Baseline to Baseline recaps: Derrick Rose bests Deron Williams in the clutch

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What you missed while playing a sad, sad song for the end of Guitar Hero

Bulls 91, Jazz 86: At the end of this one Deron Williams and Derrick Rose were putting on a clinic. Two of the best pick and roll ball handlers in the league were slicing defenses with drives, dicing them up with passes to big men. It really was a thing of beauty.

But with the game on the line Rose made the key plays, including running down Williams in transition and making a steal from behind with under a minute to go. Rose was the best player on the floor and that’s why the Bulls won. That and the 11 offensive rebounds in the second half. And the three late key turnovers by the Jazz.

Paul Millsap had spent years as Carlos Boozer’s understudy, and he came out fired up for this one. He finished with 20 points, 14 rebounds. The Jazz did a good job on Boozer, holding him to 14 points on 6 of 16 shooting, and blocking five of his shots. What really hurt the Jazz (again) was depth — they got just five points off the bench all night, and four of those came from C.J. Miles early in the fourth.

But Jazz fans did get to boo Carlos Boozer, and they took full advantage of it.

Pistons 103, Cavaliers 94: There are so, so many ways to beat the Cavaliers. The Pistons went with the “our bench is so much better than yours” system and it worked — 61 bench points for Detroit. Thing is, the Pistons actually have a pretty good bench, they usually lose because of the starters.

Cleveland actually shot 51.4 percent on the night and hit 8 of 19 threes but the 17 turnovers by the Cavs and the 17 offensive rebounds for the Pistons were the difference. We are at 26 straight losses and counting.

Magic 99, Sixers 95: Philadelphia doesn’t have anyone who could stop Dwight Howard. Not a lot of teams do, but Howard made the Sixers pay a steeper price — 30 points, 17 boards. The Sixers tried fouling him — hack-a-Howard — but he hit 14-of-19 free throws. Lou Williams hit two threes in the final minute to make the Magic sweat it out.

Wizards 100, Bucks 85: The Wizards were home where they are over .500, and the Bucks offense still sucks. Washington had six players in double figures and really got solid play out of every key guy not named Rashard Lewis.

Spurs 111, Raptors 100: This game was pretty close for three quarters, then exactly what you expected to happen, happened — DeJuan Blair took over. What, you didn’t expect 16 fourth quarter points and a team-high 28 for the game out of Blair? What if we told you he was being covered by Andrea Bargnani, does it make more sense now? Aside that, basically the Spurs started to focus on defense in the fourth (the Raptors started 5 of 18 for the quarter) and that led to a 22-4 run that was the ballgame.

Nets 103, Hornets 100 (OT): Phil Jackson may try to take credit for this win — former Laker Sasha Vujacic had 25 points, while his former teammate Jordan Farmar was a game high +21 for the Nets. Chris Paul was not at his best (9 points, 11 assists and 7 turnovers) but David West had 32 points, 15 rebounds in the loss.

Pacers 104, Bobcats 103: Here’s why this win was key — if these two teams are tied at the end of the season the Pacers now have the tie-breaker (head-to-head). With the win the Pacers are the eight seed right now, one game up on the Bobcats. Roy Hibbert had 29 points (on 19 shots) because Eduardo Najera can’t guard hm. Indiana led most of the way but 13 points from Stephen Jackson in the fourth quarter led a comeback that made this one tight.

Clippers 116, Knicks 108: Tonight the part of Mr. Clutch will be played by Randy Foye. He had 17 in the fourth quarter to help the Clips hold on. Timofey Mozgov started for the Knicks, and ha 18 points (on 9 shots), six rebounds, and threw down a lot of dunks, as if to say “see me Blake Griffin, I can dunk, too.” Actually, the entire first half seemed like a dunkfest as nobody seemed to play much interior defense. Clippers also got good play out of Ryan Gomes. You read that right.

Mavericks 102, Kings 100: You are right to complain about the call Kings fans — there is no way DeMarcus Cousins (or Tyson Chandler) should have gotten technical for pushing hard to get a free throw rebound with 48 seconds left (it was Cousin’s second tech so he was gone, but the league should rescind). Those two had gone at it hard for a few plays but a ref has to understand the time in the game and let some things go. However that was not reason the Kings lost — the Mavericks executed better and got better looks in crunch time than the Kings. Jason Terry had 26 off the bench.

Warriors 116, Nuggets 114: Terrible end of game execution. Monta Ellis — who hit what turned out to be the game winning three before — tries another from the same spot as the shot clock runs out, he misses and with two timeouts Denver’s Ty Lawson gets the ball and runs up court. Carmelo Anthony trails him b a couple steps asking for the ball but is ignored. No timeout to set up a play, no Melo, the Nuggets end up going with an 18-foot, off-balance jumper by Nene. That predictably clangs off and the Warriors get the win. They executed better in crunch time.

Kawhi Leonard leaving NBA-champion Raptors would be unlike anything we’ve ever seen

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Many Raptors fans hoped Kawhi Leonard would use yesterday’s championship parade to declare his plan to re-sign with Toronto.

They got a laugh and not much else.

But they can be heartened – or maybe eventually heartbroken –a by this: Stars almost never switched teams immediately following a title.

Before this year, there have been…

  • 49 Finals MVPs who won a championship. None switched teams that offseason.
  • 147 All-Stars who won a championship. None switched teams that offseason.
  • 124 All-NBA players who won a championship. Only one switched teams that offseason.

In 1998, Scottie Pippen got signed-and-traded from the Bulls to the Rockets. He was neither an All-Star nor Finals MVP that year, but he made the All-NBA third team. After leaving Chicago, he never achieved any of those accolades.

Leonard checked all three boxes this season – Finals MVP, All-NBA, All-Star. He looks poised to take over as the NBA’s best player for the next few several years.

It’d be unprecedented for someone like him to bolt.

The most productive player to leave a championship team immediately after winning a title? It might be Tyson Chandler, who posted 9.4 win shares for the 2011 Mavericks then got signed-and-traded to the Knicks.

Even while missing 22 games amid load management and minor injury, Leonard posted 9.5 win shares last season.

Here’s how Leonard compares to the players with the most win shares in a title-winning season who began play elsewhere the following year:

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Of course, Leonard isn’t bound by history. He’ll make his own decision. If he wants to leave the Raptors for the Clippers, Knicks or anyone else, he can.

But players just usually stick with a champion. LeBron James said he might have re-signed with the Heat if they won the 2014 title. Kyrie Irving was unhappy after the Cavaliers’ 2016 championship but didn’t request a trade until they lost in the 2017 NBA Finals. Shaq and Kobe coexisted peacefully enough until the Lakers stopped winning titles.

It’s just hard to leave a team that has proven its ability to win a championship, and Leonard would have that in Toronto.

Report: Al Horford opting out with Celtics

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Celtics president Danny Ainge called restructuring Al Horford‘s contract status – which would involve the center declining his $30,123,015 player option then re-signing for a lower starting salary but more total compensation in a multi-year deal – a priority.

This is either a step toward that or a step toward Boston, with Kyrie Irving seemingly exiting, losing multiple stars this summer.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

If they renounce all their free agents, the Celtics would project to have about $32 million in cap space. That’d be about enough for a max player with fewer than 10 years experience, and Boston would get the room exception (projected to be about $5 million)

Or the Celtics could use Bird Rights to re-sign Horford, Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris. That route would come with a mid-level exception, either the non-taxpayer (projected to be about $9 million) or taxpayer (projected to be about $6 million).

Horford could determine Boston’s path. If the 33-year-old wants to re-sign, that’d probably consume most of the Celtics’ cap space. If he sees Irving leaving and wants to chase a title elsewhere, Boston could reset around Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and three first-round picks in Thursday’s draft.

The Celtics could bring back Rozier, who’ll be a restricted free agent, in either scenario. But if Horford departs, that’d at least open the door to pursue an outside point guard – like D'Angelo Russell or Malcolm Brogdon – to replace Irving.

Report: Kyrie Irving has ‘ghosted’ Celtics as free agency approaches

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The emerging expectation: Kyrie Irving will sign with the Nets in free agency.

Many thought the Celtics had a chance of changing his mind by trading for Anthony Davis. But Boston didn’t deal for the star center.

There’s little reason to believe Irving will re-sign with the Celtics now.

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

The strangest part of the Irving situation right now is that it appears he has essentially ghosted on the Celtics. The people within the organization I have spoken with have made it clear that they have had little, if any, communication with Irving in recent weeks.

Irving is the prize. He’s not interviewing for jobs. Employers are chasing him. By becoming one of the best basketball players in the world, Irving has earned the power to act however he wants in this situation.

The season is over. If Irving wants space, he’s entitled to it.

Maybe it’s because he’s being a jerk. Maybe it’s because telling Boston he wants to leave isn’t an easy message to deliver.

Either way, Irving can proceed as he sees fit. The Celtics will still offer him a max contract if he wants to stay.

This is the same tact he reportedly took on his way out of Cleveland. So, it’s believable he’s behaving this way again.

But we’ve also repeatedly seen players smeared on their way out the door. Whether or not it’s accurate, this report will reflect poorly on Irving in many circles. So, in light of recent history, have at least a little skepticism for this depiction of Irving.

2019 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Ja Morant is the future of the point guard position

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Over the course of the next two weeks, as the 2019 NBA Draft draws closer and closer, we at Pro Basketball Talk will be taking deep dives into some of the best and most intriguing prospects that will be making their way to the NBA.

Today, we are looking at Ja Morant.

Previous draft profiles:

The trajectory that Zion Williamson and Ja Morant have taken to get to the point where they are projected to be the top two picks in the NBA draft could not be more different.

Four years ago, they were playing on the same, small AAU team out of South Carolina. From there, Zion blew up, becoming a viral sensation thanks to his athletic exploits, having his jersey get worn by Drake when he was still a high school junior and spending the majority of his time in the high school ranks as a top-five talent in his recruiting class.

Morant, on the other hand, was more or less a no-name prospect into the summer before his senior year. He eventually became a popular mid-major target, and he even received a scholarship offer from in-state South Carolina. He was hardly unknown, but he was miles away from being someone considered to be a potential franchise-changing talent at the NBA level.

As it stands today, the thing that both Zion and Ja have in common — besides the two most recognizable first names — is an otherworldly level of explosiveness that has both ratcheted up their hype and buried the lede. The reason Williamson is the most exciting prospect to come out of the college ranks since Anthony Davis is because of his ability to play the point and the five, all at the same time. He’s Draymond Green, only if he was injected with NOS from Dominic Toretto.

Morant’s athleticism rivals Williamson’s. Blessed with a 44 inch vertical, Morant’s motto this season was “jump with me if you want to go viral,” and that couldn’t have been more accurate. He spent more time on SportsCenter this season than every Ohio Valley Conference player before him combined, something that was highlighted by this dunk:

And that explosiveness matters, I would never try to say otherwise. Dunking over weakside defenders in the NBA is going to be more difficult than when playing at UT Martin, but being able to elevate the way Morant elevates will help him transition to the next level. His quick-twitch athleticism also manifests in his ability to make plays in the halfcourt, where his ability to change speeds — and to go from a standstill to top speed — is what allows scouts to be able to project Morant as a player that can create offense against set NBA defenses. For a player who did so much of his damage at the college level in transition, that’s a big deal.

Morant’s physical tools makes it very easy to see him as another De'Aaron Fox. They’re both about 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds with a 6-foot-6 wingspan, and Fox just wrapped up his second season in the NBA with averages of 17.3 points, 7.3 assists and 3.8 boards.

But simply focusing on Morant’s athletic ability is to ignore what he does best: Pass.

Because while Morant did average 24.5 points and 5.7 boards while shooting 36 percent from three, perhaps what is most impressive about his sophomore season with the Racers is that he led all of college basketball in assists at 10.0 per game, just like Lonzo Ball led the nation in assists in 2017 and Trae Young did in 2018.

I mention both of those guys for a reason. Morant does not have the same hit-ahead ability in transition that Ball does, but Morant’s vision in the open floor and ability to make long, accurate passes in the open floor is one of the things that he does best. He also thrives in early-offense, where his And-1 Mixtape handle allows him to keep his dribble alive and probe opposing defenses. Because he is such a threat as a scorer, defenses would then collapse, which is when Morant’s ability as a dump-off passer and a lob-thrower comes into effect.

And that’s not even what he does best as a passer, because where he really shines is in the halfcourt and working off of ball-screens. Morant’s basketball IQ is the most underrated part of his game. He knows how defenses are going to defend him. He knows how to use his eyes to move weakside defenders. He knows where the tag is coming from, and whether the shooter in the far side corner or the roll-man will be open. This is where that Trae Young comparison comes into play, because reading defenses is where Young thrived while at Oklahoma.

The best way to describe Morant’s ability as a passer is that he not only knows when and where his teammates are going to come open, but he has the ability to find a way to make the pass that will get them an open shot. Morant is right-handed, but he will, at times, look like a left-handed player because of how often he makes bullet, live-dribble passes with just his left. He makes reads, and passes, that few point guards in the NBA today can make.

That passing is what makes all the difference, and as much as his athleticism or ability as a scorer, it’s the reason why he can be viewed as a player with the potential to be a franchise-changing point guard in the same stratosphere as the likes of Russell Westbrook and John Wall.

Now, Morant does have some flaws, and they are quite notable and relevant.

For starters, he is of a slight build, which is less than ideal. He is not going to be able to bounce off of contact in the NBA the same way he did in the OVC, and in a league where switchability is a priority at the highest-level, he is going to be targeted. Opposing coaches are going to target him by trying to force switches the same way that Nick Nurse did with Steph Curry in the finals. That is going to be an issue if he can’t add some weight and strength, particularly because he has not been a consistently great defender to date. Some of that can be attributed to the load that he was asked to carry offensively, and there is reason to believe that Morant’s athleticism, anticipation and quick hands will translate to being an above-average defender in the NBA.

Morant can also be a bit sloppy. He averaged more than five turnovers per game, and while some of that is strictly a result of workload and defensive attention, he also had a habit of trying to force passes that weren’t there.

But the biggest question mark, and what is going to determine his ceiling more than just about anything else, will be how well his jumper comes along. Morant shot 36.3 percent from three this past season, but that number drops to just 33.6 percent if his 7-for-8 shooting from three in the NCAA tournament is factored out.

Put another way, as good as Morant was this past season, there is still plenty of room for him to grow moving forward.

And in a league where ball-dominant lead guards that thrive in ball-screens is the norm, Morant is a player with quite a bit of value in the long-term.