Brad Stevens

Mike Budenholzer, Billy Donovan Win Coaches Association Award

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer and Thunder head coach Billy Donovan have been voted the co-coaches of the year by the National Basketball Coaches Association, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

This award, introduced in 2017, isn’t the NBA’s official Coach of the Year award, which is voted on by media members and is represented by the Red Auerbach Trophy. The winner of that award is expected to be announced at some point during the postseason this summer.

The Coaches Association’s version of the award – named after longtime NBCA executive director Michael H. Goldberg – is voted on by the NBA’s 30 head coaches, none of whom can vote for himself.

Budenholzer, who also won the NBCA’s award in 2019, has had even more success with the East-leading Bucks this season. His team has a 54-13 record and – before the season was suspended – had been on pace to surpass the 60 victories that last year’s Milwaukee squad racked up.

As for Donovan, he has exceeded expectations with a Thunder team that was viewed as a borderline playoff contender and a candidate for a full-fledged rebuild. Instead of returning to the lottery following the offseason departures of Russell Westbrook and Paul George, Oklahoma City is 41-24, good for sixth in the Western Conference. A strong finish over the next couple weeks could result in a top-four record in the conference for the Thunder.

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, widely viewed as the favorite to win the official Coach of the Year award in 2020, was one vote away from finishing in a three-way tie with Budenholzer and Donovan, per Wojnarowski.

Sources tell ESPN that Taylor Jenkins (Grizzlies), Nate McMillan (Pacers), Erik Spoelstra (Heat), and Brad Stevens (Celtics), and Frank Vogel (Lakers) also received votes.

Atlantic Notes: Kemba, Martin, Thibodeau, Milton

Following individual workouts in Boston ahead of traveling to the Orlando campus for the NBA’s season restart, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens noted that All-Star point guard Kemba Walker‘s knee gave him “a little discomfort” and he was subsequently held out of practice Monday, per Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston.

Though Walker is expected to have an increased role in practice tomorrow, these early reports on the 30-year-old ahead of the season restart on July 30 in Orlando raise obvious red flags. Restrictions will be placed on Walker’s minutes in team scrimmages and any upcoming seeding games ahead of the NBA playoffs in mid-August.

Losing Walker for any amount of time would be a huge blow for Boston’s playoff hopes. Superstar forward Jayson Tatum and two-way force Jaylen Brown have clearly benefitted from Walker’s veteran leadership. In 50 games for the Celtics during the 2019/20 season, Walker is averaging 21.2 PPG, 4.9 APG, and 4.1 RPG, while shooting 37.7% from three-point range and 86.7% from the free throw line. The 43-21 Celtics are the No. 3 seed in the East.

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • Rookie Nets point guard Jeremiah Martin, who went undrafted out of Memphis in 2019, has been proving himself a valuable asset to the team, per Brian Lewis of the New York Post“I’d say Jeremiah Martin has been a surprise for us, his ability to compete,” interim head coach Jacque Vaughn. “That’s all we ask at this beginning stage, is to compete. Whether that’s knowing the plays, knowing different implementation, or having yourself ready every day.”
  • Head coach interviews for the Knicks are heating up, according to The New York Post’s Marc Berman. Tom Thibodeau remains the leader in the clubhouse for the gig, though Jason Kidd is nipping at his heels following a strong second interview. Kenny Atkinson also remains in the running for the position. The team conducted at least 11 three-hour second interviews that wrapped up yesterday.
  • Second-year Sixers guard Shake Milton has taken over starting point guard duties in team practices, moving All-Star Ben Simmons to the power forward slot and big man Al Horford to the bench, the significance of which has been unpacked by The Athletic’s Derek Bodner. Horford, 34, signed a splashy four-year, $97MM contract (worth up to $109MM with incentives) in 2019 free agency, but has underwhelmed during his first season of that deal. “I think [Milton] has a huge opportunity to help us accomplish what we believe we can, and he’s been doing an amazing job just running the team,” All-Star center Joel Embiid said of the move.

 

Atlantic Notes: Allen, Langford, Knicks, Sixers

Nets starting center Jarrett Allen has accepted his recent benching in fourth quarters, according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post. Coach Kenny Atkinson has favored $40MM backup center DeAndre Jordan to close out games.

“You get the feeling of what’s going to happen when you hit around the eight-minute mark, whether you’re going to go in or not,” Allen told Lewis. “If they’re vibing then go ahead and let them vibe, let them go out and win it. So I’m not tripping over that.”

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • Rookie Celtics shooting guard Romeo Langford has closed out three Boston victories thus far in February as a defensive stopper, per Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe. The 6’4″ wing out of Indiana, the No. 14 pick in the 2019 lottery, appreciates the faith that coach Brad Stevens has in Langford’s growing abilities on that side of the ball. “It’s good that (Stevens) already, like, trusts me,” Langord said. “So I’ve just got to go out there and deliver.”
  • As the Knicks continue to rework their public perception under newly-hired brand consultant Steve Stoute, they may try to improve relations with past New York heroes, according to Steve Popper of Newsday. “As a New York fan, as a friend of Charles Oakley, as somebody a part of the Knicks organization, of course, I would love to see that subsided and bring that back,” Stoute mentioned in an appearance on ESPN’s First Take.
  • The Sixers have underperformed relative to preseason expectations this year, but the dynamic between All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons may not be the root of the issue, per ESPN’s Kirk Goldsberry. Goldsberry points to their club’s unending roster churn over the years and a lack of sharpshooting depth as the prime culprits. That said, at 35-22, the Sixers sit just 1.5 games behind the 36-20 Heat in competing for a top-four Eastern Conference playoff seed.

Community Shootaround: Coach Of The Year Favorites

This season, the Coach of the Year race appears to have plenty of intriguing candidates. With the All-Star break upon us, we at Hoops Rumors deemed it a good time to reflect on where things stand currently.

Mike Budenholzer is leading the 46-8 Bucks towards potentially the NBA’s third-ever 70+ win season. Superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo may win his second consecutive MVP award under Budenholzer’s tutelage, while wing Khris Middleton has made his second straight All-Star team.

In their second year under Nick Nurse, the Raptors are miraculously on pace for a better record than they had during a champion run last year, minus 2019 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Pascal Siakam has blossomed into an All-Star starter. Fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry has remained a steadying presence on the court. Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Norman Powell have all taken notable leaps.

Erik Spoelstra has coached the new-look Heat to a 35-19 record in the East, helped center Bam Adebayo become a first-time All-Star, and made the most out of promising rookies Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn, plus second-year sharpshooter Duncan Robinson.

The Celtics lost Kyrie Irving and Al Horford to free agency over the summer, and signed Kemba Walker in Irving’s stead. Team chemistry appears to have improved significantly, and coach Brad Stevens has helped Walker return to the All-Star game and Jayson Tatum make his first appearance in the big show, while leading Boston to a 38-16 record (including a recent eight-game win streak).

Though the Lakers missed out on signing priority head coach options Tyronn Lue and Monty Williams over the summer, their supposed “consolation” option Frank Vogel has impressed in his first season with the team. The Lakers have a 41-12 record, tops in the West thus far, and have been able to incorporate several mercurial veterans into an upbeat, defensive-oriented locker room atmosphere.

There are several contenders elsewhere in the NBA. Billy Donovan has helped take the Thunder to a surprisingly robust 33-22 record. Rick Carlisle has brought the Mavericks back to the thick of the playoff hunt with an identical record to the Thunder’s and helped Luka Doncic become a first-time All-Star starter. 35-year-old coach Taylor Jenkins has brought the young Grizzlies back to relevance after the team offloaded former franchise cornerstones Marc Gasol and Mike Conley in 2019.

Who do you think will walk away with Coach of the Year hardware in 2020? Let us know!

Atlantic Notes: Anunoby, Kanter, Embiid, VanVleet

Much like they did with current All-Star Pascal Siakam and swingman Norman Powell, the Raptors are determined to turn erratic third-year forward OG Anunoby into a consistent, high-level contributor, according to Doug Smith of the Toronto Star.

“I think he needs more reps,” coach Nick Nurse reflected. “He needs some more chances to go out there and develop his game, and that’s got to be on me a little bit.”

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • Sixers center Joel Embiid hopes to resume his All-Star season on the floor next week, according to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. Embiid underwent surgery January 10 to repair a torn radial collateral ligament in his left ring finger.
  • Due to a right hip contusion, Celtics center Enes Kanter will not return to action until at least Tuesday against the Heat, Brad Stevens relayed to Boston’s team Twitter account (link). In just 18.5 minutes per night, Kanter has produced impressive averages of 9.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG and 60.2% field goal shooting.
  • Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet, an unrestricted free agent in 2020, could be a great fit for the Knicks, Greg Joyce of the New York Post suggests. VanVleet, the best point guard in a limited free agent class, should be in line for a major pay upgrade from the two-year, $18MM contract he signed in 2018.

Atlantic Notes: Randle, Stevens, Temple, Robinson

The improved play of 2019 Knicks free agent signee Julius Randle since Mike Miller became the team’s interim head coach can be attributed to several factors, The Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov observes.

“I’m just playing with confidence,” Randle said. “I try to take things on a game-by-game focus, not really worried about the big picture of things when it comes to that.” Randle’s jump-shooting accuracy has improved for the Knicks lately. He has been less prone to on-court mistakes, and has been penetrating inside more instead of settling.

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

Celtics Notes: Kemba, Stevens, Injuries, Tacko

New Celtics point guard Kemba Walker is excited to see what his team can achieve on the court when they reach full health. Currently, injuries to Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart, Robert Williams and Vincent Poirier are precluding Walker — and fans — from bearing witness to what that could look like.

“Man, we haven’t had our full roster yet,” Walker lamented, according to NBC Sports Boston’s Chris Forsberg. “I can’t wait for it. It’s been unfortunate. But when we do …” Their 19-7 record slots the Celtics at the No. 2 seed in the East, by percentage points over the Heat.

There’s more out of TD Garden:

  • Former Celtic Kendrick Perkins, the starting center on the squad’s last title team in 2008, has picked Boston head coach Brad Stevens as a frontrunner for 2020 NBA Coach of the Year honors, as NBC Sports Boston’s Justin Leger documents. Perkins singled out Stevens’ “next man up” ethos in the wake of Boston’s myriad injuries thus far. Granted, Perkins achieved his biggest career success in Boston, but he also has three former head coaches elsewhere in the league: Doc Rivers on the Clippers, Alvin Gentry on the Pelicans, and Scott Brooks on the Wizards. Perkins’ former Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue is the lead assistant coach on Rivers’ staff.
  • 7’5″ two-way rookie center Tacko Fall‘s regular season home debut last night offered an interesting look into the team’s dynamic chemistry, NBC Sports Boston’s Chris Forsberg notes. Fall is averaging 4.5 points and 2.5 rebounds across his first two NBA games.
  • The latest injury update on Gordon Hayward is significantly more promising than Marcus Smart‘s current status. Coach Brad Stevens doubts Hayward’s lingering foot injury will be a long-term issue, and an MRI taken Thursday showed no structural damage. Smart, meanwhile, has missed the past four games with an eye infection. Stevens revealed a troubling anecdote from his medical staff. “The last report I got (from the training staff), they didn’t think they’ve seen one this bad,” Stevens said, according to NBC Sports Boston’s Chris Forsberg.

Atlantic Notes: Stevens, Fizdale, Load Management

Brad Stevens‘s new-look Celtics are off to their best start in his tenure as head coach, with a sterling 5-1 record. A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston opines that the Celtics’ winning ways are attributable to five key factors: an easy connection with new point guard Kemba Walker; strong second halves on offense and defense; a relative dearth of contract drama; no idle chatter of Stevens mulling a return to the NCAA; and Stevens’ willingness for self-reflection following the disappointment of the 2018/19 Celtics.

Here’s tonight’s full run-down of Atlantic notes:

  • Marc Berman of The New York Post posits that it’s way too early for Knicks head coach David Fizdale to be on the coaching hot seat. Though the Knicks are tied with the Zion Williamson-free Pelicans at a league-worst 1-6 record, Berman suggests that the front office duo of Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry have saddled Fizdale with a head-scratching assortment of talent, heavy on mediocre frontcourt pieces but light on outside shooting or clutch end-of-game leadership.
  • In a piece for The Athletic, Frank Isola supports Fizdale’s staunch defense of playing promising Knicks rookie RJ Barrett extended minutes, an argument echoed by former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy and by Barrett himself. “Has anyone stopped to consider that maybe by playing Barrett a lot of minutes David Fizdale is advancing Barrett’s career forward?,” Van Gundy said to Isola. “Is there anyone who really believes that the way you get better is by not playing and by not practicing?”
  • On the other side of the wins-losses spectrum, the Raptors appear to be taking a similar approach to the struggling Knicks when it comes to one hot-button health topic. “I don’t really see much point in (load management) right now for anyone we’ve got,” head coach Nick Nurse said on Monday, per Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun.Kyle [Lowry] will be somebody maybe we do something with down the road, maybe Marc [Gasol] as well. But it’s not really in the forefront of my mind this year like it was last year.” The Raptors famously conserved the play of eventual Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard last season. 33-year-old Lowry is currently leading the league with a heavy 38.8 minutes played per game, while backcourt mate Fred VanVleet is logging 37.8 minutes a night.

Celtics Notes: Theis, Strus, Langford, Williams

Daniel Theis is making a strong case to start at center for the Celtics, A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston reports.

Theis, who has only started five of the 129 regular season games he’s played with Boston over the past two seasons, has more experience in Brad Stevens’ system than any other big man on the roster. That could give him an edge over Enes Kanter and Robert Williams. He’s also adept at making defensive switches.

“If you watch closely, that’s a tied-together group on that end of the court,” Stevens said of playing Theis with the other starters. Theis is making $5MM this season but his $5MM salary for 2020/21 is not guaranteed.

We have more on the Celtics:

  • Max Strus is a serious candidate to get the 15th and final spot on the opening night roster, Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald tweets.  The shooting guard just had his two-way contract converted to a standard two-year deal with a partial guarantee. The guarantee is worth $415K, Bobby Marks of ESPN tweets. However, he could still be waived, Murphy adds. The 23-year-old Strus went undrafted after playing his college ball at DePaul.
  • Stevens offers high praise for his first-year players, including Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Tacko Fall, and Carsen Edwards, Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe tweets“That’s as good of a group of rookie workers that I’ve ever been around …those guys grind,” he said.
  • The team has picked up the 2020/21 options on Jayson Tatum and Williams. Get all the details here.

Danny Ainge On Celtics: “Are We Good Enough?”

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge admits the team’s talent level will be a greater concern this year, writes Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston. The Celtics entered last season as clear favorites to win the East, but expectations are lower now that Kyrie Irving and Al Horford both left in free agency.

“I think that last year’s questions were more based on how is it going to jell? There was not a question of how much talent we had,” Ainge said to reporters before today’s open practice. “This year, the question is, are we good enough? And can players step up and take advantage of the opportunities that they’re given to become more elite?”

Signing Kemba Walker helped to ease the loss of Irving, and Enes Kanter will likely take over in the middle. Ainge said he’s encouraged by the early results from training camp as the players work to erase the memory of last year’s disappointment.

Ainge addressed several other topics in the session with the media:

On Gordon Hayward‘s progress nearly two full years after a severe ankle injury:

“I think, right now, there’s been a lot of buzz about Gordon and his comeback and I’m worried that it’s getting a little out of hand. Like, I think he’s Gordon. He’s back to being Gordon. And we’re very excited about that. I sometimes worry, like, ‘Oh my gosh, they think it’s somebody else.’ But I’m excited about Gordon. I’m excited about Kemba. Jaylen [Brown] and Jayson [Tatum] had really good summers. They’ve looked really good in training camp. Obviously they have a great comfort level with the system. And Marcus [Smart]. So, we know who all of those guys are. I think there are lots of questions in lots of other places on the roster.”

On coach Brad Stevens’ status after the team failed to meet last year’s lofty expectations:

“If 49 wins is the worst season in your coaching career, you’re probably going to be OK. But Brad just keeps getting better. These experiences, he’s a young coach, works harder than anybody, very bright. I have all the confidence in the world that last year was a learning experience for him, just like all of our young players. Like I said many many times before and I’ll continue to say, he’s the least of our worries. He’s prepared, and I think these experiences are going to make him a great coach.”

On the competition at center without Horford and Aron Baynes:

“Most of [the bigs] are new. I think Daniel [Theis] has the most experience of that group of guys with our group. I think he’s got a little bit of a head start, just mentally and emotionally and understanding what Brad wants. I think I can see some of the new-ness of the other guys. I think Robert [Williams] has taken big strides from last year to where he’s at. I think his work this summer, you can see it already. So that’s an advantage for him. Those are question marks that I’m not sure how good it’s all going to fit and work but I think, individually, they all can contribute.”