NBA Playoffs Celtics Magic Game 5: Stan Van Gundy has to be willing to gamble

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Thumbnail image for Howard_blinded.jpgOnce again, Orlando, this is it. You staved off the monster, backing into a cave and swiping at its tentacles, forcing Rajon Rondo to the locker room, forcing Kevin Garnett into tough decisions (other than yelling and barking), and generally didn’t suck. Congratulations. Now you just need to do it three more times in a row.

Stan Van Gundy is often labeled with, and I’m sorry to apply simplistic adjective here but I’ve got little choice, the stupid moniker of the Master of Panic. Guys that panic don’t get their teams to the Eastern Conference Playoffs in consecutive years. But if panicking means overreacting to the situation, this is one scenario where SVG needs to embrace that label. The rotations must change.

Van Gundy needs to turn to unlikely and unconventional sources to give his team the best attack it can provide. Boston will likely be refocused. Rajon Rondo will likely be back to his werewolf-like self. Kevin Garnett may not miss as many open looks. So the Magic have to be willing to turn to alternative options if the Celtics are able to create the havoc they wreaked in the first three games. That means more time for J.J. Redick, Brandon Bass, and some looks for Ryan Anderson, and less time for Jason Williams, Mikael Pietrus, and especially Vince Carter.

Redick should be a no-brainer. The argument will be that you don’t disrupt the rotation and “psyche of your team” in the Eastern Conference Finals. No, you don’t disrupt the rotation and psyche of your team when you start the Eastern Conference Finals. Down 3-1 versus a very pissed off Celtics team that annihilated you in the first three games? That’s when it’s totally fine to pull any trick you think will work out of the bag.

Redick is +21 in this series (via PopcornMachine.net), versus Carter, who is -23 .Even if you for some reason feel that after Carter’s complete quitjob in Game 4 (going 1-9, getting torched on defense, and not showing any interest in coming back in the game in the fourth quarter) he’s your best option, you can still give Redick significant minutes. Redick’s handle isn’t superb, it’s true. But he’s a better option to run the offense than Jason Williams, who has been a complete disaster. Jameer Nelson is ready to log long minutes, and switching to a Redick-Carter backcourt means you have your best perimeter weapon (when he feels like trying) and the best pick and roll ball handler in this series in while Nelson rests. This is the time for trying new things. Just because you caught the Celtics napping at home doesn’t mean they won’t bring the thunder tonight. You need lightning in a bottle to respond, and so far in this series, the Magic’s regular rotations have been cumulus clouds drifting past a peaceful landscape.

In the front court, the Magic may want to consider some unorthodox alternatives, particularly if Dwight Howard winds up in foul trouble. Does playing Rashard Lewis at small forward against Paul Pierce sound like a nightmare? Absolutely. But it’s not like any of your other options, especially Carter or Matt Barnes, have had any success whatsoever. Lewis has the length to contest Pierce’s pull-up jumper and the size to give him problems if he should drive. What happens for those stretches at power forward then? Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson. Anderson has seen no time in this series, due to his inexperience in both the playoffs and the system. Again, I would respond, “It’s not like the traditional approach has been effective!” Anderson has the size to body up against Sheed and the physical nature to combat Glen Davis, plus range to give both of them significant problems. Why have all this stocked talent if you’re not going to use it?

Then there’s Brandon Bass, who is quite the mixed bag. Questionable on defense, a definite spark on offense. Bass has shown at least a willingness to be aggressive against Boston which is more than you can say for several of the Magic’s wing players. Plus he has touch, which Dwight Howard has struggled with.

There are plenty of reasons to go in with what you feel are your best players and stick to the script that made you so successful during the regular season. But you’ve also got to turn to alternatives when that formula has been neutralized, tazered, dragged outside and left for dead. The Magic aren’t just up against the wall, they’re at knife point. If they want to see tomorrow, and another game in Boston (at which point you’ll see a whole lot of puckering from the guys in green whether they show it or not), they’ve got to be willing to try some new things.

Variety is the spice of life. The Boston Celtics beating the crap out of you for four quarters and you not adjusting? That’s the overcooked toast.

NBA owners, players union reportedly agree to push back CBA opt-out date

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NBA owners and players are both making too much money to risk screwing things up with a labor stoppage, right? RIGHT?

Don’t be so sure.

In a sign the two sides have a lot of work to do to reach terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement — primarily because of an internal dispute among the owners — the NBA (representing the owners) and the players union have agreed to push back the opt-out date for the CBA from Dec. 15 (this would end the current CBA on July 1, 2023). Marc Stein reported this earlier in the week (covered here) and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski added details today.

Talks on a new CBA are ongoing, and a formal ratification of an extension — likely into February — is expected to come at a virtual board of governors meeting Wednesday, sources said.

What’s the stumbling block? A group of owners — bothered by the massive spending into the luxury tax of the Warriors, Clippers, and Nets  — is pushing for an “Upper Spending Limit” for teams. Call it whatever they want, that’s a hard cap and there is no chance the players will sign off on any form of a hard cap. 

The NBA has used a punitive and progressively intense luxury tax to rein in the spending of some owners. However, some owners — how many is unclear, but enough that the NBA has put the issue on the table — feel the tax isn’t doing its job in the wake of new, even wealthier owners. 

Unquestionably some owners are unbothered by the tax. To use the example I have used before, Steve Ballmer’s Clippers are on track to pay $191.9 million in payroll this season, which will result in a $144.7 million luxury tax bill (leading to a payroll and tax total of $336.6 million). The Warriors and Nets will be in the same ballpark. The Clippers will pay more in tax alone than 11 teams will spend on total payroll. Two-thirds of NBA teams will pay around $150 million in payroll or less, not much more than the Clippers’ tax bill.

Recently, the same NBA owners approved a rule change that would allow a sovereign wealth fund — the financial arms of generally oil-rich countries such as Qatar or Saudi Arabia — to buy up to 20% of an NBA team as a silent partner. That has not happened yet, but the door is open. It’s part of a pattern of wealthier owners — including hedge fund managers and the like — entering the playing field for the NBA.

All that has some of the more established, older owners feeling squeezed by this new group’s willingness to spend. That has the older owners pushing for a hard cap to stop what they see as an increased willingness to spend.

Again, there is no chance the players approve a hard cap. The owners know this, but some seem willing to play brinksmanship with a lucrative, growing business (particularly internationally) to protect their bottom lines.

If you read all that and thought, “this isn’t about the players really, it’s an owner vs. owner issue,” you’re spot on. The league and players are giving the owners more time to work out their internal issues.

Are struggling Mavericks on the clock with Luka Doncic?

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Luka Doncic is in the first year of a five-year, $215.2 million contract. More than that, when asked recently if Mavericks fans should be worried about him wanting out as the team has stumbled at points to start this season, Doncic didn’t sound like a guy looking to bolt:

“I don’t think they’re worried about it right now. I got what, five years left here, so I don’t think they should be worried about it.”

The Mavericks’ front office should be worried about it — teams are always on the clock with a superstar.

The Mavericks let Jalen Brunson get away in the offseason, then brought in Christian Wood (whose defense is an issue and he is coming off the bench). This remains a team a player or two away from contending despite having a potential MVP in Doncic carrying a historic offensive load.

That doesn’t mean Doncic will ask out at the deadline or this summer (he won’t), but if his frustration grows over the next couple of years… who knows. Tim MacMahon of ESPN put it well on the Hoop Collective podcast (hat tip Real GM):

“I think they have a two-year window. This season and next season going into that summer [2024]. I think they have a two-year window where, you know, like Milwaukee did with Giannis [Antetokounmpo], I think in that window they really need to convince Luka that he has a chance to contend year in and year out right here in Dallas. If they can’t get it done in that two-year window, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that he’s going to force a trade or ask for a trade. I’m just saying at that point if he’s not happy, he has all the leverage in the world if he would be looking to leave..

“I don’t think Luka will look for reasons to leave. I think he’d be perfectly happy spending his entire career in Dallas. But if he doesn’t have to look for reasons and they’re slamming him in the face, then that’s a problem. He’s also a guy who is a ruthless competitor, which means he loves winning. He’s used to winning. He won championships with Real Madrid. He won a EuroBasket championship with the Slovenian national team. He also detests losing. Like can’t handle it.”

The Mavericks made the Western Conference Finals last season, knocking off the 64-win Suns in the process — this team is not that far away. Not with Doncic handling the ball. But it feels like a team that has taken a step back from those lofty levels this season. There are many more questions than answers, and it’s impossible to guess how Doncic will feel after this season’s playoffs, let alone the ones ending in the summer of 2024.

But the Mavericks stumbles this season have to put the Dallas front office on notice — this team is not good enough. And if we know it, you can be sure Doncic knows it.

Curry thinking retirement? ‘I don’t see myself slowing down any time soon’

2022 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Awards Presented by Chase
Kimberly White/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated
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Stephen Curry is playing at an MVP level this season: 30 points a game, hitting 43.2% from 3 with a 66.4 true shooting percentage, plus pitching in seven assists and 6.6 rebounds a game. He remains one of the best-conditioned athletes in the sport.

In the face of that, even though he is 34, asking him a retirement question seemed an odd choice, yet a reporter at the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award ceremony — Curry won the award, if you didn’t know — asked Curry about it seems he’s not interested.

Curry should not be thinking of retirement, but there is a sense around these Warriors that this era, this run is coming to an end in the next few years. Curry may be defying father time, but Draymond Green and Klay Thompson (especially post injuries) are not. There is a decline in their games (and this season, the role players have not stepped up around them the same way). With that comes a certain pressure to take advantage of the opportunities, there aren’t going to be as many.

Which is why the Warriors are a team to watch at the trade deadline (and will they sell low on James Wiseman to a team that still sees the potential in him?).

As for Curry, he will still be around and producing for a few more years. Nobody is ready to think about his retirement. Including Curry himself.

Block or charge: Alperen Sengun dunks on Zach Collins

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To borrow the catchphrase of the great Rex Chapman:

Block or charge?

The Rockets’ Alperen Sengun caught a body and threw one down on the Spurs’ Zach Collins but was called for the offensive foul.

NBA Twitter went nuts.

Rockets coach Stephen Silas challenged the call, but it was upheld (from my perspective, the replay officials are always looking to back the in-game officials if they at all can).

By the time Collins slid over and jumped, Sengun was already in the air — if anything that was a block. What the officials called was Sengun using his off-arm to create space.

I hate the call — that’s a dunk and an and-one. Not because it’s a great dunk — although it is that, too — but because Collins literally jumped into the path of an already airborne Sengun, Collins created all the contact. It’s on him. Under the spirit of the rules, Sengun’s off-arm is moot at that point — Collins illegally jumped in Sengun’s way and caused the collision.

Terrible call by the officials.

It was a good night for the Spurs, overall. San Antonio played its best defense in a while and Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs 11-game losing streak.