Will Paul Pierce opt out of his contract?

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Paul Pierce has almost all there is to do in Boston. In 12 years with the Celtics, Pierce has been an All-Star many times. He’s won a Finals MVP award. He was with the team during the bad times and during its highest moment in recent years. He had both Kevin Garnett and Antoine Walker as running mates, and he made it work with both. In Boston, he is the Captain and The Truth. 
After all that, has Paul Pierce played his last game in a Celtics uniform? Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated has some thoughts on the matter:
There could be another member of the Big Three on the market, too. Pierce has a player option for $21.5 million next season. But with the collective bargaining agreement set to expire next summer and a new one expected to significantly reduce player salaries, several prominent players (including Dirk Nowitzki and Amar’e Stoudemire) are planning to opt out of lucrative contracts in order to sign new deals under the existing agreement. Pierce, 32, could leave the $21.5 million on the table with the expectation that he could score a contract worth $50 million to $60 million in the offseason.

At first blush, Pierce leaving the Celtics seems as likely as Boston erecting a Wilt Chamberlain statue outside of The Garden. Pierce and Co. came agonizingly close to a championship this season, Boston loves him, and he’s been with the team for over a decade. And 21 million dollars is a lot of money to leave on the table. 

But think about it for a second. Boston was able to make an incredible run in this year’s playoffs, but they looked downright old for most of the regular season. Outside of Rajon Rondo, the team is not getting any younger. Tom Thibodeau is gone, and Doc Rivers and Ray Allen may follow. 
If Pierce does leave Boston, where would he go? New York seems unlikely, especially since he plays the same position as the best young player the Knicks have under contract. New Jersey/Brooklyn could be a possibility, but that team is a long-term project at best. Minnesota and Washington seem like long shots. Chicago and Miami have their eyes set on bigger prizes. Sacramento would give the chance for Pierce to mentor Tyreke Evans, Carl Landry, Omri Casspi, Jason Thompson, Donte Greene, and the rest of the Kings’ young core, but Sacramento might be a bit far from the spotlight for Pierce’s liking.
The Clippers are an intriguing possibility. Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Paul Pierce, Blake Griffin, and Chris Kaman would be a heck of a starting lineup. The Clippers have a top-10 pick in the upcoming draft. Not only would the Clippers give Pierce the opportunity to play in a big market, but Los Angeles also happens to be Pierce’s hometown. (Besides, Clipper fans wouldn’t have lingering animosity towards Pierce, as Clipper fans are most assuredly not Laker fans.) The Clippers are a young team with a lot of talent, and Pierce’s basketball IQ, championship experience, and ability to control an offense are all qualities that could help the Clippers tremendously. 
Pierce probably won’t end up becoming a Clipper — not many players jump ship from the most successful franchise in NBA history to perhaps the least successful franchise in NBA history. And the Clippers themselves may be wary of signing Pierce after how poorly the whole “Baron Davis comes to the Clippers to save his hometown team” thing worked out. Still, it is something that both sides may want to ponder. 

Report: Knicks to discuss coaching vacancy with Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer

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Mike Budenholzer is restless in Atlanta, seeing a rebuild coming and looking at other jobs (something Hawks management is fine with). He went down the road a ways with the Suns before pulling out of that process, but he’s still looking around.

The Knicks are casting a wide net in their search, talking to virtually everyone looking for coaching jobs.

So, this seemed inevitable, right? Budenholzer and the Knicks are going to talk, according to Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

This will be very preliminary. The Knicks have already had some level of conversation with Mark Jackson, David Fizdale, Jerry Stackhouse, David Blatt, Mike Woodson, and TNT analyst Kenny Smith (Jackson and Fizdale are the rumored early leaders). Budenholzer has established a style and culture in Atlanta, giving the franchise a path forward. New York could certainly use that.

However, the Knicks job comes with real challenges, too. That starts with James Dolan as owner and the erratic, at times paranoid culture he has created there. Also, expectations in New York are always high, but the team will be without Kristaps Porzigis for at least half (maybe all) of the upcoming season as he recovers from an ACL injury, and that puts a ceiling on the team in the short term. Is all that worth leaving Atlanta for?

 

Stephen Curry to begin “modified” practices with Warriors

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Golden State has flipped the switch in the first round, going up 3-0 on overmatched San Antonio. The Warriors have been outscoring the Spurs by 20.2 points per 100 possessions in the series, allowing less than a point per possession on defense and scoring when and where they want. Kevin Durant is averaging 27.3 points per game, Klay Thompson is shooting 63.3 percent from three and scoring 25.7 points per game, and the Warriors are clicking.

But they are not yet whole — they need Stephen Curry back. Not for this round, but before the Western Conference Finals for sure.

Curry was re-evaluated Friday and will begin practicing with the team in a limited — or “modified” to use the team’s term — way.

The target has always been a return somewhere during the second round, and that still seems to be on track. That is also a little faster than traditional for a Grade 2 MCL sprain, which can take up to two months to heal (not the 4-6 weeks of the Warriors timeline), but the Warriors are being cautious here for now.

Eventually, the Warriors will need him back — their offense is built around Curry and his ball movement and movement off the ball. Curry’s gravity to draw defenders, even when he doesn’t have the ball, opens up the floor for others. Put simply, if he’s 28 feet from the bucket on the weak side defenders still have to watch and be near him, and help defenders need to be aware, which pulls the defense to wherever he is. Without Curry and the Warriors take more midrange jumpers, it’s just in the first round series against the Spurs they are hitting them.

 

Kenyon Martin: I once played high

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Former NBA commissioner David Stern said the league began testing for marijuana because players complained of other players playing high. Chauncey Billups said he knew teammates who played better high.

But Stephen Jackson is the rare former NBA player who admitted to playing high.

Now, he has company.

Kenyon Martin – who played for the Nets, Nuggets, Clippers, Knicks and Bucks in a 15-year career – via Bleacher Report:

We were playing in Indiana one day. I wasn’t feeling well. I had a hamstring, a hip or something. So, I smoked. I wasn’t going to play originally. So, we got to the arena, and I’m like, “I feel good.” I went and told the trainer, “I’m going to go today.” I went out there and had a great game.

If you want to guess which game this was, here are the possibilities.

This was part of a great feature on marijuana in the NBA and NFL. Matt Barnes, Al Harrington and Gary Paton also participate. I highly recommend (pun intended) watching it in full.

Nuggets president Tim Connelly: Next season playoffs or bust

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The Nuggets have steadily improved over the last four years – 30-52 to 33-49 to 40-42 to 46-36.

But even 46 wins weren’t enough to get Denver into the playoff this season, extending the postseason drought to five years.

Nuggets president Connelly, via Gina Mizell of The Denver Post:

On if next season is “playoffs or bust”:

“I think we’re there. How many times can you be the bridesmaid? Our young core, three of our best players are 23 (Gary Harris), 22 (Jokic) and 21 (Jamal Murray), and they’ve proven they’re capable of doing it at the highest level. I think all of us are, quite frankly, sick of this time of the year having a press conference.”

There’s certainly something to be said for injecting urgency. The Nuggets are already good enough to make the playoffs. They just happened to play in a historically deep Western Conference. But that doesn’t mean they can’t take more responsibility.

Denver lost to the Hawks (twice), Grizzlies (twice without Mikey Conley), Mavericks, Kings and Nets this season. Flip any of those games, and the Nuggets would have made the playoffs.

But I’m not sure what “or bust” means.

Connelly said Michael Malone would return as coach next season. If Denver misses the playoffs, would he get fired? Would Connelly come on the hot seat? What if the Nuggets again produce a record that typically qualifies for the postseason?

Even if Denver misses the playoffs next year, the 2019-20 team would have a 22-year-old Jamal Murray, 25-year-old Gary Harris and probably a 24-year-old Nikola Jokic under contract. That’s still a pretty good place to be.

Because of Jokic’s rapid ascent, the Nuggets are trying to accelerate the timeline. They most notably signed Paul Millsap last summer. (Injury cost him most of the season and contributed to Denver falling short.) They could also emphasize the present by re-signing Will Barton this offseason.

But playoffs or not next year, the Nuggets have a bright future. Connelly just doesn’t want them leaning on that excuse, though following through on his edict could create complications if Denver again narrowly misses the postseason with a good record.