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.

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine

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Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. seemed pretty steamed about getting eliminated in the first round of the dunk contest:

The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.

Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.

Amin El-Hassan of ESPN on Black Opinions Matter:

If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.

This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.

For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season

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When announcing last month Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely due to a lingering quad injury, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dismissed the idea his star forward would miss the rest of the season:

Apparently, Popovich’s expectation has changed.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.

But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.

He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.

Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.

Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.

But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.

This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.

Mark Cuban’s fine third-largest known fine in NBA history

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While explaining how he told his players the team was better off losing this season, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said “I’m probably not supposed to say this” and “Adam would hate hearing that.”

Cuban was right.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Cuban $600,000 for “public statements detrimental to the NBA.” The league doesn’t announce all its fines, but that’s the third-largest known fine in NBA history.

The leaderboard:

1. Timberwolves, $3.5 million in 2000 (signing under-the-table agreement with Joe Smith)

2. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, $2.5 million in 2014 (making racist comments)

3. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $600,000 in 2018 (saying he told his players the team is better off losing)

4. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $500,000 in 2002 (criticizing officiating)

4. Knicks, $500,000 in 2006 (fighting Nuggets)

4. Nuggets, $500,000 2006 (fighting Knicks)

4. Vladimir Radmanovic, $500,000 in 2007 (injuring his shoulder while snowboarding)

4. Pistons general manager Joe Dumars, $500,000 in 2010 (leaking confidential league memos)

4. Heat owner Micky Arison, $500,000 in 2011 (tweets during the lockout breaking rank with other owners)

I’d be on Cuban (and/or the Mavericks) getting yet another spot on this list following the investigation of the franchise for a culture tolerant of sexual harassment and domestic abuse. That one will probably be deserved – not just the league trying to preserve the illusion of pure competition amid a system that incentivizes losing.

Mark Cuban fined $600,000 for telling team “losing is our best option”

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Of all the hot water Mark Cuban is in right now with the Mavericks and the NBA league office, this is probably the smallest tub. And the least expensive fine.

Cuban recently went on Julius Erving’s podcast, House Call with Dr. J, and said:

“I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night. And here we are, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, “Look, losing is our best option.” Adam would hate hearing that, but at least I sat down, and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again.”

You were not supposed to say that — the NBA Wednesday fined Cuban $600,000 for “for public statements detrimental to the NBA.”

Cuban’s not wrong, it’s just a matter of perception. The NBA has worked very hard to lessen the image that teams are tanking for draft position (why do you think there was pressure on the Sixers to replace Sam Hinkie?), they don’t need an owner saying it’s the smart thing to do. Even though it is. Teams tank — it is still the only way for a small or medium market team to get a superstar, get high in the draft and hopefully pick one (it’s not that simple, ask the Magic) — but the league wants at least the facade that all of its teams are competitive. All the way through the end of the season.

As you read this, the bottom eight teams in the NBA are within three games of each other for the worst record — and a higher lottery slot. Does anyone think any of them are not going to roll out young, less-talented rosters in the name of development when the real goal is to lose as many games as they can the rest of the way? Most scouts think there is some real talent at the top of this draft, and teams are going to try to get up there and get it.

Just nobody can talk about it.