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Adam Silver on the State of the NBA

NBA commissioner Adam Silver on the state of the NBA, the Donald Sterling situation, the Game 1 AC issue and more.

Yannis Koutroupis

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver has been a busy man since taking over for the league’s longtime commissioner David Stern, who officially retired in February. They day-to-day operations alone are daunting, but with former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist rants getting leaked to the media and the air conditioning system going out in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Silver has already had to take on two of the biggest issues since the lockout.

In his handling of both matters, Silver has shown everyone that he was the right man to replace Stern. The vast majority may not have been aware of his qualifications beforehand, but so far there’s no questioning that the league is in good hands. In fact, the league has never been in a better place.

“The state of the game has never been better,” Silver said. “We’re enjoying record popularity, that is the game of basketball is enjoying record popularity at all levels, and in fact there is a renaissance going on in this country around this game. Second, the business of the NBA has never been better and we’re incredibly hopeful for a terrific future.”

It wasn’t long ago that NBA owners were complaining about losing money and that franchise values were viewed as being down. However, the recent $2 billion sale of the Clippers proves that NBA teams have never been worth more than they are right now.

“The market is what it is,” Silver said. “I don’t think it’s overinflated in any way and there were several other bidders in addition to Steve Ballmer, as you know for the Clippers, and many came fairly close to the price he ultimately paid. So I have confidence that’s what the market is.”

Ballmer has an agreement in place to become the 100 percent owner of the Clippers, but is likely weeks away from officially being able to take over and put his imprint on the team.

“In terms of our owners approving Steve Ballmer, there are a few steps left in the process, a few additional things he needs to do in his deal with Shelly and Donald Sterling,” Silver said. “And then we have our Advisory Finance Committee, which is our executive committee, still needs to interview him. There is additional vetting that needs to go on. We have a pre-scheduled Board of Governors meeting for mid‑July. So we will either vote at that meeting or possibly if all those steps are completed before then, we will vote earlier than that.

“Donald Sterling still has a pending lawsuit against the league. He sued the league and me individually, based on not only the planned termination hearing but the ban as well as the fine. Now, Shelly Sterling has indemnified us against that lawsuit, and we have been told by Shelly Sterling’s lawyers that she and Donald plan to work out their remaining dispute, but that hasn’t happened yet. I have absolute confidence it will be resolved because as part of the sale agreement with Shelly Sterling, she agreed to indemnify the league against a lawsuit by her husband. So in essence, Donald is suing himself and he knows that. While I understand he is frustrated, I think it’s over. I think it’s just a matter of time now, and then we will move on to better topics and back to the Finals.”

According to recent reports, Donald is holding onto some hope that the punishments levied against him will be reduced or removed all together, but Silver quickly dismissed that possibility.

“There is absolutely no possibility that the lifetime ban will be rescinded or that the fine will be changed in any way,” Silver said.

As for the air conditioning incident in Game 1, which Silver reflected on as “not one of my prouder moments,” Silver is just glad it’s over with.

“I’m glad that this isn’t single elimination; it’s the best of seven,” Silver said. “So it’s too early to say how this Finals will be remembered. My sense is having been involved with the league for a long time, there will be all kinds of great moments that will happen, Game 2 going forward, which will stand out more than the heat in Game 1. I am satisfied that the problem has been resolved. There has been a concert in the building since Game 1. Friday night there was a concert, there was a WNBA game last night that went into double overtime. Air conditioning is obviously running fine in the building now and they’ve taken precautions to ensure something like that doesn’t happen again.

“We learned shortly after the game began, so that was a little bit after 8 p.m. local time. We were told that there was a problem with one of the main circuits that controls the water pumps. We were told the circuit, in essence, the break that triggered, and we were told that they were working on resetting the breaker. In fact, it turned out they tried to reset it several times, and it wasn’t until late in the second quarter that they ultimately determined they could not fix that circuit breaker. We were informed shortly before halftime that they would be unable to fix the air conditioning.

“In hindsight it wasn’t handled perfectly, but they’d never been confronted with that issue before. We in the league office, and not just me as commissioner, but I’ve been with the league office for more than 22 years now, I’d never dealt with a situation like that before. They were consulting with us throughout. We had Rod Thorn of course was here as head of Basketball Operations. I was at the game as well. We were monitoring conditions on the floor, Rod was in constant contact and discussion with the officials, and there was never a point where we were considering either postponing or cancelling the game.”

Here’s a transcription of Silver on a variety of other topics:

What stood out to him in the aftermath of Sterling’s comments:

“You know, what stands out is how the league came together at that moment, from that Saturday in Memphis. I’m very proud of the owners that are in this league, that remain in this league. Glen Taylor, our chairman of the board, who I was in steady contact with. Peter Holt, the owner of the Spurs, who was the former chairman, was helpful to me, and plus we have an Advisory Finance Committee of another seven owners who dealt with this situation. And I’m also proud of the players in this league, the way they stepped up, I thought, as partners of the owners and we worked through this. No sides made threats. We recognized we had a difficult situation we had to deal with, as I’ve said before. Doc Rivers was terrific in the way he led his team. Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento, who happened to be involved already with the Players Association, because he’s leading the search, he did a terrific job. So I would say I’ve never been prouder of the entire NBA family.”

Status of increasing the age limit to enter the NBA Draft:

“I sense there is a little bit of movement. Ron Klempner, who is the executive director of the union, said at a sports forum recently that it was something that the union was willing to discuss and certainly an individual, one‑on‑one conversations I have had with players as I travel around the league, my sense is that they’re willing to discuss it as well. The ongoing issue is that until we have a new executive director of the union, we’re not going to sit down and have any real serious discussions on the topic.”

Take on competitive balance in the league:

“Well, first, we have a Competition Committee [meeting] scheduled for July. I don’t anticipate there will be major changes for next year, because it’s a new process, I’m a new commissioner. We have a long list of issues we want to look at that affect playoff seeding, that affect the lottery, possible play‑in tournaments, other issues that have come up. I think we have to be deliberate about making changes like that. So I don’t anticipate that from July we need to have discussions with the full board as well, so I don’t anticipate anything for next year.

“I am happy with the level of competition in the league. One of the things we sought for in terms of competitive balance was ensuring that every team in the league, regardless of market size, had an opportunity to compete. I think we’re seeing that now under this collective bargaining agreement. All four teams in the Conference Finals are from the bottom half of the league in terms of market size. It’s far from perfect and we didn’t get everything we wanted in the last collective bargaining agreement. I think a hard cap or a harder cap would lead to even more competitive balance, but I’m pleased with what we’ve seen so far.

“Our goal was not to break up teams. We had a transition in which the more harsher luxury tax would be implemented. But ultimately, any type of cap system in essence is a form of player sharing. So, yes, to the extent that James Harden leaves Oklahoma City and the Houston Rockets then become a competitive team, that’s a positive thing for the league. And part of the purpose of a cap system is so you don’t see too much talent aggregated in one market.”

Regrets on potentially overlooking Donald Sterling’s past issues:

“It’s a good question, but I would only say I don’t have any specific regrets. You know, in hindsight should we have done more to investigate Donald? I’m frankly not sure. In this case, I mean, in addition to the fact that this tape in essence was broadcast to the world and so quickly became available to us, in the past these were issues that did not directly impact the NBA. And we’re not the government. He was investigated by the Department of Housing, the Department of Justice. There were individual lawsuits with him that settled out. So I was at the league during that time, and when we monitored those events, at least it felt at that time that we were doing the appropriate thing. It’s a fair point that in hindsight possibly we should have done more. Certainly if I had to do it again, maybe we would have done more but our eyes are open going forward.”

Television rights/HGH testing negotiations:

“So on television discussions, as I said before, we’re pleased with our current partners in the Disney Company and Time Warner‑Turner. We have discussions set for next week in Miami and those discussions are ongoing. It’s still my hope that we extend early before we get to the market, but we’ll see. We’ll see how those discussions go.”

“On HGH testing, yes, those discussions are still being held up ‑‑ in part by the fact that we don’t have a new executive director, and we’re also, I think, being held hostage a little bit by the NFL negotiations as well between the league and the union, because ultimately it’s the same lawyers representing the NFL Players’ Association as the NBA Players’ Association.”

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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NBA

ICYMI: Atlantic Division

To kick off our new “ICYMI” series, Basketball Insiders’ Ariel Pacheco breaks down what you might have missed from the Atlantic Division this season.

Ariel Pacheco

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Here at Basketball Insiders, we’re introducing a new series called “ICYMI” where we’ll fill you in on some of the NBA’s biggest storylines that you may have missed, division by division. Today, we’ll focus on the Atlantic Division. 

So far, the Atlantic has been arguably the most competitive division in the league. If the playoffs started today, all five teams in the division would at least make the play-in game. But what’s gotten those teams to that point? Who or what might have flown under the radar? Let’s take a look.

Chris Boucher: Sixth Man Of The Year Candidate

After a cold start to the season, the Toronto Raptors have started to figure it out, winning 5 of their last 7 games. And a huge part of that success has been due to the rise of Chris Boucher.

In just 23.7 minutes per game, he is averaging 14.3 points, 6.6 rebounds to go along with 2.2 blocks per game. He’s also shown touch from beyond the arc, shooting 45.3% from three-point range on almost four attempts a game. On the year, Boucher also has 4 double-doubles.

Boucher has provided a much-needed spark for the Raptors. In fact, while Nick Nurse has been reluctant to do so, many have been clamoring for Boucher to start. Still, as a starter or off the bench, Boucher has done more than enough to mask the loss of both Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. And doing so has placed him squarely in the middle of the Sixth Man of the Year conversation.

Is Immanuel Quickley the Knicks Point Guard Of The Future and Present?

The Knicks entered the season with a conundrum at the point guard position. Former Lottery picks Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina have both disappointed while Elfrid Payton, a proven but flawed NBA rotation player, has only exacerbated the team’s issues, especially their need for spacing.

Enter Immanuel Quickley, a rookie out of Kentucky that has not only shown the ability to shoot, but also defend and facilitate at a high level and has developed a floater game that has become his signature.

There’s no question that Quickley is currently the best point guard on the Knicks’ roster. While his 11 points and 2.6 assists per game might undersell his play, lineups with RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson that feature Quickley have outscored opponents by 20 points, albeit in just 30 total minutes. That same lineup with Payton in Quickley’s place have been outscored by 6 points in 371 minutes. Quickley is simply a better fit.

While the Knicks point guard situation in the last decade has been lousy, the Knicks may not have only found their point guard of the future, but of the present as well. 

Doc Rivers, the Tobias Harris Whisperer

After a disappointing year, Tobias Harris is in the midst of a bounce-back season. This should come as no surprise, however, with Doc Rivers now at the helm. Harris played some of the best basketball of his career as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers with Rivers as his head coach. Now, reunited in Philadelphia, Harris’ play has surged once again.

Harris has been an uber-efficient scoring option for the first place 76ers, averaging 19.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game on a 61.5 true shooting percentage. Rivers, meanwhile, has done an excellent job of putting Harris in the best position to succeed. With Brett Brown, Harris was used more as a floor-spacer and spot-up shooter, something that Harris is certainly capable of — he’s shot 45.8 percent from three-point range this season — but doesn’t exactly suit his game. But, under Rivers, Harris has attacked the basket and has been far more decisive with the ball in his hands. It also helps when Harris is shooting a scorching-hot 45.8 percent from three-point range.

Where other coaches have faltered, Rivers has seemingly unlocked Harris’ ultimate ability and, with the type of player he has shown himself to be, Harris might just be enough to push Philadelphia to a title. He’s certainly got them in the conversation.

Jeff Green’s Role in Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Nets’ trade for James Harden hurt their defense and their depth significantly. They’re betting on sheer star power and their new powerhouse offense to get them far in the playoffs.

They will need role-players to step up and knock down shots, however. Jeff Green has done just that.

Shooting 48.2 percent from three, Green has been playing a bunch of his minutes at center. And, with how the roster is currently constructed, the team may rely on him to play that spot throughout the season. Green, of course, is no stranger to the situation, having played the very same role with the Houston Rockets last season. 

Since the Harden trade, he’s averaging 33 minutes per game. Green has also scored in double figures off the bench in 7 straight games. He’ll continue to play a major role for the Nets as the season goes and, if he can continue to perform at this level, Brooklyn will have someone in the rotation beyond the big-three that they can trust.

Be sure to check back throughout the week as we break down what you may have missed from the other divisions.

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NBA Daily: Khris Middleton Should Be The Bucks’ Closer

Bobby Krivitsky breaks down Khirs Middleton’s season and explains how the Milwaukee Bucks second star has earned more opportunities in crunch time.

Bobby Krivitsky

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For the Milwaukee Bucks, being one of the NBA’s best regular-season teams doesn’t mean much. In each of the last two seasons, the players and their fans have enjoyed this movie’s rising action but, as winning the title is the ultimate goal, left the theatre disappointed.

In order to get that satisfying conclusion, Milwaukee must make some changes. And, to start the 2020-21 season, they’ve tried to do just that. As expected, Mike Budenholzer is more flexible in his approach this season than in year’s past. They’ve reshaped their five-out offense, which now features someone, often Giannis Antetokounmpo, occupying the dunker spot. Those are the two areas just outside the paint along the baseline, where a player can catch the ball, take one or two steps, and dunk.

The Bucks are also pursuing their missed shots far more aggressively than they used to; two seasons ago, Budenholzer’s first at the helm, Milwaukee ranked 26th in offensive rebounding percentage, last year, they ranked 28th. But, through the first 16 games of this season, they’re snatching up 29.2 percent of their misses, good for the sixth-highest percentage league-wide.

Another meaningful difference, arguably the most meaningful, is how the team has allowed Khris Middleton to initiate the offense far more frequently at the end of games. In the final three minutes of games within five points, Middleton’s usage rate has spiked from 30.1 percent in 2019-20 to 40 percent this season.

Once again, Middleton has put together a fantastic season that’s receiving little fanfare. After he averaged a career-high 20.9 points per game last season, he’s improved to 21.8 points through the Bucks’ first 16 games. Middleton is also taking 5.9 three-point attempts per game (knocking them down at a 42.6 percent clip, the second-best mark of his career) and has increased the amount of two-point field goals he’s attempting to 9.8 per contest, making 58 percent of them. 

That combination has produced an effective field goal percentage of 60.2 percent. Additionally, Middleton has shot 92 percent from the foul line on an average of 3.1 free-throw attempts per game, giving him a true-shooting percentage of 63.7 percent. Those shooting percentages mean Middleton has a legitimate chance to join the 50-40-90 club; only eight NBA players have accomplished that feat. Middleton’s also gone from averaging 4.3 assists per game the last two years to dishing out 5.8 dimes this season and has grabbed 6.3 rebounds per game. 

Add it all up and you have a two-time All-Star that ranks fourth in the NBA in offensive win shares, fifth in total win shares and has delivered a compelling opening statement as to why he should make an All-NBA team for the first time in his career.

While it may not seem so noteworthy that one of the best wings in the NBA is off to a hot start, the way Middleton has responded to shouldering more responsibility in crunch time should serve as an ingredient to the elixir that can cure the postseason issues that have plagued them in recent seasons. Out of every player that has made more than one appearance in crunch time, which is defined as the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime of a game within five points, the sharpshooting Middleton is eighth in points per game. He’s also yet to turn the ball over in that span.

 

As the pressure mounts and the clock counts down, Middleton’s approach doesn’t change from how he’s played the game’s previous 43 minutes. Whether he’s attacking off a screen from Antetokounmpo or Brook Lopez, shooting off the catch, or using a jab step to create the necessary space for him to rise and fire, Middleton knocks down his shots with the same ruthless efficiency.

That said, he could stand to be a bit more assertive in the game’s waning moments. Yes, his usage rate has jumped in the fourth quarter, but there have been instances where Middleton has taken a backseat; in Milwaukee’s recent 112-109 win over the Dallas Mavericks, Middleton managed just two shots in the entire fourth quarter, back-to-back threes that turned a two-point deficit into a four-point lead the Bucks never relinquished.

Of course, there’s a balancing act that Budenholzer must work out between Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Jrue Holiday. Late in the game, Budenholzer can’t simply take the ball away from Antetokounmpo, the reigning MVP, and Holiday, a fantastic player in his own right, needs opportunities to have an impact.

But Middleton has done more than enough to show he’s deserving of even more opportunities than what he’s taken for himself this season. And, if the Bucks want to win a title in the near future, it may be in their best interest if Middleton’s the player primarily in charge of initiating their late-game offense.

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NBA Daily: Gordon Hayward Realizing His Potential in Charlotte

No one envisioned Gordon Hayward joining the Charlotte Hornets in free agency. Not many people believed he could return to being an All-Star caliber player. Chad Smith puts the spotlight on Hayward’s resurgent season in Buzz City.

Chad Smith

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Many eyebrows were raised when Gordon Hayward decided to join the Charlotte Hornets this offseason. Most figured a return home to play for the Indiana Pacers was where the next chapter of his career would take place. But, when a potential deal with Indiana fell through, the Hornets became a reality. Maybe it was the lure of playing for Michael Jordan or just the opportunity for a fresh start where he could realize his full potential.

Either way, Hayward has proved himself to be the guy once again.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, Hayward signed a four-year deal with Charlotte for $120 million. At the time, it seemed like a heavy price to pay for a player in his 30’s that has endured so many injuries so recently in his career. Hornets fans went through this in 2019 with Terry Rozier’s sign-and-trade deal from the Boston Celtics for $56.7 million. The move for Charlotte almost felt desperate, like some sort of gamble they were willing to take.

But this signing has been different. Even before their deal, Hayward underwent a minor surgical procedure on his left foot to alleviate some discomfort he dealt with last year; the team was aware and still wanted to move forward with the deal, which speaks volumes as to how they felt about him as a player and how he would recover.

While Rozier was younger and seemed to have a high ceiling, Hayward is an established wing that has been an All-Star and the face of a franchise before. And, as we enter the quarter-mark of the 2020-21 season, it appears as though the team’s gamble has paid off quite nicely. Hayward is looked resurgent, averaging career-high numbers across the board after his injury-plagued stint in Boston.

With the Celtics, Hayward averaged 13.9 points per game, shot 36 percent from behind the arc, and got to the free throw line just 2.7 times per game. So far this season he is averaging more than 24 points per game, which is a career-best. His free throw attempts have nearly doubled and he is knocking down 43 percent of his three-pointers.

Hayward’s minutes have also increased significantly this year. And, in addition to his high percentage shooting, his 21.07 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is a career-best.

The roster crunch at certain positions was a concern heading into the season, but head coach James Borrego has built a solid rotation that has allowed his team to maximize their potential. The Hornets have the ability to play big or go with a smaller lineup should the need arise. In fact, one of the major benefits of having Hayward is the ability to play him at multiple positions; having played alongside Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum in Boston, Hayward is well versed in switching and matching up against both bigger and smaller opponents.

Charlotte’s defense has also been much better this year with Hayward on the floor. They rank in the top ten in terms of opponents scoring and top five in steals. Borrego has used various full-court press coverages, as well as an unusual zone defense in the half-court that eventually turns back into a man-to-man scheme.

Using different lineups, the Hornets have been able to utilize guys like PJ Washington and Miles Bridges who, in turn, have ignited their offense. If LaMelo Ball is not in the game, Charlotte can still play their two smaller guards, Rozier and Devonte’ Graham, with Hayward often serving as the primary ball-handler. With him running the offense, it allows those two to do what they do best: shoot the ball.

As a team, the Hornets aren’t exactly elite offensively. They are strong in certain areas, but they also rank near the bottom of the league in scoring, field goals made, field goal percentage and free throw percentage. In order to win close games, there are times where they need Hayward to just take over — and he’s proven on multiple occasions that he is still more than capable of doing just that. Hayward has actually been on quite a roll lately, scoring the ball at an incredible clip. Two weeks ago he put up 34 points in a blowout of the New York Knicks. Later, he had another 34-point performance against the Chicago Bulls. He also scored 39 points, including the game-winning layup, against the Orlando Magic. His season-high came earlier in the month where he posted 44 points in a victory against the Atlanta Hawks.

The individual scoring by Hayward has been impressive, but it hasn’t hampered their offensive rhythm at all. In fact, the Hornets currently average 28.3 assists per game, which is the best in the league.

It hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows in Buzz City. The success on the court hasn’t necessarily translated to winning. After 17 games, their 7-10 record has them sitting in 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings. And, looking at their upcoming schedule, there could be some more bumps in the road.

Charlotte’s next two games are against the aforementioned Pacers. Later, the Hornets will host the Milwaukee Bucks and then head south to face the Miami HEAT, who should have their key pieces back on the floor. After that, they will have to face the Philadelphia 76ers, who own the best record in the conference. Following that game is a matchup with the red-hot Utah Jazz, who have won nine games in a row. Withstanding that rough stretch will be pivotal for this team, as they have now lost four of their last five games. These Hornets are a young group, but Hayward’s experience and the return of fellow Indiana-native Cody Zeller should allow them to win some of those games. Their season just might depend on it.

The Hornets are a fun team to watch. The jaw-dropping passes from Ball and the ridiculous highlight dunks by Bridges are must-see television, but their leader is proving he is worth every penny. Sure, Hayward has the massive contract, but he also has earned the opportunity to be a franchise player once again.

He isn’t the same All-Star player that he was in Utah. This version of Hayward is even better.

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