How does Steve Nash fit in with Lakers’ offense, style?

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Back in 2008, when the Suns acquired Shaquille O’Neal, Steve Nash’s transition to running a more traditional offense was described by ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz as “a hummingbird trapped in a sandwich bag”. Forced to play a more slow down style to accommodate a plodding big man that clogged the paint, the visual of that phrase has stuck with me to this day.

The point was clear. Steve Nash needs a certain amount of freedom and space to be at his absolute best.

Now that Nash is a Laker and playing with two big men that love to operate in the paint, a shooting guard that has played on the ball for the majority of his career and in the Princeton offense, will he get it?

Before we go too far down this path, let’s get something out of the way. Steve Nash can fit into any offense. His shooting alone gives him value to any team and makes him a threat in any system. Add his creativity off the dribble, his floor vision, and his ability to control the tempo of the game as a floor general and he’s a point guard in the truest sense. Give him any playbook and time to learn it and he’ll orchestrate the offense very well.

Carrying that logic forward to the Lakers, Nash will be fine running the Princeton offense under head coach Mike Brown and assistant Eddie Jordan. Nash is smart enough to find spots on and off the ball where he can do damage and is skilled enough to execute once the opportunity presents itself. He’s Steve Nash.

That said, when you zoom in, there are things to look for that can be seen as potential roadblocks that will need to be overcome. First, Nash will be giving up the ball early in possessions for the first time since his days as a Maverick. In the Princeton offense Nash will pass to a teammate and either screen for someone or cut through to the weak side. Nash will need to re-acclimate to playing off the ball in this manner. He’s used to coming back and getting the ball when an action breaks down, not spotting up and working off his teammates. This will take time to adjust to.

Second, Nash will need to get used to playing with players who have the versatility to play all over the floor. In Phoenix Nash played with a bunch of specialists. He played with three point shooters and slashers on the wing and big men that thrived on setting screens and diving to the rim. With the Lakers, he’ll be in a lineup with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace and none of them are, by definition, specialists.

Instead, all three of them will operate on the wing and in the post. All of them can (and will) play at the elbow or the baseline. All are used to creating for themselves in isolation and can work well as cutters off the ball. This versatility has helped define their careers as offensive threats (especially Kobe and Pau who, to be fair, are a level above MWP at this stage in their respective careers). Nash will need to adjust to them, where they like to operate on the floor and how they like to operate on offense. Again, this will take time.

Ultimately, though, Nash has a few things going for him that will make this transition easier.

First, he will start nearly every possession with the ball in his hands and will quarterback the Lakers’ offense. He can decide how Lakers’ possessions begin and how they evolve simply by being the trigger man. If Nash wants to run a pick and roll to start a Lakers’ set, he can. If he wants to work an action where Kobe will get the ball early and be the primary option, he can do that too. If it’s time to get Gasol or Howard a touch in the post, Nash can make that happen simply by organizing his teammates and dictating how the play unfolds. Nash has that power and it has been bestowed on him by his head coach.

Second is that Mike Brown wants his team playing at a faster tempo than they showed last season. In Brown’s introductory press conference a year ago, one of his key offensive principles was to push the ball up the floor. The only problem was that the Lakers didn’t really have the personnel to do that (I’m looking at you, Andrew Bynum). This season, some of the more slow footed players are gone and that will allow Nash to increase the speed at which the Lakers play. He’ll get more early offense opportunities and can create more plays in transition.

Third, the Lakers have the yang to Nash’s yin in Dwight Howard. Simply put, Nash is one of the very best pick and roll guards and the Lakers have themselves the most devastating pick and roll finisher in Howard. Nash, if you listen to Mike Brown, will have the opportunity to run pick and rolls to start every possession if that’s what he chooses. Whenever Howard and Nash share the floor, they’ll be able to go away from the Princeton and instead unleash the play that’s been the bread and butter action for both of them for years. The ability to fall back on this should a play break down really can’t be overvalued.

In the end, what Nash’s success will really come down to is 1). time to gain a comfort level on this new team and everything that comes with that and 2). developing a balance in how he wants to play within the styles of offense that are presented each trip down the floor. There will be some restrictions based off the structure of the Princeton. But there will also be freedoms in the form of decision making and (particularly with Howard and Pau) partners he can work with to run the types of actions he’s had most of his success with over the years.

There will be hiccups along the way and challenges that will need to be overcome. But don’t mistake that for not fitting. After all, he’s Steve Nash. He fits into any offense you want to run.

Wes Unseld Jr., Kenny Atkinson reportedly top list for next Chicago coach

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Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley, the two guys at the top of Chicago Bulls basketball operations, fired a coach in Jim Boylen that the team owner liked. Which means they have to nail the next hire.

Chicago in on to the second round of interviews and four names stand out, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Bulls are narrowing to finalists for their head coaching job and expect to conduct final interviews soon, sources said. Denver assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Philadelphia assistant Ime Udoka, Milwaukee assistant Darvin Ham and former Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson are among the coaches who have had strong interviews so far.

Atkinson has a more proven resume after what he did in Brooklyn, but the other three are top assistants who have earned their shot in the big chair. Unseld Jr. is a hot name right now because his team is still in the bubble and playing well — he’s Mike Malone’s lead assistant on the Denver Nuggets — but every name on this list is qualified.

Whoever lands the job will head a team with plenty of potential but also plenty of questions. The Bulls have quality young talent on the roster — Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter — but do they are fit together? How good Chicago is next season may depend more on the growth of White and the health of Markkanen than it does on who gets selected as coach.

Expect Karnisovas to spend a year putting his stamp on this roster and moving players around. First, however, he’s got to find his coach.

Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin form NASCAR racing team with Bubba Wallace driving

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Michael Jordan is getting into the NASCAR game.

The North Carolina native has teamed up with three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin to form a new NASCAR Cup Series race team — and they’ve signed Bubba Wallace to drive.

Wallace is the only Black man driving full-time in NASCAR’s top series (the previous three seasons he raced for Richard Petty Motorsports). Wallace has been at the forefront of bringing social changes to NASCARincluding the banning of the Confederate flags at NASCAR events and tracks.

“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said in a statement. “The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me.

“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”

Michael Jordan becomes the first Black owner of a full-time race team in NASCAR top series since NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott in the 1960s and early 1970s (he owned the team and drove the car). Bubba Wallace is the first Black full-time driver in the top NASCAR series since Scott.

Hamlin will be a minority partner in the new team and continue to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” said Wallace in a statement. “Both Michael and Denny are great competitors and are focused on building the best team they possibly can to go out and compete for race wins. I’m grateful and humbled that Michael and Denny believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”

The car manufacturer, number, sponsors and more will be announced at a later date.

Jordan is the primary owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.

NBA executives pick Luka Doncic as best player under 25 to build around

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Luka Doncic, in his second season, made the leap into the NBA’s elite — fourth in MVP voting and First Team All-NBA. All at age 21.

Not surprisingly, he’s the player under 21 NBA teams would want to build around.

Michael Scotto of Hoopshype polled 15 league executives (including four general managers) and players under 25 they want to build around and Doncic was the unanimous choice.

“To me, Luka is the clear No. 1,” one scout told HoopsHype. “He’s a guy who can be a lead ballhandler. He’s good enough to score and create at a high level, has the right mental makeup and is incredibly smart. He’s been a winner everywhere and will probably be a winner in the league.”

It’s hard to argue when Luka Doncic is already doing this in the playoffs:

Boston’s Jayson Tatum came in second, Phoenix Devin Booker was third, followed by Ja Morant (Memphis) fourth and a tie at fifth between Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Bam Adebayo (Miami).

An interesting note about that top five: None of them was a No. 1 pick.

Zion Williamson had been on top of this poll a year ago, but after a season where he played just 19 games then looked a step slow in the bubble there are concerns about his long-term health.

“He’s just a special player inside the arc who’s an elite finisher,” one executive told HoopsHype. “Offensively, he can finish at an elite rate. He’s one of the best finishers behind Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and LeBron (James). He can hit the open man. He’s so physically dominant. His shooting shouldn’t be a problem, but we’ll see. I think he’s always going to be hurt, though.”

One healthy dominant season from Williamson and those opinions could shift, but even then Doncic will be an MVP level player the Mavericks can build a contender around. He’s the guy under 25.

Report: Raptors coach Nick Nurse earning $8M salary on extension

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Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich reportedly had an $11 million salary in 2015 then signed a contract extension in 2019 that keeps him the NBA’s highest-paid coach. Doc Rivers was earning $10 million annually with the Clippers before his latest extension. Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra also signed extensions in recent years.

What about Nick Nurse, who just signed an extension with the Raptors?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Raptors coach Nick Nurse signed a new multiyear contract extension on Tuesday — a deal that pays him around $8 million per year, sources say.

That’s a lot for a coach, especially in these times.

But Nurse has proven his value. He might even be the NBA’s best coach right now. He checks so many key boxes.

He has shown the ability to prepare his team for the playoffs then adapt through a long playoff run. His players have developed under his watch. He has dealt with roster upheaval and kept everything humming.

After just two seasons as head coach, Nurse still must prove himself in more situations, especially as opposing teams become more familiar with his strategies. But Toronto should want to keep him.

Credit Raptors ownership for paying to make it happen.

Now onto Raptors president Masai Ujiri