The Defiant Kobe Bryant
By Moke Hamilton
In 1996, when Kobe Bryant began his career backing up Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel in Los Angeles, he let Del Harris and Jerry West know that he believed he was starting shooting guard material.
Years later, when Phil Jackson introduced him to Michael Jordan in 1999, the first thing Bryant told Jordan was that he “would kick [Jordan’s] ass, one-on-one.”
Bryant refused to play Robin to the Batman of Shaquille O’Neal, refused to accept losing in the years following his departure and has refused to allow father time to determine when his days as a high-level, impact player in this league are over.
From day one, Bryant has been a rebel.
Fantasy Focus: Kenneth Faried
By Susan Bible
The Kenneth Faried situation is an interesting one for fantasy owners. He was a no-brainer draft pick this year, albeit not top-level, but things haven’t exactly panned out as expected.
Faried was a shining star for Team USA last summer. His contributions were so instrumental in USA capturing gold in the FIBA World Cup tournament that he became a strong contender to nab the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award. It ended up going to Kyrie Irving. Faried was a difference-maker, jolting the team with fire and boundless energy when they needed it most. He averaged 12.4 points and 7.8 rebounds and recorded a tournament-best 63.7 percent from the field (51-of-80). In the end, Faried joined teammate Irving on the all-tournament team, along with Serbia’s Milos Teodosic, France’s Nicolas Batum and Spain’s Pau Gasol. Not bad for a player who was no lock to even make the USA roster.
Will They Keep The Restricted Free Agents?
By Steve Kyler
NBA teams have a window that opens in July and runs through the end of October to reach contract extensions with their rookie scale players entering their fourth season. For the most part, a small handful of deals get done every year and this year was no exception. Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving was the first to ink a deal, and several others followed.
There were, however, three players in very different situations that tried to reach a deal and ultimately did not, making them free agents in July. All three players are likely to receive the necessary qualifying offer sheets to make them restricted free agents. Here is where things stand today:
Warriors GM Credits Continuity for Hot Start
By Joel Brigham
The Golden State Warriors have been the story of the 2014-15 season’s first quarter, posting a league-best 17-2 record and recently setting the franchise record for most consecutive wins at 12 by besting one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams in the Chicago Bulls.
Stephen Curry has played like an MVP, Steve Kerr has taken to coaching like roots to soil and the complement of role players has been among the best in the league. Best of all, they’ve done all of that without one of their best players in David Lee.
It’s hard to imagine them performing much better than they have, though a few months ago Golden State general manager Bob Myers was lambasted by fans and media alike for not shipping off guard Klay Thompson in an offseason deal for Kevin Love, who many felt would help the franchise turn the corner toward contention.
Grades at 20 Games: Southeast Division
By Cody Taylor
Prior to the start of the season, the Southeast Division looked as though it could have been one of the deepest divisions in the league. The Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks looked poised to return to the playoffs, while the Charlotte Hornets seemed destined to improve on last season’s playoff run with the addition of Lance Stephenson. The Miami HEAT responded to LeBron James leaving by adding veteran players in Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger and even the Orlando Magic looked like they could finally begin to win closer to 30 games with a young, promising roster.
With about 20 games in the books, some of those early season predictions have panned out while others haven’t. The Wizards and Hawks are leading the pack while the HEAT are in a distant third place with the Magic and Hornets rounding out the division. The Hornets have been the biggest disappointment and are struggling to put together wins. With that said, let’s take a closer look at each team’s situation after 20 games.
Grades at 20 Games: Central Division
By John Zitzler
On Monday Cody Taylor gave his quarterly assessment of the Southeast Division and today we are going to do the same with the Central Division. You could argue that no division underwent more changes this past offseason. In Detroit, the Pistons brought in Stan Van Gundy to help lead the franchise back to its winning ways. The Bulls landed Pau Gasol in free agency to help bolster their frontcourt and further strengthen their championship hopes. The Bucks, somewhat controversially, sent Larry Drew packing and reached a deal with the Brooklyn Nets to make Jason Kidd their new head coach. Lance Stephenson and the Pacers were unable to agree to terms on a new deal, allowing their play-making wing to head to Charlotte. More importantly the Pacers lost their centerpiece, Paul George, for likely the entire season after he suffered a horrific leg injury. While those moves all made headlines, they pale in comparison to the news of LeBron James returning to Cleveland and the Cavs’ subsequent trade to acquire Kevin Love. With so many changes, the Central Division has become one of the most intriguing divisions in the NBA.
Now, onto the grades:
Nets Ready to Overhaul Roster?
By Yannis Koutroupis
With six days until a large portion of the players who signed this offseason become eligible to be traded, the Brooklyn Nets are letting it be known that they are open for business – with no untouchables apparently. According to Marc Stein of ESPN, the Nets are shopping Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Deron Williams, a trio that just hasn’t lived up to expectations and is generally regarded as overpaid.
While Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported that the Nets are primarily focused on trading Andrei Kirilenko to the Philadelphia 76ers right now (the Nets would also send a second-round pick, while the 76ers would buyout or waive Kirilenko immediately), multiple other reporters confirmed Stein’s report.
The Top 10 Prospects in the NBA
By Nate Duncan
Nothing inspires NBA intrigue quite like potential. The NBA has by far the most interesting draft; basketball is the one major sport where the fan can actually watch enough of the prospects to have an opinion beforehand. And there are few enough draftees and players in the league that one can actually keep track of them all. In this most star-driven of leagues, the search for the next luminary is one of the most fascinating endeavors.
This list, inspired by a question in my weekly chat and similar lists from Baseball Prospectus, Basketball Prospectus and Football Outsiders, is a stab at assessing the league’s future stars. The question: Which players 23 or under (as of February 1, 2015) would you most want to have for the rest of their career? Age 23 was chosen because it encompasses up to a year after what would be the typical player’s senior year in college. It is also probably the last year in which one can say “he’s only ____ years old!” and have it credibly imply his ceiling ought to be much higher than his current performance.
Trade Rumblings Getting Louder
By Lang Greene
The NBA season is at the quarter mark and executives are beginning the annual tradition of evaluating just where their respective teams stand in the league’s hierarchy. Typically after that evaluation some teams will become buyers looking to add assets for their playoff run and others will opt to become sellers looking to unload players for financial flexibility or future positioning.
Trade season is coming. Players who signed as free agents this past summer will be eligible to be traded beginning next Monday (December 15). While the amount of players who recently signed deals being traded may be few, this is generally recognized as the start of the NBA’s trading season. There are numerous situations to watch around the league from now until the trade deadline in February.
Let’s take a look at who around the league may be busy working the lines looking for a deal to kick off trade season.
Sonny Weems, Nando De Colo Starring Overseas
By David Pick
Established overseas swingman Sonny Weems is still getting calls from NBA teams. In fact, he turned down multiple NBA opportunities this past offseason.
Weems, a former NBA draftee who played 140 games for the Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors, is widely accepted as the best and most skilled small forward outside the NBA.
It wasn’t long ago that Weems single-handedly shut down the reigning Euroleague Champions Maccabi Tel Aviv — outscoring the entire Israeli squad 13-12 throughout the first quarter — as Russian power-club CSKA Moscow cruised to an easy 81-64 triumph. Weems finished with a game-high 19 points.
Things Are Getting Ugly in New York
By Alex Kennedy
When a team is struggling in the NBA, there tends to be a lot of frustration behind the scenes. When a team has lost 10 straight games and, at 4-20, has the league’s third-worst record, it’s no surprise to see that frustration boil over and lead to finger pointing, fighting and a lot of drama.
That seems to be what’s happening with the New York Knicks right now, as they have dropped 16 of their first 20 games and things are reportedly getting ugly behind the scenes.
The team is struggling on both ends of floor and, according to a report from ESPN’s Chris Broussard, players have been butting heads and doubting that the triangle offense will work with this roster. The report describes the Knicks as “full of discord, defiance and doubt.”
Pierce Has Wizards Eyeing NBA Championship
By Jessica Camerato
For veteran leaders with championship-winning experience, their options in free agency are just as much about finding a team with potential to win as going to a place where they will be heard. Signing with a squad that is not receptive to new voices is unproductive for those whose vocal presence is a strong asset.
The news of Paul Pierce signing with the Washington Wizards this summer was surprising on the surface. He had spent the first 15 years of his career with one team, the Boston Celtics, and was on to his second in as many seasons after a stint with the Brooklyn Nets. The Wizards weren’t exactly known as a free agent destination, but Pierce’s interest had been piqued by an organization on the rise.
Derrick Rose Rounding Into Form
By Jesse Blancarte
It’s been a bumpy start to the 2014-15 NBA season for former MVP Derrick Rose. He has been criticized for missing games to nagging injuries that he may have played through earlier in his career. But after missing effectively two consecutive seasons to major knee injuries, Rose is unapologetically taking his time to round into top form. On Friday, Rose showed a glimpse of his pre-injury form, scoring 31 points, and leading the Chicago Bulls to a win over the Portland Trail Blazers. Rose’s 31 point performance was his best since scoring 32 points against the New York Knicks on March 12, 2012.
Earlier in his career, Rose was notoriously aggressive in the way he played the game, especially on offense. With elite athleticisim, Rose used to drive to the rim relentlessly and often times would finish over much bigger players. However, through the first quarter of this season, Rose has looked uncomfortable at times, and has settled for long jumpers, rather than attacking the rim. That was not the case last night against the Trail Blazers.
Grades At 20 Games: Pacific Division
By Jabari Davis
We continue grading the first quarter of the season with today’s look at the Pacific Division. While the Warriors and Clippers are ahead of the pack, the Suns and Kings are each hovering right around the .500 mark while the Lakers continue what fans hope is the rebuilding process.
Here are their grades through 20 (or so) games:
NBA Daily: Jonathan Isaac Proving to be Key Part of Orlando’s Future
Basketball Insiders spoke with Jonathan Isaac about his rookie season, injuries, areas to improve on, his faith and more.
On January 13, the Orlando Magic were eliminated from playoff contention. This date served as a formality as the team has known for quite some time that any postseason hopes had long since sailed. The Magic started the year off on a winning note and held an 8-4 record in early November. However, the team lost their next nine games and never really recovered.
Many factors play a role in a young but talented team like the Magic having another season end like this. Injuries to franchise cornerstone Aaron Gordon as well as forward Evan Fournier and forward Jonathan Isaac magnified the team’s issues.
Isaac, a rookie selected sixth overall in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, started the season off reasonably well. On November 10, in 21 minutes of action, he registered an 11-point, six-rebound, one-assist, one-steal, two-block all-around effort against the Phoenix Suns to help the Magic get to that 8-4 record. Isaac then suffered an ankle injury midway through his next game and wouldn’t play again until December 17, by which time the team was already 11-20 with athe season quickly going sideways. From November until March, Isaac would only play in three games until finally returning to consistent action in the month of March with the season all but decided.
Basketball Insiders spoke to Isaac recently to discuss how he has pushed through this season, staying healthy, his impressive skill set and more.
“I’ve had a lot of time off from being injured so, I think my body is holding up fine along with how much I’ve played. I haven’t played a full season,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders “I feel good. I feel good.”
Isaac talked about what part of his game he feels strongly about and has improved on.
“I think defensively,” Isaac said. “I didn’t expect myself to make strides defensively like I have. I’ve been able to just be able to just do different things and help this team defensively and I didn’t expect that coming in so, that would be the one thing.”
Magic Head Coach Frank Vogel was effusive in his praise of Isaac’s defense and also focused on the rookie’s great defensive potential.
“His defense is out of this world. I mean it’s really something else,” Vogel said. “Just watch him play and everybody’s getting a taste of it right now. They haven’t seen him a whole lot but he’s an elite defender right now at 20-years old and the sky’s the limit for what he can be on that end of the floor.
While Isaac hasn’t logged a huge number of minutes on the floor this season, he has impressed in his limited action. As Coach Vogel stated, anyone who has taken the time to watch Isaac play this season has noticed his ability to guard other big men and his overall defensive impact.
“I think I’ve been able to do a good job on most of the people that I’ve had to guard,” Isaac said.
Missing Isaac’s defense impact and overall contributions partially explains why the Magic cooled off after their hot start. However, with the playoffs no longer an option, younger players like Isaac now have the opportunity to play with less attention and pressure. While it can be argued that the Magic aren’t really playing for anything, the truth is these late-season games can be an opportunity to develop these younger players and determine what to work on during the offseason.
There is more to Isaac than just basketball, however. Isaac discussed other parts of his life that are important to him, including religion and his faith.
“[M]y faith in Jesus is something that I put a lot of emphasis on,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a part of me.”
Isaac did not hesitate to credit his faith when asked if it helped him push through his injuries.
“I would say definitely,” Isaac said. “Especially with getting injured so early in the season and being out for 40 games. That’s a lot on somebody’s mental capacity and then just staying positive, staying joyful in times where joy doesn’t seem like it’s the right emotion to have. And I definitely [attribute] that to my faith.”
Looking forward, both Vogel and Isaac discussed the future and what the young big man can improve on.
“Offensively, he’s grown in confidence, he’s gained so he’s going to give us a big lift and our future’s bright with him,” Vogel stated.
Isaac gave a hint of his offseason training plans when asked what he looks forward to working on.
“I would say consistency with my jump shot. Really working on my three-ball and I would say ball-handling,” Isaac stated.
When asked if there was anything more he wanted to add, Isaac simply smiled and said, “Oh no, I think I got to get to church right now,” as the team prepared to play later that evening.
Tyronn Lue’s Health Concerns Latest Bump In The Road For Cavaliers
Spencer Davies outlines Tyronn Lue’s decision to take a leave of absence to deal with health issues and covers the reaction around the NBA.
The win-loss record is not where they want it to be.
The performances have not been up to par with what they expect.
With that said, one thing is for certain: There is no other team that will have been more battle tested going into the playoffs than the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Day after day and week after week, there’s always something going on with the team. Between in-house arguments, on-court miscommunication, roster turnover, and more, it has been one giant roller coaster of a season.
Monday morning, another twist was added to the ride. In a statement released by the Cavaliers organization, Tyronn Lue and general manager Koby Altman announced that the head coach would be taking a leave of absence to address his health:
“After many conversations with our doctors and Koby and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season.
“I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is. While I have tried to work through it, the last thing I want is for it to affect the team.
“I am going to use this time to focus on a prescribed routine and medication, which has previously been difficult to start in the midst of a season. My goal is to come out of it a stronger and healthier version of myself so I can continue to lead this team to the Championship we are all working towards. I greatly appreciate Dan Gilbert, Koby Altman, our medical team and the organization’s support throughout.”
There were multiple instances where Lue either missed part of a half or an entire game this season. The symptoms are definitely not to be taken lightly. According to a report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin, Lue attempted to return to the bench Saturday night in Chicago but the team didn’t allow him to. Evidently, Lue was “coughing up blood” some nights.
Seeing it first hand after postgame press conferences, Lue was visibly exhausted and stress could likely be playing a part. He’s been fighting through the tough times the team has been going through and avoided stepping away twice this season.
Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford had his own battle with health problems earlier this season and temporarily left the team for those reasons. He has attempted to reach out to Lue, a friend and former player of his.
Other head coaches around the league—Joe Prunty, Steve Kerr, and Luke Walton—have all gone to bat for Lue when discussing the rigors of an NBA schedule and the toll it takes.
Altman supports the decision for Lue to get to the bottom of what’s going on.
“We know how difficult these circumstances are for Coach Lue and we support him totally in this focused approach to addressing his health issues,” he said.
LeBron James is glad that Lue is going to take some time to get better.
“Obviously, health is the most important with everything in life,” James said Monday after shootaround. “Not surprised by it at all. I knew he was struggling, but he was never not himself. He was just dealing with it the best way he could, but he was never not himself when he was around.
“It doesn’t matter what’s going on here. We play a great sport, our coaches get to coach a great sport, and you guys get to cover a great sports. But health is most important right now and that’s what our coach is doing right now and we’re all in favor for it.”
The latest piece of news is a blow to the already injury-ridden Cleveland group. Assistant coach Larry Drew will take over duties until Lue returns.
The good news for the Cavaliers is that Kevin Love can potentially return to the mix as soon as Monday night against Milwaukee.
NBA Daily: Calderón’s Late NBA Start
Jose Calderón might be the only player in the league who didn’t grow up dreaming of playing in the NBA.
There are a lot of different ways to get to the NBA, but most of them involve lifelong scouting and an unceasing dream to play in the world’s premier basketball league.
Cleveland Cavaliers guard José Calderón didn’t really have either of those things.
“I never even thought of the NBA when I was a kid,” Calderón told Basketball Insiders. “I grew up in a small town in Spain, and I played basketball because my dad played and I loved it. I was having fun, always playing with the older guys because I was good at that age, but I never really even thought about playing any sort of professional basketball.”
Having grown up in Villanueva de la Serena, Spain, Calderón watched his father play for Doncel La Serena, which was his hometown team as a child. He was something of a prodigy, having attended practices and games with his father from a young age, and as burgeoning teenager he left home to play professionally for the lower-level Vitoria-Gasteiz team.
“They wanted to sign me at 13 years old, and we didn’t even know that they could sign people that young,” Calderón remembers. “So I did that, and I tried to get better. I tried to advance into the older clubs, but I never really did think about the NBA at all, honestly.”
That changed as he got older, though, especially after Spain finished 5th in the 2002 FIBA World Championship and Calderón started to get some stateside recognition.
“After that summer, [my agent and I] got a call from Milwaukee asking about my situation, and asked would I think about coming to play over here. It was sort of a let’s-see-what-happens sort of situation, but I couldn’t at that time because I was under contract. That was the first time I was really approached.”
As his teammates from the Spanish National Team made their way to the NBA, Calderón grew increasingly intrigued.
“Pau Gasol obviously opened a lot of doors for us,” he said. “Raul Lopez came, too. I was just playing basketball, though. I didn’t know anything about scouts. Later, when we started to get the calls from Toronto, I started to realize how possible it really was. That’s when I thought, ‘Hey, why not?’”
Despite being eligible for a few drafts in a row, Calderón never did get drafted, which was fine by him. Growing up the way he did, Calderón never had any dreams of his hearing his name called by Commissioner Stern, so playing his way through most of his deal with TAU Vitoria was no big deal for him. He could take or leave the NBA.
“Not getting drafted was the perfect situation for me,” he said. “In my satiation, coming from Europe, I was already playing professionally for a good team and making some good money. That was perfect for me at the time, and I was happy to be a free agent at 23, choosing where I was going to sign instead of going in the second round and having to play for one team.”
He signed with the Raptors in 2005 since they were the most aggressive in recruiting him to the NBA. As a 23-year-old rookie, he wasn’t overwhelmed physically the way a lot of rookies are, but he did find his new league challenging in other ways.
“The hardest part was just having to start over,” he said. “You start over from zero. It doesn’t matter if the other players know you or don’t, you have to prove yourself all over again. You could be the MVP of Europe, but to get respect in the NBA you have to gain it on the court.”
The talent differential was immediately noticeable, as well.
“There are so many guys out there that are better than you. It’s not just like a guy or two; there are six, seven guys on the floor any given time that are better than you.”
That meant making some changes in the way that Calderón played. He was asked to do a lot more offensively for his EuroLeague team. Playing with so many talented scorers completely changed his approach.
“I went from taking 20 shots a game to doing something else, and as a point guard in the NBA I had to approach that point guard role even more, to make those guys respect my game, to make them want to play with me. I had to be able to pass the ball, to do something different from all the other players, so I became a fast-first point guard to make sure we always played as a team. That’s how I get to where I am as a professional.”
Now 36 years old, Calderón is one of the league’s oldest players, making it easy for him to look back at where he came from to transform into the player he is today.
“I’ve grown so much, but I was lucky to be given the opportunity,” he said. “When you arrive from Europe, whether you’re good or bad, it doesn’t always matter if you don’t have the opportunity. Toronto gave me the opportunity to play 20 minutes a night, and that’s a lot. I made a lot of mistakes, but they let me play through those mistakes. All those little things added up for me, and I learned a lot.”
He owns two silver medals and a bronze in the three Olympics he’s participated in over the course of his career, as well as gold medals in FIBA World Cup and EuroBasket, but he’s never won an NBA championship. Joining up with LeBron James improves those odds, but that’s the thing that would really put an exclamation point on an excellent career.
Calderón could have stayed in Spain and been fine. He jokes that while the NBA has been very good to him, he and his family could have stayed in Europe and he could have made good money playing basketball there. He’s been happy with his career, though, however unorthodox his journey here, and he hopes his most prestigious accolades are yet to come.