Manu Ginobili said before the Finals that he would consider retirement after the series, and he reiterated that sentiment today in speaking to reporters, including Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com. "There's a small chance," Ginobili said. "It's not that I'm really considering, but I can never say 'no' for sure, because I sometimes consider it." If the soon-to-be free agent returns next season, it seems overwhelmingly likely he'll do so with the Spurs, notes Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com. Here's more from a busy Saturday around the Western Conference:
Mark Deeks of ShamSports.com doesn't think the Hawks will have much trouble if they want to trade Lou Williams to free up more cap space in the pursuit of two max free agents this summer. He also believes the team wouldn't hesitate to pull off other moves necessary to clear room (Twitter links). If the Hawks renounce all their cap holds and keep their pair of first-round picks, they'd be about $1.9MM shy of the cap space necessary to sign Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, providing next season's salary cap checks in at the projected $58.5MM. The Hawks might not be at the top of likely destinations for the rumored D12-CP3 pairing, but it appears that won't stop them from trying. With half a month to go until teams and free agents can start lining up agreements, here's more from around the Association:
Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune writes that the Timberwolves will likely trade either J.J. Barea or Luke Ridnour by draft night. In the same piece, Zgoda notes that GM Flip Saunders is impressed with Victor Oladipo. Minnesota - currently slated to draft ninth overall - would have to swing a deal into the top five in order to have a chance at the former Hoosier star, though Zgoda doesn't think the team has enough assets to accomplish that. Here are more news and notes from the Western Conference tonight:
An NBA-record 12 coaching jobs are changing hands this offseason, with almost half the jobs still open. Five teams are still searching for a coach, though David Joerger appears the strong front-runner for the Grizzlies. It looks like Jason Kidd has the edge for the Nets job, but Brian Shaw remains in the mix. It's more unsettled for the Nuggets, Clippers and Sixers, and as we await more clarity on those vacancies, here's the latest coaching news:
SATURDAY: Sources told Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski that Durant is in fact joining Roc Nation, giving them their first NBA All-Star. In a statement, former agent Rob Pelinka was extremely gracious about the departure of one of his top clients.
"We are honored and blessed to have worked on behalf of Kevin, for a brief period of time," Pelinka said in a statement. "He is an amazing person and athlete, and we are proud of our work and service toward advancing his brand in a manner that reflects the mutual qualities we share with Kevin."
FRIDAY: Kevin Durant is leaving his representatives at Landmark Sports, according to Liz Mullen of the Sports Business Journal (via Twitter). Sources expect him to now join Jay-Z's Roc Nation Sports, according to Mullen.
When asked in a text if Durant was Roc Nation-bound, an agency spokesperson replied "no comment" (link). Landing Durant would be a major coup for the fledgling Roc Nation group as they look to make a major mark in the NBA. Jay-Z's venture first made waves when they managed to steal Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano away from baseball superagent Scott Boras.
Jay-Z has been linked with Kentucky product Nerlens Noel, who is likely to be the top pick in the 2013 draft, but no deal has been struck just yet. There were also the inevitable rumors about a partnership between him and longtime friend LeBron James, but that talk has been shot down.
Despite his limited role in Oklahoma City, Ronnie Brewer sounded open about a possible return to the Thunder: "I'm still very young and still have a lot of basketball left in me so if it's here or somewhere else I'll continue to play basketball. This is a great organization and (has) great players, great coaches, great fans. So hopefully I can continue to play here” (Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman reports). Here are more of tonight's miscellaneous notes:
Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times reports that Lionel Hollins met with the Clippers today and engaged in a lengthy conversation about their head coaching job. Turner also relays that Brian Shaw is expected to interview with team brass on either Monday or Tuesday next week (Twitter links). As for George Karl, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles tweets that while the Clippers haven't spoken to him directly, they have been in contact with his representative. Both ESPN's Marc Stein and Shelburne report that Karl and Shaw have emerged as the team's top two candidates for the job.
As we gear up for Game 1 of the NBA Finals, here are a few miscellaneous notes to share from around the league tonight:
Projected first-round pick Dario Saric is leaning toward withdrawing his name from draft consideration, according to ESPN.com's Chad Ford. While Saric is receiving plenty of interest and could easily be a lottery pick, the Croatian forward feels as if he's not quite ready for the NBA and wants to spend at least one more year playing overseas, says Ford.
Although NCAA underclassmen were required to make a decision on their draft status back in April, the rules are different for international prospects declaring their intent early. As we outlined back in March, international players like Saric can withdraw from draft consideration at any point up until 4:00pm CST on June 17th.
Even if Saric isn't interested in playing in the NBA for the 2013/14 season, it could be in his best interests to remain in the draft anyway. Some teams, like the Mavericks at No. 13, may actually be more inclined to select Saric if it means they can stash him for a year, removing his cap hold from their books for this summer. Next year's draft class figures to be stronger as well, meaning Saric could be selected later in 2014 even if his stock doesn't decline.
According to Ford, the Pelicans (sixth overall pick), Trail Blazers (10th), Thunder (12th), and Mavs have all shown "significant interest" in Saric.
Joe Kotoch of SheridanHoops.com has Nerlens Noel atop the latest version of his mock draft, and he has news about the Cavaliers, Noel and other potential lottery storylines. We'll round up the highlights here:
Free Agents / Cap Holds
With the 2013 NBA Finals set to get underway, the Heat are once again representing the East, but this time around, Miami will be playing the team the Thunder eliminated from the playoffs a year ago. In the '13 postseason, Oklahoma City didn't even get a chance to face the Spurs in the Western Finals, having been knocked out a round earlier by the Grizzlies. While it's easy to blame Russell Westbrook's knee injury for OKC's disappointing early exit, one also has to wonder if the Thunder erred in trading James Harden just a few days before the regular season began.
It's easy to jump to conclusions on the Harden trade based on what we saw happen on the court this season - which includes Harden's ascent to stardom in Houston - but there are plenty of other factors to consider. For one, the Thunder appeared willing to extend Harden last offseason, albeit not for the maximum. Had OKC relented and signed Harden to the max, the team's salary commitments for next season would have been approaching $80MM with further additions still required to fill out the roster. For a franchise without the deep pockets of clubs like the Lakers, Knicks, and Nets, diving that far into tax territory in a year when penalties for taxpayers become more punitive simply wasn't palatable.
Had the team re-signed Harden, there were other ways it could have attempted to cut costs -- perhaps Serge Ibaka wouldn't have received his four-year extension, or perhaps the team would have amnestied Kendrick Perkins this summer. Considering tax penalties aren't levied until the very end of the season, the Thunder could have even gone into 2013/14 with everyone under contract and tried to make a blockbuster trade or two at the deadline to reduce costs.
In each one of those scenarios though, the team would have either lost a key player, lost trade leverage, or made a financial commitment beyond what ownership was comfortable with. In a no-win situation, the Thunder chose what they viewed as the best available solution, trading Harden early, maintaining some leverage and getting the best package they could.
The jury's still out on whether the Harden package OKC received from Houston will pan out, but this offseason may go a long way toward determing its value. Kevin Martin was servicable in his role as sixth man in 2012/13, but will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. While Martin has expressed a desire to return, having seemingly geniunely enjoyed playing for a contending team for the first time in his career, the Thunder don't have a ton of cap flexibility. Therefore it's possible Martin's stint in OKC will be a one-and-done affair.
Presumably, the Thunder were hoping that Jeremy Lamb would eventually be able to step into that role as a scoring two guard, previously held by Harden and Martin. After being drafted in the lottery a year ago, Lamb hardly saw any NBA playing time during his rookie season, but I don't think that necessarily means he's a future bust. The Thunder simply didn't have enough minutes to go around to get Lamb, Perry Jones III, and all its other young players into the lineup on a regular basis. As we saw with Reggie Jackson, who emerged late in his sophomore season, scoring double-digit points in his final nine playoff games, OKC is very patient with its prospects, bringing them along slowly until they're absolutely ready to contribute.
The Thunder figures to add another young player to their roster in this year's lottery, with the team holding the No. 12 pick. Recent mock drafts have Oklahoma City leaning toward a big man, unless C.J. McCollum is still available when the club's pick rolls around. Either way, bringing another young prospect aboard should make the team's roster very intriguing.
Westbrook, Ibaka, and Kevin Durant certainly aren't getting too old yet (Westbrook and Durant turn 25 this fall, while Ibaka turns 24), so it would be easy enough to spend the next several years trying to find the right mix of veterans to complement them. But as we saw during LeBron James' stint in Cleveland, that approach can be expensive, and isn't always effective. Continuing to stockpile draft picks and young players is a better way of ensuring that the team's success is sustainable.
By the time the team's current Big Three approaches free agency, players like Jackson, Lamb, Jones, and this year's lottery pick should be entering their primes. That would not only create incentive for OKC's stars to stick around, but would give the Thunder a safety net if one or two of those stars leave -- unlike the Cavs, the Thunder wouldn't have to enter a full-fledged rebuild in that scenario, since the club continues to bring in young talent rather than going all-in during a two- or three-year window.
Of course, it's possible that the all-in approach is still one Sam Presti and the Thunder office will employ. With those young players in the fold, and a future Mavs' first-round pick still under control, OKC has the assets necessary to trade for a good veteran player. If the team feels it's just one piece away from a title as the 2014 trade deadline approaches, it could use some of those assets to land that piece. But based on the way Presti has built the roster so far, it would be surprising if he backed himself into a corner, compromising the long-term outlook he has taken so far.
Additionally, the team's current salary commitments make adding too much veteran talent (and salary) a little tricky. If the Thunder bring back all their players on guaranteed contracts, along with the No. 12 pick, the club will have to fill out the roster with minimum-salary players to avoid going over the tax line. As such, I have to wonder if the Thunder will seriously consider amnestying Perkins, despite its denials. Clearing his $9MM from the books would ensure that the team could use its full mid-level and bi-annual exceptions (or bring back Martin) without going into tax territory. Perkins' salary would still have to be paid, but using that extra money to replace him with a more productive role player may make more sense than putting it toward tax payments.
While it may seem as if the Thunder need to make a major move this summer in order to return to title contention, the team isn't as far away as this year's postseason outcome made it appear. It's very possible that a healthy Westbrook could have made the difference against the Grizzlies and, subsequently, against the Spurs. With Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka just now entering their mid-20s, it's hard to imagine the club taking a significant step backward, even if Martin doesn't return. A tweak here and there will be necessary, but if at least one of Jackson, Lamb, or Jones is ready to step up and assume a larger role, I expect to see OKC right back near the top of the Western Conference standings in 2013/14.