Posts Tagged ‘Danny Ainge’

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 20


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant’s beautiful mind | Heat hunting for inspiration | Magic hit the floor to end skid | Dragic has to sustain his energy for Suns

No. 1: Durant’s got it between the ears, too — Seven straight games with 30 or more points from the greatest scorer in the game should surprise no one. Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant can do 30 a night with his eyes closed. And when you are a scoring genius and think through the game the way Durant does, eyes opened or closed … it doesn’t matter. At least that’s the way Thunder coach Scott Brooks explained (sort of) to Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman after Durant and the Thunder dismantled the Sacramento Kings:

Durant hit his scoring average, needing only 15 shots (and 10 makes) to score 30 points for a seventh straight game.

But his nine assists — the most he’s recorded in the last 25 games — was a more encouraging and revealing sign of the Thunder’s impressive night.

“I just love the way he thinks,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said of Durant. “He thinks about the team … He took 15 great shots and made 10 of them. Everybody else got involved and had an opportunity to score.”

The biggest benefactor was Serge Ibaka, who scored 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting. But he wasn’t the only one.

For the first time this season, OKC had six players in double-figures: Durant, Ibaka, Reggie Jackson (16), Thabo Sefolosha (10), Jeremy Lamb (10) and Nick Collison (10).

“When we move the ball like that,” Durant said of the Thunder’s 23 assists, “everybody touching it, that helps our defense as well.”

And so it did on Sunday night, allowing OKC to stifle every King not named Isaiah Thomas (a career-high 38 points), holding Sacramento under 100 points for only the third time in its last 16 games.

“They, for years, do a great job of turning you over,” Kings coach Mike Malone said, pointing to his team’s 20 giveaways. “But more importantly, (they) convert them.”


VIDEO: Check out Kevin Durant’s seventh straight 30-point outing for the Thunder

***

No. 2: What’s Miami’s motivation at this point of the season? — The two-time defending champion Miami Heat have a problem. They cannot seem to locate the proper motivation at this stage of a regular season that they know means little if they don’t finish it off with another parade. They have the luxury of not being pressed about finding it immediately, courtesy of a weak Eastern Conference playoff field that includes just the Indiana Pacers and Heat at the top. But, as Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald points out, they still have to find something to motivate them, some sort of rallying cry for the second half of the regular season:

Last February, the Heat watched the Super Bowl in Toronto, listened to Shane Battier give a theatrically hilarious, yet poignant speech on the team bus, and then won 27 games in a row. The streak was such an important part of the Heat’s season that the team’s ownership inscribed the accomplishment on the championship rings.

Players have called that day in Toronto one of the most memorable of their careers, and Sunday in Atlanta was a similar experience.

Of course, up until now, little has been memorable about this season, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, the Heat is 29-11 through the first 40 games of the season. Last season, before the streak, the team was 28-12 at this point, and on the way to 28-13.

On Monday, the Heat plays the grand finale of an unconventional six-game road trip that has dragged on for 11 days. Miami has played five consecutive games against teams with losing records and will end the road trip against the Hawks (20-19), who have the fourth-best record in the East, but are without their best player, forward Al Horford, for the remainder of the season.

The Heat’s overtime victory against the Bobcats on Saturday salvaged the six-game swing, which began with back-to-back losses to the Knicks and Nets, and gave Miami a chance to break even on a road trip that began with three consecutive losses.

“We haven’t lost three in a row in a very long time, so we got to put together a run and head into this All-Star break and this is the way to do it,” said Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who had 10 rebounds against the Bobcats. “You look at the two teams that we’ve beaten, they’re young, they’re energetic, and even though their record doesn’t say so, those are the teams we struggle with, the teams that are .500 and below, so for us to come out here and be professional and get this win says a lot.”

Of the Heat’s 11 losses, nine have been to teams currently with losing records. The Bobcats were in position to become the 10th team on that inglorious list, but a staunch defensive effort by the Heat forced overtime, and the Heat dominated the extra period for a 104-96 victory.

“We were really upset with ourselves and we had to be honest,” Chris Bosh said of the Heat’s first-half effort against the Bobcats. “Charlotte is a good team, but 60 points in a half is too much. I don’t care if you’re playing the best offensive team in the league, that’s too much.

“They just seemed to be scoring at will, and we wanted to change that. We didn’t do a very good job of defending in the first half, but we picked it up in the second and got the win.”


VIDEO: The top five plays from Sunday’s action around the NBA

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No. 3: Magic hit the floor to end their skid — When you are mired in a complete free-fall, any solution to get out of that mess needs to be considered. For the Orlando Magic, a team that endured a 10-game slide before ending it with a win over Boston Sunday, elbow and knee pads were the solution. Actually, they didn’t sport the elbow and knee pads, but they could have used them with the way they hit the deck repeatedly against the Celtics, according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

After their losing streak reached 10 games, Orlando Magic players and coaches realized something fundamental needed to change. Not X’s-and-O’s, but something intangible.

Players and coaches talked together when they gathered for practice Saturday.

Whatever they had been doing during the first half of the season, and especially during their 10 consecutive losses, wasn’t working. They faced a choice: Either they would make a change and modify their collective spirit, or the second half of their season would devolve into a freefall of epic proportions.

They made that adjustment Sunday night. Magic players repeatedly dove to Amway Center’s parquet floor to collect loose basketballs. They covered for each other when they made defensive lapses. And that sustained intensity and improved cohesion, they said, played a direct role as they beat the Boston Celtics 93-91 and ended their losing streak.

“I could feel no personal agendas,” Arron Afflalo said after the win. “I could feel nothing but five guys who were on the court and the two guys who came off the bench really looking for a way to get a victory tonight.”

Afflalo scored 20 points, tied a career high by grabbing 13 rebounds and dished out six assists.

He also provided one of the game’s key baskets, tying the score 89-89 on a driving layup with 1:08 remaining.

After Rajon Rondo missed a jumper on Boston’s ensuing possession, Jameer Nelson drew a foul with 35.3 seconds left and hit a pair of free throws.

Boston’s Jeff Green countered a few seconds later, scoring on a layup as Afflalo fouled him. But Green missed the foul shot, and Victor Oladipo fell to the floor to corral the loose ball.

“When you have a mindset of just playing hard from the jump, you just continue to play hard,” Oladipo said. “When your teammates have your back, when they’re positive throughout the game, it’s hard not to be involved and it’s hard not to be focused and locked-in all night.”

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No. 4: No slowing down for Dragic without Bledsoe — Goran Dragic doesn’t have the luxury of slowing down at the catalyst for the Phoenix Suns, not without Eric Bledsoe healthy and in the lineup. That means the veteran point guard has to keep his motor cranked constantly for a Suns team trying to stay afloat in the Western Conference playoff chase. Dragic’s ability to sustain his high level of energy could very well be the key to the Suns’ season. He has to hold up. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic explains:

It is becoming taxing for Suns point guard Goran Dragic to take on more playmaking and more of the burden to score with more defensive attention on him. All the while, he is guarding the playmaker on the other side, a duty that usually fell to Bledsoe.

“I’m not thinking about that,” Dragic said. “If I’m going to think about how I’m tired, then it’s going to be even worse for me. I just try to battle. I try to be positive. I’m from Slovenia so back home it’s no excuse if you’re tired. Even when I was growing up, my father always said there’s going to be some hard days so you have to go through that. You can sleep after the thing that you do, if it’s work or a basketball game. Now, I’m feeling tired. But when the game is going on, I’m not thinking about it so much.”

Dragic had averaged 41.3 minutes over the previous three games entering Sunday night’s game against Denver. He does not back off his effort and now has a collapsing defense concentrating on him too.

“That’s always a concern, trying to keep an eye on a guy’s minutes and seeing if he’s getting worn out,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We’ve had a pretty tough stretch of games where they haven’t had a lot of rest. When we’ve had days off between games, we’ve limited them from really doing anything trying to get their legs back. As we move forward, it doesn’t get any easier but we’ve got to get through that time.”

Dragic gave the Suns control Sunday night with 15 rebounds and six assists and he got some needed rest in return, logging only 24 minutes.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Are there rotation changes coming in Denver? Could be … Jonas Valanciunas gets benched for not producing … The Bucks get yet another lesson, this time from the best in the business … Danny Ainge assess all things for the Celtics at the halfway mark of the season … LaMarcus Aldridge will go left if need be for the Trail Blazers

ICYMI(s) of The Night: DeMar DeRozan has blossomed into a potential All-Star and the scoring leader for the playoff-bound Toronto Raptors. But he’s still one of the league’s elite above-the-rim finishers, as he shows here:


VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan is what we call a finisher, especially above the rim

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 19


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wade to the Heat’s rescue | Asik Boston bound? | Report: Lakers holding on to Gasol | Warriors catching Spurs at the perfect time

No. 1: Wade rides to the rescue in Heat comeback — LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen all made big plays during the Heat’s wild comeback against the Indiana Pacers, but it was the performance of Dwyane Wade that truly stood out in a contest that felt much more like a playoff game than it did a regular season game in December. His game-high 32 points provided the Heat the opportunity needed to storm back and snatch the game. It was work that we’ve seen sparingly from Wade this season as he nurses the soreness in his knees. It’s finishing work the Heat will need more of, particularly in their matchups against the Pacers, writes Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:

The Heat trailed 88-80 after Pacers firebrand Lance Stephenson converted a driving layup, but the Heat’s defense steadied itself from there and, thanks to some clutch three-pointers, the home team outscored the Pacers 12-4 over the final 4 1/2 minutes.

“We just kept grinding,” said Dwyane Wade, who finished with a game-high 32 points. “We knew we were getting some good opportunities, but we just couldn’t pull it as close as we wanted, but we knew we weren’t far out of it.

“We got some great defensive stops that allowed us to get out in transition and get some easy baskets and get us back in this thing. You don’t want this team in half-court every possession, so we had to get stops, and we went with the bigger lineup with [Chris Bosh] and [Chris Andersen], and we were able to get more rebounds and get out and go a little bit.”

Wade was 8 of 11 in the second half and matched Paul George point for point in the final 24 minutes of the game. Both players had 18 points in the second half; George finished with 25 points to lead Indiana.

Pacers forward David West was an unstoppable force for long stretches in the second half until Heat coach Erik Spoelstra plugged Andersen in the paint alongside Bosh. The combination, along with James at his hybrid point-forward position, came through with needed stops.

A running dunk by Wade with 2:47 remaining cut the Pacers’ lead to three points, and, after a pair of missed jumpers by the Pacers, Bosh knocked down a three-pointer with 90 seconds left to tie it at 92-92. Bosh finished with 15 points.

“Our guys are fearless, no question about it,” Spoelstra said. “They would want to play every single game like this, with this type of intensity and drama and having to make big plays down the stretch.”


VIDEO: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade’s highlights against the Pacers

***

No. 2: Asik could be headed for Boston at any moment: — All that’s left for the Houston Rockets to do is finalize whatever the best deal is for their disgruntled big man Omer Asik. The Boston Celtics have emerged as the clear frontrunner, according to multiple reports, including one from our very own Fran Blinebury (who reports that Rockets GM Daryl Morey is weighing all of his final options before executing a deal by his self-imposed deadline that ends today). Rockets coach Kevin McHale and Celtics boss Danny Ainge have a longstanding relationship as former teammates, friends and trade partners (Kevin Garnett …), so Asik going to Boston will shock no one. Still, there are other possibilities in play until something gets done officially:

The rumor mill had the Celtics as the frontrunners to land the 7-footer with an offer of Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and a first-round draft pick, a deal first reported by Yahoo! Sports. The teams were said to be haggling over the draft pick, which would be protected to some degree in the 2014 lottery.

Such a trade would fulfill Morey’s desire to get a backup center, a shooter and a draft pick. However, Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald wrote that Celtics president Danny Ainge made that offer a week ago, but was turned down at the time by Morey.

The Rockets general manager sent word out around the league on Dec. 6 that he would entertain offers for Asik and choose the package he liked best by Dec. 19, the last date that any players obtained are eligible to be dealt again by the Feb. 20 trade deadline. Since that time, Morey had talked with many clubs, including the Sixers, Cavaliers and Hawks. The Knicks and Trail Blazers were also said to have expressed interest.

Asik has been sidelined for more than two weeks with a thigh injury that eventually caused swelling around his knee.

With Paul Millsap the ideal acquisition for the Rockets to put on their front line next to Dwight Howard, it was interesting to note that Morey began following the Atlanta forward’s official Twitter page —@paulmillsap4 — a short time before the Rockets tipped off against the Bulls on Wednesday night. It is certainly not out of the question that the social media conscious Morey was just having fun dropping a red herring.

If the deal with the Celtics should prove to have legs, it would reunite Howard and Bass, who played together for two seasons in Orlando. At just 6-foot-8, Bass would certainly be an under-sized backup for Howard. He does not have range out to the 3-point line that the Rockets crave, but can knock down mid-range shots to open things for Howard around the basket.

The Celtics could perhaps sweeten their offer by substituting forward Jeff Green for Bass. But Green’s contract, which has two more seasons at $18.4 million due, is not the kind that would normally appeal to Morey, who values keeping salary cap flexibility for his next deal, which is always just around the corner.

VIDEO: The Game Time crew examines the merits of a Rockets-Celtics deal for Asik

***

No. 3: Gasol no longer on the trading block? — You can go ahead and remove Pau Gasol‘s name from the list of big men who could be moved … right now. According to a report from ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein, the Lakers are no longer shopping their four-time All-Star. Gasol and Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni got sideways last week but repaired the damage quickly and moved on. Now, instead of his name being swirled around in trade rumors alongside Houston’s Asik, Gasol appears to be safe … for now:

The Lakers entered the 2013-14 campaign fully intending to keep Gasol for the whole season and then to explore the feasibility of re-signing him in the summer. But ESPN.com reported last week the Spaniard’s recent public complaints about how he’s been used in D’Antoni’s system, as well as some subpar play, prompted L.A. to begin assessing its trade options.

However, the way Gasol quickly made amends with conciliatory comments about D’Antoni during the team’s recently completed 2-2 road trip has eased concerns. Gasol had 21 points and nine rebounds in the Lakers’ 96-92 win in Memphis on Tuesday night, after totaling 16 points and 10 rebounds Monday night in a loss to Atlanta. In the two games, Gasol made 16 of 21 shots to raise his overall shooting percentage to .439.

“I just think people go through periods of slumps where you question things,” D’Antoni said of Gasol after Tuesday’s win. “Like I said, we were out of whack. Different things go on. But Pau’s an All-Star, he’s one of the best players in the league, he worked through it and he’s back to normal.”

Sources told ESPN.com this week that the Lakers, before Gasol’s resurgent play, engaged in exploratory talks with several teams but never got too far with any of the calls.

Among the teams they spoke with were the Rockets, sources say, but those conversations never got serious, even with Houston determined to trade disgruntled center Omer Asik before a self-imposed Thursday deadline.

Sources say the Lakers do have certified interest in Knicks center Tyson Chandler, but New York appears to have no interest in fielding offers for Chandler at this time, having just welcomed the former NBA Defensive Player of the Year back to the lineup after a fractured fibula sidelined Chandler for the past 20 games.

ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard reported Saturday that the Lakers, facing a slew of injuries in the backcourt, made an inquiry about the Knicks’ Iman Shumpert, but sources say those talks were likewise merely exploratory.

The Lakers are still assessing their long-term plans and whether there’s a way to keep Gasol beyond this season, with the 33-year-old headed for unrestricted free agency in July. Sources say that team officials have communicated to Gasol in various ways that they remain interested in keeping him in L.A. beyond this season.

***

No. 4: Warriors surging, catching Spurs at perfect time — It certainly sounds good in theory, the Golden State Warriors finally catching their breath after a road-heavy start to this season and now catching the defending Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs when they are on their heels a bit, and at Oracle Arena. The Spurs will be without Tony Parker (shin contusion). The Spurs, of course, have a way of destroying the best plans, as Matt Schwab of the Oakland Tribune points out:

The reigning Western Conference champions will return to Oracle Arena on Thursday night, playing on back-to-back nights on the road, without injured point guard Tony Parker (shin contusion).

But don’t try selling any softened Spurs scenario to Warriors coach Mark Jackson.

“With no Parker, it makes a difference, but they still find ways to execute and hurt you,” Jackson said. “Kory Joseph had success against us in the playoffs. Patty Mills can disrupt the game. He has a scoring mentality. They added (Marco) Belinelli, so they’ve got guys that know how to win ballgames.

“It’s still going to be a challenge for our defense and us overall.”

The Warriors got their mojo back in a 104-93 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday, as David Lee became David Lee again with 21 points and 17 rebounds, and Andre Iguodala returned triumphantly from a 12-game absence after suffering a strained left hamstring. Klay Thompson helped limit Eric Gordon to five points on 1-for-9 shooting in 24 minutes, employing what Jackson called “elite defense.”

Moreover, Stephen Curry continued his electrifying run with 28 points and 12 assists. The pieces all fit together, just as they did during an 8-3 start to the season before Iguodala went down.

“Really good team effort,” Iguodala said. “We moved the ball really well, but at the same time Steph was in a really good rhythm within the flow of the game. It was really helpful when we defend the ball like we do, and when we move the ball and he’s able to attack without having to force everything.

“Everything was just comfortable, in a rhythm. You could tell he was in his comfort zone, and the same with David Lee.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Clippers pop the Pelicans, thanks to DeAndre Jordan‘s stellar work … It wasn’t pretty, but the Knicks get it done in the clutch against the Bucks … Kyle Korver is working on more than just a 3-point streak, the Hawks’ shooter is doing it from all over … Pistons’ big man Andre Drummond has only scratched the surface of his immense potential.

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: A little friction in Miami (between LeBron James and Mario Chalmers) never hurts, especially when you finish the way the Heat did against the Pacers …


VIDEO: Passion is the name of the game in Miami, at least for LeBron and Chalmers

Rockets Weigh Final Bids For Asik

Chicago Bulls v Houston Rockets

Wednesday night could have been Omer Asik’s last game as a member of the Houston Rockets.

HOUSTON — Omer Asik spent what figured to be his last night as a Rocket once again in street clothes, looking dapper and rested at the end of the bench. When a 109-94 whipping of the Bulls was complete, he was the first one out of the locker room, hugged a few friends on his way out the door and had nothing to say.

All of the action was taking place behind the closed doors of the front office as auctioneer Daryl Morey weighed the offers for the discontented center ahead of his self-imposed Thursday deadline.

The rumor mill had the Celtics as the frontrunners to land the 7-footer with an offer of Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and a first-round draft pick, a deal first reported by Yahoo! Sports. The teams were said to be haggling over the draft pick, which would be protected to some degree in the 2014 lottery.

Such a trade would fulfill Morey’s desire to get a backup center, a shooter and a draft pick. However, Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald wrote that Celtics president Danny Ainge made that offer a week ago, but was turned down at the time by Morey.

The Rockets general manager sent word out around the league on Dec. 6 that he would entertain offers for Asik and choose the package he liked best by Dec. 19, the last date that any players obtained are eligible to be dealt again by the Feb. 20 trade deadline. Since that time, Morey had talked with many clubs, including the Sixers, Cavaliers and Hawks. The Knicks and Trail Blazers were also said to have expressed interest.

Asik has been sidelined for more than two weeks with a thigh injury that eventually caused swelling around his knee.

With Paul Millsap the ideal acquisition for the Rockets to put on their front line next to Dwight Howard, it was interesting to note that Morey began following the Atlanta forward’s official Twitter page — @paulmillsap4 — a short time before the Rockets tipped off against the Bulls on Wednesday night. It is certainly not out of the question that the social media conscious Morey was just having fun dropping a red herring.

If the deal with the Celtics should prove to have legs, it would reunite Howard and Bass, who played together for two seasons in Orlando. At just 6-foot-8, Bass would certainly be an under-sized backup for Howard. He does not have range out to the 3-point line that the Rockets crave, but can knock down mid-range shots to open things for Howard around the basket.

The Celtics could perhaps sweeten their offer by substituting forward Jeff Green for Bass. But Green’s contract, which has two more seasons at $18.4 million due, is not the kind that would normally appeal to Morey, who values keeping salary cap flexibility for his next deal, which is always just around the corner.

Curiously, both before and after the game coach Kevin McHale made references to “when Omer gets back.”

But as the 7-footer headed for the tunnel exit from Toyota Center, there was little reason to think that he’d ever return as a Rocket.

Goal For Celtics, Lakers Should Be Same

The Lakers have gone 2-4 since Kobe Bryant's return. ( Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Lakers have gone 2-4 since Kobe Bryant’s return. ( Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Lakers and Celtics own one of the most glorious rivalries in all of sports. Through the decades they’ve battled one another with teams as different as their respective coastlines.

Yet this version of the Lakers just might be better off accepting the Danny Ainge philosophy: “Making the playoffs is not a goal.”

The Celtics’ president of basketball operations said he needed to explain that a little bit, so I will, too.

Yes, the franchises’ strategies seem completely at odds. Ainge made the tough call to finally bust it up and trade Kevin Garnett and Boston’s beloved Paul Pierce and start from scratch, even with a new rookie coach. Ainge’s commitment to recovering All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo is even in question. The Lakers meanwhile locked up their living legend, Kobe Bryant, for another two years and $48.5 million.

But just as Ainge is looking forward, it’s Kobe’s next two years I’m looking at, not this one. It’s during this time that I implore Kobe to not go nuts trying to sneak into the postseason as he did a season ago. But, as was predictable, that will be difficult.

After the Lakers pulled out an 88-85 win at Charlotte on Saturday night, their first W following three consecutive Ls with Kobe back from his awful April Achilles injury, No. 24 went all anti-Ainge, tenfold.

“I want to win a championship,” he told reporters. “I want to be playing in June.”

The inconvenient truth — and it’s really no secret to most — is that these Lakers are no closer to contending for a championship than Brad Stevens‘ plucky squad. They don’t defend or rebound well and they’re not exactly an offensive juggernaut either (ranking 20th in offensive efficiency). Tuesday night’s narrow win at Memphis, a struggling team playing without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, made the Lakers 2-4 with Kobe and 12-13 overall. Essentially the same record as the 12-14 Celtics.

Ainge views the Celtics’ applaudable start (and his comments came when they were 10-14, still a better mark than most expected) as a byproduct of a laughable Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division, which they somehow lead and therefore occupy the No. 4 seed. Boston is 9-7 against the East and Ainge cringes thinking about making the playoffs with a losing record in this anomaly of a season and losing out on Draft position, in this coveted Draft.

The Lakers, predicted by most to miss the playoffs with or without Kobe, should view their 12-13 mark as a byproduct of a rugged West. L.A. is 5-3 against the East and 7-10 in its own conference after nipping the depleted Grizzlies.

It can even be argued that when Rondo, Boston’s last remaining player from its recent glory years, returns from his ACL injury that he will join a more talented collection of teammates than the ragtag bunch Kobe inherited. That’s bad news if you’re in the West.

Think about Kobe’s crew: Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Nick Young, Jordan Hill and conflicted pal Pau Gasol, the only other remaining member of the 2010 title team. Jordan Farmar (a role player on the ’10 team left before re-signing this season) could return from injury soon and Steve Blake will be back in a month or so. No one can be sure about Steve Nash. To think this crew can leap into the West playoff fray with any hope of advancing would seem reckless California dreaming.

Rondo, if he’s not already traded, will join Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Vitor Faverani and Kelly Olynyk. Depending how Ainge proceeds with the roster, Brooklyn would seem the only hope from keeping his team built for the lottery from maddeningly backing into the division title.

Ainge knows, and Kobe should, too, that the 2008 and 2010 Finals aren’t walking through that door.

But Kobe doesn’t do lowered expectations, not when he’s got five rings and hungry for a sixth. But for this one season, making the playoffs at all costs can’t be the goal.

“We will get better,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after the 122-97 loss at OKC, Kobe’s third game back. “Just check in on us in a couple weeks and see where we are.”

It’s hard to see these Lakers in the top eight, whether in a couple weeks or a couple months. The roster presents little opportunity to make a blockbuster, game-changing-type trade. If L.A. did sneak into an eighth or seventh seed like last season, it would only serve as first-round fodder for the Thunder or Spurs, while valuable ground would be lost in the race that matters more — Draft slotting.

L.A. has already accomplished its two prime goals for this season: Kobe is back, and his autograph is fresh on a new contract. Now general manager Mitch Kupchak and D’Antoni must make sure that his raging competitive drive doesn’t take him off the cliff of physical limitation. They must evaluate their young talent and determine who can help most over a two-year championship push.

Then, with a stroke of Laker luck, nab a difference-maker in the Draft and follow with smart free-agent acquisitions to form a solid nucleus for Kobe’s sunset drive.

These are the goals. Making the playoffs is not.

Clippers’ Rivers Nostalgic On Return To Boston: ‘It’s The Place That Made Me’


VIDEO: Doc Rivers explains his move from the Celtics to the Clippers

Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are in Brooklyn, Ray Allen is in Miami, Kendrick Perkins is in Oklahoma City, Tony Allen is in Memphis. So many familiar faces from nine seasons, especially the 2008 championship team, are scattered.

But it is Boston no matter what. Rajon Rondo and Danny Ainge are still there, and so are Brandon Bass and Avery Bradley and others. Jeff Green is still there, and to Doc Rivers, Green is “one of the best human beings to ever walk the earth, in my opinion, in the league.” The fans are still there.

Jeff Green and Doc Rivers, 2012 (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Jeff Green and Doc Rivers, 2012
(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Boston is forever for Rivers, and that includes Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) in his first trip back as coach of his new team, the Clippers, against his old one, the Celtics, at TD Garden.

He isn’t even attempting to bluff that this is just another game.

“No, of course not,” Rivers told NBA.com. “I was there for nine years and won an NBA championship, played in another one and won six divisions. Hell, it’s a special place. It’s the place that made me. For the rest of my life, when I go to Boston, during the season or during the offseason, it’s another home for me.”

He grew up in Chicago, developed into a second-round pick at Marquette, played eight of 13 seasons as a guard in Atlanta (where he made his only All-Star appearance and still holds the franchise record for career assists) and has coached in three cities. But none is Boston.

It’s the place that made me.

“This is different,” Rivers said. “I won a title there, you know what I mean, so it’s different. Atlanta was the most emotional place for me to come back as a player, but this is a whole other level for me. You win a title, it’s like I’ve said a hundred times, it’s like you have a blood transfusion. And then you fall in love with the city, and I did. That’s why I go back still in the summer.”

He returned three times last offseason, after the tangled split with the Celtics led to being traded to the Clippers for a first-round pick in 2015. Some of the trips were strictly social, to take golf money from friends. Some of it was to stay connected with a favorite charity, ABCD, a group that works to help people overcome poverty.

And now he returns as the coach who asked out because he didn’t want to go through a rebuild, even though it was easy to see one coming when Rivers signed an extension about two years earlier. He is tired of rehashing the exit – “I’m here, Danny’s there and everybody’s happy. It doesn’t have to be anything bad. It all turned out good for everybody.” But this will be the first time for mass public feedback.

Maybe fans loudly cheer Wednesday night in appreciation of all that went right. Maybe they show dissatisfaction for the way Rivers hit the door when things got tough.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t worry about that kind of stuff. That’s for you guys to talk about. I worry about our team trying to win the game, going back and seeing some of the players and Danny and Tommy Heinsohn and all those guys. Everybody in that city treated me like gold.”

The stop at TD Center is part of an entire reunion tour for Rivers. It started with a visit to Atlanta last Wednesday as the beginning to a seven-game trip that goes from Boston directly to Brooklyn, to play against Garnett and Pierce the next night. That one will be emotional, too.

Still, Rivers’ mind may be somewhere other than on memory lane. His Clippers are 14-8 and have lost three of their last five, including to the Cavaliers and Hawks on a swing that finishes Saturday in Washington.

Celtics Will Rebuild Quickly With A Healthy And Hungry Rondo On Board



HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – That cold and long winter that was predicted for the Boston Celtics in the aftermath of Doc Rivers departing for the Los Angeles Clippers and Danny Ainge trading away Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce is still in effect.

You don’t lose that kind of championship firepower and simply move on, not without up-and-coming stars ready to fill those shoes immediately. But I am inclined to trim some time off of the back-end of that prediction if the words coming out of Rajon Rondo‘s mouth are genuine.

The lone member of the Celtics’ championship team core, Rondo’s ability to bounce back from a season-ending knee injury and mesh with new coach Brad Stevens were the two biggest question marks hanging over the Celtics this season and in the near future. It wasn’t clear if Rondo wanted to dig in for the long-term rebuild that is under way in Boston, not at this stage of his career and not after all of the playoff highs and lows he’s dealt with the past six years.

He silenced any doubters by quietly going about the business of being the leader you hoped he would. He developed a relationship with Stevens, even going so far as to declare his new coach as his “best friend” at media day. “We talk every day, we laugh and joke, we just had dinner the other night,”Rondo said. “I’m going to help him, he’s going to help me. He has my full support, and I told him from day one when he came to my camp [in Louisville for their first meeting in July], I’m 100 percent behind him.”

While Rondo’s not expected back in action until sometime after the first month of the season, if that soon, he’s already helping to jumpstart the Celtics’ franchise rebuild by simply buying in to the new program. He swears his plan all along has been to stick it out with the Celtics, he has two more years and $25 million on his current deal. He told A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com as much, making clear his mission to revive the franchise along with his career as one of the top point guards in the game.

I love it here. The fans are great here,” Rondo said.  “And [president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] has been straightforward with me. This is my team. Why would I want to leave? Why would I want out?

“I never really backed away from a challenge. This would be a challenge. I’m looking forward to working with coach [Brad] Stevens. It’s a brand-new start for us as a team. A lot of new players and a lot of young guys willing to listen, so I’m very excited about that.”

There was a time when Rondo’s leadership abilities, or lack thereof, were seen as the only thing that could hold the Celtics back. Now, at least from listening to him, his steady hand running the show in Boston is going to be the bedrock of the next era.

And this is coming from a cynic who wasn’t sure if Rondo would be willing to humble himself in the presence of a new coach without any NBA experience.

He appears to be a changed man, changed for the better in many respects, because of the injury he suffered and the perspective that distance from the game always allows. The maturity that was missing at times throughout the past six or seven years is there now. The wisdom gained from playing alongside future Hall of Famers like Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen will shine through, especially when he regains his form and returns to live action.

Don’t take my word for it, read it for yourself:

Q: How curious are you to see how your game translates to a team with no Big Three around?

RR: “Whatever coach (Brad Stevens) asks of me, that’s what I try to do. If he wants me to shoot the ball more, I’ll shoot it. But at the end of the day, my natural instincts are to make my teammates better. Regardless of who is out on the floor, I believe I do make everybody out there better. I’m going to push them as hard as I can. I’m going to demand a lot out of them. I wouldn’t demand anything that I wouldn’t demand of myself. So I’m excited to play with a new group of guys.”

Q: When you said you felt nothing when the trade went down …

RR: “That was blown out of proportion.”

Q: So what was the story behind it?

RR: “I don’t really say much and speak out on exactly what happened. I talk to Kevin all the time. I talk to P. Obviously it was different when the trade went down. I didn’t expect it to happen. I had just gotten off the plane. It happens, and that’s the business. I’m not going to say it was, ‘forget about it’. We still talk about them in the locker room today, tell stories about how KG was, things Paul did. At the end of the day, I still talk to every one of those guys. I talk to Jet, I talk to P, I talked to Kevin yesterday. We still check on each other. It’s a brotherhood. It’s something that you can’t break. We won titles together. We been through the fire together. It’s just something for life.”

Rondo has mind set on doing it again, this time with a different cast of characters, and with him in the leadership role that he didn’t have the first time around.



Pierce Not Done With Boston … Yet?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Just because Paul Pierce wears the black and white of the Brooklyn Nets these days it does not mean he isn’t Boston Celtics green at his core.

And I’m not mad at him. In a day and age when loyalty in professional sports is strictly a seven-letter word, it’s refreshing to hear Pierce, a Celtic for his entire NBA career prior to this summer’s trade between Brooklyn and Boston, speak as fondly as he does about the city he called home for the bulk of his adult life.

Pierce didn’t roll off to chase championships in Brooklyn with a bitter taste in his mouth. Sure, he and Kevin Garnett and the rest of the Nets will be on a mission this season. But a veteran like Pierce is wise to think about life after his playing days are over. And as he told Boston Globe columnist Gary Washburn, Boston will play a prominent role in his life when he’s finished playing:

Pierce said he wants to be a fixture in Boston following his playing days, not just showing up for his retirement ceremony and heading to Malibu, Calif., the next morning. Pierce said he wants to establish something substantial in Boston, having grown attached to the city despite growing up in Inglewood, Calif., as a Lakers fan.

“Ultimately, what I would like to do is have a business in Boston,” he said. “Maybe like a sports bar. I would love to do something like that here. None of the former Celtic great players have come and done that. I thought about it, and why hasn’t anyone come and opened up a nice restaurant? You see the Don Shula restaurant, the Michael Jordan restaurant, and Magic [Johnson] got the theaters in LA. Why nobody here? All this history, all these championships and love, why has nobody done that?

“I am going to still have relationships here. I’m always going to come to this city. Every year, when I’m done, I’m going to have a reason to come here.”

Pierce said he holds no grudges toward the Celtics, and again pointed to a future relationship with the organization.

“Who knows? I may be working for Wyc Grousbeck or Danny Ainge,” he said. “A lot of players don’t understand it. I’ve always understood it. And [other players] let their pride and ego get in the way. I’ve made a lot of money here, I’ve built relationships, won a championship here, I thank y’all for everything y’all gave me. How can I be mad for everything they’ve given me. I’m thankful.”

The prospect of reaching the championship pinnacle again with the Nets is intriguing.

“Me and my best friend growing up were talking and he said, ‘Man, what if you win a championship in Brooklyn? Then what?’ ” Pierce said. “It’s another level then. There’s a chance I could move up in the [all-time] ranks if I get another championship. So I am still going. And they’ve given me more tools and I’ve got something to build.”

Pierce said the Celtics should have no trouble attracting major free agents. “The city of Boston has changed so much since I’ve been here,” he said. “There are so many more things to do and the city has grown. I think it would be a great place to play.

“I enjoyed it here. Hopefully, the fact that guys like me and Kevin liked it here is a sign to other players that it’s a good city to play in. I’m excited about playing in Brooklyn, though. There weren’t too many places I wanted to go if I had to leave Boston, but Brooklyn is one of them.”

The Nets, at least on paper, should have a much more manageable road to the postseason this season than the Celtics, who are fully rebuilding. But Pierce is right, the work done during his time in Boston helped change the perception of that city for many.

Pierce left town a winner, as a vital piece in the timeline of one of the most storied franchises in the history of professional sports in this country. That can’t be a bad way to go out, especially when you consider what his profile was prior to the assembly of Boston’s Big 3 of Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen.

Allen made it clear that there is indeed plenty of glory left to chase elsewhere when he departed for Miami and added another title to his Hall of Fame credentials. But he’ll never be received in Boston the way Pierce and even Garnett will years from now.

Pierce will go down as one of the Celtics’ all-time greats not only for his accomplishments, but also for the length of his service to the Celtics and their fans. Fifteen years … that’s an eternity in professional sports.

So if Pierce says he’s not done with Boston yet, that’s probably a good thing for all involved.

New Breed Of GM Ushers In New Coaches

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – At NBA.com, the eight men who will make their NBA head coaching debuts next season are being profiled. Today’s feature is Boston Celtics youngblood Brad Stevens.

Eight rookie head coaches in one season is a notable development in a league known for recycling the position (depending on Philadelphia’s hire the number could reach nine).

Consider that last season’s Coach of the Year and 25-year bench boss, George Karl, is out of work, as is Lionel Hollins, who molded a 24-win team when he took over into a Western Conference finalist last season. In Denver, Brian Shaw has been awarded his first head-coaching gig and in Memphis, Hollins’ top assistant, Dave Joerger, is being given his first shot.

So why are teams suddenly investing in new blood? Is it simply cost-cutting? Is it a belief that new ideas, concepts and techniques are needed to sustain success in today’s game?

“For me, as a first-time GM, and where we are, we need to build something in Phoenix and I wanted to give a guy a chance who maybe hadn’t  been a head coach before,” said recently hired general manager Ryan McDonough, who chose Jeff Hornacek to lead the Suns. “I considered guys who had been coaches before, but the vast majority of candidates I interviewed had assistant coaching experience, but had never been NBA coaches before.”

The words to highlight: “…as a first-time GM…” This summer’s coaching evolution is due, in no small part, to a mounting front-office revolution. More franchises are handing the keys to bright, young minds to make decisions on player evaluation and acquisition.

McDonough, 33, represents the next-generation of NBA general managers — or perhaps more accurately, the now-generation. They’re salary-cap educated, savvy, motivated and highly invested in advanced metrics and new technologies sweeping the league. They don’t have on-court pedigrees like their predecessors, but they have tirelessly worked their way up through video rooms and scouting departments of NBA franchises. Evaluating a player’s skill, versatility and potential goes hand-in-hand with assessing his dollar value under today’s salary-cap, tax-heavy collective bargaining agreement.

McDonough hired assistant GM Pat Connelly, the younger brother of Tim Connelly, the recently hired 36-year-old executive vice president of basketball operations for the Denver Nuggets. Tim Connelly hired the first-timer Shaw, a tag-team that will learn the ropes together.

“I don’t think it will be a difficult transition,” said Tim Connelly, who replaced Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri, just 39 when the Nuggets promoted the former international scout to general manager in 2010. Ujiri now heads the Toronto Raptors’ front office. “There’s only 30 people with these jobs and we’re both [he and Shaw] fortunate to take over a team that’s had a lot of regular-season success.”

Of the eight rookie head coaches, three were hired by first-time general managers. In the case of Sacramento’s Mike Malone, he was hired by still-newbie owner Vivek Ranadive, who then hired first-time general manager Pete D’Allesandro, 45.

“When I was in Boston,” said McDonough, who worked under Celtics general manager Danny Ainge for a decade, “I kind of always had it in my mind that if I got a GM job I would give a first-time head coach a chance.”

In Memphis, CEO Jason Levien, 40, took control of personnel decisions last season. He parted ways with Hollins and promoted Joerger. Last summer, Orlando chose Rob Hennigan, 31, as GM to consummate a trade for Dwight Howard and reshape the team. Hennigan hired first-time coach Jacque Vaughn. Hennigan’s former boss is Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti, who was also 30 when he took charge of the then-Seattle SuperSonics. Presti hired first-time coach Scott Brooks to lead the Thunder.

In Dallas, owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, the longtime Mavericks decision-makers, surprisingly hired Gerrson Rosas, 35, away from Daryl Morey‘s front office with the Houston Rockets to serve as general manager.

Major League Baseball first embraced the analytics movement so prevalent in today’s NBA, and also seems to have cracked the door for the NBA’s front-office youth movement. The Boston Red Sox made then-28-year-old Theo Epstein the youngest GM in baseball history. Epstein built a powerhouse that ended the infamous “Curse of the Bambino” with two World Series titles. The Texas Rangers soon hired Jon Daniels, who was also 28 when he took control. During his tenure, the Rangers made both of the franchise’s World Series appearances.

The old-school GM played the game and then moved “upstairs.” As precision dollar allotment continues to play a larger role in overall player evaluation, the position is trending toward sharp, young minds, students of the game who never actually played in the NBA, and were only learning how to read when Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak was in his prime.

Blogtable: Rookie Coaches




Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Surprise Teams | Teams Likely to Fall | Rookie Coaches


Which rookie coach faces the hardest job this fall? Which one has the easiest?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Dave Joerger in Memphis faces the hungriest fan base and greatest ambitions, in my opinion. The Grizzlies were capable of more last spring and, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t be going the rookie-coach route at all after Lionel Hollins‘ fine work there. Joerger might be up to the job, but it is a challenging one. As for easiest, I’m going with whoever gets the Philadelphia job. Anyone hired so late, signing on to the agenda the 76ers clearly have embraced, will have a multitude of ready excuses and plenty of wiggle room. (Almost said Boston’s Brad Stevens because of the length of his deal and the Celtics’ obvious rebuild but just because Danny Ainge says something is so doesn’t mean that city’s diehard fans will fall in line and withhold judgment.)

Nets' new head coach Jason Kidd.

Nets’ rookie head coach Jason Kidd.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Right away you’d have to say the guy in Philly will have the hardest job, since the Sixers might not make a decision and pick a new coach until an hour before tipoff on opening night and it’s always a little more difficult to win games when you haven’t met all of your players.  On the other hand, Mr. X in Philly could have it pretty easy because it’s clear the Sixers are going into the tank for the next year or two.  But seriously, it’s going to be tough for Jeff Hornacek to turn the Suns around.  He’s got plenty of point guards and little else.  While it’s never easy to be a head coach in the NBA, I do think Jason Kidd will benefit from having the veteran know-how of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Andrei Kirilenko on his roster.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Sure, Stevens will have it rough in Boston, but everybody knows that. I’ll refer back to the start of my answer for question No. 2. Joerger takes over a Grizzlies team that won a franchise-best 56 games and advanced to the West finals for the first time in the club’s existence (it can be argued they wouldn’t have if not for Oklahoma City’s injury misfortune). So what do they do? Say adiós to coach Lionel Hollins, who built a 24-win team into a contender. As Hollins’ top assistant, Joerger gets a lot of the credit for the Grizzlies’ vaunted defense, but the heat is on to turn a plodding, offensive team into a higher-scoring one and to keep the financially tight-fisted Grizz on a track to contend. Steve Clifford and whoever takes over in Philly have the easiest jobs. Things can’t get much worse in Charlotte, so expectations are incredibly low and everybody already expects the 76ers to tank.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Hardest job? Michael Malone, Kings. Not only does he have the typical challenges of taking over a losing roster, needing to build a defense and helping to change the culture, but he has the atypical heavy lifting of trying to keep DeMarcus Cousins in a happy place. Ask Malone’s predecessors how that goes. Easiest? Dave Joerger, Grizzlies. I wouldn’t necessarily say easy, because this is the rare case when a rookie coach must immediately produce big results, but the former assistant knows the personnel very well and skips the rebuilding work most of his fellow newcomers face.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Steve Clifford and Mike Malone haven’t been given a lot to work with, but one look at the Suns’ roster makes it clear that Jeff Hornacek is going to need a miracle to make it to 20 wins next season. And beyond the lack of talent, he has to deal with Michael Beasley for seven months. With the combination of talent and veteran leadership in Brooklyn, Jason Kidd has it (relatively) easy. He’s also got the most pressure of any of these guys.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I loved the aw-shucks reaction of Brad Stevens when he was introduced as the Celtics’ new coach, but he’ll have the most thankless job in basketball next season. Sure, none of the pundits will expect the Celtics to contend with all of the bodies that have flown out of the city since the 2012-13 season ended. But that won’t stop die-hard Celtics fans from dreaming about their team doing their unthinkable and contending with a back-from-injury Rajon Rondo leading the new charge. When you’ve grown as accustomed to winning as folks in Boston have over the years, breaking bad for a season or two will not be pleasant. Easiest coaching job in the NBA? When guys who win 50 games, put together the best seasons in their respective franchise histories and win NBA Coach of the Year honors and still get canned … “easiest” is not an appropriate term. Brian Shaw inherits some intriguing talent in Denver, arguably the best talent base of any “rookie” coach, and yet he might have the toughest job of all following the reigning and fired Coach of the Year George Karl.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Jason Kidd has a tough road ahead of him. I suspect the path will be smoothed a bit because he’ll be dealing with so many veterans, but he’ll also be dealing with sky-high expectations, placed there by his owner. The easiest job? What about Steve Clifford in Charlotte? Could the expectations be any lower?