Report: Lakers will bring back Mike D’Antoni (other reports say that’s not official… yet)

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If you want to see how angry you can make your friend the Lakers’ fan, just read him this next sentence:

The Lakers are bringing back Mike D’Antoni for another season.

That is exactly what will happen, reports Mark Heisler in the Orange County Register. But other well-connected reporters say that is not the case, at least not officially yet.

Here is what Heisler reported:

After 10 days of soul searching, the key figures in Lakers management are agreed on bringing back D’Antoni for a third season as coach, a source with knowledge of the deliberations told the Register…

The Lakers have yet to inform D’Antoni of anything, but they intend to keep him, absolving him of blame for the 27-55 finish without Bryant and Steve Nash for 141 of a possible 162 games…

Jim is aligned with GM Mitch Kupchak, a steadfast D’Antoni defender emerging as an ever-stronger figure with a multi-year extension in the wake of their misadventures.

Other reporters, ones well connected and often breaking Lakers story, say that is not official. Here are a couple:

Three quick thoughts.

First, all bets are off until GM Mitch Kupchak and D’Antoni sit down and talk and that could be week or more. Things change upon further reflection sometimes.  It’s seemed for a while that Kupchak was a D’Antoni supporter, but it was not clear if he could persuade Jim Buss and others to stick with D’Antoni. Ding’s line that they are leaning toward keeping him but nothing is set seems a more probable current reality.

Second, if they do keep D’Antoni it would frustrate the Lakers’ $48 million man Kobe Bryant — who at his age and coming off knee injuries is not a fit for D’Antoni’s uptempo system. Kobe reportedly wants a change but Kupchak has said it’s not Kobe’s call. Keeping D’Antoni would ensure Pau Gasol would not be a Laker next season.

Finally, it would anger Lakers fans. There is a palpable dislike of him among the Lakers fan base and to keep him would be seen as another misstep from a new management they do not trust. There would be genuine anger.

D’Antoni gets more blame for the Lakers’ stumbles than he should — those fans should blame management. All D’Antoni has done since being hired is be himself, that was just obviously and always a bad fit with this roster.

D’Antoni’s system can win — the Miami Heat have won a couple of titles running a lot of it, even the Spurs run parts of it — but he is not terribly flexible about it. D’Antoni wants to play his way, win his way — he is not radically modifying that system to fit the players on the roster. Which is why he was always an odd fit for the Lakers. Last season you had an injured Dwight Howard who doesn’t like the pick-and-roll and an aging Kobe Bryant who couldn’t play at that pace, not to mention the older Steve Nash who couldn’t keep up anymore either. This past season the Lakers still didn’t have a roster that fit the coach’s system well, then on top of that they get desiccated by injuries.

If you’re not going to give D’Antoni a D’Antoni roster, if you’re not fully committed to building his kind of team, then he shouldn’t be your coach. The Lakers are not committed to it — they want to see what big star they can land then figure out the system. So to them, why not keep D’Antoni in place and be entertaining until things sort themselves out?

Because it is just stalling. If you’re going to build a new system, then get the guy to do it.

And in the name of stalling they would take a big public relations hit. Fair or not.

But that seems to be the way the Lakers are leaning.

Reports: Phil Jackson attending Shaq statue ceremony, Magic Johnson missing it to scout UCLA-Kentucky

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The Lakers are formally unveiling Shaquille O’Neal’s statue outside their arena tonight. Also tonight: UCLA-Kentucky in the Sweet 16, which features NBA prospects Lonzo Ball, Ike Anigbogu, T.J. Leaf, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo.

That makes an interesting choice for the NBA’s two highest-profile team presidents – the Lakers’ Magic Johnson and Knicks’ Phil Jackson (who coached Shaq in Los Angeles), both of whose teams are headed toward a high picks in the upcoming draft.

And the front-office heads are going different directions.

Arash Markazi of ESPN:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Watching a single game in person is unlikely to swing anything. Both Johnson and Jackson could send scouts to watch UCLA-Kentucky live and then the presidents could watch video later.

But attending in person is ideal, and there are already questions about Jackson’s work ethic. This will only fuel them.

If nothing else, this is an opportunity for Johnson, new on the job, to establish an image. He can clearly juxtapose himself with the failing Jackson and establish himself as a diligent alternative. The Lakers hired Johnson at least in part due to his high profile, but that needn’t stop him from grinding now that he has the position. Anyone doubting him would respect that.

Tyreke Evans: Giannis Antetokounmpo is like a taller me

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Giannis Antetokounmpo torched the Kings for 32 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and two steals in the Bucks’ 18-point win Wednesday.

Afterward, Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans paid the Greek Freak the ultimate compliment.

Sean Cunningham of ABC 10:

Do you see many players like Antetokounmpo? Evans:

Nah. He like me, but 6-7 – I mean like almost 6-8, 6-7, whatever height he is. He just long, athletic. He get to where he want to go. He got good handle for his size, and he athletic. Once he get around the rim, he can finish.

If only you were an inch taller? Evans:

That’d be a problem. I mean, it’s still a problem, I think, for me to get where I want. But just the athleticism he have and the way he get up off the ground – he got quick bounce. He pretty good at it.

Antetokounmpo is listed at 6-foot-11, Evans 6-foot-6.

This isn’t totally unreasonable. Make Evans five inches taller and add none of the dexterity awkwardness that tends to accompany growth, and he might look a lot like Antetokounmpo. Both are usually slotted at forward while possessing point-guard skills.

But Evans isn’t 6-foot-11, and most 6-foot-11 players can’t move like Antetokounmpo. That fluidity for his size is a big part of what makes Antetokounmpo special. If Evans grew up to be 6-foot-11, he likely would have developed a different skill set than he has now.

Antetokounmpo is the rare player with both the height of a big man and skills of a guard. Evans didn’t miss out on that just because his genes kept him from growing another five inches.

This discussion is also silly for another reason. Somewhere, there’s someone who’s 6-foot-1 and certain he’d be as good as Evans if only he were five inches taller.

Rumor: Blake Griffin increasingly believed to be open to leaving Clippers in free agency

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The Clippers were rumored to have already verbally agreed to terms with pending unrestricted free agents Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and J.J. Redick.

But with formal contract extensions unviable, L.A. was always going to have to play out the season and hope those players remained committed into July.

There might be a hitch in that plan.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

That Griffin would also stay and reap the biggest payday he can seems likely, too—in theory. But more and more people around the league believe he would be open to a fresh start—perhaps with the Lakers or the Boston Celtics, who have coveted Griffin for years and would offer a new chance to win.

Does Ding have credible information to suggest Griffin could join the Lakers or Celtics, or is that just speculation on the writer’s part about potential fits? It’s unclear. This is already fairly loosely sourced.

But we should gather more information quickly once free agency begins. Griffin reportedly planned to re-sign quickly. If he shows the faintest hint of exploring the market, that could open the floodgates.

Griffin had been frequently linked to his home-state Thunder, but Oklahoma City would interfere with his burgeoning Hollywood connections.* The same issue would exist with Boston, though obviously not the Lakers. That said, the Celtics are WAY better than the Lakers – and maybe soon the Clippers and Thunder, considering those Nets picks headed to Boston.

*Oklahoma City also since nuked its cap space with contract extensions for Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo, though trades could always clear room if Griffin wants to come home.

The Clippers are in a bad place right now. One one hand, that forebodes another disappointing end to the season. On the other hand, there’s still time to overcome and send Griffin into free agency on a more positive note.

These are dangerous times for the Clippers, who wouldn’t have cap space to adequately replace Griffin, Paul or Redick if one leaves. So, if one bolts, the others seems more likely to follow. Interpersonal relationships matter, but the Clippers’ primary selling points were always going to be money and winning (with Hollywood proximity a bonus). Winning gets harder if talent walks.

They can still offer the most money, and they’re not leaving L.A. But the Clippers better win more to help avoid what could be a tenser-than-expected summer.

Suns use youngest starting lineup in NBA history

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The Suns have shut down their veterans or been shut down by their veterans with two goals in mind – developing young talent and tanking.

Incidentally, Phoenix also made history.

Against the Nets last night, the Suns started:

ESPN:

Elias on ESPN:

The previous youngest was the Clippers’ starting five consisting of guards Eric Bledsoe and Eric Gordon, forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Blake Griffin, and center DeAndre Jordan, who averaged 21 years and 143 days old in a matchup with the Nets on November 15, 2010.

The young Suns gained quality experience – and helped their team to an important loss, 126-98 to Brooklyn.

Phoenix is still 1.5 games “behind” the Lakers for the No. 2 seed in the lottery, but the Suns are within striking distance in case the Lakers screw up and win too much down the stretch.