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AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Galit Rodan

Report: Dwane Casey sought contract extension from Raptors, which might have pushed them to fire him

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Dwane Casey guided the Raptors to a franchise-record 59 wins this season.

They still fired him.

Why?

There are multiple plausible explanations: Toronto stumbled annually in the playoffs, including getting swept by LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the second round the last two years. With key players – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas – locked into expensive multi-year contracts, the Raptors’ best shot at a shakeup was firing the coach. Raptors president Masai inherited, rather than hired, Casey in the first place.

Here’s another potential cause.

Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

Casey sought a two-year contract extension in an effort to maintain job security, a person with direct knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports.

The person requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the decision.

Casey’s wish may have forced Ujiri’s hand ahead of Friday’s decision.

Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun:

https://twitter.com/WolstatSun/status/995013936104857601

There’s a belief within the NBA that coaches on the final year of their contract create too much instability. It’s seen as a signal that management doesn’t truly back the coach, which invites players to walk all over him. Teams, as the logic goes, should either extend the coach’s contract or fire him before it reaches that point. I think that’s an overstated claim, a way for coaches to secure more money either through a longer contract or severance pay. But many people buy into the thinking.

Maybe Ujiri would have given Casey another year to prove himself but then decided rejecting an extension would cause turmoil (in a way that merely not offering an extension wouldn’t have). Ujiri – whether or not his denial is accurate – clearly didn’t want to extend Casey’s contract.

So, that left firing the coach.

There were several signs Ujiri would fire Casey before actually doing so, but it’s unclear when Casey requested the extension. It could have been before the indicators leaked.

No matter what exactly happened, if just asking for an extension contributed to Casey getting fired, he was already on thin ice.

Report: Warriors wanted to face Rockets in playoffs to shut them up

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The Rockets have spent the last year thinking about the Warriors.

Golden State insists it doesn’t care about its opponent.

But did the Warriors actually prefer a matchup with Houston, their foe in the Western Conference finals?

Chris Haynes on ESPN:

I know how they feel. They want them just for the simple fact so they can just shut them up. That’s it. That’s it. So, it’s not a concern.

I will say this. A couple months ago, when Rockets beat Golden State last game of the regular season when these two teams faced off, I told – I went to Draymond. I went to KD. I said, “Look man, Rockets may be able to give you all some problems.” And they basically cussed me out right there on the spot. Like, “Don’t believe in that regular-season hype.” So, they’re ready for this matchup.

The Warriors claiming not care about their opponent is a great brag. They’re just too good even to notice lesser squads like the Rockets or whomever.

But we also know enough about Golden State to know this isn’t true. The Warriors motivate themselves with slights, real and imagined. And that includes gearing up for certain opponents.

It’s no surprise one would be the “obsessed” Rockets, who are just arrogant and scrappy enough to bait Golden State.

Now, the Warriors must actually prove they’re a level above Houston.

76ers exercising T.J. McConnell’s team option

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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T.J. McConnell has kept up with the 76ers’ ascension. The point guard has gone from a capable rotation player on a tanking team to a capable rotation player on a good team. He’s definitely worth keeping at his minimum-salary team option for next season ($1,600,520).

But by Philadelphia exercising his option, McConnell would become an unrestricted free agent in 2019. If the 76ers declined his option, they could make him a restricted free agent this summer and more tightly control his long-term future.

So, there was a real decision to make.

Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

President of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said Friday the Sixers will exercise McConnell’s contract option.

Unlike the Nuggets, who should decline Nikola Jokic‘s team option in a similar cheap-or-restricted scenario, Philadelphia right to exercise McConnell’s.

Because of his physical limitations, the 6-foot-2 McConnell tops out as a solid backup. He’s already 26, suggesting he’s near his ceiling if he hasn’t hit it already. Better to guarantee another bargain year out of him, especially because that saved money can go toward bigger goals. If he walks in 2019, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

The 76ers might even prefer he walk by that point.

McConnell stepped up during an arduous rookie year for No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz. But Fultz has far more upside as the traditionally sized point guard who sometimes pairs with Ben Simmons and sometimes initiates the offense himself. Ideally for Philadelphia, Fultz would seize that role and make McConnell expendable.

In the meantime, McConnell will finish off his Hinkie Special contract and provide the 76ers with insurance behind and next to Simmons.

Report: Knicks still planning to stretch Joakim Noah on Sept. 1

AP Photo/Nick Wass
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Joakim Noah‘s feud with former Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek got so bad, New York sent Noah away. But the Knicks since fired Hornacek and hired David Fizdale, and Fizdale said Noah texted him.

Does that clear the way for Noah playing for the Knicks again?

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

Sources indicate the likeliest scenario still is Noah becoming a stretch-provision waiver at the Sept. 1 landmark date

Noah is guaranteed $18,530,000 next season and $19,295,000 the following season. By waiting until Sept. 1, the Knicks would pay Noah’s entire 2018-19 salary that season (when they don’t project to have cap space, anyway) and then take $6,431,667 cap hits each of the following three seasons.

This route would be a favor to Noah, allowing him to find his next team before the season. He wants to play, and the 33-year-old doesn’t fit New York’s rebuild.

If the Knicks keep him, they could use his contract to facilitate a trade. That’s unlikely until 2019, when his expiring contract might prove useful. It’s no guarantee, but keeping him on the roster keeps that possibility open. If the Knicks want to stretch him to maximize 2019 cap space, they always could that summer. It’d be the same cap effect as stretching him this September. If they strike out in 2019 free agency, they might even decide to pay his full 2019-20 salary that season and avoid cap hits in 2020-21 and 2022.

Waiving and stretching Noah in September would close all those possibilities. His salary would be locked onto New York’s cap sheet, untradeable.

Rockets present historically strong test for defending-champion Warriors

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As the Warriors entered the season trying to win their second straight NBA title, Golden State coach Steve Kerr said, “The biggest challenge is complacency.”

How about the Rockets?

The Warriors certainly looked apathetic throughout the regular season. They played lax defense, showed an abundance of caution with injuries and meandered to a 58-24 record that nobody believes reflects their true ability. Complacency certainly is a challenge.

But so is Houston.

The Rockets are good. Really good. They went 65-17, scored like gangbusters and defended effectively. James Harden will win MVP, and Chris Paul is an elite secondary star. Led by Clint Capela, Houston’s rotation is full of solid role players.

Golden State, without being complacent, could lose to the Rockets.

Houston has the fifth-best record of any playoff-series opponent faced by a defending champion. Here are defending champion’s top postseason foes, series the defending champ won in blue and series the defending champ lost in red:

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Kerr was reasonable before the season to call “complacency” the Warriors’ biggest challenge.

They’re so talented – Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson! – so cohesive and so versatile (reasons Golden State will probably beat the Rockets). For teams anywhere near this successful – two championships in the last three years with a 73-win season and NBA Finals appearance sandwiched between – the main threats are often internal.

Challengers as good as Houston rarely emerge.

But the Rockets are here, and they’re a genuine obstacle to the Warriors repeating as champions.