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NBA AM: Huge Changes In L.A.’s Forecast?

The news of Mike D’Antoni’s decision to resign sent additional shockwaves throughout a market in L.A. still understandably buzzing from the news from the previous day.

Jabari Davis

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Social media and sports talk radio were set abuzz with the news of Mike D’Antoni’s decision to resign rather than head into the 2014-15 season without assurances from the Los Angeles Lakers for 2015-16 breaking late last night. Factor in yesterday’s somewhat monumental (due to rarity) press conference where commissioner Silver imposed a lifetime ban for Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling, and we’d say that’s an awful lot all at once to process and discuss for fans of teams in the Los Angeles market this weekend.

D’Antoni amassed a 67-87 record in just under two seasons as head coach of the Lakers. Although short in length, all of sudden change over the past 18 months could only have exacerbated the situation even more. From the passing of Dr. Jerry Buss, to both of Kobe Bryant’s season-ending injuries, to all of the other cruel twists of fate; this may in fact be one of the roughest patches this proud organization has endured.

In fairness, there may not have been a coach around that could have avoided much of what took place in terms of what seemed like a neverending streak of fluke injuries, but D’Antoni finds himself out of a position yet again nonetheless. We’ll leave the debate over the “fairness” of his tenure for another time, as we now must turn our attention to some potential replacements in his absence. It should be noted that while we are almost certain to hear any and all available (perhaps even some not currently available) name attached to these Lakers at some point between now and their selection, the team could also decide to allow the position to remain vacant for a time in order to see what coaches may ultimately become available while also leaving the door open for feedback from potential free agents or players acquired via trade. Although the organization typically claims to leave their players out of such decisions, accepting potential feedback could be another way for this front office to gain favor with some of the universally-coveted free agents.

Here are several of the top candidates the Lakers must contact during their search:

Lionel Hollins – Hollins has been away from the sidelines since the Memphis Grizzlies decided to go in a different direction after what was actually a relatively successful run during his time as head coach. His last few seasons in Memphis included three consecutive playoff runs and a career high 56 wins in his final season (2012-13). Aside from a fondness for post play and multi-faceted big men, the Lakers may also desire his ability to inspire toughness and intensity on the defensive end. The Lakers were 29th in Opp. Points (109.2), 26th in Opp. FG percentage (46.8), and were outrebounded by an average on eight rebounds per game in 2013-14.

Byron Scott – For all of those quick to point out how terribly things ended for Scott during his time in Cleveland in the immediate post-LeBron-aftermath, we remind you to take a look at what the man has done when armed with enough of the right mix of talent to work with. Aside from being at the helm of those two Nets teams that represented the Eastern Conference in the Finals in consecutive years back during their New Jersey days, Scott was also the NBA’s Coach of the Year during what was a surprising 56-win season in Chris Paul’s second season with the (then) New Orleans Hornets (Pelicans) in 2007-08. Coaches are expected to get the most from the talent they have available, and Scott has generally done so and perhaps beyond when judging his career as a whole.

Kevin Ollie – May sound crazy to some of you, but the Lakers absolutely should consider thinking outside the box when making this decision. Having already shown an ability to coach during his short time as the head coach of the 2014 National Champion UCONN Men’s basketball team, like Scott, Ollie is also a Los Angeles native with ties to plenty of players still active within the league. If the Lakers decide to explore the college ranks, names like Mike Krzyzewski and John Callipari are almost certain to surface, but neither of those two seem interested in making the jump given their favorable circumstances in their current positions at Duke and Kentucky (respectively). Ollie may be very comfortable at UCONN, but may also be tempted if truly considered by his hometown team.

Jeff Van Gundy and/or Stan Van Gundy – After an initial chuckle upon seeing L.A. Times writer Ben Bolch’s tweet with the idea of hiring both Van Gundy brothers while rebuilding their coaching staff, the next thought was, “hey, why not?” They’ve already gone that route just recently with the recently-departed D’Antoni brothers, and with both Van Gundy brothers almost certain to be named as candidates for the vacancy (anyhow), it really doesn’t sounds like a crazy idea when you stop to think about it. Both brothers emphasize toughness on the defensive end, and you’d think each would be able to come to a happy medium in terms of any differences in offensive philosophies that may exist. The only real questions might be regarding the eventual pecking order, but even that seems to be something those two could work out. Even if they’ve soured on the idea of a package deal on the bench, the front office could very well consider each of these candidates individually.

Adrian Griffin or another qualified assistant – As Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski points out, the Lakers may have missed the bus on current Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford as he was actually a part of Mike Brown’s staff they eventually let go following the 2013-14 season. Whether Clifford was a good match for the Lakers at the time, his immediate success (as well as several others) might make a guy like Chicago’s highly-regarded Adrian Griffin, Miami’s David Fizdale (L.A. native), or any other top assistant more appealing to the Lakers this time around. Both of those two, for example, have been lauded for both their relationships with current players and the ability to influence player development. Longtime Euroleague coach Ettorre Messina is another name to expect to hear given his brief history as a consultant during the Lakers’ 2011-12 season. A report (also by Wojnarowski) describe a shared “fondness” between Lakers management and Kobe Bryant for the celebrated member of the Italian Basketball Hall of Fame.

 Can the postseason make up for a relatively disappointing regular season?

On the heels of what was almost universally considered a strange, if not somewhat disappointing regular season for many teams, the 2013-14 NBA Playoffs certainly have not disappointed. Last night marked the first night of postseason play where a road team didn’t actually win a game. While you can thank Inside the NBA’s Ernie Johnson for that stat, allow us to point out the insane number of overtime games (8) including three between the Rockets vs. Blazers and four between Thunder vs. Grizzlies, by themselves.

Not to mention the inspiring run by a shorthanded Atlanta Hawks team, and the surprising manner by which a young and previously unproven Washington Wizards team handled the Chicago Bulls. Several analysts have already referred to the first couple weeks of this postseason as perhaps one of the most exciting opening-round we’ve seen in some time. The Wizards may have breezed through as the HEAT made quick work of the Bobcats (4-0), but every other series is currently 3-2 and we even have a couple heavily-favored top seeds (Indiana, Oklahoma City) on the ropes.

While many of us may have anticipated an easier matchup for what was once considered a “loaded” Pacers team, the Western Conference was destined to be a battle from the start. The toughest part of playing out West isn’t merely outlasting tougher competition throughout the regular season, it’s navigating through the even murkier waters of what often seems to be the loaded side of the proverbial playoff bracket.

Just ask those Thunder players how comfortable they are heading back to the Fed Ex Forum actually down in the series to a team in the Grizzlies that is showing just why their were considered an unfavorable matchup no matter the opponent. Momentum in a series can swing at the drop of a hat, so Thunder fans have to be hoping they’ll be able to at least cheer on the presumed 2013-14 MVP Kevin Durant one more time in the event that he and Russell Westbrook can help force a Game 7 back in Oklahoma City this weekend.

Speaking of swings in momentum, it sure was great to focus on what is actually one of the better pairings in the first round in the Clippers and Warriors following Silver’s announcement. While obviously maintaining an appreciation and respect for the magnitude of the decision, you can’t tell us those Clippers didn’t play with a sense of renewed peace as they pulled ahead of the visiting Warriors.

Unlike the Clippers and Spurs, both heading on the road to attempt to close their respective series’ out with their 3-2 lead, the Blazers join Memphis as the other lower seed heading home with a 3-2 lead of their own. Even if you disagree with this opening round being the most exciting we’ve ever seen, the fact that each of the remaining series’ could not only conceivably go to a deciding Game 7, but each could easily be won by either team without it ultimately being that much of a shock. As top-heavy as (at least half) the league may have been throughout the initial 82 games, the “second season” has been matched about as evenly as you could have expected. That, in itself, might make this postseason go down as one for the ages when all is said and done.

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NBA Daily: The Memphis Grizzlies’ Young Core Rises

The Memphis Grizzlies have built one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA – and it won’t be long before they’re competing at the top of the Western Conference.

Zach Dupont

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Needless to say, the NBA is flush with some exciting young rosters. Trae Young’s Atlanta Hawks, Luka Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks and Zion Williamson’s New Orleans Pelicans are bursting at the seams with talent and, in short order, have sparked discussions as to which team might be basketball’s next big thing.

While each of those teams excites in their own, unique way, it’s the Memphis Grizzlies that stand out from the rest of the pack.

The Grizzlies are led by Ja Morant, their sophomore star point guard out of Murray State. As a rookie, Morant proved he was one of the NBA’s brightest up-and-comers, but he’s taken it to another level this season. While he missed time with an ankle injury, Morant has averaged 22.6 points and 7.0 assists per game on 53.2 percent shooting. Morant is also first in the NBA in fast-break points per game, averaging 5.8 per game.

The bright hooper hasn’t had the hype that someone like Young did early on in the season, but there’s a case to be made that Morant is just as promising as the Hawks’ star guard. Per 48 minutes, Morant is averaging 37.1 points and 11.5 assists versus Young at 33.6 points and 13.1 assists per game. While not a perfect comparison given the former’s smaller sample size in 2020-21, it does show that Morant is absolutely in the discussion for the best young guard in the league.

The Grizzlies already have their cornerstone of the future, but what separates them from the rest of the NBA’s fascinating teams is the organization’s ability to acquire talented role players. Five of the Grizzlies’ top seven scorers are players the Grizzlies drafted in the last four seasons; better, four of them were players selected in the previous two.

Memphis only has two players older than 30, Gorgui Dieng and Tim Frazier, the latter of which has played just 33 minutes this season. That number jumps to three with players 28-years-and-older by adding Jonas Valanciunas to the list.

Lead amongst those role players is the Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer Dillon Brooks, the 45th overall selection for Memphis in 2017. Brooks is putting up 15.2 points per game in his fourth season in the NBA despite not shooting the ball well, just 36.9 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from three-point range. Brooks has never shot below 35 percent from three or 40 percent from the field in his career, so it stands to reason his percentages will increase by the end of the year and, with it, his entire scoring output.

Elsewhere, Brandon Clarke, a second-year forward out of Gonzaga, is one of Memphis’ five players averaging over 10 points per game this year, putting up 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. While his scoring numbers are substantial, Clarke’s value comes on the defensive end – much like the two Grizzlies’ rookies, Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman.

Bane and Tillman were picked between 30-35th overall, and through a handful of games, both have well exceeded their draft slots. Bane is averaging 8.6 points per game on crazy efficient shooting percentages of 47.1/48.9/77.8. Beyond that, Tillman has shown his worth on both ends of the ball too, averaging 8.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the Grizzlies’ talented young core which includes two ultra-talented youngsters who have yet to play this season.

Jaren Jackson Jr. may be the Grizzlies’ second-best player behind Morant; last year, he averaged 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 46.9/39.4/74.7 shooting splits. Winslow hasn’t played since early on in the 2019-20 season with the Miami HEAT, before being traded to Memphis at the deadline for Andre Iguodala. During his last full season, Winslow averaged 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game on 43.3/37.5/62.8 shooting splits, making him a valuable wing player that the Grizzlies have just waiting on the bench.

Of course, Memphis is one of the youngest teams in the NBA with an average age of 24.3, second-youngest in the league, and have dealt with significant injury problems early on this season. Despite this, the Grizzlies are one of the best defensive units in the league, holding a defensive rating of 106.66, second-best league-wide. The Memphis offense has struggled so far this year, but a major reason why is because of Morant’s injury.

When Morant plays, the Grizzlies’ offensive numbers are much improved. With Morant on the floor, they’ve got an offensive rating of 115.4, which would be the sixth-best mark in the NBA. Without him on the floor, their offensive rating drops to 103.8, good for second-worst. Given that Morant has missed more than half the Grizzlies’ games this year, it’s no wonder their offensive rating is a 105.66 on the season.

Ultimately, this has left the Grizzlies with a record of 7-6, putting them at the eighth seed in the Western Conference and right in the hunt for the playoffs.

The scary thing is that the Grizzlies are only going to get better. Morant and Jackson Jr. are both 21-years-old, Tillman and Bane are 22 and Brooks, Winslow and Clarke are 24. The entirety of the core is young, while their two best players are hardly old enough to buy alcohol. Even though the Grizzlies are young, they’ve already shown themselves to be one of the league’s best defenses and possess the tools to improve their offense in-house.

Come the end of the season, the Grizzlies will be a real playoff contender – and with such a young roster, it’s only a matter of time before Memphis is competing for more than just the backend of the playoffs.

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NBA Daily: Reggie Jackson Staying Ready for the Clippers

Reggie Jackson hasn’t had much opportunity with the Los Angeles Clippers this season. Still, he’s ready for whenever the team may need him.

David Yapkowitz

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There’s an old saying: “if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.” That saying would certainly apply to Reggie Jackson this season.

Jackson, who joined the Los Angeles Clippers last season after he was bought out by the Detroit Pistons, re-upped with team on a one-year deal. A once-promising young guard that the Pistons pried away from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015 with a five-year, $80 million contract, his time in Detroit was unfortunately marred by injuries and inconsistency.

Still, he was coveted on the buyout market. When Jackson arrived in Los Angeles, the prevailing thought was that he would provide the Clippers with extra guard depth and an additional ball-handler and solid playmaker off the bench. They even had competition from the Los Angeles Lakers for his services.

And, for the most part, Jackson did just that in his 17 regular-season games — including the Orlando bubble seeding games — that he suited up with the Clippers. He put up 9.5 points per game and 3.2 assists while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from three-point range.

But the playoffs were a different story. Inconsistency reared its ugly head and Jackson’s numbers dropped to 4.9 points and 0.9 assists while his field goal percentage dipped to 43.8 percent. The Clippers as a whole were inconsistent, especially in their second-round loss to the Denver Nuggets, and it was unsure if Jackson would be back with the team for the 2020-21 season.

He did come back, although it looked as if this year he was going to have some competition at the backup point guard spot with second-year guard Terance Mann. When the season began, new head coach Tyronn Lue alternated between the two from game-to-game, but eventually settled on a rotation that didn’t necessarily include either of them.

For a young player like Mann, finding yourself out of the rotation might seem like necessary growing pains as your career is in its infancy. But, for a vet like Jackson, it can be tough. Lue admitted as much in a recent call with media.

“It was a hard conversation for me because I thought he had been playing well,” Lue said, “but we couldn’t play all the guys, we knew that coming into the season.”

“He took it well. I think when you’re a veteran, when you’re a pro, when you want to win you do whatever it takes to try to win. I just told him to stay ready, it’s a long season with Covid, with injuries and things like that, you got to be ready.”

To Jackson’s credit, he’s done just that and stayed ready for when his next opportunity should arise.

And, luckily for him, it came maybe a bit sooner than expected.

Last Friday against the Sacramento Kings, the Clippers found themselves without both Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams. And, so, Jackson found himself in the starting lineup.

In the win against the Kings, Jackson finished with 11 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists, shot 50 percent from long-range and even threw down a dunk in traffic. After the game, he joked that his teammates had been teasing him for not dunking and for being 30 years old. That moment made him feel like he was younger again.

“It feels good, especially at 30. Seeing the open lane and having a chance to attack,” Jackson said. “I’ve had an injury-plagued career these past few years, I just feel like I’m getting my legs back under me and feel somewhat 20 again, it felt great to go out there to get a dunk.”

“I’m just glad to get it in there. I got a little nervous.”

Before being told he was going to be out of the rotation, Jackson had strung together some solid games off the bench as Lue was experimenting with the lineup. In the Clippers Dec 29 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jackson had perhaps his best game of the season with 11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and a block.

He followed that up with another strong performance in a win against a good Portland Trail Blazers team with 11 points, 2 assists and 66.7 percent shooting from the field including 50 percent from downtown. Jackson understands that some nights he might not see any playing time while other nights he may be called upon to provide a spark.

“I just want to be ready, I’m just trying to stay ready for anything and whenever my name is called this year,” he said. “I just try to manage the point guard like a quarterback, on wins. There’s things I can improve on, things I could be better at. For the most part I just want to find a way to help my team get a win.”

With the return of Beverley, Jackson only played 13 minutes off the bench in the Clippers most recent game against the Indiana Pacers. Still, he figures to be a regular in the rotation with Williams still day-to-day and Lue has liked what he’s seen from him in these recent wins.

“He’s a point guard, he did a good job with catch and shoot, distributing the basketball, but also running the team,” Lue said. “That’s what we expect him to do. I’m happy for Reggie, staying ready and being a professional.”

For Jackson, one of the things that have helped him the most this season is having two championship-caliber point guards on the sideline in Lue and assistant coach Chauncey Billups, as well as assistants Larry Drew and Kenny Atkinson who were solid point guards in their playing days, too.

Although he’s a veteran, he’s always trying to learn and always trying to improve and he feels like this is the best group for him to learn from.

“They’re helping me day-in and day-out. Having a slew of point guards and great minds at the helm is just helping me with my maturation and seeing the game,” Jackson said. “Having somebody to bounce ideas off of steadily, I think it’s working really well right now. I’m just fortunate to have their minds and try to pick their brains as much as possible. I know I’ve been doing this 10 years but to have those guys in my corner, they’ve forgotten more basketball than I know. I always try to soak it up.”

And if Jackson can continue to refine his game — to pick up what he can as he picks the brains of Lue, Billups and the others — and stay ready, he just might come up big for Los Angeles when they need him most.

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NBA Daily: Youth Fueling San Antonio

Gregg Popovich has typically relied heavily on his veteran players. Now, he has a cast of young talent that is fueling a Spurs resurgence. Chad Smith puts the spotlight on the rising stars in San Antonio.

Chad Smith

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Last season was strange for everyone, but especially San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. It was the first time in his 25-year tenure that his team missed the playoffs. Heck, it was the first time his team ever finished with a losing record since he took the job in 1996. But, in spite of that season and the fact that Popovich will turn 72 next week, his motivation and excitement are still there.

Popovich has done it and seen it all during his time on the bench. From winning five NBA titles to coaching countless Hall of Fame players along the way. His list of accomplishments is endless, but the coaching job he is doing this year might just rank right near the top.

Most teams around the league are either primarily comprised of young and inexperienced players or made up mostly of veterans who know how to manage the game. You won’t find many that have a nice mixture of both, let alone having the talent that the Spurs seem to have. Their roster doesn’t have an All-Time great player, either; you won’t find a Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Manu Ginóbili or Tony Parker here. They have a great veteran duo, to be fair — both DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are capable of playing at a high level — but neither can be asked to carry a team at this stage of their respective careers.

It is Popovich’s job to take those ingredients and cook up something special. And it’s here where his and San Antonio’s player development abilities shine through.

The 2019 NBA Draft was oozing with talent at the top with guys like Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and RJ Barret taking the spotlight. And while no one wants to miss out on the postseason, their down year could have been a blessing in disguise for Spurs, who have long had a knack for plucking hidden gems in the first round. Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Keldon Johnson were all drafted by the Spurs as the 29th overall selection.

And this season, while White has only played one game because of an injury, it has been the duo of Murray and Johnson that has been the spark for a reinvigorated San Antonio.

Murray, in particular, is finally having the breakout season that many envisioned. He has improved his scoring average by five points per game and is posting career-high averages in rebounds, assists and free throw percentage. Not only is he hitting the free throws, but Murray is also getting to the line more often instead of settling for mid-range jumpers.

As good as Murray has played thus far, it has been Johnson’s emergence that has been turning heads around the league.

Not many players from the loaded 2019 draft have busted onto the scene in their second year quite like Johnson has. After appearing in just 17 games last season, the former Kentucky product has elevated his game to new heights. So far this season he is averaging 14 points and seven rebounds while starting every game for San Antonio.

While his minutes and shot attempts have greatly increased in his new role, Johnson has maintained an efficiency that has allowed him to blossom. The Spurs desperately need some floor spacing, as they rank in the bottom five of the league in terms of three-point shot attempts; Johnson’s ability to shoot both vital to their strong start and has been heavily relied upon with guys like DeRozan, Murray and Aldridge all making their living in the mid-range area.

Johnson also has the tools and intelligence to make a major impact on the defensive end of the floor. His large frame allows him to guard bigger players and take contact, while his length and athleticism make him a great closeout defender. Popovich has relied on him heavily in their games where they’ve had to face the likes of LeBron James, Christian Wood, Pascal Siakam and former Spur Kawhi Leonard.

White’s prolonged absence has opened the door for another youngster, Lonnie Walker, who has flourished with the opportunity. There is a reason San Antonio took him with the 18th overall pick a few years ago and, now, he seems to be putting it all together. His scoring and efficiency have drastically improved, while his patience and understanding of what is happening on the floor seem more apparent.

Walker has always had elite-level athleticism, but he has worked on his jump shot and finishing ability at the rim. He has been one of their best scoring options this season, capable of putting up 20 points or more on any given night. Walker and Popovich have given much of the credit to Murray’s leadership.

The 24-year-old point guard seems to be establishing himself as the leader of this team. His patience running the offense and finding teammates in half-court sets has been crucial. Their transition game has been thriving as well, with their young guys getting downhill and putting pressure on defenders. They rank in the top-five in terms of drives per game, as Popovich has emphasized the importance of getting to the rim and creating open shots for others.

Another statistic that Popovich has to be thrilled with speaks volumes about the growth of his backcourt: the Spurs turn the ball over less than any other team in the league. In fact, they are the only team that commits fewer than 10 turnovers per game.

Confidence plays a major role in how well a player develops. And it appears as though Popovich has instilled confidence in Murray and Walker, which has enabled them to take off. Johnson’s confidence was evident last season, where he erupted in his final games at the bubble in Orlando.

Just as he has injected confidence into his young guys, Popovich has channeled patience and better decision-making into DeRozan as well. No longer is he forcing up shots and shying away from the three-point line. It may have taken a bit longer than many expected, but Popovich may have molded DeRozan into the best version of himself.

Whether attacking their talented trio of young players or a veteran like DeRozan, Aldridge or Patty Mills, San Antonio is going to be a tough team to keep down or put away. The Western Conference is stacked once again but, while they may roster the same names as last season, this Spurs team is vastly different.

And, if they continue to grow and trust one another, there could be another playoff run on the horizon for Popovich and San Antonio.

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