With the NBA playoffs down to a mere five teams and the draft combine capturing an overwhelming majority of the league’s attention, it’s safe to say the offseason feels closer than ever.
Obviously, that’s a massive disappointment to any League Pass junkie who would rather sit around and watch basketball all night than interact with other human beings (*raises hand*). But rapid closing of the NBA playoffs opens up a secondary campaign that’s often equally exciting—rumor season.
In fact, with six coaching vacancies (and maybe more) still available, the slow crescendo to a July apex has already started. More than ever, it seems management is making a concerted effort into doing their due diligence with the searches.
That’s led to many names a heightened speculation across the league.
Surprisingly, the same can be said for impending free agents. While there is a month and a half between now and the opening of free agency in July, teams are always positioning themselves to land top talent. With Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Josh Smith representing the gems on the market, the rumor mill is almost over-saturated already with nuggets of information.
Not that we’re complaining or anything. So as the NBA takes an off day on Thursday, let’s take a look around the league at some coaching and free agency buzz around the Association.
Paul Pierce's Family Already Preparing to Depart Boston?
The Boston Celtics are arguably the league's most intriguing franchise to watch heading into this offseason.
While general manager Danny Ainge announced the return of coach Doc Rivers for the 2013-14 campaign earlier this week, almost the entire roster remains in flux. Rajon Rondo's name seemingly comes up in trade rumors every summer, and Ainge will no doubt float the injured guard's name again to test the waters this July.
Rondo aside, nearly all the speculation about the Celtics this offseason focuses on Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Having been discarded by the New York Knicks in the first round, most folks around Boston knew the end of an era was coming. Rivers and Garnett shared a tender embrace toward the end of the Celtics' Game 6 loss to New York. The sense of finality was there; it just wasn't clear how or when it would come.
Based on recent reports, it's starting to look increasingly likely that Pierce will be the first shoe to drop. The 35-year-old forward, who has spent his entire NBA career with the Celtics, has a $5 million buyout on his contract for next season. And while the Celtics have until June 30 to make a decision, Pierce seems resigned to his departure.
According to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe, Pierce and his family have already begun preparing for a somber goodbye:
The Celtics have to decide by June 30 whether to buy out Pierce’s contract at $5 million. Ainge said the sides have not had discussions, but an NBA source said Pierce’s family is already beginning to prepare for relocation from Boston, assuming that the Celtics will execute the buyout or trade his expiring contract in the offseason.
Anything can change between now and June, but the timing feels right to move on here. Garnett has been mulling retirement and could choose to hang it up, making this decision all the easier. And even if Garnett wants to play another season, there’s a certain Los Angeles franchise that’s made its interest known before.
The question that remains is whether a team will trade for Pierce before that June 30 deadline in hopes of using him as a springboard to contention. It seems sensible to say that Boston will have its fair share of suitors on the open market, as even a diminished Pierce managed to average a customary 19-6-5 stat line.
Clippers Thinking About Keeping Del Negro?
As the final whistle sounded on the Clippers' 2012-13 season, head coach Vinny Del Negro seemed as good as gone. The Clippers had just completed a frustrating collapse, having started up 2-0 on the Memphis Grizzlies only to get swept out of the next four games.
In a season filled with best-evers, Del Negro always seemed to be the fly in the ointment. If there was one good thing that could have come from Zach Randolph and Co. splattering them like a gnat on a windshield, it's perhaps that a top-notch coach could come in and push this talented team to the next level.
Donald Sterling would call Del Negro into his office overlooking the beautiful Los Angeles skyline as the coach sits down in Sterling's strange office chair, gloating about how he led the Clippers to a franchise-high 56 wins this season. And then the two would have their own Roger Sterling-Burt Peterson moment.
It would be a firing so grand that Clippers fans would hope they were merely a fly on the wall.
Well, not so fast. In what can only be described as a curious twist, Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein of ESPN are reporting that Los Angeles is giving serious consideration to keeping Del Negro around on a short-term contract:
Sources told ESPN.com that there is a level of interest within the organization to extend Del Negro's contract despite the widespread assumption in league circles that the embattled coach would take the fall for the Clippers' six-game exit to the Memphis Grizzlies in Round 1.
Ultimately, the decision lies in the hands of Sterling—perhaps the only man more reviled by Clippers fans than Del Negro. Almost unfailingly, Sterling has made wrong decision after wrong decision with his franchise, arguably including bringing Del Negro back this past season.
However, it seems Sterling will make one smart move before deciding on Del Negro. According to ESPN’s Arash Markazi, the team plans on consulting Blake Griffin and Chris Paul about the coaching situation:
Consulting your two best players, especially Paul, seems like a no-brainer. CP3 is a free agent this summer and is expected to see a bevy of suitors trying to lure him away from Southern California. Any small advantage—like, you know, playing with a coach he actually likes—could be the difference between him staying and going.
Is Del Negro that man? Perhaps. But the only way it makes sense for the Clippers to keep VDN around is if Paul makes it clear that his current coach is the one he wants leading him into the future.
Nets Still Pursuing Dwight Howard Against All Odds?
If you were sick of the Dwightmare talk when Howard was forcing his way out of Orlando last summer, you might want to cash in your frequent flier miles and go somewhere without wi-fi for the next couple months.
Following a one-season stop with the Los Angeles Lakers that could be politely described as underwhelming, Howard will be an unrestricted free agent in July. While the Lakers can offer Howard more money and a longer contract than any other franchise, the enigmatic center’s future remains more up in the air than ever.
For his part, Howard has been coy about his summer plans.
He will reportedly explore all of his options this summer, likely taking visits with teams like the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks. That trio of clubs will likely be linked to most top players this summer, and Howard is arguably the best and most available player on that list.
However, one team that most counted out of the running is reportedly looking to get back in the D12 hunt.
According to HOOPSWORLD’s Alex Kennedy, the Nets are still expected to vigorously pursue bringing Howard to Brooklyn. The New York City borough was long Howard’s desired destination, but the Nets and Orlando Magic were unable to find a suitable deal last summer.
Luckily for the Nets, there isn’t all that much about the Lakers’ 2012-13 season that would likely change Howard’s desire. Los Angeles battled through an injury-riddled season full of internal turmoil, coaching strife and roster uncertainty. With Kobe Bryant out for an unforeseen period after tearing his Achilles, Pau Gasol being the subject of trade rumors and Steve Nash looking like a shell of himself, it’s impossible for Howard to know what he’s coming back to.
That’s a perfectly logical reasoning for Howard leaving Los Angeles. D12 being Brooklyn bound requires a Jackie Joyner-Kersee leap of faith. The Nets already have a shade under $90 million committed for next season, meaning they would need the Lakers to agree to a sign-and-trade deal.
Brooklyn could dangle Brook Lopez, who is younger and arguably had a better season than Howard in 2012-13, but the Lakers would probably still hang up that phone call. And with a bunch of veteran players on bad contracts adorning the roster, the Nets have next to nothing to offer along with Lopez in the deal.
In more blunt terms: Dwight Howard will not be a member of the Brooklyn Nets next season. So we should probably all stop talking about this rumor and hope it goes away.
(Spoiler: It won’t.)