Mike D’Antoni a better long-term choice than Phil Jackson

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It was certainly a surprise when the news broke late Sunday night that Mike D’Antoni had been hired by the Lakers as their new head coach. The job was believed to be Phil Jackson’s if he wanted it, while a second meeting between Jackson and the Lakers appeared to be in the works, perhaps to finalize all of the details.

But something changed within the Lakers organization, and changed quickly. Whether it was too many demands from Jackson to return — which may have included a request for an ownership stake in the team, as well as the ability to pick and choose which road games he’d travel for — or something else, the team abruptly shifted its paradigm.

While Jackson may have been the popular choice and the one that fans were clamoring for, D’Antoni is the smarter one. The fact is that D’Antoni is a better fit for the long-term plans of the franchise than Jackson would have been, for a variety of reasons.

It’s easy to understand why everyone in L.A. would want Jackson back on the bench. Five championships won with Kobe Bryant for starters, along with a veteran pedigree and vast knowledge of the inner-workings of the Lakers family-run organizational dynamic seemed to make him a logical choice.

But for how long?

This is the problem, and it’s why the Lakers ultimately went with someone else.

For all of Jackson’s successes, let’s not gloss over his failures. When we last saw him roaming the Lakers sidelines, Jackson seemed to lack the necessary passion to get his team to play at the required level in the 2011 playoffs. Dallas swept a Lakers team out of the second round that was favored to win a third straight championship, and did so in fairly humiliating fashion.

The issue with that team, evident to anyone, was its sense of entitlement. Two straight titles had brought an unhealthy mentality that the Lakers would somehow find a way to win games without expending the necessary effort, simply because it had the most talented roster.

Sound like something that might have happened this year, with this team?

Even if Jackson had been able to coach this team to a title, there’s no guarantee he’d stick around to do it again next year. Reports had him wanting to mentor a young coach to hand the team over to after he was done, which may have been Brian Shaw, Scottie Pippen, or someone else.

If that was the case (and another demand in the negotiation process that may have made the organization sour on the idea), there’s no guarantee that Dwight Howard — remember, an unrestricted free agent this summer — would want to go through another coaching change, especially if he was fortunate enough to have already won that ring.

There’s all the talk about the extra millions Howard is eligible for under the collective bargaining agreement if he re-signs in L.A., but for a player with over $100 million in career earnings who might have gotten the career validation that comes with a title, it would be easy to see him choosing somewhere else to play the remainder of his years. That would essentially place the Lakers in a full-fledged rebuilding mode with an aging or perhaps already-retired Kobe Bryant, and would do so with an inexperienced head coach in charge.

Now obviously, that’s a whole lot of future speculation for a team that’s really only focused on winning this season. But there’s no guarantee that would have happened, despite Jackson’s resume.

Mike D’Antoni has relationships with Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, and won’t over-complicate the offense. On the defensive end, it’ll be amazing how quickly his reputation there will magically improve with Howard patrolling the paint.

Most importantly, the Lakers get a head coach who’s hungry for a championship, and in it for more than just this season. The same couldn’t possibly have been said with any certainty when considering Phil Jackson.

Celtics’ Gordon Hayward says he’s open to returning this season

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BOSTON (AP) — Celtics guard Gordon Hayward says he is open to playing this season, but says it will depend on how fast he is able to heal and show progress as he works his way back from a broken left ankle.

Hayward was at TD Garden on Friday for Boston’s matchup with the Utah Jazz, the team he left this past summer in free agency after seven seasons to sign a four-year, $128 million contract with the Celtics. He was injured in Boston’s season opener at Cleveland.

Wednesday marked a milestone in Hayward’s recovery process, when he was able to shed the walking boot he’s been using since his surgery in October. He will continue to wear a protective brace during the rehab process.

He said he doesn’t know how long he will have to wear the brace. But he said he is now allowed to do some shooting and begin working more on mobility.

 

Russell Westbrook triple-double keys OKC in 3OT thriller vs 76ers

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Russell Westbrook had 27 points, 17 rebounds and 15 assists, and Oklahoma City and the Philadelphia 76ers went basket-for-basket in a three-overtime thriller before the Thunder pulled out a 119-117 victory on Friday night.

Andre Roberson scored the winner with 10 seconds left for the Thunder. But one of the early contenders for NBA game of the year belonged to Joel Embiid and Westbrook as they drove, blocked and rebounded their way toward one big play after another.

Embiid scored 34 points in 48 minutes with an achy back and rallied the Sixers from a 17-point hole.

Embiid, Philly’s franchise center and social media star, grabbed his lower back when he took a hard foul on a drive to the basket in the fourth quarter. Embiid grimaced during timeouts on the bench and trudged into position a few times.

Embiid sucked it up and carried the Sixers in the fourth and the first overtime. His feed to a charging Ben Simmons on the baseline for a two-handed dunk tied the score at 94-all with 53 seconds left in the quarter. The Sixers closed the fourth on an 11-0 run.

Embiid scored the first bucket of OT and the Sixers led for the first time in the game. The Sixers’ five-point lead with 1:20 left in overtime was wiped out on Paul George‘s 3-pointer and a Westbrook bucket that made it 102-all. The Sixers blew their final possession on an ill-conceived 3 for Dario Saric.

Round 2 was just as fun.

Westbrook and Robert Covington exchanged 3s and George tied it at 109 on a driving layup. Westbrook and Embiid swapped buckets that kept it even and the Sixers had one more chance to win it with 1.2 seconds to go in the second OT.

Embiid and Westbrook combined to score eight straight points in the third overtime, and Embiid even waved goodbye as the crowd went wild when Steve Adams fouled out of the game.

But Embiid seemed gassed at the end and there’s no telling how the heavy workload may affect his availability the rest of the week.

The Sixers were featured on ESPN on Friday as part of Philadelphia All Access, and Sixers’ related content was aired throughout the day on all platforms.

“I’m not a fan,” coach Brett Brown said. “I like living behind closed doors.”

But Brown understood the exposure would help build the brand and serve as a recruiting pitch of sorts to any free agents intrigued about becoming part of The Process. The Sixers put on a show in the fourth until Embiid gave them a scare.

Embiid’s health woes have dogged him since his college career at Kansas and every slip, ache or bump throws Sixers fans into a panic. Embiid has been banged-up lately but he calmly went to the line and made both free throws. He fell again when he tripped over Adams, who earned a foul, and sank two more free throws to make it 78-72.

 

After Thunder win, Russell Westbrook trolls Joel Embiid, waves goodbye, tells him to “go home”

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Joel Embiid was making friends all over the court on Friday night.

First, he got into a jawing match with Carmelo Anthony. Also during the first overtime, Embiid blocked Russell Westbrook‘s driving attempt at a game winner.

After the Thunder won in triple overtime, Westbrook trolled Embiid by waving goodbye to the Sixers’ center, who was yelling back at him.

When asked about it, Westbrook said Embiid was talking a lot so he told the Sixers center to go home.

That can have some serious connotations — Embiid was born in Cameroon. Westbrook may have meant “go to the locker room” or “go to where you live,” but considering Embiid is an immigrant it comes off very poorly for Westbrook.

Embiid threw a little fire back at Westbrook.

The league office is going to be looking into this one.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.