The coach is gone, now what moves must Nets make this offseason?

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P.J. Carlesimo wasn’t really the problem in Brooklyn. But he wasn’t really the answer, either.

Brooklyn goes into the summer looking for a new coach and that hire is huge because it’s questionable how much the roster can be changed from last season’s 49-win, fourth in the East squad.

That’s the challenge for the Nets this summer — between the coach and roster tweaks they need to ad variety to their offensive game and they need to get some accountability at the defensive end.

For coaches they are looking first at big names — Phil Jackson said no so expect names like Larry Brown, the Van Gundy brothers (though that seems unlikely), Brian Shaw and maybe others. What the Nets need is a creative coach who can push the right buttons, not just the biggest name — they had conversations with Tom Thibodeau last coaching search but didn’t want to hire an assistant, they wanted a name for the marquee. Thibodeau just coached the Nets into the ground in the first round of the playoffs.

That coach has to come in and put in a system that gives Deron Williams freedom and also gets Brook Lopez the ball on the move and in spots where he can be effective. Part of that would be to up the tempo — the Nets played at the third slowest pace in the league last season. With guys like Williams and the mobile Lopez — not to mention MarShon Brooks and others — the Nets should get more easy buckets in transition than they do.

The coach would be helped by adding some versatility to the roster. But that’s where things get tricky — the Nets have $85 million in salary on the books for next season already. While owner Mikhail Prokhorov may be fine with the luxury tax hit, the contracts they have and the restrictions on deals because they are taxpayers will make Billy King’s job hard. They have one free agent they want to bring back in Andray Blatche, but he says he wants minutes to go with his money and the Nets may not have enough of the minutes part (although money always wins that battle).

As for trades, the options are limited. The Nets are not going to trade Williams and Lopez, those guys are set.

They’d be willing to trade Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace but that will be very hard — Johnson has the worst contract in the NBA with three years, $70 million remaining after this season; Wallace has three years, $33 million and just had a dramatic drop in productivity at age 30. We’ve seen in recent years no deal is untradeable, but these come close and they would not get much quality back in return for them.

Kris Humphries has one year, $12 million left and that seems more likely to get shopped around, but there’s not going to be a lot of demand for his services. Maybe he can packaged with Brooks or Mirza Teletovic to get a better deal. Maybe. But any deal is going to be tough to come by because of the trade restrictions on them (as a tax payer) and because they don’t have assets other teams are all that interested in.

Any deal needs to focus on someone at the four spot — when Wallace and Reggie Evans were paired the Nets were easy to defend because neither of them were a real threat to score. But Carlesimo paired them a lot. What the Nets need is more versatility, a guy who can provide different looks other teams have to defend. Humphries and Evans were not those guys, they were they guys you willingly helped off of.

The biggest problem for the Nets is that pretty much what you see is what you’re going to get with the roster. They aren’t making big moves.

Which is why the coaching hire here is key — they need a coach that can elevate the roster they have, because that is the roster they are largely stuck with (for a couple of years). If the Nets want to climb out of the middle of the Eastern Conference pack it’s going to take a good hire as coach and some clever work by Billy King. He overpaid to get a roster together that could win in the new building in Brooklyn, but now the Nets are that roster and things will not be easy.

LeBron James drops 31, leads Lakers comeback to beat Rockets

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HOUSTON (AP) — LeBron James had 31 points and 12 assists and the Los Angeles Lakers rode a big third quarter to a a 124-115 win over the Houston Rockets on Saturday night.

The Lakers bounced back after a loss to Orlando on Wednesday night that snapped their nine-game winning streak. The loss was the third straight for the Rockets, which ties a season high, and they have dropped four of five.

Kyle Kuzma scored 23 points, and Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope each had 20 for the Lakers.

Russell Westbrook scored 35 points for his fourth straight 30-point game and James Harden had 34 for the Rockets, who also lost three in a row in late November.

Los Angeles didn’t lead in the first half but used a 32-point third quarter to take a nine-point lead into the fourth.

Houston used a 6-0 run to cut the lead to 10 with about seven minutes left, but the Lakers scored the next six points to extend it to 110-94 midway through the quarter. That sent many Rockets fans streaming for the exits and caused a large contingent of Lakers fans to start chanting, “Let’s go Lakers.”

The Rockets did not get closer than seven points the rest of the way.

The Lakers opened the second half with a 10-3 run to take their first lead of the game, 69-68, with about eight minutes left in the third quarter. James capped that run by making a basket and then added another one seconds later after JaVale McGee blocked a dunk attempt by Clint Capela. McGee beat his chest and screamed after in Capela’s direction after the play and received a technical foul for taunting.

There were about seven minutes left in the third when Westbrook and Anthony Davis, who missed the game with an injury, both received technical fouls for jawing at each other.

The Lakers led by three later in the third when Kuzma scored the first four points of a 9-2 run that stretched the lead to 85-75.

Houston had a chance to cut the deficit at the end of the third quarter, but Westbrook missed two free throws to leave the Lakers up 91-82 entering the fourth.

 

Watch Kawhi Leonard’s 39 points spark Clippers rally past Pelicans 133-130

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored 39 points and the Los Angeles Clippers rallied to beat the New Orleans Pelicans 133-130 on Saturday.

Lou Williams scored 14 of his 32 points during a dominant fourth quarter for Los Angeles, which outscored the Pelicans 31-20 in the final 12 minutes.

Williams’ 3 with 31.6 seconds left, after Patrick Beverley had rebounded Leonard’s miss, gave the Clippers a 133-127 lead and sent numerous fans toward the exits.

But JJ Redick hit a quick 3, and after Leonard ran down the shot clock and missed a 3, New Orleans had 2.4 seconds to attempt a tying 3 that Redick missed off the back rim.

Montrezl Harrell scored 24 points for the Clippers, who trailed by 10 in the final seconds of the third quarter, but turned a steal into two free throws and then opened the fourth with an 8-0 run to tie it at 110.

After shooting 58.5% (38 of 65) in the first three quarters, the Pelicans made just 8 of 21 shots in the fourth as the game slipped away from them.

Lonzo Ball had 18 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds for the Pelicans, who were seeking their 11th victory in 15 games despite the recent absence of guard Jrue Holiday, who has missed seven games with an elbow injury.

Derrick Favors had 22 points and 11 rebounds for New Orleans, while Brandon Ingram had 21 points and Redick scored 19.

The teams combined for 152 points in a fast-paced first half, during which New Orleans tied a franchise record with 80 points.

Favors made his first seven shots and had 15 of his points in the opening 24 minutes, when the Pelicans shot 63.6%, including 11-of-21 shooting from 3-point range.

Ball hit three 3s in the first half, his last giving the Pelicans an 80-72 lead that stood at halftime.

Leonard has scored at least 30 points in each of his last five games.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: NBA system wants you to flop, but ‘that’s not who I am’

Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden
Stacy Revere/Getty Images
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Giannis Antetokounmpo scores inside unlike anyone since Shaq.

Like with Shaquille O’Neal, Antetokounmpo has sparked a conversation about how much contacts he absorbs.

Antetokounmpo, via Eric Woodyard of ESPN:

“It’s kind of hard because in the NBA, the way it’s built, they want you to flop,” Antetokounmpo said of playing physically. “It wants you to be weak, kind of, because sometimes I think when you’re strong and you’re going through contact, they don’t call the foul. But when you’re flopping and kind of going into the contact and throwing the ball out, they’re just going to call foul, but that’s not who I am, that’s not what I’m gonna do.

“I’m just gonna try to power through contact. It’s going to be … where if a guy grabs me or pushes me, I’ve got to show it more, but I think I’ve done a better job of showing it more so the refs can see that the guys are holding me, pushing me and just being physical.”

James Harden and Antetokounmpo have traded barbs since last year’s MVP vote, which Antetokounmpo won over Harden. Was this another shot across Harden’s bow?

Harden isn’t the only player who flops. But Harden has earned a reputation as the NBA’s foremost flopper.

Antetokounmpo could do a better job of selling contact. But his tenaciousness sets a tone for the Bucks. His teammates see his determination and follow his lead. There’s a real positive effect to Antetokounmpo’s style.

Also, Antetokounmpo already averages 10.4 free throws per game. How many more fouls would he draw by flopping? Officials could be reluctant to give him even more whistles. Though each call should be evaluated independently, there can be a tendency not to call too many fouls.

Report: LeBron James views Jason Kidd as only living peer for basketball intelligence

LeBron James and Jason Kidd
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
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LeBron James is a basketball genius.

That somewhat explains why, since becoming a superstar, he has clashed with all previous his coaches – Mike Brown, Erik Spoelstra, David Blatt, Tyronn Lue and Luke Walton. Traditional roles make coaches the brains behind the operation. But what happens when LeBron is the smartest person in the room? At best, it creates complications.

So, of course there were questions about how LeBron would take to new Lakers coach Frank Vogel. Vogel is a coach. That’s enough.

But LeBron also previously spread word of his desire to be coached by a former player. Vogel never played professionally. However, one of his assistants was a Hall of Fame player with previous head-coaching experience – Jason Kidd.

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN:

One of those primary assistants would be Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd, whom two sources have independently said James regards as the only person alive who sees the game of basketball with his level of clarity.

This is probably hyperbolic. But Kidd was an incredibly smart player. His court vision, defensive recognition and ability to find ways to contribute all over the floor were elite. I can see why LeBron would enjoy talking basketball with Kidd.

But that alone doesn’t make Kidd a good coach. Playing ability doesn’t always translate to coaching ability. His record with the Bucks and Nets leaves a lot to be desired. Interpersonal issues were glaring. Dated thinking became even more apparent when Mike Budenholzer succeeded Kidd and immediately guided Milwaukee to the next level. Kidd’s record of player development is mixed.

Still, that level of endorsement from LeBron carries major weight.

Kidd has been trying to become an NBA head coach again. He lobbied for the Lakers job while Luke Walton held it and interviewed for it before Vogel got it.

Vogel said he wasn’t worried about Kidd undermining him and acted as if he truly isn’t. The Lakers are 33-8, and Vogel is endearing himself in Los Angeles. To better understand how he’s doing it, I highly recommend reading Arnovitz’s article.