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.

Reports: Rockets think Chris Paul could be sidelined for up to a month

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The Rockets’ opening night win over the Warriors was a boost to their confidence — they believe they can challenge the Warriors next May in the playoffs.

Chris Paul is a big part of that plan, which is why we may not see him for up to a month (even though he is listed as day-to-day, and officially only out Saturday). With that, the Rockets are considering adding another point guard to the roster. Marc Stein of the New York Times and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news Friday afternoon.

At the top of the free agent point guard list is Jameer Nelson, the veteran was just waived by Denver to make room for Richard Jefferson.

C.J. Watson and Trey Burke also are available.

Chris Paul and Harden still need to smooth out playing together, something that will take time on the court together. CP3 being out until mid-November is not ideal, but the Rockets are thinking about May, and ideally June, so they will sacrifice a few games now to have him healthy then.

Dwight Howard still feeling ‘super’ expectations with Hornets

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DETROIT – Dwight Howard went from leading Orlando in the NBA Finals to playing in star-studded Los Angeles to joining a Houston team that also fancied itself a contender to being the highest-paid player in his hometown Atlanta to… landing in Charlotte, a small-market franchise with modest ambitions.

The spotlight finally off the former No. 1 pick, Howard doesn’t feel reduced pressure.

“Everybody expects me to be Superman every single night,” Howard said.

Howard is diving into his new situation – his third team in three years – headfirst. He’s leading pregame huddles and the Hornets onto the court.

“I have the most experience,” said Howard, in his 14th season. “So, it’s not to come in and fit in. It’s to come in and be a leader.”

This is the latest referendum on Howard. Despite eight All-NBA selections (most of them first-team) and three Defensive Player of the Year awards, he faces relentless criticism of his legacy.

His exit from the Magic was so ugly, it’s known as the Dwightmare. His feuding with the Lakers great is the stuff of legend in Kobe Bryant mythology. Howard never clicked with James Harden with the Rockets. The Hawks unloaded him for a paltry return in what was more salary rearrangement than salary dump, and his former teammates reportedly cheered.

Howard just seems to rub people the wrong way.

That makes his latest test in Charlotte so interesting. Howard is supplanting maybe Kemba Walker as the face of the team and definitely Cody Zeller as starting center. The Hornets have found success with Zeller, going 63-53 when he starts and 57-73 otherwise the last three seasons.

“The nature of his game, he plays in a way to help other people play better,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of Zeller. “He is a screener. He is a ball-mover.”

In other words, the type of player teammates love.

Is Howard?

Howard is still solidly productive. In Charlotte’s season-opening loss to the Pistons, he posted 10 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks – and ruffled a few feathers. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

https://twitter.com/Vincent_Ellis56/status/921100491362365440

Dirty-work players who irritate opponents are revered. High-priced players who irritate their teammates are loathed.

Howard walks a fine line.

He returned to Atlanta with emotion and expectations. By the end of his time with the Hawks, everyone seemed unhappy. Still, Howard says he’s grateful for the opportunity to play in front of people, especially his grandparents, who watched him grow up.

“Atlanta is going to be my home,” Howard said. “The Hawks is always going to be my favorite team.”

It’s just never easy for Howard.

Even a career Basketball Reference pegs as 99% likely to end in the Hall of Fame based on his tangible accomplishments stirs controversy.

“He’s a Hall of Famer right now if he never played another game,” Clifford said.

Said Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who coached Howard in Orlando: “It’s mind-boggling to me that would be any debate there.”

It’s probably easier for Van Gundy and Howard to recall their time together fondly than it was to enjoy it while partnered. Clifford, who was an assistant in Orlando and Los Angeles while Howard was there, is just getting into his time as Howard’s head coach.

It’s those middle moments, in the throes of long seasons, that have proven difficult for Howard and those around him.

Here he is in Charlotte, hosting the Hawks tonight, and facing another challenge. The Hornets would probably be happy just making the playoffs and ecstatic advancing, which would be their first playoff-series victory since reemerging as the Bobcats in 2004. Howard, who has reached three conference finals, is counting on himself to lead them there – even if nobody else is anymore.

Kobe Bryant still has it, bounces shot in from near half court

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This was a Nike gala, an event with a basketball theme. The court was lit up from below, there were tables at half court, and people had drinks in their hands.

Kobe Bryant was there, stylishly dressed in black. So was famous model Winnie Harlow.

Know that regardless of the setting, Kobe still has game.

Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala cleared to play vs. Pelicans Friday

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Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.

Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.

Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.