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Tomas Satoransky patches Wizards’ annual hole

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DETROIT – Tomas Satoransky operates at his own pace.

The Wizards drafted Satoransky No. 32 in 2012, when he was playing for Sevilla. He didn’t feel ready for the NBA, so he stayed in Spain. His contract with Sevilla expired in 2014. He still didn’t feel ready and signed with Barcelona. He even signed an extension with Barcelona in 2016.

Later that year, Satoransky thought it was time. Still under contract with Barcelona, his buyout (reportedly about $2 million) was larger than what Washington could pay without it counting against the cap ($650,000). But Satoransky was so certain of his decision, he paid the remainder of the buyout himself. He knew that’d be a possibility and ensured his extension left the option open.

Yet – for all the years he spent timing his jump to the NBA juuust right – he realized his perception of the league was still based on his childhood in the Czech Republic.

“I just saw the stars, the shining moments and everything,” Satoransky said. “Obviously, when you come over, you have to also go through some tough times as a player, especially coming over from Europe, getting used to everything and like that. But once you have a good role in the NBA, you just feel like you’re blessed.”

By that standard, Satoransky is blessed.

And the Wizards might be, too.

Washington has struggled for years whenever John Wall sits. Eric Maynor, Garett Temple, Andre Miller, Ramon Sessions, Trey Burke, Brandon Jennings and Tim Frazier have cycled through as backup point guards. None did the job well enough. Wall called the Wizards’ bench their downfall last postseason, citing it as a reason he ran out of gas.

Satoransky might finally be the answer.

Since Wall’s first playoff season (2014), Washington has played like a 46-win to 54-win team with him on the court. In that same span, the Wizards’ win pace ranged from 16 to 29 whenever he sat. Teams obviously perform worse without their biggest star, but that gap was hard.

Washington has remained strong with Wall this year (52-win pace) – and is far better than usual without him (37-win pace).

Here’s the Wizards win paces the last five years, with Wall (red) and without him (blue):

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This chart probably sells Satoransky short. Washington has also used Frazier and Sessions at point guard when Wall sits. But Satoransky has proven most effective. The Wizards play at a 47-win pace with him.

The idea Washington was better without Wall was always silly. But Satoransky’s strong play in his absence helped sparked the discussion – and earned him a larger role in the playoff rotation.

“He’s played well, and he deserves some extra minutes,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said.

How is Satoransky flourishing? By continuing to put himself in comfortable positions.

That starts with his role.

“I don’t feel like I need to be a starter or anything,” Satoransky said. “That’s the thing the NBA has. You have to be a starter or a second-unit guy. It doesn’t bother me. And I don’t understand too much. For me, coming from Europe, it makes much more sense that you have 12 players and they all play based on how they play in the game. That’s what I get used to. I understand you cannot have it here, for some reason.”

And it continues on the court, where Satoransky plays so cerebrally.

He ranks sixth in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio. The leaderboard with per-game numbers:

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Satoransky’s 3-point percentage (47.4) would lead the league – if he shot enough 3s to qualify. He’s just so selective (which obviously contributes to his high efficiency).

Satoransky is also deadly on floaters, but he also passes up too many of them. Even Brooks – who says he mostly likes Satoransky’s methodical style – wants the point guard to take more floaters.

“People around me, they’re always like I should be more aggressive,” Satoransky said. “But it’s just the way I was taught to play the game, right way, in Europe.

“Mentally for me it’s tough, but for sure I think in the NBA, you have to be a little bit – in some moments – a little selfish.”

Satoransky could probably handle it. He doesn’t restrain his game purely out of necessity. At 6-foot-7 with above-the-rim athleticism he only shows in flashes, he could do more.

“I never force anything,” Satoransky said.

Except his way into the Wizards’ playoff rotation.

Washington (42-38) will enter the postseason as the No. 6, No. 7 or No 8 seed. The team has plenty of internal problems. Advancing is more unlikely than likely.

But, for once, backup point guard probably won’t be the primary reason for elimination.

LeBron James on Lakers clinching No. 1 seed: ‘They said I couldn’t do it’

Lakers star LeBron James
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The Lakers clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

LeBron James, via Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

“They said I couldn’t do it.”

“I’ll enjoy this one,” James said, nodding as he grinned. “They said I can’t do it.”

The Lakers entered the season fifth in the West in over-under wins (behind the Rockets, Clippers, Jazz and Nuggets).

But nobody credible thought the Lakers couldn’t get the No. 1 seed. With LeBron and Anthony Davis, the Lakers obviously had that type of upside. Their championship odds were far more favorable. The main doubts stemmed from how seriously LeBron would take the regular season.

That said, in the age of social media, players hear both more praise and more criticism than ever before. LeBron surely heard from haters who ruled him out. Crowning himself the Washed King, LeBron probably internalized that fringe opinion.

Many players find slights to use as motivation. It worked for Michael Jordan. It works for LeBron.

But it does sound silly when an exalted player like LeBron talks this way.

Report: Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because team didn’t spend enough

Pacers owner Herb Simon and executives Donnie Walsh, Larry Bird, and Kevin Pritchard
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Paul George said he left the Pacers because they weren’t willing to spend enough.

Apparently, he wasn’t the only one to feel that way.

Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president in 2017, citing a desire to do more things outside basketball. Yet, he also reportedly had another reason.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

Indiana is a small-market team that consistently has not gone out and paid big money. We know that this was something that frustrated Larry Bird, who is a legend in the state of Indiana and elsewhere, I might add. It frustrated him enough that he stepped aside.

Pacers owner Herb Simon has a certain way of doing things. Indiana hasn’t paid the luxury tax since 2006, the first year the tax line was set before the season.

Despite that, the Pacers have been pretty good. They’ve qualified for the playoffs nine of the last 10 seasons, peaking with appearances in the 2013 and 2014 Eastern Conference finals.

Still, Indiana has lost in the first round four straight years. Another first-round loss appears the most likely outcome for this season.

That’s not exactly satisfying for players who want to win championships. Spending big isn’t absolutely necessary to compete on the highest levels. But it helps.

Pacers star Victor Oladipo is approaching 2021 unrestricted free agency. He’s a competitor who’ll evaluate, among other things, whether his current franchise matches his ambitions.

It’s easy to spend someone else’s money. Simon can decide his own limits. But there are consequences of his spending restraint – especially as perception grows about his relative thriftiness.

J.J. Redick describes thought behind meme: ‘I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing’

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J.J. Redick has made the playoffs all 13 of his previous NBA seasons.

The Pelicans have put that streak in jeopardy.

New Orleans lost its first two games in the bubble, a nail-biter against the Jazz and a rout against the Clippers. During that loss to L.A., cameras captured Redick – on the floor exercising his back while out of the game – with a distant stare that became an instant meme.

Redick on ESPN Daily:

I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing, and I think my face summed up that first half pretty well.

There’s so many circumstances you could apply the emotions that I was going through in that moment.

Redick is right: That meme fits many occasions, which gives it staying power.

However, it has plenty of competition. Though the feelings displayed aren’t the exact same, Redick didn’t even have the best reaction inside the bubble by an exasperated NBA player. That belongs to Nuggets star Nikola Jokic:

At least Redick got reason to perk up. The Pelicans beat the Grizzlies yesterday to gain ground in the playoff race.

Darren Collison says talk of him playing for Lakers was “overhyped”

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Darren Collison shocked the NBA last summer when he walked away from the game at age 32 — and a likely contract in the four-year, $70+ million range — and retired. His reasons were legitimate, he wanted to focus on his religion — “While I still love basketball, I know there is something more important, which is my family and my faith,” Collison said at the time — but the league has seen a lot of players say they were walking away for good reasons only to come running back.

The rumors about a Collison return started just after January 1 and spun out of control in Los Angeles when he sat with Lakers’ owner Jeanie Buss at a game.

Collison stayed retired, and told the “Minute til 6” podcast it wasn’t even close. He was never coming back.

“To keep it 100, they overhyped the whole thing. Like, I wasn’t even thinking about coming back.”

That game he went to? He just came to watch his friend Russell Westbrook.

“I just wanted to come watch the game as a fan.”

Collison also is smart enough to know how him sitting with Buss would be perceived.

Collison was wanted. The Lakers run LeBron James at the point but could have used the veteran Collison in the role Rajon Rondo filled as a secondary playmaker (Rondo is currently out with a thumb injury). Collison was rumored to the Clippers as well, and Doc Rivers can always find a way to use more guard depth.

Collison, however, seems at peace with his decision. If he wanted to return, he would have done it last summer for 10 figures a season, not for the minimum in January.