Posts Tagged ‘Sacramento Kings’

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Gasol-for-Bynum swap losing ground | Rondo open to D-League stint | Report: Warriors, Kings interested in PG Miller | Blazers revel in big night from 3-point land

No. 1: Report: Gasol-for-Bynum talks stall out — Cavs center Andrew Bynum has been basically excused from the team since his suspension from the team for detrimental conduct five days ago. In the time since then, trade talks regarding Bynum have heated up — especially since moving him before Jan. 7 would spare the Cavs from having to pay Bynum anything more than half of his $12.25 million deal. One deal that seemed to be picking up steam involved Cleveland shipping Bynum to his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers, for big man Pau Gasol. But as ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelbourne point out, that deal is starting to lose its momentum of a few days ago:

The deal is not dead, but it is no longer progressing. The Cavs, who have until Jan. 7 to trade Bynum before his contract becomes guaranteed and loses its instant value in a trade, are now actively seeking other options.

The major issue, sources said, involves the Lakers’ desire to get an additional asset from the Cavs beyond Bynum’s team-friendly contract, which could save the Lakers more than $20 million in salary and luxury taxes. The Lakers are interested in also getting a young prospect or a first-round draft pick as part of the deal. The Cavs have been reluctant to part with either.

To satisfy NBA trade rules, the Cavs would have to add at least one more player to any trade involving Gasol for Bynum. Gasol is in the last year of a contract that pays him $19.3 million. Bynum’s contract is for $12.25 million but is only half guaranteed before next week, which is why the Lakers are interested. By trading for and then waiving Bynum, the Lakers could take themselves below the luxury-tax threshold for the first time in seven years.

The Lakers, though, remain reluctant to part with Gasol before giving the team time to recover from a wave of injuries that have derailed its season, sources said.

There is some pressure for the Lakers to get out of the luxury tax to help with future flexibility. If the Lakers remain in the tax this season, going into the tax in either of the next two seasons would trigger a “repeater tax” the franchise hopes to avoid. The Lakers are planning to be major free-agent players the next two summers.

Gasol, no stranger to trade rumors, addressed the latest one after the Lakers’ practice Thursday.

“I’m more accustomed to them and I deal with them better than I did at first, when it started,” he said. “But it’s just a reality, and I just got to stay cool and keep my mind on the game as much as I can.”

He also said he wants to remain in Los Angeles.

“It’s my home, it’s my team,” Gasol said. “It’s the team that I’ve been through so much with, and I’m not the type of guy that likes to jump ship because everything is not going right right now. So, I’m a loyal guy. I’d like to continue to be here and fight with the guys that are here and once we get bodies back, everything will be better. But right now, I’d like to continue to stay here. This is my team, this is my city.”


VIDEO: Pau Gasol talks about his name being bandied about in trade rumors

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No. 2: Rondo says he’s ‘pretty close’ to a return, is open to D-League stint — Some good news for the Celtics as the New Year gets rolling — point guard Rajon Rondo told the Boston media yesterday that his rehab is moving along well and his return might not be far off. One idea that was floated by Celtics coach Brad Stevens to help get Rondo back into NBA shape was the send him down to the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League for a few games before he takes the court in Boston. That’s an idea that Rondo isn’t scoffing at, writes Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:

Rajon Rondo said Thursday he is open to a rehabilitation stint with NBADL Maine and is getting “pretty close” after missing nearly a year following tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament.“I’m better than last week when I talked to you guys,” he said, referring to his Dec. 22 meeting with the media. “I’m still getting my endurance but I’m getting pretty close, feeling good, feeling better. Like I said, I feel better than last week.”

“A like a 12-minute quarter, straight,” he said when asked whether there is one sign that he’s ready to return. “I don’t want to go out there and get fatigued and cause another injury. I want to makes sure I’m ready to go and I’m in shape.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Monday that the organization had discussed sending Rondo to Maine for game action and practice time. Rondo had been mum about the possibility until Thursday. If Rondo does play with the Red Claws, it would likely be away from Maine. After Sunday, Maine hits the road for five games on the West Coast before returning to Portland on Jan. 18.

“That’s an idea definitely,” he said. “That’s more game-like speed with our schedule, the Celtics, we don’t a chance to play a lot of pickup, so that might be a possibility. You just never know, I might just pop up and play. You guys won’t get the memo. You just have to catch me on YouTube or something. Each week I’m getting better so I just want to give it a test when I have a chance.”

When asked if he was truly open to playing in the D-League, he said: “That’s what it’s for. I’ll probably be the first (NBA player) to (use it as rehab) but it doesn’t make a difference. I want to make sure I’m healthy and I handle it the right way. I don’t want my first time to come back out game-like to be the first time with the Celtics. I haven’t had a preseason. I haven’t had a training camp. Right now, this is my training camp.”

The Celtics entered Thursday in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race despite a 13-18 record. Boston has been one of the league’s most surprising teams because of the chemistry quickly gained under Stevens but Rondo said the team’s record will have nothing to do with the timing of his return.

“I’m pretty motivated regardless of our team’s record,” he said. “I told myself before the season I wasn’t going to base it off our record. It’s based off how I feel. We could be 2-30 right now, if I’m able to come back and play I want to play. I love the game. I’ve been away for a long time, and when I feel ready to play, I’m going to play.”

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No. 3: Report: Warriors, Kings interested in acquiring Nuggets’ Miller — ICYMI (and as we reported in this space yesterday morning), Nuggets point guard Andre Miller and coach Brian Shaw got into quite the shouting match during Denver’s eventual New Year’s Day loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. The fallout from that war of words resulted in Miller being suspended two games by the team yesterday. But there might be more to this tale as Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc J. Spears of Yahoo!Sports.com report that the Warriors and Kings are both trying to work a deal to trade for the apparently disgruntled Miller:

The Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings are intrigued with the possibility of acquiring suspended Denver Nuggets point guard Andre Miller, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

For now, Denver management is determined to smooth over the acrimony between Miller and coach Brian Shaw, and plan on bringing back Miller on Monday for practice, league sources said.

Denver had resisted trade overtures before Wednesday’s encounter between Miller and Shaw on the Nuggets bench, and teams reaching out to the Nuggets on Thursday insist that Nuggets GM Tim Connelly still seems committed to working through the issues with Miller and getting him back on the floor for Denver.

The Warriors have been shopping for a backup point guard and have been engaged for weeks with Toronto on Kyle Lowry, sources said. The Warriors and New York Knicks have been two of the most persistent suitors for Lowry, but Toronto’s recent run of success has made the front office more reticent to unload Lowry, league sources said. Toronto hasn’t completely changed course on a possible deal for Lowry, but they’re no longer simply auctioning him.

Sacramento GM Pete D’Allessandro was a longtime executive with the Nuggets and has long been an admirer of Miller’s. The Kings would love to use Miller as a veteran mentor for young point guard Isaiah Thomas, league sources said.

The frustration that started on the floor on Wednesday night extended into the postgame locker room too, sources told Yahoo Sports. Miller has grown frustrated with Shaw and had recently addressed some issues to him in a locker room meeting forum, league sources said.

Connelly spoke with Miller for approximately an hour late Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center, and the team suspended Miller on Thursday for its next two games.


VIDEO: Coach Brian Shaw talks about the team’s suspension of Andre Miller

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No. 4: Blazers enjoy their record-setting night from deep — If you’ve spent any time at all this season watching the Trail Blazers on NBA League Pass or on national TV, you’ve surely noticed they have plenty of capable 3-point shooters and a willingness to fire from deep, too. Damian Lillard is third in the NBA in 3-pointers attempted with 240, while Wes Matthews (203, t-6th) and Nicolas Batum (185, 9th) are both in the top 10 in that category, too. The Blazers’ shooters were simply on fire last night in a win against the Bobcats as Portland set an NBA record by becoming the first team in history to nail 20-plus 3-pointers twice in a season. After the game, the Blazers soaked in their accomplishment, as Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune writes:

“I like being part of history,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “I think that’s pretty cool. It’s good to do something that’s never been done before.”

The Blazers entered the game shooting a league-best .396 from beyond the arc and improved on that considerably.

“It was a lot of fun, with shots falling like that, but we’ve been doing it all year,” Lillard said.

Well, not like Thursday night. But the Blazers have made the 3-point shot their calling card this season.

“Everybody has been willing to make that extra pass,” Lillard said. “We have a lot of good shooters. If we get in a good enough rhythm, if we get good looks and the ball is moving how it did, that’s the kind of night it can be.”

“We’re going to shoot 3′s and we’re going to shoot them well,” Stotts said. “We’re going to make our percentages, because we have a lot of good shooters.”

Seven Blazers knocked down at least one 3-point shot, and even LaMarcus Aldridge (0 for 1) and Meyers Leonard (0 for 2) tried to join the party.

“When the guys are hitting like that, that makes it easy for me,” said center Robin Lopez, who had 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting and five rebounds in 26 minutes. “All I have to do is get somebody on the floor open, set the screen, give him a little space and let him go to work.”

“Making those shots is contagious,” Matthews said. “Our crowd gets into it. Our crowd is almost willing the ball in for us, before we even shoot it.

“When that ball is flying around the perimeter like that, when (Aldridge) is kicking it out, it’s almost like it’s expected you’re going to make the shot.”

For a team with a league-best 26 victories, the Blazers have precious few blowouts. They are 14-3 in games decided by 10 points or fewer and had only two wins by more than 15 points before Thursday. Stotts was able to get at least seven minutes of action for all 13 players dressed, with nobody playing as many as 30.

“It’s always good to get a win like this,” Stotts said. “Guys on the bench can get some minutes; starters can get some rest. You have to enjoy these, because they don’t come often.”

“It’s a good feeling,” Matthews said, a smile forming on his face. “We didn’t get to do that much last year. It was on the other end, actually.”


VIDEO: Trail Blazers nail 21 3-pointers in a rout of the Charlotte Bobcats

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Good news for the Magic — Nikola Vucevic‘s ankle injury isn’t as bad as was initially feared … Although he says otherwise, it seems that Knicks guard J.R. Smith is still a tad upset about the team cutting his brother, Chris … Veteran Keith Bogans isn’t too happy about his lack of playing time with Boston this season … Kendall Marshall will become the sixth different player to start at point guard for the Lakers this season

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: Apparently, it was a good night to have the last name “Plumlee” as both brothers — Mason (of the Nets) and Miles (of the Suns) — got to finish off tasty alley-oops.


VIDEO: Miles Plumlee reverse jams the alley-oop assist from Goran Dragic


VIDEO: Mason Plumlee gets up to finish off the alley-oop from Deron Williams

Morning Shootaround – Jan. 1


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Suns willing to pay Bledsoe | Raptors react to Gay trade | Raptors rolling | Malone tutors Thomas

No. 1: Suns willing to pay Bledsoe – The Phoenix Suns and Eric Bledsoe have a good thing going this season. With Bledsoe at the helm, Phoenix is off to a surprising 19-11 start and would be the fifth seed in the Western Conference if the playoffs started today. The Suns realize it will cost them to retain Bledsoe during free agency this offseason. But, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPLA.com, they are willing to spend:

“What he’s done so far is what we thought he could do,” [GM Ryan] McDonough said.

But they just didn’t know for sure.

That’s why when it came time to lock Bledsoe into a contract extension, the Oct. 31 deadline passed without a resolution, making Bledsoe a restricted free agent this summer.

“Sometimes that works out and both parties think it’s a good deal for them. Other times it doesn’t,” McDonough said. “Obviously we don’t have a whole lot of money committed for the future, we don’t have a lot of long-term contracts on our books. So we’ll have no problem stepping up and paying Eric whatever it takes to keep him.”

Whatever it takes?

“Correct,” McDonough said. “Any reasonable offer.

“We have some advantages. We’re able to give him another year, five instead of four if we choose. We’re able to give him higher-percentage increases than other teams too. And then if another team does make an offer, we can always match that. So we feel like we’re holding the cards with Eric, and more importantly, I think Eric’s had a good experience here so far. He’s played well and the team has played fairly well. I think he kind of likes what we’re doing.”

For his part, Bledsoe said he’s fine with the situation.

“I was telling [my agent] over the summer, if the contract doesn’t happen I’m ready to play a full season,” Bledsoe said. “I was confident because I’d worked hard all summer, and I knew that I was going to play a lot more than I did the last three years, so I was ready.”

When that came to bear, Bledsoe said he put the situation out of his mind.

“I’ve just got to play,” he said. “I’m focused. I need to keep moving. I’m not worried about [the contract]. If I get worked up about it, I won’t be focused on the game.”

***

No. 2: Raptors React to Gay Trade — Mostly every NBA player realizes that this league is a business and trades happen. Still, this knowledge does not make receiving the news of a trade any easier for players to hear. NBA-TV Canada offers us a rare look at how the Toronto Raptors reacted to the news of a trade on a recent episode of their series Open Gym (reaction starts around the 10:00 minute mark):

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No. 3: Raptors RollingThose same Raptors who were shocked to hear about their friends being traded have bounced back just fine. They’ve won five of their last six games and appear to be a rare team in the Eastern Conference who can actually win. And they’re doing it with toughness, a word rarely used to describe the Raptors in recent seasons, writes Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:

Once again turning up the intensity, the attention to detail, the effort and the toughness when it came down to winning time, the Raptors rolled in another excellent fourth quarter, holding the Bulls to just four field goals on 24 shots in the final 12 minutes of an 85-79 victory.

They did it in what is becoming typical Raptors fashion: Turning the screws when the game got tight.

“These are the kinds of games you have to play if you’re going to be serious about being a playoff team,” coach Dwane Casey said after the Raptors won for the fifth time in the last six games and seventh time in the last nine.

“We have to play with that kind of toughness, that physicality, if we’re serious about being a playoff team.”

Toughness was the buzzword of the night for a game that at times was barely watchable. There were no moments of sustained offensive flow, no fast breaks or transition baskets; it was tough, hard-nosed, beat-’em-up basketball and the Raptors never retreated an inch.

Digest that for a moment: A team that used to have a reputation for softness more than anything, hit first, hit often, hung around and beat a veteran team at its own game.

“You have to meet their force with force if you’re serious about winning,” said Casey. “We did that and we have to continue to do that and I’m not going to let up. I’m not going to relent from that because that’s who we are, it’s who we’ve got to be. I know, to win in this league you have to be a physical, bad-behind team.”

[Demar] DeRozan was, for one of the few times this season, a non-factor offensively because every time he got near the ball, a second or third defender was there to harass him.

“If I have to be the decoy and that helps the next person on this team get an open shot, I’m all for it,” he said. “It’s at the point now where I know I can score the ball whenever I want, but if they don’t need me to do that at that point in time, then I will do whatever I can, whether it’s rebounding, creating a shot for a teammate or whatever it is to get us a win, that’s what I’m going to have to do.”

That attitude is all-encompassing with this group right now.

“I think the guys in this locker room believe — we believe in each other, we believe in what we’re trying to do,” said Lowry. “I think we know we have a chance to do some things and we can take care of business when times are tough. We’re showing the team camaraderie and spirit that we have, we’re all happy for each other.”

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No. 4: Malone Tutors ThomasSacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas has proven so far this year that his strong play last season was not just a fluke. He’s averaging 19.2 points, 6.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game on an impressive 46.5 percent shooting from the field and 42.5 percent from three-point. He credits a lot of his success to the relationship he’s established with new head coach Michael Malone. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee has the lowdown:

The partnership between Michael Malone and Isaiah Thomas continues to develop as the coach consults the point guard on the best ways to improve the Kings.Malone said fixing some of the Kings’ late-game problems comes down to him calling better plays, and that’s where his relationship with Thomas can help.

“Those things take time,” Malone said. “And one thing I like about Isaiah is we’ve had a lot of conversations, a lot of dialogue, and he’s open, wants to learn and he’s trying to figure it out. It’s not a lack of effort. It’s just a matter of going through it and picking the spots for when do I attack.”

Thomas has referenced Malone and himself more often when talking about plays the Kings should run and the best way to get the ball to players. He and Malone spend a lot of time talking about the Kings.

“On flights sitting together, before practice, after practice, we’ve had a lot of conversations,” Malone said. “Before games where we’ve sat and spent whether it’s been 20 minutes, 45 minutes just talking about the game, players, where guys are most effective, where he can pick his spots. We’ve had a number of conversations.”

Malone’s goal is to create synergy between himself and Thomas because he plays most of the minutes at point guard.

“Isaiah’s got to be an extension of me on the court,” Malone said. “He’s got to make sure he’s getting guys looks, know what plays to call, now what matchups he’s going to exploit and how to get those guys going where they’re most effective, and that’s part of his maturation of going from being a scoring guard off the bench to being a playmaking guard.”

Malone said consulting with Thomas or any other player is part of his job and he wants his players’ input.

“I preach trust a lot, and if I don’t trust my players, it’s just a hollow word,’ Malone said.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kyle Korver has now hit a three-point shot in 101 straight gamesKevin Garnett went without a field goal for just the second time in his careerKyrie Irving will undergo an MRI on Wednesday after feeling a ‘pop’ in his left knee

ICYMI of The Night: Paul George decided to end 2013 on a strong note with this dunk toward the conclusion of yesterday’s game against the Cavaliers:


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Paul George

For New Kings, Three Must Be Company


VIDEO: The Starters break down Rudy Gay being traded to the Kings

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – What happens when three of the NBA’s top usage players come together on the same team, in one starting lineup? That is now first-year Sacramento Kings coach Mike Malone‘s Rubik’s Cube.

As Rudy Gay, the man atop the analytics movement’s love-to-hate list — and it’s reciprocal — watched his new team play Monday night from under a red-and-blue retro Kings hat, he surely enjoyed the offensive explosion Isaiah Thomas, DeMarcus Cousins and his other new teammates dropped on the Dallas Mavericks in a resounding victory.

And then Gay surely wondered from where is he going to get his?

“That’s a good question,” Malone said. “You start Isaiah, who has always been a scoring guard. You have DeMarcus, who’s going to be the focal point of our offense. And then you add a guy like Rudy. And you have Ben [McLemore]. You have Derrick [Williams]. The one thing I’m proudest about is that we’re really sharing the ball. We haven’t shot the ball as well as we’d like this year, but the ball movement, the unselfishness, has been there.

“That’s going to be my challenge to this group now.”

Against Dallas, Cousins scored 32 points and attempted 17 shots. Thomas, a pound-the-rock point guard, scored 24 and took 16 shots. Williams scored 31, also on 16 shots. The Kings, as Malone noted, are also developing the rookie shooting guard McLemore, who got seven shots. That’s 56 shot attempts among four players.

Enter Gay. The Kings acquired the handsomely paid and athletic 6-foot-8 forward — infamously known by a burgeoning group of meddlesome analytics worshipers as the game’s great ball-stopper — knowing he averages nearly as many shot attempts per game (18.6) as points (19.4).

When the Kings (6-13) take the floor tonight at Sleep Train Arena against the last-place Jazz (10 ET, League Pass), assuming Gay is ready to go, the starting lineup will be Thomas, McLemore, Gay, Jason Thompson and Cousins. The league’s rules committee has not yet convened to allow for the use of more than one basketball.

“I’m not going to get into that,” Cousins said when asked if the addition of Gay will mean subtracting from his team-high 17.2 shot attempts per game. “We have our game plans here and we have a system. Coach is going to do the best job of putting us in a position that he thinks is best and whatever that may be that’s what we’re going to go with.”

With that, usage will become the hot advanced stat of the day in Sacramento. Usage is an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor. Cousins ranks No. 1 among all players — not just centers, but all players — with a usage percentage of 35.0 percent. Among centers, Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez is second at 26.9 percent. Dwight Howard‘s usage is 23.5 percent.

Despite being the backup to the traded Greivis Vasquez, Thomas ranks tied for sixth among guards in usage with Dwyane Wade at 27.7 percent (Greivis’ usage percentage was 18.8 percent). Gay’s usage, 30.1 percent with the Raptors, ranks third among forwards behind Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant.

To compare other trios, the Rockets’ usage looks like this: James Harden, 27.3 percent; Howard, 23.5 percent; and Chandler Parsons, 18.9 percent. Here’s the Thunder: Russell Westbrook, 32.0 percent; Durant 30.7 percent; and Serge Ibaka, 19.1 percent.

Not only did the Kings add another high-usage player in Gay, but also an inefficient player. He’s shooting just 38.8 percent on the season (although his 3-point accuracy is way up at 37.3 percent), an especially disappointing number considering he spent so much time during the offseason working to raise a shooting percentage that has sagged badly over the past two seasons.

Thomas and Cousins have been a strong duo. The Kings are scoring 111.7 points per 100 possessions when they’re on the floor together, which was limited — 242 minutes in 18 games, or about 13 mpg. Their minutes together should rise significantly now that Vasquez is out of the picture. Against Dallas — notably a poor defensive team — they played together for 36 minutes and registered an offensive rating of 119.9 and a defensive rating of 85.5.

Sacramento’s hope is that the addition of Gay forces defenses to pick their poison. Conversely, the analytics crowd is sounding the alarm, warning of an incoming poison pill.

“I know everyone’s hung up on his 38 percent this year,” Malone said. “But if you look at his numbers throughout his career, he’s shot well over 45 percent a number of seasons. I’m not as concerned as a lot of these analytic people get concerned about. He’s a very talented player. End of games, he can make plays for you. He’s versatile. He can score in the post, handling the ball, catch-and-shoot, isolation. He’s talented and we become a much more talented team with him.”

NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper contributed to this report.


VIDEO: Rudy Gay talks about his move to Sacramento, hopes for Kings

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 9


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Roundup of thoughts on Kobe’s return | Report: Sixers a favorite to land Asik? | James offers praise for Drummond | Kings take risk in dealing for Gay | Celtics keep division lead in perspective

No. 1: Bryant returns to action, scores nine points in L.A.’s lossThe story of the morning is Kobe Bryant and his season debut with the Los Angeles Lakers last night against Toronto. Opinions, as you’d expect, on his return were somewhat varied, but the overall theme isn’t surprising: Bryant is rusty and is still working himself into his familiar form. We’ll go around the web and see what some notables have to say about his comeback …

First, here’s Ramona Shelbourne of ESPNLosAngeles.com, on how Kobe’s return gives L.A. some new hope:

For most of the day, Kobe Bryant was quiet. The magnitude of what he was about to do, after everything hed been through these past eight months, was too big to be thinking about in the hours before the game.He just needed to stay centered. Focus on the Toronto Raptors or on finding his shot and feelings his legs beneath him again. Just put the jersey on again like he has for every other game in his 18 NBA seasons. Play the game, table the emotion.

But in the final few moments before tipoff, as Bryant stood near midcourt and awaited his first game action since rupturing his Achilles tendon on April 12, it all caught up to him. The emotion, the fear, the hard work, the gratitude, the appreciation for the game that many thought he might never be able to play again.

His lip quivered. He had to steel his jaw to trap the emotion from spilling out.

“You try to control it as much as you can,” Bryant said. “But you can’t help but think of all the support and the hard work. I really, really worked my butt off this entire summer to try to get to this place.

He was decidedly rusty. He was noticeably nervous in the beginning. His passes were sloppy, his timing was off. His shot was tentative. His chemistry with his teammates was shaky.

“I don’t feel normal at all,” Bryant said afterward. “I couldn’t wait to start watching film and criticizing every little thing. I’ll go home tonight and watch the game. But thats the exciting part. You’ve got a challenge, you’ve got some improvements to make.

“I felt good that I was able to get into the lane … then once I got into the lane, I didn’t make the proper reads most of the time. But was the fact that I was able to get in there.

For the Lakers it was a win in every place but the standings. Because for the first time in eight months, it felt like a Lakers game inside Staples Center again. No disrespect to the plucky performances this seasons team had churned out to keep the team hovering around .500 as they awaited Bryant’s return, but the Lakers are about sizzle, not steak.

It was great theater, as only the Lakers can deliver. Vintage Showtime. And for the moment you forgot the Lakers are really just a .500 team hoping Bryant can give them a punchers chance to do something unexpected with this season. That he came out and looked a little rusty only dulled the narrative a bit. Yes, it would’ve been nice if hed dropped 30 and delivered a game-winning dagger. I’m sure there were people who expected him to leap a tall building on the way in, too.

But the fact he made it back at all, as quickly as he did, and showed enough in those 28 uneven minutes to leave everyone with some hope for the future is enough for one night.

The show came back to Staples Center on Sunday night, and it’ll be worth watching.

The venerable Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times provides his view on Kobe’s return:

There were 19 seconds left in the first half when the Staples Center crowd rose to its feet and roared. It’s been nearly eight months, but everybody remembered what was happening next.

Kobe Bryant had the basketball. His teammates stepped out of the way. This was his moment. This was his memory. This was his comeback.

Well, sort of.

Bryant’s driving shot was partially blocked by Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, with Bryant crumpling to the floor and limping away as frightened fans gasped.

“I was even scared myself,” said Bryant.

It was a night of basketball immortality and human frailty. It was a night of loud cheers and quiet shudders. It was a night when the perception was as torn as Kobe Bryant’s Achilles tendon last spring, an injury from which he returned Sunday amid both undaunted hopes and unsettling fears.

He gritted his teeth and pumped his fist and shouted inspiration as the fans chanted both “Ko-be” and “M-V-P.” Yet he also missed seven of his nine shots, committed eight turnovers, and rarely left the ground on offense.

And, oh, by the way, a makeshift six-win Toronto Raptors team that had just traded away leading scorer Rudy Gay beat the clearly distracted Lakers, 106-94.

“I guess it’s a start,” said Bryant afterward with a weary sigh. “A start is good.”

Midway through the fourth quarter, with Bryant resting on the bench, fans began chanting, “We Want Kobe.” Even though the team had played much more freely and effectively without him, Coach Mike D’Antoni relented and put him in the game with the Lakers trailing by six.

Bryant missed a three-pointer. He made two free throws. He missed a layup. He threw away a pass. He made two of three free throws. He missed a wild three. The Lakers lost by a dozen.

“It’s going to take a while,” said D’Antoni. “I know everybody thought he could, but there’s no way you can come out and be in midseason form. It’s just going to be a little while to get his legs and get his timing back.”

The Lakers now have the rest of this season to hope that his hops return and his quickness resurfaces and he becomes a rebuilt version of the old Kobe instead of being, well, an old Kobe.

They are so confident of this happening. Jim Buss and the crew gave him the new deal after only watching him for a couple of practices.

Yet here’s guessing after Sunday night, they officially began holding their breath.

Bryant, meanwhile, exhaled with relief and resolve.

He was so emotional about returning to the court nearly eight months after a potential career-ending injury, he took the floor with a tight jaw as if fighting back tears, and later admitted he was feeling it.

“You try to control it as much as you can, but you can’t help but think of all the support, all the work…. It makes you appreciate this franchise and this city, it certainly brings a mortality to everything,” he said of his emotion.

Last, we have Phil Collin of the Los Angeles Daily News, who discusses how Bryant’s return impacted the rest of the team:

Amid a tangible buzz normally reserved for playoff games, Lakers fans were standing from the time Bryant walked onto the court for pregame warmups. It had been eight months since he ripped his Achilles tendon on the Staples Center court.

Let’s just say the Lakers seemed to play at the same level as Bryant, who was coming off a devastating injury and couldn’t be expected to rebuild Kobe in a day.

“I felt good I was able to get in the lane,” Bryant said. “I felt like I could penetrate and get into the corner, which was a big question mark for me. Once I got in there I didn’t make the proper reads most of the time. But the fact I could get in there means I can improve. The explosiveness you can’t.”

Physically, that’s the good news. Team-wise, it wasn’t pretty. None of the starters scored in double figures, but all five reserves did.

Now come the adjustments.

Nick Young scored 19 points for the Lakers and Xavier Henry scored 17, making 6 of 8 shots. But when the stretch run arrived, D’Antoni brought Bryant in for Henry.

But they realize the season just changed for the Lakers (10-10).

“We have a lot of things that are different,” Henry said. “We have point guards that are out so I have to play backup point guard. We have Kobe coming back, so everything shifts. Everybody just has to find their way and we’ll figure it out in due time.

“Before long we’ll know what we’re doing, for sure.”

Bryant’s return, of course, came with concerns other than his health or conditioning level. The Lakers had to wonder how his infusion into the lineup might gum up the works.

And at the same time keep the eye on the prize.

“To win and start building a team that hopefully we can start driving to the playoffs and do something,” D’Antoni said, asked what he expected. “There’ll be a little bit of a sorting-out process to see what we need to adjust, and he needs to adjust to the team and vice versa and go from there.

“Obviously, this is a boost and we’ll try to get him back to a level that he left.”


VIDEO: NBA TV’s GameTime crew breaks down Kobe’s return vs. the Raptors

***

No. 2: Report: Sixers a viable destination for Asik — As of Friday afternoon, word got out, via ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, that the Houston Rockets are actively looking to deal disgruntled center Omer Asik within the next 10 days. Over the weekend, talk may have heated up between the Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers, who have become a viable destination for the defensive-minded big, writes Stein:

Pinpointing a front-runner in the Omer Asik trade sweepstakes is still tricky at this juncture.

It’s tricky even with the Houston Rockets, as reported here Friday, aggressively trying to find a trade partner for Asik within the next 10 days.

Yet there are a few things we can say about the current state of the Asik trade market:

1. Keep your eye on Philadelphia. Front-runner would be overstating it, but the notion that the Sixers are a viable destination for Asik is increasingly making the rounds. And that certainly makes sense given (A) Philly’s front office is run by a certified Asik fan in former Rockets exec Sam Hinkie and (B) Philly has a frontcourt player to send back to Houston in Thaddeus Young, whose skill set can click with Dwight Howard‘s, albeit not as well as seemingly unattainable dream target Ryan Anderson; and (C) there really isn’t an Asik for Philly to draft with the high pick it’s likely to snag in the 2014 lottery.

***

No. 3: James heaps praise on Pistons’ Drummond — A quick, cursory look at the NBA.com/Stats leaders page finds Pistons center Andre Drummond among the league-leaders in rebounding (13.0 rpg) and him in first place in field goal percentage (63.5 percent). The case can be made that Drummond is the best center in the Eastern Conference and his growth on the court as a player hasn’t been missed by his contemporaries, most notably reigning MVP LeBron James, writes Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News:

If there’s one player who can relate to Andre Drummond’s plight — if you want to call it that — of being a big kid in a man’s body and a man’s game, LeBron James would be the clearest example.

But even James, who entered the NBA out of high school in 2003, said he can’t relate to knowing what it’s like to have such massive size and facing the task of adjusting to it on the fly during an 82-game regular season.

“I don’t know, I haven’t had that experience (laughs),” said James, who’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds but could be taller and heavier than that. “He’s much bigger than I am. He’s much more comfortable than even the beginning of last year and that’s good for him.”

“Each and every game he continues to grow. His confidence is building,” James said.

James made perhaps the biggest statistical leap from his rookie season to his second year, while a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2004-05. His scoring jumped from 20.9 to 27.2, his rebounding from 5.5 to 7.4 and assists from 5.9 to 7.2, so he knows the value of familiarity, seeing the league the second time around.

Drummond is averaging 18.4 points, 16.8 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and two steals in his last five games, and the Pistons have gone 4-1 in that stretch.

“He’s a huge, huge guy and every game he continues to build that confidence,” James said. “He rebounds at a high level. The more and more basketball you play, the more situations you see and the more you’re growing. He’s definitely doing that.”

***

No. 4: Kings take risk in trading for Gay — Just a mere 12 days after the Sacramento Kings were a part of the first trade of the 2013-14 season, they are busy again, reportedly agreeing to work a trade with the Toronto Raptors to pick up Rudy Gay. In its first deal of the season, Sacramento got former No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams from the Minnesota Timberwolves for Luc Mbah a Moute in a move that gives Williams a chance to show what he can do with consistent minutes. Now, with the move for Gay (which has yet to become official), the Kings are gambling again that adding star power will help their young team grow up fast, writes our own Scott Howard-Cooper:

The Kings made a risky reach for immediate credibility and agreed to acquire Rudy Gay, his bloated contract and his ever-declining shooting from the Raptors in a seven-player deal Sunday that is mostly a salary dump for Toronto.The Raptors will get Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes, with only Hayes ($5.9 million) and Salmons (a $1-million buyout on his $7 million guaranteed) on the books next season. Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy are also headed to Sacramento as the new management team continues to follow through on plans to aggressively pursue deals, so aggressive that the Kings just countered two moves made in the five months since Pete D’Alessandro was hired as general manager.

The Kings got Vasquez from New Orleans as part of the three-team deal that sent Tyreke Evans to the Pelicans in a sign-and-trade, started him at point guard, and now traded him 18 games into the season, returning Isaiah Thomas to the opening lineup. And, the Kings traded for Derrick Williams on Nov. 26, said they were committed to him as the starter at small forward, and now bring in Gay four games later, unless they have another immediate deal in place for Gay.

Gay is a name, has an active run of six consecutive full seasons of averaging at least 18 points a game and, whether with Williams or in place of Williams, addresses what had been the biggest position need for the Kings. But it says something that he has been traded twice in 10 1/2 months, including when the Grizzlies were willing to break up a lineup with a proven history of long playoff runs and now by a Toronto team trying to build something.

Gay will make $17.8 million this season and has a player option worth $19.3 million for 2104-15 that he almost certainly will exercise. After mostly shooting between 45 percent and 47 percent earlier in his career, though, the 6-foot-9, 220-pounder dropped to 41.6 percent last season with the Grizzlies and Raptors and is all the way down to 38.8 the first 18 games of 2013-14.

The deal will not become official until a trade call with the league on Monday, but Gay, Acy and Gray were all out of uniform Sunday night as the Raptors played the Lakers in Los Angeles, indicating the terms of the move that could save Toronto some $12 million next season were set.


VIDEO: Kings, Raptors reportedly agree to Rudy Gay swap

***

No. 5: Celtics, Stevens keeping start in perspective — Before the season began, the Knicks were thought of by most analysts and NBA followers as contenders for the Atlantic Division title while the rebuilding Celtics were viewed as a team setting itself up for future glory. Yet 22 games into the season, Boston stands atop the (albeit weak) division after yesterday’s 41-point drubbing of New York at Madison Square Garden. While an early lead in the division and a big win over a rival might be enough to get most underdog teams excited, the Celtics — thanks to coach Brad Stevens‘ leadership — aren’t going there, writes Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com:

Shortly after Jeff Green hit a buzzer-beating winner in Miami last month, Brad Stevens’ wife, Tracy, sent him a text that said, “Congratulations, you beat the Heat. Now you have to beat human nature.”
The insinuation was that Stevens had to find a way to keep his team focused despite stunning the world champs on their home turf, and Stevens himself had begun worrying about Boston’s next game from virtually the instant Green’s 3-pointer ripped through the twine.

One month later, in New York, with the Celtics playing their best basketball of the season, Stevens watched his team flat-out demolish the Knicks as part of a 112-73 thrashing at Madison Square Garden.

Human nature, of course, would be to celebrate, to puff out your chest and bask in the glow of a 41-point triumph over a team that was supposed to be in the mix for the Atlantic Division title. Human nature would be to celebrate being 6-2 over your past eight games and enjoy having a small cushion atop the division you weren’t supposed to have any business competing in.

“I’m not doing cartwheels,” Stevens said. “[Celtics players] know I’m not going to do cartwheels … I just said, ‘Keep being a team and keep playing together.’ The other thing is that we need to keep building off the good things we are doing.”

Stevens paused a moment to consider what he had revealed about his postgame speech, then smiled.

“It was boring as heck,” he added. “It was boring as heck.”

Make no mistake, the Celtics enjoyed the heck out of Sunday’s win. Rehabbing point guard Rajon Rondo wore a permanent grin on the Boston bench, bouncing out of his seat with each of Mike Woodson’s exasperated timeouts to greet his teammates and celebrate their efforts.

“Never as good as you think you are, never as bad as you think you are, and you’re never far from either,” Stevens said. “It’s one of those days in a lot of ways. But, also, we played pretty well. Can we play like that every day? Probably not. But can we bring the same intensity level and be as much of a team as we were today? Hopefully.”

The Celtics played infectious defense, particularly Brandon Bass – who again embraced the challenge of guarding Anthony and excelled on both ends of the floor (he finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, three steals and a block over 32:22). Stevens said he just couldn’t bring himself to pull Bass off the floor the way he was playing.

Bass was so locked in that he picked up a rare technical while barking at an official late in the third quarter for not getting a whistle while registering a putback in traffic. The Celtics were up by 37 at that point.

Stevens probably loved that sort of intensity. The Celtics hadn’t put together a full 48 minutes this season, but rarely let off the pedal on Sunday. The emotion Bass showed is exactly what Stevens wants from his team every game, every quarter and every possession.

Alas, a win is a win is a win. And it doesn’t matter if it’s by 41 or one. They all count the same. So Stevens downplayed the significance of the lopsided final.

“I’ve already learned in this league, you can be on the good end or the bad end of [games like this],” Stevens said. “We were lucky today to be on the good end. Everything we did will get over-exaggerated, everything they did will get over-exaggerated, but the bottom line is, we just played better today for 48 minutes.”


VIDEO: Celtics.com’s crew breaks down Boston’s victory at MSG

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Over the weekend, a young Cavs fan tried to make sure Kyrie Irving knew that Clevelanders want him to stick around … The Knicks don’t see their orange jerseys as a bad-luck charm

ICYMI Of The Night: As this sequence shows, Rockets big man Terrence Jones is doing a nice job of providing some brawn in the post aside from Dwight Howard


VIDEO: Terrence Jones gets the block and the nice bucket vs. Orlando

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 25


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lethargic Nets fall again; Kidd has front-office’s support | Report: Cuban says NBA should discuss allowing HGH use | Lakers’ Williams explains scuffle with Cousins | Burke on minutes restriction

No. 1: Lethargic Nets falter again; Report: Kidd has management’s support — Another week, another round of struggles for the Brooklyn Nets. After Sunday’s loss to the Detroit Pistons at Barclays Center, the Nets haven’t won since Nov. 15 and have suffered five straight defeats. Although they did play Sunday’s game without Jason Terry, Brook Lopez, Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko, the Nets had former All-Stars Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Joe Johnson all active for last night’s game, but only Johnson played well. We have two reports this morning, the first from Andrew Keh of The New York Times, who says that even Brooklyn fans are growing weary of booing the team. As well, Ohm Youngmisuk and Marc Stein of ESPNNewYork.com talk about coach Jason Kidd, who has the support of team ownership despite a 3-10 start in his first season on the job. Here’s Keh on the scene in Brooklyn after the loss:

The Nets slouched to a 109-97 defeat to the Detroit Pistons, dropping another ragged game against another unexceptional opponent. It was their fifth straight loss and their eighth in nine games. It sent them plummeting to a 3-10 record.

The disquiet around the team translated to plain quiet at Barclays Center. Even the boos sounded halfhearted. “It’s very frustrating and very, very embarrassing,” said Andray Blatche, a sentiment expressed around the locker room Sunday. “We’ve got to play with more pride.”

Jason Kidd, the team’s rookie coach, seemed to send a message to his players as the Nets entered the fourth quarter trailing, 78-66. The five players he sent out — Tornike Shengelia, Tyshawn Taylor, Mason Plumlee, Mirza Teletovic and Alan Anderson — were reserves who, with the exception of Anderson, had seen limited time this year.

“They deserved to play,” Kidd said. “I should have let them play the whole game, or the whole quarter. They’re playing, you know, for one another.”

He added, “Those guys are playing hard, and they’re helping one another on the offense end and the defensive end.”

This was not what King and the front office envisioned when they engineered the Nets’ glamorous summertime overhaul — one that gave them the league’s highest payroll.

Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the club’s marquee acquisitions, did not re-enter the game until 4 minutes 2 seconds were left. Pierce scored 19 points but shot 5 for 13 from the field. Garnett went 2 for 9 and grabbed nine rebounds. Joe Johnson was the Nets’ sole bright spot, scoring a season-high 34 points while going 8 for 10 from behind the 3-point line.

The word “championship” was thrown around with abandon during training camp and the preseason. It has hardly been uttered since, and when Kidd mentioned it during his pregame news conference, it sounded odd.

Amid myriad issues, the spotlight has inevitably turned toward Kidd. It seems reasonable to wonder, as some observers have, whether this urgent assignment — to produce a championship with an aging and unfamiliar team — could be too lofty for a former player with no coaching experience.

Last season, the Nets fired Avery Johnson as coach after 28 mediocre games. On Sunday, King noted the difficulties facing Kidd, stressed patience and mentioned the progress he has observed.

“He’s going through the growing pains of being a head coach, though I think he’s being more assertive and understanding more what he’s got to do,” King said. “But also, it’s tough with your two best players out. It’s sort of a Catch-22.”

And here’s Stein & Youngmisuk on the Nets’ ownership backing Kidd:

The Brooklyn Nets’ slide has reached five straight defeats, but rookie coach Jason Kidd continues to have the support of the team’s Russian ownership, according to league sources.

Playing without the injured Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry, Brooklyn faded in the second half Sunday night and came away with a 109-97 home loss to the Detroit Pistons to fall to a stunning 3-10.

But sources told ESPN.com that Kidd continues to have the backing of his bosses with Brooklyn dealing with several injuries and other mitigating factors which have contributed to the poor start.

The Nets are in 14th place in the East through Sunday, despite the NBA-record payroll sanctioned by Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who is on course to spend around $190 million this season on salaries and luxury taxes.

Among the Nets’ initial concerns early in the season, sources confirmed, were some “philosophical differences” between Kidd and lead assistant Lawrence Frank. But sources stressed to ESPN.com that the Nets have been working to smooth out any issues in recent days.

“They’re fine,” one source said of Kidd and Frank.

Sources say Nets veteran players support Kidd, who has coached in 11 of the Nets’ 13 games so far. Kidd opened his first season as a head coach serving a two-game suspension, with assistant coach Joe Prunty moving from behind the bench to serve as the team’s interim coach. Frank and fellow bench assistant John Welch respectively remained in their defensive and offensive coordinator-like roles ostensibly for continuity.

The Nets, though, have seen anything but continuity on the floor. The flood of injuries has forced Kidd to use five different starting lineups in the last six games.

The Nets also have had major problems in the third quarter of games. They were outscored 34-15 by the Pistons in the third Sunday afternoon and are 0-10 this season when they have lost the third quarter. In those 10 third-quarter losses, they have been outscored by 96 points.

And when it happened against the Pistons, Brooklyn heard boos from the home crowd en route to losing for the eighth time in nine games.

“I think everybody in here is embarrassed,” an exasperated Garnett said. “You definitely don’t want that at home. Like I’ve been saying, we’re going to continue to work to try to change this as best we can.”

“Jason just questioned us in the locker room (about the third-quarter woes),” Garnett added. “But it’s something we’re obviously going to have to address. We’ve got to be the worst team in the league when it comes to third quarters, just unacceptable. As players we have to be accountable, including myself, and come out and do whatever it is that we got to do and apply it.”

***

No. 2: Report: Cuban says NBA should discuss allowing HGH useThe use of human growth hormone in professional sports in North America has become a point of contention and discussion for many sports fans as scandals regarding the substance have wreaked havoc in Major League Baseball. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban talked with Sam Amick of USA Today and said while he isn’t advocating the use of the substance in the NBA, he is calling attention to what he views as a lack of research on the topic as it relates to athletes who are healing from injuries:

In the wake of the NBA’s latest round of injuries to fallen stars, always-outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is proposing a possible solution: human growth hormone.

Cuban isn’t advocating the use of the controversial drug but rather calling attention to what he sees as a dearth of research on the topic as it relates to athletes who are recovering from injury. His hope, which he shared in front of the league’s owners and league officials at an Oct. 23 Board of Governors meeting in New York, is that a more-informed decision can be made as to whether it should remain on the league’s banned-substance list or perhaps be utilized as a way of expediting an athlete’s return to the court. If it were ever allowed — and it’s safe to say that won’t be happening anytime soon — Cuban sees a major benefit for teams and their fans like.

“The issue isn’t whether I think it should be used,” Cuban told USA TODAY Sports via e-mail. “The issue is that it has not been approved for such use. And one of the reasons it hasn’t been approved is that there have not been studies done to prove the benefits of prescribing HGH for athletic rehabilitation or any injury rehabilitation that I’m aware of. The product has such a huge (public) stigma that no one wants to be associated with it.”

Cuban, who unsuccessfully has tried to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Texas Rangers in recent years, hinted at his stance on HGH in an Aug. 8 appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. In the interview, he criticized Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig for his treatment of New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez and said HGH is “banned for no good reason” in baseball and basketball.

From the NBA’s perspective, the most obvious hurdle to such a cause is that the Food & Drug Administration only allows the prescription of HGH for a limited number of conditions. According to the FDA’s web site, children with various medical reasons for stunted growth can be prescribed HGH, as can adults with a bowel syndrome, a hormone deficiency due to rare pituitary tumors or a muscle-wasting disease associating with HIV.

The NBA also is sensitive to the ethical part of the discussion, as the idea that some players would return from injury sooner than others because they were willing to take a drug that may have adverse side effects raises serious concerns about maintaining a level playing field. The possible side effects, according to the FDA, include an increased risk of cancer, nerve pain and elevated cholesterol and glucose levels. If anything, the NBA is moving closer to cracking down on HGH use of any kind.

While NBA Commissioner David Stern had said that he was hopeful that a new HGH-testing policy would be in place at the start of the 2013-14 season, the discussions between the league and the National Basketball Players Association are in a holding pattern, in large part because of the continuing stalemate between the NFL and its players about the implementation of their program. The NFL is the trailblazer of sorts on that front, meaning the NBA policy isn’t expected to be resolved first. The NBA declined a request for comment from USA TODAY Sports. The union’s lack of an executive director after Billy Hunter‘s firing in February also has hindered the process.

As Cuban sees it, though, none of the obstacles should preclude the powers-that-be in the sports world from pursuing more definitive answers about the pros and cons of HGH.

“I believe that professional sports leagues should work together and fund studies to determine the efficacy of HGH for rehabbing an injury,” Cuban told USA TODAY Sports. “Working together could lead us from the path of demonizing HGH and even testosterone towards a complete understanding. It could allow us to make a data based decision rather than the emotional decision we are currently making. And if it can help athletes recover more quickly, maybe we can extend careers and have healthier happier players and fans.”

***

No. 3: Lakers’ Williams explains scuffle with Cousins — Late in the fourth quarter of last night’s Lakers-Kings game from Staples Center, Lakers guard Jordan Farmar was pursuing a steal and a potential breakaway layup when he appeared to be shoved from behind by Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins. (You can see the sequence at about the 1:50 mark in the video below). That touched off a small scuffle between the teams, with Lakers reserve forward Shawne Williams in the thick of the scrum. In a postgame interview with Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, Williams explained what he thought Cousins was trying to do during that sequence:

In a sign that the Lakers’ team unity goes beyond sharing the ball and accepting roles, forward Shawne Williams believed he made a bold statement when he aggressively confronted Kings center DeMarcus Cousins after he bumped Lakers guard Jordan Farmar to the floor.

“Everybody in this locker room is part of a team,” Williams said following the Lakers’ 100-86 win Sunday over the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center. “We’re family. Anybody who tries to mess with our family or do a dirty play, I’m going to stand up for them on the court.”

Williams believed Cousins tried to do that.

After bumping Farmar to the ground, the Lakers guard appeared agitated by the contact. But Cousins offered to pick him up. Before that happened, Williams intervened and signaled to back away. Tensions increased, and both Williams and Cousins received technical fouls with 5:42 left in the game.

“I just felt like he was pushing him down,” Williams said. “I felt like it was a dirty play because he was already falling. I just stood up for him.”

What did Williams say?

“I told him he needed to knock it off,” Williams said. “He told me he was trying to help him up. I said that was BS. That was it.”

“I don’t think he went overboard,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said of Williams. “I just think he was trying to stick up for Jordan. Maybe they liked each other when they played together in New Jersey. Shawne is a standup guy.”

“If I’m on the bench, I can’t do nothing. I cannot cross the line,” Williams said. “At the end of the day, we have to be smart. I’m not trying to get ejected or do anything dumb. I just have to let them know that at the end of the day we can’t stand for that.”


VIDEO: Lakers get past Kings, win third straight game

***

No. 4: Rookie Burke faces minutes restriction — At 1-13, the Utah Jazz are off to one of the worst starts in franchise history. Things appeared to look up — at least in terms of the team’s future and growth prospects — when rookie point guard Trey Burke returned to the lineup last week. Burke missed the first few weeks of the season as he recovered from a fractured finger injury he suffered in the preseason and last night in OKC, he got his first NBA start. Burke played 20 minutes, going 2-for-9 from the field and finished with four points and four assists. Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the Jazz plan to limit Burke’s minutes for the forseeable future as he continues to recover from his finger injury:

Trey Burke is still facing minute restrictions as they work their way back from preseason injuries. Burke said his finger feels sore at times after games, but so far there have been no setbacks.

“I understand the process,” he said. “Obviously you want to get into a rhythm and flow out there. For me, I don’t want to get in there and be thinking, ‘I’m about to come out.’ So I try not to think about it as much as possible.”

The point guard, however, said his surgically repaired finger does still impact his play.

“Sometimes I try to baby it when I don’t even need to really because it’s taped,” he said. “Sometimes when a hard pass comes at me, I kind of, like, catch it more with my left hand then my right. But I think that’s mental.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Sixers coach Brett Brown is ready to give former first-round pick Daniel Orton a chance in Philly … Tobias Harris had a rough debut, but he’s glad to be back on the court in Orlando … Might the Bulls think about working a trade for Chicago native Evan Turner? … Carl Landry is still a long ways off from returning to the Kings’ lineup.

ICYMI Of The Night: Gerald Green had a great conversation with our NBA TV crew about his breakout season and he showed some of his trademark hops with a monster jam in Orlando last night …


VIDEO: Gerald Green finishes with style on the Suns’ fastbreak

Kings Pushing Hard For Trades


VIDEO: Suns vs. Kings recap, Nov. 19

HANG TIME WEST – The Kings are aggressively pursuing trade possibilities in hopes of accelerating the rebuilding process, NBA.com has learned, with one executive saying the team is looking to swap veterans for prospects and picks.

While it is believed some conversations have advanced beyond preliminary talks, it is not immediately clear whether any deals are imminent. One league source rated Sacramento’s interest level in making a move soon as “very high,” and said the new front office led by owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Pete D’Alessandro has had discussions with several clubs in hopes of generating activity long before the Feb. 20 trade deadline.

The Kings (3-7) have several veterans that could be of interest to playoff-bound teams looking for depth, although some of those players have sizable guaranteed contracts. John Salmons just lost his starting job at small forward, as did shooting guard Marcus Thornton and power forward Patrick Patterson.

The Kings are looking for young players or draft picks in return as additional pieces of the reconstruction that centers on DeMarcus Cousins, Ben McLemore and their own pick, destined for the lottery, in the loaded 2014 draft.

News of a potential roster shakeup comes amid the poor start that has included a five-game losing streak, a series of large deficits, lineup changes and an obvious lack of effort in stretches that would ordinarily come late in a disappointing season, not at the beginning of one surrounded by positive energy from the offseason. As coach Michael Malone said Sunday, after a loss to the Grizzlies: “We’ve changed the lineup twice now. The first was Marcus and Patrick, and then tonight we’re starting Luc (Mbah a Moute, for Salmons). When you’re 2-7, I guess sometimes I find myself constantly searching for a group that’ll go out there and play the right way. We made those subs pretty quickly in that third quarter because the group that was out there, as a group, was not playing the way that we need to play, and it’s unacceptable to me.”

Tuesday night, the Kings improved to 3-7 by rallying from 14 points down in the third quarter to beat the Suns with reserves Patterson, Isaiah Thomas, Travis Outlaw and Jimmer Fredette playing large roles, along with Cousins, in the final period. The teams meet again tonight in Phoenix before heading into a very difficult stretch in which four of the next five games are against the Clippers, Thunder and Warriors.

Fredette is widely known to be available after the decision in October to decline his option for next season. But the third-year guard, mostly out of the rotation, would bring little in return. One executive was asked if Fredette could bring as much as a pick late in the 2014 first round and said, “Not this year.” The Kings could try to package him as part of another deal, but they won’t take on a bad contract or another player unable to make an impact with a longer contract. Letting him walk as a free agent in the summer could turn out to be the best plan.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 18


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Knicks seeking Rondo deal? | Humphries frustrated with lack of minutes | Report: Asik certain to be traded | Old habits plaguing Kings | Warriors smarting over O’Neal’s injury

No. 1: Knicks trying to swing deal for Rondo? — Last week, trade rumors surrounding Knicks guard Iman Shumpert began to stir with the prominent deal being floated about was a Shumpert-for-Kenneth Faried swap with Denver. According to our own David Aldridge, that deal is unlikely to happen, but that hasn’t stopped the Knicks from keeping Shumpert in the trade rumor talks. ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Bagley reports that the Knicks are interested in trying to send Shumpert and forward Amar’e Stoudemire to Boston in an effort to land injured All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo. The chances of that deal coming to pass aren’t likely, though:

UPDATE — Celtics boss Danny Ainge tells the Boston Herald‘s Steve Bulpett there’s ‘nothing to’ the Rondo rumors:

The recent spate of rumors regarding the possible trade of Rajon Rondo are not based in any Celtic reality.

“I haven’t talked to any teams about Rajon Rondo,” Celts’ president of basketball operation Danny Ainge told the Herald this morning.

He has, however, fielded a number of calls wanting to now if the rumors are true.

“It’s frustrating,” Ainge said.

He went on to reiterate that Rondo, still rehabbing from ACL surgery, is a major part of the Celtics’ plans going forward.

The reports in the last two days have focused more on opposing teams being interested in Rondo, but the packages of lesser players being floated as a return make no sense for the Celts.

Here’s Bagley’s report on the trade talks:

The New York Knicks continue to dangle Iman Shumpert in trade talks, including a recent proposal to the Celtics that would send the third-year guard and Amar’e Stoudemire to Boston in an effort to obtain star point guard Rajon Rondo, league sources confirmed Sunday.

The Celtics, though, have yet to show interest in the deal, instead preferring to unload forward Gerald Wallace in a trade, sources said.

The Knicks have inquired about Rondo in trade talks before, but both times the Celtics made it clear they were not interested in trading him.

Sources did say the Celtics would be willing to take on Stoudemire’s contract if they could unload some of their longer deals, namely those of Wallace and Courtney Lee.

The Knicks may be reluctant to take Wallace back because they’re hesitant to take on salary beyond the 2014-15 season.

The Knicks have three large contracts (Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani) coming off their books at the end the 2014-15 season and would like to be in position to acquire a top-flight free agent.

A trade including Wallace and Stoudemire would seem to benefit the Celtics financially. Boston is in rebuilding mode, and Stoudemire’s contract expires a year before Wallace’s.

One factor that could complicate trade talks involving Shumpert is that the 2011 first-round pick had a second surgery on his left knee this summer, league sources confirmed on Sunday.

The Knicks and Nuggets discussed a Shumpert-for-Kenneth Faried swap last week. New York believed it had a deal completed on Tuesday morning, a league source told ESPNNewYork.com. But the trade fell through when Denver asked the Knicks to include at least one draft pick.

And then there are these tweets from ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard on a possible Rondo-Shumpert/Stoudemire swap:

***

No. 2: Humphries frustrated with minutes in Boston — Not since the 2008-09 season, when he averaged 9.1 mpg, has Kris Humphries seen his playing time dwindle as much as it has this season. Humphries is playing 11.2 mpg with Boston and has appeared in just six of the team’s 11 games. The veteran power forward is growing frustrated with his lesser role and future on the team, writes A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNewEngland.com:

Humphries wants to play somewhere, even if it means leaving Boston.

He’s not quite ready to demand a trade, but it’s clear that the lack of playing time and erratic minutes he has played is weighing on him.

The 6-foot-9 veteran did not play (coaches decision) in Boston’s 109-96 loss to Portland on Friday, his fifth DNP-CD this season.

“I’m just waiting for a break or an opportunity to get in there more consistently,” Humphries told CSNNE.com. “It would have been great to have played better (Wednesday) night and us win. That would help. But as a guy playing inconsistent minutes, it’s not going to happen every night for you. You have to try and make it happen and do whatever you can to help your team win.”

The 28-year-old veteran has appeared in five games this season, averaging four points and 2.8 rebounds while playing 11 minutes per game.

But in the rebuilding process that the Celtics are currently in, there’s always some form of collateral damage along the way.

While he has often thought about what he has to do in order to get more minutes in Boston, he hasn’t asked for a trade.

“That’s why players have agents,” Humphries said. “We just have to as players, focus on what we can control. If you sit there and say, ‘hey I want a trade,’ it’s going to take away from the team and what you’re trying do to.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has praised Humphries often for his professionalism and work ethic throughout training camp and into the regular season.

And while it’s clear that Humphries doesn’t fit into the regular rotation now, the parity of so many players on this roster makes it such that everyone has to be ready to play every night.

“It’s been tough. I’m here so that’s what I’m focused on,” Humphries said. “I’m playing some 4 (power forward) now, which I think will help out a little bit. But nothing has ever been easy for me. I’e always had shorter-term deals, always had to prove myself.”

***

No. 3: Report: Asik certain to be dealt — Late last week, news broke courtesy of the Houston Chronicle that Rockets center Omer Asik had asked the team to trade him. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein confirms that Asik is a near-lock to be dealt, but the questions remain about not just where Asik will land, but what Houston does with him until it can find a trade partner:

The mystery here, apart from the obvious question about where he ultimately winds up, is what Houston does with Asik until it can locate that appealing deal.

The center was scratched from Saturday’s home game against Denver essentially because he’s so unhappy with his new role that he’s in no state to play. Word is Asik has been asking the Rockets pretty much once a week, since Dwight Howard‘s arrival in July, to please trade him elsewhere. And now losing his starting spot, on top of what was already a reduced role, has clearly knocked the 27-year-old back.

Sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.com that Asik was challenged by coaches and teammates this week for not being “engaged” in the wake of the lineup change, which took effect when Asik was moved to the bench for Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia. And he hasn’t played since the challenge, logging zero minutes Thursday night in New York while in uniform and not even dressing against the Nuggets.

The new challenge for the Rockets, then, is getting Asik’s mind right and getting him back on the floor as soon as possible, given the very real chance that a workable trade won’t materialize until after Dec. 15, when dozens of players who signed new contracts in July become eligible to be moved.

Dec. 15, for those not inclined to count it up, is still 28 days away.

“I understand it’s tough for him,” Howard told reporters after Houston’s morning shootaround. “The only thing I can do is be his friend off the floor and help him any way I can. I understand it’s a tough situation for him, but we are all family and we have to learn to fight through frustrations.”

Rest assured, though, that eager suitors for Asik will materialize eventually, no matter how mopey he seems right now and even with Houston hoping for a front-line player in return. The rebounding ability and rim presence Asik can provide makes him a starting-caliber center for numerous teams in this league.

***

No. 4: Old habits keep holding Kings back — With a new arena in the works, new ownership leading the team and a contract extension for talented big man DeMarcus Cousins, excitement for the Kings was at a fever pitch as the 2013-14 season opened. Yet, nine games into the season, Sacramento finds itself in a familiar position: with a losing record and among the worst teams in the conference (they only have one more win than the NBA’s worst team, the 1-10 Utah Jazz). Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee talks about how the culture of the Kings and, perhaps, some of the players are keeping Sacramento from where it wants to go:

How the Kings continue to play with a lack of urgency is befuddling. They did so again this afternoon in losing to the Memphis Grizzlies, 97-86, at Sleep Train Arena.
Perhaps it’s a case of old habits dying slow. Or maybe this is just who the Kings are – a team with unpredictable levels of effort and focus – and that won’t change unless players change.

There was talk of changing the culture postgame, and how much work that takes.

The work will begin to take hold when the Kings realize they have to hold themselves accountable and not accept subpar effort from themselves and teammates.

“As a group, as a unit, as a team, we’ve just got to get tired of losing,” said forward John Salmons. “If you’re tired of losing when we’re down in the third quarter like that you wouldn’t come out with the lack of energy like we did. I think guys are used to it and it shows on the court. When you have that mentality it’s hard to break those habits.”

A lot of these players have been around in past seasons when players have admitted to being overconfident for games when most night the Kings had a losing record entering those games.

***

No. 5: Warriors hurting over O’Neal’s injury — For a squad led by youngsters Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, the stability a veteran voice like Jermaine O’Neal can provide to an up-and-coming squad is invaluable. O’Neal hasn’t just provided sagely words for the Warriors, though, as he’s proven to be a key cog in the team’s bench unit and had been hitting his stride. All of those factors made O’Neal’s injury in Golden State’s 102-88 win over Utah on Saturday all the more costly to the team’s chemistry, writes Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:

It’s not that the Warriors don’t have options to take the backup center’s place. It’s just that it’s nearly impossible for a single player to do everything the 35-year-old was doing for the team.

O’Neal, who was initially diagnosed with a sprained right knee and strained right groin before additional tests late Sunday afternoon, has been a steady defensive anchor on the second unit and the team’s most proven scorer from the low post. More importantly, since signing a free-agent deal in the summer and arriving in Oakland before his 18th NBA season, the six-time All-Star’s voice and experience have provided his younger teammates with a different focus level, toughness and mind-set than they’ve ever known.

…Though the Warriors could sign NBA Development Leaguer Dewayne Dedmon, who was with the team during training camp, they can’t issue 10-day contracts until Jan. 6. It was fitting that Draymond Green and Ognjen Kuzmic acted as O’Neal’s crutches as he was helped to the locker room, because those two probably will receive an increase in minutes.

Starting power forward David Lee will play some backup-center minutes, and backup power forward Marreese Speights can bump up a position. Still, the Warriors will need Green and/or Kuzmic to play more depending on matchups.

“I know he’ll bounce back,” shooting guard Klay Thompson said of O’Neal. “He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever met.”

In the meantime, the Warriors will need to find someone to match O’Neal’s production. Having found a comfort zone, he averaged nine points (on 75 percent shooting), four rebounds, one blocked shot and one steal over the past three games.

O’Neal said last week that his mind was going “100 miles per hour” because he was pressing to meet the team’s expectations, but after talking with his wife, brother and high school coach, and praying, he found a place of calm.

“I’ve been playing this thing called basketball for 20-something years,” O’Neal said Wednesday. “Nothing really changes. The same shots I could make in the past, I can still make now. There’s no difference from when I’m working out in practice and knocking a shot down than when I’m in a game, but I had to tell myself that.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Nuggets coach Brian Shaw is still mad at himself for using the Hack-A-Howard strategy … Detroit is taking a cautious approach with Chauncey Billups’ return from tendinitis in his knees … Is it time for the Raptors to consider gunning for a top pick in the 2014 Draft? …

ICYMI Of The Night: You’ve got to watch this alley-oop from Brandon Jennings to Andre Drummond a couple of times, first because it looks like it is a missed shot and, second, because once you realize it’s a great pass, you’ve got to see it again and again …


VIDEO: Brandon Jennings’ off-the-glass alley-oop to Andre Drummond

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Anthony wants to retire in N.Y. | Hayward, Jazz fail to reach deal | Suns pass on Bledsoe extension | Fredette to be a free agent; Kings don’t extend Vasquez | Adelman promises to give Williams a chance

No. 1: Anthony: ‘I want to retire in New York’Yesterday, we told you in this space that Knicks star Carmelo Anthony and GM Steve Mills had come to an agreement to not discuss a possible contract extension for Anthony during the season. During last night’s Knicks-Bulls game on TNT, Anthony opened up about his plans for the future, going as far as to say he wants to ‘retire in New York.’

“I think a lot of people jumped the gun when I said I wanted to be a free agent,” he said. “And yeah, I want people to come play in New York. I want them to want to play in New York. I want New York to be that place where guys want to come play.”


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony on his desire to stay with New York

***

No. 2: Hayward, Jazz fail to agree to contact extension — Contract extension were doled out to several members of the 2010 Draft class during the offseason and training camp including John Wall, Larry Sanders, Paul George and Derrick Favors. Jazz forward Gordon Hayward and his representatives had been in talks with Utah’s front office about a deal, but nothing materialized before yesterday’s deadline. Sam Amick of USA Today has more on why the deal fell through and what’s next:

When it comes to NBA extensions, it’s a calculated risk any way you slice it. The only thing that changes is the side that’s rolling the dice.

So it was that the Utah Jazz and small forward Gordon Hayward couldn’t reach an agreement before the midnight ET deadline on Thursday night …

As veteran agent Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports and Entertainment explained it after months of talks with Jazz officials regarding Hayward didn’t pay off, it’s a tough task to pull off when both parties know that the now-or-never moment doesn’t happen until the offseason. The evidence supports that claim, as only six players from the draft class of 2010 signed extensions in the latest go-round: Indiana small forward Paul George, Milwaukee center Larry Sanders, Washington point guard John Wall, Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins, Utah forward Derrick Favors, and Memphis guard Quincy Pondexter.

“The most difficult deals to do are extensions — other than the max,” Bartelstein told USA TODAY Sports by phone just before the deadline passed. “When someone is offering you a max, then it’s easy. Those are easy. Other than that, they’re difficult because … there’s not a marketplace, so the teams sometimes have a view of wanting to get something for doing it early, and the player wants to get what he perceives his value to be, so they’re hard to do.”

As it pertains to Hayward, there were strong signs in the days leading up to the deadline that he was leaning toward taking the restricted free agency route. The Jazz were clearly hoping to secure Hayward after agreeing to terms with Favors on a four-year, $49 million deal, but they’ll now have the chance to match the highest bidder this summer when the 23-year-old may be the leading man among the younger class of free agents.

Bartelstein was quick to compliment the Jazz for their handling of the negotiations, and dispelled any notion that this is a sign that Hayward is looking to head elsewhere.

“The main thing is that the Jazz put in a tremendous amount of time and effort into wanting to get something done, and we put in a tremendous amount of time and effort to get it done,” Bartelstein said. “It was not due to a lack of trying. That’s for sure. There was a lot of time and a lot of energy spent the last few months in working at it, but sometimes you just can’t come up with something that both sides feel good about. That doesn’t change at all — at all — how Gordon feels about the Jazz.”

***

No. 3: Suns, Bledsoe can’t come to extension agreement — Suns guard Eric Bledsoe had an impressive preseason and led Phoenix to a victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in their season-opener. Those games represent all of Bledsoe’s career to date in Arizona and although the 2010 draftee was eligible for a contract extension up until last night, the Suns were have a hard time determining what, exactly, to pay him if they offered him such a deal. That lack of time together may have been one of the tipping points in the Suns’ decision to not offer Bledsoe an extension, writes Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic:

The Suns and Eric Bledsoe have been talking about a possible contract extension that could have locked up the point guard through 2018.

They could not find common terms by Thursday night’s deadline but the Suns still intend for Bledsoe to be part of their future.

“There is no rookie extension with Eric but that doesn’t in any way suggest that we are not excited that Eric is a Sun and we look forward to Eric being a Suns for a long time,” said Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby, who has been engaged in extension talks over the past month with Mark Termini, the former agent who works as a negotiator for Bledsoe’s agent, Rich Paul.

“It’s a hard thing to do. We had numerous conversations over the past few weeks. We had a good, professional exchange of ideas.”

The task of extending Bledsoe was a challenging one, especially with Bledsoe logging one game as a Suns before the 9 p.m. deadline struck Thursday night. Bledsoe has been a backup for his first three NBA seasons with the Clippers but surely will increase his value this season as a starter and focal point for the Suns. He is only 23 and was highly sought when the Suns made a trade to acquire him from the Clippers in July.

“Both sides are trying to make projections on what Eric’s performance and new role are going to be,” Babby said Thursday night. “Those projections are not necessarily precise and, from the Suns’ perspective, it needs to be considered from the context that Eric will be a restricted free agent in the summer, which gives us matching rights. In the end, it seemed prudent to wait until July. In the meantime, we will be rooting for Eric to have a great season.”

Babby would not characterize how close the sides came in negotiations. The parties assumedly were talking about a four-year deal, rather than the option of a five-year deal for a designated player to get a maximum-salary contract.

The dilemma of what to pay Bledsoe was spelled out previously here.

It appears that the talks did not turn contentious, which is a danger in such situations.

“It was completely professional, not acrimonious,” Babby said. “Everyone understood the task was a difficult one because of the nature of the circumstances and the context of restricted free agency.”

No. 4: Kings decline to pick up Fredette’s option, pass on Vasquez extension — Back during the 2011 Draft, the Kings took part in a three-team deal that, in part, helped them land former BYU sharpshooter Jimmer Fredette. Since landing in Sacramento, though, Fredette’s playing time has been inconsistent and when it came time to decide to pick up his option for 2014-15, the Kings passed on it. As well, new starting point guard Greivis Vasquez, whom Sacramento acquired in the offseason in the Tyreke Evans trade, was eligible for a contract extension, but the team passed on that, too. Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee has more on the moves:

Those who have wanted the Kings to “Free Jimmer” might get their wish.

The Kings on Thursday declined to pick up the fourth-year option on guard Jimmer Fredette’s contract for the 2014-15 season, which would have paid the 2011 first-round draft pick a little more than $3 million. The deadline to do so was Thursday at 9 p.m.

Therefore, Fredette will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. The Kings could re-sign him at a reduced salary, but the decision likely means this will be Fredette’s final season with the team.

It also means Fredette probably would bring more value in a trade because his expiring deal would create salary cap space for next summer’s free-agent class. The trade deadline is Feb. 20.

During the offseason, the team drafted Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum and acquired Greivis Vasquez from New Orleans. The Kings’ front office likes Isaiah Thomas, and Marcus Thornton has two years left on his contract.

A huge crowd greeted Fredette at Sacramento International Airport when he arrived following the draft, and he remains extremely popular, even though his playing time with the Kings has been inconsistent.

Thursday also was the deadline to reach agreement on contract extensions for 2010 first-round draft picks.

The Kings had two players eligible for deals, Vasquez and forward Patrick Patterson. Neither landed an extension.

Sacramento can make both players restricted free agents after his season, giving the Kings the right to match an offer from another team and retain them.

***

No. 5: Adelman promises Williams will get his chance — Since being taken with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2011 Draft, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Derrick Williams has had a wildly inconsistent role on the team. Last season, he played in 78 games, starting 56 of them, and saw his averages in scoring (12.0 ppg), rebounding (5.5 rpg) and shooting (43.0 pct) hit career highs. Then came the season-opener on Wednesday night in which Williams failed to get off the bench despite being healthy. Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman and Williams addressed the player’s role after Thursday’s practice and Adelman vows that Williams will eventually get his chance, writes Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune:

Wolves coach Rick Adleman had a couple things to say about Derrick Williams. First, the third-year forward will get his chance to play. Second, we should all calm down on the issue.

“I don’t worry about him as much as you guys do,” Adelman said after Thursday’s practice. Williams, who works at both forward positions, did not play in Wednesday’s opening-night victory over Orlando.  A former second-overall pick, Williams’ playing time has fluctuated since he joined the team.

“He’s going to get a chance to play when it looks like there is a good opportunity for him,” Adelman said. “But there are other guys, too. Right now Robbie Hummel’s played very well, the whole month he’s been here. It could be one of those guys. It could be (Shabazz Muhammad), who has played well. Nobody has separated himself. (Williams’)  best spot is the four spot, and it’s almost impossible to get him minutes at the four spot.”

Williams, asked about his situation, said he wasn’t disappointed. “No, we won, you can’t be disappointed when we win,” he said.

But on the matter of patience? “I’ve been patient two years now,” he said. “So we’ll see. I don’t know.’’

Interestingly, Williams retweeted an item originally tweeted by Los Angeles Clippers forward Jamal Crawford Wednesday night. “Watched a bunch of games tonight,” Crawford wrote. “One thing that is clear. Situation, and opportunity has a lot to do with success in the NBA.’’

“That’s all the NBA is, opportunity,” Williams said. “That’s why I retweeted it.”

But when will his come? The power forward position is where Kevin Love plays, and Dante Cunningham is usually his backup. That leaves the small forward position. And for Williams to play there, Adelman said he needs to see the right matchup.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wizards guard John Wall got a warning about floppingJ-Smoove is enjoying the start to his career in Detroit so far … The Magic are readying for their home opener and the official kickoff to their 25th anniversary season … The reviews are in for Pierre the Pelican, and they’re not pretty

ICYMI Of The Night: We’ve got to imagine Clippers TV play-by-play man Ralph Lawler is a little horse after these three straight alley-oop jams by Blake Griffin


VIDEO: Blake Griffin converts three straight alley-oop jams

Blogtable: Your Pick, Cousins or Wall?

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

This week, we borrow three questions from The Starters season preview podcasts.


Toughest team to read | Asik’s future in Houston | Pick a Wildcat to build around


Which former Kentucky guy would you rather build around: John Wall or DeMarcus Cousins?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comCousins. I hate the possibility of being an enabler of bad behavior, but Cousins’ size and skills are harder to come by than Wall’s, so if there’s a chance that he eventually matures and knocks off the pouting, fussing and other antics, he’s the more valuable cornerstone. Wall’s injury history detracts from his value, too.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIn terms of size, the answer would be DeMarcus Cousins. But can you really build a team on a foundation that is shakier than the San Andreas Fault? In short, no. So I’ll go with as the potentially elite quarterback and leader.

DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall at the 2010 NBA Draft

DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall at the 2010 NBA Draft (Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: You almost caught me napping on this one. I assumed a choice between John Wall and New Orleans’ second-year stud-in-the-making Anthony Davis was coming. In which case I would have gone with the forever theory of taking the big man. But, since it’s petulant Sac big man DeMarcus Cousins, I’ll go with Wall. While Cousins might become a mature force in the league, he cannot yet be trusted. Wall’s play and leadership in the second half of last season showed real growth, and in a league popping at the seams with excellent point guards, you’ve got to have a dynamic one.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Is this a trick question? Cousins can be good if he matures and finds stability. But Wall is good. And he has a very good chance to be even better. Look at what he did after recovering last season. Wall plays a position, point guard, that is just as hard to fill as Cousins at center. A lot of GMs might not even want Cousins on their team, let alone build around him.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I really wouldn’t build around either of them, but I’ll take Wall over Cousins. Neither of these guys is nearly on the level of Tim Duncan or LeBron James, but those two have taught us the difference between stars and coachable stars. If you’re going to pay a guy max money, he better have more than just offensive talent. He needs to lead, he needs to earn his coach’s trust, and he needs to be willing to play defense. Wall isn’t exactly Chris Paul or Derrick Rose in regard to those requirements just yet, but he’s got the right attitude. From what I’ve seen so far, Cousins is not someone I’d want in my locker room.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comIf I still believed we were in the era where a team molded around a dominant big man had the best chance to win and win big, I could have been swayed to the Cousins camp. I do not believe. That era is over and I’m still not convinced Cousins, as talented as he might be, is destined to become the great and dominant big man his raw abilities suggest he should. John Wall is the sort of physical talent and the perfect position for today’s game, and therefore my pick for the former Kentucky guy I’d rather build my team around. When you factor in the drama that comes with Cousins, and the lack thereof that you get with Wall, it makes this decision much easier. I know it’s old school and seems a bit corny in this day and age, but you’re not just winning on talent alone. There has to be some genuine energy, effort and a certain level of acceptance of your role, in whatever system you’re in, that comes into play if you’re going to be the centerpiece of a team that wins at a high level. You’re not building a quality team around a guy who is not interested in the greater good before his own personal and selfish interests. Cousins has time to prove otherwise, but up to this point he hasn’t shown me the willingness to be the kind of player you build the fabric of your team around. Talented? Sure. But a franchise guy, the kind you build around? That’s Wall.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Talk about your Sophie’s Choice. Both players have shown flashes of brilliance and tantalizing talent, but neither has really been able to sustain that production over any extended period of time. And while a young talented big man such as Cousins is always enticing, I’ll ride with John Wall. I still can’t shake seeing Wall play pick-up ball in Vegas during the lockout and dominating against solid NBA players. When I spoke to him earlier this summer, he seemed to have fully grasped the requirements of leadership and understood what was expected of him.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA.com Brasil: In the era of the point guard? I’m building around John Wall. Also, he seems to be more level-headed and a lot less high maintenance than Cousins. And look at Washington and Sacramento — one is primed for a playoff run this season, the other has a best-case scenario of just sneaking in.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com India: Tough call. Both are young, unquestionable raw talents, with the potential of being game-changers. Wall has shown more maturity in his game lately, and helped the Wizards finish last season on a high. But, despite his faults, I’ve always had an affinity for Cousins’ game. I believe ‘Boogie’ is on the verge of a breakout season and can morph into one of the best offensive big men in the NBA. There are many talented guards around the league, but a Center like Cousins is a much rarer commodity. I would rather build a team around him. (And make sure there are some veterans on that team to keep him on the right track!)

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Westbrook’s return ahead of schedule | World Peace, not Bargnani, likely to start | Parsons says Beverley will start at PG | Malone rips Kings’ effort in practice | Suns trying to determine Bledsoe’s value

No. 1: Report: Westbrook may return in 2 weeksEarlier this month, the Thunder got news that All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook would need a second surgical procedure on his ailing right knee. That meant that Westbrook would likely miss the first 4-6 weeks of the season, putting his return to OKC’s lineup somewhere in December. But the Thunder may be getting some good news soon, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!Sports.com, as Westbrook is healing up quick.:

Oklahoma Thunder star Russell Westbrook has made significant progress in his recovery from a second surgical procedure on his knee and could return to the Thunder’s lineup within two weeks, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Thunder issued an original timetable of six to eight weeks from Wednesday’s opening night for Westbrook, but barring an unforeseen setback he could be back in the lineup by mid-November.

Westbrook began participating in Thunder practice sessions and has impressed everyone with his explosion and fast return to form, sources said.

***

No. 2: Knicks likely to start Metta World Peace, not Bargnani — As we reported in this space a few days ago, Knicks coach Mike Woodson didn’t sound totally committed to a Carmelo Anthony-Andrea Bargnani-Tyson Chandler frontline for opening night. That appears to definitely be the case now as Marc Berman of the New York Post reports that Woodson will more than likely start Metta World Peace alongside Anthony and Chandler and use Bargnani as a sixth man:

Arrivederci Andrea.

Andrea Bargnani, who started all seven preseason games in an experimental jumbo frontcourt, is expected to be demoted to the bench for Wednesday’s season opener against the Bucks at the Garden.

Though coach Mike Woodson refused to make it official, all indications point to Bargnani becoming a reserve, Metta World Peace starting at small forward and Carmelo Anthony heading back to power forward.

Consider the big frontcourt experiment of Tyson Chandler-Bargnani-Melo a preseason failure.

Woodson still said he wants to “sleep on it’’ but Anthony said he believes it’s happening.

“I didn’t expect it, we didn’t expect it,’’ Anthony said. “That’s what he’s going with. I think guys are ready for the move. Everyone seems on board with that. Whatever position we have to play, we have to go out and do it.’’

Anthony thrived at power forward last season in his career year in which he finished third in the MVP voting. Woodson is going with what he knows worked, but if Bargnani had thrived, this wouldn’t have happened.

“It really doesn’t matter to me,’’ Anthony said of playing the 3 or 4. “I’ve been successful in this league at the three. Last year I was successful at the four. Whatever adjustments I have to make, I have to make. I’m willing to do that.’’


VIDEO: Mike Woodson on his possible plans for the starting lineup

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No. 3: Rockets’ Parsons: Beverley, not Lin, to start — As the Houston Rockets ready for the season opener tonight against the Charlotte Bobcats, Rockets coach Kevin McHale was very non-committal about who would be in his starting five for the game. But one of his players, small forward Chandler Parsons, revealed a bit of information regarding the starting point guard job between Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley, writes Adam Wexler of CSNHouston.com:

Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale again was reluctant to acknowledge who his starting five would be on opening night. One of his players was more forthcoming.

“Yes,” McHale said when asked if he had a starting five set for Wednesday night. That was followed by a question asking if he’d tell the media who that is. “No,” McHale answered.

Chandler Parsons was asked if the players had been told who the starters would be and he sounded almost surprised that McHale had not shared that with the media.

“I don’t know why it’s a big surprise,” Parsons said. “It’s the same as how the preseason ended.”

That means Patrick Beverley will not only make his first opening night roster, he’ll be making his first opening night start.

“I haven’t had the fortune to play in the NBA on opening night,” Beverley said. “It’s going to be my first. I’m definitely excited.”

The starting five last year was Asik, Marcus Morris, Parsons, Harden and Jeremy Lin.

***

No. 4: Malone lays into Kings after practice — New Kings coach Mike Malone is trying to build a winner in Sacramento while also attempting to reverse the losing culture that has permeated the franchise in recent seasons. As such, he’s tried to instill a stronger work ethic and more overall effort from the Kings each game and — at least based on the preseason — his strategy might be working. The Kings wrapped up the exhibition season at 5-2, but a lackluster effort in Tuesday’s practice drew Malone’s ire, writes Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee:

“I asked what their record was in the preseason last year, and guess what it was?” Malone said. “It was 5-2. So the preseason doesn’t mean a damn thing, and for those guys who thought being 5-2 and doing some good things meant a lot, they couldn’t be further from the truth. And they’ll have a rude awakening Wednesday night when they play Denver.”…

“I would say (Monday) was probably our worst practice of the year,” Malone said. “If we (had played) a game (Monday), we would be zero and one to start the season.”

It was the first time Malone ripped his team’s effort after a practice. He said it was a collectively bad effort.

“The energy, the effort, the discipline, the focus just wasn’t there for whatever reason,” Malone said. “I can’t explain it. No excuse, no explanation. It was just a bad day for us, and we have to have a much better practice (today) heading into the regular season, three games in four nights.”

Some problems on the court occurred in areas Malone is adamant about improving – turnovers and defense.

The Kings have been one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA for a few years and cannot expect to change that by giving up easy points off turnovers.

“Carelessness with the ball, too many turnovers,” forward Patrick Patterson said of Monday’s practice. “Not getting back in transition, lack of communication, too many people not focused and people just taking it as a day to get by.

“Our coach said we have to get better every day. We can’t let one day get away from us.”

Patterson came to the Kings from a playoff team (Houston) in a February trade.

“Despite what we did in the preseason, we’re not that great of a team,” Patterson said. “We still have a lot to prove. We have a lot to work on.”

***

No. 5: Suns trying to nail down Bledsoe’s value — Phoenix has been impressed with the play of its new, young point guard, Eric Bledsoe, in the preseason. And the Suns have until Thursday at 9 p.m. to lock the guard into a long-term extension if they so choose to do so. The Suns like the idea of locking up Bledsoe, but where they’re having trouble is figuring out a fair-market value contract for him before that Thursday deadline, writes Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic:

Eric Bledsoe is as difficult to compare in contracts as he is in skills.

The Suns point guard’s unique talents make for a redeeming quality. His incomparable contract value makes for a problem with a Thursday extension deadline looming.

With the roster and contract options settled, Bledsoe’s extension talks are the most pressing item on the Suns front office’s October to-do list.

The “to-do” is whether to do it or not. The Suns valued Bledsoe enough to be the aggressor and architect of a July three-team trade obtaining him. Making a long-term commitment to Bledsoe at an annual eight-figure salary would be a deeper pledge to potential.

The money part is the conundrum. Bledsoe is not going to be paid based on averaging 8.5 points, 3.1 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game last season for the Clippers. He was All-Star Chris Paul’s backup, logging 20.4 minutes per game. It had to be a bit scary for Phoenix to see Utah reward Derrick Favors, a three-year backup like Bledsoe, with an extension worth at least $49million over four years.

Bledsoe’s other draft classmates who received extensions are incomparable in talent, results or position — Washington point guard John Wall (five years, $80million), Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins (four years, $62million), Indiana All-Star swingman Paul George (five years, $80-plus million) and Milwaukee center Larry Sanders (four years, $44million).

The only backup to receive an extension from the previous draft, Chicago power forward Taj Gibson (four years, $38million), is also a hard comparison because he plays a less-valuable position and was with the Bulls for the prior three seasons. Since Bledsoe arrived in late September, the Suns barely know what they have in him and he has yet to play a regular-season game for them.

Bledsoe has not even achieved what Detroit’s Brandon Jennings did (averaging 17.0 points and 5.7 assists over four seasons) but likely expects more than Jennings’ three-year, $25million deal.

Bledsoe’s statistics and play will get better with an increased load and his untapped talent. Allowing him to raise his value during the season and become a top restricted free agent in July is dangerous.

The Suns have to weigh that against how a Bledsoe contract would eat into salary-cap space they have created for a major trade or free-agency signing (during Bledsoe’s would-be offer-sheet process).

But does Bledsoe even want an extension here? He has not talked about wanting Phoenix to be his long-term home when given the chance.

It might be hard for an organization that offered Eric Gordon $58million over four years to come in with less for Bledsoe. At the same time, how does it offer Bledsoe more than the annual $7.5million salary it gave Dragic? The good news: Restricted free agents rarely leave with nothing in return. Even the Joe Johnson debacle netted Boris Diaw and two first-round picks.

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Surely, being Derrick Rose is nice life to lead. It’s probably even nicer when the President of the United States gives you a shoutout on Twitter … Great read by the Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell on the two grandmas who helped raise Al Jefferson … Nuggets guard Ty Lawson will be a game-time decision tonightSolid Q&A with Pistons owner Tom Gores, who fields questions on Joe Dumars‘ future and more … For the record — Kevin Garnett is a Wolverine guy, Brook Lopez is a Batman guy

ICYMI Of The Night: Heat reserve guard Norris Cole better save this highlight on his computer, because you know Derrick Rose will get him back for it sometime this season …


VIDEO: Norris Cole crosses up Derrick Rose