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NBA AM: Does the NBA Really Need Parity?

The Warriors and Cavaliers have been truly dominant. Is that a bad thing? Cody Taylor discusses.

Cody Taylor

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Ask any basketball fan about the NBA playoffs this year and it likely won’t take long before they mention how lopsided most of the games have been.

There have been far too many blowouts to this point, and the Golden State Warriors are on the verge of becoming the first team in NBA history to turn in a perfect 16-0 playoff record. It’s astonishing to think that even some the game’s most iconic players were unable to accomplish such a feat.

While Michael Jordan finished his basketball resume with a perfect 6-0 record in NBA Finals matchups, his teams still suffered defeat at least a couple of times. And continue down the list of all-time greats, there will be at least one loss mixed in somewhere.

The subject of parity in the NBA has come front and center, with many debating the topic each day. Watching the Warriors dismantle the Western Conference—and now the Eastern Conference in the Finals—has caused many to wonder just how much competitive balance there is currently in the league.

It’s even more concerning that the Cleveland Cavaliers completely blew through the East after arriving at the Finals with a 12-1 record, and are now just one loss away from being swept. Of course, the Cavaliers have not yet been mathematically eliminated, but it seems all but certain the Warriors will win their second championship in three years.

As much as the subject of parity has been discussed in recent weeks, the lopsided play still hasn’t resulted in a drop in ratings. In fact, the early returns on this year’s NBA Finals series indicate it has been a completely opposite result.

It was announced on Thursday that the 2017 NBA Finals are the most-watched Finals since 1998 through three games, according to Nielsen. The series is averaging a total live audience of 19,984,000 viewers, which is up 11 percent from 2016.

As most fans were finally relieved to witness the closest game of the series on Wednesday night, it became the most-watched Game 3 on ABC after drawing 20.5 million viewers, an increase of 22 percent from last year. Despite much criticism from fans and everyone alike, the league has not experienced a downfall in viewership.

For the past three seasons, many have questioned if a third-straight Finals with the Warriors and Cavaliers is good for the NBA. Based on this year’s ratings, it appears as though the rubber match between the teams is a great thing for the league. At the end of the day, the NBA is a business and wants to have its biggest stars on the game’s biggest stage.

With the Warriors and Cavaliers in the Finals, the league has just that. On one side, there is Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, while LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are on the other. Would the viewership still be the same if the San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics had made the Finals instead?

Maybe not.

Between the two teams, they also feature some of the most polarizing players in the game, as well. Some will likely even tune in to root against Curry, Durant, Green or James. It even became a spectacle in last year’s Finals when the Cavaliers began to mount their series comeback down 3-1.

Both of these teams have come under fire this season due to the makeup of their rosters. By having so many All-Stars on one team, the idea of having these star-studded teams has come into question. Durant was even asked prior to the Finals if he was to blame for the lack of parity in the league by choosing to sign with the Warriors.

The idea of a super team was not just created this season. It wasn’t created last season or even the season before that. Teams have been putting these rosters together for years. Remember when Karl Malone and Gary Payton joined Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant with the Los Angeles Lakers? How about when the Lakers had Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy?

Those are just the successful super teams that have been formed. There have been far too many others that have failed (See: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard). It seems a bit unfair to criticize Durant and the Warriors for joining together (or even James in Cleveland or Miami) when the league has seen this happen countless times before.

The league is trending toward having multiple All-Stars on one team. Teams recognize that’s what it’s going to take in order to have a chance to compete for a championship. As the Warriors and Cavaliers dominate the super team conversation now, the next super team could be built this summer.

Can the Boston Celtics attract a player like Gordon Hayward in free agency? Would they be open to trading for a player like Paul George or Jimmy Butler? The next super team could very well be upon us and it won’t take long for the next one to form after that.

While it’s easy to sit back and say that it’s getting old watching the same teams in the playoffs, the ratings indicate otherwise. The last time the ratings were this high, Michael Jordan was still playing. For a league seemingly still trying to move on from Jordan, they are doing a pretty good job at it.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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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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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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