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The enduring value of the Pacers’ undeserved playoff berth

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As third parties have banded about all kinds of system-related ideas in light of the lockout, I’ve seen the 2010-2011 Indiana Pacers, who finished the regular season with a 37-45 record, categorically used as evidence in support of an altered playoff system. As much as I understand the sentiment that teams so far under .500 shouldn’t be able to compete in the postseason, I feel as though that notion ignores a tremendously important fact: despite their regular season record, the Pacers actually played quite well in their first round series against the Chicago Bulls.

That series only lasted five games, but the first four were decided by a total of 20 points; each and every one of those initial four contests went down to the wire, with the Pacers falling because of their inability to manufacture points against Chicago’s late-game defense. The games were competitive and intriguing, to a degree that makes me legitimately curious if the current playoff system’s harshest critics were able to tune in to see one of the league’s most understated young teams do battle with a finished product. It’s something we often forget when discussing the NBA’s up-and-comers; Indiana may not be able to match the terrific potential of a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the Pacers have nonetheless amassed a group of quality players that just so happen to be climbing toward their basketball primes.

Danny Granger, in an interview with Zach Lowe for SI.com’s The Point Forward blog, talked about the Pacers’ youth, and the team’s late-game performance in those tightly contested games — games that weren’t supposed to be so competitive, and games that, according to the aforementioned dissenting group, shouldn’t have involved the Pacers in the first place:

SI.com: You guys pushed the Bulls in the first round. Four of the five games were really close. But one theme that kept popping up was the trouble you guys had scoring down the stretch. What happened?

Granger: I think that was our immaturity. I agree with what you say happened. We didn’t execute or run our plays the way we wanted. A lot of it had to do with the Bulls having the best defense in the league. But we have to be able to produce plays in crunch time.

SI.com: The team ran a lot of pick-and-rolls down the stretch of those games — you screening for Darren Collison, you taking a screen from Roy Hibbert and other combinations. But the numbers say you guys were one of the least efficient pick-and-roll teams in the league. How can you get better?

Granger: It’s just a matter of working it in. To be an effective pick-and-roll team, you have to have good decision-makers. I’m not saying that we didn’t have them, but I think we were just inexperienced in that scenario. We switched coaches during the middle of the season, and we switched our whole offense to implement more pick-and-rolls. Frank Vogel did a good job getting us on the same page, but you have to remember: In that series, we started Paul George, who was a rookie. Tyler Hansbrough was basically a rookie, since he was hurt his first year. Darren Collison was in his second year. Roy Hibbert is young.

Considering how closely Indiana kept pace with one of the league’s top teams, do the ends justify the playoff structuring means in this instance? Not solely; there’s no question that the Houston Rockets (43-39), Phoenix Suns (40-42), and even Utah Jazz (39-43) were screwed over by playing in the deeper Western Conference. The fact that the series was entertaining and competitive doesn’t really do much for the players on any of those three squads, who all were cut off after 82 games despite posting better records than Indiana.

But consider those quotes from Granger. That Bulls-Pacers first round series wasn’t exactly an all-timer, but it was pretty special nonetheless. The team that shouldn’t have qualified for the postseason played as valiantly as one could possibly hope, and though decision-making issues really did end up being their downfall, we were still able to witness a fun, young roster legitimately compete against an elite club. Maybe that result doesn’t justify the process in itself, but it should at least factor into our retrospective analysis of it.

Essentially, there were two lessons to be learned from that hotly contested series. First, that Indiana wasn’t just the team that lost 45 games and yet still managed to secure a playoff spot. They’re also the team that tested the top-seeded Chicago Bulls much sooner than expected, and — along with the Memphis Grizzlies — represent the potential of No. 8 seeds, even in this allegedly broken system, to cause some mayhem. The conference playoff structure may not be perfect, but in this case it created a commendable product undeserving of criticism or ire. Second, that the only way to frame the Pacers’ struggles is in the context of their youth. Indiana may have been unable to execute down the stretch against Chicago, but the series still showcased a dynamic Pacers roster with plenty of talent and lots of potential for further growth.

Kermit Washington accused of stealing from his charity

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Prosecutors have filed charges against former NBA forward Kermit Washington, accusing him of embezzling about a half-million dollars in charitable donations meant to help the needy in Africa and spending it on jewelry, vacations and other things.

Washington, who was best known for his bone-shattering punch to the face of Houston Rockets player Rudy Tomjanovich during a game in 1977, was charged in an indictment filed in Kansas City on Monday. The indictment was unsealed Wednesday after Washington’s arrest Tuesday in Los Angeles, said Tammy Dickinson, U.S. attorney for the western district of Missouri.

Online court records don’t list a lawyer for Washington, who authorities said has been released on bond.

Washington is charged with interfering with internal revenue laws, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, obstruction of justice and aggravated identity theft. The charges largely stem from transactions that occurred from about 2004 through 2013, according to the indictment.

“The federal indictment alleges this former NBA player used his celebrity status to exploit the good intentions of those who donated to a charity he founded, called Project Contact Africa,” Dickinson said.

She declined to say how much of the money actually went to the charity, but she characterized it as a “very small fraction.”

The investigation, which is ongoing, stemmed from an earlier Kansas City-based federal investigation into pirated software that has involved charges against several other people. Dickinson said investigators “followed the money” in that investigation and uncovered Washington’s fraud.

Defendants in the software case are accused of paying Washington to allow them to sell items through Project Contact Africa’s website, saving them money in fees that would have been owed to PayPal and eBay if the items were not sold through a charity, Dickinson said.

Washington, 64, worked as a regional representative for the National Basketball Players Association from 2005 until 2015, and authorities have accused him of using that position to refer professional athletes to Ron Mix, a Pro Football Hall of Famer and San Diego lawyer who specialized in worker’s compensation cases, in exchange for about $155,000 in donations to Washington’s charity.

Mix, who was accused of claiming that amount as a charitable donation, pleaded guilty Monday in Kansas City to a felony tax-fraud charge.

Washington played in the NBA in the 1970s and 1980s for several teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, San Diego Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers. He is best remembered for his infamous punch that fractured Tomjanovich’s face and left him unconscious during a 1977 game between Washington’s Lakers and the Rockets.

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Tammy Dickinson’s name in one reference. It had been misspelled Dickenson.

Follow Maria Sudekum on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mesudekum

Report: Draymond Green won’t receive flagrant foul for tripping Enes Kanter

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors looks to rebound against Kevin Durant #35 and Enes Kanter #11 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first half in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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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Another day, another Draymond Green controversy.

But at least this time – when it comes to Green tripping Enes Kanter in Game 4 – we won’t have to wait so long for the result.

One flagrant point away from suspension, Green avoids that major penalty.

 

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green won’t be given a flagrant one foul for getting tied up with Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals on Tuesday night, a person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday.

I’m fine with this. I’m far from convinced Green did it intentionally, and I’d have a hard time punishing someone on a weak hunch.

That said, I would’ve also been fine with the league ruling it a flagrant 1. Green has jumped all around the line so often this series, he’s running out of plausible deniability.

Kawhi Leonard only player on every All-Defensive team ballot, gets all first-team votes

SAN ANTONIO,TX - MARCH 12: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs focus on defense against the Oklahoma City Thunder at AT&T Center on March 12, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  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 Cortes/Getty Images)
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There wasn’t much consensus among All-Defensive voters, except for this.

Kawhi Leonard is really good.

The back-to-back reigning Defensive Player of the Year  was the only player to appear on every ballot, and he made the first team on all 130. He leads a pretty well-selected group:

First team

Second team

Other players receiving votes, with point totals (First Team votes in parentheses): Rudy Gobert, Utah, 64 (17); Klay Thompson, Golden State, 49 (16); Jae Crowder, Boston, 47 (3); LeBron James, Cleveland, 43 (5); Kyle Lowry, Toronto, 43 (9); Danny Green, San Antonio, 39 (9); Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City, 35 (12); Tim Duncan, San Antonio, 33 (5); Ricky Rubio, Minnesota, 30 (6); Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit, 27 (3); Anthony Davis, New Orleans, 24 (3); Andre Drummond, Detroit, 14 (5); Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City, 14 (1); Stephen Curry, Golden State, 13 (3); Andre Iguodala, Golden State, 13 (3); Patrick Beverley, Houston, 11 (1); Al Horford, Atlanta, 7 (1); Marcus Smart, Boston, 7 (2); John Wall, Washington, 6; Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee, 3; Trevor Ariza, Houston, 3; Kent Bazemore, Atlanta, 3; Andrew Bogut, Golden State, 3 (1); DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento, 3 (1); Nicolas Batum, Charlotte, 2; Victor Oladipo, Orlando, 2 (1); LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio, 1; Harrison Barnes, Golden State, 1; Bismack Biyombo, Toronto, 1; Mike Conley, Memphis, 1; Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City, 1; Derrick Favors, Utah, 1; George Hill, Indiana, 1; Wesley Matthews, Dallas, 1; Luc Mbah a Moute, Los Angeles Clippers; Kristaps Porzingis, New York, 1; Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City, 1; Mike Scott, Atlanta, 1; Dwyane Wade, Miami, 1

Thoughts:

  • No major gripes about the first or seconds teams. The voters did pretty well.
  • I rated Tony Allen as having the best defensive season by a guard by pretty wide margin. Paul and Bradley had better PR, though. Paul, who has made the first team five straight years, is a mainstay. Bradley benefited from Damian Lillard calling him the NBA’s best perimeter defender, which might overstate Bradley’s admittedly impressive ability to cover his man but definitely ignores other facets of defense (particularly rebounding).
  • I’m quibbling, tough. Paul and Bradley are very good defenders. This is more about Allen than them. And I’ll miss Allen shouting “First team All-Defense!”
  • Russell Westbrook is by far the most overrated player in this voting. There’s a wide gulf between his defensive ability and defensive output.
  • Strangest vote-getter? Mike Scott.

Report: Joakim Noah tells teammates he’s leaving Bulls

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 15:  Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls runs off of the court after dislocating his left shoulder against the Dallas Mavericks at the United Center on January 15, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Mavericks defeated the Bulls 83-77. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Joakim Noah said in January he wanted to re-sign with the Bulls. Chicago reportedly wants to keep him.

A perfect match?

Not quite.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

According to a Bulls player, Noah has been telling teammates the last few weeks that he was done with the organization once free agency begins, and “has no trust in the front office getting this in the right direction.’’

The player was asked if Noah’s feelings had anything to do with first-year coach Fred Hoiberg and the he said, he said that went on early in the season when Noah lost his starting job, and insisted that Noah didn’t offer up that as an explanation.

What was offered up, however, was the fact that there seems to be a complete mistrust that multiple players have toward general manager Gar Forman, with Noah leading the way.

Noah and Hoiberg publicly disagreed about whose choice it was for Noah to come off the bench. Hoiberg said it was Noah’s. Noah said it was Hoiberg’s.

That looked like a petty problem, one both sides could – and maybe did – get over. But it seems Noah has deeper concerns.

This has been a rough year for the Bulls, who missed the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. That unexpected downturn takes a toll on chemistry and brings buried problems to the surface. That’s especially true considering Chicago fired Tom Thibodeau – a coach who looks better in hindsight. If players miss Thibodeau, that opens the door for them to turn on Forman, who forced out Thibodeau.

That said, the Bulls are probably better off letting Noah walk. He’s 31 and has been banged up the last couple years. I wouldn’t commit big money to him with Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis under contract and the need for faster players to run Hoiberg’s system. Chicago can’t quickly solve its Jimmy ButlerDerrick Rose issue, because Butler is worth keeping and Rose is under contract another year on a difficult-to-trade deal. But shedding Noah and using the resulting cap flexibility elsewhere gets the team headed in the right direction.

For his part, Noah can seek a fresh start – how about with Thibodeau in Minnesota? – and find a team that suits him, either a win-now squad or a younger group seeking veteran leadership.