The five best NBA finals. Ever.

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wreed.jpgWe are staring at another great one. Potentially. These 2010 Lakers and Celtics match up pretty evenly, both are championship tested; both have big stars and thrilling role players. This is going to be fun.

But can it match up to the all-time greats? The best finals series ever? That is one tall mountain to climb. I mean, just look at the competition, the five best NBA finals series ever:

1970, New York Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games

Everyone kept expecting the Lakers to break through with a title — they had the most talent in the league, but they kept losing to a better team in the Celtics. Now the LA stars were taking on another real team, this one from New York.

This series had a couple of legendary moments. First there was Game 3, where Knicks legend Dave DeBusschere hit what looked like the game winner with three-seconds to go, only to have Jerry West hit a three-quarter court shot to tie it. Maybe the greatest shot in NBA Finals history.

Then there was Game 7, when the Knicks lone star player Willis Reed was not expected to play. But he came out of the tunnel, fired up the fans, and played a few minutes of quality basketball where he fired up his team. And the Knicks won Game 7 and the title on that emotion.

1998 Finals, Chicago Bulls beat the Utah Jazz in six games

Michael Jordan’s greatest moment. Which is saying something. But in capping off the second of the two Bulls three-peats Chicago had to beat the best team they had faced in the finals. That Jazz team had Karl Malone and John Stockton at their peaks.

The Jazz won game one, the Bulls Game 2 and then Chicago had a defensive game for the ages in Game 3, holding the Jazz to 56 points. For the game.

But it was the final 30 seconds of Game 6 that had Jordan leaving on top. The Bulls were down one point. First Jordan made a blind-side steal on Malone in the post. Then he made the one of the signature shots of his career — the cross-over (and push off) on Byron Russell, followed by the pure jumper that won the game. And the series. The perfect shot that capped of Jordan’s career.

1976 NBA finals, Boston Celtics defeat the Phoenix Suns in six games

Can one game propel an NBA finals into the best five ever? It can when you are talking about the best game ever.

Game five is legendary. It had been a dramatic game that was tied 95-95 at the end of regulation. Then at 101-101 at the end of the first overtime. In the second overtime the Celtics had a three-point lead late (remember, this was before the three-point shot) and it looked like a win. But then a Suns jumper by Dick Van Arsdale makes it a one-point game again.

Then on the inbound Paul Westphal steals the ball from John Havlicek, and the Suns have life. Curtis Perry missed a jumper but the rebound is taped back out to Perry who doesn’t miss twice. Suns 110-109.  But Havlicek is not to be outdone. He gets the ball with five seconds to go and drives down the left hand side and puts up an off-balance runner that falls as time ticks off the clock. Celtics win 111-110, fans storm the court. It’s all over…

Except it’s not. The referees know there should be one second left on the clock. They pull the Celtics out of the locker room for a final play. The Suns have to go the length of the court in one second to get a game winner. But then in a moment of veteran savvy Westphal calls a timeout, when the Suns have none. It’s a technical foul — and Boston hits the free throw to go up 112-110 — but the Suns get to take the ball out at half court.

Gar Heard hit the turn-around jumper near the elbow to tie the game again and send it to a third overtime. Just go watch the shots yourself.

The Celtics won the third overtime handily, and won the series in six. But Game 5 alone made this an all-time great.

1969 Finals, Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games

Lakers fans, you may not want to read this one or compare it to 2010.

The Lakers had the big-name stars in their prime: Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. The Celtics had stars like Bill Russell — who was the player coach — and Sam Jones, but they were both injured. The Celtics were considered too old. They had finished fourth in the East, then surprised everyone in the playoffs.

Game 1 saw Jerry West just go off, to the tune of 53 points. Havlicek answered with 43 in Game 2. Game 4 had Don Nelson (yes, that Don Nelson) hit the game winner on a shot that hit the back of the rim as time expired, go straight up higher than the backboard, then fall back through. We had ourselves a shootout, a series that went seven games.

That Game 7 was in the Fabulous Forum, and no home team had ever lost a Game 7 in NBA finals history. Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke had balloons put in the rafters to fall when the game was over, because he was sure of victory. What he did was motivate the Celtics, who were angered by the balloons (not as much as West, however) and Boston hit 8 of their first 10 shots and went on to win the title. The balloons never came down.

It was the Celtics 11th title in 13 years. It was also the last one for that dynasty.

1984/1985 NBA Finals, combined, Boston and Los Angeles (Celtics won 1984, Lakers won 1985)

Two different years, but it’s hard not to think of them together, the same way it is hard not to think of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird separately. This was the two titles that may have been their peak.

The Celtics beat the Lakers in 1984 in a physical, hard-fought seven game series. Kevin McHale turned the emotion of this series when he clotheslined Kurt Rambis. That came in Game 4, which was an epic overtime battle that became one of the defining moments of the Bird-era Celtics. It was one of the best Finals games, ever. Boston had to go seven but won a series that validated Bird and his legend and finally gave him a win over Magic in a big game.

Then 1985 it was Magic’s turn. It didn’t look that way at the start, with Boston winning Game 1 in what became known as the Memorial Day Massacre, a 148-114 thrashing of the Lakers. It was so bad Kareem Abdul-Jabbar apologized to his teammates afterward. And while Magic was Magic in 1985 the Lakers were still Kareem’s team and he took over. He scored 29 in the deciding Game 6 and was the series MVP.

Raptors hire Spurs video coordinator, who just happens to be Kawhi Leonard friend

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Jeremy Castleberry played his high school ball in Riverside, California, on the same team as Kawhi Leonard. When Leonard went on to San Diego State for college, Castleberry went too and was a walk-on for that team.

When the Spurs drafted Leonard, it was not long before Castleberry was a video coordinator and on the staff in San Antonio. Now Leonard is a Raptor so… you know what’s coming. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN explained it well.

The Toronto Raptors are hiring San Antonio Spurs staffer Jeremy Castleberry — a close friend of Kawhi Leonard — to a position on their coaching staff, league sources told ESPN.

Castleberry has worked with Leonard as a Spurs staffer and played with Leonard in high school and at San Diego State, where he was a walk-on.

Is this alone going to keep Leonard a Raptor next summer when he’s a free agent? No. But this is how the game is played — make the star player you’re recruiting feel comfortable, wanted, a key part of everything. Bringing in a friend to a new city for him fits right into that plan.

The smart money is still on Leonard bolting next summer to go to Los Angeles, but if the Raptors are able to change his mind — ala Paul George — it will not be one big thing but a thousand little ones. And a lot of wins. But hiring Castleberry is a start.

Brandon Jennings signs to play in Russia next season

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Brandon Jennings has just never been the same since his 2015 torn Achilles. He hasn’t shot over 40 percent from the floor for a season since then, he hasn’t moved well defensivly, and he had a PER of 19.3 the season it was torn and it’s never been above 13.7 for a season since then. In the past couple of seasons he has played in the G-League and China, and he played 14 games at the end of the season for the Bucks last campaign.

This summer, there were no offers. He is now headed to Russia, according to multiple reports, including EuroHoops.net. He will play for Zenit St Petersburg.

He’s only 28 years old, there is time for him find a way to make his game fit into the NBA landscape again. He’s just not there yet, and maybe the opportunity in Russia will lead him there. If not, he’s still getting paid to play at a high level.

Some owners reportedly want access to mental health files of players

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If you read one thing NBA related today, it should be the first installment of Jackie MacMullan’s brilliant series at ESPN on the mental health of players and staffs in the NBA, and how the league is handling it. MacMullan not only got Kevin Love and Paul Pierce to open up about their challenges, but she also got into the challenges the league faces in confronting this issue head-on.

One such challenge: Owners wanting access to players mental health “files.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, players union executive director Michelle Roberts and their respective teams are reportedly working on a new mental health policy for the league. Privacy is going to be a big part of that. From MacMullan:

Yet there remain many obstacles to confront, chief among them the stigma attached to mental health that prompts many players to suffer in silence. The union also insists that mental health treatment be confidential, but some NBA owners, who in some cases are paying their players hundreds of millions of dollars, want access to the files of their “investments.” That is not, however, the league’s position. “The NBA fully supports protecting the confidentiality of players’ mental health information and, accordingly, committed to the players association that any mental health program we undertake would do so,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass says.

Confidentiality, says Love, has to be non-negotiable. Without it, he says, he never would have become comfortable enough to announce from that All-Star dais that he was seeking treatment.

Those files must be private. This is different from a torn knee ligament or sprained ankle (and on those we have HIPPA laws for good reason). For one, this is something more unpredictable in treating. Second, it comes back to the stigma of mental health issues and how the information about them might be used.

That stigma still exists, both in society and the NBA — McMullan gets into the players and their wives talking behind Love’s back All-Star weekend, and the players currently seeking treatment who do not want it public. The “real men don’t talk about this” mentality is everywhere, but it has fertile ground in professional sports locker rooms where players see themselves as invincible.

That mentality, that stigma will be the hardest thing to change in altering the culture of mental health issues in the NBA. There are no easy answers here. Does anyone think the owners who want access to those files wouldn’t use against the player in negotiations (never underestimate an owner’s effort to gain leverage)?

The players’ union will not allow that in whatever the framework is for the leagues’ new mental health policy. Nor should they.

Love, DeMar DeRozan, Royce White and others broke barriers stepping forward into the spotlight to discuss their challenges. But there are a lot of barriers still up, and a lot of work for both the NBA and society to do on this front. And privacy must be part of that.

Rebuilding Hawks add depth by signing Daniel Hamilton, Alex Poythress.

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ATLANTA (AP) — The rebuilding Atlanta Hawks have added depth by signing guard-forward Daniel Hamilton and forward Alex Poythress.

Poythress was signed to a two-way contract, so the former Kentucky player will split his time with the Hawks’ G League Erie team.

Hamilton is on a fully guaranteed one-year contract after impressing the Hawks playing for the Thunder Summer League team. He averaged 2 points in six games with Oklahoma City last season while on a two-way contract with the Thunder. He spent most of the season with the G League Oklahoma City Blue.

Poythress averaged 1 point in 25 games with Indiana last season. He began the season on a two-way contract.