A. Sherrod Blakely
Welcome to another edition of the CSN Insiders notebook, the most comprehensive gathering of NBA news and nuggets on the planet that’s compiled by our coast-to-coast Insiders.
Drum roll please …
At the top of the alphabetic CSN Insider food chain is A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN New England who covers the Boston Celtics; up next is Jessica Camerato of CSN Philadelphia who covers the no-longer-winless Philadelphia 76ers; Vinnie Goodwill of CSN Chicago; James Ham of CSN California who covers the Sacramento Kings; J. Michael of CSN Mid-Atlantic on the Washington Wizards beat; Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area who covers the Golden State Warriors and Jason Quick of CSN Northwest on the Portland Trail Blazers beat.
We start this week with a really good item from Jason Quick on Evan Turner, Portland’s prized offseason free agent pick-up who signed a four-year, $70 million contract after spending the previous two seasons in Boston.
Having covered him in Boston, I had a chance to see both the strengths and weaknesses to his game, a player who can be a special player for your team in the right situation, or a complete bust if that situation isn’t present or significantly limited.
Is that what he has in Portland?
Hear what Turner had to say on the matter.
ROUGH START FOR TURNER
These are frustrating times for Evan Turner, whose transition from the Boston Celtics to the Trail Blazers has not gone smoothly.
Through 10 games, Turner has the NBA’s worst plus/minus by a longshot, and with every head-scratching pass and every flat shot that bangs off the front rim there is growing unease among the fan base: What exactly did the Blazers spend $70 million on this offseason?
Turner is averaging 6.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists in just less than 24 minutes a game while shooting 38 percent from the field. Hailed as a play-maker when the Blazers signed him, Turner has 24 assists and 20 turnovers.
What is even more confusing than his play has been Turner’s recent assessment of his role. To hear the Blazers talk in July, Turner would be riding shotgun with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in directing this team. But after three weeks, it appears Turner feels like he belongs in the back seat.
In the past week, there has been a noticeable step-back from Turner in terms of his engagement within the offense. During his first six games, Turner averaged 7.8 shots; over his last four he is averaging 3.7 shots.
“What can you possibly do?’’ Turner asked after the Blazers’ overtime win Friday against Sacramento, when he had two points, four rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes. “When you get three shots and play 27 minutes … that’s not a knock, because we have the best guards in the league, but I mean, what can I possibly do besides be accountable to defense, take care of the ball, rebound and play the floor? Where I just came from, I had the ball in my hands tons of times to make plays.’’
Lillard is averaging 30.6 points on 19 shots a game and McCollum 22.2 points on 17 shots a game. Turner is averaging six shots.
“Obviously, everybody is paying attention offensively, and I mean, I think I’m playing the best I possibly can for the situation,’’ Turner said. “It’s not even ‘I’m only getting three-or-four shots’ … it is what it is. We’ve been winning, and that’s pretty much it. I think I’m helping rebounding, defending, and I think I’ve gotten better taking care of the ball.’’
Coach Terry Stotts has become defensive amid growing questions about Turner’s play.
“I think everybody is kind of targeting Evan and I don’t think that is necessarily very fair,’’ Stotts said. “The game against (Memphis) he didn’t take a shot and played very well. He’s playing good defense, he’s adapting … it’s a process. He’s a smart basketball player, has high basketball IQ and he is only going to get better.’’
As the grumblings at home games become louder, and the questions after games become more frequent, Turner says he has become used to scrutiny, dating back to 2010, when he was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft.
“This isn’t my first rodeo with this kind of stuff,’’ Turner said. “It doesn’t shock me. The gun is going to be left in my lap whether I have something to do with it or not.’’
At the forefront of the criticism is his plus/minus rating, which is a league-worst minus-110, 35 points more than the next closest player, Phoenix’s Brandon Knight.
“Whoever is on court with Dame is going to have a positive plus minus,’’ Turner said, chuckling. “I don’t really know what else to say. I could counter and be like ‘Hey, whoever scores on …’ but that don’t look good. I’ve always been in situations where I’ve been a positive. I started out last year as having one of the best (plus/minus) in the league.
“I mean, when it rains it pours,’’ Turner said. “There’s more to make sense of and more to complain about, but what do you want to do? I mean, if you want to point blame or whatever, I’ve been I’ve been blamed numerous times before so I don’t really dive too deep into it.’’
Turner was never angry or defensive Friday when talking about his season. Instead, he seemed uneasy talking so much about himself, because he wanted the focus to be more on the Blazers’ 6-4 record than his struggles or dwindling role.
“What can you knock if you are winning?’’ Turner said. “These dudes are making the right plays, the right reads, and you fit in where you fit in. The contract is going to draw attention, but even if I didn’t have a big contract I’m an easy target, so that doesn’t keep me up. As long as we are winning, it’s not about me.’’ – Jason Quick
DAVIS TO THE CELTICS?
The Boston Celtics have played most of this season with at least one starter out due to injury, but even at full strength they’re going to struggle rebounding the ball.
That is why they will forever – or at least the next three-plus months whichever comes first – be linked with any and every big man who 1) wants to be traded or 2) is on the trading block.
But I’m told the Celtics at this point are only interested in potential “game changers” on the trade market.
One name to keep an eye on is New Orleans’ Anthony Davis.
The only way Davis will come into play is if Davis wants out, something that isn’t that far-fetched when you consider the steady run of injuries he’s enduring on a team that’s going nowhere fast.
The Celtics have draft picks galore, young talent with very team-friendly contracts and being in the East, that would mean the Pelicans would only see Davis twice a season.
But again, it all depends on whether Davis wants out of New Orleans.
That doesn’t appear to be his desire … for now at least. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
LAKERS (SURPRISINGLY) ON THE RISE
If there were an award for the most surprising team in the NBA, early-season division, the Lakers would be the favorites to win it.
Projected to win 25 to 30 games, first-year coach Luke Walton has coaxed his group to five wins in its first nine games, including victories over the Warriors, Hawks and Rockets.
A win over the Kings last week snapped a seven-game losing streak to Sacramento. More significant, it was the first time in nearly two years that the Lakers won consecutive road games – and the first time three years they won four of five.
One of the biggest reasons behind the rise has been an effective bench, led by veteran guard Lou Williams, who leads and team in scoring. – by Monte Poole
‘BEBE’ RAPTOR GROWING UP
As much as DeMar DeRozan’s eye-popping video game-like numbers have carried the Raptors this season, they’ve also gotten some solid – and unexpected – contributions from Lucas ‘Bebe’ Nogueira?
Who is he?
Don’t worry. You’re not the first and certainly won’t be the last to wonder where the heck did this guy come from.
A former first-round pick from the 2013 NBA draft (he was selected by Boston, then traded to Dallas on draft night for the rights to Kelly Olynyk), ‘Bebe’ has been charged with helping fill the void left by Bismack Biyombo.
He has provided some much-needed energy, hustle and surprisingly efficient scoring.
In four games played, he has averaged 8.2 points and 7.2 rebounds while shooting a blistering 88.2 percent from the field.
As you can imagine, pretty much everything he gets offensively comes from point-blank range.
But that’s not the point.
The Raptors have their sights on challenging the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers, and will need everyone on the roster to step their game up and have their best season ever.
‘Bebe’ looks like he’s ready grow into that role. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
MELO’S EJECTION PERSONAL?
Melo wasn’t feeling mellow.
Carmelo Anthony got ejected for arguing a foul call in Friday’s game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. He was assessed a foul against Amir Johnson and then two technicals for “bad language,” said referee Tony Brothers.
The situation didn’t end at the Knicks’ 115-87 blowout loss. Anthony’s wife, La La, took to Twitter to express her feelings about the ejection.
“He hates Mel. It's personal. Always has,” she wrote.
Brothers replied “no” when asked after the game if he had a history with Anthony. – by Jessica Camerato
DISAPPEARING ACT CONTINUES FOR MAGIC OFFENSE
The Aaron Gordon experiment as a small forward has hit its first bump in the road with coach Frank Vogel switching to Jeff Green for his offensively challenged unit.
While Gordon is noted for his defense, the Magic have trouble scoring. Gordon was shooting 40.2% from the field and 30.8% from three in the first eight games he started before the switch. Green was shooting just 36.5% from the field during the same span, and just 35.5% from the three-point arc.
The Magic went into the weekend last in the NBA in scoring (92.3). – by J. Michael
CLIPPERS DEFENSE CONTINUES TO IMPRESS
After several years of teasing their fans in the postseason, the Clippers may have found a formula that will endure. It’s called defense.
With center DeAndre Jordan, forward Luc Mbah A Moute and guard Chris Paul leading the way, coach Doc Rivers’ squad has been the stingiest in the league.
The Clippers, with a 111-80 win over Portland, are the first team this season to hold Damian Lillard and the explosive Trail Blazers under 100 points.
“It kind of breaks the spirit on the other end on their defense because they can’t score and they’re thinking about scoring,” Rivers told reporters afterward. “It’s good. We’ve just got to keep doing it and keep getting better.” – by Monte Poole
HAWKS SOARING ON THE BOARDS WITH HOWARD
Going from Al Horford to Dwight Howard has elevated the Hawks to one of the NBA’s best rebounding teams and they could be getting closer to getting frontline backup with Tiago Splitter showing signs of recovering from a right hamstring strain that has kept him on the shelf since training camp.
Though Horford could rebound with the best of them in his nine years here, he spent more time stretching the floor from the arc. With Howard, a traditional center who might be past his best but still a force to be reckoned with on the glass.
The Hawks were 24th in overall rebounding last season when they won 48 games. They were 30th – aka last -- on the offensive boards. Through the first eight games, Atlanta is seventh in overall rebounding and fourth on the offensive end.
Splitter, a backup center, is doing non-contact drills with a time frame of his return to the lineup uncertain. When a player reaches full contact drills, a more accurate gauge can be made regarding his return. – by J. Michael
SIXERS GET RARE NOVEMBER VICTORY
Some teams begin tallying their wins in October. For the Sixers, though, winning in November has been an uphill battle. The Sixers last November win dates back to 2013. On Friday they snapped the skid with an overtime victory at home against the Pacers.
“Happy isn’t the word,” Robert Covington said. “Relieved.”
The Sixers entered the game 0-7. They were the last team in the NBA to earn a ‘W’ this season.
“That first win for the group is massive,” said head coach Brett Brown. “I know it’s only one, but you can take a deep breath and go fight again.”
The Sixers were led by 25 points and seven rebounds from Joel Embiid. He scored a combined 16 points in the fourth quarter and overtime.
The big man played so well down the stretch, he turned the head of Pacers All-Star Paul George.
“He’s real impressive,” George said of Embiid. “I think his skill set is similar to Karl-Anthony (Towns). I think those guys are ... what GMs look for now, is big men that can essentially do it all -- put the ball on the floor, make plays, step out to the three, and protect the rim. I think those are becoming, in our game, the most complete guys. He’s got the total package. It’s good late in games and he already has that mentality of wanting to put games over.” – by Jessica Camerato
[RELATED: Beal shows progress from hamstring injury]
DURANT SCORING STREAK ENDS
For the second consecutive week, a member of the Warriors experienced the end of an impressive personal streak. First Stephen Curry, then Kevin Durant.
By coming out in the fourth quarter of a blowout win at Denver with 18 points, Durant’s streak of consecutive games with at least 20 points was snapped at 72, tying him with Michael Jordan for fourth place on the all-time list.
“We won the basketball game,” said Durant, who left with 5:51 remaining and the Warriors up 112-86. “That’s the most important thing.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr pulled the star forward two seconds after Durant was whistled for a charge.
“I knew about the streak, and I told him that when he came off the floor,” Kerr said. “But I’m not going to mess with the basketball gods. If you want to leave a guy out there to get some kind of record, you’re asking for an injury. The game called for him to come out, he came out. He had no problem with it.”
Durant’s streak ended six days after Curry’s streak of consecutive games with at least one 3-pointer was snapped at 157 in a 0-of-10 performance against the Lakers.
“There’s going to be a lot of that stuff this year,” Kerr said. “There’s going to be people talking about stats and records and who’s scoring and who’s not. The only way this is going to work is if guys throw that out the window. That’s exactly what KD did.” – by Monte Poole
INJURIES TAKING EARLY SEASON TOLL ON WIZARDS
The injury front is an issue for the Wizards early on for the second year in a row, but they’re being more cautious and concerned about later than now. That means John Wall, Bradley Beal and Ian Mahinmi, the latter whom has yet to play this season, aren’t being pushed early.
“Health is more important than today,” coach Scott Brooks said after announcing that Beal would miss his first game over the weekend after injuring his right thigh in an awkward fall.
Wall isn’t playing in back-to-backs in the short-term coming off surgeries to both knees May 5. Mahinmi had surgery to clean up loose cartilage Oct. 15 and should be practicing soon and on the court by late November.
With Beal, this is a team that’s in the bottom five in three-point shooting accuracy. Without him, they’re significantly worse. – by J. Michael
Johnny O’Bryant, who the Wizards would’ve drafted had he not been taken in 2012 second round by Milwaukee, was among their final cuts. Now he’ll be playing for the Phoenix Suns’ D-League team, the Northern Arizona Suns.
League sources tell CSNmidatlantic.com that O’Bryant turned down “several good international options” but declined. O’Bryant appeared to have a good shot at making the final 15 in Washington, but the injury to Mahinmi made a backup center the Wizards’ top priority which gave rookie free agent Daniel Ochefu an edge. – by J. Michael
HEALTH CONTINUES TO KEEP MKG, MIA FOR HORNETS
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can’t stay healthy, and after a dislocated shoulder ended his time on the court last season he missed a game over the weekend because of his back.
Coach Steve Clifford suggested when the 23-year-old small forward returns he could be on a minutes restriction, but the Hornets rely heavily on defense and that’s the strength of Kidd-Gilchrist’s game.
The Hornets are thin at his position and have started rookie Treveon Graham in his place. Veteran Marco Belinelli also logged time there off the bench as the duo split those minutes. – by J. Michael
[RELATED: Bench shakeup depends on Sheldon McClellan]
VAN GUNDY SOUNDS OFF ON TRUMP
We have seen a rise in professional athlete chiming in on the political state of things.
But Detroit head coach/president of basketball operations couldn’t stay silent any longer, not seeing how the presidential vote weighed so heavily on his mind as well as his players.
He wasn’t alone, with San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Golden State’s Steve Kerr chiming in as well.
But Van Gundy’s response was by far the most powerful among the coaching ranks.
“I don't think anybody can deny this guy (Trump) is openly and brazenly racist and misogynistic,” Van Gundy told reporters. “We have just thrown a good part of our population under the bus, and I have problems with thinking this is where we are as a country.”
He wasn’t done.
“Martin Luther King said, 'The arc of the moral universe is long, but bends toward justice.' I would have believed in that for a long time, but not today,” Van Gundy said. “What we have done to minorities … in this election is despicable. I’m having a hard time dealing with it. This isn’t your normal candidate. I don’t know even know if I have political differences with him. I don’t even know what are his politics. I don’t know, other than to build a wall and 'I hate people of color, and women are to be treated as sex objects and as servants to men.' I don’t know how you get past that. I don’t know how you walk into the booth and vote for that.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely
NOT SO FAST, SUNS
First in pace, last in defense. It’s a recipe for disaster for a young and very talented club. The big three of Eric Bledsoe, T.J. Warren and Devin Booker are a nice base, but they need to commit on both ends of the floor. Brandon Knight continues to struggle as a six man. He’s shooting just 33.9 percent from the field and 23.5 from long range. The Suns early season schedule is filled with the who’s who of the Western Conference. – by James Ham
WANTED: REBOUNDER, RIM PROTECTOR IN INDY
The Boston Celtics are one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA … scratch that, they are THE worst rebounding team in the NBA. You can imagine the red flags that should have gone up within the Pacers organization when the Celtics came to town and not only beat them 105-99 at home (their first home loss this season), but won the battle of the boards and got a lot of great looks down the stretch at or near the rim.
Don’t be surprised if Indiana starts to take a long, hard look at potential trades that could land them a coveted frontcourt player who can rebound and protect the rim.
Sacramento’s Willie Cauley-Stein is a name that has been put out there recently as possibly being available (we’ll have more on that later). If he is, Indiana should make a serious pitch for him.
While Cauley-Stein has his limitations offensively, that’s OK. Between the emergence of Myles Turner and Big Al Jefferson coming off the bench, scoring from the power forward and center positions should not be a major concern.
Because right now, Indiana just doesn’t have the kind of personnel that can provide the kind of resistance at the rim that they need to make some noise in the East. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
TOUGH SCHEDULE ROUGH ON THE KINGS
There is a certain amount of doom and gloom in Sacramento after back-to-back losses on Thursday and Friday. But the Kings played one of the toughest schedules in the league through the first two weeks of the season with 11 games in 17 nights, including seven of those contests on the road. The rumor mill has been buzzing regarding both Willie Cauley-Stein and Omri Casspi. According to sources, Cauley-Stein, the team’s first selection in the 2015 NBA Draft, is not on the block and Casspi confirmed to CSN California that he did not request a trade this week despite the decrease in role during a free agency year. – by James Ham
HIELD HEATS UP, HELPS PELICANS TO FIRST WIN
The Pelicans finally picked up their first win, stunning the Lakers Saturday night 126-99. Buddy Hield, who had 18 points on 8-for-13 shooting against the Lakers, was drafted to shoot the ball and that is exactly what the rookie out of Oklahoma is doing through the first 10 games. He’s averaging 10.2 points per game but shooting just 37.6 percent from the field and a woeful 23.6 percent on 3s. But shooters gonna shoot, right? Jrue Holiday’s return is just around the corner. He’s been away from the team while caring for his wife, former Team USA soccer player Lauren Holiday, who just gave birth to the couple’s first child followed by surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. Family first.- by James Ham
PARKER, GREEN, POPOVICH UPDATES
San Antonio’s 34-year-old Tony Parker is back on the court after missing four of the Spurs first eight games with a knee issue. He’s starting and once again putting up Tony Parker-like numbers. He had a season-high 16 points in the Spurs’ 106-100 win over Houston on Saturday. Danny Green has also returned after missing the first eight games with a strained left quad. Nine different players have started a game for San Antonio through the first 10 games. Their defense is in midseason form (their defensive rating is ranked 7th in the NBA) and they continue to systematically destroy teams with their efficient offensive effort in which their offensive rating of 107.7 is the sixth-best mark in the NBA. If you haven’t heard Gregg Popovich’s thoughts on the 2016 presidential election, it’s a must listen, regardless of party affiliation. – by James Ham