Lakers handling of Phil Jackson, coaching search a jumbled mess

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You can make a good case why not to hire Phil Jackson as the Lakers coach right now — maybe he wanted too much money, or he wanted too much control over the roster, or the triangle offense was not a good mid-season replacement for the Lakers (it is too hard to pick up on the fly), or the idea he didn’t want to travel to all road games (something both sides deny now, even though Jackson suggested it last time he was with the Lakers).

You can make a case that Mike D’Antoni can win in Los Angeles.

But the Lakers handled it all with what felt like knee-jerk reactions (as they did the Mike Brown firing) — the Lakers reportedly told Jackson he could have the job if he wanted it and Monday he was going to decide. Then Sunday night they pulled the rug out from under him and chose D’Antoni to be the coach, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLA.com.

There are a whole lot of reasons being thrown around as to why but the abrupt shift but they still all show an erratic and unsteady ownership hand at the helm.

You don’t tell someone the job is theirs if they want it to just change your mind. (It wasn’t just Jackson who got that impression, both D’Antoni and Mike Dunleavy, the other phone interview, got that impression.) You don’t go that far down the road with Jackson — and watch the Lakers fan base get excited about him to the point of “we want Phil” chants at Lakers games — only to pull the rug out from under him. Because you should have known he would ask for a lot, especially if he thought he had leverage. And clearly he thought that. And you had to know he was the fans’ choice.

There were some around the Lakers who were spinning Sunday night into Monday morning that Jackson demanded too much money plus had discussed not traveling with the team to all the road games. From the Los Angeles Times:

Jackson was the overwhelming favorite to return to the Lakers until they heard his informal demands, which included a stake in team ownership, according to a person familiar with the situation.

“He was asking for the moon,” said the person, who also declined to be identified because they are not authorized to discuss the situation.

The next day both sides — Jackson’s and the Lakers — denied this was the case. Both said there had not been much real negotiation. Maybe yes, maybe no. Certainly Jackson has long wanted the control of the team and has said in the past he wanted to lessen his travel (he was weary of the grind of being an NBA coach).

This much we know — Jackson’s agent was set to sit down with the Lakers Monday and negotiate and if a deal could be struck Jackson was expected to accept.

If you are the Lakers, why go through all the first dancing with Jackson, telling him he can have the job then saying before the real negotiating session he was asking for too much?

Because you really wanted D’Antoni. Whether you knew it all along or came to that decision through the process, the Lakers figured out they wanted D’Antoni.

And there are logical reasons to do that — the triangle offense is not something you can throw together mid-season, especially without Dwight Howard and Steve Nash knowing how to run it, for one. Money is another.

But this was not handled well.

With Mike Brown, there is nothing the Lakers management could have learned in five injury-filled, modified-rotations games that they didn’t feel in their guy in July. If Brown wasn’t the guy, they should have realized it and moved on much sooner than they did.

Same with Jackson — you knew he would cost an arm and a leg before you picked up the phone, you knew the triangle offense would be hard to pickup in-season before you called him. So why go way down that road and make him a fan favorite before you kill it?

The Lakers don’t feel like the steady ship they once did.

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”

Remember when Shaq started practice naked? His former Lakers teammates do

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The Lakers are unveiling a statue for Shaquille O’Neal tonight, a perfect opportunity for his former teammates to share their favorite Shaq stories.

Mark Medina of The Orange County Register:

“We had a rule you can’t be late to the center huddle,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton, who played with O’Neal as a rookie in 2003-04. “He got here where he didn’t have time to get his clothes on. So he made sure he was on time in the center circle.”

“I’m just scarred by the one where he ran out into the middle of the court naked before practice,” said former Lakers forward Rick Fox, who played with O’Neal from 1997 to 2004. “I can’t get that image out of my mind.”

“Shaq walked onto the court, put his hands up and said ‘I’m ready to practice,’ said Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen, who was O’Neal’s teammate from 2000 to 2003. “He had not one inch of clothing on. So he was there in all of his glory.”

“He would start running around looking for guys to hug. Everybody was trying to get out of the way,” mused former Lakers guard Derek Fisher, who played with O’Neal from 1996 to 2004. “That’s’ why when I hit that shot in San Antonio in 2004, that’s why we were so good at sprinting off of the court.”

As much as he toed the line with his wardrobe choices before practice started, O’Neal always practiced with his actual uniform. Fox expressed the views of many saying he’s “not guarding him, not doubling down in the post and digging for the ball” sans uniform. As Madsen mused, “that would’ve been the day I would’ve submitted my resignation papers.”

Want to criticize Shaq for not setting a better tone of punctuality? It’s a fair argument, and you might have had Kobe Bryant on your side.

But Shaq keeping the Lakers loose was instrumental in their high-pressure pursuit of championships. Don’t discount that contribution to their three titles with him.

Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, probable top-10 pick, declares for NBA draft

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Jonathan Isaac explored bursting through a loophole to declare for the 2016 NBA draft straight out of high school.

Instead, he went to Florida State. Now, he’ll enter the 2017 draft.

Isaac:

If he doesn’t hire an agent, Isaac can maintain college eligibility, but this message seems pretty final. Expect Isaac to remain in the draft, and expect him to go in the top 10.

What I like most about the 6-foot-11 forward: Despite being so lanky, he was an elite defensive rebounder. That shows an underlying technical proficiency and physicality that should serve him well.

And then there are the drool-inducing flashes – his ability to go up and get alley-oops above the rim and a sweet-looking jumper.

He’s still a work in progress, and he deferred a lot at Florida State. But he’s just 19, and he has the tools to do more. I’d love to get him on my team as he learns to assert himself.