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Villanova's Kris Jenkins is ready for whatever road leads to NBA

Villanova's Kris Jenkins is ready for whatever road leads to NBA

CAMDEN, N.J — Kris Jenkins looked like he was just happy to be there. Even after a disappointing end to his iconic career in which the three-point assassin failed to make a triple in an early NCAA Tournament exit, the smile and the swagger he carried with him during four years at Villanova didn't fade.

It's part of why they call him "Big Smoove." 

He's the one who made "the shot" and one-third of the best class in Villanova basketball history. They lost one game on campus. They beat every Big 5 team they faced. They won four Big East regular-season titles, two Big East Tournament titles and one national championship.

Yet all of that means very little now. Jenkins, who worked out for the Sixers at their training complex Tuesday, will have an uphill battle in his upcoming NBA quest. He comes from a Villanova program that, despite its national prominence, does not regularly churn out NBA players. His game is largely dominated by his ability to hit from deep and his weight has always been a concern. He will need to perform at a higher level than he did on the Main Line to make it in the Association.

"If that means forgetting about one shot and bringing it up 12 years from now," Jenkins said, "I can do that."

Jenkins' ability to shoot has never been in question. He made 37 percent of the 708 threes he hoisted up during his career, and it will be the skill that keeps him around on any team in the future. He'll likely need to bump that percentage up a bit to play at the highest level for long.

But he said he's not just a shooter.

If that's true, he'll need to add reliability on the other end. At Villanova, he had Big East co-defensive players of the year in Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges alongside him. In the NBA, he will have less room for mistakes. Jahlil Okafor can give you an example of how people feel about defensive liabilities.

"The question is, for him, is whether he's going to be able to shoot it at an elite level and defend the position," Brandon Williams, the Sixers' vice president of basketball administration and general manager of the Delaware 87ers, said.

That doesn't mean Jenkins, who grew up in Maryland and has known presumed Sixers' first-round pick Markelle Fultz for years, can't find a place. He looked lighter Tuesday than he had recently, and, in his words, "was in the right positions" defensively and "contested every shot." Williams recognized that any lapses in the three-on-three games he participated in don't matter for much. Five-on-five is where they draw judgement. 

Unless a team unexpectedly loves him, Jenkins will go undrafted Thursday night. That's when what Williams called the "third round" will begin. The Sixers will get a chance to sign undrafted free agents, who will then try to prove their worth in the summer league.

On the other end will be three options: the spot on an NBA bench, an opportunity to develop in the G-League or the door. 

The third option leads to more immediate money overseas, but the second extends a chance for the ultimate goal. Should it come to deciding between the two, it sounded like Jenkins' choice is already made.

"I would go wherever the best opportunity is for me to play at the highest level, which is to play in the NBA," Jenkins said. "That's always the dream, that's always been the dream, and it will continue to be the dream no matter what road I have to take."

Last year, Villanova's Ryan Arcidiacono failed to make the cut for the Spurs' roster but stayed with the organization's affiliate in Austin. His classmate, Daniel Ochefu, made the Wizards. Class of 2015 product Darrun Hilliard has been up and down with the Pistons. Reggie Redding, a member of Villanova's 2009 Final Four team, has done well in Europe.

The Wildcats' presence is on all levels.

"I've talked to a bunch of those guys and they're all in great situations and they're happy," Jenkins said. "At the end of the day, you want to be somewhere where you're happy."

And for now, with a chance to bring that "smoove" shot and smile to a new team, Jenkins seems to be just that.

Winless Suns fire head coach Earl Watson

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USA Today Images

Winless Suns fire head coach Earl Watson

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns have fired coach Earl Watson just three games in to the NBA season.

The Suns announced the firing Sunday night after hours of meetings at the team's headquarters.

Assistant coach Jay Triano, a former head coach of the Toronto Raptors, was named interim coach. Triano was an assistant at Portland before coming to Phoenix last year.

Watson was promoted from assistant to interim coach of the Suns after Jeff Hornacek was fired Feb. 1, 2016. The interim tag was removed on April 19 of that year. With an extremely young team, the Suns struggled under Watson. He compiled a 33-85 record. Watson's only full season was 2016-17, when the team went 24-58.

The 38-year-old Watson played collegiately at UCLA and in the NBA for 10 seasons. He often spoke of his long talks with John Wooden, emphasized togetherness and a family atmosphere to nurture the young squad but wins were hard to come by.

And owner Robert Sarver apparently didn't like what he saw. Phoenix is 0-3 and two of the losses were especially ugly. The Suns were blown out 124-76 by the Portland in their season opener Wednesday night, the most one-sided loss in franchise history and the most one-sided season opener for any NBA team.

Phoenix was routed by the Clippers in Los Angeles 130-88 on Saturday night.

"I Dont wanna be here," point guard Eric Bledsoe tweeted Sunday, just as the news of Watson's firing surfaced. The tweet by Bledsoe, a former Clipper, was followed by one from the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan saying "Come back home bro."

Bledsoe has been rumored in possible trades for months.

Watson's dismissal is the first NBA coaching change in well over a year. Hornacek's hiring by the New York Knicks, which was finalized in June 2016, had been the most recent change -- and the irony there is that Watson got the job in Phoenix with 33 games left in the 2015-16 season, after the Suns fired Hornacek.

Watson was the league's second-youngest active coach behind the Lakers' Luke Walton, and the Suns were tied with the Chicago Bulls as having the youngest opening-night roster in the NBA this season.

"I'd like to see the fight be a little bit more," Watson said after the blowout loss to the Clippers. "Or a lot more, until you know they're just fatigued."

The Suns came into this season with only four losses by 40 or more points in franchise history. They've had two in the first three games of this season. Phoenix has not made the playoffs in seven years, the longest drought in the franchise's 49-year history.

Watson was the 17th Suns coach in the franchise's history.

This was the first NBA season where every coach who started one year had the same job to begin the next.

Less than a week into 2017-18, that's no longer the case.

Kyrie Irving fined $25,000 for inappropriate comments toward fan during Sixers game

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AP Images

Kyrie Irving fined $25,000 for inappropriate comments toward fan during Sixers game

NEW YORK — The NBA has fined Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving $25,000 for responding to a fan with inappropriate language.

Kiki VanDeWeghe, the NBA' executive vice president of basketball operations, announced the fine Sunday.

Irving spoke to a fan at halftime of Boston's 102-92 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night (see story). 

The NBA fined Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins $25,000 for language he used toward a fan late in a loss to Memphis on Wednesday night in the season opener.