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49ers to face former coach in NFC title game

49ers to face former coach in NFC title game

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Mike Nolan's 3 1/2-year tenure as coach for the San Francisco 49ers offered few highlights on the field.

An 18-37 record before a mid-season firing in 2008. No playoff berths for a franchise used to winning championships. A parade of offensive coordinators unable to develop Alex Smith at quarterback.

Yet to call Nolan's run in San Francisco a complete failure would clearly miss the point. He took over a franchise decimated under the leadership of former general manager Terry Donahue and coach Dennis Erickson and began acquiring the pieces that Jim Harbaugh later used to make back-to-back runs to the NFC championship game.

Nolan, now the defensive coordinator in Atlanta, gets the chance to see the results of some of his work when the Falcons (14-3) host the 49ers (12-4-1) on Sunday with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

``There's a lot of players still playing there that we added, that I'll see. I look forward to seeing them before the game. I'm glad they've done well. Not only for those players, but for the organization,'' Nolan said. ``I put a lot of time and effort into that. So, in a strange way, it's a little rewarding that some of those guys are going so well.''

San Francisco owner Jed York said he gives Nolan ``a lot of credit for helping set the foundation for this current 49ers team.

``It's never easy to let somebody go that you have so much respect for, and you wish things had worked out differently for Mike. ... He is a very classy man and he's a heck of a football coach,'' York said. ``He's not the person that I want to see with the 49ers looking across the field knowing he is coordinating the defense of our opponent. That's not a good thing for me to see because he is very, very good.''

Ten of the current 49ers were acquired during Nolan's regime, including first-team All-Pros linebacker Patrick Willis and safety Dashon Goldson, second-teamers defensive tackle Justin Smith and left tackle Joe Staley and key contributors like running back Frank Gore, tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, defensive lineman Ray McDonald and cornerback Tarell Brown.

That helped transform the organization from a laughingstock that went 2-14 in 2004 in the final season under Erickson into a respectable one that still fell short of the playoffs.

``He turned us around,'' said punter Andy Lee, one of 13 players left from when Nolan coached. ``When he first got here we were the worst team in the NFL. Then we slowly started this climb from being the worst team in the NFL to a mediocre, possible playoff team. He did a good job. I really don't have anything negative to say about him. He definitely was part of the turnover part of this organization.''

But the talent Nolan acquired and the work ethic he instilled in the locker room failed to lead to success on the field. The Niners went 4-12, 7-9 and 5-11 in his three full seasons at the helm. He was fired with a 2-5 record midway through the 2008 season and has spent the past few years as a successful defensive coordinator.

After 2 1/2 more years of mediocrity under Mike Singletary, the Niners have turned into a winner the past two seasons under coach Jim Harbaugh. San Francisco has won back-to-back NFC West titles and is in the NFC title game for the second straight season where the 49ers will face Nolan and the Falcons on Sunday.

``Nolan did some good things when he was here, definitely,'' said Goldson, a fourth-round draft pick in 2007. ``But it's just a different feeling around here lately. It's kind of hard to go back to where we were because we've been dealing with a lot of success lately. It's just different.''

Nolan's run was not without its personnel missteps, most notably the first major decision he made. With the top pick in the 2005 draft, Nolan selected Alex Smith instead of local favorite Aaron Rodgers, a decision that set the franchise back.

With a different offensive coordinator each season, Smith struggled to become a consistent NFL quarterback. Then there was a notable feud with Nolan when he tried to come back from a shoulder injury in his third season.

Smith lacked arm strength and later needed two operations, but Nolan at the time said there was nothing wrong with Smith's shoulder and the issue was confidence. The two have long since moved past that episode and have respect for each other years later.

``I felt like I grew up and learned a lot from that entire situation,'' Smith said. ``We got along really well after that. I saw my fault in it. We definitely moved on. No hard feelings for sure at this point at all. I look back at that as what could I have done differently as a young player in this league. You learn from it. No resentment at all.''

Smith finally emerged last year in his first season under Harbaugh, helping lead the Niners to the NFC title game, where they lost 20-17 in overtime to the New York Giants.

Smith lost his job midway through this season to Colin Kaepernick, who has transformed the San Francisco offense with a running threat out of the pistol formation.

It provides a stiff test for Nolan's new defense, but one the Niners are sure he will be up to.

``Absolutely,'' York said. ``He's one of the brightest defensive minds in the league and I know what he brings to the table. He knows our team fairly well. It's definitely going to give them an advantage.''

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AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Anthony Davis trade to Lakers gives Silver Spring's Josh Hart fresh start with Pelicans

Anthony Davis trade to Lakers gives Silver Spring's Josh Hart fresh start with Pelicans

The Anthony Davis trade will have ripple effects across the NBA, not only on teams, but also on the players involved.

Josh Hart, who was traded from the Lakers to the Pelicans as part of the package for Davis on Saturday, could stand to benefit from the move.

First, here's a look at all of the assets reportedly swapped in the deal, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

Now, where does the Silver Spring, Md., native figure in the proceedings?

Hart spent his first two NBA seasons with the Lakers. He averaged 7.9 points in 24.4 minutes per game in his two years in Los Angeles. 

Still, Hart was often the Lakers' third or fourth option at shooting guard behind starter Brandon Ingram and shared minutes with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Reggie Bullock and Lance Stephenson. 

LeBron James and the Lakers' win-now strategy left little room to develop Hart last season.

Now in New Orleans, he is part of a franchise rebuilding around presumptive No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson. The trade gave the Pelicans both a younger roster and a long enough timeline for success to develop players.

That can only be good news for Hart, giving him the chance to start fresh and impress Pelicans general manager David Griffin and head coach Alvin Gentry with his potential. 

Where the Sidwell Friends alum fits into the lineup depends on several factors.

At first glance, the new-look Pelicans could start Lonzo Ball at point guard, move Jrue Holiday to shooting guard, then complete the lineup with Ingram at small forward, Williamson at power forward and Julius Randle at center. 

If both Ingram and Holiday remain healthy, Hart would compete with Stanley Johnson to be the first wing off the bench for New Orleans.

But if Ingram does suffer recurring issues related to blood clots, Hart could press his case to start. 

The only issue complicating his place in New Orleans' plans is the No. 4 pick that was traded from the Lakers.

If the Pelicans keep that pick and draft a wing player like Jarrett Culver, Hart could find himself on the outside looking in again. 

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Pelicans reportedly trade Anthony Davis to the Lakers for a huge haul including Lonzo Ball

Pelicans reportedly trade Anthony Davis to the Lakers for a huge haul including Lonzo Ball

According to a report from ESPN NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski, the Los Angeles Lakers have acquired Pelicans' forward Anthony Davis in exchange for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and multiple first-round draft picks, including the No. 4 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

The announcement comes less than 48 hours into the NBA offseason, although the rumors and speculation of the deal has been a prominent storyline for months.

The much-anticipated deal gives the Lakers the star they've been trying to pair with LeBron James for some time and gives the Pelicans a young nucleus to build around the presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson. 

According to Marc Stein of The New York Times, the Boston Celtics refused to part ways with promising forward Jayson Tatum in a potential trade with New Orleans.

The Celtics had been in the mix for Davis, but with Kyrie Irving likely headed for the exits, Danny Ainge was unwilling to part with his young assets in exchange for the one year remaining on Davis' contract.

Before the Davis domino fell, NBC Sports Washington's Chase Hughes wrote about how a Davis trade could impact Bradley Beal's value

The Lakers, Knicks and Celtics all appear to want Davis and only one can get him, if he is even traded at all.

If the quest for Davis comes down to those three teams, there will be at least two that lose out.

The Knicks or Celtics now must determine whether trading for Beal is their next-best option behind Davis. 

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