O.J. Mayo on DeMarcus Cousins: “That guy has some mental issues.”

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Down 25 points in the second quarter against the Dallas Mavericks, DeMarcus Cousins swung his arm backward while battling for position and struck O.J. Mayo directly below the belt. Mayo’s reaction to the hit and the ensuing fallout resulted in technicals for both players, but the real jabs were thrown after the game:

“It wasn’t intentional, but there was a lot of trash talk,” said Cousins, who had been fighting Mayo for position when he delivered the no-look blow behind him.

“Man, I was so pissed,” Mayo said after his 19-point, seven-rebound performance in the rout. “It’s just, where does that come in in the game, you know what I mean? He’s a talented player, has a chance to be an All-Star. But you do stuff like that, it takes you down a class.”

“That guy has some mental issues, man,” Mayo said. “He’s a talented player. He has an opportunity to be the face of that organization, but I don’t think he wants it. …

“He’s immature, man. Big maturity problem. Hopefully, he’ll grow up out of it and become great. He definitely has the talent to.”

From ESPNDallas.com  | Tim MacMahon 

Let’s get something out of the way first. O.J. Mayo is having an incredible season, and he seems like a very intelligent guy, but he should be the last person in the world scolding someone for being immature.

After all, this is the same O.J. Mayo who burst on to the national scene in high school by showing up his opponents during a blowout, throwing the ball high into the stands after a dunk. This is the same O.J. Mayo that was involved in heavy recruiting violations that led to USC vacating all of its wins that year. Yes, this is the same O.J. Mayo that got in a fist-fight with Tony Allen over a gambling debt, was suspended 10 games for violating the league’s anti-drug policy, and bristled publicly about his role on a playoff team.

So while Mayo has learned how to stay out of trouble and be a top scorer in Dallas, it also appears he’s learned how to mount very, very tall horses. While his condescending tone towards Cousins is understandable considering the location of the blow, the projecting he does is perhaps most interesting. The same exact things Mayo says to Cousins could have easily been said to him months prior, and aside from the “mental issues” comment, it almost sounds like Mayo is doing some veiled empathizing with Cousins during his plight to stardom.

To be fair, Cousins has made plenty of mistakes during his first few years, but more often than not, they’re rooted in pride. Getting called out by an announcer, getting stomped by 25 points — these are things that attack a competitive person at their very core, and maybe it’s not the worst thing that Cousins hasn’t gone the way of so many other talented lottery picks by throwing in the towel completely. Many others would have already crumbled under the load of expectations, the scrutiny, and the constant character attacks.

Although occasionally misguided, Cousins’ passion is still evident, so the hope lives on that once he finds a more stable situation, his pride will no longer manifest itself in selfish, damaging acts, but instead will spark the great performances he’s capable of. His competitive fire needs to be tamed, not extinguished.

That’s the shame of it all, though. Often times this season, it does seem like Cousins has lost pride in his team and is playing mostly for himself. Watch him on the defensive end or when he doesn’t have the ball. He just sort of stands there, only re-engaging when directly attacked or when he’s given the ball again. Those are the types of things that can become habitual, and that’s much, much more alarming than a moment where frustration may have boiled over.

Cousins seems to be encouraged to both hurry up and wait, which makes you wonder what will happen to his dream of stardom and success that’s been deferred. Maybe it will just sag like a heavy load, like it has for so many others. Or will it explode?

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.

Rumor: Lakers, Kawhi Leonard share mutual interest

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The Spurs seem like they won’t trade Kawhi Leonard.

That won’t stop teams from trying.

There’s a clear disconnect between Leonard and San Antonio. Even the potential of a player as good as Leonard becoming available has teams salivating.

The Clippers are reportedly assembling a trade offer for the L.A. native. Los Angeles’ other team – the Lakers – are also apparently expected to factor prominently.

Sean Deveney of Sporting News:

“I think they go in hard for Leonard once the season is over and once the dust settles in San Antonio,” one executive told Sporting News. “(Leonard) wants to go to LA. There probably won’t be public demands on that, but he has leverage. He is going to be a free agent (in 2019). He’s an LA guy and he can just let teams know he won’t re-sign next year with anyone but the Lakers.”

But make no mistake, the Lakers are the favorite here.

“I would say that’s the most likely thing,” another general manager told Sporting News. “He’s going to be their target any way you look at it, this summer or next summer. There’s not many other ways to explain what’s been going on with that situation other than him trying to get out of San Antonio.”

Of course, every team wants Leonard. He’s an elite two-way player when healthy. But teams will go to differing lengths to pursue him. If the Lakers will “go hard for Leonard,” that means something beyond just desiring him.

Under Magic Johnson, the Lakers have made no secret of their plan to acquire stars. That has largely been centered on 2018 free agents, but with that well drying up, talk has turned to 2019 free agents. If the Lakers can get a top 2019 free agent – Leonard – sooner, why wouldn’t they?

One reason is the cost. Trading with San Antonio would require dealing at least some combination of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. Signing Leonard outright in 2019 would be simpler.

But a trade is the only surefire way of getting Leonard. If the Lakers don’t trade for him, another team could. With promising young players and cap space, the Lakers have the tools to make an intriguing offer for Leonard.

Or, more likely, the Spurs could keep him. Their relationship isn’t necessarily beyond repair, and they can offer him a super-max contract extension this summer.

They might not offer it. Even if they do, he might not take it. If he doesn’t, he could pledge to re-sign with only certain teams – like the Lakers – and steer trade talks that way. You can see how the thinking develops:

Leonard might be unhappy in San Antonio. He grew up in Southern California. Therefore, he’ll engineer his way to the Lakers?

Maybe, and maybe these anonymous executives know something to that effect. But this mostly sounds lazily speculative.

PBT Extra: Disciplined Celtics highlight bad habits of Milwaukee Bucks

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Giannis Antetokounmpo has been every bit the top five NBA player in the postseason — 32.5 points per game on 63.2 percent shooting, plus with 11 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game.

Yet the Bucks are down 0-2 to Boston.

The Celtics have had a strong series from Al Horford and Terry Rozier, but the real difference is in the discipline this team has shown all season — Boston knows who it is. Clearly, Milwaukee does not. They turn the ball over too much and make too many mistakes.

I get into all of that in this PBT Extra, and I wonder if that’s something the Bucks can really turn around mid-playoffs.

Ettore Messina to coach Spurs in Game 3 following death of Gregg Popovich’s wife

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin, died yesterday.

That sad news was felt throughout the NBA, and it obviously affects San Antonio most closely. That includes for tonight’s Game 3 against the Warriors.

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

Ettore Messina was a longtime head coach in Europe. The Spurs lead assistant also took over for a few regular-season games Popovich missed. So, making – rather than advising – coaching decisions won’t be a brand new challenge to Messina.

But down 2-0 to defending-champion Golden State is a tough place to make an NBA playoff debut.

On the bright side, there will be no pressure. Not only has San Antonio been outclassed the first two games of the series, focus is rightly on the Popovich family. A win would be a pleasant surprise and help Messina – who’s up for the Hornets job – in his pursuit of a head-coaching position. A loss would be quickly forgotten with more important matters at hand.

To that end, hopefully the time away allows Popovich the space he needs to grieve. That matters far more than a basketball game.