Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Russell Westbrook

Derek Fisher has moved on from Lakers trade, embracing his new role in Oklahoma City

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Derek Fisher returned to Staples Center on Thursday as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, his first time back since the deadline day deal the Lakers made to trade him away exactly two weeks ago.

The return was a triumphant one, with his new team thrashing his old one 102-93, behind strong performances from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, particularly in the second half.

Fisher wasn’t necessarily signed for the statistical on-court production that now, at age 37, he’s unlikely to provide on a reliable or consistent basis. But he impacted the game a bit on this night, personally carving into an early 10-point Laker lead by scoring seven points in seven minutes in his first stint off the bench. This, after receiving two separate, sincere standing ovations from the crowd — one following a video tribute played in the arena just before tip-off, and another as he was subbed into the game for the first time with 2:04 remaining in the first quarter.

Before all that, Fisher met with a large group of media — crazy-large, really, for a regular season contest involving a player not named LeBron James — and talked about his emotions as he prepared to face his former teammates.

“My emotions aren’t really strange,” he said.  “You know, I’ve kind of been through this dress rehearsal before a few times with a couple different teams. It’s different compared to what I’ve been used to the last four or five years, but it’s a game. And I play for the other team now.”

Fisher said he has come to accept the trade now, and the fact that it happened at all wasn’t really the concern — it was the way it came about so suddenly that he said was the part that wasn’t all that pleasant.

“I know there have been a lot of statements made — including mine, I guess — about what I thought I knew about the situation, whether I knew I was going to get traded, how I was going to feel about it, what my role would have been had I still been on the team,” Fisher said. “I’m in a good place right now.”

“Initially it was more shock than just pure disappointment,” he continued. “I’ve been in this business for a long time, and, not just for me personally, but for thousands of guys that have played this game, I’ve always thought there were different ways to handle trade and waiver-type situations, where there can be some more communication — not necessarily far in advance, but enough to not have to find out from the mailman or at the post office that you’ve been traded.  And I’m not saying that’s what happened in this case, but I did wake up and I was traded. And that’s the part that shocks you more than anything.”

The prevailing belief in Los Angeles has been that those in power didn’t feel Fisher would adjust well to a reduced role on the team, moving further down the bench after the team acquired Ramon Sessions — a stance which was reiterated by Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak to reporters before the game.

“With Steve Blake and Ramon and Derek we have three point guards,” Kupchak said. “It’s not fair to the coach to get a young, ball-handling guard that you see as the future (in Sessions) and it’s not fair to the coach to have to choose between three players. It’s not fair to Ramon to come in and know he’s the guy pushing that guy to the bench.

“And the third thing is, Derek wants to play. And we felt making this trade that he probably would be the one not playing. And he would try to earn it, he would fight and scratch, but the odds were he would be the odd man out. That wouldn’t be fair to him.”

Fisher discounted this completely, saying essentially that his entire life has been about fitting in with the team concept.

“It goes against and flies in the face of — not just what I’ve been since I’ve been in the NBA, but the type of team player I’ve been in every group I’ve been a part of,” Fisher said in regards to possibly having to deal with a reduced role. “Team sports raised me, in a sense — outside of my mom and dad and family, I was raised on team sports. And that meant, and has always stood for, sharing and sacrificing and giving of yourself so that the group can succeed.”

Fisher genuinely seems fine with how things have shaken out, and has embraced his new situation in Oklahoma City. He specifically mentioned the fact that there was no “championship or bust mentality” as a positive, and said after his new team’s big win that the lack of that pressure has the Thunder playing in a free-spirited way that perhaps his former Lakers team hasn’t been able to in quite some time.

“It’s extremely refreshing and enjoyable to play on a team that’s really not playing with any additional pressure to have to do anything,” Fisher said. “We’re showing up every night just having fun and playing the game. To be on such a young team, it’s a lot of fun. The locker room is extremely different than what our locker room used to be like (in L.A.) in terms of preparing for games. But when that ball tips off, Kevin, Russell, Serge, Kendrick, Thabo — everybody’s ready to play. And it’s a good feeling.”

Karl-Anthony Towns with nasty poster dunk on Dante Cunningham (VIDEO)

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Karl-Anthony Towns is a beast.

While the Timberwolves have plenty of question marks around him, but Towns has been exceptional. Coming into Monday night, he was averaging 21.6 points (on 59.9 percent shooting) and 12.7 rebounds a night in his last 10 games.

Then Monday he did that to Dante Cunningham.

The Pelicans went on to win the game 116-102, but Towns continues to play well.

Report: Come 2017, Knicks have real shot to land Russell Westbrook

during the first half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 8, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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The summer of 2016 is all about Kevin Durant — and we don’t know what Durant is going to do as a free agent because Durant doesn’t yet know what Durant is going to do as a free agent. Stay in Oklahoma City, bolt to the Bay Area or maybe Washington D.C.? These playoffs, meetings with teams and his advisors, plus personal factors all will play a role in Durant’s decision. Which he will get around to announcing in early July sometime.

But the sense around the league is that while Durant may very well stay in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook was drawn to the bright lights of big markets. If an elite player were to bolt OKC, this was the more likely guy. Westbrook is a free agent in 2017.

In an article about Phil Jackson and the Knicks in the wake of Derek Fisher’s firing, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the Knicks have a real shot at Westbrook in a couple of summers.

The Knicks have a real chance to sell Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in 2017 – New York and Porzingis have his attention, yes – and Jackson ought to start constructing an elite coaching staff to begin that process with Westbrook and with free agents beyond him.

Come 2017, expect Westbrook to meet with a number of big market teams on both coasts, and then make a decision. The summer of 2017 is a couple of NBA lifetimes away, it’s impossible to say what Westbrook will do (he may well decide to stay in OKC if they win enough), but the big market teams looking for a star will get their turn in the batter’s box.

Which is why I still think Durant signs a 1+1 deal this summer to stay in Oklahoma City for another season — he’s going to give everything another chance to come together for the Thunder, then when the salary cap is at its peak in 2017 (an estimated $108 million) he makes his peak seasons decision. He and Westbrook and Serge Ibaka will all be free agents at the same time, and they can make their calls.

And the Knicks could be involved in all of it.

Five Takeaways from NBA Monday: Derek Fisher is out, but is real change coming to Knicks?

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 13:  (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)    New York Knicks President Phil Jackson watches his team play against the Toronto Raptors as head coach Derek Fisher talks with Pablo Prigioni #9 at Madison Square Garden on October 13, 2014 in New York City. The Raptors defeated the Knicks 81-76. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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My thought of the day: If a 71-year-old white-as-white-can-be guy doesn’t get or like the Super Bowl halftime show, then you’ve done it right. He’s not the future of anything. (Not that I have much use for Coldplay.) Now, on with Monday’s NBA news.

1) Derek Fisher out in New York, but does that mean real change is coming? 
Phil Jackson decided that the coach he hired with zero coaching experience whatsoever maybe couldn’t coach after all, and Monday the New York Knicks fired Derek Fisher. This was not necessarily a bad move, Fisher was a better coach this season than last — he was learning on the job — but still had a long, long way to go to be good. He’s not a great Xs and Os guy, and also had said that he shouldn’t have to motivate professional athletes — if you’re a coach who isn’t a great tactician or motivator, what exactly are you doing? Fisher was brought in to establish a culture then undercut himself with things such as the bizarre Matt Barnes incident. Him being out is not the worst thing for the Knicks.

But is the next coach going to be a real change?

Early reports have Phil Jackson sticking with his guys — Luke Walton is the guy at the top of the list, with Brian Shaw next in line, according to early reports. Both, at least, have NBA coaching experience, but Walton has only guided an already-built championship team that knew its roles, while Shaw lost the Denver locker room fast. This fits a pattern, Jackson has stacked the Knicks organization with his guys and now is saying that running the triangle remains an important part of the criteria for the next coach. That’s limiting. (There is still a debate as to how well a full-time triangle team, in the style Jackson likes to run that offense, can thrive in today’s NBA.) Someone from outside his coaching family — Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Hornacek — could provide a different view of things, a counterbalance, a new perspective that the best organizations welcome. Internal debate and differing ideas are a good thing if managed well. Golden State does that beautifully. If Jackson just hires a better version of Fisher, is that real change? Is that doing the franchise justice? Walton will have options as a coach once the Warriors’ season ends, likely in June, we’ll see if Jackson will wait that long for him. Or if he wants to go East.

2) Joe Johnson calls bank on Nets game winner. Mike Malone has Denver playing everyone tough lately (that’s how a coach builds a culture, Knicks), having beat the Bulls and Raptors recently, and on the second night of a back-to-back, it looked like they would sweep New York and topple the Nets as well. But Joe Johnson‘s hard sprint from the low block to out past the arc left Danilo Gallinari a step behind, and that gave Johnson room to drain the game winner — which owner Mikhail Prokhorov loved.

3) Bulls struggles continue, they get thumped by Hornets. Derrick Rose was a last-minute scratch for Chicago due to “general body soreness.” The rest of the team apparently felt the same way. Charlotte — a team playing with urgency as they try to climb back into the playoffs — put up 38 points in the first quarter and easily disposed of Chicago 108-91. The Bulls are now 5-12 in their last 17 games and continue to struggle on the defensive end (without Joakim Noah now) while never finding their identity on the offensive end of the court.

Chicago is now the seven seed in the West and just 1.5 games ahead of Charlotte and falling out of the playoffs completely. There are a lot of things that have gotten the Bulls to this point, but the dominoes started to fall last summer when John Paxson and Gar Forman made their move. There is still time for the Bulls to turn things around, it’s just hard to envision this group doing it.

4) Andre Drummond from three-quarter court? Sure He has Stephen Curry range. Andre Drummond is in the Dunk Contest All-Star Saturday night, but apparently he should have been in the Three Point Contest as well.

5) Allen Crabbe (or Gerald Henderson) tip-in forces OT, where Trail Blazers pull away from Grizzlies for the win. After what had been a smart, gutty game by both teams —one Marc Gasol had to leave after 11 minutes with a foot sprain —  which had the back-and-forth feel of a playoff game at times, the Portland Trail Blazers were down two with time for one last shot. Everyone in the building knew it was going to be a Damian Lillard isolation. Including Memphis. Lillard got off his shot, but it bounced off the rim — right to C.J. McCollum, who had 21 points on the night, but he missed, and then came the tip. Officially Allen Crabbe was credited with the bucket, but maybe Gerald Henderson got it. Portland didn’t care, they just wanted to get to OT, and they did.

Overtime opened with six straight McCollum points before the Grizzlies even scored, and that was the ballgame.

Vucevic leads Magic comeback for 117-110 OT win over Hawks

Nikola Vucevic
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ATLANTA (AP) — A big comeback gave the Orlando Magic their second win over the Hawks in two days and renewed belief they can stage a similar rally in their season.

Nikola Vucevic scored 25 of his 28 points after halftime, and Orlando rallied from 20 points down to beat Atlanta 117-110 in overtime on Monday night.

The Magic beat the Hawks 96-94 on Sunday on a last-second 18-footer by Vucevic. The 7-foot center was the difference again on Monday night, when he had 13 rebounds and six assists.

Thanks to a 2-12 record in January, Orlando is tied for 10th in the Eastern Conference. The wins over the Hawks provide hope for a turnaround.

“It’s big. It’s really big for us,” said Victor Oladipo.

Added Elfrid Payton, who had 20 points, “It’s definitely a step forward.”

Orlando trailed by 20 in the opening period and by 18 in the third. It took its first lead at 96-94 on Mario Hezonja‘s 3-pointer with 3:33 remaining in regulation.

Orlando scored the first six points of overtime, including a jumper by Vucevic, who also had 13 rebounds. Kyle Korver‘s 3-pointer pulled the Hawks to 112-110, but Evan Fournier answered with a 3 for the Magic.

Al Horford led Atlanta with 27 points and Paul Millsap had 22 points and 13 rebounds.

The Hawks were hot while building the big lead in the opening period, but Orlando’s defense kept playing hard.

“We got enough stops to win,” said Orlando coach Scott Skiles.

Millsap made one of two free throws to tie the score at 101 late in regulation. Millsap blocked a shot by Oladipo, leaving the Hawks with 1.2 seconds. Millsap took the inbounds pass, took a step back and sank a short jumper – but it came after the buzzer, sending the game to overtime.

“We lost our focus at times,” Horford said. ” … We’ve had this problem all year where we get up and we give up leads. It’s hard to take.”

Atlanta trailed 30-19 after the first quarter of Sunday’s 96-94 loss at Orlando. One day later, the Hawks flipped the script and led 30-18 after one period. They led 71-53 late in the third.

“When you’re up in the third quarter like that, we have to find a way to be better,” said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. “I think we’ve got to be better late in games – myself, the players, everybody.”

Vucevic scored 12 points in the third period, including the last two baskets in an 11-0 run.

 

EVEN HARRY WAS HOT

Things went so well for the Hawks in the first half that even their mascot couldn’t miss. During a timeout, Harry the Hawk hit nothing but net on a half-court shot – with his back to the basket. Harry celebrated by dabbing on his way off the court.

TIP-INS

Magic: F Tobias Harris (sprained left ankle) missed his second straight game. … Fournier had 16 points. Hezonja and Smith had 14 points each. Aaron Gordon had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Hawks: Kent Bazemore had 13 rebounds. … Tiago Splitter (right hip) missed his fifth straight game and is expected to rest through the All-Star break. … The Hawks assigned C Edy Tavares to the Austin Spurs of the NBA Development League. Tavares has averaged 9.8 points and 9.6 rebounds in 10 D-League games this season.