check their cell phones in. So they can’t even have ’em in the locker room. It’s, ‘You’re here. We need your undivided attention right now.’ ”

Been there. Doing that.

“We have rules against cell phones in the locker room after a certain point before a game,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, whose owner, Mark Cuban, is the king of NBA social media, at least among the Board of Governors. “If someone’s cell phone goes off, the guy gets hit with a pretty hefty fine. And we all have a good laugh about it. If it happens again, we may have to have a serious discussion about it. And the fine’s going to be heavier.”

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