Tag:Russell Westbrook
Posted on: October 3, 2011 1:35 pm
 

Tellem's cousin recused from NLRB case

NEW YORK -- Elbert Tellem, the assistant director of the National Labor Relations Board's regional office that handled the players' union's charge against the NBA, has recused himself from the case because he is the cousin of powerful agent Arn Tellem.

Sports Business Journal first reported the news Monday, and a person familiar with the decision told CBSSports.com it happened several weeks ago.

The move by Tellem to remove himself from any decision-making role in the union's unfair labor practices charge likely will have no impact on the outcome. The case, which has been sent to the NLRB's general counsel in Washington, D.C., with a sealed recommendation from the regional office in New York, was handled by acting regional director Karen Fernbach.

The National Basketball Players Association, which continued bargaining talks with league negotiators Monday in a last-ditch effort to prevent the cancellation of regular season games, hopes to compel the NLRB to issue a complaint against the league for failing to bargain in good faith. If the union is successful, the end result could be an injunction by a federal judge lifting the lockout.

Neither side knows what the regional office recommended, and the general counsel could take days, weeks or months to review the case and either follow or reject the regional office's recommendation. A person familiar with the NLRB's procedures told CBSSports.com Monday it is the agency's hope that the two sides settle their labor dispute among themselves.

The conflict of interest for Elbert Tellem stemmed from his family relation to Arn Tellem, the powerful agent from Wasserman Media Group who represents such NBA stars as Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joe Johnson, Russell Westbrook and Tyreke Evans. Tellem has been among a handful of powerful agents who have consistently disagreed with the union's bargaining and legal strategies while pushing behind the scenes for the players to decertify union membership as a tactic to force the owners to bargain more seriously.
Posted on: August 17, 2011 5:00 pm
Edited on: August 17, 2011 9:08 pm
 

Kobe to players: 'Stand behind the union'

During a series of meetings in which union officials are updating players on the status of collective bargaining this week, one voice stood out: that of Kobe Bryant.

Before a star-studded audience of about 75 players in Los Angeles Tuesday, Bryant was “up front” and “deliberate” in a speech in which he urged players to maintain solidarity and “stand behind the union” during the lockout, according to a person who was in attendance. Sources told CBSSports.com that another test of that solidarity could come next week, as top union officials were authorized Wednesday to contact deputy commissioner Adam Silver in the hopes of scheduling a bargaining session in New York before the end of the month.

Bryant and Paul Pierce told players Tuesday it was important for them to “remain united” in the face of a lockout that has dragged well into its second month with only one full-scale bargaining session, the person who attended the meeting said. Among the players in attendance were Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon of the Clippers, Elton Brand of the 76ers, Tyson Chandler of the Mavericks, Russell Westbrook and James Harden of the Thunder and Corey Maggette of the Bobcats.

Contacted for comment on the player meetings, union chief Billy Hunter said he also briefed a contingent of about 20 agents on the status of negotiations Tuesday before traveling to Las Vegas, where he was meeting with about 35 players Wednesday. Hunter also will meet with players next week in Houston, Chicago and New York.

“Our message is that there’ve been several proposals back and forth, and the last proposal by the NBA would be a giveback of $8 billion over 10 years,” Hunter told CBSSports.com. “The players understand and they’re supportive.”

Hunter said there was a “divergence of opinion” among the agents about the National Basketball Players Association’s decision not to disclaim interest in representing the players – and the players’ decision not to decertify. Some high-profile agents have clamored for decertification, which would send the dispute to the federal court system under antitrust law. Hunter has so far resisted, preferring to explore the possibly more expeditious path to an injunction lifting the lockout, which could result if the union is successful in getting the National Labor Relations Board to issue an unfair labor practices complaint against the NBA.

Sources said NLRB investigators are expected to wrap up the evidence-gathering phase as early as next week and would then have all the information they need to render a decision on the players’ charge.

Though NBA commissioner David Stern is expected to be away on vacation, sources also told CBSSports.com that the two sides are trying to reconvene for a high-level bargaining session next week in New York. If league and union officials can agree on the scheduling details, it would be the first full-scale bargaining session since Aug. 1 – and the first since the NBA filed a federal lawsuit and an NLRB charge accusing the players of failing to bargain in good faith. Both legal actions were filed on Aug. 2, one day after Stern said the players were not bargaining in good faith.

It remains to be seen whether the players’ desire to meet next week will result in a productive negotiating session or more mudslinging. Stern accused the players of canceling a bargaining session last week while Hunter was involved with four days of appearances before the NLRB. Sources said an offer by the union to hold a staff-level bargaining session was rejected by the league, and that Hunter was told Stern would be away on vacation this week and next.

Clearly, Stern could easily return to New York for a bargaining session regardless of his vacation plans. So it’s a matter of will on both sides – and a question of whether anything has changed since the fruitless session on Aug. 1. Answer: Probably not. Not yet.
Posted on: November 19, 2010 11:50 pm
 

Without Durant, Westbrook goes solo

BOSTON – At one point during the Thunder’s surprising victory over the Celtics without Kevin Durant Friday night, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks saw something he admired, but didn’t necessarily like.

Driving fearlessly into the conversation about the most lethal point guards in a league filled with them, Russell Westbrook was doing what he was supposed to do in Durant’s absence. He was trying to carry his team, on the road, against the defending Eastern Conference champions. Against the team that lost to the team that knocked the surprising Thunder out of the playoffs last spring.

The trouble was, he was trying too hard. After a turnover and a charge on consecutive out-of-control possessions in the second quarter, Brooks took Westbrook out and tried to give him a chance to cool off.

“He has a spirit that’s not going to back down,” Brooks said after the shorthanded Thunder beat the Celtics 89-84, their second victory in four days against a playoff team on the road following an equally impressive performance in Utah. “But sometimes, you have to back down and use your guys. I said, ‘Russell, you have four guys out there working just as hard as you are. Use them.’”

After a three-minute stint on the bench, Westbrook settled down and ultimately needed those guys – on both ends of the floor – to hold off the Celtics down the stretch. Westbrook finished with 31 points, six assists, and seven turnovers, dueling with Rajon Rondo until the Celtics’ point guard missed the last five minutes with a strained hamstring. The Thunder won despite going the last 9 1-2 minutes without a field goal, with Westbrook going 0-for-7 with six points – all from the foul line – in the fourth quarter, and with Durant sitting on the bench in street clothes with a sprained ankle that caused him to miss a game for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

After finding out less than an hour before tipoff that the Thunder would be without Durant in addition to starting forward Jeff Green, the Celtics suffered a classic case of letdown.

“We were definitely out of sync,” Ray Allen said. “We didn’t have any ball movement. We didn’t have any rhythm all night.”

In effect, the Celtics learned how it feels to be their opponent on most nights. Typically, it is Rondo who controls the tempo and dances through the defense with the ball on a yo-yo string. Westbrook did it with aggression and straight-line speed, whereas Rondo does it with lateral quickness and cut-your-heart-out guile. But Westbrook’s method was just as effective.

“Russell did a phenomenal job controlling the tempo,” Brooks said.

That is, after coming to the bench, listening to a lecture Rondo used to hear all the time from Doc Rivers, and resisting the urge to do too much.

“When guys are down,” Westbrook said, “other guys have to come in and be ready to play.”

Just not too ready.

The Thunder needed a confidence-builder after struggling to a 3-3 start that was capped by a 92-83 loss to the Celtics at home on Nov. 7. Their success will almost always be about Durant. But it was interesting to see Westbrook fearlessly attack Rondo without his superstar scoring machine on the floor with him.

More and more, Westbrook’s matchup with the opposing point guard will be as much reason to watch the Thunder as Durant. The rest of this month alone will feature Westbrook vs. Jason Kidd and Chris Paul. Early next month, Derrick Rose. Westbrook belongs right there in the conversation with all of them.
Posted on: September 12, 2010 5:13 pm
 

Odom, Billups deserve to be rewarded

The revelation of the world championships, quite obviously, was Kevin Durant. He did everything for Team USA -- did exactly what was required of a blossoming superstar who was asked to put his imprint on the world basketball stage.

So without a doubt, Durant will be suiting up for the 2012 Olympics in London, when some of the divas who passed on Turkey will be back to defend the gold medal attained by the Redeem Team in Beijing two years ago. But what became plainly apparent Sunday, as the United States ended a 16-year drought in the FIBA worlds by beating Turkey 81-64 for the gold medal, is that not all of those '08 Olympians will be assured of getting their spots back.

Far from it.

It's widely assumed that three spots will be available: those belonging to Jason Kidd, Tayshaun Prince and Michael Redd. So as I plan out Mike Krzyzewski's Olympic roster before Team USA even gets to the airport, I say those spots should go to Durant, Lamar Odom and Chauncey Billups.

When the Americans left U.S. soil as underdogs to Spain in the eyes of many, I felt that however this tournament played out, Odom and Billups deserved spots on the team for London. As good as Durant was, it's impossible to dismiss the championship pedigree Odom and Billups brought to this otherwise woefully inexperienced team. If nothing else, Odom and Billups deserve a spot as a reward for taking one for the country this summer. They stepped up and gave Jerry Colangelo and Coach K their commitments at a time when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were too busy working on their Twitter accounts, and while Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony were occupied with trying to get traded.

As far as tangible contributions, Billups didn't shine during the tournament. But no one should have a problem with him getting the Jason Kidd memorial roster spot in London for his experience and for his trouble this summer. As for Odom, who was brilliant in the gold-medal game with 15 points and 11 rebounds -- including a flurry of putbacks, 3-pointers and work-ethic baskets in the fourth quarter -- he earned a spot regardless. My pal Gregg Doyel still thinks Odom is a lackadaisical yo-yo ; I've always thought he was wrong about that, and that much was proven beyond any doubt in this tournament. Odom was huge for the U.S. It was no coincidence that the Naismith Trophy was handed first to Odom and Billups Sunday in Istanbul. They earned it. American basketball is all about pecking order, and they were right at the top of it, where they belonged.

But this so-called "B-Team" so far exceeded expectations from spots 1-12 that there will be precious little room for sentimentality when Colangelo and Krzyzewski assemble the Olympic roster in two years. Let's say I'm right and you start with Durant, Odom and Billups joining '08 Olympians James, Wade, Anthony, Paul, Kobe Bryant, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams. How do you make room for Derrick Rose (which Colangelo must)? How do you ignore the versatility and defensive intangibles offered by Russell Westbrook (which Colangelo shouldn't)? How do you snub Blake Griffin and Tyreke Evans (you probably can't)? What if John Wall is as good as we think he is (which he is)? What if Rajon Rondo wants to play (which he should)?

As the adage goes, these are some good problems for the Americans to have. A few short years after the embarrassment of bronze medals at the 2006 world championships and 2004 Olympics, USA Basketball is back. It was back in Beijing two summers ago with the Redeem Team. But really, this B-Team should be -- and will be -- remembered for driving home the point.

At a time when reputations and gold medals were on the line, the biggest American stars in the sport took a pass. Those who showed up and got the job done should be rewarded. More than a few, I predict, will be.

 
 

 

Posted on: May 20, 2010 5:42 pm
 

Old and slow? Maybe, but Fisher can still defend

LOS ANGELES – For three playoff series, Derek Fisher has heard about how he’s the weak link in the Lakers’ title defense. There was no way he could keep up with Russell Westbrook’s quickness, hold up against Deron Williams’ size, or stifle Steve Nash’s creativity.

“They say he’s old and slow,” noted philosopher and defensive guru Ron Artest said. “I just don’t see it.”

Nobody else does, either. And no, your eyes have not deceived you. Here are the Lakers, two wins away from a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals – and they’ve gotten here not despite Fisher, but in large part because of him.

“I guess I’m smart enough to know that if we win, it doesn’t really matter,” Fisher said. “I guess for some guys it’s harder to not take things personally and try to be who they aren’t when the goal is really to help your team advance. And when you do that, the individual things kind of mean less. I’ve said it before: I’ve never seen anything on the side of any one of my rings that says anything about points per game, percentages per game, who had the most assists, who had the most steals. It’s just a ring. It has your name on it and the team and the organization and that’s it. That’s pretty much all that matters to me.”

No, Fisher, 35, hasn’t done it all by himself against the murderer’s row of point guards the Lakers are toppling on their way to the Finals. After Westbrook sliced through the Lakers’ defense in victories at Oklahoma City in Games 3 and 4 of the first round, Kobe Bryant raised his hand after a video session and said, “I’ll take him.” Bryant slowed Westbrook down, and the Lakers haven’t lost a game since – eight in a row heading into Game 3 of the conference finals Sunday in Phoenix.

But Fisher didn’t need much help against the Williams, arguably the best point guard in the league, as the Lakers swept past the Jazz. Nash, the gold standard for modern-day point guards – or point guards of any era, really – hasn’t been able to find the kind of space and freedom he’s accustomed to with Fisher digging in and using his underrated combination of strength, quick hands and good old fashioned guile.

“He can guard all the point guards,” TNT analyst Hubie Brown told me. “Fisher, in my opinion, is one of the feistiest defensive point guards that we have in the league. He’s very cerebral. He understands the defensive game plan. You can never fall asleep with the basketball because he’s got quick reflexes and quick reactions, plus he gets a lot of deflections. Then off of his man, OK, he’s one of the best point guards that we have in the league in double-teaming and also playing the passing lane on any type of a ball reversal back to his man.”

(Note to reader: At this point in my conversation with Brown the other day, I prayed that the Lakers’ practice court would open up and swallow me. In 30 seconds, Brown had said more intelligent things about basketball than I’ve ever written. And there was more to come.)

“This guy, you don’t hide this guy,” Brown said. “Also, if you break down his game, if he’s running in transition, you never have to worry about a guy getting a clear layup because he’s going to take a charge. And in this league, that’s very difficult for guys to do no matter what size they are – to take the full contact while people are moving. So to me, he’s the total package.”

In the Lakers’ 124-112 victory over the Suns in Game 2 Wednesday night, Fisher’s numbers didn’t measure up to Nash’s – but his impact on the game far exceeded his counterpart’s. Fisher had seven points on 2-for-8 shooting with five assists, two steals and two turnovers. Nash had 11 points and 15 assists, but shot only 4-for-8 from the field with five turnovers. At key sequences in the game – when the Lakers were building an early lead and then pulling away in the fourth quarter after the Suns had tied it at 90-90 – Fisher wound up on the superior end of the action.

Late in the first quarter, Fisher intercepted a post pass from Nash as the Suns were trying to find their offensive rhythm. Late in the second quarter, Fisher hurt the Suns with his offense – finding Andrew Bynum for a dunk, hitting a corner 3-pointer and making a driving layup to give the Lakers a 65-56 halftime lead. Midway through the fourth, Fisher forced Nash into consecutive turnovers, the first leading to a corner 3-pointer by Jordan Farmar on which Nash failed to close out defensively. In 67 seconds, the Lakers stretched a six-point lead to 11 and the rout was on.

“Steve can hurt you without scoring, whereas some of the other guys at the point guard position need to score for their team to win,” Fisher said. “Overall it’s exactly the same. You want to limit penetration. You want to keep the guy in front of you. You want to make him shoot the ball over the top instead of letting him get to the rim and make plays for himself or other people. You want to make him work as hard as possible. You’re not going to stop him, but you can’t allow him to do whatever he wants to do out there. And sometimes that means sacrificing yourself, your game, your body and that means picking up some fouls to do it. Just do what it takes.”

Next up, presumably, will be the Celtics' Rajon Rondo, who has been the single most influential point guard in the postseason -- better than Williams, Nash, Jason Kidd, all of them. Once again, it will seem to be an impossible task for Fisher to hold up against Rondo's length, speed, quickness and guile. And once again, Fisher will have to find a way.

That’s what he does: whatever it takes, and more than everybody expects.


Posted on: April 25, 2010 1:36 am
 

Next step for Thunder: Win in L.A.


When the Thunder blew out the Lakers in a meaningless regular season game in March, it was easy to chalk it up to your garden variety Laker boredom and malaise. The indignity of the defending champs losing by 16 points to the youngest team in the NBA, and the team with the lowest effective payroll, surely was an aberration -- something that certainly wouldn't be replicated in the playoffs.

As it turns out, it wasn't. What happened to the Lakers Saturday night at the raucous Ford Center was worse.

Much worse.

A 110-89 loss to the Thunder in Game 4 of their first-round series should send the Lakers back to L.A. with more than a 2-2 series on their hands. It should send them back with some doubts.

Yes, we've seen this from the Lakers before. They toyed around with the Rockets and needed seven games to beat them last postseason -- a team they should've beaten in five. But remember, that wasn't the first round, where L.A. strolled past the Jazz in five games. If you've got designs on playing deep into June and cradling the championship trophy when it's over, you don't want to be pushed to the limit in the first round.

This is also different than the Houston series in that the Lakers were never outmatched by the Rockets; they merely were bored with them and didn't beat them fast enough. After two convincing wins on their home floor, the Thunder are starting to look like a bad matchup for L.A. -- much the way the Hawks were a tough matchup for the Celtics when Boston needed seven games to get past Atlanta in the first round two years ago. The Celtics, of course, went on to win the title.

"We have a team that's playing extremely well right now that we have to deal with," said Kobe Bryant, who was in facilitator mode again and had only 12 points -- his lowest output in a playoff game since the 2004 NBA Finals. "It's not something that we lost swagger. They defended their home court, and now it's our turn."

And that is the question: Are the Thunder good enough and mentally tough enough to take the next step and win a game in Staples Center?

Bryant, who didn't score a point until the second quarter Saturday night, doesn't seem concerned. The Lakers have been here before. The Thunder have not.

"We didn't need this for this team to get our attention," Bryant said. "They have our attention. They just beat us. ... We wanted to win both of these games and be done with it. It's not the reality of the situation. We've got a tough fight and it should be fun."

As nonplused as Bryant was with the developments, Kevin Durant must've been reading from the same playbook. Asked in the sideline interview why he didn't seem overly impressed with the Thunder's handiwork, Durant said, "It's a seven-game series."

It is; a series that the Lakers remain the overwhelming favorites to win.

But as much as we must take into consideration the Lakers' experience, their home-court advantage, and Bryant's ruthlessness, we also have to acknowledge that the Thunder have been ahead of schedule before. They won 23 games a year ago and weren't supposed to blossom into a playoff team until next season. Yet they're here. They won't get to the free-throw line 48 times in Game 5 -- a 20-attempt advantage over the passive Lakers. But some of their advantages -- speed, quickness, and rebounding -- translate to winning on the road. So does Russell Westbrook, who is shooting 55 percent and averaging 21.8 points per game in the first four games of the series with a grand total of six turnovers. Durant is the superstar, but the Lakers' problems begin and end with Westbrook.

Do I think the Thunder can stun the Lakers at Staples and turn this series into a potential knockout blow to the defending champs? No, not really. But they've shown me enough so I won't be surprised if they do.

"We said at the beginning of the series that this wasn't going to be easy," Bryant said. "This is going to be a long series. It's going to be a dogfight."

Already is.

 

Posted on: March 27, 2010 12:18 am
Edited on: March 27, 2010 12:21 am
 

Speed kills the Lakers again

OKLAHOMA CITY – With a signature win for a franchise on the rise, the Oklahoma City Thunder forced the defending champs to look into the future and cringe. 

The Lakers won’t know for a couple more weeks who they’ll be facing in the first round when they begin their title defense. If it’s the Thunder, who ran them out of the gym Friday night in a 91-75 rout, things could get a little uncomfortable. 

“It’s disappointing we didn’t respond to the challenge,” said Kobe Bryant, who had 11 points and nine turnovers before sitting the entire fourth quarter with fellow starters Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher. “That being said, when the playoffs start, it’s a different situation.” 

Probably so. But the Lakers were reminded Friday night of a weakness that was exposed in the conference semifinals last spring against the Rockets: Quick teams and quick guards cause them problems. 

A year ago, Ron Artest was playing for the Rockets and Aaron Brooks was forcing Lakers coach Phil Jackson to protect Derek Fisher in that matchup by putting quicker guards Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar on Brooks for long stretches. 

“The death knell was ringing for us last year in the Houston series when Brooks was lighting us up, and we actually had to make a change a little bit in our rotation,” Jackson said. “In fact, Derek helped us out by getting suspended a game, otherwise I would’ve stuck with him. But we started playing a little different, with speed on speed in that situation. Before you know it, Fish is right back in the lineup and contributing the rest of the playoffs, and I anticipate that’s going to be his role.” 

But on Friday night, it was Russell Westbrook playing the role of Aaron Brooks, and Jackson was never able to find an answer for his speed. Westbrook had 23 points and six assists on 10-for-13 shooting with only two turnovers – despite leaving the court briefly in the second quarter with what appeared to be a badly turned ankle that caused him to miss only three minutes. 

“I tried everybody but Sasha [Vujacic] in the backcourt on him,” Jackson said. “We tried to match him and see what we could get done. And he got in a zone there in that lane, and that’s his strength.” 

Kevin Durant, who had 28 points, called Westbrook “one of the toughest players I have ever played with. … He won the game for us. He was incredible.” Oklahoma City snapped a 12-game losing streak against the Lakers -- a streak that dates to the franchise's final days in Seattle.

These are problems the Lakers could very well have to contend with again in a month or so. The Thunder (44-27), currently in the sixth playoff spot, are only 1 1-2 games ahead of eighth-place Portland. San Antonio and Phoenix are in that mix, too. But until now, the Thunder were the biggest unknown – a team the Lakers hadn’t played since November, when L.A. handled them easily. 

This time, Oklahoma City built as much as a 33-point lead against a Lakers team that offered little resistance. What was billed as a marquee matchup of Kobe vs. Durant wound up being a layup drill with D.J. Mbenga getting posterized by Jeff Green and Durant on consecutive trips in the fourth quarter. 

“We know what San Antonio is; we know what they’re going to come out and do,” Jackson said. “We sort of have a dance that we do between us. This team is a young team with a lot energy, somebody we’re not aware of – we haven’t seen them in four months – and those things change up how you play.” 

Pau Gasol took issue with Jackson’s assessment that he played soft, but didn’t have much more to say. He discouraged the traveling analysts from reading too much into this one. 

“You don’t want to search too deeply into it,” Gasol said. “There’s nothing to search for.” 

Nor was Bryant in an inquisitive mood. Asked by a nemesis in the L.A. media if he got caught up in the competitive challenge of playing against Durant, Bryant shot him a puzzled look and said, “That’s a silly question.” 

Earlier, he was asked the same questions he’s asked every time the Lakers serve up a clunker like this: Do you have a feel for your team? Do you know what you have? 

“I will when the playoffs come around,” he said.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com