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Gabrielle Union On Acting, Dwyane Wade’s Move to Chicago, More

Gabrielle Union discusses her acting career, the move to Chicago, Dwyane Wade leaving Miami and much more.

Alex Kennedy

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For two decades, Gabrielle Union has been entertaining us with her acting in over 70 films and television shows. Recently, she has also found her way into our homes through social media, developing a huge following on Instagram (6.5 million followers), Twitter (3.12 million followers) and Snapchat, where she gives daily glimpses of her life to a similarly large audience.

Union is currently starring in Being Mary Jane, a hit show about a television news anchor and all aspects of her life. For her role as Mary Jane Paul, Union won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special. She is also set to appear in upcoming films such as The Birth of a Nation, Almost Christmas and Sleepless.

Despite her impressive success, Union might be best known among NBA fans as the wife of perennial All-Star Dwyane Wade. Union is a huge sports fan – she grew up in a family that was obsessed with Nebraska Cornhuskers football – and she shares her opinions on social media quite often. Now, in addition to focusing on her busy career, Union will be moving to the Windy City as Wade makes the transition from the Miami Heat to the Chicago Bulls.

Basketball Insiders recently caught up with Union to discuss her career, activism, social media dominance, the move to Chicago, her reaction to Wade leaving Miami and much more.

Alex Kennedy: You earned a degree in sociology and did a number of things before turning to acting. When did you realize that you wanted to be an actor and start looking at that as a full-time career?

Gabrielle Union: “When I made money (laughs). It wasn’t for the love of it initially, it seemed like a great way to delay adulthood for a while. I started while I was still in college. I kind of always looked at it like, ‘Well, I could always go to law school.’ That was my plan back then. But I was making $6.60 as the book buy back supervisor at UCLA, so I thought, ‘Let’s see if I can make more than that!’ And pretty quickly, I was like, ‘Ah, I can make a living doing this.’ So I never looked back. But even in the back of my mind, I always had that thought of, ‘If I don’t love this or I’m broke, I can still go to law school and carry out the rest of my initial plan.’”

Kennedy: Growing up, who were some of your favorite actors? Since you weren’t in love with acting at a young age or thinking of pursuing that career, I’m sure you weren’t looking up to certain actors or studying them or anything. But still, who were some actors you enjoyed when you were younger?

Union: “Yeah, I definitely wasn’t looking at acting like, ‘I love Meryl Streep. As a child, I watched Helen Mirren and took notes.’ I never looked at it that deep. I’d probably say Eddie Murphy because I liked his movies (laughs). Oh, and Vivica Fox had a guest-starring role on 90210 and that was big for black girls who wanted to see themselves reflected onscreen. Having Vivica on my favorite show was huge. But I definitely wasn’t looking at acting or actors like, ‘Wow, that was a great scene!’ (laughs) I just wasn’t looking at movies or shows in that kind of way.”

Kennedy: Who are some of the actors that have mentored you and helped you improve your craft?

Union: “Jennifer Lewis, right off the bat. Jennifer has been amazing. She just wasn’t interested in watching me, or any of the other actresses she’s mentored over the years, fail. In our town, it can be a little cutthroat and some people take joy in other people failing. But she’s just not one of those people. Tisha Campbell and Tichina Arnold have been really helpful and not just on the acting side, but also on the business of Hollywood and how it can kind of take an emotional toll on you. If people aren’t looking out for you, you can kind of lose your way in a number of different ways. Regina King is awesome. Having her directing episodes of Being Mary Jane now is great because we’ve been friends for a long time and she has looked out for me for so many years. I’ve been lucky to have those ladies.”

Kennedy: Speaking of Being Mary Jane, it has become a huge success. Congratulations on that. What has it been like to dive into that role and how rewarding has it been to see it take off the way it has?

Union: “Normally, we don’t see characters where we get to see 360 degrees of their life. You see them at work or you see them at home with their friends or spouse. But it’s rare that you get to see every angle of their life. What I love about Being Mary Jane is that you see her at work being that boss bitch. Then, you see her on the toilet. I like the fact that you see her masturbating and sexually free. I love that she doesn’t have the best, easiest relationship with her family. The family dynamic is complicated. She’s just so interesting and she’s definitely someone I would want to know. I’d want to sit next to her at a bar or sit next to at the airport during a delay. She fascinates me and I enjoy her. And I’m glad other people enjoy her as well.”

Kennedy: I think with your activism, positivity and the way you use your platform, you’ve become a role model for a lot of people. What is it like to have that kind of support and know you could be positively influencing the next generation?

Union: “Hmm. Well, it’s nice to have a voice. For so long, women have been silenced. Black women, women of color, have been silenced. It’s nice to have the respect of people and be respected because you opt to use your voice in a positive kind of way. It just feels nice and it’s humbling. But it’s sort of doing the right thing and being patted on the back for it. I feel like, ‘We’re all supposed to be doing this, but thank you! I appreciate it!’ Some say ‘role model,’ some would say ‘decent human being.’ But I’ll take either (laughs).”

Kennedy: One way that you reach that next generation is through social media. You have a huge following on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat among others. What’s been the key to building your social media following and how nice is it to have that huge platform to reach your fans?

Union: “I can only go based on comments and feedback, but I seem to be pretty cool (laughs). I just try to be entertaining. There are a lot of Snapchat [accounts] that I just scroll through where I’m like, ‘Okay, I can’t unfollow you because you’ll know when you try to chat me, but you’re just not that interesting.’ Like, me watching you lip sync isn’t that entertaining. I’d rather watch you sing badly. So I thought, ‘Maybe people would like to watch my bad singing!’ So I bad sing a lot. I joke with D [Dwyane Wade] a lot. I don’t know, I just try to be as normal as I can be, but interesting at the same time. If I can give me a chuckle, I’ll try to do that too. It seems like people have responded to that!”

Kennedy: You’ve done a ton of great work, but I’ve seen in interviews where you’ve said that Bring It On boosted your career to that next level and sort of made you a mainstream name. What was it like becoming a household name and having all of that attention come your way?

Union: “I think initially it just feels really good. Initially. Then, it can feel weird and I think everyone is changed by it in some kind of way. It’s a bizarre thing at times. Because sometimes I just want to sit in a sports bar and have a beer. And if someone is looking, in my head I’ll be thinking, ‘Why are they looking?’ I immediately think there’s a booger in my nose because why else would you be looking at me? (laughs) It doesn’t quite compute, at least for me and my friends in Hollywood. Once it gets to be normal, that’s when you know you’ve lost your mind. I’m glad for 20-plus years, it’s felt a little weird. But on the positive side, it just lets you know that people have seen your work and taken something away. And not all of the stares are positive. Provided that people respect your space and safety, it’s pretty cool.

“One time, I was with my girl who played a character that had some questionable things. We were in Miami in a club and this girl slapped the piss out of her. She yelled, ‘Why did you go with that white boy?’ And I know her boyfriend and I’m like, ‘Huh? I know her boyfriend and he’s a large black man.’ But she called her by the character’s name, and the character was dating interracially and this woman hated it. So she slapped the crapp out of her. That was like, ‘Oh my God.’ It makes you realize that there are some people who don’t know reality from fiction and that’s frightening. That was the first taste I’ve ever gotten where it was like, ‘Oh shit,’ and you see the downside of that attention. As much as I love playing questionable characters, some people take it to a scary point when they don’t realize it’s fantasy. A lot of people think you are your character. For years after Deliver Us from Eva, people would come up and be like, ‘Wow, I didn’t think you’d be nice! You play these bitchy characters so well!’ But they’re characters! Sometimes people forget that.”

Kennedy: Are there any actors that you haven’t worked with that you’d like to work alongside in the future?

Union: “There are many. Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster. Also, this new girl who was in Chi-Raq, Teyonah Parris – she is just super talented. Zoë Kravitz is another. I could just name a thousand because there are so many great actors. And now with cable and web series and things like that, there are so many avenues for people to express their art. You don’t have to wait for somebody to give you your big break; you can create your own. A lot more people are [getting] the opportunity to be seen. Also, there are a thousand actors I’d love to work with whose names I don’t know, but I love their work. I’m like that weirdo in L.A. who will creep up at them in CVS and be like, ‘I LOVED YOU IN RAY DONOVAN.’ I’m a creeper. But yeah, there are so many to name.”

Kennedy: In a 2008 interview, you talked about the lack of roles for black men and women and I think that’s a really important topic. Eight years later, do you feel like there has been progress made on that issue?

Union: “We’ve seen more progress in TV, for sure, and it’s hard to just focus on the roles for black women when there are so many women of color who are way worse off than I. So I’ll open [my quote] up to all opportunities for all women of color, in front of and behind the camera. It’s improving, but we’re nowhere close to being a real representation of the way the world looks. We just aren’t. I think the more inclusive the people who run the studios and networks – the people who greenlight projects – then the more inclusive the casts and directors and producers and writers will be. We need to think it holistically as opposed to just casting, because there are so many levels in which people of color are grossly underrepresented.”

Kennedy: I’m sure you’re used to criticism due to your career, but sports fans can be pretty insane. Maybe not slap-your-friend crazy, but I’m curious if you’ve had to deal with criticism from rival fans and crazy people online since marrying Dwyane?

Union: “Never in person. Ever. I’ve gone on the road a few times to games and you never know how opposing fans will be. But it’s really been kind of a lovefest in person. I think it goes to show that when people have the chance to say something to your face, they opt for kindness. Perhaps the anonymity of social media [lends itself to the negativity]. I mean, I rarely get criticism from people who use their own name in their Twitter handle. It’s usually an egg or some nonsensical name. Very rarely is it normal people like Allen Smith from Pittsburgh. No, it’s generally egg haters. And when I do get it, I retweet it with something funny attached. Or I’ll be like, ‘Mom, is this you?’ I don’t take online hate that seriously, unless it crosses a line. What I’ve seen my female sportswriter and sportscaster friends endure is not even sane. Nobody has threatened to rape me or kill me or both. I don’t get that kind of crazy negativity that a lot of women I know in sports get.”

Kennedy: It’s sickening. I’ve seen what women like Jessica Camerato, Kristen Ledlow, Rachel Nichols, Ramona Shelburne and others have to deal with in their mentions and it’s disturbing.

Union: “Cari Champion and Jemele Hill are good friends of mine and they’ll get everything all of the other women get plus a dose of racism as well. It’s the vilest shit I’ve ever seen or heard. It’s insane. So, no, I don’t get it to that degree. I don’t even get the same stuff that fans have given Ayesha Curry, which is vile and gross. It’s insane.”

Kennedy: You brought up Ayesha and that kind of leads to my next question about the wives of NBA players. What are some misconceptions about being an NBA player’s wife?

Union: “I think there are some stereotypes, but I mean some people live out those stereotypes (laughs). I do think there’s this idea that we’re all the same though. If one person opts to speak out, they’re a sinner; if one person opts to stay quiet, they’re a sinner. There’s the idea that everyone is a dim gold-digger who is just in it for a buck. Women who are married to professional athletes get a bad rap.”

Kennedy: It’s weird to me that you’re all grouped together and people make so many generalizations.

Union: “Right, it’s like saying, ‘All men are like this. All women are like that.’ There’s so much diversity within the wives of athletes. There’s just an enormous amount of diversity. I could go through so many stereotypes, but I’d just like for people to know that there are lovely, intelligent, amazing women who happen to be married to an athlete. And being married to an athlete isn’t the most interesting thing about them. You have to actually get to know people beyond, ‘Oh, this is Dwyane Wade……. and his wife.’ A lot of people will dismiss you, or act like just marrying this guy was some accomplishment. No, that’s not an accomplishment. Having a successful marriage is an accomplishment. I don’t liken getting down the aisle with graduating from UCLA (laughs). We didn’t luck out or hit the jackpot. D and I happen to be each other’s best friend, so we lucked out in that sense. But him being in the NBA or me having a job and my own money, that wasn’t a major selling point. Well, I guess you’d have to ask him (laughs). I’d like to think that it wasn’t a major selling point. There’s just a lot more to us than the stereotypes or the reality shows.

“Also, this idea that women can’t formulate their own ideas when it comes to sports is the biggest load of shit I’ve ever heard. If I tweet something about sports, sometimes people will say something like, ‘Okay, Dwyane can hand the phone back now.’ The thought that we aren’t watching the same games as everyone else, the thought we aren’t capable of having sports knowledge or having a high sports IQ is absurd. The idea that we’re somehow speaking for our husbands or saying things that they wish they could say is insane. If I’m at the game, then nobody is freaking telling me what to say, obviously. I’m from Nebraska, where if you don’t know Cornhuskers football, it’s preferred that you just don’t speak. I come from the kind of family where you have to know sports. So my opinions are based on facts, not just willy-nilly like, ‘Oh, I like this guy better than that guy or this team better than that team.’ I’m pretty honest and reasonable as it pertains to anything, including sports.

“And this idea that, ‘Women need to stay in their own lane’? Get the fuck out of here with that. My lane is whatever the fuck I want it to be. How about that? For myself – and I’d imagine any other wife of an NBA player – I’m watching at least 82 games each season. Even if I didn’t have any sports knowledge, by the end of 82 games, I probably would’ve developed an opinion! I probably would’ve been able to see patterns! I probably would’ve been able to spot tendencies. From that alone, I’d be able to put together a 140-character tweet!”

Kennedy: It pisses me off that you have to deal with that kind of stuff.

Union: “Yeah, and it pisses me off that [Stephen Curry’s wife] Ayesha has to deal with this stuff. And it pisses me off that people have ‘decided’ who [LeBron James’ wife] Savannah [Brinson] is just because she opts to not be heavily involved with social media. Whether or not you use social media doesn’t define your soul! You know what I mean? There are dope, cool, amazing mothers and businesswomen – let them live! But this idea that your tweets define who you are or that your lack of tweets define who are is insane. And for people who say that ‘a woman should know her place,’ stop it. Stop. It. My place is where I determine it to be. If I opt to use my voice, good! If I opt not to use my voice, that’s okay too!”

Kennedy: Dwyane obviously surprised people this offseason by joining the Bulls. How much are you looking forward to the move to Chicago and the new opportunity for Dwyane and the family?

Union: “It was shocking. There’s no way around that word. It takes some getting used to. We had just built our dream home in Miami and everyone sort of had their life in Miami so it’s big move for everyone. We all love Miami so much and Miami will still be one of our homes. For Chicago, I think the biggest thing for everyone was winter. There was the fear of winter. It was like Game of Thrones, ‘WINTER IS COMING!’ (laughs) Once we moved on from that, we just found our home and we got the boys in school, it was good. We were afraid because we were thinking, ‘Oh, the boys are about to start high school and how is that going to work?’ And they were, by far, the most eager [to move]. They’re like, ‘Ah! Cool, let’s go!’ As long as they got to keep their South Florida AAU team, they were cool with it. Everyone is just kind of jumping in. We can either dip our toe into the pool or cannon-ball and we’re cannon-balling. I think they like that they got to practice at the Bulls’ facility too. They love it, they’re excited. The first month was cool; hit me back later and we’ll see if they still love it (laughs). No, we’re all really excited.”

Kennedy: You mentioned the dream home in Miami and Dwyane obviously had a ton of history there. When did you start to realize that Dwyane leaving Miami was a possibility?

Union: “Even when we were on vacation, I think me and everyone just kind of assumed [we’d be back]. Like, ‘It looks kind of bleak right now, but they’ll work it out. They always work it out! They’ll work it out.’ It probably wasn’t until Denver’s offer came in that I realized. That offer was… a lot. Then there was another offer and another offer and another offer. And it was like, ‘Oh wait, hold on. Are you thinking about this?’ I mean, how can you not? When there’s an offer on the table that is, what, $13-15 million more than to stay home, it’s like, ‘Wow. Okay. Wow.’ But even still I thought, ‘I’m sure they’ll figure it out. They’ll figure it out!’ Really, even down to the hour that he made his decision, I just thought they’d work it out – like everyone else thought. But Chicago made the moves necessary to make his offer work. He didn’t go with the most money. Some people are saying it was just about money, but he would’ve taken Denver’s offer if that was the case. Denver’s offer was a lot, a lot – considerably more than even Chicago’s offer. It was just about finding a place where he’s comfortable, and he’s comfortable at home. Then, the rest of us had to get comfortable with it (laughs). It just seemed like after the season he had and then the postseason, he was just so excited – more so about his body and his health and that he was able to take his game to a different gear. Moving was the last thing on his mind, but yeah…”

Kennedy: You know Dwyane better than anyone. How determined is he to make this work in Chicago and silence his critics who are doubting him and the team?

Union: “I think more than making it work to silence the critics, he wants to put himself in a position physically, health-wise, to continue playing at a high level. That’s very important. Getting to know Jimmy [Butler] and [Rajon] Rondo is very important. But they haven’t even played together yet, so I don’t know where the criticism is coming from. You have Jimmy, who is an up-and-coming star and on the Olympic team. You have Rondo, who led the league in assists. I don’t know how a guy leads the league in assists and is an assist machine, but somehow gets no credit. You have my husband, who is already top five in shooting guards in the last two years in the NBA, but if you factor in what he accomplished and the amount of minutes he played, he’s one of the most efficient players in the league. What is there to criticize? But I get it. Everyone needs page views and things like that, and criticism does a lot better than raving endorsements so I get the business of criticism. But it’s kind of absurd. Now, if a few months in around the All-Star break it looks nuts, then, by all means, criticize! (laughs) But to criticize how it’ll work when these guys haven’t played together is just insane, in the same way that anointing the Warriors champions for adding KD. It’s like when the Big Three came together in Miami. Everyone was like, ‘Ugh, they’re going to win it all. Change the rules! We have to stopppp thissss!’ Cut to different teams winning championships. I mean, the Warriors have to get used to this because they haven’t all played together. Even in the Olympics, where you have three of them, it’s still not the whole team. They need time to get to know each other, to gel, to figure out the system and how it works with all of these moving parts.

“It’s all exciting though. I think the Warriors are exciting. Just like I think the trio of Jimmy, Rondo and D is exciting. I think Carmelo [Anthony] D-Rose, Joakim [Noah] and Kristaps [Porzingis] in New York is exciting. Seeing how the Spurs will do without Timmy [Duncan] is exciting. There are a lot of great storylines. To critique now is the lowest-hanging fruit. I’d rather err on the side of excitement.”

 

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA

NBA Most Valuable Player Watch — 12/12/17

Dennis Chambers updates the latest MVP watch rankings.

Dennis Chambers

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The NBA season is coming in hot on Christmas Day games, and before we know it the new year will arrive as well. As the second half of the season starts to come into sight, more stability among the league’s MVP candidates will prevail.

By now, most of the frontrunners for the award have staked their claim of consistent dominance over the last eight weeks of the NBA season.

For our list here at Basketball Insiders, the same names make up our ladder from the last MVP race installment. A slight juggling of the order is the only new wrinkle. Thus far, these individuals have put themselves ahead of the pack.

A full season in the NBA is a long race, but through the first few laps, these are the MVP leaders.

stockdown456. Steph Curry (Last Week: 3)

Coming in at No. 3 on the last list, Steph Curry sees a bit of a tumble in the standings. Unfortunately for Curry, he’s suffering from a sprained ankle that is going to cause him to miss some time. Fortunately for the Golden State Warriors, they’ve won three straight games without their star point guard.

This doesn’t discredit the type of season Curry is having, or his brilliance on the court when he’s healthy, but the fact that the Warriors have enough firepower to sustain his absence damages his claim to the most “valuable” player throne.

Nevertheless, for the Warriors to truly fulfill their championship potential, Curry needs to be healthy and playing. Otherwise, the Warriors aren’t as lethal as they could be.

Barring a complete meltdown from his ball club, Curry’s spot will likely continue to drop slightly as he sits on the bench watching his team win games without him.

stockup455. Joel Embiid (Last Week: 6)

Almost the exact opposite of Curry, the Philadelphia 76ers don’t seem to have a prayer at winning basketball games that Joel Embiid sits out of. Luckily for the city of Philadelphia, though, that hasn’t been nearly frequent of an occurrence as past seasons.

The on/off numbers for Embiid are staggering. On both ends of the court, no less. Without their big man, the Sixers’ offensive rating drops off by more than five points and their defensive rating sees a 10-point spike in favor of their opponents.

In short, it’s worse for the Sixers when Embiid is tweeting rather than playing.

After missing back-to-back games over the weekend, Embiid’s value became more apparent to the Sixers. Among a myriad of injuries, Embiid’s was felt the heaviest as his team posted a defensive rating of 111.6 to the Cleveland Cavaliers and then a 130.2 the next night to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Both figures are a far cry from the 102.9 rating the team records with Embiid on the floor.

Much like Curry, the Sixers will need Embiid on the court moving forward to live their best life. So long as he is resting on back-to-backs, or sitting with back soreness, the Sixers won’t be as fortunate as the Warriors to pull out wins.

stockup454. Kyrie Irving (Last Week: 5)

Masked Kyrie joined Untucked Kyrie this season as another alter ego capable of taking the NBA and Twitter by storm on a nightly basis.

Irving, despite suffering an injury to his face that forced him to wear a protective mask a la Rip Hamilton, still has the Boston Celtics atop the league standings with his MVP campaign so far this season. Over Irving’s last 10 games, he’s averaging 25.8 points on 53 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc. Over the course of that same span, the Celtics are 7-3.

Just to strengthen his already solid MVP claim, the Celtics went into Chicago Monday night to play the Bulls without Irving, as he sat out of the game with a quad contusion. All the league’s best team preceded to do was lose 108-85 to the league’s worst team.

At this point in the season, MVP candidates have their statistics in place. As viewers and fans, we really get to see the difference they make on their teams during the games that they aren’t playing, and Monday night for the Celtics was a microcosm of Irving’s season-long importance to the success of their team.

stockup453. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Last Week: 4)

The Greek Freak is still putting up absurd numbers, keeping him right in the conversation for Most Valuable Player. On top of his gaudy production, the Milwaukee Bucks are starting to pile up some wins as well.

Winning six of their last seven games — the only loss coming to the Celtics where Antetokounmpo put up 40 points, nine rebounds, and four assists — the Bucks currently hold a 15-10 record and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.

It’s been well-documented up to this point how effective Antetokounmpo is for Milwaukee from a numbers standpoint. If he can really start translating those performances into wins over good teams, the narrative of him winning the award may begin to revert back the dominance it held over the first few weeks of the season.

As it currently stands, though, Antetokounmpo is ahead of the rest of the pack before a pretty sizeable gap at the two spots above him.

stocknochanges452. LeBron James (Last Week: 2)

After having his Cavaliers’ 13-game win streak snapped by an unconscious Victor Oladipo, LeBron James returned to business as usual by defeating the shorthanded Sixers without Kevin Love by his side. He did so in typical Year 15 fashion, posting 30 points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists, and three steals.

No big deal.

That’s the mantra for James’ 15th year in the NBA: Do it all, and do it well. He doesn’t have the supporting cast that many projected coming into this season, and Irving is out doing his thing in Boston. But for the King of the NBA, after a month of rough basketball, he seems to be figuring it all out for his club and putting them in the positions they need to be in to be successful.

Since the start of Cleveland’s winning streak up until the game against Philadelphia, James is averaging 27.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.1 blocks, 55 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

His team is 14-1, Irving is in Boston, and Isaiah Thomas is on the bench.

Year 15 may very well end with James getting MVP number five.

stocknochanges451. James Harden (Last Week: 1)

The only man standing between James and his fifth MVP is the man who’s setting the league on fire trying to get his first.

James Harden is recreating his stellar season from a year ag but improving it, somehow. Harden’s averages are incredible: 32 points, 9.5 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 40 percent from downtown, and a 31.6 player efficiency rating.

Not to mention he’s led the Houston Rockets to a 21-4 record, and looks to be a real threat at knocking off the Golden State Warriors.

What Harden is doing on the defensive end is what is brining his game, and his MVP case, to the next level. Harden is posting his lowest defensive rating is four years and coming up big on D in crunch time situations.

On Monday night against the Pelicans, Harden came up with a clutch steal with under a minute to go (his sixth of the night) to extinguish a New Orleans rally and put the icing on his 26-point, 17-assist performance.

LeBron may be having an MVP season, even by his standards, but Harden’s performance this year thus far is keeping the King at arms length of the MVP crown.

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NBA

NBA DAILY: What Is Really Wrong With The Thunder?

The Thunder continue to struggle to string together wins. What’s the problem in OKC?

Steve Kyler

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At Some Point It Just Doesn’t Work

The Oklahoma City Thunder continue to be middling, despite having the star level talent it takes in the NBA to be exceptional. With the clock ticking in the wrong direction, is it more likely that this combination of players won’t work, or is there something bigger at play worth considering?

Before we dive too far into this, keep in mind the Thunder have played their 26th game, and are just a half a game out of the eighth spot in the West. Equally, they are also three and a half games behind the fourth-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves, so the sky is far from falling. In fact, they have won four of their last six games, including wins over the Spurs and Timberwolves, which only makes the Jekyll and Hyde of all of this even more frustrating.

All of that said, what’s really wrong with the Thunder? Here are some thoughts:

Not Enough Touches

The Oklahoma City Thunder are dead last in the NBA in touches per game as a team at 384. To contrast that number, the Philadelphia 76ers lead the league in touches at 480.9 touches per game.

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook accounts for 94.4 touches per game, while forward Carmelo Anthony accounts for 61.3 touches with swingman Paul George bringing in 56.0 touched per game. Those three players account for 211.7 of the Thunders 384 touches per game.

That’s not as bad as you would think watching the Thunder play, but what it does illustrate is that neither Anthony or Paul are getting the volume of touches both are used to getting before joining the Thunder. It’s also why neither seems to be able to get into a rhythm on a game to game bases. They have had their moments individually, but it been far from consistent.

It’s more than fair to say that the Thunder offense isn’t generating enough touches to maximize what George and Anthony bring to the table. When the Miami HEAT brought their “Big Three” together, one of the biggest challenges they faced was how to generate the touches to get all their guys in a rhythm and rolling.

That seems to be the biggest part of the problem with the Thunder.

Russ Has To Be Russ

When you look at the Thunder’s “convincing wins” those wins in which they look like an elite team in the NBA, Russell Westbrook plays like last year’s MVP.

The problem for the Thunder is it seems Russell is trying to get other players, specifically Anthony, often to the detriment of his team and his own game. When Westbrook puts his head down and plays his game, the Thunder tend to come out on top.

Westbrook never seemed to have this problem playing with Kevin Durant, and maybe that’s why Durant opted to leave, but Westbrook seems to be trying too hard to get others going.

Where’d Offense Go?

The Thunder continue to talk about how good they are defensively, and that’s a real thing. They are currently the ranked second in the NBA’s defensive rating category. They rank second in point allowed per 100 possessions at 103, just behind league leader Boston at 101.6 points per 100 possessions.

There is no doubt their defense is keeping them in games, but what’s killing them is the long stretches of sub-par offense, many times in the fourth quarter where their offense comes to a grinding halt.

Some have suggested that head coach Billy Donovan simply isn’t creative enough for the construct of this roster. Looking at the stats this far into the season, there may be something to the idea that the Thunder, offensively, just are not creative enough to maximize the potential of their star players.

It’s Not A Selfish Problem

The easy answer on the Thunder is to say they are simply selfish players. There is enough historical evidence on Anthony and Westbrook to support the idea, however, if you really look at the Thunders’ games, it’s actually the opposite. Westbrook likely isn’t selfish enough; it’s likely why he’s struggling from the field on the season.

Part of the offensive problem may be Westbrook’s shooting. His averages this season is markedly down from a year ago—39.6 percent this season from the field versus 42.5 percent last season. Westbrook is also 31.1 percent from three this year versus 34.3 percent from three last season.

But Westbrook is not alone, George is tying his second worst season from the field at 41.8 percent shooting. Anthony is having his worst year as a pro from the field at 40.4 percent.

All three are producing some of their lowest efficiency ratings of their careers, so it’s not just one guy doing so much more than the other. None of them are playing particularly well together.

It’s easy to look at the Thunder and label them one thing or the other; there are enough polarizing personalities on the roster to draw the labels. The truth of the matter is the Thunder just are not very good or efficient offensively, and until they find a way to make that part work, they will likely continue to be middling.

That’s going to make things fairly tough on the Thunder front office, because come the February 9th NBA Trade Deadline, the Thunder may have to cut bait on some players before they potentially lose them in free agency for nothing. The trade deadline is only about 60 days away, believe it or not.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Clippers Looking Forward to Teodosic Return

Clippers hanging on and looking forward to Teodosic return, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The Los Angeles Clippers have had a season of twists and turns. While the season is still young, they’ve dealt with setbacks, mostly in the form of a multitude of injures. In fact, the team’s misfortunes began almost immediately. On Oct 21 (the NBA season started earlier this year), Clippers guard Milos Teodosic went down with a plantar fascia injury. This stands as the first bump in the road for the Clippers, who have seen a number of key players go down.

Following the loss of Chris Paul this past offseason, the Clippers appeared to have salvaged their immediate future through a number of offseason transactions. Under the direction of the front office, which includes Lawrence Frank, VP of Basketball Operations, and Jerry West, a Clippers consultant, the Clippers traded Paul, which helped to remake the roster. West spoke of his approval of the Paul trade before the season started.

“The Clippers feel comfortable that we made out really well. We could have lost him for nothing,” West stated of the Paul trade. “I think it was kind of a win myself.”

The Paul trade brought in Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker and helped to eventually bring in Danilo Gallinari. A big part of the offseason makeover was the acquisition of European star Teodosic. Losing Paul meant that the Clippers were going to be without a highly talented, pass-first point guard for the first time since Paul’s acquisition during the 2011-2012 season.

Part of the strategy called for replacing Paul with both Beverley, who could match Paul’s defensive tenacity, and Teodosic, who could match Paul’s vision and passing. While neither player could match Paul’s overall brilliance (and Paul has been brilliant this season for the Rockets), the team hoped to create a winning environment around these two players.

Unfortunately, Teodosic went down quickly. Then Beverley experienced issues with his knee, culminating with season-ending microfracture surgery on his knee in late November. Combine this with Gallinari missing nearly a month with injuries and Blake Griffin going down for the next few months with an MCL sprain of his left knee recently, and the Clippers have struggled to stay competitive with lineups that have often included only one of the team’s opening day starters (center DeAndre Jordan). The franchise shouldn’t be completely surprised by the rash of injuries, as their offseason plan banked on players with questionable injury histories such as Griffin and Gallinari.

To fill in, the Clippers have also made use of a number of young, inexperienced players (not at all common in the Doc Rivers era), including playing 2017 second round pick, guard Sindarius Thornwell. Thornwell has benefited from the opportunity as is averaging 16.2 minutes a game and has even started in seven games (of 24 played).  Thornwell confirmed the obvious regarding injuries.

“We’ve been playing without a lot of our core guys,” Thornwell stated.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers also made it clear that injuries have affected the team.

“It’s not just Blake [Griffin]. If it was just Blake, we’d be OK,” Rivers stated recently. “But you miss [Danillo] `Gallo,’ Milos [Teodosic], Patrick Beverley.”

Currently, the team is well below .500 with a 9-15 record, good enough for 11th in the Western Conference. And while the team is ahead of a number of teams destined for the NBA lottery such as the Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings, they aren’t too far removed from the eighth seed, currently held by the Utah Jazz, who are below .500 (13-14 record). It’s not reasonable for a team that has already suffered a nine-game losing streak and is only 4-6 in the last 10 games to expect another playoff berth, and the team has not yet signaled they have given up on the season.

The Clippers have stayed afloat by being extremely reliant on the individual offensive output of guards Austin Rivers and Lou Williams. Give Williams credit, as he has been brilliant recently including a game winning shot against the Washington Wizards on Saturday. Over the last 10 games, he is averaging 23.2 points on 62.7 true shooting percentage and 6.2 assists in 34.5 minutes per game, per nba.com. For reference, Williams has a career true shooting percentage average of 53.3 percent, per basketball-reference.com. However, this doesn’t scream long-term winning formula, nor should it — the team hasn’t recently had reliable offensive output outside of these guards who were originally expected to come off the bench for the Clippers.

Gallinari has since returned and played well in his second game back, an overtime win against the Wizards. Now the team has upgraded Teodosic’s condition to questionable and are hopeful that Teodosic makes his return Monday night against the Raptors.

“He’s ready. He’s close,” Rivers stated, speaking of Teodosic at a recent Clippers practice. “And that will help. In a big way.”

In addition to possibly helping their increasingly remote chances at making the playoffs, the Clippers have other goals. Teodosic is signed to a two-year deal, but the second-year is a player option allowing the European guard to leave after the season. Should Teodosic find that the Clippers are somehow not a good fit or a place where he can find success, he may opt out of the second year. If the team wants to ensure that the 30-year-old guard sees a bright future with the Clippers, they should hope that his return leads to the Clippers playing winning basketball.

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