Posts Tagged ‘Mike D’Antoni’

Morning shootaround — July 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Team USA rolls in opener | Paul George shines in long-awaited return for USA | Harden looks forward to fresh start | Ingram’s tough road to the NBA

No. 1: Team USA rolls in opener — They might have had just four days of practice together, but Team USA came out in their exhibition opener and looked nothing like a team that needed more time to bond. Behind prime time performances from Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George, Team USA coasted to a 111-74 win over Argentina. And as Steve Aschburner writes, it was a dominant performance from start to finish…

By halftime, the USA led 56-33, thanks largely to a 35-15 rebounding edge that produced second chances and defensive pressure that stymied Argentina’s attack. Led by Carmelo Anthony‘s three steals and Cousin’s two in the first 20 minutes, the NBA stars shook loose 14 turnovers and turned them into 25 points. All those offensive rebounds — they grabbed 19 of their missed shots to Argentina’s 14 defensive boards in the half — showed up in a 19-2 advantage in second-chance points.

George, playing for USA Basketball for the first time since fracturing his right leg in an August 2014 intrasquad scrimmage, shot 6-for-9 with a pair of 3-pointers. Cousins had nine points and 10 rebounds in the half, while DeAndre Jordan maintained USA’s inside advantage with six points and four boards.

Andres Nocioni scored eight points in the first half, and Manu Ginobili had six. Argentina was better from distance — 6-for-14 on 3-pointers vs. 4-for-12 on 2-point field goals — thanks to cleaner looks. In the paint, USA dominated in the half 34-6.

Taking better care of the ball in the third quarter — just two turnovers — Argentina stayed even with the Americans at 80-56. They got 22 shots, compared to 26 in the first half, and only allowed USA one offensive board.

The Americans got their swagger back in the fourth, though, outscoring Argentina 24-8 through the first six minutes of the quarter.

The game was the first of five that Team USA will play over the next 11 days before heading to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The Americans will play the Chinese national team twice — Sunday in Los Angeles and Tuesday in Oakland — before traveling to Chicago and Houston for games against Venezuela and Nigeria, respectively.

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No. 2: Paul George shines in long-awaited return for USA — It was two years ago in Las Vegas during an exhibition that Paul George suffered a gruesome broken leg that changed the course of his career. Now back and healthy, George came off the bench to score 18 points last night for Team USA, and as Yahoo’s Michael Lee writes, George showed everyone that he’s all the way back …

George is back in the Team USA fold, ready to complete what he started before his career was interrupted by what he now calls a “bump in the road.” The venue for George’s long-delayed international debut changed to the brand-new T-Mobile Arena, but he admitted playing an organized game in Las Vegas again was “eerie.” Any uneasiness quickly subsided shortly after Krzyzewski brought him off the bench in the first period. After scoring 18 effortless points in an emphatic 111-74 demolition of Argentina, George was quick to state that the injury that rocked USA Basketball was “behind me.”

All week, George’s Olympic teammates avoided discussing with him a setback that he has little interest in reliving but remains a defining moment in his career that he has been unable to escape – especially since his will to overcome that incident continues to define his character. Krzyzewski said after Friday’s game that George is playing “the best basketball in his life.”

Determined to not only come back, but to continue his steady improvement after missing nearly an entire season, George made his return since breaking his right leg the best of his career. He led the Indiana Pacers back into the postseason, came one point short of Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star Game scoring record with 41 points and earned third-team All-NBA and second-team All-Defensive honors.

Colangelo said the incentivized gesture USA Basketball extended in the aftermath of George’s injury was the “right thing to do,” but George also rewarded that blind faith, making easy the decision to add him to the 12-man roster.

“I’m here for a reason,” George told The Vertical. “I’m not just a guy that Coach K brought along.”

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No. 3: Harden looks forward to fresh start — It was a season of discontent for James Harden and the Houston Rockets, who went through a coaching change and then made a quick postseason exit. But with new coach Mike D’Antoni on the sideline this season and several new free agents signed up, Rockets’ star Harden tells Lang Whitaker that he’s excited for the new opportunity…

Q: How do you feel you fit into Mike D’Antoni’s system, and how do you feel his system benefits you?

HARDEN: You know what? The day he got hired, we watched film. We’ve communicated several times a week. You know, it’s going to work. I’m really excited about it because he’s prepared. He’s prepared, he’s given me knowledge, he’s given me things where I can fit into his offense and what he’s trying to do. And not only myself but the entire team — I asked him questions about how Patrick Beverley fits and the new guys that we got fit. So it’s exciting. And [we added Jeff] Bzdelik, who was the head defensive coach for Memphis. You know, everybody talks about, ‘The Rockets aren’t a good defensive team.’ Well, we got one of the best defensive coaches in the league now. So it’s all about preparation. In this league it’s all about preparation, putting guys in positions where they’re successful, and good things happen.

Q: Do you feel like you get a bad rap for your defense?

HARDEN: Yeah, yeah. But everybody makes mistakes. I can look up the same amount of plays for myself as the other top guys in the league. So I don’t really worry, I don’t focus on it. And now with the more talent that’s going to release some offensive pressure off me, I’m going to be able to go out there and play both ends of the floor at a high level. It’s really difficult to go out there, play all 82 games, lead the league in minutes and have to do everything offensively. I mean, no one else had that weight on their shoulders in the league. So like I said, it doesn’t really bother me. I focus on what I gotta do and I just go out there and do it.

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No. 4: Ingram’s tough road to the NBA — The Lakers used the second overall pick in this summer’s draft on Brandon Ingram, a lanky forward out of Duke who showed everyone in his one year of college that he is an elite scorer. But making it to the NBA wasn’t an easy path for Ingram, and as Chris Mannix writes for Yahoo, Ingram getting to the NBA was a family affair

As he got older, his basketball obsession grew. He played after school. When he got home, he challenged Bo to one-on-one on the battered hoop in the backyard. “I was a senior in high school before I beat him,” Ingram said. When it got dark, his father, Donald, who managed the local rec center, opened up the gym. “It was an all-access pass,” Ingram laughed.

The work paid off. Ingram won a state championship his first year at Kinston. He went on to win three more. A stringy, 6-foot-2 guard as a freshman grew, by his own estimation, two inches every year to finish high school as a slender 6-8 forward. Spins, fadeaways, step-backs — Ingram had it all. He averaged 24 points and 10 rebounds as a senior. Legend had it that in four years, Ingram never missed a free throw. So? “Most definitely, that’s true,” Ingram said.

Last month, the Lakers tabbed Ingram with the second overall pick in the draft. Overnight, Ingram, 18, became the face of one of the NBA’s most storied franchises. It’s not the type of position he has always been comfortable in. For years, Ingram was shy about playing in front of crowds. It wasn’t until eighth grade, when he joined Jerry Stackhouse’s AAU team, that he took to it. He was a star in high school but needed Mike Krzyzewski to tell him at the 2015 McDonald’s All-American Game that he had pro potential. He could score on anyone but wasn’t always assertive in high school and was briefly benched for listless play at Duke.

The Lakers hope he grows into the role. They see Ingram as a multi-position player. At 6-9, 190-pounds, Ingram will need to bulk up. He was eating six meals a day, some 5,000 calories, Ingram said, before the draft and he hopes to be 210 pounds next season. But the talent is undeniable.

Durant sees it. For months, scouts have compared Ingram to Durant. And Durant understands why. “He reminds me of myself, but he’s a little farther along than I was at that stage,” Durant told reporters at Team USA practice in Las Vegas on Wednesday. For Ingram, there is no higher compliment. He grew up wearing Durant’s sneakers. His walls were covered with Durant posters. He mimicked many of Durant’s moves. He worshipped him when he was at Texas, cheered him in Seattle, followed his career closely in Oklahoma City. The Lakers hope they found the next Durant; Ingram knows it will be a while before he gets there.

“It’s a very special comparison,” Ingram said. “But, of course, I know I’m not him. I know I’m not him yet, but I have the potential to make my own brand. Of course, you grow up with him as an idol, and in a few months he’s going to become my rival. It’s going to be a dream come true. I think just watching him for so long and having the ability to actually learn and play against him is just going to be a special motivation for me as a competitor and someone who really looked up to him.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks have agreed to an extension that will keep Dirk under contract until he’s 40 years old … The Pelicans have signed free agent forward Terrence JonesDraymond Green reached a plea deal with prosecutors in Michigan … Luis Scola isn’t thrilled with the real estate prices in Brooklyn …

Will a touch of Linsanity return to NY?

It seems such a long time ago, as if it occurred in a different era to a different player.

There were those six magical weeks of 2012 when Jeremy Lin and the basketball world was swept up in Linsanity.

The phenomenon virtually owned New York with Lin’s sudden star turn when thrust into the lineup by then-Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni. He almost swallowed the NBA with nightly heroics and highlights that rolled around the globe like a driving, jump-shooting tsunami.

Since then, Lin has played in three other cities — Houston, L.A. and Charlotte — before opting to return as a free agent to New York, though across town with the Nets. But while Linsanity has evolved, it still lurks just beneath the surface for the 27-year-old U.S.-born point guard with the Taiwanese roots, according to Liz Robbins of the New York Times:

“When it first started, I’m not going to lie, it was cool, and then it became a burden,” he said at the Nets’ practice facility in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. “I didn’t really know what I had gotten myself into. One, two, three, four years later, every year I embrace it more. Every year I’m more appreciative, every year I love it more.”

He is 27 now, and it is no longer enough to be just a leader for the Nets on the court. “Chinese people, Asian-Americans, Asians, they always have a special place in my heart,” he said. “Coming back here, I want to be able to try to inspire the next generation, reach out in the community.”

A Harvard graduate and a son of Taiwanese immigrants, Mr. Lin became an empowering figure not only for Asians, but also for underdogs, long-suffering Knicks fans and New Yorkers mired in the doldrums in February 2012. The team’s leader, Carmelo Anthony, was injured when Mr. Lin was igniting a turnaround.

Enter Mr. Lin, a journeyman who had been cut by two teams. Linsanity, in all its glorious euphoria, erupted.

And then, several weeks later, Mr. Lin’s run was over, cut short by a season-ending knee injury, combined with the resignation of his coach, Mike D’Antoni. After the season, the Knicks allowed Mr. Lin to depart to the Houston Rockets via free agency.

“As soon as he took off that New York uniform, that magic was gone,” said Andrew Kuo, 38, a New York-born artist and ardent Lin fan.

The Lin-related artifacts of that time, like the sandwiches once named for him, grew stale. The puns faded from the lexicon.

“The Lin memes are done, it’s O.K., it’s extinct now,” Mr. Kuo said.

There is, however, the matter of that “Linsanity No. 17” tattoo on his left forearm. Mr. Kuo laughed and said that it might have been dumb. “But it’s nice to look down and remember it all,” he added.

Mr. Lin recalled how he wished he had stopped to enjoy that heady time more while it was swirling around him. As for Linsanity, he may have won the trademark, but he has mixed feelings about it; he does not intend to revive it.

“Not in a way that I’m offended, but it kind of dehumanizes me to refer to me as a phenomenon,” he said. “I’m going to be here, keep playing my game, and whatever you guys want to call it, it’s up to you guys.”

Blogtable: Biggest team turnaround with new coach?

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


BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on away-from-play rules changesBiggest turnaround with new coach?Incoming rookie destined for NBA stardom?


> Which team is poised to have the most dramatic jump in winning percentage next season: Tom Thibodeau’s Timberwolves, Scott Brooks’ Wizards, Luke Walton’s Lakers, Dave Joerger’s Kings, Nate McMillan’s Pacers, David Fizdale’s Grizzlies, Jeff Hornacek’s Knicks, Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets, Frank Vogel’s Magic or Kenny Atkinson’s Nets?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Thibodeau’s Timberwolves will improve the most. No one coaches harder in the 82-game regular season, and Minnesota’s three youngest core players — Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine — would naturally take a step or two in their development under almost any coach. Combine that, along with a pretty easy act to top (29 victories in 2015-16) and I’m expected an improvement of 10-15 games.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe 17-win Lakers have the most room to work with, but the Lakers are also the farthest away. Frank Vogel’s solid defensive base will make the Magic jump if they can sort out the sudden glut of big men. But I’m making it a two-team race for biggest improvement. The Grizzlies and David Fizzle with a healthy Marc Gasol should go from 42 back to their customary 50-plus level. But I’ll give the nod to Minnesota. All that young talent combined with Thibs’ defensive chops will have the Wolves howling with a possible leap from from 29 to 40+ wins.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comLuke Walton’s Lakers, but in large part because they have the most realistic room to grow. It’s not hard to see L.A. adding 10 wins based on the energy of the coaching change, the experience D’Angelo Russell and (basically) Julius Randle didn’t have last season, the arrival of Luol Deng as a veteran presence and the addition of Brandon Ingram in the Draft. Ten wins is close to a 60-percent jump. A lot of the other options you mention will improve — Minnesota, New York, Orlando — but the Magic, for example, aren’t going to be 60-percent better in the standings. They will have more wins than the Lakers, just not a bigger increase.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’ll say the Lakers only because they were mostly dreadful and won just 17 games. Only one way to go, and if they win 30, which is somewhat realistic, that almost a 50-percent jump. Can’t see anyone else in this group pulling that off (where are the Sixers?) But again, it’s a backhanded compliment to the Lakers, who if nothing else should be exciting to watch even in defeat.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Wolves are going to the playoffs next season. Tom Thibodeau will have them improve at least 10 spots in defensive efficiency, where they ranked 27th last season. The development of their young players — along with, hopefully, Zach LaVine playing a lot more shooting guard than point guard — should have them improved offensively as well. Karl-Anthony Towns is the league’s next star and should do well with his first summer of work after finding out what the league is all about. He could make a huge leap.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As entertaining as I believe the Minnesota Timberwolves could be under Tom Thibodeau, I’m going to have to go with Luke Walton’s Lakers. They’ve got as much ground to gain (in percentages and raw numbers) as any team in the league, given their dreadful performance last season and the fresh new look they’ll have under Walton. David Fizdale’s Grizzlies, however, will go into the season as my potential surprise team in the Western Conference (provided they have a healthy roster to work with), where things could shift dramatically with all of the changes that have occurred in free agency.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe Timberwolves may reach the playoffs next season because of Thibodeau, who will hasten their development defensively and turn their athleticism into a force. D’Antoni has a history of elevating the value of his players and the Rockets appear to be in the mood to rally around him after embarrassing themselves last year.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI don’t know if there is a “most dramatic” winner out there. Scanning past those names, I don’t see any one team that immediately jumps out at me and looks like sudden a title contender. If I had to pick one, I’d pick a team in the East, where improvement may be easier to come by, and say either the Knicks (if they are healthy, which is a gigantic if) or maybe Frank Vogel’s Magic show in Orlando.

Morning shootaround — May 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Report: Sixers explore trading Okafor, Noel | Warriors still facing steep odds | LeBron back to Miami? | Fizdale already impressing in Memphis

No. 1: Report: Sixers explore trading Okafor, Noel The Philadelphia 76ers own the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft but the suspense doesn’t stop there. Will the Sixers explore the possibilities of parting with two other lottery picks on their roster, Jahlil Okafor and/or Nerlens Noel? There does appear to be a glut of big men on the Philly roster, which is a great problem to have, and so it would be wise for the Sixers to see what value each brings. When you’ve been stuck to the bottom of the East for the last three years, and in the midst of a total overhaul, and have new management in charge, everything’s on the table. Here’s the report from Chad Ford and Marc Stein of ESPN:

In an interview with ESPN Radio’s Russillo and Kanell earlier this month, Sixers coach Brett Brown hinted at the club’s desire to be active.

“Think about these types of resources,” Brown said during the interview. “We have the first pick. We have the 24th and 26th pick. On our current roster, we have Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Jerami Grant [and] Robert Covington. We had a [2014] draft class that effectively redshirted in Joel Embiid and Dario Saric.

“For the first time in my four years, we’re going to enter a legitimate approach to free agency.”

Colangelo, for his part, told Bleacher Report Radio last week that “everybody is thinking about winning as opposed to prolonging the rebuilding process.”

‎Sources describe Okafor, at this early juncture, as the most likely of the two to be moved in the wake of his rocky rookie season off the floor.

But the Sixers are known to be considering a wide range of possibilities, given the prospect of fellow lottery picks Embiid and Saric finally making their Philadelphia debuts next season to add to the Sixers’ deep frontcourt and the well-chronicled concerns about whether Okafor and Noel can play together.

After winning the recent draft lottery, Philadelphia is in the process of choosing whether to take LSU’s Ben Simmons or Duke’s Brandon Ingram with the first overall pick.

Among the options the Sixers have is trying to trade Okafor or Noel for another high pick in the looming draft to address their backcourt needs or building a package around either one in a trade for veteran talent, either in June or in July after free agency starts.

***

No. 2: Warriors still facing steep odds — Heading into Game 6, the Warriors have momentum, however small. They’ve won one game to stave off elimination, but now face another, even steeper task, of beating the Thunder in OKC, where the Warriors suffered through a lost pair of games. It helps that Stephen Curry found his groove in Game 5, but the Warriors are trying to do what only 9 teams have managed to pull off, rallying from a 3-1 deficit. Here’s Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle with the story:

With Thursday’s Game 5 ticking toward its final minute, Stephen Curry dribbled the ball on the right wing as Oklahoma City’s 7-foot center Steven Adams was defending him.

The Warriors’ point guard slashed left to beat Adams in an instant to the elbow of the free-throw line, glided toward the basket and then flipped in a right-handed reverse layup while being fouled.

Just in case his game-clinching play wasn’t enough, Curry marched near half court and yawped three times: “We ain’t going home.”

“That was great grammar, right? My Davidson people are very embarrassed,” Curry said … “We’ve got to bottle up that joy and take it with us to OKC. It’s going to be an electric atmosphere, and I think we’re ready for the challenge.”

Sure, in the moment, Curry’s syntax wasn’t pristine, but his points were on the mark. The Warriors aren’t going home, and they’re going to have to play with great joy that has been their identity to win in Oklahoma City.

The Western Conference finals will relocate for Game 6 to Great Plains, a place where the Warriors were embarrassed in Games 3-4 of the Western Conference finals and a place where they’ll have muster up some more magic, if they’re going to continue their historic run.

“Our guys have had a spectacular run, they’ve loved every second of it and they don’t want it to end,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “No matter how you look at it, if you’re not the last team standing, it’s tough. It’s a disappointing way to go out, so we want to hang in there. We want to win the next two and get back to the NBA Finals.

“We know how difficult it’s going to be, but we’ll give it a great shot.”

Curry’s shot with 62 seconds remaining Thursday helped get the best best-of-seven series deficit to 3-2, but the Warriors are well aware of the challenge they still face.

Of the 232 previous teams to dig 3-1 holes since the NBA switched to seven-game format, only nine have come back to win. Fifty of the 53 teams down 3-1 in conference finals have lost.

Still, the Warriors have been reminding anyone who would listen that in their 10th playoff series since Curry arrived on the scene, they’ve won at least one road game in each of the first nine. They haven’t won one at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“It will take all of our IQ, all of our gamesmanship and just 48 great minutes to get a win down there, considering how the last two games have gone,” Curry said.

The Warriors lost consecutive games for the first time all season in Games 3-4 at Oklahoma City. They lost by 28 in Game 3 and by 24 in Game 4.

The coaches differed on explanations for the results of Games 3-4 vs. Game 5. Kerr said it was Warriors center Andrew Bogut dominating the paint, and Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan said it was the foul differential.

The Warriors shot 10 more free throws than the Thunder in Game 5. In the series, the teams have been whistled for an identical 108 personal fouls.

Oklahoma City has scored 21 more points at the free-throw line than the Warriors, and the Thunder are leading the series by an aggregate 22 points overall.

“We’ve still got a huge hill to climb, but it’s fun,” Warriors sixth man Andre Iguodala said. “It’s a fun journey.”

A journey that the Warriors ain’t trying to let end – just yet.

***

No. 3: LeBron back to Miami? — Of course, you knew it would happen, the talk of LeBron James returning to Miami. Why? Well, because that’s what subject-starved talk show hosts and writers do, they search for possibilities, the juicer the better, especially if there’s a shred of a chance that it could happen. In this case, LeBron is a free agent this summer and can sign anywhere. He has also whined at times about the Cavs and obviously has a bromance with Dwyane Wade. There are plenty of reasons why it wouldn’t happen, namely, the sight of LeBron bailing on Cleveland for the second time would be too much for even him to overcome. Anyway, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald wonders if LeBron will return if he wins a championship in Cleveland. Here’s his take:

Cheer for LeBron.

Pray he wins it all.

Hope he makes good on his promise of delivering a championship to Cleveland — the very thing that drove him to abruptly (and rather messily) leave Miami.

That would tip the domino that might make possible this franchise’s biggest blockbuster summer since LeBron first took his talents to South Beach in 2010.

I said possible. Skeptics might still place the likelihood somewhere between long shot and pipe dream. (Just like they also did before the Big 3 happened down here in ’10, it may bear noting.)

Riley already has said Miami’s offseason priority is re-signing center Hassan Whiteside long term. It has been speculated that doing that and also keeping Dwyane Wade probably would mean the Heat would have to put off its whale-watching excursion until the summer of 2017.

But the Heat isn’t buying that.

Riley has an impressive track record of getting bargains on luxury items and is hoping the club can lock up Whiteside perhaps for less than market value, crafting a deal that would allow the financial leeway to also sign James or Durant.

Whiteside would be the key figure in enticing James to return to Miami or Durant to come here — the whale magnet.

“You know we’re always looking for a whale if there’s one out there. It changes things,” Riley said in his recent postseason State of the Heat media talk. “We have the flexibility to do that.”

The supposition on James and/or Durant becoming available is twofold:

1. That LeBron winning a championship and fulfilling his dream for Cleveland would make him free to leave, but that he would stay with the Cavaliers and keep chasing that title if he fell short this year.

2. Oppositely, that Durant likely would leave Oklahoma City to seek a championship elsewhere if he fell short in these playoffs, but that he would not leave the Thunder as a champion.

And a Cavaliers-Thunder Finals that would have Heat fans begrudgingly rooting for LeBron looms as likely.

The Cavs were 2-2 with Toronto entering Game 5 in Cleveland on Wednesday night but were overall betting favorites at 7-5 odds to win it all entering the game. Oklahoma City leads Golden State 3-1 entering Thursday’s game and is right behind Cleveland at 8-5 title odds.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith “reported” this week that LeBron might be agreeable to rejoin Miami if he is able to parlay these playoffs into an NBA title for Cleveland. I put “reported” in quotes not derisively or dismissively but because it was speculative in the “I’m hearing” category.

Still, remember it was Smith who broke the news of LeBron coming here in 2010 when the rest of the basketball literati harrumphed that it wouldn’t happen. Smith has his sources, and sources often are not the athlete or agent. Sometimes they are members of an entourage, or family. Sometimes information comes indirectly, indeed.

You know what the initial tip was in 1989 that first led to my knowing Jimmy Johnson was leaving the Miami Hurricanes to join the Dallas Cowboys? An assistant leaving with him, Dave Wannstedt, had a school-age daughter who told a friend who happened to be the child of a friend of mine.)

One thing Smith didn’t address in what he was hearing about James maybe coming back to Miami:

Would the Heat take him back? Specifically, would Riley, after the way LeBron left the Heat president feeling used and angry?

Answer: Very likely, if only because Riley’s bosses, Micky and Nick Arison, might take the rare position of overruling Riley for the good of the franchise.

But if Miami had its choice of signing Durant or taking back James, Riley would have every justification for opting for Durant — and take every delight imaginable in saying “no thanks” to LeBron.

That is the scenario that could play out — could — only if the starting point is LeBron James winning a championship for Cleveland.

***

No. 4: Fizdale already impressing in Memphis David Fizdale had many admirers in Miami during his time as an assistant to Erik Spoelstra and was just hired to steer the Grizzlies into their next era. In some ways he’s a mystery, if only because he’s never held a high profile job, other than being visible during the Big Three era in Miami. The Memphis Commercial Appeal wrote a lengthy essay on Fizzle and here is Tom Schad‘s report:

David Fizdale and Lamont Smith were standing in line at a since-forgotten restaurant, waiting to order a since-forgotten meal, when a 6-foot-8 mass of muscle ran over to greet them.

It was summertime in Miami, about four or five years ago. Fizdale was an assistant coach for the Miami Heat. Smith, his close friend and old college teammate, was in town for a long weekend. They talked some ball, spent some time on South Beach and went to grab a bite to eat.

“There’s a chance we may run into Dwyane or LeBron,” Fizdale told Smith — as in, Dwyane Wade or LeBron James, two of the NBA’s most popular superstars.

Cool, Smith thought. He expected a straightforward “shake hands, sit down, share a meal” type of thing. He did not expect to see James rush over and grab Fizdale in a bearhug like a long-lost friend.

“When’s the last time you saw him?” Smith later asked Fizdale.

“Oh,” Fizdale answered. “I saw him last week.”

To Smith, that moment showcased one of the greatest strengths of the man poised to be the next Grizzlies’ coach: An ability to build deep relationships with the players he coaches, whether it’s an undrafted rookie from a small-private school — or arguably the best player on the planet. It’s not so much friendship as it is a mutual understanding, Smith said. It’s the type of connection that can help a coach get the most out of his players.

“He has the utmost respect from those guys, but at the same time, he coaches them. He’s very critical of them,” Smith explained. “I think, again, it all stems back to having that relationship.”

Now, Fizdale will seek to build those same types of relationships in Memphis. A source told The Commercial Appeal on Thursday that the 41-year-old has accepted a four-year contract to become an NBA head coach for the first time. An introductory press conference is expected sometime next week.

Not much is known about Fizdale outside of NBA circles, but former teammates, coaches and players describe him as both fiercely competitive and naturally easygoing. He has the basketball savvy of someone who became a Division I assistant coach at 24, then sharpened his skills in the Miami Heat video room under the guidance of Erik Spoelstra. And he has a laid-back personality befitting his Los Angeles roots.

“You can’t be around Fiz and not feel positive and energized and enjoy his company,” said his college coach, Brad Holland. “You just can’t. That’s who he is.”

Beach ball, and an early start

Andre Speech always liked playing pickup basketball at a court down by the beach in San Diego. So that’s where he and a few friends were one day when Fizdale rolled up.

Speech and the rest of his group were getting ready to leave after a recent loss. Fizdale heard that and insisted they play a few more games.

“We probably ran the court for the next couple hours,” Speech said.

Fizdale and Speech played together at the University of San Diego and were roommates one summer. Speech said Fizdale was generally competitive in everything he did — epic video game battles initially came to mind — but on the court, “Fiz” took it up a notch.

“If his normal competitiveness level was a 7, on the court it was an 11,” Speech said.

Fizdale played point guard at USD, a small private Catholic school in the West Coast Conference, and averaged 8.5 points, 5.4 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game. He wasn’t a dazzling offensive player but graduated as the program’s all-time career assists leader, with 465. More often than not, he made his mark on the defensive end.

“He’d get a step on you and be tipping balls, getting deflections,” said Smith, who is now the head coach at USD. “He was a monster defender.”

Holland always viewed Fizdale as his coach on the floor at San Diego, so shortly after the point guard graduated with a communications degree in 1996, Holland gave him his first coaching opportunity off the floor. In 1998, at 24 years old, Fizdale became a full-time assistant coach, instructing players barely younger than he was — many of them his former teammates. (Coincidentally, one such player was San Antonio Spurs assistant James Borrego, who was reportedly a finalist for the Grizzlies’ job before it was offered to Fizdale.)

Those first few years as an assistant were where Fizdale first found the balance between friend and coach. He remained close with many on the team — making late-night pizza runs with Smith, for example — but demanded respect at practice.

“I was impressed with how quickly he made that transition, but yet players loved to be around him,” Holland said. “Even though the players he was coaching were not that much younger than him, they were hanging on every word. They loved Fiz.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Are the Knicks trying to trade back into the Draft? … It might be a decent idea of the Blazers re-signed free agent Mo Harkless … Speaking of the Blazers, here’s a Q&A with GM Neil Olshey … Mike D’Antoni has a few fans as he prepares to take over the Rockets.

Report: Rockets to hire D’Antoni

After an extensive search that included interviews with a dozen candidates, the Rockets have chosen veteran Mike D’Antoni as their next head coach.

Despite his resume and reputation on the offensive side of the ball, the Rockets opted for the 65-year-old D’Antoni because he plans to have a veteran staff that includes Memphis Grizzlies defensive coordinator Jeff Bzdelik, the Washington Wizards Roy Rogers and possibly Toronto Raptors assistant Rex Kalamian, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical:

The terms of the contract, which are still being finalized, call for D’Antonio to receive $16 million for four years with the final season at the team option.

D’Antoni made his biggest mark on the game during his time in Phoenix from 2002 to 2008, where his “seven seconds or less” offense was run by two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash. The Suns were 253-136 during his tenure and reached the Western Conference finals in 2005 and 2006, losing both times to the Spurs and Mavericks.

Since leaving Phoenix, D’Antoni has coached the Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks and L.A. Lakers, posting a record of 202-290.

The arrival of D’Antoni could also signal another step in the departure of center Dwight Howard from Houston. Howard can opt out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. The pair did not get along in their one season together with the Lakers (2012-13).

Morning shootaround — May 21





NEWS OF THE MORNING
Love conquers all | Thibs cleans house | Kerr’s fight continues | Casey defends Lowry | D’Antoni or Silas in Houston?
No. 1: Playoffs a perfect fit for Love here — A season ago there were all the problems trying to fit into the new atmosphere and new system and new team in Cleveland. Then came the playoffs and he was quickly injured and forced to the sidelines. But a year later Kevin Love is not only comfortable alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, but he’s a perfect 14-0 in the playoffs for his career and having fun riding the wave. Our own Steve Aschburner caught up with Love, who talked about the change:

“I think there’s a sense of purpose now,” Love said. “We have our identity. And we also know that because of last year [injuries to Irving and Iman Shumpert, as well as Love], things can be taken away from you at any time.”

For Love the biggest difference between playoff basketball and that regular-season variety to which he was limited in six seasons with Minnesota is the urgency.

“Every play really does matter,” said Love, who made it to three All-Star games before ever helping a team reach the playoffs.

“Plays in the first, second, third quarters that can change the ball game in the fourth. Everything counts. One bad defensive play. A technical foul [or a flagrant] where they get the ball back and hit a three. Things that, in the regular season, you might be able to brush off. Here you have to really stick with it.”

Love said he has embraced the physical nature of the postseason, too, and he’s reminded himself to attack the offensive boards, rather than floating from his spots around the perimeter.

“I’ve had a mentality where I want to hit first,” said Love, who takes enough punishment — shoulder “stingers” in particular — to unnerve some Cleveland fans. “It’s going to get chippy. Both teams want to win so bad. You definitely remember [hard fouls]. But whether it’s a success or failure, you have to handle it quickly and get on to the next play.”

***

No. 2: Thibodeau cleans out Wolves front office — You really didn’t expect Tom Thibodeau to take long to put his footprint on the Timberwolves, did you? The new leader of the wolfpack came down hard on Friday, firing GM Milt Newton, president of basketball operations Rob Babcock and several others and it’s likely just the start. Kent Youngblood of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has the gory details:

“If you’ve been around sports, you know how things happen,” Newton said. “Once you bring in a new group they want to put their stamp on it. It’s part of the job. I definitely don’t have any hard feelings towards anyone. I wish those guys well. And I wish the players well.”

Said Babcock: “Nobody likes to be let go, but that’s part of this business. When someone comes in new, the likelihood is there will be changes. I’ve been through it on both ends. They’ll do an outstanding job here. I’m disappointed I don’t get to be a part of it. But I understand completely. I hold nothing against them at all.”

These could be the first of many moves made by Thibodeau, who is clearly intent on building the organization in his image.

He spent a lot of time preparing for this. During his season away from the NBA, Thibodeau visited 13 franchises looking for ideas on how to run a front office, assemble and coach a team.

The moves were made shortly after the NBA’s scouting combine finished, as the team is ramping up preparations for June’s draft.

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No. 3: Being back with Warriors helps Kerr with recovery — What should have been one of the best, most fun-filled seasons of Steve Kerr’s career in the NBA has instead been a constant battle with pain as he continues to recover from offseason surgery. Though he’s far from mended, Kerr told our Scott Howard-Cooper that there’s no way he’s walking away from the job and the group of players that are the best medicine:

“I wouldn’t equate my health with anything that’s happened basketball-wise,” Kerr said. “I’ll put it this way. Under normal circumstances if I hadn’t had this health issue this would have been one of the great years of my life. But instead it was, honestly, one of the worst. Probably the worst.”
But quit, now that he’s made it back this far?

No. Not a chance. Not even if he could have slid into some advisory role with the team and whispered to assistant coach Luke Walton not to take the Los Angeles Lakers job because the big chair was opening on the Golden State bench. Not even if the Warriors follow their 73-9 finish, the best record in league history, with a second consecutive title in June and Kerr can go out on top like few others.

He loves the gig too much. Returning to broadcasting isn’t appealing, as good as he was as an analyst, and the idea of becoming head of basketball operations somewhere again, a role he had for three years with the Phoenix Suns, practically makes him cringe. GMs are separated from the team a lot, and the daily interaction is exactly what Kerr enjoys most. Nothing at age 50, far removed from a playing career of five championships with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, compares to the competitive energy, the trash talking, the camaraderie, the adrenaline rush of being on the sideline and under pressure, especially in the playoffs.

That is why Kerr fought his way back to the Warriors. It’s not that he wanted to get healthy to return to the job. He wanted to return to the job to get healthy.

Kerr required the frenzy of the 2015-16 Warriors.
“I needed the job to distract me and engage me,” he said.

***

No. 4: Casey says Lowry didn’t quit — With his team already getting hammered before halftime of Game 2 on Thursday night, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry headed to the locker room early and opened the door for a ton of criticism. But Toronto coach Dwane Casey came to Lowry’s defense and said there’s no way the quarterback gave up on his team, according to Mike Mazzeo of ESPN.com:

“Kyle did not walk out on his team,” Casey said. “He and Cory Joseph use the bathroom more than any two human beings I know during the game. … I don’t think he quit on his team.”

Lowry faced criticism after he left the bench with 2½ minutes remaining in the second quarter “just to kind of decompress.” At the time, he was 0-for-4 from 3-point range and had committed five turnovers. Cleveland closed the first half on a 16-2 run to take a 14-point halftime lead.

“It’s whatever. I think it’s an overreaction, personally. I’ve done it countless times,” Lowry reiterated. “Maybe I went to go to the bathroom. I’ve done it before, going to the bathroom. It’s just the magnitude of the situation, which makes it a lot bigger than what it really it is.

“So next time I’ll clarify, ‘Hey, I’m going to the bathroom,’ or ‘Hey, I’m doing this.’ I’ll make sure I’m clear on it so everyone knows.”

Through the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals, Lowry is averaging 9.0 points, 4.0 assists and 4.5 turnovers while shooting 28.6 percent from the field and 1-for-15 from 3-point territory.

The Raptors lost Games 1 and 2 by a combined 50 points. Game 3 is Saturday in Toronto.

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No. 5: Rockets search down to D’Antoni vs. Silas — It could be down to a matter of years in Houston. The final two in the Rockets’ search for a new head coach is evidently down to 65-year-old veteran Mike D’Antoni or 42-year-old up-and-coming Stephen Silas. The deciding factor could even be the choice of lead assistant. Jeff Bzdelik with D’Antoni or Lionel Hollins with Silas. So says the always tapped in Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Though very traditional in his approach, Hollins has long been favored by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who hoped to add Hollins to Kevin McHale’s coaching staff after the 2013-14 season before Hollins landed the head coaching position with the Brooklyn Nets.

Much of the conversations with D’Antoni since his meeting with Morey and Rockets owner Leslie Alexander have also been about the staff he would put together with Grizzlies assistant Jeff Bzdelik emerging as D’Antoni’s likely choice as a defensive specialist. Bzdelik, a former Nuggets head coach, met with Morey and Alexander about the Rockets head coaching position on Thursday.

Just as D’Antoni, 65, has had many head coaching stops — with the Nuggets, Suns, Knicks and Lakers in addition to a celebrated career in Italy — Silas has been with five teams as an assistant. Silas, 42, coached with the Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets, the Washington Wizards, Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers before returning to Charlotte for his current position under former Rockets assistant Steve Clifford.

Silas, the son of longtime NBA head coach Paul Silas, who was a candidate to be the Rockets head coach in 2003, became the youngest assistant coach in NBA history when he was hired by the Charlotte Bobcats at age 27 in 2000.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Steph Curry says his elbow is fine and because of that the Warriors are feeling better heading into Game 3…Is America ready for Vice President Mark Cuban?…The buddy-love between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade doesn’t sit right with NBA old-timers…Pat Riley says he’s expecting a lot more from Goran Dragic next season….It seems that Draymond Green has a very long memory…New head coach Frank Vogel says the Magic are ready to take the next step…Steven Adams is getting bruised and battered in the playoffs, but will keep plugging away…The Coyote is retiring in San Antonio.

Howard opens up on Harden, Rockets, Magic exit and more

HANG TIME BIG CITY — In a candid interview released today, Dwight Howard speaks freely about a number of topics relating to his career, his time with the Houston Rockets, as well as his future. While Howard says he hasn’t decided what to do this summer as far as his contract — Howard can opt out of the final year of his deal and become a free agent — a return to Houston doesn’t sound like a sure thing.

As the 30-year-old Howard tells ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan, there were times during last season when he felt “disinterested”…

Howard: “There were times I was disinterested because of situations that happened behind the scenes that really hurt me. It left me thinking, ‘This is not what I signed up for.'”

ESPN: What specifically are you referring to?

Howard: “I felt like my role was being reduced. I went to [Rockets general manager] Daryl [Morey] and said, ‘I want to be more involved.’ Daryl said, ‘No, we don’t want you to be.’ My response was, ‘Why not? Why am I here?’ It was shocking to me that it came from him instead of our coach. So I said to him, ‘No disrespect to what you do, but you’ve never played the game. I’ve been in this game a long time. I know what it takes to be effective.'”

According to ESPN, Houston GM Daryl Morey declined comment.

He also discussed his pairing with James Harden in Houston and how that relationship has gone since their first season together.

ESPN: What is your relationship with James Harden like?

Howard: “Before I got to Houston, I didn’t know him as a person. What made me really interested in James Harden was the way he attacked the basket when he was at OKC. He was the glue of the team, attacking, making plays, dunking. I was thinking, ‘Man, this guy could be special.’ When I hit free agency, I watched YouTube tapes of James for hours. I looked at us as a mini Shaq and Kobe. I was thinking, ‘Man, this could be a new life for both of us.’ And we had some good stretches together. Made it to the Conference finals last season.”

ESPN: Your relationship with Harden seems to have deteriorated along with the team’s performance this season. What happened?

Howard: “I don’t know. … I want to figure that out, too. I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around this season, what went wrong, and sometimes you can allow outside things to interrupt the circle. That probably happened with us.”

Before Houston, Howard was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, and he says things didn’t work out there in part because Howard and Kobe Bryant were in “different points of our careers.”

ESPN: Kobe also questioned your toughness when he urged you to come back and play through your shoulder injury.

Howard: “Kobe put some pressure on me. He said something like, ‘We don’t have time for Dwight to be hurt.’ The media is asking me, ‘Did you talk to Kobe about your injuries?’ I said, ‘I didn’t realize I was supposed to check with another player about my health.’ When I first got there, I said to Kobe in front of the whole team, ‘The only way we win is if we put our egos aside and play together.’ I wanted to play with him. I don’t know if he didn’t want to play with me — if he felt I wasn’t a killer like him.”

ESPN: You could have signed a new deal to stay with the Lakers. Why didn’t you?

Howard: “I just felt like it wasn’t a team. I wanted a team. There were things that went on during the season that made me feel like I wasn’t a part of it, like the thing with Kobe and my shoulder. People were saying, ‘Dwight’s so strong, he’s Superman, he should play through it.’ It was a torn labrum. I should have had surgery, but I didn’t. I came back instead. I’ll never forget the game we played against the Celtics in Boston (on Feb. 7, 2013). I hadn’t practiced for a while — I had just been working on the treadmill. But I played in Boston. We got blown out. Coach (Mike D’Antoni) still had me in when we were down 30. After the game, I’m walking off the court and a Lakers fan throws his jersey and hits me in the face. It was my name on that jersey. I will never forget that the rest of my life.”

Howard also addresses the deterioration of his relationship in Orlando with former coach Stan Van Gundy, after the Magic made it to the 2009 NBA Finals…

ESPN: Did you ask management to fire Stan Van Gundy?

Howard: “The back story is that months before that, before the [2011] lockout, I had a conversation with Magic owner Rich DeVos. They flew me out on a private plane to Michigan. I was talking to him about how we could grow the team. When I first got to Orlando, he called us the Orlando “Tragic” and I hated it. I wanted to talk to him about how we could grow our team. I was saying, ‘Let’s have Magic cereal, Magic vitamins with our players’ faces on it so they can get to know our team.’ In the course of our conversation, we started talking about what’s going on with our team.”

ESPN: What did you say about Stan in that meeting?

Howard: “I told Rich the truth. I told him, ‘I love Stan. I think he’s done a great job, but I think he’s lost his voice in the locker room.’ It wasn’t, ‘Hey, I want Stan fired or else.’ I was never upset with Stan at any point. It wasn’t anything personal against Stan. He knows that. It’s just over the past couple of years I could see a lot of the guys had lost their faith in him.”

ESPN: How long before the public comments from Stan saying you wanted him gone was your meeting with DeVos?

Howard: “Oh, it was months before. In late June, just before the lockout.”

Report: Knicks to hire Hornacek

The NBA couching carousel provided another surprise on Wednesday. New York Knicks president Phil Jackson wasn’t just sitting back and waiting to name interim coach Kurt Rambis as head coach, after all.

Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck reports that the Knicks are set to hire former Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek.

Hornacek coached 2½ seasons in Phoenix before being fired in early February. His 2013-14 team exceeded all expectations, went 48-34, and ranked eighth offensively, but finished a game out of the playoffs. The ’14-15 Suns fell off offensively after trading both Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas at the deadline, and this year’s team struggled on both ends of the floor before Hornacek was fired.

The Knicks were the most improved team in the league this season, but mostly because they ranked in the bottom three in both offensive and defensive efficiency in Jackson’s first full season in charge. They ranked 26th offensively and 18th defensively, fired Derek Fisher about a week after Hornacek was dismissed in Phoenix, and finished 12 games out of a playoff spot.

Knicks star Carmelo Anthony said that he hoped Jackson looked beyond Rambis in his coaching search. He got his wish, but his future with New York is still unclear. Anthony’s timeline still doesn’t match up with that of Rookie of the Year runner-up Kristaps Porzingis and New York still needs upgrades at both guard positions.

The Hornacek hire in New York leaves three more coaching jobs available. Mike D’Antoni looks like a strong candidate in Houston, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein, with Frank Vogel and Adrian Griffin looking like possibilities in Memphis and Orlando, respectively.

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Reports: Van Gundy out of Rockets’ coaching search; D’Antoni now favorite

Strike one name from the list of potential Rockets head coaching candidates. Jeff Van Gundy is no longer a candidate for the job, according Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical.

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There was reported to be mutual interest between Van Gundy and Rockets G.M. Daryl Morey. But team owner Leslie Alexander is said to have been less less convinced that a reunion with the man who coached the Rockets from 2003-2007.

Van Gundy told Barry Warner of ESPN 97.5 in Houston: “I have not spoken to the Rockets so speculation about me has been off base.”

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle says that Mike D’Antoni has now become the favorite to land the job.

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Morning shootaround — May 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Waiters: ‘One guy can’t beat us’ | Carroll says Lowry must ‘man up’ now | Report: Celtics in pursuit of Butler | Hawks shell-shocked by barrage of 3s | Report: Bickerstaff pulls out of consideration for Rockets’ job | Vogel awaits fate today

No. 1: Waiters says Aldridge alone can’t be Thunder — The San Antonio Spurs are more than getting their money’s worth out of free-agent addition LaMarcus Aldridge in the Western Conference semifinals. The newest Spur has been on fire in the series, averaging 39.5 points and shooting 75 percent in the first two games of the series. But to Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dion Waiters, the numbers that matter are 1 and 1. That’s the state of the series despite Aldridge’s heroics and, to Waiters, things are looking down for the Spurs as a team if Aldridge continues to sizzle. ESPN.com’s Royce Young has more:

“One man can’t beat you,” Thunder guard Dion Waiters said Wednesday. “So we’re fine with that. If they want to continue to get out of their offense and throw the ball down there to him, we’re fine with that. One guy can’t beat us, no matter how much he scores.”

“We’ve just got to make adjustments, try to make it tough on him,” Waiters said. “He’s a great player in this league, an All-Star. He’s going to make shots. He’s playing tremendous right now. But we’re fine with one guy just beating us. We’re fine with that. At the end of the day, Serge [Ibaka] and Steven [Adams] got to continue to do what they’ve been doing, but guys are going to make shots in the NBA and as long as they’re not running the offense and dropping it down to them, we’re living with that.”

Aldridge was asked by reporters in San Antonio if he’s putting pressure on himself to not cool down after his two big games in the series.

“I’m just playing basketball. I’m not trying to go do it [have a huge game],” he said. “You know, honestly, I didn’t think that I’d do it again after the first game. It’s just I’m going with the flow of the game out there.”

The Thunder primarily stuck with single coverage on Aldridge, with coach Billy Donovan saying they were mostly happy with the defense on the Spurs power forward. In the series, Aldridge is 17-of-26 on contested shots.

“We’re making him take the shots that we want, and he’s just making them,” Adams said. “That’s the only thing that’s kind of bumming us out right now. … We’re making him take similar shots [as in the past] and he’s just making all of them. And it sucks.”

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