Is J.R. Smith a “punk” for his takedown of Leandro Barbosa?

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J.R. Smith was ejected near the very end of the Knicks’ loss in Indiana on Tuesday, for doing what he did to Leandro Barbosa in the video clip above. The loss was a brutal one for New York, considering the team led by as many as 17 points late in the third quarter, and has a very slim lead over the Bucks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The frustration level was understandable, but Smith’s actions on this play, a little less so. Equally puzzling was the fact that a writer for the New York Post took to Twitter following the game to express his displeasure with the play — and seemingly, with Smith as a person.

The tweet that followed seemed to indicate that in person, the takedown was much worse, because Smith was “baiting” Barbosa into the contact all the way down the court.

Barbosa is a high-energy player who can definitely annoy his opponent at times, and it’s especially true in this case, where he’s playing physical, full-court defense with the game having already been decided. I don’t know how much “baiting” was really going on here; Barbosa was just as much to blame for the contact as Smith … at least up until the point where Smith decided to throw him to the ground.

The play by Smith was clearly made out of frustration, and was definitely “unprofessional,” as his head coach Mike Woodson said about it afterward. But let’s be clear: this wasn’t Andrew Bynum laying out a player half his size in mid-air at the end of a playoff sweep. This came at the end of a sequence where two players were hand-fighting all the way down the court, and one player — Smith, obviously — had clearly had enough.

This was Smith’s take on the play, from Berman’s piece on the game.

“It was a tug-of-war,’’ said Smith, who came to the Knicks with a tough-guy rep. “The refs didn’t see it. They only saw the end of it. It happens. It’s just the frustration of the game. Bumping and the grinding, he was going at me, I was going at him. It was going on the whole game. Nobody really paid attention to it. I just got a little fed up with it.’’

The ejection was the right call, and if you’re the Knicks, you definitely don’t want to see one of your players going out like that at the end of a tough loss. But things like this happen. No one was injured, and Barbosa bounced up with glee after the play, knowing he was successful in getting into his opponent’s head.

Smith’s actions were indeed unprofessional. I would argue that the same could be said for a writer who covers the team resorting to very public, and very vague name-calling of one of the players he covers.

The word “punk” is a tricky one — I’m not going to get into all of the possibilities here, but let’s just say it’s more of a personal attack (or worse, the voicing of a personal perception) than is necessary when covering men who play sports. Say the play was dirty, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike, or anything else; this one was all of those things. But it’s the loud-mouthed fan’s place to throw out ambiguous terms aimed at hurting a player who he feels has wronged him or the game in some way — it shouldn’t be the media’s.

I will say this about the situation: Berman is not some faceless coward hiding behind an egg icon on Twitter, lobbing insults at someone whom he will never meet. J.R. Smith saw the comment, and retweeted it late Tuesday.

The Knicks play Thursday night in Orlando. The scene at shootaround when the team meets the media should be very interesting.

UPDATE: Marc Berman tweeted the following apology on Wednesday afternoon, which was great to see.

 

Possible top-10 pick Sekou Doumbouya declares for NBA draft

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Just three 18-year-olds have played in the NBA since the league instituted its one-and-done rule: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Dragan Bender and Devin Booker.

Sekou Doumbouya – who’ll remain 18 until Dec. 23 – could become the fourth.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

French forward Sekou Doumbouya has submitted paperwork to the league office to make himself eligible for the 2019 NBA draft, his agent, Bouna Ndiaye of Comsport, told ESPN.

Doumbouya projects as a potential lottery pick.

The 6-foot-9 power forward is extremely physically developed for his age. He’s strong and mobile, and he can elevate.

But he’s still early in his skill development. His shot, handle and feel all need work.

Doumbouya has plenty of tools. His rebounding is already impressive. The rest? It’ll be a project.

Report: Pelicans cut Lakers GM Rob Pelinka from Anthony Davis trade talks

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On Jan. 31, a report emerged the Pelicans hadn’t returned the Lakers’ calls about Anthony Davis. Later that day, another report said the Pelicans and Lakers discussed a Davis trade.

That sparked questions: Was the first report wrong? Did New Orleans and Los Angeles begin talking that day?

Maybe we missed an important distinction.

The first report said then-Pelicans general manager Dell Demps hadn’t returned Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka’s calls. The second report said Demps spoke with Lakers president Magic Johnson.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

Pelinka was mostly cut out of trade talks between L.A. and New Orleans, with the Pelicans preferring to deal directly with Johnson, multiple league sources told ESPN.

Since Johnson stunningly resigned, Pelinka has assumed control in Los Angeles. The Lakers surely still want to trade for Davis.

Will having Pelinka running the front office impair their ability to do so?

We don’t know why the Pelicans rebuffed Pelinka. Different theories bring varying levels of present concern.

Maybe the Pelicans just didn’t want to waste their time with someone who’s not in charge. That’s often an issue when lower-level executives contact other teams. If that’s the case, Pelinka assuming the top job in basketball operations would solve the problem.

Maybe Demps was still bitter with Pelinka over Pelinka’s time as an agent. In 2012, New Orleans restricted free agent Eric Gordon – represented by Pelinka – signed an offer sheet with the Suns. Gordon lobbied hard to leave New Orleans, even saying his heart was in Phoenix. Though New Orleans matched, the saga caused animosity. But the Pelicans fired Demps and hired David Griffin, who’ll now oversee Davis. If this was a personal issue between Pelinka and Demps, that’s now irrelevant.

Maybe Pelinka is just that off-putting. I definitely don’t buy everything people say about him. Being a good agent often means ruffling feathers, and it’s easy for people he countered in negotiations to gossip about him now. But maybe there’s some truth to Pelinka being difficult to work with. If so, that’d come up again – not just with the Pelicans, but every team.

Report: Hornets not trading for Marc Gasol soured Kemba Walker on Hornets

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Kemba Walker has never had an All-Star teammate. For someone as established as Walker, that’s unprecedented.

The Hornets nearly paired Walker with a former All-Star, though. Shortly before the trade deadline, they reportedly nearly dealt for Marc Gasol. But talks stalled, and the Grizzlies instead sent Gasol to the Raptors.

Unsurprisingly, that didn’t go over well with Walker, who was trying to lead a playoff push before entering free agency this summer.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I got the sense in talking to people, that trade deadline really deflated him. When they were pretty close on a Marc Gasol deal, and it fell apart. It didn’t happen. He goes to Toronto. And he looks around and goes, “Come on, what are we trying to do here?”

The reported outline of the Gasol deal: Gasol for Bismack Biyombo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and a protected first-round pick. The hang-up was reportedly on the specifics of the protection.

Which is important!

The Hornets shouldn’t have relinquished too high of a pick for a 34-year-old center just for a likely first-round loss.

Making the playoffs matters. Keeping Walker happy matters. But so does keeping draft picks to build the team going forward. Without knowing the exact line of the protection being haggled, I can’t say whether Charlotte erred by not making the trade. But there’s plenty of room to make passing the right call.

Shortly after the deadline, a rumor emerged Walker would likely leave the Hornets in free agency. This probably explains why.

But a lot has and will happen before Walker makes that call. Charlotte still made a strong late playoff push, though fell short. Walker could make an All-NBA team, which would make him eligible for a super-max contract.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he re-signs. I wouldn’t be surprised if he leaves, either.

What’s clear: He wants to win right now. Though it certainly won’t be the only factor, the Hornets’ stagnancy looks like a real negative when Walker ultimately decides.

Ben Simmons on feud with Jared Dudley: ‘I don’t really have energy for it. It’s done’

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Jared Dudley called Ben Simmons great in transition and average in the halfcourt.

Simmons responded: “It’s coming from Jared Dudley. C’mon.”

In the 76ers’ Game 3 win over the Nets last night, Simmons did what he frequently does – create high-efficiency transition and semi-transition opportunities for himself and teammates. He was also good in the halfcourt, though one game doesn’t establish Simmons in that facet.

Simmons, via Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“I don’t really have energy for it,” Simmons said. “It’s done. People are going to say what they want to say. Just gotta play.”

As I wrote earlier, this beef will be only as big as Simmons makes it. Dudley’s scouting report was largely accurate. He didn’t really say anything inflammatory, except to people in Philadelphia looking for a slight.

Apparently, after one dismissive comment and one excellent game, that’s no longer Simmons.