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.
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.