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Remembering the five best NBA finals ever

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This is going to be one fascinating NBA finals. One of the most improbable and unexpected rematches.

But it’s got big shoes to fill after last season, a seven-game thriller between the two most iconic of NBA franchises. In honor of that series and to dream about what could be coming up, we decided to look even farther back.

Here is our list of the five best NBA finals ever. Something for the Heat and Mavs to aspire to (even if both of them would prefer to win in a dull sweep).

1969 finals, Boston Celtics defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games

This became the Celtics 11th title in 13 years, the last one for the Bill Russell era dynasty. It also was probably the biggest punch in the gut the Lakers ever got.

It was a series of legendary names: Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor for the Lakers; Bill Russell — who was the player coach — John Havlicek and Sam Jones, but this Celtics team was considered too old and past it’s prime. They had only finished fourth in the East but had fought through to the playoffs.

Game 1 was the Jerry West show as he dropped 53 points. Havlicek answered in Game 2 with 43. The most dramatic game of the series was Game 4 when Don Nelson (yes, the future coach of Nelly ball) hit a game winner on a shot that hit the back of the rim as time expired, bounced straight up higher than the backboard, then fall back through.

It all led to a dramatic Game 7 was in Los Angeles. Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke was so sure his team would win he had balloons put in the rafters to fall when the game was over, he scripted out what the band would play when the game ended. Bill Russell looked up at that and used it as motivation for his team, telling them the Lakers were already planning the party, and Boston hit 8 of their first 10 shots and went on to win the game on the road.

1998 Finals, Chicago Bulls beat the Utah Jazz in six games

This was Michael Jordan’s final playoffs with the Bulls, the win that provided the second three-pete and one of most iconic movements of Jordan’s career.

That Jazz team had Karl Malone and John Stockton at their peaks and they won Game 1, but the Bulls started clamping down on defense and won game two then in Game 3 held the Jazz to 56 points. Yes, for the game.

But it was the final 30 seconds of Game 6 that had Jordan leaving on top. The Bulls were down one point. First Jordan made a blind-side steal on Malone in the post. Then he made the one of the signature shots of his career — the crossover (and push off) on Byron Russell, followed by the pure jumper that won the game. And the series. The iconic end of Jordan’s career.

2010, Los Angeles Lakers beat the Boston Celtics in seven games

Yes it did just happen last season, but how many NBA finals have had a fourth quarter comeback in Game 7? This is going to go down as one of the better finals we have ever seen.

In Game 2 Ray Allen went off and hit eight straight three pointers to lead the Celtics to the win and tie the series. In Game 5 there was Kevin Garnett falling out of bounds but making the breakout pass up the court to a streaking Rajon Rondo to seal a win.

Game 7, playing without Kendrick Perkins but getting a huge lift from Rasheed Wallace, the Celtics led by 13 in the third quarter and had stunned the Staples Center crowd. But the Lakers got huge baskets from Ron Artest and Pau Gasol — he had 18 points and 19 boards —while Kobe Bryant had a poor game overall but had 10 points in the fourth quarter when it mattered. Without Perkins the Lakers dominated the paint and the boards and that combined with Boston foul trouble proved to be the difference.

1970, New York Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games

For the second year in a row, an Eastern Conference underdog handed the Lakers a heartbreaking defeat.

This series is remembered for a couple iconic moments. First there was Game 3, where Knicks legend Dave DeBusschere hit what looked like the game winner with three-seconds to go, only to have Jerry West hit a three-quarter court shot to tie it. Maybe the greatest shot in NBA Finals history. But the Knicks went on to win that game.

Then there was Game 7, when the Knicks lone star player Willis Reed was not expected to play. But he came out of the tunnel, fired up Madison Square Garden and his teammates, played a handful of minutes and that was enough. The motivated Knicks won Game 7 off that wave of emotion.

1984 Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games

It’s hard to think of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird separately. This may have been the greatest of the two finals between the two icons of 1980s basketball.

The Lakers controlled this series early but the momentum changed when Kevin McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis in Game 4. That game was the turning point, an epic overtime battle that stands out in the crowded history of Celtics lore as a franchise highlights. It was one of the best Finals games, ever. Boston had to go seven but won a series that finally gave Bird a win over Magic in a big game and cemented his place as a Celtics legend.

(The Lakers bounced back and won in 1985 in Boston Garden in what was maybe the most iconic win for that franchise.)

Rutgers uses NBA incomes of Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Andre Drummond, Steven Adams to pitch recruits

AUBURN HILLS, MI - MAY 24:  Ray Allen #20 of the Boston Celtics goes up for a shot over Richard Hamilton #32 of the Detroit Pistons in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2008 NBA Playoffs on May 24, 2008 at the Palace at Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan.  The Celtics won 94-80.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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College men’s basketball teams earn vast revenue on the backs of players while conspiring to pay those players no more than a scholarship and some expenses. In lieu of the market dictating player salaries, that revenue is funneled to administrators and coaches – like Rutgers’ Steve Pikiell, who earns $1.6 million per year.

But the money in basketball is real, and college players want a taste. So, many coaches try to sell players that they’ll prepare them for the NBA, where they can make millions.

Which led to this Rutgers tweet featuring former Connecticut players Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Andre Drummond and former Pittsburgh player Steven Adams:

The heck?

Rutgers’ only NBA players in the last two decades were Hamady N’Diaye and Quincy Douby. So, the Scarlet Knights got creative.

An assistant on Pikiell’s staff was an assistant at UConn when Allen and Hamilton played there. Another was an assistant when Drummond was a Huskie. Yet another was a Pitt assistant during Adams’ time.

Just when I thought college teams couldn’t get any cheaper when it comes to their players, here comes Rutgers using its barely earned currency in recruiting.

Connecticut took notice:

Here’s an idea: Instead of squabbling over who deserves credit for getting players paid later, use some of that revenue to pay players now.

(hat tip: Mark Sandritter of SB Nation)

Agent: Former Kansas star Perry Ellis to sign with Hornets

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Perry Ellis #34 of the Kansas Jayhawks handles the ball against Mikal Bridges #25 of the Villanova Wildcats and Josh Hart #3 in the second half during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Every 2016 college basketball consensus All-American has reached the NBA.

Ben Simmons, Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield, Jakob Poeltl, Denzel Valentine, Brice Johnson were drafted in the first round and received their guaranteed salaries. Tyler Ulis, Malcolm Brogdon and Georges Niang were picked in the second round and signed contracts. Jarrod Uthoff signed with the Raptors as an undrafted free agent.

And now Perry Ellis is headed to Charlotte.

Gary Bedore of The Kansas City Star:

Former Kansas basketball forward Perry Ellis, who had successful sports hernia surgery Tuesday in Philadelphia, will attend preseason training camp of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and attempt to make the team as a free agent, his agent, Mark Bartelstein, told The Star on Tuesday afternoon.

He’s expected to miss three to four weeks of individual workouts prior to training camp following surgery.

Ellis, who averaged a team-leading 16.9 points for 33-5 KU last season, does not have a guaranteed contract.

The Hornets have just 13 players – two shy of the regular-season limit – with guaranteed salaries. Ellis will compete with Aaron Harrison (unguaranteed), Mike Tobey ($75,000) and Treveon Graham ($75,000 guaranteed) for those final two spots.

I’d really like the chances of Ellis, who’s polished for a rookie after four years at Kansas, if he weren’t coming off an injury. Even if he’s fully healed to begin training camp, he’ll be rusty. As is, I still think he has a solid shot.

Ellis scored well in the post against college players, but the 6-foot-8 power forward has neither the size nor explosiveness to do that dependably in the NBA. He improved his mid-range and outside shooting during his college career, but he doesn’t have NBA 3-point range. He learned to play solid defense at Kansas, but his basketball intelligence won’t get him as far against NBA opponents due to his middling athleticism.

Sense a theme?

I wouldn’t be surprised if Ellis got a larger guarantee than Tobey or Graham. If the Hornets waive him, they can assign Ellis’ D-League rights to their affiliate. A small guarantee in his NBA contract could be designed to entice him to join the D-League despite its low pay if he gets cut.

But first, he’ll have a chance to earn a regular-season roster spot. And Charlotte has two of those, creating more opportunities than most NBA teams can present. There’s a reason Ellis, one of the most prominent undrafted free agents, picked the Hornets. Soon, we’ll see whether they were justified to pick him.

Serge Ibaka writes he didn’t want trade from Thunder, excited about Orlando opportunity

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 30:  Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts after a play in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 30, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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After nearly every major trade or free agent move, the spin starts. “He wasn’t happy with his role” or some other story line comes out about why said player decided to leave, with the team often spinning the negative.

In the case of Serge Ibaka being traded to Orlando, it was that he thought the Thunder promised him a bigger role then didn’t deliver, and he was frustrated. That may well be true — 98 percent of NBA players think they should have a larger role on their team and get more shots. Ibaka’s role with the Thunder did fade as Enes Kanter‘s increased, he likely did want a larger role.

As you had to expect, Ibaka said none of that is true, writing a diary of his summer for Sports Illustrated. He said he learned of the trade while in Paris.

I never asked to be traded, even though there was a lot of media conjecture that I was unhappy with my role. I had an exit meeting with Billy Donovan and Sam Presti after the season, and both went well. But this is still a business, everybody has to do what’s best for them, and I let my agent deal with the business side of things. I just focus on basketball. I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to go in and ask for a trade, and I would have been happy staying with the Thunder. Playing in the NBA was my dream, and I’d be happy playing anywhere…

Right now, though, I feel like a rookie again. I’m thrilled to be in Orlando. I know that might sound crazy to some people, that I’m excited to go from a contender like the Thunder to a rebuilding team, one that hasn’t made the playoffs in four years, but playing now for Frank Vogel, a coach who prides himself on defense, is very exciting for me. We have a core of like-minded, young, athletic players, which is going to be very fun. We are an old-school, smashmouth team, and I can’t wait to don a Magic uniform on opening night.

Smashmouth is a good word for it. The Magic are going to be a strong defensive team next season, the question is will they get enough points to get the wins they will need to be a playoff team? That’s where Ibaka is going to get the chances he craved — the Magic need him to space the floor and score, not just defend.

Ibaka can be a free agent next summer and he will have options, but in trading Victor Oladipo for him the Magic have made a big bet that Ibaka will stay. Of course, money will be the biggest factor, but if Ibaka likes his role and playing for Vogel, the odds of him staying in central Florida go up.

Craig Sager to get third bone marrow transplant thanks to anonymous donor

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 16:  Legendary TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager talks with Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Sager is on a one game assignment for ESPN. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Craig Sager couldn’t be in Rio covering the Olympics for NBC, his cancer wouldn’t allow it. That didn’t stop Team USA from reaching out to him before they left. Or from Nike designing a sweet pair of shoes for him.

Now there is good news on his battle against leukemia — he will have a third bone marrow transplant, according to his son Craig Sager II.

This is fantastic news for a man and family who have been through a lot. Hopefully, this treatment is a step forward for Sager, a man beloved by everyone around the NBA.