The coach is gone, now what moves must Nets make this offseason?

20 Comments

P.J. Carlesimo wasn’t really the problem in Brooklyn. But he wasn’t really the answer, either.

Brooklyn goes into the summer looking for a new coach and that hire is huge because it’s questionable how much the roster can be changed from last season’s 49-win, fourth in the East squad.

That’s the challenge for the Nets this summer — between the coach and roster tweaks they need to ad variety to their offensive game and they need to get some accountability at the defensive end.

For coaches they are looking first at big names — Phil Jackson said no so expect names like Larry Brown, the Van Gundy brothers (though that seems unlikely), Brian Shaw and maybe others. What the Nets need is a creative coach who can push the right buttons, not just the biggest name — they had conversations with Tom Thibodeau last coaching search but didn’t want to hire an assistant, they wanted a name for the marquee. Thibodeau just coached the Nets into the ground in the first round of the playoffs.

That coach has to come in and put in a system that gives Deron Williams freedom and also gets Brook Lopez the ball on the move and in spots where he can be effective. Part of that would be to up the tempo — the Nets played at the third slowest pace in the league last season. With guys like Williams and the mobile Lopez — not to mention MarShon Brooks and others — the Nets should get more easy buckets in transition than they do.

The coach would be helped by adding some versatility to the roster. But that’s where things get tricky — the Nets have $85 million in salary on the books for next season already. While owner Mikhail Prokhorov may be fine with the luxury tax hit, the contracts they have and the restrictions on deals because they are taxpayers will make Billy King’s job hard. They have one free agent they want to bring back in Andray Blatche, but he says he wants minutes to go with his money and the Nets may not have enough of the minutes part (although money always wins that battle).

As for trades, the options are limited. The Nets are not going to trade Williams and Lopez, those guys are set.

They’d be willing to trade Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace but that will be very hard — Johnson has the worst contract in the NBA with three years, $70 million remaining after this season; Wallace has three years, $33 million and just had a dramatic drop in productivity at age 30. We’ve seen in recent years no deal is untradeable, but these come close and they would not get much quality back in return for them.

Kris Humphries has one year, $12 million left and that seems more likely to get shopped around, but there’s not going to be a lot of demand for his services. Maybe he can packaged with Brooks or Mirza Teletovic to get a better deal. Maybe. But any deal is going to be tough to come by because of the trade restrictions on them (as a tax payer) and because they don’t have assets other teams are all that interested in.

Any deal needs to focus on someone at the four spot — when Wallace and Reggie Evans were paired the Nets were easy to defend because neither of them were a real threat to score. But Carlesimo paired them a lot. What the Nets need is more versatility, a guy who can provide different looks other teams have to defend. Humphries and Evans were not those guys, they were they guys you willingly helped off of.

The biggest problem for the Nets is that pretty much what you see is what you’re going to get with the roster. They aren’t making big moves.

Which is why the coaching hire here is key — they need a coach that can elevate the roster they have, because that is the roster they are largely stuck with (for a couple of years). If the Nets want to climb out of the middle of the Eastern Conference pack it’s going to take a good hire as coach and some clever work by Billy King. He overpaid to get a roster together that could win in the new building in Brooklyn, but now the Nets are that roster and things will not be easy.

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

Getty Images
5 Comments

When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.

 

Lakers make 14% of their free throws, win

3 Comments

Jordan Clarkson‘s free throw rattled around the rim before falling out late in the first quarter. The Los Angeles crowd groaned. The Lakers missed their first five free throws, and the visiting Pacers led by seven.

It appeared to be one of those nights.

And it was. The Lakers shot just 2-for-14 (14%) on free throws Friday. But they still won, 99-86.

That’s the worst free-throw percentage with at least eight attempts by any team and the worst free-throw percentage regardless of attempts by a winning team in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to 1963-64.

Here’s the “leaderboard,” winners in purple and losers in gold:

image

The Lakers are shooting an NBA-worst 69% on free throws, but last night took the cake. The offenders:

Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek brushes off concerns about job security

Getty Images
4 Comments

We saw this pattern earlier this season with the Lakers. Young team gets off to a better-than-expected start, shows real promise, but as things move toward the middle of the season they take a step back. As happens with young, developing teams, they are up and down. However, major market media and an impatient fan base wants to blame someone, so the coach is suddenly discussed as having “lost the locker room” and that his job was in jeopardy (a coach not hired by the current GM). Even though in Luke Walton’s case, it wasn’t (and isn’t).

Now that same pattern has come to New York and the Knicks with Jeff Hornacek. The Knicks started 17-14 and had fans prematurely thinking playoffs thanks to a home-heavy schedule. Reality has hit them the past month.

Hornacek tried to brush off questions about his job security in New York, speaking to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post.

Hornacek also believes he has the backing of GM Scott Perry and president Steve Mills, despite being inherited by them as Phil Jackson’s hire.

“We were talking about rebuilding and we got off to a good start because we had a lot of home games,” Hornacek said. “Scott and Steve, everybody’s still on the same page of trying to get our young guys opportunities. We’re still trying to win games. We still want to establish an identity where defensively we’re going to get after it all the time and we’re building toward that. It’s great to have their support…

“I think the expectations come from the players where all of a sudden you hear them talking about, ‘Oh we can make the playoffs.’ We never said that,” Hornacek said. “We said we want to get better and we want to grow. Part of our talk was you can’t worry about the results. You just got to go out there and if you do your best and try to improve the results will come. When you start thinking about win or lose all of a sudden your mentality becomes different. We got to get back to that.”

Is Hornacek the long-term answer in New York? I don’t know. However, finally unchained from the pseudo-triangle disaster Phil Jackson imposed, he has done a solid job this season, putting Kristaps Porzingis in better spots to lead this roster. The Knicks are projected to win around 38 games at this point (according to Cleaning the Glass), and they have about a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs still (according to fivethiryeight.com). Heading into the season, that would have been about anyone’s best-case scenario for this team.

Not that it matters when you’re coach of the Knicks — job security speculation comes with every paycheck. It just isn’t deserved in this case.

Steve Kerr has “regrets” over time as Suns GM with Mike D’Antoni as coach

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Saturday night, Steve Kerr and Mike D’Antoni will square off as the coaches of the two best teams in the NBA this season (the Warriors and Rockets), teams loaded with offensive talent that play fast — Kerr and D’Antoni have some of the same basic philosophies about the game. Right now they have a mutual admiration society going.

But remember when Kerr took over as the general manager of the “seven seconds or less” Suns? Then traded for Shaq, which was the first step in D’Antono going out the door to New York.

Kerr opened up about his regrets from that era to Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I have some regrets,” Kerr said. “I think we had a few differences that I probably didn’t handle very well as a GM that I could’ve probably handled better, especially given that we really like each other and have a lot of similar viewpoints on the game.”

The Suns were a contender, but not one that could get over the hump of the peak San Antonio Spurs of the mid-2000s (it was more than just the year Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the boards and A’mare Stoudemire got nailed for leaving the bench). Kerr felt the need to do something, so he traded Shawn Marion for an over-the-hill Shaquille O’Neal who did not at all fit the Suns’ style. That move ended an era, and the next summer D’Antoni signed in New York (with a front office that never gave him the pieces for his style of play).

“I should have let Mike know, ‘It’s okay, keep kicking [butt] and keep going, and we’ll make some moves that aren’t so radical that fit more with who we are as an organization,” Kerr said. “We swung for the fences, and it was not the right move to make as an organization. I didn’t envision that as GM. I didn’t have the macro view of what we needed to do….

“I needed to tell Mike, ‘It’s okay if we don’t win the championship,’” Kerr said. “We were so desperate to win. But not everybody can win. But what you can do is keep putting yourself in a position to get there. Then maybe the breaks fall your way.”

Kerr said he’s matured in the way he views the game and team building since then. That is evident in the way the Warriors have been built, with a big-picture view of everything that gets done — they win not only because they are loaded with talent but how that talent fits together. However, they are really an extension of the changes D’Antoni brought to the NBA in Phoenix, just with better defense and some ridiculous shooters.

After stints in New York and Los Angeles with rosters that were ill-suited for his style, D’Antoni is winning big again in Houston because James Harden was really a point guard and GM Daryl Morey has put the right pieces around him to play D’Antoni’s style.

But once again D’Antoni seems just short of a ring because a legendary team — and Steve Kerr — is in the way.