Posts Tagged ‘Larry Brown’

A Meandering Road For N.O. Basketball

VIDEO: Fran Blinebury narrates the history of New Orleans basketball

The author Tom Robbins once said that if New Orleans is not fully in the mainstream of culture, neither is it fully in the mainstream of time. Lacking a well-defined present, it lives somewhere between its past and its future, as if uncertain whether to advance or to retreat.

That might also describe the meandering history of basketball in the Crescent City. With roots that stretch to the earliest professional leagues, the game has followed the unsteady path of an overindulgent visitor in the French Quarter to reach the glitz and glamour that is the 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend.

The state of Louisiana could fill out a virtual Hall of Fame roster with native-born talent — Bill Russell, Bob Pettit, Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Elvin Hayes, Karl Malone, Clyde Drexler, Robert Parish, Joe Dumars, Don Chaney and Bob Love. But the pro game has spent more than six peripatetic decades trying to find an embrace in the Big Easy.

“Honestly, it’s not that big. It’s really not,” said Pacers forward and native Danny Granger of the basketball scene in New Orleans. “Compared to Indianapolis, if Indianapolis is a 10, New Orleans is a 4, as far as high school basketball goes … We’ve always been a football city.”

Still, at the end of World War II, the game began to take wing all across the United States. New Orleans’ first team, the Hurricanes, were part of the Professional Basketball League of America in 1947. Led by 19-year-old guard Paul Seymour, the Hurricanes and the league lasted just eight games before going out of business.

A year later, the Hurricanes were renamed the Sports and joined the second year of the Southern Basketball League. The Sports featured the league’s leading scorer in Alex “Greek” Athas, a product of Tulane University in New Orleans. The Sports went 7-24, the SBL went out of business at the end of the season and a nearly 20-year wait for another pro basketball team began.

The ABA comes to town

The American Basketball Association was the young, defiant upstart league that burst onto the scene in 1967 with a red-white-and-blue ball, a 3-point shot and a wide-open, slam-dunking style of play that challenged perceptions and authority.

And what better place to do that than rowdy Bourbon Street and New Orleans?

Larry Brown (center) of the New Orleans Buccaneers was MVP of the ABA All-Star Game in 1968. With ABA Commissioner George Mikan (left) and Rick Barry. (NBA Photos/NBAE)

Larry Brown (center) of the New Orleans Buccaneers was MVP of the ABA All-Star Game in 1968. With ABA Commissioner George Mikan (left) and Rick Barry.
(NBA Photos/NBAE)

The Buccaneers were coached by the legendary Babe McCarthy with his honey dew Mississippi drawl and his pocketful of down-home sayings:

“Boy, I gotta tell you, you gotta come at ‘em like a bitin’ sow.”

“My old pappy used to tell me, the sun don’t shine on the same dog’s butt every day.”

McCarthy’s team was loaded with talent. The first player signed was Doug Moe, the talented forward out of North Carolina who had been connected to a college basketball betting scandal. Even though nothing was ever proven, Moe, along with Connie Hawkins, had been banned from the NBA for life.

The Buccaneers then added Moe’s good buddy Larry Brown, the 5-foot-9 point guard who’d been dismissed by the NBA for simply being too short.

“I loved every minute of playing in New Orleans and playing with that team,” said Brown, 73, the Hall of Fame coach who is now at Southern Methodist. “I was an assistant coach at North Carolina at the time and figured that was it. That league and that team meant a lot to me because they gave me a chance to prove that I could be a player at the top level.

“Man, that was a team. We had a great kid that nobody ever talks about anymore — Jimmy Jones from Grambling. We had Jackie Moreland, Jesse Branson, Marlbert Pradd and Austin ‘Red” Robbins. We came within a game of winning the championship in that first year (losing 4-3 in the ABA Finals to Hawkins and the Pittsburgh Pipers).”

The Bucs played before largely empty houses at Loyola Field House for the first several months, mostly because they arrived in town the same year the Saints were welcomed into the NFL.

“I went to the very first Saints game ever,” Brown said. “Guy takes the opening kick back 99 yards for a touchdown and the place went crazy. We all figured they’d never lose a game. Of course, with that passion for the Saints, nobody paid attention to us until football season was over. But when it was, the stands were packed. The enthusiasm and interest was great.

“I loved playing for a phenomenal coach in Babe. He had a great feel for the game and he cared about his players. He reminded me of a southern Frank McGuire and that’s the greatest compliment that I can give anybody.”

Even though Brown won the MVP award at the first ABA All-Star Game and Moe was named to the All-ABA team, they were both traded after just one season.

“I think it was about money,” Brown said, “even though Babe always called me his pissant guard and he did get back a 6-7 guard in Steve Jones. That’s OK. Doug and I went to Oakland and won a championship the next year.

“But I wouldn’t trade that experience — that one year — in New Orleans for anything.”

The Buccaneers survived just two more seasons in New Orleans before the franchise moved to Memphis in 1970.

The Pistol Pete era

VIDEO: Ultimate “Pistol” Pete Maravich highlight reel

It was four years later when the NBA finally came to town with an expansion team. The aptly named Jazz fittingly brought in the greatest improvisational artist in the game in “Pistol” Pete Maravich, who’d played college ball at Louisiana State in Baton Rouge and made music with a basketball like Louis Armstrong did with his trumpet.

Avery Johnson, who won an NBA championship with the Spurs, coached the Mavericks to The Finals and is now an ESPN analyst, grew up on the streets of New Orleans’ Sixth Ward, within walking distance of the Superdome. He joyously recalls watching the show.

“As a young kid, the Jazz really sparked my interest in basketball,” he said. “Growing up, my two favorite guys to watch were Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald and ‘Pistol Pete.’

“Since the Jazz were playing at the Superdome and had all those seats to fill, they were practically giving tickets away. So my friends and I were going to as many games as we could, even on school nights.”

“All the kids in our neighborhood wore our [floppy] socks like Pistol and anytime we saw him make a great shot or an amazing pass, we’d all be out there on the schoolyard or playground the next day trying to do it. For a kid my age, it really didn’t get any better than that.”

Trouble was, most of the NBA was always better than the Jazz. In five seasons, the Jazz never finished with a record of .500 record. When Maravich was beset by a series of knee injuries and couldn’t play, the big show lost its headline attraction.

“It was sad when he could no longer be Pistol,” said Brown. “I grew up with Pete and from the time he was young he had a quality on the court that wouldn’t let you take your eyes off of him.

“I saw him play in the state high school tournament. He loved the game. He made players better. He made you enjoy going to watch the basketball game. You didn’t know what was going to happen, but you knew something great would happen.

“I have always been known as a perfectionist coach, talking about playing the game the right way. Pete didn’t play the right way, but he had to play the way that gave him the best chance to win. A lot of people would look at the shots I let Allen Iverson take in Philly and say, ‘That’s not right.’ But when you have greatness like him, you let him do the things he’s capable of doing. The same held true for Pete and there was nobody capable of doing the things he was doing.”

But with Maravich hobbled and fan support hemorrhaging, the franchise was sold in 1979 and the Jazz name was incongruously relocated to Utah.

Post Pete

“In 1979 the Jazz were leaving, a channel called ESPN came on my TV,” Johnson recalled. “It seemed like the world was changing and you couldn’t hold things back.”

“It was playing in the Superdome,” Brown said. “It wasn’t a real basketball facility. Too many seats. And you know, the South was still kind of funny then. I don’t think people were ever passionate about basketball after the Buccaneers left. They were never really attracted to the Jazz, just Pete.”

At that time, a young David Stern was general counsel to NBA commissioner Larry O’Brien and worked hard to try to find a local owner in Louisiana. He couldn’t.

“I never thought even at that time that the NBA couldn’t work in New Orleans,” Stern said. “I always thought the NBA could work anywhere and we’ve proved that over the years with the so-called small markets in San Antonio, Orlando, Utah, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Portland and Sacramento. So even as we were leaving, I never thought there was a reason the NBA couldn’t come back.”

It took 13 years, but when the Hornets could not work out an agreement for a new arena in Charlotte, they relocated. The beat of pro basketball was again in New Orleans.

The Hornets played at the New Orleans Arena, built adjacent to the Superdome. They were coached by Paul Silas and with a veteran roster led by Jamal Mashburn, George Lynch and Elden Campbell, and immediately made two playoff appearances. But a miserable 18-64 record the next season was the worst in the league.

The Hornets parlayed that misery into making Chris Paul their top pick in the NBA Draft in June 2005 and plotted their comeback. But real tragedy struck on Aug. 29 of that year when Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans, the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States.

More than 1,800 lives were lost, $108 billion in damages suffered to the city and the Hornets were forced to set up a temporary home for two seasons in Oklahoma City.

Former Hornets player P.J. Brown visits a Katrina memorial in 2007. (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Former Hornets player P.J. Brown visits a Katrina memorial in 2007. (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

“I was so happy when the team had returned to New Orleans and my hometown got another chance,” Johnson said. “Then came Katrina and all you could wonder was ‘What next?’ Would they come back again?”

With rabid fan support for the Hornets and a hunger for the first pro sports franchise in OKC, the question of whether the Hornets would return to the Big Easy continued to be asked. As the city slowly and steadily picked up the pieces and began to put itself back together, Stern — now the commissioner — remained the city’s greatest champion. He gave his steadfast approval to New Orleans as an NBA town.

“Apart from my own previous history with the city, I have an affection because of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that followed,” Stern said. “It was important to me for us to be the first sport to play a regular-season game again in New Orleans after Katrina. We scheduled an All-Star Game [2008] there and people said we were crazy. So it gives me enormous pleasure to see where the franchise is today.”

“That was a very strong statement made by commissioner Stern,” Johnson said. “ ‘We are not going to leave you at the time of your greatest trial.’ It was a sign faith, of hope, of possibility for the future.”

When the Hornets returned, the team was in full bloom with Paul as its leader. He was joined on the 2008 All-Star team by New Orleans teammate David West. The Hornets finished 56-26, their best record ever, were the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, and defeated Dallas in the first round.

But things again turned sour two years later when the NBA was forced to purchase the team from owners George Shinn and Gary Chouest in a bid to keep basketball in the city. The league, with Stern acting as the de facto owner, ran the franchise for 1 1/2 years. Paul, who’d been an All-Star four times in six seasons in New Orleans, said he wanted out and, after one deal that would have sent him to the L.A. Lakers was turned down by Stern, Paul eventually was traded to the Clippers.

CP3 and the Big Easy

Chris Paul in 2008 (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Chris Paul in 2008 (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Now, three years later, Paul still holds an affinity for the city. New Orleans is more than just a team in a city where his NBA career began.

“[It’s] everything. Everything,” said Paul, who will return this week as a member of the Western Conference. “It’s going to be emotional going back. Obviously I was already going to All-Star regardless because we have some players’ association events and things like that. I still have a lot of my close friends and family there in New Orleans. My pastor lives in New Orleans. I’m doing my daughter’s christening when I go back and stuff like that. My brother’s doing his twins. It’s going to be pretty cool to be back.”

Even though he actually played his first two NBA seasons in Oklahoma City with the displaced Hornets, Paul sank his teeth and his roots into America’s most colorful, most unique city.

His brother got married in New Orleans.  Paul still runs an after-school program in the city.

“It’s crazy because I’m older and a little bit wiser now from when I was there in New Orleans, but it’s the people of New Orleans that make it what it is,” he said. “Everybody talks about the food and the environment and the nightlife and all this different type stuff. But it’s the people. There’s nothing like it. It’s its own language. It’s its own everything. And me being born and raised from the South, the people of New Orleans became my family.

“I did those [first] two years in Oklahoma City so I had no idea. I was going off what everybody was telling me about New Orleans. It’s crazy to hear some people talk about, ‘Oh, New Orleans, I can’t go there, I can’t do this.’ And I tell people, ‘I loved it. I absolutely loved it.’ What you learn is that some people will say that in front of the camera and stuff like that, but when it [the camera] moves, they’ll be like, ‘I hated it.’ But, you know, I’ll talk about New Orleans. I absolutely loved it there. That ‘07-08 season was something special that I’ll never forget. When you’re winning and playing in New Orleans, there’s nothing like it. Nothing like it.”

A new beginning

In April 2012, Tom Benson, the owner of the NFL Saints, bought the team from the NBA. In June the team made Anthony Davis the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. And for the start of the 2013-14 season, the Hornets were rechristened as the Pelicans, a nod to the state bird of Louisiana and a source of local pride. Now New Orleans will host its second post-Katrina NBA All-Star Weekend.

In his second season in the league, the athletic forward Davis has exploded at both ends of the court as a franchise player and future All-Star. Jrue Holiday, an All-Star a year ago, has been added to the roster. It’s the fourth season for coach Monty Williams.

“I was disappointed they had to let Chris go,” said Brown. “But I believe in Monty Williams. He’s a smart young coach who used to work for me. They’ve got an unbelievable kid there in Davis. I’m telling you, that kid is the truth.

“I’ll always have a love for that city because of one special season of playing basketball. But after all those years and all those teams and all those different problems, I think they’re finally going in the right direction.”

Walkin’ to New Orleans, as the great Fats Domino sang, goin’ back home to stay.

Surprise: Dumars Fires Yet Another Coach

VIDEO: Cheeks is out at Detroit after only eight months

Mo Cheeks, the eighth coach to serve during Joe Dumars‘ run as president of basketball operations for the Detroit Pistons, lasted eight months before, as multiple media outlets reported and the team eventually confirmed Sunday, getting the ax.

Dumars is in his 14th season, six years removed from Detroit’s last .500-or-better season. And the Pistons’ lone championship on Dumars’ watch (2004) came so long ago, Yao Ming, Latrell Sprewell and Seattle still were in the league and Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant and the Charlotte Bobcats weren’t.

That math no longer adds up.

In fact, with the clamor for advanced analytics to measure and dictate every motion and inclination of every player associated with an NBA team’s success or failure, the league is overdue for a concrete rating system for front-office executives. They’re the guys, after all, who are lauded or ripped by a new generation of sportswriter/analyst, depending on how avidly they embrace or eschew such calculations.

Or how ’bout this? A simple ceiling on the number of coaches a GM can hire or fire before it is his head on the chopping block.

Three would seem to be plenty, though four might be a reasonable number as well. If you spot the boss one for clearing the deck after he takes the job – the way Dumars did in 2001, replacing George Irvine with Rick Carlisle – two or three more ought to be enough, after which the scrutiny needs to shift from the sideline to the executive suite.

That would have only gotten Dumars to about the halfway mark in presiding over his personal coaches’ Boot Hill.

After Irvine and Carlisle, Dumars and the Pistons turned to Larry Brown, who did precisely what everyone expected him to do: he got Detroit to The Finals in his first season, steered its ensemble cast to the 2004 championship, then won another 54 games before his AWOL DNA kicked in and he was on the move.

Flip Saunders was brought in and did even better, in terms of victories, going 176-70 in three seasons. But he never had full control of the Pistons’ veteran-laden locker room – thanks, Rasheed Wallace and Rip Hamilton – though Saunders’ non-confrontational style was well-established before Dumars ever hired him. The core of that Detroit team was in decline, anyway, so when Saunders was dumped in 2008, so was its trips to the Eastern Conference finals and, for that matter, days sniffing air above .500.

Saunders at least holds the distinction of lasting longest under Dumars. After him, Michael Curry, John Kuester, Lawrence Frank — and now Cheeks — have followed in rather rapid succession, each staying two years or less.

The Cheeks firing borders on Kim & Kris eye-blink brief, with the added touch that Pistons players apparently learned the news Sunday through media and fan postings on Twitter. Sure, they’re the ones allegedly responsible, underperforming at a 21-29 pace that most experts felt should have been flipped to 29-21 by now. But class is as class does, and while Dumars – always classy as a Hall of Fame player in Detroit – can’t be held responsible for every leak, it does add to the impression that there’s chaos and scapegoating going on in the Motor City.

The Pistons have been in or near the league’s bottom third both offensively and defensively. As of Sunday morning, they were ninth, out of the playoff picture, despite an East standings that from No. 3 down ought to be a land of opportunity. Detroit has been OK within its conference actually (18-14) but a 3-15 mark vs. the West has been killer, as was the Pistons’ 7-15 mark at home halfway through the schedule.

The inability to meld the work of big men Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, some reported rancor among the players over the rotation and the confrontation/aftermatch between the coach and guard Will Bynum – that’s all on Cheeks. The question, though, of whether 50 games was enough to decide his fate – after successive two-years-and-out terms of Frank and Kuester – was answered by Dumars and owner Tom Gores.

“Our record does not reflect our talent and we simply need a change,” Gores said in a team statement. “We have not made the kind of progress that we should have over the first half of the season. This is a young team and we knew there would be growing pains, but we can be patient only as long as there is progress.

“The responsibility does not fall squarely on any one individual, but right now this change is a necessary step toward turning this thing around. I still have a lot of hope for this season and I expect our players to step up. I respect and appreciate Maurice Cheeks and thank him for his efforts; we just require a different approach.”

Pinpointing where that approach begins or ends, that’s the challenge. And that’s the area – made up top in jest but maybe a real void in need of filling – to be addressed. There’s got to be a more concrete way of capturing Dumars’ successes and failures.

The talent of which Gores spoke is largely of the individual variety; there’s no one even casually familiar with the NBA who didn’t stack up as many or more “cons” on the right side of Brandon Jennings‘ and Josh Smith‘s ledgers as “pros” on the left. It was, in a sense, a higher risk/reward gamble on “me first” guys than Dumars had perpetrated in 2009 when he splurged on free agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to little positive effect.

The Pistons constantly tout their youth – their starting lineup ranks as the NBA’s most tender (23 years and change) – and the fact that their record is best among the league’s four youngest teams. But if that’s something to overcome in the short term, the W-L mark that the kids cobble together seems an odd thing to hold against Cheeks. He didn’t wave a wand and make them young.

More Dumars: Rodney Stuckey was going to be the Pistons’ future until he wasn’t, and only lately has done better in his new zero-expectations world. Then there was the Darko Milicic gaffe, a blown No. 2 pick in 2003 from which the franchise still hasn’t recovered. All while the No. 1 (LeBron James), 3 (Carmelo Anthony), 4 (Chris Bosh) and 5 (Dwyane Wade) picks will be at All-Star weekend in New Orleans.

Gores’ arrival as owner apparently was a reset button for Dumars, because new bosses need basketball people they trust the same as chaotic, distracted owners (the previous Pistons regime). But eight coaches in 14 years and, with whoever takes over on the sideline now, six in eight seasons goes beyond fickle toward feeble.

Even if, in formulating an analytic to apply to the GMs, some allowance gets made for the length of the exec’s reign, Dumars would seem to have exceeded an acceptable average for pink slips. The next one he hands out, he needs to be standing in front of a mirror.

Or better yet, he needs to take over as coach himself and demonstrate that his GM/president knows what he’s doing.

Report: A.I. ‘Officially’ Ready To Retire


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Father Time always wins. Not even the all-time greats can survive his pull.

Allen Iverson will become his latest victim sometime this week, with sources telling SLAM Magazine that the former Philadelphia 76ers star will “officially” retire later this week.

It’s strictly a formality at this point for Iverson, who has not played significant minutes in the NBA since 2010 with the 76ers. His last game action professionally was in Turkey in 2011.

One of the league’s most popular players during the height of his NBA career, Iverson closes the door on his career as one of the game’s greatest scorers and one of the best 6-foot and under to ever wear a NBA uniform.

But it was clear months ago that he was prepared for this moment, per SLAM’s Tzvi Twersky:

When he last spoke publicly, at a Sixers game on March 30, Iverson answered a question about continuing his career by saying, “My No. 1 goal is trying to accomplish to be the best dad that I can. And if basketball is in my near future, then God will make that happen. But if not, I had a great ride and I’ve done a lot of special things that a lot of guys have not been able to accomplish and people thought I couldn’t accomplish.”

Included amongst those accomplishments are: 13-year career averages of 41.1 mpg, 26.7 ppg, 6.2 apg and 2.2 spg; 71-game playoff averages of 45.1 mpg, 29.7 ppg, 6.0 apg and 2.1 spg. He also won one regular-season MVP award, four scoring titles and was named an All-Star 11 times. Maybe most impressive of all, omitting the obvious impact that he had on the culture off-court, was the resilience that the 6-foot guard showed in driving into the lane, into men a foot taller than him, time and time again.

“He might be the greatest athlete I’ve ever seen,” Larry Brown, Iverson’s coach from 1997-2003 and the current coach at SMU, told SLAM today. “I don’t think there’ll be another one like him.

“I’m sure we faced a lot of obstacles, maybe even on a daily basis, but when it came time to play, to try to win a game, he tried to play as hard as he could for his coach.”

It’s hard to put Iverson’s career into words for those of us who witnessed his rise from two-sport (football) high school phenom to future Hall of Famer. Few players in the history of the game, drew the attention of fans worldwide the way Iverson did during his best days.

When he does make his retirement official, my main man Lang Whitaker of’s All Ball Blog and formerly of SLAM will reflect on Iverson’s impact on the game and hops culture.

Brown And The Sixers A Good Fit

HANG TIME, Texas — So it looks like the 76ers will not go into the Oct. 30 season opener against the Heat without a head coach.

The job belongs to Brett Brown, assuming he accepts the offer, and the process of repairing one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises can continue.

It’s a move that should have happened a long time ago and, no, I’m not talking about the past three months since Sam Hinkie took over as general manager. I know all about the impatience of Philadelphians. I am one. Which is why I’m so perplexed about the furor over Hinkie taking his time in the dead of summer to finally get this right rather than an uproar over the past two decades as the Sixers have replaced one Band-Aid with another.

Let’s face it. Even the Allen Iverson Era was ephemeral, since any endeavor involving Larry Brown has the lifespan of a moth.

The hiring of the 52-year-old assistant from San Antonio would be the next step in the kind of sweep-it-all-clean maneuvering that should have taken place in the organization a long time ago instead of the Sixers peripatetic wanderings through the want-ads.

Hinkie has plainly said — though few seemed to listen — that his focus was on a future of two to five years, not beating LeBron and the Heat in less than three months. That’s why he was willing to trade away the team’s best player and All-Star Jrue Holiday and put his faith on Nerlens Noel eventually becoming the No. 1 draft pick talent that was once projected. That’s why the new GM is willing to suffer through a miserable 2013-14 season, and maybe even the next, in order to establish a solid foundation that will serve the team down the line. Hinkie is confident, decisive and forward thinking.

Brown fits into the model with a resume that includes more than a decade of working inside the most consistently successful franchise of the past 14 years and working under Gregg Popovich, the best coach in the league.

After starting out in the operations department in San Antonio, Brown became the director of player development in 2002 and worked extensively with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker as they made the successful transition from the international game into NBA All-Stars. Hinkie, too, has an eye on international talent and would have a coach who is simpatico. The presence of Noel and young point guard Michael Carter-Williams could also take advantage of the teaching abilities of Brown, who also has long experience as the head coach of the Australian national team.

While there might be those who are urging Brown to turn down the Sixers because Philly has been a coaching graveyard and a merry-go-round of old friends and tired names with local ties, there is a better chance that it’s exactly the kind of opportunity that a first-time coach would crave, an opportunity to build from the ground up.

With Mike Budenholzer gone to the Hawks, there is a school of thought that Brown could remain in San Antonio and wait for Popovich to retire, then take over. After all, Popovich has said often through the years that he’ll walk out the door with Tim Duncan, who has two years left on his contract. However, the fact that Brown was willing to previously interview for the Nuggets job might indicate that Pop plans to stay on and usher in the next era with the Spurs. And at that point, are the Spurs any different from the Sixers right now, searching for new blood and new direction?

More than that, you simply don’t tick off years on the calendar waiting for things that might happen. You find a job that is a right fit at the right time and you go for it.

It might have taken a few months longer than some would have liked for Hinkie and Brown to come together. Or it could be the exactly the right kind of marriage that’s been years overdue in Philly.

Six Sensible Picks For Coaching Success


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Raise your hand, you twisted souls, if you’re ready for another episode of the Dwight HowardStan Van Gundy show.

Even Hawks fans, a group starved for both star power on the roster and stability with the coaching staff, are wary of the potential pairing of these former Orlando Magic stalwarts in the ATL. Their deteriorating relationship marred their final season together in a situation that was anything but magic in Orlando.

But when the coaching carousel kicks up this time of year, and a half-dozen or so different teams are picking over the same small pool of elite coaching candidates, all things are possible.

Van Gundy, and his brother, Jeff Van Gundy, are going to be on short lists everywhere, along with Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Larry Brown and whoever the assistant coach(es) du jour might be.

What looks good on paper and sounds sweet in theory, however, doesn’t always hold up in reality. Multiple reports of Stan Van Gundy being pursued by the Hawks, who have announced that they will explore all options in determining who replaces Larry Drew (if they replace him), make perfect sense. Hawks GM Danny Ferry is in the process of rebuilding his roster and needs a coach on board before the Draft.

“I have great appreciation and respect for Larry and how he led our team this season,” Ferry told Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Saturday. “At the same time, it is my responsibility and in the best interests of the Hawks organization to consider all of our options, and talk with other potential head coaches before making a decision about who will lead our basketball team. Larry and I have had open communication about this approach. If Larry and I continue to work together, we ultimately will be a stronger organization because of our discussions and this thorough process.”

That’s an eloquent way of stating the obvious: that the Hawks plan on moving on from the past nine years (Drew was an assistant under current Knicks Mike Woodson during his six seasons with Atlanta before Drew spent the last three season its coach). And it’s understandable. No one will blame Ferry for making a clean break from the Hawks’ recent past, provided he upgrades the coaching situation and the roster with all of that $33 million in cap space and the four Draft picks the Hawks will be armed with this summer.

The burning question remains, then, is Stan Van a legitimate upgrade?

He did take the Magic to The Finals in 2009, the Miami Heat to the Eastern Conference finals (2005) and did the same with Orlando (2010). But he was shown the door in both places after his star players grew tired of his grinding ways. Weighing the pros and cons of Stan Van being the face and voice of your franchise heading into a huge free-agent summer is a risky proposition for the Hawks, one that Ferry is surely aware of as he continues to sort through the process of finding the right coach.

There are five other current openings around the league, with another one (Los Angeles Clippers … ?) still looming. With a bevy of candidates, we take a look at who fits best where and why …

Atlanta Hawks: Mike Malone, assistant coach Golden State Warriors

In a realm where it’s often who you know as well as what you know, Malone can check those boxes with the Hawks. He’s done stellar work with the Warriors, helping guide them into a prime time position this postseason under Mark Jackson. He also worked under Mike Brown in Cleveland when Ferry ran that franchise. Malone is a nuts-and-bolts coach who won’t come with the baggage of some of the more recognizable candidates for the job. He’s universally respected and will likely be on the interview list for every opening out there.

Brooklyn Nets: Jeff Van Gundy, ABC/ESPN analyst

No available coach has a better handle on the rigors of guiding a team in the New York area. Van Gundy’s Knicks history, along with his work on ABC and ESPN broadcasts, has kept him in the forefront of a lot of people’s minds. He’s got the coaching chops required to manage a complex and talented roster that clearly needs a guiding force to reach its potential. His former partner in the booth, Mark Jackson, has done wonders in his first coaching stint in Golden State. Van Gundy could work similar magic with a Nets team that underachieved this season.

Charlotte Bobcats: Larry Drew, coach Atlanta Hawks

Drew worked alongside Bobcats owner Michael Jordan when they were both in Washington, so there is plenty of familiarity there. He also impressed many around the league with the work he did in an impossible situation in Atlanta the past three seasons. Even with constant changes on the roster and in the front office, Drew coached the Hawks to three straight playoff appearances. He would walk into a situation in Charlotte that looks a lot like the one he walked into with the Hawks nine years ago. That blueprint for thriving in the face of adversity could come in handy for the Bobcats.

Detroit Pistons: Jerry Sloan, former coach Utah Jazz

The Pistons have a roster filled with talented young players in need of guidance and direction. That’s the idea fit for a disciplinarian like Sloan, who could work wonders with bigs Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond in particular. Sloan’s Jazz teams were known for being the model of consistency. He won with superstar talent (Karl Malone and John Stockton) and kept on winning after they retired. The Pistons have had their greatest success in recent years under another veteran coach, Larry Brown, and could return to relevance under Sloan.

Milwaukee Bucks: David Fizdale, assistant coach Miami Heat

With the Big 3 in Miami, most of the attention has been strictly on the players. But Erik Spoelstra‘s key hire since taking over as coach in Miami was luring Fizdale away from the Hawks. He’s considered one of the brightest up-and-coming coaching candidates in the league and has done fantastic work with the continued development of both Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Luring him away from a championship situation in Miami won’t be easy for the Bucks or anyone else. But Fizdale has designs on running his own team and working with Bucks GM John Hammond would be a good place to get that first shot.

Philadelphia 76ers: Stan Van Gundy, former coach Orlando Magic

After the emotional roller coaster that was the Doug Collins experience, Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and the rest of the Sixers’ young core need a savvy veteran to deal with, not a first-time coach who would have to transition to a new gig in a city known for chewing up the strongest of personalities.  Stan Van gives the Sixers a bold personality to lead the way and an absolute technician of the game to help push the right buttons for a team that needs the sort of stewardship he tried to provide in Orlando.

Nets Going Old School For New Coach

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The sting of blowing a Game 7 on their home floor will linger for a while in Brooklyn. There is no way to dress up that debacle.

A new coach, though, one with a high profile and Hall of Fame credentials, is a good place to start. And from all indications the Nets are setting their sights high. Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Jeff or Stan Van Gundy and even Larry Brown‘s name has been mentioned by a few league executives who are watching the Nets and waiting to see where they go next.

They are all on the Nets’ short list as of this afternoon.

Nets GM Billy King didn’t even let the sun rise the morning after that Game 7 loss before P.J. Carlesimo was informed that his services would no longer be needed. Carlesimo is an old pro at this. He knew what we all did when he took over after Avery Johnson was fired, that anything short of a miraculous championship run from the Nets would mean he’d be cleaning out his office at season’s end.

What makes the Nets search for a replacement for the replacement is that Sloan, who coached with and clashed, at times, with Nets star Deron Williams in Utah, is on the list of candidates to fill the job.

Much like the other candidates on the Nets’ list, Sloan’s name tends to come up whenever there is an opening. This Nets opening, however, appeals to him. He said as much to Chris Haynes of

“I’m open, I would listen,” Sloan told via phone. “I haven’t done the research on their roster, but I would definitely listen if they called.”

Already linked to the Milwaukee Bucks Head Coaching gig, Sloan admits he’s interested in getting back to roaming the sidelines, but only under the right circumstances and conditions.

“According to reports, I’m interested in every job that’s out there,” Sloan said. “That’s just not the case. I don’t like being linked to every opening. If the right situation presented itself, I will look into it.”

Sloan dropping his John Deere cap and days spent on his tractor for the sideline in Brooklyn has movie of the week potential. But any team could use his wisdom and guidance, provided the players on the roster are willing to listen.

The Nets won’t have the flexibility to tinker with their roster this summer, so the most significant change they’ll make will be in the coaching ranks. There is also a temperament change that is needed, one highlighted by many in the immediate aftermath of that lackadaisical Game 7 effort.

Williams has his own ideas about what the Nets need in a new coach and it’s all about someone who demands his team play with the intestinal fortitude to win a Game 7 on their home floor in the playoffs, based on what he told Mike Mazzeo of

Williams was asked what quality the Nets need more of.

“Toughness,” he replied. “I think that’s what we’ve used a lot. Toughness. I think we got out-toughed in that last series, especially [Saturday], so I think that’s the main thing.”

Williams thinks a coach like his former one in Utah, Jerry Sloan, could get toughness out of his players.

“When I played for Coach Sloan, I think he had that effect — just the way he coaches and the way he talked to us every day and the way he prepared us for games kind of rubbed off,” Williams said.

Would Williams want to play for Sloan again?

“I would love to,” he replied.

And Phil Jackson?

“Who wouldn’t want to play for Phil Jackson?” he replied.

Regardless, Williams believes the team’s next coach needs to be experienced.

“Yeah, I think so. I think somebody that’s creative on offense and has a good system on defense,” he said. “I haven’t really thought much about it. I think we just need somebody that’s going to lead us, somebody everybody respects for sure; it’s tough.”

That “somebody” could be anyone on the Nets’ short list.

But the description sounds an awful lot like Sloan …

1,000: Adelman Celebrates Milestone


HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — It took longer than expected during this difficult season marred by an onslaught of injury and a family illness, but Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman reached 1,000 career wins Saturday night.

Adelman’s Minnesota Timberwolves got the job done at home, knocking off the Detroit Pistons, allowing the home crowd to join in the celebration. In attendance was Adelman’s wife, Mark Kay, who was hospitalized during the season with an illness that still has no definitive diagnosis. Adelman, 66, took time away from the team to care for her and he has contemplated retiring after the season to stay by her side.

For the moment, through a tumultuous season full of disappointment, Saturday’s victory provided a rare chance to smile and reflect on a tremendous coaching career. Adelman’s career record stands at 1,000-703 (.587). In his 22nd season, Adelman became the eighth coach to reach 1,000 career wins (joining Don NelsonLenny WilkensJerry SloanPat RileyPhil Jackson, Larry Brown and George Karl) and he is the fifth-fastest to reach the milestone

“Glad we got it done tonight,” said Adelman, one of the game’s most innovative if also most understated coaches, said after the 107-101 victory. “It was tough game; they played well. Our guys hung in there and made some plays down the stretch to win the game. Like I said earlier, it’s a great group of players who stayed with us all year long and never stopped playing. They kept battling it through; the coaching staff too. It was good to get it here especially at home.”

Here’s Adelman in his own words, courtesy of The Wolves’ media relations department:

On moment with Mary Kay making everything worthwhile…

“She had to be part of it. I told her I was going to bring her down. She wasn’t very happy about that but she has been there all the years. When you go through a job like this in situations and you move and raise six kids and everything else; if it wasn’t for her I couldn’t have done it. So I’m really glad we did it here. It relieves a little bit of stress. Like I said to you before the game, I think it was in some ways when I look back, it was good for this group. We have had such a tough time that you are just trying to scrap wins out. When you have something like this that you are actually working for there is expectations; there is a little bit more pressure and I think that is good because this group we have to learn what that is all about. To be a good team that’s where the expectations are. It’s not just to win a game, it’s to keep going. I’m really happy with the way they have played the last week.”

On the list of coaching names he has joined…

“It’s special people. Some of the names up there, it’s incredible. I never ever expected to be with that group. But like I said before, I have had some really special situations and we were able to stay a couple of places for a long time, which doesn’t happen in this league very often. To get that many wins, there are good players involved and good coaches staffs involved and good organizations involved. It was special to get this.”

On it being more special to have his sons on his coaching staff…

“That was one of the big reasons why I came here. You always want to win, you always want to have good situations to give yourself a chance because it’s a tough job, but I learned in Houston when we lost Yao [Ming] and lost Tracy McGrady and a bunch of guys that busted our tails every night. It was a lot of fun coaching that group. When I looked at this group this year it’s the same thing. I think there is other ways to get enjoyment. Everybody talks about how you have to win; yeah that’s part of it, but to get around a group of guys you can coach you see them grow individually and as a team, that’s also part of it. And to have my two sons involved, yeah it’s special. That is a huge reason why this was an attractive situation to me. They just didn’t tell me about April before this year that it was so hard to win games in April. I think we have a really group. Like I said, they have really maintained this whole year.”

On where this milestone ranks…

“It’s way up there. Now that it’s done you think about all the years and everything else. It’s pretty special. This has been a difficult year. You have to give credit. You have to thank Glen, David and the whole organization for staying behind me because it was a tough situation. There was never a doubt that I was going to be able to do what I thought I needed to do because of their support.”

On the journey to get here and knowing son Ricky and Derrick weren’t born when he got his first victory…

“Well thanks a lot (laughs). I feel older. I feel older. There is a thousand wins that everybody keeps talking about but I don’t know how many losses too. [He’s told 703] Yeah, okay thanks. I knew you would know. I didn’t know (laughs). It is something that you learn as you go on in this league. Like I said, great situations where you walk on the court and you know you have a great chance to win every night. This situation it was tough going out there every day. You learn that it’s a tough business. You have to learn to handle that as well as you do the wins. I think the players have to learn you can’t accept it. It’s part of your job and we got thrown a really tough curveball this year with everything that happened. Even last year at the end of the year. But again, I compliment them for staying with it and hopefully we can get some more before the season ends.”

Pop The Rock Rolls Up On Win No. 900


HANG TIME, Texas — It’s no wonder most NBA coaches are constantly moving on the sidelines. Theirs is a peripatetic lifestyle, usually with one hand gripping a suitcase and one foot out the door.

Among many other things about his worldly background and his puckish personality, it is his stability that makes Gregg Popovich unique.

With a win tonight at home against the Jazz (8:30 ET, League Pass), Popovich will become the 12th coach in NBA history to win 900 career games, but will be the first to claim each and every victory with a single team.

Over the past 17 seasons, the Spurs have been Pop as much as much as they have been David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and the other 130 players who have worn the silver and black uniform.

In a league that is teeming with exceptional coaches — Denver’s George Karl, Boston’s Doc Rivers, Minnesota’s Rick Adelman, Memphis’ Lionel Hollins, Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra — Popovich stands a step apart and above.

He is always the first and usually the last to tell you that it’s all about the players, but to a man, they will tell you he is the one whom they are all about in the way the prepare, work and attack every game and play.

When he sat at a makeshift table for a news conference last spring when he was named Coach of the Year for the second time in his career, Popovich’s face turned different shades of red. But it wasn’t for the usual reasons of screaming at a referee or boiling at another question from a reporter. He was, in short, embarrassed with the attention.

Pop’s Way. That’s what they call it around the executive offices and on the practice floor and in the locker room.

“It’s about us, not me,” he said, sheepish from the attention.

But year after year, season after season, it has been about him getting the most out of his team by being willing to change the pace of play — from slogging, powerful inside ball to Duncan to a microwave fastbreak that is sparked by Parker — but never his principles or his own personal style.

He just wears suits, doesn’t model them.

“They’re not Italian,” he told an inquiring mind years ago.

He doesn’t do TV commercials or endorsements.

“I refuse,” he said another time. “I’d rather spend time in other ways.”

Pat Riley, the Hall of Fame coach and stylist, once said the Spurs are “the most emotionally stable team in the league.”

That’s because it is a team in Popovich’s image. He picks the players, he builds the team, he molds them and has constructed a franchise that has always eschewed endearing to be enduring. It’s all added up to the best record in the Western Conference again, an NBA record 14 consecutive 50-win seasons, 16th straight trips to the playoffs and puts him on the doorstep of history, all in one place.

After 900 wins, Pop won’t be going anywhere but straight ahead. (more…)

Najera Busts Barriers From Bench Now

FRISCO, Texas — During the first round of the 2010 playoffs, in his second stint with the Dallas Mavericks — the team and the city he always called home no matter where roamed in the NBA — Eduardo Najera decided to shake things up.

The Spurs were doing a number on the Mavs in Dallas and the muscular, 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forward had seen enough of the slap-and-hack defense on Dirk Nowitzki. So when Manu Ginobili drove the lane, Najera collared him and Ginobili crashed to the floor. The foul deserved to be and was called a flagrant 2, garnering an automatic ejection. But Najera had grabbed everyone’s attention.

“It was kind of frustrating to watch some of them hit Dirk in the face,” Najera would say. “So I just came in and tried to prove a point that we’re going to fight back. And that’s what’s going to happen.”

As a player, Najera, still the only Mexican-born player ever drafted in the NBA, never had to search for an identity. He simply was physical, intense, hard-nosed and unrelenting. Don’t mistake the Ginobili foul; Najera wasn’t a dirty player, but he wasn’t afraid to take the fight to the opponent.

These days those attributes don’t translate so well wearing a suit. As a rookie coach of the NBA D-League’s Texas Legends, developing an identity, a sideline demeanor, just doesn’t come as naturally.

“I am pretty intense,” Najera said. “I really believe that my identity as a player has carried on to this level as a coach. Yes, I call it the way I see it. I don’t treat players differently, they are all the same to me and I go off on one through 15, and that includes my assistant coaches.” (more…)

Carlisle Seeks Win No. 500 Tonight At OKC

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle probably never imagined it would take 47 games this season for his team to get 20 wins.

So, naturally, it’s taken a little longer for him to join the exclusive 500-win club. It’s been that type of a hard-coaching season for Carlisle, who will become just the fifth active coach to reach 500 career wins with the Mavs’ next victory. It could happen tonight, although it won’t be easy as Dallas is in Oklahoma City (8 p.m. ET, League Pass) to take on a Thunder team in a bit of a lull after finishing up seven of eight games on the road.

Carlisle has amassed a 499-352 (.586) record in 11 seasons with Detroit, Indiana and Dallas, where he has won 218 games in now his fifth season, the longest tenure of his career. The only active coaches with 500 wins are Gregg Popovich (1,295), George Karl (1,104), Rick Adelman (989) and Doc Rivers (570). Carlisle is one of just four active coaches, along with Popovich, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and Rivers, to win a championship.

Carlisle will become the 28th coach in NBA history to achieve 500 wins. Only seven coaches have reached 1,000. One is Larry Brown (No. 6 all-time with 1,098 wins), the man who replaced Carlisle a decade ago in Detroit after he led the Pistons to the Eastern Conference finals in just his second season. Brown and the Pistons won the title the next season. Brown now coaches just up the road at SMU.

“I think it’s the only team I ever took over with a winning record and I said immediately when I got the job that the values that he has are no different than the values that I have,” Brown said. “It was an easy transition for me because they were taught the right way. He knows that, we talk about it all the time. I inherited a team that was fundamentally sound, that knew how to play, they cared about their teammates, they guarded every single night, played hard every single night. I coined the phrase, ‘Played the right way,’ and he started that.”

Carlisle emerged as one of the game’s truly gifted coaches with his deft handling of a veteran Mavs team that rolled up the Trail Blazers, Lakers, Thunder and finally the Heat in winning the 2010-11 championship, the franchise’s first.

And who knows how much more quickly Carlisle might have reached 500 if late Pistons owner Bill Davidson had not jumped at the chance to hire the legendary Brown; and then later at Indiana if the “Malice in the Palace” brawl in Detroit had not thrown the franchise into chaos. Still, Carlisle managed to guide that injury- and suspension-riddled 2004-05 Pacers team to the playoffs and a first-round upset of Boston.

He spent one more season at Indiana before taking a year off working as an analyst at ESPN. Then, Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban brought him to Dallas to coach Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd.

So far this season Dallas is 0-2 against the Thunder. Yet, who would have figured both games would go to overtime?

Perhaps Carlisle has something special up his sleeve to nail down No. 500.