Thunder learn one more painful lesson, talk about taking one more step

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To a man, as they hugged the Larry O’Brien trophy, Miami Heat players said the sting of losing in the finals last year drove them to their win this year. They felt the pain, absorbed the lessons and got better.

As the clock was winding down and the party was winding up inside AmericanAirlines Arena Thursday night, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden stood together, huddled at the end of the bench talking. Saying exactly what Heat players said a year ago.

“We hugged each other and told each other to embrace this feeling and remember this feeling,” Westbrook said. “We’ve got to be the guys that just got to get better, man, before we can find a way to get back here.”

And everyone — including LeBron James, who said as much after the game — expect the Thunder will be back on this stage. And they will be better.

We’ve seen it before. For the past three years the Thunder have been eliminated by the eventual champion — first the Lakers, last year the Mavericks and this year the Heat. The previous two years the Thunder used those lessons to come back a smarter, more ready NBA team.

To a man after they were eliminated from the finals in Game 5 — a 121-106 Heat win — the Thunder players talked about what it will take to get back to here and be better next year.

“There’s things that wen have to work on,” coach Scott Brooks said. “I’ve never used age as an excuse. But we got some incredible experience these last three years of being the playoffs and it kind of – it has helped us get to this point and to compete at this level.”

The next step is on the defensive end for this team — they were a solid defensive team (OKC was ninth in the league in points allowed per possession) but the Heat won this series because they could find a level of defense the Thunder could not.

“But just one thing, (the Heat) played extremely physical basketball,” Brooks said. “They are a very athletic team and they use it every possession, and that’s something we will talk about. You have it, you better use it.”

There is also the focus that is needed.

“I think now we know that every possession in the finals matters. It counts,” James Harden said. “There were several possessions that we just gave away (in Game 5). I think that third quarter, we brought the lead out to five quick (it was 7), and then they hit two threes in a row. Every possession matters in the finals. We just gave too many away.”

They gave away a few all series. And that stung the Thunder. A lot. Thunder players all talked about being a family and you could see the tears and feel the emotion as they left the floor. You could see it as Kevin Durant talked to his mom. The key — the thing the Thunder’s three leaders were already talking about — was to use that as fuel.

“You just have a lot of regrets but the only thing you can do is get back to work,” Kendrick Perkins said. “And each individual has to think about it when you’re lifting weights, as you run suicides, just think about this feeling, think about this moment and how close we came. We just fell short.”

You get the sense this team will be back. And once again they will have learned a lesson. They will be better. And that could be scary good.

Danny Ainge: Josh Jackson canceled Celtics workout while Brad Stevens and I flew there

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The Celtics were the first playoff team to win the lottery, which brought a complication: Some draft prospects and their agents wanted to avoid Boston, which has a deep roster and fewer avenues to immediate playing time.

Lonzo Ball wouldn’t work out for the Celtics, and neither would Josh Jackson. Ball was straightforward all along on his intent to work out for only the Lakers, who ultimately drafted him No. 2.

With Jackson – who was drafted No. 4 by the Suns after Boston took Jayson Tatum No. 3 – it was more convoluted.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, via CSN New England:

Never talked with Josh. No one in our organization did. I know someone wrote that that was difference, but that’s not the case.

They cancelled a workout on us when we flew out to Sacramento, and they just decided to cancel it as we flew – just Brad and I and Mike Zarren flew cross-country.

So there was something that he didn’t want to play for the Celtics. In spite of that, we’ve watched Josh for two years, and we’re fans. He’s a terrific kid and a good player. So we tried not to overreact to those kinds of things and make a big deal of it.

Agents and players have all sorts of motivations to get to certain places, as we’ve seen in the past. You remember last year, Kris Dunn didn’t want to come here. We didn’t hold it against him. We felt like we were just taking the player that we wanted.

And I think the same thing this time. I don’t think we were trying to penalize Josh too much, but we didn’t get to see him or talk to him face-to-face.

I was mad. We flew cross-country. Are you kidding me? I had to get up at 4 o’clock and fly back home.

There’s nothing to do in Sacramento.

At first glance, this sounds sloppily rude by Jackson and/or his agent, B.J. Armstrong. And maybe it was.

But perhaps there’s more to it? The best professional athletes enter the workforce in conditions unlike anyone else in this country, forced to join whichever single company in their chosen field picks them – the worst companies receiving priority in selection. Players should feel no obligation to help companies in this cartel gather information. Rather, players’ priority should be getting to the company they find most desirable.

Jackson canceling a workout as the Celtics flew to California almost certainly turned them off more than never scheduling the workout in the first place would have. This might have been smart in the long run by Jackson if he didn’t want to go to Boston.

It stinks Ainge, Zarren and Brad Stevens had to deal with it. But it also stinks Jackson has no realistic choice but to participate in a system so unfair to labor.

Still, Ainge responded correctly – trying not to hold the sudden schedule change against Jackson. The Celtics will be better off with the better prospect, whether that’s Jackson or Tatum. If they drafted Jackson, he’d likely get over it. Evaluating Jackson only on what he’d bring to the team is easier said than done, and I’m not sure how well Ainge actually did that. But at least trying to keep that mindset was the right approach.

Jimmy Butler’s trainer calls Bulls GM Gar Forman a liar, less moral than drug dealers

Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune via AP
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The Bulls traded Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves last night, reuniting the star wing with Tom Thibodeau.

Butler apparently took it well. Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

Butler’s agent showed perspective. Bernard Lee:

Butler’s trainer, on the other hand, took a completely different tone. Travelle Gaines‏:

I don’t like the implication that drug dealers are immoral.

Otherwise, is Gaines right about Bulls general manager Gar Forman? I don’t know what Forman told Butler.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

I do know Forman probably shouldn’t have allowed himself to be drug into public a back-and-forth with Gaines, especially coming across as scolding the trainer. There’s little to be gained there – much like the trade itself.

Watch NBA deputy commissioner crack up as fan announces pick before he does

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If you’re on Twitter during the NBA Draft, there is no suspense. Every pick has been announced minutes before NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, or later Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum, head to the podium to make the announcement.

On Thursday night, deep in the second round as the crowd at the Barclay’s Centre had mostly left and only a few, not completely sober, diehards remained, Tatum walked up to the podium to give the 52nd pick — and thought it was funny when a fan beat him to it.

I love that he thought it was funny. You think David Stern would have laughed?

Five guys not taken in NBA Draft worth watching

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As a rule of thumb, about 15 percent of the NBA at any point is made of up guys who went undrafted and fought their way into the league. They tend not to be stars, but quality role players who have found a role — and are getting paid. Jeremy Lin, Kent Bazemore, Seth Curry, Tyler Johnson, Joe Ingles, Matthew Dellavendova, Langston Galloway and Robert Covington, are just part of the list of undrafted guys currently in the league.

Here are five guys that went undrafted Thursday night worth watching.

1. P.J. Dozier 6’6” shooting guard (South Carolina). He has already signed with the Lakers and will be on their Summer League team. He passes the eye test of “has all the physical tools you want in a quality NBA two guard” but has yet to show much polish or string together consistent play. He shows it in flashes, but he needs to be more consistent, particularly finishing with floaters or from the midrange. If he can become more consistent with his shot and handles, he has potential as a combo one/two guard who can both work off the ball and be a secondary shot creator (he has good court vision).

2. Johnathan Motley, 6’9” power forward/center (Baylor). He plays like a center, and he’s undersized but a 7’4” wingspan covers for a lot. He is an amazing rebounder who can score in post. He’s a good athlete who could fit as a small-ball five off the bench to start. He’s an average rim protector, and he is not going to stretch the floor (although he has shown some improvement in that area). He’s a bit raw, he’s inconsistent, and he’s coming off an injury. All that said, some team will give him a shot, this is one of the bigger surprises of guys not taken.

3. Isaiah Hicks, 6’8” power forward (North Carolina). He’s signed with the Clippers and will be on their Summer League team. He’s got an NBA body, which is part of the draw here, but in college he was a power player who could use his strength to his advantage and overwhelm opponents. In the NBA he will find it much harder to do going against men. He does have a soft touch and can run the floor to get points. He’s got to work on his left hand, and developing a more diversified offensive game.

4. George De Paula, 6’6” point guard (Brazil).
At 21 he was the starting point guard for the team that made the Brazilian League finals. He has all the physical tools teams could hope for, including a 7’0” wingspan. He’s made big strides the past couple of years in the things teams want from a point guard such as decision-making and being a floor general, but he is still very raw. This is a project and may continue to develop in Brazil or Europe, but show up in the NBA at some point.

5. Devin Robinson, 6’8″ forward (Florida).
 Already signed with the Washington Wizards to be on their Summer League team. He’s got the versatility of an NBA forward who can cover multiple positions, plus he shot 39.1 percent from three last year. It’s all a bit raw, especially on defense, but he has the tools to fit into the NBA game. His shooting needs to be a little more consistent, he’s got to get stronger and fight through stuff, and there are just concerns about his decision-making and feel for the game. Still, smart gamble by the Wizards.