Posts Tagged ‘Jacque Vaughn’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 30


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe aiming for September return | Report: Howard could miss ‘extended time’ | Report: Vaughn on thin ice in Orlando | Shaw blasts Nuggets’ effort

No. 1: Kobe targeting September return; Kupchak still back Bryant — The torn rotator cuff in Kobe Bryant’s right should was officially surgically repaired on Wednesday. With that out of the way, most are wondering when (or if) he’ll be back on the court for the L.A. Lakers. According to a report from ESPN.com, Bryant is aiming to play again in September and, per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, Bryant still has the full support of GM Mitch Kupchack.

Here’s ESPN.com’s report on Bryant’s shoulder:

Kobe Bryant addressed his expectations a day after shoulder surgery Thursday night in a brief interview with ESPN, saying he planned on being ready to play come September for the Los Angeles Lakers’ training camp.

“Yeah, that’s the plan,” Bryant said.

Bryant said his rehab over the next couple of months will involve “a lot of patience.”

“Sore, but it’s OK,”  Bryant said of his shoulder.

Bryant said media opinion on whether he should return for a 20th season or retire wouldn’t affect his decision.

“I don’t really listen much to what people have to say to be honest with you,” Bryant said.

Bryant was back at the Staples Center for a brief visit with former teammate Pau Gasol before the Lakers faced the Chicago Bulls.

The former teammates spoke privately before Bryant left. Bryant said he wasn’t feeling well enough, 31 hours after the operation, to go on the court.

Bryant is expected to need nine months to recover from his third straight season-ending injury, a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder suffered last week that he had surgically repaired Wednesday.

If Bryant meets that timetable, he could return to basketball shortly before the start of the 2015-16 season, the final year of his contract with the Lakers.

Bryant, who will be 37 this summer, is the NBA’s highest-paid player at $23.5 million this season. He is under contract for $25 million next year.

And here’s Bresnahan on Kupchack talking about the Lakers’ future with Kobe and beyond:

Kobe Bryant was all smiles when he talked about his $48.5-million contract extension in November 2013, saying he would “run through a wall” for the Lakers to prove they were right and everybody who doubted them was wrong.

But were they right?

It’s a simple question that goes directly to the center of a struggling franchise and its rapidly aging megastar.

“One hundred percent. We have no regrets at all,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said Thursday.

Why?

“Because he’s worth every penny of it.”

Kupchak acknowledged that the Lakers, who ended a nine-game losing streak Thursday and are foundering with a 13-34 record, would need a talent upgrade next season. The catch: They have room for only one maximum-salaried player.

“To me, a big part of Kobe’s contribution next year is if we can improve this team during the off-season,” Kupchak said.

“Our coaches and players have been instructed to win games. Maybe I used the wrong word. I don’t have to ‘instruct’ the players to win games and try to win games. I don’t have to instruct [Coach] Byron [Scott]. That’s why they’re here.”

One player Kupchak expected to return next season was Bryant. It would be his 20th, all with the Lakers.

“I don’t think he’s retiring,” Kupchak said. “I spoke to him [Thursday] morning. The doctor’s prognosis was released yesterday and [Bryant] said he was looking forward to training camp. That’s what we expect.”


VIDEO: Mitch Kupchack addresses Kobe Bryant’s comeback trail and more

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Scott: Kobe’s minutes ‘experiment’ working | Kings seek to improve defense | Consistency next goal for Magic

No. 1: Scott: Kobe’s minutes limit working; Nuggets’ Shaw has his doubts — Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant is averaging 35.2 minutes per game, which is a slight tick down from what he was averaging (34.7 mpg) during a six-season stretch from 2007-13. This season, coach Byron Scott has tried to limit Bryant’s minutes at times and held him out of a few games for rest, too. Scott told ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Arash Markazi that his tactic is working, but a former Bryant teammate (and current Denver Nuggets coach) Brian Shaw has his doubts about the strategy:

First, here’s Scott talking about his Kobe minutes plan:

Byron Scott’s plan for Kobe Bryant this season is more of an ever-changing experiment than a set-in-stone policy.

After resting Bryant for three of the Los Angeles Lakers’ games last week, Scott wanted to see how Bryant would perform with the added rest and playing about 32 minutes per game, down about five minutes from what he averaged the first month of the season.

Bryant responded with 10 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists in his first game back Sunday, then with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists Tuesday.

“So far, the experiment is working,” Scott said. “We’re just going to keep at it and see how it turns out.”

Although Bryant has been more of a facilitator in his return, Scott was quick to shoot down the notion that the veteran star has changed his game after taking some time off. He is simply taking what defenses give him and not forcing the issue as much as he previously did, according to the coach.

“When you guys say this is a new Kobe, this is not a new Kobe,” Scott said. “This is a guy who’s been doing this for 19 years. Against Denver [on Tuesday] there were times they were coming and double-teaming him and we kept our spacing, which was great, and made some great passes to guys who made shots. I don’t think it’s a new Kobe at all. It’s just an old Kobe doing the same old things he’s been doing.”

And here’s Shaw, expressing some concern over this new Bryant plan, to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

A longtime friend and former teammate wasn’t so sure Bryant would agree to a reduction in playing time.

But Brian Shaw didn’t talk directly to Bryant about it.

Bryant seemed fine with Coach Byron Scott’s idea to trim his playing time by two to three minutes a game.

“When I was younger, I could play those minutes. I could handle those minutes. Now I can’t,” Bryant said. “There’s no use in fighting it. You accept it, you play around it and you figure it out.”

Scott said he wanted to reduce Bryant’s minutes from 35 to 32 or 33 a game. Shaw, now the Nuggets’ coach, was less optimistic Bryant would go along with it.

“I think it works early in the game … he’ll come sit down willingly,” Shaw said. “But if it’s in the middle of the game and it’s close, he wants to win worse than anybody else out there, so it’s good luck trying to keep him out of the game if you’re trying to keep him to a minutes schedule.”


VIDEO: Byron Scott discusses his minutes-management plan for Kobe Bryant

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Morning Shootaround — September 7


VIDEO: FIBA World Cup: Round of 16, Day 1 Wrap

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Team USA routs Mexico | Spain keeps rolling | No Parker, no problem | Melo wants to be the ‘digital athlete’

No. 1: Curry lifts U.S. into quartersStephen Curry finally found the hot hand and blistered Mexico from deep, scoring 20 points and leading Team USA to an easy win and a spot in the quarterfinals. NBA.com’s own Sekou Smith was there:

Curry got hot early and really cranked it up during the third quarter of Saturday’s 86-63 blowout of Mexico, leading the U.S. National Team with 20 points as they made their first game of the elimination round of this competition look a lot like one of their pool play romps.

After watching U.S. big men Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried lead the way to the Round of 16, Curry went off against Mexico. He scored 11 of his points in a flash after halftime as the U.S. went into overdrive.

“That’s who he is,” U.S. swingman DeMar DeRozan said. “He’s one of the greatest shooters in the game. And when he gets going, it’s lights out.”

Curry shot 6-for-9 from deep and added four assists and three rebounds. Klay Thompson added 15 points, James Harden 12, DeMarcus Cousins 11 and Rudy Gay 10.

The U.S. moves on to the quarterfinals, having won their 60th straight game in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international exhibition competition. They will face the winner of Saturday’s Slovenia-Dominican Republic game on Tuesday.

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No. 2: Spain stays on collision course with U.S. — Senegal kept it close in the first half, but Spain’s superior players took charge in the second half. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann is in Madrid:

Spain’s 89-56 victory was a foregone conclusion from the tip and never got very interesting. But Senegal did keep the game within single digits for most of the first half and may have exposed a couple of issues for what has been the best team in the tournament.

The Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau, have been mostly terrific over the eight days. But they had some trouble keeping Senegal’s bouncy bigs off the offensive glass in the first half. The only African team that made it through to the knockout rounds grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, with Spain securing only 13 of their opponents’ 26 missed shots and free throws.

“They’re a long team and they crash the boards,” Pau Gasol said afterward. “They chased their rebounds well and they gave themselves opportunities.”

Senegal converted all those second chances into only four points. They were one of the worst shooting teams in the tournament, lacked size in the backcourt and didn’t get much from the Timberwolves’ Gorgui Dieng on Saturday. He shot 1-for-9 and scored just six points. Dieng and his countrymen were a feel-good story in Group B, but were also the worst team that got through to the round of 16.

The U.S. is obviously a lot more skilled. And they have as athletic a frontline as anybody, starting Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis at the four and five. The U.S. was the fifth best offensive rebounding team in group play.

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No. 3: Evan Fournier lifts France — The French, the reigning European champions, don’t have Tony Parker in the World Cup, so any lift they can get from Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier is welcome. He shook off a slow start to the tournament to carry France over Croatia and into the quarterfinals. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann was there:

Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was in Granada for the first three days of Group A games at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Vaughn was there to watch and support France’s Evan Fournier, whom the Magic acquired from the Denver Nuggets in June.

Vaughn almost went without seeing Fournier make a shot. As the fifth guard in France’s rotation, the 21-year-old didn’t see much playing time and missed his first seven shots of the tournament before hitting an open, 15-foot jumper late in the first half of France’s third game, an easy win over Egypt.

Fast forward a week and Fournier was playing a big role in France’s 69-64, round-of-16 victory over Croatia, lifting les Bleus into the quarterfinals, where they will likely meet tourney favorite Spain.

With France struggling offensively (to put it lightly) and down 15-7 after the first quarter, Fournier began the second period on the floor. He missed his first couple of shots, but scored seven of France’s 16 points in the period, helping les Bleus take a one-point lead at halftime.

At that point, Fournier jumped a couple of more spots in the French guard rotation, starting the second half. Midway through the third quarter, he pushed France’s lead from four to 10 with a personal 10-0 run, which included his second fast-break and-one of the game.

France’s defense did its part through the first three quarters, holding Croatia to just 19 points on 8-for-32 shooting over the second and third. Croatia found something in the fourth with Ante Tomic dominating the smaller French bigs in the post and Bojan Bogdanovic hitting some big shots on his way to a game-high 27 points. But their comeback fell short when Bogdanovic’s pull-up three did the same with 20 seconds left.

Fournier finished with 13 points and four rebounds, and was a game-high plus-16 in 19:29. Afterward, he looked back at that first bucket against Egypt as a key moment.

“It was a big moment for me,” Fournier said, “just to watch the ball get inside the rim, get my rhythm going, because I was missing easy shots, open shots.”

***

No. 4: Carmelo’s off-court dreams and on-court plans to retire as a KnickCarmelo Anthony, with the help of a business partner, launched Melo7 Tech Partners this summer. The company invests in startup firms specializing in digital media, Internet consumer ventures and technology-based operations. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports on Melo’s ambitions:

“I want to brand myself as the digital athlete,” Anthony said Thursday at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit in Manhattan. “Nobody really took that place. There’ve been athletes that came before me that were doing what I’m doing and there are going to be people after me that are doing what I’m doing.

“But I really want to be the pioneer for that digital athlete, and when it comes to tech I want to be the face of that space,” said Anthony, noting the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and David Beckham became known worldwide for their business ventures.

But none is known as the guy for the Digital Age. Anthony nominates himself.

“At the end of the day, we all know what’s my day job: basketball,” Anthony said. “That’s what my brand is built on, but I’m trying to take my brand to the next level, make it bigger, make it stronger.”

And there is no better place to start up a venture capital firm than New York, Anthony claimed. So add that — and Phil Jackson — as driving forces behind what kept him with the Knicks. He signed a five-year, $124 million deal ending his free agency adventure.

It was a process, Anthony stressed, that he never wants to go through again. He did five years, not two like LeBron James.

Yes, Anthony might make more in two years. He gave up about $5 million (“relative to the contract I got, it’s not a lot of money,” Anthony admitted) in staying with the Knicks. And he wants to stay put.

“I plan on ending my career here, so it wasn’t for me to go out there and try to strike a two-year deal and then have to go through this situation in two years. I’m not doing that ever again. I would never do that again. I would advise no one to ever do that,” Anthony said. “I experienced it and it’s behind me.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau says everyone needs to take a step back on Derrick RoseHeat meet with center Ryan HollinsKings part ways with Jeremy TylerJared Dudley said knee pain hampered him last season with ClippersGustavo Ayon prefers to play in NBA over Europe next season.

Fournier lifts France into quarters

MADRID – Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was in Granada for the first three days of Group A games at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Vaughn was there to watch and support France’s Evan Fournier, whom the Magic acquired from the Denver Nuggets in June.

Vaughn almost went without seeing Fournier make a shot. As the fifth guard in France’s rotation, the 21-year-old didn’t see much playing time and missed his first seven shots of the tournament before hitting an open, 15-foot jumper late in the first half of France’s third game, an easy win over Egypt.

Fast forward a week and Fournier was playing a big role in France’s 69-64, round-of-16 victory over Croatia, lifting les Bleus into the quarterfinals, where they will likely meet tourney favorite Spain.

With France struggling offensively (to put it lightly) and down 15-7 after the first quarter, Fournier began the second period on the floor. He missed his first couple of shots, but scored seven of France’s 16 points in the period, helping les Bleus take a one-point lead at halftime.

At that point, Fournier jumped a couple of more spots in the French guard rotation, starting the second half. Midway through the third quarter, he pushed France’s lead from four to 10 with a personal 10-0 run, which included his second fast-break and-one of the game.

France’s defense did its part through the first three quarters, holding Croatia to just 19 points on 8-for-32 shooting over the second and third. Croatia found something in the fourth with Ante Tomic dominating the smaller French bigs in the post and Bojan Bogdanovic hitting some big shots on his way to a game-high 27 points. But their comeback fell short when Bogdanovic’s pull-up three did the same with 20 seconds left.

Fournier finished with 13 points and four rebounds, and was a game-high plus-16 in 19:29. Afterward, he looked back at that first bucket against Egypt as a key moment.

“It was a big moment for me,” Fournier said, “just to watch the ball get inside the rim, get my rhythm going, because I was missing easy shots, open shots.”

After those first seven misses, Fournier shot 11-for-19 in group play, and French coach Vincent Collet got him some more playing time in the team’s Granada finale against Iran. That move paid off Saturday when Collet’s team needed an offensive lift.

Collet said that Fournier has always had the potential to provide some punch to the offense, but needs to learn not to force things.

“Very often, that’s not a good way to be good,” Collet said. “So we talked with him since the beginning of the competition to explain that he has to be a little bit more patient. He has to let the game come to him.”

Fournier did that for the most part against Croatia. There was one moment, however, that drove Collet crazy. Croatia went to a zone midway through the third quarter, and on the first possession, Fournier launched a long 3-pointer early in the shot clock, a shot that could have been had at any point.

“He doesn’t know yet the basketball game,” Collet said, “not enough.”

Fournier has a few good teachers around him, Collet and Boris Diaw with the national team, and Vaughn in Orlando. He’s only 21 and has two more years on his rookie deal, a big reason the Magic got him for veteran Arron Afflalo, who can become a free agent next summer.

Right now, playing this tournament without Tony Parker, France needs whatever lift Fournier can give them. He’s certainly found a better rhythm since that ugly start in Granada.

“I just kept shooting the ball,” Fournier said, “and now I’m more comfortable, getting better and better. Hopefully, I can build from it and play a good quarterfinal.”

Morning Shootaround — May 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played May 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr could make decision soon | Rivers encourages Clippers employees | Ollie a coaching candidate?

No. 1: Kerr could make decision soon — TNT’s Steve Kerr met with Phil Jackson about the Knicks’ coaching job last weekend, and said afterward that “we’ve got a lot of things to discuss.” A week later, Kerr could be close to taking the job, as Marc Berman of the New York Post writes:

Steve Kerr likely is making his swan song for TNT on Saturday night when he announces Game 7 of the Grizzlies-Thunder series in Oklahoma City. According to an NBA source, Kerr likely will make his final decision on accepting the Knicks head-coaching job soon after the weekend.

As The Post reported, the Lakers’ coaching vacancy is a non-factor for Kerr, who is not a candidate. The Lakers are in store for a prolonged search after Mike D’Antoni resigned, and neither side has interest.

However, one thing that can derail Kerr’s getting hired by the Knicks is if the Warriors lose their first-round series to the Clippers on Saturday and coach Mark Jackson is let go. Kerr, whose family lives in San Diego, may listen if approached by the Warriors. Kerr is represented by former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum.

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No. 2: Rivers encourages Clippers employees — The Los Angeles Clippers’ players and coaches aren’t the only ones who have had to deal with the distaste of working for Donald Sterling. Behind the scenes is the rest of the Clippers’ staff, those working in the office to support the team. Those folks have never had the benefit of a Doc Rivers pep talk … until Friday, when Rivers took some time out of his Game 7 preparation to help the staff deal with the fallout of Sterling’s comments and ban. Broderick Turner of the L.A. Times has the story:

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said he had an emotional meeting Friday with Clippers employees who work in downtown Los Angeles to try to help them deal with the Donald Sterling scandal.

Rivers said that during his conversation with the employees, who work in ticketing, marketing, group sales, sponsorship, finance, human resources and fan relations, they were “sitting there crying.”

Rivers said he got a call for some of the Clippers’ department heads who asked him to speak with the employees.

Rivers said he quickly agreed to do so despite trying to prepare the team for Game 7 of its first-round Western Conference playoff series against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday at Staples Center.

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No. 3: Ollie a coaching candidate? — Including the Knicks job, there are currently five coaching openings around the league. And there may be more after the first round of the playoffs are done. There are some guys who have already won in this league (Lionel Hollins, George Karl, Stan Van Gundy) that are available, but the success of guys like Jeff Hornacek, Steve Clifford and Jason Kidd will encourage executives to keep an open mind. And maybe they might be willing to reach into the college ranks, where 13-year NBA vet Kevin Ollie just won a championship in his second season at UConn. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo has an update on where things stand with Ollie, his alma mater and the NBA:

University of Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie has started discussions on a new contract with school officials, but hasn’t ruled out listening to NBA overtures, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Fresh off his masterful national championship coaching run this spring, Ollie is a consideration for the Los Angeles Lakers and is expected to move onto short lists as more NBA teams make coaching changes, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

So far, no NBA teams have reached out to make formal contact with Ollie, sources said.

Across the NBA, executives are enamored with Ollie as a tactician and leadership force. UConn officials are moving quickly to rework his contract and reward him for so quickly developing into an elite head coach.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Joakim Noah had arthroscopic surgery to clean out his left knee … The Magic extended the contracts of GM Rob Hennigan and coach Jacque Vaughn through the 2015-16 season … The Heat are trying to stay sharp as they await the winner of the Toronto-Brooklyn series … and the Wizards are doing the same as they wait for either the Pacers or Hawks.

ICYMI of The Night: Damian Lillard hit the first series-ending buzzer-beater since 1997:


VIDEO: Lillard Wins The Series

Back And Forth With Bones: Magic-Wizards

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Back and Forth With Bones is an e-mail exchange between NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and NBA TV’s Brent Barry during a Monday night game. This week, they sat down (Schuhmann at home in New Jersey, Barry in the studio in Atlanta) to watch the 6-10 Orlando Magic visit the 8-9 Washington Wizards.

Pre-game

Schuhmann: Hey Bones, we got Magic-Wizards tonight.

The Wiz have won six of their last eight games with an improved offense (103.5 points per 100 possessions vs. 98.5 in their first nine games). For the season, they’ve been great on both ends of the floor with John Wall, Nene and Marcin Gortat on the floor with two of the Trevor Ariza/Bradley Beal/Martell Webster group, outscoring opponents by 14.3 points per 100 possessions. But all other lineups have been dreadful. So depth is an issue, especially with Beal out.

They’re a jump-shooting team. Only two teams (New York and Portland) have taken a lower percentage of shots from the paint. But they’re tied with the Heat for the league lead in corner 3-pointers. Wall has 32 assists on corner 3s (10 more than anybody else in the league) and Ariza and Webster are tied for second with 23 corner threes.

So that has to be a priority for Orlando’s defense, which ranks 26th in defending corner 3s and has been pretty bad over the last nine games after a strong start. I don’t know if Jameer Nelson is available (and the Magic offense has been pretty awful with him off the floor), but the Wall-Victor Oladipo matchup should be fun.

The Wizards have been a good defensive rebounding team with Gortat and Nene on the floor together, but pretty awful when one or both sits. So Nikola Vucevic could have some success if either gets in foul trouble.

Thoughts?

Barry: Yes, Randy Wittman is auditioning players to help take the load off of the starting group. But this game is interesting to me in that there is a lot of positivity regarding the Wizards recent play. Can they accept and continue what it is that has gotten them there?

With Beal out, I am stoked to see Martell Webster getting quality starter minutes, though 40-plus (in three of those) is too many. He’s just ready to get in there and mix it up, being a pro.

Watching John Wall balance out his game tonight will be key. Quality possessions against a team in Orlando that competes and shares the ball on offense are a must. The bigs must stay out of foul trouble for Washington.

Orlando is not a huge dribble-penetrate attack team other than Oladipo. It’s interesting that the Wiz have had this stretch with Beal (NBA minutes leader and their leading scorer) out.

Is Arron Afflalo an Eastern Conference All-Star? Hard to say he hasn’t played like one.

Schuhmann: Nah, the East All-Stars should just be six players each from Indiana and Miami.

Barry: Add four from the West to the East. Any player born east of the Mississippi can qualify for East team headed to NO!

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Vucevic Wears Scars Of Progress

Coaches are always looking for those signs of production that go deeper than stats in a box score. Scratches on the back. Black and blue marks on the shoulders. Welts on the chest or even the side of a face.

Nikola Vucevic probably couldn’t have looked more beat up if he were a crash test dummy, and that had Magic coach Jacque Vaughn grinning from ear to ear.

Vucevic blocks Howard

Vucevic blocks Howard (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

“I love it,” Vaughn said. “He has a bruise on his arm and under his eye a little bit, so that means he came to play. You should go home every night with some sort of scar, scab or Band-Aid to prove that you came to play. So he got a couple of bruises and I loved seeing it.

“He just has to understand that [physical play] is part of the game. Everyone understands that when you are a big there is more contact down low than there is up top, so accept that that’s the way it is and embrace it. Just do what you have to do to survive in this league and he’s learning to do that.”

As the Magic continue to shape and establish a roster that is full of solid, athletic, potentially explosive prospects at forward and guard, it is the development of Vucevic in the middle that will likely determine how fast Orlando returns to the playoff race.

The 22-year-old center has already shown in his first two NBA seasons that he has offensive moves around the basket and was a surprise last season as the league’s second-leading rebounder (11.9 per game). But there remained questions about his ability to defend the rim and not get outmuscled in the paint.

So it was nothing less than a revelation Wednesday to see Vucevic go toe to toe with the big man he’s replacing in Orlando, more than holding his own against Dwight Howard. He opened the night by blocking Howard’s shot in the low post on the Rockets’ first possession and then played aggressively by fronting and denying passes.

“You’ve got to do your job early against a guy like Dwight because he’s very physical,’’ Vucevic said. “If you let him catch it deep there’s not a lot that you can do. So I was trying to be as physical as I can be. I tried to make him catch it as far away as I could and my teammates did a great job of helping me on the backside when I was fronting him. I tried to limit him as much as I could and still help on the guards when they drove.’’

It was more than just limiting Howard to a 2-for-6 shooting night. It was the way that Vucevic never backed down from the rippling muscles of the would-be Superman.

“I am going to have to play physical against a player like Dwight, against all of the best big men in the league,” Vucevic said. “It is not trying to feel comfortable playing a physical style. It is just what I must do.”

The Magic, of course, have already received credit, though a year late, for getting the most out of the complex deal that sent Howard out of town. They are the only team that has any of the principals left from the trade — Howard gone from the Lakers, Andrew Bynum from the Sixers and Andre Iguodala from the Nuggets.

It figured that Orlando was getting a potential scoring piece on one wing in forward Maurice Harkless, but Vucevic was more of a question as someone who might give up on defense anything that he added offensively. In his first two seasons in the league, he had a tendency to avoid contact.

If that can change, so can the character of the young Magic. That’s why standing in and standing up to Howard was so important.

“It tells me I can go against the best players in this league,” Vucevic said “I think I held my own pretty well. I think I limited him pretty well. Obviously, it wasn’t easy. It took a lot of energy to do it, but it showed me that I can do it. I’ve got to keep building myself, keep going and keep working. When I go against the best guys, it’s only going to make me better.”

Those scars and bruises are signs of progress.

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.

No. 1 Pick Could Help Push Cavs Into The Playoffs

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NEW YORK – Before Tuesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers were among the two or three Lottery teams most likely to make the playoffs next year. They have a budding superstar, other young players who will only get better, and a new (and old) coach who will get them to improve on the end of the floor where they’ve been particularly dreadful that last few years.

2013 Lottery results
Pick Team
1. Cleveland
2. Orlando
3. Washington
4. Charlotte
5. Phoenix
6. New Orleans
7. Sacramento
8. Detroit
9. Minnesota
10. Portland
11. Philadelphia
12. Toronto (to OKC)
13. Dallas
14. Utah

After Tuesday night, if you didn’t already have them there (some of us did), you’d have to move the Cavs to the top of the list. Thanks to the results of Tuesday’s Draft lottery, Cleveland will add the No. 1 pick of the 2013 Draft to and young and talented core of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson.

It was just two years ago that the Cavs won the right to select Irving with a pick acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers. This time, they won with their own pick, earned with a 24-58 record, some terrible defense, and an 8-3-6-7 combination of ping-pong balls.

A month ago, Mike Brown was rehired to fix that defense. The Cavs are the only team to rank in the bottom five in defensive efficiency each of the last three years, but ranked in the top five on that end a couple of times under Brown (and with the best player in the world).

A month from now, Cleveland will add another piece to the puzzle. Two No. 1 picks in three years is a good way to ensure both short and long-term success.

“It’s going to mean a lot,” Cavs owner Dan Gilbert said Tuesday, “because if we can pick the right guy to fit into the young core that we have now, we can be a great team for many, many years.”

Before the lottery, there was no clear No. 1 pick. No LeBron James or Anthony Davis. And there was no Big Two on the level of Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Among the top four or five talents, there’s a guy at each position, and none is a can’t miss prospect.

But with Cleveland drawing the top selection and already having Irving and Waiters in their backcourt, Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, a 6-foot-11 power forward, jumps to the top of the list. The Cavs have Thompson, Tyler Zeller (taken with the No. 17 pick last year) and the oft-injured Anderson Varejao up front, but every good team needs at least three quality big men.

The issue, of course, is that Noel won’t be available until at least Christmas, still recovering from ACL surgery in his left knee in March. And as we’ve seen in the past, training camp is a critical part of a rookie’s orientation to the league.

The Orlando Magic, who finished with a league-worst 20-62 record, will draft second, and they can use help at every position and on both ends of the floor. They have a handful of young players, but none is really a franchise anchor. Their best pieces are on the frontline, however, so they should be happy with any number of options in the backcourt, including Michigan point guard Trey Burke and Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore.

In discussing the possibilities, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn talked about building a culture as much as acquiring talent.

“I trust our general manager and our scouts and their ability to find the right person who’s going into fit in our locker room,” Vaughn said.

Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, another descendant from the San Antonio Spurs’ management tree, had a similar outlook, saying that he wants to continue “to build the momentum with what we want to be about, what our identity is, what our values are, and really staying true to that.”

Like the Cavs, the Washington Wizards have a young and talented backcourt. So they will probably look to go big with the third pick, though general manager Ernie Grunfeld indicated Tuesday that he’ll look for the best player available.

“In this league, players win, regardless of what position they’re at,” Grunfeld said. “We’ll take the best player that we feel will help us, in the short term and the long term.”

Will Free Throws Finally Free Dwight?

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HANG TIME, Texas — It’s often been said that living well is the best revenge.

So there was Dwight Howard looking like a cross between a Kardashian and a member of the British royal family in rolling to 39 points and 16 rebounds during his boo-filled return to Orlando.

What’s more, he appeared loose, unagitated and as happy as Henry VIII at a smorgasbord when the Magic sent him to the line for an all-you-can-eat menu of 39 free throws, from which he 16 of 20 in the second half.

Which leaves us to wonder if it will now, finally, ever click to the mercurial big man that all he has to do is to shut up and play?

There is no reason for Magic coach Jacque Vaughn to apologize for the strategy, for Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni to complain or for NBA commissioner David Stern to again ponder a rule change.

Like so much else with Howard’s perpetually conflicted life and career, the problem has always been of his own creation. He is the one with the career .577 free-throw percentage and for all the talk about work in the weight room or getting one-on-one tutoring from Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, has been solidly consistent with his horrid stroke, rarely deviating far from the mean.

If you’re an opposing coach, why wouldn’t you exploit that hole in an All-Star’s game? It’s no different than giving a poor shooter open jumper after open jumper until he learns to knock it down.

If you’re Howard’s coach, why wouldn’t you practically salivate at the thought of your center getting 20 free throws in a half if he can step up and make 80 percent of them?

Howard could have stomped and fumed and moped and blamed his plight on someone else, the way he has with most events of the past two seasons. From former coach Stan Van Gundy to Magic management to Kobe Bryant’s prodding to D’Antoni’s offense to Pau Gasol to unrealistic fan expectations to the media, he’s been a self-made tempest in his own teapot. Just last week he disparaged his old Orlando teammates and then complained at everyone’s reaction to what he said.

It would have been straight in line with the persecuted image that Howard has constructed for himself to flap his arms, howl at the moon and hang his head each time the Magic committed another foul and sent him back to the line.

Instead Howard just shut up and played and enjoyed a night in the kind of career and life of which most people only dream.

He should try it more often.

Top 8 free throw attempts in a single game

Dwight Howard (Lakers): 39 FTA
Date: March 12, 2013

Dwight Howard (Magic): 39 FTA
Date: Jan. 12, 2012

Shaquille O’Neal (Lakers): 31 FTA
Date:
Nov. 19, 1999

LeBron James (Cavs): 28 FTA
Date: March 12, 2006

Shaquille O’Neal (Heat): 28 FTA
Date: Jan. 14, 2005

Shaquille O’Neal (Lakers): 28 FTA
Date: Mar. 14, 2002

Karl Malone (Jazz): 28 FTA
Date: Jan. 8, 1996

Willie Burton (Sixers): 28 FTA
Date: Dec. 13, 1994