Kobe Bryant starts annual playoff pushing of Pau Gasol

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Every late April the weather starts to warm, flowers start to poke their heads out of the ground, birds undertake their migrations and Kobe Bryant starts pushing Pau Gasol to be more aggressive. It is one of the rights of spring.

It started Sunday night, when Gasol struggled to score or defend the pick-and-roll, two of the things that were at the heart of the Hornet’s Game 1 upset of the Lakers. Chris Paul is the best all-around point guard in the game and given room he abused Gasol, pulling the big man out into space then shooting over him or making pinpoint passes to teammates.

Gasol owned up to it, as quoted at ESPN’s Land O’ Lakers blog.

“I was just not very sharp. I couldn’t get into a good rhythm in the first quarter. I didn’t get myself going at all. So it’s up to me to get some energy out there and be a little more aggressive and find ways to find that rhythm.”

Nor did Gasol bite when the assembled media asked in multiple ways if his anemic stats were due to a lack of touches. “Maybe I let that effect me a little bit early on in the game, but I can’t afford that,” he said. “I’ve got to be more aggressive. I’ve got to make myself available, whether the ball is coming or not. I’ve got to be there, and get myself active and don’t get discouraged whatsoever if the ball is not coming. You’ve got to pursue it sometimes, and in different ways. I had zero offensive rebounds, that’s something I don’t like at all.”

Gasol is intelegent and self motivated — he knows what he has to do.

That doesn’t mean Kobe isn’t going to give him a kick in the… um, behind.

“We could have gotten a little bit more out of everybody. But Pau is our guy. He’s our guy. He’s the next in line. Responsibility and the pressure comes along with that,” he said, “and he’ll be ready to go next game…

“Rightfully so. I put pressure on myself. It’s one and two, it’s me and him. We’ve got to deal with it. When you get all the praise when things go your way, [you also] get all the blame when things don’t. It’s part of the seats we sit in,” Kobe said of the pressure he’s putting on Gasol. “It’s just [a matter of] him being aggressive. He’s one of the best in the world.”

This little movie has played out the last three playoffs almost the same way. It wouldn’t feel like the postseason in L.A. without it. And based on history, look for a better game from Gasol, and look for the Lakers to actually get the ball inside to him more early in the game this time around.

Report: Jonathan Kuminga, top prospect for 2021 NBA Draft, to earn $500K in NBA minor league

Jonathan Kuminga
Jonathan Kuminga
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Jonathan Kuminga didn’t crack our list of the top 50 players in five years last summer, but he drew consideration and rated as the top prospect in the 2021 high school class.

Now, he’s fast-tracking his ascent – turning pro by signing with the NBA’s minor league and positioning himself for the 2021 NBA Draft.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kuminga will join Jalen Green, Isaiah Todd and Daishen Nix in this professional-pathway program.

We’ll see how well this setup, run by Brian Shaw, prepares young players for the NBA. But the money is nice. Kuminga ($500,000), Green ($500,000), Todd ($250,000) and Nix ($300,000) have approximate salaries that wouldn’t be allowed by the NCAA cartel system.

Hopefully, the competition forces college basketball to treat its players more fairly.

Washington Mystics: We planned all along to pay Elena Delle Donne

Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne
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Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne – per a panel of doctors chosen by the WNBA and its union – doesn’t face elevated risk of severe symptoms if she contracts coronavirus. That meant the Mystics wouldn’t have to pay her if she sits out this season. Delle Donne has publicly argued her Lyme disease should have medically excused her from the WNBA season, allowing her to collect her full salary.

Like many people amid the pandemic, Delle Donne faced a hard decision: Work and risk exposure to coronavirus or miss out on money and stay safer.

The Mystics have solved her dilemma – agreeing to pay her while she remains away from the team.

Mystics general manager/coach Mike Thibault, via Tyler Byrum of NBC Sports Washington:

“She is being paid and is continuing to rehab from her offseason back surgery. If at some point later in the season, we are all comfortable – I mean all comfortable – enough with both her physical progress and the safety of joining the team in Florida, then we will make those arrangements. If we don’t feel that she will continue to do the workouts in D.C., and get herself ready for the following season.”

“We can do anything we want,” Thibault said. “We have intended to [pay her] from the start. She’s a major part of our team and she’s making every effort to do the rehab that she needs to do.”

“I have told her that there is not going to be pressure put on her to hurry back, I don’t want — I’m in this and she’s in this for the long haul,” Thibault said.

If the Mystics truly planned all along to pay Delle Donne, her public-relations campaign the last couple days seems excessive.

But it’s also possible the public pressure she raised contributed to this decision.

As reigning WNBA MVP, Delle Donne had leverage that other players don’t. That’s why I’m surprised this was up to the Mystics. Other WNBA teams don’t want to face increasing pressure to pay any players who want to sit out. That’s why the panel of doctors existed in the first place.

Perhaps, Delle Donne’s back injury gave Washington a workaround. That’s a reasonable excuse for Delle Donne not reporting while still getting paid. Is the WNBA really going to investigate the Mystics’ assessment of their own player’s physical health when the player agrees?

This is a good outcome for Delle Donne. She made herself so valuable to her employer that it’ll pay her not to work. That’s a heck of an accomplishment by her.

We’ll see how much, if any, of a precedent it sets.

Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox out at least 7-10 days with sprained ankle

De'Aaron Fox sprained ankle
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For a Sacramento team with playoff dreams, this is a punch to the gut: De'Aaron Fox is going to be sidelined until around the start of seeding games — 7-10 days at least — with a sprained ankle.

The Kings’ announced that their point guard sprained his left ankle in practice Wednesday. While he will be re-evaluated in 7-10 days, he could be out longer. This is the same ankle Fox sprained in November that caused him to miss 17 games.

The Kings’ first game is 16 days away against San Antonio.

Fox, arguably the fastest player in the league with the ball in his hands, averaged 20.4 points, and 6.8 assists this season, playing at a near All-star level once he came back from the sprained ankle. Fox is the engine of the Sacramento offense, it is 5.2 points per 100 possessions worse when he is off the court.

Sacramento comes into the restart in a virtual tie with Portland and New Orleans for the ninth seed in the West, 3.5 games back of Memphis. However, the Kings have not been able to get their stars on the court together: Harrison Barnes and Alex Len and remain in Sacramento, quarantining after testing positive for the coronavirus. Richaun Holmes is in quarantine on his Walt Disney World hotel room after leaving the confines of the NBA bubble to pick up a food delivery.

All of which combine to make it an even longer shot the Kings end their 14-year playoff drought this season. The sprained ankle for De’Aaron Fox, if it slows him at all, would be a serious blow to those chances.

 

Spurs: Trey Lyles out rest of season (appendectomy)

Spurs forward Trey Lyles
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The Spurs lost their top big in LaMarcus Aldridge.

Now, they’ll lose Trey Lyles, who often started at power forward next to Aldridge and also played behind Aldridge at center.

Spurs release:

Spurs forward Trey Lyles underwent an appendectomy earlier today in Orlando, Fla.

Lyles will miss the remainder of the 2019-20 season.

San Antonio’s last seeding game is scheduled for Aug. 13 – nearly a month away. Theoretically, Lyles could have tried to return by then.

The NBA dodges a complication with the Spurs ruling him out for the rest of the season.

Lyles left the NBA’s campus for his surgery. (Disney World is in Lake Buena Vista. He underwent surgery in Orlando.) That means he faced exposure in Florida, where coronavirus cases are surging. It would have been tricky bringing him back into the bubble safely while not punishing him for requiring medical attention.

The NBA will probably face this conundrum with someone else later. But the league avoids that situation for now.

San Antonio’s problems are more pressing.

Jakob Poeltl is now the Spurs’ top center, but he fits poorly with DeMar DeRozan because they’re both non-shooters from 3-point range. Rudy Gay should see plenty of time at power forward.

Behind them, options – newly signed Tyler Zeller, Drew Eubanks, Chimezie Metu and Luka Samanic – are uninspiring.

Gregg Popovich truly must muster some magic for San Antonio to extend its record playoff streak.