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NBA PM: Would Kerr Make A Good Coach?

Could Steve Kerr handle the responsibility of coaching a high-profile team like the Knicks, despite no previous experience?… Pat Croce details the extent of the discord in Philadelphia during the Allen Iverson/Larry Brown era…

Joel Brigham

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Steve Kerr on Coaching

With Phil Jackson headed to the New York front office, the next big rumor for the Knicks has involved the potential hiring of Steve Kerr as the new head coach sometime during the offseason. Kerr has been pretty respectful of Mike Woodson and the coaching staff in place by generically commenting that he’d enjoy an opportunity to coach somewhere in the NBA, but didn’t want to talk out of turn about a position that was already currently filled.

“I understand the speculation,” Kerr told Justin Terranova of the New York Post at a NCAA Tournament press conference this week. “I’ve said I wanted to coach at some point in my life, I know Phil, I played for him. People are sort of connecting the dots, but it’s very uncomfortable commenting on speculation, especially when it comes to someone else’s jobs.”

Back in November, however, Kerr, in a conference call to promote the new NBA 2K14 video game, spoke more at length about why he’d like to return to the NBA as a coach rather than an executive, despite the fact that he only has experience doing the latter.

“I have a lot of thoughts about coaching,” Kerr said. “If I get back in, I think it will be on the coaching side. My favorite part of the GM role in terms of my relationships was just dealing with players down on the court. I’d go to practice every day, and I’d let the coaches coach, but just getting to know the players and dealing with them and talking strategy, that really appealed to me. I think if I get back, which I anticipate, it would be on the coaching side.”

Kerr has never coached basketball on any level, but there are former players-turned-coaches in the NBA today seeing some success as first-time coaches, the most notable being Golden State’s Mark Jackson. Jason Kidd has received mixed reviews in Brooklyn, and Vinny Del Negro had a couple of high-profile opportunities in Chicago and L.A. before hanging up his coach’s whistle (for now, at least). In other words, this sort of thing is far from unprecedented.

What Kerr has over those guys is that he’s worked in a position of leadership with an NBA team before. His tenure as GM in Phoenix was definitely mixed, but he saw his fair share of successes. He drafted Goran Dragic, brought in Channing Frye and Grant Hill, and smartly extended Steve Nash when it wasn’t a popular decision to do so.

However, he also was responsible for the failed Shaquille O’Neal trade(s) and tried to force Mike D’Antoni into being a more defense-oriented coach, but his Phoenix teams were far from awful, and there’s a reasonable possibility that his experiences in the front office could translate to a successful job on the sidelines.

“The GM role is really exciting when it comes to player acquisitions,” Kerr said on the 2K Sports conference call. “When you get to acquire a player that you’ve had your eye on—whether you get him in the draft or you make a trade—it’s an electric feeling in that room… It’s accomplishing something, getting a player you really like, and actually seeing it come through on the floor in terms of winning and having success as a team. That’s one thing I do miss as a broadcaster.”

Kerr wouldn’t have that same power with Phil Jackson actually running the team, but he would be able to use the personnel the way he envisioned rather than projecting a philosophy onto another coach and then trying to enforce it from the executive’s chair.

It’s a high-profile job, but Kerr seems more suited than an inexperienced coaching candidate would typically be. He wants in, somehow, somewhere, and Jackson’s new role with the Knicks may allow for it. Of course, Jackson’s consultation in hiring a new coach in Detroit didn’t go so well over the summer, but Mo Cheeks wasn’t his choice alone. Kerr, if hired, would be, and such a risky hire as one of his first moves as Knicks exec could go a long way towards determining Jackson’s legacy in that role—either for good, or for bad.

Pat Croce Spills the Beans on Old Philadelphia Drama

Younger fans of the NBA might not remember former Philadelphia 76ers president Pat Croce, but before there was Mark Cuban, Croce was that animated, outspoken member of a team’s ownership group that cameras just couldn’t get enough of. He was a truly interesting member of the NBA community while he was still a part of it, and apparently very little has changed with him in the decade-and-change since he left the Sixers.

Croce recently spoke with Jared Zwerling of Bleacher Report about some of the discord between Allen Iverson and Larry Brown when the one played for the other back around the turn of the century. At the time (1999-2001), Iverson was among the league’s best players and Brown was among the league’s best coaches, and it was a partnership that would ultimately lead to an NBA Finals appearance for Philadelphia in 2001.

It didn’t all happen organically, though, as there were times that Iverson and Brown were about as volatile a pairing as the NBA has ever seen.

“It was difficult because they were at each other’s throats, and there was the one time when Larry Brown called me and Iverson called me because (Brown) sat him on the bench in Detroit—I wasn’t there—and I got a call that night because I saw that he sat him. And I heard there was a blast on the bus and Larry Brown wanted him traded the next day. And Iverson called me, which was rare, and he wanted him fired,” Croce told Bleacher Report.

“So I said, ‘We’ll meet in the conference room at the practice facility.’ And all the team is waiting outside the glass with the assistant coaches, and inside the room was Larry Brown on one side of the table, Allen Iverson and me on the other side and Billy King toward the end of the table. And I think Tony DiLeo, our scouting director, was also there.

“It was really ugly, like really,” Croce added. “Allen came in ready to kill someone. I’ve never seen him in such a foul mood. He wanted no part with this coach, none. This was my fourth year and (Brown’s) third year. It got really ugly, and I remember saying—to this day, I don’t think Larry Brown likes me because of this, because I made him sit down in this meeting, but it was the catalyst that turned our whole world around—‘You two, I’m not going to trade him, Larry, and I’m not going to fire you. There’s no way.’ I said, ‘You guys don’t understand. You both are so talented, the best of what you do in your business. You’re so headstrong. If you were to look in the mirror, you’d see each other. You both have a common goal; you just go about it in different ways.’”

Croce had to mediate between the two, explaining that Brown didn’t like the sullen vulgarities Iverson would spew every time he was removed from a game, and Iverson didn’t like being told when he could and could not play, despite being a perennial MVP candidate at that point in his career. It was, put bluntly, a bit of a mess.

“Then they started to talk,” Croce said. “And Allen got up, walked all the way around the table and hugged him. I remember it to this day. That was the beginning; that was the real turnaround, I’ll tell you. That year we did real well. We lost to the Indiana Pacers in the second round (in 2000), and then the next year it was a really, really good year, starting off 10-0 and Allen was co-captain. But it was really, really ugly and scary at that time.”

These are the things we wish we could read about as they are happening, but it’s much easier to discuss when the principles are no longer in the league and the franchise faces no negative PR repercussions in the wake of the story.

Still, it’s a fascinating look into a tenuous relationship that did ultimately result in quite a bit of success for both men. Croce was just a member of the ownership group, but he apparently had a big role in keeping the peace. Imagine if Brown or Iverson had been jettisoned in 2000; how different would both men’s legacies be?

We’ll never truly know, but most of us probably don’t want to, anyway.

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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