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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
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