Phil Jackson out of picture, Mike D’Antoni signs to be Lakers new coach

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At Staples Center Sunday night, it felt around the Lakers and their fans that anyone not named Phil Jackson as the next coach was going to be the consolation prize.

If so, this is a pretty darn good one.

Mike D’Antoni has signed a contract and has been announced as the Lakers new coach with a press conference in the next couple of days, a story first broken by Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times and now confirmed by the Lakers themselves. He takes over for Mike Brown, who lasted just five games into this season (1-4 record).

D’Antoni and the Lakers have agreed to a three-year deal for $12 million. Those three years is  coincidentally is how long Steve Nash’s contract is for (or, maybe not so coincidentally).

When D’Antoni takes over the team remains a question — he had knee replacement surgery three weeks ago and is not terribly mobile yet. It is expected Bernie Bickerstaff will remain as interim coach through Tuesday when the Lakers play the Spurs, which would give D’Antoni a couple of practices before a first game as coach. Against the Suns, Friday at Staples Center. (Don’t be shocked if Bickerstaff coached that one, too.)

There is a lot of spin as to why things didn’t work out with Phil Jackson. Some sources say he was asking for too much money, too much latitude with time off to make the team comfortable, and he wanted a year-to-year deal while the team wanted more stability — Jim Buss (who runs the team for his father Jerry) turned to D’Antoni.

Both the Lakers and Jackson’s people have denied this is a money issue and have said they had not even started serious negotiations yet. The Lakers are saying this is purely a basketball decision.

Which is not going to sit well with Lakers fans.

Buss made the call Sunday and Kupchak called Jackson to let the Lakers know of franchise’s decision (it was expected Jackson was going to take the job Monday but negotiations were ongoing).

This is not going to be loved by Lakers fans, who had chanted “we want Phil” during the Lakers win over the Kings Sunday. The fan base seemed to have their hearts set on Jackson, while D’Antoni does not have rings or a reputation as a defensive guru.

D’Antoni is a 10-year head coach in the NBA who, combined with current Lakers point guard Steve Nash, ran one of the most potent offenses the NBA had ever seen with his “seven seconds or less” system. In New York with the Knicks he tried to implement that same system but the roster never really fit it, particularly once Carmelo Anthony arrived and was a ball stopper on the wing. Plus, the Knicks never defended for him (at least before Mike Woodson arrived).

The Lakers roster is older, slower and D’Antoni is going to have to modify his system some to make it work. But he has Nash and a potentially devastating pick-and-roll partner in Dwight Howard. Plus there is Kobe Bryant, who is a big fan of D’Antoni (remember Kobe lived in Italy in his youth when D’Antoni was the biggest star in the Italian league).

Kobe said after the Lakers game Sunday he had told management he would be happy with D’Antoni, and reaffirmed that later to the media.

He better, D’Antoni is the Lakers coach now no matter what Kobe thinks.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.