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Chinese big man Zhou Qi rejects Josh Jackson shot, looks at home on Summer League court

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LAS VEGAS — Before Monday, my last memory of seeing 7’2″ Chinese center Zhou Qi going up against NBA talent was not a good one for the young man with NBA aspirations. He was part of the Chinese national team that played two exhibitions against Team USA before the Rio Olympics, and Zhou looked overwhelmed in the first meeting, shooting 1-of-6 shooting for two points. He looked more comfortable and aggressive in the second meeting and led China with 13 points, plus intimidated a couple USA drivers into the paint, but he didn’t seem NBA ready yet.

He looks much closer now. Just ask Suns’ No. 3 pick Josh Jackson.

In Las Vegas playing for the Rockets’ Summer League team, Zhou looks at home on the court — he belongs. He is tall, long (7’7″ wingspan), and is surprisingly mobile. In the past couple of years, it seems Zhou’s game has matured. (To be fair, part of it also is judging anyone against that Team USA squad — with 12 of the top 15-20 players on the planet — was unfair.)

He’s still a work in progress with a long way to go, but the Rockets like what they have seen this summer in terms of his potential as a shot-blocking big in the NBA.

“You look at the game… he had 3 points in 23 minutes, but he was a +23, which means he was having a positive impact on the game,” Rockets Summer League coach Roy Rogers said Monday after a Rockets win. “Sometimes when you’re watching him you don’t realize all the little plays he makes while he is on the court, whether it be contesting a shot, getting a rebound, in the right position defensively. He’s progressed really well in this first week of Summer League, we just have to keep him going in the right direction.”

While defensively he has looked better, Zhou is shooting just 32 percent in Las Vegas. He has knocked down a couple of threes but mostly struggled from deep (0-7 the last two games). The Rockets want him to take those shots, they don’t want him taking midrange jumpers, they like he is willing to shoot the long ball. One good development on Monday was when a defender closed out on him at the arc he put the ball on the floor and drove to the basket.

“I don’t even consider it him struggling with his shot because he’s had great looks,” Rogers said.

Zhou is learning the NBA game. He has struggled some deal with bigs who can step out on the perimeter — his instincts are to protect the rim, so against Denver in his first Summer League game he was late to recover on Juan Hernangomez, letting him get open looks on jumpers.

Zhou also needs to get stronger to deal with some of the more physical big men in the NBA.

“I think the muscle part is overrated, because in our league now we want to show off our speed and athleticism, so there’s no need in him becoming a bulky guy… (mobility) is one of his biggest strengths right now,” Rogers said. “I think our training staff, strength coach, will get him stronger, but it’s not a big focus of ours, to necessarily get him bigger.”

For NBA teams, Summer League is about discovering and starting to unlock potential — and Zhou has that. He’s a project, one who likely spends part of next season in the G-League getting run he could not on a contending Rockets’ team, but you can see why Rockets GM Daryl Morey signed him. It’s not hard to see where Zhou could fit in the NBA game as a shot-blocking big who can knock down the occasional three. He has a spot in the NBA if he continues to develop.

“He’s a special kid,” Rogers said. “You coach him, you get on him, you tell him what to do and he goes back out and does it as hard as he can. So he’s been a pleasure to be around. He gets along great with this teammates. I’ve been fortunate to get to coach him.”

Report: Kevin Love called out in emotional Cavaliers team meeting

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Having lost 8-of-11, a Cavaliers team meeting where the players got to vent seemed inevitable. There isn’t one person in that Cavaliers locker room that doesn’t deserve some blame for how things have turned.

However, Kevin Love apparently became the whipping boy.

From Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Cleveland Cavaliers held a fiery team meeting in the practice facility locker room prior to Monday’s practice, during which several players challenged the legitimacy of Kevin Love’s illness that led him to leave Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma City early and miss Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.

Several players were pushing for the Cavaliers’ management and coaching staff to hold Love accountable for leaving the arena before the end of Saturday’s game, and then missing Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.

The meeting was loud and intense, only calming down once Love spoke to those gathered in the room and explained himself, league sources said.

The more things change, the more things are always Kevin Love’s fault.

According to the report, the majority of the team seemed to accept Love’s explanation. Love left the Cavaliers ugly, nationally televised blowout at the hands of the Thunder in the first half and did not return due to what was described only as an illness. He did not stay around for the end of the game. I’m not about to speculate on how ill he was or was not, what matters is that his teammates were not buying it. When a team is losing finger-pointing is almost inevitable, and Love has gotten more than his fair share of it in Cleveland. At least he stood up for himself.

Team meetings may allow a pressure release in a locker room, but they almost never result in any kind of meaningful change. We’ll see what if anything changes in Cleveland.

Bucks GM on Jason Kidd firing: “This is a performance-based thing”

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Last season the Bucks went 42-40 in the regular season and were up 2-1 in their first-round playoff series against Toronto before ultimately losing in six.

This season, expectations were high. Before the season there was talk from the team of a 50-win team (Las Vegas oddsmakers set the under/over at 47.5) that would finish in the top four in the Eastern Conference, hosting a playoff round. There was hope that the defense would improve, and with that the Bucks would look like a young team figuring it out.

They haven’t looked like that at all — they are 23-22 (with the point differential of a 20-25 team), and their defense is 25th in the NBA. Currently, they have just a one-game cushion for the final playoff slot in the East.

That cost coach Jason Kidd his job, first-year Bucks GM Jon Horst said Monday night at a press conference, as reported by Matt Velazquez at the Journal-Sentinel.

“At the end, this is a performance-based thing,” Horst said. “We believe in this team, we believe in our players and in the talents that they have. We’re looking forward at making playoff appearances in consecutive years for the first time in over a decade and hopefully winning a first-round series for the first time in over a decade. So we felt like at this time, this is the right decision to help this team get there.”

Around the league the move was not a total surprise, but the timing caught people off guard. Horst said it happened “relatively quickly” and explained:

“A general manager in the NHL had a statement once: ‘If something is inevitable, why wait?’ I think we came to the conclusion that this was the best thing for the future of the franchise and this was the time.”

Come this summer this will be the hottest coaching job available because of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the potential of this roster. Names such as Jeff Van Gundy and former Pelicans coach Monty Williams have been mentioned, but the ultimate list will be longer. Honestly, a few coaches with jobs might rather have the Bucks job (although the challenges between the two owners there can make things uncomfortable at times).

“We have another game on Friday and between that time we have a plan that we’ll put in place that we’ll kind of layout for the rest of the season,” Horst said. “We’ll go into the summer and have an extensive coaching search with an opportunity to hopefully find a great coach for this organization of which (interim coach) Joe Prunty has every opportunity to be a part of based on what happens going forward.”

This is going to a rough adjustment for Antetokounmpo and some of the players, who respected and trusted Kidd. There’s a lot of pressure on Horst with this hire.

That doesn’t make it the wrong move — Horst did the right thing here. The Bucks were going to be moving on, they just did it sooner rather than later.

 

Kevin Durant fires back, says Clint Capela’s job is “easy”

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“We’re confident because we know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to beat them… We are better than them.”

That was young Rockets center Clint Capela after the Rockets beat the Warriors last Saturday night, feeling confident.

Asked about it, Kevin Durant shot Capela down, saying he’s not the guy that should be commenting.

There are no easy jobs in the NBA. It takes a lot of work physically, a good mental feel for the game, and the right opportunity just to get a chance. That said, some NBA jobs are simpler and more straightforward than others. On offense, Capela is not the ball handler and creator making a lot of decisions, things are simple for him — and he executes them. He’s shooting 66.6 percent this season — he does what he does well.

Houston took two of three from Golden State this season, and while that is far from doing it in a playoff series it should be a confidence boost for Houston if/when they go up against Golden State.

Jason Kidd says Giannis Antetokounmpo offered to save his job minutes before firing

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The stagnant Milwaukee Bucks shook things up by firing head coach Jason Kidd  Monday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was not happy with the news. So much he called up Kidd and offered to help save his job, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Antetokounmpo is understandably close to Kidd — he’s been the coach who helped transform the Greek Freak into an NBA superstar. Kidd is on his way to the Hall of Fame as a player, and as a coach had the vision to put the ball in Antetokounmpo’s hands as a point guard. Antetokounmpo trusted Kidd.

However, the Bucks’ growth has been stagnant — this is a team where the players talked about being a 50-win, top-four team in the East with a strong defense, instead they are a team on the way to around .500, barely hanging onto a playoff spot, with the point differential of a team that wins 36 games. They are not taking a step forward, and the Bucks — with the approval of ownership, which was very close to Kidd at one time — approving the move.

There was nothing Antetokounmpo could have done. It’s life in the NBA. That doesn’t mean he has to like it.