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Dirk Nowitzki was the ultimate franchise player

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When a young German forward named Dirk Nowitzki got drafted in 1998, he knew very little about the Dallas Mavericks.

Dallas: “The only thing I knew about Dallas is watching the TV show with my parents.”

Mavericks: “I knew that they had been through tough times in the 90s.”

Dallas was still a relatively new NBA city. The Mavericks launched only 18 years earlier, and after a decent first decade in the shadow of the Showtime Lakers, Dallas fell on hard times. Between the 1990-91 and 1997-98 seasons, the Mavericks won just 27% of their games. That remains one of the worst eight-year stretches in NBA history.

Then, Nowitzki – through talent, personality and will – redefined the Dallas Mavericks.

Nowitzki announced his impending retirement yesterday. He’s the only player to spend 21 seasons with a team, but longevity doesn’t nearly capture his impact in Dallas. Nowitzki was an all-time great player and culture-setter. The Mavericks went from lousy to champions back to lousy as Nowitzki entered and exited his prime. Whatever prestige they hold, a huge amount of it rests on Nowitzki’s shoulders.

If the Celtics didn’t have Larry Bird, they still would have had Bill Russell. If the Lakers didn’t have Kobe Bryant, they still would have had Magic Johnson. If the Spurs didn’t have Tim Duncan, they still would have had David Robinson

The Mavericks had Nowitzki. Without him, their history might rank among the league’s saddest.

Using a player’s win shares and his team’s all-time win total, Nowitzki alone accounted for 13.1% of Dallas’ victories. That trails only Kevin Garnett’s 14.5% with the Timberwolves.

Here are each franchise’s leader in percentage of wins accounted for by their win-share leader:

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In the playoffs, Nowitzki’s mark was even higher – 25.4%. That trails only Kevin Garnett (31.1% with the Timberwolves) and LeBron James (25.5% with the Cavaliers).

Here are each franchise’s leader in percentage of playoff wins accounted for by their playoff win-share leader:

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In an era of super teams, the accepted wisdom says stacking stars is necessary to win a title.

Nowitzki won without another star.

The Mavericks built a nice supporting cast in 2011: Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry and even J.J. Barea. But none of them were stars. Yet, Nowitzki led Dallas over the LeBron-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh Heat – to that point, the most super-charged of all super teams.

Nowitzki brought the Mavericks into the pantheon of franchises with a championship and forever altered his own reputation. Tagged soft earlier in his career, Nowitzki proved his mettle on the biggest stage.

It was an incredible reward for a player and franchise that believed in each other far longer than most would. Nowitzki won his first title in his 13th season. Nobody else has ever stayed with his original team that long then won his first championship.

Jerry West won his first title in his 12th season with the Lakers – after they added Wilt Chamberlain.

Garnett, the only player who ranks ahead of Nowitzki on both those percent-of-win charts, didn’t win a championship until leaving Minnesota for the Celtics. He remains pivotal to the history of the Timberwolves, but a large part of his legacy lies in Boston.

There’s no such debate with Nowitzki. He’s a Maverick, through and through.

Of course, Nowitzki’s legacy extends far beyond Dallas. He was a pioneer who changed perception of international players. It doesn’t seem coincidental the Mavericks building around Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis as Nowitzki exits. Even on a global scale, Nowitzki’s impact returns to its local influence.

Nowitzki wasn’t the greatest player of his generation. That was LeBron.

Nowitzki wasn’t the greatest power forward of all-time. That was Duncan.

Nowitzki wasn’t the great international player ever. That was Hakeem Olajuwon or, depending how you’re counting, Duncan.

But Nowitzki was the best franchise player the Dallas Mavericks ever could have asked for.

LeBron James: Neighbor’s walls, not Breonna Taylor, got justice

Lakers star LeBron James
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Louisville police officers were not charged with killing Breonna Taylor. However, former officer Brett Hankison was charged with first-degree wanton endangerment for allegedly firing firing recklessly into nearby apartments during the incident.

That outcome left NBA players unsatisfied.

LeBron James:

The emotions LeBron – and many others – are feeling are completely understandable. This was a tragedy. Faced with an obvious injustice, it’s easy to demand the harshest-imaginable punishment. That didn’t come.

But it is not too late to address the injustices – which were always far larger than the officers at the scene returning fire – at play in Taylor’s death.

Tyler Herro carries Heat over Celtics in Game 4, within one game of NBA Finals

Tyler Herro after Heat-Celtics Game 4
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If the Celtics targeted Tyler Herro in the 2019 NBA Draft, they have more reason than ever to lament their near miss.

Herro scored 37 points to lead the Heat to a 112-109 win over the Celtics in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday. The 21-year-old rookie put Miami up 3-1 and himself in the record book.

The only other player so young to score so much in a playoff game? Magic Johnson, who had 42 points in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals at age 20.

The Heat will look to reach the NBA Finals in Game 5 Friday. Teams leading a best-of-seven series 3-1 have won 95% of the time.

Miami’s big concern: Bam Adebayo, who hurt his wrist late in the game. Adebayo (20 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two steals) played through the injury but appeared to be feeling it.

He and the Heat just kept grinding through everything, though.

Miami won despite shooting only 10-for-37 on 3-pointers (27%). Forget about make-or-miss league. The Heat willed themselves to victory with aggravating defense, hustle, rebounding… and, yes, big-time shot-making by Herro, who made 9-of-11 2-pointers and 5-of-10 3-pointers

The Celtics committed 19 turnovers – some forced by Miami, some self-inflicted. The Heat’s zone defense continues to make Boston uncomfortable, though Marcus Smart (10 points and 11 assists) found some success penetrating and kicking against it. Jaylen Brown (21 points and nine rebounds) knocked down some of those created looks.

After a scoreless first half, Jayson Tatum scored 28 points in the second half. Stephen Curry scored 33 second-half points after a scoreless first half in Game 6 against the Rockets last year. That’s the only time someone followed a scoreless first half with so many second-half points in the Basketball-Reference postseason database, which dates back to 1997.

But those successes weren’t sustained. Tatum (six), Smart (four) and Brown (four) all had too many turnovers.

This series is even by points scored. But Boston has been just a little too erratic, which is why Miami has the key 3-1 lead.

Report: 76ers open to trading if they hire Mike D’Antoni

76ers forward Al Horford and Tobias Harris
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The 76ers said they wouldn’t trade Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons.

Which makes it confounding they reportedly want to hire Mike D’Antoni as coach.

D’Antoni has typically succeeded with teams that can play small to spread the floor and pressure opponents through speed… and struggled otherwise. Post-based Embiid and non-shooting Simmons don’t fit D’Antoni’s demonstrated style.

Maybe Philadelphia’s roster could change.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Keith Smith:

The 76ers could trade Al Horford and Tobias Harris to reduce their glut of bigs. But Horford was already on the block (good luck convincing anyone to take his contract), and Harris is also expensive. For what it’s worth, Harris could thrive as a small-ball power forward in D’Antoni’s system, but Harris is often pigeonholed as a small forward on this roster.

The Embiid-Simmons pairing is a fundamental issue, though. Whatever Philadelphia does with Horford and Harris, Embiid and Simmons just haven’t played like they’d fit well together under D’Antoni.

If the 76ers remain insistent on not trading Embiid or Simmons, there are only so many roster moves that can be done to help D’Antoni.

Adding further complications, Philadelphia might be seeking a new lead executive. That could explain why Tyronn Lue has also gotten so strongly linked to this job. It’s not even clear who’ll oversee the coach and roster, let alone what plan that person will have.

So, yes, it’s meaningful if the 76ers are advancing trade talks with other teams to make their roster fit D’Antoni. But there are still plenty of questions about what will actually happen in Philadelphia.

For NBA players, Breonna Taylor grand jury decision ‘not enough’

Grizzlies forward Anthony Tolliver wears Breonna Taylor shirt
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — LeBron James sent the word to the Los Angeles Lakers in a group text on Wednesday afternoon, and basketball suddenly seemed irrelevant.

A grand jury in Kentucky had finally spoken. And James was letting his team know that NBA players, who have spent months seeking justice for Breonna Taylor, did not get what they wanted.

“Something was done,” Lakers guard Danny Green said, “but it wasn’t enough.”

Wednesday’s decision by the grand jury, which brought no charges against Louisville police for Taylor’s killing and only three counts of wanton endangerment against fired Officer Brett Hankison for shooting into Taylor’s neighbors’ homes, was not unexpected by many NBA players and coaches. They had a sense it wasn’t going to go how they hoped.

“I know we’ve been using our platform down here to try to bring about education and a voice in a lot of players on our team, especially also spoken out on justice for Breonna Taylor,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We have not gotten that justice.”

Teams came to Walt Disney World to finish the season and crown a champion, and hoping that the platform of the NBA’s restart bubble could help amplify calls for change. Players and coaches have used the NBA spotlight to make statements at a time when the demand for racial equality and an end to police brutality is resonating as loudly as it has in generations.

And Taylor’s story – the tale of a 26-year-old Black woman who was killed March 13 by police in Louisville when they burst into her apartment on a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation centered around a suspect who did not live there – has captivated NBA players. Many have met, virtually, with members of her family to offer support. They say her name in news conferences, wear it on shirts, scrawl it onto their sneakers.

“We have moms. We have sisters, nieces, aunties. And just like men of color have experienced traumatic instances, so have women,” Boston forward Jaylen Brown said. “That is an example of some things that happen to women in our country. So, we wanted to stand alongside them, but also make it that it’s not just us. I think the future is female, so it’s important to show our sisters that we care. That’s why it’s been important.”

Even for teams not in the bubble, it mattered. Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce leads a committee of NBA coaches tasked with finding new ways to use their own platform to create change, and he’s encouraged his own players – Black and white alike – to speak out and take action, whether in Atlanta or their own community.

Pierce took Wednesday’s news hard.

“Yeah, there was a grand jury and yeah, they went through the information and yeah, they have facts to support whatever the claims may be,” Pierce said. “But that doesn’t provide any justice for those that are on the outside, those that feel like the police and law enforcement are there to protect them. … What currently is happening isn’t good enough.”

Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell:

Clippers big Montrezl Harrell:

National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts went a step further. “Sadly, there was no justice today for Breonna Taylor,” Roberts said. “Her killing was the result of a string of callous and careless decisions made with a lack of regard for humanity, ultimately resulting in the death of an innocent and beautiful woman with her entire life ahead of her.”

The league shut down for three days last month when a boycott that was started by the Milwaukee Bucks – in response to the shooting by police of a Black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wisconsin – nearly caused players to end the season because they felt their pleas for change were not being taken seriously enough.

And Wednesday’s news was another disappointment for them.

“We feel like we’ve taken a step back, that we haven’t made the progress we were seeking,” Green said. “Our voices aren’t being heard loud enough. But we’re not going to stop. We’re going to continue. We’re going to continue fighting, we’re going to continue to push, we’re going to continue to use our voices.”