SH Blog: Al Jefferson has foot injury; NBA salary cap set to increase by $5M

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Nothing in the NBA playoffs is going like it’s supposed to. The Pacers look like they’re all done, the Spurs struggled to get past the Mavs, the Warriors-Clippers game was a mess of missed free throws and turnovers, the Wizards are winning games… yeah, it’s a little weird.

Of course, we’re only one game in. There’s going to be lots more. But right now, if I were a Pacers fan, I’d be worried. Losing to a Hawks team without Al Horford, a Hawks team that finished the regular season with a losing record, on your home court is not the way #1 seeds should be opening the playoffs.

The last two years, top contenders have had their star point guards go down to knee injuries in the first round. Russell Westbrook recovered, but we’ve barely seen Derrick Rose since. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen this year. The playoffs are better when the stars play.

There’s still one game to go tonight, and it should be a good one. Can the Rockets guard Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge? They’re considering bringing back a strategy they tried briefly for this series. Read on to find out what it is.

First, though, let’s get to the rest of the NBA’s latest news:

SH Blog: D’Antoni says analysts need to adjust; Dantley calls Isiah a ‘con man’

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The NBA playoffs got off to a good start today, with a competitive Nets-Raptors game followed by a thrilling Clippers-Warriors battle. The former reminded everyone why Paul Pierce is still a quality NBA player, and the latter was an intense battle between two rivals, albeit both playing below their potential. Blake Griffin only got 19 minutes due to foul trouble, which the Clippers have to be praying won’t happen in the rest of the series. Otherwise, they could be in for an early exit, and after jumping through hoop after hoop to get Doc Rivers last summer, another first-round exit would be a major disappointment.

If you haven’t already seen it, check out what happened when the shot clocks lost power in Toronto:

Turn the sound on and note the PA announcer saying “horn” because there was no actual horn. This happened in a playoff game.

Electronic embarrassments aside, the city of Toronto showed up to support the Raps in their first playoff series in years. Good show by my fellow Canadians in keeping the game strong north of the border.

Now let’s get to the latest from around the NBA:

HOW DWANE CASEY TURNED AROUND THE RAPTORS’ D

lowryCasey has kind of flown under the radar with Jeff Hornacek coming so close to getting the Suns to the playoffs, and Gregg Popovich winning the West again with a Spurs team that’s another year older, but getting the Raptors to the 3-seed, even in the East, speaks for itself. Rachel Brady of the Globe and Mail writes about how he did it:

When he took over the Raptors in the 2011-12 season, he was inheriting the NBA’s worst defence. He could see some talent on film, but knew good defensive principles weren’t in place. Casey knew changing the focus from offensive to decidedly defensive would be a grind.

“We didn’t have a LeBron or a Kobe or a [Michael] Jordan,” he said, adjusting the Raptors cap he says he wears daily as a sign of consistency to his players. “Our guys were young and I knew it would take time and hard work to become a playoff team. We weren’t going to out-run or out-score anybody. I knew it would take a couple of years and I wanted to find something that signified how hard and monotonous it would be for us.”

The story is legend now: Casey asked that a 1,300-pound boulder be placed inside the locker-room entrance to teach them about the “Pound the Rock” motto, used by many teams. It’s based on a piece of writing by Jacob Riis about New York’s poor in the 1800s. It features a stonecutter, who hammers away at a rock 100 times without a crack. But on the 101st blow, it splits in two, not as a result of that one strike, but of all that came before it.

“The concept had a great point to it, and it was understood by us,” said DeMar DeRozan, who has been a Raptor since 2009. “A lot has changed since then, and it’s very evident. The whole culture has changed for the better … It just takes the right chemistry, the right group of guys doing what it takes to win. You don’t need superstars and this, that and the other – whatever people say you need. We’re proof of that.”

D’ANTONI: ‘BASKETBALL HAS CHANGED,’ ANALYSTS NEED TO ADJUST

Mike D'AntoniWell, that’s one possible explanation for why nobody thinks D’Antoni did a good job with the Lakers.

Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times:

As far as public opinion, the Lakers coach pointed at television analysts as part of the issue.

“I do think that the game is changing and has changed,” said D’Antoni.  “Some of the hard part of coaching is to be able to drag people over to the next side.  People are comfortable doing business a certain way.  When that business kind of shifts, to get people to change is not easy.”

“The problem is most people commenting on it, played a different way.  And now you’re shaping opinion a different way,” he continued.  “As soon as they embrace it a little bit more, I think they’re better off.  But basketball has changed.  It’s not the same basketball that your father played.  It’s just not it.  Teams that adapt to it quicker are going to be more successful.”

How exactly has the game changed?

“I do think the league is going to a more open style, and a faster style,” continued D’Antoni.  “That doesn’t mean there’s no place for a post-up player, there’s no place for a mid-range game.  There is a place, but it’s just not what is dominant today.”

“The league now is dominated by point-guard play, three-point shots and smart players,” said D’Antoni.  “Unless the NBA changes the rules again, like the three-point line and no hand checking, then basketball is going a certain way.”

WHAT’S LIFE LIKE FOR AN INTERIM COACH?

David Mayo of MLive.com gives us a glimpse inside what it was like for David Loyer after Maurice Cheeks was fired:

One of Loyer’s bigger challenges internally was keeping point guard Brandon Jennings engaged after Cheeks was fired.
Jennings regarded Cheeks as a father figure and as he failed to adapt after the change, Loyer found himself turning more to backup Will Bynum, one of several Pistons who later ended the season injured.
Loyer said he ultimately went to Jennings to encourage the guard to rediscover joy in the game.  He said he appreciated how Jennings responded.
“Any time you have a coaching change, any time you have a management change, it’s going to affect different guys in different ways,” Loyer said.  ”It’s your job as a coach to kind of figure out who it’s affecting, either adversely, or whether it’s someone you need to help a little bit to get back on path.
“There are some guys who are affected by both things (the Cheeks firing and, earlier this week, the reassignment of former team president Joe Dumars), so you try to get them back on path.  I thought Brandon, the path he has taken is a winning-type path, and I’ve really enjoyed coaching him.”
ADRIAN DANTLEY STILL DOESN’T LIKE ISIAH THOMAS
DantleyBrian Manzullo of the Boston Herald:

Adrian Dantley didn’t watch Thursday night’s “Bad Boys” 30 for 30 documentary on ESPN.

In fact, he didn’t even want to be a part of it.

“But the NBA kept begging me to be on there, so I did the interview,” Dantley told Matt Dery on Detroit Sports 105.1 FM today. “But I did not watch the 30 for 30 and I will not watch it. My wife tried to get me to watch it, but I didn’t watch it.”

The documentary chronicled the entire Detroit Pistons “Bad Boys” era, including the rift between Dantley and point guard Isiah Thomas and the eventual trade during the 1988-89 season that sent Dantley to the Dallas Mavericks for Mark Aguirre.

The Pistons went on to win their first NBA championship that season, then repeated the feat in 1990, and the rest was history – or was it?

“That was 25 years ago, yet you sound today just as angry as you were 25 years ago,” Dery told Dantley. “Is that accurate?”

“Well yeah; I mean, It’s not that I’m angry, it’s just that there’s no need for me to get involved with that,” Dantley responded. “Yes, I guess you could say that I’m just the way as I was 24 or 26 years ago.”

Later in the radio interview, Dery jokingly asked Dantley if he thought Thomas should be the next Pistons president and general manager after former “Bad Boys” teammate Joe Dumars stepped down as president of basketball operations earlier this week.

“Con man,” he replied. “He has a way of tricking people, and he tricked a lot of people.”

DENG SAYS IRVING AND WAITERS CAN COEXIST

Kyrie Irving 2Read into this whatever you like regarding Deng’s future in Cleveland, but it’s pretty unequivocal in what it says about Irving and Waiters.
Cavaliers forward Luol Deng keeps reading about how much Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters don’t care for each other.
Some believe one of the talented guards must go. They can’t co-exist.
Some contend they are almost mortal enemies.
However, Deng saw no evidence of that behind closed doors in the locker room, players’ lounge or workout facility.
“It’s a distraction,” he said. “I mean all this stuff that I hear, but when we’re in the locker room with these guys every day, they love each other. I can’t say one word or one incident, and when we get on the court, we never think twice about it.”
Deng, traded to the Cavs on Jan. 7, believes if the two players reach their vast potential, it could pay off in a major way.
“They have to be willing to work together, watch tape together, watch tape with the coach,” he said. “They’ve shown they can play together. There’s times where they’ve looked great. They’re human, but in terms of can they play together? Yeah. I’ve played in this league for 10 years and I know they can.”

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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.

SH Blog: Melo ponders playing for Tom Thibodeau

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Next time I write a blog for Sheridan Hoops, barring unforeseen circumstances, it’ll be the first day of the playoffs. This is what the whole season has been building towards, and it’s always a fun time. Every year has one of those “where were you when” moments. In 2012, I was mowing the lawn when Derrick Rose tore his ACL when he should have been on the bench, and I was debating whether or not to stay for the last set of a weekend-long music festival when the Heat won the title.

In 2013, I managed to actually be in front of the TV for the big moments, including my fellow Calvert Hall College alum Gary Neal going off in the Finals, and Steph Curry and the Warriors knocking off the Nuggets and kickstarting the Great Denver Exodus.

This year could be just as memorable. The Heat will be gunning for a threepeat, the West will be insane, and the Raptors, Wizards and Bobcats will be there. They might even win a few games. The Knicks, Celtics and Lakers, on the other hand, will be sitting at home. Internet points to anyone who can figure out when the last time that happened was.

Now let’s get to the latest news from around the NBA:

SH Blog: Knicks waiting for 2015; Cavs want to keep Spencer Hawes

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Jeff Hornacek SunsMonday 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:

SH Blog: Gay happy with Kings; Keeping Faried will cost Nuggets

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Image.AdamSilverWe’ve got a very important piece up here on Sheridan Hoops today. With the Northwestern football union case picking up steam, the NCAA’s amateurism policy is coming under fire, and that could have effects on the NBA’s age limit, which Adam Silver wants to raise, and Danny Schayes says would be a disaster for the players.

Personally, I like the MLB’s system, where players can get drafted out of high school, and if they don’t sign, can go to college for three years and get drafted again. In the NBA, that would mean the best players (LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, etc.) can make the jump and get paid right away, and the ones who need development can do that in college. It would also mean an end to the one-and-done policy that many feel is killing college basketball.

Of course, the MLB draft is 50 rounds and the NBA’s is just two. And MLB teams have six or seven levels of minor league teams that players can advance through, whereas the NBA doesn’t even really have one. For the NBA to adopt an MLB-like system, every team would need their own D-League affiliate, over which they would have a sizable amount of autonomy. That’s not there now, so it looks like we’re stuck with the current system, or raising the age limit to 20. And as Schayes writes, the NBPA doesn’t have an executive director, and until they do, Silver and the NCAA can put whatever they want out into the court of public opinion.

Here’s the latest news from around the NBA:

WHAT COULD KENNETH FARIED MAKE WITH THE NUGGETS?

Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post:

Kenneth FariedFaried isn’t a LaMarcus Aldridge or Kevin Love or Blake Griffin, all big names with even bigger contracts, but his player efficiency rating ranks right up there with them. Taking New Orleans’ Anthony Davis into account as well, it could be argued that Faried is about the seventh- or eighth-best player at his position in the NBA.

And he’s getting better.

So, right this minute, that’s under the $14 million to $22 million the top power forwards make but more than the $9.5 million of a player such as Atlanta’s Paul Millsap. Add in his standing on the Nuggets’ roster — he’s the team’s second-best player — and his exploding box-office appeal, and the price tag could fall right in that $10 million to $11 million per-year range. Modestly. He will be in search for more, no doubt.

It might be difficult for the Nuggets to justify to themselves shelling out a contract to Faried worth more than Ty Lawson’s $12 million average, however.

Taking the current roster and projecting it out over the next few years, in the summer of 2015 the Nuggets could have wiggle room. There is currently roughly $59 million in salaries, including qualifying offers. Cap holds present another challenge. But the contracts of Darrell Arthur, Nate Robinson and Anthony Randolph expire after next season and Wilson Chandler’s $7.1 million salary for 2015-16 isn’t fully guaranteed.

Christopher Dempsey takes readers’ questions about the Denver Nuggets and NBA.

If that’s the route they want to go, the Nuggets can figure out the finances and broach the subject of extension talks with Faried’s agent after the July moratorium this summer.

WISCONSIN STARS RETURNING TO SCHOOL

Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com:

WisconsinWisconsin’s duo of Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky remained steadfast after Saturday night’s loss to Kentucky that they will both be back next season for the Badgers.

The 6-foot-8 Dekker finished with 15 points in the loss and is considered a potential first-round pick. But he reiterated he will be back in Madison for his junior campaign.

“I’m coming back,” said Dekker, who entered the game averaging 12.4 points and 6.1 rebounds.

The 7-foot Kaminsky struggled for much of the game after averaging a team-high 14.1 points and 6.4 boards.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Kaminsky said.

Wisconsin is expected to return four starters from a team that finished 30-8.

RUDY GAY COULD BE IN SACRAMENTO LONG-TERM

Bill Ingram of Basketball Insiders:

Rudy GaySometimes what seems like the most unlikely of pairings winds up working better than anyone could have imagined. The Sacramento Kings made an aggressive move midseason when they acquired Rudy Gay from the Toronto Raptors, and while the trade has not resulted in a ton of wins in the short-term, there are indications that Gay might be a big part of the Kings’ rebuilding plan going forward.

“I have to [keep a positive attitude], man,” Gay told Basketball Insiders. “No matter where I go, I have to be me and be the best me I can be. Honestly, I feel like I do that better here. The wins don’t really pan out like I like for them to, but I definitely feel comfortable here.”

“I’m not even sure of the exact record, but I know we’ve shown the ability to be a great competitor and beat a lot of the best teams in the NBA when those guys are all playing,” Kings head coach Mike Malone said of Gay, DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas in a recent interview with Basketball Insiders. “When they play at a high level, three 20-point scorers, we become very hard to guard because you have a low-post force, a wing with the versatility and athleticism that Rudy has and a point guard in Isaiah who can score, get to the foul line and make plays for his teammates. Not that many teams have that three-headed attack. It’s great to have and hopefully we’ll be able to keep those together because with that core you add some pieces to that and you allow Ray [McCallum] and Ben [McLemore] to continue to mature and get better and I think we have a solid foundation. Those guys, offensively, are terrific and they’re getting better defensively.”

FOR PREVIOUS BLOGS, CLICK HERE

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.