Kobe injury a reality check for Lakers, doesn’t really change plan

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Even with Kobe Bryant, the playoffs were a long shot for the Lakers this season — their defense was slipping, and their offense was not going to carry them far enough in a deep Western Conference.

Kobe Bryant’s injury — out six weeks now with a fracture of tibial plateau in in his left knee — only exacerbates the problem. The Lakers have a rough stretch of the schedule coming up including some tough road games and in a West where the pace is 47-48 wins just to get the eight seed the Lakers are going to fall short.

Even with the injury, the Lakers long-term plans don’t really change.

This Bryant injury may be a reality check for some around the Lakers (and some of their rabid fans). They thought Kobe was going to come back from his Achilles surgery, return to near his All-NBA form fairly quickly and with just a few moves (a major signing or trade) they would be back as a contenders.

It was never that simple or easy and this injury should help bring that reality into focus. Kobe is not going to be the same, building a team around him will be difficult.

However, the injury doesn’t really change the Lakers plans.

First, the Lakers do not tank. They are not going to sell off a lot of assets and try to go the full Wiggins here — they don’t need to as they can draw major free agents (unlike smaller markets). Plus they never really could tank. Kobe will be back around Feb. 1 and you try to tell him how the Lakers should try to be bad to get some untested rookie.

The injury also doesn’t change how the Lakers feel about Kobe’s two-year, $48.5 million contract extension — that was about rewarding a loyal Laker who still fills the expensive seats and brings in the sponsors. Kobe has made the Buss family a lot of money, they gave him another cut. There was and is no regret there, and from a business perspective it was the right move.

With the injury the Lakers are going to look to make trades — don’t be shocked if guys like Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman get moved, those guys have value around the league (all bigs do). The Lakers will listen to any calls, but they are not going to take on salary that messes up future cap space.

Likely Pau Gasol spends this entire season with the Lakers then they let him walk (don’t expect him back with this team next). They will look for trades but with his $19.3 million salary and the Lakers not wanting to take on salary in future years (and teams being stingy giving away picks) there just are not going to be options.

Then this summer — and really more intently in the summer of 2015 — the Lakers will hit the free agent market hard, looking for the star player that they can both pair with Kobe and who can take over the mantle of Lakers leader when he is gone. Around that guy they bring in the right role players (and possibly a new coach) to make it all fit. It’s about acquiring the big talent first.

And that was always the plan. Injury or not.

Russell Westbrook fined $10,000 for confrontation with Gobert, no suspension

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The rule in the NBA is clear and strictly enforced (just ask Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns): Leave the bench during an altercation and you get suspended for a game.

Monday night, in the fourth quarter of the chippy game Monday where the Jazz beat the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was set to check into the game when there was a little dust-up between Rudy Gobert in Raymond Felton, and Westbrook came in and escalated it. Did he leave the bench, or was he coming into the game and that’s different.

The NBA decided he was coming into the game already — Westbrook got a $10,000 fine and an after-the-fact technical, but no suspension.

OKC needs Westbrook — and an aggressive Westbrook who is knocking down his midrange shot — to have a chance to avoid elimination in Game 5 Wednesday. The Thunder have had their strengths turned against them, and have not shown the versatility to adjust in this series, and if Westbrook and company cannot change that Wednesday their season will end.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.

 

Celtics to get Marcus Smart back for Game 5 Tuesday

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It’s a series that has hinged on defense — Boston has played it well for the majority of five games, bottling up Milwaukee in the halfcourt. The Bucks only played it with real energy at home (and only for about six of the eight quarters the last two games) but when they do they have overwhelmed the Celtics, then converted turnovers and missed shots into transition and early clock opportunities the other way.

For Game 5 Tuesday night, Boston gets its best perimeter defender back — Marcus Smart. He has been out since before the playoffs following thumb surgery last March.

Stevens, via NBC Sports Boston:

“He hasn’t played in six weeks, so it’s hard to say how much (time he will get) but will certainly play,” Stevens said. Stevens said there would not be a minutes restriction on him, but added that the fourth-year guard wasn’t going to play 35 minutes.

Smart is a very good perimeter defender who is very physical and usually assigned to the other team’s best guard (or wing, depending upon the matchup). When Smart was on the court this season, the Celtics allowed less than a point per possession and were 3.6 points per 100 better defensively than when he sat.

Smart likely will get time against Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton of the Bucks. Just his presence brings needed depth to the Celtics in what is a critical Game 5 in a series tied 2-2.

Report: Pelicans have discussed offering DeMarcus Cousins less than max over two to three years

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Last month, Anthony Davis said he heard DeMarcus Cousins planned to re-sign with the Pelicans. Cousins was out a torn Achilles, and New Orleans was rolling with Davis playing more center. But New Orleans’ ceiling looked higher with Cousins, and Davis made clear he wanted to keep Cousins – in itself a big deal. More important than keeping Cousins is keeping Davis, which requires keeping Davis happy.

Then, the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, becoming the lowest seed to sweep a first-round series.

Is everyone still sure Cousins warrants a max contract, which projects to be worth about $176 million over five years?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.

Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pelicans leaked this to test the waters. Word will get back to Cousins, and they can gauge how strenuously he objects. If they want, they can deny ever considering this and try to avoid offending Cousins.

But New Orleans has leverage.

It will be a tight market. Many of the teams with significant cap space are young and rebuilding, and they won’t want Cousins’ attitude. Even teams ready to win might not bring him into the locker room. Returning from a torn Achilles – hard for any player – will be especially difficult for the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.

That said, Cousins has leverage on the Pelicans, too. He’s extremely talented, and players that talented are hard to come by. New Orleans would still essentially be capped out if he walked, left with only the mid-level exception to replace him. Cousins and Davis play well together, and Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – wants Cousins around.

Confronted with a similar situation with Jrue Holiday last summer – capped out and no mechanism to adequately replace him – the Pelicans spent big. But Holiday wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any fit concerns with Davis.

For New Orleans, it’s clearly worth securing the 27-year-old Cousins for the next couple years. The upside is too high. But, especially given the injury, guaranteeing him money into his 30s is undesirable.

On the flip side, Cousins should want long-term security. This might be his last chance to get it.

So, maybe both the Pelicans and Cousins can meet in the middle. But finding that point is never simple.