Sacramento Kings v Atlanta Hawks

Kings coach Michael Malone on his players: ‘These guys have got to take responsibility’


What’s bothering Kings coach Michael Malone?

Right now, it seems to be Sacramento’s 22 turnovers in a loss to the Pelicans on Monday and the Kings allowing 39 fourth-quarter points in a loss to the Hawks on Wednesday.

After the the loss to New Orleans – Sacramento’s fourth defeat in five games, which dropped the team to 8-19 – Malone gave one of the most direct interview sessions of the season. If it was on his mind, he said it.

The highlights, via News 10 (click through for video):

  • “It’s the same problem every night. I guess we’ve got to some better players that can contain the basketball, because right now, we can’t.”
  • “We’re a bad basketball team. That’s the bottom line. We’re a bad basketball team right now.”
  • “We’re not that good where we can give teams 22 extra possessions. I’ll tell you that much. I don’t know if we can beat them if we give them zero extra possessions.”
  • On Rudy Gay: “He played bad. That’s it. He had a bad game. And he wasn’t the only one. We had a lot of guys that didn’t play well tonight.”
  • “You know how hard it is to give up 39 points in a quarter? That is embarrassing. I’m embarrassed. I don’t know if anybody in that locker room is embarrassed, but I’m embarrassed.”
  • “I can’t control the turnovers. I can’t make the passes for them. That’s – at some point, these guys have got to take responsibility. Plenty of times this season, I’ve put it on me, and I’ll do that. But I tell you what, each guy in that locker room has got to start looking in the mirror and owning up and taking responsibility for their play. And we don’t have a lot of that right now.”
  • “How many times do you have to hit rock bottom? I mean, Look at our record. We’ve hit rock bottom four or five times now. Maybe some of these guys are so used to losing, they’re accustomed to it. I’m not. I’m not used to losing. I’m used to being in the playoffs and being a competitive team that takes pride in its defense. Right now, we don’t have a lot of guys that do that. So, I’m not sure what their rock bottom is, but I hit my rock bottom about one week into the season.”

Oh boy.

An NBA coach blaming his players like that is a dangerous game. Sure, Malone interjected a cursory “I’ve put it on me, and I’ll do that,” but everything else he said suggests otherwise. He’s putting it on the players.

On some teams, that can motivate the players into trying harder and performing better. On other teams, it leads to distrust and revolt.

I hope, for Malone’s sake, he knows what he’s doing. He certainly has more exposure to the personalities of the Kings than I do, so he’s better positioned to make that judgment – assuming the comments were a tactical decision and not an emotional outburst Malone now regrets.

But this would be a good time to remind Malone he’s 8-19 as an NBA head coach. Is he really so certain the Kings’ problems are the players faults and not his? Are all his schemes ideal? And if they are, has he taught them coherently?

It takes a lot of self-confidence for a rookie head coach to assume it’s the players and not him. To say so publically puts Malone on a whole other level.

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For what it’s worth, told of Malone’s unhappiness, DeMarcus Cousins indicated agreement rather than rebellion. Via News 10 (click through for video):

  • “It’s like an old record playing. It’s the same s— every night. We break down defensively. We don’t talk. It’s the same s—. And when you keep up with the same s—, you’re going to get the same results, and that’s what we’ve been getting.”
  • “It’s excuses. We’re looking for excuses. That’s all it is. We’re looking for excuses.”
  • “I won’t say it’s effort, but it’s an excuse. ‘Well, this man didn’t do that. So, I couldn’t do that.’ it’s excuses. Guard your man. Do your f——- job.”

Cousins scolding his teammates for not doing their jobs defensively? He’s not exactly an ideal messenger. Zach Lowe of Grantland evaluated Cousins before the season and wrote:

We tend to think of selfishness as something ball hogs exhibit on offense. But Cousins, to this point in his career, has been a selfish defender in lots of ways. He tries to minimize the amount of energy he expends executing the team’s scheme, and as a result, he stays very close to his own man when his team really needs him to be helping more aggressively. Even when he slides over on time to try to contain the opposing point guard on a pick-and-roll, he often leaves his help spot early, after offering only a token wave of the hand.

Cousins has improved in this regard this year, but a partial season of unselfish defense doesn’t give him the high ground – especially if his teammates are complaining that they can’t rotate properly because Cousins doesn’t.

He needs longer to earn the benefit of the doubt. Yet, he’s still pointing fingers.

Maybe he just took a cue from his coach.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant

Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.