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Saturday, February 23, 2019

Stories by Grey Papke:

Kris Bryant motivated by criticism after down season

Kris Bryant

Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant endured a lot of criticism for a poor 2018, and he’s using it to fuel him going forward.

Bryant said Saturday that he had heard the criticism lobbed at him in a year that saw him hit .272 with 13 home runs while being bothered by a nagging shoulder problem. He added that such criticism motivates him to avoid a repeat performance.

“Definitely, a little bit,” Bryant said, via Jesse Rogers of ESPN. “But, boy, it was great. When you’re not playing, you have a whole lot of time to just sit there and either go through a Twitter rabbit hole and start seeing things about yourself, or seeing things about ‘trade him’ and this and that.

“And I’m like, ‘All right, I’m motivated. Keep ’em coming. Bring it.'”

Bryant says he is healthy to begin 2019. That should help him get back to where he was in his first three seasons, where he hit .288 and averaged over 30 home runs per year.

Rick Pitino shoots down chatter linking him to UNLV job

Rick Pitino

Whenever there’s a decent college basketball coaching job available, there will be some people linking Rick Pitino to it. It even happens when the job isn’t available.

That’s the case with UNLV, with growing rumors about the safety of coach Marvin Menzies. Despite the rumors, it’s fair to say that Pitino won’t even be talking to UNLV as long as Menzies, his former assistant at Louisville, is employed there.

“I root for UNLV every game,” Pitino told Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Friday. “I have been a big fan since the Tark days. But now I root for them every game because of Marvin Menzies, a younger brother to me. I, nor my agent, haven’t had any discussions with UNLV about coaching there. I will continue to root for my ex-assistant coach every game. Go, Marvin.”

Pitino is currently coaching in Greece, and he’s sent mixed signals about coaching stateside again. Most recently, he said his preference would be to coach at the NBA level, but we’re guessing he’d listen to overtures from a solid college program — just not one that currently employs one of his close friends.

Kyler Murray slams door on return to baseball

Kyler Murray

The Oakland Athletics may still think they can lure Kyler Murray back to baseball, but his latest comments won’t offer them any encouragement.

Murray essentially said the door was closed on his baseball career Saturday, making it clear that while he appreciated what the A’s did for him and felt it was “tough” to tell them his decision, he wasn’t going back on it.

“I mean, they can hold out all the hope they want to,” Murray said, via Jake Trotter of ESPN. “I’m going to play football.”

That would seem to be that. The Athletics had appeared to have hope that they could throw in some more money to at least give Murray some second thoughts about his decision, but he doesn’t look like someone who’s about to waver. He’s headed to the NFL.

Jusuf Nurkic fires back at Ben Simmons over trash talk

Jusuf Nurkic

Things got a bit heated Sunday between Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons.

Simmons was overheard telling Nurkic “you talk a lot of s–t for being ass” after shooting a free throw during Saturday’s game. The quote went viral on Twitter during the game as well.

Naturally, Nurkic was asked about what Simmons had to say, and he had some trash talk of his own.

It’s worth noting that both Nurkic and Simmons led their teams in scoring on Saturday. Simmons poured in 29 points on 11-of-17 shooting, while Nurkic went 9-of-13 for 24 points as part of a double-double.

On the whole, there’s no easy winner here. Simmons has a better shooting percentage, but he’s still a non-factor from beyond the arc and has never made a three-pointer in the NBA. Then again, Nurkic is a .077 career three-point shooter, so it’s more or less a wash.

Simmons hasn’t been afraid to get some jawing in lately. While it worked in a win last time, the Sixers dropped Saturday’s game 130-115 to Nurkic’s Blazers.

James Harden reportedly game-time decision Saturday with neck issue

James Harden Rockets

James Harden will be a game-time decision for Saturday’s primetime tilt against the Golden State Warriors.

According to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, Harden, who is dealing with a cervical strain, did not participate in the morning walkthrough and will be assessed just before the game tips off.

Harden missing out against the Warriors would be disappointing, as things were pretty dramatic last time he faced them. The good news is that this doesn’t sound like a serious injury for the Rockets’ guard, and hopefully if he misses time, it’s only the one game.

Report: Craig Kimbrel not lowering asking price, could sit out 2019

Craig Kimbrel Red Sox

Even with March looming, there are multiple good free agents left on the market in Major League Baseball, and one is refusing to compromise on his perceived value.

According to Jim Bowden of The Athletic, free agent reliever Craig Kimbrel is not lowering his valuation and could sit out the entire 2019 season if he does not get an enticing enough offer.

This would certainly be a bold and unprecedented move. Most free agents in Kimbrel’s situation either lower their expectations or take a one-year deal before trying the market again next offseason, but if this reporting is accurate, Kimbrel isn’t interested in doing either.

One problem Kimbrel is facing is that one potential suitor, the Philadelphia Phillies, have been tied up in a Bryce Harper pursuit and aren’t focusing on other things at the moment. There may also be a dark horse involved, so there’s hope for Kimbrel yet.

Pelicans to rest Anthony Davis against Lakers

Anthony Davis wingspan

Anthony Davis’s load management for the remainder of the season is well underway.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Davis will be rested for Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

This is the second game of a back-to-back and Davis has been dealing with minor injuries, so this isn’t exactly a stunner. However, the fact that the game is coming against the Los Angeles Lakers — the team that tried so hard to land Davis at the trade deadline — is bound to raise some eyebrows, and spark a few conspiracy theories arguing that the Pelicans didn’t want a distraction by putting Davis out there against one of his potential suitors.

Andrew McCutchen offers honest explanation for signing with Phillies

Andrew McCutchen

Once a Pittsburgh Pirate, Andrew McCutchen is now, somewhat jarringly, a Philadelphia Phillie.

The five-time All-Star admitted Saturday that, yes, he did end up signing with Philadelphia in large part because of the terms he was offered, and there was no use hiding it.

Reportedly, McCutchen got a three-year, $50 million deal from Philadelphia. In what has been a chilly market for many players this offseason, that definitely counts as a win. And why not be honest? Everybody wants a nice deal and McCutchen got one.

The veteran outfielder split 2018 between the Giants and Yankees. He hit .255 with 20 home runs while playing primarily in right field.