Why are the Lakers hiring Byron Scott as head coach?

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The Lakers waited almost three full months to make a firm decision on the franchise’s next head coach, after Mike D’Antoni resigned back on April 30. And while the apparent choice to bring in Byron Scott was somewhat expected all along, it remains an underwhelming one, at best.

The reason for keeping the position open for so long had to do with the front office wanting to see how the roster came together, while it chased free agents in LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony that the team never truly had a shot at landing.

Once the new players were in place — a list that includes serviceable players in Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer and Ed Davis, along with others like Nick Young, Jordan Hill and Ryan Kelly who returned from last season’s lottery team — the offer went out to Scott.

The question, however, remains why.

The Lakers interviewed Lionel Hollins, Alvin Gentry and George Karl, all of whom have recent track records of success coaching at the NBA level, and would have been legitimate long-term solutions. Scott, meanwhile, has a career won-loss record of 416-521, and has had just one truly successful season in his last 10 as a head coach, while flaming out somewhat miserably in his last position, an ill-fated three-year stint with the post-LeBron James version of the Cavaliers.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles outlined the reasons from the Lakers side of things, but even when looking at things through the team’s eyes, they don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.

It wasn’t just about his ties to the Showtime era, but that surely helped. It wasn’t just that he was around the team all last season as an analyst for the Lakers’ television station, Time Warner Cable SportsNet, and had an intimate knowledge of what went down, but that helped too.

The Lakers franchise also wanted to establish a clear defensive identity after being atrocious on that end of the court last season, and Scott’s credentials include a strong defensive-minded reputation.

Wait, what’s that about defense, now?

From John Schuhmann of NBA.com:

The Cavs ranked in the bottom five in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) in each of Scott’s three seasons. That’s not just bad. It’s unprecedented.

Before Scott, the last coach to lead his team to the bottom five in defensive efficiency in three straight seasons was Mike Dunleavy, who did it with Milwaukee from 1993-94 to 1995-96, a streak that started when the league had only 27 teams. So Scott is the only coach to do it in a 30-team league. …

You could look at those Cleveland rosters (2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13) and note their youth and lack of talent. Indeed, Scott didn’t have much to work with. But bottom five for three straight years speaks for itself. Scott had a No. 1 defense in New Jersey and top 10 defenses twice with the Hornets, but he wasn’t able to coach the young Cavs up. Under Mike Brown last season, Cleveland jumped from 27th to 17th in defensive efficiency.

The evidence shows, at least defensively, that Mike Brown did a better job coaching than Scott — think about that for a second, Lakers fans, and then perhaps get a friend or two to restrain you from leaping off of the upper level of Staples Center.

So, fine, the Lakers aren’t all that tuned in to Scott’s ability to coach on the defensive end. The other reason he’s getting the job, however — and it’s a big one — is making sure that Kobe Bryant is sufficiently placated during his last couple of seasons in Los Angeles.

But really, the Scott hire comes down to one man: Kobe Bryant. L.A. invested close to $50 million in Bryant over the next two seasons when he’ll be 36 and a 19-year veteran and 37 and a 20-year veteran. …

Whichever coach the Lakers decided on would have to mesh well personalitywise with Bryant first and foremost and, beyond that, play a system that would help Bryant continue to be productive even as Father Time is taking his toll. …

The Lakers have always operated with championships on the mind, but with a title pretty much out of the picture in the short term, they simply want to get back to having their team and everything that surrounds it be an accurate reflection of all the winning the franchise has already accomplished.

Again, this is the Lakers thinking — realizing that winning anything of importance next season is completely out of the question, the team decided to make sure Bryant is happy instead of adequately planning for a not-too-distant future when he’s gone from the team forever.

Hiring retreads, especially those without a recent history of succeeding in their profession, is a practice more and more teams have gone away from, for reasons that should be obvious. The Celtics hired Brad Stevens, a young and successful coach at the college level, and gave him a relatively unheard of six-year deal to give him time to put a winning culture in place. The Suns hired a former player in Jeff Hornacek, who immediately overachieved in his first season and had a relatively undermanned Phoenix team within one game of the playoffs in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. And the Cavaliers are perhaps the best example of a team willing to take a calculated risk with a new head coach, hiring David Blatt following his successful run coaching overseas, and doing so even with the looming possibility of LeBron James returning to Cleveland for what will be Blatt’s first NBA season.

Teams aren’t gambling wildly with these types of hires. Instead, they’re taking well-educated guesses about which up-and-coming coach might have the best chance of setting up a franchise for years of continued prosperity.

Now, maybe Scott will exceed expectations, and if he doesn’t, maybe he’ll be gone at the same time Bryant is, and a new coach will be brought in to guide the team into its next era. But all this hire does is reflect the Lakers glorious past, while doing nothing to set them up for success in the immediate future.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.

How corrosive is tension between James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston?

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Golden State is not going to be contending for a title next season. Sorry Stephen, but you’re just not.

That throws open the doors to the West crown and, eventually, the NBA title, and teams will be lining up to take their shots. The Lakers just added Anthony Davis to go with LeBron James. Denver should improve and is looking for wing help. Utah feels just one playmaker away. The Clippers are big game hunting, and if they land one they become a threat.

Houston, however, should be at the front of that line… if they don’t shoot themselves in the foot. Contract extension talks with coach Mike D’Antoni are stalled, and at ESPN Tim MacMahon put together a fascinating inside look at the tension between at his isolation-heavy and at his peak James Harden and the intense but declining Chris Paul.

But Paul noticeably lost a step last season, as evidenced by analytics and the eye test. Paul pushed for more plays and sets in the Houston offense, more screening and deception, despite Harden being in the process of putting together a historically dominant individual offensive season.

“Chris wants to coach James,” says a source familiar with the stars’ dynamic. “James looks at him like, ‘You can’t even beat your man. Just shut up and watch me.'”…

It has reached a point, team sources say, where Paul cherishes the chance to play without Harden on the floor. On several occasions, according to team sources, Paul barked at D’Antoni to keep Harden on the bench while he was running the second unit. Harden simultaneously would lobby — or demand — to check back into the game.

There’s tension there, but is it corrosive to the point of the team unraveling? Or, as GM Daryl Morey and everyone else with the Rockets says, is this just blown out of proportion? Time will tell.

Two things to point out.

First, tension between two stars and alpha personalities is far from new in the NBA (or any other professional sport), and it does not mean a team is in trouble. These things can be worked out, they just flared up more in the wake of the round two loss to the Warriors.

Second, these guys are stuck with each other. Obviously, the Rockets aren’t trading Harden. They would be open to trading CP3, but at age 34 and owed $124 million over three more seasons, there are no takers (unless the Rockets want to throw in a sweetener, which they don’t). The players around them may change, the coach could change, but Harden and Paul have years left together.

This team is so close to a title, it’s hard to envision them really coming apart at the seams next season. These guys are too professional for that… although in wild NBA crazier things have happened.

Report: Bucks trying to trade Tony Snell or Ersan Ilyasova with draft-pick sweetener

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Coming off their best season in decades, the Bucks will send four quality players into free agency – Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic.

How will Milwaukee keep its core intact?

Maybe by unloading Tony Snell ($11,592,857 salary next season, $12,378,571 player option the following season) or Ersan Ilyasova ($7 million salary next season, $7 million unguaranteed the following season).

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

With Bird Rights for Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic, Milwaukee faces no salary-cap restrictions on keeping just those three. The only cost is real dollars, including potential luxury-tax payments.

It’s trickier with Lopez. Giving him the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (which projects to be about $9 million) – the most they can pay without opening cap space – would hard-cap the Bucks at a projected team salary of about $138 million. That could be a difficult line to stay under.

Unless Snell or Ilyasova are off the books.

Neither player has a desirable contract, which is why Milwaukee is shopping them with a draft pick attached. But both can still contribute. Ilyasova is a smart veteran power forward who shoots well from outside and takes a lot of charges. Snell is also a good outside shooter, and though his all-around game is lacking, there’s a dearth of helpful wings around the league.

The Bucks have the No. 30 pick in Thursday’s draft. They could select on behalf of another team then trade the draft rights. The Stepien rule applies only to future drafts.

Beyond that pick, Milwaukee is short on tradable draft picks. The Bucks have already traded two protected future first-round picks and their next three second-rounders. Dealing another first-rounder would require complex protections. Perhaps, a distant second-rounder is enough.

It’s important for Milwaukee to figure this out. Giannis Antetokounmpo likes this core group, and everyone is watching his level of satisfaction with the Bucks as his super-max decision approaches.