Could lottery reform be bad for small market teams? Sam Presti argues yes.

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The NBA league office loves to point out that the final four teams standing in the NBA last season were smaller markets — San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Indiana and Miami (remember Miami is the nation’s 16th largest television market, behind places like Minneapolis and Phoenix).

Notice how those teams got their stars: The Spurs drafted Tim Duncan and Tony Parker; the Thunder drafted Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook; the Pacers drafted Paul George and Roy Hibbert; and while the Heat got LeBron James via free agency he’s not coming there (and Miami doesn’t win its 2006 title) if the franchise doesn’t draft Dwyane Wade.

Which brings up an interesting discussion going on in NBA front offices right now: Does changing the lottery odds to punish tanking teams such as the Sixers — a reform expected to be voted in on Wednesday — hurt small market teams?

Behind closed doors Thunder GM Sam Presti is making exactly that case, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Presti declined comment to Yahoo Sports, but his case, laid out to others, is this: The big-market teams badly want this change because it’ll give them one more advantage over small markets in securing top talent. Big-market teams have an advantage signing superstar free agents, an advantage trading for them because those players are far more apt to agree to sign a contract extension. And, now, the big market teams will get better access to top players higher in the draft.

As one GM sympathetic to Presti’s concerns – and employed by an owner who has decided to vote for the new system – told Yahoo: “Everyone is too focused on Philly, on one team in one situation. The only chance for a lot of teams to ever get a transformational player is through the draft, and eventually we are all going to be in the lottery, in that spot. The teams that’ll drop from two to eight, or three to nine – that’s just going to take the air out of those fan bases and franchises. They’ll get little, if any chance, to improve.

“We are going to see more big-market teams who just missed the playoffs jump up and get a great young player at the top of the draft. And people are going to go “What the [expletive] just happened?”

Presti is the success story of making a team bad to get good. He took over a struggling Sonics team and with top four picks in consecutive years got Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. There was certainly good scouting and some luck involved, but Presti played the system and as Seattle moved to Oklahoma City they had a powerhouse.

What Philadelphia did is model that, but take it to the next level — if you’re going to be bad, be very bad. For years. That has led to discussions of tanking in the media and among fans, and with that frustrations among owners at the system. But is throwing out the system really going to solve the problem?

Under the current system, if you have the worst record you have a 25 percent chance at the top pick and can’t fall lower than fourth, and if you are the second or third worst your odds are significantly higher than others down the board. In the new, likely to be approved draft lottery system the four teams with the worst records all have a 12 percent chance at the first pick, fifth is at 11.5 percent, then six at 10 percent, and teams farther down the board have better odds. The team with the worst record could fall to seventh. What that is designed to do is encourage teams not to be Philadelphia bad because you don’t gain any real advantage.

However, the flip side of that is some team that is not that bad (and maybe from a bigger market) can fly up the board more easily.

The nature of basketball as a sport is that if you have the best player you are far more likely win. This is true at every level.

In the NBA, if you don’t have at least one, maybe two of the 10 (give or take) true elite players in the league at the time you are not winning a title. History shows it. The Spurs have Duncan and Parker. The Heat had LeBron James. The Lakers had Kobe Bryant (and before him Magic Johnson and his super team). The Celtics had Kevin Garnett (and before him Larry Bird’s super team). The Bulls had Michael Jordan.

A market like Milwaukee (reportedly now against the reform, with OKC and Philly) or Minnesota or Oklahoma City or Orlando or a number of others are not going to get one of those star players to come there as a free agent. Well, unless they already have one in house. One they drafted. Does LeBron return to Cleveland without Kyrie Irving having been drafted there?

NBA owners can be very short sighted, thinking about how any move impacts them now not down the line — particularly true with franchise values way up like they are now, so the owners know if they cash out they are going to make a boatload of profit. The flood of cash from the new television deal makes that even more true — why worry about the long term if you don’t plan to be in for it?

With that, lottery reform will pass. Easily.

Then watch after the draft lottery next year when a team like the Lakers, Celtics or Knicks jumps way up the board so they can draft a young star and some smaller market owners cry it’s unfair (or rigged).

LeBron James, Dion Waiters’ son engage in a little trash talk

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“Yeah, right.”

That was Dion Waiters Jr.’s response to pretty much everything LeBron James during the Lakers’ practice on Saturday before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

LeBron was getting up some corner threes and told Waiters Jr. he would make 100 straight.

“Yeah, right.”

When LeBron missed one, “I missed that on purpose.” 

“Yeah, right.”

“I missed that on purpose, so you’d think I’m human,” LeBron joked.

Got to love Dion Waiters Jr. — he’s got some of his dad’s spunk.

Families have been allowed in the bubble for teams for a couple of weeks, although LeBron’s sons are not there, with LeBron saying it’s not a great place for kids (he’s right, for anyone over about 7 or 8, there would be little to do).

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game on Saturday night.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.