Kurt Helin

Vlade Divac, Vivek Ranadive

Kings’ GM Divac admits players have not bought into Karl’s system. Yet.

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When you look at the Kings’ seven losses in eight games to start the season, they all have reasonable explanations. Four of the losses came with DeMarcus Cousins sidelined, and for years the Kings have sucked when he is not in the lineup. The other three losses were to the Warriors and Clippers (twice), two of the NBA’s elite.

Still, a 1-7 start for a team that had playoff aspirations is brutal, and it led to a team meeting just a couple weeks into the season. Out of that meeting most of the quotes were pabulum in the vein of “we had a frank talk and are in a better place,” the stuff heard after every team meeting. For example, there is this one from Kings GM Vlade Divac, via James Ham of CSNBayArea.com.

“It was good I think,” Divac said. “Going 1-7, you expect much better things. There’s a lot of frustrations among the group and it was pretty good and active. We addressed some issues and the most important thing is we are on the same page after that meeting.”

But Divac dropped one line that seemed to get at the heart of the problem.

“I’m not saying they don’t like the system,” Divac said. “They just aren’t buying in yet.”

The coaches and players are not on the same page. Things are messy. Cousins and other players like Mike Malone’s slower, more defensive system, but owner Vivek Ranadive did not — he wants an up-tempo team to open his new arena in downtown Sacramento next season. So enter George Karl. Who had a rocky summer with Cousins. They have said things are patched up, but plenty of people around the league question the stability of that relationship. That may be part of it.

This is going to be a big 48 hours for the Kings — how do they come out Wednesday night against a good Detroit team? Sacramento faces Brooklyn and Toronto after that, can they string some wins together, or do the losses keep piling up, putting pressure on the entire Kings’ organization.

 

Wizards’ Randy Wittman rips team: “We don’t have any toughness”

Randy Wittman
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The Oklahoma City Thunder are an offensive powerhouse. Add to that some matador defense and things get ugly quickly. That’s what happened Tuesday night when the Thunder dropped 125 points on the Wizards — with a team true shooting percentage of 63.3 percent on the evening, plus they out rebounded the Wizards by a dozen. All of which caused coach Randy Wittman to unload on his team.

“We don’t defend. Guys drive by us at will. We don’t have any toughness. We don’t hit anybody and rebound the ball. We’ve got guys that play 27 minutes and get one defensive rebound. I can get a rebound, I guarantee you. If you give me 27 minutes on a Saturday, I’ll get you a rebound. And that’s what it boils down to – 50-50 balls; the dirty stuff. We don’t get dirty. And that’s on me. We’ve got three days to find the guys that’ll play that way.”

That rebounding reference is to Marcin Gortat.

Wittman is right. To a man the Wizards all admitted they played like manure after the game. But the issues are deeper than just this game, the Wizards are 23rd in the NBA in defense right now, allowing 105.2 points per 100 possessions. This wasn’t just one bad game, it’s a pattern.

The past three seasons, the Wizards were a top 10 defense. If they don’t return to that form, their dreams of a deep playoff run will be sunk in the Patomic.

LaMarcus Aldridge is okay with Portland fans booing him tonight

LaMarcus Aldridge
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Wednesday night, when DeAndre Jordan “returns” to Dallas — the team he said he would play for this summer, then changed his mind — fans there will greet him with a Foo Fighters concert volume of boos.

But he is not the only returning player Wednesday night, there is a true return:

Will Trail Blazers fans boo LaMarcus Aldridge as he returns to Portland in a San Antonio uniform?

I expect a mix of boos and cheers, with the latter winning out. This certainly will not have the venom to be unleashed in Dallas earlier in the night. But if the Blazers fans want to boo Aldridge, he understands and is good with that he told the Express-News.

“You have got to see it for what it is,” he said. “I love those fans. I love that city. They were great to me, so some people are going to be hurt about the move I made. I understand it, so I’m not going to take it personal. I understand their loyalty to their team. That’s what they are supposed to do.”

Aldridge’s transition to the Spurs system is still a work in progress. Aldridge is used to heavy minutes and a lot of touches, but the Spurs system is about team and sacrifice, so he is playing fewer than 30 minutes a night and getting 13.1 shots up a night, the fewest since his rookie season. His shooting efficiency is starting to return (32 points on 22 shots the last two games combined), but the volume of touches is down.

Aldridge has called it a process — he is learning to play off other guys rather than being the guy everyone plays off of. Coach Gregg Popovich has said he is still getting a feel for Aldridge’s game and where they can slot him in their offense to do the most damage. That said, it will come around, and everyone expects his role to grow as the Spurs get closer to the playoffs.

For now, the difference Blazers fans will see is rather than the Aldridge/Damian Lillard show, the Spurs and their balanced team attack are coming to town. Aldridge is a part of that machine now. And machine’s don’t care if you boo them.

 

 

 

 

Five Takeaways from NBA Tuesday: Durant’s return to D.C. all about Westbrook

Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Andre Roberson
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Wednesday night is the night everyone had circled on their NBA calendar — LaMarcus Aldridge returns to Portland, and DeAndre Jordan comes to Dallas to hear the wrath of spurned Mavericks fans. But Tuesday night provided some real entertainment, here is what you missed on a Tuesday night around the league:

1) Kevin Durant’s return to D.C. overshadowed by his hamstring injury, Russell Westbrook. Durant got his wish — Washington fans didn’t try to recruit him with fawning cheers and over-the-top adoration Tuesday. Instead they booed him. Not in the full-throated, lusty way DeAndre Jordan will be greeted in Dallas Wednesday, but there were some boos. And a lot of fans not quite sure how to treat him now. As you would expect, KD played well in the first half, putting up 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in 17 minutes.

But Durant didn’t play the second half due to a strained hamstring. He will have an MRI on Wednesday, and while this is likely not serious hamstrings can linger and Durant could miss a little time. Him leaving at the half took some of the air out of the “KD is in DC” balloon, that storyline felt tired by the end of the night.

As we saw last season, with Durant out it was the Russell Westbrook show. OKC led by 18 at the half and cruised home to the 125-101 win. Westbrook had a triple-double —22 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists in 28 minutes — while Dion Waiters had 25 points on 10 shots to lead the Thunder in scoring.

2) Memphis trades for Mario Chalmers. We have our first trade of the season. Memphis has looked stagnant on offense, in need of shooting to space the floor and more playmaking. The fact that Mario Chalmers has struggled with both those things in the past year — he is 1-of-11 from three this season — didn’t slow Memphis from thinking he could be the guy to help them turn things around.

Memphis acquired Chalmers and Long Beach State’s own (and PBT favorite) James Ennis for Beno Udrih and Jarnell Stokes in a deal consummated Tuesday. The Grizzlies tried to get a third team involved in the trade, but when nobody materialized it went through straight up. We’ll see how Chalmers fits in behind Mike Conley in Memphis. Chalmers struggled without LeBron James next to him in Miami (a lot of Chalmers’ threes used to be open catch-and-shoots off LeBron passes) but he’ll have to find that stroke again to help the Grizzlies because he’s not a great defender, and while he can put the ball on the floor he’s not a great finisher in traffic. And right now, because of the lack of floor-spacing shooting, there is a lot of traffic in the paint for the Grizzlies. 

For the Heat this is a great deal as they save cash against the luxury tax.

3) Robin Lopez is in midseason “hating the mascots” form. Lopez may be playing on another coast this season, but that doesn’t mean the Knicks’ center has had a change of heart about mascots. Just ask the Raptors’ mascot.

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4) The Pelicans finally get a win — and lose Anthony Davis to injury. Somebody in New Orleans has angered the basketball gods because they continue to rain down injuries on the Pelicans like no other team in the league. New Orleans took control of their game against Dallas with an 18-0 run in the second quarter, in part sparked by Anthony Davis who had 13 points in that quarter alone. But then Davis didn’t play the second half due to a “hip contusion” the team announced, saying that X-rays were negative, but he was held out as a precaution. After the game coach Alvin Gentry said Davis would undergo more tests to see exactly what the issue was, and Davis’ status for Wednesday when the Pelicans take on the Hawks is not known. This doesn’t appear to be serious, but the 1-6 Pelicans can’t afford another injury with key players such as Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole already out and point guard Jrue Holiday on a minutes limit. 

5) Kobe Bryant sits out first game of season, D'Angelo Russell joins him on the bench in the fourth quarter. Kobe had said he wanted to play in all 82 games this season. He knows it’s likely his last go around, and he knows a lot of people pay to see him play, he wanted to live up to that. But his back tightened up on him before the Lakers took on the Heat in Miami and Kobe was scratched from the game, his first of the season. It’s unfortunate, but seemingly unavoidable as well — at age 37 and with a ridiculous amount of mileage on his body, Kobe is just going to have to miss some games. Hopefully not many, however, he is officially listed as questionable for the Lakers’ game in Orlando on Wednesday. What will his film crews shoot now?

More interesting in this game may have been Lakers’ coach Byron Scott’s decision to bench rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell for the fourth quarter. For a team that should have player development as its top priority this season — even above wins right now — taking minutes away from a rookie trying to adjust to the NBA games is counterproductive. He needs to be in fourth quarters and learn from those situations — Nick Young played the entire fourth quarter. Scott said after the game he didn’t put Russell back in because the game got blown open, but as noted by Baxter Holmes of ESPN it was a three-point game when he left the court. More troublesome, after the game Russell was asked if Scott talked to him about why he was benched and the answer was no — smart move or not Scott has to teach, not let the kid figure it out for himself. Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times suggested this was a tough love response to Russell, who is not putting in the extra time working with coaches that Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson are. I say teaching a guy to put in that effort is part of developing a player, and the tough love approach doesn’t work for everyone. We will see in this case. But to me this is another sign that Scott and the Lakers organization as a whole are not practiced nor adept at player development, something they haven’t had to do until recently. And it’s something they had better figure out. 

Kobe Bryant hires film crew to follow him around this season

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You want the most convincing sign yet that this will be Kobe Bryant’s final season in the NBA?

He has a documentary style film crew following him around recording all the key moments plus private reflections. Howard Beck of Bleacher Report had the information in his story about Kobe’s final game in Madison Square Garden.

But he did hire a film crew to track him all season, filming every move and collecting sound bites in quiet moments. No documentary is planned, Bryant told me. But don’t be surprised if we see one if this truly is the end.

Kobe has already had a documentary done last year, Showtime’s “Muse,” which was well done and a good look at what has driven Kobe to be one of the all-time greats. Apparently, Kobe liked that experience. Because I refuse to believe you hire a crew to follow you around and record all this information this season then plan to do nothing with it.

There’s a plan, part of Kobe’s brand we will see post-basketball. A new chapter that may well start next year.