Samhan adapts, impresses in his second Summer League game

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Everyone knows Omar Samhan was an extremely productive college player. At 6-11′, 265 pounds, Samhan was able to simply overwhelm most of his college opponents by using his size, strength, and    extremely advanced package of skills. 
Samhan’s college numbers are impressive; he averaged 21.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game during his senior season at St. Mary’s, led all college players in PER, and burst into the national consciousness when he scored 61 points in the first two rounds of last year’s NCAA Tournament. 
Despite Samhan’s production at the college level, there have always been doubts about his athleticism, conditioning, and ability to produce in the NBA. Thanks to those concerns and a disappointing performance in St. Mary’s final NCAA tournament game, Samhan went undrafted this year.
The Dallas Mavericks assigned Samhan to their summer league roster this year, and Samhan knows he only has a couple games to prove himself if he wants to be playing in the NBA instead of Europe next season. 
Samhan’s first summer league game didn’t go so well. Samhan admitted after the game that his nerves affected him, and he never was able to get into the flow of the action. Samhan had trouble establishing post position, looked rushed when he got the ball, and had trouble staying in front of his man on defense. As a result, Samhan ended up with more fouls (5) than points (4) during his 19 minutes of play. It wasn’t the type of game that NBA scouts and GMs were looking for, and Samhan knew it.
On Saturday, Samhan bounced back from his shaky debut and showed those in attendance the package of skills that made him one of the most productive big men in college basketball last season. The Mavericks went to Samhan in the post on their first possession of the game, and Samhan responded with a nice turnaround jumper over Jordan Hill. 
In Samhan’s own words, that first basket “broke the ice” for him — After he hit the shot, much of the first half turned into the Samhan show. Samhan faced Hill up and scored on him with a righty dribble. He hit two straight pick-and-pop jumpers from the left side of the court, and looked very confident in his stroke — Samhan said after the game he’s trying to extend his range to the three-point line, and the work he’s putting in shows.
Samhan also showed some nice passing ability from the low block, was active on the boards, and did a good job defending Jordan Hill in the post. Samhan’s best play of the day came on the fast break, where Samhan is generally the least effective. While running the floor, Samhan caught a pass at full speed, started to go into a spin, stopped himself on a dime while keeping one foot down, and calmly reverse pivoted back to his right hand for an easy basket. 
Samhan was less effective after taking a hard fall in the first half; he sprung up and clapped his hands after he went down, but that was because Samhan knows he doesn’t have the luxury of asking out of any games. It was a hard fall, and Samhan admitted after the game that the blow to his head affected his play.
Samhan’s lack of foot speed was also an issue, and he gave up a few easy threes because he was slow to close out. Samhan has the talent and touch to provide some scoring off the bench, but he still has a lot of work to do on his conditioning before he can hope to play significant minutes against the NBA’s athletic big men. The good news for Samhan’s supporters is that he appears ready to put in that work. Samhan may be the slowest player in summer league, but he was moving faster than any other Maverick during pre-game warmups on Friday, and the way he toughed out his head injury on Saturday was impressive. 
Samhan’s body isn’t NBA-ready yet, but there may be a roster spot available for somebody with Samhan’s combination of size, skill, savvy, and willingness to work if Samhan can continue to play the way he did during the first half of Saturday’s game. 

Celtics GM Danny Ainge: “Who doesn’t want Isaiah Thomas on their team?”

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Isaiah Thomas is the best and most popular Celtics player, leading his team to the No. 1 seed in the East and the Eastern Conference Finals — both significant steps forward for an up-and-coming team.

Yet, from the moment the Warriors landed the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, the talk about Thomas has been about his future with the Celtics: If/when they draft Markelle Fultz, will the Celtics want to pay Thomas max or near max money next summer? Do they want to be locked into four or five years with an undersized guard who will start that contract at age 29? Do they extend him this summer at a likely better price? Trade him?

Celtics GM Danny Ainge doesn’t understand all the talk. He certainly didn’t sound like someone looking to trade Thomas this summer speaking to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

“All I’m saying is those are things I have to worry about that even I don’t like to think about. And I know that those are going to be difficult decisions at some point. But we want to keep Isaiah.

“All I know is that he’s had an amazing year, and who doesn’t want Isaiah Thomas on their team? Like, you’ve got to be kidding me…

“Why do the fans need to worry about how much money he makes?” he said. “I can understand if Isaiah and his wife and his agent are worried about that, but I don’t understand why that’s a conversation that needs to be had in the media.”

Two things I want to unpack from all that. First, that’s a “get off my lawn” take from Ainge that completely misses the mark with where sports fandom online has shifted. It’s not that he’s wrong at the core of his argument — we all should appreciate the season Thomas just had, Celtics’ fans in particular. Thomas is a joy to watch play and one of the good guys in the league on top of it. Name anyone in the NBA who has gotten more out of his natural abilities than Thomas — the man has put in the work to rise way past expectations. He needs to be appreciated and lauded for that.

But here’s the thing: Fans more than ever like to play GM, and they now have the tools to understand the tough financial decisions that fall on Ainge and others in his shoes. Let me explain it this way: The NBA Finals start June 1, but as a website, the NBC NBA page will draw way more traffic around the NBA Draft at the end of the month, then free agency in July will blow that away. Always does. Player movement — including both rumors of trades and talk of free agents and moves teams should make — is a much bigger draw than the games themselves. That’s not just the NBA, it’s true of the NFL and MLB and NHL and the Barclays’ English Premiere League and on down the line.

Second, Ainge may not like the speculation, but the questions are valid — he and the Celtics have some hard decisions coming up. At the core of them is the question of patience: Push their assets into the middle of the table now, get a couple of players ready to win next season, and make a run at LeBron James and the Cavaliers, or be patient and build to be better than Cleveland in three years (then sustain that for five or more years beyond that)? Ainge has been on the patient side of that equation from the start, and likely will be again — don’t expect him to trade that No. 1 pick or do anything but bring Thomas back. He can be a decision for the summer of 2018.

Then again, he has shopped Thomas before. Ainge is as good or better than any GM in the league of keeping his cards close to his vest, he’s impossible to read.

That said, the smart money is on him being patient. There’s no need to trade Thomas now, that’s the kind of rash overreaction that got the Knicks where they are over the last decade plus. Ainge can wait things out.

 

Adding Durant and thinking dynasty, it’s championship or bust for Warriors’ legacy

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The Golden State Warriors have been the best team in the NBA for three seasons now. That’s not my opinion, that’s LeBron James‘ — here is what he said after advancing to his seventh straight NBA Finals.

“That’s been the best team in our league the last three years, and they added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year, so that makes it even more difficult.”

Adding Durant did make them more difficult to beat, but it also added to the Warriors’ burden — after a 67-win season and a historic 12-0 sweep into the Finals, the series that their season will be judged on is the one still to be played. They may as well be 0-0 because the second they added Durant it was championship or bust in terms of how they want to be seen.

Win and a pattern of dominance over years starts to come into focus, they will have a couple rings and beaten LeBron — who will go down as one of the all-time greats in his own right — to get them. Lose and this season will be viewed as another failure.

The Warriors want us to look back on them in 10-15 years and see a dynasty. They talked quietly about it last season during their chase for 73 wins — they saw that as a part of their resume as one of the greatest teams of all time. That’s part of the reason for the push last year. They, like LeBron, are chasing the ghosts of greatness at this point, and the Warriors had a Jordan record in their sights.

Regular season marks are nice, but in the NBA the great teams’ legacies are built around championships. Plural. If you’re going to go down as one of the dominant teams of an era — like the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, or Jordan’s Bulls, or the Celtics and Lakers of the ’80s, etc. — there needs to multiple rings on fingers. The Warriors have one, but their historic season unraveled last year when a combination of LeBron’s utter dominance, Draymond Green‘s suspension, Andrew Bogut’s injury (that one was underrated as an issue) all came together to snatch victory from their hands (and help cement LeBron’sa legacy).

The Warriors need the 2017 title for their legacy.

Not just the team, but the legacies of Warriors players will be impacted by this series. Injured or worn down or just in a shooting slump (or, most likely, a combination of the three), Stephen Curry struggled defensively and was outplayed by LeBron last Finals when the Warriors needed him. Curry has been fantastic through these playoffs, but like the team he will be judged as much or more for the games to come than the ones already played. Fair or not.  Can Green keep his head about him when LeBron pushes his buttons? Durant is back on the Finals stage, will he rise to that moment?

The championship or bust mentality is too often the prism through which fans — and media — view sports. It’s unfortunate because it clouds the joy of the game itself, the growth of players, of guys doing the unexpected and rising to heights we did not expect from them. Isaiah Thomas‘ brilliant season in Boston is not diminished because it didn’t end in a ring, to use one easy example. But there are hundreds more like that around the league. Championship or bust blinds people to the little things that can make the game joyous.

However, the Warriors have put themselves in a different place. They are chasing legends. They have the wins and the statistics to make a case, more importantly, they also have a style of play being copied (even by college teams) and is changing how the game is played. That is a hallmark greatness.

Now they need the rings to go with it. They need more than one, but it starts with this year’s title — it is championship or bust for them. Fair or not. If the Warriors want to be mentioned in the pantheon of all-time greats, it will take the 2017 title to be part of it.

Underdog Cavs insist they have plenty of bite for Finals

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — They are defending champions and decided underdogs.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, however, say they aren’t using any snubs to get ready for the NBA Finals.

Set for a third straight championship matchup against Golden State, the Cavs are ignoring the Las Vegas odds makers and others who don’t think they have a shot at beating Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant & Co.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t feel his team needs the underdog label for inspiration, saying being in the NBA Finals is “enough motivation alone.”

Kevin Love was reminded that Warriors forward Draymond Green said earlier this season that he wants to “destroy and annihilate” the Cavs in the Finals. Says Love said: “He wanted us, and he has us starting next Thursday.”

 

Check out Kawhi Leonard’s highlights from this past season (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook and James Harden were putting up the bigger numbers, they were drawing more attention. And while MVP is a regular season award, nobody has boosted their MVP credentials more in the postseason than Kawhi Leonard.

He had a really impressive regular season, too. Since we’re on a long break between games, enjoy the highlights of Leonard’s season. He may enter next season as the MVP favorite.