Blatche opting out, Pierce and Livingston free agents; Brooklyn has tough summer ahead

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Nets’ owner Mikhail Prokhorov just paid $180 million in salary and luxury tax to win one game in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

And to assemble this older, one-and-done roster they traded away a lot of young players and draft picks.

Nets fans, things are going to get worse before they get better.

Paul Pierce is a free agent, Shaun Livingston is a free agent, and Andray Blatche says he is going to opt out and test the free agent market.

And even without those three, even if other guys with options (Andrei Kirilenko and Alan Anderson) opt out, the Nets payroll is above $85 million next season — more than $10 million above the luxury tax line. The Nets can pay more than anyone to keep Pierce (and they want to keep Livingston and Blatche), but that is going to come with a healthy tax burden.

One they have no choice but to pay. Not that Prokhorov seems to care. The question is does Pierce want to come back to a team destined for mediocrity? He dodged the question when ESPN New York asked.

“I haven’t really put much thought into it,” Pierce said of what his future holds and if he wants to remain a Net. “I put my whole focus into this season, it’s my last year of the contract. I will sit back and talk to the family and see where my options are from there and go from there.”

GM Billy King at the urging of Prokhorov built for this past season with no concern for the future — now they are stuck. The NEts don’t have a draft pick this year, next season the Hawks can swap picks with them, then in 2016 they again do not have a draft pick. Actually, they don’t have their own draft pick unfettered by a possible swap until 2019.

What they have is two more years of Joe Johnson at $48.1 million, three years of Deron Williams and his bad ankles (he says he may need surgery on both this offseason) at $63 million, another year of Kevin Garnett at $12 million (you really think he’ll retire and awl away from that?), plus there Marcus Thornton for one more year at $8.5 million.

What they have is a roster they are largely locked into. There is no easy way to get more athletic, younger, less expensive talent to replace the old guys. Teams are not trading young for old like they used to, not under this CBA.

The one ray of hope is Brook Lopez getting healthy — he is the best scoring center in the game. Problem is, the Nets could not figure out how to use him properly, their offense actually dipped two points per 100 possessions when he was one the court this season. The Nets didn’t find their identity until he was gone for the season and coach Jason Kidd was forced to go small, putting Garnett at the five and Pierce at the four.

The Nets have to find a way to better use Lopez.

Then they have no choice but to keep spending — the NEts need to bring back Pierce, Livingston and Blatche. If they can make a trade that sees them take on another bad contract but brings in real talent, they have to do it.

It’s a spiral of spending and getting older, it’s a road GM Billy King has always driven down and Prokhorov feels comfortable with. It’s not going to get them a title, they can’t just buy their way to a ring, they can’t get free agents, but they can’t get off this road now. Eventually they will need to strip it all down and rebuild, but with no picks for so long at this point they might as well just keep on trying to spend their way.

All the way to the second round.

Rumor: Grizzlies had to choose between Marc Gasol and David Fizdale

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David Fizdale has been linked to most of the NBA’s head-coaching vacancies.

He developed a legion of backers as lead a Heat assistant, and he did good things guiding the Grizzlies before they unexpectedly fired him. He deserves consideration.

But he also must explain his fractured relationship with Memphis star Marc Gasol. They weren’t speaking for a while.

And maybe the problem was even worse than that.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to a source close to Fizdale briefed on the Grizzlies’ decision, it was ownership having to make a choice — trade their All-Star center Marc Gasol, who has fallen in love with its small-market city, or fire the coach. Their relationship had gotten that bad.

If Grizzlies ownership felt it had to choose between Gasol and Fizdale, it’s not clear why.

Fizdale benched Gasol down the stretch during the coach’s last game, and Gasol publicly expressed his frustration.

But Gasol denied issuing a me-or-Fizdale ultimatum. Fizdale said focus on his relationship with Gasol was “overblown,” adding he cared far more about whether he could win with a player than whether they got along personally.

Memphis obviously sided with Gasol – probably too strongly.

LeBron James bought Cavs teammates matching designer suits to wear to game tonight

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I’m still trying to decide if this is cool or a little too Stepford.

The Cavaliers rolled into the Bakers’ Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis tonight wearing matching designer suits, all paid for by LeBron James and custom fitted to each player.

If a college team rolled into a game in four-digit designer suits, the NCAA would have questions. And not about the vests.

The Cavaliers are LeBron’s team, and if he wants to buy his teammates suits and tell them to wear them it’s going to happen. Is it a bonding thing that helps bring them together? Sure. Is it in place to make sure LeBron remembers which ones are his new teammates? Probably not.

Do the suits help on the court? No. And the Cavaliers better bring it in Game 3 because if they go down 2-1 in this series — something that is a realistic possibility — the whispers of doubt are going to get a lot louder.

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.