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Despite fast start in Toronto, Kawhi Leonard reportedly still eyeing return to Los Angeles

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The Toronto Raptors are making their case to Kawhi Leonard this season — Toronto is 23-8, in first place in the East by 2.5 games, and look like a real threat to make the NBA Finals. Leonard, averaging 26.2 points and 8.2 rebounds a game, is a guy who has returned to the MVP conversation.

Still, the Raptors don’t know if he’s staying, or what he’s thinking, because Leonard doesn’t talk about it in a meaningful way.

“It’s been good so far,” Leonard told NBC Sports of the fit in Toronto. “Like I said, we’ve been winning, everyone’s playing well. Can’t complain.”

Nothing he’s done has slowed the speculation and buzz about what Leonard will do as a free agent next summer… which Leonard is working to ignore.

“I don’t buy into reading media, don’t have no social media, so just focus on what’s in front of me,” Leonard said before the Raptors faced the Clippers last week. “At that time it’s either my family or playing basketball.”

A lot of the speculation around the league has remained that Leonard is headed back to Los Angeles next summer, most likely with the Clippers. Here is what Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said on a special trade season preview broadcast Saturday morning (transcription via Real GM).

“They can’t change the geography. They can’t change the weather in Toronto. Those were always be things against them in this,” said Adrian Wojnarowski. “Home and L.A. has been the focus for Kawhi Leonard through all of this.”

“Just wear a jacket,” Leonard said about the weather. “We’re in a building. We’re not outside playing in the snow. And it’s good scenery.”

Clippers president Lawrence Frank and other Clippers executives have been a fixture at Raptors games this season, doing their part to recruit him early. They are going to make a strong play for him. So will the Lakers, although I have heard from multiple sources he’s not likely to play with LeBron and in that spotlight.

Nobody knows what Leonard will do next summer, or even what he’s thinking. Leonard doesn’t speak much, and when he does it’s in cautious cliches providing little if any insight. As long as that is the case, the speculation will continue.

Report: Lakers offered to retain Luke Walton as coach after Magic Johnson resigned

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Johnson clearly intended to fire Lakers coach Luke Walton. Then, Johnson stunningly resigned as Lakers president.

Still, the Lakers and Walton “mutually agreed to part ways,” as team described it.

Most people figure Walton got fired, but had his departure put into kinder terms. But maybe it wasn’t that simple.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

sources say Walton was given the chance to stay on as head coach in a subsequent meeting that included owner Jeanie Buss. But Walton, who was already aware that Buss had given Johnson the full authority to fire him and who had long harbored concerns about general manager Rob Pelinka’s style, was ready to head for the exits himself.

Why is this leaking now? Walton is being sued for sexual assault. The Lakers say they didn’t know about the alleged incident while employing him. Kelli Tennant claims it occurred while Walton was still a Warriors assistant coach, and it didn’t become public until after he left Los Angeles. That the Lakers invited him to return supports their claim (or opens the door for them to look far worse if it turns out they did know).

From a basketball standpoint, it’s unclear under what terms Walton could have returned. Perhaps, the Lakers would have required him to change his coaching staff and/or schemes. It might not have been as simple as Walton continuing on the job as he was doing it previously.

Even if he stayed, Walton would have been on the hot seat. His record was underwhelming, and LeBron James‘ camp reportedly wanted him gone.

He found a soft landing spot with the Kings. The security of the Sacramento job might have been more appealing than continuing with the Lakers.

Also add Walton to the list of people concerned about Pelinka. For better or worse, the Lakers appear to be going forward with Pelinka in charge, anyway.

Igor Kokoskov joins unfortunate ranks of head coaches fired after first NBA season

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Igor Kokoskov worked 18 years as an NBA assistant coach. The Serbia native worked tirelessly to convince teams he was more than just a mentor for European players. Finally, the Suns hired him as their head coach.

“It’s a dream job,” Kokoskov beamed. “And it’s a special day for me.”

Less than a year later, Phoenix fired him.

What a tough business.

The Suns gave Kokoskov a roster ill-equipped to win. They were comically thin at point guard. They had one of the NBA’s least-experienced teams. Even rising star Devin Booker still has significant flaws that inhibit his ability to win. Veterans like Trevor Ariza and Tyson Chandler appeared apathetic in Phoenix.

And now Kokoskov will pay the price for the Suns’ 19-win season.

His time as an NBA head coach is over already, and he might not get another opportunity. Kokoskov is the first coach to get fired after his first season as an NBA head coach since Mike Dunlap with Charlotte in 2013.

Here’s every coach to get fired after only one season, or less, of his first head-coaching job since the NBA-ABA merger. Interim seasons count only if the coach was retained the following year.

Season Tm Coach W L Future jobs
2018-19 PHO Igor Kokoskov 19 63
2012-13 CHA Mike Dunlap 21 61
2010-11 GSW Keith Smart 36 46 SAC
2008-09 DET Michael Curry 39 43
2007-08 CHA Sam Vincent 32 50
2003-04 PHI Randy Ayers 21 31
2003-04 TOR Kevin O’Neill 33 49
2000-01 WAS Leonard Hamilton 19 63
1999-00 WAS Gar Heard 14 30
1999 DEN Mike D’Antoni 14 36 PHO, NYK, LAL, HOU
1997-98 DEN Bill Hanzlik 11 71
1996-97 PHI Johnny Davis 22 60 ORL
1995-96 TOR Brendan Malone 21 61
1993-94 DAL Quinn Buckner 13 69
1992-93 SAS Jerry Tarkanian 9 11
1987-88 PHO John Wetzel 28 54
1983-84 SAS Morris McHone 11 20
1980-81 CLE Bill Musselman 25 46 MIN
1979-80 LAL Jack McKinney 10 4 IND, KCK
1977-78 SEA Bob Hopkins 5 17
1976-77 BUF Tates Locke 16 30

Of the 21 coaches fired in or following their first season as an NBA head coach, only five – Keith Smart, Mike D’Antoni, Johnny Davis, Bill Musselman and Jack McKinney – got another head-coaching job. Kokoskov faces long odds.

At least he got to finish the season. Phoenix had a late 5-2 stretch that included wins over the Bucks and Warriors. That could be a selling point for Kokoskov.

Randy Ayers (2003-04 76ers), Gar Heard (1999-00 Wizards), Jerry Tarkanian (1992-93 Spurs), Morris McHone (1983-84 Spurs), Bill Musselman (1980-81 Cavaliers), Bob Hopkins (1977-78 Seattle SuperSonics) and Tates Locke (1976-77 Buffalo Braves) all got fired during their first seasons as NBA head coaches. Jack McKinney (1979-80 Lakers) lost his job due to a bicycle crash during the season, and Los Angeles officially fired him after the season to keep Paul Westhead, who guided the team to a title in McKinney’s absence.

The Suns weren’t necessarily wrong to fire Kokoskov. Under his watch, they were sloppy and undisciplined and had chemistry problems – areas where the head coach usually gets credit or blame. General manager James Jones deserves a chance to hire his own coach.

Kokoskov might be a good coach. Even if he’s not, he could grow into one.

But he didn’t do enough to secure his job, as tall as that task might have been.

The above list is filled with coaches who had awful records. McKinney is the only one with a winning record, and his situation was complicated by the bike crash. Michael Curry (2008-09 Pistons) is only first-time head coach to take his team to the playoffs and still get fired since the merger, but Detroit had a losing record and got swept in the first round.

In many ways, it’s unfortunate Kokoskov didn’t get a better chance to prove himself. His job security took a major hit when the Suns fired the general manager, Ryan McDonough, who hired Kokoskov before the coach’s first season even began. Kokoskov survived rumors of a potential firing in February, but that was clearly only a stay of execution.

The Suns’ problems go way above the head coach, and Kokoskov’s experience in Phoenix could dissuade potential candidates from replacing him.

But there are only 30 NBA head-coaching jobs. Except for the most-coveted candidates, many coaches would rush to take this job.

As precarious as it can be.

Blake Griffin joined in on the “refs you suck” chant in Detroit

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The Pistons didn’t get swept by the Bucks because of the officiating, but the calls did frustrate Detroit and their fans throughout the series. (Good luck finding a fan base that doesn’t believe the officials have it in for them.)

During the Pistons’ Game 4 loss, frustrated fans started a “refs you suck” chant that reverberated throughout the arena. Blake Griffin got in on the act, quietly joining in with the chants.

Griffin continued to express his frustration with how the game was officiated from the podium after the game.

Griffin missed the first two games of the series, then tried to play through a knee issue the last two, wearing a bulky brace the entire time. Griffin made plays and the Pistons looked better, but it was never going to be enough. When his pain caught up with him and Griffin was taken out of the game in the fourth, Pistons fans gave him a standing ovation.

Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Donovan Mitchell, Utah will not go quietly

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The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Donovan Mitchell, Utah bounce back from Game 3 meltdown to beat Rockets, extend series. There’s a “what if” factor to Utah’s win on Monday night that might be hard for Jazz fans to ignore: What if the Utah Jazz had won Game 3 on Saturday when James Harden had a rough night shooting? What if Donovan Mitchell hadn’t melted down late in that game?

Jazz fans should not fall for that temptation and instead should savor what was a brilliant Game 4 win at home. The kind of game a team with real pride plays, the type of game where they played with the desperation needed in the postseason. A game where the Jazz were the aggressors from the opening tip, and a game where Mitchell scored 19 of his 31 in the fourth to spark a 107-91 win.

Mitchell had some help when he wasn’t red hot. Jae Crowder finished with 23 points and had 14 of those in the first quarter, while Ricky Rubio added 18 points and 11 assists. Those two served as the secondary playmakers Utah often needs (but doesn’t consistently get) to balance out what Mitchell can do.

The Jazz defended better, too. Sure, James Harden had 30 points on 19 shots and got his. Chris Paul had 23 points and played well, also. However, all the other Rockets combined to shoot 29.3 percent on the night, then while Mitchell was going off in the fourth quarter the Rockets were 0-of-13 from three.

Houston was motivated to get the win, they could have packed some extra rest in the schedule while Golden State keeps playing. The Jazz were more motivated, more desperate, and there will be a Game 5. The Jazz are not going to win this series, and they can break it all down when it’s over, but for now they played with pride, and because of that will get to play another day.

2) Milwaukee sweeps Detroit out of playoffs, now real test comes for Bucks. The last time the Milwaukee Bucks won a playoff series, “All For You” by Janet Jackson was on everybody’s radio and we were going to the theater to see “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and “Driven” (and then regretting it).

That was 2001, but the Bucks swept into the second round on Monday night behind 41 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo, beating the Pistons 127-104.

Detroit played hard and was frustrated at points, but this series was not about the officiating. One team was better than the other. Blake Griffin did what he could and played through a leg injury that should have sidelined him — and Pistons fans recognized that and the season he had with a standing ovation.

The Bucks move on and will face the Boston Celtics in the next round (dates and times have yet to be announced for the series, but a smart bet would be a start next weekend). This will be a challenging matchup for Milwaukee — if Al Horford is playing well, hitting jumpers and stretching the floor, it will start to pull Brook Lopez out of the paint and challenge the Bucks’ defensive system. Kyrie Irving will be tough for Eric Bledsoe to contain, but Antetokounmpo and company will be a challenge for the Celtics. These teams went seven games in the playoffs a season ago (Boston winning), both teams are better this time around, and both have a lot to prove. Things are about to get very interesting in the East.

3) The Phoenix Suns fire coach Igor Kokoskov, the only stable thing in Phoenix is the Suns’ instability. The Phoenix Suns will hire a new coach in the coming weeks, and whoever it is will enter the revolving door — the next coach will be the Suns’ seventh in the last eight years.

The Suns fired coach Igor Kokoskov on Monday night after one season. A season where the first-time head coach was handed a young roster that lacked a point guard or solid veteran leader. The roster was doomed to fail, and it’s no surprise they started 4-18. But the Suns improved. Kelly Oubre Jr. was added to the roster, Devin Booker improved, Deandre Ayton was growing, and the team showed improvement and played well for stretches near the end of the season. There was something to build on.

Or not.

The Suns reportedly want to go hard at Sixers assistant coach Monty Williams for their head job. Williams will have a second interview with the Lakers next week, so the Suns are playing catchup. Remember that the Suns recently hired Jeff Bower as their senior vice president of basketball operations, and in case you didn’t know Bower gave Monty Williams his first head coaching job (hiring him to coach the Hornets back when Bower was the GM there). We’ll see if that moves the Suns to the front of the line.

However, this firing just continues the pattern of instability and a lack of top-down vision for the Suns, which starts with meddling owner Robert Sarver. Williams, or any coach with good options, may want to think twice about stepping into the revolving coaching door in Phoenix.