Week That Was In The NBA

Trading Wins in the NBA Finals

There is a pattern forming is this back-and-forth NBA Finals between the HEAT and the Spurs.  First halves are hotly contested and relatively even with turnovers providing the only clue to what will happen after the break.  If the Spurs are turning the ball over, the HEAT run away with the game in the second half, but if the HEAT can’t turn their opponent over and get run outs, the Spurs win.

Game Four saw the HEAT’s Big Three finally have a big game, but those in the know were predicting Game Five as the one to watch.

“I think Game Five should be the best game of the series,” said Dwyane Wade. “Both teams should come out knowing each other, knowing what each other is going to do and it should be a very good game.”

Wade wasn’t wrong.  Game Five was a very good game with both teams making extended runs as the Spurs tried to take command from the opening tip, but Miami fought back each time until the fourth quarter.  Wade indicated after the game that constantly playing from behind just took too much out of them.  As has been the case all series, it was the other guys who stepped up and made the difference between winning and losing.  Danny Green was 6-10 from three-point range for 24 points and has hit an NBA Finals record 25 long range bombs during the series.  Manu Ginobili, who has been a shell of himself all year and has been talking about retirement, had a season high 24 points and 10 assists.  In the end, the game wasn’t as close as the 114-104 score in the Spurs win.

Back in Miami for game six, it was win or explain how they lost for the HEAT and in a game for the ages, the HEAT came back from 12 down at the end of the third and five down with 28.2 seconds left in regulation to pull out the win in overtime 103-100.  This was the Spurs game to lose down the stretch and if it wasn’t for missed free throws by Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard in the dying seconds, the three-point heroics of Ray Allen wouldn’t have mattered.  Tim Duncan turned back time to record 30 points and 17 rebounds in the loss.  LeBron James carried the HEAT on his back with a 32 point, 10 rebound, 11 assist triple-double.

Game seven is Thursday night.  For NBA fans, it doesn’t get any better than this. 

Jason Kidd is a Rookie Again

In an off season of head coaching turmoil, yet another rookie head coach will get his chance to pace the sidelines in the NBA next season.  After the worst playoff performance of his long and distinguished career, Jason Kidd retired from playing and traded two more seasons of guaranteed money with the Knicks for what could be a four year or less head coaching job in Brooklyn. 

Retired NBA point guards joining the head coaching ranks is hardly usual, but Kidd’s situation isn’t typical.  Going straight from playing to coaching without even a brief transition as an assistant coach is a huge step and a leap of faith by the Nets organization, however, at 40 years old with 19 seasons in the NBA as a player, Kidd is already older than many first-time head coaches and he has arguably been a coach on the floor for years.  The Nets were genuinely excited to introduce their rookie Head Coach in their press release.

"Jason is a proven winner and leader with an incredible wealth of basketball knowledge and experience. This will be a natural transition for him to move into the role of head coach, as he embodies the tough, smart and team-first mentality that we are trying to establish in Brooklyn," General Manager Billy King said.

"He has the fire in the belly we need, and has achieved as a player everything the Brooklyn Nets are striving to achieve,” said Nets Principal Owner Mikhail Prokhorov.

Kidd has the potential to become a great NBA head coach, if the Nets can find the patience to allow their rookie to work his way through the inevitable mistakes and blunders that every first-timer must endure as they learn the nuances of a new job.  The biggest concern is the recent lack of restraint by King and Prokhorov when things are not going to plan.  This team has endured seven head coaches over the last four seasons and fired 2006 NBA Coach of the Year Avery Johnson last December after he won the NBA Eastern Conference Coach of the Month in November.  Kidd deserves a lot of latitude in his first season as a head coach.  Hopefully the Nets give it to him.

Clippers Dominate Rumor Mill

No the Clippers are not having another fire sale.  These are not the lovable-losers of years gone by.  Clippers owner Donald Sterling appears to have loosened the purse strings in pursuit of a championship contender and today’s rumors revolve around a possible sign and trade with the Lakers for Dwight Howard and an attempt to pry Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett and possibly Paul Pierce out of Boston.  Aside from the fact each of these moves seems to be impossible, Steve Kyler in Hoopsworld's Monday NBA AM story indicates that there is more than enough smoke to believe there is some fire.

“The L.A. Clippers and Boston Celtics have discussed a deal that sends Kevin Garnett and his remaining two contract years to the Clippers in exchange for center DeAndre Jordan. As part of the proposed deal, two future first round picks would head to Boston as part of an agreement that allow Celtics head coach Doc Rivers out of the remaining three years and $21 million left on his Celtic contract, in order to join the Clippers as their next head coach.”

The initial holdup appeared to be the Celtics wanted backup point guard Eric Bledsoe included in the deal and planned to dump one of their surplus veteran shooting guards on the Clippers.  Then it was suggested Celtics would take two first round draft picks instead of Bledsoe.  The Clippers were reluctant to give up two young talents for a player at the end of his long and respected career even if it also nets them one of the best coaches in the game.  The apparent reluctance to give up draft picks is a little harder to understand.  It is assumed the Celtics would also buyout Pierce’s contract and the All-Star small forward would join Garnett and Rivers in Los Angeles. 

According to the LA Times’ Broderick Turner, the Clippers and Celtics have ended talks and the Clippers have resumed their head coaching search.

“Both teams declared Tuesday that they had called off talks for a potential blockbuster deal that could have brought Boston Coach Doc Rivers and power forward Kevin Garnett to Los Angeles.”

This deal isn’t really dead just yet.  Until the Clippers actually hire a coach other than Rivers, this transaction can quickly and easily be revived.  In reality, the Clippers are not being asked to give up that much just to get Garnett.  Also, it is strange just how little head coaches are valued by teams when it is so obvious that playoff success is almost impossible without a top flight leader on the bench.  Clippers should just jump on this deal.

There isn’t as much smoke with the Howard rumors as no one really knows what the Lakers are planning.  There’s as good a chance the Lakers could just let Howard walk so that the team would have the salary cap space to pursue the dream of a possible LeBron James free agency in 2014.  A team built around Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant should be competitive if everyone is healthy next season, but that’s a big if and the Lakers are not exactly known for tanking to get a lottery pick.

At the very least, the Clippers look like they have been genuinely trying to become a championship caliber franchise lately.

Changes Continue In Toronto

When MLSE President and CEO Tim Leiweke introduced his new President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Masai Ujiri to the media recently, the house cleaning was already well underway.  The pair made it clear that Ujiri would be running a much smaller and better focused basketball operations group than before.  Based on what we knew, the surprise and even outrage from the local media when Leiweke announced they had let go former Raptors’ player and current scout Alvin Williams seems curious.  As James Borbath reports in the DNB,

“Alvin is no doubt one of the most beloved Raptors of all time and sure it does suck as [Doug] Smith [Toronto Star] suggests in his article.”

Williams was a popular player in Toronto.  A nice guy that the team’s players have liked since he stopped playing and a guaranteed means of boosting fan morale by occasional appearances during games through some recent very tough times.  However, as we saw less and less of him each year he worked for the Raptors and he seemed to be primarily scouting out of the Philadelphia area, it isn’t exactly hard to understand the business rationale for letting Williams go.  Raptors scouting hasn’t exactly been overwhelmingly impressive and keeping someone on the payroll for a couple of minutes of applause twice a year doesn’t make a lot of sense.  MLSE has taken a lot of heat over the years for maintaining a bloated non-player payroll.  Expect Leiweke to be making some other less than popular, but much needed changes to how this sports empire is run.

On Wednesday the Raptors issued a press release to announce Bobby Webster has been hired as Vice President, Basketball Management & Strategy.  Webster was Associate Director, Salary Cap Management with the NBA league office in New York for the past seven seasons.

“I am delighted to have Bobby join our basketball operations team,” said Masai Ujiri, Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations. “His skill set will be valuable in a number of areas, and his experience and knowledge of the CBA and its complexities from a League level will be a great asset to the organization.”

Other additions to Ujiri’s staff that are expected to be announced soon include Jeff Weltman from the Bucks and Dan Tolzman from the Nuggets.  As reported by James Borbath, the Raptors have officially confirmed Dwane Casey will be returning next season as the Head Coach.

Stephen Brotherston has covered the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the ACC since 2009.  You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors

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