Toronto Raptors v Los Angeles Clippers

Who is next NBA coach to be fired? Watch your back, Dwane Casey

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We’ve had one coach canned in the first quarter of the NBA season, and just as we expected it was Mike Brown from the Lakers. Which is why it is ironic to listen to Lakers brass and supporters say it’s too early to judge Mike D’Antoni because so many players are injured and they haven’t had the chance to get acclimated to the system yet. But forget irony, let’s move on to a better topic:

Who is next to be led up to the guillotine?

My guess is we will only see one guy, two tops, let go during the season.

And if I were Dwane Casey, I’d be watching my back.

It’s never good news when the GM comes to town to talk to town about the state of the team and uses the word “embarrassing.”

The Raptors are off to a dreadful 4-18 start, and while the playoffs always seemed a longshot for Toronto they have taken serious steps back despite adding Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas. Their defense, which was solidly middle of the pack last season (and kept them in games) is 5.1 points per 100 possessions worse this season and is second worst in the league. The offense is marginally better and it was bad last season.

The natives are restless in Toronto, and they don’t have the woes of the Maple Leafs to distract them. It looks and feels like the kind of situation where changes are made. I look at the roster construction, now and for the past several years, and think changes need to be made higher up the ladder than coach. But the coach is usually the first sacrifice.

Who else could be let go? Maybe nobody, but here are some potential hot seat candidates.

• Alvin Gentry in Phoenix is the coach of a team with a seven game losing streak and talk of changes in the organization coming. Not good. But owner Robert Sarver just came out with a vote of confidence, which often is the kiss of death but we will take him at his word. Besides, you can’t let Michael Beasley win a battle with the coach, can you? Will Gentry be back coaching the Suns next season? Don’t bet on it. As Sam Amick points out at USA Today, Gentry is in the last year of his contract and was not hired by the new GM or team president. But the Suns are not likely to make a mid-season move.

• Randy Wittman coaches the 2-15 Wizards, so you have to put him on any list like this, but he should be safe. For one, he didn’t put together a thin roster nor is it his fault John Wall has been out all season, with Nene and Trevor Ariza missing part of it. Also, as Amick points out, the Wizards are still paying Flip Saunders, who was let go last season. You think Ted Leonsis looks at this roster and wants to pay three coaches at once?

• Keith Smart in Sacramento… You think the Maloofs can afford to pay two coaches at once? He’s safe during the season, plus he’s done a pretty good job.

• Lawrence Frank in Detroit (7-15 team) is another guy that could be given walking papers this summer but not midseason. Besides, the Pistons are 7-7 since a slow start and playing fairly well.

• Vinny Del Negro with the Clippers always gets mentioned on these lists too, but he also is safe and really shouldn’t be discussed. For one thing, the Clippers are 14-6 and atop the Pacific Division. When they have had DeAndre Jordan focused and the team playing defense they have looked like the second best team in the West. Also, know that owner Donald Sterling reportedly likes him. Vinny could be sent packing next summer but only for three reasons: 1) He gets in another fight with another GM; 2) The Clippers collapse in the first round of the playoffs; 2) Chris Paul pushes for it next summer as part of re-signing with the Clippers (this is the most likely reason).

Byron Scott expected to start D’Angelo Russell after All-Star break, but hasn’t talked to him about it

Byron Scott D'Angelo Russell
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Communication.

When we talk about Lakers’ coach Byron Scott’s questioned player development skills with young players Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and particularly D'Angelo Russell, it is his old-school lack of communication that comes into question. It’s what is different from what Gregg Popovich or Quin Snyder or other guys developing strong young players have done. From the outside (we’re not in practices/film sessions), we see Scott was not letting Russell play through mistakes — feeling that was rewarding bad behavior — but then not doing a good job communicating what the player is doing wrong.

This comment from Scott, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, sums it up perfectly.

Scott plans to start Russell after NBA All-Star weekend (Feb. 12-14). But Scott said the two have not talked about that issue.

“He’s not old enough for me to have a meeting and discuss, ‘What do you think?’” Scott said.

I would say you should have that meeting — it’s called a teachable moment. “What do you think? Well here is what I see that is different.”

Part of what is going on with Scott and Russell is the concern from some in the Lakers’ camp that Russell is a little too full of himself, that his ego is too big, and it could become a problem. So they are trying to take him down a peg. I would say that for a smart player — and Russell is that — the game is humbling and will take care of the ego issue. But you’ve got to give him run to develop him.

Play him, and then communicate with him. It’s a system that does worth with modern players.

Nikola Vucevic hits fade-away game winner for Magic against Hawks

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The Hawks almost came back and won this — Atlanta went on an 8-0 run in the final minutes to tie the game at 94-94 with Orlando. The Magic had one last chance with 2.2 seconds left.

Nikola Vucevic nailed it.

Can’t blame Al Horford‘s defense on this one, he pushed Vucevic out and contested the shot. But in a make-or-miss league Vucevic nailed the game winner, Orlando wins 96-94.

If that looks familiar, Vucevic knocked down pretty much the same shot against the Lakers earlier this season.

LeBron James on Super Bowl: “Got to go with the Carolina Panthers”

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, right, embraces Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James after the Cavaliers defeated the Charlotte Hornets in an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 27, 2015 in Charlotte, N.C. The Cavaliers won 95-90. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
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We know Stephen Curry — who spent many of his formative years in Charlotte and still thinks of the city as his hometown — is all in on the Carolina Panthers today against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 30.

On this, he and LeBron James agree.

LeBron sounded like the politically cautious, image-conscious version of himself at the start of this quote from Uninterrupted on Facebook, but as he gets going, you can quickly see who he wants in this game (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

“I don’t know if I quite got a prediction but I definitely want to see a great Super Bowl,” James said in the video. “But if it was a life and death situation and I had to choose one team and one player, I got to go with Killah Cam. Got to go with the Carolina Panthers, they’ve been playing the most consistent football all year round. Both offensively, defensively and special teams. Got to go with Cam and one of my boys plays for them too as well, Ted Ginn Jr., that’s been showing out all year as well.

“No disrespect to the Broncos. I love their team. They got the legend at quarterback, they got that defense that’s out of control. They got some receivers that be balling out as well. They’re really well coached as well and that’s the reason they are in the Super Bowl. But I’m rolling with the Carolina Panthers today.”

A lot of NBA players like the way Cam Newton plays — with exuberance, wearing his heart on his sleeve, dancing and celebrating. That’s how Curry and LeBron and other NBA players want to play their game, and they feel reined in by the league. They relate to Cam Newton and the ridiculous role model/celebration debate.

We’ll see how much celebrating the Denver defense lets Newton do.

Kevin Durant on Warriors, Spurs: “We’re not scared of neither one of those teams”

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 6: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder while facing the Golden State Warriors on February 6, 2016 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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We’d seen this movie before. Against the San Antonio Spurs. Against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Golden State Warriors offensive machine got cranked up, dropped 73 on Oklahoma City in the first half, led by 14 at the break, and it was about to turn into another rout, and another statement win for the Warriors.

Except the Thunder came back. OKC held Golden State to just 18 third quarter points and got the lead down to two points — the Thunder pushed the Warriors away from the things they like to do (Stephen Curry/Draymond Green pick-and-roll) and made life difficult for them. It was a fantastic performance for OKC, even if Golden State still prevailed with a 116-108 win.

After the game Durant would have none of any moral victory talk — even though it was — and he said the Thunder were not intimidated by the Warriors or anyone else, via Royce Young of Oklahoma City.

“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” Durant said of the comeback. “When we get down, we’re supposed to tie the game up. No moral victories in here…

“Man, we’re not scared of neither one of those teams,” Durant said, including the Spurs. “We’re going to play our game. Nobody in this locker room is scared. We gotta play ’em. If we want to get to where we want to get to, we gotta play ’em. We’re not ducking nobody.”

The NBA isn’t professional boxing; nobody gets to duck anybody.

But a Thunder team searching for respect gained a measure Saturday night. The Thunder picture themselves contenders and for much of the season listened to talking heads (myself included) say the Warriors and Spurs are in a different class. Saturday night was a step in showing that they belonged. There are still questions about how Golden State or San Antonio could exploit players such as Dion Waiters or Enes Kanter is a seven-game series, but the Thunder have two of the league’s top five players — they can beat and hang with anyone.

They have a shot at a title.

If Durant believes that, it would impact his decision this summer, but that is another discussion.