The Inbounds: Deron Williams and the meaning of Brooklyn cool

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Let’s start here: Deron Williams did not decide to re-sign with the Brooklyn Nets because it was his best chance to win an NBA title. And that’s OK.

Williams made a lot of comments about how winning a title would dictate his decision. But the mere fact that he limited his options to Brooklyn and the Dallas Mavericks was proof enough that wasn’t the priority. The Indiana Pacers would have given Williams a better team to contend with, deep, versatile, and well-structured. The Mavericks have Dirk Nowitzki and one of the smartest ownership and management groups in the league. But the also have no young pieces and no star power to slide next to Williams and Nowitzki. And the Nets? Well, they took on an albatross with an anchor wrapped around its neck, tied to a concrete block in Joe Johnson’s contract. That was their big move. It limits their future ability to improve the team, and makes it a near certainty that their core will feature Gerald Wallace and a likely-overpaid Brook Lopez. There were better options to win the title.

But we tend to view these things from a binary perspective. As if the only things that went through Williams’ decision making process were what we felt were important or even what he openly states mattered.

Let’s digress, for a second.

Say you’re considering a move. You have a job offer, and that’s the biggest thing you’re looking at. But aren’t you going to factor everything in? Won’t you consider what kind of weather there is and if you like to live in it? Do you have friends there? Can your spouse stand it? Can you afford to live there?

Is it too close to your family?

Because that’s a huge concern. My brother refers to the concept of a DMZ between he and the rest of the family. Maybe for Deron Williams, playing in his hometown of Dallas wasn’t enough of a buffer zone.

Maybe it was just the money.

It’s fine to consider Williams’ decision and weight it against his stated priorities. It’s fine to question if he’ll win a title or if the Nets are even a top-three team in the league. But let’s not act like this decision was as simple as it is for anyone on the outside. It was what Williams felt was best for his life. He was contractually free to make that decision.

The ramifications of that decision are far-reaching and dramatic. Do you know what the biggest problem the Nets had in pursuing free agents over the past two years has been? It hasn’t been playing in New Jersey, though that was part of it. It wasn’t how God awful the team was, though that was part of it (and that’s the supporting cast now!). It was that the Nets weren’t cool. That shouldn’t matter, but it does.

Playing for the Lakers? The coolest. That’s why you’ve seen players take paycuts to don the purple and gold. Playing for the Knicks? Cool, despite their lack of on-court success. Playing for Boston? Cool, because of the history and classic iconic nature of the team. But the Nets? They were not cool. Not even a little bit. Not even when they were making Finals appearances in the early 2000’s. They were the TCBY of NBA teams.

But now, not just with the Mad Russian owner, or HOVA as minority owner, and a new arena in Brooklyn, but with all that and superstar talent, the Nets are cool. And that has value to players. They want the winning, and they want the money, and they want to feel cool while doing it. The Milwaukee Bucks may never win another title because of this dynamic, and the fact that the Spurs have won four despite not being cool in any way, shape, or form, is more impressive.

The Nets have a Big 3. Unless they get Dwight Howard, which is looking unlikely, they won’t be better than many of the other Big 3’s (but they are on par with New York, maybe better, which is important), and their future prospects get worse with Joe Johnson’s contract swallowing up all light in their cap universe. But they’re in the conversation. They’ll be able to attract those free agents looking to take a discount to compete for a title. They are a big ticket item.

For years, the Nets have been frustrated with being a joke. But now? They’re the awkward kids who went through a growth spurt and now everyone’s starting to notice them.

Cool.

As for the Mavericks, uh…

Well that’s not going over well.

But one thing should be noted. The Mavericks have always been masters at negotiating smart pieces, not landing huge ones. They rarely made league-shattering trades, but always made smart ones, constantly building forward. The trick for them is going to be getting Dirk’s successor. It was supposed to be Williams, but without him, they’ll have to go forward, adding pieces, building a core, but not having the spire. That’s the same situation Denver’s in, Utah’s in, Philadelphia’s in. But the Mavericks know that just because they lost out on Williams doesn’t mean there won’t be future opportunities. And if they see one, they’ll know enough to go all out for it, and maybe won’t be on uneven ground to start next time.

Cuban and Donnie Nelson have cap space, now and in the future. We’ve seen what can happen to good management when it makes a bad series of decisions in Detroit. But the Mavericks show no such weaknesses. The process has been sound, even if some of it is predicated upon ducking the damage from the luxury tax punitive measures in 2014, and even if the gamble didn’t work out.

There will be some smart moves made, some daring moves made, some surpising moves made. Dallas will hit on some endeavors, swing out on others. But in the end they should remain a competitive team. But the underlying puzzle now is the most difficult for any NBA team: how to acquire an elite player. Dirk can’t last forever. And the lifeboat just sailed away to New York.

Celtics’ Terry Rozier on Game 3: “We needed to get our butts whooped”

Associated Press
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Cleveland dominated Game 3 Saturday night. They played harder, to start. The Cavaliers’ defensive pressure on the ball was better, they were sharper rotating out to shooters and covering passing lanes. Cleveland’s role players stepped up and helped LeBron James.

Boston, meanwhile, wilted in the face of that pressure Saturday, something it has done a few times on the road these playoffs. The Celtics got away from the things that got them to the Eastern Conference Finals. Guard Terry Rozier put it more bluntly, via A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston:

“I feel like we needed this (loss) to get us back … to get us ready for Monday,” Rozier said.

Rozier later added, “We needed to get our butts whipped. Come back to reality and take care of business on Monday.”

Cleveland is a championship team — from LeBron James on down through the core guys, they all have rings. They have been down before, and heading home it was expected they would play with force. Cleveland’s back was against the wall and they responded.

From the Celtics’ perspective, they also got a little too fat and happy and were not ready for what the Cavaliers came with in Game 3.

Now the pressure is on Boston to push back, to get back to their level of execution and do it under pressure. Make the Cavaliers prove the improved defensive effort was not a one-off game. The Celtics must move the ball and play with some pace, then see if the Cavaliers can keep it together in the face of crisp play.

When this series heads back to Boston Wednesday, it will either see the Celtics in control up 3-1, or the series will be a best of three (with the Cavs still having to figure out if they can win on the road). At home, the Cavaliers are going to play with force again and have some depth. We’ll see if Game 3 was enough of a wakeup call for Boston.

PBT Extra: Can Rockets take Game 2 energy, execution on the road?

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Houston found its blueprint to beating Golden State in Game 2: Strong defensive pressure on the ball, quick switches and communication on defense, getting out in transition when possible, and starting sets earlier in the shot clock and attacking downhill with James Harden and Chris Paul.

Now can they do that on the road? Against a more focused and sharper Warriors’ team?

That will be the question in the next two games of the Western Conference Finals, and it’s what I discuss in this latest PBT Extra.

Cavaliers cruise past Celtics in Game 3, change complexion of Eastern Conference finals

AP Photo/Tony Dejak
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The Cavaliers were heavy favorites over the Celtics entering the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron James has dominated the East for years, and Cleveland appeared to hit its stride in a sweep of the Raptors last round. Boston was shorthanded and inexperienced.

Were the Celtics’ two wins to open the series, as impressive as they were, really enough to override everything else we knew about these teams?

The Cavs walloped Boston in Game 3, 116-86, Saturday. Cleveland now has four of the NBA’s last five 30-point playoff wins – two against the Celtics last year, one over Toronto last round and tonight. (The Cavaliers lost the league’s only other 30-point game between, to the Pacers in the first round.)

Boston still leads the series 2-1, and teams up 2-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 80% of the time.

But the team up 2-1 is usually the one seen as better entering the series. That isn’t the case here, not with LeBron on the other side. And the leading team usually isn’t so woeful on the road, which will remain a major storyline entering Game 4 Monday in Cleveland.

The Celtics bought themselves margin for error, but they blew a lot of it tonight.

It’d be an oversimplification to say the Cavs just played harder, but they did, and it went along way. They chased loose balls, tightened their defense and moved more off the ball offensively. Cleveland jumped to a 20-4 lead, led by double digits the rest of the way and spent most of the game up by at least 20.

LeBron (27 points, 12 assists, two blocks and two steals) dazzled as a passer and locked in as a defender. He received help from several players:

In a low-resistance effort, Boston didn’t goon up the game at all.

The Cavaliers still have plenty of work ahead to reach their fourth straight NBA Finals, but tonight, they showed a path to advancing. Climbing out of their early series deficit now looks far less intimidating.

Luka Doncic named EuroLeague MVP at age 19

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Luka Doncic, the likely top two pick in the upcoming NBA draft, has led his Real Madrid team to the EuroLeague finals at age 19.

Now he has been named the youngest player ever win the EuroLeague MVP.

For those unfamiliar, EuroLeague is the equivalent of the Champions League in soccer — the very best club teams from around the continent face off against each other. On this biggest of European stages, Doncic has been a force. He is a gifted passer with great court vision. He can take his man off the dribble. He can hit threes. And he knows how to be a floor general and run a game. Did we mention he’s just 19?

Doncic said before the start of EuroLeague that he hasn’t decided what he is going to do about coming to the NBA or going back to Real Madrid. Don’t buy it. This is like asking a major college basketball star right before the NCAA Tournament if he is coming back to “State U” next year, they don’t want to say “no” right before the tourney so they give a non-committal answer. Same here. He’s not leaving millions on the table, he’ll be in the NBA next season.

And he’ll bee good.