Posts Tagged ‘Steve Kerr’

Report: Warriors ‘significant’ threat to sign Kevin Durant this summer

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The summer of 2016 has been looked forward to for a while by teams around the NBA. Not only will many teams around the league be flush with spending money thanks to a new television deal, but at least one marquee player will be a free agent: Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant.

While Durant, the 2014 NBA MVP, has stayed mum on his future plans, that hasn’t stopped media speculation. And a new report today from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo’s The Vertical suggests that if Durant does choose to leave Oklahoma City this summer, the leading contender to sign Durant could conceivably create something of a basketball monster.

Writes Wojnarowski

The Golden State Warriors’ plan of pursuit predates their 2015 championship run, a bold plot to declare the futility of resistance. It isn’t only that the NBA champions are determined to recruit Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. The truth is that they’re the most intriguing destination to him. If Durant leaves the Thunder, the Warriors are the significant frontrunners to sign him, league sources told The Vertical.

The Warriors already have everything and yet they’re threatening to take more now. Steph Curry. Klay Thompson. Draymond Green. Committed ownership. Bob Myers, the executive of the year. Steve Kerr, a championship coach. Yes, Golden State has everything, including the ability to create the salary-cap space and a belief that Durant’s persona could fit seamlessly – even onto a potential two-time defending champion.

Make no mistake: Durant isn’t close to gone in Oklahoma City – no decision, no leaning, sources said – but the real threats on the summer market are beginning to reveal themselves. Durant is determined to win – to be an immediate championship contender at 27 years old – and that keeps bringing him back to the Warriors should he make the decision to leave Oklahoma City.

Outside of a Thunder championship closing down the process before July 1, there’s a strong expectation that Durant will hit the road, tour campuses and become a recruit again.

The big free agents, they’re forever living one of two things in the months leading into summer: searching for reasons to stay, or searching for reasons to leave. Durant has always been looking for reasons to stay. He adores the Oklahoma City community and holds a fondness for the franchise, but Durant is chasing championships, chasing a legacy.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 31




VIDEO: The Fast Break: Jan. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Cavs take down Spurs | Rockets rip refs | Barnes bails out champs | McCollum carves niche
No. 1: Lue, Cavs take another step forward — It’s been barely a week and only five games, but Tyronn Lue has the Cavaliers playing with more zip and zest, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com. The team is now 4-1 since Lue took over as head coach for David Blatt and was humming on all cylinders in taking apart the contending Spurs on Saturday night:

“I don’t put a lot of emphasis on it,” Lue said. “I just want to make sure our style of basketball is what we want to play. I know it’s a big game because it’s the San Antonio Spurs, but it’s only one game for us. If we take care of our business and do what we’re supposed to do, we don’t have to beat this team until June.”
Skeptics will say this was a classic case of an underpromise and overdeliver by Lue. If you set expectations low, you can control the threshold for what is deemed a success.

However, after watching the Cavs completely handle the Spurs 117-103 while playing a get-it-and-go brand of basketball that Lue introduced the team to when he took over a week ago, it’s easy to see the merit in Lue’s point.

If the Cavaliers can beat a great team such as the Spurs, albeit without Tim Duncan, just a week into playing this way and can look like the best version of themselves while doing so, how good can they look in four or five months, when the games really matter?

There was a lot to like about this game, starting with the offensive balance among LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, who all topped the 20-point plateau for the second consecutive game.

“I think our team responded well, playing fast, getting easy shots, Kyrie and LeBron attacking early, and then Kevin in the low post and making jump shots, so I thought tonight was a picture-perfect way of how we want to play,” Lue said. “The guys came out and executed it.”

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Lue’s big week — from Cavs’ assistant to 2016 East All-Star head coach


Tyronn Lue being named to coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars is the coaching equivalent of a player called up from the D-League on a 10-day contract suddenly being named a starter in the NBA’s annual showcase event.

Improbable as it sounds, Lue – who has been an NBA head coach for less than a week – will get to do in the 2016 NBA All-Star Game in Toronto on Feb. 14 what all-timers such as Jerry Sloan and Bill Fitch, and active veterans such as Dwane Casey and Terry Stotts, never have.

He and the Cleveland Cavaliers staff he inherited Thursday after taking over for fired David Blatt will be in charge, on the league’s biggest stage, of the East’s elite players.

Lue is 2-1 since replacing Blatt, and the most recent of those victories – a 115-93 victory over Phoenix Wednesday – left Cleveland with a 32-12, clinching the best mark in the conference through games played on Sunday, Jan. 31. That’s the cutoff by which the All-Star coaches are named.

Blatt was the coach of record for the Cavaliers’ first 41 games, but was fired with a 30-11 mark. Cleveland general manager David Griffin and owner Dan Gilbert came to believe, Griffin said, that the team wasn’t responding to Blatt in a way that would offer its best chance to win a championship this spring.

Earlier Wednesday, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich was tabbed to coach the West All-Stars, by virtue of the rule prohibiting a coach from making consecutive appearances in the event. Golden State’s Steve Kerr handled that duty in the 2015 game in New York.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 25


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lue was right pick to replace Blatt | Tony Parker is ready for Steph Curry duty | Kings’ rise fueled by Boogie, Rondo and defense | Raptors on a roll

No. 1: Lue was right pick to replace Blatt — The Cleveland Cavaliers fell flat in Tyronn Lue‘s debut as head coach. But the collective confidence in Lue as David Blatt‘s replacement remains strong after his first weekend on the job, even if he is still searching for his first win as the man in charge. Lue didn’t mince his words about the Cavaliers’ shortcomings after they lost to Chicago Saturday night and his refusal to do anything but shoot everyone straight, LeBron James and the rest of the locker room included, is what makes him the right fit. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com explains:

As it became apparent to Cavs management over the past month that the team was not responding to Blatt with the coach-player dynamic expected in what was supposed to be a championship culture, Lue was the clear choice as a replacement. Had the team made a coaching change last summer, a league source told ESPN.com, there would have been heavy consideration for Tom Thibodeau. But 41 games into the season, after witnessing Lue continue to straddle the nearly impossible line of being a loyal assistant to Blatt while growing organic connections to the team’s stars, management felt there was no one else more qualified to take the team where it wanted to go.

“Man, he’s a gamer,” said James Jones. “Ty lives and breathes this game.”

Jones is one of six players on the Cavs’ roster with more than 10 years of NBA experience. Lue carved out an 11-year NBA career himself as a journeyman point guard, averaging 8.5 points and 3.1 assists while playing for seven teams.

Jones was the player charged with gathering the players on their off day to the Cavs’ practice facility on Friday to inform them of the coaching decision. Rather than make 14 phone calls to spread the news, Griffin told Jones and knew he would take care of it. “He’s a magician like that,” Griffin said. Within 45 minutes, 13 players reported to Independence, Ohio, to hear about the franchise’s change of fate (one unidentified player did not make it, as he left his phone in his car while he was inside his house).

Lue retired from playing in 2009, so those half dozen Cavs veterans had all competed against him at one time or another. He and Richard Jefferson, in fact, were teammates for a season in Milwaukee.

“He’s extremely detail-oriented,” Jones said. “He can tell you anything and everything about every player he played against. He’s perceptive. And I think that’s why he was able to be successful in all the various situations he was in. Good teams, bad teams, leadership role, major minutes, support [role], as an assistant coach and as an associate head coach. So, I just know that, even when you talk about his personal life, nothing is more important than the game. And that’s what’s so respected about him.”

While Lue was far from a star, never averaging more than 13.5 points in a season, his path was star-crossed. He was teammates with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal with the Los Angeles Lakers and was coached by Phil Jackson. He played alongside Michael Jordan for His Airness’ final two seasons in Washington. He later teamed with the likes of Tracy McGrady, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Howard.

He always had an ability to relate to the marquee guys, even when they were on the other side. Maybe it was because they saw Lue across from them — listed generously at 6-foot, 175 pounds — with his passion being really the only thing fueling his place in the league, and it made them want to work harder to get the most out of the physical attributes and skills bestowed upon them.

LeBron James was one of those opponents who couldn’t help but gravitate to Lue. “We’ve been friends since I was 17 years old,” James said.

And Lue’s Forrest Gump-like path through the league the past two decades has given the Cavs faith he’ll be equipped to handle his current challenge in Cleveland.

“There’s nothing that he hasn’t seen,” James said. “He’s played for Phil Jackson, he’s coached with Doc [Rivers], he’s been all over, so he has experience. We put our trust in him now.”

***

No. 2: Tony Parker is ready for Steph Curry duty — It’s the matchup we’ve all been waiting for, the San Antonio Spurs visiting the Golden State Warriors tonight at Oracle Arena (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV). It’s also the individual battle Tony Parker can’t wait to dive into, his tilt with the NBA’s reigning MVP and frontrunner for a second straight trophy, Stephen Curry. Parker knows the challenge is daunting, but that’s why he’ll get some assistance, writes Jeff McDonald of the Express News:

At some point in Monday’s ballyhooed matchup at Oracle Arena, Stephen Curry will rise up and launch from somewhere south of Santa Clara, and Parker will be powerless to stop it.

Parker confirmed Sunday what most expected. He will draw the black bean assignment of guarding the NBA’s most lethal scorer. He hopes to have help.

“They won’t leave me (on Curry) by myself,” Parker said after the Spurs’ hour-long practice at the University of San Francisco. “Obviously it takes a whole team to slow him down.”

Parker is enjoying what coach Gregg Popovich calls his best defensive season, but expecting the 33-year-old to be anything more than a speed bump in Curry’s path is asking a big much.

The NBA’s reigning MVP, Curry is averaging a league-leading 30.1 points, shooting 45.1 percent of his 3-pointer and unleashing nearly 20 field goal tries per game.

“He’s the ultimate test,” Parker said. “He’s playing his best basketball. He’s the best player in the league.”

The Spurs, you might have heard, have a pretty decent defender in Kawhi Leonard. Last season’s NBA Defensive Player of the Year said he expects to see a little time on Curry, but mentioned Draymond Green and even 7-foot center Andrew Bogut as potential assignments.

However Popovich opts to defend the Warriors on Monday, expect him to leave a few tricks up his sleeve for future meetings, particularly a potential playoff matchup.

“Pop always has some stuff that he keeps for the playoffs,” Parker said. “(Monday) will be one of those games where maybe you’ll see a little different stuff. Overall, we’re pretty much going to do the same stuff we’ve been doing.”

***

No. 3: Kings’ rise fueled by Boogie, Rondo, defense — The same three things that, according to most pundits, could prove to be the downfall for the Sacramento Kings this season are same things that have fueled their current five-game win streak and rise into the top eight of the Western Conference playoff mix. DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, Rajon Rondo and their team defense were all considered the Kings’ biggest problem at one point or another earlier this season. But not now, per Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee, not with the Kings looking like they have sprouted playoff legs just in time for the midseason push:

The mood surrounding the Kings has been upbeat lately, and for good reason.

Sacramento has won a season-high five games in a row.

DeMarcus Cousins has been brilliant over that span, averaging 32.6 points and 14.8 rebounds.

But the Kings’ improved defense might be a bigger key to the streak than Cousins’ dominance.

The defense has been bad for much of the season.

The Kings allow the most points per game (107.2) in the NBA and rank 20th in opponents’ field-goal percentage (.454).

During the five-game winning streak, Sacramento has held opponents to 96.4 points per game and 40.1 percent shooting.

No one would call the Kings an elite defensive unit this season, but as long as they progress from the worst in the league, they like their chances most nights.

“We’ve picked it up,” Cousins said. “I still think we could do better, honestly.”

What’s changed? Besides Cousins playing like a superstar, rookie center Willie Cauley-Stein has started the last five games and injected a defensive spark.

That change came after the Kings’ last loss, Jan. 13 against New Orleans, when defensive intensity was lacking most of the night.

“I can give credit to Willie,” Cousins said. “He’s come in and, as a rookie, changed the whole identity of our team. That’s huge, especially for a rookie. So it just shows his impact on this team, and he does so many things for us that don’t show up on paper.”

The Kings have held their last three opponents under 100 points, and perhaps their most impressive win during the streak, a 91-88 victory Thursday over Atlanta, showed they can win when their high-paced offense is not clicking.

Scrappy teams that slowed the Kings’ offense have given them fits for most of the season.

In the Atlanta game, and even in Saturday’s win over Indiana, the Kings made critical stops late, as there appears to be more pride on defense lately.

“Not only Willie, but I feel like everybody’s picked up the defensive identity, and it’s helping us win games right now,” Cousins said. “So we’ve just got to keep going.”

***

No. 4: Raptors on a roll — They haven’t partied like this in Toronto in over a decade. But there is no denying coach Dwane Casey‘s team right now, not after they’ve piled up their best run during his tenure and sit just one game shy of the franchise’s best win streak since they won nine straight in 2002. They’re doing it with a deep roster filled with seasoned pros who all know their roles. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star provides the details:

Most nights it’s one guy or maybe two who have produced while others have struggled and the inconsistency of the Toronto Raptors’ bench has been a thing every now and then, even though the team has survived well enough.

But on a night when four guys have it going at the same time, it’s all fun and good times and easy baskets and stops.

Smiles all around.

Getting 51 points off the bench — the highest production by substitutes this season — the Raptors rolled to an easy 112-94 victory Sunday over the Los Angeles Clippers.

It is Toronto’s eighth win in a row and an impressive thumping of a quality opponent.

The Raptors can equal an all-time franchise high on Tuesday against Washington with a ninth straight win.

And if the team’s four backups — Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo — play then as they played Sunday, Toronto will be hard to beat.

“I think (Sunday night) was probably one of our best games collectively as a second unit,” Patterson said.

Now settled into a consistent rotation after dealing with a series of injuries that muddled things, a successful routine is developing.

“There’s no uncertainty,” Patterson said. “So you know when you’re coming in, you know when you’re coming out and you know how much effort you can give, you know where your shots are going to come, you know the focus you have to have.

“If there’s uncertainty there’s a lack of energy, a lack of confidence, you tend to get frustrated so now that you know when you’re coming in, when you’re coming out, who you’re going to be in the game with, everyone’s just more comfortable out there.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Four serious candidates have emerged for the Nets’ GM job, including Bryan Colangelo and Danny Ferry … Stephen Curry has his mind on the Spurs for tonight’s clash of NBA titans, but as you might imagine. the Charlotte native had a few other things on his mind Sunday with his Panthers advancing to Super Bowl 50 in nearby Santa Clara … No surprise here, the “young Lakers” are getting schooled by the opposition this seasonSnow Way! Brooklyn stuns Oklahoma City to cap off wild blizzard weekend … Jazz point guard Trey Burke is thriving in a reserve role … The Detroit Pistons are struggling on defense, with deficiencies in both effort and communication

Morning shootaround — Jan. 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs lose in Lue debut | Stan Van Gundy rips Blatt firing | Kerr, Myers find support in pain | Scola the Explorer

No. 1: Cavs lose in Lue debut Just hours after replacing David Blatt as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tyronn Lue made his head coaching debut at home in a nationally televised game against the Chicago Bulls. And while Lue talked about wanting to make the experience more fun for his players, as Chris Haynes writes for Cleveland.com, that turned out to be easier to talk about than actually make happen, as the Bulls won 96-83…

The Cavaliers showed energy, but lacked any efficiency — showing no shooting touch on the floor or at the foul line. They missed beyond the arc — making just four of 24 attempts — and at the foul line, where they were 9-of-22. By game’s end, they left the floor to boos from the home crowd.

During Lue’s pregame presser, he said one of the problems was that his team needed to start having more fun post David Blatt.

“I don’t think they’re enjoying it,” Lue said. “That was a part of our speech today. The game will pass you by. No matter how great LeBron is, Kyrie, Kevin, the game will pass you by. … I want them to just enjoy the moment now.”

To help cater to a new pleasurable basketball experience, before the game the Cavaliers did something they haven’t done since mid-November: they participated in the starting lineup introductions. Before, the players would just stand in a huddle as the public address announcer announced each starter.

That was the full degree of Cleveland’s (30-12) fun.

Initially into the contest, it looked as if the Cavaliers were energized and full of life by jumping out to a 7-2 lead. But that vigor slowly evaporated and old habits of isolation ball crept back in. They went scoreless in the final 6:26 of the opening quarter, missing their last 16 shots.

Ball movement could have been better, but for the most part Cleveland just couldn’t hit a shot. It was brutal to watch as they shot a horrific 37 percent from the field for the night.

When the buzzer sounded for halftime and the Cavaliers were down five, a frustrated LeBron James slammed the ball to the floor as he headed to the locker room. He had missed all three of his first half free throws. By game’s end, the Cavaliers were 9-of-22 from the charity stripe — and that required an 8-for-11 stretch to finish the game. Chicago capitalized on those missed opportunities, expanding its lead to 17 with 42 seconds remaining in the third.

An exasperated sellout crowd booed the home team, which trimmed the deficit to nine on a James layup plus free throw with 2:55 left in the game. A pair of free throws by Smith chipped it to eight seconds later.

But the Bulls found Taj Gibson for a difficult layup with a foul on James, pretty much ending any suspense. There was no overcoming that margin on this cold shooting night.

James was an assist shy of claiming his his first triple-double of the season. He finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds, but was 11-for-27 shooting. Smith put in 18 points on 17 shots. Love was the only player to make half his shots, finishing with 14 points and five boards and Kyrie Irving registered 11 points on 16 shot attempts.

Lue informed the media at morning shootaround that he would go with a 10-man rotation in order to develop an identity with the second unit. Veteran James Jones, who was out of the rotation under Blatt, was the first to sub in. Mo Williams, who hadn’t played in 10 of his last 13 games, soon after entered. The surprising aspect is that Lue used 10 players in the first quarter, showing how serious he is about improving his bench.

The results didn’t prove beneficial. Chicago’s bench outscored Cleveland’s 22-8.

With the franchise invested in Lue for the long haul, his objective is still to win games, but he also wants to restore his team’s passion.

“I’m not really worried about, right now this early, about the games, I really just worried about the spirit is more important than anything,” he said. “Getting our spirit right, getting our spirit together and I think everything else will take care of itself because we got a lot of great players.”

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 23


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Unraveling of Cavs, James, Blatt began early | Warriors’ Kerr grateful in return | Bulls earning ‘soft’ label | Winning gives edge to All-Star reserves

No. 1: Unraveling of Cavs, James, Blatt began early — It was a hair-on-fire day for news in the NBA Friday, starting with the Josh Smith trade back to Houston and continuing through the pre-emptive weather postponement of NBA games from Saturday’s schedule in Philadelphia and Washington, right on to coach Steve Kerr’s return after a 43-game health absence to Golden State’s bench. But the whopper was Cleveland’s abrupt firing of head coach David Blatt. Not only had Blatt helped the Cavaliers reach the Finals last June, he had them atop the Eastern Conference with a 30-11 record and was in line to coach the East All-Stars in three weeks up in Toronto. Both local and national coverage blanketed the story, with ESPN.com providing the most exhaustive report courtesy of Brian Windhorst and Dave McMenamin. Here are notable excerpts:

At the very heart of the matter, this is why the Cavs fired Blatt on Friday, despite a record of 83-40 and a Finals appearance. Blatt viewed himself as a coach with numerous championships in Europe, an Olympic medal and 20-plus years on the sideline, a career that made him one of the most experienced coaches in the world.

The Cavs players, especially the veterans, saw him as a rookie.

The issues started before [LeBron] James returned to the franchise in July 2014. The Cavs were all over the place in their coaching search that summer. They offered the job to numerous big names, from John Calipari and Bill Self in the college ranks to Steve Kerr from the broadcast booth. [Cleveland GM David] Griffin also interviewed Alvin Gentry, whom he had worked alongside with the Phoenix Suns, and Tyronn Lue, a rising assistant who learned under Doc Rivers.

But team owner Dan Gilbert wanted to make a different kind of hire. He didn’t want a retread or an inexperienced coach, which is why he chased the veteran college coaches. It’s why he loved Blatt, who was a legend in Israel, something that appealed to Gilbert.

To complicate matters, the Cavs hired the runner-up for the job, Lue, to be Blatt’s assistant. To keep him away from the Clippers, the Cavs gave him a record four-year, $6.5 million deal — for an assistant. Gilbert would later call the coaching staff the best he had assembled in his time as owner.

Blatt endorsed the Lue move, which many in the league saw as an immediate undercutting of the head coach. Never before could anyone remember the runner-up for a job being hired as the lead assistant, and it was taken as an example of Blatt’s NBA inexperience. Blatt also didn’t understand that he would have to earn players’ respect; it would not be instantly given.

“It was like an 800-pound gorilla as the season moved on,” one person involved with the team said. “You could just see LeBron connecting to [Lue] and turning his back on David.”
That didn’t stay a secret. James’ and other players’ complaints about Blatt’s style got out quickly. During games, Cavs players complained about the coach to opposing players. Once, while on the road, an injured Cavs player used the home team’s therapy pool and complained about Blatt, with his thoughts literally echoing throughout the home locker room.

Those who knew Blatt from Europe, where he was known as a fire-breather with players during games, were stunned at how he had changed. When Blatt was the coach of the Russian national team, he famously once kicked two of his best players off the bench because they were talking over him in a timeout. Now, spectators watched in awe as players barked at Blatt in timeouts. That was just one of many adjustments he made to try to make this unwieldy job work.

Blatt, meanwhile, retrofitted the Cavs’ defensive system with his new players, and that helped launch the team’s midseason turnaround. He melded in the new players effectively. He showed his experience as he found a way to give James space while looking for other ways to make a positive difference. At the same time, his yielding to the players — James especially — only further reinforced that Blatt wasn’t a coach who demanded respect.

***

No. 2: Warriors’ Kerr grateful in return— While one NBA coach’s relationship with his team was getting blown up Friday, another was reuniting. Steve Kerr, after nearly four months and 43 regular-season games, was back on the Golden State bench for its game against Indiana. Kerr had taken a leave of absence on Oct. 1 to recover and rehab from two back surgeries, and while his physical health demanded and benefited from the layoff, his mental health definitely craved his return to everything Warriors. Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury-News was at Oracle Arena to chronicle Kerr’s first game back:

But on this night, one of the biggest adrenaline-rushes of the game actually came before the game, because Kerr had been gone so long after taking a leave of absence due to complications after back surgery.

And despite the Warriors’ amazing 39-4 run under interim coach Luke Walton–who happily moved aside one seat for Kerr’s re-arrival–the Warriors missed their coach.

More than that, he missed them. And was thankful to return to them.

“I felt great,” Kerr said afterwards. “Really nice reception at the beginning of the game. Our fans are amazing. Just felt good to be back in Oracle with all the energy from the crowd.

“Wasn’t our best stuff but we got the job done.”

Kerr has been at team practices for several weeks and on the last several road trips, but he’s the Warriors coach, he won a championship with them last season, and a coach needs to coach.

During the game, Kerr sat quietly through the first quarter as the Warriors got out to a big lead–what was he supposed to fret over?

Then, as the Warriors went through a flat period or two, or when Kerr protested a call or two, he got up, yelled a few things, and called a few timeouts.

He was back.
“Honestly, I didn’t think one bit about who we were playing and when,” Kerr said about the Spurs game ahead. “It was strictly about when I felt ready.

“I wanted to come back a couple weeks ago and I sort of had a target date in mind–and we got to the date and it was, ‘I’m not ready.’ I knew I wasn’t ready.

“But the last 10 days or so have been great; I’ve really felt good physically. Felt like I turned a corner. Feel like I’m ready to go, regardless of who was on the schedule.”

***

No. 3: Bulls earning ‘soft’ label — As of Friday, there wasn’t a coach in the Central Division who was happy with his team – and maybe not a fan base all that happy with its coach. Tyronn Lue is undefeated for the moment in Cleveland but the Pacers, Bucks and Pistons all have had their issues lately. And then there are the Bulls, where new head coach Fred Hoiberg is frustrated with his team’s poor starts and inconsistent efforts, while many Chicago fans are wondering if management’s designated replacement for Tom Thibodeau is the right guy for the job. Beat writer Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times suggested after Friday’s loss in Boston that the Bulls are “soft,” a four-letter word equal to any profanity around pro athletes and teams:

The first-year coach was asked if he was tired of his team looking soft in too many moments this season, and without hesitation responded, “Yeah, I am.’’

He wasn’t alone.

“Soft’’ is always a dangerous word to use about a team on any level, but also a very fitting description of what this Bulls team has become on a night-to-night basis. And they can try and dress it up with buzzwords like “communication’’ and “energy,’’ but it seems to come back to one common theme with this team: Too soft in too many key moments.

Jimmy Butler definitely wasn’t going to hide from that label.

“Yeah, especially coming out of the gates, and that’s on us starters, man,’’ Butler said, when asked about the marshmallow moments from this team. “We’re digging ourselves a huge hole a lot of these games because we know how talented we are, how well we can score the ball, but defense is all about grit. The will and the want to do-so. I don’t feel like we do-so right now.’’

Even more troubling was Butler pointing out that the coaches stress it, the players talk about it and practice it in shootaround, but once those lights turn on, well, as Butler put it, “when we get out there it’s kind of like we do what we want to do. We’re not on the same page, we’re not communicating, and then on top of everything else we don’t get to the loose ball like the other team does.

“It’s time to stop talking about it. We’ve been talking about this all year long now.’’

***

No. 4: Winning gives edge to All-Star reserves — If Charles Barkley felt confounded by the fan balloting for the 2016 All-Star starters, he probably will again find plenty with which to quibble when the conference coaches make their selections for the East and West All-Star reserves. The seven players added to each roster – to be announced Thursday as part of TNT’s doubleheader telecast – presumably represent the next-best players through the first 45-50 games of the season. But of course, there are other factors involved. Some coaches apply arbitrary filters to thin the herd of candidates. Others might indulge shameless biases or personal grudges, or game the voting so one of their guys benefits. A couple of East coaches – Toronto’s Dwane Casey and Boston’s Brad Stevensgave some insight on their criteria to Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe:

“Probably the biggest criteria is looking at the team’s record,” Casey said, “because you can score 50 a game and have a losing record, and you’re not going to [be an] All-Star. That’s not only for me, but for all coaches.”

Casey was probably exaggerating just a bit, because a 50-point scorer on any team would be a lock, but you get his point. Wins matter. Stevens echoed that sentiment, saying he uses team success as an easy tiebreaker among players who otherwise appear to be equals.

“Probably a differentiating factor will be who scares me the most,” Stevens said. “That’s just kind of the way I’d look at it. Obviously, who do you have to prepare for differently? Who makes you tweak what you normally do?”

When Stevens analyzes numbers and figures, he does find some advanced statistics quite helpful.

“I look more at efficiency than anything else,” he said. “I don’t get too caught up in points per game or rebounds per game or those types of things. You get caught up in efficiency and those types of things. You get caught up in efficiency from a points standpoint. You get caught up in rebound percentages. I think that, again, you have to also factor in fourth quarter and crunch-time performance.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: One of the most popular topics related to David Blatt‘s firing Friday was speculation over the degree to which Cavaliers susperstar LeBron James was involved. Should James be thought of as a “coach killer” after his experiences with Mike Brown and now Blatt? Or does he draw that sort of criticism unfairly? … The Brooklyn Nets might find plenty to like in Blatt as they cope with a real freefall. … The Nets needed a shooting doctor, so they hired a Nurse. … Former Marquette teammates Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder battled in Boston. … Former NBA referees are mentoring their profession’s next generation. … Re-think whatever your definition might be of a “high basketball IQ.” Introducing the smart ball. …

As Kerr returns, Walton, Lue in play as possible All-Star coaches

Golden State head coach Steve Kerr, after being sidelined from the Warriors’ first 43 games this season, finally was back on the sideline for their home game against Indiana Friday night at Oracle Arena (10:30 ET, ESPN).

But Luke Walton still might want to hold off making any personal plans for All-Star 2016.

Walton served as Golden State’s interim coach while Kerr recovered and rehabilitated from two offseason back surgeries. Kerr is back now as the Warriors’ coach of record, but the NBA reportedly still is considering whether Walton might be invited to coach the Western Conference All-Stars, assuming Golden State has the conference’s best record through games of Sunday, Jan. 31.

“We are reviewing our rules around the West coach situation to determine what is appropriate,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank said late Friday.

All-Star coaches, by NBA rules, are drawn from the team with its conference’s best record as of the official cutoff date, which is Jan. 31 this season. The exception is when a coach and his staff earned that honor the previous season, in which case the coaches of the second-place team handle All-Star duties. Kerr and the Golden State staff, including Walton, oversaw the West squad at the 2015 All-Star Game in New York.

Some had wondered, however, if Walton – because he had not served as “head coach” last February – might be eligible this time for the Feb. 14 game in Toronto. He was, after all, reported to be eligible for NBA Coach of the Year consideration even though his official head coaching record remains 0-0. The Warriors’ 39-4 mark technically goes on Kerr’s coaching record.

If Walton doesn’t coach the West All-Stars, the likely candidate is San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. Either because of the “Riley rule” – the NBA spared coaches from working the All-Star Game in consecutive seasons in the 1980s when Lakers coach Pat Riley annually had his team atop the standings at the cutoff date – or because the Spurs overtake the Warriors, Popovich would be in line to go with his staff for the fourth time. He previously coach the West All-Stars in 2005, 2011 and 2013.

The Spurs (37-6) can’t be caught by the West’s third-best team, Oklahoma City (33-12). After Friday’s OKC victory at Dallas, both teams have four games by the Jan. 31 cutoff – even if San Antonio loses all four and OKC wins all four, the Spurs still would have the better record.

In another interesting twist, if the Cleveland Cavaliers remain in first place on Jan. 31, new head coach Tyronn Lue will be invited to coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars, the NBA also confirmed.

Lue, the Cleveland associate promoted to head coach Friday with the Cavaliers’ decision to fire David Blatt, would be accompanied by the rest of Cavs staff. Blatt not included, presumably.

Then again, there is some precedent for NBA figures no longer in the league to participate on All-Star Weekend. Guard Craig Hodges was invited to defend his title in the 3-Point Shootout in 1993 after the Chicago Bulls had waived him following the 1991-92 season. Back in 1977, forward Larry McNeil competed in the NBA’s first Slam Dunk contest at the All-Star Game in Milwaukee between being waived by the Nets in December and signed by Golden State in late February.

And of course, Magic Johnson famously played in and was named MVP of the 1992 All-Star Game after abruptly retiring when he announced in November 1991 that he had contracted the HIV virus.

Bach, longtime standout as NBA assistant coach, dies at 91

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Coach John Bach (front row, 7th from left) was a trusted assistant in the Chicago Bulls’ first three-peat teams.

John Bach lasted long enough, worked hard enough and cut a wide enough swath through basketball and life at so many levels that most who knew him knew only parts of his story. Few had the endurance to witness the entirety of his life well-lived.

Bach, 91, died early Monday in Chicago after battling cancer and other ailments. The longtime NBA coach spent 16 of his 19 seasons as an assistant coach (Golden State, Chicago, Charlotte, Washington, Detroit) and served as the Warriors’ coach from 1983-86.

The Bulls’ Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, John Paxson, issued a statement Monday via that read, in part, about Bach: “Johnny was a true treasure in the world of basketball. He was the classic ‘old school’ coach who came to work each and every day with energy and enthusiasm for the game he loved. His zest for life and basketball were unparalleled.”

Bach was 55 by the time he drew his first NBA paycheck, working the equivalent of two or three careers prior to that in college basketball and in the U.S. military.

“Everyone has a different experience to talk about with John, because he did so much in so many different places,” said P.J. Carlesimo, former NBA and NCAA coach working now as an ESPN game analyst. “You talk to Kevin [Calabro, NBA broadcaster], he knows him from Golden State. So many people know him from Chicago. With Doug Collins, it’s the [1972] Olympic team. For me it was at Fordham. People don’t remember everything he did. And there were 10 others – Navy, Penn State.

“He touched so many people. Delightful guy. He was just always extremely kind to me when I first came in the league. The ultimate gentleman. People loved him.”

While Bach’s profile rarely thrust him into the spotlight, especially with modern NBA fans, the breadth of his work put him in contact with countless notable figures across generations. Bach was 64 when he joined the Chicago Bulls as a member of Collins’ coaching staff and later, with Phil Jackson, helped that team with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant win its first three-peat of championships.

“He encouraged me, worked with me and really helped me to mold my game,” Jordan was quoted Monday in the Chicago Tribune. “Without him, I don’t know that we would’ve won our first three championships. He was more than a coach to me. He was a great friend. I am deeply saddened to hear of his passing.”

And yet, when Golden State won the Larry O’Brien Trophy last June, Bach’s influence was on the Warriors’ championship season through his work with coach Steve Kerr and defensive guru Ron Adams.

“What an incredible life he led,” Kerr told NBA.com Monday after his team’s shootaround in Cleveland, where the Warriors face the Cavaliers in a Finals rematch (TNT, 8 p.m. ET). “He was [Navy pilot] in World War II. That experience shaped him in a lot of ways – he used a lot of military references in his coaching style. And what stands out is how colorful a character he was. He had an incredible way of going through the scouting report and describing opponents.”

Kerr got to Chicago in time for Bach’s sixth final season there, before he moved on to assist the Hornets, Pistons, Wizards and Bulls again.

“He was the Bulls’ defensive architect,” Kerr said. “But I think he was the guy who dubbed Scottie, Michael and Horace the ‘Dobermans.’ The other thing that stands out was his style. His hair was always slicked back. He liked bolo ties. Cowboy boots. Leather jackets. He was a real, one-of-a-kind character.”

Adams would often next to Bach on team flights while both men were members of Scott Skiles‘ staff in Chicago.

“I spent many a delightful hour with that man – listening,” Adams said. “He told me his life story several times over and it was fascinating. But the amazing thing about him was, let’s say the game was in 1932 and he was jumping center, he could tell you who he jumped against and who the other eight guys were on the floor.”

Fact is, few remember that Bach was a pro player, appearing in 34 games for the Boston Celtics in the old Basketball Association of American [BAA], the precursor of the NBA. Here are some of the other stops in Bach’s long, winding road, from a 2012 NBA.com story on him – and his worthiness for Naismith Hall of Fame consideration that still hasn’t come:

An archetype of the Greatest Generation, he served six years in the U.S. Navy during and after World War II; his lost his twin brother Neil, a pilot, in 1944 and their father succumbed to war-related setbacks soon after it ended.

After returning to Fordham for his senior year and degree, considering a career in law, Bach was signed by the Celtics for the 1948-49 season. Cut before his second year, he returned to Fordham, almost accidentally accepting the coaching gig and staying for 18 years. Then it was Penn State for 10, during which he earned the Olympic spot in ’72 with a shot at coaching the 1976 team in Montreal.

The controversy and heartbreak for the U.S. squad in Munich, however, briefly put Bach out of basketball completely. He needed to step away, so at 53, he spent a year flying planes for Piper Aircraft and considered a pilot’s career with Allegheny Airlines. But the coach in him reared up, and his friend Pete Newell recommended him for a job on the Golden State bench.

Bach took over for Al Attles twice, first in 1979-80 and then, full-time, in 1983. This was during the Warriors’ Joe Barry Carroll years – he went 95-172 before being relieved of his duties. That’s when Bulls GM Jerry Krause called, adding Bach to Doug Collins’ staff; Collins, of course, was the shooter who scored what would have been the winning free throws in that ’72 gold medal game, if not for the re-re-rerun final three seconds.

“Johnny means the world to me,” Collins told Bulls.com last year. “His tough exterior belies an incredible tender heart. He always has been there for me and his wisdom, knowledge, guidance and understanding has been a guiding light.”

Bach survived Collins’ firing, taking over defensive duties under Jackson. Having him and [Tex] Winter on that team’s bench, Jackson said, was “a lesson in the history of basketball with two men who were there for just about everything.”

Bach might have gotten himself sideways with Bulls management when he forgave Pippen for his notorious 1.8-seconds playoff breach (refusing to re-enter a game because he wouldn’t get the final shot) at a time when the bosses were ready to trade Pippen. But he coached again at Collins’ side in Detroit and in Washington, where he was on hand to see Jordan’s 30,000th NBA point.

[VP John] Paxson brought Bach back to the Bulls in 2003, and his work with the young players – not just defensively, but in discipline and philosophy – was much valued.

For Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, president of the National Basketball Coaches Association, Bach’s generosity was evident from the start.

“As someone who has a great respect for the history of the game, I’d known of Johnny Bach long before I ever played in the NBA,” Carlisle told NBA.com. “When I got hired [by New Jersey] as an assistant coach in the fall of 1989, the first assignment I got from Bill Fitch was to scout the Celtics and the Lakers in Boston. I walked into the Garden and there on the scouting row, the first guy that greeted me was Johnny. He stood up, put out his hand and said, ‘Welcome to the business.’

“I’ll never forget that moment just because of the respect I had for him.”

After leaving the Bulls again in 2006, Bach continued to reside in Chicago with his wife, Mary. He spent time helping out local high school programs, stayed in touch with coaching colleagues throughout basketball and even displayed his work as a painter at a suburban art gallery.

Services are scheduled for Wednesday morning, with the two NBA teams he impacted most prominently – the Warriors and the Bulls – set to play that night at United Center (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET).

Blogtable: Most impressive thing about Warriors’ start is ______?

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


BLOGTABLE: Player who needs to be an All-Star starter? |
Most impressive thing about Warriors is _____? | New coach and GM for Nets?



VIDEOWarriors focused as ever to dominate

> The Warriors continue to roll, and are already halfway to 72 wins. Watching this team night after night, what impresses you the most?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: The connectivity they have at both ends of the floor. When a team has an individual player as great as Steph Curry, the other guys on the floor with him often find themselves isolated, standing around watching. It happened a lot when Michael Jordan was with the Chicago Bulls. But with the Warriors, you never get the sense that Curry is just out there pounding the ball to create an opening for himself. Everything he gets seems to be on the move, whether it’s in transition or off their sets. But it seems like he’s always moving WITH his teammates; his action comes off of some other action. Same at the defensive end. There’s always someone moving, whether it’s a pre-rotation or something else. It’s five-man basketball. Beautiful to watch.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Equal parts optimism/confidence and versatility. It’s impossible in my opinion to separate those qualities because they build on each other. Golden State has been built to handle just about any situation and its players and coaches know it. No Steve Kerr? No problem. Harrison Barnes goes down? They got this. Chris Bosh hangs on the perimeter? Fine, Andrew Bogut will match up with Luol Deng and Justise Winslow. Having success with nearly every adjustment fuels their view that they can do it tomorrow and straight through June. The Warriors are unflappable.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The sheer joy, enthusiasm and relentless sense of purpose that they bring to the gym every night.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: How they have been so locked in this early in the season. I’ve said it before, but it is worth repeating: The Warriors could have had a champagne hangover, they could have been fazed by the absence of coach Steve Kerr, they could have been tripped up by injuries, and yet they roll on. They have incredible focus, to the point of not merely accepting the big moments but searching them out.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Warriors are ready to play every night. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but over the course of 82 games, most teams will take a night off, so to speak, in terms of energy or mental preparation or whatever. Not the Warriors, who take pride in putting themselves in position to win, no matter how good or bad the opponent. I haven’t seen this from a team since the 72-win Chicago Bulls of 1995-96.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s the cohesion on both ends of the floor. Stephen Curry obviously has the ability to do things alone on offense, but he rarely does. The Warriors lead the league in assist rate and in the second year of Steve Kerr‘s offensive system, the offense is sharper than it was last season. There’s freelancing within the system, but guys are mostly on the same page when it happens. And while the champs have taken a small step backward defensively, they’re generally on a string on that end of the floor as well.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The energy they bring to the floor every night is flat out remarkable. To win 67 games last season, ride that wave to The Finals and handle their business there how they did, you’d expect the Warriors be a little fatigued by now. But they always seem to find the wind needed to run you off the floor. Night after night they always seem to find that extra gear, from Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green down the roster to Brandon Rush, James Michael McAdoo and Ian Clark, when they are called upon to contribute. I’ve covered a team that won 61 games and made the conference finals and the next season, you could see the wear and tear, both physically and emotionally, on that group. The Warriors, however, seem as fresh now as they did in training camp before the 2014-15 season. Simply remarkable.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: They play for each other at both ends of the floor. There is a spirit to their teamwork that is inspiring. The Spurs are efficient, while the Warriors appear to feed off each other emotionally. They reveal their hearts.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Their versatility. In the past when we’ve seen great teams, they seem to do whatever it is that they do, and that is what defines them. But the Warriors aren’t just one thing. Want to play big? They can play big. Trying to go small? They can go small. The Warriors can mix and match their deep collective of starters and bench players to meet any sort of challenge presented to them, without losing any potency, and to me that makes them such a remarkable group.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry questionable for Warriors next game, Green is a go | Butler wants nothing to do with Jordan comparisons | Heat starters finally in positive territory | Z-Bo remains a bright spot for Grizzlies | Kupchak knows Lakers can’t move on until Kobe does

No. 1:Curry questionable for Warriors’ next game, Green is a go — The Golden State Warriors are justified in their concern for reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry, who is battling a shin injury that could allowed him to play all of 14 minutes in the team’s past three games. Curry is questionable for the Warriors’ game against Charlotte tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). It’s a good thing the Warriors have Draymond Green healthy and fully engaged. He’s doing everything humanly possible to compensate for Curry’s absence, doing his “Dray-Magic” routine on the regular. As Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group suggests, Green’s heroics know no bounds:

In the wake of the latest and most monstrous triple-double of his career — 29 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists against the Denver Nuggets — Draymond Green seemed more delighted by the little challenge he won with coach Luke Walton.

It came in the first quarter of the Warriors’ early blitz. Green already had buried his first three 3-point shots as the Warriors raced out to an 11-2 lead in the first 2:18. During a Nuggets timeout, the Warriors huddled at the bench and, well, here’s Draymond to tell the rest:

“I was able to get it going and my teammates started to look for me. Then Luke drew up a play for me (during the timeout) and told me I wasn’t going to make it on the fourth one. So I had to knock that one down.”

And of course, he did. Nailed it. Nuttin’ but net, followed by a smile and a knowing smirk at the guy striding in front of the bench. Drain-mond. Trey-mond. Call him what you will, but make sure you call him unique and oh-so special, a man you can dare to do something and he’ll damn near kill himself trying.

If you want to know why Walton has been such a wonder as Steve Kerr‘s interim replacement, it’s stuff like this. He’s not so far removed from his playing days that he hasn’t forgotten how to play the game within a game, the mind game that gently goads a player to a new level of greatness.

Whatever competitive buttons he’s pushing with Green, he’s hitting all the gobble holes in the pinball machine. Draymond is lighting up everywhere and giving multiple replays. It makes you wonder what Walton might do next to keep his most versatile player at this astonishing level of play.

Hey, Luke, how about this one? Tell Green he’s played OK so far this season, but add that he’s probably reached his ceiling, and that there’s no chance he could ever become the NBA’s MVP. Yep, that might touch off a fresh bell or whistle.

One could argue fairly convincingly that through 33 games, Green has been the best all-around player in the league — and the most valuable — even over teammate and defending MVP Stephen Curry. True, he’s not off the charts in any one statistical category. He’s averaging 15.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.4 assists. But as a composite, those numbers are pretty untouchable. And he’s shooting 41.4 percent from beyond the arc, up eight percentage points from his career best last year (33.7) .


VIDEO: Draymond Green racks up his league-leading 6th triple-double

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