Andre Drummond being leader, getting Pistons rookies into town early

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Andre Drummond, team leader.

It’s just his second season and Detroit has a locker room with veterans such as Chauncey Billups and Josh Smith, but it has been Drummond reaching out to the Pistons rookies and telling Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tony Mitchell, and Peyton Siva to come to Detroit early for pre-camp workouts, reports the Pistons official site.

“I got Peyton (Siva) to come to town, Tony’s (Mitchell) coming in the next day or two and Kentavious (Caldwell-Pope), too,” Drummond said. “I’m making sure all the rookies come in. Last year, I was here real early. I’m like, ‘You guys need to get here early. Just because you made it to the league, don’t think you can come back when all the veterans come back.’ ”

Those rookies are going to have to fight for minutes off the bench. The Pistons have assembled an interesting roster — I’m not sold on Smith and Brandon Jennings meshing well — but they have some depth now. The rookies are going to have to earn that run.

And that run starts with conditioning.

After Siva experienced his first brisk workout, he acknowledged to Drummond that he felt winded and was happy to have the six weeks until training camp opens to acclimate.

“And I told him, ‘It’s only going to get worse. As soon as training camp comes, it’s running times 10.’ So I’m glad to have him out here with me and the other rookies will be here soon, too.”

Drummond had an impressive rookie season — if he could have stayed healthy he would have been in the Rookie of the Year conversation (I doubt he wins but in the conversation). Drummond averaged 7.9 points a game on 60.8 percent shooting plus was strong on the boards averaging 7.6 a game. And that was with coach Lawrence Frank seeming to hold the reins on him and not really turning him loose.

But can Drummond sustain a level of play that saw him with a PER of 21.6? Obviously he can’t shoot 37.1 percent of free throws and be productive (he’s working on that) but Tom Ziller at SB Nation tried to temper expectations by saying it is more than that.

I’m skeptical of two pieces that made Drummond’s rookie season so spectacular, though: his elite rebounding and his lack of turnovers. Last season, Drummond snared 15.4 percent of his own team’s missed shots, one of the best marks in the league…. Kenneth Faried is a good example of a player who was extraordinary on the offensive glass as a rookie (16.5 percent) only to dip down to very good in his second season (13 percent). That could happen to Drummond on both ends. (He was an outrageous defensive rebounder, too.)

The most unbelievable thing about Drummond as a rookie was his low turnover rate. He didn’t touch the ball as a threat to score a whole lot, but still. For a young, raw big man to have a turnover rate of 12 percent is totally unexpected and a huge boon. For comparison’s sake, Dwight Howard’s turnover rate has never been lower than 15 percent.

But as Drummond gets better he’s going to draw more attention — from defenders not letting him do what he wants in the post and from teams working to keep him off the boards. It’s not that he will not still be could and could be on his way to being the best center in the league, it’s just a question of how efficent he can continue to be as he draws more attention.

Still, he’s showing signs as a locker room leader already on top of his play. That could make his a special player.

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.