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NBA PM: Bryant, Buss Talk Frustrating Lakers Season

Kobe Bryant and Jeanie Buss opened up about the Los Angeles Lakers’ struggles and how the team can right the ship … James Dolan makes it

Alex Kennedy

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Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel discusses his coaching philosophy, game-day routine and more in this one-on-one interview.

Bryant, Buss Talk Frustrating Lakers Season

This has been one of the worst seasons ever for the Los Angeles Lakers.

L.A. is currently 22-44, which is tied for the fewest wins in the Western Conference, and they were the first NBA team to be officially eliminated from the playoff race last Friday. Fringe players like Kendall Marshall and Ryan Kelly have been thrust into starting roles for the Lakers despite the fact that they’d ride the bench on most teams, and the team has struggled to compete on most nights.

The last year has been frustrating, to say the least, for fans in Los Angeles who aren’t accustomed to sitting at the bottom of the standings and dealing with these kinds of struggles. Last season’s supposed super team severely underperformed, Dwight Howard left as an unrestricted free agent, Steve Nash’s health continues to be an issue and Kobe Bryant sustained back-to-back serious injuries.

Then, as if the Lakers faithful didn’t already have enough to be upset about, they had to watch Phil Jackson become the New York Knicks’ team president on Tuesday. This comes one year after Los Angeles decided to hire Mike D’Antoni as their head coach over the interested Jackson – a move that was questioned immediately and looks even worse today since D’Antoni’s days in L.A. seem to be numbered.

Earlier today, Bryant appeared on the Dan Patrick Show and discussed the team’s current state and future. Patrick said that he didn’t understand why the Lakers didn’t hire Jackson last season and Bryant, who is always blunt, said that he didn’t get the decision either.

“Listen, that makes two of us,” Bryant said on the Dan Patrick Show. “I didn’t really understand it much either.”

Bryant was quick to add that he still believes the Lakers can turn things around and that he has faith in the team’s front office to right the ship.

“What we can do as players is just trust the organization,” Bryant said. “I’ve had conversations with Jimmy [Buss]. Jimmy is really adamant about the direction that he wants to go with this organization. He feels really confident in that fact that he can be able to turn it around. Him and Jeanie [Buss] seem to be really focused on being on the same page, getting on the same page and pushing this organization to have the same legacy that their father was able to maintain for so many years.

“It’s hard to really see that when you’re in this type of situation where things really seem, the future seems really bleak. It’s tough to have that faith and that trust, but that’s what you have to have. I’ve been with this organization since I was 17 years old and I’ve known Jimmy, I’ve known Jeanie and I know they bleed purple and gold, man. They want to do the right thing for the organization. When you have people who are that passionate about it, just as passionate as you are, it’s really just about communication and moving forward in the same direction. I have no doubt that that will happen.”

On Tuesday, after his introductory press conference with the Knicks, Jackson was asked if he would’ve taken a similar job calling the shots with the Lakers. The 13-time champion said that it wasn’t an option. He made it clear that Jim Buss wanted to put his own fingerprints on the franchise and go in a different direction. Jeanie Buss also chimed in, saying that Jackson was never offered a job with the Lakers.

“I think it was clear that Phil wanted to go back to work,” Buss said in an interview with Time Warner Cable SportsNet. “He had been talking to different organizations, and for me personally, I like having Phil around, but there was no role for him with the Lakers. He’s too good of a basketball mind to just sit at home in a rocking chair playing Solitaire. He decided, and I feel comfortable with that, and he knows my commitment is here with the Lakers. The Lakers are my life. For him, the Knicks will be a job that will have a beginning and hopefully for him, success. Not over the Lakers, but in the Eastern Conference, and it’ll someday come to an end because he’s a hired person. But the Lakers are my life and it’s a family business. This is going to be my family forever.

“He was not offered any official position [with the Lakers]. Fans will recall seeing him when we retired Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey, for example. He came and he was part of that ceremony. There were a lot of Laker functions that Phil was with me because he was there to support me, in no official capacity. There is no role in the front office for him for what he could contribute. Maybe I could have him sell sponsorships or do something like that, work security, but I don’t think that would be something that would give Phil the kind of challenge he is looking for that would fulfill him. … With Phil, I wanted him to know that if there was no role for him with the Lakers, he should be free to pursue other interests. I didn’t know if it’d be an NBA team, I didn’t know if was going to a third-world country to volunteer with helping them set up basketball camps. I didn’t know what it was, but I wanted him to pursue something that would fulfill him. Certainly, the decision was his to make and I support him whatever he wants to do.”

Bryant hasn’t hid his frustration this season. A week ago, when he was officially shut down for the rest of the campaign, he told reporters that he expected the front office to make major changes this offseason to right the ship, adding that he didn’t have the patience for a rebuilding effort.

Today, when asked if D’Antoni should be given another year with the Lakers, Bryant hesitated and then didn’t offer a ringing endorsement for the head coach. While he did say that injuries have contributed to D’Antoni’s struggles in Los Angeles, there have been reports indicating that Bryant has no interest in playing for D’Antoni next year and this quote doesn’t do much to dispel those rumors.

“Um, I don’t know,” Bryant said when asked if D’Antoni should get another year in L.A. “It’s been tough on him. The two years that he’s been here, he’s been dealing with so many injuries left and right. He hasn’t really gotten a fair deal, a fair shake at it since he’s been here.”

Jeanie Buss understands Bryant’s irritation. He’s as competitive individual as you’ll find and his team doesn’t seem poised to compete for a championship over the next two years, which very well could be the last of Bryant’s illustrious career. Buss has been just as upset with this season, but she’s confident the Lakers can get back on track.

“I think it’s been extremely frustrating,” Buss said. “I understand why the fans are frustrated. A lot of injuries that weren’t expected and certainly we were all looking forward to the return of Kobe Bryant from his injury, and he came back successfully, but it was short-lived. I don’t think I can remember a season like this in all the years I’ve worked with the Lakers, and the good thing is that there’s going to be a next season and we’ll have an opportunity to get things back on track.

“He’s such a competitor and I can only imagine what he’s going through right now because he has no outlet for that. I lived with it. I lived with Phil Jackson and I know how competitive he is. If that competitiveness is not fed or does not have an outlet, it can drive you crazy. So I understand his frustration and I will talk to him and I will commiserate with him because I know how he feels.”

The Lakers will have a top pick in this year’s draft, which has been hyped up as one of the best incoming classes in recent memory, which should help the team as they try to restock the cupboard. L.A. has $34,116,243 in guaranteed commitments for next season and $25,000,000 for 2015-16.

Dolan: My Goal Isn’t to Be Loved

It’s no secret that many fans of the New York Knicks blame James Dolan for the team’s issues. Dolan is consistently criticized by fans and media alike, and this week has been no different since he has been in the headlines with the hiring of Phil Jackson as the team’s president. Yesterday, it surfaced that Dolan passed out his CDs during free agent meetings back in the summer of 2010, giving critics more ammo.

However, Dolan took some time to go on ESPN Radio’s “The Michael Kay Show” yesterday and he was asked point blank whether it bothered him that he isn’t liked by fans.

“As far as being liked and disliked, I know what my job is,” Dolan told Kay. “I know what I have to do. I go about doing it, you’re not going to be liked by everybody. If your goal is to be liked by everybody, I don’t think you’re going to do such a good job because you’re going to worry more about that than making the right decisions. I don’t read the papers, and I’m sorry to say I don’t listen to talk radio. Tell me something, tell me the living New York sports owner that everybody loves? I haven’t seen any love fests going on for any sports team owners in New York in the time I’ve been here. They like winning and they don’t like losing, and that’s part of the deal.

“My goal isn’t to be loved, my goal is to win, and I would love for the fans to be happy. I want them to be happy. I want them to come to the Garden and have a great time. With the transformed Garden, it’s a great place to go and see a sporting event and that’s what my job is. It’s not to go out there and try and be loved by everybody.”

Dolan also reiterated that Jackson will make all of the basketball decisions in New York. Kay pressed Dolan about this, asking if Jackson had the power to, say, walk away from re-signing Carmelo Anthony.

“It’s his decision,” Dolan said. “That’s my agreement with him. … The way that I manage is that I try to empower the people underneath me. They bring me a plan for the year, or a longer term plan, and we agree on the goal. They’re the ones with the strategy, I’m the one with the checkbook. Beyond that, I think it’s really all Phil’s call. I think we have shown that we’re willing to write checks in order to try and win. And I am probably a little more dismayed that the checks haven’t produced more winning.”

Dolan was asked if this change would’ve been made regardless of the team’s record. He admitted that the team’s struggles led to the move.

“I don’t know, I’m not sure,” Dolan said. “That’s sort of a ‘what if’ question. If the team was in the middle of a 54-game winning season, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to change much. So, you know if it was that kind of difference I think, it might not have happened.”

Dolan also stressed that he doesn’t see Jackson returning to the sidelines as a head coach for the Knicks, even though he is a Hall of Fame coach and won 11 championships in that role.

“I don’t think that’ll ever happen,” Dolan said of Jackson coaching. “That’s not what we’re looking for Phil to do for us. We’re looking to have him build a consistently winning franchise. I think he knows how to do that. I think he’ll put the personnel in place. I think he’s going to be deeply involved in the basketball decisions, the style of play, the makeup of the team, all the things that you would want him to be involved in, and hopefully that it will be a culture that’s built at the Knicks, fostered by Steve Mills too, whose a big part of the equation, and that’s really the job. I mean, if Phil would ever coach, who would say no? But at the moment, that’s not in the cards.”

New York is currently 27-40, which puts them in the Eastern Conference’s ninth seed, four and a half games out of the playoff picture.

March Madness is Here

The 2014 NCAA Tournament is underway, and Basketball Insiders has the most in-depth coverage of March Madness you’ll find:

Want a preview of every single NCAA Tournament game? Click here.

Check out a breakdown of the tournament field by clicking here.

Who are this year’s Cinderella teams to keep an eye on? Find out here.

Can Wichita State win it all after going undefeated? An interview with their star.

Check back over the next few days for more coverage of the 2014 NCAA Tournament.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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