Dante Cunningham

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Three coaches on the hot seat this season

2 Comments

The NBA is in the midst of unprecedented coaching stability.

Logically, it’s only a matter until that gets upended.

But, team by team, it’s hard to find situations ripe for change. Still, here are the coaches on the hottest seats entering the 2017-18 season:

Alvin Gentry (Pelicans)

The list must start here. Gentry is coaching a mismanaged Pelicans team with undue expectations. He’s far closer to getting fired than anyone else in the league.

In fact, it’s surprising Gentry has lasted this long.

Monty Williams got fired immediately after leading New Orleans to its first playoff appearance in four years. Gentry’s two Pelicans teams haven’t come particularly close to reaching the postseason.

Now, the pressure intensifies. DeMarcus Cousins is entering a contract year. The clock is always ticking until Anthony Davis becomes an unrestricted free agent. And, of course, the West is incredibly strong.

Gentry doesn’t have much to work with considering the circumstances. Davis and Cousins are excellent players, but they prevent Gentry from implementing his preferred up-tempo style. Jrue Holiday is a fine third wheel, but roster-construction issues shift him to less-than-optimal shooting guard. Those problems are particularly evident at small forward, where Dante Cunningham (ideally a power forward) and Tony Allen (ideally a shooting guard) will split time with Solomon Hill injured.

Gentry’s boss, general manager Dell Demps, also appears on thin ice. If/when things go poorly will Demps fire Gentry to shift blame? Or will the Pelicans clean house completely?

Gentry faces an uphill climb to make those questions irrelevant.

Jeff Hornacek (Knicks)

A whopping 10 (!) coaches work for front-office heads who didn’t hire them: Jeff Hornacek (Knicks), Mike Budenholzer (Hawks), Brett Brown (76ers), Frank Vogel (Magic), Luke Walton (Lakers), Tyronn Lue (Cavaliers), Jason Kidd (Bucks), Doc Rivers (Clippers), Nate McMillan (Pacers) and Dwane Casey (Raptors).

Take your pick of which has the hottest seat. The internal politics at play can be far from evident.

Brown, Kidd and Walton face higher expectations than last season. Lue faces the highest expectations this side of Golden State. Rivers, McMillan and Casey have downgraded teams that have not given up hope of winning. Hornacek, Budenholzer and Vogel oversee teams that seem OK with losing in the short term, but poor records always hasten dismissals regardless of context.

The nod for hottest seat goes to Hornacek, who’s stuck in James Dolan’s top-down chaotic franchise. Patience never lasts in New York, and there are already rumors about Hornacek’s replacement and poor relationship with franchise player Kristaps Porzingis.

Fred Hoiberg (Bulls)

Again, you could easily pick one of the nine other coaches from the above section (except maybe Kidd, who might hold power over general manager Jon Horst). In the interest of variety, let’s mention Hoiberg.

The Bulls are a quagmire, knowingly entering a rebuilding stage but with the Gar Forman/John Paxson under increased scrutiny. Does Chicago actually have the appetite for sustained losing?

Hoiberg has already appeared in over his head connecting with established veterans. Maybe teaching young players will better suit the former college coach, but the NBA is still a different animal. If Hoiberg stumbles in this task, what reason will there be to keep him around?

Forman not wanting to admit firing Tom Thibodeau for Hoiberg was a mistake? Maybe. The pesky storyline that Hoiberg hasn’t had his type of players? Few NBA coaches are afforded that luxury.

Otherwise, it’s getting late early for Hoiberg, who’s entering his third season.

The Bulls just hired former coach Doug Collins as an advisor. If I were Hornacek, I wouldn’t feel great about that.

Report: Dante Cunningham re-signing with Pelicans

AP Photo/David Goldman
1 Comment

An intriguing battle emerged late in free agency over Dante Cunningham.

The Pelicans and Timberwolves were desperate at small forward, and Cunningham rare contributor at the position still available. New Orleans even traded a second-rounder and cash to dump Quincy Pondexter and get far enough below the hard cap to take advantage of Cunningham’s Bird Rights.

That’ll pay off.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

It’s not the $3,106,500 Cunningham opted out of, but a $2.3 million salary beats his minimum ($2,106,470), which is all Minnesota could’ve offered.

That’s a great rate on someone who might be the Pelicans’ starting small forward, considering Solomon Hill‘s injury. Even if he plays behind Tony Allen on a team that starts small on the perimeter, Cunningham will reduce the time New Orleans must rely on also-rans.

Cunningham is probably better at power forward, but he can defend either position. He also has become a good enough 3-point shooter to credibly play small forward.

For the Pelicans, he’s a huge upgrade at a bargain price.

Timberwolves ace Jimmy Butler trade… then made some other moves

AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King
Leave a comment

NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

From the moment former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau took over the Timberwolves, Minnesota was involved in Jimmy Butler trade rumors. But, as of last year, Chicago reportedly wouldn’t budge without receiving Andrew Wiggins, and I didn’t think that was enough for the Bulls. Since, Butler has only improved and Wiggins moved closer to a max salary that will diminish his value. A deal seemed unlikely.

Then, suddenly the Timberwolves traded for Butler – without surrendering Wiggins. A team bound to improve around Karl-Anthony Towns and Wiggins is now set to clobber a 13-year playoff drought.

Butler is a star in his prime who’s locked up for two more seasons at an affordable salary. The price to land him – Zach LaVine (injured and up for a contract extension), Kris Dunn (ineffective as a relatively old rookie) and moving down from the No. 7 to No. 16 pick – was absurdly low. By dropping only nine spots rather than give up the No. 7 pick entirely, Thibodeau just stunted on his old bosses.

That fantastic trade started a busy offseason in Minnesota, but the rest of it wasn’t nearly as inspiring. (To be fair, how could it be?)

Going from Ricky Rubio (two years, $29.25 million remaining) to Jeff Teague (three years, $57 million with a player option) at point guard wasn’t ideal in a vacuum. But Teague’s shooting was important considering Butler and Wiggins form a sketchy wing pairing on 3-pointers and Thibodeau insists on playing two traditional bigs. Plus, the Timberwolves got a first-rounder a first-rounder from the Jazz for Rubio.

Another former Bull, Taj Gibson, will bolster Thibodeau’s two-big rotation. But Minnesota already had Gorgui Dieng and Cole Aldrich (who’s overpaid and has disappointed, but can still eat up minutes) to limit the defensive burden on Towns, and No. 16 pick Justin Patton is in the pipeline. Does a 32-year-old Gibson have enough left in the tank to justify a two-year $28 million contract?

Likewise, will a 37-year-old Crawford provide value at the full room exception (two years, $8,872,400 with a player option)? The Timberwolves didn’t need another ball-handler. Butler, Wiggins and Teague can be staggered enough to handle that. Towns should be tasked with a greater offensive role, too. At least Crawford is a solid spot-up shooter, but his defense is a big minus.

Shabazz Muhammad won’t fill Minnesota’s 3-and-D void, either. But on a minimum contract, he was too talented to pass up. Dante Cunningham could help, though he’s better at power forward than on the wing, where the Timberwolves need more depth.

Thibodeau hasn’t exactly instilled faith in his ability to take this franchise into the future. But he hit a home run with the Butler trade, and that buys him leeway.

Offseason grade: A+

Pelicans trying to keep up with all the problems they’ve created for themselves

Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
1 Comment

NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The entire operation could have cratered if Jrue Holiday left in free agency, as the Pelicans would have had only moderate cap space to replace him.

That didn’t happen.

Otherwise…

Years of roster mismanagement caught up to New Orleans, which had its meager wing depth eviscerated when Solomon Hill suffered a long-term injury. Complicating matters, the Pelicans had already hard-capped themselves by signing Rajon Rondo and Darius Miller to a combined salary above the taxpayer mid-level exception. Holiday used his leverage to get a massive contract – worth up to $150 million over five years – that pushed New Orleans close to that hard cap.

Rondo might be a decent value as a $3.3 million backup point guard. But his ego complicates the situation, and the Pelicans will start him at point guard – pushing Holiday to shooting guard, where the team’s third-best player will make less of an impact.

Miller washed out of the NBA two years ago after three seasons in New Orleans. The former second-rounder went overseas and then drew a salary above the minimum. I’m curious to see what the Pelicans see in him now.

In a pinch on the wing – where Hill, best at power forward, was already playing out of position – New Orleans sent a second-rounder and cash to the Bulls to dump Quincy Pondexter. Presumably, the injury problems that have kept Pondexter from playing the last two seasons meant he couldn’t help the Pelicans on the wing this season. Otherwise, this deal was a farce. But it allowed the Pelicans to sign Tony Allen and presumably one other player. Re-signing Dante Cunningham would help, but even he is better at power forward than small forward.

Allen is still a strong defender at age 35, but he’s a poor shooter. Rondo generally has been, too.

Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins will have to be comfortable from deep for this team to have adequate spacing. The situation behind those two stars is woeful.

New Orleans spent a lot of time picking around the edges at point guard, though. In addition to re-signing Holiday and signing Rondo, the Pelicans traded effective backup point guard Tim Frazier (on a reasonable $2 million salary) to the Wizards for the No. 52 pick. Then, New Orleans essentially dealt the Nos. 40 and 52 picks and $800,000 to move up to No. 31 for injured point guard Frank Jackson, who’s already hurt again. The Pelicans also signed Ian Clark (defends point guards, handles the ball and distributes like a shooting guard). Combo guard E'Twaun Moore returns, too.

Between Davis, Cousins, Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca, New Orleans is paying $57,396,659 this season to players most effective at center.

Meanwhile, small forward is a wasteland.

This is not the team I’d want to send into battle during Cousins’ contract year. Lose him, and how will that color Davis’ long-term view of the franchise?

The Pelicans keep bandaging major wounds, and it’s already catching up to them. The difficult situation entering the offseason must be taken into account.

They started the summer in a jam. Then, they got jammed.

Offseason grade: C-

Even after re-signing Shabazz Muhammad, Timberwolves still want Dante Cunningham

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dante Cunningham was among the many free agents this summer who saw the ridiculous contracts handed out in the summer of 2016 and thought he was in line to get paid. He declined his $3.1 million player option… and now he’s going to sign a minimum contract for $2.1 million. The only question is where.

He could re-sign with the Pelicans (who would give him run at the three with Solomon Hill out injured). Minnesota has been interested — and that has not changed despite the fact the Timberwolves re-signed Shabazz Muhammad, reports Darren Wolfson.

Minnesota could offer two years, but that may not happen. With the money the same, Cunningham has to decide where he thinks he will be used best, where he can get more run, and where he wants to live. He also could be patient and hope another team jumps in the mix, although that would be for the minimum as well.