Plenty of big names available to be Lakers next coach. Here’s a list.

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When the Lakers take the court Friday night to take on the banged up Golden State Warriors, Bernie Bickerstaff will coach the Los Angeles Lakers.

Who will coach the team in a couple of weeks is a different question entirely.

The Lakers have fired Mike Brown — when Kobe gives you a death stare it is a DEATH STARE. The Lakers have said they are making a big, national search — which means they are spending to bring in a big name (they just bought out four years of Mike Brown). Before they decide who they hire the Lakers management needs to decide what kind of team they are going to be going forward, what direction to go. Two years ago when Brown was hired it felt more like the Lakers defining themselves as who they were not going to be — they were not Phil Jackson and the triangle. His presence was purged from the organization on several levels.

Here’s a quick list of guys the Lakers could get:

Mike D’Antoni: Lots of Lakers fans asking for him, I don’t think he gets it. On the plus side, he has a great relationship with both Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant (remember Kobe grew up in Italy when D’Antoni was a star player over there). He brings a fun and entertaining style of basketball. Although, we can seriously debate whether this roster, outside of Steve Nash, is suited to play D’Antoni’s up-tempo style. This is an old and slow Lakers team. We saw in New York how things went for him with a roster poorly suited to his needs. Also, his teams never even reached the NBA finals, thanks to Robert Horry’s hip.

Most importantly, there is this from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports and the NBC Sports Network:

Brian Shaw: This is the guy the Lakers players wanted to replace Phil Jackson, and it would have made sense if the Lakers wanted continuity. But Jim Buss wanted to go another direction, to put his stamp on the organization. Shaw is currently a Pacers assistant coach and after interviewing him and saying no so they could hire Brown, would Lakers management really admit that was a mistake and hire Shaw now? Plus, Shaw has never been a head coach and you’re going to hand him the keys to this car and it’s high-powered engine?

Jerry Sloan: The old-school, hard-a** long-time coach of the Jazz would bring some discipline and accountability to a Lakers roster that seemed to be lacking it. He loves the pick-and-roll and the Lakers have the personnel to kill with that play. But Sloan is not young, had trouble getting along with a star player in Utah (Deron Williams) and brings a flex offense that also can take a while to learn. The guy can win, he is loyal, but does he fit with management and the players?

Nate McMillan: The former Sonics and Blazers coach is well-respected by players if not Portland ownership. His teams were notoriously slow paced, which certainly would give the Lakers a style to stick with. However no team of his ever finished in the top half of the league in defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession). Could he do better with Dwight Howard in the mix?

Stan Van Gundy: Um… no. He’s a fantastic coach, but did you watch him and Howard in Orlando and how that went down?

Jeff Van Gundy: His teams always defended hard but were not offensively creative or entertaining (as the Lakers prefer). Plus he seems happy broadcasting, making this a long shot. Still, I love the idea of seeing Jeff Van Gundy grabbing on to Dwight Howard’s leg during an on-court fight just for old time’s sake.

Flip Saunders: Don’t laugh — yes he struggled in Washington but he has won with veteran teams. Not a guy that brings a big presence and structure, he’s more easy going and a players’ coach. A long shot.

Phil Jackson: I know a lot of Lakers fans want to see this happen, but I can’t picture it. For a few reasons. First, when he left more than a year and a half ago, you got the sense he was done with being on the sidelines. He was done with the grind of coaching — long hours, lots of travel, too many short hotel beds and massive egos around. Does he really want to coach again.

The bigger issue is that Jim Buss desperately wanted to put his own stamp on the franchise after Jackson left. It wasn’t just him a lot of people — people who had been with the Lakers for many years — were let go (with the impending lockout used as the excuse). In even a bigger way than bringing back Shaw, bringing back Jackson would be to admit a mistake. I’m not sure Lakers management does that even if Jackson wanted to return. Which he may or may not, he can’t exactly coach via Skype from Montana.

That said, at his press conference Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said Jackson is “not coaching you’d be negligent not to be aware” and at least consider it.

Report: Making 2020 NBA Finals could swing whether Giannis Antetokounmpo signs super-max extension with Bucks

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The honeymoon between Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks is over.

Milwaukee’s superb season ended tonight with a Game 6 loss to the Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals. Already, attention is turning to the 2020 offseason, when Antetokounmpo can sign a five-year super-max extension that projects to be worth $250 million. If he doesn’t, the pressure will turn way up as he approaches unrestricted free agency in 2021.

Antetokounmpo is already applying some.

Malika Andrews of ESPN:

a source close to Antetokounmpo said that getting to the NBA Finals is not just an ambition, it could tip the scales as he weighs his contractual future.

And if they can reach the NBA Finals next season, the Bucks can improve their chances of signing Antetokounmpo to the supermax in the summer of 2020.

Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon will be free agents this summer. It’s unclear how much luxury tax Milwaukee is willing to pay.

This leak could be Antetokounmpo trying to convince the Bucks to pay to keep this team intact.

Would he actually leave Milwaukee? At every turn, he has praised the city and organization. But the Bucks have also been on an upward trajectory for years. As they get closer to the top, it becomes more difficult to maintain that positive momentum. They’re now entering a crucial season with the clear goal of a conference title. That doesn’t leave much room for error.

The Lakers are rumored to be plotting to get Antetokounmpo. If there are signs he’ll actually become available, many other teams will line up just for a chance to sign him. Antetokounmpo is a special player, a superstar at age 24.

He also needed this loss. Having never advanced past the first round before this year, he didn’t fully grasp the high level of play and intensity this deep into playoffs. He hadn’t felt the heartache of coming so close and falling short, a highly effective motivator. Raptors like Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol had already faced these tests, and that had a lot to do with Toronto winning.

I have no doubt this experience will make Antetokounmpo even better.

Antetokounmpo wants to ensure the Bucks match his desire to win. If they do, he and Milwaukee will remain committed to each other. The honeymoon isn’t the end.

But this is when it gets real.

Raptors’ summer gamble pays off with trip to Finals after Game 6 win over Bucks

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Toronto’s big gambles paid off.

Last summer, after five years of winning at least 48 games and looking impressive in the regular season only to stumble in the playoffs, Toronto’s team president Masai Ujiri went all in. He fired the NBA’s coach of the year in Dwane Casey to hire his assistant Nick Nurse, with the hope of installing a more creative offense.

Then they traded fan favorite and (at least to that point) the greatest Toronto Raptor in franchise history to get Kawhi Leonard, a guy coming off an injury that essentially sidelined him for a season. A guy who would be a free agent after one season. Leonard could bolt — like other stars had done north of the border — and leave the Raptors high and dry.

It was all a massive roll of the dice.

Toronto hit their number with that roll — the Raptors are headed to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Toronto stormed from 15 points down in the third behind another monster game from Kawhi Leonard — 27 points, 17 rebounds, 7 assists — and held on to win Game 6 in front of a raucous home crowd, 100-94.

Toronto will host Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday night against the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors.

The Raptors may not be familiar with that stage, but Leonard knows both the Finals stage and that opponent (recall that the last time he faced them Zaza Pachulia slid under his foot on a jumper, spraining Leonard’s ankle and ending San Antonio’s playoff hopes that season). Thoughts about July 1 are banished for now in Toronto, the party is on.

“It means a lot,” long-time Raptor Kyle Lowry said about making the Finals. “It’s taken a long time to get here in my career, 13 years, seven years here [in Toronto]….

“But I’m not satisfied.”

This series changed in Game 3 when Nurse changed things up and had Leonard as the primary defender on Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak still got his, but everything became harder, and as the Raptors slowed the pace their halfcourt defense locked in. On the offensive end, Leonard just made plays.

“He’s a great player, he made some very special plays, give him a ton of credit,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Leonard.

For the Bucks, who had the best record in the NBA this season and a likely MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, this was a learning experience about their shortcomings — both his and the Milwaukee roster. He had 21 points and 11 rebounds, but he was not able to dominate the game like Leonard did in crucial moments. That comes with being just 24 and making a deep playoff run.

“In our minds, we feel he’s going to get a lot better,” Budenholzer said of the Greek Freak. “At 24 some guys are… I don’t want to say they are who they are, but at 24 some of the great ones were the same at 30 and 32 and so forth. Giannis we feel has a lot of room to grow.”

So does the roster around the Greek Freak. Antetokounmpo sat just 7:28 in this game, and that proved to be too much — the Bucks were -9 in those minutes. They lost by six.

Eric Bledsoe struggled again, with 8 points on 9 shots. Khris Middleton — who is a free agent this summer — had 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting.

Still, this is a good team on a learning curve. One with some tough decisions ahead for the front office, but a team on the rise.

They showed that early.

Milwaukee came out playing with a sense of desperation – it showed in their energy and second efforts on defense — but they raced out to a 15-point lead early in the second quarter mostly because they just hit shots. In the first half the Bucks did not get the ball inside (only seven shots at the rim) but were 9-of-18 from three and hit 50 percent of their shots from the midrange. Antetokounmpo had 10 points and seven rebounds and Ersan Ilyasova surprised with nine points in the first 24.

That had the Bucks up 50-43 at the half, but it felt precarious. Then in the third, Milwaukee had an 8-0 run and the lead was pushed to 15 at one point. The Raptors were stumbling. Pascal Siakam hesitated on shots, not trusting himself. Danny Green trusted himself but couldn’t hit anything.

The tide turned thanks to Leonard. The Raptors finished third on 10-0 run — with Leonard scoring or assisting on every bucket — and the lead was down to 5 after three.

Early in the fourth was when Antetokounmpo sat again, and the Raptors went on a 7-2 run to tie the game at 78-78. That lead kept growing and then Leonard did this.

Milwaukee would not go away down the stretch, but Leonard kept making plays while Antetokounmpo and company got tight. Milwaukee could never get back in front.

For the Bucks, it’s a lesson.

For the Raptors, it’s the trip to the Finals they bet big on.

Watch Kawhi Leonard dunk all over Giannis Antetokounmpo, highlight of 26-3 Toronto run

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For most of the first three quarters of Game 6, the Milwaukee Bucks were in control of the game and looked to be on the way to forcing a Game 7.

But Kawhi Leonard sparked a 10-0 run for Toronto to end the third, scoring eight and assisting on a Serge Ibaka bucket.

That run carried over into the fourth and became a 26-3 run that was highlighted by this insane dunk by Leonard over Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Insane.

I’d say that’s Leonard’s best shot as a Raptor if not for the series winner against Philadelphia.

The Bucks responded with a 7-0 run and this game is going to go down to the wire.

Bucks play with desperation, lead by as many as 15 in first half

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If you think a 15-point lead is safe, go talk to a Portland Trail Blazers fan and get back to me.

The Bucks will still take it. Milwaukee has come out with a sense of desperation, but more importantly got to play with some pace and couldn’t miss early from three — they started 4-of-6 and were 7-of-13 from three as of this writing — and what we saw were play after play from the Bucks, the kinds of things we haven’t seen the last three games. They led by 13 after one, and the lead got as high as 15.

Can the Bucks sustain this, or will they cool down as the Raptors heat up? It’s going to be a wild rest of the game in Toronto.

The Raptors are up 3-2 in the series and playing for their first ever franchise trip to the Finals. The Bucks are playing to force a Game 7 Monday back in Milwaukee.