NBA finals, Celtics Lakers: 2010 ain't 2008

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Thumbnail image for Rondo_Fisher.jpgThe players are mostly the same. The franchises, the mascots, the colors, the pageantry, the history, the bad blood. All that’s still there. But this finals matchup is uniquely different from 2008 for five reasons.

1. The Lakers are better: When last these two teams met in the finals, the Lakers were less than a half season since the Pau Gasol acquisition. They were still figuring one another out, still learning each other’s tendencies. This team was not whole, as it is now. Furthermore, Andrew Bynum was out after knee surgery. Granted, Bynum’s still struggling with a faulty knee. But even in limited minutes, Bynum can be a huge factor, helping LA to dominate the glass and get easy points down low, two things the Lakers will need in this series. Ron Artest gives LA a wing defender they can sick on anyone and expect him to deliver. And he does.

2. The Celtics are better: You thought that 2008 club was tough? Try this one, that knows it’s a championship caliber squad. The Celtics simply have that much more swagger to their step this year because they know they’ve already gotten that ring, reached that summit, climbed that hill. They are not lacking confidence in that regard. They’re also more familiar with one another, and have learned different ways to beat teams. This is also a deeper club, with Tony Allen, Nate Robinson, and Glen Davis all providing significant minutes off the bench. This team is fiercer than it was 2008, as incredible as that sounds.

3. Rajon Rondo has come of age, Derek Fisher has become aged: Rondo has been phenomenal throughout the playoffs, arguably the best player in the league. Rondos’ shown a driving ability that can help the Celtics to not only attack the basket of LA but can open up opportunities for his teammates down low. It doesn’t take much for the Celtics to go into attack mode. Rajon Rondo is the high pitched squeal that lest the Celtics off. Derek Fisher’s having himself another playoffs full of huge shots. He’ll be called upon even more in this series to try and equalize Rondo’s contribution a bit.

4. Boston is better on the road and worse at home: TD Northbank Garden was a house of horrors for the Lakers in 2008, as they wilted in Boston time and time again. The Celtics are no longer unbeatable in Boston, losing games to Cleveland and Boston in the playoffs and it has become somewhat of an issue. The bad news is that they’re significantly better on the road. The Celtics have developed a knack for winning one of the first two games, stealing home court, and putting the fear of God into their opponent from the get go. LA has to hold serve if they want to put the C’s on ice.

5. The legacies are different: The 2008 Celtics were on a mission  to destroy everything. It was their first real chance at a championship, and when they realized that, they pushed their play to another level. But now the Celtics expect to in. They can point to that ring as the ultimate in validation. The Lakers on the other hand have just realized how good they can be at full strength, and are still struggling to get everyone at the same level.

Both teams are storied, both teams are champions, both teams are the cream of the NBA crop. We’ll have to see how this series shapes their legacy in the years to come.

Kevin Durant reverses course on championship: ‘Every day I woke up, I just felt so good about myself, so good about life’

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Following his first NBA title, Kevin Durant said, “After winning that championship (last season), I learned that much hadn’t changed. I thought it would fill a certain [void]. It didn’t.”

How does Durant now reflect on that time with the Warriors?

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s very rare in our lives when we envision and picture something and it comes together the perfect way you envision it. [Winning a title] was the only time in my life that happened, and that summer was the most exhilarating time. Every day I woke up I just felt so good about myself, so good about life.… That was a defining moment in my life—not just my basketball life.”

It’s difficult to reconcile those two quotes. I’d love to hear Durant eventually explain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t relish the championship aftermath as much he initially expected but, looking back, now realizes how much he actually enjoyed it. The end of his time with Golden State wasn’t totally pleasant. That might have provided perspective on the better times. Or maybe the difference is simply his mood on the day of each interview.

Durant is continuing to try to find himself while in the public eye. That isn’t easy, and it’ll lead to contradictions like this along the way. I appreciate his openness, even when he’s still difficult to understand.

Jerry Colangelo: Team USA would’ve won FIBA World Cup if not for injuries

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Team USA finished seventh in the 2019 FIBA World Cup – the Americans’ worst-ever finish in a major tournament.

Why did the U.S. fare so poorly?

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had sharp words for the many stars who withdrew. But that’s not his only explanation.

Kyle Kuzma suffered an ankle injury that kept him off the roster. Jayson Tatum missed the final six games with his own ankle injury. Marcus Smart was banged up and missed time throughout the event.

Colangelo, via Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

“I believe that if we didn’t have those injuries, we would have won,” said Colangelo. “The injuries were just too much to absorb.”

Maybe.

Those players – especially Tatum and Smart, who occupied a roster spots – would’ve helped. But even with those two, the Americans were vulnerable. Australia beat them in an exhibition, and Turkey nearly upset them in the first round. France and Serbia clearly outplayed them in the knockout phase. Team USA just lacked its usual talent.

Perhaps more top Americans will play in the 2020 Olympics. That will make the biggest difference.

If USA Basketball had attracted more stars for the World Cup, it likely could’ve withstood a few injuries. This roster allowed little margin for error.

Jarrett Culver enlivens Timberwolves’ otherwise-quiet offseason

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Timberwolves are the only team with two max-salary players under age 29. Heck, they’re the only team with two max-salary players under age 25.

But Minnesota isn’t set.

Far from it.

Though Karl-Anthony Towns (23) is already a star and sometimes looks like a budding superstar, Andrew Wiggins (24) has stagnated on his max extension. Add expensive contracts for Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng, and the Timberwolves have limited cap flexibility. With veterans too good to allow deep tanking, Minnesota also has limited means to upgrade through the draft.

New Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas was likely always bound to limit his impact this summer. Minnesota faced few clear pressing decisions. Any big moves would start the clock toward Rosas getting evaluated on his prestigious job. In one of his main decisions, Rosas retained head coach Ryan Saunders, an ownership favorite.

Yet, in this environment, Rosas still found a simple way to add a potential long-term difference maker.

The Timberwolves entered the draft with the No. 11 pick – right after a near-consensus top 10 would’ve been off the board. They left the draft with No. 6 pick Jarrett Culver.

All it took to trade up with the Suns was Dario Saric, who would’ve helped Minnesota this season but probably not enough to achieve meaningful success. He’ll become a free agent next summer and is in line for a raise the Timberwolves might not wanted to give.

Culver is not a lock to flourish in the NBA. But Minnesota had no business adding a prospect with so much potential. This was a coup.

Otherwise, the Timberwolves remained predictably quiet, tinkering on the fringe of the rotation. They added Jake Layman (three years, $11,283,255) in a sign-and-trade with the Trail Blazers. They took Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham off the hands of the hard-capped Warriors, getting cash for their trouble. They signed Noah Vonleh (one year, $2 million) and Jordan Bell (one year, minimum). They claimed Tyrone Wallace off waivers.

With their own free agents getting bigger offers, Minnesota didn’t match Tyus Jones‘ offer sheet with the Grizzlies (three years, $26,451,429) and watched Derrick Rose walk to the Pistons (two years, $15 million). For where the Timberwolves are, the far-cheaper Napier should handle backup point guard just fine.

Minnesota is methodically gaining flexibility. Teague’s contract expires next summer, Dieng’s the summer after that. The big question is how to handle Wiggins, but that will wait.

With Towns locked in the next five years, Rosas has plenty of runway before he must take off. Nabbing Culver was a heck of a way to accelerate from the gate.

Offseason grade: B-

Report: Iman Shumpert rejects offer from Rockets, who’ll have several familiar names in minicamp

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Iman Shumpert is the best free agent available.

Why hasn’t he signed yet? Apparently because he spent the offseason negotiating with the Rockets, but those talks haven’t produced a deal.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kelly Iko of The Athletic:

Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic:

I wonder whether Houston tried to sign Shumpert to a contract similar to Nene’s, creating another trade chip. The Rockets are close to the luxury tax and probably wouldn’t guarantee Shumpert much. It doesn’t take months to negotiate a simple minimum contract.

Shumpert (29) is a credible wing in a league starving for them. He played well for the Kings last season before getting traded to Houston, where he struggled. Other teams should be interested.

The Rockets have just nine players with guaranteed salaries. There’s plenty of room for some of these past-their-prime veterans to make the regular-season roster. It might mostly depend on which of Terrence Jones (27), Nick Young (34), Luc Mbah a Moute (33), Corey Brewer (33), Raymond Felton (35) and Thabo Sefolosha (35) are in the best shape at this stage.