Getty Images

Three Things to Know: Paul George hears boos, then shows Lakers fans what they missed out on

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 hears boos, then drops 37 on Lakers fans to show them what they missed out on. When Paul George was forcing his way out of Indiana a couple of years ago, his people told any team that called “he’s going to be a Laker when he’s a free agent” in an effort to force him to get traded to his hometown. Except the Lakers took that as “why would we give up real assets for him — no Lonzo Ball, no Brandon Ingram — when we can just sign him in a year?” Oklahoma City ponied up with the best deal — the Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis deal worked out well for Indy — and PG 13 went to the Thunder. And turned out to love Oklahoma City. So he stayed. When free agency came up last July the Lakers didn’t even get a meeting, Paul George found a new home.

Lakers fans felt jilted — and they let George hear it with boos on Wednesday night.

Then Paul George came out and showed those Lakers fans what they missed out on — he scored 37 points, hit tough shots, played phenomenal defense and helped the Thunder dominate the fourth quarter in a 107-100 OKC win.

(For the record, if Lakers fans want to be pissed about not getting PG13, be pissed at Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka for not offering more in a trade with Indy. They let George get a feel for a new place and lost him then, George had the right to make any decision he wants.)

As much as George and his story make the best headline, this game was about the Thunder defense — it’s the best in the NBA and shut the Lakers down in the fourth. Without LeBron James (still sidelined with a groin injury) the Lakers struggled to create in the halfcourt, and in the fourth quarter shot just 28.6 percent. Steven Adams can be a force on the offensive glass that forces teams to account for him and slows a fast break attack, which the rest of the Thunder do a good job of getting back to slow. George is a disruptive on-ball defender. The Thunder locked the Lakers up when it mattered, and it’s that defense that makes the Thunder a real playoff threat (and could get them to the conference finals).

The takeaway for the Lakers? They’re 1-3 without LeBron. They miss him. This isn’t rocket science. Lonzo Ball can run the point guard spot well, Brandon Ingram’s passing is good (although he made faster decisions vs. Sacramento), but in the end this team needs LeBron, and there is no timetable yet for his return.

2) After a third straight loss, divisions in Grizzlies locker room turn physical with an altercation. After a fast start to the season, the Grizzlies have lost three in a row and 8-of-10. In that stretch, Memphis has had a bottom five offense in the league and the defense — which carried them early in the season — has been just average. The result is the team has slipped both out of the playoffs (now the 10 seed, 2.5 games out of the postseason) and below .500.

The ugly play in a loss at home to Detroit Wednesday led to a postgame team meeting — one that reportedly turned physical in a fight between starting guard Garrett Temple and reserve wing Omri Casspi. The issue reportedly was a complaint about the energy and enthusiasm of the bench. Whether those bench struggles are due to the roster makeup — this is not a deep Grizzlies team — or effort, there apparently is some built up resentment there.

Altercations like this are a sign of frustration, something the Grizzlies have plenty of with their recent run of play. Beyond that, be careful reading much into it. Very good teams — championship teams — have had guys fight in practice and get past it. Other times, it can fester as part of a larger problem. Right now the Grizzlies need to find a way to get back to scoring more effectively, regardless of who is on the court. Otherwise, that frustration is just going to grow as the losses keep piling up.

3) With Kyrie Irving out, Gordon Hayward has season best 35 and Celtics cruise to win over Timberwolves. We have a new “best game for Gordon Hayward” as a Celtic as he shot 14-of-18 off the bench on his way to 35 points. He was moving well and is clearly got confidence in his shot again.

The Celtics offense looked more egalitarian and guys stepped up with Irving out (an eye injury). Terry Rozier got off to a fast start with 11 first-quarter points (he finished with 16), and he is just clearly more comfortable as a starter. He even pulled off the Rondo-fake brilliantly.

Al Horford had one of his best games of the season, making smart passes and keeping the ball moving on offense, and in the first half defending Karl-Anthony Towns well. Marcus Smart is a better playmaker than people think and has eight assists. Jaylen Brown was making plays off the bench.

Boston played a strong team game.

The Celtics are not better without Kyrie Irving. They need him. He deservedly is the guy at the top of the offensive pecking order. But the Celtics need to find a way — they need Irving to buy in — and get more of the ball movement and system offense going when Irving is in the lineup. The Celtics we saw Wednesday looked more like last year’s playoff Celtics, like the kind of team that can do damage in this postseason if they keep playing this way.

As for a Minnesota takeaway… ugh.

Pistons’ owner doesn’t regret pushing for playoffs instead of tanking

Getty Images
Leave a comment

A first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks showed just how far the Detroit Pistons are from the elite of the East. Even factoring in Blake Griffin‘s injury. On top of that, the Pistons are capped out next season — Griffin $34.5 million, Andre Drummond $27.1 million, Reggie Jackson $18.1 million, and a payroll over the tax with just 10 players locked in on the roster. Improving this summer will be tough.

Landing higher in this draft might have helped add youth and athleticism, but the Pistons pushed to make the playoffs. Which is just want owner Tom Gores wanted, he said speaking to the media after the Pistons were eliminated, via Rod Beard of The Detroit News.

“We have to make more progress. A lot of people talk about the idea of winning or losing — we want to win. This idea of what happens in the league and losing is going to be good for you, well that’s not going to be good for any of us,” Gores said. “We just want to go and win — and we did.

“I just don’t believe in the idea of whatever you want to call it — tanking or losing. We need a winning culture and let’s just see what happens from there. I don’t think sports is about that. You can’t get on the court and think about losing. I just don’t believe in it … I’m not going to get into that business.”

The Pistons would be smart this summer to look at deals to either lower their tax bill or make them more athletic, adding playmakers and shooters to help Griffin and Jackson. Of course, that sounds great on paper but will be very difficult to execute. Gores said he would be willing to go above the tax to add players to help the Pistons win, he would take on salary for the right deal. Again, finding that kind of trade is much easier said than done within the confines of the NBA.

The Pistons have an interesting summer ahead, but with the salary cap tying their hands it will be difficult to make any meaningful changes to this roster. That doesn’t mean tanking for a few draft spots (they weren’t moving into Zion Williamson territory) would have been the right move.

Attorney representing Kelli Tennant, Luke Walton’s accuser, releases statement

Getty Images
1 Comment

Right now a lot of people around the league — the Sacramento Kings, the Golden State Warriors, and the NBA league office itself — are starting investigations into the allegations that newly-minted Kings’ coach Luke Walton sexually assaulted a female reporter back while an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors.

These allegations blindsided not only the Kings but the entire NBA, and there is no history with the Santa Monica Police Department (the city where the alleged assault took place) because no crime was ever reported.

Now Garo Mardirossian, the attorney for the plaintiff in the lawsuit Kelli Tennant, has released a statement (and later today will conduct a press conference). Here is his statement, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“As alleged in the lawsuit, women connected to the National Basketball Association have long had to suffer in silence through the indignities of gender abuse and sexual exploitation at the hands of famous, wealthy, and powerful men. Aided by their fame, money, and power, and motivated by a culture that tolerates misogynistic gender-bias, too many men in professional basketball inappropriately abuse women. As alleged in the lawsuit, defendant Luke Walton — a former professional basketball player and the former head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers — is one of these men.

As alleged in the lawsuit, Kelli Tennant — a former collegiate athlete and star sports broadcaster, is a woman who has had to tolerate and summer in silence from the abuse she suffered at the hands of Luke Walton. By way of this lawsuit, Ms. Tennant is speaking out and saying #timesup to the culture of abusing women in the NBA.”

Walton’s attorney Mark Baute previously released this statement:

“Luke Walton retained me to defend him against these baseless allegations. The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, & her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom.”

Tennant was a host with the Lakers’ regional sports network when the incident reportedly took place in 2016, before Walton had been hired as the Lakers’ coach. According to the lawsuit, she had written a book and wanted him to write the book’s forward. She met him in the lobby of the hotel, agreed to go up to his room to discuss the book, and it was there he pinned her to the bed, kissed her and tried to force himself on her, according to the lawsuit allegations. She says she screamed and tried to get up, but he pinned her in place. Eventually, she was able to get away, according to the lawsuit.

Walton, through his attorney, denies this is what happened. The Kings have stuck by Walton while the investigation is ongoing.

Right now there are a lot of people trying to find out what happened in that hotel room three years ago, and just as many trying to spin the story as it develops.

NBA television ratings down first weekend of playoffs (following season trend)

Getty Images
1 Comment

There was some serious competition for eyeballs last weekend when the NBA opened its playoffs with eight games over two days. Most importantly, Tiger Woods was on the leaderboard (and eventually won) The Masters, and that was the big draw for sports fans all weekend. Then by Sunday night, Game of Thrones was all anyone wanted to talk about.

Still, NBA television ratings were down for the first weekend of action, in some cases by more than 40 percent. Paulson at Sports Media Watch broke down the numbers.

Ratings and viewership declined double-digits for all-but-one NBA playoff window over the weekend. The exception was Saturday’s Clippers-Warriors Game 1, which had a 3.0 and 4.83 million on ABC in primetime — up 7% in ratings and 13% in viewership from ABC’s opener last postseason (Spurs-Warriors: 2.8, 4.28M) and up 20% in both measures from its 2017 opener (Pacers-Cavaliers: 2.5, 4.04M). Those games aired in the afternoon.

Versus the same window last year, Heat-Sixers on ESPN, ratings and viewership both increased 20% (from 2.5 and 4.02M)…

The rest of the weekend was a dud. On Sunday, ABC earned a 2.55 and 3.90 million for Thunder-Blazers Game 1 — down 32% in ratings and 34% in viewership from last year (Pacers-Cavaliers: 3.8, 5.94M) and down 31% and 40% respectively from 2017 (Blazers-Warriors: 3.7, 6.52M). It was ABC’s least-watched opening weekend playoff game in four years (2015 Pelicans-Warriors: 3.49M).

While there have been entertaining series in the first round — Brooklyn/Philadelphia and Portland/Oklahoma City in particular — only one series, Denver and San Antonio, will go at least six and maybe seven. That does not help. On the bright side for the NBA, the matchups get far more compelling in the second round, Houston and Golden State out West, and both series in the East (Philly vs. Toronto, Boston vs. Milwaukee).

Also, there is no LeBron James in the playoffs. Stars are draws.

While the numbers (both on traditional broadcast and cable) were down, and were this season for the league, this is more of a broad trend across sports. With the advent of streaming and changing view habits, live NBA games (and sports in general) can provide one of the few “must watch live” moments, which makes it valuable to advertisers and networks. However, capturing those viewers, particularly younger ones under the age of 35, is much more difficult. There’s a reason the NBA started offering streamed snippets of games on their streaming services (you could buy just 10 minutes of league pass, or tune in at the end of a close game just to watch that finale). Getting those viewers in front of a traditional television is not as easy as it once was.

It’s something the NBA thinks a lot about. It’s also something every professional sports league around the globe is struggling with.

Report: Lakers interviewed Jason Kidd for head coaching position Monday

Getty Images
2 Comments

If you want to know what would really freak Lakers’ nation out, this potential outcome would be it.

While the Lakers have seemed focused on Tyronn Lue and Monty Williams as the frontrunners to be their next head coach (both have second interviews this week), Lakers brass interviewed Jason Kidd on Monday, reports Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

Kidd’s interview was with general manager Rob Pelinka, as well as team executive Kurt Rambis and was conducted at the team’s practice facility in El Segundo, California. The interview with the Hall of Fame point guard lasted for several hours, sources told ESPN.

Kidd probably would get a thumbs’ up from LeBron James, the pair were teammates for Team USA and LeBron is known to respect Kidd. Maybe it’s for that reason that Kidd’s name came up early as someone the Lakers would consider.

Kidd’s reputation as a coach has seemingly hit a low point after he was let go in Milwaukee, then Mike Budenholzer came in this season and took the same core of a roster to the best record in the NBA. Budenholzer will likely be named coach of the year because he modernized the Bucks attack and defense, taking them out of Kidd’s 1990s influenced style and putting the players in much better positions. The changes and results were striking.

For a Laker team whose roster building and organization have seemed a little stuck in the past in recent years, hiring Kidd would not seem a way forward. He at least got a foot in the door and an interview.