With several players moving on from long-term or even career-long situations, we are reminded even more than usual about just how much of a business the National Basketball Association truly is. While guys like Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade and Al Horford have already changed locations via free agency, it is always intriguing to see the amount of scrutiny and criticism aimed at players for finally making the best choice for themselves compared to the general ‘understanding’ organizations are often granted when forced to make decisions with their best interests are at heart. That isn’t to necessarily criticize the individuals that comprise the most die-hard of fan bases – although, folks really need to let the highly questionable jersey burning past time go at this stage – as a certain level of vitriol and heartache is expected when fans are emotionally invested.
That isn’t even intended to come across as critical of those questioning the direction of the NBA from a competition standpoint, because there are legitimate concerns about what the league might look like five or so years down the road if the current trend of star players aligning themselves in groups of other star players continues. Those 1960s Boston Celtics teams (the 1962-63 team had nine Hall of Fame players) were undoubtedly incredible to appreciate or cheer for if you either lived in or had roots from the greater New England area, but probably weren’t all that fun for the rest of the league.
Outside of 1967, when Wilt Chamberlain’s Philadelphia 76ers defeated Rick Barry’s San Francisco Warriors, the Celtics absolutely dominated the decade. This is clearly the fear many NBA fans have about the potential for today’s Golden State Warriors and perhaps the Cleveland Cavaliers essentially doing the same for the duration of this current decade. That concern is absolutely valid. It’s just that it isn’t solely on the players for electing to take advantage of a system that significantly limits movement for what is essentially the first half of a career.
Atlanta was able to rebound from Horford’s departure by bringing in what could be considered their biggest free agent since Joe Johnson signed with the team back in 2005. Regardless of what you think of Dwight Howard on a personal level, he can still be an effective enough player on the defensive end. If Coach Mike Budenholzer can get him to remain focused on what the team needs and somehow recapture his ability to be a devastating partner in the pick-and-roll, then Atlanta might really be cooking with hot grease in 2016-17.
Whatever went wrong with the connection between Wade and the organization/city he loved and called home for 13 years is beyond significant at this point, but in the grand scheme of things both parties might actually be better off with the way things turned out. Regardless of when Wade decides to hang them up, he’ll undoubtedly enter the Hall of Fame as the “HEAT-lifer” many claimed he absolutely would be. From the titles to the endless string of big moments he provided for the HEAT, Wade’s place among and perhaps atop the proverbial Southern Florida sports pantheon is etched in stone. It would also be fun to see the HEAT raise a second “Chicago Bull” jersey into the rafters since Michael Jordan’s #23 also resides there.
The HEAT managed to avoid the limitations and issues that can arise when you pay your aging stars “legacy contracts” to close out their careers. Not only did team president Pat Riley and the HEAT have a recent example of such a practice from Los Angeles and the Kobe Bryant situation, they also benefited from having a 27-year-old Hassan Whiteside presumably ready to take the proverbial baton from Wade’s vacated locker space; a luxury the Lakers simply didn’t have three years ago. By allowing Wade to take his talents back to his hometown of Chicago, the HEAT can now hit the ground running as they attempt to draw or acquire more talent to surround and support Whiteside with.
To their credit, the Lakers do appear to have one of the league’s most promising, young cores moving forward, and still clearly have several options to choose from as they continue the rebuilding effort. It is important to recognize that discussing these options isn’t, necessarily, endorsing one idea over the other. There’s certainly a faction of the fan base and perhaps even within the front office that happens to be working on a self-imposed deadline that would prefer to see them push the fast-forward button when it comes to returning to glory, but if the Lakers are truly set on becoming a destination capable of attracting star players, then perhaps a bit of consistency and at least the slightest semblance of roster continuity might be the answer as you continue to develop this core.
Besides, the idea of the Lakers trading off a majority of their assets in order to acquire a soon-to-be free agent (next summer) in Russell Westbrook when you would, at the very least, need some of them to either play alongside or eventually be packaged for other talent makes little to no sense. Remember when the New York Knicks decided to trade away all those assets to acquire a soon-to-be free agent in Carmelo Anthony about five years ago when he really wanted to play in the market? Yeah, well don’t follow that blueprint when you don’t have to.
If Westbrook is truly interested in helping to restore the Lakers back to some form of respectability, which has merely been unsubstantiated rumors at this stage, then the idea should be to continue to develop the talent you have in order to make the destination as attractive as possible for him or anyone else. Also, what good would it be to have Westbrook (and nothing else) in a conference, hell, a division with Durant and the ridiculous Warriors lineup that he just took to video game levels? Again, while it is far from a guarantee Westbrook or any top-level player would consider joining a team that isn’t laced with talent ready to seriously compete in the immediate, it does seem more likely to take place if the team has a ton of assets to maneuver or ultimately work with.
Teams like the aforementioned HEAT, Celtics or even the Hawks might feel like they have a chance to compete with the top teams with a bit of player development and perhaps another transaction or two, but for the Lakers and any of the other 22-25 or so teams with realistically no shot at winning a title next year, growth from within as you wait for the absolute opportune moment to strike along the way has to be the plan. Not that you shouldn’t continue to do everything within your power to remain competitive – even during this period of star imbalance – but given the odds stacked against so many teams, there is no reason to sacrifice your long-term goals for what would likely only amount to more regular season success. Essentially, unless you’re in the mix of teams that appear most prepared to challenge for the next couple titles, you might as well bide your time while continuing to cultivate and develop the players you do have.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN