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The Shop: Super Teams, Systems, Contracts

In the second edition of The Shop, Jabari Davis and Lang Greene discuss super teams, systems and extensions.

Jabari Davis

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Welcome back for the second installment of The Shop! We appreciate all the feedback we received after the first edition, and we want to remind you that you can weigh in on our conversation on Twitter by using #TheShop and tagging each of us (@JabariDavisNBA and @LangGreene). You can also leave your thoughts directly in the comment section below.Domantas

Jabari Davis: Alright, Lang, this time around we’re going to discuss the notion of “super teams” a bit more and how the Warriors may handle the pressure and scrutiny this year. We’ll also talk about an apology from the Philadelphia 76ers and see where else the conversation leads us this week.

Let’s start in Oakland, even though I promised myself that I’d Euro-step most of the inevitable and oftentimes media-driven narratives that would surround this team for as long as possible. To a certain degree, it appears certain members of this team may not have anticipated quite as much scrutiny as they’ve already gotten.

That seems a bit crazy, especially because everyone saw what happened just six years ago when the Miami HEAT came together to form their super team. Yes, the circumstances were a bit different, but there are some similarities when it comes to the path and ultimate struggles LeBron James endured while attempting to wear the ‘black hat’ for an extended period of time in that first season. It might have been a good idea for Kevin Durant or someone in his crew to reach out directly to James to discuss how the transition went.

And even though Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were already mainstays and top contributors on a historically good team, they should’ve realized that adding Durant would mean that a Chris-Bosh-like role change would be necessary for the good of the team.

Not to make a mountain out of a relative molehill, but do you get the feeling that perhaps the most difficult adjustment this team will have to make – beyond figuring out how to effectively and consistently defend the interior – will be in fully accepting and embracing the redefined roles as well as the scrutiny and vitriol of fans at times?

Lang Greene: You are onto something, my man. Make no mistake, the Warriors are going to walk that aisle most nights and leave the arena with their arms raised to the sky in victory (I’m projecting 65 victories). They are too talented not to win at a high level, but here is the deal: Sacrifices must be made for teams of this magnitude to work. Period. Without sacrifices, there will not be a title. We touched on this last week when we said that the role players are going to be key. But to your point, the guys at the top of the hierarchy must adjust.

Remember, Klay said he was “not sacrificing shit” before the season started. But Klay is a pro and I think a bit of that was just some macho, broad shoulder talk. You don’t add a superstar like Kevin Durant without adjusting your game to compensate for the future Hall of Famer. I think Klay gets that, but saying it publicly might be perceived as a weakness. That’s the reason I always loved the way Chris Bosh handled being the third man on the totem pole in Miami behind LeBron and Dwyane Wade. CB received all types of slander, but just kept playing ball and that’s the reason he is a future Hall of Famer.

One last note on Durant: It is going to be important that he stops talking about anything related to Oklahoma City. Put the lid on it. Refuse to address it. He has said enough. He made his decision and it is time to move on.

Which leads me to … the Oklahoma City Thunder, who solidified Russell Westbrook’s supporting cast by extending Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo to the tune of over $175 million combined. WhewLawd … the money is flowing. What’s your take on the moves?

Davis: You’re exactly right about the Durant situation. He was actually the guy I was referring to when I mentioned trying to potentially do something you simply aren’t accustomed to. I would never be so presumptuous as to tell a player how to feel, act or even react, but I will say I do worry about Durant coming from what can only be considered an understandably friendly media market in OKC to what will absolutely be a circus (and he should’ve seen that coming). Not just because he joined a West Coast market, but also because of the specific team he joined and all of the circumstances that transpired during last year’s playoffs. Displays like that awkward, “I’mma yell at myself and get all pumped up… oh, what’s that? A camera?” post-workout shooting session are only going to add fuel to that fire.

I liked and understood the extensions by OKC, because it is obvious GM Sam Presti wants to keep that foundation around Westbrook as strong as possible, and can you blame him? I’ve already learned to pretty much ignore the numbers associated with recent contracts, because we’re at a stage where guys are simply going to get paid. While they shocked me over the past couple years, I’m always reminded of the fact that for contracts of that magnitude to be offered, somebody above them is making exponentially more than that. In that regard, I’m definitely happy to see players cashing in.

I actually wrote about the signings immediately after The Vertical reported the agreements. Both Adams and Oladipo make a lot of sense alongside Westbrook and for the future of the ballclub. Adams is only 24 years old, but looks as though he’s ready to take yet another step forward on both ends of the court after an impressive run to finish the regular season and playoffs last year. He has fully embraced his role as a pest who gets under the opposition’s skin, and he’s not afraid to challenge anyone at or around the rim. You can’t have too many guys like that on your roster.

Extending Oladipo also makes a lot of sense to me because even though his offensive game remains a bit of a work-in-progress from an efficiency standpoint, he is effective enough and can really disrupt things around the perimeter on the defensive end. Similar to Eric Bledsoe in Phoenix, Oladipo plays “bigger” than his actual stature and seems like a guy who can continue to thrive playing alongside Westbrook. I can’t state enough how important that aspect is.

I really like Domantas Sabonis and think his progress could determine just how expendable Enes Kanter is at the deadline. Fans are going to be annoyed that I’m always the one to bring up potential roster moves, but that’s just the nature of the business at times, so I don’t see the harm in speculating when things could make sense. And for the record, the fact that I’m mentioning Kanter isn’t because he isn’t a quality player. I think he’s a good player who can absolutely contribute on a winning team. But Kanter also has two years and over $36 million left on his deal after this season and if there’s any chance that Sabonis shows true signs of rapid development between now and next February, I would expect a quality front office such as OKC’s leadership group to at least consider all viable options for their roster.

Greene: I took a brief scroll through some mentions after The Vertical reported the extensions for Adams and Oladipo. One fan said something to the tune of, “Good job Presti, locking up that sixth seed for the next five years.” Yikes. While I don’t agree, it’s true that the Thunder did lock up almost $200 million to a couple of guys who haven’t come close to sniffing an All-Star game.

I have been on record plenty of times stating how much I love Adams’ approach to the game. The guy is like a unicorn in today’s league. Feisty, unapologetic, tough, no frills and hard-nosed. Championship teams have dedicated role playing guys like Adams on their roster. But here’s the deal: Those old championship teams weren’t paying $100 million for their services either. Westbrook is a certified goodie monster, but he’ll need another All-Star (or borderline All-Star) next to him in the rotation if OKC is going to snatch a title, or, at the very least emerge out of the West.

Davis: Switching gears a bit, what did you think about the Sixers and the apology they recently felt compelled to release regarding the situation with the would-be national anthem singer from opening night? For those who may not be familiar with the story, Sevyn Streeter is a singer who was reportedly scheduled to sing the national anthem before the Sixers faced Westbrook’s Thunder in their home opener. Just prior to going out to perform, Streeter was told she could no longer sing the anthem due to her jersey that had the words “We Matter” across the front. For more details beyond that, allow ‘Google’ to be your friend.

Here’s the Sixers’ apology:

We are sorry that this happened. After receiving feedback from our players, basketball operations staff and ownership group, we believe that the wrong decision was made, and Sevyn should have been welcomed to sing. We apologize to her, and in an effort to move the conversation forward, we have reached out to offer her an opportunity to return and perform at a game of her choice. We are waiting to hear back.”

The organization reportedly received some pretty strong feedback from the players that suggested displeasure with the decision and seemed to at least indicate a situation where whoever was responsible for that decision was guilty of being a bit tone-deaf to the room and eventual repercussions. Not to bury said individuals, but part of me wonders if this impacts how “forward-thinking and progressive” the NBA is seen on such matters and if they should be worried about the slippery slope that can come from determining which ways are permissible to protest?

Greene: Interesting situation. I always remind people that this country was built on dissent. The act of protesting or staging protests is at the very foundation of the United States of America. But being a little older now, I also understand that power structures aren’t going to allow protesters to run rampant and do whatever they want – especially not on private property. The First Amendment protects your freedom of speech from GOVERNMENT interference, not private organizations. I think this is important to note. The Sixers were within their rights as an entity to pull Sevyn from the event.

With that said, I thought it was a bad call because the backlash was predictable. Now when/if Sevyn returns to perform, the media attention surrounding the event will be a circus. I believe the league has been progressive (and proactive) in their approach to these challenging social issues.

Lastly, I just find it crazy how a “We Matter” tank top caused this much of a stir.     

Davis: I’ve gone on the record with high praise for the definitiveness with which Commissioner Adam Silver handled the Donald Sterling situation, even though I did at least understand those that wanted to entertain the conversation in defense against the way he actually lost his team. I even thought it was a smart move on the league’s part for preemptively getting together with the players’ union to discuss the matter in advance.

With all of that said, when it comes to limiting the ways people can speak, especially when being done in a peaceful and non-offensive manner as some have attempted, I think the league can find itself in an even more difficult situation when you are eventually asking both players and a significant portion of your total fan base to effectively choose a side when it comes to “the right way to act/feel” versus “who the HELL are you to tell me how to feel about social injustice” conversation if you aren’t careful in this situation if you’re the NBA.

Greene: Think about it … this is a subject people just don’t want to touch. We haven’t even mentioned the elephant (word) in the room yet with all of our back and forth dialogue. So I will: RACE. RACE. RACE.

People just don’t want to touch the issue and I get why they don’t. It’s polarizing, people lose their careers after a failed attempt to discuss the issue on social media and it’s a conversation most want to avoid like the plague.

But here’s my stance … once you allow folks to start telling people how, when and where they should be protesting, the protest loses any steam it truly has. Protests are supposed to make you uncomfortable. When you allow people to say, “Maybe you should change the color of the shirt,” or, “Maybe you should phrase it like this,” or, “Maybe you should wait until next week” then it ruins any possibility of being effective.

Respect to the Sixers for issuing an apology. They didn’t have to … they were well within their right to hold Sevyn off the floor, but the apology signifies that they’re willing to hear another side and, at the end of the day, that constitutes a win.

Now, let me ask you a question: Would you rather have a super team or a super system? My gut answer is to take the super system over the super team. Think of red ants. I know I sound crazy, but follow me… Those little red ants have a SYSTEM running, my man. Everyone giving it up for the team. Role players supporting their star player. Everyone buying into the pecking order. No egos.

But man, when you do get a super team that follows the red-ant blueprint (i.e. last year’s Warriors or the 2012 Miami HEAT), the ride will be special. The problem is… most of these super teams can’t operate like a colony of red ants. There are too many alpha males.

Davis: Can I cheat and say a relative combination of both? I think that’s what the Cavs, Warriors and Spurs each currently have. The Warriors are in the middle of adjusting, so the system won’t instantly look as good as they likely will when we are 40 or so games in. The Cavs have both a great mix of talent and the league’s ultimate cheat code in the motivated “Terminator LeBron” we witnessed over the final three games of the NBA Finals.

The Spurs, while there are some that still find a way to question them as a legitimate contender, continue to simply “do what they do.” But as they’ve done numerous times in the past, they have also shifted the entire attack on both ends around one of the league’s best all-around players in Kawhi Leonard. Prior to the year, even with the significant improvements Leonard showed over the course of a career 50.6 percent/44.3 percent/87.4 percent shooting season, there were still times during the playoff run that left an honest question about him definitively in the role of lead offensive player.

Obviously, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol are capable of scoring in bunches at times, but it was fair to want to see more of Leonard in that situation. Just as it was fair to wonder about that Spurs’ second unit until we saw how guys like Kyle Anderson, Jonathon Simmons and Dewayne Dedmon start making the same plays on both ends of the court we’ve come to simply expect from the Manu Ginobili’s and Tony Parker’s of the world.

At this stage, will all due respect to the teams like the Raptors or the Clippers and perhaps to some degree the Pacers and Celtics among a couple others, the Cavs, Warriors and Spurs have done the best jobs of effectively combining incredible talent with superior systems and finding a way to make the personalities blend and mesh together.

Greene: I don’t have a problem with you hedging here and I agree with you. Let me throw this at you, I think an argument can be made that there are more “super” systems in place than we give credit for in the league. While the Dallas Mavericks haven’t had the “deep playoff” type of success in recent years, don’t confuse that with underachieving. In many ways, what Rick Carlisle has been able to do and the quality of play he’s been able to get out of guys over the past few seasons is very impressive. Heck, last year he had Ray Felton ballin’. Also, my man Zaza Pachulia had a career-year. I think the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics are two other franchises, on a smaller scale, that are building out their respective cultures … and you’re starting to see more and more of their role-playing guys make big contributions on a nightly basis in the rotation.

I believe teams like the Raptors and Clippers are great teams that are driven by their overall collection of talent, not necessarily the engine of the system that’s running the show. There is a difference.

I will end it with this point … the key to having a super team or super system is having STAR power though. Cleveland’s culture is driven by the greatness of LeBron James. The Warriors’ super team moniker is driven by the presence of Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. The Mavericks’ system is driven by the respect Dirk Nowitzki commands in the locker room. In San Antonio, David Robinson and Tim Duncan laid the groundwork for the culture and the role playing guys quickly fell in line.

I guess there is no right answer and like most things, the truth falls somewhere in the middle. So as much as I hate to hedge, I must here, after further thought.

Alright Hoop Freaks, thanks for joining us for another installment of The Shop. We’ll be doing this each week and in the future, we will also be incorporating special friends of ours to touch on various topics. Until the next time… dare to be great… finish a layup in traffic with your offhand… or sacrifice your points and give your teammate an assist on the break. Ha. Be safe, good people.  

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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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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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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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

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