PBT Roundtable: Is NBA returning to 2-2-1-1-1 Finals format a good idea?

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Welcome to PBT’s regular roundtable on issues around the NBA, where our writers weigh in on the topic of the day.

Today: Is the NBA’s likely return to a 2-2-1-1-1 format for the NBA Finals (instead of the 2-3-2 that has been in place since 1985) a good idea?

Kurt Helin: I like it, but I don’t think it’s that big a change on the court, ultimately. The rule was put in back in an era when virtually every newspaper in America was flying reporters back and forth between Boston and Los Angeles in the Finals every year and complaining. The players few commercial, everyone did, and it made some sense from a logistical standpoint to go 2-3-2. I don’t think it does anymore, they should go back to a format where the team with the better record gets Game 5 at home. That said, no team gets to say they lost because of the format. It’s not that big a deal. Not to go all coach Norman Dale, but the basket is still 10 feet from the ground and 15 feet from the free throw line. The better team wins in seven games.

D.J. Foster: Now this explains why Kurt was at Summer League just muttering “my team is on the floor” over and over again. I agree that the 2-2-1-1-1 format won’t change an awful lot from a competition standpoint, but I do think it’s more exciting and gives more of the back-and-forth vibe that basketball is all about. It might be easier for casual hometown fans to stay more involved the series as well, for whatever that’s worth. And sure, the extra travel is a little tougher on media, but it all evens out because we get free ice cream at games. So long as I can rake in the free treats and airline miles, I’ll make it.

Brett Pollakoff: While I agree that the 2-3-2 format has never been the cause of a team losing (except maybe the Lakers in the 2004 Finals to the Pistons, but that’s a longer conversation for another time), it does give the team with home court advantage an incredible leg up in a longer series. No team should have games 6 and 7 at home, because it’s too much for the visitors to overcome — the last two times the Finals went 7, the home team trailed 3-2 in the series before winning the last two games to secure the title.

Every champion wins on the road in the playoffs, so ultimately the advantage isn’t too great. But I do believe that in closeout games is where the home court advantage is truly a factor, so it’s good to see the format switched to make it more equitable for both teams.

Dan Feldman: In terms of which team wins the series, it doesn’t matter. Essentially, the NBA is changing the order the favorite and underdog get their third home game. I don’t see a reason that switch would affect the likelihood either team wins the game, and the numbers back me up.

2-3-2 Finals (1985-2013, 1953, 1949)

Underdog third home game: 15-12 (56 percent)

Favorite third home game: 13-6 (68 percent)

Other Finals (including 1956, when the teams switched cities after each game)

Underdog third home game: 15-9 (63 percent)

Favorite third home game: 21-11 (66 percent)

That’s practically the same and well within random variance. The road to determining the champion might wind a little differently, but the destination will be the same either way.

Rhett Anderson: Since statistically and historically the Finals’ format hasn’t really affected their outcomes, the main reason I see is to streamline them with the rest of the playoffs. 2-3-2 always seemed arbitrary to me anyways, similar to first-round 5-game series of the past: why not standardize it all?

With the change, all series are now 7 games and 2-2-1-1-1 and the playoffs as a whole are more cohesive. In the end it’s probably not going to affect much other than team travel schedules and player rest levels – and that’s a moot point since if you make the Finals you’ve been traveling the 2-2-1-1-1 schedule for three series already anyways.

Tom Thibodeau on Timberwolves not getting first-rounder in Jimmy Butler trade: ‘Getting good players was a priority’

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The Heat offered Josh Richardson and a first-round pick. The Rockets offered four first-round picks or Eric Gordon, Nene and two first-round picks. The Pelicans reportedly offered Nikola Mirotic and an unprotected first-round pick.

But the Timberwolves traded Jimmy Butler to the 76ers for Robert Covington and Dario Saric in a deal that included no first-round picks and Minnesota getting only one second-rounder.

Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau:

We wanted quality players. I think that that was important for us.

When you look at, to get two starters off a team that won 52 games, and they’re both young, and they’re going to get better, and they’re both very good defensively. They both shoot the 3, so we think they fit well with the guys that we do have.

And so once we once got to that point where felt we were getting multiple rotational players, then we felt it would be time to execute the deal.

It was what was best for the organization. Obviously, getting good players was a priority. But the pick part is important, and we felt we got a good pick from Philly.

It was what does it mean for the team? If you get two rotational players, that’s good. And then if you can get a pick, that allows you to do more things. And so I think that’s all part of it. You always try to think about what the possibilities could be.

Thibodeau might have taken the best offer for the the Timberwolves by the time he actually accepted a deal. Miami pulled the Richardson offer after his strong start to the season. Getting four first-rounders from Houston required taking Brandon Knight‘s negative-value contract, and it’s unclear exactly how the picks were protected. New Orleans has the best record of those three teams, so an unprotected pick carries less value.

But it’s also impossible to overlook Thibodeau’s present-minded attitude. That’s how he already approached everything. Now, he appears to be coaching for his job this season. Nobody ever expected him to prioritize long-term assets.

Covington and Saric are good players, but Minnesota was also 4-9 at the time of the trade. Are Covington and Saric good enough to lift the Timberwolves out of this hole and into the playoffs? It’s a tough ask. In 2020-21, Saric will be up for a big raise, and the Timberwolves already have a lot of money committed. They might have to downgrade the rest of the roster to keep Saric and avoid the luxury tax. This is a narrow window for Minnesota to get value from this trade.

That said, blame Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor for creating this situation. By allowing Thibodeau to remain in charge without much job security, Taylor is practically demanding Thibodeau emphasize the present. If Taylor wanted draft picks, he should have fired Thibodeau earlier.

Caris LeVert suffers injury so horrific, it brings teammates to tears and opponents to prayer (video)

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Caris LeVert has been one of the Nets’ biggest bright spots. The hard-working 24-year-old was a Most Improved Player candidate, and he seems well-liked throughout the organization. He’s even already hit a couple gamewinners this season.

But LeVert’s breakout campaign hit a devastating snag tonight, as he injured his leg.

The reactions of both his Brooklyn teammates and the Timberwolves say everything. This is a tough one.

Markelle Fultz takes ugly pump-fake free throw

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A key question after the 76ers traded for Jimmy Butler: How would the demanding star affect Markelle Fultz‘s confidence?

Butler isn’t even playing for Philadelphia yet, but this isn’t an encouraging sign.

Maybe the ball just slipped out of Fultz’s hands on the way up, and he had to continue pushing it toward the rim to avoid a violation. That could happen to anybody.

But given everything we know about Fultz’s shooting woes, it’s impossible to take this as anything other than a ghastly low point in an ongoing problem.

LeBron James: ‘I almost cracked’ with Lakers’ slow start

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LeBron James has played in eight straight NBA Finals.

How’s he handling reduced expectations with the Lakers, who started 2-5 before rising to 7-6?

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

‪“I haven’t changed anything outwardly, but you know me. You know how I am. I almost cracked [last week]. I had to sit back and remind myself, ‘[Expletive], you knew what you were getting yourself into,’” James told Yahoo Sports while laughing after Saturday’s win in Sacramento. “This process has been good for me. I just have to continue being patient.”‬

LeBron warned everyone to stay clear when he loses his patience, but he has never sounded close to losing it this season. He signed a four-year deal with the Lakers, said he doesn’t feel urgency to win quickly before his prime ends and seems content to wait for a co-star.

If anything, it seemed LeBron might be too relaxed, enjoying the Los Angeles lifestyle and focusing on showbusiness.

So, this is a welcome sign of his competitiveness.

Also kudos to LeBron for harnessing it unlike others in the organization. These Lakers need time to determine how these oddly shaped pieces fit together – unless a star becomes available. Then, all bets are off.