darkesttimeline

The Nets, “Community,” and the darkest timeline

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In the Community (Thursdays this…. sometime in the coming months… on NBC!) episode “Remedial Chaos Theory,” the writers took the ol’ alternate timeline theory and spread it out like a Nuggets fast break. The concept is simple. The cast of man characters are at an apartment, sitting around a table. The door buzzer buzzes with the arrival of the pizza guy. Someone has to go all the way downstairs to get it. The main character, Jeff, rolls a die to determine who will go get the pizza. Abed, the so-meta-it-hurts character who is constantly referring to how the characters are interacting in a show, comments that Jeff has now created six alternate universes (there’s actually seven, since Jeff is purposefully excluding himself by rolling the die). The rest of the show goes through what happens in those six varying timelines.

Observe:

Now some things happen in almost every timeline (Britta trying to sing “Roxeanne” and getting shut down by Jeff, Jeff getting injured, etc.) because some things are inevitable, but the branching system of scenarios speaks to the consequence of both decision and random, unstoppable luck.

And this is a lot like what is happening with the New Jersey Nets at the moment.

There are two ways of looking at this. Either they already rolled the die, so to speak, prior the season, in not acquiring Dwight Howard before the Magic took him off the market (or “off the market” if you’re into that kind of thing), or they’re facing rolling the die this season with whether they can get him at the deadline or not.

If the die has already been cast, this is, in fact, the darkest timeline.

Brook Lopez? Broke his foot. Kris Humphries? Shoulder injury. Deron Williams? Can’t shoot, and looks like he’s just about checked out… five games in. The rest of the roster? Abject disaster. They won their opener against Washington, after being down 21. That should have been a sign right there, and says more about the Wizards than the Nets. Since then it’s been a steady string of beatdowns.

And that’s how insane all of this can be, with the way teams can shift dramatically within the course of a matter of days following a decision. This is one of the few elements of the NBA that are actually a reflection of real life, where similarly any decision you make can impact the next and the next. In essence, a butterfly flaps its wings and the Nets lose Deron Williams after having traded the farm for him.

Let’s explore some possibilities.

Reality 1: The Nets neglected to trade for Howard when they had a chance, and now that Lopez is injured leading to a deep hole for them to dig out of and more wear and tear for Williams handling the load along with the short-term injury to Humphries, the result is Howard becoming turned off by the prospect of the Nets and not approving a trade there. He either departs in free agency or via trade to Los Angeles or Dallas. The result? The Nets are crushed beyond all reason and are somehow left with an even worse team than they had the year they were epic bad back in 2009. It was an inherent risk when trading for Williams before he sought out the Nets, essentially gambling that you could build around Williams, then striking out on the big name addition.

Reality 2: The Nets pulled in a third team back in mid-December and the result is Deron Williams and Dwight Howard anchoring a new Nets team. With just those two and a pile of bones, the Nets are able to make a steamy delicious basketball stew going into their first year in Brooklyn. This is obviously not our reality.

Reality 3: King is somehow able to pull of such a trade between now and the deadline. Nets fans have reminded me approximately 700 times that King loves to involve three and four teams in a trade, somehow never commenting on the fact that very rarely has he been established as the winner in such a trade. But let’s say he’s able to. From there the question is whether just Deron Williams and Howard, along with either Humphries or Marshon Brooks (it’s assumed one or both would have to be moved in any deal), along with likely Hedo Turkoglu (who’s actually playing surprisingly well this season) is enough to make a foundation to convince Williams and Howard to stay. Let’s say it does. The Nets become perennial contenders with Howard and Williams, though facing the same struggles as the Knicks in regards to building a team around the two guys with little else (again, besides Humphries or Brooks, and potentially Anthony Morrow if they hang on to him).

Reality 4: The same as the above happens but the half-season run ends with the Nets narrowly missing the playoffs, Howard decides he hates the cold and he and Williams both book it in free agent, leaving millions and millions of dollars on the table. (Nets fans call this “the impossible nightmare” due to the money they would have to surrender.) The Nets in this scenario lose everything they gave up in the Utah deal (picks, Derrick Favors, Devin Harris), and whatever they give up in the Howard trade (picks, Lopez, and having to take on Turkoglu’s salary) and wind up with nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero. They have all the cap room in the world but will have struck out on the following players in free agency or trade talks: Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard.  At that point you’re running out of All-Stars to try and buy yourself. This is, in fact, “the darkest timeline.” And the monkey probably steals King’s pen.

Reality 5: The Nets suddenly turn things around. Williams get healthy and back in form, and puts together an MVP season. Alongside Kris Humphries who heals and Brook Lopez who not only recovers at full strength, but actually learns to crash the glass, the Nets take off like a rocket, shocking the world by not only making the playoffs as the sixth seed, but upsetting the New York Knicks in the first round! After this heartwarming season, Dwight Howard is so sold on the team, that he not only signs with New Jersey, but takes less money up front in order to allow the team to grow. This is the Nets version of Troy and Britta getting together. Also, you’d have to be high to think this happens.

Reality 6: The Nets did trade for Howard back in early December, but the match between he and Williams was so terribly bad that it flamed out after one year. Deron Williams re-signs, but Howard heads elsewhere in a sign-and-trade. Bizarre.

The point in all this is that so much of the Nets’ future depends on how December 9th through mid-March go. The Nets have to manage to not scare off Howard, and to pull off the trade, and have it work out, in order for everything to fall into place. But at least they have a management that is actively pursuing rolling the die. Because the worst thing you can do is be a bystander and watch as chaos unravels your world without your having had any say in the matter.

“Evil Dwight and Evil Der-on!”

Warriors would show historic perseverance with Game 7 win over Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors drives against Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the fourth quarter in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Warriors went an NBA-record 73-9.

And the Thunder massively outplayed them in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference finals.

No, Golden State wasn’t at full strength. But Oklahoma City reached a level the Warriors hadn’t all season. Even if Golden State had hit peak performance, I’m not sure that would’ve been enough. The Thunder were that good.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were their superstar selves. Steven Adams defended inside and out. Serge Ibaka hit timely shots and moved well defensively. Andre Roberson made open 3-pointers and cut. Dion Waiters read the floor to make the right shot or pass. And everyone rotated correctly throughout entire defensive possessions.

Oklahoma City was awesome, handing the Warriors 28- and 24-point losses.

But Golden State rallied to force a Game 7 tonight. If the Warriors win, they’ll become just the eighth team in NBA history to lose multiple games by more than 20 in a series and still win it. The seven to do it:

  • Houston Rockets lost to Los Angeles Clippers by 25 and 33 in 2015 second round
  • Atlanta Hawks lost to Miami Heat by 29 and 26 in 2009 first round
  • Houston Rockets lost to Phoenix Suns by 22 and 24 in 1995 second round
  • Philadelphia 76ers lost to Boston Celtics by 40 and 29 in 1982 Eastern Conference finals
  • Denver Nuggets lost to Milwaukee Bucks by 31 and 28 in 1978 Western Conference semifinals
  • Los Angeles Lakers lost to Milwaukee Bucks by 21 and 26 in 1972 Western Conference finals
  • Minneapolis Lakers lost to St. Louis Hawks by 34 and 30 in 1959 Western Division finals

The Warriors never stopped believing in themselves, even when getting routed. That mentality has them one game from a comeback for the ages.

Masai Ujiri: Raptors No. 1 goal is to re-sign DeMar DeRozan

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 12:  DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors runs up the court during the first half of an NBA game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Air Canada Centre on April 12, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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DeMar DeRozan sounds like he wants to re-sign with the Raptors.

But does Toronto want to give max money to someone who 39% from the field and 15% on 3-pointers in the playoffs?

Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, via James Herbert of CBSSports.com:

This is probably the right course. I don’t know whom the Raptors could get if they lets DeRozan walk, but if he signs elsewhere, they would have just about $19 million in cap space – less than a max salary. I doubt they could land a better replacement.

I’m not sold on DeRozan as a playoff player, though he legitimately took the next step this regular season. But I’d rather keep him, hope he learns to handle the challenges of the postseason and possibly use him in a trade down the road. It’ll cost a max salary if DeRozan isn’t willing to take a discount, but that beats the alternative of losing him for nothing but cap space.

Report: Tyronn Lue urged Cavaliers GM not to fire David Blatt

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 17: Cleveland Cavaliers Associate Head Coach Tyronn Lue (L) talks with Head Coach David Blatt (R) against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half of their game on December 17, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Thunder 104-100. 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 David Maxwell/Getty Images)
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At 30-11, the Cavaliers had the best record ever while firing a coach during a season. Cleveland was the first team in a decade to fire a coach that took it to the NBA Finals the year prior.

Maybe firing David Blatt was the right move, but on the surface, it seemed outrageous.

Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

In speaking with numerous sources close to “The Call,” cleveland.com learned the details. There were no initial pleasantries. Griffin got right to the point — David Blatt was being relieved of his duties.

Lue’s response was candid and immediate.

“This is f—– up, Griff.”

That didn’t prevent Griffin from calmly asking Lue if he could take over. Hired as the associate head coach a year and a half earlier, becoming the head of a franchise was Lue’s eventual goal. But this didn’t seem right.

Lue pleaded with Griffin, arguing for several minutes that firing Blatt was an excessive move for a team carrying a conference-best 30-11 record. Griffin listened to Lue’s pleas. When they ended, he told Lue the decision has already been carried out.

Griffin circled back to his original question.

“What’s done is done. I’m asking you if you can lead this team?” It had taken a few minutes, but Griffin got the response he sought.

“Yeah, I can f—ing lead this team.”

Griffin then congratulated him.

I’m not sure I buy all this. It’d look bad if Lue undermined Blatt in any way.

But the Cavs asked for this situation when they hired the runner-up in their head-coaching search to assist the winner. Lue didn’t have to do anything for that call to happen. The situation opened the door for it.

And it worked out. Lue has done a masterful job guiding the Cavaliers back to the NBA Finals. We’ll never know how Blatt would’ve done if he remained on the job, but Lue has set an excellent bar. I’m not yet sold Lue is a great head coach, but for this team – and the difficult task of communicating with LeBron James and elevating Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, who’d be featured stars on many teams – Lue has been aces.

Seven questions that will shape Game 7 between Thunder, Warriors

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder defends against Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in the third quarter of 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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There are no more secrets. There are no major adjustments — at this point both teams know what they want to do and what the other team will try to do, it’s a simple matter of execution. Except it’s not going to be that simple. Here are seven questions that will shape the outcome of Game 7.

1) Are the Thunder moving the ball or relying on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook too much in isolation? Don’t take my word for it that the past couple of games the Thunder have fallen back into bad habits, listen to coach Billy Donovan from after Game 6: “That hasn’t been us the last month and a half. Thought we got a little stagnant coming down the stretch.” The Warriors are a good a defensive team — with good man defenders like Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala — and if you’re predictable you’re defendable. The Thunder have become predictable and isolation heavy, especially when games get tight. That works during the regular season — they have Westbrook and Durant after all — but they need to do better in Game 7. The Thunder must move the ball, the best barometer of that is whether Dion Waiters and Andre Roberson are getting touches and points. If so, the Thunder are much harder to guard and much more likely to win.

2) Are the Warriors’ threes falling?
Look at the Warriors’ shot chart from Game 6.

Warriors Game 6 shotchart

Golden State shot just 48.1 percent at the rim and were 2-of-16 from three feet to the arc. The Thunder blocked 10 shots and grabbed 16 offensive rebounds — on a lot of levels did a lot of what they needed to do to win. The Warriors three-point shooting — particularly Klay Thompson and his record 11 threes — wiped that out. If Golden State is hitting from deep, they are next to impossible to beat. The Thunder need to chase Warriors’ shooters off the arc, then say a little prayer the Warriors don’t just keep hitting from deep anyway.

3) Which small ball lineup wins the battle? For most of this series, the Thunder had out Warriored the Warriors — Oklahoma City’s small lineups (where Durant plays the four) had outplayed Golden State’s small lineups. It seemed foolish to call the Warriors small ball lineups the “death” lineup, except that it was getting them killed. Golden State needs Andrew Bogut this series. That said, in Game 6 the death lineup — Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Green — was +12 in 11 minutes. It worked again. Both teams are going to go small for stretches, whichever team has more success doing so will have a huge leg up in this game.

4) Which team controls the glass? Oklahoma City is the naturally better rebounding team, arguably the best rebounding team in the NBA, with a big front line of Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, and Enes Kanter (plus Westbrook is a great rebounder for his position, as is Roberson). However, in the Warriors three wins they are +4 total on the glass — they have either hung with or bested the Thunder on the boards. Golden State needs to have that rebounding focus again (while still finding a way to get out in transition) and limit the Thunder’s second chance points — if OKC can dominate the glass they will be flying to Cleveland for Game 1 Thursday.

5) What random role player steps up with a huge game? It’s a Game 7 tradition: Some player nobody expects ends up immune to the pressure and has a big game. Stars can get tight standing in this bright a spotlight, and role players can win the game for their team. Will it be Iguodala making it happen on both ends for the Warriors? Will it be Waiters knocking down threes? Will Shaun Livingston have the game of his life? Maybe it’s Kanter’s night. Somebody is going to step up.

6) Is Stephen Curry the MVP version of himself? Is Kevin Durant? In Game 6, Curry was just okay in the first half, and the Thunder were up by double digits and seemed in control of the game for much of the first 24 minutes. In the third quarter Curry scored 11 straight Warriors points in one stretch, then in the fourth he had a couple of key threes and had the ball in his hands making plays when the Warriors pulled ahead and won. That Curry needs to show up again, and not just for part of the game. Credit the Thunder defense for making Curry struggle — their smooth switching on defense with long and athletic players — has given him fits. But no defense can contain Curry when he’s on (and healthy, which I’m still not convinced he’s 100 percent).

Kevin Durant was 10-of-31 shooting in Game 6 — he was off, and like any shooter that did not stop him from firing away. That’s the mentality he needs to have, that also cannot happen in Game 7. The Thunder need the MVP Durant (and the good Westbrook) to fuel their offense — he has to be scoring, he has to be passing when the double comes, he has to play great defense. He has to be an MVP.

7) Can Oklahoma City get over the disappointment of not closing out the series at home? Game 6 was a punch to the gut of the Thunder. That was their chance to close out the Warriors at home, Oklahoma City controlled the game early but never could put Golden State away, then got beat in the fourth when Klay Thompson got hot and the Thunder became predictable. Durant said Sunday that if they enter the building Monday acting like it’s a funeral, they will lose. He’s right. But can they forget about Game 6 and get back to the things that got them a 3-1 series lead, or is their head still going to be in Sunday night, especially the first time something goes wrong?