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Cheap Seats: Coaches Who Need to go

In the latest edition of cheap seats, Basketball Insiders’ interns take a look at the head coaches in the league who need to be replaced for the start of next season.

Basketball Insiders

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Every season, we welcome in a new group of interns and typically their work is done primarily behind the scenes. But now that the current group has been around for awhile, we’re giving them a platform to voice their thoughts on the NBA. Each week, Basketball Insiders’ interns Jesse Blancarte, Cody Taylor and John Zitzler will discuss a topic related to the league in Cheap Seats.

This week, the interns discuss which head coaches need to be let go

Mark Jackson

Being a coach in the NBA today can be tough. Last season Vinny Del Negro, George Karl and Lionel Hollins all lost their jobs after having notable success with their teams. Del Negro coached the Los Angeles Clippers to their best season in franchise history, Karl did the same with the Denver Nuggets and won Coach of the Year; Lionel Hollins led one of the best defensive teams, the Memphis Grizzlies, to the Western Conference Finals.

It seems pretty harsh, but the reality is coaches are on tighter leashes than ever, and will be removed when it seems that they are not the right person to take a talented team to the next level. Even coaches like Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City and Frank Vogel are facing pressure with their teams struggling so far in the first round. After three seasons with Golden State, it seems like Mark Jackson may not be the coach that can take the Warriors to that next level.

Jackson was brought in as a rookie head coach with no prior experience. He was never an assistant, never a front office executive, never a head coach. That’s not actually a problem, especially with other coaches like Jason Kidd in Brooklyn and Jeff Hornacek in Phoenix having success as rookie coaches with no past experience. However, what is problematic is that Jackson has heavily relied on his assistants to come up with the tactical strategies while he has in many ways been a figure head, and source of motivation for his players.

Last season Jackson looked to Mike Malone for the majority of the team’s tactical strategies. Unfortunately for Golden State, the Sacramento Kings hired away Malone and left Jackson without his lead assistant. Then, earlier this season, Jackson demoted assistant coach Brian Scalabrine to the Warriors’ D-League affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors, citing a difference in philosophies. Then in early April, the team fired assistant coach Darren Erman, for “a violation of company policy”, which again left Jackson without his top tactician, this time on the eve of the playoffs. While it’s possible that the issues with both Scalabrine and Erman went beyond Jackson’s control, it is disconcerting that Jackson’s discord with the Golden State front office stems in large part from his inability to manage his assistant coaches.

This season the Warriors went 51-31 in the regular season, and had the third best defense in the league. Golden State is currently locked into a tough series with the explosive Los Angeles Clippers, and are heading into Sunday’s game down 2-1. Without defensive anchor Andrew Bogut, the Warriors face an uphill battle as they try and find a way to slow down Blake Griffin.

During its coverage of Game 3, TNT showed footage from the Warrior’s huddle, where Jackson spent the majority of the time talking about playing harder and being aggressive, repeating the line “battle and compete.” In the same segment, Doc Rivers was briefly shown talking about defensive strategy, the importance of player movement and reminding his players to get the ball out in transition where they have a clear advantage. While this was just a glimpse into each coach’s in game interaction with their players, it seems to match up with the perception that Rivers is the more tactically sound coach.

Also, with players as offensively gifted as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala (underrated playmaker) and David Lee, the Warriors should have a higher rated offense. While Jackson deserves credit for molding this team into a strong defensive unit, he needs to be held accountable for his inability to make the Warriors a top offensive team.

This team has all the pieces to be a championship contender. It has young talent, veteran experience, wing defenders, a defensive anchor in Andrew Bogut when he’s healthy, perimeter shooting, versatility and a superstar in Curry. However, the team is clearly outmatched in its series against the Clippers and a huge part of that is Doc Rivers out-maneuvering Jackson. In fairness to Jackson, he is without his defensive anchor Bogut, who is out with a broken rib. If Bogut were healthy, the Warriors would have a chance of slowing down Griffin. Without Bogut, the Warriors seem to have no answer for the athletic power forward.

In addition, Jackson has the support of key players, like Andre Iguodala, who said that the team is playing to save their coach’s job. A huge portion of coaching is having the players try their hardest for their coach, but in this case it seems to not be enough.

Jackson is in a similar situation as Del Negro was last year. He has proven that he can coach a talented team into the playoffs, but it is questionable as to whether he has the experience or tactical-skill to push his team to the Finals. While it seems harsh, no one today would dispute that the Clippers made the right move by removing Del Negro and replacing him with Doc Rivers. While there may not be another championship coach waiting for the Warriors to call, there are plenty of names available that could turn this team into an offensive juggernaut, even someone like Alvin Gentry, assistant coach to Doc Rivers and head of the Clipper’s league-leading offense.

As previously stated, Jackson is not necessarily a bad coach. But the Warriors have enough talent to compete for a championship and they can’t squander that opportunity by hoping and waiting for Jackson to become a championship-caliber coach.

– Jesse Blancarte

Mike Brown

Perhaps no team has been more disappointing than the Cavaliers. A team that features Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Luol Deng and Dion Waiters should be in the playoffs. With a roster with names like those, the blame has to be pointed toward head coach Mike Brown. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert elected to keep Brown earlier in the season when he fired general manager Chris Grant rather than firing both of them. Gilbert could have been saving himself the trouble of firing Brown due to his five-year, $20 million deal he signed last year. Another theory could be Gilbert wants to retain Brown as a possible selling point to bring LeBron James back should James opt to become a free agent this summer. It seems as though Brown has lost the team, and a change may be needed. Reports surfaced earlier this year when Deng told a close friend that the stuff going on in Cleveland would not have been tolerated in Chicago. Deng came from Chicago where there is structure and accountability, which apparently does not exist in Cleveland. A report from the NY Daily News stated that numerous Cavaliers players were out late in New York partying with members of the Knicks before losing by 31 points to that very team. Brown has lost the Cavaliers and the team may be in jeopardy of losing out on extending Irving long-term because of it.

Larry Drew

At just 15 wins, Drew is a coach that has to go. When things go sideways for a team, the organization really learns a lot about one another and it seems like Drew has lost the players in Milwaukee. A team like the Orlando Magic has endured two-straight losing seasons with head coach Jacque Vaughn, but there have been no reports of Vaughn losing his players even in the bad times. The same can’t be said with Drew, who has drawn criticism from O.J. Mayo. “It’s hard to get a rhythm when you know what’s going to happen for you night in and night out,” Mayo told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “You may get six minutes or 30 minutes. There’s no staple to what we’re doing. You hang in there, compete and keep it close.” In Drew’s system, players like Mayo and Larry Sanders have regressed. Mayo averaged a career low in minutes and field goal percentage last season, while also recording the second-lowest scoring output in his career. The Bucks are at a critical point in their franchise with a high draft pick coming in June’s draft, and players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Josh Henson and Nate Wolters gaining more NBA experience. The Bucks may not want to hold the fate of those players in Drew’s hands and should look to make a move this off season.

Monty Williams

Based off of the moves the Pelicans made over last off season, they are in a win-now atmosphere. Why the Pelicans picked this year with Anthony Davis only completing just his second season is anyone’s guess, but the fact remains the team wants to win now. While Williams is regarded around the league as someone who could have a good coaching career, that opportunity may not come in New Orleans. Williams’ record with the team is 128-184 in four seasons. The Pelicans were decimated by injuries this past season, but question marks still remains around Williams. The Pelicans remain one of the worst teams in terms of defense, and the offense isn’t much better. Williams was regarded as a defensive-minded coach just a couple of seasons ago, but has dropped off significantly. The players on defensive sometimes look lost and more often than not are out of position. Davis has tremendous speed for his size, but can’t guard the entire floor. Williams is another coach that mismanages his rotations, often giving too many minutes to a player like Brian Roberts, who becomes a defensive liability. The time may have come for Williams in New Orleans.

– Cody Taylor

Mike D’Antoni

D’Antoni had the difficult task this season of trying to manage a shorthanded roster while still living up to the high expectations from that come with being the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers were depleted with injuries all season; only three players (Johnson, Meeks and Hill) on the team were able to play more than 70 games, and of course future hall of famer Kobe Bryant only played in six games during 2013-2014 campaign. The two players with the most starts for the team were Jodie Meeks and Wesley Johnson, which certainly wasn’t the plan going into the season.

D’Antoni was able to implement his up-tempo style, the Lakers finished second in pace but even with the team pushing the ball up the court at every opportunity the offense wasn’t great. The Lakers finished 21st in offensive rating and 14th in the league in field goal percentage. Not terrible but when you consider how bad the Lakers were on the defensive end (30th defensive rating) it just wasn’t good enough most nights.

The bigger concern and what might ultimately lead to D’Antoni’s demise is the lack of support from some the players, most notably Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. It’s been reported the Bryant has “no interest” in playing for D’Antoni and on Dan Patrick’s radio show Bryant said he “didn’t know” if D’Antoni deserved another year as the leader of the Lakers. As for Gasol it’s became pretty apparent the he is not in D’Antoni’s corner either. Gasol wrote in his personal blog that there would need to be “significant changes” for him to consider returning to the Lakers.

If the Lakers have any aspirations of competing next year, the first order of business needs to be making sure they are on the same page with Bryant. The best option seems be getting rid D’Antoni after two seasons with the franchise. The lack of support coupled with the team’s abysmal performance on the defensive end makes it hard to envision a scenario where keeping D’Antoni ends well.

Larry Drew

The new ownership of Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens leaves Larry Drew in a very tenuous position. He will be entering the second year of a four year deal with the team after finishing with the worst record in the league. Like D’Antoni and the Lakers the Bucks also were hampered with injuries throughout the season. It may be unfair to Drew but with the owners could certainly want bring in their own guy and start fresh. Drew had some success in Atlanta which may help his case but that was with a much more talented roster not a rebuilding group as he was tasked with this previous season.

The Bucks who already have one very talented young player in place in Giannis Antetokounmpo will have the chance to land another in the draft. The development of Antetokounmpo along with the Bucks top four pick will be crucial to the success of the team going forward. It may be best to bring in a younger guy, a Brad Stevens type, to come in and help grow the youth. Kevin Ollie is one name that comes to mind but it may be hard to pry him away from his alma mater after winning a national championship. Drew has proven he can lead a team with an established roster to some playoff success but that is far from the situation in Milwaukee. It may be unfair to Drew so early in his tenure but the team cannot afford to wait if they feel they can find a more suitable option for the team in its current state.

Mike Brown

In the lowly the Eastern Conference a talented roster that included electric point guard Kyrie Irving along with former all-star Luol Deng, finished just 33-49 and fell short of the playoffs. The team had expectations of a playoff berth and with the East being so down this year it shouldn’t have been too difficult, especially considering the type of talent he had work with. However, the team never seemed to really mesh and build a winning chemistry.

With Irving approaching a contract extension the coach will certainly factor into his decision on whether to stay in Cleveland or consider his options elsewhere. This of course is Brown’s second tour with the team and was faced with a similar scenario in 2010 when he was fired in an attempt to keep LeBron James in Cleveland, obviously unsuccessful.

There were rumors of unrest amongst the players in the locker room and in February a source close to the team was quoted saying “it’s pretty much a mess” in regards to the team environment. Brown struggled to gain the respect of some of the bigger names on the team, namely Irving and Waiters. One Cavs player spoke to Akron Beacon Journal in February about Irving saying “he’s acting like he doesn’t care” and a league source speaking on Waiters said “That’s Dion. He’s been like that since he got here. He doesn’t think anything is his fault. He’s actually better about it this year than he was last year.” From the outside looking in it appears that Brown really didn’t have much control in the locker room and that there was some animosity amongst some of the players towards Waiters and Irving. If the Cavs want to bring back Irving, it doesn’t look like Brown is the answer. If he hasn’t been able to earn the respect of Irving this year it’s hard to imagine anything changing going forward if Brown remains the head coach. It may not be fair to Brown but it seems that he just isn’t a good fit with the roster in place and if keeping Irving is the goal the Cavs must consider other options.

– John Zitzler

Which NBA coaches do you think need to be replaced? Leave your thoughts below!

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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