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.

Report: Pistons signing Ray McCallum

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 22:  Ray McCallum #5 of the Memphis Grizzlies dribbles upcourt during a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies  at Staples Center on March 22, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Pistons took care of their biggest need by signing Ish Smith to be their backup point guard.

But they were so thin behind Reggie Jackson, they still needed more help at the position.

Enter Ray McCallum.

Michael Scott of Sheridan Hoops:

Detroit also has Lorenzo Brown on an unguaranteed deal. However much McCallum’s contract is guaranteed, the Pistons will likely keep whichever player wins the third point guard job in training camp. They’ve shown they’re not afraid to pay for camp competition and eat a guaranteed deal.

The loser likely heads to Detroit’s D-League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Drive.

McCallum has yet to establish himself as a clear NBA-caliber player in three seasons with the Kings, Spurs and Grizzlies. His dribble-driving and strength are plusses, but he’s not quite there as a scorer or passer — let alone someone who can put it all together.

Perhaps, Stan Van Gundy gets McCallum — who played high school and college basketball in Detroit — on the right track. McCallum taking fewer long 2s would be a good start.

Report: Trail Blazers signing Tim Quarterman to partially guaranteed contract

BATON ROUGE, LA - JANUARY 30:  Tim Quarterman #55 of the LSU Tigers drives around Isaiah Cousins #11 of the Oklahoma Sooners during the second half of a game at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on January 30, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Oklahoma defeated LSU 77-75. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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The Trail Blazers have only one point guard behind Damain Lillard:

Shabazz Napier, who hasn’t shown much in the NBA.

Recently extended C.J. McCollum and Evan Turner provide playmaking on the wing, so this isn’t a huge need. But Portland would probably like a third point guard.

How about Tim Quarterman?

Tim Quarterman:

Partially guaranteed deals like this are often about waiving a player after training camp and assigning his D-League rights to the NBA’s team’s affiliate. But the Trail Blazers don’t have a D-League affiliate, so this is more likely about giving Quarterman a chance to earn a regular-season roster spot.

Portland has 13 players with guaranteed salaries plus Luis Montero (unguaranteed) and Maurice Harkless (qualifying offer). So, there’s room for Quarterman — at least as the roster stands right now.

The 6-foot-6 Quarterman uses his height well to see the floor and rebound for his position. But he’ll need to improve as a shooter and get stronger. There’s a reason he went undrafted.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Trail Blazers add a more stable veteran guard to compete with Quarterman.

Carmelo Anthony on Michael Jordan’s donation/comment: “I thought it was brilliant…and about time that he stepped up”

Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan pumps his fist as he watches his team against the Washington Wizards in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015. The Hornets won 101-87. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
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Michael Jordan has been saddled for years with a line he and those around him have denied he ever said, in relation to his involvement in political matters: “Republicans buy shoes too.” (That comment was allegedly a North Carolina Senate race where Jordan actually did donate to the opponent of Jessie Helms, despite what is rumored.)

While that line may not be his, Jordan has rarely used his standing to weigh in on political events, which is why his donation Monday of $2 million — $1 million each to the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s newly established Institute for Community-Police Relations, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund — was news. In doing so he said, “…I am saddened and frustrated by the divisive rhetoric and racial tensions that seem to be getting worse as of late. I know this country is better than that, and I can no longer stay silent.”

He didn’t stay silent, but he didn’t pick a side, either. He played it safe and down the middle.

Carmelo Anthony was asked about that and said this, according to J.A. Adande of ESPN.

“I thought it was brilliant…and about time that he stepped up.”

There is the backhanded compliment you’ve been waiting for.

Anthony stood up at the ESPYs with Chris Paul, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade to make a plea both for peace and for athletes to use their voice to speak to the nation in what are turbulent, divided times. Jordan would have a unique standing to do that, he often just chooses a more cautious path. Like he did with this donation, playing it right down the middle.

Report: DeJuan Blair cited for misdemeanor battery against woman

Washington Wizards center DeJuan Blair sits in the front row seats as the Milwaukee Bucks are introduced before an NBA basketball game Friday, Oct. 30, 2015, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Darren Hauck)
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DeJuan Blair played for the Wizards last season before being traded to the Suns, who waived him.

Now, he’s facing legal trouble.

TMZ:

Las Vegas Metro PD has confirmed … officers were called to Drai’s nightclub at The Cromwell hotel around 1 AM Sunday morning to respond to a report of a man who allegedly got physical with a woman.

The alleged victim told police … she was arguing with Blair over the line into the club when he picked her up and tossed her off to the side. The woman was pissed and retaliated by striking him back — before calling for help.

Sources tell us … when cops arrived they checked security video and decided there was enough evidence to issue a citation to Blair for misdemeanor battery.  He was NOT arrested.

However, cops tell TMZ Sports Blair was also issued a “trespassing warning” from the property and told to leave immediately.

The 27-year-old Blair is a free agent. He has played for the Spurs, Mavericks and Wizards in a seven-year NBA career.