Ray Allen

Who are the key role players on contending teams?

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In the NBA, you win with star players (except if you’re the 2004 Pistons, the exception to every championship rule). They’re the guys you lean on in the closing minutes of tight games. The guys that can affect a game with their sheer talent and turn what looks to be a sure loss into a win.

But, even the most star studded teams need contributions from role players to reach the mountain top. The Derek Fisher’s. The Robert Horry’s. These players may not get the headlines day in and day out, but when looking at the rosters of title winning teams their names stand out. Without them, some of the brightest stars the game has seen might have a few less pieces of jewelry on their fingers.

This year’s title contenders are no different. They all have at least one key role player that will be depended on to be a difference maker this season. Who are they? Let’s explore…

Ray Allen, Miami Heat
Allen is used to playoff pressure cooker. He’s been around the block multiple times throughout his career and has stuck the dagger into opponents in the biggest games imaginable. When the moment is the biggest, you know what you’re going to get from Ray. He’s going to stroke that sweet jumper of his and opposing fans are going to hold their breath when the shot is in the air.

But Ray comes to Heat no longer one of his team’s best players. Once part of Boston’s big three, he joins a new triumvirate that’s not only already formed but has already tasted championship glory. With this group he’ll be asked to play a supporting role in limited minutes and excel while doing it.

And, for the first time in his career, there are questions as to whether he’s up to the task. How will he perform coming off the bench for the first prolonged stretch of his distinguished career? Is his defense up to a high enough standard to close games on a team that is already so good on the wing? After a somewhat disappointing playoffs last season, how many more jumpers do his legs have in them?

Knowing Allen’s history, he’ll prove any doubters wrong and hit a few more big shots for the Heat this season. But if Allen falters or if he can not approach his normal standard it will have a big affect on the Heat. Dwyane Wade, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, and Shane Battier will need to play heavier minutes than planned. And for a team that’s coming of two straight Final’s runs it would be nice if Allen could soak up some minutes to keep those guys fresher throughout the marathon that is an NBA season.

Antawn Jamison, The Los Angeles Lakers
Jamison is the epitome of the accomplished veteran at the end of his career chasing a ring. He’s been a top scorer in the league and his team’s go-to guy. He’s gone to all-star games and won awards. What he hasn’t done is taste that champagne after his team wins its last game of the season. This is why he came to the Lakers.

The question is, however, does Jamison have enough left in the tank to be a key contributor on a title winning team? After 14 seasons of going being a featured player, it’s more than a fair question. And, so far this preseason, he’s not yet looked like the difference maker off the bench that the Lakers need him to be. His jumper has been erratic and the in-between game that’s been a staple of his success throughout his career has been more miss than hit. And there are, of course, still the long standing issues of his defense and rebounding. Those aren’t exactly the qualities the Lakers signed him for.

No, Jamison will need to hit shots and do so at a consistent enough rate to give space to the front court partner he’s flanking. Be it Pau Gasol or Dwight Howard, Jamison must be seen as a threat to the defense to help give them the room they need to operate in the post. To say nothing of the room created to Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash on the perimeter. His scoring punch and the ripple effect it will have are tantamount to this Laker team.

Jamison has never had a role this important for a team this good. If he can play well, the Lakers are one major step closer to solidifying their bench and shoring up a major weakness from last season. If he’s not, they’ll have an even greater chance of being exposed even with the start power at the top of the roster.

Eric Maynor, The Oklahoma City Thunder
There may not be a more unheralded player that’s returning from injury in the entire league than Eric Maynor. Guys like Derrick Rose and Ricky Rubio are franchise altering talents, but it’s Maynor that plays on one of the clearly elite teams and can literally mean the difference between the Thunder advancing to the Finals or not; between winning a title or not.

No, he’s not one of the Thunder’s big three superstars. But Maynor is one of the league’s best (if not the best) back up point guards. And for a team that had to rely on Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher to back up Russell Westbrook last season, that’s a huge difference. Especially for a team that was so close to winning the title.

Maynor not only offers the Thunder a scoring threat off the bench but also a floor general that can run the team should Westbrook falter. Before he tore his ACL, Scott Brooks could turn to Maynor at any time to settle his team down, get them into their sets, and get the team going in the right direction. That type of luxury is so valuable to a team that, even with all its talent, can still be prone to lapses of judgment and too many unproductive possessions.

Maynor also offers them lineup flexibility, giving them a key contributor to any small-ball lineup Brooks wants to deploy. For example, a grouping of Maynor, Westbrook, Harden, Durant, and Ibaka gives the Thunder a unit that can match up with the position-less Heat lineup that gave them so many issues in the Finals. There’s no hiding defenders against a lineup like that.

Word is that Maynor is fully recovered from his knee injury and should be ready to return to the form he showed before he got hurt. If that’s the case, one of the best teams in the league just added another fantastic young talent to flank their already stacked core. If he’s not, the Thunder will once again be stuck playing below replacement level players behind Westbrook.

Jeff Green, The Boston Celtics
Green is one of the most uniquely positioned role players in the league.

First, he’s coming back from missing an entire season due to having heart surgery. Second, he signed one of the more “wait, he got how much?” contracts this past free agency period. And third, he’s coming back to a Celtics team that has made itself over with smart signings and a solid draft to the point that they’re thinking their window isn’t quite yet closed yet.

How Green performs in the middle of all this remains to be seen. As a tweener forward, he’ll be asked to play in both big and small lineups and use his versatility on both sides of the ball. There will be times that he’ll have to chase small forwards around the perimeter on defense and then attack them in the paint on offense. The next night he may be spacing the floor on offense while playing on the back line of the C’s vaunted defense directing traffic while he hedges and recovers on a pick and roll.

Green has never proven that he’s been up to such responsibilities and that’s one of the reasons the Thunder were okay trading him away for Kendrick Perkins. Yes, his versatility was nice but at some point he needed to show that he could to deliver at a high enough level in those areas rather than just being good at them. With the Thunder, he never did get that done.

Will that change with these Celtics? Will coming off the bench help his game? Will playing with a point guard savant like Rajon Rondo (rather than the more shot happy Westbrook) help him find his stride on offense? Will learning at the altar of Kevin Garnett help him with his defense?

The Celtics can only hope that the answers to those questions are in the affirmative. They’ve invested a fair amount of time and money into Green and for them to be as good as they hope to be, they’ll need him to live up to his lottery talent.

Pat Riley’s response: It was Bosh who cut off communication

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 28:  Pat Riley looks on during the East Regional Round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Verizon Center on March 28, 2013 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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“I didn’t see my career in Miami ending like this. I didn’t get a call or a test or anything like that.”

That was Chris Bosh‘s comment in his latest self-directed video, one where he learns that he failed his physical with the Heat and they are not looking to bring him back. In that video he says that his career is not over, and along the way he takes some shots at team president Pat Riley and the Miami organization, saying they did not communicate with him.

Riley countered that it was Bosh who cut off communication, as told to Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald.

Bosh has never been cleared by the team.

Bosh’s time in Miami is over, and those bridges are aflame right now. There is no going back. The problem is there are no good alternatives for him or the team moving on from this situation (unless he wants to forfeit a vast majority of the $75 million he is owed to facilitate a buyout). This situation is going to drag out for a while.

Report: Rockets, Donatas Motiejunas not negotiating contract extension at deadline

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
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It looks like Donatas Motiejunas is about to go the route Tristan Thompson did — it worked out for the Cavaliers’ big man.

But this would be a huge bet on himself by Motiejunas.

The Lithuanian is headed toward playing this season on a qualifying offer with the Rockets, then becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer, according to the latest report from Adrian Wojnarowski and the team at The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Last season the Rockets tried to trade Motiejunas to the Pistons (where he would backup Andre Drummond), but Pistons voided the deal, saying he failed his physical. Motiejunas slammed Detroit for the move. This summer Motiejunas was a restricted free agent, but he didn’t land any offers from other squads (teams were convinced the Rockets would just match any reasonable offer).

That gets us to where we are today, where Motiejunas appears headed to signing the qualifying offer, then testing the market next summer as an unrestricted free agent. It all seems a little messier than it had to be, but this is where we are.

Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons suffers fracture in right foot, will miss time

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Ben Simmons
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The Sixers cannot catch a break. Or, to be more accurate, they are catching too many.

After center Joel Embiid is finally set to take the court after missing the past two seasons with a foot injury, now Ben Simmons — the recent No. 1 pick and point forward who had created a lot or buzz — has suffered a fracture to his right foot, the team has announced. Simmons will miss time, exactly how much depends on the course of treatment, but with this injury the shortest recovery time is 6-8 weeks.

From the Sixers official press release:

After receiving an X-ray and MRI of the foot and ankle, the images were reviewed by Sixers Head Physician Dr. Christopher Dodson and Sixers Chief Medical Officer and Co-Chief of Sports Medicine Orthopedics at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center Dr. Jonathan Glashow. 

It was determined that Simmons suffered a fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone of his right foot.  Further medical evaluation and treatment options are being considered at this time and additional updates will be provided when appropriate. 

The first reports out of practice were Simmons had rolled his ankle. Clearly it was much more than that.

The injury is commonly known as a Jones Fracture, which is what Kevin Durant suffered a couple years back and has hit a number of NBA players in recent years (Cameron Payne, Jodie Meeks and others). The fifth metatarsal is the bone that runs from the base of the little toe up to the ankle on the foot. Even in a serious case surgery can repair it, however, healing can be slow because that is not an area of the foot with great natural blood flow. The Sixers and Simmons have to be patient so this doesn’t become a lingering issue (remember Durant needed multiple surgeries and missed a lot of time).

This just sucks for the Sixers, who see Simmons as the playmaker at the core of their young roster — one they hoped to have fully on the court this season. Now that will at least be delayed a while.

 

Kevin Love says there will always be stories about his fit with Cavs, he doesn’t care

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love gets photographed during the NBA basketball team's media day, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Independence, Ohio. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
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If anyone in the NBA should have a thick skin when it comes to talk of player conflicts and trade rumors, it should be Kevin Love. Those stories have been like a cartoon cloud following his every step since he landed in Cleveland.

And he doesn’t give a… you know.

The Cavaliers just won a title with Love playing a key role, and yet the cloud still follows him. Love was asked about the stories of his fit with his team after practice Friday (video below, if you’re easily offended by language don’t hit play).

“I love this team. There will always be stories. I don’t think they’ll ever leave. Frankly, I don’t really give a s—.”

It’s amazing what winning can do. If the Cavaliers had not come back from 3-1 down in the Finals, the consensus around the league was that Cleveland would have made significant roster changes last summer and Love likely would have been the big name out the door. In some parallel universe that happened.

But not in this one — Love has a ring. And he’s still a Cavalier. And he doesn’t care what his critics think of that.