And at long last, the NBA goes to sleep for a month

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The lockout had a lot of effects. One beat writer told me last week that because of the frequency of the games, stacked on top of each other, it didn’t feel like a 66-game season, but a 120-game season. Then there were the playoffs, with back-to-backs in the second round. The conference finals whizzing by every other day, then the Finals, jammed in. As soon as they were done, a week, and then the draft, just like that. A mad scramble to get our bearings around the rookie class. Two days later, free agency started, and one of the wildest periods in NBA history began. While that was going on, not after, during, Team USA began its march towards gold.

The NBA, like the NFL, is evolving towards a 365-day story. But now, mercifully, for the players, coaches, managers, and yeah, the keyboard fanatics among us, there’s a break.

The NBA goes into hibernation officially Sunday night, not to resume until media day and preseason in September. It’s a time to reflect on everything that’s gone on, and what’s to come.

The Heat won the title, validating the super-team model. Oddly enough, what became the difference in a team that failed to convert on its starpower was not the collective force, but the overwhelming brilliance of the best player in basketball, LeBron James. Yes, Wade and Bosh were huge reasons why they were there. But what LeBron James pulled together in that final month of play? Astonishing. Boston remains both headed towards the grave and firmly clenching the ground above, refusing to go down. Oklahoma City’s future is bright, still. But the “they’re still young” will only last so long before the money or the frustration gets them, whichever comes first. The Spurs are either the best sub-elite team in the history of the NBA or the worst powerhouse, and it’s impossible to tell which.

The Bobcats are terrible.

Then the draft, and Anthony Davis brings hope to New Orleans. A team that was supposed to be awful for so long, who made such a big mistake in the Clippers trade, now looks to be back in playoff contention within three seasons. Davis will remake them, and his experience and showing with Team USA proves he’s already on the path. The Wizards got their shooter, the Pacers took another white guy, and the Bobcats went with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who will be a big part of their future and a player the fans will love.

The Bobcats are still terrible.

Free agency kicked off the most insane period many have ever seen. Deron chose Brooklyn, the money, and Joe Johnson over Cuban, Dirk, and Dallas. The Nets proved that Mikhail Prokhorov may have 99 problems but a luxury tax ain’t one. The Hawks blew themselves up. The Knicks were going to get Steve Nash, so the Raptors overpaid Landry Fields to block that, then neither the Knicks nor the Raptors got Steve Nash, and the Lakers walked away with him, in a move that just feels… wrong. So Jason Kidd went to the Knicks to back up Jeremy Lin, right? Only… not. Houston gets him, and no one understands what happens there but for some reason it’s Melo’s fault. Lin and Asik and 1900 combo forwards make up Houston’r roster. Ray Allen “betrayed” the Celtics before they could trade or bury him, while JET went to Boston. Raymond Felton’s a Knick again, Goran Dragic is a Sun again, and Camby is a Knick again. We’re somehow going backwards in time.

Michael Beasley’s a Sun and I’m not sure what that’s about.

The Suns tried and missed for Eric Gordon, the Hornets landed Ryan Anderson. The Magic let Anderson walk, but re-signed Jameer Nelson, and we really don’t know what that’s about.

The Nets deal for Dwight Howard fell apart. Nine times. Like Edward Rooney says, niiine. Times.

And then Dwight went to the Lakers. The best center in the league, joining a team with Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Gasol, who two years ago was considered the best big man in the league, is now the fourth option on a team. It would be disgusting in terms of its overt opulence if we hadn’t become so used to seeing it from the Lakers. The Dwightmare is over, Orlando is in ruins, and Bynum’s a Sixer? Seriously?

And guess what. The Bobcats, despite getting Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon, are still terrible.

Then Team USA. An epic, historic performance against Nigeria. A tough one against Lithuania. A statement made against Argentina, and a thriller against the Spanish who gave them the fight everyone thought they would. But in the end? Gold. LeBron, Kobe, Durant, Anthony, Chandler, Chris Paul, Kevin Love, all added to their legacies. Coach K walks away a winner.

Now the GM’s are all headed for vacations. Players are enjoying their money and time.The media is settling into a time to remember who these strange people they live with that are supposedly called “families” are. It’s a time for rest, to try and get used to this new universe where LeBron’s a champion, Dwight’s a Laker, and the Sixers might be relevant.

The 2012-2013 season will be 82 games. There will be no lockout. There will be no disappointed press conferences. No hijacking, no accusations, no “enormous consequences.” We get basketball in the fall, after this brief respite. It will be thrilling, more exciting than ever, even if the gap between the haves and have nots has never been greater. 2012-2013 is something to look forward to. We’ll enjoy the time, and still bring you stories and analysis every day at PBT, as we move ever closer to October 30th and the tip of Boston and Miami.

Enjoy this time, get acquainted with this new universe, get excited for what’s to come. A lot’s happened in the last few months, and it will still take some time to take it all in. But there’s so much to be excited about, because no matter what, in 79 days, the 2012-2013 season tips off, and it will be rocking.

But the Bobcats will still be terrible. (But maybe not as terrible, if Gordon gets his shot back and MKG surprises offensively, and they can… see? Here we go again…)

The time Shaq peed in Suns teammate Lou Amundson’s shoes – and worse!

Suns players Lou Amundson and Shaquille O'Neal (Shaq)
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images
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Gilbert Arenas has earned a reputation as the NBA player who relieved himself in a teammate’s shoe (Wizards forward Andray Blatche’s).

But Arenas’ tactic wasn’t unique.

Shaquille O’Neal got into a prank war with Suns teammate Lou Amundson during the 2008-09 season. It got intense as Phoenix, coached by Alvin Gentry, reached the final game of its season.

ESPN’s Amin Elhassan on “The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz” local hour, hosted by Mike Ryan:

Shaq is the big prankster, the big joker. But if you do something against him, there’s no tit for tat. There’s tit for nuclear war.

He goes to Lou’s locker, grabs his sneakers, pees in them.

That’s the start, right? He then goes and let’s just say “messes with” some of Lou’s haircare devices, like his brush and his comb and stuff. Messes with them. Let me put it this way: Messes with them in a way that – I was comfortable telling you he peed in the shoes. I’m not comfortable telling you what he did to the hair stuff. And then this part, I will tell you: He tampers with Lou’s mouth guard.

He tampers with it.

He tampers with it.

Lou shows up at like 8 or whenever he usually shows up. And he’s skittish and nervous. And Suns.com is there like, “What do you think Shaq is going to do?” “I don’t know. I think he’s going to do something, though.”

So, I’ll never forget this. He’s sitting at the locker, and he opens – he starts to reach for the sneakers and then looks at them and says, “Nah, something doesn’t feel right.” Opens the door up, pulls out a fresh pair of sneakers for the last game of the year, right? Again, this is irregular behavior. Usually, you have a couple of sneakers. You break them in for the year, and you switch between two or three or three or four, whatever. So to break out a whole brand new pair … was weird.

Most of the time when you’re an NBA player, you don’t put on the mouth guard immediately. You have it in a case, and you give the case to the trainer. Then, you go out to the bench. Then, when you’re about to come into the game, that’s when you grab your mouthpiece.

There’s no funnier image than Alvin drawing up a play, kneeling down, coaches standing around him. Lou is sitting there, because now he’s in the game. The guys who are in the game are usually seated. Sitting there just staring at the clipboard, like, “OK, coach. I got you.” And everyone else is just staring at Lou. No one’s paying attention.

Puts the mouth guard in. One, two [sounds of disgust], takes the mouth guard out and flings it with tremendous accuracy at the bench. Everyone starts dying. I remember going back and watching the broadcast, “Oh, Suns bench seems to be getting a lot of fun.” They had no idea what’s happening.

What did Shaq do to Amundson’s mouth guard? My imagination is running WILD.

Elhassan also explains why Grant Hill took 25 shots – his most in four years – in that game. Hill needed to score 26 points to average 12 points per game for the season, which would trigger a large bonus in his shoe contract. Hill’s gunning got him 27 points.

It’s a good podcast with other fun anecdotes and worth a listen.

Magic: Mo Bamba out for playoffs, undergoing post-coronavirus evaluation

Magic center Mo Bamba
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
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Mo Bamba contracted coronavirus, fell out of shape, recovered, joined the Magic in the bubble then struggled to contribute on the court.

Now, he’s departing the bubble for good.

Magic:

The Magic are huge underdogs in their first-round series against the Bucks. This doesn’t really change the equation. Bamba had already fallen from the rotation, which is now comprised of Nikola Vucevic and Khem Birch at center.

But it raises thorny long-term questions.

Bamba was the No. 6 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Though he has underwhelmed so far, the Magic were still hoping he’d grow into a quality NBA player. Bamba at least improved from his rookie season.

His progress has obviously been halted. For how long? Will he face lasting effects?

Everyone is trying to get to the bottom of these difficult questions.

Reported Bulls coaching candidates: Kenny Atkinson, Stephen Silas, Darvin Ham, more

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The Bulls fired Jim Boylen. 76ers assistant Ime Udoka was reportedly frontrunner for the job, but Chicago will conduct a full search.

Who else is in the mix?

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

The broad search is expected to include former Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Mavericks assistant Stephen Silas, Bucks assistant Darvin Ham and 76ers assistant Ime Udoka, among others, sources said.

Atkinson is the only former head coach on that list. Like Tyronn Lue for win-now teams, Atkinson is the top available coach for rebuilding teams. (If fired by the 76ers, Brett Brown could supplant Atkinson.) Atkinson had a strong record of player development before Brooklyn shifted priorities.

The Bulls – with Zach LaVine, Coby White, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and a high first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft – could use someone like him.

But Atkinson could have options, and Chicago might not be the most desirable opening.

Udoka, Silas, Ham and Unseld are all rising assistants who have earned head-coaching consideration. Interviews should help determine whether they’re ready for that step.

PBT NBA All-Bubble Awards

Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard and Rockets star James Harden
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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The NBA will announce seeding-game awards tomorrow.

But the play-in is already set. Other playoff matchups are already set. The final seeding games today are just glorified scrimmages.

So, why wait to name the top performers in the bubble?

Here are our picks using the same format as the league – a Most Valuable Player, two five-player teams (no positions) and a coach:

Bubble MVP

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)

Kurt Helin: It isn’t simply that Damian Lillard led the bubble in scoring at 37.6 points per game. It wasn’t how he got those points, with ridiculously deep threes and driving layups. It was when he did it that makes him bubble MVP: When the Trail Blazers had a rough outing (as did Lillard) and looked like they might fade from postseason contention, he came back next game and dropped 61. Then 51 the game after that. Then 42 in the final bubble game with the playoffs on the line. Lillard was the ultimate leader and willed his team to the play-in series, and that’s what makes him MVP of the seeding games.
Dan Feldman: James Harden was more consistently good and even sometimes great. But nobody hit higher levels than Lillard, who stepped up in the biggest moments to lead Portland into the play-in with the eighth-place advantage. Lillard set an emotional tone for a team constantly vulnerable of falling from the playoff race, and he delivered on the court with brilliant offense. He wasn’t perfect, but he went to great lengths to ensure the Trail Blazers met their goal. That’s the bubble MVP.

All-Bubble teams

First team

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)
Devin Booker (Suns) James Harden (Rockets)
T.J. Warren (Pacers) Devin Booker (Suns)
Luka Doncic (Mavericks) T.J. Warren (Pacers)
James Harden (Rockets) Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

Second team

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Jayson Tatum (Celtics) Luka Doncic (Mavericks)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks) Michael Porter Jr. (Nuggets)
Kawhi Leonard (Clippers) Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)
DeMar DeRozan (Spurs) Paul George (Clippers)
Kristaps Porzingis (Mavericks) Kristaps Porzingis (Mavericks)

Kurt Helin: It was difficult leaving Antetokounmpo off the first team, he played brilliantly but his team was in cruise control (plus he took himself out of the last game by headbutting Moe Wagner). A few players such as Fred VanVleet and Michael Porter Jr. also almost made the cut.

Dan Feldman: Lillard, Harden, Booker and Warren were first-team locks. Antetokounmpo was absolutely dominant when he wanted to be, which was limited with the Bucks locking up the No. 1 seed early. Derrick White, DeMar DeRozan, Chris Paul, Gary Trent Jr. and Fred VanVleet were among the contenders for the final second-team spots.

Coach of the Bubble

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Monty William (Suns) Monty William (Suns)

Kurt Helin: Every young team talked about it heading into the restart (and developing teams not invited to the restart begged for the same opportunity): Using the bubble games as a chance for a young core to grow and take a step forward. Except teams like Sacramento and New Orleans didn’t do that. Phoenix, behind Monty Williams did — they became the story of the bubble at 8-0. Devin Booker exploded and got himself in MVP talk, Deandre Ayton played brilliantly, and the Suns came from six-games back of Memphis to almost make the playoffs. Williams set the Suns up to be a playoff team in the West next season.

Dan Feldman: Phoenix went 8-0! That alone is pretty darned impressive, and the context reflects even more favorably on Williams. The Suns entered the bubble with the lowest playoff odds among the continuing 22 teams. Needing to make up 2.5 games and – more significantly – jump four (!) teams, Phoenix could have easily arrived unmotivated and ripe for distraction. Instead, Williams had the Suns playing fearlessly, cohesively and joyously. Williams even leaned heavily on his young players rather than his veterans, taking excellent advantage of a player-development opportunity and positioning Phoenix to ascend next season.