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.

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.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: If Bucks underperform whether to re-sign ‘becomes a lot more difficult’

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Around the league, the consensus among team executives is Giannis Antetokounmpo is almost a lock to sign a super-max contract extension with the Milwaukee Bucks next summer.

Almost.

Which is why other teams are keeping an eye on the situation, just in case.

The Bucks are a contending team and the only home Antetokounmpo has known in the United States — the only place he has ever been able to live comfortably and happily with his family — but he keeps leaving the door just a little open. He did that at the end of last season. He did it again over the summer speaking a Harvard University professor who was researching the Bucks turnaround and the challenges of a small market team in the NBA. Via the Journal Sentinel.

“I want the Bucks to build a winning culture,” Antetokounmpo is quoted as saying. “So far, we have been doing great, and, if this lasts, there’s no other place I want to be. But if we’re underperforming in the NBA next year, deciding whether to sign becomes a lot more difficult.”

Define “underperforming.” Do the Bucks need to make the NBA Finals? What if they lose in a close seven-game Eastern Conference Finals to Philadelphia? Anything short of the conference finals — barring a major injury, of course — would be a disappointment. Is this Antetokounmpo just keeping pressure on the organization to spend and put together a winner?

Leaving Milwaukee would mean leaving a lot of money on the table — only the Bucks can re-sign Antetokounmpo to a five-year, $247 million supermax contract next summer. Bucks GM Jon Horst said Milwaukee will offer it (then got fined for saying they would offer it, even though it’s obvious). If Antetokounmpo doesn’t sign it, the Bucks will be forced to consider trading him (or lose him for nothing), or find a way to win him over before his contract ends in 2021.

Because of money, comfort level, and playing for a contender, most teams don’t think Antetokounmpo is going anywhere as a free agent next summer.

But they are watching. Just in case.

Jamal Crawford makes not-so-subtle pitch on Twitter for spot on Lakers roster

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The Lakers have made LeBron James their point guard this season, the shot creator with the ball in his hands.

That worked with limited success in a season-opening loss to the Clippers. LeBron tried to force-feed the ball to Anthony Davis much of the night (leading to five turnovers). The Clippers adjusted to defend LeBron/Davis actions as the game wore on — switching but having the big man stay back and daring LeBron to shoot or blow past the defender, neither of which he did well. When Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee was on the floor, the Lakers had no spacing, so the Clippers clogged the paint. In the end, LeBron and Davis combined to shoot 15-of-40 on the night, including 1-of-6 in the fourth quarter.

Laker coach Frank Vogel was stuck because he didn’t have another good playmaking option (his next best guys for that, Rajon Rondo and Kyle Kuzma, are both out injured).

Free agent Jamal Crawford has an idea and voiced it on Twitter.

Crawford is one of the best veteran free agents available

And no, this is not going to happen.

The Lakers have 14 guaranteed contracts already and the one non-guaranteed they are carrying is Howard (teams can only carry 15 players). If the Lakers waived Howard they would need to replace him with another center. The Lakers could eat the contract of Troy Daniels or Jared Dudley to create a roster spot for a free agent, but they are nowhere near making that kind of move yet. Even if they were, Crawford might not be the guy, he creates shots more for himself than others.

Crawford could help the right team, the man can still get buckets off the bench. He averaged 7.9 points per game last season and lit it up for the depleted Suns at the end of last year. There are downsides — Crawford is 39, has slowed in recent years, and his defense is not good — but in the right role he can help.

Just not the Lakers.

Good try, though.

Draymond Green opens up about, takes blame for last season’s rift with Kevin Durant

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At the time last November, some wondered if Draymond Green‘s on-court, over-the-top argument with Kevin Durant — which extended into the locker room, where Green reportedly called Durant a “b****” and questioned his commitment to the Warriors because of KD’s pending free agency — would doom the Warriors down the line in the playoffs.

Green was more worried about what it would do to his friendship with Durant.

That’s what Green said on The Woj Pod with Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, a  joint interview with Green and Warriors GM Bob Myers. Green also said the team suspending him for a game ultimately forced him to step back and think about the incident.

“I started to tell myself in my mind, ‘Wow, [Myers is] flipping on me,’ and it just felt like, ‘Wow, OK, is this not the guy I’ve known for all these years? Is he turning on me?’ And I started to tell myself all of these things, and then everybody’s like, ‘Oh my God, the Warriors sided with Kevin Durant.’…

“I just had to accept the fact that I was wrong. And once I was able to get over my stubbornness and accept the fact that I was wrong, I was able to move on. I lost [Durant’s] trust. How do I get that back? Not so we can win a championship or we can win some games … but I actually loved this guy, like that’s really my brother. And so not knowing what’s next in our relationship bothered me more.”

Green said he eventually apologized to Durant and he thought the relationship was repaired. However, Green added that Durant’s comments to the Wall Street Journal this summer that he never felt he fit in with the guys in Golden State really bothered him.

The Green and Durant incident ultimately did not cost the Warriors a title, worn-down ligaments and tendons that snapped did that (as well as an outstanding Raptors team).

Did what Green said push Durant out the door, ultimately to Brooklyn? Only Durant knows the answer to that, but it felt like KD was eyeing the door before Green got in his face.

As for their relationship, if Shaq and Kobe can get along now there’s no reason to worry about Durant and Green.

 

Pascal Siakam, Fred Van Vleet each go off for 34 points against Pelicans (VIDEO)

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Apparently lifting those insanely-large championship rings didn’t wear out Pascal Siakam‘s and Fred Van Vleet’s shooting arms.

Siakam looked like a guy ready to earn that new $130 million contract, and Van Vleet looked like the guy from the NBA Finals who just kept hitting shots and making plays. Each of them scored 34 points — Van Vleet did it on 12-of-18 shooting — helping left the Raptors to a 130-122 overtime win.

Check out the video of Siakam and Van Vleets buckets above.

We’ll see what the Raptors roster looks like after the trade deadline, but as assembled this is a pretty good team that’s going to win a lot of games in the East. Especially is Siakam can continue this level of play and take another step forward off of last season’s Most Improved Player campaign.