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Orlando fires Vaughn, boosts Borrego, considers Skiles?

It’s a lot like your refrigerator when you lose power: if you keep the door closed, most of the stuff inside will last. But open that door a bit too often and …

That’s how it seemed to go with Jacque Vaughn, who worked his last game as head coach of the Orlando Magic Wednesday night in a 110-103 loss at San Antonio. Vaughn’s job status had been bandied about for more than a week, with speculation about the Magic either pulling the trigger quickly or trying to manage the situation until after the All-Star break. But once that happened, the whiff of failure took over and multiple outlets began reporting that Orlando would formally announce Vaughn’s dismissal Thursday afternoon.

The Magic, roused from their inaction, suddenly were acting swiftly:

Leaving only this:

Which led directly to a renewal of this:

Which had been out there dating back to last week, also via multiple outlets. Skiles, who lives in Orlando and had the best years of his 10-season NBA career with the Magic, is interested in the job, a league source told NBA.com. He coached all or parts of 13 seasons for Phoenix, Chicago and Milwaukee, posting a 443-433 record (.506) with six playoff appearances.

Other candidates beyond Borrego and Skiles might merit consideration depending on the direction Magic ownership intends to take. Some possibilities include former NBA head coaches George Karl, Mark Jackson, Nate McMillan and Michael Malone. The Magic are considered to have underachieved, lingering too long in the development phase with talented young players such as Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Tobias Harris, Mo Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and mostly injured lottery pick Aaron Gordon.

Vaughn, who will turn 40 next Wednesday, was 58-158 (.269) in two-plus seasons as Orlando head coach. In 12 NBA seasons as a 6-foot-1 point guard, the Kansas product averaged 4.5 points, 2.5 assists and 16.3 minutes, mostly as a backup with Utah, Atlanta, Orlando, New Jersey and San Antonio.

At 15-37, the Magic are last in the Southeast Division and only two spots from the bottom of the Eastern Conference, ahead of Philadelphia (11-39) and New York (10-39). Orlando has lost 16 of its last 18 games and 23 of 29 over the past eight weeks after making it to Dec. 10 with a 9-14 mark.

The Magic rank 25th in offensive rating (99.5) and 26th (106.1) in defensive rating, per NBA.com stats. They also rank next-to-last in opposing field-goal percentage (47.1 percent).

Coaching spat: Kidd shrugs off Scott’s ‘kind of an (expletive)’ remark

MILWAUKEE – One NBA head coach publicly referring to another NBA head coach as an (expletive) – as the Lakers’ Byron Scott did when speaking of Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd Wednesday – clearly ranks as a breach in protocol within their elite professional fraternity.

But then, lobbying for another head coach’s job while he still holds it is a breach in protocol, too. That’s how Kidd wound up with the Bucks, taking over Larry Drew‘s position, in the first place.

So no one should be too surprised when some decade-old history between Scott and Kidd surfaced in the hours before the Lakers-Bucks game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Scott got it started at his team’s morning shootaround, talking to reporters about his first coaching matchup with Kidd. The two had gone to consecutive NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003 – Scott as coach of the New Jersey Nets, Kidd as its playmaking point guard – going 109-55 in their first two seasons together.

But in 2003-04, Scott was fired at 22-20, with Kidd allegedly going to management to lobby for a change.

That was the backdrop, then, when Scott was asked about Kidd.

“He was kind of known as an (expletive),” the Lakers coach said.

Scott went on to say that he and Kidd are “cordial” these days. He also said he never got to the bottom of the rumors about Kidd costing him his job. “That’s all I’ve heard,” Scott said. “Now, did he actually go talk to [former Nets president] Rod Thorn and all those guys? I don’t know. I never got that story. I always said, though, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

Scott’s comments were relayed to Kidd on Wednesday evening, not quite two hours before their teams tipped off. The Bucks coach didn’t take the bait, saying he hadn’t heard or read them while agreeing with Scott’s “cordial” characterization.

“That’s his opinion,” Kidd said. “I saw him this summer [at the coaches’ meetings in Chicago]. Said ‘Hi’ to him, wished him the best of luck. That’s the business. What are we supposed to do? You guys are making a little more of … you guys must be bored.

“We had a great run in Jersey. He was a big part of that. He was our coach. We went out and executed his game plan. Took a team that was at the bottom and all of a sudden we ended up in The Finals.”

Of the fractious 2003-04 season in particular, Kidd said: “Unfortunately, I was just a player. I didn’t have the rights of firing or hiring. That falls on management.”

Scott didn’t run from the comments during his pregame session, nor did he fan more flames.

“There’s no rift,” he said. “You ask me how I feel about him, like I said, we’re not going to be spending a whole lot of time together. But other than that, he’s coaching a good team here in Milwaukee and I’m coaching a team that I love in Los Angeles.

“This is no big deal. This happened [11] years ago, whatever the case may be. I don’t hold grudges or anything like that. It is what it is. And we all move on. I’ll say hello to him. I’m not going to just walk by him like I don’t like him or like I dislike him or anything like that.”

Scott praised Kidd for his play in their two Finals season, saying he deserved some hardware that went to San Antonio’s Tim Duncan both seasons.

“[Kidd] should have got MVP the first year we went to The Finals,” the Laker coach said. “I thought he was the best player in the league. He transformed that organization to not only a playoff contender but a championship-caliber basketball team. So like I said, we had some great times together as well.”

Neither coach thought the tension or rancor between them would add or detract from that night’s game.

“Nope,” Kidd said. “Doesn’t mean anything. You guys can make up whatever you want, but it’s between the players. They play the game; we coach.”

Said Scott: “Neither one of us is going to have shorts on out there.”

Report: Howard could miss extended time

VIDEO: The Inside guys talk about West All-Star snubs

Having a string of eight consecutive All-Star Game appearances snapped was the least of Dwight Howard’s concerns.

The Rockets center, who has already missed 14 games this season, could miss “extended time,” according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard will get a second opinion on his injured right knee and could miss extended time, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

As the Rockets embarked on a two-game Eastern Conference trip to Boston and Detroit on Thursday, Howard traveled elsewhere to get further evaluation on his swollen knee, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Rockets announced late Wednesday night that Howard has an edema — build-up of fluid –in his knee. He was sidelined for 11 games earlier this season with a strain in the same knee.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and head athletic trainer Keith Jones both ruled out a microfracture to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

Howard is averaging 16.3 points and 11 rebounds this season, but was not voted by the fans as a starter and not added to the Western Conference team reserves by the coaches. With Kobe Bryant of the Lakers out for the season following rotator cuff surgery, Howard could be added as a substitute, but the current injury now makes that less likely.

The latest scenario just makes us wonder what James Harden can do next to improve stating his case for MVP? Even without Howard, Harden has been spectacular, leading the NBA in scoring at 27.7 points per game and was added to the West All-Star team himself by the coaches after the fans gave their sentimental backing to Bryant.

Harden’s play has enabled the Rockets (32-14) to remain in a three-way tie with the Trail Blazers and Clippers for the No. 3 playoff seed in the West.

Playing without their big man, the Rockets have posted a 10-4 record this season, but another lengthy loss of Howard could eventually take its toll in the tightly-packed race.

Thunder’s Durant out against Wolves

Kevin Durant sitting out a game is always chilling to anyone devoted to the Thunder, including those who saw Durant miss the first 17 games this season to a foot injury. But this isn’t one of those injuries.

He sprained his left big toe Sunday in Cleveland, and it’s still too sore to use for cutting and planting, so he was scratched from OKC’s visit to Minnesota. In these situations, it’s better to use caution. And it helps that OKC is playing the Wolves. So the Thunder is going sans Durant, which also serves to deny a Durant matchup with Andrew Wiggins, often viewed as a younger version of Durant.

Durant could also get a break from the next game in more ways than one. Not only are the Thunder scheduled to meet the Knicks — another foe that allows teams to rest their stars — on Wednesday but the game might not be played because of the heavy snowstorm. Monday’s Knicks-Kings game was postponed.

Perry Jones is expected to see extended minutes in Durant’s absence and Dion Waiters should get more shots.

 

Reports: Jennings lost for season, Pistons seek help at point

In the age of social media, pro athletes not only circumvent traditional media to break news but to break hearts as well.

That was the case Sunday with injured Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings. While reporters and fans waited for and relied on traditional channels for the official word on Jennings’ status – the point guard went down in anguish with an apparent torn Achilles tendon in the third quarter of Detroit’s game at Milwaukee Saturday – it was Jennings who actually delivered the bad news.

Jennings put out a non-confirmation confirmation of the injury with a simple Tweet that spoke to the expected surgery-and-rehab for such an Achilles tear:

Jennings followed up with a message to his followers that seemed to capture what those next six to nine months are going to be like for him:

There were early reports that the Pistons might get active in the trade market or look to a D-League addition like Lorenzo Brown, who went to camp with the Pistons and made the minor league’s first all-star team during last week’s Showcase.

Australia celebrates historic NBA week

What in the NBA was viewed as a typical lineup change, albeit with the added interest of involving a 2014 lottery pick/ international sensation, was also cause for national pride as Australia continued a historic rise to basketball prominence.

The decision by Quin Snyder to replace incumbent Trey Burke with Dante Exum as the Jazz starting point guard Thursday in Milwaukee — the first time that had happened with Burke healthy — would have been big enough Down Under, where Exum is the embodiment of Australia’s new NBA influence. That his backcourt partner was a fellow Aussie rookie, Joe Ingles, made it an even bigger deal a hemisphere away. And that Snyder’s move came just two games and four days after four Australians were on the floor together for the first time in league history — Ingles and Exum along with Patty Mills and Aron Baynes of the Spurs on Sunday in San Antonio — added to the groundbreaking week back home.

That’s some hot streak for a country that has supported the NBA in impressive ways and has long sent players to North America (Andrew Bogut, Mills, Luc Longley, others) but only in the last couple years has been appreciated for regularly producing top talent. It continued Saturday night in Salt Lake City, where the Jazz stayed with the Exum-Ingles backcourt, and were expected to do so into at least the near future.

The view from Melbourne, via Simon Legg, the chief editor of NBA.com/Australia:

“We’ve seen Patty Mills and Aron Baynes win a championship with the Spurs, Danté Exum get drafted inside the top five — becoming just the second player from Australia to be selected so high, and a record seven players in the NBA over the last seven months. As you can imagine, it’s been an incredibly exciting period for Australian NBA fans. The excitement and the buzz has been around for a little while now, but it felt like it was at fever pitch in the past week as we saw four Australians on an NBA court for the first time, and then Danté and Joe starting together for the second time against the Bucks, and both play well in a gritty victory. Since the season started, the mainstream media has joined in on the excitement, and it’s just continuing to grow as we see new records being created. The Australian fans are very knowledgeable. While they’re excited for Danté, they also know that he has a long way to go and we need to temper our expectations and let his game develop, but the media and the fans are handling his development, and the development of all of our players fairly well. It just gets hard to not be swept up in it sometimes.”

Australia was big business for the NBA even before this, ranking as the No. 1 country outside North America in League Pass subscriptions and No. 1 in eCommerce business heading into 2014-15, according to league officials. The talent pipeline getting stronger in recent years through the Draft and with second-round picks James Ennis (Miami) last season and Jordan McRae (Philadelphia) this season choosing to play there rather than Europe or the D-League adds to the relationship.

“There’s a few things that are helpful,” Scott Levy, the senior vice president and managing director of NBA Asia & India, which overseas Australia and New Zealand, said before the season. “One, it’s a very strong economy. Everyone has credit cards. There’s good Internet penetration, so you can watch a 2½-hour game and have a consistent, secure connection and be able to access that and you can pay for the service as well. That helps. And the consumption by Australians around sports in general – not just NBA, but all sports – if you were to compare that to the amount spent on all sports in any country in the world, Australia would rank right up there at the top per capita. There’s just an incredible passion for sports in that country.”

All-Star weekend will be the next step. Bogut won’t be on the Western Conference squad, but his play with the Warriors has been a major factor in Steve Kerr earning the spot as West coach in New York next month. The Rising Stars Challenge, formerly the rookie sophomore event, could include several players from the region. Matthew Dellavedova (Cavaliers/Australia) and Steven Adams (Thunder/New Zealand) have a good chance to get picked while Ingles and Exum are both possibilities.

 

Lakers: Kobe suffers torn rotator cuff


VIDEO: MRI shows Kobe Bryant has torn rotator cuff

The hits just keep on coming for Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, with the team’s announcement Thursday afternoon that the 36-year-old shooting guard suffered a torn rotator cuff Wednesday against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Initially, it was thought that Bryant had only aggravated a longtime injury to his right shoulder in the second half. But as reported by beat writer Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, an MRI exam done in San Antonio early Thursday revealed the tear.

Bryant, who had taken off the previous two games, was scheduled to return to Los Angeles later in the day and to be examined by team doctors Friday, the club announced. “An update on his condition will be issued at that time,” the news release said.

Kobe being Kobe, he played through the pain and switched to taking left-handed shots. he finished with 14 points on 6-for-14 shooting in the 96-80 defeat.

Bryant had been playing recently on a minutes restriction, so by the time he did re-enter the game, the Lakers trailed by 12 points. He took his final two shots, making one, then sat down with 1:09 left.

He didn’t sound worried about the aggravated shoulder immediately after the game, treating it much the same as he has assorted minor hurts and ailments in recent seasons.

“I feel fine,” he told reporters afterward. “We make a lot of it, but the reality is I’m doing some pretty phenomenal things in 30 minutes. My body is not that [messed] up.”

It looks to be for now, though, possibly taking the whole “Should the Lakers shut down Kobe for the season?” debate out of his or the team’s hands. The roster for the Western Conference All-Stars just got a little looser but the Lakers’ and Bryant’s situations seem to have gotten murkier.

Golden State clinches West All-Star coaching role for rookie Kerr

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Steve Kerr becomes the first rookie coach to earn the All-Star berth since Larry Bird in 1998 (NBAE via Getty Images).

Steve Kerr woke up Thursday as the coach of the 2015 Western Conference All-Stars. He went to bed that way, too, but not everyone realized it late Wednesday.

The NBA officially crunched the numbers Thursday morning, noting that Kerr’s Golden State Warriors already had clinched the West’s best record through games played Feb. 1. That’s the cutoff date for designating the All-Star coaches. Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer and his staff had earned the honors with the East All-Stars with the 35-8 Hawks’ home victory over Indiana earlier Wednesday evening.

Kerr’s spot on the West sideline for the annual showcase Feb. 15 at Madison Square Garden was assured with the Warriors’ 126-113 victory over Houston in Oakland. It left Golden State with a league-best record of 34-6 with five games remaining through Feb. 1. Even if it were to lose all five, Kerr’s club would sit at 34-11, .7555, at the cutoff.

Portland, at 31-12 with six games before Feb. 1, could get no higher than 37-12, .7551. Memphis would reach 35-12, .744, if it were to win its five games over the next 11 days. Dallas would max out at 36-13, .734, while both Houston and the L.A. Clippers can do no better through Feb. 1 than 34-14, .708.

Had Portland beaten Phoenix Wednesday, the Trail Blazers and coach Terry Stotts might have gotten to 38-11, .7755, pushing the All-Star honor closer to the deadline. But few can quibble with Golden State’s status as the conference’s and the league’s most successful team through the first half of 2014-15.

The Warriors, who won a franchise-record 17th consecutive game, are off to their best start in the Golden State era. They are one of only 10 teams in NBA history to have won at least 34 of their first 40 games. Golden State ranks No. 1 in field-goal percentage (.487), as well as No. 1 in defensive field-goal percentage (.421). Its average margin of victory (11.8) is the fattest since Kerr played with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (12.2).

Kerr becomes the first rookie coach to earn the All-Star berth since Indiana’s Larry Bird worked the East’s bench in 1998. He will be Golden State’s first All-Star coach since Don Nelson in 1992.

Kerr, a former 3-point specialist for Chicago and San Antonio, general manager in Phoenix and savvy broadcast analyst, downplayed the achievement as he and the Warriors drew close. “It’s more just keep getting better to me,” he told reporters. “Keep improving, keep taking another step forward. And if we do that, there’s a lot of good stuff to come.”

Most head coaches cite their staffs, who join them on All-Star Weekend, and Golden State is no exception, with Ron Adams, Alvin Gentry, Luke Walton, Jarron Collins, Bruce Fraser and Keke Lyles all contributing. The Warriors players seem to value their input, according to a report Wednesday on MercuryNews.com.

 

“They do a great job of preparing us,” center Andrew Bogut said. “Ron Adams and Alvin Gentry and those guys, they do a really good job for us with our scouting reports and their preparation.”

Bogut noted that the biggest thing he noticed with Kerr’s staff members was that they had “no agendas” and didn’t play favorites.

“It happens on a lot of teams, just to try to align themselves with certain guys in case there’s coaching changes or whatever, and that happens I’d say in 80 percent of NBA teams,” Bogut said. “I don’t see that on this team with this coaching staff. They’re comfortable in their own skin. I think that starts from Steve Kerr because he’s told these guys, ‘Do your job. I don’t expect you guys to get involved in politics.’ “

With both All-Star coaching staffs in place, the players come next. All-Star starters will be named on TNT Thursday evening, with reserves coming next week after a vote of conference coaches. Stephen Curry is expected to start for the West for the second straight year, but Kerr called it “criminal” if Golden State were to have just one All-Star. In his view, backcourt ‘mate Klay Thompson should go to New York, too.

Said Kerr: “Klay deserves it. To me, the thing with the All-Star game that I’ve always felt long before I came to Golden State is the best teams deserve the benefit of the doubt. Players who put up stats are really good. Players who put up stats and help their team win a ton of games are All-Stars, and that should absolutely put Klay in the game.”

D-League considering Showcase in Vegas

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – The D-League is considering Las Vegas as a future stop for the Showcase even though the city does not have a team, commissioner Malcolm Turner said, a move that would deepen ties between the parent NBA and the gambling mecca.

The internal debate as conversations increase after the NBA All-Star weekend in mid-February in New York is clear: Continue the Showcase among the 16 locations with teams as a local marketing tool for the host club and the league as a whole or go to a city with a track record of successfully hosting major basketball events. Las Vegas’ relationship with the NBA as the site of the biggest of the three summer leagues — Salt Lake City will join the established Orlando operation — is an obvious selling point. It just doesn’t grow the brand where the D-League needs to grow.

“It’s one that we’re exploring,” Turner said. “It’s too early to say whether or not that is a strong possibility, but I think there are a lot of reasons why we would find it an attractive market to go to. Obviously that would work counter to … our teams hosting the Showcase. But Vegas is an interesting market for a lot of reasons.

“With NBA summer league in Vegas, we’ve had very good and strong experiences in Vegas. And certainly logistically and infrastructure wise, clearly that’s an easy box to check versus potentially some of the markets where we’re playing the D-League clearly there are some logistical hurdles. Las Vegas is set up to host big and significant events. That takes a lot of that (those hurdles) off the table.”

The gathering of every team for several days of games as the premier regular-season event for the D-League has been in Columbus, Ga., Fayetteville, N.C., Sioux Falls, S.D., Boise, Orem, Utah, Boise again, South Padre Island, Tex., Reno two years in a row and now Santa Cruz for the 2015 session that ended Monday. While Santa Cruz earned high marks as a host and has one of the best arenas in the league, Turner, in his first season as commissioner, prefers to move the Showcase around in the model of All-Star games in other sports rather than consecutive visits to the same city.

Also, Turner said the league expects to expand at some point, but not next season.

The Bakersfield Jam, the Suns’ affiliate, won the inaugural Showcase Cup, a tournament held amid the rest of the schedule here. Jam guard Archie Goodwin, on assignment from Phoenix, was named MVP.

 

Layoff of Bucks’ Sanders compounded by another anti-drug suspension


VIDEO: Latest NBA news from Friday

Larry Sanders‘ saga has had so many twists and turns in his four-plus NBA seasons, it’s hard to know whether his latest violation of the league’s anti-drug policy is at the root of his extended absence from the Milwaukee Bucks, or in addition to it.

Sanders, who has been on leave from the Bucks since before Christmas, was suspended Friday by the NBA without pay for a minimum of 10 games for again violating the terms of the NBA/NBPA drug program.

Sanders’ suspension will begin Monday, with the Bucks’ next scheduled game vs. Toronto at BMO Harris Bradley Center, and “will continue until he is in full compliance with his treatment program,” the league announcement read.

Sanders already has missed 11 games, with the Bucks first listing “illness,” followed by “personal reasons,” for his absence. He last played before Christmas, getting five points and eight rebounds in Milwaukee’s loss to Charlotte Dec. 23. He had averaged 7.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 27 appearances this season, the first in a four-year, $44 million contract.

When Sanders’ absence stretched beyond the few days typically required for illness and Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd stayed vague on the 6-foot-11 center’s situation, rumors spread that he might have lost interest in basketball in general or the Bucks in particular. Sanders’ track record of technical fouls, locker room altercations and off-court incidents gave weight to just about any and all concerns.

But the fifth-year player did show up to watch, in street clothes from the bench, Milwaukee’s home game against Phoenix Jan. 6. And in comments to reporters afterward, he seemed closer to rather than further from a return, with no known indication of an anti-drug policy violation.

Sanders used the words “my psyche and my physical health” in talking about unreadiness to play for the Bucks. Team president Peter Feigin had expressed the organization’s “1,000 percent” support. Feigin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel it wanted to “surround players with the best medical, psychological, emotional and physical support we can possibly have. When Larry’s ready, he’ll be ready.”

Sanders did not travel with the Bucks to Chicago Saturday or to London Monday for their game Thursday against New York.

Under the terms of the anti-drug policy agreed to by the Board of Governors and the players’ union, suspensions typically begin with the first game an injured player is available for action. For instance, when Sanders incurred his “third strike” of the policy last spring to earn a five-game suspension – taking the occasion to talk up the benefits of medical marijuana use – he first had to officially be cleared to play, having been ruled out for the season in March with a fractured bone near his right eye.

The Bucks revisited that prognosis, and Sanders was able to sit out the final five games last season – which he would have missed anyway and which were docked at the per-game rate from a $3 million salary, not $11 million.

There had been no sense, however, that Sanders was expected back in uniform for Monday’s game against the Raptors. Now he definitely won’t be, with his earliest possible return on Feb. 7 when Milwaukee plays host to Boston.