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Luke Walton lands on his feet historically quickly considering record with Lakers

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Luke Walton coached the Lakers to a 37-45 record this season. Meanwhile, Dave Joerger coached the Kings to a 39-43 record.

Yet, Sacramento just fired Joerger to hire Walton. That hiring became official on Monday.

The Kings didn’t necessarily make a mistake. Wins and losses are an extremely limited way to judge a coach. Joerger had other issues in Sacramento. Walton was caught in a difficult situation between Magic Johnson, LeBron James and everything else in Los Angeles.

But Walton is getting treatment usually reserved for far more accomplished coaches.

In the last 30 years, five teams have fired their coach to hire someone who had a who spent the entire prior season coaching another team to a worse record:

Year Team W L Fired For From W L
2019 SAC 39 43 Dave Joerger Luke Walton LAL 37 45
2018 MIL 44 38 Jason Kidd/Joe Prunty Mike Budenholzer ATL 24 58
2013 LAC 56 26 Vinny Del Negro Doc Rivers BOS 41 40
2003 DET 50 32 Rick Carlisle Larry Brown PHI 48 34
2000 TOR 45 37 Butch Carter Lenny Wilkens ATL 28 54

Budenholzer, Rivers, Brown and Wilkens were widely regarded as among the best coaches in the league at the time. All four had already won Coach of the Year. Brown and Wilkens were already in the Hall of Fame!

Wilkens guided Toronto to the franchise’s first playoff victory. Brown coached Detroit to a championships. Rivers brought the Clippers newfound credibility. Budenholzer is favored to win another Coach of the Year this season, and he has Milwaukee dominating.

Those are big shoes for Walton to fill.

And it’s not as if this season were an aberration. This was the Lakers’ best record in three years under Walton. He went 35-47 and 26-56 the prior two seasons.

Yet, as Magic Johnson (kind of) pledged in November, the Lakers didn’t fire Walton during the season. That’s no small thing considering LeBron’s camp reportedly wanted Walton fired.

Then, as soon as the Lakers parted ways with Walton last week, the Kings were there to scoop him up.

It rarely works this way.

Walton’s win percentage with the Lakers (39.8%) is the fourth-worst ever for a coach in a tenure that ended with him immediately getting a job elsewhere.

Here are the worst coaching tenures by coaches who completed a season then got another job that offseason:

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Why all this special treatment for Walton?

He turned heads by guiding the Warriors to a 39-4 start as acting head coach in 2015-16 while Steve Kerr was out with medical issues. That’s not the same as being a head coach. Kerr was still involved. Walton didn’t have full autonomy. But it’s an experience that should absolutely count in Walton’s favor for future jobs.

However, Walton’s time in Golden State and Los Angeles leaves an impression true of many coaches: He wins with good players and loses with bad players.

Good luck comparing last year’s Lakers and Kings, though. At one point, it would have been hard to believe the team with LeBron had a weaker roster. But injuries and poor fits make it debatable.

Maybe this is just a product of personal connections lining up just right. Walton is a former teammate of Kings general manager Vlade Divac. Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, who previously owned a share of the Warriors, is reportedly obsessed with imitating Golden State.

Walton is also well-liked throughout the league. He’s the son of Bill Walton, an all-time great player who is also well-liked. Walton might have had inroads outside Sacramento, too.

It probably doesn’t hurt that Walton is white. These are the kinds of second chances black coaches rarely get.

Again, the Kings hiring Walton isn’t necessarily a mistake. The Celtics (Red Auerbach from the Tri-Cities Blackhawks in 1950), 76ers (Alex Hannum from the San Francisco Warriors in 1966), Trail Blazers (Jack Ramsay from the Buffalo Braves in 1976) and Celtics (Bill Fitch from the Cavaliers in 1979) all hired coaches coming off losing tenures then won a championship with that coach. Hannum and Ramsay won titles in their first years with their new teams.

But we can acknowledge how far outside the norm Sacramento stepping to hire Walton. This is a big bet by Divac – on his roster and on Walton.

Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin form NASCAR racing team with Bubba Wallace driving

Michael Jordan NASCAR
Brian Lawdermilk - Pool/Getty Images for NASCAR
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Michael Jordan is getting into the NASCAR game.

The North Carolina native has teamed up with three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin to form a new NASCAR Cup Series race team — and they’ve signed Bubba Wallace to drive.

Wallace is the only Black man driving full-time in NASCAR’s top series (the previous three seasons he raced for Richard Petty Motorsports). Wallace has been at the forefront of bringing social changes to NASCARincluding the banning of the Confederate flags at NASCAR events and tracks.

“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said in a statement. “The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me.

“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”

Michael Jordan becomes the first Black owner of a full-time race team in NASCAR top series since NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott in the 1960s and early 1970s (he owned the team and drove the car). Bubba Wallace is the first Black full-time driver in the top NASCAR series since Scott.

Hamlin will be a minority partner in the new team and continue to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” said Wallace in a statement. “Both Michael and Denny are great competitors and are focused on building the best team they possibly can to go out and compete for race wins. I’m grateful and humbled that Michael and Denny believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”

The car manufacturer, number, sponsors and more will be announced at a later date.

Jordan is the primary owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.

NBA executives pick Luka Doncic as best player under 25 to build around

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Luka Doncic, in his second season, made the leap into the NBA’s elite — fourth in MVP voting and First Team All-NBA. All at age 21.

Not surprisingly, he’s the player under 21 NBA teams would want to build around.

Michael Scotto of Hoopshype polled 15 league executives (including four general managers) and players under 25 they want to build around and Doncic was the unanimous choice.

“To me, Luka is the clear No. 1,” one scout told HoopsHype. “He’s a guy who can be a lead ballhandler. He’s good enough to score and create at a high level, has the right mental makeup and is incredibly smart. He’s been a winner everywhere and will probably be a winner in the league.”

It’s hard to argue when Luka Doncic is already doing this in the playoffs:

Boston’s Jayson Tatum came in second, Phoenix Devin Booker was third, followed by Ja Morant (Memphis) fourth and a tie at fifth between Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Bam Adebayo (Miami).

An interesting note about that top five: None of them was a No. 1 pick.

Zion Williamson had been on top of this poll a year ago, but after a season where he played just 19 games then looked a step slow in the bubble there are concerns about his long-term health.

“He’s just a special player inside the arc who’s an elite finisher,” one executive told HoopsHype. “Offensively, he can finish at an elite rate. He’s one of the best finishers behind Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and LeBron (James). He can hit the open man. He’s so physically dominant. His shooting shouldn’t be a problem, but we’ll see. I think he’s always going to be hurt, though.”

One healthy dominant season from Williamson and those opinions could shift, but even then Doncic will be an MVP level player the Mavericks can build a contender around. He’s the guy under 25.

Report: Raptors coach Nick Nurse earning $8M salary on extension

Raptors coach Nick Nurse
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Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich reportedly had an $11 million salary in 2015 then signed a contract extension in 2019 that keeps him the NBA’s highest-paid coach. Doc Rivers was earning $10 million annually with the Clippers before his latest extension. Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra also signed extensions in recent years.

What about Nick Nurse, who just signed an extension with the Raptors?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Raptors coach Nick Nurse signed a new multiyear contract extension on Tuesday — a deal that pays him around $8 million per year, sources say.

That’s a lot for a coach, especially in these times.

But Nurse has proven his value. He might even be the NBA’s best coach right now. He checks so many key boxes.

He has shown the ability to prepare his team for the playoffs then adapt through a long playoff run. His players have developed under his watch. He has dealt with roster upheaval and kept everything humming.

After just two seasons as head coach, Nurse still must prove himself in more situations, especially as opposing teams become more familiar with his strategies. But Toronto should want to keep him.

Credit Raptors ownership for paying to make it happen.

Now onto Raptors president Masai Ujiri

Dwight Howard is talking a lot of trash

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The Lakers put Dwight Howard on final warning BEFORE even signing him.

And for most of the season, Howard kept a low profile.

But he has been breaking out of his shell in the bubble. Related to basketball, too.

Howard has played excellent defense on Nuggets star Nikola Jokic in the Western Conference finals. The day after Game 1, Howard told Jamal Murray about it.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

The Nuggets were wrapping up their practice, which took place not far from the Lakers’, with Murray about to begin his media session in the convention center hallway. Howard, as it so happened, walked by right then and the banter restarted.

“Don’t do that, fam,” Murray said to Howard, with both men smiling.

“What?” Howard said.

“Don’t do that, fam,” Murray said again.

“Where’s Joker at?” Howard replied. “Where’s his room?”

As was the case in the series opener, there was no answer.

Then, Howard (and JaVale McGee) pointed out Jokic’s defensive deficiencies against Anthony Davis in Game 2.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Once the Lakers’ bench saw it was Jokic tasked with guarding Davis, it brought the noise with JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard screaming, “Thanksgiving, steak dinner, appetizers, filet mignon and potatoes, a glass of champagne!”

Davis, who faced up Jokic and maneuvered his way around the big man for a bucket in the paint. McGee shouted, “Told you it was a feast out there!”

Howard didn’t let up after Davis’ game-winner.

Amick:

As the Lakers mobbed Davis on the court after his shot, big man Dwight Howard broke off from the group and decided to taunt the Nuggets as they exited the basketball stage. If you somehow haven’t noticed, Howard is leaning hard into this tough-guy approach.

“Go home!” he yelled over and over while laughing, jumping, pumping his fist and getting closer to the Nuggets’ side of the floor with every second. “Go home!”

A small group of Nuggets staffers, including one of Jokic’s biggest supporters in assistant strength and conditioning coach Felipe Eichenberger, did not take kindly to the mocking that had taken place all game long and returned to the court to shout back. The two sides exchanged words, and eventually retreated to their corners that came with conflicting emotions.

This works because Howard is playing well – in his role.

Howard was slow to recognize he’s no longer a superstar. Yet, he still has the energy for being the center of attention. That used to mean doing things like posting up too much,

Now, Howard is focused on defending, screening and sometimes finishing at the rim while playing all-out in limited minutes. It’s what the Lakers need and what Howard can provide at age 34.

If he wants to talk trash along the way, more power to him. It’s a lot of fun.

But there’s also a fine line between the endearing villain and loathed jerk. Outside Denver, Howard appears to be the former. For now.