Associated Press

Cap-strapped Minnesota in tricky spot for summer improvement

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves made major strides this season in ending their 13-year absence from the NBA playoffs after a franchise-altering trade for All-Star Jimmy Butler.

With cornerstones Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in their early 20s and veterans Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague coming off productive debuts in Minnesota, there is a sturdy starting lineup in place around Butler to ideally take the Timberwolves deeper in the next postseason.

Advancement is easier stated than consummated.

The Wolves, even with coach Tom Thibodeau’s preference to give his first-teamers heavy minutes, need to add depth this summer with defense and 3-point shooting atop the skill-set wish list. There is no clear way to acquire more of it, though, after making the logical first moves by drafting versatile wing players Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop last week .

Wiggins will begin playing on his maximum contract in 2018-19, with a $25 million-plus salary that will account for more than 20 percent of the team’s cap and push the Timberwolves close to the luxury tax threshold. That means they won’t be spending aggressively in free agency, with the negotiation period set to start on Sunday. They’ll have to find some candidates on the market willing to sign for less, perhaps for the veteran minimum, to fill out the bench.

“With some players they may not have the deal that they initially wanted,” Thibodeau said, “but this may be the best opportunity in terms of the playing and the winning and then that sets it up for the following year.”

With Towns and Butler beginning the final year of their deals, salary cap management is going to be a challenge, too. Butler has to be convinced, too, that the cast in place will be strong enough for him to chase a championship with in the rugged Western Conference. Thibodeau said he’s comfortable if Butler plays the upcoming season without an extension in place, as several of the league’s stars did in 2017-18.

“Every day we work at it. We know how important he is, and we feel he’s one of the best players in the league,” Thibodeau said. “I know he loves living here. The winning is important to him, I know.”

Thibodeau said the Wolves have options for extending Butler, staying under the tax level and continuing to enhance the roster, but he predictably declined to be specific. So what about another headliner deal, using Wiggins to clear cap space and bring back some valuable players in return?

“Good players, they’re always going to be talked about as a possibility, but when you look at who Andrew is and what he’s accomplished at a very young age, we think he’s critical,” Thibodeau said. “So we’ll always talk to people, but we like Andrew a lot here.”

Nemanja Bjelica (restricted), Jamal Crawford (unrestricted) and Derrick Rose (unrestricted) are set to become free agents, leaving only Gorgui Dieng and Tyus Jones as reserves who regularly played last season and are assured of returning unless they’re traded. Given his history with Butler and Thibodeau, Rose could be one of those veterans the Wolves would court with a team-friendly contract.

Even if there’s more money to be made elsewhere, Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden spoke confidently this week of what they’re selling: a vibrant city, a winning track and popular teammates.

“We feel we’re in good position there,” Thibodeau said, “and we’ll have some good opportunities.”

Report: Doc Rivers accepts deal to become Philadelphia 76ers head coach

Doc Rivers philadelphia
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Doc Rivers was not out of a job long.

Considered an elite coach and leader of men, a guy pushed out the door in Los Angeles by a frustrated owner in Steve Ballmer, Doc Rivers has accepted a deal to become the new head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This was expected, and it came together fast. Rivers was let go by the Clippers on Monday and by Thursday had agreed to the deal with Philly.

Philadelphia had been looking for not only a coach but other voices in the front office to work with GM Elton Brand. Rivers, who had been team president in Los Angeles at one point, had that kind of voice with the Clippers in a collaborative front office. He likely will assume a similar role with the Sixers, having input on player and personnel decisions, not just Xs and Os.

Rivers also jumps from one roster expected to contend for a title but having fit and chemistry issues to another.

Doc Rivers needs to find an offensive system in Philadelphia where both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons can thrive next to each other, along with Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson, and Al Horford. There’s not much spacing or shooting there, which is why Shake Milton was getting a lot of run from former coach Brett Brown.

Roster tweaks would be coming, but with Rivers the idea will be making better use of the existing roster — and the style of play it forces.

The buzz around the league is that Tyronn Lue will take the Clippers job, which leaves Mike D’Antoni looking at places such as Indiana and New Orleans.

Vince Carter wins NBA Sportsmanship Award

Hawks forward Vince Carter
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Vince Carter’s 22-year NBA career ended amid the chaos of coronavirus, preventing him from getting the deserved fanfare.

But fellow players will send Carter into retirement with the NBA Sportsmanship Award.

NBA release:

NBA players have selected Vince Carter as the recipient of the 2019-20 NBA Sportsmanship Award, the NBA announced today.

Carter, who spent the 2019-20 season with the Atlanta Hawks, announced his retirement from the NBA in June after playing a league-record 22 seasons.  He receives the Joe Dumars Trophy as the winner of the NBA Sportsmanship Award.  Dumars, a two-time NBA champion and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, played 14 NBA seasons and won the inaugural Sportsmanship Award in the 1995-96 season.

Each NBA team nominated one of its players for the NBA Sportsmanship Award, which is designed to honor a player who best represents the ideals of sportsmanship on the court.  From the list of 30 team nominees, a panel of league executives selected one finalist from each of the NBA’s six divisions.  Current NBA players selected the winner from the list of six finalists, with more than 250 players submitting their votes through confidential balloting conducted by the league office.

Full voting (with first-, second-, third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place votes and voting points):

1. Vince Carter (Hawks): 143-70-34-13-4-2-2,520

2. Garrett Temple (Nets): 22-78-63-52-25-26-1,746

3. Steven Adams (Thunder): 34-57-41-52-58-24-1,632

4. Harrison Barnes (Kings): 24-25-75-48-35-59-1,418

5. Langston Galloway (Pistons): 23-22-29-60-79-53-1,244

7. Tyus Jones (Grizzlies): 20-14-24-41-65-102-1,016

What a nice honor for Carter, who gracefully aged from high-profile star to veteran mentor.

Heat: Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic doubtful for Game 2 of NBA Finals

Heat players Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic
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Bam Adebayo‘s and Goran Dragic‘s injuries… not looking great for the Heat approaching Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

Heat:

This is a disaster for Miami. The Lakers dominated Game 1, and now the Heat have two starters hobbled at best. At worst and more likely, Adebayo and Dragic are out.

Adebayo would be the bigger loss. Miami was completely overmatched when facing Anthony Davis without a center. Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard can try to keep up, but they’re far from great solutions.

At least the Heat have more options at point guard. Kendrick Nunn can get an elevated role (especially after excelling in garbage time of Game 1). Jimmy Butler can become the de facto point guard. Tyler Herro can also play the position. But Dragic was playing so well during Miami’s run through the Eastern Conference. This is also a major setback.

 

Report: Tyronn Lue ‘early favorite’ to become Clippers head coach

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Doc Rivers is gaining momentum in the 76ers’ coaching search.

As for the job Rivers left behind with the Clippers… Clippers assistant and former Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue, unsurprisingly, has the inside track.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Clippers are planning to interview other candidates, starting soon, sources said.

The New Orleans Pelicans are planning to interview Lue in the near future too, sources said.

Lue would be a sensible hire. He has championship experience, which would help the Clippers hit the ground running in a make-or-break season before Kawhi Leonard and Paul George can become unrestricted free agents. Lue managed stars in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. The Clippers must improve their chemistry around their stars. And the last time Lue got promoted from assistant to head coach, his team won a title.

New Orleans also has an appealing job. But the Clippers are far closer to championship contention. And if both teams want Lue, I bet Clippers owner Steve Ballmer would outspend Pelicans owner Gayle Benson.

Still, the Clippers are conducting a coaching search. Other candidates could emerge. This isn’t necessarily Lue’s job for the taking.

How long would he wait on L.A. if the Pelicans make an offer? Lue has shown he values being entrusted.