Mike Krzyzewski stops by USA Basketball practice

Getty
3 Comments

LAS VEGAS — Gregg Popovich somehow only met Mike Krzyzewski for the first time about four years ago, when the two coaching greats saw their paths finally cross when they were together at a USA Basketball event.

They’re a whole lot closer now.

USA Basketball’s coaching past was alongside its present Wednesday, when Krzyzewski – who led the national team to an 88-1 record over his 12 years at the helm – was alongside Popovich for Day 3 of the team’s training camp in advance of the FIBA World Cup. And Popovich made no effort to hide how happy he was to have his predecessor in the gym to watch practice and some scrimmages.

“We were anxious to get Coach K in town to spend a couple days,” Popovich said. “I’ve already talked to him, as you might imagine, gotten advice. But to have him here, seeing the scrimmage, now we can all go back and talk about what we think needs to happen. Having him here with that added experience is invaluable.”

Popovich wasn’t the only one in the gym feeling a boost from Krzyzewski’s presence on Wednesday. Among the others: USA Basketball forwards Mason Plumlee and Jayson Tatum, both of whom said they relished the chance to spend some extra time with their coach from Duke.

“It was great, man,” Plumlee said. “I try to see Coach once or twice a summer, so for him to come out here … he didn’t come for me, but it was great to see him.”

Tatum chatted with Krzyzewski for a few minutes after practice, and said he got some advice.

“Confidential,” Tatum said. “But it was good advice.”

Krzyzewski won five gold medals in his tenure as national team coach – including three at the Olympics and two from the world championships, now known as the World Cup – started Wednesday in a morning meeting with Popovich and other coaches. He walked into practice at UNLV alongside Popovich and was expected to take part in more meetings before departing later this week.

“He’s really the only guy that Pop can relate to in trying to bring this together so fast,” Plumlee said.

Krzyzewski, who politely declined an interview request through USA Basketball, first met Popovich around the time that the longtime San Antonio Spurs coach was accepting an invitation to replace the Duke coach at the helm of the U.S. program. They were brought together in Las Vegas by USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo during preparations for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Colangelo wanted to hire Krzyzewski’s replacement long before Rio, just to eliminate incessant speculation during the Olympic cycle about who would take over the program.

He wasn’t aware at the time that the coaches had never gotten acquainted.

“Once they got to know each other, they were like bonded immediately,” Colangelo said. “Pop was in all the meetings and the practices after they met. I wanted him to get his feet wet just to see how we had done things under Mike. And I think it was a great way to get him started. But I thought that was amazing, that they had never met each other.”

Krzyzewski and Popovich are loaded with similarities: Both went to service academies, both played for Bob Knight (Krzyzewski played for Knight at Army, and Knight was Popovich’s coach at the 1972 U.S. Olympic trials, a few years before Popovich got his first head coaching job at Division III Pomona-Pitzer). Both have five championships from their `real’ jobs – Krzyzewski at Duke, Popovich in San Antonio. They are both considered basketball royalty, the top of the top of their profession.

All that only adds to the oddity that they didn’t know each other until a few years ago.

“I’m a Division III guy at heart and that’s where I spent most of my time until I somehow woke up in San Antonio and never left,” Popovich said. “We never played Duke when I was at Pomona-Pitzer.”

NOTES: USA Basketball said Boston’s Marcus Smart is out with a left calf injury, and he will be re-evaluated when the team gets to Los Angeles for the second part of training camp next week. … In two 10-minute scrimmage periods Wednesday between the national team candidates and the select team – the younger NBA players brought into practice to compete against the varsity – there was no winner. Both periods ended in a tie, with Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton making three free throws with 0.7 seconds left in the first one to save his team. … Camp continues with Day 4 on Thursday, followed by an open scrimmage Friday night.

Watch Pacers’ Andrew Nembhard drain game-winning 3 to beat Lakers

0 Comments

LeBron James and Anthony Davis were on the court together (and combined for 46 points and 20 rebounds). Russell Westbrook continued to thrive as a sixth man with 24 points.

But the biggest shot of the night belonged to Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard — a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

It was a well-designed play and when Westbrook chased and doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner it left the screen setter, Myles Turner, wide open for a clean look at a 3 — but he hit the front of the rim. The long rebound caromed out, Tyrese Haliburton grabbed it and tried to create, but then he saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West that will test the surprising Pacers.

For the Lakers… they have some hard decisions to make coming up.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

0 Comments

Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

0 Comments

There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.