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Agent explains difference between LeBron James choosing Heat (championships), Cavaliers (fulfilling promise) and Lakers (what he wants)

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LeBron James‘ agent, Rich Paul, publicly advised his most famous client during the season to focus on winning.

Did LeBron listen in free agency?

Paul, via Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated:

“In 2010, when he went to Miami, it was about championships,” Paul continues. “In 2014, when he went back to Cleveland, it was about delivering on a promise. In 2018, it was just about doing what he wants to do.”

James was leaning toward L.A. for days, and according to those outside his direct orbit, for months. But Paul rejects the commonly held explanations that James was driven either to expand his Hollywood empire or spark an overnight superteam.

“Doing what he wants to do” is sufficiently vague, but it stands in stark contrast here to “championships” and “delivering on a promise” (which was bringing a title to Cleveland).

Did Paul intend to differentiate it from those other two reasons? Perhaps, not. But that’s the easy inference.

LeBron insists he’s still in championship mode – but with this team? The Lakers aren’t built to win quickly, and LeBron’s prime won’t last forever. Yet, he’s not reportedly not pushing the Lakers to add a second star who’d accelerate their timeline. And LeBron relinquished leverage by signing a four-year contract as opposed to the short-term deals he inked with the Cavs.

That’s why it’s hard to turn away from theories about Hollywood connections, cashing checks and – as Dwyane Wade put it – “lifestyle.” LeBron already owns a home in Los Angeles, and his wife reportedly wants to live there year-round. It’s an enjoyable city for a millionaire.

Like every human being, LeBron is certainly motivated by multiple factors.

But his ambitions aren’t being condensed into winning as directly anymore.

Bulls fire coach Jim Boylen

Bulls coach Jim Boylen
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Maybe the Bulls, despite a report otherwise, never actually planned to keep Jim Boylen for financial reasons. Maybe they did plan to keep him but saw the intense negative reaction to that report among Chicago fans.

Either way, Boylen is gone now.

Bulls release:

Chicago Bulls Executive Vice President – Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas announced today that Jim Boylen has been relieved of his duties as head coach.

MICHAEL REINSDORF: “No one could question Jim’s passion for our team and our organization. We sincerely appreciate his tireless efforts and contributions during his time with the Bulls, and we wish him and his family the very best.”

ARTURAS KARNISOVAS: “After doing a comprehensive evaluation and giving the process the time it deserved, I ultimately decided that a fresh approach and evolution in leadership was necessary. This was a very difficult decision, but it is time for our franchise to take that next step as we move in a new direction and era of Chicago Bulls basketball. Jim is a great human being that cares deeply about this organization and the game of basketball. I want to thank him for his professionalism and commitment to the franchise.”

A formal coaching search will begin immediately.

76ers assistant Ime Udoka was reportedly frontrunner to become Chicago’s next coach. A full search could yield other candidates. However, the Bulls must overcome a reported poor reputation among coaches and possible financial limitations in these economic times.

Chicago still has other problems, but Boylen was one. His tenure began with a near-mutiny when he took over for Fred Hoiberg during the 2018-19 season. To his credit, Boylen improved while on the job. But coming from such a low starting point, he often looked in over his head.

His players continued to dislike him. His signature coaching move was ill-timed timeouts. His record was just 39-84 (.317).

Firing him should have been obvious, especially once the Bulls hired Arturas Karnisovas as team president. Let Karnisovas hire his own coach.

Chicago’s roster is lacking, though not necessarily hopeless.

Zach LaVine is more near-star than All-Star – not an ideal centerpiece – but the 25-year-old could continue to improve. Youngsters Coby White, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. have had too many downs to feel great about their futures, though enough ups to at least be intrigued. Veterans Otto Porter, Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky have underwhelmed but have prior records of success.

A new coach will have pieces to work with.

Karnisovas has more work ahead to upgrade those pieces.

Three Things to Know: Let’s pour one out for Phoenix, San Antonio

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Portland, Memphis win and advance to play-in series. As expected.

On a day where we expected high drama, Portland and Memphis entered with a simple and clear path: Win and you’re in.

So they did. And with that, the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers advance to a play-in series for the eighth seed in the West. As the eighth seed at the end of the eight “seeding games” in the bubble, Portland need only win one of the two to advance. Memphis has to sweep them both — a tough task.

Memphis had little trouble advancing on Thursday, taking on a Bucks team without Giannis Antetokounmpo (suspension) that was just going through the motions and waiting for the playoffs to start. Memphis won 119-106, Dillon Brooks scored 31 points, while Jonas Valanciunas scored 26 and pulled down 19 boards. There was little drama in the Grizzlies win.

Portland, however, had all the drama it could handle, barely outlasting a scrappy Brooklyn team — and it took Damian Lillard playing like an MVP to get the win.

Lillard scored 42 points and carried the Trail Blazers for stretches when their offense faltered. CJ McCollum added 25 — and moved well for a guy with a fractured back — and Jusuf Nurkic added 22 and 10. Caris LeVert had 37 for a Brooklyn team that had a balanced attack, but LeVert’s potential game-winner bounced off the rim and Portland moves on.

Portland and Memphis played in the bubble back in July in the first restart game for both teams. Portland barely won in overtime, but Memphis was led in that game by Jaren Jackson Jr., who had 33 points. He is now out of the bubble recovering from a torn meniscus. Also in that game, Lillard targeted Valanciunas in the pick-and-roll and played the Memphis big off the floor — the Grizzlies do not have a good answer for that. Portland is not going to coast to a play-in game win, but it’s difficult to picture how the Grizzlies win back-to-back games.

2) Phoenix goes 8-0, but perfect wasn’t good enough

Memphis earned their spot in the play-in — they got the win Thursday, and more importantly, they were impressive in the first 65 games before the shutdown (those games still count). It was those pre-mask days when the Suns were terrible that did them in.

On Orlando, Phoenix was perfect — 8-0 behind Devin Booker playing like an MVP. The Suns outscored opponents by 12.5 points per 100 possessions in the bubble, with an elite offense and a solid defense anchored by Deandre Ayton. The bubble isn’t going to be the same without them.

Every young entering the restart said the same thing: It was about development. It was about using bubble games to grow a young core. Except most teams — Sacramento and New Orleans, for example — threw that opportunity to the ground and went fishing. Phoenix, behind Monty Williams, did what they said and got better. The Suns came from six-games back of Memphis to almost make the playoffs, but more importantly, they set themselves up for next season.

3) San Antonio’s playoff steak ends at 22 years

The last time the Spurs didn’t make the playoffs, “Titanic” was sinking in movie theaters, “Un-Break My Heart” was being belted out on your radio by Toni Braxton, and Allen Iverson was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. It was the 1996-97 NBA season — which you just relived through “The Last Dance” because it was in the middle of the Bulls’ second three-peat.

For 22 straight seasons, Gregg Popovich led the Spurs to the NBA playoffs — and they picked up five titles along the way — but that ended in the bubble. San Antonio played well behind DeMar DeRozan, Derrick White and a four-guard lineup, but it couldn’t climb out of the hole it dug before the league was shut down.

The always sentimental Popovich was very broken up about it.

“Looking at the past doesn’t do much good,” Popovich said, via the Associated Press. “Any success we’ve had has been because we’ve had some great players.”

Popovich also shot down speculation he was going to retire, saying, “why wouldn’t I?” coach next season.

Tim Duncan. David Robinson. Tony Parker. Manu Ginobili. The list goes on and on over 22 seasons (and even includes Steve Kerr), there were great players in San Antonio. But it was the mind and personality of Popovich that brought all those ingredients together and made it work.

The Spurs playoff streak is no more. Here’s to something we may never see the likes of again.

Spurs historic run of 22 seasons in playoffs ends in bubble

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Gregg Popovich didn’t put much thought into San Antonio’s playoff streak when it was rolling along.

He’s not thinking about it now, either.

The Spurs’ record-tying run of 22 consecutive playoff appearances is over, and the longest season in team history – almost 300 days from the first game to the last – is also, strangely, over earlier than the NBA is used to seeing. The final outcome was a 118-112 loss to the Utah Jazz on Thursday night, a game that was meaningless in the standings.

“Looking at the past doesn’t do much good,” Popovich said. “Any success we’ve had has been because we’ve had some great players.”

Rayjon Tucker had 18 points for the Jazz, who finished with eight players in double figures and used their regulars either sparingly or not at all.

“You can’t say enough about the Spurs,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “They’ve been the premier franchise in the NBA for a long time.”

Keldon Johnson scored 24 points to lead seven Spurs in double figures. Marco Belinelli and Luka Samanic each had 16 for San Antonio.

The Spurs were officially ousted when Memphis beat Milwaukee, and Phoenix completed an undefeated eight-game run in the NBA’s restart bubble with a victory over Dallas.

Those games went final shortly before San Antonio-Utah started. The Spurs needed the Grizzlies or the Suns to lose to have any chance of getting into the West play-in series that begins Saturday to decide the NBA’s final postseason berth.

“It’s tough,” Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan said. “It’s more so tough putting your faith in somebody else’s hands.”

Popovich’s routine seemed normal. He met with assistants to discuss strategy before addressing players during timeouts. When someone needed a little 1-on-1 instruction, he approached and offered a word or two.

It looked just as it always does. Only this time, it was very different.

For the first time since April 1997, the Spurs played a game knowing that the playoffs were out of reach. The 22-year run of playoff spots tied the Philadelphia 76ers’ franchise for the longest in NBA history. The 76ers, starting as the Syracuse Nationals before moving to Philadelphia, went to the playoffs every year from 1950 through 1971.

With San Antonio out, the longest active postseason streak now belongs to the Houston Rockets. They’ll be in the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year starting next week.

This is how long the streak went: David Stern wasn’t even halfway through his 30-year run as commissioner when it started. The Charlotte Bobcats – that’s what today’s Hornets went by then – were still 6-1/2 years from playing their first game. Pat Riley was still coaching the Los Angeles Lakers.

And now, for the first time since 1981, the playoffs will happen without either Riley or Popovich as head coaches.

The Spurs won five championships during the streak. They played 284 postseason games over those years; the only franchises within 100 of that were the Lakers (218), Miami (196) and Boston (192). And the Spurs won 170 playoff games in that span; only seven franchises have more playoff wins in their entire history.

All 170 of those wins for the Spurs came under Popovich, a total that gives him more career playoff victories than any two current coaches combined. There were 102 players who got into at least one Spurs playoff game during the streak, including current NBA head coaches Jacque Vaughn, Steve Kerr and Monty Williams.

The Spurs came into Disney as playoff long shots and felt the eight games they were guaranteed of playing during the restart would be ways to have young players grow from competition. They made it to the last possible day of contention.

“At this point, it’s been a huge success for our team and our young players, the development that we’ve talked about from the beginning,” Popovich said. “We’re very happy with what’s gone on here.”

He has given the restart rave reviews, both on and off the floor.

Popovich – an Air Force Academy graduate and the coach of USA Basketball’s men’s national team – wore a shirt pregame that read “Vote Your Life Depends On It.” He has remained outspoken on the need to end racial injustice and police brutality during the Spurs’ time in the bubble, talking about that perhaps as much if not more as he has about basketball.

“It’s important to bring these up, painful as they are,” Popovich said. “Some people talk about getting tired of hearing about it. But that’s the point. It has to change.”

 

Portland survives against Nets 134-133, advances to play-in; Suns out

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Damian Lillard looked every bit the seeding games MVP — he carried Portland for critical stretches against a scrappy Nets team and was a leader on the biggest night of the Trail Blazers season.

Portland is going on the West play-in games as the eighth seed — win one of two games against Memphis on Saturday or Sunday and the Trail Blazers will face the LeBron James and the Lakers in the first round.

All because Portland held on for a 134-133 win against Brooklyn.

The Portland win means the Phoenix Suns — the darlings of the bubble at 8-0 behind Devin Booker‘s play — are going home. As impressive as the Suns were in the bubble, they could not climb out of the hole they dug the first part of the season, before the coronavirus shut the league down.

Monty Williams — very likely the winner of the “Coach of the Seeding Games” award — deserves credit for getting his team to take advantage of the extra games and practices to get better in a way that Sacramento, New Orleans, and other teams did not.

Thursday night, however, belonged to Lillard.

Lillard finished with 42 points on the night, bringing him up to a 37.5 points per game average in the bubble.

Brooklyn tried, they threw two guys and Lillard and blitzed trying to force the ball out of his hands and anyone else to beat them. Enter CJ McCollum, who did not play like someone with a back injury on his way to 25 points.

Both Lillard and McCollum played every minute of the second half — and Portland might not have won if they didn’t.

Brooklyn’s effort and scrappy style of play has caught teams off-guard all restart long, and it pushed Portland. Caris LeVert added to his “sure we have Kyrie and KD, but I should get some touches too next season” case with 37 points.

Portland came into the restart with the goal of making the playoffs, and it is now just one win away. The first game between Portland and Memphis is on Saturday at 2:30 Eastern. If the Grizzlies win, it forces a second game, Sunday at 4:30 Eastern.

Memphis is an impressive young team, but it’s tough to beat Lillard when he is playing like an MVP.