5 Up, 5 Down: Team basketball is finally going to beat LeBron James, isn’t it?

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5 Up, 5 Down is a biweekly column featuring the best and worst from the NBA.
LeBron James looked like the destroyer of worlds. Right up until he didn’t. The Boston Celtics were all over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 despite LeBron being perhaps the main reason that Dwane Casey was fired from the Toronto Raptors.

Nothing in the NBA stays steady, which has made these playoffs supremely interesting even if some storylines — like the Raptors — seem to follow the path of years past.

Now we’re deep into the playoffs, with the conference finals taking shape and there’s more than ever to get to. So without further ado.

5 Up

The Boston Celtics beat LeBron James using good old teamwork

The Celtics have been great this postseason, and Brad Stevens has been praised both for his strategic game plan against major stars like LeBron James and for his in-game tactics. But while SLOBs are fun to watch when they’re drawn up by Stevens, the big thing that’s happening in Boston is just how well this team is playing together, unselfishly, in the face of this generation’s greatest star.

The Cavaliers dropped Game 1 by double-digits to the Celtics on Sunday, and it appeared Stevens finally had a plan for LeBron, who has been on an absolute tear during these playoffs. It felt representative of LeBron’s time in Cleveland — during both stints — that a roster with some talent wasn’t living up to their potential and instead had to be carried by James. Boston is a Team with a capital T, and the Cavaliers are not. It’s only one game, but it doesn’t look good for LeBron in Ohio.

LeBron’s photographic memory

While James didn’t have a good Game 1, scoring just 15 points, he did have perhaps the best moment on the podium with reporters after the game.

When asked about a sequence to open the fourth quarter in which the Celtics clearly got the better of Cleveland, James responded by perfectly recounting several possessions on each side of the ball.

It was uncanny:

The Philadelphia 76ers want to sign everybody

Who doesn’t want to sign LeBron or trade for Kawhi Leonard? The problem is not many teams can make those things happen, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility for the Philadelphia 76ers. Reports out of Pennsylvania have the Sixers targeting James in free agency this summer, when they’ll have space to sign him.

Foregoing that, Philly is also apparently interested in trading for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. How that deal gets done without significantly hurting the Sixers is less clear, but the fact that Philadelphia isn’t going to stand pat this summer is exciting given the leap they took year-over-year.

Dwane Casey’s goodbye letter to Toronto

Just go read it. I’m not even going to try to do it justice.

Even SNL is bagging on Cleveland’s roster construction

The rosters around LeBron have always been oddly strange during his time in Cleveland, a fact lampooned in a cut sketch from Saturday Night Live with Donald Glover. The clip mostly focuses on this year’s roster and their uneven performances.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9HGjZd_Fm8&w=560&h=315%5D

5 Down

Dwane Casey getting fired

Judging by the amount of coaches who voted for Brad Stevens to win NBA Coach of the Year, it seems very likely that Casey will win the award this season. Unfortunately, Casey is no longer employed after being canned by the Raptors following their playoff sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers.

Contextually it’s not that crazy to see Casey leave, although that in no way excuses the roster construction in Toronto. Because the Raptors don’t have the flexibility to get better, and because their pillars are stuck where they are in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the only way at getting better this year is to take a stab at changing the coach.

It’s just a complete bummer and in any case it still feels like the wrong move.

The Raptors, just generally

What is Toronto doing? They got one season of thinking an offense could work by fundamentally changing how DeRozan attacks the game, then got proven wrong when everyone reverted under pressure in the Cavaliers series.

If you think teams like the Portland Trail Blazers are in a tough spot, they aren’t the only one. Toronto is in an equally weird position, all capped out with nowhere to go.

It’s doubly disappointing that things didn’t work out for the Raptors because their fanbase is completely devoted, DeRozan and Lowry seem fun, and getting a non-traditional team in the Eastern Conference Finals is always more fun than watching two blue bloods duke it out. It’s not really clear where Toronto goes from here, even with a new coach.

If the idea is Toronto needs a better in-game tactician, I think there’s a real question about whether the next person in that position will be able to replicate the strategic-level things Casey did this season. That’s directly related to changing how the Raptors offense works, by the way, and dictates DeRozan’s efficiency and usefulness.

What a mess.

The discussion about Becky Hammon

To be fair, Pau Gasol did come out strongly against naysayers regarding San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon. That’s excellent. But the fact that dudes think it’s still a good idea to speak from a position of ignorance while being primarily motivated by innately sexist thoughts about American sport is wild. When Hammon gets a job, it won’t be given to her, she’ll have earned it.

Ben Simmons‘ jumper situation

OK, just to recap: Ben Simmons’ jumper wasn’t really a problem this year until he ran into the Boston Celtics and Brad Stevens. They aren’t going anywhere, so Simmons will need to make himself some kind of threat outside of 12 feet just for the sake of gravity.

Meanwhile, Simmons has said his jumper won’t undergo a complete re-tooling despite the advice of guys like Kobe Bryant. That doesn’t seem like the best choice, and it’s actually sort of in contradiction with what his own coach said.

There’s no working around it, and enough teams are trying to make square pegs fit in round holds. If Simmons wants to be a point guard in the modern NBA he needs to be able to shoot a basketball. Any argument contrary to that is just noise.

Whatever is happening with Marc Gasol in Memphis

This felt like it sort of flew under the radar, but we’ve now had Memphis Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol apparently at extreme odds with his last two coaches. We heard about the back-and-forth between Gasol and now-New York Knicks coach David Fizdale. That was jarring enough, and followed a report we heard back in December that former Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger apparently thought Gasol was trying to get him fired back when he was heading the team.

My gut tells me that Gasol isn’t a bad dude, but who is to say for certain? It’s also possible that Gasol is simply worn out in Memphis and doesn’t want to spend the twilight of his prime with a team that’s almost certainly in rebuilding mode. Juicy.

This Date in NBA History: James Harden goes off for then career-high 51 vs. Kings (VIDEO)

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The 2014-15 season is one of several years where James Harden feels he should have been MVP but was robbed by voters. It’s become almost an annual tradition.

Stephen Curry won the award that year — he was bombing threes on his way to 23.8 points and 7.7 assists a game, leading the 67-win Warriors to an NBA title — but Harden put up raw numbers that were right there, 27.4 points and seven assists a game.

Harden made his case for the award on Feb. 1, 2015, with a 51-point outburst against Sacramento that was, at the time, his highest-scoring game ever. He shot 16-of-25 from the field overall, a ridiculous 8-of-9 from three, and he got to the line 13 times. Sacramento had no answer.

Harden has scored more points since — he’s had 60+ point games each of the last three seasons — but this was his first 50+ point game, and to this day remains one of his signature games.

Heat’s Goran Dragic says he’s not going to Slovenia during layoff

Heat guard Goran Dragic
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MIAMI (AP) — Goran Dragic of the Miami Heat said Tuesday that he is prepared to forgo his annual offseason move back to his native Slovenia if that is what the NBA schedule necessitates.

Dragic, his wife and their two children are in Miami and have no plans to leave for Slovenia amid the global coronavirus pandemic. His parents recently left Miami to return home, but the Heat guard says he’s staying.

“Three days ago they flew back home because they had to, the government said that all the Slovenian citizens needed to get back,” Dragic said, referring to his parents, adding that they wore masks and gloves on their not-very-full flight back to Slovenia. “But my situation is different. Here is my home. We have health insurance in America and we have a home to go to, so we’re going to stay here.”

Dragic and his family have gotten a firsthand global view of the pandemic.

He’s in Miami, and so is his uncle — who is staying in the U.S. because he cannot get back to his native Serbia because Dragic said that country has essentially locked its borders over health concerns. Dragic’s brother Zoran, a former Heat guard, was quarantined while playing in Spain, then returned to Slovenia recently and is under quarantine again, unable to leave his hotel room for a couple more weeks.

“It’s a really crazy situation over there,” Dragic said, detailing what his brother went through in Spain — one of the hardest-hit nations with more than 94,000 confirmed cases of the virus and more than 8,000 deaths attributed to the virus, the second-highest total worldwide behind only Italy. Slovenia has confirmed 802 cases through Tuesday, with 15 deaths.

In Miami, though, Dragic is trying to keep some sense of normalcy.

Dragic said the Heat are participating in a daily team workout on Zoom most mornings, those sessions often including strength and conditioning coach Eric Foran and Heat assistant coach Chris Quinn, among others.

“We try to work together, in isolation,” Dragic said.

Dragic has been working out individually as well at his waterfront home, trying to stay fit. He’s hopeful that the season resumes at some point, and said he hopes the league has teams play no more than a handful of games before starting the playoffs.

“I’m running around the house. I’m going to be in good shape,” Dragic said.

Dragic is averaging 16.1 points and 5.1 assists this season for the Heat, coming off the bench in all but one of his 54 games.

Report: NBA, players’ union in talks to withhold some of players’ salaries

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The forced suspension of the NBA’s regular season is hitting the league hard — and it’s about to hit players’ paychecks hard.

The NBA and the players’ union are in negotiations to withhold more of players’ paychecks in an escrow account if the rest of the NBA season is canceled, as is seeming more and more likely. Up to 25 percent of the players’ salaries will be withheld, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association are discussing scenarios for withholding up to 25 percent of players’ remaining salaries in a league escrow should regular-season games eventually be canceled, sources tell ESPN…

The Collective Bargaining Agreement maintains that players lose approximately 1 percent of salary per canceled game based on a Force Majeure provision, which covers several catastrophic circumstances, including epidemics and pandemics…

Commissioner Adam Silver, NBPA executive director Michele Roberts and a group of league and union lawyers have been discussing a number of ways to prepare financially for how the likely cancelling of scheduled games will impact some percentage of lost salary for players, sources said.

In every NBA check, even in a typical season, 10 percent of a players’ salary is held back in an escrow fund. Then, at the end of the season when the books are balanced, and the players get 50 percent of the basketball related income (BRI). If league income was slightly lower than projected, the players do not get all of their money back from the escrow fund, the league takes whatever portion is needed to get to the CBA’s prescribed 50/50 BRI split (and the rest is returned to the players).

This season, due to the coronavirus possibly canceling more than 20 percent of the season and condensing the playoffs, there is going to be more than a 10 percent shortfall in the projected BRI.

Players will get a full regular paycheck on Wednesday, April 1. If the NBA and players union reach an agreement before April 15, that check could start to see the reductions as money goes to the escrow account.

The vast majority of players have their pay stretched out for the entire year (the first and 15th of every month), but some players take an option to get more of that money up front. Regardless, everyone will pay into the escrow fund.

The NBA has not officially announced the cancelation of regular season games yet, but games will be lost. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he doesn’t expect the Warriors will play any more games this season. More and more sources think the regular season is lost, but the league is holding out hope.

It’s impossible to calculate how big the revenue hit to the league will be until a plan for the postseason is put together (if one is put together), but it will be massive. Possibly more than a billion dollars if the season and playoffs are canceled. Right now, the league is simply running a lot of scenarios to try and project how to lessen that blow when they do return to action.

Still, the coronavirus suspension is going to hit the players’ pocketbooks. This increased escrow account is just the first wave.

 

LeBron James, Kevin Durant among handful of players who got this year’s contract money up front

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Years ago, NBA players (like those in other professional sports), got paid every other week during the regular season. They might get a bonus during the playoffs if the team did well, but in the offseason they had no money flowing into their pockets.

Over the past decade that changed. Now the standard contract now calls for players to get paid over 12 months, giving them cash flow all year long.

This also means the vast majority of NBA players have yet to get most of their pay for this year, which will get interesting as the owners and players union start discussing the “Force Majeure” clause in the CBA to take some of the players’ salaries because of canceled games.

Mark Stein of the New York Times talked about it on Twitter.

However, a handful of big-name players got more their money up front — the CBA allows players to get a chunk of their money in advance then get then rest over a 12-check, six-month span. Some of the biggest names in the sport went for that.

In addition to LeBron James, players such as Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Blake Griffin have gotten the majority of their pay already.

NBA owners are scheduled to have a remote meeting soon to discuss next steps. They are talking both about the restart of the season (in whatever form that takes) and about invoking the “Force Majeure” clause. That CBA clause allows teams to reduce players’ salaries in the event of an “act of god” kind of event that cancels games – things like war, natural disaster, and epidemics. Obviously, the epidemic part has come into play and shut down the league.

If the NBA doesn’t play any more regular season games — which reports have said is seeming more likely — teams and players will miss about 25 percent of the season (give or take depending on how many games their team played) and owners would want to recoup some money. Doing some of that through “Force Majeure” is on the table, with the canceled games triggering the clause.

The players union warned its members this could happen. For LeBron, Durant and other players who have gotten most of their money up front it could mean checks next season will be docked to make up the difference.