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  1. The Warriorsí fall from glory, explained

    Tom Ziller writing for SB Nation - - -

    Things are getting bad quick for the Warriors.

    By Tom Ziller@teamziller Oct 28, 2019, 10:33am EDT

    Can this Warriors season be saved?

    The Golden State Warriors were always going to be a different team this season after losing Kevin Durant in free agency and Klay Thompson to injury. But 0-2, having not led for a single second through 96 minutes of play, having lost by 19 to the Clippers at home and 28 to the Thunder in Oklahoma City? No one expected them to be this bad.

    Why are they this bad? Are they this bad? Whatís the path back to some semblance of Warriorhood? Are Stephen Curry and Steve Kerr and Draymond Green frauds? Are their championships tainted? Is this the end of a dynasty? Is this the end of this era of Warriors basketball?

    Letís dig in.

    Are the Warriors actually this bad?

    Are the Warriors the second or third worst team in the NBA? No, of course not. Golden State ran into a buzzsaw Clippers team on a mission to scare everyone in the opener. The Warriors looked massively unprepared to take a punch from the Thunder on Sunday, and they never recovered once they got way behind. The offense is a total mess with only two plus passers (Curry and Green) and with no one shooting well. The Warriors are trying to play like they always have, with movement of bodies and the ball. They just donít have the players skilled enough to pull it off right now. The defense is a total mess right now, too. Golden State basically doesnít have any playable centers, and DíAngelo Russell is an enormous defensive drop-off from Klay Thompson.

    But the Warriors do have one of the five best players in the world in Curry, and a top-notch defender in Green, and a top-flight coach in Kerr. That combo, if healthy, prevents this team from being among the worst in the league. These two games are forming a bit of a mirage here.

    Beyond Durant and Thompson, how did this team get so depleted so fast?

    When Durant chose the Nets, the Warriors had two choices: let him walk or try to maneuver for an asset in return via sign-and-trade. Golden State, already capped out due to massive contracts for Curry, Thompson, and eventually Green, opted to pick up an asset in the transaction. The Nets werenít going to keep restricted free agent DíAngelo Russell, having also nabbed Kyrie Irving in free agency. So the Warriors got creative and agreed to take back Russell on a fat contract.

    But to do that, the Warriors had to cut salary. That meant trading Andre Iguodala and a draft pick to the Grizzlies. (Iguodala is now one of the most sought-after veterans who could hit the buy-out market. Memphis is trying to trade him for an asset before it comes to that.) So to get Russell, the Warriors lost Durant and had to trade Iguodala.

    A pricey new contract for Thompson plus the Russell deal had the Warriors looking for other ways to lower the luxury tax bill for this season. One way of doing that was to waive Shaun Livingston, another rotation player for the title runs, to shed some guaranteed salary.

    Jordan Bell and Quinn Cook walked in free agency. DeMarcus Cousins, injured again after not contributing much to the Warriorsí 2018-19 effort because of injury, left. Kevon Looney is hurt, and it doesnít sound good. This is how a roster gets destroyed: a few big slashes and a dozen little cuts.

    Why isnít Russell working out yet?

    Itís early. Itís been two games! Be patient.

    That said, Russell had one season of success in Brooklyn, and he handled the ball a lot (31.9 percent usage rate, which is star level). Thatís going to be different when youíre playing with Curry instead of Spencer Dinwiddie. Sure, Curry co-existed with Kevin Durant. But Durant also plays like a high-usage big man, not a high-usage guard. The impact is just different.

    At minimum, there will be a serious adjustment period for Russell to learn how to play with Curry and vice versa. At maximum, Russellís 2018-19 season was a bit of a fluke and he got paid off a mirage. The truth is probably somewhere in between, and will only be revealed with time and effort.

    Smart money would probably bet on Kerr and Curry figuring out how to best use a talented guard, even if it means changing up the offense.

    Does Curry need to be more like James Harden given the state of the roster?

    I mean, thatíd be fun to watch, right? No one knows whether Curry can really do that ó he hasnít played like that since Davidson. To suggest Curry can is to diminish Hardenís gifts and, frankly, Curryís gifts too. But itís something that Iím sure a few people within the Warriors front office have thought about.

    Will the Warriors miss the playoffs?

    Itís possible. ...
    Tags: nba, nba finals Add / Edit Tags
  2. Do the Sixers Even Need Ben Simmons to Shoot Jump Shots?

    This is from Nat Friedman, writing for GQ - - -

    For this year's NBA preview, Nathaniel Friedman picks the key stories to watch out for this season.

    By Nathaniel Friedman

    October 22, 2019

    It still may not be real. No matter how many times you watch the footage of the Ben Simmons three-pointer, what youíre seeing never really sinks in. And maybe it never will. The level of cognitive dissonance is overwhelming, to the point where you wonder if youíre dreaming, or hallucinating, and start to question the entire reality around you.

    Thatís how hard it is to wrap your mind around the fact that two seasons into his NBA career, the Sixersí position-less phenom finally sank a three during a game. Yes, there had been snippets of footage showing Simmons knocking threes down in the gym, but these were little more than breadcrumbs, an inkling that he was making progress. Thereís practice or workouts and then thereís the flow of NBA action, and as Allen Iverson immortally told us, the difference between the two is night and day. That this happened during the preseason, when defenses are notably lax, is almost beside the point. The specific circumstances matter less than our inability to come to terms with what the footage undeniably shows.

    But it wasnít just that Simmons hadnít yet made a three. In his 160 games as a pro, he had attempted only 17 of them. Simmons is a putrid shooter who also struggles at the free throw line. He has no jumper to speak of, which makes his shooting from deep an almost laughable proposition. What makes Simmons such a brilliant and vexing player, though, is that he consistently finds a way to work around these glaring holes in his game. His combination of size, strength, explosiveness, and pure speed alone would be enough to give defenses fits. But Simmons is also a master at pinpointing just the right angle of attack. When he hits the lane, itís already too late. This exquisite sense of space is also what makes him such a deadly playmaker; Simmons is a near-miraculous passer seemingly unencumbered by the concept of passing lanes.

    Asking if Simmons needs to shoot the ball is often an incoherent question, as he almost always finds a way to obviate these expectations. Simmons simply plays as if the jump shot doesnít exist as an option. You can even take it one step further and view his entire game as predicated on this negative assumption. While, Simmonsís inability to shoot may seem like a liability, this weakness is in some ways central to his identity. Everything about the way he plays seems to arise out of necessity, as if the game only really opens up for him once heís able to step out of the framework of orthodoxy, to say nothing of how difficult it is for opposing teams to make sense of a player whose greatest strength may be his outside-the-box thinking.

    Thereís a solid argument to be made that Simmons is averse to shooting on an almost unconscious level and that, far from hampering the Sixers, this is a good thing that actually makes them better, or at least more dangerous. The fact remains, though, that over the past two seasons, opponents have at key junctures, especially in the postseason, found a way to neutralize Simmons by simply daring him to shoot while doing everything in their power to clog up the lane. If he is going to progress as a playeróand if the upstart Sixers can grow into their presumptive role as one of the Eastís long-term powerhousesóSimmons needed to be able to at least credibly attempt take an open jumper, if not become a consistent long-range threat, which meant figuring out how to sometimes default to the obvious choice when avoiding the obvious is the entire premise of his game.

    Simmonsís total aversion to shooting may be a strategic choice. But it had also begun to feel defiant, an outright refusal that bordered on stubborn. The perception has been that Simmons is so convinced of his own superiority that he doesnít want to embarrass himself by doing something that has been almost assuredly bound to fail. Simmons is right so frequently, and has been so obliquely justified in not shooting, that doing so becomes an act of self-abnegationóhardly the comfort zone of an athlete who has been earmarked for greatness since his teens. Simmons hasnít wanted to make himself vulnerable like that because he doesnít know how to. Or, to put it less charitably, heís so invested in his ego that heís unable to acknowledge that things needed to change.

    Simmons learning to shoot isnít just absolutely essential to the Sixersí championship aspirations. Itís also a keen metaphor for the team as a whole. The Sixers grew up fast and supposedly made good on Sam Hinkieís Process-oriented rebuild. Adding Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris last season further amped up the hype before a disappointing postseason brought the team crashing back down ...
    Tags: nba, nba finals Add / Edit Tags
  3. James Harden and Russell Westbrook Are in a Position to Do Something Entirely New

    This is from Nat Friedman, writing for GQ - - -

    For this year's NBA preview, Nathaniel Friedman picks the key stories to watch out for this season

    By Nathaniel Friedman

    October 21, 2019

    Dread is not always a bad thing. Take this past NBA offseason, which, at least superficially, was awash in good vibes. The prevailing sense was that it made the league healthier and more entertaining. But the reason the 2019-20 season is so hotly anticipated is that this newfound sense of well-being is actually quite precarious. Some of the biggest names in the league are at a crossroads, and what happens next could very well define their career going forward, or at least shape the narrative around them for the foreseeable future. The upside is tremendous. But at the same time, thereís plenty that could go wrong. Weíre eager to see both whatís created and how destruction can be averted.

    Nowhere is this more true than in Houston. When the Rockets traded for Russell Westbrook, they set into motion one of the most ambitious, and possibly foolhardy, on-court experiments in recent memory. Getting rid of 34-year-old Chris Paul, who makes a ton of money and, at this point, is best suited for doing things that the Rockets donít like to do, was a no-brainer. Taking on Westbrook, though, was itself an insanely bold move. The longtime Thunder All-Star is one of the most dynamic players in the league. His will to win is undeniable. But Westbrook is an unruly, impulsive presence who is notoriously difficult to build around. Heís had trouble meshing with talented teammates. And the 11th year guard, whose hell-bent style of play is hardly built for longevity, is under contract through at least 2022 on what remains of a $205 million contract.

    Any team taking on Westbrook would face a host of challenges. The Rockets, though, may have been the single most unlikely landing spot for the former MVP, due almost entirely to the presence of former OKC teammateóand fellow former MVPóJames Harden. The Rocketsí system, which began as a vehicle designed to accommodate their franchise playerís unique skill-set and considerable quirks, has evolved (or maybe devolved) into a joyless, cynical, forbidding exercise in inevitability: Harden holds the ball as the clock runs down, Harden creates off the dribble with seconds left to spare, and, more often than not, Harden drives the lane with hopes of creating contact. That heís one of the most inventive and, when he wants to be, frankly dazzling players in the league is only occasionally evident, as Harden has himself become machinery.

    At this point, slotting nearly any player of consequence into this latest version of the Rocketsí attack would be a stretch. Thatís why Paul, who is expected in Oklahoma City to revive his standing as one of, if not the, strongest playmakers in the league, became dispensable. Thereís just not much room for anyone other than Harden to assert themselves. Introducing Westbrook into this environment borders on inconceivable, if not ludicrous. Both him and Harden are ball-dominant point guards (if that destination even means anything these days) who look to score as a matter of course. Neither is much inclined to establish a ďflow of the gameĒ or play off of teammates. And while both put up high assist numbers, they also both generally operate on an island until they absolutely have to make a pass. Itís hard to imagine how these two would fit together at all, much less in the current iteration of Houstonís system, even with out-of-the-box tinkerer Mike DíAntoni on the sidelines.

    But the Rocketsí decision to go all in on this backcourt makes it pretty clear that they arenít looking to merely stick with the program. Coming off of another disappointing postseason, the front office had to do something, and they didnít appear willing to fire DíAntoni (though his contract has yet to be extended). That they traded for a player of Westbrookís caliber makes it clear that the Rockets were looking to shake things up; that they ended up with the gameís premier chaos agent, who is practically assured to wreak havoc on their meticulous system, shows just how far the Rockets were willing to take this impulse. Adding Westbrook is an extreme measure that necessitates a drastic reimagining of nearly everything about how the Rockets operate, to such a degree that any attempt to fall back on their strategy of the last few seasons.

    What makes all of this presumably self-conscious destruction so notable is that, more than any team in the league, the Rockets had purported to have it all figured out. Where the team had ended up by the of last seasonís playoffs was a logical endpoint, the final form of their attempts to optimize Hardenís strengths. That it was formulaic, predictable, and often lifeless mattered less than the fact that it worked. It was both based on the math ...
    Tags: nba, nba finals Add / Edit Tags
  4. LeBron James and the Lakers Have Something to Prove Again

    This is from Nat Friedman, writing for GQ - - -

    For this year's NBA preview, Nathaniel Friedman picks the key stories to watch out for this season.

    By Nathaniel Friedman

    October 21, 2019

    One day, LeBron James will get very old, and before then, he will cease to be one of the two or three most imposing offensive players in the NBA. But itís safe to assume that it wonít happen this season, because the simple fact that it hasnít already happened suggests that it may never happen. Granted, the 34-year-old James is no longer the same player he once was in his twenties, most noticeable on the defensive end. At the other end of the court, James has altered his game over the years, possibly out of necessity. Yet rather than chafing against new limitations, James has continually evolved, to the point where it often seems like heís getting better with age, or at least approaching some sort of fully-optimized ideal of basketball efficacy.

    But individual performance doesnít happen in a vacuum, and as soon as you zoom out from the finer points of Jamesís attack, thereís plenty to scrutinize. His first season as a Laker was decidedly underwhelming. While the team would likely have made the playoffs had James not missed several weeks due to injury, James didnít exactly succeed in transforming them into a powerhouse. He didnít really gel with the Lakersí young core and often seemed content to go at it alone. And then almost everyone was shipped off for Anthony Davis, a newly signed Klutch client, and that was that.

    Of course, the Lakers did succeed in landing AD, which was the plan all along, and thereís an argument to be made that, for James, 2018-19 was a mulligan. But the fact remains that James didnít exactly make the best of a lackluster situation. The optics of the Lakers puttering along weren't great. James makes other players better, except in this case, he didnít. Heís a strong leader, except here he failed to galvanize his team. After spending four years in Cleveland as the David to the Warriorís Goliath, James seemed to be perpetually looking ahead to having some fellow All-Stars around to work with. And there were whisperings that James was preoccupied with making moves in Hollywood when he could have focused his attention more squarely on the Lakers. Thankfully, we were spared a debate over whether or not Jamesís charitable efforts were detracting from his on-court contributions.

    The offseason may have been even more damning. While acquiring Davis was a coup, albeit a totally expected one, the Lakers were also thought to be in the running for marquee names like Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler. Leonard, in particular, was thought to have the Lakers high on his list and indeed, the team ended up beingóat least ostensiblyóone of the three finalists competing for his services. Except the Lakers didnít end up with Leonard, Butler, or any other top-tier free agent, and it was impossible to not think about how James, or did not, factor into their decision. The Lakers were a train wreck of an organization, and post-Davis, the roster assembled was a hodgepodge of characters severely lacking in depth. But the general presumption was that the combination of James, Davis, and another All-Star would be unstoppable.

    In the grand scheme of Jamesís stunning career, one lost season really shouldnít matter, and with Davis, the Lakers could easily end up being one of the leagueís scariest teams. Ultimately, things like optics, narrative, and legacy matter because the take-centric way we consume. Content without a take is dead on arrival, and fans mistake the language of punditry for a form of expertise when itís really just a means of disguising inanity. Except in this case, James himself is very much a devotee of this kind of thinking, in large part because, as a massive brand, he understands the value of controlling his narrative. You could argue that James has learned this skill as a reaction to having been under intense game-to-game scrutiny since his teens. But he long ago stopped needing to ever be on the defensive. Now, he has to think this way because thatís how a sports brand has to work.

    And at this point, James is really only measured against Michael Jordan, and has made such a strong case for his being distinct from Jordan that itís become increasingly nonsensical to compare the two. But from a narrative standpoint heís still chasing MJ, and will be until he figures out how to once and for all differentiate himself. The third act of Jordanís story, which is still largely intact in spite of his Wizards comeback, combines unfettered dominance, a singularly competitive mindset, and a flare for the dramatic. The best in the game bowed out after unquestionably proving his supremacy.

    It just might be the greatest sports story ever told; it has made pro-Jordan takes next to unimpeachable ...
    Tags: nba, nba finals Add / Edit Tags
  5. HOOPSTER 1236 October 19, 2017 Thursday release

    It was the fourth time that I have witnessed on television a gruesome player injury on a basketball floor, the most recent of which was what happened to All-Star forward Gordon Hayward yesterday during his Boston debut (following seven seasons with the Utah Jazz) and in the opening game of the National Basketball Association?s 2017-18 season between the Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Quicken Loans Arena.

    Before the game, the narrative was how Cleveland fans would react to ex-Cavs guard Kyrie Irving?s first appearance in a Celtics uniform (he was booed early) and LeBron James? questionable status due to a left ankle sprain he suffered in training camp before the 32-year-old The King eventually suited up for Cleveland and thus extended his streak for most consecutive opening-game appearances without a miss at 15 seasons.
    In the end, though, the major story was not even about the Cavs? 102-99 victory over the Celtics but prayers being offered by Hayward?s NBA peers and hoop fans worldwide for his speedy recovery from a horrific left ankle fracture he suffered with 6:45 left in the first quarter.

    This was a real ankle-breaker as the 27-year-old Hayward was going up for an alley-oop pass but fell awkwardly on his leg going down.

    Visually, Hayward?s ankle-turning injury was so horrifying, comparable to those previous serious injuries sustained by Fil-foreigner Eugene Tejada (fractured his spine causing paralysis) in the local professional league a decade or so ago, University of Louisville guard Kevin Douglas Ware Jr. in a U.S. NCAA tournament game in 2013 and, a year later, by then-Indiana Pacer Paul George in an all-NBA intra-squad scrimmage among Team USA prospects for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

    Ware, a 6-2 guard, was a 20-year-old sophomore at Louisville at the time. He suffered an open fracture of the tibia to his right leg during the first half of the Cardinals? third-round (Elite Eight) match against the Duke Blue Devils in the 2013 NCAA tournament.

    Ware landed awkwardly after attempting to block a three-point shot by Duke guard Tyler Thornton and suffered an open fracture to his right leg that protruded several inches out of his shin.

    When the Cardinals won the NCAA tournament that year, Ware was asked by teammates to cut the championship nets.

    Ware eventually appeared in nine games with Louisville during the 2013-14 season before being granted ?redshirt? status for him to fully recover from his injury.

    Ware was to transfer to Georgia State University in April 2014 and spent two seasons with the Panthers where he was the Sun Belt Conference? Most Valuable Player in 2015.

    While Ware was not taken in the 2016 NBA draft, the 24-year-old New York native has found roundball employment in the Greek league since the time.

    George, an NBA player since 2010-11, was an Indiana Pacer when he tried out for the Team USA to the FIBA World Cup in the summer of 2014. During a nationally-televised intra-squad scrimmage at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas on August 1, 2014, the 6-8 wingman went down with a compound fracture of both bones in his lower right leg after he landed awkwardly at the base of a basket stanchion while fouling James Harden.

    George eventually returned to the Pacers in the final six games of the 2014-15 NBA campaign, earned a spot on the gold medal-winning U.S. team to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and, in July this year, he was shipped to the Oklahoma City Thunder with a year remaining on his contract after spending his first seven seasons in the pro league at Indiana.

    Tejada, Ware, George and Hayward: Their injuries were so gruesome and graphically disturbing that you can?t seem to forget about them.
    Tags: 3, henry liao, nba Add / Edit Tags
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