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).

Report: J.B. Bickerstaff withdraws himself from consideration for Rockets’ coaching job

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 24: Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff of the Houston Rockets encourages his team in the seconf half against the Golden State Warriors at Toyota Center on April 24, 2016 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dowloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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The Houston Rockets are still searching for a head coach — with Jeff Van Gundy believed to be their top target — but it won’t be J.B. Bickerstaff, who has served as the team’s interim coach since they fired Kevin McHale in November. According to The Vertical‘s Adrian Wojnarowski, Bickerstaff has informed Rockets management that he’s no longer in consideration for the job:

After a meeting with ownership and the front office on Tuesday, Houston Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff has informed team officials that he’s no longer a candidate for the head-coaching job, league sources told The Vertical.

Other NBA teams have started reaching out to Bickerstaff about lead assistant coaching positions, and that’s where he’s transitioned his focus, league sources said.

After the Rockets’ disappointing season and disastrous playoff performance — where they lost in five not-very-competitive games to a Stephen Curry-less Warriors —it makes sense that Bickerstaff would rather get a fresh start as an assistant somewhere else, where he could build up his credentials and be a more highly sought-after head coaching candidate in the future. He isn’t a big name, so he likely wouldn’t be able to command as much money as the Rockets’ head coach as a more established figure would be. Given the Rockets’ uncertain future with Dwight Howard almost certain to opt out and not a lot of long-term pieces around James Harden, it’s not the most stable job in the world.

Celtics’ president Ainge embracing expectation-filled summer

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 13:  Member of the Boston Celtics 1986 championship team Danny Ainge is honored at halftime of the game between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat at TD Garden on April 13, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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BOSTON (AP) — During his tenure as Celtics president, Danny Ainge has developed a reputation as deal maker that pounces on opportunities.

He will forever be tethered to the coup he pulled off in the summer of 2007 to assemble the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen just three years into the tenure of then-coach Doc Rivers.

No one is expecting Ainge to recreate that moment this summer, but with a myriad of draft picks and salary cap space at his disposal, he isn’t shying away from the expectation that this offseason could be one of the most important in recent memory.

“We look forward to every offseason. This offseason is bigger,” Ainge said. “My expectations are high this offseason and yet I also know that it takes good fortune.”

Helping those fortunes along will be Boston’s eight draft picks this summer, including three in the first round. The eight picks are Boston’s most since 1987 when the draft had seven rounds.

It not only will provide the Celtics with bargaining chips for potential trades, but the ability to “draft and stash” young players If they want, Ainge said.

A lot will depend on what happens May 17 at the draft lottery. Boston owns the unprotected first-round pick of the Nets, which it picked up in the deal that sent Garnett and Pierce to Brooklyn in 2013.

The Nets finished with the third-worst record in the NBA, so they will hand the Celtics about a 16 percent chance of securing the No. 1 pick with it.

“We need the ping pong balls to bounce our way to give us the best opportunity, whether we use that pick or whether we trade that pick,” Ainge said. “And in free agency we have opportunities. That’s all we have. We have no guarantees of great things happening. We just have a lot of hope.”

Depending on where they land, Ainge could package some of their later picks to move up or trade for future picks.

It’s all in play, and it’s why he is anticipating a much busier lead up to draft night June – both in the number of players they bring in to evaluate and the conversations they have with teams around the league.

What happens in June will then directly affect what trades and free agents the team pursues.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had cap space. So this is a unique opportunity,” Ainge said. “We have to be patient, too. There’s a lot of money around the league. A lot of teams have cap space with the new TV contracts kicking in.”

Ainge said even with the rash of injuries late in the season and into the playoffs, his team is mostly healthy.

The bruised bone in Jae Crowder‘s right foot isn’t serious, nor is the sore left shooting wrist of All-Star Isaiah Thomas.

Avery Bradley wasn’t able to return after his right hamstring injury on the opening night of the playoffs, but Ainge said it was a grade-1 strain and that team simply was being careful not to aggravate it.

The only player that could have surgery is Kelly Olynyk, who played with pain throughout the postseason after aggravating an injury to his right shoulder. Olynyk is expected to make a decision in about a week on how he will proceed.

It’s been a lot to process, but Ainge said he plans to stay as level-headed as possible.

“It doesn’t really do any good to put a noose around our neck and say that there’s all this urgency,” he said. “We have plenty of urgency. Brad wants to win, Isaiah wants to win, Avery wants to win. We all want to win. … But we also have to be patient in doing good deals and not doing bad deals.”

Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower

LeBron dodges “Space Jam 2” questions, says focus now only on playoffs

FILE - In this Wed., July 15, 2015 file photo, NBA player LeBron James, of the Cleveland Cavaliers, accepts the award for best championship performance at the ESPY Awards at the Microsoft Theater, in Los Angeles. The NBA star and his company, SpringHill Entertainment, have signed a content creation deal with Warner Bros. that includes potential projects in film, television and other digital properties. Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara announced the partnership Wednesday, July 22, 2015. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)
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It Hollywood, much like politics and sports, a non-denial is usually a “Yes, but I don’t want to talk about it.”

When LeBron James was asked about reports he’s attached to “Space Jam 2” as a star, he gave Fox Sports Ohio the non-denial answer (hat tip Eye on Basketball):

“I have a great team that handles my affairs off the floor. Since I signed with Warner Bros. we’ve been looking to do some things and figure out some things that best fit both sides. But my team’s handling that and I’m not going to take my focus off what my job is right now, which is handling the postseason right now.”

That’s not a no.

Since he now has his own production company, you can bet LeBron is moving forward with this because he would get a healthy slice of the pie.

I’m sure this is just like a Pixar animated film, where they hire top writers to come up with an emotionally relatable animated script, then worry about the marketing angles secondarily. This is about the art… I can’t even keep writing this line of sarcasm. I expect this to have all the plot subtlety of an Adam Sandler film. It’s a marketing vehicle with a movie attached. I fear it will be another “Thunderstruck.”

But there’s money to be made, so it will happen.

Report: NBA restricts teams ads on jerseys; no alcohol, tobacco, politics, more

adidas-NBA All-Star West Jersey Front H
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The Los Angeles Lakers are not going to have a silhouette of a Patron bottle on their jerseys.

Despite the potential tie in with GM Vlade Divac, the Sacramento Kings are not going to be sponsored by Marlboro.

While NBA teams have been cleared to sell a small patch ad on jerseys for next season — to go on the left shoulder, where the KIA logo was on the All-Star uniforms this season (if you even noticed it) — there are limitations, reports Darren Rovell of ESPN.

In most cases this was not going to be an issue, but the league did not want to risk a local casino or whatever jumping in with a big bid.

Teams are expected to get several million dollars for the ad deals (larger markets will get more, smaller markets less). This is part of a three-year trial program approved by the owners, although once the money starts coming in it’s hard to imagine to owners deciding to scrap the idea.