Monday night. 10 p.m. Eastern. Memphis Grizzlies. Phoenix Suns. Only one of them can make the playoffs. The Grizzlies will be coming off a game the previous night against the Lakers. If they win that game, they’re a game up on the Suns. If they lose, the two teams are tied. Phoenix has to be praying the Lakers get the win, because they’ve lost all three games against the Grizzlies this season, and they need to claim the eighth spot outright.
If Memphis wins tomorrow night and again Monday, they’re in. If they lose both, they need to beat Dallas on Wednesday. So it has to be said that while the clock hasn’t struck midnight on the Cinderella Suns, it’s 11:58.
Regardless, they’ve won 47 games with a lineup full of players only the most diehard fan could have named at the beginning of the season. In an era where NBA coaches are more expendable than ever, Jeff Hornacek is proving that the right guy can make a huge difference.
Now let’s get to the latest from around the NBA:
WHAT IS THE KNICKS’ PLAN?
When Steve Mills was hired as general manager by owner James Dolan four days before training camp, he came in to implement the next plan of attack, to take advantage of cap flexibility for 2015 and possibly 2016 that would entice Anthony to stay put.
Mills and Dolan sold Jackson on the plan during their four-month courtship. But as a person close to the situation says, Jackson is in charge now and has the right to take a detour anytime he wishes.
Jackson appears committed, however, to the notion of grinding through next season, allowing the Knicks’ multitude of expiring contracts to come off the books and going full bore at the heady free-agent class of 2015 that could feature Anthony’s buddy, LeBron James, whom they lost out on in 2010. James has yet to decide whether to opt out this summer.
The contracts of Amare Stoudemire ($23 million), Tyson Chandler ($14 million) and Andrea Bargnani ($11.5 million) all come off the books after next season.
The Knicks stand to possess a load of 2015 cap space — even more if Anthony acts on his own suggestion of taking a “paycut’’ to give the franchise more flexibility.
“There’s a lot of unknowns,’’ one NBA personnel director said regarding the new plan.
What’s known is the 2015 free-agent class is deep and rich — including Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Goran Dragic, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker, Roy Hibbert, Paul Millsap, DeAndre Jordan and Marc Gasol. Even Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh could be free agents in 2015 if they also don’t opt out this summer. If the Knicks don’t hit a home run in 2015, Kevin Durant is free in 2016.
CAN THE CAVS KEEP DENG AND HAWES?
Assuming he returns as general manager, one of David Griffin’s first goals will be to find a veteran small forward for next season. He will talk to Deng, a free agent, about returning, but the contract offer will be rather modest. A good guess is Deng will want to play for a contender.
The Cavs will likely have to shop elsewhere. But Deng demonstrated how an experienced and reasonably productive small forward can affect this team.
Other than Deng, the other major player is Spencer Hawes, who the Cavs want back. Griffin values big men who can pass and shoot. The Cavs have been asking Hawes to shoot even more. Since being obtained in a deal with Philadelphia for a pair of second-round picks, Hawes is averaging 14 points, 7.7 rebounds and shooting .464. On 3-pointers, he’s at .457. His outside shooting allows the middle to be open, creating room for Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving to drive to the rim.
SILVER OPEN TO REFORMATTING PLAYOFF SEEDINGS
The vast difference in strength between the NBA’s Eastern and Western conferences has first-year commissioner Adam Silver rethinking his league’s playoff structure.
Under the current system, the league admits each conference’s top eight teams by record, with the two conferences kept entirely separate until the conference champions meet in the Finals. Some observers have suggested that the top 16 teams, regardless of conference affiliation, should make the playoffs. Others have argued that the top eight teams from each conference should make the postseason, with those 16 teams then subject to a reseeding regardless of conference affiliation.
In an interview with Fox Sports Southwest’s Bill Land and Sean Elliott conducted during a Friday night game between the Spurs and Suns, Silver didn’t commit to enacting any changes to the system, but he did say that the league will investigate its options.
“I don’t know if there will be movement,” Silver said. “My initial thought is we should take a fresh look at it. When these conferences were designed it was in the day of commercial travel. … It was very different when we moved teams around the country. In this day and age, where every team in the league is flying charter, it changes everything.”
CLINT CAPELA JOINS DRAFT, PARKER STILL UNSURE
Capela, 19, wasn’t well-known about 16 months ago. The Geneva native’s parents are from Angola and the Congo. Capela first came on the scene as a member of the Swiss national team in the 2013 Eurobasket tournament.
“A year ago no one was talking about me and now every day I see news about me,” Capela said. “Sometimes, it’s strange for me. But I try to stay focused and continue to work hard.”
At 6-foot-11, 222 pounds, Capela attracted NBA attention with his play on the highest professional level in France while playing for Chalon-Sur-Saone. He’s starting for Chalon and averaging 9.1 points, seven rebounds and 1.8 blocks at just 19 years old. Along with Saturday’s game, NBA scouts are seeing him play during the World Team’s practices this week.
“I know he is not polished yet, but he is really athletic and really long,” said Sefolosha, who played for Chalon from 2002-05. “He can’t do too much offensively, but he can offensive rebound and do things close to the rim right now. He has a great body and a pretty good motor.”
DraftExpress.com has Capela ranked as the 13th-best prospect in this year’s draft. Several scouts told Yahoo Sports they project him as a first-round prospect in the Nos. 20-30 range, but he could improve his standing at the Hoop Summit.
Duke freshman star Jabari Parker said Friday he still hasn’t decided whether he will enter the NBA draft and will meet with coach Mike Krzyzewski next week to discuss his situation.
Parker, who is ranked as the No. 2 draft prospect by ESPN.com’s Chad Ford, said he has ruled out going on a Mormon mission, leaving his decision between another year at Duke or the NBA.
Underclassmen have until April 27 to decide to enter the draft, which will be held June 26 in New York.
“It’s a very tough decision, especially potentially leaving behind my coach and the program that really helped me out this year, so I really have to keep them in consideration in this whole process,” Parker said Friday on ESPNLA 710.
Projected to be a top-three pick, Parker has compelling reasons to leave for the NBA, but he also has some good ones to stay at Duke.
Parker struggled in the third-seeded Blue Devils’ loss to 14-seed Mercer in the NCAA tournament’s round of 64, a disappointing end to an All-American season. If he returns to Durham, Duke likely will be a favorite to reach the Final Four. Parker would also have a chance to play alongside fellow Chicago native Jahlil Okafor, the nation’s top high school senior, who will play for Duke next season.
Dan Malone is currently in graduation limbo after finishing his journalism degree at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and spent last summer as a features intern at the Cape Cod Times. He blogs, edits and learns things on the fly for Sheridan Hoops. Follow him on Twitter.