Phil Jackson out of picture, Mike D’Antoni signs to be Lakers new coach

78 Comments

At Staples Center Sunday night, it felt around the Lakers and their fans that anyone not named Phil Jackson as the next coach was going to be the consolation prize.

If so, this is a pretty darn good one.

Mike D’Antoni has signed a contract and has been announced as the Lakers new coach with a press conference in the next couple of days, a story first broken by Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times and now confirmed by the Lakers themselves. He takes over for Mike Brown, who lasted just five games into this season (1-4 record).

D’Antoni and the Lakers have agreed to a three-year deal for $12 million. Those three years is  coincidentally is how long Steve Nash’s contract is for (or, maybe not so coincidentally).

When D’Antoni takes over the team remains a question — he had knee replacement surgery three weeks ago and is not terribly mobile yet. It is expected Bernie Bickerstaff will remain as interim coach through Tuesday when the Lakers play the Spurs, which would give D’Antoni a couple of practices before a first game as coach. Against the Suns, Friday at Staples Center. (Don’t be shocked if Bickerstaff coached that one, too.)

There is a lot of spin as to why things didn’t work out with Phil Jackson. Some sources say he was asking for too much money, too much latitude with time off to make the team comfortable, and he wanted a year-to-year deal while the team wanted more stability — Jim Buss (who runs the team for his father Jerry) turned to D’Antoni.

Both the Lakers and Jackson’s people have denied this is a money issue and have said they had not even started serious negotiations yet. The Lakers are saying this is purely a basketball decision.

Which is not going to sit well with Lakers fans.

Buss made the call Sunday and Kupchak called Jackson to let the Lakers know of franchise’s decision (it was expected Jackson was going to take the job Monday but negotiations were ongoing).

This is not going to be loved by Lakers fans, who had chanted “we want Phil” during the Lakers win over the Kings Sunday. The fan base seemed to have their hearts set on Jackson, while D’Antoni does not have rings or a reputation as a defensive guru.

D’Antoni is a 10-year head coach in the NBA who, combined with current Lakers point guard Steve Nash, ran one of the most potent offenses the NBA had ever seen with his “seven seconds or less” system. In New York with the Knicks he tried to implement that same system but the roster never really fit it, particularly once Carmelo Anthony arrived and was a ball stopper on the wing. Plus, the Knicks never defended for him (at least before Mike Woodson arrived).

The Lakers roster is older, slower and D’Antoni is going to have to modify his system some to make it work. But he has Nash and a potentially devastating pick-and-roll partner in Dwight Howard. Plus there is Kobe Bryant, who is a big fan of D’Antoni (remember Kobe lived in Italy in his youth when D’Antoni was the biggest star in the Italian league).

Kobe said after the Lakers game Sunday he had told management he would be happy with D’Antoni, and reaffirmed that later to the media.

He better, D’Antoni is the Lakers coach now no matter what Kobe thinks.

Report: Rival teams expect Paul George to consider 1+1 contract with Thunder

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
2 Comments

Paul George has openly stated the appeal of playing for his hometown Lakers. He has also openly stated the appeal of staying with the Thunder.

That has created significant confusion about his upcoming free agency.

Could George find a compromise outcome?

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

More than one rival team has suggested to me that they expect George to strongly consider a two-year deal with the Thunder at $30.3 million next season and $32.7 million in 2019-20 that includes a player option to return to free agency next summer.

This makes sense on paper.

A 1+1 contract would give George more time to determine whether he and Russell Westbrook can win together in Oklahoma City without getting stuck there long-term if they can’t. The Thunder were starting to put it together when Andre Roberson got hurt. Perhaps, Roberson getting healthy would swing Oklahoma City’s fortunes.

George would also be eligible for a higher max salary in two years – 35% of the salary cap, up from 30% if he signs now. So, a short-term contract would allow him to maximize his potential earnings.

But George said he wanted to sign somewhere long-term this summer. He also suffered an extremely gruesome leg injury just a few years ago. He might not want to bypass guaranteed money to gamble for a little more later.

Are these rival teams just looking at the general outlook for a player in George’s position without considering his specific circumstances? Or do they know something? George could have informed teams he might become available in 2019 or 2020 so they should prepare.

I’m skeptical this is more than speculation by opposing teams. But the possibility that they’re basing their expectations on inside information makes this worth monitoring.

Heartbreaking: Watch Mikal Bridges explain joy of joining hometown 76ers while they trade him to Suns (video)

2 Comments

Mikal Bridges‘ mom jumped up, pumped her fists and screamed “Yes!” through her giant grin.

The 76ers – the organization she works for in human resources – had just drafted her son No. 10 overall. Bridges, a Philadelphia native who played at Villanova, seemed as if he’d stay home for his pro career.

Bridges:

She’s very, very excited. She’s been wanting this. She’s probably more excited than I am. She was about to cry and all that. She said she didn’t want to ruin her makeup, so she’d try to hold it in. But no, she’s very excited. I’m her only son. I’m a little mama’s boy. Her son is right there around the corner again, and it’s just really cool.

Except, as Bridges was talking, the 76ers were trading him to the Suns for No. 16 pick Zhaire Smith and the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-rounder.

That extra pick carries major value. Even if you like Bridges much more than Smith – which I did, especially considering their fits in Philadelphia – that’s hard to pass up. The NBA is a business after all.

But it’s lamentable how this played out.

Kings GM Vlade Divac: ‘My team is a super team. Just young’

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
4 Comments

The Kings drafted Marvin Bagley No. 2 last night (seemingly for bad reasons, which doesn’t at all eliminate him from being the right pick but makes it less likely he is). He’ll join a young core also comprised of Bogdan Bogdanovic, De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles.

That group excite you?

Kings general manager Vlade Divac isn’t reducing expectations.

Lina Washington of ABC 10:

To be fair, in 2012, the Warriors were coming off a 23-43 season with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson already on the roster and had just drafted Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes. Everyone would’ve laughed at calling Golden State a “super team, just young” then. But those four (plus Andre Iguodala) eventually led the Warriors to a championship.

But, really: Nah.

Entering the 2016-17 season, then-Knicks guard Derrick Rose said, “They’re saying us and Golden State are the super teams.” We mocked Rose relentlessly, and of course, the Warriors went 73-9 while New York finished just 32-50.

How long until Divac’s young super team reaches even 32-50?

Spurs GM still optimistic relationship with Kawhi Leonard can be salvaged

Associated Press
4 Comments

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — General manager R.C. Buford acknowledges star forward Kawhi Leonard is unhappy with the Spurs.

He remains optimistic the relationship can be salvaged.

Leonard has requested a trade from San Antonio because he is unhappy after missing most of last season with a right quadriceps injury. Buford would not comment on “speculation” of a trade demand, but agreed there is a fractured relationship between Leonard and the only franchise he has played for.

“Kawhi and his family mean a lot to the organization and to the community and while none of wish we are where we are, we’re going to do what we can to build the best relationship we can with him,” Buford said Thursday night as the Spurs made two late picks in the NBA Draft. “We’ll explore all of our options, but the first one would be to do what we can to keep Kawhi as part of our group.”

Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season but returned to play in nine games. He complained of discomfort and pain in the leg in his final game. Leonard sought an outside opinion after the Spurs cleared him to play, working with his own medical team in New York in an attempt to return to the court. The 6-foot-7 forward reportedly grew upset that the Spurs had questioned his rehabilitation process.

The Spurs listed him as out on their injury reports for much of the year citing “injury management.” While San Antonio was in the playoffs, losing in the first round to eventual repeat champion Golden State, Leonard was rehabbing in New York – which meant that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, when asked for the situation, deferred all comment to “Kawhi and his group.”

“I think all of us would wish that things would have gone differently,” Buford said.

The Spurs held a team meeting late in the season where veterans, led by Tony Parker, implored Leonard to return. Leonard said he was unable to due to the injury.

In the 2016-17 season, Leonard averaged a career-best 25.5 points and was third in the MVP voting. The 2014 NBA Finals MVP and two-time NBA defensive player of the year is due just over $20 million next season, and can become a free agent in the summer of 2019. He is eligible to sign a $220 million extension with San Antonio.

He is reportedly willing to walk away from that to play elsewhere, possibly in Los Angeles.

“I don’t know that timing is a factor in this from today … he’s under contract for another year, our goal is to keep him as part of our program for a long time,” Buford said.