Report: Cousins intends to sign extension with Kings | Report: LeBron upset over recent officiating | Simmons participates in drills with Sixers | Celtics falter vs. Raptors
No. 1: Report: Cousins plans to sign max extension with Kings -- He's regarded by one of his peers as the "best big man" in the NBA. He's a two-time All-Star, a two-time All-NBA second team member and a double-double machine each night. Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins is all of those things, and, according to a new report, will soon be a very rich man to boot. James Ham of CSNCalifornia.com reports Cousins is expected to ink a max-level extension with Sacramento this summer:
DeMarcus Cousins is about to get paid. A published report over the weekend had the Sacramento Kings preparing a mega extension offer to the 26-year-old big.
CSN California has confirmed through a league source that the two sides have tossed around numbers and that barring a late change in direction by either side, Cousins intends to sign a massive, max-money extension, estimated at roughly $207 million during the offseason that will keep the big man in a Kings uniform long-term.
The two-time All-Star center signed a four-year max money deal in September of 2013 that takes him through the 2017-18 season. Under the new CBA, Cousins is in line for the league’s designated player exception, which allows Sacramento to give their franchise cornerstone an additional five-years on top of his current deal, keeping him in a Kings uniform 2022-23 season.
As an eligible designated player, Cousins can take home up to 35 percent of the team’s salary cap, which is set at roughly $102 million for next season.
The two sides have to wait until after July 1, 2017 to consummate the extension and there are still parameters to the deal that need to be worked out.
* * *
No. 2: Report: James frustrated by recent officiating -- The NBA players tasked each night with guarding Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James are more often than not at a disadvantage. From James' pure physical size and strength to his footwork and court sense, most defenders are at his mercy as he navigates the court. Still, James absorbs plenty of punishment each season from defenders looking for any kind of edge against him. After last night's loss to the Jazz in Utah, James was upset over some of the calls he didn't get and has been not happy of late overall with the treatment he's received from officials. ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin has more:
Cavaliers superstar LeBron James has become increasingly frustrated with the way he has been officiated this season, multiple team sources told ESPN following Cleveland's 100-92 loss to the Utah Jazz on Tuesday.
James' frustration boiled over with 2:09 remaining in the first quarter, when he shouted at referee Tyler Ford and was assessed a rare technical foul -- just his second of the season -- after Utah's Shelvin Mack fouled James and put him on the foul line after an and-1 layup. While James got that call from Ford, he was upset from his previous trip down the court, when he felt like Mack fouled him on another layup attempt and there was no whistle.
James was irate, in part, because, sources told ESPN, he could hear Utah coach Quin Snyder instruct Mack to foul him to prevent the transition bucket, and even with that instruction being given and James absorbing what he thought to be obvious contact from Mack, no call was made.
"Yeah, I got fouled," James said after the game, when asked about his outburst.
When asked if it was a result of frustration over the way he has been officiated lately, James conceded: "It is, it is. It is. But I know what the main thing is -- the main thing is to win -- but it is. It is. It is."
James finished the game with seven free throw attempts -- right on his average of 7.1 attempts per game this season.
On Sunday, during a 120-116 win in Phoenix, he attempted just six. In the second half of the victory over the Suns, James was brought to the floor by contact as he missed a 9-foot shot in the paint and no foul was called. James lobbied all three referees for an explanation for the non-call, and all three told James they did not see the play, multiple sources told ESPN.
James is actually 10th in the league in free throw attempts per game. Only Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (10.4), Houston's James Harden (10.3), Chicago's Jimmy Butler (9.6), Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins (9.6), New Orleans' Anthony Davis (9.5), Toronto's DeMar DeRozan (8.9), Boston's Isaiah Thomas (8.8), Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo (7.7) and Portland's Damian Lillard (7.6) attempt more.
Much of James' detest comes from the fact that the vast majority of his shots come from within the paint -- as 12 of his 20 did on Tuesday -- yet, according to multiple sources, he feels contact is ignored, whereas players who thrive more on jump shots than drives have been rewarded with big nights at the line. For instance, Butler has had two games with 20 free throw attempts or more already in the new year, and Harden has had double-digit free throw attempts in seven of his past nine games.
James also averages more minutes than everyone above him in the top 10, save for Davis, who is tied at 37.1 minutes per game, and more field goal attempts per game than Antetokounmpo, Butler and Harden. Add it up and there is a perception by James, according to multiple sources, that he doesn't get officiated the same way as many of his All-NBA-level peers.
James has felt like a target in the past, multiple sources told ESPN, even believing that in previous playoff series against the Washington Wizards early in his career, the Wizards' intent was not only to foul James but physically harm him. James was taken out of the air by Brendan Haywood during the 2008 playoffs, when Haywood played for Washington. The Haywood play caused James' elbow to bleed after he fell to the floor.
On Tuesday night, James once again had several cuts on his hands and arms, which were treated by Cavs trainer Mike Mancias after the game.
* * *
No. 3: Sixers' Simmons takes part in 5-on-0 drills -- The Philadelphia 76ers have already matched last season's win total and have shown -- at times -- overall progress with their young core of former Lottery picks. They have done all of this without this year's No. 1 pick, Ben Simmons, as he tries to heal from a broken foot suffered in training camp. The Sixers got a good sign on that front, too, as Simmons participated in some drills yesterday, albeit not quite at full speed. Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com has more:
The Sixers' practice court was energized on Tuesday when Ben Simmons suited up for his first five-on-none activity since injuring his foot in training camp.
“To even see him today go through five-on-zero stuff, not a lot, not at a hundred percent, but with us in a 76ers uniform, the gym got a lift, you could feel it,” Brett Brown said.
Simmons ran the point, according to Joel Embiid. The first overall pick entered the NBA as a point-forward, and Brown has said he intends to play Simmons at the one.
Brown described Simmons’ participation as “light script work” — going at 80 percent. It included passing, running plays and communicating.
“Albeit small, it’s the first time he’s done that and it was great to have him,” Brown said.
There is no timetable set for Simmons’ return. He joined the Sixers for his first road trip over their last two games in Boston and Brooklyn.
“It was good having him today,” Embiid said. “I remember the first time that I had a chance to be back and script with my teammates. I think he did a good job for someone who hasn’t been around. He knew the plays, and I was happy to be on the floor with him.”
And so another box is checked off in Simmons' recovery.
“I think everybody should just feel like today in our world, and certainly in the program’s world, the city’s world, was a good day having him back," Brown said.
* * *
No. 4: Celtics left with to-do list after loss to Raptors -- Since mid-December, the Boston Celtics had slowly but steadily shown improvement and entered last night's game in Toronto having won 10 of their last 12 games. The matchup with the Raptors was a key one as the winner would have an early one-up in the chase for No. 2 in the Eastern Conference. After the Raptors prevailed, 114-106 behind a big night from DeMar DeRozan, the Celtics were left with much to work on going forward. Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com has more:
The Celtics couldn't cool off DeMar DeRozan in the second half, and he put up a season-best 41 points to go with a career-best 13 rebounds. Toronto big man Jonas Valanciunas scored 18 points and grabbed 23 rebounds, including 11 on the offensive glass, which reminded Boston that its size and rebounding deficiencies are still major concerns against top competition.
A Celtics team that has routinely taken care of business against lesser foes this season -- Boston is 0-4 against the Raptors and Cavaliers but 13-3 versus the rest of the East -- looked a bit disheveled after the Raptors rallied Tuesday. It seems fair to wonder if there's a bit of a mental hurdle that these Celtics must overcome to truly compete with the Raptors.
The Celtics have three months to figure things out. As we near the midpoint of the 2016-17 season, playoff seedings are tenuous at best, but ESPN's Basketball Power Index gives both Toronto (65.5 percent chance at the No. 2 seed) and Boston (71.4 percent chance at the No. 3 seed) heavy odds to finish where they currently stand.
Although the Celtics still have to prove they can win a playoff series, BPI offers a 42.4 percent chance that Boston and Toronto will meet in the Eastern Conference semifinals. No other two-team matchup is nearly as likely (for instance, a Celtics-Cavaliers semis matchup has the next-best odds, at 21.2 percent).
Another loss to a quality foe will mean a rehash of Boston's struggles against good teams this season. Boston is 0-8 against the teams ahead of it in the league standings.
What can Boston do to ensure it can compete with a team such as Toronto in May?
Health: Having Avery Bradley, who missed his second straight game Tuesday due to an Achilles strain, back certainly wouldn't hurt Boston's ability to contain Toronto's All-Star backcourt. Marcus Smart played well in Bradley's starting role but is an obvious luxury in a reserve role where he can maintain Boston's defensive intensity as the starters go out.
Rebounding: When the Celtics were struggling at the start of the season, much was made about their lack of pure size and the way opponents dominated the offensive glass against them, leading to easy second-chance points. Rebounding hasn't been as much of a concern lately, if only because Boston had won 10 of 12 entering Tuesday's game, but recent losses to the Cavaliers and Raptors are reminders that Boston could use a strong rebounding presence. If Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge can't hit a home run and fetch a superstar before February's deadline, he might be able to help the team's long-term future by finding a rebounding role player who can shore up one of Boston's most obvious weaknesses, even if just in a reserve role. You'll hear familiar names such as Andrew Bogut pop up, and Boston should pounce if the asking price isn't absurd.
Confidence: Entering play Tuesday, BPI predicted the Celtics to win 50.5 games, which would be nearly six wins more than is predicted for the Atlanta Hawks team projected to finish fourth in the East. Despite this stumble, Boston is the BPI favorite in nine of its next 12 games (and one of those underdog games is Friday in Atlanta, where Boston will have plenty of motivation to get Al Horford a win against his former team). More importantly, the Celtics have two more regular-season games against Toronto -- one on Feb. 1 in Boston and a second visit to Canada at the end of that month. Winning one of those games could go a long way if the two teams do indeed cross paths in the playoffs
* * *
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard faked a high five and dabbed on former teammate Jeremy Lin last night ... Blizzard conditions in Portland made the Cleveland Cavaliers trip there last night a long, drawn out one ... Philadelphia 76ers big man Jahlil Okafor, who has DNPs in his last two games, is trying his best to go along with coach Brett Brown's plan ... ICYMI, the LA Clippers have hired Kevin Garnett as a consultant ... The Atlanta Hawks have reportedly disciplined GM Wes Wilcox for a racially-charged joke he made at a recent season-ticket holder event ... Paul Millsap says the Hawks' front office told him he won't be moved before the trade deadline ... An interesting notion here: the Golden State Warriors lead the league in "fake" close games ...