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NBA Saturday: The Lakers’ Coaching Dilemma

The next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers faces a daunting challenge … There is no place for Donald Sterling’s awful views

Bill Ingram

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The Lakers’ Coaching Dilemma

When the Los Angeles Lakers hired Mike D’Antoni as their head coach midway into the 2012-13 season, it seemed to make a degree of sense. After all, he had built a career around being an outstanding offensive coach with a system that was designed for Steve Nash. Since Nash was on the roster it might have been a natural fit to have him reunited with the head coach that helped him become one of the best players on one of the best teams in the NBA.

Unfortunately, a lot of things went wrong for D’Antoni. First and foremost, he started in an awkward position, replacing Mike Brown on the fly. Second, while the Lakers looked good on paper and had generated a great deal of hype with the All-Star trio of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Nash, they never had that trio together and fully healthy. Howard was nursing a back injury that prevented him from being as effective as usual, Nash managed to play in just 50 games and was a shadow of his MVP self in those games, and even Bryant was lost to an injury during the final push for the playoffs.

This season, of course, the Lakers lost Howard to Houston in free agency, Bryant managed just six games and the ghost of Nash appeared in 15 ineffective games.

D’Antoni is no Red Auerbach, but the Lakers’ woes this season had little to do with the head coach.

What happens to the Lakers next season will also have little to do with the coach, by all indications.

The 2014-15 Lakers will spend nearly $30 million on Bryant and Nash alone, meaning a large chunk of their salary cap will be taken up by players who may or may not be effective on the court. They have very little else committed in terms of guaranteed money, but this summer does not offer a bumper crop of marquee free agents at which to throw money. Carmelo Anthony is hardly a savior, even if he could be convinced to leave New York. LeBron James may be a free agent, but it’s unlikely he would choose to leave Miami or to play with Bryant. Kyle Lowry is understandably high on the Lakers’ list, but does Lowry alone make the Lakers contenders?

Let’s say the Lakers re-sign Pau Gasol at a reasonable number, add Lowry (who really loves Toronto), and fill in the roster with one-year deals like the Dallas Mavericks have done for the past two years. Would they even be a playoff team in the brutally tough Western Conference?

The reality is that the next Lakers head coach is going to have to be able to handle losing for at least a season. He can count on mounting losses and he can count on being skewered by the media and fans that are accustomed to their team being among the elite. That person has to also be ready to weather the storm that will be Kobe Bryant on a losing team, especially if his frustration is multiplied by his own injuries and advancing age. The next Lakers head coach also has to be mild-mannered to handle off of those issues with patience and grace.

Piece of cake, right?

Being the head coach of the world’s most popular basketball franchise can certainly be rewarding, but barring a miraculous turn of events, it’s also going to be a job fraught with daunting challenges in the near future.

It will take a brilliant leader to emerge out of that situation unscathed.

No Place for Sterling’s Views

Once upon a time people believed the world was flat. They thought that if you sailed out into the ocean you would eventually come to the edge of the world and fall right off.

Fortunately, one day someone decided to test that theory, and found that there was no edge over which to plummet. The world kept right on going, and this discovery led the realization that the world was one big, round globe.

The evolution of the human thought process is incredibly important – essential, even – for the survival of the species.  For centuries we have challenged ideas that were accepted as fact, often learning that the truth is something that was still waiting to be discovered.

Similarly, there was a time in America where people who did not have white skin were believed to be inferior in some way. The belief was that they were not as smart, not as capable, perhaps not even as human as the white folks. Thankfully, that belief was challenged, and while racism still exists in this country, it is not nearly as prevalent as it was a century ago. Whether you agree with his politics or not, you must admit that the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States represents the single largest advance in the field of equality since Abraham Lincoln ended slavery. Humanity has once again evolved.

Make no mistake, racism was still alive and well in America after the slaves were freed, and was even surprisingly prominent among the white Northerners who fought on the side of emancipation. Lincoln’s action didn’t end racism, but they started the wheels of change that would slowly turn, resulting in the break down of barriers that kept whites and blacks separated. The result was that the two races actually got to know each other, and found that their similarities greatly outnumbered their differences.

With this as a backdrop, it is unconscionable to believe that someone as prominent as Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, still harbors a deep-seeded hatred of skin color. This is a man who not only owns a franchise in a league that is largely comprised of African-Americans, he is also in a position to be around and have strong relationships with some of the best people in the game. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford, Danny Granger and DeAndre Jordan, in particular, are some of the finest people – not just players – in the NBA. It’s hard to imagine how someone could spend a great deal of time around those guys and still harbor bigotry and racism of any kind.

The time for racism and bigotry has passed. Like those people who first discovered that the world was round, we must evolve in the way we think about the world. It was gratifying to see NBA commissioner Adam Silver throw the strongest penalty possible at Sterling in the wake of the latter’s ignorant and disturbing comments. Racism may still exist, but as a society we have to make it clear that it is absolutely unacceptable.

All that’s left is for the NBA’s Board of Governors to wash Sterling completely out of the league, sending a resounding message that there is no place for that kind of thinking in modern, evolved society.

Bill Ingram is a Senior NBA Analyst for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA since 1998.

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NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed

James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star

James Blancarte

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.

Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.

2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.

“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”

Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.

“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”

While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.

“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.

Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.

“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”

Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.

“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.

Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.

“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.

On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.

Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.

“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.

Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.

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Mitchell Taking Things Day-By-Day, But Loving ‘Whirlwind’ Experience

It’s been a special year for the Utah Jazz rookie sensation.

Spencer Davies

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Four-and-a-half months into the first season of his NBA career, Donovan Mitchell has accomplished some incredible things.

He won back-to-back Rookie of the Month honors between this past December and January. He leads his class with 19.6 points per game and nearly 17 field goal attempts per contest. Due much in part to his contributions, the Utah Jazz are the hottest team in the league, riding an 11-game winning streak after falling far below the .500 mark.

To top all that off, he won the slam-dunk competition just a few days ago in an event for the whole world to see. All of this has been nothing short of amazing for the 21-year-old, and even he didn’t see this coming.

“This whole thing’s just been a whirlwind for me,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend of his first-year experience. “Just enjoying the process. There are games where I’m just like, ‘Wow this happened’ or ‘Wow that happened’ and it’s a credit to my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization for believing in me.

“Without them, none of this would be possible, so I really thank them for giving me this opportunity.”

Believe it or not, Mitchell wasn’t always so sure about where his life would go. He played for a couple of seasons at Louisville and ended up declaring for the 2017 NBA draft, a night where the Jazz stole him away from every other team by executing a deal with the Denver Nuggets to land the 13th overall pick in Salt Lake City.

“I tell people all the time this wasn’t my plan,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend. “After two years of college, being here for All-Star and even being in the NBA wasn’t entirely my plan, so I’m just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, praising God for this opportunity he’s given me.”

So far, Mitchell is picking things up on the go. As he keeps improving and solidifying his game on the court, he’s also bettering himself mentally.

“If I just continue to be humble and continue to learn, that’s the biggest thing is learning and understanding the game,” Mitchell said. “I make the joke that it’s easy to study film and watch all the games when you don’t have five classes to study for throughout the day. So it’s been fun and I’m just taking it day by day.”

It’s pretty awesome that he’s doing what he’s doing with friends by his side. Most of us think of this class of rookies as a special group because of their talents as players, but it’s a tight-knit inner circle of friends who are enjoying every second of life in the NBA together.

Kyle Kuzma, John Collins, De’Aaron Fox, and Dennis Smith Jr. are friends Mitchell mentioned that he’s been close with for a while, and to see all of their hard work culminate so quickly at the Rising Stars game in Los Angeles is something special.

“I’ve known a lot of these guys, pretty much everybody on this team since high school for the most part,” Mitchell said. “Kinda hanging the same way we did in high school just a lot more cameras, a lot more downtime, bigger city.

“It’s fun. Just gotta treat it like it’s fun, go out there and just be kids. Live a dream of ours since we were younger.”

After the weekend he had, Mitchell accomplished that goal.

Whether the next step in his career has a Rookie of the Year award written into it or not, we’re seeing spectacular things from the one they call “Spida.”

And it’s about time people are taking notice.

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NBA Daily: Tobias Harris Thrives at Every Stop

Tobias Harris was traded yet again, but thankfully for the Clippers, he’s gotten better every stop he’s made.

Joel Brigham

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When Tobias Harris was a 19-year-old rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks, he faced a lot of the same issues that other 19-year-old rookies before him had faced, most notably the ones dealing with a lack of playing time.

He only saw the floor in 42 games, playing on 11 minutes per contest when he did get out there.

Despite that, it was somewhat of a surprise that the Bucks gave up on his talent so early in his career, trading him to the Orlando Magic just 28 games into his sophomore season as part of a trade for J.J. Redick.

The Magic immediately tripled his minutes, and he’s never been a 30 minutes-per-game guy ever since. He also has never said a negative thing about any team he’s ever played for. As far as he’s concerned, every opportunity is a blessing and a learning experience.

“I didn’t look at Milwaukee as a team giving up on me. I looked at it as Orlando valuing me and seeing me as a piece of the puzzle,” Harris told Basketball Insiders during All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the three-point contest.

“The NBA is about opportunity, so when you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. Going from a rookie not playing to where I’m at now, it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination,” he said. “You have to have the confidence in your own self, to understand you can break through in this league.”

And break through he did, in large part because those first 18 months as a professional were so challenging.

“Adversity helped me to work hard,” he said. “I always envisioned myself as a primetime player in this league. I have a ways to go to get there, but that’s the best part about me. My best basketball is ahead of me, and adversity has helped me get there. It’s motivated me, and I want to be the best player I can be. I’m trying every single day to fight for that.”

This season, most of which came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, was a career-best for Harris.

Between the Pistons and L.A. Clippers, Harris has averaged a career-high 18 points per game, and while he wasn’t voted to the All-Star Team this year, his name popped up in the conversation. He’s never been closer.

It was bittersweet for him, though, leaving a Detroit team he liked so much.

“My favorite part was being around those guys [in Detroit],” he said. “It was a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. Coach Van Gundy is a great coach. At the same time, when I first got there, we had a chance to make the playoffs and we got in the playoffs. That was nice for me, to put that pressure on myself and get it done.”

Now, he’s ready to accept his next challenge in Los Angeles with the Clippers.

“I look at every new opportunity as a new chance,” he said. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league. When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too… I really like the group of guys that are on this team. I like our demeanor and our approach, so after the break I look forward to building that chemistry and moving forward.”

Of course, moving forward is all he’s ever done.

After everything he’s proven to date, it seems like a given that he’ll continue to make strides with his new team.

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