Change Is Coming
With the NBA season now down to two or fewer games for most teams, there is an inevitability for some franchises that coaches and possibly executives are going to be fired in the coming weeks. Here are some of the situations we are keeping an eye on, and what is being said about the direction each seems to be headed.
The Washington Wizards are officially out of the NBA playoffs and while they have been looming around the elimination mark for weeks, failing to reach the postseason is likely going to mean the end of the road for current head coach Randy Wittman.
Not everything in Washington can be blamed on Wittman, but it was clear from the start of training camp that Wittman and his players were working from very different scripts – and the constant injuries didn’t help either.
Wittman is the prime candidate for an early dismissal, with some speculating it could happen as soon as Thursday.
The remaining question is what happens with the front office? Current team president Ernie Grunfeld has one more year left on his deal, but league sources peg the situation as 50-50 that Wizards owner Ted Leonsis stays the course with Grunfeld, who has been at the helm of the Wizards since 2003.
Wizards senior vice president of operations Tommy Sheppard is a common name linked to general manager openings every year and was one of the candidates interviewed for the Brooklyn Nets job, so he could be a logical in-house replacement if Washington decides to make a leadership change.
Current Wizards vice president of scouting Marc Eversley is believed to be leaving to join newly appointed Bryan Colangelo in Philadelphia.
Assuming the Wizards stay the course in the front office and indeed fire Wittman, they will start a coaching search that could include Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks.
League sources peg the Wizards job as an ideal spot for Thibodeau, who turned away rebuilding jobs last summer because he was looking for a would-be playoff contender.
The Wizards present an interesting situation for the likes of Thibodeau, as they project to have close to $39 million in useable capspace in July, a couple of younger star-caliber players and the means to build a team around Thibodeau’s style of play.
It is far from decided where the Wizards will go at head coach, but it does seem like Wittman’s days at the helm in DC are soon to be over.
New Orleans Pelicans
There has been rampant speculation around the Pelicans for the better part of two years that a change was going to be made at the top of the franchise. There has been a long-running narrative in NBA circles that Mickey Loomis, who oversees both the basketball and the football operations for the Benson family, would be taking a larger role in the running of both businesses.
Loomis has a deep rooted friendship with former Detroit Pistons executive Joe Dumars, with many around the NBA saying Dumars has acted as an informal consultant to Loomis for some time and that Loomis has been trying to get Dumars to take on the role of team president for the Pelicans.
There is a belief that this could be the summer that happens.
A change at the top may not signal the end for current vice president of basketball and general manager Dell Demps, but rather changing who he answers to at the top. Demps has been on the job in New Orleans since 2010 and has amassed a 203-272 record in that span and just two playoff appearances, although most of that span was during a rebuild of the franchise after trading away Chris Paul.
League sources say it’s highly unlikely that Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry, who signed a four-year deal worth $13.7 million last summer, is in any real jeopardy this summer because of all the injuries. But if there is meaningful change at the top, it is a remote possibility.
The Pelicans could have somewhere in the neighborhood of $22.9 million to spend under the salary cap in July, so there is a chance for the Pelicans to have a splashy offseason.
The question is, will Demps be the key decision maker or will the Pelicans re-shape their front office at season’s end?
As we have covered in this space a few times, the Suns are expected to undergo a top-down review of the operation when their season concludes.
Current team president Lon Babby is expected to step down and take an advisory role with ownership after this season, leaving the fate of current general manager Ryan McDonough a little bit up in the air. However, sources close to the Suns say McDonough is viewed positively by ownership and that the work he has done as GM has been stellar.
The Suns will be in the market for a new head coach, and while the Suns are saying that current interim head coach Earl Watson is a real candidate to keep the job, not many around the league believe he will actually get a chance to do that.
The Suns have a boatload of very tradable assets and should be able to flip some of their excess into some better fitting pieces. Also, they are poised to have what could be as much as $31.9 million in usable cap space this summer.
Considering what is on the roster with guards Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe, promising rookie guard Devin Booker and a lot of depth on the bench, the Suns could be one of the better coaching jobs in the NBA this offseason and they have the means to add a top-tier free agent if they play their cards right.
Last year, the Suns were a serious candidate to land LaMarcus Aldridge so believing that another top flight player might take them seriously is not a stretch, especially if they lock down their next head coach fairly quickly.
Yesterday, Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times reported that not only could current Bucks general manager John Hammond be exiting the organization in Milwaukee, but that head coach Jason Kidd could be facing some scrutiny this offseason from ownership.
There has been a long running narrative in NBA circles that Kidd, when hired to coach the Bucks, was going to have a tremendous amount of influence over the direction of the team, with many close to the situation saying he was making the final call on personnel decisions with Hammond doing the day-to-day GM work.
League insiders often joked that it wasn’t a case of “if” rather than “when” Kidd would dump the coaching job all together to take over the front office.
According to Woelfel’s report, how Kidd handled his recent hip surgery, opting to have it mid-season rather than waiting for the offseason, did not sit well with many inside the Bucks’ power structure and there are real concerns about Kidd as head coach going forward.
Given the number of highly qualified head coaches that are going to be on the market this offseason, changing the head coach in Milwaukee might not be a bad decision – especially if Kidd is not fully committed to being the coach.
The narrative around Hammond is that he may opt to leave under mutual conditions and join his long-time friend Joe Dumars in New Orleans (if Dumars does indeed land there). If Hammond is headed to the Pelicans, that likely signals the end of the road for Demps.
The Bucks were supposed to be a franchise headed in a new and positive direction; however, after a ho-hum season in which many things did not pan out, there is a sense that ownership may step in and make some significant changes.
The Timberwolves were a makeshift organization from almost the beginning of the season. With the tragic and untimely passing of team president Flip Saunders, the message from the Timberwolves was, “Let’s get through the season.”
Current Wolves GM Milton Newton had been running the day to day under Saunders, so taking full control was not a huge leap, especially with how much was already in place under Saunders’ watch.
Current head coach Sam Mitchell was not promised anything more than this season, although there was a sense that he was put in the head coach position as a season-long audition with the idea that he could be retained long-term if things went well.
As the Wolves’ season comes to a close, there is a belief around the NBA that Mitchell may not be retained. Sources close to the process say there will likely be a full and complete search for a new head coach, which Mitchell may be a part of if he wants to remain in consideration.
Wolves sources are quick to point to comments by Wolves owner Glen Taylor saying that no decisions have been made yet on anyone in the organization and that Newton would be running the offseason for the team including the draft and free agency.
There have been a number of “named” coaches linked to the Wolves, but one name that gaining steam around the NBA is former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt. He’s been linked to the Wolves, Suns and New York Knicks. Sources close to Blatt say his camp has not engaged in any conversations with teams at this point, but expressed that Blatt does indeed want to coach in the NBA again and that he’ll wait for the right situation.
More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @eric_saar and @CodyTaylorNBA .
NBA Daily: 2018 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 4/24/18
The deadline for early entry into the 2018 NBA Draft has passed, so Basketball Insiders Publisher Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft.
The Deadline for early entry into the 2018 NBA Draft was April 22, however, the NBA hasn’t yet released the full list of eligible players. There appear to be more than 153 underclassmen that have declared to “test the waters” according to reports. By way of comparison, last year there were 137 players from college and an additional 45 from international basketball that declared early, with 73 of those players pulling out after going through the process.
The 2018 Draft class could be shaping up to be one of the biggest, especially when you consider the volume of highly draftable seniors.
There are still some dates to keep in mind:
The NBA Draft Lottery will be held in Chicago on May 15. The annual NBA Draft Combine will get underway on May 16, also in Chicago. In any given draft year, roughly 70 percent of players invited to the Combine end up being drafted into the NBA, so a Combine invite is a significant draft milestone.
The NCAA requires all players wishing to maintain their college eligibility, without penalty, to withdraw from the NBA Draft by 11:59 pm on May 30. That is an NCAA mandated date, not related to anything involving the NBA, and that notice must be delivered in writing.
The NBA’s draft withdrawal date is June 11 by 5:00 pm ET. The NBA’s date allows a prospect to remain NBA draft eligible for future NBA drafts and is not related to any NCAA rule or date. There are ways for college players that did not accept benefits to return to college, however, they may be subject to NCAA penalties.
Here is this week’s 2018 NBA Mock Draft, based on the final pre-draft lottery draft order:
Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:
The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.
The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers’ 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015. The 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections. Based on the final regular-season standings should convey to Philadelphia if the draft lottery holds true to the standings.
The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade. The pick is top four protected and would convey if the draft lottery holds true to the standings.
The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the final NBA standings.
The Phoenix Suns were owed the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick would only convey if the Bucks pick landed between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the final NBA standings did not convey. The Suns will now receive the Bucks 2019 first-round pick assuming it falls between the fourth and 16th pick.
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey to Atlanta based on the final NBA standings.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey based on the final NBA standings.
The Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick was top-five protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey
The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey
The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors’ first-round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick was lottery protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey
The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets’ first-round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey
Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects – http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/
NBA Daily: Trail Blazers Come Up Short and Now Search For Answers
The Portland Trail Blazers were swept in the first round of the Playoffs and now face tough questions, writes James Blancarte.
The playoffs have been a wild ride so far. On Sunday, all three Eastern Conference playoff games were exciting matches that featured star players stepping up in the clutch. As a result, each series is tied up, two games each. The other game of the day featured the San Antonio Spurs, who stayed in control and never once allowed the Golden State Warriors to take the lead. The Spurs managed to get a win against the defending champs despite missing their best player and now their head coach indefinitely.
For the Portland Trail Blazers, there was no such Game 4 turnaround. In fact, with the Spurs win, the Trail Blazers have the lamentable distinction of being the only team to be swept in the first round of the playoffs. This is just one way to describe how disappointing and surprising this playoff series loss to the New Orleans Pelicans was for Portland. Many NBA observers and Pelicans fans were quick to point out that every ESPN NBA personality chose the Trail Blazers to win the series, as did select writers of the Basketball Insiders team.
The Trail Blazers’ players and front office also made it clear how surprised they were at the result. Forward Evan Turner shared his surprise.
“Obviously finishing so quickly wasn’t definitely the plan and to a certain extent it was shocking,” Turner said.
General Manager Neil Olshey chimed in as well.
“Nobody expected [the playoff sweep] to happen. It did. We had our chances in Game 1, we had our chances in Game 2. Clearly Game 3 was a setback,” Olshey stated when describing his surprise at how the series ended. “Stunned, I think disappointed.”
Credit should be given to the Pelicans and their ability to fully harness their talent and impose their will in the series. Turner was effusive in praising the talent and ability of the Pelicans.
“Unlocked Jrue is pretty dangerous and we all see how Rondo plays. He’s a homerun hitter but he is always solid. He can mess around. He’ll get two or three triple doubles. Anthony Davis is a problem,” Turner said.
When asked how he felt about the playoff exit, starting center Jusuf Nurkic stated that he is beyond disappointed.
“I mean, the way I finish the season, I feel shame. The way we have a season, like a team and group, and being in position to be third in the West, and finish like this, is not good,” Nurkic stated. “It’s not something you should be proud of, because all you do through the year, fight for playoff and to be in position to have a good postseason.”
Despite the early exit, many within the organization were quick to highlight that they continue to see the regular season in a positive light, including Head Coach Terry Stotts.
“I thought we had a very good regular season, I thought we had a very disappointing end of the season,” Stotts stated.
Damian Lillard shared a similar sentiment when reflecting on the season as a whole.
“I think I’ll always remember the way [the season] ended. But I won’t forget the kind of season we had. You can’t ignore the fact we won a division title in a division where there was some great teams,” Lillard stated. “We came out on top.”
Still, the success of the regular season makes the playoff result that much harder to grasp and deal with for some. Nurkic again didn’t hold back when comparing the success of the regular season with the team’s playoff failure.
“Very surprised,” Nurkic stated. “You definitely didn’t see the team who we are in the playoffs.”
Explaining why the Trail Blazers came up short against the Pelicans is no easy task. Clearly Portland’s attempt to feature its two premiere guards failed as the Pelicans were able to clamp down on Lillard and McCollum effectively in each game. Complicating matters further was the inability of the Trail Blazers to effectively utilize Nurkic on both ends of the court. However, there was at least some praise to be heaped on the backup bigs, Zach Collins and Ed Davis.
“I think Zach played really well for us,” Olshey stated. “He had an impact defensively.”
Also, Al-Farouq Aminu was able to do his part as an acceptable defensive option against Davis while spreading the floor with his outside shooting
Regardless, Turner shared his assessment that the team failed to have an adequate game plan for a scenario where their two best players are neutralized.
“One thing that may help, it’s no jabs or anything, but building the identity outside of our two strong scorers,” Turned stated. “[W]e sometimes go downhill when a team fully focuses on a lot of attention on our stars […] But I think we might need certain plays, certain structures that kind of prepare just in case that occurs.”
With their postseason concluded, the Trail Blazers are suddenly left trying to answer questions with no easy answers. Who, if anyone, is to blame for what happened? So far, many head coaches have been let go and unsurprisingly some speculation has turned toward Coach Stotts. Stotts, when asked, focused on the team and deflected any analysis of his performance.
“I’m not going to evaluate the job I did,” Stotts said.
Lillard, on the other hand, was effusive in his praise of his coach.
“Coach Stotts has done a great job from day one. We’ve been in the playoffs five years straight,” Lillard said.
For now, there does not appear to be strong rumblings about Stotts. With the offseason just beginning for the team there is still time to reflect and assess what went wrong. Additionally, the team has to resolve what to do regarding its own free agents. No name looms larger than Nurkic, who despite his poor showing, represents one of the team’s top talents and expressed his guarded optimism regarding a return.
“I want to be here, it’s no secret,” Nurkic stated when asked if he wants an extension in Portland. “Yes, definitely.”
Nurkic ended the thought by stating, a bit ominously, that he did his part and a deal may or may not get worked out.
“My agent and people here are going to figure out the rest, or not,” Nurkic said.
Complicating the desire to retain Nurkic is the team’s financial situation as the team is currently over the cap and under obligation to center Meyers Leonard, who has struggled to stay in the rotation and is earning roughly $21.8 million over the next two years.
“It’s our job to be measured and not to overreact. [Because] when you overreact is when you make mistakes,” Olshey stated.
Lillard was quick to emphatically shut down the notion of splitting up him and McCollum when asked if that would be a good idea.
“I mean, I don’t agree with it. I think it’s that simple,” Lillard declared.
When asked what the team plans to do going forward, Olshey expressed optimism but tried again to pay credit to the season’s effort overall.
“We’re going to do everything we can to upgrade the roster as we always do but we also aren’t going to lose sight of the success throughout the course of the season,” Olshey said.
“I don’t have all the answers for you today,” Olshey surmised. “A lot of times you don’t know where your help is coming from.”
The Problem With ‘Championship Or Bust’
Should an NBA Title be the only measuring stick when we’re talking about a team’s success?
In this day and age, there’s a constant need for instant gratification. It goes for everything, really, but especially for sports.
Before the 2017-18 NBA season kicked off, the general outlook on the league was that the regular season would be a waste of time. People dubbed the Golden State Warriors as clear-cut repeat champions. Other then that franchise, there were maybe one or two others that could put up a fight with such a juggernaut.
While that story has yet to play out, others are developing quickly.
The all-of-a-sudden dangerous New Orleans Pelicans are the only ball club to have advanced to the second round of the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Western Conference. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are deadlocked in a tied series with an Indiana Pacers team that everybody seemed to believe was lottery-bound before the year began.
After falling nine games under .500 in late January, the Utah Jazz have caught fire and are up two games to one against the league’s reigning league MVP and a re-constructed Oklahoma City Thunder roster. We’d be remiss to leave out the sensational play of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as the Philadelphia 76ers continue to show how dominant they’ve been in a hard-hitting affair with a gritty Miami Heat bunch.
The start to this postseason trumps last season’s already. There is a competitive fire within the majority of these encounters. It’s all on the line to prove who will be the best of the best.
And having said that, there can only be one that takes home the Larry O’Brien trophy.
One. That’s it. In the last 18 years, there have been a total of eight different organizations that have earned the right to call themselves champions. All things considered, it’s not that many.
But there’s a giant misconception about parity in the NBA that needs to be thwarted.
This league is filled with talent, top to bottom. Just like in any sport, you have the basement dwellers still trying to right the ship. Whether it be coaching, injuries, or inexperience—they’re attempting to find their way. That’s why those players are sitting at home in late April.
Then there are those who are not merely spectators, but are involved in the remaining field of 15 teams (sorry, Portland Trail Blazers). Of course, in their minds, there is a common goal of winning a title, as it should be.
However, is it fair to quantify the success of every one of these franchises simply based on whether they accomplish that goal or not? Heck no.
Are we supposed to just forget about the progress made from end-to-end? What if — hear this out — both teams have talent and one just beat the other?
Building championship basketball takes patience. There has to be some semblance of playoff experience involved. Continuity is a must have. You might not want to hear it, but the postseason is where the seeds are planted, where the understanding of the stage really starts.
There can be a collection of young players who have been teammates for years, but have never taken part in the playoffs before. Sometimes there can be a team that’s full of veterans that have been there, but they may not have played together as a collective unit. Each one of them has a different background in a different setting.
It’s a whole different beast at this point. Some are so naive to see how elevated and intense the environment really is, so they assume a team that loses a few games isn’t championship material. Newsflash: Not one team in the history of the NBA has gone 16-0 in the playoffs.
And then, the ones who fall—whether it be in The Finals, conference finals, or in first two rounds—those organizations didn’t accomplish anything. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
So in this basketball world we live in where everything has to be a 20-point victory with zero losses and it’s “championship or bust” as the measuring stick, take a step back and appreciate the work it took to even get to the postseason.
Win or lose, many of these teams are building towards bigger things in the future. These experiences will make that clear in the years to come.