Ray Allen joins Miami Heat: No such thing as traitors here

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In 2007, Ray Allen had spent five years in Seattle. There were likely kids in Seattle who had Ray Allen jerseys. Sonics fans touted him as a great scorer. The team wasn’t great. But Allen had ties to the Sonics at that point, since coming over in a trade from Milwaukee. Allen didn’t have a choice when he was traded from Seattle to the Boston Celtics. But ask yourself, do you think he resisted for a heartbeat when they asked him about being traded to Boston to join Paul Pierce and conceivably Kevin Garnett (the deal hadn’t been pulled off yet)? Do you think he hesitated and said “what about my time with Seattle?”

No, because Ray Allen is not an idiot. Seattle’s time of even possibly being in contention was over. They were not a good team, but more importantly, they did not afford him the best opportunity to win. He was traded, but it might as well have been a free agency decision.

The point? With Ray Allen joining the Miami Heat, this is the second super-team Allen has joined in five years. And the first time, there were no comments about him being a traitor. There were no calls of Ray Allen or Kevin Garnett selling out. It was a feel-good story. “Isn’t it great? They joined the Celtics!”

I’m not here to deny that there are differences in the two situations. Seattle and Boston weren’t rivals. Boston hadn’t just slammed the door shut on Seattle’s improbable title run, with Paul Pierce scoring 45 points and leaving a half-empty building chanting “Let’s Go Sonics.” There wasn’t a special bond between Allen and Rashard Lewis, the other Sonics star spit off as the Sonics/Thunder began their rebuilding process. There was no Ubuntu in Seattle.

And Boston fans, this isn’t about  you. You get to feel however you want, within reason. Fandom isn’t rational, you hate Miami, you loved Ray. It happens. This is about everyone else. The internet is subtly littered today with words like “traitor” and “sell-out.” There’s a quiet resentment even among national media that, despite LeBron James’ seeming rehabilitation in terms of his public persona, still has an old-school attachment to Boston and a poisoned resentment of Boston. Kevin Garnett screams and pounds his chest? “Look at the intensity!” LeBron James poses after a dunk? “What a preening fool!” The double-standard in the reaction between the two teams is enough to force a multiple-personality disorder.

As if joining a super-team in Boston is a heart-warming story and joining a super-team in Miami is a travesty representative of the terrible team-ups that are occurring. I’ve been beating this drum for two years, but guess who started this trend? Guess what the first modern-era superstar team to kick off this trend was?

Your Boston Celtics.

Maybe if nothing else this is a revisionist criticism of the idea that Ubuntu mattered. We bought into the concept that the Celtics were truly great because they sacrificed. They were different from other teams because of their attitudes and sacrifice. Yet there was always an order of ego in Boston, with Pierce and KG at the top, and Rondo climbed that ladder as he got better. Adrian Wojnarowski points to the reasons why Allen left, and they include Rajon Rondo’s personality, the Celtics’ repeated efforts to trade him, the ways that the relationship was damaged enough to drive Allen to South Beach.

But let’s not get this twisted. Allen’s not burning bridges on his way out. Boston will burn those bridges as he leaves, and that’s fine. But Allen is a true professional. He’ll say nothing but good things about his time in Boston, and about their 2008 championship. But just as the Celtics elected to consider trading him because they felt it was their best chance at winning a title, Allen left because he knows a truth that no one else in Boston is willing to accept.

Their run is over.

Yeah, they made the Eastern Conference Finals, on the back of a Derrick Rose injury, a Sixers team that almost but couldn’t quite get its head out of the offensive sand long enough to knock them off, and an NBA seeding process that continues to boggle by not re-seeding after the first round. They pushed the Heat to the bring of elimination. It was right there. Even in Game 7.

But if you were paying attention, if you watched the Celtics’ reaction and the way Miami played, you’d know it.

LeBron James ended the Celtics’ title run. Not for last season. For this era.

James scored 45 points, locked up the East, locked up the Garden, turned out the lights on the Big 3 era, and as it turns out, took Ray Allen back to South Beach with him not just for Game 7, but for the end of his career. That’s when it was over. Boston’s lead in Game 7 never felt safe, never felts secure, there could be no confidence. And when it came down, they buckled. The strain was too much, the age was too great, the Heat were too good.

And so Ray Allen goes where he can win a title. Boston can still be the third best team in the East. Have some injury luck, again, and they can be right back in the Eastern Conference Finals. But the problem with age is that once it starts to have an impact, it only hurts more. Allen will suffer that as well. But Boston’s dependent on it. Jason Terry will help, but there were signs that he was slowing down last season. Not everyone starts the slide at the same time. Boston’s still relevant, they’re just contenders.

And beyond that, we act as if these rivalries are real. Like they matter. Paul Pierce was hanging out with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James during the lockout. Garnett and Kobe Bryant are close friends. Guess what, kids? As has been said so often, it’s just laundry.

Ray Allen’s no traitor, he’s just a player who decided to pursue his last, best chance at a title. He took less money to join a better team. In an era that has seen stars in their primes make worse decisions by choosing the money over the better team, maybe we should hold off on the witch hunt.

Funnily enough, “traitor” isn’t a position on the basketball floor.

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

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When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.

 

Lakers make 14% of their free throws, win

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Jordan Clarkson‘s free throw rattled around the rim before falling out late in the first quarter. The Los Angeles crowd groaned. The Lakers missed their first five free throws, and the visiting Pacers led by seven.

It appeared to be one of those nights.

And it was. The Lakers shot just 2-for-14 (14%) on free throws Friday. But they still won, 99-86.

That’s the worst free-throw percentage with at least eight attempts by any team and the worst free-throw percentage regardless of attempts by a winning team in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to 1963-64.

Here’s the “leaderboard,” winners in purple and losers in gold:

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The Lakers are shooting an NBA-worst 69% on free throws, but last night took the cake. The offenders:

Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek brushes off concerns about job security

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We saw this pattern earlier this season with the Lakers. Young team gets off to a better-than-expected start, shows real promise, but as things move toward the middle of the season they take a step back. As happens with young, developing teams, they are up and down. However, major market media and an impatient fan base wants to blame someone, so the coach is suddenly discussed as having “lost the locker room” and that his job was in jeopardy (a coach not hired by the current GM). Even though in Luke Walton’s case, it wasn’t (and isn’t).

Now that same pattern has come to New York and the Knicks with Jeff Hornacek. The Knicks started 17-14 and had fans prematurely thinking playoffs thanks to a home-heavy schedule. Reality has hit them the past month.

Hornacek tried to brush off questions about his job security in New York, speaking to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post.

Hornacek also believes he has the backing of GM Scott Perry and president Steve Mills, despite being inherited by them as Phil Jackson’s hire.

“We were talking about rebuilding and we got off to a good start because we had a lot of home games,” Hornacek said. “Scott and Steve, everybody’s still on the same page of trying to get our young guys opportunities. We’re still trying to win games. We still want to establish an identity where defensively we’re going to get after it all the time and we’re building toward that. It’s great to have their support…

“I think the expectations come from the players where all of a sudden you hear them talking about, ‘Oh we can make the playoffs.’ We never said that,” Hornacek said. “We said we want to get better and we want to grow. Part of our talk was you can’t worry about the results. You just got to go out there and if you do your best and try to improve the results will come. When you start thinking about win or lose all of a sudden your mentality becomes different. We got to get back to that.”

Is Hornacek the long-term answer in New York? I don’t know. However, finally unchained from the pseudo-triangle disaster Phil Jackson imposed, he has done a solid job this season, putting Kristaps Porzingis in better spots to lead this roster. The Knicks are projected to win around 38 games at this point (according to Cleaning the Glass), and they have about a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs still (according to fivethiryeight.com). Heading into the season, that would have been about anyone’s best-case scenario for this team.

Not that it matters when you’re coach of the Knicks — job security speculation comes with every paycheck. It just isn’t deserved in this case.

Steve Kerr has “regrets” over time as Suns GM with Mike D’Antoni as coach

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Saturday night, Steve Kerr and Mike D’Antoni will square off as the coaches of the two best teams in the NBA this season (the Warriors and Rockets), teams loaded with offensive talent that play fast — Kerr and D’Antoni have some of the same basic philosophies about the game. Right now they have a mutual admiration society going.

But remember when Kerr took over as the general manager of the “seven seconds or less” Suns? Then traded for Shaq, which was the first step in D’Antono going out the door to New York.

Kerr opened up about his regrets from that era to Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I have some regrets,” Kerr said. “I think we had a few differences that I probably didn’t handle very well as a GM that I could’ve probably handled better, especially given that we really like each other and have a lot of similar viewpoints on the game.”

The Suns were a contender, but not one that could get over the hump of the peak San Antonio Spurs of the mid-2000s (it was more than just the year Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the boards and A’mare Stoudemire got nailed for leaving the bench). Kerr felt the need to do something, so he traded Shawn Marion for an over-the-hill Shaquille O’Neal who did not at all fit the Suns’ style. That move ended an era, and the next summer D’Antoni signed in New York (with a front office that never gave him the pieces for his style of play).

“I should have let Mike know, ‘It’s okay, keep kicking [butt] and keep going, and we’ll make some moves that aren’t so radical that fit more with who we are as an organization,” Kerr said. “We swung for the fences, and it was not the right move to make as an organization. I didn’t envision that as GM. I didn’t have the macro view of what we needed to do….

“I needed to tell Mike, ‘It’s okay if we don’t win the championship,’” Kerr said. “We were so desperate to win. But not everybody can win. But what you can do is keep putting yourself in a position to get there. Then maybe the breaks fall your way.”

Kerr said he’s matured in the way he views the game and team building since then. That is evident in the way the Warriors have been built, with a big-picture view of everything that gets done — they win not only because they are loaded with talent but how that talent fits together. However, they are really an extension of the changes D’Antoni brought to the NBA in Phoenix, just with better defense and some ridiculous shooters.

After stints in New York and Los Angeles with rosters that were ill-suited for his style, D’Antoni is winning big again in Houston because James Harden was really a point guard and GM Daryl Morey has put the right pieces around him to play D’Antoni’s style.

But once again D’Antoni seems just short of a ring because a legendary team — and Steve Kerr — is in the way.