Posts Tagged ‘Lionel Hollins’

Challenges await Knicks’ coach Fisher

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Fisher introduced as coach of Knicks

Veteran coaches George Karl and Lionel Hollins are still knocking on doors. Longtime assistant and former New York Knicks great Patrick Ewing still can’t get a sniff for a head coaching job even as 19 of the league’s 30 teams decided to hire new coaches since the end of last season.

Including Ewing’s old Knicks with their new president with the famous limp and all that bling.

Phil Jackson wanted to keep his coaching search within his Triangle-of-trust, so to speak, so once former top choice and former Chicago Bulls sharpshooter Steve Kerr spurned him to take the Golden State Warriors’ gig, Jackson tapped the next man up, freshly retired Derek Fisher. The former Los Angeles Lakers point guard put a wrap on a distinguished 18-year career following the Oklahoma City Thunder’s loss in the Western Conference finals just 11 days ago.

On Tuesday, the dapperly dressed Fisher was introduced as the 26th coach of the New York Knicks. Jackson, and Knicks owner James Dolan, awarded him a five-year, $25-million contract to breath some blue-collar life into a high-ego and seemingly incongruent, salary-cap-strapped roster.

Fisher, although, promptly pointed out, as any smart coach would, that he’s more optimistic about the immediate potential of his new team than are most observers.

“I’m not as down on the roster and the team as some of you in the room are,” Fisher said, smiling at reporters gathered at Madison Square Garden.

Fisher has always been something of a political animal.


VIDEO: Fisher talks about his experience

He was also the perfect set-up man and emotional stabilizer to play next to the Lakers’ high-strung star. Fisher was a steady, level-headed and intelligent quarterback who didn’t need to score to be satisfied, but was always ready to take the big shot. He made plenty of them along the road to five Lakers championships with Kobe and Phil.

Fisher, 39, never was the natural talent or showman like Jason Kidd, his now-crosstown coaching rival in Brooklyn who preceded Fisher by one year in making the rare move of stepping out of the locker room and into the coach’s chair.

But like Kidd, Fisher enjoyed a long career as a successful floor general and garners a high level of respect from the league’s players. With Oklahoma City for parts of the last three seasons, Fisher gained the trust and admiration of the Thunder’s front office and coach Scott Brooks, and served as a hybrid assistant coach-mentor-sounding board for the team’s two young stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

“He’s well-respected in the locker room, knows the game of basketball, great basketball mind and he’s been in situations before,” Durant said during the Thunder’s exit interviews. “Having those guys that respect you and you have that experience, it helps. He’s a great leader, a great communicator … he works extremely hard and he’s dedicated.”

Jackson’s belief is that Fisher will forge a similar relationship with currently discontented Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, assuming he re-signs.

Even if Anthony stays, Fisher’s new job is going to be tough. The roster, despite Fisher’s early protestation, is in tatters. The Knicks do not have a first-round draft pick and because the team’s 2014-15 payroll is already pushing well into the luxury tax, Jackson’s hands are mostly tied to make impactful changes this summer.

It makes Fisher’s situation more dire than the one Kidd inherited after he retired from the Knicks following the 2012-13 season and surprisingly stepped into the Nets’ top job. Kidd took over a better roster, buttressed by former Celtics greats Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and one essentially free of troublemakers. Although the season started shakily with Kidd absorbing heavy criticism, even though early injuries played a significant role, Kidd eventually found his footing and the Nets finished the season strongly, advancing to the second round.

Fisher got a taste of wait awaits before he even woke up this morning. Eccentric shooting guard J.R. Smith proclaimed on Twitter in the early morning hours that he’s done with his sixth-man role:

Perhaps Jackson is taking a big risk by hiring a man with no coaching experience to handle this job. Jackson said he’s betting on Fisher’s experiences playing with this generation’s players, calling Fisher “hip-hop-ready.”

And even the most accomplished coaches, such as Karl, would have a devil of a time flipping these Knicks back into the 54-win team they were just a season ago. With Fisher, Jackson at least knows he’ll always have his ear and will always be on the same page. Jackson can guide Fisher’s entrance into the profession as a firm rudder and in shaping the style the Knicks will bring to the Garden floor.

Then it becomes about Jackson earning his $60 million and crafting a roster of players that can execute the game plan — and stealing Durant as a free agent in 2016 shouldn’t be Plan A, at least not yet. The cold, hard truth is this rebuild is going to take time and patience.

“He always tries to tell you and let you know what’s right,” the Thunder’s Westbrook said of Fisher. “It may not be what you want to hear all the time, but what’s right is what’s right.”

Words Fisher will want to continue to live by as a rookie head coach making the leap onto a very big stage.


VIDEO: Jackson, Mills talk about Fisher’s qualities

Morning Shootaround — May 29


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Stephenson key in Pacers’ big win | Report: Cavs to interview Lue, Hollins | Adams grows as a shotblocker | Bosh opens up on his Miami transition

No. 1: Lance is Lance … and the Pacers get a big win — When the Indiana Pacers were off to their stellar start during the regular season, the player who perhaps provided the biggest spark — both in his play and his attitude — to Indiana was Lance Stephenson. Sure, All-Star and MVP type Paul George was Indiana’s top offensive option and he was last night in a must-win Game 5, dropping 21 fourth-quarter points on Miami to save the Pacers’ bacon. But the up-and-down play of Stephenson after the All-Star break played a big role in the Pacers’ flubs down the stretch and into the postseason. Stephenson was in full-on “Born Ready” mode last night and as our Steve Aschburner details, it kept Indiana hyped (and Miami annoyed) all game long:

Lance Stephenson made a, er, spectacle of himself in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday, cavorting against and annoying the Miami Heat with a performance that was one part Metta World Peace, one part J.R. Smith and, apparently, one part baseball slugger Manny (Being Manny) Ramirez.“Lance being Lance” is how one Miami player after another characterized the Indiana guard’s antics at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. His repertoire of annoyances ranged from exaggerated and pestering contact with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to sticking his beak into a sideline huddle between Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and guards Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers.

Then there was the coup de grace, blowing into James’ ear while the two waited for action to resume at one point.

Asked later if he ever had thought about blowing in someone’s ear as a defensive tactic, James responded: “Probably my wife. I blew in my wife’s ear before. That was definitely a defensive tactic.”

Generally, the Heat reacted with a collective shrug. They’re the two-time defending champions. Stephenson is a 6-year-old, or at least sometimes acts like it.

“I’m as annoying as the next guy, but even for me there are lines,” Heat forward Shane Battier said.

…Stephenson had generated buzz previously in the ECF. Before the series began, his throwaway remark about running around enough to make Wade’s knee ache got portrayed by some media types as disrespectful or antagonistic. Then he got caught up in a trash-talking controversy with James, contending that he had exposed a “sign of weakness” in the Heat superstar when James actually yapped back at him briefly.

That’s probably why James took no bait Wednesday.

“Lance is Lance,” he said. “He’s going to do what he needs to do to help his team win. As to the leaders of our team, we’re going to do what it takes to help our team win.”

Said Pacers forward Paul George: “It’s Lance being Lance. He’s been special for us, and whether he’s scoring the ball, making plays, causing confrontation, Lance is special and there’s a reason why we gain an edge and some opportunities during games. A lot of it comes from Lance.

“So we need that. He’s always got to make sure he’s monitoring it, but I didn’t think nothing was out of the spirit of the game.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses Lance Stephenson’s play in Game 5

(more…)

Brooks keeps on pushing right buttons for Thunder

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Scott Brooks speaks after OKC’s practice on Wednesday

OKLAHOMA CITY – Since everybody else with an armchair coaching degree lobs criticism at the Thunder’s Scott Brooks, including, apparently, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Brooks figured he might as well sneak in a dig of his own.

During his team’s series-evening blowout of the San Antonio Spurs in Tuesday’s Game 4, guard Reggie Jackson rolled his ankle early in the first quarter. Brooks was asked his thought process as Jackson hopped around in pain and feared potentially to be out of commission.

“I was a little worried with Reggie when he hurt it in the first few minutes,” Brooks said. “I didn’t want to make a change in the lineup to get ridiculed, so I wanted to make sure I could get him a couple more possessions.”

Hey-O!

It was a rare shot of snarkiness from Brooks, who took to the postgame podium moments after Spurs coach Gregg Popovich belittled a reporter for asking a supposedly inaudible question because, as Popovich suggested, the questioner was oddly speaking with a mouthful of food. Brooks’ public speaking consists almost exclusively of monotone, mostly polite and low-key responses.

He rarely, if ever singles out players for criticism and steadfastly sticks to a script of optimistic, team-oriented answers. He consistently deflects credit onto his players and almost never inserts himself into the equation.

“No, that was a joke,” Brooks insisted of his spontaneous postgame wit after the Thunder’s light workout Wednesday. “That was my sense of humor. It’s a little dry at times.” (more…)

Morning Shootaround — May 26


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Six serious bidders for Clips | Report: Lakers to interview Hollins | Stephenson jabs at LeBron (again) | Would Spurs have shot at Love?

No. 1: Report: Six serious bidders for Clippers — Over the weekend, Yao Ming and Grant Hill were among the new names to enter the fray as potential purchasers of the Los Angeles Clippers if/when they become available for sale. If you’ve lost count of exactly how many people are serious bidders for the team, though, the number — according to ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne — stands at six. Here’s more on who is on that short list:

Shelly Sterling has received inquiries from at least six serious bidders for the Los Angeles Clippers, sources told ESPN on Sunday. Shelly Sterling reached an agreement with her estranged husband, Donald Sterling, to negotiate a sale of the franchise after he was banned for life and fined $2.5 million by NBA commissioner Adam Silver on April 29.

Sterling’s attorney, Pierce O’Donnell, is handling the sale with Bob Baradaran, a managing partner at his law firm Greenberg Glusker, and Darren Schield and Doug Watson of Beverly Hills Properties, a real estate company owned by the Sterling family.

Shelly Sterling was scheduled to meet with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on Sunday to discuss a possible sale of the team, according to a report on TMZ and later confirmed by ESPN.

While Ballmer was a part of the effort to bring the NBA back to Seattle last year, he said in a Wall Street Journal article last week that he is open to owning a team elsewhere.

“If the opportunity is outside of Seattle, so be it. I will learn about any team that comes up for sale at this point,” Ballmer told the Wall Street Journal. “If I get interested in the Clippers, it would be for Los Angeles. I don’t work anymore, so I have more geographic flexibility than I did a year, year-and-a half ago. Moving them anywhere else would be value-destructive.”

For her part, Shelly Sterling would not consider selling the team to any group that intended to relocate the franchise, a source told ESPN.

Among the issues Shelly Sterling is considering, the source said, are the substantial tax obligations she would incur from the sale.

According to IRS rules, the Sterlings would have to pay a federal long-term capital-gains tax of 20 percent and a California tax of 13.3 percent. The tax would be on the difference between what the team was bought for and what it is ultimately sold for. If the team is sold for $1 billion, the Sterlings would be taxed $328.5 million on the sale. Sterling bought the team from Irv Levin in 1981 for $13.5 million.

(more…)

NBA coaching carousel in full swing

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters discuss Mike Brown’s latest ouster in Cleveland

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The list stands at seven. As of this moment.

Give it a few hours and that could change.

Such is life in the roller-coaster business that is NBA coaching. Much like the playoffs, things change quickly in a tumultuous environment where everyone is looking for an advantage, for the one perfect fit that can boost a team to the next level.

Mike Brown was gainfully employed in his second stint as the Cleveland Cavaliers coach until Monday morning, when he joined a list that includes Mike Woodson, Mark Jackson, Mike D’Antoni and others who were pink slipped since the end of the regular season.

The best part: Many of the guys on the ousted list are candidates for the other jobs.

We take a quick look at what is available and the coach who fits each vacancy best:

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

This one is fresh. There were rumblings for months that Brown’s latest run in Cleveland was not going to end well. Once it started to become clear that general manager David Griffin would get the interim tag removed from his title,  it was only a matter of time before he’d part ways with Brown, a defensive-minded coach who simply could not corral a young group led by the talented but enigmatic backcourt duo of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. The Cavaliers were expected to make a run at the playoffs and did give chase late in the season — after Andrew Bynum was cast off, Griffin took over for the fired Chris Grant, and Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes were added to the mix via trade. But the Cavs couldn’t manage the eighth seed in a depressed Eastern Conference playoff chase. What they need is a system designed to fit Irving, who has to be the No. 1 priority for Griffin moving forward.

The best fit: Mike D’Antoni. He has history with Griffin from their time together in Phoenix. All Kyrie has to do is ask some of his former point guards what working in D’Antoni’s system has done for their careers.

DETROIT PISTONS

Another team that was expected to contend for a playoff bid, the Pistons posses an interesting assortment of talent — including  Andre Drummond, Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, Greg Monroe and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — that Mo Cheeks couldn’t figure out what to do with during his short stint at the helm. John Loyer had no chance of cleaning up that mess after Cheeks was fired. There were too many things that needed fixing. Without someone in place to take over for long-time team president Joe Dumars (who resigned at season’s end and is now serving as a consultant), it’s hard to know what direction the Pistons are headed in at such a crucial time in the franchise’s history. What’s needed is strong leadership from the bench, someone who can blend the bold personalities in that locker room into a cohesive group.

The best fit: Mark Jackson. Jackson’s issues in Golden State had nothing to do with his roster. The Warriors ran through brick walls for Rev. Jackson. The Pistons would do the same.

UPDATE: According to reports, Stan Van Gundy has agreed to become the Pistons’ coach and president of basketball operations.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

With Steve Kerr reportedly no longer an option for the Warriors, they wisely have turned their attention to candidates with completely different sets of credentials. Both former Magic and Heat coach Stan Van Gundy and former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins have moved to the front of the list. Van Gundy, whatever his faults might have been in his previous stops, is still held in the highest regard among front-office types around the league. He’s gotten consistent results and is a known commodity. Hollins brings a measure of toughness to any situation. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee, Draymond Green and the crew are plenty feisty. And this is as explosive an offensive group as there is in the league. All that’s needed now is some steadiness and leadership that balances the entire equation.

The best fit: Lionel Hollins. People forget that Hollins had the Grizzlies in the Western Conference finals last season. He ran into a bit of a philosophical disconnect in Memphis with the front office. He’ll know how to navigate that relationship much better this time around.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS

If they’d just listened to Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson might still be coaching the Lakers and they might still be in the contender mix in the Western Conference. But as Lakers fans know all too well, Jim Buss decided a long time ago that his vision for the future of the franchise trumped anyone else’s. The Lakers have paid for that dearly the past two years, hiring and firing guys (the Mikes, Brown and D’Antoni) who had no chance to fill the enormous void left by Jackson. Now the Lakers have a two-year window with Bryant (and whoever and whatever else they can pull together for a roster) to try to regain some semblance of the championship-caliber form they’ve lost. Keep in mind that this remains the most difficult job in the entire league, one that shouldn’t be thrust upon a coaching newbie like Derek Fisher (as has been widely speculated) just because of his ties to the organization. Then again, if he has Kobe’s blessing and endorsement …

The best fit: Stan Van Gundy. Kobe needs someone who will agitate his competitive juices in a different way than either Brown or D’Antoni ever could. He needs someone who will refuse to acquiesce to his every whim, the way Jackson did when he was in his prime. Stan Van is just crazy enough to do all that.

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

How much longer can the Timberwolves, with talents like Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, go without breaking through to the playoffs? That’s the question Flip Saunders has to answer as he searches for a replacement for Rick Adelman, who despite being one of the best and most respected coaches of his generation, simply never could manage to get the Wolves into the playoffs. Bold leadership is required in this job, someone who will develop Rubio into the complete point guard he has to be in order to take that next step in his career. The superstar-friendly coach isn’t always the best fit, either. There are times when a star needs to be challenged. The Timberwolves appeared to get comfortable under Adelman. The next coach has to raise the bar.

The best fit: George Karl. His style doesn’t work for everybody. And when it does, there’s no long-term guarantee the organization can suffer his demanding ways. But if Karl could work as well as he did, for the most part, with Carmelo Anthony, he should be able to do wonders for Love and Rubio.

NEW YORK KNICKS

The drama surrounding this job revolves around one candidate and only one candidate. Steve Kerr. He is reportedly working out the details on a deal that will reunite him with his one-time coach, the Zen master Phil Jackson, so they can dive in on the long and arduous task of trying to rebuild the Knicks into an Eastern Conference power and championship contender. Kerr will have a host of challenges, financial and otherwise, that are sure to make it a more difficult task than anyone realizes. The salary cap mess and the free agent uncertainty surrounding Carmelo Anthony means the next coach, be it Kerr or someone else, will have little flexibility in terms of roster makeup, until the summer of 2015. As we know now, there is no guarantee a coach makes it through that first year on the job. Kerr’s connection to Jackson and the fact that they have a shared philosophy certainly works in his favor. But that James Dolan factor is always lingering.

The best fit: Steve Kerr. The one no-brainer marriage between the team president/GM and coach in the entire landscape.

UTAH JAZZ

Jerry Sloan is not walking through that door, folks. It’s not happening, no matter how much Jazz fans would love to see him at the helm of a young and precocious group, led by promising young point guard Trey Burke, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter. The Jazz have a pair of first-round picks, one a top-five selection, giving them two more quality young pieces to add to a nucleus that, while not necessarily prepared for prime time right now, if cultivated properly should serve as a key part of the foundation for years to come. The tricky part for Kevin O’Connor, Dennis Lindsey and the rest of the Jazz brass is whether to go off the grid for their next coach (four-time Euroleague champ Ettore Messina‘s name has been mentioned often) or follow the recent trend of locating a Steve Clifford-type. Their process couldn’t be more inclusive. They announced they would interview some 20-plus candidates for the job.

The best fit: David Fizdale. The Miami Heat assistant has developed a reputation for being one of the best molders of talent in the business, having worked his way up the ranks the past decade-plus. He’d be a fresh face in a situation where one is desperately needed.


VIDEO: Golden State GM Bob Myers waxes on the Mark Jackson firing and what’s next

Warriors or Knicks for Kerr? Go west!

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Inside Crew discussed Mark Jackson’s future with the Warriors before he was fired Tuesday

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Steve Kerr doesn’t need professional advice from me or anyone else.

But as a concerned colleague, I’m going to give it anyway.

STAY OUT OF NEW YORK!

Seriously.

Listen to everything they have to say. Soak it all up. But no matter how much they sweeten the offer, no matter how intoxicating the idea of joining force with Phil Jackson sounds, you need to resist that urge. Don’t make this an emotional thing. Keep it about business. Strictly business.

If you’re going to dive into these nasty coaching waters, where guys get fired with winning records, after 51-win seasons that include playing in Game 7s of playoff series, do it somewhere other than New York.

The Knicks are not yet ready for the sort of success that can be attained with the core group the Golden State Warriors have assembled. And if you are indeed atop their wish list as well, that’s an opportunity you cannot let pass.

The Warriors fired Mark Jackson this afternoon, surprising no one with the decision to part ways with their coach of three seasons after three straight years of improvement.

The Warriors made the playoffs in two of the past three seasons after making it just once in the 17 seasons before Jackson arrived.  They made it in back-to-back years for the first time since 1991 under Jackson, whose 51-win season this year wasn’t enough to save him from Tuesday’s chopping block.

That first round exit against the Los Angeles Clippers, a Game 7 for the No. 6 seed Warriors against the No. 3 seed Clippers, was again, not enough to save Jackson. Neither was candid and extremely public endorsements from the Warriors’ most high-profile players, including the face of the franchise, All-Star point guard Steph Curry.

But sometimes a fresh perspective is warranted.

Kerr brings that, the same way Jackson did when he was hired.

The window for most coaches to keep a team locked in on their vision is roughly three to four seasons anyway. Walking into that Warriors situation now is the ideal time for someone who has been crafting their own vision of the game and how he’d want his team to play in this era, could be a dream scenario for the right coach.

With a ton of experienced coaches, guys like George Karl, Stan Van Gundy, Byron Scott, Jeff Van Gundy, Lionel Hollins, Mike Woodson and others all available, the Warriors should have no shortage of candidates interested in coaching a team capable of  doing what we’ve seen out of the Warriors under Jackson?

In short, the Warriors have plenty of options. And since they didn’t worry about Curry’s feelings regarding Mark Jackson’s future with the franchise, they probably won’t bother consulting with their franchise player in the selection of Jackson’s replacement.

In years past I’d have worried about a franchise making a move like that. But not now. Not in this day and age of players and coaches making moves of their own in free agency and trades (Doc Rivers from the Celtics to the Clippers seems to have worked out well in LA).

If the Warriors’ front office feels as strongly about Kerr as most insiders believe they do, hence their quick decision on Jackson while the Knicks were trying to negotiate a deal with Kerr, the only thing left to do is make it official.

I’m going to miss Kerr’s sharp analysis on TNT and during March Madness, like plenty of others.

But if he’s hell-bent on coaching, on doing it to win and win big, then it’s pretty obvious to me where that needs to happen. And as much as I love the mystique and intrigue of what could be in New York, the better spot right now has to be in Oakland.

Jack Ramsay: A game, a life, a vision

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Whether it was as an octogenarian fitness fanatic skipping rope in a hotel exercise room, those bushy eyebrows dancing above his piercing eyes as he discussed the game he loved or watching one of his teams pass and cut and blend in perfect harmony, the images of Jack Ramsay are all about movement.

The 89-year-old coaching legend who died of cancer Monday morning was relentless in his beliefs about physical training, mental preparation and the correct way to play basketball … and never stopped actively promoting them.

As a native Philadelphian just learning about the game, it was Ramsay’s overachieving St. Joseph’s Hawks teams that swooped up and down the court of the historic Palestra in the early 1960s that first captured my attention and admiration.

In my first year covering the NBA, it was Ramsay’s harmonious vision of the game — move without the ball, make the extra pass, play as one — that made his Trail Blazers of Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas, Bobby Gross, Johnny Davis, Lionel Hollins, Dave Twardzik and the rest NBA champions in 1977. They had such style and elegance and were in tune that you could almost close your eyes and hear music.

Those Finals were the perhaps the greatest contrast in styles ever, pitting Ramsay’s Blazers against the prodigious one-on-one talents of a 76ers roster that included Julius Erving, George McGinnis, Doug Collins, Darryl Dawkins and Lloyd Free.

During one practice at The Finals, the Sixers, coached by Gene Shue, spent most of an hour jacking up jump shots, exchanging dunks and killing time. McGinnis took time out to smoke a cigarette in the bleachers. A short time later, the Blazers entered the same gym and began running though layup lines and precise drills as if they were in a Marine boot camp. (more…)

Grizzlies deserve praise for grit, grind and playoff perseverance

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Grizzlies scratch out a crucial win against the Suns

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — You’ll have to forgive the Memphis Grizzlies for scoffing at the idea of a short NBA regular season.

For a team that suffered through a tumultuous 15-19 start to 2013-14 after making the 2013 Western Conference finals, the Grizzlies 34-14 finish (which includes Monday night’s playoff-clinching win over the Phoenix Suns) is a testament to the power of the grit-and-grind movement the that has been cultivated in Memphis the past few seasons.

We counted them out early, there’s no shame in admitting it now.

But they persevered, kept the playoffs in their sights and battled their way through for that final playoff spot. The Suns are being praised for fighting their way into the playoff mix in a season that most of us assumed would end exactly where it did … in the lottery. It’s the way the Suns went about their business, though, that captivated the basketball-loving public.

This season, they were surprising, exciting and as entertaining to watch as any team in the league. Even though it goes against everything I believe in, this is one of those rare times where I would advocate a change to the traditional playoff structure, if only to watch the Suns play four or five more games.

Jeff Hornacek will get the love he deserves in the Coach of the Year balloting, just as Goran Dragic and Gerald Green will get their due during awards season. Their accomplishments will be appreciated in the end.


VIDEO: Zach Randolph talks after the Grizz top the Suns in Phoenix

The Grizzlies, whose style isn’t nearly as pleasing to the flash-and-dash crowd, are just as worthy of our attention. So while it’s fine to bemoan the Suns just narrowly missing out on the postseason, we should spend just as much time heading into the postseason appreciating the fine work of new coach Dave Joerger as well as Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Tony AllenCourtney Lee, Mike Miller and the rest of Memphis’ relentless crew.

“This is a culmination of not just this week or not just March or April, this is a culmination of everything we’ve been through since December,” Joerger said after the clinching win over the Suns. “For these guys, it’s a happy locker room, a relieved locker room and just a bunch of very proud guys with great chemistry.”

A Grizzlies front office that was second-guessed repeatedly (here and beyond) throughout the course of this season for replacing Lionel Hollins with Joerger (and other decisions) should be feeling good that their calculated risks paid off.

In a business notorious for the what-have-you-done-lately belief to determine a franchise’s success, the Grizzlies’ brass went against the grain and proved the haters wrong. They beat back every theory that said they shouldn’t finish the season with a playoff bid, and that includes the in-house data model constructed by vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger 

The folks who should be really worried about the Grizzlies grinding their way into the postseason live in San Antonio and Oklahoma City. The Spurs and Thunder are the ones who’ll have to deal with Randolph, Gasol, Allen and Conley by the weekend. They’ll be someone else’s headache in a few days and that’s an issue that every other team in the Western Conference playoff mix would admit to not wanting to deal with.

“No one wants to play Memphis in the first round,” an assistant coach for a Western Conference team told me weeks ago, long before the final spot was locked up. “With Z-Bo and Gasol you’re going to get your big men beat up right away. That’s not a good look for anybody. They’re attacking you in the middle and with that physical style. You have to survive them in a playoff series.”

The Grizzlies have added weapons this year in Miller and Lee, guys who can stretch the floor in ways the Grizzlies have not been able to in the recent past. Had Gasol not missed 22 games with injury, there’s no telling how high the Grizzlies might have finished in the standings.

With everyone healthy and the Grizzlies’ collective playoff experience, there isn’t a more dangerous team in the entire postseason landscape. They might not be the darlings that the Suns were all season, but the Grizzlies are certainly the sort of team anyone should be able to appreciate this time of year.


VIDEO: Zach Randolph scores 32 in the playoff-clinching win over the Suns

Morning Shootaround — April 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Knicks back in playoff race | Noah: Bulls won’t be ‘soft’ down stretch | Hollins ready to coach again | Noel readying for Summer League play | D’Antoni, Kaman bury hatchet?

No. 1: Knicks show playoff fight vs. Nets — Entering last night’s Knicks-Nets game at Madison Square Garden, New York found itself on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture and facing a Brooklyn team that has perked up over the last few months. But an inspired performance from Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the Knicks powered New York to a 110-81 rout that, combined with Atlanta’s home loss to Chicago, lifted the Knicks into the No. 8 spot in the East. While New York has the playoff berth this morning, finishing off the task is a tall order … and one that it may be up to, writes George Willis of the New York Post:

Maybe this how it’s going to work out for the Knicks. Maybe this is the way they’ll secure the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference and qualify for the postseason.

The schedule that sees them playing their final seven games against teams with winning records was supposed to work against them. But maybe just maybe, it will work for them as it did Wednesday night against the Nets at Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks played with energy, passion and aggression, shooting 60 percent from the field, forcing 15 steals and dominating in rebounds 41-23. The Nets, meanwhile, looked like a team hung over after a playoff-clinching celebration.

The team that set a franchise record with its 14th straight home win one day earlier played uninspired against the Knicks.

“We’re playing for something,” Knicks point guard Raymond Felton said. “They’re already in the playoffs. We’re trying to get into the playoffs and capitalize on these wins and see what happens.”

Next come the Wizards on Friday, followed by games against the Heat, Raptors, Bulls, the Nets again and the Raptors. All those teams have clinched playoff berths.

Jobs and even careers are hanging in the balance. Newly named Knicks president Phil Jackson was at the Garden, trying to figure out who might stay next season and who needs to leave.

Coach Mike Woodson’s chances of remaining go from slim to none if the Knicks don’t make the playoffs, and the idea of remaining with the franchise might not be as attractive to Carmelo Anthony when he becomes a free agent in the offseason.

“We want to get there,” said Anthony, who scored 23 points. “That’s the goal. Despite this up and down season, it will be a big deal to get in the playoffs. That is our goal and we are fighting right now.”

Though percentage points ahead of the Hawks for the eighth spot, the Knicks will need to keep winning to secure their position.

The Hawks have what is viewed as a more favorable schedule with games against the Bobcats, Bucks, Pistons and Cavaliers. But those teams have nothing to lose, while the teams the Knicks play have less incentive to win.

Maybe this is how it’s going to work out for the Knicks.


VIDEO: Coach Mike Woodson talks about New York’s big win against Brooklyn

***

No. 2: Bulls won’t try to lose way into better matchup — Given Chicago’s never-say-die attitude since coach Tom Thibodeau has been at the helm, what Bulls center Joakim Noah had to say after last night’s win over the Hawks should come as no surprise. The Bulls are the East’s No. 4 seed and would face a surging Brooklyn Nets squad if the playoffs started today. That matchup might be a challenge for Chicago in some senses, but don’t expect it (or Noah, for that matter) to try and lose games and get into a better matchup, writes Nick Fridell of ESPNChicago.com:

The Chicago Bulls didn’t tank games earlier in the season when they lost Derrick Rose to another season-ending knee injury and traded Luol Deng to Cleveland, so they aren’t going to do so now even if it means a better matchup in the playoffs. Bulls center Joakim Noah made that clear after the his team’s 105-92 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.

“We’re just trying to play good basketball,” Noah said. “There’s no way in hell we’re going to try and lose games to match up against anybody. I think whatever happens, happens, so we’re just going to keep playing our game, keep winning as much as we can, and then (we) can’t wait for the playoffs.”

“I think losing games to try to play somebody, I think that’s soft,” Noah said. “That’s soft. We’re not soft.”

Noah’s comments shouldn’t come as a surprise given how outspoken he was when it came to the notion of tanking games earlier in the year. When asked in January what he would say to fans who thought the Bulls should lose games on purpose to give themselves a better chance in the draft lottery, Noah made his feelings known.

“What do I say to those fans?” Noah told ESPNChicago.com after the Bulls’ 128-125 triple-overtime victory Wednesday over the Orlando Magic. “I don’t say nothing to those fans. It’s all good. You’re allowed to have your opinion. It’s just … that’s not a real fan to me. You know what I’m saying? You want your team to lose? What is that? But it’s all good.”


VIDEO: The Bulls pick up a win in Atlanta on Wednesday

***

No. 3: Hollins ready to coach again– Former Memphis coach Lionel Hollins has done OK for himself since the Grizzlies decided not to renew his contract after last season’s end. He’s working parttime for NBA TV and co-hosting an NBA show on SirusXM Radio and enjoying life away from the NBA grind. But Hollins, as Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune reports, sounds more than ready to get back into a coaching job should one present itself:

Life is uncomplicated for Lionel Hollins these days.

The former Trail Blazers guard and NBA head coach is working as a studio analyst for NBA-TV and hosts a two-day-a-week NBA talk show on Sirius radio.

“I get to see my kids more often. Recently saw my grand baby in Arizona. I’m reading books again. Went grocery shopping the other day. I get to spend a lot of time on my charity. Get to support the charities of other people who have supported mine over the years.

“The freedom to not be in a gym, at practice, in a meeting … I’ve had an opportunity to enjoy what life is all about again.”

Though Hollins has enjoyed his time away from coaching, don’t get the wrong idea. Hollins would have liked nothing more than to have been on the bench with the Grizzlies when they played Portland at the Moda Center on Sunday. He’d love to be coaching Memphis, or another team, when the playoffs arrive in a couple of weeks.

“Of course,” Hollins says when asked if he’d like to return to the coaching ranks. “I miss coaching. What I miss is the teaching … the development of the team and the players. … the players working together and watching them grasp it mentally, and then have them go out and do it physically.”

Hollins pauses, then adds, “Don’t take this the wrong way. I mean no disrespect to Dave Joerger (his successor as Memphis coach). But anybody (the Grizzlies) hire, if he lets the players play the way they want to play, they’re going to win. They know how to win. When I got there, they didn’t know how to win.”

Hollins fell victim to a change in ownership and management. Former owner Michael Heisley sold the club to a group led by California tech billionaire Robert Pera, now 36. Jason Levien, an attorney and former sports agent who had worked in the front office of the Sacramento Kings, became CEO and managing partner of the Grizzlies. Levien took over the basketball operations from Chris Wallace, who remains the club’s vice president/general manager in title only.

“It seemed like they had their minds made up when they came in,” Hollins says. “They had an agenda of how they wanted to do things, and what they wanted to spend. I didn’t fit into that.

“I can accept that. It’s their prerogative. But when you look at the big picture, you say, ‘Wow, you’ve had some pretty good success.’ If I were at FedEx, for instance, I wouldn’t fire the employees who made it successful.”

The bottom line is very important to Pera and the new ownership group. Money surely played a part in Hollins’ demise, but there were other issues.

In the weeks that followed Hollins’ ouster, other reasons emerged through “inside sources.” That Hollins couldn’t accept analytics and the advanced scouting metrics that are becoming increasingly in use in pro sports. That he clashed with John Hollinger, the one-time Portland resident who is an analytics devotee hired last season by the Grizzlies as vice president/basketball operations. That Hollins bellyached about the midseason trade that sent small forward Rudy Gay to Toronto for Tayshaun Prince, a deal that save the Grizzlies millions in future salary. That Hollins was having increasing problems communicating with his players.

There is some truth to all of this. Hollins is an old-school coach, a strong personality who has developed a coaching style through the years based on a high level of expertise and intuitiveness about his players and how to put together a team. There was an incident with Hollinger at practice, during which Hollins loudly objected to his interference with a player. Hollins says he spoke with Hollinger afterward and that both men apologized to each other. (Hollinger did not return a pair of phone messages.)

“I have no problems with John,” Hollins says. “I have no problems with analytics. The only problem I have is with the idea there’s just one way to do things. You look for every advantage and whatever tools you can utilize to help your team be better. Part of that is having relationships with the players I have to deal with every day.

“It’s not just numbers. I’m dealing with emotions and egos and sensitivities and insecurities. It’s easy to say these guys need to play so many minutes and this group is the best group to have on the floor at the particular time. It’s not cut and dried like that.

“I want to be perfectly clear, I have no problems with analytics. I expressed that to management here. If there is a sophisticated mechanism to help us win, I’m all for it. But there has to be a balance. I don’t think basketball is as numbers-oriented as baseball, for instance. A coach knows who he can count upon at different times during a game. It’s why I trusted Zach (Randolph) to walk up there and make free throws at the end of a game. It’s a feeling that has nothing to do with numbers. The experiences a coach has cannot be discarded completely.”

After being fired, Hollins interviewed for vacancies with Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers.

“With the Nuggets, I don’t think I was high on their radar,” he says. “If Doc (Rivers) had stayed in Boston, I think I’d have been the Clippers coach. Doc was the better fit, and he’s a great coach. They made a good hire there.”

Hollins says he chose not to pursue an assistant coaching job in the NBA. “I’ve been a head coach the last five years,” he says.

Would he take a head coaching job in college? “It would have to be a really good opportunity,” he says.

Does Hollins think he’ll get another NBA head-coaching job?

“I have no idea,” he says. “I think I will, but with certainty? No. I have confidence I will, yes. But we’re in a crazy business.”

***

No. 4: Sixers won’t see Noel take court until Summer League – If you’ve paid attention to the comings and goings of hobbled Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel and the team’s plans to get him ready for the NBA, you already know the team has been rebuilding his jumper, watching him progress in workouts and drills and saw him try to tease of a debut this season (which Philly quickly shot down). While Noel won’t play this season, one place you will be able to see him is during the 2014 Summer League, writes Dei Lynam of CSNPhilly.com:

The date Nerlens Noel tweeted that was speculated as being his Sixers debut is only three days away.

Noel had fans excited when he initially sent that message out on social media, but now it’s the big man’s coaches that are getting riled up about his progression.

“The first thing that I have fallen in love with is that he is beyond competitive,” coach Brett Brown said after Thursday’s practice. “There is a dog in him, a toughness in him that I misjudged.

“He doesn’t talk a lot, but he is a fantastic listener. You go through all those months shooting one-handed with him and then you see him come out here.”

With just eight games remaining it seems unlikely Noel will participate in a contest this season. However, Brown would not confirm that. The coach simply reiterated the special ability he sees in the center and how that bodes well for the franchise’s future.

“He is a fierce competitor and that is the number one quality for me that makes someone special,” Brown said. “Then you get into the athleticism. He has a bounce. People that can block a shot, hit the floor and go back up are special and he can do it with both his right hand and left hand.”

Noel will likely participate in a game for the first time since February of last year during this summer when the Sixers field a summer league team. When Noel does finally take the court how will that year and a half out of action with an ACL tear impact his game?

“He’ll do what everybody does — he will play too fast,” Brown explained. “He will try to rush things. He won’t let the game come to him. He will try to impose himself on the game. He will be very erratic. He will be turnover prone and foul prone.

“He’ll do all those things, but that’s to be expected. But for him to be doing what he is doing now in itself is exciting and this city should be really excited.”

Brown doesn’t know how much or how little the Sixers will play Noel whenever the center returns to game action. The coach just knows it will be a process and he will trust his gut.

“We won’t make him play 38 minutes and try to force feed it,” Brown said. “We will go at a pace that is realistic and see how he goes. It will be more of a gut-feel formula than anything. We won’t be shy with him, but we will be smart.”


VIDEO: Brett Brown talks about Nerlens Noel’s progress of late

***

No. 5: D’Antoni, Kaman burying the hatchet? — Just a little over a week ago, Lakers center Chris Kaman was openly complaining to the media about coach Mike D’Antoni‘s gameplan and useage of him this season. But it appears a chat with D’Antoni’s agent may have helped Kaman see just how hard D’Antoni’s job has been and softened the tension between the two, writes Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

Warren LeGarie, the agent for embattled Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, was doing all the talking.He was doing the pointing, jabbing his index finger into Chris Kaman’s chest. LeGarie also stood up periodically to yell down at the Lakers center hunched in a courtside seat Tuesday night, ball in his lap, postponing his pregame court work to listen.

Head bobbing in emphatic declarations, LeGarie gestured numerous times toward the Lakers bench where D’Antoni is positioned during games. Kaman threw his hands up a few times but had little to say to LeGarie, who represents so many NBA coaches and executives that he qualifies as more of a power player in this league than any 7-footer.

Kaman is the type who has done far more talking than listening in his life, and some of his talking this season has been about D’Antoni’s rigid, uncommunicative, distrustful coaching of the Lakers while not giving Kaman consistent playing time. Just one week earlier, Kaman had revealed that D’Antoni hadn’t talked to him for the previous three weeks.

D’Antoni has one more guaranteed season left on his Lakers contract, and the club is leaning toward retaining him despite some privately disgruntled players and massive public disdain. It’s not clear which way the organization will go with him.

But Kaman’s 15-minute conversation with LeGarie ended with the agent yelling two words to Kaman: “Thank you. Thank you.”

After the Lakers’ 124-112 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers was complete, I asked Kaman about his pregame chat with LeGarie and whether it had given him any new perspective on D’Antoni’s situation.

“We were just talking,” Kaman said. “We were just talking about everything. He’s just a good buddy of mine.”

I asked Kaman where he stands now in his feelings about D’Antoni.

“It’s been a tough year for him, as it has been for a lot of guys,” Kaman said. “Me, in particular, just being in and out, in and out, just trying to figure my way through all of this, I can sort of put myself in his shoes and try to look myself in the mirror and say, ‘What would I do if I was him?’ And it’s hard to answer that question; it’s a tough position.

“Especially with all the injuries we’ve had and all the different things we’ve had to go through, I think it’s no easy task for a coach. Especially with the Lakers. This is a first-rate organization, and they do things better than most. They’re used to winning, and it’s a lot of pressure. And all these injuries didn’t make it any easier for him.”

Bear in mind, just one week ago Kaman was saying this season was “by far” and “tenfold” worse than any other in his 11-year NBA career.

While not naming a name and saying “it doesn’t get anyone anywhere” to spout negativity with the season a lost cause, Kaman said last week that the key to good coaching is “being a mediator as opposed to being someone in authority all the time. It’s about putting little fires out—small fires here or there—and keeping everybody’s egos together and managing that. Players know how to play if you give them enough guidance in the beginning.”

Late Tuesday night, when I asked Kaman if D’Antoni’s communication could’ve been better, Kaman said generously: “It always can be better with any coach, not just Mike. It’s such a big balance to be a head coach. It takes a lot. It takes a lot out of you. You see guys who can’t even finish years sometimes; they have to defer and hand it over to someone else. It drives people nuts.

“It takes a special person to coach a team, and in this day and age, the way the game is played, it’s a lot of pressure. You get two, three years, maybe, and then you’re outta there if you don’t produce. It’s no easy task. So I’ve got to look myself in the mirror and put myself in his shoes; it’s tough. It isn’t easy. With all the injuries and everything, it’s hard to say what would’ve happened if we would’ve had a healthy team.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Some potential bad news for the teams gunning for this year’s NBA Draft Lottery: Kansas’ Joel Embid and Duke’s Jabari Parker may end up staying in schoolDaniel “Boobie” Gibson is eyeing a comeback next season … Lakers young big man Jordan Hill will not re-sign with L.A. unless he will have a bigger role next season … Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko, who has a player option for next season, will decide to stay or leave based on Detroit’s next coachDonnie Nelson says he expects Samuel Dalembert to be back on the Mavs next seasonGreivis Vasquez has learned to humble himself as a backup point guard in Toronto …

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Ummm, why was Marcin Gortat in the middle of the Celtics’ huddle last night?

You all know we love Kenneth Faried around here when he’s in full “Manimal” mode, as he was last night against the Pelicans.

And, lastly, there are deep 3-pointers … and then there’s this shot Paul George nailed last night against Detroit …


VIDEO: Marcin Gortat joins the Celtics’ huddle


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried runs wild in Denver’s win over New Orleans


VIDEO: Paul George nails a stand-still 3-pointer from just inside halfcourt

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(more…)