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2017 Free Agent Rankings: Power Forwards

Which potential free agent power forwards could make the biggest splash this summer? Benny Nadeau examines.

Benny Nadeau

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The playoffs are getting closer and closer with each passing game, but what if you have no skin in this postseason? For those of you that are already looking forward to the typically wild free agency period in July, Basketball Insiders has been taking a look at the players that could potentially move this summer. Now more than halfway through the series, up next are the pending power forwards — a group of talented players that could shape the NBA landscape with a single signing.

First off, should the Los Angeles Clippers be worried about Blake Griffin? Will the Atlanta Hawks fork over the cash to keep Paul Millsap? If a team is strapped for cap space, what low-cost, high-impact free agents exist at this position? Separated into ranked tiers, here’s how the power forward dominos could fall in free agency.

Tier 1: Top Shelf Starters

1. Blake Griffin — Early Termination

For a player that once looked well on his way to becoming the next darling of the league, there’s been little hubbub about his potential unrestricted free agency this summer. Griffin (along with point guard Chris Paul) has the ability to terminate the final year of his contract, and the former All-Star would have plenty of suitors. While the last few seasons haven’t gone swimmingly for the high-flyer, Griffin is still just 28 years old and sports a nice average of 21.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.

Griffin is a five-time All-Star and a great fit next to DeAndre Jordan, the rebounding machine he helped re-sign to a hefty deal back in 2015, but the Clippers have never made it past the second round with this core. In recent years, Griffin has attempted to expand his range and has made a career-high in three-pointers with 26 in 2016-17, making them at a 32.9 percent clip.

Ultimately, if Griffin ends his deal early, he’ll likely just re-sign with the Clippers again. Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler was told as much around the trade deadline. But with Paul potentially hitting UFA with sharpshooter J.J. Redick as well, there are plenty of decisions to be made this summer in Los Angeles.

2. Paul Millsap — Player Option

If Griffin truly is off the market, that would make Paul Millsap the crown jewel of potential power forward free agents. Millsap has a Player Option worth $21.4 million heading into the final year of his contract, but with the Atlanta Hawks trending backward without Al Horford, could he look to greener pastures? Reports have indicated he might. Of course, Millsap was a hot topic around trade deadline season following Kyle Korver’s move to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the Hawks stood firm on their power forward.

If he opts out, the Hawks will certainly look to retain the talents of Millsap alongside the lengthy deals of Dennis Schröder, Kent Bazemore and Dwight Howard. Millsap is a defensively stout power forward that contributes in all major statistical categories, averaging 3.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 1 block and 1 three-pointer per game this season. At 32, this may be Millsap’s final opportunity to lock down a major deal with a contender, so if he reaches unrestricted free agency, the do-it-all big man will be a much-desired commodity in July.

Tier 2: Serviceable Starters

3. Serge Ibaka — Unrestricted Free Agent

Now, here’s where things get interesting.

Serge Ibaka was set to become one of the trade deadline’s most sought-after players, but after the shot-blocking power forward wouldn’t commit long term to any of his suitors, the market cooled considerably. At 27, Ibaka would still be a major addition to any franchise this summer as the first truly unattached player on this list.

Although his blocks per game averages have been trending down since his unreal mark of 3.7 in 2011-12, Ibaka is still one of the league’s premier rim protectors. He’s still trying to find his way in a post-Thunder world without Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to set him up with easy looks, but his numbers over the past year with Oklahoma City, Orlando and Toronto look nearly identical.

Ibaka relies on his athleticism to impact basketball games, but you can likely count on him to contribute about 14 points, 6 rebounds and a block per game for the next couple seasons. For teams out there looking to capitalize on a shrinking window like the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls, adding a defensive game-changer like Ibaka could be interesting.

4. Taj Gibson — Unrestricted Free Agent

By all accounts, Taj Gibson has been a consistent contributor since the Bulls drafted him in 2009. He doesn’t fit the prototypical mold of the new age deep-shooting big man, but Gibson’s skill set would be a helpful addition to most teams. Before he was traded to the Thunder at the deadline, he was averaging 11.6 points, 7 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game, a line more or less near his averages since 2013-14.

As a post player, he’s about as old-school as they come: hard-nosed and gritty with a soft touch around the hoop, but he was never more than a supporting piece in Chicago. After Carlos Boozer moved on from the franchise in 2014, Gibson was the natural replacement but the Bulls opted to bring in Pau Gasol for a one-year trial. Alongside Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, Gibson was always a contributor, but he never quite made the next big jump. Ironically, he may be the perfect lower-cost answer to losing Ibaka for the Thunder. For contending teams in need of some steady defense and scoring — Gibson was the runner-up for Sixth Man of the Year in 2013-14  — the former Trojan makes sense.

5. Dirk Nowitzki — Team Option

After reaching the 30,000 point plateau with the Dallas Mavericks, the chances of these two sides splitting at this point are next to nothing. Much like Tim Duncan’s tenure with the San Antonio Spurs, Nowitzki has little reason to ring chase and leave the organization after 19 years. It’s possible that Nowitzki could provide the Mavericks with a more team-friendly deal should the franchise find a max-worthy player to chase, although he’d been giving Dallas a hometown discount for many years before this last $25 million contract.

Injuries have slowed down the smooth shooting German as of late and, as a result, Nowitzki is averaging just 14.5 points per game this season, his lowest mark since his rookie year in 1998-99. Either way, an NBA landscape without Nowitzki on the Mavericks is nearly implausible, so don’t expect the best European player of all-time to swap jerseys at this point in his first ballot Hall of Fame career.

Tier 3: Quality Reserves

6. Zach Randolph — Unrestricted Free Agent

It’s hard to believe that Zach Randolph has already been with Memphis Grizzlies for eight seasons, cast away by both the Knicks and Clippers way back in 2008-09. Since then, he’s helped lead the Grizzlies to their best finishes in franchise history alongside Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. However, now that he’s made the ever-graceful transition to sixth man, could Randolph explore new possibilities this summer?

He’ll be 36 years old by the time the next NBA season rolls around, so this veteran won’t likely require a large chunk of a team’s cap space. Unfortunately, this Grizzlies team has only reached the Conference Finals once and that was back in 2012-13. With an excellent career beginning to wind down, Randolph could prefer to join a team that’s better suited for a deep playoff run.

This season, Randolph has averaged 14 points and 8.2 rebounds off the bench and is well in the running for Sixth Man of the Year.

7. Ersan Ilyasova — Unrestricted Free Agent

Ersan Ilyasova’s surprisingly strong season with the Philadelphia 76ers may just parlay itself into a pretty good payday this summer. The Turkish 29-year-old has never lit the NBA on fire, but over his nine-year career, Ilyasova has carved out quite the niche for himself. He’ll never anchor a defense and he’s as streaky a shooter as they come, but as a consistent scorer, Ilyasova gets it done.

This season alone, Ilyasova is averaging 13.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game and has scored 20 points or more on 13 different occasions— topped off by a spectacular 31-point, 11-rebound effort against the Bulls in late January. Ilyasova is in the final year of an $8.4 million deal that he signed back in 2012. Since then, he’s played for the Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers and now the Atlanta Hawks — so wherever he lands this summer, he’ll hope to stick around a bit longer this time.

8. Amir Johnson — Unrestricted Free Agent

Amir Johnson has never been the type of player to stuff the stat sheet and, in fact, he’s only ever averaged more than 10 points per game twice in his long career dating back to 2005. As one of the few remaining players that made the jump right from high school to the NBA, Johnson has been a consistently healthy, productive member of playoff-bound basketball teams. You’ll hardly hear his name in a conversation about this great Boston Celtics team, but Johnson has started for them in 67 games next to Al Horford, two steady defensive forces on a roster full of them.

He’s a career 57.3 percent shooter from the floor and has blocked 0.95 shots per game over his two years with Boston. Even better, his injury history is stellar and, by season’s end, Johnson will have started in 70 or more games for the fourth straight year. Johnson won’t revolutionize a franchise this summer, but he’ll be a cheap, flexible and healthy piece that many championship-ready teams will look to recruit.

9. Patrick Patterson — Unrestricted Free Agent

Patrick Patterson’s name doesn’t pop out on the box score very often, but he’s become a fan-favorite in Toronto thanks to his timely three-point shooting. After bouncing around with the Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings, Patterson has found a home with the Raptors and is now a key cog in head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation.

Patterson nearly has more games with two or more three-pointers (25) than not (29) this season and is the perfect second unit big man for the Raptors. Although his minutes have dropped since the arrival of Tucker and Ibaka, Patterson helps complete one of the league’s deepest rosters.

The Raptors will have bigger fish to fry with Kyle Lowry’s early termination clause and Ibaka’s impending free agency in play, but they’d be remiss to forget about the team’s third-best three-point shooter.

10. James Johnson — Unrestricted Free Agent

James Johnson has been hanging around since 2009, but it seems like this year has finally brought his permanent arrival. From being the HEAT’s do-it-all glue guy to getting named on Zach Lowe of ESPN’s 2017 Luke Walton All-Stars, this has truly been his moment of glory. With Justise Winslow shelved since January, Johnson has helped fill the void on one of the NBA’s hottest teams. There’s no telling what kind of market will be out there for a 30-year-old journeyman finally making his big jump in the NBA, but he’ll have plenty of options soon enough.

11. JaMychal Green — Restricted Free Agent

JaMychal Green is the man that unseated the aforementioned Randolph as the Grizzlies’ starting power forward and there’s a good reason for that. Surrounded by plenty of firepower, Green often sticks with what he knows best, averaging 9.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, both career-highs, and shooting 54.6 percent from the floor.

The Grizzlies’ Grind-and-Grind mantra makes them a must-watch during the postseason and this year it’s in part thanks to Green. Even head coach David Fizdale has bought into the hype, suggesting that Green has what it takes to be a future first team all-defender.

Green is one of the few restricted free agents on the list, but one must wonder what Memphis will be willing to match after giving out huge contracts to Conley and Gasol in back-to-back summers.

12. Nikola Mirotic — Restricted Free Agent

Nikola Mirotic is another interesting power forward set to hit the restricted free agent market, but a split between the sharpshooter and the Bulls could reasonably come to fruition here. After a solid 2015-16 campaign saw Mirotic improve nominally on his numbers — 11.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2 three-pointers per game — he’s bounced around head coach Fred Hoiberg’s rotation all season.

The former Spanish League MVP is one of best shooters on one of the NBA’s worst shooting franchises — Chicago ranks dead last in three-pointers made per game at 7.2 — so the Bulls could do much worse by looking for a replacement. This one may boil down to whether or not Hoiberg survives the hot seat again in the Windy City.

13. Terrence Jones — Unrestricted Free Agent

Terrence Jones might rank higher on this list if it were not for the strange inaction by many franchises when he hit the waiver wire last month. Jones was averaging 11.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game with the New Orleans Pelicans, and, at the age of 25, has loads of basketball ahead of him.

And yet, nobody touched Jones, not even the talent-hungry Brooklyn Nets or Philadelphia 76ers. After he cleared waivers, the Bucks eventually signed him for the remainder of the season on March 2, but he’s played just two minutes in one game. If he doesn’t end up cracking the Bucks’ playoff rotation, he’ll hope that his solid work in New Orleans will net him a fresh start and a new contract.

14. Richaun Holmes — Non-Guaranteed

Richaun Holmes was an infrequently used forward toiling away behind the 76ers’ massive frontcourt logjam for much of the season. But with Nerlens Noel in Dallas, Joel Embiid in the trainer’s room and head coach Brett Brown in full-on evaluation mode, Holmes’ minutes have greatly increased following the All-Star Break.

The early returns have been fantastic as the hard-working Holmes will have likely saved himself and his non-guaranteed contract for another season. He won’t beat out Embiid as the future starter, no, but after watching him drop 24 points and 14 rebounds on the Orlando Magic this week, the rest of the league should take notice.

Tier 4: The rest

The power forward scraps range from journeyman to old-school veterans looking for one more playoff run. Some notable names include David West (UFA) and David Lee (PO), two former San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors rotation pieces near the end of their careers. Nick Collison, who has only played in 15 games with the Thunder this season, will also be an unrestricted free agent — but he’s been with Seattle/Oklahoma City since 2004.

Elsewhere, there should be interest in Jared Sullinger after he was waived following the Raptors’ deadline deals for Tucker and Ibaka — but, surprisingly, he hasn’t drawn much attention thus far. Josh McRoberts’ stint as a Miami HEAT player has been underwhelming thanks to injury, but he’s a great passer for his size and could latch onto a playoff bound roster if he waives his option.

And, last but not least, Derrick Williams, the former No. 2 overall pick will rejoin the free market after a couple of solid seasons with the Knicks, HEAT and now the Cavaliers. After bouncing around the league since he was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2011, he’ll hope to parlay a strong run with the defending champs into another guaranteed contract.

Non-Guaranteed: Anthony Tolliver, Sacramento Kings; Quincy Acy, Brooklyn Nets; Kevin Seraphin, Indiana Pacers; Tarik Black, Los Angeles Lakers; Ryan Kelly, Atlanta Hawks; Johnny O’Bryant, Charlotte Hornets; Jordan Mickey, Boston Celtics; Maurice Ndour, New York Knicks

Unrestricted Free Agents: Brandon Bass, Los Angeles Clippers; Mike Muscala, Atlanta Hawks; Kris Humphries, Atlanta Hawks; Thomas Robinson, Los Angeles Lakers; Udonis Haslem, Miami HEAT

Restricted Free Agents: Joffrey Lauvergne, Chicago Bulls; James McAdoo, Golden State Warriors

Team Option: Lavoy Allen, Indiana Pacers

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NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise

The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.

Moke Hamilton

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He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.

He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.

Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.

The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.

“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.

“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.

So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.

As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.

In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.

But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.

So is Porzingis.

Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.

In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.

Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.

And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.

“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.

“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”

Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.

Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.

The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.

So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.

Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.

If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.

So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.

Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.

To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.

When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.

He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.

And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.

With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word. 

It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.

For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.

In this town, that’s more than half the battle.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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