Posts Tagged ‘Steph Curry’

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 11


Next up for HOF consideration | LeBron continues Hollywood expansion | Brooks sees no chemistry issues for Wizards

No. 1: Next up for HOF consideration? — Now that the star-studded Hall of Fame class of 2016 has been praised and inducted, it’s time to look forward to next year’s candidates. Our Scott Howard-Cooper takes a look at the candidates most likely to make the list for 2017 … a group that could include Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway and Chris Webber:

No vote-sucking automatics of the O’Neal-Iverson-Kidd variety are coming up for nomination in fall/winter this year among players with strong NBA or ABA ties, before the field is narrowed to finalists prior to All-Star Weekend in New Orleans and a second round of voting takes place in time to announce the winners during the Final Four in Glendale, Ariz. There is the interesting case for Ben Wallace, but he is the closest to anyone big-footing their way on the ballot, the way 2016 included O’Neal, Iverson and Izzo as three obvious calls and the 2018 headliners will arrive with hefty credentials. Even George McGinnis’ new status breaks right for the carryovers, with McGinnis moving from the North American group, the committee that includes Johnson, Hardaway and Webber, to the veterans. That makes one less candidate in North America to draw support away, not to mention that the possible benefit for McGinnis of only needing one round of voting in for enshrinement in his new category.

While the timing issues would be relevant any year, they are especially important this time as three ex-players search for reason to hope after the letdown of the recent election cycles. If Hardaway, Johnson and Webber can’t get traction when Wallace may be the biggest newcomer, after all, depending which college and NBA coaches go on the ballot for the first time, it does not say much for their chances when several marquee names are added for 2018.

Johnson needs a push after reaching the finalist stage this year, again, but failing to receive the necessary support, again. He is the lone NBA player who reached the second round of voting in 2016 without getting elected, along with college coaches Lefty Driesell, Bo Ryan and Eddie Sutton.

Hardaway, meanwhile, is going backward, from previously making finalist to being cut in the initial balloting in ’16 and not even making it to All-Star Weekend despite making five All-NBA teams and five All-Star games in a career that included five seasons averaging at least 20 points and three seasons with double-digit assists.

Webber is in the deepest hole of all: two years on the ballot, two years of not making it past the first round, after 20.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, five All-Star games and five All-NBA spots. Not making it just to finalist in 2017 would be the most-damning statement of all, and it might be anyway, no matter how many coaches are potentially drawing votes away.

There could also be newcomers who have been eligible but have yet to be nominated — Penny Hardaway, Brent Barry, Bruce Bowen, Robert Horry — but none would seem to have the same case as Wallace, the former center best known for patrolling the inside for the Pistons. And there is a case.



Hang Time Podcast (Episode 245) Featuring Michael Lee

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kevin Durant called it therapy, his time this summer with the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team at the Rio Olympics.

We couldn’t agree more. Durant needed something to free his spirit after what turned out to be a tumultuous free agent summer that saw him leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the rival Golden State Warriors.

Durant will have to deal with more drama when the NBA season begins and the furor over his summer decision cranks up again. But winning that gold medal certainly helped ease Durant’s mood, something The Vertical‘s Michael Lee captured in the aftermath of the Olympic team’s domination of Serbia in the gold medal game.

Lee got off of his flight home from Rio and immediately jumped on with us on Episode 245 of The Hang Time Podcast to discuss Durant and his wild summer, gave us some inside scoop on his experiences both covering Team USA and attending other events while in Rio. He highlighted his surprise performer (DeAndre Jordan) from the Olympics and gave us his take on the John Wall-Bradley Beal dynamic in Washington.

Lee, a longtime friend of the program, also provided us with a superb dinner recommendation, should you decide to head to Rio anytime soon, while also reminding us that there will be a positive (MVP-level perhaps) bump for someone who suited up for Team USA this summer.

You get all of that and more on Episode 245 of The Hang Time Podcast … Featuring Michael Lee of the The Vertical.


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of, Lang Whitaker of’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

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


Morning shootaround — June 13


Draymond, in absence, stirs Warriors’ emotions | LeBron went home ‘for the kids’ | Report: DeRozan to test free agencyCan Thompson back up bold talk? | NBA stars battle bulge too

No. 1: Draymond, in absence, stirs Warriors’ emotionsDraymond Green, the Golden State’s versatile and valuable, almost positionless forward, is considered to be the defending champions’ emotional leader. Losing him to suspension from Game 5 of the 2016 Finals (9 ET, ABC) would seem, at first glance, to be like stealing the batteries from a very expensive toy. But based on the Warriors’ reactions to Green’s suspension, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ hand in it (subtle or not) and the obstacle thrown suddenly in their path to back-to-back championships, the home team at Oracle Arena might be playing Monday with all the emotion they need. And first and foremost, that will be anger, writes J.A. Adande of

They feel disrespected once more. Put upon. Agitated.

In the Warriors’ worldview, LeBron James baited Draymond Green by stepping over him in Game 4. That prompted the retaliatory strike from Green which struck James in the groin area and drew a flagrant foul 1 penalty from the NBA in a review that was announced Sunday. James all but dared the NBA to do it after Game 4, and now Golden State feels the league capitulated to one of its biggest stars. The flagrant foul ruling put Green above the playoff limit of three flagrant foul points and brought an automatic suspension for Game 5 on Monday. It also brought up some fiery talk from the Warriors, who got an early start on making up for the absence of their emotional leader.

“We’re going to go out there and do it as a team and win for him,” Klay Thompson said.

Alrighty, then.

Other Warriors players and coaches said they noticed a ramped-up intensity after coach Steve Kerr informed the team of Green’s suspension during Sunday’s practice and they feel it will give them the necessary edge in what could have otherwise been seen as a mere coronation process after taking a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals following their victory in Game 4.

They do best when doubted, as they were when they fell behind 3-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals. They also respond well to perceived slights. Example A would be their 24-0 start after having their championship credentials called into question for everything from lack of injuries to playoff strength of schedule.

Now that they have fresh motivation, the question is whether they have the means to prove their point without the versatile Green, the defensive anchor of their small-ball “Death Lineup” and an offensive facilitator prone to the occasional scoring outburst (such as his 28 points in Game 2).

Much depends on how the Cavaliers choose to prey on his absence: by going big with the likes of Kevin Love or even Timofey Mozgov, or by trying to lure the Warriors into a diminished smaller lineup by extending the minutes of Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye. It also could be an opportunity for LeBron to break through now that he doesn’t have to worry about one of the Warriors’ most effective defenders.

Hard to be a contender if hiding weak defenders

CLEVELAND – Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have, between them, a half dozen appearances in the NBA All-Star Game. But none on the league’s annual All-Defensive squads.

J.R. Smith is one of the streakiest and most dangerous 3-point shooters in the game, but by his own admission, he only made a commitment to the other side of the ball, as it’s called, within the last few months. He’s been in the NBA for 12 years.

Even LeBron James, who twice finished second for the Defensive Player of the Year award and strung together six top-10 finishes from 2009-2014, has slipped back in the balloting since his return to Cleveland. In the first two games of the 2016 Finals, James has been caught napping, neglecting his man or needlessly switching to create a liability in the Cavaliers’ attempts to stop (or slow down) Golden State.

Which leads to this question: Shouldn’t All-Star caliber offensive players be able to play good, if not stellar defense?

Physically, you’d think that any player who has the necessary quickness, instincts and elevation to score proficiently ought to be able to mirror some or most of that at the other end. But it isn’t always so, and in Cleveland’s case, the starting lineup is carrying two or three guys who seem overmatched defensively.

“Some of the skill sets, kids pick up when they’re younger,” Golden State assistant coach Ron Adams said over the weekend. “Some kids are two-way players – they enjoy it, they see the value of it. Some guys come up as one-way players. Having said that, everyone has different gifts. There are some guys who never commit to defense who maybe could be better.”

Adams, it should be noted, was speaking generically about NBA players. He wasn’t talking about any Cleveland players specifically, so this is a non-starter as bulletin board material heading into Game 3 Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena.

But as a longtime defensive guru wherever he has worked, Adams has seen players who come up as AAU darlings, expected only to flash their dazzling ball skills, as often or more than he’s seen real knee-bending, shorts-tugging defensive diggers who also happen to shoot lights out.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t change.

“Look at Kyle Korver, who transformed in our [Chicago Bulls] program to be a good defensive player,” Adams said. “Before that, he was not considered an asset. Watching him in Atlanta the last couple of years, they’ll put him on guys that we never would have put him on. And he’s guarding them pretty well.

“I think it’s your mentality. Sometimes it’s how you’re raised as a basketball player. A coach you have who’s maybe more offensive- than defensive-oriented. Or maybe if he’s defensive-oriented, you’re stunted offensively and you make up for it at some point.”

Steph Curry, Golden State’s two-time Most Valuable Player winner, has taken home two of those trophies while lugging around a reputation as a willing but mediocre defender. Other Warriors – Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala – are considered to be excellent on defense.

“Ever since I was a kid, I just hated to be scored on,” Thompson said. “Playing 1-on-1 with my brothers growing up, I think I developed that instinct not to have my big brother or little brother score on me, and I just carried it over to the pros.

“The best players to ever play this game were two-way players, and that’s what makes our team so good – we’ve got so many two-way players. Guys who play both sides of the ball, both in our starters and off our bench. Why not take pride in defense? It’s 50 percent of the game.”

So your typical All-Star has the tools, at least, to play defense well?

“All of those guys have the ability,” Thompson said. “But a lot of guys have big workloads for their teams. So you’ve got to cut ’em some slack.”

Given that it’s rare for even the best teams to have five defensive craftsmen in the lineup, Adams was asked how many slackers a good team can hide or survive?

“It can’t be too many,” he said. “If you have three really good core defenders, hopefully at least one of them’s a perimeter player, then that’s not a bad formula.

“You try to weave in the weaker defenders. Hide them in certain cases. Help them, so they have confidence they’re not going to be exposed.”

Adams gave credit to Mark Jackson, Golden State’s coach before Steve Kerr took over in 2014-15, with laying a strong defensive foundation.

“We had good defensive receptivity when we came in,” Adams said. “But you have to have guys who have defensive chips in ’em. That’s really the key thing, I think. It’s very hard to play good team defense without some defenders who have that innate ability or that mindset toward playing defense – and are good at it.

“You take Oklahoma City, they have a lot of good defenders on their team and they have a defensive mindset. Then Kevin [Durant] really committed to defense in that last series and when he does that, they’re fantastic.”

Cavs and Warriors search for their ‘LeBron,’ ‘Steph’ play-alikes in practice

OAKLAND – Two LeBron Jameses? Two Stephen Currys? It might seem like overkill or an embarrassment of riches, but a lot of times in showdowns such as The 2016 Finals, that’s what we get: the actual superstar and then his stand-in.

As in, the opposing player designated by his team to be “LeBron” or “Steph” in practice, a surrogate who tries to mirror the other guys’ primary threat to aid in preparation. It’s a tactic that many “scout teams” use regardless of sport.

Back in 2001, coincidentally, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue helped the Los Angeles Lakers get ready for their Finals against Philadelphia by playing the part of Allen Iverson. It was a natural bit of casting, from their similar 6-foot size right down to the braided hair. L.A won that series in five games.

So who is Golden State’s “LeBron” and Cleveland’s “Steph?” Well, the Warriors and the Cavs aren’t quite approaching their practices so literally.

“We’ve gotten to the point where we have some young coaches, so our scout teams are comprised of coaches,” said Golden State assistant Ron Adams. “Which I like because they get through it quickly, they get into stuff, there’s not much fooling around. Do we have a ‘LeBron?’ No, we don’t structure it like that. And we’ve had very little time from the last game to this game.”

Some teams don’t go “live” with their second units as opponent play-alikes, leery of risking injuries if the action gets too real. So they’ll simulate the opposition at a walk-through pace. Still, among the assistants and staffers who do show the Cavs’ tendencies to the Warriors’ starters, doesn’t someone wind up in the spots and role typically filled by James?

“Probably Theo,” Adams said, mentioning Golden State video coordinator Theo Robertson.

Robertson, 29, played at the University of California, a 6-foot-6 shooter who in 2010 helped the Golden Bears win their first Pac-10 championship in 50 years. As a senior, Robertson averaged 14.2 points and hit 45.3 percent of his 3-pointers, but he also was hampered by hip problems that undercut any pro playing ambitions.

“But,” Adams reiterated, “we don’t really do it that way.” So Theo is only a sorta, kinda, rough-draft, stand-in for LeBron.

Similarly, according to veteran reserve Dahntay Jones, the Cavaliers have no designated “Curry” clone when they take to the practice court. Their backups’ primary mission is to provide a sparring partner that demonstrates the Warriors’ maneuvers overall.

“Our scout team is very knowledgeable about what the other team is doing,” Jones said, “and we spend as much time studying as they do. That’s where this [Cleveland] team is a whole and a unit – even guys who don’t play, they’ll prepare even more to help [the starters] prepare.

“We won’t designate a player [as Curry] but we’ll present their tendencies. With their bench, how they evolve as a team, how they switch units. We have those components on our team too.”

Finals berth not only thing on line in Game 7 for Warriors, Thunder

There’s no need to minimize it or insult the process by saying it’s just another basketball game. Well, yes, it’s only a game, but plenty is at stake for the Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder and the principles involved in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.

So let’s run it down here:

Golden State Warriors: All but one team that won 68 or more regular season games also took the championship (the 1972-73 Celtics came up short) and four of the six teams that won 67 were crowned. Which is to say the 2015-16 Warriors, who sit at the top of the heap among regular-season titans, would be forced to wear a nasty pimple on their nose should they fall to the Thunder. They should at least reach the NBA Finals after 73 wins, shouldn’t they? That’s probably the widely-held opinion in basketball circles, anyway, that the Warriors, by way of their own brilliance, have given themselves no choice.

If they double their pleasure and follow up 73 wins with a back-to-back title run, Golden State would demand to be in the conversation about best teams in NBA history. And if they don’t? Well, there wouldn’t be any shame in falling to a loaded and finally-healthy OKC team with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, right? Don’t know about that. The way the Warriors pulverized the field from November through April, there certainly would and maybe should be some level of disappointment if they didn’t defend their title. Debate that if you wish, but a failure to reach the ultimate goal would leave a nasty taste.

Oklahoma City Thunder: When they reached the NBA Finals in 2012 with a nucleus of three players 22 and younger, it was easy to conclude that OKC, at the very least, would have a title by now. But, stuff happened. Bad stuff, mainly injuries to Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka that benched them from the playoffs. And James Harden was traded. The good news is OKC is finally fit and desperate to reclaim their place in line, which currently is occupied by Golden State. Sam Presti, the GM, has done a good job in the post-Harden era by giving Westbrook and Durant a very functional supporting cast. If OKC loses this game, the Thunder could begin to wonder how many more cracks they’ll get.

Kevin Durant: It’s not totally his fault that he’s The Best Player Without A Title; circumstances have played a role. Still, will he suddenly be lumped with Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and a host of other greats who are missing something? And of course, there’s the mater of addressing the elephant in the room: Does a Game 7 loss nudge Durant in the direction of signing elsewhere as a free agent this summer?

Stephen Curry: He has shot, by his standards, somewhat poorly in this series, just 42.2 percent since Game 2. And there have been stretches where the two-time MVP has looked ordinary, perhaps because he isn’t completely healthy. With greatness comes additional expectations that might be unrealistic to an extent. Curry can erase all of that with a massive Game 7, which he’s fully capable of pulling off. If he comes up short, then LeBron James will spend his time in The Finals saying I-told-you-so.

Draymond Green: Overall, it’s been a messy series for Green, what with the groin kick and the constant yapping at the referees, the awful performances in Games 3 and 4 and the lost margin for error regarding flagrant fouls (one more and he’s suspended). Green is discovering that when you move up in class in the NBA, from a good role player to an All-NBA team member, the demands rise as well. How does he respond?

Russell Westbrook: We’ve seen the Good Russ and the Reckless Russ in this series, sometimes in the same game or the same quarter. When the Thunder assumed a 3-1 lead, he was the best player after four games. When the Thunder lost the momentum two games later, it was partly because Westbrook either missed shots and/or lost control of the ball. When his game is pure and clean, he’s a sight to behold. When it isn’t, Mark Cuban might be right.

Klay Thompson: The most consistently good Warriors guard in this series, and the playoffs, isn’t Curry. Thompson has proven why he’s so valuable to the Warriors. He’s a great player — making All-NBA gives you that distinction — who is fine with riding shotgun. Like all shooters, Thompson can go cold at times, but when he’s squaring up at the rim and releasing, is there a purer shooter in the game? Certainly not in this series. Plus, Thompson must guard Westbrook. OKC should be more concerned with him than Curry.


Morning shootaround — May 29

Warriors more than pretty shots | Fourth-quarter woes return for Thunder | Tyronn Lue, reluctant head coach? | DeJean-Jones’ death hard on coach

No. 1: Warriors more than pretty shots — The game was instantly unforgettable, some of the shot-making was remarkable. But the Golden State Warriors’ ability to force a Game 7 in the Western Conference finals – it will be played on their home court Monday night in Oakland (9 ET, TNT) – owed as much to the defending champions’ ability to grind their way back from the brink against Oklahoma City Saturday. That was the take of our man Fran Blinebury:

OKLAHOMA CITY — It’s hard to take your eyes off Steph Curry and Klay Thompson when they’re doing their tricks with the basketball way up on the high wire.

Curry paints the canvas with equal parts imagination and sheer fearlessness. Thompson just fires like a machine-gunner with a hair trigger.

Spectacular to watch, it can take your breath and vocabulary away.

Thompson set an NBA playoff record with 11 3-pointers, firing in five of them in the fourth quarter. Curry tossed in a half dozen that included the one that finally dropped the hammer.

Yet in order for the pair of All-Star guards to flap their wings and soar like eagles, it was the ability of the Warriors to wrestle in the dirt that set up the incredible come-from-behind 108-101 win that now forces a Game 7 in the Western Conference finals on Monday night.

“We battled,” said Draymond Green.

“We fought for every opportunity,” said Andre Iguodala.

“We stuck with it,” said Andrew Bogut.

This was another game that could have gone like that last two times the Warriors stepped out onto the court in OKC, where a leak in their defense and ball handling became a raging flood and the defending champs were swept away by 28 and 24 points

But instead of sinking on Saturday night, the Warriors found a way to paddle their arms and kick their legs and kept popping their heads back up above the water.

They were frustrated time again and by the Thunder getting second shot opportunities that produced putback baskets. And yet they went right back to work on the backboards and down in the paint and out on the perimeter, swinging their axes with the resolve of coal miners.

“Game 5 was a battle,” Green said. “This was a war.”

The TV highlights that will run in an endless loop between now and Game 7 will show the Splash Brothers doing the act. It is the part of the show for which everybody buys their ticket. But it is often only possible if the Warriors are playing the kind of high-level, high-intensity defense that carried them to the title a year ago and built a large portion of that historic 73-9 record during the 2015-16 regular season.

The idea is to keep doing enough of the dirty work with the shovels in order to give Curry and Thompson a chance to come out and play. They never gave the longer, more athletic Thunder a chance to run away and hide.

In closing, here were a couple of pertinent Tweets overnight:


No. 2: Fourth-quarter woes return for Thunder — One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And, of course, vice versa, which is the side of Saturday night’s outcome on which the Oklahoma City Thunder landed. Seemingly within reach of The Finals for the first time since 2012, they wound up with a closing performance worthy of some failed bullpen ace nicknamed “El Gasolino.” The Thunder’s two stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, found themselves in the he-who-giveth, he-who-taketh-away dilemma: Without their heroics, OKC wouldn’t have been in position to nail down Game 6. But without their gaffes, the Thunder wouldn’t have been forced to head back to Oracle Arena for the Game 7 showdown. Our own Lang Whitaker reported on the OKC side:

For the Thunder, the loss brought about more questions than answers. Despite not shooting the ball particularly well — the Thunder finished 3-for-23 on 3-pointers — they had every opportunity to close out the series. Yet when it came time to make a closing statement, the Thunder were mostly mute.

During the regular season, fourth quarters were not always the Thunder’s happy place: they lost a league-high 14 games where they’d entered the fourth quarter holding a lead. While they had only lost one playoff game in similar situations, Saturday’s game doubled that total.

“I felt like we didn’t do a great job coming down the stretch,” said Thunder coach Billy Donovan, “and I think we’ve made such great improvements coming down the stretch in terms of just on both offense and defense of doing a better job of executing and that really wasn’t — hasn’t been us the last month and a half. I thought we got a little stagnant coming down the stretch.”

Historically, whenever things get stagnant for the Thunder they can usually get help on the offensive end from either Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, their two transcendent offensive stars. But neither shined particularly bright tonight, at least by their standards, combining for six fourth quarter turnovers and going 3-for-14 from the field when the Thunder were most desperate for baskets.

“I like my shots,” said Durant, who finished 10-for-31 overall, including 1-for-8 on 3s. “It’s just a matter of them going in. When I drive to the rim, they’re bringing extra guys at me, so I’ve got to do a better job making the extra pass. I wish I could have got a lot of those shots back. I felt great on a lot of them, but that’s just how it is.”

“We want [Durant] to be everything he can,” said Thunder center Steven Adams. “He’s one of the best players in the world, so we want him to be aggressive and he can. We as a team support and trust him, him and Russ. So we give him that freedom. Hopefully we make a play and we do the best we can to put them in the situation we need to be in.”

With their offense sputtering, the Thunder’s defense, which has been terrific throughout the series, also hit a rough patch, giving up 60 second half points to the Warriors. While the Thunder’s athletic roster has presented problems for the Warriors’ high-octane offense, particularly with their ability to switch picks and bother shots, tonight the Warriors basically ran a shooting clinic, finishing 21-for-44 on three-pointers. Golden State’s vaunted Splash Brothers, Thompson and Stephen Curry, totaled 70 points.


No. 3: Tyronn Lue, reluctant head coach? — One team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, already has taken care of its conference championship business and is patiently waiting for the West to deliver its champion to The Finals. That team is coached these days by Tyronn Lue, a rookie head coach thrust into that job when Cavaliers GM David Griffin fired David Blatt four months ago. Chris Haynes of filled the gap between Cavs games this weekend to pull back the curtain on Lue’s hiring and how – even though he aspired to be a head coach someday – Lue didn’t enjoy the manner in which this promotion came:

Tyronn Lue was enjoying a peaceful, rare afternoon off when his phone begin to ring. There would be little peace for the rest of the day.

Eventually, that one call led to others. It sparked conversations between Lue and every member of the Cavaliers roster that eventually reset a season. But it was that initial call that changed everything. General Manager David Griffin was on the line.

In speaking with numerous sources close to “The Call,” learned the details. There were no initial pleasantries. Griffin got right to the point — David Blatt was being relieved of his duties.

Lue’s response was candid and immediate.

“This is f—– up, Griff.”

That didn’t prevent Griffin from calmly asking Lue if he could take over. Hired as the associate head coach a year and a half earlier, becoming the head of a franchise was Lue’s eventual goal. But this didn’t seem right.

Lue pleaded with Griffin, arguing for several minutes that firing Blatt was an excessive move for a team carrying a conference-best 30-11 record. Griffin listened to Lue’s pleas. When they ended, he told Lue the decision has already been carried out.

Griffin circled back to his original question.

“What’s done is done. I’m asking you if you can lead this team?” It had taken a few minutes, but Griffin got the response he sought.

“Yeah, I can f—ing lead this team.”

Griffin then congratulated him.

January 22 marked the birth of a rejuvenated culture that catapulted the franchise to securing its second consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

“I was like, ‘what the f—.’ That was my initial thought,” Lue told “I didn’t see it coming. I couldn’t believe it. But, you’re prepared because you’ve done the coaching interviews and you have your philosophies. But to fire the head coach and you take over the next day with no practice or anything and you have the Chicago Bulls coming in. It was overwhelming.”

Owner Dan Gilbert has been reluctant to speak about Blatt’s departure and Lue’s promotion. However, after his team eliminated the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals in Friday night’s Game 6, Gilbert took in the sight of a revived and confident roster. He felt it was the appropriate juncture to comment.

“I just think it was a great decision that was made,” Gilbert said to “You never know what would happen any other way, but I think [Lue is] fantastic. It’s rare that a guy knows the game and has people skills. You get both with him, like offense and defense almost. He’s a special guy.”


No. 4: DeJean-Jones’ death hard on coach — Followers of the NBA were just getting to know Bryce DeJean-Jones, given his brief stints on 10-day contracts this season with the New Orleans Pelicans and the multi-year deal he signed with the team to stick around for 2016-17 and maybe more. But there were plenty of people who knew DeJean-Jones and were stunned by the news of his death in a tragic shooting in Texas. One of those was Dave Rice, who had coached the young wing player during their time together at UNLV. Rice spoke with The Sporting NewsMike DeCourcy:

The news came to Dave Rice as a question more so than a statement. A friend from Las Vegas checked in to ask if it were true: Was Bryce Dejean-Jones really dead?

It did not take long for Rice to confirm. Dejean-Jones, 23, had been shot to death in Texas. The Dallas police stated Jones broke into an apartment, kicking in the front door and a bedroom door, and a startled resident had grabbed his gun and shot. The apartment owner released a statement indicating Dejean-Jones had been attempting to break into the home of an “estranged acquaintance” — multiple reports indicate it was the mother of his child — but had entered the wrong home

Rice had coached Dejean-Jones at UNLV for three seasons, after he transfered from Southern California. It was a challenge at times, and Dejean-Jones spent his final season of eligibility elsewhere. But they never lost touch.

“It’s just tough when you lose a former player that was special, that went through quite a bit of adversity — and Bryce would be the first one to say he was responsible for a lot of that adversity,” Rice told Sporting News on Saturday. “But he’d made a lot of progress.

“When you see someone you’ve tried to help and you see that person making progress, becoming a man and doing well, and then something like this happens it’s — tough is not the right adjective, but you know what I’m trying to say.”

A 6-6 forward from Los Angeles, Dejean-Jones spent a redshirt year at UNLV after transferring from Southern California, then played two years for the Rebels and produced scoring averages of 10.3 and 13.6 points a game. He was suspended for a violation of team rules and missed UNLV’s final regular-season game in 2014. He reportedly was heard yelling at teammates following the team’s conference tournament loss to San Diego State. It was time to move on.

Rice, now an assistant coach at Nevada, said the rough end to their time together did not diminish their relationship. The UNLV staff worked with Dejean-Jones to assure his graduation and transfer would go smoothly, and at Iowa State he averaged 10.5 points for a team that won the Big 12 tournament.

When Dejean-Jones was called up from the NBA Development League to play for the New Orleans Pelicans, he called Rice to share the joy. When UNLV made the impetuous decision to fire Rice last January, Dejean-Jones was among the former players who called to commiserate.

“We had a very special relationship,” Rice said. ”He knew that I always had his back. I think that was his way of saying ‘Coach, I’ve got yours.’ “


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Anthony Slater of the Daily Oklahoman provides a forensic breakdown of the Thunder’s Game 6 meltdown. … Luke Walton isn’t talking about the Lakers job for now and certainly isn’t inclined to delve into his interview with Phil Jackson. … New Memphis coach David Fizdale may be close to adding a top-notch lieutenant to his staff. … If you want more Klay Thompson — apologies to Thunder fans — here’s a story from last June on the Warrior guard’s high school roots. … For some reason, that Yahoo! site The Vertical treated Thompson’s Yoda socks as if it was breaking news about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping or something. Here’s what all their fuss was about.

Pump the brakes on a Durant exit

VIDEO: Kevin Durant speaks after Sunday’s practice

SAN ANTONIO — The Thunder are three defeats away from kicking off the Summer Of Durant, which will be slightly less intense than the Summer Of LeBron (2010 version), because of course Kevin Durant will be the most desired free agent to hit the market since LeBron James.

But the closer you look, and the more you apply common sense, Durant stands a far better chance of staying in Oklahoma City than a tumbleweed does on a windy day. Because there’s one advantage the Thunder have going for them, one factor you cannot easily dismiss:

The Russell Westbrook factor.

Even if OKC doesn’t rally after being buried in Game 1 against the Spurs and get eliminated in the conference semis, Durant will probably feel he still has a chance to win with the Thunder and that’s because of Westbrook. Their roots run deep, and their chemistry on and off the court, by all accounts, is strong enough to convince Durant to give it one more try. The sensible solution is to stay linked with Russ, sign for one more year, and then that creates the Really Big Summer Of Russ And Durant in 2017, when both are free agents.

This way, Durant accomplishes three things: One, he gives himself a shot of making even more money a year from now when the salary cap rises; two, he knows he’ll still be in demand by contending teams in ’17; and three, he can continue riding with Westbrook well into the future either in Oklahoma City or elsewhere as a — compose yourself, now — package deal.

Not many A-list free agents would hitch themselves to a teammate with so much on the line, but then again, not many teammates have the bond that ties Westbrook and Durant together. Just a hunch here, but Durant probably believes he’ll never find a higher quality of co-star, and that likely includes Steph Curry; going to Golden State would be trading the known (Westbrook) for the unknown (Curry).

And really, Durant’s decision this summer is only about the Warriors or Thunder. Durant can sign with the Wizards, Lakers, Knicks or almost any other team in ’17 and still get the max or close enough to it. But if he wants to join the Warriors, he must do it now, because otherwise Harrison Barnes will swallow up a good portion of Golden State’s cap going forward.

There is another inducement that would keep Durant in OKC for at one more year: He’s comfortable in the city, OKC has a solid nucleus and the franchise is steered by a sharp GM in Sam Presti. But it starts with Westbrook; walking away from him would be difficult.

Just last week, the depth of their relationship was revealed when Durant ran to the rescue of Westbrook when Mavericks owner Mark Cuban declined to elevate Russ with the game’s greats, saying the point guard was just an All-Star.

When Westbrook was pressed for a response, he was waved off by Durant, who called Cuban “a idiot” while Westbrook sat back and allowed his friend to have the floor.

“Russ already knows that Kevin has his back,” said Nick Collison, who has been their teammate from the start, “but it’s just one more thing to say it publicly and take some of that on himself. It was definitely appreciated by Russ, for sure.”

Collison has had a point-blank view of the development of both players and how they’ve bonded. He noted how it’s not easy for two stars to always be in-step; history says that egos and agendas often get in the way. But that hasn’t been the case here. Even when Westbrook developed a habit of taking more shots than Durant, and caused outside observers to howl, Durant never took offense. On the contrary; he constantly harps on Westbrook never getting his due, and made a point to predict Westbrook would become the second Thunder player to win an MVP.

“They really appreciate each other,” said Collison. “There’s so much shared history. They’ve been through a lot together. They recognize how important each other is to the team. Look, there’s things that happen on the court that don’t always go over well, but they’ve always been able to figure it out. They have a common respect for each other and know how tough it is for them to do what they do. That allows them to get through anything that comes up.”

If Durant was looking to score his first big contract this summer, maybe money would get in the way. But he’s already had one big contract. And he’s making additional money in endorsements. And so Durant is one of the few NBA players who doesn’t need to seek the financial security of a long-term deal right away. He can go short-term and give OKC another try.

It’s the smart move this summer: Return for one more year, score a financial blockbuster later, and most important, keep Westbrook by his side.


Walton era begins with Lakers

VIDEO: Reaction on Luke Walton coaching the Lakers.

Luke Walton is coming to the Lakers and the only nit-pick that LA is raising is he isn’t bringing Steph Curry or Klay Thompson with him.

A year ago this time, Walton was the second assistant on the Warriors’ bench and seemingly a few years away, at least, from becoming a head coach in the NBA. He had only three years of experience as an NBA assistant. And Byron Scott had finished up his first season running the Lakers and no sense his job was in jeopardy despite just 21 wins, since the Lakers were in rebuilding mode.

But then, things happened. Walton’s stock soared suddenly, helped by a pair of events: Alvin Gentry left the Warriors last summer for the Pelicans, which allowed Walton to slide next to Steve Kerr; and Kerr missed the first 43 games this season with back issues, which put Walton in the big chair.

Timing, as they say, is everything, and in a flash, after going 39-4 while keeping the seat warm for Kerr, Walton found himself high on the list of every team looking for a coach.

The Lakers, from all accounts, are his dream job, and the two sides struck a deal late Friday for Walton to succeed Scott, who was fired last week. Part of the reason for Scott’s firing was the demand for Walton. He spoke with Knicks president Phil Jackson and was being considered by the Kings. The Lakers had to act now or risk losing Walton for good.

And now the question is: Was Walton’s amazing record with the Warriors due to Golden State being a polished and veteran team fueled by three All-Stars? Or did Walton show gobs of potential during his four-month stint? Maybe the truth is a bit of both.

Perception is everything, and the sight of Walton looking cool and composed with a clipboard, and standing next to Kerr when Kerr accepted the Coach of the Year Award the other day, weighed heavily in his favor. It also helps that Walton has been coached by Jackson and also Lute Olsen, and raised by his father Bill, a Hall of Famer.

Obviously Walton, 36, will step into a completely different situation. The Lakers have won 38 games the last two seasons and are loaded with young players and tapped out veterans. Yet: They’re expected to land a top-three pick in the lottery and now that Kobe Bryant is done, they have plenty of salary cap room and low expectations in the near future. That cushion will allow Walton to grow into the job.

For a team that just wrapped up a season of misery, this ranks as the first if only encouraging news of the year for the Lakers.




Morning shootaround — April 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 23

Poise, passion pay for Portland | Curry back in body, but in spirit? | Nowitzki chooses to keep fighting | Celtics’ Thomas bonds with Boston’s best

No. 1: Poise, passion pay for Portland — Things were slipping away for the Portland Trail Blazers late in their game Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, which meant their first-round Western Conference series also was slipping from their grasp. The Blazers couldn’t afford to dig their hole 3-0 deep and maintain any realistic hopes of coming back, and they knew it. That’s when desperation kicked in, in the form of a feisty point guard and follow-the-leader resilience of his teammates. Jason Quick of detailed Portland’s late-game resolve and push:

It’s when some of the Clippers’ warts became exposed – DeAndre Jordan’s free throw shooting, Blake Griffin’s rust among them – and when some of the Blazers’ uncanny ability to play above-and-beyond what conventional wisdom says a team of this experience and payroll should.

It’s when Portland closed on a 15-3 run to secure a 96-88 win to draw within 2-1 of the Clippers in this best-of-seven series.

It was the Blazers’ most important 3:52 of the season and that frenetic finish included a speech, a three-pointer, a steal and a dunk. And ultimately, it included a message.

“It says we want it,’’ Damian Lillard said. “ We aren’t here for fake just to say ‘We weren’t supposed to make the playoffs and we made it.’ We are here to compete. We are here to win. It said a lot about our team. We really showed some fight and some heart.’’

The crowd was buzzing. National television was watching. And a season still had a pulse, even though months ago some players admitted they figured by late April it would be forgotten in a three-margarita-haze somewhere in Mexico.

Soaking up that atmosphere, Lillard asked his teammates a question.

“I huddled the guys up and said ‘Are you all ready to go home? … We are going to finish this out,’’’ Lillard recalled later.

It wasn’t so much of a motivating, rallying cry as much as it was a crystalizing moment for the team, a now-or-never type of awakening.

“He basically came in there and said ‘I don’t want my season to be over,’’’ [Moe] Harkless said. “I felt the same way, so I was right there with him. Just to know everybody on the court had the same mindset … I mean, that’s big time.’’

[C.J.] McCollum made one of his two free throws. And after [DeAndre] Jordan split his free throws, Harkless darted from the baseline to rebound and dunk a miss from McCollum with 55 seconds left to give the Blazers a 91-86 lead.
“That play by Moe sealed the deal for us,’’ Davis said.

Who knows how much Lillard’s now-or-never speech had to do with the Blazers’ strong close to the game? Or whether it was more the Clippers’ undoing in the clutch rather than the Blazers’ rising to the occasion?

Doesn’t matter. Inside the locker room, this team looks to and listens to Lillard, and he usually delivers with something that resonates.