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).

Gregg Popovich pins Spurs’ effort problems on players: ‘I don’t remember playing tonight’ (video)

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich gives instructions against the Detroit Pistons in the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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The Spurs fell behind by 18 and eventually lost to the Bulls, 95-91, last night – which begged the question:

Does San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich bear any responsibility for his team’s lack of early intensity?

Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News:

Popovich:

I don’t remember playing tonight. I didn’t play. Guys get a lot of money to be ready to play. No Knute Rockne speeches. It’s your job. If you’re a plumber and you don’t do your job, you don’t get any work. I don’t think a plumber needs a pep talk. If a doctor botches operations, he’s not a doctor anymore. If you’re a basketball player, you come ready. It’s called maturity. It’s your job.

Like it or not, motivation is part of an NBA coach’s job.

But that’s also precisely what Popovich is doing.

His credentials dwarf any other coach’s. He can play to his own ego and absolve himself of responsibility – and players will seek to please him. His years of success have earned him the ability to motivate this way, a method no other coach could use without alienating his team.

Donatas Motiejunas signing four-year, $35 million contract with Rockets

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  Donatas Motiejunas #20 of the Houston Rockets is helped to his feet by teammates James Harden #13 and Patrick Beverley #2 of the Houston Rockets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Once the Rockets let Donatas Motiejunas back into free agency, this was only a matter of time.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

This sounds remarkably similar to the salaries and incentives set in the original offer sheet from the Nets. But remember, the Rockets didn’t match some of those bonuses that Brooklyn would have been bound to.

So, why not hold Motiejunas to what became a four-year, $31 million offer sheet once matched? Houston got something in return – a later trigger date on guaranteeing Motiejunas’ 2017-18 salary. Originally, that decision had to be made March 1 – which would’ve meant dropping Motiejunas from the team this season to prevent his salary from counting next season. Now, the Rockets can make that call in July, after this season is complete.

The following two Julys, Houston will also have a choice on guaranteeing Motiejunas’ upcoming salary or dropping him.

Essentially, Motiejunas is signing the most lucrative Hinkie Special in NBA history. If he plays well and stays healthy, the Rockets have Motiejunas at an affordable rate. If he struggles or his back injuries flare up, they can drop him with little to no penalty.

After they backed themselves into this corner, Motiejunas and his agent, B.J. Armstrong, didn’t do so bad. Considering the similarity between this contract and the Nets’ original offer sheet, it seems Houston helped Armstrong save face after a bungled free agency (which is easier to accept when you’re adding a talented reserve to a formidable team).

But for how little is guaranteed and how much control the Rockets hold over the next four years, wouldn’t Motiejunas have been better off accepting the $4,433,683 qualifying offer?

Report: Rockets return Donatas Motiejunas to restricted free agency, working on new contract with him

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Rockets had Donatas Motiejunas in a bind.

He was beholden to them on a four-year, $31 million deal and unable to sign with other teams. Motiejunas’ choices: Report for a physical or wait in limbo.

But apparently Houston has allowed him out of that constraint.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

This means Motiejunas can’t sign with the Nets, who signed him to the original offer sheet, for one year.

I bet it also means Motiejunas and Houston have agreed to a new contract. Otherwise, why release him from the offer sheet? The Rockets would be giving up a tremendous amount of leverage out of the goodness of their hearts – unless this is just a prelude to a new deal with Houston.

John Wall pushes down Jusuf Nurkic from behind in retaliation (video)

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John Wall didn’t like how Jusuf Nurkic bumped him, so Wall shoved the Nuggets center from behind and sent him to the floor.

An overreaction to the bump? Probably. Wall got hit with a technical foul.

But I’m mostly just impressed Wall was strong enough to push over Nurkic.