Lakers need to answer big questions: Is Howard the future? Can he co-exist with D’Antoni?

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The Lakers are not making the playoffs.

Some in Los Angeles probably think there is still a shot, but most of them also think their screenplay is just about to get picked up by a studio with Hugh Jackman attached to it. That and the Lakers in the postseason have about the same chance of happening.

With the trade deadline coming up in less than a month (Feb. 21), the temptation might be for the Lakers to make a move to bolster the team this season. They shouldn’t. Write this year off. They have to think long term. And I think the ever patient Mitch Kupchak or even Jim Buss are doing just that.

But that means they have some serious questions to answer about what kind of team this is going to be and whose team it is going to be. Any and all moves need to be based on the answers to these questions and to bring both the roster and coaching staff in alignment with these answers”

• What is the Lakers identity? Post players and defense? Up-tempo pick-and-roll heavy? Who are they?

• Can Los Angeles re-sign Dwight Howard and keep him as the future anchor of the franchise going forward?

• Can Howard co-exist with Mike D’Antoni in his system?

The Lakers want to keep Howard and sign him to a max deal this summer — even in an off year coming off back surgery he is as good as any big in the league. And he’s going to get back to his old self (or close to it) at some point. He is absolutely still a guy you anchor a franchise around. The Lakers are Kobe Bryant’s team right now, but they can be Howard’s in a couple years.

On the other side of that equation, Howard, following his ugly exit from Orlando, isn’t doing anything this season to repair that damaged reputation. Packing up and becoming a free agent again certainly doesn’t help that. He gets more money in Los Angeles and he can win there, he’s likely going to stay.

But can he coexist with Mike D’Antoni?

And with that, how committed are the Lakers to D’Antoni? And to Steve Nash? Because if they truly are committed them, the Lakers need to make a lot of changes to the roster to get more athletic, to get younger and faster. That likely means a Pau Gasol trade at least. And they have to convince Howard to run a lot of pick-and-roll — and even then does he fit or just clog the lane. Howard is not a classic D’Antoni player in the least.

But if Howard and D’Antoni can’t fit together, which side are the Lakers more committed to?

Adrain Wojnarowski reports at Yahoo that Howard is likely to re-sign in Los Angeles, but it is D’Antoni that gives Howard pause. And that D’Antoni has never been Howard’s biggest fan.

Frankly, in a star player vs. coach situation the player almost always wins because there just are not many of them in the NBA. There are maybe 10 guys who are true NBA franchise anchor players and Howard is one — you don’t trade him and you build around him with a system that fits.

There are a whole lot of unanswered questions in this post because there are a whole lot of unanswered questions about the Lakers. And there are many, many more but they are all offshoots of the big unanswered questions.

You can’t just slap a bunch of superstars together and call it a team, you need an identity to build toward. We don’t know what that identity is for the Lakers.

The Lakers need to go into the trade deadline and the summer thinking about next season and what they want the team to look like. You can’t build a skyscraper without a blueprint and right now the Lakers don’t seen to have one, just a lot of parts laying around the site waiting to be put together. Someone needs to be the architect.

Report: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer no longer considering Suns job

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There’s been a lot of talk as the coaching carousel ramps up, long before the NBA season is even over. Now, we know one coach won’t be heading to the Phoenix Suns: Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was reportedly among one of the candidates for the Suns job, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi the Hawks coach has decided not to pursue the position after being given the opportunity to do so.

The Suns coaching search still includes current interim coach Jay Triano and former Memphis Grizzlies head man David Fizdale.

Via ESPN:

Budenholzer met with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver early this week, but there was never traction on reaching a contract agreement as the week wore on, league sources said.

As the Suns kept interviewing candidates — including David Fizdale and interim coach Jay Triano — Budenholzer informed the Suns on Thursday that he would no longer be a candidate for the job, sources said.

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season. Budenholzer had a hefty resume to consider — he won 60 games in Atlanta in 2014-15, heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Suns need someone to guide their young star in Devin Booker. Who they choose will influence the direction of their franchise for longer than the next coach may even be around.

Warriors beat Spurs in glum Game 3

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The Spurs were playing with heavy hearts following the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston appeared to injure their left ankles on back-to-back plays late.

Everyone seemed ready for the Warriors’ 110-97 Game 3 win Thursday to end well before it did.

Soon enough, the first-round series will. Golden State is up 3-0, and all 127 teams to win the first three games of a best-of-seven series won it – most of them via sweep. Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

There’s hope neither Durant’s nor Livingston’s injury is serious. Durant walked off on his own, though gingerly. Livingston shot his free throws before exiting.

Durant (26 points) and Klay Thompson (19 points) have carried the Warriors’ offense with Stephen Curry sidelined by his own injury. If Durant isn’t at full strength for Game 4, Golden State could really struggle to score.

But it still might not matter, as the Spurs are overmatched against the Warriors’ dialed-in defense. Draymond Green (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals) led tonight’s effort.

After two losses in Oakland to start the series, returning to San Antonio didn’t do much for the Spurs, who were 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road this season – the NBA’s largest home-road disparity in a half decade. It’s just had to see San Antonio – whether Popovich returns or Ettore Messina remains acting coach – finding enough sources of offense.

Pelicans move one game away from sweep after bashing Blazers in Game 3

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But for a moment, the Portland Trail Blazers felt as though they could turn the series. For half a quarter, the Blazers had hope. Then, Nikola Mirotic dropped a career-high 30 points, Anthony Davis added a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans moved one game away from completing a sweep of the third seed after a big win on Thursday night, 119-102.

Under the guidance of Mirotic, the Pelicans unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers starting midway through the first quarter. The game was close to being a contest, but Jrue Holiday and Mirotic started to pour it in after being uncorked, with New Orleans taking a 16-point lead going into the second period.

Running up and down the court in a panic, Portland looked nervous in the spotlight. The Blazers racked up 12 turnovers by halftime, all while rattling 3-pointers off the back iron. Portland rushed its offense in the face of unlikely success by the Pelicans, who continued to rain down from deep. New Orleans hit four big shots in the final 1:47 of the half, including three from beyond-the-arc.

Never one to back down, Blazers star Damian Lillard tried to force the issue. He would finish with 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but most evidentiary of his night was Lillard lobbing up a wild 28-footer with 24 seconds left in the half as he tried to answer a gutshot 3-pointer from E'Twaun Moore from a moment before. It didn’t work, and the Pelicans took commanding 64-45 lead to start the third quarter.

So went the story of the rest of the game, as Portland couldn’t fully tamp down the New Orleans offensive attack for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even after one 10-0 run for the Blazers in the third, the Pelicans ended it in the most deflating way possible — a wide open dunk for Mirotic on a cut after Portland’s defense fell asleep.

It was an electric atmosphere at Smoothie King, and the sellout crowd that gave us a glimpse of what kind of homecourt advantage the Pelicans could have in the second round. The New Orleans fans were in a back-and-forth with the players, with Smoothie King working to such a fever pitch it felt as though every shot hoisted by the team in red and gold was destined for the nylon.

Demoralized, Portland battled — flailed, really — but the Blazers couldn’t make up any ground as the momentum continued for New Orleans. Finally Blazers coach Terry Stotts relented and waived the white flag for Portland with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter as he subbed in his bench.

Even with a 49-win season under its belt, the questions surrounding the Blazers become more serious. The team that had a 13-game win streak this season now will face rumblings about whether Stotts will remain with the team. An exit for Stotts would be unwise for Portland — he did wonders with a team that didn’t play up to its potential most of the year — but it’s not out of the ordinary for a team looking to break through to look elsewhere, especially after Lillard’s meeting with owner Paul Allen.

Although their work isn’t done yet, New Orleans looks as though it’s a team to be feared in the playoffs. What it needs to do is concentrate on sweeping the Blazers, not only to give themselves confidence heading into the second round but to show their second-round opponent (likely the Warriors) that they aren’t to be taken lightly.

How Porltand can counter in the deciding Game 4 isn’t clear. The Pelicans have looked like the better team for nearly every quarter of the series, and the Blazers clearly don’t have an answer for them on either side of the ball.

Happy New Orleans fans will pack Smoothie King on Saturday for Game 4 at 2:00 PM PST in Louisiana. Davis will look to win his first playoff series, and Portland will try to avoid their most embarrassing sweep since they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili celebrate the life of Erin Popovich (VIDEO)

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The NBA community has been effuse in their thoughts and condolences to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the past 24 hours. Erin Popovich, 67, passed away on April 18, leaving behind her husband, Gregg.

Many were taken aback at the news, including players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom were emotional when they first heard the news of Erin’s passing.

Gregg Popovich was not with the team to coach them in their Thursday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors, as Ettore Messina took the reins for Game 3.

Meanwhile, those close to the Popoviches spoke about Erin, her influence on Gregg, and how much both mean to them. Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich in San Antonio for four seasons, told reporters that Erin was, “The sort of balance that Pop needed.”

Current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also voiced their support for the Popovich family.

Via Twitter:

Here’s hoping Popovich finds some solace in the support he’s received over the past day.