On Deron Williams and the NBA players who likely won’t be following him overseas

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Deron Williams, in his decision to suit up for the Turkish club Besiktas next season should the lockout continue, has officially opened the door for other locked out NBAers to seek employment elsewhere. The notion that top NBA players could jet across the Atlantic to play in European leagues is no longer a mere possibility; those reluctant to be the first to make commitments overseas now have their lockout role model, and could follow Williams to Turkey, or to China, or to any team in any country willing to temporarily invest in NBA talent.

But perhaps the oddest element of Williams’ exodus is how his unique circumstances enable him to make the jump. He’s not exactly a typical NBA player — Williams is the centerpiece of his current team, and holds a considerable amount of power as a result. He’s not even a typical star — Williams has more influence and leeway than most due to both his incredible skill and his impending free agency. The Nets are trying to convince Williams to stay with the franchise for the long haul, and — lockout or not — aren’t in any position to contest his bid to play overseas nor to void his contract. In this case, Williams holds most of the cards, if not all of them. Once he decided on playing in Turkey, there weren’t many actors capable of stopping him.

All of that makes Williams’ act a tough one to follow. How many players can command the kind of impunity that Williams does? Fringe NBA players — those likely most interested in securing some extra coin during the season by playing elsewhere — risk simply having their deals voided. The league’s top players hold the same sway that Williams does, but would only earn a fraction of their NBA salaries while playing overseas and risk possible injury in the process. Essentially, those for whom it makes the most financial sense to play in other leagues may be limited from doing so, and those who have the least compelling motivations for seeking that kind of employment hold all of the power to do as the please. There are dozens of shades of gray in between (Zaza Pachulia, a solid but unremarkable NBA big man, will join Besiktas along with Williams, for example, and will likely suffer little consequence), but the enabling and limiting factors on the extremes of the NBA spectrum create a pretty strange dynamic.

The potential wild card: rookie scale players. The threat of a contract void (and it may be little more than a threat; it’s unknown just how seriously teams would consider cutting their players loose) doesn’t seem to apply to team building blocks, a convenient fact which would theoretically offer young, talented players a bit of protection. However, players on their first NBA deals could still have the financial motivations to play overseas, depending on their individual situations and their expectations for their 2011-2012 NBA salaries. If anything, it’s the players on rookie scale deals — particularly former mid-late 1st round picks or second rounders — who would seem to have the most to gain. They could supplement their income, continue playing professional-level basketball, and further refine their skills in a different setting, all with seemingly little risk.

But outlining possible motivations and benefits for young players heading overseas is very different than that outcome actually occurring. There are a million legitimate and half-legitimate reasons NBA players could use to talk themselves into staying the course and trudging through the lockout, and many will be kept stateside as a result. The power structure of the NBA already restricts the sensible candidates for overseas contracts, but the wide variety of interests and caveats across even the viable options should dwindle those who intend to play overseas to a minimum. Williams may have opened the door, but many can’t even cross the threshold, and some would rather he close it and not waste what’s left of the A/C.

LeBron James flips elimination-game game on its head

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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His Cavaliers down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, how does LeBron James assess his situation?

"I don’t enjoy being in the position where it’s you lose and go home," LeBron said before Game 6 tonight in Cleveland.

He might not enjoy this position, but he’s pretty good in it.

Since he first reached the playoffs in 2006, other teams have won 26% of their elimination games. LeBron’s teams have won 57% of theirs.

Of course, LeBron hasn’t gone 12-9 in elimination games just because he’s lucky. He has willed his team off the mat numerous times.

LeBron has scored 40 points and/or had a triple-double in six straight elimination games, winning five of them. His line in his last elimination game before that streak? Just 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.

A full history of LeBron’s elimination games:

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Rockets played with fire with Chris Paul, got burned

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Chris Paul played 79 minutes in three days.

Prior to Games 4 and 5 of these Western Conference finals, he hadn’t done that in more than two years. He hadn’t done it without both games going to overtime in more than three years.

The Rockets leaned heavily on the 33-year-old Paul, and they’ll pay the price.

Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow. Given how quickly Houston ruled out Paul with a strained hamstring, he seems unlikely to play in a potential Game 7 Monday.

Injuries are somewhat – but not completely – random. Players are more susceptible when worn down. After missing the close of the 2016 postseason, Paul missed 45 games the last two regular seasons. He has accumulated a lot of mileage in his 13-year career.

Yet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni drastically shortened his rotation, anyway. Not only did Paul play big minutes in this series, he shouldered a huge load. He took the reins of the offense at times, allowing James Harden to conserve energy for defense, while maintaining his own strong-two way play. That’s never easy, especially in these high-intensity games.

This was the risk.

We can feel bad for Paul and his predicament. We can also acknowledge Houston got this far by gambling on Paul’s health.

That’s not to say it was a bad bet. This is what you save him for, the biggest playoff series of his career and maybe one of the last before he exits his prime. The Rockets would have been far worse off to this point resting Paul extensively and protecting him. Even with such a heavy workload, an injury was never fait accompli. And Houston got plenty from Paul before he went down. He was instrumental to wins in Game 4 and Game 5 that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Now, they just must hope that’s enough of a head-start into a world of playing without Paul.

Chris Paul out for Rockets-Warriors Game 6

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The Rockets bought themselves margin for error by earning home-court advantage and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

They’ll need it.

Chris Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow with a strained hamstring.

Rockets release:

The Houston Rockets announced today that guard Chris Paul will miss Saturday’s game at Golden State with a right hamstring strain that occurred during the fourth quarter of last night’s game against the Warriors. He will be re-evaluated after the team returns to Houston.

Golden State was already heavily favored at home. This will tilt the odds even further in its favor.

But the Rockets aren’t completely incapable without Paul. They went 15-9 without him this season. James Harden and Eric Gordon can assume extra playmaking duty.

Still, this is a massive loss. When Harden is overburdened offensively, his defense suffers. Gordon is already playing a lot of minutes, so greater responsibility will come in role, not playing time. To fill Paul’s minutes, Mike D’Antoni will have to expand a rotation he had masterfully tightened. Gerald Green could play more. Luc Mbah a Moute could return to the rotation.

A Game 7 looks increasingly likely. Will Paul return for that? The 2018 NBA title might hinge on that question.

Given how quickly the Rockets announced Paul would miss Game 6, there isn’t much reason for optimism about Paul’s availability three days from now, either.

Report: Chris Paul’s hamstring injury ‘not good’

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The question looming over the Western Conference finals: How is Chris Paul?

The Rockets revealed little last night about Paul’s hamstring injury. Time to see how his body responded would provide clarity.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

That stinks. It’s also a fairly expected development. Paul appeared to be in rough shape before leaving the court.

The Rockets have bought themselves margin for error, but a sidelined or even hobbled Paul would sap a lot of it.

If Paul can’t play in Game 6 tomorrow, expect Eric Gordon and James Harden to receive a larger offensive roles (though not necessarily more minutes). Gerald Green could play more, and maybe Luc Mbah a Moute gets back into the rotation.