We received word earlier this afternoon that head coach Vinny Del Negrowill not be retained by the Clippers, and Ken Berger of CBSSports.com says (via Twitter) that one of the primary reasons for the decision was the fact that Chris Paul wasn't a fan of Del Negro. According to Berger (via Twitter), the star point guard didn't back the coach to management at season's end.
Here are a few more afternoon rumblings out of the Western Conference:
Another Los Angeles free-agent-to-be, Dwight Howard, apparently isn't a fan of his head coach either -- Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports that Howard voiced some displeasure and frustration with Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni in a meeting with GM Mitch Kupchak at season's end. However, McMenamin notes that the relationship between D12 and D'Antoni isn't irreparable, and former Howard coach Stan Van Gundy told David Baumann of Sports Talk Florida (Twitter link) today that he wasn't giving much credence to the story.
A source tells Jimmy Smith of the New Orleans Times-Picayune (Twitter link) that there's "no merit" to trade rumors involving Eric Gordon.
No teams have contacted the Grizzlies to ask permission to speak to head coach Lionel Hollins yet, tweets Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal.
According to Ric Bucher of 95.7 The Game (Sulia link), the fact that the Sacramento arena plan involves a significant public subsidy wasn't insignificant when the league voted on the Kings' relocation bid.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein passes along a few notable tidbits in his latest piece for TrueHoop, including word of a potential Clippers target, a Phil Jackson update, and some items on the coaching front. Let's dive in and check out the highlights....
"Whispers are already swirling" that the Clippers intend to make a hard run at free-agent-to-be David West, says Stein. West and the Pacers seem to be mutually interested in a reunion, and Indiana will have the ability to offer West much more than the Clippers could, barring a sign-and-trade. But Stein points out that if West's old teammate Chris Paul re-signs in Los Angeles, the Pacers forward figures to be interested in at least listening to a Clippers pitch.
The Nuggets remain confident that they'll be able to hang on to Masai Ujiri, despite rumblings that the Raptors may offer him an annual salary of $2MM+. Ujiri had reportedly been making about $500K with the Nuggets, according to Stein, so he appears in line for a raise no matter which team he ends up running.
According to Stein, some league observers "remain convinced" that Phil Jackson's flirtations with various teams are designed to convinced Jim Buss to cede his organizational power with the Lakers to Jeanie Buss, which could allow Jeanie to bring Jackson aboard to run the team's basketball operations.
Part of the reason the Nets' coaching search has been moving slowly so far is that two of the team's top potential targets remain active in the playoffs -- Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins and Pacers assistant Brian Shaw. Stein adds that Ettore Messina, who is rumored to be a candidate for the Hawks, isn't on the Nets' list.
While the Nets and perhaps the Clippers appear to have interest in Hollins, the Grizzlies appear determined to lock him up to a new contract once their season ends, says Stein.
Earlier today, we learned that the Clippers aren't going to make a run at Dwight Howard this summer. That doesn't come as a tremendous surprise when looking at the Clips' cap situation and the maneuvering they'd have to do in order to retain both Chris Paul and lure DH over from L.A.'s other team. Speaking of which, do the Lakers have the right plan to keep Howard in purple and gold next season? More on that and other notes out of the Pacific Division..
Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com wonders if Howard truly understands the Lakers' legacy and fears that the club isn't making the right pitch to him. Shelburne feels that the Lakers need to impress upon him just how much he is wanted there, despite the vocal criticisms he has heard from fans.
Warriors General Manager Bob Myers confirmed to Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News (via Twitter) that the team has not yet made a decision on coach Mark Jackson's option for 2014/15. However, Myers will talk with Jackson's agent soon. Kawakami recently predicted that Jackson would get a new deal in the next few weeks.
The Clippers won't be among the teams in pursuit of Dwight Howard this summer, sources tell Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com (on Twitter). The Clippers won't make a run at DH for multiple reasons, sources say, and we can assume that a lack of cap space is chief among them. The rumors linking Chris Paul and Howard have been floating for some time, however, and the Hawks are hoping that they can pull off a shocker and land both.
Kobe Bryant responded via Twitter to an internet rumor that said he would retire this summer following his painful Achilles tendon tear. "Really?? Me. Retire?? Soon, but not yet," the Lakers star said.
If the Mavs make a play for Paul this summer, owner Mark Cuban will be their biggest weapon in recruiting, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com. Of course, Cuban was expected to be a big part of his club's pitch to Deron Williams last summer. Dallas didn't lure Williams back to his home state and some believe that Cuban's decision to skip their pitch meeting had something to do with it.
Earlier today, Ken Berger of CBSSports.com wrote that Dwight Howard was showing interest in the Rockets and Mavericks while he contemplates his free agent fate this summer and ignores the Lakers' request to re-sign with them as quickly as possible. The Lakers can offer Howard a fifth year and more money because the 2011 CBA allows annual raises of 7.5% over the first year, which would be in excess of $20MM for Howard; the other teams bidding for the 27-year-old center's services, including the long shot Netsand Hawks, can only offer increases of 4.5% over the first year.
Remember, Howard is just entering his peak years, and will likely sign another max contract before he retires, so a four-year deal with an option for the final year would allow him to become a free agent again at 30, when he can then sign a larger five-year deal. While Howard takes his time deciding, do you think he re-signs with the Lakers, or does he jump to some other team said to be in the mix?
For a third consecutive year, there aren't any Pacific Division teams in the Western Conference Finals, a dry spell that's never happened before. The Lakers are mostly responsible for that history of success, but the Suns have had their moments, too. For most of the city's time with an NBA team, Seattle was a part of the Pacific Division, and the SuperSonics were no stranger to playing for a berth in the Finals. With the league reportedly having approved the sale of the Kings to a Sacramento-based group, it looks like Seattle won't be an NBA destination for at least a while longer.
Here's a check on each of the five current Pacific Division teams as they try to climb their way back into contention:
Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who's attending today's opener of the Western Conference Finals, has yet to meet with Vinny Del Negroas planned this weekend, but resolution on the coach's future should come within the week, tweets Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com.
Of all the people involved in keeping the Kings in Sacramento, none were as influential as David Stern, who demonstrated that he still has control of the league even as his tenure as commissioner comes to a close, The Bee's Ailene Voisin writes.
Suns scouts have been high on Maryland center Alex Len since before this past season began, according to Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic, who runs down some of the players the team will likely target with its lottery pick.
Greg Somogyi impressed Mike Brown when the two were together in Lakers camp last fall, and Brown has invited the 7'3" center to a Cavaliers mini-camp this summer, reports Sportando contributor David Pick (Twitter link).
Hornacek is set for an interview with the Sixers as well, and is reportedly drawing interest from the Suns and Bucks. His strong relationship with Deron Williams could make him a candidate for the Nets opening, too.
The Bobcats appear to be following the same script as last year, when a drawn-out search involving roughly a dozen candidates took nearly two months to reach a resolution. The team hired college assistant Mike Dunlap in a surprise move, and fired him about a month ago. Many of last year's candidates resurfaced in this year's hunt, including Cavs assistant Nate Tibbetts, who wound up joiningTerry Stotts' staff with the Blazers. Another is Brian Shaw, to whom Charlotte has once more been linked. Like last season, the Bobcats would have to wait until after the Pacers' playoff run to speak with him.
A source tells Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group that first- and second-round draft picks will likely be available around the time of the draft in exchange for little more than cash. I'd be surprised if any team gave up a first-rounder for such paltry return, however, even considering the purported weakness of this year's crop of prospects. No first-round picks changed hands at the trade deadline, when teams were reluctant to give them up. The Warriors don't have a pick in this year's draft and co-owner Joe Lacob has shown the willingness to spend to acquire a selection in the past, as Kawakami points out, so perhaps they'll net a second-rounder this year.
There's more on the Warriors and their Western Conference rivals, as we detail here:
Kawakami also hears talk about a hypothetical trade scenario involving David Lee and Pau Gasol, though he strongly cautions that Gasol's name was brought up merely as an example of the kind of player the Warriors might pursue in a trade for Lee. A Gasol deal won't happen, Kawakami writes, but he's the sort of highly paid, versatile big man the team could seek.
Thunder GM Sam Presti hinted that the team might expand its already liberal use of its D-League affililate, notes Nick Gallo of Thunder.com. "We’re going to have to continue to find ways to use it, because the elite organizations in sports, they assimilate younger players into their team," Presti said. "That’s part of their ability to sustain as they experience turnover or the unforeseen circumstance. It’s what you do before the storm hits, often."
A spring evening without an NBA playoff game is like a day without sunshine for many of us, but tomorrow, the Central Division champion Pacers will try one more time to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since the Reggie Miller era. If they get there, they'll try to avoid becoming the third straight Central team eliminated by the Heat, who already knocked out the Bucks and Bulls. Here's the latest from the division:
Bulls GM Gar Forman addressed the specter of a missed season for Rose with Adam Fluck of Bulls.com, and in spite of an offseason of personnel decisions ahead, Forman identifies simply getting healthy as the team's primary goal this summer.
Bulls president and COO Michael Reinsdorf praised the work of Forman and executive VP of basketball operations John Paxson, as Fluck passes along in a separate piece.
Boyer also reports in her piece that the Cavs have hired Phil Handy, an assistant coach with the Lakers, to serve as an assistant under head coach Mike Brown. The Cavs have yet to make an official announcement.
Sam Amico of FOX Sports Ohio heard some speculation at today's NBA Draft Combine that the Lakers and Hawks are two teams trying to find their way into the lottery. With both teams headed for a summer centered on free agent decisions, Atlanta has two first-rounders - picks 17 and 18 - to dangle in an attempt to move up in the draft, whereas Los Angeles - equipped with only the 48th overall pick - would plausibly have to shop Pau Gasol and be willing to take on another contract in hopes of landing a higher draft pick along with another young piece.
Amico provides a reminder that this is still pure speculation as of right now, and that rumors such as these could just be as commonplace with other miscellaneous rumblings heading into the draft. With that being said, it's easy to imagine the Lakers exploring their options on this front considering that Jodie Meeks (who holds a team option for next year) and Jordan Hill are currently the only players under the age of 30 that are technically under contract for next season. Re-signing Dwight Howard and Earl Clark, who we've heard would be willing to stay in L.A. on a discount, would add to that list, though with other key pieces in their starting rotation getting older, pursuing efforts to become younger and develop some talent makes sense.
Considering that this year's draft class isn't arguably as strong as in previous years, it isn't out of the question to think that Atlanta could find themselves in talks to acquire a lottery pick, especially if one of the lottery teams misses out on a top target. Hawks GM Danny Ferry will have plenty of salary flexibility to work with this summer, and adding a lottery talent on a rookie-scale contract beforehand would make for an auspicious start to the team's offseason.