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

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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.

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.