Posts Tagged ‘Russell Westbrook’

Morning Shootaround — May 23


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s Cavs-Hawks Game 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks | Rockets look to win at home | Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? | Wizards wait to hear from Pierce | Globetrotter Marques Haynes passes away

No. 1: LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks The Atlanta Hawks hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers last night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and entered the game seemingly with several things in their favor. But even though the Hawks got a big night out of DeMarre Carroll while the Cavs rested Kyrie Irving (knee), Atlanta had no answers for LeBron James, who carried the Cavs to a 92-84 Game 2 win. As our man Shaun Powell wrote, James is proving that sometimes individual talent trumps that of a system

The Cavs were missing a starting point guard Friday and all that meant was his replacement would play the position … better. Yes, imagine if you’re the Hawks, and [Kyrie] Irving spends the day getting a second opinion on his aching knee by the famous Dr. James Andrews, and is a late scratch for Game 2.

You’re feeling decent about your chances to bring suspense to this series.

But suddenly, the emergency point guard whips an oh-my-Lord behind-the-back cross-court pass to Iman Shumpert. Swish.

Then finds James Jones. Three-pointer. Then J.R. Smith. Bucket. Then Shumpert again, wide open. Another three.

“Him snapping the ball at you, there’s energy in that ball when you get it,” Shumpert said.

On and on it went like this on the Hawks’ home court, with LeBron bringing the ball up and shouting instructions and putting his teammates in position to score and … oh, dropping 30 points himself. With 11 assists and one rebound shy of a triple-double, LeBron turned the series on its head and for all practical purposes shoved the Hawks to the brink. He reminded everyone that he can play all five positions on the floor, and play most if not all at All-Star level.

“When I was attacking I was seeing guys open,” said LeBron. “I have the utmost confidence in my teammates to make shots and make plays. So I passed the ball. The game presented that tonight. I did what was needed. I always try to be a triple-threat on the floor.”

This was not exactly as impactful as Magic stepping in for a hobbling Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980 Finals and getting 42 and 16 and 7, although in the context of this series, LeBron’s version could prove just as damaging to the Hawks and helpful to the Cavs. Not only did LeBron seriously reduce Atlanta’s odds of staying alive past Tuesday, he seriously helped Irving’s ability to heal up and be a step closer to 100 percent should the Cavs as expected reach the championship round.

A sweep buys time for Irving, and LeBron evidently has the cash.

“I’ve got a good vocabulary,” said Cavs coach David Blatt, “but I’m sort of running out of superlatives for the guy. His greatness is evident.”

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No. 2: Rockets look to win at home After two close games in Oakland, including a Game Two in which they had the ball in James Harden‘s hands with a chance for a game-winner, Houston returns home for Game 3 tonight against Golden State. And while the Warriors play an aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball, the Rockets are just concerned with getting a win and getting back into the series, writes Jonathan Feigan in the Houston Chronicle

Though much has been made of the entertainment value of the play of the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Rockets’ James Harden, the Rockets said they could not share the excitement of a show when they came for a win. Rockets center Dwight Howard, however, said they could appreciate their part in a series that has already brought two outstanding games if the Rockets get some wins on their home court, too.

“I don’t think the Rockets’ fans had fun watching us lose tonight,” Howard said. “We’ve got to come back and play, but it’s going to be a great series. Two great offensive teams, two guys who battled for MVP all year going at it. It’s going to be fun. We definitely don’t take these moments for granted, because they don’t come by often. Like I said, it’s going to be a great series and we’re looking forward to coming back home. We want to see our fans loud and proud and ready for a battle, because there is going to be one.

“We don’t want to go down 0-3. So we have to come out and just play basketball — move the ball and do all the things we’ve done in the last two games to get us here and do that for 48 minutes. If we do that, then we should have a good opportunity to win.”

Rockets guard Jason Terry said the bottom line is the only thing that matters.

“We want to win,” Terry said. “That’s the bottom line. If we have a bad game and win, that’s cool. If we have a great game and lose, where is the solace in that? There is none. We want to go home and have a great four quarters of Houston Rockets basketball.”

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No. 3: Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? — The New Orleans Pelicans ducked into the postseason out West before making a first-round exit, which wasn’t enough to save coach Monty Williams‘ job. But with all-world young big man Anthony Davis anchoring the middle, the Pelicans’ job is a plum gig, which might explain why, as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy has supposedly expressed interest in the gig…

Jeff Van Gundy has emerged as a candidate for the New Orleans Pelicans’ head-coaching position, according to league sources. ‎Sources told ESPN.com this week that the ESPN analyst has expressed interest in the opening and is under consideration for the job, which opened when the Pelicans dismissed Monty Williams earlier this month.

Van Gundy joins Golden State associate head coach Alvin Gentry and Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau as confirmed candidates for the position, according to NBA coaching sources.

Gentry is the only candidate known to have formally interviewed for the post, with sources saying the uncertainty surrounding Thibodeau’s contractual situation with the Bulls has prevented the Pelicans and Orlando Magic from formally requesting to interview him. ESPN.com reported Monday that the Pelicans had been granted permission to interview Gentry before the Warriors began play in the Western Conference finals.

Van Gundy has been a popular TV figure since he coached the Houston Rockets in the 2006-07 season, and he has resisted interest from several teams in recent years, professing his desire to stay in broadcasting. But Van Gundy’s return to coaching has long been seen as inevitable, and the presence of rising star Anthony Davis as the centerpiece of an underrated roster has made the New Orleans job one of the most coveted in the league, with the Pelicans finishing strong under Williams to beat Oklahoma City for the West’s last playoff spot.

On an ESPN media call earlier this week, Van Gundy declined to discuss the prospect of pursuing the Pelicans’ post.

“I have too much respect for the coaching profession and the sanctity of a job search to publicly speak about any job openings,” he said. “That’s really not my style. So I’ll just leave it as I’ve said many times.

“I have the absolute utmost respect for Monty Williams. I coached him. I know what a class guy he is. He has integrity and humility, and I thought he did an outstanding job. I think he can be very, very proud of what he was able to accomplish there. You know, as far as the job search, I don’t get into the public domain on that. I just don’t think it’s right.”

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No. 4: Wizards wait to hear from Pierce Last summer, the Washington Wizards surprised many observers when they inked veteran small forward Paul Pierce to a two-year contract. And though Pierce is 37 years old, he was Washington’s most clutch performer in the postseason, taking (and usually making) numerous last-second shots. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, now the Wizards wait to hear from the future Hall of Famer about his future, to find out when and where they go next…

About an hour after the his tying three-pointer was waved off and his Washington Wizards walked off the Verizon Center hardwood for the final time this season, 94-91 losers to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Paul Pierce delivered a jolt by indicating retirement is on the table.

“I don’t even know if I’m going to play basketball anymore,” he declared late last Friday night.

Pierce must decide whether to exercise the $5.5 million player option to play his second season with the Wizards and 18th overall in the NBA. The future Hall of Famer will celebrate his 38th birthday in October. Last Friday, Coach Randy Wittman said he believed Pierce would return because he enjoyed his time in Washington but he and the organization await the decision.

“I don’t need to recruit Paul,” Wittman said Monday. “What Paul saw here and what he did here, not only with the team but with the city, all of that plays into it. His family was comfortable here. Will I sit down and talk with him? Yeah. But I don’t think I need to recruit him.”

After a lightened load over the regular season, Pierce shifted to power forward in the playoffs for long stretches, delivering his signature clutch shooting and trash-talking to propel Washington to a four-game sweep of the Toronto Raptors in the first round. Pierce remained an offensive weapon against the Hawks, but became a defensive liability at times, particularly in isolation situations opposite all-star Paul Millsap.

Pierce, who declined to speak to reporters Monday, averaged 14.6 points and shot a torrid 33 of 63 from behind the three-point line (52.4 percent) over 29.8 minutes in 10 playoff games – increases from 11.9 points, 38.9 percent from three and 26.2 minutes per game during the regular season. But he explained that the campaign, preseason through playoffs, was an exhausting experience.

Yet Pierce’s impact, Wittman and players around the locker room asserted, was invaluable and went beyond on-floor production. Players credited Pierce to supplying a load of confidence and readiness the Wizards had been missing before his arrival.

“He means a lot,” said forward Otto Porter Jr., who broke out in the playoffs and received nonstop tutelage from Pierce throughout the season. “I learned a lot from him this year whether he told me something or I just picked it up. And it’s going to stick with me throughout my NBA career, what to expect in the NBA and how to be a professional.”

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No. 5: Ball-handling wizard Haynes passes away A member of the Harlem Globetrotters for more than 40 years, Marques Haynes died on Friday in Plano, Tex. He was 89. The New York TimesBruce Weber provides more

In two stints with the Globetrotters (his second was in the 1970s, a more showmanlike incarnation of the team), over decades with his own team, the Harlem Magicians (also called the Fabulous Magicians) and with a few other squads, Haynes traveled an estimated four million miles and played in an estimated 12,000 basketball games in 100 countries, give or take a few — in racially hostile Southern towns, in dim school gyms, on dirt courts in dusty African villages, in bullrings, soccer stadiums and emptied swimming pools, not to mention in Madison Square Garden, the Rose Bowl and other celebrated arenas all over the world.

Haynes was a brilliant player — a fine shooter, a tenacious defender and an expert passer. But as a dribbler he was nonpareil, and it was that skill that made him an ace entertainer.

The Globetrotters, who began life on the south side of Chicago — they didn’t play a game in Harlem until 1968 — had been playing competitively since the 1920s. But when Haynes joined them, in either 1946 or 1947 (sources are divided on when he made his first appearance), their reputation as basketball entertainers was still emerging.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could Tom Thibodeau take next season off? … The Nuggets say they’re going to be “aggressive” this summer … Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak says if there’s a player in the NBA who plays like rookie guard Jordan Clarkson, it’s Russell Westbrook … The Pacers and Luis Scola reportedly have mutual interest in a reunionGordon Hayward underwent a “minor surgical procedure” on his heel …

New stats tools helpful in heralding league’s defensive best

Capturing defensive value and impact through analytics, most NBA numbers-crunchers will acknowledge, still is pretty challenging. Compared to how those folks feel about their ability to track, measure and assess a player’s or team’s offensive components, the other side of the ball remains an inexact science.

But the NBA clearly is trying, as evidence by the supporting info provided with the release of its All-Defensive teams for 2014-15.

Consider what was noted about San Antonio forward Kawhi Leonard‘s finish as the first team’s top vote-getter. The league’s release read:

Leonard teamed with [Tim] Duncan to help San Antonio hold opponents below 100 points per game (97.0) for the 20th consecutive season. Leonard averaged career highs of 5.9 defensive rebounds and a league-leading 2.31 steals for the Spurs, who were 5.1 points better per 100 possessions on defense when he was on the floor than when he was off the floor, according to NBA.com/stats.

Most of those are old-school stats, no big deal. But the use of defensive rating and on/off numbers is an indication that even the so-called expert voters don’t have to guess, go by reputation or rely solely on anecdotal observations anymore.

Similar numbers were invoked supporting Golden State’s Draymond Green and Memphis’ Tony Allen as elite defenders:

The Warriors allowed a league-low 98.2 points per 100 possessions, a defensive rating that dropped to 96.0 with Green on the court and increased to 102.1 with him off the court. Memphis’ defensive rating was 8.7 points better with Allen on the floor (94.9 per 100 possessions) than with him off the floor (103.6 per 100 possessions). Green ranked 14th in the NBA in defensive rebounding (6.7 per game), and Allen finished third in steals (2.05 per game).

Also of interest in the announcement of the honors was the order of finish. The top three finishers in DPOY balloting – Leonard, Green and the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan – all made the first team, but because positions are specified on the all-defensive ballots, Allen actually had the third-most points. First-team votes count two points and second-team votes count one.

With four guard spots available vs. two center spots, Allen had a better chance to appear on more ballots overall. Allen received 88 firsts and 31 seconds for 207 points, while Jordan went 84-19-187.

None of the breaks between first-team and second-team selections, or second-team and “others,” was close on points. But there were a couple quirky finishes. For instance, LeBron James received six first-place votes at forward to Duncan’s five, but missed a second-team forward spot on points, 64-47. Russell Westbrook got 13 first-place votes at guard, more than John Wall‘s seven, but also lost on points, 67-35.

Blogtable: Lottery teams that can make playoffs?

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


 

> Of the 14 teams in next week’s Draft Lottery, who could be playing (instead of watching) at this time next year?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: So if the parameters are the lottery team most likely to reach the semifinal round, the answer has to be Oklahoma City. Missing the playoffs with 45 victories is a pretty decent start, and the urgency next season for the Thunder as Kevin Durant heads toward free agency will propel all that team does. Billy Donovan will be trying to make his NBA bones in a hurry, too. Indiana and Charlotte might be able to climb as high, too, because … Eastern Conference.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Thanks for the tap-in putt sitting on the lip of the cup.  I feel pretty secure in saying Billy Donovan won’t have to do a Coach of the Year job to get a healthy Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and the Thunder back into the playoffs.  Ditto for the Pacers with Paul George back for the full season over in the East.  For a team farther down in the pecking order, I’ll reach for the Pistons in the second season of Stan Van Gundy.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Thunder. I would be surprised if anyone says otherwise because OKC obviously isn’t a typical lottery team. A typical injury-riddled team maybe, but not a group that will be watching from the couch in 2016 if the roster stays healthy. No one else is so clear cut. One or two teams from the East probably get into the top eight, but which one or two will depend on offseason moves. The Thunder is the only team that can stand pat and make it.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: What, is this a trick question? Heck, Oklahoma City might reach The Finals next season even without the luxury of the top overall pick. While the other lottery teams are chasing a franchise player in the draft and still looking at years before they scare anyone, all OKC needs is health. Oh, and Durant will be playing for money, as if he needed more motivation to have a great season. Miami and Indiana also might reach the conference semis next season with a solid off-season and good health.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The obvious answer is Oklahoma City. If Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook are healthy next Spring, they should be in the Western Conference semifinals. In the East, the answer has to be Miami. If they re-sign Goran Dragic, the Dragic/Bosh pick-and-pop combo, with Dwyane Wade making plays on the weak side, will be deadly.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Oklahoma  City would appear to have the quickest road to recovery of the lottery teams. A new coach, healthy superstars and the right bounce here or there and they could be in a situation where they are enjoying the sort of breakthrough season our friends in the Bay Area experienced this season. Of course, that’s easy to predict now. We have no idea how Kevin Durant will bounce back and whether or not Billy Donovan is the right fit. But for the most part, all of the proper pieces are in place for a prompt return to prominence for the Thunder.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comIt’s a no-brainer: OKC could be the NBA’s most talented team entering next season (pending Kevin Durant’s health). My longshot would be Miami (pending Dwyane Wade’s health), based on the potential of their starting five and their good fortune of living in the East.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Oklahoma City is the obvious answer. In fact, if they’re not in the Conference Semis next year, if health isn’t a factor, it will be considered a disappointment. For a team in the East, how about the Miami Heat, who made serious moves at the trade deadline, bringing in Goran Dragic, but then lost Chris Bosh to that freak injury. Assuming Bosh returns healthy, along with Dwyane Wade at full strength and a full season of Dragic and midseason surprise Hassan Whiteside, the Heat have a chance in the East to compete for a playoff berth.

Blogtable: How many more MVPs will Stephen Curry win?

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: How many MVPs for Curry? | Best bench in playoffs? | Aldridge’s next move?



VIDEOHow many more MVPs can Stephen Curry win?

> Stephen Curry hoisted the Kia NBA MVP trophy on Monday. He just turned 27, so how many more of these will he collect?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I say one more in sort of an homage to Steve Nash and Steve/Steph’s everywhere. But my hunch is Anthony Davis, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Andrew Wiggins and several others — including LeBron James — say none.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Curry could and likely will continue to perform at this MVP level for another handful of years, but this could well be his only time to hold the trophy. There are just so many other contenders. I don’t think LeBron James is done adding to his collection. A healthy Kevin Durant will return with something to prove. James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul are all solid contenders.  But most of all, we are entering the Era of Anthony Davis and he’s going to fill up a shelf.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Maybe one. That’s not a knock on Curry — he will be at an MVP level for many years. But the field of other realistic possibilities is so deep. Look at who else finished near the top of the 2015 vote. LeBron James is the only one past halftime of his career. Curry’s problem with adding to the collection isn’t Curry. It’s everyone else.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I wouldn’t be surprised if he won another MVP or he doesn’t. It’s just too unpredictable right now, especially with James Harden and Russell Westbrook waiting “their turn” and the ever-imposing presence of LeBron James. Plus, there’s always the issue of health. But hey, if Steve Nash can win a pair, why not Curry?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s certainly possible that he can win one or two more, but if I had to guess, the answer would be zero. Curry is ridiculous and the Warriors will be a great team for at least a few more years, but it was a crowded MVP field this year. LeBron James and Chris Paul each have one or two more MVP-esque years in them (and Paul will be more appreciated by the voters after this postseason). Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook each have a few more great seasons left in them. Kawhi Leonard is only 23 years old and Anthony Davis is only 22. It’s not about Curry, but about how many other options there will be every season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: He’s got at least one more in him and maybe a third, overall. Curry’s young enough and the Warriors should remain in the elite mix long enough for him to contend for more. There are no guarantees, of course (we would have said the same thing about Derrick Rose after he won his MVP and the same thing about Kevin Durant last season, and neither one of them was in the mix this season). Being in the MVP discussion requires so many moving parts to fall into place in a given season. Curry has all of them on his side now and going forward. Only time will tell.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comSteve Nash won two of them, even though his teammates lacked the defensive mentality of Curry’s Warriors. I’m going to give Curry another MVP – and he could contend for more pending his ability to win championships.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’ll say two more, and that’s being conservative. Winning an MVP almost requires a perfect storm, and this season everything has been clicking for Curry and the Warriors, from Curry staying healthy to the team around him being championship caliber. It’s almost felt like a downhill trip at times for the Warriors and for Curry’s MVP candidacy. How many more times will the chips all fall perfectly, or at least perfectly enough to make Curry the front-runner in the MVP voting? It requires skill, for sure, but a little luck never hurt anyone, either.

Blogtable: Thoughts On Donovan, OKC

Each week, we 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. Today, it’s a special, one-question-only edition of the blogtable …


VIDEOBilly Donovan’s biggest challenges with Thunder?

> The Thunder have hired Florida’s Billy Donovan to be their next coach. What do you think of this move? And how do you measure success at the end of next season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m no fan of college coaches in the NBA, Brad Stevens’ fine work in Boston a praiseworthy exception. For every one like him, there are two or three — Mike Montgomery, Tim Floyd, Lon Kruger — who struggle to make the challenging transition. In college, the coach is king and it’s men bossing around boys. In the NBA, the players rule and largely allow themselves to be coached. The urgency of OKC’s situation makes Donovan a shaky fit too, in my view. Unless Kevin Durant flat-out loves the guy, they have just one season to get back at least to the Western Conference finals – and even that would carry no guarantee that the 2014 MVP wouldn’t land elsewhere in 2016 free agency. Then it could be Russell Westbrook after that. Looks to me like the Thunder are most committed to Donovan (five-year deal) at a level, frankly, they never committed to Scott Brooks.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It seemed that general manager Sam Presti didn’t think the Thunder were going to take the next step forward with the laid-back style of Scott Brooks. He’s brought in a friend and a more intense personality in Billy Donovan, because he thinks his team needs a spark and next season is critical for the future of the franchise with Kevin Durant about to become a free agent. Success now for OKC is 55-60 and no less than a trip to The Finals. It’s a very high bar and one that might be necessary to hang onto both K.D. and Russell Westbrook.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHiring someone who has not spent a day in the NBA makes it a risky move when a team is in win-now mode — there will be a transition — but Donovan has the counter: a long track record of success. This is not just any other college coach, and that will help with credibility within the locker room. How do I measure at the end of next season whether the move was a success? If we’re “at the end of next season” one year from now. If the Thunder, health willing, are done at the end of April or the first days of May, their 2015-16 has been a failure. How much of that would fall on the new coach remains to be seen, depending on his adjustment to the next level, but certainly he gets blame if OKC has an early exit. Success is a long playoff run and nothing less.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Billy Donovan is a former NBA player with deep ties to Rick Pitino and other former and current NBA coaches, so in terms of knowing the game and relating to the professional player, he should be fine. Honestly, I think this is pretty close to a home run for the Thunder, at least in terms of splash. On the surface, Donovan gives them a chance and should have a smooth relationship with Kevin Durant; if Durant leaves it probably won’t be because of the coach. The real work will be with Russell Westbrook; will Donovan press Russ to tweak the shoot-first mentality? Bottom line: Donovan needs a rookie season in OKC the way Steve Kerr is having a rookie season in Golden State.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I don’t have a strong opinion either way. I like the idea of bringing in some new blood into the coaching ranks, which has generally worked out well over the last few years. But Donovan is a guy who’s never coached in the NBA, taking over a pretty unique team in terms of its talent, which was already very good on both ends of the floor. So none of us really know how it will work out. But success will be measured by whether or not Kevin Durant re-signs next summer. Asking Donovan to get to The Finals in his first year is a lot. But if he establishes something that convinces Durant to stick around, he’s done his job.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: They had to hire someone with name recognition and a long track record as coach, so in that respect this move would appear to be a positive one. But assuming Donovan will make the same sort of transition like Brad Stevens has made in Boston is a huge mistake. It’s all about the expectations. If Donovan has healthy stars for the 2015-16 season, he’ll be greeted with the same sort of outlandish expectations that awaited David Blatt at the start of training camp in Cleveland this season. If Thunder GM Sam Presti stuck to his ways and hired Donovan without at least giving consideration to the preferences of Kevin Durant and/or Russell Westbrook, this could turn out to be an even more diabolically divisive move. If either one of them walks on Donovan’s watch, Billy D will carry that blame with him, right or wrong, until he leads the Thunder to a title. Presti has a long history of spectacular moves — be it in the Draft, trade market or free agency — but he’s compiling an equally long list of head-scratching moves, too. That’s a cause for concern. It only takes one or two gaffes (James Harden comes to mind) to erode years of confidence from fans. Donovan’s fit has to be perfect for this move to work and I’m just not sure it is. The only measure of success for the Thunder next season is the sort of renaissance turnaround that comes from being a lottery team this summer to being a No. 1 playoff seed this time next year. And that’s just for starters.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It is a long-term investment. Success will be measured by progress: If Durant and Westbrook believe by this time next year that they’re on track to win championships in partnership with Donovan, then what better way to convince them to re-sign as free agents? The goal is to create an environment that serves their best interests as they enter their prime years – a team built for a long run of contention that they can’t afford to leave.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’m not really sure what to make of Billy Donovan. To my knowledge he’s known for winning a lot of games and winning national titles, but he’s never been touted as an offensive genius, the kind of coach who can make OKC’s offense a little more liquid than it’s been the last few years. To be honest, I thought Larry Brown would be an inspired coach for a short-term, win-now project. Donovan feels like more of a long-term hire, someone who will build a foundation and be there for years to come. but with Westbrook and Durant staring down free agency just around the bend, I’m just not sure that Donovan is who or what the Thunder needs right now.

Building on the foundation that Brooks built will be a challenge for Donovan


VIDEO: Inside the NBA: Discussing Billy Donovan and the Thunder

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Just eight days after parting ways with Scott Brooks, the Oklahoma City Thunder have a new coach. The Thunder have hired Florida coach Billy Donovan, giving him a five-year contract.

He’s the second straight Thunder coach who was once a backup point guard for the New York Knicks. But he played just one season and 364 minutes in the NBA, and is better known for leading Providence to the 1987 Final Four (under former Knicks and Celtics coach Rick Pitino) and his 19-year tenure at Florida (which was interrupted by a one-day stint as the coach of the Orlando Magic).

The Gators won back-to-back championships with a frontline of Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Joakim Noah. Donovan has also coached eight other current NBA players.

Priorities No. 1 and 1a for the Thunder are obviously to get Kevin Durant (a free agent next summer) healthy and keep him in Oklahoma City. Donovan will be charged with finding a way to get the Thunder over the hump.

It will be hard to improve on the regular-season success of Brooks. The Thunder spent three straight seasons in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency before losing Durant for 55 games this year.

20150430_thunder

But in the playoffs, the Thunder consistently took a step backward offensively. With two stars that could easily get buckets in one-on-one situations, they didn’t move the ball much. In each of Brooks’ six full seasons in Oklahoma City, they ranked in the bottom six in assist rate (AST/FGM).

Florida hasn’t had a particularly high assist rate over the last few years. And according to KenPom.com, Donovan has had more success on the defensive end of the floor recently.

20150430_donovan

What may be most interesting about those numbers is Florida’s ranking in pace. They’ve played pretty slow over the last five years. The Thunder, who have the guy — Russell Westbrook — who set a record for fast-break points per game this season, have not.

Donovan will surely adjust. Brad Stevens‘ first two years in Boston provides some assurance that a college coach can have some success in the NBA. But only time will tell if Donovan can build on the strong foundation that Brooks built and help keep Durant in Oklahoma City.

Blogtable: Thunder coach’s to-do list?

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: Cavs in trouble? | Next moves for OKC’s next coach? | No more Hack-a-Shaq?



VIDEOSir Charles was not a fan of the Thunder firing Scott Brooks

> If you were named coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, what would be atop your “to-do list” your first day on the job?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’d pull Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook aside immediately after my introductory press conference to thank them. There’s no way a new coach gets hired there without the team’s two stars signing off on it – it probably is a top priority to have them on board, rather than just hold veto power, over Scott Brooks‘ replacement. Then I’d consult with them on their favorite plays, their preferred practice schedule, their desired minutes vs. rest workload and what their favorite meals are to have aboard our chartered flights. Would that be weenie, letting two players dictate so many team decisions? Not if I want to stay employed as coach and fear the leverage Durant and Westbrook wield with their upcoming free-agency decisions. Such is the power dynamic in the NBA these days.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comAfter I’m finished having an All-Star level suck-up session with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, I’m installing an offense that gets more ball movement and relies far less on both of those guys to make hero shots at the end of every shot clock and game.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Find out what Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are doing that same day. Pick up the phone, arrange a video conference, fax, singing telegram — whatever. I find out how their schedules look and how soon we can visit in person. (Which is probably exactly what will happen, with a lot of the Thunder roster, not just the two stars.)

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I take Kevin Durant to dinner and exchange ideas. That’s a no brainer. Next season will be all about keeping him happy and appreciated and in the loop and engaged. If I can successfully sell Durant on my vision and blueprint for winning a title, then I’ve done my part in keeping him in OKC in the summer of 2016.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’d call Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook and schedule a day to spend with each of them. I’d ask Sam Presti to trade Dion Waiters. I’d try to figure out if free agent Enes Kanter can help me offensively more than he hurts me defensively. And I’d start making calls in an effort to put together a good staff.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’d need an immediate sit down with my two biggest stars, so we can figure out a happy medium for them in terms of how they co-exist now and in the future. It’s not that the rest of the guys don’t matter, but I need to know where the dynamic stands between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and what exactly I’m working with as their coach. It looks one way from a distance, but could be totally different inside that bubble. We all need to be on one accord about who and what we are, in every sense of that phrase, if we’re going to climb back into the thick of things at the top of the standings in the Western Conference and the league. So there’s no sense in wasting any time talking about anything else.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: First of all, I would recognize that Scott Brooks is an excellent coach who probably tried everything I am going to consider. My priority would be to improve their passing game, enabling  the ball to move from side to side in the half court. I would ask Russell Westbrook to make quicker decisions, and also try to help Mitch McGary become a better defender so that he can spend more time in the game – because he could give the Thunder a crucial passer from the high post.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogMaking sure I had a long-term contract? Going to breakfast with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and making sure they were both committed long-term to continuing to build something there?  No matter who they hire, whether it’s Billy Donovan or whomever, all eyes will be on next summer, when Durant can become a free agent, and the incredibly small window there for the new coach to make something happen. Whether or not it’s a real or imagined pressure, it’s pressure nonetheless and something annoying the new coach will have to deal with. And if these aren’t the things the new coach deals with on his first day, the other thing I’d do is I’d sit down and design an offense that made life easier on all the players involved. What better way to get people to stay?

Morning shootaround — April 29


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers falter down stretch in Game 5| Report: Thunder, Donovan open talks | Harden focused on bigger goals | Report: Lakers willing to add Rondo for low price | Lillard’s speech inspires Blazers

No. 1: Clippers freeze up down stretch of Game 5 — Save for a Game 3 blowout in San Antonio, the Spurs-Clippers series has lived up to its billing as the best one of the first round. Each game has been a nail-biter and last night’s Game 5 was no different. Los Angeles had a solid shot at claiming a 3-2 lead, but some late blunders and bad plays late in the game puts them on the flip side of that status, writes Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times:

Yeah, it happened again. With the pressure on the precocious Clippers, they wilted again. Needing one big play, they again responded with a botched play, and now they are down to their last chance to make it all better.

In a pivotal playoff game against the NBA’s championship measuring stick known as the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night, the Clippers again crumbled under the weight of every critic’s charge and skeptic’s claim, falling apart in the fourth quarter of a 111-107 loss in Game 5 of the first round, falling behind three games to two.

The play that everyone will be talking about will be DeAndre Jordan‘s goal-tending on a potential game-winning runner by Blake Griffin with 4.9 seconds remaining, especially since it was clearly goaltending and Griffin’s shot appeared destined to roll through the rim without any help.

“At this point, it ain’t about the stats,” said Chris Paul, who vainly tried to do it all during the quarter with nine points. “We have to execute better and play better down the stretch.”

It didn’t help that by that fourth quarter, a Clippers bench that helped them win Game 4 had been ineffective or ignored.

While five Spurs reserves played at least 11 minutes, only two Clippers reserves played that much, and Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers combined to make five of 19 shots. Overall, the Spurs bench outscored the Clippers bench, 48-17.

For the second time in five games in this series, the Clippers were punching bags in the final rounds, although this has happened to Spurs opponents before. In fact, this traditionally most pivotal of games has long been the Spurs’ most favorite game. The Spurs are now 24-8 in Game 5s since their first championship in 1999. They have won six straight Game 5s over last two seasons and were 15-1 in Game 5s during their five championship years.

“They’re not going to panic, they’re not going to go away, you’re not going to knock them, you’re going to have to win by a decision,” Clippers Coach Doc Rives said of the Spurs. “Our guys have to embrace that.”

 


VIDEO: The Clippers discuss their Game 5 defeat

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Key questions crop up for Thunder in wake of Brooks’ firing


VIDEO: Scott Brooks talks about his philosophy as an NBA coach

Scott Brooks is done in Oklahoma City and his dismissal had nothing to do with the injured superstars who ruined the Thunder chances of making the playoffs. Brooks is done because OKC management soured quickly on him the last few seasons and looked for their first chance to dump him.

Is there any other explanation? Brooks had a contentious contract negotiation with GM Sam Presti three summers ago and that alone spoke volumes on what OKC thought of Brooks. After he was named Coach of the Year in 2010 and coached the Thunder to The Finals in 2012, Brooks had to grovel for cash and, in a sense, respectability from his own bosses.

OKC hasn’t reached The Finals since then and missed the playoffs altogether in 2015. Although, this was mainly due to injury circumstances that went far beyond Brooks and his perceived inability to cook up a lethal offensive system, which was his biggest flaw. (Although stats-wise, he had some pretty great offenses in OKC).

Russell Westbrook hurt his knee in the first round in the 2013 playoffs. Serge Ibaka’s calf strain spoiled last year’s playoff chances. And then, Westbrook, Ibaka and Kevin Durant all missed significant time this season, even though OKC nearly managed to squeeze into the playoffs anyway.

It also needs to be mentioned that OKC’s unwillingness to deal with luxury-tax penalties forced Presti to trade away James Harden two years ago for 50 cents on the dollar.

Brooks was in an awkward situation, to say the least. While management was obviously not sold on him, Brooks enjoyed solid relationships with OKC’s stars and usually in that scenario, the coach wins out. Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka all vouched for him in the last few months, when rumblings about Brooks’ job (which were heard every summer) flared suddenly. Unless the three players were merely putting forth a friendly face, OKC’s decision on Brooks went counter to the wishes of the players whose opinion matter, including Durant’s.

And speaking of KD, it’s hard to imagine Presti firing Brooks without consulting him. Durant is one of the NBA’s five best players and, most notably, a free agent in 2016. Nothing happens in OKC unless Durant gets a whiff of it first. Did Durant sign off on Brooks’ dismissal? Did he essentially tell Presti to “do what you have to do” and look the other way? Or did he fight Presti? We may never know the truth.

Given the understandable fear of Durant fleeing town, OKC will do nothing to annoy or discourage him, which makes the Brooks firing a curious one. Brooks allowed Durant and Westbrook free reign as players and kept an open-door policy in terms of suggestions, not that he had much choice. Will the next coach draw the line when it comes to that level of freedom, or fall in line with Brooks?

Durant respects and is friendly with Kevin Ollie, his former teammate who won an NCAA title a year ago at Connecticut. Ollie would be an obvious replacement for Brooks but just yesterday announced he was staying at UConn. But, people change their minds all the time — especially when big money and big career decisions are involved.

Had he been blessed with a team with better health, or had Harden stuck around, Brooks would likely still be coach and might have an NBA title by now. Basketball is a cruel game, however. Those who thought Brooks was merely an average coach who was overmatched against the Gregg Popovichs and Rick Carlisles of the NBA world are nodding in approval today. Those who factor the untimely injuries that torpedoed OKC at the wrong time the last few years are scratching their heads.

What are Durant and Westbrook doing?

Update (7:35 p.m. ET):

Thank you Scotty!

A photo posted by Kevin Durant (@easymoneysniper) on

Morning Shootaround — April 18


VIDEO: Ahmad Rashad goes one-on-one with Steph Curry

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pierce savoring these final playoff moments | Pelicans’ Davis eager to take next step | Clippers using Spurs blueprint to knock off champs | Kidd at center of Bucks’ turnaround

No. 1: Pierce savoring these final playoff moments — The truth is Paul Pierce knows this might be one of the last times he’s on this stage, this playoff stage. And the Washington Wizards’ veteran swingman is savoring each and every second these final playoff moments of his career. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post provides the details:

The end is near for Paul Pierce. Next season will be his 18th and final tour as a professional basketball player, meaning scenes like the one that will unfold Saturday afternoon in Toronto, Game 1 of an NBA playoff series, are dwindling for the future Hall of Famer.

“It’s very different for me because I don’t have too many chances left in my career of playoff basketball and opportunities to try to win a championship,” Pierce said. “So I enjoy each and every moment, each and every practice, each and every game.”

Pierce, 37, will step onto the Air Canada Centre hardwood Saturday before a frenzied crowd in a Washington Wizards uniform, his third playoff appearance in three years with a third different team. He will be Raptors fans’ Public Enemy No. 1, the result of his clutch play as a Brooklyn Net against Toronto last postseason and his recent comments on the Raptors’ lack of the “It” factor, whatever “It” is.

The setting is why the Wizards hired him, to supply his famed shot-making ability, valuable experience and notorious swagger to help ascend the Wizards to another level when the stakes are highest.

“He can help on the floor. Off the floor. Around the floor,” guard Bradley Beal said. “Whatever it is related to basketball and life in general. You can basically call him the Oracle. He knows pretty much everything.”

This will be Pierce’s 12th career playoff appearance. He has crashed the tournament seven straight springs. He has been on underdogs, on favorites. He has suited up for underachievers and overachievers. He has experienced nearly every possible scenario, including both ends of regular season sweeps that were reversed in the playoffs. So he insists that the Wizards losing all three meetings with the Raptors during the regular season doesn’t concern him.

“Each team’s [0-0], so right now we’re a confident group,” Pierce said. “We feel like we can beat pretty much any team in the East.”

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