Three Stars of the Night: The Truth is Here

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The big scorers weren’t messing around tonight, folks. The clocks were turned back in Boston, an ABA type score was dropped in Houston, and the Highlight Factory was invaded (even more than usual!) by a force that even the great Kyle Korver could not stop. Robin Lopez was also on pace for 56 points after the first quarter, but that kind of fell through. To the Three Stars of the Night!

Third Star: Kevin Durant – (41 points, 13 rebounds, 14-for-23 shooting)

Kevin Durant isn’t just “getting the best” of his opponents or “outplaying” them…he’s absolutely eviscerating them. Ask the Atlanta Hawks after tonight — there’s no good way to defend Durant. Crowd him, and he has the burst and the length to put you on his hip and wish you goodbye as he glides to the hole. Play off of him and he’s simply popping the jumper. Bring a double, and he can see right over the top of it and fire a pass to two very good stand-still shooters (Kevin Martin and Serge Ibaka) or a player you don’t want penetrating a gap with a full head of steam (Russell Westbrook). If the goal of the offense is to make the defense pick their poison, the Thunder accomplish that virtually anytime they put the ball in Durant’s hands anywhere remotely close to the basket. Only two players have averaged over 27 points a game over a full season with a True Shooting Percentage over 67 percent: Charles Barkley and Adrian Dantley. That’s it. No Kobe. No LeBron. No Jordan. Durant is averaging that so far this year. He’s been that good.

Second Star: James Harden – (33 points, 17-for-18 from the line, 7 assists)

James Harden might do one thing better than anyone else in the NBA, and that’s draw fouls. Harden’s signature move of extending the ball way out in front of him on drives is too appetizing for opponents to resist. They hack and slash down at the ball, almost always raking Harden across the arms, sending him to the line for two easy points. Harden is dangerous in the open floor when the Rockets are playing fast, but he also found a viable roll partner (sorry, Omer Asik, not you) in the halfcourt in promising young big man Greg Smith. If the Rockets are building their future around Harden — and they are — a great defender and defensive rebounder to spark the break (cheer up, Omer, that’s you!) and a point guard who can push the pace seem necessary along with a solid roll man. The Rockets are trying out a few different pieces, but now that their star is in place, they finally have direction. In the meantime, if opponents allow the Rockets to play fast like the 76ers did tonight? Good luck stopping them.

First Star: Paul Pierce – (40 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 13-for-16 shooting)

Do not adjust your computer monitor, because the numbers you are seeing are indeed the truth. Paul Pierce was absolutely on fire against the Cavaliers, knocking in each and every momentum shot and heat check he could throw at the rim — stepbacks, spotup J’s — whatever it was, it went in. Pierce doesn’t do this nearly as often as he used to, as he’s slowed down and lost much of the explosiveness that made him deadly in the past. But where the body fails, the mind picks up, and Pierce is a great example of that. No one manipulates space with his footwork quite like Pierce, and his ability to trail on the break and make himself available for a Rondo kickout at just the right time is nuanced brilliance. That’s the kind of stuff you learn after 38,000 minutes of floor time in the league, and although Pierce’s body and jump shot will betray him on many nights, he still knows how to ride out the perfect storm, no matter how infrequently they seem to come around.

While his brother spars online with Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins takes up fight with Stephen Jackson

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Jimmy Butler lit a fuse by requesting a trade from the Timberwolves.

Then, Andrew Wiggins‘ brother, Butler, Stephen Jackson and Wiggins himself all fanned the flames of the resulting fire.

Butler reportedly had problems with Andrew Wiggins last season, specifically Wiggins’ work ethic and defensive approach. Want corroborating evidence the Minnesota teammates aren’t simpatico? Wiggins’ brother, Nick Wiggins, tweeted (and deleted) “Hallelujah” to news of Butler’s trade request:

Butler – probably not coincidentally while working out – responded via Instagram:

Butler:

Hallelujah, keep that same energy

Then the retired Jackson acted out an elaborate scene in which Andrew – played by Jackson – copped to having no heart:

The real Andrew Wiggins didn’t like that and posted on Instagram:

Jackson responded:

If he didn’t like Butler giving him grief, Wiggins darned sure isn’t ready for heat from Jackson.

Mark Cuban explains some, though not all, of his role in Mavericks’ hostile work environment (video)

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As a result of the investigation into his team’s hostile work environment, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban will donate $10 million “organizations that are committed to supporting the leadership and development of women in the sports industry and combating domestic violence.” The Mavericks will also report to the NBA on structural changes to their organization.

And Cuban showed accountability by granting an interview to Rachel Nichols of ESPN:

I appreciate Cuban sitting for this interview with Nichols, who grilled him. I appreciate him apologizing to the actual victims. I appreciate him taking responsibility for the wrongdoing that happened beneath him. I appreciate him explaining what he did wrong and what he learned. I appreciate him, along with Mavericks CEO Cynthia Marshall, explaining the changes they’re making to rectify the situation.

But, though he explained his logic and subsequent lesson from handling Earl Sneed’s domestic violence, Cuban gave no real answer to how he let former CEO Terdema Ussery – found to be an serial sexual harasser – remain in power for 15 years. Taking Cuban at his word – that he was blind to the sexual harassment prevalent in the Mavericks business office – means shattering his image as a great businessman. The sharp and in-charge owner Cuban presented himself as would never grant Ussery such unchecked power for so long. “If I was in our business office five times in 15 years, that was a lot,” Cuban told Nichols. “I mean, it’s embarrassing to say.”

And that’s the benign explanation. Embarrassing is nothing compared to the alternative – that Cuban was as involved as he portrayed, which would mean he knew about Ussery’s misconduct and excused it. The choices are that Cuban’s first-rate businessman image was fraudulent or that he’s directly complicit in Ussery’s sexual harassment.

More than anything, hopefully Cuban has truly learned how not to repeat his prior errors.

Report: Clippers emerging as frontrunner to sign Kawhi Leonard

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Does Kawhi Leonard prefer the Clippers or Lakers in 2019 free agency? Reports have been mixed, though credible journalists have increasingly favored the Clippers since LeBron James signed with the Lakers. Yet, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN held out on the Lakers being Leonard’s top choice.

Now – with Jimmy Butler reportedly preferring a trade to the Clippers – Wojnarowski appears to be coming around on the Clippers.

Wojnarowski:

The Clippers have two max contract slots available in July, and are emerging as a front-runner for Toronto’s All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard when he becomes a free agent in July, league sources said.

Leonard and Butler would form a tantalizing tandem.

Butler reportedly wants to showcase himself in a big city while Leonard seemingly wants both to be in Los Angeles but remain out of the spotlight. Together, maybe they could both get what they want.

Though Butler’s demanding style has worn on teammates in Minnesota, nobody has ever accused Leonard of lacking work ethic or competitiveness. I bet Butler would respect Leonard.

They’re both elite defensively and at least very good offensively. There could be issues with how often each likes to isolate, but get all that talent to L.A. then figure out the rest later.

The question for the Clippers: Do they trade for Butler now or wait to try signing both stars in free agency next summer? The latter option carries more upside, allowing the Clippers to preserve assets. But it also risks Minnesota trading Butler and his Bird Rights to another team and him re-signing there.

The Clippers have several veterans – Tobias Harris, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Danilo Gallinari – who might appeal to Tom Thibodeau, who seemingly wants to win now. L.A. could also offer 2018 lottery picks Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Alexander. However, the Clippers can’t convey a first-round pick until 2021 at the earliest.

I don’t know whether they’ll trade for Butler, but if the Clippers do, I know we’ll crank up the Leonard-Clippers speculation even higher. There’s value in putting that in Leonard’s mind while the Raptors are trying to woo him first-hand over the next year.

Reports: Jimmy Butler’s trade preference is Clippers, Knicks less interested

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Knicks president Steve Mills said New York wouldn’t trade its draft picks and wouldn’t trade for players it could just sign in free agency. In other words: No more Carmelo Anthony– or Andrea Bargnani-type deals.

Then, Jimmy Butler – who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer – requested a trade from the Timberwolves and put the Knicks on his list of preferred destinations (with the Nets and Clippers).

Will Mills hold firm in his patient plan?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Brooklyn and the Clippers appear motivated on Butler, while the Knicks have been firm all summer that the team does not want to part with assets and instead prioritize signing free agents outright, according to sources.

The Knicks should be reluctant to trade for Butler now. Especially with Kristaps Porzingis injured, Butler is unlikely to help New York win meaningfully this season. It’d be much better to sign him next summer and preserve assets.

But there’s no guarantee the Knicks sign him next summer. Whichever team has his Bird Rights and ability to offer him a larger contract will have the upper-hand. There is value in trading for him now.

Perhaps, the Knicks can find a worthwhile Butler trade that includes trading picks. The only way to find out is negotiating with Minnesota.  For New York to eliminate the idea outright because the team made mistakes in similar situations would be misguided.

But Knicks are going to Knick.

At least New York isn’t Butler’s first choice.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Might that other max slot go to Kyrie Irving?

First, L.A. must make the best offer to the Timberwolves and one acceptable to a reportedly reluctant Tom Thibodeau. Then, the Clippers must lure Irving – or any star (Kawhi Leonard?) – from his team.

It’s easy to imagine. It’s far more difficult to turn into reality.