The Inbounds: The NBA’s unintentional tribute to Don Nelson

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Don Nelson was in the NBA long enough to be considered in about a hundred ways over the span of his most-winning career. Longevity comes with peaks and valleys, and Nelson had tons. From his prolific Bucks teams to the start of the Mavericks’ surge with Nowitzki, Finley, and Nash, to the 2007 We Believe Warriors, Nelson had more than his fair share of moments. Not bad for a guy who defied the very core of traditional basketball paradigms: slow it down, defend, trust the big men. Nelson did none of that, and managed to slide away with wins left and right like Puck from Midsummer’s tossing dust while the other teams were sleeping.

As Nelson prepares to enter the Hall of Fame Friday, there will be talk of all his accomplishments. Many weren’t around for his run in the 80’s with the Bucks, including seven of ten seasons with over 50 wins. And there will be criticism of his failures, such as those last few years in Golden State, running a system dependent on athleticism and yet benching the young guys, and how lost they seemed at times.

But if we look around the league, Nelson’s innovation has had its effect. Just look at the lineups for the best teams.

Much of the smallball movement that’s prevalent in the league is a result of the dearth of legitimate big men. Great big men just aren’t out there. It’s Howard, Bynum, Bogut, Hibbert, Marc Gasol and that’s about it. But there’s also an adjustment that’s a product of what Nelson showed, that if you can spread the floor and get your opponent out of their rhythm, you can win with speed.

Take the Heat. After a year of trying to find anything close to a traditional center, they finally just said “Screw it” and eliminated the center position all together. Chris Bosh kept playing power forward. LeBron James played point-forward-center. But they also used the fast break to a high degree and head coach Erik Spoelstra is already beating the “faster, better, stronger” drum for next season, advocating more speed. The Heat are not playing NellieBall, at all. They’re far too dependent on defense. They’re not trying to simply outrun and outscore the opponent. They’re focused first and foremost on defense. Once they stop you, though, the objective is to create those fast-break opportunities. It’s a simple change of utility in player abilities. See, a lot of the time coaches try and harness athleticism to improve skills. You have speed, so you can run the point to set up the offense and get the defense off-kilter. You’re tall, so you can score next to the basket. But the Heat are using athleticism for athleticism. They’re creating dunks by being bigger, stronger, faster.

How about the Thunder? Similarly fast, similarly fast-break-oriented, and they throw in another core tenet of Nelson’s impact, the willingness to put up those threes at a moment’s notice. If you’ve ever seen hesitation in transition from Westbrook, Durant, or Harden, you’ve seen it for the first time.

The Nuggets, constantly running and creating offensive opportunities, constantly spreading the floor. Even the Spurs, and if there’s a less Nelson coach out there than Popovich I ask you to let me know.

In some ways, the Bulls’ defense is even a reflection of this. Driven off of wave after wave of player, creating havoc, just using the opposite end and reacting with both instinct and resolution.

This isn’t to attribute any and all of this to Nelson. There have been smallball advocates before and will be after. George Karl’s a mad genius of his own creation, same for Popovich, same for Thibs. But we see reflections of the success Nelson brought, we see the remainder of what he accomplished. Nelson was an innovator in a game that too often falls back on familiarity. Even his approach, like taking his players to a bar (when some of them aren’t even old enough to drink) both hearkens back to an older time and goes against convention. Nelson made the game more fun. He wasn’t always successful, he wasn’t always right, but the league was a more fun place with him roaming the sidelines.

His style of play remains in vogue, only translated, his ideas still banging around. Countless beat writers have stories about him. Seriously, walk into a media room anywhere in the country and ask for Don Nelson stories. You’ll be there for hours. What says Hall of Fame more than that? So he goes off, having made the game more interesting, having left a legacy, and an enduring image that was never perfect, and not always good, but always worthy of the discussion.

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

– William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Jimmy Butler on being a Sixer: ‘I’m ready to get started, we got a little ways to go’

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Jimmy Butler is officially a member of the 76ers.

His plane landed in Philly Monday and a camera crew from NBC Sports Philadelphia was there to get his first words on being a member of the Sixers. (You can see the video above.)

“I’m ready to get started, we got a little ways to go, we got some things to figure out. But all-in-all, I look forward to it,” Butler said out the window of the car that picked him up.

What should Sixers fans expect?

“Hard playing. A guy that wants to win. We got some things we want to get done here, we want to win a championship. I think the core group of guys we have, we’ll figure out a way to get it done.”

After that he rolled up the window and drove off… and we assume cranked up the country music.

Karl-Anthony Towns takes high road, praises Jimmy Butler after trade

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Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler did not mesh. Off the court in particular, although this season on it the Timberwolves were -7.1 points per 100 possessions when they were paired (a sharp change from a year ago when the pair were +10.2). Butler wanted out and started trying to burn down the franchise and lob grenades at practice. It took Tom Thibodeau longer than anyone else to see this was never going to work, but once he did the move was made and Butler was traded to Philadelphia.

Towns, who some around the league felt was too timid through this drama and should have stood up to Butler, took the high road after the trade and had nothing but kind words about Butler. Andrew Wiggins took the same path. From Malika Andrews of ESPN.

“He’s one hell of a player,” Towns said Sunday. “I don’t know how many Jimmy Butlers there are in the world, so I think he’ll be missed.”

“I learned a lot of things from him,” Wiggins said of Butler. “We made the playoffs, something we haven’t done in a long, long time. So I think it was a positive either way you put it.”

Classy.

We’ll see how that plays out Jan. 15 when Butler and the Sixers host Towns and the Timberwolves.

Jimmy Butler officially joins Philadelphia 76ers

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We’ve known about it since Saturday but it didn’t become official until Monday (because the call to the NBA league office could not be completed until the office was open):

Minnesota has traded Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia, along with injured rookie Justin Patton, for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and a 2022 second-round pick.

Butler and his agent had told Tom Thibodeau he wanted a trade at least three times over the summer, but there was no action, something reported in a must-read story at the Athletic by Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania. They get into how the owner, Glen Taylor, was involved but Tom Thibodeau held out hope for a long time that just getting the guys on the court together and winning would change Butler’s mind. It wasn’t going to, and the Timberwolves were losing. Eventually, Thibodeau came around, but by the time he did a very good Miami Heat offer — Josh Richardson and a 2019 first round pick — was off the table. From The Athletic.

After Butler plays 39 minutes in a loss to the Clippers that dropped the Wolves to 0-3 on the trip, the Wolves have conversations with the Heat about a possible trade. But the Heat inform the Wolves that Richardson is no longer on the table after his stellar start to the season, and the Wolves move on.

Minnesota begins to engage seriously with Philadelphia, New Orleans and Houston. New Orleans’ package is headlined by Nikola Mirotic and an unprotected first-round draft pick and the Rockets’ proposal has Eric Gordon, Nene and two first-round picks, sources said. The 76ers come with their proposal around Robert Covington and Dario Saric, leaving the Timberwolves to deliberate.

Eventually, the pick and other players were added, and the deal with Philly got done. Butler is expected to make his debut Wednesday against Orlando.

Butler is a free agent this summer and is expected to re-sign in Philadelphia. His max contract would be five-years, $190 million, and that’s what he is seeking.

Trading for Butler is the death of The Process in Philadelphia — this is a win-now team with Butler, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons. The Sixers have their big three but right now don’t have enough shooting and depth around them. Can Markelle Fultz be part of that? Already his name is coming up in trade rumors around the league as Philly looks for the pieces they need right now to go after Boston, Toronto, and maybe Milwaukee at the top of the East.

With Butler, the Sixers have a window of a few years — while Butler is just 29 he has heavy miles on his body thanks to Thibodeau and Butler’s all-out style of play. Plenty of GMs around the league have been hesitant (at best) to give Butler a five-year contract, expecting his body to break down. The Sixers went all-in, now they need to add the players that help them contend for a ring. It’s a new era in Philly.

Lakers, Hawks wear ‘Enough’ jerseys to support shooting victims, Adam Silver backs them

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LOS ANGELES — Saturday afternoon at Staples Center, 60 miles from the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks that left a dozen innocent victims dead at a country and western bar, the Clippers and Bucks took to the court wearing black shirts that said “Enough” on the front and had the name of the victims on the back.

Sunday night in Los Angeles, the Lakers and Hawks wore the same thing. Support for the victims was on everyone’s mind.

“Probably the same that went through everybody’s mind: ‘Not again.’ Or, ‘Wow. What the hell?'” LeBron James said when asked his first thoughts upon hearing of this latest shooting. “Probably some more explicit terms that I won’t say right here. It’s just how do we clean up this….

“It all comes back to this gun situation that we have in America and gun violence. I don’t want to go into that right now, but I can do it at a later point. We know that these people are just being able to go and buy guns and do things with them, and innocent lives are being taken at young ages. Young ages.”

Unlike other professional sports leagues, the NBA has encouraged its players to speak out and make social statements. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was at the Laker game Sunday night and backed those thoughts speaking to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“As I’ve always said, our players aren’t just ballplayers, they’re citizens,” Silver told ESPN… “They have strong feelings about what’s happening in society and they react to them. I think this was something that was a groundswell within the league. It came from the players and it spread by word of mouth from one team to another.

“It obviously began here in California and other teams around the league supported them,” Silver continued. “Again, I support our players’ desire to speak out on issues that are important to them and important to society.”

While the latest mass shooting took place in Southern California, the large number of them is uniquely American and not confined to one region. NBA players, like most Americans, want to find ways to change this tide.

“It’s a national thing, it’s a tough time right now with the mass shootings,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said pregame. “Specifically being [in Los Angeles] with the most recent being in Thousand Oaks. It’s unfortunate, it’s sad…

“I think [the shirt] is just trying to solidify that there’s a presence around the NBA that’s thoughtful about the people that have lost their lives, and the people who were present there, and just the community that is here in Southern California. I think it’s a great statement, I know the Clippers and Milwaukee kind of started it out yesterday and everybody’s doing it, but I think it’s more of a statement to say our condolences, and that we’re with the people that have been affected by this.”

If you like the shirts the Clippers wore, they are now for sale, with the proceeds going to the families of the victims.