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Filling The Open (Or Soon To Be Open) NBA Coaching Jobs

Basketball Insiders’ experts discuss which candidates fit best with teams looking for a new head coach.

Basketball Insiders

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With many NBA teams beginning the process of finding their next head coach, or making a decision on replacing their current head coach, we asked of some our senior NBA writers and editors to take a stab at who they think would be the best choice for the job and why:

Minnesota Timberwolves

Jeff Van Gundy

The Wolves have hired a search firm to land not only a head coach but also a new head of basketball operations. Given that owner Glen Taylor seems ready to hand over the franchise to new leadership, this may be where Jeff Van Gundy finally finds his ideal situation. Like his brother, Stan, the younger Van Gundy has been sniffing around for a situation like the Wolves could be offering and he might be the best fit the long-term to build the Wolves into a serious contender.

– Steve Kyler

Jeff Van Gundy

Van Gundy has sort of become the Jon Gruden of the NBA. Both are constantly mentioned when coaching jobs open up, but they can afford to be picky since they have an excellent gig at ESPN. With Stan Van Gundy getting personnel control over the Detroit Pistons, I believe Jeff will pursue a similar situation. The Timberwolves are arguably the most attractive job available right now with their terrific young core led by Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Reports have indicated that Minnesota may be willing to turn their franchise over to Van Gundy, which could be the terrific offer that Jeff has been waiting for all these years. If the Timberwolves can land him, they will be in even better shape moving forward.

– Alex Kennedy

Tom Thibodeau

The Timberwolves have arguably the best core of young players in the NBA. With explosive athletes and scorers and an offense orchestrated by Ricky Rubio, the Timberwolves could be a competitive team as soon as next season under the right head coach. But what would really make this collection of talent dangerous would be a coach that could turn them into a polished defensive team. Tom Thibodeau is on the market and is one of the top defensive coaches throughout the entire league. In addition, he runs a more creative offense than is credited for and has a track record for getting players to buy into his philosophies. As long as he doesn’t burn out his players and can sustain a better working relationship with management, he would be a great hire for Minnesota.

– Jesse Blancarte

Washington Wizards

Scott Brooks

The Wizards tried the gruff, tough-love approach with Randy Wittman and that did not work this year. Brooks is not only a heck of a basketball coach, he has a track record of getting young guys to meet their potential. With the Wizards looking toward free agency and having so many underachieving young guys, even if the Wizards don’t get the free agent fish they covet in Kevin Durant, Brooks might have the right mix of experience, demeanor and coaching style to get the Wizards on track.

– Steve Kyler

Scott Brooks

There are plenty of teams pursuing Brooks this offseason, but I think the Wizards job remains very attractive since they have a star (John Wall), a very good second option (Bradley Beal) and quality supporting cast members who are under contract (Marcin Gortat, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris, etc.). This team was a huge disappointment this season, but their best basketball is almost certainly still ahead of them. And Washington has a ton of cap space to work with this summer, with just $45,091,855 in guaranteed salaries for next season. Brooks is very good at developing talent, creating a winning culture and helping a team become a contender – as he displayed in Oklahoma City. He makes a lot of sense for the Wizards, if they can land him. They are reportedly set to seriously pursue him.

– Alex Kennedy

Scott Brooks

The Wizards have made it no secret that they will pursue Kevin Durant this upcoming offseason. The best coach they could bring in to help with that recruiting process is Durant’s former head coach, Scott Brooks. However, even if Durant doesn’t sign with the Wizards, Brooks is still a solid hiring for the Wizards. He connected with his players in Oklahoma City, helped turn Russell Westbrook into one of the most dominant players in the NBA and created a strong team chemistry. The Wizards have talent, but need to create an identity and culture in which everyone is on the same page, working toward the same goals together. There is arguably no better coaching candidate to do this than Brooks.

– Jesse Blancarte

Phoenix Suns

Tom Thibodeau

While it seems the Suns might be giving serious consideration to hanging on to Earl Watson as their head coach, the right hire might be Thibodeau. With so much talent already in place and a ton of cap space to add to it, the Suns might be the best fit for Thibodeau, who is seeking a win-right-now situation. His defensive-minded style suits the construct of the roster and his track record in Chicago of getting the most out of his players could do wonders for the Suns.

– Steve Kyler

Earl Watson

The players have campaigned for Watson to keep the job and the front office has said that Watson will get the first interview when they start weighing their coaching options. I think Phoenix still has a ways to go before they can make significant noise in the Western Conference, so sticking with Watson makes sense. He can grow as a coach alongside Phoenix’s young players and potentially become a very good leader in the long run.

– Alex Kennedy

David Blatt

The Phoenix Suns have a nice collection of talent that could thrive under an experienced, creative head coach. David Blatt had a tough run with the Cleveland Cavaliers and lost some of the luster he had before coming over to the NBA. However, his coaching was undermined basically from the start with Cleveland and he never got a chance to implement his schemes and playbook. With young talent that may buy into his philosophies, Blatt may be able to create the pass-friendly, space-based offensive attack he wanted to with Cleveland, which could be explosive with guards like Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Devin Booker in the backcourt.

– Jesse Blancarte

Sacramento Kings

Patrick Ewing

The Kings job is going to be a tough sell because of all the chaos the organization has undergone. The super serious coaches likely won’t consider the job, which leaves them with the next tier. That might not cut it in the eyes of Kings star DeMarcus Cousins. This is why Ewing becomes an interesting fit – namely because he has the swagger, experience and credibility to demand more from Cousins and likely receive it. Ewing has not been considered a serious head coaching candidate but given Kings GM Vlade Divac’s history with Ewing when they both played, he fit might be too ideal not to consider seriously.

– Steve Kyler

Mark Jackson

This organization has been through nine coaches in the last 10 seasons, so they may have trouble attracting top candidates. But if they can get Jackson, he would make sense for them since he’s a players’ coach who gets his team to buy in. He could be a good fit with DeMarcus Cousins, and may help this team take the next step in their development (and break their 10-year postseason drought). Jackson is also a notable name, which lines up with the Kings’ desire to make a splashy hire that generates headlines. Hopefully Jackson learned from some of the mistakes he made with the Golden State Warriors and can do a better job in Sacramento.

– Alex Kennedy

Kevin McHale

The Sacramento Kings need a coach who first and foremost can connect with DeMarcus Cousins. McHale is one of the NBA’s great former big men and may be able to get Cousins to buy in to his coaching. Once that happens, the rest of the players may fall into line, which would allow this team to finally focus on playing the right way and not on the drama behind the scenes. It isn’t a perfect fit, but it could be a pretty solid hiring when you consider the difficulty the Kings will likely face in luring in a top-level head coach.

– Jesse Blancarte

Houston Rockets

Jeff Hornacek

Assuming Thibodeau comes off the board, the Rockets might be better suited sticking with current coach J.B. Bickerstaff. However, if it’s decided J.B. isn’t the guy, wouldn’t Jeff Hornacek be an interesting fit? Hornacek took a very guard-heavy Suns team and got them to be competitive for a stretch. If the Rockets are indeed moving away from Dwight Howard in free agency, Hornacek, who was said to be a big part of the appeal for LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency, might be the coach who helps sway a free agent or two Houston’s way. Hornacek may not be the ideal candidate, but if there is change, getting Hornacek would be better than an unproven assistant.

– Steve Kyler

Tom Thibodeau

Thibodeau may want nothing to do with the Rockets given all of the behind-the-scenes drama the team has dealt with and the uncertain future of players like Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones (restricted), Donatas Motiejunas (restricted) and Josh Smith among others. But if he’s willing to take this job, he would be a terrific hire for Houston. He should get the most out of the players and improve the Rockets’ defense, which ranked 20th in the NBA this season (allowing 105.6 points per 100 possessions). Houston wants to win now and Thibodeau has shown he can do that. If Thibs wants personnel control, he may go elsewhere.

– Alex Kennedy

Jeff Hornacek

It wasn’t so long ago that Jeff Hornacek was orchestrating one of the NBA’s most unique offenses, powered by lead guards like Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. It was a delicate balance to manage, especially when Isaiah Thomas was added into the mix. However, Hornacek made it work initially, which led to a surprisingly high level of success for the Suns. In Houston, James Harden handles the ball as a scorer and playmaker more than just about any other guard in the league. Hornacek may be as qualified as any coaching candidate to find a way to get Harden to share the playmaking responsibilities, creating a more pass-oriented offensive approach, which could be a big boost for the Rockets.

– Jesse Blancarte

New York Knicks

Mark Jackson

While it seems that Knicks president Phil Jackson (between piano solos) is leaning toward Kurt Rambis as his head coach going forward, there is a sense that retaining Rambis might not be the move Knicks star Carmelo Anthony was hoping for. If the goal is to turn the Knicks into a playoff contender next year, wouldn’t someone like Mark Jackson be a better fit? Jackson has some luggage around his name; namely that he did not like to develop young guys and that he was not easy to work with outside the locker room. Jackson as head coach would be more credible to free agents than Rambis and even with his flaws, Jackson would at least give the Knicks some identity. The question is would Phil Jackson hire a coach who’s not all about the Triangle Offense?

– Steve Kyler

Luke Walton

This is the best-case scenario for the Knicks, as Walton is going to be one of the most coveted coaches of this offseason after doing a terrific job leading the Golden State Warriors during Steve Kerr’s leave of absence. Walton played for Phil Jackson and is very familiar with the Triangle Offense. During Walton’s final season playing with the Lakers, he was injured for much of the year and Jackson treated him like an assistant coach. New York previously tried to sign Walton as an assistant. It remains to be seen if he would leave the Warriors’ coaching staff for the struggling Knicks, but he may want to take on the challenge.

– Alex Kennedy

Luke Walton

So long as Phil Jackson is running the New York Knicks, the Triangle Offense will be implemented. Luke Walton played in the Triangle with the Lakers and continues to use it, under head coach Steve Kerr, as part of the Golden State Warriors’ lethal offensive attack. Walton is a young coach who can connect with players and now has the coaching experience and reputation to command a team’s respect. Add in his familiarity with Jackson, the Triangle and the concepts he has learned in Golden State and it’s hard to imagine who would be a better fit for this position. The Triangle has its place in the modern NBA, it just needs to be integrated within the modern pace-and-space approach that is pervasive across the league. Walton has as good of a shot as anyone to make that happen in New York.

– Jesse Blancarte

L.A. Lakers

Jay Larranaga

The Lakers might have a serious shot at Tom Thibodeau or Scott Brooks, but assuming both take jobs before the Lakers get a final decision on Byron Scott, Boston assistant Jay Larranaga could be an interesting under-the-radar hire. As the Lakers look to invent the next generation of Lakers stars, bringing in a hot young assistant who can be something of a task master wouldn’t be a bad idea, especially if the plan is to rebuild through the draft. Larranaga has played a big role in turning the Celtics into a defense-focused team and doing it with young guys. Instead of swinging for a named guy, getting the best guy for the long-term development of the young players might make more sense.

– Steve Kyler

Ettore Messina

Messina would be a terrific hire for the Lakers, as he has been considered one of the best available coaches for quite some time. After experiencing a ton of success overseas, Messina’s first NBA gig was as an assistant on Mike Brown’s coaching staff with the Lakers in 2011. That means Mitch Kupchak and company are familiar with the 56-year-old, and he’s familiar with the franchise and city. Messina is now with the San Antonio Spurs, and he has stepped in for Gregg Popovich as head coach for three games this year (two in the regular season, one in the preseason) when Popovich had to leave due to a family emergency. Messina seems ready for a head coaching job, and the Lakers would be smart to bring him in to replace Byron Scott, who has left a lot to be desired. Another good option would be Jay Larranaga, who could develop this young core they have assembled.

– Alex Kennedy

Ettore Messina

The Kobe Bryant era is officially over in Los Angeles, which means the Lakers need to start building up a new approach to sustained success. The days of luring in superstars and outspending other teams are over. It’s time to develop the team’s young talent internally, draft responsibly, but creatively, and create sustainable offensive and defensive systems that players can plug into; an approach that has carried the Spurs to multiple championships over the last two decades. Ettore Messina is currently an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs and is one of the best coaches most fans have never heard of. His experience in San Antonio could be invaluable to a team like the Lakers, who are going to have to start looking toward team-building the way the rest of league does after years of getting by with transcendent talent in guys like Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.

– Jesse Blancarte

The Brooklyn Nets already filled their open coaching job by hiring current Atlanta Hawks assistant Kenny Atkinson. With so many jobs open or likely to be open, there is a sense that many teams are not going to waste time in a prolonged search so some of these jobs could get filled fairly quickly.

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NBA Daily: Clippers Looking Forward to Teodosic Return

Clippers hanging on and looking forward to Teodosic return, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The Los Angeles Clippers have had a season of twists and turns. While the season is still young, they’ve dealt with setbacks, mostly in the form of a multitude of injures. In fact, the team’s misfortunes began almost immediately. On Oct 21 (the NBA season started earlier this year), Clippers guard Milos Teodosic went down with a plantar fascia injury. This stands as the first bump in the road for the Clippers, who have seen a number of key players go down.

Following the loss of Chris Paul this past offseason, the Clippers appeared to have salvaged their immediate future through a number of offseason transactions. Under the direction of the front office, which includes Lawrence Frank, VP of Basketball Operations, and Jerry West, a Clippers consultant, the Clippers traded Paul, which helped to remake the roster. West spoke of his approval of the Paul trade before the season started.

“The Clippers feel comfortable that we made out really well. We could have lost him for nothing,” West stated of the Paul trade. “I think it was kind of a win myself.”

The Paul trade brought in Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker and helped to eventually bring in Danilo Gallinari. A big part of the offseason makeover was the acquisition of European star Teodosic. Losing Paul meant that the Clippers were going to be without a highly talented, pass-first point guard for the first time since Paul’s acquisition during the 2011-2012 season.

Part of the strategy called for replacing Paul with both Beverley, who could match Paul’s defensive tenacity, and Teodosic, who could match Paul’s vision and passing. While neither player could match Paul’s overall brilliance (and Paul has been brilliant this season for the Rockets), the team hoped to create a winning environment around these two players.

Unfortunately, Teodosic went down quickly. Then Beverley experienced issues with his knee, culminating with season-ending microfracture surgery on his knee in late November. Combine this with Gallinari missing nearly a month with injuries and Blake Griffin going down for the next few months with an MCL sprain of his left knee recently, and the Clippers have struggled to stay competitive with lineups that have often included only one of the team’s opening day starters (center DeAndre Jordan). The franchise shouldn’t be completely surprised by the rash of injuries, as their offseason plan banked on players with questionable injury histories such as Griffin and Gallinari.

To fill in, the Clippers have also made use of a number of young, inexperienced players (not at all common in the Doc Rivers era), including playing 2017 second round pick, guard Sindarius Thornwell. Thornwell has benefited from the opportunity as is averaging 16.2 minutes a game and has even started in seven games (of 24 played).  Thornwell confirmed the obvious regarding injuries.

“We’ve been playing without a lot of our core guys,” Thornwell stated.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers also made it clear that injuries have affected the team.

“It’s not just Blake [Griffin]. If it was just Blake, we’d be OK,” Rivers stated recently. “But you miss [Danillo] `Gallo,’ Milos [Teodosic], Patrick Beverley.”

Currently, the team is well below .500 with a 9-15 record, good enough for 11th in the Western Conference. And while the team is ahead of a number of teams destined for the NBA lottery such as the Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings, they aren’t too far removed from the eighth seed, currently held by the Utah Jazz, who are below .500 (13-14 record). It’s not reasonable for a team that has already suffered a nine-game losing streak and is only 4-6 in the last 10 games to expect another playoff berth, and the team has not yet signaled they have given up on the season.

The Clippers have stayed afloat by being extremely reliant on the individual offensive output of guards Austin Rivers and Lou Williams. Give Williams credit, as he has been brilliant recently including a game winning shot against the Washington Wizards on Saturday. Over the last 10 games, he is averaging 23.2 points on 62.7 true shooting percentage and 6.2 assists in 34.5 minutes per game, per nba.com. For reference, Williams has a career true shooting percentage average of 53.3 percent, per basketball-reference.com. However, this doesn’t scream long-term winning formula, nor should it — the team hasn’t recently had reliable offensive output outside of these guards who were originally expected to come off the bench for the Clippers.

Gallinari has since returned and played well in his second game back, an overtime win against the Wizards. Now the team has upgraded Teodosic’s condition to questionable and are hopeful that Teodosic makes his return Monday night against the Raptors.

“He’s ready. He’s close,” Rivers stated, speaking of Teodosic at a recent Clippers practice. “And that will help. In a big way.”

In addition to possibly helping their increasingly remote chances at making the playoffs, the Clippers have other goals. Teodosic is signed to a two-year deal, but the second-year is a player option allowing the European guard to leave after the season. Should Teodosic find that the Clippers are somehow not a good fit or a place where he can find success, he may opt out of the second year. If the team wants to ensure that the 30-year-old guard sees a bright future with the Clippers, they should hope that his return leads to the Clippers playing winning basketball.

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Q&A With Cavaliers Rookie Cedi Osman

Basketball Insiders caught up with Cavaliers rookie Turkish swingman Cedi Osman to discuss a number of topics. 

Spencer Davies

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Monday afternoon, Basketball Insiders caught up with rookie Turkish swingman Cedi Osman to discuss a number of topics. 

Basketball Insiders: Your first experience in the NBA, making the transition from international play and Euroleague—has it been what you’ve expected?

Cedi Osman: I mean of course it’s different rules and stuff and a different type of basketball. In international, it’s like more slow, but here it’s like always up and down, a lot of fast breaks.

Actually that’s the kind of basketball that I like. When I was playing overseas, I was also running a lot, up and down. I was that guy who was bringing the energy, so it was not hard for me to adjust to this basketball.

BI: With Euros in this league, it’s a growing amount. What does that tell you about the talent pool over there?

Osman: There’s a lot of talented players overseas—like really, a lot. Like you said, when you look around the NBA there’s a lot of European players. Starting with Dirk Nowitzki, he’s a big legend. He was the one who chose to do Europe [to show] what he can do. I can give you the example of two Turkish basketball players—Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur, he won one championship. I mean, there’s a lot of European players.

BI: Definitely. So how well do you know Hedo and Mehmet?

Osman: With Mehmet Okur, I was talking a couple times. I saw him one time in summer league this year. I talk to Hedo also because he’s president of Turkish Basketball Federation, so I was talking to him also.

BI: You’ve gotten some crucial minutes with the bench in the last couple of games. The same thing can be said when you played in New York and against the Hawks, too. What’s allowed you and that group to click together?

Osman: I always try to think positive. When I’m getting there on the court with the second unit, I’m trying to bring the energy because I’m the youngest one with Big Z [Ante Zizic] together.

Whenever I get on the court I’m trying to bring the energy on both sides of the court—on defense and offense—and I’m trying to run the floor the fastest that I can. Trying to guard players that are really good. And that also just improves my basketball [skills] a lot. I’m really happy that I am a part of this team and it’s also really important for me that I’m getting these crucial minutes.

BI: In a recent interview, you said that you don’t have a reason to be scared. You’re “cold-blooded.” Why do you feel that way?

Osman: I was playing overseas professionally since I was 16 years old…actually, I started getting paid when I was 12. [I’ve been] playing professionally for a long time. I played with a lot of good players. I’ve played also [with] former NBA players like Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic who was on the same team.

I know, yeah this is the best league in the world, but I don’t have a reason why to be scared because I was working for this—to come here, to give my best and to be stable to stay for long, long years. That’s why I said I don’t have a reason to be scared, because I know that I can play here.

BI: When you’re on the floor, what do you expect out of yourself? You said you want to get up and down the floor and give it to both ends, but is there anything outside of that, maybe mentality wise?

Osman: Of course. Not just as a rookie, but every time I get on the court like I said, I want to be always that guy who brings the energy. Also like, when we’re going bad or when we have a bad game, I want to change the momentum of the game. That’s what I’m working for a lot. We have great players and I have a lot of things to learn from them.

That’s why I said I’m really happy to be a part of this team, because we’re one of the best teams in the world. I hope that we’re going to win a championship in my first year. That would be a big thing for me.

BI: What kind of things have the coaching staff tried to help you improve in practice?

Osman: There’s a couple defensive plays that’ll be different. There’s also defensive three seconds. That was a bit of adjusting for me because in Europe you can always stay in the paint no matter what. There’s no defensive three seconds. Here it’s different, so it was a little bit hard for me to adjust in the beginning, but now I don’t have any problems and coaches are really helping me a lot.

BI: This team isn’t fully healthy yet, obviously with Isaiah Thomas coming back, Tristan Thompson coming back and Iman Shumpert down the road. That might affect playing time for some. You’ve gone to the G-League and played with the Canton Charge once before. You had a lot of minutes in that one game and did a really good job there. Is that something that you’re prepared for? Would you mind playing there again if that’s the case for you?

Osman: I was the one who asked for Canton, to go there, because before Shump got injured I didn’t have a lot of playing time. I said that I want to play whenever we have an off day, whenever I can go to play there, to run a lot, to try to do my thing. See that I’m working here before practices. That’s why I asked to go there. I talked to [Cavaliers general manager] Koby [Altman] and he said he supported me about that and that would be good for me.

BI: You have your own hashtag—#TheFirstCedi—can you explain the inspiration behind that and what it means?

Osman: So I’m working with one agency in Turkey and they’re doing a really good job about myself, my profile, my brand (laughs). They’re doing a really good job. “The First Cedi” is because my first name is Cedi and a lot of people are calling me Jedi, so that’s from Star Wars. The First Cedi—because in Turkey, ‘C’ reads as a ‘J’ so Jedi. First Jedi, that’s why.

BI: That’s pretty funny. Are you a Star Wars fan?

Osman: Yeah. I watch. But because it’s like old movies and that kind of stuff, but now new movies are better.

BI: It’s a locker room full of veterans here in Cleveland. Do you feel comfortable with everyone?

Osman: Definitely. I feel really comfortable. We have—I don’t want to say veteran players—but they are so good and they are big, big professionals. I have a lot of fun with them—locker room, when we go on the road, team dinners and that kind of stuff. It’s pretty cool.

The thing is, like it’s my first appearance. Overseas I’m coming to America and I was thinking the adjustment would be a little bit hard for me, but it was actually the opposite. From the first day that I met those guys, they helped me a lot.

BI: Is there anyone that you’ve gotten especially close to? You mentioned Big Z earlier.

Osman: Me and Z are pretty close. We’re speaking the same language. We played in the same league in Turkey. But like, I’m close with everybody. With Channing [Frye], we are always talking about the games and that stuff.

BI: Playing with LeBron—can you put that into words?

Osman: Look, it’s…(pauses), it’s something crazy. Because I was playing a game—obviously 2K—before when I was younger, I was playing with him and that stuff. Of course, it was my dream to be an NBA player, to play in the NBA. But when you’re playing on the same team with [Derrick] Rose, LeBron James, [Dwyane] Wade, Kevin Love, [Isaiah Thomas], it’s crazy.

I didn’t imagine that I would play with those players. And then, I just realize when I’m playing with them, the only thing that I can do is just work a lot and learn from them.

BI: When you hear these guys talk about you in a good light and coach Lue gives you praise, how does that make you feel?

Osman: That’s something really incredible. I mean… from the first day, from the media day when LeBron was in a press conference, he talked about everybody. But he talked also about me and he knew about Euroleague and that kind of stuff, so I was really happy. I was really proud and I was really happy about it. From the first day, he was so close to me. Not just him, but everybody.

BI: What do you think people need to know about your personality? Is there anything that hasn’t been said?

Osman: Actually, nothing special (laughs). I’m the guy who always smiles and with a lot of energy, always being positive talking to everybody, making a lot of jokes, trying to be friendly with everyone and the most important—I’m trying to be a good character.

BI: Last one—based off of this conversation alone, you’ve picked up the English language so easily. Who’s helped you on that side of things?

Osman: I actually had a lot of American players overseas on my previous team—it was Jordan Farmar, Jamon Gordon, Derrick Brown, he also played here, there was Bryant Dunston, Jayson Granger. I played a lot with Dario Saric, too, Furkan Korkmaz. Those were guys that were always talking English.

Just talking to them all the time. When they talked, I would just listen to them. I wasn’t listening to what they talked [about], but just for what kind of words they were using and what kind of sentences, the way they were talking. That’s how I learned English.

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James Johnson: The Latest Product of Miami’s Culture

James Johnson speaks to Michael Scotto about his success within Miami’s culture.

Michael Scotto

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James Johnson went from an NBA nomad to financially set for life.

Over the summer, Johnson signed a four-year, $60 million deal with Miami, as first reported by Basketball Insiders. The deal included a fourth-year player option.

“It really meant everything to me,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “To be in a situation in my life to overcome so much, and to finally get something like that where it’s long-term, where it’s somewhere I really want to be too, it was just all-in-all the best scenario.”

Johnson was drafted No. 16 overall in 2009 and spent time with four different teams, including two stints in Toronto, before his career year in Miami last season. During that span, Johnson also spent time in the G-League for the Iowa Energy (2011) and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (2013).

Despite being nomadic through the first eight years of his career, Johnson never doubted his talent nor the hope that he’d find the right organizational fit.

“No, I never doubted myself,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “I never doubted the Lord neither. I’m a big firm believer of that. Every team I was on I always enjoyed my teammate’s success. I always was a real part of practice players and being a scout guy. My whole journey is just to figure out and experience all the other aspects of this game that we play. It says a lot where I can start helping other guys out like the rookies now and guys that are not getting any minutes right now, things like that. I’m a big testament to just staying ready, so you don’t have to get ready.”

After playing for the Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Sacramento Kings, and Memphis Grizzlies, what set Miami’s culture apart?

“Just their want-to, they’re no excuses, act like a champion on and off the court, and just that mental stability of always teaching you, not just drills, not just coaching just because they’re called coaches,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “They really inspire, they really help out, and it makes you want to be in that work environment.”

Johnson credits his relationship with President Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra for helping him fulfill his potential.

“It’s great, its nothing like I’ve ever experienced before,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a little new still, but the freedom to be able to go into their office and just talk about normal things, you know, is one of the big reasons why I never want to leave this place.”

While playing on a one-year, $4 million deal, Johnson averaged a career-high 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in 27.4 minutes per game. Johnson also shot a career-high 34 percent from beyond the arc.

Looking ahead, can Johnson continue to improve at age 30 and beyond coming off his best year as a pro?

“I got paid, so there’s no pressure of playing for the money,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s really playing for the wins, playing for your teammates, and playing with a pure heart, not going out there with any agendas, not going out there looking to live up to something that everybody else wants you to live up to. For me, it’s just gelling with our team and making sure our locker room is great like I was mentioning. Go out there and compete and trust each other.”

Johnson has put up nearly identical numbers through the first quarter of this season, averaging 11.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in 27.6 minutes per game. Johnson is also shooting a career-high 36 percent from beyond the arc.

“It’s my ninth year, and I’m just happy to be able to be part of the NBA for that long,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders.

Looking ahead, Johnson hopes to maximize years 10-12 in Miami during the rest of his contract and the remaining prime of his career.

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