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NBA AM: Pre Free Agency Message to Gordon Hayward

Gordon Hayward is headed to free agency with plenty of options. But the best is to stay put.

Lang Greene

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This is a pre free agency message for Utah Jazz All-Star forward Gordon Hayward. Please see this as a note. The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence.

As the Golden State Warriors continue to run roughshod through the NBA playoffs and head into Cleveland with a commanding 2-0 Finals lead, the narrative has slowly transitioned to how dominant the team is and whether or not they are the greatest roster to ever be assembled. This is the topic dominating sports talk radio. Vegas odds makers have joined the fray and are releasing spreads that favor the 2016-17 Warriors over historical units that have actually won titles.

This is where we are, and the Warriors haven’t even won a game on the Cavaliers’ home court.

Lots of the talk, of course, is coming from a die-hard fan base and a media full of hyperbole. To some degree, we are all prisoners of the moment. The Warriors are indeed a phenomenal team. These Warriors are absolutely one of the best-constructed teams in recent memory and arguably league history.

But no matter how great the team, competition ultimately balances things out. This is, after all, sports at the highest level. Pride, ego and heart won’t allow guys to roll over and play dead for the Warriors over a long period of time.

There will be obstacles and challenges to overcome—no matter the situation, no matter the circumstance. The 72-win Bulls team from 1996 was pushed to six games in the NBA finals. The 73-win Golden State Warriors team from last season lost in the Finals in seven games after holding a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 series lead.

Competition.

If you listen to all the talking heads right now, it’s as if all other teams in NBA will just roll over and not complete. This is simply not the case. All periods of dominance will ultimately be met with a period of rebellion. Empires fall. No matter the sport, competition eventually steps up to the plate. Sometimes the competition comes from unlikely sources.

Case in point.

When LeBron James was a member of the Miami HEAT, one of his biggest nemeses in the playoffs during that four-year stretch was arguably the overachieving Indiana Pacers. The young upstart Pacers team gave Miami absolute fits every time they met up in the playoffs. The games were competitive, intense and filled with drama. While the Pacers were unable to unseat the HEAT during this time span, their ability to compete proved that all great teams have their own set of flaws.

Eventually, the Warriors will run into a team that matches up well against them, that will drive them batty and cause frustration. This is where we transition this back to Hayward; the Jazz could be the thorn in the Warriors’ side over the next few years.

This is where we transition this back to Hayward; the Jazz could be the thorn in the Warriors’ side over the next few years.

There are a lot of similarities between the early decade Pacers and the current Jazz roster. For starters, look at the point guard position, which is manned by the same floor general: George Hill. The veteran was a member of the Pacers unit that gave Miami the chills in those dramatic playoff series and although Golden State swept Utah out of the playoffs this season, it is important to note that Hill was unavailable due to injury.

Moving on, those Pacers teams also featured a strong frontcourt with Roy Hibbert playing at an All-Star level at center and a power forward with an All-Star game at power forward in David West. Does this sound familiar? The Jazz features a certified Defensive Player of the Year candidate at center in Rudy Gobert and, if fully healthy, power forward Derrick Favors possesses All Star level talent,  similar to an in-prime David West.

On the wing, the Pacers had a rising star in forward Paul George with the ability to put up 25 points on any given night and just barely scratching the surface of his potential. Does this sound familiar to you? This is where Hayward fits into the equation. Hayward proved throughout his playoff career that he’s not going to shy away from big moments. On the bench, the Pacers team had a young Frank Vogel who was held in high regard and the Jazz have an up and coming sideline general in Quin Snyder.

Indiana featured depth on the wings to guard James with players like George and Lance Stephenson. The Jazz have depth on the wings with guys such as Rodney Hood, Alec Burks and Dante Exum.

Make no mistake, trying to wrestle supremacy away from a team like the Warriors is not going to be an easy task, and we are not implying that the current iteration of this Jazz team is going to be the chosen ones to do it. But in the sake of competition, from a purely basketball standpoint, Hayward is in a great position to compete, year-in and year-out in the West. Sure, Hayward can go out East and land on a team like Boston. There is some familiarity there with Brad Stevens, his college coach, sitting on the bench. But in Boston, he arguably goes from the number one option to the number two behind All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas.

The grass isn’t Greener from a legacy standpoint either. Sure, the current talking point is how Durant might be sparking a wave of guys that want to pick their own situations – especially if it results in a fast track to the championship. It’s understandable given the Warriors’ current success, however, guys have been doing this for a long time and it has always been a mixed bag. Just take a look at the career trajectory of guys that opted to take their respective talents elsewhere in free agency: San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge, New York’s Carmelo Anthony and Chicago’s Dwyane Wade immediately come to mind with situations that clearly haven’t panned out. For additional examples, you can look at the career trajectory of guys like Deron Williams and Dwight Howard after forcing trades to new situations that were seemingly “better” for title aspirations.

As a free agent to be, Hayward has a right to take his talent anywhere he should choose. Hayward earned this decision to make next month by giving his service, his blood, sweat and tears to the Utah Jazz and developing into a homegrown All-Star level talent.

The grass may be greener, but that doesn’t mean it is healthier on the other side of the fence. The Warriors may be an all-time great team, but it doesn’t mean that greatness is never challenged or overcome. It’s the reason why sports is so loved, because of the intense competition from fearless spirits that overcome the odds. Look at Ken Norton and the trouble he gave Muhammad Ali. Look at Iran Barkley and the ruckus he brought to Thomas Hearns every time they scrapped. Look at the frustration levels the upstart Pacers gave the James, Wade and Chris Bosh led Miami Heat.

Sometimes, greatness forces others to become great and the challengers go down in history for putting up and staging the great fight. The Sacramento Kings of the early 2000s will live on because of the challenge they gave the Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant and their Los Angeles Lakers. The Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks squads of the early to mid-90s are constantly talked about to this day for the challenges they gave to the Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.

So while it appears Durant was able to choose the perfect situation in free agency and appears to be coasting his way to a title, just remember there will always be a challenger that desires the crown and is willing to fight for the throne. This is Hayward’s chance to put his nose right in the thick of things in the Western Conference for the foreseeable future… provided he jots his signature on a new deal with Utah in just over a month.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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NBA Daily: Spurs Enter New Territory After Moving Parker To Reserve Role

The San Antonio Spurs are seemingly entering a new phase as Tony Parker has been moved to a reserve role.

James Blancarte

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San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg made a significant change to his rotation earlier this week. On Sunday, January 21 Popovich placed guard Dejounte Murray into the starting lineup in place of Tony Parker. The Spurs went on to lose the game at home to the Indiana Pacers. The result was the same as a losing effort in Friday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto.

The San Antonio Spurs came into the 2017-18 hoping to bounce back from last year’s playoffs where the team suffered injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Parker and eventually lost to the Golden State Warriors. This season started off with the Spurs surviving without Leonard and Parker as the two continued to rehab from lingering injuries. As of now, Leonard is once again taking time off to rehabilitate after playing in nine games while Parker has been able to stay healthy so far. Unfortunately, being healthy enough to play doesn’t make up for the inevitable decline that comes with age and injuries.

On the season, Parker is averaging a career low in minutes (21.6), assists (4.0) and points (8.2), as well as free throws made and attempted per game. His usage rate, player efficiency rating (PER) and shooting percentages are also all at or around career lows. It’s hard to argue against the notion that Parker, at 35 years old with 17 years of pro basketball under his belt, is in the twilight of his impressive career.

Parker has acknowledged his demotion but seems to be handling it like a true professional.

“[Popovich] told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘no problem.’ Just like Manu [Ginobili], just like Pau [Gasol], you know that day is going to come,” Parker said recently. .

Before Sunday’s game, Parker had started 1151 of 1164 games played, all with the Spurs of course.

Popovich was asked specifically if the plan was either to start Murray at point guard moving forward or if this switch in the lineup was a part of some kind of injury management program for Parker. Never known for being overly loquacious, Popovich responded with little detail or insight.

“We’ll see,” Popovich stated.

In the starting lineup, Murray logged eight points, four assists, seven rebounds, three steals and one block in nearly 28 minutes of action. Murray had previously started before Parker returned from injury earlier this season but eventually relinquished that spot to career reserve guard Patty Mills.

Parker also spoke of the benefit of coming off the bench and potentially mentoring Murray’s growth in his new presumed role as the starter.

“If Pop [Coach Popovich] sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best,” Parker said. “I will support Pop’s decision and I will try to help DJ [Murray] as best as I can and try to be the best I can in the second unit with Manu [Ginobili] and Patty [Mills].”

If nothing else, this move will allow the Spurs to see if Parker can be more effective in limited minutes against opposing bench units. Additionally, Parker will hopefully benefit from playing alongside his longtime running mate, Ginobli.

Parker’s willingness to mentor Murray may come as a relief to Spurs fans watching the ongoing dismantling of San Antonio’s former Big-3, which began with the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer, Tim Duncan. At 6-foot-5, Murray benefits from greater size and athleticism than Parker, although Murray failed to keep the starting job when given an opportunity earlier this season. Coach Popovich gave another straightforward answer when asked which areas he thinks Murray can improve in.

“He’s 21-years-old,” Popovich declared. “He can improve in all areas.”

After asking for a trade in the offseason, the Spurs have benefited from focusing their offense around LaMarcus Aldridge, who is having a bounce-back campaign. However, Leonard is now out indefinitely and the Minnesota Timberwolves have now caught the Spurs in the standings. The pressure is on for this resilient Spurs team, which has again managed to beat the odds despite an injured and aging roster.

Parker became a starter for the Spurs at age 19 and never looked back. Now all eyes are on Murray to see how well he performs in his second stint with the starters at a crucial point in the season.

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Sources: Milwaukee Bucks Fire Coach Jason Kidd

Basketball Insiders

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The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd, sources ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Source: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17

Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.

Spencer Davies

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It’s a new year and Basketball Insiders is continuing its Defensive Player of the Year watch with sample sizes widening and new players emerging in the conversation.

There were a couple of names knocked out of the list, but that gives more of a spotlight to those who have really stepped up since our last edition ran on December 29. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

 6. Hassan Whiteside

After missing nearly a month of action with a knee injury, Whiteside has returned with a vengeance. The Miami HEAT were already a good defensive team before he came back, but he’s really bolstered that reputation even further. Since Dec. 26, the 7-foot center has recorded eight multi-block games. In five of those, he had at least four swats, including a six-rejection performance in a win at Milwaukee. Overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus, Whiteside owns by far the best rating at 4.73. “Agent Block” is back and daring all comers to try him.

5. Anthony Davis

Slowly but surely, the New Orleans Pelicans are creeping away from the bottom of the league in defensive rating. Once ranked in the bottom five a few weeks ago, they’ve shot up to 18th in the league (108.4) rather quickly. While that’s not the most impressive statistic to provide, the obvious reason for their improved standing on that end of the floor is Davis. He’s been an absolute workhorse for Alvin Gentry in the restricted area as an elite rim protector, with a heavy responsibility and a ton of minutes. Without him on the floor, the Pels are allowing 8.9 more points per 100 possessions, which puts Davis in the 96th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.

4. Josh Richardson

Notice there are two members of the HEAT on this list. It’s because they are on fire right now, no pun intended, so it’s about time they received some love in the conversation for DPOY. Whiteside was addressed first, but if we’re talking about a greater sample size with consistent evidence, Richardson fits the bill. Opponents are attempting over 11 shots per game against him, yet are only making 38.9 percent of those tries. That’s the lowest conversion rate in the league with a minimum of 10 attempts.

Battling injuries a season ago, Richardson has played in all 46 games for Miami this year. While it’s been a team effort, he is the heart and soul of Erik Spoelstra’s defense, taking on the most difficult assignments each game. For that reason, he deserves long overdue recognition on this list.

3. Kevin Durant

This isn’t a case where Durant is slipping because of his performances. He’s only ranked third this time around because of the job others have done outside of him. The Golden State Warriors are still a juggernaut on both sides of the court. He’s still a top-notch individual defender. The numbers don’t suggest otherwise and the eye test certainly confirms it.

In isolation situations, Durant is allowing only 0.53 points per possession, which is second in the NBA to only Tony Snell. When it comes to crunch time, he’s always locking up. In fourth quarters, he is limiting the competition to shooting less than 30 percent—and his defended field goal percentage and field goal percentage discrepancy is the best in the league at -17.2. He’s got as good of a chance as anybody to take home DPOY.

2. Joel Embiid

Everybody loves to focus on the off-court antics and hilarities that come with Embiid, but the man deserves his due when it comes to his reputation in the NBA as a truly dominant big. The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven out of their last eight games and it has started on the defensive end of the floor.

Take the games against Boston, for example. Al Horford is a crucial part of the Celtics offense and has had problems getting going against the 23-year-old. In the 22 minutes per game, he’s been on the floor along with him, Horford has been held to below 30 percent from the field on an average of nine attempts. With Embiid off, he’s converted nearly 73 percent of his tries.

Another matchup you can examine is with Andre Drummond. The two have had their fair share of words with each other, but Embiid’s had the edge one-on-one. Similar to Horford, the Detroit Pistons big man has had a rough time against him. Embiid has limited Drummond to under 38 percent on five attempts per game in an average of over 23 minutes on the floor together. When he’s not playing, Drummond has had close to a 78 percent success rate.

Regarding centers, Embiid ranks second in ESPN’s DRPM and fifth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Citing Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers are allowing 10 more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting, which slots Embiid into the 97th percentile.

He’s altering shots. He’s blocking shots. He’s forcing kick outs. And that’s a big reason why the NBA gave Embiid its Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Trust The Process.

1. Paul George

Basketball Insiders was well represented this past Saturday in Cleveland when the Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the Cavaliers in their own building. The focus was on the “OK3” exposing a terrible defense, but the real story in this game was how in-tune and sound George was on both ends of the court. He was sizzling shooting the basketball, but perhaps more defining was shutting down LeBron James on a day that was supposed to belong to him.

Any time 23 got the ball to try and get the Cavs going, George was there. He suffocated him with pressure, forcing James into bad decisions and contested shots. The talk of the day was the 30,000-point mark, but PG-13 had other ideas.

“I was hopeful that it took two games for him to get to that,” George said after the 148-124 win at Quicken Loans Arena. “I actually didn’t know that stat until right before coming into [Saturday]. They told me he needed 25 to go to 30,000. I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets that he’s had, so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”

Thunder teammate Steven Adams spoke to his prowess on that end of the floor.

“He’s a really good defender man,” Adams said. “It was like a perfect matchup, honestly. He played LeBron really well in terms of our system and what we want him doing. He did an amazing job there.”

Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan is a huge fan as well.

“He really I think puts forth good effort,” Donovan said pre-game. “He’s long, smart. He’s disruptive. He’s got good feet. He’s a physical defender. He’s hard to shoot over. Certainly, with he and Andre [Roberson] on the wings, that’s certainly bolstered our defense.”

That was one performance, but it’s obvious how much George brings to the table as one of the toughest guys to score on in this league. He’s got a league-leading 188 deflections and is tied with Eric Bledsoe at the top of the NBA with 2.2 steals per game.

Recently, the Thunder have allowed 91 points at most in three of their last four games. They are also in the top three allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions and George has been a huge part of that.

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