Trans. Aug 8 11:04 ET (Aug 8 11:04 ET ) It was supposed to be Alonzo Mourning’s year. It was the summer of 2000, and Michael Jordan had long since gone away. The Knicks had traded Patrick Ewing, and embraced a rebuilding plan of sorts. The Indiana Pacers had made the Finals the season before, but they restructured the team’s roster in the wake of Rik Smits’ retirement. The Bucks couldn’t get their act together. Allen Iverson and Vince Carter’s teams, seemingly, were not ready to rule the Eastern Conference. The East was open for the taking. Knowing this, Pat Riley went to work. He maneuvered on draft night to pick up shooter Eddie House, and stalwart scorer Chris Gatling. Months later, Gatling was used as an asset to acquire power forward Brian Grant in a three-way deal. A few weeks before that, Riley sent longtime Heat forwards P.J. Brown and Jamal Mashburn to Charlotte for Eddie Jones and Anthony Mason. These may not seem like huge moves in 2014, but during that era Grant was an emerging star, Jones was routinely on the All-Star team, and Mason ended up making his first All-Star game later that season. To top things off, Riley also re-signed franchise point man Tim Hardaway. All would be in Miami to support the heart and soul of the franchise, the aforementioned Mr. Mourning, who was coming off of winning a gold medal in the Sydney Olympics. Long after the published NBA season preview issues hit the stands, Mourning would take in a life-altering diagnosis. “Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis” was the call, a kidney condition that can be exacerbated by the typical NBA player’s reliance on anti-inflammatory pills. Alonzo would be out for an indefinite amount of time, his dream season scuttled, his best chance at a ring taken away. Mourning would return later that season, but in a diminished state he was never a dominant contributor. The Heat were swept out of the playoffs that season, and though Zo would make an All-Star team for a lottery-bound Miami squad the next season, he just wasn’t the same player. Mourning sat out all of 2002-03 while receiving a kidney transplant, only returning as a bit player of sorts for the New Jersey Nets. Zo got that ring as a reserve for the Heat in 2006, and he retired after suffering a torn patella during the 2007-08 season. It’s not a sad story, but it’s a story that is missing some parts. Mourning never earned a ring as the lead horse on a championship contender, and he fell short of an MVP award during his best season. The story is typical for many of Mourning’s Jordan-era contemporaries, with the caveat that unlike Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing or John Stockton, Alonzo’s prime came after Jordan’s retirement. Alonzo wouldn’t call that a disappointment, though. This is a foster kid that worked as a 6-10 (maybe) center during the NBA’s last great era full of 7-plus big men. His offensive game was never astounding – all dunks, righty jump hooks, and short baseline jumpers – but after eight seasons as a pro he was averaging over 20 points per game on his career. He remained a mindful team defender and killer post defender all while averaging more blocks per minute than anyone in NBA history. (Since they started keeping the stat, at least. We hear you from down here, Wilt.) Mourning’s teams were always foiled by demons, though. His squads were toppled by the Bulls, a lineup featuring Will Perdue and then Luc Longley at starting center, in three consecutive postseasons. Alonzo, and there is absolutely no excuse for this, completely sandblasted his team’s chances at winning a title by getting into a notorious and needless late-game fight in Game Four of the first round of the 1998 NBA playoffs with former teammate Larry Johnson, earning himself a suspension for the series-deciding Game Five against the New York Knicks (working without an injured Patrick Ewing), with a Knicks win sending his 55-win Heat home way too early. His best season came the next year, he should have won the MVP (Malone earned his second trophy that year), but his top-seeded Heat lost to the Knicks in the first round yet again – the first top overall playoff seed to lose in the first round in Eastern Conference postseason history. New York also toppled the Heat in 2000. Six consecutive playoff ousters at the hands of just two teams. From there came the illness, and the decline. From there also came the gold medal, that eventual championship ring (after a Finals series that saw Mourning outplay a weary and overweight Shaquille O’Neal off the Heat bench), his rightful lionization, and deserved Hall of Fame induction. As unfortunate as it may have been to see Mourning cut down in his prime, and as frightening as the diagnosis and eventual transplant may have been, you get the feeling that an unbowed Alonzo Mourning will take all of it. - - - - - - - Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KDonhoops
In the end, as is usually the case, Kobe Bryant got what he wanted. We hope he’s happy.
The Los Angeles Lakers are in negotiations to bring Byron Scott back into the Laker family as head coach – ESPN was the first to report the interest , which Marc Spears discussed here . The 53-year-old won three championship rings as a Lakers shooting guard during the 1980s, and his final season in the NBA was on a team that featured Bryant in his rookie year. Since then, Scott has had an up-and-down career as a head coach, with some wondering if his final season with the Cleveland Cavaliers would be the last we see of Scott as a leading man.
Patience paid out, apparently, as Scott and the Lakers had shown mutual interest and engaged in several interviews in the weeks since Los Angeles and former head coach Mike D’Antoni decided to part ways on April 30 . Byron had been on Los Angeles’ radar, but it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not he took it as a slap to the face that Lakers general manager (and former Lakers teammate) Mitch Kupchak waited nearly three months to make a formal offer.
It’s not Scott had much choice in the matter. He spent three disastrous years with the post (and pre)-LeBron James Cavaliers, years that saw the team’s young players show little in the way of player development, running one of the league’s worst defenses along the way. It’s true that he was asked to coach a team in rebuilding mode – even if the Cavaliers owner and general manager at the time refused to go into such a mode following James’ departure – but the abject lack of movement up the standings wore on Scott’s critics.
Scott was well-liked by his players, though, as reportedly he eased off the Pat Riley-styled practices that marked his time as coach of the New Jersey Nets and the then-New Orleans Hornets.
After several years as an assistant, Scott started his head-coaching career by making the daring move of establishing a Princeton-like offense in New Jersey despite the presence of the ball-dominating Jason Kidd. Flanked by a solid core of assistant coaches in Eddie Jordan and Lawrence Frank, Scott’s Nets thrived defensively, making two NBA Finals at the lowest ebb of the Eastern Conference’s bad 15 years off.
Kidd and Scott eventually clashed, and with the Nets working with a mediocre record midway through the next season, the team replaced Scott with Lawrence Frank, who rebounded nicely in New Jersey with the addition of Vince Carter the following season.
Byron was off to New Orleans next, where he worked two miserable years (and the team’s partial relocation to Oklahoma City for a season following Hurricane Katrina) before turning things around with Chris Paul at the helm. After a surprising playoff run in 2008, Scott was awarded the Coach of the Year, but injuries and poor long-term planning turned the Hornets into a middling team before long, and Scott was let go in 2009.
Cleveland gobbled him up just days before LeBron left, and we know how that turned out. Los Angeles, at the moment, offers about as much promise.
The Lakers are in a year-long holding pattern, waiting out 2014-15 in order to hopefully pounce on a veteran free agent to pair with Kobe Bryant as he enters the winter of his career. After missing out on Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James this offseason, the Lakers made a point to trade for (Jeremy Lin) and sign (Carlos Boozer, while Ed Davis and Jordan Hill have player and team options for next summer) contributors who won’t have to be on the books past next season. This isn’t dissimilar to what Dallas has been dealing with over the past few offseasons, but the Lakers’ core isn’t nearly as inspiring in spite of Kobe’s presence.
Scott has no idea what he’ll get from point guard Steve Nash this season, or even if Nash will be around when the season starts, as the Lakers could still use the stretch provision on his contract (as it would potentially limit the team’s cap space next season and in 2016, it isn’t likely). Lin has never found a comfortable long-term setting in his nascent NBA career, Boozer is fading, and Bryant can’t possibly be the same player he once was at his age and after playing just six games in the previous 18 months as he enters 2014-15.
On the surface, Byron Scott seems like an uninspired pick, especially as the team reportedly chose the former Laker over a more celebrated candidate in George Karl . Scott could be a retread who has some success with good players, one that might not be the best coach for Bryant at this point in Bryant’s career, as he looks to protect his aging and surgically repaired legs. Kobe’s a competitor, though, and he’s getting older – and older players want someone they’re familiar with, even if Byron is going to put Bryant through his paces.
Maybe that’s what Kobe Bryant needs at this point in his career, and the glass-half-full outlook could tell you that year and a half off was a needed tonic for his ancient wheels. Maybe Scott, a Lakers legend, has learned quite a bit since his ouster from Cleveland. Maybe he’ll unleash some stellar young assistant who can make a difference. Maybe there’s some magic to be developed between the veteran trio of Bryant, Nash and Boozer, with a dash of Julius Randle’s fantastic potential tossed in.
Or, it could be another snoozer of a season. The Lakers may finally have their coach, but we’re about to relearn that it’s always about the players.
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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KDonhoops
The Dallas Mavericks have signed free agent forward Richard Jefferson as a possible replacement for Vince Carter off the bench. Jefferson started 78 games for Utah last year but figures to be used as a 3-point threat coming off the bench. The 34-year-old Jefferson has averaged 14.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in a 13-year career that started in New Jersey, where he went to the NBA Finals twice with Jason Kidd and Carter.
Vince Carter, heading into his 17th NBA season, doesn't consider age a big issue anymore. So the opportunity to compete for a title drew the eight-time All Star to Memphis, even though the Grizzlies have a bunch of 30-somethings in Zach Randolph, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince. ''I just see they're playoff-ready and just see what I bring to the table,'' Carter said Monday. Go as far as possible and hopefully hold up that O'Brien trophy here in Memphis.
Vince Carter, heading into his 17th NBA season, doesn't consider age a big issue anymore. So the opportunity to compete for a title drew him to Memphis, even though the Grizzlies have a bunch of 30-somethings in Zach Randolph, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince. Carter said Monday he sees plenty of weapons in Memphis and hopes he can help get the Grizzlies over the hump in the playoffs. The Grizzlies introduced Carter on Monday after signing him to a reported three-year, $12 million contract.