Five Things We Learned in NBA Thursday: Doc Rivers the coach should be mad at Doc Rivers the GM

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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while clearing your schedule for the Saturday Night Live marathon

1) Doc Rivers the GM is making it very hard for Doc Rivers the coach. I thought this season the Clippers would take a step forward. Last year they built a foundation, this season they would build on that and move into to true contender status. I was wrong. At least so far. The Clippers are not a bad team by any stretch — they’re 26-13 with two of the top dozen players in the world — but they have not looked the part of contender. One issue is defense, specifically consistency of effort on the defensive end.

But the other issue is depth and lack of good play from the three spot. Which is why the trade the Clippers finalized Thursday makes no sense — they traded two wing players (Reggie Bullock and Chris Douglas-Roberts) plus a draft pick to get a combo guard in Austin Rivers. Is Rivers an upgrade over Jordan Farmar? I would say it’s a wash, save that Rivers is younger and maybe can be developed into something. But GM Doc Rivers traded away two players at a position of need — not great players, but players — for one lateral move at a position where they were okay. Outside of nepotism I don’t see any logic behind this. Even if the Clippers round out the roster with free agents such as Nate Robinson and Tayshaun Prince, that doesn’t make this trade logical. Doc Rivers the coach should be pissed at Doc Rivers the GM.

2) James Harden wants your MVP vote. This was more than James Harden reminding Sam Presti and Thunder fans what they are missing, this was Harden making his MVP case on the big stage of a Thursday night, nationally televised game against another contender. Harden had 19 points in the first quarter (the Rockets had 40) and finished with 31 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds. Harden can always attack and get to the line, but when his three is falling — he was 6-of-8 — you can’t defend him. Harden was also 7-of-10 on contested shots, he just could not miss. Most observers have Stephen Curry and Harden as the top two people on their MVP ballot at the midway point, Harden just came out and made his case Thursday.

3) It’s still fun to watch Kobe Bryant and LeBron James go at each other. We’re not going to get to see nights like this again for very long, where two of the greats of the game go at each other head-to-head, jawing with each other through it all. And with a smile on their face the whole time. LeBron and Kobe put on a great show (the Cavs won), we need to savor these moments when they happen.

4) The Phoenix Suns just make smart little pickups. Out of today’s Austin Rivers’ trade Phoenix picks up Reggie Bullock for next to nothing. That is the kind of move a smart team makes. Bullock is in his second season and hasn’t been able to really crack the Clippers rotation, but he has shown promise. Last season he was raw and not ready, this season his shooting numbers improved (including 38.5 percent from three) and he continues to show flashes of what he can do as a defender. Doc has the Clippers in a win-now place and just couldn’t give the minutes to develop. The Suns can give him some run (in a more open system) and he could thrive there and become part of their rotation. Oh, and he’s still on his rookie contract.

5) Knicks are horrid no matter what continent you put them on. Carmelo Anthony was back — he wanted to be on the big international stage and he played fairly well putting up 25 points (although the rust showed on the eight turnovers). That doesn’t change the fact the Knicks are just hard to watch. With this game in London Knicks highlights should have the Benny Hill theme “Yakety Sax” as a soundtrack. The Bucks kept moving off the ball on offense and lost their man all game, the Knicks just watched them. The Bucks trust their system and are growing to trust their teammates. The Knicks… tear it down to build it back up. Phil Jackson did the right things with these recent trades, it’s a better plan than the quick fix option we have seen there for so long. But that doesn’t make this team with 16 straight losses any easier to watch.

Spoestra’s biggest Heat adjustment for Game 2? Play with more ‘toughness and resolve’

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DENVER — The days between NBA Finals are filled with talk of adjustments. After an ugly Game 1, much of that falls on the Heat — what can Erik Spoelstra draw up to get Jimmy Butler better lanes to attack? How must the Heat adjust their defense on Nikola Jokick?

Spoelstra sees it a little differently.

“Scheme is not going to save us,” he said.

His point is straightforward, the team’s best adjustment is simply to play better. More effort, more resolve. The trio of Max Strus, Caleb Martin and Duncan Robinson must do better than 2-of-23 from 3. The Heat can’t settle for jumpers like they did in Game 1, they have to attack the rim and draw some fouls, getting to the line (the Heat had just two free throws in Game 1). Their halfcourt defensive decisions have to be sharper. Those are not scheme-related things.

The Heat saw some of that in the second half, but Spoelstra made it clear the better last 24 minutes (particularly the last 12) was more about effort than the adjustments they made (such as playing more Haywood Highsmith and putting him on Jokić for a while).

“I never point to the scheme. Scheme is not going to save us,” Spoelstra said. “It’s going to be the toughness and resolve, collective resolve. That’s us at our finest, when we rally around each other and commit to doing incredibly tough things. That’s what our group loves to do more than anything, to compete, to get out there and do things that people think can’t be done.

“The efforts made that work in the second half, but we’re proving that we can do that with our man defense, too.”

Among the things many people don’t think can be done is the Heat coming back in this series. But Spoelstra is right, proving people wrong is what the Heat have done all playoffs.

 

Phoenix Suns reportedly to hire Frank Vogel as new head coach

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Frank Vogel won a title coaching two stars — LeBron James and Anthony Davis — in Los Angeles.

Now he will get the chance to coach two more stars with title aspirations, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker in Phoenix. The Suns are finalizing a deal to make Vogel their new head coach, according to multiple reports. This is reportedly a five-year, $31 million deal.

New Suns owner Mat Ishbia — who took over in early February and immediately pushed for the Durant trade — reportedly has been the man at the helm of basketball operations since his arrival, making this primarily his choice. Doc Rivers and Suns assistant Kevin Young also were in the mix for the job.

Vogel may not be the sexiest hire on the board — and it’s fair to ask how much of an upgrade he is over Monty Williams — but it is a solid one. The Suns can win with.

Vogel is a defense-first coach who has had success in both Indiana — where he led the Paul George Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals twice — as well as with LeBron’s Lakers (Vogel struggled in Orlando, but that was more about the roster than coaching).

Vogel is a good coach for superstars because he is relatively egoless, low-key, and a strong communicator — this is not a big personality with a hard-line attitude. Instead, he works to get buy-in from his guys and gives his stars plenty of freedom on the offensive end. Durant and Booker will have their say in what the offense looks like, but Vogel will demand defensive accountability.

There is a “good chance” Kevin Young — the top assistant under Monty Williams who had the endorsement of Devin Booker for the head coaching job — will stay on as Vogel’s lead assistant, reports John Gambadoro, the well-connected host on 98.7 FM radio in Phoenix. If true, that be a coup for the Suns, who would keep a player favorite coach to be more of an offensive coordinator. It is also possible that Young and other assistant coaches (such as Jarrett Jack) will follow Williams to Detroit, where he was just hired (on a massive deal).

Nick Nurse doesn’t ‘vibrate on the frequency of the past,’ talks winning with 76ers, Harden

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In his first day on the job, Nick Nurse didn’t shy away from the hard topics and high expectations — he embraced them.

Nurse is the new 76ers head coach — and Doc Rivers is out — because the team was bounced in the second round. Again. Nurse said at his introductory press conference that he doesn’t see the way past this is to ignore the problem (from NBC Sports Philadelphia).

“We’re going to hit that head-on,” he said… “We know we’re judged on how we play in the playoffs. It was the same in Toronto. We hadn’t played that well (in the playoffs) and certain players hadn’t played that well, and all those kinds of things. So the reality is that’s the truth. I would imagine that from Day 1, we’re going to talk about that and we’re going to try to attack that. We’re going to have to face it and we’re going to have to rise to it.”

Nurse stuck with that theme through multiple questions about the past and what he will do differently. Nurse talked about the players being open-minded to trying new things, some of which may not work, but the goal is to get a lot of different things on the table.

He also talked about this 76ers team being championship-level and not getting hung up on that past.

“My first thought on that is this team could be playing tonight (in the Finals), along with some others in the Eastern Conference that wish they were getting ready to throw the ball up tonight… And as far as the rest of it, I look at it this way: I don’t really vibrate on the frequency of the past. To me, when we get a chance to start and dig into this thing a little bit, it’s going to be only focused on what we’re trying to do going forward. … Whatever’s happened for the last however many years doesn’t matter to me.”

The other big question in the room is the future of potential free agent James Harden.

Harden has a $35.6 million player option for next season he is widely expected to opt out of, making him a free agent. While rumors of a Harden reunion in Houston run rampant across the league, the 76ers want to bring him back and Nurse said his sales pitch is winning.

“Listen, I think that winning is always the sell,” he said. “Can we be good enough to win it all? That’s got to be a goal of his. And if it is, then he should stay here and play for us, because I think there’s a possibility of that.”

Whatever the roster looks like around MVP Joel Embiid, the 76ers should be title contenders. Nurse has to start laying the groundwork this summer, but his ultimate tests will come next May, not before.

Silver: Ja Morant investigation results, possible suspension to come down after Finals

Dallas Mavericks v Memphis Grizzlies
Justin Ford/Getty Images
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DENVER — The NBA has nearly concluded its investigation into the latest incident of Ja Morant apparently waiving a gun on social media, however, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league plans to “park” the report and any announcement of a possible punishment until after the NBA Finals, so as not to distract from the games.

“We’ve uncovered a fair amount of additional information, I think, since I was first asked about the situation,” Silver said in a press conference before Game 1 of the NBA Finals. “I will say we probably could have brought it to a head now, but we made the decision, and I believe the Players Association agrees with us, that it would be unfair to these players and these teams in the middle of the series to announce the results of that investigation.

“Given that we’re, of course, in the offseason, he has now been suspended by the Memphis Grizzlies indefinitely, so nothing would have changed anyway in the next few weeks. It seemed better to park that at the moment, at least any public announcement, and my sense now is that shortly after the conclusion of the Finals we will announce the outcome of that investigation.”

That statement hints at a long suspension for Morant — Silver believes the announcement will be big enough news to draw headlines over the NBA Finals. That only happens if it’s something significant. Silver would not divulge any potential punishment, but the expectation in league circles is for him to come down much harder on Morant this time. While Morant did not break any laws, this is a serious image issue for the NBA (one that reverberates through decades of the league).

The Grizzlies suspended Morant after he appeared to flash a handgun on friend Davonte Pack’s Instagram account. Morant has since released a statement taking responsibility for his actions, but otherwise staying out of the spotlight.

That came months after Morant was suspended eight games after another video of him flashing a gun in a Denver area club was posted on Instagram Live.

After that first incident, Morant spent time away from the team to seek counseling, and he met with Silver about what had happened. Morant admitted after the No. 2 seed Grizzlies were eliminated in the first round by the Lakers his actions were part of the distractions that threw off the Grizzlies.

Silver was asked if he had come down harder on Morant after the first incident — his suspension was seen as player-friendly — if things would have been different.

“I’ve thought about that, and Joe Dumars [VP of basketball operations with the NBA], who is here, was in the room with me when we met with Ja, and he’s known Ja longer than I have, Silver said. “For me at the time, an eight-game suspension seemed very serious, and the conversation we had, and Tamika Tremaglio from the Players Association was there, as well, felt heartfelt and serious. But I think he understood that it wasn’t about his words. It was going to be about his future conduct.

“I guess in hindsight, I don’t know. If it had been a 12-game suspension instead of an eight-game suspension, would that have mattered?”

Morant lost about $669,000 in salary with the last suspension, although the real hit was his missing games and the team stumbling after this incident, giving voters a reason to keep him off an All-NBA team — that cost him $39 million on his contract extension that kicks in next season (he is not eligible for the Rose Rule max).