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Hornets fire Steve Clifford

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When new Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak refused to address Steve Clifford’s future at his introductory press conference, that seemed telling.

It was.

Hornets release:

Charlotte Hornets President of Basketball Operations & General Manager Mitch Kupchak announced today that the team has relieved Steve Clifford of his head coaching duties.

“I want to thank Coach Clifford for his contributions to the Hornets,” said Kupchak. “I know he has worked incredibly hard on behalf of the organization and we wish him the best moving forward. The search for a new coach will begin immediately.”

Charlotte went 43-39, 33-49, 48-34, 36-46 and 36-46 in five seasons with Clifford. Point difference tends to better represent a team’s quality than record, and the Hornets actually outscored their opponents the last two seasons – but won just 36 games each year. Perhaps, with better luck, Clifford would still have a job.

Clifford quickly established a strong defense in Charlotte, his players buying in around his straightforward approach. He later adopted a more modern offense, though that nudged the Hornets only around league average in scoring, and that defense slipped.

In 2016, Clifford guided Charlotte to its first playoff-game victory since the franchise reemerged as the Bobcats in 2004. That 2016 team was full of expiring contracts, and Clifford helping to keep everyone together is one of the most underrated coaching jobs in recent memory.

The Hornets’ payroll got high, and they didn’t meet expectations. Clifford will take the fall, and Kupchak will get to pick his own coach. But Charlotte’s salary-cap picture remains thorny, and that’s Kupchak’s problem now. No coach will solve all those issues.

Clifford should become one of the hottest coaches on the market – if he wants to be. Health issues kept him out a significant portion of this season.

Enes Kanter says he’s leaning toward declining $18,622,514 player option with Knicks

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Enes Kanter is fiercely loyal to the Thunder Knicks.

An easy way to stay in New York? Exercise his $18,622,514 player option for next season. It doesn’t hurt that Kanter isn’t worth nearly that salary.

But he wants a commitment for longer than one year. So, he says he’s leaning toward opting out.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

If Kanter opts out to pursue a long-term deal, he better have a firm promise of one before declining the option. It’ll be a tight market, especially for centers and especially especially for centers who neither defend nor shoot 3-pointers well.

The Knicks, who are strapped with several overpaid players next season regardless (Joakim Noah, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, Lance Thomas, Ron Baker) probably shouldn’t make that pledge. They’re better off paying Kanter more next season then having the flexibility to move on once they can more easily open significant cap space.

The Knicks insist they’re serious about remaining patient after so many rushed/flubbed rebuilds. They can grow slowly around 22-year-old Kristaps Porzingis.

This will be a major test of that plan.

Doc Rivers: 2016-17 Clippers were ‘a hard group to like because they didn’t like each other’

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Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN wrote an excellent feature on Doc Rivers and the Clippers. It includes Chris Paul telling Clippers owner Steve Ballmer he left for the Rockets in part due to Rivers. That tidbit, and many others in the story, are attributed to anonymous sources. Arnovitz clearly earned a lot of trust from sources to report out this article. I suggest reading it in full.

But the most interesting statement came on the record from Rivers himself.

Rivers, via Arnovitz:

“I was aloof last year. I didn’t want to be here with these guys,” Rivers says. “I wanted to coach, but this team was a hard team to coach. I’m aloof anyway — I’m an introvert — and it was a hard group to like because they didn’t like each other. For me, you have to want to figure it out. And we lost the ability to want to figure it out.”

J.J. Redick, who left for the 76ers last summer, previously spoke of the Clippers experiencing a loss of joy. He apparently wasn’t the only one to see it. Paul obviously wanted out. Blake Griffin didn’t sound broken up about his trade to the Pistons. And now Rivers is opening up about his disillusionment.

Paul and Griffin clashed numerous times over the years, and that wore down everyone. They tried to work past their differing points of view, and they made progress – but not enough, especially once Austin Rivers entered the picture.

The Clippers’ trade for Doc’s son exacerbated locker-room issues. Austin self-admittedly carries an attitude that doesn’t sit well with everyone. He has developed considerably as a player in L.A., but perceptions of nepotism were inevitable. Favoritism for Austin reportedly led Paul to despise Doc.

Doc, via Arnovitz:

“When you don’t win, then you look for reasons why,” Doc Rivers says. “So first it’s, ‘Blake and Chris don’t get along.’ That was first. Then it was, ‘Doc the GM.’ Then it was, ‘Austin Rivers.’ The question you can ask after the fact is that, ‘Because of the team, was it the right move?’ In retrospect, would I have done it again? ‘I don’t know’ is the answer. But when you look at how he’s playing now versus when we got him, yeah. But I don’t know, because it’s very complicated.”

It shows a lot of introspection on Doc’s part to admit that. He correctly identified Austin’s potential when trading low for him (though misread Reggie Bullock‘s when sending him out in the deal). But it still probably wasn’t worth the trouble. No matter how badly Doc wanted to treat Austin like any other player, the father-son relationship existed. It probably affected both Rivers, at least subconsciously, and it definitely affected everyone else’s perception.

With Paul and Griffin gone, Doc did his best coaching job this season with L.A. He often started players on two-way contracts, and he repeatedly had to juggle his rotation due to injuries.

But he appeared much happier.

Tristan Thompson, entrenched in cheating scandal, excused from Cavaliers for day as Khloe Kardashian gives birth

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There’s a lot going on in Tristan Thompson‘s life.

A video emerged of him kissing and fondling two women in October, while his girlfriend – Khloe Kardashian – was pregnant with their daughter:

Another video showed Thompson coming and going from a hotel with another woman last weekend.

Khloe reportedly gave birth to her and Thompson’s daughter today with Thompson joining her at the Cleveland-area hospital.

And the Cavaliers are preparing for the playoffs.

That last responsibility has taken a backseat.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Thompson has had a rough season. With Kevin Love starting at center and Larry Nance Jr. looking like the superior reserve option, Thompson might be out of the postseason rotation entirely.

PBT Awards: Coach of the Year

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Kurt Helin

1. Brad Stevens, Celtics

2. Dwane Casey, Raptors

3. Quin Snyder, Jazz

This was the most difficult decision in all of the individual awards, and it started with just trying to narrow it down to three. Gregg Popovich led a Spurs team essentially without Kawhi Leonard to 47 wins and the playoffs. Brett Brown has spent years building a culture in Philly and it paid off. Terry Stotts, Mike D’Antoni, Nate McMillan and Doc Rivers all deserve credit. For me, Brad Stevens taking a team that lost Gordon Hayward five minutes into the season, plus had to lean on a rookie (Jayson Tatum) and a second-year guy (Jaylen Brown), and they got the two seed and had the best defense in the NBA speaks to the amazing job he has done there. He just nudges out Casey and Snyder.

Dan Feldman

1. Dwane Casey, Raptors

2. Brad Stevens, Celtics

3. Quin Snyder, Jazz

The Raptors’ eight-game improvement from last season underrates the job Dwane Casey has done. Remember, they were in line to take a step back this season as their core aged and they shed depth. But Casey implemented a new and improved offensive system (even if he deserves some blame for the previous iso-heavy scheme), got the defense cranked up and developed and empowered a mostly young and definitely elite bench. Brad Stevens nearly overtook him with a strong closing kick as the Celtics’ injuries woes continued to pile up. Quin Snyder’s coaching chops were evident in how his players trusted him – trusted him when Gordon Hayward left for (seemingly) greener pastures, trusted him when he handed the keys to the offense to rookie Donovan Mitchell, trusted him when the team dug a big hole early, trusted him when he demanded unselfishness. Not much separated the three coaches on my ballot and three others who fell just short. Getting James Harden and Chris Paul to mesh isn’t as easy as Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni made it look. Doc Rivers did his best coaching work since the Clippers hired him. Gregg Popovich kept Spurs humming, especially defensively, without Kawhi Leonard.

Dane Carbaugh

1. Mike D’Antoni, Rockets

2. Terry Stotts, Trail Blazers

3. Dwane Casey, Raptors

Mike D’Antoni did the impossible. He melded two players that had usage rates of 31% or more last season, then turned them into a one-two punch that essentially made it so Houston has a Hall of Fame point guard on the floor for 48 minutes a night. Plus the Rockets jumped 12 spots in defensive rating year-over-year. D’Antoni is one of the most important coaches in NBA history — first for the SSOL Suns and now in Houston — and he deserves it. Stotts gets second for realizing and openly, sternly motivating Jusuf Nurkic, one of the key cogs to that 13-game winning streak. Casey goes third for making the Raptors quietly scary for the first time, well, ever.