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NBA@2: Smart, Kings Avoid Implosion
Posted By Bill Ingram On January 19, 2012 @ 2:00 pm In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
The Sacramento Kings knew what they were getting into when they drafted Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins with the fifth overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft. His reputation for inappropriate behavior preceded him, but his talent made it worth the gamble for the Kings. Now, with the inevitable blow-up between Cousins and his head coach forcing a coaching change, interim head coach Keith Smart has his work cut out for him.
Smart made Cousins his top priority when he took over, spending time with his volatile star away from the game. They talked about life, watched some basketball, and talked some more. That effort got Cousins and Smart off on the right foot.
“Well, for one thing he plays, and when you’re playing you’re productive,” Smart tells HOOPSWORLD. “That solves a lot of problems. He’s playing very well right now, doing the things that we want him to do and that solves a lot of problems. As long as he’s playing well and things are going well for him, I think he’s shown that he can be a man moving in that direction with how he’s handling himself on the floor. I told him he’s got a blank sheet of paper with me; we’re going to go from here and then if things go a different direction, we’ll address those things. He understands where I stand with him and the rest of the team understands how we’re trying to move this thing forward.”
Getting Cousins on the same page with the rest of the team is an important first step for Smart, but with so many young players, a lockout-shortened training game and now a head coaching change Smart created a catchy label for this part of the season to keep things positive in the face of mounting losses.
“We use the term ‘Traveling Training Camp’ because that’s pretty much what it is. The guys are trying to get up to speed with what I want them to do, how I want them to play, implementing some of the things that I know will help them. At the same time, you can’t reinforce it, like, a few nights ago in Philadelphia we wanted to play some zone but we didn’t have time to practice it, had to play it in the game. We had to practice it in the game just to get film on it so we could have the information. Normally, you have that in training camp. You have a pre-season game, we’re going to play zone for about ten possessions a night where you don’t have that luxury. I’m accustomed to doing it like that and had a chance to try some other guys in the game, guys you would normally take a look at in the preseason, but you have to do it right now to get to see if they can play how you want them to play and thus far they have all pretty much responded pretty well. We know where we are, as long as we’re moving. We’re not getting the ultimate candy by getting the win, but we are moving in the right direction and so that’s a positive that we’re still moving in the right direction.”
One big issue for Smart has been getting his players to back away from their isolation instincts in favor of adopting an overall gameplan.
“We have a lot of isolation players, guy’s who have been conducive to getting the ball and standing around and making a play for themselves,” says Smart. “I’m trying to get them to still have that ability but yet, don’t do it unless you see the floor first. We have one play, the one up off the elbow, and everyone that got the ball on the elbow thought it was isolation for them. As soon as they got it they tried to score. We a ran a play seven times on Toronto and we only scored on it once only because Tyreke finally took his time. We had to let all the other action happen first. Then when that’s gone, then you make a play but as soon as the guys hit them, that’s my play. When I call one up, one down, one side, whatever play might be right away they were like, isolation. Now they make a move in traffic with everything around them. Wait, let other people have a chance, a cutter, a shooter come out for a screen, then play from there. It’s a process. It’s a process.”
Ultimately there is a hard reality to face in Sacramento. Between the lockout-shortened camp and preseason and the early coaching change this are very much in a state of flux. Keith Smart is a great choice to lead the team into the future, but for now that means setting some short-term goals and forgetting the record.
“We’re playing hard every night because anything happens if you play hard every night,” Smart says of what a successful season would look like for his team. “Anything can possibly happen if you play hard. You’ll catch a team that’s not doing well, injuries, but if you have established an ability to play hard every night in the NBA, you’re probably going to surprise a lot of people. That thought about success that you’re thinking about could possibly become a reality, and that’s what I’m trying to push hard right now. Play hard every single night, every single night and if you’re not playing hard, we’ve got to get somebody else in who will play hard and they understand that right now.”
That sounds like a reasonable place to start.
Max Deal For Kevin Love?
One of the key provisions created by the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement is the so-called Derrick Rose Rule, which, according to HOOPSWORLD contributor Larry Coon, “allows franchise-level players to receive a higher maximum salary starting in their fifth year in the league. These players now can receive the same maximum salary as a player with seven years in the league. In order to qualify, the player must meet specific eligibility requirements — he must have been the Most Valuable Player at least once, been named to an All-NBA (first, second or third) team twice, or been voted in as an All-Star starter twice.”
Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant and Chicago Bulls’ MVP Derrick Rose have already benefited from this new rule, and it looks like the Minnesota Timberwolves may make Kevin Love the next.
Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that the Timberwolves might prefer to save their “designated player” slot for Ricky Rubio, but Love has generated so much interest that they may elect to go ahead and use it now.
Love has improved dramatically in each of his four NBA seasons, and this year he is averaging a career-best 25.2 points per game while also corralling 14.5 rebounds. Compare that to Durant’s 26.5 points and 6.9 rebounds and Rose’s 20.8 points and 8.7 assists and it’s easy to see that Love is indeed in elite company.
More importantly, the Timberwolves are starting to compete at a higher level, a level that could soon have Love in the Most Valuable Player discussion. As tempting as it may be to wait and use the designated player slot on Rubio, Love is already performing at an elite level. By signing Love with the Derrick Rose provision now the Timberwolves can secure their front court future, something many teams would love to be able to do with a player of Love’s ability.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have also given point guard Russell Westbrook a maximum extension this afternoon. Westbrook received a five-year, $80 million contract extension from the Thunder, who have turned aside repeated trade inquiries and cast off talk of a rift between Westbrook and Durant. Now the two will be the cornerstones of the franchise for years to come.
Blazers Need A Villain?
The Portland Trail Blazers have had more setbacks than most teams could survive, yet they have managed to remain among the NBA’s top teams despite being without retired All-Star guard Brandon Roy and perennially-injured center Greg Oden. Injuries and all the Blazers keep plugging in more pieces and finding ways to win, a tribute to management as well as head coach Nate McMillan.
The Blazers started the season with an impressive 8-2 record, including impressive wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers and the new-look LA Clippers. More recently, however, they have lost three of four games on their current road trip. McMillan credits their lack of success to a corresponding lack of effort, something team co-captain LaMarcus Aldridge says has to do with players not holding each other accountable.
“We are having breakdowns and making mistakes and the chemistry is so good, and you are so close to the next guy, that you are not getting on him,” Aldridge told The Oregonian after their loss in Atlanta. “We have to get to the point where we can get on anybody, and get on everybody. You know, to where everybody can get on me, and I can get on them. But this guy is making a mistake, and it’s ‘It’s OK, it’s cool. Shake it off.’”
“Sometimes, when you have such a close team, you almost don’t want to say anything,” Wesley Matthews added. “Not that you don’t want to hurt feelings, but you just feel like everybody has it, that they can take care of it. But you gotta be a (jerk) sometimes. Some of the greatest people in history are (jerks). But you can’t worry about that. You can’t worry about feelings, because it’s a respect thing.”
This is not an unfamiliar theme in Portland, where the role model-laden lineup is about as far from the “Jail Blazers” team as is humanly possible. The Blazers went through a similar stretch last season, a stretch where the players acknowledged that Coach McMillan was doing all he could do and that it was time for the players to step up. They needed to hold each other accountable.
The trouble is, it’s not easy to see anyone on their roster stepping up to fill the role of vocal leader. Gerald Wallace and Raymond Felton, in particular, can relate. After all, they had a locker room full of great guys, but they didn’t make the playoffs until Stephen Jackson came along to give them a chip on their shoulders. Jackson never hesitated to call out a player who wasn’t giving 110%, and his emotional leadership gave the team a level of confidence they had never had before. As a result, they made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history . . .right before team owner Michael Jordan blew it up.
What the Blazers need is a quick injection of (jerk). They need a player with fire and intensity to step into the middle of their lineup and start pushing players out of their comfort zones. It’s great to have a locker room full of players who embody what the Blazers want to convey to their community, but to win in a big way there has to be an element of (jerk), as well.
Stephen Jackson himself is not overly happy in Milwaukee, though that might change once a few more players get healthy and the team starts to put some wins on the board. Besides, acquiring Jackson might be taking the Charlotte Bobcats analogy a step too far. But that’s what Portland needs – a veteran who understands that playing nice only gets you so far.
The Blazers need a villain, and until they find one they’re going to be the most talented team in the league that doesn’t quite live up to expectations.
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