The NBA playoffs are littered with new blood, high drama and compelling games. The Portland Trail Blazers are reportedly starting to interview candidates for their vacant coaching position. Offseason trade and draft speculation is already gathering steam.
It is … (checks calendar) … June 15.
This once-in-a-lifetime coronavirus season has led to a unique moment on the NBA schedule, where the playoffs, offseason and everything in between converge at a time the NBA Finals are normally wrapping up. Before we take a deeper dive into what’s going on, here are a few notable dates to keep in mind:
• July 8-22: NBA Finals
• July 29: NBA draft
• Aug. 2: NBA free agency opens
Of course, the Blazers’ coaching search has thrust a greater importance on the here and now and everyone from Mike D’Antoni to Becky Hammon to Chauncey Billups are reportedly interviewing with Portland brass this week. All the while, a random rumor surfaced Tuesday morning suggesting that Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has been “discussed internally in Portland.”
As you chew on that, here’s a look at what’s happening around the NBA:
• The USA Today surveys the league’s four coaching vacancies, offering a look at what’s going on with the Blazers:
“(Jody) Allen wanted the list to include women candidates, and San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon will interview for the job, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about candidates. The Blazers also received permission to speak with South Carolina women’s coach Dawn Staley.
“The Blazers also plan to interview or have interviewed Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach and former NBA championship Chauncey Billups and Brooklyn Nets assistant coach Mike D’Antoni. Olshey could also pull a surprise with a men’s college basketball coach.”
• As for Hammon, USA Today wonders if it’s time for her to shake up the NBA:
“Hammon appears to be the logical choice to become the first female coach to lead an NBA team. She has been with the Spurs as an assistant coach for the past seven seasons, a front of bench assistant for the past three years and she coached the Spurs’ Summer League team in 2015, 2016 and 2019.
“Earlier this season, Hammon became the first woman to serve as the head coach after Gregg Popovich was ejected. “Obviously, it’s a big deal,” Hammon said on Dec. 30. “It’s a substantial moment.”
“Another substantial moment awaits. For the past few seasons, people from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to former WNBA and G League coach and NBA assistant coach Nancy Lieberman said a woman will be hired as a head coach soon.”
• Thirty eight players have player options, team options or partial guarantees above the minimum for next season, according to The Athletic, and “their presence (or absence) could have a big impact” on the free agent market. How will the players and teams approach the options? The Athletic takes a look at each case — including those of three Blazers — and makes a prediction:
“Norman Powell, SF, Portland $11,615,328; BORD$ value: $12,062,356
“Powell’s BORD$ valuation isn’t that different from his salary for next season, but he likely will be paid more than that based on the Bird rights trap the Blazers are in and the paucity of starting-caliber wing options on the rest of the market. Even if he weren’t, the chance to lock in long-term money with a three- or four-year deal likely wins out over whatever marginal improvement he could make in his market value with another year. Verdict: Opting out.
“Derrick Jones Jr., PF, Portland, $9,720,900; BORD$ value: $8,150,419
“Jones Jr. was supposed to provide a vital defensive cog for an offensive team, and the fit didn’t work at all. He ended up getting DNPs by the end of the season and surely would prefer a new situation. However, like Richardson, he likely will be forced to opt in because of his diminished market value and will hope either a trade revitalizes him or the next Portland coach can find a better role for him. Verdict: Opting in.
“Jusuf Nurkic, C, Portland: $12,000,000 ($4,000,000 guaranteed); BORD$ value: $7,216,451
“This BORD$ valuation is at the south pole of Nurk’s perceived market value, penalizing him for all the time he missed the past two years and some not-so-great defense upon his return. Even at that valuation, his contract rates as a non-terrible proposition, and the Blazers have no means of replacing him with their cap situation due to the Bird rights trap. In fact, Nurkic’s contract may actually be too good a value, as it could impede the Blazers from extending his deal (they can only offer a 20-percent raise) before he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer. Verdict: Picked up.”
• The Blazers don’t have a first-round draft pick this year, so they’ll have to dig deep to identify steals in the second round. On that note, SI.com has put together the draft’s biggest sleepers.
• Back to the NBA schedule … it will look at lot different next season. And by different, we mean normal. The Associated Press has the details:
“The NBA told its teams Thursday that it intends to return to a normal schedule next season, with training camps opening in late September and the regular season set to begin on Oct. 19.
“A memo that was sent to teams, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, does not specify when the 2021-22 regular season will end — and that’s because it has yet to be officially decided if the Play-In Tournament will return. If it does, and there are no indications that it won’t, the likely date to end the regular season would be April 10.
“The return to the normal schedule is not an unexpected development, and Commissioner Adam Silver has said several times that the league’s intention for the past several months — virus-permitting — was to get the league back onto its regular calendar after two seasons of schedule havoc because of the pandemic.”
• Bleacher Report is back with more Bleacher Report things, aka fake trades. The web site offers a “perfect offseason trade target for every NBA team,” including Portland:
“Draymond Green: With a 29th-ranked defense this year, it should come as no surprise the Blazers got bounced in the first round. Getting Damian Lillard’s input on the roster is probably important to keep him happy this summer and moving forward. According to previous tweets from both he and CJ McCollum, Green seems to be a guy both would be interested in playing with.
“It’s hard to imagine the Warriors trading the heart and soul of their roster, however. While his offense has fallen off a cliff in recent years, Green remains one of the NBA’s best and most versatile defenders at age 31. He also averaged a career-high 8.9 assists per game this year, a skill that would come in handy for Portland team that finished last in assist percentage. It almost certainly won’t happen, but the Blazers should at least inquire about Green for Lillard’s sake.”
• NBA parity at an all-time high as five of eight remaining playoff teams have never won a championship, according to CBS.
• What’s real and what’s not in the NBA conference semifinals? ESPN takes a look.
• The LA Clippers beat the Utah Jazz 118-104 Monday night, evening the best-of-seven series at 2-2. In the aftermath of Game 4, NBA.com asked: Are the Clippers ready to remake their playoff reputation? That remains to be seen, but The Ringer says the Clippers may finally be starting to look like the Superteam we expected.
• In the other Eastern Conference semifinal, the Atlanta Hawks beat the Philadelphia 76ers 103-100. Atlanta is two games away from the East finals and seemingly ahead of schedule, according to ESPN:
“On the first of March, the Hawks were 14-20 and buried in 11th place in the East when management fired coach Lloyd Pierce and promoted Nate McMillan as his interim replacement. McMillan inherited a young team that was talented and skilled but petulant and callow. Just weeks earlier, teammates openly sniped about the team’s offensive approach, and Trae Young could be spotted pouting his way through a string of bad losses.
“But whatever deficiencies McMillan might have as a three-time casualty of the profession, he is a coach who values order. Instantly, a Hawks team built to win began to win. Atlanta ripped off eight consecutive victories to vault from 11th place to fourth over the streak.”
• On the other end of the spectrum, the Brooklyn Nets are learning how fragile an NBA title run can be, according to ESPN:
“Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks’ face was covered in a mask on Sunday, but you could see the disappointment in his gait as he trailed a limping Kyrie Irving and trainers down the hallway toward the locker room in the second quarter of the Bucks’ 107-96 Game 4 win to even their Eastern Conference series at 2-2.
“Marks did a brilliant job building this Nets team, making it fertile ground to attract superstars, surrounding it with a strong array of role players and hiring a loaded coaching staff. But he can’t control health. Marks won an NBA title as a player in 2005 with the San Antonio Spurs the year after Tim Duncan was limited in the playoffs with a knee injury. Marks learned a long time ago the value of a healthy star.”
• The answer to the NBA’s threes-and-layups era lies somewhere in the middle, writes The Ringer:
“Any conversation about midrange shooting is framed by the fact that the NBA’s 3-point revolution is already over, and the long ball won. The team that proportionally took the fewest 3s this season (the Washington Wizards) would have led the entire league in three-point-shooting frequency as recently as 2014. Yet the more that the NBA style is saturated with three-pointers and layups, the more valuable best-in-class creators in the midrange game become.
“‘If you can shoot a three, guys these days really aren’t gonna let you get a three off,’ says Khris Middleton, a 41 percent shooter from deep this season. “They’re gonna try to force you downhill. And now, with the way that you see a lot of schemes and coaches and the way they play, they want 3s or layups. So the defender’s thinking mostly that you’re going to the rim. So you sell your drive as hard as you can, and if you can stop on balance, it’s basically a wide-open shot because the defender thinks you’re going to the rim the whole time.’
“The midrange jumper isn’t a correction, then, but a counter; teams need to rely on the most efficient shots until they can’t — until systemic ideals crash into playoff realities. When that happens, a scorer as versatile as Middleton gives his team hope of a way through. It’s a quality that the Bucks, in their original designs for how they wanted to play, almost took for granted.”
— Joe Freeman | firstname.lastname@example.org | 503-294-5183 | @BlazerFreeman | Subscribe to The Oregonian/OregonLive newsletters and podcasts for the latest news and top stories.