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David Blatt first coach in a decade fired season after Finals appearance

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David Blatt had the best-ever record ever by a coach fired mid-season, but his success wasn’t a flash in the pan. He also guided the Cavaliers to last season’s NBA Finals.

In that sense, Blatt’s firing is even more surprising.

Blatt obviously had to win more than his peers. That’s the burden of coaching LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and an expensive supporting cast. But Blatt isn’t the first coach to have major talent at his disposal. That’s often enough to win, and winning usually allows a coach to keep his job for a while – especially after reaching the Finals.

Now, Blatt has become just the eighth coach to be forced out within a season of reaching the Finals. The other seven:

2005 Detroit Pistons – Larry Brown

Brown took the Pistons to back-to-back Finals, beating the Lakers in 2004 and losing to the Spurs in 2005. But Detroit became tired of Brown’s job-hunting ways and fired him in the offseason. If the Pistons had waited, they might have avoided this list. It seemed quite possible Brown would resign to coach the Knicks, who did end up hiring him.

Detroit hired Flip Saunders, who reached three conference finals in three seasons but never got further. It was only downhill from there.

2003 New Jersey Nets – Byron Scott

Scott coached the Nets to back-to-back Finals losses when the Eastern Conference was at its weakest. A 22-20 start allowed New Jersey to appease star Jason Kidd, who reportedly wanted Scott gone. (Their relationship hasn’t gotten much better over the years.)

The Nets promoted Lawrence Frank, who never reached the conference finals as the rest of the conference caught up.

1977 Philadelphia 76ers – Gene Shue

In the midst of a season that would end in the 76ers’ first Finals in a decade, owner Fitz Dixon said to Shue after a loss, “What’s your excuse tonight?” Safe to say, Dixon disliked Shue. But it’s tough to fire a coach who just guided a turnaround. So, Dixon waited until three straight losses dropped Philadelphia to 2-4 the next season.

At least Dixon chose well when replacing Shue. Billy Cunningham won nearly 70% of his games in eight seasons coaching the 76ers, and he guided them to the 1983 title.

1969 Los Angeles Lakers – Butch Van Breda Kolff

In Game 7 of the Finals, Wilt Chamberlain benched himself with an injury Van Breda Kolff deemed to be minor. When Chamberlain said he was ready to return, the coach kept his star on the bench. The Lakers lost by two points to the Celtics.

Van Breda Kolff technically resigned to take over the lesser Pistons, but he was forced out according to Steven Travers and Sam Smith. “I didn’t see any foreseeable future there,” Van Breda Kolff said of Los Angeles.

1961 St. Louis Hawks – Paul Seymour

Get ready for several St. Louis Hawks coaches from the era of owner Ben Kerner.

Seymour guided the Hawks to the Finals in his lone full season as their head coach, but a 5-9 start and his reliance on rookie Cleo Hill did him in the next season. Seymour accused veterans Bob Pettit, Cliff Hagan and Clyde Lovellette of opposing Hill starting. There are mixed accounts whether that was due racism – Hill was black – or established players just not wanting to share the ball with a rookie.

Either way, Andrew Levane and then Pettit finished coaching the Hawks to their only non-playoff season in an 18-year span.

1960 St. Louis Hawks – Ed Macauley

As Macauley told it, Kerner hired Seymour as a replacement coach for the following season when the Hawks lost two straight to fall behind 3-2 in the division finals. But St. Louis rallied to win Games 6 and 7 and even pushed the Celtics to seven games in the NBA Finals.

Macauley accepted his fate and fulfilled his contract as general manager.

1958 St. Louis Hawks – Alex Hannum

Hannum is the only coach on this list fired after winning a championship. Kerner struck again.

Peter Finney of NOLA.com:

Kerner gave Hannum a two-year contract. A year later, he asked for a raise. If he didn’t get one, he said, he’d go to work full time in his sideline, as a carpenter. Kerner fired him.

“He did a great job, but he wasn’t my type of guy, ” Kerner said. “He was hammer and nails. He wasn’t loyal.”

Did Hornets GM tell Kobe Bryant on draft night, ‘We couldn’t have used you anyway,’ as Bryant claims?

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Kobe Bryant spent 16 days as a Charlotte Hornet.

Long enough to develop resentment for the Hornets.

Charlotte drafted Bryant No. 13 in 1996 to trade him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. Divac threatened to retire, but eventually relented on joining the Hornets. After the moratorium, Bryant went to Los Angeles, where he had a Hall of Fame career.

He hasn’t let go of draft night, though.

Bryant on the Knuckleheads podcast:

You get drafted, you get on the phone with the GM of the team that drafted you and all this stuff. So, I get on the phone with the Charlotte GM. He just tells me, “Hey, you know what’s going on.” Like, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah.” And you’ve got media in front of you and all that. And he goes, “Well, it’s a good thing we’re trading you, because we couldn’t have used you anyway.” You motherf. OK. OK. Alright. So, that’s what happened on draft night. So, I was already triggered. I was triggered. I was ready to go to the gym. Like f— the media. I don’t want to do any more interviews. I’m trying to – what are you telling me that for? I’m 17. What are you telling? OK. Alright.

The Hornets’ general manager was Bob Bass. He died last year, so he can’t tell his side of this story.

However, in previous tellings, Bryant said Charlotte coach Dave Cowens delivered that message. Cowens denied it.

Did Bryant forget whether he talked to the general manager or coach? Forget which position Cowens held? That’d be perfectly understandable decades later.

Or maybe both Bass and Cowens were on the call. Perhaps, Bryant initially thought Cowens said it and more recently learned it was Bass. That could explain Cowens’ denial.

But…

Stephen A. Smith of The Inquirer at the time:

On Wednesday, the Hornets took Bryant with the 13th pick of the NBA draft. Within minutes, there was talk of Bryant’s going to L.A. Dave Cowens, the Hornets’ new coach, was among those who raised the possibility, dismissing Bryant as “a kid” who would have a hard time playing for Charlotte.

That was a reasonable expectation. Bryant was just a teenager. Charlotte had veteran wings like Glen Rice and Dell Curry.

But Bryant was that special. He quickly became a contributor with the Lakers then developed into an all-time great.

In part because he fanned his competitive fire with perceived slights like this one.

Bryant is right: Who would say that to a 17-year-old? It just sounds cruel. Of course, Bryant would want to avenge being treated that way.

Here’s my guess: Someone from Charlotte – either Cowens or Bass – tried to comfort Bryant in a chaotic situation by saying the trade would work out for the best because the Hornets wouldn’t have played him much. It was supposed to be nice. Bryant took it as an insult.

But that’s just a guess. It was a private conversation many years ago. We’ll probably never know exactly what was said, let alone what was intended.

Report: Rockets signing Thabo Sefolosha

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The Rockets’ minicamp has produced a signing – Thabo Sefolosha.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

This is surely for the minimum. It’s unclear how much is guaranteed.

Houston has just 10 players with guaranteed salaries, including Nene’s dud of a deal. So, there’s room for Sefolosha to make the regular-season roster.

Sefolosha should fit well in Houston. He’s a smart, versatile defender and can knock down corner 3s. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will allow Sefolosha to concentrate on his strengths in a limited role. The biggest question is how much the 35-year-old Sefolosha has left in the tank.

NBA to better define traveling rule, increase enforcement, explain rule to players, fans

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Gather and two steps.

That is how the NBA has defined the traveling rule for many years now. A player can take a step if he is in the process of “gathering” a dribble or pass, then has two steps. Players such as James Harden have stretched that to the limit, frustrating opponents and non-Rockets fans, but it’s legal.

Now the NBA is looking to better define that “gather” step, then crackdown on enforcement of the rule. With that will come an education program for everyone from players to fans. All of this was approved at the NBA’s Board of Governors’ meeting in New York on Friday.

“One of the most misunderstood rules in our game is how traveling is interpreted and appropriately called,” Byron Spruell, NBA President, League Operations, said in a statement. “Revising the language of certain areas of the rule is part of our three-pronged approach to address the uncertainty around traveling.  This approach also includes an enforcement plan to make traveling a point of emphasis for our officiating staff, along with an aggressive education plan to increase understanding of the rule by players, coaches, media and fans.”

That “aggressive education plan” should be interesting.

At the meeting, the owners also made gamblers everywhere happy by saying that starting lineups now need to be submitted by coaches 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. In past years that had been only 10 minutes (and road teams complained that was not evenly enforced between home and road teams all the time).

This is a good bit of transparency by the league, as have been some of the recent changes in requirements of announcing injuries. But make no mistake, this rule change is all about gambling.

Under new anti-tampering rules, Adam Silver empowered to suspend execs, take away picks, void contracts

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LeBron James publicly courted Anthony Davis. Many free agents seemingly struck deals before free agency even began. Kawhi Leonard‘s uncle/advisor reportedly sought prohibited extra benefits from teams.

The NBA finally reached its breaking point on tampering and circumvention.

After late apprehension, the league will enact stricter enforcement.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I’m not surprised this passed unanimously. NBA commissioner Adam Silver wanted this to happen and wasn’t going to have owners vote unless he knew it’d pass. At that point, any protest-voting owners would just put themselves at odds with the commissioner. Not worth it.

We’ll see how long this crackdown lasts. I think that anonymous general manager represents many. If nobody is tampering, it’s fine not to tamper. But if some teams tamper, nobody wants to be at a disadvantage.

This could slowly creep back toward the old status quo. But if there’s a clear violator early, Silver will have an opportunity to send a message. We’ll see whether he takes it.

This should be less about which communication is or isn’t allowed. It’s about fairness.

That’s why it’s important the NBA has rules it will enforce and only rules it will enforce. That hasn’t been the case. If it is now, this will be a success.