After yet another hideous loss, Cleveland Cavaliers star point guard Kyrie Irving denied a report that he has privately told people he wants to leave Cleveland, according to Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer.
The rumor stemmed from an online chat by ESPN's Chad Ford on Thursday. When asked about the situation in Cleveland, Ford said Cavs general manager Chris Grant is on the hot seat and Irving has been privately telling people "he wants out."
Irving addressed Ford's comments after an embarrassing 117-86 loss to the New York Knicks:
"Yes, I'm in Cleveland. I enjoy myself. I enjoy going out there and competing at the highest level for the Cleveland Cavaliers. That's what it's about. It's not about me and it's not about this controversy surrounding do I want to privately come out when my contract is up. I'm still in my rookie contract and I'm happy to be here and I'm pretty sure that I'm going to be here for a long time. I'm not saying anything to foretell the future, but I'm pretty sure the relationship I have with Dan Gilbert and management extends off the court and I enjoy being here.''
While Irving denied wanting to leave, he said it was too early to say whether he would accept a long-term deal in the summer. The Cavs can offer Irving a five-year maximum extension, a deal that has the potential to be a super max under the "Derrick Rose Rule" if the point guard gets voted in as an All-Star starter next season.
Phil talks Kobe
Legendary head coach Phil Jackson believes Kobe Bryant will return to form when he comes back from a knee injury. Jackson riffed on Bryant as well as several other topics in an interview with NBA TV's Rick Fox:
"I think he'll be back," Jackson said. "I think Kobe is going to be still a scorer. He can score. We saw Michael Jordan at the end of his career still scoring 20 points a game and he was 37-38, I think. Maybe he was 38-39, I can't really remember. But I think Kobe can still post up. I think he can still be a good screen-roll player. He's going to hit shots. He can still shoot the 3-pointer. I think he's really realistic about it. He's really pleased. He felt like, you know, I will come back."
Jackson did say he thought Bryant's two-year, $48.5 million extension was a bit on the extreme side, but the former coach added that Kobe brings so much value because of what he's given to the Los Angeles Lakers' organization and that every team needs a player who doesn't "settle for second."
J.R. a changed man?
Not too long ago, Knicks guard J.R. Smith was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. There was the Instagram post about the Knicks betraying him by releasing his brother. There were the multiple shoelace incidents. And then there was the subsequent benching and trade rumors that had Smith questioning his future in New York.
But now Smith and the Knicks are riding high on a four-game winning streak. The eccentric guard has been a key factor in the team's recent success, and he said he's trying to take his job a bit more seriously, according to Ian Begley of ESPN New York:
"Just being professional on and off the court as much as I can," Smith said. "This is my 10th year, of course it sounds like that old broken record, but you can never be too cautious about your job. Anybody's job is replaceable and I understand that. I'm just taking it as seriously as I can."
Since his benching, Smith is averaging 16.4 points and knocking down 44 percent of his three-pointers. In a blowout win over the Cavs on Thursday, Smith had 19 points and had several highlight reel plays.
Blatche interested in Filipino national team
"I'm interested, so there's a good chance of it happening," Blatche said after Thursday's practice. "So I'm looking at it from a standpoint where I can go somewhere I've never been before, and it's an early head start to get ready for the season."
The Filipino team is also pursuing Denver Nuggets big man JaVale McGee for the tournament, which will be held in Spain. To play for the team, Blatche and McGee would have to become naturalized citizens of the Philippines. A Filipino Congressman has reportedly introduced naturalization papers to make that happen.
Lakers on the mend
Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar all practiced together with the Lakers for the first time since November as each player gets closer to a return from injury. Nash is likely the first to return, according to Bill Oram of the Orange County Register.
Nash has already ruled played on Friday night, but he's eyeing next Tuesday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Nash has been out of the lineup since Nov. 10 due to nerve irritation in his back.
Blake hasn't played since Dec. 10 due to a torn ligament in his right elbow, while Farmar has missed 14 games with a torn hamstring.