As he sat in the greenroom, his palms, no doubt, were a bit sweatier than usual.
Sure, in terms of basketball, Buddy Hield had been there and done that. The accolades had been a bit too numerous to comfortably fit on a single sheet of paper and last season’s Final Four run with his Oklahoma Sooners had its pressure packed moments.
Yet still, nothing could have prepared Hield for the night he had been dreaming of for as long as he can remember.
“I’m speechless right now,” he said.
As the bright lights gleamed down upon him, finally, after all these years, all the obstacles and all the early mornings and late nights, Buddy Hield had commenced the journey he had seemingly been waiting his entire life to embark upon.
“Thank god I got the opportunity to play with New Orleans,” Hield said
And, for the sake of Dell Demps, Anthony Davis and their fans, thank god the New Orleans Pelicans made the wise choice.
* * * * * *
My Jamaican culture and lineage is important to me. It’s a part of my identity. Few things have made me prouder than watching Jamaica’s presence and place in the international basketball community grow. Over the past few years, as I have developed relationships with first-generation American and Canadian players with Caribbean connections and the Jamaican Basketball Federation, I have seen a lot.
And if you think American-born players from the inner-city have it tough, take a trip down to any one of several Caribbean islands.
In terms of basketball, the opportunity, the organization, the tutelage, the infrastructure—they are as scarce as winter coats in the Bahamas.
That’s why Buddy Hield, his rise and his progression are so personal to me.
I’ve been to the Bahamas and have spent a substantial amount of time in Jamaica. From an infrastructure and monetary standpoint, basketball is usually no higher than the third or fourth sport that Caribbean governments are willing to invest in. Soccer, cricket and track and field, for the most part, are the apples of the difference-makers’ eyes.
So while we show respect to Andrew Wiggins (Barbados), Cory Joseph (Trinidad) and Andre Drummond (Jamaica)—the three of whom all have Caribbean connections—we should show special respect to the Caribbean nationals who, despite all odds, are able to rise up and become professional basketball players.
So when you think of Buddy Hield, understand that his journey wasn’t easy. Opportunity wasn’t plentiful. Scouts and platforms to make impressions were scarce.
And after sustaining his greatness for so long, continually working and impressing everyone that meets him with his good manners and kind demeanor, there is no question that for Hield, merely getting to the NBA is a fantastic accomplishment. A great many player that he has played with and competed against in the FIBA Centrobasket tournament in 2014 could only dream of reaching that point.
So here and now, on the night of June 23, Hield couldn’t help but to reflect on the journey.
“I’m so happy,” he told the assembled media. “Not only for me, but for all the kids back in the Bahamas. The norm is that we never make it out there.”
Dashed hopes and lack of opportunity is synonymous with Caribbean basketball culture, and Skal Labissiere would cosign that sentiment, as well.
“I’m just happy for the Bahamas, really. Put them back on the map,” Hield said.
But even more so than that, Hield recognizes that with the likes of Jamaicans Samardo Samuels, Jerome Jordan and incoming rookie Shevon Thompson (who sources say is “close” on landing a summer league deal with an NBA team), as well as the overall growth of the game of basketball in the Caribbean, that the region needs to be scouted more closely.
“For sure, no doubt,” Hield said when I asked whether there are other undiscovered talents in the region.
“I think the Caribbean has been overlooked because guys don’t really have the resources to get out and guys are less fortunate to make it to the U.S. and get scholarships and for people to come down and see them.
“You think about the Bahamas, you think it’s this island full of beaches and chilling on the beach, but there’s a lot of freak athletes down there that can play, and a lot of guys better than me who I feel like didn’t get an opportunity like me. But when I got my opportunity, I took full advantage of it.”
There is something to be said for being in the right place in the right time, and there certainly is something to be said for being discovered. But there is a lot more that needs to be said about a young prospect who takes advantage of the opportunities he’s been afforded and pursues his goals with the tireless zeal that success requires.
* * * * * *
During the 2005-06 NBA season, after the departure of Phil Jackson and the unexpected resignation of Rudy Tomjanovich, Kobe Bryant did all that he could to ensure that the Los Angeles Lakers missing the playoffs in 2005 would not be something that would be repeated.
With Jackson surprisingly re-assuming the helm in Los Angeles, during his first year back, Bryant turned in his most historic season. En route to a 35.4 points per game average, it was during this fateful season that Bryant both scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors and turned in a mystifying 62-point performance against the Dallas Mavericks. What made the feat against the Mavericks such an inspiration was that Bryant both scored all 62 of those points in three quarters and actually outscored the entire Mavericks team after three quarters, 62-61.
All the while, far, far away, Bryant was helping Hield to realize he loved the game.
“I saw Kobe Bryant playing,” Hield said with a smile when asked what caused him to pick up the basketball. “About 12 or 13 years old, it was something I fell in love with,” he said.
“I wasn’t the best, so I kept on working and working until I got my opportunity.”
But until that opportunity availed, Hield did all that he could do to ensure he would be ready. When asked about what kind of court condition he encountered, Hield would reveal that his first court was a “crate court” that he built himself in his grandmother’s backyard.
It was there that Hield began laying the foundation for what promises to be a stellar career.
Shevon Thompson, the former forward from George Mason University who grew up in Clarendon, Jamaica, recalled having to paint his own lines on his court and assemble and erect hoops and backboards. Mind you, Thompson wasn’t doing that at his grandmother’s house, he was doing it at his high school—Vere Technical.
In the Caribbean, these circumstances are typical. So know, anytime a Caribbean national bursts onto the scene at even the high school level in North America, that an immense amount of perseverance has likely taken place already.
With these types of players, the love for the game is real and the motivation is sincere.
That’s exactly why the smart money is on Buddy Hield.
With milk crates as his building blocks, this is an opportunity that Hield made with his bare hands.
* * * * * * *
In the moments after Adam Silver announced him as the sixth overall pick of the draft, Hield got a first-hand look at what the demands would be like. Being whisked around from corner to corner of Barclays Center, he shakes more hands than he can count and passes me no less than a half-dozen times.
With Bahamian media making the trip to New York City to see their own carry their hopes and dreams with him, Hield walks past the Brooklyn Nets locker room with an entourage that rivals Floyd Mayweather’s.
It would be reasonable to think that not all of the individuals are with Hield, but the unmistakable tone of Bahamian accents and Pelicans baseball caps would quickly convince anyone otherwise.
Without a doubt, Hield has brought his hometown of Eight Mile Rock with him.
And without a doubt, they are all in good hands.
“I already have something in mind to do, ready to do this summer, a camp,” Hield revealed.
“I just want to show the kids back home that there is a way,” he says. “If you really work toward your dream and push yourself and you have the right people behind you, you can make it.
“I’m just trying to motivate those kids back home because there’s a lot of great players back home that didn’t get what I got and now hopefully, people in America can get to see ‘Okay, there might be another Buddy down there,’” he says.
Personally, I have no doubt that there are more talented basketball players down in the Caribbean. But I also have no doubt that there is no other Buddy Hield down there—or anywhere.
Coming off of a disappointing season, the New Orleans Pelicans will look to Hield to make an immediate impact. And although it may be a tad soon to anoint him a perennial All-Star or a Hall-of-Famer, we know that Hield will put everything he has into fulfilling his true potential.
By virtue of merely getting to this point, in many ways, Hield has already shown us what he’s made of.
It just so happens to be the stuff that stars are made of, as well. By merely getting to this point, Buddy Hield has already proven that much.
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.
— 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.
PODCAST: Breaking Down The Western Conference Playoff Race
Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte break down the Western Conference playoff race and check in on the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.