Former Duke star Christian Laettner returns to basketball as assistant coach in the D-League

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Christian Laettner retired from the NBA following a forgettable 49 games during the 2004-05 season when he sat on the Miami Heat bench alongside such big man luminaries as Michael Doleac and Wang Zhizhi. Following a couple of failed business ventures, however, the former Duke Blue Devils star is back in basketball … as an assistant coach with the NBA Development League’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants.

The former third overall pick and 12-year NBA veteran is expected to be named the new Mad Ants’ assistant sometime Friday, according to sources familiar with the hire, and should be on the bench as the Mad Ants take on the Sioux Falls Skyforce in South Dakota this weekend. Laettner’s head coach will be 26-year-old Steve Gansey (yes, brother of former West Virginia standout Mike Gansey).

Gansey needed an assistant after being promoted to head coach when the team relieved veteran Joey Meyer of his duties a few weeks ago. Until the hirinig of Laettner, Gansey had been using volunteer assistants Sebastian Pruiti (of NBA Playbook fame) and Chad Clarke.

An article on NBC Sports’ Pro Football Talk explained why Laettner might be wanting to get back into a paying gig — so he can pay back Shawne Merriman, namely — but the wildcard in this hire will be what exactly Laettner is able to bring to the table for the Mad Ants. The 42-year-old doesn’t have any prior coaching experience and had a pretty nondescript professional career after a standout amateur career. Laettner led Duke to a pair of championships and was a part of the original Dream Team prior to failing to live up to NBA expectations, but told Lost Lettermen last year that he has high hopes for his coaching career.

“Well, the ultimate goal is to get a big-time head college coaching job,” Laettner said. “If nothing happens in the college ranks, I’ve got to go to the NBA pre-draft camp this year in Chicago and let the people in the NBA know that I’m ready to be an assistant coach.”

Laettner wasn’t able to catch on with any teams after letting them know he was ready, however, leaving him without any coaching experience aside from the time he led a team known as the “Villains” against former Kentucky Wildcats greats in one of the many lockout exhibition games this summer. The results are unbeknownst to your’s truly, but hopefully they were better than the video Laettner made to promote the event (UpdateLaettner’s team won).

With only a modicum of coaching experience, a quick look through Laettner’s background provides a quick glance at what else he might bring to the Mad Ants:

  • Laettner’s best known for hitting the game-winning shot over Kentucky to allow Duke to clinch a second-consecutive championship for the 1992 Blue Devils squad, but it’s unknown if he’s able to teach others the ability to  pull that sort of miracle off during actual play. And, if he is, the NBA’s rules of advancing the ball to halfcourt following a timeout make the scenario altogether unlikely (though it’s possible Pruiti, his fellow assistant, could draw something up to help recreate 1992’s Hail Mary attempt). Regardless, it seems Laettner’s best on-court moment probably isn’t something he’ll spend much time teaching in the D-League.
  • Marketing probably is out, too, considering the Mad Ants are already one of the most talked about teams in the D-League thanks to their mascot the Nightmare Ant. There’s a chance the team’s marketing staff could try and wrangle up the other former NBA player’s coaching in the D-League, however — Randy Livingston, Ira Newble, Vitaly Potapenko, Donyell Marshall, Paul Mokeski, Eldridge Recasner, Chris Carrawell, Sam Perkins and David Wesley all appear on coaching staffs throughout the league — to form some sort of one-on-one tournament, but handicappers probably wouldn’t Laettner in that scenario.
  • Fort Wayne probably won’t use Laettner in the business office, either, considering his financial woes of the past. The Memphis Commercial Appeal’s Ronald Tillery broke all of that down here as Tillery goes back and explains how Laettner nearly bought the Memphis Grizzlies before falling into a financial hole that ended with him owing money to the aforementioned Merriman, the oil company Chevron and quite a few other investors following failed real estate ventures when the economy crashed.

In the end, however, the ‘D’ in D-League stands for development and Laettner’s being given an excellent chance of learning the ropes in Fort Wayne. Hopefully he takes full advantage of it … and maybe even teaches their big men how to do the moves portrayed in this neat little Youtube clip.

Brandon Jennings no fan of the NBA’s new Awards Ceremony event

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Come June 26, Drake will be on stage in New York City, handing out the NBA’s awards — Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, and so on. (We need to set an under/over on the number of players Drake hugs that night.)

The NFL does it. The NHL does it. And the NBA has decided to follow suit with a broadcast awards ceremony where everything — except the All-NBA Team — will be announced that night. It’s happening because the broadcast partners want it.

Brandon Jennings is not a fan. Here is what the Wizards’ point guard Tweeted:

Jennings took down a Tweet that said if he had won the award he would have wanted to get it with the organization and his teammates around him. (And no, he knows he’s not winning the award. If you were going to put that in the comments be more creative.)

There’s something to what Jennings is saying. The NBA award roll out was awkward at times in previous years, but it gave the fans a chance to celebrate the awards with their favorite player. Now, everyone will watch it unfold on television from a ballroom in NYC. That feels a little colder. Also, we will get to see the reaction of those who don’t win (particularly this season, where several players can make a strong case for MVP).

It will be interesting to see how this first year goes, and how the league tweaks it going forward. The more than two month gap between the end of the regular season and the awards could feel a bit awkward. But we’re not going to knock the idea until we’ve seen it in action.

Portland GM makes it official, Festus Ezeli will not be back with team next season

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This season the Portland Trail Blazers found their center of the future (and the present) in Jusuf Nurkic.

Which makes the next step fairly obvious: Portland will not pick up the option on Festus Ezeli for next season, GM Neil Olshay confirmed at the team exit meetings Tuesday.

Portland signed Ezeli on what they thought was a great contract (one-year, $7.4 million, with a team option for the second year) because he was coming off knee surgery last summer. However, Ezeli was never healthy, needed a second surgery, and never got on the court. After taking it slow over last summer he practiced with the team twice in mid-October, there was more swelling, so he pulled back.

This summer Ezeli will not draw any guaranteed money from teams, but some teams may take a look at him. Athletic bigs get a lot of chances in the NBA.

Gordon Hayward will play for Jazz in Game 5 without minutes restriction

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Gordon Hayward has averaged 20.5 points a game in these playoffs — and that includes a 40 point outburst in Game 3 — but what has been more impressive is he has done it efficiently, with a true shooting percentage of 61.1. While Joe Johnson and others have stepped up, Utah will need Hayward’s shot creation if they are going to win this series.

They will have it Tuesday night in Game 5.

After missing the second half of Game 4 due to food poisoning (he tried to play but was ineffective in the first half), he is back and ready to go this time around.

So is Rudy Gobert. The Jazz will be at full health, while the Clippers remain without Blake Griffin for the remainder of the playoffs.

Having those two back is a boost for the Jazz, they need to score more consistently against the Clippers, but the bigger key will be defensively trying to deal with Chris Paul on the pick-and-roll. He has been masterful this series, and the Jazz need to keep him in check to give their offense a chance.

When NBA switches to Nike uniforms next season, Hornets will move to Jordan Brand

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There are not going to be dramatic changes to the look of the NBA when Nike takes over the apparel contract for next season, replacing Adidas. Instead of the Adidas logo, there will be a swoosh, sleeved jerseys will fade away, and some teams will modify their alternate jerseys, but the league is not getting a total uniform makeover next season. Things will look basically the same.

Except in Charlotte — they will not have a swoosh, they will have the Jordan Jumpman logo.

The why is obvious — Michael Jordan is the primary owner of the Hornets and, obviously, the guy the Jordan brand was named after. The Jordan Brand is part of Nike. The Hornets made the announcement this week buried in a press release about moving the fan shop at the arena, hat tip to Sole Collector for finding this. Here is what the release says:

The re-opening of the Hornets Fan Shop will coincide with the launch of the team’s new Jordan Brand uniforms as Nike becomes the NBA’s uniform provider beginning this season.  The Hornets will be the only team in the NBA wearing Jordan Brand uniforms, and with the agreement taking effect, the Hornets Fan Shop will have even more of the popular Jordan Brand Hornets merchandise than it has had previously.

While it’s not like the Lakers or Celtics are going to be changing up their traditional uniforms, even teams like the Hornets will keep a similar look under Nike.

What should be interesting to see is what the Christmas Day and All-Star uniforms look like under a Nike touch.