NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: No Serge means Spurs surge — Friday was a bad day if you were an NBA fan in general and a horrible day if you were partial to the Oklahoma City Thunder in particular. A night without playoff games – the last two conference semifinal rounds wrapped up Thursday – was bad enough for most folks. But for OKC fans, the news that power forward Serge Ibaka was done for the postseason with a Grade 2 left calf strain was a slo-mo, long-lasting gut punch. On the other hand, San Antonio couldn’t, in good form, revel in Ibaka’s discomfort and the Thunder’s misfortune. But a break’s a break, even when it’s a strain, as Jeff McDonald wrote in the San Antonio Express-News:
Nobody in San Antonio need mention Ibaka’s value as a pressure valve alongside league MVP Kevin Durant and Westbrook in the OKC offense. In Game 4 of the 2012 conference finals against the Spurs, Ibaka went 11 for 11 on his way to 26 points.
“Every time I see Ibaka or hear the name, 11 for 11 goes through my head,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Friday, about four hours before the extent of Ibaka’s injury was made public.
Ibaka has provided needed offense against the Spurs while anchoring the OKC defense. In the past two seasons, his plus/minus ratings against San Antonio has leaped into the black. Here are his basic stats vs. the Spurs over the past four years:
2013-14: 14.0, 11.5, plus-9.8
2012-13: 13.3, 13.3, plus-12.4
2011-12: 10.7, 7.3, minus-10.0
2010-11: 12.3, 11.0, minus-12.4
Defensively is where Ibaka’s loss, however, will have its greatest impact. Matthew Tynan of the 48 Minutes Of Hell blog broke down some of those numbers:
In the 148 minutes the OKC shot-blocking terror has been on the floor against the Spurs this season, San Antonio managed to shoot a putrid 42.3 percent from the floor with a true-shooting mark of 49.3, nearly 8 percent worse than its regular-season average. Near the rim, where Ibaka’s presence is most noticeable, the splits are even more dramatic. The Spurs shot 48 percent at the rim when he was on the floor during the teams’ four games against one another; when he was off, that number ballooned to 61.9 percent.
Even more startling are the 3-point numbers. Ibaka’s ability to singlehandedly protect the paint allows perimeter defenders to stick with shooters, scramble aggressively and close out hard when the Spurs kick the ball out to the arc. San Antonio shot 33 percent from deep when he was on the floor against them this season; when he was off, the NBA’s top 3-point shooting team launched away at better than 54 percent.
Get this: San Antonio managed only 93 points per 100 possessions in Ibaka’s shadow this season, compared to a staggering 120.8 offensive-efficiency rating in the 48 minutes his butt was on the bench*. This news isn’t Durant- or Westbrook-level devastating for OKC, but it’s damn close. He’s been so incredibly important for that team against the Spurs this season, and his absence will greatly swing the forecast of this series.
No. 2: Lowball start cost Knicks — Apparently, the annual salary was set: $4.4 million. The question was, over how many years? That’s where the New York Knicks allegedly bungled negotiations with Steve Kerr, their No. 1 coaching candidate who wound up agreeing to a deal with the Golden State Warriors instead.
Marc Berman, who covers the Knicks for the New York Post, related the tale of dickering gone awry:
The Post has learned [Phil] Jackson’s initial offer to Kerr was a lowball of three years, $13.2 million. That offer stuck for more than a week before the Warriors got involved Tuesday. Kerr wound up agreeing to terms with Golden State on a five-year, $22 million contract — not the $25 million that was widely reported.
Had the Knicks originally offered Kerr five years, $22 million — $4.4 million a year — he probably would have closed the deal before Golden State could reenter the fray. Jackson only bumped the offer to four years in response to Golden State’s offer.
A source said Kerr wasn’t moving across the country for less money than the Warriors were offering. The Knicks have insisted Jackson, not owner James Dolan, handled the negotiations. Kerr never spoke to Dolan during the process, meeting with general manager Steve Mills and basketball operations director Jamie Mathews.
No. 3: Wizards look to keep, lure– The Washington Wizards figure to have learned an important lesson over the past month: Whatever doesn’t kill you – as in, an initial taste of the NBA playoffs – makes you stronger.
There’s a second lesson headed the Wizards’ way, in the wake of their elimination by the Indiana Pacers from the conference semifinals: Whatever doesn’t strip the personnel away from your team – as in, free agency – can make all the difference next season.
Washington faces the two central issues of free agency: Keeping its own guys and upgrading with new ones. Two of the Wizards’ free-agents-to-be, center Marcin Gortat and forward Trevor Ariza, touched on those topics.
For someone who created a pretty nice market for himself with his play against Indiana, Gortat sure sounded like he preferred to go nowhere, according to Ben Standig of CSNWashington.com:
“I would love to be here. I would love to be back here on this team,” said Gortat shortly after leading the Wizards in scoring for the second straight game with 19 points.
He continued. “There are a few different things I’m going to look at and definitely one the biggest things for me is a point guard. Obviously John [Wall] is a tremendous talent. He’s definitely going to get better next year. That’s going to be one thing I’m going to look at.”
Ariza has leverage, too, coming off his best season (14.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 40.7 3FG%) and reminding everyone of his defensive versatility against Chicago and Indiana. But in a separate CSNWashignton.com piece, he sounded almost like a pitchman for the Washington franchise:
“My family is definitely the most important thing to me before basketball, everything. That plays a big factor into a log of things,” Ariza said Friday after he packed up his locker and prepared to leave Verizon Center following the Wizards’ playoff elimination to the Indiana Pacers the previous night. “But when you build something with people that’s hard to let go, too. What we built in this locker room this season, this is a beautiful thing to me. I really enjoyed playing with those guys. I love those dudes like they’re my brothers.”
“Trust. Having trust in where you are, with your organization, with your teammates and how comfortable you are,” Ariza said when asked to prioritize how he’ll go about his decision. “How comfortable my family is. This year my family has been extremely comfortable. We loved the neighborhood that we lived in. The organization has been great. Teammates, we hung out all the time. This is a really good destination. Free agents would be crazy not to come here.”
No. 4: Watson gets in front of Jazz job– It isn’t known whether veteran NBA guard Earl Watson already is forwarding his mail to an address in Salt Lake City or if he has staked out a parking space at Energy Solutions Arena, but he sure seems to have gotten in front of the vacant Utah Jazz head coaching job.
The 13-year veteran of multiple teams, including three in Utah, made it known on clear-out day in Portland that he has his eye on what had been Tyrone Corbin‘s job. He even has support from a key Jazz player (Gordon Hayward) and a heavy-hitting consultant/part-time assistant (Hubie Brown) lined up.
Watson’s ascendancy to a coaching position is only a matter of time, as Chris Haynes of ComcastSportsnetNW.com sees it, and that might happen sooner than later, based on the presentation he could make to Jazz management. Having Hayward’s endorsement is a swell start:
The soon-to-be coach admitted during Friday’s exit interviews that the Utah job attracts him, and he already has the endorsement of Utah’s electric wing stud.
“I’m definitely pulling for Earl to get the job,” Jazz forward Gordon Hayward told CSNNW.com via phone Friday morning. “He’s a great guy and has a great basketball mind. If he did become our coach and I got to play under him, it would be great because I know how hard he’ll work and prepare us. He’s a true professional and I think no matter where he ends up, he’ll be a great head coach in the NBA.”
As for any concern about his lack of bench experience, Watson might have that covered, too, if Brown were to provide old-head wisdom. Wrote Haynes:
Watson told CSNNW.com earlier this year that if he were to obtain a head coaching job in the NBA next season, he would reach out to Coach Hubie Brown to gauge his interest in exiting his ESPN color commentating gig to become his lead assistant. It would be similar to what Jason Kidd did by bringing on Lawrence Frank.
Brown, who loves Watson as if he were his own son, said if things materialized in that fashion, he would have to entertain Watson’s proposal, but said it would have to include little, to no traveling due to him getting up there in years.
“I’m 80 years old and I’ll be 81 in September, but I wouldn’t mine doing the practices at home,” Brown told CSNNW.com. “You never know what could happen. He is a top professional. He has a high IQ, very coachable and very bright. He doesn’t miss a thing. He’s very inquisitive. He sees things, but picks his spots. I always say that he was one of the toughest kids to ever play for me. He’ll make an excellent NBA head coach.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: .The Logo himself, Jerry West, endorses the Golden State Warriors’ hiring of Steve Kerr. … Former Warriors coach Mark Jackson will be back on the sidelines pronto, joining Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy on the ABC/ESPN broadcast team in time for Game 1 Sunday of the Eastern Conference finals. … With new ownership approved in Milwaukee, attention shifts to general manager John Hammond and head coach Larry Drew, in terms of job security. … Some things of value were learned about the NBA’s top prospects in Chicago this week. But the Cleveland Plain Dealer wonders about the future of the NBA draft combine itself.