'Everything next level' mantra pushing the defending champions as they race out to an 11-0 mark to start 2015-16
POSTED: Nov 16, 2015 12:19 PM ET
Much like in 2014-15, the Warriors are in the upper crust of virtually every major stats category in the NBA.
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It was very important to Andre Iguodala to find out who'd made the cornbread.
"This (bleep) is amazing," he said late Thursday night, another opponent vanquished under Stephen Curry's scythe, the Golden State Warriors still unblemished, looking for new teams to conquer.
A fortnight into the new season, the Warriors look, if not unbeatable, if not (yet) historic, like a team that will have to fall a long way not to be the odds-on favorite to get back to The Finals. Through their first 10 games, they'd won by an average of 17.1 points per game, and they'd trailed in the second halves of those 10 games a total of 10 minutes. They'd beaten Memphis -- Memphis!! -- one of the best teams in the league, by 50. They've handled Houston and New Orleans, Detroit and Denver.
Coming into camp, the one thing Coach Kerr talked about was 'everything next level.' I think guys have made a concerted effort to do that.
– Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green
And after rallying from 17 down to beat Brooklyn in overtime Saturday night for their 11th straight win to start the season, they're within four wins of tying the 1994 Rockets and the '48-'49 Washington Capitols for the best start in NBA history. The inevitable talk of whether the Warriors can equal or beat the Bulls' 72-10 mark in 1996 is starting to percolate in those places where such inanities percolate.
And they don't think they're anywhere close to maximizing their potential.
"Imagine if we were firing on all cylinders," Klay Thompson said. "It's going to be a scary thing to see. We're getting there. We're close. It's still early November, but it's a very encouraging thing."
No, they really believe this.
At 11-0, already four and a half games clear of the Clippers in the Pacific Division, leading the league in points per game (114.1) and offensive rating (110.6 per 100 possessions), and top 10 in almost all the relevant defensive statistics, the Warriors think they can improve, greatly, at both ends of the floor.
Blame San Antonio.
He makes it look so easy, night after night. Obviously it's tough for him to put these numbers up for 82 games, but he surprises us every night.
– Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson, on Stephen Curry
For all of the individual brilliance Curry has displayed, looking more like a guy preparing to be the league's first back-to-back Kia MVP since Steve Nash, and the mass of Madison Avenue and Silicon Valley companies that want to do business with him, it's the charisma-free, friendly, neighborhood multi-title Spurs that are the template the defending champions are trying to re-create.
The coaching, the sustained excellence, the path to multiple championships through remaining medium, night after night, season after season -- that's what Golden State believes is now possible.
It's been five years since Joe Lacob and Peter Guber bought the team from Chris Cohan, and established their goal of competing for championships, almost immediately. Lacob's drive and desire to win is no greater than any of the league's other billionaire owners, but only he had the foresight to hire former agent Bob Myers as general manager, and risk the remarkable improvement former coach Mark Jackson brought in just three seasons by firing him in 2014 to hire Steve Kerr out of the Turner Sports TV booth.
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Now, the Warriors are the standard, on track to move into their new San Francisco arena in 2018. They insist they will do so without losing the majority of the fan base -- many who live in Oakland and the nearby neighborhoods -- that have made Oracle Arena the loudest building in the league.
"You've got organizations out there that are consistently at a high level," Andre Iguodala said. "They're known to play the right way at the right time. You know, the Spurs, obviously. You look at an organization like that, and say that's what you want to be consistent, because they've become consistent. That's what you start striving for night in and night out. And maybe, some years you might say they have a down year because they didn't get out of the first round. But they're still a threat every single night. That's where you want to get to. You don't want to be comfortable with that on and off switch."
It shouldn't be a surprise that a team coached by Kerr wants to emulate the Spurs. Kerr won the last two of his five titles as a player in San Antonio, and put in a lot of the Spurs' halfcourt sets for the Warriors last season. The ball movement that led Golden State to the title last year was a carbon copy of what San Antonio did in its clinic against the Miami Heat in the 2014 Finals.
Imagine if we were firing on all cylinders. It's going to be a scary thing to see. We're getting there. We're close. It's still early November, but it's a very encouraging thing.
– Warriors guard Klay Thompson
So even though Kerr hasn't been on the bench yet this season as he continues recovering from two back surgeries during the summer, his imprint is as firm on the team as ever. (Kerr has been at a couple of practices in Oakland, but has not yet been cleared back to return to the bench.)
"Coming into camp, the one thing Coach Kerr talked about was 'everything next level,' " forward Draymond Green said. "I think guys have made a concerted effort to do that. There's a lot we can do better at. We had 23 turnovers (against Memphis), some slippage there. But overall, I think guys are really conscious and focused on taking it to the next level."
While Kerr recuperates, interim coach Luke Walton is learning a whole new definition of workload.
"I thought I knew everything that Steve did," Walton said.
But Walton is determined not to try and overcoach. He started the interim job worried about not messing up, but has realized his team can police itself.
"We're capable, but early on in the season, it's the process of staying disciplined," guard Shaun Livingston said. "That's where the Spurs have set themselves apart. All the years of playing the same way, no matter the time, the score. A lot of that's Popovich, too, having his hand in it. But obviously with Steve being down, we've taken more ownership of the responsibility on the court, coaching ourselves. Luke's done a great job, but also, too, with us, it's taking ownership, to a man. And staying disciplined, not letting up, paying attention to details, closing out quarters -- all the little things."
For example: Green was angry during the preseason after the Warriors had been lackluster in a couple of exhibition games. He says now he was mad because they'd come into training camp so focused.
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"In preseason, I was pissed with the games," Green said. "But we were having great practices. So it was just like, all right, we're coming out here in practice, beating up each other, having great practices, and then we're coming out in the games and laying a complete egg. So that was frustrating, really frustrating. But overall, I think we had a great camp and a terrible preseason."
That changed on ring night, when Curry had 40 points through three quarters in the regular season opener against New Orleans. He has remained in a zone ever since.
The defending league MVP has gotten off to an historic start. Curry's current Player Efficiency Rating of 35.44 would obliterate the all-time high of 31.82 set by Wilt Chamerlain in 1962-63, when he was with the San Francisco (irony!) Warriors. His current scoring average of 33.4 points per game would be among the top single-season averages of all time. He also is first in True Shooting Percentage (.687) and Win Shares (3.2), and is third in offensive rating (113.7). (Just for good measure, he's currently second in the league in steals.)
Curry spent the summer working on being more efficient in the Warriors' offense, getting from point A to point B quicker with the ball, while maintaining explosiveness. All of the flips, floaters and left-handed runners he makes are not shots he comes up with on the fly during a game. They are all in his repertoire.
"He makes it look so easy, night after night," Thompson said. "Obviously it's tough for him to put these numbers up for 82 games, but he surprises us every night."
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I wondered if Curry had ever been this lethal for this long a stretch. He mentioned the four-game run at Davidson in 2006 to the Elite Eight, the burst that put him on the map nationally. And there have been blistering streaks with the Warriors, to be sure. More importantly, he was looking forward to a night of uninterrupted sleep, a blessing on the road when you have an infant and toddler at home.
"It's funny," Curry said, "because I still feel like I missed some bunnies out there that could have made it even more special."
He had just scored 46 points against the Timberwolves.
He'd made 8 of 13 three-pointers. He'd made one basket when Minnesota's Andre Miller actually swiped at and touched the ball -- as Curry was starting to shoot. The result was more of a fling of the ball at the basket than an actual shot. Of course, it hit nothing but net.
"Obviously, the way Steph's playing, we have a chance against anybody," Livingston said.
They're still going out there, putting in extra effort, trying to get theirs, which is smart. But they're doing it within the system, within the team. And it works for both parties.
– Andre Iguodala, on Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli
The winning has papered over potential issues. The Warriors couldn't reach agreement on extensions for Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli before the Nov. 2 deadline for Class of 2012 draftees, making Barnes and Ezeli restricted free agents next summer. Barnes was Kerr's choice to start at small forward, sending Iguodala to the bench, and Ezeli has been terrific in place of Andrew Bogut, who missed a week with a concussion. (Bogut was stymied when doctors told him the prescription from recovery was ... nothing. No pills, potions or tabs would clear the fog that began when he was hit opening night, causing him to miss six games under the league's concussion protocols before returning against Detroit last week.)
Barnes and Ezeli are both averaging career highs -- Barnes 13.5 points per game; Ezeli 8.7 -- and Ezeli is adding a block and a half as well. They've pushed whatever feelings they have about the future out of public consumption.
"First of all, we're human beings," Iguodala said. "I wouldn't say it's pushed to the side. But they're character human beings. They wouldn't ruin it for everyone else. They're still going out there, putting in extra effort, trying to get theirs, which is smart. But they're doing it within the system, within the team. And it works for both parties."
Ezeli has become adapt at floating to the front of the rim in Golden State's offense, waiting for the inevitable lob from Green or Curry.
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"When you're building a wall, you don't start off by saying 'well, I'm going to build a big wall,' " Ezeli said. "You start off by saying, 'I'm going to lay this brick down, and I'm going to lay it as best as I can.' That's kind of the mindset I'm trying to take -- take it one possession at a time, take it one game at a time. So when I come into the game, my focus is on how I can change the game and how I can affect the game, and mostly the way I can do it is on the defensive end. Lately, the offensive end has been coming along, but at the defensive end, I can alter shots, block shots, all these different things. That's what I try to focus on. There's no pressure doing that. That's what I always do."
So ... could they?
It's such a ludicrous idea to entertain. We're not even to Thanksgiving yet. You'd have to get through the holidays and deep into January before anyone serious would seriously begin contemplating the idea.
"It's so far away, you can't possibly be looking that far ahead, talking about we're going to get 70," Green said. "...To even speak about that right now, it's just unrealistic."
Until then, they'll have to be satisfied playing 1.000 basketball, the goal perfection -- not winning every game, but becoming the best team they can become. The celiing is as high as their imagination.
"On any given night, we've got two or three guys playing really well," Iguodala said. "Steph's always in that combination, but the other two guys, it's always different. If we continue to do that, it's going to turn into four guys, five guys. That's where we want to get come playoff time."
Surely, DeMar DeRozan will drop the cliché here about last April's playoff immolation against the Washington Wizards, the nadir of an awful second half of last season, being behind him and the Toronto Raptors.
"Man, it's still in my head, honestly," DeRozan said last week. "Until we get back to that moment, and I feel we have a fair shot at redeeming ourselves. That's the only thing that matters. You want to get back in that position and do better than what you did last year. That's the only way you're going to feel better about that last year."
The Raptors had to remake their roster and psyche after getting swept by the Wizards in the first round, the abrupt end to what had been the most successful regular season in franchise history. Coach Dwane Casey is a defensive guy, but his team fell apart at that end of the floor last season, leading to changes in personnel and philosophy.
"I don't think you ever make peace with it," All-Star guard Kyle Lowry said. "You learn from it. You put in the back of your mind, like, okay, how can I grow from it and not dwell on it too much. Grow from it, and get rid of it. You keep it there, but you get rid of it. We can always go back and watch the film, but if you dwell on it too much, just keep digging on it, it can bother you."
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Out went offensive talents like Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez; in came DeMarre Carroll and Bismack Biyombo, guys who get angry when their team gives up a basket, and guard Cory Joseph, who brought championship experience from San Antonio.
"Last year, we used to outscore everybody," DeRozan said. "And I think that's where it kind of caught up to us, late in the season and in the playoffs."
In addition, the Raptors shook up their coaching staff, hiring assistant coaches Rex Kalamian and Andy Greer from Oklahoma City and Chicago, respectively. It's no coincidence that they came from teams who were more successful guarding screen and roll action, which was Toronto's Kryptonite last season. (Schuhmann has the SportVU numbers. Ironically, under new coach Billy Donovan, OKC has modified its screen/roll coverage to limit the number of 3-pointers the Thunder gives up.)
Toronto's been a little better so far this season on D. They are 11th in defensive rating (99.3) and are seventh (97.1) in points allowed. And, being in the godawful Atlantic Division, the Raptors will have to collapse several more levels before they're seriously threatened by any of their division opponents. If they remain upright, they should win again.
The Raptors won their first five games, but they've split their last four. That includes Sunday night's loss in Sacramento, when Toronto blew an eight-point, fourth-quarter lead. Carroll missed three games last week with plantar fasciitis, and Terrence Ross, whom Toronto gave a three-year extension a couple of weeks ago, will miss at lest another week after injuring ligaments in his left thumb.
"We have been playing decent defense," Casey said. "We've got to get a balance. It's early. Once we get healthy again, get our mojo back again, I like where our defense is right now. I've always said we'll find our offense. We've got too many good offensive players."
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Casey preached defense throughout training camp and the preseason.
"Scoring is not a problem in this room, as you can see," said Biyombo, who spent the last two seasons under the tutelage of defense-first coach Steve Clifford in Charlotte.
"It's playing defense. And I think that's going to help us get to the level we want to get. The emphasis (in camp) was just defense. We've got drills that we do before shootaround, before practices. It's just defense, defense, defense -- shell drills and all that."
That was exactly why Toronto wanted Carroll, who brought his 3-and-D from Atlanta, where he was the Hawks' emotional leader and one of the team's biggest shotmakers. He's only shooting 32 percent on 3-pointers so far, but the plantar fasciitis surely has something to do with that. At any rate, the Raptors need his attitude as much as his skills.
Joseph said the Raptors got "complacent" after their first five wins, which included back-to-back road victories in Dallas and Oklahoma City.
"The thing about the NBA is that good and bad things keep you level headed," he said. "It humbles you for sure. It humbled us the last three (losses). We've got to be able to lock in and play a full 48 minutes."
If we have a little win streak, that don't mean nothing. The bigger picture is the postseason, and getting ready for that ...
– Toronto Raptors swingman DeMar DeRozan
It's not normal for guys in the prime of their careers, like the 24-year-old Joseph, to leave the Spurs. But Joseph knew San Antonio was putting every dollar it could into going after LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency, and that Kawhi Leonard was going to get a max deal. That didn't leave anything on the table for him. The chance to return to the Toronto area -- he grew up in nearby Pickering -- for $30 millon over four years carried the day.
"It's always hard, leaving somewhere that you're comfortable in," Joseph said. "You're comfortable with the system, comfortable in the city, comfortable with the people there. So it's always tough. It obviously made it a lot more easier 'cause I was coming home. I knew it was a good situation for me basketball wise as well. That's how it goes business-wise. I couldn't complain. They were getting a great basketball player in LaMarcus."
With Joseph around, the Raptors can occasionally get Lowry off the ball and play three-guard sets with DeRozan. They can stay small, playing Carroll at the four (veteran Luis Scola is currently the incumbent at that position), and surround center Jonas Valanciunas with four shooters. The hope is that the defensive adjustments will help Valanciunas deal better with his screen and roll responsibilities, and not leave Toronto exposed.
General Manager Masai Ujiri still believes in Valanciunas, as former GM Bryan Colangelo did before him, giving the former first-round pick a $64 million extension in August.
But the biggest catalysts for a Raptors revival remain Lowry and DeRozan. Lowry remade his body in the offseason after finishing last season overweight and sluggish. DeRozan rededicated himself to setting the tone for his team. Lowry is second in the league in steals while DeRozan is second to James Harden in free throw attempts and makes.
Grow from it, and get rid of it. You keep it there, but you get rid of it. We can always go back and watch the film, but if you dwell on it too much, just keep digging on it, it can bother you.
– Guard Kyle Lowry, on the Raptors' 2015 playoff exit.
"Just trying to figure out the best way we can make this team better, and not let the same thing, what happened last year, happen again," DeRozan said. "Not let guys get too comfortable if we see a little success. If we have a little win streak, that don't mean nothing. The bigger picture is the postseason, and getting ready for that, and taking advantage of the 82 games (to) make corrections of what we need to make. And, really, being more of a leader. That's the thing we stressed."
Lowry came to camp shredded after killing himself with cardio and other workouts all summer. There wasn't any one food Lowry gave up, he said. He just changed his habits.
"In the summertime, you stay up late," he said. "You have kids, you want to hang out with your wife, you stay up late. The thing I gave up was staying up late and having those 1 a.m., let's go grab the little thing out of the fridge. It's not hard to really give up anything if you take pride in your profession. My body is my money maker, and I've got to be in the best shape to be able to maintain the whole season, and play against these high-level players, and compete to where I can say I'm an All-Star."
The stakes are high for everyone who's made We The North a great branding slogan. The Eastern Conference, after Cleveland and Atlanta and Chicago, looks open. There's one more likely spot for a team that wants home-court advantage in the first round. Lowry doesn't want this chance to go up in smoke the way it did last season.
"It was more making sure that I was prepared to be able to maintain a high level in, and be able to push my teammates to play at a high level," Lowry said. "And the way you do that is making sure that yourself, you're ready. And for me, it was just coming in and being in shape and that I go out there and always be positive. At the end of the day, our team looks at me and DeMar to go. We make this team go. We take a lot of pride in that. DeMar's been here longer than me, but when I first got here, my first year, we only won 35 games. So we take pride in winning 48, 49 games, making the playoffs. We're trying to get better and grow."
(previous rank in brackets; last week's record in parenthesis)
1) Golden State  (4-0): If the Warriors beat Toronto Tuesday, they'll be 12-0 going into Thursday's game in L.A. against the Clippers, their bitter rivals. What channel is that game on again?
2) San Antonio  (3-0): Another night, another record: Tim Duncan overtakes David Robinson Saturday to become the Spurs' all-time leader in blocked shots.
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3) Cleveland  (2-1): Saw a return to isolation and LeBron bail out shots in Saturday's overtime loss to the Bucks, which broke the Cavs' eight-game win streak.
4) Oklahoma City  (2-1): Honk if you had the Thunder's two home losses so far this season to be to Toronto and Boston.
5) Atlanta  (1-3): Still no Tim Hardaway, Jr., who has yet to log a minute this season, and is well behind Justin Holiday and Lamar Patterson, who are behind starter Kyle Korver, on the Hawks' depth chart.
6) L.A. Clippers  (2-2): Get major rest -- four days off before playing Golden State at Staples Thursday -- at just the right time, with Chris Paul and J.J. Redick both on the shelf with injuries.
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9) Toronto  (2-2): Anthony Bennett not in the rotation at the moment and it's hard to see when he might break through.
10) Miami  (2-0): Beno Udrih could be a big help for the Heat; he played well in Memphis for stretches during his year-plus there.
11) Phoenix [NR] (2-0): Suns playing fast again so far this season, leading the league in pace and fourth in the league in scoring.
12) Indiana [NR] (3-0): PG13's Very Good Week: 27.3 points, 7.7 rpg, 26 free throw attempts in three games, all wins.
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13) Denver [NR] (3-1): Good to see Danilo Gallinari looking like he's almost back to his pre-injury form.
14) Boston [NR] (3-1): Cs turning it up on the defensive end -- fourth in defensive rating, having held four of their last five opponents under 100 points.
Dropped out: Utah . Houston , Portland , Detroit , Washington 
San Antonio (3-0): Four straight wins after Saturday's dispatch of the 76ers, done without Kawhi Leonard, and five of the next six games at their redone AT&T Center.
Houston (0-3): Gave Brooklyn its first win of the season, got handled by Denver in the Lawson Revenge Game and was smoked Saturday by the Mavericks. Another odd seven days for the Rockets.
What was the point, again, of the Kings staying in Sacramento?
This is asked not to take a shot at the good people and great fans in California's capital, who have supported that franchise year in and out, often when it didn't deserve their support, and led the people-based campaign that helped keep the team in town. And it's nothing against the local businesses that all stepped up in the franchise's hour of need, and made significant financial commitments when it appeared all but certain in early 2013 that the Kings were moving to Seattle.
But the main reason the Kings stayed in Sacramento is because the NBA wanted the Kings to stay in Sacramento. The league steered the team to Vivek Ranadive, a very rich man whose personal life story is incredible and inspirational. He was supposed to transform the Kings into a model franchise. But so far, Ranadive has been less than inspiring as an owner, even as the Kings prepare to move into their new downtown arena next year.
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Last week's barrage of stories about coach George Karl's future -- his future!! -- just eight months after he got the job, a team meeting a week into the season and a postgame curse out of Karl by franchise player DeMarcus Cousins, were just the latest signs of dysfunction by the league's craziest franchise. It is the exact same death by a thousand paper cuts that led to the firing of Mike Malone a year ago, after 24 games, while Cousins -- with whom Malone had established a respectful and productive relationship -- was on the sidelines with viral meningitis.
The GM that fired Malone, Pete D'Alessandro, was soon sacked himself, neutered when Ranadive promoted Vlade Divac to a front office job that soon usurped D'Alessandro's power. (D'Alessandro fled to Denver, which also hired Malone as its coach. Not shockingly, the Nuggets, which hadn't been a model franchise themselves of late, are a much-improved team already.)
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There have been stories with anonymous sources speculating about Karl's drive and energy -- cheap shots by the faceless at a 63-year-old two-time cancer survivor.
No, Karl doesn't rant and rave like he used to. That's a good thing, both for the team and for his health. Yes, he delegates and defers. That's also a good thing. Karl put a deep, diverse and talented staff together, one that includes strong assistants like Chad Iske and Vance Walberg, former players Anthony and Corliss Williamson and Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman. Karl doesn't need to burnish his bona fides, not after 1,146 career coaching victories. If anything, it's the Kings that should have to prove to him that they're worth coaching.
Divac insisted late in the week -- after the Kings beat Detroit and Brooklyn -- that the stories were overblown and that Karl's job has never been in jeopardy. Cousins, knowing full well he'd get the blame, has reportedly asked the Kings not to fire Karl. But the relationship between the two started off bad and is unlikely to ever approach good. Cousins doesn't trust Karl; Karl didn't think Cousins was in good shape last season, and said so, and pushed for the Kings to trade Cousins during the summer.
To paraphrase the great Keith Jackson, they just plain don't like each other.
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Meanwhile, Ranadive's tone-deafness reared up again after the Kings' 18-point home loss to San Antonio dropped the Kings to 1-7, which Ranadive evidently thought was the perfect time to parade Drake around the Kings locker room. It was after Ranadive and Drake left that Cousins reportedly blistered Karl.
Cousins did apologize afterward through a statement to Yahoo! Sports. But anyone with functioning grey matter knows this relationship will never be fixed. It was Ranadive who tied the franchise to Cousins, maxing him out two years ago for $62 million. It wasn't a bad idea at the time, and Cousins has matured in many areas on and off the court in the last couple of seasons. For my money, he's the best center in the game.
But where is this franchise going? (No, three straight wins to end the week, with Cousins playing out of his mind -- he can do that -- do not change the calculus.)
Divac remade the roster quickly, throwing money at anyone who'd take it last summer. Rajon Rondo and Marco Belinelli did, but a whole bunch of impact free agents didn't. Divac reached big-time to create cap space, trading Nik Stauskas to Philly (which wasn't so bad) along with a protected 2016 first-round pick (bad) and giving the 76ers the right to swap first-rounders with Sacramento in 2017 or 2018.
Sacramento then took what turned out to be total whiffs on Monta Ellis, Wesley Matthews and other free agents that used the Kings to jack up their contracts elsewhere. (Matthews, who got a max deal from Dallas, told USA Today last week what he thought of the Kings' pursuit: "I think they mean well. I think they mean well. I didn't feel confident in meaning well.")
In short, it's a mess.
But, there's a potential solution, which would accomplish several objectives: trade Cousins in a three-team deal involving Sacramento, Boston and Philadelphia.
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There are no "sources" here; just a fella with a laptop. Nor is this a "punishment" for Cousins; to the contrary, I'd imagine he'd find it liberating.
Thank me later:
• Sacramento trades Cousins to Boston, and sends guard Darren Collison and a future second-round pick to Philadelphia;
• Boston gives the Kings the 2016 first-round pick it got from Dallas in the Rondo deal, along with the Celtics' 2018 first-rounder. The Celtics trade David Lee and his expiring contract, along with forward Kelly Olynyk, their first-round pick in 2014, to Sacramento, and send guard James Young, one of their two first-round picks in 2013, to the 76ers;
• Philadelphia sends power forward Carl Landry, whom it acquired from the Kings in the Nik Stauskas deal, to Boston, along with a future second-round pick, and trades the 2017/18 first it would get from the Kings in the Stauskas deal back to Sacramento.
This deal helps everyone -- assuming Ranadive can see the forest for the trees.
Moving Cousins would allow the Kings to give rookie Willie Cauley-Stein 35 minutes a night at either center or the four, which is what he and they both need for the franchise to move forward. (It would allow Karl to play Kosta Koufos, one of his favorites, more minutes as well.) Lee would be a buyout candidate if he wanted to try and hook on elsewhere, or a one-season rental, which is why Sacramento would want Olynyk in the deal.
Moving Collison would allow Sacramento to take a good, long look at Seth Curry's potential behind Rondo. And the three first-round picks from Boston and Philly would make up for the Stauskas deal.
Trading Cousins would not fix the Kings. They need another couple of trips to the Lottery to facilitate that. But it would send a message, both to Karl and the team -- Karl isn't going anywhere, and the Kings are serious about stabilizing their front office: Divac is in charge, but Karl is the coach.
Danny Ainge would finally get the talent upgrade he's been seeking in Cousins, a 25-year-old All-Star with many great seasons ahead of him. Would it be a gamble? Yes, but a relatively small one, given the Celtics' remaining haul of future picks, coach and Brad Stevens' acumen. Cousins respects people who know the game, and the verdict is in on Stevens' chops. And the deal wouldn't mess with Boston's Isaiah Thomas/Avery Bradley/Marcus Smart mix at guard.
Philly would get immediate, relatively inexpensive backcourt help with Collison and Young -- who'd give Jahlil Okafor a legit shooter to play off of -- without having to move any of its young bigs. And Philly would still have a truckload of future picks -- which include the right to swap picks with Sacramento in next year's Draft, along with the Lakers' first-rounder if it falls outside of the top three overall.
Nothing against rookie T.J. McConnell, who's put up some high-assist games for the Sixers at the point. But his last four games, according to basketball-reference.com, have yielded the following plus-minus totals: -19, -12, -24, -20. Not to mention the whole 0-10 thing, which doesn't exactly speak to franchise stability.
The Kings can pretend that a few wins in a row makes everything okay between their star and their coach, that they're just a player away from contending in the West, and wait for the next fire to burn out of control. Or they can be proactive, set proper boundaries between their owner and the basketball people in the organization, coach up the young guys they have with one of the best to ever walk the sidelines and prepare adequately for the future.
Maybe Kris Bryant can play QB and point guard. From Sean Sheehy:
I can't help but notice similarities between the Bears and the Bulls. The Bears fired Lovie Smith after going 10-6, scrapping his defensive culture in the hopes of an offensive revolution. A couple seasons later, and they have neither an offense nor a defense. The Bulls-Tom Thiobdeau-Fred Hoiberg situation mirrors that almost completely so far.
It's like that old story of the dog, with a bone, who sees its own reflection in the water. It opens its mouth to fetch the bone in the reflection, and in doing so loses the bone it already had, and leaves with no bone at all. My question is, are Chicago sports fans too greedy, that they throw away success for more success? Do you think the Bulls will end up like the Bears? (Rose has already auditioned for the role of Jay Cutler, it would seem).
If you're asking if Chicago fans are spoiled, and weren't satisfied with the very good Bulls teams of Tom Thibodeau, I can't answer that, Sean. I don't live in Chicago and don't have the local temperature. I will say it's understandable to be frustrated with the lack of playoff success in the last few years, and wonder if the best years of Rose's career are over. And, though I wasn't crazy about the way Thibodeau was sent out, the Bulls clearly had gone as far as they could with him.
It was my understanding that there would be no math in this mailbag. From Royi Danker:
Since last year's TV deal the NBA signed, people keep talking about the increasing salary cap. All this talk (and the impending new CBA) got the fans involved in some very complicated rules and regulations concerning NBA monetary issues.
My (hopefully thought provoking) question is: isn't all this too complicated?
I understand maximum and minimum salaries, salary cap and luxury tax but why do we need Bi-annual exceptions? Early bird and Larry Bird? Cap holds and what not.
To the point, how about the league, owners and other concerned parties work toward de-regulating these super-complicated rules so that fans can be more engaged and understand NBA salaries without a degree in accounting?
It is complicated, Royi. Very complicated. Which is why I know very few fans want to hear about such things at collective bargaining time. But the reason it's complicated is because you're talking about how the two sides -- management and labor -- divide the money in a multi-billion dollar business. That's why there are so many cap exceptions -- the Players' Union wants to protect older players, who otherwise might not be offered much money at all by teams, and veteran players who used to get squeezed in the labor market. If you had, say, what the league and owners want -- a hard cap, with no exceptions -- I think you'd have to let the teams divide the money among their players as they see fit, with no maximum salaries on anyone. That would lead to the superstars getting almost all the money (and, to be fair, there are some people who believe that's the way it should be), while most of their teammates have to split a much smaller piece of the pie than they do now.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and healthier eating options for when you have to call 911 to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!
(last week's averages in parentheses)
1) Stephen Curry (32.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 5 apg, .463 FG, .958 FT): Must see TV every time the Warriors are on, even more amazing to see in person.
2) Blake Griffin (22.5 ppg, 8 rpg, 4.5 apg, .493 FG, .720 FT): I have to admit, his last commercial about being in "The Zone" is kind of funny.
Griffin's Big Night vs. Detroit
Highlights from Blake Griffin as he scores 34 points and grabs 8 rebounds against Detroit.
3) Russell Westbrook (23.3 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 9 apg, .339 FG, .793 FT): Back to back triple-doubles last week for The Last Angry Man.
4) LeBron James (33 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.3 apg, .537 FG, .618 FT): You didn't really think he was going to stay off this list for long, did you?
5) Andre Drummond (15.8 ppg, 17 rpg, 0.75 bpg, .467 FG, .350 FT): Paul Flannery at SB Nation pointed this out in his column Sunday: the book on Drummond going into the 2012 Draft was that he was a long-term project that could take years to develop, if he did at all. Former Pistons GM Joe Dumars took him anyway, and got fired (there were other factors, to be sure, including Detroit's abysmal record in Dumars' last years there). But that's a GM's job -- to prepare their team for the future, even if it means they won't be there to enjoy it.
Dropped out: Kevin Durant (pulled hamstring, out 7-10 days)
35 -- Years that former general manager Scotty Stirling spent in executive capacities with the Knicks, Warriors and Kings. Stirling spent most of those years in Sacramento, during which time the Kings built a contender under GM Geoff Petrie, with Stirling serving as the team's scouting director. Stirling, who was also a former NBA VP of Operatons, died last week at the age of 86.
50,006 -- Career minutes for Kevin Garnett, who moved into fourth place on the NBA's all-time list Sunday by passing Elvin Hayes (who played a cool 50,000 on the nose). The only players ahead of Garnett are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (57,446), Karl Malone (54,482) and Jason Kidd (50,111).
Garnett Salutes Crowd
Kevin Garnett moved up the list for all-time minutes on Sunday.
1) Is it possible that the vaunted, heralded, super-bad Western Conference isn't quite as special and superior to the Eastern Conference this season? The east is more than holding its own so far against the west in inter-conference play.
2) Jeff Van Gundy was right on point here about Dallas fans booing DeAndre Jordan. He also was correct in pointing out that Jordan should have contacted Dallas owner Mark Cuban when he did change his mind about taking the Mavericks' offer.
Mavs Fans Have Boos For Jordan
DeAndre Jordan returns to Dallas and is greeted with boos.
3) Call right now! Operators are standing by!
4) Don't pay a ton of attention to what Ronda Rousey does, but she seemed like a very good fighter -- until Holly Holm kicked her in the head Saturday night in Australia, and knocked her into tomorrow. Sports.
1) It is becoming quite clear that one of two things is going to happen on this planet in the next few years: we're either going to kill each other with hate and greed and division, or we're going to figure out a way to live with one another. We don't have to love one another. It would be a start if we would stop murdering one another in mass numbers -- either avenging the last act of terror, or being inspired by it. Je Suis Paris.
2) Best in your retirement, Brother Hedo! You were fun to watch, even better to speak with afterward.
3) I can't unsee this. My retinas!
Inside The NBA: Where Are Shaq's Pants?
Get a laugh with the Inside crew and find out what happened to Shaq's britches.
4) I'm gonna be counterintuitive here and say that the Pelicans' 1-9 start isn't the worst thing to happen to the franchise. One, it will drench the outsized expectations all of us put on New Orleans, with Anthony Davis and coach Alvin Gentry in their first season together. Two, it wouldn't be the worst idea for the Pels to get in the Lottery and add another dynamic young player to pair with Davis going forward -- who'll be on an inexpensive rookie contract. Not what Pels fans want to hear 10 games into the season, I know.
Any Draft is filled with uncertainty, which often turns to panic when Lottery picks don't immediately turn into superstars. Fortunately, the early returns on the 2015 Draft class are much more promising than they usually are at this point of the season.
The Sixers are winless, but Jahlil Okafor is putting up numbers. Kristaps Porzingis has overcome the usual New York skepticism and is building a following. Mario Hezonja has impressed in Orlando. Willie Cauley-Stein has been good in Sacramento. Emmanuel Mudiay gives the Nuggets cause for optimism. And the first pick, Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns, has been better than anyone could have expected. Towns just turned 20 on Sunday, but he's played with a vet's poise and consistency. In his first 10 NBA games, Towns has six double-doubles, with a knack for blocking shots at just the right moment.
GameTime: Karl-Anthony Towns Adjusting To NBA
No. 1 Draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns stops by the set to talk all things Timberwolves and about his little friend "Karlito".
He's everything the late Flip Saunders thought he'd be when he took him to help accelerate the rebuild that began last year with the acquisition of Andrew Wiggins from Cleveland in the Kevin Love deal. With Kevin Garnett serving as his mentor, Towns is learning the NBA game and fulfilling the dream he's had since he was 4 years old, the son of a longtime high school coach in New Jersey that never cut corners and instilled fundamentals in his young son. Oh, and he's not a bad reporter, either.
Me: You all were understandably somber on opening night in Los Angeles, yet you beat the Lakers and are 4-0 on the road. Have you been able to kind of take Flip's passing and get through the mourning and still play well?
Karl-Anthony Towns: You know, it's difficult. It was probably the hardest week we'll ever have as a team. But we had to go out there and complete his vision. His vision was for us to be the most competitive team we could possibly be, and go out every night and play the hardest that we could. So for us, basketball was the way of just letting all of our emotions out and grieving with the pain.
It's just amazing what a great human being he is. ... Just the little things he does. Making sure he says hi to everybody first, before he sits down. Making sure that he greets everybody, shakes their hand, gives you some sort of a touch, to let you know that your presence is welcome.
– Karl-Anthony Towns, on Kevin Garnett
Me: Do you remember some of his texts?
KAT: I remember getting texts from Flip a lot during Summer League, after every game. He's giving me a scouting report and told me what I need to fix, what I need to do better. Just talking to me and seeing how I was doing and everything. I remember all those times he was teaching me through the phone, and just sending me pages and pages of text messages, just how he thought I was doing, what he thought I could do better, what could I have done at this minute of the game and that time of the game. Those are the ones that I remember -- how passionate he was about the game of basketball.
Me: How difficult is it to move on?
KAT: Very tough. Very emotional to lose such a big moment of your life. The biggest moment of my life was shared with him, and it was all thanks to him. It's like being given everything, and all of a sudden having everything taken away at once. It was a rough moment, it was a rough time. We're trying to move on as a team, but we'll always have him in our minds.
Inside Stuff: Russell and Towns
Rookies D'Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns face off in their first NBA game.
Me: He really liked the mentor idea for you and the young guys. What do you see when you hear KG barking and woofing? What gets through into your head?
KAT: Just how fortunate I am and how blessed I am to have him on our team. It's such a blessing to have a first ballot Hall of Famer on your team, one of the greatest players ever in the game be part of this organization. Every day I'm learning something from the greatest of all time. So it's a blessing.
Me: What stands out? What is the message of the day he gives you?
KAT: Just continue to grow as a leader. We all don't know how much time KG has left playing the game of basketball. To me it feels like another 20-plus years, but you never know how long. I'm just trying to absorb everything, so when his time is up and he can't play this game or he doesn't want to play this game any more, and leave on his own terms, I can pick up where he left off and try to take this organization to the next level.
Me: What are some of the lessons in terms of the game itself?
KAT: The biggest thing is just using certain parts of my body to advantage, not having to use my whole entire body every single possession, and really abusing it, wearing it down. So that's been really useful and really key for me so far this season. I've been able to protect my body through these first games, and that's because of KG.
Me: What do you hear in your head when you think of his voice?
All Access: Towns Mic'd Up in His Debut
Listen in as the number 1 draft pick, Karl-Anthony Towns plays in his first NBA game.
KAT: For me, when I hear KG, I hear 'work harder. Play defense. And continue to compete.' I think those are the three things that he always iterates, in any sentence structure.
Me: Have you learned anything about him that you didn't know?
KAT: Just what a great human being he is. It's hard to really see that as a fan, when you're not on the team every single day, with the numerous amount of hours. It's just amazing what a great human being he is. I think that gets overshadowed by his intensity on the court ... just the little things he does. Making sure he says hi to everybody first, before he sits down. Making sure that he greets everybody, shakes their hand, gives you some sort of a touch, to let you know that your presence is welcome. Just the interactions. All the interactions he has with us, it's amazing.
Me: You weren't born yet when he was here the first time. What have you been able to learn about him?
KAT: KG was a handful. He was an animal. There's no other word to say. He was almost an entire wolfpack by himself. I remember watching him when he was younger, and he was dominant.
Me: So ... you interviewed Durant while you were in high school?
KAT: Yeah, I did. I interviewed Durant as an MSG Varsity reporter. It was really cool. I got a chance to talk with him and Russell Westbrook. It was a very cool experience.
Me: Do you remember what you asked him?
KAT: I think the one question I really had was, what would Plan B be if basketball didn't work out.
Towns Score Plus the Foul
Kevin Garnett finds Karl-Anthony Towns for the layup plus the foul.
Me: What did he say?
KAT: He put all of his eggs in his basket of basketball.
Me: And you've said that you thought about being a doctor if you weren't a player, right?
KAT: I'm still thinking about being a doctor. Whenever the time is for me to stop being a center, I'll make sure I'll be Dr. Towns ... I probably would love to be in something with sports. I've been born and raised in sports, so in the medical field, I'd probably be a kinesiologist.
Me: That's seven years of medical school -- after you get the undergrad degree.
KAT: Seven sounds short when you've been working 15-plus years in this game of basketball.
Me: Your dad was a big influence on your basketball development. What were some of the drills and ideas he instilled in you?
KAT: My dad always had me dribbling with two balls, always had me two-ball handling, always shooting, always working on my vision. He would have one of his players running around the court and making it very hard for me to see, standing in front of me and having me throw passes to people, so I could always be pinpoint. My dad did a lot of drills that a big man should not be doing ... (But) I always trusted my dad. My dad was always such a coveted coach at the high school level in New Jersey. I just always felt like he knew what he was doing.
It's like being given everything, and all of a sudden having everything taken away at once. It was a rough moment, it was a rough time.
– Karl-Anthony Towns, on Flip Saunders' death
Me: You had to play so differently at Kentucky than you'd played in high school. Was there any frustration with that?
KAT: No, not at all. The biggest thing my dad ever taught me was, 'you never win a game by yourself, Karl. You always need your teammates.' I've always been taught to be the most unselfish player on the court. Whatever I had to do for us to win games, I was more than willing to do. And for me, last year had me be more of a post presence. And I had no problem doing that with a 38-0 record.
Me: Do you and Andrew Wiggins talk about the future?
KAT: I mean, we talk about winning championships. We talk about really big things. Especially for this organization. Our goals are set much higher.
I'm still thinking about being a doctor. Whenever the time is for me to stop being a center, I'll make sure I'll be Dr. Towns.
– Karl-Anthony Towns
Me: With the recent history of this franchise, is it difficult to get people to believe your vision, and that you're serious?
KAT: You know what? I think it really doesn't matter, if people don't believe what we say. We go out on the court every night and believe in our goals. We believe we can accomplish something. I think that's the biggest thing, as soon as we start accomplishing our goals.
Me: Do you feel that your voice and Andrew's voices are getting through to your teammates, that they're listening to you?
KAT: I think it does. But I think I'm trying to make sure my voice is more on the court, through action, than words. I think KG can back me on the words. I don't worry about that part.
-- The Mavericks' official Twitter handle (@dallasmavs), Wednesday, 11:08 pm, after Dallas got a small measure of revenge on the Clippers and DeAndre Jordan in its 118-108 win over Los Angeles. I believe there is sarcasm intended here in reference to the emojis Clippers players used in July to denote their travel to Jordan's Texas home when they convinced him to spurn the verbal agreement he'd made with Dallas in free agency and return to Los Angeles. But I could be wrong.
"I believe Jared's going to be a very, very valuable free agent next summer. I don't think there are very many good free agents next summer. The cap's going to go up $20 million, and I think at that point it's just a more natural time to talk about it. Most people -- including Danny, who knows me well -- understand that that's my philosophy. It has nothing to do with them getting a bargain or not getting a bargain. Unless Danny came to me and said, 'Would you be interested in maxing out Jared Sullinger?' there's really nothing to talk about."
-- David Falk, agent for Boston Celtics forward Jared Sullinger, to the Boston Herald, on why discussions between Celtics GM Danny Ainge and Falk on a potential contract extension for Sullinger went nowhere before last month's deadline for Class of 2012 draftees.
"It was very weird, man. Especially me. I could have had a better story than that. Going in for that, I should be the spokesperson for EZ Tag now."
-- Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley, to local reporters, after being arrested and temporarily jailed on Wednesday for failure to pay overdue charges on his EZ Tag account. Beverley says he was unaware of the charges because he changed the credit card he was using for his account, but the company continued assessing charges on the expired card, unbeknownst to him.
"We don't hit anybody and rebound the ball. We got guys that play 27 minutes and get one defensive rebound. I can get a rebound. I guarantee you. You give me 27 minutes on Saturday, I'll get you a rebound."
-- Washington Wizards coach Randy Wittman, disgusted with his team's soft performance in its 125-101 loss to Oklahoma City last Tuesday. The Thunder outrebounded Washington 53-41, leaving Wittman to sarcastically contemplate playing four guards with a center because, in Wittman's words, "we're getting beat on the boards with my supposed big men out there."
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