When the New Jersey Nets hired Avery Johnson earlier this week, it came with quite a few backhanded compliments. “Great regular season coach.” “Lot of potential.” “Fiery guy.”
All of these purposefully ignore the elephant in the room to make it seem bigger than it is. Johnson’s teams had terrible playoff results. The discussion of the inordinate amount of things that had to go wrong for Johnson’s teams to succumb in the post-season is a topic for another day. The fact is that Johnson had tremendous success, has the respect of the players, and comes very highly recommended.
How recommended? Ask four time NBA champion head coach Gregg Popovich, who knew long ago that Johnson was destined for the clipboard when his playing days were done.
In an in-depth piece with the New Jersey Star Ledger’s Dave D’Allessandro
, Popovich relates his relationship with “The Little General” dating back to 1991. He talks about Johnson joining the Warriors after Pop recommended him to head coach Don Nelson, and most telling, the progression of Johnson, even as a player, towards the bench. It is stunning, not only for the fact that Gregg Popovich, the Gregg Popovich, actually speaks more than a dozen words about a subject, but also because of how glowing he is in his review. The meat of it? From the Ledger:
“He’s got a special mind — you’re going to see it in New Jersey,
even if they’re going to be young,” Popovich said of Johnson. “He taught
himself what it takes to be successful in the league, and since then
he’s taught others. He’ll get a defensive mentality established with the
group. He’ll get Devin (Harris) in attack mode. He’ll adjust regardless
of what personnel they get there.
“You know I hate
superlatives, and how people exaggerate. I mean, the only ‘geniuses’ I
know are people who do medical research. So I don’t want to overstate
this, but Avery has a brilliant basketball mind. I knew it way back
when, and I know it now.”
So that’s nice to have on your resume. “Hall of Fame coach thinks I’m awesome.”
There are sure to be questions about Johnson, and he faces an uphill climb. The Nets weren’t nearly as bad roster-wise as their record indicated last season, and they have a high amount of potential to jump right back into things, depending on how the draft and free agency goes, but it was still a wretched team. But then, Johnson has seen his fair share of challenges throughout his career and has managed to turn in brilliant performances consistently.
Just ask Popovich.
Earlier this season, Kyrie Irving missed several weeks with a shoulder injury. Throughout the absence, the Nets provided few details and no clear timeline. Eventually, a report said Irving could miss 2-3 additional weeks with bursitis. The Nets denied it. Later, Irving confirmed he had bursitis then returned nearly three weeks after the report.
Finally, Brooklyn caught the league’s ire.
The NBA today announced that the Brooklyn Nets have been fined $25,000 for failing to comply with league policies governing injury reporting.
It’s unclear what specifically caused this violation. Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, Jamal Crawford and Rodions Kurucs have all appeared on the Nets’ injury report during the resumption. As 19-point underdog, Brooklyn pulled a historic upset of the Bucks. Remember, public injury disclosures are primarily about preserving gambling integrity.
For the NBA not to reveal even basic details while fining the Nets for their lack of transparency is ironic. It’s also ironic this fine comes amid a restart that featured the NBA being highly secretive about player heath.
The Clippers got fined $50,000 earlier this season for saying Kawhi Leonard was healthy. What did Brooklyn do that was less egregious but still worth of a fine?
The Lakers’ offense has stumbled so far in the bubble.
Joe Vardon of The Athletic:
LeBron gave a weird answer about this. He agreed that he and the Lakers were looking for a rhythm on offense. And then he said: “It’s just some things that you can’t control that’s here, that I really don’t want to talk about, that’s off the floor.”
Mike Trudell of the Lakers:
Was LeBron referring to his groin injury? I wouldn’t call that an off-court issue, but maybe he would.
LeBron knows how to work the media. This subtle comment will draw attention and sets up LeBron to look better if he leads the Lakers through this mysterious issue.
Without more context, it’s easy for imaginations to wander – especially about a team with Dwight Howard, Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith. The Lakers could be facing a major hurdle. Or a minor nuisance. Who knows? But the unknown is scary.
It’ll be difficult to detect the Lakers’ progress during remaining seeding games. The Lakers have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, and without a home-court advantage in the NBA Finals, there’s no reason to chase the NBA’s best overall record. That’s why LeBron missing tonight’s game against the Rockets could be mostly precautionary.
Ben Simmons injured his knee during the 76ers’ win over the Wizards yesterday.
The diagnosis is in, and the prognosis sounds worrisome.
Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia:
How quickly will Simmons recover? Once he recovers, will he face elevated risk of re-injury?
These questions now haunt Simmons and Philadelphia.
Simmons is a young star who’ll begin a max contract extension next season. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons opened Philadelphia’s championship window, and now rain is drizzling through. Philadelphia can’t reach it ceiling without Simmons healthy and providing value.
Even more modest goals in a disjointed season will be more difficult to reach.
The 76ers were just adjusting to playing Simmons at power forward. Now, they must again re-configure their plan – maybe for a significant chunk of the remainder of the season.
Even more burden falls onto Embiid, who has been shouldering so much with this mismatched roster. Simmons plays across the positional spectrum, so any number of 76ers could fill in while he’s out. Many of those lesser players will complement Embiid more smoothly than Simmons did. But the talent deficit without Simmons can’t be offset.
That’s the scary issue for now – and maybe a while.
WNBA players and Kelly Loeffler hit a stalemate.
Players want to oust Loeffler as Atlanta Dream co-owner because Loeffler – a Republican U.S. Senator from Georgia – holds political stances they disagree with and is advocating against the league supporting Black Lives Matter. Loeffler said she won’t sell, and the league won’t force her out.
So, players have turned to Loeffler’s senate race, wearing “VOTE WARNOCK” shirts in support of Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock.
Holly Rowe of ESPN:
ATLANTA—Today, political outsider and conservative businesswoman Kelly Loeffler issued the following statement in response to WNBA players wearing “VOTE WARNOCK” t-shirts. The shirts endorse Kelly’s Democrat opponent, Raphael Warnock, following her criticism of the league’s embrace of the Black Lives Matter political organization.
“This is just more proof that the out of control cancel culture wants to shut out anyone who disagrees with them. It’s clear that the league is more concerned with playing politics than basketball, and I stand by what I wrote in June:
“We come together around sports, but promoting a political agenda divides us rather than unites us. The lives of every African American matter, and there’s no place for racism in our country. But I oppose the BLM political organization due to its radical ideas and Marxist foundations, which include defunding the police and eroding the nuclear family. On the other hand, our flag represents our values of freedom and equality for all. If we can’t unite behind our flag, much less the national anthem during this struggle, then what keeps us together? It’s sad to see that there’s more interest in tearing our country apart than in solutions that bring us together. I’ll continue to defend American values and our flag, because this is not a game – it’s the future of our country. “
“Cancel culture” is a vague term with shifting definitions. But people supporting voting for one political candidate over another? That comes nowhere near any reasonable definition of cancel culture.
WNBA players are not just basketball players. They’re human beings with varied interests – including politics. That should come perfectly naturally to a self-described “political outsider” who’s a sitting senator and running for re-election. If it’s reasonable for Loeffler to be interested in politics (it is), it reasonable for WNBA players to be interested in politics.
As far as Loeffler restating her previous points, she remains errant.