Getty Images

Three Things to Know: Paul George loves Los Angeles, playing there is something else

Leave a comment

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Paul George loves Los Angeles, but after his current team sweeps city does he want to go there? It’s the siren song of leading your hometown franchise vs. a team built to win right now. Paul George has a decision coming up this summer, and both sides made their case in the last 48 hours.

There was plenty of fodder for the “George wants to play for the Lakers” camp this week — buzz that started with his agent telling the Pacers exactly that last summer. (George seemed disinterested in the Clippers when it was brought up.) The best example of what playing in L.A. could offer was George draining a three against the Lakers Wednesday then running over to hug his mom courtside. Also, there was no shortage of quotes from George about how much he loves his hometown.

“It was awesome,” George said of his welcome in L.A. after his current team, the Thunder, thrashed the Lakers by almost 40. “For one, just being home, being in front of friends, family, and then just the respect, the love, the recruitment. It was awesome. It was awesome to get that love.”

On the other side, there’s the game on the court. The Thunder are winning, and the young Lakers look years away from contending even with a superstar. George got a view of that firsthand this week. Oklahoma City kept up its hot streak — the win over the Clippers Thursday 127-117 was the team’s eighth in 10 games — which should lead to plenty of optimism in the “George is going to stay with the Thunder” camp.

Or there’s this quote:

“If (the Thunder are) trending, if we’re going in the right direction, if I feel there is something that we’re building, and there’s a foundation — it would be kind of clueless, just stupid on my behalf to up and leave.”

George hasn’t made his call about next summer yet, he seems torn and is being patient. Westbrook is all in for Oklahoma City, having signed his max extension. Carmelo Anthony almost certainly opts into his $28 million final year (that money isn’t out there for him as a free agent). Meanwhile, George is playing it LeBron style, keeping all his options open and waiting until the summer. (The financial dance for the Thunder to keep George is a tough one for GM Sam Presti and ownership — they maxed out Westbrook, they would need to max out George, and everyone expects Anthony to opt in, sending the Thunder deep into the luxury tax, maybe too deep for a small market. No matter what ownership says.)

It’s not championship or bust to keep George in OKC, but the Thunder’s slow start dug them a deep hole. OKC is currently the fifth seed in the West and may well climb up to fourth, but they are four games back of the three-seed Spurs who just got Kawhi Leonard back, and the Rockets are out of reach. If the Thunder are the four seed it means a challenging first-round series (likely against the Timberwolves), then in the second round would be the Warriors. If Oklahoma City gets spanked by Golden State in that series it sends a message, if OKC pushes the defending champs hard it’s another.

George is going to wait and see. But we do know he loves Los Angeles.

2) Giannis Antetokounmpo ahead of LeBron James in first fan All-Star voting returns. It is a testament to what a superstar the Greek Freak has become: He, not LeBron James, would be one of the two captains to pick All-Star teams if All-Star voting ended today. In fan voting so far, Antetokounmpo is just 7,336 votes ahead of LeBron (with more than 85 million votes cast for each), but it’s a lead.

Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant would be the captains, although Duran’s lead in the West over just-returned Stephen Curry is only 32,287 votes.

Just as a refresher: The NBA has thrown out the stale old East vs. West All-Star format for this year’s game — Feb. 18 in Los Angeles — and gone to a playground-style picking of teams format: The top vote-getters in each conference will be the captains and they will make the picks (from a pool of All-Stars). They can choose anyone from either conference — Durant is free to pick LeBron instead of Curry. Fan votes combined with select media will choose the starter pool of two guards and three frontcourt players from each conference (consider those media votes Zaza Pachulia insurance, fans almost voted him as a starter last season). The coaches will pick the seven reserves from each conference.

If the voting ended today (and the media agreed) the frontcourt players from the East would be Antetokounmpo, James, and Joel Embiid, paired with guards Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan. Kristaps Porzingis is not far behind Embiid, and Victor Oladipo is close to taking DeRozan’s spot as a starter.

Out West, the starters voted into the pool would be Durant, Anthony Davis, and DeMarcus Cousins (yes, two Pelicans). The guards are Curry and James Harden. Draymond Green and Paul George are within striking distance of Cousins, while Russell Westbrook is third in the guard voting.

Voting is open through Jan. 15.

3) Warriors without Kevin Durant beat Rockets without James Harden. Do I even need to write “don’t read anything into this?”

No Durant or Harden throws a preview of playoff defensive matchups largely out the window (although overall the Rockets did a good job sniffing out the Warriors backcuts and floppy actions that usually lead to easy buckets). Aside the missing stars, Gerald Green went off for 8-of-15, and while that may give the Warriors something to think about it’s also not sustainable for Green (although someone on the Rockets always seems to step up).

Plus, we are more than four months away from a playoff series between these squads — both teams will evolve between now and then.

Basically, this game felt like a one-off. It was familiar only in Golden State’s pattern of owning a game late — the Warriors took over the final nine minutes to win 124-114. Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 57 points. With that the Warriors keep their perch on top of the West secure. But that’s about it.

Kelly Loeffler calls WNBA players supporting her opponent for senate ‘out of control cancel culture’

Sue Bird wears shirt supporting Raphael Warnock in senate race against Kelly Loeffler
Julio Aguilar/Getty Images
Leave a comment

WNBA players and Kelly Loeffler hit a stalemate.

Players want to oust Loeffler as Atlanta Dream co-owner because Loeffler – a Republican U.S. Senator from Georgia – holds political stances they disagree with and is advocating against the league supporting Black Lives Matter. Loeffler said she won’t sell, and the league won’t force her out.

So, players have turned to Loeffler’s senate race, wearing “VOTE WARNOCK” shirts in support of Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock.

Holly Rowe of ESPN:

Loeffler statement:

ATLANTA—Today, political outsider and conservative businesswoman Kelly Loeffler issued the following statement in response to WNBA players wearing “VOTE WARNOCK” t-shirts. The shirts endorse Kelly’s Democrat opponent, Raphael Warnock, following her criticism of the league’s embrace of the Black Lives Matter political organization.

“This is just more proof that the out of control cancel culture wants to shut out anyone who disagrees with them. It’s clear that the league is more concerned with playing politics than basketball, and I stand by what I wrote in June:

“We come together around sports, but promoting a political agenda divides us rather than unites us. The lives of every African American matter, and there’s no place for racism in our country. But I oppose the BLM political organization due to its radical ideas and Marxist foundations, which include defunding the police and eroding the nuclear family. On the other hand, our flag represents our values of freedom and equality for all. If we can’t unite behind our flag, much less the national anthem during this struggle, then what keeps us together? It’s sad to see that there’s more interest in tearing our country apart than in solutions that bring us together. I’ll continue to defend American values and our flag, because this is not a game – it’s the future of our country. “

“Cancel culture” is a vague term with shifting definitions. But people supporting voting for one political candidate over another? That comes nowhere near any reasonable definition of cancel culture.

WNBA players are not just basketball players. They’re human beings with varied interests – including politics. That should come perfectly naturally to a self-described “political outsider” who’s a sitting senator and running for re-election. If it’s reasonable for Loeffler to be interested in politics (it is), it reasonable for WNBA players to be interested in politics.

As far as Loeffler restating her previous points, she remains errant.

Writer recants report that Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because team didn’t spend enough

Pacers executive Larry Bird
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The report from ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan that Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because the team didn’t spend enough?

Never mind.

Pacers release:

Statement from Larry Bird

“A published report indicated that I left my position as President of Basketball Operations in 2017 because ownership was not willing to spend “big money” and that it frustrated me enough to step aside. Nothing could be further from the truth. I want everyone to know I left there because it was time for me to move on from the Pacers.

“I had worked with Kevin Pritchard and at that time I felt Kevin was ready to take over and he has proven that. I can’t thank Herb and Mel Simon, along with Pacers Sports & Entertainment, for the opportunities to, at first, coach, and then later move into the front office.”

Statement from ESPN senior writer Jackie MacMullan:

“About three weeks ago during a discussion on the podcast The Hoop Collective, I misspoke when I expressed my opinion regarding the business practices of the Indiana Pacers, and inferred that Larry Bird had been frustrated during his time as team president. It was a careless remark, based solely on my opinion, and therefore should have never been said. Larry Bird never expressed those feelings to me, and I apologize to both Larry and team owner Herb Simon for poor choice of my words.”

I don’t know why the Pacers bothered quoting Bird, who still works for the organization as Advisor to the President of Basketball Operations. MacMullan’s clear recantation says everything necessary (and speaks to her integrity and humility).

It’s good this story got cleared up.

Some things that remain true:

Three Things to Know: Is it time to worry about the Laker offense?

Leave a comment

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Is it time to worry about the Laker offense?

The Los Angeles Lakers have the worst offense in the bubble.

We’re not just talking about the 86 points on 35.2% shooting in Wednesday’s loss to Chris Paul and the Thunder, although that was a low point.

Four games into the NBA’s restart, the Lakers are scoring less than a point per possession while shooting 39.4% overall and 25.2% from three. Their offense has been worse than the Wizards in Orlando — and how many Wizards starters could you name right now? The Lakers’ starting five — LeBron James, Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Anthony Davis, and JaVale McGee — have a dreadful 74.4 offensive rating though four games (and a -30.1 net rating).

Or, since a picture is worth 1,000 words, take a look at the Lakers’ shot chart in the restart.

That’s a lot of red.

Should Lakers’ fans be worried?

Probably not. This is some small sample size theater with just four games. Coach Frank Vogel has been playing around with the lineup rotations, things haven’t been playoff tight. Plus, after the Lakers beat the Clippers opening night they had the top seed all but sewn up, there hasn’t been real motivation for L.A. to play its best.

More importantly, don’t worry because this team still has LeBron James (although he shot just 42% overall and 27.3% from three over the last four games). They still have Anthony Davis, who has been one of the MVPs of the bubble so far. Those two form the best pick-and-roll combo in the league, and so long as they are on the roster the Lakers have a chance to win it all.

The shooting is a concern — and not a new problem. The Lakers were a below-average shooting team in the season before the shut down (21st in the league on open look three-point percentage). We’ve watched LeBron’s play cover up the flaws in a team and take them to the Finals for years, and it certainly could happen again, but the Lakers shooting — and right now their entire offense — is a concern.

2) Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons leaves game with a knee issue

Non-contact injuries keep fans and coaches up at night, which is why Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons walking off the court with a limp and going straight to the locker room with a knee issue Wednesday was very concerning.

Simmons did not return to the game after that.

The good news is there is reportedly no swelling and the MRI came back clean, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. Officially, Simmons is day-to-day.

Simmons had eight points on 2-of-10 shooting when he left the court. Through three games of the restart — where he is playing more off the ball as a power forward — he’s averaged 11.7 points and seven rebounds a game.

3) Memphis lost again, now 0-4 and could fall out of the eighth seed

The Grizzlies came to the NBA’s restart in Orlando with a 3.5 game cushion for the eighth seed, all they had to do was hold on to that through eight games. Now, after and 0-4 start, that lead is down to just one game over Portland.

On Wednesday, Memphis couldn’t slow down what had been a previously struggling Utah offense and lost 124-115.

The Grizzlies next four games? The Thunder, Raptors, Celtics, and Bucks. Memphis is going to have to find a couple of wins in there without Jaren Jackson Jr., who is out for the rest of this season with a torn meniscus in his left knee.

Before games started in the bubble, the idea of two teams passing Memphis — meaning the Grizzlies would fall even out of a play-in series for the eighth seed — seemed impossible. Right now, both the Pelicans and Spurs are just two games back, and both have soft schedules the rest of the way.

Memphis wanted to get some playoff experience for their talented young roster during the restart. Well, this is it — every game becomes must-win now for the Grizzlies. They need to be a focused team that finds another gear. For them to hold on and get in a play-in series will require a couple of wins in their last four.

The race for eighth in the West remains the best thing at the NBA restart. On Thursday Portland faces Denver, while New Orleans takes on winless Sacramento.

LeBron James: On behalf of basketball community, we won’t miss Donald Trump’s viewership

Leave a comment

NBA players kneeled for the national anthem.

President Donald Trump called the protest – which is meant to call attention to racism, particularly through police brutality – “disgraceful” and said he stopped watching games.

And in yet another predictable turn in this news cycle, Lakers star LeBron James fired back at Trump.

LeBron:

I really don’t think the basketball community are sad about losing his viewership, him viewing the game.

And that’s all I’ve got to say. I don’t want to – I’m not going to get into a – because I already know where this could go, where it could lead to for tomorrow for me. I’m not going to get into it.

But I think our game is in a beautiful position. And we have fans all over the world. And our fans not only love the way we play the game – we try to give it back to them with our commitment to the game – but also respect what else we try to bring to the game and acknowledge what’s right and what’s wrong.

And I hope everyone – no matter the race, no matter the color, no matter their size – will see what leadership that we have at the top in our country and understand that November is right around the corner. And it’s a big moment for us as Americans. If we continue to talk about we want better, want change, we have an opportunity to do that.

But the game will go on without his eyes on it. I can sit here and speak for all of us that love the game of basketball. We could care less.

LeBron has frequently criticized the president. Trump has also criticized LeBron. That’s how it goes.

In this case (and others), LeBron has the moral high ground. Kneeling during the national anthem is a patriotic act designed to make the United States a better place for all its people to live – something far more noble than saluting a piece of cloth during a song.

However, LeBron is wrong to speak for the entire basketball community. A lot of people love basketball. They don’t all hold the same political views. Some care about remaining in the good graces of the president of the United States, whomever that is. Some even care about the approval of Trump specifically.

Is there a limit on how much you love basketball if you’d stop watching because of a peaceful protest before a game? Obviously. But there’s still room to love basketball and also care about other things.

LeBron doesn’t have to personally dignify people who care both about basketball and Trump. But LeBron shouldn’t try to speak on their behalf, either.

LeBron’s rebuke would have been powerful enough (and more fair) on its own.