Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Dec. 22) -- George Karl critiques Carmelo Anthony in new book

Karl blasts Anthony in new book | Key date looms for Nowitzki | Irving wants to sweep Bucks in playoffs | Wade: Bulls putting too much pressure on Butler

No. 1: In his new book, Karl critiques Anthony, other former Nuggets — George Karl was hired as coach of the Denver Nuggets 42 games into the 2004-05 season with the thinking that he could take the team’s then-young star, Carmelo Anthony, to success. In his 8 1/2 seasons as coach, Anthony and Karl at times butted heads, yet also made a Western Conference finals run in 2009. Karl hasn’t coached Anthony since he was traded from Denver in 2011 and Karl hasn’t coached the Nuggets since 2013. In his new book, Karl has some pointed words for Anthony and some of his former Nuggets teammates, writes Marc Berman of the New York Post:

Former Nuggets coach George Karl took a series of personal shots at Carmelo Anthony in an upcoming memoir, claiming Anthony was “a conundrum,’’ a user, not a leader and unwilling to share “the spotlight’’ or play defense during their six years together.

Karl also took aim in “Furious George’’ at former Nuggets, and ex-Knicks, J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin. He branded the trio of Anthony, Smith and Martin as “AAU babies’’ — akin to “the spoiled brats you see in junior golf and junior tennis.’’

Karl also referred to Smith’s entourage as “a posse’’ — a phrase that got Knicks president Phil Jackson in hot water when he used it regarding LeBron James’ managers.

Karl coached Anthony from January 2005-February 11 when Anthony’s trade demand was heeded. Karl’s memoir will be out in January. In a review copy obtained by The Post, Karl hammered Anthony more harshly than he ever had in the past.

“Carmelo was a true conundrum for me in the six years I had him.” Karl wrote. “He was the best offensive player I ever coached. He was also a user of people, addicted to the spotlight and very unhappy when he had to share it.

“He really lit my fuse with his low demand of himself on defense. He had no commitment to the hard, dirty work of stopping the other guy. My ideal — probably every coach’s ideal — is when your best player is also your leader. But since Carmelo only played hard on one side of the ball, he made it plain he couldn’t lead the Nuggets, even though he said he wanted to. Coaching him meant working around his defense and compensating for his attitude.”

Karl also said: “The volume of questions about Carmelo eventually wore me down. Sometimes I got so sick of talking about him that I’d just throw up my hands and say: ‘I don’t know what he is and I don’t care.’ ”

Karl wrote Anthony and Martin not having fathers in their lives became a detriment to their personalities.

“Kenyon and Carmelo carried two big burdens: all that money and no father to show them how to act like a man,” Karl wrote.

Karl wrote Anthony “was such a talented kid’’ he could’ve “become the best defender at his position in the NBA.’’

Karl called Anthony’s trade to the Knicks “a sweet release for the coach and the team, like popping a blister.’’

“We won this trade, definitely,’’ Karl wrote, referring to the Nuggets swapping Anthony and Chauncey Billups to the Knicks for Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov and draft picks.

Regarding Smith, Karl said Smith’s father, Earl Sr., “urged his son to shoot the ball and keep shooting it from the very moment I put him in the game.’’

Karl wrote Smith carried “a huge sense of entitlement, a distracting posse, his eye always on the next contract and some really unbelievable shot selection.’’

“When we traded J.R. in 2011, I was disappointed that I hadn’t helped a clearly talented player advance his game more.’’

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No. 2: Key date in Nowitzki’s comeback plan looms — Dallas Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki hasn’t played since a 27-minute effort against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Nov. 25. An aggravation to his right Achilles tendon has kept him out of the lineup since then. Nowitzki has gradually ramped up his rehab work since then and today’s practice could prove crucial in determining when and how much Nowitzki will play this season. Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News has more:

The Mavericks’ legend is scheduled to go through his first full practice in nearly a month Thursday in Los Angeles. He went down the day after Thanksgiving in Cleveland when he aggravated his right Achilles tendon. Since then, it’s been a slow, arduous recovery process.

And it’s going to continue to be slow and cautious even when he does return to game action, possibly Friday against the Clippers, but almost certainly at some point before New Year’s Eve.

“When he does come back, it’s going to be very gradual,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Let’s not turn this into a big to-do. It’s going to be a gradual working up to what we hope will be normal minutes at some point.”

Asked what “normal” minutes would represent, he said: “Hopefully mid-to-high 20s. But we’ll see. This year has morphed into a much different animal than expected. And so we all have to adjust.”

But Nowitzki is bound and determined to make his presence felt – once he and the medical staff are certain he will not have another relapse.

“It feels a lot better,” he said. “I’ll probably get a good workout tonight and see how it responds. I’ll probably get my first practice (Thursday) and see how it feels, basically go from day to day. It’s been encouraging. It hasn’t gotten worse from some of the stuff we’ve been doing. Hopefully, I’ll be out there soon.”

The practice on Thursday will be critical in many respects. Nowitzki said he will do things he has not done yet in the month since he’s been recovering – such as hard pushing off on the right foot and making quick cuts – well, as quick as a 38-year-old can make them.

The Mavericks have been playing virtually every other day, making quality practice time hard to come by. But Carlisle said he’ll make sure Thursday is a hard work day for Nowitzki and others who need the work.

“My hope is that we can get a good 30 minutes of hard work in because I think that would help us right now,” he said. “And then we’ll see where he is after practice and the following day. It’s not so much how these guys feel after a practice is over, it’s how they feel the next morning.

“And then we’ll decide if the Clipper game is a possibility or not. He’s made gradual, but steady, gains on his recovery. Signs are good. But we’re going to be cautious with him.”

Nowitzki has been agonizing about not playing while his teammates try to compete. He’s antsy to make his return. But he doesn’t want a repeat of what happened a month ago.

“If you would have told me when this happened in the first game of the season that I’d still be out at Christmas, I’d have said you’re out of your mind,” he said. “But it’s one of these things where you have to be patient.

“I came back maybe a little too early and hurt it again in Cleveland. I didn’t want to come back too early again and start the whole process over and deal with it all season long. We’re trying to make sure this is not going to come back for the rest of the year and hopefully I can play injury-free for the rest of the season.”

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No. 3: Irving wants to sweep Bucks in playoffs — The Cleveland Cavaliers took down the Milwaukee Bucks 113-102 to complete a home-and-home sweep of the Central Division foe. Over those two games, Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving averaged 29.5 points, nine assists and 5.5 rebounds to help power the victories. After last night’s win in Cleveland, Irving had praise for the Bucks … and also hopes to see them again come playoff time (and send them packing, too). Joe Vardon of has more:

After 13-plus seasons and 199-career postseason games, LeBron James knows not get carried away when the subject turns to potential playoff matchups. Especially in December.

So when James was asked after the Cavs knocked off the Milwaukee Bucks 113-102 on Wednesday about his feelings toward a potential playoff showdown with the Bucks, who James admits plays his team tough, he said: “how far down the line?”

“I don’t know. The next several years they could be really really good,” James said, after posting 29 points, nine rebounds, and six assists. “For me, I’m ready for whatever matchup. It doesn’t matter if it’s this year, or if it’s several years, I’m going to be ready for it.”

Kyrie Irving, who had just poured in 31 points and dished out a career-high 13 assists, was far, far more pointed.

“I hope. I hope, man. I hope,” Irving said, when asked about the possibility of seeing the Bucks in the postseason. “They’re a great young team. It would be great to go four games against them. I’m fired up to go against them every time now, for real. Ever since they kicked our (butt) in Milwaukee, it’s been personal and it’s going to continue to be personal.”

Playoffs or no playoffs, and right now, the Bucks are 13-14 and in ninth in the East — Milwaukee definitely has the Cavs’ attention. You can see it not only in their words, but their actions.

The Bucks’ 118-101 smashing of Cleveland on Nov. 29 struck a nerve. It was just that Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 34 points to go with 12 rebounds that game, or that Jabari Parker added 18 points, or that Michael Beasley chipped in 17 off the bench. Or that the Bucks bullied their way to 68 points in the paint and scored 22 off Cleveland’s turnovers. Or even that coach Tyronn Lue pulled his entire starting five during the third quarter when the group failed to respond to halftime adjustments.

It was all of the above. The Cavs approached this two-game, consecutive-night series clearly wanting to make right all those wrongs.

Given the Cavs’ M.O. of resting starters after arduous workloads for the second game on consecutive nights, it was reasonable to expect that Lue might leave James or Irving or both on the bench for Wednesday. And that was in fact his plan heading to the arena, while knowing he’d also be without Love and Smith. That’s four starters. And then both Irving and James talked him out of it.

“Just to prove that we’re at a different level,” Irving said. “At the end of the day it really comes down to that. We’ve been through the ringer. We know what to expect from one another. I’m pretty sure he wanted to sit us, understanding that myself playing (45) minutes, Bron playing (47).”

The Cavs scored the final six points of the third quarter to go up 15, the last three on a nifty drive to the hoop by Irving and free throw. Irving said they closed the quarter with such furor because “it’s really physical out there.

“Especially against this young Bucks team, they’re budding in the Eastern Conference,” Irving said. “But at the end of the day, we just have to prove why we are who we are and those moments in the game and pockets of the game whether it’s the beginning of the third or end of the third, you got to be able to either make a push.”

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No. 4: Wade: Bulls putting too much pressure on Butler — According to the site, Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler has taken the 16th most field goal attempts in the NBA. Boil it down to the fourth quarter, and Butler is eighth in clutch field goal attempts and sixth in attempts in the last 2 minutes of a game. All of those things may help back up what Butler’s teammate, Dwyane Wade, had to say about the amount of pressure Butler is facing this season to score. Nick Friedell of has more:

Speaking after a 107-97 loss to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday — a game that saw Butler shoot just 6-of-20 from the field — Wade said the Bulls must be more versatile offensively in the final quarter.

“That’s putting a lot of pressure on Jimmy,” Wade said. “Let’s just call it what it is. We put a lot of pressure on Jimmy in the fourth quarter to make a lot of plays because we’re running just one action, so we got to get more action, more body movement. And it’s got to come from us as players, too. Obviously, some of it’s playcalling as well. Some of it’s we got to get out of the way, we got to move. We got to keep them honest. We’re asking the young guy to make every shot he takes with bodies in front of him, step-backs and all these things. That’s not necessarily the easiest thing to do.”

Overall, the Bulls hit just 7-for-24 over the final 12 minutes against the Wizards, who handed Chicago its seventh defeat in 10 games.

“I think so,” Wade said when asked if the team’s fourth-quarter offense is too predictable. “I think ideally we want to get to a point where we just want to move bodies, man. … Offensively, we got to be able to move bodies. It doesn’t matter if a guy knows who it’s going to. If the paint is packed because you’re running one action, then it’s going to be tough. A guy’s got to make an unbelievable shot.”

The Bulls entered Monday night’s win over the Detroit Pistons ranked last in the NBA in points in the fourth quarter (22.9), last in field goal percentage in the fourth quarter (37.5) and last in 3-point field goal percentage in the fourth quarter (26.5 percent).

Wade believes those numbers would improve if the Bulls were creating enough space on the floor to execute down the stretch.

“You have to take the shots you got to take,” Wade said. “[The Wizards] did a good job. There’s not a lot of spacing sometimes, so we had to take a lot of tough shots. Some nights you hit them. Some nights you don’t. We have to figure out — we have to continue to keep playing together, continue talking about our spacing so we can get better opportunities. But there’s only so many options that you have on a basketball floor. I can’t say guys are pressing. I’m sure a guy would love to have a shot back here or there, but shots are tough.”

“Maybe so,” Butler said when apprised of Wade’s statements. “I guess I got to be a better playmaker. Get the ball up early, watch it, see what I see. I’m going to still play basketball the way I know how to play basketball. Good, bad and indifferent, I think I play to win. So I guess we all got to be better, including myself.”

“I think as the game goes along, teams are going to key in — especially [on] myself and Dwyane Wade,” Butler said. “Now we got to figure out ways to get other guys involved. We got to put other guys in great positions as well, but we’re not guarding nobody, either. One [through] four quarters. I think sometimes they missed shots, so it looks good, but I always say there’s a difference between missing shots and good defense. Sometimes we do play good defense. Sometimes teams just miss shots.”

As it has throughout most of the season, Butler’s frustration is centered on the fact that he feels the Bulls should be playing better defense.

“Fourth quarter’s not the decision-maker,” he said. “Yeah, it’s important. But we were doing stuff wrong all game long to put ourself in the position, and then it just carried on over to the fourth quarter. So you can’t really say the fourth quarter is that big of a problem because if we were doing everything we were supposed to be doing all night long for the other three quarters, we wouldn’t be in that situation. That’s the way that I look at it.”

For his part, Wade said he and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg continue to talk about how to get more offensive action going late in games.

“We always talk about different things,” Wade said. “I thought today, especially early, we ran some great sets. We got to continue to work on our fourth-quarter execution. It’s no secret at all. We stay in constant communication of what we can do. But it’s just going to have to be some work in progress.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wes Matthews knew what Damian Lillard was going to do at the end of last night’s game and put the defensive clamps on him … Tracy McGrady and Ben Wallace lead the list of 2017 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame nominees … Big day in Miami as the Heat will retire Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 32 jersey tonight … Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy is pushing hard for his assistant coach, Tim Hardaway, to get a spot in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame … Speaking of StanVan, he says his “offensive” frustration is mounting after Detroit’s loss to Memphis last night … Los Angeles Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. is out indefinitely with a knee injury … Great read by our Ian Thomsen on Shaun Livingston and his unique role with the Golden State Warriors … The NBA’s new CBA is reportedly just one step away from being officially approved …