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NBA AM: Faried Happy The Rumors Are Over

Nuggets big man Kenneth Faried says having his name out of trade rumors has helped spark his amazing March… Kobe Bryant not at all happy with where things stand in LA.

Steve Kyler

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The Return Of The Manimal:  Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has had a tough season. A tougher season than he expected, especially coming of a 2013-2014 campaign in which he genuinely felt he would become more of a focal point for the team. During the offseason Faried had told other players he expected to be an All-Star this year and when it came time to talk contract that he was a max contract type player.

The NBA sometimes has a funny way of humbling you, and Faried found out this season that what you think will happen often doesn’t.

Faried who thought he’d be the focal point for the Nuggets this season not only found himself outside the game plan on many nights, he also found himself in the middle of trade rumors all season that clearly effected his game, even if he doesn’t like to admit it.

“It didn’t really get to me,” Faried said to Basketball Insiders. “It was just like if it’s gonna happen, then let it happen already. If it not then shut up about it and leave it alone.”

Faried is having an impressive March, scoring 21.1 points per game and grabbing 10.1 rebounds on 64.5 percent shooting from the field. It’s clear something has changed for him.

“I feel kind of disrespected,” Faried said joking and smiling at the notion that something has changed.

“I’m just playing basketball, having fun and enjoying myself. There is no stress of basically having to worry about if I am getting traded; trade talks or rumors. It’s just pure basketball right now so I am having fun and enjoying that.”

Faried’s teammates talk about his energy level being higher and that he is being more assertive and more aggressive.

Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson says he’s been trying to help Faried find opportunities, especially in the paint.

“He has been more aggressive,” Lawson said. “When he gets in the post, I gave him a suggestion like when he does his jump hook instead of fading away from the contact, go get it. That’s how like Kevin Love gets his fouls, Blake Griffin, they create the contact a little bit. Ever since he’s been doing that his points been going up.”

Faried says having the trade talk out of the way for the time being and the support of his teammates has been the biggest change in his game.

“I feel free. I feel like myself,” Faried said. “I feel like I am back in high school again or college, just playing basketball; getting post ups and touches. Everybody around me; teammates, coaches and family believe in me. When I get the ball, hey I know how to score down there and I know what I am doing.”

The Nuggets are currently ten games out of the eighth seed in the West with 18 games remaining on the schedule. Making the postseason now seems like the longest of long-shots and there is a sense of ease from the players that the final stretch of games is simply about learning and growing as players.

“The locker room is a little bit light, everybody is having fun. Smiling,” Lawson said. “Look, Faried is even dancing and he can’t even dance.

“We’re all young, so a little bit more coaching, everybody just getting on the same page… We’re young players getting game time experience; you know Evan (Fournier) and Quincy (Miller) and just gelling more as a team.”

If the standings hold true the Nuggets will be looking at a draft pick in the 10 to 13 range, mainly because they have the rights to the New York Knicks draft pick, which currently projects lower than their own, which would in turn go to the Orlando Magic.

»In Related: The Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects.

The Nuggets won’t have a lot (or any) breathing room under the salary cap with what projects to be $65.5 million in contract commitments next season. This will also be the summer in which they can extend Faried’s rookie scale contract, but given the season of rumors he’s had to endure the odds of him getting a monster deal this summer seems small, especially if he still believes his value to been near the NBA maximum.

»In Related:The Denver Nuggets Salary Cap.

Faried has played well over the last few weeks, but it seems more likely than not that more trade rumors are in his future. That’s just how it goes in the NBA.

Kobe’s Not Happy:  The LA Lakers announced yesterday that guard Kobe Bryant won’t return to the court this season as he continue to rehab from a broken bone in his left leg just below his knee.

In a released statement famed Laker trainer Gary Vitti said: “With Kobe’s injury still not healed, the amount of time he’d need to rehab and be ready to play, and the amount of time remaining in the season, we’ve simply run out of time for him to return. However, Kobe will have the entire offseason to heal … and we look forward to him being 100% for the start of next season.”

The Lakers made Bryant available to the media yesterday and while Kobe tried to be optimistic, the tone of the press availability turned sour with Bryant taking shots at his team’s management and the notion that the team should hold the line and wait for 2015.

Bryant said he’s struggling with all the losing and not being able to be on the floor and its making him grumpy.

“I feel like killing everybody every time I go to the arena,” Bryant said to reporters. “I’m on edge all the time. I feel it. I feel (the pain of losing) more than anyone in the organization. It drives me absolutely crazy.”

Bryant who is known as one of the hardest workers in the NBA says he believes he’ll be ready to go next season and that he doesn’t expect a lot of drop of in his game.

“I don’t want to say I’ll be back at the top of my game because everybody is going to think I’m crazy, and it’s the old player not letting go sort of thing,” Bryant said. “But that’s what it’s going to be.”

Bryant was also clear that he wouldn’t have a lot of patience or interest in another losing season like the one the Lakers have endured this season.

“Let’s just play next year and let’s just suck again?” Bryant said. “Absolutely not. It’s my job to go out there on the court and perform. No excuses for it. Right? You got to get things done. It’s the same thing with the front office. The same expectations they have of me when I perform on the court is the same expectations I have for them up there. You got to be able to figure out a way to do both.”

»In Related: The LA Lakers Salary Cap.

There has been a prevailing belief that the Lakers would add a top level prospect from the draft this year and attempt to preserve as much cap flexibility as possible to be ready for free agents in 2015 that could include HEAT star LeBron James, Boston guard Rajon Rondo and Wolves’ forward Kevin Love.

Bryant isn’t overly interested in that game plan and wants to see a vision for the team crafted this summer.

Bryant suggested that it was time for the internal feud between Jim Buss, the head of basketball operations for the Lakers, to work things out with Jeanie Buss, who runs the business side of the franchise. The two have had a very public dysfunction for some time, something Kobe believes hampers the franchises ability to have a cohesive direction.

“You have to start with Jim,” Bryant said. “Start with Jim and Jeanie. How that relationship plays out. It starts there in having a clear direction and clear authority. Then it goes down to the coaching staff. What’s Mike [D’Antoni] going to do? What do they want to do with Mike?”

That opened end question about head coach Mike D’Antoni reinforces some reports that Bryant has had enough of D’Antoni as a coach and would like to see a change this summer.

Bryant is one of the few players in the NBA that’s has a defined No-Trade clause in his contract. Given Bryant’s age, his recent injuries and the $48 million owed after his two-year extension this season, the Lakers and Bryant seem stuck with each other. So it will be interesting to see how the Lakers respond to the desires of their franchise player.

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak told David Leon Moore of USA Today Sports, that he didn’t think there were any quick fixes coming for the Lakers pointing to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement as making it hard to poach talent from other teams.

“Patience is the key,” Kupchak said. “With the new collective bargaining agreement, there are no quick fixes. You cannot outbid teams for star players.

“The one thing we feel is not a good thing is to be saddled with contracts of players that put us in the middle of the pack,” he said. “That’s a danger in this league.”

The Lakers are positioned to land a fairly solid draft pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, but Kupchak warned that a draft pick isn’t always the answer and accepting or encouraging losing to enhance that pick isn’t something the franchise is endorsing.

“To think the draft can save your franchise, we just don’t think that way,” Kupchak said. “We just don’t. Whatever happens happens. If we end up with a high pick or a mid pick or a late pick, a lot of players have been picked in the middle or late first round that have turned out to be great players, and a lot of guys who have been picked one, two or three haven’t worked out. Just because you think the higher the better is always the case, it’s not always the case.”

»In Related:A Scout’s Take On The 2014 NBA Draft.

The Lakers are currently 22-42 on the season, which is a .344 record on the season. If that number holds true over the final 18 games of the season, this will be the worst season since the franchise began playing in LA in 1960. As a franchise, this would be the third worst season ever. The Minneapolis Lakers logged at .264 season in 1957-1958 and a .333 season in 1959-1960.

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA AM: Pacers Got Some Much Needed Tough Love

After a rocky start, Thaddeus Young spoke up, and it may have helped the Pacers find their identity.

Steve Kyler

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A Little Tough Love

Indiana Pacers forward Thaddeus Young isn’t known as a vocal leader, in fact, his reputation is that he’s usually the most even-keeled guy in the room. However, after the Pacers were blown out by the Detroit Pistons in early November, the normally reserved Young was anything but that.

“When we lost, I think, we lost at the first Detroit game. I came in, and I spoke to the team, and I was a little out of character because I was yelling,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “It got through to those guys, and we understood what we had to do to go out there and win games.

“I made it clear that if we don’t move the ball, if we don’t do it by committee, if we don’t defend and guard the paint, it’s going to be a long season. It’s going to be one of those seasons where it’s going to be tough on everybody, and we don’t want that.”

The Pacers seemed to turn a corner after that moment. A sense of purpose was introduced to the team—a team that has so many new faces playing so many new roles. It also brought the team together.

“We love being around each other,” Young explained. “We’re doing it as a family, and we’re committed to winning games as a whole, not as one person. When I came in and got on those guys, it was out of the love for the game, the passion for the game, the passion for this team and understanding where we can go as a team.”

The Pacers have lost one game since Young spoke his mind.

Young, who is playing in his 11th NBA season, sees something special in this year’s version of the Pacers—a team many predicted would be rebuilding, but one that enters play on November 21 two games above .500 and setting the tone as much on defense.

“Defensively we’re coming along,” Young admitted. “We’re starting to lock in a little bit more on the defensive side of the basketball. Offensively, it’s there.

“We know what we have to do to win games, which is move the basketball, execute, and do it by committee. Defensively if we do it by committee each and every night, defensively we’ll be definitely a tough team to beat. Especially going into the later part of the season.”

Young has always been something of an all-purpose player who understands that on this team, he has to be part of the defensively solution.

“I have tough matchups each and every night,” Young said. “I’m switching on guys; that’s point guards or centers or just all different positions. I have to be able to do those different things, and for me, I take pride in my defense each and every night. Going out there and executing on the defensive end because the offense is going to come. I don’t really worry too much about offense. I’ve been in the league long enough to know how I’m going to score the basketball and what I’m going to be able to do, but it’s ‘Can you get stops on the defensive end?’ which is going to win games for us.”

While most would see a 10-8 record as a positive thing, Young and the Pacers know they have to get better at the little things to be the team they want to be.

“We feel like we should be better and we’re continuing to get better as a team,” Young said. “We continue practicing, playing, and going out there and executing in games. We’re getting better as a team. We can’t have stretches like that where we lost four games in a row or a couple of games in a row. We have to try to bounce back from one loss and try to get to the next game. So far, we’ve been doing a good job. We’ve just been playing. Like I said, we’re executing and having fun playing with each other.”

Young smiled when explained why he felt that he had to get on his teammates.

“Some guys could have been like ‘forget what he’s talking about,’ but everybody was on the same page,” Young explained. “Everybody understood exactly where I was coming from. Besides the fact when I get mad, they know something’s wrong. I’m pretty laid back and chill, so when I do get mad, and I do get upset, it’s something that has to change.”

The Pacers seem to have found their way, and maybe a little tough love from an unexpected place was all that was needed.

As things stand today, the Pacers are the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Their next stretch of games includes home contests against Toronto, Boston, and Orlando before finishing November on the road in Houston.

Time will tell if the Pacers are as good as they seem to be, but there is no questioning that they are playing some pretty inspired basketball.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA PM: Clippers In A Hole, Hoping For Spark From Beverley

The Clippers are in an early season free-fall and are hoping Patrick Beverley can help get them back on track.

James Blancarte

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The Los Angeles Clippers came into the season with the intention of turning the departure of Chris Paul into a positive. His departure led to the team netting the small forward it had always lacked in Danilo Gallinari, a replacement point guard in Patrick Beverley and a number of other new faces. With the massive turnover in key players, the hope would be that the Clippers would take this new mix of players and build around the franchise centerpiece, Blake Griffin, and thrive in a new era of Clippers basketball.

For now, at least, those offseason hopes have been dashed. The team is in the midst of a horrid skid where they have lost their last eight games and 10 of their last 11 going back to October 28. After losing the first two games, the team is playing their third of a five-game road trip tonight against the New York Knicks. When the team returns, they will host the Los Angeles Lakers who have been playing well as of late. Although the season is still young, the team is currently 13th in the Western Conference, nestled between the Phoenix Suns and the Sacramento Kings, and behind the Lakers. Not good company to have if your goal is to make the playoffs.

The team is coming off of an overtime loss to the Cavaliers in Cleveland and a 102-87 loss to the Charlotte Hornets that had been closer than the final score indicates. Yet, Head Coach Doc Rivers didn’t mince his words when judging the team’s performance against the Hornets.

“Overall this is a tough stretch to go through,” Rivers stated. “I thought we were selfish as far as moving the ball and playing together.”

Rivers didn’t hold back and made it clear how unhappy he was with the team’s effort.

“This was the first game that I wasn’t happy as a coach,” Rivers stated. “I can take losing even poorly if we play right. I just didn’t think we played right tonight.”

Coach Rivers is frustrated and with good reason. Only Griffin and bench sparkplug Lou Williams made their mark on offense with 19 and 25 points, respectively. DeAndre Jordan was the only other Clipper to register in double digits with 10 points.

Offense overall isn’t exactly the issue for the Clippers. Per nba.com, the Clippers’ offensive rating is 105.9, good for 10th in the league. However, the team’s assist percentage is 28th in the league at 51 percent, echoing Coach Rivers’ concern regarding selfish play. Look no further for proof than Jordan, whose shooting percentages have dropped from 71.4 percent to 64 percent, his worst shooting since the 2012-2013 season. Jordan depends on others to create for him through lobs, pick and roll finishes, dump offs and opportunistic put backs.

Injuries have helped to create and magnify many of the individual issues the team faces. In fact, all of the key players that have been missing from the Clippers rotation are capable playmakers and passers that can help to create a more fluid offense. Unfortunately, there is no clear timetable indicating when Gallinari and Euro passing sensation Milos Teodosic (only two games played) are set to return. Help is on the way with the Beverley set to return to the lineup tonight against the Knicks after missing the last five games.

On offense, Beverley is averaging 12.5 points, three assists and 3.9 rebounds. These are acceptable statistics that only partially indicate his worth to the team. Beverley had had success taking (5.3) and making (2.1) three-point shots at nearly a 40 percent clip (39.6). Beverley does a good job of creating space off the ball, allowing Griffin to be a scorer and a facilitator. In addition, Beverley has had success driving to the rim, where he is shooting 59.3 percent (0-3 feet from the rim), he can score, run pick and roll with Jordan or kick the ball out and keep the offense moving from side to side.

Coach Rivers made his view of Beverley’s value relative to their recent poor play abundantly clear.

“We get Patrick [Beverley] back Monday night,” Rivers stated. “[We can] start playing the right way, we will be all right.”

Beverley had been developing chemistry as a complement to everything the team does on defense as well as offense. Beverley has taken his aggressive defense to the Clippers and by doing so had taken up a shared role as a lead defensive weapon alongside Jordan. The team could use the help on defense where, over the last 11 games, they sport the worst defensive rating (111.3) in the NBA.

Having Beverley’s balance of defense and offense should be a boost to the team. The Clippers have earned a reputation over the years for sniping at the refs and getting flustered when things don’t go their way, which has bubbled up in their recent losing skid. Beverley helps with the intangibles as well including effort and hustle, which may help offset the team’s penchant for complaining.

Another benefit will be the ability of the team to re-insert Beverley back into the starting line-up and place guard Austin Rivers back on the bench. Rivers can be a productive player who brings a scoring punch against opposing second units while being available as a small ball small forward when necessary. Rivers can also be a pest on defense when focused. However, injuries have forced Rivers into the starting line-up where he has been less effective.

In an exclusive interview with Basketball Insiders, Lou Williams discussed the value of the team’s injured players.

“It’s three starters,” Williams told Basketball Insiders. “One guy’s [Beverley] our heart and soul on the defensive end. We have another guy [Teodosic] who was leading us in assists and we have another guy [Gallinari] who’s second in scoring.”

Whether the return of Beverley alone is enough to halt the team’s recent losing streak is unclear. The team is buried deep in the Western Conference and needs to get back on track sooner rather than later before the team falls too far behind to be competitive. As stated, there is no clear indication as to when the team will get Teodosic or Gallinari back. In addition, Griffin has his own history of injuries, having missed at least 15 games a season over the last four years. This year, the team has so far shown an inability to rise above injuries. The season is young but these are perilous times for the Clippers.

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Williams, Clippers Will Keep Pushing Through

The Clippers veteran guard chats with Spencer Davies in a one-on-one Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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For the second straight year, Lou Williams started his basketball season as a resident of California.

Despite being moved by the Los Angeles Lakers at the trade deadline back in February, it wasn’t a long stay for the 31-year-old in Houston. After bolstering the Rockets’ bench in a big way during their playoff stretch, the organization dealt the veteran guard to the LA Clippers, meaning he was going right back to the City of Angels.

Which begs the question—did he even relocate from his old place?

“Yeah, I moved,” Williams told Basketball Insiders in Cleveland on Friday. “But I ended up moving back into the same neighborhood that I was in, so it was all good.”

The familiarity with the area must’ve been comforting, but playing for three different teams in such a short amount of time can’t be easy. It’s only been 15 games, but he already notices a discrepancy between the two that share the same arena.

“Obviously when you have different people running it,” Williams answered when asked to compare the Los Angeles franchises. “I think the Lakers were in a different space than the Clippers are. The Clippers are a more veteran group, so two completely different atmospheres.”

Winning four straight games to kick off the 2017-18 campaign, the year started out great for he and his new team, but it’s gone downhill in a hurry.

The Los Angeles Clippers are hurting in every way. Literally.

Only halfway through a five-city road trip, they’ve lost eight consecutive games and 10 of their last 11. Key members of their team are absent and they have been plagued by injuries out of the gate.

First, it was international sensation Milos Teodosic who went down with a foot injury in just the second NBA game of his career. Then there’s Danilo Gallinari, whose ailing hip has kept him out of action for two weeks. To top it all off, Patrick Beverley is dealing with a sore right knee that has forced him to miss over a week as well (he’ll reportedly be active on Monday night).

Without the trio, the Clippers are missing a little bit of everything, and Williams is eager for them to return to the floor because of it.

“It’s three starters,” Williams told Basketball Insiders. “One guy’s our heart and soul on the defensive end. We have another guy who was leading us in assists and we have another guy who’s second in scoring.

“Three very important pieces of our team are missing. But we have other guys that’s stepping in doing the best job that they can. We’re just falling short.”

Aside from their most recent 15-point loss to the equally struggling Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center, Los Angeles has competed and been in almost every game during the long skid.

In Cleveland, they led for most of the way until midway through the fourth quarter. It was a back-and-forth affair when the Cavaliers struck back, and once the game went into overtime, the Clippers went cold and ran out of gas.

Taking out the element of overtime, the “close game, but no win” trend has been apparent as they attempt to get over the hump for a victory. Williams sees his team battling. They’re just not getting the outcomes they desire.

“Just continue to push,” Williams said of how LA can climb the wall. “We’ll have a couple of guys back this week from injuries.

“We’ve been playing extremely hard giving ourselves an opportunity to win these games and just haven’t been able to finish. Get guys back, just continue to push. We’ll break through.”

If Williams keeps on producing the way he has, especially as of late, that could be sooner rather than later. Over the last five games, the scoring assassin has put up over 30 points in two of them and 25 in another. In addition, he’s averaged over four rebounds, four assists, and more than a steal per game during the stretch.

When asked about what’s made him so comfortable, he kept it simple.

“Just playing,” Williams told Basketball Insiders.” Taking what the defense gives me and try to make shots. That’s it.”

Williams is special when it comes to how much he can impact a game in the snap of a finger. Over the course of his career, he’s one of those guys that have been able to just go off at any given moment.

“Just continue to play,” he said. “Play [as] hard as I can. I never really think about it until after the game. I just go out there, play [as] hard as I can. Put myself in position to score points and live with the results.”

You can recall Williams being an elite sixth man in this league for just about every team he’s been a part of. Whether it was with the Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, Lakers, Rockets or even with the Clippers now, he’s constantly been a guy to provide a powerful punch off the bench.

With the consistency and the energy he’s provided with second units throughout his career, it’s rather surprising that Williams has only won the Sixth Man of the Year award one time in his career. Having established this reputation, it should only be a matter of time before he’s rewarded again.

That being said, it’s got to be one of his aspirations, right?

“Not anymore,” Williams told Basketball Insiders, admitting he felt slighted in last year’s race. “Nah. Probably had one of the best seasons of my career and finished third, so I don’t really care no more.”

Furthermore, as one of the top sharpshooters the NBA has to offer, he told Basketball Insiders he doesn’t wouldn’t care to participate in the three-point contest, either.

Moving away from the individual side of things, Williams has enjoyed his time with the Clippers for the short time he’s been a part of the franchise.

One good reason is the opportunity to play under one of the league’s most respected head coaches in Doc Rivers, whom he credits has a unique manner of making adjustments.

“Doc is a high basketball IQ coach,” Williams said. “He knows how to break down the game on the fly, which is impressive. A lot of coaches, they make a lot of corrections at halftime or in film sessions. Doc makes them on the fly, which is great.”

Playing alongside two superstars isn’t so bad. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin are a pairing that can dominate each and every time they step on the floor. In fact, having those two alone should be enough for the Clippers to get things turned back around.

When the frontcourt duo clicks on a nightly basis and the team returns to full strength, Williams believes that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

“It’s been fun,” Williams told Basketball Insiders of the experience with Griffin and Jordan. “Obviously, we would like to win some games and I think that tide is gonna turn once we get back healthy.

“But these two All-Star guys in this league that’s done an exceptional job for this organization—so it’s been a good time being with these guys.”

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