Posts Tagged ‘Rick Carlisle’

Morning shootaround — Sept. 4

VIDEO: Day Four Wrap: 2015 FIBA Americas Championship


Morris ready to leave Phoenix | Beal, Wizards still not close on extension | Heat could have hard time keeping Whiteside | Prokhorov to buy rest of Nets, Barclays

No. 1: Morris ready to leave Phoenix — It’s been a few weeks since Markieff Morris said that he wouldn’t be in Phoenix much longer, possibly traded by the start of training camp. The Suns have stood pat since then, but Morris hasn’t backed down. On Thursday night, he reiterated his stance on twitter…

Morris’ contract extension (four years, $32 million) kicks in this season. The Suns traded his brother Marcus to Detroit in July, when they were looking to clear cap space for free agents. They added Tyson Chandler, but struck out on LaMarcus Aldridge.


No. 2: Beal, Wizards still not close on extensionAnthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 1 and No. 2 picks of the 2012 Draft, have signed contract extensions that have them under contract through the 2020-21 and ’19-20 seasons, respectively. There are still almost two months for ’12 draftees to sign extensions, but one might not get done for No. 3 pick Bradley Beal if he’s looking for the max (about $120 million over five years), because the Wizards will want to maintain flexibility for next summer, when a certain D.C. native will be a free agent. J. Michael of CSN has the latest on where Beal and the Wizards stand…

While talks remain open, was told, there hasn’t been any movement. Beal, who believes he’s worth a max deal, just returned from Taiwan and president Ernie Grunfeld had been on vacation.

The lack of reaching a compromise isn’t an indication of any greater problems, but the Wizards aren’t in a position in which they must commit to a four-year deal fully guaranteed right now with so many moving parts ahead in free agency in the summer of 2016.

If a move is going to be made, it appears it would have to come from Beal to make a deal happen.


No. 3: Heat could have hard time keeping WhitesideThe Miami Heat have changed the terms of Hassan Whiteside‘s contract, which now gives him a fully guaranteed $981,348 salary for 2014-15, rather than partial guarantees until Dec. 1. If Whiteside continues to play as well as he did at times last season, that 981K is a bargain. But a strong season for Whiteside could make it difficult for the Heat to retain him next summer, as the South Florida Sun Sentinel’s Ira Winderman explains…

The change of the 2015-16 terms does not ease the Heat’s tenuous status with Whiteside going forward.

With Whiteside to fall short of full Bird Rights due to only a two-year tenure with the team, the Heat still will have to create salary-cap space to re-sign him next summer. The only way for the Heat to go over the 2016-17 salary cap to re-sign Whiteside would be if he would sign for the average salary as part of his Early Bird Rights, a figure of less than $10 million, one expected to be far below his market value.


No. 4: Prokhorov to buy rest of Nets, Barclays — Earlier this year, there were stories that Mikhail Prokhorov could be selling his share of the Brooklyn Nets. Now, Prokhorov is on the brink of going all-in on both the Nets and their arena, as the New York Post reports…

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov is nearing a deal to buy all of the Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets from Bruce Ratner’s Forest City Enterprises, The Post has learned.

Prokhorov has been in talks to buy the 55 percent of the arena and 20 percent of the NBA team he does not already own. Under the deal being discussed, he would kick in little cash beyond forgiving the roughly $31 million Forest City owes him to cover team losses, according to two sources familiar with the situation.

Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News says there’s still issues to be addressed before the deal is done

But, according to three high-ranking officials with both the Nets, Prokhorov and Forest City, the deal with Forest City Enterprise isn’t close to completion and won’t be done for perhaps another month.

“I don’t see this deal getting done probably for maybe the better part of three to four weeks,” one source told the Daily News. “There’s just a lot of issues that remain before we’re even close to being a done deal. It’s a complicated deal and it just takes time. But nothing is imminent.”

The source did say that both Prokhorov and Forest City are “motivated” to reach an agreement and the likelihood was still good the transaction happens.

But the deal won’t occur before a Sept. 8 deadline set by Prokhorov’s private investment firm, Onexim Group, for Forest City to pay back $6 million in debt, the sources all agreed.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James is helping adults get their GEDsDante Exum had surgery to repair his torn ACL on Thursday … Free agent Landry Fields had hip surgeryKyle Lowry talks weight loss … and Rick Carlisle is a pilot.

ICYMI: Some ankle-breaking highlights from last season:

VIDEO: Top 60 crossovers of ’14-15

Morning shootaround — Aug. 4

VIDEO: Take an All-Access look at Basketball Without Borders’ trip to Africa

Allen not quite retired yet | Mavs plan to take it easy with Matthews in first season | Report: Adidas offers Harden $200M shoe deal


No. 1: Allen not quite retired (yet) — Once LeBron James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers last season and other ex-Heat teammates (like Mike Miller and James Jones) joined him there soon after, it was thought that it wouldn’t be long before Ray Allen did likewise. But last season came and went without Allen on the Cavaliers — or any other NBA roster. So, is the all-time leader in 3-pointers made done with the NBA? According to Dom Amore of the Hartford Courant, don’t count him out just yet: 

Yes, Ray Allen cleaned out his closets this summer and gave away some of his shoes, leading fans on an Instagram-driven scavenger hunt around Hartford. But don’t read into it. He still has lots of shoes, and he’s not yet retired.

“I haven’t said anything about that and I won’t officially retire,” Allen said Saturday during a break in his basketball camp for kids at East Granby High. “Because if something came to the table, contractually and situational­ly, I want to be able to take a strong look at it. I don’t want to be that guy that says he’s retiring and then is coming back.”

Allen, the former UConn star and the most accomplished three­point shooter in NBA history, turned 40 on July 20 and has now been out of the game a full season, though, he said “a quarter to half” the teams in the NBA contacted him about coming back in time for the playoffs last spring.

“I didn’t miss it,” he said. “I realized how much time I missed not being home with my kids. I probably missed it in the Finals. Watching Cleveland and Golden State play, it just seemed like an epic battle that required a lot of precision on the floor and that’s when I felt, that was probably the only time thatI felt like, ‘Man, I should have been out there.'”

If he does not play again, Allen is comfortable with the run he’s had, which includes championships with the Celtics and Heat.

“It would be one thing if I played 10 or 11 years,” he said “But playing 18, I got a lot out of it. I like the feeling of knowing I don’t have to beat myself into the ground.”

His lifestyle hasn’t changed. Allen remains in playing shape. “I just stay in shape, period,” he said.

VIDEO: Ray Allen chats with Rick Fox

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Report: Mavericks sign Dalembert

The Mavericks are still trying to fill in the big hole in the middle of their lineup caused by DeAndre Jordan’s reneging on a verbal free agent deal.

Dallas previously added 31-year-old center Zaza Pachulia in a trade with Milwaukee. Now the Mavs have signed Samuel Dalembert to a one-year contract for the veteran’s minimum, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Dalembert played for coach Rick Carlisle two years ago in Dallas, and will get an opportunity to play a significant role at center for the Mavericks.

Dalembert will join Zaza Pachulia, acquired in a deal with Milwaukee, as part of the Mavericks’ center rotation.

Dallas lost Tyson Chandler to Phoenix in free agency and was unable to persuade the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan to honor his verbal commitment in free agency and sign with the Mavericks.

Dalembert, 34, is fighting to reclaim his professional standing in the NBA and a return to the Mavericks could have a strong mutual benefit if he takes advantage of the opportunity.

Dalembert returns to the Mavericks, where he played 80 games in the 2013-14 season before Dallas sent him to New York as part of the Tyson Chandler trade. He averaged 6.6 points and 6.8 rebounds for the Mavericks.

Meanwhile’s Marc Stein is reporting the Mavericks are still not done adding big bodies. He says they still have interest in free agent center JaVale McGee and are closing in on a three-year contract with Salah Mejri of Tunisia, who has played for Real Madrid in Spain.

Karl, Cousins remain work in progress

VIDEO: Kings coach George Karl talks the team’s off-season.

LAS VEGAS — The good news is they remain on the same team. The bad news is they’re not yet on the same page. Welcome to the world of the Sacramento Kings and life with their head coach and franchise player, who are stuck with each other, for better or worse, at least for the moment.

George Karl wouldn’t discuss the state of his relationship with DeMarcus Cousins — “I’m not authorized to speak about that,” he said on the first day of the Samsung NBA Summer League — which means the mending remains a work in progress. The hectic summer in Sacramento turned loopy when Cousins used a snake-in-the-grass emoji on Twitter last month to characterize Karl as disloyal and distrustful. Cousins, according to those close to him, is charging Karl of trying to get him traded and has refused to speak with Karl. That in turn raised the issue of whether Karl and not Cousins would be shipped out of town. It became a big mess and it doesn’t appear the two have a working relationship or that it’ll be settled soon if ever.

Both are notoriously stubborn, which makes you wonder if Karl or Cousins are willing or even able to patch things up. Karl has had disagreements with players before, yet managed to win games (though not a championship). Cousins has rubbed his previous coaches raw, and hasn’t won anything. Karl wanted to change the culture when he arrived in the middle of last season and his methods obviously didn’t sit well with Cousins. And five months later, here they are.

Both have put Vlade Divac, the Kings’ new general manager, in a tight spot, if not in the role of peace maker and referee. Divac was coy when asked about their relationship.

“Every day it’s getting better,” he said.

That’s it?

“That’s it.”

Clearly, Divac is siding with Cousins if only because there aren’t many centers averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds and with Cousins’ skill set. Although troubled in the past by his lack of maturity and fragile temper — Cousins has led all players in technical fouls over the last 3 years — Cousins made strides over the last season to reduce his disruptive tendencies. Making Team USA last summer and then the All-Star team have sedated him, made him more coachable, although some of his sharp edges remain.

Sensing a desperate franchise led by a first-time GM, plenty of teams tried to get Cousins by offering 50 centers on the dollar this summer once the Karl-Cousins relationship took another wicked turn, and wisely, Divac didn’t bite.

“He’s a great kid with great potential and I”m happy to work with him,” Divac said. “There’s nothing out there that would make me pull the trigger.”

And what about the status of Karl, who has three years left on his contract? Curiously Divac shrugged his way through his response.

“Well, we’ll see. He has to win the games. He’s a coach who brings a lot of experience. He knows how to fix things, so we’ll see.”

Divac would prefer that Karl be the adult in this situation because, well, that’s his job. Also, Divac didn’t hire Karl, who was chosen by Pete D’Alessandro, who then lost his job to Divac. In the ideal Kings world, Karl and Cousins would break bread — and not over each other’s head — and call a truce sometime this summer. There’s too much at stake for the Kings in their development for something to go wrong next season and force the franchise to take a step backward, Already, bringing Rajon Rondo to this situation is being met with snickers from around the league; Rondo clashed with Doc Rivers and Rick Carlisle, a pair of coaches with NBA titles, how will he cope with Karl?

“He will help us,” Divac said. “I have confidence in him.”

But the real issue is Karl and Cousins. More and more, this appears to be a carbon copy of Chris Webber vs. Don Nelson two decades ago. The star player and veteran coach refused to seek a common ground and their feud changed the direction of a franchise. The Warriors traded Webber and soon began a sad, cursed stretch that lasted almost 15 years.


Harden keeps hope alive for Rockets

VIDEO: James Harden talks after Monday’s practice

HOUSTON — Back in the first round of the playoffs when the Rockets held a chokehold on Dallas, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said that just because no team in NBA history had ever come back from 3-0 deficit in a playoff series didn’t mean it would never happen.

Count James Harden among the believers. He isn’t counting his Rockets out even from such a deep Western Conference finals hole against the Golden State Warriors. After all, Harden says, they became only the ninth team ever to bounce from 3-1 down barely a week ago in the conference semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers.

“Most teams can’t come back from being down 3-1, but we did,” Harden said at Monday’s shootaround.“We have to continue to fight — to go out there and play Rockets basketball. It’s win or go home. We understand that.

“Our energy was low (in Game 3’s 115-80 loss),” he said. “We couldn’t get a rhythm. They got it going. Once they got it going, it’s hard to come back being down 20- 25 points. We can’t get in a hole like that against a team this good.”

Celtics surprised by Rondo’s finish in Dallas

VIDEO: Charles and Kenny are on board with the Mavericks parting ways with Rajon Rondo

BOSTON — Whatever issues led to Rajon Rondo and Rick Carlisle butting heads in Dallas were somehow avoided in Boston with the Brad Stevens.

Stevens, the Celtics coach, admitted to being a bit surprised that Rondo’s time in Dallas seems to have to come to an ugly finish.

Rondo has been ruled out for the remainder of the team’s postseason run, technically by a “bad back.” But his conflicts with Carlisle have been well documented, the latest coming in the Mavericks’ Game 2 loss to Houston Tuesday, when Rondo was benched in favor of Ray Felton and J.J. Barea.

Rondo was solid in 22 games with Boston this season before he and Dwight Powell were traded to the Mavericks for Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, a first-round pick, a second-round pick and a trade exception. He averaged 8.3 points and at the time a league-leading 10.8 assists.

“I felt like Rajon had played really well at the start of the year,” Stevens said. “I had coached him during a really tough time for him, simply because last year he was just coming back from that ACL tear and not having any practice, which is really unique, and so it was just a matter of him getting the feel a little bit better. I was around him a lot this summer. I was around him a lot this fall. He had the unfortunate hand break at the start of the season and it put him a little bit behind again. But I thought he played pretty well here, so yeah, I was a little bit surprised.”

Celtics boss Danny Ainge, a longtime Rondo advocate, admitted his surprise at the drama that’s gone down in Dallas in a local radio (98.5 the Sports Hub’s “Toucher & Rich”) show earlier this week:

“I’m very surprised,” Ainge said. “I thought it would be a good fit for the Mavericks and Rajon. I don’t really know what’s going on down there. I read a little bit (Wednesday) and heard some things, but I’m very surprised. I thought it would work out well for both people.”

“I don’t know what’s going on down there,” Ainge said. “Rajon was terrific here with coach (Brad) Stevens. I think they got along. The whole question is, Rondo was good this year for us. He worked really hard in the offseason. I really did think it was going to be a big year for him, and Rajon just hasn’t played as well, for whatever reason, as he hoped and as we had hoped and as the Mavericks had hoped.”

Rondo will be a free agent this summer, so he’ll have the opportunity to start somewhere fresh for the 2015-16 season. But this residue of this tumultuous season will no doubt travel with him, wherever he goes.

That said, Carlisle and the Mavericks stand by the deal.

Carlisle told a Dallas radio station Thursday that it was a risky move, but one worth taking.

“In the case of anything, there is risk, but there are risks worth taking,” Carlisle said Thursday on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM. “That trade was a risk worth taking. We all agreed on that. Now, we’re at a point where, hey, it’s time to move on.”

Morning shootaround — April 22

VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 21


Rondo benched in Game 2 | Howard, Smith dominate Mavs | Batum sorry for anti-Spanish comment | Lowry suffers shin injury vs. Wizards

No. 1: Rondo benched as Mavs fall into 0-2 hole — As he did in Game 1, point guard Rajon Rondo started Game 2 last night against the Houston Rockets, but only logged 9 minutes, 55 seconds. That’s a low number for an otherwise healthy starter, and even lower when you consider all but 34 seconds of that stint came in the first half. Rondo was clearly disinterested in last night’s game as Mavs coach Rick Carlisle pulled him early in the first quarter for J.J. Barea and played Rondo a few more minutes in the second quarter. All of last night’s events, writes Tim MacMahon of, seem to point to Rondo and Carlisle parting ways permanently this summer:

Rajon Rondo looped around the media horde surrounding his stall late Tuesday night in the Toyota Center visitors’ locker room and darted into the trainer’s room.

A couple of minutes later, Rondo emerged with headphone buds in his ears and ignored the handful of reporters who attempted to ask him questions as he walked toward the arena’s exits, his eyes never shifting from straight ahead.

The whole scene didn’t last much longer than Rondo’s 34-second stint on the floor during the second half of the Dallas Mavericks’ 111-99 loss to the Houston Rockets, who will head up Interstate 45 with what seems like a 2-0 stranglehold on the series.

Actually, judging by his body language, Rondo looked like a dude just waiting for his inevitable divorce from Dallas to happen. Unless the seventh-seeded Mavs pull off a miracle, Rondo won’t have to wait much longer.

Did Rondo really even care about riding pine for most of the night?

“You have to ask him that question,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said, not exactly offering a ringing endorsement for the four-time All-Star point guard the Mavs acquired from the Boston Celtics in a blockbuster December trade. “All I know right now is that we need everybody at their competitive best.

“This isn’t about one guy who did or didn’t play. This is about everybody pulling in the same direction for the organization. That’s what it’s about.”

Rondo certainly didn’t come close to his competitive best during the nine minutes, 55 seconds that he wasn’t on the bench during Game 2.

A little more than four minutes into the game, Rondo nonchalantly walked the ball up the floor, getting whistled for an absolutely ridiculous eight-second backcourt violation with the Rockets not even applying pressure. He was pulled for J.J. Barea 40 seconds later — after Rondo wandered aimlessly on defense to let Jason Terry hit a wide-open 3 — and Carlisle didn’t call for Rondo again until 5:30 remained in the second quarter.

At this point, Carlisle really has no motivation to massage Rondo’s ego. They won’t be together much longer before they reach a mutual decision to part ways this summer, when Rondo enters free agency. Carlisle can only care about giving Dallas its best chance to pull off an upset in this series, and the overwhelming evidence from the first two games is that Rondo isn’t part of the solution.

But Carlisle gave Rondo one more chance to prove he deserved minutes with Dallas’ season on the line. Rondo responded by committing two dumb fouls on James Harden and picking up a technical for holding and shoving the Rockets’ MVP candidate after the first whistle, the basketball savant packing all that stupidity into 34 embarrassing seconds of action.

Playoff Rondo? Puh-leeeeese.

Perhaps surprisingly, there were no postgame fireworks between Carlisle and Rondo, multiple sources told The coach and point guard had infamous expletive-laced exchanges on Feb. 24, the first occurring during a timeout after Rondo walked the ball up the floor and ignored Carlisle’s play call midway through the third quarter, the second coming in the locker room after Rondo watched the rest of the Mavs’ comeback win over the Toronto Raptors from the bench.

In this instance, however, Carlisle simply called the team together in the middle of the locker room and said a few quick words. Rondo and Carlisle didn’t say a word to each other.

There was no outright hostility. Just a lot of awkwardness.

Rondo had a heck of a view from the bench, where he appeared to watch with as little interest as anyone in the rocking arena. He barely moved during the second half, getting on his feet only to offer halfhearted daps to teammates during timeouts.

Rondo’s warm-up shirt read “WE ARE ONE,” the Mavs’ slogan this postseason. His face definitely didn’t convey the same message.

“I’m sure it’s a difficult situation for him,” said Mavs center Tyson Chandler, who has had a trying season as a leader of a chemistry-challenged team. “He’s a competitor. He wants to be out there. Sometimes matchups and all that other stuff, you never know what’s going on.

“But we’ve got to all stay in this thing together. It’s the only way we’re going to have a chance.”

UPDATE: Per Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Rondo will be done in Dallas as long as Carlisle is back as coach:

When Rondo realized his run with the Celtics was over this year, he planned to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer, league sources told Yahoo Sports. He expected a maximum contract. Once Dallas made the trade, he was open to re-signing with the Mavericks – only there are no max contract offers for Rondo on the market. Not in Dallas, nor Los Angeles. He’s played his way out of that payday – not just this year, but since that terrible ACL injury two years ago.

Everything’s pushing Rondo closer to his inevitable free-agent fleeing to the Lakers this summer. As long as the coach is back, Rondo’s gone, sources told Yahoo Sports. The parting could be mutual.

VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew discusses the Rajon Rondo situation

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Mavs’ Parsons, Harris Out For Game 2

HOUSTON — Starting small forward Chandler Parsons and backup point guard Devin Harris will both sit out Game 2 tonight as the Mavs try to even their first round playoff series with the Rockets.

Parsons, who missed the final six games of the regular season with a right knee injury, played nearly 37 minutes in the opening game of the series on Saturday night, but had to limp off the court and go to the locker room at one point during the second quarter.

“This is a young man who is very important to our team now and in the future,” said Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle. “We’re very concerned. He will be re-evaluated (Wednesday) by Dr.(T.O.) Souryal and we’ll have more information for you following that evaluation.”

Asked if he was concerned that Parsons might be lost for the series, Carlisle said: “I’m concerned, period. That does loom as a possibility, but we’ll know more (Wednesday). I will say this: it’s become clear to those of us close to the team and him that he’s been in more pain than he’s let on. The fact the knee has not responded and the swelling has not dissipated the way we hoped means we have to pull the plug on tonight and he’s got to see doc tomorrow and see what’s what.”

Carlisle said that right now Harris is just sidelined for Game 2. He aggravated the big toe injury on his left foot in the opener and played just 10 minutes.”

“His toe is getting a little bit better, but he’s not ready to play,” Carlisle said. “We’ll update his status tomorrow. The hope is that he can do well enough where he can play, but he’s got a situation that’s sensitive because it involves the foot that had a very unique surgery and we got to be careful with it.”

Missing two key members of the lineup will test the Mavs depth and move Richard Jefferson and Al-Farouq Aminu up in the rotation.

“It’s the next man up in this kind of situation,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got a deep team. We’ve had guys step up all year.

“Obviously, R.J. and Aminu become more important guys at the small forward position. (Charlie) Villanueva becomes a more important guy because you’re down manpower at the position that goes from 3 to 4. And (Raymond) Felton now is in the mix. We’ll go with the guys that we have available and we’ll come out with guns blazing.”

‘Jet’ Terry Not Yet Ready For A Landing

VIDEO: Rockets on Game 1 victory

HOUSTON — Watch him jump into the passing lanes to make another steal and start a fast break going in the other direction. See him bury another back-breaking 3-pointer and then do the familiar airplane imitation — arms out at his sides — as he runs back down the court.

Jason Terry is 37 years old going on 17, by the looks of things after 16 NBA regular seasons, and the irrepressible point guard is not even glimpsing at the finish line.

He was a wily old veteran when he came off the bench for the Mavericks when they won the championship in 2011 and here he is playing the same role this season with the Rockets against his old team. Except that starter Pat Beverley has been scratched after wrist surgery and Terry is now in the starting lineup. In Game 1 Saturday night, he played just under 22 minutes, hit a trio of 3-pointers to go with two assists and two steals and looked about as excitable and energized as a teenager.

“I definitely feel young,” Terry said. “[Mavericks] coach [Rick] Carlisle used to tell me all the time: ‘You’re a young 30’ or whatever my age was at the time. I’ve always played like that. When I lose that part of my game, then it will time for me to put on my suit and coat. But until that day comes, you’re gonna see me out there flying around, trying to impact the game in different ways and that’s my strong suit.”

When he was informed that his old Dallas buddy Dirk Nowitzki said the Mavs were content with their plan to limit the Rockets big guns James Harden and Dwight Howard and take their chances that guys like him won’t make the difference in a seven-game series, Terry grinned.

“Obviously it’s a good strategy,” he said. “Good luck with that.”

Morning shootaround — April 5

VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 4


Streaking Celtics adopt ‘win now’ approach  | Grizzlies in fight for playoff positioning | Blazers must shore up their D | Dirk gives Shaun Livingston a pass for low blow

No. 1: Celtics make convincing playoff push — They very easily could justify missing the playoffs this season and then cashing in on their growing cache of draft picks, but the rebuilding Celtics have evidently decided to go for it. When Marcus Smart dropped a buzzer-beater Saturday night against the Raptors, it only confirmed as much. Boston entered Sunday with the No. 8 spot in the East, a half-game lead over the Heat, and to hear the players and brass, the playoffs are where this young team belongs. It’s a rather refreshing tone considering how much tanking has dominated the conversation in the NBA this season. Zach Lowe of Grantland did a study on the Celtics during this playoff push and here’s some of what he found out:

“The playoff-chasing Celtics of 2015 are a cute feel-good story — and little more. The rebuild is moving faster than expected, with a surprise run at the no. 8 seed in a dreadful conference, but there is a giant chasm separating this plucky, starless group from what it aspires to be.

“The important thing to remember about us,” coach Brad Stevens said in a sit-down with Grantland last week, “is that we have a long, long way to go.”

It says everything about the difficulty of rebuilding that Boston has absolutely nailed Phase 1 and yet has no clear path to 50 wins. Multiple rival executives described Boston’s trading spree of the last two years as “a masterpiece” in rebuilding. Contract timetables, injuries, and other variables made it impossible for Boston to deal its aging stars at peak sell-high times, and yet Danny Ainge still nabbed great value for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo. The Celtics have as many as six extra first-round picks1 coming and oodles of cap space, they’ve drafted solid players across the first round, and they just acquired a dynamic young point guard — Isaiah Thomas — on the cheap.

But they have no stars and no clear path to getting one outside a major break in free agency or the trade market. The Celtics have made the leap to mediocrity so fast that they may have no easy way out. They’re still not good, but they’re not bad enough to get an early first-round pick — to get a clear shot at a star, in other words. Even if they lose this season’s slap fight for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, they will likely pick in the late lottery — a range that looks like their draft ceiling for the next few seasons. “That’s a concern for all 30 teams,” Ainge says of being stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity. “It’s the nature of our league. You definitely need good fortune.”

The Celtics discussed holding off on the Thomas deal to deflate their win total, but decided after some debate that they could lose out — or pay a higher price — if they waited until the summer. “Ideally, he might have been someone you pick up in the summer,” Ainge says. “But someone else might trade for him. You might be in a bidding war. You have to move while the iron is hot.”


No. 2: Grizzlies in fight for playoff positioning — The most intriguing April drama in the West is about playoff positioning near the top. The Rockets now hold a half-game lead over the Grizzlies for the No. 2 spot, and why is that so important? Well, the No. 2 team will most likely get the Mavericks and avoid the suddenly-smoking Spurs in the first round. Memphis had successfully fended off all threats for the No. 2 spot until now. And while the race is hardly over, the contest between Memphis and Houston will only intensify, especially with Dwight Howard back in the mix for the Rockets (though on a minutes restriction). Here’s Michael Wallace of ESPN on the Grizzlies, who lost a tough game to the Wizards on Saturday:

“I don’t think it’s the toughest division in our league; it’s the toughest division in all major leagues,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “Year in and year out, it’s ridiculous. So for our guys to get rewarded for their hard work, it would be positive.

“It’s what’s important to you. You hear about San Antonio, right? They don’t care about a division title. They don’t care about seeding. Well, we’re not them.”

While it’s all about the end game for the Spurs, who are going for their second straight championship and sixth in the past 16 years, the Grizzlies are still focused on the intermediate steps toward success. Winning an NBA championship remains the top goal for Memphis, but hanging the franchise’s first division banner in the rafters of the 10-year-old FedEx Forum along the way is a major priority.

The last time every team from an NBA division made the playoffs was in the 2005-06 season, when the Pistons, Pacers, Cavaliers, Bulls and Bucks advanced. That’s never happened in the NFL or Major League Baseball, although it’s occurred in two different divisions in the NHL over the past five seasons.


No. 3: Blazers must shore up their D or else — If you’re a Blazers fan you, must be thrilled with the way the team has hung in there in the rugged West despite missing Wesley Matthews and an inconsistent season from Damian Lillard and with LaMarcus Aldridge playing through a thumb that’ll require surgery in the offseason. Portland once again is in position to do damage in the playoffs (ask the Rockets, who are still stinging from Lillard’s series winner last spring), but not if they don’t clean up their biggest issue first: defense. Oregonian writer John Canzano, still stung by the Blazers surrendering 126 to the Clippers last week, discusses:

But on the other hand, Chris Kaman was willing to address the biggest issue that coach Terry Stotts whiffed on — atrocious team defense by the Blazers. The biggest problem for Portland if any of this should come to a Clippers-Blazers playoff series.

Decide for yourself which guy had the worse post-game peformance. I’m not up in the air. Kaman settled it when he said, “We scored 122 points. That’s not stopping anybody. And we didn’t stop them either, they had more points (126) than we did. We got hurt on transition and on threes.” He was only saying what everyone could obviously see at Moda Center.

I like Stotts. I championed his hiring. I banged the drum for his contract extension even before the end of last season. I like where he’s headed with this rig, but if he’s unable to get real about the deficiencies of this team and remains in denial, I’m concerned about the short-term prognosis for a team that has fought to this point.


No. 4: Dirk gives Shaun Livingston a pass for low blowDirk Nowitzki is usually a cool customer except when threatened with severe physical pain, as anyone else would (see Chris Kaman last week regarding Chris Paul). So at first, he was taken aback when he was whacked in the private area by Shaun Livingston. But when these things happen, you must take into account the history of the offending party. Livingston doesn’t exactly conjure up memories of flagrant assaults. And so, while Mark Cuban wasn’t in a forgiving mood Saturday, Dirk gave Livingston a pass. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News has some golden quotes from Dirk:

Livingston, trying to defend Nowitzki in the post, was using his right hand to hand-check Nowitzki in the back. Somehow, his hand got in between Nowitzki’s legs and clearly caught Nowitzki in the groin area.

For the rest of the game, the AAC crowd booed Livingston every time he touched the ball and in the fourth quarter, Livingston and coach Rick Carlisle exchanged words briefly after a foul was called on J.J. Barea against Livingston.

Things escalated after the game when owner Mark Cuban talked to Golden State coach Steve Kerr and Livingston, then assistant coach Alvin Gentry, as they left the court.

Nowitzki had this to say about the play, which was reviewed and ended up with Livingston called for a flagrant foul, penalty one.

“Well, I give him the benefit of the doubt because he’s really not that type of player,” Nowitzki said. “He hasn’t been his entire career. I’m not really sure what he was trying to do there, if he was trying to get to the ball through my legs or anything. But like I said, he’s not a dirty player.

“But I really enjoyed his tight grip he got. I really enjoyed that.”

Nowitzki was laughing as he said that last line.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Millsap’s shoulder injury should be defined a bit better today. The Hawks forward suffered the injury Saturday against the Nets and did not return in that game. … Boston’s Evan Turner has joined exclusive company: One of only 5 Celtics with 3 or more triple doubles in a season … All systems go for Paul George in his return tonight.