NBA Playoffs: Incredible comeback has Dallas one game from the NBA Finals

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The Thunder had this.

They did just about everything they had to do from the opening tip to secure a series-evening victory against Dallas in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.

OKC jumped out to a fast start, got a superstar-level performance from its best player, and played active team defense for the vast majority of the game. The team built a lead of 15 points with 5:06 to play after what seemed like a dagger of a three-pointer at the time from Kevin Durant.

But then, and so quickly, it all came crashing down. Dallas finished regulation on a blistering 17-2 run to send it into overtime, and finished the comeback it started by pulling off an incredible 112-105 victory to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.

A slow start doomed the Thunder in Game 3, so they made sure to begin strong in this one. Oklahoma City came out firing, and made its first nine shots, on the way to an early double-digit lead. But Dallas was able to hang around thanks to 22 first-half points from Dirk Nowitzki, and after shooting almost 67 percent from the field in the second quarter, the Mavs trailed by just five at the break.

The Thunder continued to play well, however, all the way up until that fateful point in the fourth. They were aggressive defensively, and were absolute monsters on the glass, particularly on the offensive end, where they grabbed 20 rebounds compared to just five for Dallas.

But things fell apart late for Oklahoma City, seemingly right at the point when backup playmaker James Harden fouled out of the game. From 4:34 left in the fourth until the final overtime buzzer, the Mavericks outscored the Thunder 26-6.

All of a sudden, the ball movement stopped for the Thunder offensively. Shawn Marion forced Durant into difficult, heavily-contested shots. Russell Westbrook forced shots, but the blame for the collapse is far from his — there was plenty of standing around by his teammates, and the team defense of the Mavericks was simply outstanding.

And of course, there was the play of Nowitzki.

Dirk has been simply incredible this postseason, and he finished this one with his second performance of 40 points or more in this series. He had 11 of his team’s final 13 points in regulation to close the gap, scoring on a variety of ridiculously tough shots over the tight and largely solid defense of Nick Collison.

As good as Nowitzki and the Mavs were during that huge fourth quarter run, the Thunder had two chances at the end of regulation to seal it, but the execution on those possessions was just atrocious.

The first play came out of a timeout with Oklahoma City still leading by two. There was actually player movement on this possession as the team got into a set play, but the only shot the Thunder were able to get was a corner three-point attempt from Thabo Sefolosha.

The look was clean, and the pass from Durant was a good one in that situation. But it’s unconscionable with the game, and maybe the series on the line that coming out of a timeout, something can’t be drawn up to get the ball into your best player’s hands for something that resembles a decent shot.

On the Thunder’s following possession with the game tied and 6.4 seconds remaining in regulation, they got it to Durant this time, only they did so more than 30 feet from the basket. Durant panicked, and launched a contested three that Marion got a piece of, and to overtime we went.

Jason Kidd and Nowitzki finished things off once they got there, and will likely do the same to the Thunder on Wednesday in Game 5. Only this time, it will be for good, and the veterans will head to the NBA Finals, while the youngsters head home to try to learn from the experience.

Give all the credit in the world to Dallas, but really, it’s too bad for Oklahoma City. True, it’s a young and inexperienced team that has suffered from below average coaching in this series, especially on the offensive end of the floor. But with a 15-point lead, at home, with under five minutes remaining?

The Thunder had this.

Report: Jimmy Butler less enthused about Lakers after they signed LeBron James

AP Photo/Tony Dejak
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In 2014, Jimmy Butler said, “I like being a role player. Star has never been next to Jimmy Butler’s name. It never will be. I’ll always be an under-the-radar dawg.”

Then, Butler kept getting better and better. He started to appreciate his stature within the game. He took a leadership role on the Bulls. He embraced celebrity.

Maybe his trade request from the Timberwolves – ideally to the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets or L.A. Clippers – is the next step in this evolution.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

He is enamored with the idea of playing a central role in a big market, sources said. Butler had once imagined playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, but LeBron James‘ arrival as the franchise’s cornerstone made it less appealing for Butler in the prime of his career, league sources said.

Playing with LeBron isn’t for everyone. Kawhi Leonard reportedly became more reluctant to join the Lakers once they got LeBron. (Interestingly, Leonard is reportedly dissuaded by the hoopla LeBron would attract while Butler apparently believes he wouldn’t get enough of a spotlight).

And of course, Kyrie Irving requested and received a trade from LeBron’s Cavaliers last year. Irving and Butler are friends, and maybe Irving warned Butler about the perils of playing with LeBron.

I’m not sure how this report fits with Butler wanting to play with Irving, though. Irving is more popular than Butler. Perhaps, Irving holding a smaller stature than LeBron is enough for Butler. Maybe playing with Irving would be the exception to Butler’s desire to have his own team in a big market.

Or maybe Butler still winds up in Los Angeles with LeBron. Butler was reportedly open to it, though that’s a pretty low standard.

No matter what, Butler should pursue what he wants. NBA careers are short. Players should make the most of theirs, whatever that means to them.

Butler has so far shown he can balance working hard and playing well with stardom. He has earned the right to seek a larger public profile without major consternation about what it’d mean to his on-court production.

Would Jimmy Butler actually sign a contract extension?

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Timberwolves president Tom Thibodeau reportedly doesn’t want to grant Jimmy Butler‘s requested trade request – to the Knicks, Nets, Clippers or elsewhere.

Just how badly does Butler want to leave Minnesota?

Per Shams Charania of The Athletic, Butler is “open to signing extension” with one of his preferred destinations. That could be Butler’s silver bullet out of town.

Or it could be a miswording.

There’s a significant difference between signing a contract extension and getting traded then signing a new contract after the season. However, those different events often get described (sometimes inaccurately) under the term “extension.”

The largest extension Butler could sign while still being dealt before the February trade deadline is two years, $45,994,418 ($22,998,209 annually). It doesn’t matter whether he gets traded first or signs the extension first. That’s the limit.

However, if Butler gets traded then re-signs with his new team next summer, his max projects to be about $190 million over five years (about $38 million annually).

Would Butler really sacrifice so much? If so, that’d make him a far more-appealing asset. Not only would the team getting him gain longer team control, Butler would be locked into a relatively cheap salary. Teams that want him would offer more for him in that scenario – maybe even enough to convince a reluctant Thibodeau to deal the star.

Butler could also pledge to sign a larger extension with his new team six months after the trade. That extension would be capped at four years, $100,514,631 – the same extension he rejected from Minnesota this summer.* However, at that point, Butler will be near free agency. He might as well wait until his current contract expires.

His max contract next summer projects to be worth about $190 million over five years (about $38 million annually). Or, if he wants to leave his team, his max projects to be worth about $141 million over four years (about $35 million annually).

Either way, Butler’s max next summer far surpasses his largest-possible extension.

Of course, Butler isn’t guaranteed the max next summer. He’ll turn 30 before playing on his next contract, and he has plenty of mileage. But it seems likely he’ll come out well ahead on a new contract compared to an extension. That’s why he rejected Minnesota’s offer this summer.*

*The Timberwolves’ extension offer was frequently reported as four years, $110 million. But Butler’s base salary for calculating an extension is lower than his cap number, which also includes a portion of his signing and trade bonuses. The $110 million figure is based, incorrectly, on his cap number.

So, I doubt Butler will sign an extension. Promise to re-sign somewhere? Sure, that could definitely happen, though it’d be a non-binding pledge.

But as long as a potential extension is being reported, we should still consider the possibility.

Here are Butler’s four major options – signing an extension in conjunction with a trade now (blue), signing an extension six months after a trade (blue), re-signing on a new contract next summer (green), signing elsewhere on a new contract next summer (green). Rounded numbers are based on the projected 2019-20 salary cap.

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Space Jam 2 closer to reality: LeBron reportedly teams with Black Panther director

Courtesy Warner Bros.
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Space Jam 2 starring LeBron James — and, we can dream, Boban Marjanovic as one of the new Monstars — could be filming next summer and in theaters in 2019 or 2020.

This has been in the works for a while. LeBron James’ production company has a development deal with Warner Bros. and a Space Jam sequel was always at the heart of it. While there had been rumors about the project for years, you knew there was some substance the talk when Warner Bros. extended its trademark on “Space Jam” a couple of years ago.

In a sign this movie is going to be a reality, LeBron has found a producer — the guy who last directed Black Panther. From the Hollywood Reporter:

In his first project since directing the record-breaking Black Panther, Ryan Coogler is teaming with LeBron James on the anticipated follow-up to the Michael Jordan-Bugs Bunny hit Space Jam, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Coogler will produce the Space Jam movie and Terence Nance – who created HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness and directed the experimental film The Oversimplification of Her Beauty – will direct. Production on the Warner Bros. film is tentatively slated for 2019, during the NBA offseason. It will be James’ first starring role after a successful turn as a supporting character in the 2015 Amy Schumer comedy Trainwreck…

“I loved his vision” for Black Panther, James tells The Hollywood Reporter, noting that when he was a kid growing up in Akron, Ohio, there were no black superheroes. “So for Ryan to be able to bring that to kids, it’s amazing.”

That’s a good team to make a movie, although we are all curious about the script.

Not that the original Space Jam starring Michael Jordan was winning a writing Oscar, but the move was a cultural phenomenon. It had MJ going head-to-head with aliens in a battle for Earth. Kid me loved that movie, adult me re-watched it and…

I didn’t love it as much as Patrick Patterson, who wrote: “To make a sequel to Space Jam would be like trying to paint the Mona Lisa again. Sure, you can probably do it, but why the hell would you want to?”

A lot of the older generation will say that, but if it’s a good movie it will do better than Uncle Drew. (Which, honestly, was better than I expected.) It could be a marketing coup for LeBron, plus add to his legacy of NBA titles and gold medals. Not everyone can put “saved the earth from annihilation” on their resume.

Report: Timberwolves president Tom Thibodeau ‘has no interest’ in trading Jimmy Butler

AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King
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Jimmy Butler reportedly requested a trade from the Timberwolves to the Knicks, Nets or Clippers.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

For now, however, Timberwolves president and coach Tom Thibodeau has no interest in trading Butler and wants to try and return to the playoffs with him in the lineup, league sources said.

Minnesota is resistant to immediately honor the trade request, especially given Thibodeau’s tenuous status with owner Glen Taylor, league sources said.

That seems… untenable.

Butler and younger teammates like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins had tension last season, as Butler came in and bristled at those who didn’t match his work ethic and competitiveness. Of course, that didn’t always sit well with those teammates. To be fair, everyone got along well enough for Minnesota to end a 13-year playoff drought. But how will Towns and Wiggins handle Butler’s intense and demanding style if they believe he’ll be gone in a year? And how would Butler react to even more resistance from teammates who’ve accomplished less than him?

Lame-duck leadership probably won’t work.

And Butler can become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Chancing losing him for nothing – especially if the results next season underwhelm – would be a huge risk.

But my assessment considers only the overall health of the Timberwolves. The franchise isn’t a self-running entity. Rather, it’s a collection of individuals with their own agendas.

Thibodeau can be quite stubborn. Maybe he just doesn’t want to give into a trade request. That inclination could be pushed even further by a desire to impress Taylor, who reportedly isn’t sold on Thibodeau. The simplest way to do that is win, and Butler – chemistry concerns aside – is an elite player. He’d likely contribute more to winning than anyone Minnesota could trade for at this point.

Of course, this could be a bluff to maximize Butler’s trade value. If the Knicks, Nets, Clippers and other interested teams believe Thibodeau is inclined to keep Butler, they might offer more to pry him loose.