NBA finals Lakers Celtics Game 1: Your pre-emptive hyperbolic headlines

1 Comment

So here we are. It’s go time. Time for the dance. Ready to rumble. A June for all the marbles (until November, at which point it starts all over again, especially if your team loses in which case you will disavow this season behind an excuse). It’s the NBA finals! And it’s Lakers-Celtics! OMG!

So before we get this here party started, we thought we’d go ahead and map out a few scenarios that will be leading tomorrow’s headlines. We’re not precognitive, we’re just precious.

“PIERCE ‘WHEELS’ WAY TO CELTICS COMEBACK”
: You realize if Pierce gets fouled hard tonight and goes down for a heartbeat he’s going to get it from Staples as bad as if he mistakenly called Prada Gucci. (Those brands ares still relevant, Lakers fans, yes?) After 2008’s wheelchair thing, Lakers fans can’t help but bring it up every fourteen seconds. The phrase “Pierce’s wheelchair” gets used more in Staples than “So is that a touchdown?” from the lower bowl attendees. If Pierce gets hurt and comes back, the roar of disdain will cause The Big One. And I’m not referring to a Glen Davis bowel movement.

“KOBE BRYANT IS A BAD MAN”: Here’s what’s great about Bryant. He can miss five consecutive shots in the final minute of a game, allowing a 10-0 run from the Celtics which ties it, then knock down an off-balance, fadeaway, poor-look three completely outside of the context of the actually drawn up play and will hear nothing but adulation. Bryant is untouchable as long as he hits that last one, and he can hit it with all the restrictions mentioned, with a blind fold with one leg behind his back while singing “Hakuna Matata.” Sports writers love easy storylines and “KOBE BRYANT IS AWESOME’ is a remarkably easy one.

“LAKERS ZONED OUT”: There’s almost no chance that the C’s opt to implement a zone. It’s risky, hard to execute, and weak against NBA players. That said, wouldn’t it be interesting if Doc Rivers whipped it out in the third quarter (the zone, I mean, you sicko)? To bring back nightmares of the Suns series, only with better defenders. Truth be told, the Celtics already play a version of it with man-help, where the interior defenders constantly shift to shut down the lanes while the perimeter defenders apply ball pressure. A few more cemented zones wouldn’t be the most outlandish thing in the world, and the headlines would be fantastic, if by fantastic you mean horribly cliche.

“PAU-PAU-PAU-ER WHEELS TAKE GAME 1”: Yes, that’s two ‘wheels’ jokes. What can I say, sportswriters have a thing for circles. Pau Gasol is probably due for a standout game that leaves you breathless and while Kevin Garnett is a man’s man, Pau Gasol is.. well, a Spaniard’s seven foot tall All-Star with incredible range and touch and terrible facial hair. Gasol taking over Game 1 would lead into a perfect angle of the “costar” stepping up for the “lead star” Kobe Bryant.

Also, be prepared for the following.

  • Statements from the losing side regarding the free throw discrepancy and/or crucial foul calls late in the game, even if their team was down 10.
  • Immediate columns about how the team that lost is in “trouble” despite it being only a singular game, and a million references to the odds of winning the finals if you win the first game.
  • Columns blasting the showboat behavior of a star player/defending the showboat behavior of a star player.
  • Numerous internet pieces on the movie stars in attendance and their wardrobe.
  • Randy Newman.

Enjoy Game 1 everyone! Be sure to come back later for our livechat at 9EST!

Michelle Roberts says if you don’t like player movement blame owners, too

Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Last summer was one of the wildest offseasons in NBA history, maybe the wildest, and the headline was player empowerment. Anthony Davis pushed his way to the Lakers, Paul George forced his way out of Oklahoma City to go to the Clippers and join Kawhi Leonard, which soon had Russell Westbrook joining his old teammate James Harden in Houston. It led to frustration by some owners and changes in how the NBA will handle tampering.

Except, by choice is not how most players change teams. While AD or George has the leverage to make a power play — because of their exceptional talent — most of the time players are traded because the owner/team has all the power and can uproot players for whatever reason (basketball reasons sometimes, saving money other times). The stars have free agent options, rotation players much less so in that system.

Michelle Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players’ Association, wants you to remember that it’s not just player power that has led to the increase in player movement, as she told Mark Spears of The Undefeated.

Michele Roberts, told The Undefeated that she believes there is a “double standard” between how stars are viewed when they decide to move on compared with when franchises choose to make a major transaction, adding that team owners “continue to view players as property.”

“If you want to be critical of one, be critical of both,” Roberts said from the NBPA’s offices in Manhattan. “Those of us who made decisions to move, it’s really astounding to even consider what it feels like to be told in the middle of your life you are going to have to move. But that’s the business we’re in. …

“No one seems to spend a lot of time thinking about what it’s like to make those kinds of moves completely involuntarily. You volunteer to play or not play. But, yeah, if it’s still the case that if you think you’ve got to suck it up, player, then, hell, you’ve got to suck it up, team.”

She’s right. From Chris Paul to Blake Griffin, plenty of big stars have been moved against their will. The door swings both ways, but in those cases most fans tended to see why and like what the teams did. Those fans like it less when players do the same thing.

There’s also a classic labor vs. management angle to all this, which has political overtones.

For my money, how one views player movement tends to be part generational and part where you live.

Older fans remember days — or, at least think they remember days — when players stayed with teams for much or all of their career. It’s understandable, fans form a bond with players and want them to stay… while they’re still good and useful, after that fans beg ownership to get the “dead weight off the books.” Players before the late 1980s stayed with teams because they didn’t have a choice — for Bill Russell in the 60s or Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the 1980s, free agency was not an option. And for every Kobe Bryant that did stay with a team, there were a lot more Wilts and Shaqs, who were traded several times and played with multiple teams.

Younger fans (generally, nothing is universal) are okay with the player movement, sometimes are more fans of a player than a team, and like the action and buzz of all the trades.

Location matters because if you’re in Oklahoma City there’s reason to not like what George did and the era of player empowerment. New Orleans fans can feel the same way (although part of that case is the “supermax” contract that owners wanted but really forced up the timeline on teams and players to make a decision on paying stars). But fans in Los Angeles or wherever players ultimately choose to go will feel differently. Fans want what’s best for their team, but there is no way in the star culture of the NBA to wash away the lure of big markets or of teaming up with another elite player.

The NBA dynamic is different from the NFL’s (for now), but it’s not changing. LeBron James helped usher in an era of player empowerment and it’s the new reality for the NBA, one the best franchises will adapt to rather than fight.

Evan Fournier says that Frank Ntilikina just ‘needs a real opportunity’

Getty
Leave a comment

New York Knicks fans haven’t had a lot to cheer for recently. The team traded away Kristaps Porzingis, who is thought to be the franchise cornerstone. Now they move forward with a young core, RJ Barrett, and tons of cap space.

So what does that mean for players who have been around in the Big Apple like Frank Ntilikina?

Based on how Ntilikina played in the 2019 FIBA World Cup for France this year, things might be looking up.

Ntilikina’s statistics weren’t eye-popping, but he was seen as a very solid player in a backcourt that helped propel France to the bronze medal in China.

To that end, fellow countrymen Evan Fournier thinks that all Ntilikina needs is a chance to shine.

Via Twitter:

Ntilikina’s season last year was marred by injuries, and he played in just 43 games. Still, he has the physical tools to be a useful NBA player, and he’s just 21 years old. With the surprisingly low-pressure situation in New York, it’s possible that extended time playing in the World Cup could help aid what Ntilikina is able to produce next season for the Knicks.

Report: Lakers receive DeMarcus Cousins disabled-player exception

Stacy Revere/BIG3 via Getty Images
1 Comment

A chance at a championship. LeBron James. Anthony Davis. The Los Angeles market. Great weather.

The Lakers can offer plenty to anyone who gets bought out this season.

Now, the Lakers – who lost DeMarcus Cousins to a torn ACL – get a mechanism to offer post-buyout players more money.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The exception holds little value presently. It’s worth less than a full-season minimum salary for anyone with more than four years experience.

But minimum-salary and mid-level exceptions decline throughout the season. This exception does not.

So, on March 1, a team with only a minimum slot available can offer a free agent just between $233,459 and $666,546 (depending on the player’s experience level). The Lakers can offer $1.75 million.

This means an NBA-appointed doctor ruled Cousins is “substantially more likely than not” to be out through June 15. Given that prognosis, the Lakers could open a roster spot by waiving Cousins, who’s on a one-year deal and facing a domestic-violence charge. They’d still keep the exception.

If Cousins can return more quickly than expected, he’d be eligible to play, whether or not the Lakers use the exception.

Damian Lillard says he plans to play for Team USA in 2020 Olympics

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
3 Comments

Stephen Curry said he wants to play for Team USA in the 2020 Olympics.

He isn’t the only star point guard eager for Tokyo.

Damian Lillard, via James McKern of news.com.au:

“I plan on being a part of that. I plan on playing,” Lillard said

Though neither Curry nor Lillard played for Team USA in this year’s World Cup, there’s a potentially large difference: Curry never agreed to play. Lillard did then withdrew. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo indicated particular scorn for players who decommitted.

Of course, Colangelo also wants to win. That might require swallowing his pride and accepting players who withdrew this year. He has talked tough in the past about players who didn’t show his desired devotion to USA Basketball. Lillard got cut in 2014 then missed the 2016 Olympics citing injury. It can be difficult to determine which absences Colangelo forgives.

One factor working against Lillard: The Americans’ point guard pool is deep. Curry rates higher. Kemba Walker earned respect by playing in the World Cup. James Harden (who also withdrew from the World Cup) and Kyrie Irving also factor.

I expect Colangelo to operate on a sliding scale: The better the player, the less prior commitment to USA Basketball necessary. Lillard is an excellent player. We’ll see how far that gets him.

And whether he’ll even want to play next year. The reasons for playing – pride of representing your country, prestige marketing opportunities – are more obvious now. The reasons not to play – injury, fatigue, personal commitments – are more likely to emerge closer to the Games.