In the National Basketball Association, experience is not only the best teacher, it is the only teacher, and in both Game 2 and Game 3, the Golden State Warriors have looked more like remedial students than Mensa material.
Fortunately for them, a win in Game 4 will put them right back on track. With home court advantage, the Warriors would certainly like their chances if the 2015 NBA Finals became a best-of-three series.
What I will always remember about the 2012 NBA Finals is Kevin Durant. I observed his pain, first-hand.
I trailed Durant in the moments immediately following the buzzer of Game 5. I vividly remember his tears. I remember him sitting in his locker stall in the visitor’s locker room for upwards of 10 minutes, not looking up and not saying a word to anyone. His iPhone was his refuge and he sat staring at it, his long slender fingers moving a mile per minute.
Durant, no doubt, was responding to the hundreds of text messages he had received.
“Don’t worry, you’ll be back.”
“The future is bright.”
“Next year will be different.”
I imagine those were among the messages Durant received, although I obviously hadn’t read them.
I remember his long, slow walk from the visitor’s locker room at the American Airlines Arena to the podium. Normally standing tall and proud, Durant would gracefully glide. But at this moment, he was physically broken. His shoulders were slouched and his head hung, the most appropriate comparison was a wilting rose.
Truly looking like a student, Durant had a grey backpack that appropriately represented his emotions. His blue v-neck sweater and red cargo pants completed a rather casual ensemble that, again, represented his Thunder’s rather casual foray into the land of the NBA’s elites.
Here, Durant was a student who had just been schooled. The bell had rung, so class, and the series, was over.
The Thunder went out with a whimper, and as Durant finished addressing the media—after he had dried his tears and composed himself—he ran into Dwyane Wade. Wade, with the Larry O’Brien trophy in his left hand, extended his right hand to Durant.
“I know we gonna see y’all again,” Wade said to him. “Just keep your head up.”
Durant nodded and said nothing. He found Russell Westbrook and together, the two slowly walked out of the arena.
I now wonder if the same fate awaits Stephen Curry.
* * * * *
Behind the greatness of Stephen Curry, these Golden State Warriors have taught us a thing or two about what it means to win big in the NBA. At the very least, they have proven to us that small ball and a reliance on three-point shooting can bring a team to the cusp of a championship under the right circumstances.
The Warriors have spent the better part of 100 basketball games busting up adages and defeating a lot of the preconceived notions we have long held about what it takes to win at the highest level.
But if there is one thing that they have yet to disprove, it is that a team needs its heart broken before it can emerge as a champion.
While Durant sat in his locker and during his encounter with Wade, he felt something he had never felt before—the pain of seeing one’s lifelong dream snatched up from under their nose.
It is a pain that the great majority of his predecessors had felt before him. Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, his challenger LeBron James and even Michael Jordan.
In those moments, a player finds himself. His pain consumes him and he resolves to do everything in his power to pursue winning.
The question we must then ask ourselves is not whether the Warriors are good enough to become champions, because they are. But so were Durant’s Thunder.
The real question is whether these Warriors are good enough to defy history, because the great weight of evidence has taught us that on the continuum of greatness, there are no shortcuts. Epic, flaming failure, it seems, has historically been a prerequisite for success.
Heartbreak, despair and darkness—in this league, that is what forges a champion. And to this point, the Warriors simply have no pain reservoirs from which to pull. For every player on their roster, this is their first NBA Finals appearance.
For all 46 of minutes in Game 3, James pushed. He gave his all because he has resolved to do everything in his power to ensure that his teammates, his fans and his city do not endure the pain of 2007 again.
Curry could not match that urgency and everyone wants to know why.
Make no mistake, Steve Kerr is the coach of the more talented team, especially as the Cleveland Cavaliers do battle without three-fifths of their starting lineup.
But as the Warriors face a must-win Game 4 on the road, these young, inexperienced and perhaps innocent Warriors find themselves in a precarious position, needing a win in the worst way.
On this stage, with these stakes, the Warriors are eerily reminiscent of Durant’s 2012 team.
* * * * *
It was so much and it happened so soon. En route to winning the Western Conference in 2012, Durant led his team to series victories over each of the immediately preceding three Western Conference teams that had won an NBA championship. Dirk Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks, Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers and Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs were all written off in four, five and six games, respectively.
The Thunder arrived at the 2012 NBA Finals having experienced a meteoric ascent. They had paid no dues, built no equity and were the equivalent of basketball champion trust fund babies.
The same could not have been said for James. Before he opted to join Wade in Miami to attempt to build a dynasty, James had experienced monumental disappointment, and by the time he arrived at the 2012 Finals, he was still in search of the elusive championship that he failed, twice over, to corral. Sure, in 2007, his Cavaliers, to an extent, were simply happy to be there, but that didn’t make their being swept by the Spurs any easier for James to swallow.
When James arrived at the 2012 Finals, now, in his third attempt to live championship glory, he had a hardened heart. In the preceding round, he had exorcised his demons.
On June 7, 2012, for James, the road diverged. Before that day, his shortcomings had defined him, but on this day, he would be anointed and put on a performance for the ages that signified his true rise as king.
With the wound from his HEAT’s 2011 NBA Finals loss to the Mavericks still fresh, James and his team had to travel to Boston for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Thanks in large part to Kevin Garnett’s 26-point, 11-rebound effort in Game 5, James saw his team heading back to Boston, trailing 3-2 and on the brink of elimination.
In Game 6 against those pesky Celtics, James emerged as the dark knight, beating, battering and bruising the Celtics for 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. The Celtics expected a fierce battle. Instead, they were ambushed by a blitzkrieg, and James was the general. What stands out more than the performance itself, was James’ demeanor. Throughout the contest, he was stoic. He smiled not once. He barely acknowledged anyone on the court. He was on a mission; he was possessed.
Since then, we have seen a lot from James. Successes, failures, squandered opportunities and seized moments. Never before that point, however, had we seen his desperation truly overcome him.
Now, heading into Game 4, we await that type of performance from the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player.
* * * * *
Must a team truly have its heart broken before they can collectively become champions?
Can a 40-year drought, a brilliant head coach and perhaps the greatest shooter this league has ever seen overcome that?
But the great weight of evidence suggests that there is no shortcut as it relates to the rights of passage. James knows that quite well.
As he continues out in search of fulfilling what many in Cleveland feel is their destiny—to finally become champions—we must continue to watch.
James, the unquestioned trans-generational player, his risen majestically and ascended to his throne as king. In his fifth straight NBA Finals appearance, James has no Kyrie Irving, no Kevin Love and no Anderson Varejao.
He also has no excuses.
His unprecedented performance and leadership and his mission to single-handedly topple the inexperienced juggernauts and the reigning MVP—that is why we watch.
Whether or not the Cavaliers will succeed, we do not know. But what we do know, right now and at this moment, is that Curry needs to prove something.
As Game 4 of the 2015 NBA Finals awaits, I recall Durant’s long, slow walk to the team bus as he made his only appearance in the NBA Finals. And as I look back on it, I realize, it was too much, too soon.
Quietly, after Game 2 and Game 3, I wonder if the same fate awaits Stephen Curry.
NBA Daily: 60-Pick Mock Draft – 6/18/2019
The 2019 NBA Draft is Thursday and things seem to be taking shape at the top of the draft board. However, the middle of the draft could be wildly unpredictable. Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft.
The NBA Draft is upon us, and while there still seems to be a lot of things in play in the middle of the draft, the top of the board seems to be settling in on a defined order.
Assuming the top 10 picks stay where they are, the draft could go pretty much as scripted. After the top 10, it seems this could be a wildly unpredictable draft, with what’s shaping up to be a lot of pick movement, especially as certain guys rise or fall.
Here are some of the situation to watch:
The New Orleans Pelicans, fresh off their agreed Anthony Davis trade with the LA Lakers, are still exploring moves that could involve the fourth overall pick. The prevailing thought is if New Orleans can flip the pick for a solid veteran they would, but there has also been recent talk that they would like to try and trade up to grab Duke forward RJ Barrett in front of the Knicks. It doesn’t seem likely that Memphis would do such a deal unless they were assured they would get Murray State’s Ja Morant at four. The Knicks have been pretty locked in on keeping the third pick and have made it clear to local media that they would be happy with either Barrett or Morant, likely killing any traction on a Memphis-Pelicans swap.
The Cleveland Cavaliers had been linked to the Atlanta Hawks in a deal for the fifth overall pick, but traction on that seems to have died off once the Pelicans got control of the fourth pick and seem to have zeroed in on Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver if they keep the pick. The Hawks have been exploring options on moving one of their middle first round picks, either the 10 or the 17, which they will receive from Brooklyn as part of the pending Allen Crabbe salary dump. League sources doubt the Hawks keep all of their picks, but it’s unclear where those moved picks would land as of today.
Speaking of moved picks, the Boston Celtics have been exploring options on their three first-round picks; it is believed the Celtics will ultimately deal the player they select with the 20th overall pick, although league sources say Boston is open to moving all of them if the return is right.
There could be some teams to watch in terms of trading into the draft; The Houston Rockets have explored deals that would get them into the late lottery, it does not seem like there is traction on anything as of today, but it’s a situation to watch.
The Denver Nuggets have also explored deals to get into the first round, mainly to obtain inexpensive bench players. The Nuggets could be one of the teams to watch for with one of the Celtics or Hawks picks.
With all of that in mind, here is the latest NBA Mock Draft. You can look for the Final Consensus Mock Draft tomorrow.UPDATED: 6/18 - 4:00pm
Stay tuned to Basketball Insiders for the latest news and rumors surrounding the 2019 NBA Draft and instant reaction pieces on all the picks in the first round.
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NBA Daily: Admiral Schofield Set On Building His Own Reputation
Admiral Schofield’s mindset carried him throughout his four-year career with the Tennessee Volunteers, and it will continue to take him to new heights in the NBA. Spencer Davies writes.
Admiral Schofield lives for the late-game heroics.
“A lot of people talk about the clutch gene,” the former Tennessee forward told reporters at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago with a grin. “ I don’t think it’s a gene. I just think it comes from a mindset, comes from your preparation and how you approach the game.”
On March 9, 2017, Schofield had an opportunity. With the ninth-seeded Volunteers down by two to the third-seeded Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Tournament, he hoisted a shot for the victory from the left elbow.
To everyone’s dismay, Schofield’s attempt fell short. Tennessee was eliminated and their season was over. Then a sophomore, he and his teammates were scrambling to find somebody to take it. He admittedly was not ready to be in that spot.
That’s when something clicked in his head.
“I think my mindset changed to ‘I will never be in a position where the last shot is decided for me and I won’t make it,’” Schofield said in a farewell video post on Twitter back in March.
“I just want to contribute to winning,” Schofield said at the Combine. “Whether it’s defending for the last shot being on the defensive end, whether it’s taking that corner three or taking that kick-out three or making a play, I’m that guy. I want to be that guy…”
Ever since then, that mentality has stuck with him.
Do a quick Google search on Schofield. Amidst the highlight-reel flashes of athleticism, it’s guaranteed that you’ll find more than a handful of different moments where the fearless 22-year-old stepped up during crunch time.
On December 8 this past year, Schofield led then-seventh-ranked Tennessee to a win over the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs. En route to a career-high 30 points, he caught fire in the second half and knocked down the go-ahead three from the top of the perimeter with 22 seconds left in the game.
The story didn’t change in conference play. A month later with his team up by two on Florida, Schofield went to the right corner and hit a dagger with 41 seconds to play. In a one-point affair vs. Ole Miss later in the season, he took a game-clinching charge.
When the NCAA Tournament came around, Schofield stepped up once again. Tussling in the first round with an upset-minded Colgate squad, he nailed two triples from the same right corner spot with less than two minutes to go. Before getting eliminated in overtime by Purdue in the Sweet 16, he drained a deep three above the break to give the Vols the lead with five minutes left in regulation.
“I mean if you ask guys like Kobe [Bryant], they won’t tell you it’s a clutch gene. It’s just the thousands of shots. It’s another shot that he shot a thousand times,” Schofield said at the Combine.
“It’s the same thing for me. I stay in the gym. I work on my mindset. I work on situational things in the gym and [I’m] always staying ready, staying prepared for the next shot and being prepared for that big shot. And I just feel like in that moment in time, I think I’m the best option.
If you can’t tell by the infectious smile, Schofield is beaming with confidence—and why wouldn’t he be?
When he arrived in Knoxville in 2015, things weren’t great. The coach that recruited him to come to Tennessee, Donnie Tyndall, was fired after his lone underwhelming season for the program. Rick Barnes came in as a replacement and the results were poor in his first couple of seasons, too.
But over the last two years, the Volunteers are 57-15. They’ve appeared in back-to-back March Madness tournaments and won the regular season SEC Championship in 2018. For the first time in school history, they were ranked No. 1 in the country during the month of January. It was the first time they had been the nation’s top team in over a decade.
The turnaround was monumental, and Schofield realizes how big of a piece he was to that puzzle.
“It felt great because, to be honest, I was part of that foundation building that culture,” Schofield said. “And to be on top in the end really is just a testament to the hard work. And everything that we built in those first two years, it really started to pay off in those last few years.
“But to say that I was one of the guys that helped start that is a blessing. We had a great year. We had a great run.”
Transitioning to the next level, Schofield feels as ready as anybody. Under Barnes, he says everything was “pro-structured.” The Vols were constantly pushed. They were always prepared. Perhaps most importantly, everybody was held accountable, which is essential when players are going to be on their own in the pros.
Because of his experiences, Schofield believes in himself. It’s not about him simply sticking around the league. He desires much more than that.
“I think I can contribute to any team or any organization that brings me in, not just with my play,” Schofield said. “But just being a great teammate, being an ambassador for that organization and for that community, really coming in and being a positive influence, having some type of leadership. Not saying I’ll come in and be ‘the guy’ or ‘the leader.’ There’s many ways you can lead.”
In discussing his character, it’s hard not to bring up one of the most selfless moments in his college career. With Tennessee and Iowa knotted up prior to heading into overtime, Schofield—who was one hack away from fouling out—told Barnes to take him out in favor of teammate Kyle Alexander.
Cold from the field and in danger of being disqualified, Schofield made the request knowing Alexander would be a game-changer. It paid off in a victory.
“I’m a winner,” Schofield said after the 83-77 win in extra time. “At the end of the day, if I don’t have to be on the floor to win, that’s fine.”
While there’s plenty of other times he’s put his leadership on display, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect example of Schofield’s team-first outlook. Combine those intangibles with the skill set and you have yourself one hell of a basketball player.
Schofield views himself as a positionless player with the ability to guard two through four or five, switching and slowing down scorers and doing the little things on the defensive end. Within offensive sets, converting on shots from the corner, coming off pin-downs and utilizing dribble hand-offs are his forte. He also has incredible athleticism, whether it’s skying for a huge dunk or swatting an opponent.
NBA teams can clearly see the 40 percent rate from three over the last three years. Still, there’s more than meets the eye to that, according to Schofield.
“[I want to] show ’em that not only can I shoot the ball, I can defend and do multiple things – create a little bit for others and pass the ball well,” Schofield said. “I don’t credit for how well I pass the ball either because I haven’t been in many situations at Tennessee to pass the ball. But I do pass it pretty well.”
Schofield maintains he deserves to be picked in the first round. As one of three draft hopefuls from Tennessee—Grant Williams and Jordan Bone being the others—who hopes to hear his name called Thursday night, that’s what he’s aiming for.
If he gets his wish, Admiral will become the second professional athlete in the Schofield family. His older brother, O’Brien, is an NFL linebacker who was a part of the 2014 Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
“He’s helped me a lot,” Admiral said of his O’Brien. “But more than anything, I’ve just been very observant seeing how he did things, even though it was football. Just got a little taste of that type of spotlight, him being an NFL Champion, playing on the Seahawks.
“Just seeing the process of that, seeing what it takes to win on that level, seeing some of the things that they did—I was able to implement that at the University of Tennessee, but I also I’ll be able to take that with me going forward when I get to the league.”
Individually, there’s always room to get better. You can develop better dribbling, improve your passing or tweak your jumper. But can you make an impact on winning?
And that’s what will separate him from the rest.
NBA Daily: What’s Next For The Lakers?
With Anthony Davis onboard to make them a contender, the Lakers must decide how they will spend their money this summer, write Matt John.
The NBA season ended literally just days ago, and we already may have seen the most significant move made this offseason.
The Los Angeles Lakers went all-in when they traded 95 percent of the farm on Friday for Anthony Davis, pairing him up with LeBron to make up one of the most fearsome duos in the league.
There’s a lot of risk going into this. LeBron will be 35 in December, and Davis doesn’t have a whole lot of playoff success to his name. Many think the Lakers may have overshot their hand when they made this deal. They traded almost all the young talent they had – plus, three picks and two pick swaps is a king’s ransom for a guy on an expiring contract.
Let’s not mince words. LA definitely paid more than they could afford in the long run with this trade, but Anthony Davis is the type of guy you overshoot your hand for. When you have one of the league’s top players in the game, and you have the chance to add another one, you pay the piper.
Now all that remains is what to do with the rest of the roster. All props need to go to Rob Pelinka for creating a title window for the Lakers when the clock was ticking, but let’s not overlook that the roster he constructed last summer turned out to be a complete disaster. It was an intriguing idea to put a bunch of playmakers around LeBron, but the lack of spacing manifested a clogged toilet offense.
Even after adding Anthony Davis and his $25+ million contract, the Lakers will still have plenty of cap room at their arsenal this summer. If getting the Lakers their 17th title is truly his concern, he needs to build the best roster he can around LeBron and AD. In order to do that, the Lakers have two options to go to
Get The Third Star
Now it’s clear as day that this is what the Lakers are hoping for. Shortly after the Davis trade was announced, Marc Stein reported that the team will make Kemba Walker its primary target in free agency.
Having a third star has been LeBron’s MO for every destination he’s gone to since “The Decision.” First, it was Chris Bosh in Miami, and then it was Kevin Love in Cleveland. Neither matched the production that they had with their previous teams before they joined LeBron, but they did give the team an undeniable edge that helped them win a championship.
Getting that third banana takes the pressure off of James and Davis to produce on a nightly basis, and it can help stagger minutes for James who, all things considered, isn’t getting any younger.
Now, Davis can handle a fair amount of the load as James continues to age, but a third star would only make his life easier. As we all know, Davis wasn’t exactly happy that he had to carry much of the scoring burden in the Big Easy, so having someone else pick up the slack would not make it feel like a repeat of what happened with the Pelicans.
Luckily for the Lakers, this summer has one of the best free agent classes of all time. Kevin Durant, who’s still getting the max with or without a healthy Achilles, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Khris Middleton and Walker. Adding one of those names would solidify the Lakers’ odds as the title favorite (if they aren’t already).
The only problem with getting this third star on presumably a maximum contract is that, with all that money invested in James, Davis and Player X, there is little money to spend elsewhere. The only other contracts that can be handed out are the Mid-Level Exception and veteran minimum contracts. This summer, a lot of teams are going to have cap space, and not everyone is going to have that happy ending this offseason.
Because of that, expect lesser players to get paid far more than what they are worth. That’s going to make it difficult for the Lakers to get valued rotation players on veteran’s minimum level contracts.
That’s why it could be better for LA to consider the other option.
Get Reliable Role Players
The Lakers have two of the league’s best players. As long as they stay on the court, LA should be one of the best teams in the league. With the Warriors appearing to disband this summer, the NBA will have some parity for the first time since 2016. Now that the next title may be up for grabs, LeBron and Davis could be enough star power alone to power the Lakers to a title.
Emphasis on star power. Of course, they can’t win a title without any productive players in their rotation. They could get them, but that would probably mean they wouldn’t be able to add a third banana. Then again, maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world.
If we learned anything from the Warriors from the last few weeks, it’s that a lack of depth can really kill you in the Finals. One of the reasons why Toronto won so handily – besides the unfortunate injuries – was because of its full-balanced attack against Golden State. The Warriors may have had the edge in star power, but Marc Gasol, Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Norm Powell took advantage of the Warriors’ lack of versatility as a team.
You need those types of players to win the championship. No one knows that better than LeBron. Things didn’t start out great in Miami, but after the team added the likes of Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Chris Andersen, the HEAT got that extra push to win a championship.
Ditto for Cleveland. The Cavaliers didn’t have the greatest start when he came back. Then they added JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Timofey Mozgov and Channing Frye- and that made a huge difference.
Something that we all know by now is that LeBron thrives when he has players who can shoot. The Lakers could bring back some of their designated “shooters” from last season, including Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Mike Muscala and Reggie Bullock, but there are better options this summer
Danny Green, Nikola Mirotic, JJ Redick, Trevor Ariza and Darren Collison to name a few are all guys who can shoot the rock that on paper would be an excellent fit next to LeBron. At the very least, they would help LeBron play the type of basketball that he loves to play in.
The problem is, those guys can’t be asked to do more than what their specialty is. If and when LeBron and Davis are having an off-night, you can’t rely on a sharpshooter to carry the team when it’s down.
There’s always the possibility that the Lakers, even if they don’t sign a star player, believe they have their third banana in Kyle Kuzma. That’s a lot of pressure for a third-year player, but Kuzma has been exceeding expectations since he came into the league. Maybe he’s only scratching the surface of his potential.
There is no wrong answer for the Lakers here. It’s exciting enough that with Davis on board, they now have options this summer. They no longer have to bank on the cavalry coming in the near future because the cavalry has arrived. They’re not a finished product, but they finally have a product on their hands.
All that said, which door do you think the Lakers should choose?