NBA Playoffs Celtics Magic Game 2: Rajon Rondo may or may not have mastered the fine art of ninjitsu

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rondogame2.jpgI would ask that you pay very close attention to what I am about to say.

Imagine that you had just come to this planet from another world before the playoffs began. You have come on a mission to observe human culture, specifically, sporting events, specifically, professional basketball. You have no frame of reference for the past 10 years, you don’t know about championship rings, 81 point games, 49 point triple doubles, MVPs, or a history of game winning shots (God knows there are none in these playoffs to teach you). You have an understanding of the game through what you’ve learned in research.

Who is the best player in the NBA under those circumstances?

It’s Rajon Rondo.

I’m not saying anyone other than Kobe Bryant is the best player still playing in the playoffs (Kobe is). I’m not saying that Rondo is better than LeBron James (he’s not). I’m not saying that when you need a score, the one guy you want with the ball is Rajon Rondo (I will say that person is NOT Vince Carter).

But when you consider every facet of the game, no one has played better since April 15th than Rajon Rondo. We’ve seen it all, and in Game 2, even in a numbers-modest game (25 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 turnovers in 45 minutes), he showcased every element.

He was the periodic table of pwnage.

The huge swinging ball fake to the behind the back pass. A twisting, turning, pop, lock and release floater over Dwight Howard. The mid-range game. The high floater off the glass. The drive and dish the dump off to the weak side cutter. The one arm stop-dribble cross-court whip for three.

Poking and prodding on defense, drawing charges, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds. Efficient, engaged, locked-in. Rondo was the smoke monster.

We argued that Rondo might be the best player on the Celtics before the playoffs began. That question has been answered. It’s not close. Rondo answered a huge driving layup by Jameer Nelson by jetting immediately to half court, whipping past two defenders and nailing an up and under reverse to match the bucket. He was in charge the entire time, never lost his cool (like he did last year), never lost track of where he was supposed to be.

The Magic tried doubling off the pick, bringing man-help, spacing to give him the mid-range, the works. It was like they wandered into some horror flick, and Rondo spent the better part of two hours picking them off one by one with a chainsaw.

Kobe Bryant scored 40 points last night in a brilliant performance which is not to be questioned. But if you’re looking at the best overall performance from baseline to baseline, the answer has been Rajon Rondo. Especially considering Rondo was finishing to Rasheed Wallace, Glen Davis, and Tony Allen several times. Rondo has become bigger than the Big 3, the thing you need to witness, and he’s two games away from tugging on Superman’s cape, ripping it off of him and strangling him with it.

It’s a revelation, a transcendence. I’m not exaggerating here, he’s honestly been that good.

And oh, by the way?

He’s 24 years old.

Knicks players, staff reportedly angry team has no statement on killing of George Floyd

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Only two NBA teams have released a statement on the killing of George Floyd, and one of those teams is the San Antonio Spurs, whose coach Gregg Popovich made a lengthy public statement. There have been personal statements from coaches on behalf of the organization, statements from owners, official team releases, and the Wizards players released their own statement.

The New York Knicks are the other team not to make a statement.

This is the same franchise that released multiple statements ripping fan favorite Charles Oakley. That released a statement about the entrance Spike Lee uses to get to his seat. That released a statement when Richard Jefferson said he knew it was time to retire when only the Knicks offered him a deal.  Those Knicks have not released a statement on the death of George Floyd or the ensuing protests that have filled New York City Streets.

Knicks players and staff are pissed about that, according to multiple reports.

James Dolan sent an email to Madison Square Garden Company employees on Monday explaining his position, saying it was not the place of a sports and entertainment business to weigh in on such matters. Via Pablo S. Torre of ESPN:

That’s not going to play well in the building.

To Dolan what matters will be how it plays with team sponsors/vendors/advertisers. If the lack of a statement hits the owner in the pocketbook, that’s when there are changes.

It should be noted that James Dolan, the owner of Madison Square Garden and the Knicks, is an avid supporter of President Doland Trump and has donated to his re-election campaign. President Trump is considering using the United States military against United States citizens to quell the protests.

Would a statement by the Knicks somehow change the conversation? Obviously not. And certainly there will be differing opinions within the organization The reason other NBA teams — and the league itself — have used their platform and made statements is because they understand change needs to happen and they can be a part of it in their communities. They see what is right. They see a chance to be leaders, not just entertainers.

If the Leon Rose era Knicks are working to build a new culture, one that will draw free agents and be a place guys are eager to play, this is not a step in the right direction. Players and agents will take note.

Chris Paul on Clippers: ‘We never were lucky’

Clippers coach Doc Rivers, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin
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The Clippers were really good with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Really good.

But history won’t remember that team for its ability, because its accomplishments don’t match.

Between the 2011-12 and 2016-17 seasons, the Clippers won nearly 66% of their games. Only the Spurs and Warriors won more.

But the Clippers weren’t one of the four teams to win a championship in that span. The Clippers weren’t one of the five teams to make the NBA Finals in that span. The Clippers weren’t even one of the 11 teams to make a conference finals in that span.

Paul in the Quibi documentaryBlackballed,” via Farbod Esnaashari of Sports Illustrated:

“Doc used to always say in order to win a championship, you gotta be lucky, Chris Paul said. “We never were lucky. I don’t think the Donald Sterling thing had anything to do with our shortcomings as a team. It was definitely a bump in the road, something unexpected, but that’s life.”

Doc Rivers is right: You have to be lucky to win a title. Every championship team has gotten favorable breaks.

Paul is right: The Clippers were never lucky. Both he and Blake Griffin had ill-timed injuries in multiple years. Josh Smith sinking 3-pointers was unfortunate for L.A.

But that also came in blowing a 3-1 lead to the Rockets in 2015. Smith’s hot streak was not all that went wrong for the Clippers. So much was in their control – in that series and beyond.

Rivers made numerous missteps in roster management. The team struggled to get its chemistry right.

The Clippers still got close enough to win a championship with the right breaks. They never got those breaks.

But they also could have done more themselves to need fewer breaks. They have to own that part of the complex story.

Gregg Popovich: ‘The system has to change. I’ll do whatever I can do to help.’

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Gregg Popovich was always going to speak out on the protests and anguish in our nation right now — and those thoughts were never going to fit in 280 characters.

Popovich, coach of the Spurs and USA Basketball for the Tokyo Olympics, called up Dave Zirin of The Nation and laid the blame for a lot of what we are seeing on President Trump and the White House. Below is simply a taste:

“The thing that strikes me is that we all see this police violence and racism, and we’ve seen it all before, but nothing changes. That’s why these protests have been so explosive. But without leadership and an understanding of what the problem is, there will never be change. And white Americans have avoided reckoning with this problem forever, because it’s been our privilege to be able to avoid it. That also has to change…

“It’s so clear what needs to be done. We need a president to come out and say simply that ‘black lives matter.’ Just say those three words. But he won’t and he can’t. He can’t because it’s more important to him to mollify the small group of followers who validate his insanity. But it’s more than just Trump. The system has to change. I’ll do whatever I can do to help, because that’s what leaders do. But he can’t do anything to put us on a positive path, because he’s not a leader.”

Popovich’s voice carries a lot of weight, both as a leader of men, and as a former Air Force officer who underwent intelligence training and specialized in Soviet studies. He has never been shy when speaking about his feelings on President Donald Trump (read his entire quote at The Nation, he focuses on the president), but in this case, he speaks for many Americans of all walks of life, and of all ethnicities, who see a leader who stokes divisions rather than seeking to unify and heal.

Many NBA players have spoken out in the wake of George Floyd’s death and a number of them have led or participated in protests around the nation. What Popovich said speaks to a lot of what those players are feeling and saying themselves.

NBA coaches and teams have stepped up with statements, as have team owners — including Michael Jordan — saying this cannot be about just words, there needs to be action toward change. What that action will look like in three months, or six, or a year, is an excellent question. But this time, around the NBA (and maybe around the nation), there seems to be a real sense they do not want this message and momentum to fade.

Jerami Grant: Not leaning toward taking $9,346,153 player option with Nuggets

Nuggets forward Jerami Grant
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The Nuggets have their starting point guard (Jamal Murray), shooting guard (Gary Harris), small forward (Will Barton) and center (Nikola Jokic) locked up a combined 11 more seasons.

The big question comes at power forward.

Paul Millsap will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Michael Porter Jr. has shown promise. And Jerami Grant holds a $9,346,153 player option for next season.

Jerami Grant on “Posted Up with Chris Haynes,” via Quenton S. Albertie of Nugg Love:

I’m definitely not leaning towards picking up the player option.

Grant appeared bound for a raise. He’s a good finisher who active seeks opportunities at the basket and has improved his 3-point shooting. His versatile defense is valuable in any system. And he has the track record of hard work that should make teams comfortable investing in the 26-year-old.

But the NBA’s coronavirus-caused revenue decline presents a major variable. We’ll have to see where the salary cap lands. If the wrong teams have space, Grant could be stuck with just the mid-level exception, which – depending on the cap – could be less than $9,346,153.

In any cap environment, Denver has optionality. Millsap is still solid, though at 35, it’s unclear how many more good years he has left. Porter is exciting, though he’s still raw, and health remains a concern. Another impending unrestricted free agent, Mason Plumlee plays in plenty of two-center lineups with Jokic.

The Nuggets – who just traded a first-rounder for him – surely want to keep Grant. But they have other options, which gives them leverage.

Grant’s leverage comes with declining his player option and exploring unrestricted free agency. He’s setting that stage now.