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NBA AM: Coaches On The Hot Seat

We may not see many coaches fired mid-season, but there are a few NBA head coaches that may be coaching for the future this season… Boston wants to keep Rajon Rondo, but won’t rule out a trade.

Steve Kyler

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On The Hot Seat:  The 2014-15 NBA season gets started in less than a week with the opening of training camps and there are a few coaches who will begin this season with high expectations and likely a low tolerance for struggles. The only NBA coaches to have been in their current position for more than three years are Tom Thibodeau, Rick Carlisle, Kevin McHale, Frank Vogel, Erik Spoelstra, Monty Williams, Gregg Popovich, Dwane Casey, Scott Brooks and Randy Wittman. That means 20 of the NBA’s 30 teams have changed coaches in the last two years; some have been replaced after just one season. So, turnover in the NBA is becoming all too common, even if it’s not always the smartest move.

As training camps open, some teams may have coaches on a very short leash. These are a few of the names to watch.

Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City Thunder

Two things have to be said at the top:  Scott Brooks is an excellent coach whose team and players adore him. That said, the clock is ticking. There is no question that the Thunder are on the clock, especially with star forward Kevin Durant inching closer to free agency in the summer of 2016. The Thunder have preached a message of continuity and instituted a strong development program, and that has paid dividends in OKC, but failing to reach the NBA Finals again before Durant’s free agency could spell disaster for the Thunder as the outside voices creep into the discussion and try to lure Durant out of OKC.

Fair or not, coaches are hired to ultimately be fired and if things don’t go where they are expected, its going to be harder and harder for the Thunder to hang on to Brooks, even though he’s the most successful coach in franchise history.

Brooks has come under fire a lot over the last two seasons, so if the Thunder regress or start to struggle expect his job status to become a topic, even if no one in Oklahoma City wants to think about it.

Randy Wittman, Washington Wizards

Like Brooks, Wittman has done a stellar job turning the Wizards around, but regression could force a change even though he just inked a three-year contract extension with the Wizards this summer – a testament to just how much pressure there is on NBA coaches to keep their job. Wittman has never been viewed as the sexy coaching candidate, but he has survived in Washington because his team has played well and the young guys have improved. If that continues, then Wittman’s job is hardly in jeopardy, but if things regress and the team isn’t competing at a high level, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has proven that he’s not afraid to make a change. Like Brooks, there isn’t a lot of room for error in Washington. As a team they expect to be back in the hunt in the East and if that starts to fall apart, expect Wittman talk to increase.

Jacque Vaughn, Orlando Magic

Vaughn was given a long leash in Orlando to help the front office sort out the roster they inherited, but this season the Magic expect to compete. There is an expectation of improvement not just from the roster but from all phases of the team operations. Vaughn has drawn a ton of criticism from the fan base and if this season looks like the last two, Vaughn’s future could become shaky at best. The one thing in Vaughn’s favor is that there really is cohesiveness between the front office and the coaching staff, so if things go bad Vaughn won’t be shoved on an island. But if the team continues to struggle, looking at change next summer won’t be out of the question as it was this past summer. This is Vaughn’s year to prove himself as a coach as for the first time in his tenure in Orlando, there are real expectations.

Monty Williams, New Orleans Pelicans

Like Brooks and Wittman, Williams is a heck of a basketball coach. His players in New Orleans and those who he’s worked with for USA Basketball like him. He has built a solid culture in New Orleans and his teams, for the most part, play incredibly hard defensively. The problem for Williams is his teams have been decimated by injuries and they are not a very dynamic offensive group, despite having some dynamic offensive talents. The window for Williams isn’t as big as it once was. New ownership wants playoff games in New Orleans and they have allowed the team to trade and spend their way into a roster that should be better than their record. Williams is certainly on the clock in New Orleans. Fair or not, he needs things to break his way this year. One of the things Williams has talked about recently was allowing his guys more freedom offensively, something he learned with his time with Team USA in Spain. If the Pelicans can get out to a strong start, things should calm down on the Williams front, but if this season plays out like the last two seasons, ownership may look to make a change.

Frank Vogel, Indiana Pacers

Vogel was under fire last season, but ownership and management stood by him amidst the team’s second-half slump. The injury to star forward Paul George and the departure of Lance Stephenson in free agency may lessen the pressure in Indiana and give Vogel more of a runway to get the team sorted out. Given the outright collapse late last season, Vogel will be scrutinized more closely, even with expectations being lower. If his team doesn’t compete, he could find himself out. There isn’t an expectation of challenging for a title this year, but with the roster Vogel still has to work with the Pacers are expecting to compete; failing to do that could spell the end of the line for Vogel.

Kevin McHale, Houston Rockets

The Rockets took some major steps backwards this summer not only losing Chandler Parsons in free agency and getting nothing in return but also trading away depth in Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. The Rockets don’t have a huge runway. Dwight Howard is eligible for free agency again in July of 2016 and being a middle of the pack playoff team isn’t going to help their cause in keeping him. Some of that’s going to fall on McHale. If the Rockets cannot get back to at least where they were a season ago McHale’s future becomes cloudy at best. If the Rockets fall backwards or struggle early McHale could be the coach most likely to be fired mid-season. The problem with expectations is that when you don’t meet them, someone pays the price.

It is highly unlikely any of these coaches are fired mid-season, unless there is utter collapse. What’s more likely is that each is scrutinized more closely than is maybe fair, but as they say, changing coaches is easier than changing rosters and coaches are hired to ultimately be fired.

As Rondo Turns:  Celtics president Danny Ainge again went on record saying his intentions regarding guard Rajon Rondo is not to trade the mercurial guard, however he did admit that moving Rondo wasn’t completely off the table.

“I love Rondo,” Ainge said to Bill Doyle of the Worcester Telegram. “He’s a fun kid to be around. I’ve seen a lot of growth in him as a person and maturity through the years.

“The truthful answer is I really don’t know. I have no intention. I’m not trying to trade Rondo, but because he’s a free agent this summer, he assured me that he wants to stay in Boston. We’d love to keep him in Boston.”

Ainge admitted that no player was untouchable, but he didn’t expect a deal for his guard anytime soon.

“The possibility of a trade is not out of the question,” Ainge said. “Nobody is untradeable, but I don’t see that happening.”

The Celtics will open training camp next week, and while Ainge said he expects improvement from his young team, he is not delusional about where there are as a program.

“I don’t think our team is in contention for a championship,” Ainge said. “We are a young team and we’re in the development stages.

“It’s hard for me to put goals on our team. I want to hear what they want to do. I want to hear what their goals are and what they believe they can accomplish this year.”

The Celtics were 25-57 last season and one of the worst road teams in the NBA.

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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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