The Russell Westbrook Revival
By Moke Hamilton
Russell Westbrook curled around Serge Ibaka, simultaneously using him to screen off his primary defender and neatly receiving the handoff. Like a running back, Westbrook hid behind Ibaka for a split second before going back from where he came, but this time, with the basketball in tow.
Westbrook beat Iman Shumpert to the corner, hesitated when Quincy Acy showed and then, like freight train, exploded with a quick first step and accelerated down the baseline. Shumpert was left in his wake.
As he approached the basket, Westbrook showed no signs of attrition. There was no trepidation, no hesitation and no doubt.
Are The Kings Targeting George Karl?
By Steve Kyler
While this one seemed a little out of left field, the Sacramento Kings decided to part ways with head coach Mike Malone. The truth behind the curtain is, this one wasn’t nearly as shocking as it may seem despite the Kings’ hot start and somewhat improved situation.
Malone is a defensive-minded coach that was hired by new Kings owner Vivek Ranadive before he had hired his front office. There was a sense at least initially that Malone would be dictating a lot of the structure of the Kings, however over time that’s changed somewhat dramatically.
Ranadive has become much more hands on. He is much more involved in the day-to-day than your typical NBA owner in a very Mark Cuban kind of way. Malone’s defense-first mindset has been problematic for Ranadive for some time.
Lillard, Blazers are Winning and Feeling Confident
By Joel Brigham
The Portland Trail Blazers have been good for a few years now, but something about this current squad looks really, really good, and All-Star point guard Damian Lillard thinks he knows the reason why.
“It’s our confidence,” Lillard told Basketball Insiders. “Last year we surprised people and might’ve even surprised ourselves a little bit, but we won a playoff series without home court advantage.”
Confidence through success, however, is only a part of Portland’s maturation this year. Humility is another part of it.
Greg Monroe’s Limited Market
By Yannis Koutroupis
Like most of the players who signed this offseason, Detroit Pistons forward Greg Monroe became eligible to be traded today. As a 24-year-old versatile big man who has been good for 15 points and nine rebounds a game over the last four seasons despite the turmoil surrounding him, you would think teams would be beating down the Pistons’ door to acquire him. However, his situation is quite unique and it limits his market significantly.
Monroe was a restricted free agent last offseason, which gave the Pistons the right to match any offer he received. The Pistons made him a long-term offer, the value of which is unknown, but it was clearly shy of the max and Monroe decided to decline. There were other teams, specifically the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns, who voiced an interest in trading for him but the Pistons held all the cards. They wanted great value in return in any sign-and-trade deal and had the rest of the league believing that they would match any offer for him to the point where Monroe was eventually forced to accept a $5.5 million qualifying offer.
Playoff Sleepers in the Eastern Conference
By Cody Taylor
The quarter mark of the NBA season is here and we are beginning to see which teams are alive in the playoff chase. In the Eastern Conference, there hasn’t been any one squad that has identified itself as the top team, as the top five are all within four games of each other. The Hawks and Cavaliers have been two of the hottest teams in the league as of late, as the Hawks have won nine out of their last 10 and the Cavaliers have won eight of their last. It appears to be a safe bet that some combination of the Raptors, Wizards, Hawks, Bulls and Cavaliers will make up the top five seeds in the East, leaving the last three spots up for grabs.
Currently the Bucks, HEAT and Nets occupy the six-through-eight spots in the East with the Magic, Celtics and Pacers right behind them. The Bucks have been one of the biggest surprises in the league thus far as they’ve won 12 games after winning just 15 all of last season. Given their youth and inexperience, it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to keep up their strong start so they could fall out of the picture at some point. The HEAT, meanwhile, are battling injuries with Josh McRoberts possibly missing the rest of the season and Chris Bosh out indefinitely with a calf injury. They’ve won just three out of their last 10 games and have one of the worst defenses in the league and are quickly falling in the standings.
With that being said, here are three teams that could sneak into the playoffs:
Kobe Bryant Remains A Double-Edged Sword
By Jabari Davis
Like most things involving the NBA’s third all-time leading scorer, Kobe Bryant’s recent and admittedly over-blown decision to publicly chastise his teammates was predictably met with both an understanding nod by some and the usual disdain and criticism of others. This is nothing new for Bryant, as the 19-year veteran has probably been the most polarizing sports figure over the last decade and a half.
If anything, what is actually surprising is the contingency that somehow expects Bryant to change his ways this far into a Hall of Fame career. Not that additional adjustments couldn’t have at least opened the door for a smoother transition into the next era of Los Angeles Lakers’ basketball but, again, an expectation of that makes us ask: just which Bryant have you been watching all of these years?
George Karl Interested in Kings Job
By Alex Kennedy
When the Sacramento Kings shockingly fired head coach Mike Malone, one of the first potential replacements that started being mentioned on the rumor mill was George Karl.
Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro worked with Karl in Denver, and Sacramento’s decision-makers (including owner Vivek Ranadive) want the team to play an up-tempo style of basketball and get out in transition, which is Karl’s strength.
The 63-year-old head coach remains available, doing a variety of broadcasting jobs such as providing analysis on ESPN and hosting a radio show on Sirius XM NBA Radio while he waits to get back into coaching. Shortly after he was fired by Denver back in June of 2012 (right after he won the NBA’s Coach of the Year award), he told Basketball Insiders that he wanted to resume his coaching career at some point, preferably with a team in the Western Conference.
Yesterday, on his radio show, Karl addressed the rumors about him possibly coaching the Kings and admitted that he’s interested in talking with Sacramento’s management at some point.
Unintended Consequences of Malone Firing Could Help Kings
By Nate Duncan
Under the stewardship of owner Vivek Ranadive, the Sacramento Kings have quickly established a reputation as perhaps the NBA’s most unconventional franchise. Since he took control in May 2013, Ranadive hired his coach before his general manager, signed Carl Landry to a four-year deal for the full mid-level exception, gave DeMarcus Cousins a max extension, traded for analytics pariah Rudy Gay and let Isaiah Thomas walk for the reputedly inferior Darren Collison. All of these moves drew varying degrees of criticism, although many (particularly Cousins, Gay and Collison) have achieved better results than many commentators anticipated.
Even those unconventional moves did not augur the latest head-scratcher, the firing of coach Michael Malone after only a season and a quarter. The consensus is that Malone did not deserve to be axed—he had the Kings playing .600 ball before Cousins missed the last nine games with viral meningitis. The doormat Kings had improved defensively on an individual and team level, especially with Cousins in the game. And Cousins, Gay, Collison and Ben McLemore had all shown significant improvement, on track for the best seasons of their careers so far.
Down Goes Bucks’ Star Rookie Jabari Parker
By Lang Greene
There are plenty of surprises around the league that have been uncovered during the first quarter of the 2014-15 campaign. The Charlotte Hornets’ implosion, Detroit’s plummet deeper into the Eastern Conference basement and of course all of the drama unfolding in the land of the New York Knicks – all showing that preseason scripts are rarely followed to the letter.
The Milwaukee Bucks have also been a surprise. A pleasant one to their fan base, in fact. In 2013, the franchise won a grand total of 15 games. This season, fortunes have reversed, as the club already has 13 victories and would be the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed if the playoffs started today.
However, the positive momentum starting to build in Milwaukee took a huge blow on Tuesday night when the franchise announced rookie forward Jabari Parker suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and would miss the rest of the season.
Let’s Trade Nets Guard Deron Williams
By Jesse Blancarte
Last week, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Ohm Youngmisuk reported that the Brooklyn Nets are prepared to trade each of their star players, including Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Deron Williams. It’s still not clear whether each of these players will be dealt this season, but it seems likely that at least two out of the three will be traded.
The most talented and accomplished player of the bunch is point guard Deron Williams. He was selected to the All-NBA Second Team twice (2008, 2010), is a three-time All-Star (2010–2012), and has career averages of 17.4 points, 8.6 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. For several seasons, Williams was considered to be one of the two best point guards in the NBA, along with Chris Paul. However, since being traded to the then-New Jersey Nets in early 2011, Williams has struggled through injuries, inconsistent play and has fallen short of the lofty expectations that came with his arrival in New Jersey.
Breaking Down the Rajon Rondo Trade
By Jessica Camerato
After less than two months, the first major move of the 2014-15 NBA season is here.
On Thursday evening the Boston Celtics traded Rajon Rondo and Dwight Powell to the Dallas Mavericks for Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, a conditional first round draft pick, a 2016 second round draft pick and a $12.9 million trade exception.
The move demonstrates the different directions of each team. The Mavericks are contending for a title now while the Celtics are rebuilding for the future. Here is a breakdown for both sides.
Will Phil Jackson be Able to Practice Patience?
By Tommy Beer
Let’s start with the recognition of the fact that the hand Phil Jackson was dealt was not ideal.
When Jackson was named President of the New York Knicks, back on March 18, the Knicks were at the tail end of a bitterly disappointing season. The undermanned roster Jackson inherited finished the 2013-14 season with a 37-45 record, missing the playoffs in the watered-down Eastern Conference.
Heading into the summer of 2014, it was understood that, in some respects, Jackson’s hands were tied due to the Knicks being well over the salary cap. Nonetheless, there we still important decisions to be made.
Who Are the NBA’s Best Centers?
By Mary Stevens
Back in the day, centers were often looked at as the cornerstones of many winning NBA franchises. While they might not be the main focus when building a contender today, they are still an important piece. Basketball Insiders talked to a number of NBA centers to get their thoughts on their peers. Using that information as well as stats, we put together this list of the best centers around the league:
Let’s Trade Pistons Forward Greg Monroe
By John Zitzler
On Monday, Jesse Blancarte offered up a number of possible trade scenarios involving Nets point guard Deron Williams. Along with Williams, the Nets have made Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson available and seem ready to unload some their top talent after starting 10-14.
Today we take a look at another big name who may be on move, Detroit Pistons forward Greg Monroe. After spending this past summer as a restricted free agent, Monroe and the Pistons were unable come to terms on a long-term deal. Not landing the lucrative contract he had in mind, Monroe settled for the $5.5 million dollar qualifying offer from the Pistons. His acceptance of the qualifying earned Monroe a no-trade clause, giving him the power to veto any deal that isn’t to his liking. No matter where Monroe finishes the season he will once again be in line for a big payday, a factor that will weigh heavily for any team considering acquiring the young big man since he will lose his bird rights with any trade, meaning they re-sign him without going under the cap.
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