Yankees legend Reggie Jackson talks clutch play, LeBron

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In some sense, the debate about clutch play in basketball’s statistical community — who is good in the clutch, how you define clutch, if clutch play really even exists — is a moot point.

Players and coaches believe it exists, therefore it does. You can argue that it doesn’t but there is at the very least a placebo effect there — decisions are made, plays are called, players get the ball because they are perceived as clutch or not. Players are labeled that way, fair or not.

When you think of the great “clutch” players in baseball, Reggie Jackson’s name comes up. As a kid who grew up a Dodgers fan I hate him for it — the three home runs in a World Series, the thrown hip to knock down a double play ball, all of it. But he is Mr. October.

He, like other athletes completely believe in clutch play. It colors their actions. And he provided his vision of clutch and the NBA while on The Big O Show on 640 Sports in Miami this week. I think his perceptions mirror that of many other athletes (and coaches not named Spoelstra):

“Kobe Bryant misses shots at the end of the game, but it’s not a poor effort or poor performance. I wanted to make sure I gave my team, the ownership, the fans, the manager, my teammates a good full effort at home plate. And if I succeeded, super. But I didn’t want to go up there and have check swings, take strike three down the middle, freeze up, look awkward — I wanted to have a good swing and give a real good effort…

“LeBron needs to get after it with all the skills and size that he’s got. He’s got every skill, every ability you can ask for. If you’re going to make up a player to be a great player — he’s bigger than Jordan, he’s bigger than Wade, he’s bigger than Kobe, he’s bigger than the great players. Unstoppable. And I’ve seen him unstoppable.

“So when I see him have poor efforts when it counts I’m shocked. Because personally think that it’s all in his head. He can do anything he wants. This guy makes threes from half-court. He can drive on anybody, he can get a rebound whenever he wants. He truly is a special athlete and anytime he has a poor effort, as he has in the postseason, it’s just because there is something in his head that is not working right. He’s not believing in himself enough.”

To him (and most every athlete) this is mental, not physical. Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of whatever. It doesn’t matter to them, what matters is the perception of overcoming it.

“I was afraid to fail, and I think you’d hear that from some of the friends that I know — (Joe) Montana, Ronnie Lott, (Michael) Jordan, (Larry) Bird, Bill Russell. I know all those guys and we were all afraid to fail. So I aggressively went to succeed and I looked for an opportunity. I wanted to be part of the victory. Whether it’s a slide into second base that breaks up a double play, whether it’s a throw that hits the cutoff man, whether it’s advancing the runner to get into scoring position, let alone the base hit that drives him in or the home run that wins the game or the (pitcher) that strikes out 15. You want to be part of the victory, so I’d constantly look for a moment to be part of what we were doing as a team….

“The moment didn’t tense me up, I looked at the moment as an opportunity for success or the opportunity to be a hero… I cherished that chance….”

As I have said recently with LeBron, what he did in the All-Star game, against the Jazz and every game since is moot — until he succeeds on the biggest stage and wins a ring he will not be able to shake the perception. He will be a guy seen as failing on the big stage until he doesn’t. That’s how we are — Dirk Nowitzki couldn’t win the big game until he did. Same with Peyton Manning and many others. So it is with LeBron.

He can’t be seen as winning it all until he wins it all. It’s all about the playoffs. And the finals. He knows that as well as anyone.

Thunder’s Enes Kanter: ‘I don’t like Golden State, so I want Cleveland to win the championship’

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When Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors, Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter jumped fully on board the pro-Russell Westbrook, anti-Durant bandwagon.

That ride doesn’t stop with his former teammate facing the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

Kanter, via Fox Sports Radio:

I don’t like Golden State, so I want Cleveland to win the championship.

Kanter never misses an opportunity to take a shot at the Warriors – except when Zaza Pachulia laid out Westbrook and stood over him.

Dwane Casey: Masai Ujiri assured me I’ll return as Raptors coach

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Raptors president Masai Ujiri didn’t mince words at his season-ending press conference: Toronto’s playing style had become unacceptable.

It sounded as if he might have been planting the seed for firing Dwane Casey.

But the coach says Ujiri assured him he’d return next season.

Casey on TSN (hat tip: Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic):

I think people mistook Masai’s comments for that. We had a good meeting before that meeting, and we’ve had meeting since then – with all the coaches – as far as plans for next year and the culture reset, which I think every corporation and every team should do periodically to get the culture back in focus and that type of thing. It’s not like we’re in total chaos or anything like that. It’s just good to have roles defined, things we can do better in each of our roles.

We’re doing some good things and some things we can do much better with. And that’s what we’ll plan on doing this summer and also this fall, when we go to training camp.

The Raptors’ offensive rating has dropped from regular season to the playoffs by 8.5, 7.2 and 11.7 the last three years. Their isolation-heavy style is just easier to stop when defenses see it in consecutive games.

The big question: What does Toronto do about that?

It’d be difficult to move on from the two players most responsible for the style, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. DeRozan is signed long-term, and if the Raptors don’t re-sign Lowry, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer, they won’t have the cap space to land a comparable replacement.

The best bet is probably changing schemes from the bench and hoping the players can adjust – and maybe Casey can handle that responsibility. Hiring a new coach obviously would been the clearest path to a shake up, but maybe Casey can evolve. I’d want to see a plan from him before committing to keeping him, but maybe Ujiri got that.

Casey has played a key role in Toronto’s improvement, it’s nice to give him an opportunity to coach differently before hiring a different coach.

Kevin Durant: Don’t blame me for Nets, Magic and other teams stinking

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For the first time in NBA history, the NBA Finals will feature the same matchup for three straight years.

Among those responsible: Kevin Durant, who sunk the title-contending Thunder and gave the Warriors an even stronger grip on the Western Conference.

But don’t blame him for a lack of parity league-wide.

Durant, via Sam Amick of USA Today:

“Like I’m the reason why (expletive) Orlando couldn’t make the playoffs for five, six years in a row?” he said. “Am I the reason that Brooklyn gave all their picks to Boston? Like, am I the reason that they’re not that good (laughs). I can’t play for every team, so the truth of the matter is I left one team. It’s one more team that you probably would’ve thought would’ve been a contender. One more team. I couldn’t have made the (entire) East better. I couldn’t have made everybody (else) in the West better.”

Some teams will always be better than others. The Magic, Nets and more were mis-managed before Durant left Oklahoma City.

But I’m not even sure this is the right debate.

Does the NBA even have a parity problem to blame on Durant?

Cleveland and Golden State aren’t traditional powers. Before 2015, the Warriors hadn’t won a title since 1975 and the Cavaliers had never won one. Their ascension is proof of parity – that sound management and a little luck can lift teams from the basement.

Report: Clippers take Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumor ‘very seriously’

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Want to laugh off that Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumor?

The Clippers aren’t joining you.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The Clippers should be concerned. Losing Paul would unravel their entire foundation, dropping them from the fringe of championship contention to out of the title picture completely. It could even help usher out Blake Griffin, who will also be an unrestricted free agent this summer. (To be fair, Paul leaving could also help convince Griffin to stay.)

About a month ago, the Clippers reportedly expected Paul to stay. They even reportedly struck a verbal agreement with him to re-sign before that. But they can’t officially sign him until July, and that leaves the door open for him to leave.

The Clippers should be heartened by their advantages – a prime market and a projected max offer of $205 million over five years.

The most another team projects to be able to offer is $152 million over four years, and San Antonio will have a hard time doing that. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to shed two of those players to clear max cap space.

So, never say never, but the Clippers’ concern might be rooted more in the dire consequences of Paul leaving rather than the likelihood of it.