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Is Jay Wright the next Brad Stevens?

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Starting in just a little over a week, NBA coaches’ heads will roll and there will be a search in cities across the NBA for their next head coach — at least five openings will be there, and there could be as many as seven or eight (I’ve had one source get into double digits), depending upon who you talk to around the league. As those searches start, the usual list of names of former NBA coaches will come up — Jeff Van Gundy, David Fizdale, etc… — as will the names of deserving up-and-coming assistants such as Nick Nurse (Toronto), Stephen Silas (Charlotte), and Jerry Stackhouse, among many others.

Other teams will look into the college ranks, trying to find the next Brad Stevens. Which may well be impossible, but it’s something a lot of teams discuss in the wake of Steven’s success (and to a lesser extent, Billy Donovan).

Which leads us to Villanova’s Jay Wright. He has led the Wildcats to two of the last three NCAA titles, built a powerhouse in the Delaware Valley, and he knows how to develop players, all meaning he is going to get feelers, and calls, from NBA front offices.

It leads to two questions:

Does Wright want to leave Villanova?

If he decides to, would his style of play and coaching fit at the NBA level?

Sources I spoke to for this article think the answer to the second question is a resounding yes. But the first question…

More than one person used the Mike Krzyzewski example with Wright — a guy who may be tempted by the siren call of the NBA, who will consider it on some level, but who is grounded, knows what he wants, and pretty much has that where he is at right now. He’s built his perfect job at Villanova. Look at Wright’s comment after winning the title Monday night.

“I just have the best job in the country. I’m in my hometown, my wife’s alma mater, my favorite team growing up. … I just love going to work every day. Our guys graduate. You see these kids are great kids to coach. As a coach, there’s just nothing better.”

Every coach at every college program talks about “building a family” but Wright has actually done it at Villanova. NBA players from the school’s past — Kyle Lowry through Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono — were in San Antonio for the title game. Wright has built a program poised for a long run of success because he’s not stocking the roster with one-and-dones, he’s getting guys maybe half-a-step or a step down the recruitment ladder and coaching them up. He has a team that believes in and plays a system (Villanova’s ability to switch up pick-and-roll coverages seamlessly on the fly in the title game was impressive). Here is what Hart said after the title game:

“He has such a legacy here, such a footprint. We love him. We don’t want him to go. It’s such a great culture. Everyone says, ‘Oh yeah, we’re a family.’ But when you see when someone falls down and four guys sprint to go pick him up, that’s a winning culture. That’s a brotherhood. Not everybody does that. People say it. But we believe it. Coach Wright’s the best coach in the country, period.”

But that siren call of the NBA is still there. If Wright has NBA aspirations, he should make the move soon. He is 56 years old, he’s got the energy, and an NBA team worth going to will close to double his current $2.6 million salary (money does always matter).

Wright is going to have teams reaching out this summer, but he’s also in a position to be a bit picky — he doesn’t have to take the first offer to come his way if he doesn’t trust management and ownership. Which is what he’s done in the past, he’s gotten calls and brushed them aside. Most publicly, thee Suns reportedly reached out in 2016 (after Villanova’s previous NCAA title) and he turned them down.

If he decides to jump into the NBA waters, he should be patient and find the right fit, much as Stevens did when leaving Butler. Let’s use the Bucks as an example — every coach looking for a better situation (and that includes some guys with NBA jobs already) sees that roster with Giannis Antetokounmpo and good role players around him and wants that job (which will be open once their playoff run ends). However, it’s also a franchise with an ownership divided enough that they had to settle on a compromise GM last summer because they couldn’t agree and there was a power struggle. (Not to diminish Jon Horst, who I think has done a good job in that role.) Is that something Wright sees as comfortable enough to leave Villanova for? When Phoenix calls (and they will) would he trust that ownership and management? Should he?

If Wright does find a fit and heads to the NBA, there is little question that he has all the tools to be a success.

The biggest adjustment for many NCAA coaches coming to the NBA is the shift in power structure. In college, the head coach is the CEO of the program and has control over the recruitment and roster, he can control the schedule, and the rest. It’s a great job for a control freak or a big ego (think John Calipari). At the NBA level the coach is not the guy with the power — a star player will have far more say and has more value to the franchise. The GM picks the roster. And the coach has many more people to answer to.

Wright is a guy who can handle that, he’s not the guy with the oversized ego, nor is he the level of control freak some coaches are.

Maybe more importantly, front offices have seen player development at Villanova under Wright that is crucial in today’s NBA. He turned Mikal Bridges into a likely lottery pick in this draft, and Donte DiVincenzo into a Final Four hero — neither was a massively high recruit. That is needed in the NBA. Look at the Warriors and, with the exception of Kevin Durant, they drafted lower and developed Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green (not to mention the rest of that roster). The teams that can sustain success develop players in house to at least be solid parts of the rotation (San Antonio is the gold standard, and you see it though coming up in Boston and Philadelphia).

On the court, you can see where Wright’s style would work, too. His teams play fast, he’s not afraid to go small, and he gets the need to use ball screens and actions to free up shooters. His teams also defend well. He can handle the Xs and Os.

The question with Wright isn’t can he be successful in the NBA, it’s does he want to make the leap?

The answer to that may be no, but suitors will come calling this summer.

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.