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.
Unsurprisingly, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau thinks Nikola Mirotic deserves to win Rookie of the Year over Andrew Wiggins and Nerlens Noel, as Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald reveals. Mirotic is second among rookies in points per game since the All-Star break behind only Wiggins, and his contributions on a contending team could ultimately help his case for the award. While we continue to see how the race for top Rookie honors shapes up, we’ll round up more from out east..
- Luol Deng has seen heavy time on the court throughout his career, twice leading the NBA in minutes played per night, and the 30 year old admits all the burn has definitely had an effect on him, as Jessica Camerato of Basketball Insiders details. “I feel 45,” Deng said. “I feel old… You’ve got to be smart and realize how your body feels.” The 11th-year veteran has sought advice about playing into his 30’s from Steve Nash and Richard Hamilton, according to Camerato.
- Fred Kerber of the New York Post opines that if the Knicks can find a way to finish with even just a .500 record next season, it would mark one of the greatest one-year turnarounds in NBA history. Landing Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor in the draft this June would certainly help New York’s chances, Kerber believes.
- Andre Drummond‘s offensive game is expanding, and that could help the Pistons offset the likely loss of unrestricted free agent Greg Monroe, David Mayo of MLive.com writes. Drummond has mostly relied on lob dunks and putbacks for his offensive contributions during his three-year career but has shown improved postup moves in recent games, including five made hook shots against the Heat on Sunday, Mayo adds. That is a welcome development, Mayo opines, considering that Monroe — the team’s main post threat — signed a qualifying offer last summer as a restricted free agent so that he could become unrestricted this summer.
Dana Gauruder contributed to this post.
Duke center Jahlil Okafor has long been considered the favorite to become the top pick in the 2015 draft, but for the first time since Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress has been compiling his prospect rankings for this year, he’s slipped to No. 2, as Givony notes via Twitter. That means Kentucky forward/center Karl-Anthony Towns has overtaken Okafor in his rankings as well as the ones Chad Ford of ESPN.com puts together. Of course, there’s still nearly three months to go until draft night, and much can change between now and then. It nonetheless sets up what would surely be a dream matchup in the NCAA tournament final for NBA scouts and executives if Kentucky and Duke are to win their respective semifinals on Saturday. There’s more draft news amid the latest from around the league:
- UNLV freshman shooting guard Rashad Vaughn has signed with agent Omar Wilkes of Octagon Sports, according to Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress (Twitter link). Vaughn last week denied a report from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports that he was planning to declare for the draft, but signing with an agent wouldn’t allow him to return to school, which suggests that Vaughn is indeed draft-bound.
- Three dozen of 59 NBA executives who spoke to Chris Broussard of ESPN.com support playoff realignment, with the vast majority of the opposition coming from Eastern Conference teams (Twitter link).
- Elijah Millsap landed his three-year deal with Jazz thanks to an agent who is four years younger than he is, and Cameron Chung of the Sports Agent Blog chronicles the sudden emergence of 23-year-old Daniel Hazan and his Hazan Sports Management agency.
- The glut of high-level point guards in the NBA is a severe impediment to teams that don’t have one, as Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com examines in an Insider-only piece, suggesting that clubs like the Knicks and Sixers should prioritize finding point guards in the offseason.
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 announced that they have signed Ricky Ledo to another 10-day pact, as Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv tweets. Ledo signed his first 10-day with New York on March 19th.
Ledo was waived by the Mavs around the trade deadline to make room for Amar’e Stoudemire. He only appeared in five games with Dallas this season, spending the lion’s share of his time with the Texas Legends, the club’s D-League affiliate. The 22-year-old guard has seen 18.6 minutes per game with the Knicks across his five contests in New York, averaging 7.2 PPG and 2.2 RPG.
As Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com (on Twitter) pointed out when Ledo was signed to his first 10-day pact, the guard’s presence decreases the likelihood of Thanasis Antetokounmpo being added to the Knicks’ roster in 2014/15. The athletic prospect has been playing for the team’s D-League affiliate in Westchester and has yet to be called up to the main roster, even though the Knicks are clearly playing with the future in mind.
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.