Social media and sports talk radio were set abuzz with the news of Mike D’Antoni’s decision to resign rather than head into the 2014-15 season without assurances from the Los Angeles Lakers for 2015-16 breaking late last night. Factor in yesterday’s somewhat monumental (due to rarity) press conference where commissioner Silver imposed a lifetime ban for Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling, and we’d say that’s an awful lot all at once to process and discuss for fans of teams in the Los Angeles market this weekend.
D’Antoni amassed a 67-87 record in just under two seasons as head coach of the Lakers. Although short in length, all of sudden change over the past 18 months could only have exacerbated the situation even more. From the passing of Dr. Jerry Buss, to both of Kobe Bryant’s season-ending injuries, to all of the other cruel twists of fate; this may in fact be one of the roughest patches this proud organization has endured.
In fairness, there may not have been a coach around that could have avoided much of what took place in terms of what seemed like a neverending streak of fluke injuries, but D’Antoni finds himself out of a position yet again nonetheless. We’ll leave the debate over the “fairness” of his tenure for another time, as we now must turn our attention to some potential replacements in his absence. It should be noted that while we are almost certain to hear any and all available (perhaps even some not currently available) name attached to these Lakers at some point between now and their selection, the team could also decide to allow the position to remain vacant for a time in order to see what coaches may ultimately become available while also leaving the door open for feedback from potential free agents or players acquired via trade. Although the organization typically claims to leave their players out of such decisions, accepting potential feedback could be another way for this front office to gain favor with some of the universally-coveted free agents.
Here are several of the top candidates the Lakers must contact during their search:
Lionel Hollins – Hollins has been away from the sidelines since the Memphis Grizzlies decided to go in a different direction after what was actually a relatively successful run during his time as head coach. His last few seasons in Memphis included three consecutive playoff runs and a career high 56 wins in his final season (2012-13). Aside from a fondness for post play and multi-faceted big men, the Lakers may also desire his ability to inspire toughness and intensity on the defensive end. The Lakers were 29th in Opp. Points (109.2), 26th in Opp. FG percentage (46.8), and were outrebounded by an average on eight rebounds per game in 2013-14.
Byron Scott – For all of those quick to point out how terribly things ended for Scott during his time in Cleveland in the immediate post-LeBron-aftermath, we remind you to take a look at what the man has done when armed with enough of the right mix of talent to work with. Aside from being at the helm of those two Nets teams that represented the Eastern Conference in the Finals in consecutive years back during their New Jersey days, Scott was also the NBA’s Coach of the Year during what was a surprising 56-win season in Chris Paul’s second season with the (then) New Orleans Hornets (Pelicans) in 2007-08. Coaches are expected to get the most from the talent they have available, and Scott has generally done so and perhaps beyond when judging his career as a whole.
Kevin Ollie – May sound crazy to some of you, but the Lakers absolutely should consider thinking outside the box when making this decision. Having already shown an ability to coach during his short time as the head coach of the 2014 National Champion UCONN Men’s basketball team, like Scott, Ollie is also a Los Angeles native with ties to plenty of players still active within the league. If the Lakers decide to explore the college ranks, names like Mike Krzyzewski and John Callipari are almost certain to surface, but neither of those two seem interested in making the jump given their favorable circumstances in their current positions at Duke and Kentucky (respectively). Ollie may be very comfortable at UCONN, but may also be tempted if truly considered by his hometown team.
What about Lakers hiring Stan AND Jeff Van Gundy?
— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) May 1, 2014
Jeff Van Gundy and/or Stan Van Gundy – After an initial chuckle upon seeing L.A. Times writer Ben Bolch’s tweet with the idea of hiring both Van Gundy brothers while rebuilding their coaching staff, the next thought was, “hey, why not?” They’ve already gone that route just recently with the recently-departed D’Antoni brothers, and with both Van Gundy brothers almost certain to be named as candidates for the vacancy (anyhow), it really doesn’t sounds like a crazy idea when you stop to think about it. Both brothers emphasize toughness on the defensive end, and you’d think each would be able to come to a happy medium in terms of any differences in offensive philosophies that may exist. The only real questions might be regarding the eventual pecking order, but even that seems to be something those two could work out. Even if they’ve soured on the idea of a package deal on the bench, the front office could very well consider each of these candidates individually.
Biggest mistake Lakers made on coaching front: Passing over Steve Clifford as interim coach after Mike Brown's firing. He would've won job.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 1, 2014
Adrian Griffin or another qualified assistant – As Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski points out, the Lakers may have missed the bus on current Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford as he was actually a part of Mike Brown’s staff they eventually let go following the 2013-14 season. Whether Clifford was a good match for the Lakers at the time, his immediate success (as well as several others) might make a guy like Chicago’s highly-regarded Adrian Griffin, Miami’s David Fizdale (L.A. native), or any other top assistant more appealing to the Lakers this time around. Both of those two, for example, have been lauded for both their relationships with current players and the ability to influence player development. Longtime Euroleague coach Ettorre Messina is another name to expect to hear given his brief history as a consultant during the Lakers’ 2011-12 season. A report (also by Wojnarowski) describe a shared “fondness” between Lakers management and Kobe Bryant for the celebrated member of the Italian Basketball Hall of Fame.
Can the postseason make up for a relatively disappointing regular season?
On the heels of what was almost universally considered a strange, if not somewhat disappointing regular season for many teams, the 2013-14 NBA Playoffs certainly have not disappointed. Last night marked the first night of postseason play where a road team didn’t actually win a game. While you can thank Inside the NBA’s Ernie Johnson for that stat, allow us to point out the insane number of overtime games (8) including three between the Rockets vs. Blazers and four between Thunder vs. Grizzlies, by themselves.
Not to mention the inspiring run by a shorthanded Atlanta Hawks team, and the surprising manner by which a young and previously unproven Washington Wizards team handled the Chicago Bulls. Several analysts have already referred to the first couple weeks of this postseason as perhaps one of the most exciting opening-round we’ve seen in some time. The Wizards may have breezed through as the HEAT made quick work of the Bobcats (4-0), but every other series is currently 3-2 and we even have a couple heavily-favored top seeds (Indiana, Oklahoma City) on the ropes.
While many of us may have anticipated an easier matchup for what was once considered a “loaded” Pacers team, the Western Conference was destined to be a battle from the start. The toughest part of playing out West isn’t merely outlasting tougher competition throughout the regular season, it’s navigating through the even murkier waters of what often seems to be the loaded side of the proverbial playoff bracket.
Just ask those Thunder players how comfortable they are heading back to the Fed Ex Forum actually down in the series to a team in the Grizzlies that is showing just why their were considered an unfavorable matchup no matter the opponent. Momentum in a series can swing at the drop of a hat, so Thunder fans have to be hoping they’ll be able to at least cheer on the presumed 2013-14 MVP Kevin Durant one more time in the event that he and Russell Westbrook can help force a Game 7 back in Oklahoma City this weekend.
Speaking of swings in momentum, it sure was great to focus on what is actually one of the better pairings in the first round in the Clippers and Warriors following Silver’s announcement. While obviously maintaining an appreciation and respect for the magnitude of the decision, you can’t tell us those Clippers didn’t play with a sense of renewed peace as they pulled ahead of the visiting Warriors.
Unlike the Clippers and Spurs, both heading on the road to attempt to close their respective series’ out with their 3-2 lead, the Blazers join Memphis as the other lower seed heading home with a 3-2 lead of their own. Even if you disagree with this opening round being the most exciting we’ve ever seen, the fact that each of the remaining series’ could not only conceivably go to a deciding Game 7, but each could easily be won by either team without it ultimately being that much of a shock. As top-heavy as (at least half) the league may have been throughout the initial 82 games, the “second season” has been matched about as evenly as you could have expected. That, in itself, might make this postseason go down as one for the ages when all is said and done.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.
Winslow and the Miami HEAT Are “Believing in Each Other”
Justise Winslow discusses the all-around team effort of the Miami HEAT with Basketball Insiders.
The days of LeBron James in Miami are over. Chris Bosh isn’t there anymore, either. No more Ray Allen or Shane Battier. Dwyane Wade is back, but he’s not “Flash” nowadays.
Actually, check the entire Miami HEAT roster; there’s no superstar. They have an All-Star in Goran Dragic, even if he was the third alternate. But during this most recent playoff push, the HEAT don’t have a worldwide household name to plaster all over billboards as a reason for their success.
With 10 games remaining until the playoffs, Miami doesn’t have a player averaging more than 33 minutes per game. Instead, they have 11 players who average at least 20 minutes a contest. Their approach is that of a deep rotation, and its led them to a 39-33 record and the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. All while the rest of the league is star-driven.
One of those key cogs to the Miami machine is third-year wing, Justise Winslow. A former top-10 pick out of Duke, Winslow is enjoying most efficient season so far for the HEAT. To him, the fact that his squad isn’t littered with names like LeBron and Steph doesn’t make a difference.
“I think our team is extremely confident in each other,” Winslow said. “I think that’s a big thing is that we all believe in each other. We play to each other’s strengths, and most importantly we’re a defensive-minded team. We hang our hats on the defensive end, and that’s really what gets us going as a team.”
Winslow isn’t exaggerating. The HEAT is seventh in the NBA in defensive rating. Head coach Erik Spoelstra harps on the team’s defensive scheme and preparation. Without a go-to scorer capable of getting the team 30 any given night, Miami needs to do their job as a collective unit on the defensive end of the floor night in and night out.
“Each night the coaching staff preaching to us that we have enough, no matter who is in the lineup,” Winslow said. “So it’s just about going out there and executing and putting together a good game of 48-minute basketball. I think our belief in each other that we have enough to get the job done is key.”
In the current NBA landscape, a lot of the playoff contenders are centered around players with big resumes and bigger names. As a result, the HEAT get lost in the shuffle of the national conversation from time to time. Their culture of togetherness and slight from the media outside of their city could make for the perfect “chip on the shoulder” recipe. Or so you would think. Winslow doesn’t believe the chatter, or lack thereof, matters any to Miami.
“We don’t pay too much attention to that,” Winslow said. ‘We’re so focused, and locked in on our team, and each other, and trying to win each game. For us, it’s about having the respect of your peers, of the other team. I think every night no matter who we have or who’s healthy, I think teams know we’re going to be a tough, physical team. Guys in this league don’t want that, you don’t want to have to play against a Miami HEAT team that’s going to be physical, that’s going to get into your body, that’s going to make you play a hard, 48-minute basketball game.”
Because of the HEAT’s brand of basketball, an 82-game season can be grueling. For Winslow, keeping his body right throughout the grind is important to him. After dealing with a few injuries last season, and ultimately being shut down for the year last January to undergo right shoulder surgery for a torn labrum, Winslow was determined to make sure he kept his body in check throughout his comeback so he would be available for a long playoff run.
While his numbers aren’t flashy, Winslow is showing improvement. His 49.3 true shooting percentage is the highest of his career, along with shooting nearly 43 percent from beyond the arc, Winslow made strides in arguably the biggest knock against his game since coming out of college.
Because NBA players have the freedom to form partnerships with whichever companies they’d like, Winslow made the choice to strike up a partnership that he felt would not only help him off the court but more importantly, on it as well.
“My partnership with MET-Rx has been great,” Winslow said. “They’ve really helped take my game to the next level with all their nutritional supplements, and the Big 100 bar. So, for me, I’m always looking for ways to stay off my feet, but also get in the best shape possible and this was just a great way to help.”
The grind of the NBA season is also eased for playoff teams by a veteran presence. So, when the HEAT brought back franchise legend Wade at the trade deadline, their locker room suddenly had a face and feel of someone who’s been there before. A player who reached the pinnacle, with the very team that traded for him nonetheless.
Getting Wade back to Miami was crucial for the team’s playoff run down the stretch, and more importantly for Winslow, who benefited greatly from his time with the future Hall of Famer when he was fresh out of college.
“First and foremost, it was great to get him back,” Winslow said. “Just the role that he played in my career as a rookie, and everything I learned from him. But then also, just the energy and positivity that he brought to the locker room, and also the community of Miami, the city of Miami as a whole. It was a much-needed energy boost, and good vibes that he brought back for that post All-Star break push for playoffs. So, it’s just been great having him back, and it’s kind of rejuvenated the team and the locker room, and just the city in general.”
Wade is the MVP-caliber player he once was this time around, though. But that’s okay. This version of the Miami HEAT is charging toward the postseason with a team-first mentality.
NBA Daily: The Road Ahead for Michael Porter Jr.
Michael Porter Jr. is an elite prospect, but questions surrounding his back will determine his landing spot in the NBA.
The Road Ahead for Michael Porter Jr.
While some of the highly thought of college players have made their intentions on declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft known, Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr still hasn’t made his proclamation. Most people in NBA circles believe he’ll be in the 2018 NBA Draft class—you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think he’s in.
Back in November, the Missouri staff was somewhat vague and guarded about Porter’s condition until it was announced that he’d have back surgery on a couple of problematic discs in the lumbar area of his spine. The procedure is called a microdiscectomy and by all accounts was a success.
Porter missed virtually all of his college season but opted to play in the post-season for Missouri, who got eliminated fairly quickly.
There were certainly a lot of ugly things about Porter’s game. He looked out of shape, and certainly wasn’t the overwhelming dominating force he’d been in high school. Some executives applauded his decision to play, even though he wasn’t at a 100 percent. Some pointed to that fact that too many college players play it safe and that’s not always viewed positively. Almost no one Basketball Insiders spoke with was holding the less than stellar outing against him. In fact, most had far more positive things to say than negative. There was one resounding theme from the NBA executives who spoke about this situation—none of it matters until they see his medical.
Assuming Porter does as expected and hires an agent and enters the draft, the next challenge he’ll face is how open he wants to be to teams looking at drafting him.
In recent years, NBA teams have not shied away from using high draft picks on injured or recently injured players. Once a team can get a sense of how the player is recovering, they can make a value judgment.
Agents often use this information and access to the player to help steer their client to the situation they deem most favorable. While fans and outsiders often get caught up in the pick number a player ultimately lands at, more and more agents are concerned with fit, especially for a player that may need time to get back to 100 percent.
Most agents would want to steer their client to a team with favorable medical staff, a team with a proven track record of patience or more importantly, a team with the best chance at a long and fruitful career.
This won’t be good news for some team that could end up in the top 10, as it’s more likely that Porter isn’t made available to everyone. NBA executives will tell you, they can certainly draft him if they wanted to, but most teams won’t draft a player if their medical staff doesn’t sign off, and without information and access how can they do that?
There is a significant financial difference in going third in the draft ($5.47 million) and 10th ($2.964 million) – but several agents commented that the short-term money shouldn’t drive the long-term decision, especially if the player isn’t 100 percent. The fit and situation typically trump everything in these situations.
Another concept to consider is while Porter did play, there are questions about whether he’ll host a pro-day, take part in private team workouts or simply let his body of work drive his draft value.
Almost no one who spoke about this situation believed Porter would take part in the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, as he’d have to subject himself to the medical testing that’s part of that event.
The common perception on Porter is he’s a top-five talent, although it seems more likely that his camp is going to try and work the process to ensure he lands in a favorable situation. That could mean he falls out of top-five selections, simply because he and his agents choose to.
There is still a lot that needs to play out for Porter, including his announcement that he will enter the draft. But given where things stand with him, it’s more likely than not he’s coming into the draft, and it’s more likely than not he’ll have a lot of questions NBA teams will want to understand before his real draft position is clear.
The NBA Draft Lottery will be held in Chicago this year and is scheduled for May 15th. The annual Draft Combine, also in Chicago, gets underway on May 16th.
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