Posts Tagged ‘Steve Clifford’

Zeller’s timeline, urgency need to synchronize with Charlotte’s


VIDEO: Knicks blow out Hornets in Las Vegas; Zeller scores 18 in defeat

LAS VEGAS – Cody Zeller‘s personal timeline doesn’t seem to be in sync with his team’s. And that not based simply on the fact that his 2014 Summer League experience began four days after the Charlotte Hornets’.

Zeller’s brother Tyler, recently traded from Cleveland to Boston, got married over the weekend, so the Hornets’ 7-foot center/forward had permission to show up late for the team’s slate of games in the desert. But the tardiness needs to end now, because Charlotte is growing weary of waiting for Zeller.

After the Hornets used the No. 4 overall pick on Zeller in the 2013 Draft, he proved to have a more prolonged learning curve than they had expected. He averaged 6.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 17.3 minutes. Some things clicked as the season progressed, but he shot 42.6 percent and was no factor in the playoff sweep to Miami.

Now, with versatile and valued Josh McRoberts gone from Charlotte’s front line, Zeller is being counted on to contribute far more. Beginning, like, yesterday.

Though he wasn’t even ready for today.

“He played like he just came off the plane,” said Patrick Ewing, Hall of Fame center and the Hornets assistant coach who worked Charlotte’s 95-72 spanking by New York’s summer squad. Zeller scored 18 points on 6-for-13 shooting in nearly 31 minutes, but those points are misleading; by halftime, he had just six points and zero rebounds in 16 minutes. Charlotte was getting thumped 62-31 and dominated on the boards, 19-5. So yeah, Zeller made most of his impact in garbage time.

Ewing was as honest in his assessment as Hornets head coach Steve Clifford is when talking about the big guy from Indiana – actually, the roster now has two, with rookie forward Noah Vonleh arriving with the No. 9 pick last month.

“We need for [Zeller] to do it on both ends, not just look to score,” Ewing said. “I told him a couple times, ‘If we’re gonna go to you and you don’t have anything, and there’s a man right there, pass the ball to the open man.’ [Play] the way that he’s gonna have to play during the season. Even though this is summer league, this summer league is important to all three of those guys – him, P.J. [Hairston] and Noah. We still need for them to make plays.”

Zeller, 21, didn’t share the sense of urgency. In fact, he sounded a little above the fray for what goes on at Summer League, as if a gentleman of his breeding needn’t overdo it this week.

He might want to rethink that stance.

“Summer league is no indication of how the team or individually how you’re going to be in the season,” Zeller said. “Everyone is trying to use it to get better at this time of year. But for me, I’ve got two or three months till the beginning of the season.”

Zeller sounded like he had to handicap his game Monday so the hopefuls and wannabes playing with him could keep up. “It feels like I’m going back from making the adjustment from the NBA back to college now,” he said. “I’ve got to take a second and slow down, and try to help guys along.”

Sounds nice of him, but Zeller has no time to lose. There already are rumblings in Charlotte that the momentum of last season, off a 43-39 record and playoff berth against the Heat, may be lost with McRoberts’ departure and the inability to pry restricted free-agent Gordon Hayward away from Utah. Clifford relied on McRoberts for stability and smarts whenever his talented but inexperienced squad lost its way. In signing with Miami, he left a hole bigger than his 8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists.

It’s largely on Zeller and Vonleh to plug it. Otherwise they both might get to pad their numbers in far too many games with garbage time.

“He’s gonna have to grow up real fast,” Ewing said of Zeller. “With Josh not being there, I’m not sure who our starting four man is going to be … but we need for him to improve in all the areas where he didn’t do well last year. He has to continue to rebound and block shots – he’s 7 foot tall – running on the break, developing a go-to move. Just all the things a normal basketball player’s supposed to have.”

Told that Zeller doesn’t seem to be fast-tracking this project – he’s counting on the team’s chemistry and character to fend off slippage, while focusing this offseason on his offensive moves – his coach for the day Monday nodded.

“There’s time,” said Ewing, one of the hardest-working big men in league history. “Hopefully not too long.”

Blogtable: Straight to the big-boy chair

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


BLOGTABLE: No assistants needed | Awesome O, awful D? | Whaddya think now?



VIDEO: The Starters on new Knicks coach Derek Fisher

> Is this a good trend or a bad one, players (like Derek Fisher) jumping straight into head coaching jobs? Isn’t time spent as an assistant worth anything?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: This long has been a copycat league, so I’d get concerned if this started being copied for the wrong reason – to land a big name for name’s sake or to distract fans from an under-skilled roster. I think of the career assistants, too, who can’t crack the inner circle because they don’t have notable (or any) playing experience. But these trends tend to come in waves – it wasn’t long ago that Steve Clifford, Mike Budenholzer, Brett Brown and others were getting “all” the jobs. I think smart, recent veterans players bring a great deal of knowledge, and instant credibility with their players. But I don’t see any downside in those guys spending a year or two sitting next to a head coach to learn more about the care and feeding of an NBA club.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Good trend, bad trend? Unless you’re running a halfway house for long suffering assistant coaches, the only thing that matters is winning. Does it work? It didn’t for Magic Johnson. The jury is out on Jason Kidd. Now Derek Fisher will get his chance. It’s like high school players making the jump to the NBA. Good idea if you’re Moses Malone, Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant. Others not so much. But Fisher ought to ask his new boss to get him a real team.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I don’t see it as good or bad. Last summer we saw a run on assistant coaches awarded first-time head coaching jobs. Jason Kidd was the outlier. I think the Knicks situation is, too. Phil Jackson wanted someone he knew, who came through his system. Steve Kerr was his top choice, but Kerr went to Golden State. If Kerr took the Knicks job as he nearly did, then we’re not even talking about Fisher as a coaching candidate. He might have ended up in a front office or wearing a headset on TV. As for the experience of learning on the bench as an assistant, well, 18 years in the league as a point guard is pretty good experience, too. There’s just no way of forecasting who will and who won’t be successful and why. Will Quin Snyder be the answer for the Jazz just because he built up his resume as an assistant? Maybe. And maybe Fisher will be the right man for the Knicks.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It depends on the team and the coach. It’s tough to compare Fisher with Jason Kidd, because Kidd is more basketball savant and Fisher is more expert communicator. They’re two very different people with, more importantly, two very different rosters. But time spent as an assistant can only help in regard to understanding the preparation that goes into a game plan, what information is most important, and what works on both ends of the floor. Kidd developed nicely over the course of seven months, but the Nets could have won 5-10 more games had he not had his early-season growing pains.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I don’t know how long this trend lasts, but I don’t think it’s detrimental to any part of the game. Who knows the intricacies of this game better than the men who toil between those lines on a regular basis? Why this sort of corporate knowledge wouldn’t be rewarded the same way work in the film room or as an assistant  coach, for any amount of time, is beyond me. Time as an assistant is worth plenty. But it doesn’t guarantee success as a head coach any more than a stellar 19-year career as a player does. And that success or failure depends largely on the man taking that plunge, the support system surrounding him, the structure of the organization he’s joining and lastly and, I believe most important, the talent at his disposal. Kind of interesting the way it all comes full circle for the player-turned coach. Is Steve Kerr any more ready than Fisher? Nobody knows. I say good for Fisher and good for other players, who won’t have Phil Jackson waiting on them, interested in making that leap.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Time spent as an assistant can be valuable, but I don’t know if anything’s more valuable than having the experience of playing against the guys you’re coaching against just months earlier. It obviously took Jason Kidd some time to adjust to the coaching role, but he obviously warmed to it as the season went along. I think Fisher will have a similar learning curve in New York. If someone like me became a head coach with no prior experience and no time as an assistant on my resume, then I could see an outcry. But considering Fisher was out there playing just a week or two ago, I think he’s prepared.

Business handled, Heat rest and refocus

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: LeBron James talks after the Heat finished off the Charlotte Bobcats

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — They’d have done anything to avoid the spotlight this time three or four years ago. It would have been a welcome relief for the Miami Heat back then, when they were in the formative stages of a championship quest that continues today in a business-like fashion that has become routine for LeBron James and the two-time defending champion Heat.

All of the hype and hoopla that marked their early time together has faded a bit for the Heat, the first team to break through to the next round of the playoffs courtesy of their sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats. The minutiae, the “process,” as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra loves to call it, has infected this team.

“It’s a process,” James said. “I think this was step one for us. I believe this is a great direction we’re going in right now. In four games we played championship-level basketball and we got tested … and the way we responded was a championship-type attitude. We have to continue to get better. We can’t play how we played in this round in the next round. We look forward to our next opponent.”

The Heat’s “process” is why reserves like James Jones and Norris Cole, bit and role players throughout the course of the regular season, can come seemingly out of nowhere to help close out the Bobcats. It’s why Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can work their way into playoff form instead of working under the extreme pressure that other All-Stars around the league are right now as they try to push their teams through to the next round.

The Heat simply handle their business and refocus on the next task. It’s not nearly as dramatic as the reality-TV life they lived in their first two seasons together. But it has benefits that the Heat will cash in down the road.

“Nothing is exactly the same,” Cole said. “So this does feel like a new year. We’re working the same way we always have and going about things in the same way we always have, the way that’s worked for us. But it’s about taking the right steps. And ultimately, winning is everything. And we know everybody on this team has to make certain sacrifices along the way. Sometimes you’re in that mix and sometime you’re not. But you stay ready … you have to on this team.”

With higher seeds around the league under siege and complete chaos ruling the day in almost every other series, the Heat have been strictly about the business at hand. They got a spirited effort from the Bobcats, a much more formidable foe than the Milwaukee Bucks team they toyed with in a first round sweep to kick off last season’s championship campaign.

Bobcats All-Star big man Al Jefferson injured his foot in Game 1 and was never able to test the Heat inside the way many expected. That didn’t stop the Bobcats from providing the stern test the Heat needed to prepare them for either Toronto or Brooklyn in the next round.

Sexy rematches from last year — the Heat went through the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and eventually the San Antonio Spurs after whipping the Bucks — are either not going to happen or so far off right now that they’re barely worth discussing.

The Bulls were eliminated Tuesday night by an upstart Washington Wizards team. The Pacers, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff field, are facing elimination Thursday night in Game 6 in Atlanta, down 3-2 to the Hawks. Even the mighty Spurs, the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, are locked in a battle with the Dallas Mavericks, the series is tied at 2-2 with Game 5 on tap Wednesday in San Antonio.

The hopes of a Heat-Oklahoma City Thunder rematch from the 2012 Finals are on life support as well. The Thunder trail the Memphis Grizzlies 3-2 and have already lost on their home floor twice in that series.

Like I said, all of the sexy storylines are either useless right now or pure imagination right now, given the current state of affairs everywhere else but Miami.

And that’s fine with Spoelstra, who relishes the opportunity to prepare for and trade blows with each and every opponent in the same manner. Again, it’s that process he loves to talk about.

“We don’t take these wins for granted,” he said. “We’re very pleased to get to the next round. The Bobcats put up a lot of fight throughout and this was a much closer series than the 4-0 outcome would indicate.”

The tricky part for the Heat is making sure to manage the time off. When you are dealing with the oldest team in the league, rest can’t be a bad thing … can it?

“You know we haven’t had much rest like this before, so our rhythm and timing may be off,” Chris Bosh said. “That is the challenge coach and everyone will have. We have been here before, we have learned some lessons from last year, and that is the best part of it. I think we will handle it better this time.”


VIDEO: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra discusses his team’s quick work of the Bobcats

Heat stay focused, go up 3-0 on Bobcats

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Postgame: Erik Spoelstra

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In a first round series in which they have much more talent, much more experience and better health, the Miami Heat just have to stay focused. They did their best job of that in Game 3 in Charlotte on Saturday, handling the Bobcats 98-85 to take a 3-0 series lead.

For the Heat, it’s on defense where their focus can really waver. In the first quarter, they allowed Al Jefferson to take them to school. In the post or on pick-and-pops, Jefferson ran the Miami defense ragged, scoring 15 of the Bobcats’ 27 points on 7-for-9 shooting. The passing lanes were open and the catches were easy.

“Every catch was exactly where he wanted it,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said afterward, “right in his wheelhouse, right in his comfort zone, where he could inflict incredible damage to our defense. There was not a lot of resistance to it. It was just too easy and we did not have a disposition.”

Then the Heat turned up the defensively intensity and Jefferson barely touched the ball over the final three quarters. He scored just one more field goal and finished with 20 points. After those first 12 minutes, the Bobcats scored just 58 points on 65 possessions.

It was a two-pronged smothering. Direct entries into the post were impossible, because the Miami bigs fronted Jefferson. And pick-and-rolls had no effect either, because the Heat stopped the ball-handler in his tracks and cut off his passing lanes with an aggressive trap.

“But they just got up,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said, “got great ball pressure on the perimeter, got up in the passing lanes, and made it just so difficult for us to be able to get him the ball.”

This is what the Heat do when they’re focused. There are some teams that can handle their defense better than others, but when they bring all their energy and effort on that end of the floor, there’s no better D in the league.

And the most important part of that defense is Chris Bosh. He’s the guy smothering those pick-and-rolls, recovering back to protect the rim, and handling Jefferson in the post. His defensive brilliance was on full display in Game 3.

“In the third quarter, he was outstanding,” Spoelstra said, “covering a lot of ground in pick-and-rolls and really putting a lot more pressure on Jefferson’s catches. He either couldn’t catch in the post or had to really work for it and catch it further out on the court.”

There will be much tougher challenges down the line, but it was encouraging to see the Heat keep their foot on the gas in a game they didn’t necessarily need.

“I was curious to see what our mind set would be coming into shootaround this morning,” Spoelstra said. “The guys were locked in and we certainly saw some carryover, not only in the activity level, but the focus and the details. It was professional win.”

The next step is to do it again in Game 4 on Monday (7 p.m. ET, TNT) and earn some extra rest before a matchup with the Brooklyn Nets or Toronto Raptors in the conference semifinals.

“If we come out with the same mind set or even greater focus on Monday,” LeBron James said, “we can give ourselves a great chance to win. It doesn’t always result in a win, but we can be satisfied with the results if we come in with the same mind set that we had tonight.”

Despite 0-2 deficit, Bobcats still believe

By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com


VIDEO: Heat hold off Bobcats’ late rally to take 2-0 series lead

MIAMI – With 3:03 left to play in the first quarter of Game 2 between Miami and Charlotte, Bobcats coach Steve Clifford walked slowly up the Charlotte sideline from the bench toward halfcourt. His arms were folded, his head angled toward the court. If the floor were made out of dirt, he might have kicked it at that moment.

It wasn’t just that the Heat were up 18-13 at the time, but that they were in the middle of a 10-0 run at the time, and the Bobcats weren’t doing much to abate Miami’s progress. Moments later, Al Jefferson would head for the locker room for treatment on a foot injury that left him laboring up and down the court like his shoelaces were tied together. The Heat compiled a 16-6 run to end the first quarter. For the period, the Bobcats had just one assist imbalanced against six turnovers. Kemba Walker’s first points came with 6 minutes to play in the first half. By halftime, the Bobcats had rolled up 11 turnovers.

Before Game 1 of this series, Clifford talked about the importance of protecting the ball against the Miami Heat. During the regular season, the Charlotte Bobcats averaged 12.3 turnovers, the lowest rate in the NBA. During Game 1, the Bobcats piled up 15. Through the first half of Game 2, they totaled 12.

“You gotta give [Miami] credit, though,” Josh McRoberts noted. “It’s not like we were just out there throwing it around. They do a great job pressuring, trapping, playing their coverages to make it tough.”

Despite all of this, the Bobcats hung around all night, making a game out of a game that probably didn’t seem like it should have been much of a game. They protected the ball much better in the second half, adding just three more turnovers to their total. Jefferson gallantly played through the injury, though with every step the pain was painted not only on his face but across his entire body — Jefferson still logged 40 minutes and finished with 18 points and 13 boards. (“He’s a tough hombre,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “He’s a tough guy. I mean, that is not an easy thing to fight though.”)

By the end of the game, the Bobcats had the ball down three with 10 seconds left to play, but a broken play ended with a turnover and an eventual 101-97 win for Miami.

The Bobcats have looked tenacious against the Heat in spurts, but they haven’t been able to sustain that production on either end of the court. In Game 1 of the series, according to SportVU numbers, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist held LeBron to one point on 0-for-4 shooting from the field in 5:10 of matchup time. The problem was foul trouble: Kidd-Gilchrist played just 14 minutes and finished with four fouls. In Game 2, Kidd-Gilchrist played 34 minutes and scored 22 points, but even with his best efforts, LeBron finished with 32 points, eight assists and six rebounds.

After a first-round playoff knockout in 2010 at the hands of the Orlando Magic, it took the Charlotte Bobcats four seasons, dozens of players, four coaches and two general managers to get back to the postseason. And it definitely got worse before it got better — in 2011-12, the Bobcats won just .109 percent of their games, a record for futility. Two seasons later the Bobcats finished with 44 wins and a rosy outlook: The Bobcats have both youth and cap flexibility on their side. Of course, having a bright future is cold comfort when you’re down 0-2 to the defending NBA champs, and have lost 18 games in a row to the Heat.

After the game, I asked McRoberts if he could take anything positive from the loss — that even though they lost, they were within three with 10 seconds remaining.

“No.” McRoberts said. “I mean I’m sorry to do that to your question, but no, I don’t take anything positive from it. We didn’t play that well. We made too many mistakes. We played horrible in the first half. You can’t do that and expect to beat the best team. You can’t beat the championship team with that level. So no, we want to win. We were disappointed.”

“It’s just more on us,” Jefferson said of the Bobcats’ situation. “We just got to get better and stop making so many mistakes that we should know better. Time and time over again. We gave them too many turnovers, 20 points off turnovers in the first half. That’s all we gave them Game 1 and we gave that to them in the first half. We just got to slow down and just play the right way. We’re letting them get us on our heels and we just got to get better in there.”

“Honestly man, I think we’re still really confident,” Walker said. “We just have to learn from our mistakes. Our coaches do a great job at getting us prepared to play in these games and getting us prepared to win these games. We’re going to go back home, we’re going to go back to the drawing board, we’re going to dissect these guys as well as we can, and get ready for the next one. I think we have a chance, man. I know these guys are defending champs, and it’s not going to be easy. We’re trying to win these games, and like I said, I think we have a chance.”

McRoberts said he, like Walker, believes the Bobcats still have a chance in this series: “You got to, right? I mean, that’s what we play for, that’s what we’re going to try to do. I’m not coming out guaranteeing anything, but we expect to win 82 times during the season and every time in the playoffs, too. That’s the mindset you gotta play with.”

Pop (hmmph) picks up third Coach award

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The best of Gregg Popovich (2013 playoffs)

SAN ANTONIO — Even after coaching 217 playoff games over the last 17 seasons, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich embarked on another postseason Sunday with butterflies swirling.

“Heck yeah,” Popovich quipped 90 minutes before the Spurs began their 17th consecutive playoffs under the coach everybody knows as ‘Pop.’ “If you don’t get nervous, you’re dead.”

The gruff Air Force Academy graduate is maybe the only coach in U.S. sports who has to come to be as celebrated for his typically terse exchanges with the media — particularly for his now famous, one-word retorts to television sideline reporters — as he is for his enduring legacy with a single franchise.

On Tuesday, Popovich, 65, added yet another layer to his rich, sure-fire Hall of Fame career as the recipient of the Red Auerbach Trophy as the 2013-14 NBA Coach of the Year. He led the Spurs to a 62-20 record, the best record in basketball, made more impressive because it came on the heels of a devastating loss last year in the NBA Finals.

“I feel very honored for a whole lot of reasons,” Popovich said at the news conference announcing the award. “First of all because there were so many coaches who did such a great job this year. I think it was really unique. A lot of people were really special and to be singled out is pretty humbling. I know I’ve been very lucky for a good number of years and I know full well I just represent part of what goes on here.”

It’s his third Coach of the Year honor and second in the last three years. He joins Don Nelson and Pat Riley as the only coaches to win the award three times. Popovich totaled 380 points, including 59 first-place votes, from a panel of 124 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada.

First-year Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek finished second with 339 votes, Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau was third, Charlotte’s first-year coach Steve Clifford was fourth and Toronto’s Dwane Casey finished fifth in the voting. (Complete voting totals here.)

Popovich also won the award following the 2011-12 season and also for 2002-03, the season in which Manu Ginobili joined Tim Duncan and Tony Parker to form the Big Three. They won their first of three championships that season. (Popovich won another title with Duncan and David Robinson back in 1999.) The Spurs entered these playoffs as the reigning Western Conference champions, boasting the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

That consistency is the hallmark of Popovich’s 18-year career in San Antonio. This season included a 19-game winning streak and only one losing streak of more than two games (three, back in late January). The Spurs extended their streak of winning at least 50 games to an NBA record 15 consecutive seasons.

The Spurs’ 62 wins is their second-highest total under Popovich, one fewer than the 2005-06 team. This team was an offensive juggernaut, ranking sixth in the league in offensive efficiency (points per 108.2 points per 100 possessions) and No. 1 in 3-point shooting at 39.7 percent. At the other end they ranked fourth overall in defensive efficiency and second in the Western Conference.

Popovich achieved it while masterfully managing his team’s minutes and particularly his two aging stars, Duncan, 38, and Ginobili, 36. Popovich limited every player on the roster to less than 30 minutes a game while nine players averaged at least 18.9 mpg.

“We saved minutes all year long so we could give those minutes come playoff time,” Popovich said.

Rick Adelman‘s announcement Monday that he was stepping down as coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves moved Popovich to the top of the list of career victories among active coaches — ninth on the all-time list — with a record of 967-443. Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers (644-498) is second and Dallas’ Rick Carlisle (569-339), who is matching wits with Popovich in their first-round playoff series, is third.

“Pop’s the best coach in the game and for my money he’s the best coach in history because of what he’s been able to do over a period of almost two decades, keeping the same system and just plugging in different players,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s been phenomenal.”

Popovich is the longest-tenured coach with the same team in all four major professional U.S. sports.

Jeff Hornacek talks Suns’ 48-win season

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Suns’ Goran Dragic is a nominee for Kia Most Improved Player

DALLAS – The Phoenix Suns added their name to a very short list of teams to win 48 games and not make the playoffs. Their pleasantly stunning season has sparked increased debate about whether the NBA should look at ditching the conference model and put the 16 teams with the best record into the postseason.

Suns coach Jeff Hornacek vaulted to the top of the Coach of the Year discussion early on and, like his team, never faded. Phoenix was believed to be a team headed for major ping-pong balls come the lottery, a team constructed of journeymen and unproven parts expected to top out at around 25 victories.

The first-time head coach will have competition from Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau, Portland’s Terry Stotts, Charlotte’s Steve Clifford, Toronto’s Dwane Casey and San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich.

“Jeff is an awesome coach,” Suns point guard and team MVP Goran Dragic said. “He was a great player and he understands the game. As a coach, he sees things differently and he is always calm and gives us that extra confidence. He works hard with young players after practice and he gives us the strength to fight the whole season.”

Here’s how Hornacek views his rookie season on the bench:

Q: How did you manage to quickly establish a winning culture in a locker room with high turnover?

A: That’s the one thing going into this season we wanted them to do, just play hard, play together and for the most part they’ve done that. These guys care about each other, they’re a very close-knit team and that gives you an opportunity for success.

Q: How did Gerald Green, NBA.com’s choice as Most Improved Player, find success this season and bouncing in and out of the league?

A: Gerald is a guy who can get his shot off anywhere — and he does (laughs). He’s got great confidence in his shooting. He’s done a much better job of not just settling for the jump shot, but he’ll take it to the basket. If he gets a step and has a chance to jump, you know how good of an athlete he is, he usually gets the ball in the basket. He’s improved in terms of his consistency. It’s not where he’s jacking up 10 3s and making two of them. He realizes that if he’s not making them, he moves in and tries to take a different shot and that’s been big. I think that’s where a lot of his improvement’s come.

Q: It’s been said that you are the perfect coach for him and the system is a perfect fit. Do you agree with that?

A: He’s bought into what we’re trying to do, it kind of fits his style. We don’t mind running up and shooting quick 3s. I think his eyes light up when one of our point guards, Goran or Eric [Bledsoe], sprint down the court and he’s filling a lane. Guys have great confidence in him and they look for him now because they know he can get hot and make six, seven in a row. It’s a big part of what we do and he’s been great this year.

Q: You played for and coached under Hall of Fame Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. What aspects of his coaching style or philosophies did you incorporate into yours?

A: When we went into it I tried to take a little bit from all the coaches. With Jerry, it’s just go out there and try to play every play like it’s your last, that’s what Jerry always stressed and we’re constantly talking about that. We’re an inexperienced team in terms of playing games so those guys are learning on the fly of how to do that night in and night out, and then get to every play. You can’t have three or four plays that, ‘Oh I forgot,’ or ‘I spaced off’ or whatever it is because that’s going to be enough to cost you the game. Jerry was always on that: Play every play like it’s your last and we try to get that from our guys.

Q: Not sure if even you could have predicted the level of success the team had this season. What does it mean for the franchise when 20-something wins seemed to be the ceiling?

A: Well, the whole part of the rebuilding is you’re going to have steps. From a team that was supposed to win maybe 20 games, we thought if we can get to 30, 35, start establishing things, maybe next year make a push for the playoffs and the year after that get in the playoffs, the kind of stepping stones that you have to go through. Maybe we just skipped a rung. I think it’s great.

Q: Why were you able to skip a rung?

A: I don’t know. It’s always tough in the NBA, especially the way guys switch teams nowadays. The chemistry part is big. And our guys, we had 10 new guys, you never how that’s going to come together, they’ve gotten along pretty well. We emphasized in the beginning, you’re a bunch of new guys, you’re a lot of guys that have contracts that end this year or they end next year, so that’s always kind of a recipe for disaster when guys try to get individual, worried about their contracts. I told them stories about some of our guys from the past, that when you’re on a good team that’s when teams want you, that’s when they’ll pay bigger bucks if you’re on a good team. And so if we’re a good team, all that stuff will come, don’t worry about it, just play and try to win games and that’s what they’ve done. They’ve put it all aside and just played.

Q: When did you first see signs that your team could be pretty good?

A: Early in the season we lost a couple of close games to San Antonio and Oklahoma City at their place and our guys; when you’re in a rebuilding mode a lot of times guys are talking about, ‘hey, that’s a moral victory. Hey look, we played well.’ Our guys were ticked off, they were mad about it. So, to me, as kind of a competitive player, I think, I took that as a sign that, hey, we could be OK this year because these guys care and they want to win.

Q: You paired two point guards, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, in the same backcourt. Why did you believe they could complement one another?

A: I just kind of envisioned it because I saw what Kevin Johnson and I went through way back in the day when you had two guards out there and we wanted to be an up-tempo team. We felt that the best way to do that is to have two guys you can outlet the ball to. We don’t need it in one guy’s hand when you can throw it to anybody. We just kind of, [general manager] Ryan McDonough, when we talked about if it could work, he said, ‘yeah I think it would be great getting them from one side to the other. Teams have to look at the mismatches. Someone’s going to have the advantage as good as those two guys are.

Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Gregg Popovich once again has the Spurs playing at a high level. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

Gregg Popovich once again has the Spurs playing at a high level. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

If you took a poll of their peers and asked them to name, year in and year out, the best coach in the NBA, the same name usually would show up.

Gregg Popovich.

That’s what happens when you spend 18 years establishing roots and a philosophy in a Spurs franchise that produces four NBA titles, 15 consecutive seasons of at least 50 victories and the best record in the Western Conference three of the past four seasons.

“I think for everybody in the league, you hope to get to that point where the established players, Hall of Fame type players, play in a system together for a long time,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. “They know each other, know the amount of effort that it takes, know how to get ready for games and how to get ready for series and how to get ready to win championships. All those things come from some time. It’s been a phenomenal run. In my career in the NBA, it’s been the most sustained long run. It’s just amazing that Pop gets them to play the same way every year.”

But especially this year, when the pages on the calendar cry out that Tim Duncan is soon-to-be 38, Manu Ginobili is 36 and Tony Parker is 31. Especially this year when the Spurs have worn the scars of their devastating loss of a fifth championship that was in their grasp until the last 28 seconds of Game 6 of the 2013 Finals. Especially this year when Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, Parker and Ginobili all spent stretches of time on the shelf with injuries or assorted aches and pains.

“Even if you have talent in this league, it isn’t as easy as people think,” Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said. “You have to get guys to come together and get them to buy in and find a way that they can play as a team.”

Popovich, the longest-tenured coach in any professional sport, has won Coach of the Year honors twice before in 2003 and 2012. But the work he’s done this season just might be his finest.

He is the first to tell you that the Spurs keep winning year after year because they have the talent, professionalism and unselfish nature of their Big Three to be committed to common team goals. But they continue to succeed again and again because Popovich has ingrained a system where the ball moves to find the open man and the best shot on offense and the defenders’ feet move to cut off open shots by their opponents.

The cast of supporting characters changes frequently, but what doesn’t is the requirement to stick to the same basic, demanding understanding of how the game is played. He won’t lower his own expectations, but will constantly raise your own.

This season Popovich has coaxed and nurtured the Spurs to 62 wins in the powerful Western Conference, all while carefully managing the minutes of his stars. Not a single player on the roster plays an average of 30 minutes per game. Parker is at 29.6, Duncan and Leonard at 29.2, Ginobili 22.8. Parker is the team’s leading scorer at only 16.7 per game, but the Spurs have nine different players averaging at least 9.1.

The Spurs are strong. They are deep. They are resilient and healthy going into the playoffs and ready again to drill into opponents what has been drilled into them — the sheer simplicity and brutal efficiency of playing one way.

Pop’s way. Which proved to be the best way. Again.

The contenders

Doc Rivers, Clippers — The veteran coach made the cross country hop and immediately changed the culture and the attitude of the franchise. He demanded and got more out of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and made a good team into a real playoff threat.

Jeff Hornacek, Suns — Getting his first chance as head coach, the last thing Hornacek wanted to hear was lottery talk. He took a disparate group of players and got them to share the ball and make the most of their ability. Nearly winning 50 games in the West is not to be undervalued.

Tom Thibodeau, Bulls — When Derrick Rose went down in the 10th game, he could have cursed the fates. When Luol Deng was given away to Cleveland, he could have thrown up his hands. Instead Thibodeau keeps grinding and now the Bulls are a fearsome matchup for anyone in the playoffs.

Steve Clifford, Bobcats — Another rookie head coach who gave the Bobcats what they’d been lacking for so long — an identity and a plan. He turned the worst defense in the league into one of the best (No. 6), made Al Jefferson the calling card of his offense and lifted Charlotte into the playoffs.

Morning Shootaround — April 17


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe readying for comeback | Irving still weighing Cleveland future | Thompson blasts Griffin’s style of play | Walker credits Clifford for his growth

No. 1: Kobe already gearing up for next comeback– All you need to know about how Kobe Bryant felt about this disaster of a Los Angeles Lakers season could be summed up in his tweet last night:

It should come as no surprise, then, that Bryant is already gearing up for a monster comeback now that he’s been cleared to resume running and shooting drills after recovering from a knee fracture. Ramona Shelbourne of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more on Kobe’s workout plans:

Kobe Bryant has been cleared to resume running and shooting and will begin an intense, six-month training program next week upon his return from a short family trip to Europe, sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.

Bryant has been ramping up his activity level in recent weeks as he continues to recover from a fracture in his left knee suffered during the Lakers‘ victory Dec. 17 at Memphis, just six games into his return from a ruptured Achilles.

While he is in Europe, Bryant will visit the clinic in Germany where he had the platelet-rich plasma treatment known as Orthokineon on his knee, according to a source.

The visit to the clinic is a check-up to ensure all is structurally sound with his knee before he resumes intense training.

Bryant has rarely traveled with the team or appeared in public since, preferring to focus on his rehabilitation instead of a team wrapping up the worst season in Lakers history.

***

No. 2: Irving: ‘Exciting’ if Cavs offer max deal — All season long, it seems, Cleveland Cavaliers star guard Kyrie Irving has been dogged by rumors of his desire to leave the team as soon as he possibly can via free agency. Now that the Cavs have wrapped up their season — one in which they fell well short of expectations of a playoff run — the team has some key roster decisions to make, the foremost of which may be signing Irving to a contract extension. For all the rumblings of Irving’s supposed displeasure with the team, though, it sure doesn’t sound like he wants to move on, writes Bob Finnan of The News-Herald & The Morning Journal:

The Cavaliers’ franchise faces several major decisions this summer.

None is bigger than the five-year, $80 million maximum extension the Cavs are expected to offer two-time All-Star Kyrie Irving.

“Obviously, I’m aware I can be extended this summer,” he said after the Cavs’ 114-85 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on April 16 before 19,842 at Quicken Loans Arena.

“It’s a big deal for me if they do offer me that. It will be exciting. I’ll make the best decision for me and my family. That’s what it will boil down to.”

Irving doesn’t sound like someone who wants out.

“I’ve been part of this, and I want to continue to be part of this,” he said. “We’ve made some strides in the right direction, especially as an organization. I want to be part of something special. I don’t have a definitive answer to that right now.”

The offer is expected to come on July 1.

Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert is attending the Board of Governors meeting April 17-18 in New York.

Brown has four years remaining on his original five-year, $20 million contract.

He said he won’t plead his case with Gilbert.

“I’m thankful to Dan for the opportunity he’s given me,” Brown said. “It’s his team. Whatever decision he makes, I’m going to support.”


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving talks after the Cavs’ season-ending win against the Nets

***

No. 3: Thompson blasts Griffin’s style of play — Who isn’t excited to watch the L.A. Clippers-Golden State Warriors first-round playoff series? Aside from the fact both teams have two of the better offenses and defenses in the league, there’s the added drama of them not liking each other in the mix as well. That latter point apparently is getting racheted up even more as a little war of words in the media seems to be breaking out between the Warriors’ Klay Thompson and the Clippers’ All-Star, Blake Griffin. Thompson accused Griffin of “flopping” and Griffin had his rebuttal to that claim yesterday, as Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports:

The trash talking between the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors has started — even before their first-round playoff series became official late Wednesday night.

Earlier in the day, Warriors guard Klay Thompson called Clippers forward Blake Griffin out for flopping and playing “kind of out of control sometimes.”

“He is a good guy off the court but he probably just … I mean … plays pretty physical and flops a little bit,” Thompson told The Wheelhouse on 95.7 The Game radio in San Francisco.

“He flairs his arm around so you know you might catch a random elbow or something that doesn’t you know rub off too well on guys,” Thompson said. “He’s kind of like a bull in a china shop, kind of out of control sometimes. And then you do just see him flop sometimes like how can a guy that big and strong flop that much.

“I can see how that gets under people’s skin and be frustrating to play against.”

Griffin was ejected from a Christmas Day game between the Clippers and Warriors after an altercation with Warriors center Andrew Bogut and called the Warriors out after the game for playing “cowardly basketball.”

“If you look at it, I didn’t do anything, and I got thrown out of the game,” Griffin said. “It all boils down to they (the referees) fell for it. To me, that’s cowardly. That’s cowardly basketball… Instead of just playing straight up and playing a game, it got into something more than that, and it’s unfortunate because you want to play a team head-to-head. You don’t want to start playing other games and playing cowardly basketball.”

***

No. 4: Walker credits Clifford for change in his gameFor the first time since the 2009-10 season, the Charlotte Bobcats are a playoff-bound team. Unlike that squad from a few years ago, though, Charlotte has a more solid future thanks to the standout play of youngsters like guard Kemba Walker. The third-year guard has become one of the leaders of the team and his improved playmaking skills have been key to Charlotte’s rise this season. However, he wasn’t always such a promising piece of the Bobcats’ future and as Jessica Camerato of BasketballInsiders.com reports, Walker credits coach Steve Clifford for challenging him to grow his game:

During an early-season game against the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford had seen enough of Kemba Walker’s defense of Jeff Teague – or lack thereof. Walker was lagging on the pick-and-roll, Teague was making plays at will.

Clifford and Walker had established a solid relationship shortly after Clifford was hired last offseason. The third-year guard jelled with the first-year coach, who he described as a “real down-to-earth, cool guy.” Walker saw another side of Clifford during that game, though, one that said more than the words he spoke.

“He really surprised me and he got into me. I really deserved it,” Walker told Basketball Insiders. “It motivated me and it helped me. … That’s kind of the first time an NBA coach has gotten into me. It was a mixture [of yelling and speaking]. It showed me that he cared about me because if he didn’t say anything, then I’m like he doesn’t care. But it showed me that he knows that I can do more. Looking back, I appreciate it.”

He added, “I think it definitely was (a turning point).”

Clifford made it clear early on he wanted to see Walker improve on the defensive end. He called Walker into his office to watch game film, pointing out clips where he played good defense and others where he was inconsistent.

“He’s made me a better player because he has so much confidence in me,” Walker said. “He told me that I could be a much better defensive player if I wanted to be. He challenged me with that.”

There are plenty of moments that go on between a player and coach that are not seen in practice or in games. Those are the instances that stand out to Walker this season – the conversations he has shared with Clifford, the times he has gone to him for advice, sometimes just as someone to listen.

“When a coach is able to help you with things off the court, that’s a lot more important than being on the court,” said Walker. “We’re all pros, but we still have problems just like regular people. Sometimes we need to vent, sometimes we need people to talk to. When you’ve got a guy like Coach Clifford whose been through so much in his life, a guy who knows things, can give you advice and you can talk to him, that helps a lot.”


VIDEO:Kemba Walker discusses the Bobcats’ win Wednesday night against the Bulls

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Wolves don’t have any idea about whether or not coach Rick Adelman will retire or not … Like his teammate (and fellow free-agent) P.J. Tucker, Suns guard Ish Smith is hoping to stick around in Phoenix … Cleveland center Spencer Hawes says he’s open to returning to the team next season …

ICYMI of the Night: It’ll be a good six months or so before we see some of the teams in last night’s top 10 plays again, so let’s give ‘em one last opportunity to shine here …


VIDEO: Relive the top 10 plays from the final night of the 2013-14 regular season

During an early-season game against the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford had seen enough of Kemba Walker’s defense of Jeff Teague – or lack thereof. Walker was lagging on the pick-and-roll, Teague was making plays at will.

Clifford and Walker had established a solid relationship shortly after Clifford was hired last offseason. The third-year guard jelled with the first-year coach, who he described as a “real down-to-earth, cool guy.” Walker saw another side of Clifford during that game, though, one that said more than the words he spoke.

“He really surprised me and he got into me. I really deserved it,” Walker told Basketball Insiders. “It motivated me and it helped me. … That’s kind of the first time an NBA coach has gotten into me. It was a mixture [of yelling and speaking]. It showed me that he cared about me because if he didn’t say anything, then I’m like he doesn’t care. But it showed me that he knows that I can do more. Looking back, I appreciate it.”

He added, “I think it definitely was (a turning point).”
Read more at http://www.basketballinsiders.com/cliffords-critique-led-to-walkers-success/#hDiVAClLkvlPCTqd.99

The buzz is back in Charlotte (video)

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Steve Clifford didn’t make any promises when he took the job. He didn’t make any public declarations about where he was going to take the Charlotte Bobcats this season.

He vowed to do whatever it took to make things better, to serve as an agent of change in whatever way he could. It’s a vow that resonated with his players. He won them over, one by one, with his belief that they could be better than what they had been before, with a belief in them individually and as a collective.

Al Jefferson bought in from the start. Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did, too. All of the Bobcats (and soon to be Hornets) believe now. They’ve already clinched the second playoff berth in Bobcats history, delivering on owner Michael Jordan‘s edict to restore the order in basketball-mad North Carolina, his home state.

There’s new life in Charlotte for the Bobcats and especially the Hornets. The buzz is back on Tobacco Road. But it has nothing to do with the storied college programs at Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest and North Carolina State.

March Madness is over. It’s playoff time and the Bobcats will take center stage in the days and weeks ahead …


VIDEO: There is new life in Charlotte thanks to the Bobcats (Hornets) grinding their way back to the playoffs