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.

Tom Thibodeau on Timberwolves not getting first-rounder in Jimmy Butler trade: ‘Getting good players was a priority’

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The Heat offered Josh Richardson and a first-round pick. The Rockets offered four first-round picks or Eric Gordon, Nene and two first-round picks. The Pelicans reportedly offered Nikola Mirotic and an unprotected first-round pick.

But the Timberwolves traded Jimmy Butler to the 76ers for Robert Covington and Dario Saric in a deal that included no first-round picks and Minnesota getting only one second-rounder.

Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau:

We wanted quality players. I think that that was important for us.

When you look at, to get two starters off a team that won 52 games, and they’re both young, and they’re going to get better, and they’re both very good defensively. They both shoot the 3, so we think they fit well with the guys that we do have.

And so once we once got to that point where felt we were getting multiple rotational players, then we felt it would be time to execute the deal.

It was what was best for the organization. Obviously, getting good players was a priority. But the pick part is important, and we felt we got a good pick from Philly.

It was what does it mean for the team? If you get two rotational players, that’s good. And then if you can get a pick, that allows you to do more things. And so I think that’s all part of it. You always try to think about what the possibilities could be.

Thibodeau might have taken the best offer for the the Timberwolves by the time he actually accepted a deal. Miami pulled the Richardson offer after his strong start to the season. Getting four first-rounders from Houston required taking Brandon Knight‘s negative-value contract, and it’s unclear exactly how the picks were protected. New Orleans has the best record of those three teams, so an unprotected pick carries less value.

But it’s also impossible to overlook Thibodeau’s present-minded attitude. That’s how he already approached everything. Now, he appears to be coaching for his job this season. Nobody ever expected him to prioritize long-term assets.

Covington and Saric are good players, but Minnesota was also 4-9 at the time of the trade. Are Covington and Saric good enough to lift the Timberwolves out of this hole and into the playoffs? It’s a tough ask. In 2020-21, Saric will be up for a big raise, and the Timberwolves already have a lot of money committed. They might have to downgrade the rest of the roster to keep Saric and avoid the luxury tax. This is a narrow window for Minnesota to get value from this trade.

That said, blame Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor for creating this situation. By allowing Thibodeau to remain in charge without much job security, Taylor is practically demanding Thibodeau emphasize the present. If Taylor wanted draft picks, he should have fired Thibodeau earlier.

Caris LeVert suffers injury so horrific, it brings teammates to tears and opponents to prayer (video)

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Caris LeVert has been one of the Nets’ biggest bright spots. The hard-working 24-year-old was a Most Improved Player candidate, and he seems well-liked throughout the organization. He’s even already hit a couple gamewinners this season.

But LeVert’s breakout campaign hit a devastating snag tonight, as he injured his leg.

The reactions of both his Brooklyn teammates and the Timberwolves say everything. This is a tough one.

Markelle Fultz takes ugly pump-fake free throw

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A key question after the 76ers traded for Jimmy Butler: How would the demanding star affect Markelle Fultz‘s confidence?

Butler isn’t even playing for Philadelphia yet, but this isn’t an encouraging sign.

Maybe the ball just slipped out of Fultz’s hands on the way up, and he had to continue pushing it toward the rim to avoid a violation. That could happen to anybody.

But given everything we know about Fultz’s shooting woes, it’s impossible to take this as anything other than a ghastly low point in an ongoing problem.

LeBron James: ‘I almost cracked’ with Lakers’ slow start

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LeBron James has played in eight straight NBA Finals.

How’s he handling reduced expectations with the Lakers, who started 2-5 before rising to 7-6?

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

‪“I haven’t changed anything outwardly, but you know me. You know how I am. I almost cracked [last week]. I had to sit back and remind myself, ‘[Expletive], you knew what you were getting yourself into,’” James told Yahoo Sports while laughing after Saturday’s win in Sacramento. “This process has been good for me. I just have to continue being patient.”‬

LeBron warned everyone to stay clear when he loses his patience, but he has never sounded close to losing it this season. He signed a four-year deal with the Lakers, said he doesn’t feel urgency to win quickly before his prime ends and seems content to wait for a co-star.

If anything, it seemed LeBron might be too relaxed, enjoying the Los Angeles lifestyle and focusing on showbusiness.

So, this is a welcome sign of his competitiveness.

Also kudos to LeBron for harnessing it unlike others in the organization. These Lakers need time to determine how these oddly shaped pieces fit together – unless a star becomes available. Then, all bets are off.