Russell Westbrook was emotional, he was hot when taken out in the third quarter. The plays that the Thunder were supposed to be running nobody was executing so he was left solo, and that led to some ugliness. He was yelling and we’re guessing they were words on George Carlin’s list. He was hot enough that assistant coach Mo Cheeks had to come down the bench and calm him down. He stayed out of team huddles. Then Westbrook sat the entire fourth quarter.
And none of that matters. Not if the Thunder are about winning. Not if Westbrook is mature. The question isn’t why it happened, because it has happened to a lot of guards.
The question that matters is does it bother Westbrook going forward?
He said all the right things after the game, saying when the team is winning — and the bench unit, including backup point guard Eric Maynor with Kevin Durant was playing more cohesive basketball than the Thunder starters — then go with the hot hand. It worked; the Thunder beat the Mavericks 106-100 and evened the Western Conference finals at a game apiece.
“I know you all want to ask the same question and I’m going to give you all the same answer: We were winning,” Westbrook said in a locker room interview broadcast on ESPN.
Westbrook now joins a long line of great point guards who sat for the fourth quarter of big playoff games. Chuck Daly once sat in-his-prime Isiah Thomas in the fourth quarter of a Game 5 against the Bulls because Vinny Johnson and Joe Dumars had it going. That’s just the top of a long list. (Thomas dropped 33 in Game 6.)
“I’ve done it a few times during the year,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of sitting Westbrook after the game in a news conference broadcast on NBA-TV. “Doesn’t happen often, Russell is an incredible player, he’s our starting point guard, but we weren’t getting a lot of things done and his time was to come out then I stayed with Eric.”
The guess here is Westbrook was over this by the time he hit the bus.
Westbrook is not a guy that comes to the NBA as a super-pampered player. He didn’t start in high school until he was a junior, and he went to Leuzinger in the greater Los Angeles area (Lawndale), not exactly a basketball powerhouse. At all. Then he went to UCLA where Ben Howland sat him. Then, when he was getting some good run, he benched himself for a stretch. He dealt with all of it and came out better on the other end.
Maybe that’s not the case. Maybe the constant questions he will be asked about this leading up to Game 3 on Saturday will wear on him. Maybe this will be a clubhouse issue, but I doubt it. There are few clubhouses with teammates as tight together as OKC. It’s something that will be discussed for the next few days to no end.
But Westbrook (who had 18 points and played pretty well) and the Thunder have probably already moved on. They better if they plan on winning this series.
The big question: Why?
Does Nowitzki want a higher salary? More years? A lower salary that enables the Mavericks to upgrade their supporting cast?
He could command whichever of those he desires.
Tim MacMahon of ESPN, transcribing Nowitzki’s interview on 1310 The Ticket in Dallas:
Nowitzki reiterated Monday that he is committed to remaining with the Mavs for the rest of his career, saying that decision was essentially made when Dallas won the championship in 2011.
“That would have been the only scenario where I go somewhere at the end to kind of hang on and maybe try to win one,” Nowitzki said, referring to if he didn’t have a ring. “But ever since I won a championship here and we did that, I want to finish my career here. I always said that. The only scenario where I’ll try to go somewhere is if we’re rebuilding, if we really say, ‘This is the end of the line. We tried every which way and we can’t go any further and we’re starting basically with five rookies.’
“Obviously, that’s not what I want my last couple of years. But knowing Mark and Donnie, they always want this to be a winning franchise, so there’s no reason for me to go anywhere.”
“We had one more year on the contract, but I think this is the right thing to do,” he said. “We’re going to sit with Mark [Cuban] and Donnie [Nelson] obviously over the next few weeks and figure out how to improve this franchise again.
“Ever since after the championship, we’ve been basically a first-round exit. We’ve been a seven, eight seed. We’ve only won a few playoff games, and obviously the goal was to compete at the highest level in my last couple of years. So there is some moving to do, some thinking, some putting our heads together the next few weeks heading into free agency, heading into the draft. So this is just one move that hopefully starts a chain reaction for us to get better again, to compete really at a high level. We’ll see how it goes.”
Usually, I’d say this would at least open the door to the player leaving. But it’d be difficult for the Mavericks to pivot into rebuilding now. They don’t have their own first-round pick, and Justin Anderson is their only young player of consequence.
The Mavericks project to have about $20 million in cap space accounting for cap holds for Chandler Parsons ($19,969,950), Nowitzki ($12,500,0001), Deron Williams ($6,454,769) and Dwight Powell ($1,180,431). If those players sign elsewhere or get renounced, Dallas would clear more room.
Nowitzki could accept a lower salary than his cap hold, and his first-year salary would become his cap number once signed. Essentially, he could monitor free agency and slide his salary requirement depending on the quality of free agent the Mavericks could sign with the available money. Land a star, and maybe Nowitzki would take far less to accommodate him. Strike out, and Nowitzki might want a raise.
He has leverage, though it seems he’s set on using it harmoniously with management.
Still, what if Dallas flops majorly in free agency? Could Nowitzki leave? I expect the Mavericks to land productive veterans, and I doubt Nowitzki would leave anyway. But by opting out, he has the ability to walk.
The Mavericks have an opportunity to improve this offseason. Two years ago, they leveraged Nowitzki’s commitment to the franchise into a below-market deal that helped them sign Parsons. The goal should be once again involving Nowitzki in the process and having him help.
The better Dallas does in free agency, the more likely Nowitzki will be to sacrifice for the team.
Justin Lin and Andrew Dodge are ready to shoot some intergalactic hoops with LeBron James.
The Fast & Furious 6 and Star Trek Beyond helmer is in talks to direct Warner Bros.’ sequel Space Jam 2 while Dodge will write.
The Cleveland Cavaliers NBA player, who recently appeared in Amy Schumer comedy Trainwreck, will star in Space Jam 2.
The original Space Jam with Michael Jordan was a huge success. If they can parlay that popularity into a profitable sequel, good for everyone involved. Many NBA players – including Blake Griffin and Isaiah Thomas – will vie for parts.
It probably won’t even matter if the movie is good. Basketball fans – younger ones and those nostalgic for the 90s, huge cross sections – will flock to see it regardless. So, let’s hope it’s good.
The Warriors and Cavaliers were clearly the best teams in their conferences during the regular season.
Adjusting for playoff rotations only furthered those teams’ advantages.
Does Cleveland maintain its big lead in the East?
I’ve used nba wowy! to rank Eastern Conference playoff teams by net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) during the regular season and first round, counting only lineups that include five players in the team’s postseason rotation. Here’s each team’s rating, from the regular season adjusted to only lineups that include five players projected to be in the second-round rotation:
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
- Offensive rating: 111.4 to 117.4
- Defensive rating: 105.1 to 106.8
- Net rating: +6.3 to +10.6
2. Toronto Raptors
- Offensive rating: 110.9 to 113.7
- Defensive rating: 106.0 to 104.2
- Net rating: +4.9 to +9.5
3. Miami Heat
- Offensive rating: 107.2 to 112.5
- Defensive rating: 105.3 to 106.7
- Net rating: +1.9 to +5.8
4. Atlanta Hawks
- Offensive rating: 105.9 to 105.4
- Defensive rating: 103.0 to 101.8
- Net rating: +2.9 to +3.6
- The order of these teams matches seed, which leaves the Cavs at the top.
- The Raptors narrowed the gap – from where they stood overall in the regular season and adjusted for playoff rotation entering the first round – with Cleveland. Key for Toronto: Removing Luis Scola from the rotation. Though he’s a fine player, the Raptors have fared better with him off the court.
- Gerald Green was barely in the Heat’s first-round rotation. Remove him, and Miami’s adjusted offensive/defensive/net rating jumps to 115.3/106.8/+8.5. That’s still not as good as the Raptors’, but it’s much closer.
- The Hawks have less ability to change their adjusted rating by trimming their fringe rotation players, Mike Muscala and Tim Hardaway Jr. Drop those two and Atlanta’s adjusted rating gets a little worse: 105.6/102.3/+3.3. If the Cavs play up to their potential, I’m not sure the Hawks have a gear that can match hit. But it will be interesting to see the conference’s best adjusted offense (Cleveland) face its best adjusted defense (Atlanta).
Though Kurt Rambis remains the apparent frontrunner, Phil Jackson seems to keep pushing the idea that there’s another candidate.
David Blatt “still is in the mix” for the Knicks head job, according to an NBA source.
Blatt is expected to be interviewed for the vacancies with the Rockets and Kings
Blatt won 67% of his games and reached the NBA Finals in his only full season. Yes, he had LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and an expensive supporting cast, but that’s still impressive. Blatt has replaced Mark Jackson as the preeminent “I’m not sure he’s actually a good coach, but his record was so darn good that I have to take a look” coaching candidate. That’s clearly getting him interviews, but will it get him a job offer?