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.

Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey on plan for Warriors: Bury them in an avalanche of threes

HOUSTON, TX - JULY 19: Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets speaks during a press conference announcing the signing of Jeremy Lin at Toyota Center on July 19, 2012 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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For a couple of seasons now, teams have tried to beat the Golden State Warriors by making the game ugly — slow, grinding, physical, and the opposite of the free-wheeling game they like. Only one team has had any real success with that strategy, and it has LeBron James on it (and even that wouldn’t have been enough if Draymond Green could keep his hands to himself).

So why not beat them at their own game?

That’s what Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey thought when he added Lou Williams to the roster, he said.

There is a sense around the Warriors that the Rockets may be a bigger concern than the Spurs, because Houston can score with them. Don’t confuse that with worry in the Bay Area, they are the best team in the West if healthy, but the Rockets may be the team they face off against in the conference finals.

And if that happens, Lou Williams is going to play a significant role.

Pelicans add guard Jarrett Jack on 10-day deal

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 17:  Jarrett Jack #2 of the Brooklyn Nets in action against the Atlanta Hawks during their game at The Barclays Center on November 17, 2015 in New York City.   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 Al Bello/Getty Images)
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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Jarrett Jack has agreed to join the New Orleans Pelicans on a 10-day contract.

Jack is an 11-year-veteran who has not played since seriously injuring his knee 32 games into last season while a starter with Brooklyn. He averaged 12.8 points and 7.4 assists for Nets last season before his injury.

Jack worked out for the Pelicans on Thursday night and joined the team for practice Friday.

New Orleans plays next on Saturday night at Dallas.

Report: Cavaliers, Rockets — not Warriors — looking to add waived Andrew Bogut

DALLAS, TX - SEPTEMBER 26:  Andrew Bogut #6 of the Dallas Mavericks poses for a portrait during the Dallas Mavericks Media Day held at American Airlines Center on September 26, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. 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 Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Some veteran players who can help a contender are about to hit the market via the waiver wire. Deron Williams is one, and the buzz around the league is he is destined for Cleveland. Matt Barnes is another.

Andrew Bogut will almost have his pick of contenders — including the Warriors, the NBA reviewed its rules and said that the Warriors can sign him even though they waived him a year ago — but it seems the Cavaliers and Rockets are at the top of the list, reports the Akron Beacon Journal’s Jason Lloyd.

There will be a number of suitors in pursuit of Bogut, who is also eligible to return to the Warriors because he was traded from Dallas to Philadelphia. He is ineligible to return only to the team that most recently traded him, which in this case is the Mavericks. So if the Warriors want him back, they may pursue him. The Cavs have long had their eye on Bogut, but they’ll have competition for him – primarily from the Houston Rockets.

Steve Kerr said the Warriors were not looking to add a big man to the roster out of the waiver pool, instead looking at wings and guards. You know, more shooting.

Bogut was traded to Philadelphia from Dallas as part of the Nerlens Noel deal, but the Sixers are expected to waive him in the coming days.

Report: Steve Ballmer in talks with Rams’ owner Kroenke to move Clippers to Inglewood

LOS ANGELES CA - OCTOBER 29: Steve Ballmer (C), owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, cheers for his team with his wife Connie Ballmer (L) at his side during pre game ceremonies before the home opener against Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center October 29, 2015, 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 Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Since he bought the Los Angeles Clippers for a cool $2 billion, Steve Ballmer has been looking for ways to get them out of the shadow of the Lakers. While Los Angeles is big enough — and has enough corporate interests — to support two NBA teams, the city’s heart belongs to the Lakers. It’s still a wide chasm. You can take my word as a lifelong Angelino, or you can go look at the television ratings — the Lakers are in the worst stretch of on-court basketball in franchise history, the Clippers are loaded with stars and are one of the better teams in the NBA, and yet the Lakers still win the ratings battle.

One way to get out of the shadow — get out of sharing the same building. The Clippers moved to Staples Center with the Lakers when it opened (Donald Sterling loved having the team closer to his offices) but Steve Ballmer is talking about getting out, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Representatives of Steve Ballmer and Stan Kroenke, two of the richest owners in professional sports, have had multiple discussions about the Clippers joining the Rams and Chargers in the sports and entertainment district Kroenke is building in Inglewood.

Five people with knowledge of the conversations told The Times the arena could either be on the 298-acre site or an adjacent parcel. Either way, an arena would drive traffic to the planned mixed-use development and share parking with the $2.6-billion football stadium scheduled to open in 2019.

The Clippers are on a lease that runs through 2024 at Staples, but Ballmer and company have not-so-subtly been looking at potential sites for a new venue. There isn’t a question if the former Microsoft CEO has the money to finance such a building, but there could be both an economy of scale and joint energy joining the new football facility.

The project in Inglewood — on the former Hollywood Park horseracing location, right across the street from the Forum where Magic Johnson and the Showtime Lakers reigned — is designed like many modern arenas to bring dining, entertainment, and housing to the area with the arenas providing foot traffic. Staples Center did that for the L.A. Live development in downtown Los Angeles, helping spark a renaissance of the entire area. However, there are a lot of questions from parking to who actually would own the land and arena.

If nothing else, it’s a sign Ballmer gets what the previous owner either never did or simply never cared enough to try to fix — he has to get out of the Lakers’ shadow. One step in that path is getting out of the same arena.