Boston Celtics v Miami Heat

Seven NBA playoff story lines to watch

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After weeks of trying to predict seedings and matchups while watching teams rest their perfectly healthy superstars, the playoffs are finally upon us.

In no particular order, here are the story lines we’ll be watching when the postseason tournament opens on Saturday.

How much damage can the Lakers do without Kobe Bryant?

L.A. opened the season as the favorites (on paper) to challenge the Heat in the Finals, thanks to the acquisitions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash during the offseason. An early season coaching change, followed by an insane rash of injuries derailed the Lakers’ chances all season long, and Kobe Bryant became the final casualty of the seemingly lost season once he went down with a torn Achilles injury just as the team was making a run at that final playoff spot in the West.

The Lakers managed to keep it together without Bryant long enough to beat the Spurs and the Rockets to seal a playoff berth, and enter the postseason winning eight of their last nine games. But how this team fares without Bryant while they try to combat the efficiency of the Spurs machine in a series will be extremely interesting to watch, though undoubtedly nerve-wracking for Lakers fans at the same time.

How far can the Clippers go, and what will that mean for Vinny Del Negro’s future?

Vinny Del Negro is legitimately on the hot seat in Los Angeles, for a variety of reasons. How far the Clippers do or do not advance in the postseason is likely to determine his fate, but just how far does L.A. have to get for him to be safe?

The Clippers have a tough but favorable first round matchup against the Grizzlies, who they beat in the first round of the playoffs a season ago in seven games. Last year, the Clippers were swept by the Spurs in the second round, so getting there again this year probably won’t be enough by itself to bring Del Negro back next season.

A trip to the Conference finals might be enough improvement to retain Del Negro’s services, but honestly, it’s going to be Chris Paul’s decision as much as it will be anyone’s inside the organization. Paul is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and will have all the say in the world regarding whether or not Del Negro is brought back next season.

Will the Thunder return to the Finals without James Harden?

Thanks to Oklahoma City largely returning the same roster from a season ago that got them to the NBA Finals, the Thunder are once again poised to make a deep postseason run. But the elephant in the room is the fact that they traded James Harden away to Houston, and the reality is that if they don’t make it back to the Finals, this season will be a wild disappointment, and the front office will be scrutinized for choosing dollars over a legitimate championship chance.

Can the Knicks win a playoff series for the first time in 13 years?

It seems like a silly question, given the success New York has put together this year while being lead by the league’s leading scorer in Carmelo Anthony, and a likely Sixth Man of the Year candidate in J.R. Smith. But nothing is guaranteed for the Knicks despite holding the two seed in the East, and a first round matchup against the Celtics could be terrifying given the history between the teams this season, along with the intensity that veterans like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will bring to a seven-game series.

How much noise can the Warriors make?

The Warriors are in the playoffs for just the second time in the last 19 years, and with one of the best fan bases in the league there to support them, it’s an exciting time in the Bay Area for a basketball resurgence to be taking place. Mark Jackson has been successful in installing a winning culture in just his second season as head coach, but he and the team have said all along that simply making the playoffs was not the ultimate goal this season. We don’t know what the team believes it’s capable of internally, but a first round matchup with an injury-depleted Nuggets team could prove favorable if Golden State can play flawless basketball during the road games of this series.

Will the Spurs finally live up to their potential?

San Antonio has always been one of the more well-coached regular season teams. Gregg Popovich has his system installed, and has the players on the roster to execute it to perfection, no matter the injuries that may take place over the course of the season.

But despite the regular season success, the Spurs haven’t been to the Finals since winning it all in 2007, and have lost to teams they were favored to beat in the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. We know the system allows for regular season success, but at some point the Spurs are going to run out of chances with their core of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili to get back to the Finals. Another early exit this season would be a major disappointment, and might signify the end of an era in San Antonio.

Will the Heat repeat as champions?

This is the question we all want answered. Miami ran roughshod over the rest of the league during the regular season, and just about everyone fully expects them to continue the trend throughout the playoffs. The Heat have the best player in the game in LeBron James, and All-Star complimentary pieces in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh that are a wealth of riches when compared to the rosters of other teams Miami might face on the way to a title.

The Heat aren’t just the favorites to repeat as champions; they’ve become the expectation. The way they finished the regular season by winning 37 of their final 39 games is absolutely absurd, and they did so even while resting their best players at times along the way.

It’s gotten to the point where we’d all be surprised if Miami didn’t win the title again this season. But that won’t make the journey any less exciting to watch.

Watch Alfonso Ribeiro show Stephen Curry, Justin Timberlake how to do the Carlton

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There are not words.

Stephen Curry was paired with Justin Timberlake at the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe this weekend, which at first led to mouthpiece throwing.

Then the Carlton. With Alfonso Ribeiro.

Why New Orleans, despite Louisiana lawsuit, differs from Charlotte for NBA All-Star game

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 22:  President & COO of the Golden State Warriors Rick Welts speaks as (L-R) Co-Executive Chairman's Peter Guber and Joe Lacob, and Mayor Edwin M. Lee looks on at a press conference with the Golden State Warriors announcing plans to build a new sport and entertainment arena on the waterfront in San Francisco in time for the 2017-18 NBA Season on May 22, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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How could the NBA pull the All-Star game from Charlotte due to North Carolina’s anti-LGBT law and move it to New Orleans, considering Louisiana is suing the Obama administration over its directive on sex discrimination?

This leak from the Board of Governors meeting proves illustrative.

Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

In a poignant address, Golden State Warriors president and chief operating officer Rick Welts, 63, who is openly gay, explained his meaningful and lifelong affiliation with the NBA and told league owners he didn’t feel comfortable attending the All-Star Game in Charlotte if the law remained as is.

He then said if the All-Star Game remained in Charlotte, he wouldn’t feel comfortable attending, and he said he has spoken to employees in the LBGT community from half of the league’s teams who didn’t feel comfortable attending either.

Another influence on the NBA owners: A number of NBA sponsor/partner businesses have told the league they would not be involved if the game remained in North Carolina.

This isn’t so much about a moral stance or punishing North Carolina. It obviously isn’t about punishing Louisiana.

It’s about treating employees and customers with respect.

Putting valued employees in uncomfortable positions is bad business. Holding All-Star Weekend in North Carolina would have done that. Maybe Welts and those he spoke with wouldn’t immediately quit in protest, but why should the league put them in such harsh work conditions? Imagine being forced to choose between your job and traveling to a place you’re denied fundamental protection under the law. Welts earned his position for a reason. The NBA should make reasonable efforts to retain him and other talent.

The same is true of potential customers, some of whom would have been reluctant to attend All-Star Weekend in North Carolina for the same reasons. Maybe the NBA still would have sold out every event, but it’s not worth alienating a portion of the fanbase. (Though the league’s decision inevitably alienated some fans on the other side of the issue. There is some moralism at play here.)

Maybe Louisiana will eventually succeed in its lawsuit and enact its own anti-LGBT laws. But right now, New Orleans doesn’t legally discriminate against the LGBT community. That makes it an acceptable place to host the All-Star game.

This isn’t about sending a message. It’s about finding a location people like Welts — people the NBA value — feel comfortable.

Report: Celtics agree to guaranteed contract with Demetrius Jackson, partially guaranteed deal with Ben Bentil

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 25:  Demetrius Jackson #11 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after defeating the Wisconsin Badgers with a score of 56 to 61 during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at Wells Fargo Center on March 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Celtics are slowly but surely taking care of their eight (!) 2016 draft picks.

They’ll sign No. 3 pick Jaylen Brown. No. 16 pick Guerschon Yabusele and No. 23 pick Ante Zizic will remain overseas. The Nos. 31 and 35 picks were traded for a future first-rounder on draft night.

And Boston has reached terms with No. 45 pick Demetrius Jackson and No. 51 pick Ben Bentil.

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

As second-rounders, neither Jackson nor Bentil count against the cap until signed. So, the Celtics — with a little cap space plus the room exception and minimum-salary exceptions available — might wait a while to officially sign either player.

Jackson would give Boston 16 players — one more than the regular-season roster limit — with guaranteed salaries. Obviously, the Celtics will have to make a move — a big one, they surely hope.

Any deal could avoid a point guard, because Jackson makes four with Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier. Most teams carry just three.

With this roster crunch, Bentil will probably head to the D-League after training camp. The partial guarantee is likely just designed to entice him to stick in Boston’s system rather than sign overseas.

This leaves just No. 58 pick Abdel Nader unaccounted for among the Celtics eight (!) 2016 draft picks.

Spurs sign 2013 first-rounder Livio Jean-Charles

Cecilio Santibanez
AP Photo/Eric Gay
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With the 76ers signing Dario Saric, that left just five players drafted in the first round before this year who are still active but haven’t played in the NBA:

  • Nikola Milutinov (No. 26 by Spurs in 2015)
  • Bogdan Bogdanovic (No. 27 by Suns in 2014)
  • Livio Jean-Charles (No. 28 in 2013 by Spurs)
  • Petteri Koponen (No. 30 in 2007 by 76ers)
  • Fran Vazquez (No. 11 in 2005 by Magic)

San Antonio trimmed the list by one.

Spurs release:

The San Antonio Spurs today announced that they have signed forward Livio Jean-Charles.

Because Jean-Charles was drafted more than three years ago, he’s not bound by the rookie scale. San Antonio could have signed him to a scale or standard contract.

The Spurs could use more length and athleticism on the frontline behind LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol, and Jean-Charles fit the bill when drafted. But he tore his ACL and missed the following season. It’s less clear the 22-year-old is still on track to help.

 

Count on Dewayne Dedmon as a far safer bet to provide San Antonio with that dimension. If Jean-Charles helps, that’d just be a bonus.