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.

Rumor: Portland coach Terry Stotts could lose job after being swept out of playoffs

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Regular season: Terry Stotts was mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate after leading the Portland Trail Blazers to 49 wins and the three seed in the West, led by a top 10 defense.

Playoffs: Portland was swept out of the postseason in the first round by Anthony Davis.

The latter part of that is going to lead to some real soul searching and changes coming to the Trail Blazers. That could include Stotts losing his job, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

There is plenty of blame to go around for Portland’s quick exit from the postseason, Stein is right that it’s not all on Stott’s shoulders.

However, this is the third time in four years Portland is out in the first round, and it leads to the question “what is it about their style that makes them so defendable and beatable in the playoffs?” This is a little like Toronto in recent years, where despite a lot of talent they were predictable and therefore defendable in the postseason. How much of that falls on Stotts?

After a period of reflection in Portland, there are going to be changes in the wake of this sweep. Stotts’ job will be part of that discussion, no matter how good a job he did.

That said, if Stotts were to be let go he would hand on his feet very quickly.

After Ricky Rubio’s triple-double, Russell Westbrook promises to “shut that s*** off”

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Ricky Rubio outplayed Russell Westbrook Saturday night in Utah and now the Jazz are up 2-1 in that series.

Rubio did his damage from the midrange — he was 5-of-5 between the key and the arc — on his way to 26 points, to go with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. All series the Thunder have dared Rubio to shoot and to beat them, Saturday he did. It was a stark contrast to Westbrook’s 14 points on 17 shots Saturday with eight turnovers.

When asked about Rubio’s big night postgame, Westbrook was looking ahead to Game 4 and using a little NSFW language (hat tip to Ben Golliver of SI, who loves him some playoff podium video).

There you have it, a personal guarantee.

Rubio struggled some in Game 1, taking 18 shots and mostly the ones the Thunder wanted him to. However, after that he has been better at getting to his spots and taking the shots in rhythm, and it’s worked — he’s averaging 20.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8 assists per game this series. OKC has been focused on making life difficult for rookie Donovan Mitchell (with limited success) and it’s freed up Rubio to make plays.

More than just slowing the Spanish point guard, Westbrook and the Thunder need to figure out how to get their offense back on track against a Jazz defense that was best in the NBA once Gobert got healthy last season. Oklahoma City lost Game 2 when their big three — Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony — went 0-of-15 in the fourth quarter. In Game 3, OKC averaged 100 points per 100 possessions (well below their season average of 110.2) and Westbrook shot 29.4 percent. Do that again in Game 4 and it will not matter what Rubio shoots, what matters is the Thunder could be looking at a 3-1 deficit. The Thunder need to even this series before it heads back to Oklahoma City.

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.