T-MONEY’S HOT SHEET
Eastern Conference Playoff Rundown
by Tracy Graven
Senior NBA Analyst
Due to a jaunt to New Orleans last week to watch the Pelicans play the Spurs and the eventual - and much needed - side trip to bake on the white sands at Gulf Shores, I’m running a game behind in my assessment of the Eastern Conference Playoff picture.
My apologies. Had to see A.D. and the end of an era (Spurs) in person.
Be that as it may, I stand by my original assertions and posts on social media about where I think things will shake out in the East.
WASHINGTON WIZARDS - TORONTO RAPTORS
I firmly believe that this series will be the undoing of Washington head coach Scott Brooks. I could be wrong, but it seemed from the outside that Brooks was hired ahead of Kevin Durant’s free agency to lure him back to his hometown, a la LeBron James.
When that didn’t happen, the Wizards were stuck with Brooks and he has done a formidable job. But he also did a formidable job in Oklahoma City. And, yes, he took the Thunder to the NBA Finals - with Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden. And couldn’t get even a second win against James and the Miami Heat at the time.
No disrespect, but John Wall and Bradley Beal are no Westbrook and Harden by any stretch of the imagination. And Ibaka showed Toronto fans exactly why the Raps exchanged Terrence Ross and a future first rounder for the Sergeant of Swat. Ibaka would lead Toronto to the victory with 23 points and 12 rebounds, playing like the Ibaka of OKC days.
Toronto ‘Raps’ this up in five games.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS - BOSTON CELTICS
2017-18 has been the Giannis Antetekounmpo coming out party. He is playing MVP-like basketball.
Boston, on the other hands, has become injury central, with Gordon Hayward out for the season after the first game and Kyrie Irving - who led the team all season with 24.4 points per game, led the team in assists at 5.1 per - is out for the C’s playoff run after having knee surgery. Not to mention steals leader Marcus Smart is out for at least the first round after surgery for a torn tendon in his thumb.
Easy peasy for the Bucks, right?
Not so fast. Despite Antetekounmpo’s 35 point, 13 rebound, 7 assist and 3 steal performance yesterday, the Celtics managed to push the Deer to overtime behind a Khris Middleton buzzer-beating three-pointer and come out victorious behind an unlikely cast of crew members that possess a never-say-die attitude.
While that creates momentum in this series and continues to propel Jayson Tatum into the Rookie of the Year conversation, I still believe that without Smart and Irving, the Bucks will find a way to make this a seven-game series and come out victorious.
Bucks in 7.
MIAMI HEAT - PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
This may end up being the most-watched series in the entire playoff picture right now.
Joel Embiid went down with an ocular fracture in late March, caused by teammate Markelle Fultz, who at that point, hit the only shot he’d connected with - Embiid’s face - and it was unintentional.
At that point, the Sixers were 42-21 with Embiid starting. They averaged 111.4 points and allowed only 99.7 points. Without Embiid in the game to that point, they only scored 101.8 per game and allowed opponents 105.7 points per outing.
Season over, right?
With Brett Brown in the running for Coach of the Year, the Sixers finished out the season winning their final eight straight and carried that momentum to blister the Miami Heat in Game One by 27 points behind J.J. Redick’s 28 points, Ben Simmons’ 14 assists, and Eryan Ilyasova’s 14 rebounds.
Former Cleveland General Manager David Griffin pointed out yesterday on Twitter “how huge it was that Bryan Colangelo was able to steal both (Marco) Belinelli and (Eryan) Ilyasova with buyouts. Ben … struggle to shoot range J, but … can play to the full bandwidth of their off-bounce gifts.”
That kind of insight demonstrates what a student of the game Griffin is and has always been, and why it’s a travesty how things went down in Cleveland and how he should be one of the most sought after and rewarded free agent … ahem, GM candidates this summer.
But he’s dead on. The Colangelo DNA is evident in Philly and it added to the Process already in place. Who says tanking doesn’t work?
Either that, or God is a huge Philadelphia sports fan this year (see Eagles, Villanova). I have the 76ers in six games.
INDIANA PACERS - CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
I said from the get go last week that this is the most dangerous position for the defending Eastern Conference champs to be in right now.
LeBron James doesn’t see it that way.
“I’m down 0-1 in the first round. I was down 3-1 in the Finals. I’m the last guy to ask about how you’re going to feel in the next couple of days,” James retorted at the podium after the Game One loss to the Pacers in Cleveland last night.
That’s not to take away from the magnificent job that head coach Nate McMillan has done with the Indiana Pacers this year.
Step back to the earlier statement about the Ibaka acquisition that Toronto exercised with the Orlando Magic.
Ibaka was in Orlando because Oklahoma City traded him there for Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis’ draft rights and the aforementioned Ilyasova (76ers). Oladipo and Sabonis were sent to Indiana for Paul George - yes the same Paul George that dropped 36 points on Utah last night.
I’ve said all along that Kevin Pritchard and the Pacers got the better of that trade.
Kehinde Babatunde Victor Oladipo was also the best pick in the top 10 picks of that draft.
Same draft the Cavaliers overlooked Oladipo to select Anthony “Where Am I Now?” Bennett.
They overlooked him in 2013 and they overlooked him last night as the former Indiana Hoosier torched the Cavs with 32 points, six rebounds, four assists, four steals and even a block en route to the 18-point ousting on the Cavs home court.
Betting James would have rather have had Oladipo to come back to Cleveland to than C.J. Miles and Jarrett Jack. Thanks Chris Grant.
Meanwhile, LeBron James passed Michael Jordan on the all-time playoff field goals list. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ahead of him now.
James, in his 15th year, is playing MVP-like basketball. Like a fine wine, he seems to get better with age. But he’s going to need a lot more help than the nine points that Kevin Love offered him the single digits (Love, George Hill, Rodney Hood) and goose egg (Jeff Green) that his starters gave.
The Pacers win puts a huge chip on the shoulders of LeBron James and that’s potentially lethal for Indiana. The caveat is if he can bring the other players along with him or of this is an early exit and finger-pointing begins anew in Cleveland.
It’s LeBron’s last run in The Land. Enjoy it. He will. I think the Pacers have a chance to put a scare into the Cavs - maybe already have. But Cavs take this in six games, maybe even five if James can get the rest of his team engaged.
(1)Houston Rockets vs. (8) Minnesota Timberwolves
For most of the 2017-18 season the NBA has been trying to catch up with Chris Paul, James Harden and the Houston Rockets. The duo which critics said would crash and burn ignited a fire that set the league ablaze almost from the start. Now the Minnesota Timberwolves have the unenviable task of trying to slow down the league’s best offense.
The Timberwolves, for their part, were believed to be one of the best teams in the Western Conference, but injuries and an extremely competitive West led to the team needing a win over Denver on the last night of the season to sneak into the playoffs. In fact, they needed overtime and a heroic performance from Jimmy Butler to get it done. It remains to be seen if Butler’s return is enough to make Minnesota interesting once the playoffs start.
The mismatches are clear. Minnesota has a vastly better front court with one of the league’s premier big men in Karl Anthony-Towns. The Rockets have a clear advantage in the back court behind Harden, Paul and Eric Gordon. Houston is deeper and much more lethal on the offensive end. If Houston’s three-point attack falters, the Timberwolves might grab a game or two in this series. If it doesn’t, it’s not a stretch to say the Rockets are likely to sweep their way right into the second round.
(2)Golden State Warriors vs. (7) San Antonio Spurs
One of the most bizarre seasons in Spurs history nearly ended with the team’s record number of consecutive postseason appearances coming to an end. The Kawhi Leonard saga has many wondering what his future in San Antonio might be, and his absence makes it unlikely that the Spurs – no matter how brilliantly LaMarcus Aldridge plays – can overcome the defending champion Warriors.
Of course, the Warriors won’t be at full steam, either, as franchise cornerstone Steph Curry will be out nursing a knee injury. Fortunately for Golden State, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are all ready for action. Nonetheless, the Warriors ended the season winning just four of their last ten games, and that should give their faithful reason to have some anxiety entering postseason play.
Aldridge is likely to have a big series for the Spurs, and you can bet Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Pau Gasol will all blow the dust off of their aging games to help here and there. The Spurs are deeper, to be sure, but they are also significantly older, and that may well spell the key difference in this series. Don’t expect the Spurs to be swept, but beating the Warriors – even sans Curry – is more than they can pull off without Leonard.
(3)Portland Trailblazers vs. (6) New Orleans Pelicans
The most unlikely success stories in the Western Conference are the Portland Trailblazers and the New Orleans Pelicans, so it seems only appropriate that they should meet in the first round. The Blazers were struggling under the weight of big contracts for underperforming players at mid-season, right about the time that New Orleans lost DeMarcus Cousins for the season. Nonetheless, two teams that might have justifiably missing the playoffs are ready for the NBA’s big dance.
Simply put, the Blazers rode their tremendous back court into the postseason, with Damian Lillard putting up MVP numbers and CJ McCollum making a lethal complement to him. That’s a significant accomplishment, but will their buffet of mediocre forwards be able to hold down Anthony Davis and Nikola Mirotic, who ended the season by dominating LaMarcus Aldridge and the San Antonio Spurs?
The Pelicans didn’t waste time mourning over the loss of Cousins, instead landing Mirotic via trade and working him right in as an outstanding complement to Davis. Mirotic had one of the best months of his career in April, averaging 22.2 points per game and shooting over 53% from the field. Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday probably can’t stop Lillard, but they may be able to contain him enough to get an upset for the Pelicans in this match-up.
(4)Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Utah Jazz
Generally speaking, the four-five matchup is expected to be the most interesting in the first round of the playoffs, and that certainly promises to be the case with the West’s middle match-up. The Utah Jazz were one of the hottest teams in the NBA over the second half of the season, with rookie Donovan Mitchell playing like a seasoned veteran and Rudy Gobert showing why he’s one of the most underrated players in the NBA. They helped the Jazz win 22 of 25 games over a stretch from January to March, which also was the key to Utah’s return to postseason play.
The Thunder, too, took a while to hit their stride. The trio of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony looked rough at times, ugly at others, but ultimately came together for the stretch run. Westbrook is coming off his second straight season of averaging a triple-double (the first player to ever do that twice), and he will certainly give Mitchell a test like no others. George was scorching hot over the Thunder’s last two games and Anthony appears content to fill in the slack between his two superstar teammates.
On the surface, the Thunder look like more than a match for the Jazz, with three established stars ready to overwhelm the rookie and his dominant front court mate. Then again, the Jazz have overcome all expectations this season. OKC had best come ready to a fight.
Bill Ingram has 17 years of experience covering the NBA and is now a contributing writer for nbAradioshow.com. You can find him on Twitter: @TheRocketGuy.
FIVE LANDING SPOTS FOR KAWHI LEONARD
by Tracy Graven
Senior NBA Analyst
By now, nearly everyone in the world of NBA has heard, seen or known that Kawhi Leonard is seemingly unhappy with the situation in San Antonio.
A situation that his introverted personality may have caused the toxicity that is perceived as we try and make sense of this mess. Like picking up puzzle pieces made from soup with chopsticks and putting it back together piece by piece to get a complete picture - unscathed.
Usually - and by usually I mean in the last 25 years - there is no soap opera coming out of the Alamo City. None. Zero. Zilch.
Whether that’s because the organization is adamant that nothing is ever leaked, or because the culture is such that everyone gets along and works their differences out privately. Having spent time in San Antonio, and around that organization, I’d say it’s a little bit of both.
When you look up ‘model franchise,’ no matter the sport, you will always get the San Antonio Spurs. Same with the word ‘professional.’ That’s why this situation has me scratching my head ’til I start losing follicles.
Let’s assume the worst, that this breach is irreparable. The bridges are burned beyond recognition. That there’s a better chance of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un ironing out their differences before Leonard and the Spurs do.
One of those is actually happening.
Where would he go? I have a few places in mind.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
San Antonio has always been about center-centric basketball. There are those that will argue that LaMarcus Aldridge has already assumed the reins and the spurs in San Antonio. And I’ll give him that - he’s playing like he did when he was the marquee guy in Portland.
What if the Clips and the Spurs to come together on a deal that swaps principals like Leonard and DeAndre Jordan?
Leonard and Lou Williams in the backcourt in LaLa Land and San Antonio has it’s next big center. (Yes, I just made Leonard a 6’7” shooting guard instead of power forward).
Maybe it’s me and me alone longing for the return of a twin towers-like tandem not seen since Ralph Sampson and Hakeen Olajuwon. Aldridge and Jordan would make a nice tandem and would keep the Spurs out of a rebuild mode … or at least away from the perception of one.
NEW YORK KNICKS
Let’s face it, Tim Hardaway Jr. is not Kawhi Leonard, despite the fact that Hardaway is having a solid season this year in his second run with the Knicks.
Leonard and his career stat line of 16.2 points, 6.2 boards and 2.3 assists may be mundane to most people, which is why his lockdown defense would give Mark Jackson and the Knicks immediate help since most teams look forward to New York date(s) on their schedule as an easy ‘W.’
(Oops, did I let that slip? No disrespect, Jeff Hornacek, but the writing is on the wall, my friend).
As well, he may be a draw for someone like Jordan or LeBron James to consider a move to The Big Apple and Madison Square Garden and make the Knicks relevant once again.
The Cavs are going to be hurting when James leaves for brighter lights, better owner this summer. It wouldn’t hurt for Koby Altman to look at Leonard and maybe moving guys like Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver to the Spurs.
Factor in that they may be picking somewhere around the Top Ten in this summer’s draft - hell, with Cleveland’s luck, maybe the Top Three - and be able to look at a guy like Michael Porter or Trae Young to help Cavs fans forget that No. 23 left … again.
Leonard would keep the Cavs in the hunt in the East and keep fans in the seats.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Damian Lillard is all but screaming for help and it’s only a matter of time before this ‘Blazer for Life’ pulls a Kevin Durant and bounces out of Rip City. Could a backcourt mate like Leonard save Lillard?
C.J. McCollum has a similar career stat line to Leonard’s, but is adding to his stock this season at 21.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.2 dimes. But, he has to. Aside from Lillard, Portland has some nice - but expendable - pieces.
While they’re on a hell of a run now, we know how the story goes in one of the NBA’s smallest markets. People get tired of ‘almost.’ ‘Nice.’ ‘Mellow.’ No disrespect to these young fellow, but no one has gotten it done before someone got tired of trying in Portland.
Yep, even ‘Glide’ left to get a ring elsewhere.
Portland fans have waited for over four decades for another parade through the Rose City. Leonard, not McCollum, may be the missing piece. Erstwhile, McCollum (and Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu to name a few) may be the spark plug, chip-on-my-shoulder player the Spurs could utilize in replacing Leonard.
The Spurs could get a good look at those players up close if the 3-6 matchup remains as it stands today. Portland versus San Antonio with the Blazers having home court.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
How sweet would it be to have a lineup that features Leonard along with Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Carmelo Anthony, and Steven Adams?
How plausible is it that, in exchange for a talent like Leonard, the teams can orchestrate a swap of Leonard for Paul George?
How realistic is it that the professor (R.C. Buford) does business with his prize pupil (Sam Presti) in the first place?
Sign a guy like Tony Allen for good measure.
None very likely. But it’s my fantasy and you need to stop messing with it.
An addition like Leonard is just what the Thunder need to get next level. It may cost them George or Anthony. Presto has to get something for one or both, at least not let George dissolve into an L.A. sunset like Durant did when he left for Golden State, a ring, and an NBA Finals MVP.
(Okay, that worked out for him).
While it’s the least feasible scenario, it’s one of the most intriguing to me.
Even if such a swap cost the Thunder Steven Adams, they could chase Allen and Denver’s Kenneth Faried as replacements and the Thunder not only get a tad quicker, but with the combination of Leonard, Allen and Roberson, they raise their defense to the level of Westbrook’s athleticism … and expectation.
After all, Westbrook too will soon tire of ‘almost.’
Of course, there’s the outside chance that players meetings aside, public grousing and the brooding photos that have overshadowed the Spurs’ success this season simply fade into the background of the 2017-18 season and we’re all being silly.
The Spurs’ professionalism and the type of people they employ, the integrity of the organization, and the fact that their fans adore them as the only game in town may make this less of a story than it is.
I firmly believe they still want Leonard in the fold.
Question is, the oft-silent Leonard may not feel the same and Buford may be forced to get something for the nothing he’s gotten in all but nine games this season.
For the last few seasons the participants in the NBA Finals have been fairly predictable. The Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers entered play as the teams to beat and no one proved up to the challenge of beating them. In many ways, the regular season was just a countdown to the highly-anticipated showdown between the league’s two dominant teams. This season, however, internal turmoil in Cleveland and injuries in Oakland have given fans pause as they contemplate that final showdown in the NBA’s bracket. Here are five teams that could make some unexpected noise in postseason play:
The Utah Jazz
No team in the NBA has been as surprising this season as the Utah Jazz. Left for dead following Gordon Hayward’s exit for the greener pastures of Boston, Utah was expected to be in the running for another lottery pick. As it turned out, the last first round pick they acquired was more than enough. Donovan Mitchell has been superb, and far from hitting a rookie wall, he has gotten better down the stretch when games mattered more. Rudy Gobert is proving to be one of the best unsung talents in the league, as well. The duo of Mitchell and Gobert and the deep roster around them promise to make the first round interesting for whichever team they match up against.
The Portland Trail Blazers
Midway through the season it looked like the only thing happening in Portland was a decent case that Damian Lillard would be looking for an escape clause sooner rather than later. Sure, backcourt mate CJ McCollum has grown into an outstanding talent under the tutelage of Terry Stotts, but the rest of the roster left much to be desired. Down the stretch, however, the rest of the starting lineup has stepped up to meet their backcourt’s intensity and the Blazers have been on quite a tear and as of this writing they sit in the West’s third seed . . .a real shocker! It’s unlikely they can make it past the second round, but could they take out the right first round matchup? Absolutely.
The Indiana Pacers
Darren Collison had an offer on the table from the Orlando Magic last summer, and when we were talking about it I told him he should probably jump on that. He was looking for a team ready to win right away, however, and when he chose a subsequent offer from Indiana I questioned his logic.
Obviously, he knew what he was doing.
Indiana has been one of the better teams in the East this season and is very much in the running for home court advantage. It’s unlikely that they would finish lower than fifth, and will almost certainly play the coming-of-age Philadelphia 76ers in the first round. That might just prove to be the best first round matchup in the conference.
The San Antonio Spurs
Didn’t expect to find this name on the list, did you? While the Spurs continue to be mainstays in the Western Conference playoff picture, their days of contending seem to be over. Over, that is, unless Kawhi Leonard returns to the line which was tailor-made to complement him.
LaMarcus Aldridge really stepped up when it looked like is team might slip out of the West’s top eight, but Aldridge alone is not enough to get San Antonio out of the first round. Add a healthy Leonard, however, and this could drastically change . . . particularly with the Warriors hurting and every team not name Houston vulnerable in one way or another.
If Leonard’s mysterious absence continues, the Spurs are likely to be first round fodder. If it doesn’t, the Spurs could very well make a deep playoff run.
The Oklahoma City Thunder
It took a long time for the Thunder to hit their stride after so many offseason changes. The additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony were no-brainers (give the cost of the latter), but it wasn’t clear for a while that OKC’s trio of stars could truly complement each other.
Like other teams in this list, the Thunder figured it out just in time. It’s too early to say they will lock in home court advantage, but it’s certainly possible. They have the firepower to hand with the high-scoring Rockets, a front court that could challenge the Warriors and the veteran savvy to avoid blinking when big games are on the line.
George and Russell Westbrook are as tough to handle as any players in the NBA, and with Anthony waiting to knock down open shots they promise to be as difficult a trio to stop as any in the brutal West. A team that looked flawed for the first three or four months of the season has come together down the stretch to make things interesting . . .very interesting . . .in the West’s playoff chase.
Bill Ingram has 17 years of experience covering the NBA and is now a contributing writer for nbAradioshow.com. You can find him on Twitter: @TheRocketGuy
Since when does turf toe become more important than mental health?
As Kevin Love took the time to spell out his experiences with panic attacks, he set the sporting world ablaze with a new awareness of something that has likely been happening to athletes and the general populace at large, yet seemingly goes unnoticed - or worse yet - ignored.
What is a panic attack exactly?
It is an episode of intense fear or apprehension that is of sudden onset. A sudden feeling of acute and disabling anxiety. It triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.
They may be accompanied by palpitations, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, and numbness. There may be a fear of losing control or chest pain.
Panic attacks themselves are not dangerous physically.
Tell that to Kevin Love. To Royce White. Hell, tell that to me.
The first time I experienced one was about three years ago. When you don’t know about panic attacks, that they are even a thing, and you experience one for the first time out of nowhere, it’s easy to think you’re having a heart attack.
And I can’t speak to Kevin Love’s first-ever panic attack or anyone else’s for that matter, but when I experienced mine and my son was with me, all I thought about were two things - (1) I don’t want my son to see me go through this and/or die in front of my son, but (2) I was damn glad he was there at my side and be the steadying focal point that got me through it and convinced me to go to the hospital and see just what the hell was going on with my body.
It’s often said that worrying won’t stop the bad things from happening, it only stops you from enjoying the good. Easier quoted than done, however.
People that experience this variant of mental illness - yes, I said it - mental illness are unable to process a simple quote like that because of their genetical makeup that causes them to have illness like anxiety, depression, ADHD/ADD, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety, eating disorders, and yes, seasonal affective disorder.
Society as a whole tends to avoid the term ‘mental illness’ because of political correctness. Instead they say ‘mental health.’ But there’s a marked difference and it often gets lost in the avoidance of calling it what it truly is - an illness.
So let’s take a breather and look at the difference between the two:
Mental Health (ˈmen-tᵊl \ ˈhelth): the condition of being sound mentally and emotionally that is characterized by the absence of mental illness and by adequate adjustment especially as reflected in feeling comfortable about oneself, positive feelings about others, and the ability to meet the demands of daily life; also : the general condition of one's mental and emotional state.
Mental Illness (ˈmen-tᵊl \ ˈil-nəs): any of a broad range of medical conditions (such as major depression, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, or panic disorder) that are marked primarily by sufficient disorganization of personality, mind, or emotions to impair normal psychological functioning and cause marked distress or disability and that are typically associated with a disruption in normal thinking, feeling, mood, behavior, interpersonal interactions, or daily functioning.
That’s about as stark a difference as there is between a torn ACL, plantar fasciitis, and turf toe.
Plantar Fasciitis (ˈplan-tər \ ‘fa-shē-ˈī-təs): inflammation of the dense fibrous band of tissue of the sole of the foot that is marked especially by heel or arch pain.
Turf Toe (‘tərf \ ˈtō): a minor but painful usually sports-related injury typically involving hyperextension of the big toe that results in spraining or tearing of the ligaments at the joint between the metatarsal and basal phalanx.
Yet most athletes get a free pass when it comes to a sprained toe or finger - two to five games ‘rest’ - than they do if they experience any of the aforementioned forms of mental illness.
That befuddles me.
Especially as someone who experiences panic attacks and manic depression.
So I turned to Dr. Travis Heath, a professor in the psychology department at Metropolitan State University in Denver, Colorado to shed some light on why professional coaches, GMs, and owners seemingly turn a blind eye to this issue.
“It seems to me the NBA wants to feel like they’re doing something, so most the teams are connected in some ways with psychologists, but it’s kind of an informal thing,” said Heath.
We discussed how quickly a team physician is on the case when an athlete is injured, and it’s possible that teams have a team psychologist on hand. But a lot of times, those doctors are mostly utilized to help young men transition from high school or a year of college to major league sports like the NBA. Other specialists to help young athletes go from being poor and middle class to having millions of dollars at their disposal, and how to avoid the gold diggers and ‘new friends’ that come with that lifestyle.
Yet we all know how well that hasn’t worked for many an athlete, who can have millions upon millions and then end up in bankruptcy. Just ask people like Latrell Sprewell, Vince Young, Kenny Anderson, Sheryl Swoopes, or even Scottie Pippen who blew over $120 million in career earnings and was forced into bankruptcy.
Each has their own story, and each likely was surrounded by advisors and counselors who arguably were a part of that gold digging bunch they were warning against - at $300-500 an hour.
So what about putting your client first? Agents and advisors are rarely in it for the long haul like that.
As I’ve been in NBA arenas for the past 17 years, I’ve rarely seen those people there putting in the hours. You know who does? The trainers, like Aaron Nelson in Phoenix with the Suns. I watched that guy work miracles on Amar’e Stoudemire’s knee, among others.
The team physician? In. Out. Here’s the bill.
“Everyone is going through something that we can’t see.
Mental health is an invisible thing, but it touches all of
us at some point or another.” ―Kevin Love
And then there’s Royce White, arguably one of the best talents to come out of the NCAA via Iowa State. Sadly, many will never know of his talent because White was seemingly and inexplicably swept under the rug due to mental health issues.
Even the last three words of that last sentence sound like a negative connotation.
Only negative because of how it was handled.
White had anxiety over flying in an airplane. Many people not named Royce White experience that same thing every day. But those people didn’t sign an NBA contract and aren’t subject to ‘doing what they’re told to do,’ which is how White’s situation was perceived from the outside.
White was a first round pick (No. 16) of the Houston Rockets. He missed the first week of training camp due to this issue. After negotiation and consultation, the Rockets allowed White to travel by bus when it was feasible to assuage his anxiety over flying.
But White’s frustration wasn’t just with the airplanes. It was bigger than that. How could NBA officials address mental health issues when they weren’t even understanding them? Not trained to deal with issues like White’s.
How does that affect Kevin Love? Or Serena Williams? Wide receiver Brandon Marshall? Or the WNBA’s Imani Boyette, who has experienced similar issues along with self-harm.
“You feel like because you’re not happy — when you should be happy — that you’re hurting people around you and a burden,” she said in a Huffington Post interview. “What people don’t realize about suicide is that it’s like you’re brainwashed. None of my attempts made sense, but it feels like the perfect answer to make the pain stop in the moment. You think it will all be better if you can just disappear.”
I’ve certainly gone through many of the emotions that these big names have.
I am nobody. I don’t have a stage like Imani Boyette. Or Kevin Love. Or Dr. Travis Heath.
But one major professional sport has taken the lead, a lead others in the NBA and other professional sports leagues should sorely consider if they haven’t already.
“Major League Baseball is already ahead of the curve,” noted Dr. Heath. “They have a place on disabled lists for players with mental health issues. They’ve had it for a few years now. Dontrelle Willis has gone on it with anxiety and I think the NBA ought to try to take a page out of that book.
“The NBA is following the path of society at large, I think. There are some great mental health professionals out there. It’s just getting the organizations to use them as part of their staff.”
The NBA has something on their side today that should begin to shed the light on this subject that it surely needs - Commissioner Adam Silver.
Though Silver was Commissioner at the White endured his frustrations, the NBA’s big boss has shown himself to be a very compassionate individual and has done something few professional athletic commissioners do.
Silver evolves to do what is best for the sport. He embraces the change that is necessary for a professional league like the NBA to keep moving forward.
“Yeah, I’m a huge fan of his, to be honest with you,” said Heath, a clinical psychologist himself. “It takes time, of course, to see policies change. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see (this addressed) in the next couple of years. He’s been on top of all the issues he’s needed to be on top of, and I think he’s going to be on top of this issue.”
What happened on January 20, 2018 in Oklahoma City, only Kevin Love knows. He knows what caused him to leave the game just three minutes into it. Only he and God know. You could speculate back spasms or migraines, but those are symptoms of panic attacks. He did not specifically point to that incident in OKC in his article, but those who know know that it was a panic attack.
What occurred afterward, in my opinion, is inexcusable.
In the team meeting that followed that 148-124 blowout, players outwardly accused Love of faking things. Fast forward to the video snippet last week of LeBron James having a heated discussion ‘at,’ not ‘with’ head coach Tyronn Lue on the Cavaliers bench and we may be seeing a culture in Cleveland that causes coaches to step aside and star players to consider leaving.
If so, it’s coming from the top down. That’s where change has to come from. Where understanding has to come from. Where compassion has to come from.
In Cleveland, it’s Dan Gilbert. Good luck.
In the league, it’s Commissioner Silver … and I believe he’ll lead the way in a way no one else will on this.
To his credit, once Love came forth with his Players Tribune article, LeBron James certainly showed one of his best moments of leadership as a player, teammate, and human being when he tweeted out this affirmation of love and support:
You’re even more powerful now than ever before @kevinlove!!! Salute and respect brother! ✊🏾💪🏾🙏🏾 https://twitter.com/kevinlove/status/971007457773400064 …
12:01 PM - Mar 6, 2018
That’s where it starts. Love, who’d been a target of criticism in the locker room and in the public via social media may have just found that in the end, it’s bigger than basketball.
Something he’s known all along, but just got the endorsement from the biggest name in the game.
The ball is now in Commissioner Silver’s court. Hopefully, he can follow LeBron’s leadership in understanding and compassion, and realize that at the end of the day, we’re all just people trying to get through our own adversities, to find someone who gets us, and have them help spread the message about how great we are as individuals …
Royce White has moved on to the NBL Canada’s London Lightning. He finished the season recording four triple doubles. The Lightning won their third NBL title with White on the team. He re-signed with the Lightning for 2017-18. (Most NBL teams travel by bus - most of the time).
Love? Well, he dropped 23 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, four assists and shot four of six from the arc last night up north against the East-leading Raptors. He looked good, and if he continues like that, Love very well may be the key cog in the Cavaliers returning to the NBA Finals this June.
No pressure there, fellow Oregonian.
Whether we score 132 and take down the top team in the East, leave 148 on the table in Oklahoma City, or are simply trying to put five solid citizens into this crazy, screwed up world we live in, it ought to be as Kevin Love said:
“What you do for a living doesn’t have to define who you are. This is an everyone thing. No matter what our circumstances, we’re all carrying around things that hurt — and they can hurt us if we keep them buried inside. Not talking about our inner lives robs us of really getting to know ourselves and robs us of the chance to reach out to others in need.”
My bi-weekly look at all things NBA
BLAZERS - TY LUE - NBA DRAFT - JORDAN - I.T.
By: Tracy Graven - Senior NBA Analyst
RED HOT & ROLLIN’
All due respect to Bill Schonely, I just had to borrow the phrase for my hometown Portland Trailblazers, who have arguably the hottest streak going in the league right now. Thirteen straight wins over teams that a jockeying for playoff spots in both the East and West.
While some have come against those positioning themselves for the best draft position - purposely or otherwise - some of them have been damned impressive: Beating the Heat by 16, tripping up the Warriors by six before All Star and again by 17 with both wins coming inside the comfy confines of the Moda Center.
But add to that the fact that the Blazers overcame LeBron “I have no respect for humanity” James’ dunk to open the game last Thursday and best the Cavs by eight, while wins over Minnesota and Oklahoma City were equally as impressive.
Damian Lillard, looking like a Most Valuable Player candidate in on of the NBA’s smallest markets, is sporting a 26.7 point, 6.5 assist, and 4.4 rebound stat line this season and the Blazers have a never-say-die mindset.
While that not get James to consider Portland in free agency, it certainly has the King’s attention. “Give me Damian Lillard. I’ll show you how appreciated he’ll be.”
The Blazers are perched at the No. 3 seed in the West. But to show how tenuous the West is, San Antonio sat there a mere two weeks ago - now at No. 7.
Lillard and the Blazers host James Harden and the Houston Rockets tomorrow night and the Boston Celtics on Friday. Should be a defining week for Portland.
‘HEALTH REASONS’ MY AUNT FANNY
I have spent 35+ years in the working world. I’ve used a sick day once - about a month ago when I came down with this nasty flu that’s hit nearly everyone this year.
I never get sick enough to call in, much less ‘step down.’ But when I do, I know what the hell is wrong. Even if it’s cancer, I have vowed to myself and my bosses that I will work at least until noon the day of my funeral.
But not getting sleep? Chest pains? Anxiety? That’s all part of the job in the NBA. It’s all part of the job in any line of work.
Tyronn Lue is stepping down from the Cleveland Cavaliers’ head coaching position temporarily to deal with some ‘health issues.’
Does that have anything to do with the screamfest between Lue and LeBron James on the Cavs bench the other night?
Starting to believe that the Deep State issue isn’t in Washington, DC - but in Cleveland, Ohio.
Conspiracy theorists have said for months that Lue is just a figurehead for James, who is truly calling the shots on the floor and on the Cleveland bench. The verbal altercation that spread like wildfire on social media did nothing to dispute that. There are those who also feel general manager Koby Altman is a likewise figurehead/fall guy for owner Dan Gilbert, who is seemingly satisfied with his one ring and no longer has a use for James.
Lue and Altman appear to be the wall between the warring Gilbert and James. President Trump wishes he had a wall this firm and reliable.
While the fallout from all this soap opera drama will most likely play out as soon as the clock strikes 12:00:01 a.m. on July 1, 2018, we hope that Lue can catch up on his rest and maybe by then, he can fully explain his health issues.
Judging by the video snippet from the other night, I’m guessing he’s hiding in a locker until free agency, hoping not to get his ass kicked by the schoolyard bully.
The Cavs will take on the Milwaukee Bucks tonight at The Q. They also host Toronto on Wednesday night and Phoenix this Friday evening. Larry Drew will replace Lue on the bench during his hiatus.
While big names like Trae Young and DeAndre Ayton were in and out of the NCAA Tournament before you could even crack open your first beer, their positions of consideration in June’s upcoming NBA Draft weren’t moved by their early exits.
I still expect Ayton to go No. 1, Marvin Bagley to go No.2, and Young to end up with the New York Knicks or Chicago Bulls.
But how fun would Young be as a Dallas Maverick? Down the road from his Norman, Oklahoma home and paired with Dennis Smith, the Mavs would have a true backcourt not seen since the days of Jason Kidd and Jimmy Jackson.
I’d say Rolando Blackmon and Derek Harper but kids these days don’t know nor understand greatness like those guys.
The lottery is lined up with big men this year, like Ayton (7’0”), Bagley (6’11”), Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson, Jr. (6’11”), Texas’ Mohamed Bamba (7’0”) and Mizzou’s Michael Porter (6’10”) who is coming back from injury just in time for the Madness.
But players from mid-level schools like Nevada and Loyola-Chicago are still dancing with the big boys from which most of your draft pool will come from. No one had a bigger game last night than Texas A&M’s 6’9” 240 lb. Robert Williams as he and the Aggies stunned last year’s National Champion North Carolina by 21 to move on to face Michigan in Los Angeles’ Staples Center this Thursday night.
Catch the guys that are still playing in the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight this weekend. There are guys you’ll be talking a lot about as the Draft approaches.
Blink and they’ll be gone.
SPEAKING OF DEANDRE
Why am I the only one who thinks that DeAndre Jordan - currently languishing in L.A. without a designated State Farm agent - should be the next big thing the Knicks should be chasing?
His 2017-18 number are well ahead of his career pace and the Knicks haven’t had a big bruiser like Jordan since Patrick Ewing. I mean Tyson Chandler and Dikembe Mutombo gave plausible efforts, Amar’e Stoudemire was as undersized in New York as he was in Phoenix, and Kurt Thomas was 10x the man Joacim Noah was/is … but none of them were Ewing. Marcus Camby is as close as the Knicks got.
Granted, Jordan has a long way to go to fill the shoes of Ewing, but what a stage on which to do it. There’s none better than Madison Square Garden.
Jordan’s current contract has a player option this summer. While he may be regretting what he did to Mark Cuban and the Mavs, he’s certainly not going to be happy in L.A. without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin there. Even if you use $24,119,025 as tissues, you’ll eventually run out.
No money and no ring.
And Jordan could be a hell of a draw to someone like LeBron James this summer.
(Finally. Jordan and James in a sentence that doesn’t ignite a G.O.A.T. Twitter storm).
Forget Jordan to Cleveland when both could shine in the revival of the storied Knicks franchise. Factor in Kristaps Porzingis playing at the ‘4’ and the exciting play of a drafted Trae Young getting worked in alongside guys like Tim Hardaway, Jr. or Frank Ntilikina or Emmanuel Mudiay (one or two would most certainly go in such a trade) and the Knicks could have a reversal of fortune faster than - pardon the pun - a New York Minute.
You could fire Jeff Hornacek. Keep Jeff Hornacek. Or do what they do in Cleveland and pretend Hornacek is the coach and listen to LeBron James running the show.
Regardless, it would make New York Knickerbockers basketball fun again. Relevant again.
In the meantime, the irrelevant version of your New York Knicks play Da Bulls tonight in MSG before heading on the road to take on the Miami Heat on Wednesday and back to the Garden to face Minnesota on Friday.
Those teams have solid big men (Hassan Whiteside, Karl Anthony Towns). The Knicks have Kyle O’Quinn and Enes Kanter.
They need DJ.
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME
It’s no secret that Isaiah Thomas is missing Boston. So much so that it’s rumored that he may be headed back to the Land of Green as soon as next season.
Feeling very under-appreciated from being traded, from 15 games in Cleveland where he never fit, and in Los Angeles where he’s definitely not a Sixth Man, it’d take more than a fan coaxing on Twitter to get Thomas back in shamrock green.
That under appreciation stigma started with Danny Ainge, who traded Thomas to get his hands-on Kyrie Irving. Who could blame Ainge? Irving has proven his worth and helped in the maturation and assimilation of guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
But there a hundred different ways he could have handled it. Thomas proved his worth as well. And he was endeared to the fans because Thomas bled green. After being bounced around from three seasons in Sacramento and then 46 games in guard-heavy Phoenix, Thomas genuinely found a home in Boston.
Though he is posting numbers this season (15.3 ppg, 4.9 apg, 2.1 rpg) below his career averages of 18.9 points, 5.1 dimes, and 2.6 rebounds, let me remind you this cat is coming off hip surgery. You may recall that hip injuries and breaks are what take down many of our parents and grandparents. They’re not turf toe.
And Paul George isn’t exactly who he was pre-injury … yet teams like Thomas’ Lakers are clamoring for him. Perspective. We all need it. And I.T. just needs a little love. Maybe it’s in Boston, maybe it’s elsewhere.
His current team, the Los Angeles Lakers, travel to face George’s former team in Indianapolis tonight, and then travel to the Big Easy to take on Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans this Thursday night.
Eric Gordon: Houston Rockets Ready for Golden State Warriors
The Houston Rockets appear to be a team on a mission, a mission they haven’t legitimately been on since Hakeem Olajuwon patrolled the paint and struck fear into any player daring to have aspirations of scoring in the paint. The “Dream Shake” has long since been replaced by “The Beard” and his Euro-step, but no one expected the latter to hang a banner in the rafter of the Toyota Center . . .until now.
“No question, we have that chance,” Rockets guard Eric Gordon told NBARadioShow.com of his team beating the defending champion Golden State Warriors. “We’ve beaten them twice this year and we should have beaten them three times. We know that they’re a good team and they’ve been to the Finals three or four years in a row. We know what’s in front of us, but we’ve just got to stay healthy and take care of now and see what happens.”
A big part of the reason for the Rockets’ success is having the reigning sixth-man of the year coming off the bench as both a scoring and defensive juggernaut.
“You don’t win in this league without your bench being strong, and he’s really strong,” Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told NBARadioShow.com. “He could start for any other team. He’s played at a really high level, and you know, what goes overlooked because you get into the sixth-man race and you talk about stats, he’s one of the better defensive players in the league. That’s half the game, so half the game he’s better than anybody. Then, what he gives us offensively, defensively, he can be the backup point guard; he’s very versatile and very valuable for us.”
Together with Chris Paul, Gordon has helped establish a culture of defense that hasn’t existed in Houston since the league’s all-time blocked shot leader was doing his deadly dance around the basket. Olajuwon brought two championships the Houston with his defensive mindset, and the Rockets have once again built a strong defensive team around a premier offensive player.
“We have a better crew defensively, we have guys who are two-way players and I think that’s why we play with a little more edge and we’re a better team this year,” said Gordon. “It’s to the point where we all have to play defense to win a championship. That’s why we’re all here. We’re going to have to play defense. We know James is the best offensively, but at the end of the day, if we want to win, we all have to play good defense.”
D’Antoni credits Gordon with being a primary instigator of the Rockets’ vastly improved defense.
“He takes the hard guy. He saves Chris a little bit, saves James, and he takes all the work on. It just amazes me how we evaluate things in the league. We’ve got one of the best players in the league, being sixth [man], one, two or three, whatever you want to say, and people say he doesn’t have quite some number . . .give me a break.”
For Gordon, who is having the greatest success of his NBA career, it has been all about finding the right fit. He started his career with a struggling Los Angeles Clippers team, then landed in the middle of a rebuild as part of the trade that sent Chris Paul to LA and Gordon to the New Orleans Hornets. He struggled with a knee injury for much of his first two seasons in New Orleans when expectations for him were at an all-time high.
“I knew I would get to 100% again, it was just a matter of time and being in a better situation,” said Gordon. “I was in New Orleans, when I first got there I was ‘the guy,’ then all these injuries and we had all these young guys, a young team trying to figure it out along the way. We actually got better during the end of my time there, the last two years, but now I’m on a better team that wants me to be the best that I can be and they really use me as one of their key guys. That’s been the biggest difference is the mentality here with the Rockets and they just want what’s best for me.”
Putting Gordon in the situation that’s best for him has also meant putting the Rockets in the best position to win. He’s the clear frontrunner for Sixth-Man of the Year again this season, is among the league’s best three-point threats and has proven to be part of as deadly a “big three” as any in the league.
“That’s why I chose to come off the bench, to make us a better and deeper team,” said Gordon. “I know if I went somewhere else I would definitely start, but for us to have a chance to be a championship caliber team [this is better]. I’m going to score whether I start of come off the bench, it doesn’t really matter to me, it’s just all about being in a really good situation.”
The Rockets currently have the best record in the NBA, they’ve clinched a playoff berth and they have taken out the defending champion Golden State Warriors in two of their three matchups. It’s a far cry from winning a title, but it certainly bodes well for the Rockets as the playoffs approach.
A really good situation, indeed.
Bill Ingram has 17 years of experience covering the NBA and is now a contributing writer for nbAradioshow.com. You can find him on Twitter: @TheRocketGuy
If there was any doubt that Houston Rockets’ star James Harden is this year’s MVP, those doubts were cast aside this week. His jaw-dropping crossover against the Clippers left more than Wesley Johnson in a heap on the floor, it also left the rest of the MVP field in the dust.
Harden continues to play well on both ends of the floor, though his offensive exploits are always the bigger story. He has the Rockets playing like a well-oiled machine, having flawlessly adapted to a backcourt with Chris Paul also running point. The defensive end, however, is where Harden and the Rockets have made the most improvement.
The Boston Celtics appeared to have the key to ending Houston’s 14-game winning streak on Saturday, as the Rockets trailed by six late in the fourth quarter. The Rockets used their defense to spark a 10-2 run to close the game that extended the season-long winning streak to 15 games. Harden had an off night shooting, hitting just 6-of-18 from the field and 3-for-12 from three, but he contributed 10 rebounds, seven assists and five steals, all of which proved invaluable in the Rockets’ most impressive win of the streak.
The Rockets enter this week as the hottest team in the NBA, also leading the Western Conference by a half-game over the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Even as the Rockets are proving they are for real night after night, Harden is sending a message to the rest of the league that this is his year. It’s time for Harden to join Hakeem Olajuwon and Moses Malone among the ranks of NBA Most Valuable Players.
Game to watch this week: Friday night’s visit to the East-leading Toronto Raptors.
This week reports surfaced that talks between Jordan Brand shoes and Spurs’ star Kawhi Leonard have stalled. Leonard’s camp wants a signature shoe to go along with a four-year extension worth in excess of $20 million. The report said it’s “unclear” whether Leonard wants to stay with Brand Jordan.
That’s not all that’s unclear about Kawhi Leonard these days.
Like those contract extension talks, the San Antonio Spurs have stalled. The team is perfectly constructed to complement Leonard is practically every way. They are not, however, built to have much success without him. Losers of eight of their last ten games, the Spurs are on the verge of being knocked out of the playoff picture as the Utah Jazz and LA Clippers are pushing to get into the West’s top eight.
The big question on everyone’s mind, of course, is: Where is Kawhi Leonard?!?
Leonard has been cleared to play, yet Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich says he doesn’t expect his star player to return this season. LaMarcus Aldridge is good, but he’s never truly embraced the role of star player. Around him are role players and aging stars who could probably make a deep playoff run if Leonard were healthy and in All-Star form. Without Leonard, however, the Spurs might just miss the playoffs altogether.
The folks at Brand Jordan appear to have questions about how much to invest in a player who has logged just nine games this season and is now refusing to play. Fans of the San Antonio Spurs, who aren’t accustomed to their team missing the playoffs, have similar questions.
The news that Dirk Nowitzki currently plans to play one more season for the Dallas Mavericks should be cause for celebration, but it also arguably keeps the Mavs’ long-term future on hold. The devotion between the Mavs and the best player in their franchise’s history is rare and wonderful. Is it the best thing for both parties, though?
One player who does not seem likely to figure into the Mavs’ long-term plan is Nerlens Noel. Noel has been less than stellar since returning to the lineup last week and there’s little doubt that failing to offer him the max deal he sought last summer was the right move for Dallas. The Mavericks’ search for a long-term solution at center continues. Luckily, there is a wealth of them available in this summer’s NBA Draft.
There is a positive for Dallas, however, as the season winds down. They actually got a win last week, taking out the Indiana Pacers 109-103 thanks in large part to the play of recent acquisition Doug McDermott. McDermott dropped in 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting and has been a solid addition in his short time in Dallas. It remains to be seen whether or not that was the tanking Mavs’ last win of the season.
Bill Ingram has 17 years of experience covering the NBA and is now a contributing writer for nbAradioshow.com. You can find him on Twitter: @TheRocketGuy
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