Mike D’Antoni a better long-term choice than Phil Jackson

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It was certainly a surprise when the news broke late Sunday night that Mike D’Antoni had been hired by the Lakers as their new head coach. The job was believed to be Phil Jackson’s if he wanted it, while a second meeting between Jackson and the Lakers appeared to be in the works, perhaps to finalize all of the details.

But something changed within the Lakers organization, and changed quickly. Whether it was too many demands from Jackson to return — which may have included a request for an ownership stake in the team, as well as the ability to pick and choose which road games he’d travel for — or something else, the team abruptly shifted its paradigm.

While Jackson may have been the popular choice and the one that fans were clamoring for, D’Antoni is the smarter one. The fact is that D’Antoni is a better fit for the long-term plans of the franchise than Jackson would have been, for a variety of reasons.

It’s easy to understand why everyone in L.A. would want Jackson back on the bench. Five championships won with Kobe Bryant for starters, along with a veteran pedigree and vast knowledge of the inner-workings of the Lakers family-run organizational dynamic seemed to make him a logical choice.

But for how long?

This is the problem, and it’s why the Lakers ultimately went with someone else.

For all of Jackson’s successes, let’s not gloss over his failures. When we last saw him roaming the Lakers sidelines, Jackson seemed to lack the necessary passion to get his team to play at the required level in the 2011 playoffs. Dallas swept a Lakers team out of the second round that was favored to win a third straight championship, and did so in fairly humiliating fashion.

The issue with that team, evident to anyone, was its sense of entitlement. Two straight titles had brought an unhealthy mentality that the Lakers would somehow find a way to win games without expending the necessary effort, simply because it had the most talented roster.

Sound like something that might have happened this year, with this team?

Even if Jackson had been able to coach this team to a title, there’s no guarantee he’d stick around to do it again next year. Reports had him wanting to mentor a young coach to hand the team over to after he was done, which may have been Brian Shaw, Scottie Pippen, or someone else.

If that was the case (and another demand in the negotiation process that may have made the organization sour on the idea), there’s no guarantee that Dwight Howard — remember, an unrestricted free agent this summer — would want to go through another coaching change, especially if he was fortunate enough to have already won that ring.

There’s all the talk about the extra millions Howard is eligible for under the collective bargaining agreement if he re-signs in L.A., but for a player with over $100 million in career earnings who might have gotten the career validation that comes with a title, it would be easy to see him choosing somewhere else to play the remainder of his years. That would essentially place the Lakers in a full-fledged rebuilding mode with an aging or perhaps already-retired Kobe Bryant, and would do so with an inexperienced head coach in charge.

Now obviously, that’s a whole lot of future speculation for a team that’s really only focused on winning this season. But there’s no guarantee that would have happened, despite Jackson’s resume.

Mike D’Antoni has relationships with Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, and won’t over-complicate the offense. On the defensive end, it’ll be amazing how quickly his reputation there will magically improve with Howard patrolling the paint.

Most importantly, the Lakers get a head coach who’s hungry for a championship, and in it for more than just this season. The same couldn’t possibly have been said with any certainty when considering Phil Jackson.

Former Knicks center Joakim Noah: ‘I’m too lit to play in New York City’

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When Joakim Noah signed a four-year, $72 million contract with the Knicks in 2016, his father – former tennis star Yannick Noah – boasted about how well his son would fit in New York:

“He knows the city,” Yannick Noah said. “He was born here. It’s not like he’s coming from the countryside and he’s coming to New York City. He lived here for a long time. Of course, it can be dangerous for an athlete. But he knows and he’s so motivated. It’s a great opportunity for him. He’s going to give all he has for the city.”

Oops.

Noah played terribly, got suspended for taking a banned substance and feuded with his coach. Before this season, the Knicks cut him, preferring to pay him out than have him continue to occupy a roster spot.

Noah, who previously played for the Bulls, signed with the Grizzlies. He’s now addressing what went wrong in New York.

Noah on the Chris Vernon Show:

I could look back on it and say I thought I was ready for New York City, but I wasn’t. And it’s something that I’ve got to live with.

Not just the pressure. I remember after the first game, I probably had, like, 60 people in my house. I’m too lit. I’m too lit to play in New York City. I’m too lit to play in New York City. Memphis is perfect for me.

We were lit in Chicago, but I was young. So, you recover faster, you know? You recover faster.

I respect the honesty. Not many players would have revealed so much about their partying.

But I’m also not convinced a smaller market will fix Noah.

The 33-year-old might just be too worn down to help an NBA team.

Anthony Davis doing it all for Pelicans

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DETROIT – Anthony Davis repeatedly entered and exited the visitors’ locker room after the Pelicans win over the Pistons on Sunday. At a time most players go from their locker to the shower and back then leave, Davis was busy. He visited with people in the hall. He breezed back by his locker then left to attend to other matters. He returned again and, before showering, turned to the assembled media.

“Y’all need me?” Davis asked.

Davis is used to getting pulled in every direction and still being needed even more.

The superstar is having another MVP-ballot-caliber season. Yet, New Orleans is just 15-15, 11th in the Western Conference.

It’s for a lack of effort by Davis. He has expanded his game offensively. Playing center regularly, his defensive responsibilities are as great as ever. And he leads the NBA with 37.0 minutes per game.

“You don’t have Secretariat run half the race then step out because it might be too far,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “No. You’ve got a great player, you use him the best you can.”

New Orleans has little choice but to lean heavily on Davis. With him on the floor vs. off, the Pelicans score 9.7 more points and allow 6.2 fewer points per 100 possessions.

Put another way: New Orleans plays like a 59-win team with Davis and a 20-win team without him.

Here are the leaders in win-rate difference with off-court on the left, on-court on the right and difference between (minimum: 300 minutes):

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It helps Davis plays a large majority of minutes with Jrue Holiday, who actually rates better by this metric. But Davis is clearly driving New Orleans’ success.

Not only does Davis lead the NBA in real plus-minus (+7.11), he does so with an unparalleled two-way efficiency. Nobody nears his combination of offensive (+3.73) and defensive (+3.38) real plus-minus.

Here’s every NBA player by offensive and defensive real plus-minus with the positive outliers’ photos:

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Davis is producing in all his usual ways – 28.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 1.7 steals per game. But he’s also averaging 4.7 assists per game, more than double his previous career high.

The Pelicans increased their pace and passing last year, and the system did wonders for setting up Davis. But they lost key component Rajon Rondo in free agency last summer, and replacement starting point guard Elfrid Payton has missed most of this season due to injury.

So, Davis has stepped up.

He’s done it while continuing to protect the ball, an overlooked but important aspect of his game. His assist-to-turnover ratio is better than 2-to-1, impressive for a big.

Davis faces frequent double-teams and generates many of his assists by passing out of those:

After scoring so well in transition for so long, Davis is now taking advantage of his speed by playmaking in the open court:

Davis has also become adept at flipping short passes to a teammate then walking into a screen ball screen. That threat has sparked more creative options with Davis’ improved distributing abilities:

Davis’ teammates appear invigorated to receive his passes.

They run the court with him on fastbreaks. They cut actively. They re-position themselves around the 3-point arc to create passing angles.

With Davis attracting so much defensive attention, openings abound.

“He just finds me, and it’s an easy look,” said Nikola Mirotic, who’s shooting 70% on 2-pointers and 52% on 3-pointers off passes from Davis.

Davis keeps putting more on his plate. He said he has to play nearly perfectly for the Pelicans to win, and he hasn’t shrunk from that responsibility. In fact, he keeps raising his personal standard.

New Orleans is trying to keep up. The Pelicans are reportedly one of the most active buyers on the trade market, but they lack trade chips beyond their draft picks. Davis is propping up a mediocre supporting cast.

Of course, Davis will be eligible for a super-max extension – which projects to be worth about $240 million over five years – this offseason. That will be the moment of truth for his future in New Orleans.

Most players so good on teams so bad would have left already.

But Davis – for now, at least – is still with the Pelicans, still doing everything he can to carry them.

“Being the guy on the team, the leader, franchise player you say,” Davis said, “the team asks a lot of me. So, anything less than what they expect, it’s on me.

“Anybody who wants to be that great player, it comes with the territory.”

Jimmy Butler may miss 76ers-Pacers

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Coming off just their second home loss of the season, a 127-124 defeat to the visiting Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, the Philadelphia 76ers now have to deal with the freight train that is the Indiana Pacers at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Wells Fargo Center.

Indiana has won five straight, including a 16-point win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night, the team’s seventh win in nine games. The Pacers have crept up to within a half-game of Philadelphia in the standings at 18-10 (the Sixers are 19-10) by relying on one of the deepest offenses in the league.

On Wednesday in the 113-97 win over the Bucks, Indiana had six players in double-figures (Milwaukee had four) and the Pacers’ reserves outscored the Bucks’ 34-25. Indiana’s backups also stifled a Milwaukee offense that shot 41 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range, with Giannis Antetokounmpo finishing with just 12 points.

“That second unit is back intact and we want to continue to build off of what we are doing and establish ourselves as this team that keeps guys out of the paint and focuses on limiting rotations so that teams are trying to beat us over the top,” head coach Nate McMillan said. “That way we can stay at home with our man, box out and rebound.”

With Victor Oladipo back from a knee injury that sidelined him 11 games, Indiana is back at a full complement of players and climbing in the East.

“Guys stepped up and played huge,” Oladipo said after his first game back. “Myles (Turner), Thad (Young), D.C. (Darren Collison) hit big shots down the stretch. I’m just glad to be back to help.”

Oladipo’s return complicates things for the 76ers, who could be without star Jimmy Butler for the second straight game with a strained groin. Butler’s absence was missed against the Nets on Wednesday as Brooklyn shot 51 percent from the field, with Spencer Dinwiddie contributing a career-high 39 points off the bench.

“When you look at the bench scoring, we got hurt there tonight; I give their bench credit,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “I give Brooklyn a lot of credit. I think that they are a good team to begin with. I do not feel like their record reflects how good they are, I especially know that no matter what their record said, we struggle with that type of team and we did tonight. It doesn’t discount for me that we do struggle with that type of team.”

Even with Joel Embiid‘s 17 rebounds to go along with 33 points, the Sixers still managed to just tie the Nets in boards at 41 while Brooklyn made it to the free-throw line for an absurd 43 attempts, making an even more impressive 37 of them.

“I think that some of it was bad defense, some of it was let down schematically, some of our good shooters still getting off shots, I think it’s a hybrid of them making some shots, us being a C- at times with our aggression and maybe a C schematically trying to execute a game with their individual players. I would put some blame proportionally all over the place.”

Lakers defend Rockets with hands behind their backs (video)

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James Harden made 18-of-19 free throws in the Rockets’ win over the Lakers last night.

Think that got to the Lakers? At times, they defended with their hands behind their backs.

LeBron James, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

“Just trying to defend without fouling,” said James, who briefly locked his hands behind his body on a Rockets possession in the third quarter. “That’s a point of emphasis any time you play Houston. They got guys that can sell calls really good — Chris [Paul] and James [Harden] — so you got to try to keep your hands out of the cookie jar.”

This is what Harden – and, to a lesser extent, Paul – do. Harden is so good at drawing fouls. That’s a skill – one that pays off in numerous ways.

It generates efficient free throws. It puts opponents in foul trouble. And it irritates opponents.

The Lakers sabotaged themselves to prove a point. That’s how in their head Harden and the Rockets got.

Maybe it’ll pay off in the long run, with referees second-guessing fouls Harden draws. But last night, it just exposed the Lakers’ frustration.