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.

Phoenix Suns, a perfect 4-0 in the bubble, are growing and thinking playoffs

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The last time Devin Booker walked off the court as a winner in four consecutive games, these were the opponents: Hampton, Cincinnati, West Virginia and Notre Dame.

That is, until now.

Booker and the Phoenix Suns – the team that came to the NBA restart at Walt Disney World with the worst record in the Western Conference and the second-worst record of the 22 teams in the field – are perhaps the best story of the bubble.

They’re 4-0 at Disney, breathing real life into playoff hopes that basically were nonexistent when the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic on March 11. It’s the team’s first four-game winning streak since December 2018; Booker missed one of those games, so it’s his first run of four wins in a row since helping Kentucky make its Final Four run in 2015.

“It definitely feels like a tournament, a big AAU tournament, the March Madness tournament,” Phoenix’s Cameron Payne said Friday. “That’s something I never even got a chance to be in, but hey, I’ll take this.”

The Suns started their bubble run with a win over Washington and followed that with victories against three playoff-bound teams – first Dallas, then the Los Angeles Clippers (both of those games being 117-115 finals, the win over the Clippers sealed by a Booker buzzer-beater) and next a 114-99 victory Thursday over Indiana.

A team that had a stretch of four wins in 20 games during November and December, then a run of four wins in 15 games during January and February, got to the bubble and are now 4-for-4.

The Suns are riding a 10-year playoff drought, the second-longest current one in the NBA, but now they’re thinking big and for good reason.

“Well, you know, this is in the fledgling stages, for sure,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We’ve got a lot more work to do. And there’s a process that we’ve kind of gotten ourselves involved in and we’re going to stick to that. So, fun? I don’t have time to have fun right now. It’s always good to win, but I’m working right now. And I want guys to understand, it’s fun when you win – but then you’ve got to turn the page and get right back to work.”

Williams understands the reality for the Suns right now. They entered Friday 1-1/2 games out of ninth place and the play-in series that will decide the last postseason berth in the West. And while the 4-0 start has been noteworthy, even an 8-0 mark in the seeding games wouldn’t guarantee the Suns a trip to that play-in round.

The Suns play Miami on Saturday, then finish the regular season against Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Dallas.

“I’ve been in five years now and haven’t had that much success,” Booker said. “But, you know, I’m working hard every day to turn that narrative and change that narrative. We have a good bunch in here to do it. A lot of young players mixed with some veteran presence and it’s a good look for us. So, we’re going to keep our head down, keep working.

“I don’t think anybody here is worried about 4-0. We still have plans and goals for this team to reach and 4-0 wasn’t it.”

Booker is averaging 28 points in the four games. Deandre Ayton, another big piece of the young Suns’ core, is averaging 18.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. There are six players averaging double figures in all, including Payne, who is shooting 53% from 3-point range in his first four games with the Suns.

“We definitely feel good,” Payne said. “We’re not here for no reason.”

Rumor: Indiana coach Nate McMillan is on hot seat

Indiana coach hot seat
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Last season, Indiana’s Nate McMillan finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting, taking a team that lost star Victor Oladipo after just 36 games and still got them into the playoffs. McMillan is going to get COY votes again this year for much the same reason — his teams play good defense and overachieve.

Indiana coach Nate McMillan is also on the hot seat.

It’s surprising, and it’s just a rumor, but ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe had this conversation on a recent episode of The Lowe Post podcast (hat tip PacersTalk.net).

Van Gundy: “I had two people come up to me since I’ve been here [in the NBA restart bubble] and say, ‘Nate McMillan’s in trouble.’”

Lowe: “It’s been the hottest rumor all season… What you’ve heard in Orlando’s been going around all season…

“Let me be clear: It’s just a rumor. I don’t know if it’s true. When you talk to people around the Pacers, they say, ‘It’s not true’ or ‘Where you’d hear that from?’”

Maybe management wants a more modern offense, the Pacers are bottom eight in both three pointers attempted and pace. Overall, Indiana’s offense is middle of the pack (18th in the league), which is not bad considering it was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level).

It’s hard to imagine that the Pacers would make a change this offseason, which will be short and give a new coach less time to ramp up a program. Plus, does owner Herb Simon want to pay two coaches? The finances of the league are helping other coaches keep their jobs.

More than all that, McMillan doesn’t deserve to be fired.

Not that “deserved” has had much to do with NBA coaches keeping their jobs in the past.

 

Report: NBA players bypassing ‘snitch’ hotline to call Adam Silver directly

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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No NBA players have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the bubble. And they want to keep it that way. A championship and a lot of money are on the line.

That means preventing players from having close contact with anyone outside the bubble. And, in case someone contracts coronavirus, wearing masks (intact masks) to prevent a wider outbreak.

The NBA set up a hotline – quickly dubbed the “snitch” hotline – for players to report violations.

Chris Haynes of TNT:

Players have been circumventing that process. Sources informed me that multiple players are personally calling commissioner Adam Silver to issue their complaints with things they’re seeing in the bubble.

Adam Silver is accessible to players – particularly the president of the union.

I’m not sure about tattling straight to the top boss when there are other protocols in place. Are hotline calls not resulting in changed behavior?

Either way, it’s important for the NBA to keep players safe – both for their health and the league’s revenue (about half of which goes to players in salary). So, cut Chris Paul anyone calling Silver a break. They’re at least trying to help. And so far, violations inside the bubble have led to reminders, not harsher discipline.

Zion Williamson sitting out Pelicans-Wizards (rest)

Pelicans big Zion Williamson
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The Pelicans have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams in the bubble. New Orleans has gone 1-3 at Disney World and fallen to 13th in the Western Conference.

Still (barely) hanging in the race to make the play-in, the Pelicans must face the Wizards without Zion Williamson.

Pelicans:

The Pelicans are treating Williamson carefully – and they should. He’s their 20-year-old franchise player with major health concerns.

But New Orleans still has its highest ceiling now with Williamson on the floor. He’s an offensive force. His interior scoring and gravity create efficient looks for himself and teammates.

Williamson has been woeful defensively, and the Pelicans have bigs – Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes – to take Williamson’s minutes. New Orleans can go small, too.

The Pelicans should still beat Washington, even without Williamson. Ideally, this will have Williamson ready for a closing stretch against the Spurs, Kings and Magic without sacrificing today’s game.

Yet, this is really just proof New Orleans isn’t as ready to launch as it appears during Williamson’s most exciting moments. His availability remains murky. His team has run hot and cold. I wouldn’t assume a win over the Wizards – though it’s a game the Pelicans need to preserve their fading playoff hopes.