2011 NBA All-Star Game Practices

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

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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.

Pat Riley believes Chris Bosh’s career is over: ‘We are not working toward his return’

Miami Heat players Josh Richardson, left, Chris Bosh, center, and Tyler Johnson, right, look up as they watch a video replay during the final seconds of the second half in Game 5 of an NBA basketball playoffs first-round series against the Charlotte Hornets, Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in Miami. The Hornets defeated the Heat 90-88. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
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When the Heat and Chris Bosh reached détente during last year’s playoffs, the team released a statement saying both sides would continue working together to get him playing again.

After not clearing Bosh for training camp due to lingering blood-clot issues, Miami is pulling its support from that joint mission.

Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press:

There were reports the Heat believed Bosh is finished. Saying they’re no longer working toward getting him back on the court is blunt as can be.

I believe Riley cares about Bosh. Bosh has spent six years with Miami, become a part of the community, sacrificed his game when called upon, acted professionally and helped the Heat win two championships. He remained an excellent player when his blood-clotting became a problem, and losing his production would be a major blow. I believe there was and is genuine concern about Bosh’s health.

But to act as if the cap ramifications never crossed management’s mind is absurd. To review the situation:

Bosh has three years and $75,868,170 remaining on his contract. The Heat could waive him and have his remaining salary excluding from their team salary on Feb. 9, 2017 – one year from his last game – if he doesn’t play between now and then and a doctor determines he has suffered a career-ending injury or illness.

That doctor, selected jointly by the NBA and players union would have to determine Bosh “has an injury or illness that (i) prevents him from playing skilled professional basketball at an NBA level for the duration of his career, or (ii) substantially impairs his ability to play skilled professional basketball at an NBA level and is of such severity that continuing to play professional basketball at an NBA level would subject the player to medically unacceptable risk of suffering a life-threatening or permanently disabling injury or illness.” II would be the likely route here.

Bosh would still be paid if waived, but the doctor’s determination is the only way for Miami to get his salary off its books. That could open considerable cap space in 2017

Bosh never playing again would be bad for the Heat. Bosh getting waived then proving the doctors wrong and playing 25 games elsewhere would be worse for the Heat, because that would put his salary back on the their cap – though Miami could use the cap space in the 2017 offseason first. That’s why an even worse scenario for the Heat is Bosh playing sporadically and ineffectively between blood-clot problems over the next three years, continuing to count against the cap and putting his health at risk the entire time.

If the Heat can’t get a fully productive Bosh back, they might just want to get his salary off the books. The quickest way to do that is ensure he plays no games before Feb. 9.

Maybe Bosh shouldn’t play again. Playing on blood-thinners, according to most doctors, is dangerous. The common recommendation is for Bosh to remain on blood-thinners after his second episode.

But the cap ramifications are unavoidably part of the considerations now. If it gets to that point, the opinion of the jointly selected doctor will be huge. The Heat can’t unilaterally declare Bosh done.

And Bosh certainly isn’t declaring himself done, which puts him at odds with his team. There’s no more working together.

It’s now Heat vs. Bosh with several potential outcomes in play.

LAPD investigating Derrick Rose, who’s facing rape lawsuit, for criminal charges

FILE - In this June 24, 2016, file photo, New York Knicks' Derrick Rose speaks during a news conference at Madison Square Garden in New York. Phil Jackson made a risky move when he traded for the injury-prone Rose in June, and now the Knicks face the possibility of their point guard's involvement in a rape trial in California during his first preseason with the team.  (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
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Derrick Rose‘s best argument in the court of public opinion as he defends himself in a rape lawsuit was the lack of criminal charges. There is no burden of proof for filing a lawsuit. Just because his alleged victim sued him proved nothing. If Rose broke the law, why wasn’t he facing criminal charges?

That question prevented the lawsuit from drawing major attention. It allowed Rose to paint the plaintiff as money hungry. It allowed the Knicks to operate without concern.

About that…

Judd Legum of ThinkProgress:

In a letter to the alleged victim’s attorney, Brandan Anand, a detective from the LAPD confirmed there is an active criminal investigation against Rose and the two other defendants in the civil trial.

Rose should be concerned, given the compelling evidence against him. There’s certainly a wide gap between some compelling evidence and a conviction, and the fact that the night in question was three years ago makes a conviction less likely. Rose hasn’t even been charged.

We’ll see what the investigation uncovers, but Rose just lost some benefit of the doubt.

Paul Pierce says he’ll retire after season

Paul Pierce
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Clippers forward Paul Pierce has ended the maybe/probably/maybe/probably/maybe saga of whether he’ll play next year.

Pierce in The Players Tribune:

This is it, my final season.

It’s time to move on from the game of basketball.

Just like any difficult decision, I think you’ve got to be at peace with yourself. I’m at peace with retiring, but I’ve got one more ride left. One more season. One more opportunity.

Pierce has had an incredible career, one that will surely vault him into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

He started in Boston, where he was the Celtics’ go-to player and his most reliable sidekick was Antoine Walker – and then Pierce didn’t have even Walker. Seemingly destined to be forgotten as a good player on a mediocre team, Pierce received a legacy boost when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived. The Celtics won the 2008 title, and Pierce earned Finals MVP.

After a few more years of Pierce proving he could excel individually and help a team contend, he went to Brooklyn, where the Nets gave him a late-career spark by using him at power forward. He added a stop in Washington, where he made a few clutch shots for the Wizards. Now, he ends his career reunited with Doc Rivers in Los Angeles.

Pierce doesn’t need to add more to his all-time résumé – and he probably won’t. Only Dirk Nowitzki has played more games among active players than Pierce, who turns 39 in a few weeks. The mileage shows. Pierce has declined considerably, and he’s likely in store for a minor role this season.

But on limited minutes, maybe he can still provide a spark on occasion. The Clippers have at least a fighting chance of making Pierce part of another meaningful playoff run.

After that, would he go back to the Celtics on a ceremonial contract to retire? That’s what Rivers wants. Before it reaches that point, there will be plenty of pomp for Pierce, who just set himself up for a grand retirement tour.

 

Timberwolves confirm that Nikola Pekovic out for entire season

Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic (14), of Montenegro, yawns during NBA basketball media day in Minneapolis, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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Timberwolves’ owner Glen Taylor said this exact thing last week, which is a pretty good sign that it’s going to happen. Taylor writes the checks.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have confirmed that Nikola Pekovic — who played 12 games last season due to foot injuries — is out for the coming season.

Taylor mentioned buying out Pekovic, but that seems unlikely. Pekovic is owed $23.7 million over the next two seasons, and I’d be hard-pressed to think of a reason he would take a penny less. The more likely outcome is the Timberwolves waive him and then come January (one year after his last game) apply to the league to have his salary excluded. (This would require a doctor approved by both the league and players’ union say that he is physically unable to play in the NBA ever again. If the doctor said that Pekovic would still get paid, but the money would not count against the salary cap for the Timberwolves).

No Pekovic and no Kevin Garnett, but it doesn’t impact the Timberwolves as training camp opens. Minnesota has Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng, Cole Aldrich and Jordan Hill up front, plus developing young players Nemanja Bjelica and Adreian Payne. Garnett and Pekovic were not going to play much anyway.