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Jason Kelce on Ben Simmons saga

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PHILADELPHIA — Eagles center Jason Kelce has some advice for 76ers guard Ben Simmons: “Just play better, man.”

Speaking on the relationship between Philadelphia fans and its professional athletes Thursday, Kelce turned the conversation toward Simmons, saying his issues boil down to a lack of accountability.

“I tell guys, you write your own narrative. I don’t want to crush any other players, but what’s going on with the 76ers, Ben Simmons, stuff like that, all of that is because of a lack of accountability, a lack of owning up to mistakes and a lack of correcting things,” Kelce said. “If all that got corrected, if you’re fixing free throws, if you’re getting better as a player, none of this is happening. So everybody can bitch and complain about how tough this city is to play in. Just play better, man. This city will love you.”

Simmons was thrown out of practice Tuesday by coach Doc Rivers after he declined several times to sub in for a drill, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The 76ers suspended Simmons for Wednesday’s season-opening, 117-97 win over the New Orleans Pelicans for conduct detrimental for the team.

Wednesday marked the four-month anniversary of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, when Simmons passed up an open dunk that would have tied the game with less than four minutes left. The Sixers would lose to the Atlanta Hawks and see their season come to an end.

A short time later, Simmons asked for a trade, and he then held out the first two weeks of training camp in an attempt to force the 76ers to make a deal. He reported to the 76ers last week, and after going through several days of reentry protocols, Simmons practiced with the team Sunday and Monday before being tossed from Tuesday’s practice.

The 76ers have fined Simmons more than $1.4 million for his absence from four preseason games ($360,000 each) and levied numerous fines for missed practices, on-court workouts and meetings, sources told Wojnarowski.

Kelce said he has nothing personal against Simmons but called the situation “a travesty anyway you put it.”

“These guys were all brought in here, a lot of talent, and it hasn’t worked out for them for whatever reason,” Kelce said. “But it’s a pretty good example of how not to handle the Philly media at the very least.”

Kelce, 33, is one of the most beloved modern sports figures in Philadelphia. An 11-year veteran, he endeared himself to the fan base by helping deliver the first Super Bowl championship in the city’s history — a feat he capped at the title parade by giving an impassioned speech while wearing a Mummers costume on top of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

He noted that being a good player helps, but the key to being accepted in Philadelphia is largely about being accountable and invested.

“There’s a lot of people that say it’s a hard place to play. I think it’s pretty f—ing easy, to be honest with you,” Kelce said. “You just go out there and play hard. You want to be loved in this city as a baseball player? Run to first base. They’re going to f—ing love you. That’s what it comes down to. If you come up here and make a bunch of excuses, you come up here and try to lie to them and act like they don’t know what they’re talking about — which sometimes they don’t — when you act that way or you aren’t accountable, you’re making mistakes or you’re not getting better, they’re going to crush you.

“Everybody’s going to get crushed at some point, everybody is going to go through a downturn and be struggling, and at all times this city is going to keep you accountable for doing your job and performing. But if you stick to it and you fight through it and you get better, they’ll respect the hell out of you. Even if you’re struggling and you’re fighting and you’re trying, they’re still going to respect you. That’s what I think most guys miss. I really don’t think this is a hard place to play at all. I think a hard place to play is … I think it would be miserable to play in a place like Jacksonville, where nobody cares.”

ESPN’s Tim Bontemps contributed to this report.

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Coach Tom Thibodeau removes struggling Kemba Walker from New York Knicks’ rotation

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New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters Monday afternoon that he is removing guard Kemba Walker from not only the team’s starting lineup but also the rotation as a whole, beginning with Tuesday’s showdown with the crosstown-rival Nets in Brooklyn.

“It’s a tough decision to make, but you always have to do what you think is best for the team,” Thibodeau said after practice Monday in explaining his decision. “I view Kemba as a starter, and so it’d be tough to play three small guards together. I gave it consideration, and I’ve got great respect for who Kemba is as a person and all he’s accomplished in this league.

“But I have to do what I think is best for the team.”

In this case, Thibodeau decided that meant benching Walker in favor of Alec Burks. Walker, a four-time All-Star and New York City basketball legend, returned home this past summer on a two-year, $20 million deal after being bought out by the Oklahoma City Thunder following a trade from the Boston Celtics.

After seeing Burks go for 23 points in 39 minutes in Saturday’s win in Atlanta over the Hawks — a game Walker didn’t play in after scoring 17 points in New York’s loss to the Phoenix Suns at Madison Square Garden the night before — Thibodeau has opted to put him in the starting five moving forward.

“I want to tighten the rotation. I liked the way the team functioned, so it will be similar to what we did in the Atlanta game.”

Walker, 31, is averaging career lows across the board, including points (11.1), rebounds (2.6), assists (3.1), field goal attempts per game (9.8) and minutes (24.5). After a hot start to the season, his numbers have tailed off dramatically, as he averaged 10 points on 39% shooting overall — and 29% from 3-point range — through 12 games in November.

Meanwhile, New York’s starting lineup has simply not worked. Entering Monday night’s action, the team’s typical starting lineup — Walker, Evan Fournier, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson — is the NBA’s most-used five-man lineup, logging 287 minutes. It has also been outscored by 15.6 points per 100 possessions in those minutes, and has what would be the NBA’s worst defensive rating (118.9). Individually, the Knicks are being outscored when Walker is on the court by 13 points per 100 possessions, and are outscoring teams by 11 points per 100 possessions when he isn’t.

Walker spent the past two seasons in Boston after the Celtics signed him to a four-year max contract in 2019 to replace Kyrie Irving once the latter left to sign his own max deal with the Nets. After making the All-Star team his first season and helping Boston reach the Eastern Conference finals with strong play in series victories over the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors along the way, Walker struggled with knee issues last season, missing 29 games in the regular season and the final two games of Boston’s five-game loss to Brooklyn in the first round.

In his first significant move as president of the franchise, former coach Brad Stevens chose to trade Walker to the Thunder, along with the No. 16 pick in July’s NBA draft, to bring center Al Horford back to Boston. Horford has seamlessly fit right into Boston’s lineup, particularly with starting center Robert Williams missing chunks of multiple games with various injuries early on this season.

Walker, on the other hand, eventually agreed to a buyout with the Thunder, allowing him to return home to New York to play a smaller role with his hometown team. But after being benched down the stretch repeatedly over the past several weeks, along with other members of the starting lineup, as New York’s bench has consistently outperformed it, Thibodeau decided Monday to take things a step further.

The Knicks are currently 11-9, putting them in the middle of the tightly bunched Eastern Conference standings. New York is three games behind the East-leading Nets and one ahead of the 76ers in 11th.

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Blake Griffin, out of Brooklyn Nets’ rotation, preaches patience, knows ‘that’s not my decision’

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NEW YORK — Falling completely out of the Brooklyn Nets‘ rotation was not something Blake Griffin saw coming.

After starting 17 games this season, Griffin has sat the past two games after Steve Nash inserted LaMarcus Aldridge into the starting lineup.

“No, I mean listen, [Aldridge] has been playing unbelievable,” Griffin said. “So, I totally get starting him, especially Joe [Harris] has been out, and I totally get that.

“Being completely out of it, though, I didn’t necessarily see that coming. But that’s not my decision. As players it’s our job to do whatever coaches see best, so at this point that’s what it is.”

Griffin, a six-time All-Star, was averaging a career-low 5.5 points to go with 4.9 rebounds while shooting just 16.1% from behind the 3-point arc. The power forward is shooting a career-low 31.8% overall from the field. Last season with the Pistons and Nets, Griffin averaged 11 points, 4.9 rebounds, 42.3% shooting overall and 34.1% 3-point shooting.

“Well, I feel for him,” Nash said. “That’s not easy. You know it’s tough when you go through a rough stretch of play and the world kind of caves in on you a little bit. I’ve been there and understand it. We have to give other guys an opportunity at this point, but Blake’s had a great attitude. I really admire him for being positive through this and keeping himself ready so if his opportunity comes back, he can have an impact.”

With Harris out for potentially four to eight weeks after he will undergo ankle surgery, the Nets need more shooting around Kevin Durant and James Harden. Aldridge has been one of the Nets’ best players this season, averaging 13.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 58% shooting from the field in just 22.1 minutes per game.

Griffin said he has been in touch with some of his former teammates, including DeAndre Jordan, since Nash’s decision. Jordan started the season as a starter before losing his spot in the starting five early last season.

“I have seen [and] have had great examples,” Griffin said. “DeAndre last year, he is a guy that I talked to that reached out. A lot of the guys from last year reached out. He did a really great job with it. I told him that. That is how I am going to try to do it as well.

“Just be a professional and do exactly what you are supposed to do,” Griffin added of what message his former teammates told him. “It may sound like not good advice, but in this situation, everybody always needs to hear the right thing.”

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Brooklyn Nets’ Joe Harris to undergo ankle surgery, out 4-8 weeks, agent says

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NEW YORK — Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Harris will undergo surgery on his injured left ankle and is expected to miss four to eight weeks, with optimism he can return on the shorter end of that timeline, Harris’ agent Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Nets head coach Steve Nash said Harris’ surgery will address “a little bone particle” in the ankle and hopefully allow the shooter to move forward from the injury. Harris has missed the last six games since injuring his ankle in a win at Oklahoma City on Nov. 14.

“He is going to have a scope and then we’ll see what that means once they’ve had the procedure,” Nash said after Nets practice. “We think this is a really positive thing that can put this situation behind him long term rather than risking reoccurrences or uncertainty with the injury.”

Harris is averaging 11.3 points and shooting 46.6% from behind the 3-point arc this season.

“There’s a little bone particle in there,” Nash said. “Just the uncertainty of it, just better to take it out. We thought that it would potentially sort itself out because it’s been there but it’s not. Hopefully that’s the end of it.”

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