67RIEFNS No. 2: DeMarcus Cousins continuing where he left off

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The NBA is full of talent, personality and suspense. During the doldrums of the offseason, It’s easy to forget how wonderful the league can be. So, I’ve assembled 67 Reasons I’m Excited For Next Season (67RIEFNS). They’ll be presented in no particular order over the coming weeks.

How many players in the top five in PER last season can you name?

I’ll put the answer – and the rest of this post – after a few line breaks. That way, you have a chance to answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Kevin Durant

2. LeBron James

3. Kevin Love

4. Anthony Davis

5. DeMarcus Cousins

Durant won MVP, and LeBron was the only other player reasonably in the race. No matter what you think of his actual contributions, everyone agrees Love rates extremely well statistically. Davis, for a stretch in the second half of the season, played like the NBA’s third-best player.

And then there’s Cousins.

The Kings center certainly isn’t recognized as a top-five player. That’s fine, because he isn’t a top-five player. But he’s probably better than the limited credit he’s received.

In his fourth season, Cousins ticked up his production across the board. It’s hard to find an area he didn’t improve. He scored more efficiently both in the post and on mid-range jumpers. He took a larger offensive role, but he protected the ball better while passing it more. He rebounded more and defended better, both on and off the ball.

For the year, he averaged 22.7 points on 49.6 percent shooting, 11.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks.

All 35 times a player has matched those point-rebound marks since 1980 – done by only Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone and Moses Malone – he’s received an MVP vote.

Of course, Cousins did not.

Cousins, very quietly, made “The Leap” last season, though his breakthrough season was mostly ignored. That’s partially a reflection of the Kings’ dismal record, but one player can do only so much. Cousins deserves credit.

Maybe he’ll receive it as he continues to progress. Just 24 and beginning a max contract, the ultra-talented big man can still get so much better. Primarily, he can improve his shot selection, foul less and control his attitude to avoid so many technicals. He’s far from a finished product.

The burden is on Cousins to take those major steps.

Again.

Report: Knicks to interview Kenny Smith for head-coaching job

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The Knicks are casting a wide net in their coaching search.

It’ll apparently include a familiar, though surprising, name.

ESPN:

TNT analyst Kenny Smith will interview for the New York Knicks’ head-coaching job on Friday, a source told ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith.

A quality organization, the Rockets, interviewed Smith (in 2016, before hiring Mike D’Antoni). So, this isn’t proof of the Knicks’ oddball thinking. (There are plenty of better examples, if you wish).

Steve Kerr opened the door for former players to go straight from TV to being an NBA head coach without having any coaching experience. He’s been a smash hit with the Warriors.

But Kerr was also the Suns’ general manager before Golden State hired him. Smith has no front-office experience.

So, it’s tough to judge Smith, whose role on television is more to entertain than inform (though he does both). He’ll have to really wow in his interview to get the job.

But at least he has that opportunity.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan slips and falls while arguing call (video)

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Nate McMillan slipped up in his handling of Victor Oladipo‘s early fouls during the Pacers’ Game 2 loss to the Cavaliers last night.

Then, the Indiana coach literally slipped while arguing that LeBron James should have been called for offensively fouling Lance Stephenson.

LeBron James: Reporter warned me about question on Gregg Popovich’s wife before live TV interview

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In her on-court interview with LeBron James following the Cavaliers’ Game 2 win over the Pacers last night, TNT sideline reporter Allie LaForce asked him about the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife.

LeBron appeared emotional as he gathered his thoughts.

That prompted some to criticize LaForce for ambushing LeBron on a sensitive subject on live TV. But that’s not what happened.

Uninterrupted:

LeBron:

I’m not on social media right now, but I was made aware through some friends through texts that a question was asked to me postgame, and a lot of people feel I was blindsided. That is absolutely false. Allie LaForce told me that she was going to ask the question and if it was OK.

And once I started talking about it, once we were on air, actually my emotions kind of took over. And that was just my emotions coming straight from my heart about the late Erin Popovich.

It’s unfortunate. It’s a tragic loss. My thoughts, my prayers, once again goes out to the Popovich family, to Gregg, to the Spurs family, to the whole Spurs fan base.

And also guys, please get off Allie LaForce’ back, because she followed the proper protocol and she warned me. So, get off her back, man. She’s very professional, and she does a great job at her work.

Like I said, thoughts and prayers to the heavens above. We all know the man above never makes mistakes, even when we question it. But it’s a sad, tragic time right now for the NBA family, and we’re all praying and hoping for the best.

It would have been surprising if LaForce hadn’t done that. Somewhere between nearly nobody and absolutely nobody in her position is trying to embarrass players.

PBT Extra: If Portland is going to turn series around it starts with Damian Lillard

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This was the year the Trail Blazers were going to break through. They were defending better as a team. There was some depth on offense. And Damian Lillard was playing at a level that will get him on many voters’ MVP ballots.

Instead, they are down 0-2 to Anthony Davis and New Orleans, having dropped both games at home to open the series. Portland is on the verge of being bounced in the first round for the third time in four years.

If Portland is going to turn this series around, it starts with Lillard, something I discuss in this latest PBT Extra. C.J. McCollum needs to get more buckets, Jusuf Nurkic needs to contribute more on both ends, but for Portland it all begins and ends with Lillard and it’s on him to start the turnaround.