Posts Tagged ‘Orlando Magic’

Blogtable: Coaching Carousel

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


BLOGTABLE: Playoff injuries | Lottery team(s) in 2015-16 playoffs? | Coaching carousel



VIDEO: Inside the NBA on Monty Williams’ firing

> We have a coaching vacancy in New Orleans (and possibly in Denver and Orlando, too). Who are the best candidates out there, and which job is most attractive?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I don’t think there’s any big hire just waiting to happen. Our man Sekou Smith is a believer in John Calipari for New Orleans, though I remain skeptical about the college peacocks who try to tackle this league. I think Scott Skiles would be a great fit in Orlando, but the Magic allegedly are waiting to see if they can scoop up Tom Thibodeau if he and Bulls management get divorced (with the Bulls eyeballing Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg). Monty Williams and Scott Brooks are in some conversations, though they might prefer to get paid to decompress. I’m wondering if we’re ever going to see Jeff Van Gundy coaching again. Let’s not forget top assistant coaches like Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue and Miami’s David Fizdale. As for the best job of the three currently open, that’s a Big Easy – only one offers the privilege of coaching Anthony Davis, the NBA’s Next Big Thing. Fly, Pelicans, fly.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Another layup.  The best job available is coaching Anthony Davis as he moves into the MVP phase of his career.  If the Bulls, as everyone expects, are dumb enough to show Tom Thibodeau the door, he’s just the guy to get the Pelicans to actually play defense and put some sharp edges on A.D.’s game.  The top candidates will be Alvin Gentry, Mike D’Antoni and Michael Malone and probably Fred Hoiberg out of the college ranks.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Since Monty Williams is suddenly, unexpectedly “out there”: Monty Williams. And obviously anyone who works, has worked for or may one day work for the Spurs. Automatic hire, right? Also, the list changes when/if the Bulls break up with Tom Thibodeau. Keep an eye on Scott Brooks, Michael Malone, Tyronn Lue, Alvin Gentry and Adrian Griffin. They are all attractive jobs, a pretty atypical statement for teams changing coaches. Going to New Orleans is walking into a playoff team with an All-Star centerpiece. Denver can be good next season and, depending on the offseason moves, push into the postseason conversation. Orlando has an attractive foundation and the chance to coach in the Eastern Conference with an easier path to the playoffs.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Pelicans job comes with The Next Tim Duncan and therefore has that going for it. But: I’m not sold on Anthony Davis re-signing with New Orleans and there are questions about management and ownership. If the Orlando job comes open, that could be the most attractive because there’s growth on the roster, no pressure to win right away, the benefit of playing in the weak East, another lottery pick coming and a smart GM in charge.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comIf Tom Thibodeau’s days in Chicago are over, he should be the No. 1 candidate. Scott Brooks would help a young team (like Orlando) develop, Mike Malone could straighten out a team defensively, and assistants David Fizdale and Tyronn Lue look ready to sit in the big chair. Anthony Davis obviously makes the New Orleans job most attractive. And because the Pelicans ranked 22nd defensively and didn’t get Davis the ball enough, there’s room for immediate improvement.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThere are dozens of quality candidates for these openings, many of them serving in the same role as the reigning Coach of the Year, Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, did for years alongside Gregg Popovich. So it’s not hard for a quality organization to identify good candidates. It’s what they do once they have done so that matters. Too often ownership and management get caught up in the name game when they should do what the Memphis Grizzlies did in identifying a guy like Dave Joerger, a longtime assistant ready to take that next step, and making it happen. The best of the best out there right now would be Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue (he who saved the season over the weekend by doing David Blatt’s job) and the Orlando job is the perfect match. If the college route is your preference, John Calipari and New Orleans is a no-brainer, if you want to keep Anthony Davis in the Big Easy.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The highly-coachable Anthony Davis makes the Pelicans’ job No. 1. If you’re seeking a proven winner then go with Mike D’Antoni (four seasons of 54 or more wins in Phoenix), who will heighten the market value of your players like no other coach. If it’s a new look you want, then consider Ettore Messina, the Italian winner of four Euroleague championships who served as the Spurs’ lead assistant this season. You should also consider Scott Brooks, Alvin Gentry, Nate McMillan, Scott Skiles and Spurs assistant Jim Boylen. (And Tom Thibodeau, if the imminent rumors turn out to be true.)

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, of course the most attractive candidate is probably the guy still coaching right now that everyone assumes will be a free agent by July. I don’t want to name any names, out of respect for the living, but his name rhymes with Dom Dhibodeau. There’s also the complement of assistants ready for their big shot, like Atlanta’s Kenny Atkinson, or a D-League mastermind like Nate Bjorkgren, or a college coach like Billy Donovan, who already got swept up by the Thunder. The best gig out there? That’s easy: Which team is it that has Anthony Davis? New Orleans? OK, I’ll go with them.

Morning shootaround — May 3


VIDEO: Clippers advance with thrilling Game 7 win over Spurs

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul has legacy game | Questions loom over Spurs’ summer | As Wall goes, so go Wizards | Banged-up Conley key for Grizzlies

No. 1: Paul has legacy game — It wasn’t quite a Bill Mazeroski or Joe Carter moment, but it was close. While Chris Paul‘s series-winning bank shot that beat the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 wasn’t a “walk-off” highlight – to use popular baseball lingo that describes Mazeroski’s and Carter’s World Series-grabbing home runs – it did come with just one second left on the game clock at Staples Center Saturday. That, according to the folks at the Elias Sports Bureau, made it the latest Game 7-winning field goal in NBA history. Paul’s balky left hamstring will crowd out that scrapbook play over the next 24 hours, as his Clippers prepare to face the Rockets in Houston with the possibility he won’t be available, but it’s worth a recap of the career night that forever will be part of Paul’s story, per Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

After playing the kind of game they’ll talk about when he enters the Hall of Fame one day, Chris Paul went and found older brother C.J.

The two men have been together since Day One of Chris’ NBA career, and Saturday after Paul hit a winner to knock out the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center, he hobbled over to his friends, his family and his brother. They embraced, and Paul finally exhaled while his brother shook his head in agreement.

“He said, ‘Finally,” C.J. Paul said.

Paul’s winner gave the Clippers a 111-109 win over the Spurs – the league’s defending champions and a team that has knocked him out of the playoffs twice before.

“I’m just glad to see him beat those guys,” C.J. Paul said. “We’ve been in the Western Conference for 10 years, and they’ve dominated for all 10 years really. For us to beat them like this … ohhh.”

Here’s how he did it – with 27 points on 13 shots, six assists, two steals, a block and one hamstring.

Chris Paul limped off the court late in the first quarter, burying his head into his hands before heading back to the locker room.

Paul had played in all 82 games this season for the first time in his career, and here he was, in the year’s biggest contest, wondering if his body had just failed him.

“We do everything we can to prepare for a game. You get your rest, you train, you work out, you eat right, try to take care of your body,” Paul said. “And I was just overcome with emotion because I was frustrated, because I was like, all this time, all season long, and then Game 7 my body is going to let me down.

“That’s what it was all about right there.”

***

No. 2: Questions loom over Spurs’ summer — Pressing Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, the oldest of San Antonio’s veteran core, on their respective future plans might have seemed premature to some, in the immediate wake of their lost back-to-back championship hopes. But that franchise’s aging (or ageless) stars were part of both the storyline and the appeal of the series against the Clippers and Game 7 specifically. Besides, these guys have a way of disappearing for most of the offseason, putting on pressure to grab-and-ask when one can. Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News tackled the look ahead as best he could:

The conventional wisdom has Duncan, who recorded his sixth double-double of the series with 27 points and 11 rebounds, coming back for more given that he continues to play at such a high level even at such an advanced age. The same cannot be said for Ginobili, who had his moments in Game 7 with eight points and seven assists but otherwise struggled in the series after averaging 10.5 points during the regular season, his lowest since his rookie year.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game he expects both them and himself to be back for a 14th season together in 2015-16.

“The paycheck’s pretty good,” he joked. … But whatever thought the players have put into retirement were kept largely to themselves during postgame, with neither tipping their hand about their plans.

“It’s too early to think about that,” Duncan said.

Said Ginobili, “(Retirement) could happen, easily. I still don’t know what I want to do, and I don’t want to make big decisions after a disappointment like this. I’ll sit with my family, try to evaluate what happened this year. The Spurs have a decision to make, too. It’s not a topic for right now.”

The Spurs could conceivably reload with the potential of more than $20 million in cap space this summer when the free agent period opens in July. But to reach that threshold, they’d have to bid farewell to both Duncan and Ginobili, who along with Tony Parker have been the foundation of the team since they first joined forces in 2002.

***

No. 3: As Wall goes, so go Wizards — Slotted into a Nos. 4-5 matchup with Toronto in the first round, on the heels of an underwhelming second half to the regular season, the Washington Wizards haven’t grabbed much of the playoff spotlight so far. Sweeping Toronto, impressive as that was, only served to send Washington back to the practice gym while others played more desperate games. But the Wizards’ talent is lurking, and whatever they accomplish will be orchestrated largely by point guard John Wall, who’s ready for his close-up, according to NBA.com contributor Ian Thomsen:

As he turns the corner on a career that is just now coming into focus, Wall is giving his Wizards a transcendent advantage. The recent negatives and traditions of their long-suffering franchise are suddenly not so important as his leadership. What his teammates have seen from their young point guard has led them to believe that their tomorrows will eclipse the yesterdays. Wall’s understanding of his teammates inspires them to believe in him.

“That’s what you go through training camp for,” says Wall, his voice deep and scratchy as if revealing the hard past. “That’s why, when you go on the road, you hang out as a team. You do little things to get the feeling, to know how they are. Some people are going to have certain mood swings and not have good days, and you’ve got to know how to talk to those guys and try to get them out of their slump, and to just lock in for those two or three hours that you’re playing the game.”

Wall’s physical talents are not to be taken for granted. But something else about him is driving and uniting his team. The reason he is fulfilling his own potential is because he is recognizing their potential.

The other bracket in the East is brimming with star power: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and their depleted Cavaliers are surrounded by Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler. In that series, the leaders are fighting to uphold reputations that have already been established.

The No. 5 Wizards, by contrast, have nothing to defend and everything to gain in their conference semifinal against the No. 1 Hawks. The Wizards are just now realizing how good they can become by playing through Wall. Their future is as unpredictable as his past.

***

No. 4: Banged-up Conley key for Grizzlies — Pretty vs. ugly: OK, that’s probably too reductive. Certainly there’s a lot more that will go into the Golden State-Memphis showdown in the Western Conference semifinals that begin Sunday afternoon in Oakland, but the contrast in styles between the Warriors’ high-flying, long-range offensive attack and the Grizzlies’ oversized mule team down low is as stark as anything we’ve seen or likely will see in the 2015 postseason. Few experts are giving Memphis much of a chance, Michael Wallace of ESPN.com notes, but its prospects perk up considerably if point guard Mike Conley is able to participate from the start. The facial injury he suffered against Portland in Round 1 might intrude, and likely will require a mask, but as soon as Conley is capable of helping his teammates, they’ll happily take him, Wallace writes:

Conley still had significant facial swelling when he attended Wednesday’s series-clinching victory over Portland two days after a surgery in which plates were inserted below and above his left eye. He sustained the injury in a Game 3 victory April 25 in Portland, when he was inadvertently elbowed in the face by Blazers guard C.J. McCollum. Conley has indicated he hopes to return at some point against the Warriors, but his coach and teammates have remained coy — perhaps strategically — about his progress.

Memphis coach Dave Joerger was asked before the team left Memphis if he expected Conley to play.

“I don’t,” Joerger said. “But only because that’s the way I look at the world as a head coach: Expect the worst, and if something better happens, then … You don’t want to go through the doctoral thesis of playoff prep, scouting-wise, without a guy with you. You want to absorb that and get the adjustments being made on the practice court or shootaround court, seeing stuff live. He’s definitely all-in mentally.”

Depending on the teammate questioned, Conley either spent the past two days practicing and on the verge of a return or nowhere to be found. All-Star center Marc Gasol suggested he hadn’t seen Conley and knew nothing about rumors his point guard had been testing protective masks, a step that wasn’t expected until swelling subsided substantially. But then shooting guard Courtney Lee told reporters Conley would be back and the Grizzlies would be facing the Warriors “with a full army” for Game 1.

“We’ll have Mike back,” Lee said. “We feel good about our chances. Just having him back is a boost.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James and Cavaliers coach David Blatt would be more surprised if Chicago’s Joakim Noah were not excited about getting Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals. …Before Steve Kerr, before Stephen Curry and definitely before the Golden State Warriors started winning big, they had the NBA’s most loyal, noisy and arguably knowledgeable fans. … Brook Lopez looms literally and figuratively as the biggest of the Brooklyn Nets’ free-agent decisions. … Then there’s Nets guard Deron Williams, whose coach, Lionel Hollins, has downgraded him from any lofty “franchise player” status. Nice of Lionel to catch up to the rest of us on that. … Portland’s multiple free agents will boost the NBA market overall, but they pose challenges for the Blazers. … If the Bulls cut loose Tom Thibodeau, the Orlando Magic will be waiting with a net. The Magic are determined to hire a coach with considerable experience. …

Morning shootaround — April 4


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Magic’s Vucevic planning to stay | Curry stung by ex-coach’s MVP pick | Spurs as NBA’s old, married couple | Bulls flirting with disappointment?

No. 1: Magic’s Vucevic planning to stay — So what if Minnesota, even at full strength, is far from an NBA powerhouse and on Friday happened to be playing without its three best big men. Nikola Vucevic didn’t have to apologize to anyone for his career-high 37 points and his 17 rebounds. More important, the Orlando center doesn’t want to have to apologize to Magic fans after saying goodbye in a few years, abandoning the franchise’s long-term plans the way Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard did. The big man spoke recently with Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel about loyalty and the vision he has for his career and his team’s future:

“Yeah, I’m here for the long haul. I hope to stay here my whole career,” he told me. “I love it here. I really love the city. I’ve improved here a lot as a player. I’d love to stay for a long, long time and make something special happen.

“If it takes years, it takes years … I ain’t going anywhere.”

Vucevic is inspired by the loyalty displayed by Italian soccer superstar Francesco Totti. Totti, 38, has played his entire career for Roma.

“Totti could have gone to bigger teams, made more money, do whatever he wanted. He didn’t,” he said. “He stayed with that team. He’s pretty much a god to that team.”

Rather humbly, Vucevic doesn’t consider himself in the class of Shaq and Dwight – repeat All-Stars and No. 1 overall picks.

The list of great big men here is short, but Vooch is already the third-best center the Magic have ever had. Eight long years passed between Shaq’s departure and Dwight’s arrival. Vooch has cut the wait time considerably after Howard departed.

He gets it done differently. Although he’s nearly 7-feet and weighs 260 pounds, Vucevic isn’t as dominating and demonstrative as his powerhouse predecessors. But he is a rare double-double machine, running quietly and efficiently.

More steady than spectacular, he relies on finesse instead of force, having learned the game overseas in Montenegro. Vooch does have a shooting stroke that Shaq and Dwight would envy (and he can make free throws).

“Both Shaq and Dwight had great legacies while they were here. I want to achieve what they achieved,” he said. “When I’m done, I’d love to have people talk about me the way they talk about them. I hope to get to the same level.

“I want to get there.”

***

No. 2: Curry stung by ex-coach’s MVP pick — Unlike his team’s runaway atop the Western Conference, Golden State’s Stephen Curry likely is going to find himself locked in a tight race for the NBA’s Kia Most Valuable Player award. Some voters probably won’t submit their ballots until the deadline on Thursday, April 16, the day after the regular season ends. But that won’t stop others – those with votes and those without – from floating their opinions sooner, and one who did was ABC/ESPN analyst Mark Jackson, Curry’s former Warriors coach. Jackson’s choice of Houston’s James Harden caught Curry off-guard, as evidence by his reaction. But Golden State teammate Andrew Bogut rushed to his point guard’s defense vs. Jackson, as reported by ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss:

ESPN analyst and former Warriors coach Mark Jackson said Wednesday on the “Dan Patrick Show” that while Curry, Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, are all worthy candidates, he’d give his MVP vote to James Harden of the Houston Rockets.

“If you twisted my arm today, I would probably vote for James Harden,” Jackson said. “The reason why is because he single-handedly has put that Houston Rockets team in the position that they’re in today.”

The comments come as a stark contrast to the way Jackson had previously championed his former charge as a superstar in the league, while he was coach of the Warriors.

“It’s his opinion obviously,” Curry said. “He’s probably been watching the league. People are going to ask what he thinks, especially his ties to the Warriors organization and myself specifically. Surprised me he said that. But, it is what it is.”

Curry had been vocally supportive of Jackson prior to the coach’s dismissal last offseason, something the Warriors point guard made mention of Friday.

“Obviously I wasn’t shy about trying to defend him last year when things were rumbling outside of our locker room,” Curry said. “But for him to … it’s kind of a different situation, but it is surprising that he didn’t.”

On Thursday, center Andrew Bogut, who had a less friendly relationship with Jackson, made light of his former coach’s opinion.

“Well what’s his name said no,” Bogut joked. “What’s that guy’s name? Mark? Mark? I don’t remember his name.”

***

No. 3: Spurs as NBA’s old, married couple — If you’re an NBA fan of college age or younger, you probably can’t remember a season in which the San Antonio Spurs did not win at least 50 games in a season. Their remarkable streak at that level stretches 16 years now, a testament to the staying power of coach Gregg Popovich and his Hall-of-Fame-bound core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Our man Fran Blinebury wrote about the uncommon professional and personal relationships that have produced all that success, and here’s a taste to whet your appetite for more:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half the marriages in the United States are over by the eighth year, which makes the union of the Spurs and consistent excellence — at twice that length — an accomplishment of tolerance, dedication and bliss.

By defeating Denver on Friday night, the Spurs have now won 50 games for 16 consecutive seasons, extending their NBA record half a decade beyond the next longest strings. The Los Angeles Lakers (1980-91) are in second place with 12.

“Think about it. There’s not many marriages that last 16 years,” said ESPN analyst and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy. “Think about working that closely together in a relationship, under that pressure and scrutiny and still enjoying each other’s company.

“What they’ve done is sustained greatness. I think that’s much more telling than five championships. First of all, it’s something that nobody’s done before. Winning 50 and having a plus-.500 road record all that time, to me that’s incredible.

“I am totally against the whole mindset that everything is about championships when it comes to evaluating players, evaluating teams. ‘Did they win a championship?’ Really, is that all you’ve got? I’m telling you, sustaining greatness is much harder than a one-, two- or three-year greatness.”

The Spurs’ run has been much like their style of play — more of a steady hum than a loud roar.

***

No. 4: Bulls flirting with disappointment?Pau Gasol showed emotion near the end of the Chicago Bulls’ victory beyond his normal veteran’s range, yelling and mugging as a release after his offensive rebound and putback against Detroit’s formidable Andre Drummond secured a victory Friday at United Center. But it was Gasol’s more measured comments afterward that ought to get a rise out of Chicago fans, because he speaks from experience when talking about championship teams and the edge they need in the postseason. The Bulls, in Gasol’s view, still are searching, according to the report filed by ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell:

The 14-year veteran, who earned two championships as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, knows what it takes to win a title, and that’s why he’s a little concerned by what he has seen from his new team, the Chicago Bulls, over the past couple of games. After a poor performance on Wednesday night in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Bulls followed up by sleepwalking through the second half and almost blowing a winnable game against the Detroit Pistons on Friday night. Like the rest of his teammates, Gasol is still convinced the Bulls have time to turn around their bad habits, but unlike most of his younger teammates, the All-Star center understands that time is running out.

“There’s not a magic button here,” Gasol said. “What you see in the regular season is what you’re going to get in the playoffs. So we have to try to be more consistent in the last six games that we have and that’s going to determine what we’ll see probably in the playoffs. Now every game, it’s meaningful, and that we have to be aware of that because you can’t expect things to click when it’s crunch time, when everybody is on. So you just got to do whatever you have to on a daily basis to put yourself in the best place regularly so you get to the playoffs and maybe try to turn it up like everybody else.”

The good news for the Bulls is that they found a way to win on Friday night. So often during this up-and-down season they have found ways to lose games like this — to weaker teams that don’t have the same level of talent. But as the Bulls get set for what they hope is a long run in the postseason, veterans such as Gasol and fellow championship club member, Nazr Mohammed, know that the great teams have to play better than the Bulls are playing right now.

“We just got to keep getting better,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “We got to understand what we’re playing for. We’re playing for a lot at stake right now. It was good to see guys like Naz [Mohammed] and some of our veterans speak up tonight and understand how crucial this win was.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Portland guard Wesley Matthews long trek back from a torn Achilles is getting serialized by The Oregonian. … Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic also is facing issues – and surgery – on his aching right foot, and sounds a little concerned about his future both on and off the court. … Hall of Famer John Stockton is helping as an assistant coach with Gonzaga Prep’s girls team, lending his hoops wisdom and getting valuable father-daughter time with Laura Stockton. … Kyle Lowry wants to play again before the playoffs, but the Toronto Raptors point guard also wants to be cautious with the back spasms that have sidelined him. … Boston’s Jared Sullinger came back Friday earlier than expected from a stress fracture, and he has lightened the load on that foot by 20 pounds. … Sounding more like part of the problem than part of the solution in Miami, Heat guard Mario Chalmers says he doesn’t know his role these days.

Report: Florida coach Donovan would consider another NBA gig

The next NBA team that hires Billy Donovan as its coach, if there is one, will hope that he stays a little longer than he did the last time.

The highlight reel from Donovan’s time with the Orlando Magic in 2007 wouldn’t even work for subliminal messaging, given how quickly he changed his mind and went back to the University of Florida Gators. From June 1, the day he accepted the position in Orlando, it took mere hours until he had misgivings and less than a week for Donovan – coming off two consecutive NCAA championships and nine straight tournament appearances – to skedaddle back to Gainesville.

The Magic were fine. They hired Stan Van Gundy instead and were in the NBA Finals in two seasons. As for Donovan, upon his return to campus, he told the basketball world: “I want to be at the University of Florida for the rest of my time coaching.”

Eight years, forever … hey, what’s a few decades between friends?

According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, citing anonymous NBA executives, Donovan is “looking to make the jump to the NBA more than ever before.” It might be that Donovan is unencumbered by the five-year agreement he signed, since-lapsed, not to seek another NBA job. It might be that missing the NCAA tournament for only the second time in his Gators tenure, after a 16-17 season, makes him more eager to move.

Or it might be that the market for NBA coaches, typical for this time of the year, is heating up and Donovan – despite a Florida contract that runs through 2020 – still has an unscratched itch for this league.

Here’s Stein on the dance that might or might not take place between Donovan and one or more NBA teams:

And the growing feeling in NBA circles is that Donovan — who rejected serious overtures in the 2014 offseason from the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers — is prepared to make the move this offseason if the “right” opportunity arises.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino, one of Donovan’s most trusted advisers thanks to their long history together as both coach/player and coach/assistant coach, essentially backed up those assertions in an interview Thursday morning on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike” on the general topic of college coaches moving into the pro game.

“I don’t recommend it for college coaches to do that unless they know what it’s all about,” Pitino told “Mike & Mike” on ESPN Radio. “I take someone like Billy Donovan. I think Billy has looked at it, I think he has an urge to coach in the NBA — a strong desire to coach in the NBA — and would like to try it, very similar to Brad Stevens, who is doing a wonderful job with the Celtics. I think people like that with that type of personality will do very well.

The Denver Nuggets and Orlando Magic are the only NBA teams currently employing an interim coach, but sources say both of those clubs plan to have Donovan on their list of targets once they began more expansive coaching searches after completing their respective regular-season schedules in April.

Blogtable: Your All-Rookie first team …

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


BLOGTABLE: Kerr’s smartest move? | Future for Rondo and Ellis? | Your All-Rookie team



VIDEOWho has the inside track for Rookie of the Year?

> After a slow start (plagued by injuries) this year’s rookie class has shown some real promise late in the season. Name your 2014-15 All-Rookie first team.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Nikola Mirotic
F Andrew Wiggins
G Elfrid Payton
G Jordan Clarkson

However, Wiggins, Mirotic, Payton, Noel, Clarkson is pretty much the order of how I’d vote for Rookie of the Year at this point. Wiggins hasn’t been playing for high stakes in Minnesota but he has done well all season and come out of his shell while being forced-fed minutes for a shaky Timberwolves squad. If the soft-spoken Mirotic were as cocky as he is quietly confident, he’d be unbearable, but he has let his game do some serious talking for the past month. Payton is fun to watch, an increasing dynamic player and so vital to Orlando’s rise. I put Noel after Payton mostly because the former had the “redshirt” year to acclimate to the league in all the off-court ways. As for Clarkson, he has seized an opportunity with a team that rarely has them available for young guys like him.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel: Worth the wait for Philly.
F Andrew Wiggins: Living up to the hype.
F Nikola Mirotic: Becoming a closer for the Bulls.
G Elfrid Payton: Big hair, bigger game.
G Zach LaVine: Much more than a dunker.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel

F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Elfrid Payton
G Jordan Clarkson

Clarkson over Jusuf Nurkic is a tough call for the final spot and could change if you ask again when the season is over. (It could change either way — maybe Nurkic moves back ahead if he recovers from the slump or maybe Clarkson makes it an easy call if he keeps playing this way.) It just happens to work out that the group is almost an actual lineup when the rules say pick the five best regardless of position. The only semi-conflict is Payton and Clarkson both primarily point guards.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Elfrid Payton
G Jordan Clarkson.

I realize Clarkson is mostly a spring sensation but he’s been too impressive to ignore, so I put him ahead of Jusuf Nurkic. Wiggins will win ROY but if the season lasted another month he’d get some serious competition from Noel.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Nikola Mirotic
F Andrew Wiggins
G Elfrid Payton
G Bojan Bogdanovic

My top five rookies, in order, though is Mirotic, Noel, Wiggins, Payton and Bogdanovic. The top four guys, in whatever order you want to put them, are pretty simple choices. I picked Bogdanovic (who ranks as one of the league’s most improved shooters since the All-Star break) over Jordan Clarkson because he’s played more minutes for a better team. Mirotic would be my Rookie of the Year, because he’s been an efficient and important player on one of the 10 best teams in the league.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Elfrid Payton
G Zach Lavine

The first five of this year’s rookie class certainly took its time taking shape. But better late than never, and yes, I’m talking to you Nerlens Noel. The Philly big man joins Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine from Minnesota, the neck-bearded wonder Nikola Mirotic from Chicago and Mr. Hairdo himself, Orlando’s Elfrid Payton in my rookie fab five. Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker was an early fave but saw his season cut down by injury, a blow that doused water on the fire of this class from the start, along with the known injury to Philly’s other rookie big man Joel Embiid.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel

F Nikola Mirotic
F Andrew Wiggins
G Jordan Clarkson
G Elfrid Payton

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog:
C Nerlens Noel
F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Marcus Smart
G Elfrid Payton

To me, Wiggins is the Kia Rookie of the Year, for the way he’s played all season long and the improvement he’s shown and continues to show. Noel is right there as well, but he hasn’t had as much of an offensive impact as Wiggins. Mirotic and his beard have been terrific, pump-faking their way onto my team. So I guess that’s my front court, and in the backcourt I’ll pair Payton and Smart, who would actually be a pretty dynamic duo.


For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Morning shootaround — March 28


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hawks clinch Eastern Conference | Mavericks lose Ellis | What’s next for Thunder, Durant? | Shaq would have stayed in Orlando

No. 1: Hawks clinch Eastern Conference — Coming into this season, the Atlanta Hawks were dealing with an underwhelming free agency period, a GM on an indefinite leave of absence, and an ownership group that wanted to sell the franchise. And then the season started, which the Hawks used as a terrific reminder that all the off the court noise ends there, and what really matters is the results on the floor. Friday night, with a win over the Miami Heat, the Hawks moved to 55-17 on the season and clinched the Eastern Conference championship. Yet despite the incredible season and improbable title, as Jeff Schultz writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks acted like it was no big deal …

The Hawks clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs Friday night and they acted as if they had just beaten Milwaukee on a Tuesday in November.

That’s probably a good thing.

“Maybe we’ll do a little, ‘Hip-hip, hooray’ on the plane,” Kyle Korver said.

“I mean, it’s great,” Paul Millsap said. “But we really haven’t been focusing on it. We’ve got bigger goals ahead. We haven’t been looking at the scoreboard or looking at other teams. We’ve been looking at ourselves, trying to get ourselves right.”

The Hawks (55-17), playing the best defense they had in a few weeks, led Miami by 18 points at halftime (55-37) and cruised to a 99-86 win over the remains of the Heat.

Miami isn’t the same team without LeBron James (Cleveland) and Chris Bosh (injured), and with Dwyane Wade seemingly playing on one leg. The Heat’s bandwagon fan base, which used to fill Philips Arena, also appears to have shrunk, or at least morphed into Cleveland fans. Funny how that works.

But the Hawks’ win, combined with Cleveland’s loss to Brooklyn, officially clinched the East, even if it was a bit anti-climactic. It almost seemed fitting that when coach Mike Budenholzer walked into the locker room minutes after the game to tell his players that the Cavaliers had lost, half of the team was in the showers.

“Bud found out, came in and there were only like five guys in here,” Korver said. “He was like, ‘Good accomplishment, we won the East.’”

***

No. 2: Mavericks lose Ellis — The Dallas Mavericks have made several changes this season — trading for Rajon Rondo, signing Amar’e Stoudemire — and despite the growing pains involved they have managed to remain in the playoff picture. But a calf injury last night to Monta Ellis not only got Mark Cuban fired up on Twitter, but without Ellis on the floor, as Tim McMahon writes for ESPNDallas.com, the Mavericks offense was a “hot mess” …

The Dallas offense didn’t exactly look healthy without its leading scorer. The Mavs scored a grand total of 22 points in the final 18:43 without Ellis, finishing with their second-lowest point total of the season.

Of course, the Mavs didn’t quite light it up in the first half with a healthy Ellis, either. Dallas scored only 41 points in the first half, shooting 38.6 percent from the floor. But the Mavs closed the first half with a 10-2 run, capped by Ellis speeding through the Spurs for a coast-to-coast layup, and opened the second half with a 13-4 spurt to slash the Spurs’ lead to four.

Then Ellis limped off the floor with 6:43 remaining in the third quarter, a little bit after he got kneed in the calf while defending Manu Ginobili, and took the life out of the Mavs’ offense with him. Dallas didn’t score for the next 3:03 and managed only 15 points in the fourth quarter.

Forwards Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons failed to pick up the slack with Ellis out. They both failed to score in double figures, combining for only 16 points, none of which came in the fourth quarter.

Was that hot mess a preview of the Mavs’ offense minus Ellis?

“We’ll find out,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said before correcting himself. “Hopefully, we won’t have to find out.”

The Mavs will know more about Ellis’ status on Saturday, but his streak of playing in 237 consecutive games is certainly in jeopardy. The Mavs’ next game is Sunday night in Indiana.

“We just have to wait and see what the doctors say and how he feels tomorrow,” Nowitzki said. “Hopefully, he will be OK. We all know he plays injured and sick and he is always there for his team.”

It could be painful to watch the Mavs without their best creator by far, but it also might be in everyone’s best interest if Ellis misses some time. The Mavs have no hope of making a playoff run if Ellis isn’t at his best.

Ellis’ toughness can’t be questioned. He has proven repeatedly that he’ll fight through pain and play through injuries. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, particularly with the playoffs weeks away.

Ellis refused to even consider missing any games after straining his left hip two games before the All-Star break. The injury bothered Ellis for weeks, a major factor in an extended slump he finally busted out of with his 38-point performance in Tuesday’s home win over the Spurs.

“Our trainers will evaluate the situation, and we’ll communicate with him,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t see us putting him out there if he’s not feeling good. You can’t underestimate his ability to bounce back from things. He’s a fighter, he loves to compete and he hates missing games. That said, we aren’t going to put him in harm’s way.”

***

No. 3: What’s next for Thunder, Durant? — The Oklahoma City Thunder have had bad luck with injuries, but even as Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka have missed time the last few seasons, Kevin Durant was able to carry the load, logging heavy minutes and scoring hundreds of points. But after winning the MVP a season ago, this season Durant hasn’t been able to shake the injury bug, and after having two surgeries on his right foot since the summer, the Thunder announced yesterday that Durant will need a third surgery on that right foot that will keep him out four to six months. The bone graft procedure Durant is in for should give Durant his best shot yet at fixing his troublesome right foot. And with free agency for Durant looming in the summer of 2016, as Royce Young writes at Daily Thunder, there are plenty of questions left to answer …

The big question I’m seeing a lot is, “Did Durant come back too quickly?”

The answer is, yeah, probably, in hindsight. But also what you have to understand is the team is in constant consultation with specialists about this. And sometimes, things don’t go as anticipated. It’s not like they were just saying, “I don’t care, get Durant back out there before we lose more games.”

In these situations, it makes everyone feel better to assign blame. Point a finger at someone, lash out, yell, gripe, whatever. And in truth, it probably is someone’s fault in there. Maybe it’s Durant’s. Maybe it’s Sam Presti’s. Maybe it’s the medical team. Maybe it’s your fault, ever think of that?

What’s necessary to keep in mind, though, is no one was being irresponsible here. If Durant did return earlier than he should of, it’s only because he was cleared to do so. The team and Durant can only operate off of what they’re being told, and up until literally a week and a half ago, this thing was healing the way it was supposed to. The thought was that the screwhead had created a severe bone bruise from the constant rubbing, and Durant just couldn’t shake it off without significant time off. That’s what everyone thought. I was told by someone that’s pretty close to it all that he was going to play against the Celtics two weeks ago. That’s how unexpected this turn of events became.

Durant practiced on that Saturday before, doing some 3-on-3, then he played 1-on-1 in Dallas on Monday. And after that, he walked out of the arena with a severe limp, and pretty deflated. It wasn’t improving the way it was supposed to with the increased activity and at that point, the writing was really on the wall.

It doesn’t look good that Durant has had three surgeries on his foot. One is plenty. One is supposed to do the job. With what happened last season with Russell Westbrook, there’s good reason to wonder what’s going on. But I’d look at it this way: The Thunder’s conservative approach opens the door for them to get egg on their face. They didn’t mess around with Westbrook, taking a chance to let him play on a swollen knee. They pulled the plug, and made the decision to scope and deal with the consequences and fallout.

And then they did it again. They knew there would be skeptics and critics, questioning what the hell they were doing. But instead of delaying for the offseason to address it, they prioritized the long-term health of Westbrook and made the decision with only that in mind.

I’d say it worked out pretty well for them, and Westbrook.

The Thunder could’ve taken a different measure here with Durant. They could’ve rested him the next few weeks, then put him back on the practice floor and tried to ease him back on the floor for the postseason. That option was absolutely on the table.

But in collaboration with literally three of the top foot and ankle specialists in the world, the consensus was to go ahead and take the steps to end Durant’s season and do the bone graft. Instead of risking anything in his future, they’re going to just take advantage of the coming offseason which should let him completely heal, and then start over next season.

***

No. 4: Shaq would have stayed in OrlandoShaquille O’Neal began his pro career with the Orlando Magic, and he lasted four seasons before leaving Orlando in bitter circumstances and signing with the Los Angeles Lakers. But time heals all wounds, or at least it does in the Magic Kingdom, and last night the Magic welcomed Shaq back and inducted him into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame. In his remarks during the festivities, as Josh Robbins writes in the Orlando Sentinel, Shaq said if he could do it over again, he would have played out his seven-year contract in Orlando and handled things differently …

Flanked by Penny Hardaway, Horace Grant, Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott, the mammoth center led Orlando to the 1995 NBA Finals, where the Magic lost to Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston Rockets in four games.

The next year, the Magic fell to Michael Jordan‘s Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals in four games.

O’Neal never played for the Magic again.

The Magic initially made him a low offer, and the Lakers swooped in with a $121 million offer and the lure of Hollywood.

The Magic eventually offered O’Neal a deal that eclipsed the Lakers’ offer, but it was too late. Restricted free agency didn’t exist in those days, so the Magic were powerless to prevent O’Neal from leaving.

And he left.

“We came back later and beat the Lakers’ offer at the closing minutes,” said Magic co-founder and Magic Hall of Famer Pat Williams. “But, emotionally, Shaq was gone.”

O’Neal was 24-years-old when he spurned the Magic in favor of the Lakers.

“It was all business,” O’Neal said. “Do I regret it? I never fully answered. I regret it sometimes. This is where I started, where I should’ve stayed. I actually wish that they [had] made it a law that whoever drafted you, you’ve got to stay there your whole career. No trades. No nothing. No free agency. No anything like that. Do I regret it? I regret it only because the DeVos family, they deserve a couple [of NBA titles].”

As it turned out, he didn’t finally win a title with the Lakers until 2000 — four years after he left the Magic.

“I just wish I would’ve had more patience,” O’Neal revealed. “It was all about I wanted to be protected from the bashing. What I mean by that [is] I wanted to win then. Even when I got there [to L.A.], I still got bashed and it still took four years to win. But I was very impatient. I was very young, and I thought that if I go there with those guys out there, that I could win right away. And that wasn’t the case.

“So now that I’m older now, I wish as a youngster, I wish I had had more patience.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Former Jazz player and announcer Hot Rod Hundley has died at 80 … Warriors big man Draymond Green has launched a line of t-shirts poking fun at Clippers coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers … The Rockets got Dwight Howard back from injury and now lose big man Donatas Motiejunas for a few weeks with a back injury … The Heat hope to get Hassan Whiteside back by the playoffs … The Nets have signed Earl Clark to a 10-day contract

Star-studded Three-Point Shootout field highlights All-Star Saturday Night


VIDEO: Star-studded field for Foot Locker Three-Point Contest

HANG TIME BIG CITY — Forget East versus West. After two years of NBA All-Star Saturday Night pitting one conference against the other, this time, it’s personal. And for once, long range marksmanship may trump dunks as the center of attraction.

NBA All-Star 2015Conference affiliations will be out the window on Saturday, Feb. 14, for the State Farm All-Star Saturday Night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. This year, it’s every man and woman for themselves in the annual Saturday night showcase.

In the Degree Shooting Stars competition, the two-time defending championship team of Chris Bosh, Dominique Wilkins and Swin Cash will reunite. Although this is a shooting competition, Team Davis, made up of Anthony Davis, Scottie Pippen and Elena Delle Donne, will have unbelievable length. Other participants include Golden State’s Stephen Curry and his father, retired guard Dell.

Eight players will compete in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, a three-round, obstacle-course competition that tests dribbling, passing, agility and shooting skills. Seven of those players are point guards, including the defending champ, Utah’s Trey Burke, as well as All-Stars Kyle Lowry, Jeff Teague and John Wall. The lone non-point guard in the field is Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, an All-Star swingman with well-rounded skills.

The Sprite Slam Dunk field was announced a few weeks ago. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zach LaVine, Victor Oladipo and Mason Plumlee bring an energetic edge to the proceedings this season. Brooklyn’s Plumlee is the lone active NBA player with New York ties participating on Saturday night.

Yet even with the loaded dunk field, it may be tough to top the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, which is this year stocked with sharpshooters …

Marco Belinelli, Spurs — Last year’s defending champ, Belinelli has played just 30 games this season due to injury. Belinelli has the lowest 3-point percentage (38.2) of any player in the Three-Point Contest field.

Stephen Curry, Warriors — Drained 10 3-pointers Wednesday night in a 51-point performance against the Mavs. Earlier this season, became fastest player in NBA history to make 1,000 career 3s.

Klay Thompson, Warriors — At 44.6 percent, Thompson trails only Korver in 3-point percentage this season. Thompson and Curry are the only teammates ever to combine for 400 3-pointers in back-to-back seasons.

James Harden, Rockets — Fifth this season in 3-pointers made and attempts, and the NBA’s leading scorer at 27 points.

Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers — Other than Belinelli, Irving has the least made treys in the field, with 100. But last year’s All-Star Game MVP has a flair for the dramatic, and he knocked down 11 3s in his 55-point performance a few weeks back against Portland.

Kyle Korver, Hawks — On pace to have the greatest 3-point shooting season in NBA history, currently leading the NBA in 3-point accuracy at 53.2 percent. Korver is attempting to become the first player in history among qualifiers to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from beyond the arc and 90 percent from the free-throw line.

Wesley Matthews, Trail Blazers — Leads the NBA in 3-pointers made (151) and attempted (375). Has had 11 games this season where he made at least 5 3-pointers.

J.J. Redick, Clippers — Has made 114 3-pointers, putting him on track to break his previous high of 165. Currently shooting a career-high 43.2 percent on 3s.

State Farm NBA All-Star Saturday Night will be televised live exclusively on TNT on Saturday, Feb. 14, from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.


VIDEO: All-Star guards highlight Taco Bell Skills Challenge

Orlando fires Vaughn, boosts Borrego, considers Skiles?

It’s a lot like your refrigerator when you lose power: if you keep the door closed, most of the stuff inside will last. But open that door a bit too often and …

That’s how it seemed to go with Jacque Vaughn, who worked his last game as head coach of the Orlando Magic Wednesday night in a 110-103 loss at San Antonio. Vaughn’s job status had been bandied about for more than a week, with speculation about the Magic either pulling the trigger quickly or trying to manage the situation until after the All-Star break. But once that happened, the whiff of failure took over and multiple outlets began reporting that Orlando would formally announce Vaughn’s dismissal Thursday afternoon.

The Magic, roused from their inaction, suddenly were acting swiftly:

Leaving only this:

Which led directly to a renewal of this:

Which had been out there dating back to last week, also via multiple outlets. Skiles, who lives in Orlando and had the best years of his 10-season NBA career with the Magic, is interested in the job, a league source told NBA.com. He coached all or parts of 13 seasons for Phoenix, Chicago and Milwaukee, posting a 443-433 record (.506) with six playoff appearances.

Other candidates beyond Borrego and Skiles might merit consideration depending on the direction Magic ownership intends to take. Some possibilities include former NBA head coaches George Karl, Mark Jackson, Nate McMillan and Michael Malone. The Magic are considered to have underachieved, lingering too long in the development phase with talented young players such as Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Tobias Harris, Mo Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and mostly injured lottery pick Aaron Gordon.

Vaughn, who will turn 40 next Wednesday, was 58-158 (.269) in two-plus seasons as Orlando head coach. In 12 NBA seasons as a 6-foot-1 point guard, the Kansas product averaged 4.5 points, 2.5 assists and 16.3 minutes, mostly as a backup with Utah, Atlanta, Orlando, New Jersey and San Antonio.

At 15-37, the Magic are last in the Southeast Division and only two spots from the bottom of the Eastern Conference, ahead of Philadelphia (11-39) and New York (10-39). Orlando has lost 16 of its last 18 games and 23 of 29 over the past eight weeks after making it to Dec. 10 with a 9-14 mark.

The Magic rank 25th in offensive rating (99.5) and 26th (106.1) in defensive rating, per NBA.com stats. They also rank next-to-last in opposing field-goal percentage (47.1 percent).

Mavericks’ Rondo has orbital, nasal fracture


VIDEO: Rajon Rondo suffers an injury against the Orlando Magic

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Dallas Mavericks point guard Rajon Rondo is out for the foreseeable future with an orbital fracture to his left eye and a nasal fracture. He suffered the injury during Saturday’s game against the Orlando Magic.

The Mavericks’ leader in assists, Rondo will miss tonight’s game against Minnesota as well as road games this week against the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings. Rondo’s status will updated later this week, according to the team, as more information becomes available.

Rondo suffered the injury just 98 seconds into the game against the Magic. He tripped over the leg of Magic point guard Elfrid Payton and took an accidental knee to the face from teammate Richard Jefferson, who was sprinting down the court on a fast break and did not see Rondo on the ground.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 30


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe aiming for September return | Report: Howard could miss ‘extended time’ | Report: Vaughn on thin ice in Orlando | Shaw blasts Nuggets’ effort

No. 1: Kobe targeting September return; Kupchak still back Bryant — The torn rotator cuff in Kobe Bryant’s right should was officially surgically repaired on Wednesday. With that out of the way, most are wondering when (or if) he’ll be back on the court for the L.A. Lakers. According to a report from ESPN.com, Bryant is aiming to play again in September and, per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, Bryant still has the full support of GM Mitch Kupchack.

Here’s ESPN.com’s report on Bryant’s shoulder:

Kobe Bryant addressed his expectations a day after shoulder surgery Thursday night in a brief interview with ESPN, saying he planned on being ready to play come September for the Los Angeles Lakers’ training camp.

“Yeah, that’s the plan,” Bryant said.

Bryant said his rehab over the next couple of months will involve “a lot of patience.”

“Sore, but it’s OK,”  Bryant said of his shoulder.

Bryant said media opinion on whether he should return for a 20th season or retire wouldn’t affect his decision.

“I don’t really listen much to what people have to say to be honest with you,” Bryant said.

Bryant was back at the Staples Center for a brief visit with former teammate Pau Gasol before the Lakers faced the Chicago Bulls.

The former teammates spoke privately before Bryant left. Bryant said he wasn’t feeling well enough, 31 hours after the operation, to go on the court.

Bryant is expected to need nine months to recover from his third straight season-ending injury, a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder suffered last week that he had surgically repaired Wednesday.

If Bryant meets that timetable, he could return to basketball shortly before the start of the 2015-16 season, the final year of his contract with the Lakers.

Bryant, who will be 37 this summer, is the NBA’s highest-paid player at $23.5 million this season. He is under contract for $25 million next year.

And here’s Bresnahan on Kupchack talking about the Lakers’ future with Kobe and beyond:

Kobe Bryant was all smiles when he talked about his $48.5-million contract extension in November 2013, saying he would “run through a wall” for the Lakers to prove they were right and everybody who doubted them was wrong.

But were they right?

It’s a simple question that goes directly to the center of a struggling franchise and its rapidly aging megastar.

“One hundred percent. We have no regrets at all,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said Thursday.

Why?

“Because he’s worth every penny of it.”

Kupchak acknowledged that the Lakers, who ended a nine-game losing streak Thursday and are foundering with a 13-34 record, would need a talent upgrade next season. The catch: They have room for only one maximum-salaried player.

“To me, a big part of Kobe’s contribution next year is if we can improve this team during the off-season,” Kupchak said.

“Our coaches and players have been instructed to win games. Maybe I used the wrong word. I don’t have to ‘instruct’ the players to win games and try to win games. I don’t have to instruct [Coach] Byron [Scott]. That’s why they’re here.”

One player Kupchak expected to return next season was Bryant. It would be his 20th, all with the Lakers.

“I don’t think he’s retiring,” Kupchak said. “I spoke to him [Thursday] morning. The doctor’s prognosis was released yesterday and [Bryant] said he was looking forward to training camp. That’s what we expect.”


VIDEO: Mitch Kupchack addresses Kobe Bryant’s comeback trail and more

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