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#pounditSaturday, June 19, 2021

Basketball

Chris Paul out indefinitely due to COVID-19 protocols

Chris Paul Suns

The Phoenix Suns have been the hottest team in the NBA playoffs thus far, but they are now in danger of being without their leader for the start of the Western Conference Finals.

Chris Paul has entered the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocol and will be sidelined indefinitely, Shams Charania of The Athletic reports. That leaves his status for the Western Conference Finals up in the air.

The Suns are awaiting the winner of the Utah Jazz-Los Angeles Clippers series after they swept the Denver Nuggets. It may work in their favor that the series is currently tied at 2-2, as the earliest it can end is Friday. If a Game 7 is needed, that will be played on Sunday.

The NBA has yet to release the schedule for the conference finals.

Charania notes that the isolation period could be shorter for a vaccinated player depending upon the circumstances.

Paul is the unquestioned leader of the Suns. He has averaged 15.7 points, 8.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game in 10 playoff games despite battling a shoulder injury. He proved how determine he is to win a championship with this awesome quote during Phoenix’s series against the Los Angeles Lakers.

It would be a major blow to the Suns’ title chances if Paul were forced to miss games in the Western Conference Finals.

Here is how many draft picks Thunder have after Kemba Walker trade

Sam Presti

The Oklahoma City Thunder have watched numerous star players leave via free agency and trade in recent years, but they have done so while amassing an incredible amount of draft capital. That trend continued when they acquired Kemba Walker from the Boston Celtics on Friday.

The Thunder traded Al Horford, Moses Brown and a 2023 second-round pick to the Celtics for Walker, the No. 16 overall pick in this year’s draft and a 2025 second-round pick. With the latest blockbuster deal, Oklahoma City now has three first-round picks this year and five in the first 36 picks.

OKC would also get the Houston Rockets’ pick if it falls to No. 5 or below in this year’s Draft Lottery.

Many have pointed out that picks in the middle or end of the first round aren’t that valuable in the NBA. There’s certainly truth to that, but having several of them gives the Thunder flexibility. The Thunder also have a plethora of future first-round picks.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti has done an excellent job of getting value in return for star players who either want to leave or the team can’t afford. If Walker has a good season next year, Presti will likely trade him for a draft pick as well like he did with Chris Paul.

D’Angelo Russell criticizes his ‘idiot’ former Lakers coach Byron Scott

D'Angelo Russell

Byron Scott will go down as one of the worst coaches in Los Angeles Lakers history, and one of his players from that era certainly agrees.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard D’Angelo Russell spoke recently with Jake Fischer for Fischer’s new book “Built To Lose: How the NBA’s Tanking Era Changed the League Forever.” In an excerpt, Russell tore into Scott, his first head coach in the NBA.

“He’s an idiot,” said Russell of Scott, per Silver Screen & Roll. “I just think he was malicious for no reason. He’s a solid man. But as a coach, he was bad. He was just bad at his job.”

The excerpt adds that Russell thought Scott often pulled him from close games just to spark controversy and attention for Scott’s postgame press conferences. Fischer also says that Scott did not handle fellow Lakers youngster Julius Randle with the same kid gloves.

“I was just young,” Russell went on. “I used to do all types of s— to avoid talking to him.”

Scott was only Russell’s coach for one season, his 2015-16 rookie campaign. But it was a season that Russell would much rather forget. He was the No. 2 overall pick that year but would often get benched by Scott, sometimes for ridiculous reasons. Scott also publicly questioned Russell’s maturity on multiple occasions.

Scott ended up getting fired after that season, finishing with the single worst winning percentage (.227) of any coach in Lakers franchise history. Russell only lasted for one more year in Los Angeles before he was traded but ended up developing into an All-Star elsewhere. After his firing, Scott openly stated that he had no relationship with Russell. It is clear based on Russell’s latest comments that the feeling there is very mutual.

Ben Simmons gets pulled in Game 6 due to free throw shooting

Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons’ poor free throw shooting once again came to the forefront in the fourth quarter of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Simmons had a brutal Game 6, playing just eight minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. Things didn’t get a lot better in the second half. He played the bulk of the third quarter, then picked up his fifth foul with 7:22 left in the fourth. The 76ers stuck with him, but the Hawks quickly shifted to the “hack-a-Ben” strategy, sending him to the free throw line twice in the span of a minute. Simmons went 1-of-2 on both sets of free throws, which actually counted as an improvement on his 32.8 percent free throw shooting in the playoffs. It still wasn’t good enough for coach Doc Rivers, who sat him with six minutes to go and the Sixers up by six.

Simmons didn’t return to the game until there was 1:59 left, by which point the Hawks had cut the deficit to one. From that point on, the 76ers tried to get Simmons in for his defense, but twice sat him for possessions where they knew Atlanta was going to foul. In fact, Rivers used his final timeout with 20.5 seconds left in part to get Simmons off the court ahead of an offensive possession with Philadelphia up three.

In the end, Simmons played 25 minutes in Game 6, and was on the court for less than half of the fourth quarter. Most of the minutes that would typically go to Simmons went instead to rookie guard Tyrese Maxey, who provided a huge spark for the team by scoring 16 points in 29 minutes off the bench. Maxey made three of his four free throw tries in the final minute of play.

The Sixers definitely have a major issue with Simmons. He’s an elite defender and the Sixers want him on the floor, and his teammates clearly have his back. However, between his jump shooting issues and his trouble at the free throw line, he’s been a huge drain on the team’s offensive productivity. Both of Philadelphia’s playoff opponents have now exploited the “hack-a-Ben” strategy to the point that Rivers can’t keep him on the court late in tight games. So will Brooklyn or Milwaukee if the Sixers move on. They’re going to have to come up with a solution.

Report: Luka Doncic and Rick Carlisle had ‘simmering tension’

Luka Doncic

Rick Carlisle’s surprise departure as coach of the Dallas Mavericks may have been down to some drama within the organization that has been building for some time.

Carlisle announced Thursday that he was stepping aside as Mavericks coach with two seasons remaining on his deal. He stressed that the decision was “solely” his. However, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon indicated that there has been “simmering tension” between Carlisle and star Luka Doncic throughout the season that had grown to be a concern within the organization.

The Mavericks are being built around Doncic, and anyone not on the same page isn’t likely to last long. It may be that Carlisle saw the writing on the wall and decided to pursue other opportunities, both for his own good and for the good of the Mavericks. Carlisle can settle into a new situation where he may be more influential, while the Mavericks can pursue a coach who will be fully on the same page as the team’s young superstar.

It’s been a week of major upheaval around the Mavericks, with GM Donnie Nelson also being ousted. Doncic did not seem to happy about that move. If he was clashing with Carlisle, however, this one may be more to his liking.

Kawhi Leonard out for Game 5, possibly longer due to knee injury

Kawhi Leonard

The Los Angeles Clippers have battled back to even their series against the Utah Jazz after losing the first two games, but Kawhi Leonard is going to miss Game 5 and potentially beyond.

Leonard will be sidelined for Wednesday night’s game due to a knee injury he suffered in Game 4, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelburne report. His status for the remainder of the series is also in doubt.

Leonard landed awkwardly on a drive in the fourth quarter of Game 4 on Monday night and appeared to be in pain. He informed his teammates on Tuesday night that they should prepare for him to miss Game 5.

The injury is obviously a huge concern for the Clippers. Leonard is their best player and always elevates his game in the playoffs. We were reminded of that with the monster dunk he threw down in Game 4 (video here). L.A. is suddenly in danger of suffering another disappointing postseason exit.

Al Horford brings back great old tweet after trade to Celtics

Al Horford

Al Horford became a member of the Boston Celtics on Friday for the second time in less than five years, and the veteran big man didn’t bother coming up with a new way to confirm the big news.

When Horford signed with the Celtics as a free agent back in 2016, he announced his decision by tweeting “Celtic Pride!!!!” with 18 four-leaf clover emojis — one representing each of Boston’s NBA titles.

After the Oklahoma City Thunder traded him to the Celtics on Friday, Horford retweeted his own tweet from July 2016. He then thanked the Thunder.

Horford was traded to Boston along with second-year center Moses Brown in a deal involving Kemba Walker and draft picks. The 35-year-old spent three seasons with Boston from 2016-2019. He then signed with the Philadelphia 76ers rather than returning to the Celtics, and that move didn’t pan out for him. The big man was traded to Oklahoma City after just one season in Philly. He averaged 14.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game this season.

Photo: Flickr/All-Pro Reels via cc-by-sa 2.0

Report: Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram were unhappy with Stan Van Gundy

Stan Van Gundy

The New Orleans Pelicans made the somewhat surprising decision to fire coach Stan Van Gundy after just one season. Though the move seemingly came out of nowhere, it certainly appears that it had been coming for a while.

According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, Van Gundy’s coaching and communication styles failed to connect with Pelicans players and staff. In addition, Van Gundy’s methodical offense and preference for playing veterans over younger players created friction with executive vice president David Griffin and the front office, who felt that Van Gundy was not making the most of the roster that had been constructed for him.

Most notably, Van Gundy seemingly had issues with the franchise’s star players, and his old-school style clashed with the team’s younger core and identity. The report states that the move to fire Van Gundy was partly to please Zion Williamson. Griffin wants Williamson used more as a primary ball-handler, a role Williamson apparently likes but Van Gundy was less sold on. Griffin and the team’s basketball operations also wanted to see the team play at a faster, less methodical pace than Van Gundy preferred.

Forward Brandon Ingram was also reported to have become unhappy with Van Gundy’s leadership.

The abbreviated preseason and lack of practices hurt Van Gundy’s ability to bond with his team, but it wasn’t just on-court issues that got Van Gundy fired. He also apparently failed to develop much of a relationship with Gayle Benson, the team’s principal owner.

It’s clear that Williamson is the player the Pelicans want to build around, and Griffin is actively trying to do things to increase the chances of him staying in New Orleans whenever he becomes an unrestricted free agent, which won’t be until 2024 at the earliest. That mindset led to statements like this one, and apparently it’s played a role in this coaching change as well.

Russell Westbrook’s wife’s Instagram activity has Lakers fans excited

Russell Westbrook

Los Angeles Lakers fans are getting excited over some Instagram activity involving the wife of Russell Westbrook.

An Instagram user pointed out that Anthony Davis and LeBron James are now following Nina Westbrook on Instagram. Nina is Russell’s wife.

Westbrook just completed his first season with the Washington Wizards. The team rallied to make the play-in and secured the No. 8 spot in the playoffs, where they lost to the 76ers in five games.

Westbrook seemed to enjoy playing for the Wizards. But they just parted ways with Scott Brooks as their head coach, who was a staunch Westbrook backer.

Westbrook is set to make $44 million next season and has a player option for $47 million the following season. Would he be open to a trade away from the team? The possibility of playing on a championship contender like the Lakers might intrigue him. It would also bring him back home to Southern California.

Now, the chances of the Lakers being able to swing a trade for him seem low. They would need to stretch to get the financials to line up. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, and some second-round picks would probably need to go. Montrezl Harrell would probably need to pick up his option and be included, but that seems unlikely.

Still, this might not stop AD and LeBron from beginning their recruitment.

La La Anthony officially files for divorce from Carmelo

Carmelo Anthony

The relationship between La La and Carmelo Anthony has been rocky for years, but now it appears to finally be over.

La La Anthony has filed for divorce from Carmelo, citing irreconcilable differences. She filed for divorce on Thursday in New York, TMZ reported.

The two got engaged in 2004 and were married in 2010. But they split in 2017 as rumors percolated over Carmelo impregnating another woman. The two reportedly reconciled in 2018 but have been separated since then.

Carmelo played for the Knicks from 2010-2017, but has since bounced around teams. He has played for Houston, Oklahoma City, and now Portland the last two seasons.

The two have a son together, 14-year-old Kiyan.