Five names to watch as Hawks start search for next head coach


Nate McMillan wasn’t the problem in Atlanta. Maybe he wasn’t the solution with a dated offense and a less-than-ideal relationship with Trae Young — but McMillan wasn’t the root of the problem in Atlanta. For that matter, neither was GM Travis Schlenk, but he and now McMillan are out the door. This very hands-on ownership group pushed hard for the Dejounte Murray trade — over the concerns of some in the front office — then fired everyone when it didn’t work out (at least so far).

Which leads to this question: Will coaches with options jump at the Hawks’ head coaching job? They will want assurances about autonomy — and those assurances will have to include four or five fully guaranteed years.

Here’s a list of five names to watch for the Hawks head coaching position, both based on reports that have surfaced and conversations with league sources. The top three names on this list are the names that appear to be the favorites at the start of the process, but this search could go a lot of different directions.

1) Quin Snyder

The former Jazz coach who led Utah to the best record in the NBA is the top unemployed coach on the market and — if the Hawks want someone before the end of the season — should be their first call. (Whether Snyder would be willing to start mid-season is another question, he may want an entire training camp.)

Snyder came out of the Popovich/Budenholzer coaching tree and built a regular-season juggernaut in Utah with a system that prized player and ball movement. However, that didn’t translate to the postseason success the franchise craved. Could he get the most out of a Trae Young/Clint Capela pick-and-roll offense? Could he get this Hawks team to defend again? Could he get them back to the conference finals?

Snyder will want a lot of control, but he has produced results in the past.

2) Kenny Atkinson

He helped build a culture and player development system in Brooklyn that was good enough to attract Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, then he struggled to fit those stars into it (they didn’t like him, he was out, and after that everything went smoothly for the Nets…). Atkinson has spent the past few seasons on the bench next to Steve Kerr and has talked about how that has broadened his perspective on coaching and dealing with stars (Stephen Curry may be a little easier to work with than Irving). He likes where he is at.

Atkinson took the Hornets job last season, then when he and ownership got into the details about what was to come in Charlotte, Atkinson backed out and stayed with the Warriors. He’s been a head coach in a challenging setting before and he’s not stepping into a job where there is not genuine alignment of strategy from the owner through coach. Is that Atlanta? He could help build the culture and player development system they seek, but he’s not stepping into a toxic situation.

3) Charles Lee

Another coach out of the Budenholzer coaching tree, he jumped up to the lead assistant position this season after Darvin Ham went to Los Angeles. He’s considered the offensive coordinator in Milwaukee and is a strong Xs and Os coach. Lee also has a hand in player development in Milwaukee. He’s young (38), energetic, and could be the kind of boost the team needs in the locker room (and he could relate well with Young and other players on the roster). He will get a shot somewhere, and as a first-time head coach he will be less expensive than the veterans (that matters to some ownership groups).

4) Sam Cassell

His name has not popped up on any published list yet, but he’s someone a source with another team mentioned to me if the Hawks are looking for an assistant who is both ready for the big chair and could develop a strong bond with Trae Young. Cassell is currently an assistant under Doc Rivers on the 76ers staff, but before has been with the Clippers, Wizards and Bucks — after 13 years as an assistant he deserves a shot. He’s a former NBA point guard who players love, partly because he is honest and no-nonsense. If the Hawks decide to talk to him, he could be a fit.

5) Mitch Johnson

He has coached in the Spurs organization, at the G-League level at first then eventually on Gregg Popovich’s bench, since 2016. As a player he spent four years at Stanford before bounding between Europe and the G-League. The Spurs have a deep coaching tree and Popovich assistants have won titles from Budenholzer to Becky Hammon with the WNBA Aces, so never bet against them getting the job, but Johnson may be a long shot at this point in his career.

Other names mentioned include former NBA player and current head coach of the G-League South Bay Lakers Miles Simon, and Kings’ assistant Jordi Fernandez, and former Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel.

Joel Embiid scores 46 but 76ers still fall short against Poole, Warriors


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Jordan Poole emerged as one of Golden State’s most dependable performers during the championship run last season.

He resembled that go-to guy once again Friday night when the Warriors needed everything he had, with the ever-reliable Draymond Green doing his thing, too.

“Opportunity,” Poole said of his stellar fourth quarter playing all 12 minutes.

Poole scored 33 points and swished a key 3-pointer with 1:18 to play off a pretty pass by Green, Stephen Curry added 29 points and eight rebounds, and the Golden State Warriors rallied past Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers 120-112 on Friday night.

“Tonight something about it felt like last year in that playoff run when Jordan was just attacking and knocking down shots but also getting to the line just giving us an entirely different dimension offensively,” coach Steve Kerr said. “That’s when he’s at his best. I thought he really competed down the stretch defensively as well. He was magnificent tonight.”

Embiid checked back into the game with 8:26 left and scored 13 straight on the way to 46 points.

But the Warriors came back from 11 down for their ninth straight home win — and one of the most important yet as they fight for playoff positioning.

Green noted: “Nobody wants to be in that play-in, the play-in is dangerous.”

Curry dribbled the baseline and around Embiid for a go-ahead jumper with 2:20 to play. Klay Thompson tied it at 104 with 5:05 left, only for Embiid to drive straight down the key for a dunk. He did miss consecutive shots in crunch time, too.

Poole’s driving dunk with 8:27 left got Golden State back to 93-91 then Kevon Looney’s putback after Embiid blocked a layup try by Poole cut it to 102-101.

Embiid shot 13 for 23, made 19 of 22 free throws and had nine rebounds, eight assists and two steals. He helped Philadelphia take an 88-79 lead going into the fourth. He had his streak of scoring 30 or more points in a franchise-record 10 straight games snapped in Wednesday’s 116-91 win at Chicago but made up for it.

Golden State nemesis James Harden sat out with left Achilles soreness for the Sixers, who had won nine of 10 and 10 of 12.

Thompson added 21 points and six rebounds and Looney contributed six points, 10 rebounds and seven assists as the Warriors reached 30 home wins for the sixth time since 2014-15 and second in a row.

“You want to take care of home court as best as you can,” Poole said.

Green had 10 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds for Golden State, which had some momentum from two straight wins on the road following an 11-game skid away from Chase Center.

“I feel good. It’s that time of year you’ve got to turn everything up a notch,” Green said. “I love this time of year.”

Philadelphia, which had won the last two matchups, made 10 of 17 shots to start the game but missed its first eight 3-point tries before Georges Niang connected at the 8:06 mark of the second quarter.

Luka Dončić fined for money gesture toward referee after loss


The Mavericks were livid about the officiating in their loss to the Warriors, particularly the miscommunication about a third-quarter out-of-bounds play that gave Golden State an uncontested bucket in what ended up being a two-point game.

Frustrated or not, everyone knew Luka Dončić crossed a line and would get fined when he made a gesture suggesting the referees were paid off.

Friday the NBA came down with a $35,000 fine for Dončić “for directing an inappropriate and unprofessional gesture toward a game official.” While that’s a steep price it could have been much worse — the referee did not give Dončić a technical foul at the time, which would have been his 16th and triggered a one-game suspension without pay.

Dončić wasn’t the only person fined by the league for snapping at the officials, Suns coach Monty Williams was fined $20,000 on Friday “for public criticism of the officiating.” Williams was frustrated after losing to the Lakers on a night where Los Angeles got to the line 46 times to Phoenix’s 20.

“Where do you see a game with 46 free throws for one team?” Williams said after the game. “That’s just not right. I don’t care how you slice it. It is happening to us too much. Other teams are reaching, other teams are hitting, and we’re not getting the same call, and I’m tired of it. It’s old… I’m over it. Been talking about the same thing for a while. Doesn’t matter what team it is.”

It doesn’t matter what team it is for a reason. First, the Suns do not draw a lot of fouls because they are not a team that puts a lot of pressure on the rim (especially without Kevin Durant), they settle for jump shots. Second, they have the highest foul rate in the league — they foul a lot. Those two things will lead to a free throw disparity nightly (they had players who could draw fouls, Mikal Bridges is doing it now in Brooklyn, but the Suns didn’t put the ball in his and ask him to attack as the Nets have, Phoenix used him as a shooter and cutter off the ball more often).

The tensions between players and referees feel ratcheted up this season, and these are just the latest examples.

Report: Kevin Durant targeting March 29 return vs. Timberwolves


When Kevin Durant sprained his ankle during warmups, the Suns said he would be re-evaluated in three weeks. It turns out it may be more than a re-evaluation.

Durant is targeting a return almost three weeks to the day from when he injured himself, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

There has been no official update from the Suns, but Durant’s camp has always been optimistic about a return.

The Suns have gone 2-5 without Durant and slid into a virtual tie with the Clippers for the No. 4 seed in the West. If Durant returns Wednesday, Phoenix would have seven games left to hold off Los Angeles and retain home court in the first round of the playoffs. More importantly, they could generate some chemistry before the postseason begins.

Durant averaged 26.7 points and 7.3 assists a game with a ridiculous 80.8 true shooting percentage in his three games with the Suns, and the team won all three games. The fit seemed almost seamless and if the Suns can get back to that they are a threat to win the wide-open West.

It’s going to be a wild final couple of weeks in the West.

Where’s the beef? Anthony Davis says ‘Me and Bron have one of the best relationships’ in NBA


Whispers and reports of a split in the Lakers’ locker room and a beef between Anthony Davis and LeBron James gained momentum after Davis’ reaction to LeBron James breaking the all-time scoring record went viral. Talking Lakers drama is always an excellent way to get clicks/eyeballs/listeners and so once a rumor like a beef between the team’s two biggest stars begins rolling down the hill it does not stop.

Even if Davis says there is nothing to it, everything is good between him and LeBron. Here’s the quote he gave to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“Me and Bron have one of the best relationships I think in the NBA as far as duos or teammates, regardless,” Davis said. “But they don’t see that. They don’t see the stuff we do off the court and time we hang out with each other. They see on-court stuff.”

The reality is it doesn’t matter if LeBron and Davis are buddies, hanging out together drinking a lovely Pinot Noir and laughing behind Frank Vogel’s back. What matters is whether they can get along and thrive on the court. There’s a banner hanging in Arena that says they can if they stay healthy and management puts the right kinds of role players around them.

The healthy part is in the way right now, with LeBron out for at least a couple more weeks with a tendon foot injury (whether he returns before the season ends is up in the air). The Lakers are 7-5 in the dozen games he has missed with this injury thanks to a defense — anchored by Davis — that is third-best in the NBA over that stretch. That has kept their head above water, but the Lakers are in a tight race where six teams — from the 7-12 seeds, making up all the play-in teams and a couple that will miss out — are tied in the loss column at 37. The Lakers need more wins, including Friday night in a critical game against the Thunder.

The Lakers will need LeBron back — and LeBron and Davis to rekindle their on-court chemistry — if they are going to make any kind of a playoff run. First they just have to get to the postseason, which will fall more on Davis. Of late, he has looked up to the task.