NEWS OF THE MORNING
Report: D-Will could be traded this summer| Report: Sterling plans to sue NBA | Kerr opens up on his plans for Warriors | Report: Knicks talk with Pippen | Report: Pistons to add Thomas as minority owner
No. 1: D-Will could be dealt this summer — It was just two offseasons ago that Nets guard Deron Williams had re-signed with the team as a free agent in a move seen by many as the one that would give Brooklyn its cornerstone player for years to come. But as the Nets try to make sense of their season and their East semifinals ousting at the hands of the Miami Heat, could Williams be on the trading block this summer? That question — and others — are addressed by Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck here:
Paul Pierce could leave as a free agent, perhaps to join old friend Doc Rivers in Los Angeles. Kevin Garnett could retire, and just might if Pierce were to leave. If the two proud former Celtics walk away, then the Nets will have broken the payroll record—and given up three first-round draft picks—for nothing.
But the fixation on the price tag, and even on the trade itself, obscures the Nets’ greatest problem—a previous, equally costly investment that has gone bust:
You remember Deron Williams?
You could be forgiven if you didn’t. Williams was a dud in the playoffs, particularly against the Heat. He scored zero points in Game 2, nine points in Game 3 and 13 points (on 5-of-14 shooting) in a Game 4 loss that pushed the Nets to the brink of elimination. Williams’ postseason field-goal percentage: 39.5.
The Nets imported Pierce and Garnett for their wisdom and their fire, but no one expected the two aging vets to carry the offense. It is Williams who was acquired to be the face of the franchise, the engine of the Nets offense, and he has utterly failed in that role.
No matter how many tens of millions they spend, no matter how many flashy trades they make, the Nets will never be a serious contender unless Williams regains his All-Star form.
“Deron’s the X-factor,” said one Nets official. “More than anybody.”
Since Williams’ celebrated arrival in 2011, the Nets have made two trips to the playoffs, one ending in the first round and one in the second, for a postseason record of 8-11.
No one player can be blamed for the lousy late-game execution, but it is the job of the point guard (and franchise player) to maintain order and to put his teammates in the best position to succeed. Time and again, Williams has shown he is incapable of leading when the pressure is at its highest. When the Nets needed salvation this season, they turned to Joe Johnson and Pierce.
This is surely not what general manager Billy King envisioned three years ago, when he plucked Williams from Utah and made him the franchise centerpiece. That Williams was then considered the equal (or at least close rival) of Chris Paul is of little comfort now, with Williams perpetually battling ankle injuries and crises of confidence.
“I used to feel like I was the best player on the court, no matter who we were playing against,” Williams told reporters Thursday, an implicit acknowledgment of his diminished status.
Team officials were encouraged by Mirza Teletovic and see promise in Mason Plumlee. The Nets also hold the rights to Bojan Bogdanovic, a European star who could either join the Nets next season or be used in a trade.
But Pierce will be 37 next fall, Garnett 38 and Johnson 33. This team has little upside unless Williams somehow rediscovers the swagger that made him a star in Utah.
There is an alternative, sources say, the Nets will not rule out: They could look to trade Williams this summer, retool around Johnson and Brook Lopez, squeeze one more run out of Pierce and Garnett and hope for the best.
No. 2: Report: Sterling hires lawyer, threatens to sue NBA — The Los Angeles Clippers’ season came to an end last night with their loss in Game 6 of the West semifinals to the Oklahoma City Thunder. With the basketball playing done in L.A., the issue that has dogged the Clips since the first round — the ousting of owner Donald Sterling — will undoubtedly heat up. According to SI.com’s legal expert Michael McCann, Sterling has hired a lawyer and is looking to sue to the NBA himself for its decision to remove him as owner of his team:
SI.com has learned that Clippers owner Donald Sterling has hired prominent antitrust litigator Maxwell Blecher, who has written a letter to NBA executive vice president and general counsel Rick Buchanan threatening to sue the NBA. The letter, sources tell SI.com, claims that Sterling has done nothing wrong and that “no punishment is warranted” for Sterling. Blecher also tells Buchanan that Sterling will not pay the $2.5 million fine, which is already past due. Blecher ends the letter by saying this controversy “will be adjudicated.”
Blecher’s letter makes clear what many have anticipated: Donald Sterling will not go down without a fight and that he is taking active steps toward litigation. A letter of this type is considered a precursor to the filing of a lawsuit. Blecher’s letter offers no ambiguity about Sterling’s intentions.
“We reject your demand for payment,” the letter tells Buchanan, who on May 14 informed Sterling by letter that he must pay the $2.5 million fine.
Blecher’s letter goes on to identify two basic legal defenses for Sterling.
First, Blecher claims that Sterling has not violated any article of the NBA constitution.
Second, Blecher argues that Sterling’s “due process rights” have been violated by the NBA. A due process claim may sound superficially reasonable.
Any lawsuit by Sterling against the NBA would face a daunting task, as Sterling contractually agreed to follow the NBA’s system of justice. Sterling’s failure to pay the fine is additional evidence of his insubordination of league policies. His failure triggers other contractual provisions that can be used by the NBA under Article 13(d) to justify his ouster. It is also possible the NBA could deduct $2.5 million, plus interest, from proceeds the NBA would share with the Sterlings after the league sells the Clippers.
ESPN.com also reports that Sterling says he won’t pay the $2.5 million fine levied against him by commissioner Adam Silver:
Sterling’s lawyer has informed the NBA that Sterling will not be paying the $2.5 million fine levied against him last month by commissioner Adam Silver, sources confirmed to ESPN.com on Thursday night.
That fine was due this week, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
In a letter sent on Sterling’s behalf, antitrust litigator Max Blecher also threatened to sue the league if Sterling is not afforded due process.
Sterling’s comments provoked threats of a player boycott, led sponsors to withdraw support and created a racially charged image problem in the midst of the NBA playoffs that even President Barack Obama remarked upon.
As long as the NBA meticulously follows its own constitution and rules regarding the Clippers sale, it will be difficult for Sterling to find a legal theory that would stand up in court, said Daniel Lazaroff, director of the Sports Law Institute at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
“This is not an antitrust issue. This is not a First Amendment issue,” Lazaroff said. “It’s a question limited to the interpretation of the NBA constitution and bylaws, and whether those terms are met.”
If he is forced out, Sterling still stands to reap a huge financial windfall in a Clippers sale. He bought the team for $12.5 million in 1981, and Forbes magazine recently placed its 2014 value at $575 million, or No. 13 in the NBA. There would be a sizable capital gains tax bill in any sale.
No. 3: Kerr opens up on some of his plans for Warriors— New Warriors coach Steve Kerr won’t take the reins of the team until after he finishes up his NBA playoff broadcasting duties for his current employer, TNT. Still, Kerr has some decidedly clear thoughts about what offense he plans to run, how he’ll use Steph Curry and much more in this transcript of his interview with Contra Costa Times reporter Tim Kawakami:
Q: We’ve talked about how badly you wanted Curry in the 2009 draft and almost got him. I’d imagine Curry was a giant pull for you here?
KERR: It was huge. I talked to him tonight and I told him this is retribution for that deal falling through back in ’09. (Laughs.)
A big part of the pull was not just Steph but the whole roster. It’s a really skilled, talented team.
They’ve done a lot of good things the last couple years, they play both ends which was very important. This is not a renovation by any means.
This is more just this team has done great things the last couple years and let’s try to build on that.
I love the mentality. I think Mark really instilled a defensive identity and the emphasis on rebounding. He did a lot of really good things. That makes my job a lot easier.
I’m able to build on that rather than starting to try to build a foundation. The foundation is already there.
It’s really an attractive job.
Q: So do you think you’ll be running the Triangle with this team? Maybe this personnel isn’t best suited for that? Will you run a different offense than the Triangle?
KERR: It will be influenced by the Triangle but it will not look like the Bulls of the ’90s, I can tell you that.
The game has changed and I think my philosophy would reflect that. For instance, I would be crazy to do away with screen and roll with Steph—he’s devastating in it. We’ll do plenty of that.
But we have the opportunity to make some strides offensively and I think that will be reflected in my influences—which have been Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson and Lenny Wilkens…
They’ve all been coaches who emphasized ball movement, spacing and flow and having a a system to rely on and that’s what I’m looking to give.
Q: Will you have a role in player personnel decisions?
KERR: Yeah, but not as a decision-maker and I wouldn’t want that. I’m going to have a busy enough job as it is.
I think to me the healthiest situation for any coach is to have a say, but not have the ultimate decision. I think that’s what the GM is for and I got a really good sense from all the guys that it’s about a consensus. And I’ll be part of that.
Q: Did you literally make the decision today?
KERR: I did. This morning.
But it was agonizing to say no to Phil Jackson. He has meant so much to me in my life and he’s had such an influence on my philosophy on the game and team-building.
When Phil asked me to coach the Knicks, my first thought was ‘How could I ever say no?’
That’s why it took me some time to sort through my thoughts and my feelings … until I knew in my gut what was the right fit for me.
Three hours with those guys yesterday, and I knew that it was the right fit.
It’s great on a family level with my daughter being up in Cal and my wife and sons in San Diego.
It’s great on a basketball level to inherit a good team and a young team with high-character players and a front office I’m already familiar with and feel very confident in and comfortable with … Yeah … it felt right immediately.
I’m glad that it all worked out the way it did.
No. 4: Report: Knicks talk with Scottie Pippen— The New York Knicks are still in need of a coach and many of the names being circulated and rumored for the job — Bill Cartwright, Ron Harper, Kurt Rambis, Jim Cleamons — have some kind of connection with current Knicks boss Phil Jackson from his coaching days. One of the biggest names associated with Jackson’s success in Chicago, ex-Bulls forward Scottie Pippen, is reportedly being courted by the team for some kind of coaching role, writes Marc Berman of the New York Post:
Knicks GM Steve Mills huddled with Scottie Pippen for about 15 minutes Thursday at the draft combine to gauge the legendary Bull’s interest in potentially working for the organization in some capacity, possibly as an assistant coach, according to an NBA source.Knicks president Phil Jackson, stung by the Steve Kerr rejection, would have interest in Pippen in some capacity, depending on who is hired as head coach. Pippen, a student of the triangle offense, has the title of adviser with the Bulls.
When asked by The Post about potentially working with Jackson, Pippen said, “I haven’t talked to Phil. I have to wait until that time comes. Right now nothing’s out there. I’m not going to say whether I’m interested or not until it happens.’’
Pippen once called Kerr his favorite teammate. Kerr was with Pippen for three of the Bulls’ championships.
“I was a little bit surprised,’’ Pippen said of Kerr not taking the Knicks job. “I thought the familiarity working with Phil, able to run the offense, having Phil there to mentor him as much as possible, made it a bit of a surprise. I think at the end of the day, Golden State is probably the better team. They have a lot more upside.”
No. 5: Report: Thomas in talks to buy minority share of Pistons — Current NBA TV analyst and NBA legend Isiah Thomas has served in the front office of an NBA team before, with such roles in Toronto and New York. The team where he made his fame as a player, the Detroit Pistons, might be looking to add him as a minority owner to the team’s ownership group soon, writes Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News:
Pistons legend Isiah Thomas is poised to become an investor into the franchise’s ownership group, according to multiple sources.
Thomas and team officials are in preliminary discussions to make Thomas a minority owner, but the exact percentage hasn’t been agreed upon. It would make Thomas one of a few African-Americans with a stake in an NBA team.
“Not a ceremonial piece, but a respectable piece,” was how a source with knowledge of the negotiations termed the potential deal.
Thomas has an indelible connection to the Detroit community, and Gores’ group isn’t averse to letting someone in, especially someone familiar with the local terrain.
The two became familiar during preparations for the Bad Boys reunion last month, and Gores expressed to Thomas he knew the former point guard wanted a seat of power — one Thomas hadn’t had since he was a part-owner of the Raptors.
When Gores told Thomas it was possible for him to invest in the franchise he helped build, he jumped at it. Thomas, 53, was slated to buy a piece of the team before his retirement in 1994, but when news leaked of the then-unprecedented move, he and late owner Bill Davidson had a public falling out.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Speaking of Deron Williams (see above), the star guard may end up having ankle surgery in the offseason … Nuggets coach Brian Shaw is not interested in the Knicks’ coaching gig … Otis Smith and Dave Twardzik are expected to join Stan Van Gundy‘s staff in Detroit …
ICYMI(s) of the night: Two closeout games (in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles), two monster, must-see jams (from the Pacers’ Roy Hibbert and the Thunder’s Reggie Jackson) …