Month: December 2017

Pacific Notes: Kings’ Rookies, Booker, Nwaba, Ulis

While the Kings have dropped out of playoff contention, Dave Joerger will still seek to build the talent and IQ of his younger players. As Joerger acknowledged in a recent post-game press conference, ensuring proper player development is a large part of his job.

“Having been there with those guys (in Memphis) I felt a great deal of responsibility to maximize every win that we could get,” Joerger told reporters, including Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee. “That’s where are these gray hairs popped out. Now the gray hairs are (from) are you playing the right guys with the right group, developing guys, giving them the right experiences?”

Joerger has given valuable playing opportunities to rookies down the stretch; providing Skal Labissiere, Buddy Hield, and Georgios Papagiannis with multiple 20+ minute games over the past week.

More from the Pacific…

  • The Suns are tanking “with spirit,” Dan Bickley of AZCentral.com writes. What’s more, Bickley points out Devin Booker‘s 70-point game as proof that he’s Phoenix’s next franchise player. “The Suns should feel blessed,” Bickley wrote. “They’ve lost 60 or more games only once in their storied history, and that was their expansion season in 1968-69. The organization’s commitment to losing is so sturdy and hardcore that they could conceivably end the current season with 60 losses and a 16-game losing streak, and somehow, the season will be perceived as a smashing success.”
  • Lakers rookie David Nwaba will be assigned to the L.A. D-Fenders to boost their D-League playoff run (source: Mark Medina, L.A. Daily News). Nwaba has been a pleasant surprise in Luke Walton‘s rotation, averaging 7.8 points with 5.5 rebounds over his last four games. Nwaba, who appeared in 40 games for the D-Fenders this season, figures to receive a considerable workload during the D-League postseason.
  • The Suns want Tyler Ulis to shoot more, Doug Haller of AZCentral.com writes. Haller relays an amusing anecdote, in which coach Earl Watson shouted “Shoot it!” at Ulis during Tuesday’s match-up with the Hawks. “He’s very talented,” veteran guard Ronnie Price said of Ulis. “He has a chance to have a long career in the league. He has a lot to his game that people are starting to see, so for him, it’s just getting comfortable and keeping him confident. As a team we all trust him. We all know what he’s capable of doing, but we can’t have him second-guessing himself with shots.”

Jusuf Nurkic Suffers Fractured Right Leg

10:04pm: There is a possibility Nurkic will return in time for the postseason, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reports. Per Wojnarowski, Nurkic’s return is contingent upon the big man being “fully functional and pain-free.” Nurkic’s return would be a boon to Portland’s postseason chances.

8:53pm: Jusuf Nurkic has been diagnosed with a fractured right leg and will miss at least two weeks, the Trail Blazers announced through a press release (link). Nurkic’s career had taken off after being dealt from the Nuggets, averaging 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks in 20 games with Portland.

While the injury effectively ends his regular season, it remains to be seen whether Nurkic would recover in time to play in the postseason. Meyers Leonard, who has averaged 15.7 MPG in 2016/17, should receive a stark increase in minutes as the season winds down.

Nurkic’s injury occurred during Thursday’s match-up with Houston.

Stan Van Gundy: We Believe In KCP

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy briefly discussed the OWI arrest of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, speaking to KCP’s character while declining to mention a potential punishment from the team.

“You know, obviously we’re aware of it,” Van Gundy told reporters, including Rod Beard of The Detroit News. “Look, I’ve been around KCP for three years. He’s a guy we really believe in, not only as a player but a high-character guy. We’re aware of the situation, and we’ll let things run its course.”

The decision on whether Caldwell-Pope faces discipline may very well come from Van Gundy, who is not only the Pistons’ coach but also president of basketball operations. According to an Auburn Hills police report, Caldwell-Pope was alleged to have smelled of intoxicants when pulled over, and fumbled with his words after being asked to recite the alphabet (source: David Mayo, MLive.com).

Caldwell-Pope was in action tonight against the Bucks; perhaps an indication that a stern punishment isn’t to be expected. As Aaron McMann of MLive.com points out, the league has shown a no-tolerance policy when it comes to drunk drivers. Former Pistons big man Greg Monroe received a two-game suspension after driving impaired in 2014, and Detroit assistant coach Tim Hardaway was docked three games over the summer following a DWI charge.

Reactions To Lance Stephenson Signing

Lance Stephenson‘s tumultuous season reached its apex Wednesday, when “Born Ready” inked a three-year, $12 million deal with the Pacers. Stephenson, who has battled injuries throughout 2016/17, had been waived by the Pelicans and played through two 10-day contracts with the Timberwolves. As could be expected, Stephenson’s multi-year deal sparked discussion throughout the league.

The 26-year-old Stephenson held court with the press following his return to Indiana, discussing his unusual path back to the team that drafted him.

“I was in New York rehabbing,” Stephenson said (Associated Press link). “I was like: ‘Man, I keep getting hurt. I guess I’ll worry about next year.’ When I got the call, I said: ‘Are you kidding? The Indiana Pacers? I’m going home.’” Later in the discussion, Stephenson lauded Pacers president Larry Bird (“probably the only guy who believed in my game”), and vowed to bring a “tough edge” on defense.

Paul George was thrilled to have Stephenson back with the Pacers, talking up Lance’s value as a teammate.

“We had special memories,” George told Nate Taylor of IndyStar.com. “We’ve definitely got a bond on that court. Hopefully we pick up where we left off. He’s excited. He’s always considered Indiana home, so he’s very excited to play with me and us again. This is where he made his name and made his mark. He’s got that in the back of his mind. He definitely thinks he can help this team.”

Mark Bartelstein, one of Stephenson’s two agents, said Lance’s relationship and history with Bird was crucial to the deal’s completion.

“Larry and Kevin are genuine guys and they believe in relationships,” Bartelstein told IndyStar.com. “I think Larry, being a player in this league, knew what Lance was looking for at that time and I think there was always respect. When Larry believes in you, he’s always going to be a fan and he doesn’t hold grudges.”

Andrew Perna of RealGM was more critical of the signing, wondering if Lance is the same player was three years ago.

“There is, however, a fair amount of risk as Stephenson begins his second term in Indiana,” Perna writes. “Groin, ankle and foot injuries have robbed him of the ability to stick somewhere over the past two years. If he’s unable to stay healthy, the Pacers won’t have a chance to rekindle some of the magic we saw in 2013-14…the Pacers are hoping Lance Stephenson will help them play better right now and look better on paper in a few months.”

Knicks Notes: Rose, Anthony, Hornacek, Porzingis

Following brash remarks from Derrick Rose, the Knicks announced Carmelo Anthony (sore lower back), Lance Thomas (hip), and Rose would sit out tonight’s game against the Heat. Leading into Friday’s road match-up, D-Rose described the Knicks as a superior team to Miami.

“We’re more talented,” Rose told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. “It shows basketball is a team sport. Any year in the league is about whoever catches a rhythm. No matter how your season is going… you can always catch a rhythm, they caught theirs at the right time, winning [13 in a row]. They have been playing great basketball ever since then. So we never caught that luck this year.”

More from The Mecca…

  • Jeff Hornacek sung a different tune than Rose, saying the Knicks have much to learn from Erik Spoelstra‘s Heat. “Use Miami as an example,’’ Hornacek told Marc Berman of the New York Post. “It’s old-school basketball. Bump and grab, and the referees are not going to call all of those. As long as they stay that aggressiveness all game long, they get away with those things. They have good stretches – get five, six, seven stops in a row and take the lead on you.’’
  • Kristaps Porzingis discussed the Knicks’ shortcomings in 2016/17, citing “consistency” as a major issue for the team. “We didn’t do it from the beginning the right way,” Porzingis told Fred Kerber of the New York Post“We didn’t have real fundamentals as a team and I think from the beginning it worked for us because we played based off our talent and based off good energy. Once things got a little tougher, we just didn’t have the fundamentals as a team.” Porzingis went on to say he had the team tabbed for a “six, seven, eight seed” finish.
  • Scottie Pippen aimed pointed criticism at Phil Jackson, saying his former coach should be pushed out of his job. “I just think he [Jackson] hasn’t put the right pieces on the floor,” Pippen said on ESPN program The Jump. “I give a lot of credit to Carmelo, who has been very professional in getting through this 82-game season, and now he’s being benched to some degree, they’ve taken a lot of his minutes away. This team really just hasn’t had it. They haven’t had it since Phil Jackson landed there. I’m sure the fans will love to see Carmelo in New York and Phil out.”
  • Stefan Bondy of the Daily News outlined ‘Melo’s dilemma: being too young for a mentor role, yet too old to be on a tanking team. “Anthony is only 32 years old, too young to serve as a mentor player/coach to the likes of Ron Baker, Maurice Ndour and Chasson Randle,” Bondy writes. “He knows that. There’s too much basketball left in his legs to take on a reduced role for the sake of a rebuild — for more losing and better lottery odds. To use Anthony’s words from Wednesday, “I see the writing on the wall.”

Jahlil Okafor, Robert Covington Done For The Season

The Sixers announced they have shut down Jahlil Okafor and Robert Covington for the season’s remaining seven games (Twitter links). Okafor had been sidelined with right knee soreness, an ailment “exacerbated by impact in game at OKC.” Meanwhile, Covington suffered a slight tear of his lateral meniscus.

With the Sixers out of the playoff picture, there was little reason to ask Okafor and Covington to play through injuries. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Nik Stauskas can expect to see a bump in minutes while Covington recuperates, and Shawn Long will receive time at center alongside Richaun Holmes.

The short-handed Sixers will face Cleveland at 7:30pm EDT.

LeBron: “Concentration” Wasn’t There In Loss To Bulls

While the Cavs have long clinched a postseason spot, LeBron James wasn’t happy with the team’s focus (or lack thereof) in Thursday’s 99-93 loss to the Bulls. James spoke to reporters after the game, emphasizing the importance of finishing the regular season strong.

“We’re just in a bad spot right now,” James told Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com“I think the effort was there. I just don’t think the concentration for as close to 48 minutes is there yet. Which is unfortunate. Tomorrow’s another day. It’s another opportunity, but we’ve got some work to do. We don’t have a lot of time.”

Indeed, with just eight games left before the playoffs, the Cavs have a limited timeframe to overtake Boston for the first seed in the Eastern Conference. Now 4-6 over their last 10, Cleveland’s late-season struggles have been much  publicized.

According to a recent report from Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, veteran James Jones addressed the team following a recent loss, asking his teammates what they wanted out of the season. Additionally, a source told Vardon that a difficult road schedule combined with losing has resulted in “frayed nerves.”

“To be perfectly honest, we’re probably all over the place,” Irving added after last night’s road loss. “It’s no time to kind of back up into the wall and panic. I’m not panicking and I don’t think anyone in this locker room should panic. We’re going to be just fine. It’s ugly right now. It’s real, real ugly. But we’ll get out of this, we’ll be fine.”

Pelicans Will Get D-League Affiliate For 2018/19

Heading into next season, the Pelicans are expected to be one of five NBA teams without their own D-League affiliate. However, that won’t be the case by the following year. The Pelicans announced today in a press release that they intend to launch their own D-League affiliate to begin play for the 2018/19 season.

According to the announcement, the Pelicans haven’t yet decided on a home for their D-League squad, which will be owned and operated by the franchise. The organization will send a Request for Proposal to 11 cities, including seven in Lousiana. The other four cities that could be in play for New Orleans’ D-League affiliate are in Mississippi (two), Alabama (one), and Florida (one).

“Our goal is to establish a Development League team in nearby proximity to our home base of New Orleans,” Pelicans owner Tom Benson said in a statement. “I have been very impressed with the growth and structure of the NBA Developmental League. It is a wise and necessary investment into the future of the Pelicans. The team will provide us with a better platform of developing our younger players and staff.

“It also will allow us the opportunity to widen the spectrum of fans that come in contact with our organization on a regional basis. In addition, it will provide us with the opportunities to further promote the game of basketball and further our community support to the region. This will be a very significant addition for a city near us as it will add global exposure and bring professional basketball to their town.”

Without a D-League affiliate of their own, the Pelicans have used the NBADL sparingly this season. Rookie big man Cheick Diallo has been assigned to the D-League several times, but the flexible assignment rule has resulted in him spending time with the Greensboro Swarm (Charlotte’s affiliate), Austin Spurs (San Antonio), and Long Island Nets (Brooklyn). A local, one-to-one affiliate will allow the Pelicans to better develop their young players in the future.

With the Pelicans poised to operate a D-League club, the only NBA teams without an affiliate – or a plan in place to add one – are the Nuggets, Clippers, Trail Blazers, and Wizards.

Of course, it’s also worth mentioning that by the time the Pelicans’ D-League affiliate launches, the league will have been re-branded as the G-League. You can read more on that story right here.

Injury Updates: Millsap, Rivers, Bender, Beasley

It has been a rough few weeks for the Hawks, who have struggled to keep their hold on the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference, having been caught by the Bucks in the standings. Still, Atlanta has won its lost two games and more good news is on the way. According to Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Paul Millsap has returned to practice and signs are pointing toward him returning to action soon.

Millsap underwent a non-surgical procedure recently to help address the swelling and fluid buildup in his knee, following his diagnosis of synovitis. The four-time All-Star has missed the Hawks’ last seven games and his return would be a boon for a team that has posted an 8-14 record since mid-February.

Here are a few more injury updates from around the NBA:

  • Clippers guard Austin Rivers is expected to miss the last five games of the regular season with a strained left hamstring, writes Bill Oram of The Orange County Register. Rivers called the injury a frustrating one, but suggested he anticipates being back for the start of the playoffs.
  • Suns head coach Earl Watson indicated on Thursday that rookie big man Dragan Bender is getting close to returning to the court, and could be back within the week, barring setbacks, per Gerald Bourguet of Fansided (Twitter link). Bender underwent ankle surgery in February, and it’s somewhat surprising that Phoenix wants to see him return with just a few games left, rather than having him focus on 2017/18.
  • After missing the Bucks‘ last 17 games due to a hyperextended left knee, Michael Beasley is set to make his return on Friday night, tweets Charles F. Gardner of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Acquired in a preseason trade, Beasley has become a reliable rotation piece this season in Milwaukee, averaging 9.7 PPG and 3.6 RPG in 50 games (17.1 MPG).

Lakers’ Ivica Zubac Out For Rest Of Season

The Lakers recently shut down multiple veteran players in order to get a longer look at their young contributors as the season nears an end. Now, one of those young players will miss the rest of the year too. According to a press release issued today by the Lakers, rookie big man Ivica Zubac sustained a high ankle sprain in his right ankle and won’t return to the court this season. He’ll be re-evaluated in two weeks, per the team.

Zubac, who suffered the injury early in Thursday night’s loss to Minnesota, appeared in 38 games for the Lakers in his rookie season, and flashed some promise. For the year, the 2016 second-rounder averaged 7.5 PPG, 4.2 RPG, and 0.9 BPG in 16.0 minutes per contest.

The Lakers, having shut down veterans Nick Young, Luol Deng, and Timofey Mozgov, have some options as they look to make up Zubac’s minutes. Tarik Black, Thomas Robinson, and Larry Nance Jr. are among the players who could see their roles increase over the final two weeks of the season.

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