The Inbounds: Team USA and an outlet pass to the future of superstar team-ups

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Just kidding. I’m not actually going to give you the top five possible superstar teamups from these Olympics. No slideshows or top ten lists, though I have written those before and they serve a purpose. But I did want to write about that dynamic, where it comes from, and what it means.

In Team USA’s second-half vehicular manslaughter of Tunisia on Tuesday, at one point Kevin Love spit one of those outlet passes that he is so incredible at. The two-hand cannonball to the sideline at half-court to Russell Westbrook who caught it in stride, sped past three defenders, took the foul, and scored. It was an amazing display of what Team USA’s younger stars bring to the table, and just a really spectacular basketball play.

And my first thought was to wonder if it was a sign of things to come.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh have all openly talked about Beijing in 2008 being a moment where they all realized the possibility of playing together. Deron Williams has mentioned the same about Dwight Howard at the same time. Those are two examples, but it’s clear that when these guys get together and experience what it’s like to play with a team full of guys with equal or superior talent, how much fun it is. And how big their starpower can get.

So when Love and Westbrook make a play like that, the kind that they used to make at UCLA, where they were roommates, you have to wonder if the same conversation is being held.

Before we go down this road, i want to make sure you know that a. I’m not insane and b. this isn’t rampant speculation that this is ever going to happen. Russell Westbrook just got done finishing in the NBA Finals where his team was within a few bad quarters of winning the NBA title. He’s locked into a five-year deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder who just gave him a huge extension. Kevin Love may have his problems with the Timberwolves, but he does have a three-year guaranteed deal and he’s a part of one of the up and coming teams in the league with a sensational point guard. My point here is not “COULD KEVIN LOVE AND RUSSELL WESTBROOK BE CONSPIRING TO PLAY TOGETHER IN 2016?” because that makes beyond zero sense.

But you have to look at down the line, at the career arc of a lot of players who we thought would always be one place and then landed in another. It happens all the time in this league. Steve Nash is a Laker, for crying out loud. Dwight Howard is about to be… something else. And there are plenty of reasons to think that the smart, sensible option for both Love and Wetbrook will be to stay put, and neither leave in free agency nor push for a trade. But we’ve seen logic lose too often in this league not to wonder. Westbrook is already part of a superstar trio that loves playing together, and they’re all in the Olympics together this year. The only way it happens is if things were to go seriously awry and Westbrook were to think about this experience and what it could mean for him elsewhere. Or if he were to bring Love to the Thunder which in no way seems possible with the CBA.

And that’s the danger inherent in the Olympics, for NBA teams, now. But it’s not just the Olympics. It’s All-Star Weekend and weddings and parties, and anytime that these players get together, there’s talk of a realignment of their careers to run parallel and under the same flag. This is the new NBA world we live in, molded by branding, exposure, markets, and “families” managed by large representation groups. “The Decision” is supposedly the start of this, but it dates back to Boston’s collection of the Big 3. This is not a wholly recent trend and the potential has been there for years. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh were just the first bold enough to go out and put it to its absolute limit. And seeing the success they’re undergoing? The NBA title, an improving image, a rehabilitated public persona, and a huge international influence? That’s only going to make it more attractive.

Some of these are just pipe dreams. Chris Paul toasted to Melo, Amar’e, and he in New York, and Paul’s running the floor for Lob City. Amar’e Stoudemire mentioned Tony Parker at a Broadway show the night before he signed with the Knicks, and Parker’s not going anywhere for San Antonio. And again, there’s very little reason to believe Westbrook and Love will be playing anywhere else in five to six years. But you have to wonder if the idea is there, considering Westbrook, Derrick Rose, and Love work out in the summers, and Westbrook and Love have been playing together for most of their lives. Hey, Love’s even said on record that they’ve talked about it. It doesn’t take much to say that Westbrook and Love are closer than LeBron James and Wade are, or were. Friendship doesn’t mean they’re going to. It means that there’s always that possibility.

Maybe the bigger point here is that this is what I first thought of when Love jetted that outlet pass to Westbrook. How well they fit. Could they play for the Lakers, when they inevitably restock? The idea of the Lakers just landing those two outright isn’t pleasant for the idea of competitive balance, but it fits with everything we know about the history of the league. That’s where my brain went, though. Not to how amazing this Team USA is with the kind of talent it’s able to put on the floor together at all times, but about how every interaction could spell enormous consequences (Note: meme’d) for the NBA. We’re living in some sort of weird world where players play for teams, but simultaneously always exist as free agents given the power of players to force their way out to the teams they want at this point.

It’s exciting, and scary, and dangerous, and even if Love and Westbrook never play a second together, this is still the world we’re living in, where if one player’s great and another player’s great and they can stand each other at all, you have to wonder not just what it would be like… but when and how? The impossible is possible now, and very few stars shine on their own.

Jrue Holiday hits game winner, Anthony Davis has 45, Pelicans beat Heat in OT, 124-123

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis had 45 points, 17 rebounds, five blocked shots and five steals, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Miami Heat 124-123 in overtime Friday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Goran Dragic scored 30 points and Dwyane Wade hit two runners to give the Heat the lead twice in the last 36 seconds of overtime, but Davis responded to the first with a layup as he was fouled, and Jrue Holiday answered the second with a runner in the lane with 7 seconds left.

Wade had one last shot for the win with Holiday defending him closely. It bounced off the rim to Josh Richardson, whose rushed put-back missed the basket as time expired in Miami’s third straight loss.

Davis, who has scored no fewer than 38 points in a game during New Orleans’ winning streak – and 42 or more three times – raised both arms in triumph as he looked up at the jubilant crowd, and then exchanged high fives with fans along the court.

Holiday finished with 29 points and nine assists, connecting with Davis on a couple of alley-oop dunks. Ian Clark scored a season-high 21 points and Nikola Mirotic capped his 10-point, nine-rebound performance with a crucial 3 in overtime.

Hassan Whiteside had 19 points and 16 rebounds before fouling out in overtime when he hacked Davis on a put-back attempt. Davis hit both free throws to tie it at 117, and then gave New Orleans a brief lead with his fifth alley-oop dunk of the game on a fast-break lob from Holiday with 1:10 to go. Wade had 16 points, while Richardson and Tyler Johnson each scored 15 points.

Neither team was able to build a double-digit lead during game which riveted a boisterous crowd with its fast pace and array of highlights on both ends of the floor. There were 13 ties and nine lead changes.

New Orleans scored 37 fast-break points. Davis threw down seven dunks. He converted one alley-oop while being fouled and also turned a steal into a fast-break layup as he was fouled. And the All-Star wasn’t the only one blocking shots for New Orleans. Emeka Okafor, now in his second 10-day contract after being out of the league for four-plus seasons, had five blocks.

After trailing much of the second half, the Pelicans appeared to be seizing control with a 10-0 run during which Holiday scored eight points, giving New Orleans a 104-99 lead with 2:51 to go.

But the Heat rallied to tie it at 106 on Wade’s free throws.

Davis hit a jumper with 23 seconds left and Wade missed on the other end, but a rebound contested by several players fell to Dragic in the paint, and he hit an uncontested layup to tie it again.

The Pelicans had 14 seconds to set up a winning shot, but Davis’ drive was cut off along the baseline and his awkward layup attempted missed and the game went to overtime after Miami was unable to get a shot from an inbounds play with .8 seconds left.

 

Jimmy Butler leaves game with apparently serious right knee injury

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The Basketball Gods have not been appeased, and apparently have dealt the NBA another serious injury to a star player.

Jimmy Butler — Minnesota’s leader, an All-Star, and a guy having a fringe of the MVP ballot NBA season — went down grabbing his knee on this play against the Rockets Friday night.

Butler reportedly said “it’s torn” while being helped off the court.

After the game, Tom Thibodeau said it was a right knee injury that would be re-evaluated with an MRI tomorrow.

This is a non-contact injury that has the appearance of an ACL tear (hope that is not the case). Butler had ripped an offensive rebound away from Nene and was making a move to go back up when he went to the ground grabbing his knee.

Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game. He was selected an All-Star but chose to sit out that game because he said he needed rest for the rest of the season. His coach, Tom Thibodeau, has a reputation for running players into exhaustion with heavy use (ask Joakim Noah) and does not subscribe to the kind of rest we see in Golden State, San Antonio, and other elite programs trying to keep players fresh.

This is troubling for a Timberwolves team looking to end an 11-year playoff drought — Minnesota is -8.3 points per 100 possessions when Butler is not on the court this season. While tied for the three seed going into Friday night, Minnesota is just four games from falling out of the playoffs in a competitive West.

Jimmy Butler to Lou Williams on All-Star snub: put up $100K for 1-on-1 game

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Jimmy Butler earned his spot on the All-Star team — he’s had an All-NBA, bottom of the MVP ballot level season. He deserved the trip to Los Angeles.

But when he got there, Butler didn’t play in the All-Star Game itself, saying he needed to rest. That frustrated a few All-Star snubs, and Lou Williams called him out on it.

Butler fired back before the Timberwolves took on the Houston Rockets.

“My thing is this, to Lou or anyone else who thinks they’re an All-Star, with all due respect, LeBron and them got $100,000 for winning, so if you got $100k to put up, you guard me I guard you, I’ gonna show you why. All this talk, put $100,000 up and I’ll show you why and where I’m at.” (That may have been paraphrased)

Butler earned his spot, he deserved to be there. He can do as he sees fit.

But if you’re not going to roll out there for even five minutes (LaMarcus Aldridge played four and nobody is saying anything to him), then give the spot up to someone else. You don’t need the $100K that badly.

Kevin Durant no fan of one-and-done, says he would have come straight to NBA

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With the money funneled to future NBA players through agents in the spotlight thanks to a FBI investigation (one that doesn’t even get into the money from boosters and shoe companies), the one-and-done rule the NBA has for players sending them to college for a semester of cakewalk classes one year has come back in the spotlight.

The league and players’ union are discussing changing the rule — with some input from the NCAA. If they want Kevin Durant‘s advice, scrap the whole thing — he would have come straight to the NBA if he could have.

“You want these players to go out there and play on the biggest stage. The Final Four is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, in sports, and they don’t get a dime for it. I don’t think it’s right

“If they want to come out of high school, it should be on them. You know what I mean? You can’t control everything. So if they feel as though they’re ready, that’s on them. They want to make a decision on their life, that’s on them. If they don’t get drafted, it’s on them. You can try to control it, but you’re still not really doing anything.”

Would Durant have come out from high school rather than spend a season at Texas?

“Yeah, probably. I needed the money.”

The NBA is discussing changes, and they want to see the recommendations from Condoleezza Rice’s NCAA commission. But the league’s owners are not all on the same page.

“In terms of the NBA, we’re conflicted, to be honest…” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said All-Star weekend. “And from a league standpoint, on one hand, we think we have a better draft when we’ve had an opportunity to see these young players play an elite level before they come into the NBA.

“On the other hand, I think the question for the league is, in terms of their ultimate success, are we better off intersecting with them a little bit younger? Are we better off bringing them into the league when they’re 18 using our G League as it was designed to be as a Development League and getting them minutes on the court there? And there is also recognition that for some of these elite players, there is no question that they can perform in the NBA at 18 years old.”

There seems to be some momentum toward a “baseball rule” compromise — players can come to the NBA straight out of high school, but if they go to college they have to stay for at least two years. Unlike the last time high schoolers were rushing into the NBA, most teams are far better prepared to develop young players and be patient with them. There will still be busts — there are even with guys who spent years in college — but teams are in better positions to make it work.

The other thing I would want to see: If a player signs with an agent out of high school, does not get drafted, give him the chance to go to college still. Some young men are going to get terrible advice (from family, AAU coaches, friends, a whole lot of people) and they deserve a chance to choose a better path.