Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Bulls players admit lack of discipline

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I know you didn’t get to watch a lot of NBA on Sunday because you were preparing for the biggest football game of the year — the Pro Bowl. Actually, the NHL All-Star Game was the story of the day. That said, NBA machine kept right on rolling, so here’s what you need to know from around the Association Sunday.

1) Pau Gasol, Jimmy Butler both Bulls lack discipline. After a couple of days off in Los Angeles, the Chicago Bulls came out against the Clippers Sunday on national television and… looked like they enjoyed those couple of days off in Los Angeles. The Bulls were an unfocused defensive unit against a Clippers squad that without Blake Griffin spreads the floor better and provides real challenges. The Bulls weren’t up to it. Pau Gasol nailed why:

“We’re not disciplined,” Gasol said. “Yep. We’re not. That’s it. It’s true. It’s a fact.”

Jimmy Butler echoed those thoughts, via Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com.

“We’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing. Loose ball, you gotta get that, rebound, you gotta get that,” Jimmy Butler said. “We lack discipline in a lot of key areas, which is why games turn out the way they do at times.”

This is a team that had discipline screamed into them by former coach Tom Thibodeau, but the Bulls missed some shots Sunday then seemed to sulk on defense afterwards — they and had a defensive rating of 124 (points allowed per 100 possessions). The Bulls didn’t defend the arc well — Los Angeles shot 17-of-32 from deep — nor did they have an answer for the athleticism of DeAndre Jordan inside. It was the kind of day for the Bulls that even when they went to hack-a-Jordan he hit some free throws.

The Clippers continue to roll without Blake Griffin. The Bulls continue to be a pretty good team that is not going to scare an elite team. Chicago lacks the discipline to do that.

2) Suns fire coach Jeff Hornacek. Well, this should solve all their problems. Suns management has made a series of mistakes the past couple years. They thought when they won 48 games in 2014 they could shortcut the rebuilding process. They brought in Isaiah Thomas, then when that didn’t work sold low on him and sent out one of the most valuable trade chips around (the Lakers pick this season or next, top three protected) so they could get Brandon Knight (who has battled injuries). They brought in Tyson Chandler, who has been injured and looked old. They traded Marcus Morris in an attempt to clear cap space and impress LaMarcus Aldridge, and in the process angered Markeiff Morris, who has tried to push his way out of town and has played terribly. Add on to that injuries that nobody could control, like the current one to Eric Bledsoe, and you have a 14-35 team.

So how did the Suns deal with all those issues? Fire the coach, of course. Jeff Hornacek is out and either Corey Gaines or Earl Watson will take over in the interim. Long term, rumors have the Suns chasing Luke Walton and Mike D’Antoni. We’ll see. But until the front office picks a viable direction in building a team, then sticks with it for multiple years, it’s not going to matter who coaches this team.

3) Lakers get booed on home court after franchise record 10th straight loss. Remember how the Lakers fans thought last season was going to be the bottoming out in the rebuilding process? Nope. The Lakers went scoreless the final 3:50 of the third quarter in a loss to visiting Charlotte Sunday, and as the misses and misques kept piling up, the Laker fans let the team know how hard this is to watch — the boos got louder and louder. The fans want to buy into hope for the future, but the Clippers need to show them some. Charlotte won 101-82, the 10th straight loss for the Lakers at Staples Center, another new franchise record. The Lakers can’t defend, lack shooters, and lack confidence. It’s not pretty. But sure, Kevin Durant is going to come this summer, because this team looks so appealing.

4) Klay Thompson, Draymond Green keep Warriors right on rolling. Stephen Curry is human. The man was 5-of-17 shooting for 13 points on Sunday. Curry struggled against the Knicks. Not that it mattered — Klay Thompson scored 34 points and Draymond Green had a triple-double (his ninth of the season), and the Warriors won again. That’s 44-4 on the season, if you’re still scoring at home.

5) Aaron Gordon put back dunk. One of the upsets of the day Sunday was Orlando knocking off Boston 119-114. The Magic had lost 12 of 13, but played one of their better games in a while Sunday. The big star was Aaron Gordon, who  tied his career high with 19 points, and he added 14 rebounds. Plus, he did this as a kind of dagger late.

 

Report: Udoka used ‘crude language’ with female subordinate prior to improper relationship

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The Boston Celtics handled the Ime Udoka investigation and suspension by the corporate handbook: They kept the woman’s name out of the news, kept details confidential (not even telling the players much for legal reasons), and acted swiftly and decisively.

But as the team on the court starts defending its Eastern Conference title, there has been a concern that details leaking out about the investigations — and responses to those leaks — could turn this into a season-long drama and distraction for the team. That first started on Friday when Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported this:

The independent law firm probe into Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka found that he used crude language in his dialogue with a female subordinate prior to the start of an improper workplace relationship with the woman, an element that significantly factored into the severity of his one-year suspension, sources told ESPN.

Those investigative findings — which described verbiage on Udoka’s part that was deemed especially concerning coming from a workplace superior — contribute to what is likely a difficult pathway back to his reinstatement as Celtics coach in 2023, sources told ESPN.

A few thoughts here.

• “Crude language” is just part of a more detailed and damning report, league sources have told NBC Sports. There is much more uncovered by the independent investigation, including about the power dynamic in play. It was enough that the Celtics thought the best move was to suspend for an entire season a coach loved by players who led the team to the NBA Finals (it’s not something the Celtics organization did lightly).

• As Wojnarowski and others have noted, it’s increasingly unlikely Udoka returns to coach the Celtics next season, even if that is not yet official.

• While some pundits and people around the league have said Udoka is “done,” the NBA has seen unexpected turnarounds before. Never say never in this league.

• About the only sure thing is that this story is not over.

Lillard poised to pass Drexler as Trail Blazers all-time leading scorer

2022-23 Portland Trail Blazers Media Day
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
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Damian Lillard could have done what a lot of NBA stars have done — what a lot of them told him to do while recruiting him — and has chosen to stay in Portland. He wants to be remembered as the greatest Trail Blazer ever.

One good way to do that: Become the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Sometime around Thanksgiving or a little after, Lillard will do just that, passing Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler and his 18,040 points (Lillard is 531 back).

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports spoke to Lillard about when he knew the record was within reach, during Trail Blazers training camp in Santa Barbara, California (go Gauchos!). It was when Lillard got to 10,000 points.

“I was like, ‘Damn, I got 10,000 already?’ ” Lillard told Yahoo Sports he recalled at the time. “It was my sixth season in the league. That’s when I started thinking, if I could be consistent, I could score into the high 20,000-point range. As a scorer, 20,000 points is always looked at as a special mark. From that moment, I knew it was possible, but it’s also when I first researched Clyde Drexler’s [scoring] record with the team.”

Drexler is good with being passed by Lillard.

“You and I know records are made to be broken, but I can’t think of a better player or person to break the record than Dame,” Drexler told Yahoo Sports. “He exemplifies being a team player and going about his business in a professional way. I have nothing but admiration and respect for him. When he comes close to getting the record, and if our schedules align, I would love to be there to help out in any way I can. That’s a nice milestone to achieve. I am looking forward to him accomplishing that.”

Lillard is on a lot of front office people’s watch list this season, as in “how long before he is unhappy and asks for a trade?” The thing is, Lillard has been on that list for years and he keeps choosing Portland — he isn’t looking to leave. Of course, the $120 million extension and a retooling of the roster around him helped with that decision, but Lillard always had other options if he wanted them (and at times it felt like he would take them).

The Trail Blazers brought in Jerami Grant, re-signed Anfrenee Simons, and will put them with a solid core of others such as (a finally healthy) Jusuf Nurkic, Josh Hart, Gary Payton II and others. It’s a good roster, the question is how good in a deep West?

There are a lot of questions about how this season shakes out in Portland, but the one seeming sure thing is Lillard becoming the Trail Blazers’ all-time leading scorer. And that seems fitting.

Suns update: Ayton blames Sarver for contract, Crowder conflict, Johnson to start

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Phoenix went to the NBA Finals two seasons ago and had the most wins in the NBA last season, yet dark clouds seem to be blocking out the Suns heading into this NBA season.

Here’s the latest on three situations with the Suns: Deandre Ayton‘s contract frustration, why Jae Crowder is asking out, and who starts at the four now.

• Ayton ended up signing a four-year, $132.9 max contract and will be back with the Suns to start this season, but the road to get there was rocky. The Suns would not offer Ayton a max five-year contract extension, his name kept coming up in Kevin Durant trade rumors, so Ayton went out and got a four-year max offer from the Pacers — which the Suns instantly matched. Phoenix saved $40 million and a guaranteed year, but the process left Ayton a little bitter.

Ayton blames outgoing owner Robert Sarver — a notorious penny pincher as an owner (among other, much worse things) — Marc Spears and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN discussed on NBA Today (hat tip Real GM).

“That is certainly something that caused the ire of him,” said Marc J. Spears. “I was told that it was Robert Sarver who didn’t want to give him that fifth year, who wanted to save the money.”

“My understanding from talking to people close to Deandre is that he thinks this was Robert Sarver’s decision as well. And Robert Sarver’s not going to be the owner anymore. So there is some healing that can happen there. But I know there were some hurt feelings over that contract and how that played out.

“If they were going to instantly match an offer sheet that he signed, why not just give him the max contract? Yes, it saved them a year and $40 million but as somebody close to Deandre told me ‘There’s a karma to this. Why do that to your No. 1 overall pick?'”

Shelburne hit the nail on the head — the NBA is a business, but it’s a business of relationships. Not only did the Suns sour theirs with Ayton, but you can also be sure every other agent around the league noticed how that was handled. It doesn’t help when recruiting players. The eventual new owner, whoever it ends up being, has a lot of work to change the franchise’s perception.

• Jae Crowder remains away from the Suns during training camp awaiting a trade (which reportedly will not be to Dallas). Crowder started 109 games for the Suns during the past two seasons and was a key part of their run to the NBA Finals, so how did things deteriorate so quickly? Marc Stein lays it out in his latest Substack newsletter.

Entering the final season of his current contract at $10.2 million, Jae Crowder let the Suns know that he was seeking a contract extension. League sources say that the Suns’ messaging, in response, was to let Crowder know that, at 32, he was no longer assured of starting or finishing games ahead of Cam Johnson. That gulf between the parties led Crowder to seek an exit from the desert that has landed him on indefinite mutual leave from the team until Phoenix can find a trade for him.

While Miami gets mentioned as a suitor a lot, it’s next to impossible to put together a trade that works for both sides right now (at the trade deadline, maybe, but Crowder isn’t going to be with the Suns that long). Cleveland is currently the hot name in league circles when talking Crowder trades, and Stein also mentions the Milwaukee Bucks, who have been looking for a P.J. Tucker-like replacement for P.J Tucker. But, do any of these teams want to extend Crowder at age 32?

• Suns coach Monty Williams confirmed what Crowder heard — Cameron Johnson will start at the four for the Suns this season.

Johnson brings better shooting to the table — 42.5% last season on 3-pointers — and is more athletic at this point, but Crowder brings better defense, toughness, and veteran savvy that can be trusted in the playoffs. The Suns may miss that when it matters, but Johnson will get the chance to prove us all wrong.

Blake Griffin agrees to join Boston Celtics on one-year deal

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According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Blake Griffin has agreed to join the Boston Celtics on a one-year contract which will be fully guaranteed.

The Celtics were desperate for frontcourt depth following injuries to Danilo Gallinari and Robert Williams, as Luke Kornet was even getting some run with the starting group at training camp.

You do have to wonder just how much the 33-year-old Griffin has left in the tank though. Last season with the Brooklyn Nets, Griffin only managed to play 17.1 minutes per game and his 3-point percentage dropped like a stone to 26%. He was also a major liability on defense, and the Celtics surely know that after Jaylen Brown drove by him with ease time and time again during the postseason.

Griffin was still an effective playmaker and that may make him a good fit with the second unit alongside the likes of Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White and Grant Williams with all of these capable of handling the ball. Injuries and Father Time have zapped Griffin’s athleticism, but if anyone can squeeze the last bit of value out of him, I’d bet on Brad Stevens and the Celtics.