NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Kerr says Warriors need Bogut in Game 5— At different times and in different ways in the Western Conference finals, Oklahoma City Thunder centers Enes Kanter and Steven Adams have made a sizable impact on the series. The Thunder hold a 3-1 edge over the Golden State Warriors as tonight’s Game 5 (9 ET, TNT) in Oakland nears. During yesterday’s practice, Warriors coach Steve Kerr made a point to single out his center, Andrew Bogut, and how Golden State simply needs more from him if this series is to continue. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:
With the Warriors on the brink of elimination, head coach Steve Kerr used Wednesday’s media session as a chance to issue an all-points bulletin on center Andrew Bogut.
“He’s almost fouling out of every game in 10-15 minutes,” Kerr said at the team’s downtown Oakland facility. “He’s got to be smarter with his fouls. We need him out there.
“When he’s out there, we rebound better and we’ve got a good passer out of the post. We want to play Bogut more, but he’s got to stay on the floor.”The Warriors trail the Thunder 3-1 in the Western Conference finals — a best-of-seven series that is being decided by effort, rebounds and defense.
Bogut is usually among the Warriors’ best in those categories, but he has been absent in the series’ first four games. He’s averaging 3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 0.8 of a blocked shot in 14 minutes per game — numbers that are significantly down from his regular-season contributions.
He has taken only eight shots and has been whistled for 13 personal fouls.
“We’re not out of it yet, but we’ve got to have three perfect games to try to win the series,” Bogut told reporters after Tuesday’s 24-point loss. “… We’ve done a lot of things this season that haven’t been done before, so hopefully, we can do one more.”
No. 2: Thunder never rebelled against Donovan’s system, tactics — When the Oklahoma City Thunder opted to fire longtime coach Scott Brooks after the 2014-15 season, it put the franchise at a definite crossroads. How would OKC stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook — not to mention the rank-and-file players on the team — respond to and follow a new voice? When Billy Donovan was hired from the college ranks to take Brooks’ job, some wondered if OKC’s players could respond to a coach with no prior NBA experience. As Game 5 of the West finals nears (9 ET, TNT), those and other questions have been put to bed as the Thunder stand a win away from The Finals. Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman has more on how Donovan and OKC’s core stars meshed together all season long:
After Scotty Brooks was fired, but before Billy Donovan was hired, some Thunder players gathered and talked about the coaching change. No matter who took the job, it was going to be different. It was going to be new. It might even be hard.
This was a team that had produced a ton of success. A team that had done things a certain way for a long time.
But the Thunder veterans made a decision. They were going to buy in to whoever was hired. There was no advantage in doing otherwise.
“Didn’t do us any good wasting time, fighting a new guy because things are different than what we did before,” said Nick Collison. “I think we’re pretty good with that. We came in with an open mind.”
Donovan, a hugely successful college coach at Florida but whose NBA experience was comprised of 44 games as a Knickerbocker backup point guard almost 30 years ago, has earned the trust of his troops. But Durant says it came long before Donovan showed his playoff chops against the likes of Rick Carlisle and Gregg Popovich, pushing all the right buttons in terms of strategy and rotations.
“For us, it shouldn’t even be that way,” Durant said. “It’s vice versa. He’s the coach. He’s the leader. He’s gonna be here, so we have to prove to him that we can go out there and follow the gameplan from training camp, from Day 1. That we’re gonna follow what he wants to do. That’s how he weeds out who plays and who doesn’t.”
The Donovan transition hasn’t been completely smooth. The Thunder had its rough spots. A 7-6 start to the season; a 4-8 slump coming out of the all-star break.
But now we know Donovan was experimenting and fine-tuning and implementing. Was showing the “tactical competence” that Sam Presti mentioned upon Donovan’s hiring. And we know now that the players were with him all the way.
“It’s not like winning anyone over,” said center Steven Adams. “You’ve just got to see eye to eye. The biggest problems that you’ll have with the team is if you don’t see eye to eye. What’s good about Donovan is he didn’t come in trying to … look down on anyone. That was really great. The same with the players. KD and stuff, they didn’t see him any different either. Just understood he was a young coach — well, old coach, but new in the NBA. Once we figured that out, the team just kind of grew.”
“In this league, we tend to think of it as the coach has to earn the players’ respect,” Durant said. “Well, the players gotta earn the coach’s respect. Professional sports is a little different, but when you’re growing up as a kid, it’s all about following the leader. And that’s the coach.”
Here we are approaching Memorial Day, and the Thunder is playing better basketball than it ever has, not only because it has fantastic players, but because those players are doing whatever their new coach says to do.
No. 3: Noah hasn’t ruled out returning to Bulls — Twenty-nine games played. Two starts. 4.3 points per game and 38.3 percent shooting. All those numbers were career-lows for Chiacgo Bulls center Joakim Noah in 2015-16. To cap it all off, the former Defensive Player of the Year winner saw his season end in mid-January after it was revealed he needed shoulder surgery. Noah is a free agent this summer and based on some early reports Wednesday, it was sounding like he’s done with Chicago. However, as K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reports, Noah hasn’t closed the Windy City door just yet:
At management’s season-ending postmortem in April, executive vice president John Paxson made clear his affinity for Joakim Noah, who will be an unrestricted free agent in July for the first time in his nine-year career.
Despite a difficult 2015-16 campaign in which he lost his starting role and endured season-ending shoulder surgery in January, Noah hasn’t ruled out a return to the Bulls.
“Joakim and I speak on a daily basis about his future,” Bill Duffy, Noah’s agent, told the Tribune. “There has been zero indication from him that he doesn’t wish to return to the Bulls.”
The Bulls are under no illusion that re-signing Noah will be easy, if that’s the path they choose. Noah, as team-first an athlete as one will find, wants a starting role and a chance to win a championship.
And it’s well-documented Noah didn’t love that Fred Hoiberg concocted a story last October about Noah wanting to come off the bench. That relationship improved as the season progressed, though, especially because Noah did tell Hoiberg he enjoyed playing with Taj Gibson — although Noah expected to be finishing games.
But Noah’s appreciation for being a one-franchise player is genuine, as is his love for the city in which his Noah’s Arc Foundation has done extensive work promoting nonviolence initiatives for youth.
Duffy spoke in part to respond to a Sun-Times story stating Noah has told teammates he’s done with the Bulls.
“He has great respect for the city, the fans and the organization,” Duffy said.
“We are going to sit down with Jo and his agent,” Paxson said in April. “In situations like this, it’s got to be right for both sides. Anyone who has spoken to either (general manager) Gar (Forman) or me about Joakim, they know how we feel about him. He represents a lot that we believe in. To me, he’s one of the most genuine people I’ve ever been around in this business.”
No. 4: Silver: ‘Human error’ part of the NBA game — On more than a few occasions this postseason, the NBA’s Last Two Minutes Report has provided talking points when discussing the NBA playoffs. From the end of Game 2 of the San Antonio Spurs-Oklahoma City Thunder game in the West semifinals to the finish in Game 7 of the first round between the Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers, the findings in each ruling have been — if nothing else — illuminating as to how difficult NBA officiating can be. League commissioner Adam Silver knows that much is true and explained how the NBA strives for perfect officiating but realizes that is a hard goal to achieve. He said as much (and more) during his interview on ESPN’s NBA Tonight:
Commissioner Adam Silver says the NBA doesn’t have a choice on whether to be as transparent as possible in determining whether key crunch-time plays were officiated correctly “with so many cameras focused on the action, with so many other kinds of services providing that same information to our fans or to the public.”
Silver, speaking in an in an interview with ESPN’s Cassidy Hubbarth on NBA Tonight, said with the focus of much of this season’s playoffs on the officiating and how it has affected the outcome of games, that the refs still get it right a “vast majority of the time.”
“Roughly 90 percent — they get it right,” Silver said. “Now, of course, I’d like 90 percent to be 100 percent. And so would they. But what these reports also show, what fans already know is, human error is part of this game, and the best athletes in the world make mistakes. And coaches occasionally make mistakes. Officials do, too.”
Game officials have faced compounded controversy as a result of bad calls or noncalls in nearly every series of this season’s playoffs as the NBA’s “Last Two Minute Report” confirms what has often been made readily apparent not long after a play through TV and Internet video, fueling a new round of headlines.
“My goal is for it not to be a story line. There’s no question about that,” Silver said. “And even if you ask our officials, their goal is to not be noticed.”
“Transparency is a key goal of mine,” Silver said. “And the nature of these LTMs — these ‘Last Two Minute Reports’ — is that it’s information we have already been sharing with our teams. They of course want to know if a particular play in the league’s view was correctly called.
“And in part, not even necessarily because they accept the league’s view over theirs. But they want to understand the basics of why we’re making certain calls. And my sense is, the media and the fans want to have that same understanding. And they want to see if we’re being consistent.
“Teams that are also playing in the regular season or the playoffs want to know when is it a block, when is it a charge, how are we calling traveling, for example.”
No. 5: Magic’s young stars looking forward to working with Vogel — There’s no shortage of young talent on the Orlando Magic roster with Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic and more there just waiting to be molded into winning NBA players. Most of those youngsters, though, have been around for Orlando’s many coaching changes over the last few seasons and look forward to stability and success under new coach Frank Vogel. The Orlando Sentinel‘s Josh Robbins has more on how Orlando’s talent base views their new coach:
Assuming Fournier remains with the Magic in free agency, Vogel will be Fournier’s sixth coach in five seasons. The others were George Karl and Brian Shaw in Denver and Jacque Vaughn, James Borrego and Scott Skiles in Orlando.
The coaching instability Fournier has endured is an extreme case, but his current Magic teammates don’t lag too far behind. Year after year, players such as Aaron Gordon, Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton have had to learn new offensive and defensive schemes and prove themselves to new coaches.
“It’s awful,” Fournier said. “To have to start over and over again and have to reestablish yourself again, it’s not fun at all. It’s not fun at all. But that’s the league, man. That’s the NBA. That’s how it is.”
Fournier and Oladipo at least have been able to meet Vogel face-to-face since Vogel’s hiring became official Friday. Fournier attended Vogel’s introductory press conference Monday, while Oladipo worked out on the Amway Center practice court during the session.
Oladipo is more familiar with Vogel than most of his Magic teammates. Oladipo was in his freshman year at Indiana University when Vogel became the Indiana Pacers’ interim coach during the 2010-11 season. Oladipo and Vogel watched each other from afar throughout Oladipo’s three-year college career.
“I know he had a huge part in turning that Pacers team into where they were at: being in the playoffs, being a top defensive team in the league,” Oladipo said. “And he had that city going crazy. I know a little bit about that. But other than that, not too much. I’m still trying to learn. I’ve talked to him for a little bit already. Hopefully, I continue to grow and our relationship grows.”
One of Oladipo’s NBA mentors is Pacers forward Paul George. If Oladipo ever needs to learn anything new about Vogel, he can pick up the phone and call George.
Shortly after the Magic hired Vogel, Fournier spoke to good friend and fellow Frenchman Ian Mahinmi, who played for Vogel in Indiana.
Fournier said he received a rave review from Mahinmi.
“Obviously, he loves him,” Fournier said. “He’s a guy that works hard from what [Mahinmi] said. [Vogel’s] always positive. Just a great coach to be around.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: ICYMI, here’s who made the 2015-16 All-NBA Defensive First and Second Teams … For the record, Frank Vogel doesn’t agree with the notion he begged for his job in Indiana … Think your team should sign Bismack Biyombo this summer? They may have to pay at least $17 million per season for him … Some former Seattle SuperSonics legends say they’ve heard Commissioner Adam Silver wants a team back in Seattle sooner rather than later … James Borrego had a follow-up meeting with Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander about the team’s coaching vacancy …