There was a time when messages were sent through the media before playoff series began, either to set a tone with the opponent or with the referees. Phil Jackson goes back to that era, which David Stern acknowledged last week when he threatened to raise fines and even hand down suspensions to quell such practices.

"Because of the pressure cooker that is the NBA playoffs, over the years I've let it go," Stern said in a media address in Oklahoma City.

In the 1990s, when Jackson coached the Bulls and Pat Riley coached the Knicks, the two often engaged in verbal tête-à-têtes. And Jeff Van Gundy picked up where Riley left off.

Said Stern: "When you hear the Chicago coach say, 'Oh, this game was lost because the NBA wants an extra game' and you hear a New York coach say, 'Well, you know, what are you gonna do? Jordan gets all the calls.' It sounds like a lot of fun, etc." But to Stern it's detrimental to the game because it incites unnecessary - and often misguided - criticism of the officiating and promotes the idea that there are hidden agendas within the league.

Recall that Stern slapped Rockets coach Van Gundy with a $100,000 fine in May 2005 when Van Gundy said he was told by a referee that the officials working his playoff series against Dallas were scrutinizing Yao Ming because after Houston took a 2-0 lead in the series, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had been complaining.

And all of this kind of talk perpetuates the belief that disgraced referee Tim Donaghy did not act alone.

Stern said he wished he had zipped people like Jackson and Riley a lot sooner so it wouldn't have gotten to this point.

"I would stop it, and the price wouldn't be a modest $35,000 fine," Stern said, referring to the fines he has handed out so far in the first round to Jackson and Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, along with Magic forward Matt Barnes and Celtics center Rasheed Wallace. "It would be whatever a day's pay is and then two days' pay and then a week's pay. And if someone wants to try me in the rest of this playoffs, you know, make my day."

Jackson, who before the Lakers' series with Oklahoma City suggested that Kevin Durant gets the benefit of whistles, dismissed his own comments as "gamesmanship" and blamed the media (of course) for being "naive." As if reporters are to blame for quoting him so accurately.

No, Jackson, like many coaches, knows how to use the media as a tool to send messages to players, sometimes management and, naturally, to referees.

Let us let you in on a secret: Refs read newspapers.Perhaps Stern might consider sequestering the referees like a jury, but Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, as much of a straight talker as there is in this league, has a better idea.

"It's probably best if we can all find a way to just shut up and move on," Popovich told reporters in San Antonio. "It would be better for everybody."

Thunder strike in free agency?

Oklahoma City is the envy of the NBA, with a budding superstar in Kevin Durant, a Coach of the Year winner in Scott Brooks and a young, extremely athletic team in a very supportive small market. With about $15 million in salary-cap space to spend this summer, general manager Sam Presti could look to accelerate the growth of his dynamic group - and put a scare into the aging Western Conference teams - by adding a big-ticket free agent.

But would one of the top-shelf free agents want to go to a minuscule, nontraditional market such as Oklahoma City?

Perhaps Chris Bosh, a native Texan who already has experienced life in Toronto, might consider the move. Oklahoma City doesn't have enough space to make a full max offer to Bosh but has plenty of assets to offer the Raptors in a sign-and-trade (rugged Nick Collison, Jeff Green, cap space, two first-rounders this year, etc.).

The Knicks could offer David Lee in a sign-and-trade scenario for Bosh, but they'd still have to add another high-end talent for him to agree. With Durant, the Thunder already has one on the roster.

The big B-Easy

With an eye on bringing in an All-Star big man to complement Dwyane Wade, the Heat will be making some major renovations to the existing roster. As's Chris Sheridan reported, Miami will be very open to moving enigmatic second-year forward Michael Beasley.

The Heat believes it can attract Chris Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer with a max contract, which it has the room for if it signs Wade to an extension. If Miami were to trade Beasley ($4.96 million next season), it would open up more space to add other players and give respected veteran Udonis Haslem, whose minutes have been impacted by Beasley's presence, a reason to re-sign.

Beasley was the No. 2 pick in the 2009 draft but has frustrated the Heat (mainly Wade) with his lack of maturity and focus, especially on defense (thus the nickname "B-Easy"). The athletic 6-10 forward has the potential to be a dominant force as a scorer and rebounder. With cap space to use, the Knicks could be a team that makes an inquiry, especially if the likes of Bosh and Stoudemire are unavailable to them.

The Big Not So Easy

The Hornets reportedly already have been in contact with candidates to fill their coaching vacancy, which reopened after general manager Jeff Bower resumed his front-office duties after the season ended. Jeff Van Gundy, Avery Johnson and Doug Collins are high on the list. Team president Hugh Weber told New Orleans reporters that the team is "willing to pay top dollar for a new coach."

It would help if the franchise paid top dollar for better talent around All-Star Chris Paul while he still is in his prime (and before he considers free agency in 2012). But there are a lot of financial issues surrounding the team right now - some that might even have coach candidates hesitant to sign on despite the desire to work with Paul - and none more concerning than the reportedly stalled negotiations to transfer majority ownership from George Shinn to Gary Chouest. Shinn is said to be considering other offers.

IDA board mandate … Dem primaries start Saturday … FeedMe: Outdoor dining Credit: Newsday

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