The Phoenix Suns made the right move when they held onto Amar’e Stoudemire at this year’s trade deadline. Amar’e is absolutely one of the best offensive big men in basketball, and he’s been a crucial part of Phoenix’s run to the Western Conference Finals. However, now that Phoenix has reached the Western Conference Finals, it’s beginning to look like it might not be possible to win a championship if your superstar power forward does not play a lick of defense. And Amar’e Stoudemire does not play a lick of defense.
Coaching, front office updates: Sam Cassell headed to Celtics’ bench
The musical chairs in NBA coaching and front office circles continues at full speed during the NBA Finals.
We’ve done a couple of notebook-style updates. Here’s another:
• Sam Cassell is headed to Boston to be one of the new key assistants for Joe Mazzulla with the Celtics, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic and confirmed by Chris Forsberg at NBC Sports Boston. Cassell had been on Doc Rivers’ bench in Philadelphia the past few seasons and the Los Angeles Clippers before that. This is as close to bringing in a head coach as you can get without hiring a former head coach, plus he had a 15-year NBA career players’ respect.
Cassell can also teach the players a dance that can get them fined.
• Marc Stein reports that the Mavericks are testing the waters to see if former Knicks head coach turned lead broadcaster for ABC/ESPN Jeff Van Gundy — who is currently working the NBA Finals — might want to return to the bench on Jason Kidd’s staff. That seems an incredible long shot, but it never hurts to ask.
• If they can’t get Van Gundy, the Mavericks may turn to former Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek, Stein reports.
• Stein also reports these are the four finalists for the still-open Toronto Raptors head coaching job: Kenny Atkinson (former Nets head coach who is on Steve Kerr’s staff in Golden State), Jordi Fernández (Kings lead assistant), Darko Rajaković (Grizzlies assistant coach) and Sergio Scariolo (Italy’s Virtus Bologna and the Spanish national team head coach). Scariolo will not fly to Toronto for another interview because Virtus Bologna starts the Italian league finals this week.
• Former Rockets head coach Stephen Silas will join the staff of Monty Williams in Detroit as an assistant coach, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
• As expected, the Los Angeles Clippers have promoted from within to replace former GM Michael Winger, who left to become the head of Wizards basketball operations.
LA Clippers promote Redden and Hughes.
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) June 5, 2023
The Clippers are considered one of the league’s smarter and more stable front offices, one built on collaboration, so it makes sense to promote from within.
Kyrie Irving reportedly reaches out to LeBron about joining Mavericks… good luck with that
The NBA’s silly season started during the NBA Finals.
Kyrie Irving has reached out to LeBron James about coming to Dallas and has pushed the Mavericks into looking to acquire LeBron via trade, according to reports from Shams Charania of The Athletic and Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report/TNT.
Sources: Kyrie Irving has reached out to Lakers star LeBron James in attempts to see if James would come to Dallas. Irving is a free agent this offseason.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 5, 2023
There is no shortage of rumors around the league about Irving and LeBron appearing to warm to the idea of playing together again. That was fueled by Irving being courtside at multiple Lakers playoff games.
There are so many problems with and obstacles to this LeBron in Dallas idea I’ll need to go to bullet points to break them down.
• This was either a tactical leak from the Irving camp to try and make this happen, or, it was a tactical leak by LeBron and Irving to put pressure on the Lakers to bring Irving to Los Angeles this summer. I’m not going to pretend to know Charania’s and Haynes’ sources, but nobody else benefits from this coordinated leak. If it did come from the Irving camp in any way, that’s pretty rich considering days ago he scolded anyone listening to sources and not what he says.
• The Lakers, for their part, are focused on running it back with players such as Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura and have shown limited if any interest in pursuing a sign-and-trade to land Irving. Dallas has no interest in a sign-and-trade that brings them D'Angelo Russell back. The Lakers bringing in Irving remains an incredible long shot.
• LeBron was not trade eligible at the last trade deadline after signing an off-season extension. Maybe the report was intended to mean Dallas was going to make an offer for a LeBron trade this offseason (before the Lakers run to the Western Conference Finals), but the Lakers could not have traded LeBron at the deadline, even if he wanted it.
• Making a LeBron to Dallas trade come together under the much harsher terms for big spending teams in the new CBA is next to impossible, something Haynes talks about in his story. Luka Dončić is already on the books for $40 million next season, and LeBron will make $46.9 million (plus he has a $50.6 million player option for 2024-25). If you pair those two and pay Irving anywhere near the salary he wants, the Mavericks would be right up against the salary cap with no way to fill out the roster except for minimum contracts. Wasn’t LeBron just on a team that gutted its depth for a third star?
• Along those same lines, if the Lakers sign-and-trade for Irving to put next to LeBron and Anthony Davis, they will have no cap room to round out a contending roster and it would look like the Lakers of a couple of seasons ago, with Irving in the Russell Westbrook role.
• Haynes suggested the numbers work for Dallas if LeBron forces a buyout with the Lakers and then signs in Dallas at a reduced salary. Does anyone think LeBron would even consider that for more than a second?
• If Irving is willing to take a massive discount and play for closer to the mid-level exception things fit a little better, but Irving has shown no interest in doing that. Remember he opted in with the Nets rather than leave to play for less, then pushed for a trade when Brooklyn would not give him the extension he wanted.
• There is no motivation for the Lakers to play along with this and there is no trade the Mavericks can put together that would interest Los Angeles. Technically the numbers work if Dallas trades Davis Bertans, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Maxi Kleber to Los Angeles, but why would the Lakers even consider it? The Lakers have traded almost all their draft picks and put all their energy into building a winner around LeBron and Anthony Davis, they are not trading the guy that fills their building for three rotation players. It would not matter what or how many picks were involved.
• Does LeBron James want to leave his family in Los Angeles, and playing literally down the street from his son Bronny at USC next season, to play for the Mavericks? Especially when they have to gut the roster to get him? If this season goes sideways for the Lakers maybe he feels differently about finishing his career somewhere else, but it’s hard to see right now.
• Adam Silver said he would not release the update on the Ja Morant investigation right now because he didn’t want to distract from the NBA Finals. I would have paid good money to see his face when he saw this news.
From Santa Barbara to G-League to NBA Finals star, Gabe Vincent epitomizes Heat
DENVER — Bam Adebayo had been a teammate of Gabe Vincent in the bubble and through much of the 2020-21 season (all while Vincent was on a two-way contract with the Heat), but the first time he realized just how good his teammate could be was when Adebayo had to go against him.
“Man, when he torched us in the Olympics, in the exhibition game facing Nigeria,” said Adebayo, who would go on to win gold with the USA in Tokyo. “He came out with that type of energy, that type of voracity and that type of anger. I felt like, from there, he’s one of us.”
Gabe Nnamdi — who uses that name of his ancestry when he represents Nigeria — scored a team-high 21 points against the best the USA had to offer in an exhibition game where Nigeria upset Team USA and sent tremors through the basketball world. It was a breakout moment for Vincent.
That energy and veracity were back in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, when Vincent dropped a team-high 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting and 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, leading the Heat to a Game 2 victory. Vincent was the guy getting pulled onto the NBA TV set with Charles Barkley and Shaq.
.@SHAQ: "Are you guys a little upset that you're not getting the respect that you deserve?"
Gabe Vincent: "I speak for my whole team when I say we don't give a damn. We just want to get four wins." pic.twitter.com/Q1PuXsSZ7h
— NBA TV (@NBATV) June 5, 2023
Vincent’s personal arc to get to that moment may be the embodiment of a Heat player and their team culture.
“I would say that old saying that we use a lot: People severely overestimate what you can get accomplished in a day, and they grossly underestimate what you can get accomplished in a matter of months, years, when nobody is paying attention,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said to describe Vincent’s path. “And he’s the epitome of that.”
Vincent played four years of college basketball at idyllic UC Santa Barbara, where he was a standout for the Gauchos — Big West Freshman of the Year in 2015, and made an All-Big West team his senior year — but he went undrafted and found himself in the G-League with the Stockton Kings. There he played for two seasons, earned the Most Improved Player award, and caught the eye of the Heat front office, who, in January 2020 signed him to a two-way deal.
Vincent’s transformation as a player was just beginning. Vincent had played up to that point as more of an undersized scoring two-guard, but the Heat had other ideas.
“He was a gunslinger, two-guard. We wanted to develop him into a combo guard, somebody that could organize us, be an irritant defensively, tough, learn how to facilitate and run a team,” Spoelstra said. “I think that’s the toughest thing to do in this league, is turn a two into a one. He openly just embraced that. Then he struggled at times with that because you’re trying to reinvent yourself. Instead of saying, This is too tough, let me be me, he’s really grown the last three years.”
“It definitely wasn’t easy,” Vincent said of the transformation of his game. “The staff was great with me, whether it was film or getting in the gym, and my teammates have been phenomenal, coaching me up, telling me to be more aggressive when I’m questioning it or trying to think, should I pass first.
“And our stars, Jimmy, Kyle, Bam, they have just been in my ear and telling me just to play, play basketball. They trust my IQ of the game, and they want me just to go out there and play hard.”
As his game transformed, the Heat signed him in August of 2021 to a two-year minimum deal. He just kept getting better and outplaying that deal.
Vincent was coming off the bench for the Heat to start the season behind Kyle Lowry, but as Vincent’s game grew and Father Time seemed to be winning the race with Lowry, their roles switched. In February he moved into the starting lineup and hasn’t looked back.
“I know the level of confidence that we have in him and that he has in himself to go out there and run the offense at any point in time, first through fourth quarter, maybe even overtime,” Jimmy Butler said of Vincent. “And we live with the decisions and the shots that he makes and takes, and he’s our starting PG for a reason.”
Through the playoffs, Vincent has averaged 13.9 points a game shooting 41.3% from 3, plus dishing out 3.9 assists a game. On Sunday night he was the highest-scoring player on his team in an NBA Finals game.
It’s a long journey from Isla Vista in Santa Barbara to the NBA’s biggest stage.
And it will get him paid — Vincent is an unrestricted free agent this summer who will land an eight-figure-a-year contract. That’s likely with the Heat, who want to retain him, but his playoff performance will have teams looking for two-way ball-handling guards — Orlando, San Antonio, and plenty of others — calling. Vincent will have options.
“He’s just an incredible winning player,” Spoelstra said of him. “This year, he’s been a starter for us. He’s been great. He’s off the bench, he’s been great. He’s like a lot of our guys, the competitive spirit. You get challenged like we’re getting challenged in this series, you hope it brings out the best in you. And that’s what it’s doing with him.”
Adebayo saw that potential when Vincent was challenged in a Las Vegas exhibition game a couple of years ago. Now he’s happy Vincent is on his team and not the opposition.
Three things to know from night Heat shoot their way to win over Nuggets
DENVER — This felt a lot like a game from the Miami series against Boston.
The Heat were raining threes, throwing the offense of the Nuggets off balance, and Denver shot itself in the foot a few times to help out. It was the recipe that got the Miami Heat to the Finals, and they repeated it in Game 2 to even the NBA Finals 1-1 heading back to Miami.
It was what we’ve come to expect from Miami this postseason. Here are three takeaways from Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
1) It’s all about the 3-pointers with the Heat
Don’t overthink this.
Multiple aspects added up to this Heat victory, including how they defended Nikola Jokić and got the Nuggets out of rhythm, how the Heat slowed the fourth quarter way down and had it played in the mud (19 possessions), and how the Nuggets did the unexpected and aided in their own demise. But it all hinges on this:
The Miami Heat shot 17-of-35 from 3 (48.6%).
This was the seventh time this postseason the Heat shot better than 45% from 3 (nine times better than 40%). The Heat also hit 9-of-10 to start the fourth quarter and turn an eight-point deficit into a Miami lead.
That 4th quarter was special.
🔥 Outscored them 36-25
🔥 11-16 FGM
🔥 9-10 FTM pic.twitter.com/Gq0h5T8fB9
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) June 5, 2023
Miami had three games in the Boston series where they shot 50%+ from 3, and when they score like that they are nearly impossible to beat. Since the playoffs started everyone keeps saying this level of 3-point shooting is unsustainable, yet here we are, with the Heat having stolen home court advantage in the Finals as a No. 8 seed.
The Heat did a lot of other things right that made this win possible, but the Nuggets’ offense still put up a 125.6 offensive rating for the game. Miami’s offense was just better because the 3-pointers were falling.
2) The Heat were relentless, the Nuggets were arrogant
In Game 1, when the Heat made their fourth quarter run, the Nuggets settled their offense, got the ball to Nikola Jokić who got a few buckets and made a few passes to set up others. Denver stopped the run and didn’t completely unravel under pressure like Boston and Milwaukee did against the Heat pressure.
In Game 2, the relentless Heat made their run to start the fourth quarter, hitting 9-of-10 shots — Duncan Robinson had all 10 of his points in that stretch — but this time the Nuggets played like a team that thought they could flip the switch. Denver did that all night.
“Let’s talk about effort. This is NBA Finals, we are talking about effort; that’s a huge concern of mine,” a steamed Nuggets coach Michael Malone said postgame. “You guys probably thought I was just making up some storyline after Game 1 when I said we didn’t play well. We didn’t play well. Tonight, the starting lineup to start the game, it was 10-2 Miami. Start of the third quarter, they scored 11 points in two minutes and 10 seconds. We had guys out there that were just, whether feeling sorry for themselves for not making shots or thinking they can just turn it on or off, this is not the preseason, this is not the regular season. This is the NBA Finals. That to me is really, really perplexing, disappointing.
“I asked the team, I asked them, ‘you guys tell me why they lost.’ And they knew the answer. Miami came in here and outworked us, and we were by far our least disciplined game of these 16 or 17 playoff games, whatever it is now. So many breakdowns. They exploited every one of our breakdowns and scored.”
“It’s the f****** Finals, man. Our energy has to be better,” Jeff Green said more directly. “We can’t come out like we did, and we have to be better.”
Miami has been exploiting these breakdowns and coming back on teams all postseason. They are relentless in their style of play and they are not rattled by the moment.
“We faced a lot of adversity during the season,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of his team’s drive in games like this. “We handled it the right way where you are not making excuses about it, the injuries, the changes lineups. Because of all that adversity and the 57 close games that happened, due to a lot of that, it hardened us. It steeled us and we developed some grit, which is what we all want.
“We want to be able to have that privilege of having adversity and being able to overcome it. You gain strength from that.”
“It’s just part of our DNA, for one. You know, everyone on this team has battled through adversity in some manner and been knocked down and had to get back up,” said Gabe Vincent, who led the Heat with 23 points. “And for number two, we have a lot of experience in these close games. So when it comes down to the wire, we are strangely comfortable.”
We know the Heat will continue to play with this same force the entire series, the question now is how the Nuggets will respond to adversity.
3) Jokić was scoring, but Denver was not its comfort zone
.Nikola Jokić finished with 41 points on 16-of-28 shooting.
The Nuggets are now 0-3 in these playoffs when Jokić scores 40+, but 13-1 in the other games (stat via ESPN Stats and Info).
When Denver is at its best, as they were in Game 1, Jokić is conducting a symphony and the points are raining down on their opponent from every direction. In Game 2, Miami did a good job taking away the cutters, staying home on shooters and limiting Jokić to four assists. They never let the symphony get started.
Just don’t tell Spoelstra the Heat made Jokić a scorer — he quickly and aggressively shot that idea down.
“This guy is an incredible player. You know, twice in two seasons he’s been the best player on this planet. You can’t just say, ‘Oh, make him a scorer,'” Spoelstra said. “That’s not how they play. They have so many different actions that just get you compromised. We have to focus on what we do. We try to do things the hard way, and he requires you to do many things the hard way. He has our full respect.”
Maybe he wasn’t just a scorer, but the Heat made Jokić and the Nuggets starters uncomfortable all game long. The Heat had the lead through much of the first three quarters because their bench went on a run late in the first and into the second — a run that stretched out to 40-14 at its peak — that gave them a cushion.
The Nuggets won non-Jokić minutes at the start of the second quarter by +14. They also were dominating when they could push the pace after a Heat miss or steal — all game long Denver struggled with the Heat could set their defense and take away shooters, they thrived when Miami was scrambled.
To start the fourth the Heat hit their shots (9-of-10) thanks to some defensive lapses from the Nuggets, and that let Miami set its defense.
Kevin Love deserves mention here. He was back in the starting lineup for Game 2 and responded with an impressive defensive performance from a guy who, to put it politely, is not exactly known for that. He protected the rim as a help defender and helped on Jokić in timely spots.