Former Duke star Christian Laettner returns to basketball as assistant coach in the D-League

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Christian Laettner retired from the NBA following a forgettable 49 games during the 2004-05 season when he sat on the Miami Heat bench alongside such big man luminaries as Michael Doleac and Wang Zhizhi. Following a couple of failed business ventures, however, the former Duke Blue Devils star is back in basketball … as an assistant coach with the NBA Development League’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants.

The former third overall pick and 12-year NBA veteran is expected to be named the new Mad Ants’ assistant sometime Friday, according to sources familiar with the hire, and should be on the bench as the Mad Ants take on the Sioux Falls Skyforce in South Dakota this weekend. Laettner’s head coach will be 26-year-old Steve Gansey (yes, brother of former West Virginia standout Mike Gansey).

Gansey needed an assistant after being promoted to head coach when the team relieved veteran Joey Meyer of his duties a few weeks ago. Until the hirinig of Laettner, Gansey had been using volunteer assistants Sebastian Pruiti (of NBA Playbook fame) and Chad Clarke.

An article on NBC Sports’ Pro Football Talk explained why Laettner might be wanting to get back into a paying gig — so he can pay back Shawne Merriman, namely — but the wildcard in this hire will be what exactly Laettner is able to bring to the table for the Mad Ants. The 42-year-old doesn’t have any prior coaching experience and had a pretty nondescript professional career after a standout amateur career. Laettner led Duke to a pair of championships and was a part of the original Dream Team prior to failing to live up to NBA expectations, but told Lost Lettermen last year that he has high hopes for his coaching career.

“Well, the ultimate goal is to get a big-time head college coaching job,” Laettner said. “If nothing happens in the college ranks, I’ve got to go to the NBA pre-draft camp this year in Chicago and let the people in the NBA know that I’m ready to be an assistant coach.”

Laettner wasn’t able to catch on with any teams after letting them know he was ready, however, leaving him without any coaching experience aside from the time he led a team known as the “Villains” against former Kentucky Wildcats greats in one of the many lockout exhibition games this summer. The results are unbeknownst to your’s truly, but hopefully they were better than the video Laettner made to promote the event (UpdateLaettner’s team won).

With only a modicum of coaching experience, a quick look through Laettner’s background provides a quick glance at what else he might bring to the Mad Ants:

  • Laettner’s best known for hitting the game-winning shot over Kentucky to allow Duke to clinch a second-consecutive championship for the 1992 Blue Devils squad, but it’s unknown if he’s able to teach others the ability to  pull that sort of miracle off during actual play. And, if he is, the NBA’s rules of advancing the ball to halfcourt following a timeout make the scenario altogether unlikely (though it’s possible Pruiti, his fellow assistant, could draw something up to help recreate 1992’s Hail Mary attempt). Regardless, it seems Laettner’s best on-court moment probably isn’t something he’ll spend much time teaching in the D-League.
  • Marketing probably is out, too, considering the Mad Ants are already one of the most talked about teams in the D-League thanks to their mascot the Nightmare Ant. There’s a chance the team’s marketing staff could try and wrangle up the other former NBA player’s coaching in the D-League, however — Randy Livingston, Ira Newble, Vitaly Potapenko, Donyell Marshall, Paul Mokeski, Eldridge Recasner, Chris Carrawell, Sam Perkins and David Wesley all appear on coaching staffs throughout the league — to form some sort of one-on-one tournament, but handicappers probably wouldn’t Laettner in that scenario.
  • Fort Wayne probably won’t use Laettner in the business office, either, considering his financial woes of the past. The Memphis Commercial Appeal’s Ronald Tillery broke all of that down here as Tillery goes back and explains how Laettner nearly bought the Memphis Grizzlies before falling into a financial hole that ended with him owing money to the aforementioned Merriman, the oil company Chevron and quite a few other investors following failed real estate ventures when the economy crashed.

In the end, however, the ‘D’ in D-League stands for development and Laettner’s being given an excellent chance of learning the ropes in Fort Wayne. Hopefully he takes full advantage of it … and maybe even teaches their big men how to do the moves portrayed in this neat little Youtube clip.

Former Lakers forward Michael Beasley signing in China

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Before the season, Michael Beasley said the Lakers “can be exactly where we want to be at the end of the year.”

I doubt he envisioned himself being in China.

But that’s where he’s headed after getting traded to and waived by the Clippers.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Beasley has played in China twice before and dominated. High-volume scorers like him translate well.

At 30, Beasley might be nearing the end of his NBA chances. He can still contribute a little, but the bar is higher for someone who brings headaches and silliness.

If he again plays well in China, he’ll probably get another chance with an NBA team next season. But that’s certainly not a lock.

Blake Griffin enjoying resurgence a year after trade to Pistons

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DETROIT (AP) — Blake Griffin doesn’t need to jump over any cars to be a hit in the Motor City.

A year after arriving in Detroit with his career at a crossroads, a more earthbound Griffin is doing all he can to shake the Pistons out of their decade-long malaise.

“He does a little bit of everything for us. Probably one of our better pick-and-roll players, passers, scorers, leader by example, just so many things,” Detroit coach Dwane Casey said. “His basketball intellect, for me, is one that’s been the most impressive of our players. I didn’t know that about Blake, because when you think about him, you think about the high-flying dunker and the muscular guy in the post, but there’s a lot more to that than just his dunking and athleticism.”

A month shy of his 30th birthday, there are fewer above-the-rim highlights but Griffin’s first full season with Detroit has been one of his best. He’s averaging a career-high 26.3 points per game while making strides as a perimeter shooter, and he earned his first All-Star selection since 2015.

Most importantly, he’s been able to stay healthy, and although the Pistons still have a losing record, they’re in the playoff race, largely because of Griffin.

“As a player, you always believe in yourself,” Griffin said. “I knew I had another level to go to, and being healthy was part of that. … But the beginning of the year, my goal isn’t to only make the All-Star team. It’s much more than that.”

In July 2017, Griffin agreed to a $171 million, five-year deal with the Clippers, the team that drafted him with the first overall pick in 2009. Less than a year later, he was abruptly traded – from glitzy Los Angeles to a Detroit franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2008. It was a risky move for the Pistons, given Griffin’s high salary and the fact that he has only three seasons with more than 67 games played. They gave up a first-round draft pick in the trade, and when they missed the playoffs anyway, that was the end of Stan Van Gundy’s tenure as coach and president of basketball operations.

For Griffin, it was an inauspicious start to the Detroit portion of his career, and there’s been frustration this season as well. The Pistons are 26-30, tied for the final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference. Even if they do make the playoffs, they don’t look like a team ready to make a run.

But for Griffin individually, the season has been a significant step forward. The man who once pulled off a two-handed dunk while jumping over the front of a car is a bit less of an athletic sensation in Detroit, but the blue-collar elements of his game are still plenty effective. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Griffin can muscle his way to the basket and draw fouls, and he gives the Pistons another tough rebounder alongside Andre Drummond. Griffin is also leading the team in assists.

“I think for me, my job is to make his game as easy as possible on the offensive end. When I get him open, he usually makes the right plays,” Drummond said. “It’s a nightmare for teams. You’ve got to really pick your poison, who you really want to get going, and it’s scary when we both get it going.”

Griffin has expanded his offensive repertoire to include the 3-point shot in recent years. He has already made a career-high 134 3s this season, shooting a credible 37 percent from long distance.

“It helps a lot, especially in today’s NBA, with everybody spacing the floor a little bit more, and playing with a guy like Dre, who’s so effective inside,” Griffin said. “To be able to give him a little bit more space is a good thing. I always see guys working to expand their range, and when you do, you see them add years to their career.”

When Griffin joined the Clippers, he added some legitimacy and excitement to what had been one of the league’s most downtrodden franchises. Now the Pistons are a team that could use some buzz. The results recently have been mixed: Griffin has been terrific, but the team as a whole has remained mediocre.

But Detroit won four of five heading into the All-Star break, and if the Pistons do make the playoffs, they’ll have Griffin to thank.

“He’s thinking the game. He’s a couple steps ahead,” Casey said. “I’ve had a lot of great forwards, power forwards, and he’s right up there with the best, whether it’s Dirk (Nowitzki), (Kevin) Garnett, Detlef Schrempf – just a lot of great players that I’ve been around. He’s right in that category.”

 

Hawks GM: “If we stayed at 3, we would have taken Luka (Doncic)”

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It was the Draft day trade that shook the NBA last June.

In a deal made agreed to before the picks were made, the Atlanta Hawks traded Luka Doncic, taken No. 3, to Dallas for Trae Young (taken fifth), and the Hawks got the Mavericks 2019 first-round pick (top five protected). It forever linked Doncic and Young in the minds of fans (fair or not).

Doncic has gone on to become a historically good rookie — averaging 20.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, he is the Mavs best player, is the runaway Rookie of the Year, and is already a star (who fans almost voted into the All-Star Game) — which has led to a lot of criticism for Atlanta in some quarters for not keeping the pick and Doncic. That despite the fact Young has played well after a slow start (20 points per game with 35.9 percent shooting from three in his last 20 games) and the Hawks got another pick in the deal.

On the Woj Pod with Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Hawks GM Travis Schlenk said that the team would have drafted Doncic if they kept the pick (hat tip Real GM).

“Not a lot of people know this…if we stayed at 3, we would have taken Luka. We had worked with his agent, he did a physical with us that morning in New York…but then Dallas came in an hour or so before the draft. I told them all along that it would take another lottery pick for us to slide back, and that’s when the conversations got started.”

Interestingly, Schlenk added that the team’s analytics department, projecting into next season, played a big role in the deal getting done.

“Our analytics staff was predicting Dallas to finish 8th this year,” added Schlenk.

As of right now (and before the lottery shakes things up), the Mavericks are projected to pick ninth. If that remains, Dallas has a 20.2 percent chance to jump into the top four with the new lottery odds. Otherwise, the pick will go to Atlanta.

Despite Doncic’s play, it’s too early to fully judge the trade. How good will Young become? How high is Doncic’s ceiling? What happens with the future first-round pick, and who will the Hawks get with it?

For a rebuilding team like the Hawks, a second lottery pick to move back a couple of spots can make sense — so long as the guy your trading doesn’t become a superstar. Doncic may become that. Atlanta was higher on Young than many teams, and he has rewarded that faith of late, but how good will he ultimately be? It’s not quite a Sam Bowie pick, but some fans may ultimately see it that way if Doncic’s star continues to rise. However, as Schlenk explained, there were logical reasons to make the trade.

One last look back: Best dunks of All-Star Weekend (VIDEO)

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Defense? That’s one thing that rarely makes an appearance All-Star weekend.

Combine that with the game’s best athletes and what you get are three days of insane dunks.

The NBA put this together, the best dunks of All-Star weekend in Charlotte. Enjoy.