Five Takeaways from NBA Monday: Some things change, some don’t for Philly

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If you’re a League Pass addict like me, you’ve heard Clippers’ announcer Ralph Lawler mention “Lawler’s Law” — the first team to 100 will win the game. But I wondered during last night’s close Clippers game how often that is true? Turns out, there is a tracker and the first team to 100 wins 93.9 percent of the time. That’s just one thing to know from a Monday around the NBA.

1) Trust the process… or entrust the process to Jerry Colangelo, who takes over as the guy with the final say for Sixers. It was one of PBT’s 51 questions asked before this NBA season: “How long will 76ers owner stay patient with rebuilding?” Apparently the answer was until about two weeks ago. That’s when all the losing from the past couple years broke owner Josh Harris and he — with an assist to Adam Silver — reached out to former Suns owner/president and the current USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo. Monday, Harris officially gave Colangelo a spot in the organization above GM Sam Hinkie. Harris said he wanted to see the process move a little faster than it has been.  

While this signals a change in the vaunted “process” Hinkie talked about, it’s big picture right now. This is not likely to mean any short-term changes on the ground — the Sixers will still be terrible this season and hope the lottery is kind to them. They likely will have three and maybe a four first round picks this year (depending on pick protections and the draft order). If the Sixers get another top three pick, they are going to keep it and add to the growing stockpile of talent. However, Colangelo is more likely to try to turn some of those picks into trades for solid veteran players. He is going to spend money on more veteran free agents to teach the young stars how to be professional and win some games. These new players are not going to be franchise cornerstone guys — those Jahlil Okafor level guys still need to come through the draft for now in Philly — but they will be players who will help speed the process along and get more wins.

2) Colangelo or no, the Sixers pain isn’t over — they fall by 51 to the Spurs. The Spurs rested Tim Duncan, had Kawhi Leonard out with the stomach flu, and still set a franchise record for the largest win, 119-68. It was a reminder that while there may be changes at the top in Philadelphia, it’s going to be a while before the impact trickles down to the roster itself. A change in the philosophy of the process doesn’t change the fact the Sixers are a 1-21 team with many players on the roster who will be out of the league in a couple of years. After the game coach Brett Brown was virtually speechless.

Meanwhile, the Spurs are the Spurs. They played little used Boban Marjanovic — the 7’3″ Serbian center who dominated Euroleague last season — and he stepped in and looked very Spursian, dropping 18 points. He faked Okafor out badly a couple times.

3) Suns score 42 in fourth on the second night of the back to back, defeat Bulls on buzzer beater. For a Suns team that had lost four in a row but were within five points in the final five minutes in all of them, this was a sweet bit of revenge. After a 10-point third quarter, they fought back with a massive fourth quarter to come from behind and beat the Bulls on Mirza Teletovic‘s offensive rebound and game-winning shot.

For the Bulls, this loss seemed a punch to the gut. Jimmy Butler talked about how the team lacked a killer instinct. The fluctuation between a great defensive third quarter and an abysmal fourth speaks to a lack of identity, and with that a lack of consistent energy by the team. This was a new low point for the Bulls this season.

4) Chris Paul, J.J. Redick return for Clippers in win, but all anyone will talk about is Garnett dunk. If the Clippers are going to find their way back into the elite of the Western Conference and be a real playoff threat, they have some work to do — and they needed to get Chris Paul (rib injury) and J.J. Redick (ankle) back on the floor. They did that just in time to pick up a close win over Minnesota on the road Monday night.

But all anyone will remember from this game was this dunk by Kevin Garnett.

5) Byron Scott decides to bring D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle off the bench, start Lou Williams. I have made the argument more than once that Lakers’ coach Byron Scott needs to play his young trio — Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle — together more and away from Kobe Bryant as much as possible. Oh, and let the kids close games so they can learn to play in that environment.

Scott took a step toward staggering Kobe’s minutes from his young stars Monday, but in classic Scott style found a way to make it look like a punishment and demotion for the young players he is charged with building up. He benched Russell and Randle, starting instead Lou Williams and Larry Nance (who has had a nice rookie season so far but doesn’t have the skills nor ceiling of Randle, who he replaced). The staggering worked in the sense they didn’t play with Kobe a ton. Randle seemed to adjust better, with 15 points and 11 boards, while Russell had nine points on 11 shots, and as many turnovers as assists. 

Laker GM Mitch Kupchak hinted in an interview Monday he is not happy with the pace of player development so far. He shouldn’t be. But whether the Lakers do anything about it before next summer is another question entirely.

Wes Unseld Jr., Kenny Atkinson reportedly top list for next Chicago coach

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Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley, the two guys at the top of Chicago Bulls basketball operations, fired a coach in Jim Boylen that the team owner liked. Which means they have to nail the next hire.

Chicago in on to the second round of interviews and four names stand out, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Bulls are narrowing to finalists for their head coaching job and expect to conduct final interviews soon, sources said. Denver assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Philadelphia assistant Ime Udoka, Milwaukee assistant Darvin Ham and former Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson are among the coaches who have had strong interviews so far.

Atkinson has a more proven resume after what he did in Brooklyn, but the other three are top assistants who have earned their shot in the big chair. Unseld Jr. is a hot name right now because his team is still in the bubble and playing well — he’s Mike Malone’s lead assistant on the Denver Nuggets — but every name on this list is qualified.

Whoever lands the job will head a team with plenty of potential but also plenty of questions. The Bulls have quality young talent on the roster — Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter — but do they are fit together? How good Chicago is next season may depend more on the growth of White and the health of Markkanen than it does on who gets selected as coach.

Expect Karnisovas to spend a year putting his stamp on this roster and moving players around. First, however, he’s got to find his coach.

Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin form NASCAR racing team with Bubba Wallace driving

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Michael Jordan is getting into the NASCAR game.

The North Carolina native has teamed up with three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin to form a new NASCAR Cup Series race team — and they’ve signed Bubba Wallace to drive.

Wallace is the only Black man driving full-time in NASCAR’s top series (the previous three seasons he raced for Richard Petty Motorsports). Wallace has been at the forefront of bringing social changes to NASCARincluding the banning of the Confederate flags at NASCAR events and tracks.

“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said in a statement. “The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me.

“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”

Michael Jordan becomes the first Black owner of a full-time race team in NASCAR top series since NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott in the 1960s and early 1970s (he owned the team and drove the car). Bubba Wallace is the first Black full-time driver in the top NASCAR series since Scott.

Hamlin will be a minority partner in the new team and continue to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” said Wallace in a statement. “Both Michael and Denny are great competitors and are focused on building the best team they possibly can to go out and compete for race wins. I’m grateful and humbled that Michael and Denny believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”

The car manufacturer, number, sponsors and more will be announced at a later date.

Jordan is the primary owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.

NBA executives pick Luka Doncic as best player under 25 to build around

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Luka Doncic, in his second season, made the leap into the NBA’s elite — fourth in MVP voting and First Team All-NBA. All at age 21.

Not surprisingly, he’s the player under 21 NBA teams would want to build around.

Michael Scotto of Hoopshype polled 15 league executives (including four general managers) and players under 25 they want to build around and Doncic was the unanimous choice.

“To me, Luka is the clear No. 1,” one scout told HoopsHype. “He’s a guy who can be a lead ballhandler. He’s good enough to score and create at a high level, has the right mental makeup and is incredibly smart. He’s been a winner everywhere and will probably be a winner in the league.”

It’s hard to argue when Luka Doncic is already doing this in the playoffs:

Boston’s Jayson Tatum came in second, Phoenix Devin Booker was third, followed by Ja Morant (Memphis) fourth and a tie at fifth between Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Bam Adebayo (Miami).

An interesting note about that top five: None of them was a No. 1 pick.

Zion Williamson had been on top of this poll a year ago, but after a season where he played just 19 games then looked a step slow in the bubble there are concerns about his long-term health.

“He’s just a special player inside the arc who’s an elite finisher,” one executive told HoopsHype. “Offensively, he can finish at an elite rate. He’s one of the best finishers behind Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and LeBron (James). He can hit the open man. He’s so physically dominant. His shooting shouldn’t be a problem, but we’ll see. I think he’s always going to be hurt, though.”

One healthy dominant season from Williamson and those opinions could shift, but even then Doncic will be an MVP level player the Mavericks can build a contender around. He’s the guy under 25.

Report: Raptors coach Nick Nurse earning $8M salary on extension

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Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich reportedly had an $11 million salary in 2015 then signed a contract extension in 2019 that keeps him the NBA’s highest-paid coach. Doc Rivers was earning $10 million annually with the Clippers before his latest extension. Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra also signed extensions in recent years.

What about Nick Nurse, who just signed an extension with the Raptors?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Raptors coach Nick Nurse signed a new multiyear contract extension on Tuesday — a deal that pays him around $8 million per year, sources say.

That’s a lot for a coach, especially in these times.

But Nurse has proven his value. He might even be the NBA’s best coach right now. He checks so many key boxes.

He has shown the ability to prepare his team for the playoffs then adapt through a long playoff run. His players have developed under his watch. He has dealt with roster upheaval and kept everything humming.

After just two seasons as head coach, Nurse still must prove himself in more situations, especially as opposing teams become more familiar with his strategies. But Toronto should want to keep him.

Credit Raptors ownership for paying to make it happen.

Now onto Raptors president Masai Ujiri