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 PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener
Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.
“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”
That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.
While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season since the departure of Chris Paul.
Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.
While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.
Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).
While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.
Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and doing everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.
Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).
“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”
Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.
Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.
“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.
For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.
“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”
Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.
The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.
Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics
Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.
Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.
Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.
In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.
Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.
“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.
“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”
The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.
“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.
“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”
Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.
“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”
The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.
“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”
Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.
“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.
“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”
Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.
“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.
“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”
While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.
“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.
“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”
Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.
Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.
Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.
“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.
“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”
You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.
Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.
“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?
“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”
Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.
“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”
NBA AM: Dwight Howard’s Quest For Redemption Begins
Dwight Howard says he has been unfairly blamed for previous shortcomings. In Charlotte, he gets a chance to prove it.
Prior to the start of training camp for the Charlotte Hornets, newly-acquired center Dwight Howard made an appearance at a charitable event for the Boys and Girls Club at a local elementary school. At that event, Howard laid out the stakes for his first season in Charlotte.
“This [is an] opportunity for myself to really get back everything that I would say has been taken away,” said Howard, according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.
In an August interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Howard seemed to imply that the primary thing that had been taken from him was a major role in the offense of teams he’s played with since he left Orlando, noting that his shot attempts had decreased from double digits to about six per game in Atlanta.
“I think it’s all opportunity, the system,” Howard told Wojnarowski. “I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”
Earlier this week, Hornets GM Rich Cho told NBA.com that Charlotte was the right place to give Howard that opportunity because of his relationship with coach Steve Clifford, who coached Howard as an assistant at two previous stops.
“With the relationship that Cliff has with Dwight, I know ‘Cliff is going to get the best out of him like he has done with past players,” said Cho. The Charlotte GM also went into detail about how the trade for Howard fit the goals the organization set for the offseason.
“When we entered the offseason, there were a number of things we wanted to accomplish,” said Cho. “One was, we wanted to get a rim protector and some shot blocking. Two, we wanted to add some more physicality. And three, we wanted to add a lot more depth overall and improve our bench play.
“So with Dwight, I think we’ve added all those things. He’s a great rim protector and shot blocker. He’s averaged a double-double every year he’s been in the league. It adds a lot of physicality with him going to the starting lineup and moving Cody [Zeller] into a backup role. It also increases our overall depth.”
Controversy has followed Howard after every NBA stop, and his brief stint with the Hawks was no different. ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on a podcast that he was told that a former teammate of Howard celebrated when informed he had been traded to Charlotte. If Lowe’s story is true, it only shows how divided and factional Atlanta’s locker room was last season. Several of Howard’s younger Hawks teammates took to Twitter to refute Lowe’s account, and Howard was voted Best Teammate by Hawks players in the NBA Players Association’s 2017 Players Voice Awards.
— NBPA (@TheNBPA) August 18, 2017
With so many contradictory accounts, it’s understandable why Howard sees a fresh start with the Hornets as an opportunity to counter the narratives that have followed him from stop to stop.
“Throughout all the mess that has happened the last couple of years, this is a great opportunity for me to prove to myself that I know exactly who I am — to just shut people’s mouths,” Howard told Wojnarowski.
With that goal in mind, Howard’s quest for redemption got off to a rocky start in Detroit in Wednesday’s season-opening loss to the Pistons. Howard came close to the double-digit shot attempts he craves, hitting five of nine for 10 points and 15 rebounds. Only Kemba Walker (13) and Jeremy Lamb (10) shot the ball more for Charlotte. But Detroit’s Tobias Harris erupted for 27 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists to help the Pistons open the new Little Caesars Arena with a win.
“We’re going to get it right,” Howard said after the loss. “We’ve just got to stay together, stay focused and get Game 2.”
Awaiting the Hornets in that second game for tonight’s home opener are the same Atlanta Hawks that cut him loose after just one season. In addition to trading Howard, Atlanta allowed All-Star forward Paul Millsap to depart to the Denver Nuggets as a free agent. The Hawks appear to be rebuilding, but Atlanta didn’t look like a team aiming for lottery balls in Dallas Wednesday as the team won its season opener. Point guard Dennis Schroder led the team with 28 points and seven assists while rookie John Collins scored 14 with five rebounds off the bench — the highest-scoring debut by a Hawks rookie since Rumeal Robinson in 1990 — including several thunderous dunks.
In the preseason, Collins addressed the low external expectations for the young Hawks.
“It’s on us to do what we need to do to get these wins,” said Collins. “The chemistry’s great. I’m not really too worried about it.”
While chemistry could help the young Hawks exceed expectations, it will play a key role in Howard’s quest to prove that he was not the root of all the ailments of his past teams. Zeller had a breakout season for the Hornets before the Howard trade moved him to the bench. With Cho declaring that Howard addressed most of the team’s offseason goals, Charlotte should be much closer to a finished product than the retooling Hawks.
Howard is in the best possible position to succeed, with a coach that believes in him and the central offensive role he says he’s been denied in the past. Howard has stated his case, and now it’s up to him to prove it on the court.