Winderman: Free agent lust drives coaching changes

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NBCsports.com’s Ira Winderman sent us his thoughts on the recent changes — and potential future changes — in the NBA coaching ranks. I am posting them for him.

With clocks about to spring ahead this weekend, it only makes sense that the NBA is tending to its own brand of spring cleaning.

Mike Dunleavy is out as personnel chief with the Clippers.

Donnie Walsh is traveling on the Knicks’ current trip, with Mike D’Antoni drawing increased scrutiny about a system that seemingly only produces when Steve Nash is the point guard.

Vinny Del Negro is finding the hot seat warming back up in Chicago.

And Erik Spoelstra can’t seem to extricate himself from .500 in Miami.

The common theme?

Each team is a prime suitor in free agency, and each needs to get its infrastructure in order before the NBA’s ultimate open house this summer.

The Clippers made that clear with their casting aside of Dunleavy, with a no-room-for-losers firing-by-press-release.

Then there is Walsh, who says he is traveling only because this is one of his team’s final extended trips. Perhaps. But perhaps getting out on the open road with D’Antoni is the ultimate means to determine whether any of the prime free agents would truly be willing to hitch a ride this summer.

Then there are the Bulls and the Heat, who seemingly can’t get out of their own way at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Both desperately want to advance to the postseason for the credibility of the franchises.

But what if Del Negro then offers a repeat of last season’s epic first-round series against the Celtics? Then how do the Bulls possibly fire him?

And what if Spoelstra actually gives the Heat its first win a playoff series since Pat Riley guided the team to the 2006 NBA championship?

Put it this way: You’re a star free agent, oozing championship pedigree, big time in every measure.

Behind Door No. 1 is Vinny Del Negro.

Behind Door No. 2 is Erik Spoelstra.

Behind Door No. 3 is Jeff Van Gundy, Byron Scott or, who knows, perhaps Coach K.

Where do you think opportunity will knock?

The Clippers recognized Kim Hughes and Mike Dunleavy probably weren’t even going to lure you to their neighborhood.

As prospective free-agent suitors go about their spring cleaning, it will be interesting to see which comes first this summer:

The free agent.

Or the coach.

Does the allure of playing for a Van Gundy or a Scott attract the talent?

Or does the talent dictate the coach?

Might one or more suitor go into July without a coach?

For now, it apparently is a matter of first getting rid of the stink.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

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There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.

 

Paul Millsap says the expected, he will “most likely” opt out of contract

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This is ranked right next to “overeating can lead to weight gain” on the list of surprising things, but we will dutifully report it anyway:

Paul Millsap is going to opt out and officially become a free agent this summer.

Atlanta’s owner as well as Mike Budenholzer, the coach and head of basketball operations, have both said they plan to do whatever it takes to re-sign Millsap with the Hawks. Millsap didn’t sound like someone eager to leave after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs Friday.

“It’s been great. I’m looking to expand this and see where the franchise can go. These last four years has been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Even with both sides singing Kumbaya, keeping Millsap in Atlanta likely means a five-year contract at or near the max, which for a 32-year-old player means the Hawks would regret the last year or two of that deal.

Not that the Hawks have much of a choice here, they have to come in big and keep him. For one, they can’t afford to lose Al Horford and then Millsap for nothing in back-to-back years. If they were going down the rebuilding road, they needed to trade Millsap at the deadline (or last summer) to make sure they got something in return. Atlanta explored trade options at the deadline, but then pulled back (rumored to be because of an edict from ownership, which didn’t want to see the team blown up after the Kyle Korver trade).

By not making that trade the Hawks signaled their intention to remain a good team — a 43-win team this season that got them the five seed — with Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, one that draws well at an arena that historically has not been that full, and see if they can add on. They strike me as a team that will win between 42-50 games a year and be middle of the pack in the East for the next few years, unless they can find a way to add an elite player (which is incredibly difficult).

But if the Hawks can’t re-sign Millsap, then the plan gets blown up. So expect them to come in with a big offer come July 1.