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NBA PM: Coaches on the Hot Seat

Which NBA head coaches are on the hot seat and who are the top available coaches? … Top 2015 prospects discuss age limit increase … Brett Brown praises Nerlens Noel

Alex Kennedy

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BasketballInsiders.com’s Alex Kennedy and CineSport’s Noah Coslov discuss which NBA head coaches are on the hot seat and who are the top available coaches.

Top 2015 Prospects Discuss Age Limit Increase

Jahlil Okafor, Myles Turner, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones are being projected as lottery picks in the 2015 NBA Draft. That is, assuming they’ll be allowed to leave school after their freshman seasons and declare.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said on numerous occasions that he wants to increase the league’s age limit, forcing players to stay in college for two years as opposed to one. How big of a priority is this for Silver? When given the opportunity to name one thing he’d like to change in the NBA at this year’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Silver named the age limit.

So what do the top prospects in the class of 2015 think about the potential rule change, which may go into effect in time to keep them in school for two years? The players aren’t crazy about the idea. Returning to school for an extra year increases the risk of suffering an injury before they turn pro and gives players one less year to get paid. It also takes the decision out of the hands of the player, who may feel he’s ready to compete in the NBA.

Winslow, who will attend Duke, made it clear that he wasn’t a fan of the age limit increase. While he didn’t want to get into it too much, he clearly wants the choice to stay in school to be his rather than having it forced on him and his peers.

“Well, I have my personal opinion about it, but if that’s the rule then I’ll just have to deal with it,” Winslow said. “I don’t want to get into all of that. If that’s the rule then that’s the rule. It’s always great to get more education, a free education to play basketball. If that’s the rule then that’s the rule, we’ll just have to abide by it. I’m not [sure if I’ll be] a one-and-done player; I don’t know what I’ll be. I’m just trying to get to campus and work. If Adam Silver, a Duke graduate, says that I have to stay at Duke for two years then I’m going to stay at Duke for two years and have fun.”

When asked about the benefits that could come from staying on campus for an extra year, Winslow tried to name a few, but ultimately circled back to the disadvantages and how the rule could negatively impact a top player who is ready to make the jump to the league.

“I really think you could get more confidence in your game and your ability to do everything on and off the court,” Winslow said. “Mentally, your IQ just improves and improves. I think there are some benefits. You see some guys who should’ve stayed, so I think this decision to make them stay would help a little bit more. I think if there was a two-year rule, it could help some guys.

“It could hurt some guys too, because you see some guys who come back and hurt themselves [or play poorly]. It’s just a tricky thing. I know [Silver] is just trying to do what’s best for the league. It’s just a tricky situation. But you have to follow the rules, so whatever the rules are I’m going to abide by them.”

Turner, who hasn’t committed to a school yet, agreed that players should be able to leave when they feel they’re ready. However, he was careful not to be too critical of the possible rule change.

“You just do what you have to do,” Turner said. “I have nothing negative to say about it. At this point, my opinion is if you’re ready to go, you need to go. You shouldn’t have to wait. I know [Silver] has everyone’s best interests in mind and I know there’s a business side to everything, so I don’t really have anything too bad to say about it. … I don’t think I’m ready [for the NBA] right now. I definitely have a lot more work to do. I’m glad I’ll be able to go to college and be able to develop.”

Jones, who will also be attending Duke next year, wasn’t critical of the possibility of an increased age limit. He feels like it’s something that is out of his control, so there’s no sense in worrying about it.

“I think you just have to deal with it and handle your business,” Jones said. “It’s not my job or any player’s job to change the rule or complain about that. If they do end up changing the rule to two years, you just have to go into college ready to work for two years. Then, if you’re ready to leave after two years, you leave. If you’re not, you stay. It’s nothing really, nothing I like or don’t like; it’s kind of just it is what it is. You just do what you’ve got to do and take it in stride.”

In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, fellow Duke commit Jahlil Okafor, who is being projected as the top overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, spoke out against the age limit increase. He has been the most outspoken prospect when it comes to this issue.

“I think it’s just withholding a kid’s dreams if they wanted to make that leap to the NBA to help their family or whatever the reason may be,” Okafor told SI.com. “I’ll definitely have the option of going to the NBA after my first year. [The increased age minimum] is something that could potentially affect me also.”

Jahlil’s father, Chuck, has made it clear that he’s even against the one-year age limit, because it kept his son from being able to jump from high school to the NBA despite the fact that most talent evaluators believe he’s ready to compete in the league now.

“That’s one option that was not available [to Jahlil] and that’s the tough part about it because you can’t even consider it at this point,” Okafor’s father said.

It’s clear that Silver wants to increase the age limit, but this is something that would have to be discussed with the National Basketball Players Association, which is currently in the process of finding a new executive director. The two sides discussed the issue during the last lockout, but decided to table it along with other less important issues in order to end the strike and start the season.

Brett Brown Praises Nerlens Noel

Nerlens Noel is clearly a big part of the Philadelphia 76ers’ future. After all, the team gave up All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday in order to acquire him and a protected 2014 first-round pick during last year’s draft, so there’s no doubt that the 76ers see him as a potential building block going forward.

Noel, who is just 19 years old, was projected to be the top pick in the 2013 NBA Draft before a torn ACL ended his lone collegiate season. Philadelphia acquired him after he was selected sixth overall and he has missed every game this season as he recovers from the injury and as the 76ers focus on accumulating ping pong balls rather than victories.

Lately, Noel has been making progress and looking great in practice, reminding everyone that he was the nation’s top recruit out of high school and dominant when he was on the court for Kentucky during his freshman season.

Sixers head coach Brett Brown has been very impressed by the teenage big man. While he won’t say whether Noel will play this year, he did offer some praise for the rookie.

“I’m sorry to say the same, old answer and he’s just moving forward and I can’t even really give you a rate,” Brown told Philly.com. “You see what I see. Whether he is going to play or not is still up in the air. But I think just to watch him, how can you not get excited about what we’re all seeing?

“The first thing that I’ve fallen in love with is that he is beyond competitive. There is a dog in him, there is a toughness in him that I misjudged, because you look at him and he’s got those big eyes at 19 years old and there’s a naiveté that no doubt exists within him, as it should. So you’re talking to him and he doesn’t talk a lot, he listens a lot, he’s a fantastic listener. As you go through all those months shooting one-handed with him and then all of the sudden you see him come out here, he’s a tremendous competitor. For me, it’s the No. 1 quality that makes somebody special. Then you get into the athleticism where he’s got that bounce and he can jump twice. People that can miss a blocked shot, hit the floor and go back up are special. And he can do it both with his right hand and his left hand. I think the growth of his actual foul shot will carry over to his real shot, [which] has been excellent this year.

“I’m proud of the time that we’ve spent with him. I see a far more mature type of player having gone through all the film sessions and the weight room sessions and on a team bus. He’s been with the team, he just hasn’t played. This year has been invaluable to him.”

In 24 games at Kentucky, Noel averaged 10.5 points on 59 percent shooting as well as 9.5 rebounds and 4.4 blocks.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Clippers Looking Forward to Teodosic Return

Clippers hanging on and looking forward to Teodosic return, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The Los Angeles Clippers have had a season of twists and turns. While the season is still young, they’ve dealt with setbacks, mostly in the form of a multitude of injures. In fact, the team’s misfortunes began almost immediately. On Oct 21 (the NBA season started earlier this year), Clippers guard Milos Teodosic went down with a plantar fascia injury. This stands as the first bump in the road for the Clippers, who have seen a number of key players go down.

Following the loss of Chris Paul this past offseason, the Clippers appeared to have salvaged their immediate future through a number of offseason transactions. Under the direction of the front office, which includes Lawrence Frank, VP of Basketball Operations, and Jerry West, a Clippers consultant, the Clippers traded Paul, which helped to remake the roster. West spoke of his approval of the Paul trade before the season started.

“The Clippers feel comfortable that we made out really well. We could have lost him for nothing,” West stated of the Paul trade. “I think it was kind of a win myself.”

The Paul trade brought in Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker and helped to eventually bring in Danilo Gallinari. A big part of the offseason makeover was the acquisition of European star Teodosic. Losing Paul meant that the Clippers were going to be without a highly talented, pass-first point guard for the first time since Paul’s acquisition during the 2011-2012 season.

Part of the strategy called for replacing Paul with both Beverley, who could match Paul’s defensive tenacity, and Teodosic, who could match Paul’s vision and passing. While neither player could match Paul’s overall brilliance (and Paul has been brilliant this season for the Rockets), the team hoped to create a winning environment around these two players.

Unfortunately, Teodosic went down quickly. Then Beverley experienced issues with his knee, culminating with season-ending microfracture surgery on his knee in late November. Combine this with Gallinari missing nearly a month with injuries and Blake Griffin going down for the next few months with an MCL sprain of his left knee recently, and the Clippers have struggled to stay competitive with lineups that have often included only one of the team’s opening day starters (center DeAndre Jordan). The franchise shouldn’t be completely surprised by the rash of injuries, as their offseason plan banked on players with questionable injury histories such as Griffin and Gallinari.

To fill in, the Clippers have also made use of a number of young, inexperienced players (not at all common in the Doc Rivers era), including playing 2017 second round pick, guard Sindarius Thornwell. Thornwell has benefited from the opportunity as is averaging 16.2 minutes a game and has even started in seven games (of 24 played).  Thornwell confirmed the obvious regarding injuries.

“We’ve been playing without a lot of our core guys,” Thornwell stated.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers also made it clear that injuries have affected the team.

“It’s not just Blake [Griffin]. If it was just Blake, we’d be OK,” Rivers stated recently. “But you miss [Danillo] `Gallo,’ Milos [Teodosic], Patrick Beverley.”

Currently, the team is well below .500 with a 9-15 record, good enough for 11th in the Western Conference. And while the team is ahead of a number of teams destined for the NBA lottery such as the Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings, they aren’t too far removed from the eighth seed, currently held by the Utah Jazz, who are below .500 (13-14 record). It’s not reasonable for a team that has already suffered a nine-game losing streak and is only 4-6 in the last 10 games to expect another playoff berth, and the team has not yet signaled they have given up on the season.

The Clippers have stayed afloat by being extremely reliant on the individual offensive output of guards Austin Rivers and Lou Williams. Give Williams credit, as he has been brilliant recently including a game winning shot against the Washington Wizards on Saturday. Over the last 10 games, he is averaging 23.2 points on 62.7 true shooting percentage and 6.2 assists in 34.5 minutes per game, per nba.com. For reference, Williams has a career true shooting percentage average of 53.3 percent, per basketball-reference.com. However, this doesn’t scream long-term winning formula, nor should it — the team hasn’t recently had reliable offensive output outside of these guards who were originally expected to come off the bench for the Clippers.

Gallinari has since returned and played well in his second game back, an overtime win against the Wizards. Now the team has upgraded Teodosic’s condition to questionable and are hopeful that Teodosic makes his return Monday night against the Raptors.

“He’s ready. He’s close,” Rivers stated, speaking of Teodosic at a recent Clippers practice. “And that will help. In a big way.”

In addition to possibly helping their increasingly remote chances at making the playoffs, the Clippers have other goals. Teodosic is signed to a two-year deal, but the second-year is a player option allowing the European guard to leave after the season. Should Teodosic find that the Clippers are somehow not a good fit or a place where he can find success, he may opt out of the second year. If the team wants to ensure that the 30-year-old guard sees a bright future with the Clippers, they should hope that his return leads to the Clippers playing winning basketball.

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Q&A With Cavaliers Rookie Cedi Osman

Basketball Insiders caught up with Cavaliers rookie Turkish swingman Cedi Osman to discuss a number of topics. 

Spencer Davies

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Monday afternoon, Basketball Insiders caught up with rookie Turkish swingman Cedi Osman to discuss a number of topics. 

Basketball Insiders: Your first experience in the NBA, making the transition from international play and Euroleague—has it been what you’ve expected?

Cedi Osman: I mean of course it’s different rules and stuff and a different type of basketball. In international, it’s like more slow, but here it’s like always up and down, a lot of fast breaks.

Actually that’s the kind of basketball that I like. When I was playing overseas, I was also running a lot, up and down. I was that guy who was bringing the energy, so it was not hard for me to adjust to this basketball.

BI: With Euros in this league, it’s a growing amount. What does that tell you about the talent pool over there?

Osman: There’s a lot of talented players overseas—like really, a lot. Like you said, when you look around the NBA there’s a lot of European players. Starting with Dirk Nowitzki, he’s a big legend. He was the one who chose to do Europe [to show] what he can do. I can give you the example of two Turkish basketball players—Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur, he won one championship. I mean, there’s a lot of European players.

BI: Definitely. So how well do you know Hedo and Mehmet?

Osman: With Mehmet Okur, I was talking a couple times. I saw him one time in summer league this year. I talk to Hedo also because he’s president of Turkish Basketball Federation, so I was talking to him also.

BI: You’ve gotten some crucial minutes with the bench in the last couple of games. The same thing can be said when you played in New York and against the Hawks, too. What’s allowed you and that group to click together?

Osman: I always try to think positive. When I’m getting there on the court with the second unit, I’m trying to bring the energy because I’m the youngest one with Big Z [Ante Zizic] together.

Whenever I get on the court I’m trying to bring the energy on both sides of the court—on defense and offense—and I’m trying to run the floor the fastest that I can. Trying to guard players that are really good. And that also just improves my basketball [skills] a lot. I’m really happy that I am a part of this team and it’s also really important for me that I’m getting these crucial minutes.

BI: In a recent interview, you said that you don’t have a reason to be scared. You’re “cold-blooded.” Why do you feel that way?

Osman: I was playing overseas professionally since I was 16 years old…actually, I started getting paid when I was 12. [I’ve been] playing professionally for a long time. I played with a lot of good players. I’ve played also [with] former NBA players like Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic who was on the same team.

I know, yeah this is the best league in the world, but I don’t have a reason why to be scared because I was working for this—to come here, to give my best and to be stable to stay for long, long years. That’s why I said I don’t have a reason to be scared, because I know that I can play here.

BI: When you’re on the floor, what do you expect out of yourself? You said you want to get up and down the floor and give it to both ends, but is there anything outside of that, maybe mentality wise?

Osman: Of course. Not just as a rookie, but every time I get on the court like I said, I want to be always that guy who brings the energy. Also like, when we’re going bad or when we have a bad game, I want to change the momentum of the game. That’s what I’m working for a lot. We have great players and I have a lot of things to learn from them.

That’s why I said I’m really happy to be a part of this team, because we’re one of the best teams in the world. I hope that we’re going to win a championship in my first year. That would be a big thing for me.

BI: What kind of things have the coaching staff tried to help you improve in practice?

Osman: There’s a couple defensive plays that’ll be different. There’s also defensive three seconds. That was a bit of adjusting for me because in Europe you can always stay in the paint no matter what. There’s no defensive three seconds. Here it’s different, so it was a little bit hard for me to adjust in the beginning, but now I don’t have any problems and coaches are really helping me a lot.

BI: This team isn’t fully healthy yet, obviously with Isaiah Thomas coming back, Tristan Thompson coming back and Iman Shumpert down the road. That might affect playing time for some. You’ve gone to the G-League and played with the Canton Charge once before. You had a lot of minutes in that one game and did a really good job there. Is that something that you’re prepared for? Would you mind playing there again if that’s the case for you?

Osman: I was the one who asked for Canton, to go there, because before Shump got injured I didn’t have a lot of playing time. I said that I want to play whenever we have an off day, whenever I can go to play there, to run a lot, to try to do my thing. See that I’m working here before practices. That’s why I asked to go there. I talked to [Cavaliers general manager] Koby [Altman] and he said he supported me about that and that would be good for me.

BI: You have your own hashtag—#TheFirstCedi—can you explain the inspiration behind that and what it means?

Osman: So I’m working with one agency in Turkey and they’re doing a really good job about myself, my profile, my brand (laughs). They’re doing a really good job. “The First Cedi” is because my first name is Cedi and a lot of people are calling me Jedi, so that’s from Star Wars. The First Cedi—because in Turkey, ‘C’ reads as a ‘J’ so Jedi. First Jedi, that’s why.

BI: That’s pretty funny. Are you a Star Wars fan?

Osman: Yeah. I watch. But because it’s like old movies and that kind of stuff, but now new movies are better.

BI: It’s a locker room full of veterans here in Cleveland. Do you feel comfortable with everyone?

Osman: Definitely. I feel really comfortable. We have—I don’t want to say veteran players—but they are so good and they are big, big professionals. I have a lot of fun with them—locker room, when we go on the road, team dinners and that kind of stuff. It’s pretty cool.

The thing is, like it’s my first appearance. Overseas I’m coming to America and I was thinking the adjustment would be a little bit hard for me, but it was actually the opposite. From the first day that I met those guys, they helped me a lot.

BI: Is there anyone that you’ve gotten especially close to? You mentioned Big Z earlier.

Osman: Me and Z are pretty close. We’re speaking the same language. We played in the same league in Turkey. But like, I’m close with everybody. With Channing [Frye], we are always talking about the games and that stuff.

BI: Playing with LeBron—can you put that into words?

Osman: Look, it’s…(pauses), it’s something crazy. Because I was playing a game—obviously 2K—before when I was younger, I was playing with him and that stuff. Of course, it was my dream to be an NBA player, to play in the NBA. But when you’re playing on the same team with [Derrick] Rose, LeBron James, [Dwyane] Wade, Kevin Love, [Isaiah Thomas], it’s crazy.

I didn’t imagine that I would play with those players. And then, I just realize when I’m playing with them, the only thing that I can do is just work a lot and learn from them.

BI: When you hear these guys talk about you in a good light and coach Lue gives you praise, how does that make you feel?

Osman: That’s something really incredible. I mean… from the first day, from the media day when LeBron was in a press conference, he talked about everybody. But he talked also about me and he knew about Euroleague and that kind of stuff, so I was really happy. I was really proud and I was really happy about it. From the first day, he was so close to me. Not just him, but everybody.

BI: What do you think people need to know about your personality? Is there anything that hasn’t been said?

Osman: Actually, nothing special (laughs). I’m the guy who always smiles and with a lot of energy, always being positive talking to everybody, making a lot of jokes, trying to be friendly with everyone and the most important—I’m trying to be a good character.

BI: Last one—based off of this conversation alone, you’ve picked up the English language so easily. Who’s helped you on that side of things?

Osman: I actually had a lot of American players overseas on my previous team—it was Jordan Farmar, Jamon Gordon, Derrick Brown, he also played here, there was Bryant Dunston, Jayson Granger. I played a lot with Dario Saric, too, Furkan Korkmaz. Those were guys that were always talking English.

Just talking to them all the time. When they talked, I would just listen to them. I wasn’t listening to what they talked [about], but just for what kind of words they were using and what kind of sentences, the way they were talking. That’s how I learned English.

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James Johnson: The Latest Product of Miami’s Culture

James Johnson speaks to Michael Scotto about his success within Miami’s culture.

Michael Scotto

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James Johnson went from an NBA nomad to financially set for life.

Over the summer, Johnson signed a four-year, $60 million deal with Miami, as first reported by Basketball Insiders. The deal included a fourth-year player option.

“It really meant everything to me,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “To be in a situation in my life to overcome so much, and to finally get something like that where it’s long-term, where it’s somewhere I really want to be too, it was just all-in-all the best scenario.”

Johnson was drafted No. 16 overall in 2009 and spent time with four different teams, including two stints in Toronto, before his career year in Miami last season. During that span, Johnson also spent time in the G-League for the Iowa Energy (2011) and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (2013).

Despite being nomadic through the first eight years of his career, Johnson never doubted his talent nor the hope that he’d find the right organizational fit.

“No, I never doubted myself,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “I never doubted the Lord neither. I’m a big firm believer of that. Every team I was on I always enjoyed my teammate’s success. I always was a real part of practice players and being a scout guy. My whole journey is just to figure out and experience all the other aspects of this game that we play. It says a lot where I can start helping other guys out like the rookies now and guys that are not getting any minutes right now, things like that. I’m a big testament to just staying ready, so you don’t have to get ready.”

After playing for the Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Sacramento Kings, and Memphis Grizzlies, what set Miami’s culture apart?

“Just their want-to, they’re no excuses, act like a champion on and off the court, and just that mental stability of always teaching you, not just drills, not just coaching just because they’re called coaches,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “They really inspire, they really help out, and it makes you want to be in that work environment.”

Johnson credits his relationship with President Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra for helping him fulfill his potential.

“It’s great, its nothing like I’ve ever experienced before,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a little new still, but the freedom to be able to go into their office and just talk about normal things, you know, is one of the big reasons why I never want to leave this place.”

While playing on a one-year, $4 million deal, Johnson averaged a career-high 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in 27.4 minutes per game. Johnson also shot a career-high 34 percent from beyond the arc.

Looking ahead, can Johnson continue to improve at age 30 and beyond coming off his best year as a pro?

“I got paid, so there’s no pressure of playing for the money,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s really playing for the wins, playing for your teammates, and playing with a pure heart, not going out there with any agendas, not going out there looking to live up to something that everybody else wants you to live up to. For me, it’s just gelling with our team and making sure our locker room is great like I was mentioning. Go out there and compete and trust each other.”

Johnson has put up nearly identical numbers through the first quarter of this season, averaging 11.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in 27.6 minutes per game. Johnson is also shooting a career-high 36 percent from beyond the arc.

“It’s my ninth year, and I’m just happy to be able to be part of the NBA for that long,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders.

Looking ahead, Johnson hopes to maximize years 10-12 in Miami during the rest of his contract and the remaining prime of his career.

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