Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets

Markieff Morris is slipping out of the Suns’ rotation

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Markieff Morris, a rookie forward the Suns selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, began the season with a level of competence that was above expectations. But as this lockout-shortened season has worn on, while the Suns have finally started to find themselves by winning seven of their last nine games, Morris has faded. And he may soon find himself out of the team’s regular rotation because of it.

Morris’ production level has gone from acceptable to great, average to dismal. As this Suns team has locked in recently, giving maximum effort to claw back from double-digit deficits in five straight home victories, Morris hasn’t been able to keep up — which has the team’s head coach, Alvin Gentry, ready to move on to other players if things don’t change.

Hakim Warrick provided a spark from the end of the bench in a win over the Mavericks on Thursday, so it was only natural to ask Gentry if Hak would once again get the call against the Grizzlies on Saturday. Gentry said they’d still like to stick with the rookie, but only if it’s warranted based on the results he can provide when he’s out there.

“I still think that we’ll try Markieff,” Gentry said. “But the one thing that I talked to him about today is that you have to produce. As a bench player, that’s what it’s all about is production. You get an opportunity — and I’m not really talking about making shots, or whatever — but there’s things that you can do to always help the team. I used Channing Frye (as an example), I mean last week Channing was 2-for-18 (in the win over the Clippers) but he played 30-something minutes because of his defense, and rebounding, and things like that.

“It’s not always about making shots, but you’ve got to have production when you’re out there, and if you’re not producing then you have to go somewhere else (as a coach). Because ultimately I’m responsible for the production of guys, and if you’re not producing, then I’ve got to look elsewhere.”

In six games this month — five of which were Suns victories — Morris is shooting a combined 3-for-25 from the field, while collecting just 14 rebounds in total. His minutes have dipped significantly the past two games, and in the win over the Grizzlies on Saturday, Morris logged just three minutes, but still managed to pick up two personal fouls and miss three field goal attempts during that very brief amount of time, while getting screamed at almost the length of the court by Gentry for being completely out of position defensively.

Gentry has shown a fearlessness this season when it comes to his rotations; he messed with the starting lineup on a road trip earlier in the year, and the bench minutes have seemingly changed on a game-to-game basis, depending on who’s bringing the results on any given night. So if Phoenix continues to respond with wins, and is able to make a push towards the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture, Morris may find himself learning from the bench, rather than the floor.

Whatever the result, there are no hard feelings on Gentry’s part, and he seems to be wide open with Morris — both in terms of his communication, as well as what the expectations are. Essentially, as long as the Suns have a shot at the postseason — distant as it still may be — Morris will need to produce if he wants to see the court.  What’s clear now is that he won’t be given additional minutes this season simply for player development purposes.

“He’s a good kid, but he understands that (with hitting the) rookie wall or whatever you want to call it, you’ve still got to have energy when you go out there,” Gentry said. “I still believe in him, and I think he’s going to be a very good player. There’s growing pains involved in whatever you do, but I think the energy thing is key.”

Kobe Bryant announces this is his final season


It has seemed like this was it for a while. Kobe Bryant has been frustrated; he hasn’t been able to produce like he expects — his play has been hard to watch — and the Lakers are a train wreck.

Kobe made it official Sunday via the Players’ Tribune — this is his final season. He did it via a letter called “Dear Basketball.”

You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.

And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.

It’s not coincidental this was announced a couple days before the Lakers travel to Kobe’s hometown of Philadelphia to face the Sixers. Also remember Kobe is an investor in The Players’ Tribune.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver quickly released this statement:

“With 17 NBA All-Star selections, an NBA MVP, five NBA championships with the Lakers, two Olympic gold medals and a relentless work ethic, Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in the history of our game.  Whether competing in the Finals or hoisting jump shots after midnight in an empty gym, Kobe has an unconditional love for the game.

“I join Kobe’s millions of fans around the world in congratulating him on an outstanding NBA career and thank him for so many thrilling memories.”

Kobe will go down as one of the game’s all-time greats. Few can come close to his resume: Five NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVPs, 15 time All-NBA teams, one MVP, 17 times an All-Star (and the All-Star Game MVP four times). And we could go on and on.

Good on Kobe for doing this now. After 55,000 NBA minutes his body has quit on him, and where his mind is still willing the flesh is clearly weak right now. He has not been able to adapt his game to the changing realities of what he can do.

Kobe has said he doesn’t want a “Derek Jeter Farewell Tour” but that will be the feel from here on out. Expect some special recognition at the All-Star Game in Toronto.

Bulls’ Dunleavy to see specialist after suffering setback with back injury

Mike Dunleavy, Joakim Noah
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CHICAGO—Over the past few weeks, Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy has seemed to be making progress in his back rehab. Dunleavy underwent back surgery shortly before the start of training camp and was initially given a timeline of 8-10 weeks. Recently, he’s been increasing his workload, and he traveled with the team on their recent west coast road trip.

However, his recovery may have hit a snag.

“Mike is going to see a doctor again tomorrow and then we should have a better update after that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said after practice on Sunday. “He had a little bit of soreness. But we’ll have more on that tomorrow.”

An update to Dunleavy’s status is coming, but given Dunleavy’s age (35) and the frequency of back injuries to reoccur, this news certainly isn’t encouraging. Between Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, the Bulls have struggled at both ends of the floor on the wing. Getting Dunleavy back, whenever that happens, will be a huge help. But nobody knows when that will be.

Stan Van Gundy calls out Andre Drummond’s effort after loss to Thunder

Andre Drummond
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After a promising start to the season, the Pistons have lost three of their last four games and seven of their last 10. And although he’s been outstanding for most of the season, Andre Drummond has not been above receiving criticism from Stan Van Gundy. The coach called out Drummond’s effort on Friday night after a loss to the Thunder.

Via Sportando:

“I didn’t think he brought much energy to the Milwaukee game, and I didn’t think he brought much energy tonight,” Van Gundy said of the two beatings the Pistons received this week. “Why that is, I don’t know. But we need a lot more from him than we got tonight.”

Calling out your best player in the media is bold, but Van Gundy has enough of a track record and a reputation, going back to his days in Orlando with Dwight Howard, that he can get away with it. It also sends a message to the entire team that Van Gundy isn’t going to hold his star to a different standard than the rest of the team.

Despite a couple of poor performances, Drummond is having a career year, leading the league in rebounding at 17.1 per game while also averaging 17.9 points.

Lopez twins don’t live together because their cats don’t get along

Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez
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The Lopez twins have always been close. They were teammates at Stanford, they’re both heavily into comic books (and even write their own together), and they both have Instagram accounts for their cats (here’s Brook’s cat, Poupin, and Robin’s cat, Prince Edward Zephyr). So naturally, this summer, when Brook re-signed with the Nets and Robin signed with the Knicks, the logical thing to do would be to live together. Apparently that isn’t happening, because their cats don’t get along.

Via Kirsten Fleming of the New York Post:

“Brook’s cat is very two-faced,” Robin tells The Post. “Everybody loves Brook’s cat. To everybody’s face, he’s such a nice cat. And it may sound like I’m joking, but I am dead serious. He acts like a lazy, sweet cat when everybody is looking. But when their heads turn, he’ll try to chase after [my cat] Edward. The second I lay eyes on him, he’ll act like, ‘I’m a cherub. I’m innocent.’ I’m not buying it.”

Brook agrees that it would be a bad idea.

“We thought about it,” Brook tells The Post. “But the cats really wouldn’t get along. They just wouldn’t allow it.”

This is an extremely valid reason, even though it’s a disappointing. The Lopez twins are two of the most entertaining people in the NBA, and them living together would have had off-the-charts reality TV potential.