2014 PBT Awards: Coach of the Year

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Though none of us have a ballot for the NBA’s official awards, we’ll be presenting our choices and making our cases this week for each major honor.

Kurt Helin

1. Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns

2. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

3. Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls

You can make a good case for any of those three to win it (just like you can make a good case for Steve Clifford to be on that list). I choose Hornacek because of the team culture and foundation he built in Phoenix, as well as the player development of guys such as Goran Dragic and Gerald Green (not to mention the Morris brothers). He won 47 games with a team most thought was built to tank.

Brett Pollakoff

1. Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns

2. Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls

3. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

Gregg Popovich guided the Spurs to the best record in the league the season following one of the most crushing Finals defeats in NBA history. We should name this award after him for instilling a culture that enables him to strategically rest his stars while continuing to rack up wins year after year, while making the playoffs for the 17th straight season. But as far as a job done in one season by itself, it would be crazy to overlook the year the Suns put together under a first-year head coach in Hornacek. Phoenix ended the season with 47 wins in a very tough Western Conference with as many as five candidates for Most Improved Player on its roster, and the job Hornacek did in putting that all together is worthy of recognition.

Dan Feldman

1. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

2. Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns

3. Steve Clifford, Charlotte Bobcats

In an extremely close four-man race, Clifford edges Tom Thibodeau for the final spot on my ballot. Both elevated rosters higher than they seemed they would go, Thibodeau taking the better group of players higher than Clifford took a lesser group, which cancels out. Clifford gets the edge, because he established an identity on a team full of players that didn’t fit his system, whereas Thibodeau was working with players who did. Between the top two, Popovich is the best coach in the NBA, but I could argue he didn’t have to do as much this year – it is Coach of the Year – as Hornacek. But by resting his top players so much and seamlessly integrating new ones, Popovich impressed by keeping the Spurs rolling no matter who was on the floor this year.

How Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza complicate Rockets’ pursuit of third star

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After pairing Chris Paul and James Harden, the Rockets are reportedly chasing a third starPaul George, Carmelo Anthony or someone else.

But Houston parted with significant assets to land Paul from the Clippers. And the Rockets will have a tricky time dealing two remaining players, Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Unloading Ryan Anderson to sign Paul outright would have helped Houston keep one of their outgoing guards, but the market for the three years and $60 million left on Anderson’s deal was frigid. Not even the Kings wanted him for free. At least two teams would have demanded two Houston first-round picks in exchange for absorbing Anderson, according to several league sources.

The salary filler probably can’t be Trevor Ariza, by the way. Ariza and Paul are close after years together in New Orleans, and playing with Ariza factored at least a little into Paul’s decision, per league sources. The Clippers had tried to trade for him in prior seasons, sources say. Ariza is also still good at a coveted position, and his Bird Rights will be valuable to a capped-out Rockets team next summer.

Anderson would be dangerous as a stretch four in pick-and-pops with Paul and Harden. Even if he’s overpaid, might be better to keep him than surrender more assets to dump him.

Likewise, Ariza is a nice two-way player and can play small-ball four. There’s a use for him on this team.

But beyond them, Houston is left with Eric Gordon and Clint Capela as movable players. Gordon, with a higher salary and less obvious fit with Paul and Harden, would almost certainly be a key cog in a trade for another star. Capela is younger and more valuable, though the Rockets would probably want to keep him as a defensive anchor.

That might not be possible while trading for a third star, though. Houston can’t even guarantee sending out another first-round pick in a trade after sending a protected first-rounder to the Clippers. (The Rockets could agree to convey a first-rounder two years after sending one to L.A., which would is highly likely to convey next year.) Including Capela in a trade might be the only way to assemble a suitable package.

Even then, Houston would be hard-pressed to surpass an offer from the Lakers or Celtics for George. Plus, if Indiana is rebuilding around Myles Turner, Capela is an awkward fit. That trade might require a third team – causing further complications.

Hoping Anthony gets bought out by the Knicks then signs for the mid-level exception is much simpler – though that route returns the lesser third star.

But Daryl Morey just brought Chris Paul to Houston before free agency even began. Now is not the time to underestimate the Rockets general manager.

Report: Knicks won’t consider Isiah Thomas to run front office

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A couple years ago, Knicks owner James Dolan said there was no scenario Isiah Thomas would return to the Knicks.

But Dolan also said a few months ago he’d keep Phil Jackson for the duration of Jackson’s five-year contract.

With Dolan effectively firing Jackson today, could Thomas become the Knicks’ next president?

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

The Post also learned Liberty president Isiah Thomas would not be considered for Jackson’s successor.

It’s sad that this needs to be reported. It’s even sadder that, even if this the Knicks’ plans right now, there are no assurances Dolan holds steady.

Dumping Jackson is a reason to celebrate. But as long as Dolan owns the team, it must be a reserved celebration.

At least the Knicks’ next step won’t include Thomas. Probably.

Raptors promote Bobby Webster to general manager

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TORONTO (AP) — With rumors swirling about the Knicks chasing Raptors president Masai Ujiri, the Raptors have promoted Bobby Webster to general manager.

Webster, 32 years old assistant the youngest GM in the NBA, replaces Jeff Weltman, who left Toronto in May to become president of the Orlando Magic.

A former staffer at the NBA league office in New York, Webster joined the Raptors in 2013 and was named assistant GM in 2016.

He’ll help decide what to offer All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry, who opted out of the final year of his contract last month after Cleveland swept Toronto in the second round of the playoffs.

Forwards Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson are all unrestricted free agents.

Also Wednesday, Toronto promoted Dan Tolzman to assistant general manager.

The Raptors have posted consecutive 50-win seasons and made four straight playoff appearances.

Jason Williams out 6-8 months after injury in Big3 debut

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NEW YORK (AP) — Former NBA point guard Jason Williams will miss six to eight months after suffering a knee injury in the opening game of the Big3.

Corey Maggette, also injured in the opening week of Ice Cube’s 3-on-3 league of former NBA players, had surgery for a leg injury. There is no timetable for his return.

The injuries were announced Wednesday during a conference call with Cube and Big3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz, who also detailed a couple rules changes starting with this weekend’s game in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Games will be played to 50 points, instead of 60, with halftime coming when the first team reaches 25 points. Cube said that would help the four games per day move more quickly.