Blogtable

Blogtable: Your view on Matthew Dellavedova?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Can LeBron pass MJ? | Your view on Dellavedova | Recruiting target for Celtics?



VIDEOIs Matthew Dellavedova scrappy, dirty or somewhere in-between?

> Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova is: A) a dirty player; B) a scrappy player; C) somewhere in-between.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’ll take C. Dellavedova doesn’t go out intending to hurt opponents, but he does play recklessly in a way that can jeopardize other players’ well-being. His leg clamp on Taj Gibson‘s leg in the East semifinals showed Dellavedova is no innocent – he knows how to be sneaky and get under foes’ skin – and his repeated involvement in incidents and mishaps is no coincidence. That said, a lot of too-cool players in this league would be well-served if they brought as much energy and assertiveness to their games.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Somewhere in between, though I would come down more on the dirty play side who is hiding behind LeBron’s skirt.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: A scrappy player. The pattern is troubling and has me leaning toward a dirty player, more than I would have imagined before. But I think dirty is about intent, and I don’t think Delly has been trying to hurt anyone. He has seemed more out of control, attaching himself to Al Horford like that, but not intentionally injuring opponents.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and call him scrappy, but his grace period is over with one more questionable collision with a player. I wonder: LeBron was so vociferous in his defense of Delly, but suppose it was LeBron and not Al Horford who got hit? Or LeBron and not Kyle Korver? Or LeBron and not Taj Gibson? What would LeBron say then?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Somewhere in between. He plays hard, values every possession, and makes the most of what he’s got. When you do that and you’re not as coordinated as the average NBA player, you’re going to get under the skin of your opponent.  He’s First Team All-Irritant.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Can I go with D, all of the above? Seriously, Delly doesn’t deserve the nefarious tag of being “dirty.” That’s a loaded statement and doesn’t mean the same thing it did in the NBA of old. That used to be a badge of honor. It has a totally different meaning in the can’t-touch-him defensive era that we live in now. All that said, there is a certain brand of justice for guys who play the way Dellavedova does, and it’s called a screen that loosens your Chiclets. You return fire for his “hustle” play with a pick that rattles his skull. And if LeBron James or anyone else wants to cry foul, remind them that whoever set the screen is just hustling and playing hard and doing whatever it takes, within the rules, to help his team win.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: He isn’t dirty. Just about any retired NBA player over the age of 40 would tell you so: I’m betting that (1) they would respect him for seeking contact and diving for 50-50 balls, and (2) they would complain about a culture that condemns those plays as dirty.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I hesitate to call him “dirty,” because that means we aren’t judging his actions but his intent, and nobody out there can read his mind, no matter how much they yell on Twitter. So without tagging him as “dirty,” I will say this: When a network is able to put together a package of clips on any given topic — like, in this case, some questionable plays — there’s probably some meat on that bone. Dellavedova is the kind of guy you love to have on your team and hate to play against. And as long as he’s playing alongside LeBron James, he’s got at least one high-powered advocate making a case for him.

Blogtable: Can LeBron pass Jordan?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Can LeBron pass MJ? | Your view on Dellavedova | Recruiting target for Celtics?



VIDEOCan LeBron James one day surpass Michael Jordan as greatest of all time?

> A couple of LeBron James’ teammates believe “The King” might soon surpass Michael Jordan as the greatest of all time. Is this crazy talk, or do they have a legit argument?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Legit argument, or at least getting there. LeBron clearly is lacking in the championships category, and if Golden State (presumably the West’s rep) validates its remarkable season with a championship, he’ll be 2-4 in the Finals vs. Jordan’s 6-0. But that’s just one measure for Greatest Of All Time status. James’ combination of size, speed, power and finesse is unprecedented in NBA history, making him as unique in his way as Jordan was as the high-scoring, ultra-competitor. We need to let James wrap up his resume and then compare the two. A couple more rings for James and his continued climb up the stats lists will make this a perfect topic for barrooms and man caves.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It’s not crazy at all. If you’re measuring only by championships won, LeBron has a long way to go. But if your eyes are open, then the discussion is on. But only for second place. Wilt Chamberlain is the greatest player of all time and it’s not even close.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It’s not crazy talk, but it’s also not anything we need to worry about now. LeBron has to play at this level for at least a couple more years, and he has to win big, before the conversation gets real. That part is not fair in the debate, that teammates will help determine his place in history because the number of championships are part of the analysis. Jordan had Hall of Famers in his supporting cast — Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman — and an all-time great for a coach, Phil Jackson. No such luxury for James.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I can’t classify it as crazy talk or a legit argument. Only time will tell. He won’t have Jordan’s batting average in the NBA Finals (6-0 for MJ) but he’s still in his prime and, if he adds a few more titles, then let the conversation begin. But now? Too early. People are in such a rush to replace legends. And some of those people never saw those legends play.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I don’t know about “soon,” but I think it’s fair to have the discussion and everything depends on the lens through which you’re looking at them. LeBron isn’t close to Jordan’s six titles, but championships are won by teams, not individuals. And LeBron’s talent (size, athleticism, skill set) is obviously something we’ve never seen before.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m going to go ahead and forgive LeBron’s teammates for being too young to comprehend what we all saw of Michael Jordan in his prime (i.e. everything prior to his Washington Wizards days). For they know not of what they speak. This is absolutely crazy talk. And that’s not a knock on LeBron, just an ode to MJ and the Greatest Of All Time that he was, is and will always be. The bar is so unbelievably high, that it’s really unfair to keep trying to squeeze LeBron or anyone else into that mold. We tried it endlessly with Kobe Bryant, another all-time great player in his own right, to no avail. And I’m sure folks will continue to do it with LeBron. LeBron’s great in his own right and will have a rightful place on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore when the time comes. But passing up MJ as the greatest of all time … forget about it.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comLeBron may already be the most talented player ever. But “the greatest of all time” is a title that must be earned by winning. Maybe LeBron will earn it. To say that LeBron is already within reach of someone who has won three times more championships? That is simply disrespectful to Michael Jordan.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: LeBron is the greatest player of his generation, and probably the best player since Michael Jordan. But for LeBron to be considered the greatest of all-time, well, I’m just not sure that’s possible. In purely a basketball sense, those in James’ camp have an interesting argument, as LeBron is physically able to do things on the court Jordan could never do. But part of what made Jordan so special was that he was in large part solely responsible for globalizing basketball and the NBA, taking the NBA from being a minor league to making people around the world say, “I love this game.” Jordan also authored the blueprint for going from an athlete to being a business man and marketing mogul, something nobody else has done as well ever since.

Blogtable: Recruiting target for Celtics?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Can LeBron pass MJ? | Your view on Dellavedova | Recruiting target for Celtics?



VIDEOIsaiah Thomas’ highlights from his season in Boston

> Boston’s Isaiah Thomas says he wants to be the free-agent recruiter for the Celtics. To whom should he make his first call, and what should he emphasize in his pitch?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Kevin Love. I’m not sure Thomas has any “in” with the Cavs’ power forward but if he does, he needs to work it. Love might be persuaded to make a change, based on this awkward postseason experience – Cleveland thriving despite his absence – and the way Tristan Thompson has solidified his standing with LeBron James, the team and the fans. What’s to like in Boston? A coach (Brad Stevens) who rapidly has earned respect around the league. A solid roster in need of a couple stars. A winning tradition for a fan base that keeps management’s feet to the fire to stay competitive. And the opportunity to play with, not against, Kelly Olynyk, who can arm-bar all the league’s other power forwards besides Love.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: DeMarre Carroll is a two-way player who would help Celtics at both ends of the floor while fitting in as a veteran presences in Boston.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHe makes the obligatory runs at Jimmy Butler, DeAndre Jordan and Kevin Love, but the first real call, the call that has a chance of mattering, to Tobias Harris. Harris has a long future ahead at small forward, making him a good fit in Boston. The others on the phone list will be getting max offers from their current teams and, they will all note, teams that are far ahead in the standings and have championship credentials. Harris could get more money, a bigger role and more wins from the Celtics. In return, one of the underrated players of the league will make them better.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’m not understanding how Thomas can be a recruiter. No offense to the guy, who has carved himself a nice niche in the league, but he’s not a franchise player and therefore probably lacks the clout to sweet-talk LaMarcus Aldridge or Kevin Love or any other difference-maker. Anyway, the person who should pick up the phone is Danny Ainge. It’s his plan. 

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Celtics need shooting and rim protection. There are lots of centers on the market, and maybe they can steal Danny Green or Marco Belinelli from a Spurs team that has its initial free agency efforts focused elsewhere? Brad Stevens has built himself as a great coach, so the recruiting efforts could start there. This is a young team that, with the right additions, could make a decent jump in the standings next season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I hope Isaiah has unlimited minutes on his phone plan, because his first call should be the first of many. If he’s looking for blue-collar guys that will fit into the culture coach Brad Stevens is crafting, his first call should be to Hawks swingman DeMarre Carroll. The “Junk Yard Dog” would be a great fit on that Celtics team. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett saw it a few years ago and suggested the same thing to Danny Ainge, before Carroll showed us what kind of player he is. I know the Celtics think they need big-dollar superstars to get back to where they were with the Big 3, but this is not the summer to play that game. Instead, it is time for Boston stockpile the right pieces to get it to that next level. The Hawks, of course, will want to keep their star free agents (Paul Millsap and Carroll). But I’d make them choose which one they’re willing to pay to keep.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Michael Jordan, the greatest of all players, has never recruited a top-flight free agent. Larry Bird, the only man to be awarded as the best player, coach and executive in NBA history, has never recruited a top-flight free agent. The Celtics, who are the winningest franchise in the history of basketball, have never recruited a top-flight free agent. All I can say to Isaiah Thomas is good luck with his recruiting.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: “Hey, Kevin Love? Hey man, it’s Isaiah Thomas. No, the other one. Right, the Boston one. No, no, wait, wait, don’t hang up! OK, first, just know that whole thing with Kelly was an accident. He was trying to keep you from getting the ball and he honestly wasn’t trying to hurt you. Just like Dellavedova — he’s not dirty, he just plays hard. That said, we need you in Boston next season. You can be a third wheel in Cleveland and stand in the corner and shoot threes, or come here and play the way you’re used to playing. Brad Stevens is great, people here will love you, and Tommy Heinsohn will give you so many Tommy points you won’t believe it. So what do you say, interested?”

Blogtable: Advice for Doc Rivers?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Who wins it all (and why)? | Advice for Doc Rivers? | Lottery team that must get it right?



VIDEOAssessing the state of the Clippers after their ouster

> Your nameplate says Doc Rivers, President of Basketball Operations, L.A. Clippers. So tell me Mr. Rivers, what needs to happen this summer for your team to advance past the conference semifinals next season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: First of all, remember it’s only a nickname, so my prescribed remedies aren’t Hippocratically approved. I already blew the “Do no harm” thing when I signed Spencer Hawes to that four-year deal last summer when I could have had Paul Pierce. Anyway, as much as I like Matt Barnes and J.J. Redick, I know they ought to be coming off the bench rather than starting – maybe then our backups wouldn’t look quite as motley. But we’re capped out with DeAndre Jordan about to get his max deal this summer, so I’ll need to sweet-talk some free agents to consider us on exceptions or minimum contracts, and that’s a hard way to plug two of the skill positions. Hawes? Hey, he’s low mileage, clean, a stretch-four willing and able to help (OK, ya got me. That is my early version of a Craigslist ad, because I’ve got to move him). As for Chris Paul, get out the bubble wrap; no way he’s playing 82 next season, when we need him at his healthiest in May.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: First, I’ve got to convince DeAndre Jordan to take our max contract offer and stick around and I’ve got to beat the bushes somewhere, somehow to get somebody to provide some offense at small forward. I really can’t afford to have my starter (Matt Barnes) go scoreless there in a Game 7.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I’m seriously out of answers. I think I have to do something bold, but what? I don’t want to trade Chris Paul. I don’t want to trade Blake Griffin. And I don’t think I will do either. I don’t want to let DeAndre Jordan go in free agency. But something has to be done. Playoff meltdowns two years in a row is a screaming sign something is wrong and needs to be addressed, because this wasn’t about the disappointing bench or anything that requires tinkering. This is about an inability to come through in the clutch. My leaders, my best players, have let me down.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Clippers just need another crack at it. I know that sounds so routine and so simple, but that’s it, really. They’re a 50-win team in a tough conference that needs a break or two along the way, just like three or four other contenders in the West. They can’t make wholesale changes even if they wanted to. Doc needs to find some cheap talent the way the Rockets did with Josh Smith and Corey Brewer and what they got with Jason Terry  a role player with experience who can add punch off the bench.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I need Steve Ballmer to tell me focus on coaching and hire somebody else to manage the roster. That person then needs to re-sign DeAndre Jordan and find some way to undo the damage I’ve done to our bench, because we need help in the backcourt and up front. If there’s a chance of getting two or three rotation players (who can shoot and defend) for Blake Griffin, we should explore that. We can still have a top-five offense with shooting around Paul/Jordan pick-and-rolls, and we we need to have more than six players that can be trusted to keep a lead.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The first thing we have to do is take care of DeAndre Jordan. Get him signed and then lock him in the gym until his free throws roll off his fingertips like butter. He has to improve that part of his game if he’s going to be worth the $109 million deal he’s due to sign this summer. Then, I’m taking the carving knife to this roster and finding better supporting players to make sure we don’t stall out again in the conference semifinals. We ran out of gas physically and emotionally, which tells me we need a different breed of player to fill out the starting lineup and the playing rotation. There are upgrades needed all over the roster and they will be made this summer.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I’m recognizing, as I’m sure he does, that organizations win. It’s not just a matter of shoring up the bench. There was no way a franchise known for years as the worst in pro sports could instantly become NBA champion. You need everybody along the chain to be pulling in the same direction, and it starts with Rivers in his relatively new role of leadership. The way he responds to the disappointment can show the way forward.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogIt is so tempting to sit there and say the Clippers need to make major changes, in the afterglow of getting ushered out in the second round of the playoffs and half of California making “they’re still the Clippers jokes.” But I honestly don’t think the Clips were that far away. If the regular season ends differently, for instance, and the Clippers don’t have to play the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the postseason, I’m guessing things would have gone differently against the Rockets. So I think you keep DeAndre, teach him how to shoot free throws, let Blake continue to develop, and maybe swap out Hedo Turkoglu for a more useful body, and then just see how things shake out next season.

Blogtable: Lottery team that must get it right at the 2015 Draft?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Who wins it all (and why)? | Advice for Doc Rivers? | Lottery team that must get it right?



VIDEORelive the 2015 Draft lottery

> Which lottery team is under the most pressure to nail it on Draft night?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com No reason to scan the list or break a sweat on this one. It’s Minnesota. Whoever they pick – Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns – has to be a hit, a star, eventually an All-Star. This franchise can’t afford a Michael Olowokandi, Kwame Brown, Greg Oden or Anthony Bennett at No. 1, not after waiting the entire 27-season history of the franchise for the right to select first in the Draft, not after a playoff drought dating back to 2004. And whichever of the two the Timberwolves select, he needs to be as good or better than the guy they don’t, because second-guesses have piled up higher than snow drifts at Target Center through the years. After having only two No. 1 picks even play for the franchise (Joe Smith and Olowokandi) Minnesota will have the top guys from the past three drafts — Bennett (2013), Andrew Wiggins (2014) and this year’s choice — on its roster come October. Time to howl for the right reasons, Wolves.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com The Lakers. Nobody really wants to see Kobe Bryant‘s head literally explode from another losing season.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com Like it’s possible to pick one. I could barely narrow it down to half the lottery. The Timberwolves have to nail it because picking No. 1 comes with a scrutiny that will never go away. The Lakers have to nail it because they have so little to build on heading to the future. The Knicks have to nail it because they have even less than the Lakers. The Kings have to nail it because it’s the first big decision for Vlade Divac as head of basketball operations. The Pistons have to nail it because it’s time to make a move up the East standings. The Hornets have to nail it because this season was a step backward and must be fixed. Against that backdrop, the 76ers already have a future even without knowing how the 2015 pick develops. Talk about strange.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comUh, is this a trick question? After getting squeezed out of the top three, and out of the Big Man Sweepstakes, the Knicks need to make this one count if only to justify such a stinky season. At No. 4 there’s really not much of a decision to make. Just take whomever’s left over between D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay, because the Sixers at No. 3 will take one of them. Phil Jackson doesn’t need to overthink it unless he gets a sweet trade offer. Then it gets dicey.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Lakers have Julius Randle and, at the No. 2 pick, the easiest choice in the Draft. The Knicks don’t have any serious talent under the age of 30 on their roster, and, at No. 4, might have a difficult decision. It seems like Emmanuel Mudiay could be the best player available when they draft, but it’s not clear that he’d be a good fit for the triangle offense. This is the first top-five pick the Knicks have had in 29 years and Phil Jackson‘s record as team president doesn’t look so hot right now. That’s some pressure.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Los Angeles Lakers are off the hook with that No. 2 pick. You simply sit there and let the stud big man the Minnesota Timberwolves pass up fall into your lap. So that leaves the New York Knicks at No. 4 with all of the pressure on Draft night. They’ll have their pick of talented players but not necessarily any transcendent talent. The Knicks don’t have the luxury of just selecting the best available basketball talent at No. 4. They need to identify the one player who projects as both a true difference-maker and one who can come in and pay immediate dividends alongside whatever free-agent haul Phil Jackson is able to round up. But finding a role player at No. 4 won’t do it. The Knicks need to find a future star, an All-Star even, with this lottery pick.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It’s the Lakers, because they’re used to winning, they expect to win again, and they absolutely need a transformational player to emerge from this pick. The other teams at the top of the lottery are not faced with such high expectations.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I can’t believe we’re here again, but right now, the answer to this question is the Knicks. They’re rebuilding, sure, but they’ve traded away some good assets — Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith — and haven’t really gotten much in return. They needed a home run in this Draft, with two potential franchise centers available, and now it looks as though they won’t get either one. Who can they get at the four spot? There are potentially terrific selections available, but the stakes are much higher. Considering this is their only first-round pick in the next two years, they need to get this right.

Blogtable: Who wins it all (and why)?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Who wins it all (and why)? | Advice for Doc Rivers? | Lottery team that must get it right?



VIDEOThe Starters make their picks for the West finals winner

> The _________ will be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy next month. And here’s why.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Boy, this is going to be a controversial pick: the Golden State Warriors. They’ve been the best team at both ends all season, they continue as that in the postseason. They have the MVP in Steph Curry, they have the versatility, they have the depth. They have the greatest home-court advantage in the league and they’ll get any Game 7s on that court. I’ll stop here, because we’re going to be at risk of redundancy as the rest of our crew weighs in.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Warriors. They have been the best team in the league from opening night till now and a relentless sense of purpose and who they are. They also passed a big test in the conference semifinals when the Grizzlies put them in a 2-1 hole and they came back to win three straight. The Western Conference finals promises to go the distance to seven, but home court makes the difference and this is a tougher test than anything that comes from the East.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Warriors. Why? The usual reasons. They score and defend. They have the best home-court advantage still going. The versatility of mixing lineups. And no one is better equipped to withstand four to seven games of LeBron James if it comes to that (which I think it will). Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson, with Andrew Bogut waiting inside. Golden State of the first six or seven games of the playoffs was vulnerable. Golden State since then, playing with much better focus, will be very tough to beat four times.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Warriors. They seem incapable of playing two bad games in a row, and of course it takes four to beat them. The other three remaining teams are all hopelessly flawed, at least more than the Warriors. Their balance on offense and their rotation quickness on defense seems just too much for anyone in the field. And as you know, the Warriors win titles every 40 years.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Golden State Warriors. Quite simply, they’ve been the league’s best team all season long, by a pretty wide margin. They had the No. 1 defense and the No. 2 offense (best remaining of the four teams). They have multiple defenders who can take on tough assignments and they move the ball well enough to take advantage of defenses that try to take their first option(s) away. They have home-court advantage, a 44-3 record at Oracle Arena, and, as we’ve seen multiple times already in this postseason, an ability to erase big deficits pretty quickly.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Golden State Warriors will be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy next month. They’re the best team in basketball, on both ends of the floor, and have been for so long now that I cannot remember who held that distinction before they did. The Warriors have the balance, depth, star power and a coach with a wealth of championship experience steering the ship. The MVP, Stephen Curry, has plenty of help and the Warriors have home court advantage on their side throughout the remainder of the playoffs. That’s always a solid recipe for hoisting a title.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Warriors are in charge, though the Cavs have two things going for them: They’re suddenly playing lockdown defense, and LeBron has the championship experience that Steph Curry has yet to earn. Is that enough to make up for the front-line absences of Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao? Probably not.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Golden State Warriors will be hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy next month. Playing against the Warriors is like trying to run uphill while waist-deep in water. They have too much depth, too much talent, and as soon as they get ahead of you, they press down on the gas. We should also mention that at this point, the Warriors seem to know that they’re good. They’re playing with the confidence of a champion, which is something no coach can teach.

Blogtable: Overcoming playoff injuries

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Playoff injuries | Lottery team(s) in 2015-16 playoffs? | Coaching carousel



>
Kevin Love, John Wall, Mike Conley and Chris Paul are just some of the big names who have missed playoff games because of injury. Which team has done the best job overcoming the absence of a key player?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMaybe Cleveland would be having a much easier time of things if Kevin Love were around, but the Cavaliers have circled the wagons pretty well. Which is due, of course, to having the best player in the league in LeBron James. James has managed to give the Cavs enough more often than not to fend off a more talented Chicago roster and push the Bulls to the brink of elimination. His team has rallied with contributions from Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova, with Kyrie Irving some sliding degree of healthy as the series plays out. If Love is only marginally missed right now, he should be factoring that into his long-term planning this summer.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I don’t think there’s any question that it’s the Clippers.  Chris Paul didn’t play in Games 1 and 2 against the Rockets, was used for limited minutes in Games 3 and 4 and yet L.A. took control of the series and is starting to look like the team to beat in the West.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Clippers. They won a Game 1 on the road, in Houston, without Chris Paul and then won Game 3 at home with Paul not moving well. Austin Rivers has stepped up. The four other starters have stepped up, with Blake Griffin playing at a very high level. A team that didn’t need another boost of confidence just got one.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’m almost forced to say Cleveland only because Love has missed the most games of the four. In terms of importance, he doesn’t rate with Paul or Wall, but was finally becoming comfortable with his role and valuable in the Cavs grand scheme when he damaged his shoulder. The Cavs are still alive and favored to reach the NBA Finals, mainly because LeBron covers most if not all flaws and absences.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m most impressed that the Wizards have won a game (against the East’s No. 1 seed) and almost won another without John Wall. Their offense was built around Wall (he led the league in time of possession), but they’ve had two strong offensive games without him. They got big games from their bigs in Game 3 and a huge performance from Bradley Beal in Game 4. I still think that the Hawks win the series if Wall can’t play (or play effectively), but my predictions relating to the Wizards don’t mean much at this point.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThey’ve all done excellent work compensating, so it’s hard to pick one out of the bunch. But the Clippers are on the cusp of history, for the franchise, so it has to be Doc Rivers and crew. They survived the San Antonio Spurs in Round 1 and have handled the Houston Rockets in the conference semifinals with CP3 playing at CP1.5 due to his hamstring issues. Austin Rivers has come alive. J.J. Redick is shooting lights out and playing both ends at a high level. Even Big Baby Davis is in a groove and playing well. This is some of Doc’s best work, if you ask me. No one, and I mean no one, would have predicted the Clippers would grind their way through to this point under these circumstances, not after the roller coaster regular season ride they were on.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe No. 5 Wizards have taken it to the top-seeded Hawks without Wall, who would have been the best player in that series. But no team has shown more resolve than the Clippers, who made their Game 7 stand against the defending champs as Paul struggled to recover from his hamstring injury. Then, instead of settling for an opening loss in the next round, they grabbed the initiative against the Rockets.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I think I’ll go with Cleveland, only because they’ve lost so many key players. Right now, for instance, they’re without Kevin Love for the duration, they have Kyrie Irving playing basically without being able to run, J.R. Smith has missed a couple of games with a suspension, and LeBron hasn’t missed any games but clearly suffered a bad ankle sprain, and yet as of right now the Cavs are still just two wins from advancing to the Conference Finals. To me that speaks to not only their depth, but also their resourcefulness in the face(s) of injury.

Blogtable: Lottery teams that can make playoffs?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Playoff injuries | Lottery team(s) in 2015-16 playoffs? | Coaching carousel


 

> Of the 14 teams in next week’s Draft Lottery, who could be playing (instead of watching) at this time next year?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: So if the parameters are the lottery team most likely to reach the semifinal round, the answer has to be Oklahoma City. Missing the playoffs with 45 victories is a pretty decent start, and the urgency next season for the Thunder as Kevin Durant heads toward free agency will propel all that team does. Billy Donovan will be trying to make his NBA bones in a hurry, too. Indiana and Charlotte might be able to climb as high, too, because … Eastern Conference.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Thanks for the tap-in putt sitting on the lip of the cup.  I feel pretty secure in saying Billy Donovan won’t have to do a Coach of the Year job to get a healthy Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and the Thunder back into the playoffs.  Ditto for the Pacers with Paul George back for the full season over in the East.  For a team farther down in the pecking order, I’ll reach for the Pistons in the second season of Stan Van Gundy.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Thunder. I would be surprised if anyone says otherwise because OKC obviously isn’t a typical lottery team. A typical injury-riddled team maybe, but not a group that will be watching from the couch in 2016 if the roster stays healthy. No one else is so clear cut. One or two teams from the East probably get into the top eight, but which one or two will depend on offseason moves. The Thunder is the only team that can stand pat and make it.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: What, is this a trick question? Heck, Oklahoma City might reach The Finals next season even without the luxury of the top overall pick. While the other lottery teams are chasing a franchise player in the draft and still looking at years before they scare anyone, all OKC needs is health. Oh, and Durant will be playing for money, as if he needed more motivation to have a great season. Miami and Indiana also might reach the conference semis next season with a solid off-season and good health.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The obvious answer is Oklahoma City. If Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook are healthy next Spring, they should be in the Western Conference semifinals. In the East, the answer has to be Miami. If they re-sign Goran Dragic, the Dragic/Bosh pick-and-pop combo, with Dwyane Wade making plays on the weak side, will be deadly.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Oklahoma  City would appear to have the quickest road to recovery of the lottery teams. A new coach, healthy superstars and the right bounce here or there and they could be in a situation where they are enjoying the sort of breakthrough season our friends in the Bay Area experienced this season. Of course, that’s easy to predict now. We have no idea how Kevin Durant will bounce back and whether or not Billy Donovan is the right fit. But for the most part, all of the proper pieces are in place for a prompt return to prominence for the Thunder.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comIt’s a no-brainer: OKC could be the NBA’s most talented team entering next season (pending Kevin Durant’s health). My longshot would be Miami (pending Dwyane Wade’s health), based on the potential of their starting five and their good fortune of living in the East.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Oklahoma City is the obvious answer. In fact, if they’re not in the Conference Semis next year, if health isn’t a factor, it will be considered a disappointment. For a team in the East, how about the Miami Heat, who made serious moves at the trade deadline, bringing in Goran Dragic, but then lost Chris Bosh to that freak injury. Assuming Bosh returns healthy, along with Dwyane Wade at full strength and a full season of Dragic and midseason surprise Hassan Whiteside, the Heat have a chance in the East to compete for a playoff berth.

Blogtable: Coaching Carousel

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Playoff injuries | Lottery team(s) in 2015-16 playoffs? | Coaching carousel



VIDEO: Inside the NBA on Monty Williams’ firing

> We have a coaching vacancy in New Orleans (and possibly in Denver and Orlando, too). Who are the best candidates out there, and which job is most attractive?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I don’t think there’s any big hire just waiting to happen. Our man Sekou Smith is a believer in John Calipari for New Orleans, though I remain skeptical about the college peacocks who try to tackle this league. I think Scott Skiles would be a great fit in Orlando, but the Magic allegedly are waiting to see if they can scoop up Tom Thibodeau if he and Bulls management get divorced (with the Bulls eyeballing Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg). Monty Williams and Scott Brooks are in some conversations, though they might prefer to get paid to decompress. I’m wondering if we’re ever going to see Jeff Van Gundy coaching again. Let’s not forget top assistant coaches like Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue and Miami’s David Fizdale. As for the best job of the three currently open, that’s a Big Easy – only one offers the privilege of coaching Anthony Davis, the NBA’s Next Big Thing. Fly, Pelicans, fly.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Another layup.  The best job available is coaching Anthony Davis as he moves into the MVP phase of his career.  If the Bulls, as everyone expects, are dumb enough to show Tom Thibodeau the door, he’s just the guy to get the Pelicans to actually play defense and put some sharp edges on A.D.’s game.  The top candidates will be Alvin Gentry, Mike D’Antoni and Michael Malone and probably Fred Hoiberg out of the college ranks.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Since Monty Williams is suddenly, unexpectedly “out there”: Monty Williams. And obviously anyone who works, has worked for or may one day work for the Spurs. Automatic hire, right? Also, the list changes when/if the Bulls break up with Tom Thibodeau. Keep an eye on Scott Brooks, Michael Malone, Tyronn Lue, Alvin Gentry and Adrian Griffin. They are all attractive jobs, a pretty atypical statement for teams changing coaches. Going to New Orleans is walking into a playoff team with an All-Star centerpiece. Denver can be good next season and, depending on the offseason moves, push into the postseason conversation. Orlando has an attractive foundation and the chance to coach in the Eastern Conference with an easier path to the playoffs.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Pelicans job comes with The Next Tim Duncan and therefore has that going for it. But: I’m not sold on Anthony Davis re-signing with New Orleans and there are questions about management and ownership. If the Orlando job comes open, that could be the most attractive because there’s growth on the roster, no pressure to win right away, the benefit of playing in the weak East, another lottery pick coming and a smart GM in charge.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comIf Tom Thibodeau’s days in Chicago are over, he should be the No. 1 candidate. Scott Brooks would help a young team (like Orlando) develop, Mike Malone could straighten out a team defensively, and assistants David Fizdale and Tyronn Lue look ready to sit in the big chair. Anthony Davis obviously makes the New Orleans job most attractive. And because the Pelicans ranked 22nd defensively and didn’t get Davis the ball enough, there’s room for immediate improvement.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThere are dozens of quality candidates for these openings, many of them serving in the same role as the reigning Coach of the Year, Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, did for years alongside Gregg Popovich. So it’s not hard for a quality organization to identify good candidates. It’s what they do once they have done so that matters. Too often ownership and management get caught up in the name game when they should do what the Memphis Grizzlies did in identifying a guy like Dave Joerger, a longtime assistant ready to take that next step, and making it happen. The best of the best out there right now would be Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue (he who saved the season over the weekend by doing David Blatt’s job) and the Orlando job is the perfect match. If the college route is your preference, John Calipari and New Orleans is a no-brainer, if you want to keep Anthony Davis in the Big Easy.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The highly-coachable Anthony Davis makes the Pelicans’ job No. 1. If you’re seeking a proven winner then go with Mike D’Antoni (four seasons of 54 or more wins in Phoenix), who will heighten the market value of your players like no other coach. If it’s a new look you want, then consider Ettore Messina, the Italian winner of four Euroleague championships who served as the Spurs’ lead assistant this season. You should also consider Scott Brooks, Alvin Gentry, Nate McMillan, Scott Skiles and Spurs assistant Jim Boylen. (And Tom Thibodeau, if the imminent rumors turn out to be true.)

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, of course the most attractive candidate is probably the guy still coaching right now that everyone assumes will be a free agent by July. I don’t want to name any names, out of respect for the living, but his name rhymes with Dom Dhibodeau. There’s also the complement of assistants ready for their big shot, like Atlanta’s Kenny Atkinson, or a D-League mastermind like Nate Bjorkgren, or a college coach like Billy Donovan, who already got swept up by the Thunder. The best gig out there? That’s easy: Which team is it that has Anthony Davis? New Orleans? OK, I’ll go with them.

Blogtable: Your advice for LaMarcus Aldridge?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: How many MVPs for Curry? | Best bench in playoffs? | Aldridge’s next move?



VIDEOLaMarcus Aldridge says he loves being in Portland

> You’re LaMarcus Aldridge’s closest friend, his confidant. When he asks you what he should do this summer as an unrestricted free agent, what do you tell him?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI tell him the same thing I tell all my friends who are contemplating big life decisions (job changes, marriage, etc.): Make a list of pros and cons, rank them in importance to you and, once you make your decision, don’t second-guess it. Yeah, I try to stay above the fray so I’m still their friend and confidant after they mess up the decision. Not specific enough for blogtable? Fine. I tell Aldridge, if he wants to win, win soon and possibly win multiple times, he heeds what the Spurs have to say when they woo him. But if he wants winning to mean the most, he stays right where he is in Portland, hitches up his big-boy pants and gets ‘er done there.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Buy a ticket to S-A-N A-N-T-O-N-I-O. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker aren’t done. Kawhi Leonard is the real deal as a viable elite level partner for years. You can be playing in The 2016 Finals.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That friendship doesn’t come cheap. I could use a really nice vacation or a new car. After that, I tell him not to move just for the sake of moving. “It has run it’s course” is not a good reason to leave a team and a city that has treated him well and still has the chance to win big in the future. If getting back home to Texas is a priority, that’s one thing. If he sees another situation that will definitely be better, fine. But it is hard to see many places that would top the one he has now.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’d tell him to follow his happiness, not the paycheck. He’s already banked roughly $90 million for his career and unless he’s a fool, he still has a good chunk of that. At this point his priorities should be chasing a title, making money and living where he feels comfortable, in that order. I’d end our conversation with this: Tim Duncan thinks you’d be a good successor in San Antonio.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s his decision and I’m not going to try to change his mind, but I’d remind him that he’s got a pretty good thing going in Portland. Most importantly, the Blazers are a stable organization with a good owner. Terry Stotts is a very good coach and at the time of Wesley Matthews‘ injury, Portland was one of only three teams that ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. If they can keep the band together and Matthews is healthy by next March, they can be a contender again. Of course, the change to play for the Spurs and alongside Kawhi Leonard for the next four years is probably tempting. And while I have LaMarcus’ ear, I’d tell him to cut down on the mid-range jumpers and get to the basket more often.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Play the field to your advantage big fella. Entertain all legitimate opportunities to chase a championship, wherever that might lead. I understand you have an allegiance to the organization and the fans in Portland. They’ve been great to you and you have emerged as one of the elite players in the league during your time there. And as your best friend, I love it there as well. But you owe it yourself, particularly at this stage of your career, to explore all of your options and decide what’s best for you, and only you, at this juncture. Don’t worry about anyone else’s feelings or wishes. For once, this is all about you and what you want out of the rest of your career.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I’m reminding him that he’ll never be appreciated by any other city as much as he will be adored by Portland if he chooses to stay. I’m also urging him to exercise marketplace wisdom: The TV money of 2016 is going to create a huge flurry of player movement and a lot of bad decisions – which will leave the stable franchises standing stronger than ever.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I don’t tell him anything in particular, so much as I ask him some questions. What is he looking for? Does he want to be more famous? Is he looking to make themost money that’s available to him, or is he OK with taking a little less? Does he have to be the best player on the team he plays for, or could he take a secondary role? Is winning a title the most important thing at this stage in his career? Has he talked to the Blazers and have they explained to him their plans going forward in terms of continuing to strengthen the roster? Does he want to play his entire career in the same city? LaMarcus Aldridge has to decide what he wants to do next. The answers to all these questions should lead him closer to making a decision about his future.