Author: John Krolik

Danny Ainge

Riley to Ainge: “STFU”


NEW ORLEANS — Well, Pat Riley just added a little more fuel to the Heat-Celtics rivalry that simply won’t die.

After Celtics GM Danny Ainge recently called LeBron James’ complaints about the hard fouls he takes “almost embarrassing,” the Heat President fired back with both barrels in a pre-game statement delivered to the Heat media by a representative, saying:

“Danny Ainge needs to STFU and manage his own team. He was the biggest whiner going when he was playing. I know because I coached against him.”

Yes, that is an accurate quote, STFU and all, delivered to a huddle of media members with their jaws firmly on the floor. My two big takeaways from this:

1) Pat Riley is certainly willing to stick up for his players, and clearly is at the stage of his career where he’s willing to say whatever is on his mind.

2) If the Celtics manage to fall down to the 8th seed, a Celtics-Heat playoff series would be about as interesting as a #1-#8 matchup can get.

UPDATE: In the time it took me to write this post, Ainge has already responded. Via Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe, here’s Ainge’s reply to Riley’s statement:

“We’re both right. LeBron should stop complaining and I should manage my own team.”

On the amazing ripple effects of the 2004 Shaq Trade

Kobe Shaquille O'Neal Lakers

Remember the Summer of 2004? The Lakers, who came into the season with Gary Payton, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, and Shaq making up 80% of their starting 5, had just lost a “gentlemen’s sweep” to the Detroit Pistons. Kobe Bryant was a free agent. Shaq still had that pre-max monster of a deal, and he wasn’t getting any younger or getting along with Kobe any better.

The Lakers had to make a decision, especially when Kobe forced their hand by saying that he wouldn’t come back next season if Shaq was still on the team. (Revisionist history glosses over this fact, but Phil Jackson’s book The Last Season clearly states that Phil had that exact conversation with Kobe, and Kobe re-signed with the Lakers the day after Shaq was traded. The Lakers were going to have to make a tough decision on Shaq and his huge contract anyways, but come on.)

The Lakers ultimately decided to trade Shaq for Brian Grant, Caron Butler, and Lamar Odom. After that, the following things happened:

– Okay, Brian Grant never really became important.

– The Heat had the best record in the East, a relatively svelte Shaq narrowly lost the MVP vote to Steve Nash, and the Heat took the Pistons to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Meanwhile, Kobe, struggling with injuries, a new coach, and new teammates, had one of the worst seasons of his career, and the Lakers actually missed the playoffs.

– Because they missed the playoffs, the Lakers got the 10th overall pick, and decided to take a risk on high school big man Andrew Bynum. This would become important later. (Meanwhile, the Warriors, who picked Todd Fuller 11th the year Kobe Bryant was drafted 13th, drafted Ike Diogu one pick ahead of Bynum. The Magic took Fran Vasquez directly after Bynum. Again, this would become important later.)

– In 05-06, after the Lakers traded Caron Butler for Kwame Brown, a healthy and motivated Bryant averaged the highest PPG of his career, but the wafer-thin Lakers lost to the Suns in 7 games. Meanwhile, the Heat were able to stun the Mavericks and win the NBA title with Shaq playing a vital role, although Miami clearly would not have come close to winning it all without Dwayne Wade’s historically great finals performance.

– At the 2007-08 trade deadline, the Lakers used Kwame Brown’s expiring contract, which came from the Caron Butler trade, which came from the Shaq trade, to acquire Pau Gasol. The Lakers went to the Finals that year and lost to the Celtics, but won the next two championships with Kobe, Pau, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum (when healthy) leading the way.

– Meanwhile, Shaq, after being traded to the Suns and missing the playoffs, was acquired by the Cavaliers as a “Dwight-stopper,” and ultimately ended up helping end the LeBron era because the Cavaliers’ anti-Magic frontcourt got eaten alive by Boston’s frontcourt as the Celtics beat the Cavaliers in six games. (Yes, LeBron had some bad performances in that series, particularly game 5, but the frontcourt mismatches were a HUGE reason the Celtics shredded the Cavaliers.) You have to admit, the levels of irony here are incredible.

– After the 2010 season, LeBron James announces that he is leaving Cleveland and taking his talents to South Beach. Many people notice.


Consider this: If Wade doesn’t have a ring, do you think he would have been able to convince LeBron to leave his hometown team, which was coming off of consecutive 60+ win seasons, and become, for a time, perhaps the most hated athlete in America. (There’s a real possibility of this — LeBron wanted to play with friends/superstars, LRMR had LeBron convinced that everyone would love him no matter what, and Miami does reportedly have nice weather in the winter. Still, I think Wade’s 2006 ring really, really helped LeBron make his “decision.”


– The Heat make the Finals in each of the next two seasons, losing in 6 games in 2011 and winning in 5 games in 2012. If you’re keeping score at home and believe my theory (which may be a stretch), the Shaq trade has now led to the Heat and Lakers winning two championships apiece.

– Cut to the summer of 2012. The Lakers manage to flip Lamar Odom’s trade exception for Steve Nash, and flip Andrew Bynum, the lottery pick they got because the year directly after Shaq left was the one year they were bad enough to make the lottery, gets effectively flipped for Dwight Howard. The Lakers now have a starting lineup of Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace, and are instant title contenders again.

So there you have it — eight years after the Lakers and Heat made a blockbuster trade for the most dominant center of this era, they each have two championships under their belt, and at least three of those four total championships can be directly traced back to the Shaq trade. On top of that, the two teams may well be on a collision course to meet in the 2013 finals, which makes the whole sequence of events that much more incredible.

NBA Finals: Season over, but LeBron/Durant rivalry just beginning

Oklahoma City Thunder's Durant reacts after not getting a foul call against the Miami Heat in the fourth quarter during Game 2 of the NBA basketball finals in Oklahoma City

For years, the LeBron/Kobe rivalry was the most compelling one in basketball, but we never truly got to see it play out on the court. Sure, their teams would play each other twice a year, and people would try to extrapolate conclusions from those biannual meetings, but there was never really anything substantial on the line during those games, even when Christmas-Day bragging rights were up for grabs.

Ultimately, the LeBron-Kobe rivalry had (has?) more in common with Mayweather-Pacquiao than it does with Ali-Frazier: while there have been literally millions of arguments about which player was superior to the other in comments sections and sports bars and on message boards, the two players never faced each other for a title when they were almost unquestionably the two best players in the world. They had four decent chances at it, but James’ team failed to make it out of the Eastern Conference in 2009 and 2010 and Bryant’s team failed to make it out of the West last season and this season. (For the sake of brevity, I’ll leave it at that.)

The good news is that we don’t have to mourn the fact we didn’t get a LeBron-Kobe Finals (yet-as a rule, I never count out Kobe or Jerry Buss) too much anymore, because the LeBron-Durant rivalry is already shaping up to be an all-time classic. For five wonderful games, the NBA’s best all-around player went toe-to-toe with its best pure scorer, and neither of them disappointed, dominating in their own ways en route to a classic, if short, NBA Finals.

All series long, James picked apart Oklahoma City’s defense while Durant simply disregarded Miami’s. James used his combination of size, speed, and passing ability in a way we’ve never quite seen him do before — he was completely hell-bent on getting to the paint time and time again, either by blowing by Thunder players on the perimeter or using his refined post game to back them all the way down. When he got to the paint, he’d either finish, draw contact and go to the line, or kick it out to a wide-open teammate for an easy score. He was also an absolute monster on the boards, and he finished the finals with eye-popping averages of 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game, although he did turn the ball over more than he normally does. After the Finals, LeBron was given his first Bill Russell Trophy, and he more than earned it.

As good as LeBron was, however, Durant was nearly as impressive. The Thunder didn’t run many screens for Durant or get him the ball of pick-and-roll sets very much — apart from transition baskets, Durant got the ball almost exclusively in isolation situations with a Heat defender directly in his face, usually LeBron James or Shane Battier. Battier has been one of the most intelligent and effective perimeter defenders in the league for years, and James has become an absolute monster on defense. He is almost universally considered the best perimeter defender in the league, and received more votes than any other player for the All-Defensive Team. In last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, he neutralized Derrick Rose when he guarded him in fourth quarters, and he held Paul Pierce to 34.4% shooting in this year’s Eastern Conference Finals.

Kevin Durant, who is all of 23 years old and was playing in his first ever NBA Finals, simply did not care about any of that one little bit. Durant would either pull up straight over his defender before dribbling towards the basket and make a long-range shot, take a few dribbles towards the hoop and pull up for an unblockable pull-up or floater, or get down near the basket and swish a turnaround jumper like he was shooting in an empty gym. Durant, who is freaking 23 years old and was facing some of the best team and individual defense in the league and was not getting set up with many easy looks, scored 30.6 points per game while shooting a disgusting 54.8% from the floor and 39.4% from beyond the arc.

What’s more, it never looked like he was on the verge of blinking, let alone sweating. And he never disrupted the flow of the Thunder offense — if anything, it would often seem like Durant had barely been involved in the Thunder offense before you realized he already had 25 points. Early-20s LeBron took our breaths away with his combination of size, athleticism, and pure basketball talent and IQ, but Durant’s size, skill, and seeming inability to be fazed on the court are just as breathtaking.

James drew first blood what I’m hoping will be a long string of NBA Finals played between the Thunder and the Heat, but Durant proved himself to be a more than worthy competitor for James’ crown as he finally officially grabbed his. There are a million variables that could prevent a James-Durant rematch, both next year and in the years to come, but I’m hoping we get enough of them to make this one of modern basketball’s great rivalries.

NBA Finals: Heat’s Big 3 get back to basics, even up the series

Miami Heat v Oklahoma City Thunder – Game Two

For the sake of argument, forget about the Durant no-call for a second. Simply put, the Heat won Game 2 of the NBA Finals because all 3 of their best players went back to doing what they do best: playing off of each other, playing with energy, and, most importantly, playing near the rim.

Before Game 2, Erik Spoelstra noted that the Heat took more jumpers and less free throws in Game 1 than they had in the entire rest of the playoffs, and his players got the message, especially the ones that got the team to the NBA Finals. James, Wade, and Bosh scored 72 points in game 2. Guess how many of those points came on 3-point shots? Zero. Guess how many of those points came on shots outside of 15 feet? Just 10. (Bosh and James had one made jumper apiece, while Wade, the worst jump-shooter of the bunch, was able to get 3 outside shots to go.)

LeBron James set his NBA Finals career high for the 2nd straight game because he was determined to get inside — by using his shiny new post game in the first half and his tried-and-true ability to get to the rim from 30 feet away in the 2nd half, LeBron made 9 baskets from inside the paint and shot 12 free throws, all of which he made. And while James’ passing wasn’t as deadly  as it has been in other games, he had some huge plays that weren’t scores in the fourth quarter, notably a bullet pass from the free throw line to Chris Bosh for a wide-open dunk and a beautiful screen that allowed Wade to set up Bosh with another wide-open dunk.

The scary thing about James, and one that he hasn’t realized in Finals past, is that he doesn’t need to be hot like he was in Game 6 of the Miami series to be the best player on the floor — he just needs to use his unprecedented blend of size, strength, speed, and skill to give himself good looks. When LeBron’s hitting jumpers, we all know he’s unstoppable, but things don’t get much easier for the defense when he decides to essentially abandon the jumper entirely and bring each one of his “250” (scouts agree that his actual weight is at least 260, and possibly around 274) pounds to the basket.

James going off wasn’t much of a surprise — after all, 30-point nights have been the norm for him lately. It was Wade and Bosh who really rounded back into form on Thursday night, and each of their contributions were invaluable to the Heat.

Wade finished #3 in PER over the course of the regular season, but it’s been a long time since he looked like himself on the court, and it was an open question whether the 30-year old Wade’s knees were wearing down after a compressed schedule and two straight ultra-long playoff runs.

Right from the opening tip of Game 2, Wade was out to prove that rumors of his knees’ demise were greatly exaggerated. Wade had two assists, two dunks, and one trip to the free throw line in the first quarter alone, and was zig-zagging through the defense, going hard to the rim, hitting the deck all over the place, and generally putting pressure on the Thunder’s defense at every opportunity. Wade still settled for a few too many of the mid-range jumpers that have been costing the Heat points for the last few weeks, but he actually managed to make an acceptable 3 of the 8 outside jumpers that he took in Game 2. Wade nearly cost the Heat the game with a horrible turnover in the waning moments of the fourth, but the Heat should still be encouraged by the fact that the 2006 Finals MVP looked like himself again on Thursday night.

Finally, Chris Bosh made his long-awaited return to the starting lineup in Game 2, and it sure looks like he belongs there. Bosh didn’t play a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but he gave the Heat a dimension they’ve been lacking. Bosh missed some easy shots inside and let a few passes bounce off of his hands in the paint, but he attacked Oklahoma City’s defense  off the dribble, gave Wade and LeBron someone to pass the ball to inside, and was an absolute monster on the glass, as he finished with 15 rebounds, with 7 of them coming on the offensive glass.

None of the Big 3 played a perfect, or even a great, game, and without Shane Battier’s 5 3-pointers (one of which was banked in), or a few calls going Miami’s way, the team would be going home in an 0-2 hole. But for now, they’ve got a tie series because the three players who were supposed to win Miami all those rings got to doing what they do best on the game’s biggest stage.

The Flaming Lips record a “Thunder Up” Anthem

Harvest Music Festival

The Flaming Lips, an alternative rock band formed in Oklahoma that has won 3 Grammy Awards, have just released a song called “Thunder Up” that can be listened to for free on

The band is made up of huge Thunder fans, and they have expressed their love for the team in the past. If you’re a fan of either the Flaming Lips or the Thunder, this could be a pick-me-up after Oklahoma City’s tough game 1 loss, although I still prefer the Trackrunners’ ode to the Golden State Warriors after their 1st-round win over the Dallas Maverick in 2007. 

Hat tip to Ball Don’t Lie for finding this.