The Extra Pass: Why D’Antoni is the right man for the job; plus Sunday’s recaps

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You may consider this curious timing to take up for Mike D’Antoni, considering his Lakers just gave up 137 points at home to a Denver Nuggets team that can best be described as “meh.”

Believe it or not, though, pulling the wool over your eyes isn’t my intention here. Let’s be truthful: D’Antoni’s teams really are awful defensively. In 11 seasons, he’s coached an above-average defense in terms of efficiency just once. His defensive schemes aren’t ever any good, and they likely never will be.

That, understandably, doesn’t sit right with a lot of people. Rarely do below-average defensive teams make the playoffs, let alone go deep in them.

The Los Angeles Lakers, as many of their fans will be quick to remind you of, are all about hanging banners and winning rings. D’Antoni’s track record sure seems to be counter-intuitive to that.

But while we’re being honest here, let’s knock down those expectations a peg. The Lakers weren’t going to win a championship this season. Not with Steve Nash in this condition at 39 years old, not with Kobe Bryant coming off a devastating injury, not with Pau Gasol’s natural decline, and not with Dwight Howard leaving behind no reasonable way to replace his production.

No one was winning anything substantial with this roster – not even the great Phil Jackson, who surely would have a whale of a time coaching Nick Young.

That’s part of the issue with evaluating D’Antoni’s performance this season. What standards should he be held up to? Those set by past coaches and teams far more talented, or ones more in line with reality?

The Lakers have been entertaining, and not solely in just a trainwreck sort of way, as was originally anticipated. This is typically a fun brand of basketball to watch, but more importantly, it’s a style that’s hospitable to star players, Bryant included.

The Lakers move the ball. They feel empowered to take open threes. For the most part, they play pretty unselfish basketball, which is pretty much unheard of considering that nearly everyone on the roster is on an expiring contract and playing for their next job. There are defensive failures, naturally, but what did anyone reasonably expect?

From Lakers’ general manager Mitch Kupchak’s perspective, D’Antoni has probably met his expectations so far this year.

The reclamation project of Kendall Marshall has been a huge success thus far. D’Antoni has a reputation as a point guard whisperer, and maybe it was Kupchak’s confidence in D’Antoni that made giving Marshall a two-year non-guaranteed deal a high-upside play that looks like it’s going to pan out.

That may not seem significant, but it’s a big deal for the Lakers. Most of the players currently on the roster, including Gasol, will be long gone next year. Finding cheap options that can contribute to next year’s team has to be the top priority, so long as we’re going to ignore the white elephants of tanking and taxes.

At least in that sense, D’Antoni is the perfect coach for the Lakers right now. For as unimpressive as his defensive resume is, D’Antoni has a history of unearthing diamonds in the rough. His offensive system can inflate numbers, and in turn, it can inflate the trade value of the players putting up those numbers. That’s important – arguably moreso than wins are at this point.

That won’t stop the pitchforks from being raised, of course. There is a tipping point with D’Antoni that’s been reached multiple times in the past, and bad defense usually reflects worse on a coach than a hapless offense does. There’s a reason D’Antoni has been fired before, and there’s a reason it will likely happen again.

But it shouldn’t happen yet – not so long as D’Antoni is helping to improve the Lakers’ future, one way or another.

-D.J. Foster

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This was the best video of the night — watch J.R. Smith on the left of the screen untie Shawn Marion’s shoe during Dirk Nowitzki’s free throw attempt. Marion plays the entire next possession that way before getting to tie his shoe.

The question on twitter after this… (keep reading)

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Grizzlies 112, Pistons 84: This game was close for the first half (Detroit led by 5 at the break and got good play from their bigs) then the Grizzlies won the second half 61-28 as the Pistons shot just 30.8 percent in the second half and were 1-of-9 from three. The last 24 minutes were everything you feared about the Pistons — Josh Smith taking bad jumpers, Brandon Jennings was 0-of-7, and they didn’t defend. Jon Lauer came off the bench to lead the Grizzlies with 23 points, and a rare shout out this season to Ed Davis (not a good fit in the Grizzlies system most nights) who had 13 points in the fourth quarter to keep this a blow out.

Pacers 82, Cavaliers 78: It wasn’t pretty. To use the Rasheed Wallace classic, both teams played hard. But it wasn’t pretty. This was the kind of game you expect the Pacers to win in the postseason (well, except for the for the lack of crowd noise) — it was a grind-it-out win. They defended and held the Cavaliers to 34.2 percent shooting, or an offensive rating or 89.6 points per 100 possessions. Indiana just couldn’t shoot. Paul George led the Pacers with 16 points on 4-of-10 shooting, while Roy Hibbert had 15 points (on 12 shots).

Heat 102, Raptors 97: Moral victories suck, but Toronto should take this as one — they looked like the third best team in the East right now (which they are) and led entering the fourth quarter. Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting and outplayed Chris Bosh for most of the night. DeMar DeRozan looked like an All-Star with 26 points and 7 assists, but he wore down in the fourth. That’s when LeBron James played like the LeBron James you expect — 10 of his 30 points came in the fourth quarter. Once again Beasley was key with 17 points off the bench, he’s becoming a real weapon.

Warriors 112, Wizards 96: Make that nine wins in a row for Golden State, the last five on the road. This one was tied at the half, but the Wizards have had some rough third quarters recently and the Warriors took advantage this time. Golden State started the second half on a 19-3 run and they led comfortably the rest of the way, shooting 50.3 percent on the night. The Warriors were led by 26 points from Klay Thompson, while David Lee had 21 points and 11 boards (10 of his points came in the key third quarter). John Wall had a strong first half but wasn’t a factor in the second and finished with 14 points (tied for most on the Wizards) on 11 shots.

Thunder 119, Celtics 96: It was the second night of a back-to-back after a tough game against Minnesota, yet this was the best the Thunder have looked in a week. You can thank Reggie Jackson for that, as he had a career high 27 points and played with a lot of confidence from the start (he opened the game 4-of-4 shooting). He seems to be growing into the role of starter with Russell Westbrook out. Boston got 19 a piece from Avery Bradley and Jeff Green, but this one was never close. Kevin Durant had 21 and never got off the bench in the fourth quarter.

Knicks 92, Mavericks 80: Dirk Nowitzki was right, Dallas didn’t look like a playoff team in this game. They looked flat. Even without an ill Tyson Chandler New York took the lead with a 21-5 run in the first quarter and held that the rest of the way, fighting back each Mavericks’ run. While Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 19 points it was the seven points late in the fourth quarter from Iman Shumpert that sealed the win the win. Dallas got 18 out of Nowitzki but the team scored just 35 points in the first half and seemed uninspired.

Nuggets 137, Lakers 115: Fast paced, high scoring, this was a little bit of a throwback to a 1985 Lakers/Nuggets game. Except much more sloppy. Denver took control of this game in the third quarter with a 17-2 run sparked by Ty Lawson (20 points on the night) and they got strong play off the bench with from Timofey Mozgov (who also had 20). Brian Shaw needs to play Mozgov and Kenneth Faried together more. On the other side, the Lakers continue to get good play out of Kendall Marshall — he had 17 assists and when he sat the Lakers offense loses all structure.

—Kurt Helin

Rumor: Cavaliers could wait to chase Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony after buyouts

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The first reaction to hearing Jimmy Butler was traded to Minnesota on draft night was “the Bulls only got what back?”

The second reaction was “does Dwyane Wade still opt in?”

Yes, he does, and as he said there are 24 million reasons to do so. Hard to argue with that logic. Which leads to the next question: Will the Bulls buy him out? Or, more likely, when will the Bulls buy him out?

Carmelo Anthony could be in the same boat. Phil Jackson wants to trade him but Anthony has a no-trade clause. The number of teams willing to give up anything for ‘Melo where he would waive that clause is very, very limited. You might be able to count them on one finger. And that might be generous. So a buyout could be in order.

Which leads to this interesting note from Brian Windhorst, via Marc Stein, of ESPN.

This makes sense for the Cavaliers. They need roster upgrades and they are capped out. They tried to find a deal to move Kevin Love to get space to chase Jimmy Butler or Paul George, but those three team deals never came together in part because of a lack of trade value for Kevin Love. Adding either or both of these two players to the roster for minimum salaries while giving up nothing is a perfect scenario.

Wade, obviously, has played with LeBron. Even though he is not the player he once was, if his knees are rested he is capable of stretches of fantastic play that can help carry a team. He would be another offensive weapon in a deep arsenal of weapons the Cavaliers have stockpiled.

Anthony would be the same in some ways — he remains a strong scorer in isolation (sets the Cavaliers run more than any other team in the league) and he makes difficult shots. The problem would be elite teams — Golden State, Boston, etc. — could expose his defense against the pick-and-roll. Still, he would be an upgrade if nothing is surrendered for him.

There’s a lot of “what if” still to happen before we get to this. However, the idea of one or both of these guys being in Cavaliers uniforms by the start of next playoffs is not out of the question.

Alec Peters’ tearful reaction to being selected what NBA Draft should be about

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The NBA Draft production in Brooklyn is entertainment. It’s glitz. There’s stage with changing graphics. The NBA Commissioner comes out and announces the picks, then guys who have realized for a while now they would fulfill their dream of playing in the NBA come up on stage in their expensive suits, put on a baseball cap from their new team, shake the Commissioner’s hand, and next get interviewed on national television. It all feels rehearsed and staged, with very little feeling genuine.

I prefer how it went for former Valparaiso star Alec Peters better. He was in his hometown, with family and friends, unsure if his name would be called until just before it happened at spot 54 — and he still didn’t believe it until he heard it.

That is authentic.

The Suns are a good place to land for a young man wanting to develop and prove he belongs in the league. Peters is a 6’9″ power forward who shot 36.9 percent from three. Can he develop into a stretch four/pick-and-pop threat? He’s got a high IQ and will need to prove he can hang with NBA bigs, but he’s going to get his chance.

(Hat tip Ball Don’t Lie)

Chris Paul too, he informs Clippers he will be a free agent this summer

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Just like with the Blake Griffin news earlier today, we expected this. Frankly, we kind of expected this back in 2013 when he signed his deal.

Chris Paul informed the Clippers on Friday he will be a free agent this summer, news broken by Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times.

Technically, Paul had an early termination option and he informed the Clippers he would be exercising that (not opting out as Griffin did). That said, we’re talking about legal semantics here, what matters is CP3 will hit the open market this summer.

And a lot of teams want to talk to him: San Antonio, Houston, Denver, Miami. CP3 is going to meet with a lot of teams. But let me give you the 57 million reasons the Clippers are still the front-runners:

The Clippers can offer a five-year contract at about $205 million, every other team can offer four years at $152 million. As president of the players’ union while a new CBA was negotiated, he helped get the over-36 rule changed to the over-38 rule in part so he could get one more five-year contract, and he’s not going to take it?

Paul is competitive and the Clippers may not be, especially if Griffin leaves (unless Paul thinks he can help land LeBron James next summer). He has to look around at his options and see if a move gets him closer to a ring. Maybe there is an offer he finds tempting. But the longer he takes could leave the Clippers stuck and create a bottleneck in free agency. CP3 and Griffin (and Gordon Hayward) and going to determine how a lot of other things shake out this summer.

Jimmy Butler says goodbye to Bulls fans, didn’t like way end went down with Chicago management

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Jimmy Butler is about to be back with a coach he respects, one he sees as a person who helped groom him for success, on a team that is the biggest up-and-coming threat in the West. He’s good with where he landed.

Bulls fans are not so thrilled. After a year of rumors, Chicago got Zach LaVine coming off an ACL injury, Kris Dunn, and just drafted No. 7 Lauri Markkanen. That’s it. Well, not exactly, the Bulls gave Minnesota the No. 16 pick as well.

Bulls fans loved Butler, and Butler loved them, as he said on his Instagram saying goodbye to the city and fans.

Chicago, What can I say?! I truly struggle with the words because you've been so much more than just my home for the last 6 years, you've been my life! You've embraced me like a son and pushed me to get better every day, every season. I can honestly say that I have always been incredibly motivated to succeed; it's just the way I'm built. But I know I owe so much to the person I am now, and to the player that I've become, to you. You always pushed me to never give anything less than my absolute best night in, night out. That's what you expected. That's what you deserved. And, I hope you know that's what I dedicated my life to every time I walked into the facility or stepped on the floor of the United Center. Thank you to the entire Bulls organization and Reinsdorf Family for taking a chance on me in 2011 and for giving me the opportunity to play the sport I love for such a great franchise. I'll never forget the feeling I had when I was drafted and when I played my first minutes. It's an experience that I wouldn't have wanted with any other team and I'm so thankful to you for giving me that opportunity. Chicago, I love you. Thanks for embracing a kid from Tomball like one of your own. On to a new home and a new organization. Thankfully, with some familiar faces! PS… AND PROBABLY MOST IMPORTANT! THANK YOU TO EVERYBODY BEHIND THE ORGANIZATION THAT DO NOT GET THE SHINE THAT THEY DESERVE!! YALL ARE THE REAL ALL-STARS!! – Jimmy G. Buckets (@staceyking21 )

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Butler had fewer kind words for Bulls management. Here is what he told Joe Crowly of the Chicago Sun-Times.

“I guess being called the face of an organization isn’t as good as I thought. We all see where being the so-called face of the Chicago Bulls got me. So let me be just a player for the Timberwolves, man. That’s all I want to do. I just want to be winning games. Do what I can for my respective organization and let them realize what I’m trying to do…

“It’s crazy because there was me talking with guys about Cleveland, then all the outside rumors with Boston, Minnesota, Phoenix, then the feeling that I’m not going anywhere,’’ Butler said. “I mean I had so many people telling me what could possibly happen, but I just got to the point where I stopped paying attention to it.

“It’s crazy because it reminds you of what a business this is. You can’t get mad at anybody. I’m not mad, I’m not. I just don’t like the way some things were handled, but it’s OK.”

The long-running complaint of players about Bulls management was in evidence here — there is not communication. Or, what there is comes off as rose-colored visions of things, where what players want is honesty. All of that seems to be in play here.

Will Minnesota treat Butler better? Maybe, but also winning smooths over a lot of friction — and the Timberwolves are going to start winning. They look on paper (and early) like a playoff team in the West next season, one that can climb from there up to being one of the NBA’s elite teams. Karl-Anthony Towns is a top 20 NBA player now, Andrew Wiggins is good, and the team has quality role players everywhere.

A summer ago everyone just wanted the Bulls to choose a direction: Derrick Rose or Jimmy Butler? Who is your franchise leader? Turns out the answer is neither. Which is frustrating to Butler, but he landed in a good spot. Bulls fans on the other hand…