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Cheap Seats: Best NBA Coaching Move

There have already been a number of coaching moves in the NBA this offseason. Which move was the best?

Basketball Insiders



In this week’s Cheap Seats, the Basketball Insiders interns Jesse Blancarte, John Zitzler and Cody Taylor debate the best coaching move to take place in the NBA in recent weeks.

Pistons Hiring Stan Van Gundy

The Detroit Pistons have been aimless since the 2007-08 season when they went 59-23 and lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Boston Celtics. Back then, players like Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace were still in Detroit, and Flip Saunders was the coach.

After that season, the Pistons fired Flip Saunders and team president Joe Dumars traded Billups and Antonio McDyess to the Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson. Michael Curry took over as coach, and in the 2008-09 season, the Pistons went 39-43 and lost in the first round of the playoffs after three years of making it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Since removing Saunders, the Pistons have gone through coaches on what seems like a yearly basis. The list includes Michael Curry, John Kuester, Lawrence Frank, Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer. Between the coaching carousel and the confusing roster moves, there has been little stability in Detroit.

The team seems to have acknowledged this and are now moving in a new direction. Dumars was removed, and the team hired Stan Van Gundy as both the new head coach and president of basketball operations.

Van Gundy last coached the Orlando Magic in 2011-12. Van Gundy was let go by the organization after five seasons as the team attempted to appease Dwight Howard and prevent him from leaving, which he eventually did anyway.

Van Gundy brings strong leadership and a no-nonsense approach to Detroit. He does not shy away from telling players or the media his opinions and holds players accountable. While Van Gundy is a proven coach, the Pistons are entrusting him with running the organization on an executive level as well, something which he has no prior experience with. However, Van Gundy is confident that he can turn things around in Detroit.

“I’ve had a lot of time in the last two years so I’ve had a lot of thoughts on the organizational part of it, the basketball operations, how I would want to structure it, how I would put the pieces in place,” Van Gundy said earlier this month, while also acknowledging his limitations and admitting he would only be successful by adding great people to help him.

Van Gundy has already begun that process, hiring Brendan Malone, Bob Beyer and Charles Klask as assistant coaches and Adam Glessner as a team scout. Van Gundy said he brought in these coaches because of their past experience and because they understand the system and style of basketball the team wants to implement.

Looking at Van Gundy’s past, it appears that he will implement an offense that spreads the floor and surrounds a post player with knock down shooters. In Orlando, Van Gundy used Howard as the focal point of the offense. When Howard was doubled-teamed, players like J.J. Redick, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee, Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter were ready to swing the ball around the perimeter until someone got a wide open three-pointer. It was an efficient offensive system, often ranking in the top-10 of the league. It also yielded the best production out of Howard, who is finally rounding back into his old form with the Houston Rockets, another team which spreads the floor. Unlike other efficient offensive systems, Orlando’s offense was not about running in transition each opportunity, but moving the ball quickly in search of the best shot available.

Now in Detroit, Van Gundy has a young center in Andre Drummond, who is still very raw, but is the closest thing to a young Howard as there is in the league. Drummond will continue to improve his post-game, and this will provide Van Gundy with a focal point through which to run his spread offense, as he did in Orlando. However, Van Gundy will have to add more shooters in free agency or via trade as the Pistons ranked 26th in three pointers made as a team last year (507), and made only 32.1 percent from beyond the arc (29th in the league). Fortunately, it is harder to come by a talent like Drummond, and even Greg Monroe, than it is perimeter shooters. It probably won’t happen this season, but in the near future, under Van Gundy, the Pistons will likely be a top-10 offensive team with Drummond in the middle, and shooters spreading the court around him. The difference from past years is Van Gundy has a philosophy to build around and can add players that fit his system, which will hopefully avoid signings that make little sense, like Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and Josh Smith.

What is often overlooked about Van Gundy is how good of a defensive team he made the Magic each season. In every season under Van Gundy, with the exception of 2011-12, the Magic were a top-10 defensive team, and in 2008-09 they were the number one rated defense in the league. While a lot of the credit for those rankings go to Howard, who won Defensive Player of the Year three years in a row, it was Van Gundy who managed to orchestrate the entire team into a formidable defense. Players like Nelson, Turkoglu, Lewis and Carter were never really lock down players, but they knew how to funnel players to Howard so he could disrupt them on their way to the basket. With more experience and time under Van Gundy, Drummond could one day fill the role Howard once did, perhaps even better than Howard did.

Most importantly, Van Gundy has the type of personality that can grab the attention of his players, and get them to buy in to his system and philosophy. It has been many years of aimless basketball in Detroit, but things are set to turn around behind the strong leadership and philosophy Van Gundy brings with him to the Pistons.

– Jesse Blancarte

Blazers Extending Terry Stotts

The NBA offseason has been relatively busy for coaches thus far. The Detroit Pistons lured Stan Van Gundy out of his home in Central Florida and Steve Kerr opted for the Golden State Warriors over the New York Knicks, which were two of the major moves. But one of best under-the-radar moves happened in Portland with the Trail Blazers opting to extend head coach Terry Stotts’ contract a couple of weeks ago.

The Trail Blazers were a surprise team this year after jumping out to the league’s best record two months into the season in the competitive Western Conference. The Trail Blazers leveled off a bit and finished as the fifth seed, picking up a first-round matchup against the Houston Rockets. Led by LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers finished off the Rockets in six games for their first playoff series win since 2000.

The series against the Rockets illustrated how crucial Stotts is to the Trail Blazers. Stotts worked under Rick Carlisle in Dallas in 2008 and was often tasked with getting Dirk Nowitzki open looks and he faced a similar scenario with Aldridge against the Rockets. Aldridge had his way with the Rockets in the first two games of the series, scoring 46 and 43 points, which led Rockets head coach Kevin McHale to change the way Aldridge was guarded. The move somewhat paid off with Aldridge shooting just 8-of-22 from the field and scoring 23 points in the next game. But Stotts created a variety of different pick-and-roll situations where Aldridge could get the ball or create an opportunity for another player to get open. In Game 4, Aldridge turned in an efficient 12-of-23 performance to help the Trail Blazers take a 3-2 series lead.

The Trail Blazers’ decision to keep Stotts around for at least three more years will have a tremendous impact on the team moving forward. The series against the San Antonio Spurs showed the team’s weaknesses, but they are a work in progress and with the extension Stotts will be able to continue to see his work progress in the next couple of seasons.

The Trail Blazers are a young team that returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2011. One glaring weakness the Trail Blazers had all season was the bench and lack of depth. Stotts and general manager Neil Olshey will have their hands full this summer to improve the Blazers’ dead-last bench production in the league. It’s looking more and more likely that backup point guard Mo Williams will opt out of his contract and he could elect to sign elsewhere, leaving the Trail Blazers with an important position to fill. Olshey will have to decide if their bench help will come from outside or if their answers are already on the roster. Another thing missing from the team’s roster is the lack of veteran leadership, which could have a huge impact on the younger players.

It’s clear that the Blazers will have some work to do before they can compete with teams like the Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami HEAT, but a couple of moves here and there and the Trail Blazers could find themselves in a position to compete.

– Cody Taylor

Grizzlies Retaining Dave Joerger

The Memphis Grizzlies surprised many people following the 2012-13 season, when they chose to not to renew the contract of former head coach Lionel Hollins. He had led the team to a franchise record 56 wins and an appearance in the Western Conference Finals before being bounced by the San Antonio Spurs. Despite the Grizzlies’ impressive season, opposing viewpoints between Hollins and upper management, specifically majority owner Robert Pera and former CEO Jason Levien, was the catalyst for his departure.

With Hollins out of the picture, long-time Grizzlies assistant Dave Joerger was promoted to fill the team’s vacant head coaching position.

Joerger picked up right where Hollins left off. In his first season as an NBA head coach, the Grizzlies adhered to the same blueprint laid out by Hollins during his tenure. The team’s identity continued to be centered on their stingy defense, controlled pace and strength down low.

The team got off to a slow start under Joerger; the Grizzlies had a record of just 13-17 through 30 games with their new head coach. Wins were tough to come by early on, and the absence of star center Marc Gasol played a major factor in the team’s difficult start. Gasol was sideline for nearly a month and a half, missing a total of 23 games with a knee injury. The slow start surprisingly had Joerger on the hot seat and there were even reports that Pera strongly considered firing Joerger mid-way through his first season. Pera never did pull the trigger on that move and in hindsight that looks to be a wise decision.

The Grizzlies got back on the right track shortly after Gasol returned to from injury on January 14. To no one’s surprise, the return of the former Defensive Player of the Year had a very positive effect. The team finished the season in strong fashion, going 37-15 in their remaining 52 games and ending the year with a record of 50-32 – a remarkable turnaround for a team that appeared bound for the lottery prior to Gasol’s return.

Joerger orchestrated a group that was again one of the premier defensive units in the league. Memphis finished third in points allowed per game, giving up just 94.6 a night, and ranked seventh in defensive rating at 104.6. The numbers were slightly down from the team’s league-best defense in 2012-13, but still more than respectable for the first-year coach. It was that great defense that helped the Grizzlies secure the seventh seed in the tough Western Conference and a first-round matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Grizzlies were considerable underdogs going into the series but quickly proved they belonged. Going into Game 6, the Grizzlies held a 3-2 series lead and had a chance to close out the Thunder at home. It was in that Game 6 six when everything that could go wrong seemingly did. Not only did the team get blown out, losing 104-84, but Zach Randolph got into it with Steven Adams and took a swing at his face as the two ran down the court. That incident resulted in Randolph being suspended for Game 7. On top of that, Mike Conley, who had one of the best seasons of his career, suffered a hamstring injury late in Game 6. Conley was able to play in Game 7, but even so the undermanned Grizzlies didn’t have enough firepower to keep up with the Thunder and were eliminated.

After 50 wins and an admirable effort in the playoffs against one of best in the West, you would think Pera would be happy with his new coach. However, that was not the case. Like Hollins the year before, despite a strong season Joerger was again on the hot seat due to Pera’s concern regarding their relationship. The team even allowed Joerger to interview with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves thought highly enough of Joerger following their interview to offer him the head coaching position, which he would later reject. After his visit with the Timberwolves, Joerger met with Pera and it was during that meeting the two seemed to hash out their differences and get on the same page. Joerger described it as a “really good, heart-to-heart, one-on-one conversation.” Shortly after their get-together, the team and Joerger came to terms on a three-year contract extension, ensuring his position with the organization.

It was a tumultuous few weeks following the Grizzlies’ elimination and front office changes. Pera has obviously not been afraid to shake things up and will still have some work to do to fill out the front office, but bringing Joerger back is a step in the right direction. Joerger is young and very familiar with the roster and playing style that has led the team to heights previously unseen. There is no reason why the Grizzlies shouldn’t find themselves in the thick of the Western Conference playoff hunt again next season under the leadership of Joerger.

– John Zitzler



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PODCAST: Breaking Down The Western Conference Playoff Race

Basketball Insiders



Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte break down the Western Conference playoff race and check in on the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.

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NBA Daily: The Cleveland Cavaliers Need Tyronn Lue

The Cleveland Cavaliers have faced injury adversity and a roster shakeup, and now face uncertainty regarding coach Tyronn Lue’s health.

Buddy Grizzard



The most enduring image of Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue came moments after his team sealed the 2016 NBA Finals with a third consecutive win after trailing the Golden State Warriors 3-1. As the team celebrated its historic comeback and readied to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, one camera focused on Lue, who sat on the bench with his face buried in his hands.

The image tells a thousand words about the pressure Lue was under as Cleveland teetered on the brink of elimination for three games. Rather than sharing the euphoria of his players, it seemed that Lue’s emotions centered around the massive weight that had been lifted from his shoulders. Almost two years later, it appears that burden has caught back up with Lue, whose leave of absence for health reasons complicates things for Cleveland with the playoffs just around the corner.

“It’s like losing one of your best players,” said Cavaliers forward LeBron James after Cleveland’s 124-117 win at home over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.

Kevin Love returned from a six-week injury absence to post 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists against the Bucks. James likened Lue’s absence to the burden of trying to replace Love’s output while he was unavailable.

“We’ve got to have guys step up, just like guys trying to step up in Kev’s absence,” said James. “We have to do the same as a collective group as long as Ty needs to get himself back healthy.”

There’s optimism that Lue could return before the playoffs, but there’s a great deal of uncertainty given the seriousness of his symptoms, which reportedly included coughing up blood. Lead assistant Larry Drew, a former head coach with the Bucks and Hawks, will handle head coaching responsibilities until Lue is ready to return.

Kyle Korver played under Drew in Atlanta and said he’s confident in his ability to fill in.

“We’d love to have Ty here and healthy,” said Korver after the Bucks win. “Coach Drew has done this for a long time as well. He coached me for a full year in Atlanta. We know he’s fully capable.”

Korver also doubted Drew would introduce any major stylistic changes.

“I think LD’s been Ty’s top assistant for a reason,” said Korver. “They really think a lot alike. They coach very similarly. We miss Ty, but I think the style of what we do is going to be very similar.”

While style and approach should remain unchanged, what could an extended absence for Lue mean for the Cavaliers? Lue cemented his legacy as a leader by keeping the Cavaliers together as they fought back from a 3-1 deficit to the Warriors, but Drew hasn’t had that kind of success as a head coach.

In 2012, the Hawks had a real opportunity to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in Atlanta history. The Hawks faced an aging Boston Celtics squad in the first round. The eighth-seed Philadelphia 76ers awaited in the second round after defeating the top-seeded Chicago Bulls.

After splitting the first two games in Atlanta, the Hawks faced a pivotal Game 3 in Boston with the opportunity to retake home court advantage. Atlanta Journal-Constitution beat writer Michael Cunningham used Synergy Sports to break down every offensive possession for Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. His conclusion? For three quarters, Rondo did not score a single basket while guarded by Hawks combo guard Kirk Hinrich.

The Hawks traded a package that included a former and a future first-round pick to obtain Hinrich from the Wizards in 2011. But in Game 3, Hinrich failed to score a point despite his effective defense. Apparently feeling the need for an offensive spark, Drew left Hinrich on the bench in the fourth quarter and turned to career journeyman Jannero Pargo.

With Hinrich out of the game, Rondo’s offense came to life as he slashed to the basket at will. Boston opened the fourth with a 13-7 run before Pargo went to the bench and Atlanta closed on a 15-7 run to force overtime. The NBA did not publish net rating data at the time, but we can now see via historical data that the Hawks were outscored by nearly 52 points per 100 possessions in Pargo’s minutes in Game 3. Rather than entrust Atlanta’s season and his own legacy to a player the Hawks traded two first-round picks to obtain, Drew went with Pargo, a career end-of-bench player.

What does this mean for the Cavaliers? It means the team needs to get Lue back. Drew and Lue are both former NBA players who have received mixed reviews as head coaches. But when his legacy was on the line, Lue pushed the right buttons.

For Drew’s part, in his first postgame press conference since Lue’s absence was announced, he remained publicly deferential.

“Coach Lue is the one who makes that decision,” said Drew when asked about lineup combinations. “That’s not my call. We look at a lot of different combinations — whether guys are starting or whether they are coming off the bench — and we assess everything.”

On the critical question of how lineups will be fine-tuned as the Cavaliers prepare for the playoffs, Drew once again emphasized Lue’s active role even as he steps away from the bench.

“I’ll talk to Ty,” said Drew. “He’s got the final say-so. Whatever he wants, then that’s what we’re going to go with. But if he tells me to make a decision, then I’ll have to make the decision.”

With Lue suffering acute symptoms, there’s no way of knowing when he will be ready to step back into the pressure cooker of a leading role for a team with championship aspirations. But the Cavaliers need him and need his steadying influence and instincts. Cleveland is a team that has battled through injuries and a major roster overhaul at the trade deadline. It also faces the pressure of James’ impending free agency decision this summer.

Now, with the playoffs just around the corner, the Cavaliers must endure uncertainty about Lue’s ability to return and lead the team. James has emphasized that Lue’s health overshadows any basketball concerns, but gave his most terse remark when asked about learning that Lue would step away on the same day Cleveland finally got Love back.

“If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” said James. “That was my reaction.”

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A Breakout Season for Joe Harris

Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Harris talks to Basketball Insiders about his second chance with the Nets.

David Yapkowitz



The NBA is all about second chances. Sometimes players need a change of scenery, or a coach who believes in them, or just something different to reach their full potential. They may be cast aside by several teams, but eventually, they often find that right situation that allows them to flourish.

Such was the case for Joe Harris. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft, Harris rarely saw the court during his time in Cleveland. He averaged about 6.4 minutes per game over the course of about one and a half seasons with the Cavaliers.

During the 2015-16 season, his second in Cleveland, he underwent season-ending foot surgery. Almost immediately after, the Cavaliers traded him to the Orlando Magic in an attempt to cut payroll due to luxury tax penalties. He would never suit up for the Magic as they cut him as soon as they traded for him.

After using the rest of that season to recover from surgery, he would sign with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2016. He had a very strong first season in Brooklyn, but this season he’s truly broken out.

“I think a lot of it has to do with just the right situation in terms of circumstances. It’s a young team where you don’t really have anybody on the team that’s going out and getting 20 a night,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a collective effort most nights and it can be any given person depending on the situation. It’s one of those things where we’re real unselfish with the ball. A lot of guys get a lot of good looks, so your production is bound to go up just because of the system now that we’re playing.”

Known primarily as a sharpshooter in college at the University of Virginia as well as his first stop in Cleveland, Harris has started developing more of an all-around game. He’s improved his ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays as well as crashing the glass and playing strong defense.

In a relatively forgettable season record-wise for the Nets, Harris has been one of their bright spots. He’s putting up 10.1 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field while playing 25.4 minutes per game. He’s up to 40.3 percent from the three-point line and he’s pulling down 3.3 rebounds. All of those numbers are career-highs.

“My role, I think, is very similar to the way I would be anywhere that I was playing. I’m a shooter, I help space the floor for guys to facilitate,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “I’m opportunistic offensively with drives and such. I’m out there to try and space the floor, knock down shots, and then play tough defensively and make sure I’m doing my part in getting defensive rebounds and that sort of stuff.”

Although Harris didn’t play much in Cleveland, he did show glimpses and flashes of the player he has blossomed into in Brooklyn. He saw action in 51 games his rookie year while knocking down 36.9 percent of his three-point attempts.

He also saw action in six playoff games during the Cavaliers’ run to the 2015 Finals. But more importantly, it was the off the court things that Harris kept with him after leaving Cleveland. The valuable guidance passed down to him from the Cavaliers veteran guys. It’s all helped mold him into the indispensable contributor he’s become for the Nets.

“Even though I wasn’t necessarily playing as much, the experience was invaluable just in terms of learning how to be a professional,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “The approach, the preparation, that sort of stuff. That’s why I learned a lot while I was there. All those good players that have had great, great, and long careers and just being able to kind of individually pick their brains and learn from them.”

When Harris came to Brooklyn two years ago, he initially signed a two-year deal with a team option after the first year. When he turned in a promising 2016-17 season, it was a no-brainer for the Nets to pick up his option. Set to make about $1.5 million this season, Harris’ contract is a steal.

However, he’s headed for unrestricted free agency this upcoming summer. Although he dealt with being a free agent before when he first signed with the Nets, it’s a different situation now. He’s likely going to be one of the most coveted wings on the market. While there’s still a bit more of the regular season left, and free agency still several months away, it’s something Harris has already thought about. If all goes well, Brooklyn is a place he can see himself staying long-term.

“Yeah, it’s one of those things that I’ll worry about that sort of decision when the time comes. But I have really enjoyed my time in Brooklyn,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a great organization with a lot of good people, and they try and do stuff the right way. I enjoy being a part of that and trying to kind of rebuild and set a good foundation for where the future of the Brooklyn Nets is.”

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