Cavs GM David Griffin calls David Blatt speculation “totally ridiculous”

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Less than halfway into the season, there’s already a coaching controversy in Cleveland. David Blatt has supposedly lost the locker room after a disappointing 19-14 start for a team that was supposed to be a powerhouse. There’s talk that he may be on the way out, to be replaced by LeBron James favorite Tyronn Lue.

Cavs general manager David Griffin hit back at the rumors and gave Blatt a vote of confidence on Sunday, via Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick:

To be sure, the beginning to Blatt’s tenure with the Cavs has been a disappointment. And the coach is not completely blameless, but it doesn’t fall entirely on him, either. It’s just a bad situation for him.

When the Cavs hired Blatt, they thought they were signing him up to guide a rebuilding team built around Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins. That’s the kind of situation a coach like Blatt, with no NBA experience, needs to be in to be successful. The Timberwolves talked to Blatt before Flip Saunders hired himself, and that would have been the ideal spot for Blatt.

Blatt’s job changed over the summer, before he’d even coached a game: James’ decision to return home and the trade of Wiggins and Anthony Bennett for Kevin Love completely shifted the franchise’s priorities. Rather than being a young, rebuilding team, they were suddenly in win-now mode. No matter how good a coach Blatt may be, throwing him into a situation where there are championship expectations right away isn’t ideal. It brings to mind the Nets’ 2013 hire of Jason Kidd 10 days after he retired from playing. Brooklyn traded several draft picks for the aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, firmly cementing their window of contention as “right now.” Hiring a rookie coach for a win-now roster was a mistake, but Kidd has proven to be a good coach with the young Bucks team he’s leading this year. Blatt is far from a rookie coach on the global stage, but he’s never coached in the NBA before and never had to manage superstar personalities like James, Love and Kyrie Irving.

It’s easy to draw parallels between Blatt and the scrutiny Eric Spoelstra faced in LeBron James’ and Chris Bosh’s first year in Miami, but the similarities aren’t exact. For one thing, Spoelstra had already coached the Heat for several years and built up a track record as a well-regarded coach. He also had the support of Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley, two voices strong enough that even a force of personality like James couldn’t overrule them. He essentially ran the show in Cleveland, and playing for a coach with actual authority was an adjustment. But Spoelstra’s coaching acumen and ability to command the respect of the entire locker room, including the superstars, played a major role in the Heat’s success, making four straight Finals and winning two titles in 2012 and 2013.

Blatt has no such authority in Cleveland. Make no mistake: LeBron is the most powerful person in the organization. There’s no Pat Riley, a legendary coach and GM with the championship track record to force him to fall in line. If James wants Blatt gone, eventually he will be gone. For now, it doesn’t seem like that will happen during the season, but barring a turnaround this season, there’s a good chance he won’t be back for a second season. And that’s too bad.

Report: Celtics reach out to former assistant Larranaga about joining Mazzulla’s staff

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The Boston Celtics are reportedly looking for a veteran assistant to put on the bench next to 34-year-old Joe Mazzulla, the man thrust into the head coach’s chair for a title contender in the wake of Ime Udoka’s suspension.

Who better than a guy who spent nine years on the Celtics’ bench? Boston reached out to Jay Larranaga, currently on the Clippers bench, about returning to the East Coast, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Clippers had no turnover on Tyronn Lue’s staff heading into this season. Mazzulla has become a trusted member of the Clippers staff, working a lot with the big me on the roster. However, if the Celtics back up the Brink’s Truck, the Clippers will not stand in his way if he wants to leave. It’s a question of comfort level, lifestyle, and of course money for Larranaga.

The Celtics made Mazzulla their interim head coach after an investigation found a “volume of violations” of team policy by Udoka, who had an improper relationship with a team staff member. So far the Celtics and Udoka have been able to keep the details of what happened under wraps, but league sources described the situation to NBC Sports as “ugly” and “messy,” especially if/when those details do find their way to the public.

For Celtics players, just getting back on the court, practicing Tuesday and focusing on basketball — not the turmoil around the franchise — was a good thing.

“Once we got out on the court, it was just nice to get back out the court and review our defense and to talk about offense and doing what we do,” Al Horford told the Associated Press. “It’s a good thing to just play basketball. That’s what we’re here for. It’s important to just start this thing back up again.”

Getting another coach on the bench will be important for the Celtics as well.

Hawks trade Harkless, second-round pick to Thunder for Vit Krejci

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The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.

The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).

This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.

Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.

Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.

The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.

Lonzo Ball says ‘I can’t run’ or jump; Bulls’ Donovan has to plan for extended absence

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.

However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.

Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:

“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”

The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”

It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.

Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.

The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.

The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.

Whenever that may be.

Deandre Ayton says he hasn’t spoken to coach Williams since Game 7

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four
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In a Game 7 against the Mavericks last May, Suns coach Monty Williams benched center Deandre Ayton, who ended up playing just 17 minutes in an ugly, blowout loss for Phoenix. When asked about it after the game Williams said, “It’s internal.”

Ayton and Williams have not spoken since then, according to Ayton.

Yikes. Remember that includes a summer where the Suns would not offer Ayton a max contract extension so he went out and got one from the Pacers, then the Suns instantly matched it. Ayton did not sound thrilled to be back in Phoenix on Media Day, and he was rather matter-of-fact about dealing with his coach.

It’s what every fan wants to hear — “this is just my job.”

Reporters asked Williams about this and he played it off, saying he hasn’t spoken with a lot of players yet.

It’s just day one of training camp, but there are a lot of red flags around the Suns: owner Robert Sarver being suspended and selling the team, Jae Crowder not in camp waiting to be traded, and now not a lot of communication between the team’s star center and its coach.

Maybe it all amounts to nothing. Maybe the Suns get on the court, Chris Paul looks rejuvenated, Devin Booker looks like Devin Booker, and none of this matters. But what had looked like a stable situation not that long ago now has a lot of red flags flying heading into the season, and that has to concern Suns fans.