Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Seven

“Good Thunder vs. Evil Heat?” It’s more complicated than that.


I did a national sports talk radio interview the other day and the first question asked was “is this really the good vs. evil finals?” It caught me a little off guard.

But they were not the first to ask it — it’s been a national story line for a while. The themes are simplistic and easy to grasp.

The Thunder are good because they built their team through the draft and picked up some smart free-agent role players. The Thunder are good because they are humble and Kevin Durant announced he was staying with the team on Twitter with no fanfare.

The Heat are evil because they “copped out” by joining forces as free agents to chase a title. The Heat are evil because LeBron James had an hour-long special on ESPN to announce his intentions, then they threw a huge pep rally in Miami for fans where LeBron said he was coming to town to win “not one, not two, not three…” all the way up to not seven championships.

That’s simplistic. And wrong. It’s a partial picture.

Why don’t we ask the people of Seattle how pure the Oklahoma City Thunder are. Others have said this more forcefully than I. Durant was drafted a Seattle SuperSonic, but thanks to inept politicians and an new owner in Clay Bennett who had no intention of keeping the team in Seattle, that fan base got screwed over. They lost their team.

What was Seattle’s big sin? The population refused to tax themselves to subsidize a billionaire with millions more for a new arena. The people of Oklahoma City — who have been a rabid and loyal fan base, one of the best in the league — voted to tax themselves to upgrade their arena to NBA levels for a team and to revitalize downtown. People tried to tell me on Twitter how this was just capitalism at work. No it’s not — public subsidies for an arena are the antithesis of capitalism — the private sector isn’t picking up the tab. You can decide for yourself if that tax money might have had a better use.

I think the people of Seattle did the noble and right thing and thought their tax dollars had higher uses. But sure, it’s the Heat who are evil.

If you’re going to argue that knowing how to play the system like OKC did to get a team is acceptable, then how is playing the system like Pat Riley did to build the Heat roster not acceptable? He took the huge risk to strip the roster down so he had cap room, he convinced three big stars all to take less money to play together and win — and isn’t that what we ask our stars to do? Don’t we want them to win more than get the largest paycheck? LeBron would be richer in Cleveland, but he wanted a ring more.

And spare me the “those three getting together is the easy way out” crap. Magic Johnson had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy — Kareem forced Milwaukee to trade him and the Lakers got the rights to draft Worthy in a deal so lopsided the league banned future ones like it. Larry Bird had Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen and some other quality players around him. Bill Russell had more Hall of Famers than you can count. Super teams are what win, and the NBA has always had them.

Meanwhile, the public hatred of LeBron James has become overblown. What was his big sin? Hubris. He (and his advisors) handled his exit from Cleveland and choice of a new home base poorly. The Heat’s pep rally for fans was a public relations mistake. That none of LeBron’s advisors saw what this was doing to his reputation speaks poorly of them.

But of all the problems we have with professional athletes, is having a really big ego the biggest one? One that deserves this level of backlash?

Baseball and football have guys on HGH and steroids. The NFL has a concussion issue, as does the NHL. There are guys in every major sport getting arrested for ugly crimes, blowing through their money living a rock star lifestyle that fans don’t relate to.

LeBron’s done none of that. He’s still with his high school girl, is by all accounts a good father, never been arrested or ended up the focus of a TMZ scandal. He’s not perfect, but his sins are not so severe as to warrant the backlash that has come his way.

And remember, with his first contract after his rookie deal, LeBron did what Durant did — he stayed in Cleveland. He left after that deal ended when he wanted the chance to win more than a bigger paycheck.

By the way, Durant and LeBron get along really well. They worked out together during the lockout. They will team up this summer to represent the USA in the London Olympics.

You don’t have to hate the Thunder. You certainly don’t have to love LeBron and the Heat. Root for the Thunder, hope the Heat fail. Pull for where your heart lies.

But you need to do better than the simplistic “good vs. evil” storyline. Because it just doesn’t work. It’s more complicated than that.

Nuggets’ Emmanuel Mudiay apologizes for verbal spat with coach

Emmanuel Mudiay, Michael Malone
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Nuggets’ coach Mike Malone was willing to get into it with just about anyone Tuesday night. He had a few words with Blake Griffin.

And he had a few words with his rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay — and Mudiay gave it right back. Then got benched. Later the rookie realized he should be a little more deferential to the guy who controls his minutes, and apologized. Malone played it down. Everything is fine in Denver (well, except for the four straight losses). Here are the quotes, via Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post.

Said Mudiay: “It’s just both of us being competitors. It probably was my fault, I could have been doing a lot more. So I kind of put the blame on myself. I’ve got nothing against Coach, I respect him. He’s a great person, and I have all the respect in the world for him.

“Me and him are both competitive. We want to win. We hate losing. We’re on a four-game losing streak, something like that. It’s just us trying to win. At the same time, it’s over with. It’s on to the next game. It’s been like that my whole life. He’s just trying to challenge me, which I accept.”

“There is frustration on our end, having lost four games in a row now,” Malone said. “Just trying to find way to get a win. Winning is a great cure-all for anybody, like it was for (the Clippers) tonight, coming in having lost three in a row. So this is a very competitive game, guys are out there working hard trying to do their best, and sometimes emotions get involved. By no means is there an issue with Emmanuel or anybody else on this team. We are together, we are unified and we’re going to continue to fight to stay together to get this thing turned around.”


These kinds of little flare-ups are a common part of the NBA season — if the Nuggets were not frustrated after losing four straight, it would be a bigger concern. That Mudiay pushed back is some fire I want to see from a rookie.

Mudiay is learning, his turnovers are down of late (although they flared up against Golden State). His shooting is still an issue, and his decision making has a ways to go, but there is progress.  Which is all you can ask of a rookie. And it helps to have a coach who will push him. (And play him in the fourth quarter — Byron Scott, we’re looking at you.)

Rockets conduct “mini training camp” to try and right ship

J.B. Bickerstaff
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One of the reasons Kevin McHale was fired and J.B. Bickerstaff hired last week was the Rockets’ schedule — it got softer, and there were a couple longish breaks (for the NBA) where he could schedule practices and install changes. It gave Bickerstaff a fighting chance for success.

One of those breaks was the past few days. Houston had three days between games after they lost to New York Sunday, Wednesday night against Memphis is the next time they take the court. Bickerstaff used the time to have a “mini training camp” and try to return the team to some basics, he told the Houston Chronicle.

“Our attitude has changed over the past week and a half,” Bickerstaff said. “We’ve taken a more serious approach in what we’re doing. Guys are more disciplined in what we’re doing and they were hungry for that. As a group, we brought them together. That was the first thing they were calling for, some more discipline, more structure and more rules.”


“It was a hard practice,” Jason Terry said. “It was attention to detail. There were consequences for not paying attention to detail. Just getting back to our roots, that’s defense first, executing on offense and making the extra pass. We got to put the work in if we want to get the results. Though we thought we were doing that before, we weren’t doing that enough, obviously. It was good to see. It felt great. Today was a day, mentally we got better.

“The next step is winning basketball games. I believe in this group. If we do the things we practiced the last two days, we were going to put ourselves in great position to win. We’ll have to get that results, but I think we’ll have that opportunity.”

We will see if that carries over Wednesday night. Memphis has been playing better of late as well; this will be a tough test.

The bigger question is can Houston’s leaders — Terry, James Harden, Dwight Howard — make sure this improved foundation carries over a week from now? Then a month from now? Bickerstaff can talk discipline all he wants, he can tweak the rotations — finally separating Harden and Ty Lawson more — and sit guys playing poorly, but if the leaders in the locker room are not the ones keeping everyone in line everything will fall apart. You think Tim Duncan would have allowed the Rockets’ mindless, sloppy start in San Antonio? (Or Tony Parker? Or David West? Or a lot of guys in that locker room?)

There is so much talent on the Houston roster it’s still hard to imagine they don’t get it together and become a playoff team in the West. But whether they are a playoff team to truly fear remains to be seen.

Frank Vogel says Paul George is best two-way player in game

Paul George, John Wall

The moniker of the “best two-way player” sounds more like something an agent made up to gain a little leverage contract negotiations. It’s a nebulous concept. It’s an intentional dig at whomever is perceived as a better player, suggesting they don’t play enough defense.

But it’s part of the NBA lexicon now, and Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel thinks he has the best two-way player in the game in the resurgent Paul George. Tuesday night George dropped 40 points on Wizards and Vogel said this after the game, via the Washington Post.

“It’s tough to quantify in words,” Pacers Coach Frank Vogel said. “I mean, he just does so much. He’s capable of going for 40, carrying the offensive load and being the best defensive player on either team. He’s a special player, and the best two-way player in the game. We’re a different team with him out there.”

Paul George’s return to an elite level of play is one of the best stories of this young NBA season — for nine straight games now he has scored at least 25 points, he has pushed the Pacers to a 9-5 record with a top 10 NBA offense and defense. Tuesday night John Wall talked about how George’s improved jumper has made him a far more dangerous, more difficult to guard player. And he’s still a lock-down defender.

But George is not the best two-way player in the game — that’s Stephen Curry. George does not have the offensive impact that Curry brings to the Warriors, plus Curry has developed into a solid NBA defender. Curry gets steals, plays smart, and is a positive on defense, plus he’s the best offensive player in the league right now.

That doesn’t make the return of Paul George any less fun, any less good for the game. It’s great to see George back. Whatever you want to call him.



Kobe Bryant “not really worried” about his shooting after 1-of-14 night


Sometimes a picture can tell the story better than words.

That’s why above you can see all of Kobe Bryant‘s shot attempts against the Warriors Tuesday, a night where he went 1-of-14 from the floor (and “facilitator Kobe” had two assists). If you want another picture, here is Kobe’s shot chart for the game.

Kobe shot chart vs. Warriors

On the season, Kobe is shooting 31.1 percent overall, 19.5 percent from three, and he has a career low true shooting percentage of 41.5 percent. It’s hard to watch. On a team that is supposed to be developing their young stars, Kobe took as many shots as D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle combined. Laker coach Byron Scott is good with Kobe doing whatever he wants.

But Kobe is worried about his shooting performances, right? Not so much. From Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

If Kobe can figure out the Lakers’ system this season, he will be in a club of one.

I could go on a longer rant here, but the bottom line is this is just a sad spectacle to watch. And there’s a lot of season left to watch it.