Lakers’ Byron Scott: ‘It’s going to be a tough road’

The Los Angeles Lakers are coming off of an incredibly disappointing season last year due to injuries, and they are expected to have yet another difficult season this season. Kobe Bryant will be back, which is always a plus, but the roster as a whole is simply not talented enough to compete in the Western Conference. New head coach Byron Scott talked to the media about the difficulty of the upcoming season. “I expect us to compete every night,” said Byron Scott on radio Thursday to “The Dan Patrick Show, via the LA Times. “The Lakers are “going to play a tough, physical brand of basketball and we’re going to play defense. ” “It’s going to be a tough road for us,” he added. “We have a lot of work to do. I don’t know how good we’re going to be.  I’ve got a lot of guys that I don’t really know.  I’ve got to get to know these guys and see what makes them tick — but I’ve got one guy that I do know what makes him tick and that’s a great piece to have.” There’s no denying

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It’s Carmelo Anthony or Nothing for Chicago Bulls’ Offseason

When the 2014 NBA offseason is finally put to bed, the Chicago Bulls will remember it as the summer they collared Carmelo Anthony—or the one during which they didn’t.

That’s it.

There is no other superstar free agent preparing to ride into Chicago on a swanky steed, decked out in shining armor, his razor-sharp sword pointing in the direction of the San Antonio Spurs.

This is it for the Bulls. There is no one else.

Not even if Anthony decides to sign elsewhere.

 

The Apple of Chicago’s Eye

All of the Bulls’ (covert) energy has been spent trying to woo Anthony.

Joakim Noah began recruiting Anthony over the All-Star break, and according to the New York Daily NewsMitch Lawrence, he hasn’t stopped since. Head coach Tom Thibodeau is pining after the New York Knicks superstar too. He’s even spoken to Anthony’s former Syracuse coach, Jim Boeheim, per The New York Post‘s Marc Berman

I’ve talked to Tom about Melo, his name has come up. I think Tom is very excited about the possibility of getting Carmelo. He likes him. He likes how he plays. He feels he’s coachable. I think Tom Thibodeau is one of the better coaches in the NBA. Carmelo would be happy playing for him. It would be a good fit — the coach-player relationship.

Not even Derrick Rose has been able to resist Anthony’s prospective charm, despite what he’s saying publicly. He told Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears that he won’t be recruiting the seven-time All-Star because it’s “not my job.”

“My thing is if they want to come, they can come,” he adds.

Cute. 

Anyone who truly believes that Rose won’t be recruiting Anthony in some capacity better cut down on the peanut butter and contemporary psychedelics sandwiches. He will be involved, even if it’s through back channels, publicly indirect plaudits and flattering text messages coming from a burner phone. 

Rose knows what Anthony can do for his team. He does everything the Bulls don’t: score consistently. Sources told ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard (subscription required) that Rose wants the Bulls to add Anthony. There’s exactly a zero percent chance his stance has changed just because he’s talking about Chicago selling itself.

Most of you realize this, hopefully. And hopefully even more of you realize how blatant the Bulls are being with their devout interest in Anthony.

Once LeBron James opted out of his contract with the Miami Heat, teams went into a cap-dumping frenzy. The Houston Rockets unloaded Omer Asik following a report from Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck that stated they were planning an “all-out push” for LeBron. The Atlanta Hawks shed Lou Williams’ salary.

Even the Phoenix Suns have come creeping out of the woodwork, trying to secure face time with the King, according to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski.

Craziness. James-cajoling craziness.

Some teams—like the Rockets—will portray jockeying and finagling and contrived tinkering as nothing more than ultimate flexibility, as an attempt to chase anyone and everyone worth chasing. But this is all about James first and foremost. Though he’s unlikely to leave the Heat, everything we see and hear is the result of his free agency.

Unless you travel to Chicago. Then it’s all about Anthony.

While every other team with cap space or the means to create cap space zeroes in on James, K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune explains that the Bulls are pressing on with their own all-out push for Anthony.

None of which is to say the Bulls wouldn’t welcome James with open arms and a red headband. If he indicates he wants to play in Chicago, they’ll be all over it. They have the flexibility to pursue Anthony, so they can reverse course if necessary.

But they know stealing James from Miami is a long shot. Anthony is a more realistic target. Focusing on him is the smart play, a form of savoir-faire in itself. That’s why the Bulls won’t have to wait in line to meet with him, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein:

Carmelo Anthony is planning to meet with the Chicago Bulls in Chicago on the opening day of free agency after the NBA’s offseason market officially opens Tuesday at 12:01 a.m., according to sources familiar with Anthony’s plans.

Sources told ESPN.com that Anthony is in the process of arranging a trip to Chicago to meet with the Bulls, then intends to travel to Texas for Wednesday meetings with both the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks.

Earning Anthony’s first meeting isn’t a crystallized foretoken of his eventual arrival, but it’s certainly not inconsequential. The Bulls have made Anthony their top priority. He, if only for a brief moment, has returned the favor.

 

The Other Guys

Other free agents and potential trade targets are out there, just so we’re clear. The Bulls have even been linked to some of them. 

Restricted free agent Chandler Parsons is a person of interest, according to Spears. The ever-available Kevin Love has caught their eye as well. 

Yet there’s something plainly obligatory about their other offseason ventures. Consider, for a moment, what ESPN.com’s Chad Ford (subscription required) said they were reportedly offering the Minnesota Timberwolves for Love ahead of the draft:

The Wolves continue talking trade now with a number of teams. The Warriors, Celtics, Nuggets and Bulls are getting the most play right now. The Warriors’ deal was “near the finish line” according to one source before it stalled because of the other players involved in the deal. The Bulls, who are offering Taj Gibson, Tony Snell plus Nos. 16 and 19, are the latest suitors.

Taj Gibson, Tony Snell and two first-rounders is a solid offer—you know, if Love had the Timberwolves’ collective tongue in a vice and chained president and head coach Flip Saunders’ hands to an airborne helicopter’s coaxial rotors. 

This “offer” didn’t enable the Bulls to take back any of Minnesota’s less favorable contracts, and it didn’t include premier assets like Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic. Why? Because the Bulls want Anthony. And they want Anthony because they’re cautious.

When’s the last time you saw Bulls general manager Gar Forman or owner Jerry Reinsdorf back a risk-addled gambit? Exactly.

Acquiring players like Parsons or Love would be out of character. Parsons is due a big-money contract, but he hasn’t shown he can be the No. 1 or, in this case, No. 2 option on a championship-caliber team.

Love, meanwhile, is going to reach free agency no matter where he plays next season. Any team that trades for him could be paying for a glorified rental. It benefits him financially to explore the open market in 2015, and at that point, anything goes.

Hedging valuable assets on unproven novelties and potential flight risks isn’t the Bulls’ style. They take safe routes. This is a team that would trade the remaining $60-plus million on Rose’s contract if it could, as Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times implies.

Locking Anthony down for the next four years is the safe play.

It’s the Bulls’ play.

 

Chicago’s One and Only

Signing Anthony is not without its risks.

Loyal rumor-mill lackeys know how yours truly feels about Anthony for the Bulls: It is, at best, a questionable, uncertainty-riddled move for both parties. 

But the interest is understandable.

The Bulls need another superstar to take pressure off of Rose. More importantly, they need another superstar to carry them if the injury bug crawls under his skin again. 

Anthony can be that superstar. He has his faults and impurities, but last season was the first time his team ever missed the playoffs. He led 10 consecutive squads to the postseason as the offensive focal point. Even if Rose goes down again, the Bulls—who won 48 games despite Rose’s latest injury and Luol Deng‘s departure in 2013-14—are still a playoff team. They would even be a contender in the emaciated Eastern Conference.

And like Blog A Bull’s Jay Patt details, now is as good a time as any for the Bulls to take a risk:

But while I might not necessarily do “whatever it takes” to acquire Carmelo Anthony, the Bulls must do their due diligence and at least put forth an honest effort. The org. has been talking about the #2014Plan for years, and the time is now to make a bold move. Anthony certainly has his warts, and one can argue whether it would be better to acquire him or Kevin Love, but that’s a story for another time, and even if Love was more preferable it shouldn’t preclude them from going after Anthony.

Understand that the Bulls will only step so far outside their normal skin. Anthony is a risk they’re willing to take. There is nothing to suggest they’ll look anywhere else.

If Anthony doesn’t join the Bulls, expect a series of modest, marginally needle-pushing moves to follow. And don’t count on them amnestying Carlos Boozer. They won’t pay him $16.8 million to go away if it doesn’t mean landing a superstar.

Such is the Bulls way. They are uncharacteristically putting themselves on the line for one player, for one relatively safe investment, who stands to yield predictable gains. If their Anthony pursuit doesn’t pan out, the Bulls aren’t screwed.

They as a team aren’t finished. 

Their foray into the combative, superstar-scouring, hand-tipping unknown is. 

 

*Salary information via ShamSports.


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Iowa State eliminates North Carolina before it’s too late

Cyclones guard DeAndre Kane’s winning drive precedes a strange ending for the Tar Heels.

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What a long, strange trip it’s been for Mercer coach Bob Hoffman

“Weird?” Hoffman says, laughing. “Strange? I’ve been everywhere.”

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It’s Lakers team photo day, and Kobe Bryant couldnt’ be happier* (photo)

*not really It was time for the 2013-14 official team photograph day for the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday at team headquarters in El Segundo, Calif., and while participating in such a thing is an annoying thing to have to do in general — who likes group photos, right? — Kobe Bryant could not look […] The post It’s Lakers team photo day, and Kobe Bryant couldnt’ be happier* (photo) appeared first on Sportress of Blogitude.

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Detroit Pistons: It’s almost over

The Detroit Pistons are in action Saturday night as they take on the Indiana Pacers at The Palace.
With just 17 games remaining on the schedule, Detroit’s playoff chances are minimal at best. Detroit heads into Saturday night’s matchup with a 25-40 record, good for eleventh-best in the Eastern Conference. Here’s how the race for eighth shapes up:
8. Atlanta Hawks 28-35
9. New York Knicks 27-40
10. Cleveland Cavaliers 26-40
11. Detroit Pistons 25-40
Detroit has posted a 2-5 record in the month of March and are a dismal 4-11 since John Loyer took over the head coaching position. The only month in which the Pistons have had a record of .500 or better was in October; a month in which they posted a 1-0 record.
The road ahead doesn’t get any easier for Detroit, here is the Pistons’ upcoming schedule:
3/15 v. Indiana
3/19 @ Denver Nuggets
3/21 @ Phoenix Suns
3/22 @ Los Angeles Clippers
3/24 @ Utah Jazz
Detroit returns home following their matchup with the Utah Jazz, but their playoff chanc…

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James Harden to Thunder Fans: ‘You Loved Me When I Was Here… It’s That Simple’

James Harden hasn’t let his past success with the Oklahoma City Thunder interrupt his antagonism of his old club as a member of the Houston Rockets.

On Tuesday night, Harden took another step or two toward being a full-blown villain within the borders of the Sooner State. According to Rockets.com’s Jason Friedman, Harden took to barking at the rowdy Chesapeake Arena crowd about their love for him during the Rockets’ latest visit to OKC:

Not that his claim is in any way shocking. When Harden last wore a Thunder uniform in June of 2012, he did so in the NBA Finals—as the league’s Sixth Man of the Year, no less. Harden’s series against the Miami Heat wasn’t pretty (12.4 points on 37.5 percent shooting), but the then-23-year-old swingman was no less vital to OKC advancing that far in the first place. He tortured the Dallas Mavericks, the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference playoffs, thereby solidifying OKC as a dynasty-in-the-making and himself as a key cog therein.

Or so it seemed. Four months later, the failure of the Thunder and Harden to bridge a relatively meager gap in salary considerations led the former to ship the latter (along with a collection of salary cap flotsam) to Houston in a trade that’s been widely derided as one of the most lopsided in recent memory. 

OKC has fared well enough in Harden’s absence. The Thunder won 60 games and claimed the top seed in the Western Conference in 2012-13, before their playoff push was derailed by Russell Westbrook‘s Patrick Beverley-induced knee injury. OKC lost Kevin Martin, one of the chief returns from the Harden trade, to free agency this past summer, but have turned Jeremy Lamb and rookie Steven Adams, both of whom were part of the same bounty, into important members of Scott Brooks’ rotation.

Still, it’s tough not to feel as though OKC got fleeced by Houston GM Daryl Morey. The Rockets have since blossomed into a title contender, with Harden helping to lay the foundation that led Dwight Howard to sign on this past July.

And with Harden taunting his former fans and going toe-to-toe with Adams in a mid-game tiff, it’s clear that the Thunder’s one-time super sub won’t be torturing his old pals with his game alone from here on out.

 

Hit me up on Twitter for all Beard-related updates!


 

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Why It’s Too Soon to Take Michigan State Out of the National Title Picture

Some crazy stuff is going to happen this month. The national title conversation is as crowded as it has been in the last 25 years. You can count the contenders on not one hand, not two, but probably three.

And there’s one team that some might be ready to bail on, but that we should absolutely not leave out: Michigan State.

You remember Michigan State, right? The team that should have been preseason No. 1.

The Spartans have lost six of their last 10. They’ve lost two straight, the latest of which was at home against a team (Illinois) that isn’t even holding out hope of fielding an offer to the dance.

But here’s what was more important than Saturday’s result: Tom Izzo, for the first time since Jan. 7, had his entire roster available.

That roster, full of upperclassmen and two future first-round picks, looked every bit the best team in the country back in November and through early January.

But the Spartans, right now, aren’t even close to No. 1…or are they?

Injuries have come to define this season, and Izzo’s best four players (Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne) have missed a combined 23 games. Playing without those guys was hard. Getting them back to what they were has been even harder. 

“Yeah, we’re searching for an identity,” Izzo said during Monday’s Big Ten teleconference.

“Searching” is the perfect word for the Spartans right now. They’d been searching for health. Now they’re searching for their former selves.

And what might be hard to fathom, even for Michigan State fans, is that this team is not far off.

If Izzo could sprinkle some of his magical March pixie dust, he may only need it for one guy. 

That one guy is Appling, who just so happens to be the most important piece to the puzzle. For the Spartans to be at their best, Appling has to be right. 

And he’s not right. 

Since the senior point guard returned from his wrist injury on Feb. 3 against Nebraska, he’s averaged 3.5 points, 4.0 assists and 3.0 turnovers in those four games, three of which Michigan State has lost. 

And here’s the most telling stat: In Appling‘s first 22 games this season, he averaged 10.7 shot attempts; in the last four, he’s averaged three.

Not only is Appling not shooting well—0-of-3 from distance and 2-of-8 at the free-throw line since his return—but his confidence is so low that he’s rarely attacking.

“There’s always that thing of someone trying to do too much, but I’m more worried the other way,” said Izzo. “I’m more worried of our guys sitting back—Keith not penetrating as much because maybe he’s a little worried about the wrist and not penetrating as much because he’s going to have to shoot the ball.”

It’s not fair to put it all on Appling, especially considering Michigan State’s defense as of late. But everything else that made this team great, at least in spurts, is there.

  • Harris is playing as well as he has all season, shooting with confidence from deep and also attacking the rim. He’s averaging 21.7 points over his last three games and has made 15 of his last 32 threes.
  • When Payne has been aggressive, he’s had some great performances since returning from his injury, scoring 20-plus points three times over seven games.
  • Dawson moved and rebounded well (seven boards in 25 minutes) in his return on Saturday. 

But without Appling attacking, defenses can key in on Payne. Without Appling attacking, Harris gets less open looks and too much put on his shoulders. Without Appling attacking, Dawson has less opportunities for putbacks. And without Appling attacking, the Spartans have been more turnover-prone because it forces other guys to try to create instead.

The Spartans turned it over on 16.7 percent of their possessions before Appling sat out with the wrist injury, and they’ve turned it over on 20.9 percent of possessions since his return, per KenPom.com (subscription required).

“We’ve got to get Keith’s head back on where he’s feeling comfortable and confident,” Izzo said.

Izzo talks about the other things his team needs to do—like defend and play with energy—but if Appling is right, those other things start to take care of themselves, and that’s why the coach keeps coming back to his point guard.

So is Sparty doomed if Appling never gets his mojo back? Probably so.

But do not simply count out the Spartans because of their recent losses. These types of struggles, whether injury-related or a team just going in a funk, happen every single year to teams that end up in the Final Four.

Last year, Syracuse lost seven of its final 12 regular-season games and ended up in the Final Four. In 2012, Louisville’s Final Four team lost four of six down the stretch and five of seven earlier on. In 2011, the eventual national champions (Connecticut) lost seven of 11 to end the regular season.

Even Izzo’s most successful teams have stumbled. His only title team lost three of five at one point, including a loss to Wright State, and his last Final Four team, in 2010, lost four of six in February.

These things happen, and sometimes they happen at what seems like the worst time.

“I think this is a veteran enough team to understand what we’ve gone through, and yet we’ve got to get it back,” Izzo said. “We’ve got to put the pedal to the medal a little bit, getting it back a little quicker than you normally have to do when you have these kind of injuries.”

If Appling is able to figure it out, Izzo could end up winning his second title. This team, when right, is that good. And if he doesn’t, this will be one of the most disappointing finishes of Izzo’s career—one that everyone in East Lansing will look back on and think “what might have been.” 

 

C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR. 

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Carmelo Anthony: New York Knicks Lack ‘Sense of Pride,’ Says ‘It’s Embarrassing’

What goes up, must come down. What goes down, though, has the opportunity to fall even further.

That’s an important distinction in the Big Apple, where the New York Knicks are now 18 games under .500, working off a six-game losing streak and residing in the accursed abyss located beneath rock bottom.

No one issue is responsible for New York’s ugly demise, but Carmelo Anthony ventured a guess as to what’s plaguing the team most after falling to the Chicago Bulls, 109-90, on Sunday, via the New York Post‘s Marc Berman:

J.R. Smith basically concurred, per The Wall Street Journal‘s Chris Herring:

There is no excuse for a lack of pride or heart. NBA players are compensated handsomely for their physical and mental abilities. Honor and effort should never be an issue, even when the sky is falling.

The fact that the Knicks are battling lethargy and hanging their heads in the midst of one of their most disappointing seasons ever only complicates the current state of disaster. Frankly, it’s also disgusting.

Incidentally, Anthony also said as much, according to ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell:

Embarrassing doesn’t even begin to describe it. 

The Knicks are 1-7 since the All-Star break, and their last three losses have come by an average of 22.7 points. Their defense is broken, the offense is inconsistent and, worse, there is no end is sight.

Mathematically, the Knicks are still able to clinch a playoff berth. Realistically, though, nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing about the Knicks’ recent efforts suggest they’ll be able to usurp three of the Charlotte Bobcats, Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons. Absolutely nothing.

Leadership is clearly an issue on this team. You don’t need pessimistic postgame comments to understand that. Look at the standings. Look at the box score.

Look at the on-court product.

Head coach Mike Woodson has lost the ability to inspire, Tyson Chandler is leading an individual mutiny on the defensive end, Raymond Felton can no longer mask glaring offensive and defensive inadequacies and Amar’e Stoudemire, per Herring, is providing answers to questions he knows nothing about (defense).

Then there’s Anthony, the once-optimisic superstar-turned-acquiescent skeptic.

“It’s hard to keep coming up with excuses why it continues to happen,” Anthony said, via Herring.

At this point, there are no excuses. There are only reasons—effort, defense, heart, pride, dysfunction, effort, effort, effort, etc.—all of which bring us to an inevitable and irrevocable conclusion: The Knicks are an awful, pride-lacking basketball team, giving chase to a playoff berth they don’t deserve and, ultimately, that they won’t even come close to catching.

 

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Kobe Bryant Puts Critics on Notice, Says ‘Revenge Is Sweet and It’s Quick’

Those who thought Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant would be softened and humbled by injuries and time, think again.

Bryant has appeared in only six games this season, but his sick, twisted and vindictive competitive spirit remains intact.

Speaking with Jeff G. the Sports Dude of Power 106 in Los Angeles, Bryant put the NBA on notice for next season. The transcription of his conversation was provided by Lakers Nation’s Serena Winters:

Jeff G.: You just signed a two-year deal…talk about that means to you and what the fans can expect the last two years from Kobe.

Kobe: This year, we all know it’s been a real tough year for us right? So what I’d like everybody to do is to really just sit back and just absorb this year. Take it all in. Sit back and watch and listen and hear all the hate that’s being thrown at us and remember every person that’s kicking you when you’re down because next year it ain’t gunna be this way.

Appreciate it now. Let it sit in now, because revenge is sweet and it’s quick.

Does that read like a player demoralized by his current situation?

Now on the wrong side of 35 and having signed a two-year extension worth close to $50 million, it would be so easy for Bryant to downplay the significance of his return—whenever it comes. 

Most 35-year-olds aren’t playing at a superstar level, and after being addled by injuries since last spring, Bryant’s confidence could naturally be waning. But he isn’t most players.

Promising things like revenge and continued greatness is par for the course. This isn’t commentary devoid of meaning and conviction. He actually believes in what he’s saying, and more importantly, he is confident in himself.

“I think I can [return to form],” he said, per The Boston Globe‘s Gary Washburn in February.

Of course he does. He’s Kobe, self-assured and confident. That’s never going to change. And it’s something to admire.

At the same time, it’s also something to question.

Bryant’s basketball mortality has been tested again and again over the last year or so, and it’s difficult to gauge just how much he has left.

To be sure, he’s mentally strong. That’s not up for debate. But will his body ever catch up to his heart again? That’s a question not even Bryant himself can answer right now.

Soon enough, though, he’ll know. We will all know. Be it this season or next season, he’s going to return. When he does, his limits will again be pushed, prodded and tested beyond comprehension.

Basketball careers have expiration dates and Bryant’s is fast approaching. Or it may have already come to pass.

Or maybe, just maybe, both his body and mind have enough left to wage one last quick, sweet and revenge-driven hurrah.

 

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