Phil Jackson would be a perfect mentor for LeBron. But it's not going to happen.

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Thumbnail image for pjackson.jpgPhil Jackson’s team is once again peaking right as it heads deep into the playoffs. Again. Why does this surprise us? Sure, there were the injuries and the ugly last couple weeks of the regular season for the Lakers, but we should have all seen that. We should have known better. History has shown us time and again Jackson knows how to get players ready to perform their best on the biggest stages.

LeBron James could use that.

We don’t really know how badly LeBron’s elbow was bothering him. Or how much his teammates play was bothering him. What we know is that for two straight years the Cavaliers fell short. And by extension, James has fallen short.

James and this team have not come through on the big stage. Jackson’s teams do. That led Kevin Ding (best of the Lakers beat writers, for my money) to talk about how LeBron could use Jackson.

James clearly needs someone who understands how to manage him through the daily grind, press firmly on psychological buttons without apparent malicious intent and provide just enough open-ended structure to ensure it’s not going to be a one-overworked-man show.

Jackson’s teams respond when it matters because he teaches them to grow, he teaches them self-reliance. Lakers fans scream at their televisions in December when Jackson sits passively while his team flounders against Memphis or keep turning the ball over in Philadelphia. Jackson wants his players to figure it out for themselves. No timeout to bail them out. No substitutions. You determine your own fate.

It’s more than that, it’s psychological efforts to get the team to understand itself all season long, that is just the most visible part of it. But players beat drums and meditate as a unit. Call it mumbo jumbo. Call it BS if you want. You have to call it successful. A lot of other coaches have had talent and not won with it — including in LA and Chicago before he got there.

He could do the same with LeBron. But he won’t.

Sure, Jackson has no deal for next year right now, he is a free agent too. The media keeps asking and prodding Jackson about what he is going to do next, then read the tea leaves about what he said. But as Ding notes it’s all a big waste of time. And he is not leaving LA right now.

The reason these media sessions with Jackson about his future are so pointless is that he doesn’t even know himself what he’ll do. He honestly puts off deep thinking on the issue until after it’s over and he can take stock of everything. According to those close to him, though, there is no reason to believe he is ready to stop doing what he does so well when he feels so fine.

Given Jackson’s ongoing relationship with Jeanie Buss and his comfort in this zone at his advanced age, no one expects him to restart elsewhere, even if the most logical thing in the world would be proving his absolute pre-eminence in basketball history by turning Michael, Kobe and LeBron all from losers to winners.

Plus, who else is going to pay $12 million a year for all that mumbo jumbo? That much money to go against the Midwestern sensibilities of Cleveland or Chicago?

Only in LA.

Kings’ Bogdan Bogdanovic tweaks knee in FIBA qualifying, to have surgery

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This is why NBA teams don’t love it when their players go off to the national team over the summer.

Sacramento’s Bogdan Bogdanovic tweaked his knee playing for Serbia Monday, and now is going to have to have surgery on his left knee. It’s described as minor, but it’s still surgery. Here is the Kings’ release:

Sacramento Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic exited Serbia’s 91-65 World Cup Qualifying victory over Estonia on Monday after experiencing left knee discomfort early in the first quarter. Further evaluation revealed a minor injury to his left knee. On Monday, a minor arthroscopic procedure is scheduled at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, to be performed by Dr. Riley Williams. Bogdanovic is expected to make a full recovery and an update will be provided when it is available.

Bogdanovic had surgery on this same knee just after the season, and while this is considered less serious it’s still something to watch. Don’t expect to see him on the court preseason. The Kings have media day Monday and open training camp on Tuesday.

Bogdanovic, a 6’6″ sharp-shooting wing, averaged 11.8 points a game and shot 39.2 percent from three last season, making second-team All-Rookie.

Suns officially sign De’Anthony Melton for two-years, $2.3 million

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The Phoenix Suns are very high on De’Anthony Melton — he was the guy for the future they wanted when they took on Ryan Anderson‘s contract from Houston.

Friday, the Suns made it official and signed Melton.

If you’re wondering about the money…

Melton is a 6’4″ guard who could be a future backcourt mate with Devin Booker. Unless you’re a recruiting junkie, you probably first heard his name as the player in the middle of the NCAA/FBI recruiting scandal. He fell to 46th in the draft. However, at Summer League he showed why he was highly recruited and what he could become as a pro, averaging 16.4 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, showing potential as both a three-point shooter and defender. It’s just Summer League, and Melton looked like a guy who missed a season of play at times, but the potential is there.

The Suns are going to get to explore that potential at a reasonable price for a couple of seasons.

Markelle Fultz says last season was about injury, he’s back now with confidence

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Philadelphia went big game hunting in free agency and came up empty. If they are going to seriously challenge Boston this season for the top of the East, it’s going to be because of internal improvement — Joel Embiid needs to get better, Ben Simmons needs to get better…

And Markelle Fultz needs to be on the court and look like a No. 1 pick.

We’ve seen glimpses that his shot looks better after spending the summer with the shot guru Drew Hanlen, and at Sixers media day he sounded confident. Courtesy Matt Haughton at NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“I think it was a mis-term in words, but me and Drew have talked (after Hanlen said Fults had the yips),” he said. “What happened last year was an injury. Let me get that straight. It was an injury that happened that didn’t allow me to go through the certain paths that I needed to, to shoot the ball.

“Just like any normal person, when you’re used to doing something the same way each and every day and something happens, of course, you’re going to start thinking about it. It’s just normal….

“Everybody knows what happened last year, so this summer was really just me working to get my mechanics back, my confidence back, my swagger back. It was a very productive summer,” Fultz said. “I’m happy with the work I put in with Drew (Hanlen). We put up a lot of shots, a lot of hours in the gym. I’m happy with where I’m at right now going into training camp.”

Fultz is saying all the right things. That and $4 will get you a pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks (although why you’d want it is beyond me).

 

The proof starts Saturday in training camp and runs through the season. It’s about results now. Expectations for Fultz are high, but welcome to the life of a No. 1 pick. His bolstered swagger will be tested, we’ll see how he handles it.

Joel Embiid on DeAndre Ayton: ‘He’s about to get his ass kicked this year’

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At some point in the future — maybe not as far in the future as he thinks — a lot of NBA fans are going to turn on Joel Embiid and his unfiltered trash talk and social media presence. (Which, oddly, is very different from how teammates describe him, this seems to be more of a public persona.) It’s the nature of fame, we love the rogues and rebels until we don’t.

For now, Embiid is a lot of fun.

He went on the set of ESPN’s “The Jump” with Rachel Nichols on Friday (at Sixers media day) and when the picture of Deandre Ayton came up, well…

“He’s about to get his ass kicked this year.”

Embiid isn’t wrong.

Ayton is going to have a good rookie year, maybe very good (although the lack of a quality point guard to feed him the rock in spots he can do damage will hurt him), and at Summer League Ayton was a bit of a man-child against other rookies and young players. However, he showed flaws — his hands, for one, need to get better — and nightly in the NBA teams will roll out men who can match him and push back on him. It’s going to be harder than he realizes, and not just with Embiid or Rudy Gobert or DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond or Marcin Gortat and the other guys who can match up physically with him, but with the skill guys as well. Ayton isn’t going to push around Draymond Green easily. Al Horford is going to school him with skills.

Ayton is going to be on a learning curve this season, a steep one at times. All rookies get that. What matters is how he responds and how he develops. Expectations are rightfully high, but he’s got some learning to do.