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NBA PM: The ‘Shop – Rivalries & Best Big Men

In this edition of The ‘Shop, Justin Rowan stops by to discuss Cavs vs. Warriors, the future of the Knicks and Nets, and the best big man in the Western Conference.

Jabari Davis

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Allow us to welcome you back into The ‘Shop for another week of entertaining (and maybe a bit enlightening) NBA talk. Our Jabari Davis and Lang Greene will be joined by Justin Rowan (Fear The Sword, Hoops Habit and Press Basketball) for this week’s conversation.

Jabari: Great to have you with us this week, Justin. We certainly appreciate you taking the time to stop in for a few Reggie Miller lines and a Dwight Howard faux-hawk. We’ll kick things off in your neck of the woods with the Cavs and start by asking for your gut reaction to the Kyle Korver deal? Was it enough to make you believe the Cavs are the clear-cut team to beat or were you already comfortable with stating that given the way their last four meetings have gone?

Justin: Thanks for having me. My gut reaction to the Korver deal is that it’s another steal for David Griffin. Everybody knows what Korver can do and how seamless the fit should be, but it also gives the team the ability to address other issues via trade, free agency, or on the buyout market.

I still think the Warriors are the favorite heading into the Finals. They’re still figuring things out, but they’re likely the most talented team ever assembled. However, unlike last season I think the Cavs have a much better chance at winning. Last season took a tremendous amount of luck with injuries and a suspension to win, whereas this season these teams appear to be on much more even footing.

Lang: Welcome to the mix. Appreciate the time, bro. I’ll simply say this. To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man. Salute to Ric Flair. The Cleveland Cavaliers absolutely walked through the fire last season to get their hands raised in victory versus the Golden State Warriors. And since then there has been no shortage of folks talking about Draymond’s suspension, Andrew Bogut’s injury and whether or not Stephen Curry was at full strength.

But I’ll say this, when the Warriors dispatched Cleveland back in 2015, I didn’t hear any of this stuff last season when the Warriors were on their way to 73 wins. I didn’t hear about Kevin Love being injured. Crickets about Kyrie Irving being hurt in game one of the Finals. Heck, Matthew Dellavedova was hospitalized for dehydration during the series. No one put an asterisk on Golden State’s win. But Cleveland’s epic 3-1 come-from-behind series win has all types of asterisks placed on it – at every turn.

Right now, I still favor Cleveland. I tend to lean toward teams that have won together. Teams that have been through that fire and persevered through the stormy weather. Golden State’s original core has too … but they also have a new member in the fold in Kevin Durant. When (or if) the chips are down, how will everyone react? I am looking forward to Part III. Hopefully neither side will have an excuse come the end of June.

Justin: Oh I definitely get that. In my opinion the Finals should be 1-1, just in the opposite order they happened. The Cavs have the pieces to disrupt the Warriors and come away with their second title. Now that the season series is over, it’ll be interesting to see what chess moves are made by each team before the seemingly inevitable June showdown.

Jabari: After the way the Dubs beat the brakes off the Cavs last night, I definitely understand you being hesitant to say Cleveland is the clear-cut favorite, Justin. That said, can we all acknowledge LeBron’s “this isn’t a rivalry” talk is total nonsense? I know we are skipping all types of steps and presuming general team health in ways we really shouldn’t when it comes to professional sports, but barring anything crazy happening, we are headed for a third consecutive matchup in the Finals. The players can “act” like it doesn’t matter whether they square off once again, but we can all tell they want Round 3, can’t we? Also, Justin, is there an EC team you see that can really challenge the Cavs along the way? Are we going to pretend the Raptors finally have enough?

Justin: Hahaha. For the record, I was saying for about a week that the Warriors would win by at least twenty. I think what LeBron is doing with the rivalry talk is playing mind games with his own team. He’s constantly trying to enforce a mindset that the Warriors are the better team and that they must keep pushing to get to that level. He understands the dangers of becoming complacent or overconfident. Hell, that was a big part of why the Warriors lost last year.

I’m still out on the Raptors as a legitimate threat to the Cavs. They simply don’t have the defensive personnel to combat the Cavs. If you look at the player tracking data, Jonas Valanciunas is worse defensively than Enes Kanter in many key areas. The issue is they don’t have many alternatives. They also don’t have a secondary playmaker, meaning if you put length on Lowry they’ll fall apart. Which is a big part of why they’re 1-8 against the Cavs, Warriors, Spurs, Rockets, and Clippers this season.

If anybody is going to give the Cavs a hard time, it would be Milwaukee, assuming Middleton returns. They have the length to bother the Cavs and force a tough series like round one against Detroit. While that series was a sweep, it was a much closer series on a game to game basis than the six-game series against the Raptors. Milwaukee has the ability to turn a series into a slugfest

Lang: Justin makes a very good point. Like I said last week, no one is beating the Golden State Warriors in a track meet. It just isn’t happening. And no one is beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in a series out East unless they turn it into a flat out, pier six brawl (slugfest). From what I can see, there isn’t a team out in the East that has the mental toughness and grit to do it in a seven game series.

Milwaukee is going to be a live dog against anyone come playoff time, make no mistake, but the problem with Milwaukee right now is nobody knows how Khris Middleton will return to action. Will he return ready to play 28-32 minutes a night and give 17-19 points per contest? Or will his comeback from injury mirror Chandler Parsons’ long road to recovery down in Memphis – slow and plodding. Still getting back into game shape versus the Cavaliers during “money” time isn’t an island you want to be on.  The other issue I have with Milwaukee is their lack of offensive firepower outside of Giannis and Jabari Parker.

The Raptors don’t have enough defense and Boston is too – sorry, I didn’t do this on purpose – green. What I am looking forward to is hopefully a series between Toronto and Boston. I’ve heard it various times how ticked off some of the Raptors were that people automatically had Boston leapfrog them this past summer by adding Al Horford.  The battle for #2 in the East is like a right of passage. Remember when Indiana and New York would have absolute wars just to get served up to the Chicago Bulls in the next round? Ha.

Justin: Boston still freaks me out with their lack of rebounding. When you get to the playoffs and each possession matters more, that’s the type of thing that can kill you. Isaiah Thomas has hit some huge shots in the fourth quarter this season, but those shots would feel a lot greater to me if it was coming from behind, rather than stopping the bleeding as they blow another lead. A Raptors-Celtics series would be fantastic, but if I had to make a bold prediction I’d say there’s a 50/50 chance one of those teams collapses in the first round. Toronto almost lost in game seven to Indiana last season, while this Boston roster can’t seem to make it past the opening round.

Jabari: Milwaukee was my sleeper team in the EC heading into the season, but that Middleton injury killed that noise. Whether he comes back for the final playoff push (or not), I agree that isn’t the ideal time to attempt to make a run at dethroning the defending champs and I wouldn’t anticipate them putting everything together on the spot. I feel like we all wanted to continue proclaiming just how much of a “genius” Brad Stevens is, so we ‘hoped’ the addition of Horford would have even more of an impact. The truth is, Isaiah Thomas is their best player and while I want to see him on the All-Star team, his exploits (tremendous as they’ve been) won’t likely be enough to knock off one of the top teams.

Before we transition out West for a bit, what’s going on with Brooklyn and why can’t they seem to turn things around? I know we laugh at the Sixers and other perennial losers, but it feels like we give Brooklyn a pass because they “act” like they are trying to win each offseason by bringing in free agents. Let me get each of you to put on your GM hats on for a few moments and tell me how you would turn things around with the Nets. Blow it up, entirely? Make another run at putting together the cap space to lure a couple free agents the way they attempted to about five years ago? You tell me.

Justin: I think they get a pass now because they just brought in Sean Marks. I loved what they did this summer of trying to snag restricted free agents with big offer sheets. While those deals were matched, it was a smart strategy I expect them to use next summer. As for what I would do, I’d try to shop Brook Lopez in an effort to get some young talent. I’d want at least one legitimate building block in return, otherwise I’d probably stay put. But their options are incredibly limited due to the situation the previous regime put them in. They need young talent desperately.

Lang: I believe Brooklyn is getting a pass for the moment because there aren’t many signs of dysfunction. Toward the end of the old regime, you were dealing with the remnants of acquiring Joe Johnson’s contract and the sudden decline of Deron Williams as an elite player (after paying him tons). If you also factor in the “all-in” trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (and please don’t forget the Jason Kidd power grab drama), you have all of the necessary ingredients for the soup the New York media loves – drama and noodle.

So out goes the old GM and old coaching staff. For all of the mistakes Brooklyn made in recent years, the new GM and coach were well received by the media. Then the team swings for the fences in restricted free agency to get immediately better. But Miami and Portland matched. If you have the media praising the hires just a few months ago, I wouldn’t expect too many hit pieces right now – especially devoid of DRAMA.

Jabari: You guys make some good points about the Nets, and I suppose we have to give the current regime some time to get things together, but I just wonder why we never hear much about them when the discussion about rebuilding franchises take place. So, in an effort to completely alienate that market, let me shift the focus to the Knicks for a moment. Justin, let me get you to speak to what they should do with Carmelo Anthony. I realize he has the no-trade clause, but it certainly appears like those conversations are taking place behind the scenes … and quite publicly. Lang, feel free to respond to that, but let me also get you to comment on the best possible options for ‘Melo if they elect to move him.

Justin: I think Melo believes he will outlast Phil in New York. It doesn’t sound like he is going to be waiving his no-trade clause. While he shoulders some blame, I think the organization has failed him more than he’s failed them. If it wasn’t for the Noah contract, they wouldn’t be in such a bad spot.

Even if he were to waive his NTC, a fair return for Melo would prevent you from picking in the top 7 or 8. The only way this team is going to truly improve is via free agency. I’d like to see them move Kristaps to the five and Melo to the four. But it seems anytime the organization makes some progress they get in their own way. Don’t forget, Toronto traded Lowry to the Knicks for pennies on the dollar only to have Dolan veto the deal at the last minute.

Lang: The best thing for both parties would have been not agreeing to that five-year deal to begin with. Melo had other options on the table that made better “basketball” sense. But he dedicated himself to the New york Knicks rebuild and also secured another 20-25 million for his trouble with the fifth year in the deal. Without Melo, Phil Jackson could have started a ground up rebuild in New York from a fresh canvas. I don’t always suggest hitting rock bottom, but the Knicks would be an exception. But Phil decided to play it safe. Now they’re both stuck with each other through the good and mostly bad. They both have had exit hatches and didn’t use them.

Jabari: You’re probably right about ‘Melo outlasting PJ in New York, Justin. Lang can tell you, I actually thought Phil would be out of there after a couple years, but that was before I remembered this was an ownership group that would probably still have Zeke in the front office in some capacity if it weren’t for all the legal issues from about a decade ago (let Google be your friend). I also agree the difficulty in getting a fair return is what might cause him to stick around.

Taking it out West for a bit, what is the answer with the Clippers at this point? I asked if they should seriously consider blowing things up prior to the year, but I think we all settled on the idea of making one last run with this group as currently constituted. Now, with Chris Paul out for the next 6-8 weeks and with Blake Griffin still “a week or two” away from returning, is it time to reconsider the idea before the trade deadline?

Justin: I’m all for the Clippers making one last run, but at this point they may need to find the gypsy that cursed them. They’re such a snake-bitten franchise that it just seems like they can never get a real chance to show what they can do.

If they were to blow it up, one interesting destination for Griffin would be Toronto. It would change the feel of the Eastern Conference and could present the Cavaliers with a legitimate threat. Beyond having tons of depth, the Raptors also possess the Clippers first-round pick this season. Something that would be very desirable should they detonate their roster.

Lang: The Clippers’ core ceiling was probably reached when they blew that big lead in the Western Conference Semifinals to the Houston Rockets a few years back. Playing Tuesday afternoon point guard, it’s easy to look back in hindsight and see all of the early warning signs. DeAndre Jordan attempted to bounce in free agency (which resulted in the Clippers’ whole contingent commandeering his house) and Blake Griffin has spent the past two seasons battling injuries — so has the normally durable Chris Paul. The team desperately needs a small forward and Doc Rivers has failed year in and year out, as an executive, to lure one into town. Nothing against Paul Pierce (too old) and Wesley Johnson (not skilled enough) but they aren’t capable of handling 30+ minutes. Doc Rivers trying to use his son, Austin, as a small forward was another warning sign.

But even after all of that, I still don’t think any of the top seeds would want to face them in first-round of the playoffs. That would be a potential No. 2 seed dropping to say sixth, seventh or eighth. Paul and Griffin fully healthy are live dogs versus any team in the league

Jabari: I think you hit it on the head, Lang. They’ve been a very exciting brand of basketball for the past five years, but are simply too top-heavy, which causes them to be worn down and oft-injured by the time we get to the playoffs. That idea of moving Blake to the Raptors is really intriguing, but leaves me feeling like Ricky Watters…”for WHO, for WHAT??” Keeping it with a somewhat related topic, give me your choice(s) for the top centers in the conference. Always a matter of preference, but I still have Boogie as my top center even though DeAndre Jordan is a player I’ve come to REALLY appreciate as he’s continued rounding out his game.

Justin: Boogie is definitely the center with the most dominant resume, but the well-rounded game of Gasol still makes me lean his direction. I wouldn’t put Gasol in my list of top 10 players and would likely put cousins there, yet I’d still pick him over any center right now if I was heading into a playoff series.

Jabari: You know something, the Gasol mention is great and a strong point. Boogie as an individual player is probably the most talented of that group, but Gasol’s overall impact is significantly more noticeable. Obviously, being able to play for a strong organization helps, but we have seen multiple playoff runs where Gasol was clearly the “straw that stirred the drink” when it came to Memphis. And that’s no slight or disrespect to Mike Conley or even ZBo (back in the day). We’ll let Lang chime in as the voice of reason on the topic as he wraps things up for us this week, but allow me to thank you for joining us again this week, Justin!

Lang: Bee-oh-oh-Gee-Eye-EEEE. No question. From a talent standpoint, the man is insane. Wears his heart on his sleeve a bit too much to this day even though he has matured greatly. But if I’m talking best center … DMC is my guy … for now. LG Out.

******

As always, we appreciate all of your feedback about these discussions and encourage you to either leave it in the comment section directly below or via Twitter: @JabariDavisNBA and @LangGreene.

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NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise

The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.

Moke Hamilton

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He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.

He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.

Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.

The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.

“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.

“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.

So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.

As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.

In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.

But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.

So is Porzingis.

Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.

In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.

Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.

And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.

“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.

“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”

Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.

Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.

The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.

So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.

Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.

If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.

So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.

Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.

To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.

When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.

He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.

And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.

With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word. 

It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.

For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.

In this town, that’s more than half the battle.

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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.

David Yapkowitz

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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.

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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.

Dennis Chambers

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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.”

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