Maurice Cheeks: Brandon Jennings doesn’t know how to play point guard yet

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Flash back to the Pistons’ news conference to introduce Brandon Jennings. Joe Dumars in his opening statement, as transcribed by Matt Watson of Detroit Bad Boys:

We also like the fact that he has five years of pro experience, one in Italy and four in Milwaukee. And we thought that he could step right in, hit the ground running and fit with the rest of our guys.

If Jennings could deliver on that, that would be fantastic for the Pistons.

They’re desperately trying to snap a four-season playoff drought, so they needed a point guard who didn’t require too much on-the-job learning. And they’d already assembled an unconventional frontcourt featuring Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, so they need a point guard who could play with that trio.

Their previous point guard, Brandon Knight, made too many youthful mistakes, and his inability to operate in tight spaces made him a poor fit with the jumbo frontline. Jennings would help on both fronts.

Or so it seemed.

Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks, a former All-Star point guard, is not nearly as praising of Jennings 16 games into the season. Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press:

Cheeks knew where everyone on the floor was supposed to be — or supposed to be going. When they weren’t, he told them. Jennings is trying to learn that now, after a life of seeking out space to shoot.

“It takes a certain amount of time for a guy to do that if that if they haven’t been doing it that way their whole career,” Cheeks said. “I don’t think it’s just an overnight thing, I think Brandon is learning a little of that.”

“It’s very important to figure out where a (teammate) should be and direct him where to go,” Cheeks said. “It’s not an overnight thing where you learn how to play with Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Josh Smith.”

Cheeks is certainly entitled to a different opinion than Dumars, and that might be all that’s happening here. But it also seems like the Pistons are talking out of both sides of their mouth. Make big promises, and then beg for more time when they don’t come to fruition.

For what it’s worth, Cheeks’ assessment looks much more accurate than Dumars’. Not only does the Pistons’ offensive rating fall from when Jennings is on the bench (106.3) to when he’s on the court (100.0), it falls even further when he plays with Smith, Monroe and Drummond (97.3).

Jennings hasn’t shown the polish of a five-year pro, and fit well with this team.

Perhaps Cheeks can use his experience at the position to teach Jennings to be a better point guard. But even though Jennings doesn’t seem old at just 24, not many players improve greatly at this stage of their career. Another mentor for Jennings – Chauncey Billups, a rare exception to the rule for blooming late at point guard – is on the Pistons’ bench.

Even if Cheeks and Billups can eventually get Jennings on track, the Pistons have a more pressing concern – how to win without the point guard they thought they were getting, the one who plays like a seasoned pro and fits well with Smith, Monroe and Drummond.

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.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.