Did Danny Ainge cost the Celtics this championship? No.

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It’s an obvious and easy target. A changing point in the Celtics season.

Back at the start of February, the Celtics were 37-11, the top seed in the East, three games ahead of Miami, three-and-a-half ahead of the Chicago Bulls. They were title contenders. They had gotten Kendrick Perkins back in the lineup and Shaquille O’Neal had just stepped out with a little hip issue but he was going to be back in a week or so.

Then of Feb. 24, Celtics GM Danny Ainge shocked everyone by changing the Celtics core, trading center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City (along with Nate Robinson) for reserve forward Jeff Green.

The Celtics finished the third seed in the East. They never got Shaq back (not in a meaningful way) and ended up bounced in the second round of the playoffs. It felt like they were never the same after the trade.

Did Danny Ainge do that? Did the Kendrick Perkins trade change the Celtics into also-rans? There are Celtics fans out there calling for Danny Ainge’s head over this move and what they perceive it costs the Celtics.

Those people are wrong. This isn’t on Ainge.

Kendrick Perkins would not have changed this series.

Perkins brings some defense to the table — he can defend traditional big men very well in the post (if you can step away from the basket, like Zach Randolph, it’s a different story). He’s also makes good help rotations and can clog the paint, slowing penetration.

He provides no offense inside — and that is what the Celtics missed most this series. They missed the Shaq from the first half of this season (who Ainge and Rivers and the Celtics doctors expected would be back). They needed a threat inside that balanced out the offense outside. They needed to punish the Heat for playing Joel Anthony. The Celtics offense hummed when Shaq was scoring (or was a threat to score) in the paint, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce were getting better looks. Rajon Rondo had more room to operate.

Perkins fixes none of that.

What’s more, the small lineup the Heat had success with would have forced Doc Rivers to bench Perkins for the key stretches of games anyway. The only way to offset that small lineup was a big man who could score in the paint to make them pay for it, and Perkins does not do that.

Maybe he makes some hard fouls on penetration, but that is not slowing the attack of Dwyane Wade or LeBron James. And both of them did serious damage with jump shots anyway.

Besides, when the trade went down we kept hearing about how Jeff Green was the kind of athletic wing player the Celtics really needed off the bench, especially after Marquis Daniels went down. (By the way, what you saw with Jeff Green this season is what you get, don’t expect a leap forward. Ask Thunder fans about it.)

I said at the time I didn’t like the Perkins trade, and you can wonder ho the team would be different with him, but it is not what cost the Celtics this series. This is not all on Ainge.

LeBron James admits Warriors pose one of biggest challenges he’s faced in Finals

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LeBron James is used to being the underdog in the NBA Finals. It started with the first time he got a team there, the 2007 team where after LeBron the two leading scorers were Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden — that team was not really Finals worthy and the Spurs showed that with a sweep.

Entering his seventh straight NBA Finals in 2017, the Cavaliers are again heavy underdogs. When asked about the challenge these Warriors — now with Kevin Durant — pose LeBron was nothing but complimentary, speaking to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It’s probably up there,” James said after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ practice. “I mean, it’s up there. Obviously, I’ve played against four Hall of Famers as well too, with Manu [Ginobili], Kawhi [Leonard], Tony [Parker] and Timmy D [Tim Duncan] on the same team. And if you add Pop [Gregg Popovich] in there, that’s five Hall of Famers.

“So it’s going to be very challenging. Those guys are going to challenge me. They’re going to challenge our ballclub. This is a high-powered team, and I’ve played against some other [stiff competition]. I’ve played against Ray [Allen], KG [Kevin Garnett], Paul [Pierce], [Rajon] Rondo and Doc [Rivers]. So it’s going to be very challenging not only on me mentally, but on our ballclub and on our franchise.”

The Warriors bring four of the top 15-20 guys in the NBA (depending on where you want to rank Klay Thompson), with two of then in the top five with Durant and Stephen Curry. However, what makes the Warriors more dangerous is the way they buy into the offensive system, move the ball and set screens/move off it, all of which makes them greater than just the sum of their parts. Well, that and the fact they had the second best defense in the NBA this year.

Cleveland, however, is probably the team best suited to beat them. Nobody has a good answer for guarding the 1/3 LeBron/Kyrie Irving pick-and-roll, Kevin Love is one of the best power forwards in the game, they are strong on the glass and can be impressive on defense (the challenge will be doing it consistently this series, they haven’t had to up to this point). Ultimately, LeBron is the great equalizer, he is the best player in the game.

All that said, Las Vegas oddsmakers have Golden State the heavy favorites (those odds are a reflection of what the betting public thinks). If LeBron and the Cavaliers pull this off, it will be one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history.

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

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Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.

 

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.