NBA playoffs: East difference-makers could be the change they wish to see in the world

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Thumbnail image for nba_wallace_250.jpgWhile the Eastern Conference playoffs may lack the volatility of the West in the first round, there are still all kinds of characters scrambling about looking to cause mayhem. There’s something to be said about being in a series with no expectations, and underdogs looking to seize the moment can have a field day if only for a game or two.

Something, I think, is lost among the talk of difference-makers and x-factors; while such players would obviously swing the fortunes of their team in a particular series, x-factors also have the ability to significantly alter the playoff outlook in a loss.

Think Andre Iguodala against the Magic last year, as he led the upstart Sixers to an early series lead over the Magic. In doing so, he awoke the real Orlando, and the Dwight Howard took that team all the way to the Finals. Think Joe Johnson in 2008, whose Hawks took the Celtics to seven games in the first round. Does Boston go all the way to the title if not for their early, energizing battle with Atlanta?

Early playoff opponents can expose weaknesses to be exploited by later teams, wear down the opposition with a long series, or summon something within their opponents that drives them to further victories. All of these things are what make even the lesser Eastern Conference playoff teams interesting to watch, even if they don’t stand much of a chance to take the series.

With that, I present you the players to watch in the East, who are capable of making an impact on the series level, or shaping the grander playoff picture:

Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls): Rose showed in last season’s playoffs that he’s ready for the big stage. We shouldn’t expect an equally scintillating team performance from the Bulls this year, but that doesn’t mean Derrick isn’t a must-watch player for every minute he’s on the floor. Rose will be the first test for the Cavaliers’ D, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Derrick poke a few holes in Cleveland’s perimeter. His ability to run the pick-and-roll will also be crucial, as Rose can use Joakim Noah’s quickness against the likes of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Shaquille O’Neal, even if its less effective against Anderson Varejao et al. The Cavs are much improved in defending the pick-and-roll, but they could still suffer against finishers like Noah (who could set a precedent for Kendrick Perkins, Jermaine O’Neal, and Dwight Howard).

Gerald Wallace (Charlotte Bobcats): The Bobcats don’t stand much of a chance to beat the Magic, but their upset hopes lie with Wallace. Gerald an All-NBA caliber defender, but the real reason he’s on this list is because of his offense. Wallace seems to be a completely new offensive player this year, sporting a better jumper (especially from three) and a far smoother style than he’s ever displayed before. He’s always been an instinctive scorer, but now he’s a more polished one. With Stephen Jackson’s injured, the Bobcats’ dismal offense will rely on Wallace more than ever, and whether or not his offensive improvements hold up against the Magic D is a big question mark.

Marvin Williams, (Atlanta Hawks): Marvin is the epitome of a traditional x-factor, but what he actually represents is balance. It’s assumed that the Hawks should have no problem taking care of the Bogut-less Bucks in the first round, which means that Atlanta’s most likely second-round opponent would be the Orlando Magic. Just as Wallace’s singular brilliance could push the Magic, how would Orlando respond to a team of balanced scorers? The Hawks’ roster is anything but top heavy, and their style on both ends of the court speaks to their versatility. Should Marvin be able to provide supplementary scoring to balance Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford, Al Horford, Josh Smith, and Jamal Crawford, the Hawks could expose a weakness in Orlando’s armor.

Michael Beasley (Miami Heat): Be easy, Mike Beasley. The Heat are a fantastic defensive team, and that should do two things: scare the hell out of the Celtics and give Miami a decent shot at the 4-5 upset. They don’t even sniff a first round series victory without Beasley’s help, though. Beas is a thoroughly confounding player, and though he has the raw offensive skills to really blitz Boston, he probably won’t. It would just make too much sense for a player with that much talent to bother with capitalizing on it, and instead Mike will continue in his role as a wild card. However, should Beasley get into an offensive rhythm early in the series, he could help Dwyane Wade dismantle a Celtics defense that has struggled lately. Even if that doesn’t usher the Heat into the second round, it could go a long way in erasing Boston’s defensive prestige.  

Jazz extend Quin Snyder’s contract

Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder speaks with reporters during the Jazz's end-of-season media availability Thursday, April 14, 2016, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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The Jazz hired Quin Snyder in 2014, reportedly giving him a contract that ran through next season with guaranteed salaries and contained a team option for 2017-18.

Utah wants to keep him around even longer.

Jazz release:

The Utah Jazz announced today a long-term contract extension for third-year head coach Quin Snyder. Per team policy, financial terms were not released.

“With this contract extension, we are declaring our confidence in Coach Snyder’s ability to continue to develop the Utah Jazz into a championship team,” said Gail Miller, owner of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies. “The Miller family recognizes the significant progress made under his leadership and we are excited about the direction we are headed.”

“Our relationship with Quin, and this extension, reflect our shared passion for building a championship team,” said Steve Starks, president of the Utah Jazz. “With long-term contracts now in place for Quin, Dennis and other key front office personnel, we are well-positioned for the future.”

“We have continued to take significant steps as a team under Quin’s direction,” said Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsey. “His work ethic, basketball intelligence and ability to connect with and develop our players make him the ideal head coach of the Jazz.”

“I am very grateful for this gesture by the Miller family and the Utah Jazz and appreciative of their belief in me to continue to lead this team,” Snyder said. “Amy and I are fortunate to be a part of a franchise and family that cares deeply for our community, stays true to its values and is committed to winning. More than anything, it is confirmation of our collective commitment to building a championship team.”

Snyder has done a nice job in Utah.

Despite a young roster and some ill-fitting pieces (namely Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors offensively), the Jazz have gone 38-44 and 40-42 under Snyder. Player development looks good, and the defense has been top notch.

At some point, the goal must become snapping a four-year playoff drought – the franchise’s longest since its first four seasons in Utah. But Snyder has the team on the right track, and the Jazz are already winning at a fine clip given their circumstances. He deserves a chance to see this through.

Gobert, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Favors, Dante Exum, Trey Lyles and Alec Burks – who are all already signed for next season (and, in some cases, beyond) – give the Jazz a bright future.

So does Snyder.

Report: Spurs plan to pursue Kevin Durant as hard as Warriors do

San Antonio Spurs' David West, left, and Kyle Anderson, right, defend as Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, center, positions for a shot during the first half in Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Monday, May 2, 2016, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
AP Photo/Eric Gay
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The Warriors are reportedly planning a big push to sign Kevin Durant in free agency.

They’re not the only capped-out contender on that track.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The Spurs, though, are said to have harbored similar fantasies for months in their famously stealthy manner.

The stately Spurs, league sources say, are just as intrigued as Golden State by the thought of making a run at Durant come July 1.

Every team wants to sign Durant. Not every team will try to sign Durant. Some teams without the cap space or perceived interest from Durant won’t put in the effort – unless Durant throws a nod in their direction first. They just don’t want to waste time and miss out on other free agents in the process.

The Spurs had been the type of team to ignore high-stakes free agency, but that changed with LaMarcus Aldridge last year. Word for a while had been they’d also chase chase Durant.

San Antonio can sell a winning culture, a roster that’s already contending for a title and proximity to Durant’s college (Texas). But creating the necessary cap room will be challenging.

Durant’s max salary projects to be about $26 million next season against a $92 million cap, so the Spurs would need to trim their payroll to about $66 million.

LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker will make a combined $52,658,381 million. San Antonio would have to decide what to do with Danny Green ($10 million) and Boris Diaw ($7 million, $3 million guaranteed). So much is up in the air with Tim Duncan ($5,643,750) and Manu Ginobili ( $2,940,630), who both have player options and could retire. Patty Mills ($3,578,948) and Kyle Anderson ($1,192,080) also have guaranteed salaries to account for.

But there is a path, and the Spurs seem intent on trying to travel it.

The upside is just too darn high. Durant would put the Spurs on at least on equal footing with elite Golden State – maybe even higher.

Likewise, the downside is huge. If Durant signs with the Warriors, how will San Antonio ever beat them?

Better for the Spurs just to get Durant for themselves – if they can.

Report: Multiple executives expect Knicks to keep Kurt Rambis

New York Knicks head coach Kurt Rambis calls out a play from the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Friday, April 8, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Knicks won 109-102. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
AP Photo/Michael Perez
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Phil Jackson reportedly pushed for the Knicks to give Kurt Rambis a multi-year contract. Jackson isn’t searching for another coach right now.

You do the math.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Multiple executives around the league expect Rambis to get the job.

The usual question applies: Do these executives know something we don’t, or are they just reading the same writing on the wall? They’re positioned to glean inside information, but that isn’t necessarily required here. All the public circumstantial evidence points to Rambis.

This is another signal the Knicks will make Rambis their permanent head coach, but it was already looking that way.

Goran Dragic’s teeth went through his lip last night (video)

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Goran Dragic has a habit of losing teeth, but not usually through his lip.

Cringe.