Memphis returns to the playoffs for the first time since 2006

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Paint the town blue. Memphis is back in the second season.

The Grizzlies clinched a playoff spot on Friday night with a win over the Kings. It wasn’t easy, with the Kings continuing their plucky play of late led by Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans. Those two on the break together is a terrifying combination. But the night belonged to the Grizzlies’ unlikely heroes, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, as it has since Rudy Gay was lost to a shoulder injury before the All-Star break.

Memphis is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2006, since the days when Pau Gasol led a team that was slaughtered in the first round.  Memphis’ chances of a second-round appearance aren’t any better this time around. But they are likely to push for a few wins, and that’s a step in the right direction. The Grizzlies banked a lot of assets on making the playoffs, and now they’re in, as a dangerous team that relies on defense and speed.

The question will be if owner Michael Heisley will stick to his word regarding keeping the core of the team together. Mike Conley and Rudy Gay are locked in for $120 million over five years.  Heisley made a combination of vague threats and veiled promises that he would keep the team together, if they made the playoffs. Now Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and O.J. Mayo need extensions. That’s a lot of money for a small market. Playoff turnout and the team’s success there will likely be the next factor considered.

But that’s for the future. For now, Memphis has made the playoffs, and is the team no one wants to run into. No one wants to deal with Zach Randolph slipping in-between post-defenders, no one wants to try and keep the ball out of Tony Allen’s hands, no one wants to deal with the physical gambling the Grizzlies employ. They’re probably not going far. But they’re going to go down fighting.

Are Bulls and Dwyane Wade moving toward a buyout?

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About a month ago, the Bulls said they hadn’t discussed a buyout with Dwyane Wade.

Have the two sides progressed since?

Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Dwyane Wade isn’t long for the organization’s future and is expected to reach a buyout agreement at some point in the next few months.

Expected by whom?

People with direct knowledge of momentum toward a buyout?

Or everyone who can see that a 35-year-old earning $23.8 million fits poorly on a rebuilding team?

For the Bulls to now drop their biggest name and a large expiring contract that could prove useful in trades should require Wade surrendering a large portion of his salary. He doesn’t sound like someone inclined to do that yet.

A few months is a long time. As long as Wade gets bought out by March 1, he could join another team’s playoff roster. It’d surprise nobody if he gets bought out after the February trade deadline, which we already knew. I don’t see strong indication of something more imminent.

LeBron James’ camp already shooting down leaving-Cavaliers rumor

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LeBron James has done a terrible job shooting down rumors about him leaving the Cavaliers

Except this one from Chris Sheridan, who cited a source saying LeBron would “100 percent” leave Cleveland next summer due to a rift with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Sheridan’s source saying LeBron is leaving doesn’t make that true. But other anonymous sources denying it doesn’t make the denials true, either.

New Orleans Saints fire Pelicans’ team physician

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The Pelicans have been crushed by injuries the last few years.

Why? That’s an incredibly complex question.

But the New Orleans Saints – who share an owner (Tom Benson), a front-office leader (Mickey Loomis) and other staff with the Pelicans – have found culprits for their own injury woes.

Mike Triplett of ESPN:

The Saints have fired team orthopedists Deryk Jones and Misty Suri, per source, after it was discovered that CB Delvin Breaux has a fractured fibula and will require surgery expected to sidelined him for 4-6 weeks. Breaux was originally diagnosed with a contusion

Suri is a Pelicans team physician.

Scott Kushner of The Advocate:

Fairly or not, Suri – after the Saints deemed him unacceptable – will be in the crosshairs if he keeps his job with the the Pelicans and their injury woes continue.

Rumor: LeBron James ‘100 percent’ leaving Cavaliers next summer

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Chris Sheridan was ahead of the crowd in 2014, reporting LeBron James would likely leave the Heat for the Cavaliers – which obviously happened.

But Sheridan called it a “90 percent chance,” a small – but large enough – hedge. He also said LeBron would announce the decision on LeBron’s personal website. Of course, LeBron revealed his choice in a Sports Illustrated essay.

So, maybe Sheridan knows what he’s talking about. Maybe he doesn’t.

But the longtime NBA writer just fanned the flames of the already hot LeBron-leaving-Cleveland rumors.

Sheridan:

Of course, the denials came quickly.

There have already been plenty of warning signs about LeBron’s relationship with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, which didn’t restart in a great place.

It’s entirely believable LeBron would leave Cleveland, in large part due to Gilbert.

But it’s also fun to speculate about that salacious storyline.

Maybe Sheridan or his source got carried away for that very reason. Or maybe they know something.

Neither possibility should be discounted.