Posts Tagged ‘Scott Howard Cooper’

Report: Toronto’s Valanciunas opts against surgery

VIDEO: Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas fractures his finger.

Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas has decided not to have surgery on a fractured finger in his left hand and will instead try rehabilitation, Yahoo reported Saturday.

Valanciunas suffered the injury on his non-shooting hand Friday against the Lakers in Los Angeles. There was no immediate estimate on how long he will be sidelined, but coach Dwane Casey was preparing for the possibility of small ball by moving Luis Scola from power forward to center as soon as Sunday against the Clippers at Staples Center, according to the Toronto Star, with Patrick Patterson or James Johnson starting at power forward.

Casey also had the option of moving Bismack Biyombo from backup center into the opening lineup. Another big man, Lucas Nogueira, was expected to join the Raptors from the D-League in time for the game against the Clippers.

“There are different things we can do, we just can’t change all of our sets and all of our defensive schemes,” Casey said, according to the Star. “Luis is very versatile, there’s Patrick, DeMarre Carroll at the four, AB (Anthony Bennett), James Johnson at the four. There are a lot of variables we can have at the four and the five.”

Valanciunas is averaging 12.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in 27.3 minutes.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 217) Featuring Scott Howard-Cooper

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The rookies are for real.

Don’t rub your eyes … they’re absolutely real.

From Karl-Anthony Towns and his seemingly nightly double-doubles for the Minnesota Timberwolves to Jahlil Okafor and his scoring prowess with the Philaelphia 76ers to the truly pleasant surprise of the group, Kristaps Porzingis (they are already chanting his name at Madison Square Garden), and his highlight reel work for the New York Knicks, this year’s rookie class appears to be ahead of the curve.

The prevailing wisdom was while this bunch was loaded with intriguing talents, players like Emanuel Mudiay in Denver and Mario Hezonja in Orlando joining the aforementioned group of budding young stars, like almost every rookie class they would need time to flourish. But you can dig down deeper into the late lottery for guys like Miami’s Justise Winslow and Detroit’s Stanley Johnson and find youngsters ready for prime time.

The impact in many instances has been immediate.’s Scott Howard-Cooper has tracked these players from the start of the process to now and will continue to do so with his weekly updates on the’s Rookie Ladder. Our Draft and rookie guru saw this group coming before the casual fan could match names and faces. We took more than a few minutes with Howard-Cooper to address the Houston Rockets’ firing of Kevin McHale and the Golden State Warriors’ 12-0 start, too.

All that and more as he joins us on Episode 217 of The Hang Time Podcast.


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

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


VIDEO: Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis already has the crowd at Madison Square Garden chanting his name

Blogtable: Fallout in Houston after Kevin McHale’s firing

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

BLOGTABLE: Fallout in Houston after firing? | Best comeback story? | Cousins or Karl in Sacramento?

VIDEOKevin Mchale reportedly fired by Houston

> Kevin McHale was fired by the Rockets today. Right move or wrong move? And what does new coach J.B. Bickerstaff need to do to right this Rocket ship?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Unfortunately, the coach is easier to fire than the players. Unless Kevin got real dumb over the summer, he’s the same coach that got Houston to the Western Conference finals last season. It’s the players who aren’t playing up to par. But, that’s the deal for NBA coaches. The wins are because of the players; the losses are their fault. J.B. Bickerstaff can’t make Dwight Howard healthy or shake Harden out of his funk, but maybe he can get some of the younger guys to contribute more.  He’s a big fan of Clint Capela, and maybe we’ll get even more from him than we’ve seen so far.

Steve Aschburner, Wrong move, so wrong that I’m inclined to refer to them henceforth as the “Wrockets.” If management trots out the tired, old “he lost the locker room” justifications, then Houston, it has a problem. I thought McHale and his staff did wonders to steer that crew through injuries to 54 and 56 victories the past two seasons, reaching the West finals last spring. But talent can only take a team so far for so long unless it’s backed up with leadership and character. I don’t see much of either on the roster, at least not coming from self-absorbed big dogs James Harden and Dwight Howard. Maybe the Wrockets will be able to analytics their way out of this mess but I’m skeptical. Good luck to J.B. Bickerstaff, who has earned a shot and now is stuck with this one. Best thing he has working for him? The big lazy move — firing the coach — has been stripped away, shifting any further blame to the team’s performance and alleged stars.

Fran Blinebury, Wrong move, because McHale didn’t suddenly become incompetent in the six months since he took the Rockets to the Western Conference finals. Only move, because it’s what teams do when they can’t hit the reject button on the roster. First things first for J.B. Bickerstaff and that’s to repair the gaping holes in the Rockets’ defense, which has gone from a level near the top of the league to practically scraping bottom. But none of that will help in the long run if he can’t repair dysfunctional, broken relationships at the core of the lineup.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Wrong move. You get where management is coming from — the team looked terrible in the opening weeks, they can’t let another season slip away. But if McHale was the right guy in the playoffs about seven months ago, when Houston beat the Mavericks in five and had a great comeback against the Clippers before losing to the better team in the Western Conference finals, he was the right guy now. The personality of the roster is the problem, not the coach. Bickerstaff will be a new voice, which sometimes helps, but he won’t be able to right that part of the ship.

Shaun Powell, Right or wrong move? As always, it depends. If the Rockets wake up and get right, then fine. If not, they panicked, because just months ago McHale coached them past the Clippers in an epic playoff rally, took them to the West finals and earned a contract extension. He’s suddenly a crummy coach? Well, either J.B. Bickerstaff or Tom Thibodeau, if they hire him, better be right.

John Schuhmann, If this move gets the Rockets to play like they care about whether or not their opponent puts the ball in the basket, then it was the right move. But there was no excuse for not caring in the first place, and I doubt that McHale was to blame in that regard. Last season, the Rockets ranked sixth in defensive efficiency, even with their three-time Defensive Player of the Year playing only 41 games. This season, they rank 29th, and have been terrible whether Dwight Howard is playing or not. He ranks at the bottom of the league in rim protection, in part because his perimeter teammates can’t contain the ball. The film shows too many examples of Rockets defenders playing downright lazy on defense. There are surely other issues, but they can be addressed once the team collectively wakes up and starts playing defense like it matters, which it does.

Sekou Smith, Wrong in so many ways for McHale, but potentially right for the Rockets and Bickerstaff. McHale’s serving as the fall guy after pushing this crew to 110 regular season wins the past two seasons and last season’s wild playoff ride that ended in the Western Conference finals. He lost his powers after 11 games? Ridiculous. The Rockets have much bigger issues that begin and end inside the locker room (hence Tuesday’s players-only meeting). And that’s where J.B. Bickerstaff‘s opportunity comes into play. If he can find a way to inspire James Harden, Dwight Howard and this crew to commit themselves to improving defensively from the bottom of the NBA pile, there is a chance this ends up being the right and best move the Rockets could have made to salvage this season. But right or wrong, 11 games in … we need time before it becomes clear.

Ian Thomsen, There’s not much that any coach can do until the Rockets get the leadership they need on defense from James Harden and Dwight Howard. The Rockets’ two best players should be dominating that end of the court and thereby establishing the highest and most meaningful standard for their teammates. It should be flattering to Harden and Howard that the responsibility to fix this is on them. Maybe a new voice — or the shock of losing McHale — will get the message through to them, which is a shame.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: If this turns things around and propels the Rockets to the top of the Western Conference, I suppose it will be looked at as the right move. But right now it certainly doesn’t feel like firing the coach who just got a three-year extension and took you to the Western Conference finals is the right move. If Bickerstaff can get them to commit defensively, that’s great, but this isn’t a team built to survive on their defense. To me they should go the other way and commit to their offense … and I’m pretty sure there’s a coach named Mike D’Antoni available out there and known for preaching offense.

Blogtable: Will DeMarcus Cousins or George Karl last longer in Sacramento?

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

BLOGTABLE: Fallout in Houston? | Best comeback story? | Cousins or Karl in Sacramento?

VIDEOCharles Barkley voices his opinion on DeMarcus Cousins and the Kings

> DeMarcus Cousins or George Karl? Which one will still be working for the Kings at the end of the season?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: I don’t really want to address this, ’cause so many Kings fans are so sensitive about any notion of getting rid of Cousins (the hate mail is still rolling in on my trade idea to move Boogie to Boston). But if I had to guess, I’d say that Vivek Ranadive sticks with his franchise center rather than the mercurial coach with more than 1,100 coaching victories. Maybe Vlade Divac can calm the waters and get these two to coexist, but he’s rolling that rock up a big, big hill.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’d like to think that sanity prevails and the answer is both. But since you’ve given us a fork in the road and we have to take it (h/t Lawrence Peter Berra), I choose Cousins. It’s a player’s league and, as I’ve noted before, even if all was copacetic in Sac, the big man will be posting 20-10 games long after George is sipping umbrella drinks on a Maui beach with his pal, Don Nelson. And DMC knows it, which is part of the reason things aren’t copacetic. I don’t think Cousins will spend his whole career with the Kings – a change of scenery is inevitable when a young player is handed as much clout as he has – but I think Karl will beat him out the door in the short term.

Fran Blinebury, Cousins. He’s temperamental. He’s trouble. He’s also 25 and the best young big man in the game, at least until Karl-Anthony Towns gets a year or two under his belt. Besides, coaches usually take the fall and Karl has been on shaky ground with the Kings almost from the moment he arrived. Can we change the timetable on this question to Christmas? Or even Thanksgiving?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI’m tempted to say neither. I do think that is possible. But at this rate, with Cousins reminding everyone how good he can be, the Kings are either going to refuse to part with him or set the asking price so high that no one will come close to matching the offer. Any outcome is far from playing out. While firing the coach is always easier than going nuclear with the roster, and therefore Karl is atop the leaderboard for Most Likely to Go, Sacramento does not want to dump him. They were looking for a reason to fire Michael Malone. They’re looking for a reason to keep George.

Shaun Powell, Cousins, because Karl is replaceable. Still … rarely would I ever side with a coach over an All-Star big man but my hunch says the Kings will never flourish as long as their best player is toxic. Look, Cousins has good intentions; he’s competitive, hates to lose and in some ways a perfectionist. But if he hasn’t gotten a grip on his emotions by now … what, should the Kings bide their time until he reaches maturity at age 30?

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI would guess that it would be both, because it would really be embarrassing for the Kings to need to hire another coach before the season is done. But Cousins is still more likely to be around, because giving up on a coach is easier than giving up on a star.

Sekou Smith, Cousins. Talent over everything is the motto of most teams. And Cousins has proved to be as good or better than any other player in the league at his position. That said, Cousins and Karl could find a way to make this work. I truly believe that to be true. But it would take some serious humbling on both sides. There is way too much pride and ego involved right now. Cousins will not be denied this season, though, and the Kings can choose to ride his momentum into the future or make a colossal mistake and side with the tutor over the talent.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe Kings appear to be showing little interest in supporting Karl. If they go onto fire him, it’s a good bet that they will be casting him as a victim of their own mismanagement. In the meantime they’ve made it clear that Cousins is their priority. But are they bringing out the best in their best young player — or just placating him?

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: The answer should be DeMarcus Cousins, who is one of the best young players in the NBA, signed to a long-term contract that is affordable, and is exactly the type of building block every team in the NBA should want to construct around. So why would the Kings deal Cousins? The answer, of course, is that the Kings have a recent history of doing things people haven’t anticipated. I’ll just say this: If it came down to choosing between Boogie Cousins and Coach Karl, I know which way I’d choose. Then again, it ain’t my team.

Blogtable: Best comeback story?

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

BLOGTABLE: Fallout in Houston? | Best comeback story? | Cousins or Karl in Sacramento?

VIDEOPaul George puts in a monster effort in a loss to the Cavs

> The better comeback story so far this season: Kevin Durant, Paul George or Carmelo Anthony?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: PG13, by a mile. Not belittling KD’s or Melo’s surgeries/injuries, but we all witnessed that horrible night in Vegas in 2014 when Paul George’s leg snapped. It was gruesome. I know he played at the end of last season, but he didn’t look anything like the old, dominant player he’d been. Now he’s rounding back into form (it may or may not be coincidence that the Pacers have effectively ended the PG-at-four experiment, with C.J. Miles now the primary power forward). The Pacers are still playing small, but they got their best player playing where he’s most comfortable and effective. Good coaching, and good adjustments.

Steve Aschburner, Happy for all of them, but Paul George’s level of play has been nothing short of remarkable considering where we all were, emotionally and intellectually, on that August night in Las Vegas in 2014. Whatever, say, a guy like Jay Williams did with a motorcycle and a light pole to end his NBA career, it looked as if George had done against that basket stanchion, splintering his leg in two place. The initial sense was, he’d never play again. And even when the doctors said he would, a lot of us wondered how far back George really would get. Looks now to be all the way and beyond.

Fran Blinebury, They’re all good stories, but I’m gonna go with Paul George here, just because of the horrendous nature and degree of the injury that we all saw replayed dozens of times. He’s returned this season to a team that has been stripped down, rebuilt and is demonstrating that he wants to and can lead. No excuses from George, just results.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Paul George, but because he had farther to come back. He had six appearances last season, after also losing part of summer 2014. That’s a very long road to recovery, compared to Durant playing about a quarter of 2014-15 and Anthony half. On 2015-16 play along, though, it’s KD. He looks like Durant, the greatest compliment of all. Actually, considering that 3-point shot, he looks better in some ways. To look this good this soon is impressive even by his lofty standards.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comPaul George and it isn’t even close. ‘Melo and Durant are coming off injuries but never had their careers threatened by them. George saw his leg break in two. For him to re-elevate himself to a franchise-player level this quickly — or at all — that’s borderline amazing.

John Schuhmann, Paul George, because of the severity of the injury and because of the level that he’s playing at. Seeing Anthony and Durant playing as well as they have isn’t much of a surprise. George is playing better than he ever has before. When George put up 36 against the Heat and 32 against the Cavs earlier this month, it was only the second time in his career that he’d had 30-plus in two straight games. And that was part of an ongoing stretch where he’s averaging 28.9 over the last seven, shooting 51 percent from 3-point range. Anthony is 31 and Durant has already been an MVP. George is 25 and still on the rise.

Sekou Smith, Paul George, by far. He’s resumed the ways that made him one of the league’s most dynamic and intriguing players before he suffered that broken leg that cost him most of last season. He also had the toughest road back, considering the severity of his injury. And he totes a load on both ends that neither Durant nor Anthony does (defensively) for their respective teams. I know Durant is out right now with that sore hamstring, but it’s good to see all of them get back to normal, so to speak.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comHaving suffered the most frightening injury, Paul George has returned to find that his team has been rebuilt — essentially downsized — to suit his talents at both ends. The Pacers are looking like a solid playoff team because George’s comeback as both a go-to scorer and lockdown defender has been spectacular.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogWell, considering Kevin Durant is out right now, I’m eliminating him from consideration. Which leaves Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And while George has shown flashes of the elite athleticism that made him such a transcendent player on both ends, it doesn’t seemed to have regularly returned just yet, which is understandable. And while it may seem like I’m choosing Carmelo Anthony by default, I truly think he’s been very impactful this season for the Knicks. Sure, there’s a lot of talk about “The Zinger”, Kristaps Porzingis, and he’s had his moments, but the Knicks will only go as far as Anthony can take them, and when ‘Melo is playing like he’s played thus far this season — taking on double teams, knocking down jumpers, getting to the free throw line, hustling on the defensive end — this Knicks team could very well mess around and make the playoffs.

Klay Thompson sidelined by back injury

Klay Thompson will miss the Warriors’ game Saturday night against the Nets because of a stiff back, interim coach Luke Walton said about 90 minutes before tipoff in Oakland.

“He was a little stiff at shootaround this morning, and he was getting some treatment afterward,” Walton said, according to “We were going to see if loosened up throughout the day, but they just told me it hasn’t.”

Walton did not say who would replace the All-Star shooting guard in the starting lineup.


Budenholzer takes leave of absence

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer announced Saturday he is taking a leave of absence “due to an emergency medical situation” with his wife, adding “We are encouraged by her progress to this point and remain cautiously optimistic.”

The team provided no additional details, only that Budenholzer was with the Hawks in Boston to face the Celtics on Friday before leaving in the morning to return to Atlanta.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the doctors and support staff at Emory for the outstanding care they have provided my wife,” Budenholzer, also the president of basketball operations, said in a statement. “I would also like to thank my coaching staff, our players and the entire Hawks organization for their support and encouragement during this time.  We are humbled by the outpouring of support from so many friends and members of the NBA family. It is greatly appreciated.

“Finally, I’d like to thank the media and our fans for respecting our family’s continued request for privacy during this period.

“I will return to the team as soon as possible and will be happy to answer any basketball-related questions at that time.”

The Hawks are 8-3 and next play Sunday against the Jazz at home.

Blogtable: Take your pick — Anthony Davis or Andre Drummond?

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

BLOGTABLE: Advice for the Lakers? | Anthony Davis or Andre Drummond? | Early-season surprise?

VIDEOTake a closer look at Andre Drummond’s hot start to 2015-16

> My initials are A.D. I stand about 6-foot-11, I’m 22-years old and I’m the best big in the NBA. Am I Detroit Pistons big man Andre Drummond or New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Ooh, you’re tricky, Blogfather. But it’s Anthony Davis. His offensive game is much more diversified than Drummond’s, though Drummond is getting better with every minute, I grant you. I need more than a few admittedly great games from the other AD before I overthrow The Brow as the best young big in the L.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comSome might say you’re a bad speller because the best big man in the NBA has the initials D.C. (DeMarcus Cousins) or soon maybe KAT (Karl-Anthony Towns). But for the purposes of this question, I’ll go with Davis. Love Drummond as a paint dominator and his 20-20 games for Detroit definitely are welcome throwbacks in a “strettttch” era. But New Orleans’ cornerstone guy is more versatile, more mobile and more refined as a defender. I’m not wild about having him hoist 3-pointers – as an opponent I’d welcome that compared to other damage Davis could do – but he’s more of a moving target in terms of game-planning to cope with him.

Fran Blinebury, Not to dismiss the strong start to the season by Andre Drummond, but Anthony Davis has more skills at more places all over the court. He’s still the pick as the one player to build a team around.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Anthony Davis. While the start for Andre Drummond has been swimming in positives, Davis is still the better two-way threat. Drummond has the chance to become the best interior presence in the game and Davis the biggest presence, period. If anyone wants to get off the Davis bandwagon after a couple weeks of the season, I’ll take the extra seats.

Shaun Powell, Right now? Andre Drummond, if only because he’s doing a Wilt Chamberlain on the league. This is the Drummond we thought we’d see once the Pistons waived Josh Smith last season and let Greg Monroe go in free agency. That doesn’t mean Anthony Davis isn’t more valuable (he is) or won’t eventually put his name in the Kia MVP discussion (he will). But for now, give Drummond his due.

John Schuhmann, Anthony Davis, because you’re more skilled. Both guys are big and bouncy, with the ability to run the floor, catch and finish, and protect the rim. Drummond is a monster on the glass and has a burgeoning post game, but Davis can step out and make a jumper, which is the most important skill in this league. Coach Stan Van Gundy has done a nice job of building around Drummond, but Davis’ versatility makes that job a little easier.

Sekou Smith, You are Anthony Davis. Yes, you’ve had a rough start to this season and your New Orleans Pelicans just got their first win of the season last night in the Alvin Gentry era. But you don’t have to worry about being tossed of your big man throne after two outlandish weeks from that other AD, who has been nothing short of magnificent for the Pistons. Anytime you find yourself in the same category basketball-wise as Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, you’re doing something serious. There might not be as much distance between the two of you in the coming years, but right now Davis still has more to his game than Andre Drummond.

Ian Thomsen, You are Anthony Davis. I opt for you because of your versatility and the current style of NBA play, which is built to bring out the best in you. Drummond, exceptional as he is, is playing against the current and cannot make his free throws. Davis can cover more of the court and will not face matchup problems when opponents go small. In spite of the Pelicans’ inexplicable start, Davis is the guy.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: I’m sorry, how are the initials “A.D.” short for DeMarcus Cousins? Because Cousins is the best young big man in the NBA right now. OK, he’s 25, not 22, but even in the midst of the perpetually in flux situation in Sacramento, Cousins has been a double-double machine. Davis has had plenty of plaudits this summer, though if anything those were based on what we think Davis will become, not what he is right now. And Drummond is playing incredible basketball right now, for sure, but I’d like to see him sustain it more than seven games.

Blogtable: Early-season surprises?

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

BLOGTABLE: Advice for the Lakers? | Anthony Davis or Andre Drummond? | Early-season surprise?

VIDEOHow good can the Timberwolves be in 2015-16?

> We’re two weeks into the new season. What didn’t you foresee in this opening stretch that you maybe should have?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Completely whiffed on Detroit. I thought the Pistons would only be marginally better, but they seemed to have skipped a whole level of improvement. Someone asked me if I thought they’d be top four in the east and I told them they were crazy. Still think I’m right. I think. Andre Drummond‘s numbers are insane but it’s Reggie Jackson that has been the biggest revelation to me so far.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comOpening the season by playing six of your first eight games on the road – including a five-game West Coast trip – is a sure way to sputter, yet I still assumed the best about the Memphis Grizzlies. I’ve enjoyed watching that old-school crew for years now and have gotten comfortable with their status as contenders-on-the-verge-of-breakthrough. But their coach, Dave Joerger, was right when he said last week the Grizzlies were looking a little old. This team didn’t sufficiently address its shooting need in the offseason and now, in this pace-and-space NBA, points are really hard to come by for Memphis. So, frankly, is court coverage based on opponents’ 3-point percentage thus far (40.4). Mario Chalmers as the cure? Not feeling that.

Fran Blinebury, I’ll admit that I didn’t expect Steph Curry and the Warriors come back this season and take their game to an even higher level. After all, they won 67 games en route to the championship and seemed to be at the peak of performance in closing out the Cavs in The Finals. Maybe it is the confidence that comes from having done it. Maybe they’re spurred on a perceived lack of respect and the few folks who picked them to go back-to-back. Maybe they got tired of the summertime talk about the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers in the West. But the reigning Kia MVP Curry has been off-the-charts and the entire Golden State team over-the-moon amazing and could be a real threat to win 70. On the downside, there’s the Pelicans. But nobody saw all the injuries coming.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Deeee-troit basketball. I liked the Pistons a little before the season, figuring they were good enough to be in the playoff conversation but picking them 10th in the East. I thought Andre Drummond would be an All-Star candidate. I did not see this opening statement coming, though. They have been winning on the road, winning on the second night of back-to-backs and winning overtime games, all while continuing the search for shooting. Let’s see where they are at the end of the month, after the current six-game trip ends Sunday and a another series of tests follow, mostly at home. If it’s December and the Pistons are still heading in a good direction, this could be a season of statements.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThe wise guy response: The Kings haven’t imploded yet? What’s taking them so long? But seriously, the Warriors blowing teams away is something that could’ve been anticipated. Remember, not only did they win the title last season, but did so with players largely on the upside. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green haven’t reached their potential and Curry is the MVP. I’d also give a shout-out to the Pistons’ fast start.

John Schuhmann, That the Minnesota Timberwolves would be able to compete with (and beat) some of the best teams in the league. Ricky Rubio still isn’t a 3-point shooter, and that’s an issue. But I forgot how much of an impact he has on his team’s numbers, especially defensively and especially with Zach LaVine being the only remaining option at point guard when Rubio was hurt last season. I assumed the Wolves would be at the bottom of the Western Conference with the Lakers, but this team should stay in the middle of the pack. I don’t mind saying that I’m surprised by how good Karl-Anthony Towns is already, but I feel dumb not knowing how much of a difference that a healthy Rubio would make.

Sekou Smith, These young Minnesota Timberwolves came out of nowhere for me. Much like their Eastern Conference counterparts in Detroit, the Timberwolves have piled up an intriguing collection of talented youngsters who appear ready for prime time sooner than expected. Andrew Wiggins looks like he’s ready for a breakout season and Karl-Anthony Towns is absorbing every bit of the wisdom Kevin Garnett and coach Sam Mitchell have to offer. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise, though, has been the play and steady guidance of Ricky Rubio. A 4-0 road record so far for a team that won seven road games last season is another positive. And these guys are playing with a spirit that will serve them will this season and beyond.

Ian Thomsen, I should have known that Detroit would be stronger. There have been a lot of early surprises — for better in Minnesota, Utah and Portland, and for worse in New Orleans and Memphis — which might not hold up over the length of the season. But Detroit is going to be respectable all year long because coach Stan Van Gundy is a proven winner who will get the best out of Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and their teammates. He has created a floor-spreading system that has served him well before.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: I didn’t think the Atlanta Hawks would be better than they were last season. And after watching them early on, I think the Atlanta Hawks are better than they were last season. Sure, they lost DeMarre Carroll and Pero Antic, and they may not win 60 games again, but this Hawks team is deeper, more versatile, and I think altogether more talented than last year’s team. Part of that is the emergence of Kent Bazemore, who is a capable defender and skilled offensive player, as well as the acquisition of Tiago Splitter, who still doesn’t seem totally in sync with the team but gives the Hawks needed size and bulk. The rest of the Eastern Conference may have improved, but for a team that so highly values player development, I’m not sure why we didn’t suspect that these Hawks would return with sharpened talons, too.

Blogtable: Advice for the Lakers?

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

BLOGTABLE: Advice for the Lakers? | Anthony Davis or Andre Drummond? | Early-season surprise?

VIDEOIs Kobe Bryant holding back the Lakers?

> The Lakers are struggling. Is there a roster move, a lineup change or something else this team can do to salvage the season? Or should Lakers faithful just accept another lost campaign?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: No magic bullets. This is rebuilding. But they can’t have one foot in and one foot out. They have to commit fully to it, and that has to come from the top — the very top — of the organization. If Jim and/or Jeanie Buss tells coach Byron Scott he has to start playing the young guys more down the stretch, he’ll play the young guys. But they can’t leave it up to him if that’s what they want. EVERY coach is going to try and win the game they’re playing that night, because that’s how they’re judged.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comHow long were things rough in Cleveland after LeBron James left? Four seasons, until James came back. What did the Cavaliers do in the interim? They twice drafted No. 1 overall (Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett) and folded in a pair of No. 4 picks as well (Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters). Then they did their feeble best to build around that. The Lakers haven’t suffered nearly as long or as much – it only seems like it because of their storied tradition and lofty expectations – since the Kobe BryantDwight HowardSteve Nash thing flopped in 2012-13. They’ve only had a No. 2 (D’Angelo Russell, just getting going) and a No. 7 (Julius Randle, who promptly got hurt) to work with, as high draft help. And Kobe sort of left without leaving, further limiting payroll and playing options. The Lakers’ best course would be to take their lumps again, make this all about Bryant’s farewell and focus on the money they’ll have to spend in the next two summers.

Fran Blinebury, It’s over. It’s been over since Kobe’s body began to break down, the Lakers signed him to the “thanks for the memories” contract that devoured the salary cap and Pau Gasol left. Those things happened more than a year ago. This is just reality.

Scott Howard-Cooper, I wouldn’t call it a lost campaign as long as there is valuable progress. That means developing the prospects, especially Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson. The losses are going to happen no matter what. But if they come because of inexperience and benefit the future, the organization and fans will be able to find positives. If they come while coach Byron Scott places a priority on winning now and leans heavier on the veterans, then it tips toward a lost season. That could deliver a few extra victories, but not enough to make a difference. As for a potential roster move: there is none, or at least none that will make a big difference. Two names bring real returns, and Randle and Russell are the future, not the trade bait.

Shaun Powell, This season was predetermined when the Lakers kept their No. 1 pick and refused to surround Kobe Bryant with win-now talent. The message was: We’ll use this season to say good-bye to Kobe and hello to D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle. No sense crying about that, and no sense trying to suddenly change the plan after a few weeks of the season. Their fans understand. Everyone understands.

John Schuhmann, It’s a lost season in regard to competing for a top-10 spot in the Western Conference. It can be a productive season in regard to player development, but is Byron Scott the right coach for that? He says he cares more about winning games than developing the trio of Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell. Heck, is Scott the right coach for winning games? If the Lakers have any chance of being competitive, they need to play defense. His teams have finished in the bottom five in defensive efficiency each of the last four full seasons he’s coached and this one currently ranks 29th.

Sekou Smith, It would take roster moves, lineup changes and small miracles for the Lakers to change the trajectory of this season. It’s time to look to the future and the continued development of the young talent on the roster. Let’s be honest. Things look bleak right now in Lakerland. And it’s all self-induced. The Lakers have made a series of mistakes that have led to this dark time when Kobe Bryant should be going out in a blaze of glory instead of fading into the shadows. What looked like a quick-fix super team of Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash went up in smoke and the Lakers have yet to recover. They need to ride this season out and see where life takes them at season’s end.

Ian Thomsen, This season is about Kobe Bryant‘s potential farewell and the development of Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. Then there is also the goal — the only other reward appropriate to their suffering — of “earning” a Top 3 selection in the lottery and thereby prevent their protected first-round pick from being forwarded to Philadelphia. Since the Lakers are going to be bad anyway, they should aim to be very bad.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: Oh, there’s a roster move they could make that might make their team better in the short-term, but would almost assuredly improve them in the long-term. It’s also a trade that would make a lot of Lakers fans revolt, but it should at least be discussed: The Lakers should trade Kobe Bryant. Kobe might be playing down his value right now, but he’s the one player with worth that goes beyond the basketball court. The Lakers still have two first-round picks outstanding, and Kobe might help re-fill those selections. Let the young guys play, and embrace the rebuilding right now which needs to happen sooner or later.