Atlanta Hawks hire Spurs assistant Budenholzer as coach

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UPDATE 4:15 pm: Well, that didn’t take long.

Spurs lead assistant Mike Budenholzer has been hired as the new head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, something first reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Chris Vivlamore and since confirmed by the team.

Budenholzer to work with the Spurs through the NBA finals then commit to Atlanta full time.

“We are thrilled to have Mike as the next coach of the Atlanta Hawks. He has an incredible basketball acumen and has a keen awareness of the league and what it takes to be successful,” Hawks GM Danny Ferry said. “His experience and four championships over the last 17 years provide a tremendous foundation for his leadership of our team.”

“I have been extremely fortunate to be a part of the San Antonio Spurs organization for the last 19 years. I knew it would have to be a tremendous situation for me to leave and clearly coming to Atlanta as the head coach of the Hawks is perfect for me,” Budenholzer said in a released statement. “Ownership’s commitment to taking this organization to the next level and creating a unique and special culture, partnering with a general manager like Danny Ferry who I have great respect for, and building a roster that has terrific potential because of the existing core and the ensuing flexibility presents a rare and uniquely positive opportunity.”

Budenholzer had interviewed for head coaching jobs in the past (although not as many as you’d think, in part because the Spurs were often deep in the playoffs). In part it was assumed that Budenholzer was the coach in waiting for when Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich retires.

But this seems a good fit and it’s a good hire for the Hawks. As mentioned in the original post below, Budenholzer will team up with former Spurs assistant GM Danny Ferry in trying to reshape the culture of the Hawks. They need to build a new culture there

“I couldn’t be happier for Mike for many reasons. As anyone who’s been part of this program knows, he has been more of a co-head coach than an assistant for a long time. His knowledge of the game as well as his ability to teach and develop relationships with players are all special,” said Popovich in a statement.

The Hawks are a team about to see some major roster changes (adios Josh Smith), but if you begin with Al Horford in the Tim Duncan role you’re off to a pretty good start. Still, it’s going to be a process in Atlanta.

4:05 pm: What else has he got to do? It’s not like the NBA schedule makers are keeping the Spurs busy.

Highly sought after Spurs assistant coach Mike Budenholzer has been granted permission to talk to and negotiate with the Atlanta Hawks about their coaching opening during the nine-day break between the end of the Spurs sweep and the start of the Finals. So reports both David Aldridge at NBA.com and Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

This is pretty far along, with Wojnarowski calling it “serious stages of negotiating an agreement.”

Budenholzer is part of the Spurs family, having been with the team 18 years, the last five as the lead assistant to Gregg Popovich. They actually met when Div. III coach Popovich at Pomona-Pitzer recruited Budenholzer to play at the school, which he did but Popovich had soon left for bigger and better things.

But the Spurs family is branching out, including in Atlanta where former Spurs assistant GM Danny Ferry runs the show. If you’re trying to create the Spurs kind of operation and long-term success hiring two key cogs of that franchise makes sense.

Of course, the whole getting lucky to draft Tim Duncan (in one down year when David Robinson was injured) then finding Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili buried in the draft is not so simple.

But they built a culture and organization that could to that. If they can build anything close to that in Atlanta it would be a good thing.

Rumor: NBA executives think Rockets have shot at signing LeBron James

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LeBron James is now rumored to be headed to about 29 NBA teams this summer when he can opt out of his current contract and become a free agent. Earlier this week, we heard rumblings that LeBron could be interested in sharing a Los Angeles Lakers roster with Dallas Mavericks center-at-large Nerlens Noel.

Now we’re hearing that NBA executives think the Houston Rockets have a chance of nabbing The King in the summer of 2018.

All aboard the Banana Boat.

According to USA Today’s Sam Amick, both the Rockets themselves and rival execs think Houston is a real landing spot for James thanks in part to how well they are playing this season. James Harden is having another MVP-caliber year, and Chris Paul has played beautifully in his return.

Via USA Today:

While James has made it clear that he won’t deliberate his uncertain future until the Cavs’ season is complete, there is strong belief in Rockets circles that they’ll have a legitimate shot at landing the four-time MVP this summer. Rival executives also believe the Rockets will have a real chance. And once you really look at it, when you get past all the noise about the Lakers and even the compelling case for the up-and-coming Philadelphia 76ers, it makes all sorts of sense.

The only team we haven’t heard connecting rumors about is the Cleveland Cavaliers themselves. LeBron — whose family lives in LA — recently bought a new house there and all signs point to James heading to the Western Conference. Well, unless he goes to the Philadelphia 76ers, of course.

Then again it felt like a certainty that LeBron would head to the New York Knicks nearly a decade ago, an idea that seems hilarious in retrospect. The NBA is weird, and if LeBron dips from Cleveland expect it to get even weirder.

Sixers’ Robert Covington to miss at least one game after crashing into stands

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NBA fans love hustle from their players, but sometimes things go awry.

That’s what happened on Saturday night after Philadelphia 76ers forward Robert Covington dove into the stands to try to save a loose ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The play came in the fourth quarter with under two minutes left and the Sixers down by just one point. Covington leapt into the far sideline just near the Cavaliers bench. He appeared to turn his ankle and land awkwardly on his back. The Cleveland floor has a small lip after the first row of seats that may have played a part in the injury.

Cleveland would go on to score on the play, and Covington had to be helped off the floor. The Cavaliers went on to win, 105-98.

Meanwhile, the 76ers will play Sunday in New Orleans against the Pelicans. According to NBC Sports Philadelphia, Covington will miss the game with a lower back contusion.

Via NBCSN Philadelphia:

X-rays and a CT scan came back negative. Covington is with the team in New Orleans and is doubtful for Tuesday’s game in Minnesota.

Covington tumbled out of bounds and over courtside seats while he tried to save a possession during a Sixers comeback attempt. There is an approximate four-to-five inch drop between the court and the area where Covington landed. Many of his teammates were unaware of Covington’s injury at first because it was out of their vision.

“It’s scary to see your teammate like that,” guard JJ Redick said. “They said he fell on his back. I wanted to make sure he’s walking and not in too much pain. But I just wish the best for him and hope he’s OK.”

Back injuries can be a complete hassle to recover from, especially when you’re deep in the middle of the season. Let’s hope the Sixers get Covington back soon.

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunked all over Rudy Gobert (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks a lot. The Milwaukee Bucks forward is big, strong, and aggressive when it comes to attacking the rim.

But he doesn’t typically dunk this hard or this emphatically over perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidates like Rudy Gobert.

That’s what made this one special.

As time was winding down in Milwaukee’s eventual 117-100 win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, Antetokounmpo put the exclamation point at the end of the sentence for the Bucks.

Gobert took the brunt of it. Via Twitter:

Goodness.

Gordon Hayward on playing this season: “It’s definitely in the back of my mind”

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Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward has been going through some grueling physical therapy to aid his recovery from a horrible leg injury he suffered during his first game with the team back in October. Hayward wound up breaking his ankle, likely putting him out for the season.

Meanwhile, whether Hayward plays or not during the 2017-18 campaign is still up for debate. Hayward is making progress in his recovery — he recently was able to take his walking boot off and go for a smaller ankle brace.

For his part, Hayward has said that he is still thinking about the possibility of returning this season to the Celtics, who have earned themselves the top spot in the Eastern Conference in his absence.

Speaking to Adam Himmelsbach over at the Boston Globe, Hayward detailed not only his recovery routine but his thinking when it came to planning his return.

Via The Boston Globe:

“It’s definitely in the back of my mind,” Hayward said. “I’m definitely pushing to get back as fast as I can, while making sure that I still have a lot of good years of basketball in me. And coming back early and hurting something else is not part of that plan. So I’m making sure that if I come back, I’m 1,000 percent confident in myself and my leg. I hope more than anything I can play this season. That would be awesome. But that’s not something I’m stressing about. I’m stressing about what I can do today to help myself get better.”

That’s smart thinking on Hayward’s part. Too often it seems like guys are jonesing to come back, and when they do it’s cause for concern that they’re damaging their long-term playing health.

Hayward is making some real progress — the Globe story details him doing tasks like picking up marbles with his toes and shooting baskets from a chair as part of his PT — but whether he’ll be ready this season is doubtful.

It doesn’t sound like Hayward wants to rush things, but you never know. His agent did say that his return this year is unlikely, but another report has said that his earliest return would be March. Just in time to make a run for an Eastern Conference Finals showdown against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers?

We’ll have to wait and see.

UPDATE: Shortly after this story and the Boston Globe one was published on Sunday morning, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the team isn’t planning for Hayward to come back. The plot thickens!