Shaun Livingston

Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Celtics win streak at 10, should we call them contenders?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Celtics make it 10 wins in a row… is what Boston is doing sustainable? Are they contenders? Wednesday, Boston coach Brad Stevens finally unleashed his ultimate offensive weapon — Aron Baynes. For the first 11 games of the season Stevens been using some misdirection, putting the ball in the hands of Kyrie Irving, and having him do dribble handoffs with Al Horford. But that was just the hors-d’oeuvre, Baynes is the meal. Wednesday night against the Lakers Stevens finally unleashed the fury that is Baynes.

Okay, maybe that is overstating it. Slightly. But Baynes had 21 points on 12 shots starting in place of Horford — who is in the league’s concussion protocol — as he overwhelmed the Lakers inside on Boston’s way to a fairly comfortable 107-96 win over rival Los Angeles.

That’s 10 wins in a row for Boston, and it lead’s to the question: Just how sustainable is this? We knew Boston would be good this season, but are they contenders right now, even without Gordon Hayward?

Yes, they are.

Making the Finals is a good definition of a contender and this season that is not some far-off dream in Boston, it’s reasonable.

Boston moves up to contender status because of their defense — the best in the NBA this young season. Just ask Lonzo Ball, who was rudely introduced to Marcus Smart Wednesday.

No, this Boston run is not sustainable in the “they are going 80-2 this season” kind of way — they have won 10 in a row against the 10th softest schedule in the league so far. Think of who they have beaten and there are a lot of rebuilding teams (Knicks, Kings, Sixers, Lakers, Hawks) and even when they get the Spurs they get them without Kawhi Leonard. There will be rough patches ahead. The Celtics have had role players playing over their heads a little  (see Baynes dropping 21), and while the young tandem of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum keep playing incredibly well, they will have peaks and valleys as well.

However, Boston is a real and legitimate threat to come out of the East. Kyrie Irving has bought into what Stevens preaches on offense, and more importantly has hustled more on defense than we have seen in years (he doesn’t die on nearly as many screens as he did in Cleveland). Horford and Irving have developed a fast on-court chemistry, and their two-man dribble handoff game is hard to stop. Role players like Smart and Marcus Morris can sustain what they are doing, and Stevens puts guys in great positions to succeed.

The shadow of LeBron James still looms over the East. While the Cavaliers have struggled early — and there are legitimate questions about how good their defense can be — LeBron has been to seven straight NBA Finals for a reason. He has other gears has not even thought about reaching yet (well, except when Bradley Beal and John Wall decided to piss him off before a game). Getting through the Cavaliers to the Finals will be a huge mountain to climb — you are going to have to knock out the champ, he’s not just handing over the belt.

However, that is a question for May. Right now the Celtics have won 10 in a row, they thumped their rival Lakers, and the Celtics are going to keep Bostonians warm through a long winter. This team is for real.

2) Detroit remains the team pushing Boston… is that sustainable? The Detroit Pistons are 8-3, and Andre Drummond is shooting 68.3 percent from the free throw line. Those two facts are a bigger surprise than what is happening in Bean Town, and after the Pistons handled the Pacers on Wednesday, it’s time to ask:

Is Detroit for real? Is this sustainable?

Define for real. The Pistons are currently on a 60-win pace, and that’s not happening. They are not a threat to Boston now or Cleveland whenever that team decides to wake up.

However, are the Pistons a playoff team? Absolutely. One that can make the second round? Let’s see what the matchups are and how teams are playing in April, but it’s not out of the question.

The Pistons are ninth in the NBA in both offensive and defensive rating to start the season, and while being top 10 in both may not hold up (the defense may falter, teams are shooting fairly well against them and getting to the line at a good clip; and the offense still takes more long mid-rangers than I like) this is a team we thought would take a step forward last season but never got on track thanks to the Reggie Jackson injury, which threw everything off. Now, they are back on that trajectory, and Avery Bradley has been a better version of KCP so far to help that cause. They get some easy buckets in transition now, and they have guys who can shoot the rock.

Detroit has been one of the bigger surprises of the young season, but this is no fluke. Andre Drummond is for real (and not just at the charity stripe), and so is Detroit in its new downtown building. Stan Van Gundy has things back on track in the motor city.

3) Kevin Durant sits, Warriors don’t even break stride. Just a reminder: The Golden State Warriors won an NBA title and then had a 73-win season BEFORE Kevin Durant arrived. As Jeff Van Gundy said after the game, take Durant off this team — as a thigh contusion did Wednesday — and they are still the title favorites.

Minnesota came into Oracle Arena on a five-game win streak and as the poster child for “team on the rise,” then for two and a half quarters the upstarts hung around with the champs. Then, sparked by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (with some help off the bench from Shaun Livingston and JaVale McGee) the Warriors went on an 18-4 run, pulled away, never looked back and went on to win 125-101.

That’s just what the Warriors do. To everyone. So enjoy highlights of Curry and Thompson going off and know that with the thematic question of the day on this post — is this team for real? — we were never asking it about Golden State.

Draymond Green, Bradley Beal ejected in Warriors’ comeback win over Wizards

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)  — Golden State lost its emotional leader when Draymond Green was ejected shortly before halftime. The defending champs were sloppy again, even forgetting several plays after one timeout and still somehow won – but it has hardly been easy so far.

Kevin Durant had 31 points, 11 rebounds and six assists to help rally the Warriors from 18 points down and beat the Wizards 120-117 on Friday night, a game marred by a fight between Green and Washington’s Bradley Beal that led to both being tossed.

With 19.5 seconds left in the second quarter, Beal held the front of Green’s jersey with his left hand while grabbing Green around the jaw with his right. That enraged Green, who threw his right arm in frustration and wrapped arms with Beal as if hugging, then other players joined the scrum.

“It was a scuffle. I’m not going to go into details about it. I’ll do that with the league tomorrow,” Beal said. “We just got into it and things got out of hand and we both got ejected. I told my teammates I can’t put myself in a situation like that to leave them out there to battle out against a tough team without me out there.”

Green had to be pulled away from the skirmish by Andre Iguodala and Warriors security personnel. Green was tossed after getting his second technical foul. The back of his uniform was torn from near his right shoulder down to his waist.

“I thought Draymond defended himself and bit the bullet of being ejected for the game,” West said.

Green was hit with his first technical at the 8:05 mark of the second quarter for arguing an offensive foul call. He had six assists, three points, three rebounds and three blocks before his early exit.

 

 

Report: Warriors owner Joe Lacob considered offering Stephen Curry below-max contract

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Stephen Curry‘s four-year, $44 million rookie-scale contract extension played a huge role in turning the Warriors into the juggernaut they’ve become.

Curry accepted that modest deal due to a series of ankle injuries, but mostly healthy since, he has developed into one of the NBA’s best players. His massive discount left Golden State room to sign Andre Iguodala then Kevin Durant.

The Warriors finally got an opportunity to reward Curry this summer, and they did with a five-year, $201,158,790 contract.

Yet, perhaps Curry nearly got less.

Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic:

On top of that, as the Warriors prepared for the postseason, Warriors owner Joe Lacob was considering offering Curry a contract below the max, even though Curry has been one of the most underpaid players in all of sports over the last three seasons. Warriors general manager Bob Myers kept Lacob from bringing a reduced offer to the negotiating table, but it was enough of a thing that Myers reassured Curry of the franchise’s commitment.

I don’t blame Lacob for considering offering less. Not only did Golden State offer the premier situation for Curry, the new super-max rules allowed the Warriors to pay him $73,328,820 more total and $8,274,266 more annually than any other team could offer. Was it really necessary to pay Curry so much?

Probably not, but it’s a good look for a franchise that underpaid Curry for so long and wants to maintain goodwill. It doesn’t hurt that Kevin Durant took a discount.

Curry said he also offered to take one, but that Myers turned him down. Perhaps, Curry’s offer was contingent on his discount being required to re-sign Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. (Part of Durant’s discount accomplished that. Part of it was just a money transfer to ownership.) There was no feasible way Curry’s contract would affect Iguodala’s and Livingston’s Bird Rights, though.

Still, a discount could have trimmed Golden State’s luxury-tax bill – which is already sizable and could get massive as Draymond Green and Klay Thompson come up for new deals.

I wonder how Myers explained rejecting Curry’s discount offer to Lacob.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Kevin Durant gifted Warriors an absurdly good offseason

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I’m grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Warriors’ 2016 offseason sent shockwaves through the league, sparking questions about competitive balance and whether the entire system required reform. Think about that for a moment. The Warriors’ summer of 2016 was so incredible, it became a referendum on the NBA itself.

We didn’t even fully understand how incredible it was until this summer.

Forget the attention and pressure. Ignore industry-specific factors, like who beat whom in the playoffs. The Warriors wooed Kevin Durant with many of the same reasons we choose jobs – pay, work environment, location. Durant picked a max salary from one of the NBA’s most successful teams in the trendy Bay Area. It was a reasonable decision.

Golden State followed that with an unreasonably good 2017 offseason.

The Warriors impressed Durant so much, they didn’t even need to pay the max to keep him.

Everything fell into place from there for Golden State, which secured its place as a budding dynasty. The defending champions enter next season even stronger.

Durant’s discount from his max salary ($34,682,550) to the Non-Bird Exception ($31,848,120) allowed the Warriors to retain Andre Iguodala‘s and Shaun Livingston‘s Bird Rights. Durant’s discount from the Non-Bird Exception to his actual salary ($25 million) effectively serves as a wealth transfer from the millionaire player to the team’s billionaire owners. His $6,848,120 concession, based on the current roster, will save Golden State more than $30 million in salary and luxury tax.

So, now the Warriors are more equipped to win and turn a bigger profit.

Stephen Curry re-signed on a five-year super-max deal, and he didn’t even get a player option. Golden Sate signed the NBA’s two best free agents, and the only drama was over just how team-friendly their contracts would be. At least Curry got every last dollar.

The Warriors also signed Nick Young (taxpayer mid-level exception) and Omri Casspi (minimum) – luxuries for a team already running circles around the rest of the league. Young has become a 3-point specialist who tries defensively, and he’ll provide excessive firepower in limited minutes behind Klay Thompson. A combo forward, Casspi fits well in the small-ball lineups Golden State has popularized.

Zaza Pachulia (Non-Bird Exception), David West (minimum) and JaVale McGee (minimum) re-signed. A formidable big-man rotation for less than most teams spend on a single moderately helpful center. The Warriors are just operating in a different world than everyone else.

Case in point, Jordan Bell. The Warriors paid the Bulls a record $3.5 million for the No. 38 pick to get Bell, a versatile defender who’s perfectly cast as Draymond Green‘s understudy. But because drafted players can count less toward the tax, signing a rookie free agent to a minimum deal instead of acquiring Bell would’ve cost Golden State $2,131,243 more in luxury tax. Deduct that from the $3.5 million and consider Bell’s talent, and it’s a clear win for Golden State.

The Warriors just keep getting all those moves, big and small, right.

The repeater tax and raises for Thompson and Green loom. Guaranteeing the 33-year-old Iguodala $48 million and 31-year-old Livingston $18 million limits flexibility. Teams don’t remain elite forever.

But Golden State is riding its wave – on and off the court – higher than maybe any team ever.

Offseason grade: A