Five Things We Learned in NBA Thursday: Doc Rivers the coach should be mad at Doc Rivers the GM

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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while clearing your schedule for the Saturday Night Live marathon

1) Doc Rivers the GM is making it very hard for Doc Rivers the coach. I thought this season the Clippers would take a step forward. Last year they built a foundation, this season they would build on that and move into to true contender status. I was wrong. At least so far. The Clippers are not a bad team by any stretch — they’re 26-13 with two of the top dozen players in the world — but they have not looked the part of contender. One issue is defense, specifically consistency of effort on the defensive end.

But the other issue is depth and lack of good play from the three spot. Which is why the trade the Clippers finalized Thursday makes no sense — they traded two wing players (Reggie Bullock and Chris Douglas-Roberts) plus a draft pick to get a combo guard in Austin Rivers. Is Rivers an upgrade over Jordan Farmar? I would say it’s a wash, save that Rivers is younger and maybe can be developed into something. But GM Doc Rivers traded away two players at a position of need — not great players, but players — for one lateral move at a position where they were okay. Outside of nepotism I don’t see any logic behind this. Even if the Clippers round out the roster with free agents such as Nate Robinson and Tayshaun Prince, that doesn’t make this trade logical. Doc Rivers the coach should be pissed at Doc Rivers the GM.

2) James Harden wants your MVP vote. This was more than James Harden reminding Sam Presti and Thunder fans what they are missing, this was Harden making his MVP case on the big stage of a Thursday night, nationally televised game against another contender. Harden had 19 points in the first quarter (the Rockets had 40) and finished with 31 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds. Harden can always attack and get to the line, but when his three is falling — he was 6-of-8 — you can’t defend him. Harden was also 7-of-10 on contested shots, he just could not miss. Most observers have Stephen Curry and Harden as the top two people on their MVP ballot at the midway point, Harden just came out and made his case Thursday.

3) It’s still fun to watch Kobe Bryant and LeBron James go at each other. We’re not going to get to see nights like this again for very long, where two of the greats of the game go at each other head-to-head, jawing with each other through it all. And with a smile on their face the whole time. LeBron and Kobe put on a great show (the Cavs won), we need to savor these moments when they happen.

4) The Phoenix Suns just make smart little pickups. Out of today’s Austin Rivers’ trade Phoenix picks up Reggie Bullock for next to nothing. That is the kind of move a smart team makes. Bullock is in his second season and hasn’t been able to really crack the Clippers rotation, but he has shown promise. Last season he was raw and not ready, this season his shooting numbers improved (including 38.5 percent from three) and he continues to show flashes of what he can do as a defender. Doc has the Clippers in a win-now place and just couldn’t give the minutes to develop. The Suns can give him some run (in a more open system) and he could thrive there and become part of their rotation. Oh, and he’s still on his rookie contract.

5) Knicks are horrid no matter what continent you put them on. Carmelo Anthony was back — he wanted to be on the big international stage and he played fairly well putting up 25 points (although the rust showed on the eight turnovers). That doesn’t change the fact the Knicks are just hard to watch. With this game in London Knicks highlights should have the Benny Hill theme “Yakety Sax” as a soundtrack. The Bucks kept moving off the ball on offense and lost their man all game, the Knicks just watched them. The Bucks trust their system and are growing to trust their teammates. The Knicks… tear it down to build it back up. Phil Jackson did the right things with these recent trades, it’s a better plan than the quick fix option we have seen there for so long. But that doesn’t make this team with 16 straight losses any easier to watch.

Watch Tom Brady tell Charles Barkley to “take a suck of that” after he holes fairway shot

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It was the highlight of an entertaining — if not always pretty — afternoon of live golf, raising money for charity.

Tampa Bay Bay Buccanneers quarterback Tom Brady (it’s so weird to type that) was on his fourth shot on the par-5 7th hole at the Medalist Golf Club. Brady had a rough front nine to that point, and commentator Charles Barkley decided to up the trash talk (as if Barkley should talk about someone else’s golf game).

“How many shots do you want? Come on, I’m going to give you some shots man, I want some of you,” Barkley said.

“Don’t worry, it ain’t over yet,” Brady countered as he walked up to his fourth shot, 130 yards from the pin. “I think you just made him mad, Chuck,” host Brian Anderson said. “No, he can take a joke,” Barkley replied. Then this happened.

Brady earned that trash talk.

It wasn’t the only great exchange between the two; they had some fun on an earlier on a par 3 when Barkley bet Brady couldn’t get it on the green.

Increasing buzz teams well out of playoffs will not come to Orlando for games

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The Golden State Warriors have been public about it, they expect their season to be over. Golden State is far from alone, multiple teams well out of the playoff picture have questioned the expense and risk-to-reward ratio of coming back to play a handful of regular season games without fans in Orlando.

More and more, the buzz has been the NBA league office sees things the same way. I am not the only reporter hearing this: Steve Popper of Newsday wrote a column saying there was no reason to invite all 30 teams to the bubble city and the USA Today’s well-connected Jeff Zillgett added this:

This is where we throw in the caveat: There are no hard-and-fast plans from the NBA yet and every option is still being considered. One lesson Adam Silver took from David Stern was not to make a decision until you have to, and Silver is going to absorb more information in the coming weeks — such as from the recent GM survey — before making his call.

That said, the league seems to be coalescing around a general plan, which includes camps starting in mid-June and games in mid-July in Orlando.

For the bottom three to five teams in each conference, there is little motivation to head to Orlando for the bubble. It’s an expense to the owner with no gate revenue coming in, teams want to protect their NBA Draft Lottery status, and the Warriors don’t want to risk injury to Stephen Curry — or the Timberwolves to Karl-Anthony Towns, or the Hawks to Trae Young — for a handful of meaningless games.

The league is considering a play-in tournament for the final seed or seeds in each conference (there are a few format options on the table, it was part of the GM survey). That would bring the top 10 or 12 seeds from each conference to the bubble, depending upon the format, and they would play a handful of games to determine which teams are in the playoffs (and face the top seeds).

Either way, that would leave the three or five teams with the worst records in each conference home. Which is the smart thing to do, there’s no reason to add risk to the bubble for a handful of meaningless games.

Eight-year NBA veteran Jon Leuer announces retirement

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Jon Leuer is only age 31, but the big man has battled ankle and other injuries in recent seasons, playing in only 49 games over the past three seasons. Last July, the Pistons traded him to the Bucks in a salary dump, and Milwaukee quickly waived him. Leuer struggled to get healthy and did not catch on with another team.

Sunday he took to Instagram to announce his retirement.

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I love the game of basketball. I still want to play, but I know deep down it’s not the right decision for my health anymore. The past 3 years I’ve dealt with a number of injuries, including 2 that kept me out this whole season. It’s taken me a while to come to grips with this, but I’m truly at peace with my decision to officially retire. As disappointing as these injuries have been, I’m still thankful for every moment I spent playing the game. Basketball has been the most amazing journey of my life. It’s taken me places I only could’ve dreamed about as a kid. The relationships it brought me mean more than anything. I’ve been able to connect with people from all walks of life and forged lifelong bonds with many of them. What this game has brought me stretches way beyond basketball. I’m grateful for this incredible ride and everyone who helped me along the way. 🙏🏼🙌🏼✌🏼

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Leuer — a second-round pick out of Wisconsin for the Bucks in 2011 — averaged 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds a game for the Pistons in the 2016-17 season, and for the years at the peak of his career he was a quality rotational big man teams could trust, either off the bench or as a spot starter.

Over the course of his career he played for the Bucks, Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Suns, and Pistons. He earned more than $37 million in salary, most of it from a three-year contract the Pistons gave him in 2016. It was not long after his body started to betray him.

Leuer has been riding out the quarantine in Minnesota is wife Keegan (NFL coach Brian Billick’s daughter) and the couple is donating thousands of meals a week to the needy in that community.

 

New York Governor clears path for Knicks, Nets to open facilities for workouts

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As of today, 19 NBA teams have their practice facilities open for players to come in for individual workouts, but 11 have yet to open the doors. Some it’s the decision of the team, some it’s that the municipality or state had not allowed it.

The Knicks and Nets — in the heart of New York, the part of the nation hardest hit by COVID-19 — are two of those teams whose facilities are closed. However, on Sunday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said they could open the door for practice.

“I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena — do it! Do it!” Cuomo said at his press conference. “Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

While the teams have not formally announced anything yet, it is likely at least the Nets will open soon for the players still in market to workout (the majority of players from the New York teams went home to other parts of the country). The Knicks, well out of the playoff picture, may be much slower to open their facilities back up.

When they happen, the workouts come with considerable restrictions: one player and one coach at each basket, the coach is wearing gloves and masks, the balls and gym equipment are sanitized, and much more.

One part of a potential plan for the NBA to return to play called for a couple of weeks of a training camp at the team facilities, followed by 14 days of a quarantined training camp in Orlando at the bubble site. Multiple teams reached out to the league about doing their entire training camp in Orlando to avoid having players quarantine twice (once when the player reports back to market, once when the team goes to the bubble city).