Miami Heat v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game One

The sweet validation of one Shane Courtney Battier

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I asked a group of friends recently what the first thing they think of when they hear the name Shane Battier.

Three people immediately said “Dukie.”

Two people said “Defense.”

And one person said “Smart.”

You can throw another one on there, now. NBA Champion.

Battier obtained another championship to go with his high school and college trophies on Thursday, and in doing so, validates a career that has been unremarkably spectacular, ordinarily amazing, and silently brilliant. Battier came to the Heat as the smart guy who loves tech, the guy featured in an article about being the “No-Stats All-Star,” who defended Kobe Bryant as well as possible, even while knowing he was going to get lit up like a Christmas tree. He was the guy who hit the shot to give the Grizzlies their first franchise playoff win, and the chemistry glue that helped the Rockets to that crazy win streak a few years back.

He was never supposed to be a household name.

And yet here he is. What’s sad is that what it took for Battier to get to that level of notoriety was his work on the offensive end, some of which was an outlier. Battier’s 3-point shooting hit the Thunder, as it did the Celtics before them, like a lightning bolt, a development they can’t believe happened to them. It was an Act of God, basically. What gets lost in that percentage was this point I’ve made several times: the formula the Heat uses is eerily similar to what the Rockets did in ’94 and ’95, and the Lakers in the early 2000’s. A superior inside presence forces the defense to collapse, and a quality passer finds the open shooter on the perimeter. You don’t need crack shooters if you’re that wide open. These are NBA players. They know how to fill their role. Battier knew he had to knock down those shots. And he did.

All the while he handled a series of mismatches that would discourage and bloody any player. Brandon Bass’ superior size and strength. David West’s similar physicality. Kevin Durant’s singular offensive ability. And yet Battier went to the well each time, and made just enough of an impact to create a difference. He wasn’t the reason the Heat won. But he was a huge part of the reasons why LeBron James had an opportunity to be the difference.

Battier never wanted the attention and fame that comes with being a part of this “Hollywood” Heat team, but in a way his addition represents the change in maturity we’ve seen from the Heat. Throughout the season, Battier has been constant in the locker room, always with the intellectual comparison or philosophical quote, giving reporters gold as always. He doesn’t get caught up in the nonsense.

In the videos from after the win, in the champagne drenched celebration in the locker room, there was Battier, looking strangely satisfied in a way we’ve never seen, looking out of place in the crazy exuberance of the victory. And as everyone sprayed champagne and screamed, you couldn’t help but notice that Battier was wearing goggles.

Always thinking ahead.

Serge Ibaka says he wants to stay with Magic forever, and they want him long-term

Serge Ibaka jokes around while posing for a photo holding a plastic Flamingo during Orlando Magic's NBA basketball media day, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
AP Photo/John Raoux
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The Magic took a major risk trading for Serge Ibaka, who’s heading into unrestricted free agency next summer. Rather than have Victor Oladipo (who’ll be a restricted free agent) and the No. 11 pick (who’s on a four-year contract), Orlando could come away empty-handed within a year if Ibaka leaves.

So far, everyone is saying the right things.

Ibaka, via Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

“I’m looking to stay here to play forever — for [as] many, many years as possible,” Serge Ibaka said during the Magic’s media day.

“I’m not really worried about my contract year or my long-term,” Ibaka said.

“One of the things I learned playing on a good team is when the team wins, when you make the playoffs, everybody looks good. So that’s what will be my focus right now, because if we win and make the playoffs, everything will take care of itself.”

Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, via Robbins:

“We certainly traded for Serge thinking long-term, and that’s our expectation,” Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said.

I’d be surprised if the Magic and Ibaka didn’t discuss the parameters of his next contract, with the Thunder’s permission, before making the trade. But the Collective Bargaining Agreement prevents any binding unofficial arrangements, so nothing is set in stone.

Ibaka is already talking about making the playoffs, and that would go a long way toward convincing him to stay in Orlando. But what if the Magic miss the postseason, a distinct possibility? How keen will Ibaka be on returning then?

He’ll have other suitors – unless he has a down year. Then, how badly will Orlando want him back?

That Ibaka and the Magic are entering the season with the stated intention of a long-term arrangement means something. But it means only so much.

Quote of the Day: Karl-Anthony Towns wants to learn how to be great

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns celebrates after hitting the game-winning shot in an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers in Portland, Ore., Saturday, April 9, 2016. The Timberwolves won 106-105. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)
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“There are so many talented players in the league. But only a few of them are remembered as being great — because they were willing to say they don’t know. And I’m willing to say that I don’t know everything. I do not know how it is to be a great player, to be a Hall of Famer. I want to learn.”

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves (via Kyle Ratke on Twitter)

There were a lot of things to like about Towns’ rookie campaign — it was impressive enough to make him the clear Rookie of the Year — he averaged 18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, shot 54.2 percent from the floor, and had a PER of 22.3.

But if you talk to people around the league, what really impressed them was his work ethic and drive. He puts in the time, he’s driven, and he listens. There’s a reason Kevin Garnett took to him.

KAT is going to be great. No question.

Jamaal Wilkes auctions off Basketball Hall of Fame ring, nets $25,000

SPRINGFIELD, MA - SEPTEMBER 7:  Jamaal Wilkes speaks during the Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Symphony Hall on September 7, 2012 in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Jamaal Wilkes spent a brilliant basketball career always being overshadowed by an all-time great. At UCLA he won two titles and 88 straight games as part of John Wooden’s legacy on squads remembered as Bill Walton’s teams; in the NBA he won championships on teams led by Rick Berry first, then Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Look at it this way: when the Lakers clinched the NBA title in Game 6 of the 1980 Finals, Wilkes had 37 points and 10 rebounds. But what do we remember from that game? Magic scoring 42 points with 15 rebounds and 7 assists as he played all five positions.

Wilkes finally was recognized for his greatness when he was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame back in 2012.

This week he put his Hall of Fame ring up for auction online via Nate Sanders and got $25,000 for it. From the official press release:

The 10k Jostens ring features a diamond set on a square red stone. “Basketball Hall of Fame” is engraved in the gold surrounding the stones. Wilkes’ name is engraved on one side above two basketball players in relief. The opposite side has the year “2012” engraved above the Hall of Fame’s official logo.

The ring comes with a letter of authenticity from Wilkes.

Wilkes had previously auctioned off his Hall of Fame trophy, too.

John Stockton working with Bucks point guards at training camp

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 30:  John Stockton #12 of the Utah Jazz dribbles in Game five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Sacramento Kings during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at Arco Arena on April 30, 2003 in Sacramento, California.  The Kings won 111-91.  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: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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The Bucks are coached by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd. But Kidd invited another legend of the position to camp to work with his point guards. John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was at Bucks practice on Thursday working with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not a bad person to learn from, especially since the Bucks have one of the weakest point-guard positions in the league.