AN NBA ARENA NEAR YOU – Happy New Year NBA fans, and welcome to the latest edition of the CSN Insiders notebook.
Lots of news going on these days with the Association.
We have labor peace among players and owners with a Collective Bargaining Agreement that will keep us strike-free through the 2023-2024 season.
Although peace among coaching legends (George Karl) and their disciples (Terry Stotts), that’s another story that we’ll get to later.
One of the bigger stories to keep an eye on as we kick of the new year, is the Chicago Bulls and Rajon Rondo who are both looking as though a parting of the ways is inevitable.
CSN Chicago Insider Vincent Goodwill has the latest on where things stand between these two and just as important, where’s this going.
BULLS, RONDO BUYOUT BOUND?
Things are getting testy in Chicago.
First there was the rumor about Fred Hoiberg being on the hot seat, then free agent addition Rajon Rondo got benched for what looks to be the foreseeable future as the Bulls are trying to reverse their December trend of bad starts and terrible finishes. The first night didn't go as planned as the Milwaukee Bucks ran the Bulls up and down the floor for a 20-point rout Saturday night.
“No, I’m not surprised. Not surprised,” Rondo said of his benching. “It’s been a tough season. Certain buttons are being pushed and the Bulls are trying to figure things out.”
If the benching is to be permanent, Rondo believes he's accomplished enough during his career for the Bulls to work with him on a trade or a buyout. As of Sunday, sources tell CSNChicago.com nothing of the sort is in the works--but one has to wonder about the bigger picture with the Bulls as the January schedule gets tougher.
Will seats get hotter? – by Vincent Goodwill
NURKIC: ‘I’M NOT HERE TO SIT THE BENCH’
Nobody has had a more revolving rotation than the Denver Nuggets, and the latest odd-man-out is big man Jusuf Nurkic, who has played a total of 41 minutes since Dec. 12.
Nuggets coach Mike Malone has trimmed his rotation to nine players, and after an early season experiment that saw Kenneth Faried’s playing time neutered, Malone is now seeing how the Nuggets fare with Nikola Jokic as the starter and Nurkic on the bench.
Nurkic, who is averaging 8.9 points and 6.7 rebounds in nearly 20 minutes a game, started the first 25 games this season and is not happy with his new role.
“It’s tough. I’m 22 years-old, I’m not here to sit on the bench, I’m here to play basketball,” Nurkic told reporters at practice last week. “Tough decision for me, from starting spot for three minutes, to seven, four-straight not play. I’m not accept that. Nobody probably understands my position so even if you don’t know if you’re starting the next game or not. But like I said, you can control what you can control and I let my agent do the rest of the stuff.” – by Jason Quick
HISTORIC NIGHT FOR THOMAS
We’re beyond the point where Isaiah Thomas has to prove himself as one of the NBA’s all-time great little guards. His sights appear to be set on higher levels of success, which is a lot easier said than done when you play for the Boston Celtics who are the most storied franchise in the NBA.
But Thomas made a significant stride in that direction in scoring a career-high 52 points in Boston’s 117-114 win over Miami on Dec. 30. It was the most points scored by a Boston player in a home game, in addition to being the most points scored by a Celtics guard.
“Fourth quarter, it felt like I was by myself in the gym working on my game,” Thomas said. “Throwing up everything and it was going in." – by A. Sherrod Blakely
IBAKA TARGET FOR TORONTO?
The Raptors began a four-game West coast trip at Golden State last week and then at Phoenix the following night, dropping both heading into a Sunday night matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers.
No one questions that Toronto is one of the best teams in the NBA, but they still appear to be a player or two away from garnering elite team status.
One name that will likely surface a few times between now and the February trade deadline, is Orlando’s Serge Ibaka.
Acquired from Oklahoma City, Ibaka is a stretch big who can also rebound at a high level and defend at the rim, too. Of course any deal will depend on 1) if the Magic are open to moving him and 2) if the Raptors have enough assets to even entice Orlando into considering making a deal.
Regardless of whether it’s Ibaka or someone else, it’s clear that as good as this team is with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan leading the way, Toronto will need at least one more high-level, impact player if they are to eventually have a shot at getting past the defending champ Cleveland Cavaliers. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
PISTONS LIKELY TO BE ACTIVE ON TRADE FRONT
Stan Van Gundy is beside himself as he's trying to fix his Detroit Pistons. A top spot in the East was thought to be for the taking but the Pistons have found themselves in 12th place, unable to gain traction, even with point guard Reggie Jackson returning to action. Van Gundy has shuffled three forwards in and out the first five in Jon Leuer, Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris but nothing has worked.
In fact, Morris is mired in a terrible slump, shooting 26 percent in his last five games, and the chemistry that was clear for all to see in the second half of last season is nowhere to be found.
One wonders if President Van Gundy will try to make a move coach Van Gundy will approve of. The Pistons have been one of the more active trading teams in the last two years. Perhaps they'll start off a trading season that's been quiet for the most part. – by Vincent Goodwill
MAVERICKS ADD HIGH-SCORING GUARD FROM D-LEAGUE
The Dallas Mavericks are one of the NBA’s worst when it comes to scoring, so the addition of D-League stud Pierre Jackson makes a lot of sense.
They add a high-scoring guard that brings with him a low-risk of not working out.
He played in 10 games (all starts) with Dallas’ D-League affiliate this season where he averaged 29.1 points, 6.0 assists and 1.9 steals.
Jackson (5-foot-11, 176) played his final two years of college ball at Baylor where he averaged 16.7 points, 6.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game.
He was among the more talked-about guards leading up to the 2013 NBA draft, but slid to the second round where he was picked by Philadelphia with the 42nd overall pick.
The Sixers then shifted his draft rights along with then-All Star Jrue Holiday, to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Nerlens Noel.
After a year overseas in France, Jackson seemed poised to return to States and play for the Pelicans, but a ruptured Achilles kept him out the entire season.
In his first couple of games with the Mavericks, he has been very productive by averaging 5.0 points and 3.5 assists in just 11 minutes per game.
He won’t solve all the problems that plague this Mavericks team, but adding him at a nominal cost can do nothing but help this franchise at the very least be more competitive. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
BUCKS GETTING HEALTHY, STRONGER FOR PLAYOFF PUSH
There's no bigger matchup problem in the East this side of the Cavaliers than the Milwaukee Bucks, and they could be getting even scarier in the next couple months.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are giving headaches to opposing coaches because they're almost unguardable. Parker is too big and now, athletic for defenders, having carved out a reputation as an all-around scorer with increased athleticism.
Antetokounmpo leads them in every major category and had better be an All-Star next month.
Now, swingman Khris Middleton is on the mend from hamstring surgery he had before the season, and he could make this team a force in the playoffs. Middleton averaged 18 points, four rebounds and four assists last season, establishing himself as one of the league's best two-way players.
“I feel like I’ll definitely be back this year, barring a setback or anything like that,” Middleton told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this week. “But the way this team is playing, I’m not going to rush." – by Vincent Goodwill
FIZDALE STRONG CANDIDATE FOR COACH OF THE YEAR
Most of the top coaches in the NBA are the same top coaches we seem to talk about every year. But there’s another name that should enter the discussion – Memphis’ David Fizdale.
It’s not just the fact that the Grizzlies are still among the top teams in the West. But it’s the fact that they’ve done it with a cut-and-paste lineup all season, losing the kind of star power that you would think would have them among the worst teams in the NBA.
Instead, they are among the teams in the hunt for home court advantage at least through the first round of the playoffs.
They’ve played long stretches without Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and their prized offseason signing, Chandler Parsons who has battled injuries to both knees all season.
And all they do is find ways to win which says a lot about both the caliber of players Fizdale was given to work with, and his ability to get the most out of them on a consistent basis – the kind of thing that really good coaches do. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
STOTTS: ‘HE (KARL) NEEDS TO STAY IN HIS OWN LANE’
Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts took offense to comments made recently by former NBA coach George Karl that says the Blazers’ problem is that Damian Lillard is getting too much attention.
Karl, who is promoting a book, was interviewed by New York Magazine and steered his comments toward Portland.
Stotts, who coached with Karl in Seattle and Milwaukee, was not pleased.
“I owe a lot to George. I got my start in coaching with George. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him. He’s a successful coach,’’ Stotts said before Wednesday’s game in Portland. “That being said, if he wants to diminish his chances for the Hall of Fame, if he wants to undermine his chances of being a head coach again in this league, if he wants to settle scores with old GMs or players or whoever else, that’s his prerogative.
“But when it comes to my team and my players, he needs to stay in his own lane. He doesn’t know Damian Lillard, he doesn’t know how coachable he is, he doesn’t know what a great teammate he is, he doesn’t know how much Damian cares about winning, and how important he is to this franchise. I thought his comments, however well intended they may have been, which I don’t understand, I can’t tolerate.” – by Jason Quick
INDY FRUSTRATIONS FELT BY MCMILLAN, GEORGE
The Indiana Pacers almost seem like the perfect embodiment of the Eastern Conference as a whole. Nobody knows what to make of them. Losers of four in a row before the Chicago Bulls threw them a life preserver and six of eight overall, they're starting to feel the frustration and it trickled all the way up to the league office.
After a close loss to the Bulls early last week, Paul George and coach Nate McMillan were fined by the NBA for making comments about officiating. George went as far as to intimate the league picks on the Pacers, presumably because they're a small market team.
McMillan was more clear in his criticism.
“No fouls. We only shot 10 free throws. Paul shot one free throw the entire game," McMillan said Monday night. "He played 39 minutes. This is the second game where he’s getting a lot of grabbing, a lot of holding. (Jimmy) Butler shoots 12 free throws tonight. I mean, they’re getting away with a lot of grabbing on Paul and they’ve got to call the game both ways."
And the league did call it both ways, fining both player and coach...consistency, no? – by Vincent Goodwill
BIG 3 TO BE?
The only team in the NBA to have three players score 30-or more points four times is also one of the youngest in the NBA: The Minnesota Timberwolves.
On Friday, Andrew Wiggins scored 31 points to lead the Timberwolves past Milwaukee, allowing the 22-year-old to join fellow 22-year-old teammates Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine with four games of 30 or more. – by James Ham
CAVS’ IRVING-JAMES COMBO CLICKING … SCARY HUH?
If anybody thought the Cleveland Cavaliers were afraid of the new-look Golden State Warriors, LeBron James' thunderous hanging dunk let everybody watching on Christmas Day know a June matchup will be beyond tasty.
And having the game made easier for him by the likes of his point guard means a fresher James for the stretch run. Kyrie Irving, the man who hit the game-winner over Klay Thompson a couple possessions after James' dunk, finished December averaging 7.8 assists--the best passing month of his career.
He and James have already connected for more baskets this season than last year, and his improving ability to facilitate means the champions will only be tougher to beat through the playoffs and the Finals. – by Vincent Goodwill
WALL HAS DECEMBER TO REMEMBER … AGAIN
John Wall has churned out 10 double-doubles in December, averaging 24.5 points on 49% shooting, 10.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 2.6 steals as the Wizards are back to .500 at 16-16 to end the calendar year.
The hot streak mirrors what Wall did a year ago. With the Wizards struggling, he was named the NBA’s Player of the Month for the first time. Then he had 22.6 points, 11.7 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.3 steals but the Wizards went just 8-8.
This time, the Wizards were 10-5 in December. – by J. Michael
HAWKS TO LIMIT HOWARD DUE TO BACK ISSUES?
The Hawks have leveled off after a hot start, and center Dwight Howard has returned after he missed three games because of his back.
Howard, who has had back surgery before coming to Atlanta as a free agent, had back tightness. It sounds as if Howard will occasionally sit out games if needed rest.
“I got a chance to get some rest and heal up,” Howard told reporters. “All teams always deal with caution. They want the player healthy. There is no need for us to play when we are not healthy.” – by J. Michael
WARRIORS, CURRY GIVE TO ‘GHOST SHIP’ VICTIMS
In the wake of the Dec. 2 “Ghost Ship” fire that claimed in 36 lives in Oakland, Bay Area sports teams provided considerable financial and emotional support. No franchise contributed more than the Golden State Warriors.
And no individual Warrior stepped up more than back-to-back MVP Stephen Curry.
After the Warriors organization pledged a $50,000 donation and the players came together to kick in another $75,000, Curry then put up for auction two pairs of custom-designed Under Armour Curry 3 basketball shoes. The game-worn pair fetched $30,101 and the pregame-worn pair another $15,100, for a total of $45,201 donated to the Oakland Fire Relief fund.
The $30,101 price is, according to ESPN, the most ever received for a pair of shoes auctioned by an active NBA player. – by Monte Poole
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
Players often are ejected from NBA games. Coaches also get tossed. The Clippers, in a recent game at Houston, went a couple steps further.
A player and a coach were banished. Not just any player and coach, but a son-father duo: backup guard Austin Rivers and head coach Doc Rivers.
Austin Rivers was ejected in the second quarter after missing a layup and then, while falling away from the play, making contact (a pushoff) with official J.T. Orr. Orr didn’t hesitate, immediately motioning Rivers toward the locker room.
Shortly afterward, during a timeout, the elder Rivers approached all three officials and began yelling at them. Crew chief Jason Phillips, citing “extreme profanity” essentially ordered Doc to join his son.
For what it’s worth, father and son both claimed innocence. – by Monte Poole
YOUNG: ‘WE’RE JUST ANOTHER LOSING TEAM’
After going 10-10 over the first 20 games, the losses are coming in bunches for the Lakers who went 2-14 in December. The Hollywood honeymoon is over for first-year coach Luke Walton.
While the recent failures are visible for all to see, the internal grumbling may be more troubling. Those around the team cite its youth and the difficulty of implementing a culture change. No shake-up is imminent, but happiness is in short supply.
“At this rate, we’re just another losing team,” guard Nick Young told reporters. “We have to figure it out, or we’ll be the doormat Lakers again.”
The Lakers ended last season in the Western Conference cellar, with a 17-65 record. They have finished last in the Pacific Division in each of the past three seasons. – by Monte Poole
NOEL CAROUSEL LANDS HIM BACK IN ROTATION
Nerlens Noel is back in the mix for the Sixers. After clocking no more than 10 minutes and falling out of the regular rotation, Noel earned playing time on the Sixers’ recent west coast road trip.
With Joel Embiid (rest) and Jahlil Okafor (hamstring) sitting a game apiece in a back-to-back series, Noel averaged 20.5 minutes, 11.5 points and 4.0 rebounds in those two outings against the Jazz and Nuggets.
The Sixers continue to eye Noel’s fitness level after missing the first 23 games (knee surgery).
"You don’t just click your heels and come in and play NBA basketball; it takes time," Brett Brown said. "You’ve got to get a condition base. You need to have an awareness of what people are running. He’s doing a great job of doing that.” – by Jessica Camerato
THE KINGS PLAYOFF BOUND?
Despite a two-game losing streak, the Sacramento Kings open 2017 tied for the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff race with the Denver Nuggets. A 14-19 record isn’t anything to write home about, but someone is going to get that last playoff spot. The Kings would love nothing more than to snap their decade long absence from the playoffs and get a few extra games in the inaugural season at Golden 1 Center.
Rudy Gay is on the shelf, as is veteran Arron Afflalo. Gay missed six straight with a hip flexor strain. He returned to action to face the 76ers this week, but re-aggravated the injury in the final moments and has sat the last two games. Afflalo has missed three straight with a strained elbow.
Ty Lawson got popped in the face against the Memphis Grizzlies on New Year’s Eve and has a non-displaced maxillary sinus fracture. Lawson has played well for coach Dave Joerger’s second unit and is listed as day-to-day. – by James Ham
HARDEN ROCKS ON, ROCKETS SEEK ADDITIONAL CENTER
The Rockets are searching for a big man while James Harden is carrying the team.
Harden recorded a massive triple-double with 53 points, 16 rebounds and 17 assists in 42 minutes against the Knicks on Dec. 30. Harden has four straight games of 30-points or more, coinciding with the Rockets winning streak.
Harden is leading the way as the Rockets fill the void left by Clint Capela in the middle (leg injury). Montrezl Harrell stepped in with a 29-point game against the Clippers. The Rockets are reportedly searching elsewhere for a center, including Kings big man Kosta Koufos, according to ESPN.com. – by Jessica Camerato
DUDLEY OUT OF ROTATION, KNIGHT ON THE MOVE?
The Suns are 3-20 against the Western Conference. That tells you everything you need to know about this team. Young, athletic and a few years away from competing.
Veteran Jared Dudley signed a big 3-year, $30 million deal in the off-season and is now out of the rotation, drawing four straight DNP-CDs. Dudley’s numbers are solid across the board, but he might be asked to take on a mentoring role while the Suns young players get a longer look.
Brandon Knight’s rough season in Phoenix has taken another turn. After stringing together five quality games, the 25-year-old point guard has played a combined 17 minutes over the last two contests. According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, the Suns and Kings have discussed a swap for Knight since the summer. Sacramento could use a point guard that’s under contract after the 2016-17 season.
Dragan Bender, the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, is starting to get some burn. He averages 3.3 points in 12.3 minutes per game this season. But in Phoenix’s last four games, he has averaged 7.8 points and 5.3 rebounds in 21.5 minutes per game while shooting 54.5 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from 3-point range. – by James Ham.
OLADIPO BACK, PAYNE NEARING A RETURN
Victor Oladipo is back after missing nine straight games with a sprained wrist. He’s having a nice first season in OKC, shooting a career-best 38.1 percent from 3-point range.
Cameron Payne is nearing a return as well. The second-year point guard hasn’t played a game this season due to broken bone in his right foot, but on Sunday the Thunder sent him to the Oklahoma City Blue of the D-League for a rehab assignment.
Russell Westbrook continues his assault on the record books, posting 16 triple-doubles on the season. He is still averaging a triple-double on the season, while leading the league in scoring. – by James Ham
SPURS’ LEONARD, ALDRIDGE KEEP SPURS MACHINE CHURNING ALONG
The Spurs continue to plug away at an incredible clip. They’ve won four straight and have a league best 16-2 record on the road.
Kawhi Leonard missed two games this week with gastroenteritis. The illness is the only thing to slow the All-Star forward this season. He’s posting a career-best 24.4 points per game while anchoring the NBA’s 3rd best defense.
LaMarcus Aldridge has his offense rolling. The All-Star big has hit 27-for-35 (77.1 percent) from the field over his last three games.
San Antonio waived 26-year-old Nico Laprovittola this week, allowing the Argentinian point guard a chance to sign a contract overseas. The move opens up a roster spot for the Spurs, while freeing up potential minutes for rookie DeJounte Murray. – by James Ham.