NBA Playoffs, Suns v. Spurs: Should Nash's performance be immortalized?

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nash eye 2.pngFor the majority of the NBA year, injuries are temporary roadblocks. They’re set-backs that while inconvenient or possibly crippling, are mostly considered to be minor negative obstacles. There are overreactions to a foot injury here or a knee injury there, but for the most part they are self-contained, isolated events that create a bit of turmoil for a month or two. Or seven if you’re Andrew Bynum.

Then, of course, there are injuries of the season-ending variety, that can either bring curtains (lacy, gently wafting curtains) on a team’s season as well (2010 New Orleans Hornets) or those that somehow create new hope through embracing an underdog mentality (2010 Milwaukee Bucks, 2009 Houston Rockets).

It’s worth noting that the true significance of the latter — the Bucks’ stand against the Hawks, the Rockets’ seven-game run against the soon-to-be champs in 2009 — is only really established in the postseason. The regular season may bring awards and cement each team into their role in the playoff picture, but (at the risk of sounding incredibly trite) the playoffs are where the NBA’s enduring mythology is established. Injuries, like those to Reed or Abdul-Jabbar or Jordan or Bryant, take on entirely new meaning, and act as an obvious mechanism to create myths from men.

This is where I segue to Steve Nash, who’s injury in last night’s game was of a completely different nature than your run-of-the-mill muscle strain or joint sprain. Nash had the benefit of fully-operational arms and legs, but just one eye to pick apart the Spurs’ defense. Yet he pulled it off, and his return to the game after receiving six stitches above his right eye was nothing less than an instrumental component of the Suns’ series-clinching victory.

It wasn’t the Finals nor was it a Game 7, but where does that put Nash’s return in the playoff lore? Steve’s bloodied nose in the 2007 series against San Antonio has become an enduring image (“We’ve given him a lot more stitches than that,” Gregg Popovich joked when asked about Nash’s eye injury post-game), yet it’s probably more notable for its symbolic value than any effect it had on the court. This injury, on the other hand, replaces that symbolism with irony, and the effects of having only one usable eye are pretty direct.

There are no authorities on these things, and there is no man who sits atop an ivory tower dictating which playoff performances are to be worshiped. That’s why I’ve come to you, dear readers, for some perspective: is Steve Nash’s Game 4 performance in spite of an eye injury worthy of immortalization? Is this the type of performance that we’ll all remember years and years from now? Or is it a footnote on the ever-important Suns sweep?

This could be a case where timing is everything. If Nash has his eye swollen shut in Game 1 and still guides the Suns to victory, this performance could be more than the impressive spectacle it’s being viewed as today. Instead, the fact that Steve returned to an incredibly difficult close-out game in San Antonio is somehow lost in the discussion.

With the Spurs buried under an 0-3 deficit and safely out of the series, the drama and intrigue of this game was entirely self-contained. Everything that went on within the game’s 48 minutes will stay that way, and even though Phoenix put together a fairly incredible game in most respects, the fact that they were able to take down San Antonio in four games likely diminished the perception Nash’s comeback. Steve is still getting his due today, but the questions that remain are: Will he still be tomorrow? Should he?      

76ers second-rounder Jonah Bolden signs in Israel

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Jonah Bolden – No. 16 on my draft board – slipped all the way to the 76ers at No. 36 in the NBA draft. An impressive summer league has raised his stock significantly.

But Philadelphia won’t reap the rewards this season.

Bolden signed a three-year contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv, the team announced. The club also said the deal contained NBA outs and the 76ers helped facilitate his move from his previous team, Red Star in Serbia.

This is a helpful arrangement for Philadelphia, which is running out of roster spots. Bolden will develop elsewhere while allowing the 76ers’ to maintain his exclusive negotiating rights.

Bolden must get stronger and more adept at handling physicality. The athletic stretch four can also continue developing his burgeoning perimeter skills.

Then, next year, maybe the 76ers will have room to sign him themselves.

Anthony Davis does #DriveByDunkChallenge (video)

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If you’re not up with what the kids are doing, the cool thing this summer is the #DriveByDunkChallenge – driving to random houses, running out of a still-running car, dunking on their basketball hoop, running back into the car then driving off.

It sounds like a lot of fun for those who can dunk (and don’t get accosted by startled homeowners). An example:

Pelicans star Anthony Davis took his turn:

Report: Thunder signing Dakari Johnson two years after drafting him

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Two seasons ago, Dakari Johnson was the youngest player by more than two years on the D-League’s All-Rookie team. Last season, Johnson was the youngest player by more than a year on an All-D-League team – and he made the first of three teams.

Now, Johnson – who the Thunder drafted No. 48 in 2015 and whose rights they continued to hold – is finally moving up to the NBA.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Thunder have already used the full taxpayer mid-level exception, so presumably Johnson will get the minimum – $2,128,226 over two years. That, plus two years of meager D-League salary, will be Johnson’s return for granting Oklahoma City four years of his services.

He could have forced the Thunder’s hand either of the previous two years by signing the required tender – a one-year contract, surely unguaranteed at the minimum – a team must extend to retain a draft pick’s rights. Accepting the tender would have meant Johnson earning an NBA salary (and gaining a year of service) if Oklahoma City kept him past the preseason. Or, if they waived him, he would’ve been an unrestricted NBA free agent. He still could have developed with the Thunder’s D-League affiliate while available to any NBA team.

Instead, Johnson repeatedly rejected the tender, allowing Oklahoma City to maintain exclusive negotiating rights.

At least the Thunder helped develop him. A strong 7-footer, Johnson has improved his mobility and skill level. He’s still an old-school center in a league moving away from that style, but he’s now more equipped to keep up.

Whether he’s ready enough is another question. Johnson will fall behind Steven Adams and Enes Kanter on the depth chart. At just 21, Johnson is still a decent developmental prospect.

Johnson gives the Thunder 16 players on standard contracts, one more than the regular-season maximum. They could waive Semaj Christon, whose salary is unguaranteed, but I’d be leery of having only Raymond Felton behind Russell Westbrook at point guard. Nick Collison at least provides insurance at center.

So, there’s no guarantee Johnson sticks into the regular season. One thing working in his favor: His salary will be luxury-taxed at the rookie minimum, because the Thunder drafted him. Christon or any other player acquired through free agency would be taxed at the second-year minimum.

No matter how it shakes out, Johnson is at least finally getting significant money in his pocket.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey: DeMar DeRozan to play some point guard

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The Raptors gave away backup point guard Cory Joseph to save money. So, who will play behind Kyle Lowry?

Presumably, Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet will each slide up a spot on the depth chart. The third-year Wright looks ready to join the rotation, and he deserves at least the opportunity.

But Toronto also has another – unexpected – option at point guard: DeMar DeRozan.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, via Bryan Meler of Sportsnet:

“DeMar DeRozan, have him handle the ball a bit more as a point guard, a facilitator, a passer. Kyle Lowry moving the ball a bit more, spacing up. We don’t want to give our whole ‘what we’re going to try to do next year’ away, but again it comes down to passing the basketball and better spacing more so, than we know, one-on-one play.”

“Everyone and their brother knows we want better ball movement,” said Casey.

DeRozan didn’t play point guard at all last season.* So, this is a pretty big shift.

*Defined as playing without Lowry, Joseph, Wright or VanVleet.

Known as an isolation player, DeRozan has quietly improved as a distributor. I don’t think his ability to run an offense is at a point-guard level, but I’m also not sure that’s the point.

The Raptors are trying to change their style and promote more ball movement. This could help in the long run.

I supported the Timberwolves playing Zach LaVine at point guard as a rookie even though it was clear he should be a shooting guard. Playing point guard was a crash course that helped him develop skills useful at shooting guard, skills he couldn’t have as easily developed while playing off the ball.

The same could be true with DeRozan. Some rocky minutes at point guard could better equip him to play with Lowry in better-passing units come playoff time.

It was more conventional to play a 19-year-old on a bad team out of position to focus on skill development than it is for a 28-year-old on a good team. But he we are.

The Raptors have achieved enough success in the regular season and not enough in the playoffs. Experimenting during the long regular season is a good plan.