Four talking points from the NBA

We look at stories that are making the headlines in the National Basketball Association over the week ending on December 20.

According to, Howard was unhappy playing second fiddle to James Harden in Houston and had asked to be traded.   -  AP

No thanks, Mr. Nice Guy?

Chicago swingman Jimmy Butler raised eyebrows when he called out first-year Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg for being too easy on his players.

"I believe in the guys in this locker room but I also believe we probably have to be coached a lot harder at times," Butler said after the Bulls lost to the New York Knicks on Saturday.

"I'm sorry, I know Fred is a laid-back guy and I really respect him for that, but when guys aren't doing what they're supposed to do, you have to get on guys — myself included."

Hoiberg took the helm in Chicago this season, replacing sacked Tom Thibodeau — a notorious task-master.

Ongoing friction between Butler and Hoiberg could put the Bulls on the horns of a dilemma.

Six months ago the club inked Hoiberg to a five-year, $25 million contract, while Butler signed a five-year extension worth more than $90 million in July, with both expected to be key figures for the foreseeable future.

Remembering Flip

A road game at the Minnesota Timberwolves' Target Center in Minneapolis put Sacramento Kings coach George Karl in mind of his long time friend Flip Saunders, the Timberwolves coach who died of cancer in October.

"I can't deny that I remember some of my battles against him," said Karl, who has battled prostate and throat cancer himself. "There's a little melancholy there, and there's a little thought process to that. Being a cancer survivor, it's always sad to see one that succumbs to it. I think I'll feel that way probably all season long."

Howard happy in Houston

Houston Rockets big man Dwight Howard may be frustrated by the team's inability to win consistently, but he denied he's angling for a move.

"I haven't said anything to anybody about anything," Howard said after reported he was unhappy playing second fiddle to James Harden in Houston and had asked to be traded.

"I've been positive, trying to turn this thing around any way possible," said Howard, adding that his focus has been "to try to get these guys to play better, to make myself play better."

The storm blew up after the Rockets, who reached the Western Conference finals last season, dropped back-to-back games, but the dust appeared to be settling after wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers saw the Rockets climb back to .500 at 14-14 for the season.

Getting shirty

Milwaukee fans proved prophetic when they donned 24-1 T-shirts for the game in which their Bucks handed the Golden State Warriors their first defeat of the season after 24 straight victories.

When the teams met again six days later on Golden State's home floor in Oakland, fans of the California team had a message of their own — mocking the Bucks' record with shirts emblazoned "10-18".

The Warriors duly avenged their lone defeat of the campaign, but Bucks coach Jason Kidd was pleased that his team had caught the attention of Golden State fans.

"They took the time out to waste money on the T-shirt, which is cool," he said.

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