Piano playing a part in fine-tuning rising star Auger-Aliassime

Felix Auger-Aliassime has been tickling the ivories during his time off, which is music to the ears of coach Frederic Fontang.

Striking the right note off court can help Felix Auger-Aliassime call the tune and become one of tennis’ great entertainers.

That is what is being preached by Frederic Fontang, one of two coaches nurturing the talent of a teenage prodigy who has experienced a rapid rise this season.

Auger-Aliassime only turned 18 last August, but the Canadian has carried big expectations on his shoulders since becoming the youngest player to win a main-draw match on the ATP Challenger Tour aged only 14.

The Montreal native fuelled further hype when he was crowned US Open boys champion in 2016, before going on to win four Challenger titles.

Auger-Aliassime has soared to new heights this year, becoming the youngest ever Miami Open semi-finalist last week after marching into a first ATP Tour final in Rio back in February.

After climbing from outside the top 100 to 33rd in the space of six weeks, the gifted youngster is enjoying some hard-earned time off before starting his clay-court season.

Fontang – who shares coaching responsibilities with Guillaume Marx – believes some alternative fine-tuning is playing a key part in the development of a player who would have become an artist if his tennis career had not taken off.

“After what Felix achieved in Miami, it was great that he could have two weeks off before the Monte Carlo Masters,” Fontang told Omnisport.

“He went back to Montreal and has time to recover, which is really important. He will of course do some work on his game and fitness training, but can also have time to relax.

“He likes to play the piano, so no doubt he will be doing that in his time off. Sometimes when there is a piano when we are touring, he will play.

“He played at Indian Wells, because there was a piano in the lobby. His sister was playing as well, it is something he really enjoys. It is not really something I have known a player to do and I think it is great.”

 

It may not be long before he is tickling the ivories to celebrate winning a first ATP Tour title, but Frenchman Fontang says it is important not to expect too much so early in his career.

Fontang, in his third season coaching Auger-Aliassime, added: “We are really focused on the development, everybody will be looking at his results and seeing when he is going to win but it’s very important that we stay focused on the process.

“We know he has the firepower, is very athletic and is a good server, but we have to keep working on the precision and the transition to the net for him to improve on all surfaces. There will be no prediction on what he can achieve, it is all about the development of his game now.”

Fontang was prepared to serve up a verdict on an exciting crop of Next Gen players that will be music to the ears of tennis fanatics.

He said: “When we see the spectacular game of players such as Felix, [Denis] Shapovalov, [Alexander] Zverev, [Stefanos] Tsitsipas etc, we can see there is a lot of quality young players and it is exciting. They have interesting personalities and athletic games, so it is very positive for tennis.”

 

Pelicans’ Anthony Davis flips off fan, prompting NBA investigation

The NBA is investigating an incident in which Pelicans star Anthony Davis was caught on video giving the one-fingered salute to the crowd.

Anthony Davis’ one-finger salute after the Pelicans’ home loss Wednesday against the Hornets didn’t go unnoticed.

The New Orleans star was caught on camera after the game flipping off the crowd, which has prompted an NBA investigation, Yahoo Sports reported, citing unidentified sources.

Davis was in street clothes and had been ruled out of the game with a back injury that sidelined for the previous three games. It’s unclear what triggered him to make the obscene gesture as he exited the court after the game.

The spectator who originally videoed the incident said in a series of tweets that an older man behind him was upset he had spent money on season tickets and that Davis had been sidelined for a good chunk of the season.

“Long story short the old dude in the stands behind me flipped AD off first because he was upset that he spent so much money on season tickets and all AD has been doing is sitting out, then AD responded,” the spectator, identified as Bradley Wehmeyer, posted.

A Pelicans fan account on Instagram posted an alleged exchange between it and Davis that seemed to echo the spectator’s account (warning: explicit content).

Pelicans fans have had mixed feelings about Davis ever since he requested to be dealt before the NBA trade deadline. There were talks of him being traded to the Lakers, but L.A. pulled out of negotiations reportedly because New Orleans demanded too much for Davis.

As a result, Davis remained with the Pelicans but likely will be traded during the offseason.

On top of that, Davis has been battling injuries and has played in just 15 of the team’s 22 games since he asked to be traded.

While the incident with the fan doesn’t appear to be racially motivated — like Russell Westbrook’s encounter with a Jazz fan earlier this season — the league has been cracking down of fans verbally abusing players.

Davis very well could face a fine, much like Westbrook did when he retaliated against the Jazz fan.

Steve Kerr on LeBron James missing playoffs: ‘I’m disappointed for him’

The Lakers haven’t made the postseason since 2012-13 but were optimistic they could make a run after signing James in the offseason.

Steve Kerr expressed disappointment for LeBron James over the Lakers being eliminated early from playoff contention, but Kerr praised L.A. coach Luke Walton for the way he’s handled the season and “the storm that has been thrown” at his team.

This season marks only the third time in James’ 16-season career that the four-time MVP has missed the postseason. After entering the season with high hopes, the Lakers hold a 35-43 record and are sitting 11th in the Western Conference heading into Thursday’s game against the Warriors.

“We got so used to playing him in Cleveland and when a star player changes uniforms it always takes them a while to get used to it,” Kerr told reporters. “I’m disappointed for him and for the Lakers. I want everybody to be healthy every year. It’s better for the league, it’s better for all the people involved.”

The Lakers dealt with several setbacks this season as much of their roster was injured at some point during the season. James (groin), Brandon Ingram (shoulder), Lonzo Ball (ankle) and Josh Hart (knee) have been shut down for the season. Co-owner Jeanie Buss says the Lakers had their entire squad available to play in just five games all season.

Kerr said he isn’t concerned about the future of the Lakers, and believes Walton, his former assistant, has done a good job of keeping the team together.

“Luke is one of my best friends and it’s been a tough season to try and navigate and so I feel bad for everyone involved. But like I said, it’s sort of part of it,” Kerr added. “He’s holding up fine. Luke is born for this job, he really is. Not only his basketball mind, which is top notch, but the guy has as good of a feel for the game than anybody I’ve ever been around.

“His temperament is perfect for this job, for this league. There’s just so many ups and downs that you have to be relatively even keeled in this position, otherwise you’re just going to wear yourself out so I think Luke’s done a great job keeping poise and keeping his team playing.”

The Lakers haven’t made the postseason since 2012-13, but were optimistic they could make a run after signing James to a four-year contract during the offseason.

Mancini slams ‘unacceptable’ Kean abuse, says Bonucci ‘misunderstood’

Leonardo Bonucci has come under fire for his comments about abuse directed at Moise Kean but his national coach says he was “misunderstood”.

Italy head coach Roberto Mancini has described the alleged racist abuse of Moise Kean as “unacceptable” but believes the comments of his team-mate Leonardo Bonucci have been “misunderstood”.

Kean’s fine display in his side’s 2-0 Serie A win against Cagliari on Tuesday was overshadowed by allegations of racist chanting against the 19-year-old, who scored Juve’s second goal.

The Italy international celebrated his late strike in front of Cagliari’s supporters amid ongoing abuse, and Bonucci said after the match that Kean should take some of the blame for the taunts because he incited the home crowd.

Bonucci’s international team-mate Mario Balotelli reacted strongly to his comments, writing on Kean’s Instagram post: “Bravo! And tell Bonucci that he’s lucky I wasn’t there. Instead of defending you he does that? Wow, I am honestly shocked.”

The Italy defender later clarified his remarks via social media, saying that he was “too hasty” in expressing his thoughts and “firmly condemned racism”.

Mancini thinks Bonucci’s initial response has been misinterpreted and is concerned the fallout from it is overshadowing the alleged behaviour of Cagliari’s supporters.

“The attitude used against Kean was unacceptable,” he told reporters.

“Racist behaviour must be stigmatised so that it can be no more. Positions must be taken. We must also be tough so that these things stop happening.

“Kean’s still a boy. Maybe next time he won’t celebrate like he did, but he probably felt in distress.

“I think Bonucci was misunderstood. Now it seems that the important thing was the controversy between Balotelli and Bonucci, instead of what happened on the field.

“We must ensure that these things don’t happen again. As for the national team, we’ll see whether we call all three up.”

Italy’s next fixture is a Euro 2020 qualifier against Greece on June 8, which is followed three days later with another Group J clash against Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Josh Richardson injury update: Heat guard (groin) out two weeks, report says

Richardson leads the Heat in scoring with a career-best 16.6 points per game. His injury is a blow to Miami’s shot at making the playoffs.

Heat guard Josh Richardson will miss the rest of the regular season because of a groin injury he suffered Wednesday night, despite an MRI exam showing no structural damage, ESPN.com reported Thursday, citing unidentified sources.

His absence — projected at two weeks, with only a week to go in the regular season — puts a large hole in the Heat’s offense and is a blow to Miami’s chances of qualifying for the playoffs as the regular season winds down.

Richardson, 25, has been described as one of the Heat’s shining lights this year as he leads the team in scoring with a career-best 16.6 points per game while also averaging 4.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds.

The fourth-year pro left Wednesday’s 112-102 loss to the Celtics with eight minutes to play in the third quarter and didn’t return after falling awkwardly while trying to block a layup by Kyrie Irving. He finished with just seven points in 16 minutes.

“I was obviously concerned when he left the game,” veteran teammate Dwyane Wade said afterward (via the Miami Herald ). “At first you just thought maybe he got hit the wrong way. But the way he left the game, you knew it wasn’t. So we’re definitely concerned about him. This time of the year is a bad time for injuries.”

The scoring onus could fall on Wade, who is facing the end of his career if the team doesn’t make the playoffs. He’s averaging 14.5 points per game, same as Goran Dragic, behind only Richardson.

Fellow guards Dion Waiters, Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington could see their minutes increase, too.

Wednesday’s loss to Boston, along with a Magic win and losses by the Pistons and Nets, dropped the Heat (38-40) from eighth to ninth in the Eastern Conference.

Entering Thursday’s play, Miami is a half-game behind the eighth-place Magic and seventh-place Nets and a game back of the Pistons. The Herald noted just how tight things are in the East: While the loss to the Celtics dropped the Heat to ninth and outside the playoff picture, a win would’ve pushed Miami all the way up to sixth in the conference.

 

The Heat have four games to play, starting with a two-game trip beginning Friday against the Timberwolves. After Sunday’s game at Toronto, Miami closes with a home game Tuesday against the 76ers and a road game to close the season at Brooklyn.

“Obviously, we always say one-game-at-a-time mentality. But it’s a tight race,” Justise Winslow said. “We’re watching other teams, and they’re watching us. But we can only control what we can control.”

 

NBA free agency news: 76ers add depth by signing Greg Monroe

The 76ers signed Greg Monroe for the rest of the season, the team announced Thursday.

The 76ers are adding depth.

Philadelphia signed veteran center Greg Monroe for the rest of the season, the team announced Thursday.

The 28-year-old big man began the season with the Raptors, where he averaged 4.7 points and four rebounds before being sent to the Nets at the trade deadline. Brooklyn then released Monroe and he inked a 10-day contract with the Celtics in late March. Monroe became a free agent again when Boston declined to extend his initial deal.

The former Georgetown star was originally selected by the Pistons with the seventh pick in the 2010 draft. He has tallied 13.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game over his nine-year career.

Monroe is expected play in the playoffs and to provide the 76ers with an insurance policy behind Joel Embiid on the depth chart. The star has missed the team’s last three games with a knee injury.

Philadelphia’s signing of Monroe, however, “has nothing to do” with Embiid’s health issues, according to a report from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“This is not sort of a reaction to symptoms,” coach Brett Brown said recently about Embiid. “It’s just load management. Again, we’re just trying to be smart and deliver him to play in the playoffs ready to go.

“Sure, you wish he was playing and all that. But the end is what’s going to matter the most.”

The team will make room on its roster by waiving Justin Patton, the report said. The 76ers acquired Patton as part of the Jimmy Butler trade in early November and he played just three games for them.

After Wednesday’s loss against the Hawks, the Sixers have a 49-29 record and sit in third place in the Eastern Conference.

 

Bayern’s faith in Kovac being rewarded, says Hitzfeld

Former Bayern Munich head coach Ottmar Hitzfeld always thought Niko Kovac was the right man for the Bundesliga giants.

Niko Kovac has turned Bayern Munich’s form around thanks to the support he received in the boardroom, according to the club’s former head coach Ottmar Hitzfeld.

Speculation about Kovac’s future has been present throughout his first season at the club, which has seen Borussia Dortmund lead the way in the Bundesliga title race.

But ahead of Saturday’s crunch clash between the top two at the Allianz Arena on Saturday, defending champions Bayern know beating Dortmund will put them in pole position to win the Bundesliga once more.

Kovac’s side are also through to the semi-finals of the DFB-Pokal, having come through a thrilling 5-4 encounter at home to second-tier side Heidenheim despite Niklas Sule’s early red card.

And although Kovac’s suitability to coach Bayern has been questioned, with more high-profile managers such as Jose Mourinho linked with succeeding the Croatian, Hitzfeld remains sure he is the right man for the job.

 

When rumours Arsene Wenger was set to take charge peaked in October, Bayern president Uli Hoeness, chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic held an extraordinary news conference to give Kovac their full backing and blast the media for their reporting.

And Hitzfeld feels support and trust from Hoeness, Rummenigge and Salihamidzic has helped Kovac to turn things around on the pitch, with Bayern having won 13 of their past 15 Bundesliga games to pile pressure on Dortmund.

“From day one I was convinced that Niko Kovac would master the switch to Bayern Munich,” Hitzfeld told Omnisport. “He is a very meticulous coach who pays a lot of attention to details and he is a great motivator.

“I had him as a player at Bayern Munich and even though he wasn’t always a starter, he was always a team player and pushed the team. And he always contributed to the spirits being high in the team, which is very important. Especially coming from players who aren’t always key players.

“That shows the character and the focus. Tactically speaking, he worked wonders with Frankfurt. Especially, looking at the [DFB-Pokal] final where Bayern faced Frankfurt and he managed to surprise Bayern.

“So he passed the exam, he managed to get through the rough patch they had in Bundesliga and fortunately Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz-Rummenigge continued to trust in him and continue to be convinced of him.

“That’s paying off now and that’s why the consistency returned to Bayern’s games.”

 

Bayern could well end the season with a double of Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal titles or end up empty-handed but Hitzfeld backed Kovac to deliver silverware despite Champions League disappointment against Liverpool in the last 16.

“At Bayern you have to collect titles, that’s what you’re hired for – for that and to develop the football,” Hitzfeld added.

“That part Niko has managed, but obviously he will be measured by the titles he wins. That’s true for every Bayern coach. But he still has [the] chance to win the double.

“And even if he wins, ‘Only one title’, he will have achieved the goals. Therefore I’m very positive that Niko Kovac will manage that.”

 

Barcelona’s Dembele back in training ahead of Atletico, Man Utd games

A torn hamstring looked certain to keep Ousmane Dembele out of Barcelona’s Champions League quarter-final tie but he is back in training.

Barcelona have welcomed Ousmane Dembele back to training ahead of a crunch LaLiga clash with title rivals Atletico Madrid and their Champions League quarter-final with Manchester United.

Dembele sustained a torn hamstring after coming off the bench in Barca’s 5-1 last-16 second-leg win over Lyon last month, with Ernesto Valverde accepting he knew he was risking the winger’s fitness.

It was expected Dembele would miss the tie against United, with the first leg to be played on April 10 and the return held at Camp Nou six days later.

But the France forward returned to training on Thursday, giving Barca a boost ahead of the visit of Atletico – who are eight points behind the leaders – at the weekend.

 

Atletico have injury issues of their own heading into Saturday’s meeting of the top two with Alvaro Morata suffering a sprained ankle in their LaLiga victory over Girona this week.

With Diego Costa also a doubt due to a muscle problem and Thomas Lemar not expected to be fit, Antoine Griezmann and Nikola Kalinic may be the only attackers available to Atleti coach Diego Simeone.

 

Paris Saint-Germain were a good option – De Jong

Ajax's Frenkie de Jong

He will join Barcelona at the end of the season but Frenkie de Jong has revealed that a move to Paris Saint-Germain appealed to him.

Frenkie de Jong says Paris Saint-Germain were a “really good option” before he ultimately agreed to join Barcelona from Ajax.

De Jong will link up with LaLiga leaders Barca for the 2019-20 season after agreeing a move worth €86million in total.

Manchester City and PSG were among the clubs reportedly interested in the midfielder and De Jong has now revealed that he would have been keen on a move to the Ligue 1 champions.

“One morning, reports emerged that I was joining PSG for €75million,” the 21-year-old said.

“I woke up a little later that morning as we were training that afternoon and my girlfriend had already gone out.

“When she came back, she said to me: ‘I was in the car and I heard on the radio that you have signed for PSG – is that right?’ I knew deep down that was untrue, but part of me wondered if the two clubs had reached an agreement.

“PSG was a really good option. I would have had a chance to be a starter. It is one of the best teams in the world, with players like Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, as well as a very good coach in Thomas Tuchel. Paris is also not far from Netherlands.”

De Jong is likely to line up for Ajax when they take on Juventus in next week’s Champions League quarter-final first leg.

Mandzukic honoured to sign Juventus extension

Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic

“It is a big honour to play for this amazing club,” said Mario Mandzukic after signing a one-year extension with Juventus.

Mario Mandzukic has vowed to give “maximum effort” after penning a one-year extension to his Juventus contract.

On Thursday, the former Croatia international agreed a deal with the Serie A leaders that will run until 2021.

Mandzukic has won three Serie A titles and as many Coppas Italia since arriving from Atletico Madrid in 2015, the forward netting 43 goals in 159 appearances.

And he hopes to keep delivering for the Bianconeri and repay the faith shown in him by the Juve hierarchy.

“I am very happy to announce that I have signed a new contract with Juventus until 2021,” he posted on Instagram.

“It is a big honour to play for this amazing club that really cares about its players and fight with my great team-mates for our brilliant supporters!

Sono molto contento di annunciare di aver rinnovato il mio contratto con la @Juventus fino al 2021  È un grande onore giocare per questo club fantastico che si prende davvero cura dei suoi giocatori e lottare con i miei compagni di squadra per i nostri tifosi! Sono grato ai dirigenti, guidati dal presidente Andrea Agnelli, e allo staff tecnico, guidato al mister Massimiliano Allegri, per il loro rispetto e la loro fiducia che fondano questo rinnovo. Come sempre, ricompenserò la fiducia dando il massimo ogni volta che scenderò in campo con la nostra maglia #bianconera  I am very happy to announce that I have signed a new contract with @juventus until 2021  It is a big honour to play for this amazing club that really cares about its players and fight with my great teammates for our brilliant supporters! I am grateful to the club management led by chairman Andrea Agnelli and the coaching staff led by Massimiliano Allegri for their respect and trust which set up this agreement. As always, I’ll reward that faith by giving my maximum effort every time I step on the pitch in our famous #bianconeri jersey  Forza Juve!  #finoallafine #proud #neverstop #stepbystep #mm17

A post shared by Mario Mandžukić MM 17 (@mariomandzukic) on 

“I am grateful to the club management led by chairman Andrea Agnelli and the coaching staff led by Massimiliano Allegri for their respect and trust which set up this agreement.

“As always, I’ll reward that faith by giving my maximum effort every time I step on the pitch in our famous Bianconeri jersey. Forza Juve!”

Olsen backs De Ligt for Manchester United move

Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt

Former Manchester United winger Jesper Olsen is confident Matthijs de Ligt would have no problem settling into life at Old Trafford.

Matthijs de Ligt would be a great acquisition for Manchester United or any of Europe’s top clubs, according to former Denmark international Jesper Olsen.

De Ligt has been heavily linked with a move away from Ajax at the end of the season, following in the footsteps of Frenkie de Jong, who will join Barcelona.

Barca, Juventus and United are all reportedly vying for De Ligt’s signature, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer thought to be keen to strengthen his defensive options for next season.

Former Ajax and United winger Olsen believes De Ligt would be an ideal signing at Old Trafford, even though he is only 19.

“No doubt about it [he could play for United],” Olsen told Omnisport.

“Playing at Ajax, you have to be a quality player. So of course he could [play for United], no doubt about it. He could fit into any top team at the moment.”

He added: “I think nowadays the top clubs are very much of the same belief in how you play…they like to be in control of the game.

“So as long as he goes to one of those clubs, I think a player of [his] calibre would fit in in most teams.”

Title won’t be decided in Munich, says Dortmund boss Favre

Borussia Dortmund coach Lucien Favre

Lucien Favre is not putting extra emphasis on Borussia Dortmund’s trip to Bundesliga title rivals Bayern Munich this weekend.

Borussia Dortmund coach Lucien Favre says the outcome of Saturday’s clash with Bayern Munich will not decide which club wins the Bundesliga title.

Dortmund travel to Munich with a two-point advantage over their title rivals, Bayern having dropped points against Freiburg last time out.

With only six games to play after this weekend’s match at the Allianz Arena, a win would be a huge boost for either side.

However, Favre expects a few more twists and turns before the end of the campaign.

“This game is very special: Bayern v Dortmund,” he told a media conference. “The table is close, seven games remain, and two great teams.

“If we win, nothing is decided, if we draw, nothing is decided, if we lose nothing is decided…it is completely open!”

Bayern come into the game after a less-than impressive 5-4 victory over second-tier Heidenheim in the DFB-Pokal, and Favre says he has spotted some areas Dortmund can exploit.

“Like all teams, they do have some weaknesses,” he added. “Every team has that, even the best teams in the world.

“But [they do not have] too many, not many. And they have a lot of strengths of course, we know that.

“We have to concentrate on a lot of things.”

Sporting director Michael Zorc is confident BVB can go to Munich and get a result, particularly given they came from 2-1 down to win 3-2 in the first meeting of the season.

“We showed that in the first match this season that we are able to win against them and can come back after a deficit,” he said.

“We had a look at the statistics since 2011 and we’ve won five times in Munich, including DFB-Pokal.

“But the players from today don’t really care about the past years. We do need a top performance and courage to survive there, that’s for sure. So we need a top performance and one that is better than the one we showed last week.”

Favre will make a late decision on the fitness of Paco Alcacer prior to the clash, with Lukasz Piszczek also a doubt.

“It’s difficult to determine now, but we think there is a chance he [Alcacer] will play,” added the coach. “We will know more tomorrow.

“With Piszczek, we will decide whether he joins the squad after tomorrow’s training session.

“Abdou Diallo ran today as well, his condition will be decided tomorrow too.”

Kovac demands defensive discipline in Der Klassiker

Bayern Munich boss Niko Kovac

Bayern Munich drastically need to improve their defending if they are to triumph against Borussia Dortmund, according to boss Niko Kovac.

Niko Kovac has demanded defensive “responsibility and discipline” from his Bayern Munich side in Saturday’s mouth-watering clash against Borussia Dortmund.

Kovac was stunned by his side’s defending in their dramatic 5-4 DFB-Pokal quarter-final win against second-tier Heidenheim on Wednesday.

Bayern host Dortmund, who are two points clear of them at the Bundesliga summit, on Saturday and Kovac wants every member of his team to contribute to keeping their opponents at bay – regardless of their position.

“It’s about responsibility and discipline,” he told a media conference on Thursday. “I do not just start with the defenders, it starts earlier. You have to be ready, no matter what your level.

“France have become world champions because they played well but also defended well.

“It is not for nothing that titles are decided at the back. We have to come back to defending well, as individuals and as a team.

“That’s what we have to go back to, but you have to want it even if you’re an artist.

“It will be an interesting game. The team that makes fewer mistakes will win.”

Kovac also waded into the debate over Jerome Boateng’s reported plan to throw a party hours after the clash with Dortmund.

The club’s sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic believes Boateng’s decision is ill-advised – a view the Bayern boss broadly agrees with.

“Personally, I do not think he should have started this party, but on the other hand, everyone has to decide for themselves what they do in their free time,” he explained.

Manuel Neuer missed the tie against Heidenheim with a calf injury, while Robert Lewandowski was only fit enough to be named as a substitute after suffering from illness.

Kovac said a late decision will be made on Neuer’s fitness but he thinks Lewandowski – who came off the bench to score Bayern’s winning goal from the penalty spot – will be “fine”.

He also confirmed that David Alaba, who has missed his side’s last two games through injury, has returned to training and could feature, but James Rodriguez has a problem with his adductor and could miss out.

Lakers’ Jeanie Buss compliments Luke Walton but makes no guarantees

Luke Walton

Buss praised Walton for working through the adversity of playing without a healthy roster, but sidestepped questions about his future.

As speculation about Luke Walton’s future with the Lakers continues to mount, co-owner Jeanie Buss offered some praise for the embattled coach. However, she wasn’t willing to make any guarantees when it came to who would be at the helm of the franchise next season.

During an appearance Tuesday on a podcast called “Sports Business Radio Road Show,” Buss expressed confidence in Walton’s leadership style and said she still has good faith in him even though Los Angeles (35-43) missed the playoffs and are 11th in the Western Conference.

“Luke has always been somebody that — he came to the Lakers as a rookie,” Buss said. “The last year of Shaq and Kobe. He kind of bridged two Lakers teams in the Shaq-Kobe era and what you would call the Kobe-Pau (Gasol) era. He is somebody I think who doesn’t even realize what a natural he is and that leadership that he has in terms of getting people connecting with people in all ages. I think he’s done a terrific job.

“He’s a hard worker and somebody that players gravitate towards. He’s done an incredible job under a lot of challenging circumstances.”

Buss gave credit to Walton for working through the adversity of playing without a fully healthy roster for much of the season. She revealed the Lakers suited up the entire squad for just five games all season.

“That’s a challenge for a coach to constantly be changing lineups, and it’s hard,” she said. “But we were in a position where things were all going in the right way, and we beat Golden State on Christmas Day, which was a great present for me, but then also LeBron (James) got hurt. So it really puts a lot of pressure on the coaching situation in terms of what he’s able to do when he’s short-handed with players.”

As for what’s next for Walton? Buss sidestepped questions about the speculation. The interviewer began by asking: “If he were to be the coach going forward … ” But Buss cut him off and said, “I’m not gonna answer that question.”

“We’re as tight as any two people, any two executives,” she added. “We’ve got a mission and a purpose of what we’re trying to do and we’re not done yet but I think we’re going in the right direction. In terms of basketball decisions, I will always defer to Magic.”

Walton, 39, has two years remaining on his contract with one year guaranteed. The Lakers hired him in April 2016 after spending two seasons as an assistant to Warriors coach Steve Kerr.