Posts Tagged ‘Mike D’Antoni’

D’Antoni resigns, Lakers need to go big (Coach K big) in search of his successor

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew breaks down what might be next in Lakerland

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Before anyone asks, Phil Jackson is already taken. He’s got plenty of work to do in New York with the Knicks.

So the search for Mike D’Antoni‘s replacement as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers has to begin elsewhere. D’Antoni resigned tonight, ending his bumpy Hollywood ride 20 games below the .500 mark (67-87) and without fulfilling any of the ridiculous expectations that accompanied his arrival.

In fact, the Lakers have been reeling since they (well, Jim Buss) chose D’Antoni over Jackson when Mike Brown was fired five games into the 2012-13 season, a decision that was as curious then as it is now given the disastrous results. The Lakers were believed to be poised for a return to championship-level status when Dwight Howard and Steve Nash joined Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to form the nucleus of the revamped Lakers two years ago.

It never happened. Injuries and inconsistent play derailed that train before it ever got on the tracks. They scrambled their way into the eighth and final playoff spot at the end of the 2012-13 season, but Bryant suffered a torn Achilles and was unavailable for the postseason (they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs) and Howard bolted for Houston in free agency in July.

Reports that D’Antoni wanted the Lakers to pick up the team option on the fourth year of his contract, after a dreadful 27-55 season no less, surfaced in recent days. The Lakers reportedly refused to pick up the second year of his contract last week, per ESPNLosAngeles.com.

D’Antoni felt he wouldn’t have any chance at success without some job security, and you could argue he shouldn’t when you consider that he actually survived this season. Sure, there were injuries galore and drama that was beyond D’Antoni’s control. Bryant played just six games. Nash played 15. Gasol was in and out of the lineup and unable to find a rhythm or fill the leadership void.

But this Lakers’ crew wasn’t going far with Bryant and Nash healthy. They had absolutely no shot without those veteran stars leading the way. There was turmoil from the start and some of the most embarrassing moments in franchise history — that 48-point beating from the Los Angeles Clippers still stings — occurred under D’Antoni’s watch. The Lakers had the second worst season (.329 winning percentage) in their history and their lowest win total since moving to Los Angeles from Minneapolis.

“Given the circumstances, I don’t know that anybody could have done a better job than Mike did the past two seasons,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement. “On behalf of the Lakers, we thank Mike for the work ethic, professionalism and positive attitude that he brought to the team every day. We wish him the best of luck.”

Other more famous folks with deep Lakers’ ties simply wished him good riddance …

Where the Lakers go from here is simple; back to school. College, specifically, to grab Duke legend Mike Krzyzewski. And before you go crazy, hear me out on this one.

With a top-10 Draft pick and plenty of salary cap space to work with this summer, the Lakers have everything working in their favor. And that’s why they need to go bold with this next hire. They need a program builder. They need someone to repair the culture and start over with whatever new and improved cast they can put together around Bryant, Nash and whoever else they consider a part of the core.

They’ve pursued Coach K before, unsuccessfully, of course.

They need to get it right this time around.

We’ve seen the way Krzyzewski handles himself with NBA players. He’s been masterful with USA basketball. The NBA’s biggest stars — from Bryant and LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony all the way down the line — not only respect him, they go all-out for him in ways that many NBA types feared they would not when he joined Jerry Colangelo‘s program.

I’m not saying Krzyzewski is the only choice. No one could blame the Lakers if they go the traditional NBA route and tap a George Karl, Jeff or Stan Van Gundy or even someone with Lakers ties like Byron Scott.

They could even try to lure Kentucky’s John Calipari, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo or even Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, guys with great relationships with certain NBA players who could be key free agents in the coming seasons.

But the two best men for the job already have pretty good or great ones. The Zen Master is making a mint in New York to fix the Knicks and insists he’s done coaching. He’s off the list.

Krzyzewski  could stay at Duke forever. And he might, if Bryant and the Lakers can’t convince the universally respected coach of the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team to finally take the leap and give the NBA a shot!

Morning Shootaround — April 26


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played April 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Will Nene and/or Gortat play? | LeBron seeks equal treatment | Lakers sticking with D’Antoni | Westbrook’s brother still rankled

No. 1: Will Nene and/or Gortat play? — Losing Nene down the stretch of Game 3 was bad enough for the Washington Wizards. It very well might have cost them the game, a 3-0 advantage in the best-of-seven series and so much momentum heading into Sunday’s Game 4 that the Bulls might have licked their wounds and started planning for summer. Instead, Chicago didn’t have to worry about the big guy who had been the Wizards’ X factor in the first two games and its own bigs, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, had an easier time navigating foul trouble. The biggest concerns now for Washington are whether a) Nene’s ejection ended it or whether he’ll face a suspension from Game 4, and b) center Marcin Gortat will get whacked for leaving the bench area in the heat of the moment. In the immediate aftermath, Brandon Parker assessed the situation in the Washington Post’s Wizards Insider blog:

What happened after that and how the NBA office will levy punishment has now become as great of a concern as how the Wizards respond following their first loss of these young playoffs.

It’s a given that Nene will at least be fined for his inflammatory role in Friday’s altercation, but whether or not he is suspended is up to the NBA. But Nene might not be the only one in trouble. There was some debate as to whether Marcin Gortat left the bench area during the scuffle. Since the Bulls were charged with calling a timeout immediately following Nene’s basket, Gortat, along with all the bench players and coaches, would be allowed to come onto the floor. But should the NBA deem that Gortat was making his way onto the court before or during the moment the timeout was called, the Wizards center would automatically be suspended for one game, according to NBA rules.

Both are judgement calls but by comparison, take the case of Charlotte’s Josh McRoberts. In Game 2 versus Miami, the Bobcats forward threw a forearm to the nose of LeBron James but rather than being whistled for a flagrant foul during the game or being suspended afterward, McRoberts was fined $20,000.

Playing without one or both of their starting big men could obviously be catastrophic for the Wizards in what’s now a must-win Game 4. Playing with one or both of them still doesn’t leave the Wizards in the clear, as the Bulls are apparently intent on trying to mentally rattle and discourage Washington’s players in what’s sure to be an intense environment.

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No. 2: LeBron seeks equal treatment — Retaliation is officially off the table, at least according to what the Miami Heat players and coaches are saying in the wake of Josh McRoberts‘ flagrant-2 foul against LeBron James in Game 2 of the Miami-Charlotte first-round series. McRoberts didn’t get ejected after putting an elbow to the throat of the Heat superstar as he attacked the rim, but the foul was upgraded the next day with a $20,000 fine attached. Instead of retribution, James spoke about getting a fair shake from the referees. His view, as related by Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, is that he takes more hits because of his ball dominance and foes get away with more because he is so big and strong. Instead of “star treatment,” in other words, James feels he has been enduring Shaq treatment:

James wouldn’t say Friday whether McRoberts should have been suspended, but said “it should have been a Flagrant 2 at that point in the game.”

“What frustrated me is when I watch other games. [In Thursday's Warriors-Clippers game], it was three flagrant fouls called that got checked [on replay]. My foul didn’t even get checked, and it was a crucial point of the game. … I don’t cry for fouls. If the game is played and [called] how it’s supposed to be, I’m OK with it.”

James added: “I take a lot of hard fouls. I understand that. Guys try to stop me from getting three-point plays. We all know the difference between a basketball foul and a non-basketball foul.”

“I already know there’s going to be a headline tomorrow: ‘LeBron is crying for fouls.’ I don’t want that. It’s not about me wanting fouls or wanting to be pampered. I’m going to be my aggressive self and get to the free-throw line and put pressure on their defense.”

So does he simply want to be treated like everyone else?

“I’m not going to be treated like everyone else,” he said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been treated like everybody else.”

Retaliating is not an option for two reasons, James said: “Every time we hit back, we get suspended or get fined. We tried that tactic. It don’t [work] for us.”

And also: “The game is different. If this was the 1980s, I would come out swinging. It’s not. I mean too much to our team. I can’t do that. Me being out of the game hurts us more than it would hurt the other team. I get frustrated at times.”

***

No. 3: Lakers sticking with D’AntoniWhile their former coach and ring-collecting leader, Phil Jackson, settles in and sifts through his coaching candidates in New York, the Los Angeles Lakers face a situation of their own involving coach Mike D’Antoni, who just lead the team through a forgettable failed season. According to Mark Heisler, venerable NBA columnist who has relocated from the Los Angeles Times to the Orange County Register, that situation essentially has been resolved: D’Antoni will be back next season. Heisler writes with authority about the Lakers’ mess and their limited options for 2014-15 overall – basically a strategy of signing players to one-year deal and keeping their salary-cap powder dry for the free-agent classes of 2015 and 2016. He does include one juicy tidbit about L.A., if it gets lucky in the lottery, possibly offering their first-round pick this spring to Minnesota for All-Star forward Kevin Love. Here‘s some Heisler:

Ready for Mike D’Antoni III? After 10 days of soul searching, the key figures in Lakers management are agreed on bringing back D’Antoni for a third season as coach, a source with knowledge of the deliberations told the Register.

Keeping D’Antoni, of course, would be unpopular among Lakers fans, united in their desire to see him fired and Jim Buss resign.

The Lakers aren’t commenting, but Jimbo’s not planning on leaving. With Pau Gasol making no secret of his dissatisfaction and Kobe Bryant reportedly in favor of a change, D’Antoni was widely expected to be fired.

But one thing you’ve got to love about the Lakers – I do, anyway – they don’t always do the easy thing.

D’Antoni took himself out of the running for the Marshall University coaching job last week, which went to his brother, Dan.

However, reports from West Virginia that the Lakers told Mike he was returning are incorrect.

D’Antoni decided he didn’t want to return to Marshall, where he once starred, in any case.

The Lakers have yet to inform D’Antoni of anything, but they intend to keep him, absolving him of blame for the 27-55 finish without Bryant and Steve Nash for 141 of a possible 162 games.

Nor are they discomfited by Gasol’s announcement on his website. (“I’ve never concealed the fact that D’Antoni’s style doesn’t suit my game. … I don’t know if my decision will be swayed by whether Mike stays or leaves. Obviously, the coach is a very important factor for any team.”) Jeanie Buss, who noted recently, “I’m the boss,” is continuing her preference to leave basketball decisions to the basketball people.

Jim is aligned with GM Mitch Kupchak, a steadfast D’Antoni defender emerging as an ever-stronger figure with a multi-year extension in the wake of their misadventures.

***

No. 4: Westbrook’s brother still rankledWhile Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook prevailed on his brother Ray to delete a Tweet from late Thursday night suggesting Thunder head coach Scott Brooks be dumped, he didn’t exactly change his younger sibling’s mind. After practice Friday, Westbrook told reporters: “I took care of that. We don’t conduct business like that. Scotty and me got a great relationship.” But Ray Westbrook, while complying, wasn’t necessarily on board with the damage control, according to a blog by The Oklahoman sports columnist Barry Tramel:

[We] got back to our hotel after the game, probably around 1:30 a.m., and decided to get something to eat. So we walked the few blocks to Blues City Cafe, which is open from 11 a.m. to 5 a.m. And on the way, we ran into a certain Ray Westbrook.

Yes, the same Ray Westbrook whose big brother plays a little hoops for the Thunder, and the same Ray Westbrook who in the middle of Game 3 tweeted that the Thunder needed a new coach.

Ray is a friendly fellow, and we asked him about the tweet. He said the Thunder already had reached out to him to express its displeasure, but he was unapologetic. “That’s how I felt,” he said. “If you don’t like it, don’t follow me.”

Of course, by the next morning, Ray Westbrook had apologized for the outburst. But it’s pretty safe to assume he didn’t mean it.

Morning Shootaround — April 19




VIDEO: Warriors-Clippers series preview

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Griffin won’t change ways | Irving, Waiters can work | No Corbin decision yet | D’Antoni won’t change

No. 1: Griffin won’t change ways against Warriors — The war of words may only be heating up before the opening tip to the Clippers-Warriors first round playoff series. Golden State’s Klay Thompson had previously called Blake Griffin an out-of-control flopper. But L.A. coach Doc Rivers says he wants his power forward to simply ignore the noise coming out of the Warriors camp and keep right on doing what he’s been doing all season. That is, kicking tail and taking names. Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com has the details:

“That’s Klay’s opinion; I don’t really care,” Rivers said Friday. “I just keep looking at what Blake’s done. If he’s flopping, then keep doing it because those numbers look awful good to me. So flop on. That’s the way I look at it. Whatever he’s done this year, I want him to keep doing exactly that. When the votes come for MVP, he’ll be in the top three.

“I’m good with anything anybody says. Blake, you just keep doing what you’re doing. What’s happening is Blake is kicking a lot of people’s butts and they need something to say about him.”

Griffin didn’t want to get into a war of words with Golden State but acknowledged it would be impossible to leave his emotions behind when the Clippers and Warriors open their Western Conference first-round series Saturday.

“I don’t think you can leave the emotions behind,” Griffin said. “I think both teams need that to a certain extent. You can’t be too emotional where it’s affecting your play, but you have to play with some emotion. You can’t take that out of the game.”

Griffin wouldn’t go as far as to say the Clippers hate the Warriors, but he did say there was a dislike between certain players on both teams.

“I don’t know if ‘hate’ is a great word,” Griffin said. “This is basketball. We have to go against each other. The dislike may be there for some guys on both teams, but I don’t know about hate. I don’t know if I would hate a basketball player because I play against him.”

***

No. 2: Deng says Irving, Waiters can work — Never mind the talk of disharmony in the lineup and the fact that two headstrong young guards Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters both seem to function best with the ball in their hands. According to Luol Deng, who arrived in Cleveland via trade at midseason, there was never any evidence of disharmony in the Cavaliers locker room. The veteran forward says that all it will take is personal growth and a commitment from the two talented guards to turn them into a force in the league. Bob Finnan of The Morning Herald & News-Journal has the details:

“They have to be willing to work together, watch tape together, watch tape with the coach,” he said. “They’ve shown they can play together. There’s times where they’ve looked great. They’re human, but in terms of can they play together? Yeah. I’ve played in this league for 10 years and I know they can.”

Irving is a two-time All-Star. Waiters is a pure scorer. They are most effective with the ball in their hands. But giving up on either of them right now might be regrettable down the road. 
They are that talented. Instead of making it work, Cavs coach Mike Brown yanked Waiters from the starting lineup after nine games this season. Waiters became the team’s sixth man.

Then, out of necessity, Waiters became the starter at shooting guard when Irving strained his left biceps tendon. Once Waiters got his second chance, he made the best of it. Waiters averaged 21.2 points and 4.2 assists in the last 15 games, sixth best in the Eastern Conference over that span. He also scored 20 or more points in nine of his last 15 games.

“People put their 2 cents into it, but they made it seem like we hated each other and that’s the only part I don’t get,” Waiters said. “You’re not going to always see eye to eye on the court, especially with two ball-dominant guards. But you have to just continue to keep working with one another.”

Cavs guard Jarrett Jack didn’t buy into the premise the two guards aren’t friends.


”It’s crazy that people think they really don’t like each other,” he said. “These kids have known each other since they were in high school — a long, long time.

“I think those guys have the potential to be a force in this league. It’s just going to take a little time for them to develop that synergy, camaraderie. But I think in the end, those two guys have a chance to be a very, very formidable backcourt.”

***

No. 3: Jazz insist no decision made yet on Ty Corbin — The Jazz are pushing back strong at a report out of New York that says a decision has already been made to replace coach Ty Corbin after a disappointing 25-57 campaign after three-plus seasons of following up Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan. General manager Dennis Lindsey had said the Jazz planned to “decompress” before moving forward. Jody Genessey of The Deseret News has the latest:

The final decision on Corbin’s fate has not been made by Jazz ownership and management despite what the New York Daily News reported, according to multiple people closely involved with the situation.

The day after general manager Dennis Lindsey said Utah brass and Corbin would “take a short decompression period to reflect on the season” before meeting to determine the coach’s future, NBA writer Mitch Lawrence reported that a decision has been made.

From his Twitter account, Lawrence wrote that a Jazz executive confirmed that the organization is “ready to pull the plug on Tyrone Corbin and go for a new coach.” He didn’t name any potential replacements.

The Jazz and Corbin’s camp vehemently denied the validity of Lawrence’s report.

“Not accurate. No discussion,” Jazz President Randy Rigby wrote in a text to the Deseret News while in New York for the NBA Board of Governors’ meeting.

Corbin’s agent, attorney Steve Kauffman, still has not heard from the Jazz about his client’s job situation.

“I’m not going to react to anything released by Mitch Lawrence based on my experience over the years,” Kauffman told the Deseret News. “As far as I know, there has been no decision made.”

That final verdict won’t be rendered until after the Miller family meets with Lindsey, Rigby and other members of management to determine whether to re-up Corbin’s contract or to go a different direction.

At Thursday’s locker clean-out, Lindsey said Corbin’s camp agreed to a process (details not given to media) that the team would complete throughout the regular season and that the evaluation would happen after the year ended.

“When we spoke to Ty and his representation during the year, we laid out (that) we wanted to take the full season,” Lindsey said. “We want to take a small period for all of us, Ty included, to decompress, so we’re not making a decision based upon the last possession, the last game and make an emotional decision. … And then in short order, we’ll come together with Ty and talk it out.”

***

No. 4:  D’Antoni says his style not the problem — After finishing the Lakers’ worst season since moving to Los Angeles and more second guessing from anywhere outside of the White House, coach Mike D’Antoni is sure of one thing. It’s not his style of play that produced the myriad of injuries that plagued the roster. In fact, he says it’s time that critics realize the game has changed drastically in the 21st century and everyone must learn to adapt and move forward. Eric Pincus of the L.A. Times spoke to the coach:

“No one’s happy about the way the season went,” said D’Antoni.  “I think every coach should be under scrutiny; they’re under it even if it goes well.  That’s part of the job.”

The Lakers have yet to announce any coaching change.  D’Antoni could be back, despite a general lack of fan support.

How does he win over a very skeptical fan base?

“By winning, that’s the only way you can do it.  They’re right to feel the way they feel, because we didn’t have a good year,” said D’Antoni.  “Opinion is shaped by the record.”

D’Antoni is confident in his style of play, citing injuries as the primary reason the “season went sideways.”

As far as public opinion, the Lakers coach pointed at television analysts as part of the issue.

“I do think that the game is changing and has changed,” said D’Antoni.  “Some of the hard part of coaching is to be able to drag people over to the next side.  People are comfortable doing business a certain way.  When that business kind of shifts, to get people to change is not easy.”

“The problem is most people commenting on it, played a different way.  And now you’re shaping opinion a different way,” he continued.  “As soon as they embrace it a little bit more, I think they’re better off.  But basketball has changed.  It’s not the same basketball that your father played.  It’s just not it.  Teams that adapt to it quicker are going to be more successful.”

How exactly has the game changed?

“I do think the league is going to a more open style, and a faster style,” continued D’Antoni.  “That doesn’t mean there’s no place for a post-up player, there’s no place for a mid-range game.  There is a place, but it’s just not what is dominant today.”

“The league now is dominated by point-guard play, three-point shots and smart players,” said D’Antoni.  “Unless the NBA changes the rules again, like the three-point line and no hand checking, then basketball is going a certain way.”

D’Antoni doesn’t believe his fast-paced style of basketball contributed to the Lakers’ injury woes.

“To me it’s ludicrous. To me, the pace of play and the way you spread the floor leads to less injuries,” he said.  “Just because you don’t pound and hit [as much].”

***

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: A grieving Joakim Noah is expected to be in the lineup for the Bulls’ playoff opener Nick Calathes will appeal his suspensionToni Kukoc wonders if Steve Kerr would make the necessary full commitment to becoming an NBA head coachChris Bosh goes deep into books and music to put on his game face

Morning Shootaround — April 16


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lillard, Blazers gear up for Rockets | Spurs’ Buford in it for long haul | D’Antoni didn’t know lottery rules | Nelson facing finale with Magic?

No. 1: Lillard gearing up for Rockets, matchup with Beverley — Few point guards in the NBA have established themselves as defensive pests as quickly as Rockets guard Patrick Beverley has. The high-energy, pressuring guard is crucial to Houston’s success this season and is expected to play a key role for the Rockets as they face the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. Beverley will have the task of trying to slow/pester Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard throughout the series, but Beverley already got under Lillard’s skin earlier this season. CSNNW.com’s Chris Haynes details the layers of the Beverley-Lillard matchup and the bad feelings that may lie therein that trace back to a March game between the teams:

Dwight Howard versus Robin Lopez, James Harden up against Wesley Matthews, Chandler Parsons trying to outdo Nicolas Batum, super reserves Jeremy Lin going toe-to-toe with Mo Williams.

But without a doubt, the most intriguing, intense matchup will be at the point guard position featuring Patrick Beverley and Damian Lillard. Aside from the fact that Beverley, and his defense, arguably gives Lillard the toughest time, there’s some recent bad blood that could creep up.

The day after an early March game between these two teams, a contest the Rockets won at home 118-133 in overtime, Beverley did a local radio interview and went out of his way to respond to what he perceived to be a slight from Lillard.

The interview was coming to a close after nearly nine minutes and Beverley quickly interrupted the host as he was in the process of thanking the guard for coming on.

“Ah, you didn’t ask me no question about Damian Lillard,” Beverley said to the gentlemen on Sports Talk 790 AM in Houston, followed by urging them to ask a question about Lillard in which they did.

“…Damian Lillard whines,” he went on to say. “I’m not a big fan of that. I don’t go out there and try to start fights with anybody. I go out there and play my game. That’s what I do. I don’t go out there and try to hack people. I don’t go out there and do that.”

Beverley was responding to Lillard’s comment saying the Rockets’ defensive guard was irritating and that he tries to get under your skin to get you to react. When Lillard heard the interview and how Beverley brought up his name out the blue, he was taken back.

“I was surprised,” Lillard told CSNNW.com after practice on Tuesday. “I said that what he was doing in that game was kind of irritating. It wasn’t meant to be disrespectful. It was meant to say it was irritating. But to go on the radio and them not even ask about me and then you bring me up, I thought that was unnecessary.”

To be frank, this is shaping up to be one hell of a first round series.

When asked today if the two needed to talk before the series began in order to clear the air, since all this was just a simple misunderstanding, Lillard rebuffed that notion.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Lillard responded. “I don’t have no beef with the dude. He’s competing just like I’m out there competing and that’s it. There’s nothing to hash out because we’re not best friends. We don’t know each other off the floor. There’s nothing really to hash out. But I respect him as a player, but the radio and all that stuff, that’s not my style. It was unnecessary.”

There’s clearly respect from both sides. Beverley was disturbed that Lillard didn’t give him his due credit as he made that clear in the radio interview. Lillard didn’t feel he was criticizing Beverley’s play with his comments, but contends that radio interview was over the top.


VIDEO: The Rockets beat the Blazers in an intense March matchup

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No. 2: Buford in for long haul with Spurs — San Antonio has cemented the No. 1 seed throughout the 2014 NBA playoffs, it has a full, healthy roster ready to make another NBA Finals run and, despite knowing that Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan will soon one day retire, remain an overall stable NBA franchise. Much of that credit goes to Spurs GM R.C. Buford, who, in a recent conversation with Grantland.com’s Zach Lowe, says he expects to be around after Duncan, Ginobili (and Tony Parker) hang it up and San Antonio builds around youngster Kawhi Leonard. Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News has more on Lowe’s chat with Buford:

Coach Gregg Popovich has backed away from previous jokes that he’ll be following Duncan out the door. And general manager R.C. Buford, who alongside Popovich and Duncan has helped establish the Spurs as one of the most stable organizations in North American professional sports, has every intention of overseeing the process.

“I’m incredibly happy where I am,” Buford said. “If somebody tells me they don’t want me around here anymore, then I’ll have to worry about where I go next.”

Buford’s comment was part of an extensive podcast with Grantland’s Zach Lowe, in response to why a team in a larger market wouldn’t simply throw a ton of money at he or former understudy Sam Presti, now the architect in Oklahoma City. But like many of his colleagues, particularly Popovich and Duncan, Buford treasures working in a smaller market where distractions from the task at hand — winning championships — are kept to a minimum.

Among the other topics covered –

* Duncan’s recent injury scare: “I was sitting near Jon Barry, who was doing the game for ESPN Radio. He said that’s the fastest he’s ever seen me move.”

* The advent of player tracking and advanced statistics: “From a basketball standpoint, knowing everything that happens on the floor should help us get better at evaluating and executing the strategies that we’ve chosen. It’s helped us recognize how much work goes into being a point guard. I think it gave us better appreciation of what (Tony Parker) really goes through.”

* This year’s trade deadline: “I think we felt we had some things that might happen that could help our team, and we had a value of what those were that we were comfortable extending. Other teams didn’t feel that way. You never know how close you are because there are conversations going on in a lot of places.”

* Whether Oklahoma City is an especially problematic matchup for the Spurs: “Kevin Durant is a problematic matchup for every team. And Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. They’re a really good team. We’re going to play the people who are in front of us and hopefully we’re playing well.”

***

No. 3: D’Antoni didn’t know draft implications of Lakers-Jazz game — Monday night’s Lakers-Jazz game from Salt Lake City was likely of interest to L.A. and Utah fans for perhaps one key reason: NBA Draft Lottery positioning. The Jazz entered with a 24-56 mark while the Lakers were 25-55 and a loss by the Jazz would assure Utah of no worse than the NBA’s fourth-worst record, and, with that, increased odds for a top 4 pick in the 2014 Draft. The Lakers would go on to a 119-104 rout that gave Utah what it hoped for. After the game, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni made a surprising revelation that he had no idea how the Lakers-Jazz game could have actually benefited L.A.’s lottery hopes. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

Intentional or not, there was more to D’Antoni’s accomplishment of snapping a seven-game Lakers losing streak with a 119-104 win against the lowly Utah Jazz. He also put himself firmly in the crosshairs with a faction of the purple and gold faithful who care only about the Lakers’ draft position at this point, rather than chasing meaningless wins to close out the season.

“What are you going to tell them? ‘Don’t play hard’?” D’Antoni said when asked whether the subject had been broached with his team before playing an equally abysmal Utah team. “That’s not right.”

If D’Antoni had stopped talking right there, he could have been spared the ire from the fan base, as the unexpected win would have been chalked up to Nick Young (who hit the 40-point plateau for the second time in eight games) and big nights from Jodie Meeks (23 points), Jordan Hill (21 points) and Kendall Marshall (15 assists).

But D’Antoni didn’t stop there, of course.

He continued his answer to reveal that he didn’t know exactly what was at stake for the Lakers, who went into the night with a 25-55 record, playing against a Jazz team that was 24-56.

“They played hard, and I think, if I’m not mistaken, it’s the same number of pingpong balls, right?” D’Antoni said. “They flip a coin, or something.”

Turns out, he was mistaken. The Lakers went into the night with the sixth-worst record in the league. A loss to the Jazz would have put them in a tie for fifth with Utah, with the Lakers owning the tiebreaker as the worse team — should the Jazz close out the season with a loss in Minnesota and L.A. finish things out with a loss in San Antonio — because Utah would have won the season series 3-1.

A reporter informed D’Antoni that the win by the Lakers actually cemented the Jazz with a worse record and thus better lottery chances.

“I mean, you kind of hate that,” D’Antoni responded, realizing what the win did to the potential draft order. “But, I thought we had the same rank.”

Another reporter chimed in to tell D’Antoni that if the Lakers had lost to Utah, the coach would have been correct.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” D’Antoni said. “Oh, OK. That’s all right; we’re going to beat San Antonio, anyway. So, it’s all for naught.”

***

No. 4: Nelson facing finale with Magic?A cursory look at the Orlando Magic’s all-time leaderboard in various stats reveals that point guard Jameer Nelson has etched a solid place in team lore. Nelson is the club’s all-time leader in assists and ranks in the top five in points, games played, 3-pointers made, steals and more. The Magic close out their lottery-bound season tonight with a home date against the Indiana Pacers and Nelson, whose deal next season is only partially guaranteed, could be saying farewell to the only NBA team he’s ever known. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel has more:

Nelson might not be with the franchise next season. Although he’s about to complete just the second year of a three-year contract, his salary for the 2014-15 season is only partially guaranteed. If the Magic waive him before July 15, the team would owe him only $2 million instead of $8 million.

Nelson, a diminutive point guard who has spent all 10 of his NBA seasons with the Magic, has said repeatedly he wants to remain with the team because his family loves Central Florida.

“I’m very cognizant it could be my last home game,” Nelson said. “It’s not up to me. It’s up to the team. It’s the team’s option. I would like to still be here and finish my career here. I have a lot more years left in me. Good years. I’m not sure what they have in store for me, but I’m just going to play it out and see what happens. Like I said, it’s just one of those things. I don’t have control over it. I don’t know what their thoughts are right now.”I have kids, so I’m worried about it. That’s the biggest thing for me. My family is more important to me than anything. I just want to be treated the right way. I want to be treated fair. I want to be treated the right way. I feel like I’m a guy of loyalty, so I just want everybody that’s involved in my life and in the organization to be loyal to me.”

A league source said the Magic haven’t made a decision on Nelson’s future.

Nelson has made only 39.4 percent of his shot attempts — the second-lowest field-goal percentage of his career — largely because of poor shot selection. But through Monday, he ranked eighth in the NBA in assists, averaging 7.0 per game.

The past two seasons have been difficult for Nelson. Last season, the Magic finished with a 20-62 record. This season, the team will bring a 23-58 record into its final game. He was a member of the Magic teams that reached the 2009 NBA Finals and the 2010 Eastern Conference finals, so he wasn’t accustomed to losing.

Magic officials have been pleased, though not surprised, that he has welcomed the team’s young players over the last two seasons.

“Jameer means everything to me,” second-year big man Kyle O’Quinn said. “I couldn’t be more lucky to have a vet like him. On the court, off the court he’s there for you no matter what. He even gets upset with you if you make a decision without him. That’s how much he wants to be involved. I love him like a brother.”`

Magic fans’ appreciation for Nelson has grown, too.

Back when the team was a title contender, some fans regarded Nelson as a liability because of his lack of height, his deficiencies as a defender and his shoot-first ways.

In recent years, however, he’s become a fan favorite, almost always receiving the loudest cheers during pregame introductions.

“The fans have definitely embraced me, and whenever I get to see fans or people that I know that are outside of the basketball arena, it’s all love,” he said. “It’s nothing but love.”


VIDEO: Jameer Nelson reflects on his career with the Magic

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Celtics legend Cedric Maxwell was standing in the spot where the Boston Marathon bombings took place last year about “7-8 minutes” before the event took place … Paul George, David West, C.J. Watson and Lance Stephenson will all get the night off tonight against the Magic … The Mavs are trying to value this 50-win season as much as any other … If he starts tonight’s game against the Sacramento Kings, Suns forward Channing Frye will, amazingly, have started all 82 games this season … How has Jeff Green done this season as Boston’s go-to guy?

ICYMI of the Night: Back in the mid-to-late 2000s, Andrei Kirilenko was making highlight reels as a member of the Jazz with amazing, no-look dimes like this one he threw to Mason Plumlee last night …


VIDEO: Andrei Kirilenko throws a behind-the-back, no-look pass to Mason Plumlee for the dunk

Blogtable: The next coach fired is …

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe 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.


BLOGTABLE: All-NBA center | Coaches in danger | Playoff team needs new gear



VIDEO: Mike Woodson talks to the media after New York’s loss in Miami on Sunday

> Who will be the first coach to lose his job at season’s end?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m calling “asterisk,” because this might come down to semantics. John Loyer might be done as Detroit’s main guy but he’s only an interim coach anyway, a place holder till owner Tom Gores makes his next basketball decision. Then there’s Rick Adelman in Minnesota, who is likely to opt-out of his deal for next season and has to exercise that window in his contract in the next few weeks. But that would be by his own hand, not quite “losing” his job. Golden State’s Mark Jackson and Indiana’s Frank Vogel might be in jeopardy, should their teams’ postseason ambitions land with a thud this spring, but that still would require a couple more weeks at least. New York’s Mike Woodson, however, seems like he’s on borrowed time already, his new boss dropping hints about a coming triangle attack and other looming changes. Only Jackson’s tendency to ponder things – and maybe possible replacement Steve Kerr‘s TV contract? – might slow the process.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: John Loyer and Tyrone Corbin. The Pistons need a complete makeover and owner Tom Gores is looking to rid the team of GM Joe Dumars and any remnants from his time in the Motor City. The Jazz gave Corbin a chance to move ahead in new era after the legend Jerry Sloan stepped down after the Deron Williams saga, but Corbin hasn’t produced in Salt Lake City.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Utah’s Ty Corbin by a nose over New York’s Mike Woodson. Or vice-versa.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Rick Adelman, depending on the semantics in Minnesota. Fired, resignation — the change is coming. Maybe the Pistons beat the Timberwolves and remove the interim tag from John Loyer’s title in a bad way.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com:Discounting John Loyer and Rick Adelman for the reasons Asch stated above, it’s most likely going to be Mike Woodson. Not only did his team have the most disappointing season, but it just hired a new head of basketball operations, a move which almost always produces a coaching change. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tyrone Corbin is also on the chopping block. He obviously wasn’t given much talent or experience to work with, but you don’t need a lot of talent to be a decent defensive team and the Jazz have been the worst defensive team in the league.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: One of the inevitable downsides of the end of any NBA season is that a few coaches will get their walking papers the morning after the last game. Detroit’s John Loyer will have that interim tag removed from his title, but not in the way that usually signals good things for an interim coach. Loyer, though, doesn’t deserve to do the coaching plank walk for a team that has underachieved this season. That honor, if you will, belongs to folks higher up the food chain in Detroit.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Well, the worst teams in the East are Boston, Orlando, Philly and Milwaukee. Only one of those teams isn’t supposed to be in the running — the Bucks. So I guess Larry Drew will be in the crosshairs. In the West, Utah, the Lakers, Sacramento and New Orleans are in the mix. So I suppose Mike D’Antoni will be in the conversation, with or without Rex Chapman‘s tweets. If I had to pick one, though? I guess D’Antoni, although I don’t necessarily think it would be a just maneuver. Too bad Phil Jackson already got a gig.

Morning Shootaround — April 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

***

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

Life is uncomplicated for Lionel Hollins these days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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


VIDEO: Marcin Gortat joins the Celtics’ huddle


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


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

Morning shootaround — March 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook bangs knee; Durant scores 51 | Gasol leaves in walking boot | Knicks make it eight straight | Nash dishes 11 dimes | Bynum out indefinitely


VIDEO: Closer look at Durant’s 51-point performance

No. 1: Westbrook gets scare, Durant scores 51 — In a wild game at Toronto, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook left in the third quarter after banging knees with Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. It was Westbrook’s right knee, the one he’s had three surgeries on since initially tearing the meniscus in the first round of last year’s playoffs. He immediately reacted to the pain and slammed his palm on the floor. He was assisted off the floor as the Thunder held their breath. More will be known as Westbrook is re-evaluated in Oklahoma City today. The Thunder won the game in dramatic fashion, 119-118, in double overtime. Kevin Durant capped a remarkable night with his seventh 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds to go, giving him 51 points. Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman has the details:

The official word is a right knee sprain, and the plan is to re-evaluate him Saturday in Oklahoma City.

Although Westbrook didn’t return to the Thunder’s thrilling 119-118 double-overtime victory over the Raptors, he was in great spirits after the game and said he doesn’t expect to miss any time. He left the Air Canada Centre walking just fine, without crutches or even a knee brace, just a routine black sleeve hidden under his pants.

And judging by Westbrook’s demeanor and that of his teammates and coach Scott Brooks, the injury didn’t appear to be serious.

“I feel good, man,” Westbrook said. “I’m pain-free. I’m just going to, (Saturday), get it looked at and go from there.”

The injury occurred with 7:37 remaining in the third quarter.

Westbrook made a slight jab-step beyond the 3-point line on the left wing. As Westbrook held his left foot in place as his pivot, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry inadvertently bumped into Westbrook’s right knee while closing out.

Westbrook’s knee bent inward, and he immediately called a timeout, slamming the ball to the court upon doing so.

“You’ve been hurt before, you kind of get nervous like I did,” Westbrook said of his reaction.

After briefly attempting to walk off whatever pain or discomfort he was feeling, Westbrook was helped to the locker room by Thunder center Hasheem Thabeet and trainer Joe Sharpe. He remained in the dressing room for the duration of the game as the Thunder battled back from an eight-point deficit inside the final minute of double overtime.

Kevin Durant hit the game-winner, a 3-pointer from 31 feet with 1.7 seconds remaining. He then forced Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan into contested fadeaway from the right baseline. It fell short as the clock hit zero.

Durant finished with a game-high 51 points, his second 50-point game this season, and added 12 rebounds and seven assists.

“We couldn’t go another overtime,” Durant said. “So I had to live with whatever happened.”

***


VIDEO: Gasol injured in Grizzlies’ loss in Miami

No. 2: Gasol sprains left ankle — Midway through the third quarter, Grizzlies center Marc Gasol hobbled off the floor with a sprained left ankle and left the American Airlines Arena floor in a walking boot. It was a double whammy for the Grizzlies, one of the hottest teams in the NBA since Jan. 1. Not only must they wait and wonder about the health of the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, they lost a lead they had held for most of the game as the Heat pulled out the victory. More will be known on the severity of Gasol’s injury, but one thing is certain — Memphis needs its big man in the final month of the regular season to ensure it makes the playoffs, let alone have a chance to return to the Western Conference finals. Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has more:

Memphis’ bigger issue seemed to be executing without Gasol.

The 7-footer left with 6:34 left in the third period. He was hurt earlier on a non-contact play. Gasol appeared to roll his ankle as he turned to run. Gasol left the arena wearing a walking boot and he’ll be re-evaluated Saturday before the Griz face the Indiana Pacers for the second game of a back-to-back.

“It made it tough, but we tried to play small and stretch them out,” Griz coach Dave Joerger said. “I thought we did a good job of getting it to Zach. He had a heck of a game.”

Gasol had been a force, too, and not just because of his 14 points and six rebounds.

“We were using him to make the second and third pass,” [Mike] Conley said. “He was playing point forward. The whole scheme went through him.”

The game was knotted at 68 entering the fourth quarter after both teams exchanged large scoring runs in the third. Memphis allowed a 12-point advantage to disappear in the final few minutes of the third.

***

No. 3: Knicks keep playoff push alive — The Knicks handed the Philadelphia 76ers their 23rd consecutive loss, but the bigger news was that New York kept its playoff hopes alive despite already having 40 losses as the calendar turns to spring. But that’s the beauty of the Eastern Conference, folks. And with the Atlanta Hawks losing, the Knicks moved within three games of the eighth and final playoff spot. And guess what? New York’s upcoming schedule offers even more hope with games against the hobbled Cavaliers and Lakers followed by the Kings. Peter Botte of the New York Daily News has the story:

With new team president Phil Jackson returning to his California home following his triumphant Garden return two nights earlier, the bench nearly coughed up a 17-point lead in a game the Knicks had controlled with five minutes left. But [Mike] Woodson turned back to his first unit in the final 30 seconds, and the Knicks just barely did what they had to do to survive and advance Friday night against a team that now has dropped 23 straight games, holding on for their season-best eighth straight win, 93-92, over the dreadful Sixers at Wells Fargo Center.

“We didn’t have no choice at that point. I felt like we had a very comfortable lead. It happened. Them guys never quit,” [Carmelo] Anthony said about having to return to the game after it looked like his night was finished. “You could just see the lead dwindling, possession by possession. You go from up (17) and you look up and we’re only up two with a couple of seconds on the clock, so hopefully we didn’t have to come up with a prayer.”

***

No. 4: Nash shines in return — Maybe 40-year-old Steve Nash has something left after all. Fighting injuries all season, the two-time MVP made yet another return Friday night just a week after being declared done for the season. The Los Angeles Lakers still lost to the Washington Wizards, but the aging wizard for L.A. put on quite a show, dishing out a season-high 11 assists to go with five points, four rebounds and three steals in 19 minutes. He came off the bench for the first time since March 9, 2000 with Dallas, snapping a stretch of 975 consecutive starts, reports Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:

“Just to feel good and feel like you can make a play for your teammates and put pressure on the other team and move freely,” Nash said. “It’s why I love this game and that’s why I’ve kept fighting and trying to work in case I got another opportunity.”

Nash said he came out of the game in the fourth quarter after tweaking his back but remained hopeful he could play Sunday against the Orlando Magic. Lakers guard Xavier Henry also hurt his left wrist and said he would have an MRI exam on Saturday after X-rays were negative.

Nash made his first appearance since Feb. 11, when he suffered a recurrence of the nerve irritation in his back that has limited him to 11 games this season. There was concern in that Nash might never play another NBA game.

Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters March 13 that Nash would not return this season because it didn’t make sense for him to push his 40-year-old body with so few games left.

Then Jordan Farmar strained his right groin in practice Monday, opening the door for Nash.
After entering the game to warm applause late in the first quarter, Nash quickly found Hill for a jump hook and made a couple of behind-the-back passes on the way to collecting five assists in his first six minutes.

D’Antoni said Nash probably would continue to come off the bench unless he “gets to a certain point and gets that good” because of limited practice time and the Lakers wanting to be cautious with his body.

Nash has one more season and $9.7 million left on his contract but could be waived by Sept. 1, allowing the Lakers to spread out his salary over three seasons.

He would prefer to prove over the next month that he’s ready to play one more.

***

No. 5:  Swelling puts Bynum on ice — If the Indiana Pacers truly signed big man Andrew Bynum to keep him away from the Miami Heat, well the Heat’s training staff will probably be sending a thank-you card. Experiencing continued swelling and soreness in his right knee, Bynum will be out indefinitely, the team announced Friday. Bynum signed with the Pacers on Feb. 1, but has played in just two games. On a strange note, although not so much when it comes to Bynum, he reportedly got his hair cut at halftime of Friday’s game against Chicago. Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star has more on Bynum’s injury status:

Bynum has played in two games with the Pacers, averaging 11.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in just under 18 minutes per game.

Though the Pacers expected to play Bynum in short spurts, last Saturday he reached 20 minutes against the Detroit Pistons. Since then, Bynum has been on the inactive list.

On Tuesday, Bynum, who did not participate in practice, said after the session that his swollen right knee needed to be drained.

“This one is a lot more concerning for me because it caused me a lot more fluid,” Bynum said.

Now days later, Pacers coach Frank Vogel answered “no” when asked if there had been any progress with Bynum’s knee since the return from Detroit.

“There’s still swelling,” Vogel said on Friday. “I really don’t have anything new. Other than it’s swollen right now, we’ll give you an update when we’re ready to.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Heat present Mike Miller his 2013 championship ring as Grizzlies visit Miami … Tony Parker says he will play five or six more years with Spurs then play for French team he owns … Andre Miller says Nuggets made him out to be the bad guyKevin Garnett is unsure of return from back spasms … Bobcats ask Charlotte for $34.1 million to improve arena.

Morning Shootaround — March 20


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sanders done for season | Might Nash play again this season? | Lowry’s long road to NBA stardom | NBA rules on Buss-Jackson relationship

No. 1: Bucks’ Sanders done for season — From start to what is now the finish, the 2013-14 season has been one to forget for Milwaukee big man Larry Sanders. A season after making a name for himself with the Bucks with his defensive play and flashes of offensive skill, Sanders struggled through an injury and off-the-court-incident marred season. Playing against the Rockets on Feb. 8, Sanders went up for a rebound and got hit in the right eye, suffering an orbital fracture. Sanders says he’s done for the season, writes Charles F. Gardner of the Journal-Sentinel, and is gearing up for 2014-15:

Sanders, traveling with the Bucks on their current four-game western trip, confirmed he would not return this season in a locker-room interview.

Now Sanders is focusing on the future and his role in helping the rebuilding Bucks. He will be starting a four-year, $44 million contract next fall, the extension he signed last summer.

And he said he has learned some things after being sidelined six weeks early in the season due to a torn ligament in his right thumb, an injury he suffered in a fight in a downtown Milwaukee nightclub.

“I think you just take from it what you can,” Sanders said of his unfulfilling season, with 23 games played and 20 starts. “It’s funny you go through things in life and they help mold us into better people, if you learn from things.

“I think that’s what this year was all about. Going through it is tough. But when you get through it you start to understand how you become better.”

Sanders said he has major goals to achieve in the off-season, including getting stronger to battle the centers he must face each night.

“I want to put on a lot of weight,” he said. “At least 15 pounds. I want to get to 240, 245, a good running weight. I want to be really strong. I want to feel unmoveable out there.

“I just see it being the hardest working summer since back when I was in college, maybe when I was going out for the draft (in 2010). That will be the only one I could probably compare to this one.”

A team source said Sanders could not do any activities over the last few weeks due to the delicate nature of the eye surgery. The repairs were needed to make sure Sanders would not suffer from double vision issues.

But the source indicated Sanders should be able to begin light activities (jogging, running on a treadmill) by mid-April and eventually return to the basketball court.

Sanders said fans have stuck behind him despite his travails.

“A lot of fans are still rooting for me,” he said. “I’m out and they’re looking for me to come back and be better. With that in mind, I’m going to carry it with me every day. I’m carrying it with me now. It’s building up.

“It’s going to be a good summer for work.”

Sanders said he’s optimistic about the team despite its 13-55 record this season.

“It can only get better,” Sanders said. “I guarantee you we’ll have a better season than this year. We’ll get a lot of time to spend together this summer, catch these guys out on the road, wherever they’re at. Try to get some team stuff going, too.”

***

No. 2: D’Antoni changes stance on Nash’s status — On March 13, it looked like Steve Nash‘s season with the Los Angeles Lakers — and perhaps his NBA career as we know it — was over. It was on that day that the Los Angeles TimesMike Bresnahan reported that Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni had closed the door on Nash’s season, telling reporters he wouldn’t play this season. But it seems that may not be the case after all. According to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin, D’Antoni could be reversing field on Nash’s status:

Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni opened the door for the chance that Steve Nash could return at some point this season after the veteran guard supposedly shut it down last week because of nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings.

“It’s still a possibility,” D’Antoni said Wednesday when asked if Nash could play at some point in the Lakers’ final 15 games. “We have to see where he is physically. … We’ll have to see some practices and see how it goes.”

The Lakers are down to one healthy point guard in Kendall Marshall, with Jordan Farmar out for a minimum of two weeks because of a strained right groin.

The 40-year-old Nash told Time Warner Cable SportsNet on Tuesday, “I feel pretty good. I feel as though I could play now at a good level. The question is could I sustain it?”

Nash has not played since Feb. 11 when he exited just before halftime against the Utah Jazz.

“We’ll have to see,” D’Antoni said. “Again, we’re just trying to get him totally healthy. You just don’t want to send him out there and play him when he’s not healthy. The last time we tried, if you remember, he didn’t make it through a game. We can’t have him start the game and then at halftime not be able to come out. We got to look and see and maybe try it in a couple practices and see if he can get 100 percent healthy, but right now he’s not there.”


VIDEO: Mike D’Antoni talks after the Lakers’ home loss to the San Antonio Spurs

***

No. 3: Inside Lowry’s long road to NBA stardom – If you are a Toronto Raptors fan or, for that matter, a Kyle Lowry fan, we’ve got the story for you. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports has a fantastic, lengthy look at the career of Toronto’s star point guard who has gone from late Draft pick out of Villanova, to backup point guard in Memphis, to part-time starter in Houston, to part-time starter in Toronto to a full-fledged elite point guard this season with the help of some coaching from Pistons guard Chauncey Billups:

Once and for all, Masai Ujiri told Kyle Lowry the truth.

Oh, how Ujiri loves Lowry’s game – his talent, his ferocity, his intellect – and how he wanted him to understand: Spare your career this maddening, self-fulfilling prophecy and honor a relentless summer of conditioning and commitment with the best season of your life.

Ujiri didn’t hear excuses out of Lowry, only noticing his knowing nods and hurting eyes. Lowry was listening. Finally, he was listening.

From Ujiri to Lowry’s agent Andy Miller to his NBA mentor Chauncey Billups, this had been the summer of tough love and tougher introspection. Ultimately, the truths coated Lowry like a second skin: He was pissing his promise away, trading All-Star winning talent and long-term financial security for a loser’s legacy and journeyman status.

“I had to look at myself in the mirror,” Lowry told Yahoo Sports over a shrimp salad inside the e11even restaurant in Rogers Centre. “I know what people are saying now, ‘Oh it’s a contract year,’ but it’s bigger than that for me. Yes, I want a contract. And then I want to outgrow that one and get another one. But I want to win. I want to grow. And to grow, you’ve got to be able accept coaching.

“You’ve got to be able to be coached.”

Lowry, 27, has transformed himself and transformed a franchise this season. When everyone expected the Raptors to be liquidated for draft picks, young players and salary-cap space, Lowry played the biggest part of holding the team together and chasing an improbable Atlantic Division title. He does it all for the Raptors, and he’s rapidly validating himself as one of the NBA’s finest point guards.

For the season, Lowry’s been magnificent, averaging 17.2 points, 7.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds. Across the past 15 games, he been even better: 19 points, 9.3 assists and 5.7 rebounds. Most of all, the Raptors are winning – 37-29 and in third place in the Eastern Conference.

“I struggled to prove that I belonged,” Lowry says. “My first couple years in the NBA, my fear was that I was going to go to the D-League – and maybe never get back to the NBA. I was picked 24th and that’s not the cushion that a lottery pick gets in the NBA. You get a few chances, and then you’re done. Then you’re just a label, never to be a frontline guy.

This season, the seeds of a transformation were born out of the voice that carried the most credibility with Lowry: Billups, the Detroit Pistons guard. After Lowry left Villanova in 2006, Miller, his agent connected his most treasured client – Billups – with one of his most promising in Lowry. So much of the reason Lowry and Miller connected as agent and client had been Miller’s willingness to tell him the truth, to never placate Lowry over his early missteps with excuses. If nothing else, Lowry’s fiercely loyal, and part of him always knew he needed those voices in his life – even if he wasn’t fully ready to listen.

Nevertheless, Miller always understood Billups was his best chance to reach Lowry on the most important levels, that Billups’ mentoring of Lowry promised the best possible path for the young guard’s career. The thing was, Billups loved Lowry and saw so much of himself in him. Billups wanted to make Lowry understand the consequences awaiting at the crossroads of his career.

Between morning basketball workouts in Las Vegas and afternoon golf outings, Billups worked over Lowry. Billups’ story lent credibility, a riches-to-rags-to-riches tale of rising again. For everything Billups has become in the NBA, he had gone the way of Lowry in his first several years: rudderless, teetering and on the brink of fading into the league’s abyss. These weren’t lectures, but lessons.

“I told him, ‘If you squander this opportunity, this is it for you,’ ” Billups told Yahoo Sports. “I kept telling him, ‘You going go Toronto was like me going to Detroit.’ That was my last real chance, and that was the case for him there now, too.

“Kyle’s always been a little stubborn, a little bit of a know-it-all. Those things held him back. But I think he finally looked deep into the mirror and realized, ‘Hey, it’s not my game that’s causing problems, it’s everything else.’

“He had to learn to listen to constructive criticism. He had to learn to lead. In this league, perception is reality. Once you’ve created a reputation, it is hard – really hard – to shake it. He has an older generation mindset of competitiveness, with a younger generation skillset.

“Kyle has the perfect combination. And now he’s sharpened it.”

Two years ago, the Houston Rockets traded Lowry to the Raptors. Two stops, two bad endings. He had been the 24th pick of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2006 but a year later, they selected Mike Conley fourth overall and it became clear whom the organization had committed itself. Houston made a deal for Lowry, and he flourished for a season under coach Rick Adelman. The Rockets made him a starter, and Lowry made everyone see his talent in the 2010-11 season.

Only Adelman left, and Lowry couldn’t get over it. He fought new coach Kevin McHale on everything – and relationships were even worse with the assistant coaches. Lowry lost his starting job and lost the clear-mindedness to lead the locker room.

“He never gave the coaching staff a chance,” assistant coach Kelvin Sampson told Yahoo Sports. “He wouldn’t let Kevin coach him. Kyle’s greatest strength is the bulldog in him, and when that bulldog is channeled the in right direction, he’s tough to handle on the floor. And when it isn’t, he’s tough to handle everywhere else.”


VIDEO: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan talk about the Raptors’ success this season

***

No. 4: NBA addresses Buss-Jackson relationshipPhil Jackson is two days into his new gig as president of the New York Knicks. His fiancee, Los Angeles Lakers executive Jeannie Buss, has been in the front office of the team since 1998. The two started dating in 1999 and got engaged in December of 2012. But with both people in such high-profile roles with their respective teams, the NBA thought it appropriate to establish some parameters to the relationship as it pertains to NBA business, writes Darren Rovell and Ramona Shelbourne of ESPN.com:

An NBA official has acknowledged that the league has put parameters in place to make sure that the high-profile relationship between Jeanie Buss and Phil Jackson doesn’t create any issues.

“The Knicks’ hiring of Phil Jackson is subject to the league’s conflict of interest rules,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass told ESPN.com. “To avoid even the appearance of a conflict, we have addressed the issue with the Knicks and Lakers to ensure that the relationship between Jeanie Buss and Phil Jackson will not affect how the teams operate.”

Since the engagement, sources say the league has gotten more serious about the two being on the up and up.

Recently retired NBA commissioner David Stern had several conversations with Buss as Jackson entertained potential jobs with the Toronto Raptors, the potential Seattle franchise and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Buss acknowledged, in an interview that will air in its entirety on Time Warner Cable Sportsnet in Los Angeles on Wednesday, that she had dinner with new commissioner Adam Silver and the topic was broached.

“There is an understanding all trades are approved by the NBA, and I don’t anticipate any problem because I don’t make the basketball decisions on behalf of the Lakers,” said Buss, who has indeed previously ceded all basketball decisions to her brother Jim and team general manager Mitch Kupchak. “So I really don’t see where there would be a conflict.”

But the league is sensitive to the impression of any impropriety. On Tuesday, Lakers forward Pau Gasol told reporters that he isn’t allowed to talk to his former coach because he’ll be a free agent and any talks with Jackson could be considered tampering.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Spurs swingman Manu Ginobili takes the blame for his shoe malfunction a few weeks ago … Dirk Nowitzki has provided a lot of heroic moments in his Mavs career, but last night against the Wolves just wasn’t one of those nightsChauncey Billups is weighing whether or not to play next season or pursue a front-office job with the Pistons … Ricky Davis, the high-flying former standout of the Cleveland Cavaliers, was released by the NBA D-League’s Erie Bayhawks yesterday … The Pelicans don’t figure to be a big spender on the free-agent market this summer … Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are still shunning Ray Allen, it seems … Markieff Morris has developed more confidence in his low-post game this season

ICYMI of the Night: With the words of the famous philosopher Tommy Boy (“brothers don’t shake hands … brothers gotta hug!“) in mind, we present this nice Marcus Morris-to-Markieff Morris alley-oop from last night …


VIDEO: Morris twins hook up on a nice alley-oop against the Magic

Kobe criticism can’t all fall on Jim Buss

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Shaq weighs in on Kobe’s frustration with the Lakers organization

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Phil Jackson is gone. Mike D’Antoni remains, for now. Two parties at the top of the Lakers pyramid aren’t going anywhere: Jim Buss and Kobe Bryant.

The latter, reduced to six games this season due to injury but signed to a two-year extension for $48.5 million, last week turned up the heat on the former to put the broken Lakers back together. This summer.

As Kobe should know after signing his over-market deal, it’s easier said than done. Yet during his press conference to officially announce that his slowly healing knee will prevent him from playing again this season, Bryant dug into the late, great owner Jerry Buss‘ son-in-charge Jim – and to an extent Jeanie, Jim’s sister and Phil’s girlfriend — to set a distinct course for the future on everything from team culture to the team’s coach.

“You got to start with Jim,” Bryant said. “You got to start with Jim and Jeanie and how that relationship plays out. It starts there and having a clear direction and clear authority. And then it goes down to the coaching staff and what Mike is going to do, what they’re going to do with Mike, and it goes from there. It’s got to start at the top.”

Of course no one, not Kobe, was fanning distress signals at the start of the 2012-13 season when the conversation was whether the Lakers would win 70. They had pulled off a deal for Dwight Howard (no complaints at the time in Lakerland), a move the club had planned to come after trading for Chris Paul following the 2011 lockout, but everybody knows that story.

Then-commissioner David Stern, acting as decision-maker for the then-New Orleans Hornets because the league owned the team at the time, vetoed the trade that would have joined Paul with Kobe. A week later Stern stamped Paul’s ticket to the Clippers, leaving Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak fuming. The next summer, as consolation, the Lakers made the swap with Phoenix for Steve Nash, again prompting praise void of complaint.

Only nobody could foretell the freak leg fracture Nash would suffer in his second game in purple-and-gold, an injury that spawned relentless nerve damage and could well end his career next month.

Mike Brown was fired five games into the season. The hiring of D’Antoni over Jackson was, yes, mishandled, messy and ill-advised, deserving of criticism. The maniacal Kobe despised the happy-go-lucky Dwight. Dwight pouted over D’Antoni’s no-post offense. Then Kobe blew out his Achilles in the final days of the regular season. Conveniently lost in the clutter was the 28-12 finish to the season. Before Kobe’s injury and before injury would again force Nash to bow out, experts on TV, including the highly critical Magic Johnson, were calling the Lakers a serious threat to beat the Spurs in the first round.

Only now, as this injury-plagued disaster of a season limps to the end, it seems so long ago.

Now, as Jackson takes the controls of the Knicks to Kobe’s dismay, the Lakers’ future, as murky as it is, will have to unfold one step at a time, regardless of how quickly Kobe wants a contending team to magically appear around him.

Jim Buss might not be his father, but it’s also not the same NBA. The collective bargaining agreement doesn’t make a quick rebuild easy even for big-market, high-revenue teams. Kobe’s high-priced extension eats into this summer’s cap space, making it next to impossible to re-sign Pau Gasol along with a max-level free agent despite Kobe’s constant lobbying to the front office keep Pau on board.

In fact, Jim Buss believed he had already secured contending seasons for Kobe’s final years by securing the franchise’s next superstar in Howard.

Kobe had no tolerance for Howard’s playfulness nor did he hold an interest in convincing him to stay. And now Kobe is short on teammates, patience and time. He says he’s not interested in a drawn-out rebuild, even as few other choices are plentiful.

His turning up the heat on Jim Buss can’t come without also looking in the mirror. The Lakers will have cap space to work with this summer and next, and a high draft pick this June. That’s Jim Buss’ new starting point.

“It’s my job to go out there on the court and perform. No excuses for it, right?” Kobe said. “You got to get things done. It’s the same thing with the front office. The same expectations they have of me when I perform on the court is the same expectations I have for them up there. You got to be able to figure out a way to do both.”

Unfortunately for Kobe and the Lakers, it’s easier said than done.

Is this the end of the Steve Nash era?

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com




VIDEO: Steve Nash on his career and overcoming injuries

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You hate to see anyone who loves his job as much as Steve Nash does dealt the blows he has been in the twilight of his career.

But Father Time spares no one, not even a player as beloved by his teammates, coaches and fans as Nash. The two-time MVP point guard is facing what could be the final crossroads of his storied career. His 2013-14 season is over, and really never got started thanks to an assortment of injuries, aches and pains that simply did not allow him to perform up to his lofty career standards.

But just to be sure, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni closed that door this afternoon …

The news comes just hours after Kobe Bryant‘s season was officially sacked, the casualty of a knee fracture and recovery from a torn Achilles tendon that cost him all but six games. All this happens in Lakerland as legendary Lakers and Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson decides to take his talents to New York and run the Knicks.

Nash’s season included appearances in just 10 games. He just couldn’t overcome the avalanche of injuries that have plagued him throughout his two-season run with the Lakers. He’s already said that if the Lakers use the stretch provision (the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement gives the Lakers the option of waiving Nash and spreading the cap hold of $9.7 million salary over three seasons) and release him this summer that he’s all but calling it a career.

“If the Lakers release me this summer this is it,” Nash said during Episode 2 of the Finish Line, the documentary he’s doing with Grantland.com that chronicles his final season(s) in the league. “You know, I finally got my kids here in L.A., I’m not going to move them again, and I’m not going to be without them for another year. So, it’s either back with the Lakers next year or I’m done.”

Nash was a part of the core group the Lakers assembled before the start of the 2012-13 season — Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Bryant were the others — that was supposed to return the franchise to its previous championship glory.

It never happened. Nash suffered an early injury, never regained his form and wound up playing in just 50 games. Howard struggled with his recovery from back surgery and the adjustment from Orlando to Los Angeles and ultimately bolted for Houston in free agency last summer. Gasol struggled with injuries and his new role as a set piece on the periphery for Howard and Bryant and will be a free agent this summer. Kobe suffered that Achilles injury late in the season, as he was grinding away to make sure the Lakers made the playoffs, and ended up missing the postseason altogether.

Kobe and Nash were expected to lead the Lakers this season, but again, injuries derailed those plans.

The accumulation of that wear and tear on Nash’s body and mind could very well lead to the future Hall of Famer (I don’t think there is any doubt he’s headed there eventually) to indeed call it a career.

No one can blame Nash, 40, for hanging it up at this point. When it takes this much painstaking work just to get fit enough to take the floor, any player in his right mind would consider closing the door on that part of his career and moving on.

Nash has other endeavors that will surely keep him plugged into the game, including his post as head of the Canadian national program.

His playing days, however, could very well be over.

)
VIDEO: Steve Nash talks about the stretch provision in The End Of The Line: Episode 2 on Grantland