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NBA AM: Coaching Carousel Begins To Spin

A number of NBA teams are pushing their head coach out the door. Who is in line to replace them? … Kobe Bryant caps an impressive career with an impressive performance… The Warriors set a new record but are again overshadowed.

Steve Kyler

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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.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @eric_saar and @CodyTaylorNBA .

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NBA Daily: Surging HEAT Must Overcome Adversity

The Miami HEAT have been hit with a number of injuries at shooting guard. Can they stay hot?

Buddy Grizzard

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The Miami HEAT have surged to fourth in the Eastern Conference on the back of a 14-5 stretch since Dec. 9, including a seven-game win streak that ended with Monday’s 119-111 loss to the Bulls in Chicago. In the loss, shooting guard Tyler Johnson got his legs tangled with Robin Lopez and appeared to suffer a serious injury.

“I was scared,” said HEAT small forward Josh Richardson, who joined his teammates in racing down the court to check on Johnson. “You never want to see a guy, whether it’s on your team or the other team, down like that. I talked to him when he was in here [the locker room] and he said he didn’t know what was up.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra told pool reporters after the game that X-rays were negative. It was initially feared to be a knee injury, but Spoelstra said the knee is okay and the ankle is the area of concern. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel tweeted that an MRI was not deemed necessary and Johnson will be listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the HEAT is facing a serious shortage at shooting guard, having lost Dion Waiters to season-ending knee surgery, Rodney McGruder to a left tibia stress fracture that will likely keep him out until February, and now Johnson. Miami has applied for a $5.5 million disabled player exception after losing Waiters, according to the Sun-Sentinel. HEAT power forward James Johnson said the team will be looking for other players to step up.

“I think it’s the next guy’s gonna step up like we always do,” said Johnson. “As we have guys going down we also have guys getting back and getting back in their groove [like] Justise Winslow. Hopefully, it’s going to give another guy a chance to emerge on this team or in this league.”

Johnson added that the loss to Chicago came against a hot team and the HEAT didn’t have the right mental approach or defensive communication to slow them down.

“Our communication was lacking tonight,” said Johnson. “I think our brains rested tonight and that’s not like us. Tilt your hat to Chicago. They’re shooting the hell out the ball. They didn’t let us come back.”

Richardson echoed the theme of communication and the inability to counter a hot-shooting team.

“We weren’t communicating very well and we were not giving them enough static on the three-point line,” said Richardson. “They’ve been the number one three-point shooting team in the league for like 20 games now. They ran some good actions that we were not reacting right to.”

Spoelstra referred to a turnover-riddled close to the first half as “disgusting” basketball and agreed that the defense let his team down.

“I don’t know what our record is in HEAT franchise history when we give up 120-plus,” said Spoelstra. “I would guess that it’s probably not pretty good.”

The good news for Miami is that it can try a combination of Richardson and Winslow at the wings, while Wayne Ellington has been shooting the leather off the ball from three this season (40.5 percent on over seven attempts per game). The HEAT is the latest team to attempt to defy history by making a serious run without a superstar player. To make that a reality and remain in the upper half of the East’s playoff bracket, Miami will have to personify the “next man up” credo.

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NBA Daily: Is It Time To Cash Out On Kemba Walker?

Should the Hornets get serious about trading Kemba Walker or risk losing him in 2019 for next to nothing?

Steve Kyler

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Is It Time To Sell?

Every professional sports team at some point has to decide when its time to cash out, especially if they have a star player heading towards free agency. The Charlotte Hornets are a team teetering on this decision with star guard Kemba Walker.

Now, let’s be honest for a moment. The Hornets are getting nothing of meaningful value in a trade for Walker if they decided to put him on the trade market—that’s something that will drive part of the decision. Check out these UK sports books with free bets!

The other part of the decision is evaluating the marketplace. This is where Charlotte may have an advantage that’s easy to overlook, which is the ability to massively overpay.

Looking ahead to the cap situations for the NBA in the summer of 2019, there doesn’t appear to be a lot worth getting excited over. While it’s possible someone unexpected goes into cap clearing mode to get space, the teams that project to have space in 2019 also project to have space in 2018, meaning some of that 2019 money could get spent in July and change the landscape even more.

But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume most of the 2019 cap space teams swing and miss on anything meaningful this summer and have flexibility the following summer. Not only will Walker be a name to watch, but guys like Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Dallas’ Harrison Barnes, Detroit’s Tobias Harris, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland’s Kevin Love can all hit unrestricted free agency.

That’s a pretty respectable free agent class.

While most of those names will likely stay where they are, especially if their teams shower them with full max contracts as most would expect, there are a few names that might make the market interesting.

The wrinkle in all of it is the teams projected to have space. Based on what’s guaranteed today, the top of the 2019 cap space board starts with the LA Clippers.

The Clippers currently have just Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari under contract going into 2019. They will have qualifying offers on Milos Teodosic and Sam Dekker, but that’s about it. If the Clippers play their cards right, they could be looking at what could be close to $48 million in usable cap space, making them the biggest threat to poach a player because of the LA marketplace. It should be noted, though, that DeAndre Jordan’s situation will have an impact here.

The Chicago Bulls come in second on the 2019 cap space list with just $35.77 million in cap commitments. The problem for the Bulls is they are going to have to start paying their young guys, most notably Zach LaVine. That’s won’t stop the Bulls from getting to cap space, it’s simply a variable the Bulls have to address this summer that could get expensive.

The Philadelphia 76ers could come in third on the 2019 cap space list, although it seems the 76ers may go all in this summer on re-signing guard J.J. Redick and a swing at a big fish or two. If the 76ers miss, they still have an extension for Ben Simmons to consider, but that shouldn’t impact the ability to get to meaningful space.

For the Hornets, those three situations have to be a little scary, as all of themff something Charlotte can’t offer – big markets and rosters (save maybe the Clippers) with potentially higher upside.

The next group of cap space markets might get to real salary cap room, but its more likely they spend this summer like say the Houston Rockets or are equal to less desirable situations like Sacramento (similar), Dallas (has Dennis Smith Jr), Atlanta (similar) or Phoenix (likely drafts a point guard).

That brings us back to the Hornets decision making process.

If the Hornets put Walker on the market, historically, teams get pennies on the dollar for high-level players headed to free agency. If traded, its more likely than not that Walker hits free agency and goes shopping. That’s the scary part of trading for an expiring contract unless you get the player early enough for him to grow attached to the situation, most players explore options. That tends to drive down the potential return.

The Hornets can also start extension discussions with Walker and his camp this summer and it seems more likely than not the Hornets will pay Walker the full max allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, which could be a deal north of $150 million and he could ink that in July.

It’s possible that someone offers the Hornets the moon for Walker. That has happened in the past. The Celtics gave the Cavaliers a pretty solid return for Irving, a player the Cavaliers had to trade. So it’s not out of the question real offers come in, especially with the NBA trade deadline approaching, but what’s far more likely is the Hornets wait out this season and try to extend Walker this summer.

League sources at the G-League Showcase last week, doubted that any traction could be had on Walker while admitting he’s a name to watch, despite however unlikely a trade seemed today.

The challenge for the Hornets isn’t as simple as cashing out of Walker, not just because the return will be low, but also because where would the franchise go from here?

It’s easy to say re-build through the draft, but glance around the NBA today – how many of those rebuild through the draft situations are yielding competitive teams? How many of them have been rebuilding for five years or more?

Rebuilding through the draft is a painfully slow and frustrating process that usually costs you a coach or two and typically a new front office. Rebuilding through the draft is time consuming and usually very expensive.

It’s easier to rebuild around a star already in place and the fact that Walker himself laughs off the notion of him being anywhere but Charlotte is at least a good sign and the Hornets have some time before they have to really make a decision.

At some point, Charlotte has to decide when to cash out. For the Hornets, the time to make that decision on Walker might be the February 8 trade deadline. It might also be July 1, when they’ll know whether Walker would sign a max contract extension.

If he won’t commit then, the Hornets have their answer and can use the summer to try an extract a package similar to what the Cavaliers got for Irving.

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Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal

Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.

Spencer Davies

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.

Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.

So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.

You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.

He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.

But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.

Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.

Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.

These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.

Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.

The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.

Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.

The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.

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