Cade Cunningham On Pistons: “We’re Bad,” Compete Level “Unacceptable”

After winning two of their first three games to open the season, the Pistons have dropped 11 in a row. The 11th game of the losing streak was especially ugly, as the team surrendered a season-high 142 points in Toronto on Sunday and never held a lead in the 29-point defeat.

While head coach Monty Williams has said he’s encouraged by the progress his young team has made behind the scenes, point guard Cade Cunningham expressed displeasure with the Pistons’ effort level and said the club has to “be realistic” about its situation.

“It’s hard to just be like, ‘We’re good, we’re good,’ you know what I’m saying? Because we’re bad,” Cunningham said, per James L. Edwards III of The Athletic. “We have to address that. We have to address what we’re not good at. Address it with not only our words but on the court, in the huddles.”

Williams isn’t wrong that the Pistons have been a little better than their record suggests. Entering Sunday’s action, the team sat dead last in the NBA’s standings, but only had the league’s seventh-worst net rating (-4.8) despite dealing with a handful of injuries to key players, including Bojan Bogdanovic, who has yet to play this season.

That net rating took a hit in Sunday’s blowout loss, however, and Cunningham suggested the team’s compete level in Toronto was “unacceptable.”

“We’re the youngest team in the league, scrapping and clawing for everything,” Cunningham said. “That should be the last thing that needs to be asked of us or talked about; how hard we’re competing. That should be a given. When we wake up in the morning, we should be like, ‘We got to get to the court.’ (Williams) shouldn’t have to ask (about our competitive level). That’s something me and (Isaiah Stewart) are also trying to stay vocal about. Everyone has to come with it.”

As Edwards writes, Cunningham’s comments may be a good thing for the club. The former No. 1 overall pick is the face of the franchise and a leader in the locker room, so if anyone is going to step up and try to jump-start a turnaround, it should be him. According to Edwards, Cunningham and Stewart have helped keep the locker room connected, so there’s no “turmoil and friction” to worry about.

It won’t be easy for the Pistons to end their losing streak on Monday though — on the second end of a back-to-back set, they’ll host the defending-champion Nuggets.

Atlantic Notes: Smart, Celtics, Holiday, Batum, DiVincenzo

The Celtics‘ NBA-best record (11-2) suggests they’re doing just fine so far this season without longtime backcourt cornerstone Marcus Smart. However, conversations with Celtics players reveal that moving on from Smart and getting used to playing without him hasn’t been easy, according to Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston.

“[Smart is] a big part of this culture,” Jayson Tatum said ahead of Boston’s Sunday matchup with the Grizzlies, Smart’s new team. “He was the most beloved Celtic that we had on our team. He was the heart and soul. To see him leave — I thought I was going to play with Smart my entire career. So seeing him leave was tough.”

“I’m going to miss watching him play basketball because he was a lot of fun to watch. Just creative and engaging and like really one-of-a-kind as a player,” Luke Kornet added. “He was a great teammate and player, and his competitive abilities were incredible.”

Having been diagnosed last week with a sprained left foot, Smart wasn’t able to take the court on Sunday in his first game against his former team. The veteran guard still got the opportunity to catch up with old friends and teammates, but he admitted in an interview with Abby Chin of NBC Sports Boston that it was disappointing not to be able to suit up on Sunday.

“We’ve been struggling and we got a great win (on Saturday),” Smart said, per Brian Robb of “To come back and play a team like Boston, not to be a part of it is definitely devastating.”

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • While Jrue Holiday is known most for his defensive ability and the Celtics have no shortage of scoring options, the team is encouraging the veteran guard to be aggressive on the offensive end of the court rather than simply deferring to teammates and focusing on defense, as Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe and Jay King of The Athletic detail. Holiday’s scoring average (12.9 PPG) is his lowest mark since his rookie year in 2009/10, but head coach Joe Mazzulla knows he’s capable of giving the team more if needed. “I told him…I watched you on film take things over when guys on the Bucks team were out and you won games because of what you did on both ends,” Mazzulla said last week.
  • Sixers forward Nicolas Batum was back with the team on Sunday after missing three consecutive games for personal reasons. According to Gina Mizell of The Philadelphia Inquirer (Twitter link), Batum explained that he was away due to a health situation with his wife and expects to be back with the club for good now. “I can’t really say what it is, but I had to be there,” Batum said. “… Sometimes, you have to do what you’ve got to do for your family. She’ll be OK now.”
  • Donte DiVincenzo‘s connection to former Villanova teammates like Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart was one reason why he joined the Knicks as a free agent this past offseason, and he and Brunson showed on Saturday that the chemistry they established in college remains strong, per Steve Popper of Newsday. Starting alongside Brunson, who had 32 points of his own, DiVincenzo scored a career-high 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting. “I’m not really surprised by it. But it’s pretty cool to see it, one of your best friends playing that way,” Brunson said, adding that he’s “not taking it for granted” to get to play in the NBA with so many of his friends from Villanova.

Southwest Notes: D. Jones, Rockets, Spurs, Grizzlies

At 9-4, the Mavericks are among the top teams in the Western Conference, and forward Derrick Jones Jr. has become the surprise player of the year so far, writes The Dallas Morning News’ Brad Townsend.

Known more for his athleticism and defense than his scoring or shooting, Jones is currently averaging a career-high 8.9 points through his first 13 games, which have all been starts. He’s also taking a career-high 3.9 three-point attempts and connecting at a 35.3% clip.

I really don’t care [about outside opinions],” Jones said. “If you want to label me as a dunker and leave me open, then please, by all means, leave me open. I’m gonna keep shooting the shots that I take and I promise you, they’re gonna fall.

According to Townsend, the Mavericks have had their eye on Jones since at least 2019, when they tried to acquire him and Kelly Olynyk in a package deal. Jones wound up joining the Mavericks this offseason on a minimum-salary contract after Portland matched the $33MM offer sheet that Matisse Thybulle signed with Dallas.

While Jones is ultimately making less money this year than he would have on the player option he declined from the Bulls ($2.7MM compared to about $3.3MM), he’s capitalizing on his expanded opportunity with the Mavs. Townsend writes that he may very well hold onto his starting spot if his play keeps up.

I have put in a lot of work behind the scenes,” Jones said. “I feel that thus far in my career, I haven’t gotten the recognition that I think I deserve. And I feel like this year is just going to be the year.

We have more Southwest Division notes:

  • The Rockets suffered a close loss to the Clippers on Friday, showing room for improvement on the defensive end, The Athletic’s Kelly Iko writes. Still, Houston is one of the surprise teams in the Western Conference behind a young core and some former Rockets are impressed. James Harden said Houston has “a good thing going on.” Current Clips forward P.J. Tucker said the young team plays similar to some of his old Rockets teams. “Switching slows down offenses and makes guys have to play iso,” Tucker told The Athletic. “You have guys that can guard multiple positions, obviously a lot of similarities in that. That’s something that if you got weapons at the four and five that can switch, it makes it tough on guys.
  • The Spurs have now lost eight games in a row after allowing a 19-point comeback to Memphis on Saturday. While Cedi Osman said everyone is upset after going through a stretch where they’re 1-6 in games they’ve led by 10 or more points, rookie sensation Victor Wembanyama isn’t worried about it impacting the locker room, according to Tom Orsborn of San Antonio Express-News.We have very healthy locker room, healthy relations between each other and, no, this is not an issue at all,” Wembanyama said. “We are losing. We’re losing together. If someone puts their head down, we go help him. Someone falls on the court, all of us rush to help him up.
  • While dealing with a plethora of injuries, the Grizzlies opted for a new, super-sized starting lineup on Sunday against the Celtics, putting Santi Aldama in over Jacob Gilyard, playing him alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. and Bismack Biyombo in the frontcourt (Twitter link via Damichael Cole of the Memphis Commercial Appeal). Aldama responded with career highs of 28 points and six assists in a two-point loss to the Celtics. Second-year two-way wing Vince Williams got some rotation run and looked impressive on defense, according to Cole (Twitter link). Chris Herrington of the Daily Memphian tweets that Williams should get some extended run in subsequent games.

Pacific Notes: Myers, Curry, Davis, Huerter

First-year general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. had an eventful offseason, adding veterans and young players who aided the Warriors in jumping out to a 6-2 start. But Dunleavy is now experiencing his first batch of bumps in the road as GM, with Golden State losing six straight amid a Draymond Green suspension and minor Stephen Curry injury.

Former Warriors head of basketball operations Bob Myers is all too familiar with the ups and downs of holding that prestigious position, having accumulated four titles with a couple retooling years in between. Myers spoke to The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami for an in-depth conversation about the Warriors and what Myers has been up to.

If that’s me, I’m saying (to Green), ‘That’s it, you’ve made your mistake in Game 10, so now you can’t make any more,‘” Myers said on Kawakami’s podcast (Apple Podcasts link). “I would assume he’d look me in the eye and say, ‘Yeah, OK.’ Kind of used up your mulligan early. So now we’ve gotta get through the rest of the 18 holes. And I think he would agree, he would say, ‘You’re right, it’s not good for the team, it’s not good for [me].’ I don’t think he’d push back on that.

The best thing about Draymond and the thing people may not know, at least my relationship with Draymond, he will listen. He does listen. If I ever felt like he wasn’t listening, I wouldn’t waste my time. But he will listen. I think that’s the misconception with Draymond — [that] he doesn’t listen to what anybody says, just does what he wants. I think he listens, but he still makes mistakes.

Myers went on to talk about more of the Warriors’ struggles this season, relating to the need to push through a difficult stretch.

This is a tough moment — Curry’s hurt, Draymond’s suspended,” Myers said. “You’re going to go through that stuff. We went through that every year. I’m trying to think of a year, ’14/15 we probably didn’t have any, which is crazy to say, that first championship. And then ’16/17, [Kevin] Durant’s first year. Those years out of 12 for me were the only ones where it felt like a smooth ride without any bumps. It’s normal to have adversity, so it’s here. Now this adversity could’ve come 20 games into the season, it could’ve come 40, it could’ve come 60, but it’s coming for every team. So to fans, I would say, this is the moment.

I highly recommend checking out the conversation in full if you have a subscription to The Athletic or the time to listen to the podcast episode. Myers goes on to talk about a plethora of topics, including his television appearances, the people he misses the most, his relationship with Curry and the future of head coach Steve Kerr, whom he expects will agree to an extension with the club.

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • Curry also spoke about the Warriors‘ recent losing streak, stressing it’s important to reverse the recent trend, Anthony Slater of The Athletic writes. “There’s urgency, for sure,” Curry said. “Any time you’re at this many in a row, it’s a problem you gotta fix. You don’t want to develop a losing mentality at any stretch of the season. That’s a stink in the locker room you don’t want to have.
  • Lakers star center Anthony Davis is hampered by a lingering hip injury, but that isn’t stopping him from anchoring L.A.’s defense, Khobi Price of The Orange County Register writes. “I’m all right,” Davis said. “Unfortunately this thing, it’s still bothering me but I’m going to try to go out there and compete. Obviously not being who I am offensively. My shot’s not falling and the leaping abilities and all that stuff just [aren’t] back to where it was, but I try to just make up for it on the defensive end and try to impact the game other than scoring.
  • Kings guard Kevin Huerter missed his first game of the season on Sunday, The Kings Beat’s James Ham tweets. He suffered the injury on Friday but told The Sacramento Bee’s Jason Anderson the injury shouldn’t be “bothersome long term.” Chris Duarte, who averaged 4.5 points in 11 games entering Sunday, earned the start in Huerter’s place.

Community Shootaround: Early Season Surprises

For the most part, it’s easy to tell who the NBA’s contenders and bottom-feeders are before the season. Similarly, fans can usually predict what a large part of a team’s given rotation is going to look like. But every year, there are several instances of unexpected players and teams breaking out or disappointing.

This season is no different and, through the first portion of the season, there are already some surprising trends and storylines.

In my view, the most disappointing start to the season for any team has to be the Grizzlies. Teams like the Pistons, Wizards, Spurs and Trail Blazers were expected to trend toward the bottom of the standings with young cores and growing pains. But the Grizzlies were the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last year and acquired former Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart. Of course, Memphis has been dealt an incredibly difficult hand with the 25-game suspension of Ja Morant and injuries to Brandon Clarke, Steven Adams and Smart, along with many more, and any team would be hard-pressed to overcome that.

Seasons are all about hot and cold streaks, and both the Clippers and Warriors are going through slumps after respective strong starts to the year. The Clippers began the year 3-1 and have gone 1-6 since acquiring James Harden, including losing six straight. The Warriors began the year 6-2 but have now also lost six in a row. I didn’t anticipate there to be as many growing pains with the Clippers and Harden from the jump, but I still expect they’ll get into form.

Not all surprises are bad though, and there have been plenty of pleasant ones to begin this year. The Timberwolves share the top spot in the west with the defending-champion Nuggets, which is eye-popping at first until you consider their elite defensive play and Anthony Edwards‘ unsurprising breakout.

The Rockets and Thunder look well ahead of the development curve, and hold two of the top six spots in the west. Chet Holmgren immediately looks like a star in his first NBA season for Oklahoma City while the Rockets have been aided by the additions of their veteran players and coach Ime Udoka.

For my money, the most surprising early season development is Dereck Lively IIs immediate importance to the 9-4 Mavericks. In his one season at Duke, Lively averaged just 20.6 minutes per game, though his role grew exponentially as the year went on. Still, when Dallas drafted him, I expected the franchise to bring him along slowly and allow him to get adjusted to the NBA.

Instead, Lively surged to the top of the depth chart, taking a choke-hold on the starting center position at just 19 years old. He’s averaging 8.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.7 stocks (steals plus blocks) in his first 12 games. His rise to the top has opened up so many things for the Mavs’ offense and Lively is a huge part of what looks like a top dog in the conference.

That brings us to our topic of the day: What early season trends have most surprised you the most? Do you agree with any of our choices? What players and teams have most exceeded or fallen short of expectations?

Take to the comments to weigh in on this topic. We look forward to reading your input.

Bulls Front Office Reportedly “Less Than Thrilled” With LaVine

The Bulls secured a come-from-behind, 21-point comeback win against the Heat on Saturday, but the victory wasn’t without drama, according to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley.

Star guard Zach LaVine “all but stormed off” the court and cameras caught him pulling his arm away from the team’s public relations director during an attempt to get him to fulfill his post-game media obligations, Cowley writes.

Just a miscommunication with the PR team,” LaVine said. “We’re all fine.

According to Cowley’s sources, Chicago’s front office was immediately made aware of the situation and are “less than thrilled” with LaVine’s actions. Further, Cowley adds that when coach Billy Donovan found out about the incident, he was “downright ticked.”

All of this comes off the heels of reporting over the past week indicating LaVine and the Bulls are both open to exploring a potential change of scenery.

LaVine is one of the league’s premier scorers, averaging 24.4 points and shooting 38.4% from deep since arriving in Chicago. Despite his individual success, the Bulls have just one playoff appearance in the six full seasons he’s been there and at 5-9 this year, look to be fast-tracking toward missing the playoffs or an early exit.

Of course, the Bulls’ issues don’t start and end with LaVine. To his credit, he emerged into a two-time All-Star there and Chicago has dealt with numerous issues during his time with the team. The biggest what-if facing this current grouping is the long-term absence of Lonzo Ball, who hasn’t played since Jan. 14, 2022 and isn’t expected back anytime soon. When Ball was healthy, the Bulls were 26-10 at one point and sat atop the Eastern Conference standings with this very core.

Additionally, the post-game issues could have truly been a misunderstanding. Still, Cowley reporting anger from Chicago management and coaching is significant and adds another chapter to the perception of disconnect between the parties.

Sixers Notes: House, Chemistry, Embiid

Sixers reserve forward Danuel House Jr.  has stepped up in the absence of injured wings Kelly Oubre Jr. and Nicolas Batum, writes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. House had been behind starter Oubre and his primary backup, Batum, on the depth chart prior to their absences.

In just 18:22 of action Friday, House scored 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the floor against the Hawks. Philadelphia is hoping he can maintain that offensive momentum with Oubre and Batum still sidelined.

House is on the second season of a two-year, $8.4MM deal he signed with the Sixers in 2022. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

There’s more out of the City of Brotherly Love:

  • With James Harden now in Los Angeles, the Sixers’ team chemistry is suddenly off the charts, writes Pompey in a separate piece. Philadelphia is 9-3 on the year, and looking to improve to 10-3 this afternoon in Brooklyn. Pompey notes that the selfishness of several prior rosters built around reigning MVP Joel Embiid seems to have dissipated with the club’s current personnel.
  • Embiid, meanwhile, looks to be making good on a preseason pledge to improve his passing this year, writes Gina Mizell of The Philadelphia Inquirer. He’s averaging a career-most 6.0 assists per game through his first 12 contests. “He’s been willing to pass, but this year, he’s really buying in,” House said. “He’s not worried about scoring 50 every night, you know what I’m saying? He wants to win.” Mizell notes that Embiid spent the Sixers’ preseason deciphering the best passing angles to use for connecting with his teammates on the court. “I never liked just being an [isolation] player,” Embiid said. “I don’t think that’s the right way to play, and I don’t feel that’s the right way to win.”
  • In case you missed it, the Sixers are said to be among the three potential trade destinations most preferred by two-time All-Star Bulls shooting guard Zach LaVine.

Northwest Notes: Alexander-Walker, KAT, Thunder, Watson

Multifaceted Timberwolves guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker finally seems to have created a unique niche with his third NBA team, writes Oren Weisfeld of Alexander-Walker’s versatile game has earned him plaudits from key Minnesota personnel.

“There was a lot of pressure on him when he came into the league, whether it be, you know, a lot of it was self-imposed,” Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch said of the guard’s early years in New Orleans, where Finch served as an associate head coach. “He was trying too hard, trying to do too much, trying to prove everything, wanted it all at once.”

In 19.7 MPG off the bench for the 9-3 Timberwolves, Alexander-Walker is averaging 5.4 PPG, 2.4 APG, 1.8 RPG, 0.8 SPG and 0.8 BPG.

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • Though there has been much chatter swirling about the fit of star Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns alongside two other nominal centers, Rudy Gobert and Naz Reid, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic submits that Towns’ superlative offense makes him worth retaining. On Saturday evening, he led Minnesota’s successful 121-120 comeback against the Pelicans, scoring 29 points while shooting 10-of-11 from the field, dishing out nine dimes, grabbing six boards and topping it all off with the game-winner. It’s games like that one that make Towns such an important piece on a club with major postseason goals, according to Krawcyznski, who opines that the Wolves are on too much of a roll with Towns to trade him, for now.
  • Although Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault is trying to temper expectations for Oklahoma City, the club is already looking much improved this year, writes Kendra Andrews of ESPN. Rookie center Chet Holmgren just turned in his best night yet, scoring 36 points while shooting 14-of-22 from the field, pulling down ten rebounds and dishing out five dimes. All-NBA point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, not to be outdone, chipped in 40 of his own. A clutch buzzer-beating triple from Holmgren propelled the Thunder to overtime against the Warriors on Saturday night, where the young team pulled out an impressive win. “We have a young team that will grow over time,” Daigneault said. “We don’t want to cap the potential of any of our players.” At 9-4, Oklahoma City might be arriving already.
  • Second-year Nuggets small forward Peyton Watson has earned regular rotation minutes this season. The UCLA product credits some tough love during his rookie season tenure with Denver’s NBAGL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Gold, for abetting his long-term development, writes Bennett Durando of The Denver Post.

Jabari Smith Talks Offseason, Rockets’ Start, Defense

Rising young Rockets power forward Jabari Smith Jr. had an active summer. His offseason included workouts alongside three current NBA greats, he said during an extensive conversation with Mark Medina of Sportskeeda.

Smith got in some summer run next to Suns forward Kevin Durant, Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, and Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard. Smith met up with Durant in Los Angeles.

“Before a pickup, (Durant) was working out and I just jumped in with him and his trainer,” Smith said. “It was pretty good. He pays a lot of attention to detail. It was good for me to see with just how hard you got to work, how consistent you got to be and how important it is to focus on the little things.”

He worked out with Tatum and Leonard separately from Durant.

“We played some one-on-one,” Smith said of Tatum and Leonard. “It was good to compete against them and learn from them. Like it was with KD, it was about observing their attention to detail. Everything that they do is the same.”

Through 10 games this season with Houston, the 6’10” big man is averaging 12.0 PPG on .467/.354/.556 shooting, along with 7.0 RPG and 1.2 APG.

Medina and Smith touched on a wide variety of topics, and their full conversation is well worth reading in full. Here are some highlights:

On what compelled him to explore yoga as part of his offseason prep:

“Recommendations from older players and people that also play in the league. It also came from players that are out of the league now that say they wish they would’ve done it earlier. I wanted to take the initiative to do it now. It’s made a big difference with my flexibility, my mobility and my overall recovery.”

On how head coach Ime Udoka and his staff has already impacted Smith and the Rockets, who are off to a fast 6-4 start:

“Just helping me learn the game and learn it fast. I take all that I can that I can learn from them. They’ve been around the game for a long time. It’s about the consistency and having a routine. They always preach routine. They tell me to trust in my work and trust in who I am and not to lose any confidence.”

On how he approaches defense against smaller star players:

“Just stop them, make it hard with them and be physical with them. Just try to go out with our principles and tendencies and make it tough on them. It’s going to be hard to shut them down with how good they are. So you just try to slow them down and make it hard for them.”

Knicks Notes: Barrett, Fournier, Grimes, Draft, Randle

After scoring at least 24 points in three consecutive Knicks wins between November 6-12, forward RJ Barrett was forced to the sidelines for three games due to an ailment that doesn’t often show up on NBA injury reports. As Stefan Bondy of The New York Post writes, Barrett was dealing with a debilitating migraine, describing the experience as “not anything I’d wish on anybody.”

“A lot of stuff going on. It was my first [migraine] as well,” Barrett said. “So definitely wasn’t the best feeling at all. It was terrible, actually. I’m feeling better now, thank God.”

Barrett didn’t exactly pick up right where he left off on Saturday, according to Bondy, who notes that the 23-year-old looked “gassed” in the first half. However, he picked up his play in the second half — he finished with 15 points and was a plus-16 despite making just 5-of-15 shots from the floor.

“You can’t take that amount of time off and not feel it,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He was in a great rhythm, now we’ve got to get him back in that rhythm.”

  • After sitting out the Knicks’ first 11 games this season, Evan Fournier got an opportunity to play on Friday in Washington and logged nearly 16 minutes. However, after that game he was diagnosed with ankle inflammation, an ailment that sidelined him on Saturday and mystified him because he had “no clue” how it happened, per Bondy. “It was frustrating because it hurts,” Fournier said. “There’s not much to say, to be honest. It sucks. That’s it.”
  • Quentin Grimes has missed the Knicks’ past two games with a sprained wrist, but he’s already out of his brace and likely won’t miss more than one more game, a source tells Bondy. “It’s just a pain tolerance thing, so as soon as he’s comfortable enough, he’ll be out there,” Thibodeau said.
  • In a separate story for The Post, Bondy takes a look at the four 2024 first-round picks the Knicks control, observing that picks from the Wizards (top-12 protected) and Pistons (top-18 protected) look increasingly unlikely to convey, given that the two clubs sit at the very bottom of the NBA’s standings. New York will likely only end up having its own first-rounder and Dallas’ pick (top-10 protected) in next year’s draft, Bondy adds.
  • Julius Randle wasn’t able to do much of his usual work in the offseason while he recovered from ankle surgery, so it took him a little longer than usual to get going this fall. However, he has hit his stride lately, as Bondy writes for The Post. The veteran forward has averaged 24.3 points per game with a .455/.341/.708 shooting line in his last seven games after putting up 13.7 PPG on .271/.225/.618 shooting in his first six. “I feel better, more like myself,” Randle said. “I told you guys it would be a day-to-day process, me not being able to do much in the summer.”