Warriors drafted Draymond Green, other players meant to smash NBA’s conventional mold

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OAKLAND — “He is undersized as a power forward and doesn’t have a game that makes him a three.”

That is a draft night critique of Draymond Green from us at PBT, and while we praised getting Green in the second round that comment fit the thinking when he was drafted — that he was a tweener who might not have a natural fit in the NBA.

“They said that. Who would he guard? Ironic,” Green said Saturday before Game 2 of the Finals, when he will spend some time guarding LeBron James. “Who is he? What does he do? Ironic. That’s what they said, (Charles) Barkley still say that sometimes, other people still writing it sometimes. Maybe they’ll stop writing it one day, maybe they won’t. It is what it is at this point.”

Today we praise the versatility of the Golden State Warriors, a team that starts four guys in the same size range, which allows them to switch nearly every pick. That versatility is key to their offense as well as nearly everyone can shoot threes or put the ball on the floor.

The Warriors didn’t want players who fit into conventional molds, they wanted to shatter the mold.

Remember that when we head into the draft in a few weeks and you read comments questioning where players fit.

Remember when Stephen Curry came into the league and there were a lot of questions about whether he could really be a point guard in the NBA, if he was really just going to be an undersized two guard who couldn’t create his own shot.

To quote Green, ironic.

There were questions about Klay Thompson, is he a two or a three? The concern with him was he was not going to be athletic enough to be a good defender.

Ironic.

“It goes on and on like that down the Warriors roster. There were enough questions about Harrison Barnes he was taken behind Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Thomas Robinson.

“Coming through the draft, GMs and scouts asked me that, ‘What position do you play?’ And I tell them this answer: ‘I’m a basketball player,’” Green said. “Don’t sit here and tell me I’m a three, then you take away the things I can do at the four. Don’t tell me II’m a four and take away the things I do as a three. I’m a basketball player, you put me on the court and I’ll figure out a way to get it done.”

Steve Kerr and Curry will brush off those kinds of comments about the makeup of their team, or the old trope about how a jump shooting team can’t win the NBA title (didn’t the 2011 Dallas Mavericks already dispel that myth?).

“Most people brush it off,” Green said. “I laugh at it, but I always keep it right there in the back of the mind….

“That’s what my whole career has been fueled off of. Somebody saying what you can’t do, what I can’t do. So when I hear stuff like that saying what we can’t dp It just put me right back in that mindset that helped me get here.”

Warriors assistant coach Alvin Gentry said you have to praise Warriors GM Bob Meyers for having the vision to see past positions to put together that kind of versatile team. One that can throw a lot of different looks at you.

That goes all the way down to ball handling where guys like Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston come into play, Green notes.

“I think that’s one of the neat things about our team, you’ve got different ball handlers to change the pace of the game — and on any possession. It’s not like you got to sit Steph to play Shaun, or sit Shawn to play Dre. You can play all of them together. It’s a constant change of pace thing, it gives the defense a different look every time.”

It’s also how the Warriors defend the game’s best player.

“They mixed it up…” LeBron said of the Warriors defense. “Sometimes they didn’t dig in the post. Sometimes they let me play one-on-one. Sometimes (Andrew) Bogut was over on the tilt and brought two defenders. They switched sometimes on pick-and-rolls. Sometimes they went under.

“So they were giving me everything. They’re not just giving me one steady dosage of we’re going to just let him play. No. That’s what they want to get out to you guys, but that’s not what’s happening. Yeah, I see it all throughout the course of the game. They’ve given me different matchups, just trying to keep me off balance.”

Versatility is one of the foundations on which the Warriors are built — they wanted guys who could do a lot of different things on the court. They didn’t want to fit the mold, they wanted to break it.

And it’s on the cusp of getting them an NBA title.

Just remember that when someone pans your team’s draft pick as a “tweener” in a couple weeks.

Rumor: Clippers not interested in Jimmy Butler, he would sign with Lakers for max

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Should a team feel comfortable giving Jimmy Butler — who will turn 30 before next season, is a hard-charging personality who plays a hard-charging style that can be hard on his body, and has only once played 70 or more games in the past six seasons — a four-year, $141 million max contract?

If the Lakers strike out with Kyrie Irving and other top targets (Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard are not interested, according to sources), should they give Butler the max and sign him comfortable or not?

LeBron James has already reached out to start recruiting Butler, and if the Lakers offer him the max Butler would love to come, Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times said on the Colin Cowherd. Markazi adds that the Clippers are not interested because they are aiming higher on the food chain.

That is what a lot of sources have said about the Clippers, they would need to move Danilo Gallinari (and do a little more) to sign both Leonard and Durant, but would and should in a heartbeat.

Butler is going to have options, starting with the Philadelphia 76ers, who do not want to let him go. As it got near the end of Philly’s playoff run it had seemed Butler had found a home, both on the court as a primary ball handler in the halfcourt, and off the court as a leader and someone who bonded with Joel Embiid. Also, Philadelphia can offer more money, a projected $190 million over five years, and for a guy who has had injury issues that extra year and extra money might matter a lot.

Is Butler going to stay? What should we read into his cryptic Instagram post? If he leaves, does he want to play with LeBron? Is that the Lakers’ best option? (I think the Lakers should prefer Irving, who is younger and coming off an All-NBA regular season, plus he has a track record of winning with LeBron, but if not him…)

It is going to be a wild July in the NBA.

Raptors bench play key reason Toronto on cusp of first trip to NBA Finals

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There are multiple reasons the Toronto Raptors have beaten the Milwaukee Bucks three times in a row and now are one win away from the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals.

Kawhi Leonard and his play — particularly his defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo — is a huge one. So is the Raptors incredible halfcourt defense, which has held the Bucks to an 84.3 net rating on halfcourt possessions in this series. When the Raptors have been able to slow the game down (which they have done very well the last two games, with possession totals in the mid-90s) they win.

Just don’t forget about the Raptors bench.

Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, and Norman Powell — the three guys coach Nick Nurse leans on in his regular rotations — have been critical for the Raptors, and if they are again on Saturday night in Toronto it will lift the franchise to a place it has never been before.

Toronto’s starters are -23 in this series. That fivesome — Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Leonard, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol — were -10 in Game 5, struggling against an impressive Milwaukee starting lineup.

In Game 5, it was the Raptors’ bench that led the comeback after the Bucks’ fast start. It has been that way all series. Lineups that have at least one of those core three Raptors bench guys on the floor are +30 this series. Lineups with all three of them on the court together are +12.

Different guys are stepping up each game. In Game 5 it was VanVleet’s turn. After a rough few games in this series, he got to Milwaukee late after being with his wife for the birth of their son, then proceeded to knock down 7-of-9 threes in Toronto’s come-from-behind win.

“He oozes the confidence that spreads to the other guys,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said of VanVleet. “Again, he just stepped into the shots that were there tonight, and he was probably due to get hot in these playoffs. It’s been probably a long time coming. Great game by him.”

Toronto’s bench — and Leonard — are key reasons that this team responded to adversity, going down 0-2 in the series and bouncing back. It’s the experience of having been there before, having dealt with the pressure before, learning about themselves because they have been tested like this in previous years. Leonard and Green have rings from San Antonio, Gasol has been to conference finals in Memphis, Lowry has been there through all the Raptors struggles in recent playoffs. On the bench, Ibaka has seen plenty, and these guys have not been fazed by the moment.

It’s the test the Bucks are facing now — this group had never been challenged like this. Their athleticism and Antetokounmpo’s MVP-level season propelled this team to the best record in the NBA, then they swept through the first two rounds of the playoffs with an 8-1 record. After that, they beat the Raptors the first two games of this series.

However, now they have lost three in a row for the first time all season and they are learning about their weaknesses. The Bucks entire offense is based around the idea that nobody can slow Antetokounmpo one-on-one, except that Leonard has done just that. The Greek Freak has shot 35.5 percent this series (11-of-31, via Second Spectrum data) when Leonard has been his primary defender. Antetokounmpo also hasn’t found shooters and those guys have not hit the passes he does make, particularly in the halfcourt. Toronto has controlled the tempo the past few games, and when Antetokounmpo isn’t getting easy buckets in transition the Milwaukee offense stumbles. Toronto also has taken care of the ball and hit shots, with Leonard getting to his spots on the floor, which has limited the Bucks transition chances.

The Bucks need to make adjustments — finding ways to get Antetokounmpo the ball with better matchups, not having him attack from the top of the key every time and giving him some picks to force switches — and they need another ball handler, such as Eric Bledsoe or George Hill, to have a monster game. Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon can and should do a little more shot creation.

And Milwaukee has to contain that Raptors bench and not get beat so badly when they are on the floor.

If not, the Bucks will be on vacation in Cabo next week while the Raptors are still playing.

Are Rockets trying to push Mike D’Antoni out the door?

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After a slow start to the season, by the end the Houston Rockets had found their groove and were the second best team in the West. That still wasn’t good enough to get by the Warriors dynasty. That has led to some soul searching in Houston.

And some changes to the assistant coaching staff. First came the news Jeff Bzdelik would not return in his defensive coordinator role. Then on Friday, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle put out a series of Tweets talking about the other coaching changes coming.

Cho had been with the Rockets for a decade. Roland worked closely with James Harden, among others.

This is a near total overhaul of Mike D’Antoni’s staff, which has led to speculation the Rockets are trying to push their coach out the door, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

D’Antoni has done an excellent job — and adapted his style — to coach these Rockets into being contenders. He is part of the reason this franchise is a contender. The Rockets have fallen short the last two seasons not because of D’Antoni, but rather because of the Warriors. Golden State is an all-time dynasty level team, they are beating everybody.

This feels like the East in recent years when coaches lost jobs and teams were broken up because they could not get past LeBron James‘ teams when the issue was really LeBron is one of the game’s all-time greats.

There could be other dynamics at play in Houston, but the challenge there is not the coach. If Tilman Fertitta is frustrated his team fell short again, he should start by looking in the mirror at the cost-cutting moves his team made this season to get under the tax line. That put a ceiling on this team more than anything D’Antoni did.

NBA officially moves up free agency to 6 p.m. ET on June 30

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I’d like to think this means we’ll all be able to go to bed at a reasonable hour on June 30. I also know better.

There is a frenzy of activity right as free agency opens (Tampering? There is no tampering in the NBA…), which traditionally has been as the clock turns to July 1 in New York, right at midnight. Things got so active that a lot of agents and players made sure they were in Los Angeles, even if they didn’t live there in the offseason, just so things started at the more reasonable hour of 9 p.m.

Now the NBA has made the rumors official: Free agency will begin at 6 p.m. Eastern on June 30. Six hours earlier than before.

This was done as an agreement between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association.

This is going to be a wild July with a lot of big-name free agents — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler — and maybe a third of the players in the league on the market, plus there are a lot more teams with cap space to spend this season. It’s going to be a frenzy.

Now we know what time the wild times start.