Luke Walton

Pacific Notes: Green, Oubre, Bagley, Lakers

Lakers teammates Dwight Howard and Avery Bradley have expressed concerns about playing in the Orlando bubble during troubled times, but Danny Green believes that NBA players can make a stronger social statement by playing. Green made his comments in an interview with Caron Butler on the NBA’s Twitter account (hat tip to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps). “I think we can use the platform to our advantage and enhance it,” Green said. “I mean, I see both sides. …  There are going to be cameras all over Orlando, so they can see exactly what we want and what we’re trying to do. So I think it’s an advantage to us to get down there and use that platform to keep the movement alive.”

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • Although he’s not expected to be healthy enough to participate, Suns forward Kelly Oubre is grateful his team was given the opportunity to play again this season, as he told Bryan Kalbrosky of Hoops Hype. He believes it will be beneficial for the club’s development. “We have to continue to get better each and every day,” he said. “We haven’t done anything yet. So our main goal should be to just lock in and just continue to just focus on getting better and coming back next year, better than ever.”
  • The Kings will likely go smaller in their starting lineup with Richaun Holmes at center and Harrison Barnes playing power forward, according to Jason Jones of The Athletic. In that scenario, Marvin Bagley III — the second overall pick in the 2018 draft — would come off the bench. Coach Luke Walton could also employ some three-guard looks in Orlando with De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic on the court at the same time.
  • The Lakers have hired Dr. Karida Brown as Director of Racial Equity & Action, according to a team press release. Dr. Brown will create a curriculum to help the Lakers staff enrich their knowledge on urgent topics, as well as helping to identify ways the team can be more active and efficient in creating change.

Kings Expected To Retain Vlade Divac, Luke Walton

Despite some speculation that changes may be coming for the Kings this summer, general manager Vlade Divac and head coach Luke Walton appear “very likely” to remain in their roles into next season, sources tell Sam Amick of The Athletic. According to Amick, both of their contracts run through the 2022/23 season.

A report in February suggested that Kings ownership had grown increasingly frustrated with the club’s on-court results and that owner Vivek Ranadive had expressed that frustration in group chats with Walton, Divac, and other team executives. There was an expectation that Ranadive would re-evaluate everything after the season.

The Kings rebounded nicely following the publication of that report, however. Following the All-Star break, the club won seven of its next 10 games, including a pair of three-game winning streaks. By the time the NBA suspended its season, Sacramento had pulled to within 3.5 games of the No. 8 Grizzlies, giving the Kings an outside chance to make a playoff push — and seemingly providing more job security for Divac and Walton.

That February report also suggested that a decision may be coming this summer on Buddy Hield‘s future, since he had been frustrated with his demotion from the starting lineup and the idea of a trade request seemed possible.

However, in a conversation with Amick and Joe Vardon on The Athletic’s Tampering podcast, Walton insisted that the Hield situation isn’t a concern.

“Buddy was not happy about not starting, but he didn’t b—h,” Walton said. “He said, ‘You’re the coach. I’m going to do what I need to do.’ … Even with Buddy (coming off the bench), he was still playing starter minutes, he was still finishing certain games, and it’s one of those things where if you’re truly bought into being on the team, you end up accepting it because that’s a huge value. … And I thought Buddy had really, really done a nice job of embracing that and making our team better.”

Hield’s playing time did take a hit following his move to the bench, but his per-minute production improved. After averaging 20.0 PPG with a .416/.360/.816 shooting line in 44 games (34.4 MPG) as a starter, Hield recorded 19.4 PPG on .465/.476/.970 shooting in 20 contests (26.6 MPG) off the bench. It remains to be seen whether the Kings plan to use him as a sixth man indefinitely, or whether he’d be fine with that.

Big Changes Coming In Sacramento?

Vivek Ranadive and other members of the Kings‘ ownership have grown increasingly frustrated with the team’s poor performance, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. Ranadive has been open about his disappointment through text messages in season-long group chats with general manager Vlade Divac, head coach Luke Walton, assistant general manager Peja Stojakovic and chief operating officer Matina Kolokotronis.

The specter that has hung over the franchise for the past two seasons has been the decision to bypass Luka Doncic and take Marvin Bagley with the second pick in the 2018 draft. Doncic has developed into an MVP candidate, while injuries have limited Bagley to 13 games this year and may wipe out the rest of his season.

The Kings put a lot of effort into scouting Doncic, Charania relays, including a dinner with Ranadive that one of the owner’s children posted on social media. Ownership supported taking Doncic, but Divac and former assistant GM Brandon Williams were concerned about how he would fit alongside De’Aaron Fox and believed adding a big man was a better choice.

Sources tell Charania that significant changes aren’t being planned to the front office or coaching staff right now, but Ranadive will reassess the situation this summer. He declined to be interviewed, but the team issued a statement that read, “We share our fans’ frustrations with how the season has unfolded and are working hard to improve. We remain confident in Vlade’s leadership in building the winning team that our fans and city deserve.”

Charania shares more from inside the Kings’ organization:

  • Divac will be held accountable for the team’s free agent signings last summer and other roster decisions. Dewayne Dedmon was a huge disappointment after being given a three-year, $40MM contract and was traded to Atlanta last week. Trevor Ariza was also traded, while Cory Joseph has been effective as a backup point guard and Richaun Holmes was a nice find before being injured.
  • It was Divac’s decision to fire Dave Joerger and target Walton as his replacement, giving him a contract that runs through the 2022/23 season, just like Divac’s. Several members of the ownership group have been critical of Walton, and sources say that Ranadive’s group chats are a way to air those issues. The organization considered Monty Williams and Ettore Messina as other coaching candidates, but only if Walton turned down the job.
  • A decision could be coming this summer on Buddy Hield, who received a four-year extension in October, but lost his starting job last month. Hield called out “trust issues” in the organization a few weeks ago, and there is a belief that he may ask for a trade if he remains unhappy with his role, a source tells Charania. Hield thinks he should be a starter and has been a frequent critic of Walton’s decisions.

LeBron James, Others React To Kobe Bryant’s Death

LeBron James issued his first comments since the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, which were posted on the Yahoo Sports Twitter feed and by other news organizations. James spoke with Bryant – who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning – on Saturday evening after passing him on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

“Didn’t think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we’d have,” James wrote. James also vowed to carry on Bryant’s legacy. “It’s my responsibility to put this (bleep) on my back and keep it going!! Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me!”

We have more reaction from around the league on the loss of the Lakers legend:

  • The Lakers brought in grief counselors to the team’s offices on Monday to help not only players and staff members cope with Bryant’s tragic death but also employees throughout the organization, Dave McMenamin of ESPN tweets. Bryant had many relationships with other Laker employees during his 20-year playing career, McMenamin notes. The counselors provided comfort and guidance in both group and one-on-one sessions, McMenamin adds. The league decided on Monday afternoon to postpone the team’s scheduled game with the Clippers on Tuesday out of respect for the Lakers organization.
  • The organization thanked fans and well-wishers from around the world for the overwhelming support it has received since the tragedy. It issued a statement via the team’s PR department (Twitter link) which read, “The Los Angeles Lakers would like to thank all of you for the tremendous outpouring of support and condolences. This is a very difficult time for all of us. We continue to support the Bryant family and will share more information as it is available.”
  • Kings coach and ex-teammate Luke Walton said the loss has not only deeply affected him but everyone around his team, as he told Chad Graff of The Athletic and other media members. “We talked about it. Life is hard. There are moments that challenge us,” Walton said. “What I’ve found is together we can get through that easier and more efficiently than we can alone. Guys here are hurting whether you knew him or not. He was that type of guy, and he had that type of impact on the NBA world that everybody is hurting.”
  • Pop music icon Michael Jackson fueled Bryant’s passion for excellence, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski recalls in a November 2010 interview he did with Bryant. “He would teach me what he did: how to make a ‘Thriller’ album, a ‘Bad’ album, all the details that went into it,” Bryant told Wojnarowski. “It was all the validation that I needed — to know that I had to focus on my craft and never waver. Because what he did — and how he did it — was psychotic. He helped me get to a level where I was able to win three titles playing with Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) because of my preparation, my study. And it’s only all grown.”
  • The fact that three teenagers, including Bryant’s daughter Gianna, perished in the helicopter crash was especially heartbreaking for Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, as Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel relays. “Obviously this has been a horrible 24 hours,” he said. “And, as a parent, it absolutely crushes your heart to think about this. When something like this happens it can be so wrong and so arbitrary.”
  • Bryant played the game with ferocity but he wasn’t fearless, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN writes. However, Bryant’s determination allowed him to overcome his fears. “To a certain extent, every day I was vulnerable,” he told Shelburne. “You’re always dealing with fear, with something in your imagination. Something that you think can happen. But you just say, ‘I don’t know if I can do that. But I’ll give it a try.'”

Pacific Notes: Ayton, Clippers Arena, Hield, Kuzma

Suns center Deandre Ayton finds himself in a reserve role for the time being and he admits it’s an adjustment, as he told Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic. Ayton is working his way back into top shape after a 25-game league-imposed suspension. “I’ve never been through this, but it’s new,” the top overall pick of the 2018 draft said. “I’m just holding my head high and just working.” Ayton had 18 points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes against Charlotte on Sunday.

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • Madison Square Garden Co., which owns The Forum, has sued California Governor Gavin Newsom and the state’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee over legislation that facilitates the construction of a new Clippers arena, Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times reports.  The lawsuit alleges that a bill which shields the billion-dollar development from extended environmental litigation if it met several requirements violates the state constitution, Fenno continues. MSG has two additional lawsuits pending in relation to the proposed arena, which is scheduled to open in 2024.
  • Kings guard Buddy Hield signed a four-year, $86MM extension prior to the season and the franchise is holding him to a higher standard, Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee relays. Head coach Luke Walton and assistant Jesse Mermuys had a candid conversation with Hield after he recently complained about his playing time. “I talked to Luke and coach Jesse, and we just sat down and they gave me a reality check,” Hield said. “There’s stuff they need me to do and stuff I need to get better at — just challenging me — and Luke is a guy who always challenges me. Him and Jesse just bring the challenge and I accept it.”
  • Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma is aware his name has been bandied about in trade rumors but he’s trying to block it out, according to Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times. Kuzma averaged 31 points in two games this weekend with Anthony Davis sidelined. “Nah, that’s for y’all to talk about,” Kuzma said. “I’ve been through it multiple times and obviously I see it. But it don’t even matter at this point.”

Sexual Assault Lawsuit Against Luke Walton Dropped

The woman accusing Kings coach Luke Walton of sexual assault in a 2017 incident has dropped her lawsuit against him, according to a report from TMZ Sports.

Former television sports reporter Kelli Tennant had claimed Walton forced himself on her in a Santa Monica hotel room. The suit stated she was “in shock and fear” at the advances and thought she was going to be raped.

Walton, who was an assistant with the Warriors at the time, denied her charges, saying she initiated the meeting and nothing sexual took place. Walton’s attorney, Mark Baute, called her “an opportunist” and vowed that Walton would fight the lawsuit.

The TMZ report states that it’s unclear if a settlement has been reached. Tennant filed new court documents this week in the L.A. County Superior Court asking the judge to dismiss her her suit with prejudice, which means she won’t be able to refile it.

The NBA conducted an independent investigation and announced in August that Walton had been cleared because there wasn’t enough evidence to support Tennant’s allegations. Tennant refused several times through her attorney to talk with investigators hired by the league.

Pacific Notes: Suns, Walton, Baynes, Warriors

Suns owner Robert Sarver is impressed with his team’s strong start to the 2019/20 season, lauding Phoenix’s intensity, teamwork and togetherness after a disappointing season last year, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic writes.

“Winning is a lot more fun than losing,” Sarver said. “Seeing a lot of it come together this year. After training camp, I think I told my kids, ‘you know, we haven’t played a game yet, but I can tell right now, we’re in a much better place.’ ”

The Suns currently hold the fifth-best record in the Western Conference at 7-4, giving an impressive effort despite losing starting center Deandre Ayton to a 25-game suspension. By comparison, the team finished with the second-worst record in franchise history at 19-63 last season.

“What I like about the team is I like the fact that the ball is shared,” Sarver said. “And I think when the ball is shared, you tend to get better shots and I think it’s also easier to be more engaged defensively. So, the style of play, I think, is good. I like the fact that Monty holds his players accountable and there’s no guaranteed minutes. Everybody will work every day and earn what they deserve.”

For the Suns, keeping a consistent effort is imperative as the season continues to progress. The team has games scheduled against Boston (10-1) on Monday, Sacramento (4-7) on Tuesday, New Orleans (3-9) on Thursday and Minnesota (7-6) on Saturday.

There’s more from the Pacific Division tonight:

  • LeBron James defended former Lakers head coach Luke Walton this past week, explaining how Walton did everything he could during his brief, tumultuous time with the franchise, Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com writes. “I mean, we were right where we wanted to be on Dec. 25, went up into Golden State and played against a very good team and had a very good game,” James said. “And then the injury happened and I’m out 6½ weeks. I don’t think anyone could have predicted that, including myself and including Luke. And we were just behind the eight ball. But throughout it all we just tried to remain positive, even throughout with the young guys, with the older guys and whatever the case may be. So I think he did as great of a job as you could do under the circumstances.”
  • Jack Winter of Basketball Insiders examines the three-point evolution of Suns center Aron Baynes, who’s impressed during his 11 games with the team. Baynes has averaged 15 points and 5.5 rebounds in 23.8 minutes per contest, filling in for the suspended Ayton while remaining a threat from three-point territory. He’s connected on 22 of 47 attempts from deep, good for a 47% shooting mark.
  • The Warriors are now down to nine healthy players, one player above the league’s minimum requirement, Bobby Marks of ESPN tweets. Golden State plans to start Draymond Green, Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson III, Eric Paschall and Willie Cauley-Stein against New Orleans on Sunday night.

Pacific Notes: Johnson, Rondo, Kings, George

Former Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson recently appeared on Fox Sports 1 to discuss his old team, the well-documented trade conversations involving Anthony Davis and more.

Prior to the trade deadline last February, with Davis seeking to move out of New Orleans, Johnson and then-Pelicans GM Dell Demps engaged in a serious of discussions with hopes of finalizing a trade to land Davis in Los Angeles. The Lakers never believed Demps was truly looking to accommodate Davis’ request, and Johnson used a noteworthy level of honesty while discussing the matter in his appearance on Fox.

“He was looking at me like I caused Anthony Davis to want to be traded,” Johnson said (h/t Dan Feldman of NBC Sports). “So, we’re on the phone, and he’s blaming me. I said, ‘What are you blaming me for, Dell?’ I heard he wanted to be traded, so I’m giving you a call. ‘Are you going to trade him?’ ‘You’re not going to trade him.’ So, he had me send three or four proposals, but he never got serious, Shannon. He never got serious. And I said, I told Rob [Pelinka], I told Jeanie [Buss], ‘He doesn’t want to trade AD to us.’ And sure enough, the last one was, ‘Give us your whole team and five first-round picks.’ I said, ‘Listen, man. [Laughter.] I can’t give you five first-round picks and the whole team.’ He wanted all our young guys. I said, ‘No, I can’t do it now.’ That’s when I said he doesn’t want to trade him.

“And look what happened. When they found out, the owner found out what was the trade proposal from us, she was like, ‘Oh, what are you doing?’ And then the new general manager comes.”

Johnson didn’t mince words about what failing to trade Davis did for Demps’ job security, either.

“It got him fired,” he proclaimed.

There’s more from the Pacific Division tonight:

  • Despite originally targeting a Sunday return date, Lakers guard Rajon Rondo (calf) will wait to make his season debut, according to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes (Twitter link). Rondo participated in a workout on Saturday and will work out again on Sunday to ramp up his endurance, Haynes notes. The Lakers have games scheduled this week against the Suns on Tuesday, Warriors on Wednesday and Kings on Friday.
  • In his latest mailbag, Jason Jones of The Athletic examines the situation of Kings big man Harry Giles, where coach Luke Walton stands with the front office, and more. Sacramento has opened the 2019/20 season with 3-6 record, including a 1-3 mark at home.
  • Clippers star Paul George could make his season debut as early as Monday after being cleared for five-on-five practice this weekend, Mirjam Swanson of the Orange County Register writes. George had separate surgeries earlier this year to repair a partially torn tendon in his right shoulder and a small labrum tear in his left shoulder.

Aldridge’s Latest: Iguodala, Nunn, Kings, Wizards

Andre Iguodala technically remains under contract with the Grizzlies, but the expectation is that he’ll be traded or bought out at some point this season, allowing him to join a contender. While it remains to be seen which club Iguodala will end up playing for, David Aldridge of The Athletic asked several NBA executives to hazard a guess and virtually all of them predicted the Lakers would be the landing spot for the former Finals MVP.

“[The Lakers would offer the] best combination of ring chance and role,” one longtime team boss told Aldridge.

For Iguodala to get to the Lakers, the Grizzlies would almost certainly have to go the buyout route, since L.A. probably doesn’t have the necessary salary-matching pieces to take on Iguodala’s $17MM+ salary in a trade. The only non-stars on the Lakers’ roster earning more than $4.77MM this season are Danny Green ($14.64MM), who is a key rotation player, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ($8.09MM), who holds a de facto no-trade clause.

As Aldridge notes, a league-wide belief that the Lakers will land Iguodala doesn’t mean it will actually happen. There will also plenty of people around the NBA who thought Kawhi Leonard would become a Laker in the summer, and the Clippers ultimately closed that deal. The Clips – who were the only team besides the Lakers to receive a vote in Aldridge’s informal poll of execs – would presumably be in the running for Iguodala too.

Here’s more from Aldridge’s latest Athletic article:

  • Kendrick Nunn‘s agent Adam Pensack tells Aldridge that he “pushed pretty strongly” in his attempt to get his client a 10-day contract with an NBA team last season. When that didn’t happen, Pensack and Nunn went looking for an NBA home once the G League season ended. The Kings brought in several players for a workout and told them they’d sign the best player in the group. Sacramento chose B.J. Johnson over Nunn, opening the door for the former Oakland standout to catch on with the Heat a week later. We explored that deal in more depth last week.
  • Here’s more from Heat director of scouting Chet Kammerer on why the team signed Nunn and spent time developing him: “Coach (Erik) Spoelstra is big right now on having guys that are versatile, on guys that aren’t one-dimensional. It’s the fact we saw a couple of things. He was really versatile. He always seemed like a tough kid, physically and mentally tough. To me, he was hard to guard. When we played them, he found ways. It was tough to stay in front of the guy. He’s an attacker. He competes hard. He was a better shooter than all of us thought, too. You look at his percentages, and we said, ‘This is a guy can shoot the ball.’ You look at all of those things, and that’s a Heat guy, to us.”
  • Despite the Kings‘ slow start, general manager Vlade Divac told Aldridge in a text message that he’s pleased with what he has seen from head coach Luke Walton so far. “Very happy with him,” Divac said. “His approach, communication and relationship with the players needs more time and he needs to learn about personalities but I really like what I see. It’s a process; can’t do stuff over night.”
  • While the Wizards probably won’t be a playoff team in 2019/20, they’ve been fun to watch so far this season, which has rubbed off on the front office. “I actually like coming to work in the morning,” a senior member of the team’s staff told Aldridge.

Pacific Notes: Kings, Paschall, Kuzma, Clippers

The Kings have started the 2019/20 season with a 1-5 record, making them one of the most underwhelming teams in the campaign’s first two weeks.

Sacramento opened the year losing by 29 in Phoenix, going home two days later to lose to Portland 122-112. The team then fell by a 113-81 margin to Utah the following day, lost 101-94 to Denver two days later, and lost 118-111 to Charlotte this past Wednesday.

“We know we signed up to be on this journey and grow this team and get this team back into the playoffs and all of that, and that’s what we’re going to do,” coach Luke Walton said, according to Sam Amick of The Athletic. “It’s not the start we wanted, but the work that’s being done, I think, is the foundation for what’s going to get us there when we’re ready. And maybe…”

The Kings certainly have time to figure this out and correct their poor start, though they’ll have to do so without star forward Marvin Bagley III. Bagley is expected to miss at least three-to-five more weeks with a fractured right thumb.

“We’ll find out when we’re ready,” Walton admitted. “You know, there’s no way to know. But we’re going to keep pushing these guys, and growing these guys, making sure that we’re playing and continuing to understand what it takes to win at a consistent level in this league. It’s gonna happen.”

Sacramento could start the process by defeating the Knicks on Sunday, one of three other teams that own a 1-5 record on the season (Golden State, New Orleans).

Here are some other notes from the Pacific Division tonight:

  • Warriors rookie Eric Paschall is beginning to look like a second-round steal, Anthony Slater writes for The Athletic. Paschall, who was drafted by Golden State with the No. 41 overall pick in June, has received more playing time in the wake of several injuries to key players. Paschall has made the most of his opportunity, scoring 13.8 points per game on 61% shooting in six contests.
  • The Lakers are considering a sixth-man role for Kyle Kuzma, who remains on a minutes restriction as he returns from injury, Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register writes. However, head coach Frank Vogel refused to commit to anything just yet. “Sometimes it makes sense to have a guy coming off the bench filling that role, and sometimes it doesn’t,” Vogel said. “Sometimes it makes more sense to put him in the starting lineup. I don’t know the answer to that. It depends on each group. I have to see everybody play with each other, but there’s definitely value to that.”
  • The Federal Aviation Adminstration has approved the Clippers’ plans for a new billion-dollar arena in Inglewood, Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times writes. In their approval, it was confirmed that the 37 applications covering the majority of the proposed idea pose no hazards to aviation, Fenno notes. The Clippers are hoping to move into their new arena in 2024, the same year their lease at Staples Center expires.