TrueHoop TV Live

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
12:17
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Chat. 2 p.m. ET. Be here.


Kings a conundrum under Ranadive's reign

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
11:39
AM ET
By Patrick Redford
ESPN.com
Archive
Vivek Ranadive' and Rudy GayRocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
Mike Malone’s sin wasn’t that he was incompetent, it’s that he was unspectacular. The deposed Sacramento coach was coaching the Kings like a basketball team. Team owner Vivek Ranadive wants them to be an evolutionary basketball experience.

There are plenty of rationales floating around why Ranadive fired Malone. Almost none of them implicate the 2-8 slide since DeMarcus Cousins came down with a nasty case of meningitis as anything more than the trojan horse that provided cover for the decision. The most revealing answers he’s given have been about style. He wants the Kings to play fast and reactive, like a jazz band. He wants them to abandon their plodding, grinding ways for a hyperkinetic style without classical restrictions like positions. Ranadive wants to re-engineer the Kings from the circuits up. That they have only one true 3-point threat to fan out to the corners on a fast break doesn’t factor into the philosophical revolution Ranadive is planning. Winning isn’t so much the point as the theoretically inevitable result of innovating a new coordinate system and language for basketball.

The problem is that Ranadive isn’t a decorated basketball thinker; he’s a wildly successful Malcolm Gladwell-lauded technology businessman. Ambition looks like hubris, because he doesn’t have any credentials beyond coaching his daughter’s youth team to a national championship game. There might not be another basketball revolution out there for Ranadive to innovate up, but he’s going to try. The NBA is in a golden age of discovery and advancement, fueled by new-money owners and veterans of the technology industry. Analytics have changed how players are scouted, the way the game works possession by possession, and how fans interact with their favorite teams.

Ranadive is at the forefront of this wave and his Kings are as much basketball team as they are science experiment. Where even the most ambitious of his contemporaries are working for marginal gains, he is a heart-on-sleeve futurist. Exhibit A: The system that Sacramento’s D-League affiliates, the Reno Bighorns, are running. Holding on to Malone would have been the sensible basketball move, as he helped create an environment where Cousins could thrive and and presided over improvements from most other Kings. But at his best, Malone probably rates out as a good, traditional coach. “Good” and “traditional” would be desirable adjectives for most coaches in the league, but not for the Kings. They’re dreamers.

Ranadive has spoken with grandiose effect about NBA 3.0. He’s teased Sacramento’s new arena as “one of the most iconic structures on the planet,” and pitched Nik Stauskas as a taller Steph Curry. His whole professional career, Ranadive has thrived by seizing on little opportunities and untouched ideas then blowing them up to an extreme. You don’t make it as a tech pioneer without aggressive self-belief. It’s logical to assume he’ll run the Kings like he’s run many successful companies, and early returns bear this out. He is betting that the NBA is ripe for another strategic renaissance and he’s not settling for a coach that is simply good and traditional.

Ranadive’s intergalactic ambition makes for a revealing contrast with Robert Pera’s tenure as owner of the Memphis Grizzlies. Pera is the youngest owner in the NBA at 34 and, like Ranadive, he entered the league with big ideas. He also sent away Lionel Hollins early in his time as owner and, this summer, was very close to letting Dave Joerger walk before he eventually retained him. The Grizzlies are now second in the West at 21-4 with a core largely unaltered from the time before Pera took over. Pera intended to make big moves that marked the Grizzlies as his territory, and he did. But they were confined to the front office, and never infected the Grizzlies’ on-court chemistry.

Pera had his own ideas about how the team should work, yet he ultimately resigned himself to the inarguable fact that team success is primarily tied to personnel. The Grizzlies organization is one of the most analytically progressive teams in the league, from Joerger up to Pera, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they play revolutionary basketball. Style isn’t a relevant indicator of how forward-thinking a team is. Playing ugly doesn’t mean playing inefficiently.

The idea that Ranadive will force the Kings to play 4-on-5 with a cherry-picker is a paper tiger, an easy target that’s been blown out of proportion, but it’s a signifier of how he sees the league. Rather than focus on acquiring the best players he can and hiring a coach to spin them into a functioning unit, he is concerned with acting as chief visionary, and that’s the central tension of the Sacramento Kings. In a vaccuum, looking toward the future and refusing to settle are beneficial organizational strategies. But centralizing capital-I Ideas at the expense of the actual basketball team can be detrimental. Instead of asking “How can I put DeMarcus Cousins in the most efficient structure I can?” Ranadive is asking “How can I change the fabric of basketball?"

The NBA won’t continue to evolve without powerful people like Ranadive actively pushing boundaries and taking risks. But there is too much entropy in the NBA world. Where Ranadive sees firing Malone as the first domino in an evolution towards an elite, innovative Kings team, Cousins might see the signs of a trigger-happy ownership group who wants to implement an unfeeling vision no matter what. Unlike Ranadive, Cousins does the boots-on-the-ground work of winning of basketball games. Essentially, Ranadive is gambling on his ability to see the future and get there before any other team.

It’s a tremendously risky proposition, one Kings fans are totally unfamiliar with. After seven glorious -- nearly great -- seasons with Rick Adelman, the Maloofs reign in Sacramento was the diametric opposite of Ranadive’s relentless ambition. After a long period of malaise, Ranadive’s impatient time at the helm looks tinged through with megalomania. Casting off Malone abruptly while things were going bumpy feels impulsive and rash, yet it was in service to an ideal. He envisions himself an auteur -- as evinced by his draft room takeover -- but the crucial point that Ranadive misses is that innovation in the NBA is player-centric.

This is the orthodoxy that Ranadive thinks he can overcome, that the system can somehow supercede the player rather than simply amplify his talents. The honeymoon period he enjoyed as Sacramento’s savior is now over. With the firing of Malone, Ranadive will now be judged on his own merits, not against the Maloofs. Philosophical ambition and snappy mantras will play only as long as the Kings win basketball games. Malone’s dismissal would have been understandable if he was inadequate, but he clearly was not. The first quarter-season of 2014-15 has been the best stretch of Kings basketball since Adelman left, and Ranadive threw it away because Malone wouldn’t buy into his eccentric ideas. It’s not about basketball, because if it was, Malone would still be the coach. As Ranadive ignores the present, his futurism rings hollow. It is still early in his tenure, but right now, he looks more like an ideologue than a visionary.

Patrick Redford is a contributor to VICE Sports, Deadspin, and The Classical. Bug him on Twitter @patrickredford.

Nothin' but the same old Nets

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
9:30
AM ET
By Devin Kharpertian
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
NetsAP Photo/Kathy WillensThree years after making the move to Brooklyn, the Nets are ... still the Nets.
It was 24 minutes of basketball bliss, the perfect half to respond to Joe Johnson’s vicious comments lambasting unnamed teammates for selfishness. At a rare moment of full health, the Brooklyn Nets spread the ball around to find open shots with slick improvisation and skillful execution. They took command against the Phoenix Suns, a tough team from a tougher conference, leading by as much as 19 points and boasting six different players with at least three makes from the floor.

Twenty-four minutes later and the house of cards had come crumbling down. The Suns, led by New Jersey Nets castoff Gerald Green, took full control over their suddenly hapless opponent, winning 112-104 as Brooklyn reverted to isolation basketball and confoundingly poor play for a collection of stars.

It was the perfect summation of the Nets’ first three seasons in Brooklyn: a flashy beginning, flush with promise, ending in a thud.

Since moving from Newark in 2012, the Nets have tried to have it all: Spurs crispness, Celtics legacy, Lakers glamour and Knicks fans. A supremely executed marketing blitz took over the perpetually up-and-coming borough, with players plastered everywhere from subway advertisements to bridge billboards. The team opened last season flush with 36 combined All-Star appearances on its roster, with marquee names and championship aspirations.

But nearly four years since the day the team cashed in its blue-chip assets for Deron Williams, one that then-Nets coach Avery Johnson called a "celebration," they’ve ended up with … well, the Nets: a collection of overpaid, underathletic, fading stars who can't keep up with the newer, fresher NBA flying past them.

They had a plan: win before 2016, and if they didn’t, wipe the slate clean and try it again, with superstars like Kevin Durant entering the free-agent market. But outside of a few surprising moments of clarity, their on-court product has been bland and depressing, leading to rumors of an expedited rebuild. Even Russian ownership seems willing to take a step back, listening to offers for minority stakes (and, as the rumor goes, for majority ones) this season. So much for faith in 2016.

With two years left on the docket, with two playoff exits and a $144 million loss in basketball-related expenses last season, the Nets can only claim exhausting mediocrity. This isn't an identity crisis; that would require having an identity in the first place. There's no unifying aspect of the Nets to point to. They're just trying to make sure you're pointing at them.

Their three best players, earning a combined $58.65 million this year, are now on the trade block, and more known for their flaws than their strengths. Williams has regained some of his quickness and shooting touch, but has struggled to score around the basket the past two seasons. Joe Johnson earned the moniker "Joe Jesus" for his near-invincibility in crunch time, but is one of the worst offenders in the team's isolation-heavy attack when things go downhill. Brook Lopez is a talented post scorer and walking trade asset who has barely been able to walk the past year.

[+] EnlargeKevin Garnett
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDespite paying a high price for veteran talent, the "new-look" Nets have yet to forge an identity.
Sure, there was one exciting five-month stretch, starting in January 2014, when the Nets went full-bore weird to smooth over the loss of Lopez and confounded opponents by favoring players over positions, putting Paul Pierce next to three perimeter players and using Shaun Livingston as a point guard/power forward hybrid. The Nets went 34-17 in that stretch, played an exciting-as-all-hell first-round series with the Toronto Raptors that went down to the last play of Game 7, and eventually fell to the Miami Heat in Round 2.

Outside of that, the Nets have largely gone to the same formula, despite three coaching changes since the move to New York. They've played one of the league's slowest paces. When their offense begins to fail, they inevitably fall into the traps of iso basketball. They have yet to figure out how to put together a top-10 defense around Lopez, or how to get Johnson and Williams clicking together for long stretches. They run Lionel Hollins' throwback flex offense in staggered stretches, and turn to Johnson at the end of close games. That’s about it.

They leave you wanting. You see the flashes of greatness, and at the same time know they won’t ever be great. There's no dynamic star, no blue-chip building block, no ace draft pick. Just a lot of money and an increasingly disinterested group ambling toward nowhere.

The Brooklyn Nets have built their identity on what they could be, what they should be. But in three seasons, they have yet to be much of anything at all. Now comes hints of another rebuild, which almost seems necessary at this point, if only to give a wavering fanbase a fresh face to believe in. But for now, they are what they are: walking and talking, but yet to figure out where they want to go or what they want to say.

Devin Kharpertian is the managing editor and founding partner at The Brooklyn Game. Follow him, @uuords.

First Cup: Friday

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
4:41
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Diamond Leung of The Oakland Tribune: With Andrew Bogut out indefinitely, there will be times Draymond Green will be asked to guard taller and bulkier offensive players. And then there is Green’s ears perking up when something is said about him that he doesn’t particularly like. For instance, Avery Johnson on SportsCenter after the Warriors lost at Memphis had words that Green remembers. “Funny guy,” Green said of Johnson. “Funny guy. Jalen Rose is a funny guy, too. It’s funny to me. They just keep lighting that fuel and adding more fuel to the fire.” Rose, who played at Michigan and rival school of Green’s alma mater Michigan State, said earlier this month while largely praising Green that, “Draymond Green I don’t think he would be in the league if he wasn’t in the right place at the right time and get developed.” Johnson made out Green to be someone for opposing teams to go after. ... Green, however, appears up for the challenge of taking on offensive players of all shapes and sizes. “I’m going to do whatever it takes to win,” Green said. “I trained all summer. I always like to say I’m made for this."
  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: There aren’t many NBA players who seem to catch Kobe Bryant’s eyes for the right reasons. But Russell Westbrook – and his fear nobody attitude – is one of them. Bryant recently told ESPN that Westbrook is the closest player in the NBA to him in terms of intensity. “He just plays with a rage that’s not very common,” Bryant told reporters. Of late, Westbrook has been receiving heaps of praise and some strong MVP buzz. But last year’s MVP says Westbrook isn’t letting that get to his head. “As a teammate and brother, I’m happy he’s getting the praise,” Kevin Durant said. “Because just last year everyone had something negative to say about him. But that’s how the world is. They’ll build you up then break you down then build you up again. So he’s not sweating that. He’s gonna keep playing his game.”
  • Mike Singer of CSN Chicago: But for all that went wrong on Thursday night, there were two examples of what went exactly right as a result of the Bulls missing out on Anthony during the free agency period: Pau Gasol and Jimmy Butler. If only every contingency plan (Gasol) could yield 15 double-doubles, good for second-best in the NBA, 18.7 points per game and 11.9 rebounds per game, which ranks third in the league. Gasol has been nothing short of revitalized under Thibodeau and the Bulls’ tight-knit locker room. “We ended up fine, as we did in 2010,” Thibodeau said on Thursday referencing the free-agency process. “Free agency, there’s no guarantees. Everyone is trying to get everyone. You’re hopeful. It’s really designed to keep the player with the team that he’s with. I feel we came out great with Pau.” Great would be an understatement, as Gasol has galvanized the frontcourt with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson missing significant time with various injuries. ... When asked in particular whether Butler can maintain his furious early-season pace, Thibodeau seemed to acknowledge that this big an improvement was surprising, even to him. “My thing to him is, ‘Why put a lid on it?’ Where can it go? I don’t know. All I know is it keeps going up.” So while Thursday might have opened up old wounds with Anthony's return to the United Center, it also illuminated just how much better off the Bulls are with Gasol stabilizing the frontcourt and Butler emerging as a star.
  • Peter Botte of the New York Daily News: Carmelo Anthony joined a few injured teammates on the sidelines for the putrid Knicks, and Derrick Rose was ill and not among those playing for the Bulls. As TNT analyst Charles Barkley quipped to reporters before Thursday night’s game, “My God, it’s gonna be awful tonight.” Anthony sat out his second game in barely a week because of lingering left knee soreness, and the telecast of the game featured a snippy Twitter retort at Barkley from team president Phil Jackson before the bare-bones Knicks fought hard but still lost for the 13th time in 14 games, 103-97, to the Bulls at United Center. Barkley continued his standup routine at the 5-23 Knicks’ expense throughout the nationally televised game, and even prompted Jackson — who earlier in the day defended his offseason trade of Tyson Chandler on Twitter — to tweet during the second quarter: “Do I have to mute this game? Chuck just remember your fundamental...key to (the triangle).” ... Jackson appeared particularly frustrated and got more defensive on Twitter on Thursday than the Knicks have been all season. The Zen Master responded unprompted in three separate reply tweets to a link about a story suggesting he “got hornswoggled in his first big move” in trading Tyson Chandler to Dallas in June.
  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: Almost at the same time the Pelicans were making their decisive fourth-quarter run against the Rockets on Thursday night, the Mavericks were finalizing a trade agreement to acquire All-Star guard Rajon Rondo from the Celtics. It's a move that's possibly strengthens the Mavericks into a serious NBA title contender. It also makes things much more tougher for the Pelicans and the remaining teams in the Southwest Division. ... The Western Conference already have a number of talented point guards that includes San Antonio Spurs' Tony Parker, Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul, Memphis Grizzlies' Mike Conley and Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry. "The conference is crazy, there is so much talent," Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson said. "It's a challenge every night. We've had a tough schedule so far and it's going to get even tougher. Obviously with Rondo, it's going to take them a little while to figure stuff out, but they were already a tough team."
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The Dallas Mavericks pulled off the first major deal of the season, trading for Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo by outbidding the Rockets among others to land Rondo’s still pesky – if no longer as nasty – defense and elite playmaking. The Rockets were in talks on several potential deals, but according to an individual with knowledge of their plans were closest to trading for Minnesota guard/forward Corey Brewer, a wing defender they have long sought and could acquire as soon as Friday. The Rockets would be able to fit Brewer into the trade exception they had saved from the Jeremy Lin trade and would not have to match his $4.7 million salary. Brewer would bring much-needed depth behind Trevor Ariza and James Harden who are second and third in the NBA in minutes per game respectively. With Brewer going Usain Bolt on the break, the Rockets will need to push pace off the bench, something that like almost everything else with the Rockets’ reserves has been inconsistent, but he also could kick-start the second unit’s break, a goal since training camp. Still, that deal would be far more of a tweak than the potentially enormous impact of the Mavericks adding Rondo.
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: A short-handed Milwaukee Bucks team forgot to count all its missing players on Thursday night. Instead the nine-man gang that showed up to play at Sleep Train Arena dug in and dug out a 108-107 victory over the Sacramento Kings. Center Larry Sanders was missing due to a one-game suspension and power forwards were hard to find. So what did Bucks coach Jason Kidd do? He stuck rookie forward Johnny O'Bryant in the starting lineup and relied on veteran center Zaza Pachulia to bang bodies against Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, who returned after missing 10 games with viral meningitis. Of course the game came down to a final shot, with the Kings going to Cousins on the final play. Pachulia used his skill and savvy to force Cousins into a tough fadeaway jumper, and it bounced off the front rim as the Bucks celebrated. Milwaukee (14-13) improved to 2-1 on its West Coast trip with one stop remaining Saturday night in Los Angeles against the Clippers.
  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Michael Malone received the phone call Sunday night that ended his time as the Kings’ coach. Fired 24 games into his second season, Malone believes the Kings made great progress during his tenure. “Though my time as head coach ended much sooner than anticipated, I am extremely proud of what we were able to accomplish during our time together,” Malone said. “Anchored by a loyal and dedicated coaching staff, we worked hard to instill a culture of discipline, trust and respect that progressed this team further than many expected in a short time.” After winning only 28 games last season, the Kings were 11-13, including 2-7 without star center DeMarcus Cousins.

TrueHoop TV Live: After Dark

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
5:31
PM ET
Elhassan By Amin Elhassan
ESPN.com
Archive
Join us for some late-night hoops talk following the conclusion of Thursday night's Knicks-Bulls game.


Who will be rookie of the year?

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
5:22
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
With Jabari Parker out for the season, David Thorpe says it is Andrew Wiggins' award to lose.

video

First Cup: Thursday

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
4:54
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: They burned 63 minutes of game clock and more than three hours in real time. They reveled in Marc Gasol’s first 3-pointer this season, however improbable, because it banked in from 30 feet and beat the final buzzer in regulation. They even took a 23-point lead, then gift-wrapped the advantage and handed it back. But finally the Grizzlies did enough, overcame plenty and beat the San Antonio Spurs. Memphis snapped a nine-game losing streak to San Antonio with a 117-116 triple overtime victory Wednesday night in AT&T Center. Forward Zach Randolph scored all six points for the Griz in the third extra session and finished with 21 points and 21 rebounds. Gasol tossed in 26 points and Memphis enjoyed season-highs from Vince Carter (18 points) and Kosta Koufos (16 points) in winning their sixth straight game.
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Dwight Howard played on Wednesday after sitting out Tuesday’s practice because of soreness in his right knee. He said he was not concerned that he has had to ease his way back after missing 11 games with a strained knee, having been told to expect an ongoing process. “They said the recovery process will be a little slow right now since this is my first couple games back,” Howard said. “I just have to do whatever I can to keep my legs loose and try not to do too much jumping on the days we don’t have games. I’ve got to save it for the games. “I expected there to be some swelling, my first time playing in a game in 11 games. After missing a month of basketball, I expected it to be like that. There’s nothing I can do about it but continue to play.” That does, however, make his availability to play the second half of a back-to-back uncertain with the Rockets facing the Pelicans in Houston on Thursday. “Hopefully, it’s not an ongoing thing,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said
  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: For those who haven’t been paying attention to the Hawks through the first 25 games of this NBA season, here are three things you need to know: 1) They’re better than 5-9 (Falcons); 2) They’re better than 79-83 (Braves); 2) They’re better than the Belk Bowl (Georgia). They’re 18-7. They just went on the road and crushed the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-98. Yes, LeBron James played. So did Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. The only team missing a starter was the Hawks. They played without their starting point guard, Jeff Teague. That didn’t matter because guard Shelvin Mack came off the bench to score 24 points and went 6-for-6 on three-pointers. Question: Can Mack pass rush, too? Or play center field and hit leadoff? Maybe build a privately funded stadium? The Hawks trailed the Cavaliers by eight points after the first quarter, then outscored them by 37 over the next three. Cleveland could’ve done that without LeBron. ... Championships aren’t awarded in mid-December but coach Mike Budenholzer is maximizing the talent on his roster, which is a nice change of pace for local teams. It’s unfortunate the Hawks are struggling to get on the radar in their own town. Their average (announced) home attendance of 15,345 ranks 25th in the league. Maybe it’s time to start paying attention.
  • Robert Morales of the Long Beach Press-Telegram: Clippers coach Doc Rivers this week told reporters he’ll be looking “at everything” now that the two-month trading period for the NBA has begun. There’s also a free agent that could draw interest from Rivers — also the team’s president of basketball operations — and that’s guard Ray Allen. Allen, the all-time leader in 3-point baskets with 2,973, is 39. He’s currently not playing after having spent the past two seasons with the Miami Heat after a five-year stint with the Boston Celtics, where he was coached by Rivers. But a variety of reports indicate he might be interested in resuming his career. If Allen were to come to L.A., that seemingly could change things for Clippers’ sixth-man Jamal Crawford, another 3-point-shooting machine who sits 10th all-time with 1,743. Allen, an 18-year veteran, would presumably come off the bench for any team, and that’s where Crawford — a two-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year and also a guard — rules. Not only is Crawford not concerned, he said he would welcome Allen with open arms. ... Even though this is not a trade rumor, per se, Crawford noted that he always seems to be the subject of trade rumors. Over the next two months, there figure to be many about many players.
  • Erik Gundersen of The Columbian: Damian Lillard is shooting 68 percent from less than three feet according to Basketball-Reference. Over the last two seasons, Lillard has never shot better than 53 percent from that distance. Lillard is taking a near identical percentage of his shots around the basket. He's just been much better at it and lots of summer work is paying off. "Going up to the rim and getting hit with pads and stuff like that," Lillard said of the summer workouts to improve his finishing. "Playing against contact. Sitting down in a the chair then just coming out, getting pushed and still trying to come out and finish. It's just paying off." Other techniques such as getting the ball higher on the glass, Lillard says, have helped improve his finishing. Despite Lillard, the Blazers are in the bottom-five in points in the paint.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Earlier this year, Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver acknowledged the need and desire for the franchise to play in a new arena with eight years left on the US Airways Center lease. Sarver also shared that sentiment with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recently. "I had this conversation with him just the other day," Silver said Wednesday night in Charlotte before the Suns-Hornets game. "I don't think it's imminent but, yes, over time, there's no question that what was once one of the very best buildings in the league is becoming older. "They invested in a renovation there, the prior ownership did. Robert, as he looks out into the next decade, realizes that at some point he's going to need a new building. It's early stages but it's something that the league office can be helpful with. At least we have the experience of many more markets."
  • Jay King of MassLive.com: The latest batch of trade rumors did nothing to shake Rajon Rondo. "It's a way of life since I've been here," he said Wednesday night after notching 13 points and 15 assist as the Boston Celtics toppled the Orlando Magic. ... For his part, Rondo says all the right things. He genuinely seems to exercise patience with Boston's rebuilding process and has held himself accountable all season long. Asked whether he wants to stay with the Celtics, he repeated a desire to remain with the organization. "How many times do you want me to say it?" the four-time All-Star replied, smiling. "We discussed it on media day. My thoughts and opinions as far as the organization hasn't changed. "I'm enjoying life. You can't win them all but these guys are funny. I'm young and I'm doing what I love to do. It's a dream come true. I can't be upset about anything." Not even the trade rumors. ... This is all just part of it. Buckle up. Strap on your helmets. Dust off your shin guards. The two months until the trade deadline should bring plenty more rumors, if Rondo stays around that long.
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Do you think Monta Ellis has any shot at making the All-Star team? Sefko: Can't see it. He's falling in somewhere behind Chris Paul, James Harden, Tony Parker, Damian Lillard, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and maybe Mike Conley, Russell Westbrook and Goran Dragic. There are only spots for six guards/wings on the West squad, maybe seven tops. It's just too competitive.
  • Jeff Blair of Sportsnet.ca: This time Kyle Lowry stood by the Toronto Raptors bench as the Brooklyn Nets walked by following the game, shaking hands with every one of them. A post-game interview awaited on court — this time Lowry was the winner. It was like last season’s playoffs had been stood on their head. The Raptors and Nets usually have to fight and claw when they play each other – in the four regular season and seven playoff games between them last season, six games were decided by four points or less, only two by double digits and the aggregate score of those games was 1,070-1,070. But the Raptors won Wednesday night’s game at a canter, 105-89, and there was no repeat of the ending of Game 7 of last year’s first-round series, won 97-96 by the Nets when the enduring image was Lowry lying on the court at the Air Canada Centre, arms crossed over his head after his last-second shot went awry. The Raptors (20-6) have reached 20 wins before the Christmas mark for the first time in club history. They have two more games against sub-.500 teams – the Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks – before a six-game road trip that starts in Chicago and hits all points west. The question is: how much was Wednesday’s win a measure of revenge? “For sure,” answered the Raptors’ James Johnson.
  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: There was a point in Tuesday’s game at New Orleans when Rudy Gobert and Enes Kanter were yapping at each other while walking off the court for a timeout. Quin Snyder met them at midcourt and had a quick chat, while team captain Gordon Hayward huddled with his two teammates from behind. The Jazz coach wasn’t trying to put out a team fire. Snyder absolutely loved what was going on between the two players, even if it seemed that they were bickering. “That was great. I was so glad to see them. I don’t care if they yell at each other. I like the communication,” Snyder said. “Once you start talking to each other like that, now you’ve got a chance to grow and to stretch. It’s when they don’t say anything that I get concerned.” The incident — if it can even be called that — stemmed from a defensive possession before the timeout was called. Gobert explained that he was simply trying to help Kanter get into the proper position, so he pushed him in the back. Yes. Gobert literally shoved Kanter toward his spot.

TrueHoop TV Live

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
12:06
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Join the yuletide fun at 3 p.m. ET.

Vivek Ranadive looking for a 'jazz director'

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
11:41
AM ET
Ham By James Ham
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
videoSACRAMENTO -- When the door opens to the makeshift owners lounge that used to act as a media workroom, former St. John’s teammates Mark Jackson and Chris Mullin are standing in the center of the room reminiscing and sharing a laugh. General manager Pete D’Alessandro is sitting at a table with white linens in preparation for an influx of former Kings, all in attendance for the jersey retirement ceremony of Peja Stojakovic. And owner Vivek Ranadive is waiting anxiously for his last of many one-on-one interviews.

It’s been a rough 48 hours for the former tech giant. The firing of popular head coach Michael Malone on Sunday night has been received quite poorly almost across the board. The media has come calling in search of answers, and Ranadive has a list of five points, memorized, that he wants to share.

“There are five things I want to say,” the soft-spoken Ranadive begins. “The first thing is -- look, I know the fans have reacted to this aggressively, and it just underscores for me that we have the best fans in sports. They’re passionate, they’re engaged, they let their views be known, even if they don’t agree with what we’re doing.”

Ranadive is correct. Sacramento Kings fans are dumbfounded. After a 9-6 start to the season, DeMarcus Cousins came down with viral meningitis and hasn’t played since. Without Cousins, the Kings are 2-8 and losers of four straight.

Now 11-14 on the season, D’Alessandro, with the backing of Ranadive, handed Malone his pink slip.

“Michael Malone is a good man, he’s an honorable man and that he did great things for this organization,” Ranadive says, moving to Point 2. “I, personally, and the Sacramento Kings will always have the highest respect and regard for Michael Malone. And that whatever he does, we know that he will continue to have a great career in the NBA.”

The typical exit speech from an owner when a coach is fired. In Sacramento, there is a template sitting in a drawer somewhere.

“When we got Michael Malone, we believed it was absolutely the right thing to do,” said Ranadive, who hired Malone soon after he agreed to purchase the Kings and before he hired D’Alessandro. “I was handed the keys to the kingdom, and the place was literally and figuratively falling apart. The roof was falling down, we hadn’t sold a single ticket. There was chaos, even anarchy, in the locker room, and the draft was only weeks away. So we needed a coach that would restore structure, restore discipline, restore a system, defense and I consulted with some of the experts in the business, and they said he was a great choice.”

This third point should come in bold print. Chaos and anarchy are perfect descriptions for where the Kings were when Ranadive took control of the team from the Maloofs, who nearly sold the team to owners who intended to move to Seattle. In 18 months, Malone transformed one of the most dysfunctional locker rooms in the league, without giving up on Cousins.

Described as both a disciplinarian and players' coach, Malone laid a foundation that interim coach Tyrone Corbin, the former head coach of the Utah Jazz, now takes over.

“The NBA has become like the high-tech business,” Ranadive said. Point 4. “Just because you invented the iPhone, doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels, because somebody else is building a better iPhone. Just because you win 50 games, doesn’t mean you can be satisfied with the status quo. Just because you win 16 games in a row, doesn’t mean that you don’t look for Ray Allen to make your team better. So we live in a time when good enough isn’t, and we need to keep getting better. So while we have a good foundation, we needed to pivot. We needed to go.”

Ranadive wasn’t finished with this point. In fact, of the five, this is the one he says led to Malone’s dismissal.

“Defense is great, but we need defense and offense,” he said. “We need to go from a rules-based organization, which was important when you had chaos, to a values-based organization. From kind of a programmatic offense, to a read-and-respond, free-flowing offense. I like to use a music metaphor. We had a Sousa marching band, which was needed when there was chaos, but now we need to shift to a jazz band, where people can be individually showcased and improvised. What we need is a jazz director. I think that’s the kind of leadership moving forward.”

Known for his defensive coaching acumen, the Kings under Malone felt more like the New York Knicks from the early 1990s. Before owning the Kings, Ranadive was a co-owner of the Golden State Warriors, long known for their offense. D’Alessandro was the assistant GM for George Karl’s high-octane Denver Nuggets.

There was a clear mismatch in styles. While the brass preached pace, Malone emphasized defense. A middle ground was never reached.

Now the last point.

“This ownership group has shown a willingness to open its wallet,” Ranadive said. “Open it for the players, for the coaching staff, for the facility, for the old arena, the new arena, the downtown Sacramento development, and we will continue to do that because we have the best fans in sports.”

After running through his list, we have time for one question before we lose our spot on the white leather couch. Ranadive has taken a beating in the press, both locally and nationally. How is he holding up under the scrutiny?

“I’ve been beaten before,” he said. “They said that Seattle had won, and we would never be able to keep this team. People said that Cousins was toxic, and he was a cancer and we should get rid of him. They said that Rudy [Gay] was terrible, and even if he came, he would never stay. They said if Isaiah [Thomas] left, the team would fall apart. So look, I’m surrounded by really smart people, and they give me great advice. They call the shots, and I support them.”

First Cup: Wednesday

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
4:50
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger didn’t appreciate being down after the first quarter mainly because his starters were slogging along. That all changed when the second unit stepped onto the court Tuesday night. Memphis picked up the pace, started the second period by scoring 20 unanswered points and rode the momentum to a 105-98 victory over the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors in FedExForum. “I think we gave them a little bit of their own medicine,” backup point guard Beno Udrih said. “They like to play that way. We came out with energy. We picked up the pace and we came out making shots.” The Griz made a six-point deficit disappear quickly and held several double-digit leads throughout the game before fending off the Warriors’ late rally. In stopping Golden State’s 16-game winning streak, Memphis (20-4) improved its league-best home record to 12-1. “I thought we were going to win,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It was just too much to overcome. That’s a great team over there. We had to fight really hard just to get back to where we were.”
  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: All good things must come to an end. For the Warriors, the ending to their franchise-best, 16-game winning streak came Tuesday night with a 105-98 loss to the Grizzlies that the Memphis public-relations team dubbed “Splash vs. Smash.” Without center Andrew Bogut (right knee) and power forward David Lee (left hamstring), the Warriors didn’t have enough size to compete with Grizzlies’ big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. The duo combined for 41 points and 17 rebounds, and the Warriors couldn’t find enough of the magic that characterized most of their historic run. The Warriors shot 41.1 percent from the floor — their second-worst shooting night of the season (35.5 percent at Oklahoma City on Nov. 23), had only 18 assists — their second-worst total of the season (16 at Phoenix on Nov. 9), and were held to fewer than 102 points for just the second time in the past 12 games (also 98 vs. Orlando on Dec. 2). “Our competitiveness is what stands out above all with this team — just how gritty they are and how tough they are,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who called Tuesday’s offense “scattered.” “Even on a night when we were not playing that well, we found a way to get it within two down the stretch against one of the best teams in the league on their home floor. That says a lot about our guys.”
  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: Throughout a nightmare opening month, the Thunder’s health luck was unbelievably rare in the worst of ways. But during this renaissance December run, the Thunder’s health luck has been mildly rare in the best of ways. Twenty-five games into the season, the Thunder has all its rotation players healthy. A good portion of teams across the NBA don’t. And a suddenly red-hot OKC team is feasting on it. The Kings were the latest victim, going down 104-92 to the Thunder at home on Tuesday night. Sacramento surprisingly fired its well-liked coach a day earlier and was without its star center DeMarcus Cousins because of viral meningitis. A bad break and a tumultuous situation. But not one the Thunder was concerned about. “This is an ‘I don’t feel sorry for you’ league,” Scott Brooks said. “When we had a lot of guys hurt, I didn’t get a lot of text messages saying: ‘Hey, hang in there,’ from the other 29 coaches in the league.” So you didn’t hear Brooks doing the same over the past week. Not when the Cavs chose to rest LeBron James in Oklahoma City. Or when OKC faced a depleted Timberwolves team without Ricky Rubio or Nikola Pekovic. Or even when Goran Dragic missed his first game of the season with a minor back ailment on Sunday night in OKC. The Thunder just showed up and continued finding its rhythm and rolling up the standings. Tuesday night served as the latest example.
  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Amid cheers of “Peja! Peja!” the third jersey number from the best time in the Sacramento era was retired at Sleep Train Arena. Peja Stojakovic’s No. 16 was retired at halftime of the Kings’ game Tuesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder. “This is an unbelievable moment for me and family,” Stojakovic said during the ceremony. Stojakovic thanked former general manager Geoff Petrie and assistant Wayne Cooper for drafting him, coach Rick Adelman and his staff and his teammates for the honor, as well as the new ownership group that kept the team in Sacramento. Stojakovic joins teammates Chris Webber (No. 4) and Vlade Divac (No. 21) with retired numbers from the Kings’ teams from the late 1990s and early 2000s. The night included videos of former and current Kings talking about Stojakovic and highlights from his time with the team. At his best, Stojakovic was one of the most feared perimeter shooters in the NBA.
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Amid all the absences and injuries, Erik Spoelstra said there has been a move toward simplicity, "Yeah, we've been trying to simplify as much as possible, particularly when you don't know from shootaround to the game who's going to be playing. But our system is our system. We've been trying to simplify for the last month, anyway, just to try to find some consistency with how we're playing." While Spoelstra said the goal was to have distinct first and second units, that simply is not as possible now, "As much as you can, but this is a little bit extreme." Spoelstra insisted there can be no feeling sorry for themselves. "For all of us, you have to embrace the different challenges of the NBA," he said. "It is a privilege to be in this league. Every season is going to be different, different challenges." And, "Look, we're not above having to grind and work and roll up your sleeves and try to build a successful team. So it's different but it's a good challenge." Asked if the absences have the Heat moving more toward player development, Spoelstra said, "Well, we try to incorporate player development with all of our players, even the veteran players."
  • Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News: Sometimes we all need to be reminded of a team’s sodden roots, of a franchise’s historically comedic existence. Dress up the Nets in hip-hop black uniforms, move them to Brooklyn, sit Beyonce courtside to meet the duchess, and they’re still, somehow, the Nets. They might as well be playing in Commack Arena, forfeiting a playoff game to the Kentucky Colonels. There they were Tuesday night at fancy new Barclays Center, busily losing another game, 95-91, offering little defensive resistance against the Heat, when suddenly water began to drip onto the court in the first quarter. A puddle formed. Puddles are not a good thing on an NBA floor. They can wreck knees and ankles. They might as well be giant banana peels. It took 31 minutes to deploy a tarp up above and stop the leak, caused by the faulty installation of what the Nets called “a new green roof." ... It is hard to emphasize just how poorly the Nets played Tuesday after the water stopped dripping and the floor was toweled off. They didn’t take care of the ball. They couldn’t keep up with Dwyane Wade, who scored 28 points despite a stomach virus. The Heat, playing without Chris Bosh, had dropped six of eight games and was drastically shorthanded. The Nets were playing at home on two days’ rest. No matter. The Nets were beaten and the puddle made the whole place look ridiculous. This team can move from Teaneck to Commack to Nassau to Piscataway to East Rutherford to Newark to Brooklyn. The Nets will never escape their fate. Coaches will flee. Trades will fail. Water will find its own level.
  • Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune: Nearly two months into the season, the New Orleans Pelicans hadn't yet encountered one of those truly embarrassing moments. They barely escaped such disaster at the Smoothie King Center on Tuesday night. With All-Star forward Anthony Davis back in the lineup, the Pelicans had to scratch and claw their way back into the game in the fourth quarter just to get by the lowly Utah Jazz, 119-111. It was quite a contrast to the performances against the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday and the Golden State Warriors on Sunday. But it's one the Pelicans will take, nonetheless. "I think there still was a hangover from the other night," Pelicans coach Monty Williams said.
  • Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune: The Jazz are losing again, but the feel of this season is 50 lengths down the track from a year ago. Nearly all the players utilized in key roles this time around are in them not just to try to win, rather to advance their games, individually and collectively. The losses, and there have been bunches of them, feature a double-barreled usefulness. 1) Players are edging forward through their playing time. 2) Losing will facilitate another crack at a high lottery pick for a franchise still searching for a star. Many Jazz fans don’t want to hear that because such an admission is too frustrating for them, and because they fear the Jazz are tumbling into the same sort of competitive crater that has trapped other clubs over long periods of time, especially those that have been perennially mismanaged. The Jazz may not be winning yet, but at least they’re united in their plan to fix their shortcomings. Quin Snyder will not be fired because the owner wants him to run four guys back on defense, leaving a cherry-picker at the offensive end, mirroring the successful scheme his 12-year-old daughter’s team had in their junior girls league. No. The Jazz are not the Sacramento Kings.
  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Tyson Chandler isn’t the petty type of player who takes solace that the New York Knicks are struggling mightily without him. Struggling after they claimed he was part of the team chemistry issues that doomed last year’s squad. That claim apparently led the Knicks to trade guard Raymond Felton and Chandler to the Dallas Mavericks on June 25. Still, despite being made out to be one of the scapegoats of a Knicks team that failed to qualify for the playoffs last season, Chandler isn’t snickering at the Knicks’ dismal 5-21 record. After all, with a new coach in Derek Fisher and a new offense in the triangle, he saw some of this coming more than a thousand miles away. “Clearly they’re struggling, but you knew they were going to take some lumps with a new coach, new offensive structure,” Chandler said. “The triangle takes some time to learn, so I was expecting it. I don’t know if anybody expected them to be where they are right now. But I expected them to take some lumps early on.”
  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: When Anthony became a free agent last July, Knicks president Phil Jackson expressed hope that Anthony might give the Knicks a hometown discount, a la Nowitzki and Duncan. And Anthony responded. Sort of. He could have made $129 million over five years and instead “settled” for $124M. Maybe stars LeBron, Carmelo and even Kobe Bryant are simply products of an AAU system where the best players are told at an early age that it really is all about you. The best players should make the most money but in a salary cap league those deals can hinder a club. The sporting cultures in Germany and the U.S. Virgin Islands are a little different and therefore Nowitzki and Duncan, respectively, are a little different. Duncan, 38, and Nowitzki, 36, are both in the twilight of their brilliant careers. Their ability to stay healthy, motivated and effective is admirable. But the fact that they have put winning above earning every last penny is what now defines them today. Some superstars talk sacrifice. Others live it and keep contending for championships
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: This is starting to sound like a broken record, repeating itself over and over again, but John Wall is playing at yet another level for the Wizards after Tuesday's 109-95 win vs. the Minnesota Timberwolves. Wall posted his 15th double-double of the season, tied for the most in the NBA with Pau Gasol of the Chicago Bulls, with 21 points and tying a career-high with 17 assists. He already had 17 assists in a double-overtime game this season. "I still think he has the best head of him," coach Randy Wittman said after his team improved to 18-6 with their ninth victory in 10 games. "I want him to keep driving. He's really been understanding that there's nothing to rest on here. ... He has an opportunity, from a leadership standpoint, to continue to push this team. I don't want him to take his foot off the pedal and be satisfied. There's nothing surprising here. Let's just keep doing it."
  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: The Timberwolves will contemplate their options now that veteran center Ronny Turiaf won’t play again this season after he underwent surgery to repair his hip in New York City on Tuesday. Turiaf’s contract with a $1.6 million salary expires after this season, which means the Wolves eventually will waive him to clear a roster spot. The question is when and how will they use it, particularly if Ricky Rubio’s return from a severely sprained ankle is on a faster track than once believed. They could simply decide to keep hardship-exception signee Jeff Adrien on because of his bulk and muscle. They could let Adrien’s exception expire Friday and choose to sign a guard — maybe D League sharpshooter Brady Heslip — after that, particularly if they believe Mo Williams’ back problems will remain a consideration. Or maybe they add a player — a versatile defender who can shoot — now that Dec. 15 has passed and teams can trade players they signed as free agents last summer.

Upgrade the Warriors!

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
11:56
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Golden State is rolling, but David Thorpe says now is the time to fix the shocking lack of guard scoring when the starters sit.

video

Z-Bo makes way for the reign of 'Big Spain'

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
10:00
AM ET
By Chris Herrington
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
GasolNelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsZach Randolph has ceded the spotlight in the Grizzlies' frontcourt to the emerging Marc Gasol.
One minute after his putback sealed a win over the Dallas Mavericks, Marc Gasol stepped to the free throw line to polish off the fourth 30-point game of his 2014-15 season -- this after hitting that threshold only once in 436 prior in the NBA. As the 7-footer toed the charity stripe, "MVP" chants rang out in the Memphis Grizzlies' FedExForum for the first time this season.

Gasol was predictably sheepish about the fan response after the game, but he'll have to get used to it. Already an elite defender and playmaker, Gasol's scoring boost -- at 19.4 points per game, he's nearly five points ahead of his previous career best -- has helped make the Grizzlies something more than daydream believers for the NBA championship and, yes, put him firmly in the early-season conversation for MVP.

But while the spotlight has shifted to Gasol this season -- which also happens to be the last on his current contract -- the Grizzlies' interior attack in last week's win over Dallas, and much of the team's 19-4 start, remains a tag team.

Gasol scored 14 points in the first quarter against the Mavs. Zach Randolph, after a slow first half, scored 13 in the third, including multiple point-blank buckets over the top of former defensive player of the year Tyson Chandler. (Randolph, a couple of days later, joking: "Yeah, but I been doing that to Tyson since high school.")

Three nights later, after the duo combined for 39 points and eight blocks in a double-overtime win over the Charlotte Hornets, Hornets center Al Jefferson called Gasol "the best all-around big man in the game" but also declared the Randolph-Gasol duo "the toughest frontcourt I've ever played against."

In an era in which brawny, skilled post players are increasingly hard to come by and the stretch-4 is becoming the norm, the Grizzlies have been blessed with two of the league's best true big men. Gasol and Randolph rank seventh and eighth in "close touches" (i.e., within 12 feet of the rim) per game, according to the NBA's player tracking data, while Gasol leads the league in "elbow touches." And the big trains from Memphis are rumbling like never before, even with a slight, but welcome, reduction in Randolph's playing time.

Per 36 minutes, Randolph and Gasol's combined averages of 38.6 points and 20.7 rebounds are the highest of their partnership. Both have a player efficiency rating (PER) above 20 for the first time, too.

After six seasons together in close quarters, executing high-low feeds in the paint or riffing off of each other at adjoining lockers, Gasol and Randolph have developed an on- and off-court bond -- Randolph made the scene at Gasol's Barcelona wedding the summer before last, as did Mike Conley -- that might be one of the coolest things in the NBA, especially given how ostensibly different they are.

Randolph is a bootstrapping success story from hardscrabble Marion, Indiana, and Gasol the son of educated medical professionals, who grew up in beautiful Barcelona and matriculated at Memphis' Lausanne Collegiate School, with an NBA star older brother. Think Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer, with malice toward fewer.

Their rare basketball union has also been an evolving one, with this season the culmination of a gradual -- and easy to overstate -- role reversal in which Gasol has gone from Randolph's frontcourt sidekick to the team's offensive alpha dog, and vice versa. It's a shift that runs counter to the duo's natural temperaments -- Randolph entering the league with the "get buckets" gene, Gasol always more deferential.

"Marc's always been so unselfish," Randolph says. "Forget that, man. We need you to go to work, not just make a play for someone else. I tell him every game, 'Go out there and dominate.'"

That instruction is starting to take, and while Gasol's slimmed-down physique clearly helps, it's been as much mental as anything -- Gasol (finally) recognizing that the best shot might come from him, even if it isn't always the "best" shot.

"This year I changed my mindset," Gasol says. "Instead of taking eight or nine shots, I might need to take 14 or 15 or 16 because that's what the team needs. It's not easy, because when you have a good shot and you feel like someone else has a great shot, it's just in [my] DNA to swing the ball."

Gasol says he wanted to step up more last season but didn't feel physically ready to do so.

That's where his improved conditioning comes in. Long on the heavy side, Gasol slimmed down like never before this offseason. And while it indeed comes right before he's set to cash in with a deal, Gasol cites the knee injury that knocked him out of 23 games last winter as the impetus.

[+] EnlargeGasol
Justin Ford/USA TODAY SportsA slimmer Gasol (19.4 PPG) is leading the way for the 19-4 Griz.
"The injury was eye-opening to me," Gasol says. "I was a little naive. I thought I wouldn't get hurt because, you know, I'm not a high-flier. I do dive on the floor a lot, so I thought the most I'm going to get are bruises. I never thought I would have a knee injury or something like that, but, of course, I was dead wrong, and that made me realize if I'm going to be the player I want to be and push the limits -- not only for myself but for the team -- I have to be able to do more on the floor."

Gasol says former coach Lionel Hollins used him as a "focal point in the post-up game" early in his career, but the arrival of Randolph in 2009 changed that. With Randolph occupying the low block, Gasol happily migrated more to the high post, where his European-bred skills as a passer and shooter excelled.

Now Randolph is returning the favor. With Gasol emerging as a more prolific scorer, Randolph's abilities off the ball have smoothed the transition.

"I don't have to always get the ball. I can get offensive rebounds, dump-offs, tip-ins," says Randolph, who is currently sporting the best rebound rate (20.3) of his career. "I don't have to be the focal point. I can get it out of the mud."

But Randolph acknowledges moving back into a more secondary role would have been more difficult if it weren't Gasol to whom he was yielding touches.

"It's a lot easier [with Marc]," Randolph says. "I love the guy, man. I call him my brother from a different mother. We have a special bond."

Gasol also sees the duo's ability to shift roles as a function of trust.

"The truth is that we both look at basketball in kind of the same way and that we've always been really honest with each other," Gasol says. "We always have each other's back, no matter what it is. We have an understanding. When I catch the ball, I don't just hold it and look for him like I [used to]. If my man is playing off of me, I'll shoot it from the top or try to get in the lane and drive it. It depends on where the game takes you, but I still take care of him. And he's always in my peripheral vision because he's someone, when he gets going, who is a special force."

Randolph cites Gasol's time spent playing high school basketball in Memphis as informing his demeanor, a common observation that Gasol dismisses even as he confirms the tug the city has on his heart.

"I don't know the reason [Zach and I] kicked it off so fast," Gasol says. "I guess it just clicked for both of us at the perfect time."

With Randolph under contract for two more seasons and Gasol heading toward free agency this summer, the Grizzlies hope to extend the relationship. For now, they are happy to bear witness to more dual domination. And Randolph, who led the charge when the Grizzlies first re-emerged into relevance, is happy to have Gasol out front for a change.

"I've always seen it. I've just been waiting on him," Randolph says of Gasol's new aggressiveness. "Some people find it earlier, some people find it later.

"I helped him out a little bit," Randolph continues, laughing. "I put a little bit of that in him."

Chris Herrington is an entertainment editor and NBA contributor for the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Follow him, @HerringtonNBA.

First Cup: Tuesday

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
4:57
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon said he would personally be fine with bringing back Lance Stephenson in a trade, however the judgment would be up to the front office. "I'd be OK with it but it's not up to me. Larry (Bird) has to decide if he fits," Simon told The Star prior to Monday's game against the Los Angeles Lakers. Stephenson became eligible to be traded Monday and rumors persist that the Charlotte Hornets are looking for trade partners. ... Several deciding factors would determine the Pacers' interest in Stephenson, said Simon, and a huge consideration would be chemistry. "First of all, we don't know if they're really trading him, at least I don't know," Simon said about the Hornets. "I know they made some calls and we would have to (figure out) how he fits back into the team. Those are all basketball decisions and Larry and Kevin (Pritchard) are the best to answer that."
  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau suggested before the game that he should have played Kyle Korver more when he had him in Chicago. He marveled at how Korver has gotten better later in his career. He got to see it up close again. Korver finished with 12 points, making 4 of 8 3-pointers. It moved him into 15th place on the NBA’s all-time 3-point list, now at 1,579.
  • Jay King of MassLive.com: You will read a lot, I’m sure, about Kelly Olynyk’s confidence. During Monday night’s 105-87 win against the Philadelphia 76ers, he had a career-high 30 points. He strode into a pull-up three like Chauncey Billups. Olynyk kept shooting … and making … and even when he missed, he kept shooting some more. He played like he should play, with the eternal green light, with the mindset of a 7-foot gunslinger. How much better would Olynyk be, you might have wondered before, if he owned Jordan Crawford’s self-belief? If he strutted onto every court like nobody could guard him? If he always dared to be great? Why does Olynyk ever pass up shots, you might ask yourself, when he’s the best shooter the Celtics have? Why on earth has his usage rate decreased since his rookie season? The questions are natural. So after Olynyk’s career night, head coach Brad Stevens challenged the big man to do it again. “I think that what he needs to be able to do is do that every night,” Stevens told reporters in Philadelphia. “I don’t know if it’s as much he wouldn’t have done it a couple of weeks ago as he might have done it a couple of weeks ago on a Monday and not a Wednesday. And so you just need him to be aggressive every night.”
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: It was a happy Bucks locker room after a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Khris Middleton lifted Milwaukee to a 96-94 victory Monday night. But the joy was mixed with sincere concern over rookie Jabari Parker, who suffered a left knee injury early in the third quarter. Parker's left knee buckled without contact as he made a drive in transition and he was unable to leave the floor under his own power. He was carried off the court by teammates Zaza Pachulia and Johnny O'Bryant. "As of right now we don't know anything. They'll do all the tests tomorrow and we'll be able to report something then," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said after the game. Pachulia, who played a key role in the Bucks' comeback victory, said all of Parker's teammates were wishing him the best. "I hope he's going to be OK," Pachulia said. "He's a great young player. This team and this organization, the whole city counts on him. He has a lot of years ahead of him in his great career. Injuries are part of the game. I hope it's not anything serious. We are all praying for him."
  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: Kevin Love in first quarters is 60-for-106 while Irving is 23-for-52. Love in fourth quarters is 17-for-45 and Irving is 49-for-107. Those attempts are almost perfectly inverted in both quarters. And remember what I wrote prior to that game at Utah early in the season: David Blatt made it clear to Irving that Love and LeBron James eat first, then Irving gets to make his plate later. That’s exactly what’s happening here. It’s hard to argue with the results, although ideally it would be nice if Love could sustain some of his early success. Throughout his career, however, he hasn’t. Love is shooting a crazy-good 61 percent on 3-pointers in the first quarter (22-for-36), yet he’s a 26-percent 3-point shooter (20-for-78) the rest of the night. Love has more 3-pointers in the first quarter than he does in the other three quarters combined. But that isn’t some weird transitioning-to-the-Cavs thing. Love shot 43 percent on 3-pointers in first quarters last year and only 30 percent in fourth quarters. His 2012-13 season was wrecked with injuries (he appeared in only 18 games) yet again he shot 40 percent on 3-pointers in the first quarter and then nothing the rest of the night (0-for-16 in fourth quarters).
  • Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: A pall cast over the Trail Blazers' locker room after a 108-95 victory over San Antonio Monday night at the Moda Center, and it had nothing to do with the outcome. Portland center Robin Lopez sat by his locker with a wrap around a splint covering his right hand, which suffered a pair of broken bones when the hand hit the head of Spurs forward Boris Diaw going for a third-quarter rebound. Lopez will be lost to the team indefinitely. "I don't like it. I don't like it. I don't like it," teammate LaMarcus Aldridge said. "That's it. Can't get past 'I don't like it.' He's such a big part of our identity. He does so many things people don't notice. He's a hard worker, a guy that does thing nobody else does in the first unit. As soon as I got back from the end of the game, I went looking for him. I was going to go by his house if I didn't see him. But I saw him in the locker room. He had the little cast on." Lopez will end a streak of having played in 265 straight games dating to late in the 2010-11 season, when he was with Phoenix. The 7-foot center played in all 93 regular-season and playoff games last season and has been in 128 straight games in a Portland uniform since coming to the Blazers in a trade with New Orleans before the 2013-14 season.
  • Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: The divergent fortunes of the Clippers and Lakers have not carried over to their television ratings. They're both on the decline. Nielsen ratings for the Clippers and Lakers in the Los Angeles market were down double digits percentage-wise over their first 20 games versus the same period last season. The Lakers averaged a 2.25 rating for those games on Time Warner Cable SportsNet, down 28% from the 3.14 at the start of last season. The Clippers averaged a 1.24 on Prime Ticket, down 16% from the 1.47 they achieved early last season. The Lakers' ratings are near the historic low of 2.11 they averaged all of last season, the worst on record for local Lakers telecasts and a 54% drop from the 2012-13 season, when they averaged a 4.63. There was one good piece of news for the Clippers: Their ratings in the highly coveted 18-34 demographic were up a staggering 41% over the first 20 games of last season. The Lakers were showing a decline of 13% in the same demographic. ... The Clippers' ratings decline seems a bit more puzzling given their 113-91 victory over the Detroit Pistons at Staples Center on Monday gave them a 17-7 record, a slight improvement over their 15-9 start a year ago. This represents the next-to-last season of the team's contract with Prime Ticket, which pays the Clippers $25 million to $30 million a year.
  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: The Orlando Magic are a nice, developing young team, but they don’t have Kyle Lowry. For that reason, the Magic couldn’t close a winnable game against the Raptors on Monday, instead falling 95-82. The 19-6 Raptors continue to lead the East thanks to a sterling third quarter that was the latest masterpiece from Lowry, the team’s soon-to-be all-star point guard. Trailing by eight after a pretty wretched first half, the Raptors were read the riot act by head coach Dwane Casey. “Coach started off with his speech, getting on us, yelling at us and then it was just us teammates talking amongst each other,” explained Patrick Patterson, who was stellar with 10 points and a career-best six assists.
  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: The square peg in the round hole doesn’t work anywhere, and certainly not in sports. Ask Jim Harbaugh. Ask former Warriors coach Mark Jackson. Ask Michael Malone, and frankly, the ex-Kings head coach probably will say he read the tea leaves and predicted his fate months ago. The owner hired the coach. Then the owner hired the general manager. Now, in the creative, innovative, ever-evolving world of high tech, maybe unconventional introductions succeed. But in the NBA – in most of pro sports, really – opposites rarely attract and almost never collaborate. The getting-to-know-you process is a precondition for long-term success and stability, for the slightest whiff of title contention. But this was an arranged marriage without the honeymoon, without a chance, with the divorce papers always within reach.
  • Diamond Leung of The Oakland Tribune: The Warriors will submit videotape to the NBA of what they say are “cheap shots” from New Orleans forward Dante Cunningham during their overtime win Sunday. Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green were struck in their faces in separate second-quarter incidents. Barnes after getting elbowed was left with a nasal fracture, chipped teeth and a mouth laceration that required stitches. He is questionable for Tuesday’s game at Memphis, as coach Steve Kerr said he would be surprised if Barnes didn’t play wearing a mask.

What Mike Malone didn't do

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
3:47
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
The Kings did well this season under Mike Malone. But David Thorpe points out, if Sacramento is as evidence-driven as it suggests, a faster offense and managing minutes make sense.

video

First Cup: Monday

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
4:45
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: The Kings have fired coach Michael Malone, league sources confirmed Sunday night, and will replace him with assistant coach Tyrone Corbin. After starting the season 5-1, the Kings are 11-13 and have lost three in a row and eight of their last 10. ... League sources indicated there was a chasm between Malone and ownership, specifically over the offense Malone used and the style of play. Malone’s background is defense, while Ranadive would prefer a more exciting offense, sources said. Ranadive spoke of “positionless” basketball and emulating how the San Antonio Spurs played. But the Kings lack the three-point shooting of the Spurs or Warriors, where Ranadive was a minority owner before leading the group to purchase the Kings. When the Kings were looking to hire another veteran assistant coach, Alvin Gentry was pursued by management because it was believed he’d improve the offense. Gentry, however, joined Steve Kerr’s staff in Golden State. ... D’Alessandro had worked for Chris Mullin and with Don Nelson in Golden State. He’d later work with George Karl in Denver, all teams that excelled at a fast-paced style of play. Mullin works as Ranadive’s advisor. There is already speculation D’Alessandro will pursue Karl, who was fired after the 2012-13 season in Denver, and now works as an ESPN analyst. Ranadive has shown spending money will not be an issue, but whether Karl wants to coach is another.
  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: When the Warriors look back on their franchise-record winning streak, they’ll probably most vividly remember Sunday’s game in New Orleans, where they came away bloodied and bruised but clawed their way to a 128-122 overtime victory. “This is kind of what I expected — not the crazy pyrotechnics from Steph (Curry), although that doesn’t ever surprise me — but it’s natural to have a letdown,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after his team followed an emotional win Saturday in Dallas by overcoming a potential trap game a day later. “We didn’t (defend or take care of the ball), but thankfully, we’ve got really, really talented players, and we’ve got an incredibly strong competitive desire to win.” The Warriors trailed by eight with a little more than four minutes to play in regulation. New Orleans went 1-for-7 with two turnovers after that, allowing the Warriors to tie 111-111 on a Marreese Speights free throw with 43.5 seconds remaining.
  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: For all the hardware he'd accumulated in his life — championship rings, MVP trophies, All-Star awards — one peculiar item heralded the imminent appearance of the NBA's third-leading scorer at a postgame news conference. A green plastic bucket filled with ice. It was carried into a warm, tightly packed room and placed below the table where Kobe Bryant would sit, as important as any other symbol that this wasn't the type of milestone that came easily. After weeks of speculation, analysis and, of course, argument, Bryant passed Michael Jordan with a pair of free throws in the second quarter of the Lakers' 100-94 victory Sunday over the Minnesota Timberwolves. It wasn't as climactic as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's sky hook to make him the league's all-time scoring leader. It wasn't as uncontroversial as Karl Malone's steady stroll to second on the list, one pick-and-roll at a time. It wasn't even guaranteed to be the biggest Bryant news event of the past week, his "soft like Charmin" rant at practice taking plenty of spins in the national sports cycle a few days earlier. But it finally happened, 1,269 regular-season games into a career that began with a trade, Charlotte to Los Angeles, and filled with individual visions of topping Jordan in championships and accolades.
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Twice after recent victories, Bulls guard Derrick Rose went out of his way to praise Mike Dunleavy's professionalism in light of few shots and plenty of intangibles and dirty work. Sunday night at American Airlines Arena, Dunleavy got his turn in the spotlight. Dunleavy offered a new twist on the shooter's phrase "heat check," scoring 19 of his 22 points in the third quarter following a scoreless first half in the Bulls' 93-75 victory over the Heat. Afterward, Dunleavy deflected credit, deadpanning that the game plan called for him to start slowly because "Coach really wanted to unleash me in the second half." But the sharpshooter's performance is emblematic of something larger, of how deep and unselfish this offense is. "I told you how he can go the whole game and not score and he's very professional about it," Rose said. "(Sunday), he showed you. ... We don't care who scores. As long as you're making the game easy for everyone else, that's what it's all about on this team." It's the right way to play basketball, of course. It's also the fun way.
  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: Earlier this season, before a win over the then 5-1 Kings, Kendrick Perkins was caught by cameras in a pregame huddle derogatorily telling his teammates: "These (expletives) are still the Sacramento Kings." With a rematch coming Tuesday in Sacramento, Kings guard Rudy Gay was asked about the clip that made its way across the Internet. He had some words for Perkins. "He might as well play with his face painted. He's a clown to me," Gay told the Sactown Royalty blog. Before Sunday's game against the Suns, Perkins gladly fired back. "I'd rather be a clown than to be a virus," Perkins said of Gay, who has been traded twice in the past few seasons. "At least with paint on my face I could wash the paint off. A virus get in your bloodstream. You can't get rid of that. That's what I got to say about it." This is the second time this season an opposing player has took a shot at Perkins. The Warriors Marresse Speights called his game "terrible" after a Golden State win in OKC late last month.
  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: The most important play of the Spurs' 99-91 victory over the Nuggets occurred about an hour before tipoff at the Pepsi Center when Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard convinced development coach Chad Forcier that his bruised right hand was sound enough to allow him to return to action. The MVP of the 2014 NBA Finals had missed two consecutive games after suffering a contusion so nasty the club ordered an MRI exam to make certain there were no fractures. Once Leonard showed his coaches he was ready to play through some residual pain, he produced one of the most impressive all-around performances of the season for any NBA player: 18 points, eight rebounds, four assists, five steals and six blocks in 37 minutes. The six blocked shots and five steals were career highs for Leonard, who is in his fourth season. The victory, the Spurs' ninth on the road this season, pushed their record to 17-7. Leonard's stat-stuffing night was one for the books. He became the first Spurs player since David Robinson to record at least six blocks and five steals in the same game. Robinson, the Hall of Fame center and franchise icon, last recorded at least six blocks and five steals when he blocked 10 shots and had five steals against the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 10, 1992.
  • Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post: John Wall remembers when the Washington Wizards were the players looking to trip up the NBA’s best teams with a deflating loss. It wasn’t that long ago — just two years, in fact, when they won 29 games in his third NBA season. But Washington, 17-6 through 23 games, is now one of the teams that the league’s worst squads target. They’re now the ones getting teams’ best shots on a nightly basis and trying to avoid trap games. For two quarters Sunday night, it appeared as though a letdown was imminent following an emotional win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night. The Utah Jazz, losers of 10 of their past 11 games entering Sunday, took advantage of Washington’s sloppiness to seize a five-point lead at halftime. “We came out slow,” center Marcin Gortat said. “Unfortunately, this is how we’re preparing sometimes for the teams that are in the bottom half of the league. Unfortunately, we just didn’t perform from the first minute.”
  • Josh Rubin of the Toronto Star: Pity New York Knicks fans, they have to watch this all season. The Raptors only had to get in the muck for one game. It took them until overtime to do it, but the Raptors still managed to do just enough to extract themselves and beat the struggling Knicks 95-90 Sunday night. Terrence Ross and Kyle Lowry led the way with 22 and 21 points, respectively. With the loss, the Knicks dropped to 5-21. Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 34 points. Former Raptor Jose Calderon added 13 points for New York. It was one of the uglier games the Raptors have been part of for a while. Toronto’s high-octane offence, which earlier this season scored 120 points six games in a row, sputtered. Through four quarters, the two teams managed a paltry 86 points each. ... How ugly was it? Even the usually sure-handed Lowry coughed up nine turnovers. The fact that the Raptors pulled away in OT after having coughed up a few leads in regulation is a tribute to the team’s maturity, said Lowry.

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