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: Thunder signing Dakari Johnson two years after drafting him

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Two seasons ago, Dakari Johnson was the youngest player by more than two years on the D-League’s All-Rookie team. Last season, Johnson was the youngest player by more than a year on an All-D-League team – and he made the first of three teams.

Now, Johnson – who the Thunder drafted No. 48 in 2015 and whose rights they continued to hold – is finally moving up to the NBA.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Thunder have already used the full taxpayer mid-level exception, so presumably Johnson will get the minimum – $2,128,226 over two years. That, plus two years of meager D-League salary, will be Johnson’s return for granting Oklahoma City four years of his services.

He could have forced the Thunder’s hand either of the previous two years by signing the required tender – a one-year contract, surely unguaranteed at the minimum – a team must extend to retain a draft pick’s rights. Accepting the tender would have meant Johnson earning an NBA salary (and gaining a year of service) if Oklahoma City kept him past the preseason. Or, if they waived him, he would’ve been an unrestricted NBA free agent. He still could have developed with the Thunder’s D-League affiliate while available to any NBA team.

Instead, Johnson repeatedly rejected the tender, allowing Oklahoma City to maintain exclusive negotiating rights.

At least the Thunder helped develop him. A strong 7-footer, Johnson has improved his mobility and skill level. He’s still an old-school center in a league moving away from that style, but he’s now more equipped to keep up.

Whether he’s ready enough is another question. Johnson will fall behind Steven Adams and Enes Kanter on the depth chart. At just 21, Johnson is still a decent developmental prospect.

Johnson gives the Thunder 16 players on standard contracts, one more than the regular-season maximum. They could waive Semaj Christon, whose salary is unguaranteed, but I’d be leery of having only Raymond Felton behind Russell Westbrook at point guard. Nick Collison at least provides insurance at center.

So, there’s no guarantee Johnson sticks into the regular season. One thing working in his favor: His salary will be luxury-taxed at the rookie minimum, because the Thunder drafted him. Christon or any other player acquired through free agency would be taxed at the second-year minimum.

No matter how it shakes out, Johnson is at least finally getting significant money in his pocket.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey: DeMar DeRozan to play some point guard

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The Raptors gave away backup point guard Cory Joseph to save money. So, who will play behind Kyle Lowry?

Presumably, Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet will each slide up a spot on the depth chart. The third-year Wright looks ready to join the rotation, and he deserves at least the opportunity.

But Toronto also has another – unexpected – option at point guard: DeMar DeRozan.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, via Bryan Meler of Sportsnet:

“DeMar DeRozan, have him handle the ball a bit more as a point guard, a facilitator, a passer. Kyle Lowry moving the ball a bit more, spacing up. We don’t want to give our whole ‘what we’re going to try to do next year’ away, but again it comes down to passing the basketball and better spacing more so, than we know, one-on-one play.”

“Everyone and their brother knows we want better ball movement,” said Casey.

DeRozan didn’t play point guard at all last season.* So, this is a pretty big shift.

*Defined as playing without Lowry, Joseph, Wright or VanVleet.

Known as an isolation player, DeRozan has quietly improved as a distributor. I don’t think his ability to run an offense is at a point-guard level, but I’m also not sure that’s the point.

The Raptors are trying to change their style and promote more ball movement. This could help in the long run.

I supported the Timberwolves playing Zach LaVine at point guard as a rookie even though it was clear he should be a shooting guard. Playing point guard was a crash course that helped him develop skills useful at shooting guard, skills he couldn’t have as easily developed while playing off the ball.

The same could be true with DeRozan. Some rocky minutes at point guard could better equip him to play with Lowry in better-passing units come playoff time.

It was more conventional to play a 19-year-old on a bad team out of position to focus on skill development than it is for a 28-year-old on a good team. But he we are.

The Raptors have achieved enough success in the regular season and not enough in the playoffs. Experimenting during the long regular season is a good plan.

Lakers meet with Derrick Rose, Ian Clark about backup point guard slot

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At a press conference this week introducing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Magic Johnson said that the Lakers wanted to find a backup point guard in the next week or so.

Thursday the Lakers took a couple of steps down that road, meeting with both Derrick Rose and Ian Clark.

Both men would serve as the backup to, and potential mentor for, Lonzo Ball. The questions come down to which man better fits that role, and of course money.

Rose put up solid numbers last season in New York — 18 points per game, a PER of 17 — and statistically appeared to be an average NBA point guard. However, he’s still a defensive liability, cannot space the floor as a shooter (21.7 percent from three last season), and he’s not versatile offensively.

Rose is thought to be choosing between the Lakers and Cavaliers, both teams offering one-year contracts (Chicago has been mentioned is a highly unlikely reunion). Cleveland can offer the chance to chase a ring and play with LeBron James, but only a veteran minimum contract of $2.1 million. The Lakers can offer the same minimum contract or the room exception of $4.3 million (it’s not known if the Lakers put that larger offer on the table, but it seems plausible to likely). Rose has to choose what he wants, what he prioritizes, in neither case is he going to start or be part of the long-term plans — this is a one-year choice.

Clark played for Luke Walton in Golden State, is younger and more athletic than Rose, shot 37.4 percent from three last season, and is coming off his best season playing almost 15 minutes a game and winning a ring with the Warriors. He’s not as good as running the offense as Rose, but last season he cut down on his turnovers and improved his defense, taking steps forward with both. If things work out, he could stick with the Lakers beyond this season, but they will only offer a one-year contract for now.

Los Angeles has other options out there on the point guard market — Brandon Jennings, Ty Lawson, Deron Williams — but the Lakers seem to have narrowed their choice down to Rose or Clark. Once they land the backup point guard, the roster will

Shaq calls his absurd light-up shoes the real Big Baller Brand

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Because 7’1″, 350-pound Shaquille O’Neal needed an impossible-to-ignore pair of light up shoes to call attention to himself…

Shaq posted a video of himself on Instagram wearing some outrageous light-up shoes — then in the comments decided to take another dig at Big Baller Brand.

Boy was shining wasn't he #whatarethose #shineonem #feetwork #shaqshoestherealbigballerbrand

A post shared by DR. SHAQUILLE O'NEAL Ed.D. (@shaq) on

So how much do those shoes cost? More or less than ZO2?

One of the things I enjoyed about Summer League was that as Lonzo Ball played better and better, the spotlight shifted more to his play and more away from his father. Think what you will of LaVar Ball — marketing genius or loud-mouthed dad — personally I’m just weary of him. I like Lonzo’s play, I don’t need the rest.

However, between Shaq and Charles Barkley, I think there’s going to be a lot of LaVar/Big Baller Brand talk on Inside the NBA next season. Those two can’t help themselves.