Posts Tagged ‘George Karl’

Coaches Divine The Carousel, NBA Cycle

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CHICAGO – There was a little mix-up in the traffic pattern as NBA coaches made their way through a circuit of stops, from trouser fittings and photo shoots to sit-down interviews with NBA Entertainment, on the ballroom level Monday of a downtown hotel. The two-day annual coaches’ meetings were under way and Jason Kidd, the new coach of the Brooklyn Nets, was like a kid at freshman orientation, compliantly going where he was told, even if it meant jumping a line on Milwaukee’s Larry Drew.

As point guards in their respective playing careers, the pecking order would have been simple: Kidd played 19 seasons, was a 10-time All-Star and retired at age 39 this spring ranked second all-time list in assists, second in steals and third in minutes. Drew, 55, was a part-time starter for five teams who spent one of his 11 pro seasons in Italy, averaged 11.4 ppg and 5.2 rpg and logged about a third as much time on NBA courts as Kidd.

But now, in their current positions, Drew has Kidd beat 230 NBA games coached to none, with a victory edge of 128-0. So when someone noted the very-minor lapse in protocol Monday afternoon, Kidd quickly deferred. “You go ahead, coach. I’m just a rookie,” he said.

Then, while the Hall of Fame-bound player and absolute question mark of a coach waited his turn, he talked rather excitedly about his new gig.

“Oh, I’m a rookie,” Kidd said. “It’s still basketball but I am a rookie at the coaching level.”

The Chicago meetings Monday and Tuesday were merely the latest step in his run-up to working his first game as an NBA coach. There was summer league, of course, in Orlando, assorted preparation over the past two months and, last weekend, a coaches/general managers clinic in Los Angeles in which Kidd participated. He played sponge to a group that included the Clippers Doc Rivers, Indiana’s Frank Vogel, retired legend Phil Jackson and former Lakers, Knicks and Heat coach (and Heat president) Pat Riley.

“It was like going to school, like going to class, where I got to listen to the best in 24 hours,” Kidd said. “I took away their stories, them at their beginnings, not being afraid to change but having to stand for what you believe in. And the biggest thing is be yourself. Be true to yourself and stick with your principles.”

It’s a message that’s especially timely this season, with nine — count ‘em, nine — men who will be working their first training camps, preseasons and regular seasons as NBA coaches in 2013-14. Besides Kidd, they are: Mike Budenholzer (Atlanta), Brad Stevens (Boston), Steve Clifford (Charlotte), Brian Shaw (Denver), Dave Joerger (Memphis), Brett Brown (Philadelphia), Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix) and Mike Malone (Sacramento).

As if that weren’t enough turnover for one offseason, four more familiar faces will be blowing whistles in new, or renewed, places: Mike Brown (Cleveland), Maurice Cheeks (Detroit), Rivers (L.A. Clippers) and Drew (Milwaukee).

It’s a dramatic upheaval. It’s also, as some see it, the NBA’s circle of life. (more…)

JaVale McGee Eager To Rise In Stature

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Google “JaVale McGee” and you know as well as he what’s coming: “JaVale McGee Top 10 Stupid Plays.” A YouTube staple.

The most prominent photo is a close-up of the 7-foot center’s familiar scrunched face in full-on flummoxed mode, head slightly cocked, mouth half agape. It’s practically begging for someone to draw a giant question mark inside a cartoon cloud bubble over his head. Chances are Shaquille O’Neal — McGee being a favorite punch line during TNT’s studio show and its “Shaqtin’ A Fool” segment — beat you to it.

“People around the NBA really think that I’m dumb or stupid,” McGee said. “But people that know me know that I’m actually very intelligent. It doesn’t affect me at all.”

In fact, McGee, who goes by an alter ego called Pierre on his colorful Instagram and Twitter accounts, has big plans. With a new coach and a fresh slate this season in Denver, rising to All-Star-caliber-big-man status, he said, is within his grasp.

“Definitely,” McGee told NBA.com this week. “I feel like I’m extremely athletic, extremely fast, extremely agile for being a 7-foot big man and just need the right people behind me to be able to bring what has to come out to be a dominant center in the league. There’s a lot of things that haven’t even been [brought out] of my game that people haven’t even seen. So I just feel like this is going to be the season.”

McGee ready for increased role

That job belongs to rookie coach Brian Shaw, who replaced the fired George Karl, who inherited McGee in a trade and, judging by playing time (18.1 mpg last season), ultimately viewed McGee more as the goofball in those video clips than a potential game-changer. After McGee logged just 16 minutes in a late December game at Dallas, Karl explained: “I think he’s a really good, important player for us. But in the same sense, I’m going to play the guys who I think can help you win the game.”

In a real sense, the transitioning Nuggets, who awarded McGee a $44 million extension last year, chose McGee’s potential over Karl’s success. The revamped front office traded Karl’s favorite starting center, Kosta Koufos, and still doesn’t know if McGee will mesh with starting power forward Kenneth Faried (a Karl concern) or if McGee can thrive playing 30-plus minutes a night.

They just know they’ve got 44 million reasons to find out.

“I’m definitely getting that feeling from the coaches that I’m going to be more of an impact and getting more minutes,” said McGee, who enters his sixth NBA season and second full season in Denver after 3 ½ oddball years with Washington. “It’s really up to the coach as to how he wants to use me. It’s up to me to work and everything, and I’m going to do that. So if I work hard and I come prepared and in shape for training camp, there’s nothing that can stop me but the coach.”

McGee, 25, is eager to get started. He returned to Denver earlier this month to begin working with Shaw and the new coaching staff. He said he sees an offense that will station him at the elbow to begin sets and will allow him to work the low post and also stretch the defense with a mid-range jumper he said the league has yet to really lay eyes on, but one, he added, he can drain from 17 feet and in.

Post play still a work in progress

He cedes that many fans might only recognize him for boneheaded plays on blooper reels gone viral, but he’s certain opposing players take a different viewpoint of his capabilities.

“With players, my reputation is of a guy that you don’t want to be caught running around with because there’s a high probability you’re going to get dunked on,” McGee said. “And my reputation is also a guy that you want to move the ball around in the air or else you’re going to get it blocked, basically.”

McGee can throw down a dunk and he almost led the league in blocks in 2010-11. Other areas are less refined. For example, he can be clumsy getting position in the low post, and when he gets the ball, he’s not yet ballerina-like with his footwork. But how many big men today are?

McGee has averaged 8.7 ppg on 54.2 percent shooting and 5.7 rebounds over his first five seasons. He averaged a career-high 11.3 ppg and 7.8 rpg in 2011-12 split between Washington and Denver.

He dropped to 9.1 ppg and 4.8 rpg last season as Karl squeezed his minutes. The statistical website Basketball-Reference.com projects a 36-minute-a-night McGee to average 16.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg and 3.4 bpg. Those numbers would have put him in the top five in each category among centers last season. McGee said his goal is to average a double-double and two or three blocks a game.

“I definitely have post moves. I have a mid-range shot that I really never got to use my whole career in the NBA,” McGee said. “Coach Karl didn’t want his ‘bigs’ shootings at all. [Defenses are] probably going to leave me open for the mid-range, so I definitely got to take that shot.”

‘Just a big kid’ at heart

The shot getting plenty of attention recently is on a 20-second video clip that media outlets homed in on because, well, it’s JaVale being goofy again. The video shows McGee beating a pint-size kid at Pop-a-Shot, celebrating the victory and playfully proclaiming into the camera, “Who said I couldn’t shoot 3s?!”

It’s pretty funny, and harmless. It comes courtesy of McGee himself, posted on Instagram. He posts a lot of clips, all PG-rated, mostly fun-loving and all just very JaVale. Which also feeds into the goofball pipeline, one that can fill his social media pages with teases, jeers and worse, but also one for which McGee makes no apologies.

“I’m just a big kid, basically. I love to have fun,” McGee said. “I love being around positive people and making people smile. I don’t do anything malicious or anything in a negative manner. I’m all about positivity and making people smile is positive.”

When the goofiness and, yes the stupidity – how else to describe much of the YouTube montage? – invades his game, his coaches (he’s had four in five seasons) aren’t smiling. Those plays evidence a confounding selfishness and at times a perplexing obliviousness to game situations. The majority of those incidents happened with the hapless Wizards. A better situation, the belief goes, brings sharper focus. McGee touts his maturity and unselfishness last season by never complaining about playing time and accepting his role on a club that won 57 games.

“I’m definitely more mature than I was my first two or three years, but I actually was very mature last year. I just wasn’t really given the opportunity to really be what I could be,” McGee said. “But I feel like this coach has a lot more confidence in me.”

McGee must keep it by continuing to mature and by working hard to develop the tantalizing talent that often torments his own team. If not, his Google results will never change, his Twitter timeline will still fill with taunts and teases and Shaq will keep poking him on national TV.

“I don’t watch the shows,” McGee said. “Most of the time people will be at me on Twitter and stuff like that, but I just read it and move on and live my life. I tell you that a lot of the people that actually say something, they would pay anything to be in my position, and the fact that they do, that is actually a positive thing because there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

After Shaq splattered him on his “Shaqtin A Fool” segment, McGee reported his Twitter followers spiked.

The Nuggets would simply prefer a “JaVale McGee” Google search that no longer starts with a top 10 list of stupid plays.

Where Have All The Shot-Blockers Gone?

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The demise of the true center is typically lamented by the dearth of low-post skill on offense, but we can’t ignore its effects at the other end, too.

You know what they say about every action: there is an equal and opposite reaction. Among other things, the evolution of the face-up, jump-shooting “big”, and the age of the drive-and-kick 3-pointer have taken a toll on the art of shot-blocking. With seemingly fewer one-on-one, low-post defensive opportunities there is an equally diminishing chance to deliver an opposite reaction.

There are tremendous shot blockers in the league. Thunder power forward/center Serge Ibaka will attempt to become the first player to lead the league in shot blocking three consecutive seasons and average at least 3.0 bpg in three straight seasons since Marcus Camby did it from 2006-08. Ibaka’s 3.65 bpg in 2011-12 was the highest since Alonzo Mourning‘s 3.7 in 1999-2000.

Bucks rim protector Larry Sanders could cross the 3.0 barrier. Indiana’s young, old-school center Roy Hibbert made a significant jump last season to 2.61 bpg, fourth in the league, from 1.97. A healthy and happy Dwight Howard could surge to 3.0 for the first time in his career.

Still, today’s drooping block numbers are eye-popping when compared to prior decades. Blocks weren’t recorded as an official statistic until the 1973-74 season. That season, five players averaged at least 3.0 bpg, led by Elmore Smith (4.8 bpg), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3.5), Bob McAdoo (3.3), Bob Lanier (3.0) and Elvin Hayes (3.0). In the seven officially recorded seasons in the 1970s, two players averaged at least 3.0 bpg in a season five times.

In the ’80s, it was seven of 10 seasons, and at least three players averaged at least 3.0 bpg four times. Utah’s 7-foot-4 center Mark Eaton still holds the single-season record of 5.56 bpg in 1984-85. The ’90s — with shot-swatters such as David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Shawn Bradley, Theo Ratliff, Shaquille O’Neal and Mourning – marked the salad days of shot-blocking.

Every season during the physical, hold-and-grab ’90s saw at least two players average at least 3.0 bpg. Eight times at least three players recorded 3.0 bpg or more. Four times the season leader topped 4.0 bpg, and two more times the leader finished at 3.9 bpg.

Those numbers haven’t been sniffed. Since the close of the ’90s, only four times in the last 13 seasons have at least two players finished a season averaging at least 3.0 bpg  (and largely credit Ben Wallace and Ratliff early in the 2000s for that). It hasn’t happened since 2005-06 when Camby (3.29) and long-armed small forward Andrei Kirilenko (3.19) finished one and two, respectively.

The lowest league-leading shot-block averages have all come since the turn of the century, and two of the three lowest have been posted in the past five seasons. Andrew Bogut‘s 2.58 bpg in 2010-11 is the lowest season leader of all-time. Howard’s 2.78 bpg the season before is the second-lowest and his 2.92 bpg to lead the league in 2008-09 is better than only the 2.8 bpg put up in 2000-01 by Shaq, Jermaine O’Neal and Bradley.

Could 2013-14 be the season we see one, two or even more players join Ibaka in 3.0 territory? Sanders is trending that way and Hibbert and Howard are candidates, but it’s hard to envision Tim Duncan surpassing last season’s career-high of 2.65 bpg.

Maybe 3.0 is a stretch for most. Only five players averaged between 2.45 bpg and Ibaka’s 3.03 last season.

Here are my five players that could vault into this season’s top-5 (but may not necessarily get to 3.0):

1. Derrick Favors, Jazz: The 6-foot-10 power forward is going to see his minutes jump as he moves into the starting lineup with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap gone. Favors averaged 1.7 bpg in 23.2 mpg off the bench last season. He’ll go up against more elite front-line players this season, but it’s not a reach to suggest he could average 2.5 bpg.

2. JaVale McGee, Nuggets: With Washington in 2010-11, he finished second in the league at 2.44 bpg, but his minutes dropped dramatically the past two seasons in Denver under George Karl. The 7-footer should be in for quite a change with Brian Shaw taking over for Karl and ownership wanting to see McGee earn his money on the floor. More minutes are in his future. Are more blocks?

3. Brook Lopez, Nets: Last season was the first of his young career to average more than 2.0 bpg (2.1) and that number could be on the rise this season playing next to Kevin Garnett. If KG doesn’t teach Lopez a thing or two about defending the post, he might just frighten the 7-footer into protecting the rim at all costs.

4. DeAndre Jordan, Clippers: Potential is running thin for this 6-foot-11 center from Texas A&M. Entering his sixth season, it’s time to mature and play big in the middle for a team that will need it to contend for the West crown. He took a step back last season and under Doc Rivers he’ll need to prove he’s worthy of more minutes. He can do that by swatting basketballs.

5. Anthony Davis, Pelicans: The youngster just looks like a shot-blocker with those long arms and all. He’ll head into his second season healthy, accustomed to the NBA game, smarter and stronger. He’s got great natural instinct, athleticism and a desire to dominate defensively. During his one season at Kentucky, he averaged 4.7 bpg. The 20-year-old blocked 112 shots in 64 games as a rookie. Expect more.

New Coaches: Heat Is On Already

 

HANG TIME, Texas – It’s not very often that 13 different teams decide to change coaches during one offseason. It’s a sign of these impatient times in which we live, especially when six of those teams finished last season with winning records.

It used to be “what have you done for me lately?” Now it’s “what have you done in the last 10 minutes?”

Of course, not every new coaching situation is the same. No one expects a pair of newcomers like Brad Stevens in Boston and Brett Brown in Philly to perform water-into-wine miracles with stripped-down rosters.

Doc Rivers goes coast-to-coast to show a 56-win Clippers team how to take the next step while Mike Brown returns to Cleveland with a roster full of young talent ready to bloom.

However, not everybody gets to settle in comfortably. Here are the five new coaches who’ll find that seat warm from Day One:

Dave Joerger, Grizzlies – Sure, he’s paid his dues and learned his craft in the minor leagues and as an up-and-coming assistant coach in the NBA. All he’s got to do now is take over a club that is coming off the best season in franchise history, including a run to the Western Conference finals. While that means the Grizzlies have a contending core in Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley and a supporting cast to repeat their feat, it also means that every decision, every move that Joerger makes from the first day of training camp through the end of the playoffs will be judged against his predecessor Lionel Hollins, who evidently could do everything except make his stat-driven bosses appreciate him. In a Western Conference that just keeps getting stronger, it will be tough enough survive, let alone thrive with a ghost on his shoulder.

Larry Drew, Bucks — After spending three seasons in Atlanta, where he always had a winning record but could never get the Hawks past the second round of the playoffs, Drew moves to a Bucks franchise that overachieves if it climbs into the No. 8 seed to play the role of punching bag for the big boys in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee has turned over its backcourt from an inconsistent pair of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis to a spotty trio of Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal. Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo has size, athleticism and a bundle of talent. But he’s only 18 years old and the question is whether Drew will be given the opportunity to stick around long enough to watch him grow. The Bucks are one of two teams with plenty of space under the salary cap, but have no real intention of spending it except to get to the mandated league minimum. This is a Bucks franchise that doesn’t have a sense of direction and that hardly bodes well for a coach. It’s not even a lateral move for Drew and could make getting the next job that much harder.

Brian Shaw, Nuggets – After waiting so long to finally get his opportunity to become a head coach, Shaw steps into a situation that is almost the opposite of Joerger. The Nuggets let 2013 Coach of the Year George Karl walk along with Masai Ujiri, the general manager who built the team, and then blew a gaping hole in the side of the 57-win, No. 3 seed in the West roster by letting Andre Iguodala get away, too. Shaw still has Ty Lawson as the fire-starter in the backcourt, but one of these seasons 37-year-old Andre Miller has got to run out of gas. As if the rookie coach didn’t have enough to juggle with the mercurial JaVale McGee, now he’s got Nate Robinson coming off his playoff heroics in Chicago with that ego taller than the Rockies. It’s never a good time to be stepping into a new job when management seems to be pulling back.

Steve Clifford, Bobcats – He’s another one of the longtime assistant coaches that has paid his dues and was ready to slide down the bench into the boss’s spot. But Charlotte? That’s more like the ejector seat in James Bond’s old Aston Martin. The Bobcats have had six coaches in the seven years that the iconic Michael Jordan has been head of basketball operations and then majority owner. From bad drafting (Adam Morrison) to bad trades (Ben Gordon, Corey Maggette), through constant changes of philosophy and direction, the Bobcats simply go through coaches faster than sneakers. Now it’s general manager Rich Cho calling the shots, but that didn’t stop the firing of Mike Dunlap after just one season. Clifford gets veteran big man Al Jefferson to anchor the middle of the lineup, but he’d better have his seat belt fastened tight and watch out for those fingers on the ejector button.

Mike Malone, Kings — Not that anyone expects Malone to be under immediate pressure in terms of wins and losses. What the Kings need now that they have a future in Sacramento is to re-establish a foundation on the court. Of course, the multi-million-dollar question is whether that base will include the talented and petulant DeMarcus Cousins. Everybody knows that he’s physically got what it takes to be a dominant force in the league. But the jury is still out when you’ve played three years in the league and you’re still getting suspended for “unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team.” Paul Westphal and Keith Smart couldn’t get through to Cousins to make him somebody the Kings can rely on and were spat out. Now as the big man heads toward a summer where he could become a restricted free agent, the franchise needs to know if sinking big bucks in his future is an investment or a waste of time. That’s the intense heat on Malone and the clock will be ticking immediately.

Payton Nearly Quit Early In His Career

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HANG TIME WEST – Hall of Famer Gary Payton was so down on himself as a player and so frustrated with the coaching situation in Seattle early in his career that he came close to retiring after his rookie season, he told NBA.com on Wednesday.

“I was thinking about it,” Payton said in a phone conversation from his home in Las Vegas. “I was like, ‘What am I out here for? This isn’t even what I want to do. I’m not happy.’ I didn’t want to do anything….”

Payton played well enough in 1990-91 to be voted second-team All-Rookie, but the 7.2 points and 6.4 assists for a 41-41 team that finished one place lower in the Pacific Division than the season before was not up to the standards he set for himself as the No. 2 pick in the draft. It was being the starter without getting true starter’s minutes, though, that truly bothered him, the 27.4 minutes per that led him to feel a lack of support from coach K.C. Jones.

Owner Barry Ackerley convinced Payton the SuperSonics believed in the young point guard, agent Aaron Goodwin and Payton’s father told Payton to give it time, and so he returned rather than retire or try to force a trade. Jones was fired 36 games into the next season and replaced by George Karl. And when that change included Tim Grgurich coming as an assistant, Payton would meet his destiny as one of the great two-way guards in history.

“If we wouldn’t have changed coaches,” Payton said, “I would have probably said, ‘Yo, you know what? I want to end this. I don’t want to do this anymore because I’m not happy.’ If they would have stayed with the same coach, I would have probably just shut it down. They would have tried to trade me or I would have told them I don’t want to play there anymore.

“I went to my agent, I went to my father, I just said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m good enough to play in this league. I’ve got a coach who wants to play me in the first and the third quarter. He has no confidence in me.’ They told me the same thing. ‘You’ve got to stick it out. You’ve got to be the guy who you’re supposed to be. You’re tough. You’re this.’ My father was like, ‘Are you crazy? If you quit, I’m gonna get in your (body).’ Stuff like that. He’s like, ‘It’s going to be better. You’ve got to dedicate yourself to it.’ As soon as coach Grg came there, I changed my whole mentality. I went back to the guy that I was at Oregon State and the guy that I was in Oakland, California (his hometown).”

Karl and Grgurich, who would become a familiar pairing as one of the most-respected head coaches and assistants in the NBA, lasted through 1997-98 while winning four Pacific Division titles and the 1996 Western Conference crown. Payton stayed until Feb. 20, 2003, when he was traded to the Bucks and reunited with Karl.

Payton retired — actually retired — after the 2006-07 season, following a championship with the Heat, nine All-Star appearances, nine consecutive spots on the All-Defense team, one Defensive Player of the Year, and two Olympic gold medals. His first-ballot election to the Hall of Fame was announced in February. Payton will be officially enshrined with the Class of 2013 in ceremonies Sept. 8 in Springfield, Mass.

West Guards Set Up For All-Star Snub

It could be harder for Steph Curry (left) or Ricky Rubio to get their a taste of the bright lights of All-Star selection.

It could be harder for Steph Curry (left) or Ricky Rubio to get a taste of the bright lights of All-Star selection.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Remember when Steph Curry got the All-Star snub? Charles Barkley was darn well hacked off: “For them to leave Steph Curry off that team, it’s a joke; it’s a flat-out joke.”

Curry’s coach Mark Jackson also wasn’t amused by “them,” his Western Conference peers who pick the reserves, even with Golden State Warriors forward David Lee getting the nod:

“We know who the jurors are,” Jackson told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I think you have to question the process. I’m not going to go all Dr. King on us, but you’ve got to stand for what’s right, man. These guys have changed this whole organization. They have led. They have sacrificed. They have defended. They have competed.”

West coaches really might need to take cover this year. Barring injuries or unforeseen awful seasons, those 15 coaches will be locked in a no-win pickle to select the backup “backcourt” players.

Maybe this year Lee gets the snub, or some other “frontcourt” player like Zach Randolph or Tim Duncan (everyone thought he was done after his 2012 omission anyway, right?) to make room for an extra guard or two because there is going to be an absolutely outrageously long list of sure-fire or close-to-it All-Star guards.

The 2013 All-Star team featured five guards on the 12-man roster: Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant as the fan-voted starters, with Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook and first-timer James Harden as the coach-selected reserves.

Which one of those guys slides and doesn’t make the 2014 team? Kobe’s coming off Achilles surgery and his return date remains uncertain. Still, he’s expected back well before the All-Star Game and no matter how he fares it’s far-fetched to think fans won’t vote him in for a 16th consecutive start. Just go ahead and pencil in the L.A. boys as starters again.

Will Westbrook falter coming off his knee surgery? Doubtful. Could Parker, a five-time All-Star who has played his best ball over the last two seasons, slip? Possible, I suppose, if Spurs coach Gregg Popovich rests him from Christmas Day to MLK Day.

Here’s the thing: Even if one of those guys slide, the list of replacements is excessive, starting with the Warriors’ Curry, whose trajectory is just now starting to mirror that of the space shuttle upon liftoff. Seven of the West’s eight playoff teams from last season boast an All-Star-caliber point guard or shooting guard. Memphis point Mike Conley is gaining steam and it’s possible his 2012-13 numbers, a career-best of 14.6 pgg (and 2.2 spg, third overall) and 6.1 apg, could rise in a faster-paced offense under first-year coach Dave Joerger. Denver’s speed merchant Ty Lawson was a bubble guy in ’12, but he might be in for quite the transition with blow-it-out George Karl‘s departure probably ushering in more traditional sets under rookie coach Brian Shaw.

Still, the list rolls on…

Three West lottery teams offer undeniable candidates: Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio, who is poised for a breakout after last season’s tough return from ACL surgery; Portland’s Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, who has reinforcements this year that should help him get even better; and West newcomer and Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday, who, oh yeah, was a first-time All-Star last season in that other conference with the 76ers.

Want more? Eric Bledsoe, stashed behind CP3 these last two seasons in Clipperland, is primed to bust out in the Valley of the Suns; Andre Iguodala, a 2012 All-Star, can’t be counted out with the Warriors, unless sharpshooter Klay Thompson beats him out; and Monta Ellis, an All-Star in his own mind even if he’s yet to wear the uniform, could be in for a big year in Dallas feeding off 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki (who just might want his “frontcourt” spot back).

Oh wait, did I mention that eight-time All-Star Steve Nash, who turns 40 a week before the All-Star Game, made the team in 2008, ’10 and ’12?

Obviously he’s due in ’14. Right?

Best of luck, coaches. And be prepared to duck.

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: Teams On The Downfall




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 team is set up for the biggest fall next season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: However many victories people expect the Denver Nuggets to cough back from their total of 57 last season, I think it will be more. Matching last year’s ensemble-driven performance was going to be tough enough with their core of Andre Iguodala on the court, George Karl on the bench and Masai Ujiri in the front office. That Musketeers stuff is hard in a star-driven league. Now, with a rookie head coach (Brian Shaw), a personnel dip defensively (losing Corey Brewer and Kosta Koufos), Danilo Gallinari‘s recovery and mercenary/journeyman summer additions (Nate Robinson, J.J. Hickson, Randy Foye), I think the Nuggets’ slide well into the lottery.

Rookie head coach Brian Shaw has a lot of work to do in Denver.

Brian Shaw will have a lot of work to do in Denver.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Oh, let’s take a 57-win team and blow it up.  Mission accomplished by Nuggets ownership. The expected slippage with the departure of Karl, Ujiri and Iguodala could turn into an avalanche of defeat and disappointment.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The Grizzlies keep coming back to me as a team that could easily slip, a team that let go of the coach that built the program, a team that still hasn’t addressed its glaring need for shooting, although signing an injury-prone Mike Miller and being in talks with Mo Williams is progress. However, the team I can’t help believe will ride the biggest, most disappointing slide is the New York Knicks. The brains on the floor, Jason Kidd, is coaching in Brooklyn. Aging, injury-prone players abound. The No. 2 seed last season couldn’t get past Indiana in the second round and the Pacers, along with the Bulls and Nets (heck, maybe even Atlanta with a new coach and key personnel changes) will all be improved. At best the Knicks are a No. 5 seed in the top-heavy East and any championship talk that wafted through Madison Square Garden last season will likely heat up again just a short subway ride away.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Utah. As much as it pains me as a long-time Jazz proponent, this season could be a harder fall than a fall from playoff contention. They are much thinner than before and now need Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Trey Burke, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks to play big.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Don’t be shocked if Denver goes from the 3 seed to the lottery. It’s difficult to predict exactly what they’ll do, because Shaw will be a very different coach than Karl, but their defense (which ranked 11th last season) will certainly take a big step backward with the departure of Iguodala. Kosta Koufos was more important to that team than most people realize, and they’ll miss Gallinari’s shooting as he recovers from ACL surgery.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Philadelphia 76ers don’t even have a coach yet. They should be the runaway winners here, especially when you consider the fact that there isn’t a tougher crowd to deal with anywhere than Philadelphia sports fans. Most of the pessimists believe they are headed for an awfully tough season with this latest rebuilding adventure. It could be even worse that any of us imagined if they don’t find the right coach to lead this mismatched bunch. New general manager Sam Hinkie has stripped the roster down and is going full-blown rebuild without the one player (All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday, who was traded to New Orleans) who gave this crew a little spark last season. As my main man Bubba Sparxxx said years ago, this could get UGLY!

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI think Denver could be in for a fall. They’ve lost the Coach of the Year in Karl, Iguodala made a play for the Bay, and they also traded away their starting center, Kosta Koufos. I know Shaw will be a good NBA coach for a long time, and Denver still has some pieces (Andre Miller, Ty Lawson), but they’re in that dangerous middle ground between being a contender and a pretender. And it doesn’t take much to slide back down that hill.

Nuggets Put The ‘Rocky’ In Mountain Way

 

The old baseball axiom about the best teams having strength up the middle, that’s the first image that comes to mind with the (ahem) new-look Denver Nuggets.

The second image has more to do with a fishing pier and a filet knife, and someone methodical de-boning a flounder.

In the span of a single month, the Nuggets essentially have had the backbone of their organization removed. Masai Ujiri, George Karl and Andre Iguodala weren’t merely the catcher, middle infielders and centerfielder of a Denver team that won an NBA-era franchise record 57 games and earned its 10th consecutive postseason appearance. They were, respectively, the NBA’s Executive of the Year, its Coach of the Year and one of the league’s very best two-way players.

All assets, all gone, with nothing in return.

Ujiri headed back to Toronto a month ago, rejoining the team with which he got his start as the Raptors’ replacement for Bryan Colangelo. Karl was fired days later in an alleged dispute with team president Josh Kroenke over JaVale McGee‘s playing time, Karl’s desire for a contract extension, both or neither.

And now, with free agent Iguodala’s imminent departure to Golden State for a four-year, $48 million deal reported Friday, what’s left in Denver is less an overachieving ensemble cast than a doughnut team with no one filling the hole.

Last season, the Nuggets turned the absence of All-Stars or MVP candidates into a positive, becoming one of those whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts success stories that happen occasionally in this star-driven league. But another first-round ouster, its ninth in 10 years and at the hands of the sixth-seeded Warriors, apparently devalued what Karl and the team did to an extent that they came to be seen as replaceable.

“Very stupid,” Karl called it, in Kroenke’s presence, on his way out the door.

The quest already has begun, with Tim Connelly as the Nuggets’ new general manager and former Indiana lead assistant Brian Shaw, after years in waiting, as their new head coach. Now they can search for ways to plug the holes left in their performance by Iguodala’s departure, which won’t be easy. Monta Ellis? Carl Landry? Andrei Kirilenko? Good luck with that.

Consider: Denver allowed 100.5 points per 100 possessions with Iguodala on the floor, usually hounding the opposition’s best scorer. That would have tied for seventh best, in terms of defensive efficiency. When Iguodala sat down? The other guys averaged 105.3 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com’s stats site. That  would have ranked 23rd.

So even if Iguodala frustrated some fans with his shooting (especially 31.7 percent from 3-point range), his effectiveness at the other end of the court frequently made up for it. And there was more, according to the Roundball Mining Company blog on ESPN’s True Hoop network:

What Iguodala did well was incredibly important for Denver as he finished a spectacular 76 percent of his 206 shots in the restricted area and finished third on the team in assist rate at 22.4, behind only Ty Lawson’s 30.2 and Andre Miller’s 32.2 marks.

The next highest mark for a player who played significant minutes was Danilo Gallinari’s 11.2 mark, followed by Wilson Chandler’s 8.3. The mark of Evan Fournier, someone now expected to see a dramatic increase in minutes, was a bit better at 15.5 but still fell well short of Iggy’s.

So now Denver must find someone to replace not only Iguodala’s finishing at the rim (for comparison Kenneth Faried, who many will probably point to, finished just 62 percent of his shots there), but also his passing.

Finally Denver will have to find a way to replace 2779 minutes, a number that led the team by 266 minutes over Lawson and ranked just outside of the top 20 in the league. Fournier will pick up some of those minutes but Iguodala also played a lot at small forward where Gallinari now will moss most of the season.

Yes Andre Iguodala did some things that hurt the Nuggets but his loss is a big one.

No one’s loss is big, particularly in the past 24-48 hours, compared to the headlines and wailing generated by Dwight Howard‘s defection from the Los Angeles to Houston. But one of the West’s most exciting teams from 2012-13 has gone through (and partly put itself through) a wringer. And the accompanying soundtrack this season could end up sounding like this.

Who Should Stay And Who Should Go

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HANG TIME, Texas
— The start of free agency always has plenty of decisions. The most basic are which players should look for greener pastures and who should be smart enough to realize what they’ve already got.

Here’s a quick look at a handful of players that need to find a new address and five more who should stay at home:

FIVE WHO SHOULD GO


Dwight Howard
, C, Lakers

Let’s face it. There hasn’t been an NBA marriage this shaky that didn’t involve a Kardashian. Howard went to a team where Kobe Bryant was already firmly entrenched as the alpha dog and then found himself on a leash that included geezers Steve Nash and Metta World Peace. Toss in a coach like Mike D’Antoni who has never favored playing a low post game and it was a recipe for disaster. Another several years of playing in the harsh glare of the Lakers spotlight might be too much for Howard to bear. The overly sensitive must flee to someplace that will give him a big hug before he turns into a pillar of salt.

Josh Smith, F, Hawks

If you were building a 21st century basketball player in a lab — speed, strength, leaping ability, size — chances are you would come up with someone resembling J-Smoove. After nine NBA seasons, he’s got career numbers that rank him among the greats. After nine years in his hometown of Atlanta, he’s about worn out his welcome with all of those wild, late, long shots. In the right situation, with the right coach, he might take a team to the next level or send it over the edge. A man has got to know when it’s time to change the scenery.

Tony Allen, G, Grizzlies

He’s the guy who introduced the grind into the Grindhouse and one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. He can cut to the basket and score, but that’s about all he can do offensively and that hole in his game was badly exposed by the Spurs in the Western Conference finals. The new analytics-driven Grizzlies have Tayshaun Prince to fill the defensive role and they’re not likely to fork over the kind of money Allen wants for a one-dimensional figure. It’s time to take those defensive claws to another contender or wannabe and show the Grizzlies what they’ll be missing.

Tyreke Evans, G, Kings

Was it just three years ago when Evans was a 20-5-5 guy and winning Rookie of the Year honors with the Kings? His fall from grace was like an anvil being tossed off the edge of a cliff. Now that new management was able to reel in shooter Ben McLemore in the draft, it would seem that there’s little room left for Evans. Will the Kings even think about matching four-year, $44 million offer from the Pelicans? This is a separation that’s been that’s been coming for a while.

Monta Ellis, G, Bucks

It just wasn’t a good idea to put together two small guards that need the ball in their hands together in Milwaukee. It’s definitely isn’t a good idea to re-sign both of them as free agents. Brandon Jennings is hardly the model of efficiency, but Ellis makes him look like a Swiss knife in comparison. He needs to find a new home where he can be a designated scorer and not asked to do anything else, because he won’t.

FIVE WHO SHOULD STAY


David West, F, Pacers

He may yearn for one more big pay in another location, but at the end of the day West and the Pacers know that they’re made for each other. He’s a very efficient scorer, a hard-nosed defender and played a big role in Indiana taking the Heat to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference finals. He also has great leadership skills and has always managed to fly below the radar while delivering in a big way almost every time out.

Andre Iguodala, F, Nuggets

He exercised his right to opt out early from his contract and maybe it was only about maximizing his earnings. Or maybe he needed time to digest what the change from George Karl to Brian Shaw as coach could do to the Nuggets’ style of play and how he fits into the attack. At the end of the day, the Nuggets still have plenty of players who can get up and down the floor in transition and it Shaw wants to place even more emphasis on defense, he’s most capable of delivering and thriving.

Chris Andersen, F, Heat

This is a perfect fit in so many ways. The Heat gave Andersen a place where he could continue this career and make a significant contribution. Andersen gives the Heat the kind of rugged, tough guy, free spirit personality that is a nice balance inside a locker room filled with three mega-stars. When you’ve got LeBron, Wade, Bosh and all of the hullaballoo that constantly swirls around them, almost no one even notices the Birdman. Almost. It’s a long grind from October to June and it helps to have an iconoclast like Andersen on the court and in their midst to keep the Heat fresh.

Nikola Pekovic, C, Timberwolves

New Wolves president of basketball operation Flip Saunders is likely to let free agent Andrei Kirilenko walk out the door in order to find someone cheaper and with better shooting range. But the big man Pekovic is a must-keep asset not just for his size, strength, rebounding and scoring efficiently, but also to show Kevin Love that the team is serious about building a team that — barring injury — can jump into the rugged Western Conference playoff race and thrive. Pekovic’s numbers in points, rebounds and blocks have gone up in each of his first three seasons and at 27 he can grow more into a dominant inside force.

Tiago Splitter, F, Spurs

The difference in Splitter from his first to second playoff seasons was a quantum leap. Of course, it also helped that he had a full training camp and was healthy. He’s a quietly efficient scorer who can be trusted to hold down the middle while the Spurs continue to monitor and limit the minutes played by Tim Duncan. He is a perfect complementary part for now and his role can increase in another couple of years. There are lots of teams that would like to have the 28-year-old, but he’s at home with the franchise that patiently waited for him to arrive and there is no reason to think the Spurs would want him to walk out the door.