Kurt Helin

Rumor: If Suns fire Jeff Hornacek, will chase Luke Walton

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Jeff Hornacek kept his job as the coach of the Phoenix Suns — for now. There is a certain “dead man walking” quality to his tenure after owner Robert Saver met with players and staff then fired Hornacek’s two top assistant coaches. Add to that the fact Hornacek is in the final year of his contract (Sarver wouldn’t extend his contract). The Suns are 12-20, just lost to the Sixers, and are about to lose more — their next three games are the Cavaliers, Spurs, Thunder, and they fact that without Eric Bledsoe, who out six weeks due to a meniscus injury.

So no matter what the GM says publicly, the smart money is on there being a coaching opening next summer in Phoenix. If not sooner. And Zach Lowe of ESPN reiterated what Howard Beck of Bleacher Report already said — Luke Walton of the Golden State Warriors could be the guy the Suns turn to if/when they make a move. From Lowe on the coaching carousel:

Hornacek is a good coach. If the Suns fire him, he will draw interest in what figures to be a frothy head-coaching market this summer. Brooklyn, Sacramento, Washington, Phoenix, Memphis, Houston, Minnesota, Portland, and the Lakers all could have open jobs, and the pool of candidates will be loaded with big names: Jeff Van Gundy (quietly a candidate for the Washington job), Scott Brooks, Thibodeau, Monty Williams, and potentially Dave Joerger, Mike D’Antoni, Hornacek, Luke Walton, and others. As Howard Beck of Bleacher Report noted Sunday, there have already been rumors of Phoenix chasing Walton if they dump Hornacek.

If a team wants to play small and fast — as I guess the Suns do with their Bledsoe/Brandon Knight backcourt, although those two struggle together (the Suns are -2.6 per 1oo possessions when they are on the court together) and the other pieces do not fit — Walton makes sense as a guy to consider. He’s played under great coaches (Phil Jackson) and been at the epicenter in Golden State. He’s going to get looks after his interim job this season, but he is going to stick with the Warriors the rest of this season.

But the Suns may want to think about if they are getting someone better than Hornacek.

If the Suns’ front office wants to blame someone for the start to this season, they should find a mirror. They put the Bledsoe/Knight combo together even though both want the ball in their hands, they paid they aging Tyson Chandler who has looked old, and it was the front office that ticked off Markeiff Morris by trading his brother. Hornacek hasn’t been able to clean up the front office’s mistakes this season, but is that on him?

Michael Jordan pays tribute to Kobe Bryant with pregame video

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The Kobe Bryant farewell tour came to Charlotte Monday night, and once again Kobe was making a few plays — hitting a three, going hard at Jeremy Lin — and playing well enough that the fans got what they wanted to see.

They also got to see a tribute from Hornets’ owner Michael Jordan, the man Kobe was compared to most (and Kobe never shied away from that comparison; at least younger, more brash Kobe didn’t). It’s genuine, heartfelt, and you can feel the respect Jordan has for Kobe.

You can’t ask for more than that.

PBT Podcast: Talking Kings, Cousins/Rondo/Karl with insider James Ham

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The door is open for the Sacramento Kings to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade. They are currently the nine seed trying to catch eight-seed Utah — without Rudy Gobert, Dante Exum, and now Alec Burks — and right behind Sacramento are teams such as the Portland Trail Blazers without Damian Lillard and the Phoenix Suns without Eric Bledsoe.

A win Sunday would have made the Kings the eight seed, so they came out and played a sloppy (23 turnovers), lazy game and lost to a tired Trail Blazers team.

Kings’ insider James Ham of CSNBayArea.com and I discuss how that game kind of sums up the Kings this season, the challenges and opportunities they have, and if they can get it all together. We cover everything from the unlikely trade scenarios to the Kings moving into their new arena next season.

As always, you can listen to the podcast below, or you can listen and subscribe via iTunes.

Report: New Orleans Saints GM Mickey Loomis given larger role with Pelicans

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The conventional wisdom around the league is that Dell Demps is in trouble as the GM of the New Orleans Pelicans. Demps is well liked around the league but this is a team with a franchise cornerstone, a current top five (and climbing) NBA player in Anthony Davis, and they do not have the right pieces around him to even make the playoffs this season. The roster certainly does match how coach Alvin Gentry wants to play, nor can it defend.

But is the idea of giving football guy Mickey Loomis — the GM of the Saints — more power the way to do it? From Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, talking about the Saints/Pelicans organization (both owned by Tom Benson, who is not giving them up).

Mickey Loomis, the Saints’ executive vice president and general manager, is likely be given a more overarching role, with a perch that takes him out of the day-to-day decision making of the Saints and puts him in a position that further involves him in the NBA’s Pelicans, also owned by Benson, and involves assuming more macro-level duties with both clubs (the Pelicans have fallen on very hard times as well and are in need of a rebuild).

Mike Florio of NBC’s ProFootballtalk has speculated that the same thing could be coming.

Loomis officially oversees the Pelicans’ front office now, but Demps has the power to make decisions. It is likely that Loomis would set up a similar situation now — a smart manager knows what he does not know, and Loomis knows he’s not a basketball guy. He would hire a new GM, who would report to him. Hopefully, he will not be too hands on.

The key will be getting a GM on the same page as coach Alvin Gentry and building a team to fit his style. What the Pelicans don’t need is another shift in style of play — and roster to fit it — that would take another few years to take hold.

The Pelicans will have money to spend next summer, with Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson coming off the books (Anderson could be traded before then), plus the bump in the salary cap coming. What they need is a GM to spend that money wisely, getting in a No. 2 star to go with Davis, plus maybe a veteran or two who can help this team defend better, run the court, shoot from three, and just win.

Kyrie Irving out Tuesday for Cavaliers, says it’s last game he misses

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 25:  Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers dribbles up court against the Golden State Warriors on December 25, 2015 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland,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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Cleveland Cavaliers have a road back-to-back to open this week: Monday night in Phoenix against the devolving Suns, and then Tuesday night against Denver in the thin air.

As has been their practice since his return from a fractured kneecap, Kyrie Irving will play in only one of those games to keep him rested. He’s going to go up against the Suns (without Eric Bledsoe) and let Matthew Dellavedova and company deal the Nuggets. But he swears this is the last time he’s sitting one of these out, he told the Akron Beacon Journal.

“That’ll be the last time I sit out back-to-backs,” he said, “and hopefully the last two games I miss for the rest of the season.”

The next Cavaliers back-to-back is in San Antonio and Houston in a few weeks. We will see if Irving plays, but you have to like the spirit.

He has been understandably rusty in his return, shooting 29.4 percent overall and 22.2 percent from three through 62 minutes over three games. It’s just a matter of getting time on the court to get his rhythm back, plus getting in some sweat in practices (the Cavs are off until this weekend after these games). He will come around.

Irving will sit out other games, however. Eventually. As the playoffs near you can bet coach David Blatt is going to pick his spots to rest his stars and try to keep them fresh for a push to the Finals, and that will include Irving. The Cavs know they will be judged not on the regular season but the playoffs, and being rested will matter.