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.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: “it would mean a lot”

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).

Kevin Hart plays Shaq, Saturday Night Live takes on Inside The NBA

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Notoriously undersized actor — and NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game MVP — Kevin Hart playing the notoriously oversized Shaquille O’Neal is brilliant.

That was at the heart of it when Saturday Night Live took on Inside the NBA on its Christmas show Saturday night. Hart was into it poking fun at Shaq’s penchant for going off with his own word salad during the show.

Charles Barkley and Shaq are rich satire targets, and SNL went right at them. Well done.