NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 5: And Ron Artest shall save them

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Thumbnail image for Artest_Bryant.jpgPhil Jackson has seen everything.

Well, except a player go from goat to hero faster than Ron Artest did on Thursday night, he said.

With one minute left and the Lakers up three, Artest took an early-in-the-shot-clock three that literally had half of Staples Center yelling, “nooooo.” Fans scorned him — “Trevor Ariza never would have taken that shot” — and Jackson said he almost benched him.

“I don’t know why I left him in the game,” Jackson said. “I actually
questioned it myself when I put him out there on the floor, and there he
was. Made the key play.”

Tied 101-101 with 3.5 seconds left, the Suns defended the Lakers inbound play perfectly. Everyone in Staples (and watching at home, and in the Milky Way) knew the ball was headed to Kobe. It did, and Kobe went for the quick catch, spin and shoot from three. But Grant Hill got his hand in there to force Kobe to double-clutch. The shot was short and the game was headed to overtime.

Then came Ron Artest.

“I thought Kobe got fouled on the shot,” Artest said. “So I just kind of figured it was going to be short…. And it was a little short.”

While nine other players on the court were ball watching, Artest moved from the weak to the strong side, caught the short airball, landed, spun and put up a quick bank shot. Net. Lakers 103-101, and what had looked like a series that might get away from the Lakers suddenly is firmly in their grasp, up 3-2.

Was that the biggest shot of Artest’s career?

“Biggest layup,” he said.

Artest was mobbed by his teammates and Staples Center was as loud as it has been since last year’s NBA Finals. Maybe louder.

Up to that point, save for one big steal and break away layup, Artest had not had an impact on the game. Then he had the bad one with a minute left, first taking a questionable jumper with the Lakers up three. But Pau Gasol grabbed the rebound and kicked it back out to Artest for a full new 24-second clock. And Artest launched a three that almost made him the goat because the Suns now had life (and they had been fighting back all night). Two missed threes and two Suns offensive rebounds later, Jason Richardson called bank and hit the three that tied the game. Okay, he didn’t call bank. But nobody cares, it still counts. Game tied 101-101.

But then came the shot. Maybe THE shot of the playoffs so far. And there was nothing but love for Artest in Staples. He  was mobbed by teammates, fans screamed. And the Suns all felt nauseous.

Report: Cavaliers, Larry Nance Jr. talking contract extension

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When the Cavaliers made the trade deadline deal with the Lakers last February, they got Larry Nance Jr. (the son of a Cavs legend) and Jordan Clarkson (surrendering Channing Frye, Isaiah Thomas and a 2018 1st round draft pick that became Moritz Wagner).

Nance is the one the Cavaliers seem intent on keeping, and they may extend him, reports Tom Withers of the Associated Press.

This seems like a good fit for both sides, if they can find a number that works. The Cavaliers are committed to not bottoming out right now — which is why Kevin Love got a new massive contract — and Nance fits with that.

This is not going to be a max contract, but Nance has made it clear he likes playing in Cleveland and wants to stay. After he came over last season he averaged 8.9 points on 55 percent shooting, 7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.4 steals a game. Those numbers could go up with LeBron James no longer in the picture.

LeBron James on earning Lakers’ fans loyalty: ‘I signed a four-year deal’

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Living in Los Angeles, with most of my friends Lakers’ fans, I can tell you that the majority of the city is excited and on board with the LeBron James era. They get that he’s right, the Lakers are not yet on the Warriors’ level, but they like the idea of the game’s best player with the Lakers’ young core, and the potential of that with another star player in the next 10 months or so. They are excited.

Most Lakers fans that is. There is a segment, best described as the “Kobe Bryant could walk on water” crowd, who are not sold on LeBron as a Laker. Who see him somehow as a threat to their Kobe worship. They question LeBron as a “real Laker” and his loyalty.

That took all of two days of training camp to come up, and for LeBron to shoot it down. Via Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated.

LeBron nailed this. He has signed on and trusted Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka more than he had anyone since Pat Riley — LeBron never signed long-term deals in Cleveland and trusted Dan Gilbert. He trusts Magic and Jeanie Buss. That is huge.

LeBron’s Laker era is ultimately going to be judged by winning a title, because all Lakers’ eras are judged that way. Kobe would talk about nothing else. LeBron understands that reality. But the era of being able to buy an NBA title is gone — the Lakers have free agency advantages few other franchises do (thanks to the location and the brand) but that is not enough. The biggest question for the Lakers is not can they land another star before next season, but rather can the core of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and the rest be the guys that stand with LeBron? If at the end of games this season it is LeBron sharing the court with Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley, the Lakers have much bigger problems than who is the next star they sign.

LeBron is all in. He can help cement his legacy with a title in Lakers’ Forum Blue and Gold, but he knows he needs help. And he’s willing to wait for them to get it. At age 33, what else can you ask of the man?

Kevin Durant says he is taking free agency ‘year by year’

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Talk to sources around the league about the Warriors and they think Kevin Durant — not Klay Thompson, who is also a free agent next summer, or Draymond Green in the summer of 2020 — will be the first to leave the team. It may not be this summer, especially if they three-peat, but he was last in and will be first out.

Durant, for his part, is not playing the speculation game.

When asked about it, Durant was vague, reports the USA Today’s Erik Garcia Gundersen.

“Just one of those things where you’re confident in your skills and taking it year by year. And keeping my options open was the best thing for me. I could have easily signed a long-term deal but I just wanted to take it season by season and see where it takes me. And I think this year is going to be a fun, exciting year for us all. I’m looking forward to just focusing on that and we’ll see what happens after the year.”

Golden State owner Joseph Lacob admitted he would have given Durant whatever deal he and his agents wanted. They chose the short-term option, keeping a lot of doors open.

The conventional wisdom around the league is that this summer Durant will opt-out this summer then sign a five-year contract. Probably with the Warriors, but the door is open, and there are a lot of teams with max salary slots. Maybe Durant is ready to have his own team again and move on. Maybe he is happy where he is.

Durant doesn’t know the answer to that question, yet. Nobody does. But that has other teams ready to pounce, just in case one of the world’s top two players decides it’s time to move on.

What if the Timberwolves don’t trade Jimmy Butler?

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I expect the Timberwolves to trade Jimmy Butler soon. Most people expect the Timberwolves to trade Jimmy Butler soon.

But they’ve thrown enough uncertainty into the process that nothing should be taken for granted. Tom Thibodeau said he expects Butler to report to training camp if not traded within a week, and as of yesterday, the president-coach was reportedly still trying to convince Butler to stay in Minnesota.

What happens if the Timberwolves don’t trade Butler and he refuses to report?

If he withholds playing services for 30 days after training camp begins, he won’t accrue a year of service and can’t become a free agent next offseason. He couldn’t sign with another professional basketball team unless Minnesota agreed.

That 30-day clock seemingly isn’t ticking, as Butler is excused while recovering from offseason hand surgery. But if the Timberwolves want to get serious about keeping Butler, they could press the issue.

But Butler would have options, too. He could – a la Mo Williams with the Cavaliers – undergo surgery and claim he’s not healthy enough to report. Players, especially ones as damaged as Butler, often have medical issues to clean up. That could mean embellishing the effect of the hand surgery or undergoing a new surgery altogether. An elective surgery could legitimately sideline Butler. Claiming Butler is actually healthy enough to report when he says he isn’t could get quite messy if the team objects.

Again, I don’t expect it to get that far. I doubt the Timberwolves, particularly owner Glen Taylor, desire to hold Butler hostage like that. Even if they do, Butler could just report and play. He can become an unrestricted free agent after the season and leave then.

But these are the extreme options on the table if this situation devolves further.