The Heat don’t need Erick Dampier, but they could surely use him

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Count me among those that sees Miami’s rough start as a temporary turmoil. It’s only a matter of time before the pieces start clicking just right, if only because the level of talent between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade breaks dimensional bounds and head coach Erik Spoelstra won’t rest until the offense is structured and executed correctly. The Heat will figure out how to best utilize the scoring talents of their core (a healthy Mike Miller included), and fire will rain from the heavens. Book it.

So in terms of what Miami needs, time is paramount. This widely watched pot will finally begin to boil at some point, and there isn’t too much that can be done to speed up that process. However, adding Erick Dampier to Miami’s fleet of centers would be more than just a cosmetic change, even if Damp’s presence isn’t flat-out needed. The Heat can get by without him, but why would they want to? Given Dampier’s play throughout his entire career, why not bring him in to play some defense, hit the glass, and drop in a dunk every now and again?

Tom Haberstroh sang Dampier’s praises at The Heat Index, and pondered why the Heat haven’t been more aggressive in their pursuit of a useful, proven center:

At 6-foot-11, Dampier has consistently been a skilled rebounder in his NBA career, who at one point had earned the crown as the very best in the league in 2003-04. As a 34-year-old last season in Dallas, Dampier collected an estimated 11.6 percent of the Mavericks’ missed shots while he was on the floor which ranked him in the top 10 among regular centers. His glasswork has depreciated over the years but he should still be a substantial upgrade over Miami’s current alternatives.

In contrast to Anthony, Dampier’s long enough to block shots without relinquishing his box out position or getting into foul trouble. The 35-year-old veteran was above average in both shot-blocking and defensive rebounding as a center in 2009-10. The Heat may tout Anthony’s visible effort in blocking shots, but they’d be bar better off overall with Dampier’s more conservative approach that doesn’t leave the paint vulnerable to put-backs or routinely send his opponents to the charity stripe.

Offensively, Dampier represents a veritable upgrade to Anthony as well. They’re built from the same mold in that they each fall under the category of low-usage and offensively limited centers. But Dampier’s a more efficient option beneath the basket. When your scoring responsibility is restricted to easy put-backs, Anthony’s career 48 percent field goal percentage should be of great concern. However, Dampier has enjoyed a similar offensive role over the last four seasons in Dallas and has connected on no fewer than 62.4 percent of his field goals in any of those seasons.

Damp has long lived as a punchline due to a painfully ridiculous contract thrown his way by Donnie Nelson, Mark Cuban, and the Dallas Mavericks, but he’s more than serviceable in the middle. Defensively, he’s equipped to tackle the big-bodied conventional center types that give Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony trouble, all while playing solid (though as Haberstroh notes, conservative) help defense.

Toss in a low-usage, high-efficiency approach around the rim and solid offensive rebounding numbers, and it’s quite curious that Dampier hasn’t found a home already. Haberstroh later goes on to wonder how much health and age have factored into Damp’s free agent pinballing, and though neither is a pressing concern (he was effective last season for Dallas), I’m at a loss as to what else could leave a competent center unattached. Miami is but one team that could use Dampier’s size, and he has yet to find an NBA landing spot nonetheless. Color me perplexed.

Russell Westbrook suffers strained quadriceps, out Friday, could miss playoff games

Russell Westbrook injury
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The Houston Rockets are going to be a trendy pick to make a deep in the West playoffs, but that will be hard to envision if Russell Westbrook misses time.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey announced that an MRI revealed Westbrook has a strained quadriceps muscle in his right leg. He is not playing today (Wednesday) against the Pacers and will be out Friday against the 76ers as well. He will be re-evaluated before the playoff tip-off next week, but his status for those games is unclear.

Westbrook has been just a little off at the restart. He averaged 27.2 points per game during the regular season, but that has been down to 24.3 in the Orlando restart. His 53.6 true shooting percentage for the season (near the league average) fell to 50% in the bubble.

The Rockets have been a strong 4-2 in the bubble with their small-ball system and have held on to the four seed, but they haven’t completely found a rhythm yet (as we saw pre-shutdown. In a likely first-round matchup with Oklahoma City, Houston would need Westbrook and his explosive athleticism.

Without Westbrook expect more of Eric Gordon, who just returned to the rotation Wednesday from injury, plus Austin Rivers, Ben McLemore, even maybe Jeff Green — with a switchable roster Mike D’Antoni has a lot of options to soak up those minutes.

He just doesn’t have anyone as good.

Celtics sign coach Brad Stevens to contract extension

Celtics coach Brad Stevens
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The Celtics shocked by hiring Brad Stevens from Butler in 2013. He was a mid-major college coach, and even big-time college coaches rarely translated to the NBA. In fact, Stevens was viewed as such a college coach, rumors of him returning to that level persisted for years.

But Stevens has turned into a quintessential NBA coach. Despite taking over amid a rebuild, Stevens has won 56% of his games with Boston. It’s difficult to see him anywhere else.

Especially now.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics have signed head coach Brad Stevens to a contract extension, the team announced today.

Stevens, who previously signed a contract extension in 2016, is one of the NBA’s top coaches. He implements crisp schemes on both ends of the floor and communicates roles clearly to his players. At just 43, he could rival some of the longest coaching tenures in NBA history.

There are still questions about Stevens’ ability to coach stars. They might become more pronounced as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown ascend.

But that’s a first-world NBA problem – having a coach who raises his team’s level and premier talent young players who could lift it even higher.

Another week, still zero players test positive at NBA restart

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It’s starting to sound routine, but it shouldn’t — that the NBA is pulling off an impressive feat keeping COVID-19 outside the bubble (just watch other sports try to come back).

The league announced that 342 players were tested for COVID-19 on the NBA campus in the past week and there were zero confirmed positive tests. The league has had no positive tests inside the NBA bubble since it started.

It’s a testament to the tone Commissioner Adam Silver set (working with Chris Paul and the players’ union) setting a tone of patience and — to use a coaching cliche — not skipping steps.

The NBA began testing players in their home markets before they arrived in Orlando (that’s where a number of players tested positive, and were quarantined/treated in those markets). Once teams arrived in Orlando, players were quarantined and tested again.

The idea was simple — to keep the virus outside of the bubble — but the execution was not. Nor was making sure there was buy-in from the players (and, for the most part, there has been).

At least so far. There are about two months of games remaining through the end of the finals, and when family members arrive next month there will be new ways the virus could penetrate the bubble.

It isn’t time for an NBA victory lap yet, but so far so good.

Nate McMillan agrees to contract extension as Pacers coach

Nate McMillan extension
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The rumor that Nate McMillan was on the hot seat in Indiana? Turns out, about as accurate as the rumor Nicholas Cage is a time traveler.

McMillan and the Pacers have agreed to a contract extension, the team announced Wednesday (it was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN). McMillan had one year remaining on his current contract. There are no details about the length or compensation. But McMillan isn’t going anywhere.

“What Nate has done in four seasons with our franchise merits this extension,” said President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard. “Between injuries and changes in personnel, he and his coaching staff have adapted and produced positive results. He also represents the franchise, the city and our state in a first-class manner.”

This is the right move by the Pacers, McMillan has been one of the better coaches in the NBA the past couple of seasons (he was fourth in Coach of the Year voting a season ago and will get votes again this season). He has gotten the Pacers to exceed their on-paper talent level a few seasons in a row. Talks to extend McMillan were likely in the works already, but the push to get a longer contract announced now — while the Pacers are still playing at the NBA restart in Orlando — likely was tied to that rumor going public.

The Pacers are the fifth seed in the East and will face the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs. That Indiana got there without a healthy Victor Oladipo — thanks to strong play from Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis for most of the season, then from T.J. Warren at the NBA restart — is a testament to McMillan’s coaching.

McMillan’s style isn’t flashy or modern — the Pacers are bottom eight in both three-pointers attempted and pace this season — but it works. The Pacers offense has been pretty average this season overall (18th in the league), which is not bad considering the team was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level). The Pacers also have found and developed good young players.

All of that ties back to coaching, which is why McMillan earned this extension.