Justin Termine recaps the fourth week of the NBA season.

George Karl made his SiriusXM NBA Radio debut this past Friday, and he didn’t disappoint, bringing strong takes right from the start. While he called the Warriors the best roster in the game, predicted the Pacers would overcome all their injuries and make the playoffs, and said he saw something wrong internally with the Clippers dating back to his visit with the team during training camp, his strongest words were saved for the Cavaliers.karl1

The 2013 Coach of the Year, and one of just six coaches with more than 1,100 wins, said it’s time for LeBron James to “shut up and focus on basketball,” while adding if he were in charge, “the talking would stop immediately.”

I agree.

We’re now starting to see how important Pat Riley was to LeBron. In Miami, Riley was in charge, and Erik Spoelstra had his full support. When decisions were made, Riley had final say on personnel, and Spoelstra with what took place on the court. When there were questions about minutes or strategy or rotations or trades, they were the ones answering the questions, not LeBron, and not any of the other players. When Lebron made early power plays seeking Spoelstra’s job, and reportedly looking to have his entourage tag along on road trips, Riley put an end to that. That hasn’t happened in Cleveland.

So far we haven’t seen LeBron play much defense. What we’ve seen him do is call his team fragile, attempt to dictate minutes for himself and others, comment on who should be starting and who shouldn’t be, and insinuate the need for more ball movement. That’s not his job to address with the media; that’s David Blatt’s. LeBron should be focused on his production, and what he can do to best serve his team. Let Blatt handle the rest.

Whether LBbron is scoring 50 a night and the Cavs are undefeated, or whether he and the team are struggling, it’s just not his place to be serving as both coach and player. And quite frankly, right now, he’s not exactly ripping up the rest of the league. For the first time since his rookie year, LeBron has scored less than 20 points in four of his first 12 games. He is shooting just 47 percent on the year after shooting 56 percent last year, and hasn’t shot worse than 50 percent in more than five years. And while his offense is struggling, his defense has been worse. For the second consecutive year, he fades in and out on that end; as several have noted, he is lazy getting back on defense following sloppy possessions on offense; and he leaks out too early when a shot goes up on the defensive end in hopes of picking up an easy basket.

How would you feel if your co-workers publicly told the entire country you were fragile, or selfish, or that working with you is the biggest challenge of their career? You probably wouldn’t like it very much.

If you’re going to criticize your teammates, you better be doing the things they’re doing wrong correctly. Right now, LeBron isn’t, so as Karl said, he shouldn’t be talking.

We in the media, however, can talk, and in addition to LeBron, this team has some major flaws. At 5-7, no team LeBron has played on since his rookie season has had a worse record through 12 games. They can’t defend, their rotation is a mess, and Kevin Love has yet to find himself offensively.

I’m confident Love will find himself; at least offensively. He’s a top-10 talent, and it took Chris Bosh time in Miami as well.  But the bench and defense are more concerning for the long term. The team is dead last in bench scoring, and has no back-up bigs. You could make the argument Joe Harris, a secound round pick out of Virginia, has been the team’s best option off the pine. That shouldn’t be the case for a veteran team with titles aspirations.

The issues defensively are even more problematic. In the last 10 years, the only team to win a title and finish outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency was the 2006 Miami Heat. So far this year, Cleveland isn’t even in the top 20, coming into the week 25th overall, better only than the Celtics, Jazz, Knicks, Timberwolves and historically poor Lakers. This isn’t something that necessarily changes with experience. It will probably take a trade – something I’m sure other teams aren’t jumping to do in order to help Cleveland win their first title in franchise history.

Memphis is no fluke

Since Marc Gasol returned from his injury last January, the Grizzlies have the best record in the NBA at 45-15. They have an underrated point guard in Mike Conley, the best perimeter defender in the game in Tony Allen, the best front court in the NBA with Gasol and Zach Randolph, a dominant defense, and most importantly, continuity. Though they were the seventh seed in the West last year, Mike Dunleavy Sr. and I felt they would have been the best team had they played in the East.

Butler about to be served a big contract

Heading into the season, Jimmy Butler had nine 20-point games in his first three year. Now, just nine games into this year, he already has seven. Previously known as one the of the three best defenders in the league against LeBron (along with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George), he’s now doing it on offense as well. Prior to the year, the Bulls chose not to pay him, and now that may be a costly mistake, as he’s the early front-runner to be named Most Improved Player.

Disagreeing with Van Gundy

During this week’s Spurs 92-90 win in Cleveland, Jeff Van Gundy said it was a good sign for the Cavs that they remained close despite poor performances from LeBron and Love. I disagree. I believe it was a good sign for the Spurs, who actually won the game. They did so despite being on the road, getting poor performances from Tony Parker (eight points) and Manu Ginobilli (seven), and were without Marco Bellinelli, Tiago Splitter, and Patty Mills.

The mess in New York

At 4-10, the Knicks have had some bad losses, including Utah and Orlando at home. But the low point came this week in Minnesota. I don’t care if it was their third game in four nights and on the road; you can’t lose to a Timberwolves team that was riding a five-game skid and without Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Thaddeus Young. Making matters worse, Kevin Martin broke his wrist early in the game and still managed to burn New York for 37 points. For all the people mocking the Lakers (including Phil Jackson), the Knicks have been just as bad.

Maybe they should go back to being the Bobcats

Has there been a more disappointing start for a team in the East than the Hornets? Last year, they were one of the league’s pleasant surprises, slipping into the playoffs and finishing sixth in defense. This year they’re 18th defensively and are fresh off giving up 67 points in the first half to the Mavericks at home earlier this week. At 4-10, they’re the only team to lose to both the Knicks and the Lakers, and have now lost five straight games. Lance Stephenson was supposed to improve their offense, but is averaging under 10 points on 37 percent shooting. A recent Chris Mannix article on SI.com even quoted one executive as saying he looked out of shape after signing his three-year, $27 million deal. Not good.

Making history at home

Dirk became the fourth player in NBA Hhstory earlier this week to score 27,000 points with the same team, joining Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Karl Malone. For as fun as it is to talk player movement each summer, it’s even more fun to watch a player be rewarded for being loyal to an organization. Much like Duncan, Kobe and the Magic’s, Bird’s and Havlicek’s before them, they’ll share a connection to their teams and cities that those that leave never can.

Atlanta and Celtics watching the Nets closely

The Celtics have to be kicking themselves that they don’t start collecting first round picks from the Nets until next season. Brooklyn is off to a brutal start at 5-8, just recently ended a five-game skid. and appear headed to the lottery. They owe Boston unprotected picks in 2016 and 2018, while the Celtics also have the right to swap picks in 2017. Instead, it’s the Hawks who benefit this year; Atlanta has the right to swap with Brooklyn in 2015.

Quotes from around the league:

You know me. Personally, I just hope they suck forever. — Mark Cuban on the Lakers

You’d be surprised at how many people around the league feel the same. We’re told that only fans root hard for and against teams; I can tell you from talking to a number of former players, they love to see the Lakers and Celtics struggle…

I think it really helped me to see what I was dealing with, what type of people I was dealing with, you know? — Jason Kidd ripping Nets management upon his return to Brooklyn this week, when asked about reports they considered firing him last December.

Kidd has done a fabulous job this year with the Bucks, who are now in pursuit of their eighth win after not getting that until January 22nd last year. He also did a nice job with last year’s Nets recovering from a slow start to finish at 44-38. But him questioning the character of others is an absolute joke. Jason Kidd is a Hall of Fame player, and has proven to be pretty good as a coach early on, but he comes up well short in his personal life. A man who has been arrested for domestic violence and driving his car into a tree while intoxicated should not be commenting on the character of others. The Nets were always great to Kidd, retiring his number, and hiring him immediately following his playing days despite no coaching experience and his off the court issues. He’s doing a nice job on the court, but he needs to shut his mouth.

That’s as good a point guard job as I’ve ever seen, what Steph did tonight … Managing the game, being aggressive at the right times, taking care of the ball, finding guys … The guy has taken another level. I think he’s the best in the NBA right now at that position. — Steve Kerr on Steph Curry following his 30-point, 15-assist performance against the Lakers.

Most of the public has argued Chris Paul as the best point guard in the game over the last few years. I’ve always said it’s Tony Parker. This year however, it’s neither one. I agree with Kerr; it’s been Curry dominating the position. Since the start of last season, there have been nine 30-15 games, with Curry accounting for five of them. He ranks sixth in points and fifth in assists right now, and while it’s unlikely he’ll ever do it, he probably has the best shot at joining Tiny Archibald (1973) as becoming just the second player in history to lead the league in points and assists. He’s the best player on what is arguably the best team, and at a position which is experiencing more depth than ever before with Paul, Parker, Westbrook, Lillard, Wall, Rondo, Rose, Dragic and Lowry, he in my estimation is the best one … even with all the turnovers.

I think he’s disliked by a lot of players. What Dwight does is, you know you see all the smiles and all the antics, that is getting on player’s nerves. To get this guy, Kevin Durant, to do what he did, you know it’s starting to become a problem with players, because Kevin Durant doesn’t really talk to anybody … [Durant] goes at people that are fake with stuff. Only fake guys. Fake guys to me are when they’re always roofing roofing roofing, and they don’t really do nothing. — Gary Payton on why Dwight Howard is disliked following early-season scraps with both Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant

We, or at least I, like my players to take the game as seriously as I do. I can’t speak for the players, but I think I can for most fans; if we dislike Dwight, it has nothing to do with his talent (he’s still a top-10 player), but instead his approach. I don’t mind guys who have personality, but when it comes to getting out on the court, I prefer my guys to wear the scowl of a Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo or Joakim Noah. Dwight may care about winning as much as those guys – I don’t know – but it sure doesn’t come off that way.

NBA POWER RANKINGS (THROUGH 11/23/14)

Voters: Justin Termine, Mike Dunleavy, Noah Coslov, Brian Geltzeiler, Shane Connolly

Rank (LW) Team
1 (1) Golden State Warriors
2 (2) Memphis Grizzlies
3 (5) Toronto Raptors
4 (4) San Antonio Spurs
5 (9) Portland Trail Blazers
6 (3) Houston Rockets
7 (8) Dallas Mavericks
8 (11) Washington Wizards
9 (6) Chicago Bulls
10 (10) Los Angeles Clippers
11 (14) Phoenix Suns
12 (7) Cleveland Cavaliers
13 (12) Sacramento Kings
14 (13) New Orleans Pelicans
15 (15) Miami Heat
16 (16) Atlanta Hawks
17 (19) Milwaukee Bucks
18 (17) Brooklyn Nets
19 (20) Utah Jazz
20 (28) Denver Nuggets
21 (18) Charlotte Hornets
22 (T-24) Orlando Magic
23 (T-22) Indiana Pacers
24 (21) Boston Celtics
25 (T-22) Detroit Pistons
26 (26) Minnesota Timberwolves
27 (29) Los Angeles Lakers
28 (27) New York Knicks
29 (T-24) Oklahoma City Thunder
30 (30) Philadelphia 76ers

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