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NBA Daily: Who Could be the Next Head Coach in Phoenix?

The Suns are looking for a new head coach once again. Shane Rhodes takes a look at who could be an ideal fit in Phoenix.

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Another offseason, another Phoenix Suns head coaching search is underway.

After a year with Igor Kokoskov at the helm, the Suns felt as if they had seen enough. A longtime NBA assistant and head coach of the Slovenian national team, Kokoskov had a rough go of it in Phoenix. The team limped to a 19-63 record, their worst in 50 years.

The blame cannot be placed entirely on Kokoskov, one could even argue he was doomed from the start. The Suns fired their then General Manager, Ryan McDonough, just days before the start of the regular season. They gifted Kokoskov one of the youngest rosters in the NBA, a roster that got only younger as the season went along, and one without a point guard to run his offense.

It’s almost as if he was set up to fail.

The ineptitude in Phoenix seems almost certain to continue. But, with James Jones now firmly entrenched as their General Manager, perhaps he can bring some semblance of stability to a franchise that has been anything but stable over the last six seasons.

That will start with the new head coach.

This will be the fifth coach in as many seasons in Phoenix. There are certainly a number of qualified candidates around the league, but who is best suited to lead the young Suns into the future?

Monty Williams

Monty Williams has become quite popular over the past few weeks.

The Suns have already reached out to the Philadelphia 76ers for permission to interview him, and he appears to be one of their top targets. The same goes for the Los Angeles Lakers, who have already spoken with Williams twice since they agreed to part ways with former head coach Luke Walton.

Williams has past coaching experience — both as an assistant and head coach — and ties to both Jones and the Suns’ recently appointed Vice President of Basketball Operations, Jeff Bower; Williams served on the Portland Trail Blazers staff during Jones’ time with the team while Bower hired Williams to coach the New Orleans Pelicans back in 2010 (he led them to 46 wins in his first campaign). He has served as an assistant with the Oklahoma City Thunder and now with the 76ers as well.

Like Kokoskov, Williams is a respected face around the NBA, but they may not have a real chance at him. The Lakers are almost certainly the more attractive of the two openings and, if they settle on Williams, the Suns’ pursuit of him may be all for naught.

Still, in the event that Los Angeles goes another way — they have reportedly held interviews with Ty Lue, Juwan Howard and Jason Kidd as well — Williams certainly would be a solid get as Phoenix, once again, tries to find their man.

Dave Joerger

Dave Joerger should really still have a job at this point.

The Sacramento Kings just finished their best season since arguably 2005. While they once again missed out on the postseason, they were in the thick of things until the very end as Joerger coached the young Kings to a 39-43 record and a ninth-place Western Conference finish.

Joerger and Vice President of Basketball Operations Vlade Divac didn’t always agree. So, when management extended Divac at the end of the season, Joerger wasn’t long for the job.

Now, Phoenix is almost a perfect mirror of what Sacramento was before this season — they are a young squad with a lot of talent, but they need someone to help them take the next step. So, why not hire the guy that helped the Kings to take that step? With Joerger behind them, the Kings’ young studs — De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley, etc. — all took major strides in their development. Better yet, Joerger had them playing with energy from start to finish, something the Suns sorely lacked throughout the season.

Should they miss out on their top target in Williams, Joerger would almost certainly be a welcomed consolation prize. The team desperately needs an infusion of energy into their staff and if he can approach even half of what he managed with Sacramento this season, it would be a win for Phoenix.

Ettore Messina

San Antonio Spurs assistant Ettore Messina has made his way around the NBA interview circuit over the last few years.

Messina was a finalist for both the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors vacancies last season and has interviewed with several other teams in recent years. A long-time assistant to Greg Popovich, Messina has decades of experience in the NBA under his belt, far more than any other potential option for the Suns.

If Phoenix is looking for some stability at the position, they could do far worse than Messina. Those years and years of experience could provide a calm, veteran-like presence in a very young locker room.

That being said, it may be difficult to pry Messina away from San Antonio. Popovich, in the last year of his current deal with the team, has thus far been noncommittal on his future. Should he retire come the end of the Spurs’ season, San Antonio may look to retain Messina as an insurance policy, should other potential candidates not be to their liking.

Jay Larranaga

Currently an assistant on Brad Stevens’ Boston Celtics coaching staff, Jay Larranaga has worked his way up the NBA latter.

Larranaga had coached both overseas and in the G League before he earned a spot on Boston’s bench. He was in the running for multiple head coaching jobs as recently as last season as well; he interviewed with the New York Knicks, Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets.

Larranaga is experienced and comes from coaching roots; his father, Jim, is the current head coach at the University of Miami. Not only that, but Larranaga is highly respected by his players and fellow staff members in Boston. The youngest of these five, his age could also give him a leg up, should the Suns look for someone that could connect with one of the youngest rosters in the NBA.

David Vanterpool

Like Williams, David Vanterpool has heard his name mentioned quite a bit recently.

Both Phoenix and the Cleveland Cavaliers sought, and have since been given, permission to interview the Portland Trail Blazers lead assistant. He interviewed with the Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic last season.

Vanterpool may not be the best candidate for the job — he has no prior experience as a head coach — but he could bring a fresh perspective to a franchise that desperately needs one. That being said, Vanterpool has served on multiple benches, both in the NBA and overseas and has done well in his time with the Trail Blazers, working extensively with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

These are not the only candidates for Phoenix, but they present some of the better options available to them at this moment. And, with another long offseason looming, they have to get their guy this time. If they find themselves back at square one this time next season, it would be anyone’s guess as to when they could climb out of the downward spiral they have found themselves in.

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Mike D’Antoni to step away as Nets assistant coach

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On Wednesday evening, the Brooklyn Nets organization announced that assistant coach Mike D’Antoni would not be returning to Steve Nash’s coaching staff for the 2021-22 NBA season. Coach D’Antoni is deciding to step down from his position after one season spent with the organization. The reason D’Antoni is deciding to leave the team is unknown. In late June, D’Antoni met with the Portland Trail Blazers for the vacant head-coaching position; he was interviewed twice.

From ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the 70-year-old veteran coach is still seeking to pursue another job as head coach. Coach Nash commented on the story stating, “I will forever be grateful for his guidance and will carry on a lifetime of lessons from the many years we’ve spent together. Our players and staff all benefited from this time in Brooklyn and we wish Mike, Laurel, and their family the very best in what lies ahead.” This news has personally shocked Nash, considering their history together.

In his 16-year NBA head coaching career, D’Antoni’s W-L record is 718-555 (.564). Despite never winning an NBA championship, D’Antoni won the 2005 Coach of the Year award with the Phoenix Suns when Nash was his star point guard, and he won his second award while coaching the Houston Rockets in 2017. The 2004-05 Suns finished 62-20 (.756), ranking first in the Pacific Division and first overall in the Western Conference. However, the Suns went on to lose four games to one against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.

The 2017-18 Rockets ended their season 65-17 (.793), ranking first in the Southwest Division and first in the Western Conference Finals. Though, once again, D’Antoni’s team came up short, losing in Game 7 versus the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Coach D’Antoni was also the NBA All-Star Game head coach in 2007 and 2018. Moreover, the Nets lost another assistant coach this offseason after the Boston Celtics hired Ime Udoka to become their next head coach. On July 9, 2021, the Nets hired former Trail Blazers assistant coach David Vanterpool to their coaching staff.

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NBA Draft: Déjà Vu in Detroit

Tomorrow night the Detroit Pistons will make the first overall selection in the NBA Draft for just the second time in team history. They selected a Hall of Famer with that pick 51 years ago. Chad Smith details why it might happen again, this time with a player that resembles a guy that was once the face of their franchise.

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It has been 18 years since the Detroit Pistons had a top-three pick in the NBA Draft. Unfortunately, it was arguably the worst selection in the history of the event as they took Darko Milicic second overall ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. It was a night that everyone in Detroit would love to forget, and now they might be able to do just that.

Detroit will kick off the 2021 NBA Draft on Thursday night in what has been labeled as a loaded draft class, especially at the top. The last time the Pistons had the top overall pick, they did well by selecting Hall of Fame center Bob Lanier out of St. Bonaventure in the 1970 draft. The organization is hopeful that history will repeat itself.

Cade Cunningham is the consensus number one pick this year, which speaks volumes when considering the other candidates. While Detroit has not publicly hinted that they will take Cunningham, it would be an absolute shocker if he does not end up in the Motor City. It is a place that Cunningham has already grown fond of.

Should things go according to plan on Thursday night, there could be some déjà vu in Detroit. Aside from the Darko debacle, the last top-three selection by the franchise came in 1994 when they took Grant Hill out of Duke. The physical attributes are quite clear. Both players are listed at 6’ 8” tall and around 220 pounds. Just as their build is the same, so too is their demeanor on and off of the court.

Both Cunningham and Hill have similar playing styles and share many of the same strengths and weaknesses. They have incredible vision and passing ability that allows them to create for teammates. They use their size and strength against smaller defenders near the basket and are incredibly versatile with the ball in their hands. They are able to initiate offense from anywhere on the floor and have a complete all-around game that includes defense.

Hill recorded 29 triple-doubles in his career. That is something that Detroit hopes to get out of the 19-year old playmaker. Unlike many situations where the top overall pick finds himself on a team lacking talent, the Pistons have done a marvelous job of transforming their roster under Troy Weaver. Most of their core is already under contract for next season and will be earning less than $6 million.

Cunningham will join Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee, as well as two All-Rookies in Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart. With Killian Hayes missing much of his rookie season due to injury, the Pistons have plenty of talent surrounding their new floor general. With some more talent and veteran leadership possibly coming onboard during free agency, Detroit should be able to return to the postseason next year.

As gifted as Cunningham is, he is not the most explosive athlete for his size. He won’t blow by defenders on the perimeter or leap over them for a highlight dunk, but that doesn’t stop him from attacking the basket. Like Hill, he has shown the ability to either create for teammates, create for himself, or simply finish at the rim. He makes the right reads against traps and hard hedges, making him even more difficult to defend.

The versatility is on full display whether it be on offense or defense. Cunningham’s seven-foot wingspan adds another element to his game as a physical defender with active hands. His high basketball IQ allows him to capitalize on filling passing lanes and his timing on shot-blocking. His improved jump shot has also elevated him as a true dynamic threat, scoring from all three levels.

As a Freshman at Oklahoma State, Cunningham averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 44 percent from the floor. He plays under control and never looks rushed or uncomfortable. It may take him some time to adjust to the NBA game but he has all of the tools and attributes you would want a top prospect to possess.

The fit in Detroit is tailor-made for the versatile guard. Cunningham can do a little bit of everything and elevates the play of his teammates. Whether he is facilitating, scoring, or playing off the ball, his impact on the court is significant. Despite not being an elite athlete, he can initiate the offense and get his own shot when needed.

Detroit clearly lacked guard play last season, with Hayes out of the lineup. They relied upon Grant and Plumlee to fuel their offense, with the rookies filling in at times. With the addition of Cunningham and the return of Hayes, the Pistons will have a sensational young backcourt to go along with their already established frontcourt.

There is also the potential for Detroit to have one of the most improved defenses in the conference. With their length and athleticism, this young core fits right in with the culture of a blue-collar team built around defense. Much of their success will ride on the shoulders of Dwane Casey, as he returns for his fourth season in Detroit.

Both Hill and Cunningham are from Texas and their birth dates are just ten days apart. Hill spent his first six seasons in Detroit, where he enjoyed the prime years of his playing career that included the Rookie of the Year Award. Five of his seven All-Star seasons came as a member of the Pistons and he was often seen as the next great superstar.

While injuries derailed his career, Hill’s journey ended with a trip to the Hall of Fame. While it is too early to put those expectations on a 19-year old, it is safe to say that the Pistons are in good hands for many years to come.

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Draft Kings

Team Argentina vs. Spain – Preview, Prediction, & Betting Picks

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On Thursday, July 29th at 8:00 a.m. (EST), Argentina will take on Spain in this Group C preliminary round matchup. The Spaniards will enter this game as the selected favorites, while the Argentinians embrace their underdog role, as they lost their opening game 118-100 against Mavericks’ guard Luka Doncic and the Slovenian team. The last time Spain won the gold medal for the men’s team was at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, where they defeated Argentina 95-75.

Game Details

Date & Time: Thursday, July 29th at 8:00 a.m. (EST)

Location: Saitama Super Arena; Saitama, Japan

Availability: Peacock (live) & NBC Sports Network (delayed)

Spread: Spain -8.5 (+100) (per DraftKings Sportsbook) 

Over/Under: 167

Best Moneyline: Spain -400, Argentina +300

  • Table odds retrieved from DraftKings

Argentina vs. Spain Preview

Team Argentina’s starting lineup in Thursday morning’s game consists of Facundo Campazzo, Luca Vildoza, Patricio Garino, Luis Scola, and Marcos Delia. In the team’s 118-100 defeat versus Slovenia, in 27 minutes played, forward Scola led the team on the stat sheet, accumulating 23 points, four rebounds, one assist, and one block. Guard Campazzo also earned 21 points, six rebounds, four assists, and three steals. According to Bovada’s Olympic futures odds, the Argentinians have the eighth best odds to win the gold medal, with +8000 futures odds. Argentina has the third best odds (+2000) of winning Group C.Argentina vs. Spain Preview

Moreover, the starting lineup for Spain consists of Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez, Juan Hernangomez, Victor Claver, and Marc Gasol. Their bench also includes two-time NBA champion center Pau Gasol. In the Spaniards’ 88-77 victory over Japan, Rubio led the team all across the board, leading the team with 20 points, two rebounds, and nine assists. Forward Claver finished his performance with 13 points, nine rebounds, and one steal. Additionally, with +1000 futures odds, Spain has the fifth best odds of winning the gold. Spain has the second best odds (EVEN) of winning Group C.

Prediction: Spain wins by 8 points

Team Spain are the more trustworthy, superior bet in this matchup. Pau Gasol, the seven-foot-one six-time NBA All-Star, is 41-years-old. Marc, his brother, is also 36. Leading into the Tokyo Olympic Games, basketball experts and bettors were wondering if age would be a significant factor for the Spaniards. However, thus far, it has been quite the contrary. Ricky Rubio has also proven to be an important piece for helping the team to become legitimate title contenders. In the 2020-21 NBA season, Rubio averaged 8.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 6.4 assists.

As for Argentina, Scola and Campazzo are carrying the team right now. In their 18-point loss to Slovenia, the Argentinians shot 5-for-31 (16.1 percent) from beyond the arc. To add insult to injury, the team was out-rebounded 59 to 32 overall. This cannot happen against the top contenders, such as versus Slovenia, France, Spain, or the USA. Sooner or later, the wheels on the wagon will eventually fall off. There are bettors giving Spain a -12.5 point spread in this matchup, but it might be best to stick with the -8.5 spread, first provided by DraftKings. In this game, some bettors are anticipating a 20-point blowout repeat of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Final.

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