Los Angeles Lakers ‘part ways’ with coach Luke Walton after three seasons

Ben Rohrbach | Yahoo Sports

Luke Walton fell victim to unreasonable expectations.

Despite (mostly) steady annual improvement since a franchise-worst 17 wins in 2015-16, save for this drama-filled and injury-riddled campaign, the Los Angeles Lakers parted ways with Walton Friday following his third season at the helm and first directing LeBron James, calling it a mutual agreement in the press release.

“We would like to thank Luke for his dedicated service over the last three years,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said in a late Friday news dump of a statement. “We wish Luke and his family the best of luck moving forward.”

“I want to thank Jeanie Buss and the Buss family for giving me the opportunity to coach the Lakers,” added Walton, a former Lakers player and the son of a Hall of Famer. “This franchise and the city will always be special to me and my family.”

The 38-year-old posted a 98-148 record at the command of the Lakers, but the first-time head coach’s lack of success in L.A. is far more nuanced than that.

Walton inherited a team that was ripped to the studs by Kobe Bryant’s retirement tour and propped up by a pair of the NBA’s worst contracts — Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov, one of whom is still cashing checks not to play for the Lakers and the other of whom cost them their No. 2 pick from 2015 in a salary dump. Starless and cap-strapped is not the best starting point, but Walton built the crop of draft picks who followed into a team attractive enough to lure LeBron to Los Angeles.

LeBron’s arrival, along with the hirings of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka to run the front office, came with playoff — and title — expectations. This, despite the fact that Johnson and Pelinka put their team-building effort on hold until 2019 by signing a cast of characters to one-year deals. There was every reason to believe the piecemeal Lakers would start slow and struggle to challenge the Western Conference elite at the jump, so naturally Johnson admonished Walton for both his offensive and defensive schemes in a meeting eight games into the season.

All that said, Walton’s Lakers were in fourth place, two losses out of the No. 2 seed, when LeBron suffered a groin injury on Christmas that cost him three weeks and lingered until he was shut down for good. Season-ending injuries to Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram also followed. The Lakers predictably fell out of the playoff picture. The team also engaged in trade talks with the New Orleans Pelicans to acquire Anthony Davis that included half the roster and ultimately failed. Even the Lakers concede this created a chemistry problem that contributed to the team’s tailspin.

None of this was Walton’s fault. You can only accomplish so much when your front office hands you a star, demolishes the locker room, and that star strains his groin.

Earlier reports suggested Lakers owner Jeanie Buss would resist efforts to put Walton on the chopping block, but she recently softened on that stance, and the front office apparently convinced the powers that be that the coach was culpable for the slip in the standings, not LeBron’s injury or an oddly constructed roster. It seemed only a matter of time that Walton would get the axe, particularly after Johnson informed us during his bizarre resignation press conference that Buss had granted him permission to fire Walton — and that he was afraid to do it himself.

In his wake, Walton leaves a pair of No. 2 overall picks who failed to meet the projections the Lakers set for them and two late first-round picks who exceeded all expectations in their first two seasons. His record was a mixed bag, to be sure.

Now, the Lakers must find a coach who balances the weight of Lakers and LeBron exceptionalism with the player development of Ingram, Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart. Candidates range from the forgotten to the familiar, with a host of unproven prospects in between. There is no guarantee that the next coach will be better than Walton, and there is no evidence to suggest Pelinka can find one who is. The hope for the Lakers is that whoever is hired to replace Johnson is capable of finding the right fit. The one sure bet is that the Lakers will consider every coach whose name would look good on an L.A. marquee. Don’t be surprised if Phil Jackson is involved.

From Mike Brown to Erik Spoelstra to David Blatt and Tyronn Lue, LeBron has clashed with every coach he has ever had, save for Walton — as far as we know. Understanding the learning curve, LeBron previously pledged support for Walton following Johnson’s admonishment. The next coach will surely have LeBron’s endorsement upon his or her hiring, but there are no assurances beyond that.

Meanwhile, Walton’s name will appear in every other coaching search around the NBA. The 39-year-old’s résumé includes a 39-4 start as interim coach of the Golden State Warriors during their 73-win 2015-16 campaign. There have been offensive struggles in L.A., for sure, but the Lakers’ dearth of 3-point shooters in an era when that shot has taken hold did not do Walton any favors.

The Lakers’ defense under Walton improved from dead last in Year 1 to 13th in Year 2 and top-10 before this year’s late-season landslide. That is the sort of year-over-year growth most rebuilding teams like to see from a young roster, despite Johnson’s belief otherwise.

That the Lakers expected anything more from a team that lost LeBron for a good chunk of the season makes you wonder if they were looking for any excuse to fire Walton and bring in their guy. The organization has yet to hire a replacement for Johnson, and yet they have a short list of coaching candidates, according to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes: Tyronn Lue, Monty Williams and Mark Jackson. That seems like a strange order of operations. The new front office only gets one chance to fire the incumbent, and next time any shortfall of expectations will be on them.

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2019 NBA Playoffs: First-round matchups, schedule and odds

Nick Schwartz | USA TODAY SPORTS

The 2019 NBA Playoffs are upon us, and while the Golden State Warriors are favored once again to win the NBA championship, both conferences are far more unpredictable in 2019 – especially with LeBron James out of the East.

First-round matchups will begin Saturday, April 13th, with eight of the 16 playoff teams in action. Here are the matchups and schedule for each conference:

1. Bucks (60-22) vs 8. Pistons (41-41)
Game 1: April 14
Game 2: April 17
Game 3: April 20
Game 4: April 22
Game 5*: April 23
Game 6*: April 25
Game 7*: April 27
*If necessary

© AP Photo/Aaron Gash

2. Raptors (58-24) vs. 7. Magic (42-40)
Game 1: April 13
Game 2: April 16
Game 3: April 19
Game 4: April 21
Game 5*: April 22
Game 6*: April 24
Game 7*: April 26
*If necessary

© John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

3. 76ers (51-31) vs. 6. Nets (42-40)
Game 1: April 13
Game 2: April 15
Game 3: April 18
Game 4: April 20
Game 5*: April 22
Game 6*: April 24
Game 7*: April 26
*If necessary

© AP Photo/Darron Cummings

4. Celtics (49-33) vs. 5. Pacers (48-34)
Game 1: April 14
Game 2: April 17
Game 3: April 19
Game 4: April 21
Game 5*: April 23
Game 6*: April 25
Game 7*: April 27
*If necessary

© AP Photo/Winslow Townson

1. Warriors (57-25) vs. 8. Clippers (48-34)
Game 1: April 13
Game 2: April 15
Game 3: April 18
Game 4: April 21
Game 5*: April 23
Game 6*: April 25
Game 7*: April 27
*If necessary

© AP Photo/Brandon Dill

2. Nuggets (54-28) vs. 7. Spurs (48-34)
Game 1: April 13
Game 2: April 16
Game 3: April 18
Game 4: April 20
Game 5*: April 22
Game 6*: April 24
Game 7*: April 26
*If necessary

© AP Photo/David Zalubowski

3. Blazers (53-29) vs. 6. Thunder (49-33)
Game 1: April 14
Game 2: April 16
Game 3: April 19
Game 4: April 21
Game 5*: April 22
Game 6*: April 24
Game 7*: April 26
*If necessary

© AP Photo/David Zalubowski

4. Rockets (53-29) vs. 5 Jazz (50-32)
Game 1: April 14
Game 2: April 17
Game 3: April 20
Game 4: April 22
Game 5*: April 23
Game 6*: April 25
Game 7*: April 27
*If necessary

© Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images

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NBA Playoffs: Odds for every first round series

Charles Curtis | USA TODAY SPORTS

The NBA playoffs are about to tip off, starting on Saturday.

That means it’s time to get your bets in whether it’s on who’s winning the NBA Finals or one of these first round series below.

Although you may not be coming to this post for gambling advice, I’ll give you some anyway: There are only a couple of teams I’d throw money on. The Brooklyn Nets look like a serious value bet since they may have a shot at the Philadelphia 76ers if Joel Embiid is out, and the Oklahoma City Thunder have decent enough odds that I’d bet on them even as favorites.

All odds courtesy of PointsBet:

Milwaukee Bucks (-10000) vs. Detroit Pistons (+1600)

Toronto Raptors (-1250) vs. Orlando Magic (+700)

Boston Celtics (-358) vs. Indiana Pacers (+290)

Philadelphia 76ers (-501) vs. Brooklyn Nets (+360)

Golden State Warriors (-10000) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (+1600)

Denver Nuggets (-213) vs. San Antonio Spurs (+171)

Portland Trail Blazers (+105) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (-130)

Houston Rockets (-278) vs. Utah Jazz (+221)

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NBA surpasses MLB as America’s second-biggest sports league

Get used to it, baseball: NBA teams pass MLB in average value for first time ever

Jack Baer | Yahoo Sports

It’s been a long time coming, but it might be time to finally make it official: The NBA has surpassed MLB as America’s second-biggest sports league.

That’s the conclusion that rang out with Forbes’ annual team valuations, which attempts to put a number on the dollar value of each team in the four major North American sports leagues. For the first time ever, the average NBA team’s value came in above the average MLB team.

As usual, the NFL reigned supreme while the NHL represented a somewhat distant fourth place.

Of course, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and the owners of the league’s 30 teams probably aren’t going to panic over this news. They are still very rich.

The very lucrative numbers of MLB vs. NBA

The value of the average MLB team actually increased by eight percent, per Forbes. Every MLB team is also now worth at least $1 billion, a first in the history of the list, and revenues and incomes are at an all-time high.

Predictably, the New York Yankees sit comfortably at the top in value at $4.6 billion, more than $1 billion ahead of second place, with a revenue of $668 million. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants round out the top five, with every team topping $3 billion.

On the NBA side, a New York team again tops the list with the Knicks coming in at $4 billion. The rest of the top five is composed of the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics. Essentially, it’s good business to be the dominant sports team in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and the Bay Area.

Ranking last for MLB are the league’s two teams in Florida, the 29th place Tampa Bay Rays and last place Miami Marlins. The NBA’s bottom team is the Memphis Grizzlies. Despite that ignominious position, the teams’ owners can’t exactly cry poor; all three teams top $1 billion in value with an annual revenue above $200 million.

So business is still booming for MLB, and will likely continue to do so for some time. Then why are so many people ready to pronounce the sport is dying? Well, the league’s eight percent growth is well short of its competitors. NBA teams averaged a whopping 13 percent growth, while the NFL, which is dealing with arguably even bigger long-term problems than MLB, spiked by 12 percent.

What MLB is really dealing with is slowed growth compared to its competitors, and missed opportunities over the past several years.

Why is MLB falling behind the NBA?

To the league’s credit, it got into the online streaming game well ahead of any other league and was rewarded with MLB.tv, a streaming service strong enough that a majority stake in its spin-off was sold to Disney for more than $2.5 billion.

However, that’s where the good news stops for MLB. Here are some of the biggest self-created problems facing the league:

Video restrictions: This could be the big one. MLB has been infamously restrictive with its video highlights, to the point that tweets with gifs of big plays are routinely taken down on social media. Just Wednesday, Baseball America, the preeminent outlet for minor league coverage, announced it had been forbidden from posting footage of prospects at minor league games. While doing this keeps MLB’s rights-holders happy, it also crushes the ability of the game to gain popularity with younger fans on social media, which is partially how the NBA has skyrocketed in recent years.

Buttoned-down culture: For more than a century, baseball players have abided by the code of professionalism to the absolute max. No bat flips to celebrate home runs, no openly admiring your handiwork unless you want to start a fight, just generally no expression of joy that could show up another player. While baseball values its historic tradition more than any other sport, those traditions also frequently suppress personality in the game, especially among players of color. As individual star power and personality drive the NBA’s popularity, it’s worth wondering where MLB would be if its players were encouraged to look like they were having more fun while playing the game.

Lack of star power: This ties into the previous problem again, but it really needs to be its own thing when the commissioner of the league outright says he doesn’t know how to market the best player in the league. We might be watching the greatest player in the history of baseball in Mike Trout right now, and yet he didn’t even rank in ESPN’s list of the world’s 100 most famous athletes. Only one baseball player (No. 99 Bryce Harper) made the list, compared to 16 basketball players.

Youth baseball expenses: One of the most disturbing trends for baseball is the excessive price of youth baseball. Between its equipment and fees for top leagues, baseball travel can cost thousands of dollars. Some families can afford that; others might just have their kid play another sport. That leads to two problems: Baseball loses a large pool of future pros that didn’t grow up in wealthy families, and it also loses fans down the line when people don’t have as much personal experience playing during their childhood.

Some of the problems above might be fixable, but the overall trend seems to be MLB closing itself off from future markets to maximize the present. So, yes, MLB teams are very lucrative. And yet, the average fan age creeps closer to retirement age and polls find that less than seven percent of Americans under the age of 55 consider baseball to be their favorite sport.

That might not be so sustainable.

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