Kurt Helin

Zach LaVine

Minnesota’s Zach LaVine plays “tentative,” struggles in preseason

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Among the good things going on with the up-and-coming Minnesota Timberwolves there is this:

The Zach LaVine at point guard experiment is over. When Ricky Rubio got injured last season LaVine was thrown into the role and the results were not pretty (the team averaged 96.7 points per 100 possessions when he was at the point, that’s Sixers level offense). With Rubio back plus Andre Miller and Tyus Jones in house, LaVine can be moved to the two-guard spot.

But the athletic second-year player is struggling there, too. From Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune.

Zach LaVine is 3-for-19 from the field in his first two games since Mitchell named him the starter and shooting guard of the future. He was 1-for-8 Saturday, making his last shot late in the game. LaVine played nearly 28 minutes. Kevin Martin played 12 off the bench.

“Zach right now is playing very tentative,” Mitchell said. “We knew we were going to have to be patient. He’s probably thinking too much, and that’s probably natural for young guys. We have to get him to play more and stop thinking so much.”

Minnesota is not in a win-now place, they should be giving their young players heavy run — including Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns —  and letting them learn by trial and error. It’s the preseason, but even when the games count Minnesota needs to look at the big picture, not trying to win in the short term.

I have no idea if he can be a quality starting NBA two guard, but what is the point of pulling him for Kevin Martin right now. Let him learn from his struggles.

Oh, and be sure he enters the dunk contest again.

 

Steve Kerr said he had rare spinal fluid leak, no timetable for return

Dallas Mavericks v Golden State Warriors
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It was known Steve Kerr had back surgery during the off-season, but the announcement that the coach of the NBA champs would be taking some time off to recover during the preseason and potentially beyond did catch everyone off guard.

Sunday he attended Warriors practice (he’s done that a few times during his “absence”) and spoke to the media about what was going on — and it’s not pretty. From ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss, who was at practice.

“I had a spinal fluid leak during the first surgery,” he told the media Sunday at the Warriors’ practice facility. “It’s very rare, it does happen occasionally, but it happens when there’s an accidental nick of the dura that surrounds the spinal cord. But I lost spinal fluid, took about a month to figure out what was going on, a lot of headaches, some other symptoms.”

After the leak became apparent, Kerr had an additional surgery Sept. 4 to repair the issue.

However, he can’t put a timetable on his return.

“It’s a matter of your body sort of recalibrating,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s not like a sprained ankle, one to two weeks. There’s no telling. It’s a little bit open-ended, but everyone’s confident I’m going to be fine. That’s where I am. I’m not going to be put a timetable on when I’m going to come back.”

Luke Walton is the Warriors’ interim coach until Kerr returns.

With the same core players in the same system, the Warriors shouldn’t have an issue in the short-term without Kerr. As the season grinds on and certainly heading into the playoffs, they will need Kerr and his ability to push the right buttons with this group. But for a few weeks or so, the system is on cruise control.

 

Jeremy Lin, with spiked hair, looks pretty good vs. Clippers in China

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Jeremy Lin has entered the new NBA season deciding to challenge “The Birdman” Chris Andersen for tallest hair.

@jlin7 prepares for tonight's #NBAGlobalGames action on @nbatv!

A photo posted by NBA (@nba) on

He’s also put up double-digit points in all three Hornets preseason games, including dropping 16 on the Clippers in their game in China (video above). With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist out for the season, Lin could become part of a rotation that sees more minutes, playing alongside Kemba Walker for stretches to provide some scoring.

I’m not saying draft him in the first round for your fantasy team, but he could get some quality run in Charlotte.

 

Will Kobe Bryant be a “high-volume, low-efficiency scorer” this year?

Kobe Bryant
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Is there any more polarizing question among NBA fans than “What should we expect from Kobe Bryant this season?”

Even his most staunch defenders realize that he is not 2006 Kobe anymore, but they expect him to stay healthy, use his high hoops IQ, and be closer to his old self than people realize. Then there are the doubters that note he played in just 41 games the past two seasons and when he did play last year he shot just 38 percent — they don’t expect Kobe to change, and they don’t expect him to play well.

Mark Medina at the Los Angeles Daily News asked a variety of people around the league, here are a sampling of responses.

NBA executive: “He’ll be a high-volume, low-efficiency scorer. The biggest deficiency will be on the defensive end. He can’t defend quick guards anymore. But he’s still going to get buckets. He’s still smart. He’s going to draw fouls. He’ll average a very inefficient 22 or 23 points a game.”

Rick Fox, former Lakers forward and NBA TV analyst: “He has a lot of miles on his body. But he’s smarter as a basketball player this year than he was last year and the year before. So above the shoulders, he will continue to progress.”

Anonymous NBA assistant coach: “I could see him consistently post 18 to 24 points a game, five rebounds, five assists and a couple of steals. He will shoot well from the free-throw line. He will be more in a catch-and-shoot situation at small forward so his 3-point percentage should go up. He just can’t be in a situation where they throw it to him with six seconds left on the shot clock. He’s not as athletic anymore and can’t beat so many defenders.”

I have trouble seeing Kobe changing his style after 19 NBA seasons, when it matters the Lakers offense will go through him. Nor do I see filling the true mentor role with the Lakers young players such as D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson — at some point he will grow frustrated with their mistakes and try to take over games, which will not go well. As noted by the assistant coach, Kobe is not physically that guy anymore. He’ll put up numbers, hit some big shots and hopefully be healthy at the end of the season, but he’s not the guy who can put a team on his shoulder for any length of time anymore.

Flowing out of the first question is the next one: What he will do at the end of the season? Is Kobe going to retire or keep playing?

Obviously, if he can stay healthy is the biggest factor in that decision. But for fun, let’s say he stays healthy and plays 65 or more games this season, not a lot of people around the league think he can walk away.

Fox: “I don’t think this is his last year. It might be his last year in L.A. But it won’t be his last year in the game. I think he’ll play overseas in China. Or maybe go to New York and be with Derek (Fisher) and Phil (Jackson) and mentor the other players with the triangle offense.”

Anonymous NBA executive: “If the Lakers can get a couple of guys, he’s going to want to be a part of it. But if they strike out, he could get another monster paycheck because they think he’s worth the price of admission.”

Kobe has repeatedly said he will not leave the Lakers (and I tend to believe him, being a Laker is a big part of his brand). No other team is going to play Kobe more than a $10 million, one-year contract — and any contending team will tell him he has to subjugate his game and be a third/fourth/fifth option. The idea that the Lakers would pay him more because he is worth more to them financially is spot on, but the Lakers have to realize it will be hard to land elite free agents if Kobe is still there (top guys will say publicly they will play with Kobe, but they don’t want to be in his shadow and have a fight for touches at points).

In his 20th season, Kobe may not be the most important part of the Laker season — development of the young stars is — but he’ll be the most interesting.

51 Questions: Will Knicks win enough to ease pressure on Phil Jackson?

Phil Jackson
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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:

Will the New York Knicks win enough to take some heat off Phil Jackson?

Phil Jackson brought with him to New York 11 championship rings and moving trucks full of heightened expectations — the former Knick player returned home and was going to lift the Knicks to their first title since American Graffiti was still in theaters. And since Jackson was a player. Add to those hopes the fact New Yorkers are not exactly world renown for their patience and this was the reality:

Jackson was on the clock the moment he took the job in Manhattan.

Part of his challenge has been that managing those expectations — rebuilding the Knicks was always going to be a long-play project, not a quick fix. The last guy to look at New York in a big picture way was Donnie Walsh, and once he got the roster out of Isiah Thomas’ hole owner James Dolan lost patience and the Knicks went back to their short-sighted ways.

Could history repeat itself with Phil Jackson? Or is he going to get the time to fully implement his vision?

Which may come down to this:

Are the Knicks improved enough, and do they show enough promise this season, to ease pressure on Jackson?

There are plenty of fans (and other executives around the league) who don’t trust the Phil Jackson rebuild process. They didn’t see positives in a 17-win season, then they watched him draft a skinny, European project in Kristaps Porzingis. They look at the roster for this season and seriously question if they can make the playoffs, even in a diluted Eastern Conference.

As the losses mount up on the Knicks this season — and they will mount up, this is not a playoff team even if Carmelo Anthony stays healthy — the number of fans that have lost patience with Jackson will grow. Their voices will ring out on sports talk radio and in the Post and Daily News, reminding everyone the Knicks should not tank this season because they don’t own their own draft pick next June.

The only question that matters is if James Dolan is among those voices?

So far, Jackson has been worth his $12 million a year just to keep Dolan at arm’s length from basketball decision making.

There is a plan now in New York. Jackson has worked to change the locker room culture of the Knicks — gone is Amar’e Stoudemire and his wine baths (and massive contract), gone is J.R. Smith with his late nights and contested shots, gone is Andrea Bargnani and whatever it was they saw in him in the first place. In their place are solid, professional, consistent rotation players such as Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo.

Certainly Jackson rolled the dice on Porzingis — a player that his higher risk, higher reward than guys still on the board at No. 4 such as Emmanuel Mudiay and Justise Winslow. The challenge again is patience because it will be a couple of seasons before we find out how good the raw Porzingis really can be. Comparing him to Pau Gasol or Dirk Nowitzki is too high a bar to set for any player, but he’s not going to be Bargnani either. The question will be where he ultimately falls on the scale, and it’s going to take a while to find out.

What Jackson is creating is a solid foundation of players — guys like Jerian Grant, the rookie point guard already playing like a veteran — who could attract big time free agents. I can tell you there are people around Kevin Durant who would love to see him in New York (how much influence those people have remains to be seen, the smart money is on him staying in OKC). The advantage to being the Knicks is they can always get the meeting with elite free agents.

Jackson has a lot of work to do before hey can get serious about the 2016 free agent market. The Knicks as currently constructed will not have enough money to offer a max contract next summer to Durant or anyone else, even with a cap that will jump up to around $90 million (the Knicks will have about $19 million in cap space, according to former Nets executive Bobby Marks on twitter). The Knicks have to hope Afflalo opts out of his $8 million player option for next season, or New York is going to have to make some moves.

Let me be honest: I’m not at all convinced that Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher can revive the triangle in New York and win that way. They may be living in the Jurassic period.

That said, the steps Jackson has taken with this roster — and even the risks like Porzingis — are steps in the right direction and light years ahead of the quick-fix free agent grabs that have left this franchise struggling for more than a decade.

Jackson should be allowed to see his plan out for a while longer, Knicks fans just need to be patient.