LeBron James responds to criticism from Kyle Kuzma’s trainer: ‘I could care less about the guy’

Mike D. Sykes, II | USA TODAY SPORTS

The Los Angeles Lakers seemed unstoppable just a few weeks ago, but after a four-game losing streak was capped by a loss to the rival Clippers on Christmas Day, critics of the Lakers are getting louder. Earlier this week, Kyle Kuzma’s own trainer attempted to start a beef with LeBron James, which the four-time MVP squashed on Saturday.

On Friday, Instagram posts surfaced from Kyle Kuzma’s trainer, Clint Parks, that included harsh criticism of Lakers star LeBron James.

Parks called James out after his Christmas Day performance against the Clippers, insinuating that it was clear that James’ Los Angeles counterpart Kawhi Leonard had sharper skills than James.

Kuzma’s trainer claimed that LeBron James was running from the matchup against Leonard and, basically, wasn’t as good as he was being made out to be.

Then, all of a sudden, Kuzma dropped a tweet himself that said “Call a spade a spade” with a shrug emoji.

The tweet was deleted shortly after it was posted.

Boy, that paragraph was peak 2019. Anyway, take a look.

The next day, James was asked about the criticism from Kuzma’s trainer and the deleted tweet from his own teammate. He said Kuzma came to him to address the situation and it was fine, but he also had some not-so-kind words for Kuzma’s trainer.

“Kuz came to me yesterday, after practice and told me what was going on. And that was it. I really don’t care for someone’s trainer or whatever the case may be. Everyone can have their own opinion and anytime someone wants to get some notoriety they can throw my name in and people are going to pick it up. That’s why you’re asking me about it, because my name was in it. I’ve never met the guy, I don’t know the guy, I could care less about the guy.”

Sheesh. That’s a scathing statement from James and not a great look for Kuzma. Even if Kuzma isn’t openly endorsing his trainer’s comments, it’s never great to have to go and explain something to a teammate of yours after practice.

Hopefully, it doesn’t lead to a disruption in chemistry down the line for the Lakers. They certainly don’t need it — they’re losers of four straight and have a matchup on the road against the Trail Blazers coming up. Now isn’t the time for drama.

Kuzma said Saturday that he hadn’t seen his trainer’s comments before he tweeted.

Are the Rockets thinking about trading Russell Westbrook?

Rumor: Rockets could trade Russell Westbrook

Dan Feldman | NBC SPORTS

The Rockets traded two lightly protected first-round picks and two protected first-round swaps for an aging guard who’s highly reliant on athleticism and has a duplicative skill set with their incumbent star.

How’s that going?

Russell Westbrook hasn’t provided the desired upgrade over Chris Paul. Houston has performed better when James Harden plays without Westbrook than when Harden plays with Westbrook. Westbrook-led lineups have struggled when Harden sits.

Though unloading Paul’s contract was essential to the trade, the Rockets certainly hoped Westbrook would help them more.

Ryen Russillo of The Ringer:

I think Westbrook is available. We can talk about semantics Of course, Daryl Morey would trade anyone if he thought it made his team better. Of course, he would trade Westbrook if he could get off of that long-term money, if he thought the assets, the sum of the parts was better than having somebody that’s considered a top-10 player.

Is Daryl Morey actively calling people, saying, “Hey, I’ve got to dump Westbrook?” Well, of course, he wouldn’t do it that way. But there are people who believe Westbrook is available and that Daryl knows, “I’ve got to figure something out here.”

I’m sure people will deny this after they hear it on the podcast. I don’t care.

Russillo is right: Morey would trade anyone. By acknowledging that, Russillo gains credibility for this report. He seems to be implying there’s more to this. Still, I’m not convinced his sources are giving proper heft to Morey’s trade-anyone style. These are the types of things that could get lost in trade-rumor telephone.

Finding a Westbrook trade won’t be easy. The 31-year-old is earning $38,506,482 this season and due $132,633,438 over the next three years. That’ll dissuade other teams. Harden also wanted Westbrook in Houston and might not appreciate his friend getting dealt. That creates internal complications.

All along, the Rockets traded for Westbrook to boost their championship chances. The tough part: Houston won’t see how Harden and Westbrook perform together in the playoffs until after the trade deadline. The regular season reveals only so much. It’s on Morey to make an early judgement with limited information.

Is Morey actually looking more seriously into moving Westbrook than a typical player? Perhaps. But given the challenges of actually trading Westbrook, we might never find out.

Zion Williamson: Pelicans Teaching Him to Walk, Run Differently in Injury Rehab

JOSEPH ZUCKER | BLEACHER REPORT

Zion Williamson addressed his continued recovery from a torn meniscus, telling ESPN’s Jorge Sedano he’s letting the New Orleans Pelicans dictate the terms for his on-court debut.

Andrew Lopez of ESPN shared the details of Sedano’s report:

“Williamson told Sedano that he ‘trusts the organization’ in their decision making and also shared that his rehab process has been about more than just the recovery from surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his right knee.

“The 19-year-old also said the Pelicans are trying to re-teach him how to walk and run differently – working on the kinetic chain of his body.”

When Williamson underwent knee surgery in October, the Pelicans expected him to be back in six to eight weeks. While the No. 1 overall pick is making incremental progress in his rehab, it remains unclear when he’ll actually get the green light to play.

Sedano also said during the broadcast of Wednesday’s game between New Orleans and the Denver Nuggets that the Pelicans are hopeful Williamson can participate in five-on-five practice once the calendar turns over to 2020.

If New Orleans was contending for a postseason spot, the team might have an added incentive to accelerate Williamson’s timeline. Instead, the team is 8-23 and next-to-last in the Western Conference.

Williamson’s long-term health should be the Pelicans’ bigger concern, so it makes sense to not only make sure his knee has healed but also do everything they can to prevent another knee injury down the road.

James Harden: “The world and the game is obviously missing Steph and Klay”

Dalton Johnson | NBC SPORTS

One of the NBA’s biggest rivalries took a wild and unexpected turn on Christmas this year when the Warriors stunned the Houston Rockets with a 116-104 win at Chase Center

As Steph Curry and Klay Thompson continue to rehab their respective injuries, the win was one of the biggest upsets ever on Christmas. A Dubs team led by Curry’s brother-in-law Damion Lee took down James Harden and Russell Westbrook, yet Harden had nothing but good things to say about the Splash Brothers as the Warriors stars watched the game from the bench. 

“The world and the game is missing obviously Steph and Klay,” Harden said to reporters after Houston’s loss.

“Obviously the game is missing them, obviously their fans are missing them. It would have been, obviously, a great, competitive game — they beat us without them, so for us we gotta regroup.” 

Harden scored 24 points — down from his 38.1 average this season — and dished 11 assists. He was a minus-18 on the day, and spoke highly of this scrappy Warriors squad. 

“They play hard. They play extremely hard,” Harden said about the Warriors.

Harden also called Chase Center “beautiful” and said he could feel the excitement. Russell Westbrook, on the other hand, was much less talkative after the game. 

What was expected to be a dud for the Dubs turned into a bit of a Christmas miracle on Wednesday in San Francisco. It was an unexpected chapter in this rivalry, but you never know what could happen when these two teams square off against each other. 

IT suspension for fan ‘incident’ bad look for NBA

NBA misses mark by suspending Wizards guard Isaiah Thomas for fan incident

Seerat Sohi | Yahoo Sports

Imagine calling someone a “b—-” on Twitter and watching that person emerge from your phone to pop up right beside you, not to insult or injure you, but to have a face-to-face conversation.

That was what Washington Wizards guard Isaiah Thomas did Saturday, when a 76ers fan was overtaken by his desire for a free Wendy’s Frosty (valued at approximately 99 cents) and repeatedly called Thomas a b—- after he declined to miss the back-to-back free throws that would have awarded the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center a coupon for a cup of ice cream that — I’ll take the liberty of assuming — would not make anyone froth at the mouth in regular circumstances.

A packed NBA arena, however, is anything but regular. There is no seat in sports like front row at an NBA game. Being so close to the action is invigorating and intimate. There is no barrier between the arm’s length that separates fans and players, putting players face-to-face with the insults hurled their way, with no reprieve but to walk away. I often wonder if the ability to taunt without consequence is a feature or a bug. When trash talk teeters into barbarism, is it priced into the seats that can sometimes sell for upward of five figures, or into Thomas’ $2.3 million contract?

Regardless, incidents between fans and players have increased, and players have made it clear that there’s certain behavior they’re not willing to put up with anymore. The NBA has largely sided with its players, enacting new rules governing acceptable fan behavior this season.

That’s why it was surprising that on Sunday the NBA suspended Thomas for two games for entering the stands and barred two fans from 76ers games for a year. The imaginary line between fans and players has been governed strictly since the infamous Malice at the Palace incident, but not every punishment needs to be administered with the worst moment in NBA history in mind. 

For someone who’d just been insulted, the 5-foot-9 Thomas was almost cartoonishly disarming when he approached the fan and his companion. Thomas looked and spoke calmly, and he didn’t lay a hand on anyone. 

“I say, ‘Don’t be disrespectful. I’m a man before anything, and be a fan.’ His response was, ‘I’m sorry. I just wanted a Frosty,’” Thomas recounted to reporters after the game. “I didn’t scare nobody. I didn’t even use a curse word,” he added. “So when the league investigates, I’m going to tell them the exact same thing and hopefully they should understand it.”

It didn’t. Instead, the NBA punished Thomas for merely having a conversation, communicating that the only appropriate reaction to fan abuse is no reaction at all. Ignoring a bully isn’t always the best way to deal with one, as anyone who’s ever been on a playground can attest to.

Another concept I learned in elementary school might be more cogent here: Treat others as you’d like to be treated. The closer Thomas got to the fan, the more relevant the social contract that governs most human interactions became, and the more the fan turned into a puddle: from surprised to confused to apologetic. Simple human interaction. Rather than ramping up conflict, often disarm it. 

But when boundaries change the way people communicate, certain nuances about the way we interact with each other are lost, increasing our capacity for sociopathic behavior.

Thomas didn’t put the fan in danger, but he did embarrass him into submission, which is enough to make people think twice. For the NBA, that should be instructive. If the NBA wants to protect fans and players while keeping them at a close distance, it should give players the space to react reasonably and let that be its own form of regulation. 

LeBron James, Anthony Davis questionable for Lakers’ Christmas Day showdown vs. Clippers

Jason Owens | Yahoo Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers delivered potential bad news for fans and the NBA regarding Wednesday’s Christmas Day showdown against the Clippers.

Anthony Davis and LeBron James are both listed as questionable with injuries.

James sat Sunday’s loss to the Denver Nuggets with a thoracic muscle strain around his rib cage.

Meanwhile, Davis appeared to hyperextend his right knee when he fell during the third quarter against the Nuggets. He left the court briefly before returning to finish the game.

Potential big blow for NBA showcase

Sunday was the first game this season that James has missed. Either his or Davis’ absence on Wednesday would be a significant blow the the NBA’s marquee matchup on its Christmas Day showcase.

The questionable status, of course, means just that. Both players could very well suit up.

Report points to James trying to play

ESPN reported earlier Monday that James is expected to play. But with a back injury, it’s likely the Lakers star won’t know for sure until close to gametime.

Head coach Frank Vogel told reporters on Saturday that James suffered the injury last week against the Indiana Pacers and played through the remainder of that game and their ensuing matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks before sitting out Sunday.

The Lakers are in the midst of a three-game losing streak following a 24-3 start. If James and Davis can’t go on Wednesday, a fourth straight loss would appear likely.

CURSE OF THE GOAT? What the hell is up with the Bulls’ and their ‘endless rebuild’?

Rachel Nichols, Zach Lowe and Paul Pierce react to the Chicago Bulls’ big blown lead vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder recently, in which Chris Paul outscored Jim Boylen’s team in the fourth quarter by himself. They discuss the coach’s status, John Paxson’s recent comments, and whether the rebuild after the Jimmy Butler trade — which got the Bulls Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine — is working.

Bucks’ Sterling Brown: Lawsuit against city of Milwaukee not about money

Eric Woodyard | ESPN

MILWAUKEE — Sitting among a group of incarcerated individuals, Bucks guard Sterling Brown shared his personal testimony about the events that led to his ongoing civil rights lawsuit against the city of Milwaukee on Tuesday.

He said his decision to reject the city’s $400,000 settlement offer after alleging police officers used excessive force when they tased him after being cited for a parking violation in January 2018 wasn’t about the money.

See previous: Milwaukee offers only $400K to settle with Bucks’ Sterling Brown for racial profiling & excessive force incident

“Right now it’s a long process, it’s still ongoing,” Brown said during a roundtable discussion at Racine Correctional Institution, where the Bucks hosted a game in collaboration with the Represent Justice Campaign.

“They tried to throw a few dollar amounts at me just to get me to shut up, and I really couldn’t take it because I’m not doing it for myself anymore, I’m doing it for everybody else around,” he said.

“I’ve got plenty of people going through the same thing in Chicago and back at home. So I know it’s happening in Milwaukee, so I’m pretty much being that voice for those who don’t have the platform that I have to make this national news, to make this [discussed] around the country,” he continued. “So, that’s pretty much my current situation.”

Brown alleges, in the Jan. 26, 2018, incident outside a Walgreens store, that Milwaukee officers targeted him because he is black when they used a stun gun because he didn’t immediately remove his hands from his pockets, as ordered, while waiting for a parking citation. He first filed the lawsuit in June 2018 after body-camera footage was released showing a Milwaukee police officer stepping on his ankle during the arrest while others mocked his potential civil rights complaint.

In October, his attorneys asked a federal judge to reject the $400,000 settlement offer.

Following Wednesday’s practice, Brown reiterated his stance that this move is about more than a financial gain to him.

“They tried to get me to settle for it. I feel like it was just a slap in the face, and I can’t go into too many details, but there’s other things that we’re trying to push,” Brown told ESPN. “The money is not the biggest concern. It’s not a priority for me. It’s the other things involved, so we’re going to keep fighting.”

His father, Chris Brown, was a veteran Chicago-area police officer with 30 years of experience in Maywood, Illinois, so the 24-year-old says he has no disdain for law enforcement as a whole. However, the Bucks’ Play for Justice at the correctional facility event did align with his views stemming from the lawsuit, he said.

“I’m kind of split in the decision, because I grew up around some of them. My dad was one of them, so I’ve got respect for the guys behind the badge because of what they’re trying to do,” said Brown, who is averaging 5.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game for the Bucks. “I saw how they’ve helped a lot of people in the neighborhood, so I’ve got a lot of respect for those individuals, but as far as the badge, it’s kind of hard to find that respect because I know the history behind it.

“I know what it was started for, I know what it came up on and I know what they do,” he added. “It’s kind of split for me, but I don’t have no problem or I don’t feel uncomfortable being around them or no other man.

“So, it’s just figuring out how we can continue to make strides.”

NO LOVE! Ja Morant almost pulled off dunk of decade, still nearly breaks twitter

With his best Vince Carter impression, Ja Morant nearly threw down crazy dunk over Kevin Love

Ryan Young | Yahoo Sports

Ja Morant nearly ended Kevin Love just minutes into their matchup on Friday night Quicken Loans Arena.

Thankfully for the 12-year veteran, though, Morant’s dunk was just off the mark.

Morant, midway through the first quarter of the Memphis Grizzlies game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, snagged a loose ball and made a move straight to the rim. Once he was a single step inside the free throw line, Morant took off — nearly flying completely over Love while attempting to throw down what would have been a strong contender for the best dunk of the year.

Unfortunately, Morant couldn’t quite throw it down. 

The near-dunk is yet another example of Morant’s potential in the league, one that caused the Grizzlies to pick him up with the second overall pick in the NBA draft in June. The former Murray State star has averaged a team-high 18.9 points and 6.5 assists so far this season, too, an extremely impressive start on a struggling Grizzlies team.

In the end, though, Love didn’t seem to mind.

The Cavaliers rallied back from a 12-point hole in the fourth quarter to beat the Grizzlies 114-107. Jordan Clarkson led Cleveland with 33 points off the bench while shooting 12-of-17 from the field. Love added 21 points and 13 rebounds.

Jaren Jackson led the Grizzlies with 24 points, and Dillon Brooks added 16 while shooting 4-of-9 from the 3-point line. Morant finished with eight points and 11 assists.

How many NBA titles does every team have?

Charles Curtis | USA TODAY SPORTS

The National Basketball Association as we know it fully came together in 1949, with many of its franchises consolidating and moving in the mid-1950s before expansion.

The 1950 Finals were won by the then-Minneapolis Lakers, led by future Hall of Famer George Mikan, and they won three of the next four. Since then, we’ve seen other franchises — the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors, to name a few — build dynasties and win multiple titles. Some others are still trying to get that elusive first championship.

Here’s a complete list (through the 2019-20 season) of Finals wins by franchise:

Atlanta Hawks: 1 (1958, as the St. Louis Hawks)

Boston Celtics: 17 (1957, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1974, 1976, 1981, 1984, 1986, 2008)

Brooklyn Nets: 0 (They won two in the ABA in 1974 and 1976)

Charlotte Hornets: 0

Chicago Bulls: 6 (1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998)

Cleveland Cavaliers: 1 (2016)

Dallas Mavericks: 1 (2011)

Denver Nuggets: 0

Detroit Pistons3 (1989, 1990, 2004)

Golden State Warriors6 (They won one in the BAA in 1947, 1956 as the Philadelphia Warriors, 1975, 2015, 2017, 2018)

Houston Rockets: 2 (1994, 1995)

Indiana Pacers: 0 (They won three in the ABA in 1970, 1972 and 1973)

Los Angeles Clippers: 0

Los Angeles Lakers: 16 (They won one in the BAA in 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1954 all as Minnesota Lakers; 1972, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010)

Memphis Grizzlies: 0

Milwaukee Bucks: 1 (1971)

Minnesota Timberwolves: 0

New Orleans Pelicans: 0

New York Knicks: 2 (1970, 1973)

Oklahoma City Thunder: 1 (1979 as the Seattle Supersonics)

Orlando Magic: 0

Philadelphia 76ers: 3 (1955 as the Syracuse Nationals, 1967, 1983)

Phoenix Suns: 0

Portland Trail Blazers: 1 (1977)

Sacramento Kings: 1 (1951 as Rochester Royals)

San Antonio Spurs: 5 (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2014)

Toronto Raptors: 1 (2019)

Utah Jazz0

Washington Wizards: 1 (1978 as the Washington Bullets)