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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?

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.


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.