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Will pending free agent Isaiah Thomas get career back on track?

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DETROIT – Some people believe a bad ending between Isaiah Thomas and the Cavaliers was inevitable.

“I think somebody is f—ing stupid,” said Channing Frye, whom Cleveland traded with Thomas to the Lakers as part of a deadline day shakeup.

Nothing was inevitable with Thomas. Nothing is inevitable with Thomas – certainly not his desired Brinks truck.

Thomas will enter unrestricted free agency this offseason trying to reclaim his star standing. Less than a year after finishing fifth in MVP voting, he’s just trying to convince everyone he’s not a sixth man.

Time is running out. In one of the most unfortunate aspects of the trade for him, Thomas went from a team that would have given him an extra couple months to show progress from his hip injury to one that will end its season in a couple weeks. Thomas might finish even sooner, as he left the Lakers to consult doctors about treatment options for his still-ailing hip.

The trade also dented Thomas’ reputation. The Cavs and Lakers seemingly used him more for his expiring contract than on-court ability. The good team didn’t want him. The bad team just wanted to clear cap space. Fairly or not, Thomas not working in Cleveland will reflect poorly on him.

But it didn’t have to turn out this way.

What if Thomas underwent surgery? What if he played for the Cavs’ minor-league affiliate in an extended rehab stint? What if he assumed a smaller offensive load while not yet at full strength? What if the Cavaliers tweaked their system more to accentuate his skills? What if he realized things he said wouldn’t go over well while he was struggling on the court? What if teammates had been more sensitive to what he was trying to overcome? What if Cleveland had been more patient? What if everyone made more of a concerted effort not to judge him against Kyrie Irving, whom the Cavs dealt to the Celtics for a package that included Thomas?

“There are so many things that had to have happened for the situation to be what it what was,” Frye said.

Yet, this is the way it went, and Thomas now has no choice to deal with it.

He has played a little better with the Lakers – but not well and certainly not near his peak form. Still, there advantages to being with Los Angeles.

“Here, he was able to play through his mistakes, where in Cleveland, there was a lot of pressure to be, you know, Isaiah,” Frye said. “Which is almost unrealistic at times, now that I look back at it.”

The big question: Will it ever be realistic again?

Thomas’ determination is incredible. Just 5-foot-9 and the last pick of the 2011 draft, he built himself into a star.

But he’s also 29 now and dealing with a lingering hip injury. Quickness and agility are built into Thomas’ game, and he can’t be the same player if he doesn’t move as well.

Especially in a tight salary-cap environment, teams will have major questions about his health.

They’ll also inquire about his willingness to be a team player. Many of those concerns stemming from his time in Sacramento and Phoenix dissipated in Boston. But they reemerged in Cleveland.

The day Thomas joined Los Angeles, Lakers coach Luke Walton took him out for dinner and calmed a brewing storm. Walton told Thomas told each other what they wanted from each other.

“It’s been a great relationship ever since,” said Walton, who wouldn’t divulge specifics of their conversation but just kept gushing about Thomas:

“He’s been amazing teammate.”

“He’s kind of like having an extra coach on the floor.”

“What he has brought to our group from a leadership standpoint has been awesome.”

Until saying he needed to leave the team, Thomas kept insisting he was healthy enough to play.

“Whatever it is, it hasn’t shown on his face at all,” Walton said. “He’s upbeat. He’s great with his teammates, great with the coaching staff. He’s got just a great way about him that’s fun to be around.”

It’s the type of assessment that could make the difference in a team gambling on Thomas next summer. As the previous couple seasons showed, the upside is high.

“I think Isaiah is a great player, and I think when he gets this opportunity, the way he’s built and wired, he’s going to shock the world or prove somebody wrong,” Frye said. “Or I’m going to be wrong.”

It’s so easy to root for Thomas, the underdog made good. He made it this far. Why can’t he rise from the bottom again?

But injuries are fickle, as the Cavs learned the hard way. Even if Thomas overcame hip woes earlier in his career, it only gets harder with age.

This can’t be what Thomas imagined while playing through injury and on a cheap contract to help the Celtics advance in the playoffs last season. But after he aggravated the injury, Boston pawned him off in the Irving trade, and the Cavaliers cut bait last month.

So, Thomas must face an uncertain future where nothing is inevitable – just as always been the case.

Report: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer no longer considering Suns job

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There’s been a lot of talk as the coaching carousel ramps up, long before the NBA season is even over. Now, we know one coach won’t be heading to the Phoenix Suns: Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was reportedly among one of the candidates for the Suns job, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi the Hawks coach has decided not to pursue the position after being given the opportunity to do so.

The Suns coaching search still includes current interim coach Jay Triano and former Memphis Grizzlies head man David Fizdale.

Via ESPN:

Budenholzer met with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver early this week, but there was never traction on reaching a contract agreement as the week wore on, league sources said.

As the Suns kept interviewing candidates — including David Fizdale and interim coach Jay Triano — Budenholzer informed the Suns on Thursday that he would no longer be a candidate for the job, sources said.

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season. Budenholzer had a hefty resume to consider — he won 60 games in Atlanta in 2014-15, heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Suns need someone to guide their young star in Devin Booker. Who they choose will influence the direction of their franchise for longer than the next coach may even be around.

Warriors beat Spurs in glum Game 3

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The Spurs were playing with heavy hearts following the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston appeared to injure their left ankles on back-to-back plays late.

Everyone seemed ready for the Warriors’ 110-97 Game 3 win Thursday to end well before it did.

Soon enough, the first-round series will. Golden State is up 3-0, and all 127 teams to win the first three games of a best-of-seven series won it – most of them via sweep. Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

There’s hope neither Durant’s nor Livingston’s injury is serious. Durant walked off on his own, though gingerly. Livingston shot his free throws before exiting.

Durant (26 points) and Klay Thompson (19 points) have carried the Warriors’ offense with Stephen Curry sidelined by his own injury. If Durant isn’t at full strength for Game 4, Golden State could really struggle to score.

But it still might not matter, as the Spurs are overmatched against the Warriors’ dialed-in defense. Draymond Green (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals) led tonight’s effort.

After two losses in Oakland to start the series, returning to San Antonio didn’t do much for the Spurs, who were 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road this season – the NBA’s largest home-road disparity in a half decade. It’s just had to see San Antonio – whether Popovich returns or Ettore Messina remains acting coach – finding enough sources of offense.

Pelicans move one game away from sweep after bashing Blazers in Game 3

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But for a moment, the Portland Trail Blazers felt as though they could turn the series. For half a quarter, the Blazers had hope. Then, Nikola Mirotic dropped a career-high 30 points, Anthony Davis added a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans moved one game away from completing a sweep of the third seed after a big win on Thursday night, 119-102.

Under the guidance of Mirotic, the Pelicans unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers starting midway through the first quarter. The game was close to being a contest, but Jrue Holiday and Mirotic started to pour it in after being uncorked, with New Orleans taking a 16-point lead going into the second period.

Running up and down the court in a panic, Portland looked nervous in the spotlight. The Blazers racked up 12 turnovers by halftime, all while rattling 3-pointers off the back iron. Portland rushed its offense in the face of unlikely success by the Pelicans, who continued to rain down from deep. New Orleans hit four big shots in the final 1:47 of the half, including three from beyond-the-arc.

Never one to back down, Blazers star Damian Lillard tried to force the issue. He would finish with 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but most evidentiary of his night was Lillard lobbing up a wild 28-footer with 24 seconds left in the half as he tried to answer a gutshot 3-pointer from E'Twaun Moore from a moment before. It didn’t work, and the Pelicans took commanding 64-45 lead to start the third quarter.

So went the story of the rest of the game, as Portland couldn’t fully tamp down the New Orleans offensive attack for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even after one 10-0 run for the Blazers in the third, the Pelicans ended it in the most deflating way possible — a wide open dunk for Mirotic on a cut after Portland’s defense fell asleep.

It was an electric atmosphere at Smoothie King, and the sellout crowd that gave us a glimpse of what kind of homecourt advantage the Pelicans could have in the second round. The New Orleans fans were in a back-and-forth with the players, with Smoothie King working to such a fever pitch it felt as though every shot hoisted by the team in red and gold was destined for the nylon.

Demoralized, Portland battled — flailed, really — but the Blazers couldn’t make up any ground as the momentum continued for New Orleans. Finally Blazers coach Terry Stotts relented and waived the white flag for Portland with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter as he subbed in his bench.

Even with a 49-win season under its belt, the questions surrounding the Blazers become more serious. The team that had a 13-game win streak this season now will face rumblings about whether Stotts will remain with the team. An exit for Stotts would be unwise for Portland — he did wonders with a team that didn’t play up to its potential most of the year — but it’s not out of the ordinary for a team looking to break through to look elsewhere, especially after Lillard’s meeting with owner Paul Allen.

Although their work isn’t done yet, New Orleans looks as though it’s a team to be feared in the playoffs. What it needs to do is concentrate on sweeping the Blazers, not only to give themselves confidence heading into the second round but to show their second-round opponent (likely the Warriors) that they aren’t to be taken lightly.

How Porltand can counter in the deciding Game 4 isn’t clear. The Pelicans have looked like the better team for nearly every quarter of the series, and the Blazers clearly don’t have an answer for them on either side of the ball.

Happy New Orleans fans will pack Smoothie King on Saturday for Game 4 at 2:00 PM PST in Louisiana. Davis will look to win his first playoff series, and Portland will try to avoid their most embarrassing sweep since they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili celebrate the life of Erin Popovich (VIDEO)

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The NBA community has been effuse in their thoughts and condolences to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the past 24 hours. Erin Popovich, 67, passed away on April 18, leaving behind her husband, Gregg.

Many were taken aback at the news, including players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom were emotional when they first heard the news of Erin’s passing.

Gregg Popovich was not with the team to coach them in their Thursday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors, as Ettore Messina took the reins for Game 3.

Meanwhile, those close to the Popoviches spoke about Erin, her influence on Gregg, and how much both mean to them. Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich in San Antonio for four seasons, told reporters that Erin was, “The sort of balance that Pop needed.”

Current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also voiced their support for the Popovich family.

Via Twitter:

Here’s hoping Popovich finds some solace in the support he’s received over the past day.