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.

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.

Cavaliers reportedly extend Dean Wade for three years, $18.5 million

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This could be a steal for the Cavaliers — Dean Wade could be the starting three for the Cavaliers by the end of this season and he’s got a genuine upside.

The Cavaliers have extended Wade for three years, $18.5 million, a story where multiple sources were on top of it, including Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Wade’s counting stats aren’t eye-popping — 5.3 points a game and shooting 35.7% from 3 — but he is a quality wing defender who has improved as a floor spacer (sometimes setting picks and popping out). He’s a two-way player who has put in the work and could pass Isaac Okoro on the depth chart this season.

The Cavaliers have four All-Stars who will undoubtedly be starting for them — Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell in the backcourt, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley up front — and the looming question is at the three. Wade has a chance this season to step into that role.

Which makes extending him at a little over $6 million a season a potential steal for the Cavaliers.

 

Warriors GM Myers reiterates he would like to extend Green, Poole, Wiggins

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Andrew Wiggins is entering the final year of his contract and the Warriors want to extend him. Jordan Poole is up for a contract extension and if it isn’t worked out by the start of the season he becomes a restricted free agent next summer. Draymond Green is eligible — and wants — a four years, $138.4 million extension (the max they can give him).

Bob Myers said again this week that he wants to keep all three of those players — all critical parts of the Warriors run to a title last season — but financial reality could intrude upon that dream. Here’s what Myers said Thursday, via Kendra Andrews of ESPN:

“We want all of those guys,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said at a news conference Thursday. “Can we get all of them? I don’t know.

“It depends on what the money ends up being. What the ask is what we can end up doing. We’re not at a point to make those decisions yet. Some of these decisions may be made in the next two weeks, some might be made in the next seven, eight months.”

The Warriors turned heads around the league paying more than $350 million in player salaries and luxury tax last season — and this season they will be in the same ballpark. Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob has said even with the cash cow that is the new Chase Center, this is not a team that can spend $400 million. Some expenses are locked in, such as Stephen Curry and his $215.4 max contract extension. Klay Thompson is at the max for a couple of more years.

Poole is part of the future in Golden State — along with Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, and maybe Jonathan Wiseman — and they can’t let him go. Wiggins was the Warriors’ second-best player in the postseason last year. That has led to some speculation Green could be the odd man out — something Myers has denied. Green will make $25.8 million this season but is  expected to opt out of the $27.6 million player option he has next season. It leaves the Warriors and Green with a choice.

Something’s got to give, but the Myers and the Warriors seem ready to kick that financial can down the road until next summer, and for this season get the band back together and chase another ring.

Poole would be the first up (there is an Oct. 17 deadline to extend him). Whatever happens, this will be an undercurrent of a story all season long in the Bay Area.

C.J. McCollum inks two-year, $64 million extension with Pelicans

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After helping New Orleans return to the playoffs for the first time since Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers, C.J. McCollum earned a two-year, $64 million extension with the Pelicans. He will remain under contract with the team through the 2025-26 season, and there isn’t a player or team option in the deal. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news Saturday afternoon.

New Orleans traded Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, a 2022 protected first-round pick (turns into 2025 first-round pick that is top-4 protected), and two future second-round picks for McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., and Tony Snell.

New Orleans now has their core of McCollum, Zion Williamson, and Brandon Ingram under contract for the next three seasons.

The expectations will be high for the Pelicans for the next few years. After starting last season 1-12, first-year head coach Willie Green helped turn the team around, and they finished 36-46 before beating the Spurs and Clippers in the play-in tournament. Their season ended after losing to the Suns 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs.

McCollum averaged 24.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.7 triples per game after the trade to New Orleans.

The return of Zion this season, along with the success of last year’s team, has the team expecting a return to the playoffs. Locking up their star guard in McCollum emphasizes that their rebuild is over. After missing the playoffs during their first three seasons in the post-AD era, they don’t expect to return to the lottery for a long time. The big question surrounding their potential success will be Zion’s health.