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NBA AM: Too Much Pressure In Golden State?

Are the Golden State Warriors dysfunctions a result of being too eager to win?… Big guys should declare now because the 2015 Draft class looks scary good up front.

Steve Kyler

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Mark Jackson And The Warriors:  A few days ago Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports chronicled some of the dysfunction brewing inside the Golden State Warriors that culminated this week in the re-assignment of assistant coach Brian Scalabrine to the team’s D-League affiliate. As Woj explains, there has been a lot of inside turmoil around the team over the last few years, especially between head coach Mark Jackson and his assistant coaches.

Since the report, former Warriors assistant coach and current Sacramento Kings coach Mike Malone downplayed the rifts as reported between he and Jackson, however players that were on that roster last year when told about the situation simply smiled at the notion that the two men had a great relationship.

Before we get too far down the road on this, there is an important concept to keep in mind: Warriors’ ownership isn’t overly patient. They promised fans a winner and they want it yesterday. Internally the management team is facing a lot of pressure for success and that might not necessarily create the best conditions for a coaching staff. Add in a layer of inexperience from Jackson and you are bound to get some level of dysfunction.

»In Related: Jabari Davis Takes A Look At Fixing The Sacramento Kings.

Sources close to the process say that it is not at all uncommon for ownership to push for roster change when things don’t seem to be going where they expect it. During March’s MIT Sloan Analytics conference, Warriors General Manager Bob Myers sat on a panel with Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey and told the crowd the story of how the team obtained Andre Iguodala during free agency. The story was filled with comments about his owner wanting it to get done, despite how massively difficult it was to actually accomplish. The way the story played out it seemed ownership wanted it to happen and Myers had to spend hours upon hours figuring out how to do it.

Around the trade deadline, there was talk that the Warriors would have traded forward Harrison Barnes. Again, sources say that was driven more by ownership wanting to cash in some youth in exchange for a veteran big to bolster a championship run today.

In Woj’s report, there was mention of the fact that Jackson and the team had not talked about a contract extension despite there only being one more season on his deal with the club. The report suggested there was more doubt about Jackson’s future with the team than security. This is true. Ownership wants to win and while the team has had some success, they have not achieved what they set out to achieve and everyone is on notice.

»In Related: More Golden State Warriors News.

So when you look in on the Warriors understand that while Jackson may very well be part of the problem, there is a sense of urgency that’s driving a lot of the pressure. The Warriors want to win and they want to win big. Ownership seems committed to doing whatever it takes to get there, and that could be fostering a culture that’s creating the problems.

Jackson’s future with the team is very much connected to the results he produces in the win-loss column and more importantly in the postseason. The Warriors took the leap of faith that Jackson could lead them to the Promised Land at a time when the franchise wasn’t winning. They gambled that Jackson could be the out-of-the-box hire that brings the roster and the team together. With the Warriors having tasted a little success, they obviously want more and if Jackson cannot deliver, he’ll be replaced. That’s how it’s going to be for the Warriors. That’s why there hasn’t been a lot of talk of extensions and that’s why there is uncertainty regarding his future.

So when you scratch your head and wonder why things are a little dysfunctional in Golden State, it’s because they are a team that desperately wants to win and seem willing to do whatever it takes to get there, even if that means replacing one of the franchise’s more successful coaches in the modern era.

Being in the playoffs is not enough and maybe that’s not such a bad goal to have as a franchise – it certainly puts everyone on the hot seat and could create rifts when there are problems, but winners thrive under pressure right?

If You Are Big, You Better Declare:  Reports are surfacing that Kansas big man Joel Embiid is indeed leaving Kansas and is in the process of selecting an agent in advance of the 2014 NBA Draft. International big man Mouhammadou Jaiteh has also indicated he’ll enter the 2014 NBA Draft after pulling out of the 2013 draft last year. Indiana big man Noah Vonleh has also declared that he’ll enter the 2014 NBA Draft and he is expected to be joined by Kentucky big man Willie Cauley-Stein.

»In Related: NBA PM: Another Look At The 2014 NBA Draft

Top Big Men Prospects In 2015

Jahlil Okafor  C  18 yrs; 6’10"
Myles Turner  C  18 yrs; 6’10"
Cliff Alexander  PF/C  18 yrs; 6’9"
Karl Towns  PF/C  18 yrs; 7’0"
*Ilimane Diop  C  18 yrs; 6’11
Dakari Johnson  C  18 yrs; 6’11
Kaleb Tarczewski  C  21 yrs; 7’0
Nikola Milutinov  C  19 yrs; 6’11
Frank Kaminsky  C  20 yrs; 7’0"
Przemek Karnowski  C  20 yrs; 7’1"
Guillermo Hernangomez  C  19 yrs; 6’11

*Could enter the 2014 NBA Draft.

There had been talk that maybe some of these guys would stay in school for another year, however looking at what’s on the NBA radar for the 2015 NBA Draft class, all of these guys were smart in opting for the draft this year, even if they might go four to six spots lower than they’d like.

A quick glance at the possible stars of the 2015 NBA Draft class (assuming they declare) shows there are more than 11 significant center prospects that could be on the board in 2015, and there are at least three that could go in the top eight selections, if not the top three overall.

The two stars of the 2015 Draft class look to be Duke commit Jahil Okafor and Myles Turner from Trinity High School.

Okafor is arguably the most skilled low-post prospect the NBA as seen in some time, with scouts comparing his skills on the block to Charlotte big man Al Jefferson. Okafor isn’t a dominating physical specimen like a Dwight Howard or Shaquille O’Neal, but his ability to score the ball down low is uncanny for a high school player. Assuming he progresses at Duke, he could be the top overall pick in 2015.

Turner has yet to select a college, narrowing his list down to what appears to be Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Texas. His game is mesmerizing, mainly because he is long, super athletic and aggressive around the rim. Not nearly the polished low post player of an Okafor, he does possess a great frame, a relentless motor and a lot of potential at the next level. Add in his ability to shoot the ball from the outside, and Turner is a compelling prospect in the mold of maybe a poor man’s Kevin Garnett.

While Okafor and Turner may go number one and number two overall, Chicago big man and Kansas commit Cliff Alexander, who projects to be more of a power forward at the next level, could see time as a center for the Jayhawks. Like Okafor and Turner, he is a mesmerizing big man with all kind of power and bounce. Scouts love his toughness around the basket and his size and physical presence might be among the best in the class.

With so many big guys on the radar for 2015, it’s no wonder the bigs that are eligible for the 2014 NBA Draft are coming out now. If they stayed for another year they might get lost in the shuffle, especially with NBA teams placing such a premium on potential upside.

As much as players like Embiid or Vonleh might have benefited from another year of development, both would find themselves significantly lower on the 2015 Draft board than they would in this year’s draft where there are not nearly as many elite level bigs.

»In Related: The Top 100 2014 NBA Draft Prospects

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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2018 NBA All-Star Sunday Recap

Michael Petrower recaps the All-Star Game from Sunday in Los Angeles.

Basketball Insiders

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The 2018 NBA All Star Game had some added appeal this year, with Captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry selecting playground style from the pool of All-Stars. Although it was not televised, it drew a lot of interest to say the least.

Team Lebron was headlined by Kevin Durant (the alleged first pick), Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving. Sadly, Team Lebron suffered big losses with John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Kevin Love and Kristaps Porzingis going down with injuries. Team Stephen was led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Joel Embiid and Demar DeRozan.

NBA fans were ready to indulge on the highlight real of plays to commence…That was, until the NBA inflicted a marathon-like performance that seemed a bit unnecessary, to say the least. Kevin Hart was at the center of theatrics that had NBA fans scratching their heads questioning what was on their television screen. Fergie topped off the saga with what was one of the more questionable national anthems we’ve seen in recent years. However, if you stuck around long enough, the game started at 8:40 PM EST and the flashy plays that we hoped for, began.

Joel Embiid made his first A;l-Star game appearance and kicked off the scoring festivities for Team Stephen with a ferocious and-one dunk. Team Stephen led all of the first quarter and won the quarter 42-31. Karl Anthony Towns led the first quarter scoring with 11 points. Team LeBron, however would storm back and cut the lead to two, 78-76 at half. LeBron came into his 14th straight All-Star game and lead his team at the half with 15 points. Klay Thompson also lead Team Stephen with 15 points at half.

The second half ensued and after some back and forth between the two teams, Team Stephen was leading by three going into the fourth quarter, 112-109. Team Stephen grew their lead to 11 while LeBron and KD got some rest. But after the two came back in, the 11-point deficit was erased after a LeBron three and the teams were now tied at 144 with 1:16 left in the fourth quarter.

DeRozan would make a free throw to put Team Stephen up one point, but Lebron followed with a strong two-pointer to put his team up one. DeRozan tried to answer, but threw away a pass which resulted in an easy two points for Russell Westbrook to ice the game. Team LeBron was the 2018 All Star Game winner with a score of 148-145.

LeBron James went on to win his third All Star MVP after finishing with 29 points to go along with 10 rebounds, eigh assists and a steal on 12-17 shooting. DeRozan and Damian Lillard lead Team Stephen with 21 points each.

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Rest Assured, the 1-16 NBA Playoff Format Is Coming… Kinda

Based on Adam Silver’s comments, it’s safe to assume that the NBA will soon reformat the playoffs.

Moke Hamilton

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If there’s one thing Adam Silver has proven in his four years as the NBA’s Commissioner, it’s that he isn’t afraid to do things his way.

And if Silver has his way, the league will eventually figure out how it can implement a system that results in a more balanced playoff system. On Saturday, though, he revealed that it’s probably closer to a reality than many of us realize.

During his annual All-Star media address, Silver admitted that the league will “continue to look at” how they can reformat the playoffs to both ensure a better competitive balance throughout and pave the way for the league’s two best teams to meet up in the NBA Finals, even if both of those two teams happen to be in the same conference.

“You also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in the Finals,” the commissioner said on Saturday night.

“You could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the conference finals or somewhere else. So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”

Since Silver took over the league, he’s been consistent in implementing dramatic changes to improve the overall quality of the game. Although Silver didn’t take over as the league’s commissioner until 2014, he was instrumental in getting the interested parties to buy into the notion that the “center” designation on the All-Star ballot was obsolete.

As a result, beginning with the 2013 All-Star Game, the Eastern and Western Conference teams have featured three “frontcourt” players, which essentially lumps centers in with forwards and eliminates the requirement that a center appear in the All-Star game. That wasn’t always the case.

From overhauling the league’s scheduling to reducing back-to-back games to implementing draft lottery reform to, this year, eliminating the traditional All-Star format which featured the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference, it’s become clear that Silver simply “gets it” and isn’t afraid to make revolutionary changes if he deems them to be in the overall best interest of the league.

At this point, everyone realizes that something needs to be done about the league’s current playoff system.

Last season, for example, the Western Conference first round playoff series featured the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder squaring off against one another. Only one series—the Los Angeles Clippers versus Utah Jazz—went seven games.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the first round series that were contested weren’t exactly compelling.

The Cleveland Cavaliers steamrolled the conference to the tune of a 12-1 run to their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. It wasn’t the first time that the public questioned the wisdom behind separating the playoff brackets by conference, but the dominance of the Cavs and LeBron James specifically (who is expected to win the Eastern Conference for the eighth consecutive time this season) has caused renewed scrutiny.

The most common solution offered to this point has been to simply take the 16 best teams across the league, irrespective of conference, and conduct the playoffs as normal.

From afar, this solution seems simple enough, but the obvious concerns are twofold.

First, if the Celtics and Clippers, for example, were pitted against one another in a first round series, the travel would be considerable. Private charter flight or not, traveling is taxing, and the prospect of having to make five cross-country trips over the course of a two-week span would certainly leave the winner of such a series at a competitive disadvantage against the opponents they would face in subsequent rounds, especially if the future opponent enjoyed a playoff series that was contested within close proximity.

Atlanta to New Orleans, for example, is less than a one-hour flight.

Aside from the concerns about geographic proximity, the other obvious issue is competitive balancing of the schedule, which seems to be an easier issue to fix.

Using the Pelicans as an example, of the 82 games they play, 30 are played against the other conference—in this case, the Eastern Conference. The other 52 games would all be played within the conference. If playoff seedings were going to be done on a simple 1-16 basis, the scheduling would have to be realigned in a way to essentially pit all teams against one another evenly. It wouldn’t be fair for a team like the Celtics to be judged on the same standard as the Pelicans if the Celtics faced inferior teams more often.

On Saturday night, Silver revealed that the league’s brass has been thinking about this and is trying to find a solution, and in doing so, he may have tipped his hand.

* * * * * *

As a multinational conglomerate, the NBA values the inclusion of as many markets as possible. Wanting to improve the overall quality of the product, though, there are interests that may not align fully.

What’s obvious with this year’s All-Star game is that the NBA has found a way to balance the two.

Rather than eliminating the conference designations altogether and simply choosing the “best” 24 players to be in the All-Star game, the league still chose All-Stars based on their conference, but then distributed them within the pool to allow for better competition.

That’s exactly what Silver revealed the NBA is considering doing with the playoffs. It makes perfect sense, and it’s probably just a matter of time before it’s implemented.

A report from ESPN notes that the idea that the league is kicking around would essentially do exactly what the league did with the All-Star selections with the playoff teams: choose the best from each conference, then disburse them in a way that allows for competitive balance. 

The proposal would have the league’s teams compete as they normally do and would still feature the top eight teams from each conference getting into the playoffs.

Once the teams are qualified, however, they would be re-seeded on a 1-16 basis and crossmatched, on that basis.

It’s not perfect, but compromises never are. The travel issues would still persist, but the league would accomplish two goals: the less dominant conference wouldn’t be underrepresented and discouraged from competing, but the two best teams would still be on opposite ends of the bracket.

An NBA playoffs that featured 11 or 12 teams from the Western Conference would be a ratings nightmare for the league. Eastern Conference cities are less likely to stay up past midnight during the week to watch playoff games, and less competitive markets would frown at the prospect of having to compete against the other conference for a playoff spot. For many small market teams, the millions of dollars generated from a single playoff game often has a significant impact on the team’s operations, so there would naturally be discord.

This system would at least eliminate that contention.

On the positive side, it would allow for the Rockets and Warriors, for example, to meet in the NBA Finals. In both the NFL and MLB, geography hasn’t been a determining factor on which teams battle for the league’s championship.

Why does it have to be in the NBA?

* * * * * *

With the league having begun regular season play earlier this season, at the All-Star break, most teams have played about 57 games. A lot can change over the final 25 games of the season, but if the seeds were frozen today and the league took the top eight teams from each conference and then crossmatched them, the Los Angeles Clippers would be the team that got the short end o the stick.

Although the Clippers have the 16th best record in the league, they would be the ninth-seeded Western Conference team and would thus be eliminated from postseason contention by the Miami HEAT. The HEAT have the 17th best record in the league but are the eighth-best team in the Eastern Conference, so to preserve the conference weight, the HEAT would win out.

This is what the seedings and matchups would look like…

(1) Houston Rockets versus (16) Miami HEAT

(2) Golden State Warriors versus (15) New Orleans Pelicans

(3) Toronto Raptors versus (14) Philadelphia 76ers

(4) Boston Celtics versus (13) Portland Trail Blazers

(5) Cleveland Cavaliers versus (12) Denver Nuggets

(6) San Antonio Spurs versus (11) Oklahoma City Thunder

(7) Minnesota Timberwolves versus (10) Milwaukee Bucks

(8) Washington Wizards versus (9) Indiana Pacers

Here, the Celtics would face the nightmarish scenario of having to travel to and from Portland for their playoff series, while virtually every other series would feature much more friendly travel (especially the Spurs-Thunder and Raptors-Sixers).

The Cavs would have a very tough road to the Finals, having to beat the Nuggets, Celtics and Rockets if the seeds held. The Celtics would have a similarly tough road, as they’d have to get past the Blazers, Cavs and Rockets.

At the end of the day, the Rockets and Warriors would be aligned in such a way as to avoid one another until the championship, but each of the two would face daunting competition. The Rockets would have to go through the HEAT, Wizards and Celtics, while the Warriors would have to face the Pelicans, Timberwolves and Raptors—again, assuming the seeds held.

It would be a benefit to all observers.

One of the unintended consequences of implementing this system would be to make every single game count. If the Celtics were able to move up to the second seed, for example, their road to the Finals, in theory, could become much much easier, comparatively speaking.

The end result would be less resting of players during the course of the season and certainly less instances in which star players take the final week of the regular season off in other to be fresh for the postseason.

Everyone wins.

No, there’s no perfect solution, but just as the league has found a clever way to serve multiple interests as it relates to the All-Star game’s competitiveness, Silver has revealed that the league is at least considering following suit with the playoffs.

Best bet?

It’s only a matter of time before we see it actually see it happen.

It simply makes too much sense, and if there’s one thing the commissioner has already proven, it’s that he isn’t afraid of changing tradition.

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NBA All-Star Saturday Recap

Brian Slingluff recaps All-Star Saturday from Los Angeles.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders is here to recap an eventful All-Star Saturday that led to three first-time champs in the various skills contests. Let’s get right to it.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

In Saturday night’s Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the “Bigs” team, boasting 3 All-Stars, set out to claim a third straight title. The competition kicked off with Joel Embiid coming from behind to best Al Horford, and sharpshooter Lauri Markkanen swishing his first 3 point attempt to eliminate Andre Drummond. On the Guard side, Buddy Hield had an early lead before losing out to Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jamal Murray upset hometown favorite Lou Williams.

In the semifinals, Markkanen was able to dispatch Joel Embiid, who struggled with the pass portion of the competition, and Dinwiddie topped Jamal Murray by making his first 3 pointer for the second consecutive round.

In the Final round, Dinwiddie finally missed a 3 pointer, but it did not matter as he finished with a wire to wire victory over Lauri Markkanen. Dinwiddie, competing in front of his friends and family, was able to end the Bigs’ two year win streak in impressive fashion.

JBL Three Point Contest

The event started off with Tobias Harris scoring a solid 18 points. Wayne Ellington was next, sporting the hot new alternate Miami Vice jersey. Ellington started off cold and heated up on his last three racks, ending up with a score of 17. Devin Booker and former three-point champion Klay Thompson tied for a round-high 19 points. Paul George, Bradley Beal, and Kyle Lowry struggled from the start and never found a rhythm, falling short of making the championship round. Defending champion Eric Gordon never got it going, and would not defend the title, scoring only 12 points.

In the Championship round, Tobias Harris was on fire through the first 3 racks, but quickly got cold, scoring 17 points. Devin Booker was next and could not miss, scoring 28 points, leaving Klay Thompson a high number to match. Thompson fell just 3 points short, and Devin Booker was crowned the 2018 JBL Three Point Champion.

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest

The final and most anticipated event of the night started with Donovan Mitchell bringing out a second hoop, bouncing it off the second backboard and finishing with an impressive windmill dunk, scoring a 48. Victor Oladipo followed with a difficult look-away alley oop dunk attempt that he was unable to complete, totaling 31 points from the judges. Dennis Smith Jr. had a nice reverse double pump that got 39 points and Larry Nance Jr., in a throwback Phoenix jersey, payed homage to his father’s cradle dunk, nailing it almost exactly for a score of 44 points.

Oladipo started the next round of dunks by borrowing Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther mask, and scoring 40 points with a tomahawk windmill dunk. Smith Jr. hit a seemingly impossible reverse 360, through the legs, switching hands dunk for a perfect score of 50. Nance Jr. pulled off a Vince Carter level windmill, nearly missing a perfect score. Mitchell jumped over comedian Kevin Hart to advance to the finals against Larry Nance Jr.

In the Finals, Nance started things off with a windmill alley-oop with some help from Larry Nance Sr., garnering a score of 46. Mitchell completed the difficult one handed alley-oop he had attempted in the previous round, scoring a perfect 50. Nance Jr. answered with an incredible double pass off the backboard dunk, scoring yet another 50 points.  Mitchell ended the contest with a Vince Carter tribute dunk, coming out on top by just two points. It capped off an exciting Saturday night, setting things up for the main event on Sunday, Team LeBron versus Team Stephen.

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