By A. Sherrod Blakely
We’re back with another addition of the CSN Insiders Notebook, the most comprehensive, coast-to-coast collection of NBA news, notes, trade rumors, injury updates, analysis … you name it and there’s a good chance it’ll be here.
As always, our faithful group of CSN Insiders includes myself, A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN New England, Jessica Camerato of CSN Philadelphia; Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago; James Ham of CSN California; Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area and Jason Quick of CSN Northwest.
This week we start things off with a piece by Jessica Camerato of CSN Philly on third-year rookie Joel Embiid who has used the frustration of being on a bad team that’s heavily criticized and clowned on a regular basis by the media, as fuel for what has catapulted him to the top of this year’s rookie class.
EMBIID: I JUST WANT TO DOMINATE
Some athletes attest they don’t listen to what people to say about them. Not Joel Embiid. The rookie admitted he paid attention to the criticism the Sixers received after getting blown out by the Timberwolves on TNT.
Embiid channeled that frustration and disappointment when the Sixers played the SunsSaturday night. After being cleared to play (mild left ankle sprain) just before game time, Embiid went on a scoring frenzy in the first.
He dropped 17 points in the quarter alone, on his way to a career-high 26 points. His stat line was ridiculous given that he only played 20 minutes and 23 seconds (9-14 FG, 3-5 3PG, 5-6 FT, 7 rebs, 2 ast, 2 blocks, 4 PF, 3 TO).
“Going into the national TV game, one of my main goals was to make sure that when people think about the Sixers -- they think about us losing or I don’t know what else, so I wanted to change that,” Embiid said. “I didn’t get to change that, so I was really mad after the game. But after that game, that was probably one of the main reasons why I came out in the first quarter, I just wanted to dominate. … That made me mad and that’s a fuel for me. I like that. I like competition. I want to fight. I want to win.” – by Jessica Camerato
RUDY GAY TO THE THUNDER?
OKC is keeping pace with the powers in the West, although they need to add another scoring piece to balance their offense. Rumors of interest in Rudy Gay persist, but do the Thunder have the pieces to make a deal work with Sacramento?
Russell Westbrook continues to torch the league with his all-around game. The powerful point guard picked up his fourth triple-double through the first 13 games of the season Friday versus the Nets. He’s averaging a whopping 31.7 points, 10.1 assists and 9.6 rebounds on the season.
Serge Ibaka dropped 31 points and nine rebounds on his former team early in the week as the Thunder lost to the Magic. That’s gotta sting a little bit. – by James Ham
STERLING SAGA (FINALLY) OVER
Remember Donald Sterling, the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, infamous for being cheap and eccentric and, above all, a bigot? Well, he’s finally, and completely, out of NBA business.
Though Sterling was fined, ousted and slapped with a lifetime ban from the NBA in 2014, numerous legal issues kept alive the relationship between Sterling and the league. He sued over being forced to sell the team, which was bought by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
All entanglements ended Friday, when Sterling and the NBA reached agreement on a settlement. The terms were not disclosed, but the league surely is ecstatic to have completely severed ties with Sterling. – by Monte Poole
HORFORD RETURNS, IMPACT FELT IMMEDIATELY
The long-awaited return of Al Horford to the Boston Celtics lineup finally happened. He delivered the kind of performance that should have silenced the growing number of critics who thought he was taking too much time off the floor in dealing with a concussion.
On the road against a Detroit team that was the last undefeated team in the league at home, Horford delivered his first double-double of the season with 18 points and 11 rebounds, a night he punctuated by scoring the game-winning basket on a put-back, and bookended it with a last-second blocked shot to seal the victory.
In an exclusive interview with CSNNE.com the day before his return, Horford revealed he was “starting to feel more like himself again.”
He understood why fans thought he should have been back sooner because he too had preconceived ideas about concussions prior to having experienced one himself.
“This whole time in general has been hard for me,” Horford told CSNNE.com. “Just because I’m learning like everybody else is about having a concussion. I never thought it was something that, that serious. But now I’m finding out.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely
MAHINMI RETURN NEAR, A WIZ TRADE TO FOLLOW?
The Wizards whiffed on Kevin Durant and Al Horford, so their biggest free-agent acquisition this summer became Ian Mahinmi who is expected to practice for the first time this week.
If Mahinmi, who was signed to a four-year deal worth $64 million, doesn’t stabilize the second unit that relies on Jason Smith and Andrew Nicholson playing out of position as undersized backup centers in spot minutes, then they’ll have to execute another move via trade before the February deadline.
RANDLE JOINS ‘MAGICAL’ CLUB
Power forward Julius Randle, considered one of the pillars behind the resurgence of the Lakers, joined an august club the other night.
With 17 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over Brooklyn, he posted his second career triple-double and became only the second Laker to achieve such a feat before his 23rd birthday. You may be familiar with the other guy: Magic Johnson.
Randle is only the sixth Laker to produce multiple triple-doubles, joining Kobe Bryant (21), Pau Gasol (five), Lamar Odom (four), Vlade Divac (four) and Johnson (69). – by Monte Poole
HARD LUCK NUGGETS
Perhaps no team has endured a more painful start than the Denver Nuggets, who are 1-4 in games decided by three points or less, while also absorbing another loss in a game when it led by 17.
The latest Rocky Mountain heartbreak came Friday in an overtime loss to Toronto.
“It’s driving me nuts,’’ Denver coach Mike Malone told the Denver Post. “But it shows that we are close. Now, how do we get over the hump? How do we stop making the same mistakes time and time again in close games?’’
The worst defeat of the season came at home, when Denver led by nine with 1:30 left against Portland. The Blazers forced overtime, then won when Damian Lillard made a floater with 0.3 seconds left. In that game, Wilson Chandler missed two free throws with 2.4 seconds left that would have sealed the win and the team made an inbound turnover in the closing seconds of overtime.
“You have to have your head in the game,’’ Malone said. “We need more discipline. A disciplined team wins most times and the undisciplined team is going to lose. We as a team have to be more disciplined.’’ – by Jason Quick
MISSING OUT ON ANDERSON, HITTING WIZARDS HARD RIGHT NOW
Desperate for another shooter when Bradley Beal is out with an injury or to spread the floor with the second unit that lacks an outside threat, the Wizards could use the 43% three-point shooting of Ryan Anderson.
Anderson, as CSNmidatlantic.com reported going into free agency July 1, was their top target after whiffing on Kevin Durant in free agency. The Houston Rockets, however, scooped him with $80 million over four years while the Wizards chased after Al Horford who became an 11th-hour option before he settled on the Boston Celtics. The Wizards went to Atlanta to recruit Horford.
Anderson expected to be in a Wizards uniform, multiple league sources confirmed at the time. He'd even told John Wall via text that he believed that he was headed to D.C. But president Ernie Grunfeld never called back after an initial conversation in free agency and wasn't willing to go that high to acquire his services.
Anderson is averaging 13 points and 6.4 rebounds and could’ve been a better option behind Markieff Morris, the starting power forward, than Andrew Nicholson who has fallen out of coach Scott Brooks’ rotation.
Fans in Boston clearly felt rejected by Kevin Durant, who during his free-agent period last summer met with the Celtics before ultimately choosing to sign with the Warriors.
So when the Durant and the Warriors showed up at TD Garden on Friday, the reception was a loud chorus of boos and a few T-shirts, in Celtics green-and-white, with the words “Durant is a b----” printed across the front.
Though Durant shrugged off the animosity, Warriors teammate Draymond Green was not so quick to let those fans off the hook.
“Fans must be desperate,” Green said. “How are you going to boo a guy for taking an interview? That’s crazy. I don’t get that. Y’all boo somebody for interviewing with y’all? They may scare free agents away. You don’t want to take interviews, and then make enemies for taking the interview. I don’t know. They may want to be careful with that.”
Boston’s presentation to Durant included a personal pitch from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, one of Durant’s favorite NFL Players. Though he concedes to being impressed, it wasn’t enough to make him join the Celtics. – by Monte Poole
MJ RECEIVES ‘HIGHEST CIVILIAN HONOR’
President Obama will honor Hornets owner Michael Jordan with a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor given by a sitting president.
Jordan, who won six championships with President Obama’s hometown Chicago Bulls, will be one of 21 recipients.
Jordan made a statement this summer regarding police brutality and racial strife, and he donated $1 million to a community-policing association and another $1 million to the NAACP legal defense fund. – by J. Michael
KINGS LOOKING FOR BIG THINGS WITH ‘SMALL BALL’ LINEUP
A brutal early season schedule has the Kings in a tailspin. Losers of four straight, head coach Dave Joerger is finally decided to make changes to his starting lineup. “I’ve seen enough, I’m going to play small” coach Dave Joerger told Sacramento media members following the Kings loss to the Clippers on Friday night. “DeMarcus (Cousins) is going to play center. I don’t know who else is going to play with him.”
Ty Lawson snapped out of his early season funk, finishing with 18 points, eight assists and seven rebounds against the Clippers. He had combined to shoot just 5-of-25 from the field over his previous six games.
Veteran wing Omri Casspi was told he’s out of the Kings rotation by Joerger. The 28-year-old is a free agent at the end of the season and has shot over 40 percent from behind the arc over the previous two seasons. The Kings will have no trouble finding a taker for his $3 million deal for the remainder of the season if they choose to move him. – by James Ham
MEEK MAGIC OFFENSE HAS HELP ON THE WAY
Jodie Meeks, who was acquired for a 2019 second-round pick from the Detroit Pistons, is practicing fully again and the Magic are in desperate need of offense.
They hover at the bottom of the NBA in scoring and three-point shooting percentage. Meeks only played in three games last season because of a broken bone in his right foot and had a setback that required a screw to be inserted which delayed his arrival in Orlando.
How long until he's able to return to game action is unclear, but Meeks is a career 37.3% three-point shooter. The Magic entered the weekend with losses in which they scored just 82, 80, 74 and 69 points. – by J. Michael
Phoenix - Earl Watson is going young. No. 9 overall pick Marquese Chriss, 19, is in the starting lineup alongside 20-year-old Devin Booker and two 23-year-olds in Alex Len and T.J. Warren. They are athletic and play at a breakneck speed, posting the second fastest pace in the league. But the Suns are also allowing 114.5 points per game, which is the worst in the league.
Chriss is posting just six points and 3.7 rebounds through his first six starts. He’s barely old enough to vote, but Chriss has a ton of potential and Watson is letting him learn on the fly.
Warren has been limited due to illness over the last few games and Tyson Chandler missedFriday’s win over the Pacers with a personal issue. The Suns have recalled Derrick Jones Jr. from the D-League for depth. – by James Ham
LILLARD: WE KIND OF SUCK RIGHT NOW
Damian Lillard is not only one of the NBA’s best players, he’s also one of the most honest.
After the slumping Trail Blazers were routed in Houston on Thursday, Lillard bluntly stated “we kind of suck right now.”
“As Damian usually does, he spoke from the heart,’’ Blazers coach Terry Stotts said the next night in New Orleans. “Talking to a player or coach after the game you are probably going to get raw, uncensored feelings, but losing two in a row doesn’t mean you suck. I think right now we are a team trying to figure it out.’’
That night against New Orleans, the Blazers did little to dispel Lillard’s theory, suffering their third blowout loss in a row, this time at the hands of the struggling Pelicans.
The Blazers (7-7) have trailed by 17 or more points in five of their last six games, including a 48-point deficit to the Clippers, a 26-point hole to the Bulls and a 25-point hole to the Rockets. The struggling Pelicans, who entered Friday’s game with two wins, led by 20 in the fourth quarter.
But there was an entirely different tone following the New Orleans loss, which marked the first time the Blazers had outrebounded an opponent since opening night.
Lillard and others inside the Blazers’ locker room seemed to backtrack on his “suck” theory and instead preached patience.
After deflecting questions about the team’s defense, which has the NBA’s lowest rating (108.9) and has given up the second most points (112.4) and queries about the team’s confidence and mood, Lillard meandered to the buffet line near the locker room door, pausing briefly to allow the remaining media to exit.
As the reporters filed out, Lillard half-smiled, half-laughed.
"We’re going to be all right,’’ Lillard assured.
Earlier, teammates Ed Davis and Meyers Leonard voiced the same confidence, Davis going as far as to playfully jab the local media as “panicking.”
“I mean, it’s an 82-game season, and we just finished with what, Game 14?’’ said Davis, who started his first game as a Blazer and responded with 11 rebounds.
“Obviously, we are not playing our best basketball right now, but we are still .500.’’
But with the NBA’s third richest payroll and a roster with 10 returning players, the Blazers are not a team constructed, nor paid, to hover around .500 and be content as a middling team in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
“Come talk to me in January,’’ Davis quipped as he left the locker room. – by Jason Quick
[RELATED: Wizards recall rookie from D-League]
POPOVICH ON THE ELECTION: THE SEQUEL
Gregg Popovich has an opinion on President-elect Donald Trump and he isn’t afraid to put it out there. For the second time since the Nov. 8 election, Popovich went off, this time in Sacramento to a scrum full of reporters. “He doesn’t really seem to be really that interested in policy, or anything like that,” Popovich said of Trump. “I haven’t seen or heard from him any core values or principles. He’s got one big motivation, and that’s to win at whatever he does. But that’s not a core value, that’s not a principle, that’s not a vision."
On the court, Pop has his team playing at an elite level. The Spurs enter the weekend 10-3 and riding a five-game win streak. Popovich is riding the tandem of Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, but veteran Pau Gasol has dropped in 17.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game during the stretch and looking more comfortable in San Antonio’s system. Dewayne Dedmon continues to miss time with left knee sprain. – by James Ham
THUNDER TRYING TO BECOME MORE THAN WESTBROOK
Russell Westbrook recorded his NBA-leading fourth triple-double of the season on Friday when he had 30 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds in a win over Brooklyn, but the talk after the game was what the Thunder did without him.
When Westbrook left the game in the third quarter, the Thunder extended their four-point lead to 14 by the time he returned, thanks to play from reserves Enes Kanter, Semaj Christon, Alex Abrines, Kyle Singler and Jerami Grant.
“When Russell is off the court, the most important thing we’re doing is sharing the ball out there,’’ Kanter told the Oklahoman. – by Jason Quick
BARNES STILL ADAPTING TO NEW GO-TO ROLE
This season has been both a blessing and a burden of sorts to Harrison Barnes who signed a four-year, $94.4 million contract with the Dallas Mavericks this summer.
After spending his entire career prior to this season with Golden State primarily as a third or fourth-option type player, he’s now dealing with something that has been foreign to him until now – high expectations.
If you go by his numbers, the adjustment hasn’t been a bad one. He leads the team in scoring (21.2 points per game) along with averaging 5.7 rebounds.
While the production is up, it hasn’t equated to team success with the Mavericks (2-10) having the worst record in the NBA thus far this season.
The losses have certainly been an adjustment for Barnes.
The same holds true for the role he has been cast to play.
“When you’re a role player, three, four or five (option), you stand in the corner, your options are pretty simple. It’s catch-and-shoot, late clock, or swing it and go screen. But when you’re the number one option, you have to be ready to go and the team feeds off of your energy. You have to be in attack mode and it starts from the tip.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely
HOIBERG TOSSED FOLLOWING TOUGH LOSS
It was a sight you would never expect to see as a Chicago Bulls fan – head coach Fred Hoiberg tossed from a game.
But that was indeed what went down on Saturday night near the end of a tough 102-95 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
A questionable call against Jimmy Butler, guarding Blake Griffin at the time, seemed to be the jumping off point for what eventually led to Hoiberg being ejected for the first time in his NBA coaching career.
Fans weren’t the only ones surprised by the unexpected tossing.
So were some of the Bulls players who spoke about it following the loss. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
GREEK FREAK OFF TO HISTORIC START
Milwaukee hasn’t won as many games as they would want to on the floor, but you can’t blame Giannis Antetokounmpo for it.
The 6-foot-11 do-it-all talent is on a good pace to join one of the more elite groupings in NBA history.
He’s averaging 21.8 points, 2.1 blocks and 1.8 steals this season, a clear example of how versatile he has been in terms of scoring the ball and defending his position as well as serving as an elite help-side defender. Since blocks and steals were first tracked during the 1973-1974 season, only two players (Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson) have averaged at least 20 points while tallying two or more steals and two or more blocked shots per game. – by A. Sherrod Blakely