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:

May: The Future of Four Floundering Flagship Franchises

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We are about to witness what may be a first in the long history of the NBA. For the first time, four of the JacksonKnicksleague’s flagship franchises could well be out of the playoffs.

OK, the Knicks aren’t technically out of the race in the Hindenburg Conference, but they have a lot of ground to make up on Atlanta – four games in the loss column with 13 to play. The Celtics, Lakers and 76ers all are making plans for the 2014 draft lottery and the riches it may (or may not) provide.

Twenty years ago, the Celtics, Lakers and Sixers all missed the postseason, but the Pat Riley-coached Knicks made it all the way to the NBA Finals, losing in seven games to the Houston Rockets. That remains the best Knicks’ playoff run since the 1973 championship season (moreso than their surprising appearance in the 1999 Finals, where they were decided underdogs to the Spurs and lost in five.)

But at no time since 1949, when the Lakers entered the NBA in Minneapolis, and the 76ers came in as the Syracuse Nationals, have all four of these marquee teams been on the outside looking in when the playoffs arrived. (The Celtics and Knicks started in 1946.)

SH Blog: Phil Jackson may be interested in Knicks’ front office job, Lillard and Beverley take shots at each other

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Phil JacksonPhil Jackson to the New York Knicks?

That has been the talk for much of the day, and with good reason. Although Jackson doesn’t really have any experience in a front office position, he does, obviously, have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the game of basketball. It certainly would create quite an intrigue around the league to see if he has what it takes to help right the ship for this struggling Knicks organization with so many movable parts.

According to Chris Broussard of ESPN, Jackson is all but ready to give it a go for the franchise he once played for:

All indications are that Phil Jackson will accept the New York Knicks’ offer to join the club’s front office, according to a league source.

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SH Blog: Scouts critical of Rondo, Irving and Rubio, D’Antoni not happy with Gasol’s public criticism

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NBA writers have been speaking with anonymous scouts as of late, and you have to wonder if some of those scouts are paying as much attention as they really should, based on some of their questionable analysis.

For example, saying you don’t like the Golden State Warriors’ chances in the playoffs because they’re not good enough defensively simply makes no sense, given that they are the third best defensive team in the league – the very best if you only count teams in the West. Objectively speaking, the statistics simply don’t back up such analysis. The Warriors are, however, a middling offensive team with too much dependency on Stephen Curry’s ability to create for the rest of the team. It would make much more sense to doubt them for their offensive woes than defense.

Still, it’s interesting to hear what people that evaluate the skill level of players for a living have to say about relevant players or teams around the league. Chris Broussard of ESPN took some notes on veteran scouts’ take on underrated and overrated players. Some noteworthy names that came up include Ricky Rubio, Kyrie Irving and Rajon Rondo. If you are a fan of those players, though, you’re not going to love what the scouts had to say.

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May: Celtics-Lakers was a Battle For Ping-Pong Balls

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notvCatch that riveting Celtics-Lakers game Friday night? Yeah, neither did I.

Talk about a scheduling nightmare. The game featuring the two marquee franchises – as opposed to teams – was the second of ESPN’s Friday Night doubleheader. It featured two teams who have a combined 13 wins over the last two-plus months.

With Kobe Bryant and the calcifying-before-our-eyes Steve Nash out, the Lakers’ only discernible attraction was Pau Gasol. The Celtics had Rajon Rondo, whose much-trumpeted comeback from knee surgery has helped the team to a pair of victories in 12 games.

The game was decided by a pair of Lakers’ playing in their first game for the team. One, Marshon Brooks, had been with the Celtics earlier in the season. The other, Kent Bazemore, is someone only NBA freaks and geeks knew about until he was traded on Thursday.

It has come to this. The Celtics stink. The Lakers stink. They will both miss the playoffs for the first time since 1994. They are battling for Ping Pong balls now, an unimaginable scenario for two proud franchises who have 32 NBA titles between them and who have met in the NBA Finals 12 times.

celtics small logolakers60Now, here’s the rub. Neither one is going to win a title in the next few years. But one team is a lot closer to getting the next championship than the other. One team has a roster of up and coming young players. One team has a promising young coach. One team has a future. The other one has, well, hope and weather.

Guess which is which.

If you ask any NBA executive which roster he’d rather have, the overwhelming, probably unanimous sentiment would be that of the Celtics. They have Rondo, who turned 28 on Saturday. They have two impressive youngsters in Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, both of whom played in the Rising Stars Game during All-Star Weekend. They have Avery Bradley and Jeff Green, although the former can’t seem to stay healthy and the latter is maddeningly inconsistent. They have a respected young coach.

Kevin LoveThe Lakers have . . . who, exactly? I had to fight off a laugh attack when ESPN ran a story saying how the Lakers were trying to trade for Kevin Love. Really? When exactly did Minnesota basketball czar Flip Saunders start taking Stupid Pills? Who on earth could the Lakers offer to even get Saunders to answer the phone?

This is the starting five that the Lakers trotted out on Friday: Gasol, Jodie Meeks, Kendall Marshall, Wesley Johnson and Ryan Kelly. The bench consisted of the two newbies, Brooks and Bazemore, along with two Jordans (Hill and Farmar) and Chris Kaman. That’s it.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. The Lakers won the game. They also beat the Celtics in Boston and swept the season series from their arch nemesis-rival. They have as many wins in a much tougher conference. All of that is true.

kobe1But that is in the here and now – and neither team cares a whit about this season. The Lakers have no plan, other than to try and lure Love or some other high priced free agent. They should have money to spend, although the rapacious Bryant is consuming a large chunk of their payroll when he could have settled for much less to give the team some flexibility. But he didn’t.

But if you’re Kevin Love, or any other marquee free agent, why would you go to a team that is demonstrably worse than the one you’re on? (Or, as Kevin Garnett memorably said after rejected his first deal to Boston – from one garbage can to another.)

In the summer of 2015, the only draw the Lakers will have is the getting-ready-to-retire Bryant, and, if they choose wisely, some stud they’ve procured from the lottery in 2014. Gasol will be gone. Nash will be gone. The remaining Lakers, put together, couldn’t get Kevin Love.

If you’re looking ahead to this summer, good luck. The same scenario unfolds with the exception that the creaky Nash is still on the books for $9.7 million next season. Eleven of their players are impending free agents, nine of them, including Gasol, unrestricted.

So LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are going to leave Miami for that? Why do you think Dwight Howard said ‘no thanks?’ (Hint: it wasn’t because he couldn’t stand the glare of the big lights, as Shaq postulated. He went to a better team.)

aingeThe Celtics don’t have the cap room available this summer, but, in addition to a much more appealing roster, they also have a slew of first-round draft picks over the next five years. In short, they have a plan. They have a fearless general manager in Danny Ainge who doesn’t just think outside the box. He lives outside the box. He has accumulated assets.

Whoever is calling the shots in Lakerland – Jim Buss, presumably – has allowed the team to become a patchwork quilt of minimum wagers, one-and-dones and castoffs.

Come to LA! We’re not any good, but the weather is great! That will be the recruiting pitch going forward.

Anything else would violate the Truth in Advertising Act.

Peter May is the only writer who covered the final NBA games played by Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. He has covered the league for three decades for The Hartford Courant and The Boston Globe and has written three books on the Boston Celtics. His work also appears in The New York Times. You can follow him on Twitter.

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IS THIS THE YEAR A TRADE WILL IMPACT A CHAMPIONSHIP?
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A CLEVELAND CAUTIONARY TALE ON WINNING THE DRAFT LOTTERY
WHAT WILL BECOME OF RAJON RONDO?