Posted on: July 1, 2010 6:34 pm
Nobody was staking out Phil Jackson's ranch in Montana Thursday. There were no banners, no protests, no fleets of Mercedes, no fancy presentations, and certainly no Gulfstream jets. Depending on what happens with all this LeBron-o-mania in Cleveland, the most impactful transaction of this crazy NBA summer may very well have happened somewhere far, far away.
Phil Jackson is coming back.
For days, a person with close ties to Jackson was saying that all signs pointed to Jackson coming back. There were no early signals from his season-ending physical exam that indicated his health would be the factor preventing him from returning. Once Jackson got the green light from doctors to coach one more season, the only other question was money. That, evidently, was handled, too.
How could it not be?
"The money will be there," the person with ties to Jackson said.
Jackson, 64, follows Doc Rivers from the precipice of vacation/semi-retirement and comes back for one more run at one more title. Rivers may have a few left him, though only one with the current core in Boston -- assuming that core stays together. For Jackson, this will be it.
"It'll be the last stand for me," he said in a statement released by the Lakers, "and I hope a grand one."
There was little doubt that Jackson would be back, barring any physical reasons preventing it. But with Jackson, with the drama-prone Lakers, you never know until the i's are dotted and t's crossed. The financial arrangement tied to Jackson's return was still being finalized Thursday, according to a source. But the bottom line is that the Lakers -- in the face of the possible pie-in-the-sky creation of some dream team in Miami, or other bizarre, free-agent creations -- will be back to forcefully defend their title.
All that is left to do, aside from exploring sign-and-trade creations of their own, is to re-sign Derek Fisher, who will do what I expect Paul Pierce and probably Ray Allen to do in Boston: Follow the best chance for another ring. That chance rests with Rivers in Boston and with Jackson in L.A.
As if there was ever any doubt.
Posted on: June 30, 2010 1:35 pm
Edited on: June 30, 2010 2:03 pm
Doc Rivers has decided to return for the final year of his contract to coach the Celtics, a person familiar with the decision confirmed to CBSSports.com Wednesday. Rivers had been thinking about stepping down to spend more time with his family.
The news of Rivers' return for one more year, first reported by the Boston Herald, should calm nerves across New England as the Celtics faced the destruction of their successful nucleus with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce hitting the unrestricted free-agent market at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. Rivers, though, is the glue that has held the Big Three together. With his commitment to return, the Celtics almost certainly will focus on upgrading the supporting cast rather than replacing Allen or Pierce.
Though Rivers, according to Yahoo! Sports, received a raise over the $5.5 million he was due for next season, his indecision about returning was not about the money. Those close to Rivers say he was seriously conflicted about returning to the bench vs. taking a year or two off to watch his children play high school and college sports. In fact, Rivers has been in San Antonio watching his son, Austin, dominate the FIBA Under-18 World Championships. As you can see, Austin has a little more hang time than his pop.
Rivers was emotional in the postgame news conference after the Celtics lost to the Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, seemingly melancholy about the uncertain future for the Celtics of the Big Three era. Rasheed Wallace, recruited by Rivers, team president Danny Ainge, and the Celtics' veteran core to join them this past season, has decided to retire. Kevin Garnett has two more years on his contract, and Rajon Rondo has five years left. But Allen is unrestricted and Pierce opted out of his $21.5 million deal for next season. Both intend to return, but nothing is a given in the frenzied free-agent negotiating period that will begin about 11 hours after Rivers' decision became public.
The timing of Rivers' decision was no coincidence; only he in the Celtics' organization has the persuasive powers to convince Pierce and Allen to forego potentially lucrative invitations to compete for a championship elsewhere, possibly with other marquee free agents. Those invitations will come fast and furious, but the knowledge that Rivers will be back certainly will give Pierce and Allen pause about leaving.
Ainge has every intention of keeping Pierce and Allen, and both players prefer to stay in Boston and make at least one more run at a title together. Rivers is the best negotiating tool Ainge has.
On his way out of Staples Center after an emotional locker room session with his players and the emotional news conference, Rivers encountered a heckling Lakers fan who'd somehow gotten past security. The fan taunted Rivers, asking him how it felt to lose to the Lakers -- a team Rivers' Celtics had beaten in the Finals two years earlier. NBA security director Bernie Tolbert shooed the fan away. Rivers, displaying the class that has made him one of the most respected coaches in the NBA, offered no reaction -- just kept walking, into a summer of uncertainty that looks a lot more promising now for the Celtics.
Posted on: June 29, 2010 11:05 pm
Edited on: June 30, 2010 12:31 am
Add Paul Pierce to the growing list of elite free agents. The Celtics' star notified the team Tuesday that, as expected, he'll exercise the early termination option in his contract and become an unrestricted free agent, said his agent, Jeff Schwartz.
Under normal circumstances, Pierce, 32, would be pretty well assured of returning to Boston in an attempt to chase down another championship. But these are not normal times for the Celtics. Ray Allen is an unrestricted free agent, too, and coach Doc Rivers continues to wrestle with the decision of whether to return to the bench next season or watch his children play college sports.
In some ways, it's a risky move for Pierce to leave $21.5 million on the table next season. But with so many teams chaseing free agents, Pierce will generate plenty of interest from those who strike out on the top-tier players. If nothing else, Pierce re-ups with the Celtics and surpasses that amount with a multi-year deal.
Though the Celtics want to retain Pierce, it's actually welcome news that he's opting out. Even if Boston pays Pierce the max -- $20.8 million next season for a player of his experience -- they still save $1.5 million due to luxury tax implications. Pierce will make up the difference on the back end, while also locking in for three or four more years under the current salary rules, which will be tilted in the owners' favor in the next collective bargaining agreement. Meanwhile, the Celtics will set about trying to determine if their core -- including Rivers -- is staying together.
Even in the unlikely event that Allen and Pierce both leave, it's farfetched for the Celtics to have enough cap room to afford a marquee free agent. They would have flexibility, however, for sign-and-trades.
Posted on: June 17, 2010 7:32 pm
LOS ANGELES – Among the subplots swirling around Game 7 of the NBA Finals is what happens next for both teams. Regardless of the outcome, big changes could be on the way for the Lakers and Celtics.
Boston’s Big Three aren’t getting any younger, and Doc Rivers hasn’t tipped his hand about whether he’ll step away from coaching next season to spend more time with his family. The Lakers’ roster is far less fragile than it was when they lost to the Pistons in the 2004 Finals, but the key figure who holds everything together, Phil Jackson, has the power to blow it all apart.
“There’s a lot of questions in terms of what Phil’s going to do,” said Derek Fisher, the Lakers’ only core player who isn’t under contract for next season. “He’s probably the biggest thing that turns the trifle in terms of how the future looks, as far as whether he’s back or not.”
When the Lakers have experienced playoff failures in the past – the poor showing in the ’04 Finals, the back-to-back first-round losses to Phoenix – the threat of major changes has never been far behind. The ’04 team was a different story, given the way it was patched together with future Hall of Famers Gary Payton and Karl Malone. After the 2007 loss to the Suns, Kobe Bryant went on the infamous offseason rampage when he issued, then rescinded a trade demand.
“You talk about franchises where there’s tradition to win championships, that’s what you expect,” Lamar Odom said. “This is the type of pressure that we live for. This is what makes us. This is what makes being a sportsman, playing for an organization that’s established like this: the Cowboys, the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Celtics, the L..A. Lakers. That’s just the way it is.”
The key figure who could prevent all hell from breaking lose in Laker Land, Jackson, hasn’t tipped his hand – not even to his players and coaches.
“Although it appears that I’m a lot closer to it, I’m actually in the same seat that you are,” said assistant coach Brian Shaw, one of those who would be in line to replace Jackson if he retired. “He hasn’t let us know or given us an indication one way or the other. So we have to just sit and play it by ear just like everybody else.”
Said Fisher: “I have no clue to be honest. I don’t think he does either. He tries to teach us in terms of just embracing the now and the moment and being here in the present and not really worrying about what’s coming down the line. I think it’s the same way for him. I think he’ll gage where he is emotionally and physically. Obviously, the result [of Game 7] could play a part in it.”
Same goes for the Celtics, who face the prospect of losing Rivers and seeing that trigger major roster changes. Ray Allen will be an unrestricted free agent, Paul Pierce can opt out of his contract and become one, and Kevin Garnett – though under contract for two more years – clearly is in decline.
"It’s one of the toughest things, which Boston will face here probably pretty shortly,” said Shaw, a former Celtic and Laker. “KG is getting up there, plus Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rasheed [Wallace]. I know the Boston team that I played on in the late 80s, they had [Kevin] McHale, [Robert] Parrish, DJ [Dennis Johnson], [Larry] Bird – these guys all kind of got older at the same time. Do you show loyalty and keep everybody until the wheels fall off and then have to start over? Look how long it took Boston to get back to where they are now. Or do you say, ‘Some guys are getting kind of towards the end,’ and try to infuse some youth?’”
Critical decisions that both teams will be facing, days or even hours after one of them is crowned champion.
Posted on: June 7, 2010 3:45 pm
LOS ANGELES – The game wasn’t even over for an hour, and already Kobe Bryant’s mind was back in Boston. Back to the scene of one of the most bitter disappointments of his Hall of Fame career.
It was two years ago when Bryant walked out of the new Boston Garden with a 39-point loss to the Celtics in Game 6 of the Finals haunting him. It had been four years since Bryant had been back to the Finals, and this was the memory he’d carry with him into a long, painful offseason: Celtics fans pelting the team bus with expletives and garbage.
So Bryant’s mood deteriorated rapidly on Sunday night, after the Lakers lost home-court advantage with a 103-94 loss to the Celtics that evened the Finals at 1-1 going back to Boston. On the chartered flight, memories of the 2008 Finals surely were on his mind, not to mention the screech of the referees’ whistle.
Bryant was a non-factor in Game 2, taken out of the mix by foul trouble. Bryant finished the game with five fouls, and backcourt mate Derek Fisher had three – emblematic of the Lakers’ defensive struggles against the devastating combination of Ray Allen’s 3-point shooting and Rajon Rondo’s mastery in the open court. So when it comes to adjustments for Game 3, it begins and ends there for the Lakers.
Phil Jackson made a choice heading into the series that Rondo would be the player most deserving of Bryant’s defensive attention. It worked in Game 1; not so much in Game 2, due in part to a tough whistle on Bryant and also to the Celtics’ improved defense and rebounding, which were the catalyst for Rondo’s latest playoff triple-double. Rondo makes the Celtics’ engine go, but the problem with putting Bryant in his path played out in Game 2, with Fisher unable to reroute Allen around screens or shrink his air space enough to contest his shots.
So with the series shifting to Boston for the middle three games, will Jackson consider putting Fisher on Rondo, with the knowledge that the Lakers’ point guard has fared OK against Deron Williams and Steve Nash in the two previous series? Will he need to use Bryant’s length and strength to slow Allen’s 3-point rampage?
It’s a tricky proposition for Jackson. Though Bryant’s aching knee has improved during the course of the playoffs, putting him in a rat race around screens with Allen could sap the energy he needs on the offensive end. But if Allen keeps getting the looks he got in Game 2, the Lakers will be in for another disastrous outcome in Boston.
What to do? Before watching the film or deciding what strategic adjustments to make, Jackson first took aim at the officials in the aftermath of Sunday night’s loss. With a fine from the NBA office almost certainly to follow, consider it a $25,000 down payment by Jackson to get the officials’ attention should he decide to stay with the same defensive approach in Game 3.
“When they take away any bumps, when Fish is trying to make him divert his path and they don't allow him to do that, they call fouls on Fish and that really gives him an opportunity to take whatever route he wants,” Jackson said. “That really makes it very difficult. We just have to adjust to the ballgame [and] to what the referees are going to call. Are they going to allow us to take direct line cuts away from him so he has to divert his route, [or] get a foul called on Fisher? That makes for a totally different type of ballgame. Then Fish has to give the routes that he wants to run and then he's got to play from behind all the time. That's an adjustment we all need to make in the course of this series.”
One that will have plenty to do with the outcome.
Posted on: February 7, 2010 6:32 pm
Few grand conclusions can be drawn from February NBA games. But in this case, the Celtics' latest disappointing loss only underscored what has been a poorly kept secret among NBA executives for weeks: Ray Allen's time in Boston is likely coming to an end.
If the Celtics kept Allen and let his contract come off the books, they'd still be over the cap this summer with no avenues besides sign-and-trades to acquire a starting shooting guard. That's why Boston also has expressed interest in the Bulls' Kirk Hinrich, an excellent defender and ball-handler who would give the Celtics a starting two guard next season at $9 million and in 2011-12 at $8 million. The Bulls' motivation would be cap relief.
The Kings, who are not planning to be big free-agent shoppers this summer, aren't seeking to acquire cap space alone. They want assets -- and the Celtics don't have a young big man to offer. The Bulls, who almost certainly will move Tyrus Thomas, might need to be invited into that conversation to satisfy everyone's needs.
Whatever avenue they pursue, the Celtics don't want to go into this summer with no cap flexibility and no assets that could be used to keep them among the elite. Before Ainge struck the 2007 draft-related deal for Allen and then plucked Garnett from Minnesota with the help of former teammate Kevin McHale, the Celtics had just endured a 24-win season and hadn't been out of the first round since 2002-03. Ainge and Doc Rivers were on the brink of getting fired until the perfect remedy presented itself -- and the Celtics parlayed the Allen and Garnett deals into their 17th NBA title.
"Kevin McHale's out of the league," one rival executive said, only half-joking. "So they're not going to be able to recreate that deal again."
The period leading up to that was so grim that nobody in the organization wants to revisit it. The best way to avoid such a scenario would be to part ways with Allen. It wouldn't be starting over. Instead, it would be a bold attempt to have a chance against Cleveland, Orlando, and Atlanta in the playoffs and avoid going back to the depths of rebuilding.
Posted on: January 28, 2010 11:22 pm
What did we learn from the Magic-Celtics game Thursday night -- a late-January game with little significance in the standings?
We learned that we want some more Magic-Celtics drama in the playoffs. Here's hoping we get some.
There was Jameer Nelson taking out his All-Star snub on Rajon Rondo early in the game, followed by Rondo proving why he's a first-time All-Star with a steal and key basket late in the fourth. There were J.J. Redick and Paul Pierce exchanging 3-pointers, followed by Rashard Lewis bursting past a limping Kevin Garnett for the go-ahead basket with 1.3 seconds left.
This game had it all, the way an Orlando-Boston playoff series would have it all once again. You had the Magic coming back from a 16-point deficit, then defending the final inbounds play so Rondo couldn't get the ball to Allen or Paul Pierce, but instead got it to Rasheed Wallace, whose buzzer-beating 3-point attempt for the win was off.
You had Garnett, clearly not himself, dragging his bum leg around to the tune of six points on 2-for-8 shooting in 33 minutes, and Vince Carter continuing to struggle in his role with 2-for-13 shooting and six points.
My instinct at this early point in the journey? The Magic can and will survive Carter's inconsistency because they're so deep and versatile. Stan Van Gundy has more lineups than Craig Sager has suits. The Celtics are a different story. They're a team built on defense first, and Garnett isn't close to being right. The Magic can get by with Carter having an off shooting night, and they can get by if they jack a few too many threes. They can get by with Jason Williams running the point and with Dwight Howard missing free throws.
The Celtics can't get by without a healthy, impactful Garnett. There would be nothing better than Garnett getting back to some semblance of himself, because the Celtics and Magic in a seven-game playoff series in May would be just about as good as it gets.
They meet again a week from Sunday in Boston, their final head-to-head matchup of the regular season. These two teams can't play each other enough, as far as I'm concerned.
Posted on: January 13, 2010 9:15 pm
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It’s time to call the fans’ All-Star voting what it is: A joke.
Ray Allen did Wednesday night, and I couldn’t agree more.
“I think the fan voting is watered down,” the Celtics star said before Boston played the Nets. “I like the fact that the fans get the opportunity to vote and pick who they’d like to see in the All-Star game. But I don’t think it should be 100 percent.”
Allen, currently fourth among Eastern Conference guards (Allen Iverson is second), said the he favors a system like the one used to selected players to the NFL’s Pro Bowl. In the NFL, votes are split in thirds among players, coaches and fans. Such an arrangement would avoid embarrassments like the one currently under way involving Tracy McGrady, who is second to Kobe Bryant among Western Conference guards even though he isn’t playing for the Rockets.
“The commissioner should put some type of rule in place like you have to play at least so many games to be eligible for the All-Star Game,” Allen said. “Because once you put all the ballots out, you can’t really retrieve them. If Tracy played, I’m sure he’d play well enough to be an All-Star player because he’s done that in his career. But again, that’s taking away from another player in the Western Conference who’s having a good year and has been playing and deserves to be in there.”
The commissioner, in case you haven’t heard, has other problems to deal with at the moment. But while the sanctity of All-Star appearances doesn’t rise to the level of firearms in the locker room, it’s something that will have to be addressed.
The NBA has been on the cutting edge of fan engagement with games available live online, unique content for its 1.7 million Twitter followers, and All-Star voting online and via text messaging. Not to come across as the ugly American, but it’s pretty clear that the expansion of voting globally has skewed the results – and not in a fair or good way.
On Wednesday, the league announced that fans would choose a participant in the All-Star slam dunk contest by voting electronically during a two-player dunk-off at halftime of the Rookie Challenge on Friday night of All-Star weekend.
That’s OK. It’s a dunk contest. But All-Star appearances and starts are still viewed as legitimate accomplishments in a player’s career, and are often cited when a player is inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. If McGrady is voted in as a starter, it’s time to re-evaluate the importance of All-Star appearances, the voting procedure, or both.
Allen said he’d give the fan voting 50 percent of the weight, the players 25 percent, and the media 25 percent in determining the All-Star starters. Coaches would retain the authority to pick the reserves under Allen’s plan
“The players will truthfully know who’s had a truly great first half of the season,” Allen said. “You would have five guys starting for the All-Star team regardless of hype or highlight. You just get guys that had the best first half of the season. … You guy should have a say-so. You’re obviously watching games night in and night out. The players are the ones scouting each other and they know exactly who is beating them every night and who they’re watching on film. So they see everything.”
More than the 746,625 fans who've voted for McGrady, anyway.