Three Things to Know: Protest keeps all but a couple thousand from Hawks/Kings game

Associated Press
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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) Hawks, Kings play to near empty building after police shooting protest blocks entrance to Sacramento’s home arena. Despite an ugly season on the court, the Kings sell out their building nightly — 17,553 average attendance, 100 percent capacity every game. A passionate fan base and an impressive new building will do that.

Thursday night, there were only a couple thousand people in the arena. The reason is a protest over the Sacramento police shooting of Stephon Clark, 23 and a father of two. Sacramento Police allege Clark had been breaking into cars, and that he ran when confronted by police — he was confronted by police in the backyard of his grandmother’s house where he was living. When two police officers approached him Clark had a cellphone in his hand, which the officers reportedly said they mistook for a gun, and they shot Clark 20 times. The shooting has sparked outrage in the city (while some video of the incident was released, the police body cam footage of the confrontation and shooting has not been yet).

The Black Lives Matter peaceful protest (there were no fights or arrests out of the night), which had shut down a Sacramento freeway earlier, moved over to the Golden 1 Center and worked to block entrance to that building. The game itself started 20 minutes late. In an effort to avoid confrontations, police kept people with tickets away from the protest, so only about 2,000 people (who had been there early when the doors opened) got in.

The Kings, to their credit, handled the situation well. Owner Vivek Ranadivé addressed the crowd after the game, surrounded by the team:

“On Sunday we had a horrific, horrific tragedy in our community. On behalf of the players, executives, ownership and the entire Kings family — first of all, we wanted to express our deepest sympathies to the family. What happened was absolutely horrific, and we are so very sorry, so very sorry for your loss. I also wanted to say that we at the Kings recognize people’s ability to protest peacefully and we respect that. We here at the Kings recognize we have a big platform — it’s a privilege but it’s also a responsibility — a responsibility we take very seriously. And we stand here before you — old, young, black, white, brown — and we are all united in our commitment. We recognize that it’s not just business as usual, and we are going to work really hard to bring everybody together to make the world a better place starting with our own community, and we’re going to work really hard to prevent this kind of a tragedy from happening again. Thank you all for your patience and have a good night.”

The Kings also will be offering refunds to people with tickets who could not get in.

On a far less important note than that tragic shooting, the Kings won the game 105-90.

2) Kemba Walker scores 35 points in the first half, Hornets beat tanktastick Grizzlies by 61. The Memphis Grizzlies have reached the figurative “sitting on the bench, their knees have ice packs taped to them” portion of the season. They are still playing games, but the team has checked out. The focus is on the draft, the upcoming coaching search, the question of who will own this team by the start of next season, and are they going to tear it down and rebuild or think if healthy they could make the playoffs next season.

The Charlotte Hornets have Kemba Walker — he always plays hard.

The result was Walker dropping 35 points in the first half and 46 for the game — on 18 shot attempts, and knocking down 10 threes — before he literally sitting on the bench, his knees with ice packs taped to them in what went on to be a historic blowout, a 61-point win for Charlotte 140-79.

It’s going to be an interesting offseason in both Charlotte and Memphis. The Hornets are already in the midst of a search for a new general manager — Gersson Rosas of the Rockets and Mitch Kupchak formerly of the Lakers are reportedly the frontrunners — but whoever gets that job will have to answer the #freeKemba question: Do the capped out and missed the playoffs Hornets trade Walker and start a rebuild, or do they run it back and try to make the postseason next year? Is Steve Clifford still coaching this team next season?

It’s the same question in Memphis — GM Chris Wallace has made it clear so far there are no plans to trade Marc Gasol, they will get Mike Conley back from injury, and with that the Grizzlies believe they can make the playoffs next season. They are trying to hang on to the grit ’n grind era a little longer. Memphis will be in the market for a new coach, too, but the bigger question for the franchise — both in terms of on-the-court direction and off-the-court challenges — is who will own the team? Robert Pera is the controlling owner right now, but due to an odd ownership arrangement he has to buy out Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus (for about $300 million) or they can buy Pera out. It’s being negotiated, but the outcome of all this is unclear, and teams with a muddled ownership rarely do well on the court.

3) Another night, another 33 points and nine rebound night from Anthony Davis. The Lakers are maybe the ultimate spoiler in the West right now — a non-playoff team that has come together, is playing well, and is not in tank mode (they don’t have their own pick this year). That has led to wins over teams such as the Cavaliers, Spurs, and Heat this month.

The Pelicans could not afford that kind of loss — even on the third night of a back-to-back-to-back — so Anthony Davis took over. Again. He dropped 33 points with nine rebounds and a couple of blocks on the Lakers in a 128-125 Pelicans win.

With the victory, the Pelicans are currently the 4/5 seed in the West, tied with Oklahoma City.

Tyler Herro says he’s better than players ‘that have gotten paid’

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Seven
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RJ Barrett signed a rookie contract extension for four years, $107 million fully guaranteed that could climb to $120 million with incentives. Several others out of the 2019 draft class — Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, Darius Garland — earned max contract extensions with their team.

Tyler Herro is still waiting on his extension with the Miami Heat.

And with that baked in Herro confidence, he said he is better than some players he has seen getting paid, he told Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

“I was active early in the summer,” he told the South Florida Sun Sentinel of the extension window that opened in July. “Then I realized it wasn’t going to get done, if it does get done, until later. So I just told my agent to call me when it’s ready. “So we haven’t really spoken much about the contract. Obviously, I tell him to call me when it’s ready. If it’s not ready, I continue to play my game and figure it out next summer…

“There’s players across the league that have gotten paid who I know I’m better than. So it’s got to be the right number,” he said, with the Heat continuing camp on makeshift courts at the [ Baha Mar resort in the Bahamas].

One reason an extension for Herro has not gotten done — and may not get done before the Oct. 18 deadline — is Herro is the Heat’s best trade asset to go after a big name. Once he signs an extension that is off the table, something Winderman and I have discussed in our weekly video/podcast on the Heat and NBA.

The other question on a Herro extension is what is the “right number?” Did the Knicks’ Barrett set the market with his extension?

Maybe Barrett is one of the players Herro “knows” he is better than, but that would not be the consensus of scouts and free agents around the league. Herro has hardware as the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, he puts up numbers averaging 20.7 points a game while shooting 39.9% from 3 last season, he can do some secondary play creation and has had big playoff games. He has real value.

However, as Winderman has pointed out, Herro has started just 33 games across three years, compared to Barrett’s 197 starts. More importantly, Herro’s defensive limitations limited how Eric Spoelstra could use him in the playoffs. Then there is the matter of load carried. Barrett was the No. 1 option for the Knicks last season (with Julius Randle falling off) and even with the signing of Jalen Brunson, Barrett is option No.1 or 1B for Tom Thibodeau. Herro is down the Heat pecking order behind Bam AdebayoJimmy Butler, and maybe Kyle Lowry depending on how he bounces back from a down year. The Heat don’t need Herro the way the Knicks need Barrett right now, which is one key reason Herro is available via trade.

Would Herro take a four-year, $105 extension? Would the Heat even offer it? If Miami is hoping for a trade at the deadline, it may wait on an offer and let the market set Herro’s price as a restricted free agent next summer. For Herro, that would give him a chance to prove he is a starter and that his defense has improved — that he is worth more than the Heat had been offering.

If the Heat and Herro agree on an extension, look for it to be in a couple of weeks, pushing up against that October deadline.

 

Lonzo Ball undergoes successful knee surgery, out ‘at least a few months’

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Lonzo Ball underwent another arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Wednesday, and the doctors finally had some positive news.

They believe that they’ve “addressed the issue”, and there is “confidence” that he’ll be able to play this season. He’s still expected to miss “at least a few months”, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Charania added that both sides will monitor his progress over

After his first surgery in January, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well at all, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. During media day this week, Ball said that he couldn’t run or jump, so he couldn’t play basketball. Billy Donovan said that they had to think of Ball’s injury as potentially season-ending. So an update that says that he should play this season is considered good news at this point.

Chicago had a 22-13 record with Lonzo last season, but were just 24-23 without him. He averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.9 blocks, and 3.1 triples per game in his first year with the team.

They have other defenders like Ayo Dosunmu and Alex Caruso, but they don’t have anyone else that can both defend and facilitate the way Lonzo can. They’ll use training camp and the preseason to decide on a starting point guard between Dosunmu, Caruso, and Goran Dragic.

They’re one of the more talented teams in the East, but they may end up playing in the play-in tournament if they’re without Ball for the majority of the season.

 

Five players poised to make first NBA All-Star game this season

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Who is ready to make the leap?

Every season there are players on the cusp of becoming an All-Star — not only has their game improved to be one of the top 24 players in the league, but their stature has risen to the point fans (voting for the starters) or coaches (voting for the reserves) want to see them in the game.

Here are five players on the cusp of making that leap and getting the chance to suit up in Salt Lake City this February for their first All-Star Game.

1. Tyrese Haliburton (Pacers)

He was the centerpiece headed to Indiana in the trade that sent Domantas Sabonis to Sacramento — and a lot of executives around the league were shocked the Kings gave him up. After the trade, Haliburton averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 assists a game with a 62.9 true shooting percentage — and this season he’s going to be asked to do even more on a team that is rebuilding (but still has Myles Turner and Buddy Hield on the roster… what exactly is Indiana doing?).

The Pacers will take a step back this season (which doesn’t help his All-Star chances) but Haliburton himself will be unleashed. He will draw the attention of fans and opposing defenses — coaches know and like his game, which is why he stands a good chance to be an East All-Star reserve this season.

2. Anthony Edwards (Timberwolves)

Edwards has made the leap in popularity and stature — he is trash-talking Kermit in Adam Sandler’s Hustle — and he probably should have been an All-Star last season averaging 21.3 points a game.

Edwards has the explosive, highlight-factory game and has the big personality fans love (although his homophobic social media post over the summer does not help his cause). He will be in the spotlight more on an improved Timberwolves team — he will be the outside to Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert inside — that should be in the mix for the playoffs in the West. Anthony Edwards has a lot of All-Star Games in his future, this season should be his first.

3. Evan Mobley (Cavaliers)

As a rookie, Mobley was already a top-flight defensive big man who averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game — and he came back this season stronger and ready to make a leap on the offensive end. He finished a close second in the Rookie of the Year voting and took that personally, hitting the gym hard and coming out with a chip on his shoulder this season. He flashed potential last season with the ball in his hands, a guy who could beat his man and be a playmaker. Expect to see more of that, more of Mobley out on the perimeter as a creator this season (maybe even grabbing the board and bringing the ball up in transition himself).

He’s going to get noticed on a Cavaliers team with an All-Star backcourt of Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell, and if he has added to his game this year it’s Mobley’s turn.

4. Tyrese Maxey (76ers)

Maxey got thrust into the starting point guard role last season when Ben Simmons never suited up for the 76ers (and played like the guy the 76ers hoped Markelle Fultz would be). Then he thrived after the trade, working a little more off-ball and being a secondary shot creator off James Harden. Maxey averaged 17.5 points and 4.5 assists a game last season, and he is in a position to have those numbers jump again this season.

Maxey is quick with the ball and can get downhill, with the skill set to finish at the rim or pull up and nail the jumper. He shot 42% from 3 last season, although that may be unsustainable (he can shoot, but over 40% every year may be a big ask). Maxey is adding to that game on the court, but it’s his maturity and decision-making — this is his third year in the league — where the biggest leaps are coming.

The 76ers are going to be in the spotlight a lot and should win a lot of regular season games, and with Maxey shining in that light, the All-Star game is a real possibility.

5. Jalen Brunson (Knicks)

Brunson burst out of Luka Doncic’s shadow last season in Dallas and averaged 16.3 points and 4.8 assists a game last season — now he’s going to have the ball in his hands every night on the biggest stage in the NBA. Tom Thibodeau will hand Brunson the keys to the Knicks offense, which means the guard’s counting stats should climb — and with that his All-Star chances go up.

There are questions about how the Knicks’ offense will fit together with Brunson, RJ Barrett and Julius Randle, but Brunson is going to get the chance to prove he can be a No.1 guard. In that spotlight, a trip to Salt Lake City is in the offing.

Steve Nash on Ben Simmons: ‘I don’t care if he ever shoots a jump shot’

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The last season he played, Ben Simmons took just 9% of his shots from beyond 10 feet — he did not space the floor at all, which meant Joel Embiid had to at times. That lack of a jumper he trusted has always been one of the knocks on Ben Simmons’ game.

Steve Nash doesn’t care. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

“That’s why I don’t care if he ever shoots a jump shot for the Brooklyn Nets. He’s welcome to, but that is not what makes him special and not what we need. He’s a great complement to our team, and he’s an incredible basketball player because of his versatility.”

In an offense with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving setting the table — particularly in the halfcourt — Simmons is going to be asked to play more of a role: Be an elite defender, push the ball in transition, work in some dribble-handoff situations where he can drive the lane as an option, be a cutter off the ball, and be a distributor in the halfcourt. It’s why Simmons’ ideal role with the Nets often gets compared to Draymond Green — it’s a Draymond-lite role. There will be far less of him as lead guard running pick-and-roll.

Will Simmons settle into that role? Also, it should be noted that peak Green (2016 for example) shot better than 30% from 3 and had to be respected out there (last season 29.6% on 1.2 3s per game) — he had to be covered at the arc. Simmons does not. Also, Green did not avoid getting fouled and getting to the line.

Nash has the task of meshing Simmons into the system and figuring out the rotations — can he play Simmons and Nic Claxton together, or is having two non-jump shooters on the floor at once clog the offense? Is Simmons going to play center at points? There is championship-level talent on the Nets roster, but so many questions about fit, defense, and grit.

There’s no question about Simmons taking jumpers, but Nash doesn’t care.