New NBA champion means first title for one team’s GM

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Phoenix general manager James Jones was the guy who would routinely hold court at his locker a half-hour before games and engage in all sorts of conversations in his playing days. Books he was reading, what the financial markets were doing, current events, political matters, the nuances of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement. It was all fair game.

He was smart. He knew it, too.

These days, the rest of the NBA — if they didn’t know previously — has figured that out as well.

The eight general managers left in the NBA playoffs all had success stories to tell long before their postseason runs of 2021 started. For the team that winds up winning the NBA title, it’ll be a breakthrough since none of the remaining franchises have won a championship since 1983. And for the winning GM, it’ll be another breakthrough — since none of them have won rings in their current capacities either.

“I took this job saying this would be a challenge for me to help young guys who are here in Phoenix, trying their hardest to see success and to live their dream,” Jones, a three-time NBA champion as a player in Miami and Cleveland, said recently on former NBA guard Rex Chapman’s podcast. “That became my motivation. So, when we started the work of changing the culture, it was more like, ‘Hey, this isn’t about us going to try and find the players that can get us back. It’s about taking the players we have and helping them move forward.’”

The structure of front offices differs a bit from team to team; GMs simply have more power in some places than others. But the role is vital, no matter how it gets defined in each city.

Atlanta’s Travis Schlenk built through the draft, then spent on free agents last summer and this season made the tough call to fire Lloyd Pierce and promote Nate McMillan. Now, the Hawks are in the second round.

Brooklyn’s Sean Marks swung for the fences and landed Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, then got Steve Nash to coach them. Elton Brand in Philadelphia is with a team that kept Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons together, surrounded them with shooting, brought Daryl Morey in basically to mastermind matters and hired Doc Rivers to coach. Utah’s Justin Zanik has been a right-hand man for Jazz Executive Vice President Dennis Lindsey for some time, and now has a more hands-on role in decisions like the trade for Mike Conley — a key part of this team finishing with the NBA’s best regular-season record.

Michael Winger with the Los Angeles Clippers, a team with Lawrence Frank running the front office, has been widely regarded around the league for a decade over his salary-cap management techniques. Jon Horst in Milwaukee already has been an executive of the year, and that was before he got Giannis Antetokounmpo to sign his supermax and acquired Jrue Holiday. Denver GM Calvin Booth has worked with Nuggets President Tim Connelly for years and is finishing his first year with a club that now has an MVP in Nikola Jokic and is clearly in a championship-aspiration window that should last a few years.

And Jones, all he did was hire Monty Williams to coach, then swung a deal for Chris Paul. The Suns are on their best run in 11 years as a result.

“It’s so important for a coach to have a really good relationship with the front office, because if that’s not there, then whatever you’re trying to do isn’t going to work,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said this season.

There are 22 teams already in their offseason, so for the final eight teams and their GMs things are apparently working.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. They all got some good educations along the way.

There are ties to Pat Riley; Schlenk, like Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, started in the Miami video room and Jones was part of the Heat for years. There are ties to Gregg Popovich; Marks won a title as a player in San Antonio and another there as an assistant.

Some learned from the best in their fields; Brand went to Duke where he learned from Mike Krzyzewski, Winger broke into the sports world learning from renown agent Ron Shapiro and Zanik’s first job out of college was with agent Mark Bartelstein. And there are rise-up-the-ladder stories; Horst won a pair of national titles at the relatively unknown USCAA level in college, and Booth was a 3.3-point-per-game scorer yet still carved out a 10-year NBA playing career.

A month or so from now, one of them is going to have his hands on the Larry O’Brien Trophy. If the Suns pull it off, Jones — who has to be a frontrunner for executive of the year — would have his fourth championship in 10 seasons, for three different franchises, in two different jobs.

Makes sense. After all, his nickname is Champ. Kevin Love called Jones in an Instagram post after the 2016 championship run with the Cavaliers “the best teammate I ever had.”

“In order to lead,” Love wrote, “sometimes you have to learn to follow.”

Bradley Beal says there were no teams in free agency where he could have contended

Washington Wizards v Charlotte Hornets
Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images
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Bradley Beal got his bag this summer — a $215 million max contract that includes a no-trade clause.

That signing was expected, with the teams that could have made bold moves to land him getting the impression he was not going anywhere. Which makes Beal’s explanation of his decision on the “No Chill with Gilbert Arenas Podcast” interesting (hat tip TalkBasket).

“There were no teams in the market, free agency-wise. I’m just being frank. There was nowhere else for me to go where I can be like, ‘Oh, I can go win.’ It was teams that strategically wasn’t what I wanted. So realistically, I wouldn’t say my hand was forced, but this was my best decision and best option on the table at the time.”

That’s not how it works. Technically he is correct, the teams with cap space this past summer — the ones that could sign him outright, such as the Spurs — were not going to contend for anything with or without Beal.

But teams create cap space all the time to get players they want, via trades/waiving players or other moves (for example a sign-and-trade). If Beal and his agent had put the word out that he was leaving Washington and wanted to go to a contender, teams from Miami to Los Angeles would have been poised to do whatever it would have taken to land him. There are countless examples of this around the league over the years, but to stick with the Miami theme, remember the Heat had to dump the salaries of Hassan Whiteside (they got back Moe Harkless and flipped him) and Josh Richardson to create the space for a sign-and-trade to get Jimmy Butler (which hard capped the Heat for a season). Teams will do what it takes to land superstars, Beal had options if he wanted to leave.

He didn’t want to go anywhere. Beal has said before that he wants to win on his own terms in our nation’s capital and has backed that up with his actions. He talked up the Wizards on the same Gilbert Arenas podcast.

“Not everybody gives you a voice in the organization. I have a voice here. I never had a chance to fully play a year with [Kristaps Porzingis]. That enticed me. He’s probably the best big I’ve played with. I like [Kyle Kuzma’s] ability to be able to spread his wings a little bit more, develop into the player that we think he can be. I like the young core that we were developing. Rui [Hachimura] is really good, had an awesome summer. Deni’s [Avdija] just gonna continue to get better. And then Corey’s [Kispert] a knockdown shooter, who is a pro’s pro. We still need to get better. I’m not sitting here saying, ‘We’re gonna hold up the Larry. We’re going to beat Milwaukee tomorrow.’ No. But to have the pieces we have, we have enough to know that we can compete on a nightly basis with no BS.”

That’s an optimistic view of the Wizards, who are 11-12 and 19th in the league in both offense and defense. The Wizards can be good but their margin for error night-to-night is minimal — they have to play their best game every night to have a chance. It’s a lot to ask.

Beal got what he wanted and nobody should ever question him for making the most money he could (Washington could always offer more and more guaranteed years than any other team). If he does want to leave someday, with his no-trade clause Beal has complete control over where he would land. It’s all a good deal. Just don’t say there weren’t other options available last summer.

Floyd Mayweather says he’s trying to buy NBA team, has offered $2 billion

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“Money” Floyd Mayweather lives up to his nickname — he was money in the ring and earned a lot of it as the greatest boxer of a generation.

Now the legend is willing to spend it to own an NBA team.

Mayweather said at a recent public event he was working to buy an NBA team and has made a $2 billion offer for one.

“I’ve been working on buying a NBA team outright. One of my other business partners, Brent Johnson, he’s here. So we’ve been working on the NBA team for a while now. It’s kinda, it’s rough…

“It could be the Vegas franchise. It could be the Seattle franchise or I could be buying a franchise that’s already up and running. So the first offer, we offered them a little over $2 billion for majority ownership. Do I have it? Absolutely, I have it, but it didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen overnight. It’s a lot when you have so many different businesses all around the world. It’s a lot.”

The only NBA team publicly known to be for sale is the Phoenix Suns and the sale price for that will be well above $2 billion (some estimates suggest double that number). Portland is not currently for sale but is expected to be available in the coming years, and other franchises may pop up on the market as well, but the price for any of those may be above $2 billion. As for potential expansion teams (which are likely headed to Seattle and Las Vegas), those are years away according to league sources, with the vote to approve them a few years out at least, followed by a couple of years of ramp-up. Also, the entry price to get into those is going to be well above $2 billion.

Mayweather says he has the money. He said a year ago his net worth was above $1.2 billion, but there is no formal tracking for these things, it could be higher or lower. Either way, with the price of NBA franchises today, he likely needs to bring in other investors as $2 billion will be on the low end of a sale price.

How the controversies of Mayweather’s past — including domestic violence and homophobic comments — play out in his ownership bid is another unknown. We know the NBA vets its owners and considers such things.

It may be a long shot, but Mayweather wants to buy an NBA team, which could be very entertaining for fans.

Watch Rudy Gobert get ejected for tripping Thunder’s Williams

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Already without Karl-Anthony Towns, the Timberwolves were without their second twin tower for most of Saturday night after Rudy Gobert got ejected for kicking and tripping the Thunder’s Kenrich Williams.

Early in the second quarter, Williams was driving to the rim and Gobert was there to contest it, and with the contact Williams went to the ground, then Gobert tripped over him and fell. As Williams started to get back up and try to get down the court, Gobert kicked Williams’ legs out from under him, tripping Williams. A brief scuffle followed.

The referees reviewed the play (it didn’t take long) and ultimately Gobert was given a flagrant 2 and ejected, while Williams got a technical. The refs got that one right.

The game was chippy the whole way through, but going against a smaller Timberwolves front line the Thunder picked up a 135-128 win behind 33 from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Watch Simons puts up career-best 45, carry Portland past Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) —  Anfernee Simons scored a career-high 45 points and blocked a potential 3-pointer with 4.6 seconds left to lead the Portland Trail Blazers to a 116-111 win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night.

“I wanted to be aggressive and set the tone for my teammates,” Simons said. “Early on, let them know that we are in this game and I’m going to do whatever it takes for us to win it.”

The Jazz led 111-110 after Kelly Olynyk‘s twisting jumper and then had a chance to tie it at 114, but Simons swiped the ball from Jordan Clarkson as he rose for a 3-point attempt from the right angle.

“I just tried to catch him before he went up. … Kind of a risky play, but I’m glad I got it,” Simons said with a chuckle.

The Trail Blazers had lost seven of their last eight games before winning this thriller as Damian Lillard missed his seventh game with a lower right leg injury.

Portland’s Jerami Grant scored 13 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter as the Jazz swarmed Simons.

Jusuf Nurkic had 15 points and 14 rebounds and Trendon Watford finished with a career-high 14 rebounds, too.

The Jazz held Simons to just one field goal attempt in the fourth quarter, but he hit two free throws with 29.2 seconds to play, giving Portland a 112-111 lead. Grant added four free throws in the final 6.4 seconds for the final margin.

“Ant got it going early and we just kind of rode him, rode him, rode him. And then obviously Jerami was going,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said.

Clarkson had 24 points, and Lauri Markkanen added 21 for the Jazz, but committed two turnovers in the final 35.7 seconds. Collin Sexton scored 19 points and Jarred Vanderbilt had a season-high 16 for Utah.

Portland led 107-101 on Grant’s 3-pointer with 4:12 to play, but Sexton scored five quick points in 10-3 run that was highlighted by Markkanen’s block of Simon’s drive in the final minute.

Simons scored 23 points in the first quarter – a season high for Simons, as well as any Blazers player in any quarter. Simons had 22 in the third quarter against Denver on Oct. 24.

By halftime, Simons had 33 points and the Blazers led 69-60.

“You have to come out in the very beginning and try to set the tone. Doesn’t matter that it’s the second night of a back-to-back. They came out with an aggressiveness and a physicality that we didn’t (have),” Utah coach Will Hardy said.

Simons became the third Trail Blazer in the last decade to score 45 points, joining Lillard and CJ McCollum. He wanted more.

“In the back of my mind, I wanted 50. But there’s going to be plenty of opportunities for that. It’s all right, because we got the win,” Simons said.