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Byron Scott defends his development of D’Angelo Russell

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A few summers back, during a Team USA training session in Las Vegas in July, I was part of a discussion with USA/Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski about how players today are different from past eras. Remember, Coach K has as old school a background as you can get — West Point and Bob Knight. Krzyzewski said he’d learned he had to approach modern players differently; the “I say jump and you say how high” mentality didn’t work. However, if you took the time to explain why you wanted certain things done, if you mixed in positive with the negative, if you treated them as an individual and really taught them, the modern player would run through walls for you just like the old-school players did.

Consider that context for the discussion about the development of D'Angelo Russell with the Lakers.

Bashing Scott for his jerking of Russell’s role around and the apparent lack of communication between Scott and his young players has been a favorite pastime of Lakers fans this season. Lakers fans have turned on Scott as much or more than they ever did Mike Brown or Mike D’Antoni — the fact Scott is a Showtime Lakers icon doesn’t slow that tide anymore.

That criticism reached a peak last Friday when the Lakers lost to the Los Angeles Clippers. Former NBA player and UCLA star Don McLean is an analyst for the Clippers, but more than that he works out a lot of young players helping them prepare for the draft (or even college, I’ve spoken to him at Adidas Nations events before). McLean is active in player development, and like all guys in that field he’s protective of his own.

McLean worked with Russell before the draft last season, and he didn’t hold back going after Scott on the broadcast, as reported by Bill Oram of the Orange County Register.

“I really wish Byron Scott would just give D’Angelo Russell the keys and say, ‘Go for it, man,’” said MacLean…

“If Byron Scott would say, ‘You know what, D’Angelo? I don’t care if you turn it over 15 times tonight, you’re going to play 35 minutes, go for it,” he will figure it out,” MacLean said. “He really will.”

That’s the system that Denver and coach Mike Malone have used with Emmanuel Mudiay, and while that rookie has a ways to go (especially with his shot), you still have seen him start to turn a corner, to begin to develop real chemistry with Nikola Jokic.

Byron Scott doesn’t see it that way at all. And he fired back.

Scott sees it this way: If you just let Russell (or any rookie) have minutes in spite of mistakes you are rewarding bad behaviors and they will never learn. They will feel entitled. It’s an old-school method. He’s doing with Russell (and Julius Randle) what he did with Jordan Clarkson last season, holding back the minutes then eventually unleashing them. Scott said the other day he plans to put Russell back in the starting lineup, likely after the All-Star break.

McLean fired back at Scott on a radio interview Monday, but that starts to distract from my point, and my questions.

It should be noted, Scott was drafted by the Lakers onto a 54-win team that reached the NBA Finals, was stacked with Hall of Famers and veterans, and Pat Riley still got Scott in 49 games as a rookie. Scott was much better for it and much improved his second season.

What we don’t know — because we’re not at practices, not in the film sessions — is what Scott and his staff are doing to teach Russell to do things the right way. Other than to slap him on the nose and say “bad dog” by limiting his minutes. Scott is old school, has he figured out how to adapt and reach younger players, or does he only know one way?

Based on Russell’s comments to NBA.com’s David Aldridge, Russell is a guy in need of being shown the right way, a guy thirsty for that knowledge but not being given the water.

Russell: At this day and age, you kind of have a feel for what you did wrong. It might sound weird, but you don’t know what to ask. So like, I turned the ball over. I know I turned the ball over and I’m coming out of the game. I’m not sure if that’s why you’re pulling me out, but I’m not sure what to ask. ‘Cause I know I turned it over. There’s nothing that you can possibly say that’s going to bring that turnover back, or anything that I can possibly do. But it’s like, I don’t know what to ask. It’s like, he wouldn’t, I don’t know, tell me if I don’t ask. So that’s where it’s kind of a blur.

Aldridge: Is that just part of being a young guy — not knowing? You don’t know what you don’t know?

Russell: That’s the best way to put it. I don’t know what I don’t know.

That’s a mature statement from Russell.

More mature than we have seen from a coach comfortable with criticizing his rookies to the media.

Scott also has a tough balancing act this season — making sure the fans get the Kobe Bryant farewell tour experience while developing young players for the future.

Russell is showing signs of improvement this season, and while Lakers fans will tell you that’s in spite of Scott, the coach and his staff clearly have some role in it. Could Russell be handled better? From the outside looking in it’s not fair to draw hard and fast conclusions, but it appears there is a generational gap that his hampering things.

Scott is not going anywhere the rest of this season — he will coach the Lakers through April, reports Mike Bresnahan at the Los Angeles Times. That shouldn’t be a surprise; he was brought in to guide the final years of the Kobe experience, and to help the Lakers sell some history while setting up a new generation. He reportedly is on an audition for his job the rest of the season.

I’d be surprised if Scott is back next season, he’ll get more time on the golf course and the Lakers will pick a new direction.

But until he goes, don’t expect Scott to change.

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

Raptors coach Nick Nurse
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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

Dwight Howard is talking a lot of trash

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The Lakers put Dwight Howard on final warning BEFORE even signing him.

And for most of the season, Howard kept a low profile.

But he has been breaking out of his shell in the bubble. Related to basketball, too.

Howard has played excellent defense on Nuggets star Nikola Jokic in the Western Conference finals. The day after Game 1, Howard told Jamal Murray about it.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

The Nuggets were wrapping up their practice, which took place not far from the Lakers’, with Murray about to begin his media session in the convention center hallway. Howard, as it so happened, walked by right then and the banter restarted.

“Don’t do that, fam,” Murray said to Howard, with both men smiling.

“What?” Howard said.

“Don’t do that, fam,” Murray said again.

“Where’s Joker at?” Howard replied. “Where’s his room?”

As was the case in the series opener, there was no answer.

Then, Howard (and JaVale McGee) pointed out Jokic’s defensive deficiencies against Anthony Davis in Game 2.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Once the Lakers’ bench saw it was Jokic tasked with guarding Davis, it brought the noise with JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard screaming, “Thanksgiving, steak dinner, appetizers, filet mignon and potatoes, a glass of champagne!”

Davis, who faced up Jokic and maneuvered his way around the big man for a bucket in the paint. McGee shouted, “Told you it was a feast out there!”

Howard didn’t let up after Davis’ game-winner.

Amick:

As the Lakers mobbed Davis on the court after his shot, big man Dwight Howard broke off from the group and decided to taunt the Nuggets as they exited the basketball stage. If you somehow haven’t noticed, Howard is leaning hard into this tough-guy approach.

“Go home!” he yelled over and over while laughing, jumping, pumping his fist and getting closer to the Nuggets’ side of the floor with every second. “Go home!”

A small group of Nuggets staffers, including one of Jokic’s biggest supporters in assistant strength and conditioning coach Felipe Eichenberger, did not take kindly to the mocking that had taken place all game long and returned to the court to shout back. The two sides exchanged words, and eventually retreated to their corners that came with conflicting emotions.

This works because Howard is playing well – in his role.

Howard was slow to recognize he’s no longer a superstar. Yet, he still has the energy for being the center of attention. That used to mean doing things like posting up too much,

Now, Howard is focused on defending, screening and sometimes finishing at the rim while playing all-out in limited minutes. It’s what the Lakers need and what Howard can provide at age 34.

If he wants to talk trash along the way, more power to him. It’s a lot of fun.

But there’s also a fine line between the endearing villain and loathed jerk. Outside Denver, Howard appears to be the former. For now.

Report: Pacers interview former Thunder coach Billy Donovan

Billy Donovan coaches Thunder vs. Pacers
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The Pacers were reportedly expected to hire Mike D’Antoni as coach.

But if set on the former Rockets coach, Indiana isn’t acting like it.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Former Thunder coach Billy Donovan interviewed for the Pacers last week, sources said. The Pacers are expected to interview a pool of around 12 candidates, trim the candidates approximately in half, and conduct in-person interviews.

Donovan joins a list of known candidates that’s already way longer than 12:

  • Former Thunder coach Billy Donovan
  • Former Kings and Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger
  • Former Pistons and Nuggets star Chauncey Billups
  • Warriors assistant and former Cavaliers and Lakers coach Mike Brown
  • Nets assistant and former Magic coach Jacque Vaughn
  • Spurs assistant Becky Hammon
  • Spurs assistant Will Hardy
  • Heat assistant Dan Craig
  • Heat assistant Chris Quinn
  • Mavericks assistant Jamahl Mosley
  • Mavericks assistant Stephen Silas
  • Bucks assistant Darvin Ham
  • Bucks assistant Charles Lee
  • Magic assistant Pat Delany
  • Timberwolves assistant David Vanterpool
  • 76ers assistant Ime Udoka
  • Trail Blazers assistant Nate Tibbetts

Leaving the potentially rebuilding Thunder, Donovan clearly expected to land on his feet. The Pacers are equipped to win now, but maybe only moderately.

Donovan has shown impressive adaptability to his roster. That’d come in handy if Indiana is set on continuing the talented but challenging Domantas SabonisMyles Turner pairing.