Celtics-Heat Game 7: Erik Spoelstra’s redemption

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I’ll say it, I buried him.

I absolutely buried Erik Spoelstra after Game 5. He had failed to make any meaningful adjustments, had allowed the Celtics to dominate the structure of the series, and had squandered opportunities to put this series away. I buried him.

And hey, shocker, I was wrong. He’s not buried. He’s the coach for the Eastern Conference champs, again. And when he had to, he made adjustments. Again. He’ll get zero percent of the effort for the Game 7 win, instead as always, his victories are considered the product of talent and talent alone. But if you really want the truth, if you care about what actually won Game 7 and sent the Heat to the Finals, you’ll recognize that Erik Spoelstra, in the biggest game of the year, outcoached Doc Rivers.

He trusted Chris Bosh, finally, coming off his injury. This is significant. Playing a good player may seem obvious, but there are a lot of coaches who would have held back on Bosh, not wanting to ruin his endurance for the end. Spoesltra managed him perfectly, and gave him the timeouts necessary to keep him winded. That adjustment changes the game. Kevin Garnett’s lobs no longer appeared unscathed, Bosh snatched them away, and the Celtics’ chances alongside.

He kept Battier off of Bass. This is huge. It’s not about Bass, who scored anyway, muscling in and doing work. He transitioned Battier onto Pierce and Rondo and Pietrus and let him make the little plays while others helped out on Bass. That was huge. He stemmed the bleeding.

He drew up the plays that worked, trusted Bosh in the corner, which was a major gamble, and didn’t get in LeBron’s way. He’ll get no credit for that. Which is ridiculous. Want to know why? It’s the most tried and tested way for a coach to win and make his starts happy.

From Bill Russell to Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant, stars say the same thing. “My coach trusted me to make the right play.” Spoelstra did that with James, not pulling him, letting him play it out, take them home. That seems obvious. It isn’t, and that line of thought is a big differential.

Spoelstra didn’t coach a great series. He didn’t coach a good series. He was outworked, but much of that came when he lost his starting power forward, a fact I overlooked when I buried him.

Whoops.

So now Spoelstra’s back in the Finals, matched up against another young coach with championship aspirations coaching three stars. He’ll have to have the defense he constructed control three terrific scorers, have his offense beat a shot-blocking menace. He has to manage minutes and rotations and do it for a team coming off a draining, exhausting seven-game series.

But for now, Erik Spoelstra has redeemed himself. He’s not dead.

Not even close.

Bob Myers says he initially told DeMarcus Cousins’ agent Warriors couldn’t afford center

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If the Warriors signed someone to a salary greater than the $5,337,000 taxpayer mid-level exception or acquired someone in a sign-and-trade, they would have been hard-capped at $129,817,000 this season.

That was obviously untenable for Golden State with its star-studded roster.

So, the idea of the Warriors adding DeMarcus Cousins seemed far-fetched – even to Golden State general manager Bob Myers.

Myers, as transcribed by Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“It was early in the morning — I spoke to his agent. We had been preserving our taxpayer mid-level exception for somebody that might fall through the cracks and not get paid in a very tight free agency market,” Myers explained to Greg Papa and Bonta Hill on 95.7 The Game. “But mostly we were thinking wings. I figured if something like that were to happen it would happen July 8th, 9th, 10th.

“But we got the call and I just said, ‘Look. We don’t have anything more,’ because we’ve talked about other high-level free agents and the thought from their agent was, ‘Can you do a sign-and-trade? Can you get to a bigger number?’ And I kind of said, ‘Look, our roster is what it is. To move that many pieces around, to create $10 million in room, or $15 (million), it’s just prohibitive, I don’t want to waste your time.’

“So I thought that’s where the conversation was going … and I said to him, ‘We don’t have the money that you’re probably commanding out there.’ And this is the moment it became real — he said, ‘We understand what you have.’ And I said, ‘Well we only have the taxpayer mid-level.’ And then when he said, ‘I know,’ that’s when I knew it was real.

“They were very serious about it and they never really wavered.”

We’ve seen free agency from Cousins’ perspective. It’s interesting to blend Golden State’s into the story.

The Warriors are always eying stars. Their ambition might be unmatched. That not even they forecasted the possibility of signing Cousins – who accepted the taxpayer mid-level exception – speaks to just how much colder than expected his market was.

DeAndre Ayton draws himself dunking on Joel Embiid on trading card (photo)

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Joel Embiid issued a warning to pundits after the Suns drafted Deandre Ayton No. 1 overall: “Don’t compare Ayton to me either… I play DEFENSE.”

Ayton envisioned a response to the 76ers star while drawing on a trading card:

Embiid:

I’m impressed with Ayton’s artistic skills.

I’d be even more impressed if he dunks on Embiid, who does play quality defense – so far a hole in Ayton’s game.

Dwight Howard’s trainer: ‘He wants to evolve into Anthony Davis, into Kevin Durant, but his own version of that’

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In 2015, Dwight Howard said he wanted to play 20 seasons in the NBA. He also later admitted he considered retiring the same year.

After that career crossroads, Howard is back on the longevity track.

Entering his 15th season, the 32-year-old Wizards center is focused on getting into shape and developing his game.

Justin Zormelo, via Candace Buckner of The Washington Post:

“He wants to evolve into Anthony Davis, into Kevin Durant,” Zormelo says, “but his own version of that.”

This sounds silly at first. Durant and Davis are far more skilled than Howard. But those superstars provide reasonable goals for Howard.

Durant – who has expanded his game the other way, going outside to inside – shows how to blend playing different styles. Davis provides an example of how to work off the ball as a modern big man.

Howard shouldn’t want to lose his strengths as an elite rebounder and interior defender, but he can move in the direction of Durant and Davis.

After getting pretty big with the Hawks, Howard slimmed down with the Hornets and excelled in transition. He also improved significantly as a ball-handler, allowing him to put even more pressure on the defense in advantage situations and attack with face-ups.

Howard hasn’t shown proficiency as an outside shooter, but that could be his next step. The concern: Howard falls in love with shooting the way he did with post-ups, and he takes too many inefficient shots.

But there’s still something encouraging about someone working so hard to improve this far into his career.

Of course, on-court improvement won’t be enough for Howard. He has quietly produced or near star level in Atlanta and Charlotte. The problems came in the locker room. Howard’s attitude must improve, too.

Maybe it’ll all come together for him, and he’ll thrive through the rest of his 30s. He’s saying all the right things.

But we’ve also been here before.

Carmelo Anthony writes thank-you note to Oklahoma City: ‘I wanted nothing more than to make it work here’

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After last season, Carmelo Anthony summed up his time with the Thunder: “It wasn’t no strategy to me being here.” He waived his no-trade clause to facilitate a trade to and buyout from the Hawks, allowing him to join the Rockets – his preferred destination ever since his time with the Knicks was ending.

But he’s leaving Oklahoma City emphasizing the positive.

Erik Horne of The Oklahoman:

This is a nice letter, especially for someone who was there only one year. Thunder fans are extremely supportive, and I believe Anthony truly wanted it to work in Oklahoma City. He changed his game plenty to complement Russell Westbrook and Paul George.

It just wasn’t enough.

Of course, there’s more to the story. That’s self-evident in Anthony choosing to leave the Thunder rather than trying to solve their problems next season in a less-rushed situation.

But this isn’t an analysis of Anthony’s Oklahoma City tenure. It’s a thank-you note that seems pretty genuine and heartfelt – right until it’s signed “STAYME7o,” which is par for the course for Anthony.