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.

Liquor company Jägermeister says Bucks’ new logo is too similar to their own

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MILWAUKEE (AP) A German company that makes a popular liqueur is not raising a shot glass to the Milwaukee Bucks’ redesigned logo.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Jägermeister has filed formal opposition with an appeal board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office about the registration of the logo.

The company contends it “has established exclusive rights in the DEER HEAD Marks through use in commerce in the United States” going back to 1968. It cites numerous reasons to oppose registration for the NBA team, including the possibility that people might confuse the two companies or believe they are connected or affiliated.

Both logos feature forward-looking deer with large antlers inside a circle or partial circle in about the same proportions.

Neither the Bucks nor Jägermeister returned messages seeking comment.

Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com

Carmelo on NBA CBA opt-out deadline: “I’m skeptical of something getting done”

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After months of reports that the NBA and the NBAPA would be able to reach an agreement on a new CBA, it appears the two sides have hit a snag.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN is reporting that the league and the player’s union are unlikely to agree to terms before Thursday’s deadline for the players to opt-out of the current CBA.

Via ESPN:

“I’m skeptical of something getting done,” Anthony, who is the vice president of the NBPA told ESPN after the New York Knicks practiced Saturday in Los Angeles. “Do I think something could happen by the 15th? Yeah I think something could happen. But I think this kind of put a dent in conversations.

“We had something so close. We were supposed to have a deal done weeks ago, and for this to happen at the 25th hour is tough.”

This is not good news for the talks, which have reportedly gone smoothly thus far and for good reason: money.

There’s more of it to be had all around for both sides, and as Basketball Related Income (or BRI) rises, so has the NBA salary cap.

Despite this unfortunate news, it’s not all doom and gloom for NBA fans hoping to avoid a lockout. While Dec. 15 is the opt-out date for the players and they will almost certainly take it, the current CBA doesn’t expire until June of 2017.

That means there won’t be any kind of work stoppage for the 2016-17 NBA season, but both sides would have a hard date of June 30 before ostensibly triggering one.

The good news is, hopefully, that since the two sides have already been working hard on a deal that they would be close on the terms they need to settle over the following six months.

A big question is apparently whether they can still make Thursday’s deadline, as Anthony has reportedly said it would take significant discussion time and constant work to finish the deal as it stands.

No word yet on what the issue is between the league and the players, as Anthony declined to elaborate.

Rumor: Celtics, Blazers potential trade destinations for Mavericks C Andrew Bogut

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The Dallas Mavericks have one of the worst records in the NBA at just 5-17. A trade to Texas back in July was put in the works in order for the Golden State Warriors to clear enough cap space to sign Kevin Durant, but not much has come of Bogut’s time in Big D thanks to multiple other issues with the roster.

Bogut, 32, is now a potential trade target for playoff teams looking to bolter their front line, and according to a report from ESPN’s Marc Stein, both the Boston Celtics and Portland Trail Blazers have either shown interest or make a natural fit.

Via ESPN:

Boston has already emerged as a team interested in trading for Dallas center Andrew Bogut, and here’s another team that makes sense: Portland. The Mavericks have yet to make Bogut available for potential deals, per ESPN’s own Tim MacMahon, but the Blazers are a natural suitor given their clear need for a defensive anchor at the rim as the league’s 30th-ranked defense as of Friday morning.

Boston makes a lot of sense for Bogut given their high aspirations for the season and the fact that they are the 7th-worst rebounding team in the NBA despite adding Al Horford to their roster this offseason.

The Celtics already have an excellent net rating on the season, but the space added from Bogut’s screens on offense would no doubt help propel them forward as they battle for a Top 3 spot in the Eastern Conference with the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Portland, meanwhile, needs Bogut’s skill set in a way that can’t be stressed enough. The Trail Blazers are one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, something Bogut could definitely help.

In 2015-16, with a similar roster, the Blazers were a top offensive rebounding team. This season they’re one of the worst on the glass, a major contributing factor to their early struggles.

Again, Bogut would help them, but GM Neil Olshey also isn’t one to make moves to upset the chemistry of his team unless absolutely require to — see Arron Afflalo in 2014-15.

If the Blazers pull the trigger on a trade for Bogut, it might also give us a better indicator of what is happening with Festus Ezeli, who Portland signed to a 2-year deal this summer. Ezeli has been recovering from knee surgery, but the team has been notably quiet his return as of late. If he isn’t able to return in time for the Blazers to stay in the playoff hunt, Olshey could warm to a Bogut trade if the price is right.

There are a few other teams that make sense for a Bogut trade: the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers, and Milwaukee Bucks are all teams either trying to head to the next level or galvanize their place as a playoff team.

None of these teams save for the Blazers are panicking yet, so we might have to wait until 2017 for a swap given that Bogut is now injured. The Mavericks C suffered a bone bruise in his right knee that will cause him to miss significant time in December.

For any team looking to trade for an aging Bogut, injury concerns are a real issue. He famously missed the end of the 2016 NBA Finals with a bone bruise in his left knee, and has played in 70 or more games just three times in his 12-year career.

When it comes to a Bogut trade, it will come down to the last micron as teams weight the risk vs. reward as the Mavericks start to suss out their asking price.

Indeed, we’ve seen for trades for players in Bogut’s position get a little pricey. Portland rented Afflalo for just 25 games at a price of Will Barton, Thomas Robinson, Victor Claver, and a protected first-round pick. Cleveland sent out a protected first-round pick, a second-round pick, Jared Cunningham, and Anderson Varejao for Channing Frye in February.

Bogut’s statistics, meanwhile, are notably down but it’s not immediately clear how much of that is due to the Mavericks overall poor play, or if that would even matter to receiving teams. His per-100 possession stats on points and blocks are down, and his net rating is terrible. It would be easy to dismiss that, rightly, to the Dallas roster collectively. Where teams really need him — rebounding — Bogut is stellar, and he’s grabbed a career-high 21.6 rebounds per-100 possessions.

When or if Dallas gets a deal together is anyone’s guess. Dirk Nowitzki has been dealing with Achilles soreness that has kept him sidelined, but he is slated to return before the end of 2016. The Mavericks mainstay has said he wants to keep playing and fighting, and although Dallas are in a huge hole, trading a useful frontline player like Bogut might betray some of Nowitzki’s confidence from the team that they are at least trying to give him reason to play through injury.

Patrick Beverley shuts down Westbrook on final play, bowls through own coach (VIDEO)

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Houston Rockets G Patrick Beverley is known around the NBA for being a dogged defender. His skill set was on full display on Friday night, where Beverley shut down Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook on a potential game-winning 3-pointer in the closing seconds.

It all started early in the matchup, when Beverley — notorious for getting under the skin of both Westbrook and other NBA opponents — flopped with some serious gusto just 36 seconds into the first quarter.

Via Twitter:

The game continued like this, but the real highlight of Beverley’s defensive night was stopping Westbrook — who dropped his 7th straight triple-double — on an isolation play with six seconds left in the fourth quarter.

With the ball on the left garden spot, Westbrook gave a couple of dribble hesitation moves to Beverley, then tried to rise up for the go-ahead bucket.

Beverley was right up on him, and forced an airball from Westbrook:

The Rockets guard was so happy about the stop and the eventual win that he celebrated a little too enthusiastically with Houston coach Mike D’Antoni.

Going for a chest bump, Beverley wound up blasting through his own coach: