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PBT’s RetroBall: Suns-Sonics ’93 and the night Barkley wouldn’t lose

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Since billionaire owners and millionaire players are bitterly divided over how much money they’ll be splitting over the coming years and have locked us out of actual basketball to talk about, PBT will be regaling you this summer on the weekends withRetroBall. Using the advanced powers of the internet and NBATV, we’ll bring you interesting stories from years gone by. If nothing else, it will provide us an opportunity to make fun of fashion and culture from the past, which is always a giggle.

This week we bring you a reminder that players should not be defined by their post-career caricatures. I have this nightmare. With Charles Barkley the bombastic, heavy-set column that hoists “Inside the NBA” up, there’s a generation of kids that will only know Barkley as the guy in the T-Mobile commercials who hates Golden State/Miami/Dallas/whoever. Barkley was of the Jordan years, and as such, his legacy suffers accordingly. His Finals appearances only reflect a counterpoint to Jordan, yet another great player who couldn’t get past MJ, much like Karl Malone and Clyde Drexler with Portland. It’s a disservice to what Barkley did, especially considering how he did it, that he’s looked at as the foil to Jordan and the guy who banters with Dwyane Wade in commercials.

So with that in mind, I took a look at Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals between Barkley’s Phoenix Suns and the Seattle Supersonics, led by Shawn Kemp, Ricky Pierce, and Eddie Johnson, along with Gary Payton in just his third year in the league, still learning how to become “The Glove.”

Speaking of Malone, the Sonics knocked off Malone and Stockton’s Jazz in the first round, before cementing themselves as true upstarts after downing Olajuwon’s Rockets. The Rockets would win the title the following year (when Jordan took his “break”). The Sonics were the third seed that year, but were tied with the Rockets at 55 wins. It was Kemp’s time.

Barkley, on the other hand, was having his MVP season and Phoenix looked like a team of destiny, if you didn’t factor in the fact that Jordan existed. This was Barkley at his best, and there isn’t a better game to showcase how dominant he could be. His final line? 44 points on 12-20 shooting, 19-22 from the stripe, 24 rebounds (!), 14 offensive, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block, 1 turnover.

What follows are my observations from watching the game. I was eleven at the time, so consider these observations from a fresh eye.

  • We’re obviously biased here, but I’ll still say the “NBA on NBC” opening and their coverage throughout was just lightyears beyond everything else that’s been done. It managed to capture the drama of the moment without dousing it in forced history. You felt like you were watching history be made without being told you were watching history be made.
  • Best part about this game? THIN SHAWN KEMP! (As in, the era before Fat Shawn Kemp.) If you were building the perfect power forward, this 23-year-old version of Kemp was pretty much the perfect model. He was still raw, but was already averaging 18 points and 11 boards with 2 blocks per game. Kemp in the last three games of this series headed into Game 7 had scored 20, 33, and 22 points on Barkley, and had the following field goal percentages: 62%, 72% (in that 33-point game, in a loss!), 67%. He was lithe, he was explosive, and he actually had a turnaround jumper. It’s weird to think of a power forward who is raw but actually has a face-up game. Now if you’re raw that pretty much means you’re a basketball jellyfish. You’re fast and long, but if asked to do anything complex you just bob incoherently.
  • The Suns explode out of the gate, and it’s not even really Barkley, he’s only got six in the first period. (That’s right, Barkley scores 38 points over the final three frames.) No, instead it’s the unlikely combination of Tom Chambers and Mark West. I know! Who saw that coming, right?
  • Chambers is actually in for Cedric Ceballos who went down in this series with a stress fracture in his right foot. Chambers was actually the third oldest player on roster behind Frank Johnson and Kurt Rambis, who got a DNP-CD in this game. No word on if this is because Kahn retroactively enforced one.
  • You want something to blow your mind, forget thin Shawn Kemp. Give a look to thin Oliver Miller. Seriously. I Googled an image of Miller with the Raptors to compare. Here’s Miller with the Suns in Game 7, 1993:
  • source:  And here’s what he looked like seven years later:
  • source:  So you can obviously see the change there.
  • Gary Payton isn’t quite Gary Payton yet, here. He’s still working on developing into the Glove. It’s only his third season, and he’s up against a much better player in Kevin Johnson, who’s in his prime. Johnson absolutely torches Payton in this one. “The Glove” is more like a loose-fitting piece of cloth that one wraps around a hand. More like a hand moo-moo. Johnson’s crossover and change of direction is phenomenal in this game. At one point, Payton gives him a solid three feet of room to try and contain him, Johnson blows by him anyway, then drops in a running hook and-one. It’s a virtuoso performance, but moreso on the defensive side. Johnson is spying constantly like a safety let off the called-play chain. The Sonics thrice try and force the break and Johnson cuts off the outlet pass.
  • In a nice premonition of the Seven Seconds or Less years, the Suns are downright merciless in transition. The break starts immediately, and KJ makes his decision on what to do after two steps and as soon as he’s across the timeline. Most of the time he’s just blowing by defenders and getting in for layups, the Sonics don’t have anyone who can challenge defensively at the rim with the amount of time and energy Kemp’s having to pay Barkley.
  • The Sonics shooters kind of drift in and out of this game. Derrick McKey shows up and lights up the second quarter which puts the Sonics back within range. Then Eddie Johnson takes over the late third and fourth. Sam Perkins has a nice third quarter. But they can’t get consistent performances from anyone (though to be fair, if Eddie Johnson played the whole game like he did in the third quarter, he would have broken Wilt’s record and Barkley would have wound up killing someone in the locker room later.
  • Early on the Sonics are doing a great job on Barkley, sending the double immediately. If he were Dwight Howard, this would be the end of the story. But Barkley actually adjusts to the coverage and starts cutting immediately after passing out of the double, which confuses the Sonics to no end as all their lanes are then in chaos. At one point, Barkley just loops around Majerle low and shoves Majerle into two defenders, which allows Ainge to float him the ball right in the center of the paint for an easy one.
  • Barkley starts to get going in the second, then absolutely destroys the third quarter. He’s everywhere. Kemp’s there with him step for step and Barkley’s just owning him. Kemp makes two hard moves to deny the entry pass and the third time down, Barkley just head fakes him, turns and goes to the basket for an easy dunk. Most of them are not this easy. Barkley’s anticipation is on display here. The Suns were essentially able to play four perimeter guys with Barkley because even then, he’d wind up with the board.
  • Danny Ainge at this point had played in five finals over the past eight years. Remarkably, he never traded Kendrick Perkins in any of them.
  • Ainge is pretty much the “you gotta be kidding me” guy to Seattle. They can handle everyone else, but just when they think they’ve closed off the offense effectively, Ainge lights them up on catch and shoot. It’s more than they can handle.
  • Mark West with a great weak-side recovery to block Payton at the rim. On the block, which was clean, West makes contact elbow-to-head on Payton. Payton just turns and runs back on defense. Today, Payton would have clutched his head and crumpled to the floor, perhaps penning a letter to his mother on his death-bed.
  • Barkley spins around Kemp from about 16 feet baseline. The help defense comes to try and cut off the baseline, while Payton is trying to play his backside to make sure he doesn’t double back for a hook. The result is that Barkley moves in-between the two and double-clutches one-handed while fading away from under the rim, good, and-one. Kemp picks up his fourth foul.
  • Another thing that’s shocking about Barkley, he can handle in transition. Now at 6-6, this isn’t shocking, he’s basically an oversized 3. But he’s dribbling with such authority, it makes you realize how few of today’s bigs can really do that. Except for like, Josh Smith, who chooses not to and instead just now, as I wrote this, took another three.
  • When Eddie Johnson starts going off in the third, Barkley actually tails off on his rotation, springs out and blocks him. Running down the floor, you can see Barkley say, “Enough of this (expletive).”
  • In the fourth, the Suns kick the thing into absolute overdrive. They’re forcing everything, and the Sonics are just reeling. They managed to get the lead down to 9 in the early fourth, before the Suns just have one of those “We are winning this game. We are going to the Finals, we are not losing to Ricky Pierce” runs.
  • At one point Payton goes for a rebound, Barkley snags and starts throwing elbows, resulting in Payton chirping in his ear for a solid five feet. Barkley shoves him three feet back, turns and yells back at him. In today’s NBA, that’s two techs. Here it’s just good clean entertainment.
  • Eddie Johnson at one point tosses it off Majerle’s back inbounding, catches it and nails an 18 foot baseline J. The Sonics had to be killing themselves that they wasted a 34 point Eddie Johnson explosion at age 33. Johnson winds up scoring 34 points on 17 shots in 26 minutes. Twenty-six!
  • Nate McMillan was burly in this game. He couldn’t get his jumper going but his defensive work was pretty stout. The Sonics’ defensive strategy was actually pretty sound. Lots of doubles, lots of traps, lots of zone to cut off the passing lanes. Unfortunately, Charles Barkley does not care what you do.
  • I always make fun of the unnecessary “MVP” chants, but the chants for Barkley at the line for his playoff career-high in points seem really appropriate and make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
  • Chants of “Beat the Bulls” begin as the clock winds down. Oh, Phoenix. You’re always so hopeful.
  • The closer lineup for Phoenix is KJ, Ainge, Dan Majerle, Barkley,and Tom Chambers. And it works. They crush the Sonics, breaking open an 18 point lead to cruise to a double-digit win and a trip to the Finals.
  • Barkley had guaranteed a win. This was everything to him. He truly believed this was his year to make greatness happen. And the Sonics had pushed the Suns to seven games. So when Barkley went out, after an unbelievable game, this: source:

 

Reports: Minnesota working hard to trade Ricky Rubio by deadline; Knicks swap for Rose possible

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 28: Ricky Rubio #9 of the Minnesota Timberwolves brings the ball down court against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on December 28, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. 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 Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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On paper, Ricky Rubio seemed a good fit for the Tom Thibodeau’s Timberwolves: He’s a gifted passer and strong defender who knows how to run a team. In practice, his lack of shooting on a team of slashers and a big man inside — Karl-Anthony Towns — allowed teams to clog the lane.

So the Timberwolves are working hard to find a landing spot for him before the trade deadline at 3 p.m. Eastern, according to multiple reports.

This has led to talks with the Knicks of a Ricky Rubio for Derrick Rose swap, and there is more than just smoke with this. Although, if there is enough fire to get a deal done is another question entirely.

A Rose/Rubio swap is a small win for the Knicks — Rubio would find a way to get the ball to Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony, plus he improves their defense. Also, it means they don’t have to overpay Rose or another point guard this summer as Rubio is under contract for next season.

For the Timberwolves, they get a guy who will get them some buckets on the drive but who also takes opportunities out of the hands of Towns, Andrew Wiggins and everyone else. Plus Minnesota’s defense gets worse. I’m not sure how that gets them to the playoffs.

Yao Ming elected Chinese Basketball Association president

SPRINGFIELD, MA - SEPTEMBER 09:  Yao Ming reacts during the 2016 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Symphony Hall on September 9, 2016 in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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BEIJING (AP) — The Chinese Basketball Association has voted unanimously to appoint NBA Hall of Famer Yao Ming as its president.

The CBA’s social media account quoted Yao as saying at a ceremony on Thursday that he hoped to reform the domestic league’s draft system and push more Chinese players into the international arena.

Yao’s appointment is considered as a reform step for an association which until now has typically been led by government sports officials.

Yao, 36, was one of the first Chinese athletes to become an international household name when the Houston Rockets drafted him with the first pick in 2002. The 2.29-meter (7-foot-6) center played for eight seasons before retiring in 2011, citing chronic injuries.

The Shanghai-born Yao was elected to the NBA Hall of Fame in 2016.

As trade rumors swirl, Paul George gets back to work with Pacers

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 14:  Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers looks on during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on December 14, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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 Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Paul George showed up to work Wednesday wearing the same Indiana Pacers uniform he has all season.

He has no changes planned for Thursday either.

With rumors swirling about George’s future and the NBA’s trade deadline set for 3 p.m. EST on Thursday, the four-time All-Star tried to tamp down speculation by staying focused on his current job.

“I’ve got a team to turn around in the second half, and that’s what I’m committed to,” he said Wednesday after an evening practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

George could have avoided a bit of conflict if he had used those same words in an interview Friday on ESPN radio.

Instead, he talked about his desire to “play on a winning team” after being asked about a possible extension with the Pacers, leading some to wonder if George is uneasy about a longterm deal in Indiana. An unwillingness to sign could land him on the trading block.

George knows it’s all part of the basketball business, even if it’s tricky for big-name players.

If he is actually available, the 26-year-old star would be one of the hottest commodities on the market.

George is again one of the league’s best scorers, has appeared on the league’s all-defensive team three times and was the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2013. He’s led his team to two conference finals and won an Olympic gold medal. And he has a propensity for delivering on promises, like when he swore to come back better than ever after breaking his lower right leg in a horrifying scene 2+ years ago.

Now Pacers fans want to know whether George will make good on another promise: Bringing the franchise its first NBA title.

The decision may rest more with Bird, the Pacers’ president of basketball operations, than George.

Bird is trying to do what’s best for the short and long term. Indiana has lost six straight and is currently seeded sixth in the Eastern Conference.

George wants to be a part of the solution.

“I think we can make moves to get better,” he said. “I’m confident in where we’re at and what we can do.”

George’s contract has added a twist to the traditional discussions.

While Bird has already offered a max contract extension, George can opt out of his current deal after next season. He seemed to indicate he might do just that during last week’s All-Star activities.

“As I told Larry, I always want to play on a winning team. I always want to be part of a team that has a chance to win it (all). That’s important,” George said Friday. “Say what you want; I want to compete for something. It’s frustrating just playing the game for stats or for numbers or to showcase yourself. Man, I want a chance to play for a chance to win a championship.

“I wanted to be the first and want to be the first to be able to bring a championship to Indiana,” George added. “So that’s still on my mind … and something I definitely want to achieve in Indiana.”

The Indianapolis Star reported Wednesday that George and team owner Herb Simon met in New Orleans, a subject George declined to discuss Wednesday.

George did say that he and Bird are “on the same page.”

What exactly that means for Thursday remains unclear.

Bird must decide what works best – strengthening George’s supporting cast, or collecting players and draft picks so they can go in a different direction.

George’s teammates are hopeful the star is still around for Friday night’s game against Memphis.

“I would hope so,” point guard Jeff Teague said. “I enjoy playing with him. He’s the reason I wanted to be here.”

Reports: Kings front office rushed to trade DeMarcus Cousins, fearing owner would change mind

Vlade Divac, Vivek Ranadive
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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Why did the Kings trade DeMarcus Cousins late Sunday night? Might they have gotten a better off than the Pelicans’ piddly package by waiting until closer to Thursday’s trade deadline?

Kings general manager Vlade Divac felt pressure on multiple fronts.

First, as he said, he had a better offer two days prior and feared the return would only get worse. Cognizant of losing out on the designated-veteran-player extension, Cousins’ agent was threatening not to re-sign with teams that traded for Cousins, and that apparently spooked one at least one potential suitor.

And then there’s Sacramento owner Vivek Ranadive, who reportedly has been intent on keeping Cousins.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports on The Vertical Podcast with Chris Mannix:

They wanted to do this deal before Vivek Ranadive changed his mind again. This talk about this new list of transgressions by Cousins over the last few weeks — the incident with the Golden State fan, the technical fouls now that it turned into suspensions — these were very consistent with what’s gone on. These weren’t new. Now, they used that to say, “Well, we just decided we couldn’t go forward with him.” Management, the front office, they’ve wanted to trade him for a very long time. And they could not get Vivek on board. Once they had Vivek on board, they didn’t want him to change his mind again. A, that was part of the reason they rushed on Sunday to get the deal done.

Marc Stein of ESPN on The Lowe Post podcast:

Vivek has been resistant to a DeMarcus Cousins trade for so long. He was into the Buddy Hield-New Orleans package idea, and the Kings’ front-office people wanted to push this thing through as fast they could before the owner changed his mind. I think that’s where the urgency came.

Cousins contributed to a toxic environment in Sacramento. For all the good he brought, there were plenty of negatives. I understand trading him to improve the culture.

But if you have to rush through a trade before other teams (like the Lakers) have a chance to improve their offers just so your Buddy-Hield loving owner won’t harmfully meddle, maybe jettisoning Cousins won’t eliminate all the dysfunction.