Gilbert Arenas has one more chance to change his legacy

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Orien Greene did not get a second chance. Not yet, anyway. Len Bias did not get a second chance. Ron Artest did. Many players with mistakes worse than Gilbert Arenas have gotten second chances and many players with lighter misdeeds have not gotten such chances at redemption.  There’s no rhyme or reason to second chances in the NBA. They just sort of happen.

Gilbert Arenas has gotten his.

He’s gone from a team that fell under frustration due to his injuries, then turmoil due to his locker room behavior, to a contender. A team with an established hierarchy, a coach that drives the cart, and a real chance to make a run at the East. Well, okay, a slight chance to make a run at the East (the big bad wolf is still running the game). Arenas has a chance to change the narrative of his career from “the boy who cried ‘Hibachi’ and then faded into a trivia question” to “the man who brought joy to the Amway Center.”

What happens next is up to him. For his part, he’s saying the right things:

“This is a new beginning for me,” Arenas said late Saturday night in a gray Magic practice T-shirt and black shorts, finishing a workout in the team’s practice facility. “This is a true new beginning. Changing my number was a new beginning, but this is a real new beginning with a new city, new people and new team, and I get to start fresh.”

via Arenas eager for ‘new beginning’ with Magic – NBA- NBC Sports.

Okay, so it’s not exactly contrition. You take what you can get. More interesting is the scene set in the story. Gilbert Arenas packed some stuff, said goodbye to his protege Nick Young, and hopped on a plane. He landed, and later wound up at the Orlando practice facility, alone. He spoke with reporters and watched his new team fall to Philadelphia shorthanded. There’s something dramatic about that image, isn’t there? Gilbert Arenas, Agent Zero, stripped of uniform and guns and crowd, just hanging out in a gym shooting baskets and watching his future on television.

It’s impossible to know what was going on in Arenas’ head Saturday night. We don’t know him, even now. We never did, and it wasn’t his fault that we thought we did, it was ours. This doesn’t mean that his indescribably stupid act of reckless behavior (which was too often overlooked as a childish prank or silly ignorance) wasn’t  in fact dangerous to himself, his teammates, and every person that walked into that facility. But it means that everything that came after, the assassination of character based on who he has been and who he is and who he will be, that nonsense was the product of some vain assumption on our part that we understand professional athletes. No amount of blogs or commercials or public images of facial expressions really give you insight to man or woman.

So we’re left to try and think about what anyone would do, what anyone would say, what anyone would think to try and get an understanding of the moment.

And in that practice facility tonight, shooting buckets alone, Gilbert Arenas probably felt excited, and remorseful, and determined, and a little bit scared. But mostly, he probably just felt thirsty and hot, because that’s what happens when you play basketball.

Arenas was never meant to lead, it turns out. Whether that’s a function of his knees, or his personality, or his game, or his leadership in and of itself or the inexplicable forces of nature, Arenas simply was not meant to be the star to take a team forward. So now he has to be a supporting character. All his quirks and eccentricities and innumerable basketball talents (or whatever is left of them), this is what his role has been reduced to, in his own words:

“If you have the open shot, take it. If not, pass to Dwight.”

Easy to say, harder to do, but something Arenas has been working on with John Wall in Washington: deferring. It’s not as easy as it sounds, going from having a license to thrill to a dependent authorization to execute if the situation warrants it. But that’s what Arenas has to do. If he does, and if that shot comes back the way it’s shown flashes of but inconsistently this season (39% from the field), he could be a difference maker. Throw in Jason Richardson as a difference maker, Brandon Bass as a difference maker, and Jameer Nelson in the driver’s seat and maybe, just maybe that’s enough to put them into a position to have lightning strike in the East.

It’s a long shot, but it’s what they’ve got. It’s what Arenas has got.

People will be rooting for Arenas. People will be mocking Arenas. The only person who has Gilbert Arenas’ back right now is Gilbert Arenas. His new teammates don’t know him well enough (outside of Jason Richardson), and Otis Smith has already put his weight behind Arenas in acquiring him. It’s all on Zero from here on out.

Reports have surfaced that Arenas will be wearing No.1 for Orlando. There’s all sorts of ways to look into it, but I prefer to think of it this way: it’s how many lives he’s got left in the NBA.

Celtics’ Terry Rozier on Game 3: “We needed to get our butts whooped”

Associated Press
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Cleveland dominated Game 3 Saturday night. They played harder, to start. The Cavaliers’ defensive pressure on the ball was better, they were sharper rotating out to shooters and covering passing lanes. Cleveland’s role players stepped up and helped LeBron James.

Boston, meanwhile, wilted in the face of that pressure Saturday, something it has done a few times on the road these playoffs. The Celtics got away from the things that got them to the Eastern Conference Finals. Guard Terry Rozier put it more bluntly, via A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston:

“I feel like we needed this (loss) to get us back … to get us ready for Monday,” Rozier said.

Rozier later added, “We needed to get our butts whipped. Come back to reality and take care of business on Monday.”

Cleveland is a championship team — from LeBron James on down through the core guys, they all have rings. They have been down before, and heading home it was expected they would play with force. Cleveland’s back was against the wall and they responded.

From the Celtics’ perspective, they also got a little too fat and happy and were not ready for what the Cavaliers came with in Game 3.

Now the pressure is on Boston to push back, to get back to their level of execution and do it under pressure. Make the Cavaliers prove the improved defensive effort was not a one-off game. The Celtics must move the ball and play with some pace, then see if the Cavaliers can keep it together in the face of crisp play.

When this series heads back to Boston Wednesday, it will either see the Celtics in control up 3-1, or the series will be a best of three (with the Cavs still having to figure out if they can win on the road). At home, the Cavaliers are going to play with force again and have some depth. We’ll see if Game 3 was enough of a wakeup call for Boston.

PBT Extra: Can Rockets take Game 2 energy, execution on the road?

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Houston found its blueprint to beating Golden State in Game 2: Strong defensive pressure on the ball, quick switches and communication on defense, getting out in transition when possible, and starting sets earlier in the shot clock and attacking downhill with James Harden and Chris Paul.

Now can they do that on the road? Against a more focused and sharper Warriors’ team?

That will be the question in the next two games of the Western Conference Finals, and it’s what I discuss in this latest PBT Extra.

Cavaliers cruise past Celtics in Game 3, change complexion of Eastern Conference finals

AP Photo/Tony Dejak
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The Cavaliers were heavy favorites over the Celtics entering the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron James has dominated the East for years, and Cleveland appeared to hit its stride in a sweep of the Raptors last round. Boston was shorthanded and inexperienced.

Were the Celtics’ two wins to open the series, as impressive as they were, really enough to override everything else we knew about these teams?

The Cavs walloped Boston in Game 3, 116-86, Saturday. Cleveland now has four of the NBA’s last five 30-point playoff wins – two against the Celtics last year, one over Toronto last round and tonight. (The Cavaliers lost the league’s only other 30-point game between, to the Pacers in the first round.)

Boston still leads the series 2-1, and teams up 2-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 80% of the time.

But the team up 2-1 is usually the one seen as better entering the series. That isn’t the case here, not with LeBron on the other side. And the leading team usually isn’t so woeful on the road, which will remain a major storyline entering Game 4 Monday in Cleveland.

The Celtics bought themselves margin for error, but they blew a lot of it tonight.

It’d be an oversimplification to say the Cavs just played harder, but they did, and it went along way. They chased loose balls, tightened their defense and moved more off the ball offensively. Cleveland jumped to a 20-4 lead, led by double digits the rest of the way and spent most of the game up by at least 20.

LeBron (27 points, 12 assists, two blocks and two steals) dazzled as a passer and locked in as a defender. He received help from several players:

In a low-resistance effort, Boston didn’t goon up the game at all.

The Cavaliers still have plenty of work ahead to reach their fourth straight NBA Finals, but tonight, they showed a path to advancing. Climbing out of their early series deficit now looks far less intimidating.

Luka Doncic named EuroLeague MVP at age 19

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Luka Doncic, the likely top two pick in the upcoming NBA draft, has led his Real Madrid team to the EuroLeague finals at age 19.

Now he has been named the youngest player ever win the EuroLeague MVP.

For those unfamiliar, EuroLeague is the equivalent of the Champions League in soccer — the very best club teams from around the continent face off against each other. On this biggest of European stages, Doncic has been a force. He is a gifted passer with great court vision. He can take his man off the dribble. He can hit threes. And he knows how to be a floor general and run a game. Did we mention he’s just 19?

Doncic said before the start of EuroLeague that he hasn’t decided what he is going to do about coming to the NBA or going back to Real Madrid. Don’t buy it. This is like asking a major college basketball star right before the NCAA Tournament if he is coming back to “State U” next year, they don’t want to say “no” right before the tourney so they give a non-committal answer. Same here. He’s not leaving millions on the table, he’ll be in the NBA next season.

And he’ll bee good.