Andre Iguodala’s Finals MVP a perfect end to the Warriors’ historic season

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CLEVELAND — Before the start of the NBA Finals, Andre Iguodala was listed at many sports books at 150-to-1 odds of taking home Finals MVP. After starting every game of his career until this year, he didn’t start once this season until Game 4 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He isn’t the deadly shooter Stephen Curry is, or the dynamic personality of Draymond Green.

But after the Warriors hoisted their first Larry O’Brien Trophy in four decades, he was the obvious choice. Nobody else embodies the ethos of this historic Warriors team quite the way he does.

“I’ve been preparing for this moment for 11 years now,” Iguodala said after the celebration had commenced.

Throughout his career, Iguodala’s role has been the same everywhere he’s gone. He’s the guy that gets stuck on LeBron James. It’s a mostly thankless task — James put up otherworldly numbers even as effectively as Iguodala played him. And he stepped up to take on this daunting task even after being asked to sacrifice the touches and attention he had grown accustomed to during his career. When Steve Kerr inserted Iguodala into the starting lineup in Game 4, it changed the trajectory of the entire series, and Cleveland had no counter. Iguodala’s versatility was the reason why the move worked so well.

“Whether it’s him taking a back seat and letting Harrison start and not mumbling a word about coach’s decision all year, and then coming in — he was great the entire series,” said Green. “Not just when he started starting. He was great the entire series. But he saved this season for us.”

“He stepped up,” said Shaun Livingston, another veteran who saw his role fluctuate over the course of the season but contributed valuable minutes in the Finals. “Obviously his role this series was guarding LeBron and then making shots, making plays for everybody. But to be the sixth man all year, even in the playoffs, and then come and start and turn this thing around for us, I think that defines our team. Everybody being ready. He had the hardest job probably on the floor this series trying to contain LeBron.”source:

If Iguodala had done nothing on offense in the entire series, he would have been the most important Warriors player simply on the strength of his defensive effort on James. But he scored 25 points in Tuesday’s closeout game and knocked down key shots at other points in the series.

“Guarding LeBron James has to be the hardest job in basketball,” Kerr said. “So after the first three games we decided to start Andre because he was doing by far the best job on LeBron. But he was also contributing in so many other ways. Offensively, their plan was to take Steph away, take Klay away, and force Draymond and Andre to beat them, and Andre did. He hit three more threes tonight. 25 points.”

Ironically, for a team that just beat LeBron James in the Finals, the success of the Warriors is most reminiscent of James’ most successful teams in Miami. Erik Spoelstra had no qualms about starting, say, Shane Battier in one series and yanking him from the rotation entirely in the next one when matchups dictated it. Nobody can say that the Warriors would be where they are, as champions, without Andrew Bogut, but it’s equally inarguable that Golden State gained a significant matchup advantage when Bogut was all but removed from the rotation.

The Warriors similarly had the level of success that they did this season, winning 67 games, with minimal contributions from their highest-paid player, former All-Star David Lee. But Lee contributed in Games 3 and 4 when called upon. From the top of the roster down, this team had full buy-in. It’s a testament not only to Kerr’s willingness to make unorthodox coaching decisions but to the willingness of Lee, Bogut and Iguodala to make the sacrificed they did.

Which is why it’s perfectly fitting that the player who got the solo turn on the podium wasn’t the league MVP, top All-Star vote-getter and arguably the greatest shooter in NBA history. It was one of those role players whose selflessness made the Warriors’ entire system work.

“You could make an argument that it could have gone to Steph, it could have gone to LeBron,” Kerr said of the Finals MVP award. “But for us, it’s really fitting that the award went to Andre because he sacrificed his starting role from the first game of the season. He had never come off the bench once in his entire career, and he sacrificed that job to make Harrison better, to make our bench better, and that set the tone for our whole season. An All-Star, an Olympian, saying, ‘OK, I’ll come off the bench.’ It set the tone for everything we were able to accomplish, so it feels like full-circle to me that Andre received the award. Couldn’t happen to a better person.”

 

Report: Celtics reach out to former assistant Larranaga about joining Mazzulla’s staff

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The Boston Celtics are reportedly looking for a veteran assistant to put on the bench next to 34-year-old Joe Mazzulla, the man thrust into the head coach’s chair for a title contender in the wake of Ime Udoka’s suspension.

Who better than a guy who spent nine years on the Celtics’ bench? Boston reached out to Jay Larranaga, currently on the Clippers bench, about returning to the East Coast, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Clippers had no turnover on Tyronn Lue’s staff heading into this season. Mazzulla has become a trusted member of the Clippers staff, working a lot with the big me on the roster. However, if the Celtics back up the Brink’s Truck, the Clippers will not stand in his way if he wants to leave. It’s a question of comfort level, lifestyle, and of course money for Larranaga.

The Celtics made Mazzulla their interim head coach after an investigation found a “volume of violations” of team policy by Udoka, who had an improper relationship with a team staff member. So far the Celtics and Udoka have been able to keep the details of what happened under wraps, but league sources described the situation to NBC Sports as “ugly” and “messy,” especially if/when those details do find their way to the public.

For Celtics players, just getting back on the court, practicing Tuesday and focusing on basketball — not the turmoil around the franchise — was a good thing.

“Once we got out on the court, it was just nice to get back out the court and review our defense and to talk about offense and doing what we do,” Al Horford told the Associated Press. “It’s a good thing to just play basketball. That’s what we’re here for. It’s important to just start this thing back up again.”

Getting another coach on the bench will be important for the Celtics as well.

Hawks trade Harkless, second-round pick to Thunder for Vit Krejci

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The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.

The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).

This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.

Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.

Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.

The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.

Lonzo Ball says ‘I can’t run’ or jump; Bulls’ Donovan has to plan for extended absence

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.

However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.

Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:

“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”

The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”

It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.

Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.

The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.

The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.

Whenever that may be.

Deandre Ayton says he hasn’t spoken to coach Williams since Game 7

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four
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In a Game 7 against the Mavericks last May, Suns coach Monty Williams benched center Deandre Ayton, who ended up playing just 17 minutes in an ugly, blowout loss for Phoenix. When asked about it after the game Williams said, “It’s internal.”

Ayton and Williams have not spoken since then, according to Ayton.

Yikes. Remember that includes a summer where the Suns would not offer Ayton a max contract extension so he went out and got one from the Pacers, then the Suns instantly matched it. Ayton did not sound thrilled to be back in Phoenix on Media Day, and he was rather matter-of-fact about dealing with his coach.

It’s what every fan wants to hear — “this is just my job.”

Reporters asked Williams about this and he played it off, saying he hasn’t spoken with a lot of players yet.

It’s just day one of training camp, but there are a lot of red flags around the Suns: owner Robert Sarver being suspended and selling the team, Jae Crowder not in camp waiting to be traded, and now not a lot of communication between the team’s star center and its coach.

Maybe it all amounts to nothing. Maybe the Suns get on the court, Chris Paul looks rejuvenated, Devin Booker looks like Devin Booker, and none of this matters. But what had looked like a stable situation not that long ago now has a lot of red flags flying heading into the season, and that has to concern Suns fans.