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David Blatt’s Cavaliers best team ever to change coach mid-season

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David Blatt had a 30-11 record as coach of the Cavaliers this season before they fired him.

He also had LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

Great players help coaches produce great records, making it difficult for outsiders to assess coaches. Poor players create the same problem, but they also shorten coaching tenures. When in doubt, teams dump losers and stick with winners.

That’s part of what makes Blatt’s firing so shocking. How bad could he be while winning 73% of his games? He might not have been up to the standard, but that type of record usually gives a coach cover.

That historically wasn’t the case here.

Cleveland had the best record of any team changing, let alone firing, a coach mid-season.

Just six non-interim coaches had ever won more than 60% of their games in a season without finishing it:

1979-80 Los Angeles Lakers: Jack McKinney, 10-4 (71%)

McKinney suffered a serious head injury in a bicycle crash. Assistant coach Paul Westhead took over, went 50-18 and guided the Lakers to the title.

2004-05 Dallas Mavericks: Don Nelson, 42-22 (66%)

The Mavericks had made assistant Avery Johnson the coach-in-waiting. Nelson just accelerated the process, resigning in March to hand Johnson the reigns. Dallas finished a blistering 16-2 under Johnson but lost in the second round.

1999-00 Phoenix Suns: Danny Ainge, 13-7 (65%)

Ainge stunningly resigned in his fourth season season as Phoenix’s coach, citing a desire to spend more time with his family. Scott Skiles was promoted, went 40-22 and reached the second round.

1988-89 Utah Jazz: F. Layden, 11-6 (65%)

Layden said he was tired of the pressure of coaching, and he walked away. His replacement handled the burden just a little longer – 23 seasons. Jerry Sloan took over and had a fantastic coaching career, but he didn’t win a playoff game that first season.

1981-82 Los Angeles: Paul Westhead, 7-4 (64%)

Westhead got fired for a simple reason: He feuded with Magic Johnson. That got Johnson labeled a coach killer, but fans came around when Johnson helped Pat Riley win a title that season (and in 1985, 1987 and 1988).

1982-83 New Jersey Nets: Larry Brown, 47-29 (62%)

Brown was coaching the Nets to their best record since joining the NBA from the ABA when he took the job at Kansas. Brown wanted to finish the season, but owner Joe Taub told Brown “it would be best if you go now.” Assistant Bill Blair coached the final six games of the season, going 2-4 and then getting swept in a best-of-three playoff series.

So, there is precedent for a team winning it all after changing coaches during the season. The Lakers did it after changing coaches due to both choice (Westhead to Riley) and circumstance (McKinney to Westhead).

Cleveland very much did this by choice.

The question now: Can Tyronn Lue be the next Pat Riley?

Report: NBA ‘snitch’ hotline receiving multiple tips

NBA snitch hotline
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When the NBA created a hotline for players to anonymously report violations inside the bubble, numerous questions emerged. How often would it get used? What consequences would told-on players face? Would other players resent how often Chris Paul called?

Some answers are emerging.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kings center Richaun Holmes and Rockets forward Bruno Caboclo are each quarantined after breaking protocols. It’s unclear how their violations were detected.

Yes, there is a culture against snitching. That this report is snitching about snitching is truly something.

But there’s too much at stake – health of hundreds of people and a lot of money – to take these protocols lightly. Everyone at the NBA’s Disney World campus is entrusting their safety (and, for players, whose salaries are tied to revenue, livelihood) to those around them. It’s important everyone involved acts responsibly.

Kings forward Harrison Barnes tests positive for coronavirus

Kings forward Harrison Barnes
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The Kings have been hit especially hard by coronavirus.

Buddy Hield, Jabari Parker and Alex Len all tested positive. Richaun Holmes is quarantined after violating the NBA’s bubble protocols at Disney World.

And now Harrison Barnes reveals he was diagnosed with coronavirus.

Harrison Barnes:

Presumably, Barnes was among the 19 players the NBA announced tested positive for coronavirus in July in home markets.

“Primarily asymptomatic” is a strange assessment. Does Barnes mean he’s mildly symptomatic?

The Kings already faced an uphill climb for making the playoffs. At best, several of their players are falling behind in training. At worst, Sacramento will have its rotation depleted when games begin.

Hopefully, Barnes recovers and joins the team as he hopes. He has a personal stake in it. Even during the lengthy hiatus, Barnes stuck with his pledge not to shave or cut his hair until the Kings reach .500 (or, as he amended it, make the playoffs) or the season ends.

Report: Pacers star Victor Oladipo’s remaining salary in dispute

Pacers star Victor Oladipo
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Among the continuing 22 NBA teams, players not playing in the resumption at Disney World essentially fall into two categories:

Pacers star Victor Oladipo lands in the gray area.

Oladipo, who returned from a year-long absence shortly before the season got suspended in March, said he was sitting out due to elevated risk of injury during a quick buildup. But he also traveled with the team to Orlando and is even practicing so well, Indiana is reportedly becoming increasingly optimistic he’ll play.

Is Oladipo healthy enough to play?

At stake for Oladipo:

  • $2,763,158 if the Pacers get swept in the first round
  • $2,993,421 if they play exactly five playoff games
  • $3,223,684 if they play six or more playoff games

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

The union believes Oladipo, who went to Orlando with the Pacers and then cleared quarantine so he could practice, should be paid his remaining salary, sources said.

The league, largely in an effort to set a precedent in case other players who are deemed healthy want to leave Orlando and no longer play, believes Oladipo has opted out and should not be paid, sources said. His public comments about feeling healthy has only solidified the league’s position on the matter, sources said.

The Pacers support Oladipo’s decision and are willing to pay him the salary whether he plays or not, sources said.

Presumably, if Oladipo plays, he’ll get paid like anyone else playing in the resumption. This controversy lingers only if Oladipo doesn’t play.

It’s unsurprising the Pacers don’t want to pick this fight with their star player, especially as he approaches 2021 free agency. Trying to avoid alienating their own players but not necessarily eager to pay for services not rendered, teams collectively want the league to handle these issues.

If teams had ample discretion, the Wizards might have said Davis Bertans – who chose to sit out – had some lingering injury. NBA players are rarely perfectly healthy. There’s always some physical issue to point to. Bertans will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and they want to re-sign him. What an easy way to build goodwill – and maybe even get a discount on Bertans’ next contract.

Obviously, the league doesn’t want those type of shenanigans. That’s why on outside rulings on players’ health can be important.

Oladipo might not be the only borderline case:

Oladipo’s situation might take care of itself if he decides to play. But the league might inquire more deeply into other situations.

Report: Rockets star James Harden ‘feeling fine,’ might travel with Russell Westbrook

Rockets stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook
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When Russell Westbrook revealed he had coronavirus, speculation immediately turned to the Rockets’ other star who also didn’t travel with the team to Disney World.

James Harden is “feeling fine,” working out and might travel with Westbrook to Orlando, according to Shams Charania of Stadium:

Was Harden also diagnosed with coronavirus? Is he just waiting for his friend before entering the restrictive bubble? Is there another issue?

These questions beget even more questions.

If both players have coronavirus, they won’t necessarily recover on the same day. Would the first to get cleared wait for the other? Or is traveling together just an idea in case it works out?

If Harden is fully healthy and just waiting for Westbrook, how do their teammates inside the bubble feel about that? Those already at Disney World are spending more time away from friends and family in less-than-ideal conditions.

If there’s another issue… who knows?

The lack of transparency around the situation only invites rumors and guesses.

At least it’s good news that Harden feels fine.