Did James Harden not resting during season come back to bite him in playoffs?

10 Comments

This was James Harden speaking back in late March, when he was making a push for MVP and saying playing every day mattered in that chase:

“For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there… For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

And if Mike D’Antoni approached him about sitting out a game for rest.

“Mike knows not to come at me with that.”

This was James Harden Thursday night in a Game 6, win-or-go-home playoff game: 2-of-11 from the floor for 10 points, almost as many turnovers as assists (7 to 6), and he looked like the slowest guy on the court — because he was the slowest guy on the court.

Harden looked exhausted. Out of gas. Like he did at the end of Game 5 before.

When you look back at the push for Harden to be the MVP, is it a coincidence he didn’t get rested during the season and it cost him late?

Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni — who in the past has said he was not a fan of resting players during the regular season — said Friday he’d have to reconsider his position. Via Tim MacMahon at ESPN.

D’Antoni, describing himself as “shell-shocked” the day after Houston’s season ended with a 39-point home loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6, acknowledged after Friday’s exit interviews that fatigue could have factored into Harden’s poor finish.

“All great players think they can do everything,” D’Antoni said. “Maybe he does need to take a game off here and there. ‘Hey, you’re nicked up a little bit, don’t play, maybe.’ Something to talk about, but that’s also his greatness, too. So it’s hard. It’s very delicate.

Gregg Popovich, the coach who bested D’Antoni in the last round (again), has been at the forefront of resting players during the season to have them at their peak for the playoffs. The brilliant Tom Haberstroh at ESPN broke down the numbers in a piece saying Harden needs to get more rest.

Before winning the 2014 Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard ranked 138th in minutes played during the regular season. Andre Iguodala spent the regular season coming off the bench before nabbing the 2015 Finals MVP. Before his brilliant 2016 Finals manifesto, LeBron James enjoyed 19 extra days off in the playoffs as a result of sweeping early-round opponents, while the Warriors labored through injuries and a grueling seven-game marathon against the OKC Thunder. Let’s also not forget the Warriors decided to chase 73 wins that season instead of resting down the stretch…

The Rockets could point to a Nene injury as an excuse (against the Spurs this year), but that strains credibility when you consider the Spurs played without starters Tony Parker and Leonard in Game 6. The Spurs’ reserves stepped up to the challenge because Popovich asked them to step up eight times before in the regular season when he sat Leonard….

Russell Westbrook and Harden’s MVP cases were often buttressed by their visceral opposition to DNP-Rests and yet both flamed out in the postseason in spectacular fashion. Westbrook shot 38.8 percent on 30.4 field goal attempts while turning the ball over six times per game in his first-round exit. Harden missed 45 3-pointers in six games against a Spurs team that collectively ran five more miles on the floor than the Rockets did in the series, according to player-tracking data. With little burst left, Westbrook and Harden were reduced to chucking from deep. The pair shot 27.3 percent on 3s on a combined 20.6 attempts per game in the postseason, whereas those figures were 34.5 percent and 16.4, respectively, in the regular season.

The player tracking data that comes from wearables that a lot of teams use in practice show the same things. Basically, all the data shows that rested players perform better and are less likely to get injured. There is no doubt about that.

Which remains an issue for the NBA, who has fans paying big money for seats — and broadcast partners paying bigger money to show the games — only to see the top players sit out. It’s not good optics. The league will start a week earlier next year and the NBA will try to space out games a little more, but if the schedule is at 82 games there’s only so much that can be done (and it’s hard to imagine the number of games being reduced just because of the potential financial issues). There is no easy answer here. (And spare me the “back in the day guys didn’t rest” crap, as former player turned agent B.J. Armstrong said on a PBT Podcast, if they had the data then that teams do now guys would have rested.)

All of which means, expect James Harden to get a few games off next regular season.

 

Rudy Gobert on dynamic with Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell: ‘I’m the a—hole’

Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Rudy Gobert is the Jazz’s best player.

Donovan Mitchell is the Jazz’s biggest star.

That situation naturally creates tension. Gobert and Mitchell testing positive for coronavirus exacerbated it.

Mitchell was upset with Gobert, whose reckless actions made him more likely to contract and spread coronavirus. Now, Mitchell sounds ready to move on.

But other issues remain.

Mitchell quickly became Utah’s go-to offensive player. He’s a sensational scorer with a magnetic personality and electrifying dunks. But he’s still developing as a playmaker, which can frustrate Gobert.

Most famously, Gobert cried when discussing his All-Star snub last year. Gobert plays a complementary style that can be underrated. He’s an elite defender who cleans up for his teammates. On offense, does all the little things – screening, finishing, rebounding. Yet, all that diligent screening isn’t always rewarded with passes when he gets open.

Should Mitchell pass more to Gobert? Yes. But Gobert has also let his effort slip this season when not getting touches, and that’s not the right solution, either.

Gobert, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“I understand that I’m annoying. I can be very annoying,” said Gobert, adding that he knows Mitchell’s job is difficult as the focal point of defenses. “I think maybe because he was really good really early, I’ve been very demanding and maybe in not always a positive way. Sometimes you don’t realize it.

“Like with me, people can be hard on me and I can handle it, but for some guys, it can become very frustrating. I can understand that 100 percent. Donovan has gotten better every year since he’s gotten here. I think he’s going to keep getting a lot better. It’s pretty much, I’m the a–hole.”

“If I was 12 years old, I wouldn’t want to be watching f—ing Rudy Gobert. I’d want to watch Donovan Mitchell. I wouldn’t want to watch Rudy Gobert get dunks and alter shots. I’d want to watch Donovan Mitchell cross people up and do crazy layups, crazy dunks, of course.

“I totally understand how it works, and I’m fine with it.”

There’s an endearing amount of self-awareness in these quotes.

Gobert and Mitchell have a chance to form a highly successful partnership in Utah. Winning could bond them. On the other hand, losing could push them further apart. Another potential complication: Mitchell – with all his talent and about four years younger than Gobert – will probably soon surpass Gobert as a player. Then what? How will each handle that?

The future is unpredictable, but it’s worth understanding the current relationship between Gobert and Mitchell. To do that, I highly recommend reading MacMahon’s excellent article.

Nets’ Taurean Prince tests positive for coronavirus, will sit out restart

Taurean Prince Nets
Steven Ryan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Nicholas Claxton all had pre-existing injuries and were never expected to play in the NBA’s restart in Orlando. Wilson Chandler opted out of the restart to spend time with his family.  DeAndre Jordan and Spencer Dinwiddie both tested positive for the coronavirus and did not join the team headed to Orlando on Tuesday. That’s six players from the Nets roster not playing in the restart.

Make that seven — forward Taurean Prince tested positive for coronavirus and will sit out restart as well. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

Prince started at the four for the Nets and averaged 12.1 points and six rebounds a game.

The Nets are free to sign a substitute player to fill in for Prince, however, that player must have fewer than three years of NBA experience. Whoever the Nets line up, it will be a drop off in quality from what Prince brought to the table.

Expect the Nets to look at big men for substitute players because they need size. Jarrett Allen is the only true center on the roster, and there are only two other players — Rodions Kurucs and Dzanan Musa — are taller than 6’9″. Amir Johnson is one Nets’ big man target, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times.

Brooklyn enters the restart as the seven seed in the East, but just half a game up on eight seed Orlando, a team that is largely healthy and bringing its full roster. It’s likely the Nets slide back to the eight seed, but likely make the playoffs (Washington, playing without Bradley Beal or Davis Bertans, would have to make up two games on the Nets during the eight seeding games, then beat Brooklyn in a two straight play-in series games, a tall order). The Nets reward for making the playoffs? Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee.

WNBA players call for ouster of Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Georgia senator

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA)
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBA players showed their power by getting Donald Sterling removed as Clippers owner.

WNBA players might be having a similar moment with Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Republican U.S. Senator from Georgia.

Sterling committed incredibly harmful racist and sexist acts for years. Ironically, something far more benign – telling his girlfriend not to post pictures with black people or bring them to games – did him in. But he went too far in a time of growing sensitivity to speech.

Now, there’s even less tolerance for people saying the “wrong” thing. And Loeffler has said things lately that range from disagreeable to offensive.

The WNBA announced its plans for promoting social justice during its upcoming season:

The WNBA will begin its season in late July with a weekend of competition centered around the Black Lives Matter movement, during which teams will wear special uniforms to seek justice for the women and girls, including Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Vanessa Guillen and many more who have been the forgotten victims of police brutality and racial violence. Throughout the season, players will wear NIKE-branded warm-up shirts that display “Black Lives Matter” on the front.   Additionally, “Say Her Name” will adorn the back of the shirts.  “Black Lives Matter” will also be prominently displayed on courts during games.

In response, Kelly Loeffler wrote a letter to WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert. A portion of that letter, via Greg Bluestein and Bria Felicien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

All of us have a constitutional right to hold and to express our views. But to subscribe to a particular political agenda undermines the potential of the sport and sends a message of exclusion.

The truth is, we need less—not more politics in sports. In a time when polarizing politics is as divisive as ever, sports has the power to be a unifying antidote. And now more than ever, we should be united in our goal to remove politics from sports.

The lives of each and every African American matter, and there’s no debating the fact that there is no place for racism in our country. However, I adamantly oppose the Black Lives Matter political movement, which has advocated for the defunding of police, called for the removal of Jesus from churches and the disruption of the nuclear family structure, harbored anti-Semitic views, and promoted violence and destruction across the country. I believe it is totally misaligned with the values and goals of the WNBA and the Atlanta Dream, where we support tolerance and inclusion.

Amid the recent unrest in many American cities, this movement advocated the creation of lawless autonomous zones in places like Atlanta. I denounced these zones of violence—for which I have been criticized. However, this same group fell silent over the fourth of July weekend when an 8-year-old girl was murdered under the “mob rule” that I warned about days earlier. This is not a political movement that the league should be embracing, and I emphatically oppose it.

Though I was not consulted about—nor do I agree with the League’s decision in this matter, I am proposing a common-sense recommendation to ensure we reflect the values of freedom and equality for all. I believe we should put an American flag on every jersey. Include it in our licensed apparel for players, coaches and fans.

Women’s National Basketball Players Association:

WNBA:

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert released the following statement:

“The WNBA is based on the principle of equal and fair treatment of all people and we, along with the teams and players, will continue to use our platforms to vigorously advocate for social justice.  Sen. Kelly Loeffler has not served as a Governor of the Atlanta Dream since October 2019 and is no longer involved in the day-to-day business of the team.”

That is a strong statement from the union. Several players previously criticized Loeffler, especially in the wake of a recent interview.

She was asked, “It is not every day you see people carrying long guns in big cities in America. What is happening on the streets of Atlanta this morning?” While Fox News showed armed black men, Loeffler said, “This is totally unacceptable. We cannot allow mob rule. We’re a nation of the rule of law.”

If Loeffler – a self-avowed Second Amendment advocate – were specifically denouncing legal gun carrying because the carriers were black, that’s racist, hypocritical and completely unacceptable. But it’s unclear whether Loeffler could see the images and videos as she answered. It’s also unclear whether she was answering more generally about everything happening in Atlanta.

Regardless, backlash spread.

Renee Montgomery of the Atlanta Dream:

Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm:

Skylar Diggins-Smith of the Washington Mystics:

Natasha Cloud of the Phoenix Mercury:

Layshia Clarendon of the New York Liberty:

Sydney Colson of the Chicago Sky:

There is room for legitimate debate on the issues raised in the tweets and articles they link, including gun control, abortion and the best tactics for fighting racism. Loeffler shouldn’t be forced out simply because she disagrees with some vocal players. (I suspect, in a league as large and diverse as the WNBA, some players agree with her on some of these issues.)

But Loeffler’s letter to Engelbert is particularly off-putting.

Disagreeing with some elements of the Black Lives Matter organization would be one thing. But condemning the Black Lives Matter political movement is something else. Within that movement, there are disagreements on methods and goals. The unifying thread: Believing black lives matter. That’s why Black Lives Matter, despite some extreme views, holds such mass appeal.

It’s also gross for Loeffler to use a false claim about Secoriea Turner to fit her agenda. Protesters have decried the girl’s killing.

The players who are using their platforms to promote racial justice deserve praise. Their plan is good for the WNBA. It’s good for the United the States.

The truth is there has always been politics in sports. White people can more easily ignore it, but that’s their privilege. The many black players in the WNBA still live in a country with systematic racism. Their humanity doesn’t end when they show up to work, and they shouldn’t be told to be quiet and just wear an American flag on their jerseys.

It’s telling that Loeffler’s solution to politics in sports is to put a political symbol on jerseys.

She doesn’t want politics out of sports. She wants politics she disagrees with out of sports.

Now, the WNBA will determine whether it wants her out of its sport.

 

Celtics’ Jayson Tatum on playing at Disney World: ‘Still not excited, not thrilled’

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum
Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum wasn’t going to sit out the NBA’s resumption due to injury concerns. Players like Tatum got the enhanced insurance they wanted, anyway.

But that doesn’t mean Tatum is eager to go to Disney World.

Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:

I don’t blame Tatum one bit. Players are facing tight lifestyle restrictions, including be separated from their families and friends for weeks. Coronavirus is an ever-present threat. There’s a very important protest movement sweeping the country.

Who can easily focus on basketball at a time like this?

Of course, Tatum decided the pros outweigh the cons. The money is substantial (for players collectively more so than Tatum individually, though there’s a case for all players to do their part for each other), and the Celtics have a chance to win a championship.

But before coronavirus, Tatum thought he’d get that money and title opportunity. The only new aspects are the downsides.

I appreciate Tatum’s openness about the situation. He’s certainly not alone in feeling this way.

Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions. It’s just the unfortunate reality of the pandemic.