TSN's Jack Armstrong offers his thoughts on Thunder GM Sam Presti, The Eastern and Western Conference finals, the firing of Vinny Del Negro in Los Angeles and Mike Krzyzewski returning to Team USA.
1. Sam Presti (Thunder GM): As I watch the first two games of the Memphis-San Antonio series, I keep telling myself that neither team is better than the Thunder if James Harden is still there this season, even if Russell Westbrook is injured for the Playoffs.
The Thunder would win the West with Durant and Harden in my opinion. Look at Thursday's announcement of the All NBA Teams, Kevin Durant along with Westbrook and Harden were selected to the Teams.
OKC has three of the top 15 players in the league. As a GM, you to hold onto them as LONG as you possibly can and if you need to do a salary dump for luxury tax/cap purposes you do it after you give this thing as much of a chance to win a title. You owe it to your fans. With all due respect to Kevin Martin, he isn't even close to James Harden and we saw it in the Memphis series.
Martin is a nice player but not a difference maker. Harden was a restricted free agent at the end of this season. The Thunder should have played it out for this season and maybe even another year/two to give themselves more time to win it. Instead they jump the gun and miss an opportunity. Has the window shut in OKC? No way, but when I look at a guy like Kendrick Perkins I shake my head because he looks like a guy that's aged a bunch in the past 18 months.
You don't get many chances in a market like OKC, so you must capitalize. Sometimes folks 'Over-Think' issues, which I think Presti did.
2. Memphis vs. San Antonio: The Grizzlies have to win four of the next five games to get to the NBA Finals, and I think they can do it. Will they? Not likely but it wouldn't shock me.
I look at the Grizzlies and the whole key is going to be taking care of the ball and slowing the pace of play down considerably. Memphis needs to get into the power-game mode with points in the paint and rebound differential. The Spurs are one of those team that if you can take away transition and guard the three-point line you give yourself a chance.
The Mike Conley-Tony Parker match-up will still prove to be a huge factor. The Grizzlies must keep Parker out of the lane and Conley needs to play at the elite level we've seen from him in the past few months. It's do-able yet not going to be easy.
3. Pacers vs. Heat: Paul George was brilliant late in Game 1 and gave his team chances to win, yet in the defining moment he allowed LeBron James an easy look. I would like to have seen George play sound and make James shoot a contested Jumper. I'm sure coach Frank Vogel didn't sleep well last night having his 'rim protector' Roy Hibbert on the bench with him. Was it a mistake? I say yes.
You always make a team beat you on the perimeter with a hand in the face. You can't allow an opponent to have a easy shot in the heart of your defense at crunch time. I know match-ups were a concern yet the Heat needed to know by Hibbert's presence that you're dictating to them the type of shot they're going to have to take.
Indy looks like they can play with the Heat and they believe they can yet a loss like that is the defining moment. Either the Pacers get by it and prove that they're truly better or that loss will crush them.
4. Vinny Del Negro (Clippers): He sets a franchise record in wins and loses his Job. The NBA is a great business ain't it? You've got to win in the playoffs.
This is the best available job (Brooklyn Nets are the second best) in the NBA right now. The Coach they hire will surely be a guy that will pass Chris Paul's inspection. The Clippers must hold on to Paul in free agency.
This hire will set the stage for whether Paul sticks around and if they can take that next step as a franchise. This is a defining moment.
5. Mike Krzyzewski (Duke & Team USA): Stick with what works. Back for the 2016 Olympics. If you're USA GM, Jerry Colangelo you do everything in your power to convince him that he needs to give you one more run. Mission accomplished.
'Coach K' has amazing leadership, coaching and most importantly, people skills. He 'get's it". Players respect him and play hard for him. Only truly talented coaches can lead the best and get the most out of them. He does it beautifully.