Steve Kyler, Jessica Camerato, Alex Kennedy and Bill Ingram discuss which NBA head coaches could be on the hot seat next season.
The Reemergence of Rashard Lewis
Two summers ago, Rashard Lewis had just been bought out and was determined to join a contender. He was coming off of back-to-back lottery seasons in Washington and a trade to New Orleans, and he wanted to be return to the postseason and add a championship to his impressive resume. Shortly after hitting the open market, Lewis received interest from a number of teams including the Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks among others.
Then, Lewis received an unexpected phone call.
“Pat Riley called,” Lewis said with a smile. “He called and said, ‘This is Pat Riley.’ I’m like, ‘Who? Nah, this is someone playing on the phone. Who is this?’”
Once he realized that it really was Riley on the other end, he was ecstatic. The defending champion Miami HEAT were interested in signing Lewis, to put him alongside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the recently-signed Ray Allen. As a 14-year veteran who desperately wanted to win his first championship, Miami was by far the most attractive situation for Lewis. He knew that he’d be able to go deep into the playoffs and get plenty of open looks since he would be surrounded by star players. He set up a meeting and, several days later, finalized a contract with the HEAT.
Lewis had been offered more playing time and money elsewhere, but at this point in his career competing for a title was the most important thing for Lewis. He had cashed lucrative paychecks and achieved individual success, but he wanted to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy before his playing career came to an end. During his introductory press conference with the HEAT, a giddy Lewis sat next to his former Seattle SuperSonics teammate Allen and couldn’t stop smiling.
However, Lewis’ first season in Miami didn’t go exactly as he planned. While he knew he was signing up for a smaller role on the HEAT, he didn’t realize that there would be many nights he didn’t play at all. Last season, he appeared in just 55 regular season games and averaged just 14.4 minutes. In the 2013 playoffs, he saw the floor even less, appearing in just 11 games and averaging 4.3 minutes. Lewis was able to win his first title last year, but he was more of an observer than contributor for the HEAT. He barely played in the 2013 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, but still enjoyed the ride.
It seemed like Lewis’ role would be similar this postseason, after he played in just 60 games and averaged 16.2 minutes during this year’s regular season. Through the first 11 games of these playoffs, Lewis averaged just 1.9 points while shooting 25 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from three.
Then, Chris Andersen suffered a thigh injury in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers and suddenly Lewis was thrust into Miami’s starting lineup. Now, after sitting for much of the season, Lewis has emerged as arguably the most productive HEAT player outside of James, Bosh and Wade.
Over the last five games, the 34-year-old has averaged 13.8 points and has scored in double figures in every contest. He has hit 18 three-pointers over that span, sinking 52.9 percent of his long-range attempts. Lewis is the perfect example of a veteran who stays ready all season long and then delivers when his number is called.
“You always want to stay mentally prepared,” Lewis said. “I knew, especially with Mike Miller not being here anymore, I knew we would have to go to someone on the bench who would need to step their game up and go win ball games. On any night, it can be someone different – it can be Shane Battier, James Jones, Toney Douglas or myself. I think we all know that, and all stay prepared and ready.
“I had pretty much the same approach [after being moved into the starting lineup]. It was an increased opportunity for me, getting more playing time, [that led to this production]. It was more just focusing on being a role player and doing the little things to help us win the ball game, just trying to defend and do the small things to get us to that next level.”
“He’s had a big impact,” HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra said of Lewis. “Look, our team is built on sacrifice. A lot of guys have had to sacrifice in their games to do different things for us to be successful. Veteran players have had to sacrifice minutes. We talk about it all the time, that this team and this opportunity isn’t for everybody. Rashard signed up for it two years ago knowing that it wouldn’t be quite the role that he’s had before, but it could still be a significant role and you could have great playoff moments. He’s kept himself ready, he’s an absolute pro. … It might look easy from the outside for veteran players to sacrifice and give up minutes, [but it’s not]; they could probably get more [playing time] other places, but they understand the big picture and what this team is built for. Rashard at times this year wasn’t playing, but he kept himself ready.”
This is the most productive stretch that Lewis has had in years. Prior to this run, the last time he had five straight games in double figures was back in January of 2011, shortly after the Wizards acquired him. The last time he had five straight postseason games in double figures was in April of 2010, when he was still on the Magic.
“He’s showing a little bit of his younger bounce right now, and I think he’s feeling the healthiest he’s felt in two years,” Spoelstra said. “He’s been building for it. He’s really been working hard behind the scenes. We were able to give him enough minutes during the regular season, but not wear him out at his age, that now he can [contribute]. Not necessarily it was planned for this, but he kept himself ready, and when the opportunity happened, you’re seeing a fresh body right now. He always was skilled. His skill set is one of the reasons we went after him. He was coached well, was in a defensive system, was already in a spread system offensively that’s very similar to ours. We thought he’d be a terrific fit and is a veteran player that’s willing to sacrifice. There aren’t a lot of those types of guys. He was willing to sacrifice and sit out oftentimes for weeks on end, but he kept himself ready. His body was getting stronger, healthier and he gave us a punch. There’s no question about it. We talk about it all the time with our team. It’s about moments. It’s not necessarily about every single game or minute during January and February. It’s about the big moments, keeping yourself ready and having an opportunity to make an impact at some point during the postseason.”
Miami is already a juggernaut with so many weapons, but they’re even tougher to slow down when Lewis is spreading the floor and producing at this high level.
“Rashard has been huge for us ever since he’s been inserted into our starting lineup, from the Indiana series,” James said. “He’s been in this position before. He’s been to the Finals with Orlando Magic. He’s been in huge playoff games, and his experience and ability to knock down shots helps us out a lot. It spreads the floor for us, and every time he catches the ball, we tell him just to shoot it. Don’t think about nothing else besides shooting the ball, and we live with his results.”
“He’s done a great job for us,” Norris Cole said of Lewis. “On the defensive end, he’s been good and on the offensive end, he’s a great ball mover and obviously spreads the floor with his three-point shooting ability. He’s an ultimate pro. That’s why he’s been in the league for so long. He’s a super veteran. He has played in the Finals before and he has played in big playoff moments before. He’s been the leading scorer on teams before. Knocking down shots is part of his arsenal – that’s what he does as a professional.”
Lewis understands his role and he describes the star-laden HEAT as a perfect situation for a shooter.
“It’s makes it easier, it makes it easier for myself to have guys like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and even Ray Allen out on the court around me because you have to double team those guys and it leaves me wide open,” Lewis said. “All I have to do is knock those shots down when I’m wide open.”
As a 16-year NBA veteran, Lewis is respected among his peers and considered one of the best shooters of all-time. He has scored over 15,500 points over the course of his career and he has hit the eighth-most three-pointers in NBA history.
“He’s a great player who can really score the ball from the three-point line,” Marco Belinelli said of Lewis. “I have a lot of respect for him. I mean, he’s one of the best three-point shooters in history. Everybody knows what he can do, and we have to stay very close to him because he can score the ball from three. But they really play together. LeBron is just amazing – he really finds open guys and he’s really been looking for Rashard at the three-point line. It’s tough.”
“It is a little different [having Lewis play in this year’s Finals], since he’s taking the minutes from Shane Battier pretty much and he’s a great shooter,” Boris Diaw said. “We have to be careful and locate him at all times. He has definitely spread the floor for them.”
“He’s a stretch-four who is making a lot of shots; he’s really kind of doing what [Mike] Miller did for them last year,” Tiago Splitter said. “I think we have to do a little bit of a better job on him. Sometimes we have left him a little bit too open, and he’s scoring the ball well.”
“He’s been playing great for them,” Danny Green said. “He’s been shooting the ball really well and we didn’t expect that from him. He’s a guy who we’re going to have to focus on a little bit more. He’s getting a lot of threes in transition, and we can’t let him get those clean looks. It just shows how deep their team is, how good their bench is. When one guy isn’t hitting [shots] or playing, they have others. Last year, it was Mike Miller and Shane Battier. They don’t have Mike anymore, but they still have Shane. They also have James Jones and obviously Ray Allen; just so many shooters on the bench that they can choose from. This year, Rashard has been stepping up and knocking down shots. It complements them having multiple shooters on the perimeter. It makes them that much more dangerous because then we can’t just pack the paint, we have to rotate to those guys. It really shows how deep of a team they are.”
When Lewis was told that Green said the Spurs “didn’t expect” him to shoot the ball so well, he laughed.
“I guess the past couple of years I haven’t been getting a lot of playing time; hopefully I’m not on the scouting report and I can keep shooting it well so they can keep leaving me over there in that corner,” Lewis said with a smile. “I’m surprised Danny Green said that, as a three-point shooter. He should know his history of three-point shooters.”
Lewis’ place in that history is cemented; now he’s just hoping to add to his ring collection.
Spurs Reflect on Their Sustained Success
There’s no question that the San Antonio Spurs are the NBA’s model franchise. They have earned this label because they excel at identifying talent, developing players and playing unselfish basketball, which has led to sustained success for the franchise. The Spurs have won 50 or more games in every full season since 1997-98, hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy four times in that span.
It’s rare for a team to keep the same core pieces in place for over a decade, but that’s exactly what the Spurs have done with Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. This group has allowed the Spurs to contend each and every season, even when outsiders counted the team out due to their age or minor personnel moves. Now, they’re two wins away from yet another championship and they took some time today to reflect on their success.
“Well, I think what we have accomplished hasn’t been seen a lot in many other cities or teams,” Ginobili said. “Maybe you saw it with the Lakers or Celtics, but having a group of three players and a coach for more than a decade and winning three or four championships and making it to the Finals. I don’t know what the word “dynasty” means exactly, but I know that we accomplished a lot of things. We won a lot of games together.”
“I think in the last couple years I’ve really kind of taken a step back and stopped and enjoyed what the journey means,” Duncan said. “I think, as it comes to a close on my career, and I know it is, I appreciate it more. I appreciate every game more. I appreciate every accomplishment, and everything that we get to go through and every experience, knowing that it might be the last time I do it.”
Popovich credits Duncan, Ginobili and Parker’s attitude and approach for their sustained excellence.
“I guess the most enjoyable thing is that they’re team‑oriented players,” Popovich said. “They’ve gotten over themselves is what we always talk about. It’s absolutely not about any one of them, and they know that. Last night Timmy and Manu didn’t do anything amazing, but they are thrilled for Danny [Green] and Kawhi [Leonard] and for the few minutes Matt Bonner gave us, that sort of thing. If you have three people on your team that lead the way in that manner, it’s to be enjoyed on a daily basis. So that’s probably the first thing I’ve enjoyed about them. It makes my job so much easier.”
There’s no question that San Antonio is a modern dynasty, and basketball fans should appreciate their greatness while they still can.
NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.