The dust has settled on three great series, with three of the NBA’s toughest teams headed home. And each of those teams now has to turn their attention to the future, and what the future holds for the Bulls, Grizzlies and Wizards is still a little murky.
Memphis, for instance, could lose its best player. Marc Gasol is a pending free agent, and Phil Jackson has long been rumored to be willing to back up James Dolan’s metaphorical Brinks truck for the Spanish center. At least, within the maximum limits set out in the CBA. Chances are, the Knicks will be far from the only suitor for Gasol.
As of right now, though, it seems like even Gasol doesn’t have any idea what Gasol’s going to do. Witness these tweets, from USA Today’s Sam Amick:
Asked a Grizzlies type recently what internal read was on whether Marc Gasol would be back. They’re in the dark, as he doesn’t talk about it
— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) May 16, 2015
Marc told me back in mid-Feb. that “It won’t be easy” to leave the city he loves so dearly. He’ll listen to others- http://t.co/4FF2mhr2a6
— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) May 16, 2015
There is confidence among Gasol’s teammates that he won’t want to leave their Grit & Grind core, but that Spurs possibility worries them.
— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) May 16, 2015
If any team has ever had a crueler playoff elimination than this year’s Wizards, it certainly wasn’t in my lifetime. From an unbelievable high to the most absolute low in a matter of seconds, because Paul Pierce’s fingertip was still on the ball. For one of the first times in my Baltimorean life, I felt a little sorry for the sports fans of Washington.
Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post looks at the future of the man who took that shot:
As he walked off the corner of the Verizon Center court Friday night, Paul Pierce looked into the crowd and saluted once, twice, three times. He tossed his headband into the stands and flicked his wrist band at another group of fans. And then Pierce ducked his head and disappeared down the tunnel, a quiet exit after a sickening end, another piece of him left behind, maybe for the final time.
“Truthfully, what was going through my mind is, I don’t have too much of these efforts left, if any,” Pierce said. “These rides throughout the NBA season, throughout the playoffs, are very emotional. They take a lot out of not only your body, but your mind, your spirit.”
Moments earlier, Pierce had been awash in chaos, standing amidst roaring fans in the opposite corner of the floor. He had drained a three-pointer at the buzzer over Kyle Korver’s outstretched hand, his body falling away, his heels hovering over the out-of-bounds line. Another capstone in a Hall of Fame career. Overtime beckoned. And then: agony. And then, maybe, the end.
“It affects not only you, but the people around you,” Pierce said. “Days like this, you go home and you’re around your family, you don’t feel like talking to them or doing anything because of what the game does. It takes a bit out of you. You go home, and it’s not a good day. It affects the people around you. It’s tough. People think you just play basketball, go home and your body is sore. No. Mentally, the people around you, it affects. I know I’ll go home and won’t have any words for my wife or my mom. Probably the only thing that can through to me right now is my kids. They bring me joy.”
Pierce’s eyes reddened as he spoke. And yet, in another breath, he left the door to return ajar.
“It’s probably going to be the hardest thing I ever have to do, is put the game down,” Pierce said. “But I know that time is coming one day.”
The previous day, the Chicago Bulls were eliminated, and Tom Thibodeau’s time with the team may have come to an end.
Ken Berger of CBS Sports:
Thibodeau made clear Thursday night after the Bulls were eliminated from the playoffs what should have been obvious to everyone: He isn’t quitting and walking away from two years and approximately $9 million.”Until they tell me I’m not, I expect to be here,” Thibodeau said.
On the other side of this contractual and psychological tug of war are Bulls GM Gar Forman and VP John Paxson, who at this point will not fire Thibodeau and let him walk to another NBA city without compensation. In fact, multiple league sources told CBSSports.com Friday that the Bulls’ front office isn’t even compelled to engage in compensation talks with any teams that are interested in their coach until they have a commitment from a replacement who excites them, multiple league sources told CBSSports.com.
Atop that list is Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, who league sources say would check all the boxes for the Bulls, including fixing the team’s inconsistent — and against the Cavs in Game 6, ineffective — offense. But with Hoiberg only two years into a 10-year, $20 million deal with the Cyclones — and with strong family roots in Ames and having undergone recent heart procedures — there is strong doubt among NBA front office sources that he’d be inclined to make the jump.
“He can leave whenever he wants,” one front-office source said. “Why now?”
Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry, a respected offensive coach, is among the names on the Bulls’ radar. But sources say Gentry — and anyone else not named Hoiberg — will have to pass a difficult litmus test that includes not only being the right fit, but also dynamic enough to justify letting Thibodeau out of his deal.
“What is Tom going to do, be angry?” another front office source said. “What’s different about that?”
Front office sources believe that if Hoiberg could be had, the Bulls would jump at the opportunity to then leverage the other head coaching openings — New Orleans, Denver and Orlando, at the moment — to extract draft-pick compensation for Thibodeau. But one thing the Bulls won’t do, according to league sources, is let Thibodeau out of his contract for compensation without knowing they have a replacement who excites them.
One NBA figure who already knows his future is now-former Pelicans coach Monty Williams. USA Today’s Sam Amick looks at the reasoning behind Williams’ firing:
But the truth of the matter – one that I deemed unfair in the wake of the move – is that Pelicans ownership and management simply wasn’t comfortable with the idea of giving Williams an extension as he entered the final year of his deal. This wasn’t about a power struggle with general manager Dell Demps or a lack of communication (both of which I’m told didn’t exist), but more the fact that the internal desire for new leadership and a new era far outweighed the idea of making Williams the guy for the long-haul.
Williams’ low-approval rating with the fans didn’t help, as he was booed by the fans at home games all the way up until the end. From this vantage point, that’s an absolute joke considering what that team accomplished – 45 wins in the West and as competitive a first-round sweep as you’ll ever see. This was a season-long sort of thing, one that flew under the national radar until I wrote about in this piece on Anthony Davis last month.
The public pressure was clearly a factor here, and it reached yet another level when Williams made an honest and uncomfortable admission to Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears: because of the way he’d been treated at the Smoothie King Center, he told his wife and five children to stop attending games so that they didn’t have to experience all the negativity. It should be noted, though, that the fan voice would likely have fallen on deaf ears in the ownership and management ranks if the decision makers didn’t hear some truth in these consistent complaints.
Fan drama aside, the situation was similar to that of the Oklahoma City Thunder and former coach Scott Brooks. With one year left in Brooks’ deal, they reached a fork in the road and ultimately opted for a new voice in former Florida coach Billy Donovan. That uncomfortable in-between – one year left on the coach’s contract and not enough internal confidence to give him more – can certainly get tricky. Especially when there are superstar players involved who will eventually be deciding whether to stay or go.