Victorious as usual, after giving the Brooklyn Nets a 30-point beating, Dwyane Wade checked his phone as he got dressed.
Wade then turned to Jimmy Butler, who had just finished addressing the media, and asked a question.
“Yo J.B., you got space for this, big dog?”
Butler looked at his bag and, with a smile, nodded.
Moments later, Rajon Rondo walked over to Butler and playfully chastised him for turning down the volume on his iPhone. Butler’s phone was connected to a bluetooth speaker blasting music in the Bulls’ spirited locker room. When one Drake song in particular came on, Rondo asked Butler for his phone so he could play the song again.
With a light chuckle, Butler obliged.
I’ve spent my fair share of time in NBA locker rooms over the years and have come to learn that what transpires in there, in front of the media, is a usually indicative of what transpires behind closed doors. NBA locker rooms are places where egos often clash. Some of your favorite NBA stars are more concerned with continuing to assert themselves as their team’s alpha-male than they are with winning basketball games, while others are more concerned with their playing time and their next contract than their next game.
If and when there is disharmony in an NBA locker room, the best thing to do is observe. Vibrations and energy don’t lie. Fortunately, in Chicago, none of those problems exist. Dwyane Wade made sure of it.
Many moons ago, with Wade still a rising star in Miami, Shaquille O’Neal hand-picked Wade as his desired running mate because O’Neal saw Wade’s immense potential after Wade’s impressive performance in the 2003-04 playoffs. Despite his three championship rings, upon arriving in Miami, O’Neal made it clear to everyone around him that in order for the HEAT to win, Wade would need to become the dominant force that his potential suggested he could. Privately, O’Neal shared those sentiments with the young guard and assured Wade that he sincerely wanted him to be the team’s alpha. For Wade, it made a tremendous difference.
That’s why, seven years later—after the HEAT had fallen short against the Dallas Mavericks—it was easy for Wade to step aside in a similar manner for LeBron James. And that’s why, after returning home to Chicago, it was easy for Wade to declare the team to be Jimmy Butler’s. No stranger to sacrifice, Wade understands what it takes to build a winner and a harmonious locker room in the NBA.
Over the years, I have spent a lot of time around Wade. We have had conversations about his health, his progression as a superstar and the growth of Erik Spoelstra among other subjects. Incredibly humble and insightful, Wade has long dedicated himself to being a player who chased the collective accolades over the individual.
That’s why, of all players in the league, he could offer a unique perspective on what Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors are going through. Wade has been there and done that.
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“I think it was surprising for everyone,” Wade told Basketball Insiders of his reaction when he learned that Durant had chosen to go to the Warriors. “I don’t think nobody seen that; I mean, they had rumors about it but I think it was a little surprising for everyone.”
What made Durant’s decision to defect to Oakland “surprising,” as Wade put it, was probably the fact that, unlike LeBron’s Cavaliers, Durant’s Thunder had the defending champions on the ropes in the Conference Finals. They seemed so close.
Still, Wade understands.
“At the end of the day, from a player’s standpoint, I’m happy that we have the ability to make our own decisions,” Wade said. “I know other people have their opinions on it, but at the end of the day, he made a decision for him and you can’t be mad at that at all.”
Now, though, with the assembling of the NBA’s newest “super team,” the expectation is not only for the Warriors to win, but for them to win right now.
Rarely does it happen like that, though. Wade knows that well.
“It takes time,” he said with a chuckle. Recalling his experience with the HEAT, Wade knows that winning was about more than names on paper. “We had great players, but we had a lot of guys who already was used to something a certain way and it just took a little time.”
The HEAT would begin their first season together by putting together a win-loss record of just 9-8 over their first 17 games. Many wondered whether Wade and James joining forces was a mistake. Others said that Coach Spoelstra was in over his head. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the HEAT responded by winning 21 of their next 22 games.
“Everybody wanted to beat us, so everybody was playing their tail off against us,” Wade recalled. “It took time for us to get to the game that we wanted to get to.”
Having begun their season with two early humbling losses to the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers, the Warriors are getting a first-hand feeling of what it’s like to be a walking target. Sure, as the defending champions last season, they had their fair share of challengers, but the level of hate and scrutiny they are under this season, for them, is new.
Wade experienced that first hand.
“I think them guys understand what it takes,” Wade said of the sacrifices needed to win under such circumstances. “I think the biggest thing is, what I say is just enjoy it. One thing we did wrong our first year was we played into the villain role because people was not liking that we was together and we tried to play into that role. That’s not why we started playing basketball – we started playing basketball because we enjoyed it and we loved it.”
Over the years, LeBron James admitted the same. The HEAT were a lightning rod for criticism. People actively rooted for them to fail because the masses were sold the idea that what they had created in Miami was bad for basketball. There are some facts that would indicate precisely the opposite. But, Wade cautions, if you feed into the negativity, it could make an already challenging endeavor all the more emotionally taxing.
“When you play that way, you win that way,” Wade said of playing with joy. “That’s the one thing, don’t play into the role of what people expect of you.
“You have the ability to do whatever you want in life and you made a decision, so live with your decision,” he said of Durant, specifically. “Enjoy your decision and just enjoy playing basketball.”
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Coming off of a record-breaking 73-win season, the Warriors effectively replaced Harrison Barnes with Kevin Durant. If the “trade” of the two were one-on-one, that would be one thing. But the Warriors had to separate with other key members of their rotation in order to free the necessary cap space to sign Durant.
Of course, the HEAT weren’t able to win in their first season together. Other “super teams,” including the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers, weren’t able to win period.
Whether the Warriors can live up to the mighty expectations will be determined by how they respond to the challenges they face and how Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green respond to the new pecking order that the team will inevitably have to determine.
Their success will also be determined by how well Curry can play the part of Wade, making Durant’s transition to the team harmonious and seamless.
Inevitably, in the NBA, history repeats itself. Now, an older sage, Wade has the perspective to provide valuable insight.
“It makes it more challenging,” Wade said of Durant’s decision to join the Warriors. “It makes it more interesting around the league, but as a player, I respect his decision to do what he wanted to do.”
Indeed, in a world where athletes are expected to conform, independent thought often comes with a cost.
Durant has already lost a lot, and his gains can only be evened out by winning big.
Unlike the Warriors of the past, the San Antonio Spurs or the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Warriors find themselves mimicking the model of Dwyane Wade’s HEAT. Whether they have the same success will be determined by how well they sacrifice.
Like the rest of us, Dwyane Wade will be watching closely.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN