The Rockets have planned for years to pursue Kevin Durant in free agency this summer. By the fall, they reportedly intended to do “everything they reasonably can” to get him. Signing him was reportedly still a central goal in February.
Houston, you have a problem.
Marc Stein of ESPN:
A year ago, the Rockets won 56 games and reached the Western Conference finals. They had runner-up MVP James Harden, a close friend of Durant after their days together with the Thunder. They were supposed to take a step back that season after hemorrhaging depth to clear cap space that failed to lure a star free agent. But the team thrived, and general manager Daryl Morey and coach Kevin McHale looked savvy in their ability to cultivate a productive supporting cast on the fly.
Houston looked like a team that could entice Durant.
Now, the Rockets are viewed as one of of the league’s most disenchanting teams. Stars James Harden and Dwight Howard don’t get along, though at least Howard is likely leaving this summer. Harden gives minimal effort on defense, and that contributes to a culture where accountability is low. The role players regressed, and Houston won just 41 games.
This is why pursuing superstar free agents is so tricky. You have to plan ahead for years and time your peak correctly. If Durant were a free agent last summer, he might have signed with the Rockets. Now, it seems their moment has passed.
The question is what they’ll do. Durant doesn’t officially eliminate teams from consideration, and they could continue a last-ditch effort to change his mind. They’re now positioned with most of the league. Of course they want Durant, but Durant almost certainly isn’t coming. So do they try anyway and hope for the best, or do allocate their time and money elsewhere?
Among the breakout stars of the 2016 playoffs – a group headlined by Bismack Biyombo – was Billy Donovan.
In his first NBA season, Donovan guided the Thunder past the Spurs and to a 3-1 lead over the Warriors – two very different and very good teams. Golden State’s comeback only barely diminishes Donovan’s impressive work, and don’t ignore his performance against the Mavericks in the first round. Rick Carlisle, Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr is a murderers’ row of opposing coaches for someone in his first NBA playoffs.
Yet, Donovan aced most tests and is off to a strong start this offseason.
Marc Stein of ESPN:
Griffin will replace Monty Williams, who left the team after his wife’s tragic death.
Like Williams, Griffin gives Donovan a quality assistant coach at his side. Griffin previously worked for the Magic and Bulls and was a candidate for the head job in Orlando. He’ll be a head coach soon enough. Though teams gravitate toward retreads, Griffin is at or near the front of the line among assistant coaches. Until then, Griffin will help the Thunder – maybe even getting them to more consistently defend with the discipline they showed the first half of the Warriors series.
LeBron James in Game 2:
LeBron James in Game 3:
There difference was clear.
LeBron, whose jumper has degraded since his return to Cleveland, made as many shots outside 10 feet in a three-minute stretch of Game 3 as he had in any other entire playoff game this year. LeBron finished 5-for-9 from outside 10 feet, the first time this postseason he has made most of his attempts from that range and a huge step up from his 1-for-6 performance in Game 2.
When LeBron is hitting from outside, he and his teammates are that much harder to defend. The spacing improves and ball moves better.
But these occurrences have been increasingly rare the last two years.
Here’s LeBron’s effective field-goal percentage each season (regular season and playoffs combined):
Early in LeBron’s career, his jumper was a deficiency. He worked hard to turn it into a weapon, and now he’s back somewhere near where he started.
It’s not just his percentage. LeBron looks less confident in his jumper, and he sometimes passes up open looks – disrupting the offense’s flow. Because he’s so used to launching those attempts, he doesn’t always immediately drive or pass when he gets the ball outside the paint with space. He often hesitates, a tentativeness that leads to turnovers.
LeBron has gotten to the rim more to compensate, and the tradeoff can be positive. Shots in the restricted area are his most efficient. But sometimes, those are unavailable, and the ability to make jumpers becomes crucial.
If he has found a groove now, the Cavs might be onto something.
If he regresses to what appears to be his new mean, the Warriors will have a much easier time clamping down.
There were rumblings Kevin Love would be cleared to play in Game 3 of the Finals yesterday, but he wasn’t.
That sounded like wishful thinking, and the latest news only increases that perception.
Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:
This makes Love a game-day decision for tomorrow’s Game 4, but Love’s health will take care of itself. He’ll recover from his potential concussion when he recovers.
The bigger issue: What do the Cavs do then?
The Warriors’ bench set a modern-era Finals record in Game 1 by outscoring the Cavaliers’ reserves by 35.
In Game 3, the Cleveland’s starters took their turn making history.
The Cavs’ starters outscored their Golden State counterparts, 105-57. That 48-point advantage is by the most in an Finals game since the NBA adopted a 16-team playoff in 1984.
The 2002 Lakers previously held the record, their starters outscoring the Nets’ by 38 in Game 2. Now rank every team by starter-scoring advantage in a Finals game, and those Lakers are closer to 16th place than first place.
The breakdown from yesterday’s Game 3:
Here’s every Finals game since 1984 where one team’s starters outscored the other’s by at least 30 (the team with the starter-scoring advantage won each time):