67RIEFNS No. 42: Steve Clifford handling more, um, personality


The NBA is full of talent, personality and suspense. During the offseason, It’s easy to forget how wonderful the league can be. So, I’ve assembled 67 Reasons I’m Excited For Next Season (67RIEFNS). They’ll be presented in no particular order.

Steve Clifford took a team that started Al Jefferson and Josh McRoberts at center and power forward and built a top-five defensive unit.

That’s a hell of a coaching job, and it would have won Clifford the Coach of the Year in certain seasons. He just happened to take over Charlotte in a year Gregg Popovich, Jeff Hornacek and Tom Thibodeau all did did well with their teams.

This season, Popovich, Hornacek and Thibodeau each have similar tasks to last year. Popovich must balance winning enough to secure home-court advantage with resting his aging stars. Hornacek must devise an up-tempo offensive system that keeps opponents behind long enough to spring open all the shooters he’s instructed. And Thibodeau must get his team to defend and play hard for 48 minutes while key players battle injury.

Clifford, who finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting, faces a completely new challenge.

It was extremely impressive how he built a defense and communicated its principles to a team with key players who hadn’t always taken such great pride in that side of the court. But those players wanted to go with the program. What they lacked in defensive history, they made up for in professionalism.

This year, Clifford must show he can work with players who are a little more difficult to manage.

Lance Stephenson is the big name here, and he faces considerable challenges and temptations by leaving Indiana. His issues are covered in greater depth here.

Rookie P.J. Hairston brings his own baggage, too. Hairston left North Carolina for the D-League during last season while suspended following a couple driving incidents. After being drafted, he fought a high school student during a pickup game. Then, it came out he had an uncertified agent.

But he can shoot, and the Hornets need shooting. And Stephenson is a borderline All-Star.

It’s up to Clifford to make this work, to keep both players focused. It’s not an easy test – and far different from the one he aced last season.

Clifford has already proven himself smart with Xs-and-Os and a good communicator. He quickly showed he belonged as NBA head coach.

But it’s tough assemble a talented team while completely avoiding players who need a little extra attention, as the Hornets have discovered. Great coaches make it work while handling everything else that comes with the job.

This season, we’ll learn just how good Clifford is.

Watch Kobe Bryant memorial live stream (video)

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Thousands of mourners will gather in Staples Center on Monday to say farewell to Kobe and Gianna Bryant.

The basketball superstar and his 13-year-old daughter will be honored in a public memorial at the arena where Bryant played for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Kobe and Gianna Bryant died along with seven others on Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash.

The Celebration of Life will feature speakers reflecting on Kobe Bryant’s impact on his sport and the world, along with music and retrospectives on Bryant’s on-court achievements. Bryant became active in film, television and writing after he retired from basketball in 2016.

Bryant’s family, dozens of sports greats and many major figures in Bryant’s public life are expected to attend.

Staples Center is sold out for the memorial. The money made from ticket sales will be given to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation, which supports youth sports programs in underserved communities and teaches sports to girls and women.

Bryant played his entire 20-year NBA career with the Lakers, including the final 17 seasons at Staples Center, which opened in 1999. The five-time NBA champion’s two retired jersey numbers – 8 and 24 – hang high above the arena where he became the third-leading scorer in league history until Lakers star LeBron James passed him on the night before Bryant’s death.

Bryant’s death caused an outpouring of grief across Los Angeles, where he remained the city’s most popular athlete into retirement. Dozens of public memorials and murals have been installed around the sprawling metropolis, and thousands of fans gathered daily outside Staples Center to commiserate after the crash.

Symbolic meanings will run throughout the ceremony, which will be held on a 24-foot-by-24-foot stage. Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife and Gianna’s mother, chose Feb. 24 as the date in honor of the uniform numbers of Kobe and Gianna, who wore No. 2 on her youth basketball teams.

A private funeral was held for Kobe and Gianna Bryant in Orange County on Feb. 7.

Lakers’ Rajon Rondo throws dead ball into air, hits Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in head

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What an unfortunate encapsulation of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s time with the Lakers.

At least Rajon Rondo, beyond this gaffe, did plenty to help the Lakers beat the Celtics.

Bucks’ minor-league coach goes on epic rant, calls ref ‘f—ing clown’ (video)

Bucks' minor-league affiliate Wisconsin Herd vs. Pistons minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids Drive
Mike E. Roemer/NBAE via Getty Images
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After coaching the Wisconsin Herd (Bucks’ minor-league affiliate) to a loss to the Grand Rapids Drive (Pistons’ minor-league affiliate), Chase Buford – son of Spurs CEO R.C. Buford – had a normal one.

Ryan Rodig of WFRV-TV:


The officiating definitely went right for Grand Rapids. That was as unprofessional as an officiating performance. I hope you tweet this out and tag the league, because that was embarrassing. Matt Rafferty is a f—ing clown. That being said, we have to be so much better at the end of games. We can’t blow a 21-point lead with 12 minutes to go. However bad and biased and unfair and illegal and cheating the referees are, we have to be better at closing games. And so that’s the way I feel.


The words are amazing: “f—ing clown,” “illegal,” “cheating.”

But the hair really completes the whole unhinged motif.

Mavericks protesting loss to Hawks

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was irate after his team’s loss to the Hawks on Saturday.

He’s putting his money where his Twitter fingers are.

Dallas is protesting the game, according to the Last Two Minute Report. That requires posting a $10,000 fee to be refunded only if the challenge prevails.

The contentious play occurred in the final 10 seconds. Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith was called for goaltending Trae Young‘s shot. The play was reviewed and ruled a clean block. However, officials determined the whistle was therefore inadvertent and blew while John Collins was in his shooting motion on a successful putback attempt. So, Collins’ basket counted.

The Mavericks are claiming officials misapplied the rules – a key distinction for a protest. A simple missed call won’t get it done.

Protests rarely succeed. This one probably won’t.

But I think Dallas has a chance. The whistle wasn’t inadvertent. It was intentional. It was for a wrong call. But it was intentional.

Even if the challenge is successful and the Mavericks get their desired jump ball in a re-do, they’d still be trailing by two in the final seconds. They’d still be underdogs.

On the other hand, odds still strongly favor Cuban getting fined… eventually.

Adrian Wojnarowski and Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

The NBA plans to await commissioner Adam Silver’s ruling on a Dallas Mavericks game protest before leveling possible discipline on owner Mark Cuban for his behavior during and after the Mavericks’ loss to Atlanta on Saturday night.