Phil Jackson on returning to Lakers (‘I don’t think so’) and coaching Rockets (‘I mean. Um’)

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Only one thing will end rumors of Phil Jackson returning to coaching:

His death.

But Jackson is still kicking, answering questions at age 68 about when and where he might coach next.

Of course, the Lakers – with whom he was a candidate before they ultimately hired Mike D’Antoni – came up first. Jackson’s 11 championship rings make him intriguing in any role, even beyond coaching.

Jackson, in a Q&A with Sam Amick of USA Today:

Q: Is there any scenario where you get back in that mix? I’ve heard some chatter that you could become even more involved there, and there’s this idea that time heals all wounds and even though the way the coaching situation went down was botched that you could play a role, whether with (general manager) Mitch (Kupchak) in the front office or something else. Is that plausible at all?

A: I don’t think so. I have a good relationship with the vice president in business affairs (Jeanie Buss) — at least it has been pretty good (laughs). She’s dedicated to their family running the business and trying to feel what that’s like. Their father’s memorial service is not a year old, but he has been gone for a year now and they’re still just kind of figuring out, ‘How are we going to do this?’ So I think they want to have an opportunity to do it. And Mitch, obviously, has a relationship with (Lakers executive vice president of player personnel and Jeanie’s brother) Jimmy that has been going on since, I think, 2004 or so, when he started becoming really involved. So for the last 10 years, he and Mitch have been pretty much working together. (Late Lakers owner) Dr. (Jerry) Buss came in on things. We had a few issues. Kobe (Bryant) had an issue one year. We had an issue getting Pau (Gasol). Some of the major moves, Dr. Buss was still there. But the other stuff Jimmy and Mitch have been working on. They’ve got a relationship, so I don’t see that happening.

Q: You just took the wind out of the Lakers’ fans sails there…

A: I know, I’m trying not to gin up any hope in that direction. I don’t go to games. I keep encouraging them as fans to follow their team, and they’re having a hard time doing that. They’re not used to being in the position they’re in, so it’s tough.

Jackson has already coached the Lakers in two separate stints and tried to return for a third. I don’t think he’s lying when he says he thinks he’s done working for the franchise, but it’s hard to rule it out completely.

Maybe Jackson would succeed in a front-office role with Kupchak, and maybe that’s the type of less-physically demanding job Jackson would consider.

But his biggest appeal comes in coaching, where he’s a proven success. Any time a team nears its championship window, Jackson gets mentioned. It always seems at least a little appealing to hire a coach who’s won a championship in a majority of his seasons at the helm.

And the Houston Rockets certainly look like their championship window is opening. Led by Dwight Howard and James Harden with Chandler Parsons as an underrated third wheel, the Rockets are legitimate title contenders right now and young enough to remain that way for years.

Q: So considering the narrative on (Rockets coach) Kevin McHale has been that people wonder how long he wants to coach, do you have intrigue with that situation? I have to admit wondering that maybe you look at that like a do-over from what didn’t happen in LA with Dwight.

A: (Laughs). No, I. I’m sorry. I mean. Um, no. I don’t (pauses). I like that. That’s funny. I’ve got a (phone) call at 10 (a.m.) — how am I doing at time?

Amick: You’re running late. Thanks for the time, Phil.

Remember, Howard wanted the Lakers to hire Jackson, and Jackson had a gameplan in mind to take advantage of Howard’s skills. There was at least intrigue between the two a couple years ago.

The Rockets are well-coached, which is why they could win a championship this year. But when Phil Jackson is available, it’s always tempting – and he always stokes the rumors just enough to make you believe his return is possible.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.

 

Celtics to get Marcus Smart back for Game 5 Tuesday

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It’s a series that has hinged on defense — Boston has played it well for the majority of five games, bottling up Milwaukee in the halfcourt. The Bucks only played it with real energy at home (and only for about six of the eight quarters the last two games) but when they do they have overwhelmed the Celtics, then converted turnovers and missed shots into transition and early clock opportunities the other way.

For Game 5 Tuesday night, Boston gets its best perimeter defender back — Marcus Smart. He has been out since before the playoffs following thumb surgery last March.

Stevens, via NBC Sports Boston:

“He hasn’t played in six weeks, so it’s hard to say how much (time he will get) but will certainly play,” Stevens said. Stevens said there would not be a minutes restriction on him, but added that the fourth-year guard wasn’t going to play 35 minutes.

Smart is a very good perimeter defender who is very physical and usually assigned to the other team’s best guard (or wing, depending upon the matchup). When Smart was on the court this season, the Celtics allowed less than a point per possession and were 3.6 points per 100 better defensively than when he sat.

Smart likely will get time against Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton of the Bucks. Just his presence brings needed depth to the Celtics in what is a critical Game 5 in a series tied 2-2.

Report: Pelicans have discussed offering DeMarcus Cousins less than max over two to three years

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Last month, Anthony Davis said he heard DeMarcus Cousins planned to re-sign with the Pelicans. Cousins was out a torn Achilles, and New Orleans was rolling with Davis playing more center. But New Orleans’ ceiling looked higher with Cousins, and Davis made clear he wanted to keep Cousins – in itself a big deal. More important than keeping Cousins is keeping Davis, which requires keeping Davis happy.

Then, the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, becoming the lowest seed to sweep a first-round series.

Is everyone still sure Cousins warrants a max contract, which projects to be worth about $176 million over five years?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.

Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pelicans leaked this to test the waters. Word will get back to Cousins, and they can gauge how strenuously he objects. If they want, they can deny ever considering this and try to avoid offending Cousins.

But New Orleans has leverage.

It will be a tight market. Many of the teams with significant cap space are young and rebuilding, and they won’t want Cousins’ attitude. Even teams ready to win might not bring him into the locker room. Returning from a torn Achilles – hard for any player – will be especially difficult for the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.

That said, Cousins has leverage on the Pelicans, too. He’s extremely talented, and players that talented are hard to come by. New Orleans would still essentially be capped out if he walked, left with only the mid-level exception to replace him. Cousins and Davis play well together, and Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – wants Cousins around.

Confronted with a similar situation with Jrue Holiday last summer – capped out and no mechanism to adequately replace him – the Pelicans spent big. But Holiday wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any fit concerns with Davis.

For New Orleans, it’s clearly worth securing the 27-year-old Cousins for the next couple years. The upside is too high. But, especially given the injury, guaranteeing him money into his 30s is undesirable.

On the flip side, Cousins should want long-term security. This might be his last chance to get it.

So, maybe both the Pelicans and Cousins can meet in the middle. But finding that point is never simple.

Judge grills Suge Knight – facing murder charge – on NBA-champion pick (Rockets)

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Suge Knight is facing a murder, threat and robbery charges in three separate cases.

The former rap mogul was in court yesterday to set a trial date for the murder charge.

Marisa Gerber of the Los Angeles Times:

A few minutes later, during a separate hearing in the criminal threats proceeding, another judge asked Knight to return to his courtroom in May. The judge then turned to Knight, asking who he thought would win the NBA playoffs.

“At this time…” Knight said, before the judge cut him off, saying he wanted a once-and-for-all answer.

“Houston,” Knight responded.

“Alright, Houston. Good pick,” the judge said.

Knight smiled.

What?