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.

New 76ers big Mike Muscala in February: I don’t like the 76ers because they, especially Joel Embiid, talk a lot of trash

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The 76ers are trading for the Hawks’ Mike Muscala, which makes sense on multiple levels.

1. Philadelphia wanted a stretch four after Nemanja Bjelica backed out of his deal.

2. Muscala, on an expiring contract, carries no long-term drawbacks.

3. Because Muscala can also play center, that allowed the 76ers to dump Richaun Holmes and clear a roster spot for Jonah Bolden.

But Muscala might have to answer for these February comments about Philadelphia and Joel Embiid.

Muscala on the Road Trippin’ podcast (hat tip: Jeff McMenamin):

I don’t like the Sixers.

I just don’t like them. I just feel like they talk a lot of s—, especially Embiid.

I understand there’s going to be some trash-talking. But I just feel like – I don’t know. Sometimes, I just – I respect players that just let their play do the talking. And I think sometimes, it just gets excessive, especially with Embiid.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing for the league. I think it’s entertaining, and I think people can feed off of that. In a weird way, I respect him for being to do that, because it takes a lot of guts and confidence, at the same time.

This is a deal, but it’s not necessarily a big deal. The NBA has a long history of players clashing as opponents then meshing as teammates.

The biggest difference here is Muscala’s comments were public.

Sometimes, it takes a conversation to clear the air. Occasionally, the grudge lingers. But usually, this is just dismissed as just the byproduct of competition and moved past.

I doubt Embiid – who, for what it’s worth, is an excessive trash-talker – holds this against Muscala, save maybe a few jokes. I’m even more confident Muscala isn’t joining Philadelphia loudly espousing his anti-trash-talk stance.

Besides, trash-talking is way more fun when on a winner like the 76ers rather than a loser like the Hawks.

Report: After deal with Warriors leaked, opposing players called DeMarcus Cousins about reneging

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DeMarcus Cousins agreeing to sign with the Warriors sent shockwaves through the NBA.

But a few astute players noticed he hadn’t yet put pen to paper.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

As soon as word leaked that Cousins was Bay Area-bound, players around the league began calling him to gauge his mindset, and some even attempted to influence him to change his mind.

Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum was one of the players who wanted to know what was going on.

“Shout out to my dog CJ,” Cousins said with a laugh. “I mean, it’s funny of course. But me and CJ have that type of relationship where we rap about all that type of stuff. In a way he was congratulating me, but at the same time he was dead serious [about what I was going to do]. But at the end of the day, I think he understood my situation and kind of where my mindset was with the whole situation. That’s my dog for sure.”

To be fair, it’s unclear whether C.J. McCollum encouraged Cousins to sign with the Trail Blazers.

I find this especially interesting as players are lining up to criticize the Raptors for their handling of DeMar DeRozan. Apparently, not all players find verbal agreements binding. Yogi Ferrell and Nemanja Bjelica clearly don’t, and I doubt only those two called Cousins about backing out with the Warriors.

Everyone is trying to get an edge, and people’s boundaries differ. I believe in honesty as a mandate, but I’m perfectly fine with misleading people and hiding behind technicalities in these situations. To some, I go too far. To others, I don’t go far enough. It can get messy when our ethical boundaries don’t neatly align.

Cousins upheld his pledge, maybe because he believes in standing by his word – but at least because he probably still viewed the Warriors as his best option. Which is mostly the point. The easiest way to remain honest in these situations is having a thorough understanding of all relevant factors before promising to sign somewhere.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri apologizes to DeMar DeRozan for ‘maybe a gap of miscommunication’

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press via AP
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DeMar DeRozan has made his stance clear: The Raptors lied to him before trading him to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard.

Today, Raptors president Masai Ujiri explained himself.

Eric Koreen of The Athletic:

Josh Lewenberg of TSN:

Ujiri should have not have lied to DeRozan. If he did, Ujiri should face immense criticism for it.

But I don’t know whether Ujiri lied and am definitely not assuming he did.

He didn’t necessarily owe it to DeRozan to explain exactly where negotiations with San Antonio stood. If Ujiri said he “didn’t plan to trade” DeRozan and truly meant that but was also trying to trade DeRozan, saying he “didn’t plan to trade” DeRozan wouldn’t have been a lie.

There’s no point in upsetting a player you might keep – as long as it doesn’t require dishonesty. I’m OK with misleading technicalities. That’s on players and agents to decipher.

As Ujiri said, his job is to win. That’s sometimes a messy and upsetting process.

There is some room for kindness, but it’s often at times like this – after the player is traded. I believe Ujiri went out of his way today to praise and try to placate the likable DeRozan. That’s why I don’t take Ujiri’s apology as an admission of wrongdoing. Better just to be nice now.

A couple weeks ago, Ujiri’s role was different. He was trying to negotiate a high-stakes trade, not please a potentially outgoing player.

As long as Ujiri did so honestly, I’m OK with that.

Report: 76ers trading Richaun Holmes to Suns, signing Jonah Bolden

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The Thunder-Hawks-76ers three-team trade was reportedly on hold to becoming official while Philadelphia eyed another move.

Trading Jerryd Bayless (and surely something positive, like a draft pick) for Kyle Korver? The 76ers could still do that.

But this appears to be the move that had to precede the three-team trade – and the move that completed the Suns’ trade with the Nets.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

The Suns did well to add Richaun Holmes, a 24-year-old energy center. The only question is whether did it in the optimal way.

Instead of trading a second-rounder to go from Jared Dudley‘s $9,530,000 salary to Darrell Arthur‘s $7,464,912 salary, Phoenix could have cleared the cap room necessary to acquire Holmes by waiving Davon Reed or Shaquille Harrison.

Instead, Phoenix will keep Reed and Harrison. The Suns should know Reed and Harrison, both of whom played limited minutes as rookies last year, better than outsiders do. To a certain extent, there’s little choice but to defer to the team’s judgment.

Holmes was behind Joel Embiid and Amir Johnson at center in Philadelphia. Given Embiid’s injury history, third center is an important role on the 76ers. But, after Nemanja Bjelica backed out of his deal with them, they traded for Mike Muscala as their stretch four. However, unlike Bjelica (who swung more toward small forward when switching positions), Muscala swings toward center. He provides enough depth behind Embiid and Johnson.

So, Holmes became the odd man out with Philadelphia needing to clear a roster spot to sign 2017 No. 36 pick Jonah Bolden (a player I liked quite a bit in the draft).

Bolden’s minimum salary would have been $5,721,234 over the next four years. So, he got a little more and likely some of it guaranteed. In exchange, he gave the 76ers team control at a cheap salary for the longest possible time. He’s betting against himself.

After signing Bolden into cap space, Philadelphia can now execute the deal with Oklahoma City and Atlanta.