Rajon Rondo, Jeff Teague

NBA Playoff Preview: Boston vs. Atlanta

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SEASON RECORDS
Hawks: 40-26 (No. 4 seed)
Celtics: 39-27 (No. 5 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Boston won the first two games of a three-game regular season series by a total of five points. The Hawks’ victory came when the most was on the line, however, as Atlanta upended a short-handed Celtics team last Friday to give themselves a lead for the East’s No. 4 seed that they’d never relinquish.

KEY INJURIES
Hawks: Al Horford played just 11 games for Atlanta this season since suffering a torn pectoral muscle in early January. There was some speculation that he might be able to play against the Celtics, but the latest reports say that he’s definitely going to miss the first round … Fellow big man Zaza Pachulia is day-to-day with a sprained left foot, but he’ll likely be available to start the series against the Celtics.
Celtics: The Celtics took the last few games of the regular season to heal up, costing themselves homecourt advantage while trying to ensure they’d be healthy against Atlanta. It worked for the most part, too, considering Ray Allen is the only player expected to be listed on the injury report when the season starts Sunday, and even then he’ll be listed as “probable” due to a right ankle injury.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per 100 possession)
Hawks: Off. 104.9 (16th in NBA); Def. 101.2 (6th in NBA)
Celtics: Off. 101.0 (27th in NBA); Def. 98.2 (1st in NBA)

THREE KEY HAWKS:

Joe Johnson: It’s incredibly difficult to believe that Johnson won’t be a huge part of this series considering he’ll likely be counted on to shoulder the majority of the scoring load for Atlanta throughout the playoffs. The swingman went through a bit of a slump through the first few weeks of April, but ended the season on a high note — and, for the history buffs among us, Johnson began his NBA career as a member of the Celtics in 2001 before being traded midseason for Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers (whoops!).

Josh Smith: The enigmatic forward hasn’t made a lot of fans over his career due to a lot of people focusing on what he doesn’t do well on the basketball court. When one pays attention to what Smith does do well, however, they see that he’s a solid defender, a good rebounder (when he concentrates on that part of the game, of course) and is actually passing the ball better than every other big when looking at his 20.6 percent assist rate.

Jeff Teague: The quick-footed point guard broke out around this time last year when he was inserted into the starting lineup against Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls during the second round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. Teague will need to step his game up in the postseason again this year, too, as his matchup against Rajon Rondo could easily be the deciding factor if he’s unable to step up in the playoffs once again.

THREE KEY CELTICS

Rajon Rondo: It was almost a given this season that when the Celtics were on national television, their point guard was going to have a magnificent game. The Celtics-Hawks series will be nationally broadcast in its entirety, however, meaning Rondo will be counted on to carry quite a bit of the load — if not scoring, certainly distributing — while trying to move his team to the second round as injury-free as possible.

Kevin Garnett: The Celtics struggled early this season, but things seemed to undergo a huge change when head coach Doc Rivers decided to move Garnett to the center position. He might not be as good as he once was, but considering the Hawks have had dealt with massive center issues, he should have at least one more series in which he’s able to showcase his game-changing talent.

Paul Pierce: Way to go out on a limb and pick the three healthy Celtics starters as the three Boston players key to the first round, our lovely readers are probably saying upon seeing Pierce’s name in this slot. The longtime Celtic will certainly be important for Boston’s chances in the first round, however, as the Celtics could use some scoring until Ray Allen returns to full health.

OUTLOOK

This series probably isn’t the sexiest of the eight matchups in the first round of the postseason, but it should be one of the best. The veteran-laden Celtics are likely making one of their last runs in the postseason and, fortunately for them, they got better as the season rolled on. The Hawks are trying to get a monkey off of their back this year, too, considering they enter the playoffs with the memory of losing in the Eastern Conference Semifinals the last three years. With both teams likely playing with a sense of urgency, it’ll be interesting to watch whether the Celtics are able to excel after starting the series on the road.

PREDICTION

These games could easily be very boring considering two of their three meetings during the regular season resulted in the winner scoring less than 90 points. Low-scoring basketball could also mean playoff-physical basketball, though, and both teams have two former D-League call-ups capable of delivering in those types of circumstances (say hello, Ivan Johnson and Greg Stiemsma). Hopefully it isn’t ugly basketball filled with missed perimeter jumpers, but it wouldn’t be so bad to see a sort of throwback game when the series starts on Sunday night.

Unfortunately for the Hawks, the veteran savvy of the Celtics should prove to be key.

Celtics in 6.

Derrick Rose: “I want to play the rest of my life” in New York

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 28:  Derrick Rose #25 of the New York Knicks dribbles up court against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half at Madison Square Garden on November 28, 2016 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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When a player says he doesn’t want to stay in a city — *cough* Rudy Gay *cough* — it’s news. Aside from that, a player saying he want to spend the rest of his career with the team he is currently on is right out of the Crash Davis/Bull Durham book of clichés.

Derrick Rose has read that book. He’s said those words before. However, it sounds like he was sincere in telling Peter Walsh at SLAM he likes what he sees with the Knicks and wants to stay in the city that doesn’t sleep.

“We’re building the culture,” Rose said. “We’re building the foundation now. I’m under a one-year contract so of course I want to play the rest of my life here. But it takes time, it takes patience to figure out how every one is going to fit, if it is going to fit and going from there.”

Here’s the question Phil Jackson (or whoever is in charge next summer should he opt out) needs to ask with every player/personnel move made going forward:

How does this person fit with Kristaps Porzingis?

That man is the future in Madison Square Garden. Frankly, he’s the present, too — he’s better than Carmelo Anthony right now. The Knicks need to make moves going forward that highlight Porzingis’ strengths (like playing him at the five).

Rose should fit fairly well with that right now as a pick-and-roll point guard to pair with Porzingis’ ability to pop out to the arc or roll to the rim. That said, when Rose and Porzingis have been paired on the court this season, the Knicks have been outscored by 3.9 per 100 possessions, mostly because the team defense has been a disaster. That doesn’t mean it can’t work, so long as you’re not going to run a lot of triangle, Rose understands he needs to feed Porzingis a lot, and there are other shooters on the floor. Rose can be a solid point guard for the Knicks going forward. At least as long as he can stay healthy.

Whether he comes back to New York will really come down to money — the Knicks should make a fair offer for a solid starting point guard in the NBA, then if another team comes in over the top live with it.

But for Rose, he’s in a New York state of mind.

Report: Grizzlies likely to sign Toney Douglas

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 06:  Toney Douglas #16 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives against Amir Johnson #90 of the Boston Celtics during the first quarter at TD Garden on April 6, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Grizzlies have searched high and low for a point guard after Mike Conley‘s injury.

It seems they’ve found one:

Toney Douglas.

Michael Wallace of Grizzlies.com:

Memphis will be eligible to add a 16th player as long as it has four players who’ve missed three straight games and will continue to miss time. Brandan Wright, Chandler Parsons and James Ennis already qualify. Conley and Vince Carter would qualify by not playing tomorrow.

Andrew Harrison has played well since Conley went down, but over a larger sample, the team has struggled with him or Wade Baldwin running the point. Douglas – who has played for the Knicks, Rockets, Kings, Warriors, Heat and Pelicans – is fine. At this point, the Grizzlies will probably take fine and drop Baldwin from the regular rotation.

Other Memphis players could get healthy before Conley returns and put the team in a roster crunch once it no longer qualifies for hardship. Drop a better player or run short on point guards? But that’s a future problem. Adding Douglas will immediately strengthen the Grizzlies – once they can officially sign him.

Report: NBA season likely to start 7-10 days earlier under new CBA

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 16:  Jonas Valanciunas #17 of the Toronto Raptors and Zaza Pachulia #27 of the Golden State Warriors contest the opening tipoff during the first half of an NBA game at Air Canada Centre on November 16, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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The 2016-17 NBA season began Oct. 25 – which was the earliest start date in 36 years. Only 1985-86 even matched it.

But with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement bringing a shortened preseason, the league will begin regular-season play even sooner in coming years.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

League sources say there’s a strong likelihood that the start of the 2017-18 season will be moved up a week to 10 days

We’re hearing that opening night next season is likely to fall in the Oct. 15-20 range

With the exception of a lockout producing a Christmas opening day in 2011, the season has started on a Tuesday for the last 18 years. Assuming that continues, the 2017-18 season would begin Oct. 16.

This seems like a good change. A full season has generally been 82 games in 170 days. Fitting those 82 games into a longer span allows for fewer back-to-backs. The preseason is too long, anyway. Teams often sit their top players for those exhibitions.  As long as training camp begins the same time, this won’t shorten the offseason. Everyone will just have a less grueling regular season.

Maybe teams will even rest players during games less often.

Report: Players on two-way contracts will have $50,000-$75,000 salary while in D-League under new CBA

Fort Wayne Mad Ants v Santa Cruz Warriors - 2015 D-League Finals Game Two
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The new Collective Bargaining Agreement will reportedly allow for two-way contracts – deals that pay one salary while a player is in the NBA and another while he’s in the D-League.

But what will that compensation look like?

Currently, players are on either D-League or NBA contracts. Players on D-League contracts will earn $26,000 or $19,000 this season. Players on NBA contracts have a minimum salary of $543,471. Even when assigned to the D-League, players on NBA contracts continue to receive their D-League salary.

Marc Stein of ESPN provides a couple details on the new CBA:

  • Players on D-League contracts will continue to receive similar salaries.
  • Players on two-way NBA contracts will earn a salary of about $50,000 to $75,000 while assigned to the D-League. Presumably, that amount will be prorated.

That’s less than I expected for the D-League salary in two-way contracts. The big thing keeping down salaries for players on D-League contracts is that they’re NBA free agents. Why pay much for a player whose NBA rights you don’t hold, even if he’s on your affiliate? But players with two-way contracts will be beholden to a certain NBA team. I figured that’d earn them more than this.

At least they’ll likely receive a higher minimum while in the NBA.