Getty Images

Luke Walton out as Lakers coach

30 Comments

Just a handful of days after Magic Johnson abruptly stepped down as the head of Lakers’ basketball operations — in part because he was not comfortable firing the coach — the Lakers and coach Luke Walton have mutually agreed to part ways, according to the team.

Walton was fired would be a more accurate description. With Magic gone, there was uncertainty around the organization and the perception that Walton would not be let go quickly. However, GM Rob Pelinka is running the show and he was not in Walton’s corner. Walton could read the writing on the wall, he didn’t have the full weight and backing of LeBron James — LeBron’s exit interview was with Magic and GM Rob Pelinka, not Walton — he was never Pelinka’s guy, and Walton knew what was coming.

“We would like to thank Luke for his dedicated service over the last three years,” Pelinka said in a statement released by the team. “We wish Luke and his family the best of luck moving forward.”

“I want to thank Jeanie Buss and the Buss family for giving me the opportunity to coach the Lakers,” Walton said in the same statement. “This franchise and the city will always be special to me and my family.”

Notice Walton thanked the Buss family and nobody else. Not Magic, not Pelinka, nobody.

Walton was 98-148 in three years as the Lakers coach, but that was seen as respectable considering he was handed a young team that was not going to win much. In his second season, the younger Lakers — Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma — showed development and the team played surprisingly good defense. However, when the Lakers got LeBron this summer the equation changed, the Lakers became much more about winning now, and that did not happen this season for a variety of reasons, only a few of which should be on Walton. Still, Walton was going to lose his job and everyone knew it. Walton included.

Steve Kerr stood up for his former assistant Walton in a statement at the Warriors practice Friday.

Rumors of Sacramento’s interest in Walton were floating around NBA circles before Kings GM Vlade Divac fired their coach Dave Joerger, or before Walton had stepped away. Now with the path cleared, Divac will reach out to Walton, as multiple people have reported.

The Lakers are reportedly considering Tyronn Lue — LeBron James’ former coach in Cleveland — and Monty Williams for the job, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Both of those men would be good hires, both have a history with LeBron (Williams as an assistant coach with USA Basketball), but their hiring raises another question:

Do the Lakers want to hire a coach before hiring a new head of basketball operations? Is all of this, Walton leaving and going after a new coach, part of Pelinka trying to gain power in the organization and cement his place?

If so, it just fits in with the mess that the Lakers have been in recent years as an organization.

If you look at the most successful NBA organizations — Golden State, San Antonio, even down the Staples Center hall with the Clippers — there is a collaborative spirit in the front office and basketball operations. For example, think back to the 2015 NBA Finals, it was the idea of the “special assistant to the head coach and manager of advanced scouting” — a guy who’s primary job was cutting video to show players clips — who came up with the idea of starting Andre Iguodala and putting him on LeBron. Because of how the Warriors are open and share info, the idea made its way to Steve Kerr, he liked it and tried it, and the rest is history.

The Lakers as an organization do not function that way. People are more compartmentalized, information does not flow as freely. “Siloed” would be the business term for it. That is how Pelinka and Magic wanted it.

It’s not how the new head of basketball operations will likely want things, not if the Lakers get an elite guy (they already missed out on David Griffin).

There are some real organizational culture challenges ahead for the Lakers.

But first, apparently they are going to look for a new coach.

Report: Cavaliers players played songs like ‘Thuggish Ruggish Bone’ around John Beilein

Cavaliers coach John Beilein
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

While coaching the Cavaliers, John Beilein called his players “thugs.” He said it was a simple case of mispronouncing the word “slugs” while speaking too quickly.

Of the six Cleveland players who publicly addressed the issue the following day, only Tristan Thompson didn’t offer clear support of his coach. The Cavs kept Beilein.

But with Beilein resigning, a fuller picture is emerging.

Shams Charania, Jason Lloyd and Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

a number of the players never really embraced his explanation. In fact, some of them thought it was an insult to their intelligence, one player told The Athletic.

“There was no coming back from that,” he said.

Instead, multiple players began playing songs that included the word “thug” whenever Beilein was within earshot, sources said: Bone Thugz-n-Harmony’s “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” and Tupac’s “Thugz Mansion” among them. As the team boarded the bus a few days after the incident, one player was intentionally playing Trick Daddy’s “I’m a Thug” with Beilein a few feet away. Other players blasted songs with the word “thug” loudly during workouts in the facility. Players did this to make light of a very tough situation, according to one team source.

“The worst part to me was not owning that he said it,” one player told The Athletic.

If they didn’t sing the lyrics as:

  • “It’s the Sluggish Ruggish Bone”
  • “So right before I sleep, dear God, what I’m askin’ / Remember this face, save me a place, in slug’s mansion”
  • “Baby, ‘cause I’m a slug”

…they did it wrong.

For what it’s worth, Beilein did own that he said “thugs.” He just claimed he meant to say “slugs.”

Want to question which word he intended to use? Suspicious about what in his mind led “thugs” to come out even if he meant to say “slugs”? That’s totally fair.

But either “slugs” or “thugs” was entirely plausible in that context. Nobody outside Beilein can know what he was thinking.

Cavaliers players just didn’t want to give benefit of the doubt to a coach they already loathed. I wouldn’t be surprised if some within the organization showed faux outrage about thugs-slugs just because they wanted Beilein gone.

The NBA has levels of pettiness Beilein never experienced in college. It can be jarring, and Beilein seemingly never got comfortable at this level. Put another way:

Slug passion got you tremblin’ like Death on the Row

Rumor: The Cavaliers might try to flip Andre Drummond in trade at draft, or in July

Jason Miller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

When J.B. Bickerstaff takes over as the new coach in Cleveland today, he will inherit a big, slow frontcourt of Kevin Love and Andre Drummond that will make a combined $60 million next season.

Will he still have that frontcourt when training camp opens next fall?

We know the Cavaliers tried to trade Love at the deadline but the remaining three years, $91 million on his contract after this season made that difficult. Instead, Cleveland surprised the league when it added Drummond at the trade deadline.

Now comes a rumor from Greg Swartz at Bleacher Report where an anonymous former GM says he thinks once Drummond picks up the $28.8 million option on his contract — something expected around the league — the Cavs will try to trade him, too.

“I don’t think [Drummond and the Cavs] will last long,” one former NBA general manager said. “I could see them trading him to a team this summer if he agrees to pick up his option. They could also do a sign-and-trade if he agrees to a new long-term deal. I don’t think he’ll be in Cleveland for long.”

For the record, the Cavaliers deny that is the case. GM Koby Altman said as much.

“Absolutely, we consider him a potential long-term play,” Altman said. “Obviously, he has a player option that if he picks up, we think we’re in good shape in terms of our cap space. There’s no better money spent than on Andre Drummond if he picks up his option.”

There could be interest in Drummond as an expiring contract next season because teams are trying to clear up cap space for a deep summer of 2021 free agent class (particularly if Giannis Antetokounmpo does not sign the $254 million supermax contract the Bucks will offer this summer). There may be teams interested in the 26-year-old Drummond longer term — he is averaging 17.7 points and 15.8 rebounds a game as a traditional big — just not at anywhere near his current salary.

Expect a lot of Cavaliers trade rumors around the draft and into July as they try to add talent. Don’t be surprised if Drummond is in some of those rumors; the Cavaliers should explore everything.

Also, don’t be surprised if Love and Drummond are the starting 4/5 for the Cavaliers when the season tips off next October.

 

Counter-report: John Beilein will receive some of remaining salary from Cavaliers

Cavaliers coach John Beilein
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Initial reporting suggested John Beilein will walk away from the rest of his contract with the Cavaliers.

But apparently he’ll get a payout.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Beilein and the Cavaliers negotiated a financial settlement that will pay him a portion of the remaining money on his 2019-20 contract, league sources said. He left the University of Michigan and signed a five-year contract with Cleveland that included a team option for the final season, a deal that paid him more than $4 million a season, league sources said.

That doesn’t sound like a substantial settlement (relatively).

But Beilein had some leverage. Because he did so poorly, it seemed the Cavs might just fire him at the end of the season. While it appears to be his choice to walk away now, everyone seemed ready to move on soon enough.

There could have been more of a fired-or-quit standoff. But Beilein was so done, he left a lot of money on the table. That’s still the story, even if he’ll walk away with some.

Kevin Durant not close to return, but his jumper still looks wet

Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kevin Durant will not play an NBA game this season.

His jumper, however, looks to be in midseason form. Following All-Star Weekend, a video surfaced on Instagram of Durant working out at UCLA, and his shot remains a thing of beauty. His pull-up works, too.

There’s some debate around the league about just how good 31-year-old Durant will be when he returns.

When he left he was the best player on the planet, an unstoppable scorer who could defend LeBron James in the clutch of a game, KD was a two-time defending Finals MVP at the peak of his game. Suffering a torn Achilles means he’s not going to have the same level of explosiveness, but when you’re pushing 7-foot tall (in shoes), have a high release over your head, can hit from anywhere, and have a deadly fade away, does it matter if you lose half-a-step?

With Kyrie Irving possibly done for the season in Brooklyn, these videos provide a little hope to Nets fans. Get this roster healthy next season and they can hang with anyone in the East.