Frank Kaminsky Becoming Surprisingly Key Cog For Suns

Frank Kaminsky Becoming Surprisingly Key Cog For Suns

Frank Kaminsky’s performance on Wednesday against the Portland Trail Blazers, propelling the Phoenix Suns to a 119-109 win, was awe-inspiring. (Tyler Kaufman/Getty Images for GQ)

By Evan Sidery

If you had Frank Kaminsky scoring a career-high 31 points in the year 2021 on your bingo card, go ahead and pick out your lottery numbers for an automatic winner. Kaminsky’s performance on Wednesday against the Portland Trail Blazers, propelling the Phoenix Suns to a 119-109 win, was awe-inspiring.

Kaminsky was upfront about his recent stretch in the NBA during his postgame media availability. He’s known the opportunities for him in Phoenix, and anywhere else, have been sparse at best. When Kaminsky’s team option from the Suns was declined after the 2019-20 season, he signed a veteran-minimum deal with the Sacramento Kings and was cut during preseason play. Kaminsky thought this could be it for his career — a disappointing result for a former lottery pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

However, the Suns had one open roster remaining and decided to use it on Kaminsky, who they claimed on waivers immediately after his release from Sacramento. Kaminsky sparingly played last season, but he did have that familiarity with the Suns’ system that head coach Monty Williams desired for a reserve big man. Kaminsky even started a stretch of games for the Suns last season alongside Deandre Ayton, actually thriving within that role.

Wednesday was the latest example where Kaminsky’s “stay ready” mentality has continued to pay off in The Valley. Now, Kaminsky is forcing Williams’ hand once Ayton returns from a leg contusion suffered last week.

Excluding the game on Nov. 4 against the Houston Rockets where he only logged four total minutes, Kaminsky has become a vital rotation piece for Phoenix over the last week-plus. Take a look at the four games he’s been relied upon off the bench for Phoenix:

Nov. 2 vs. Pelicans: 17 points, 4 steals, 3 rebounds, 3 assists on 5-of-8 FGA in 29 minutes

Nov. 6 vs. Hawks: 16 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block on 7-of-10 FGA in 29 minutes

Nov. 8 vs. Kings: 10 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block on 4-of-9 FGA in 22 minutes

Nov. 8 vs. Trail Blazers: 31 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block on 12-of-18 FGA in 32 minutes

It’s a mind-boggling rise for Kaminsky, averaging 18.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 0.8 blocks while shooting 62.2% over those four contests. When Kaminsky’s number has been called upon by Williams, he’s delivered with authority every single time. It’s a factor his head coach continues to notice consistently from the veteran big.

“I just found that out when we [were] bringing it in and the guys told me that was a career-high for Frank. [I’m] excited for him,” Williams said on Wednesday night. “I felt like a kid in there just cheering for him, because to do what he does every single day, he’s a pro. His ability to mentally stay locked-in, emotionally stay even-keeled and understand that he may not get the call, he may get the call — to do that day-after-day-after-day, come back in the next day get his work in and go home, have a great attitude. It says a lot about him to see him have a night like that when we needed it.”

Without Kaminsky’s scoring explosion, the Suns don’t win that game vs. Portland. In clutch situations, Kaminsky continued to take the game over and do it all for Phoenix. Whether it was scoring inside or out, grabbing key boards or making crucial passes to the perimeter out of traps, Kaminsky showcased why he could deserve extended run within the Suns’ rotation moving forward.

“I still don’t think it’s really hit me yet, but like I said last time it’s just a mindset,” Kaminsky said of his career-best outing. “Go out there and play as hard as you can and be ready for anything. [You] never know when your opportunities are going to come, so you gotta make the most of them. I’m just trying to make the most of my opportunity here. It just goes into preparation and staying ready and keeping the same mental approach everyday. Try to stay level — never too high, never too low. Just keep going with that.”

When the Suns lost Dario Saric in Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals to a torn ACL, likely sidelining him for all of the 2021-22 season, they were missing that underrated and valuable reserve off the bench. The Suns did go out sign JaVale McGee to a one-year deal; however, his role wasn’t as a connector who can facilitate the basketball in “0.5” situations, but more of a version closer to Ayton as a rim-rolling big who can defend the paint.

Kaminsky has taken on the role that opened with Saric’s absence and run with it recently, becoming a must-use piece to the puzzle in the second unit. Also, as seen over the last week, Kaminsky can play a vital role alongside Phoenix’s starters as a stretch big who can facilitate from the top of the key, finding cutters or trailing shooters in the corners.

“I don’t think it’s one thing specific, he just knows how to play,” Chris Paul said postgame.

Paul is right on the money with his short and sweet statement. Kaminsky is just a high-IQ basketball player who can seamlessly fit within the role asked upon. Sure, he has some flaws, but within the right system, those can be canceled out by surprisingly-strong strengths.

Williams mentioned to the media that once Ayton returns from his leg contusion, he will try to keep Kaminsky within the Suns’ rotation. Coach will have him potentially split minutes with McGee and keep their former No. 1 overall pick more fresh throughout games with a lighter workload.

Many thought the Suns needed to make one more move for a win-now piece to bolster their bench and playoff rotation to an even higher level. Who knows, they may have just stumbled upon their solution to losing Saric with Kaminsky.

From where Kaminsky was to where he is now, his confidence is reaching entirely new heights we haven’t seen since his days leading the Wisconsin Badgers to the Final Four. It’s a new mentality Kaminsky has honed-in on, and the results over a small sample size have been nothing short of fantastic.

“So proud of Frank,” Williams said. “Glad to be a part of his journey. He’s a pro.”

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Edited by Kristen Butler

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Did Biden Beat Oil Prices?

Did Biden Beat Oil Prices?

strongCrude oil prices remain at multiyear highs and could undermine U.S. economic growth. (David McNew/Getty Images)/strong

By Daniel James Graeber

Crude oil prices lost ground during the Wednesday session, with overtures on controlling U.S. inflation overshadowing some usual market movers for the day.

West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for the price of crude oil, closed trading Wednesday at $81.34 per barrel, a 3.3 percent decline from the previous session.

Crude oil prices remain at multiyear highs and, added to other inflationary measures, could undermine U.S. economic growth.

The market on Wednesday typically moves on the usual weekly data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration on commercial storage levels of crude oil and refined petroleum products such as gasoline.

“Crude oil traded a bit softer after the release, primarily I think due to the drop in natural gas prices, both in the U.S. and especially in Europe,” said Ole Hansen, the head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank in Denmark.

Higher oil prices are a growing concern for a White House wary of inflationary pressures. (U.S. Energy Information Administration)

Natural gas prices, which have been on an exponential rise for weeks, have been moderating on assurances of more supplies. So-called fuel switching, where power generators, for example, look to crude oil or other fuels when natural gas prices are high, has led to a surge in commodity prices across the board.

Meanwhile, the federal energy data was a bit of a mixed bag. Oil storage level increases usually point to lackluster demand, while the opposite holds for decreases. For the week ending Nov. 5, crude oil in commercial crude oil inventories increased by 1 million barrels from the prior week, while gasoline inventories decreased by 1.6 million barrels.

“Crude prices extended declines after a surprise build and on growing expectations the Biden administration will do something after inflation hit a 30-year-high,” said Edward Moya, a senior market analyst at OANDA.

The federal government reported prices for U.S. consumer goods increased 6.2 percent in October from year-ago levels. That’s the highest inflation rate since 1990. For just energy, inflation over the 12-month period ending in October rose a steep 30 percent.

Even with recent builds, U.S. commercial crude oil inventories remain at the low end of the historic average. (U.S. Energy Information Administration)

Elsewhere, federal energy data showed there was a sizable withdrawal from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Often used in emergency situations such as hurricane-related outages, oil refiners can borrow crude oil from the reserve and replace that later with additional quantities.

U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has suggested tapping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to counter higher prices. But a monthly report from the Energy Information Administration released earlier this week showed supplies will outweigh demand next year, pointing to lower prices in the future. That could negate the need of tapping into strategic reserves.

Al Salazar, the managing director at energy data firm Enverus, said it was the petroleum reserve that was the star of the show.

“President Biden has been exploring all options to ease gasoline prices, including tapping SPR reserves in a more material manner,” he said.

“The acceleration in pace of SPR draws this past week as reported by the EIA, suggests that perhaps President Biden is already testing the SPR option and its impact on prices,” Salazar said, referring to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and the Energy Information Administration.

The Energy Information Administration’s November monthly market report said it expected crude oil prices would hold around current levels for the remainder of the year.

Edited by Bryan Wilkes and Kristen Butler

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The Hawks Should Look Into A Ben Simmons Trade With The 76ers

The Hawks Should Look Into A Ben Simmons Trade With The 76ers

What if the Sixers and Hawks have the answer to each other's problems? Why haven't we explored the possibility of Ben Simmons as a Hawk? (All-Pro Reels/CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Nekias Duncan

Let’s talk about passed-up layups.

The scene has been set, explored, revisited, psychoanalyzed. You name it, it’s been done.

Ben done, if you will.

Ben Simmons, in a high-pressure situation against the Atlanta Hawks, had a layup opportunity. Instead of taking it, he dished the ball off to Matisse Thybulle, who would eventually earn a trip to the free-throw line. It was an inexplicable choice by a player as talented — and even more simply, as large and open — as Simmons, but it was just that. An inexplicable choice.

But it’s a choice that began (or accelerated, depending on your priors with Simmons) the downward spiral of his status as a star-caliber player. It set the stage for the mess we’ve had the (dis)pleasure of reading about for months.

The Philadelphia 76ers lost the series to the upstart Hawks. Doc Rivers said things that he later said he didn’t say. Simmons didn’t take too kindly to it.

Simmons asked out. The Sixers made it clear they would only move him for a bounty. Teams weren’t — and, as of this writing, still aren’t — willing to give up said-bounty.

Simmons didn’t report to training camp, and was fined. The fines stopped once Simmons did report, but before expressing his bout with mental health issues. The mental health element permeating throughout the entire ordeal is a sensitive one — one that has made me incredibly uncomfortable to see dissected and speculated about in real time.

Meanwhile, the Hawks are in their own sort of spiral.

Their playoff run ended with a loss to the eventual NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks, but things were looking upward.

Trae Young (further, officially) announced himself to the world as a bona fide star. His supporting cast, highlighted by John Collins, Clint Capela and Bogdan Bogdanovic, proved to be impactful in its own right. Skilled. Versatile.

It was hard not to be excited by this Hawks team. Star talent, strong coaching, a deep roster.

Whew, buddy, is this a deep roster!

Whew, buddy… this is… a deep roster.

So deep, in fact, that head coach Nate McMillan mentioned during Media Day we’d see some all-bench units in an effort to spread the wealth.

Those lineups haven’t done very well.

The Hawks have dealt with lineup questions, a lack of “oomph” defensively (27th in defensive rating), an adjustment period to let-’em-play officiating, a who-gets-to-the-rim-besides-Trae problem, a tough opening schedule and a stronger conference overall.

They are currently the losers of five straight, tied with the Hornets for the longest skid in the conference. Words like “sacrifice” and “boredom” have been uttered; that ain’t what you want to hear less than a month into a new season.

I have a theory. A question, really: What if the Hawks are passing up a layup of their own?

What if the Sixers and Hawks have the answer to each other’s problems?

Why haven’t we explored the possibility of Simmons as a Hawk?

On the Sixers’ side, they haven’t missed Simmons too much. They’re 8-4, sporting a top-five offense and defense in the half-court, per Cleaning The Glass. A COVID outbreak has Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris out of the lineup, so a slide wouldn’t come as a surprise. But when upright, this team has been good.

You can thank The Others™ for that. Seth Curry is the best shooter in the league right now. Tyrese Maxey has taken a step as a shot-creator. The bench, headlined by Andre Drummond and Georges Niang, has been stellar.

This is where they stand while getting zero production from Simmons’ roster spot; one would think that replacing that spot with someone who actually wants to play there would be a positive.

And for the Hawks, Simmons could solve a bit of their squad’s on-court issues.

Young is averaging 20.8 drives per game, and is taking 9.2 shots via drives per tracking data. Bogdanovic is second on the team in drives… at 6.8. Simmons has averaged north of 10 in all but one season of his career; he averaged 9.9 during the 2018-19 campaign, operating in a phone booth while splitting ball-handling duties with Jimmy Butler.

Simmons, despite his own self-creation limits, is an elite creator of offense for others. From 2018 to 2021, only Russell Westbrook (747) has assisted on more three-pointers (694) than Simmons. Young ranks No. 6 in that time frame with 650 helpers. That drive-and-kick dynamic would be a nice complement to Young, who leads NBA in rim-assists (947) during that stretch.

It’s fun to imagine a Young-Simmons pick-and-roll tandem. Simmons has the finishing and playmaking chops to be a devastating short-roll guy. On one hand, he’s never had a ball-handler as dynamic as Young to set him up. On the other, he hasn’t consistently screened hard enough to maximize his opportunities as a roll-man.

As the Hawks have seemingly leaned into more switching this season, is there a better fit for that kind of scheme than Simmons? Having Simmons in the frontcourt could open up a world of grab-and-go sequences that can’t be replicated by anyone else in their frontcourt.

(Well, there’s rookster Jalen Johnson, but he isn’t on the main roster right now, much less in the big-boy rotation.)

And to that point: the Hawks are 19th in transition frequency this year after ranking 20th the season before.

The Sixers have ranked seventh, eighth, 15th (the Al Horford season) and fifth in transition frequency over the past four seasons, mostly off the strength of Simmons pushing the pace.

There are half-court questions to be had, dependent on lineups. What would a potential Simmons-Collins-Capela frontcourt look like, especially when Simmons isn’t involved in ball-screens?

Luckily, Simmons has experience navigating tight quarters. He’s had to operate around the dunker spot (subscribe!) when necessary. He’s also adept at making slot cuts from the perimeter if defenders cheat off of him.

Of course, that’s making the assumption that all three would play together.

If the Hawks are intent on switching as much as they have been this season, they could opt to start Simmons and Collins up front and really lean into that style. If Capela — off to a slow start on both ends this year — becomes the odd man out entirely, there are teams (DAL, CHA, BKN, TOR) that make sense as suitors when he’s trade-eligible this offseason.

The real question is one I admittedly don’t have a great answer to, that question is: What would the Sixers want from the Hawks?

Aside from the optics of trading with the team that just beat you in the postseason, it would take some creativity from Atlanta’s side to appease Daryl Morey. The good news is the Hawks have the salary and pieces necessary to put together intriguing packages.

Even if we were to work under the assumption that Young and Collins are off the table, the Hawks have three young pieces (De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Onyeka Okongwu) who could potentially serve as a headliner, mid-to-high salary vets that could bolster Philadelphia’s rotation and most of their future picks moving forward.

An example — example, people! — of something that works salary-wise:

  • Hawks get: Ben Simmons, Shake Milton
  • Sixers get: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Cam Reddish, Delon Wright, Jalen Johnson

Just eye-balling it, I’d imagine the Sixers would want more in terms of draft capital. They might push for Okongwu over Johnson if they’d prefer a young big in the pipeline behind Embiid. Have your own fun with the trade machine if you must.

The important thing here is that there’s a conversation to be had between the two sides.

Simmons and the Sixers are primed for a divorce. The Hawks are primed for a consolidation deal. It’s at least worth exploring if these two can make magic.

Produced in association with

Edited by Kristen Butler

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Stats Notebook: Kevin Durant Is On Pace For His Best Offensive Season Ever

Stats Notebook: Kevin Durant Is On Pace For His Best Offensive Season Ever

Kevin Durant deserves more praise for his Luke Skywalker-esque brush-off of aging and injury. (John Lamparski/Getty Images)

By Ethan Fuller

LeBron James and Chris Paul represent the faces of the fight against Father Time in today’s NBA. Kevin Durant deserves more praise for his Luke Skywalker-esque brush-off of aging and injury.

Durant, now 33, should be beginning the conventional decline of his professional career. Except he isn’t. The Brooklyn Nets star returned last season after tearing his Achilles, one of basketball’s most devastating injuries, and came two inches shy of a conference finals appearance in a thrilling playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks.

This season, one of the sport’s greatest players ever is somehow at his peak on a Nets team that has won six of their last seven contests. Durant has been an impossible matchup on a scale that might even surpass his 2013-14 MVP campaign. He’s on pace (small sample size alert!) to have the best offensive season of his life.

According to Cleaning the Glass, Durant is averaging a ridiculous 136.2 points per 100 shot attempts, which is a career-best for him and in the 97th percentile league-wide for his positional group. That number pops further when you realize he’s currently shooting threes at the second-lowest frequency of his career (24%).

We have to get into these shooting numbers to grasp how insane Durant is, so let’s start with various shot distances, per Basketball Reference:

  • 0-3 feet: 81.3% (career high)
  • 3-10 feet: 57.9% (career high)
  • 10-16 feet: 57.7% (career high)
  • 16 feet-3PT range: 71.0% (career high and insane!!)
  • 3P%: 40.4% (not a career high, but still very good)
  • Overall True Shooting Percentage: 67.4% (career high)

So that’s ridiculous.

Among 99 players with at least 30 pull-up shot attempts this season, per NBA Stats), Durant’s effecive field goal percentage (eFG%) of 59.8% is third behind Darius Garland and Seth Curry, and once again, on pace to be a career high. It should be noted, however, that Durant’s 130 pull-up attempts are more than those two have combined.

His mid-range game is killer: Durant’s 63.5% clip from NBA Stats’ mid-range zone ranks second among all players with at least 20 attempts, behind only his Nets teammate LaMarcus Aldridge.

Twenty players have logged at least 30 isolation possesions this season, per NBA Stats (it should be noted that the league’s playtype data is inconsistent). Durant is second behind only Ja Morant in points per possession at 1.19, and he has doubled Morant’s workload in this playtype.

Then there’s the passing. Durant is averaging 5.0 assists per game, which is pretty standard for him in recent years. But his assist percentage (27.5%) is a career best, as is his assist-to-usage rate, according to Cleaning the Glass. This isn’t an offensive stat, but Durant is even grabbing a career-high 8.5 rebounds per game.

Of course, KD also leads the league with 29.5 points per game despite not topping eight three-point attempts in a single contest. His season-low in a game is 22 points. Most recently, he made 11 of 12 shots en route to 30 points in a win over the Magic.

His Instagram, Easymoneysniper, is a pretty apt descriptor.

THE OUTLIERS (a.k.a. other random interesting numbers I find in the void):

  • You know who’s been a sneaky good pull-up shooter? Devin Vassell (55.7 eFG%) ranks seventh among all players with at least 30 attempts this season.
  • Per NBA Stats, the Detroit Pistons pass the ball more than any other team with 324.7 per game. They’re also sixth in “wide open” shots generated where a defender was no closer than six feet away. Unfortunately, the Pistons are the worst team in the league (34.8 FG%) at hitting those shots.
  • The Bucks, meanwhile, pass the ball only 263.8 times per game — third-fewest in the NBA. But they’re second in generating those wide-open shot attempts.
  • This… should not be happening:

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Edited by Kristen Butler

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How The Lakers Botched Alex Caruso’s Free Agency And Lost A Key Piece

How The Lakers Botched Alex Caruso’s Free Agency And Lost A Key Piece

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Lakers’ offseason was the fact that they didn’t try harder to keep Alex Caruso, who had become a fan favorite and very important role player for the team. (Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for First Entertainment)

By Alex Kennedy

Entering the 2021 offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers had some tough decisions to make. Seven of their players were set to enter free agency, including Alex Caruso, Talen Horton-Tucker, Dennis Schroder, Andre Drummond and Markieff Morris.

Since Los Angeles had several key contributors hitting the open market and limited cap flexibility to work with, the team had to prioritize whomever they valued the most. That ended up being Horton-Tucker, as they re-signed the 20-year-old restricted free agent to a three-year deal worth $32 million.

The current version of the Lakers looks nothing like last year’s squad. They brought in 14 new players — including familiar faces like Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley, who were on the team as recently as the 2019-20 championship season. Of the 19 players who suited up for the Lakers last season, only LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Horton-Tucker are still in L.A.

The Lakers were widely regarded as the favorite to win it all last season before injuries ruined their campaign and they likely would’ve been a top contender this year had they brought back the same group, but Rob Pelinka and the Lakers’ front office felt that big changes needed to be made. They decided to blow up the roster, pulling off a blockbuster trade for Russell Westbrook and betting on the incoming talent over continuity and chemistry.

So far, the Lakers are 6-5, which is No. 8 in the Western Conference. They have two embarrassing losses to the tanking Oklahoma City Thunder, and the team is clearly going through an acclimation period due to the roster turnover. After allowing a league-best 104.8 points per 100 possessions last season, the Lakers’ defense has dropped to 15th this year.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Lakers’ offseason was the fact that they didn’t try harder to keep Caruso, who had become a fan favorite and very important role player for the team. He’d always find a way to impact games with his terrific perimeter defense, relentless motor, catch-and-shoot ability and excellent chemistry with James. Good things always seemed to happen when he was on the floor, even if his contributions didn’t always show up on the stat sheet.

However, the Lakers didn’t make much of an effort to re-sign Caruso, even though he was willing to take a discount to stay in Los Angeles. They didn’t have much contact with his camp leading up to free agency and then proceeded to low-ball him, which is why he accepted the Chicago Bulls’ four-year, $37 million offer. Caruso detailed his free-agency experience on J.J. Redick’s podcast, The Old Man and the Three.

“So going into it, I really didn’t know what to expect, and I really didn’t hear much from any team — including the Lakers — leading up to 6 p.m. Then, they called and the Lakers made their offer, but it wasn’t an offer I was going to accept because I was going to be able to get considerably more money from another team,” Caruso explained. “I need to get as much money [as I can]; this is real life that we’re talking about and I need to be financially secure — for me and [my] people. There was talk with a bunch of different [teams] about the mid-level, which I think was four [years] for $40 million. We never got anybody to that actual number, but there were a couple teams that got close.

“And then my agent texted me and said, ‘Hey, Chicago is interested in signing you.’ I didn’t know that financially it was going to be able to work; I thought that once Zo (Lonzo Ball) signed with Chicago, I was like, ‘Okay, so Chicago is off the list.’ But they [said] they were going to look at this, that and the other to try and make it work. I got on the phone with AK (Bulls GM Artūras Karnišovas) and with Billy [Donovan], and the way they were just talking about how they wanted to play and how they saw me as a player, I thought they hit the nail on the head. I thought everything they said… I was like, ‘I think that’s accurate, I think that’s what I bring to the table, I think that’s how I can help the team win, I think that’s the direction that this team wants to go.’ I thought there was a need for the stuff that I had.

“Essentially we got that offer, went back to L.A. and asked if they could do the same, they said, ‘No.’ [We] asked for something else that was a little less, they said, ‘No.’ So I said, ‘Okay, if that’s what it comes to, I’m ready to go to Chicago and start the next chapter.’ It’s been great. I think it’s been a great decision for me.”

Redick asked a follow-up question about the Lakers’ initial offer, and Caruso revealed that it was below $15 million over two years.

It certainly seems like Caruso made the right decision, as he has been thriving in Chicago. He has been terrific off of the Bulls’ bench, averaging 8.5 points, 3.6 assists, 2.5 rebounds and a career-high 2.6 steals in 27.5 minutes per game, while shooting an efficient 40.7% from three-point range.

Caruso currently leads the NBA in steals (2.6), while also ranking fourth in deflections (4.0) and eighth in loose balls recovered on defense (0.8). On Wednesday, Caruso had six steals in 23 minutes in the Bulls’ 117-107 win over the Dallas Mavericks. Opponents are shooting 38.8% from the field when defended by Caruso, which is 4.4% lower than their usual field goal percentage.

The Bulls are off to an excellent 8-3 start, which is tied for the best record in the Eastern Conference. The only team with a better winning percentage than Chicago (.727) is the Golden State Warriors (.900). Chicago has the NBA’s fourth-best defense (allowing 101.0 points per 100 possessions) and sixth-best offense (scoring 108.9 points per 100 possessions).

The Lakers could use Caruso right about now — and the fans would certainly love to have the scrappy underdog back in Staples Center — but the front office didn’t think he was worth the money he received. It remains to be seen whether the Lakers will regret that assessment.

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Edited by Kristen Butler

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She’s Charting A Path To Improving Quality Child Care

She’s Charting A Path To Improving Quality Child Care

“Caring for children and making sure they have everything they need to have a head start to education has always been a passion for me,” says Tamika Farr, CEO of Pathways LA. (Courtesy of Pathways LA)

By Evan T. Henerson

By her own admission, Tamika Farr is every inch a “glass half-full” person.

That’s an important mindset to have when leading a 43-year-old nonprofit, whose mission is to bring quality child care and educational services to disadvantaged communities.

Farr, who took over as executive director of Pathways LA, in Los Angeles, California, in May, recognizes the challenges her agency faces and embraces her new position with the enthusiasm and commitment of someone accustomed to getting things done.

“I am a problem-solver. I’ve always been that way, and I see opportunities,” Farr said. “If the answer isn’t ‘no,’ then there is an opportunity. And even in ‘no,’ there is opportunity to shift and find a different resource or a different path.

“I’m always looking for a way to accomplish our goal, especially when we’re looking at our youth and creating paths for them,” she said. “We can’t give up on them. You can’t quit.”

Farr frequently uses the word “path” when talking about her nonprofit work and her own journey. That her career has led her to Pathways LA — established in 1978 and now serving 4,000 children annually — seems fortuitous.

For Farr, the Pathways post is a perfect fit, a position her education and previous work prepped her for.

Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Farr grew up in a small, close-knit and predominantly African-American community.

“I came from humble means, but we always had everything we needed,” she said. “We supported each other because we had all our basic needs met, and everyone was healthy and happy. But it’s not until you leave your own community that you get an awareness of the world at large.”

Farr moved with her family to the San Francisco Bay Area when she was in high school. The experience of being able to board a BART train and see different communities was eye-opening. She began to observe the effects of systemic issues, particularly the ways in which factors such as the lack of education, feelings of hopelessness and mass incarceration affect young people.

The experience inspired her to study child development.

The Diaz-Rocha family, clients of Pathways LA. (Courtesy of Pathways LA)

“Caring for children and making sure they have everything they need to have a head start to education has always been a passion for me,” said Farr, a mother of two children, ages 13 and 6. “I believe education and healthy attachment with adults is very important in a child’s life and a child’s development. Those are determining factors that can break intergenerational poverty.”

Farr previously worked at Rosemary Children’s Services, a nonprofit that supports children who have suffered abuse, neglect and abandonment. She was also executive director of the YWCA of Pasadena-Foothill Valley and executive director of El Centro de Amistad, a nonprofit that provides mental health services to California families.

After earning a master’s in business administration, Farr felt her passion for working on behalf of children and her skills as an administrator could be put to good use with an organization that shared her mission and values. Pathways LA checked the boxes.

Founded as the Children, Youth and Family Services Agency, it was one of the first nonprofits to receive public funding in support of children with disabilities and special needs. Through partnerships with municipal agencies, Pathways LA helps families obtain affordable child care and promote school readiness for children from disadvantaged communities. The agency has a $32 million annual operating budget.

Farr was recruited through an executive search. She began her tenure at Pathways LA at the end of the 2020-2021 fiscal year, just as Gov. Gavin Newsom was in the final stages of planning the state budget. Farr had the added challenge of being the person selected to replace Jessie Salazar, who had been with the agency for 27 years.

“A lot of people had worked with our previous director before, and we needed someone who could come in and handle the situation with grace and also strategically move the agency forward,” said Pathways LA board president Jenn Hsu. “Tamika is a lovely person with good energy. She has really come in and been able to take charge.”

“What I love about Pathways’ mission,” Farr said, “is that we are engaged with families and engaged with children early on, allowing families the dignity to go out and earn and provide for their children or to further their education. It’s also putting children in environments where they can grow and blossom and be prepared for school readiness.”

She references data that shows children who are raised in a healthy environment have a greater chance of growing up to attend college and earn higher wages.

“We have looked at the homeless population in Los Angeles and how it’s growing beyond what Measure H [passed in 2017 to put money toward homelessness and other social services] dollars are prepared to support. From my perspective, L.A. County has not proposed a solution. Building housing for residents who don’t have housing is reactionary. That’s not getting to the root of the issue. I know our mission does get to the root of reducing homelessness and embracing success in school.

“I know the work we’re doing has a long-term impact that will affect L.A. County as a whole.”

Like all nonprofits, Pathways LA — and its leadership — face challenges, particularly as the nation emerges from the pandemic. Pathways LA advocates to increase the reimbursement rate for child-care providers, which, for many years, was stuck at the 2016 level.

“Many of our providers are women of color, and they have an enormous responsibility to provide care for children and create an environment where they can grow socially, emotionally and academically,” Farr said. “Ideally, we would be at the 2020-2021 reimbursement mark, but for so long, it had been at the 2016 rate.

“We’re up to the 2018 standard, which is where my glass half-full perspective comes in,” she said. “We’re making progress.”

Edited by Judith Isacoff and Fern Siegel

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