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NBA PM: The Clippers’ Next Head Coach?
Posted By Bill Ingram On May 24, 2013 @ 5:00 pm In NBA | No Comments
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The Los Angeles Clippers’ New Head Coach?
Over the last couple of seasons, the Los Angeles Clippers have been working hard to go from being known as the cheapest team in the NBA to being one of the best. That process really seemed to begin when they drafted Blake Griffin and it became clear that he could help them enter a new era of playoff basketball. It then kicked into high gear when they traded for Chris Paul and positioned themselves to be a possible contender, even in the brutally tough Western Conference.
There was still a great deal of work to be done with the Clippers’ roster when Vinny Del Negro was hired on the cheap back in 2010. His no-nonsense approach was evident from the start, as he personally oversaw the Clippers’ summer league team and talked to them about how his NBA career was based largely on hard work, not raw talent. In his first year, the Clippers managed just 32 wins, with injuries playing a significant role. The roster makeover that took place before the lockout in 20011 saw the Clippers vastly improved as they took part in the shortened season. They won 41 games behind the strong play of Griffin and Paul, with a very deep and talented group around them. Despite that improvement, however, they needed seven games to get out of the first round of the playoffs and were then swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the second.
This year was an even better one for the Clippers; in fact, their 56 wins marked the most the team had ever won in a single season, besting the 49 wins they garnered in 1974-75, when they were still the Buffalo Braves. Nonetheless, the Clippers were ousted in the first round after taking a 2-0 lead on the Memphis Grizzlies and then losing four in a row.
It took a while for management to decide, but losing in the first round eventually overshadowed the 56 regular season wins. Negro was fired and the Clippers are now pondering their next head coach.
There’s a lot at stake, of course, with Paul’s impending free agency and expectations higher than ever for the team. The next head coach can’t just be the lowest bidder for the job; he has to be the best man for the job. He has to be someone who will immediately have the respect of Paul and Griffin, but who will also challenge them to become even better versions of themselves each and every day.
Two names come to mind immediately, starting with former Portland Trail Blazers head coach Nate McMillan. McMillan already has a good relationship with both Clippers stars because of the time they have all spent together with Team USA. McMillan’s coaching style fits the current make-up of the Clippers’ roster perfectly, he understands how to motivate young players and veterans alike, and he is actively looking for a new job on the sidelines.
The second name that should be at or near the top of L.A.’s search is that of Brian Shaw, arguably the top assistant coach in the league. The Lakers gave him reason to believe he would succeed his mentor, Phil Jackson, at the helm of the Lakers, but then went in another direction. The Clippers could further solidify their bid to knock the Lakers out of the top spot in the hearts of NBA fans in Los Angeles by hiring the man who should now be at the helm of the purple and gold.
McMillan and Shaw are, of course, getting a lot of attention from the plethora of teams now looking for a new head coach, but as former Clippers and Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry points out, the most attractive open job is currently in L.A.
“If you look at that job, it’s probably the best one out there,” Gentry told ESPN recently. “When you take into consideration the talent level that they have and what they did this year.”
“It just needs a little tweaking,” Gentry continued. “I don’t think you need to have someone come in and do completely the opposite. Vinny did a good job, and I think everyone knows that. They need someone who can manage egos, that’s huge with that team.”
Unlike some head coaches, who prefer to take a year or two off before jumping into the stress and strain of coaching again, that’s not the case with Gentry, who is ready to take on a new challenge right away.
“I would obviously like to be a head coach with any team in the league,” said Gentry, who has a standing offer to join Mike D’Antoni’s staff with the Lakers. “I would love to run the [Clippers] again. But if you weren’t gonna be a head coach and the opportunity was going to be there, I still think the Lakers are the most historic franchise in this league.”
The Clippers have not yet really ramped up their search for a new head coach, but once they do, McMillan, Shaw and Gentry are all expected to be high on the list. ESPN reports that Byron Scott, who coached Paul in New Orleans, and Golden State Warriors assistant Mike Malone are on the Clippers’ radar, as is Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins, whose contract runs out at the end of the season.
So who’s your pick? You’re the GM of the Clippers and you have to choose the team’s next head coach. Make your selection in the poll below, or add your own name in the comments section below!
The Next Step For Paul George
There is no question that the 2012-13 NBA season has, among other things, been Indiana Pacers forward Paul George’s coming out party. He had an undue amount of responsibility heaped on his shoulders at a moment’s notice when Pacers All-Star Danny Granger was forced to miss the bulk of the season due to a knee injury, and after struggling for the first few weeks, George quickly figured things out. By the time February rolled around he was taking part in his own All-Star experience, courtesy of the brilliant season he was having up to that point.
Since the start of the playoffs, George has been even better, averaging 18.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists in Indiana’s first round win over the Atlanta Hawks, 19.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists in their second round series win over the New York Knicks, and then dropping 27 on the Miami HEAT in Wednesday night’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Indiana lost that game by one point in overtime, of course, but George played the role of savior a couple of times before LeBron James’ buzzer-beating layup gave the HEAT a hard-fought victory.
The Pacers were down by three with 11.9 seconds left on the game clock when head coach Frank Vogel called his final timeout of regulation. Miami was trying to force the ball into Roy Hibbert’s or David West’s hands, working to prevent a game-tying three. George got the ball, nonetheless, but was forced to take an awkward-looking shot from well behind the three-point arc with several players from both teams crowded in front of him. The shot dramatically dropped home, tying the game with 0.7 seconds left and forcing the overtime period.
As the final seconds melted off the clock in overtime, Miami once again seemed to have the game in hand, ahead 101-99 with 2.2 seconds left in the game. That’s when George attempted another miracle three, this time missing, but a whistle sounded and a foul was called on Dwyane Wade, who fouled out while sending George to the line for three free throws. George iced all three, leaving the Pacers ahead by one, making him a hero for the second time in the same game.
The playoffs are where stars are born, and while George gained significant recognition for his superb play during the regular season, the Eastern Conference Finals is a far more difficult landscape to conquer. There are tests that make the regular season look like child’s play, and while George’s last-second heroics were huge for his team, Game 1 also showed us the most critical area where he still needs to grow.
The most challenging thing for a young player to learn to do is to react quickly and instinctively when the game is on the line. Twice we saw George meet this test, and twice he failed it. The first test came as regulation was running down. He had the ball in his hands with 20.9 seconds left, made the kind of aggressive move to the basket that he had been making all night, and then he hesitated in mid-air. Instead of continuing his momentum towards the basket and looking to either score or draw a sixth foul on James, he suddenly stopped and in the millisecond where he second-guessed his instinct, he lost the moment. Instead of scoring and putting the game out of reach for Miami, he threw the ball to the sideline in front of his own bench, where the only Pacers teammates who were in position to catch the ball were those who were not in the game. As great as his highlight-reel three was that sent the game into overtime, if he had just made the instinctive play in that moment no miracle shot would have been needed.
George had another moment where quick-thinking would have given his team a chance to win in overtime, but failure to recognize the moment cost his team the game. Not the unforced turnover that resulted in a Norris Cole steal; Cole quickly gave that one right back to the Pacers. No, the one we’re talking about here is the one where, with 2.2 seconds left and Miami throwing in to LeBron, George allowed his man to drive past him for the game-winning lay-up. A savvy veteran – like Shane Battier, for example – would have quickly grabbed James and forced him to win the game from the foul line, where he is notoriously poor in game-winning situations. There’s no guarantee that James would have missed either one or both of those free throws, but he certainly was not going to miss a lay-up.
“I slipped up, I just slipped up at the end,” a clearly distraught George said following the loss. “To have an opportunity to take the first game and be in the lead of the series … and not being able to do it because of the last possession … it hurts.”
The thing about great players, though, is that the pain of defeat is what drives them to overcome their weaknesses, their fears. Late turnovers, missed defensive plays and blown shots are the fire in which legends are forged. James had to lose to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals before he really began questioning where he could improve his game, now we’ll see what it’s going to take for George to take that next, critical step. Will it be in Game 2 of this series, or will it take another year or two of awe-inspiring great plays being offset by bone-headed mistakes for him to lose that millisecond of hesitancy?
It would be unfair, of course, to lay the entire blame for Indiana’s Game 1 loss on the shoulders of George. Coach Vogel has been clear in saying he should have had Roy Hibbert in the game to protect the rim, a solution that also might have given Indiana a 1-0 lead in the series. In the grand scheme of things, however, George will be the one who dictates Indiana’s fate against Miami, and it will be interesting to see how quickly he loses that last-second hesitancy going forward.
When George becomes as lethal in the closing seconds of games as he has proven to be the rest of the way, the Pacers will be extremely hard to beat, even for a super-team like Miami.
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