Kurt Helin

Here are the NBA’s Top 5 stories of 2016


I’m in the camp 2016 sucked — just the deaths of Bowie, Prince, and Ali alone would rank it there.

Except not in the NBA — 2016 was about as amazing a year in hoops as you are ever going to find. It had everything. Narrowing this list down to five things was hard, there were so many other things that could have made this list: The passing of Craig Sager, the exit of Sam Hinkie in Philly just as Joel Embiid urges everyone to trust the process, Dwyane Wade going back to Chicago, and on and on.

Take a stroll with us down (recent) memory lane, here are our five biggest NBA stories of 2016.

5) Kevin Durant signs with Golden State.

So many things had to come together for this to happen: A new television deal that led to a massive spike in revenue for teams that would drive up the salary cap; the NBA players union refusing to go along with Adam Silver’s plan to smooth in that cap spike; the Thunder blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals; and mostly Durant seeing something in a franchise outside Oklahoma City that he wanted to be a part of. A year out from his decision the sense around the league was that Durant was likely to stay, but as all those pieces mentioned above started to fall into place there became more and more of a sense that he was willing to leave a little money on the table to go to Golden State because of the on-and-off court chemistry the team had. When Durant made his decision last July, it shifted the balance of power in the Western Conference — two of the three best players on the planet had teamed up. In 2017 we will see if they can reach their goal, but it has already led to some impressive highlights.

4) Warriors win record 73 games.

Because they lost in the NBA Finals (in dramatic fashion) we tend to sleep on what an unbelievable accomplishment this was. Back when Phil Jackson coached the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, he was asked about his team chasing that record, and he said no team from the West Coast could do it because of the increased travel demands (everything is farther apart, the road trips are longer). The Warriors did it with a combination of great players, a small-ball “death lineup” that nobody could plan for and stop during the regular season, and a lot of luck with health. Maybe it wore them down come the playoffs (they think so), but that does not diminish what was the greatest regular season we have every seen.

3) New Collective Bargaining Agreement reached — and way before the deadline.

When was the last time anything at your office/school got done long in advance of the deadline pushing it? Exactly. That’s maybe most amazing thing about the NBA owners and players’ union reaching a deal on a new CBA before even the opt-out deadline, let alone the July 1 lockout one, that it came together this easily and way in advance. Give NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and players’ union executive director Michelle Roberts credit for not bringing the scar tissue of past negotiations to the table. The two sides agreed on the money split — which remains basically 50/50, just as it was in the last CBA — and the players got more from, and more control over, player image licensing. The new CBA adds a “designated player” exception so teams such as Oklahoma City can pay more to keep players such Kevin Durant. Also, the two sides agreed to start the season earlier to reduce back-to-backs, and they put together a medical insurance plan for former players. But mostly, this new CBA is the status quo, which shows that the influx of cash from the new television deal had both sides making so much money nobody wanted to screw it up.

2) Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett all retire.

That is one insane Hall of Fame class coming in five years. Kobe and Duncan should vie for the greatest player of their generation — both with five rings, both were cornerstones of powerhouse franchises for decades, and both evolved their games with age and with the changes in style in the NBA. Also, it was fitting that both Kobe and Durant left the game exactly the way you’d expect them to: Kobe gunning his way to 60 points in a blaze of glory final game that was enthralling; Duncan didn’t even show up to his retirement press conference, leaving Gregg Popovich to do the talking.

Every time you see a big man spacing the floor, showing his handles on the wing, and then getting back and defending, you should thank KG. Of these three, maybe nobody more influenced the direction the game has gone than Garnett and how he transformed what could be expected of a seven footer.

1) LeBron James leads Cavaliers from 3-1 down to break Cleveland’ title cures.

What, you thought it could be anything else? LeBron played as great a three games in the NBA Finals of anyone ever. He lifted a team that I thought looked broken after a Game 4 loss at home and refused to let them die (the Draymond Green Game 5 suspension was both earned and opened that door for the Cavs). But this was more than LeBron lifting Kyrie Irving up to a point he could sink the series-clinching three on the road — this was LeBron lifting an entire city, and entire region up. It had been 52 years since a title came to Cleveland, and he the hometown boy put everyone on his back and got them there.

LeBron did more than win a third ring with that title, he secured a legacy.

Steph Curry sneakers raise $45,201 for Oakland fire victims

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry has raised $45,201 for victims of the Oakland warehouse fire by auctioning off two pairs of sneakers.

The Warriors said Friday that the shoes Curry wore against the New York Knicks on Dec. 15 were auctioned off to an anonymous bidder for $30,101. The “Oakland Strong” shoes feature the words “OAKLAND” down the side of the left shoe and “STRONG” down the side of the right shoe in Golden State’s yellow and blue colors.

The pregame “Ghost Ship” shoes that feature the words “GHOST SHIP” in graffiti-style script down the side of each shoe went to an anonymous bidder for $15,100.

Both have the initials of all 36 victims printed on them.

Curry had posted on Twitter to advertise the eBay auction.

The fire broke out Dec. 2 during a party at the Ghost Ship warehouse.

Heat confirm they extended Erik Spoelstra’s contract last summer


Erik Spoelstra is in his ninth season as the Miami Heat head coach, making him the second longest tenured coach in the NBA (behind only Gregg Popovich). That’s a surprising stat, but the Heat are wise to have kept Spoelstra around that long — he’s a smart, quality coach who gets the most out of his players.

Which is why the Heat were looking to offer Spoelstra a contract extension, a report that came up in late June. The deal did get done, the Heat confirmed to Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald.

No formal announcement was ever made by the team, but upon media requests this week the Heat confirmed Spoelstra, the second-longest tenured coach in the league behind the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, had indeed been extended beyond this season sometime after Riley’s press conference over the summer….

“I would like to thank the Arison’s and Pat for their continued confidence in me and my staff and are humbled in their trust in me as head coach,” Spoelstra said Friday through the team. “It has been an incredible 22 years being part of the Miami Heat family and we will look to continue our goal of winning NBA championships.”

The Heat have struggled this season at 10-23, but that is about roster construction and not the coach. After LeBron James returned to Cleveland, Pat Riley tried to rebuild on the fly around Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but they are both gone — one to Chicago, one due to medical issues — and that leaves a team in need of a rebuild. Spoelstra should be around for that rebuild.

The terms of the deal were not made public.

Karl-Anthony Towns blocks shot, starts break, finishes with alley-oop (VIDEO)


Only a handful of bigs in the league could pull this off.

On one end, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns blocks Michael Beasley as he drives the lane, then Towns grabs the ball and starts dribbling up court to start the break, he gives it up to Andrew Wiggins who drives into the paint and draws the defense, and he throws the alley-oop to Towns who finishes one impressive sequence.

Minnesota picked up the 116-99 win in the game behind 31 points from Wiggins.

James Harden has triple-double, Rockets top Clippers (VIDEO)

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HOUSTON (AP) — The Los Angeles Clippers entered their game against the Houston Rockets without star point guard Chris Paul and by halftime they were down another point guard and coach Doc Rivers.

James Harden had a triple-double with 30 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists and the Rockets rolled to a 140-116 victory Friday night.

Clippers guard Austin Rivers and father/coach Doc Rivers were both ejected in the second quarter as Los Angeles dropped its fifth straight.

“(The Rockets) played great and it’s a shame that how beautiful they played will be marred by this crap,” Doc Rivers said. “Because they played great and we didn’t play well.”

It’s the seventh triple-double this season for Harden and his third straight 30-point game. Montrezl Harrell added a career-high 29 points to help Houston win its third in a row.

Raymond Felton had a season-high 26 points to lead the Clippers.

The Rockets had allowed what was once a 25-point lead to dwindle to six points early in the fourth quarter before scoring the next 13 points to make it 126-104 with just under seven minutes remaining. Harrell made six points to power that run and the Clippers went more than four minutes without scoring.

“They made some big shots and tough shots and got it to six,” Harden said. “We handled our business, made some shots and got some stops when we needed to and finished the game off.”

The Rockets had an 18-point lead later in the quarter when Harden hit Harrell with a bounce pass and he made the layup before crashing to the court to give Harden his 10th assist.

The younger Rivers was tossed after missing a layup and slightly pushing referee J.T. Orr with 6:38 left in the second quarter. He yelled at Orr and waved his arms at him after the ejection and was led off the court by a Clippers employee. When he got to the edge of the court, he tried going back toward the referee and had to be held back by the employee and pulled off the court.

Austin Rivers said the contact with the official was an accident.

“I would never put my hands on a ref. I have never done anything like that in my career and it was frustrating to me because he happened to be right behind me,” Austin Rivers said. “He knows I didn’t touch him like that … he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and unfortunately it cost me the game … and it was a big deal for our team me going down.”

During a timeout a few seconds later, Doc Rivers walked toward where all three referees were standing and began yelling at them. He was then ejected by crew chief Jason Phillips. The Rockets led 59-35 when the elder Rivers was ejected.

Phillips said that Rivers was ejected for using “extreme profanity” while complaining about his son being ejected. But Doc Rivers said that wasn’t the case and that he called the timeout because they saw an official call a foul on a layup Marreese Speights made on the play before the timeout, but didn’t give them the free throw.

“I said: `No you forgot to give us the free throw,”‘ Doc Rivers said. “I said: `Come on you guys don’t know what you’re doing.’ That was it.”

It was the second time the pair has been tossed in the same game after they were both ejected late in a loss to the Washington Wizards on Dec. 18. The coach has been ejected three times this season and it’s the fourth career ejection for his son.


Clippers: J.J Redick returned after missing two games with a sore left hamstring. He had eight points. … DeAndre Jordan had 20 points and 13 rebounds.

Rockets: Beverley returned after missing one game with a bruised thigh. … Houston attempted a season-high 43 free throws. … Harrell has scored at least 10 points in four of the last five games. … The Rockets have scored at least 120 points in three straight games and 13 times this season.


Los Angeles assistant coach Sam Cassell was honored as part of a season-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Rockets between the first and second quarters. Cassell was drafted by Houston in 1993 and helped the Rockets to consecutive NBA titles in his first two seasons. A highlight video was played on the Jumbotron along with Cassell’s memories of his time with the Rockets. Cassell received a standing ovation when he was shown on live on the screen and welcomed back to Houston. Clippers coach Doc Rivers shook hands with Cassell after that before Beverley ran over and fist-bumped him before play resumed.


Austin Rivers started Friday with Paul out with a sore left hamstring. Paul missed three games with the problem before returning Wednesday night against New Orleans. He played 31 minutes in the loss and Doc Rivers said Paul experienced some fatigue after that game. It’s unclear how long Paul will sit out.