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.
Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.