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Three Things to Know: Fan goes on court to confront Russell Westbrook

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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) Wild ending in Denver: Gary Harris drains game-winner, then fan confronts Westbrook. What we should be talking about is Denver getting its signature win of the season — they outplayed the Oklahoma City Thunder all night, including putting up 72 first-half points. Nikola Jokic had a triple-double with 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 14 assists, making his case for a future All-Star game. Jamal Murray had 33 points and absolutely broke Steven Adams‘ ankles. Gary Harris had 25, but it was the final three — off a Jokic pass — as a buzzer-beating game winner that we should be highlighting. We should be debating if Jokic violated the rules by taking a step before throwing his inbound pass to Harris for that game winner (I would argue he didn’t, we’ll see what the last two-minute reports says).

We should, but it’s what happened after that — when a fan came on the court to taunt and confront Russell Westbrook as he tried to leave the court — that everyone will be talking about.

Credit to Westbrook for not losing his cool here. He pushed the fan back before the late-to-the-scene security arrived, but he could have done much more and chose not to.

The NBA should not punish Westbrook here, this should be a no-call. For obvious reasons the league does not want to see players shoving fans, but this isn’t some Malice in the Palace moment where a player went into the stands, this fool (too kind a word) came onto the court after an emotional game, blocked Westbrook’s path to the locker room and taunted him. Westbrook gets a free shove there, it showed some restraint not to haul off and deck the guy. The league’s discipline system has all the consistency of a roulette wheel at times, so who knows what flows out of Kiki Vandeweghe’s office. But Westbrook should get a pass for this one.

2) Blake Griffin makes his debut in Detroit, and Pistons get the win. For all the questions about whether Stan Van Gundy should have made the trade for Blake Griffin, and whether that was good for the franchise or a sign of desperation, one thing was never in doubt:

Blake Griffin is an outstanding basketball player.

He’s healthy and showed that Thursday night in his debut against Memphis: 24 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, and two blocks. Detroit got a quality 104-102 win.

That’s a big win for the Pistons — they have won two in a row now after their eight-game losing streak. Detroit is one game back of Philly for the final playoff slot in the East (two games in the loss column) and has seven-of-eight at home coming up — this is when the team needs to make its push into the postseason. These are crucial games for the team, and the Pistons need more of this Griffin.

One other interesting note: Van Gundy played Griffin through crunch time as the center guarding Marc Gasol, while Andre Drummond sat on the bench. The move worked as Anthony Tolliver was on the court in his place and hit a key late three, a couple of clutch free throws, and dived on a loose ball on the floor — having Drummond on the bench for the end of this game may well have been the right choice to win this game. However, if this becomes a trend it’s going to be an issue with Drummond.

3) Malcolm Brogdon has to be helped off the court after potentially serious injury. Hey, basketball gods, would you please lighten up on the injuries? Things have gotten out of control the past couple of weeks.

The latest is reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, who apparently suffered an injury to the same tendon that Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard have been dealing with in San Antonio. And it’s not good.

Let’s hope it’s not that bad and he’s back on the court soon.

Also in that game, the Timberwolves looked good on their way to a 108-89 win.

Coach John Beilein reportedly to leave Cavaliers, walk away from remaining contract

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The Cavaliers brought in Michigan coach John Beilein to install his motion offense, to develop young players, and to build a culture that could win big in Cleveland.

None of that happened. The Cavaliers are 14-40, they have the worst net rating in the league and are bottom seven in both offense and defense, their young talent — players such as Collin Sexton and Darius Garland — are not developing, he’s players have clashed with him and each other, and the team abandoned Beilein’s motion offense less than a month into the season. It’s been rough.

Now he’s going to walk away, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Cavaliers return to practice Wednesday and it is likely J.B. Bickerstaff — a former NBA head coach in Houston and Memphis, and the lead assistant on Beilein’s staff — will take over as head coach. Whether that is for just the remainder of this season, or beyond, remains to be seen.

Bickerstaff would be the fourth Cavaliers coach in less than two seasons since LeBron James left the organization.

Beilein struggled to adapt to the NBA coaching style — the lack of practices, the fact that good NBA players have more organizational power than the coach, and that he couldn’t treat them the way he did his college players. He was unable to relate to players, and those players were not giving a college coach the benefit of the doubt, he had to prove himself to them. He didn’t. At age 67, Beilein wasn’t able to adapt to the NBA game.

He was in the first year of a five-year contract worth more than $4 million a season (the last year of that was a team option). Beilein is unhappy enough to leave that money on the table to walk away. He could return to college coaching as soon as next season if he wanted, there would be a long line of universities interested.

This is a big miss for GM Koby Altman (the first GM owner Dan Gilbert gave a second contract to; Gilbert pushed good GMs like David Griffen out the door). The revolving door of coaches is not the sign of a strong and stable organization. The Cavaliers need to develop a culture and they need a new coach who can deliver that.

 

Pistons reportedly reach buyout with Reggie Jackson, he’s headed to Clippers

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Reggie Jackson came to Detroit to be the outside to Andre Drummond‘s inside. That never panned out, in part due to a rash of injuries to Jackson that kept a lot over a couple of those seasons.

Drummond has been traded to Cleveland, and with that it was time for the Pistons to move on from Jackson as well. As had been rumored was coming, the Pistons and Jackson have agreed to a buyout, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

And, once he clears waivers, he is headed to the Clippers.

Jackson has only played in 14 games this season due to injury but has averaged 14.9 points and 5.1 assists a game when he has played, plus is shooting 37.8 percent from three. Jackson is making $18 million this season, the final year of a five-year, $80 million contract he inked back in 2015. He is a free agent this summer.

Why the Clippers? They are contenders, and Jackson is friends with Paul George.

The Clippers get two things out of this. First, they get a third point guard who can spell Patrick Beverley 10-12 minutes a night down the stretch (and fill in if Beverley suffers an injury). Second, the Clippers keep a playmaking guard away from the Lakers.

Detroit saves a little money and takes another step to clear the roster for a rebuild. They have Derrick Rose and Brandon Knight at the point guard spot, don’t be surprised if they call up a few guys from the G-League to see if they can find a longer-term option.

Adam Silver acknowledges ratings drop as NBA tries to connect young viewers to broadcasts

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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One of the NBA’s great strengths is its core audience is younger than the other major American sports.

One of the NBA’s great challenges is its core audience is younger than the other major American sports.

That means a lot of NBA fans are cord cutters — or, never had a cord to begin with — and don’t consume their entertainment the way their parents and grandparents did. Much the way we do a poor job measuring the economy by doing it the same way we did a century ago, using traditional Neilson rating measures is a poor way to judge the number of eyeballs on a game. Viewership is evolving.

But make no mistake, traditional ratings are down for the NBA, both nationally and at the regional level. Nationwide ratings are down by 12 percent, including 13 percent on TNT and 16 percent on ABC. On the regional level, the Sports Business Journal reports ratings are down by 13 percent. That is due to some big drops in certain markets (the Bay Area, for example), while the NBA says that ratings are up in 13 of the 28 markets that have reliable Neilson numbers (28 cities because Toronto and Denver are not included, the latter of which has a coverage/cable dispute that has much of the greater Denver region unable to view games at home).

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver owned the drop during All-Star weekend. He added that while the league could blame injuries to players that would be draws  — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson with the Warriors, Zion Williamson with the Pelicans, Kevin Durant in Brooklyn, etc. — the bigger issue is connecting those younger viewers to NBA broadcasts.

“It’s well-known that on one hand we’re celebrated by some because we have such a young fan base, but that young fan base is disconnecting from pay television in record numbers, and by disconnecting, not just simply not subscribing to cable or so-called cutting the cord, they’re not watching traditional paid television the way they used to,” Silver said during his All-Star weekend press conference. “They’re watching over-the-top streaming services. They’re watching screens, but it’s not essentially pay TV.

“So the good news for the league is that, when we look at all other data points, particularly what we see in social media, what we see in terms of distribution of highlights and general chatter around our games, we’ve never been more popular. But we haven’t found a way to connect those young fans to our broadcast through whatever platform they’re going to be delivered.

“Again, I think it’s a very solvable problem. Our two primary media partners, Disney and AT&T, are both very engaged in these issues…

“So it’s not an issue unique to the NBA. We may be affected by it a little bit more compared to some properties because we have such a young fan base, but I’m super confident over time we’ll work through it because there remains enormous interest in our players and our game.”

Silver also showed at the NBA’s tech summit where he thinks the broadcast of NBA games is headed, trying to bring the courtside experience into the home (with an assist from Bill Murray).

Silver isn’t alone in thinking this way. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, for one, said basically the same thing recently.

A well-respected media consultant recently told Forbes magazine he doesn’t think this ratings downturn is going to hurt the league in 2025 when it’s time to negotiate a new broadcast deal.

“This season’s NBA ratings story is silly. It is a small sample size. This is a year-round league with year-round stories,” says sports media consultant Lee Berke of LHB Sports. “The next NBA media agreements will be a substantially evolved set of deals because of streaming. There will be an increasing range of media companies that want the NBA for the U.S. and worldwide.”

The current $2.7 billion per year NBA deal with ESPN and TNT runs through the 2024-25 season, and Berke expects the next deal to roughly double in value.

That’s the vision Adam Silver sees. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to connect those young viewers to the content. Then to stop measuring viewership the way our grandparents did.

Report: Larry Drew wanted to quit as Cavaliers coach during last year’s All-Star break

Former Cavaliers coach Larry Drew
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John Beilein is reportedly considering resigning as Cavaliers coach.

This makes the second straight season Cleveland’s coach contemplated departing at the All-Star break.

After firing Tyronn Lue in October 2018, the Cavs named Larry Drew interim coach. He immediately rejected the the title. Following an awkward week of Drew acting as the Cavaliers’ head coach but insisting he wasn’t head coach, they eventually paid him enough to accept the role. After the season ended, the Cavs and Drew parted ways.

His exit could have come sooner.

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

He wanted to quit at the All-Star break last year on Cleveland. He just wanted to leave, wanted to have them promote whoever their G League coach is.

Larry Drew had more than a million dollars coming his way, and he was talked out of this, I think by his agent. Like, “You cannot do this.” Like,” It’s insane. You can’t leave now. Just stick it out.”

Beilein obviously has his own unique issues. But this reflects quite poorly on the Cavaliers.

Losing obviously factors. Cleveland is just starting to build up post-LeBron James. It’ll take time.

But plenty of teams rebuild and lose. They usually don’t have consecutive coaches ready to quit.

Owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman better take a hard look at what’s failing culturally.