Kobe needs to start kicking the Lakers a– right now

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There may not have been a malaise like this since the Carter administration. Or at least it feels like it in Los Angeles.

Lakers fans at Staples Center were booing the two-time defending NBA champs Sunday night because they were getting out hustled completely by the Memphis Grizzlies. Just like the Bucks a couple of weeks ago and a host of other teams in the last couple months. Go ahead and credit the Grizzlies for their hustle, they earned it, but the Lakers showed nothing to combat it. Kobe Bryant admitted as much to Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register.

“We’re looking too far down the road,” Bryant said after the loss to Memphis on Sunday night, “instead of looking just at the game that’s right in front. You start skipping steps if you look too far down the line.”

The Lakers realize that in a sense the important games don’t start until late April, when the playoffs start.

However, the regular season is for developing good team habits and building the foundation on which playoff success can be built. Sure the Lakers have the framework of that foundation laid by the core of the team having been together and won titles before. But this is still a team, a new year, and a new foundation that has to be poured and let set.

You can tell Kobe Bryant is working to motivate his guys with actions — he came out firing last Tuesday against the Spurs trying to pull his team up with him. But then he went cold shooting and his teammates had fallen into bad habits quickly because this looked like a game Kobe would just take over. The energy was there but the team looked like a chicken with its head cut off, just running around aimlessly. It looked like the same thing Sunday with Kobe having a 17-point quarter but the rest of the team not able to help or capitalize on it. It looked like the 2006 Smush Paker/Kwame Brown Lakers in that way.

As Ding points out, this is Kobe’s team. Still. He motivates it, they don’t have the back-to-back titles without his will. He may be coming off summer knee surgery and have arthritic and injured fingers that slowed his start, but he has to start taking charge.

He needs to start kicking his team’s a– right now.

While the playoffs may not start for months, the motivation to start playing hard and doing things right cannot wait. The good habits have to start being developed now — not just energy but good execution to go with it. Otherwise the Lakers will get to the playoffs and step up their energy and it will look like the Spurs game. And games like the ugly loss to Memphis in early January will be part of the reason why.

Knicks’ Courtney Lee denies report he wants to be traded to contender

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The Knicks have moves to make to ensure they have enough cap space to go big game hunting among free agents next summer. That means some kind of buyout/waive and stretch with Joakim Noah and making decisions on guys such as Lance Thomas, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Ron Baker.

Another idea that has been at least explored is trading Courtney Lee, although there was no real traction there this summer. That led to a report from Marc Berman of the New York Post that Lee wants to be traded to a contender.

Lee does not want to be traded, he made it clear to Ian Begley of ESPN.

There can be something to both reports. Does Lee want to be traded? No. He wants to stay a Knick. However, if they are shopping him, he’d probably rather land with a playoff team or contender than another rebuilding team.

Which is what the Knicks are this year with Kristaps Porzingis injured, it’s a season about new coach David Fizdale laying a foundation and starting to change the culture, not wins or the playoffs.

Whether he wants it or not, Lee’s name will come up in trade rumors this season. Whether the Knicks can ultimately find a deal is another question entirely.

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan finally buried the hatchet

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Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That was the conversation in the NBA just a decade ago, a conversation that now seems practically ridiculous. I never personally thought it was very close between the two, being an adamant Paul supporter. Now, CP3 is with the Houston Rockets and Williams is out of the league, despite Paul being just 200 days younger than the former Utah Jazz star (but having played more games).

Williams was part of a two-man attack, along with Carlos Boozer, that helped fuel the Jazz during the first decade of this century as they churned through the Western Conference. But Williams played just five-and-a-half seasons in Salt Lake City, traded after a blow-up with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Things were unsteady between the two during the 2010-11 season, and Sloan famously decided to retire after a game in February of 2011 in which the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. During halftime of that game, there was a disagreement between Sloan and Williams that apparently pushed the legendary head coach to his tipping point.

Sloan retired and Williams was traded on February 23rd.

Now, it appears that the two have at least made amends. In a story of appearing on UtahJazz.com, Williams recently went to Sloan’s house to talk about the divide between the two and what happened some seven years ago.

Via UtahJazz.com:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“Eventually, I think Jerry came around,” [Jazz CEO Greg] Miller said. “He never really said, ‘Let’s put it behind us’ or anything, but maybe in Sloan speak he did.”

“Two strong men said what they needed to say, shook hands and are now moving forward,” [Jazz president Steve] Starks said.

Sloan, 76, is living with Parkinson’s and reportedly not in the best of health. It’s good to hear that Williams was remorseful about how he acted, and that the two great sportsmen were able to come together and at least see each other’s point of view as a sort of armistice.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.