Kenny Smith

Northwest Notes: Stephenson, Turner, Blazers

Newly acquired Timberwolves guard Lance Stephenson squared off against his former team Friday and Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry had nothing but positive things to say about the 26-year-old journeyman, writes Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune.

We had no problem whatsoever with him,” Gentry said regarding New Orleans’ decision to waive the then-15th man on their roster after a groin injury in November. “As a matter of fact, he probably raised our energy level as much as anyone. I think he’ll be fine. He’s playing for a great [Timberwolves] coach who loves energy and toughness and stuff like that.”

The Pelicans faced criticism at the time for parting ways with Stephenson as he recovered from the long-term injury but did so to free up space on their roster for Archie Goodwin (who has since been waived). Now Stephenson is back at full strength and on a 10-day contract looking to stick in Minnesota with a Timberwolves roster led by head coach Tom Thibodeau.

In two games with the Timberwolves so far, Stephenson has posted 3.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 16.0 minutes per game. He’ll make $72K with Minnesota over the duration of his 10-day contract, in addition to the $1.2MM he’s owed by the Pelicans.

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • The news that Trail Blazers swingman Evan Turner will miss 5-6 weeks comes just as the offseason acquisition was starting to find a rhythm in Portland, writes Mike Richman of The Oregonian. Turner’s absence could thrust Allen Crabbe and Moe Harkless into a bigger role defensively where Turner had been checking the opposing team’s most potent perimeter threat. In the same column, Richman also discusses the progress that Al-Farouq Aminu has made on the offensive end since being relegated to the bench.
  • With a 23-31 record, the Trail Blazers remain very much in the hunt for the final Western Conference playoff berth (Denver sits in the eight-seed at 24-29) but TNT analyst Kenny Smith is skeptical that they have enough resources. “I don’t think they have a lot of talent, honestly. I think that’s the problem,” Smith said. Molly Blue of The Oregonian relayed both Smith’s and Charles Barkley‘s reservations about the guard-heavy roster.
  • When budding Nuggets star Nikola Jokic dropped 40 points on the Knicks Friday, he became just the second Denver player to do so in Madison Square Garden, writes Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post. The last? David Thompson in 1978,

Western Notes: Smith, Lakers, Kings

The Rockets have informed TNT analyst Kenny Smith that he will not be the next coach of the team, citing a need for a head coach with experience, a source tells Calvin Walkins of ESPN.com. Houston was impressed with Smith and the team believes he will become a head coach in the future, Walkins adds. “The Rockets have a philosophy of what they think their coach should be,” Smith said on TNT’s pregame show. “But right now I’m here, and it looks like I’m going to be here.”

Here’s more from the Western Conference:

  • Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak indicated that “nobody’s off limits” in a trade, writes Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News“You have to take phone calls. If that does happen, that’s a good thing,” Kupchak said. “That means you have players that other teams want.” 
  • The Lakers are expected to make their first round pick available should they end up with the No. 3 overall pick, multiple sources tell Chad Ford of ESPN.com. If they land the No. 3 selection and they do not trade it away, Dragan Bender is the optimal pick for Los Angeles, Ford opines.
  • Kings president of basketball operations Vlade Divac is high on Buddy Hield and he could be the selection should the Kings move up in the draft lottery, Ford writes in the same piece. If they don’t move up in the lottery, Ford expects the team to seek out a trade, as the franchise is looking to win now.
  • The Suns are most likely to pick Bender provided they don’t end up with a top-2 pick, Ford argues in the same piece. Phoenix has a 24.5% chance at landing a top-2 pick and a 82.8% chance at landing a top-5 selection.

Southwest Notes: Rockets, Spurs, Joerger, Mavs

The Rockets‘ coaching search continues, and the team is focused on candidates that have former head coaching experience, or have significant experience as assistants, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

Feigen hears that while TNT analyst Kenny Smith impressed the Rockets in his interview, he’s not in the running for the position. Frank Vogel and Ettore Messina are believed to still be in the mix, with a source telling Feigen they’re “part of [the] process,” but there has been no confirmation that they’ve had formal interviews. Houston could conduct second interviews with candidates by the end of the week, says Feigen.

Meanwhile, Jeff Van Gundy has received interest from the Rockets as well, a source tells Feigen. Still, Houston has not yet met with JVG as the team takes its time to familiarize itself with other candidates.

Here’s more from across the Southwest:

  • LaMarcus Aldridge and David West, who could have played – and potentially been paid more – elsewhere this past season, said in the wake of San Antonio’s season-ending loss that they had no regrets about joining the Spurs, as Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News details. Aldridge remains under contract with the Spurs for several more years, while West will have to make a decision on his player option next month.
  • Former Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger – who is now the coach in Sacramento – spoke to Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal about the end of his tenure in Memphis, insisting that his relationship with team management was “excellent.” “I wanted to prove to them that I was the guy to go forward for many years. They didn’t feel so,” Joerger said. “But we move on with a lot of fond memories.”
  • The Grizzlies brought in Northern Iowa guard Wes Washpun to participate in a group workout on Monday, per Michael Scotto of Sheridan Hoops (Twitter link). Washpun previously worked out for the Jazz and Hawks.
  • Kevin Sherrington of The Dallas Morning News doesn’t expect the Mavericks to start the rebuilding process until after Dirk Nowitzki decides to retire, which may still be a couple years away.

Southwest Notes: Smith, Demps, Labissiere, Ulis

Kenny Smith, a candidate for the Rockets‘ head coaching position, said he had “a great meeting” with team officials, relays Mark Berman of Fox 26 Houston. Smith sat down with owner Leslie Alexander and GM Daryl Morey for 2 1/2 hours Tuesday at Alexander’s Florida home. “They have a clear vision of what they want to do,” Smith said. “I have a clear vision of what I’d like to do. Sometimes you meet in the middle. Sometimes it doesn’t meet at all, but it was something that we both had to explore, and [are] still exploring.” Smith, who helped bring two NBA titles to Houston in the mid-1990s, said he and the team are “just staying in contact” with each other at this point. He added that he enjoys his job as a TNT analyst and said it would take a fantastic offer to make him leave.

There’s more tonight from the Southwest Division:

  • The combine in Chicago is “an integral part of the draft process,” Pelicans GM Dell Demps told Jim Eichenhofer of NBA.com. Coaches, GMs and other team officials from around the league gather each year to watch prospects display their skills and get to know them on a personal basis. Demps said that contact is vital in preparing for the draft. “Most NBA coaches do not get the opportunity to watch college players during the NBA season [due to the 82-game schedule], so the combine is usually the first time they can watch them play in person,” he said.
  • The Pelicans spoke with Kentucky big man Skal Labissiere, according to Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv (Twitter link).
  • The Spurs and Grizzlies were among the nine teams that interviewed Kentucky sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis, relays Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv (Twitter link).
  • Seton Hall sophomore point guard Isaiah Whitehead had an interview with the Rockets, tweets Zach Braziller of The New York Post.

Rockets Notes: Howard, Smith, Hornacek

Almost everyone in the NBA expects Dwight Howard to opt out of his Rockets contract, writes Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel, but the Perry Rogers client wouldn’t confirm that he’ll do so when he spoke Tuesday on TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” insisting that he hasn’t made a decision and that he hasn’t thought about which team he’ll play for next season, Robbins notes. That’s in spite of an April report that identified four front-runners to sign Howard this summer. See more on Howard amid the latest on the Rockets.

  • The big man remains confident in the viability of his pairing with James Harden, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle relays. “I think we can [succeed together],” Howard said. “I believe we can. Both of us have to put our egos and our pride to the side and say, ‘Hey, we need each other to win.’ That’s the only way we’re going to win.”
  • Howard’s reputation hasn’t been the same since his messy split with the Magic four years ago, but he took strides toward repairing it with his charm and deft handling of the questions from the TNT panel Tuesday, Robbins believes. “I want to win,” Howard said. “That’s why I play this game, and I don’t want to finish my career and not be up on that podium.”
  • Still, no Rockets teammate was asking at season’s end for Howard to return, Watkins tweets, suggesting that it seems as though everyone assumes he’s leaving.
  • The Rockets completed scheduled interviews Tuesday with Kenny Smith and Jeff Hornacek and plan more interviews to come, a source told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com (ESPN Now link). Houston reportedly interviewed David Blatt on Monday and previously did so with Mike D’Antoni, Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell and Rockets assistant Chris Finch. Former interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff interviewed but took himself out of the running. A talk with Hornets assistant Stephen Silas is apparently on the docket and the team would reportedly like to interview Frank Vogel. The Rockets expressed interest in Lionel Hollins, Feigen reported, and college coaches Bill Self and Shaka Smart are said to intrigue the team. Still, Jeff Van Gundy seemingly remains the favorite.

Rockets To Interview Kenny Smith, Eye Frank Vogel

2:31pm: The Rockets have spoken to at least seven coaching candidates thus far, but they haven’t gone to James Harden for his input on any of them yet, a source told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com (ESPN Now link). Still, Alexander said the team would consult with the star shooting guard and the general belief is that the Rockets will before they make a hire (ESPN Now link).

2:01pm: Houston has spoken with the representatives for Frank Vogel, tweets Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. The Rockets have wanted to interview Vogel, as Stein reported last week. Feigen also pegs the timing of Hornacek’s interview, which he hears is scheduled for Tuesday, the same day as Smith’s.

1:20pm: The Rockets will interview Kenny Smith for their head coaching job Tuesday, sources tell Mark Berman of Fox 26 Houston (Twitter link). Marc Stein of ESPN.com first reported the candidacy of the TNT broadcaster last week. Smith shortly thereafter said he enjoys his television work but wouldn’t rule out taking the job. Rockets owner Leslie Alexander and GM Daryl Morey will be in the interview, according to Berman.

Smith, 51, was the starting point guard for Houston’s championship teams in 1994 and 1995. He was linked in December 2014 to the Kings head coaching vacancy, and Smith confirmed that he had conversations with Sacramento in 2013 about a front office position.

The Rockets are reportedly interviewing former Cavs coach David Blatt today in the midst of a broad search. Jeff Van Gundy appears to be the favorite, but the team is reportedly set to interview ex-Suns coach Jeff Hornacek and Hornets assistant Stephen Silas. NBA head coaching veterans Lionel Hollins and Mike D’Antoni, Clippers assistant and former Rockets point guard Sam Cassell and Rockets assistant Chris Finch are other reported candidates, according to earlier reports. College coaches Shaka Smart and Bill Self also apparently intrigue the team. Houston reportedly had mutual interest in Dave Joerger before he struck a deal with the Kings.

Coaching Rumors: Rockets, Lakers, Pacers

The major story on the coaching front is that the Pacers have parted ways with Frank Vogel, as we covered in detail here, but plenty more news is developing. Track the latest here:

9:31am updates:

  • Mike D’Antoni has already interviewed for the Rockets head coaching job, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.com, advancing an earlier report that he would do so this week.
  • TNT broadcaster Kenny Smith, whom Stein heard may interview for the Rockets vacancy, said on “Inside the NBA” Wednesday that he’d like to coach under the right circumstances but made it clear that he enjoys his television job, as Stein relays.
  • The Rockets are focused on proven NBA head coaches and up-and-coming assistants, sources emphasized Wednesday as they spoke with Stein. That casts doubt on the viability of Smith and college coaches Shaka Smart and Bill Self, who also reportedly intrigue the Rockets.
  • It became apparent to former Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff that the team wouldn’t formally make him its head coach, and that’s what prompted him to withdraw from consideration for the post, Stein also writes.
  • Incoming Lakers head coach Luke Walton counts Brian Shaw among the assistant coaching candidates for his staff, but executive Jim Buss was opposed to Shaw as a head-coaching option and many around the league are skeptical that Buss wants a Phil Jackson disciple like Shaw around, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical. Shaw served as a Lakers assistant under Jackson.
  • Belief around the league is rising that the Pacers will let go of Vogel, Stein writes. President of basketball operations Larry Bird has a press conference scheduled for 10am Central today, and it appears likely he’ll lend clarity to Vogel’s future at that time. The coach’s contract with the Pacers has already expired, as Wojnarowski indicates, citing league sources. Many coaching contracts carry until the end of June, as player contracts do, but apparently that’s not the case with Vogel, who made approximately $2.5MM this past season, according to Wojnarowski. The Vertical scribe speculates that Vogel could double that annual salary in his next job. Bird had yet to speak with Vogel about a new contract as of late Wednesday, league sources told Wojnarowski.

Latest On Rockets Coaching Search

9:46pm: The Rockets are intrigued by college coaches Shaka Smart (Texas) and Bill Self (Kansas), and also may seek to interview former Rocket and current broadcaster Kenny Smith, Stein relays (Twitter links).

9:08pm: Sixers associate head coach Mike D’Antoni will interview for the vacant post this week, Marc Stein of ESPN.com reports (Twitter links). Houston will also desire an interview with Frank Vogel if he is let go by the Pacers, Stein adds.

8:00pm: Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff has withdrawn from consideration for the team’s head coaching position after meeting with team ownership and front office personnel on Monday, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reports. Other NBA teams have now begun reaching out to Bickerstaff about available lead assistant positions, which is what he is now focusing on, the Vertical scribe adds, though Wojnarowski makes no mention of which teams have been in contact with the coach.

Houston intends to conduct a wide-ranging search for its next head coach, Wojnarowski relays. GM Daryl Morey and team owner Les Alexander met with Bickerstaff on Monday, as well as with Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell and Rockets assistant Chris Finch, league sources informed Wojnarowski. The Rockets are trying to arrange interviews with Jeff Hornacek and Hornets assistant Stephen Silas, league sources told Wojnarowski. The franchise also reportedly plans to interview former Cavs coach David Blatt, though reports peg former Rockets and Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy as the front-runner for the vacant post.

Bickerstaff posted a mark of 37-34 after taking over for the fired Kevin McHale, who got off to a 4-7 start to the campaign. Houston indicated that Bickerstaff would receive consideration to have his interim tag removed, but apparently guiding the team to the playoffs wasn’t enough to sell ownership on him as a viable long-term option.

Pacific Notes: Villanueva, Kings, Kobe, Suns

The Clippers have won 11 of their last 13 games and sit at 18-7, but they’d still be without home-court advantage in the first round if the playoffs started today. That helps explain why they reportedly remain interested in Corey Brewer, among others, given how high the bar is set in the Western Conference. Here’s more on the Clippers and their Pacific Division rivals:

  • Rick Carlisle‘s willingness to personally conduct workouts for Charlie Villanueva helped sell the veteran on signing with the Mavs this summer when the Clippers were also in hot pursuit, Villanueva said recently on Google Plus, as the Dallas Morning News transcribes. “Not to take nothing away from what the Clippers and Doc Rivers [are] doing, but it just felt right with Rick,” Villanueva said. “It was just a feeling. I went with a feeling in my gut and I feel like I made the right move.”
  • TNT’s Kenny Smith is among the names “floating around” for the Kings head coaching job, tweets Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com, though it’s unclear whether he’s truly a candidate. Smith had conversations with the Kings about a front office position in 2013, as he told Sam Amick of USA Today at that time.
  • Mitch Kupchak offered a little more wiggle room for the idea that Kobe Bryant would play past the expiration of his contract in 2016 when the Lakers GM spoke this week with Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio (audio link), observes Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. Kupchak earlier this month appeared to dismiss the notion of a prolonged career for Bryant.
  • Commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged that he and Suns owner Robert Sarver have had conversations about a new arena in Phoenix, observes Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic. Sarver raised the issue publicly earlier this year, though Silver on Wednesday cautioned that he doesn’t believe there’s an “imminent” need for a new building, Coro notes.
  • The Warriors have recalled Ognjen Kuzmic from the D-League, the team announced. It was just a one-day stint for the center, who juxtaposed an impressive five blocks against a paltry three points in 28 minutes of action Wednesday for Santa Cruz.

Candidates Emerge For Cavs GM Job

9:27pm: A new name has been mentioned as a possible candidate to replace Chris Grant. Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders.com (via Twitter), has heard that TNT analyst Kenny Smith might be considered for the position. Smith had previously had discussions with the Kings about their vacant GM job over the summer. Smith hasn’t commented yet, but when the Kings job was in play, he stated, “Honestly, I’ve been looking at both — coaching, and a lot of things have been coming these last couple of years, and this time I’ve been taking it serious. My kids are at an age where I feel comfortable. And the other years, the kids were just too young. I didn’t want to be in it. But I just started taking it serious.”

2:57pm: Interim GM David Griffin is expected to have a shot at keeping his job long-term, writes Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, but there are already other candidates. The Cavs have performed a background check on Knicks director of pro personnel Mark Hughes, and Cleveland is also expected to reach out to Raptors executive vice president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman, Berger reports. Berger’s sources also indicate Clippers executive vice president of player personnel Gary Sacks could become a candidate.

Weltman was a finalist for the Suns GM post this summer before Phoenix picked Ryan McDonough instead. He has family ties to the Cavs, for whom his father, Harry Weltman, served as GM in the 1980s. Berger suggests that Sacks could be anxious to seek greater control than he has with the Clippers, who took away some of his powers when they hired Doc Rivers.

Berger also expects the Cavs to pursue Phil Jackson, given owner Dan Gilbert’s affinity for splashy names, but that appears to be merely an educated guess. Berger names a handful of other qualified candidates, though none of them are formally linked to the job.

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