Note to GMs: Mike D’Antoni can be a good hire — if you commit to giving him his roster

22 Comments

The mistake the Lakers made with Mike D’Antoni was hiring him in the first place.

Jim and Jerry Buss — the hiring was one of the last things the late, great Lakers owner consulted on — have longed for a return to “Showtime” when winning and entertainment went hand-in-hand. They won titles with Phil Jackson, but it wasn’t the same. They saw D’Antoni as a potential path back to the best of both worlds, back to the best of times.

Instead, the Lakers got the worst of times.

However, there is a lesson in what the Lakers did wrong, and before them what the Knicks did wrong with D’Antoni, one that can help future teams thinking of hiring him as their coach:

Mike D’Antoni can win in this league as a coach — but you have to FULLY commit to building his kind of team.

The Lakers were never a good fit. First, D’Antoni was hired 10-games into a season where he was a 180 degree spin from Mike Brown, yet he had no training camp to figure things out. Pau Gasol is not a stretch four who wants to run to the arc in transition, he’s a skilled post player. Kobe Bryant circa 2004 would have been brilliant in a D’Antoni system, but the 2014 Kobe is a post/elbow player who needs to operate in a slowed down half-court system to thrive. Steve Nash’s mind is willing but his flesh is weak.

Then there is Dwight Howard — he could be a great fit as a D’Antoni big man, because he is quick and fantastic as the roll man. Dwight Howard chooses not to be. He demands the ball in the post. In a D’Antoni system where “the ball needs energy” and has to move Howard causes it to stick and the offense to stall.

Add into this that dynamic that D’Antoni is simply not a good communicator with his players and it all collapsed. (As for the 2015 Lakers, D’Antoni did as much as anyone could have with that injury-riddled, odd-fitting roster. No coach dead or alive could have made the playoffs with that group.)

What happened in Los Angeles was an accelerated version of what happened to D’Antoni in New York — they hired him to save the franchise, then after missing out on LeBron James they brought in Amar’e Stoudemire and paired him with Raymond Felton as the point guard and Danilo Gallinari as a stretch four… and it worked okay. The Knicks were improved, entertaining and on their way to being a playoff team.

Then James Dolan gutted the roster of athletes to bring in the ball stopper that is Carmelo Anthony. Everything fell apart (save for a couple weeks of Linsanity when Anthony was out injured). D’Antoni was doomed as a future coach.

Mike D’Antoni is not flexible — team’s can’t bring him in and expect him to dramatically modify what he does to fit the pieces they already have. D’Antoni needs to win his way, to prove that what he does works and works well.

And it does work. Despite what some Lakers and Knicks fans think.Phoenix was not a fluke. Watch the Miami Heat play and you see a whole lot of D’Antoni offense. None other than Gregg Popovich admits stealing things from D’Antoni. Those teams do some things differently (a focus on defense is higher on the priority list, for one) but they are indebted to D’Antoni.

Eventually some other team is going to give D’Antoni a shot (the NBA is all about recycling coaches). That’s fine. Someone should give him a real shot.

But if you hire him just know what you are getting.

And give him HIS roster.

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.