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.

PBT Extra: Cavaliers’ new GM aces first big test with Kyrie Irving trade

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Everyone in the NBA — heck, nearly everyone living in the Western hemisphere — knew Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland. That should kill the Cavaliers’ leverage and make it hard to get enough quality back.

New GM Koby Altman — the guy thrust into the job when David Griffin was shown the door — pulled it off brilliantly.

That’s what I talk about in this new PBT Extra. With Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, the Cavaliers remain the team to beat in the East this season. The Brooklyn Nets pick gives them flexibility going forward, whatever LeBron James decides to do next season.

First time at the plate in the big leagues and Altman crushed it to straight away center field.

Cavaliers-Celtics deal first offseason trade involving players who just met in NBA Finals or conference finals

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The Cavaliers and Celtics played in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. The teams were widely expected to meet there again.

Yet, Cleveland and Boston just completed a blockbuster trade – Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

That seemed odd.

In fact, it’s unprecedented.

That is an incredible fact, one which speaks to LeBron Jamescachet. The Cavs are emphasizing this season, LeBron’s last before a player option, by loading up with veterans Thomas and Crowder. With LeBron still reigning in Cleveland, the Celtics are delaying their peak by acquiring the younger Irving.

Adding to the intrigue: the Cavs and Celtics are still favored to meet in this year’s conference finals. At minimum, they’ll face off in a(n even more) highly anticipated opening-night matchup.

PBT Extra: What does Kyrie Irving trade mean for LeBron James?

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In the end, the entire Kyrie Irving blockbuster trade was about LeBron James. It started because Kyrie Irving wanted out of LeBron’s enormous shadow. Cleveland went with this trade because Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder help them win now, and whatever LeBron decides to do next summer the Brooklyn pick (and maybe Ante Zizic) helps them build for the future.

But what does this trade mean to LeBron James?

Honestly, it doesn’t change much. That’s what I get into in this latest PBT Extra. LeBron is leaving his options open, but maybe this deal could help Cleveland keep him if it makes them more competitive with the Warriors.

Rumor: Young Bulls ‘can’t stand’ Dwyane Wade

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After a loss last January, Dwyane Wade (in conjunction with since-traded Jimmy Butler) lashed out at his Bulls teammates for not caring enough. Those younger players didn’t receive the message gratefully, questioning why Wade didn’t practice more.

The simple answer: Wade is 35, and he and his team are better served if he saves himself for games. But Wade also should have known his schedule left him ill-suited to criticize harder-working teammates.

The whole saga exposed the inherent tension that occurs when an accomplished veteran with declining skills is thrust into a leadership position on a mediocre team.

Consider that backdrop as Wade and Chicago dance around a buyout.

Nick Friedell on ESPN discussing Wade getting bought out:

This is inevitable. It’s coming. It’s a matter of when, not if.

But right now, guys, it’s just kind of a staring contest. Everybody’s looking at each other saying, “OK, how much money are you willing to give up?”

And Gar Forman, the Bulls’ GM, at summer league, said, “Oh, we’re not having conversations.” I don’t think that’s the case. I think Dwyane’s agents and the Bulls are wanting to get this thing done.

But I’d really be surprised if it happened before the season. I still think it’s more likely that it’ll happen probably somewhere in December or January.

But this is a divorce that’s going to happen. It’s just going to take some time.

The young players on the Bulls really can’t stand Dwyane, and it’s the little secret in Chicago. They have had enough.

Wade’s January criticism was reportedly particularly directed at Nikola Mirotic and Michael Carter-Williams, neither of whom are on the roster. (Mirotic, a restricted free agent, will likely return.) Even if Wade’s comments cast a wider net, Jerian Grant, Paul Zipser, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio are the only young players still on the team from that time. None of those players deserve much influence in how the franchise operates.

Still, no matter what the young players want, it’s clear Wade no longer fits on a rebuilding Chicago. They might get their wish.

Wade is set to earn $23.8 million in the final season of an expiring contract. That salary could prove useful in a bigger trade.

If bought out, Wade would count as dead money against Chicago’s cap at his buyout amount. They Bulls should obviously be amenable if he sacrifices enough, but a small discount doesn’t justify locking into that money rather than having a trade chip available.

If Chicago is deep into the cellar as expected after the trade deadline, a buyout would be completely logical then. Maybe the Bulls even assess the trade market sooner and conclude Wade’s huge expiring contract won’t facilitate a trade.

It’s easy to see a buyout happening eventually. In the meantime, Wade and his younger teammates will just have to get along. I trust Wade’s professionalism to make this situation at least tenable, but Fred Hoiberg might have his hands full building cooperation with all the people involved.