Marc Stein: Featured

Here's the latest on the future of Kevin Love... co-authored with's Ramona Shelburne:

Kevin Love has made it clear to the Timberwolves that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent after next season and has no interest in a contract extension this summer to stay in Minnesota, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

Although sources say Love has stopped short of demanding a trade, his position could effectively force the Timberwolves to deal the All-Star forward before next season -- or before the trade deadline in February 2015 at the latest -- if they hope to dodge the risk of losing him without compensation.

Sources told that the Golden State Warriors and Chicago Bulls are among the potential trade destinations that intrigue Love.

The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have likewise been mentioned all season as big-market landing spots that would tempt Love, but going to the best situation for immediate contention is said to be the power forward's priority.

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One playoff win has not eased the mounting pressure on Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel.

Sources close to the situation told that Vogel, despite a 56-win season that secured the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, is "coaching for his job" in the wake of a prolonged slide that has stretched into its third month.

Following Indiana's 101-85 triumph over Atlanta in Game 2 of the teams' first-round playoff series, sources told that coming back to win the series against the Hawks would not automatically ensure Vogel's safety. After a 40-11 start, the Pacers went just 16-15 the rest of the way before a humbling loss in the series opener against the eighth-seeded Hawks.

The decision on whether to retain Vogel at season's end ultimately rests with Pacers president Larry Bird, sources said, but frustration throughout the organization has been mounting thanks to a nosedive that began in February with a loss in Orlando just before the All-Star break and has shown few signs of abating.

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Jazz eyeing Italian legend Messina?

April, 22, 2014
The coaching search farthest removed from the New York Knicks-level spotlight could prove to be one of the most fascinating of the NBA offseason.

That's because the Utah Jazz, I'm told, are on that very short list of teams that will give bona fide consideration to breaking basketball's Euro barrier on the X's and O's side by hiring a new head coach who wasn't reared in North America.

NBA coaching sources say that the Jazz will take a legit look at Italian legend Ettore Messina now that they're on the hunt for a replacement for Ty Corbin, who was informed Monday after three-plus seasons as Jerry Sloan's successor that he would not be offered a new contract.

The immediate focus, in terms of replacements, centered on San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Jim Boylen. And rightfully so, given Boylen's longstanding ties to Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey ... along with the seal of approval that comes when you're hired by Gregg Popovich to help fill the void created by the departures of Mike Budenholzer and Brett Brown to head-coaching gigs in Atlanta and Philadelphia, respectively.

However ...

Boylen's rough stint as the University of Utah's coach from 2007 to 2011 complicates his candidacy with the Jazz, since hiring him would almost certainly generate a lukewarm response from the local die-hards. Lindsey is secure enough in his beliefs to hire Boylen anyway if he and fellow Jazz officials decide that Boylen is the wisest choice, but you would also expect the very thorough Lindsey to have other options in mind.

None of whom, mind you, generates the sort of curiosity that Messina can.

The Spurs are the team with the longest-known fondness for Messina. Lindsey, of course, was imported from San Antonio to succeed Kevin O'Connor in Utah.

NBA coaching sources, furthermore, say Messina has another big fan in Salt Lake City in former player agent Justin Zanik, who's in his first season as a member of Lindsey's front-office cabinet with the Jazz.

So rest assured that Messina -- widely regarded abroad as the coach most likely to be the NBA's first internationally born and raised head man -- figures into Utah's thoughts.

How seriously? Time will tell. Messina detractors say he's far too demanding, far too intense from the first day of training camp and far too desirous of control to succeed in an NBA environment. Messina supporters duly downplay such claims, insisting that the season he spent with the Los Angeles Lakers as Mike Brown's assistant has left him with a clear idea of the tweaks he'd have to make to succeed in the NBA.

The Jazz, though, will likely have to wait until June if they ultimately zero in on Boylen or Messina. The Spurs naturally won't be surrendering any of their coaches or executives until they're out of the playoffs. And Messina will be coaching CSKA Moscow for another month-plus both domestically and in the Euroleague.

So what happens in the interim? Lindsey being Lindsey -- which is to say Spurs-schooled -- suggests he'll surely talk to a variety of other candidates to help gather intel on other teams while he's also out looking for Mr. Right.

Maybe the next Utah coach even comes from that group -- Chicago Bulls assistant Adrian Griffin and current Jazz assistant Brad Jones have also been mentioned as potential targets -- but the early line has Boylen and Messina at the front of the line.

Like we said: fascinating!

Sources: NBA could buy Bucks

April, 22, 2014
Here's the latest on the future of the Milwaukee Bucks ... co-authored with's Brian Windhorst:

The NBA has the right to buy back the Milwaukee Bucks from incoming owners Wesley Edens and Mark Lasry if a deal to a bring a new arena to the city is not in place by November 2017, according to sources briefed on the situation.

Sources told that the sale agreement announced last week to transfer the Bucks from longtime owner Herb Kohl to Edens and Lasry for a purchase price of $550 million includes a provision that allows the league to buy back the team for $575 million if construction on a new building in Milwaukee is not underway by the deadline.

Although one source said Monday that the league would likely only take that step if it didn't see "significant progress" toward a new arena in Milwaukee by then, this provision ensures that the NBA would control the fate of the franchise from that point as opposed to Edens and Lasry.
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This is an excerpt from today's 5-on-5:

What was the most pleasant surprise of the opening weekend?

Pretty much every game delivered some legit drama. Five road teams won Game 1 for the first time in the history of the 16-team playoff format introduced in 1983-84, and it could have been six if Dallas didn't close (and start) so meekly at San Antonio. OKC's win over Memphis, which featured the most lopsided final score of the first eight games, was a circus in itself thanks to the Grizzlies' third-quarter scramble. Good times.

What was the biggest disappointment of the opening weekend?

Injuries. As always. Al Jefferson needing multiple shots in his left foot to get through Game 1 not only doomed Charlotte's chances Sunday but also endangers any hope of a competitive series if the injury, as expected, limits the Bobcats' top scorer from here. Houston's playoff ceiling is likewise far lower if Patrick Beverley's re-injury proves as serious as it looked.

Read the full 5-on-5 roundtable here.

What's next for the Wolves?

April, 21, 2014

Billy Donovan is the hot new name to emerge as an inevitable target in the coaching search that officially began Monday for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

NBA coaching sources told that the Wolves have Donovan prominent in their thoughts as they compile a list of potential successors to the retiring Rick Adelman that -- as covered here in March -- already includes college titans Tom Izzo and Fred Hoiberg.

The challenge, of course, in pursuing any of those three is convincing one of them to leave their veritable college kingdoms to take over an NBA team whose franchise player has only a year to go on his contract.

The coach Minnesota ultimately hires is supposed to help the Wolves sway Kevin Love to stay. But how do you convince the likes of Donovan to leave Florida -- or a full-fledged emperor like Izzo at Michigan State -- to make the jump to the NBA without assurances that Love will stick around for the long haul?

Wolves president of basketball operations and minority owner Flip Saunders and Izzo are tight. Hoiberg is a former Wolves player and executive. They will surely listen when the call comes. And so, too, will Donovan. They'll give the Wolves an opportunity, at the very least, to make a determined pitch ... provided Wolves owner Glen Taylor doesn't turn around in the next few days and decide that Flip should just go back downstairs.

There's every chance, given how hard it would be to actually land a titan, that the Wolves will be forced to go a more traditional NBA route. (Yet another factor: It has also been suggested in coaching circles that the Wolves could make the determination, fond as they are of Hoiberg, that they need someone more experienced on the bench when the franchise is in such a precarious place in terms of Love's future.)

With Saunders vowing to Minnesota-based reporters Monday that the search will be a lengthy one that's not necessarily wrapped up before the draft in June, that gives a number of coaches currently in the broadcasting ranks time to emerge as serious candidates. (Stan and Jeff Van Gundy, to date, are the names that have been mentioned most frequently.)

The most obvious option, amid all of the scenarios above, continues to be Saunders returning to coach the team himself. You'll recall that he's the last coach to take the Wolves to the playoffs, although, sadly, that was all the way back in 2004.

Yet signals continue to be mixed on whether Saunders is prepared to leave the executive suite to return to the bench or try to do both jobs. They're just as mixed when it comes to the willingness of Taylor to allow Saunders to do both. Sorting that out could well be the Wolves' first step.

So the only certainty in 'Sota at the moment is that the Wolves are determined to do anything and everything they can muster to keep Love around for the long term.

Given that the Wolves sport the league's longest active playoff drought, it's no stretch to suggest that they still haven't recovered from Kevin Garnett's departure in July 2007. So you can understand why they can barely bring themselves to talk about what it would be like trying to recover from the loss of two Franchise Kevins.

And why the Wolves have to think as big as they can as the hunt for a new coach begins.

Salary cap projected to rise $5M

April, 20, 2014
The NBA has informed teams that it is projecting a rise in the salary cap of nearly $5 million for next season, which could aid clubs such as Chicago and Houston in their attempts to steal free agent-to-be Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks, according to sources familiar with the forecasts.

Sources told that all 30 teams were informed this week via league memorandum that an increase in the cap from this season's $58.6 million to $63.2 million in 2014-15 -- thanks to increased revenues -- is now expected. A corresponding rise in the luxury-tax threshold from $71.7 million to $77 million is also projected, sources said.

It must be noted that these are non-binding forecasts that have been circulated roughly three months before the official cap ceiling and luxury-tax threshold for next season are announced in early July following a league-wide audit.

But the latest projections will undoubtedly be welcomed by numerous teams that are planning to be active in free agency this summer. If the projections hold, several clubs will find themselves with more spending money and financial flexibility than they initially planned.

See the full Marc Stein story

Zach Randolph on playoff pressure

April, 14, 2014
How nervous is Zach Randolph with the Memphis Grizzlies still not yet officially qualified for the playoffs as of Monday morning?

TrueHoop TV checked in with the Grizzlies' big man to gauge how much late-season pressure is gnawing at the Grit & Grind gang.

The Chicago Bulls made a determined attempt to lure veteran big man Kurt Thomas out of retirement this month before the recent signings of Lou Amundson and Greg Smith, according to sources with knowledge of Chicago's plans.

Sources told that the Bulls have been trying to convince Thomas, who's now 41 and ranked as the NBA's oldest player last season with the Knicks, to join them for the playoffs to lend some added know-how and toughness to their frontcourt rotation.

But Thomas has not played since last season and, according to sources, considers himself retired. The Dallas native and former TCU star was spotted last week at the American Airlines Center in his hometown to watch the Spurs and Mavs, two of his former teams, as a fan.

Thomas played for nine teams in his 18 seasons as a pro after leading the nation in scoring and rebounding at TCU in 1994-95. That included two stints with the Knicks -- including a trip to the NBA Finals in his debut season in New York in 1999 -- and a season with the Bulls in 2011.

Read the full story here »

Most Valuable Player

April, 13, 2014
DurantLayne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty ImagesKevin Durant has put together an offensive season that knows few equals.

Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant, Thunder

The 2013-14 MVP race in the NBA should not be as one-sided as ESPN Forecast says it is. Not to me, anyway.

It's rather hard to rationalize the sort of gap between Kevin Durant and LeBron James that survey generated when you remember that Dwyane Wade has missed 28 of Miami's 80 games.

That's only six fewer games than the 34 missed by Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, which is a stat that’s generally regarded as one of the pillars of Durant's MVP case.

But when we ask ourselves which of these two titans had the better overall season, bearing in mind what their anticipated ceilings were individually and how their teams fared in the face of their respective competition and injuries, Durant has the edge.

It's his time, his turn, whether or not you see the edge as slight or pronounced.

He's about to win his fourth scoring title by nearly five points per game ahead of Carmelo Anthony, which would represent the third-largest gap in league history. You're surely already well-acquainted with a stat touting Durant as just the fourth player ever -- after Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan -- to average at least 32 points, seven rebounds and five assists for an entire season. He’s also about to become the first player since Jordan in 1989-90 to average at least 33 points in three successive months with his January/February/March onslaught. And he's the first player since -- who else? -- His Airness in 1991-92 to average 30+ points and shoot at least 50 percent from the floor.

Durant, to be precise, was shooting 50.6 percent from the field, 39.9 percent from 3-point range and 87.3 percent from the line entering Sunday's play, all of which feeds into a gaudy PER reading of 30.2.

I thought for the longest time that LeBron still had a chance to squeeze past Durant at the finish -- after a preposterous surge of his own sandwiched around both sides of All-Star Weekend to remind us all that James had won four of the previous five MVPs -- as long as Miami found a way to swipe the No. 1 seed in the East away from Indiana just before the regular-season buzzer. And that might well still happen.

But I’d argue that the Thunder, while forced to settle for No. 2 in the West thanks to San Antonio’s ruthlessly efficient ensemble cast, have won more than enough to validate Durant’s candidacy, given that OKC not only swept the four-game season series from the Spurs but also brought a halt to San Antonio winning streaks spanning 11 and 19 games.

It also doesn’t hurt that those doing-it-by-committee Spurs don’t really have a viable MVP candidate of their own, isolating KD versus LeBron at the forefront of this race even more.

As for the rest of the five-man MVP ballot …

Surges from Blake Griffin and Joakim Noah after the calendar flipped to 2014 have swayed us like everyone else, which is truthfully somewhat harsh on Indiana’s Paul George, given that the Pacers’ ridiculous 33-7 start gave them an equally valuable cushion on Miami that amazingly still has enough air left to give Indy a shot to finish atop the East entering the final four days of the season.

So the No. 5 spot on our ballot has to stay somewhat flexible. We’re listing the slumping George there for now after Miami’s loss Saturday night in Atlanta gave the Pacers yet another shot to hang onto the home-court advantage for the Eastern Conference finals that they’ve seemed determined for the past month to throw away. But be advised that Golden State’s Steph Curry, Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki, Houston’s James Harden, Phoenix’s Goran Dragic and Charlotte’s Al Jefferson are among the other names waiting to pounce on George’s spot should we feel the need to recalibrate after seeing the final standings Wednesday night.

Stein’s ballot: 1. Kevin Durant; 2. LeBron James; 3. Blake Griffin; 4. Joakim Noah; 5. Paul George

October prediction: James

Most Improved Player of the Year

April, 12, 2014
Goran DragicBrad Penner/USA TODAY SportsNot sure it makes up for his All-Star snub, but the Suns' Goran Dragic is getting our MIP vote.

Most Improved Player: Goran Dragic, Suns

We've been saying this for a while now, but the point is really slammed home when you actually stop to fill out your Most Improved Player ballot:

Just figuring out the most worthy MIP on the Phoenix Suns is an undertaking on its own.

Goran Dragic. Gerald Green. Markieff Morris. Miles Plumlee. Eric Bledsoe, too, if a knee injury hadn't shelved Bledsoe for 30-something games.

You could legitimately have a great MIP debate if you restricted yourself to candidates based exclusively in the desert.

Rest assured, though, that everyone is in play here. The Clippers' DeAndre Jordan, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Indiana's Lance Stephenson, Sacramento's Isaiah Thomas, Oklahoma City's Reggie Jackson ... pretty much everyone you can think of is on the board except top draftees in Year 2 who are blossoming like they're supposed to. Or recent upper-echelon lottery picks you expect to keep improving until they are full-fledged franchise players.

I must admit that Anthony Davis (developing almost too scarily across the board, as Grantland's Zach Lowe recently noted in this comprehensive piece on The Brow, for us to reasonably process) and John Wall (who has drained more than a hundred 3s this season after making just 49 total in his first three seasons combined on 24-percent shooting from deep) both tempted us with their respective breakout seasons to ignore our own MIP bylaws.

However ...

No matter how many other Suns or young All-Stars or additional candidates from non-playoff teams whose production has spiked noticeably you wish to nominate -- such as, say, Jodie Meeks, Alec Burks or Timofey Mozgov -- I'm still going with Dragic over anyone you could propose.

He should have been an All-Star in February. With or without that honor, Dragic became an unquestioned 20-points-per-game guy this season, despite playing less than two minutes per game more than he did last season, when he averaged a mere 14.7 ppg.

And most importantly, even with fellow backcourt mate Bledsoe missing so much time, Dragic has been the driving force, alongside rookie coach Jeff Hornacek, that has stubbornly kept the stripped-down Desert Cinderellas in the hunt for a playoff berth all the way into the final week of the regular season. The Suns have exactly two consensus frontline NBA players when they're at full strength -- Dragic and Bledsoe -- yet entered Saturday's play still mathematically alive for 50 wins when they were supposed to challenge Philadelphia for the league's worst record.

As a bonus: Dragic is one of just two guards in the entire league shooting better than 50 percent from the field. (Miami's Dwyane Wade, who has missed 28 games and doesn't carry the same perimeter burden, is the only other.)

Rewarding The Dragon with the MIP trophy is the least we can do in response.

Stein's ballot: 1. Goran Dragic; 2. DeAndre Jordan; 3. Kyle Lowry
October prediction: Kawhi Leonard

Sixth Man Award

April, 12, 2014
Taj GibsonAP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastTaj Gibson has done his best work late in games to make a Sixth Man Award push.

Sixth Man Award: Taj Gibson, Bulls

Trivia question: Who leads the league in fourth-quarter minutes?

Answer: Chicago's Taj Gibson.

The unforeseen emergence of Gibson as a dependable late-game option offensively, on top of his established mobility and versatility on D, hasn't just rendered former All-Star Carlos Boozer surplus to requirements for Tom Thibodeau.

It's a surprise development that should also enable Gibson to prevail here in the Sixth Man Award race despite being faced with the usual crowded field co-headlined by the affable (and forever flammable) Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio's legendary sixth man Manu Ginobili.

Phoenix's unfairly overlooked Markieff Morris and Dallas' venerable Vince Carter are two more worthy names that deserve more pub than they're getting. Oklahoma City's Reggie Jackson's is in the mix, too.

But Gibson's impact at both ends puts him narrowly ahead of Crawford (who ranks among the league's top five in fourth-quarter scoring despite being derailed late in the season by a strained calf) and Ginobili (who's been getting some bench help of his own from Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills) ... though it must be noted that D.J. Augustin has given Chicago two eye-catchers off the bench.

Stein's ballot: 1. Taj Gibson; 2. Jamal Crawford; 3. Manu Ginobili

October prediction: Klay Thompson

Defensive Player of the Year

April, 12, 2014
Joakim NoahAP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltNoah is going to get some MVP votes thanks to his tireless efforts on D.

Defensive Player of the Year: Joakim Noah, Bulls

As the anchor of the league's most statistically efficient defense, Roy Hibbert established himself as the early DPOY favorite. The award, frankly, was his to lose.

Unfortunately for Hibbert, as with pretty much everything else involving the unraveling Pacers since the All-Star break, Indy's eminently quotable big man looks like he's indeed going to lose out.

My fondness for Hibbert as an interview subject couldn't offset the undeniable fact that Indiana's once-vaunted D has been a culprit in its recent struggles as much as anything. The Pacers entered Friday night's ill-fated showdown with Miami sporting an 8-12 record over the preceding 20 games ... and allowing 8.5 more points per 100 possessions during that span than during their 46-13 start. (With Hibbert himself, for the record, down to 4.7 rebounds per game since the All-Star break.)

Noah, meanwhile, has merely played his way onto countless MVP ballots with his leadership and versatility at both ends. His emergence as a top-flight passer has hogged most of the headlines, but Noah's D -- through Friday's games -- had actually helped Chicago climb to the brink of bumping Indiana out of the lead in the DE standings.

The Frenchman has certainly had some help, with at least two more top-flight defenders at his side in Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau orchestrating it all as one of the league's master string-pullers defensively. But Noah, let's face it, is the total package on D, whether we're talking rebounds, blocked shots, team defense, switching pick-and-rolls, steals, taking charges or keeping point guards out of the lane. He checks every box.

The race for the third spot on the ballot, in case you're curious, was crazy competitive as well, with the likes of Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Marc Gasol, Andrew Bogut, DeAndre Jordan, Serge Ibaka and young Anthony Davis to consider before even getting the perimeter options such as Paul George, Patrick Beverley, Ricky Rubio and a certain LeBron James.

But we ultimately opted for Andre Iguodala there as our No. 3, which reflects the role he's had in joining forces with Bogut and Draymond Green to pitch Golden State into the top five in defensive efficiency ... and how much Iguodala's departure in Denver has contributed to the Nuggets' slide into the 20s.

Stein's ballot: 1. Joakim Noah; 2. Roy Hibbert; 3. Andre Iguodala

October prediction: Dwight Howard

Coach of the Year

April, 12, 2014
Gregg PopovichKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAfter the crushing 2013 Finals, Popovich has led the Spurs to the league's best record.

Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich, Spurs

I don't like myself very much right now.

I'm pretty sure Gregg Popovich won't be too pleased with me, either, since I've made him my COY choice -- at the expense of Desert Cinderellas coach Jeff Hornacek -- for an award Pop doesn't even want to win.

Sorry, Pop. Couldn't help it.

Separating the top COY contenders was as brutal this season as ever, but Pop ultimately proved unignorable after leading the Spurs to the league's best record A) despite the lingering torment from last June's NBA Finals; B) with what was billed as their Last Chance To Make A Run roster for roughly the fifth straight season; and C) doing all that without a single player cracking most experts' MVP ballots, and amazingly while keeping all of his veteran stars' minutes down.

You can't say amazing enough with this guy.

Especially when you take note of all the coaches poised to lose out if Pop sways other voters like he did here.

Hornacek is making a run at 50 wins with a Suns of Anarchy squad that's filled with role players and wasn't supposed to win 25.

Then there's Chicago's Tom Thibodeau, who has the Bulls in pole position for the East's No. 3 seed despite a 12-18 start ... and what should have been morale-crushing early exits for Derrick Rose (knee) and Luol Deng (trade).

Want more?

What about Dwane Casey from the Atlantic Division champion Toronto Raptors?

Brooklyn's Jason Kidd, after all the early criticism, has merely overseen the best season in league history for a team that was at least 10 games under .500 on Dec. 31, as well as a 4-0 season sweep of the Miami Heat.

Charlotte's Steve Clifford, Portland's Terry Stotts and Dallas' Rick Carlisle likewise all got way more out of their teams than anyone expected.

The field is excruciatingly deep, as always, but Pop's season -- to his inevitable disgust -- trumps them all.

Narrowly but unavoidably.

I thought for sure that I'd be voting for Hornacek, since you could also make the case that the Spurs and Bulls do what they do every year, but San Antonio's litany of achievements without any award-winning individual seasons from Spurs players left us with no choice.

Sorry, Pop.

Stein's ballot: 1. Gregg Popovich; 2. Jeff Hornacek; 3. Tom Thibodeau

October prediction: Doc Rivers