Well, so much for Atlanta turning into a completely different team on their home floor. The Hawks were 19-22 on the road this season and 34-7 at home, so it wasn’t completely unreasonable to expect them to be more competitive on Saturday than they were in the first two games of the series. Unfortunately for Atlanta, they looked just as outmatched in Atlanta as they did in Orlando.
Lakers rumored to prefer sign-and-trade options for D’Angelo Russell, eye Fred VanVleet
D'Angelo Russell helped the Lakers turn their season around after the All-Star break. He provided needed shot creation at the point, averaged 17.4 points per game while shooting 41.4% from 3, and generally fit nicely on the court. However, his limitations — particularly on the defensive end — were exposed in the playoffs, especially by the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.
Russell is an unrestricted free agent and the Lakers are faced with choices: Re-sign him, let him walk, or maybe find a sign-and-trade that can bring back a player who is a better fit for a Lakers roster with championship aspirations next season. The Lakers would ideally like the sign-and-trade option, suggests Jovan Buha of The Athletic.
My read on the situation is that the Lakers would prefer to use D’Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade, but I’m not sure the market is there.
Landing Kyrie Irving for Russell is shaping up to be a pipe dream, especially with Dallas unlikely to help Los Angeles out. Fred VanVleet, a Klutch client, looms as a possibility, but adding him would require Toronto to agree to terms with Russell (or take on the Beasley and Bamba contracts).
Forget about a Kyrie Irving sign-and-trade with the Lakers for Russell, that appears off the table (unless the Lakers add so many sweeteners Dallas can’t say no… and didn’t the Lakers just gut their roster for a guard in Russell Westbrook?)
Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times adds this.
Fred VanVleet’s name has been mentioned since even before he joined Klutch Sports, though the Lakers could again be in a position where they’d be forced to part with one or more draft picks in a deal. Russell’s postseason struggles were probably a little overblown after a disastrous Western Conference finals, but expect the Lakers to look at upgrade options. There’s still a chance Russell returns on a good deal and the Lakers actually get the continuity they’ve spoken about building.
VanVleet has a $22.8 million player option he is widely expected to opt out of seeking more money and years. He averaged 19.3 points and 7.2 assists a game last season, is a respectable defender, and is a former All-Star and NBA champion.
The questions start with, what are Toronto’s plans? They have yet to hire a new head coach after firing Nick Nurse, and there isn’t a sense of whether they will try to re-sign VanVleet, extend Pascal Siakam and run it back, break the entire thing up, or travel a middle ground reworking the roster. Dreams of a sign-and-trade only work if the Raptors play along. And, if the Raptors come around to consider a sign-and-trade for VanVleet, do they want Russell in that deal? Plus, the Lakers likely have to throw in the last first-round pick they can trade to get Toronto even to consider it.
All of which is to say, it’s a long shot VanVleet is a Laker. Not impossible, but not likely.
The smart money is on the Lakers re-signing Russell and considering trade options at next February’s deadline or next summer, if they feel it’s time to move on.
Celtics’ Payton Pritchard reportedly wants a trade this summer
Payton Pritchard saw his role as a reserve guard with the Celtics shrink this season, which may have had less to do with the changeover to Joe Mazzulla as coach and more to do with the addition of Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon.
Either way, Pritchard doesn’t like it and wants to be traded this offseason, reports Jay King and Jared Weiss of The Athletic (in a must-read breakdown of the Celtics’ season and where they ultimately fell short.
With the new onerous CBA rules looming after next season, the front office will likely have to decide in the next 12 months whether it can afford its expensive veteran depth. Payton Pritchard has made it clear he hopes to be traded this summer, according to multiple team sources, so will the Celtics move him if they trade one of their core guards?
Pritchard may not get his wish for the financial reasons mentioned by King and Weiss — Boston has some hard decisions to make coming up. For next season, the Celtics are already $4 million into the luxury tax with 12 people on the roster, and that is without re-signing Grant Williams (if they can) or thinking about the super-max contract Jaylen Brown is about to sign that will kick in for the 2024-25 season. With the draconian threat of the second “lead” tax apron looming in a year, the Celtics must trim salary. One way to do that this summer is to trade one of Marcus Smart, Derrick White or Malcolm Brogdon, which is what is widely expected to happen around the league.
With one of those three gone, minutes open up for Pritchard, who has a team option for $4 million next season. That’s a great value contract the Celtics likely want to keep.
Meaning Pritchard may not get his wish to be sent out of Boston, but if he ends up staying, he should see more run next season.
Heat vs. Nuggets NBA Finals roundtable breaking down series, betting options
The Heat vs. the Nuggets. Jimmy Butler vs. Nikola Jokić. Not the Finals we expected, but it could be an entertaining one.
For NBC Sports Bet The Edge, four analysts from the NBC Sports family came together to break down the unexpected NBA Finals between the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat. You can read it here, watch it above, or check out the podcast form if that is best for you.
The four are Kurt Helin, lead NBA writer for NBC Sports; Jay Croucher, the lead betting analyst for NBC Sports; Vaughn Dalzell a sports betting analyst for NBC Sports; and Drew Dinsick an NFL, NBA, Tennis Handicapper with NBC Sports.
Let’s jump into the discussion.
Jay Croucher: Somber tone today as we lament the Boston Celtics’ +950 ticket when they were down 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals going down in flames. Undone by Jason Tatum’s ankle, by Joe Mazzulla’s obsession with playing drop coverage against Duncan Robinson — why’d you do it Joe? Why’d you do it? — and undone by the Miami Heat most of all. And today we’re going to talk about the finals matchup, Heat vs, Nuggets, just as everyone predicted before the playoffs started.
Kurt, we’ll start with you, I just want your theory behind the Miami Heat because this is the most inexplicable Finals appearance that I can recall. Probably I wasn’t paying as close of attention to basketball in 1999 when the Knicks made their eight-seed charge, but what do you make of the Heat ultimately? Do you think that this is largely luck? Do you think that this was team was lurking all season and are actually in that same tier as the Bucks and Celtics who they’ve dispatched? Overall, just what do you make of this team?
Kurt Helin: I think they were better than we thought. I think, going into the season, I had them as a four or five seed, I thought that were maybe a tier below where Boston was, where I thought Milwaukee and Philadelphia were. But I thought they were better than they showed during the regular season, they just couldn’t hit a shot to save their lives was part of it.
But I think it speaks to relentlessness and, look, they’re committed to their system. They know who they are. They don’t vary from it. They keep attacking you regardless and they showed a mental toughness that certainly Boston hasn’t shown. But beyond that, no other team in the East seemed able to match that toughness. It is kind of shocking, I think I picked against them in every round, well, maybe not in the second round, I think I had them over the Knicks, but I’ve been surprised by this the whole way. It speaks to their culture.
Who of us had Caleb Martin for Eastern Conference MVP, because he came ‘this close.’
Jay Croucher: Yeah, it’s unreal, Caleb Martin substantially outplaying Jaylen Brown, who might be about to pick up a quarter of a billion dollars. A pretty key moment in the series. Vaughn. What do you make of the Heat? I think you believed in the Heat a bit more than at least I did coming into this series.
Vaughn Dalzell: Well, I liked the Heat Game 1. I bet the Celtics Game 2 and 3, went back on the Heat in Game 4 and lost that, then watched you guys talk about the Celtics’ comeback and I hated on it.
Yeah, the Heat end up coming through for me, I guess, but I was just really impressed with the 3-point shooting and the way they were able to spread teams out. I mean eight out of 10 rotational players in the postseason hit 35% or better from 3, This Miami Heat Team averaged the lowest amount of points per game in the NBA in the regular season, and they got it going offensively.
They really bought into Jimmy Butler, in my opinion, he’s the only guy on the team that averaged over 17 points per game. Seven different players average 10 points per game for the Heat or more. So just very well balanced. They didn’t even need Tyler Herro for this run, he’s targeting a Game 3 return, which is the first home game for Miami. So if he does come back for that, it certainly be exciting. But Vegas certainly thinks Denver is gonna be far too much for Miami.
Jay Croucher: What about you, Drew?
Drew Dinsick: Well, a couple of things. There’s definitely been playoffs a cycles, entire cycles in our lives, where it was as simple as the best player in the series, that team wins. And so far, Jim Butler has been the best player in all three of the Heat series and they’ve won all three of those series, so it shouldn’t really be shocking to us. On top of that, they have also kind of caught variance in the bottle in terms of getting to go against an injured Bucks team in round one, and then getting to go against the Celtics team in round three that hit the wrong side of variance in terms of shooting when it mattered most. I mean, the poor shooting that we saw from the Celtics, particularly, early and late in that series, those are like 10th percentile type of games for them over the balance of the season and they all happen to happen in the Eastern Conference Finals. Which is wild and tough to explain, and I don’t even really want to give the Heat a ton of credit for the way that they were defending the Celtics because they basically were giving the Celtics really high-quality looks. They just weren’t going in. They weren’t even coming close in Game 7.
So, I think they have done some things that are worth lauding, the development of Caleb Martin into a bonafide No. 2, like at times, he looked like Kawhi Leonard out there and I was like, I could not believe what they were getting from him on both ends of the floor. And it does not look like a fluke, his true shooting was at 78.3, his eFG% was 72.7 in an entire series, and that’s against the Celtics, who have elite wing defense, that’s an amazing, amazing, accomplishment, and congratulations to The Heat for getting here.
But I don’t see any reason to run to the window to bet the Heat now. If you want to go with the best player in the series kind of argument, it’s clearly Nikola Jokic, who has been the best player in the playoffs so far, I think by a margin. For those reasons, and home court advantage, and just in general, the Heat, limping in a bit having had to go seven against the Celtics, I think is kind of influencing the market here, where we’ve seen since the open a pretty sincere appetite for Nuggets bets by a lot of the market makers.
Jay Croucher: Yeah, the Heat, I think they’re incredibly admirable and we have to be respectful that they’re pulling this off.
I’m still just gonna die on the hill, though, that they’re not very good. To me, they are a much mentally tougher, better-coached version of the Atlanta Hawks, who by the way, destroyed them in the play-in game. A slightly better version of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Toronto Raptors, I don’t think those teams have markedly less talent. But I think that how we’ve gotten here is Jimmy Butler, who is a legit +7 EPM [estimated plus/minus] superstar who ramps up in the playoffs. He had three out-of-body experiences: In Games 4 and 5 of the Bucks series, and then in the last six minutes of Game 2 against the Celtics, where he too smalled Grant Williams, Those three performances combined with the fact that they shot 45% from 3 against the Bucks, and then they shot almost 44% from 3 against the Celtics, while the Celtics shot 30% from 3 and that’s your series. It’s a really solid defensive team.
I think they’re gonna have trouble with Nikola Jokic just because Bam Adebayo is a smaller human being than typically plays center. But I think that their defense was excellent against the Bucks and the Celtics. Also the thing is, we’ve seen repeatedly that the Bucks and the Celtics, as good as they are, those offenses, when they come up against an elite defense, just struggle and can really get in the mud and the Heat preyed on that and they made their 3s and Butler was incredible. And here we are.
Weirdly, I think the series I take the most optimism for the Heat going forward in was the Knicks series because they didn’t shoot well against the Knicks, they couldn’t make a shot against the Knicks. And that Knicks team, while not to the level of Milwaukee or Boston clearly, was a solid 47-win team and the Heat, with Butler limping around not being able to make a shot, still handled them with relative ease, so can’t write them off. But still, it seems like the Nuggets are certainly justified favorites.
Want to take a look at some of these player prop markets in the Finals, points leader, rebounds leader, assists leader, you can bet on all of them. As you would imagine most of these markets are heavily skewed towards the two superstars in Nikola Jokic and Jimmy Butler, but Kurt, is there a player that you think is going to have a really good series in this matchup?
Kurt Helin: That’s a good question. There might be an instinct to go with Jamal Murray, but Miami doesn’t match up well with Nikola Jokic. I think their goal is ultimately to make him a scorer, which everybody tries to do, he just figures everybody out, but try to make him a scorer, not as much of a passer.
And I think what they’re gonna do as part of that is try to wear Jamal Murray down, they might pick him up full court, they are going to go at Murray. Jokic putting up a lot of points I expect, I’m not sure that this is gonna be a great Jamal Murray series, at least early. But they have such depth of shot creation and scoring that if you if you really do take away Murray, Michael Porter Jr. can have his games.
And I think that that’s where you might look, if I were betting on a guy to kind of have a really nice series, Michael Porter Jr. The Heat don’t don’t run anybody out over like 6’7″ right? Outside of Bam. I’ve just got a feeling it’s going to be one of those series where Michael Porter Jr. is going to have some games because, much like the last series, it doesn’t really matter to him, he’ll just shoot over whoever you put on him. If he’s rolling, you are not gonna be able to stop it.
Jay Croucher: Vaughn anyone that you like in the series in one of these markets that matches up well against the other team?
Vaughn Dalzell: Actually, you just mentioned one of them Kurt, Michael Porter Jr. Because, one of the prop markets that we might not be talking about in depth was the 3-point market, I definitely felt like MPJ and Caleb Martin were two clear guys to be taking a shot on there. MPJ is averaging about 8.3 3-point attempts per game. In that Lakers series, he had 20 in the last two games. Caleb Martin, we were talking him up and how he’s a solid No. 2, he made 22 3s versus Boston on 45 attempts, that’s 49% He’s probably the best value on the board for Heat player.
I think if you’re trying to take Jimmy Butler on total points, I think Jimmy would have to go Super Saiyan to win that over Nicola Jokic because, I know we talked about it briefly before, Nikola Jokic dominating Adebayo. Over the last six meetings, he’s averaged 46 points/rebounds/assists —25 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists — and in this playoffs in particular this guy has triple-doubled eight out of 15 times. I mean, you’re not even getting plus money on the triple-double anymore, he’s triple-doubled five of his last six.
So clearly Jokic should be leading all these stat categories. I wouldn’t take any other players. But if you’re talking about 3-point market, I think that’s where the value is, and I’d be looking at MPJ or Caleb Morton, he’s 13-1.
Jay Croucher: Anyone in these markets Drew you think is going to rise up.
Drew Dinsick: The market is telling you right now this is probably going to be a short series, with fewer games comes more variance. And MPJ at 40-1 is pretty insane.
We had two matchups between these two teams this regular season both were meaningful. One in December, one in February, you had pretty decent full strength from both squads in both of these matchups. Nikola Jokic’s offensive rating in these two games? A combined 159. Which is absolutely ridiculous. He wasn’t the primary scorer, he was mostly a facilitator in one of the games and it was pretty much a team effort in both of the Nuggets wins against the Heat this regular season. Both were competitive games.
So, I think the entirety of the Nuggets’ fortunes in this series run through Nikola Jokic’s ability to continue to operate an offense at a level we’ve never seen in the NBA before. And, for those reasons, any Nugget, being kind of the beneficiary of his gravity, I think you take a shot and hope in a short next four- or five-game series Michael Porter Jr. gets hot from 3 a couple of games and all of a sudden that 40-1 is live.
But make no mistake the most important player in the series by far for the Nuggets is Nicola Jokic. And I think, realistically if he has a game that’s not a triple-double you’ll be more surprised than anything else. I thought his defense took a step forward this playoffs from what we saw in the regular season. And I think in general his ability to dominate on the glass against the Lakers is something that you can take directly into this series because he has the same exact sort of size advantage over the Heat squad, even more so, than he had over a Laker squad that was really lacking the second big body out there. So yeah, I think you know Jokic is gonna get it done every which way possible.
Jay Croucher: What I’m most interested in is, the first Nuggets offensive possession, what are the Heat doing with Jokic and how are they going to guard that? Is it just going to be Bam one-on-one and just see how that goes? Is there going to be some zone elements? Are they going to put Kevin Love on Jokic and have Bam be in the help role that Anthony Davis was?
I think the Lakers were probably the best-equipped team in the league to defend Jokic and defended him about as well as you can, and the Nuggets had a 122 offensive rating for the series. So I think you just cannot defend him, and the Heat are gonna have to have to score heavily on the other end and then have some shooting variance go their way.
But Game 1 Kurt, where the Nuggets do have a massive rest advantage, maybe to the point where it could trend to a little bit of rust, what do you expect?
Kurt Helin: I do think that they’re going to be a little rusty from the start. And Michael Malone frankly, in his press conference this week, owned up to it. He’s just been like, you can’t recreate playoff basketball in practice. He was prepared for the first quarter, first half to be a little bit sloppy, I think. Or for his side not to be as sharp as they were going against that Laker defense.
But on the flip side — and I think this is the bigger issue — Miami, as resilient as they are, they put the tank pretty close to E to get here. They hop on that overly, weirdly discussed flight, and now you’ve got to play at altitude. Basically, you get a couple of days but you don’t have that much time to really adjust and then you run into the buzzsaw that is that is Denver. I just got a feeling this is one where Denver in the second half pulls away.
Jay Croucher: Drew, how are you betting the series?
Drew Dinsick: Gentlemen’s sweep. That’s my most likely outcome, by a lot, actually. Surprisingly. And realistically, you’re just asking the Nuggets to protect home court, and split Miami, and then we can call the series at home in Denver and drop the blue and gold confetti on the home fans it’ll be a pretty fun scene. And I honestly I would really just like to see Nikola Jokic to get a chip, to get a title and a Finals MVP because what we’ve seen from him now on a three-year arc has been amazing.
Jay Croucher: Yes, certainly does feel like a coronation for the Serbian King.
UPDATE: Pistons reportedly agree to massive deal to make Monty Williams new coach
UPDATE: The Detroit Pistons — specifically team owner Tom Gores — got their man.
The Pistons backed up the Brinks truck and agreed to terms with former Suns coach Monty Williams to be their next head coach, something first reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and confirmed by Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports, among others.
Breaking: Monty Williams and the Detroit Pistons have agreed in principle on a six-year, $72 million deal for Williams to become the franchise’s new head coach, sources tell me and @JLEdwardsIII. The deal is expected to be finalized in the coming days.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 1, 2023
Other reports have this as even a larger deal, with Yahoo’s Vincent Goodwill saying it could expand to eight years and $100 million with incentives. While some of those incentives are probably very unlikely, it shows how far the Pistons were willing to go to land Williams.
It will be interesting to see how much power Williams will have over player personnel moves in addition to being the coach. Pistons GM Troy Weaver and Williams worked together back in Oklahoma City.
Williams reportedly was planning to take a year off from coaching after being let go by the Suns, but he got an offer he could not refuse.
Gores had interviewed the other top candidates, Charles Lee and Kevin Ollie, and decided to make one more big run at Williams before giving one of the first-timers the job. Williams is a defensive first coach known for discipline, and those things were on the top of the Pistons’ coaching wish list.
Williams is one of the most respected coaches around the league, but he did have clashes with players on the roster in Phoenix, most prominently Deandre Ayton. The chemistry in Phoenix that looked so good when Williams took the Suns to the Finals seemed much more fractured by the end. New owner Mat Ishbia reportedly never warmed to Williams, and that combined with the second-round exit for a team with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker was enough to make the change.
Now Williams has a new home — and a massive payday.
Not long after Dwane Casey left the bench and moved into the Pistons’ front office, the Pistons called Monty Williams and tried to make a big money offer to entice him to come, something reported at the time by Marc Stein. Buzz grew around the league that Williams — who was let go by the Suns after they fell in the second round — was going to take a little time off from coaching before jumping back into the grind.
The Pistons have gone through their coaching search — reportedly with former Bucks’ assistant Charles Lee and former UConn coach Kevin Ollie as the frontrunners — but before picking one of them the Pistons are going to make one more run at Williams, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.
The Pistons are preparing to offer Williams in the range of $10 million per year, league sources said, which would put him among the league’s highest-paid coaches. Detroit has been hopeful over the past several weeks that Williams would consider accepting the job, sources added…
If Williams declines the proposal, Lee, a Bucks assistant since 2018, is expected to emerge as the likely choice, league sources said.
This report was echoed by Stein, who added details.
The offers have been consistently estimated to me at $50 million over five years or even $60 million over six years. Sources say that two of the Pistons’ previously reported finalists for the post — Bucks associate head coach Charles Lee and former UConn coach Kevin Ollie — were only summoned to meet face-to-face with Pistons owner Tom Gores for a second time after Williams turned them down the first time.
The phrasing from Charania — “Detroit has been hopeful… that Williams would consider accepting the job” — is no accident, that’s a sign of what they expect to happen.
If you were the owner/PR staff of a struggling team — one that the lottery gods just knocked down to fifth in the upcoming NBA Draft — and you were about to hire a deserving but not well-known coach to lead your franchise, leaking about the big offer you made to the big name coach is smart spin. If Williams takes the money, the Pistons land a top-flight coach. If Williams says “no thanks” then you can tell the fan base you tried.
The Pistons entered last season hoping to make a run to the play-in, but those hopes were dashed when Cade Cunningham was injured a dozen games into the season and missed the rest of it. With Cunningham back along with Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey, Bojan Bogdanovic and the No. 5 pick, expectations of wins will greet whoever is the new coach.