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NBA AM: Top 10 Ring Chasers

Dwyane Wade is too to Cleveland to chase another ring, but he is by no means the first.

Joel Brigham

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There are eight million reasons why Dwyane Wade pushed so hard for his release from the Chicago Bulls this past week, and each of them rhymes with “championship swing.” Wade already has three titles on his resume from his time with the Miami HEAT, but with his productivity clearly waning, he wanted to make the most of his time left in the league and compete for a championship.

Nobody blames the guy. He went from the Eastern Conference’s worst team to its best team in 48 hours and gets to reunite with his BFF LeBron James for at least one more go at a championship together. It’s a Hallmark movie, but everybody understands what’s going on because this whole song-and-dance has been done before. Players chase rings, and the following is a look at the 10 most notable ring chasers in recent NBA history:

Clyde Drexler, Houston Rockets

For his entire career leading up to the 1994-1995 season, Clyde Drexler had been one of the league’s most intriguing “what-if” stories. His mere existence, after all, is the singular reason that Portland drafted Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan in 1984—something that would come back to haunt Drexler and the Blazers in 1992 when Jordan’s Bulls would eliminate them from the NBA Finals en route to MJ’s second championship.

By 1994, Drexler was unhappy playing for a team that clearly wasn’t going to be competitive in the postseason, even with Jordan out of the league, so he asked to be traded to a contender. That swap happened in February of 1995, to the Houston Rockets of all teams, to be reunited with his former University of Houston “Phi Slamma Jamma” counterpart Hakeem Olajuwon.

After 11 seasons in Portland, Drexler pushed for a way out with a chance to win a ring. And he did, toppling the Orlando Magic in four games for his first title.

Charles Barkley, Houston Rockets

After getting a taste of the NBA Finals in 1993 (which also resulted in a loss to Michael Jordan), Barkley let the Phoenix Suns know a couple of years later that he was fed up with the organization and wanted to be traded to a contender. He reportedly told the team that he’d retire if they didn’t trade him somewhere, so trade him they did, to Houston, for a haul that included Sam Cassell and Robert Horry.

Barkley was thrilled, letting the media at the time know that Houston had been his desired landing spot all along, but despite putting three Hall of Fame players on the same team, the Rockets looked slower and older in a season that also just so happened to be Jordan’s first full one upon return from retirement. Houston never even got a chance to face the Bulls in the playoffs that year, however. Drexler got his ring in 1995, but Barkley never did make it back to another NBA Finals.

Karl Malone & Gary Payton, Los Angeles Lakers

In 2003, both Karl Malone and Gary Payton were free agents, which sounds awesome but came at a time when neither player was quite what they used to be. Malone, at age 40, was entering his 19th season, while Payton was heading into his 13th. Hoping for enough gas left in the tank to make a serious run at an elusive NBA championship (Jordan, once again, had thwarted both players in turn from 1996 to 1998), the two signed for peanuts to team up with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in L.A.

Despite O’Neal calling it “the most talented team [he’s] ever played on,” those Lakers were upset by the more team-oriented Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals. Malone never got his ring, but Payton chased rings in Boston and Miami over the next couple of seasons and finally won one with O’Neal and Dwyane Wade as a member of the Miami HEAT in 2006.

LeBron James & Chris Bosh, Miami HEAT

Perhaps nobody has made so stunning a grab at an easy NBA ring than LeBron James, who “took his talents to South Beach” in 2010 along with Toronto Raptors star Chris Bosh to join Wade in Miami. The introduction of “The Big Three” remains arguably the most gaudy display of bravado in league history, but it’s impossible to deny the effectiveness of those three teaming up. James, Wade and Bosh made the NBA Finals all four years they played together, winning two of them. And, as soon as he had come, James blustered out of town, back to Cleveland for three more Finals appearances and one more ring. So far.

Ray Allen, Miami HEAT

It still chaps Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce that Allen ditched the Boston Celtics in the summer of 2012 to pursue an easy ring with the aforementioned HEAT superstars in Miami, and in a lot of ways Allen set the tone for modern-day ring-chasing by taking significantly less than market value to play for a contender. Before him, players almost always took the money. Allen took the opportunity instead, signing for the midlevel exception (about $3.09 million per season) on a three-year deal with the HEAT.

Allen was 37 when he signed the deal, but the HEAT didn’t need him to play big minutes to be effective. He ended up being the team’s savior in the 2013 NBA Finals, knocking down a three-pointer in the waning seconds of Game 6 to keep the series alive. Miami would go onto win the series, and Allen would in fact get another ring.

Steve Nash & Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe remained a significant draw for potential free agents for another decade, drawing both Nash and Howard to Los Angeles in the summer of 2012. Nash, after winning a couple of MVP awards in Phoenix, could not get to the NBA Finals as a member of the Suns, so he orchestrated a sign-and-trade to the Lakers that he thought would bring him the glory he deserved. With Bryant and Pau Gasol already there and Dwight Howard on the way, the team looked pretty darn good. On paper.

In reality, though, the team was a mess. Howard, who took on the opportunity with L.A. after an attempted forced trade to Brooklyn fell through, was especially bad, while Nash flat-out couldn’t stay healthy. The current Lakers rebuild started in some ways with that dismal season, and they’re only just now starting to crawl back out of the hole left behind by those two stars.

Kevin Durant & David West, Golden State Warriors

Like Ray Allen, West signed for peanuts to be part of a team that could win him his first title, but unlike Allen, he didn’t really burn any bridges in doing so.

Durant, however, burned just about every bridge imaginable on his way out of Oklahoma City, whether he meant to or not, and serves as the poster child for ring chasing in today’s NBA. To be paid as well as he’s paid and to be able to compete at the level at which the Warriors compete are two great gifts, but they came at the expense at possibly seeing that success in Oklahoma City.

The Thunder were an elite team with him, but when Golden State knocked them out of the postseason in 2015, Durant joined with the team that beat him and got himself a Finals MVP award and, of course, a championship ring. We all should be paid so heftily to be so successful.

***

Now it’s Wade’s turn to chase a ring. He won’t be the last, either. As long as there are juggernauts to win all the championships, there will be stars from lesser teams dying for the opportunity to join them. One can only imagine who will join to create mega-teams next.

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NBA Daily: Offseason Acquisitions Making An Early Impact

Basketball Insiders takes a look at five players on new teams who had a big impact in their respective season openers.

Drew Maresca

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Starting a new job is hard: new co-workers, new processes, new expectations, etc. Most of us have done it, and we can attest that it’s challenging on both a personal and professional level. It’s no different in the NBA. Sure, there is greater familiarity amongst players than for, say, a software engineer jumping from Facebook to Google, but the stakes are also higher. Most people are cut some slack initially due to a lack of familiarity, but not in the NBA. Players are expected to hit the ground running, and are judged harshly for getting off to slow starts. 

Even still, some players are simply so skilled that their impact is immediately obvious. With that being said, let’s analyze the top five debuts of players who changed teams this past offseason. 

  1. Kawhi Leonard — His post-game comments may have been understated Wednesday night, but his on-court performance was not. Leonard received an incredible amount of support from the Raptors crowd, and he did not disappoint. He posted 24 points and 12 rebounds and was +13 for the game. His offensive arsenal was on full display; he demonstrated his athleticism on dunks, his shooting prowess and range and his willingness to do some dirty work on the glass. No surprises here, but it is encouraging that he came back from the quad injury and looked mostly unchanged. Bonus points to Kyle Lowry for going the extra mile to get Leonard the ball (e.g., passing on an easy transition layup to feed Leonard). 
  1. DeMar DeRozan — While Kawhi did his normal thing, DeRozan may have had his foot on the gas a bit more — or maybe his performance was more a result of greater necessity. Either way, DeRozan delivered. He scored 28 points on 7 for 11 shooting, with four rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes. Similar to Leonard, no one should be surprised by DeRozan’s debut, especially given how upset he was initially with the trade. It’s even less surprising when you consider that he transitioned to playing for Coach Gregg Popovich, whose system is tried and true. If he keeps this up and all goes well for San Antonio, it could re-ignite questions about the Leonard-Popovich-Spurs snafu that resulted in the trade in the first place. 
  1. New New Orleans Pelicans (Julius Rande and Elfrid Payton – tie) — While Anthony Davis continues to be the main story line for the Pelicans, both free agents signings made their mark in the team’s season opener. Payton did so by posting a triple double in his first outing, demonstrating the versatility and promise that led the Pelicans to sign him in the first place; he notched 10 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds in route to an impressive +23. Randle’s performance was probably a bit flashier, but maybe less impactful on the whole. Nevertheless, Randle proved his worth in his first game with the team, finishing with an impressive 25 points on an efficient 9 for 15. He also chipped in eight rebounds and showed his versatility, leading fast breaks and dishing three assists. Concerns over the Pelicans may have been a bit overblown — but that might have more to do with Davis’ impact than the supporting cast. Time will tell.
  1. Brook Lopez — How did the perception of a former top-tier center slip so far so quickly? Just 17 months ago, Lopez was wrapping up another typical Brook Lopez-esque season: 20.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks per game. Sure, the league has passed by centers who can’t extend the defense and switch onto guards in the pick and roll, but Lopez introduced an effective three-point shot in 2016-17, shooting .34.6 percent from deep. And yet, one year on the Lakers bench was all it took for the league to begin to overlook and/or underrate Lopez. That was a mistake. Lopez seems to be the same player he’s always been. He’s no longer a go-to option, so his scoring will likely be down from his 17.8 points per game career average; but he will contribute on offense and block some shots on defense. In his first game with the Bucks — with whom he signed for the bargain salary of $3.4 million — he scored 14 points and grabbed three rebounds in 21 minutes of action. Lopez should continue to aid the already talented Bucks. Can he push them deeper into the playoff? If he does, he would likely secure himself one more pay day.
  2. Dennis Shroder — Shroder’s performance may have been inflated by the absence of Russell Westbrook. Correction — Shroder’s performance was definitely inflated by the absence of Westbook. But he demonstrated his value all the same. Oddly, the Hawks decided they wanted to part ways with the 25 year old point guard. Their loss. He notched 21 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists in 34 minutes of action. And it will get easier for him considering the Thunder opened against Steph Curry and the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Shroder gives the Thunder a third playmaker — exactly what they were lacking in last year’s playoffs against the Jazz, and exactly what they hoped Melo could be.

One thing all the guys on this list have in common (beyond being above average players) is their willingness to take on a challenge. Nothing in sports — or life — is guaranteed. But we will have a clearer picture if their respective changes of scenery were made for better or worse. If they were done successfully, they can shift the balance of power in the league, and rework the competitive balance to a pretty crazy extent.

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NBA Daily: Will Philadelphia Struggle From Downtown?

Do the Philadelphia 76ers have enough outside shooting talent to spread the floor on the offensive end? Jordan Hicks takes a look.

Jordan Hicks

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It’s only been one game, and this could likely be an overreaction, but will the Philadelphia 76ers struggle this season from beyond-the-arc? With the departure of two highly capable shooters in Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova, it might not be insane to say this could turn into a large problem throughout the season.

Last season for the 76ers, Belinelli finished 38.5 percent from three and Ilyasova finished at 36.1 percent. While neither of those percentages is staggering, both sit above the league average, and those players shoot and make threes at a consistent pace. Neither player was necessarily streaky from downtown, so you knew what to expect from them on a nightly basis.

What the two players brought more than anything was gravity. Each game, teams had to strategically plan how to stop them from making three-point shots. Players had to maintain certain spots on the floor defensively, which in turn left offensive players in advantageous positions. Losing both Belinelli and Ilyasova allows defenses to suck in closer to the paint so they can better defend Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at what they do best – attack the rim.

This is precisely what the Boston Celtics did to the 76ers on Tuesday night, and the final score definitely told the tale. The Celtics ended up winning, 105-87. Boston is a talented squad, and playing at the TD Garden is never an easy task, but the 76ers are too good to lose by high double-digits.

Apart from Boston’s stellar defense, Philadelphia’s mark from the perimeter paints a clear picture of what they might struggle with throughout the season. They finished 5-for-26, good for 19.7 percent.

It’s not like they don’t have any help from three. Robert Covington led the NBA in catch-and-shoot three-point percentage last season and J.J. Redick shot a scorching career 41.5 percent from deep. Their third option from three is likely Dario Saric, who finished last season at 39.3 percent. But after those three the drop-off is significant. Embiid might come in next, and he shot a poor 30.8 percent last season.

By the end of the season, the top three scorers for Philadelphia could likely be Simmons, Embiid and last year’s first-round pick, Markelle Fultz. Not one of those players can shoot the three consistently, certainly not at an efficient mark. Simmons and Fultz have never even made a three-point field goal in their young careers.

All three of those players have the ability to score efficiently around the rim, and they’ll likely get their buckets. But with fewer players on the roster to worry about as a deep threat, teams will mirror Boston’s success and crowd the paint.

If Brett Brown continues to play Saric, Covington and Redick in limited minutes – they played just eight minutes together on Tuesday – most of their lineups will only ever feature two above average three-point shooters. This can begin to get highly problematic for the 76ers as the season progresses. As previously mentioned, teams will just stuff the area around the hoop with great rim protectors and only worry about crashing the boards when mid-range jumpers clank off the basket.

Teams that had the most success last season, à la the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors, had at minimum three high-level deep threats on the floor at all times. This allowed them to spread the offense, keep defenses guessing and find an open shooter after throwing the ball around from player to player or cutting to the basket. With the fact that multiple shooters on the court can spread out the defense and essentially keep them on their toes, all it takes is an intelligent cut or a crafty pass to find someone open at the rim. If teams don’t have enough efficient shooters on the floor, defenses can just suck in and stop players going to the hoop.

But when there are three or more plus shooters on the court, defenders have a really difficult decision to make. Do you try and play help defense by attempting to stop the shot at the rim? This can leave your opponent open for an easy three. Will help defense get there in time to defend the three? Maybe, but then another quick pass can find another open shooter. So do you stay on your man? Sure, but then you give up an easy basket at the rim.

That last paragraph was elementary. Most teams and fans understand this concept. The importance of efficient shooters in today’s league is at an all-time high. The 76ers have a very talented, young team. Simmons and Embiid are a phenomenal duo to build around. But their lack of players that hold any sort of gravity from three-point land could really give them struggles.

Alas, we are only one game into the season. A handful of teams have yet to play, so there is still plenty of basketball to be had. The 76ers are still monstrous on defense and can obviously generate baskets on the offensive end. Thanks in part to Simmons, they are one of the most electric teams in transition, and can often score with ease around the hoop.

Are the 76ers a playoff team? That’s essentially a lock. Can they go deep in the playoffs? It certainly appears so. But in order for them to make a legitimate run to the Finals, they’ll need to find more efficiency from the three-point line. Not simply because they could use those points, but because they need that spacing for their offense to function at an elite level.

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NBA Daily: Warriors Depth Shines on Opening Night

The Warriors have lost some key veterans but opening night showed they still have the depth to reign supreme, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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With the Golden State Warriors emerging victorious on ring night behind big performances from Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, and the summer addition of DeMarcus Cousins, it’s easy to see why many have penciled them in for a three-peat.

When Cousins returns to the court, the Warriors will be able to play a lineup of five All-Stars with Durant, Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. With all of that star talent they possess, it’s easy to overlook the surrounding depth that they’ve managed to accumulate.

A successful organization like the Warriors becomes successful because they have a great front office in place who can identify talent and a good coaching staff who can develop that talent. Having superstars in place certainly helps, but all championship teams need to have that key depth.

Last night, the Warriors showed that they don’t just consist of their superstars, they’ve got some weapons on the team that are very capable of having big nights of their own.

The past few seasons, the Warriors depth in the frontcourt consisted of older veterans such as Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee and David West. Pachulia and McGee signed elsewhere while West retired. With Cousins still recovering, that leaves the majority of the frontcourt minutes to younger, more inexperienced players such as Damion Jones and Kevon Looney.

Neither Jones nor Looney has seen much action during their first few seasons in the league. Looney had his fourth-year contract option declined a year ago, and this summer he received very little interest in free agency before re-signing with the Warriors. Prior to last night, it seemed as if Jones would follow the same fate as the team has until Oct. 31 to pick up his fourth-year option.

If last night was any indication, however, the Warriors would be wise to keep both around for as long as possible.

Making his first ever career start, Jones passed his initial test. He looked like a perfect compliment to the Warriors All-Stars. He ran the pick and roll to perfection, finishing with 12 points on 6-7 shooting from the field. He can finish around the rim, and he also had three assists.

Defensively, he blocked three shots and matched up well with Steven Adams all night.

Coming off the bench, Looney had a productive game of his own. He had a double-double with ten points and ten rebounds. Eight of his rebounds came on the offensive end, helping the Warriors gain extra possessions. He also had two assists and two blocked shots.

Both big men, Jones in particular since he’s the starter, will have a few more tests coming up as the Warriors travel to Utah and Denver. Rudy Gobert and Nikola Jokic await them. It will be interesting to see how they respond to that. For the duration that Cousins remains out, the Warriors will be relying quite a bit on their young big men.

Should either one falter at any point, the Warriors still have Jordan Bell waiting in the wings. Bell proved to be a second-round steal last season, but only saw six minutes of action on opening night. Bell brings a bit of a different skill set to the table than Jones and Looney. He’s a versatile big who can guard multiple positions.

As the season goes on, what was once thought of as an area of weakness for the Warriors, might turn out to be a position of strength. And if that occurs, that bodes ill for the rest of the league.

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