NBA Playoffs Celtics Magic Game 5: Stan Van Gundy has to be willing to gamble

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Thumbnail image for Howard_blinded.jpgOnce again, Orlando, this is it. You staved off the monster, backing into a cave and swiping at its tentacles, forcing Rajon Rondo to the locker room, forcing Kevin Garnett into tough decisions (other than yelling and barking), and generally didn’t suck. Congratulations. Now you just need to do it three more times in a row.

Stan Van Gundy is often labeled with, and I’m sorry to apply simplistic adjective here but I’ve got little choice, the stupid moniker of the Master of Panic. Guys that panic don’t get their teams to the Eastern Conference Playoffs in consecutive years. But if panicking means overreacting to the situation, this is one scenario where SVG needs to embrace that label. The rotations must change.

Van Gundy needs to turn to unlikely and unconventional sources to give his team the best attack it can provide. Boston will likely be refocused. Rajon Rondo will likely be back to his werewolf-like self. Kevin Garnett may not miss as many open looks. So the Magic have to be willing to turn to alternative options if the Celtics are able to create the havoc they wreaked in the first three games. That means more time for J.J. Redick, Brandon Bass, and some looks for Ryan Anderson, and less time for Jason Williams, Mikael Pietrus, and especially Vince Carter.

Redick should be a no-brainer. The argument will be that you don’t disrupt the rotation and “psyche of your team” in the Eastern Conference Finals. No, you don’t disrupt the rotation and psyche of your team when you start the Eastern Conference Finals. Down 3-1 versus a very pissed off Celtics team that annihilated you in the first three games? That’s when it’s totally fine to pull any trick you think will work out of the bag.

Redick is +21 in this series (via PopcornMachine.net), versus Carter, who is -23 .Even if you for some reason feel that after Carter’s complete quitjob in Game 4 (going 1-9, getting torched on defense, and not showing any interest in coming back in the game in the fourth quarter) he’s your best option, you can still give Redick significant minutes. Redick’s handle isn’t superb, it’s true. But he’s a better option to run the offense than Jason Williams, who has been a complete disaster. Jameer Nelson is ready to log long minutes, and switching to a Redick-Carter backcourt means you have your best perimeter weapon (when he feels like trying) and the best pick and roll ball handler in this series in while Nelson rests. This is the time for trying new things. Just because you caught the Celtics napping at home doesn’t mean they won’t bring the thunder tonight. You need lightning in a bottle to respond, and so far in this series, the Magic’s regular rotations have been cumulus clouds drifting past a peaceful landscape.

In the front court, the Magic may want to consider some unorthodox alternatives, particularly if Dwight Howard winds up in foul trouble. Does playing Rashard Lewis at small forward against Paul Pierce sound like a nightmare? Absolutely. But it’s not like any of your other options, especially Carter or Matt Barnes, have had any success whatsoever. Lewis has the length to contest Pierce’s pull-up jumper and the size to give him problems if he should drive. What happens for those stretches at power forward then? Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson. Anderson has seen no time in this series, due to his inexperience in both the playoffs and the system. Again, I would respond, “It’s not like the traditional approach has been effective!” Anderson has the size to body up against Sheed and the physical nature to combat Glen Davis, plus range to give both of them significant problems. Why have all this stocked talent if you’re not going to use it?

Then there’s Brandon Bass, who is quite the mixed bag. Questionable on defense, a definite spark on offense. Bass has shown at least a willingness to be aggressive against Boston which is more than you can say for several of the Magic’s wing players. Plus he has touch, which Dwight Howard has struggled with.

There are plenty of reasons to go in with what you feel are your best players and stick to the script that made you so successful during the regular season. But you’ve also got to turn to alternatives when that formula has been neutralized, tazered, dragged outside and left for dead. The Magic aren’t just up against the wall, they’re at knife point. If they want to see tomorrow, and another game in Boston (at which point you’ll see a whole lot of puckering from the guys in green whether they show it or not), they’ve got to be willing to try some new things.

Variety is the spice of life. The Boston Celtics beating the crap out of you for four quarters and you not adjusting? That’s the overcooked toast.

Adrian Wojnarowski: Jacque Vaughn likely to coach Nets next season

Nets coach Jacque Vaughn
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The Nets have two stars in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and the ammo to get a third star. Expectations are rising quickly in Brooklyn. Merely qualifying for the playoffs isn’t enough. Nobody felt that more than Kenny Atkinson, who got ousted historically late in the season for a postseason-bound team.

The next logical step: Hiring a blue-chip coach.

Former Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, Irving’s reported preferred choice, was considered favorite. Jason Kidd, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy were also high-profile candidates.

Or maybe the Nets will just keep Jacque Vaughn, who took over for Atkinson.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

People sometimes are treating Jacque Vaughn like he was named the interim coach when Kenny Atkinson and the Nets split up. But he’s not. He’s the head coach. They didn’t make him interim coach. And while I think the Nets are considering the possibility of a search, I would still give Jacque Vaughn, I would take Jacque Vaughn against the field right now to keep that job.

“Interim” is just a label. The Nets can call Vaughn whatever they want. He’s coaching the team right now, and no job is permanent.

But unless hearing otherwise, there’s an expectation a team will conduct a coaching search the offseason after an in-season coaching change.

This might be the otherwise.

Vaughn reportedly has a legitimate opportunity to win the job. But Brooklyn will be without Durant, Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Wilson Chandler, Nicolas Claxton and maybe Spencer Dinwiddie as the season resumes in Disney World. That’s not a recipe for impressing.

That’s especially true because Vaughn doesn’t fit the marquee image the Nets were reportedly seeking. In his only previous head-coaching position, Vaughn went 20-62, 23-59 and 15-37 with the Magic before they fired him in 2015.

One thing Vaughn has going for him: He reversed Atkinson’s strategy of starting Jarrett Allen over Jordan, who’s close with Durant and Irving. It’s practically impossible to see Brooklyn picking a coach – especially Vaughn – without the support of Durant and Irving.

The Nets should conduct a full coaching search. If Vaughn emerges as the best choice, great. But he hasn’t done enough to warrant Brooklyn ignoring other candidates.

Report: Eight non-restart teams near deal for second NBA “bubble” in Chicago

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The eight teams with the worst records in the NBA, the ones not invited to Orlando for the NBA’s restart — Warriors, Timberwolves, Cavaliers, Hawks, Pistons, Knicks, Bulls, and Hornets — have been asking the NBA to organize workouts and games for them, so they don’t lose ground to the teams in the bubble.

ESPN’s Jackie MacMullen reports that is close to coming together in the form of a second NBA bubble in Chicago.

The details are still being hammered out, and teams continue to push for an alternative plan that would enable them to hold mini-camps within their local markets and to explore the idea of establishing regional sites where teams could scrimmage against each other.

This second bubble likely would take place in September, while the playoffs take place down into Orlando. Not every team is fully on board.

 

The eight teams had been concerned that going from March to December without meaningful games — while the other 22 teams had training camps and played at least eight games — would put the development of their young players and cultures behind. Teams pushed for practices and some organized games, although some franchises have pushed harder than others.

Michelle Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, reportedly is insistent that if the eight teams get together in Chicago the players be protected by the same protocols in place in Orlando.

“Unless we could replicate in every way the protocol that’s been established for Orlando, I’d be – I’m being tame now – suspicious,” Roberts said last week in a conference call with reporters. “I think there are conversations that could be had if there’s anything we can do with the other eight teams. I know there are some players, particularly young players, that seem concerned they’re not getting enough [opportunities]…

“But I am very concerned and frankly, my concern aside, our players, our teams are very concerned about any — in terms of play that doesn’t have the same guarantees of safety and health that we’ve provided for the teams in Orlando. So yeah, never say never, but there’s a standard. It’s a standard that’s got to be met.”

Mark Tatum, the NBA’s deputy commissioner, quickly agreed with Roberts.

Expect an NBA Chicago bubble to come together in some form. Some of the eight teams on the outside — the Atlanta Hawks with their young core, for example — have pushed hard to get their players opportunities for games and workouts. Each of the eight teams are in different spots, however, and have different motivations. Golden State likely will not send Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson, this would be about getting younger players some extra run.

 

Donovan Mitchell on Jazz teammate Rudy Gobert: ‘Right now, we’re good’

Jazz stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert
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Following their coronavirus diagnoses, Donovan Mitchell was clearly upset with Jazz teammate Rudy Gobert.

Gobert said he and Mitchell were good. Jazz executive Dennis Lindsey said Mitchell and Gobert were good.

Now, we’re actually hearing from Mitchell himself.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

This goes WAY further than anyone else speaking for Mitchell.

Mitchell was entitled to carry a grudge for a while. Gobert’s reckless actions made him more likely to contract and spread coronavirus.

At minimum, Mitchell is willing to say publicly he’s on the same page as Gobert. That’s meaningful. Teammates needn’t be best friends to succeed. But they generally perform better when they set their differences aside. However he actually feels about Gobert, Mitchell is setting a tone of putting the team first.

This isn’t surprising. Mitchell has shown he can remain focused and work hard amid adversity. Gobert plays a supportive style that makes life easier for teammates (though he has sometimes drifted from it this season). These are professionals who were always likely to reach this point.

Of course, this coexistence could be fragile. Among the biggest variables: How will Utah perform in the resumption at Disney World? Winning tends to bond teammates more tightly. Losing can exacerbate wounds.

At least the Jazz will enter Orlando with their chemistry – relatively – intact. After all they’ve been through, that’s something.

Report: Kings lead assistant Igor Kokoskov to become Fenerbahce head coach

Kings assistant coach Igor Kokoskov
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The Kings are trying to end their historic playoff drought.

They’ll make that push as lead assistant Igor Kokoskov has one foot out the door.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Jason Jones of the The Athletic:

Kokoskov had a rough go in the NBA spotlight. After working his way up the coaching ladder and becoming the Suns’ head coach in 2018-19, he got fired after only one season. Phoenix gave him an ill-equipped roster, notably passing on Luka Doncic in the draft – perhaps despite the input of Kokoskov, who coached Doncic on the Slovenian national team. Maybe Kokoskov wasn’t a good-enough coach. He didn’t build a strong affirmative case. But getting only season in his first head-coaching job was a tough break.

Fenerbahce (Turkey) is a premier overseas job. Kokoskov will succeed a legend in Zeljko Obradovic, who recently drew attention for this, um, motivational speech.

For Sacramento, the timing is tricky. Luke Walton is still in charge. But with traveling parties limited for the resumption at Disney World, teams need the coaches in attendance to pull extra duty. Maybe Kokoskov is up for it. It’d also be completely natural if he’s at least somewhat distracted by his next job.