Associated Press

Westbrook got paid, now real work starts — keep super team together


Call it loyalty. Call it a response to a front office making the right moves to build a contender. Call it just smart business — who walks away from $205 million? Call it whatever you want, the result is the same:

Russell Westbrook will remain a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder through his prime — and will be paid $205 million for doing so. This is why the designated veteran exception — call it the Kevin Durant rule — was put into the new CBA, to help middle and small market teams retain their superstars. It worked in OKC (as opposed to Sacramento, where they moved DeMarcus Cousins rather than have to pay him that much).

The Thunder and their fans are celebrating. As they should.

However, now the hard work starts — for Westbrook and Thunder management.

Oklahoma City has been a title contender before, reaching the NBA Finals and looking like a team destined to win titles. Plural. That never happened and, for a variety of much-discussed reasons, it all fell apart. James Harden is now leading another contender in Houston, and Kevin Durant joined the juggernaut in Golden State.

It could happen again. Paul George is a free agent next summer and his interest in becoming a Laker next summer is about as much a secret as George Clooney’s political leanings. Carmelo Anthony is more complicated — he may choose to opt into the final year of his contract, considering the tight market — but there is a legitimate chance he is not with Oklahoma City next season.

Westbrook signing the deal will put pressure on George — his entire season, his every action from now through May (or whenever the Thunder season ends) will be viewed through the “is he going to stay” prism. Thunder fans will be watching. Lakers fans will be watching. The NBA will be watching.

Westbrook is key to keeping this team together, more specifically keeping George (who makes this team a contender, Anthony is not at that level anymore). It’s not just recruiting off the court and buddying up to George, it’s about on the court — Westbrook has proven he can be a dominant scorer and MVP, but can he make the sacrifices needed to make George and Anthony better and to lead a team? Westbrook needs to be the guy who lifts those around him up and makes the whole better. He needs to promote that culture. It’s the next step for him.

Thunder management and ownership play a role here as well — Sam Presti had an Executive of the Year summer (that award is usually won in the offseason), but he has to be ready to make other moves as needed (particularly in the future if George leaves anyway). Nobody sane is worried about that, Presti will be ready.

Ownership has to be willing to pay the financial price to win — this season the Thunder will be on the hook for an estimated $24 million in luxury taxes (depending on what the final roster looks like). If after this season ownership says “we got our man” and puts the Thunder back on the tight budget of a small-market team with little or no tax spending, this team will fall apart fast. And Westbrook will be livid. He has agreed to give them his prime years, but it comes with an understanding that ownership is all-in, too.

Next summer, maybe everything Westbrook and Presti do is not enough, maybe the siren song of Los Angeles proves too strong and lures George away.

At least the Thunder will still have Westbrook, and he will be back out there recruiting — the Thunder got their man. With him, they remain relevant and dangerous. Together Westbrook and Presti can chase the next star.

However, that is not the goal. Instead, the deal is signed, and now the hard work begins not to let this opportunity pass them by.


Fast start, LeBron James enough for Cavaliers to hold on to win, even series

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For the first time in 11 days, we had an NBA playoff game that finished with a single-digit margin. Barely.

It didn’t look like it would be early — Boston missed lay-ups and dunks all through the first quarter, LeBron James was being LeBron James, and the Cavaliers had a 16 point first quarter lead. It was 15 at the half.

But these Celtics would not go quietly.

Boston started to find it’s offensive groove — hunting Kevin Love incessantly — but in the end couldn’t get enough stops because, well, LeBron James. He finished with 44 points on 17-of-28 shooting, his sixth 40-point game of these playoffs. He got wherever he wanted on the floor all night, carving up the top-ranked regular season defense of the Celtics like a surgeon. No other Cavalier had more than 14 points (Kyle Korver), but the supporting cast played enough defensive and made hustle plays to hang on.

@realtristan13 with the swat and @kingjames with the finish!

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Cleveland got the win, 111-102, and evened the series at 2-2. Game 5 is Wednesday night back in Boston.

What Celtics fans can feel good about is their team’s resilience and grit. Down big for the second-straight game on the road in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics fought back from as much as 19 down earlier in the game to get it to single digits and make the fans in Quicken Loan Arena nervous in the fourth quarter. That is something the team can carry over to Game 5, as they can some defensive tweaks that shut down opportunities for Korver and the rest of the supporing cast.

What should bother Celtics fans was another night where they struggled to generate offense in the face of more intense defensive pressure.

That came from the opening tip, with the Celtics missing a few layups and a couple of Jaylen Brown dunk attempts — all of which allowed the Cavs to get early offenses and mismatches going the other way. Those missed shots fueled a 10-0 Cavaliers run that had Cleveland up 19-10 early. The Celtics shot 3-of-10 at the rim in the first quarter, shot 26 percent overall, and trailed 34-18 after one.

The second quarter saw the Celtics start to find their offense — they scored 35 points on 50 percent shooting — but they only gained one point on the Cavaliers lead because Boston couldn’t get stops. LeBron had 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the first half to pace a Cleveland team that shot 61.5 percent overall and hit 6-of-11 threes. That’s why the Cavs were up 68-53 at the half.

The Celtics energy was better than Game 2, but in the first half they looked like a young team, one that made a lot of mistakes.

In the second half, the Celtics started to figure things out — they started making the extra pass, they got stops for stretches, they looked more like a young team figuring things out. They finished the night with 25 from Jaylen Brown, 17 from Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier had 16 points and 11 assists.

They just couldn’t completely close the gap because they couldn’t get consistent stops — the Cavaliers shot 60 percent as a team for the game, and a ridiculous true shooting percentage of 59.6. Cleveland mercilessly hunted Rozier on switches — forcing him on to LeBron or Kevin Love then attacking — and the Cavs got enough from their role players. Tristan Thompson did what he needed to bringing energy in the paint and some defense, plus he had 13 points. Korver was diving on the floor for loose balls. Larry Nance Jr. had his second good game in a row. George Hill had 13 points.

And whenever the Cavaliers needed a play, they had LeBron to turn to. He set another NBA record on Monday night, most playoff field goals made for a career.

LeBron is what needs to worry Boston most of all. The Celtics will be better at home in Game 5 — they have not lost in TD Garden all postseason — but if this thing goes seven, it’s a dangerous thing when the other team has the best player on the planet.

LeBron James passes Kareem to become all-time leader in playoff made field goals

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LeBron James is already the NBA’s all-time leading playoff scorer, having passed Michael Jordan last postseason.

However, LeBron racked up his buckets in the era of the three-point shot (as did Jordan, to a lesser extent), so Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the all-time leader in field goals made in the postseason. A lot of them beautiful skyhooks that still give Celtics fans nightmares.

Monday night, LeBron made history passing Abdul-Jabar for the top spot in NBA playoff made field goals.

Just add that to the already insane resume.

Kevin Love with insane touchdown outlet to LeBron James for bucket


Not sure what part of this was better.

Was it Kevin Love‘s length-of-the-court outlet touchdown pass that was right on the money, where only the receiver could get it?

Or was it LeBron James, with a catch in a crowd that would make Julio Jones’ draw drop?

Either way, this first quarter bucket from the Cavaliers may well be the play of the game.

Spurs disbanding all-female dance team in favor of co-ed hype team

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Is this the wave of the future?

Since then newly-minted owner Jerry Buss started the Laker Girls’ in 1979, all-female dance teams have become standard around the NBA. However, with how things are now viewed through the prism of the #metoo movement, and reports on how NFL cheerleaders were treated in places such as Washington and Miami, a lot of professional sports teams are re-thinking the concept of female dance teams.

The Spurs are apparently doing away with theirs, to be replaced by a 35-person co-ed “hype team.”

The Spurs have not said officially that this is the end of the Silver Dancers. “Lack of interest” is an odd reason to give — is there suddenly less interest now than there was five years ago? A number of teams have both female dance teams and co-ed “spirit” or “hype” teams.

Far more likely, this is about perception in what is a conservative state and marketplace.

The question is will this become a trend, both around the NBA and professional sports. As the teams try to evolve and make more dynamic their in-arena experiences, are the dance teams going to fade from view?

Just something to keep and eye on going forward.