Speculation about Del Negro’s future with the team has raged on for months, long before they faltered in the playoffs. With free-agent point guard Chris Paul still undecided about his future in advance of the July 1 free agent free-for-all, where Paul will be as sought after as anyone on the market not named Dwight Howard.
It should be noted that a Paul favorite and a man familiar to Los Angeles, Byron Scott, was on NBA TV’s airwaves Monday night and is available after being fired in Cleveland. The Clippers would be wise to think about coaches that could connect with their superstar point guard while pursuing Del Negro’s replacement.
There’s also the Phil Jackson factor to think about. If he’s interested in returning to the league in some capacity, but not as a coach, maybe the Clippers consider bringing him back and having him select the next coach.
In addition to Paul, the Clippers will have to take Blake Griffin‘s temperature to see what works for him moving forward. Because if Paul bolts in free agency, Griffin becomes the sole face of the franchise heading into the 2013-14 season.
This opening instantly becomes the hottest job on the market for coaches looking for work, especially if Paul remains with the franchise. And you should expect a whose who of candidates to be associated with the rumors in the coming days and weeks. Former Clippers and Suns coach Alvin Gentry, Scott, Golden State Warriors assistant Mike Malone, Indiana Pacers assistant Brian Shaw and even Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins will all be targets.
It was hustle. It was aggressive. It was the way virtually every coach who ever carried a clipboard wants his to players to play — until he hears the whistle.
Was Westbrook trying to call a timeout? Probably. But he hadn’t and no referee had signaled for play to stop.
Were the chances of Beverley making the steal slim? Probably. But the best players don’t always need the odds in their favor. They force the action.
It is understandable that fans in Oklahoma City have been devastated by the news that one of their two All-Star players could be lost for the rest of the season following surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.
It is not understandable, reasonable or even civilized for fans to direct threats toward Beverley on Twitter.
For those over-reactors in the 24-hour media maw, have you watched the video replays? Westbrook dribbled across mid-court and was perhaps a bit too cavalier in thinking he was going to get a timeout and Beverley did what he always does — he played.
The two players bumped knees and when that happens, often someone gets hurt. In this case, it was Westbrook who turned and slammed down his fist onto the scorer’s table.
Take note: Not only was there no foul called on the play, but Kevin Durant, who was standing right there, did not even give Beverley the slightest derisive look. And not a single player or coach on the Thunder bench reacted as if a breach of etiquette had occurred. By the way, Westbrook played all 24 minutes of the second half, scoring 16 of his 29 points.
Injuries happen and they have derailed more than a few teams and careers. This season alone injuries have kept the likes of Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose and Danny Granger, among others, on the sidelines in the postseason. Dikembe Mutombo’s long and glorious career came to an end when he collided with Portland’s Greg Oden in a playoff game in 2009. The 1989 Lakers were a flawless 11-0 in the playoffs and maybe motoring toward a “three-peat” when hamstring injuries claimed Magic Johnson and Byron Scott on the eve of The Finals and they were swept out by the Pistons.
These are the playoffs and these are the big leagues. Through the years I have seen Spurs coach Gregg Popovich stand up as if he were going to call a timeout. Then the defenders relax and Tony Parker scoots all the way in to the basket for an uncontested layup. It occurred most famously at the Staples Center in a playoff game against Shaq, Kobe and the Lakers.
Two years ago, while playing for the Blazers, Andre Miller dribbled across the half-court line, head-faked toward the referee and when the Hornets defense stopped in its tracks, turned the corner and scored a cheap bucket.
It’s a bad time for Westbrook, who had played 439 in a row and never missed a game in his career. It’s bad luck for the Thunder, who will now have to lean on Durant more than ever and have others step up to fill the void. It’s a bad break for everybody who wants to see the best go head-to-head at this time of the year. It was not bad basketball.
Those who suggest that the Rockets be fined, suspended or somehow punished should perhaps turn to croquet, tea parties or other gentler pastimes.
Beverley was playing frantic, frenzied, feverish, furious. Sassy and smart too.
Nearly three years after he was fired as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and after a ballyhooed blowout as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers that ended earlier this season, Mike Brown is close to a return to the shores of Lake Erie.
Per TNT analyst David Aldridge:
Framework 4 deal that would reunite Cavs and Mike Brown in place, per source. Several issues remain. Yahoo! first to report deal was near.— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) April 23, 2013
Brown, the most successful coach in the history of the Cavs, was fired in May of 2010 after failing to win a championship in five years with superstar LeBron James. In his last two seasons in Cleveland, Brown coaxed the Cavs to the best record in the NBA.
The regular-season winning, though, didn’t translate to the playoffs, where the Cavs flamed out spectacularly in 2009 and 2010. Cleveland had a 2-1 lead over the Celtics in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals before losing three straight, including the final two at home by a combined 50 points. Free-agent James left for Miami that summer.
Brown was hired to take over for Phil Jackson with the Lakers in 2011-12 and led L.A. to 41 wins in a lockout-shortened 66-game season. The Lakers were swamped by the Oklahoma City Thunder, though, in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Lakers dumped Brown, long known as a defense-first coach, after a 1-4 start this season, opting to go with the up-tempo stylings of coach Mike D’Antoni. Brown reportedly has some $6 million left on his contract with the Lakers. Early reports have him negotiating a five-year deal with Cleveland for somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million.
To be fair to Byron Scott, this was not the job he signed up for. When Scott agreed to become the 18th head coach in Cleveland Cavaliers history on July 1, 2010, a fellow by the name of LeBron James still was considered to be the cornerstone of the franchise’s present and future. Yes, James technically was a free agent but the very act of hiring Scott was seen by some as a move that would enhance the Cavaliers’ chances of keeping him.
A week later, James announced his decision. So long, Cuyahoga. Hello, South Beach.
And yet, Scott’s job was the one he stayed on for, through three difficult seasons that yielded some common problems and some unique challenges.
The talent cupboard was pretty bare once all those supporting pieces around James left or were rightly cleared out. What talent remained mostly was young, embodied by second-year point guard Kyrie Irving, rookies Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller and youngters such as Tristan Thompson, Alonzo Gee and eventually Marreese Speights. And then, this season, injuries to defensive presence Anderson Varejao, to Irving and to others got layered onto the issues already in place.
The result: A 24-58 record that was worse than 2011-12′s 21-45 (in the post-lockout 66-game schedule).
The Cavaliers, in their news release, said all the expected things: the tremendous respect management has for him professionally, the admiration personally, yada yada yada. That’s boilerplate at this time of year. What got Scott was what gets so many others in his profession: the lack of Cleveland’s tangible improvement in his third season and an eagerness/impatience level from owner Dan Gilbert that was out of sync with the length of his deal, if not expectations.
With Irving running the attack, at least for the 59 games in which he appeared, the Cavs were a third-tier team offensively but trending upward. Defensively, though – and Varejao’s absence can’t be overstated here – they were headed in the wrong direction (27th in the league with a rating of 109.4).
Comments from players once news of Scott’s firing was made official were fairly typical. Gee, I wish I could have done more. And no, it didn’t seem like he lost the locker room.
More interesting, though, was the list of possible replacements that the Cleveland Plain Dealer posted within minutes.
Among the names offered in the combo wish list/guessing game: Phil Jackson, Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, John Calipari, Larry Brown, Rick Pitino, Nate McMillan, Mo Cheeks, Flip Saunders, Jerry Sloan and one or both of the Van Gundy Bros. Current NBA assistants Brian Shaw, Mike Malone and Mike Budenholzer also were mentioned, as were former Cavs bench boss Mike Brown and Keith Dambrot – James’ high school coach now at Akron.
There was a sense, as the news spread, that Cleveland GM Chris Grant ought to act fast, lest some other team with a vacancy snatch the Cavs’ preferred candidate. But that’s the good thing about the coaching carousel – for every one thrown off, another one comes on. And – cue the calliope music! – round and round it goes.
What, you thought the playoffs and the draft were going to provide all the NBA entertainment in the next couple of months?
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Eye contact in a timeout huddle means little to the casual observer.
NBA players do all sorts of things in timeout huddles other than locking into their coach and hanging on every word. Sometimes it means something when they stare off into the distance. And other times it means nothing.
But for a large number of coaches heading into the great (contractual) unknown at season’s end, that connection between coach and player(s) is of immense importance.
It could mean the difference between a contract extension, a new contract or no contract, depending on how certain teams finish the regular season and postseason — provided some of these coaches make it that far.
The list of coaches looking over their shoulders as the regular season winds to a close is long and filled with notable names:
DOUG COLLINS, PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
How many coaches of lottery-bound teams get to decide their own fate? Collins might be the only one in the league right now other than Minnesota’s Rick Adelman, who will make his own decision based on things other than basketball. That exhausted look on his face most nights is a reflection of a clearly exasperated coach dealing with a situation that turned a promising, young team last season upside down this season when Andrew Bynum came to town via an offseason trade.
The Sixers hit rock bottom in February and Collins couldn’t contain himself, venting his frustration for all the world to see and hear. But they’ve actually rebounded a bit lately, going 6-4 in their last 10 games and doing whatever they can to finish the season on a somewhat positive note.
His fourth year is already set. The Sixers’ front office wants him back. And they’ll need a steady, veteran coach to guide them out of the mess that the Bynum trade unleashed upon the organization and the fans. Collins is on thin ice only if he wants to be.
TY CORBIN, UTAH JAZZ
Corbin is one of several coaches whose future is tied directly to his team’s finish in the regular season. Make the playoffs, serve as the sacrificial first-round fodder for the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder and there is reason to believe that Corbin can cajole more out of this group next season.
And with just one season left on his contract, playoffs or not, the Jazz might not shake things up in the coaching ranks at a time when the roster is in such flux — Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap‘s pending free agency (among others) and the future of young bigs Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
Corbin’s task has always been daunting in following a legend like Jerry Sloan. But Corbin has handled it about as well as you would expect from a guy who was thrust into an impossible situation.
MIKE D’ANTONI, LOS ANGELES LAKERS
The ice beneath D’Antoni’s feet won’t break this season, even if the Lakers miss the playoffs. There has already been too much turmoil, upheaval and loss for one season. But how would you like to work under the extreme pressure that D’Antoni will have to this summer and next season if the Lakers do miss out on that eighth and final spot in the West?
If the Lakers land in the lottery and the blame game kicks off in earnest, D’Antoni will be third or fourth in the firing line, behind Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak and Dwight Howard (in whatever order you’d like). Having the unfettered support of the Lakers’ two most important players — Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash — certainly aids D’Antoni’s cause.
Still, if things come apart in Los Angeles this summer, D’Antoni could be one of two NBA coaches in the city walking around on cracked ice.
VINNY DEL NEGRO, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Del Negro has just as many detractors as he does supporters these days. Three different league executives have suggested that he’s done a much better job than he gets credit for, when you consider how raw the Clippers’ frontcourt remains with youngsters Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan still coming into their own.
Del Negro’s critics quickly point out that an All-Star and one of the top 10 centers in the league is a pretty good place to start your frontcourt rotation. Plus, they say, Griffin and Jordan’s rawness has as much with Del Negro (and his staff’s) inability to polish them up as it does anything else.
The Clippers have dealt with health issues and rumored locker room drama all season, but they also kicked off the NBA’s season of win streaks with a 17-gamer early in the season that cranked expectations (on the team and Del Negro) to unattainable proportions. The only thing that might solidify Del Negro’s status is a run to the Western Conference finals … and that might work.
LARRY DREW, ATLANTA HAWKS
How does a guy spend half the season as a legitimate Coach of the Year candidate and the other half on the coaching hot list? Only in Atlanta, where the Hawks coach has been on the proverbial hot seat for the past 10 years (Mike Woodson before him and now, Drew). He’s known since last summer, when new general manager Danny Ferry arrived, that he would spend his final season under contract on a non-stop audition.
To his credit, Drew has never once made an issue of his predicament. In fact, he’s relished the opportunity to show off his coaching chops to the rest of the league. Drew knows there could be (at minimum) a half-dozen coaching openings this summer. And anyone who has presided over playoff teams every year he’s been a coach — as Drew has — has made a compelling case for making the short list of interview candidates for any openings.
Bottom line? Drew was not Ferry’s pick as coach. And if the Hawks are going to remake themselves this summer, it makes sense that Ferry will do so with his own pick as coach.
BYRON SCOTT, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Scott had to fist-fight Brooklyn’s P.J. Carlesimo for the final spot on this list. Carlesimo’s not on thin ice, though, he’s standing in the water. As long as Phil Jackson, Sloan and the Van Gundy brothers (Jeff and Stan) remain options, the coaching seat in Brooklyn is just a temporary perch. Scott is in a much more precarious position because of the belief that the Cavaliers are just a few healthy players (namely Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao) away from turning the corner in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
Scott keeps finding himself in coaching situations where he has either overstayed his welcome (New Jersey and New Orleans) or failed to get his team to the next step in time (Cleveland). The Cavaliers showed him some love earlier this season by guaranteeing the final year of his contract next season. But even a financial vote of confidence like that might not stand up to the a coaching free-agent summer that will rival anything the players offer up.
If the aforementioned big names are floating around, you better believe the Cavaliers will be fishing around to see who is interested in helping guide Irving into the prime of his career.
ALSO ON THE RADAR: Mike Dunlap, Charlotte; Lawrence Frank, Detroit; Lionel Hollins, Memphis; Keith Smart, Sacramento; Randy Wittman, Washington.
HANG TIME, Texas — You certainly can’t blame Byron Scott for keeping one eye on the future.
After all, it’s now less than two years until LeBron James can pull back on that Cavaliers jersey and run the floor on a fast break in the same lineup with Kyrie Irving.
Yes, yes, we know it’s just rank and scurrilous speculation (the best kind) that The King would return to the Cleveland throne he abdicated. But we’re more concerned right now anyway with Irving, the 20-year-old wunderkind and his own future.
After Irving mentioned the other night that the only way his sore right knee could get better was to sit out the rest of the season, the coach caused a stir by saying he’s open to the possibility.
“If Ky is hurting, I have no problem sitting him down,” Scott said.
But team sources told ESPN.com there was a miscommunication between Irving and Scott. The team will continue to monitor Irving’s knee and he’ll continue to get treatment on it, but there are no plans of sitting him down for this injury.
Irving is expected to play against the visiting Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.
The 20-year-old Irving played almost 38 minutes against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night, and didn’t seem to be slowed by the knee, which he banged against teammate Omri Casspi’s knee in a practice two weeks ago.
That being said, one does have to wonder if the Cavs wouldn’t be wisest to at least consider putting the 2012 Rookie of the Year on the shelf. They’re a 21-40 team going into tonight’s game against the Grizzlies and going nowhere except back to the draft lottery.
It is understood that virtually everyone in the NBA is playing at this time of the year with bumps and bruises, aches and pains. It is also admirable that Irving wants to be out there on the court every night battling with his teammates, further establishing his credentials as a leader down the line.
But there are times when the head must rule over the heart and competitive instincts and it is a hyperextension of the knee, that most critical body part for any player. Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf still shudders at memories of the time back in 1986 when Michael Jordan talked his way back onto the court prematurely after a broken foot. Nothing happened, but it could have. And you can be sure it’s rolling around inside Reinsdorf’s head now about Derrick Rose.
Contrast that with one of the best decisions that Gregg Popovich has made in his illustrious coaching career. After Tim Duncan tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee in the 78th game of the 1999-2000 regular season, he was still champing at the bit to go in the playoffs. The Spurs were defending champs, a 53-win team. They had a chance to go back-to-back. Duncan was running up and down the floor every day at practice, trying to prove that he was capable and ready.
Yet Popovich shut him down and the Spurs were bounced from the playoffs in the first round by the Suns. Then, of course, they came back to win three more titles in ‘03, ‘05 and ‘07.
Don’t simply conclude that Scott might have been overreacting. It’s what you do with a franchise player, think long term.
And remember, you’d want Kyrie in tip-top shape when LeBron comes back in two years.
. CHICAGO – No Kyrie Irving. No Derrick Rose. No kidding.
Viewers of NBA TV probably knew they were gambling if their expressed interest in seeing Cleveland at Chicago Tuesday night from United Center had anything to do with a possible comeback by Rose. The Bulls’ electric point guard, unplugged since May surgery on his left knee, had been penciled by some to be ready for action at this point on the NBA calendar — though an equal or greater number of Rose watchers were preaching continued patience, into March and maybe all the way to October.
So Rose — despite what Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau called “daily improvement” Tuesday — was a longshot anyway to hook up (in whatever minutes-limited state he might have come back) with Irving, the Cavaliers’ exciting young point guard fresh off a breakthrough All-Star Weekend. Then the Cavs made that doubly official by ruling Irving out too, lost to a hyperextended right knee that might sideline him Wednesday against Toronto as well.
The missed opportunity Tuesday makes it seven consecutive games that either Irving, Rose or both sat out with injuries. Their teams are done for the season as of this one, which means they’ll be pushing 2014 before fans are treated to what could be one of the league’s stellar 1-on-1 matchups for the next decade or so.
Assuming it ever gets started. This is starting to feel like Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao.
Last season, the teams met just three times in the post-lockout schedule. Irving missed the first one, Rose missed the second and both of them sat out the regular-season finale. There was no preseason clash, either, to start Irving’s rookie season due to the limited home-and-home arrangement of the scrunched prep time (the Bulls played Indiana twice, the Cavs hooked up with Detroit.)
This season, of course, Rose has been rehabbing from ACL surgery. Irving missed the second meeting during an 11-game layoff with a fractured left index finger.
In Irving’s three appearances against Chicago across two seasons, he averaged 14.3 points and 4.3 assists while shooting 40.5 percent. Rose has faced the Cavaliers 12 times, averaging 18.2 points and 8.0 assists and shooting 41.3 percent.
Chicago has dominated the series lately, winning 11 straight by an average of 17.8 points. But at this rate, Irving will be older than Uncle Drew by the time he squares up against Rose.
It also might raise questions about the long-term viability of leaning on a point guard — who takes the most punishment, pound for pound, of any player — as your superstar, leader and first (and maybe second) option. Rose and Irving have been as dinged up, with multiple ailments, as any All-Stars in the league the past two seasons.
For now, though, we’ll consider it a fluke.
“I don’t know if it’s weird,” Cleveland coach Byron Scott told reporters at Tuesday’s shootaround. “It’s unfortunate. I love Derrick Rose just as a person. He’s an unbelievable basketball player, but he’s one of our best people in this league.
“So for me, it’s unfortunate to have a guy that is as good as he is … off the court not being able to play because of the injuries. I hope he comes back 110 percent and these two guys will be able to get it on sometime next season.”
Considering that Scott earlier this month said he wants Irving to work out with Chris Paul this summer so he “would learn from the best,” that just throws gas on the potential clash of Irving vs. Rose. If they ever manage to strike a match.
To hear the Cleveland Cavaliers tell it, the folks in Wisconsin only had to turn their clocks back 59 minutes and 59.8 seconds overnight Saturday. Because the Milwaukee Bucks took care of that first tenth-of-a-second or two for them.
After Brandon Jennings‘ buzzer-beater lifted the Bucks to a 105-102 victory at the BMO Harris Bradley Center – and after Cavs coach Byron Scott got a chance to see a couple of replays – Scott felt the timekeeping in Milwaukee was slow on the trigger. He told that to reporters after the game.
“I don’t want to get fined, so I’m not going to say nothing about the clock starting late on the last shot. But they have to figure out a way to do something about that. The bottom line is that either it doesn’t count or you take it out again. They’ve got to figure out a way.
“Looking at it again in the locker room a copule of times, the shot shouldn’t have counted. The clock started too late.”
The situation: Just 0.7 seconds showed on the clock when Milwaukee inbounded the ball, Mike Dunleavy passing to Jennings near the top of the key. Upon review, the Cavs felt Jennings did too much with the ball, from catch to windup to launch, before the clock began its countdown. (more…)
Opening night and there were enough MVP awards inside two arenas that if you laid them end-to-end they might stretch all the way from American Airlines Arena in Miami to Staples Center in Los Angeles, which is where we’ve already got the 2013 NBA Finals scheduled for next June. Don’t we?
There was LeBron James with his three trophies, Steve Nash with his two, then Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett with one apiece. Toss in Dirk Nowitzki recovering from knee surgery back in Dallas and there were eight MVP seasons represented in the two marquee games that everybody was watching.
But if the parlor game was to pick out an opening night candidate to be named MVP five years from now, maybe it was little ol’ Kyrie Irving hiding in the shadows of Cleveland. (more…)