Already considered as one of the greatest matchups in league history, the NBA Finals feature seven current All-Stars with Hall of Fame potential.
These talented players have been to big stage multiple times, but there are six individuals participating for the first time in their respective careers.
David West, Kyle Korver, and Deron Williams are widely known, well-respected veterans that had to wait until now to be a part of it. It took the three of them a combined 40 years of hard work to get here.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ve got guys like Kay Felder, Patrick McCaw, and Damian Jones, who are lucky enough to experience the pageantry of the event in their rookie season. It’s an opportunity that they appreciate more because of their older teammates.
“These guys that have been in the league for a very long time—very great players—that are experiencing their first NBA Finals just as I am, it just goes to show that a lot of people work to get in this position,” McCaw told Basketball Insiders. “And me, in my first year, it’s truly a blessing.”
“Some guys even go longer than that without reaching the Finals, so it’s definitely a great moment,” Felder told Basketball Insiders.
Excluding the scores and leads, the overall aura of the league’s pinnacle phenomenon has left the Cleveland Cavaliers’ rookie in awe.
“I mean, coming from where I come from I don’t really get to experience this, you know,” Felder said. “Having this dream as a little boy, it’s like a dream come true to get to experience this and to get to be around all the great vets on this team. It’s just a special moment for me man. I’ll never take it for granted.”
McCaw was ready for an entertaining series between the top two teams in the league, but he didn’t anticipate the happenings going on between days and nights.
“It’s been unbelievable,” he said. “Just the atmosphere, all of the craziness, the madness that comes into it, the media, everything that surrounds the Finals. I mean, I didn’t expect all of this. But there’s so much more that ties all into the Finals, and it’s crazy man.”
The saying “what a difference a year makes” definitely applies to both of these young men. At this point last June, Felder recalled being in Dallas working out and getting ready for the draft. McCaw couldn’t remember where he was but knew he was preparing for the same thing.
Though on different sidelines, the two have great respect for one another on the court and developed a friendship over time. Thanks to their teams’ dominance, they’ve gotten the chance to catch up.
“I’ve definitely talked to McCaw said what’s up to ‘em,” Felder said. “I used to talk to McCaw a lot. I used to see him at a lot of workouts doing the pre-draft thing, so when I’d seen him in Golden State we talked a couple times. He’s a good friend of mine.”
For McCaw, the feeling is mutual.
“He’s a really cool dude,” he said of Felder. “We matched up against each other a lot and we were on the same team a lot, so it was fun just going up against him—his aggressiveness, how hard he plays. We’ve built a great relationship.”
Things are quite different between them as far as their paths have gone so far.
McCaw played 71 games for the Golden State Warriors during the regular season and started in 20 of those. In the playoffs, the rookie forward got the chance to showcase his talents with extra minutes due to Andre Iguodala’s knee injury.
Even though his playing time has diminished in the Finals, McCaw held up his end of the bargain, and then some, in what he believes has been a great postseason.
“I’ve just been progressing and playing basketball the right way,” he said. “Not trying to do too much, been playing the game the way I know how to. And my teammates have a lot of faith in me when I step out on the floor and a lot of confidence in me.
“That helps me out a lot when I know that Steph and Draymond and Klay and KD, those guys want me to be great and be special. They want me to be aggressive and have fun.”
His running mates on Golden State have done a great job of showing him the ropes, but there’s another person in McCaw’s life that has given him advice the whole way.
“My pops for sure,” he said. “He’s the reason I’m here. Just all the hard work and time I spent in the gym, it was him making me better. He’s always talked to me each and every day just about the NBA game and about how I’m growing as a basketball player and as a young man, so just having him in my corner is amazing for me.”
Felder’s situation hasn’t come as easily. Over the course of the year, his minutes were inconsistent as the Cavaliers attempted to find a backup point guard solution at the time. He was thrust quickly into a role that he may not have been ready for.
Once Deron Williams was brought aboard, Felder’s role dwindled and he was sent down to Cleveland’s D-League affiliate, the Canton Charge. In total, he was assigned and recalled 10 different times. Some stints were slightly longer than others and many were quick stays, but it had to be taxing on the rookie guard.
In the playoffs, Felder has been inactive as a reserve the entire time. Sitting and watching isn’t where he wants to be right now, but he also understands that almost everybody playing in the Finals has been in the same position he’s been in.
“It’s always about patience,” Felder said. “Just wait your turn and when you get that chance, just make sure you do what you’re supposed to do. That’s why I know I come in early with Phil [Handy]. Early to get that work in.”
Handy is one of Tyronn Lue’s most essential assistant coaches on the team. He has a close bond with Kyrie Irving and is known for calling out the Cavaliers after Game 2 last year for a poor effort. This season, and especially as of late, he’s taken Felder under his wing.
There’s a lot to work to be done, according to Felder. The main focus has been to improve his threes, pick-and-roll game, and dribbling to try and improve his creativity with the ball in his hands.
But for now, it’s about playing the waiting game, studying his teammates on the floor and simply enjoying the experience.
“Always stay after to get some extra work in, so when my time comes, I feel like I can just jump right into the role,” Felder said. “But I’ve been getting advice from just about everybody. They just say just take it all in, experience and live with it.
“This is something I could tell my kids to tell their kids.”
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