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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.”

Jonathan Isaac, Al-Farouq Aminu not expected to be back for Magic when games restart

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Jonathan Isaac was having a breakout season for Orlando. He had become a go-to defensive stopper for the Magic, a long, athletic, switchable defender averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals a game. He was going to get All-Defensive team votes this season and looked like a future Defensive Player of the Year candidate. (On offense he’s averaged 12 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, both career bests, but he is still a project.)

He hyperextended his knee and suffered a bone bruise in January, but it looks like neither he nor veteran Al-Farouq Aminu (torn meniscus) will be on the court for the Magic when games restart in July, reports Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel.

Injured forwards Jonathan Isaac (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (knee) most likely will not be healthy enough to return…

“Not a whole lot of news there,” [Magic president of basketball operations Jeff] Weltman said when asked about the possibility of Isaac or Aminu returning. “As always, we’re going to wait and see how they respond to rehab. They’re both working very hard.

“There’s a difference of being healthy and then being safely healthy. It will have been a long, long time since those guys played and you know organizationally that we’re never going to put our guys in a position where they’re exposed to any sort of risk of injury. So that being said, we’ll just continue to see how they progress.”

Put plainly, the risk is not worth the reward. Isaac is a key part of what the Magic want to build in the future and they do not want to push him too hard to return for this handful of games.

Come July, the Magic will head down the street to the Walt Disney World resort complex in Orlando as the eighth seed in the East with a 5.5 game lead over the ninth-seeded Wizards (who will not have John Wall back). If Washington can close that gap to four games or fewer during the eight “seeding games,” then there will be a two-game play-in series between the teams, with the Magic just needing to win one of the two to advance (assuming they are still the eight seed).

After that, it’s on to the first round of the playoffs and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Isaac’s defense would be helpful against Bradley Beal and/or Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Magic are thinking bigger picture.

Winning percentage will determine final seedings in NBA restart; regular tiebreakers used

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Heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando, the Trail Blazers are the nine seed in the West, followed by the Pelicans and Kings. All three of those teams are 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed, however, Portland gets the nine seed because it played two more games than either New Orleans and Sacramento, went 1-1 in those two games, and that gives Portland a slightly better winning percentage (.439 to .438).

That winning percentage matters because it’s how the league will determine seeding in a situation where teams have played a different number of games, reports Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

In practical terms, this may not matter much.

In the West, if Portland and New Orleans both went 8-0 in the seeding games then winning percentage would play a role with the Blazers getting the higher seed. However, that scenario is highly unlikely. More likely is wins and losses in Orlando will decide this and other tiebreakers (New Orleans beat Sacramento in their one head-to-head meeting, but our projected schedule for those teams has them playing twice, so the head-to-head tiebreaker is still up in the air). Because of how the records shake out, tiebreakers are irrelevant to Portland — it will not tie any teams, winning percentage will decide their seed.

In the East, winning percentage is irrelevant for the playoff chase — either Washington gets within four games of Orlando hand forces play-in games for the final playoff spot, or it doesn’t and Orlando is in.

Eight teams not headed to Orlando considering mini-camps, summer games to help players

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Nine months is a long time to go without playing a basketball game.

That’s what the eight teams not going to the NBA season restart in Orlando — Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Golden State, Minnesota, and New York — face. And for all of those teams except the Warriors, developing young players to be the future core of the franchise is their goal, and no games from March to December will set that effort back.

Which is why the teams are talking about “mini-camps” — think college spring football — with two teams at least playing each other during those camps, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Among the front-office ideas presented to the NBA, sources said:

• A combination of voluntary and mandatory workouts for two weeks in July.
• Regional minicamps in August that include joint practices for a period of days and approximately three televised games.

Those teams also want other “voluntary” team workouts and to start their training camps for next season earlier than the teams headed to Orlando.

The NBA isn’t going to grant teams everything on their wish list, but there should be some allowance for organized mini-camps and scrimmages/exhibitions. This would be particularly important to New York (and maybe Chicago), where a new coach will be installing a new system and trying to start a new culture.

Those eight teams missed out on 17 or so “meaningless” games with their season put on hold, games that would have meant something in terms of developing young players and giving guys key minutes. The league should — and almost certainly will — take steps to allow those off-season camps and scrimmages, helping teams get their player development programs back on track.

Gregg Popovich’s powerful statement: ‘Our country is in trouble and the basic reason is race’

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As protests continue across the nation — sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, but really the culmination of decades of systemic and, sometimes, overt racism across the United States — NBA voices have spoken up. Players, coaches, and staff have done more than take to social media, they have participated in and led marches across the nation, and put their money where their mouth is.

One of those voices is Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

He had spoken to Dave Zirin at The Nation, and on Saturday he released a powerful video statement through the Spurs.

Popovich has been at the forefront of NBA voices willing to speak out on social issues and criticize President Donald Trump. Popovich’s voice carries a lot of weight, both as a leader of men, and as a former Air Force officer who underwent intelligence training and specialized in Soviet studies.

In addition to coaching the San Antonio Spurs, Popovich will coach the USA Basketball team in the Tokyo Olympics, now set for July of 2021.