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Is a championship enough for Warriors to impress this season?

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The day after Cleveland won the 2016 NBA title, the Warriors were favored to win in 2017.

And then they signed Kevin Durant.

Golden State became favored against the field, a recognition not bestowed on any team since Michael Jordan’s Bulls.

Durant leaving the Western Conference’s second-best team for a 73-win juggernaut tipped the scales in a way that made many uncomfortable. A Warriors title felt preordained before the season began.

This wasn’t the first time people felt a super team would destroy competitive balance. But the howling about Golden State might have been the loudest. Warriors fatigue was just setting in with every Draymond Green nut kick, every brag. And then Durant joined a team that already won a title, reached consecutive Finals and set the regular-season wins record with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Green.

Expectations were so high, fans – and maybe even some owners – resented Golden State for tipping the scales too greatly. The Warriors, especially Durant, became villains.

Now, Golden State enters the Finals on the verge of winning a championship, usually the final step to silencing critics. But in this case, that might prove them right.

The Warriors are in a no-win situation. If they lose to Cleveland in the Finals, many will dance on their grave. If they win, many will dismiss their title as product of a stacked deck.

Personally, I find the latter criticism unfair. Every championship is earned – some more than others, but no team is just handed a title. Golden State drafted and developed Curry, Green and Thompson. The Warriors earned Durant’s services by creating such an appealing environment, he chose it despite knowing he’d receive immense backlash. Even with this loaded roster, a championship wasn’t guaranteed. It can be difficult for multiple stars to mesh, and Golden State had major financial constraints to add supporting centers. Credit the Warriors for luring Zaza Pachulia and David West and rehabilitating JaVale McGee.

Really, credit the Warriors for making this look so easy when it’s really not.

But I know that argument won’t convince many – especially considering how the playoffs have gone.

Golden State beat the Trail Blazers without Jusuf Nurkic, the Jazz mostly without George Hill and, in the biggest “what if?”, the Spurs only after Kawhi Leonard got hurt. Everything aligned for the Warriors to cruise through the Western Conference, which never looked like the stiffest challenge in the first place.

Yet, is there a way they can dominate enough to offset the competition imbalance and convince the masses of their greatness?

Golden State went 67-15 in the regular season, ranking No. 1 offensively and No. 2 defensively. The Warriors’ playoff run to the Finals set records for record (12-0) and point difference per game (+16.3).

Golden State’s combined winning percentage between the regular season and playoffs (84%) ranks second all time behind only the 1995-96 Bulls (87%). The Warriors would remain No. 2 by sweeping the Cavaliers or winning in five.

Here are the top teams by combined winning percentage (regular-season, playoff records in parentheses), with Golden State’s current place and possible finishes based on Finals record:

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Obviously, nobody would hail the Warriors as an all-time team if they lose in the Finals, but their combined record would still be elite if they got swept. That says something about their greatness to this point.

Golden State is also in striking distance of the best point difference, regular season and playoffs combined, of all-time. The Warriors (+12.23) rank second to the 1970-71 Bucks (+12.58).

Here are the all-time leaders in combined point difference (regular-season, playoff records in parentheses):

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Here’s how many points the Warriors would need to outscore the Cavs by to pass the 1970-71 Bucks, by series length:

  • Four games: 84 (21.0 per game)
  • Five games: 96 (19.2 per game)
  • Six games: 109 (18.2 per game)
  • Seven games: 121 (17.3 per game)

The odds are against dominating Cleveland that way, but if the Warriors do it, how could we deny them?

Golden State could drop a game to the Cavs, and 16-1 would still be the best postseason record of all-time. Maybe the 2001 Lakers (15-1) and/or 1983 76ers (12-1) could have done that in the current playoff format. But the Warriors have an opportunity to actually do it (as do the 12-1 Cavs, for what it’s worth).

The question remains: Would anyone outside Golden State’s own fans appreciate it?

The best thing that happened to LeBron James‘ reputation was losing his first year in Miami and of his second stint in Cleveland. That showed his titles were earned, not the forgone conclusion of manipulated super teams.

Perhaps, consecutive championships, including one this year, would achieve similar recognition. But that wouldn’t persuade those who view the Warriors as invincible.

Oddly, and I’d argue unfairly, the best thing for the Warriors legacy might be losing this season then winning a future season. We need proof they’re fallible before we can treasure their accomplishments.

Spencer Dinwiddie, after facing threat of being forgotten by NBA, flourishing with Nets

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DETROIT – Spencer Dinwiddie looked like he might be finished in the NBA.

Major ACL injury at Colorado? He declared for the 2014 draft while still recovering.

Slipping to the second round? He drew confidence in being the Pistons’ first pick that year and the initial selection of the Stan Van Gundy era in Detroit.

Barely playing with the Pistons in two seasons? He engineered a trade to the Bulls, who needed a backup point guard and had roster room then played well for Chicago’s summer-league team.

But the Bulls traded for Michael Carter-Williams just before the season and waived Dinwiddie, who signed in the D-League. For the first time in years, the player who believed since he was 4 years old he’d make the NBA was neither in the league nor on track to reach it.

Then, the Nets called.

They weren’t offering much – $100,000 guaranteed in exchange for Dinwiddie signing a three-year minimum contract in December 2017. If he lasted a month, the rest of his salary that season ($726,672) would become guaranteed. But the remaining two seasons would remain up to Brooklyn. If Dinwiddie flopped, he’d get waived with a small payout. If he exceeded expectations, he’d be stuck on a cheap contract for years.

“A lot of people don’t make it out of the D-League,” Dinwiddie said. “Or, if I don’t sign it, then what if nobody picks me up? Am I still down there? Am I overseas right now?

“It’s very easy to be forgotten about in this league. There’s a lot of good players all over the world that, whatever reason, didn’t hit off right off the bat, and their careers paid the price for it.

“I was told that there was no other opportunity. There was no other option. So, obviously I wanted to be in the NBA. So, I signed.”

Much to Brooklyn’s benefit. And maybe Dinwiddie’s.

Dinwiddie played relatively well in a narrow role last season, doing enough to show he belonged in the NBA. This year, he’s making his case as an NBA starter.

After injuries to Jeremy Lin and D'Angelo Russell, Dinwiddie became the Nets’ starting point guard. Tasked with greater responsibility, Dinwiddie is playing his best basketball. He averages 13.4 points and 6.4 assists per game, but those marks don’t quite show how he has steadied an erratic team.

Dinwiddie ranks No. 18 overall in real plus-minus – behind only potential All-Stars, Robert Covington, and Tyus Jones and ahead of Karl-Anthony Towns, Kevin Durant, Kemba Walker, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Andre Drummond, Paul George and Kristaps Porzingis. That isn’t to say Dinwiddie is as good as those stars. But that his production holds its own in such elite company is also revelatory.

Especially considering Dinwiddie’s contract.

He ranks third in real plus-minus among players on minimum salaries, behind only Nikola Jokic and Tyus Jones:

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This makes Dinwiddie an intriguing trade candidate in advance of next month’s deadline.

How helpful would it be to have a credible starting-caliber point guard making just the minimum this year and next? That’d free so much money – below the salary cap and/or luxury-tax line – to spend on other positions.

The Nets aren’t positioned to take advantage. They’re still below the cap and, still recovering from years of lost draft picks, not ready to build a competitive roster. They also might want to tank next season, as they’ll finally keep their own first-rounder in 2019. Plus, Russell is acclimating back into the rotation, and Lin should return next season.

If Dinwiddie no longer fits in Brooklyn, in a sudden reversal, numerous teams should covet him. He’s not sweating whether he gets moved, but whatever happens, it won’t change how he views the Nets.

“I’m forever indebted to Brooklyn for giving me this opportunity,” Dinwiddie said.

Of course, the Nets could keep him. They’re trying to build a culture, and continuity matters for that. They’d also be positioned to extend his contract next December, two years from when he initially signed (as would a team that trades for him).

Dinwiddie’s max extension would follow the same format as Josh Richardson‘s with the Heat and Norman Powell‘s with the Raptors – which were each worth $42 million over four years – though a rising salary cap will lift Dinwiddie’s max slightly. Perhaps, Dinwiddie could get more in unrestricted free agency in 2019. But for someone set to earn around the minimum his first four seasons, an extension would provide nice security.

Dinwiddie isn’t holding his breath for a payday in December, though.

“You know how long a year is?” Dinwiddie said. “A year in the NBA is an eternity. Anything can happen.”

Just look at Dinwiddie’s last year.

“When we first got him, he was really not a confident player,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “Very timid to make plays.”

Now, he’s hitting gamewinners, including one at Detroit on Sunday:

Did that one mean more to him?

“I’ve kind of tip-toed around it. Let’s just be real here,” Dinwiddie said. “I start my career off here. For lack of a better word, I was essentially cut. So how would y’all feel?”

This wasn’t the caretaking point guard the Pistons and Bulls gave up on. Dinwiddie was holding court in the visiting locker room, assured he belonged.

The 6-foot-6 point guard plays with an even keel, steadily using his size advantage offensively and defensively. He’s not flashy, and this doesn’t appear fluky. A sudden jump in 3-point shooting is the easiest way a prolonged hot stretch can be mistaken for a meaningful breakthrough, but Dinwiddie is shooting just 34% from beyond the arc – below his mark last year (38%) and below league average. A high 3-point attempt rate makes his outside shooting helpful, and that’s something he can more easily control than whether the ball goes in.

A more aggressive shot hunter, Dinwiddie can develop as a passer next. Among 284 players who qualify for the assist-per-game lead, Dinwiddie ranks third in assist-to-turnover ratio, behind only Tomas Satoransky and Shelvin Mack. The leaderboard, with assists and turnovers per game noted:

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While that’s helpful in some ways, especially on the young and up-tempo Nets, Dinwiddie doesn’t often enough create quality looks through his passing. He takes what the defense gives him and nothing more.

“He’s not a high-risk guy,” Atkinson said. “It’s just not his personality.”

It’s the same mindset that contributed to Dinwiddie accepting Brooklyn’s team-friendly offer last season.

The Nets couldn’t be happier with the results. Dinwiddie is aware he lost a potential opportunity to prove himself then hit free agency sooner, but he chalks up any thoughts of regret to looking through the lens of 20-20 hindsight.

And no matter what happens through the rest of his minimum contract, he’ll always have Sunday, when he got revenge against the Pistons.

“No hard feelings,” Dinwiddie said before breaking into a slight grin, “especially after a win.”

Jordan Clarkson on Lakers’ win over Knicks: ‘We just kept the foot on their nut and just kept pushing’

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The Lakers outscored the Knicks by one in the first quarter, three in the second quarter, four in the third quarter and 12 in the fourth quarter en route to a 127-107 victory yesterday.

What’s one way to describe that?

Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson in his on-court, post-game interview:

We just kept the foot on their nut and just kept pushing.

That quote is obviously fantastic on its own. Making it better: The NBA published it!

Video of the key moment is above.

Report: Kawhi Leonard disconnected from Spurs

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Spurs star Kawhi Leonard missed most of the season with a vexing quad injury, returned, went out with a shoulder injury and is now sidelined indefinitely with the quad injury.

San Antonio (30-18) has played well without Leonard, but apparently this saga has taken a toll behind the scenes.

Adrian Wojnarowski and Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Months of discord centering on elements of treatment, rehabilitation and timetables for return from a right quadriceps injury have had a chilling impact on San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard’s relationship with the franchise and coaching staff, league sources told ESPN.

Under president and coach Gregg Popovich and general manager RC Buford, the Spurs have a two decades-long history of strong relationships with star players, but multiple sources describe Leonard and his camp as “distant” and “disconnected” from the organization.

Beyond the current rehab for the right quadriceps injury that has caused Leonard, an All-NBA forward, to miss most of the regular season, there is work to be done to repair what has been until now a successful partnership.

In an interview with ESPN, Buford rejected the reporting of turbulence between the franchise and Leonard.

This is extremely vague. Leonard has always looked like a dutiful follower in the Spurs’ strong Popovich-led culture. Is this just frustration from injuries? Frustration from injuries causing other minor issues to boil over? Something else major entirely?

The Spurs spent big on long-term contracts for Pau Gasol and Patty Mills last summer, arguably jeopardizing Leonard’s chances of winning another title in San Antonio. Leonard is an elite two-way player in his prime (at least when healthy), and the Spurs were seemingly locking into a team that will likely top out at very good, not great.

So, what’s going on with Leonard now? Aldridge’s situation might be illustrative. Everyone in San Antonio denied a problem, as the Spurs are doing now. But Popovich revealed a couple weeks ago that Aldridge requested a trade. Popovich didn’t panic, though. He met with Aldridge, communicated and found a workable solution. The same can and probably will happen with Leonard.

But that’s no guarantee, and Leonard can opt out next year. Until this is settled, it’s a huge issue with potential to shake up typically stable San Antonio – and maybe beyond.

Wizards’ players-only meeting doesn’t go well

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The concept of a “team meeting” is sort of silly. At what does players discussing the team – something that happens nearly every day – rise to “meeting” status?

But these team meetings happen ever year, usually when a team is struggling. The Cavaliers, Thunder and Lakers have already had confabs labeled a “team meeting” this season. Teams usually emerge saying they’ve found solutions to their problems. Sometimes, it translates onto the court. Usually, there’s not a significant turnaround.

I’ve never seen a public response to the meeting itself like with the Wizards, though.

John Wall, via Cam Ellis of NBC Sports Washington:

“At our team meeting, I think a couple guys took it in a negative way,” Wall said after the team’s win in Detroit. “It hurt our team. Instead of using it in a positive way like we did in the past and using it to build our team up, it kind of set us back a bit.”

Bradley Beal, via Candace Buckner of The Washington Post:

“It was tough. I try to keep all our stuff as personal as possible but I think in a way not everybody got a chance to speak whenever they wanted to,” Bradley Beal said. “They didn’t want to bring up an issue or something they had a problem with on the team. Regardless of what may be going on, as men we’ve got to be able to accept what the next man says, be respectful about it and move on from it. I think it was one of those situations where we didn’t necessarily get everything that we wanted to get accomplished.

“Honestly, it was probably — I won’t say pointless,” Beal continued, “but we didn’t accomplish what we needed to accomplish in that meeting.”

Yeesh.

Nobody seemed to remember exactly when the meeting occurred, which says something. It sounds as if airing grievances actually hurt team chemistry.

The Wizards (26-20) are good, but not as good as hoped/expected. They too often coast against bad teams, and coach Scott Brooks has openly questioned their effort. So, what’s the solution?

Wall, via Buckner:

“Front office got to figure it out.”

If you’re one of Wall’s teammates who clashed at the meeting, and now you’re hearing him bring it up publicly and imply roster moves might be the solution, how would you feel about your future in Washington?