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NBA PM: Who Will Be Pacers’ Next Coach?

The Indiana Pacers need a new head coach, so we examine six possibilities for the job.

Joel Brigham

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Who Will Be Indiana’s Next Coach?

This afternoon, Indiana Pacers team president Larry Bird announced that the team would not be renewing head coach Frank Vogel’s contract, and while that means great things for the coaching searches in Houston and New York, it also means that the Pacers are now back to square one in finding a new coach.

Vogel had been the fourth-longest tenured head coach in the NBA before his release, but Bird made it clear that he wants his team to play smaller and faster in hopes of keeping up with some of the league’s other elite teams that are having so much success doing the same. Vogel wasn’t that guy, but perhaps somebody else could be.

Bird wants a “new voice,” and there are a number of strong candidates who could provide that. Here’s a look at six of the most likely candidates for that newly-opened position:

Mark Jackson

The minute it became clear that Vogel wouldn’t be back in Indiana, the first place a lot of Pacers fans’ minds wandered was toward former Indiana point guard Mark Jackson, and it’s a step in logic that actually makes quite a bit of sense. For starters, Jackson has obvious ties to the organization and to Bird, as he ran the point in Indiana under Bird when he coached the team from 1997-2000, a three-season stretch that saw the Pacers make the NBA Finals once and the Eastern Conference Finals all three years. Despite Joe Lacob’s having said that Jackson clashed with Golden State ownership, Jackson easily could have a better working relationship with Bird and the Pacers, which is a great start considering how Vogel resisted Bird’s dream for small ball and more three-pointers.

Beyond that, though, Jackson really didn’t have too bad a stint as the head coach of the Warriors. He not only was instrumental in laying the groundwork for Stephen Curry’s already-legendary career, he also got the Warriors to the postseason in the final two of his three seasons there. He’d almost certainly improve the Indy offense, and for the better part of two years he’s been a name that comes up as one of the best free agent coaches available. There’s no reason the Pacers shouldn’t at least have a conversation with him about the new opening.

Nate McMillan

There was a time a little over a decade ago when McMillan, who worked as one of Vogel’s assistant coaches this past season, was seen as one of the brightest coaching prospects in the league – doing good work as a coach in Seattle early on and even winning a Northwest Division title with the Sonics in 2005. He never got out of the first round as the main man in Portland, however, and he hasn’t had any head coaching opportunities since.

Still, Marc Stein of ESPN is reporting that McMillan could get a look for the Pacers’ head coaching job, which makes at least some sense considering his familiarity with the team and the organization:

Unfortunately, McMillan doesn’t represent much of a change in style or tempo for the Pacers, as Sean Deveney of The Sporting News points out:

It’s logical to interview the most qualified assistant when a head coach is fired, but he doesn’t look like the most obvious guy to get the job mostly because he wouldn’t be that big a shift from Vogel.

Brian Shaw

Of course, Stein also is hearing that former Denver Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw could get a look for the job, too. McMillan actually took Shaw’s job as lead assistant in Indiana back in 2014, a time during which Shaw was viewed as the next talented assistant coach to make the leap into the head coaching ranks.

He did, of course, but his results were not great. What should be of particular concern to the Pacers and Larry Bird is the way Shaw came about those results, totally revamping a 57-win Nuggets team that won by playing small without a traditional center into an “inside-out” team that slowed things down considerably and paid favor to hard-nosed veterans over talented young athletes.

Even the hard-nosed vets had issues sometimes, though, proven by Shaw’s feud with Andre Miller. It also was kind of amazing how quickly Ty Lawson fell apart once Shaw took over, and it’s no mystery how often Kenneth Faried went underutilized.

With the right roster, Shaw still could be a good coach, but like McMillan, his favored style doesn’t seem as though it will mesh with Bird’s vision for small ball. The guy definitely deserves a second chance, it just doesn’t look as though this is the place where he should get it.

Jeff Hornacek

It was just about two years ago that Hornacek finished second in voting for Coach of the Year, which means he’s not all that far removed from a being a fairly respected NBA head coach, despite his relative lack of experience and firing in Phoenix earlier this season.

That firing, though, came following a huge talent/salary purge that didn’t leave him much to work with, so considering how well he used his good young talent when he had it, nobody should be all that surprised that his name keeps popping up for head coaching jobs, including Indiana’s:

In terms of style, Hornacek is a whole lot closer to what Bird is seeking than McMillan or Shaw, as his Suns team back in 2013-2014 scored 105.2 points per game (seventh in the NBA) and finished eighth that season in offensive rating. He’s a coach who wants to play fast, and that run-and-gun style should suit Bird’s dream of smaller lineups much more closely.

He is a very logical potential candidate, so add Indiana to the list of teams looking to get an audience with Hornacek.

Jim Boylen

Not to be confused with former Chicago Bulls assistant coach Jim Boylan, current Bulls assistant coach Jim Boylen is a member of the famed Greg Popovich coaching tree that continues to see so much success across the NBA. Boylen was bumped up to the head assistant in San Antonio once Mike Budenholzer bolted for Atlanta in 2014, but when famed European coach Ettore Messina became available the following summer, Boylen took a step backward. Now he’s the associate head coach of the Chicago Bulls and reportedly on the list of candidates for the Pacers job:

Boylen is a defensive guy, the yin to Fred Hoiberg’s offensive yang, but while the results of that relationship didn’t reach anything approaching widespread success this past season, Boylen’s got plenty of experience (and success) working with head coaches that push the tempo and play small. Teams can’t get enough of that Popovich essence, and Boylen always was a guy who looked primed to get a shot at a head coaching gig at some point. Perhaps this is his time.

Ettore Messina

Or perhaps it’s Messina’s time. It would be cruel irony for Boylen to have the guy who inadvertently forced his demotion in San Antonio steal away a head coaching position he may have gotten, but so far there have been no reports that Messina is even on Indiana’s radar.

He’s listed here, though, because he should be. Messina actually was interviewed for the Lakers job but lost out on it because Luke Walton was their guy all along. Indiana, however, could give him a much more authentic look in the coming weeks.

Messina has four Euroleague titles to his name and has been named the Euroleague Coach of the Year two separate times. He also has the benefit of being Popovich’s lead assistant, which always is a check mark in the “pro” column when NBA teams are examining resumes for potential coaching candidates.

Stylistically he’s not a “small ball” guy by reputation, but his philosophy revolves entirely around spacing, which works well for Bird’s desire to shoot more threes. He does tend to work inside-out (and how could he not with that personnel in San Antonio), but that’s because he’s had so much success getting shooters open by being efficient inside. He preaches ball movement because that’s the style that works best in Europe, but there’s no reason he couldn’t improve the Pacers’ offense. He also happens to be one of the most experienced candidates out there.

More names are sure to be thrown around in the coming days as potential Vogel replacements, but for now these seem like the guys with the best shot at getting Bird’s ear. Firing Vogel has brought out either disappointment or relief in people so far, and their coaching selection should only serve to deepen those emotions.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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