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NEWS OF THE MORNING
Luke Walton not intimidated by coaching in Warriors opener | Monta Ellis looks for big season with Pacers | Derrick Rose loves Fred Hoiberg’s system already | Hassan Whiteside could be the difference for Miami this season
No. 1: Luke Walton not intimidated by coaching in Warriors opener — Just four months ago Luke Walton was the third man on the bench of the soon-to-be world champion Warriors, next to Steve Kerr and Alvin Gentry. But Gentry left to become coach of the Pelicans and Kerr has missed most of training camp with complications following back surgery. And now Walton will steer the Warriors at least temporarily until Kerr recovers, and there’s no timetable for that. Warriors GM Bob Myers made it official on Saturday. Here’s Ron Kroichick of the Chronicle with the details:
Kerr’s absence vaults Walton, 35, into a head-coaching role only 2½ years after his playing career ended. He spent one season as an assistant coach in the NBA Development League and last season, essentially, as the No. 3 assistant with the Warriors (behind Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams). Walton did lead the team in the summer league and throughout the preseason, but he realizes the intensity will rise into another realm Tuesday night.
His biggest challenge could involve substitutions. Kerr proved adept at this in his inaugural season at the helm, helping Andre Iguodala thrive as the sixth man and finding sufficient playing time for Marreese Speights and Shaun Livingston, among others.
“Managing minutes and lineups will probably be the trickiest thing, because we have such a deep team,” Walton said. “A lot of times it’s a crap shoot, as far as who we’re going with. Is it Mo? Is it Festus (Ezeli)? How long are we playing Andre and Shaun? …
“So we have to be ready to make moves quickly. I’m confident we’ll be able to do all that stuff.”
Walton, son of Hall of Fame center Bill Walton, played on two NBA title teams with the Lakers in 2009 and ’10. That earned him instant credibility with Warriors players, to hear Myers tell it.
Also notable: Walton is barely older than the players he will lead into the season (he’s only four years older than Iguodala, for example). He clearly established a rapport with them as an assistant, though the dynamic could change as he makes the decisions in a game.
“I think the players respect Luke,” Myers said. “He’s real, he’s authentic. … He’s one of the smartest basketball minds we have in the organization. He grew up around the NBA, so he’s not intimidated by the NBA.”
The timing of Saturday’s news was interesting. Not only did Kerr attend practice, he was more involved than he had been since the Warriors announced on Oct. 1 that he was taking a leave of absence. Walton said Kerr even installed some new plays at the end of practice.
They will work in concert, even with Kerr steering clear of the bench. He’s expected to attend Tuesday night’s pregame ceremony, in which Warriors players and coaches will receive their championship rings. Myers said it’s unclear whether Kerr will remain in the arena for the game; if he does, he will stay in the background.
No. 2: Monta Ellis looks for big season with Pacers — There’s no looking back for Monta Ellis, now with his third team in four years, unless it’s involving his childhood growing up in Mississippi. Ellis is anxious to put his mark on the Pacers and help that franchise back to the playoffs, but he and his family took time to reflect on the hard journey he took from childhood to the NBA. Candace Buckner of the Indy Star-News has a terrific profile of Ellis, one of the best players in the NBA who has never made the All-Star team:
The walls didn’t come down in California, where Ellis was the shoot-first thorn stubbornly pricked into Don Nelson’s side.
These days, Nelson has retired to the shores of Hawaii, where he is unplugged from the NBA transactions wire and unburdened by old beefs with former players. Still, his bouts with Ellis are well known. Nelson inherited Ellis in his second year in the league and coached him until the 2009-10 season.
“Well, the first thing that pops into my head is that he’s …” Nelson starts, and you’re expecting to hear a sort of basketball pejorative: selfish scorer, one-dimensional ball hog. And yet, Nelson makes a surprising declaration.
“…a terrific player,” he finishes.
Then comes the verbal asterisk: “Right now.”
“He was hard to coach when he was young; there’s no question in my mind about that,” Nelson continues. “He was very difficult to coach early. Like I said, single-minded. He thought he could do everything, like a lot of young players.”
No. 3: Derrick Rose loves Hoiberg’s system already — Derrick Rose has had a painful preseason, as you know, suffering an eye injury and then dealing with double vision. He finally saw action in his first exhibition game and declares himself fit for the opener. He’s also a big fan of new coach Fred Hoiberg and especially Hoiberg’s offense. As you might remember, offense was always a sticky point under the previous regime. Here’s Sam Smith of Bulls.com with the details:
Rose knows well the vagaries of the game.
“I felt good,” Rose said. “I just wanted to come out, get a feel for the offense. I loved the way coach designed everything, the way the offense is run. They’ve got me running down hill every time I catch the ball and I’m catching the ball with a live dribble.
“He asked me to play yesterday,” said Rose of Hoiberg. “For him to ask me it must mean he loved the way I was playing in practice. With this offense it’s a lot of openings and gaps. With the way we shoot the ball and the freedom we have to shoot the ball, it’s like you can’t help off anyone; if someone has it going we’re to keep feeding them. We’re going to play off matchups. We’ve got to do that a little bit more and get people the ball a little more, like when Jimmy (Butler) had a couple of post ups when he had (J.J.) Barea on him a couple of times and we missed him. That’s all about reading the game and reading who is out there, giving the ball to the right person.
“There are a lot more (driving) lanes,” enthused Rose. “It’s so many opportunities to drive or so many opportunities to shoot my mid range even in transition; it’s open. I’ve just got to get used to playing this way. I know that might sound crazy, but playing in a (deliberate) system for three or four years kind of got me out of my rhythm.
“Whenever I see lanes I’m driving,” said Rose. “As soon as I step up, I’m hitting whoever is open and just trying to play basketball. I love the way the offense is. Coming down we’re not thinking about what we are running. Coming down, start with a pick and roll and then that pick and roll opens up everything else.
“I thought I was just going to come out and facilitate the game,” said Rose. “But I saw openings and I got all the way to the basket. So I can take this and put it in the bank. It’s very encouraging. It’s scary for my confidence right now. The last thing I need is any more confidence.
I’m going to take this and run with it.”
No. 4: Hassan Whiteside could be the difference for Miami this season — There’s a swell of enthusiasm not seen in Miami since, well, since LeBron James left town, and that’s because the Heat are revamped and, they hope, finally free of the injury bug that hampered them last season. They’re also counting big on center Hassan Whiteside, who was a surprise revelation last season and now must prove that his min-breakout season wasn’t a fluke. Here’s Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald with the latest:
If he expands on what he did in just less than 24 minutes a game last season, the Heat could zoom right back into title contention after missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
If he just does what he did last year — averaging a double-double and defending the paint at an elite level — he’s still headed toward a monster payday (anywhere from $12 million to $18 million per season).
And if he goes backwards, it’s only going to make what is shaping up to be another interesting summer (when Durant hits the free agent market) only that more interesting.
The Heat, who has only $48 million and four players (Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Josh McRoberts and rookie Justise Winslow) on the books for next season, could build its future around Whiteside. Or, it could go in an entirely different direction.
For now, though, there are at least 82 games to go through. The ride for Miami’s new starting five — finally whole again with Bosh back from the blood clots in his lungs and point guard Goran Dragic directing what should be a faster pace on offense — begins Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena against the Charlotte Hornets.
Most pundits are picking Miami to finish anywhere from second in the East behind James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to fifth or sixth behind younger teams like Washington and Atlanta or the veteran-laden Chicago Bulls.
Coach Erik Spoelstra, though, isn’t pinning the Heat’s hopes on one player. “You can’t just point it to one guy,” Spoelstra said. “It’s a five-man game. Hassan’s not going out there in UFC by himself or playing tennis. We have to build cohesiveness, and that takes some time to develop that trust.
“What Hassan gives you is a presence in the paint on both sides of the court. He’s bigger and stronger than most people you play against. Defensively we hope he can be one of our anchors near the rim and someone who can put a lot of pressure on the rim offensively.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Last year the starting point guard on opening night for the Sixers was Michael Carter-Williams. Now, it’s Isaiah Canaan … Cleveland GM David Griffin is already signing the praises of newly-extended Tristan Thompson … Rudy Gobert isn’t sweating a so-so-preseason start … The Raptors might be concerned about Patrick Patterson‘s struggles; he was supposed to have a major role with the club this season … The new Michael Jordan store in Chicago has folks standing in line already