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The Inbounds: Outside the gates af the Church of Popovichtology

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Gregg Popovich is 63 years old. He is able to play, convincingly, the part of the crusty old basketball coach, barking at players coming off the floor for a timeout (no matter how many All-Star appearances they have), grousing at reporters, and generally being a mean sonofagun in most of his appearances to the public. That could be who he is. He could be a snuggly-wuggly teddy bear, but I’ll let you ask him if that’s his true identity.

When talks begin in roughly a month about the NBA season as training camp opens, when the initial rush of football descends from a fever-pitched roar to… well, OK, it’s pretty much a softer fever-pitched roar, there will be talk about the Heat and Lakers. LeBron James and Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant and his Thunder, even some mentions of what Jason Terry does for the Celtics. The Spurs will be mentioned, but only in passing. Spurs fans will go apoplectic over this and then dismiss the national media, all the while tuning in the next time to once again go through the process. And the Spurs really shouldn’t be considered title contenders this season. They will almost assuredly win enough games to land in the top three of the West, and then will be defeated by a better defensive team because, well, God is apparently not without a sense of humor.

But what will also pass quietly is that we could very well be looking at the second-to-last season for Popovich in the NBA. There have been jokes and comments about Popovich retiring the second that Tim Duncan walks away. Duncan just re-signed for two more years with a player option for a third. If Duncan walks away when he can ditch the player option to get it off the Spurs’ books, something he would do because he’s that kind of guy, this could be Popovich’s second-to-last camp. That’s not a big deal. It could be his second-to-last. So there will be no huge arching narratives. Even when it is, there likely won’t be.

Popovich doesn’t take laps. He’s never given access to an author for a book, he’s never authored a book. He’s not doing lecture tours or commercials. And in the press there’s little-to-no self-aggrandizement wrapped in philosophies or shots at his competitors. He’s complimentary to his opponents, he’s complimentary to his players, he’s short with the press. There has been no indication given in his career that any of this is about anything but basketball for Popovich.

And yet:

Popovich  manages to be able to brutalize the press and be revered for it because he wins. The process works. Bear in mind that both Popovich and George Karl, a very different breed of the same species, are trying to win a title with an offense-first approach which historically runs counter to the most basic concepts (and cliches) about playoff basketball. But Popovich has not only managed to have a good team with this approach, despite not having a roster traditionally thought of in such terms, but has put together the team with the best record in the West the past two seasons. Those same concepts (an cliches) are what have been their downfall, but consider how difficult it must have been to get players like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Many Ginobili, and Stephen Jackson to adjust and go from a defense-first approach to an offense-first approach.

Popovich does this by being a coach that his players not only respect as his own man, but genuinely like. Consider this from a recent Spurs.com interview:

Ryan

Location: Los Angeles

Question: Who are some of your favorite musical artists, and any amazing live shows you’ve seen come to mind?

GP: The last live show I’ve seen was Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. And they’re still one of my favorites, you know the old stand-bys. I was a big Motown guy for a long time, being from that part of the country, and that sort of morphed into Jimmy Hendrix, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Led Zepplin, those kind of guys. And being here in Texas you can’t help but hear country music here and there. Everybody takes a different path in life and about three years ago I started listening to a Patsy Cline album and it just blew me away. I just am still amazed by her voice, and the guys and my family say “jeez, are we going to listen to that again?” So that’s the newest one, and another one: Terri Clark. Somebody gave me a CD by her, a country gal, and I love it. It’s really great. So I listen to that, and everything else is sort of foreign. It’s Egyptian, Usef, he’s an Egyptian guy, or Turkish music. That kind of thing. So pretty strange, a lot of different things.

What about any of Stephen Jackson’s?

Jack used to try to give me some of his tapes, but, first of all I couldn’t even understand what was going on, and some of them you could even dance to, but once I started hearing what they were saying and everything I just gave them back.

via Coach Pop Mailbag: 8/30/12 (Page 2) | THE OFFICIAL SITE OF THE SAN ANTONIO SPURS.

That’s actually a pretty revealing answer. Popovich is open to a lot of things. That kind of contradicts his crusty nature, but it’s representative of what we know about him from his background. A guy who has spent years overseas as an intelligence officer is probably going to be open to more than one way of looking at the world, or a problem. And he’s the kind of coach who Stephen Jackson gives his mixtape to. The fact that he can’t even understand, let alone enjoy, what Jackson’s rapping about is irrelevant. This is Stephen Jackson, and he’s giving his coach his album.

Something tells me the same will not be happening with Tom Thibodeau.

(Note: I don’t think Thibodeau listens to any music. When he’s done watching film I would think he either sleeps or sits in a dark room with the sound of a practice playing.)

Popovich has managed to contradict everything. He’s one of the most successful coaches in NBA history, and he’s one of the least famous. He’s a fervent stickler for defensive intensity who is now reliant upon his team scoring. He’s got an extremely imposing background, and little time for nonsense, yet has connected with modern NBA players and gotten them to not only commit but look up to him, because of the respect he gives them. He gives journalists little to no respect, and receives the same adoration.

Nothing about the Church of Popovichtology makes sense, and when his day is through, there will be no expose. No one will walk through the gates and explore all it secrets. He’ll simply lock the gate, turn, and walk home to his vineyard with a good book and without a look back.

Rumor: Lakers would fire Byron Scott for Luke Walton

Golden State Warriors interim coach Luke Walton, left, walks off the court with Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant after an NBA basketball game in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. The Warriors won 111-77. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
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The Lakers reportedly view the rest of the season as a tryout for Byron Scott.

Unless Warriors assistant Luke Walton wants the job. Then, Scott is out.

So says a notable Lakers rumormonger.

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN LA on Scott:

I’m hearing he’s gone if Luke Walton wants to come in and take the job next season, that if he wants to do that, that obviously they would move beyond the Byron Scott era and bring in Luke Walton, that Luke Walton, however, as much as he loves the Lakers and California, may not find that to be an attractive job unless they position themselves to acquire somebody like a Ben Simmons. That is what I have heard.

I have also heard that it’s very, very possible that Jeanie Buss is going to keep her word and fire her brother Jim Buss – thank the good lord – and that Mitch Kupchak may very well not be safe as well.

How definitive that is remains to be seen. But that is the chatter in NBA circles.

Walton played for the Lakers, and Kobe Bryant still respects him. Though Kobe will retire after the season, his endorsement could still carry weight – especially as it speaks to players’ perception of Walton.

The Golden State assistant impressed while filling in for Steve Kerr as acting head coach. He has already been linked to the Knicks and Suns, and he could get other offers.

If the Lakers keep their top-three-protected first-round pick, they’d have an intriguing job with D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, a promising rookie, matching rights for Arenas-provision-limited Jordan Clarkson and tons of cap space. If the Lakers lose their pick, the job would look a lot worse. Either way, staying in California and leading one of the NBA’s premier franchises could appeal to Walton.

It’s this interest that makes me believe Scott’s “tryout” is little more than a courtesy for a former player who helped the Lakers win championships. If they’d fire Scott for Walton, how many other replacements would warrant dumping Scott? My list would be long enough to ensure he gets canned.

As far as Jim Buss, his deadline for turning around the team or losing his job has been a source of contention. But even Jeannie, who gives him less time than he gives himself, said he had until the summer of 2017.

Lakers fans might have to settle for exercising one one of their demons.

Report: Luke Walton and Brian Shaw top Knicks’ candidates to replace Derek Fisher

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 06:  (L-R) Assistant coach Brian Shaw, head coach Phil Jackson and assistant coach Frank Hamblen of the Los Angeles Lakers sit on the bench in the second half against the Boston Celtics Game Two of the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 6, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Out: Derek Fisher.

In: Kurt Rambis.

That’s only the first step of the Knicks’ coaching change.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Of course, Luke Walton and Brian Shaw – like Fisher and the other top candidate in 2014, Steve Kerr – played for Phil Jackson. The Knicks president has a type, one that includes both good and bad candidates.

The good: Walton. He impressed with his handling of the Warriors in Steve Kerr’s absence. He’s one of the hottest coaches on the market. I have some doubts, given Kerr’s and Golden State’s players’ influence. But Walton has done plenty right to be in this position.

The bad: Shaw. Jackson reportedly preferred Shaw to Fisher two years ago, but Shaw was under contract with the Nuggets. Denver since fired him, because he did a stunningly awful job connecting with his players. Perhaps, he has grown in that area since, though.

It seems inevitable Tom Thibodeau’s name will come up. The former Bulls coach isn’t a Phil Jackson disciple, but he previously worked as a Knicks assistant. Maybe his New York connection will allow Thibodeau to overcome his lack of a Jackson tie.

A direct connection to Jackson clearly puts someone on the fast track for this job.

Knicks fire Derek Fisher

New York Knicks coach Derek Fisher reacts during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics at Madison Square Garden in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. The Knicks defeated the Celtics 120-114. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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There were rumors about the Knicks firing Derek Fisher – and that was before New York lost 9-of-10.

Now, with the Knicks sinking out of the playoff picture, they’ve made a move.

Fisher was one of the NBA’s most improved coaches – which mostly speaks to how lousy of a job he did last year. But that was also his first season coaching in any capacity. If you’re going to hire someone so inexperienced, doesn’t it also make sense to give him time to learn on the job? And if progresses at a reasonable rate, doesn’t it make sense to allow him to continue to grow?

If the Knicks are firing Fisher now, he was probably doomed from the start.

There are plenty of reasons not to believe in Fisher, including his Xs and Os and refusal to see motivating his players as part of his job. But the Knicks did believe in him. They hired him. It’s difficult to see why they reversed course so quickly.

Especially to Kurt Rambis. Although he is just an interim, they will make another hire this summer.

Rambis went 15-67 and 17-65 in an ugly two-year stint coaching the Timberwolves. He probably won’t lift the 23-31 Knicks back into playoff contention this season.

Perhaps, that speaks to just how fed up the Knicks were with Fisher.

NBA: Grizzlies deserved another shot to beat Mavericks in regulation of OT loss

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The NBA tweeted the Grizzlies beat the Mavericks on Saturday.

A mistake, yes. Dallas won the game, 114-110, in overtime.

But the tweet also could’ve reflected an alternate reality where the game were called correctly down the stretch.

The Mavericks had two cracks to win in regulation – a Dirk Nowitzki jumper and, after a Zach Randolph loose-ball foul going for the rebound, a lob to Justin Anderson. Neither connected, though neither should have even been attempted.

Nowitzki got away with travelling before his shot at the 5.2-second mark, according to the Last Two Minute Report:

Nowitzki (DAL) moves his pivot foot. The official is looking for any potential illegal contact and does not pick up the pivot foot.

The league also ruled Marc Gasol should’ve been called for fouling Nowitzki on the shot. But the travel came first, which would’ve made the foul irrelevant.

It’s obviously no guarantee the Grizzlies would’ve scored, but 5.2 seconds would’ve been plenty of time to get off a decent attempt. They deserved the opportunity.

At least the Mavericks earned the win in overtime. All three missed calls in the extra period worked against them. The NBA ruled two shooting fouls on Dallas – Nowitzki fouling Jeff Green with 2:07 left and Raymond Felton fouling Mike Conley with 6.5 seconds left – were errors. Those gave Memphis an extra two points on free throws. Gasol also got away with an offensive foul with 1:43 left, though the Grizzlies didn’t score on that possession anyway.