CSN NBA Insider Notebook
CSN NBA Insider Notebook
AN NBA ARENA NEAR YOU -- Welcome to the first edition of the CSN weekly NBA notebook, a collection of thoughts, analysis and trade rumors compiled by our veteran cast of coast-to-coast Insiders to provide in-depth coverage of the league.
Our team consists of A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN New England, who covers the Boston Celtics (and has an on again/off again love affair with cheese steaks); Jessica Camerato of CSN Philadelphia covering the Sixers (condolences as always with that motley crew, although Joel Embiid looks like he’ll be really special); Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago covering the Bulls (whose Twitter handle should be straight-no-chaser the way you go at people); James Ham of CSN California covering the Sacramento Kings (there’s hazard pay involved in covering DeMarcus Cousins, right?); J. Michael of CSN Mid-Atlantic on the Wizards beat (rock solid, consistent with his craft. The team he covers? Not so much); Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area on the Warriors beat (the team everyone wants to hate but loves to see play), and and Jason Quick of CSN Northwest (One of Sherrod's favorite West coast writers even before they were teammates).
So that’s our team, but enough about us. Let’s talk about your squad.
TEAMS RATCHET UP PHYSICAL PLAY ON CURRY
Having been around the NBA for nearly 30 years, during which time he had both Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan as teammates, Warriors coach Steve Kerr believes he knows a foul when he sees one.
He also knows league officials can be particularly quick with the whistle when the victim of contact has achieved superstar status.
And it’s becoming evident that Kerr has grown weary of seeing opponents roughing up Stephen Curry without paying a price.
“Everybody’s trying to be physical with him,” Kerr says. “But that’s been the case. My main reason for being upset is that I feel like Steph has not been getting the room to shoot. The rule is a shooter has to be able to come down and land cleanly.”
Kerr was incensed by a recent first-quarter play Thursday night against Oklahoma City. Firing a 3-point shot from in front of the Warriors bench, Curry was simultaneously hit from one side by Thunder center Steven Adams and the other side by forward Andre Roberson. Curry landed off balance and fell to the floor but did not get the whistle.
The crowd at Oracle Arena audibly outraged, Kerr launched into a tirade, sprinting and gesturing in the direction of official Brian Forte, who slapped the coach with a technical foul. Assistant coach Mike Brown ran over – yes, ran – and grabbed Kerr.
While Kerr described the play as a “blatant” foul, Curry kept playing. That’s his MO. When asked about the way he is defended and the frequency with which he is bumped or shoved off balance or to the floor, the back-to-back MVP typically shrugs.
“Nothing bothers Steph,” Kerr says. “People are going to try to be physical with him, especially off the ball. On the ball, it’s a lot harder to do because the refs are really trained to see hand-checking.
“But off the ball, that’s where people are getting more and more physical, holding and impeding his cutting ability. And that’s fine. As long as he cuts hard through the contact, he’ll get the calls. That’s a major rule in this league.”
Curry last season led the league in scoring, averaging 30.1 points per game. Moreover, he also was the leader his free throw percentage, at 90.8 percent. Among the top five scorers at point guard -- Curry, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas and Kyle Lowry -- Curry was fifth in free throw attempts, averaging 5.1 per game. – by Monte Poole
CAVS STILL ON TOP
There’s one undefeated team in the NBA and things are so quiet in Cleveland you forget the Cavs are defending champions…which is just the way LeBron James and company probably like it.
A point differential that trails only the L.A. Clippers and Atlanta Hawks, along with James cruising but still at an MVP pace while Kyrie Irving takes more of a central role—a far cry from last season, when he was rehabbing the first three months with a knee injury he suffered in the 2015 NBA Finals.
Averaging a career-high 23 points to James’ 22.8, this could be the first time James doesn’t lead his team in scoring in the regular season during his 14-year career. The closest anyone came to matching James in that department was Dwyane Wade in the first year of their Miami Heat partnership, in 2010-11. James averaged 26.7 points and Wade 25.5, on a team that had a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals before collapsing against the Dallas Mavericks.
But with James taking less of a scoring tone, it allows not only Irving but also Kevin Love to feel more comfortable in the offense, along with James saving his energy for another go-round with the Golden State Warriors. So far, he is averaging a near triple-double with 10.7 rebounds and 8.8 assists—a feat that if duplicated, puts him in the conversation to win his fifth Most Valuable Player Award.
That would put him in the same class as Michael Jordan and Bill Russell, who each have five, with one behind Wilt Chamberlain for the all-time record.
Don’t think those facts are lost on James. – Vincent Goodwill
CARLISLE ON THE HOT SEAT?
Rick Carlisle’s future as the Dallas Mavericks head coach is still on fairly solid ground, and I’m told that’s not likely to change even as they endure what has been a historically bad start to the season.
The Mavericks have now lost their first five games of the season for the first time in franchise history. There’s a long laundry list of factors that have contributed to the horrible start, but ultimately wins and losses, fair or not, are credited to the head coach.
Arguably the biggest deterrent to cutting Carlisle loose is his contract. He signed a five-year deal worth $35 million last fall that takes effect at the beginning of the 2017-2018 season.
It’s hard to imagine the Mavericks would eat that kind of money, especially on a coach who has such a proven track record of success.
He is widely considered one of the best Xs and Os coaches in the game. But the struggles Dallas has endured thus far aren’t likely to get much better anytime soon.
They will be without the franchise’s greatest player ever, Dirk Nowitzki, for at least a week due to Achilles heel soreness which comes at a time when the Mavericks hit the road for four straight road games beginning on Tuesday. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
Partly because the Los Angeles Clippers can’t seem to get past the second round of the playoffs and because Blake Griffin grew up in Oklahoma, there are constant whispers about him joining the Thunder when he becomes a free agent next summer.
It’s a logical concept. Barring at least an appearance in the Western Conference Finals, the Clippers almost certainly will make changes. And Griffin is the youngest of their three All-Stars, with Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan being the others.
During a trip to Oklahoma last summer, weeks after Kevin Durant had signed with the Warriors, Griffin was treated to a hearty ovation from fans in the Sooner State.
It’s a nice fantasy for folks in OKC.
Unfortunately, for Thunder fans, there has been no indication that Griffin is eager to leave LA, much less embrace a move back to Oklahoma. Nor has there been a history of OKC -- which recently signed center Steven Adams and guard Victor Oladipo to contract extensions -- chasing big-ticket free agents. – by Monte Poole
SLEEPER TEAM IN THE EAST … DETROIT PISTONS?
If there’s an under the radar team that could challenge James’ Eastern Conference supremacy, one would think it’s the Detroit Pistons, with their core led by Andre Drummond and a few supporting pieces who are still on the upswing of their careers shepherded by Stan Van Gundy.
Drummond’s three 20-rebound games shows he’s held up his end but another young talented player is struggling while Reggie Jackson rehabs from a knee procedure that will keep him out a few more weeks.
That one player expected to take a huge leap this season was second-year forward Stanley Johnson, whom many believed would be in the Sixth Man conversation. So far, though, he’s stuck in neutral, shooting just 30 percent and averaging three points in 18 minutes.
He broke out in a big way Saturday against the Nuggets, scoring 12 in a five for seven shooting night.
“There was a time in my life where I couldn't shoot at all,” Johnson told reporters afterward. “Everything is an average, though, so for all the bad games you have, you're going to have really good ones and I really believe in that.
“I'm a confident person, so it didn't really shake me that much.” – Vincent Goodwill
MCLEMORE, GAY UNCERTAIN FUTURE WITH KINGS
Sacramento passed on extending former seventh overall selection Ben McLemore early in the week, allowing the 23-year-old shooting guard to enter the summer as a restricted free agent. McLemore is off to a solid start, averaging 9.2 on 47.8 percent shooting off coach Dave Joerger’s bench. DeMarcus Cousins is rolling, posting nearly 28 points per game early in the season, but he’s already been hit with three technical fouls in the first week of the season. Rudy Gay informed the Kings that he will opt out after the season and he is officially auditioning for all 30 teams. The early results have been impressive. The Kings have dropped three in a row on the road and facing early adversity. Status quo in Sacramento. – by James Ham
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR RACE
If Philadelphia’s third-year rookie Joel Embiid (I know, it doesn’t sound good to me either) stays healthy he’ll likely be the league’s rookie of the year. But he may have some unexpected competition for the award coming from Boston’s Jaylen Brown.
Drafted with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft (not 2015 or like Embiid, 2014), Brown has emerged as a legit candidate to start this season. The 6-foot-7 freshman’s candidacy was supposed to be hurt by the fact that his minutes would be limited because he plays for a playoff-caliber team. But Brown has carved a role in the rotation for himself, and is now with the starting unit as Jae Crowder (ankle) will be out for a couple of weeks. In his first start, he scored 19 points and became the youngest player in franchise history to score 18 or more points in a game. At some point, that boatload of picks that the Brooklyn Nets sent Boston’s way back in 2013 for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, was bound to pay off. It appears that time is now with Brown. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
NBA TO PAUL GEORGE: CHECK PLEASE
Expect Indiana Pacers forward Paul George to get a call from the NBA after being ejected Saturday night for kicking a ball into the stands after a foul was called on him. It hit a fan in the face and George immediately went over to console the young lady, who said she was okay.
However, no matter the intent or lack of, his pockets will likely be a little lighter next paycheck. – Vincent Goodwill
The Houston Rockets faced former teammate Dwight Howard when they traveled to Atlanta to play the Hawks on Saturday. James Harden downplayed friction between the two, according to ESPN.com, saying, “I know what the truth is, it's no beef. We never got into a heated argument. It just didn't work out." … The Rockets could be moving toward a deal with Donatas Motiejunas. Marc Stein reported the Rockets offered the restricted free agent a multi-year contract starting at $7 million per year. – By Jessica Camerato
Two of the newest New York Knicks, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose returned to Chicago on Nov. 4 to face the Bulls for the first time since joining their new team. “It was a lot of love in the building today,” Noah said (16 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists). Said Rose (15 points, 11 assists) “It was a lot of fun. I love competing and I love when the crowd is into it. The Knicks beat the Bulls 117-104. – by Jessica Camerato
LILLARD EVEN BETTER THIS SEASON
If there were ever any questions whether Damian Lillard could improve his game, they have been answered emphatically over the first two weeks of the NBA season.
Through the season’s first six games, the Trail Blazers’ point guard has generated Most Valuable Player talk from two opposing coaches and has accumulated statistics that put him in the company of some of the game’s all-time greats.
After a stirring 42-point performance Friday in Dallas to help a sluggish Portland team beat the Mavericks, Lillard became just the fifth player in the past 30 years to score 200 or more points in his team’s first six games, joining Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Stephen Curry.
After the game, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle hailed the fifth-year guard.
“I’m not surprised,’’ Carlisle said. “He was left off the All-Star team last year and he’s making a statement. He’s establishing himself as an early MVP candidate.’’
Carlisle’s statement comes after Golden State coach Steve Kerr predicted Lillard would win the MVP.
Lillard has scored 25 or more points in all six Blazers games and is averaging 34.2 points and 4.5 assists while shooting 52.3 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three-point range.
Lillard said the key has been his aggressive workout routine, which he has maintained even as the season has started to grind. The day before his 42-point game in Dallas, Lillard held a private workout in the Mavericks’ practice facility even though the Blazers had the day off after playing in a back-to-back and arriving from Phoenix in the early hours.
“This is as consistent as I’ve been in my routine,’’ Lillard said. “(In Dallas) I was tired when I got into their practice gym, but I know what that work does. It adds up and allows me to stay sharp and have a performance like tonight.’’ – by Jason Quick
DARKHORSE MVP CANDIDATE: THE GREEK FREAK
Lost in the way-too-early MVP conversation has been the stellar play of Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is flourishing with more responsibility under head coach Jason Kidd.
He leads the 4-2 Bucks in every major category, averaging 22.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.6 steals with a Player Efficiency Rating of 29.9. That terrible knock-knock joke on Media Day still takes him down a peg, though. – Vincent Goodwill
Washington Wizards guard John Wall won’t play back-to-backs in the short-term, coach Scott Brooks said going into this weekend when the Wizards played their first of the season.
Wall had surgeries to both knees May 5, shaving down bone spurs in the left knee and cleaning up loose fragments in the right. That means after he missed Saturday’s game at the Orlando Magic, Wall will sit out one game of the three back-to-backs left this month.
"Part of his rehab plan was to be real cognizant of his minutes,” Brooks said. “Part of the plan is he's not going to play in the back-to-back. He might not play in the first few. That's all fluid."
This has been part of a bigger plan by Brooks to be more cautious with his stars. Then-coach Randy Wittman didn’t manage minutes this closely when it came to Wall and Beal who handled a disproportionate amount of the workload on both ends. In a 41-41 non-playoff season a year ago, and both were on the bench because of ailments.
Beal has had four consecutive seasons of stress reactions in his lower right leg. The Wizards have restructured their medical staff and have invested more in prevention and treating secondary areas that can be impacted by injuries in hopes of preventing recurrences.
Rookie Tomas Satoransky has seized the primary backup role to Wall after the disjointed performance by Trey Burke in the first week of the season. When Wall sits, Satoransky will be his replacement in the starting five. – by J. Michael
Brooklyn Nets guard Jeremy Lin suffered a strained left hamstring on Nov. 2 against the Pistons. He is expected to miss at least two weeks. Lin is averaging 15.0 points and a team-high 6.2 assists per game. – by Jessica Camerato
Nothing it seems has gone right for Utah guard Alec Burks since he broke his left ankle last December after a hard foul by Paul Pierce.
Burks on Nov. 1 had his third surgery since the initial injury, creating a hazy future for a player the Jazz projected as their sixth man this season.
Burks was supposed to be ready for the regular season after a June surgery cleared out debris in the ankle, but as he began to ramp up his activity during October’s training camp, pain returned to the ankle.
“When he would hit a certain threshold dynamically, or hit a threshold with how long his workout went, he started to experience some pain,’’ Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey told reporters in Salt Lake City. “We feel terrible for Alec because he’s done everything we’ve asked.’’
Burks, who was averaging 13.3 points last season before Pierce’s hard foul, had extra bone removed between the tibia and fibia. The 2011 first-round pick signed a four-year, $42 million extension in 2014. – by Jason Quick
The shorthanded Sixers wasted little time looking to balance their roster. On Tuesday they traded Jerami Grant to the Thunder for Ersan Ilyasova and a future pick. Ilyasova brings symmetry, as Brett Brown described it, to the front court being a similar player to Dario Saric. He will also provide outside shooting and veteran leadership to the young team. – by Jessica Camerato
MORE ON THE GRANT-ILYASOVA TRADE
When Philadelphia traded young forward Jerami Grant to Oklahoma City on Nov. 1, the feeling wasn’t as foreign as one might expect for the 2014 second round pick.
Grant’s father, former NBA forward Harvey Grant, was an All-American at the University of Oklahoma, which prompted visits to the state when Jerami was a kid.
“I love the area. I love the state. I love the city,’’ Grant told The Oklahoman after he joined the team. “I went out there to visit with (his dad) a couple of times, just with him playing there. I definitely have a good feel for the area.’’
The scenery isn’t the only familiar thing to Grant in Oklahoma. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan coached Grant for the Team USA Under-19 team, and Grant has known Thunder guard Victor Oladipo since middle school in Maryland.
Although Oladipo is two years older, the two were teammates at DeMatha High in Hyattsville, Maryland.
Grant was traded for Ersan Ilyasova and a conditional first-round pick, and the Thunder immediately put him to work. He was traded on Nov. 1, met the team in Los Angeles on Nov. 2 and played 18 minutes that night against the Clippers, recording six points and two rebounds. The next night in Oakland, he played 25 minutes against the Warriors, finishing with six points and four rebounds. – by Jason Quick
MAGIC MAKES 4Q OPPONENT POINTS DISAPPEAR
If Orlando can ever get its offense clicking under coach Frank Vogel, the Magic may be onto something as they won half of their six games to start the season by doing something unique: In three consecutive fourth quarters they held opponents to less than 20 points.
The Wizards lost a double-digit lead and only had 16 in the final period; the Kings only scored 16 and the Sixers had just 14. All three were victories.
“That’s a sign of a playoff team,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said. “I believe defense and rebounding get you into the playoffs, and that’s what wins in the playoffs.”
Orlando hasn’t been there since 2012 with Dwight Howard. – J. Michael
TEAM ON THE RISE – CHARLOTTE
After five games entering the weekend, the Hornets are off to their best start in 16 years and have started 3-0 away from home for just the second time in franchise history.
They’d lost key backcourt contributors in Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee but won four of the first five games.
A healthy Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to start the season has been vital on the defensive end.
Kidd-Gilchrist is averaging almost 10 rebounds per game, including two on the offensive glass to give the Hornets extra possessions. He only played in seven games last season because of two shoulder injuries.
“With him Nic (Batum) and Marvin (Williams), it keeps us out of rotation,” coach Steve Clifford said. “All three of them are very versatile defensively so absolutely, makes it a lot easier.” – by J. Michael
PLAYER ON THE RISE – T.J. WARREN
Holy T.J. Warren. The Phoenix Suns are stacked with guards, but the 23-year-old small forward out of NC State is lighting the NBA world on fire. Warren’s part of the Suns’ young core moving forward and his 22.6 points and 6.2 rebounds through five games is jumping off the stat sheet. Brandon Knight is not adjusting well to his new role as super six. He’s shooting a lackluster 33.8 percent from the field, although he has plenty of time to turn it around. – by James Ham
LAKERS’ INGRAM, A WORK IN PROGRESS
Though Lakers used their first-round pick, second overall, to select forward Brandon Ingram, the rookie from Duke has yet to crack the starting lineup on a team not expected to make the playoffs.
That doesn’t dampen the spirits of Los Angeles coach Luke Walton when asked about the 6-foot-9, 190-pound teenager.
“He’s still learning, still growing up in the ways of the game,” Walton told CSN. “But as far as skills, he’s very gifted. He has the ability to be an All-Star in this league for a long time.”
One of the concerns about Ingram is his rail-thin frame, which along with age and his talent has prompted comparisons to Warriors star Kevin Durant, who also entered the NBA as a teenager. The commonalities have helped the two develop a relationship.
“I have nothing but good things to say and nothing but support for him,” Durant told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles News Group. “I’ll be here no matter what, trying to encourage him and helping him out through the process.”
Ingram concedes Durant is something of an idol.
“I try to compare my game and pattern it after him,” Ingram said. “But at the end of the day, I want to be Brandon Ingram.” – by Monte Poole
COLD START FOR HEAT SHOOTERS
Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow are in the starting lineup, and their offensive struggles are real for a team that will have difficulty scoring during stretches in the post-Big 3 era.
In Winslow’s first five starts, the forward shooting 33.8 percent from the field and 16.7 percent on threes. Waiters is 35 percent overall though his three-point accuracy is better at 37.5 percent.
They have the eighth-worst offense in terms of scoring in that stretch at 98.6 points per game.
"All the shots are on line," Winslow told reporters recently. "“I just keep shooting them with confidence and I think every shot is going in. In my head I think the last shot went in, so that’s how I’m going out there and playing, playing with a bunch of confidence.” – J. Michael
HOWARD HIGHS, BAZEMORE LOWS FOR THE HAWKS
Dwight Howard is experiencing bit of a resurgence in his first season with Atlanta, giving it a true back-to-the-basket presence in the low post.
He opened the season with four double-doubles in his first five games, with a high of 19 rebounds in the opener and a high of 31 points a few games later.
But Kent Bazemore, who was retained as a free agent for $70 million, hasn’t come anywhere close to playing at a high level.
Through Friday’s games, Bazemore was averaging 7.4 points on 27.7 percent shooting, including 15 percent from three-point range. He failed to reach double-figures in three of the five games he’d played, went scoreless in one and hasn’t put up more than 11 points. – J. Michael
Z-BO KNOWS BUCKETS
Kudos to Memphis forward Zach Randolph who became the Memphis Grizzlies’ all-time leader in field goals made (3,326) this week, surpassing Pau Gasol (3,324) in the process. Z-Bo made his share of knucklehead mistakes and became a player viewed with questionable character issues. He cleaned up his act off the court, continued to dominate on the floor and when he’s done playing, don’t be surprised if the 35-year-old finds himself on the Grizzlies payroll in some capacity. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
EARLY SEASON STRUGGLES FOR TONY PARKER
San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker, 34, is off to a rough start early in the season, averaging just 5.5 points and 4.0 assists in 26.5 minutes a night. And now he’s battling right knee soreness. The Spurs are still a contender in the West, but they are going to need big minutes out of Patty Mills. The bench combo of David Lee and Dewayne Dedmon down low is intriguing. Winning the opener against the Golden State Warriors has raised the stakes. – by James Ham
DEROZAN ON MJ-LIKE TEAR … FOR REAL
You can add Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan to the NBA players putting up video game-like numbers this season. He became the first player since Michael Jordan in 1986-1987 to score 30 or more points in his first five games to start a season. What makes DeRozan’s scoring so impressive is that he’s doing it in a very efficient manner void of the 3-ball. A two-time All-Star, the big knock on DeRozan since he has been in the NBA is that he doesn’t shoot the ball well from 3-point range. That’s still true, but it hasn’t prevented him from being a matchup nightmare this season. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
Anthony Davis is a man possessed, although his 31.0 points and 12.0 rebounds are being wasted on a team that has yet to break into the ‘W’ column. Tim Frazier was a great little pick up late last season and he’s paying huge dividends early, despite the losing. Can this team piece it together until Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans return? Will either of those players make a huge difference? – by James Ham