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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Thibodeau’

Morning shootaround — April 23


VIDEO: Top Plays from Friday’s playoff action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thibodeau ready to roll | Wizards ready to spend big? | Carlisle thinks OKC acting too tough

No. 1: Thibodeau ready to roll — Returning to the scene of where it all began for him as an NBA coach, Tom Thibodeau is all smiles these days, and why not? He just hit the motherlode: Millions to coach a game, lots of sway in personnel decisions and a solid young group of players on the Minnesota roster. Given all that, this is one of the best coaching vacancies to come along in a while, and Thibodeau is ready to get going. He spoke recently with Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, who filed this:

An assistant on the expansion Wolves’ first two teams, Thibodeau on Wednesday agreed to coach what he calls the league’s “best young roster” and share management decisions with longtime friend and newly named GM Scott Layden, with whom he once worked in New York. He terms it a “partnership” with a man he calls “one of my closest friends” rather than total control over personnel decisions.

Fired by the Bulls in part because of conflicts with management, Thibodeau negotiated the president of basketball operations title into his Wolves deal.

“It wasn’t an absolute must, but I’m glad it has worked out that way,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure I had a voice. The person I’m with, I trust Scott. He has great integrity. He’s a great worker and he has great experience.”

He cited that partnership, the team’s young roster — “and where it can go” — and owner Glen Taylor’s “commitment to winning” as the reasons he agreed to a reported five-year, $40 million contract only a week after the Wolves announced they’d search to fill two jobs and ended up filling three.

“When you look at the young guys, when you look at the [salary] cap space, when you look at the draft pick that’s coming, there’s great flexibility there,” Thibodeau said. “There are a lot of assets there. If you formulate a really good plan that studies and organizes everything, I think this situation is positioned great to go forward.”

He calls himself well-suited to coach such a young team, noting Derrick Rose was 22 and Joakim Noah 25 when he accepted his first NBA head coaching job in 2010. Often criticized for playing his starters too much, he answered Taylor’s inquiry on that matter by telling him to speak with former players. On Thursday, he said his Bulls players’ minutes compared to others at their position in the league.

“Some of it is more myth than fact,” Thibodeau said. “If you dig deeper, you will see that. A lot of other guys play a lot of minutes.”

Thibodeau’s objective with such a young team is what every coach seeks: maximize its strengths, minimize its weaknesses. He said this team can score, will get to the free-throw line and is willing to share the ball.

“We have to get turnovers down a bit,” he said. “You eliminate all the ways you beat yourself first.”

Thibodeau visited 13 different NBA teams during his season off and found enlightenment in not one revelation but many little things.

He also watched a lot of NBA games. Included were the Wolves under interim coach Sam Mitchell, who was not retained.

“I thought they improved, I thought they had some good, solid wins,” Thibodeau said. “You start looking at it and you’re just impressed.”

Those favorable impressions begin with 20-year-old Karl-Anthony Towns, 21-year-olds Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine and 25-year-old point guard Ricky Rubio.

Thibodeau’s discussion about each player began with praise of their talents and ended with needed improvements, particularly defensively.

• On Towns: “It’s pretty amazing for a first-year guy to come in and do the things he did. There’s obviously room for growth. But his skill set is very unusual. He has the potential to be very good defensively, with his rebounding, his shot blocking. The way he plays the game, the way he sees the game, he has the ability to make other players better. He had a very impressive first year, but it’s just the beginning. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to move the group forward.”

• On Wiggins: “He impressed me the way he scored against us when I was still coaching. He made it look easy. I think the challenge — not only him but for his teammates — is there’s going to have to be dramatic improvement defensively. You have to make a commitment in that area. The players are too good in this league to guard individually. You need to have five-man defense in all aspects. If one guy’s not doing his job, the group is going to look bad.”

• On Rubio: “All players have their strengths and weaknesses and Ricky has established himself as a very good player. So we’re excited about that. The point guard position is such an important position in the way the team functions. You need to have a good understanding where guys like to get the ball, who has a good matchup, what’s going on in the game and keep the team organized and I think Ricky’s really strong in those areas.”

• On LaVine: “I thought he improved a lot. I’m excited at what he can do. He improved his shooting, his defense and his rebounding as well.”

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No. 2:  Wizards ready to spend big? — There’s the very sound and sensible scenario where the Washington Wizards open the vault for Kevin Durant when he hits free agency this summer, but maybe it doesn’t stop there regardless if the Wizards get lucky or not. By bringing in Scott Brooks as coach, there’s the feeling Washington is ready to make big changes on a team that underachieved this year — or maybe was too tapped out to improve. With the rising salary cap and an anxious fan base, the Wizards could chase other free agents or make some splashy trades that bring in players with hefty salaries. Here’s the take of Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post:

Since Ted Leonsis became majority owner of the Washington Wizards in 2010, the franchise has been known for playing it safe.

That is what made the team’s single-minded pursuit of Scott Brooks over the past week, culminating with Brooks agreeing to a five-year, $35 million contract to become the team’s head coach, so fascinating. For a franchise long reticent for spending big and seldom going for the splashy hire, the Wizards did both in one fell swoop.

There are two ways to view the decision of Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld, the team’s president of basketball operations, to pursue Brooks. One is that they would have been better served to cast a wide net to try and replace Randy Wittman, fired last week at the conclusion of a disappointing season in which the Wizards went 41-41 and missed the playoffs after two straight second-round appearances.

The other is that the Wizards identified their preferred candidate, then did whatever it took to get him to join their organization. That kind of action has been uncommon for this team in the past, and could be a sign of things to come this offseason.

Washington had competition for its new hire. The Houston Rockets were interested in talking to Brooks, who was part of Houston’s championship-winning team in 1994 and who had coached star James Harden in Oklahoma City, and it was always possible the Lakers could decide to make a run at Brooks should they part with their current coach, Byron Scott.

But instead of letting the market settle – and giving the Rockets or other potential suitors a chance to woo Brooks – the Wizards pushed the issue. They never met with any other candidate, and they offered Brooks a contract that makes him one of the six highest-paid coaches in the league.

It was a deal that proved to be too good for Brooks to pass up.

The question now is what does the pursuit of Brooks – both getting him, and how they did so – mean for the Wizards moving forward. This summer has been the focus for the franchise and its fans for some time now, given that superstar Kevin Durant will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

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No. 3: Carlisle thinks OKC acting too tough — Apparently the Oklahoma City Thunder are not only too talent in comparison to his Mavericks, says coach Rick Carlisle, but they’re too rugged. Illegally, so. Carlisle watched tape of Game 3 and felt OKC played dangerously close to the line, and maybe even crossed the line on a few occasions. He took exception to Kevin Durant‘s stray elbow and a few other things; feel free whether his complaints are legit or simply the rant of a frustrated coach. Anyway, Tim McMahon of ESPN filed this report on Thunder-Mavericks:

“There were four, what I would categorize as non-basketball physical escalations that were initiated by them, including one intentional, unprovoked elbow at the free throw line, which I didn’t understand,” Carlisle said Friday. “And I’ve never seen a guy like Kevin Durant ever do that to a player. Then ultimately, that led to two more escalations between the teams, the fact that that was missed. I’m concerned about that. There’s no place for that in our game.”

Late Friday afternoon, the NBA announced that Durant has been assessed a technical foul for a “physical taunt” as a result of his elbow to Mejri’s chest.

Felton, meanwhile, was angered after being elbowed in the face by Adams when they were boxing out under the basket. Adams, a 7-footer, laughed when confronted by the 6-foot-1 Felton.

“I’m not going to let you just elbow me in my face and I let it go,” Felton told ESPN after the game Thursday. “Whatever. I’ll take a technical or whatever, fine or whatever it is. I’m not going to back down for nothing. I’m definitely not going to let anybody hit me in my face freely for no reason. I’m just down there trying to battle a big 7-footer for a rebound and he elbows me to my face.

“Like, you’re that much bigger than me, what you need to elbow a little guy like me to get a rebound? I didn’t like it, so I let him know that. But whatever, it’s over with now. I ain’t trippin’ no more. You can smile and laugh all you want to. You ain’t just gonna hit me in my face and think everything’s sweet. But like I said, I’m gonna let bygones be bygones.”

Carlisle wanted to make sure the issues were raised again Friday, repeatedly referring to the Thunder as the initiators. Oklahoma City holds a 2-1 edge in the series entering Game 4 in Dallas on Saturday night.

“We’re not looking to do it unless it’s within the rules,” Carlisle said. “But there were some things that I know are going to be looked at today, that going into Game 4, we’re going to be ready for.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul George isn’t ready to shut out his teammates and go one-on-one when it counts; with the Pacers against the ropes vs. the Raptors, he feels he needs them … also wants a 3-year deal … Seth Curry opted out of his deal with Sacramento and if you’re in the market for a Curry (no, not that one), he could be yours … Kevin Garnett knew Prince a little … Could the Knicks target Darren Collison in their point guard chase? … An Oregon politician thinks Chris Paul and the Clippers whine too much.

Report: Brooks Administration begins in Washington

The Wizards succeeded in their goal to entice an important basketball figure from Oklahoma City to sign up, and now it’ll be a matter of months to see if they can double their pleasure.

It’s not that the hiring of former Thunder coach Scott Brooks to a reported five-year deal (Yahoo! Sports is first to report the deal) is precursor to signing free-agent-bound Kevin Durant, but the Wizards can dream, can’t they? In a perfect world, Durant will return home — he’s from the Maryland suburbs — and re-join a coach that he respected, and the stench of the just-completed Wizards’ season will be replaced instantly by a sweet aroma.

Washington really had nothing to lose here. The Wizards have plotted a way to get Durant for years. Last summer they refused to offer an extension to Bradley Beal in order to keep space under the salary cap. And they also chose against adding additional salary as well. Finally, they fired coach Randy Wittman, who didn’t have the pulse of the locker room anymore, at least according to reports.

Even if Durant stays in Oklahoma City or signs elsewhere, the Wizards evidently feel Brooks will be an upgrade over Wittman or at least a change of pace. While Wittman was fiery and emotional, Brooks is more laid-back and is particularly accommodating of stars, which is good news for John Wall. Besides, the most attractive candidate on the market, Tom Thibodeau, signed with Minnesota and the Wizards found themselves in competition for Brooks with two or three others with coaching vacancies, with the Rockets (Brooks once played for Houston) leading the pack.

You could make the case that Brooks didn’t deserve to lose his job in OKC. He coached the Thunder to the 2012 NBA Finals, and for the next three years the Thunder dealt with untimely injuries to the meat of their rotation: Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, all missing significant time at some point over the next three playoffs. Plus, Brooks had the endorsement of those three players, the only three who truly mattered.

Instead, OKC went with Billy Donovan, hoping his offense would be more imaginative (the jury’s out on that) and would quickly curry favor with Durant and give the former MVP one more reason to stay with OKC beyond this season.

The competition for Durant will be Golden State; the defending champions would be his best choice from an instant gratification standpoint; and OKC, where he could sign a one-year deal and then do this dance all over again next summer, when he’d be in line for even more money under the rising cap.

Or he can return home and play in the East, where the path to the NBA Finals isn’t littered with broken glass.

The Wizards reached the second round of the playoffs last year but greatly underachieved this year and fell into the lottery. They haven’t won a championship since the Fat Lady sang in 1977-78 when they were the Bullets and 10 years before Durant was born.

Morning shootaround — April 21


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry still iffy for Game 3 | Pistons’ Johnson on LeBron: ‘I’m definitely in his head’ | Report: Blatt, Rambis top names on Knicks’ list | New era begins in Minnesota

No. 1: Curry improving, but not quite fully healthy yet Game 3 of the Golden State Warriors’ series with the Houston Rockets is tonight (9:30 ET, TNT), but the status of the Warriors’ star player, Stephen Curry, remains as unknown as it was yesterday. Although Curry took part in practice on Wednesday, neither he nor team officials were ready to declare him ready to play tonight. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:

Go ahead and exhale, Warriors fans: Stephen Curry returned to practice Wednesday.

Go ahead and fret, Warriors fans: Curry would not declare himself game-ready.

He joined his teammates for their workout at Toyota Center, his first extended, on-court session since he injured his right ankle Saturday. Curry was encouraged by how the ankle felt, but not enough to peer confidently toward Game 3 against Houston on Thursday night.

“Based on how I feel right now, I probably couldn’t play,” he said after Wednesday’s practice. “Tomorrow, it could be different. … The trainers are trying to get me right, but how I feel on the floor is a big part of it.

“That’s why I didn’t play in Game 2. I tried to simulate moves I’d probably have to do in the game (during warm-ups), and I couldn’t do it. If that happens tomorrow at full speed, then we’ll adjust accordingly.

“Obviously, my heart is geared toward playing and being out there with my teammates.”

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Head coach Steve Kerr hears all the chatter about the Warriors proceeding cautiously with Curry because they hold a two games-to-none lead on the Rockets. This logic suggests the Warriors can beat Houston without him, as they did Monday night, but they will need him to win another championship.

Kerr, naturally, narrowed his vision after Wednesday’s practice. He insisted he will rely only on the guidance of team doctors, and input from Curry himself, in deciding whether No. 30 suits up for Game 3.

“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Kerr said. “Honestly, it doesn’t even matter the series score. It’s nice to be up 2-0 and say we’ll give him rest, but it really isn’t about that.

“It’s about whether he’s OK or not. And if he’s not quite OK and there’s a risk of him injuring himself or making it worse, then we won’t play him.”

The Warriors practiced for more than an hour after their arrival in Houston, but they did not scrimmage. Curry participated in all the drills, then went through his customary, post-practice shooting routine.

Kerr said Curry moved well during the practice, showing no signs of favoring his ankle. That was a striking contrast with the start of the second half Saturday, when Curry tried to play but lasted less than three minutes before Kerr removed him, worried about his obviously limited mobility.

There were times in Curry’s shooting session when the ball repeatedly and strangely bounced off the back rim. There also were times when he found his familiar rhythm, draining 8 of 10 three-point attempts during one stretch.

He acknowledged some concern about becoming rusty if he sits too long. If Curry doesn’t play Thursday night, and returns for Game 4 on Sunday, he will have gone seven full days without any game action.

“I’m definitely encouraged,” Curry said of Wednesday’s time on the court. “It’s better, and as long as it’s continuing to get better, I think we’re in good shape.

“How quickly that happens, I don’t know. Today was, in the words of Ice Cube, a good day.”

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Reports: Thibodeau, Layden finalizing deal with the Timberwolves

HANG TIME BIG CITYTom Thibodeau and Scott Layden are close to terms with with Minnesota Timberwolves to become the franchise’s new coach/president and general manager, respectively, according to a report from The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The Timberwolves were coached last season by Sam Mitchell in an interim role, after coach and team president Flip Saunders passed away just before the season began following a battle with cancer. While the Timberwolves are flush with young talent, including 2014 Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins and this season’s presumptive Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns, they finished last season just 29-53.

Thibodeau previously coached in Chicago, where the Bulls were known for their defense-first attitude and hard-nosed style of play. In five seasons with the Bulls, Thibodeau compiled a 255-139 record. His teams went to the playoffs every season, making it as far as the Conference finals in 2011.

Thibodeau and Layden were both on staff with the New York Knicks in the late ’90s. Layden also spent time with the Utah Jazz front office, and most recently served in the front office of the San Antonio Spurs.

Morning shootaround — April 19


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry uncertain for Game 3 | Report: Thibodeau wants full control of next team | Report: Rambis, Jackson to hold triangle camp

No. 1: Curry uncertain for Game 3 The Golden State Warriors are undefeated in the playoffs, building a 2-0 first-round series lead against the Houston Rockets after last night’s 115-106 victory. The Warriors pulled off that feat as the reigning Kia MVP, Stephen Curry, sat out to rest a right ankle injury he suffered in Game 1. As the series shifts to Houston for Games 3 and 4, Golden State coach Steve Kerr remains uncertain if Curry will suit up for Game 3:

The Golden State Warriors took a 2-0 series lead over the Houston Rockets despite Stephen Curry’s absence Monday night, and coach Steve Kerr continued to say the priority is the reigning NBA MVP’s health as the team looks ahead to Game 3.

“We’ll see how he responds the next couple of days, and if he’s not right, obviously being up 2-0 does give us more cushion if we decide to sit him. But it will be based on his health, not the series score,” Kerr said.

Curry sat out Monday night’s 115-106 win because of a right ankle injury. He now has until Thursday night’s Game 3 in Houston to try to get healthy.

“I’d like to think if it were 1-1 and he was still not able to play, we wouldn’t play him,” Kerr said. “We’d never want to put winning ahead of a player’s career and his health. We’ve seen teams do that and paid for it. Players have paid for it in the past. So we want to make sure Steph is right and his [ankle] is fine and healthy.”

Curry took the court some 90 minutes before tipoff and went through his normal dribbling session before he started shooting. He put little pressure on the ankle while taking several shots and hit six 3-pointers in the corner.

He lined up to shoot a long jumper from the right wing but didn’t release the ball and hopped in apparent discomfort before throwing the ball in the air. He left the court at Oracle Arena moments later.

Curry, team physicians, Warriors owner Joe Lacob and Warriors general manager Bob Myers met in the training room after Curry’s exit. Lacob said Curry did not aggravate the ankle but simply wasn’t healthy enough to play.

Kerr said earlier in the day that he and Curry had a long chat.

“We will definitely err on the side of caution,” Kerr said. “If he’s not right, then he’s not going to play. It’s not worth risking turning this into a long-term issue.

“We had a good conversation before shootaround, and Steph is a very rational person. He’s easy to speak with, and we kind of went over the different scenarios. He understands we have, first of all, his best interests at heart — his career. We know that he had surgery on that ankle four years ago. He has a lot of basketball ahead of him. There’s plenty of cases in the past where people played through stuff, and it didn’t turn out so well — Grant Hill being the one that always jumps out at me — and whether that’s the same type of thing as this, I don’t really know. But I do know that we have to look after his health because the competitor that he is, he’s going to want to play.”

Shaun Livingston, who left Sunday’s practice with an illness, moved into the starting lineup in Curry’s place, and had 16 points and six assists.

“I think their small lineup is still unconventional,” interim Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff said before Monday’s game. “They still have guys that can shoot it and can score and guys that move well without the ball. I think their system doesn’t change. They’ll still play the same way. They’ll push it at you. They’ll still shoot a ton of 3s. They’ll continue to move. So you have to be prepared for that.

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Morning shootaround — April 17




VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING
It’s all about Curry’s ankle | Brooks eyeing Lakers | Familiar Raptors headache | Bradley injury could doom Celtics
No. 1: All eyes are on Stephen Curry’s ankle — Yes, the Warriors dominated, owned, locked up and threw away the key on the Rockets from the moment they walked onto the court at Oracle on Saturday. But after a 104-78 thumping in Game 1 all that anybody in the Bay Area — and all around Dub Nation — could think about was Stephen Curry limping off the court with a “tweaked” right ankle. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper says Curry seems to be the only one not worried about the injury, but Warriors coach Steve Kerr was taking no chances:

It was Stephen Curry and ankles, it was the first 48 minutes of what could be months of playoffs, and it was every bit the rout that could have been expected in a 1-8 matchup. He was lucky the Warriors hadn’t wrapped him in a mass of down pillows and called the cops to escort him home at halftime.

“Well, he saw I was writing the five players’ names on the board who I’m sending out there and he saw his name wasn’t on there and he was incredulous,” Kerr said. “And I said, ‘I don’t like the way you’re moving right now.’ He said, ‘No, I’ll be all right,’ and of course he’s going to say that. He’s a competitor. He wants to play. But we’re not going to let him play if there’s any risk of making it worse. Obviously we’re hoping that we’re going to be in the playoffs for the next couple of months. So we don’t want to make any chances.”

Including in Game 2 on Monday. More will be known as the Warriors gather for a workout Sunday morning at their practice facility, namely whether the joint stiffens and swells overnight, but Kerr is calling him questionable for now with Golden State obviously wanting to avoid an ankle that remains problematic for weeks.

“Right now I don’t see a scenario where I’ll be out,” Curry said after scoring a game-high 24 points despite playing just 20 minutes, making eight of 13 attempts overall and five of seven behind the arc. “Obviously if it’s not right and at risk of further injury and what not, that’s the only thing that I think we have to worry about. Pain tolerance and all that stuff, I kind of know what I can deal with on the court. But you don’t want anything more serious to happen favoring the ankle or what not. So that’s what we’ll pay attention to the next few days.”


VIDEO: Curry tweaks ankle

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Morning shootaround — April 6


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Green: Warriors ready for season to end | Parker doesn’t think Spurs will rest stars | Reports: Jackson wants to keep Rambis as coach | Scott irked by Lakers’ play in Kobe’s final games | Cavs getting act together

No. 1: Green says Warriors ready for season to end — Golden State still has a shot at 73 wins, but the road to it just got a lot tougher. After last night’s overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Warriors have nine losses. They’ll have to run the table over their next four games to reach the magic number and to forward Draymond Green, the chase for history is wearing on the team a bit. Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN.com has more:

Following Golden State’s stunning 124-117 overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night, Warriors forward Draymond Green conceded the team had at least gotten distracted by the possibility of winning 73 games and said the Warriors are ready for the regular season to be over.

Asked whether the Warriors had gotten caught up in the hype of possibly setting an NBA record for wins in a season, Green responded, “Honestly? Yes.” Then he corrected, “I wouldn’t necessarily say caught up in the hype.”

Green also said the Warriors are ready for this particular segment of the season to finish.

“It’s human nature to where, all right, kind of ready for the regular season to end,” Green said. “Talking 82 games, we get bored with that after awhile. And that’s no excuse, just, I’m always give it to y’all real, and that’s about as real as I can be. It’s kind of at a point now where you’re ready for the regular season to be over.”

Green continued, “Now, saying that, we got to be a better enough ballclub to continue to try to get better with these games and try and go into the playoffs the right way and not stumble in the playoffs, so, think that’s something we have to focus on. We got to try to finish out this regular season strong.”


VIDEO: Warriors fall to Wolves in OT

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 9


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Karl to be fired before All-Star break | James ’emotional’ over Kobe’s farewell tour | Communication issues dogging Bulls

No. 1:UPDATE, 1:37 p.m.

With the earlier news passing as an almost foregone conclusion all day long regarding coach George Karl‘s future, the Sacramento Kings reversed field Tuesday afternoon and decided they will not be firing Karl anytime soon, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.

Reports: Karl to be fired soon — On Jan. 23, the Sacramento Kings beat the Indiana Pacers behind a monstrous 48-point night from All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins. That victory was the Kings’ fifth in a row and had them solidly in the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. But, oh, how things have changed since then. Sacramento has lost eight of its last nine games and is on a four-game slump, all of which has turned those good feelings a few weeks ago back into turmoil for the Kings. And in the wake of coach Derek Fisher surprisingly being fired by the New York Knicks on Monday, it seems Kings coach George Karl is next in line to be fired. Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee has more, as does ESPN.com’s Marc Stein:

League sources said the Kings will fire coach George Karl in the coming days amid the team’s worst stretch this season.

The sources said Karl will not keep his job beyond the All-Star break. The Kings’ final game before the break is Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers.

A season that looked to be on the upswing last month has gone awry, leaving the players to wonder if they have the fortitude to turn things around.

“I hope that’s the case,” guard Rajon Rondo said after Monday night’s 120-100 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. “But with optional shootarounds, it’s tough. We’ve lost eight of nine. When three or four guys show up for shootaround (Monday) morning, how can you expect to win?”

Optional workouts are nothing new for the Kings under Karl. But with the team in a tailspin and its defense faltering, players questioned the logic behind making anything optional.

After firing Michael Malone and Tyrone Corbin last season, the Kings hired Karl at the All-Star break to provide stability. But that hasn’t been the case, dating to Karl’s feud with center DeMarcus Cousins last summer. Several players also have been unhappy with Karl’s coaching style.

Assistant coach Corliss Williamson, a former teammate of Kings general manager Vlade Divac and the lone holdover from Malone’s staff, is a logical choice to be interim coach.

Players’ rumblings over the lack of defensive adjustments have grown louder during the current rut as offensively challenged teams like the Brooklyn Nets post multiple season and career highs against Sacramento.

The Kings often look unprepared defensively, leaving shooters open and watching as opponents execute the most obvious game plans against them. They’ve given up 120.8 points per game during their current four-game losing streak.

“We go into the game knowing that we’ve got to protect the (three-point) line, knowing that LeBron (James’) favorite target is J.R. (Smith),” Rondo said. “And what do we do? We come in and let LeBron find J.R. We’ve got to stop making excuses; that’s the bottom line. We make too many excuses as a team.”

A separation between Karl and the players has existed at various levels throughout the season. But it is at its greatest when the Kings are playing at their worst.

As the point guard, Rondo was supposed to be a bridge between Karl and the players. Rondo has even said he believes he and Karl should speak more to each other.

Asked if his talks with Karl still are productive, Rondo said, “After every meeting on a game-day shootaround, we talk. He asks me questions, and sometimes I give him my feedback and sometimes I don’t say anything.”

After Monday’s loss, Karl acknowledged a lot of “mental frustration” was surrounding the Kings.

And here’s Stein’s breakdown of the situation in Sacramento:

The Sacramento Kings are going ahead with a coaching change and plan to fire George Karl in the coming days, league sources told ESPN.

NBA coaching sources told ESPN that the Kings have decided internally that a change on the bench is needed and is likely to happen after Sacramento plays its final game before the All-Star break Wednesday in Philadelphia.

Within the organization, according to sources, concerns have been mounting for weeks that Karl was not providing the stewardship Sacramento expected when it hired the 64-year-old from ESPN during the 2015 All-Star break to replace then-interim coach Tyrone Corbin.

Sources said rising dismay, both within the front office and among players, with Karl’s defensive schemes, practice policies and general leadership have had a demoralizing effect on the players, who have slumped into a 1-8 funk in the wake of a recent five-game win streak that briefly had Sacramento in the West’s eighth playoff spot.

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive has made no secret of his hope to see his team reach the postseason and bring a halt to the franchise’s nine-season playoff drought in its final season at Sleep Train Arena before moving into a new building in Sacramento.

Divac, sources said, is seeking only an interim coach for now and wants to take his time with a proper coaching search, in hopes of bringing some much-needed stability to the position and the organization.

The Kings’ next coach will be their league-most ninth since 2006-07, the season that began the postseason drought.

Sources said Ranadive, who took ownership of the Kings in May 2013, has left the decision of whether to fire Karl fully with Divac. The owner twice bucked NBA convention by hiring a coach — first Mike Malone, then Karl — before hiring his GM.

Former Kings guard Bobby Jackson, who played alongside Divac on Sacramento’s best teams in the early 2000s, essentially called for Karl’s dismissal on the team’s local postgame show after the Brooklyn defeat.

Karl has an estimated $10 million in guaranteed money left on his original four-year, $15 million contract with the Kings. His ouster would be the sixth coaching change of this NBA season, which is two shy of the league’s record of eight before the All-Star break, set during the 2008-09 season.


VIDEO: Cavaliers dominate to keep Kings reeling

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Appendectomy latest dip in Mirotic’s up-and-down season for Bulls


Maddeningly inconsistent and longer on potential than production, Nikola Mirotic had been something of a poster boy for the Chicago Bulls this season.

That dubious status only deepened Wednesday when the second-year forward was diagnosed with acute appendicitis and underwent an appendectomy at Rush University Medical Center. Now one of just three Bulls players to have appeared in every game will be out at least through the All-Star break, by team estimate, missing three weeks and at least eight games.

Mirotic joins Joakim Noah as a big man sidelined from Chicago’s rotation. Noah had season-ending surgery Jan. 19 on his dislocated left shoulder and, as an unrestricted free agent this summer whose game didn’t mesh well with new coach Fred Hoiberg‘s system, might have played his final game in a Bulls uniform.

Mirotic’s layoff won’t be nearly that extended and, beyond his contract that runs through 2016-17, he is highly valued by Bulls executives Gar Forman and John Paxson. As with Hoiberg himself, they remain convinced of the 6-foot-10 Mirotic’s value as a “stretch four” in the newly installed space-and-pace system.

Still, his absence up to or through the Feb. 18 league trading deadline takes the Bulls out of any market their once-crowded frontcourt might have provided. And it isn’t likely to serve as a positive for Mirotic in what had been a rocky season NBA season.

“I have to find a way that I can play maybe 10 games good [in a row],” Mirotic told NBA.com earlier this week. “I try to do something every day good.

“Sometimes I have really good feelings before the game. What I should do when I warm up. But after the game [starts], it’s different. I know the first minutes of the game are really important for me. But sometimes when I’m missing those shots, I’m changing my game.That can’t happen. I have to stay focused, you know.”

Mirotic, 24, performed well in his two most recent appearances. He scored 17 points Saturday in the Bulls’ victory at Cleveland, then followed up with 15 points and eight rebounds in the loss to Miami Monday at United Center.

It wasn’t quite the impact the native of Montenegro had last March, when he averaged 20.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.3 free throw attempts, serving as a go-to guy in the fourth quarter for then-coach Tom Thibodeau and basically earning his second-place finish in NBA Rookie of the Year balloting.

But being back on the bench after 31 starts, and being back at power forward after an unsatisfying-all-around run of 13 games at small forward, appeared to suit Mirotic. And give him something to build from, until his unexpected surgery Wednesday.

Now, while his teammates hit the road for a seven-game trip that runs through Feb. 8, Mirotic will be recuperating at home near Chicago’s lakefront with wife Nina and 7-month-old son Alexsej. His return date isn’t known yet, but the Bulls have 30 games after the break in which Mirotic will be trying to find and maintain success, stirring some March echoes.

“If I did this in my rookie season, of course I can do it again,” Mirotic told NBA.com. “But I don’t want to make any more pressure on my head. I need a little more to enjoy the game. Sometimes I’m a little hard on myself, but that’s just normal. You know you can do things better.”

Morning shootaround — Jan. 16


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Noah’s shoulder jeopardizes his, Bulls’ fates | Thunder getting overlooked, underloved? | Bird unhappy with Pacers’ style slippage | Long trip leaves Cavs in good place

No. 1: Noah’s shoulder jeopardizes his, Bulls’ fates — Your first instinct was to look around for Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. He was the culprit involved in the NBA’s previous most notable shoulder injury, locking up Cleveland’s Kevin Love in the first round last spring and sending the former All-Star forward off to surgery, done for the rest of the playoffs. This time, though, it was Dallas’ JaVale McGee getting tied up with Chicago’s Joakim Noah, with Noah suddenly pulling away and running off the court while shouting anguished expletives. Noah’s left shoulder dislocation was a significant re-injury of the same shoulder he had sprained before Christmas, and according to Bulls beat writer K.C. Johnson, it has the frustrated center and his teammates rattled while awaiting the outcome of an MRI exam. Meanwhile, any plans by Bulls management to explore the trade market for Noah, an impending free agent, probably have been diminished:

A Saturday MRI will produce an official prognosis and whether surgery is needed, but the injury likely will have major ramifications for the franchise — and for Noah. The Bulls have gauged the market for Noah in advance of next month’s trade deadline, an option that is in serious jeopardy now.

More powerfully, the Bulls waited two weeks to clear Noah for contact practices and officially rule out surgery for his last injury, which involved a small tear. If surgery is needed this time, could Noah, an unrestricted free agent, have played his last game for the franchise that drafted him in 2007?

“It didn’t look good,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

“It’s devastating,” Derrick Rose said. “He’s a big piece.”

No two injuries are the same, but [Love] took more than four months to return to basketball activity after dislocating his shoulder in last season’s playoffs.

“I’m frustrated for him,” Taj Gibson said. “He felt so good coming into this game. We don’t know the severity of it but the look on his face was just crazy. He had put so much work in to get back to the team.

“It just makes my stomach sick. You’ve been going to war with this guy all kind of different circumstances over eight years, a guy you pride yourself with, especially with practice and he’s one of the emotional leaders, it hits you in the heart. Seeing him on that table like that, I kind of got flashbacks to when Derrick got hurt. You don’t want to see your man go down like that. It’s frustrating.”

***

No. 2: Thunder getting overlooked, underloved?— No one would welcome additional, legitimate championship contenders for the Larry O’Brien Trophy this June than the NBA. It just so happens that the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, are as good as or maybe better than they were last season. The San Antonio Spurs have a history of success unrivaled for duration since the Bill Russell-era Boston Celtics. And the Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James, who has taken his team to five consecutive Finals. Outside of those three franchises, though, the league’s other 27 teams have more skeptics than supporters when assessing their shot at a spring ring. Royce Young of ESPN.com took a hard look at where the Oklahoma City fit among the top contenders, and wound up re-visiting a familiar topic – media disrespect – with former MVP forward Kevin Durant:

A couple of hours before the Oklahoma City Thunder squared off against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, Michael Wilbon said on “Pardon The Interruption”: “There’s only three teams in the NBA, right now from where we sit, who can win the championship, who can even play for the championship.”

Those three: the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs and the Cleveland Cavaliers. “That’s it,” Wilbon said. “That’s the list.”

The Thunder went on to effortlessly roll over the young Wolves 113-93, as expected, improving to 29-12. At the midway point of the season, that puts the Thunder on a 58-win pace, which in the past 10 seasons on average is good for the second seed in the Western Conference, and has been good for the No. 1 seed twice. With a robust margin of victory of +8.2, on paper, the Thunder look like a surefire contending power.

But plenty of people around the league seem to share the same sentiment as Wilbon. It’s Warriors, Spurs and Cavs, and then everybody else.

The question is, where are the Thunder?

“Man, the [media and experts are] always trying to nitpick us,” Kevin Durant told ESPN.com. “I mean, they don’t like us. They don’t like how Russell [Westbrook] talks to the media, they don’t like how I talk to the media. So obviously, yeah, they’re not going to give us the benefit of the doubt.

“Especially since we’ve been together so long. Some of these teams are new, except for the Spurs, who have won. But we haven’t won and we’ve still got the same core, so they don’t expect us to win. It is what it is, who cares about them. They don’t mean nothing, the critics. Their opinions, everybody has one, but we don’t really care about them. Every day we’re just going to keep grinding this thing out. We feel like we can compete with anybody.”

***

No. 3: Bird unhappy with Pacers’ style slippage — Change is hard, especially when the state from which one is departing worked so darn well. The Indiana Pacers committed to a pace-and-space attack over the summer, shedding the “smash mouth” style built around center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West that had produced consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference finals. There were growing pains early – Paul George didn’t like the idea of being stuck as a “power forward” – but George, his teammates and coach Frank Vogel worked out the kinks for a satisfying start. But Indiana has dropped nine of its past 15 games since starting 16-9 and whether in response to opponents’ tactics, George’s sputters after his early MVP form or just lapsing into old habits, the Pacers have slowed down and gone bigger. That had Larry Bird, the team’s president of basketball operations, displeased when he spoke to Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star:

“I just can’t get a handle on it right now because these guys are up and down,” Bird said in a telephone interview just hours before Friday’s game against Washington. “I can’t tell you what is best for us right now. We’ve had success with the small lineup, but we’ve had success with two big guys in there. It’s going to take a little bit more time, but I would like to have won more games up to this point. I don’t think any of us feel comfortable with how we’re playing and the way things are going.”

What Bird does not want the Pacers to do is waver from the new offensive philosophy they developed in the offseason.

“I’d like to see teams match up with us instead of us worrying about who certain guys are going to guard on the other teams,” Bird said. “Let’s see if they can guard us. If you’ve got good ball movement and you’ve got guys hitting shots, it makes it pretty easy.”

After talking with Bird after Thursday’s practice, Vogel returned to the spread lineup to start Friday’s game for the first time since Dec. 31. The results were not what Bird desired. The Pacers fell behind early to the Wizards and struggled throughout in a 118-104 blowout loss. The Pacers missed 14 of their 17 3-pointers and were outrebounded by the Wizards 54-35.

Bird and Vogel have talked almost every day throughout the season. Vogel said their conversations have not changed much, but he mentioned before Friday’s game that every aspect of the team is in flux, from which lineup should start to which players should be on the court in the final minutes of games.

Vogel said he has favored the big lineup because it has a strong defensive rating of 89.4, a statistic that measures points allowed per 100 possessions, entering Friday’s game. The spread lineup’s defensive rating is 106.3.

***

No. 4: Long trip leaves Cavs in good place — Fatigued yet fulfilled, the Cleveland Cavaliers returned home in the wee hours Saturday from a long road trip that may have positioned them just right for another push to the Finals. The mood of their leader, LeBron James, was evident in a Tweet James posted upon getting home:

It also was clear in James’ comments after a breezy 20-point victory at Houston to conclude the trip that Cleveland might just be revving up to keep playing for another five months. Here is an excerpt from Dave McMenamin‘s piece for ESPN.com:

After traveling nearly 6,000 miles over the course of a six-game, 12-day trip — enough distance to go from New York to Los Angeles and back again — the Cleveland Cavaliers walked out of the Toyota Center on Friday night having picked up five wins on the journey and a boost of confidence to take into the second half of the season.

“The only thing I care about is how I lead these guys every single night, and I know we can compete with any team in the league and it doesn’t have to be a regular-season game,” LeBron James said afterward when asked if it bothered him that some were judging the Cavs because of that Spurs loss [Thursday]. “I know, you give us four games and it’s time to lock down in a playoff series, we can play and we can beat any team in this league. So that’s my feeling and that’s what I know.”

The certainty in James’ words was significant, as the 5-1 trip seemed to solidify the notion that his Cavs had indeed turned the corner. They won in just about every imaginable fashion — blowing it open late in Washington; thoroughly dominating in Minnesota; toying around with the competition in Philadelphia; coming from behind in Dallas and making big plays down the stretch; and then, in Houston, shooting only 39.1 percent as tired legs resulted in missed jump shots, but determined defense wouldn’t let them lose as the Rockets shot even worse at 35.1 percent.

They’ve now won nine of their past 10 games, heading into a home date with the Golden State Warriors on Monday, and are starting to look like the team that became a juggernaut in the second half of last season through the playoffs, until injuries derailed them in the Finals.

“I think just being on the road, just together for 12 days just brought us together more,” Cavs big man Tristan Thompson told ESPN.com. “And you can see it on the court. There’s more flow. Guys are understanding where guys are going to be at.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Byron Scott is talking about playing the Lakers’ young guys more over the second half of the season, though it’s hard to imagine Kobe Bryant‘s Farewell Tour yielding to any sort of organizational-development agenda. … We can understand why the Brooklyn Nets would be interested in Tom Thibodeau to bail out their dismal operation, but we’re unclear as to why Thibodeau would be interested in the Nets. … San Antonio has been so good for so long, it’s kind of unfair to the rest of the league, according to USA Today. … The first priority with Nene always seems to be, getting him healthy .The second is keeping him that way, because his impact on the Washington Wizards is considerable. … This Miami Heat teams lacks some of the self-assurance and self-awareness that the Big Three edition owned, says one insider. … There are Bulls fans who wish that Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose got along as famously as Butler and his Hollywood buddy Mark Wahlberg.


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