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Donovan Mitchell turned to James Harden, Kobe Bryant for advice on early season struggles

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Players that have elite rookie NBA seasons often plateau at the start of — or during all of — their second season. The leap in adjusting to the NBA that often players make in their second or third season tends to happen earlier for these elite rookies, meaning they already made their jump. Also, defenses are now aware of them and are focused on them.

It happened to Utah’s Donovan Mitchell — in November and December his offensive net rating was less than a point per possession. He had a below average true shooting percentage of 51 in November and 47.3 in December. Mitchell told Michael Shapiro of Sports Illustrated that Jazz coach Quin Snyder warned him this was coming, that he was the first thing in the scouting report and defenses would be focused on him, but being told that and experiencing it are two different things.

“Coach Snyder stressed to me that this year was going to be a lot different, and it was one thing for me to hear, and another thing for me to go through it,” Mitchell said regarding Utah’s poor start. “It’s one of those things you really have to go through, to experience. They kind of anticipated this happening, I didn’t. But to have the support of my teammates through the early part of the season was really special, and really helped get us back to where we need to be.”

So Mitchell reached out for help, speaking to James Harden, Chris Paul, and Kobe Bryant. They all had similar advice — get to the free throw line more.

“This year, it’s different. I have to be locked in for every moment, they make it so tough on every possession,” Mitchell told The Crossover. “But the words I’ve received from James [Harden], from Kobe [Bryant], Chris Paul, it’s helped me understand that. I think in my rookie year, I was really taken aback. This year I came seeking advice….

“Changing my pace and making an effort to get to the free-throw line, that’s something James [Harden] is great at and Dwyane Wade talked to me about as well,” Mitchell said. “To hear that from them and then trying to follow their advice really helped me get back on track.”

In November and December, Mitchell averaged 4 free throw attempts per game (which was in line with his 3.8 attempts per game as a rookie). However, since Jan. 1 that is up to 6 a game — and the Jazz are 24-11. (Part of that is the Jazz had a very tough early schedule that has softened up considerably since.)

That Mitchell is reaching out and seeking help from the best is a good thing — it shows his drive, his desire to improve. That is what is going to help him take the next step (although another good playmaker next to him to relieve some of that defensive attention wouldn’t hurt).

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.