Now that the NBA’s Draft Lottery has finally come and gone, not only can the Lakers move forward with their plans of how to reconstruct their roster with the knowledge they’ll have the seventh selection (barring a deal) come June 26, but they can also actively continue the process of filling their head coaching vacancy. Although GM Mitch Kupchak said there was no sense of urgency to necessarily hire a coach over the next few weeks, the team has already begun interviewing candidates for the position.
Former Lakers coach Mike Dunleavy (90-92) interviewed with the team earlier in the week, and reportedly felt ‘positively’ with how the conversation went. Dunleavy has either interviewed or been mentioned in relationship to the Lakers’ head coaching position each time it has been available over the past decade or so, but the 1998-99 NBA Coach of the Year has also interviewed with the Knicks.
Byron Scott is another available coach that interviewed with the Lakers’ brass this week, and would almost have to be considered one of the leading candidates for the position given all the variables. While UConn’s Kevin Ollie may have been the candidate many felt was ideal prior to his recently signed extension to stay in Connecticut for up to five additional years, Scott brings a lot of similar qualities to the table.
Although a certain portion of the fan base may consider Scott the ideal candidate based solely upon the fact that he is a former three-time champion and Laker, that (in itself) absolutely should not be the reason for his ultimate selection. Make no mistake about it, as his familiarity with the purple and gold and city of Los Angeles are in fact significant, but Scott should actually be hired on the merits of his coaching ability and relationships with players more than anything else. Even though some are quick to point out Scott’s most recent failure with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the three seasons immediately following LeBron James’ exodus, the former Coach of the Year (2007-08) has plenty of additional evidence in his resume that would point to those dreadful seasons being more of an anomaly than the norm.
Beyond having a connection to Kobe Bryant that has spanned the future Hall of Famer’s entire 18-year career, Scott has a history of positive relationships with both veterans and young point guards in particular. Following his interview with the Lakers, Scott took to the airwaves with the guys from 710 AM ESPNLA’s Max [Kellerman] & Marcellus [Wiley] show in order to further discuss why he is the ideal candidate for the position.
“To say the least, I thought it was a perfect fit, Scott told Max & Marcellus. “I don’t know how most people feel, I don’t think I’m a very arrogant guy. And I’ve got a great relationship with Kobe [Bryant]. I know the team, I know the roster, watched them all season and I just think it’d be a great fit,” Scott said.
Scott spent the season alongside former teammate James Worthy providing halftime and post game analysis on the Lakers’ Time Warner Cable SportsNet coverage. He was very critical of the team’s lack of defensive intensity and effort on many nights; even going as far as to mention the “Laker way” in terms of a need to re-establish the organizational pride that he and other longtime Lakers tend to rally around in times of adversity. While maintaining a great deal of respect and high level of expectation for Bryant as a player, Scott knows it may be time for the team to start the process of transitioning from having such a Bryant-dominated focus, moving forward.
“Obviously, if I get the job, the first conversation is with Kobe,” Scott said. “We have to talk about the future of the Los Angeles Lakers, and then also talk about the type of game that he’s going to be playing, because he’s going to have to change his game a little bit, and I think he knows that. We gotta sit down and talk about the minutes and things like that. We just gotta come to an agreement…He knows me. I’m an ‘old-school’ type guy. I think the biggest thing is – number one – I respect the hell out of Kobe, and I think he respects me. That’s the first hurdle you gotta get past.”
Scott knows Bryant’s words still hold a great deal of weight throughout the organization, but he also understands the next coach of the Lakers will have to endure what are certain to be difficult, but honest conversations with their star veteran if they are to be successful. The phrase ‘truth to power’ has never been more apropos and necessary when it comes to dealing with the final seasons of Bryant’s career.
“I think everybody knows it’s going to be a little bit of a rebuilding year [next season],” Scott said. “You’ve still got one of the best players that ever played the game, and everybody that knows Kobe [Bryant]..I think he’s going to come back with a vengeance. Obviously, there’s a lot of holes to fill, but unlike a lot of people that think this is going to be a three or four year process, I really don’t think so. Again, this is one of the best organizations in basketball. Mitch [Kupchak] has done a fantastic job…and I think Jim really has good idea of where they want to go, and what direction they’d like to head in. I don’t think it’s going to take three or four years. I think it’s going to take a couple years at the most,” Scott said.
Whether you consider it a case of relative blind faith, resolute self-confidence, or a combination of the two along with a certain level of comfort that comes from having just spoken to the front office about their plans and goals, Scott’s overall sense of calm could bode well for the 53-year-old if he were to be hired. The reality is, while the upcoming Lakers have more unanswered questions than perhaps ever before, Scott’s assuredness also comes from the knowledge that even though the organization is coming off the worst season in franchise history, they possess the resources and ability to rebuild even quicker than potentially anticipated. Having already endured some of the toughest of times, Scott merely wants to be a part of this proud organization’s return to glory.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.
PODCAST: Breaking Down The Western Conference Playoff Race
Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte break down the Western Conference playoff race and check in on the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.