NBA Finals: Derek Fisher comes up big yet again

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Fisher Trophy.jpg

Is if keeps on happening, can it really be a cliche? Derek Fisher was perhaps the worst starting point guard in basketball over the course of the regular season. He did not have a great finals, statistically speaking. He was whisper-quiet for most of game seven. And who made the biggest play of Thursday night’s game seven? 
Derek Fisher, of course. During game four of last year’s Finals, Derek Fisher hit the game-tying three that broke the Magic’s spirits in the waning moments of the game, ultimately leading to the Lakers taking a 3-1 series lead and the championship a game later. 
On Thursday night, Fisher did himself one better. With the Lakers trailing by three points with six and a half minutes remaining in the game, Derek Fisher got the ball at the three-point line when Pau Gasol passed it to him out of a double-team. Rajon Rondo closed out hard, but too much time had passed already. Fisher set up, cocked the ball to his left ear, and let a rainbow shot fly over Rondo’s outstretched hand. 
The ball nearly scraped the ceiling; while it hang in the air, everybody had enough time to realize exactly what was going to happen when the ball down. Swish. Tied NBA Finals. New record for most career 3s in the Finals. The Lakers didn’t fall behind for the remainder of the 2009-10 season. Just one more big shot and one more championship for a player who’s become synonymous with both. 
Five seasons ago, Derek Fisher was the backup point guard for a struggling Golden State Warrior team. In fact, he wasn’t even a good backup point guard for a struggling Golden State team. Now he’s the starting point guard on a team that has been to three straight finals and won the last two. In fact, he’s the only Laker to have started every game for the past three seasons. The funny thing is, he’s not any better than he was on the Warriors. He’s still ludicrously slow. His release is still long, and he has a tough time getting any shot off that isn’t a wide-open catch-and-shoot opportunity. He’s not the best ballhandler or playmaker. He has trouble finishing, and doesn’t go to his right very well. 
All Derek Fisher does is play physical defense, come to play every night, make open threes, and never back down from a big shot. That’s all Phil Jackson has ever asked of Fisher, and that’s all Fisher has ever tried to do for Jackson. And all Phil and Fish have done together is win five championships. 
So where does Derek Fisher go from here? He was already never going to have to buy his own drinks in Los Angeles again. (Now somebody might just give him a bar.) He couldn’t really handle the grind of starting 82 games very well this season, and he won’t get any younger this off-season. Jordan Farmar isn’t a world-beater and is more of a traditional point, but he’s a big guard, and can knock down threes well enough to make use of himself in the triangle. He’s just been kept on an (understandably) short leash, and is still prone to mistakes on both ends of the floor because he doesn’t yet believe in himself. With some trust and tutelage, Farmar could absolutely become a worthy successor to Fisher.
Fisher is already the president of the player’s association; if he wants, some team will almost certainly have him as an assistant coach when he retires. Between now and then, Fisher will start to take on more and more of a player-coach role, increasing the time he spends mentoring the younger Lakers as his minutes start to dwindle more and more with the passing of each year.
After this game, a question presents itself: why doesn’t Fisher just retire now? Why not leave after yet another perfect moment, when the adoration for him is absolutely universal? Why subject himself to another 82 games of trying to chase around the fastest players in the league and all the criticism that comes with being the 36-year old point guard of the league’s highest-profile franchise? Why not go out after a blaze of glory rather than allow himself to fade away?
As much sense as that would seem to make, it looks like Fisher is going to stick around for at least one more year. Maybe he doesn’t want to leave Phil and his fellow Laker veterans. Maybe he loves living the life of a professional athlete. Maybe he wants to prove to himself and everyone else that he can still hang with the young guns. Maybe it has something to do with being the head of the player’s association. Maybe he knows that when he retires, his career will be remembered in the best way possible: a player whose failures nobody remembers and whose successes are etched into stone. 
Or maybe he’s just afraid that he’ll retire with one more perfect moment still left in him, and he’ll be sitting at home when the Lakers end up needing it. Phil Jackson and Laker fans everywhere sure are. 

Jeannie Buss says she didn’t understand why Lakers signed Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov

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Last summer, the Lakers signed Luol Deng (four years, $72 million) and Timofey Mozgov (four years, $64 million) to contracts that immediately looked like liabilities.

At worst, Deng and Mozgov would help the Lakers win just enough to lose their top-three protected 2017 first-round pick – which would have triggered also sending out an unprotected 2019 first-rounder – then settle in as huge overpays. At best, Deng and Mozgov would provide a little veteran leadership while the team still loses enough to keep its pick… then settle in as huge overpays.

The Lakers got the best-case scenario, which was still pretty awful.

They had to attach D'Angelo Russell just to dump Mozgov’s deal on the Nets. Even if he no longer fit long-term with Lonzo Ball, Russell could’ve fit another asset if he weren’t necessary as a sweetener in a Mozgov trade. Deng remains on the books as impediment to adding free agents (like Paul George and LeBron James) next summer.

Who’s to blame?

Jeanie Buss was the Lakers’ president and owner. Jim Buss, another owner, ran the front office with Mitch Kupchak.

Bill Oram of The Orange County Register:

Within the walls of the Lakers headquarters, Jeanie’s grand corner office had begun to feel like a cell. She could not make sense of the strategy employed by her brother and Kupchak. They had cycled through four coaches in five seasons and under their watch the Lakers won a combined 63 games in three full seasons. Last summer, they spent $136 million of precious cap space on veterans Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov, who made little sense for the direction of the team.

“I just didn’t understand what the thought process was,” she said, “whether our philosophies were so far apart that I couldn’t recognize what they were doing, or they couldn’t explain it well.”

No. Nope, nope, nope. I don’t want to hear it.

Jeanie empowered Jim and his silly timeline, which made it inevitable he place self-preservation over the Lakers’ best long-term interests. That’s why he looked for a quick fix with Mozgov and Deng, who’s still hanging over the Lakers’ plans.

She deserves scrutiny for allowing such a toxic environment that yielded predictably bad results (even if family ties clouded her judgment).

That said, she also deserves credit for learning from her mistake. She fired Jim and Kupchak – admittedly too late, but she still did it – and hired Magic Johnson. There’s no guarantee Johnson will direct the Lakers back to prominence, but he clearly has a better working relationship with Jeanie than Jim did and, so far (in a small sample), looks more competent in the job.

Reports: Heat pessimistic about/uninterested in trading for Kyrie Irving

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Kyrie Irving, in requesting a trade from the Cavaliers, reportedly listed the Heat among his preferred destinations. Though Irving – without a no-trade clause and locked up for two more years – holds only minimal sway, teams would logically offer more for him if they believe he’d re-sign.

Will Miami trade for Irving?

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

And while the possibility certainly cannot be ruled out, the Heat does not have considerable optimism about being able to strike a deal, multiple league sources said.

One Eastern Conference official who spoke to the Heat said Miami considers itself something of a long shot.

Tim Reynolds, the reputable Associated Press Heat and NBA writer, said on Steve Shapiro’s Sports Xtra on WSVN-7 that he does not believe Miami is interested in acquiring Irving.

Like the Kings, though to a far lesser extent, the Heat might not be interested because they know they stand no little of landing Irving.

Goran Dragic would almost certainly have to go to Cleveland in a deal, supplanted by Irving in Miami. Dragic would upgrade the Cavs at point guard over Derrick Rose and Jose Calderon, but at 31, Dragic would also significantly shorten Cleveland’s window.

The Heat would have to send much more. It’s just not clear what.

The Cavaliers, with Tristan Thompson, might not have much interest in centers Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo. Justise Winslow‘s weak 3-point shooting makes him a tough fit with LeBron James, and Winslow’s shoulder injury last season damages his stock anywhere. Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson are helpful contributors, but Johnson’s salary skyrockets north of $19 million each of the following two seasons, Richardson will hit free agency (and get a raise) after this season. James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk – who all signed this summer – can’t be traded until Dec. 15. (I’m not sure which prospect is funnier, Waiters returning to Cleveland or playing with Irving in Miami.) The Heat also owe the Suns two future first-round picks – one top-seven protected in 2018 and unprotected in 2019, the other unprotected in 2021.

It’s difficult, maybe impossible, for Miami to assemble a suitable trade package given those constraints.

At least the Heat would keep open the possibility of LeBron returning if they don’t trade for Irving.

Cavaliers try to convey confidence amid their own star crisis (crises?)

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Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert said the Pacers could have done better in their Paul George trade – a bold (though correct) public critique from someone who had to apologize for his handling of the last time he lost a star and is staring down the prospect of losing another star this summer and the original star again next summer.

What was supposed to be a press conference introducing new general manager Koby Altman today predictably turned into an examination of Kyrie Irving‘s trade request and LeBron James2018 free agency.

“This thing is not broken,” said Altman, who takes over a team that has reached three straight NBA Finals – winning the 2016 title – but now faces immense peril.

Both Gilbert and Altman kept their assessments of Irving’s trade request close to the vest, not even confirming it occurred. But even NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said he assumes reports of Irving’s request are accurate.

Gilbert said he planned to call Silver, clearly part of an attempt to project stability. That was the transparent underpinning of the entire press conference, which included Gilbert saying he felt better about hiring Altman than any prior general manager. The plan went awry when Gilbert stumbled through an answer about why he’s never given a general manager a second contract and why the Cavs couldn’t lure Chauncey Billups, who turned down leading the front office and later said he knew of Irving’s discontent and labeled it “alarming.”

But Gilbert did give his assessments on the franchise’s biggest issues.

On LeBron’s future beyond this season: “We do not control all the cards we get dealt.”

On whether Irving will be in training camp: “Right now, Kyrie Irving is under contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers for two or three years, depending on the last year. So, as of now, he’s one of our best players. Sure, we expect him to be in camp.”

In context, Gilbert sounded as if he was merely saying he expected every Cavalier under contract to be in training camp until their contract status changed – not that he was predicting Irving wouldn’t be traded this offseason.

All reports are that the Cavs are proceeding as if they’ll trade Irving, though Gilbert also brought Kobe Bryant’s infamous 2007 trade request. Kobe and the Lakers reconciled, and he won two more titles in Los Angeles.

“I’m not saying that that happens here,” Gilbert said. “But the possibilities of what will happen are wide.”

The Cavs at least left the door open publicly for Irving returning. Altman downplayed any animosity between the team’s stars, echoing LeBron’s tweets. But Irving’s issues with LeBron appear to be deeper and different than face-to-face resentment, and this summer’s saga hasn’t necessarily helped.

Altman called LeBron “deeply committed to this team and deeply committed to this city” and Irving a “core piece of who we are and what we do.”

Yet, the new general manager wanted to expand discussion beyond those two.

“It’s interesting,” Altman said. “We’ve had an active offseason that I wish some of you would talk more about, in terms of what we’ve done.”

The offseason LeBron reportedly deemed frustrating?

Altman gets a pass for David Griffin’s departure, which clearly rankled LeBron. But Cleveland’s signings – Derrick Rose, Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Jose Calderon, Cedi Osman – leave plenty to be desired, especially as the Warriors load up. A championship looks even further from Cleveland.

With the goal so high and future so turbulent, Gilbert and Altman faced an uphill battle in projecting stability today. Luckily for them, this isn’t the true measure of success.

But things that matter far more – navigating Irving’s trade request, re-signing LeBron – might not be much easier.

Watch the top 60 clutch shots from last NBA season

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It’s that time of the year when there is no basketball, so we fill the time with idle Kyrie Irving speculation and video highlights of last season.

Along those lines, above you can out the top 60 clutch shots from last season, as determined by the folks at NBA.com.

The great thing about the clutch shot list is the ball is in the hands of stars at the ends of games, so there is plenty of Russell Westbrook, John Wall, LeBron James, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and more. Personally, I would have switch No. 1 and No. 2 on the list, but it’s all fun to relive.