On The Way Out
With 14 NBA teams calling it a season today, a large number are going to begin the process of reviewing their campaign and making some changes. Some of those changes will be to the roster – and those technically can happen today for those teams whose season is now over. For the most part, teams usually wait until closer to the NBA draft before consummating trades, but as for firing head coaches and executives that can happen immediately and, in some cases, it already has. Let’s take a look at who has been fired and who may be next to go.
Randy Wittman Out
The Washington Wizards made it official this morning, announcing that they would not be picking up the contract option on head coach Randy Wittman.
Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld issued a statement on the decision, pointing to high expectations that were not met.
“There were high internal and external expectations for this team coming into this season based on the momentum we had generated over the previous two years,” Grunfeld said. “Unfortunately, the inconsistency of the team’s performance and effort, particularly on our home court, did not allow us to meet those expectations and we decided a coaching change was needed.”
The Wizards, according to league sources, already have something of a short-list of guys they would like to talk with and former Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks said to be at the top of the wish list.
The Wizards have had eyes on Thunder star Kevin Durant for more than two years and made deals to ensure they had the cap space to have a chance if Durant decides to explore his options. Having Brooks at the helm would not hurt the Wizards’ cause at all.
The Wizards are expected to start the interview process quickly and would like to have a new coach in place before the NBA Draft combine in mid-May.
Wizards sources cautioned that there will not be an artificial deadline if it for some reason takes longer than expected to find the right coach.
While Brooks is considered by many to the be the top name, former Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, current Philadelpha 76ers assistant coach Mike D’Antoni and even Boston Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga have all come up in conversations with league sources.
Sam Mitchell Out
The Minnesota Timberwolves announced that the team would be looking for a new head of basketball operations. The organization has retained an executive search firm to identify potential candidates for that job and potentially their coaching job.
Current Wolves head coach Sam Mitchell was relieved of his duties last night, and the team announced that current general manager Milt Newton would continue to run the draft process for the team until a new leader is found.
Two names that have been linked fairly prominently to the Wolves are former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and former Houston Rockets coach and current ESPN broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy. Both are said to be looking for situations where they can sort of run the show and it seems that owner Glen Taylor is willing to entertain that scenario.
Van Gundy’s brother got a similar package in Detroit, where he serves as both team president and head coach, having hired several people underneath him to run the day to day.
Coincidentally, the search firm (Korn Ferry) that Taylor hired to find his next head of basketball operations also helped place Stan Van Gundy in Detroit.
The Timberwolves job is very appealing given the construct of their roster. The right head coach could see immediate success not only next season but in term of really competing at the top of the Western Conference if this young core develops as expected.
George Karl Out
The Sacramento Kings have officially relieved George Karl of his coaching duties and will begin the process of finding a new head coach immediately.
League sources say the Kings have had some initial conversations on this front and have something of a short list that they will be working from.
The Kings have eyes for both former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and former Thunder coach Scott Brooks. Both are considered long-shots to consider the Kings job seriously.
The next tier of names is pretty interesting, as it includes former Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, former Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale, former Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek and current Charlotte Hornets assistant coach Patrick Ewing.
The Kings are also expected to announce the hiring of a more traditional day-to-day general manager to help support Vlade Divac, who is the current vice president of basketball operations. The Kings have been looking at a number of candidates and may have settled in on former Bucks and Pacers executive David Morway for that job.
The Kings have had four head coaches since Vivek Ranadive took control of the team in 2013 (and five head coaches in the last four years).
As much as the Kings would like a shot at a top-flight coaching name, there continues to be a sense among league insiders that the instability of the franchise is not overly appealing to guys who may have better options in front of them.
Last summer the Kings tried aggressively to get Kentucky coach John Calipari to consider their job, offering with what some said was more than an $80 million offer.
If the Kings want to get serious on the coaching front, they have illustrated a willingness to swing with the check book.
Is Byron Scott Back?
With the Los Angeles Lakers’ 17-65 season mercifully over, the team is expected to consider changes across the board and that likely will include head coach Byron Scott.
It’s important to note that sources close to the Lakers say that the team leadership was actually pretty happy with the job Scott did this season given all the chaos.
Fans in L.A. have been calling for Scott’s head for months, but the narrative coming out of the Lakers is that Scott never had a chance to be successful given the state of the roster and his management of things (including the rookies) was part of the Lakers’ plan organizationally.
It’s hard to imagine the Lakers luring in a marquee free agent with Scott remaining at the helm.
Sources close to the situation say it’s likely a 50/50 call on Scott coming back next season and there has been enough noise about this leaked to the media to make sure if they do decide to keep Scott, it won’t be a huge shock.
The Lakers are another team that has been linked to Thibodeau and Brooks, although league sources say that the Lakers may also entertain former Golden State Warriors coach and current broadcaster Mark Jackson.
Some believe Jackson may be a better fit for the youth movement the Lakers are undergoing, and that Jackson may have more creditably with free agents.
Another name that’s been mentioned is former Laker player and current Warriors assistant Luke Walton. Sources say Walton will listen to offers and opportunities to be a head coach this summer, but as things stand he is just as likely to stay with the Warriors as leaving. There continues to be some concern that Steve Kerr’s health situation may limit his long-term future on the bench, leaving Walton as the heir apparent in Golden State should a change be necessary.
Sources say the Warriors are prepared to increase Walton’s deal to keep him on the bench.
The Lakers are expected to start their offseason program this week and could make a decision on Scott fairly soon.
Does Brett Brown Survive The Recent Changes?
To say the Philadelphia 76ers franchise was upended last week is putting it mildly. League sources are saying they do not expect much of the 76ers staff to be retained under Bryan Colangelo and that a lot of new faces are likely coming into the organization.
Colangelo has been on record saying he believes in current 76ers coach Brett Brown, but that everything is going to be looked at.
Brown inked a two-year contract extension in December just after Jerry Colangelo was brought on board with the team. Reports have already surfaced that Brown’s extension was basically done before the first Colangelo hire and that Colangelo wasn’t a fan of the idea, but signed off on it regardless.
Brown’s salary is said to be just north of $2 million per season, so eating his extended deal wouldn’t be crazy for a 76ers team that’s been running on the lean side financially for the last three seasons.
The 76ers are expected to make some changes fairly quickly and there is a belief that Brown will know his fate in pretty short order, especially if Philadelphia is going to pursue some of the top names in the market.
The End Of An Era
In case you missed it, and it’s unlikely that you did if you are reading this, Lakers star Kobe Bryant reminded everyone last night why he will be remembered as one of the greatest to have ever played the game. In his career finale, Bryant put on an unbelievable show dropping 60 points on the Utah Jazz, showing the entire arsenal of move: the turnaround, the step back, the up and under, etc. As career finales go, Kobe may have outdone even John Elway.
Last night marked Bryant’s 1,346th regular season game, which is 11th all-time in NBA history. Bryant is ending his career with 48,637 regular season minutes, which is sixth all-time in NBA history. For those of you who aren’t fans of math, that’s 810.6 hours worth of basketball greatness. Said differently: If you re-watched every minute of Kobe’s career, it would take you more than 33 days. And that doesn’t include his preseason or postseason minutes, his Olympic minutes or all of the hours of practice time he spent putting in work behind the scenes.
Kobe finishes his career having notched 33,643 points, which is third all-time behind Karl Malone’s 36,928 and top overall career scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387.
With his career now in the books, the Bryant resume reads five-time NBA champion, two-time Finals MVP, NBA regular season MVP, 18-time NBA All-Star, four-time All-Star MVP, 11-time NBA All-First team, two-time NBA scoring champion, dunk contest winner, two-time Olympic gold medal winner and Lakers all-time leading scorer.
Oh, and for those that care, $328.23 million in NBA career earnings, which is second all-time behind Kevin Garnett’s $335.87 million.
Bryant said last night that he would not play again, but revealed that he would be helping some of the young guys in his spare time. Kobe’s next adventure will be as a filmmaker and story teller.
Kobe fell in love with the movie making process with his documentary The Muse that was made for Showtime. He has had a film crew with him all season documenting his final year. Kobe has plans to branch out into movies and television and anyone who has seen his commercials knows he has the wit and charisma to be a pretty interesting actor if wanted to be.
In the end Kobe, who has not looked like Kobe in a very long-time, put the stamp on his career with a showing that could not have been scripted any better.
The end of era was everything fans of Bryant could have hoped for and a fitting exit for one the best players to have ever played the game.
Setting The Record
On a night when Kobe Bryant shut the door in dramatic fashion on his NBA career, the Golden State Warriors did the impossible. They set a new NBA regular season wins record, breaking the Chicago Bulls’ long standing 72-win mark.
The fact that the Warriors did it wasn’t all that surprising because they were on course for this milestone for more than a month. But what made the milestone all the more impressive was they won the final game in much the same way they have won so many of the games before it. No player logged more than 30 minutes and likely MVP Steph Curry was incredible, notching 46 points.
As a team, the Warriors shot 52.9 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from the three-point line. Their bench contributed 33 points.
Ironically, all season long the Warriors have pointed to the regular-season record as something that would validate the greatness of their team in ways that winning a championship couldn’t.
There was a real sense of disrespect within the Warriors’ locker room after they won the championship last year. The popular narrative was that had the Cleveland Cavaliers been healthy or had they had to face the San Antonio Spurs, things might have played differently. The quest to get to 73 wins was very real for the Warriors players, especially as the chance to get there got closer and closer.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, on the night they expected to put an end to the debate about their greatness, Kobe Bryant reminded the world of his – in many ways overshadowing how impressive the milestone is.
In the end, the Bulls’ 72-win record stood for 20 years. The odds that anyone can get to 73 wins again seem nearly impossible in the modern era.
The next goal for the Warriors is the 2016 NBA championship because failing to achieve that might overshadow the new 73-win record even more than Bryant did last night.
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Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success
The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.
The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.
The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.
Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.
He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.
“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”
It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.
Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.
“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”
The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.
This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.
“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”
Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.
While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.
“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”
Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.
For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.
“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”
These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.
This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.
“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”
Is LeBron Enough For Cavs To Get Through The East?
Cleveland’s offense has struggled through the first two games of the playoffs. Can the four-time MVP consistently bail them out? Spencer Davies writes.
After a less-than-encouraging series opener versus the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James responded emphatically and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a bounce back 100-97 victory to even things up at one game apiece.
Scoring the first 13 points of the game itself, The King was a one-man wrecking crew out of the gate and carried that momentum throughout all four quarters of Game 2. His 46 points were James’ second-highest scoring mark between the regular season and the playoffs. In addition, he shot above 70 percent from the field for the sixth time this year.
The four-time MVP pulled down 12 rebounds total, and but all but one of those boards were defensive—the most he’s had since Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago a month ago.
What James did was another classic instance where LeBron reminds us that through all the injuries, drama, and on-court issues, whatever team he’s on always has a chance to go all the way. But having said all of that—can the Cavaliers realistically depend on that kind of spectacular effort for the rest of the postseason? It’s a fair question.
Kevin Love is a solid secondary go-to guy, but he’s struggled to find his rhythm in the first two games. He’s done a solid job defensively between both, but he’s getting banged up and is dealing with knocked knees and a reported torn thumb ligament in the same hand he broke earlier in the season.
Love has admitted that he’d like more post touches instead of strictly hanging out on the perimeter, but it’s on him to demand the ball more and he knows it. But finding that flow can be challenging when James has it going and is in all-out attack mode.
Kyle Korver came to the rescue for Cleveland as the only shooter that consistently converted on open looks. Outside of those three, and maybe J.R. Smith, really, there hasn’t been a tangible threat that’s a part of the offense during this series.
We all pondered whether or not the “new guys” would be able to step up when their respective numbers were called. So far, that hasn’t been the case for the most part.
Jordan Clarkson looks rushed with tunnel vision. Rodney Hood has had good body language out there, but seems reluctant to shoot off dribble hand-offs and is second-guessing what he wants to do. The hustle and effort from Larry Nance Jr. is obvious, but he’s also a good bet to get into foul trouble. Plus, he’s had some struggles on an island against Pacer guards.
As for George Hill, the good news is the impact on the floor just based on his mere presence on both ends (game-high +16 on Wednesday), but he hasn’t really done any scoring and fouled out of Game 2.
Maybe these things change on the road, who knows. But those four, the rest of the rotation, absolutely have to step up in order for the Cavaliers to win this series and fend off this hungry Indiana group, which brings us to another point.
Let’s not forget, the offensive issues aren’t simply because of themselves. After all, the Cavs were a team that had little trouble scoring the basketball in the regular season, so give a ton of credit to the Pacers’ scheme and McMillan’s teachings to play hard-nosed.
Unlike many teams in the league, the strategy for them is to pressure the ball and avoid switches as much as possible on screens. The more they go over the pick and stick on their assignments, the better chance they have of forcing a bad shot or a turnover. That’s what happened in Game 1 and in the majority of the second half of Game 2.
Cleveland has also somewhat surprisingly brought the fight on defense as well. In the first two contests of the series, they’ve allowed under 100 points. Lue’s said multiple times that they’re willing to give up the interior buckets in order to secure the outside, and it’s worked. It doesn’t seem smart when there’s a yellow-colored layup line going on at times, but it certainly paid off by only allowing 34 percent of Indiana’s threes to go down.
Still, looking ahead to what the Cavaliers can do in the playoffs as a whole, it doesn’t bode well. They’re not only locked in a tug-of-war with Indiana, but if they get past them, they could have a Toronto Raptors group chomping at the bit for revenge.
If they’re having this much trouble in the first round, what should make us believe they can barrel through the Eastern Conference as they’ve done in the past?
It’s not quite as obvious or as bad as Cleveland’s 2007 version of James and the rest, but it feels eerily similar for as much as he’s put the team on his back so far. The organization better hope improvement comes fast from his supporting cast, or else it could be a longer summer than they’d hoped for.
2017-18 NBA Report Card: Third-Year Players
Among the third-year players a few budding superstars have emerged, along with some role players who are helping their teams in the 2017-18 NBA Playoffs.
The 2015 NBA Draft has provided the league with a limited quantity of talent so far. After Terry Rozier (at 16th), it’s unlikely that anyone remaining has All-Star potential. Despite the lack of depth, the highest draft slot traded was at number 15, when the Atlanta Hawks moved down to enable the Washington Wizards to select Kelly Oubre Jr.
But placing a definitive “boom” or “bust” label on these athletes might be premature as the rookie contract is standardized at four seasons with an option for a fifth. If their employers are given a fourth year to decide whether a draftee is worth keeping, it seems reasonable to earmark the NBA Juniors’ progress for now and see how they’ve fared after next season’s campaign before making their letter grades official.
The Top Dogs
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves: Given the dearth of premier choices and their glaring need up front, it’s hard to envision the T-Wolves drafting anyone but KAT if they had to do it again. Although his scoring average is down from last season (21.3 vs. 25.1 PPG), that trend could be explained by the addition of Jimmy Butler and the team’s deliberate pace (24th out of 30 teams).
To his credit, Towns had career highs in three-point percentage (42.1 percent) and free throws (85.8 percent), while finishing second overall in offensive rating (126.7). His continued improvement in these areas could explain why the Timberwolves ended their 14-year playoff drought.
Nikola Jokić, Denver Nuggets: Although he was a 2014 draft pick, Jokić’s NBA debut was delayed due to his last year of commitment to the Adriatic League. His productivity as a rookie was limited by both foul trouble and a logjam at the center position, but he still managed 10.0 PPG.
With Joffrey Lauvergne and Jusuf Nurkic off the depth chart, Jokić became the clear-cut starter this season and rewarded Denver’s confidence by averaging 18.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. And by chipping in 6.1 APG, he provides rare value as a center with triple-double potential.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks: Although he has never played a full season since joining the league, Porzingis has provided enough evidence that he can be a force when healthy. Before his junior campaign was derailed, the Latvian was enjoying career highs of 22.7 PPG and 39.5 percent shooting from behind the arc.
Unfortunately, the Knicks haven’t provided much support at point guard to help with Porzingis’ development. Trey Burke looked impressive down the stretch in Zinger’s absence, but that was in a score-first capacity. Meanwhile, both Frank Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay have underwhelmed. On the plus side, Porzingis’ outside ability paired nicely in the frontcourt with Enes Kanter, who prefers to bully his way underneath.
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns: Like Porzingis, Booker’s third year in the NBA was cut short by injuries, but that didn’t stop him from achieving career highs in points (24.9 per game), assists (4.7) and three-pointers (38.3 percent) on an otherwise moribund Suns team. Indeed, cracking the 40-point barrier three times in 54 contests was an achievement in and of itself.
While his short-term prospects would’ve been far better on a team like the Philadelphia Sixers (who might have taken him instead of Jahlil Okafor in a re-draft), Booker can still become a franchise cornerstone for the Suns if they are able to build around a young core that also includes T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson.
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers: Despite an inconsistent freshman season at Texas, Turner has become a stabilizing influence at center for the Pacers, whose blueprint consists of surrounding a go-to scorer with role players. While he hasn’t shown drastic improvement in any particular area, he has produced double-digit PPG averages all three years as a pro.
Although Turner’s shot-blocking ability fuels his reputation as a defensive maven, the reality is his 104.8 defensive rating (which is just OK) was skewed by his 110.9 d-rating in losses (it was 100.8 in wins). In order to merit consideration for the NBA’s all-defensive team, he will need to bridge the gap in this discrepancy and impact his team’s ability to win more games in the process.
D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets: Following their respective trades, Russell has fared better in the Big Apple than his 2015 lottery counterpart Emmanuel Mudiay, as the Los Angeles Lakers were forced to cut bait to draft Lonzo Ball. While Ball has shown promise as a rookie, the Lakers’ perception of Russell may have been premature, as the former Buckeye has stabilized a Nets backcourt that had been characterized more by athleticism than consistency.
Despite missing a significant stretch of mid-season games, Russell provided similar numbers for Brooklyn to that of his sophomore season; but without a pick until number 29 in the upcoming NBA Draft, the Nets will have to bank on improved production from DLo and his raw teammates to contend for the eight-seed in the East.
Terry Rozier, Boston Celtics: Injuries have paved the way for Rozier to showcase his talent, most recently with a 23-point, 8-assist effort in game two against the Milwaukee Bucks. But Rozier was already making headlines as a fill-in for Kyrie Irving whenever he was injured. Now that the starting point guard reins have been handed to the former mid-round pick, he has become one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2017-18 NBA season.
The biggest impediment to Rozier’s success might be the regression to limited playing time once Irving returns. While the Celtics could “sell high” and trade Rozier on the basis of his recent performances, they may opt to retain him as insurance while he is still cap-friendly.
Best of the Rest
Larry Nance Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers: Following the trade deadline, Nance has provided a spark for a Cavs frontcourt that has been bereft of viable options aside from Kevin Love.
Josh Richardson, Miami HEAT: A jack-of-all-trades at the small forward position, Richardson has evolved into a three-and-D player that has meshed well with the HEAT’s shut-down focus.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings: Thrust into the starting center role after the trade of DeMarcus Cousins, WCS has provided serviceable (albeit unspectacular) play as the next man up.
Delon Wright, Toronto Raptors: A key contributor for the East’s top seed, Wright was instrumental in the Raptors’ game one victory over the Washington Wizards with 18 points off the bench.
Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls: The former Razorback has flashed double-double potential, but playing time at his true position (power forward) has been limited by the emergence of rookie Lauri Markkanen.