Five things we learned watching the NBA on Christmas

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The NBA gave five Christmas day presents to the fans… which were really more like belated birthday gifts disguised as Christmas gifts because we should have opened the NBA season on Nov. 1. But we’ll forgive and move on, like we do with family around the holidays. We’re just glad to have the NBA back.

There were no real moments of enlightenment among the day of sloppy play. But we did learn a few things. Five things.

1. When the Miami Heat runs they are beasts, and they are running a lot more. Sunday Miami had 100 possessions (via Basketball-Reference) — nearly nine more per game than they averaged last year. The result was Showtime in Miami (and a blowout win).

This is what Erik Spoelstra wants to do all season, it’s why he studied the Oregon offense with Chip Kelly this summer. Despite having all those amazing open-floor finishers — LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are as good as there are in the league — the Heat played at the 20th fastest pace in the league last season. If they bump that to top-10 pace this season they become a lot better. Which is scary.

2. The Oklahoma City Thunder are comfortable as contenders. The Thunder dealt with the weight of expectations smoothly on Christmas. They looked polished and like they were having fun.

By the way, that is why OKC got Kendrick Perkins — he threw Dwight Howard off his game and when you can single-cover Howard you can shut down the Magic (even if you are the Hawks). Perkins is going to matter against the Grizzlies and Lakers. He makes them better.

3. The Knicks have the potential to be a reasonable defensive team. The Knicks only played defense in spurts, and I think we can expect that all season. They were good early; the third quarter was a disaster. But on the second to last play they did a good job of taking away the Celtics’ preferred shots and leaving it to Marquis Daniels with the three (he missed). Then again, on the last play the Knicks got lucky because Bill Walker picked off his own man (Tyson Chandler) and left Kevin Garnett with a good look. Simply put, the better their defense the farther they go this season.

4. The Clippers are Chris Paul’s team now. This is not Blake Griffin’s team, this is Chris Paul’s team. Paul has the ball in his hands, he took over late. He was 4-of-4 shooting for eight points and four assists in the final six minutes of the game. There is a lot of work for the Clippers to do: Paul and Griffin have to develop more chemistry, Chauncey Billups has to clean up his shot selection, DeAndre Jordan has to not give up so many offensive rebounds chasing blocks. But when you have a guy like Paul who can take over games you win a lot. And the Clippers are going to win a lot this season.

5. The Lakers have some real grit. There were good signs out of a Lakers loss. Well, not if you watched the last four minutes there wasn’t. But in that game we didn’t learn anything we didn’t already know about the Bulls (they play great defense and that Derrick Rose guy is impressive).

But the Lakers, minus Andrew Bynum, played good defense and fought back from being down. Josh McRoberts will do the dirty work and their rookie Devin Ebanks shows promise. Thing is, you don’t win an NBA title without some grit and while we don’t expect it out of the Lakers they showed it. That will serve them well.

The question is can they beat the elite teams? That has yet to be proven.

Paul Pierce: ‘There is no loyalty to a franchise anymore … That’s the generation we live in’

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After Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors, Paul Pierce criticized players for changing teams to win.

Now, Pierce is providing an assessment of players just changing teams generally.

Brian Robb of Boston Sports Journal:

To be fair, Pierce doesn’t criticize players for not being loyal to franchises. In fact, he brings up that players are exercising their power.

But it’s still hard not to infer at least some disapproval from Pierce.

Why should players be loyal to franchises, though? Top players are assigned to teams through an anti-labor draft, the least successful teams getting the highest priority of selection. Those players are kept on an artificially low wage for five years can’t unilaterally leave the team for five years. If he plays well enough, his original team has a huge financial advantage in keeping him for up to 14 years. In this system, teams exercise far more control than they earn loyalty.

Players have such short careers. They should chase whatever they want. Money, winning, role, location, even steadiness with a franchise – if they choose.

Pierce spent 15 years with the Celtics, but let’s not forget:

Pierce asked the Mavericks to trade for him in 2005 so he could play with Dirk Nowitzkion a team one star away from contending. In 2007, he reportedly told the Celtics to trade him if they didn’t add a second star. Boston, of course, traded for Ray Allen and then convinced Kevin Garnett to waive his no-trade clause. In 2013, Pierce helped engineer a trade to the Nets. He and Garnett joined Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopezin Brooklyn and Pierce said, “We’re all about winning a championship and Brooklyn, we feel, gives us the best opportunity.” After stints with the Nets and Wizards, Pierce signed with the Clippers, which he described as a super team.

Lakers owner Jeanie Buss: ‘I have complete faith in Magic Johnson … I have patience’

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Shortly after she hired Magic Johnson as team president last year, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said she’d be heartbroken if the Lakers didn’t have an All-Star in 2018, when the game was in Los Angeles. Her urgency was apparent.

Of course, the Lakers didn’t have an All-Star last season. None came close.

But then they signed LeBron James this summer, and Buss has changed her tune.

The Rich Eisen Show:

Buss:

I have complete faith in Magic Johnson in terms of his ability to be a leader, to know how to put together a winner. And I have patience. And I think what he’s done has exceeded my expectations, how quickly they’ve kind of turned around the roster.

Johnson has done a great job running the Lakers. He cleared cap space while maintaining plenty of assets and convinced LeBron to sign.

The degree of difficulty on that is… debatable. Perhaps, LeBron just decided to join the Lakers and didn’t need much convincing.

What’s next for Johnson?

Maybe Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee will fit well with LeBron. Maybe Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are ready to compete deep into the playoffs.

I’m skeptical, which means Johnson’s next steps will be tricky. He has more than earned Buss’ faith, and her patience gives him even more latitude to build as he sees fit.

Still, it’s a bit odd to see a team acquire a 33-year-old superstar then shift into a more-patient approach. LeBron’s prime won’t last forever.

It’s on Johnson to maximize it.

Danny Ainge roasts Celtics players on Twitter

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Celtics president Danny Ainge has built a star-studded and deep team. Boston even has a few extra first-round picks to get even better in future years. The Celtics have 15 players with standard contracts, the regular-season limit. Unlike last year, Boston probably won’t swing a major late-summer trade.

So, Ainge is spending his time clowning his players.

He got Jaylen Brown:

Then Terry Rozier:

Do more, Danny! Kyrie Irving is overdue for another social-media feud.

Did Kevin Durant choose Warriors within day of Thunder losing to them in 2016?

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The Warriors eliminated the Thunder in the 2016 Western Conference finals on May 30. On the following July 4, Durant announced he’d leave Oklahoma City for Golden State.

But when did Durant actually decide on signing with the Warriors?

Durant, Rich Kleiman (Durant’s business partner) and Rudy Cline-Thomas (Andre Iguodala‘s business partner) sat on a panel at Bloomberg’s Players Technology Summit.

Cline-Thomas, as transcribed by Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“Remember 2017, you just lost to the Warriors — no 2016, you had just lost the Warriors, May — you and I get together after the game. I thought I was just gonna focus on not talking about basketball, and you wanted to focus on talking about Silicon Valley — asking me how it was out here.

“You had been following what Andre and I were doing, how it was being surrounded by all these CEOs, innovators and entrepreneurs. And I was like, ‘Wow. First and foremost, like yo — this dude just told me he’s about to sign with the Warriors, right (laughter). So, I was like I’m not gonna tell anybody, didn’t tell anybody whatsoever, didn’t want any rumors to get started…”

Durant on when he began thinking differently about business opportunities, via Shiller:

“Probably about 2015, I had got hurt. Basketball had always been my world … it stopped, and I had to think about other parts of my life and what I was interested in … it was rough because I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I liked or what type of person I wanted to be … I started to hear about Andre and more guys around the NBA — especially that play for the Warriors — that took advantage of the opportunities of being in the Bay Area.

“So throughout that whole year, me and Rich were talking about investing in companies and what I like to do outside of ball. Then I (saw) you and just all those questions came out at once and I was basically telling you I was coming to the Warriors (laughter).”

Kleiman, via Shiller:

“Well I just learned that he told you in May, before free agency — which is hardly factual, which we’ll have to clear up with Marc Spears and everybody here (laughter) — no way did that happen, but cool… (laughter).”

Did Durant really tell Cline-Thomas in May of a plan to sign with the Warriors? Did Durant know his intentions and inadvertently show his hand while talking to Cline-Thomas? Did Durant not consciously know where he’d sign but reveal clues to Cline-Thomas during their conversation? Were Durant and Cline-Thomas just joking?

Was Kleiman trying to set the record straight? Was he just trying to cover for Durant?

Durant was back in Oklahoma City for a press conference June 1, 2016. So, when Cline-Thomas says “after the game,” it sounds as if he meant the night of Game 7.

Of course, that will raise all kinds of questions about Durant’s competitiveness in the 2016 Western Conference finals. If he had one foot out the door to join the Warriors, how motivated was he to beat them? But Durant was awesome throughout that series. Golden State was just a great team. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he compartmentalized his feelings on the Warriors while facing them.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if he decided on Golden State shortly after the series. Draymond Green recruited Durant throughout that season. The Warriors’ desire to add Durant and their high level of appeal was well-established. Even without tampering, they didn’t have to wait until free agency officially began to become Durant’s choice. The NBA can control timing of permissible contact – not Durant’s mind.

It’s just tough to tell exactly what to take from Durant’s, Cline-Thomas’ and Kleiman’s comments – even with context of video: