Former NBA Coach of the Year Mike Dunleavy Sr believes the Portland Trail Blazers were right to move on and rebuild the team after losing All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency.
Dunleavy Sr won the Coach of the Year award while in charge of the Orgeon team in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, his second season in a four-year tenure with the team which saw him reach the play-offs in every year and reach the Western Conference finals two years in a row.
The 61-year-old, who coached four teams in 17-years as a NBA head coach, has been impressed with the Blazers after they lost four of their five starters over the summer.
Terry Stotts' team had been fringe title contenders in recent years with their core of Aldridge, All-Star Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez. Injury continued to stunt their growth and after Aldridge opted to chase a title with the San Antonio Spurs, the team fell apart with Lillard the only player of their five still with the team.
They have won only four of 13 games this season but have been better than that record suggests.
"I do," says Dunleavy Sr when asked if the Blazers were right to start from scratch. "I think they were really smart in doing that quickly and I’m actually really surprised how well they’ve been playing.
"They’re obviously guard-centric right now with Lillard and CJ McCollum and even Alan Crabbe has started to play pretty well as a young player. They put themselves in the position that they traded away money and they got drop picks.
"I think they've made themselves very nimble going forward to help them turn this thing around as quickly as possible, but in the meantime I’ve been pretty impressed with the way they’ve been playing."
Dunleavy Sr was most recently in charge of the Los Angeles Clippers, where he spent six and a half years before resigning in 2010.
Under current coach Doc Rivers and with star trio Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan the Clippers have been one of the better teams in the NBA with four straight trips to the play-offs but they have been, so far, unable to get past the Conference semi-finals.
Last year they held a 3-1 series over the Houston Rockets, just one win from the Conference Finals, but a tired and thin squad were unable to win any of their next three and were eliminated.
Dunleavy Sr is still confident the Paul-Griffin-Jordan axis is good enough to get over the hump and win a title, as long as they get enough help from their bench.
"I think they do, but I think what it will come down to is their bench," he added. "Ultimately, I think that’s where they have altered. I think they’ve taken some risks in the off season, they’ve done what they had to do.
"First thing, they were able to retain DeAndre Jordan, but they’ve taken on a couple of wild cards in Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith, guys that have a lot of talent, but have strayed at times, so, that’s going to be the challenge there. They get guys who have a lot of talent and then you see if they can play the way they need to play. Lance Stephenson a couple of years ago, he led Indiana and maybe even the league with triple-doubles, so that’s a great stat and if he can be that guy that’s great.
"Josh Smith is a tremendously talented guy. At one point I talked to him as a free agent. His best attributes are as a power forward who plays with a lot of energy, can track people down, block shots and can make plays, but I think he’s got to be more restrained on his three-point shots. He hasn’t yet proven to me that he should get the green light and this is something they need to really monitor."
Dunleavy Jr started his head coaching career with the Los Angeles Lakers but after losing to Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls in the Finals in his first season, he lasted one more season before moving to the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Lakers, arguably the league's most storied franchise, are currently enduring one of the worst spells in their history. They've not reached the play-offs since 2012 and future Hall of Fame guard Kobe Bryant is now 37 and after injuries is more of a detriment to the team than an asset.
Dunleavy Sr says the Lakers should aim to be near the bottom of the league in order to keep a high draft pick.
"[The Lakers] probably need to be in the bottom three teams this season and then they will get to keep their pick," he said. "If they get another good draft pick this year as well as have money from their expiring contracts, especially Kobe’s contract, then they will need to have a good off season, draft wise and free agency wise."
And a prediction for the NBA Finals?
"Golden State and Cleveland. But I wouldn’t be surprised if San Antonio or Oklahoma City could do it. I’ll give the edge to Golden State again. I think offensively and defensively they’re too good."
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