J.J. Redick

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LeBron, Anthony Davis and…Kemba? What are Lakers’ next steps to contention?

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We have seen this before, the Lakers add a superstar player — Pau Gasol via trade, Shaquille O’Neal via free agency— and instantly vault up to being a title contender.

Of course, we have seen the Lakers add superstars in the offseason — say Dwight Howard and Steve Nash — and watch the whole thing blow up due to injuries and chemistry issues.

Neither of these scenarios is completely off the table with the LeBron James and Anthony Davis Lakers, which is going to be a reality now after the Lakers have agreed to a trade for Davis that sends Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, and three first round picks (including the No. 4 pick in the 2019 Draft) to New Orleans.

The Lakers look like contenders on paper right now, but they have to round out the roster in a smart way.

Two key things will differentiate success and failure with these Lakers.

First is injuries. It’s obvious to state, but Davis has an injury history, and LeBron missed 18 games with a groin injury last season, the most time he has ever missed with an injury, but that’s what comes with age. If either or both miss significant time, this all comes apart.

Second is how the Lakers round out the roster. That is something the core of this Lakers’ front office did very poorly last season, we will see if lessons were learned.

After the trade, the Lakers will have on the roster LeBron, Davis, Kyle Kuzma, Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga… and that’s it. They need to add 10 players.

Los Angeles going to try and add a third star.

The Lakers will have $27.7 million available in cap space on July 1 — that is not enough to sign Jimmy Butler or Kemba Walker to max deals. Both of them have been linked to the Lakers on various levels.

Sources have told me that after qualifying for a “supermax” contract extension (five years, $221 million), Walker is leaning heavily toward staying in Charlotte, a city he has grown to love (and his family enjoys). He could even give the Hornets a little hometown discount on the back end of that deal and make more than the max the Lakers or any other team could offer him. The question is, does this trade and the chance to chase a ring alter Walker’s thinking?

Butler, also, reportedly is leaning toward re-signing with the Sixers if they offer him a full five-year, $191 million max deal as expected (with Butler’s injury history, that fifth year only Philly can offer will matter to him). The same question about this deal changing his mindset applies to Butler as well.

The Lakers also could go after Kyrie Irving, although a number of people around the league view that as a longshot.

What the Lakers could do to max out Walker/Butler/Irving, as suggested by cap guru and consultant to NBA teams and agents Larry Coon, is to draft whoever the Pelicans want at No. 4, sign that player July 1, then trade him 30 days later (the first chance he is eligible) as part of the Davis deal where the salaries match up. It would delay the actual Davis trade but the  Lakers would have the $32.5 needed for a max slot for a player with 7-9 years experience.

The Lakers also could go after guys who are not stars but are high level role players and may just be a better fit, such as J.J. Redick. The Lakers could use that $27 million to land three or more quality, solid NBA rotation players. That’s an internal discussion Los Angeles need to have.

Beyond that, the Lakers will have the room exception at $4.8 million and no other space.

Just like last year, the Lakers will need to bring in veterans on minimum contracts — and this time they may want to get some shooting in the mix. The challenge there is guys are taking minimum contracts for a reason, if they could secure longer and more lucrative deals they would. There are far fewer vets willing to take a lot less to chase a ring than fans realize.

These are first world problems for the Lakers, they have so enough elite stars its hard to round out the roster. The art is in doing it right because there are other contenders out there who have done just that.

Jimmy Butler’s ‘thank you’ Instagram post has some Sixers fans freaking out

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In Philadelphia, fans are trying to read the tea leaves to figure out what Jimmy Butler is thinking. Does he want to come back to the Sixers and chase titles with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons? Those three did seem to develop real chemistry this season and especially through the playoffs.

Or, does he want to play in New York? Or with LeBron James in Los Angeles? Where is Butler’s head at right now?

Thursday night, Butler posted this on Instagram:

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to philly. and my teammates. THANK YOU. ❤️❤️

A post shared by Jimmy Butler (@jimmybutler) on

It is a simple post saying thank you to fans and teammates, one liked by Embiid and a lot of other players.

However, the “thank you for everything” post is also something we commonly see from players leaving town.

Which is why in Philadelphia this was seen as cryptic and had some fans freaking out.

That is just a taste of the online reaction. Not surprisingly, Philly fans feel comfortable assuming the worst.

Maybe Butler’s post is just what it says it is on face value, a thank you to fans and teammates because he enjoyed his Philadelphia experience. No doubt in the next few days Butler will say something along those lines (or his agent will leak it). That’s how the game is played.

However, Butler will have options when he becomes a free agent. As will Tobias Harris and J.J. Redick. Keeping all of them together in Philadelphia and managing all those egos will not be easy. These playoffs Philadelphia showed they are a team on the cusp of contending, but that last step up the mountain is the hardest one, and the work falls to Elton Brand and the front office.

Best second round ever

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The final buzzer sounded on the second round of the 2019 playoffs.

Yet, the suspense was still rising.

Kawhi Leonard‘s final shot bounced, bounced, bounced, bounced then hung on the rim for an excruciatingly long split second. Finally, it fell – the fitting end to an all-time great second round.

The first Game 7 game-winner at the buzzer in NBA history capped a playoff round that also included triumph, heartbreak, redemption, hostility, high stakes, close games, quadruple overtime, two tight Game 7s, an intensifying rivalry and a comically bad prediction.

Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo played great. Kevin Durant played great until he got hurt. Stephen Curry played terribly until he played great. C.J. McCollum played great when it mattered most.

The Bucks, Raptors, Warriors and Trail Blazers advanced. The Celtics, 76ers, Rockets and Nuggets will have a summer to lick their wounds.

There’s no simple way to judge a playoff series, but it generally rests on the quality of teams and quality of games.

These eight teams were excellent. For the first time since 2008, there were no first-round upsets by seed. That left only the league’s strongest teams for the second round. The Bucks have been excellent all season. Nobody questions the Warriors’ talent. The Raptors could be a sleeping giant after their moves around the trade deadline.

Milwaukee, Toronto, Golden State, Portland, Boston, Philadelphia, Houston and Denver combined to outscore opponents by 5.5 points per game (regular season and first round) entering the second round. That’s the sixth-highest mark since the NBA adopted its current 16-team postseason format in 1984.

To judge game quality, I created an excitement score – one point for every game decided by five or fewer points, one point for every overtime and one point for every Game 7. Admittedly, the system is skewed toward this year. But after watching these fun games, how could it not be? The 2019 second round’s excitement score of 18 (11 close games, five overtimes and two Game 7s) is higher than any other year’s second round.

Here’s how every second round in the current playoff era rates by margin per game entering the round and excitement score within the round:

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Year Margin per game Excitement score
2019 5.5 18
2018 4.6 8
2017 5.1 5
2016 5.9 12
2015 4.8 8
2014 4.2 5
2013 4.7 8
2012 4.3 8
2011 4.5 7
2010 5.3 2
2009 5.4 7
2008 5.9 10
2007 4.0 6
2006 4.4 17
2005 4.3 7
2004 4.7 11
2003 4.2 14
2002 4.4 5
2001 4.4 9
2000 4.3 10
1999 4.3 5
1998 5.4 5
1997 6.3 15
1996 5.6 7
1995 4.0 14
1994 4.3 15
1993 4.9 12
1992 5.7 10
1991 4.9 11
1990 4.9 8
1989 4.0 7
1988 4.5 9
1987 3.9 17
1986 4.7 16
1985 4.2 5
1984 2.7 9

So, is this the best second round ever?

There’s a case for 1997, which featured Bulls (69-13) over Hawks (56-26), Heat (61-21) over Knicks (57-25), Rockets (57-25) over SuperSonics (57-25) and Jazz (64-18) over Lakers (56-26). That year also had two Game 7s (Miami-New York and Houston-Seattle).

But, considering the ramifications for the teams involved, I’d favor the round we just watched.

The Bucks are more likely to pay to keep humming. The Warriors are seemingly improving their odds of keeping Durant. The Raptors have a better chance of retaining Leonard. The Trail Blazers and Damian Lillard are more likely to sign a super-max extension this summer.

On the other hand, the Celtics could lose Kyrie Irving. The 76ers might fire Brett Brown and must deal with pending free agents Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and J.J. Redick. The Rockets are still stuck behind Golden State and only getting more desperate as they age. (At least the young Nuggets should feel content with their playoff run).

So much rode on this second round, and the games lived up to the hype.

Loss sends Philadelphia into summer of uncertainty sooner than they expected

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Understandably, nobody on the Sixers wanted to talk about the future Sunday night.

“I’m not worried about that right now, after losing. I’m not going to talk about anything but basketball,” Jimmy Butler said when asked about his impressions of the Sixers.

Soon enough all the talk around the Sixers will be about the future.

GM Elton Brand ended “the process” and turned Philadelphia into a “win now” team with a target of the Conference Finals – at the very least — as the goal by trading a lot of assets this season to land Butler and Tobias Harris. Philadelphia entered the playoffs with the second-best starting five in the NBA: Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Butler, Harris, and Joel Embiid.

Only two of them are under contract for next season.

And this team only reached the second round of the playoffs (although in part because of a Kawhi Leonard shot that was a punch to the gut).

Coach Brett Brown could be the scapegoat, with reports he would be let go if the team faced a second-round exit.

“The club can respond to that,” was how Brown answered a question about his job security after the loss.

The bigger issue this summer in Philly is Butler, Harris, and Redick are unrestricted free agents. Philly owner Joshua Harris said he will pay whatever it takes to keep this starting lineup together — and the Sixers can offer more money than other teams — but each of those players will have multiple teams calling and offering different roles on the court and potential lifestyles off it. If any one of them were not happy or comfortable, they have options.

For the Sixers, they have yet to really see what this roster — thrown together during the season — can do.

“We haven’t been together for a while with this group but there’s a lot of potential,” Simmons said of the Sixers starting five. He said team grew a lot in the last couple of months.

What did the Sixers learn from the loss? “It’s simple, we got to get better,” Simmons said.

Beyond the three free agents, Brand and Philadelphia need to deal with a couple of big questions.

For one, can Simmons and Embiid win at the highest levels together? No doubt both are talented players — both are All-Stars, and someday Simmons will join Embiid on All-NBA teams — but do their games pair well? Simmons does not have a jump shot to speak of and needs the ball in his hands to drive and create, but Embiid should operate more down low, where he is a beast but clogs the lanes for those drives. Simmons is best in transition but Embiid is never going to be a gazelle running the floor. In the playoffs, as Butler became more and more the primary ball handler and shot creator in the half court, Simmons was relegated to the dunker’s spot. He had some quiet games.

That said, the Sixers were +8.1 per 100 possessions this season when Simmons and Embiid shared the court (in 1,431 minutes) and that jumped to +19.8 in the playoffs.

Philadelphia’s other big question this summer is where do they find more depth. Against the Raptors, Embiid was +90 when on the court, but when he sat the Sixers were -109. Brand traded away a lot of “assets” — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Robert Covington, and a couple of first-round picks — to get Butler and Harris, but it sapped Philly of its depth. That was an issue in the playoffs (see Embiid’s +/- number above). The Sixers will have little room to maneuver but need to find quality depth at a fair price.

All that combined is a lot of uncertainty. A lot of decisions need to be made and questions answered.

Nobody was doing that Sunday night, but they will soon.

Kawhi Leonard’s game winner bounces in for Toronto, sends Philadelphia home (VIDEO)

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Is he really going to leave Toronto after the greatest moment in Raptors’ history?

July will be July, but in May Kawhi Leonard is the king of Toronto.

This is why Raptors GM Masai Ujiri bet big on getting Leonard last summer, to make at least one run at a Finals for Toronto with a guy who had done it before on the biggest stages. Toronto had a good team the past few years, but one that kept falling on its face in those big games. Sunday night, in Toronto’s biggest moment this season — tie game, 4.2 seconds left — Leonard did this.

It’s the only walk-off Game 7 winning shot in NBA history.

“I was telling them I work on it every day, driving baseline,” Leonard said on the court of his shot that bounced on the rim four times. “I said I missed the last one short so I just wanted to put it up in the air and got the shooter’s bounce.”

The Raptors advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Bucks starting Wednesday night in Milwaukee.

Game 7 was not pretty — the defense was intense and players on both teams were tight. Toronto won shooting 38.2 percent for the game. Pascal Siakam, who had been brilliant all series, seemed afraid to shoot. Kyle Lowry was 4-of-13. So Toronto turned Leonard loose and got 41 points on 39 shots — the most shots ever taken in regulation in Game 7 (Elgin Baylor took 40 in 1961 in a 1961 Game 7, but that game went to overtime). Leonard had 15 points in the fourth quarter, including those final two.

Toronto also got 17 points off the bench from Serge Ibaka on 6-of-10 shooting, plus he had 8 rebounds.

Joel Embiid had 21 points to lead Philly, but he was gassed at the end having played 45 minutes. Still, Embiid was +10 in his 45:11, the Sixers were -12 in the 2:49 he rested. He meant that much to the 76ers. Embiid was in tears heading back to the locker room, having given all he could.

“It’s going to be a life memory that, as painful as it feels now, it will help shape his career and give him greater clarity of what this time of the year represents,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said of Embiid. “It’s hard to be the last man standing.”

Philadelphia GM Elton Brand traded away a lot of depth to get Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, going all-in to win now, and that lack of depth became an issue in this series.

Butler was everything Brand and Sixers fans could have wanted from the trade in this series and in Game 7. He had 16 points for the game and took over down the stretch, including hitting a transition layup with 4.2 seconds left to tie the game.

It was just one shot short.

The loss sends Philadelphia into a summer where Butler, Harris, and J.J. Redick are all unrestricted free agents. How this playoff run shapes their decisions remains to be seen — it is far too early to tell — but Philly has to look at why they fell short on this run and make changes.

Brown may also be in trouble as the coach, reports have surfaced that he needed to reach the Finals to save his job. Even though Brown was the better coach in this series.

Toronto moves on to the Eastern Conference Finals and a showdown of Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo, not to mention two of the top five defenses in the NBA this season. It’s going to be another tight, grinding series.

Toronto has shown it can win those, even when they don’t play their best, thanks to Leonard.