Shootaround (April 30): Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards ready for intense East semifinals
Plus Paul Millsap prepares for free agency, Dwyane Wade leaves his options open, and much more
No. 1: Celtics look to control emotions against Wizards — The Celtics and Wizards tip off their East semifinals series today in Boston, and after the two teams had several tough battles in the regular season, splitting their four-game series, expectations are that this may be a physical series between the two teams. As Chris Forsberg writes for ESPN, the Celtics say they’ll need to control their emotions in this series and play the style of basketball that earned them the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference:
“I think it’s just two teams playing hard, and there’s a lot of guys on their end that play hard, play nasty, play feisty, and I think we have some guys like that,” said Celtics forward Jae Crowder, who’s been a featured player in many of the Wizards incidents over the past two seasons. “Two teams like that come together, you have little situations and encounters, but I think it’s just two teams playing hard.”
Crowder admitted that he likes that the two teams seem to elevate their play when they go against each other.
“If you don’t stand up to it, those guys will punk you. So you’ve got to step up to the challenge a little bit and be ready to compete at a high level because those guys are going to bring it,” said Crowder. “It’s all basketball. They just play the game at a different level than a lot of teams, so you just have to respect it. I do as an opponent. I respect them as an opponent.”
Added Celtics guard Avery Bradley: “I think that’s the fun thing about basketball. It kind of made it into a rivalry. They have some good players on their team, and we know it’s going to be a battle this entire playoff series.”
Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who has had run-ins with Wizards guards John Wall and Bradley Beal, said players can’t let emotions take over the series.
Controlling emotions is “huge — it’s huge,” said Smart. “Everybody’s vital to the team, so we can’t afford to lose anybody.”
With a quick turnaround heading into Game 1 on Sunday (ABC, 1 p.m. ET), Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he stressed only a few keys to his team during its film session and walkthrough after the team arrived home from Chicago on Saturday afternoon. While Stevens likely spent much of the team’s film session on an area such as transition defense, he acknowledged that the Celtics must not let their emotions overcome them.
“If we don’t play well, we won’t win,” said Stevens. “Whatever distracts from playing well is not worth it.”
Crowder got fined $25,000 for his role in an incident that included poking Wall in the nose during a January meeting at TD Garden. The night ended with Boston police stationed between the locker rooms to prevent further escalation. Reflecting on the incident, Crowder said Saturday that he regretted it.
“I’m sure y’all are gonna be replaying that a lot in the next 24 hours,” Crowder said with a smile. “Emotions took over. A lot was going on that game. It cost me a lot of money. I regret it. But just the emotions of it — it was a very emotional game for us. There was some bickering going back and forth the whole game and it just led into that. But I moved on from it.”
So is there lingering bad blood?
“Two teams playing hard. That’s all I’m gonna say,” said Crowder. “I don’t know if it’s bad blood. I think those guys play very, very hard, and we do as well. So you get that and you play each other so many times, you kind of ask for bad blood [when] you play a team four times in one season. I just think it was two teams playing hard.”
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No. 2: Millsap to test free agency, “probably” — With the Atlanta Hawks officially gone fishing, Hawks forward Paul Millsap told the media during his exit meetings yesterday that he would “probably” opt out of his contract—”most likely”—and test free agency, although he hopes to remain with the Hawks. While Millsap wouldn’t completely commit to his answer, by becoming a free agent, the 32-year-old Millsap may be in line for a big contract bump next season, from the Hawks or another team, as Chris Vivlamore writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
It took some doing, but Paul Millsap finally said what everyone knows to be a certainty. The Hawks’ power forward will opt out of the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
Well, he almost said it.
“I think we all know the answer to do that,” Millsap said when asked directly about his intention. He later added, “Eventually I probably will opt out, yes. But I want to be here. I think talks have been pretty good, so we’ll see what happens.”
Millsap indicated that there have been preliminary talks with the Hawks about re-signing, something he called “nothing unusual.”
Millsap spoke Saturday afternoon, hours after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs by the Wizards in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup Friday night. The Hawks gathered for a team meeting and individual conferences with coach Mike Budenholzer before departing for the summer.
Hawks principal owner Tony Ressler told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that team will make “every effort imaginable” to keep their best player. Budenholzer echoed that sentiment.
“You always want to hope for the best,” Budenholzer said. “Without a doubt what is best for us is to keep Paul. We’ve got to do everything we can to make that happen. I think that is our intention. Free agency is not an easy thing for the player or for the organization. There are a lot of things that go into it. We are incredibly optimistic and incredibly committed to Paul.”
Millsap was the Hawks’ leading scorer, at 18.1 points per game, during the regular season. He also led the team in minutes (34.0) and ranked second in rebounds (7.7), assists (3.7), steals (1.30) and blocks (0.9). He made his fourth consecutive All-Star team in February, all since joining the Hawks after a lengthy career with the Jazz.
Millsap, 32, certainly will entertain offers from several teams once he is a free agent, much the same way he did two years ago when he was unrestricted, but remained with the Hawks. A deal likely will be a maximum contract. The Hawks can give him a projected five-year deal worth up to $205 million. Another team can give him a four-year deal worth $158.4 million. Both would be substantial raises from the $21.5 million Millsap was scheduled to make next season.
On Saturday, Millsap reiterated his desire to stay in Atlanta. He has made no secret of his love of the city, the team and the playing style.
“I don’t know,” Millsap said when asked what would prevent him from re-signing with the Hawks. “It’s something me and my agent and my family have to sit down and talk about. The decisions I make with my career is not just about me. It doesn’t affect just me. I’ll talk to my family and see what happens.
“But knowing these guys, knowing the organization, I know they want to head in the right direction. They want to get the best available. They want the franchise to win. I believe that without even having a meeting with them. I know the direction they want to go.”
Millsap also will have Kent Bazemore in his ear about remaining as the nucleus of the team. The two will spend some time together on the golf course — as they were prepared to do Saturday — and will talk.
“I’m definitely recruiting Millsap to come back,” Bazemore said. “With the way the cap is this summer it’s probably smart for him to (opt out) and sign something long-term somewhere. That’s the business.
“Paul is a great teammate. I know he loves Atlanta. We are great golfing buddies. I’m sure we’ll spend a lot of time together, and I’ll be throwing little anecdotes at him to stay home. I’ll have my recruiting hat on this summer.”
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No. 3: Dwyane Wade wants to leave options open — Dwayne Wade surprised many around the NBA last summer when he left the Miami Heat to sign with his hometown Chicago Bulls. After one season in Chicago, Wade could opt out this summer and test the free agency market again. Speaking to the media following the Bulls’ elimination, Wade admitted he has a lot of options available, as Nick Friedell writes for ESPN:
“There’s so many different variables that come into play, especially for me at this point in my career,” Wade said after his exit meeting with the Bulls’ front office. “Like I said, I have a great luxury. I don’t need to ring-chase, but I can. It’s a great luxury to have if I want to do.
“Or I can be a part of passing down my knowledge to younger players. It’s either way. Whatever I decide, I’m going to embrace whatever role I have on a team. That’s sometimes being the second option. Sometimes I’m going to be the first. And sometimes this season, I had to be the third or fourth. It all changes, and you want to be the best at whatever role is presented to you. I’ve always been that way. It won’t change. That will always be me.”
Wade signed with the Bulls last summer after spending the first 13 seasons with the Miami Heat. Wade averaged 18.3 points this season but was mostly a non-factor in the Bulls’ first-round playoff loss to the Boston Celtics, going 1-for-10 in Game 6 on Friday night. Wade said that he would take some time for himself and then would connect with Bulls executives Gar Forman and John Paxson in a few weeks to discuss which direction the organization would go in the future. Many people within the organization privately believe that Wade will decide to pick up the option because it’s highly unlikely he will get a comparable offer for next season.
“Myself, Gar, Pax, once they get all their information together, in the sense of direction of where they see the organization going, and who they see as a part of it, etcetera,” Wade said. “Just sit down and go from there. Same way you do when you decide to come and be a part of something. You sit down, you talk about it, and it’s the same way. I’m sure it will be a few weeks when they get all the information they need and they put the draft hat on, and all the other things together. At some point we will sit down and talk, and I’ll see what direction they’re going in, and then we’ll make a decision.”
Wade noted that he felt in conversations with Forman and Paxson that the pair wanted to have a more-defined direction moving forward. Wade said earlier in the season that he didn’t want to play with a bunch of younger players at this point in his career and that he wanted to see what the Bulls decided regarding potentially moving Butler or not this summer, but the 35-year-old walked those comments back a little bit on Saturday.
“It is a Dwyane Wade decision,” Wade said. “Jimmy is a huge component in me being here and what’s his future like, but at the end of the day it’s a me decision. It is a Dwyane Wade decision at the end of the day, but everyone knows Jimmy’s my guy. I’m here because of our conversation. But a lot of it depends on the whole big picture and not just one piece. Jimmy is a big piece, but it’s a big picture. As an organization, just want to make sure that we’re all on the same page.”
Wade has said that his family is comfortable in Chicago and that will play a role in his decision as well, but he tried to brush off the notion that all signs pointed to him picking up the option and coming back to the Bulls next season.
“I don’t know,” Wade said. “I don’t really go with the signs. I’m not a predictable person I don’t think. But I don’t know, it’s not a bad thing for me. I’m in a good situation, whether there’s a lot of options or not. I’m in a very good situation to where as a player you can decide what you want to do. And I have a lot of money to decide whether I want to take it or not. It’s not a bad thing — because I’ve worked my butt off for it over my career. But no rush in my mind. I don’t have to think about that right now. I got at least a month before my mind starts going there. So I’m just going to get away and let my hair grow a little bit, get a tan.”
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No. 4: Grizzlies face uncertain future — The Memphis Grizzlies have developed a clear identity as a “grit and grind” basketball team, but after years of that ethos, several members of the Grizzlies core will be free agents, and the Grizzlies will have to make some tough decisions about their future. As Geoff Calkins writes in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, while all the Grizz players say they want to stay, the math just might not add up:
They all want to be here. All the Grizzlies free agents. They all want to stay in Memphis. Just listen to them.
Start with Tony Allen, the Grindfather. His four-year contract is up.
“I can’t see myself anywhere else,” said Allen. “This is where my heart is.”
Next is Zach Randolph, the best player in Grizzlies history. His two-year $20 million contract extension has run out.
“This is home for me, it’s where I want to be,” he said. “I’ve made that clear several times, now we’ll see if we can work it out.” Then there’s JaMychal Green, a restricted free agent, meaning the Grizzlies can match any offer he receives.
“I love Memphis,” he said. “We talked a little bit last night after the game. I told everybody I WANT to come back. It’s not like I’m looking to leave. They want me around, I want to stay here. This is like home here. I would love to be back.”
Oh, and finally, there’s Vince Carter. Who some might think would be at the stage of his career when he’d like to chase a championship ring.
“I hear people say all the time, `Go chase the ring.’ That word `chase’ is tough for me,” Carter said. “I’m comfortable here, my family is comfortable here, we’re building something exciting and great and I enjoy going to work with these guys every day.”
So it’s all settled then, right? The Grizzlies will be getting the grit & grit gang together again!
“Free agency is down the road,” said Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace. “I really don’t have any far-reaching free-agency plans to roll out at this time.”
OK, so then maybe it’s not all settled. Check back on July 1.
But it was a different kind of conversation at the Grizzlies’s end-of-the-year press gathering Friday, a striking departure from the last couple years. Two years ago, all the talk was about whether Marc Gasol would want to come back. Last year, all the talk was about whether Mike Conley could be successfully wooed.
This year, the offseason is more complicated for a couple reasons: 1) the Grizzlies have to decide how the prospective free agents fit into their plans for the future, and 2) the Grizzlies may not have the cash to keep them all.
Next year, Gasol, Conley and (alas) Chandler Parsons will make roughly $74 million between them. The salary cap is just $102 million, and the tax threshold is $122 million. Throw in Brandan Wright, Troy Daniels, James Ennis, Wade Baldwin, Deyonta Davis, Jarell Martin, Andrew Harrison and Wayne Selden, and the Grizzlies are up to nearly $97 million for 11 players.
That’s why Friday’s get-together had a different feel to it, as did the end of Game 6.
“It’s emotional,” Conley said. “You’re out there on the court in the last 10 seconds of the game and you realize you may never play with these guys again.”
It’s almost hard to get your mind around, isn’t it? The Grizzlies without Z-Bo and/or the Grindfather? And yet, if there is a limited pool of money — and there is — can the Grizzlies bring those two players back if it means letting Green walk?
Those are the questions of the summer. The answers could make for a bittersweet July. But for now, let’s marvel at how much the four players want to remain Grizzlies, and what that says about the team and the town.
The Grizzlies aren’t going to have to put together a recruiting film for any of these players. It might be the other way around.
“You don’t need to do no campaign or me,” is the way Allen put it. “I’m ready to be here.”
Allen also said, “I’m pretty sure we’ll come to an agreement” and “I’m not trying to break the bank.”
Meanwhile, Randolph was explaining that he’s never felt this welcome any place else, and Green was waxing on about how much Memphis feels like home.
“Just the lifestyle,” Green said. “The grit and grind? We really live by that. You can feel it in the gym, just by the crowd, how much the fans interact with the players and how much love they showed. It makes you want to play here.”
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rudy Gobert will play in Utah’s Game 7 today, although he’s battling a sprained ankle … John Wall got revenge on Dennis Schroder via Instagram … Dwight Howard’s first season with his hometown Atlanta Hawks didn’t end the way Howard hoped … Bobby Portis has been playing with a third-degree burn on his foot … A new documentary reveals the post-NBA life of former All-Star point guard Kenny Anderson … Metta World Peace is going back to school