The Los Angeles Lakers officially introduced Byron Scott as their head coach on Tuesday morning, nearly three months after the position became vacant with the resignation of Mike D’Antoni. Scott, a former head coach with the then New Jersey Nets and New Orleans Hornets along with the Cleveland Cavaliers most recently, was welcomed by former Lakers legends who he won multiple championships with in the 1980s. He’s already been embraced more than any Lakers head coach not named Phil Jackson or Pat Riley and despite the fact that it took a few months to officially hire him, he was actually the organization’s top choice all along.
“I just want to thank [Byron] for his patience,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “Over the last six or seven weeks, it was always clear to us that Byron was our first choice, and we did multiple interviews and stayed in touch. But in this business, when time plays out and things linger, I know there’s some uncertainty and tension and testing of patience. Here we are, introducing Byron Scott as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, so thank you for sticking with us and being patient over the last six or seven weeks.”
The Lakers’ hesitancy undoubtedly stemmed from their past failures in hiring a head coach, not because Scott lacked the qualifications or didn’t jump out as the most natural fit from day one.
Lakers President of Basketball Operations Jim Buss has been one of the lead shot callers for the better part of the last decade. Throughout that time, the organization has gone from the lottery to winning back-to-back championships. Although he rarely seeks out praise or recognition for the moves he’s had a major say in – like the drafting of Andrew Bynum and trade for Pau Gasol to name a couple – he’s caught the bulk of the criticism for failed head coaching hires. Rudy Tomjanovic, Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni all flamed out in dramatic fashion after receiving his endorsement.
Buss really came under fire for choosing D’Antoni instead of Jackson after firing Brown early in the season. However, in an excerpt from his latest book, even Jackson said he understood the reasoning behind the move. After working with him for the last five years, nobody was more familiar with the health issues Jackson was having than Buss. With a young superstar center in Dwight Howard in place to potentially bridge the gap from the end of the Kobe Bryant era to the next Lakers championship team, Buss and company wanted a long-term solution in place at head coach. Jackson was looking at the job as more of a one-year gig, which would have been really tough for him to implement his system during – especially on the fly mid-season.
D’Antoni didn’t work out at all and Howard ended up leaving that next offseason, but at worst Buss went with the second-best candidate overall, and the edge he had over Jackson was that he looked like he could be the better fit long-term.
The Lakers wanted stability, not a short-term fix.
With Scott, they may finally have it.
“The one thing I will say is that this has been a dream of mine for so long,” Scott said. “It’s a dream come true to be here sitting and talking to you guys today and be introduced as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. As I told Mitch and Jim in our meetings, the passion and the love that I have for this organization is second to none. The only thing I regret is that Dr. Buss isn’t here today. He’s somebody who showed a lot of love and confidence in me back in the day, and a guy that you could call any time, a guy that could call you any time and you could talk to him about anything. Like, basketball, money, anything. I just wish he was here today. But as I told Jim and Jeanie, I’m going to do everything in my power to make those guys proud, the Buss family proud, and do everything I can to bring this team back to where we know it should be. This organization is all about championships. Period. We don’t look at Western Conference finals, Western Conference championships. We look at championships. We know we have some work ahead of us, I’m excited. Just thrilled to death. I’m eager, and just ready to get to work. I know it’s going to be a challenge, but I look forward do it. I love challenges anyway, so this is going to be fun.”
It’s going to be challenging indeed because unlike Brown or D’Antoni, Scott is taking over a team that is stuck in the middle of the pack. On paper it looks like this team, at best, could compete for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. But, as far as competing for a championship as he stated above, that’s going to either take one of the best coaching jobs we’ve ever seen, or some further tweaks to the roster. The Lakers do have a stock of expiring contracts, a 2015 first round pick heading their way from the Houston Rockets and some intriguing young talent in rookies Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. So, there is some potential for some shake ups in the future as the Lakers are still aggressive in their pursuit for another star after losing Howard last offseason and coming up just shy of signing Carmelo Anthony this summer. For now, though, Scott is going to have to work with what he has.
“I told Mitch and Jim at our last meeting was that I thought they put a roster together that will be very competitive,” Scott said. “The main thing I have to do right away is establish ourselves as a defensive basketball team. These three gentlemen that’s sitting in this front row, the first that Magic taught me when I got in this league is that we win championships by defending every single night. That’s the one thing we can control. Offense is going to come and go. You’re going to miss shots, you’re going to make shots. But the one thing you control every single night is your effort on the defensive end. So we have to obviously get that back in the plans. Guys have to understand that that’s what it’s going to take and they have to be held accountable for that. But I like the roster that Mitch has put together. It’s a little bit of some youth and some experienced guys and I’m looking forward to working with them.
“They don’t [defend], I’ll take them out the game. It’s pretty simple, Jim. I mean, again, you get beat on the defensive end, and I’ve done this my whole career, guys, they understand that you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do out there, there’s consequences. And the only thing that you can really control with players is their minutes. That gets their attention. So if you’re not out there and you’re not playing defense the way I think you’re capable of playing or the way we should play defense, then I’m going to have to find other guys that will.”
Throughout his coaching career so far Scott has had the luxury of having All-Star point guards run his offense. In New Jersey he had Jason Kidd, in New Orleans Chris Paul and in Cleveland Kyrie Irving. Steve Nash is certainly deserving of being mentioned with the likes of those players when you’re talking about the best point guards since the break of the new millennium, but his contributions are probably going to be greater off the court as a mentor and unofficial assistant coach than on the court given his age and injury issues. As of today, Jeremy Lin is at the top of the depth chart at the point guard position, and while he may not stack up well to the point guards Scott has had in the past, he sees great potential for him in his offense.
“The thing I like about Jeremy, is that he’s feisty,” Scott said. “He’s tough. He competes. I’ve played against him, as far as coached against him, in a number of games, so I know how he is. He’s a competitor. The point guard position in this league today, on the defensive end, is vital. You’ve got to have guys that are — they don’t have to be great — they don’t have to be great one-on-one defenders, but they have to go after you. They have to just continue to be persistent at that end of the floor. I think Jeremy is like that, and offensively, obviously he can shoot the ball. He can push the ball up and down the floor. He gets to the basket. He’s a very, very intelligent basketball player, so again, after coaching against him for a few years, it’s going to be fun to coach him.”
Scott will have one All-Star caliber player on his roster next year in Kobe Bryant, who he mentored when he first came into the league and has kept a close relationship with since. Bryant has a reputation for being difficult to coach and stuck in his ways, but if there’s anyone who can connect with him it’s Scott and he’s already making it clear that he’s open to collaborating with his former pupil who is now an all-time great.
“I just think Kobe is an unbelievable basketball player that just has an unbelievable mind for the game of basketball,” Scott said. “And I see us conversating a lot over things that we should do on the basketball court, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. Like I said, when I came in the league and had to play with this man over here on his side, listening to him talk about the game was amazing to me, the way he saw the game, so as a coach, there’s certain things that I’m going to see on the floor, and there’s certain things that he’s going to see, and at times, I’m going to go with some of the things he sees, and I’m going to go with some of the things I see. So I don’t think that’s going to be a problem whatsoever.”
The search for a long-term solution other than Jackson has yielded poor results, but the Lakers finally took their time, vetted the market and found the candidate most likely to last longer than a couple of seasons in Scott. They’re going to have to be patient with him and realistic with the expectations they’re setting given what he has to work with. While Scott understands how the Lakers truly define success, he has one main goal for next season right now:
“Play hard every single night, and we’ll come ready to defend,” Scott said.
That alone would be a good step in the right direction given what the team went through last year.
Grizzlies Hire Ed Stefanski: Memphis Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace announced today that the team has named Ed Stefanski as executive vice president of player personnel.
“We are pleased to welcome Ed Stefanski to the Grizzlies and the city of Memphis,” Wallace said. “Ed is an established NBA executive and excellent talent evaluator who has had success with multiple organizations. Together, with our ownership, front office and coaching staff, we will continue to work to realize our collective vision of hosting a championship parade down Beale Street.”
Stefanski comes to Memphis following upper management positions with the New Jersey Nets (1999-2007), Philadelphia 76ers (2007-11) and, most recently, Toronto Raptors (2011-13), where he served as executive vice president of basketball operations.
Prior to that, Stefanski spent four seasons as president and general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, where he guided the team back to the playoffs three times after it had not qualified for the postseason in the two seasons before his hiring. Stefanski helped rebuild the 76ers by re-signing key players such as Andre Iguodala and using mid-first round draft picks on young talent such as Marreese Speights (16th overall in 2008), Jrue Holiday (17th in 2009) and Nikola Vucevic (16th in 2011).
Before joining Philadelphia, Stefanski spent nine seasons with the Nets where he oversaw the team’s basketball operations and was heavily involved in player personnel matters. He was promoted to general manager in 2004 after serving one season as senior vice president of basketball operations and four seasons as director of scouting.
Stefanski was instrumental in helping build the Nets’ back-to-back Eastern Conference championship teams (2002 and 2003). He had a significant part in drafting Kenyon Martin with the first overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft, as well as a draft night deal in which the Nets acquired Richard Jefferson, Jason Collins and Brandon Armstrong from Houston. Martin, Jefferson and Collins would develop into starters for the Nets’ 2002-03 Eastern Conference championship squad.
In 2004, Stefanski played a major role in the trade that moved All-Star and current Grizzlies wing Vince Carter from Toronto to New Jersey in 2004. Carter and Jefferson rank second and third, respectively, in Nets franchise history in points scored.
A 1976 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton School of Business), Stefanski played three seasons for Penn, where he was coached by Hall-of-Famer Chuck Daly. He was a member of two Ivy League Champions (1974 and 1975) and helped the Quakers reach the NCAA Tournament in both of those seasons. Stefanski was drafted by Philadelphia in the 10th round of the 1976 NBA Draft.
While in college, Stefanski founded and secured funding for the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s Inner City Basketball League, which provided a structured basketball environment for hundreds of boys and girls living under the Housing Authority. The Housing Authority later celebrated his efforts with a special recognition award, commending his contributions to the youth of Philadelphia.
Stefanksi also enjoyed a 20-year run as a color analyst for Big Five basketball and ESPN’s Atlantic 10 basketball coverage.
Mavericks sign Ivan Johnson: The Dallas Mavericks announced today that they have signed free agent forward Ivan Johnson. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Johnson (6-8, 255) started all five games for the Mavericks at the Las Vegas Summer League and averaged 7.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.0 steal and 20.8 minutes per game.
Johnson spent the 2013-14 season playing for the Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls in China, where he averaged 26.0 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 2.9 steals and 32.8 minutes per game in 24 games.
The 6-8 forward began his professional career in the NBA Development League in 2007-08 with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and Anaheim Aresenal.
Johnson was signed by the Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 9, 2011 after impressing the club in a 2011 mini-camp and earning an invite to training camp. He appeared in 56 games for Atlanta in 2011-12 and averaged 6.4 points and 4.0 rebounds in 16.7 minutes per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field and 72.0 percent from the foul line. Johnson was named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for April. He ranked third among rookies in field goal percentage.
Johnson re-signed with Atlanta on Sept. 18, 2012. He averaged 6.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 15.0 minutes per game in 69 games (five starts) for the Hawks in 2012-13. Johnson holds career averages of 6.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 15.8 minutes per game in 125 NBA games (five starts).
Johnson finished up his collegiate career at Cal State San Bernardino in 2006-07, where he averaged 15.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the field. He earned All-California Collegiate Athletic Association First Team honors as a senior, and was named Second Team All-West Region by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
Sources: Gregg Popovich, Kawhi Leonard Held Meeting on Tuesday
San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard met with coach Gregg Popovich on Tuesday in San Diego, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
The meeting between the two faces of the Spurs’ franchise was done professionally and confidentially, league sources said.
Source: Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports
NBA Daily: Lots Of NBA Draft Chatter
With the 2018 NBA Draft less than 50 hours away, Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler digs into the last from around the NBA.
Lots Of NBA Draft Chatter
With the 2018 NBA Draft on Thursday, things in NBA circles are getting interesting, specifically on the trade front.
The final 2018 Consensus Mock Draft will drop tomorrow, just after the media availabilities in New York, from there we’ll be tracking the minute to minute news, trades and rumors in the 2018 NBA Draft Diary.
So, with that in mind, let’s dig into what we know some 50 hours until the draft gets underway.
Kawhi Watch In Full Swing
With the news last week that San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard may no longer want to be a Spur breaking, there is still a sense in NBA circles that the Spurs are not going to listen to trade offers until the hear from Kawhi directly.
If you know anything about the Spurs organization, you know that we won’t hear the details of this situation in a minute by minute way like we do from some organizations, especially considering the Spurs have never had to deal with a scenario quite like this.
The interesting part of this story is how split the “sourcing” is on what’s real. There have been reports from several different reporters suggesting that the situation isn’t as dire as initially reported and that the Spurs and Leonard have had dialogue, but not the face-to-face meeting the Spurs covet.
It’s unclear why there hasn’t been a meeting, and that is what has some in NBA circles believing the Spurs will open up the phones on Wednesday and see what they can extract for Leonard if only to do their due diligence.
One league source commented that it might be tough for the Spurs to get value out of Leonard mainly because of his injury situation and the idea that he’d only re-sign with the Lakers. The same source doubted that Leonard’s camp would fence themselves inmto just the Lakers because that would make getting him traded extremely difficult, especially if the Lakers wouldn’t offer value to San Antonio.
The sense today is the Spurs are standing their ground. The thing to know is that this situation still seems very fluid, and that face-to-face conversation (or lack of one) could swing this thing in either direction. It is clear several teams would have interest if the Spurs decide to listen to offers, even if it just a rental for the upcoming season.
Trades At The Top Still Viable
It a typical NBA draft there is chatter about top tier picks being traded, but usually, it dies off the week for the draft as teams look in on who they ultimately want to draft.
This year, and unlike previous years there is a sense that several of the picks at the top of the board could be had, especially if it returns draft picks later in the draft and solid veterans.
The Sacramento Kings seem to be leaning towards keeping their pick at number two, and it’s looking more and more likely that Marvin Bagley III is their guy. The Kings took a very long look at Michael Porter Jr, and as of this weekend there was a sense they were OK with where Porter Jr is at medically, but he may lose out to the less risky Bagley. League sources continue to doubt the Kings grab Euro sensation Luke Dončić, so we’ll see if that holds true as we get to draft day.
The Atlanta Hawks have had the third overall pick on the market from almost the moment they landed it. The Hawks seem ready to use the pick but are said to still be exploring their options. The prevailing thought this week is it’s down to Bagley, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young for the Hawks, with more and more league sources believing the Hawks will draft Young at three. While the notion of grabbing Young at three may seem high, the Hawks have had eyes on Young from the start of the process, and not much seems to have changed. The Hawks have made it clear they would take on contract money in exchange for additional draft assets, so it seems likely the Hawks will be active, even if it’s not moving the third pick.
Things start to get interesting with Memphis at number four. There have been numerous reports that the Grizzlies have dangled the fourth pick in an attempt to shed the contract of Chandler Parsons. Sources close to the situation say the Grizzlies have had some offers, and most of them involve the Grizz picking up expiring contracts and additional draft assets lower in the draft. It’s unclear if the Grizzlies will pull the trigger, but they seem to have deals if they want one.
The prevailing thought in NBA circles is the Grizzlies are the first real landing spot for Dončić. There is also talk of Wendell Carter Jr., and Mo Bamba landing at four.
The Dallas Mavericks at five seem open to taking on contract dollars and could be the landing spot for the fourth pick and Chandler Parsons, but league sources say the Mavericks would not give up the fifth pick unless it returned an All-Star or would-be All-Star.
There are a few other situations to watch as several teams have expressed interest in moving up. The Clippers hold two pretty solid selections and 12 and 13 and seem willing to combine them to move into the top 5. The Denver Nuggets have also expressed some interest in moving to the top five.
The Lakers and Celtics have expressed similar interest at points in the process, but both seem reluctant at this point to part with future assets to pay the price to jump to the top of the draft.
Porter Still A Possibility
The Michael Porter Jr. situation is murky. After two visits from NBA teams, the word on Porter is mixed. NBA teams have seen his MRIs and his medical, and select teams were allowed to bring their doctors and trainers to his most recent “workout.”
The worst case from one team that’s not considering him is that he may require an additional surgery down the line. This same team said their doctors didn’t think anything going on with Porter would jeopardize his career, but they felt like he’d have to be on a program and has a ways to go before they’d deem him a 100 percent.
The upside case, from a team with Porter squarely on their board, is that there wasn’t anything going on they didn’t expect and that their staff felt fairly positive they could not only manage his situation, but they felt they could get him right fairly quickly.
Amusingly, the narrative around Porter is that he could be the next Kevin Durant-type scorer in the NBA (Porter clearly isn’t as long and lanky as Durant) – but he does possess the ability to get his offense against almost anyone.
As one executive whose team wasn’t considering Porter joked, you could get Durant or you could get Greg Oden, hinting at the injury-riddled career of the former top pick back in 2007.
Where Does Luka Go?
There isn’t a more polarizing NBA Draft prospect than Real Madrid’s Luke Dončić. You would be hard-pressed to find an NBA executive who didn’t think Dončić could be special in the NBA. But you might also be hard-pressed to find one willing to bet their job on it.
Throughout this process, more than a couple of executives have expressed they are hopeful Dončić goes high, mainly because it would give them cover in future drafts to do the same thing, which is draft what appears to be the most NBA ready player in the class, despite his flaws.
The problem is if Dončić isn’t special or struggles like some have concerns he might, not only would a team leave a potential franchise cornerstone on the board to in passing on uber-talented collegiate prospects, it might cost the lead executive their jobs.
While that seems somewhat short-sighted, think about the executives drafting in the top six. How many are not under pressure to turn their franchises around? And would a huge draft miss seal their fate?
Atlanta’s Travis Schlenk at three seems pretty secure. Dallas’ Donnie Nelson at five seems pretty secure. Orlando’s Jeff Weltman and John Hammond at six seem fairly secure, but it gets dicey elsewhere in the top 10.
As we’ve seen in previous drafts, NBA executives can and often do outthink themselves, which why every draft has quality impact guys falling later in the process.
There is little doubt Dončić is going in the top 10; it would be pretty surprising if he got past Dallas at five.
Sexton Over Young?
The Orlando Magic seems to be dialing in on what’s there for them at six, assuming they don’t trade up, which they have explored with both Atlanta and Memphis. The prevailing thought among fans is that if Trae Young is there at six, the Magic will pounce.
Early on in the process, though, the Magic seemed to be seriously interested in Collin Sexton, and word is that be might the Magic’s guy at six. The Magic ultimately will catch what falls to them, and if Dončić, Bagley or Jackson are there, things get interesting. However, if the draft goes as scripted, Orlando seems more likely to go, Sexton, Bamba, Carter or Knox than Young – at least at this point.
The draft is a fluid domino effect process, so at six the Magic have to cover a lot of bases, and it seems they have with their individual workouts.
The Magic desperately covet an impact player, so don’t be surprised if the Magic pull the trigger on a move-up deal, especially as we get closer and closer to the moment of truth.
Bamba Could Slide
You won’t find many NBA executives who don’t find Texas big man Mo Bamba intriguing. The problem for Bamba if there are some many super talented bigs in the 2018 NBA draft he is caught in a numbers game.
League sources said recently that Bamba is in the mix at two to the Kings, four to Grizzlies, five to Mavericks, six to the Magic and seven to the Bulls. The problem is he doesn’t seem to be the first or second option to any of those teams at this point.
According to league sources there continues to be questions about how his offensive game fits into the modern NBA, and with more versatile guys sitting at the top of the draft, Bamba is looking more like the consolation prize later in the draft. You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t think Bamba will be a monster defensively in the NBA, but the question remains which team is drafting defense at the top of the board?
If there is a player outside of the top five that could tumble a little, it might be Bamba, especially if the Mavericks pass at five.
Over the next few days, we’ll be posting all of the draft-related news, notes, rumors and trades in the 2018 NBA Draft Day Diary, so if you want a one-stop shop for all things NBA Draft, bookmark it.
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NBA Daily: Kaiser Gates Determined To Silence His Doubters
He may not be listed on some draft boards or seen as an impact player by certain individuals, but Kaiser Gates knows what he’s made of.
If you’re looking to further your career at the next level but coming out of college as a prospect on the fringe, you’d better be willing to work twice as hard to draw attention from the basketball world.
Attending the Preparation Pro Day in Miami with team representatives and scouts watching, Kaiser Gates wanted to show everybody who was there that the chip on his shoulder would drive him to silence his doubters.
“I feel like I have a lot to prove,” Gates said in Miami. “I feel like a lot of the guys in the draft this year, I’m just as good if not better than (them), so I gotta show that.”
After three years at Xavier University, the 22-year-old decided it was time to move on from the program and passed on his senior year to enter the NBA Draft. The news came as a surprise to many, considering he might’ve gotten the opportunity to earn an even more expanded role next season with the departure of Musketeer favorites Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura.
The numbers across the board weren’t exactly eye-catching. Primarily a wing, Gates knocked down 37.8 percent of his threes as a junior. He averaged 7.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in almost 24 minutes per game.
Looking at conference play in the Big East, those figures took a dip. Gates shot less than 30 percent from deep and really struggled to contribute offensively for Xavier against tougher opponents.
There was an incredible discrepancy in shot selection over his three-year collegiate career. Astoundingly enough, 300 of his 409 career attempts came outside of the arc. The other 109 tries were twos, which he converted at a 54.1 percent rate.
It’s hard to ignore statistical evidence when it comes to evaluating players, but misuse and fit could have been more prominent factors in this case. It’s something that happens quite a bit at school programs with prospects, and Gates believes that he could be added to that list of mishandled talent.
“I don’t think I’m inconsistent at all,” Gates said. “At Xavier, I know my stats showed that I was inconsistent. Playing at that school it was a great experience—great guys, great coaches.
“Just kinda like my situation and the way I was playing at that school didn’t really allow me to showcase my full talents, and with that being said, it’s kinda hard to stay consistent not doing something I’m used to doing.”
Furthering the point, it’s not easy to be judged off that information, which some use as the only indication of what you’ll bring to the pros. Gates plans on using that as motivation whenever he meets with different teams.
“I would come in and people would just assume like, ‘Oh he could shoot a little bit, play defense, a little athletic.’ But I know on the flip side, I know what I can really do and like, my full potential.
“So when I know that and see what teams already think, already have in their head, just now it’s up to me to prove to them what I can do and show them what I can do.”
So what does that exactly entail?
“My first few years or so, I’ll probably be more of a three-and-D guy—stretch the floor, play defense make hustle plays, rebound the ball, things like that,” Gates said. “But as I’mma grow, (I’ll) look to expand on my game. Maybe work out the pick-and-roll a little bit and expand from there.”
Thus far, the 6-foot-8, 228-pounder has reportedly worked out for multiple organizations, including the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls. He is enjoying the draft process and his growth as a player since it started.
He may not be listed on some draft boards or seen as an impact player by certain individuals, but Gates knows what he’s made of. And if he can attract the right set of eyes, he’ll be in good shape.
“You could get 30 workouts and that one team could fall in love with you,” Gates said.
“That’s what [my agent] Aaron Turner’s always talking to me about. He’s always said, ‘It only takes one team.’”