Celtics-Heat Game 7: Chris Bosh becomes the ultimate ‘stretch’ four

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Tell me you saw it coming. I’ll call you a liar. Chris Bosh, the most maligned of the Big 3 in Miami, the one everyone questions the toughness of, put the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. Eight-for-10, 19 points, eight rebounds and it doesn’t even begin to describe his performance in the Heat’s 101-88 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Bosh, who only returned from an abdominal injury in Game 5, stepped up and had the game of his career. It wasn’t just the shots, major, huge, boulder-stone threes that he dropped in on the Celtics when they left him on the perimeter, it was the defense. Twice, Bosh intercepted passes intended for lobs to Kevin Garnett. Finally, finally, finally, the Heat had figured out a way to combat the Celtics’ lob to KG. Stick the big long athletic guy in there and have him mess things up.

It was maybe the finest moment of Bosh’s career. The player most often criticized for a lack of toughness and an inability to contain his emotions came through with a huge game fueled by smart play and passion. Bosh played through his recovery and nailed huge shot after huge shot, making play after play. Bosh, as cerebral a player as you’re likely to come across, famously sobbed walking off the floor in last year’s Finals. Now he’ll have another chance to make amends, and finally turn the lasting image of him into a winner.

In a lot of ways, the injury to Bosh was the best thing that could have happened for his career. No longer was he the irrelevant member of the Big 3. He was the missing piece, the player they really needed, the reason they would lose. His return was gifted with low expectations and he surpassed them by miles. He gave the Heat a lift in Game 6 and put them over the top with Game 7, this final frame against the Celtics standing as his finest playoff performance to date, at least in the minds of most.

Bosh spread the floor, something that none of the other Heat shooters were able to do, and provided them with a weapon the Celtics weren’t expecting. The game, the series, really, had devolved into a series of predictable punches. Bosh gave them something the Celtics had not schemed for. Bosh told reporters late that he’d been practicing threes. Andrew Bynum is thrilled to hear this. But Bosh shot the same way he hits his mid-range jumpers. It was the same flow, the same motion, the same everything. Just a little further out.

So now Chris Bosh has redefined his narrative, as the Heat have redefined theirs. The old story of Bosh is dead for now. And if he plays like this in the Finals, there will be nothing to cry about.

Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan staying in 2017 NBA draft

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Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan declared for the 2016 NBA draft, struggled at the combine, withdrew, got into great shape, had an All-American sophomore season, declared for the 2017 draft.

This time, he’s not turning back.

Swanigan:

Swanigan is a borderline first-round pick. He has a couple NBA-ready skills the good teams that typically pick late in the first round might covet, but thanks to trades, teams that didn’t win a playoff game this year hold most late first-round picks. They might pick someone with more upside than Swanigan.

Swanigan is a tenacious rebounder, particularly defensively. He has excellent fundamentals, size (6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan) and ability to read the ball, and he crashes through contact to hunt boards.

He’s also a quality post-up player who can finish with either hand and has the passing ability to make that play work.

But Swanigan is slow. NBA teams have become increasingly adept at running plodders like him off the court by dragging them into pick-and-rolls. Even when on the court, he hasn’t protected the rim at satisfactory levels.

Swanigan has overcome his athletic limitations as a rebounder. He hasn’t done so in other facets of defense.

He’s hardly a dinosaur offensively. He made 45% of his 3-pointers last season, and though I’m not confident that will translate to NBA 3-point range (give the small sample and his form), he should be at least a midrange threat.

Swanigan is also just 20, young for a sophomore. He can improve.

But it’s just hard to look past his defensive limitations.

Hawks hire Travis Schlenk as general manager

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The Hawks picked Warriors assistant general manager Travis Schlenk as their next general manager. All that was left was negotiating terms.

That’s done.

Hawks:

The Atlanta Hawks today announced the hiring of Travis Schlenk as General Manager and Head of Basketball Operations. He will start leading Hawks basketball operations on June 1.

Schlenk worked his way up the latter and helped the Warriors become the envy of every other NBA team. He deserves this opportunity.

But the job won’t be easy.

The Hawks are stuck between two directions. On one side, they have veterans Paul Millsap (a 32-year-old pending unrestricted free agent whom the owner has basically promised a huge contract) and Dwight Howard (who sounds unhappy). On the other side, they have a youth movement featuring Dennis Schroder and Taurean Prince. Tim Hardaway Jr., who bridges the age groups, is about to enter a potentially tricky restricted free agency.

Keeping the core together offers the upside of a playoff-series victory or two annually, modest outcomes for the cost. But a fragile Atlanta fan base might not tolerate a rebuild.

Schlenk works for owner Tony Ressler, and Ressler sounds committed to maintaining the status quo by keeping Millsap. It’s now Schlenk’s job to execute that vision or convince his boss to approve a different direction.

Potential none-and-done first-rounder Hamidou Diallo returning to Kentucky

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The more I’ve looked into the 2017 NBA draft, the less impressed I’ve become. There are a few bright spots in the first round relative to an average draft – No. 2, 5ish-10ish, 17ish-22ish – but I’m not convinced this is the generationally strong draft it has been touted as.

In the absence of prospects who offer secure promise, why not turn to upside? Hamidou Diallo offered plenty and was increasingly viewed as a first-rounder.

Yet, he’ll return to Kentucky for his freshman season.

Diallo:

A highly ranked recruit, Diallo began last school year at a prep school then enrolled at Kentucky for the spring semester. He practiced with the Wildcats, but never played.

Then, he went to the combine and posted excellent measurables: 6-foot-5, 6-foot-11 wingspan, 44.5-inch vertical and strong agility and sprint scores. Just 18, Diallo might have been the second-youngest player drafted this year (behind only Ike Anigbogu).

It wouldn’t have taken long – likely somewhere in the middle of the first round – for a team to bite on all that potential.

Instead, Diallo returns to Kentucky and must now show his ability to actually produce in basketball games. If he does, there’s no limit on how high he goes in the 2018 NBA draft. If he doesn’t, he’ll regret missing the opportunity to get drafted before his game got picked apart.

Report: Bulls expect Dwyane Wade to opt in

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Dwyane Wade said he wants to see the Bulls’ plan for Jimmy Butler and the rest of the roster before deciding on a $23.8 million player option for next season.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

I can tell you is most everyone associated with the Bulls believes Wade will pick up the option and remain in Chicago for a second season. More surprising things have happened in league history, though. So stay tuned.

This could be a tell that Wade will opt in. The Bulls could obviously be positioned to base their prediction on inside information into Wade’s thinking.

This could a tell the Bulls won’t trade Butler. If they know they’ll keep Butler, they can extrapolate what that’d mean for Wade.

Or the Bulls, like so many of us, just assume a 35-year-old Wade won’t turn down so much guaranteed money at this stage of his career.