There’s only one Northwest Division team in the playoffs, but it’s been a newsy day around the division, with the Thunder’s apparent interest in UConn coach Kevin Ollie as a possible replacement for Scott Brooks perhaps the most significant story. Concerns in the Blazers locker room about whether LaMarcus Aldridge will re-sign loom over Portland, while another team already has a coaching vacancy, and we’ll pass along the latest from Denver and other Northwest locales here:
- The Nuggets would prefer a coaching veteran to fill their vacancy, as Sean Deveney of The Sporting News writes within a larger look at the offseason ahead in Denver. Ty Lawson is probably staying put, Deveney adds, and the same can be said for Jusuf Nurkic, whom the Nuggets regard as a steal a season after he was the 16th overall pick.
- British-born Joel Freeland hasn’t played a large role for the Blazers in the three years since he came over from playing in Spain, but as his contract nears an end, he would prefer to remain in the NBA and with the Blazers, as he told Chema de Lucas of Gigantes Del Basket (translation via Mark Woods of MVP247.com). Portland can match offers for Freeland in free agency this summer, but that only applies to offers from other NBA teams, not overseas clubs, and the Blazers would first have to tender a qualifying offer of nearly $3.767MM.
- Flip Saunders said today that the Wolves will have a strong prospect regardless of whom they draft with their first-round pick, which could fall between No. 1 and No. 4, but Michael Rand of the Star Tribune figures the coach/exec must hope he can land a big man. Rand argues that’s because of the injury history of Nikola Pekovic, who’s under contract through 2017/18. Top two prospects Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor are big men and the players widely projected to go next are guards Emmanuel Mudiay and D’Angelo Russell. Saunders said he’ll draft the best available talent rather than for position.
A Blazers teammate of LaMarcus Aldridge who spoke with The Oregonian’s Jason Quick earlier this month said that he thinks the chances that Aldridge will leave Portland in free agency this summer are just as strong as the chances he’ll re-sign. That’s reflective of the worry that some Blazers have expressed to Quick about the All-Star power forward’s willingness to remain with the team. Still, Quick cautions that Aldridge has grown comfortable in Portland and feels as though the Blazers value him. Aldridge said nearly a year ago that he would re-sign and repeated that before the season.
Aldridge didn’t always sense the Blazers organization was behind him, and he reflected upon that in a recent interview with Michael Lee of The Washington Post, one in which the former No. 2 overall pick wondered if the Blazers would find it easy to move on from him. Quick, who uses the words “fickle,” “moody” and “unpredictable” to describe Aldridge, nonetheless believes the 29-year-old will re-sign. That was the belief of most executives around the league at the All-Star break, even though one executive at that point told Sean Deveney of The Sporting News that the Blazers were “very, very scared” that Aldridge would leave. The exec suggested that it was paranoia of the Blazers’ part, however. Aldridge hasn’t discussed his free agency much since he said again before the season that he would re-sign with the Blazers, though he spoke about his comfort with the Blazers and Portland in December. During the All-Star break, he said that he’d be a fit for the triangle offense and praised Knicks team president Phil Jackson in response to questions from the New York media during the All-Star break.
Portland can give Aldridge a fifth year and 7.5% raises on his next deal, while other teams are limited to four years and 4.5% raises. A teammate of Aldridge’s nonetheless suggested to Quick that money won’t be the primary deciding factor. Aldridge, No. 4 in our latest Hoops Rumors Free Agent Power Rankings, is a native of Seagoville, Texas, which is close to Dallas, and the Mavs reportedly plan to pursue him. There’s been off-hand chatter among executives about the Spurs and Aldridge, as Grantland’s Zach Lowe documented in January.
In using LeBron James‘ decision to bolt from the Heat and join the Cavaliers after the Spurs beat Miami in last year’s NBA Finals as an example, Geoff Calkins of the Commercial Appeal opines that how the Grizzlies fare in the playoffs will impact Marc Gasol‘s free agency decision. Gasol was not at all forthcoming when asked if the playoffs could have an impact on his future. The big man has spent his entire seven-year career with the Grizzlies. “I don’t know,” Gasol said. “Honestly, I haven’t put in my mind what’s going to weigh what, and I really don’t know. I honestly can’t tell you because I haven’t had time to even think about it. So, I don’t know.”
Previously, Gasol cast doubt on the idea that an early postseason exit for the Grizzlies would dissuade him from re-signing. Earlier this week owner Robert Pera expressed a similar view that the playoffs would not have much bearing on Gasol’s decision.
There’s more from the Western Conference:
- The Blazers are decimated by injury, they are facing the Grizzlies — a team that has beat them in all four contests this season — and have several question marks heading into the summer. All of that presents this time period as the biggest challenge since GM Neil Olshey was hired in June 2012, John Canzano of the Oregonian opines. This summer, the team’s top player, LaMarcus Aldridge, will become an unrestricted free agent. Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez will also become unrestricted free agents.
- Embattled Thunder coach Scott Brooks, whom the team is reportedly evaluating prior to making a decision on his future, has received three significant votes of confidence, Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman writes. Serge Ibaka has joined Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in supporting Brooks, who has guided the team since the 2008/09 season. “Why are you going to fire him?” Ibaka is quoted in a piece by Jorge Sierra of HoopsHype. “What has he done? Injuries were not his fault. Why would he go? He has not done anything. He’s not responsible for the injuries. He did his best with the team he had. Would [another] coach do better with a team with so many injuries? What could he possibly do about it? The team is with him. You can’t blame him for what has happened.”
- Chris Paul has never led a team beyond the second round of the playoffs and although the star point guard has never received much backlash for his lack of postseason success, Moke Hamilton of Basketball Insiders opines that if Paul fails to get far this postseason, his name won’t be associated with the transformation of the Clippers.
LaMarcus Aldridge may be more willing to leave the Blazers this summer than previously thought, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne relayed in an appearance on the 710 ESPN Mason & Ireland Show (hat tip to Ryan Ward of LakersNation.com). “I think LaMarcus Aldridge is actually more in play than people think,” said Shelburne. “You have that group there. How can you really improve that group up in Portland? I think Neil Olshey has done a great job up there, but it’s Portland, he’s [Aldridge] never quite fit in and they’ve made it really clear that Damian Lillard is the face of their franchise.” Aldridge, who earned $16,256,000 for the 2014/15 season, is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Here’s more from the Northwest Division:
- Enes Kanter, who can become a restricted free agent this summer if the Thunder extend him a qualifying offer worth $7,471,412, said he enjoyed his time in OKC, Berry Tramel and Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman writes. “I love it here,” Kanter said. “Oklahoma City was obviously a good fit for me from day one. They opened their arms. I just like playing with all of these guys. They give it 100% every time. I would definitely like to come back here.”
- Kanter also relayed that he is willing to come off the bench in the future, though part of his issues with the Jazz stemmed from playing time concerns, the Oklahoman scribes add. When discussing his next contract, the big man said, “I’m not nervous at all, and I have no idea what kind of contract I’m going to get. Like I said, I just want to be on a team, I just want to be happy and I just want to see this team get success and make the playoffs. I’m not nervous at all. That contract thing, my agent handles it. I’m not really worried about it.”
- Jameer Nelson has to make a decision on his player option worth $2,854,940 for next season. One of the determining factors for the veteran is who will be coaching the Nuggets for the 2015/16 campaign, Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post writes. The point guard is partial to interim coach Melvin Hunt, whom the team will reportedly consider retaining, Dempsey adds. Nelson is concerned about his playing time diminishing under a new coach, Dempsey notes. “Whatever I decide, I’ll definitely discuss with that team what my role would be,” said Nelson. “I feel like I’m definitely more than a 15 or 18-minute guy, for sure.“
FRIDAY, 2:56pm: The Nuggets are willing to spend on their next coach in spite of the $2MM they still owe to Shaw next season, Dempsey hears (Twitter link).
3:30pm: Connelly says that the team will take its time in searching for a new coach, and that Hunt will indeed be considered as a candidate, Dempsey relays in a series of tweets. “We’re going to be pretty patient,” Connelly said. “Certainly Melvin is going to be one of the finalists. I think he deserves that, he’s earned that. But we’re going to talk to anybody and everybody…candidates that could potentially help us take the next step.”
THURSDAY, 2:05pm: NBA coaching veteran Scott Skiles, Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg and Blazers assistant coach David Vanterpool are among the candidates for the Nuggets coaching job, sources tell Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. Denver will also indeed give serious consideration to interim coach Melvin Hunt as the Nuggets formally begin their search today, Wojnarowski hears. Billy Donovan, Michael Malone, Mike D’Antoni, Alvin Gentry and, if the Thunder let him go, Scott Brooks are also candidates, according to Wojnarowski, seconding earlier reports.
There have been conflicting reports regarding Hunt. Marc Stein of ESPN.com wrote overnight that sources said this week that the Nuggets aren’t expected to keep him, but according to Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post, the Nuggets will interview Hunt for the position that he’s filled on an interim basis since the team decided to fire Brian Shaw in March. Dempsey’s story jibes with the tenor of most reports and GM Tim Connelly‘s admission that the team will at least consider keeping Hunt.
Skiles is a leading candidate for the Magic’s vacancy, and Donovan, Malone and Brooks have been mentioned in connection with the Orlando job, too. Hoiberg, whose name has surfaced frequently for NBA jobs of late, has been linked to the Bulls as a possible replacement if the team parts ways with Tom Thibodeau, and it appears as though he’ll be selective and won’t take just any NBA opening. Vanterpool interviewed for the Sixers job in 2013 and seemed at one point to be the front-runner, but the 42-year-old, who’s been on the Blazers bench since 2012/13, hasn’t been an NBA head coach.
10:50am: For his part, Brooks remains optimistic, telling reporters today that he expects to return for next season, as Royce Young of ESPN.com tweets.
7:51am: Several league sources close to Thunder coach Scott Brooks have expressed doubt about his job security as the Thunder are expected to “spend time evaluating the partnership” with the coach before committing to him for another season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. The Magic and Nuggets would have significant interest in Brooks if he became available, sources told Wojnarowski. Oklahoma City’s contract with Brooks runs through 2016/17, with a team option on the final season, Wojnarowski adds.
Thunder GM Sam Presti has long been friends with University of Florida coach Billy Donovan, according to Wojnarowski. Donovan is another Nuggets and Magic candidate who has an increasing desire to coach in the NBA, as Marc Stein of ESPN.com reported a couple of weeks ago. League sources who spoke with Wojnarowski brought up the possibility of Presti targeting Donovan should the Thunder let go of Brooks.
Injury-plagued Oklahoma City went 45-37 and remained alive for a playoff berth until the final night of the regular season, but the Thunder missed the postseason for the first time since 2009. Brooks took over midway through that season, and in spite of the Thunder’s fast rise to title contention, the coach has come under fire from critics for his in-game strategy. The Thunder organization has largely remained supportive, but negotiations in the 2012 offseason on a four-year extension worth about $18MM were difficult, according to Wojnarowski, even though Oklahoma City was fresh off a trip to the NBA Finals. The Blazers were among several teams with interest in swooping in to hire Brooks then if those talks fell apart, Wojnarowski notes.
Many in the Thunder organization like Brooks, who has close relationship with management and players alike, Wojnarowski writes. Still, the specter of Kevin Durant‘s contract, which expires after next season, clouds the Thunder’s future. Durant, the league’s reigning MVP and scoring champ, played in only 27 games this season largely because of a broken foot, precipitating the Thunder’s slide down the standings.
Pistons owner Tom Gores gave Andre Drummond a vote of confidence during tonight’s contest against the Knicks, calling the big man a “max player,” David Mayo of MLive.com relays (Twitter link). Drummond, who is set to earn $3,272,091 next season, is eligible to ink an extension this summer, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the Pistons will offer him one, since the team would have the right to match any offer sheet the big man were to sign as a restricted free agent in 2016. Detroit could be wary of taking that chance given how the team is likely to lose Greg Monroe, who reportedly declined to ink an extension of his own with the club, as a free agent this summer, though that is merely my speculation.
Here’s more from around the league:
- Arron Afflalo will let his playoff performance dictate whether he picks up his $7.75MM player option for next season with the Blazers, as a source close to the swingman tells Michael Scotto of SheridanHoops that he’ll opt out if he plays well.
- One executive who spoke with Scotto, who in a separate piece pegged Danny Green‘s value at $6MM a year. The Spurs swingman is an unrestricted free agent this summer.
- Ronnie Price indicated that his desire is to remain with the Lakers, even if it is as a third-string guard, Mark Medina of The Los Angeles Daily News writes. “I enjoyed being a voice in the locker room. I enjoyed being able to help younger guys. I helped great veterans that can help me. I’d be selfish not to extend that knowledge to players that are younger than me,” Price said. “Of course you want to play. That’s why we do what we do. You want to play. You never know what’s ahead. Whatever role is my role, I’ll embrace it whether it’s being here or the third guard.” Price will become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.
- Suns forward Markieff Morris believes that the team needs to add players with more experience to its roster, Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic tweets. “Veteran leadership for sure,” Morris responded when asked about Phoenix’s needs. “We have to have more older guys around so we can keep this thing intact.“
Chuck Myron contributed to this post.
An MRI performed on Trail Blazers guard Arron Afflalo confirmed that he has suffered a right shoulder strain, the team announced. Afflalo is expected to be out of action for one to two weeks, and if that timetable holds, the injury will likely cause the guard to miss Portland’s opening round playoff series. With the team already without Wesley Matthews, who is out for the season with a torn left Achilles, losing Afflalo puts a major dent in the team’s postseason hopes. In 25 games for the Blazers since being acquired from Denver the 29-year-old has averaged 10.6 points and 2.7 rebounds in 30.1 minutes per contest.
Here’s more from around the Western Conference:
- The Warriors have assigned James Michael McAdoo to the Santa Cruz Warriors, their D-League affiliate, the team announced. McAdoo has appeared in 33 games for Santa Cruz this season, averaging 19.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in 32.8 minutes per contest.
- Alex Abrines, a draft-and-stash prospect for the Thunder, in an interview with Gigantes.com (translation by HoopsHype.com) said that he isn’t ready to make the jump to the NBA just yet. The 21-year-old swingman was the No. 32 overall selection in the 2013 NBA draft, and he is under contract with Barcelona through 2016.
- Timberwolves‘ rookies Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins have learned much about what it takes to make it through the rigors of an NBA season, and the pair hope to take the momentum that they have gained into the summer to continue their development as players, Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune writes.
Former lottery pick Meyers Leonard appears to have turned a corner for the Trail Blazers, as Joe Freeman of The Oregonian details. That’s fortunate timing for him, as the client of recently hired agent Aaron Mintz is eligible for a rookie scale extension this summer, though usually such extensions are the domain of budding stars, like Damian Lillard, who also becomes extension-eligible in July. In any case, it’ll be an active summer for the Blazers, with LaMarcus Aldridge headlining several key free agents on the team, which has yet to commit any money for 2016/17, when the salary cap is set to spike. Here’s more on the Blazers and their Northwest Division rivals:
- Nicolas Batum is still friendly with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, but while Batum sometimes thinks about what might have been if the Blazers hadn’t matched the offer sheet he signed with Minnesota in 2012, he tells Freeman, who writes in a separate piece, that he’s “very happy” in Portland. Then-Wolves coach Rick Adelman, since retired, was the main reason he wanted to play in Minnesota, Batum added. The small forward will be on an expiring contract next season.
- It took a while for Rodney Hood to start to see consistent playing time, but last year’s 23rd overall pick is looking like a steal lately, as Ryan McDonald of The Deseret News writes in a look at the improvement that he and fellow Jazz first-rounder Dante Exum have made over the season. Hood is averaging 14.3 points in 27.0 minutes per game with 39.0% three-point shooting since March 10th.
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman offers a peek behind the scenes at the Thunder front office, where a team of GM Sam Presti‘s hand-picked contributors work in a collaborative environment.
The regular season ends a week from Wednesday, and by now most of the playoff spots and non-lottery draft order have been decided. A team’s place in the draft order can mean a lot when there are protections attached to a pick that’s been sent out in a trade. There are two first-round picks that could change hands or stay put based on the final days of the regular season, as we chronicled last week, and there are also second-round picks still up in the air. The protection clauses attached to some of them are complex, so we’ll dive in and analyze each of the three cases individually:
- The Clippers owe their second-round pick to the Lakers if it falls from No. 51 through 55 and the Nuggets if it’s 56th through 60th. The Clips can’t finish with a record outside of the top 10 in the league, which they’d need to do to keep the pick. Still, whether it goes to the Lakers or the Nuggets is anybody’s guess. It would go to the Nuggets as it stands, but the Clippers are only a half-game better than the Spurs, with the Blazers and Cavs right behind them. So if any of those teams passes the Clippers, the pick goes to the Lakers.
- The Wizards owe their pick to the Celtics, but only if it falls from No. 50 to No. 60. Washington would pick 49th if the season ended today, but the Raptors are only one game better, and the Mavericks and Bulls are tied at one game above Toronto. So, while the Wizards could improve their playoff seeding, it could cost them their second-rounder. Washington’s obligation to the Celtics would end if the pick doesn’t convey this year, so it all comes down to the final games of the season.
- The Trail Blazers and Bulls will be giving up their second-rounders this year, but the teams that get those respective picks could switch places. The Magic get whichever pick is better, and the Cavaliers get the other one. Chances are that Chicago’s pick will be going to Orlando and Portland’s to Cleveland, since the Blazers have a four and a half game lead on Chicago. Still, the Bulls aren’t mathematically eliminated from passing the Blazers just yet.
RealGM was used in the creation of this post.