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Rick Carlisle’s Unfinished Business in Indiana

Rick Carlisle returns to Indiana with unfinished business in mind. Chad Smith looks at why he decided to come back and how he could finish what he started nearly two decades ago.

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When Rick Carlisle stepped down as head coach of the Dallas Mavericks, the speculation began about where he was headed next. After 13 years in Dallas that included a championship in 2011, Carlisle would undoubtedly have plenty of suitors in terms of his next stop. The two organizations that were the favorites to land him were the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks. The Celtics hired Ime Udoka and it appears that Mike Budenholzer’s job in Milwaukee is safe after the Bucks defeated the Brooklyn Nets in their seven-game playoff series.

Among the teams with coaching vacancies, the Indiana Pacers were well down the list of desired destinations. The New Orleans Pelicans have a bright future with Zion Williamson and company. The Portland Trail Blazers have Damian Lillard who is in a win-now mode. The Washington Wizards have the dynamic backcourt of Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal. Even the Orlando Magic has some young pieces that would be intriguing to develop.

In the end, it was a return to Indiana that Carlisle ultimately decided was the right fit. He served as an assistant to Larry Bird for three seasons before taking over as head coach of the Pacers from 2003 until 2007, going 181-74 overall during his time there.

The Pacers were looking for an established veteran coach after their gamble on Nate Bjorkgren did not go as planned. The four-year, $29 million contract that Carlisle landed is another factor here, which demonstrates just how much Indiana wanted to bring him back.

The decision to leave Dallas and MVP candidate Luka Doncic for a team without a superstar player on the roster is a bold one, especially considering he had two years remaining on his contract. The Mavericks earned the fifth seed in the Western Conference where they lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in an epic seven-game series. They finished seventh the previous season and 14th the year before that.

The consistency was there, but the Mavericks have not advanced past the first round since their championship season. The departure of longtime executive Donnie Nelson was the first sign of a new regime being constructed in Dallas.

Reports of a power struggle and turmoil in the front office were likely a major reason for Carlisle deciding to move on. The uncertainty of the roster aside from Doncic is another reason why he may have left. The Kristaps Porzingis trade has not panned out very well and they have some key free agency decisions looming this offseason. Taking Doncic out of the equation, Indiana has the better roster, especially considering the competition they will be facing in the East.

In the end, it was just time for Carlisle to move on. Only Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra have been with their teams longer, and they both have won championships more recently than Carlisle. After nine playoff appearances in Dallas, the 2001-2002 Coach of the Year will now turn his attention to getting the Pacers over the proverbial hump.

Indiana welcomes Carlisle back with open arms. The fans and media alike have already labeled this as a home run hire for both sides. It seems like a match made in heaven, but there will be plenty of questions to answer before the start of next season.

In terms of the roster, the elephant in the room here is the big man pairing of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. The experiment has had mixed results, and odds are that one of them will be moved in the offseason. While Turner will yield a higher return in a trade, he is also the kind of player that would seemingly thrive under Carlisle. By his own words, he is no longer a believer in the post-up game.

In a postgame interview on December 27, 2019, he went into great detail about that aspect of the game. “The post-up just isn’t a good play anymore. It just isn’t a good play. It’s not a good play for a 7-3 guy. It’s a low-value situation.” He focused more on Porzingis specifically. “The value of those situations has plummeted. We’ve got to realize that this game has changed. It’s changed. It’s just a fact.”

Carlisle has repeatedly praised Porzingis for his outside shooting, rim protection, and ability to drive more and make the right pass. The latter is something that Turner developed last season, and was a tremendous asset for Indiana’s offense. It is a stark contrast from Sabonis, who feasted on opponents with his back to the basket.

That being said, it was a career year for Sabonis, who recorded nine triple-doubles during the regular season. Only Westbrook, Doncic, Nikola Jokic and James Harden had more. His 48 double-doubles trailed only Jokic, Westbrook, Rudy Gobert and Jonas Valanciunas.

The Pacers used Sabonis as the hub of their offense, which generated much of their success on that end of the floor. Double teams were a frequent sight for the All-Star this past season. Without his vision to make the right pass and his ability to score near the basket, Indiana would have been one of the more futile teams in the league. The front office could ultimately decide to keep both, but they will likely have to choose one or the other this summer.

Another position in question with this team going forward is point guard. When Indiana made the deal to acquire Malcolm Brogdon from Milwaukee, it came with a risk. The 28-year old has had his fair share of injuries throughout his career, and this season was another reminder of that. He played in just 56 games this season, which was only two more than the year before.

Carlisle’s history with point guards is somewhat rocky, most notably his rift with Rajon Rondo during his brief stint in Dallas. There was also speculation that he and Doncic didn’t always get along, and if Brogdon is not able to get on the same page, his time in Indiana could also be short-lived.

In a recent interview with ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, Carlisle expressed his thoughts on the current Pacers roster. “It’s a team of skilled, unselfish guys that play hard,” he said. “It’s always possible that moves could be made before the season, but I think Kevin Pritchard and I are both very excited about getting the roster healthy and seeing what this team can be.”

Indiana was one of the more injury-plagued teams this season, with so many of their guys missing time. TJ Warren essentially missed the entire season and Turner’s impressive year was cut short by 25 games. Jeremy Lamb missed half of the season, Brogdon missed 16 games and Sabonis missed ten due to injuries as well. Adding to that was the absence of Victor Oladipo after his trade, then having to wait until March to see Caris LeVert play.

Looking at their own free agents, the list is short. TJ McConnell, Doug McDermott and JaKarr Sampson are all unrestricted free agents. McConnell and McDermott both had career years with the Pacers. TJ led the league in steals and Doug expanded his offensive game and was scoring from all different areas of the floor. The Pacers also have the 13th overall pick in the NBA Draft next month. They have not selected in the single digits since 1989 but could do so should they desire to move up.

Carlisle’s 100-64 record with the Detroit Pistons and 555-478 record in Dallas is further proof that he wins no matter where he coaches. Don’t expect that to change in Indiana, where he has all of the ingredients needed to build a winner. “It’s an exciting situation because there’s upside here,” said Carlisle. “Getting back healthy is going to be a big part of that.”

With 836 career wins as a head coach, Carlisle ranks 15th in history. His presence alone will not be enough to get this team over the hump though. The players need to hold themselves accountable and be willing to be coached.

The Pacers suffered a first-round exit in 2003 under head coach Isiah Thomas. When Carlisle took over the team, the Pacers won 61 games and lost in the Eastern Conference Finals in six games to the Pistons, who went on to win the championship.

The following season looked promising but the infamous “Malice at the Palace” brawl between the Pacers and Pistons ruined their season. With their top players suspended, the Pacers finished 44-38 and lost to Detroit in the postseason. Reggie Miller retired, Ron Artest demanded a trade and the team was never the same. The roster was retooled and players were dealt to restore the team’s image. After Carlisle and the Pacers parted ways, Indiana missed the playoffs four consecutive seasons.

By the time Carlisle’s contract is up, it will have been 20 years since that dark day in Detroit. Call it unfinished business, running it back, or simply a second chance. A lot has changed for both the Pacers and Carlisle over the past 14 years. Now they are reuniting to finish what they started.

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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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NBA releases schedule for Summer League 2021

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On Wednesday, the NBA announced the broadcast schedule for the MGM Resorts NBA Summer League 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBA had to cancel the Las Vegas Summer League last year in 2020. Fast forward to today, the 17th annual NBA Summer League will air live this year in Las Vegas, Nevada from August 8-17. During the 10-day tournament, the 75 total games will be broadcasted on these network channels: NBA TV, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPNews.

Plus, the games can be watched live with the ESPN app. WatchESPN is free, but according to ESPN.com, the user must be a subscriber of a major cable service, such as AT&T U-Verse, BendBroadband, or Xfinity. Anyways, through the NBA.com website, tickets can be bought via the NBA Events section of the site. Each of the 30 NBA teams will play a total of five games over the course of the short, competitive tournament.

The Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion stadiums will host six to eight games per day. According to the 2021 schedule, for games 17-22 on Tuesday, August 10th, only six games will be played this day. The 75th game of the competition, the final matchup, will be the championship game. The 28 teams that fail to qualify for the championship game will play their fifth and final game on either August 16th or 17th. The title game is scheduled for Tuesday, August 17th at 9:00 p.m. (EST) on ESPN.

The Summer League 2021 tips off with a matchup between the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks at the Cox Pavilion. This game is scheduled for Sunday, August 8th at 1:00 p.m. (EST) on NBA TV. The first four teams selecting in the 2021 NBA Draft will also be playing on this day: Detroit Pistons (No. 1 pick), Houston Rockets (No. 2 pick), Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 3 pick), and the Toronto Raptors (No. 4 pick). At the Thomas & Mack Center, the Raptors vs. Knicks game is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. (EST) on ESPN2. Then, the Trail Blazers will face the Hornet at 6:00 p.m. (EST) on NBA TV.

For the opening game on the second day, the Pelicans will play the Bulls at 3:00 p.m. (EST) on ESPN2, followed by the Mavericks versus 76ers at 4:00 p.m. (EST) on NBA TV. There are several different games viewers can choose to watch over this 10-day span. Brandon Clarke was the most recent player to win the Las Vegas MVP award, in the Summer League of 2019. Clarke was drafted 21st overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2019 NBA Draft.

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