Posts Tagged ‘Lionel Hollins’

Coaches Divine The Carousel, NBA Cycle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Coaches: Heat Is On Already

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer Dreaming: Defensive Player Of Year

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HANG TIME, Texas — These are the dog days of summer. They get their name from Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog), which long ago used to rise just before the sun at this time of year.

The Romans believed that during the dog days, the sea boiled, wine turned sour and dogs grew mad, causing diseases, fevers and hysterics among men.

Today we just see them as a reason to pop open another cold one and pop open our imaginations to look ahead and come up with the 2013-14 NBA award winners.

Today we’re celebrating the dog days by barking out my top candidates for Defensive Player of the Year. Send me yours.

Dwight Howard, Rockets — Assuming he’s healthy, assuming he’s happy, assuming he wants everyone to put the bad memory of last season with the Lakers in the rear view mirror, this is one race that should be no contest as Howard reestablishes himself in Houston to prove a point. With no pains in his back, shoulder and posterior (compliments of Kobe Bryant) to hold him back, the former three-time Defensive Player of the year takes control under the basket for the Rockets and lets the world know that he’s back. Yes, there is all the buzz and excitement about what Howard can do off the pick and roll with Jeremy Lin and James Harden at the offensive end. Yes, he’ll work with Hall of Fame tutor Hakeem Olajuwon to try to expand his post moves. Yes, he’ll get to see up close every day in practice from his coach how Kevin McHale carved out his place in the Hall of Fame with solid fundamentals. But if Howard just goes back to being the monster who used to roam the middle for the Magic, he’ll be worth every penny of his four-year, $88-million contract.

LeBron James, Heat — After four MVPs, back-to-back titles and a pair of Finals MVPs, what is there left for James to do to polish his legacy? Why not win MVP award No. 5 in the same year that he is named Defensive Player of the Year? It’s a feat accomplished previously only by Michael Jordan (1988) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1994) and shows that level of greatness that James has achieved. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast, he’s quick and you don’t want to see his shadow coming from behind when you’re at mid-court with the ball and trying to get to the basket to finish. There are those who say he takes too many possessions off. There are those who criticize by saying he only gets the toughest defensive assignments in the fourth quarter. The truth is they are only picking nits, because that’s pretty much all that’s left to do. His competition now is strictly with the history books and if James decides to set his mind to being the best in the league at this end of the court, he could pull off the MVP-DPOY double.

Serge Ibaka, Thunder –  Three-time former winner of the award Dwight Howard said that it should have gone to Ibaka over Marc Gasol last season. His reasoning was that the guy who blocks the most shots is the best defender. Ibaka did set the pace with an average of 3.03 per game. The Thunder big man is clearly the best rejector in the league, at least and until Howard returns to form. In a league where quick, slashing guards are constantly trying to get to the hoop, rim protection is key for any would-be contender. But Ibaka really should improve on his help defense, rotations and overall court awareness in order to be considered the top defender in the league. For flash and the big block, Ibaka’s got everything but the Dikembe Mutombo finger-wave and that attracts the notice that will always have him among the top three on most ballots.

Tony Allen, Grizzlies — Teammate Marc Gasol received the votes, the notoriety and the award last season, but those closest to the Grizzlies and to inner workings of the game itself — i.e. head coaches — will tell you that it’s Allen who puts the real sharp edges and teeth into The Grind House. There is nobody in the league who relishes a 1-on-1 matchup more. He’s in your face, in your game, practically in your jersey, a nettle that becomes more painful and bothersome as the games get late. There is nobody who will throw himself into a defensive challenge more. If the Grizz are going to keep that defensive identity that was instilled in them by former coach Lionel Hollins, it’s probably going to be a result of Allen working the locker room, working the huddles and working his buns off on every defensive position. There is a reason that the league’s head coaches, who vote for the All-Defensive teams, gave Allen the highest number of first team votes, tying LeBron James.

Andre Iguodala, Warriors — If you were stitching together the ideal wing defender in a laboratory, the 6-foot-6 Iguodala with a 6-11 wingspan might be the product that would eventually climb down off the operating table. He gets plenty of credit for being one of — if not the best — on-ball defenders in the league with his size, speed and quickness. But that is also the end result of his excellent off-ball defense as he uses video study and his own sharp, calculating mind to deny players from getting the ball in positions where they want it in the first place. He understands angles, tendencies and rotations. Coach Mark Jackson has been preaching defense for two years with the Warriors and adding a ballhawk like Iguodala to a lineup that already includes Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson is going to produce turnovers, steals, transition buckets and a Defensive Player of the Year profile that could rise as the Warriors continue to improve.

PREVIOUSLY: Sixth Man of Year | Most Improved Player | Rookie Of Year

New Breed Of GM Ushers In New Coaches

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – At NBA.com, the eight men who will make their NBA head coaching debuts next season are being profiled. Today’s feature is Boston Celtics youngblood Brad Stevens.

Eight rookie head coaches in one season is a notable development in a league known for recycling the position (depending on Philadelphia’s hire the number could reach nine).

Consider that last season’s Coach of the Year and 25-year bench boss, George Karl, is out of work, as is Lionel Hollins, who molded a 24-win team when he took over into a Western Conference finalist last season. In Denver, Brian Shaw has been awarded his first head-coaching gig and in Memphis, Hollins’ top assistant, Dave Joerger, is being given his first shot.

So why are teams suddenly investing in new blood? Is it simply cost-cutting? Is it a belief that new ideas, concepts and techniques are needed to sustain success in today’s game?

“For me, as a first-time GM, and where we are, we need to build something in Phoenix and I wanted to give a guy a chance who maybe hadn’t  been a head coach before,” said recently hired general manager Ryan McDonough, who chose Jeff Hornacek to lead the Suns. “I considered guys who had been coaches before, but the vast majority of candidates I interviewed had assistant coaching experience, but had never been NBA coaches before.”

The words to highlight: “…as a first-time GM…” This summer’s coaching evolution is due, in no small part, to a mounting front-office revolution. More franchises are handing the keys to bright, young minds to make decisions on player evaluation and acquisition.

McDonough, 33, represents the next-generation of NBA general managers — or perhaps more accurately, the now-generation. They’re salary-cap educated, savvy, motivated and highly invested in advanced metrics and new technologies sweeping the league. They don’t have on-court pedigrees like their predecessors, but they have tirelessly worked their way up through video rooms and scouting departments of NBA franchises. Evaluating a player’s skill, versatility and potential goes hand-in-hand with assessing his dollar value under today’s salary-cap, tax-heavy collective bargaining agreement.

McDonough hired assistant GM Pat Connelly, the younger brother of Tim Connelly, the recently hired 36-year-old executive vice president of basketball operations for the Denver Nuggets. Tim Connelly hired the first-timer Shaw, a tag-team that will learn the ropes together.

“I don’t think it will be a difficult transition,” said Tim Connelly, who replaced Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri, just 39 when the Nuggets promoted the former international scout to general manager in 2010. Ujiri now heads the Toronto Raptors’ front office. “There’s only 30 people with these jobs and we’re both [he and Shaw] fortunate to take over a team that’s had a lot of regular-season success.”

Of the eight rookie head coaches, three were hired by first-time general managers. In the case of Sacramento’s Mike Malone, he was hired by still-newbie owner Vivek Ranadive, who then hired first-time general manager Pete D’Allesandro, 45.

“When I was in Boston,” said McDonough, who worked under Celtics general manager Danny Ainge for a decade, “I kind of always had it in my mind that if I got a GM job I would give a first-time head coach a chance.”

In Memphis, CEO Jason Levien, 40, took control of personnel decisions last season. He parted ways with Hollins and promoted Joerger. Last summer, Orlando chose Rob Hennigan, 31, as GM to consummate a trade for Dwight Howard and reshape the team. Hennigan hired first-time coach Jacque Vaughn. Hennigan’s former boss is Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti, who was also 30 when he took charge of the then-Seattle SuperSonics. Presti hired first-time coach Scott Brooks to lead the Thunder.

In Dallas, owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, the longtime Mavericks decision-makers, surprisingly hired Gerrson Rosas, 35, away from Daryl Morey‘s front office with the Houston Rockets to serve as general manager.

Major League Baseball first embraced the analytics movement so prevalent in today’s NBA, and also seems to have cracked the door for the NBA’s front-office youth movement. The Boston Red Sox made then-28-year-old Theo Epstein the youngest GM in baseball history. Epstein built a powerhouse that ended the infamous “Curse of the Bambino” with two World Series titles. The Texas Rangers soon hired Jon Daniels, who was also 28 when he took control. During his tenure, the Rangers made both of the franchise’s World Series appearances.

The old-school GM played the game and then moved “upstairs.” As precision dollar allotment continues to play a larger role in overall player evaluation, the position is trending toward sharp, young minds, students of the game who never actually played in the NBA, and were only learning how to read when Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak was in his prime.

Blogtable: Rookie Coaches




Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Surprise Teams | Teams Likely to Fall | Rookie Coaches


Which rookie coach faces the hardest job this fall? Which one has the easiest?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Dave Joerger in Memphis faces the hungriest fan base and greatest ambitions, in my opinion. The Grizzlies were capable of more last spring and, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t be going the rookie-coach route at all after Lionel Hollins‘ fine work there. Joerger might be up to the job, but it is a challenging one. As for easiest, I’m going with whoever gets the Philadelphia job. Anyone hired so late, signing on to the agenda the 76ers clearly have embraced, will have a multitude of ready excuses and plenty of wiggle room. (Almost said Boston’s Brad Stevens because of the length of his deal and the Celtics’ obvious rebuild but just because Danny Ainge says something is so doesn’t mean that city’s diehard fans will fall in line and withhold judgment.)

Nets' new head coach Jason Kidd.

Nets’ rookie head coach Jason Kidd.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Right away you’d have to say the guy in Philly will have the hardest job, since the Sixers might not make a decision and pick a new coach until an hour before tipoff on opening night and it’s always a little more difficult to win games when you haven’t met all of your players.  On the other hand, Mr. X in Philly could have it pretty easy because it’s clear the Sixers are going into the tank for the next year or two.  But seriously, it’s going to be tough for Jeff Hornacek to turn the Suns around.  He’s got plenty of point guards and little else.  While it’s never easy to be a head coach in the NBA, I do think Jason Kidd will benefit from having the veteran know-how of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Andrei Kirilenko on his roster.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Sure, Stevens will have it rough in Boston, but everybody knows that. I’ll refer back to the start of my answer for question No. 2. Joerger takes over a Grizzlies team that won a franchise-best 56 games and advanced to the West finals for the first time in the club’s existence (it can be argued they wouldn’t have if not for Oklahoma City’s injury misfortune). So what do they do? Say adiós to coach Lionel Hollins, who built a 24-win team into a contender. As Hollins’ top assistant, Joerger gets a lot of the credit for the Grizzlies’ vaunted defense, but the heat is on to turn a plodding, offensive team into a higher-scoring one and to keep the financially tight-fisted Grizz on a track to contend. Steve Clifford and whoever takes over in Philly have the easiest jobs. Things can’t get much worse in Charlotte, so expectations are incredibly low and everybody already expects the 76ers to tank.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Hardest job? Michael Malone, Kings. Not only does he have the typical challenges of taking over a losing roster, needing to build a defense and helping to change the culture, but he has the atypical heavy lifting of trying to keep DeMarcus Cousins in a happy place. Ask Malone’s predecessors how that goes. Easiest? Dave Joerger, Grizzlies. I wouldn’t necessarily say easy, because this is the rare case when a rookie coach must immediately produce big results, but the former assistant knows the personnel very well and skips the rebuilding work most of his fellow newcomers face.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Steve Clifford and Mike Malone haven’t been given a lot to work with, but one look at the Suns’ roster makes it clear that Jeff Hornacek is going to need a miracle to make it to 20 wins next season. And beyond the lack of talent, he has to deal with Michael Beasley for seven months. With the combination of talent and veteran leadership in Brooklyn, Jason Kidd has it (relatively) easy. He’s also got the most pressure of any of these guys.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I loved the aw-shucks reaction of Brad Stevens when he was introduced as the Celtics’ new coach, but he’ll have the most thankless job in basketball next season. Sure, none of the pundits will expect the Celtics to contend with all of the bodies that have flown out of the city since the 2012-13 season ended. But that won’t stop die-hard Celtics fans from dreaming about their team doing their unthinkable and contending with a back-from-injury Rajon Rondo leading the new charge. When you’ve grown as accustomed to winning as folks in Boston have over the years, breaking bad for a season or two will not be pleasant. Easiest coaching job in the NBA? When guys who win 50 games, put together the best seasons in their respective franchise histories and win NBA Coach of the Year honors and still get canned … “easiest” is not an appropriate term. Brian Shaw inherits some intriguing talent in Denver, arguably the best talent base of any “rookie” coach, and yet he might have the toughest job of all following the reigning and fired Coach of the Year George Karl.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Jason Kidd has a tough road ahead of him. I suspect the path will be smoothed a bit because he’ll be dealing with so many veterans, but he’ll also be dealing with sky-high expectations, placed there by his owner. The easiest job? What about Steve Clifford in Charlotte? Could the expectations be any lower?

Projecting The West Playoff Order



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Adding Dwight Howard to a Los Angeles Lakers team that was one of the top teams in the Western Conference was supposed to vault the Lakers into the championship elite last summer.

It never happened. Howard and Steve Nash failed to move the needle for the Lakers, who had to claw their way to a seventh seed in the playoff chase, only to be swept by the San Antonio Spurs.

So please forgive me for not crowning the Houston Rockets prematurely. They’ve got Howard in the fold now, adding the best big man in basketball to an explosive core that includes All-Star James Harden and a solid supporting cast.

Legitimate playoff outfit?

Absolutely.

But contenders … not so fast my friends.

They should be in the mix. And as coach Kevin McHale told NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury, they should be able to “play with anybody.” Playing with the best and beating the best come playoff time, however, are two very different things. Just ask the Los Angeles Clippers, who thought they had arrived last season and were disposed of in the first round of the playoffs.

We’ve already delivered our projections, based on what we know now, for the Eastern Conference playoff-chasers for the 2013-14 season. These are the projections for the Western Conference:

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

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Any suggestions that the Thunder would be better off without Russell Westbrook at the controls were answered in the playoffs. The Inside The NBA crew (above) knows as well as the rest of the NBA-watching masses. OKC was a shell of its regular-season selves without the All-Star point guard, who suffered a knee injury in their first-round series against Houston. Kevin Durant is a behemoth, the second best player in the league behind LeBron James, but no one superstar is going to climb the Western Conference mountain on his own. The Thunder are in a precarious position because all of their competitors seem to be making power moves to catch and surpass them. Without sufficient cap space to deal themselves, they have to rely on a rock-solid core group maintaining their respective positions. That means Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins have to show better than they did in the playoffs. Reggie Jackson has to play a more prominent role this season and appears to be ready for that. And Jeremy Lamb has to move into a regular spot in the rotation as well. Rookie Steven Adams, the 12th pick in the Draft, is more of a project right now. But the Thunder don’t need him to be an impact player. Not if everyone stays healthy and Westbrook returns to form.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS

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When training camp begins, the Spurs will probably still be answering questions about the championship they let slip away. Two 30-second intervals during Games 6 and 7 of The Finals got away from them and cost Tim Duncan title No. 5 and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili title No. 4. And make no mistake, that trio, and Duncan in particular, is the key to the Spurs getting back to that stage again. If Duncan can crank out another fountain-of-youth, All-NBA-type performance like he did this season, the Spurs have a shot to rule the Western Conference again. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green emerged during the playoffs as more than just young prospects. Leonard could be a legitimate All-Star candidate himself if he picks up where he left off in The Finals. The Spurs always find a way to mine the Draft and free agency for young talent to incorporate into their system. But they won’t need as much assistance with both Ginobili and Tiago Splitter sticking around in free agency. Keeping their biggest stars healthy and rested, something coach Gregg Popovich paid for dearly last season, is of the utmost importance. As long as they do that, a top-four spot in the playoff chase should be a given.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

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With all apologies to Howard and even Chris Paul, the biggest fish of the free-agent summer of 2013 was coach Doc Rivers — not one of the players projected to be the big prize. The fact that Rivers was under contract for three more years in Boston when the summer began makes what the Clippers did even more remarkable. Not only do the Clippers get one of the best coaches in the game, they got a senior vice president of basketball operations who paid immediate dividends by keeping Paul in free agency and helped them add J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley in trades. They had to move backup Eric Bledsoe and veteran swingman Caron Butler to make it happen, but they replaced him with Darren Collison. And they still have the key component from that explosive bench crew in Jamal Crawford, whose role could increase dramatically without Butler, Chauncey Billups or retired veteran Grant Hill in the mix. The one glaring issue they have is their frontcourt tandem of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. They weren’t up to the challenge against the Grizzlies and it cost the Clippers in a first-round defeat. Are they willing to accept the challenge Doc will pose to them? He won’t allow them to be outworked on defense and will demand they show the toughness that has eluded them in the past.

HOUSTON ROCKETS

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Welcome to paradise Jeremy Lin. Now you can officially put Linsanity behind you and play the role of facilitator. The real superstars are on the roster now, as both Harden and Howard will be the opposition’s focus every night. Lin, Patrick Beverly and Chandler Parsons have clearly defined roles on this team before they ever hit the floor together in an official capacity. Howard makes life easier on all of the Rockets’ specialists and role players, not to mention his fellow starters. Guys like Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Greg Smith and even Omer Asik, should he stick around and back off his trade demand, will find out just how different life can be with a healthy, happy and motivated Howard operating in the middle. Despite two straight down seasons (by his own lofty standards), he still led the league in rebounding and looked like he had shaken off the ill effects of his back surgery. McHale has to pull this all together quickly to ensure these young Rockets don’t get swallowed up by the expectations sure to come with their newfound celebrity.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

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Adding Andre Iguodala essentially at the expense of Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack, two key veterans who gave the Warriors superior bench production and quality locker room leadership, might not seem like a steep price to pay for some. But when you already have Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes on the roster … let’s just say that is a luxury most teams wouldn’t indulge this early in the process of trying to build a contender. The Warriors showed us some serious flashes of being a big-time player in the Western Conference for years to come with the work they did in the playoffs. They had the Spurs plenty nervous in the conference semifinals. But their shortcomings came back to bite them in the end. And they didn’t solve those issues in the Draft or free agency. Andrew Bogut and David Lee will have loads of work to do this season, provided they both make it to training camp. Both of their names surfaced in trade rumors leading up to the Draft and through the first week of free agency. Lee is an All-Star and, when healthy, an absolute force. But Bogut, due to injuries, has only shown glimpses of what he’s capable of. And at this stage of his career, a $14 million spot starter is certainly not a luxury the Warriors can afford.

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

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How important was Lionel Hollins to the Grizzlies during their run to the Western Conference finals? We’re going to find out this season. Because for all of the promise Dave Joerger brings to the position, there is no denying the impact Hollins made on Zach Randolph and reigning Kia Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol. And even Hollins couldn’t get them in a comfortable groove against the Spurs. The Thunder proved that nothing is guaranteed from one season to the next, not with injuries and the race for the top spot being as competitive as it has ever been in the rugged Western Conference. Bringing this group — Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince, too — back intact might not be sufficient for returning to the Larry O’Brien final four tournament. The Grizzlies didn’t have the flexibility to tinker with the roster in free agency. The one change they could have made that could shake things up was to replace Hollins. By doing so with a guy who is familiar with this roster gives them some advantage that a completely fresh face would not have recognized. It won’t take long to see if Joerger has a handle on those intangibles. And if he does, the Grizzlies will climb this list.

DENVER NUGGETS

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The Nuggets will survive a tumultuous offseason that struck three significant blows to a team that seemed to be on the rise before yet another first-round playoff exit. The NBA’s Executive of the Year, Masai Ujiri, bolted for Toronto. The league’s Coach of the Year, George Karl, was relieved of his duties. And Iguodala is set to be signed and traded after agreeing to terms on that deal with the Warriors. That would normally be enough to knock a top team all the way back down to the lottery. The best move they’ve made so far this summer was hiring Brian Shaw to replace Karl. He’ll bring a steady hand to what was a shaky situation. The Nuggets will have an active and talented frontocurt rotation to work with in Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee, Darrell Arthur and free-agent pickup J.J. Hickson. Wilson Chandler will step in for Danilo Gallinari, who continues his recovery from knee surgery, and Evan Fournier, Corey Brewer and Randy Foye will provide depth on the wing. Ty Lawson and Andre Miller combined to form one of the league’s best 1-2 punches at point guard and they should be allowed plenty of freedom to operate in the system Shaw will employ. The Nuggets will continue to play at a tempo that suits their talent and home environment. They shouldn’t lose anything defensively either. Shaw isn’t the wild card that some of these other new coaches (Jason Kidd, Brad Stevens) could be in other situations. So don’t expect the Nuggets to crumble just because they’ve lost a few familiar faces.

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

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No team endured more maddening injury issues this season than the Timberwolves. A healthy Kevin Love, however, changes their playoff outlook dramatically for the 2013-14 season. With their talent and dept, a legitimate run for the final playoff spot is not as far-fetched as it might seem. Ricky Rubio should be full healthy this season and the Timberwolves retained Chase Budinger, added Kevin Martin and have to do whatever it takes to keep restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic in the fold. Sure, it’s been a professional sports eternity since the Timberwolves last breathed playoff air (Kevin Garnett was still wearing the uniform in 2004). But coach Rick Adelman finally has the horses to make some serious noise. The franchise’s new head man, Flip Saunders, was the coach of that 2004 team that made the Western Conference finals, so he knows exactly what it takes for a Minnesota crew to cash in on its promise. It starts with Love and Rubio, their two biggest stars, staying healthy and playing up to their immense potential, both individually and as a dynamic duo.

JUST MISSED THE CUT: Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers

The Western Conference Gets Tougher At Top, But Is It Really A Power Shift?

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Dwight to Houston and Iggy to Golden State. What a day. So, how much did Friday’s free-agent action shift the balance of power in the Western Conference? Perhaps the biggest shift will be the return of a healthy Russ in Oklahoma City come November.

The West certainly got more top-heavy and more intriguing on a wild day that finally delivered Dwight Howard‘s decision, however awkwardly. The big man is leaving the domineering Kobe Bryant and his rapidly aging Los Angeles Lakers to join The Beard, James Harden, and his young-and-gunning Houston Rockets.

While Howard spent Friday in Aspen, Colo., surely studying the California state tax hit on the $30 million more the incumbent Lakers could pay him, the Golden State Warriors’ aggressive front office was busy selling off expiring contracts to create the cap room needed to reach a rather stunning agreement with Denver free agent Andre Iguodala. It positioned the Warriors perfectly to craft a deal if the desperate Lakers bellied-up seeking a sign-and-trade for Howard while simultaneously strengthening their club for next season if not.

Still, did Dwight to Houston and Iggy to Golden State boost either team to the level of the West champion San Antonio Spurs, to OKC with Russell Westbrook returning or even to the Doc Rivers-coached and Chris Paul-led Los Angeles Clippers?

The West is so stout at the top that while Houston and Golden State began to emerge last season with Harden coming to the Rockets and Steph Curry rising to star status in the playoffs (and both teams will co-chair the NBA’s committee for must-watch teams next season) they might find themselves battling it out for homecourt advantage in the first round. And that’s having not even mentioned the post-Lionel Hollins Memphis Grizzlies now under rookie coach David Joerger returning as a top-five team.

But back to Iguodala and his one-year stopover in Denver. If there is a power shift in the West it’s the potential for a Nuggets avalanche down the standings to open a spot in the top four. Denver finished the season as the No. 3 seed, but since Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL in early April it’s been a steady stream of body blows. Denver lost to Golden State in the first round. Coach of the Year George Karl was fired and executive of the year Masai Ujiri left to run the Toronto Raptors. Now Iguodala is gone and Denver might be on the playoff bubble.

As for the Lakers, it’s disingenuous to talk about the loss of Howard as creating a major power shift within the conference. L.A. hasn’t escaped the second round in three years and with Howard last season it squeaked into the playoffs in the final days of the season as the seventh seed. Kobe Bryant hopes to be back for the start of the 2013-14 season, but there’s no guarantee as he recovers from a torn Achilles tendon.

With a roster badly in need of patching all over, might the Lakers, who — ready for this? — apparently chose a future with Mike D’Antoni over the 27-year-old Howard, be the most likely candidate to fall out of the top eight and open a playoff path for a lottery team such as the loaded — and presumably healthy — Minnesota Timberwolves?

Huh, the Timberwolves passing over the Lakers? Now that would be a power shift.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 123): Featuring Brad Turner Of The Los Angeles Times

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The 2012-13 season came to a spectacularly thrilling end on the court with the Miami Heat repeating as NBA champions by prevailing over the  San Antonio Spurs in an epic seven-game series, which is exactly the way you want a season to end.

But we are far from finished here at the hideout. Not only do we have to analyze what went on in The Finals (the legacies of LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker, Chris Bosh and Manu Ginobili were all on the line, Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra, too) we’ve also got the Draft on tap Thursday night from Brooklyn and the latest twists and turns on the coaching carousel (Doc Rivers from Boston to the LA Clippers as head coach and senior vice president of basketball operations, Brian Shaw from Indiana to Denver and Dave Joerger making the 18-inch move from assistant to head coach in Memphis).

Our main man Brad Turner, a HT fave (that’s him on the intro) and the Clippers beat writer for The Los Angeles Times, has been all over the Rivers/Clippers story and joins us to help break down how it all came together … why getting Doc is so crucial to the Clippers keeping Chris Paul in free agency and how this teams will morph from the talented but suspect group we’ve watched the past two seasons into championship material worthy of a city that recognizes rings and nothing less.

You get all of that and so much more on Episode 123 of the Hang Time Podcast … 

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Report: Grizzlies Pick Joerger As Coach

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The coaching vacancies in the NBA are suddenly filling up fast. Hours after the Denver Nuggets tabbed Brian Shaw as their new coach and the Los Angeles Clippers pried Doc Rivers away from the Boston Celtics with a future first-round Draft pick, the Memphis Grizzlies found their man as well.

They have elevated former assistant Dave Joerger to become their new coach, according to ESPN.com. Joerger takes over for his former boss, Lionel Hollins, who could be at the top of the list to replace Rivers in Boston. The Grizzlies zeroing in on Joerger, however, is a move that has been rumored for weeks:

Joerger, who has spent the past six seasons on the Grizzlies’ bench, will succeed his former boss, Lionel Hollins. Hollins compiled a 196-155 record after taking over for Marc Iavaroni midway through the 2008-09 season.

The 39-year-old Joerger emerged as a favorite for the position after Grizzlies management granted Hollins permission to seek other coaching opportunities. Before turning to their longtime assistant, the Grizzlies formally interviewed former Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry and Chicago Bulls assistant Ed Pinckney for the post, and also entertained the idea of bringing on high-profile names such as former Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl.

Prior to the 2010-11 season, Joerger was tasked by Hollins to oversee the Grizzlies’ defense, which was ranked 25th in efficiency in 2009-10. In the three seasons under Joerger’s direction, the defense has improved from ninth overall in 2010-11, to seventh in 2011-12, then ranked second in the NBA during the Grizzlies’ historic 2012-13 season.

Before arriving in Memphis, Joerger coached in the International Basketball Association, the Continental Basketball Association and the D-League, where he won five titles in seven seasons as a head coach.

The fact that the Grizzlies passed on several more high-profile names, most notably Karl, the reigning NBA Coach of the Year, says something about the confidence the front office has in Joerger’s potential.

He’s taking over a team that improved dramatically in each of the past five seasons. They reached the Western Conference finals this season, where they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs.

Hollins made it clear that he wanted to sign a new contract to continue coaching in Memphis, but a division between his style and philosophy and that of the analytics-focused front office did not mesh and Hollins was not offered a new deal.

Now we’ll see what Joerger, who is plenty familiar with the Grizzlies’ colorful roster, can do with this group that Hollins could not.

NBA Won’t Allow Celtics-Clippers Deal



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics don’t have to worry about finalizing their on-again, off-again trade for Celtics star Kevin Garnett and coach Doc Rivers.

NBA rules won’t allow it, so for the second time in three days, this proposed deal is dead.

Both sides were reportedly informed days ago that the league would not sanction such a deal, per Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, and NBA Commissioner David Stern has weighed in as well:

In a radio tour in the hours before Game 7 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, commissioner Stern appeared on several programs and put this saga out of its misery. His strongest comments came on ESPN Radio in New York, where Stern said, “The teams are aware that the collective bargaining agreement doesn’t authorize trades involving coaches’ contracts.”

The only incentives other than player contracts that are permitted in NBA trades, Stern said, are draft picks and cash.

“The teams know that,” Stern said. “It has been confirmed to them. … It can’t be gotten around by breaking it up into two transactions.”

Stern said — and a person familiar with the communication between the league and the teams confirmed — that there is no separating the two deals at this point because it is obvious all the pieces are part of the same negotiation.

“If you think those, at this point — having been all over the media for the last week — are separate transactions … I have a bridge that I would very much enjoy selling to you,” Stern said.

Stern’s words make it clear that it’s time to throw dirt on this deal and bury it under fantasy basketball trade scenarios that will never see the light of day.

And the league’s concerns are valid. Since when can coaches, whose salaries and true value cannot be adequately gauged or accounted for under the collective bargaining agreement, become a part of a negotiated trade?

It remains unclear whether Rivers and Celtics boss Danny Ainge have come to an understanding about a mutual parting of the ways. Reports out of Boston had them meeting Wednesday evening and possibly today to discuss the future of the franchise and the rebuilding process that could be on the horizon and what role Rivers would play, if any, in that reboot.

Meanwhile, the Clippers have kept their coaching search going (reportedly narrowing things down to Pacers assistant Brian Shaw and former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins in recent days) through all of the rumors about Rivers joining them to coach not only Garnett but prized free agent Chris Paul.

Where this drama goes next is anyone’s guess. But the Commissioner has made it clear to all involved that the rumored deal, in whatever form it’s in right now, will not pass league muster.