As Lakers-Celtics rivalry slips, Byron Scott wants changes

13 Comments

BOSTON – Everyone else wanted to talk about Kobe Bryant’s and Rajon Rondo’s breakfast.

Byron Scott wanted to talk about how much Magic Johnson and Larry Bird hated each other.

Many of the familiar faces of the great Lakers-Celtics rivalry were still on hand last night – Scott coaches Los Angeles, and Danny Ainge is Boston’s general manager – but, to Scott, the terms have changed.

“I’m still real old school,” Scott said. “I don’t have breakfast with Danny and all those guys.”

Scott sees this inter-team fraternization taking away from competitiveness.

“How can it not?” Scott said. “You do have to have, I think, a certain dislike for your opponent to go out there and try to kill him and beat him. If you’re friends with a guy, that’s hard to develop that on the court.

“That’s why you don’t have the type of rivalries like we had.”

Another reason this particular rivalry has fallen flat recently: The teams stink.

Scott plans to do something about his.

After the Los Angeles’ 113-96 loss to Boson last night, Scott – who said he has a distinct memory from every Lakers-Celtics game he has participated in – revealed how he’ll recall this one.

“Just sitting in there talking with my coaches, the memory will be of how many changes I make in our starting lineup,” Scott said.

Jeremy Lin, Kobe Bryant, Wesley Johnson, Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill have played more minutes together than any lineup in the NBA. But they’ve been outscored by 15 points per 100 possessions, a net rating lower than the 76ers’. None of the other 30 most-used lineups have fared worse.

“It’s been time enough,” Scott said.

Scott declined to reveal whom he’d bench, but he said the starters will change when the Lakers host the Pelicans tomorrow. Lin and Boozer, who sat the entire fourth quarter against Boston, could be on the outs. So could Johnson, who shot 0-for-5.

“It really just kind of looked like we were disinterested in playing,” said Scott, who called the development “surprising and disappointing to say the least.”

Scott also spoke positively of Hill, and of course, Kobe – who said he’d support whatever lineup changes his coach made – is in no danger of losing his starting spot.

Nobody is questioning the competitiveness of Kobe (or Rondo, for that matter) despite them sharing a meal.

Rondo said he grew to appreciate Kobe when the Lakers star complimented him last season by calling him “an asshole, like me.” So, when in town, Kobe asked where to grab a bite, and they discussed the challenge of leading a strugglin teams.

“Just two assholes having breakfast,” Rondo said.

There was plenty to commiserate about.

With the Lakers 5-15 and Celtics 6-11, these teams are on pace for their worst combined record ever. Yes, even worse than last season, when the Lakers went 27-55 and the Celtics 25-57 as both teams missed playoffs in the same year for just the second time since both entered the league. (1993-94 was the other.)

So, a clearly irritated Scott is doing what he can to restore his team’s standing. After weeks of considering it, he’s holding his starters accountable for their lack of competitiveness.

During Scott’s postgame press conference, where he announced  his plan to change his lineup, Ainge strolled by and offered a fist bump.

“Go to breakfast in the morning?” Ainge asked.

“When you come to L.A., Danny, we’ll go to breakfast,” Scott said.

The rivalry sure has changed.

Bucks GM Horst says keeping Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez was summer priority

Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Milwaukee made the leap last year — won 60 games last season, had the MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, was top five in offense and defense, reached the conference finals, and became a serious title contender. It was an amazing season and run, one that earned GM Jon Horst Executive of the Year honors, as voted by his peers.

But a GM’s job is never done.

The Bucks went into the summer with three starters as free agents and a lot of questions about keeping the roster together. Milwaukee retained two of those starters — Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez — and those two were the top priorities, Horst told Eric Nehm of The Athletic.

Khris was always a focus… He’s our second superstar, our second star. He’s an All-Star. He’s been one of our best players for a long period of time here. Fits our culture, fits our style of play, fits our aging curve. He’s become a leader of our team. For us, we want to try to recruit with him and play the culture fit, winning. Create an environment he wanted to play in for a long, long time. A place where his family is happy with Sam and the baby and everything…

When we got Brook last offseason, we understood, at some level, how important he was going to be to us and how important he was going to be and what the value was going to be. We also understood if he’s as good as we think he’s going to be, it’s going to present a lot of challenges.

The challenges Horst is referring to are about money. The Bucks got Lopez on a one-year steal of a contract at $3.4 million, but he played his way into an eight-figure salary. Keeping Lopez meant roster changes were needed to create cap room.

The ultimate upshot of that is Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic are no longer with the team. The Bucks could have matched the four-year, $85 million offer Indiana put on the table for Brogdon, but doing so would have put them deep into the luxury tax and tied their hands in other ways. The Bucks signed Wesley Matthews as a stopgap instead.

Malcolm is very, very important and we knew how important he was to our team. It will be hard to replace him. I think we’ve done the best that we can and we’ll continue to work in ways to be creative and fill that gap.

Horsts’ moves this summer should keep the Bucks as title contenders next season, they head into the season as the favorites in the East.

That’s not the biggest question facing Milwaukee, however. That is: Did the moves keep Antetokounmpo happy? Next summer he can be offered a super-max contract extension to stay with the Bucks through his prime, if he turns it down the Bucks have to consider trading him. Will Antetokounmpo take the money? Every move Horst made this summer needed to bring Antetokounmpo closer to answering yes to that question.

We’ll see how it went in a year.

Chris Paul says players don’t really talk about money in locker room

Associated Press
3 Comments

Locker room banter flies all over the conversational map: Clubs/restaurants to first cars to rappers to Fortnite to why Player X never has any lotion and always has to borrow someone else’s.

What doesn’t come up? Money.

That according to Chris Paul, who should know after 14 years in the league and now serving as the players’ union president. He was talking about his campaign to help players become more financially aware and said this to Clevis Murray of The Athletic.

“I think the reason why I’m so passionate about this is because I’m finishing up my 14th year in the NBA, and I’ve been around long enough to realize that guys in our league, we talk about everything in the locker room except for finance, except for money,” he said. “Nobody talks about money, because it’s one of those uncomfortable things.”

It’s a strange dynamic in an NBA locker room because everybody knows what everybody else makes, it’s very public, and that provides a certain measuring stick of worth.

Yet how does one player tell another “man, your entourage is too big, you’re blowing your money.” Players finally making money understandably want to take care of family and close friends, but other people come into their life and things can spiral fast. CP3 says he gets it, and he is working with Joe Smith — who made $60 million in NBA earnings and lost all of it — to help prepare rookies.

The stories of NBA players blowing through their money absolutely happen, but they also are not the majority, and the numbers are shrinking. More and more players are learning to be smarter with their money and set themselves up on some level for life after basketball. Not all, but guys who stick in the league a few years tend to learn. If Paul and the union can come up with ways to reach players at an earlier age and prepare them for what is to come, all the better.

Bobby Portis says watch out for underrated Knicks, they could make playoffs

Patrick Smith/Getty Images
3 Comments

You don’t want a player on your team that heads into the season thinking, “we suck, I just hope we can get to 20 wins and not be embarrassed every night.” Even if that might be the reality for that roster.

Enter Bobby Portis of the New York Knicks. The Wizards let him walk to save money and he has ended up on a Knicks team with a lot of guys who see themselves as underrated: Elfrid Payton, Marcus Morris, and Julius Randle. Plus New York has young players with a lot to prove — especially after Summer League — in Kevin Knox, R.J. Barrett, and Mitchell Robinson.

Portis likes this underdog team, he told Alex Kennedy of Hoopshype.

I love being underrated, man. I’m an underdog. I say that every day. We’re the team that’s being counted out right now. People are looking past us. They’re talking about stars going to new teams and this and that, and that’s okay. Everybody on this team has a huge chip on their shoulder. We’re the guys who are always picked second. I think that’s going to make us close. Our practices are going to be top-notch; we’re all going to be competing and that’s going to make us better. We have a lot of dogs on this team, which will help us out as well. Collectively, we all have a chip on our shoulder – a log on our shoulder – so we’re going to go out there and play with an edge. I think that’s great for us.

So… playoffs?

Yeah, for sure, for sure. The naysayers, the haters, the people who are doubting us will say that we’re crazy as hell for saying that. But we have a bunch of guys who are coming in each and every day with that log on their shoulder and that’s going to push us to become a great team. We have a lot of pieces who can play. I think we’re loaded at every position; there are two-to-three players who could start at every position. When you have that much talent, that rises the competitiveness and improves the team as a whole.

That is exactly the attitude you want to see heading into the season.

The Knicks are going to struggle this year, talent wins out in the NBA and the Knicks don’t have enough of it. However, if the goal is to build a culture of gritty players who go play all out and are tough to play against — the cultures the Nets and Clippers developed that drew stars to them — the Knicks are on a decent road. New York didn’t pull a classic Knicks this year and overspend on a couple of second-tier stars when they struck out on the big guns, they went out and got decent players on short contracts. Stay flexible, build a culture.

We’ll see if Portis will be part of that going forward, but he has the right attitude.

Report: Lakers claim Kostas Antetokounmpo off waivers

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
7 Comments

Giannis Antetokounmpo is a 24-year-old MVP playing in Milwaukee and heading toward a super-max decision that could have him hit 2021 unrestricted free agency.

Big-market teams are licking their chops.

That probably has something to do with the Lakers adding his brother, Kostas Antetokounmpo.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kostas Antetokounmpo was the last pick in last year’s draft. He spent the season on a two-way contract with the Mavericks, who just waived him. He’ll remain on a two-way deal with the Lakers. The 21-year-old was alright in the NBA’s minor league, but he’s not a tantalizing prospect.

Except for his connection to Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Giannis Antetokounmpo said he could never see himself playing for Los Angeles. But maybe he’d change his mind if someone close to him has a positive experience there. That must be the Lakers’ hope, at least.

It’s worth a shot, and the Lakers aren’t the only team trying this angle. The Bucks also signed Thanasis Antetokounmpo this summer.