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: Cavaliers tried trading entire team but LeBron James for Kobe Bryant in 2007

LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 12:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers wait for the ball to go into play on January 12, 2006 at Staples Center 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 Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Kobe Bryant requested a trade from the Lakers in 2007, and he later said he preferred to be dealt to the Bulls.

Though Kobe had a no-trade clause, the Lakers explored other options.

They talked with the Mavericks and even agreed to terms with the Pistons, but Kobe vetoed Detroit. The Lakers also spoke with the Cavaliers.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

According to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the event, the Lakers once contacted the Cavs to investigate whether Cleveland would make James available in a possible Bryant trade.

The Cavs said that James, indeed, was untouchable, sources said. Then they attempted to make the Lakers a different offer for Bryant, offering anyone else on their team in a package for him. The Lakers had no interest.

For Bryant, who had a no-trade clause in his contract, the answer was simple.

“I never would’ve approved it. Never. The trade to go to Cleveland? Never,” Bryant told Holmes.

This is just as the LeBron-Kobe arguments were kicking into gear. Regardless of which player was better at the time, LeBron – six years younger – was definitely more valuable than Kobe.

So, it’s unsurprising the Lakers asked and even less surprising the Cavaliers said no.

And even less surprising than that was the Lakers rejecting Cleveland’s counter offer. Here were the other Cavaliers during the 2006-07 season:

  • Larry Hughes
  • Zydrunas Ilgauskas
  • Drew Gooden
  • Sasha Pavlovic
  • Donyell Marshall
  • Anderson Varejao
  • Damon Jones
  • Daniel Gibson
  • Eric Snow
  • Shannon Brown
  • Ira Newble
  • David Wesley
  • Scot Pollard
  • Dwayne Jones

That scrap heap doesn’t come close to Kobe.

The what-if of a LeBron-for-Kobe or Kobe-for-other-Cavs swap is intriguing, but both ideas were non-starters for at least one side. None of that came close to happening.

But, nine years later, that barely makes the discussion less fun.

Phil Jackson tweets manifesto on Knicks coaching

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson speaks to reporters during a news conference in Greenburgh, N.Y., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Derek Fisher was fired as New York Knicks coach Monday, with his team having lost five straight and nine of 10 to fall well back in the Eastern Conference playoff race. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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The Knicks fired Derek Fisher, and Phil Jackson explained the move in a press conference.

Then, the Knicks president tweeted a few more thoughts:

Jackson might be more intelligent and philosophical than you.

More than that, Jackson really wants you to believe he’s more intelligent and philosophical than you.

Two Kings dispute shootaround reports, including Rajon Rondo’s

SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 30:  Head coach George Karl of the Sacramento Kings talks to Rajon Rondo #9 of the Sacramento Kings during their game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Sleep Train Arena on October 30, 2015 in Sacramento, 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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In the midst of the Kings’ George Karl mess, Rajon Rondo complained about shootarounds – seemingly taking issue with Karl and/or his teammates:

Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated reported Rondo, Omri Casspi and Seth Curry were the only players at Monday’s shootaround:

The Kings played the night before in Boston and were in their fourth city (Cleveland) in six nights. It’d be reasonable – maybe even wise – to value extra sleep over an optional shootaround.

To Rondo’s point, perhaps Karl shouldn’t have called one at all. If so much of the team plans to skip it, is it worth bringing in anyone? Is that productive for the players who attend?

What happened after the shootaround certainly wasn’t.

Quincy Acy disputed Fischer’s report:

Then, Caron Butler took issue with Rondo’s account:

I don’t know precisely which Kings attended the shootaround, but someone fed Fischer a list of names for whatever reason. The agendas and leaks coming from the Kings are debilitating.

And for Butler to publicly disagree with a teammate like that is startling. Unless he’s saying Rondo was misquoted, which seems unlikely, considering Steve Herrick of the Associated Press also quoted Rondo saying three or four players attended shootaround (hat tip: Kevin Draper of Deadspin).

The tamest explanation is that Rondo used “three or four” as a euphemism for “not enough,” and the real number could’ve been closer to five. So, maybe Acy and Butler also attended but participation was down.

But that wouldn’t necessarily mean teammates appreciate Rondo – who declared himself the first veteran teammate DeMarcus Cousins ever respected – saying “three or four.” That could leave a couple of them under the bus.

And there’s still the issue of Karl using shootarounds productively – and Rondo maybe calling him out publicly for it.

Really, this speaks to where the Kings stand. They can’t even conduct a shootaround without controversy.

If you’re a Comcast subscriber in Northern California, you can stream tonight’s Kings-76ers game here.

Kristaps Porzingis cocks back, hammers dunk (video)

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It wasn’t all bad for the Knicks last night.

You can practically see the moment Kristaps Porzingis realizes his spin got him so open, he can put a little juice into this dunk.