Seven names to watch as Lakers begin search for new coach

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Mike D’Antoni is gone in Los Angeles — Lakers fans want to make Thursday a national holiday of celebration. Even though much of it was not his fault, D’Antoni had become the whipping boy of Lakers fans, the guy whose head had to roll (and he certainly made his share of mistakes and had his share of problems on the job). As proof Lakers fans are ecstatic check out this “classy” tweet from Magic Johnson.

Ding Dong the witch is dead….

Now what?

Don’t expect the Lakers to move quickly here, and expect them to cast a wide net and talk to a lot of people. Early buzz is they are focused on the draft (where they will have a Top 9 pick) so there is almost no chance a coach is hired before the NBA Draft lottery May 20. They could hold out longer, even past the June draft or later (in theory the Lakers could try to sell a big-time free agent with the idea he would have input on a coach, but they aren’t even giving Kobe Bryant that input).

When the Lakers do hire a coach, who will they choose? It’s impossible to say (other than “not Phil Jackson,” plus along those lines Stan Van Gundy told Eytan Shander of NBC Sports Radio “I don’t anticipate them contacting me.”). So here are seven names to watch.

1. Byron Scott. For their last two coaches management went outside the “Laker family” and went with Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni. Both of those failed miserably. Scott is a former Laker who twice coached the Nets to the NBA Finals (with Jason Kidd). More importantly, he is a Buss family favorite. He’s a guy that can burn out players and he’s had less success in recent stops, but he comes with one other big perk — a great relationship with Kyrie Irving (he coached him in Cleveland).

2. Lionel Hollins. If you want the anti-D’Antoni this is your guy — he is old school, hard knocks and likes to play slow. He’s also good at building a culture and developing players, as we saw in Memphis. All that said, his old school ways seem an uncomfortable fit with the Lakers organization. Plus, Jim Buss wants to win while being entertaining, and Hollins wants a grinding team.

3. John Calipari. No, it’s not happening, he’s even said as much , but you can bet World Wide Wes will throw it out there. If one job could lure Calipari out of Kentucky and to the NBA it would be this one — and he’s a guy with great player contacts all over the league, a guy players love to play for.

4. Kevin Ollie. If the Lakers are going to go the college route — I doubt they are, but let’s play the hypothetical game — the guy who just led UConn to a national title is the man they chase. A lot of NBA GMs have him on their radar. He’s a well respected NBA veteran who has shown some coaching chops. Here are two reasons to take this seriously: First, he’s a Los Angeles guy, he played his high school ball at Crenshaw high; Second, Kevin Durant speaks very highly of him and how as a veteran Ollie taught KD, Russell Westbrook and James Harden to be professionals. If you’re trying to lure Durant out of Oklahoma City in 2016 when he is a free agent, having Ollie as your coach would help.

5. Steve Kerr. He has no coaching experience but he’s got a championship pedigree and is a former GM. In LA you need a coach who can deal with the crush of media, keep the fans happy and still coach. Kerr has the potential to be that guy… I still don’t love the fit, but I could see why you have an interview. Kerr also wants to stay on the West Coast — he played his high school ball at Pacific Palisades and he currently lives in San Diego — so the Lakers may be more tempting than the Knicks.

6. Jeff Van Gundy. By law his name has to come up in every major coaching search. It will come up here, but I’m not sure he leaves the booth for the sidelines again, especially not for the rebuilding project that is the Lakers right now. The bigger problem is if he does return he’s not just going to want to coach — he will want player/personnel say. The Lakers have Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss for that, the power structure is set. Not sure there is a real fit here.

7. George Karl. He likes to play up-tempo, entertaining basketball, he’s good with the media and he would build a culture with the young players the Lakers have/will bring in. The one problem here is the same as Van Gundy — he would demand a lot of say over the roster. The Lakers aren’t going to surrender it.

Russell Westbrook assists Andre Roberson transition dunk with sweet behind-the-back pass (video)

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Russell Westbrook produced a historic triple-double in the Thunder’s win over the 76ers last night, but merely counting his misses — zero — doesn’t do him justice.

Dunk-assisting behind-the-back passes are nice in any context. Considering how quickly Westbrook pushes the ball up the floor, the degree of difficulty here makes this one even more impressive.

Probably fake Cavaliers fan wears burnt LeBron James jersey (video)

AP Photo/Brett Davis
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Update: As pointed out by several, the Cavs didn’t introduce this jersey until after LeBron left. So, this was probably staged by the Nuggets. Still funny (and still searching for more evidence of Cleveland fans reconciling their about-face on LeBron).

 

Cavaliers fans went overboard when they burned LeBron James jerseys in the street when he left for the Heat in 2010.

Many of those same fans instantly forgot the terrible things they said about LeBron once he returned to Cleveland in 2014.

And then there’s this guy…

Ananth Pandian:

I’d like to believe this guy is publicly repenting for going too far in 2010.

Three Things We Learned Wednesday: LeBron says Cavs lack toughness, or are they bored?

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The NCAA Tournament gets back underway Thursday, but the NBA ball just keeps rolling along. Here are the big takeaways from Wednesday.

1) LeBron James says Cavaliers lack toughness. Is there trouble or are they just bored with the regular season?
Here is the unquestioned fact: The Denver Nuggets trounced the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night, 126-113. There are a number of factors in this, starting with Denver is playing better than people think — the Nuggets are the fifth best team in the NBA since the All-Star break, outscoring teams by 5.6 points per 100 possessions. Jamal Murray is emerging as the ball handling guard of the future for this team, Gary Harris is a sniper, and they have solid veterans such as Jameer Nelson and Wilson Chandler. But at the heart of it all is Nikola Jokic, who is for real. Watch what he does to LeBron James here.

Yes, Cleveland had to go play at altitude in the middle of a long road trip. Still…

What is going on with the Cavaliers?

Opponents have outscored them by 0.9 points per 100 since the All-Star break, and the Cavs are playing terrible defense (second worst in the NBA since the break). Asked in Denver after the loss what is wrong with the Cavs, LeBron said the team lacked toughness, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It ain’t about a group. It’s about individuals,” James said… “We’ve got to be more, just do more. It ain’t about no group. You can’t preach toughness. You’ve got to have it.”

“Personally? I had opportunities where I could have been better,” James said before firing back with a rebuttal. “Um, one thing about it: I always bring toughness to the game. I know that. That’s for sure.”

LeBron is clearly challenging his team to get serious on both ends and to start getting in playoff mode.

To me, the Cavaliers look bored. As in the real season starts in a couple of weeks with the playoffs, and they feel they can flip the switch then, but right now the regular season feels like a tedious slog. That’s what it looked like in Denver. Before that, I watched the Cavaliers in person against the Lakers Sunday, and LeBron James played well enough all game, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were getting theirs, but the team lacked any urgency, and it showed on defense. The tanking Lakers hung around. Then, LeBron seemed to say “screw this” and for a five-minute span took charge of the game, looking every bit the best player on the planet, the rest of the Cavaliers quickly fell in line, Cleveland took control of the game, and they coasted from there to the win.

That was against the Lakers, the worst team in the NBA since the All-Star break and a team playing youth everywhere. Denver is legit right now, they are playing well, and the Cavs couldn’t just flip the switch on Wednesday. Jokic and Mason Plumlee led the way as the Nuggets scored 70 points in the paint.

It’s still hard to picture any team in the East beating Cleveland. However, they have not spent the regular season building good habits to fall back on when the eventual challenge comes in the playoffs. There’s been a lot of comparisons to the 2000-01 Lakers, a defending championship team that battled injuries and didn’t impress in the regular season, looked bored on defense, then flipped the switch in the playoffs and went 16-1 on the way to the title. Maybe. But teams that flip the switch are the exception, not the rule.

The bored Cavaliers are playing a dangerous game, but will it haunt them before June? Can any team in the East make them pay?

2) The Knicks have no answer for Rudy Gobert, Jazz thump Knicks. Rudy Gobert is a defensive powerhouse of a big man, the best rim protector in the game and a man on his way to winning Defensive Player of the Year. That was a problem for the Knicks on Wednesday night. A bigger problem — they couldn’t stop him on offense around the rim. Gobert at 35 points on 13-of-14 shooting, with 11 offensive rebounds. The Knicks went small for stretches (with Kristaps Porzingis, but he isn’t strong enough to handle Gobert), other times Willy Hernangomez tried but could not slow Gobert, and the French big man feasted. Check out Gobert’s shot chart.

Or, just watch what he did to the Knicks.

The Knicks started hot in this game behind vintage Derrick Rose for a quarter, but they can’t sustain that kind of play against a quality team. Utah is a quality team (I think they can beat the Clippers in the first round), and the foundation of that is in the middle.

3) Russell Westbrook notches 35th triple-double with perfect shooting, Thunder attack the rim and get the win. Let us formally acknowledge that Russell Westbrook is very, very good at basketball. He had 18 points, 14 assists, 11 rebounds, and was a perfect 6-of-6 from the field. That would be the first perfect shooting triple-double in NBA history. How’s that for adding to the MVP resume.

As for the game, the Thunder attacked the paint and the Sixers had no answers. OKC won 122–97, scoring 76 points while knocking down just four 3-pointers.

Report: Hawks’ Paul Millsap to opt out, explore free agency

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Before the season, Paul Millsap said he was undecided on opting out.

We’re one step closer to completely dismissing that shaky pretense.

Adam Schefter of ESPN:

There’s no question Millsap can earn more than his $21,472,407 option-year salary. He might even earn the max, which projects to be north of $36 million. The 32-year-old will also have a chance to lock into a long-term contract.

Opting out is an easy call.

The only question is whether anyone will offer a max starting salary and max years.

That’s a risky proposition for a player his age, but for a team ready to win now, the short-term gains might outweigh the long-term risk. (And it’s not really a “risk.” Millsap is extremely likely to be overpaid by the end of a full max deal.) Millsap is an elite defender with an efficient offensive game.

How much would the Hawks pay? They called re-signing Millsap their priority, but they’ve also sent mixed messages about their desire to win now (signing Dwight Howard, keeping Millsap past the trade deadline) vs. rebuilding (trading Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver).

And it’s not unilaterally up to Atlanta. Millsap will be an unrestricted free agent, and if he plans to explore the market, you never know what he’ll find.