NBA Summer League: Where Chris Copeland comes to shine

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The NBA Summer League season continued on Sunday with seven more games of players looking to reach the next level by way of a couple solid exhibition games in lovely Las Vegas. It doesn’t seem like anyone is a can’t miss signee quite yet, but the odds began to favor a few players that have begun to stand out as games extended to both the Cox Pavilion and Thomas & Mack Center.

Chris Copeland continued his run of impressive play for the New York Knicks as the 6-foot-8 power forward formerly of Colorado scored 17 points and swatted two shots in a 25-point loss to the Phoenix Suns. Copeland wasn’t on the radar of hardly any American basketball fans considering the former Colorado Buffalo has spent the past few years bouncing around overseas in Belgium, Germany, Holland and Spain, but he’s looked like a hidden gem thus far in Vegas.

The 28-year-old is an undersized power forward as far as NBA standards and doesn’t quite have the tenacity most are looking for from undersized bigs at the next level, but he’s proven to be a pretty good player in this setting through the first couple of Knicks games. If an NBA contract doesn’t await, he shouldn’t have any trouble making plenty of money in Europe next season — while probably moving up from the Belgium league, to boot.

Some of the other standouts from Sunday night included the following layers:

  • On the other end of the court from Copeland was Deshawn Sims, a former D-Leaguer who has also spent time playing in South Korea, Puerto Rico and Greece prior to joining the Phoenix Suns’ Summer League entry. Sims wasn’t nearly as good as Markieff Morris — who was clearly the best player on the Phoenix roster — but showed some nice things on his way to 16 points, three rebounds and two 3-pointers to boot. Diante Garrett and Marcus Landry, brother of Carl, also played well. Landry scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds whereas Garrett narrowly missed a double-double with eight points and 10 assists.
  • Damian Lillard had what might’ve been the most impressive Summer League debut for a rookie this season. The Portland Trail Blazers’ first round pick scored 25 points and dished four assists while fellow first round pick Meyers Leonard put up a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Luke Babbitt was also impressive for the Blazers with 19 points and 10 rebounds — while shooting 4-of-9 from behind the 3-point line, no less — though Wesley Matthews struggled to seven points and three turnovers in less than 15 minutes of playing time.
  •  The rookies on the other side of the ball weren’t quite as impressive in defeat, but the New Orleans Hornets have some solid players in Vegas. Austin Rivers got off to a bit of a bad start with 14 points on 3-of-13 shooting and Xavier Henry’s 11 points on 2-of-7 shooting was less than impressive, but it was fun seeing Denzel Bowles do his thing with 18 points and 12 rebounds off the bench.
  • In the second game of the day, Josh Carter might’ve helped make a name for himself when his Denver Nuggets played the Dallas Mavericks. The former Texas A&M standout was inserted into the starting lineup and responded by showing his shooting is where it needs to be for him to play in the NBA by hitting three of his five attempts from beyond the 3-point arc to tally 15 total points.
  • Dallas Mavericks guard Dominique Jones played very well on his way to 32 points and eight rebounds, but he unfortunately was unable to show he has the pass-first mentality some had hoped for to allow him to play the point guard position. As far as this year’s picks were concerned, Jae Crowder showed the hustle he’ll need to exhibit this fall on his way to nine points and five rebounds — though his inability to score efficiently (4-of-12 from the field) probably didn’t help his cause.
  • The Toronto Raptors looked awful on their way to just 59 points on Sunday afternoon, but it was a welcome sight to see Chris Wright on the court. Wright played for the Golden State Warriors last season, but was a surprise addition to the Raptors this offseason as it was expected he’d be able to compete for a roster spot this fall. The athlete still trying to figure out his basketball skills scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds despite shooting 3-of-9 from the field.
  • The team that held Toronto  to just 59 points was the Miami Heat and, though it looked like the majority of the flaws were simply due to inefficient offense, the Heat brought a pretty talented backcourt to Vegas. Terrel Harris and Norris Cole, both of which can count themselves as NBA champions, combined to score 14 and 13 points respectively — while Harris added four steals to boot.
  • Kawhi Leonard was the expected standout for the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday afternoon while Cory Joseph showed some signs of potential, but the team’s third-leading scorer was a bit less likely. Longtime Austin Toros center Eric Dawson was given the start for the Spurs on Sunday and delivered a solid performance with 12 points, 13 rebounds and and a block while showing that he might have a chance at making the Spurs roster as an end of the bench big man.
  • The Atlanta Hawks — the team the Spurs beat — didn’t have a ton of bright spots but Keith Benson again showed that he can play with heart that wasn’t seen enough during his rookie season. The slender forward from Oakland (Mich.) scored 20 points and grabbed six rebounds while fellow former D-Leaguer Brad Wanamaker had nine points and eight rebounds. John Jenkins, the team’s draft pick, wasn’t as stellar as some had hoped with 13 points and three missed 3-pointers.
  •   The Cleveland Cavaliers are without Kyrie Irving due to a freak injury and unfortunately first round draft pick Dion Waiters was unable to impress in his absence as the guard went 3-for-11 and finished with just 10 points. The team’s other draft pick, Tyler Zeller, was quite a bit better with 14 points and five rebounds … though nothing he did was overwhelmingly amazing.
  • The Charlotte Bobcats missed out on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist due to a sore knee — called precautionary — but the team still had plenty of players on its current roster in the game. Kemba Walker scored 13 points with four assists, Bismack Biyombo picked up six points to go with his eight rebounds and Byron Mullens had a solid nine and eight.
  • The NBA D-League Select Team shocked the world on Sunday night as they mostly dominated on the way to an 85-78 victory over the Washington Wizards. The roster is perfectly made for head coach Eric Musselman‘s defensive system and it showed as they looked like they might blow out Washington. Andre Emmett led the team with 17 points and four assists while Jerry Smith had important 11 points — the majority of which came in the third quarter as the D-League squad came back.
  • Washington was led by Bradley Beal as the third overall pick scored 20 points on 15 shots — including going just 1-of-7 from beyond the arc — but the team didn’t seem to go to him enough early if they were trying to win. One bright spot might’ve been Earl Calloway, who played with Tomas Satoransky in Spain this season, but his 12 points and six rebounds weren’t enough to outweigh four rather costly turnovers.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the rest of the teams play on Sunday to see if any new stars are born.

Igor Kokoskov joins unfortunate ranks of head coaches fired after first NBA season

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Igor Kokoskov worked 18 years as an NBA assistant coach. The Serbia native worked tirelessly to convince teams he was more than just a mentor for European players. Finally, the Suns hired him as their head coach.

“It’s a dream job,” Kokoskov beamed. “And it’s a special day for me.”

Less than a year later, Phoenix fired him.

What a tough business.

The Suns gave Kokoskov a roster ill-equipped to win. They were comically thin at point guard. They had one of the NBA’s least-experienced teams. Even rising star Devin Booker still has significant flaws that inhibit his ability to win. Veterans like Trevor Ariza and Tyson Chandler appeared apathetic in Phoenix.

And now Kokoskov will pay the price for the Suns’ 19-win season.

His time as an NBA head coach is over already, and he might not get another opportunity. Kokoskov is the first coach to get fired after his first season as an NBA head coach since Mike Dunlap with Charlotte in 2013.

Here’s every coach to get fired after only one season, or less, of his first head-coaching job since the NBA-ABA merger. Interim seasons count only if the coach was retained the following year.

Season Tm Coach W L Future jobs
2018-19 PHO Igor Kokoskov 19 63
2012-13 CHA Mike Dunlap 21 61
2010-11 GSW Keith Smart 36 46 SAC
2008-09 DET Michael Curry 39 43
2007-08 CHA Sam Vincent 32 50
2003-04 PHI Randy Ayers 21 31
2003-04 TOR Kevin O’Neill 33 49
2000-01 WAS Leonard Hamilton 19 63
1999-00 WAS Gar Heard 14 30
1999 DEN Mike D’Antoni 14 36 PHO, NYK, LAL, HOU
1997-98 DEN Bill Hanzlik 11 71
1996-97 PHI Johnny Davis 22 60 ORL
1995-96 TOR Brendan Malone 21 61
1993-94 DAL Quinn Buckner 13 69
1992-93 SAS Jerry Tarkanian 9 11
1987-88 PHO John Wetzel 28 54
1983-84 SAS Morris McHone 11 20
1980-81 CLE Bill Musselman 25 46 MIN
1979-80 LAL Jack McKinney 10 4 IND, KCK
1977-78 SEA Bob Hopkins 5 17
1976-77 BUF Tates Locke 16 30

Of the 21 coaches fired in or following their first season as an NBA head coach, only five – Keith Smart, Mike D’Antoni, Johnny Davis, Bill Musselman and Jack McKinney – got another head-coaching job. Kokoskov faces long odds.

At least he got to finish the season. Phoenix had a late 5-2 stretch that included wins over the Bucks and Warriors. That could be a selling point for Kokoskov.

Randy Ayers (2003-04 76ers), Gar Heard (1999-00 Wizards), Jerry Tarkanian (1992-93 Spurs), Morris McHone (1983-84 Spurs), Bill Musselman (1980-81 Cavaliers), Bob Hopkins (1977-78 Seattle SuperSonics) and Tates Locke (1976-77 Buffalo Braves) all got fired during their first seasons as NBA head coaches. Jack McKinney (1979-80 Lakers) lost his job due to a bicycle crash during the season, and Los Angeles officially fired him after the season to keep Paul Westhead, who guided the team to a title in McKinney’s absence.

The Suns weren’t necessarily wrong to fire Kokoskov. Under his watch, they were sloppy and undisciplined and had chemistry problems – areas where the head coach usually gets credit or blame. General manager James Jones deserves a chance to hire his own coach.

Kokoskov might be a good coach. Even if he’s not, he could grow into one.

But he didn’t do enough to secure his job, as tall as that task might have been.

The above list is filled with coaches who had awful records. McKinney is the only one with a winning record, and his situation was complicated by the bike crash. Michael Curry (2008-09 Pistons) is only first-time head coach to take his team to the playoffs and still get fired since the merger, but Detroit had a losing record and got swept in the first round.

In many ways, it’s unfortunate Kokoskov didn’t get a better chance to prove himself. His job security took a major hit when the Suns fired the general manager, Ryan McDonough, who hired Kokoskov before the coach’s first season even began. Kokoskov survived rumors of a potential firing in February, but that was clearly only a stay of execution.

The Suns’ problems go way above the head coach, and Kokoskov’s experience in Phoenix could dissuade potential candidates from replacing him.

But there are only 30 NBA head-coaching jobs. Except for the most-coveted candidates, many coaches would rush to take this job.

As precarious as it can be.

Blake Griffin joined in on the “refs you suck” chant in Detroit

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The Pistons didn’t get swept by the Bucks because of the officiating, but the calls did frustrate Detroit and their fans throughout the series. (Good luck finding a fan base that doesn’t believe the officials have it in for them.)

During the Pistons’ Game 4 loss, frustrated fans started a “refs you suck” chant that reverberated throughout the arena. Blake Griffin got in on the act, quietly joining in with the chants.

Griffin continued to express his frustration with how the game was officiated from the podium after the game.

Griffin missed the first two games of the series, then tried to play through a knee issue the last two, wearing a bulky brace the entire time. Griffin made plays and the Pistons looked better, but it was never going to be enough. When his pain caught up with him and Griffin was taken out of the game in the fourth, Pistons fans gave him a standing ovation.

Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Donovan Mitchell, Utah will not go quietly

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The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Donovan Mitchell, Utah bounce back from Game 3 meltdown to beat Rockets, extend series. There’s a “what if” factor to Utah’s win on Monday night that might be hard for Jazz fans to ignore: What if the Utah Jazz had won Game 3 on Saturday when James Harden had a rough night shooting? What if Donovan Mitchell hadn’t melted down late in that game?

Jazz fans should not fall for that temptation and instead should savor what was a brilliant Game 4 win at home. The kind of game a team with real pride plays, the type of game where they played with the desperation needed in the postseason. A game where the Jazz were the aggressors from the opening tip, and a game where Mitchell scored 19 of his 31 in the fourth to spark a 107-91 win.

Mitchell had some help when he wasn’t red hot. Jae Crowder finished with 23 points and had 14 of those in the first quarter, while Ricky Rubio added 18 points and 11 assists. Those two served as the secondary playmakers Utah often needs (but doesn’t consistently get) to balance out what Mitchell can do.

The Jazz defended better, too. Sure, James Harden had 30 points on 19 shots and got his. Chris Paul had 23 points and played well, also. However, all the other Rockets combined to shoot 29.3 percent on the night, then while Mitchell was going off in the fourth quarter the Rockets were 0-of-13 from three.

Houston was motivated to get the win, they could have packed some extra rest in the schedule while Golden State keeps playing. The Jazz were more motivated, more desperate, and there will be a Game 5. The Jazz are not going to win this series, and they can break it all down when it’s over, but for now they played with pride, and because of that will get to play another day.

2) Milwaukee sweeps Detroit out of playoffs, now real test comes for Bucks. The last time the Milwaukee Bucks won a playoff series, “All For You” by Janet Jackson was on everybody’s radio and we were going to the theater to see “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and “Driven” (and then regretting it).

That was 2001, but the Bucks swept into the second round on Monday night behind 41 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo, beating the Pistons 127-104.

Detroit played hard and was frustrated at points, but this series was not about the officiating. One team was better than the other. Blake Griffin did what he could and played through a leg injury that should have sidelined him — and Pistons fans recognized that and the season he had with a standing ovation.

The Bucks move on and will face the Boston Celtics in the next round (dates and times have yet to be announced for the series, but a smart bet would be a start next weekend). This will be a challenging matchup for Milwaukee — if Al Horford is playing well, hitting jumpers and stretching the floor, it will start to pull Brook Lopez out of the paint and challenge the Bucks’ defensive system. Kyrie Irving will be tough for Eric Bledsoe to contain, but Antetokounmpo and company will be a challenge for the Celtics. These teams went seven games in the playoffs a season ago (Boston winning), both teams are better this time around, and both have a lot to prove. Things are about to get very interesting in the East.

3) The Phoenix Suns fire coach Igor Kokoskov, the only stable thing in Phoenix is the Suns’ instability. The Phoenix Suns will hire a new coach in the coming weeks, and whoever it is will enter the revolving door — the next coach will be the Suns’ seventh in the last eight years.

The Suns fired coach Igor Kokoskov on Monday night after one season. A season where the first-time head coach was handed a young roster that lacked a point guard or solid veteran leader. The roster was doomed to fail, and it’s no surprise they started 4-18. But the Suns improved. Kelly Oubre Jr. was added to the roster, Devin Booker improved, Deandre Ayton was growing, and the team showed improvement and played well for stretches near the end of the season. There was something to build on.

Or not.

The Suns reportedly want to go hard at Sixers assistant coach Monty Williams for their head job. Williams will have a second interview with the Lakers next week, so the Suns are playing catchup. Remember that the Suns recently hired Jeff Bower as their senior vice president of basketball operations, and in case you didn’t know Bower gave Monty Williams his first head coaching job (hiring him to coach the Hornets back when Bower was the GM there). We’ll see if that moves the Suns to the front of the line.

However, this firing just continues the pattern of instability and a lack of top-down vision for the Suns, which starts with meddling owner Robert Sarver. Williams, or any coach with good options, may want to think twice about stepping into the revolving coaching door in Phoenix.

Donovan Mitchell goes off for 19 in fourth quarter, Jazz hold off elimination with win

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This game just felt different — the Utah Jazz were playing with a passionate desperation we had not seen from them all series. Down 3-0 to Houston, Utah did not want to be swept out of the playoffs on their home court. The Jazz defended better, got a big night from Jae Crowder (14 points in the first quarter alone), and were knocking down shots.

But Utah could not pull away. Houston was always within striking distance.

Until the fourth quarter.

That’s when Utah went on a 12-1 run early, sparked by Donovan Mitchell who had 19 in the fourth, and the Jazz created some separation and held on for the 107-91 win.

Mitchell finished with 31 on the night.

Mitchell had some help. Crowder finished with 23 points, while Ricky Rubio added 18 points and 11 assists.

“We were okay until the last quarter… again, they had more of a desperation than we had,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said.

James Harden got his, 30 points on 19 shots, in part because he went 6-of-12 from three. Chris Paul had 23 as well. All the other Rockets combined to shoot 29.3 percent on the night. In the fourth, the Rockets were 0-of-13 from three.

For the Rockets this is a blown chance to get more rest. The Warriors play Wednesday night in Game 5 of their series, if the Rockets had closed the series out they could have had a little more rest. Instead, they also now have a Game 5 Wednesday.

For the Jazz, this was a matter of pride, they finally found what it would take for them to beat the Rockets. It was their most energized defensive performance of the series, and the shots were falling. The series is not in doubt — no team has ever come back from a 0-3 deficit to win a series — but the Jazz showed the fight and resilience we have come to expect from a Quin Snyder coached team.

Will that be enough Wednesday night is another question.