2011 NBA All-Star Game Practices

Was Doc Rivers one game from replacing Gregg Popovich as Spurs head coach?

7 Comments

Imagine an NBA general manager who, mid-season, fires the coach with the best winning percentage in franchise history.

Then, despite having no head-coaching experience outside something called Pomona-Pitzer, the general manager names himself head coach.

He goes 17-47 the rest of that season. Yet, he lucks into the No. 1 pick in the draft and selects the arguably the most NBA-ready rookie of all-time, a future Hall of Famer to pair with the one his team already has. Then, with two future Hall of Famers, he wins just one playoff series. In year three, he starts 6-8.

Think that coach belongs on the hot seat?

Well, Gregg Popovich was in 1999.

By March 2 of the lockout-shortened 1999 season, the Spurs coach faced intense scrutiny from within and outside the organization.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

A popular former Spur named Doc Rivers also happened to be a member of San Antonio’s broadcast team in those days. The fans’ clamor for Rivers, who was already being billed as a coaching natural, to replace the what-has-he-ever-done Popovich got louder with every loss suffered during that slow start.

But by the time the Spurs were headed to Houston for the 15th game of a truncated schedule that left no time for early slumps, pressure on Pop wasn’t coming solely from the public or the media. The belief among many of Pop’s players was that the coach was on the brink of being fired. Or being forced, at the very least, to return to a GM-only role.

“It was different from the regular pregame,” former Spurs forward Malik Rose said, rewinding back to the game in question against a Rockets team headlined by Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen.

“David [Robinson] usually didn’t say much beyond a prayer in the huddle when we brought it all in, but [before this game] David was saying, ‘We’ve got to get it together, we’ve got to do this, this is a big game.’

“If we lost that game, they were going to fire Pop and bring in Doc … that was the rumor. I would have to say it was real because of the gravity in the locker room. I’ll never forget it.”

Said then-Spurs guard Steve Kerr: “I can’t say I felt like he was close to getting fired, but there was a lot of discomfort with the way things had started [that season]. Pop wasn’t Pop yet. He didn’t have a name. The fans still didn’t really know who he was.”

[Avery] Johnson, Pop’s point guard and the most vocal of leaders on that Spurs team, says today that he has no doubt that Houston game was the ultimate must-win for the third-year head coach.

“Absolutely,” Johnson says. “Things had been communicated to us. It was really real.

“There was a lot of noise about Pop being potentially replaced by Doc, so David [Robinson] and I went to Pop’s house before we got on the flight to go to Houston. Pop talked to us and … what I will say is we came out of there feeling so strongly about Pop that we knew we had to go win that game.”

“I don’t know that I’d say the end was near,” said longtime Spurs assistant coach Mike Budenholzer, now coach of the Atlanta Hawks. “But there was a real concern that we weren’t meeting expectations. It was real. It was genuine. We knew we needed to start playing better and start playing better soon. So I would say it was real.”

Said Johnson: “At the end of the day my allegiances were to Pop because he had put such great faith in me. I felt if he would have gotten fired [after replacing Hill], I’d have been one of the reasons he got fired, because I wasn’t viewed as a starting point guard that could lead a team to the championship. So I really took that personal. [And] it was the most passionate pregame speech David ever gave. He was foaming at the mouth.”

The Spurs beat the Rockets by 17, sparking a 31-5 finish to the regular season and a run through the playoffs that ended with a championship. Popovich obviously stuck around, and Rivers eventually broke into coaching with the Magic.

Yet, this story – one of many told by Stein in an excellent feature on Popovich and Duncan – leaves so many fun and unknowable questions unanswered. The two that stand out to me:

  • How would Rivers had done with the Spurs?
  • Was Popovich already a great coach in March 1999, or did this one win give him time to grow into the job?

This – what if the Spurs had lost to Houston that Tuesday night? – is definitely one of the great what-ifs in NBA history.

Goran Dragic’s teeth went through his lip last night (video)

1 Comment

Goran Dragic has a habit of losing teeth, but not usually through his lip.

Cringe.

Report: Jeremy Lin indicates he’ll opt out, says he wants to re-sign with Hornets

Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin reacts after scoring against the New York Knicks during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. Charlotte won  97-84. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
AP Photo/Nell Redmond
Leave a comment

Jeremy Lin said the Hornets “came out of nowhere” to sign him last summer.

His salary shows it.

With the market for Lin depressed following a dismal season with the Lakers, Charlotte snagged Lin for just the bi-annual exception. At least Lin – who bounced back with a solid year – got a player option for next season, when he’s due to make just $2,235,255.

Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:

Lin indicated he plans to opt out of his contract

Lin, who can opt out of next season on his contract, says he’d very much like to re-sign with the franchise this summer.

“I would love to,” Lin said Monday. “I don’t like moving every year, I don’t like packing and unpacking boxes. So we’ll see. But I’m definitely interested in coming back.”

“This is the most fun I’ve had in my six years” in the NBA, Lin said. “Being around a great group of guys and a coaching staff that really cares. I’ve learned so much about the game of basketball, particularly at the defensive end.”

The Hornets face a summer of tough choices after relying on so many players with expiring contracts.

Let’s say Charlotte renounces Troy Daniels, Jorge Gutierrez and Tyler Hansbrough and waives Aaron Harrison, whose salary is unguaranteed. The Hornets might not drop those low-cost players, but if it makes the difference between retaining a rotation player or not, they probably would. So, for these purposes, they’re out.

Counting cap holds for Nicolas Batum and Courtney Lee, Charlotte would project to have just more than $12 million in cap space. The Hornets could spend that money then exceed the cap to re-sign Batum and Lee, whose 2016-17 are likely to top their cap holds ($19,687,961 for Batum, $10,782,500 for Lee).

But that leaves just about $12 million to re-sign Lin, Marvin Williams and Al Jefferson.

Charlotte has Lin’s Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights), but because his cap would match the match the Non-Bird Exception ($2,682,306), that doesn’t matter here. It also doesn’t matter because Lin will command far more than that. So, cap space will be needed to re-sign him.

Ditto Williams and effectively Jefferson. The Hornets could pay Williams $12.25 million next season with the Early Bird Exception, but that likely won’t be enough to keep him. Charlotte has Jefferson’s full Bird Rights, but his 2016-17 salary is likely to fall short of his cap hold ($20,250,000). So, re-signing him or renouncing him creates more room than keeping his hold on the books.

With the salary cap projected to reach $92 million, giving most teams max cap space, $12 million might allow the Hornets to keep one of Lin, Williams or Jefferson. Maybe. Lin and Williams could probably get more elsewhere, and Jefferson would have an outside chance.

Now, Charlotte would clear more room if Batum and/or Lee walk. But the Hornets have called Batum their top priority, and he sounds like he wants to re-sign. Lee has also proven valuable, and I’d be surprised if there’s not also a major effort to retain him.

Charlotte could clear extra room by trading Spencer Hawes ($6,348,759) and/or Jeremy Lamb ($6,511,628), two players whose salaries will look decent in the new cap environment. But that still might not open enough space to keep two of Lin/Williams/Jefferson if Batum and Lee stay.

Williams, a starter, would probably be the top priority. But he could also probably draw the largest offers elsewhere, so he might price himself out of the Hornets’ range.

Lin holds more value than Jefferson, even as Kemba Walker‘s backup. Jefferson has ceded the starting center spot to Cody Zeller, and Jefferson’s low-post style might not fit Charlotte anymore.

But Lin might have also priced himself out of the Hornets’ range. It’s a thin free-agent class at point guard, and teams that strike out on Mike Conley (and maybe Rajon Rondo) could extend a huge offer to Lin.

He clearly likes it in Charlotte. The question might become: How much of a discount would he take to stay?

Byron Scott says he wants to coach again, should have played his veterans even more

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott watches the action against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
Associated Press
1 Comment

Deposed Lakers’ coach Byron Scott did a media tour on Thursday — radio interviews up and down the dial, plus speaking to some members of the Los Angeles media.

It was a tour d’ force of all the things that had Lakers’ fans shaking their heads all season long. Take this quote given to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.

“If I knew this was coming, I would have played Lou [Williams], Brandon [Bass] and guys like that a whole lot more,” Scott said, referring to his veterans in an interview with this newspaper. “They gave me the best chance to win.”

He didn’t know his job was in danger? That would make one.

Scott was asked to do two contradictory things as Lakers coach: Put Kobe Bryant in the spotlight his final couple seasons while also developing the Lakers’ young talent. That was never going to lead to many wins — and Lakers’ brass understood that.

However, if your team is one of the two worst defensive teams in the league in consecutive years, that’s also not all about the roster. That’s about not getting buy-in from the players and effort to play whatever system he put in place. These Lakers teams didn’t hustle for Scott.

Scott admitted he was old school, but told Rich Eisen on the Rich Eisen Show (hat tip Eye on Basketball) that so is Gregg Popovich, and he’s doing just fine. Which shows a lack of understanding of the nuance with which Popovich works. Unlike the coach with a touch for praise at the right time in San Antonio, Scott’s old-school, tough-love ways turned off the young Lakers — it wasn’t just having them come off the bench, it was what was seen by the young players as a lack of communication as to why. A lack of coaching them up.

But Scott took credit on ESPN’s “The Jump” for the improved play and development of D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle last season. He said he needed to rein in Russell’s ego and get him to be professional, and he said his plan “worked.” Whether Russell’s development happened because of or in spite of Scott depends on who you ask, but the young potential star’s relationship with his coach was not good. That’s one thing Luke Walton was brought in to change.

Scott said multiple times over the course of the day he wants to coach again. His last two jobs — Cleveland post LeBron and with the Lakers — were about developing young talent and none of those five teams finished better than 12 games under .500. I’d say that would damage future job prospects, but this is the NBA so who knows. He may get another chance in a few years.

Erik Spoelstra starts to lose it on Luol Deng inbounds attempt (VIDEO)

2 Comments

There were just 20.7 seconds left in overtime and the Miami Heat were down six — they needed a quick bucket.

Luol Deng was inbounding the ball near halfcourt and was looking for a way to get the ball deep down by the basket for a quick bucket — he seemed willing to take a risk rather than make the safe play to a wide open Josh Richardson in the backcourt.

After a couple of seconds of watching this, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra almost loses it on Deng, and the pass goes to Richardson. Enjoy the video.

Toronto hung on and won the game, evening the series at 1-1 headed back to Miami.