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NBA Sunday: Steve Kerr’s Warriors Rising

When it’s over and done, Steve Kerr hopes to have something in common with Larry Brown and Rick Carlisle.

Moke Hamilton

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As Steve Kerr stood on the stage with flashing lights and eyeballs aplenty on him, he beamed.

The seat was hot, the questions were cold and the reception was lukewarm.

A five-year contract for a first-time head coach was almost unheard of, much less one to the tune of $25 million. What made matters even worse for Kerr, was that his predecessor, Mark Jackson, had helped lead the franchise to forgotten success.

He left big shoes to fill, despite being unceremoniously fired.

But Kerr will look at the examples set by Larry Brown in Detroit and Rick Carlisle in Dallas and know what he is attempting to do is quite possible.

In the NBA, especially over the course of the past 15 years, we have witnessed the head coach become increasingly disposable. As it currently stands, only four coaches in the entire league have been with their current team for at least five years: Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs), Erik Spoelstra (Miami HEAT), Rick Carlisle (Dallas Mavericks) and Scott Brooks (Oklahoma City Thunder).

Since January 2012, a whopping 21 NBA teams have changed head coaches, and it was with that knowledge that Kerr took the helm of a team that many felt was on the cusp of greatness.

Guiding them now is his responsibility.

Today, six months after he stood in front of the assembled media in Oakland with a beaming smile, a giddy demeanor and a nicely tailored charcoal grey suit, his Golden State Warriors have fully captured the imaginations of the NBA’s viewing public.

In the early going, Klay Thompson appears to be worth the four-year, $70 million contract he was awarded and the Warriors seem to be fulfilling the promise that enamored Kerr in the first place.

The edict from Kerr has been simple: work harder on defense and share the ball more on offense. It is impossible to argue with the early results.

Regarded mostly as offensive weapons, Thompson and Stephen Curry have been, at least in the early going, pesky defenders. On the perimeter, the Warriors fight over screens and do their best to disrupt opposing ball handlers. Kerr has also committed to giving minutes to Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston— strong defenders in each of their own rights.

The early results have been amazing. The Warriors enter play on November 9 allowing just 92.4 points per game, which is third best in the league. That is about a full eight points less than they allowed last season (100.3).

On the offensive end, Kerr has been a proponent of more off-ball movement from his shooters, more backdoor cuts and more passing overall. As a result, an already potent offensive team has gotten even better. At 107.2 points per game, the Warriors are the top scoring team in the league, showing much more scoring prowess than they did last season when they scored 101.2 points per game.

Yes, it is early, but there is nothing wrong with reading early returns, especially in a day and age when we collectively expect expediency.

In Cleveland, after five games, the ridiculous idea of trading Kyrie Irving has been floated, so conversely, we should stop and collectively credit Kerr for leading his Warriors off to a good start.

They will go down as the final unbeaten team of the 2014-15 season, and if that is an omen of what Kerr is capable of as a head coach, we may see some history repeat itself.

Clearly, this is just the beginning, but if it all ends well, he may eventually find himself being mentioned along the likes of Brown and Carlisle—two coaching legends.

The man that helped install him in Oakland, Warriors general manager Bob Myers, may be looked upon as a prophet who made the correct decision under tremendous pressure. In that regard, he may be mentioned alongside both Joe Dumars and Mark Cuban, because once upon a time, both of those men made shocking decisions to remove successful head coaches.

And in the long run, they proved to be correct.

Ultimately, the decision to oust Jackson and install Kerr could go down as similarly stellar.

——

Way back in 1999, way before the Detroit Pistons became one of the dominant powerhouses in the Eastern Conference, Grant Hill had grown frustrated with the direction of the franchise.

With the ink still wet on his retirement papers, Joe Dumars began working in the front office of the Pistons and quickly ascended as the voice that late former owner Bill Davidson would trust with his franchise.

Quietly, from his office, Dumars made difficult decisions that included trading Hill, the team’s franchise player.

Dumars, the executive, quickly made a home for himself at the Palace at Auburn Hills, and so did Rick Carlisle.

Carlisle had spent three years on the bench of the Indiana Pacers as the understudy to Larry Bird. By Bird’s side, the Pacers pushed Michael Jordan’s 1998 Chicago Bulls to seven games and would eventually win the conference in 2000, falling short to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals that year.

But when Bird decided to retire from the ranks of coaching, it was not Carlisle who Pacers president Donnie Walsh tapped to replace Bird—it was Isiah Thomas.

Dumars, seemingly aware of the potential that Carlisle had, pounced on him and made him the 27th head coach in franchise history.

Carlisle would sign a three-year deal with the Pistons and in his very first season, led a roster featuring Jerry Steakhouse and Clifford Robinson to an 18-win improvement. The 50-32 record helped Carlisle win the NBA’s Coach of the Year Award after his first season. Their season ended in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, where they lost to the Boston Celtics.

The following year, in 2002, with new, younger faces, Carlisle again led the Pistons to 50 wins. And although the team advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1991, the Pistons were swept by the New Jersey Nets.

Still, Carlisle seemed to be the correct choice for Dumars, helping to lead the franchise from the doldrums and winning the league’s Coach of the Year Award along the way.

Clearly, then, you could imagine Carlisle’s surprise when he got the phone call telling him that the Pistons were deciding to end his employment one year early. And clearly, you can imagine everyone else’s surprise when it was revealed that Larry Brown would be named Carlisle’s successor in Detroit.

At the time, the move was considered questionable at best and asinine at worst.

But by the time Brown’s tenure in Detroit ended, a different word was most associated with Dumar’s decision to install Brown: “Brilliant.”

Brown’s mantra of systematic defense and “playing the right way” caught on with his Pistons team that featured no standout superstar, only a well-oiled basketball playing machine. With the acquisition of Rasheed Wallace during the 2003-04 season, the team had its final piece and would eventually go on to pull off one of the biggest NBA Finals upsets in history, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals, 4-1.

Brown would lead the Pistons back to the NBA Finals the following season, before falling short to the San Antonio Spurs in a seventh and deciding game.

It is impossible to argue with results, and that is why history will ultimately forget the apparent raw deal that Carlisle received from Dumars, just like it has forgotten that the same thing happened to Avery Johnson in Dallas.

——

In 1997, Don Nelson took over as the head coach and general manager of the Dallas Mavericks and with Steve Nash, Michael Finley, Dirk Nowitzki and Mark Cuban eventually joining forces with him, he began the revival of the franchise.

After seven years with the franchise, as Nelson and Cuban began to butt heads, Avery Johnson was tapped as Nelson’s successor in Dallas. Johnson had played for Nelson for two years and had served as an apprentice under the coach before eventually being handed the reins of the team in 2005.

Under Johnson, the Mavericks had unprecedented success. In 2006, he led the Mavericks to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. The next season, the Mavericks won a franchise-record 67 games.

In that 67-win season, however, the Mavericks became just the third number one seed to be ousted by a number eight seed in the playoffs. Ironically, it was the Don Nelson-coached Golden State Warriors who would defeat Johnson’s Mavericks in six games.

Perhaps even more ironic, though, was that after the Mavericks saw their 67-win season result in a first round exit, they followed it up with another first round exit the following season, this time, it was the New Orleans Hornets who did them in.

Cuban made the decision to replace Johnson on the bench. Like the aforementioned Carlisle, Johnson won the NBA Coach of the Year Award in his first season as the man in charge for the Mavericks (2006).

So yes, it was especially ironic that it was Carlisle who would replace Johnson in Dallas. And just like Larry Brown did with Carlisle’s team in Detroit, it was Carlisle who would eventually lead the Mavericks to pull off what was perhaps the biggest NBA Finals upset since Brown’s Pistons defeated the Lakers in 2004, when Dallas beat the Miami HEAT in seven games in the 2011 NBA Finals.

You’ve simply gotta love how history repeats itself.

——

By hiring Mark Jackson in Oakland, owner Joe Lacob took a chance on a former player who had no prior coaching experience. Although Jackson fell short of fulfilling his promise of qualifying for the playoffs in his first year on the job, the Warriors experienced appreciable growth with him in charge.

He helped to teach Monta Ellis a thing or two about what it meant to be a team player—gifts that Ellis has since used to help find success for the teams he has since played for.

He assisted some of his younger players—Charles Jenkins, David Lee, Brandon Rush and Dorell Wright—that putting team before all else was the true hallmark of a great and sustained NBA career.

He led the franchise to its first 50-win season since 1994.

And yes, he helped both Curry and Thompson develop into the players that they are today—a backcourt duo that many believe is the most gifted in the NBA.

Yet, in the end, all Jackson got for it was a pink slip and in his wake, he has left some lofty expectations that Kerr must now fight to reach.

Thus far, the returns have been good.

Fortunately for Kerr, there is a precedent for success in such a situation.

Unfortunately for him, he has no prior head coaching experience upon which he can rely to help steer his team through the rugged terrain that they will, no doubt, traverse.

Thus far, it does not seem to have been an issue for the Warriors.

Yes, the journey is long and the road will be topsy-turvy, but, I’m sure those were warnings that Brown and Carlisle got, as well.

In the end, in the NBA, the cream always rises to the top.

And if the early returns on Kerr’s debut are any indication of what is to come, in May 2015, one year after he sat in front of the media in Oakland and introduced himself, Kerr may again find himself in front of the flashing lights and eyeballs aplenty.

Only this time, instead of him discussing the potential of his Warriors team and the obstacles he will face as a head coach, he may be discussing how he conquered them.

Yes, for the Warriors, the long road is just beginning. But in Kerr, without question, the team has itself a capable conductor.

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NBA

David Nwaba and the Road Less Traveled

David Nwaba speaks to Basketball Insiders about his unconventional path to the NBA.

David Yapkowitz

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A player’s path to the NBA usually follows the same formula: A star in high school, a strong college career, and then eventually being selected in the NBA Draft. However, there are times when a player’s path is more unconventional. In the case of David Nwaba, he definitely took the path less traveled.

He attended University High School in West Los Angeles, where he was named All-Western League MVP twice as well as being an all-league selection. He finished his senior year in 2011 putting up 22.0 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game.

He went to an NCAA Division 2 school, however, Hawaii Pacific University, but never suited up for them as he redshirted his freshman year. He played a year at Santa Monica Community College, where he was the Western State Conference South Division Player of the Year before transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. According to Nwaba, the decision to leave Hawaii Pacific was made with the NBA in mind.

“It was always a dream of mine, it’s also why I left a Division 2 school that I started at,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I had bigger dreams of playing D1 and potentially the NBA. So that was a dream of mine. I never thought the journey would go like this but it is how it is.”

Behind Nwaba, Cal Poly made their first-ever NCAA appearance in 2014. They won the Big West Tournament as the seventh seed out of eight teams, and then knocked off Dayton for the right to come in as a No. 16 seed against No. 1 seed Wichita State. Cal Poly would go on to lose to Wichita State, but sparking that run to March Madness put Nwaba on the basketball map.

He didn’t get to the NBA right away, though. His first professional experience came with the then Los Angeles D-Fenders, now South Bay Lakers, the Los Angeles Lakers G-League affiliate. He initially began with the Reno Bighorns, the Sacramento Kings affiliate, but his rights were traded to Los Angeles. His strong play in the G-League was what caught the Lakers’ attention, enough to give him a pair of 10-day contracts, and then one for the rest of the season.

“It was a perfect spot to start up my professional career The G-League is a place to develop your game, and I think I developed a lot,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I learned a lot about the game, and I think it was a good place for me to start just out of college.”

Although he made a strong impression on the Lakers, Nwaba found out that nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA. Due to a roster crunch when the team signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope over the summer, the Lakers ended up cutting him. He didn’t stay unemployed for long though. Before he had a chance to hit the open market, the Chicago Bulls claimed him off waivers.

He’s since carved out a role as one of the Bulls most dependable players in the second unit. And just like his path to the league, his role is a bit of an unconventional one as a shooting guard. He’s shooting 51.7 percent from the field, but most of his shots come from in the paint. He only shoots 26.3 percent from three-point range. It’s been effective for him though.

“It’s just bringing energy off the bench and just being that defender,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “For the most part, I just try to be aggressive going to the basket, finishing at the rim, making the right plays, just defending and playing hard.”

The Chicago Bulls got off to a slow start this season. They lost 17 of their first 20 games. In December, they started to pick up their play, winning 11 of their 20 games including a seven-game win streak. However, they’ve now dropped eight of their last 11 games. Despite that, Nwaba does see some encouraging signs. And in the Eastern Conference, he’s not quite ready to count out another run.

“We’re developing every game, just building chemistry amongst each other,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “Who knows, all it takes is just a streak of eight to ten games or something and we’re already back in the playoff race. You never know, anything can turn around. It’s still a long season, a lot of games to be played, and a lot of time to develop our game. We’ve still got a lot of time with each other.”

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NBA Daily: The Los Angeles Lakers Could Be Up Next

The Los Angeles Lakers may not make the playoffs this season, but they’re trending in the right direction.

Dennis Chambers

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The Los Angeles Lakers are coming.

They may not be playoff-bound this season as some of their purple and gold faithful hoped for, but the prestigious franchise occupying the Staples Center is showing improvement from their young players. Perhaps even enough to lure the likes of established stars come summer time.

In Luke Walton’s second season as the Lakers’ head coach, he hits the All-Star break with his team holding a 23-34 record. Granted, that’s not the level of success he was used to during his time with the Golden State Warriors, but it is only three fewer wins than his team had all of last season.

Prior to limping into the break on the back of a three-game losing streak, the Lakers had won eight of 10. During that stretch, they’d beaten the likes of Oklahoma City (twice), Indiana, and Boston. Along with making the most of their performances over that span, the Lakers were also doing so without 2017’s second overall pick, Lonzo Ball, who’s sidelined with an injury.

But Ball isn’t the only Los Angeles darling who has shined this season. In fact, it’s arguable that he’s not even the most impressive youngster on the team.

Drafted second overall last season, Brandon Ingram is showing the improvement this season that warranted such a high selection. His play thus far suggests he’s one of the building blocks of the Lakers’ next era in contending for a championship.

In his 53 games this season, Ingram is averaging 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. His shooting from the floor and from beyond the arc have both seen dramatic increases as well this season. Over the same stretch that saw the Lakers go 8-2 with wins over cemented playoff teams, Ingram upped his assists per night to 5.2, taking the place of facilitator with Ball sidelined.

Though Ingram and the Lakers haven’t been setting the win column on fire all season, the steady growth and improvement show to him that the team is moving in the right direction, under the right coach.

“I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job,” Ingram said to reporters during All-Star weekend. “I think guys have gotten better every single day. I think we come in with the mindset that we have a really good coach that pushes us every single day. I like the progress of what we’re doing in our organization.”

Walton, this season more than last, has shown the ability to get the most out of the players he has. Ingram’s improvement, plus the capability as a point guard Ball has shown, are the givens. They were highly selected players, expected to contribute immediately. But it’s the production of the players who were afterthoughts that are a major testament to Walton’s teachings.

Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart were selected with the 27th and 30th picks in last June’s draft. Both were collegiate upperclassmen with noted handicaps in their respective games that led to teams selecting younger, or more athletic, or sweeter shooting players in their place.

A few years from now when everyone looks back, that could prove to be a silly mistake.

All Kuzma has done this season is keep his name consistently in the Rookie of the Year award race by averaging 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and shooting nearly 36 percent from beyond the arc. He’s been a lightning rod of scoring for the Lakers on nights where they desperately need it, racking up 13 games where he’s reached at least 20 points, and three games breaking the 30-point plateau.

Hart, on the other hand, hasn’t been as steady a performer as his fellow late first-round selected teammate. But when called upon, especially since Ball has been out, Hart’s shown the all-around game that made him one of the most decorated players in college basketball while at Villanova.

Over the last month, Hart has averaged 8.8 points and five rebounds per game, while shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc. During that same stretch, Hart’s scored in double-figures six times and registered three straight double-doubles at the beginning of February.

Moving forward, as the Lakers look to add high-priced free agent in the coming summers, having guys like Kuzma and Hart on cost-effective rookie contracts is a luxury teams around the league hope to have.

Diamonds in the rough like Kuzma and more than capable contributors like Hart are nice, of course, but the real reason for optimism in L.A. is Ingram. He’s the player with a star power ceiling. He’s the guy that the likes of LeBron James and Paul George look at when they weigh their free agent options, as a guy who can handle the workload on the nights they may not have it.

Ingram’s game isn’t finished, though; far from it, in fact. But he knows that, and he’s aware of the steps he needs to take to get to that next level.

“To improve my game I think from a shooting standpoint,” Ingram said. “If I get that down, I think it would be a lot more easier for me to drive to the basket, break down a lot of guys, make plays for my other teammates. I think it would take me to a whole other level.”

Playing for the Los Angeles Lakers doesn’t come void of expectations. There, in Hollywood, everyone is always watching. Fans, other teams, the media, everyone is waiting for the next time a Laker championship comes around. With the weight of the world on their shoulders, Ingram thinks the current legend captaining the ship is the young team’s best asset to achieving that ultimate success everyone in Los Angeles is accustomed too.

“Magic Johnson,” Ingram said. “He’s in our front office. He’s at most of every practice, every single day. For any advice why not go to him, with the caliber of player he was and how many championships he won, the way he carries himself. He always there for just information on anything we need.”

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NBA All-Star Friday Recap

Simon Hannig recaps NBA All-Star Friday 2018.

Simon Hannig

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NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

The NBA All-Star Celebrity Game was highlighted by many stars this year, including Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, Nate Robinson, Candace Parker, Bubba Watson, Rachel DeMita and many more. Team Lakers was led by head coach, Rachel Nichols. Team Clippers was led by Katie Nolan.

Quavo, of hip hop group Migos, had the first the two points for Team Clippers, and Justin Bieber had the first three points for Team Lakers.

Team Clippers defeated Team Lakers 75-66.

Quavo led the way for Team Clippers with 19 points on 7/10 shooting, with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Olympic sprinter Andre De Grasse had 17 points on 8/14 shooting and 6 rebounds. Actor and social media star Brandon Armstrong finished with 16 points on 6/17 shooting, 11 rebounds and 3 assists for Team Clippers. Both wereamong the top three leading scorers for Team Clippers.

NBA2KTV host, actress and model, Rachel DeMita led the way for Team Lakers with 17 points on 6/12 shooting and 2 rebounds. NBA legend Nate Robinson was the second leading scorer for Team Lakers with 14 points on 4/11 shooting, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.

Other notable NBA and WNBA legends stats from tonight’s game — Stefanie Dolson (Chicago Sky) had zero points. Paul Pierce had 4 points on 2/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Jason Williams had 2 points on 1/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Tracy McGrady had 3 points on 1/3 shooting, 3 assists and 2 rebounds. Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) had zero points.

Quavo was named MVP.

BBVA Compass Rising Stars Game

There is a ton of young talent in this league, and the league will be in good hands for years to come. The talent was put on display tonight in Los Angeles.

Utah Jazz rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell gave us an early preview of the dunk contest tomorrow by throwing an ally-oop pass to himself off the backboard in the first half.

However, it was all Team World in the first half as they led 78-59 at the break. Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Sacramento Kings each had 14 points to lead Team World. Jaylen Brown led the way for Team USA with 16 points at the half.

It felt like a three point contest throughout the entire game, as there were 96 combined three point attempts. Bogdanovic led the way with seven three pointers made for both teams.

All in all, Team World defeated Team USA 155-124. Hield led the way for Team World with 29 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics led the way for Team USA with 35 points and 10 rebounds.

The MVP of the game was Bogdan Bogdanovic, who dazzled the crowd with his three point shooting. He had 26 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds with seven made three’s.

Next up for the NBA in this fun-filled weekend is NBA All-Star Saturday Night with the dunk contest, three point contest and much more.

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