Erik Spoelstra

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!

LeBron James, Others React To Kobe Bryant’s Death

LeBron James issued his first comments since the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, which were posted on the Yahoo Sports Twitter feed and by other news organizations. James spoke with Bryant – who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning – on Saturday evening after passing him on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

“Didn’t think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we’d have,” James wrote. James also vowed to carry on Bryant’s legacy. “It’s my responsibility to put this (bleep) on my back and keep it going!! Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me!”

We have more reaction from around the league on the loss of the Lakers legend:

  • The Lakers brought in grief counselors to the team’s offices on Monday to help not only players and staff members cope with Bryant’s tragic death but also employees throughout the organization, Dave McMenamin of ESPN tweets. Bryant had many relationships with other Laker employees during his 20-year playing career, McMenamin notes. The counselors provided comfort and guidance in both group and one-on-one sessions, McMenamin adds. The league decided on Monday afternoon to postpone the team’s scheduled game with the Clippers on Tuesday out of respect for the Lakers organization.
  • The organization thanked fans and well-wishers from around the world for the overwhelming support it has received since the tragedy. It issued a statement via the team’s PR department (Twitter link) which read, “The Los Angeles Lakers would like to thank all of you for the tremendous outpouring of support and condolences. This is a very difficult time for all of us. We continue to support the Bryant family and will share more information as it is available.”
  • Kings coach and ex-teammate Luke Walton said the loss has not only deeply affected him but everyone around his team, as he told Chad Graff of The Athletic and other media members. “We talked about it. Life is hard. There are moments that challenge us,” Walton said. “What I’ve found is together we can get through that easier and more efficiently than we can alone. Guys here are hurting whether you knew him or not. He was that type of guy, and he had that type of impact on the NBA world that everybody is hurting.”
  • Pop music icon Michael Jackson fueled Bryant’s passion for excellence, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski recalls in a November 2010 interview he did with Bryant. “He would teach me what he did: how to make a ‘Thriller’ album, a ‘Bad’ album, all the details that went into it,” Bryant told Wojnarowski. “It was all the validation that I needed — to know that I had to focus on my craft and never waver. Because what he did — and how he did it — was psychotic. He helped me get to a level where I was able to win three titles playing with Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) because of my preparation, my study. And it’s only all grown.”
  • The fact that three teenagers, including Bryant’s daughter Gianna, perished in the helicopter crash was especially heartbreaking for Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, as Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel relays. “Obviously this has been a horrible 24 hours,” he said. “And, as a parent, it absolutely crushes your heart to think about this. When something like this happens it can be so wrong and so arbitrary.”
  • Bryant played the game with ferocity but he wasn’t fearless, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN writes. However, Bryant’s determination allowed him to overcome his fears. “To a certain extent, every day I was vulnerable,” he told Shelburne. “You’re always dealing with fear, with something in your imagination. Something that you think can happen. But you just say, ‘I don’t know if I can do that. But I’ll give it a try.'”

Southeast Notes: Spoelstra, Magic, Thomas, McRae

The NBA implemented a new coach’s challenge for the 2019/20 season, an addition that’s received mixed reviews among the league’s players, coaches and fans just one month into the campaign.

The feature is simple: To initiate the one-time, challenge, a head coach must call timeout and pursue review of a foul, out-of-bounds, goaltending or offensive interference call. While reviewing the play, the referees must see clear and conclusive visual evidence in order to overturn the ruling.

However, not all of the league’s 30 head coaches enjoy the new addition to the game.

“I don’t like it,” longtime Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the challenge, according to Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel. “I’m an NBA basketball coach. I’m not an official, and I’m not trying to be an official.

“There are too many things to focus on. It doesn’t work like the NFL one. And I’m not bashing it to say I won’t be a part of it. We’ve challenged and won one. I’ll use it, but it’s distracting.”

Despite giving teams the option to challenge a potentially incorrect call, the addition of the coach’s challenge presents one clear problem: Slowing down a game that’s already been slowed enough by officiating in recent seasons, particularly toward the end of contests.

“I don’t know how that helps the flow,” Spoelstra said. “To me, it hurts the flow. It’s just another thing to focus on that’s distracting that has nothing to do with the game.

“For example, we had a game in Miami the other night and there was a bang-bang play, and it could have been called or not. I didn’t have a timeout to burn in that instance; I didn’t want to, like, gamble. And I see two fans going like this [motioning with a twirling finger]. That’s where we’re going? It’s like, I don’t know.”

There’s more out of the Southeast Division tonight:

  • Josh Robbins of The Athletic provides injury updates on Magic players Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic and Michael Carter-Williams. Gordon has a combination of a right ankle contusion and right ankle sprain, Robbins notes, though his injury is improving and he’s receiving around-the-clock treatment. Vucevic is also rehabbing from an ankle injury, though the 29-year-old is no longer in a walking boot. Carter-Williams did some stationary bike work on Saturday to continue rehab on a left hip injury.
  • Wizards guard Isaiah Thomas is confident that he’ll return to his old All-Star form, as relayed by Kevin Brown of NBC Sports Washington. “A lot of people have counted me out, especially the last couple of years,” Thomas said. “But I know what I’ve been through, I know what my body’s been through. I know how good I feel I know I’m ready and I know given the opportunity, I can play at an All-Star level again. And that’s what I’m gonna showcase…I promise you I’m gonna be an All-Star, I’m gonna be an All-NBA basketball player again.”
  • Jordan McRae is finally having his special moment with the Wizards, Fred Katz of The Athletic details. McRae missed the entire 2017/18 season due to a shoulder injury and is coming off an up-and-down campaign with Washington, but he’s starting to solidify his role on the team this year. “There’s not a better feeling in the world — unless you sign a max contract. That might be a little bit better,” head coach Scott Brooks said. “It’s a great opportunity for Jordan. … But he still can’t relax. They always say the easiest thing is to make it. The hardest thing is to keep it. And he’s doing everything we ask. It’s good to have him back.”

Southeast Notes: Rozier, Sheppard, Spoelstra, Wizards

New Hornets guard Terry Rozier is eager to prove himself after changing teams this past summer in free agency, Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer writes.

Rozier, 25, left the Celtics after spending four seasons on the team, opting to sign a three-year, $58MM contract with the Hornets organization.

“I’m pissed off about a lot of stuff,” Rozier said. “I want to prove myself again.”

The Hornets lost All-Star guard Kemba Walker to Boston on a four-year pact during free agency, and they’re widely projected to be one of the league’s most underwhelming teams this season.

For Rozier, joining the Hornets — a team that had immediate interest in him — offers the ability to receive a clear starting role at point guard. The topic was briefly discussed with team owner Michael Jordan, who expressed his desire to add Rozier on a new deal.

“He didn’t have to show me too much. Him being Michael Jordan was 80 to 90 percent of it,” Rozier recalled. “He believes in me. He wanted to give me the opportunity to show my talent at the highest level. How can you turn that down?”

There’s more from the Southeast Division tonight:

  • Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard will be more focused on player development than win totals this season, Howard Fendrich of The Associated Press writes. Washington drafted impressive forward Rui Hachimura with the No. 9 pick in the draft and could play the entire season without All-Star John Wall due to a ruptured Achilles’ tendon.
  • The contract extension between Erik Spoelstra and the Heat may have been finalized, but there remains plenty of work ahead for Spoelstra with the organization, Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel writes. Spoelstra is the second longest-tenured head coach in the NBA (2008), trailing behind only San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich (1996).
  • Candace Buckner of the Washington Post examines three questions for the Wizards entering the 2019/20 season. Washington has several important factors to discuss this season, including a potential extension with Bradley Beal, whether Hachimura should start and Wall’s progress from injury rehab.

Heat, Erik Spoelstra Agree To Four-Year Extension

3:56pm: The extension will cover four years, according to Ira Winderman of The Sun Sentinel (Twitter link)

3:25pm: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra will sign a long-term extension with the team, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Spoelstra, who had one year left on his current deal, has been negotiating an extension behind the scenes.

Spoelstra, 48, is about to begin his 12th season in Miami, ranking him second to the SpursGregg Popovich for the longest current tenure with one organization. He has a 523-363 coaching record and a pair of NBA titles.

[RELATED: Longest-Tenured NBA Head Coaches]

As Wojnarowski notes, Spoelstra has spent his entire career with the Heat, starting as a video coordinator in 1995. He was later promoted to assistant coach, then replaced Pat Riley as head coach in 2008.

Eastern Notes: Heat, Spoelstra, Mokoka, Osman

With the NBA declaring it will strongly enforce free agency rules pertaining to tampering going forward, Ira Winderman examines what this message means and how it could affect the Heat‘s 2021 summer plans in a story for the Sun Sentinel. Miami is expected to have enough salary-cap space to sign a second max player by then, with several expensive contracts set to expire.

Many league observers believe the Heat had Jimmy Butler locked up ahead of the June 30 free agency start this summer, but as seen with players such as Kemba Walker (Celtics), Kyrie Irving (Nets) and Kevin Durant (Nets), several other teams around the league took a similar approach with free agents.

The rules, as explained by Winderman, are simple: Teams are not allowed to contact players until the official start of free agency.

Tampering has been an increasingly prevalent issue in today’s NBA, with members of the league office actively exploring how to improve the problem. The NBA’s Board of Governors unanimously voted on new rules to reportedly make tampering penalties stricter going forward, as noted in a recent Hoops Rumors story.

Miami was also thought to have LeBron James and Chris Bosh committed to deals before the free agency period opened back in 2010, but as Winderman notes, officials inside the organization denied these claims and investigations outside the team didn’t lead to any evidence of tampering.

There’s more from the Eastern Conference tonight:

  • The Heat could benefit from head coach Erik Spoelstra effectively selling bench roles to certain players this season, Winderman notes in a separate story for the Sun Sentinel. Spoelstra will have a number of options to choose from in his rotation, including whether to star Justise Winslow or Goran Dragic at point guard, Kelly Olynyk or James Johnson at power forward and more.
  • Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago previews what Adam Mokoka could bring to the Bulls this season, with the 21-year-old currently on a two-way contract. Mokoka averaged 9.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists in summer league with Chicago, playing in a total of five games.
  • Joe Gabriele of NBA.com examines Cedi Osman‘s mindset entering his third season with the Cavaliers. Osman, 24, is looking to build off an international experience with Turkey in the FIBA World Cup this summer. The young forward, who is extension-eligible, averaged 13 points, 4.7 rebounds and 32.2 minutes in 76 games with Cleveland last season.

Heat Notes: Adebayo, Richardson, Spoelstra, Arena

Exercising Bam Adebayo‘s fourth-year option displayed faith in a player that many in the Heat organization expect to show huge improvement this season, writes Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. Adebayo will make $5.1MM during the 2020/21 season and will be eligible for a rookie scale extension next summer. His role figures to increase after Miami traded away Hassan Whiteside in July.

“First off, he’s going to get more minutes, more exposure,” Goran Dragic told Jackson. “He already got tested, and we know what he can do. He’s a great player, great screener, roll to the basket. He brings a lot of energy to the team and I feel like this year is going to be different. More minutes, more responsibility. Everybody feels like, including me, that he’s ready for this big step in his career.”

There’s more from Miami:

  • Of all the moves the Heat made this offseason, Dragic sees the trade of Josh Richardson as the most surprising, Jackson adds in the same story. The fifth-year swingman was shipped to the Sixers as part of a complex four-team deal to acquire Jimmy Butler. Richardson is a valuable two-way player who is coming off his best season, posting a 16.6/3.6/4.1 line. “With Josh, I was a bit surprised,” Dragic said. “I was sad to see him go. But at the same time, I think he’s going to do well in Philadelphia. He’s a great player, great team player who is great around guys in the locker room.”
  • Coach Erik Spoelstra expressed appreciation for the support he has gotten from the Heat organization during an appearance with Doc Rivers on a recent edition of Adrian Wojnarowski’s ESPN podcast. “I think (owner) Micky (Arison) and (team president) Pat (Riley) are two of the best tandems in ownership and president in all of sports,” Spoelstra said. “… They understand the need for stability. They will weather storms, and we all struggled that first year. I struggled quite a bit, particularly in that Finals series. … The ownership and my bosses, I love who I work for because they do have my back.”
  • American Airlines won’t renew naming rights for the Heat’s arena, according to Ira Winderman of The Sun-Sentinel. The team will be in the market for a new title sponsor after a 20-year arrangement.

Southeast Notes: Allen, Hornets Workouts, Beal, Young

Malik Allen was the only member of Tom Thibodeau’s former staff who was retained by the Timberwolves after Ryan Saunders had the interim tag removed earlier this week. However, Allen may be on the move as well. He has emerged as a prime candidate to replace Juwan Howard on Erik Spoelstra’s staff, Marc Stein of the New York Times tweets. Howard left the Heat to take the University of  Michigan head coaching job.

We have more from the Southeast Division:

  • The Hornets are bringing in six prospects for a workout on Saturday, Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer tweets. That group includes Ar’Mond Davis (UC Santa Barbara), Jon Axel Gudmundsson (Davidson), Nathan Knight (William & Mary), Reggie Perry (Mississippi State), Josh Reaves (Penn State) and Quinndary Weatherspoon (Mississippi State). Weatherspoon, a shooting guard, heads that group as ESPN Jonathan Givony’s No. 57 overall prospect.
  • Bradley Beal didn’t become eligible for a supermax extension as he was left off the All-NBA teams. The Wizards shooting guard could still be on the move this summer, Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington writes. If Washington decides to rebuild, it could trade Beal for assets and salary cap space. In Standig’s view, the Lakers, Celtics and Knicks could be among the most likely destinations, particularly if they strike out in pursuit of high-level free agents.
  • Hawks point guard Trae Young believes his style of play will help bring in quality free agents, as he declared in an interview with 92.9 The Game (hat tip to E. Jay Zarett of the Sporting News). “If you’re looking to have the ball in your hands, if you’re looking to score a lot of points – I mean, a lot of players in the league know if you come play with me, I’m going to make sure I get you the ball,” Young said. “I think that’s something that attracts a lot of big players.”

Heat Notes: Johnson, McGruder, Waiters, Johnson

The Heat have had to use countless different lineup combinations throughout the season as players have come and gone due to injuries, but recently it has been Tyler Johnson that has become a key staple in the starting lineup.

As Ira Winderman writes for The Sun-Sentinal, Johnson has provided an energetic approach that has made him a perfect fit for the starting lineup, especially as Erik Spoelstra continues to look for ways to jumpstart his team.

The Heat have made several significant changes in the wake of Goran Dragic‘s injury, most notably converting Justise Winslow to being the team’s primary ball-handler and creator.

There’s more from the Heat:

Heat Notes: Whiteside, Spoelstra, Wade, McGruder

Hassan Whiteside has impacted the Heat in a much more positive way this season, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, who shares perspectives from some of Whiteside’s teammates and other figures around the franchise.

Whiteside, who missed part of last season due to injury, was unhappy with his playing time after his minutes dropped from 32.6 per game to 25.3. The Heat handled the matter internally at the time, working with him to become a better teammate and approach games with a team-first mentality.

“I think I’m just in a better place than what I was last year,” Whiteside said, according to Jackson. “Going through all the injuries and stuff, I was real frustrated with myself too, not being able to be there with my teammates, not being able to contribute like I wanted to. There was a lot of frustration with myself also, with the injuries. I’m just happy we’re winning. All the other stuff will come.”

Whiteside has averaged 12.5 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 25.8 minutes per game this season with Miami. His overall mindset and willingness to trust coach Erik Spoelstra has helped improved their relationship as a result.

“Spo’s my guy,” Whiteside said. “We overcommunicate. We got an understanding. He wants to win. I want to win. We’re definitely in a better place.”

Spoelstra, who’s coached Whiteside for each of the past five seasons, is impressed with his growth and maturity. Whiteside has put forth a ton of work in recent months, including improving his quality of screens to help his team.

“Every year, he’s becoming a better basketball player and learning how to become an ultimate winner. And he’s enjoying it more,” Spoelstra said. “That’s the whole thing that’s tough for players to really grasp. The more you breathe life into somebody else and enjoy somebody else’s success, whatever it is that you are searching for yourself, you usually end up getting because of that giving mentality.”

There’s more out of Miami today:

  • Erik Spoelstra will tie Pat Riley‘s franchise record by coaching his 849th regular-season game with the Heat on Monday, Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel tweets. Spoelstra, who’s in his 11th season as head coach, can pass Riley’s record on Wednesday against the Clippers.
  • Dwyane Wade played his final game in Chicago on Saturday, tallying 14 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists in nearly 27 minutes. “I have more of a connection here than anywhere else,” Wade said postgame, according to Mark Strotman of NBC Sports. “It’s my birth city. It’s the place where my vision to become an NBA player started, watching my favorite team and watching my favorite players growing up. It definitely felt different than any other city but it was a good different. It was a joyous time for me to be here.”
  • Rodney McGruder has earned a higher ground for restricted free agency this summer, Winderman details for the Sun Sentinel. McGruder, 27, met the criteria of starting half of the season (41 games) last week, raising his $1.9 million qualifying offer to $3MM. The CBA also states that the “starter criteria” could include playing 2,000 or more minutes, according to Winderman, with McGruder logging 1,185 minutes just over the halfway point of the season.