Heat-Celtics Game 7 Preview: The thing about chaos is it’s fair

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You want to know the truth about this game, the hidden, ugly, “no one will talk about it because it’s like running a news report on the Disney Channel about how Santa isn’t real” truth?

Game 7 between the Heat and the Celtics? All that drama, all the impact on legacies and careers and the huge mega-importance of this game?

It’s a coin flip. Game 7 is nothing but a coin flip.

In reality, Game 6 was as well. These two have battled to the marrow throughout this series. All that talk bout officiating and conspiracies and clutch? That’s a result of two evenly matched teams going down to the wire in nearly every game. The gap in point differential, after the Heat blew the Celtics out of the water in Game 6? 1.7. That’s it. The two teams are separated after six games by less than a bucket. There is no better team. And we hate that.

We abhor the idea of the better team not advancing. It strikes a chord in us that fires off our cognitive dissonance alarms like nothing else. The better team has to win. But what if there isn’t one?

Boston’s offense has overperformed in this series. You can talk about clutch players and experience and rising to the occasion all you want. I think there are times when those cliches hold true. This is not one of them. They’re facing a dominant defense in its own right, and to be honest, they take a lot of pretty terrible shots. I don’t care what’s in your guts or between your legs, you’re not going to hit contested pull-up jumpers at a high rate, especially not from mid-range, and especially not against a defense as good as this one. But here it is. And there are concrete reasons that go beyond luck. Rajon Rondo’s singular brilliance. That play where he tip-passed it to Mickael Pietrus is a great example. But think about what had to happen there. Wade has to block Bass just right. Not so hard that it flies over Rondo’s head, not soft so that a Heat player collects it. He has to tap that ball just right, and that’s on Rondo and his brilliance. But he has to get it just over James also reaching. Pietrus has to have the wherewithal to stand in the corner and be ready for the catch, Mickael Pietrus being known for his heady play and stable mind on the court, and then has to knock down a massive shot. This is part glory of championship teams, and part ridiculousness of chaos. Anyone breathes different on that court and the entire story changes.

Think I’m just bagging on the Celtics? Try this. Miami? Just as much of an outlier. LeBron James has an off-balance jumper. He just does. George Karl has talked about it. David Thorpe at ESPN has talked about it. Coaches and scouts and experts have talked about it. He doesn’t trust his jumper, but he feels the need to go to it. If Michael Jordan never existed, LeBron James is the best player, ever. I firmly believe that, and not because he’s No.2 behind Jordan. He’s not. But having grown up and watched Jordan like so many kids of his generation, the push-off on Russell, the shot over Ehlo, he learned the same thing. You win games by hitting big jumpers. This, from a 6-8, 280 lb. hulking monster of unstoppable force is insane. But it’s what he is. And in Game 6? Every outlier came home to roost. Does that take away from his ability or the magnificence of that game? Absolutely not. Hitting those shots takes a phenomenal amount of concentration, just like Pietrus’. It takes the ability to create those shots in the first place. It takes resolve and determination and God-given ability, all of which James showed in an absolutely brilliant performance from stop to finish.

It’s also not bloody likely to happen again. Can it? Sure. Will it? Again, it’s not probable.

What does this tell us about Game 7? It sets up the same things we knew before. It comes down to who makes shots. Sounds simple, right? But that’s not what a series is about. It’s about adjustments and counter-adjustments and effort and preparation and more than anything talent and execution. But Game 7’s are about who has it that night. The Lakers had it in 2010. The Spurs had it in 2008. The Celtics had it vs. Philadelphia, the Clippers vs. the Grizzlies, the Lakers vs. the Nuggets. It doesn’t always mean both teams are even. But one team will have the extra arc on the ball to tilt it in, the rims will forgive one team more than the other, and that will determine all of this. So much pressure, so many consequences, so many lives changed, and it all hinges on the wings of a butterfly, the temperature in the arena, the bead of sweat trickling down LeBron James’ forehead. Think about that when you compare it to your life’s biggest moments.

We’re all victims and subjects and participants in chaos, and in fate, and here’s really no place better to be.

These teams are incredibly evenly matched and the outcome does not determine who is the better team. They are both great teams. The Celtics can blow them out, the Heat can blow the Celtics out, it can be an overtime or triple-overtime or an ugly or beautiful game and it won’t change what we’ve learned. These teams are both worthy of the Finals. One goes, one goes home. That’s life. That’s chaos.

That’s fair.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey on Warriors signing DeMarcus Cousins: ‘It’s a little bit hard on paper to figure out how to make it work’

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DeMarcus Cousins picking the Warriors sent shockwaves through the NBA. You know they were felt in Houston, where Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is admittedly obsessed with beating Golden State.

Morey on The Dan Patrick Show:

I was really curious. Bob is really good at his job, and he likes to take smart gambles like I do. So, I understood the move. But it’s gonna be interesting. Coach Kerr is one of the best, too. So, it’s a little scary. They’ll probably figure out how to make it work, but it’s a little bit hard on paper to figure out how to make it work. But we do that well and so do they, obviously. They’re gonna be a tough out again, obviously. They’re arguably the best team in NBA history. They’re on their path to maybe be able to make that argument.

Cousins isn’t a seamless fit with the Warriors.

They like to run, and Cousins doesn’t always sprint up court – even before his torn Achilles. Their offense is predicated on quick ball movement, and Cousins likes to survey the floor. They have more efficient scoring options in Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, and Cousins is used to being a focal point. They like to switch defensively, and Cousins isn’t as comfortable guarding on the perimeter.

But Cousins is so talented, and the Warriors can afford to be patient as he recovers from his injury. They’re elite already.

I also believe Golden State will slow its tempo and play more traditional defense as its core ages. Cousins might fit better with next season’s Warriors than previous iterations of the team.

So, I think Morey is spot on. Golden State general manager Bob Myers was targeting wings for a reason. The Warriors didn’t exactly need another center – especially a slow-paced, ball-dominant, offensive-minded one. But when Cousins fell into their lap, signing him was well worth the relatively low cost.

Rumor: Pelicans will try to trade for wing help, likely around deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans look like a playoff team (or at least a potential one in the deep West). They have the superstar in Anthony Davis, and he’s part of a well-fitting front line with Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle. The Pelicans also are strong at the point guard spot with Jrue Holiday starting.

Where New Orleans need help is the wing. They had hoped Solomon Hill could be the man there, but he has not stayed healthy or panned out. E’Twaun Moore filled in for him, but was overmatched covering larger players at the three. Darius Miller can give them minutes but is not the answer. Pelicans GM Dell Demps wanted to make a move this summer, but up against the salary cap they didn’t have to room to chase quality free agents.

So look for them to try and pull off an in-season trade, reports Scott Kushner of the New Orleans Advocate.

History (and several league sources) indicates Demps is waiting for a midseason trade to strike. As teams around the league see their postseason prospects dim, and grow eager to exchange a quality player for expiring salaries or the Pelicans’ always-endangered first round pick, there’s opportunity to shore up their most glaring weakness.

It’s exactly what Demps did to acquire Cousins from Sacramento in 2017 and Mirotic a year later from Chicago. Both are impactful veterans who were added without surrendering foundational players.

Various sources and several reports said the Pelicans were active in trade talks this summer, notably with the tanking Atlanta Hawks for Kent Bazemore. But with so few teams eager to dump quality players before opening tip, hoping to make a playoff run of their own, the cost was too steep.

Demps know the Pelicans are on the clock — Davis has this season and one more on his contract (there is a player option for a third season, but he almost certainly will opt out at that point). The Pelicans can offer him the “super max” contract at that point, and Davis has said he wants to stay and win in New Orleans, but if the team struggles and/or he gets a sense that ownership is not all-in on winning, he could choose to look around as a free agent.

Which means Demps and the Pelicans will do what it takes to win now, and a move at the trade deadline is possible. The Hawks still will listen to offers for Bazemore, and other wings will become available. It’s just something to watch as we head into the season.

 

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.