PBT Extra: Can Memphis, Houston sustain hot starts?

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Earlier this week we talked surprises out East, now it’s time for Jenna Corrado and I to focus on the West in the latest PBT Extra.

Memphis’ grit and grind brought playoff basketball to the regular season — and it works. They are 7-1. So long as Marc Gasol stays healthy and they keep defending they are going to win games at a nice clip, but they need Vince Carter to find his shot because their bench is woeful.

Houston has looked good early behind the best defense in the NBA so far, plus James Harden is putting up 25+ a game. They are good. They also have played just three likely playoff teams in those eight games so far (going 2-1), you can’t feast on the Lakers and Sixers forever. Their tests remain ahead of them.

And what about the Kings? They may be inconsistent but Sacramento fans can savor how much better they are than the Lakers.

NBA players’ union votes to support formation of G-League union

Kyrie Irving
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Better pay. Better working conditions. Not to be treated as disposable parts by their employers.

The players in the G-League want the same thing out of a union that auto workers, teachers, and (most obviously) NBA players do. As had been expected (talks had been going on for a while), on Monday the National Basketball Players Association (the NBA players’ union) voted to support the formation of a G-League union, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The G-League players are expected to support this. Sources have told NBC Sports that team and league officials will not oppose the players unionizing, they believe there will be benefits, too.

The primary issue will be pay. Most players in the G-League earn a $35,000 salary, unless they’re an elite high school prospect, or on a two-way contract (which means they are tied to an NBA team and can be called up for 45 days a season). Some players make more through an Exhibit 10 contract with a team — meaning they go to training camp with a team, then get a bonus ($50,000 or so) if they sign with that team’s G-League team.

Other issues would include freedom of player movement, work benefits, and giving the players a voice in other matters like discipline issues.

The NBA continues to push toward each of its teams having a minor-league affiliate. Right now, only the Trail Blazers and Nuggets do not. As the G-League grows, it’s understandable the players want a larger voice in how things are run.

In other news out of the players’ union meeting, Kyrie Irving was voted in as vice president, replacing Paul Gasol. Via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Chris Paul remains the union president.

Check out Dr. Dre’s Kobe Bryant tribute

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CHICAGO — In a weekend filled with spectacular tributes to Kobe Bryant, this one stood out.

Legendary rapper, songwriter, record producer, and businessman Dr. Dre — a guy who grew up in Los Angeles — released a tribute that stood out (and was highlighted on TNT). Dre did this with Gibson Hazard and Jackson Bannon.

Kobe’s public memorial service takes place Feb. 24 at Staples Center.

Giannis Antetokounmpo on team’s All-Star plan: Attack James Harden

Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden
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CHICAGO – James Harden has griped about Giannis Antetokounmpo winning Most Valuable Player last year.

After his team lost to Harden’s in the All-Star game Sunday, Antetokounmpo got in a dig at Harden.

“Offensively, we were just trying to find whoever James Harden was guarding,” Antetokounmpo said of his team’s strategy late. “That’s who we thought we’d have the opportunity to score on.”

Harden is not a good defender. But this is playing right into his hands. He’s at his best in isolation, especially in the post. He faces far more difficulty when run through actions off the ball or trying to keep up in transition.

Down the stretch, Harden defended more effectively than usual. Not great, but above his usual standard. Good enough for LeBron James‘ team to win.

At least, as Giannis previously noted, the MVP trophy is at his house.

Report: John Beilein expected to decide on future as Cavaliers coach by Tuesday

Cavaliers coach John Beilein
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John Beilein is considering resigning as Cavaliers coach.

They play Friday.

Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst of ESPN on Sunday night:

The Cleveland Cavaliers and John Beilein have discussed the possibility of the coach stepping down before the end of the All-Star break, and Beilein was expected to reach a decision in the next 24-48 hours, league sources told ESPN.

This is part of the larger problem with Beilein, but this wouldn’t be a difficult transition. Assistant coach J.B. Bickerstaff already does so much. And players see Bickerstaff – who previously head-coached the Grizzlies – doing so much.

In his long career as a college head coach, Beilein never had a player on a clear NBA track from the moment he arrived on campus. Beilein has so little first-hand experience with NBA players’ temperaments, which can include disrespecting a head coach and turning to an assistant.

With this report public, it’s hard to see how Beilein maintains any credibility with Cavs players if he returns. When players know the coach is finished by the end of the season, they sometimes take license to rebel. Add the dynamic of knowing Beilein considered resigning earlier, and the last couple months of the season could be even messier than the first few.

At best, everyone would accept this miserable arrangement will end soon enough. Players would tune out Beilein and not make waves. And that’s at best! Not an ideal way to develop young players like Darius Garland, Collin Sexton and Kevin Porter Jr.