NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Key surge in fourth quarter gets Warriors past Thunder— The Oklahoma City Thunder will have to wait at least another day to clinch what they hope will be their second Finals trip in four seasons. Although the Thunder took the Golden State Warriors’ best shot time and again in Game 5 of their Western Conference finals series last night, ultimately the Warriors prevailed to trim OKC’s series lead to 3-2. As Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman points out, a key stretch to start the fourth quarter proved the difference in this still super-close series:
Oracle Arena was alive but nervous. The Warriors’ eight-point halftime lead had been sliced to four. Twelve minutes remained — maybe in their season. And to start that crucial fourth quarter, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were on the bench.
A risky move from Steve Kerr. A chance for OKC to pounce. But, instead, the Warriors bench mob blasted open the game in a flash and created the separation their starters would need to close out Game 5 with a 120-111 victory and send the Western Conference finals back to Oklahoma City for Game 6 on Saturday night.
“I don’t know if it was the stretch (that won the game),” Kerr said. “But it was a very important stretch.”
Golden State went with Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Marresse Speights to start the fourth. The crowd grumbled.
But Livingston eased the tension with a 16-footer over Enes Kanter, whose rough night led to a postseason-low six minutes.
Dion Waiters, who went scoreless off the Thunder bench, threw a bad pass on the ensuing possession. It was picked off by Barnes and fed to Iguodala on the fastbreak eight seconds later. From the wing, Iguodala canned a 3. In 56 crucial seconds, Golden State had spiked its lead from four to nine.
To try and stem the tide, Billy Donovan called timeout and pulled Kanter, reinserting Serge Ibaka. But out of the break, sandwiched by a Thunder offensive rebound, Kevin Durant and Waiters missed jumpers. Livingston snared the rebound and found Barnes moments later.
Another three. The lead was suddenly 12, Golden State’s biggest on the night, while Green and the Splash Brothers played spectator.
“It was (a game-changer),” Durant said of that 8-0 spurt. “They made shots. They made those two threes that were huge for them and kind of stretched the lead. That was tough.”
No. 2: Green gets his game back on track — Heading into last night’s Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, Golden State Warriors All-Star big man Draymond Green had been a shell of himself. After sub-par performances in Games 3 and 4, Green didn’t hold back on criticizing his own game or being accepting of outside criticism of it. Last night, though, Green turned it around and rediscovered what made him one of the NBA’s best players all season and through the first two rounds of the playoffs, writes Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:
At Thursday morning’s shootaround, Green was asked what he saw on the video of the Warriors’ two previous games — both blowout losses that put the Warriors in a 3-1 hole in the best-of-seven series.
“I see a guy who I don’t know, and I refuse to see that guy again,” Green said.
“I’m missing,” he said.
As Green promised, the lost was found.
He had 11 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, four blocked shots and a steal in helping the Warriors stave off elimination.
More important, his fire returned.
“The one thing I can control is how I go out there and fight and battle,” Green said after the game. “That was my mind-set tonight: I was coming to a fight. That’s it. I’m going to go out there and do that.
“If all else fails, I’m going to fight. That’s what I did, and that’ll be my mind-set for the rest of the series.”
In Game 3, he kicked Thunder center Steven Adams in the groin. Green had to wait for about 24 hours as the NBA decided to upgrade his penalty to a flagrant-2 foul, putting him one flagrant foul away from a mandatory one-game suspension.
In Game 4, Green wasn’t close to the All-Star he had been during the Warriors’ record-setting regular season.
“I was on another planet somewhere,” Green said.
He publicly blamed himself for both losses.
“Draymond always blames himself when we lose,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “He goes over the top. It’s not his fault. He didn’t play a good game, but nobody did. …”
No. 3: Magic plan to be active in free agency — The Orlando Magic team that hit the court on opening night in 2015-16 stands to be markedly different from the one that will do so come opening night of 2016-17. At least that’s the plan in Orlando after the team traded forward Tobias Harris (and his large salary) to Detroit and sent Channing Frye to Cleveland in midseason deals. Magic brass aren’t holding back on letting it be known the team will make a major push for free agents this summer and the Orlando Sentinel‘s Josh Robbins breaks down who the team may pursue:
One of the team’s biggest deficiencies — a lack of proven veterans who can command the respect of teammates and steady the team late in close games — is obvious. Even general manager Rob Hennigan said in mid-April that the team hopes to add veterans this offseason.
Why the sudden openness for the notoriously tight-lipped Magic?
“Because that’s what we need at this point in time to take the next step,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said. “Secondly, this has been a plan, this has been a process. The first part of the plan and the process is to develop your own [players] and grow your own [players]. And when you inject veterans at the wrong period of time, it has an impact in the way that you’re trying to develop your corps of young players. It can’t just happen immediately. It’s got to happen at a certain point in time — after your players have matured and developed.
“And we always believed that this summer and next summer were going to be the two summers of free agency for us that we needed to focus on after developing our young guys.”
The Magic can generate up to $46 million in space for July. The team would have to cut ties to the two players it received in the Harris deal; it would have to waive Ersan Ilyasova and renounce its cap hold on free agent-to-be Brandon Jennings. To reach the $46 million figure, Orlando would have to renounce its cap holds on three other pending free agents: Dewayne Dedmon, Andrew Nicholson and Jason Smith.
There’s just one problem to the free-agency scenario, but it’s a potentially huge problem.
Many other teams will have extensive cap space this summer, and the supply of available free agents won’t be large enough to satiate the demand throughout the league.
Hawks big man Al Horford could be a possibility for the Magic.
But even Horford has a few red flags. He’ll turn 30 next month, and he’d be 33 years old at the end of a four-year contract.
Another possibility is Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the former University of Florida star has told his Bulls teammates he won’t re-sign with the Bulls.
Noah would bring toughness and competitiveness, for sure. He won the 2013-14 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, and he would give the Magic a rugged interior defensive presence the team lacks.
He, too, has red flags, none more important than his tendency to be injured. He played more than 67 games only once in his last seven seasons. This past season, a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery limited him to just 29 games.
San Antonio Spurs power forward David West, who has a player option for next season, would be an ideal fit in the locker room and would bring toughness. Plus, he used to play for Vogel in Indiana.
But age would be a concern with West. He’ll turn 36 years old in August. Would he be able to log heavy minutes for Orlando?
West might not be obtainable anyway, despite his ties to Vogel.
Most league observers expect former Magic center Dwight Howard to opt out of his Houston Rockets contract and become a free agent this summer. But it’s highly unlikely that the Magic would pursue Howard unless he seeks a one-year deal for reasonable money.
“I think we’re being very open about the fact that in order to take that next step we have to inject veteran leadership. Our young guys are talented; they’re continuing to develop.
“But the one thing that virtually none of them has is playoff experience, and you just don’t wake up one morning and understand what it takes to get to the playoffs. People have to help you through that, and it’s going to be a coach like Frank Vogel, and it’s going to be experienced veterans that we would be able to obtain in free agency.”
No. 4: Why Wizards are likely to give Beal max deal he seeks — Earlier this week, news came out from Washington that young shooting guard Bradley Beal is after a maximum contract deal this summer from the Wizards. He also said if he didn’t get that deal from the Wizards, Beal would be forced to look elsewhere for his first major NBA payday. According to Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post, though, it’s highly unlikely the Wizards will let things get to that level for a myriad of reasons:
Barring a drastic development, Beal won’t have to shop around. The Wizards are expected to offer Beal a five-year deal for the maximum amount allowed under the salary cap as soon as the free agent negotiating period kicks off on July 1, according to people with knowledge of the situation. Based on the $92 million salary cap projection teams are working with, a max contract would pay Beal $23 million next season because he could earn up to 25 percent of the cap amount as a four-year veteran.
Why make such a steep investment on a player who has never made an all-star team, never played more than 73 games in a regular season, appeared in a career-low 55 games last season, and has had recurring stress injuries to his right fibula? Because the Wizards believe in his potential. More to the point, they don’t have a reasonable alternative.
Kobe Bryant was the only player who earned at least $23 million last season, but several will enter the neighborhood this summer. Sticker shock will be temporal; the cap is expected to vault again next summer, making contracts signed this year less jarring in the long-term.
Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo, a backup the entire regular season who is making $2.8 million for 2015-16, will surely opt out of his contract this summer and land a deal worth at least $16 million per year because of his breakout postseason, according to a league source. According toHoopshype.com, Biyombo, a defensive and rebounding stalwart with a limited offensive skill set, is the 23rd-best potential free agent on the market this summer. Beal is ninth on that list, which includes players with contract options, such as all-stars LeBron James and Andre Drummond, who are not expected to test the market.
In other words, if the Wizards flinch, other clubs will surely offer Beal the max, which Washington will be able to match because he’s a restricted free agent.
The plan is to strike an accord with Beal immediately, but to wait to officially sign him until all the other pieces fall in place because they own his Bird Rights, a salary cap exception that allows teams to exceed the cap in order to re-sign their own players. If they sign him before signing other players, they’ll be limited by the hard cap. Sequence is important in efficiently utilizing the cap room they meticulously created for a shot at Kevin Durant or other available players in an effort to ascend into the league’s elite.
A sign-and-trade deal is conceivable, but the Wizards are not entertaining that option, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. They want to keep Beal because they cannot risk coming up empty this summer, they are familiar with him and think highly of his character, and they believe he is on the brink of breaking out.
Beal acknowledged that he’ll need to be particularly mindful of his workload for the remainder of his career, but he has also insisted that the fibula troubles are behind him and pointed to Stephen Curry and teammate John Wall as recent examples of players who have overcome injuries early in their careers. But for every Curry, there’s an Eric Gordon, another sharpshooting guard whose promising career has been railroaded by injuries.Another possible fallout could be chemistry.
Signing Beal to a max contract would make him the highest-paid player on the Wizards by at least $7 million more than John Wall, a three-time all-star, which could potentially cause a rift in the back court if the situation is not handled correctly.
The Wizards are willing to take the chance. They will sign Beal to a maximum contract because they will need to. They took a similar risk two summers ago when they gave Wall a five-year, $80 million extension after injuries derailed two of his first three seasons. He’s been an all-star in the two seasons since the deal, roundly questioned at the time, was struck. Time will tell if Beal will join Wall as the franchise cornerstone he will be paid to be.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: ICYMI, here’s who made the 2015-16 All-NBA Defensive First, Second and Third teams … According to a report, new Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni may round out his staff with Jeff Bzdelik, Roy Rogers and possibly Rex Kalamian … Marreese Speights wasn’t about to let Golden State’s season come to an end in Game 5 …