Posts Tagged ‘Vinny Del Negro’

Hot-headed Clips trying to cool down

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Clippers won a physical game in Oklahoma City back in late February

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The last time the Clippers and Thunder engaged in battle in late February, L.A. left Oklahoma City with a hard-fought W and three hard-earned Ts.

Technical fouls follow the Clips like a cartoon-strip storm cloud, always overhead, always ready to rain down at a whistle’s notice. Tonight’s meaningful Western Conference matchup between the Thunder and Clippers at Staples Center (10:30 p.m., ESPN), won’t be for the faint of heart or short of temper.

The Clippers are nipping at the Thunder’s heels, just 1.5 games back of the No. 2 seed, important because it guarantees homecourt advantage through the second round. These two title contenders enter tonight’s game ranking in the top seven in the league in three separate categories: Offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency and technical fouls.

“Obviously we’ve got to get better because we’re a very emotional team,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said recently in Dallas after another three-technical outing, in which he got one. “We probably lead the league in techs, something like that.”

Something like that. The Thunder is actually the league’s runaway technical-foul leader with 90. The Clippers are second with 76. It’s a recurring theme first-year coach Doc Rivers inherited and has made him ponder whether his team is too hot-headed. He’s worked hard to, if not eliminate, at least diminish the potentially detrimental trait in his team’s makeup.

“Emotional and mental toughness, they’re all in that same category,” Rivers said. “You have to be able to play with emotion. I don’t think anyone lives life greatly without it, but then you have to be able to control it.”

It’s easier said than done when dealing with a headstrong point guard, frequent target of agitators Blake Griffin and loose canon Matt Barnes.


VIDEO: Chris Paul talks about Blake Griffin and the state of the team

“We’re getting better at it,” said Barnes, who’s technical foul total stands at five, surprisingly low considering he’s been known to get nailed on reputation alone. He does have three of the Clippers’ league-leading nine flagrant fouls.

“All I can say,” Barnes said, “is it’s a work in progress for us.”

Which is enough to have Rivers genuinely concerned. The Clips’ penchant for getting caught up in officiating or the opposition’s antics makes them lose focus and cost them exactly when it can’t — in the postseason.

Last season’s disappointing first-round loss to Memphis in six games, which happened under ex-coach Vinny Del Negro, saw L.A. blow a 2-0 lead and get smacked with 10 techs. Five came in the final, height-of-frustration Game 6. Still, the Clippers earned at least one tech in five of the games.

“We have the fourth-quarter tech rule,” Rivers said. “We don’t want any of those because you can’t make up that. We just have to make sure we stay focused on our task.”

The fourth-quarter rule doesn’t always stick. On March 26 at New Orleans, Barnes got hit with one with 4:14 to go in a tight game. The Pelicans converted the gift free throw and won the game, 98-96, a costly loss for L.A. considering the razor-thin margin in the standings.

Paul earned his 10th technical of the season with five minutes to go at Houston on March 29. James Harden made the extra free throw to cut L.A.’s lead to 102-96. The Clippers would go on to win, 118-107. Over the last seven games, they’ve been whistled for seven technicals. They’ve been tech-free in the last two games, the first time the Clippers have done that since March 22 and 24.

“One thing we always talk about is fourth-quarter techs; we can’t have those,” Paul said. “I don’t care what’s happening. We’ve got to start getting ready for the playoffs.”

The importance is heightened in this final week of the regular season. Griffin and Durant each have 14 technicals on the season, tied for second-most in the league behind Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins with 15. A 16th technical results in an automatic one-game suspension.

It’s in the playoffs, though, where one extra free throw can make the difference between survival and an early exit. Especially so if the Clippers and Golden State Warriors meet in the first round. The teams have developed a healthy dislike for one another and the Warriors will surely be eager to put their Pacific Division rival’s mettle to the ultimate test.

The teams split a heated season-series, 2-2. A combined nine technical fouls were called, five on the Clippers, three on Griffin. Two of Warriors center Andrew Bogut‘s six technicals came against the Clippers. In a wild Christmas Day game, first Draymond Green got to Griffin with an elbow to the throat that drew double technicals. Early in the fourth quarter, Bogut and Griffin tangled and both received technical fouls even though the sequence was instigated by Bogut. The game was tied, 78-78.

Because it was Griffin’s second technical, he was automatically ejected. The Warriors won the game, 105-103. The next day, the league reviewed the play and ruled that Griffin’s actions were not worthy of a technical and, thus, he should not have been ejected. It didn’t change the outcome of the game, and it won’t in the playoffs either.

Such are the perils the Clippers must avoid.

“I think we’re OK because we all understand the big picture, that’s win,” said Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford, who has four technicals. “It’s OK to play on edge, it’s OK to play with that toughness, not just physically being tough, mentally being tough and weathering the storm. I think that’s good for us.”

Howard, Young Prove Some Thoughts Are Better Left Unspoken

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST –
 From the department of “Can we please start the season?” we bring you “Thoughts better left unspoken, but spoken anyway” presented by Dwight Howard and Nick Young.

Howard, the happy-to-be-here Houston Rockets center, opted to voice his dismay at how his old Orlando club just handed over his old No. 12 to an unproven (now promising) youngster named Tobias Harris without, apparently, a moment’s reservation.

Harris wore No. 15 with Milwaukee, but the one-five was occupied by forgotten Magic man Hedo Turkoglu. Luckily for Harris, No. 12, his number as a one-and-done freshman at Tennessee, had popped free a few months earlier.

Though Howard thinks the No. 12 he made famous (post-Chris Whitney) should hang in Orlando’s rafters when all is said and done.

“Despite how things ended, we had eight or seven great years. We went to The Finals,” Howard explained to Orlando Sentinel beat writer Josh Robbins last week. “A lot of those banners that are in the arena happened when I was there. I was a major part of that. A lot of the records that are there, I put them there.”

Sure, but It’s not like Orlando rushed to hang No. 32 in the Amway Center. Just don’t tell Dwight that it took a dozen years before Jeremy Richardson dared to don a No. 32 Magic jersey once Shaquille O’Neal headed west.

Now, Nick Young is an L.A. guy. He was born there in June 1985, the same month the Lakers celebrated title No. 9 of 16 while the Clippers had just wrapped up a 31-51 inaugural season in L.A. playing at the Memorial Sports Arena. Young was a hot shot at Cleveland High in Reseda and then at USC. He loved the Lakers.

He dreamed of wearing the majestic purple-and-gold. And now he does. Yet as luck would have it, the Clippers — the Clippers! — are the talk of the town. So when new Clips coach Doc Rivers decided to rid Staples Center, the shared home of both L.A. teams, of every spec of purple and gold when his team is playing, well, Young took exception.

At Friday’s preseason game, Clippers fans found Doc’s answer to sanitizing Staples on Clips game nights: giant-sized posters of their red-white-and-blue heroes completely boxing out the Lakers’ golden wall of fame: 16 championship banners, nine retired jersey numbers and the banner honoring late, great announcer Chick Hearn.

“He can do that?” said first-year Laker gunslinger, talking to reporters after the team’s practice on Sunday. “For real? That’s disrespectful. We got to talk to Doc. He can’t have that. We got to do something about that.

“That’s a lot of pull y’all are giving Doc,” Young went on. “I think he shouldn’t come in and have so much pull like that. He’s got to earn his keep.”

Love the charisma, Nick, but let’s not go there.

Doc’s move was wily (and frankly overdue by the Clips organization) and worthy of a back pat. Who needs Lakers glory constantly mocking his club’s empty trophy case (a 2012-13 Pacific Division championship — won under former coach Vinny Del Negro – is the best it gets) just as the franchise is rising from its doormat past?

“Listen, I think this is our arena when we play,” Rivers told reporters. “So I just thought it would be good that we show our guys. No disrespect to them [the Lakers]. But when we play, it’s the Clippers’ arena as far as I know.”

Quick reminder, too, the Lakers haven’t beaten the Clippers since April 4, 2012, and that skid doesn’t stand much of a chance of ending when the likely Kobe Bryant-less Lakers take on a ridiculously deep Clips team led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in the season opener a week from Tuesday. Even though all all that shiny purple-and-gold hanging on the wall will be in full regalia because it is a Lakers home game.

The old veteran Steve Nash offered a more sensible voice to Doc’s coverup: “I guess if you were in the Clippers’ organization you’d probably want to do that, too. It’s their arena on their night, so I would try to make it feel like home.”

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, who knows what it feels like to be an outsider inside his home building, said about the same.

So good job Doc, you did the right thing. As for Nick, if you don’t want those giant-sized Clippers towering over you, you’ll have two chances (Jan. 10 and April 6) to shoot ‘em down, and earn your keep.

Summer Dreaming: Coach Of The Year

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HANG TIME, Texas – It’s summertime and that means that all NBA coaches are undefeated. They have sunny forecasts for their new lineups, hot plans for training camp and picture nothing but blue skies for the 2013-14 season openers that will tip off in less than three months.

But let’s face it. Some of these men won’t make it to the February trade deadline. A couple could get the ax before Christmas. Then again, we can count on the cream of the crop to get the most out of their teams.

So let’s go right to next April and figure these are the five most likely to be filling my Coach of the Year Award ballot:

Erik Spoelstra, Heat — There is not a more thankless job in the NBA than being coach of the best team with best player. Oh sure, you get the championship rings and a nice paycheck, but not all the respect that’s deserved and certainly very few of these awards. Even though Phil Jackson’s teams won a record 11 titles in Chicago and Los Angeles, the Zen Master was named Coach of the Year only once (1996). Now it’s Spoelstra who’s getting the Rodney Dangerfield treatment, as if he’s only around to be shoved aside by LeBron James when things occasionally get uncomfortable. However, it’s more than just filling out the lineup card and rolling the balls onto the court when your team has won back-to-back championships, been to The Finals three years in a row and had a historic 27-game winning streak. When the Heat check in with the best regular-season record again in April and embark on their quest for a three-peat, Spoelstra should finally get his due.

Doc Rivers, Clippers — All the time, energy and talks that went into getting Rivers to make the coast-to-coast jump will be proven worth it when this loose bunch of talent learns what it means to play with a purpose every night. Suddenly Clippers brass will be wondering why they wasted time tap-dancing the past two seasons with Vinny Del Negro rather than bringing in an elite-level coach to transform the Staples Center sideshow from Lob City carny act into a real contender in the West. Despite the summer on-court improvements by the Rockets and Warriors, L.A.’s upgrade on the bench will make a bigger difference. Maybe not in terms of wins (56) from last year, but attitude, poise and, eventually, playoff performance.

Tom Thibodeau, Bulls – If you had to cast him as a great movie character from the past, Thibodeau would be the Black Knight from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. Playing the entire season without MVP Derrick Rose? ‘Tis but a scratch. Losing Luol Deng and getting Joakim Noah banged up in the playoffs? Just a flesh wound. The Bulls just keep grinding, because Thibs keeps grinding. He’s a no-excuses guy who believes in defense and competing and can get that message across to his players. The only question about him is why it took so long for somebody to recognize Thibodeau as more than just an excellent assistant coach. Now, hopefully, he’s got Rose back at full strength — left-footed dunks included — and that means Chicago is back to being more than just a streak-busting bane in the existence of the two-time defending champions. The Bulls are in the hunt because Thibodeau will never let them lose the scent.

Gregg Popovich, Spurs – You just can’t have a list of the top coaches in any NBA season without including Pop. He’s the dean of the fraternity — in fact, the longest-tenured coach in any major North American sport — and the truth is we could just give it to him every year and retire the trophy. So Tim Duncan pops back up with an All-NBA first team performance last season at age 37, Tony Parker continues to blossom and reach new heights at 31, the Spurs come within a 30-second mental breakdown of winning their fifth championship in June and the world acts like they’d found an elixir of youth. The truth is the Spurs simply keep drinking Popovich’s Kool-Aid and continue to defy anyone who annually predicts their demise. When the real Western Conference contenders line up for the start of the playoffs next April, he’ll have the Spurs there again.

Mike Brown, Cavaliers – The last two seasons that Brown walked the sidelines in Cleveland, his teams won 66 and 61 games — both the highest totals in the NBA — and yet it wasn’t good enough. Brown earned Coach of the Year honors in 2009, but because the Cavs with LeBron James couldn’t bring home the real hardware — the Larry O’Brien Trophy for a championship — he was shown the door. How interesting that now he’s back and could get considerable recognition and even win this award again just for getting a young Cavs team out of the lottery and into the playoffs. Brown was out of his element in that Lakers experience, but being back in Cleveland will put his thumbprint on the defense and produce enough of an upbeat season to maybe even get LeBron looking back home again as a free agent in the summer of 2014.

PREVIOUSLY: Sixth Man of the Year | Defensive Player of Year | Most Improved Player | Rookie Of Year

Send me your picks.

Bench Mobs: Four That Got Better

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Every general manager’s goal is to assembly an energetic, productive bench.

A strong second unit filled with single-minded role players enhances a team’s chances at winning. Just look at the two-time champion Miami Heat and perennially contending San Antonio Spurs: both clubs received significant bench contributions throughout the 2012-13 season. Still, a deep and talented bench does not ensure success — the Los Angeles Clippers being Exhibit A.

Arguably the NBA’s deepest bench last season, L.A.’s reserves ranked fourth in scoring and second in overall production (points, assists and rebounds combined). The second unit of Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf ranked as the third-best defensive unit in the league. Yet the Clippers lost in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies, whose thin bench was considered a major weakness.

The goal is to build a well-rounded and deep roster that doesn’t falter when the starters sit, that can change pace when needed and can light it up just as well as lock it down.

Four teams looking to make a charge in their respective conferences — including the all-in Clippers and the go-getter Golden State Warriors in the West; and in the East the rugged-but-reinforcement-thin Indiana Pacers and the money-is-nothing Brooklyn Nets — completed significant offseason signings and trades that should bolster each club’s depth:

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

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Loses: G Bledsoe, G Chauncey Billups, F Odom (still available), F Grant Hill (retired), F/C Turiaf

Additions: G J.J. Redick, G/F Jared Dudley, G Darren Collison, F Reggie Bullock (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Only two members of the aforementioned third-ranked defensive unit, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes, are returning as of today (Odom remains a possibility) to the Clippers’ second unit, so they could slip defensively. But the firepower is all-world with Redick (a 39 percent career 3-point shooter) and Dudley (40.5 percent) joining Sixth Man runner-up Crawford (35.0 percent). Collison has plenty to prove after twice losing his starting job in Dallas to late-30-somethings Derek Fisher and Mike James. The ultra-quick Collison backed up Chris Paul as a rookie in New Orleans and he now has a defined role that should suit his game. Plenty of experience and savvy leaves town in Hill and Billups, but they played a combined 51 games last season. Hill was not part of the playoff rotation until former coach Vinny Del Negro got desperate late in the first-round series loss. New coach and senior vice president of basketball operations Doc Rivers has given himself plenty of options with a bench unit that might top last season’s group. Free agents Barnes, center Ryan Hollins and guard Willie Green return.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

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Loses: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry

Additions: Marreese Speights, Toney Douglas, C Jermaine O’Neal, Nemanja Nedovic (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Simply, Andre Iguodala. Acquiring the veteran forced out Jack and Landry, but also provides instant depth for a young team that basically rode seven players in the playoffs after David Lee injured his hip. The tough call for coach Mark Jackson will be moving either semi-conscious shooter Klay Thompson or confident forward Harrison Barnes to the bench (both started every game they played last season) to make room for the 6-foot-6 Iguodala. Thompson could challenge for Sixth Man of the Year honors and he’d easily replace the scoring punch Jack provided. The second-year Barnes, who truly emerged during the playoffs, can provide everything the blue-collar Landry delivered only with advanced skills in every facet, especially with his burgeoning offensive arsenal. Barnes could discover some very favorable matchups off the bench. Speights, more accurately, will be expected to fill Landry’s role. The Warriors also bring back impressive frontcourt youngsters Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli, who should benefit from the presence of the steady veteran O’Neal.

INDIANA PACERS

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Loses: F Tyler Hansbrough, F Jeff Pendergraph

Additions: F Chris Copeland, G C.J. Watson, G Donald Sloan, F Solomon Hill (draft pick)

Why they’re better: The wild card here is forward Danny Granger, who missed all but five games last season with a left knee injury but will be back. With Paul George emerging as a star, Granger could find himself as the Pacers’ sixth man — imagine that. A better bench might have pushed Indiana past Miami in the East finals. The Pacers were one of six teams whose bench averaged fewer than 80 mpg, and they ranked 29th in scoring. The veteran Watson should stabilize a backcourt that had no consistent answer (D.J. Augustin) coming off the bench last season. Watson is a solid veteran who rarely turns the ball over — less than one a game in 19.0 mpg last season with Brooklyn — and is the type of team-first player president of basketball operations Larry Bird wants for coach Frank Vogel. And then there’s the unexpected feather in Bird’s cap — forward Chris Copeland. The 29-year-old late-bloomer provided the Knicks with energetic play off the bench and surprising accuracy from beyond the arc (59-for-140, 42.1 percent). The 6-foot-8, 235-pounder gives Indy a rugged backup for David West and weakens a rival.

BROOKLYN NETS

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Loses: G C.J. Watson, G Keith Bogans, G MarShon Brooks, F Kris Humphries

Additions: G Jason Terry, G Shaun Livingston, G D.J. White, F Andrei Kirilenko, C/F Mason Plumlee (draft pick)

Why they’re better: While a pudgy Deron Williams hobbled about on bum ankles for the first couple of months last season, the Nets’ bench carried the team, so they were no slouches to begin with. But when you add Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the starting lineup, that turns rebounding machine Reggie Evans and offensive weapon Andray Blatche into reserves and instantly improves that group. Terry remains a dangerous streak shooter even after a down season in Boston. The 6-foot-7 Livingston has quietly resurrected his career and should find a home backing up D-Will, who played like an All-Star in the second half of last season. The coup was snagging Kirilenko, who signed for $3.18 million after opting out of his $10-million deal with Minnesota. Kirilenko is always a nagging injury away from missing handfuls of games at a time, but the 6-foot-9 countryman of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is a do-it-all stat-sheet-filler. He is a sneaky offensive presence on the baseline and a rangy defender the Nets can use against Carmelo Anthony and other rival scoring threats.

Clippers Enjoying The Power Of Doc!



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – For anyone who didn’t understand before just how important coach Doc Rivers was and is to the Los Angeles Clippers’ championship blueprint, it should be clear by now.

Chris Paul needed just hours to make his commitment to the organization and the five-year, $107 million contract they offered their prized free agent. The next day, the Clippers send Paul’s backup, Eric Bledsoe, and Caron Butler to Phoenix for a valuable floor-spacer in J.J. Redick and one of the best utility men in the league (Jared Dudley) in a three-team deal that, no offense to ex-coach Vinny Del Negro, simply does not happen without the Clippers’ new senior vice president of basketball operations (Rivers) in place.

Some 72 hours and counting into the free-agent summer of 2013,  it is clear that the Clippers are thriving off of and enjoying the power and influence that a coach the caliber of Rivers brings.

It’s a cosmic energy that the Clippers’ Staples Center roommates know well. The Los Angeles Lakers thrived off of Phil Jackson‘s aura for years. The right coach with the right roster at just the right time can equal great things.

Rivers has yet to blow his first whistle with his squad, yet they’re already sold on him. They know what he did in Boston: getting solid players to perform above their pay grade and helping turn great players without hardware into champions.

“Doc is damn good,” a Clippers vet said via text late Tuesday night. “You know what he does with elite talent. And he’ll have plenty of that in our locker room. He gets everyone to buy in.”

That sort of track record resonates in a locker room full of veterans who want to experience those same things.

The 2013-14 season will be the ultimate testament to the influence Rivers can have and the proof won’t be just in Los Angeles. We’ll be able to observe the happenings in Brooklyn, where Rivers-faves Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have moved on to in attempt to rekindle the championship glow they found in 2008 with the Celtics. And it will be seen in Boston, where Rivers’ departure instigated Danny Ainge‘s decimation of the outfit that was a force in the Eastern Conference and the league for the past six seasons.

Rivers will be in charge of a Clippers team that could legitimately contend for the top spot in the Western Conference for the first time in franchise history.

The Nets have a chance to do the same, but do have a few hurdles (rookie coach Jason Kidd and whatever transition time he needs to get comfortable calling the shots from the bench, sorting out a pecking order in a locker room filled with big personalities, who is the first, second and third option, etc.) to clear before we know exactly what type of team they are going to be.

The Celtics don’t even have a replacement for Rivers yet, so it’s extremely difficult to get a handle on exactly what type of team they will unveil opening night. But, rest assured, the rebuilt Celtics won’t look anything like the juggernaut they were under Rivers the last six seasons.

No one is disputing that talent rules the day in the NBA. It always has and always will.

But I’ll say it again: the right coach with the right roster at just the right time can lead to great things. And the Clippers could be on the verge of living that reality now that Rivers is running their show.

Does Mike D’Antoni Help Or Hurt The Lakers’ Cause With Dwight Howard?



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Houston’s Kevin McHale got the first crack at making a lasting impression on Dwight Howard, and from all indications did exactly that. Golden State’s Mark Jackson and Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer acquitted themselves quite well, too, in their face-to-face meetings with Howard.

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, easily one of the league’s top coaches and one of the smartest and most accomplished basketball minds around, is up next when the Mavericks’ contingent makes its sales pitch to Howard this afternoon. Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has some ridiculously tough acts to follow. The fact that he’s one of the only coaches on Howard’s list of contenders who has actually worked with the prized free agent big man should be to his (and the Lakers’) benefit.

But if the rumblings about Howard and D’Antoni struggling to find common ground during their lone season together are true, D’Antoni’s seat alongside Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, stars Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash and others at Howard’s final recruiting session this evening in Los Angeles might not be the trump card it should be.

In fact, it’s not unreasonable to wonder: is D’Antoni helping or hurting the Lakers’ cause here? For all of the stars who have lined up to woo Howard, all of the owners, living legends, titans of industry and what have you, no one is more important than these respective coaches.

They have to be front and center during this process with a clear-cut plan that details exactly how they will take advantage of Howard’s skills and what they’ll do to exploit them in a way that leads to championships.

Given Howard’s recent past with coaches (see Stan Van Gundy, Orlando), it’s not hard to overstate the importance of the coach-player dynamic in whatever becomes his final choice.

The Los Angeles Clippers took care of that extremely important piece of business with their own free-agent star, Chris Paul, by dumping Vinny Del Negro after the best season in franchise history and pursuing and landing Doc Rivers to replace him and take over the role as the Clippers’ senior vice president of basketball operations. Via Twitter, Paul committed to the Clippers Monday morning and will sign a five-year, $107 million deal come July 10.

Howard is extremely sensitive about the sentiment that he’s some sort of “coach killer,” as he should be, because there are few tags more damaging to a superstar’s profile.

“That’s a tough thing to live down once you get it,” said one Western Conference executive. “That’s the knock on Dwight right now, whether he likes it or not. Everyone knows he’d had issues with his last two coaches and that’s why you know whatever is there with D’Antoni would have to be fixed before he could honestly think about staying with the Lakers. There’s no way around it.”

If Howard decides he’d rather play elsewhere, D’Antoni will get plenty of blame — deserved or not. And that’s what makes his role today so crucial. With Bryant and Nash (two of D’Antoni’s greatest allies) flanking him, he has a chance to clean up whatever mess is there and do his best to talk Howard back into the fold.

We might never get any real answers anyway. Howard has never come clean on what went down with Van Gundy, even though their disconnect led to the dissolution of a championship-caliber team in Orlando. He will have a chance to walk away from the Lakers this time without having to publicly address the D’Antoni situation. But that won’t stop any of us from speculating.

And it certainly won’t silence the Lakers fans who are already convinced that D’Antoni ruined any chance of Howard sticking around, even with the $30 million and extra contract year the Lakers can offer that no one else can.

One of D’Antoni’s colleagues came to his defense, insisting that if Howard chooses one of his other options, it won’t be because of any rift — real or perceived — between Howard and D’Antoni.

“Don’t make this about Mike, that’s not fair to him,” said an Eastern Conference coach who knows D’Antoni well and has coached against Howard for years. “This is [Dwight’s] thing. He has to own it and make it right. Blaming Mike for anything that hasn’t gone his way the last couple of years is just wrong. This is Dwight’s choice, he has to make it, own it and get back on the floor and do what he does. And I know people are convinced that he’s already gone, but I’m not in that crowd. I think he’s going to stay in L.A.”

Karl Badly Wanted This Nuggets Team To Change Playoff Fortune

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Apparently it was a bad year to coach your team to a franchise-record number of wins.

George Karl, Vinny Del Negro and Lionel Hollins each guided their respective clubs to new regular-season heights and now the coaches of the West’s playoff seeds 3, 4 and 5 all might be shown the door. Del Negro, who led the Los Angeles Clippers to a franchise-best 56 wins and a first-ever Pacific Division title, was first to be told he won’t be return.

Hollins, a lame-duck coach all season like Del Negro, led the Memphis Grizzlies to a club-record 56 wins and a first-ever Western Conference finals, and also likely sealed VDN’s fate with their first-round playoff win after the Clips held a 2-0 lead. Still, before Hollins could even reflect on the season that was, he was told by the organization’s new brass to talk to whichever team caught his fancy.

Then Thursday morning news hit that the Denver Nuggets will part ways with recently crowned Coach of the Year Karl after nine seasons and a franchise-record 57 wins. Karl, apparently unwilling to enter next season under the final year of his deal as his two counterparts did, has lost that power struggle and is out.

Hollins remains the lone wolf that isn’t all the way out. At least not yet as Grizz ownership/management figure out what they’re doing.

Now the 62-year-old Karl, who has twice turned back cancer, will be coaching somewhere else next season if he so chooses, perhaps even Del Negro’s attractive old gig with the Clips (considering Chauncey Billups‘ affinity for Karl and Chris Paul‘s trust in Billups, this could be a scenario that ensures the free agent CP3’s return to the Clips. Billups is also a free agent).

Karl dearly hoped that this season’s Nuggets would be the team to turn his inexplicable postseason fortunes around. In eight previous seasons under Karl, Denver had advanced past the first round just once. The 2008-09 team with Carmelo Anthony lost to the Lakers in the West finals. Before and after, with Melo and without, it’s been one-and-down.

This year was different, he wanted to believe. He had a complete team that played his up-tempo style to perfection and could run-and-gun any opponent off the floor. Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari were emerging as stars. Andre Iguodala provided the perimeter defense his teams lacked in the past. They had depth, they had belief and they had the West’s No. 3 seed.

They managed the latter despite Gallinari being lost for the season in early April to a torn ACL, and Lawson missed chunks of time late in the season with plantar fasciitis, making his playoff-readiness uncertain.

When the Nuggets — who recently lost general manager Masai Ujiri to the Raptors — visited the Dallas Mavericks on April 12, it was obvious how much Gallinari’s injury — and at the time Lawson’s ailing foot — had shook Karl’s faith in the possibility of a long playoff run.

“All year long the league has seen this, the national image of the Nuggets, that they’re not a playoff team, they’re not built for the playoffs, they can’t do this, they can’t do that,” Karl said, lamenting on the season-long criticisms of his club. “And I just wish we would be healthy just to show some people so we could tell them to shut up. Now I don’t know what percentage we’re down, but a full tank would be better than a three-quarter tank. The matchup that we get I think we’re going to be excited about and I’m confident that we’re going to play well in the playoffs.”

The matchup that they got was the upstart, sixth-seeded Golden State Warriors, who beat the shorthanded Nuggets in six and then put one heck of a scare into the eventual West champion San Antonio Spurs.

Who knows what happens if Gallinari is healthy and the Nuggets are playing at full strength.

Injury misfortune aside, it was quite a season. So good that just 29 days ago, Karl tweeted this message:

That was his last tweet until today:

CP3 Steamed At Clippers, As He Should Be!





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – If this is the Los Angeles Clippers’ way of wooing Chris Paul, they might want to come up with a new strategy.

Hanging your superstar out to dry by indicating he’s the reason coach Vinny Del Negro was not retained and that whatever other decisions are made rest on his shoulders is not a sound strategy. That’s especially true with Paul just a month away from the full-court press of free agency from suitors around the league.

Paul is reportedly upset about being thrown into the middle of this Del Negro mess, by Clippers owner Donald Sterling of all people, and he should be upset. CP3 has been mindful throughout this entire process to stay clear of any controversy regarding the Clippers’ front-office plans. Both he and All-Star forward Blake Griffin have been thrust into this drama, as the main culprits in the decision-making process that they are believed to have influenced, despite no evidence to support this.

Chris Broussard of ESPN The Magazine reports, via sources, that Paul is upset that he’s being portrayed as some sort of coach killer:

“He’s angry right now and his anger is directed toward the Clippers organization,” the source said. “Chris is a man of principle and if he feels like you’ve gone against his principles, it will affect how he feels about you. He’s very agitated that his name has been put out there as the reason for Vinny’s firing. He had nothing to do with it.”

This fire started last week, when Del Negro was fired and T.J. Simers of The Los Angeles Times put Sterling on the hot seat about the decision. Sterling didn’t name names, but he made it clear that the wishes of the players were a part of the process:

“The coach is a wonderful man, and I’m sad about the whole thing,” Sterling said.

“Was this done,” I asked, “just to hang on to Chris Paul?”

“I always want to be honest and not say anything that is not true,” Sterling said. “So I’d rather not say anything.

“But you know, the coach did a really good job. I think he did. And I liked working with him. There are just factors that make life very complicated and very challenging.”

So the Clippers are trying to hang on to Paul.

But don’t they already have him locked up? The team has done everything to make him comfortable, even hire his favorite PR guy from New Orleans.

Do the Clippers really think he would accept almost $28 million less to sign elsewhere?

“Here you have two inexperienced people running your basketball operation in [GM] Gary Sacks and [son-in-law] Eric Miller,” I told Sterling. “And Andy Roeser doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to basketball personnel decisions.

“So I wonder, is this decision being made because the players are now calling the shots? Am I off base?”

“No, you’re not off base,” Sterling said. “This is a players’ league, and, unfortunately, if you want to win you have to make the players happy. Don’t you think that’s true?”

I answered: “No. Money makes players happy.”

As stated, the Clippers can offer Paul more money than any other suitor that will chase him in free agency. Anyone assuming they’ll be able to buy their way out of this mess with Paul doesn’t really know the man.

Del Negro isn’t the first coach (and he won’t be the last) thrown in the trash bin because he didn’t get a ringing endorsement from his star players. Paul didn’t force the Clippers’ hand in this matter and didn’t have to. Trying to make Paul the scapegoat for the fact that Del Negro’s ego is bruised because his stars didn’t lobby on his behalf is childish at best.

It’s a cheap shot for a franchise that can’t afford to squander the opportunity it has with this star-studded core capable of leading the organization to new places — namely on the right side of the divide in a city practically painted in Lakers’ purple and gold.

The fact the franchise is throwing Paul under the bus long before free agency begins only reinforces the belief that the Clippers often serve as their own worst enemy in the court of public opinion. There have been rumors that Del Negro was going to be fired from the moment he was hired by the Clippers. To lay it all on the doorstep of Paul and Griffin after the fact is disingenuous to say the least.

Paul has every right to be upset about the way he’s being portrayed. He was going to weigh all of his free-agent options anyway, including the rumored joining of forces with Dwight Howard (and Al Horford) in Atlanta, where there is cap space galore and the chance to for the Hawks what he did for the Clippers.

If Del Negro is such a wonderful man and coach, Sterling should have stood by his guy and then allowed Paul to make a decision on his own future without the sort of foolishness that will be involved in the process now.

Report: Clips Part Ways With Del Negro





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Vinny Del Negro‘s future wasn’t so secure after all.

The Los Angeles Clippers parted ways with their coach this afternoon, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, despite helping orchestrate the finest regular season in franchise history. The Clippers won their first division title this season, but were bounced in the first round of the playoff by the Memphis Grizzlies.

Speculation about Del Negro’s future with the team has raged on for months, long before they faltered in the playoffs. With free-agent point guard Chris Paul still undecided about his future in advance of the July 1 free agent free-for-all, where Paul will be as sought after as anyone on the market not named Dwight Howard.

It should be noted that a Paul favorite and a man familiar to Los Angeles, Byron Scott, was on NBA TV’s airwaves Monday night and is available after being fired in Cleveland. The Clippers would be wise to think about coaches that could connect with their superstar point guard while pursuing Del Negro’s replacement.

There’s also the Phil Jackson factor to think about. If he’s interested in returning to the league in some capacity, but not as a coach, maybe the Clippers consider bringing him back and having him select the next coach.

In addition to Paul, the Clippers will have to take Blake Griffin‘s temperature to see what works for him moving forward. Because if Paul bolts in free agency, Griffin becomes the sole face of the franchise heading into the 2013-14 season.

This opening instantly becomes the hottest job on the market for coaches looking for work, especially if Paul remains with the franchise. And you should expect a whose who of candidates to be associated with the rumors in the coming days and weeks. Former Clippers and Suns coach Alvin Gentry, Scott, Golden State Warriors assistant Mike Malone, Indiana Pacers assistant Brian Shaw and even Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins will all be targets.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 116) Featuring Hall Of Famer Dominique Wilkins

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Dominique Wilkins is living life young hoop dreamers fantasize about. High school and college star, NBA superstar and eventually a Hall of Famer.

The Atlanta Hawks’ vice president of basketball joined us on Episode 116 of the Hang Time Podcast to talk about his journey as well as the path his Hawks are walking now as they embark upon a huge summer rebuilding project.

Does ‘Nique, 25 years removed from his famous Game 7 battle with Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics, see the Hawks making their way to another six straight years of playoff appearances with a new regime in charge? He sees that and more.

And he takes our advice and makes sure that Hawks GM Danny Ferry places a call to Phil Jackson (why not? Everyone else is calling the Zen Master these days), the Hawks could be on the cusp of the greatest stretch in franchise history. They’d have to pull off the stunner first, however, and actually get Jackson to take the call and even entertain the possibility of joining the Hawks in some capacity (which is longtime Hawks fan Lang Whitaker‘s hoops fantasy). And that would require some serious lobbying on the part of Rick Fox, who played on championship teams coached by Jackson with the Los Angeles Lakers.

In the meantime, we’ll continue  to keep an eye on the playoffs and awards season and continue to debate which is more unpredictable. The Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers both won Game 1 on the road in their respective Eastern Conference semifinal series, while the Memphis Grizzlies won Game 2 and the Golden State Warriors will attempt to match that feat tonight in San Antonio (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT). We discuss how big a deal the shakeup has been on LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony (the top three vote-getters in the KIA NBA Most Valuable Player race).

We also got off into a heated debate about the merits of each candidate in the Coach of the Year race and whether George Karl’s runaway win makes sense with his team already gone fishing and other worthy candidates such as Tom Thibodeau, Mike Woodson, Mark Jackson, Lionel Hollins and others still working this season. (Trust me, it gets plenty messy … especially when we try to rationalize Vinny Del Negro getting a first-place vote and finishing ahead of both Doc Rivers and Scott Brooks).

You get all of that and much more, right here on Episode 116 of the Hang Time Podcast …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

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