By the end of Wednesday's two-game slate the Blazers were planning vacations after being eliminated in five games by the Grizzlies, and the Nets were bandaging their wounds after falling down 3-2 vs. the Hawks. Wednesday also featured major injury updates, some contract news, and the all-but-certain ascension of Billy Donovan to the Thunder's head coaching job. Let's get to it.
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Kevin Love had surgery to repair his dislocated left shoulder on Wednesday and he's expected to miss the next 4-6 months. According to Howard Beck, Love's labrum tore away from the bone when Kelly Olynyk yanked his arm. The timetable gives him a good chance to play in next year's season-opener but it’s not guaranteed. It's an awful end to Love's first playoff experience and it makes the Cavs' playoff journey far more difficult -- with minimal frontcourt depth they'll be leaning on Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson, with a heavy dose of small-ball lineups. As for Olynyk, he may not have intended to injure Love but there's a very good chance the league will suspend him to begin the 2015-16 season.
Former Florida coach Billy Donovan, who led his teams to two NCAA championships, is imminently expected to be hired as the new head coach of the Thunder. He replaces recently-fired Scott Brooks, who had a 545-338 record in seven years with OKC. The hiring was all but confirmed by CBS last week and it's a golden opportunity for Donovan to transition to the NBA, as he'll take over a championship contender with a general manager he knows well -- Donovan and Thunder GM Sam Presti have been friends for years. The deal should officially be announced on Thursday or Friday.
Mike Conley (facial fractures) revealed that he had two plates inserted in his face during this week's surgery, and he does not have a return date. You can see a quick video of Conley discussing the injury here -- he looks awful, his eye is nearly swollen shut, and he mentions another fracture which he must simply "let heal" on its own. Without any indication of when Conley might play, Nick Calathes and Beno Udrih will continue to get all the run they can handle at point guard as the series advances to Game 1 vs. the Warriors on Sunday.
Chase Budinger will pick up his $5 million player option for 2015-16, the final year of his deal. Budinger appeared in 67 games this season but it took him a while to regain his form after returning from multiple knee surgeries, and the Wolves were buried beneath an avalanche of injuries before coach Flip Saunders played him 32+ minutes per game in March and April. Given his injury risk and uncertain role, Budinger projects as little more than a 3-point specialist in fantasy leagues.
The Mavericks cut Rajon Rondo out of their playoff-cash pool. The money is relatively insignificant for an NBA player who made $12.9 million this season, but the decision points to how acrimonious things got between Rondo and the team that traded for him only a few months prior. He was ostracized during the most important games of the Mavs' season and his value as a free agent has plummeted due to concerns about his demeanor and declining athleticism. His fall has been swift and brutal.
Al-Farouq Aminu logically declined his minimum salary for 2015-16 in favor of free agency. He played only 18.5 minutes per game off the Mavs' bench this season, averaging 5.6 points on 41.2% shooting, including a 27.4% mark from downtown. Yet he was terrific defensively, proved to be a difference-maker in the postseason, and finished with career-highs in PER (14.4), steal percentage (2.6%) and block percentage (3.7%). He said he loves Dallas and hopes to stay with the Mavs, a sentiment echoed by GM Donnie Nelson.
Devin Harris said that the turf toe in his left big toe will heal with rest this summer. It's great that the veteran guard will avoid another offseason surgery, but his left foot has been an issue for a few years and his lengthy injury history (combined with a backup role) make him a guy to avoid in standard fantasy drafts next year.
The Celtics plan to give Jae Crowder a $1.1 million qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent this summer. It's an easy choice for Boston after watching Crowder thrive in an expanded role this season, racking up multiple career-highs while providing the Celts with relentless energy and toughness. He was a borderline fantasy asset in 12-team leagues despite playing only 20.2 minutes per game and will be firmly on the radar no matter where he lands in 2015-16. In the random-but-impressive stat department, Crowder scored 1.38 points per possessions as a roll man off screens this season, putting him in the 96th percentile league wide.
DeAndre Jordan reportedly told multiple sources that he's "extremely interested in coming to Dallas" as a free agent this summer. It's obviously premature to talk about Jordan's offseason plans while his team is still battling the Spurs in the best series of Round 1, but this report at least warrants a mention.
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Hawks take 3-2 series lead vs. Nets
The Hawks jumped out to a 17-point lead in Wednesday's Game 5 in Atlanta, racking up nine assists on 14 made baskets in their 33-point first quarter. They were led by a one-man barrage from DeMarre Carroll, who finished with 24 points (8-of-15 FGs, 6-of-8 FTs), two 3-pointers, seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and zero turnovers in 42 minutes of action.
Atlanta’s lead was trimmed to as few as two points with under two minutes remaining in the game, but Carroll, Al Horford (20 points) and Jeff Teague (20 points) carried their team to a 107-97 win, regaining control of the series at 3-2. Teague sprained his ankle in the third quarter but he was able to return and thrived down the stretch -- we'll keep an eye on his status for Game 6 but it looks like he'll be fine.
Deron Williams, who stole the show in Game 4 with a 35-point outburst that hearkened back to his Utah days, finished with only five points on 2-of-8 shooting, six rebounds and six assists in 32 minutes. Williams himself admitted that Game 4 was fluky, saying, "It was definitely one of my better games this year for sure, and probably as a Net." He'll earn $21.0 million next season but is nowhere near the player Brooklyn thought they had acquired in 2011. Nets coach Lionel Hollins offered a staunch defense of Williams last week, saying, "Would we like him to shoot better? Yes. But he’s played extremely well. He’s gotten us off to great starts with his pace ... Deron’s a good person, he’s a good player. Now is he on a level that you guys think he should be? That’s your fault for thinking somebody should be [playing better]." D-Will failed to crack the top-100 in 9-cat fantasy leagues this season, whether gauged on a per-game or cumulative basis, but his fantasy-stud pedigree will likely cause many owners to reach for him on draft day. Don't be one of them.
Elsewhere, Alan Anderson kept Brooklyn competitive with a team-high 23 points in 32 minutes off the bench, scoring 16 in a scintillating first-half shooting display. He shot 9-of-11 overall, making all four of his 3-point attempts, and he even tied his season-high with seven rebounds. Anderson averaged 6.4 points through Brooklyn's first four playoff games so there's no reason to expect a repeat effort during Friday's do-or-die Game 6.
Regardless of what happens in the playoffs this year, the Nets don't have much wiggle-room to reshape their roster. They're saddled with an onerous payroll whether or not Brook Lopez opts into his $16.7 million player option, but they're at least scheduled to have a ton of cap space in the summer of 2016. The only guaranteed contract for 2016-17 is Bojan Bogdanovic at $3.6 million, though Williams also has a $22.3 million early-termination option in the final year of his deal. For now, Brooklyn's only concern is staving off elimination at home on Friday.
Grizzlies win Game 5, eliminating Trail Blazers
Portland sputtered offensively on Wednesday, scoring 93 points on 40.2% shooting, and they were out-rebounded by a 38-56 margin. LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum combined for 20 points on 7-of-30 shooting. Robin Lopez was saddled with foul trouble and had only four points, four rebounds and three blocks, while starting SG Arron Afflalo finished scoreless in 14 minutes.
The fact that Portland hung around before falling 93-99 is solely attributable to C.J. McCollum's career-best 33 points off the bench. The second-year SG drained 7-of-11 shots from downtown and 12-of-20 overall, adding three rebounds and two turnovers in 39 minutes off the bench. The Blazers' offseason moves will dictate his role next year but McCollum is destined for increased minutes. He has nice fantasy potential as a source of points, 3-pointers and steals, though poor FT shooting and a lack of supporting stats may ultimately hamper his value even if he does earn 25+ minutes. We'll keep a close eye on his progress throughout the summer.
In reality, the Blazers' early exit from the playoffs was almost unavoidable. Wesley Matthews (Achilles surgery) was reduced to being a cheer-leader. Arron Afflalo was a non-factor. LaMarcus Aldridge (thumb) wasn't 100 percent during the series -- he averaged an impressive 23.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.5 blocks, but shot just 34.0 percent on a whopping 23.5 attempts per game. Dorell Wright (fractured hand) was also out of commission, leaving Portland with even less depth than usual -- that's saying something for a team that ranked 27th in bench scoring this season, 30th last season, and 30th in 2012-13.
Their focus shifts immediately from winning a playoff series to keeping their franchise power forward in Portland. LaMarcus Aldridge is entering unrestricted free agency and he's been non-committal about re-signing with the only team he's suited up for in the NBA. Aldridge raised some conspiracy theories by flying home from Game 2 on a separate flight (though with the team's blessing), and when asked this week if he planned to stay in Portland, he replied, "We'll see."
Aldridge's decision will almost certainly be influenced by the Blazers' other offseason moves -- Matthews, Robin Lopez and Wright are also unrestricted free agents, and even Afflalo could decline his $7.8 million player option. In any case, a summer of rest and a hefty offer sheet could be enough to root Aldridge to the northwest, especially since the Blazers hold his Bird Rights and can therefore offer him a maximum five-year deal with 7.5% annual raises. There are tons of opinions about why Aldridge might or might not stay in Portland, and we can all look forward (or not) to a summer's worth of additional speculation. (Relevant side note: Aldridge said there is a “20 percent chance” that his thumb healed on its own since the injury, but if not he’ll have surgery.)
The Grizzlies, playing without Mike Conley (face) for the indefinite future, once again started Nick Calathes, Courtney Lee, Tony Allen, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. They crashed the boards, got stops when necessary, and held on for a series-clinching win despite the absence of Mike Conley (face), whose return date is up in the air.
Marc Gasol was brilliant with 26 points (9-of-15 FGs, 8-of-10 FTs), 14 rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Courtney Lee's mid-range game was unusually effective and he finished with 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Zach Randolph scored 16 points with eight rebounds and Tony Allen filled up the stat sheet with eight points, one 3-pointer, seven boards, four assists, five steals, two blocks and only one turnover. The good vibes may not last long.
Memphis advances to face the top-seeded Warriors in the second round and they have a host of issues to address, particularly if Conley is unable to return. Their bench combined for 23 points on 7-of-27 shooting tonight (25.9%) and as a team the Grizzlies shot 1-of-14 from downtown. A dearth of perimeter scoring is nothing new, but it will be a glaring problem vs. the Warriors -- Memphis ranked 29th in made 3-pointers this season (5.2 per game) and Golden State's defense held opponents to just 33.6% shooting beyond the arc, the fourth-lowest in the NBA. That’s a recipe for trouble. To make this a series, the Grizzlies desperately need court-spacing from C-Lee, Nick Calathes, Beno Udrih and Vince Carter.