5 Up, 5 Down is a biweekly column featuring the best and worst from the NBA.
The best thing that happened this week was clearly LeBron James getting to yet another NBA Finals. It’s hard to top that, especially when you consider the Cavaliers’ roster makeup and the overall management of that franchise during his time in Ohio. Thankfully — mercifully — the Conference Finals are over, and now we get to watch LeBron go up against the Golden State Warriors in a repeat of the past three season-ending matchups.
It’s not necessarily what many wanted, but it’s what we’re getting and it feeds the narrative. There’s a lot of angles to take as we move toward the Finals, many of which we’ll cover here in the coming days on PBT, but personally I’d much rather see LeBron go up against the Warriors than any other team.
So without further ado.
LeBron is headed to yet another NBA Finals
Eight straight is just crazy. The pure willpower of LeBron James on Sunday to push the Cavaliers passed the Celtics in Game 7, all without Kevin Love due to a concussion was an absolute masterpiece. I was already partial to calling LeBron the greatest player of all-time, largely because of his dynamism as a player and because of his playoff record.
What LeBron has done this season, with one of the worst Cavaliers teams we’ve seen in a while (think about that) is nothing short of incredible. Game 7 was a crowning achievement, individually, for LeBron in that regard, as he scored, passed, and rebounded his way into yet another NBA Finals appearance.
Bo Churney Memorial Fund
Bo Churney was a former writer for several outlets, including ESPN, Turner Sports, and Hardwood Paroxysm. A pillar of Atlanta Hawks Twitter, Churney sadly took his own life last week. Friends quickly decided to set up a memorial fund for Churney to benefit an LGBTQ charity in the Atlanta area. As of writing, the fundraiser has more than $21,000 pledged.
Bo will be missed. While his death is a tragedy, his legacy will live on in the memories of those he affected while he was with us and through the donation made in his name. If you’d like to donate, you can do so here.
LeBron vs. the Warriors … again
Is this the storyline you wanted? If not, tough. The Golden State Warriors are headed to the NBA Finals once again, this time to take on LeBron James and, uh, Jeff Green? All kidding aside, did you really want to watch a hampered Houston Rockets team with a limping Chris Paul take on a Cleveland team that has been so wildly inconsistent it would be difficult to predict their performance game-to-game in the Finals?
Warriors vs. Cavaliers is not necessarily great for the NBA or the casual fan, but it was going to be hard to escape the inevitability of this matchup after the summer of 2016. We’re going to have to live with Golden State’s dominance and LeBron’s ownership of the Eastern Conference until something major happens to either party. Stay tuned this summer, by the way, because we could be in for a treat in that department. Meanwhile, we get to see what kind of resistance LeBron can offer to the juggernaut that is Golden State for one more year.
Kawhi Leonard staying in San Antonio?
I honestly just want this saga to end. It’s weird, and sad, and it’s glacial pace reminds me of a mid-2000s San Antonio Spurs offense. Teammate Danny Green recently told ESPN that he thinks Leonard wants to stay with the Spurs, although what that actually means is up for debate. It could just be public leverage for San Antonio to fix … whatever it is Leonard is upset about. But at least it’s something.
Give us a healthy Kawhi in San Antonio next season, please.
Suns grab No. 1 overall pick
The idea that the NBA wants it’s best markets to win the lottery is sort of ridiculous, especially when you consider how modern team ownership works these days. The league has flourished while the Clevelands and San Antonios have taken over, all the while multiple New York teams are absolutely dreadful and half the time a Los Angeles squad is unwatchable.
Phoenix has been in a bigger rut than many realize. Outside of of 48-win season in 2013-14, the Suns haven’t been good during this decade and they don’t have a clear path back to the top. They’re always rumored to be considering runs at big free agents or trades that would net them a star (Kevin Love every summer) but that typically happens after a team has a few key draft picks on the roster. There’s a glut of talent at the top of the 2018 NBA Draft, here’s hoping Phoenix makes the best of it.
The Mavericks front office is in trouble again
This one is gross. Not grosser, I guess, just gross in that these types of stories continue to come out of the Dallas Mavericks front office. If you’re not caught up, the Dallas Morning News published a story which accused a former top account executive in the Mavs ticketing office of showing co-workers porn, rubbing himself, and creating a hostile work environment.
Dallas has hired several top HR execs and compliance folks in the wake of the big Sports Illustrated piece about their “Animal House” front office atmosphere. That won’t stop old stories from coming to light, and people keep on talking about Mark Cuban’s team from days past.
Chris Paul’s hamstring
Feel how you want about Chris Paul, but his hamstring injury is a major bummer for anyone who wanted a little bit of variety in their NBA Finals matchup this year. The Houston Rockets, surprisingly, gave the Golden State Warriors a bit more than they could handle as the Western Conference Finals got underway, and Paul was a major reason for that.
But without Paul on the floor, the Warriors had an easier path to a Finals appearance. Game 6 back in Oakland on Saturday and was a blowout for Golden State, and now the story around Paul might always be about how he was injured when his teams needed him most.
Phoenix missed out on trading for Kristaps Porzingis
Phil Jackson should have stayed in Montana. His rep can’t keep taking these hits.
The thing Larry Brown said to Trevor Ariza
The right mix between feel and hard analysis in basketball is what separates good teams from great ones, and bad teams from terrible ones. It makes all the difference in the NBA, as it does with coaching. Former New York Knicks coach Larry Brown is a Hall of Famer, but he seriously erred when he told Trevor Ariza in his second season to never shoot a 3-pointer.
Ariza was not a good shooter coming out of UCLA, and the NBA contextually was not as 3-point crazy as it is today. But still, asking a wing player to never shoot would seriously hamper any kind of offense in the 3-point era. It’s just … weird. We now know how important Ariza is to the Houston Rockets not only as a defender but as a 3-point shooter, so I guess you can’t trust everything every Hall of Fame coach has to say to you. Thank goodness Ariza revived his career in Los Angeles.
Paul George‘s agent is doing some politicking
NBA players love Russell Westbrook, but I tend to not believe anything out of an NBA agent’s mouth when the summer months start to heat up. There’s too much at stake, and most of the time agents are simply angling for some kind of leverage we may not yet be privy to.
That’s how I am approaching the recent news that says Paul George’s agent is telling folks that the Thunder wing wants to stay in Oklahoma City. Whether that’s true or not is sort of irrelevant at this point in time. It’s May, and a lot of things will change as the season continues to wrap up and people start to get into draft and free agency mode. We have heard a lot about where George wants to end up in the summer offseason, so this is just another story to add to the list.