Rockets’ Mike D’Antoni, king of the 3, draws singular praise

Associated Press
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry and Draymond Green admire Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni from afar for how he empowers all his players to be scorers.

No matter who you are, just let it fly – and for the Rockets that means regularly from 3-point range. And in transition whenever possible.

Golden State coach Steve Kerr praises D’Antoni for influencing the way NBA teams now play offense: the pace and the space; precise ball movement and playing small without a traditional center; shooting at will and shooting from way back.

Still, for all his success in leading the West’s top team this season, D’Antoni might need a championship to validate his style.

Standing in the way are the defending champion Warriors, who open the best-of-seven Western Conference finals at Houston on Monday night.

“He empowers everyone to shoot the basketball, and that’s dangerous,” said Green, Golden State’s bruising forward. “That’s why he’s been so successful, especially on that side of the ball with any team he’s ever coached because that’s definitely an area where he’s a mastermind. ”

D’Antoni downplays his significance in developing today’s game.

“I think a lot of things combined to change it,” he said. “One, they changed the rules and, two, the analytic people came in and put validation over 3s and stuff we were doing in Phoenix. Yeah, we kind of jumped out there because of the team we had and Steve Nash before anybody really caught on. And it worked. So in a little sense part of it, but there was a lot of factors.”

D’Antoni’s teams recall those running, high-flying Denver Nuggets of the `80s, led by Alex English, Dan Issel and Kiki VanDeWeghe.

While Kerr has long expressed how much he learned from mentor Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs, he notes, “I was inspired by Mike.”

“The guy who deserves the most credit for changing the way the league is played is Mike D’Antoni,” Kerr said. “He’s the guy who just eliminated the center position and said, `Let’s go small and fast and shoot more 3s.”‘

Not that Kerr was immediately convinced such a style would work. After all, while Suns general manager in 2008, he traded All-Star Shawn Marion to Miami for Shaquille O’Neal, who hardly fit that focus of play. Kerr has called it a “bad move” all these years later.

D’Antoni left for New York at the end of that season and went 121-167 before resigning from the Knicks in March 2012. But Carmelo Anthony was never comfortable with or committed to D’Antoni’s way.

The Houston coach has said most everybody doubted his system, but the game has evolved.

“In the old days, you had kind of three out, two in, you had your traditional power forward, whether it was Karl Malone or Charles Oakley or somebody like that who was going to maybe shoot a 15-footer, but he was going to be banging down in the paint,” Kerr said.

“Mike eliminated that and created all that much more space. … The influence is there in the strategy and then over the last 10 years every player in the league has spent his summers shooting 500 3-pointers a day.”

Kerr’s partnership with D’Antoni lasted only that 2007-08 season in Phoenix before D’Antoni bolted for New York. A decade later, the 67-year-old D’Antoni has enjoyed his most successful stint in these two seasons with the Rockets.

His influence has reached the college game, too.

In the summer of 2014, Tara VanDerveer, the women’s Hall of Fame coach from Stanford, called on D’Antoni for an assist She needed to revamp her offense from the Cardinal’s tried-and-true triangle. D’Antoni helped with the transition.

Facing a D’Antoni team, Curry is prepared to defend constant pick-and-rolls. He understands the fast and creative tempo at which D’Antoni’s team plays.

“I guess you’d call it unorthodox when it comes to the things that he tries,” Curry said. “But it seems that anybody who goes and plays for D’Antoni’s system their offensive numbers go out the roof, just because he knows how to put guys in the right positions and instill confidence when you’re out there to make plays.”

David Lee, an ex-Warrior, played for D’Antoni with the Knicks. Curry says Lee spoke of how D’Antoni sought to bring out the best in his players.

“So he’s had a great track record of putting up crazy offensive numbers and whatnot,” Curry said. “And as a guy watching teams he used to coach he was always fun to watch.”

 

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

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The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

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Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via NBA.com). The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

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Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.

 

Cavaliers’ Dean Wade to miss 3-4 weeks due to shoulder injury

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In Cleveland’s search for a fifth starter to play the three next to Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, Dean Wade might be the best of the group. Not that the numbers are great for him or anyone (Cedi Osman is the best statistically) but the eye test makes one think Wade could be the answer.

We’ll have to wait a while to find out as Wade will be out 3-4 weeks with an AC joint sprain in his left shoulder, the Cavaliers announced. Friday night against the Magic he suffered an aggravation to a previous injury.

Wade has been a quality floor-spacer for the Cavaliers this season, shooting 41.1% from three, and is averaging 6.4 points and 4.1 rebounds a game, playing a little more than 24 minutes a night.

When he returns, hopefully coach J.B. Bickerstaff will give him a little more run with the rest of the Cavaliers core (when they are healthy).