The relationship between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving was “rocky” at points earlier this season, Irving admits, but it’s grown into a bond that appears much stronger than the one between James and Kevin Love, as Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group details. Love and James say it doesn’t matter whether they become as tight as Irving and James are as long as they can develop a greater on-court connection, Vardon writes.
“People get so infatuated with the best of friends, things of that nature,” James said. “First of all, I’ve got three very good friends in this league, and that’s Carmelo [Anthony], and that’s C.P. [Chris Paul], and that’s [Dwyane Wade] Wade. And after that I have a bunch of teammates. I have guys I ride for every day. But Kyrie is a guy I understand how important he is to this team, how important he is. And the same with Kev as well.”
James and Love can opt out to hit free agency this summer, while Irving will enter year one of his five-year extension next season. Here’s more from the Eastern Conference:
- Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and CBS hears “some Brad Stevens chatter” in connection to the University of Texas coaching job (Twitter link). It’s unclear whether there’s interest on either side, though Texas athletics director Steve Patterson has spoken with NBA coaching agents of late, tweets Chris Mannix of SI.com. Davis identifies Avery Johnson as a possible sleeper for the job. Stevens is just finishing up the second season of a six-year, $22MM deal and there have been no indications that he wants to leave the Celtics. Further, the Celtics would probably deny him permission to go, as Ben Rohrbach of WEEI.com surmises (Twitter link).
- Alexey Shved loves playing for coach Derek Fisher and is open to re-signing with New York after his contract expires this summer, sources tell Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com (Twitter link). The Knicks can make Shved a restricted free agent if they tender a qualifying offer of nearly $4.103MM.
- The Cavs have assigned Joe Harris to the D-League, the team announced. It’s the eighth time Cleveland has sent last year’s 33rd overall pick to its affiliate, though none of the seven previous assignments have lasted as long as a week, as our leaguewide assignments/recalls log shows.
Multiple executives from other teams around the league are impressed with all of the trades that the Celtics have made the last two years, but there’s no grand design behind it, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge tells Grantland’s Zach Lowe.
“We don’t have any master plan,” Ainge says. “You just hope you have the assets when a deal comes along.”
Ainge pledges an active run in free agency this summer, though he believes some of the team’s existing players could grow into the sort of star-level performers who usually are among the top three players on a contender, as Lowe details. The Celtics love Marcus Smart, last year’s No. 6 overall pick, Lowe writes, and while multiple teams offered expiring deals and picks toward the back end of the first round for Avery Bradley, Ainge turned them away, several league sources tell Lowe. There’s more on the Celtics amid the latest from the Atlantic Division:
- The Celtics think Isaiah Thomas is a better asset to trade than the protected 2016 first-round pick from Cleveland that they gave up to get him from the Suns at the deadline, according to Lowe. The C’s talked about waiting to do the Thomas deal to avoid winning too many games down the stretch this year, but decided against that, with Ainge informing coach Brad Stevens, whom he normally keeps in the loop, of the deal just an hour before it happened, as Lowe examines. “Ideally, he might have been someone you pick up in the summer,” Ainge said. “But someone else might trade for him. You might be in a bidding war. You have to move while the iron is hot.”
- Nerlens Noel on Monday called Ish Smith “the first real point guard I’ve ever played with” and expressed a desire that Smith, a free agent at season’s end, return to the Sixers, notes Tom Moore of Calkins Media. Of course, Noel spent the first half of the season with reigning Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams at the point. In any case, Noel’s development has taken off since Smith arrived shortly after the deadline trade that sent Carter-Williams out, notes Marcus Hayes of the Philadelphia Daily News, who refers to the big man’s growth as the team’s most important mission this season.
- Marc Berman of the New York Post wonders just what the Knicks‘ D-League coaching change Monday means for the future of assistant GM Allan Houston, once seemingly a GM-in-training. Houston’s duties with the NBA team had already been curtailed under Phil Jackson, Berman writes.
Brook Lopez says he’s undecided about his player option worth more than $16.744MM for next season, but Lionel Hollins made it clear today that he wants Lopez back one way or another, as the Nets coach told reporters, including Alex Raskin of The Wall Street Journal (Twitter link). There were conflicting reports earlier this season about which way the big man was leaning, and the Nets appeared close to trading him to the Thunder in January and again at the deadline, but he’s having a resurgent March, averaging 20.7 points and 8.9 rebounds per game this month. There’s more on the Nets amid the latest from the Atlantic Division:
- There are still some advocates for John Calipari within the Nets organization, as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports said last week in an appearance on WFAN-AM with Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts (audio link), as Robert Windrem of NetsDaily transcribes. It still appears unlikely that either the Nets would pursue him or Calipari would want to leave Kentucky, Wojnarowski believes.
- Evan Turner isn’t a perfect match for any particular role, but Celtics coach Brad Stevens sees him as versatile rather than a misfit, as USA Today’s Howard Megdal examines. “I’ve been a fan of Evan Turner since his high school days,” Stevens said. “He played for my first boss [Ohio State coach Thad Matta], so I’ve known him, inside and out, for a while. I felt really good about the opportunity to sign him this summer, and was an advocate of that.” The C’s signed Turner for two years and more than $6.7MM this past offseason.
- The Knicks fired D-League coach Kevin Whitted and named assistant Craig Hodges his replacement on an interim basis, the team announced, confirming an earlier report from Marc Berman of the New York Post (on Twitter). The move was the result of tension between Whitted, whom Knicks assistant GM Allan Houston hired, and Hodges, a former player under Jackson, as Berman details in a full story. Hodges spoke to Zach Links of Hoops Rumors at the start of the season.
Jared Dudley didn’t really want to play for the Bucks after the Clippers traded him to Milwaukee this summer, but his new team’s training staff, Jason Kidd‘s coaching style, and Milwaukee’s competitiveness helped convince him otherwise, as Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel details. Dudley has a $4.25MM early termination option for next season, and while he hasn’t said what he’ll do with that, he told Nickel that he’d like a long-term deal with the Bucks and that he’s willing to take a discount to sign one, citing Kidd as his top reason why. Here’s more from around the Eastern Conference:
- Greg Monroe believes former Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars deserves another chance to run a team, as Terry Foster of The Detroit News relays. Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher wrote in January that Pelicans owner Tom Benson had some interest in Dumars, and Monroe, soon to be an unrestricted free agent, is a New Orleans native. “I mean, yeah,” Monroe said when asked if Dumars should have another shot at team building. “He put together a championship team. Obviously he knows what it takes to get it done. For a stretch he had one of the most successful teams in the league. Obviously he is good at that job. I don’t see how that would be a problem to get back.”
- Derek Fisher says he doesn’t have regrets about taking on the Knicks coaching job even with the team in possession of the league’s worst record and added that he talks daily with team president Phil Jackson, notes Peter Botte of the New York Daily News. Coaching colleagues, like Tom Thibodeau, have no shortage of praise for Fisher, Botte adds.
- Clippers coach/executive Doc Rivers believes the Celtics almost had to trade Rajon Rondo this season with his contract running out this summer, as he told reporters, including Brian Robb of Boston.com. Rivers said a rebuilding team like the Celtics, whom he used to coach, can’t afford to risk that a soon-to-be free agent walks and added that he believes Rondo, and not the Celtics front office, was the catalyst for the move, as Robb passes along.
The Knicks were ranked last in the ESPN Forecast panel’s ranking of the league’s front offices. The management team of Phil Jackson and Steve Mills was ranked 29th; coach Derek Fisher was ranked 30th and owner James Dolan also came in at No. 30. Good times might be on the horizon, however, Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com writes in his analysis of the panel’s rankings. The Knicks will have at least $25MM to spend and could have a high first-round pick in this year’s draft, Begley noted while also adding that things could also change because Dolan is a willing spender.
Here’s more on the Knicks and the Atlantic Division:
- It would be unwise for the Knicks to sign Kevin Durant when the reigning MVP is expected to become an unrestricted free agent after next season, Frank Isola of the New York Daily News opines. Isola believes that acquiring the superstar would be a risk the Knicks cannot afford to take, especially after the Thunder announced Durant will need another surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot and will miss the rest of the season.
- Furkan Aldemir, a native of Turkey who is in the first year of a four-year deal worth about $12MM with the Sixers, has struggled to adapt to life in the NBA, but is expected to get more playing time as the season winds down, Bob Cooney of The Philadelphia Daily News writes. Aldemir, 23, has played in five straight games.
- Clippers president of basketball operations and coach Doc Rivers is reminded of himself — albeit a better version, he said — when he watches Celtics rookie point guard Marcus Smart, A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com writes. “He’s a really good defensive player,” said Rivers, who played 13 seasons in the NBA. “On the ball, off the ball. Yet he’s making plays offensively. I like him a lot.”
The Knicks made the kind of history on Saturday that Phil Jackson probably wants no part of, as Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com writes. The Knicks dropped their 60th game of the season against the Bulls on Saturday night, the highest loss total in the team’s 69-year history. The “good” news, meanwhile, is that the Knicks own the worst record in the NBA with a few games separating them and the T’Wolves for the league’s worst record. Finishing dead last will guarantee the Knicks to pick no lower than No. 4 in June with a 25% chance at the No. 1 choice, which is a silver lining in this frustrating season. Here’s more from the Atlantic Division..
- Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe expects the Celtics to extend an offer sheet to Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard this summer. Boston coach Brad Stevens has praised the pending restricted free agent’s defensive prowess in the past. Of course, there will be plenty of other teams in the mix for Leonard.
- Jae Crowder is becoming an indispensable member of the Celtics, opines A. Sherrod Blakely of CSSNE.com. Crowder, who was acquired as part of the Rajon Rondo trade, will become a restricted free agent after the season.
- Brook Lopez has stepped his game up recently and Tim Bontemps of the New York Post believes the center has been key to keeping the Nets in the playoff race. Lopez holds a player option worth slightly over $16.7MM for the 2015/16 season. If he continues to play at his currently level, it’s conceivable that he could decline that option in pursuit of a larger deal. Here’s more from the Atlantic Division..
- The Celtics are in the playoff chase and that’s thanks in no small part to the progression of second-year head coach Brad Stevens, as Jackie MacMullan of ESPNBoston.com writes.
- Stevens has full confidence in Celtics offseason pickup Evan Turner, as A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com writes.
Chris Crouse contributed to this post.
There’s a chance that soon-to-be free agents Kyle Singler and Jonas Jerebko return to Detroit this summer, but it’s unlikely either winds up back with the Pistons, who traded them both away at the deadline, MLive’s David Mayo argues in his weekly mailbag. Mayo also figures Tayshaun Prince will leave in free agency while the team retains Anthony Tolliver on his partially guaranteed contract next season.
Here’s more from around the league:
- Metta World Peace, 35, says that he won’t quit playing professionally until he’s 40 years old, Daniella Matar of NBA.com writes. The veteran recently inked a deal with Italy’s Pallacanestro Cantù for the remainder of the season. ”I always wanted to play in Europe for a long time,” World Peace said. ”They move the ball and they move bodies, and that’s what I like doing. I’m looking forward to playing team basketball and being smart as well as scoring. I can score but I’m excited about team basketball.”
- With the season winding down a number of coaches could soon find themselves out of work. Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com runs down six top prospects who could be hired as replacements. Arnovitz’s list includes Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga, Arizona coach Sean Miller, and Spurs assistant Ime Udoka.
- Knicks guard Jose Calderon is expected to be in a walking boot for another 10 days, Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com tweets. Calderon still hopes to return to action this season, but he admitted that scenario was unlikely, Begley adds. The 33-year-old averaged 9.1 points and 4.7 assists while shooting a career-low 41.5% from the field for New York this season.
- The Rockets announced that Donatas Motiejunas will be restricted from basketball activities for one to two weeks, and he’ll be reevaluated at that time. The forward is suffering from lower back issues. In 71 games this season, including 62 starts, the seven-footer is averaging 12.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 1.8 APG in 28.7 minutes per contest.
Chuck Myron contributed to this post.
Sixers draftee Joel Embiid‘s weight is finally getting down into the range that the team is comfortable with, which pleases coach Brett Brown, Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer writes. “He’s ticking boxes in regards to increased time on the court and reduced weight,” Brown said of the rookie center. “His weight is going down. His needle is clearly pointing in the right direction. And you heard me say this a lot lately, he’s setting the stage for a great summer. He sees his reward will be summer league, trying to get ready to actually play again.”
Here’s more from the Atlantic Division:
- Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal takes a look at how Kentucky junior Willie Cauley-Stein would fit with the Knicks. Herring posits that New York could look to select the big man if they fall out of the top three picks in the draft lottery.
- Celtics team president Danny Ainge believes that he’ll learn a lot about the makeup of his players whether or not Boston secures a playoff spot this season, Jimmy Toscano of CSNNE.com writes. “I’m not really hanging on [making the playoffs]. I think it’s a great opportunity for me to evaluate and Brad [Stevens] to evaluate what we’re made of, who can step it up, players that can play meaningful minutes,” Ainge said. “And our young guys can learn through this, you don’t judge them from one game to the next, but see how our guys react and bounce back from difficult losses and bad performances. So far our guys have passed the test. So I’m excited about the next ten games, like you said. We do control our own destiny. We have a tough schedule ahead of us still and I’m excited about that.“
- Earl Clark, who inked a 10-day deal with the Nets today, says that he’s surprised to be with the team, Rod Boone of Newsday tweets. Clark says that he was at home working out when his agent called and told him to pack for Brooklyn, Boone adds.
Goran Dragic was a bit shocked that the Suns dealt his former teammate Isaiah Thomas to the Celtics at this season’s trade deadline, Ben Rohrbach of WEEI 93.7 FM writes. “If I’m honest, I was a little bit surprised, especially because I asked for the trade,” said Dragic. “But that’s how the NBA goes. It’s a business. Unfortunately, we had three point guards at the same position and only one ball, so it’s kind of hard to satisfy everybody.”
Presumably, Dragic was talking about his request that the Suns trade him, as they ultimately did when they sent him to the Heat, rather than suggesting that he asked the Suns to trade Thomas, though that’s not entirely clear. Here’s more from around the league:
- Metta World Peace‘s deal for the remainder of the season with Italy’s Pallacanestro Cantù is worth approximately $40K plus bonuses, Emiliano Carchia of Sportando reports.
- Projected 2015 lottery pick Emmanuel Mudiay has parted ways with agent Raymond Brothers, Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress reports (Twitter link). The guard will now be represented by Jason Martin and Dwon Clifton of Rival Sports Group, Givony adds. Mudiay is currently the No. 3 ranked prospect according to DraftExpress and ESPN.com.
- Daniel Orton, who appeared in 22 contest for the Sixers during the 2013/14 campaign, doesn’t look back at his time in Philadelphia fondly, Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer writes. Orton discussed what it was like to go from the Thunder organization to the Sixers’, saying, “Leaving the Thunder, you see the greater side of the NBA. I went into Philly and a situation where it was the total opposite. You got a team just trying to rebuild basically from scratch and blowing up anytime you had something going good. So you definitely learn the business side of it.” Orton has played in China and the Philippines this season after attending training camp with the Wizards.
Sixers coach Brett Brown won’t stop pushing his team to improve, regardless of how it affects Philly’s chances of snagging the top pick in this year’s draft, Bob Cooney of The Philadelphia Daily News writes. “I don’t know how to coach anymore if that becomes part of it all,” Brown said. “I really don’t. You can’t cheat the game. I get it and I understand it. I just don’t even know how to do my job, otherwise. We go about our business. I can’t walk into the locker room and do anything else for those guys. They want to play hard. They want to compete. Whatever ends up happening, ends up happening. I’m proud of the way we play every night. What we may lack in resumes and birth certificates and all of that, we make up for with big spirit and tremendous team camaraderie, despite what our win/loss record says. This is a spirited group and one that I love coaching.”
Here’s more from the Atlantic Division:
- While the Sixers still need an upgrade at the point, Ish Smith has shown enough promise that he should factor into the team’s plans for next season, Cooney adds. “He has a clear upside,” Brown said of Smith. “I think that because of his style of shooting – he’s a set-shooter – I can see how he can improve with repetition and encouragement and all those types of things in the next short period of time. Then you have the constant qualities that he’s a hell of a teammate, he’s an athlete, he’s highly competitive. Although he’s been around a lot, it’s not like he’s got a lot of miles on his legs. He really hasn’t played a lot, but he’s been around a lot. For all those reasons, I just feel like his upside is clear.”
- Phil Jackson was hired as Knicks team president to restore faith in the franchise, something he has failed to do during his tenure thus far, Justin Terranova of The New York Post writes. Jackson has fallen in ESPN Insider’s Front Office rankings from the No. 21 spot to the 29th, with only Nets GM Billy King below him.
- A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com looks at the effect that Isaiah Thomas will have on the Celtics‘ lineup and playoff chances now that he’s set to return from his injury.