Kurt Helin

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers

Byron Scott regrets heavy Kobe minutes, plans fewer


Old school Byron Scott thought he was coaching old-school Kobe Bryant last season. He didn’t listen to the man himself, and ran Kobe into the ground. By Jan. 23 Kobe was done for the season.

This season — maybe be Kobe’s last — Scott is going to back off. Fewer minutes, no back-to-backs, and most importantly he told Bill Oram of the Orange County Register this year he’s going to listen to Kobe. He regrets what happened last season.

I felt bad about it. I don’t know if I would say guilty. I know Kobe’s a competitor and he’s going to play as many minutes as you want him to play. I’m also a competitor, so I want to win and I know having him on the court gives me the best opportunity to win. But I also know that I’ve got to think about him more than anything. And I thought there were points in time last year where I thought he could play a certain amount of minutes. He told me Day One the minutes that he thought he could play in and like I told him at the end of the day, ‘You were absolutely right and I was wrong.’ I won’t make that mistake again….

I think the biggest decision is playing time, trying to make that as limited as possible and also back-to-back games. That’s something we have to talk about. Other than that, there really is no other decision to make. He wants to play, and he wants to go out the way he wants to go out — if this is indeed his final year. He and I have talked a number of times on the phone, we’ve talked about playing time, we’ve talked about back-to-back, we’re going to probably sit down as we get closer to training camp or as we get in training camp and even talk more about it. Because the one thing I want, if this is his last year, I want him to go out standing. I don’t want him to go out hurt. I want to make sure I do everything in my power to make sure we stick to the game plan, as far as his minutes and as far as back-to-back games.

I believe Scott will stick to his guns this season. Look for Kobe to play in the mid-20s a night and not play in one night of back-to-backs.

Lakers fans’ shouldn’t spend this season counting wins — the team is not good enough to make the playoffs in the West, but is too good to hold on to a pick only top three protected (without a lot of lottery help). Lakers fans should instead focus on two things:

1) The development of D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle. If the Lakers are going to climb back to the top of the NBA in a few years, those guys will be at the heart of it (one way or another). Whether the Lakers made the right pick with Russell and whether the organization — and Byron Scott in particular — can develop players are the big questions that start to be answered.

2) Savor Kobe the player. Guys like him come around once in a generation. He’s one of the greatest wing players ever in the game, a guy with unbelievable drive and crafted fundamentals. Savor it, he is going away soon. Watch him, enjoy his smart plays, revel is the passion, remember the good times. So many franchises, so many fan bases never get a Kobe, enjoy this one while you still can. No matter how many minutes Scott plays him.

Lithuania outlasts Serbia, headed to Rio Olympics


It wasn’t pretty. The winning team shot 14.3 percent from three. The team that shot 32.8 percent overall only lost by three. The referees allowed a wrestling match in the paint (then called some random fouls, because it’s FIBA). It was a defensive slugfest that saw 43 free throws in 40 minutes of play.

But it was entertaining.

Lithuania will take it. All game long they would make runs and gain a little separation only to see previously unbeaten Serbia charge back. It happened again late in the fourth quarter when Lithuania got a little room to breathe only to have Serbia’s Milos Teodosic hit a leaning three to make it a one-point game with 14 seconds to go. Serbia had their chance, however after an ugly Bogdan Bogdanovic turnover Lithuania held on to win, 67-64. With the victory, Lithuania advances to the EuroBasket Finals to face Spain.

More importantly, Lithuania earns an automatic berth in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Serbia will need to go through next summer’s qualifying tournaments to get in the Brazilian dance (although they will be a favorite to do so).

Lithuania was led by Raptor big man Jonas Valanciunas, who had 15 points and four blocked shots. Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Renaldas Seibutis each had 13, but the guy whose line told the story of this game was Mantas Kalnietis: 12 points nine assists, eight turnovers. Kalnietis was alternately making plays or doing something sloppy that kept Serbia in it.

We saw that in the first half. Lithuania had led by as many as 11 in the second quarter and was controlling play with their physical defense, but a few missed shots and turnovers sparked a Serbian run in the final couple minutes of the half, and it was a one-point game at the break.

In the third quarter, Serbia tried to so smaller and at first it didn’t work, and again it looked like Lithuania might pull away. But Lithuania was ice-cold from three (and they missed a lot of good looks), and by the time there was just four minutes left in the third the tide had turned and Serbia had taken the lead. Then things swung again by the end of the third it was Lithuania up by 5.

And so it went. Back and forth, right down to the end. After the Teodosic three to make it a one-point game with 14 seconds left, Serbia fouled but Lithuania only hit one of the two free throws — it was a two-point game. Rather than set up a play or give the ball to the hot hand of Teodosic, Bogdanovic got the ball, drove before the defense could set and put up a wild shot trying to draw the foul. He failed. Lithuania got the rebound and it was all but over.

Teodosic had 16 points to lead Serbia. He has been rumored to want to jump to the NBA before, but he wanted to get paid to do it. Incoming Timberwolves rookie Nemanja Bjelica added 10 (and looked like a guy with potential but who needs to sharpen his body and skills to impact the NBA).

51 Q: Can Cousins, Rondo, Karl all just get along?

Atlanta Hawks v Sacramento Kings

PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Can DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, and George Karl get along well enough to lead Sacramento back to the playoffs?

The last time the Sacramento Kings took part in a playoff game, you were walking around singing “So Sick” from Ne-Yo and were meeting your friends to see “Phat Girlz” at the theater. Well, maybe not because nobody really went and saw Phat Girlz at the theater. But you get the idea, it’s been a while. Nine seasons to be specific.

On paper, the Kings have the talent to keep that from becoming 10. DeMarcus Cousins is the best traditional center in the game today, he’s a beast who averaged 24.1 points and 12.7 rebounds a game last season. Rudy Gay is a 20 point a game wing player. Rajon Rondo is a former All-Star point guard who even last season led the league in assist chances per game — he can still dish the rock. There are quality rotation players such as Marco Belinelli, Darren Collison, Kosta Koufos, Caron Butler, and Omri Casspi, plus an intriguing rookie in Willie Cauley-Stein. All coached by one of the winningest coaches in NBA history, George Karl.

Or, the entire thing could blow up.

There seems to be no middle ground with the Kings this season — either they are a playoff team (or close to it, the West is deep), or things get ugly fast.

It all comes down to one simple question: Can some headstrong players and a stubborn coach all get along?

Kings players were bonding all summer (Cousins even went to Israel with Casspi), and a lot of that was done without Karl around. Sources around the Kings think the players have started to bond, in part over their dislike of Karl — and that could bring them together and make it all work.

There’s the other simple fact of NBA life: Winning solves a lot of chemistry problems. If the Kings can get there.

Cousins has been understandably frustrated with ownership’s constant changing of directions in recent years. Last season he formed a great bond with coach Mike Malone, who had changed the culture in that team’s locker room. Then Malone was fired mid-season, reportedly because owner Vivek Ranadive wanted to run more. They got Karl to put in that up-tempo system.

Karl and Cousins have already had a feud because Karl reportedly pushed to trade Cousins (something Ranadive and GM Vlade Divac oppose, so don’t expect it). Cousins responded on Twitter calling Karl a “snake in the grass.” Now the two have sat down and talked, but the underlying tension has not gone away.

“All our guys are hungry for winning, but Cuz is our best player, most talented kid,” Karl told PBT this summer (before he met with Cousins). “We need him to feel like there’s a commitment from both sides. He to us and us to him.”

Then there is a headstrong point guard in Rondo who likes to call his own plays — just ask Rick Carlisle — trying to mix with Karl, a coach who has feuded with more than one of his former stars. Add in the fact Rondo is on a one-year contract, so he could have an eye on his numbers, not just the win column.

“He’s a very basketball high IQ guy,” Karl said of Rondo. “He’s going to challenge us as coaches because I think he knows the game and he’ll have some things; we’ll probably some give and take on. But this kid’s an All-Star, he’s a triple-double machine when he’s playing well. He likes to lead teams, he leads teams with a spirit that has some toughness to it.

“He’s a pass-first point guard, which I think is important. In the end, he and Darren (Collison) really excite me. We’re going to have two guys who can take control of the team, play together, and keep the pace of the game where we can play with a lot of freedom and creativity, and also play without turnovers…

“I think it’s going to be fun coaching (Rondo). I think he wants to lead our team, but he also wants to be a part of the decision making. That can be somewhat combustible, but that also can work at a high level.”

Combustible is a good word for these Kings.

These Kings could use that combustible fuel to jet higher up in the standings than anyone expects, or they could just explode.

In recent years, Sacramento has not been the kind of stable environment you want for handling volatile compounds. It leads to doubts about how good this team will be; there’s a feeling that things could just be shaken up at any time. Or, maybe the Kings have started to figure it out — they have to prove that, but maybe.

The bottom line, because they are combustible, they are must watch TV.

Hawks use Ashley Madison parody to sell tickets

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Ashley Madison, the website fueling the fantasies of cheating husbands around the world, has been all over the news this summer and sent everyone involved with it running in the opposite direction.

Except the Atlanta Hawks — they have gone for the parody. All in the name of selling tickets. From their press release sent out Friday: “The Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club announced today that they have signed three real-life people named Ashley Madison to promote the team’s new 10-game flex plans.”

Those plans let people buy 10 tickets and choose games in the package, of course using a “cheating on your other team” theme.

You can see the first video from this effort above. The Hawks say they found three Georgia residents named Ashley Madison — two women, one man — who will be part of the ad campaign. I think the only thing that makes the video work is the inclusion of Harry the Hawk, is there nothing he can’t do?

I suppose somebody will be offended, because someone is always offended, but it sells some tickets, why not?

Daryl Morey, Shane Battier sing duet from Wicked

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Well, you don’t see this every day. Thank god.

Thursday night was former NBA player Shane Battier’s annual “Battioke” event to raise money for his charitable foundation. It takes place in Houston and Battier brought in celebrities to sing in front of the crowd, including Roger Clemens.

Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey was there, put on a gown and teamed with Battier to do some “Wicked,” which we present to you above (and with all apologies to Kristin Chenoweth… and your eardrums).

After the two tweeted about it.

At least it was all for a good cause.

(Hat tip to the Houston Chronicle.)