Dan Feldman

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: J.R. Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts after shooting a three-pointer against the Washington Wizards during the second half at Verizon Center on January 6, 2016 in Washington, DC. The Cleveland Cavaliers won, 121-115. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Tyronn Lue addresses ’embarrassing moment’ and awkward interview with J.R. Smith, who sheds more light

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J.R. Smith had a what-the-heck-are-you-doing moment last night, when he ceded an open layup while hugging Jason Terry near the Bucks’ bench:

Then, Smith compounded the confusion with another what-the-heck-are-you-doing moment, wearing a balaclava during his postgame interview and pretending not to recall the play:

What was Smith thinking?

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had to meet with Smith to find out.

Lue on the play, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

“It was embarrassing moment,” Lue said. “Me and J.R. talked about it. We’re just going to move forward. We had a discussion about it, he felt embarrassed about it. It was an embarrassing play. We talked about it. We’re moving on.”

Lue on the interview:

“It wasn’t right,” Lue said. “I talked to him about that also. There’s no need for that. Just address the media in the right way, move on. We got our butts kicked (Tuesday) night. Give Milwaukee credit, they came out, they attacked us, they beat us. Now we’ve got to move on.”

Lue even prompted Smith to address the play:

“Obviously we both know it wasn’t intentional, but it was just a lack of focus,” Smith said after practice Wednesday. “One of the multiple things that compounded onto the loss was just as a team we haven’t been as focused as we previously were. Winning and being who we are has a lot to do with that, but we’ve just got to overcome that and be better as a whole. It starts as individuals and then we can collectively become a group and team and have that mindset.”

And the first interview:

“I said it more in a joking manner because you can see what happened,” Smith said. “Obviously, I wasn’t paying attention. For me to just sit there and tell you I wasn’t paying attention makes it plain and boring somewhat, especially when you’re asking a question you already know the answer to. But at the same time, I still have to give that boring answer, for whatever reason.”

Here’s the thing, J.R.: Reporters didn’t know the answer to the question, because nobody had seen anything like that before. Nobody had any idea how a player could wander to the opponents’ bench to greet another player during a live ball. So, the question had to be asked.

And I’m still not sure how this happened nor do I understand the joke behind Smith’s press conference. But a loss of focus can sometimes be inexplicable, and humor doesn’t always translate.

Lue’s plan to move on is probably the best option. What other choice does anyone have?

Report: Knicks haven’t ruled out Derrick Rose extension, but haven’t talked to him about it

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 28:  Derrick Rose #25 of the New York Knicks dribbles up court against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half at Madison Square Garden on November 28, 2016 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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The Knicks might have given up the most valuable player in the Derrick Rose trade, Robin Lopez. New York might have fooled itself into believing Rose could rediscover his MVP form.

But the one valid explanation for last summer’s blockbuster deal was that Rose is on an expiring contract. No matter what happens this season, the Knicks would have a chance to reevaluate in the offseason.

Unless Rose’s contract becomes no longer expiring.

Rose is eligible for a contract extension worth up to $73,925,049 over the next three years (based on the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. The new CBA could loosen extension rules, though it’s unclear when those new rules would take effect).

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to an NBA source, the Knicks have not approached Rose about an extension, but have not ruled it out for late in the season. The Knicks apparently want to make sure his body holds up across a full season and would be willing to pay more this summer if they had to.

“I haven’t talked to them about it,’’ Rose told The Post. “It’s been more about winning games. We’ll see. I’m more concerned with trying to win games, but it’s something I’d have to talk about with my family and team.’’

I’m going to give the Knicks credit here – maybe too much, given Phil Jackson’s record. I can’t see them seriously considering extending Rose.

Nothing about Rose’s status will change until July 1. He’ll be extension-eligible through June 30. There is literally no benefit to ruling out a Rose extension now. None. No matter how far-fetched it seems, why not leave the option on the table. It’s better than closing your eyes to the possibility.

A tiny benefit to leaking that you haven’t ruled it out showing your faith in Rose, making him feel more confident in a way that might translate into greater on-court production. Then, you can always just let his contract expire.

Rose continues to look like the average-ish player he’s been since his injuries. There should be no rush to lock him up long-term. Plus, given his health history, he might desire taking less money annually to secure a four- or five-year deal in free agency.

I’d be shocked if this is anything more than the Knicks responding to a reporter’s question with an insignificant fact: Something possible is possible (ignoring any comment on the remote likelihood).

Report: Grizzlies interested in Norris Cole after Mike Conley’s injury

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 27:  Norris Cole #30 of the Miami Heat drives past Tayshaun Prince #21 of the Memphis Grizzlies during a game at American Airlines Arena on December 27, 2014 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Where do the Grizzlies turn after Mike Conley suffered a devastating back injury?

Rookies Wade Baldwin and Andrew Harrison are the only other point guards on the roster.

Memphis could be soon eligible to add a 16th player, allowed when at least four players miss three straight games and will continue to miss time. Brandan Wright, Chandler Parsons and James Ennis have already missed more than three straight games. Saturday, the Grizzlies will play their third without Conley.

A potential free agent addition? Norris Cole.

Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders:

https://twitter.com/MikeAScotto/status/803697026861039616

Cole signed in China. It’s unclear whether he has an NBA out.

The Pelicans relied on Cole extensively the last couple years – to their detriment. But the situation in Memphis is so dire – the Grizzlies are getting outscored by 13.8 points per 100 possessions without Conley – Cole might be the answer.

The key is timing. Once once of the their four injured players returns, the Grizzlies would have to drop back to 15 players. So, Cole might not be the solution for the entirety of Conley’s absence (which might limit Cole’s willingness to return stateside).

But Cole could give Memphis a chance to stabilize after Conley’s crushing injury.

Hassan Whiteside feasting as Heat’s new franchise player

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 21: Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat looks on during a preseason game against the Philadelphia 76ers at American Airlines Arena on October 21, 2016 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. –  Before declaring for the NBA draft, before falling to the second round as a projected lottery pick, before flaming out with the Kings, before spending years in Lebanon, China and the D-League… Hassan Whiteside was a freshman at Marshall who planned to study nutrition.

That went on the backburner as he went on a basketball odyssey that saw him sink below basketball hell. He was so focused on getting back to the NBA, he couldn’t afford to spend much time on the big picture – literally. The last few years, Whiteside’s salary ranged from modest for an NBA player to modest for an American.

The Heat finally rewarded him with a four-year, $98 million max contract last summer, making Whiteside the first player to go from a minimum salary one year to a max salary the next.

“It changed my life,” Whiteside said.

One of the most immediate improvements: Whiteside hired a full-time chef. His previous chef cooked for him just a couple times a week. Any more would have been an indulgence when his compensation hadn’t yet set himself up for retirement. Now, Whiteside is eating better.

“He ain’t made a bad dish yet,” Whiteside said. “He’s pretty amazing.”

It’s all so amazing.

Three years ago, the Heat’s best players were LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Whiteside was out of the league.

Now, Whiteside has become Miami’s cornerstone.

Whiteside knew his contract – which will make him the Heat’s highest-paid player once they waive Bosh –  would mean Miami’s record would reflect more directly on him than ever. The Heat are 5-12, a stark drop from 48-34 and a playoff-series win last season.

The departures of Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson obviously factor. So does a weak supporting cast left in the wake. But franchise players rarely get the benefit of the doubt.

The mission for Whiteside now shouldn’t be leading Miami to the playoffs, a mostly unrealistic goal. The focus should be on establishing himself as a reliable co-star for free agents next summer, when the Heat could have substantial cap room sans Bosh.

Whiteside is producing an All-Star-caliber season, averaging 17.3 points and an NBA-best 15.1 rebounds per game – marks only Kevin Love has hit over a full season in the last 25 years. Most of the players to do it prior are in the Hall of Fame.

After striving so hard just to return to the NBA, how his Whiteside handling this boost in prominence?

“I always had that belief in myself,” Whiteside said. “I looked at the guys on TV. I feel like I can compete with anybody or play better than anyone. It’s not really arrogance or anything. It’s just having that confidence in yourself, because that’s kind of what you needed when you get cut as many times as I did.”

Those days of fighting for roster spots are gone. Now, it’s about growing as a player, exchanging eye-catching stats for meaningful production when there’s a difference.

Last season, Whiteside blocked 3.7 shots per game and allowed opponents to shoot 46.5% at the rim while he was defending it. This season, he’s averaging 2.5 blocks per game and allowing opponents to shoot 41.5% at the rim while he’s defending it.

“I love that,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Whiteside’s physical profile – 7-foot with a 7-foot-7 wingspan and elite hops – always gave him potential to be an elite shot-blocker and rebounder. Refining his skills was the next step, one Spoelstra harped on.

On the other hand, it was never clear Whiteside could lead an NBA team in scoring – but that’s what he’s doing right now.

“Quite frankly, we need it,” Spoelstra said.

Whiteside’s shooting efficiency has predictably dropped as he has taken a larger load. Previously, he shot only when he had an excellent chance of scoring. Now, he’s taking all those shots plus ones with lower odds.

Still, those additional looks are still frequently more efficient than other shots Miami can produce. Feeding Whiteside is often the best answer, especially considering his assist rate has improved (though from a comically low point).

After so much handwringing about Whiteside’s maturity, every aspect of his game has improved since signing long-term. He has invested in himself – from a chef to thinking the game better – and it’s paying off.

“He seems to be growing every week, and I can’t wait to see his growth as this season goes on,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t know where he’ll be in the spring the way he’s improving right now.”

Reports: Grizzlies’ Mike Conley breaks spine, expected to miss six weeks

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 27:  Mike Conley #11 of the Memphis Grizzlies dribbles against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on March 27, 2013 in New York City.  The Knicks defeated the Grizzlies 108-101. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
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This felt like the year Mike Conley could finally become an All-Star.

He’s averaging 19.2 points and 5.7 assists per game, leading the Grizzlies to an 11-7 record.

But an injury in Memphis’ loss to the Hornets yesterday threatens to derail Conley’s ascension.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Michael Wallace of Grizzlies.com:

Conley has a high pain tolerance, so the odds of him returning sooner than expected are better than for most players. But this is a serious injury that will keep him sidelined for a while – which puts Memphis in a big bind.

The Grizzlies have been horrible without Conley on the floor, getting outscored by 13.8 points per 100 possessions. There’s a huge drop to backup point guards Wade Baldwin and Andrew Harrison, two rookies. Perhaps Baldwin and Harrison will fare better if they play more with Marc Gasol, but that’s a big hole to dig out of. It doesn’t help that Memphis’ best playmaking wing, Chandler Parsons, is also out.

A promising season for the Grizzlies is already beginning to feel like last year, when injuries ravaged them.