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Warriors taking a page from past Finals success stories

Golden State's willingness to listen to suggestions and make lineup changes has helped put it on the cusp of an NBA title

POSTED: Jun 15, 2015 11:07 AM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst

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This was before the crisis, after the Golden State Warriors won Game 1 of The Finals and looked like they'd be making quick work of the Cleveland Cavaliers, rolling to a ring.

"I think it starts with (coach) Steve (Kerr), and Steve having this beautiful vision of how he wanted his staff filled," Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton was saying.

As Walton tells it, Kerr said you build a winning environment by brainstorming, encouraging everyone in the room to express their opinions, no matter their title.

"The video guys, if they have an opinion, bring it to the table," Walton said.

A week later, the video guy had an opinion.

Warriors vs. Cavaliers Game 3

LeBron James scores 40 points, grabs 12 rebounds and dishes out 8 assists as the Cavs defeat the Warriors 96-91 in Game 3.

During the proceeding seven days, Cleveland had slowed The Finals to a crawl. LeBron James was milking the clock, play after play, backing down Golden State's defenders, waiting to make a shoot-or-pass decision. And more often than not, he made the right one. Matthew Delllavadova was diving on everything orange, harassing Steph Curry, making 3-pointers. Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson were outplaying Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green. The Cavs went up 2-1. They had Game 4 at home. Golden State was in trouble.

But the video guy had an opinion.

His name is Nick U'Ren, and he's not just "the video guy." His official title is Special Assistant to the Head Coach, and Manager of Advanced Scouting. When Kerr took the Warriors' job last year, one of the first things he did was get U'Ren from Phoenix, where he was the Suns' video director and where Kerr had known him while serving as the Suns' GM.

Kerr's belief in U'Ren is total; he does the video cutups the coaches show to the team, including the splicing in of embarrassing clips both of players and coaches -- on and off the court -- that break up the monotony of video sessions.

Cavaliers vs. Warriors: Game 2

LeBron James' triple-double (39 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists) led the Cavaliers to the overtime victory over the Warriors 95-93.

And it was U'Ren who suggested the Warriors bench their center, Bogut, who started 65 games in the regular season and each of the Warriors' playoff games. In his place would go Andre Iguodala, who'd spent all season -- at Kerr's urging -- getting used to the idea of not starting, as he had his entire career.

The idea was simple: the Warriors were playing in mud, with no flow on offense. By starting Iguodala, and moving Green from power forward to center, Golden State would be small, but it would be much quicker and able to move the ball the way it had most of the season.

Kerr pulled the trigger. And the Warriors took off.

They dominated the fourth quarters of the last two games, and after Sunday's 104-91 win, are a game away from the franchise's first championship in 40 years. The change in the lineup changed the series. And it was indicative of the lengths coaches will go in the playoffs and Finals, turning a season's work on its head to change the calculus.

GameTime: The Iggy Effect

The GameTime Crew discuss Andre Iguodala's big impact in Game 4 offensively and defensively and also Talk about J.R. Smith's up and down play.

The playoffs are different from the regular season because they're more physical and more tightly officiated. But the main reason they're different is that you're playing the same team over and over. If you have a bad night during the regular season, chances are you'll get a different opponent the next night. But you can't have four bad nights in May and June, playing the same way against the same team. If something isn't working, the pressure to change becomes immense.

"We thought the small lineup would spark, get our guys in rhythm," Walton said after Golden State's breakthrough Game 4 win. "We knew we would get hurt on the glass, but we really wanted to not play from behind. It's hard to play from behind against LeBron James."

Making a lineup change at any point in a season can be daunting for a coach and his staff. The egos of NBA players are, charitably, large. The 15th man on every team believes he is better than the All-Star starter on his own team, not to mention players elsewhere. Throw in the chaos that can result when someone who hasn't started all season is suddenly thrust into the lineup -- changing defensive assignments as well as offensive responsibilities -- and the potential for a blowup is immense.

The Warriors had used the small lineup during the season -- but to finish games, not to start them, after they had seen everything their opponents could throw at them.

Phantom Cam: Andre Iguodala In Game 4

Take a look back at Andre Iguodala in Game 4 of the Finals through the lens of the super slow-motion phantom cam!

"If it was slow, and it was February, and we didn't have it, that was our spark," Walton said. "They'd come out, they'd switch, they'd get after people, and we'd take off."

Iguodala gave the Warriors another rim-attacker in transition and floor-spacer whose presence in the corners would spread the court for Curry and Klay Thompson. And he was already logging big minutes guarding James.

But for James, a change by the opponent in The Finals was nothing new. The Mavericks threw J.J. Barea into the starting lineup ahead of DeShawn Stevenson in the 2011 Finals and Dallas ultimately upset Miami 4-2 in the series.

In the 2014 Finals, the San Antonio Spurs moved Boris Diaw into the lineup over center Tiago Splitter, looking to create more ballhandling and playmaking against Miami's tough halfcourt defense. With Diaw as the catalyst, San Antonio blew the Heat off the court in the last three games of The Finals, winning the series 4-1.

"Well, it's an adjustment for sure," James said Saturday. "It's much more of an adjustment on the fly because you're not quite sure that a team is going to do that, so you've been preparing for a certain lineup and they're able to make the switch. So it kind of makes the lineups and the preparation a little bit different for the guys that are covering him."

2014 Finals Recap

The guys breakdown the NBA Finals and the amazing performance of the San Antonio Spurs.

The Warriors' change took the starch out of the Cavs' attack and the ball out of James' hands. Cleveland stayed big in Game 4, but downsized in Game 5. Neither strategy worked well enough consistently enough.

"In this case with our big, Timo and Tristan (Thompson), Timo's starting off on Iggy, it's a different match up than Bogut, obviously," James said. "You've got a guy that's primarily on the perimeter in Game 4 versus guarding a guy that's always in the paint, for the most part, unless he's initiating offense."

Sometimes the change comes too late. In the 1996 Finals, Seattle Sonics coach George Karl switched Gary Payton onto Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan -- who'd averaged 31 points per game on 46 percent shooting the first three games of the Finals -- for Game 4. But by then, the Bulls had a 3-0 series lead. Seattle fought back and won the next two games, but Chicago ended the series at home in Game 6.

And sometimes it just doesn't work. Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson went with Devin Harris at the point in 2006 against Miami, hoping a three-guard lineup would slow down Dwyane Wade. It didn't and the Heat closed out the Mavericks in six games.

Five years later, another Mavs coach, Rick Carlisle, had better results switching up against Miami.

In 2011, Dallas faced a huge challenge: how to defend Miami's newly formed SuperFriends -- James, Wade and Chris Bosh -- in The Finals.

Mavs Run To 2011 Title

Relive the historic 2011 Dallas Mavericks championship run.

"The series shaped up in a way that matchups were a problem," Carlisle said Saturday. "They were a problem, really, at all positions. We played some zone. Jason Terry guarding Wade was a problem. Peja (Stojakovic) guarding Bosh or James was going to be difficult."

As with the Warriors, the tipping point for Dallas came after Game 3 of The Finals, when Miami beat the Mavericks in Dallas, 88-86. James wasn't the problem; he only scored 17 points. The problem was that Dallas only got 70 shot attempts in 48 minutes, almost nine fewer than the Mavericks' season average.

The advanced numbers suggested to Carlisle that shot attempts against Miami would be hard to come by. But the Mavericks had to figure out how to get more pace into the game.

"I had talked to some coaches that had played Miami during the year," Carlisle said. "One thing that kept coming up as a theme was having two playmakers on the court to create shots. After Game 3, there was really no doubt that we were there."

Carlisle pulled the trigger, starting Barea over Stevenson. At first glance the change seemed odd: Stevenson was a rugged 6-foot-3 defender; Barea was allegedly 5-foot-10 and no one's idea of a stopper. But the path to winning meant the Mavs had to get more shots up. And the Mavericks liked the matchup of Barea going against Miami's starting point guard, Mike Bibby.

"We had inserted Barea as a starter on several different occasions the first three years," Carlisle said. "Because of either injury, the need for more playmaking, our starting two position was kind of rotating. We never got established with somebody who got traction And he and (Jason) Kidd always played well together. You kind of have in mind what your moves are -- moves to get bigger, moves to get smaller, moves to get more shooting, more playmaking.

Great Finals 3-pointers: Dirk Nowitzki 2011

Dirk Nowitzki put the Mavericks ahead with a dramatic 3-pointer in Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Finals. He would seal the game with a buzzer-beating layup.

"I really felt coming into the series we had to give it a shot with Stevenson because he matched up well with James or Wade and he was shooting the ball well. But it was clear after three games that they were slow moving, they were slowing the pace and we were struggling to get up shots."

It was a tough decision for Stevenson. But Carlisle highlighted the importance of the new role he hoped Stevenson would embrace.

"I told him, 'your importance to the team does not diminish,' " Carlisle said. "In fact, we're having trouble matching up off the bench. Steve's first game off the bench was his best game of the series. You've got to have guys who embrace that kind of challenge."

That wasn't the only switch Dallas made. Carlisle also replaced the ineffective Stojakovic with journeyman Brian Cardinal, who had played seven minutes total in the first three rounds of the playoffs.

Putting Barea in the lineup ahead of Stevenson created more buzz, but Carlisle believes that Cardinal's contributions off the bench in Game 6 were as integral to the Mavericks' victory as anyone's.

"In Game 6, Dirk (Nowitzki) was not shooting it well, and on top of that, he picked up two fouls," Carlisle said. "When he came out we were down seven, and we put Cardinal in. And when Dirk came back in we were ahead five. (Cardinal) was a plus 12. Barea was more of a focal point because he was a starter, but the Cardinal impact was very strong."

Champions Revealed: Perseverance

Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili relive the 2013 NBA Finals loss to the Miami Heat and talk about how they bounced back the following season.

The Spurs had different but equally vexing issues with the Heat in 2014.

Miami stole home court advantage from San Antonio in Game 2, winning 98-96 at AT&T Center. And the pace of the game slowed dramatically.

So the Spurs gave Splitter's starting gig to Diaw to encourage ball movement. The results showed immediately in Game 3 in Miami, when San Antonio played an almost perfect half of basketball, making 19 of its first 21 shots en route to scoring 71 first-half points. And Diaw was a plus-20 in the game.

It was an easy call for the Spurs' staff, which was unanimous in its decision to put Diaw in. The Spurs knew how Miami defended the pick and roll, and thought a second ballhandler to play with Tony Parker was crucial. Putting Diaw on the floor also allowed San Antonio, if it chose, to surround him with four shooters -- Parker and/or Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and eventual Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard -- a lineup the Spurs believed would cause Miami problems.

And, the Spurs believed that Diaw could guard the Heat's bigs, including James (maybe just for small stretches, to be sure), while the Heat would have trouble guarding Diaw.

"We play a lot of different guys at different time, and we rest guys," Spurs assistant coach Ime Udoka said Sunday. "We had some experience with Miami fro the year before. We saw how they guarded. Our main focus was, instead of having Tiago or Tim out there, having two bigs, we wanted to have somebody in the middle of the floor. It's almost like Tony or Steph in this case has to be a decoy, get the hockey assist, make sure they get the ball to the middle."

2014 Finals: Game 5 Mini-Movie

The Spurs close out The Finals with another dominant victory.

It helped that coach Gregg Popovich knew his veterans like the back of his hand.

"With us, we're a very unique team," Udoka said. "A lot of guys were getting time with different lineups. For us, it's not an issue. We'll switch a lineup frequently throughout the year, and there's a luxury to doing that. It's just about getting over yourself and doing what needs to be done to help the team."

Miami lived off of teams being unable to defend Bosh in the pick and roll, or Rashard Lewis setting up for corner 3-pointers. Diaw may not be a physical specimen, but he's a heck of a smart basketball player, and the Spurs were comfortable with him on defense.

"We felt good with Boris there," Udoka said. "We did it for offensive purposes, but we had a guy in Boris that could guard stretch fours. If they do run a pick and roll with Kawhi, we encouraged the switch, because Boris could move his feet."

Diaw only scored eight points in Game 4, and five in Game 5. But his presence on the floor ignited the Spurs' offense. He grabbed rebounds, broke down Miami's defense and started the ball whipping around the perimeter. And the Spurs wore down and then overwhelmed the Heat in Games 4 and 5 -- the same thing the Warriors have done to Cleveland.

"I thought it was a move that was very aggressive," Carlisle said of Kerr's starting lineup change. "But he's in a situation where he's learned about his team. They needed pace, they needed quickness, and they needed to use their depth more. He's learned all year about his team, and he's got a great staff. My feeling was they were going to play a great game anyway, and when they got down 7-0 you look at it as a coach and go 'well, they just missed four wide-open shots, and those were shots they weren't getting before.' "

The Warriors haven't finished the series and James has shown how capable he is of driving Cleveland. But Kerr's decision to listen to his video guy changed the math, the attitude, the confidence of a team that was looking for help, and got it from its leader.

"It just took a lot of (guts) to do it," Walton said Wednesday, only he didn't say (guts).

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(Last week's record in parentheses; previous ranking in brackets)

1) Golden State (2-1) [1]: Not much is made of Golden State's bench, but the Warriors have gotten huge lifts during The Finals from David Lee, Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa at different times in different games -- and, of course, Andre Iguodala came off the bench all season until Game 4 last week.

2) Cleveland (1-2) [2]: Can Team Triage cobble together one more great performance against the Warriors and force a Game 7?

3) Atlanta [3]: Season complete.

4) Houston [4]: Season complete.

5) Memphis [5]: Season complete.

6) L.A. Clippers [6]: Season complete.

7) Washington [7]: Season complete.

8) Chicago [8]: Season complete.

9) San Antonio [9]: Season complete.

10) Dallas [10]: Season complete.

11) Portland [11]: Season complete.

12) Milwaukee [12]: Season complete.

13) Toronto [13]: Season complete.

14) Brooklyn [14]: Season complete.

15) New Orleans [15]: Season complete.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Warriors Coaching Staff: Had Game 4 continued as it began, with Cleveland scoring the game's first seven points, the decision to bench Andrew Bogut in favor of Andre Iguodala and go with a small lineup against the Cavaliers would have had an Edsel-long shelf life in the Bay Area. But, it didn't. So they're geniuses. Welcome to sports.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Cavs Not Named James or Thompson: In Game 5 of the Finals Sunday, LeBron James scored 40 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and added 11 assists. Tristan Thompson scored 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. The rest of the team: 32 points, 13 rebounds, six assists -- and that includes the 14 points J.R. Smith scored, all in the first half.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

Wouldn't it be human nature for Alvin Gentry to daydream on the Warriors' bench, even during The Finals, about "The Brow"?

The 60-year-old Gentry is an NBA lifer, with previous coaching stints with the Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns. He has a rep as one of the league's best offensive minds, having sat on benches with the likes of Larry Brown, Doug Collins, Doc Rivers and Mike D'Antoni. And he is one of the most well-liked coaches in the league. One of Steve Kerr's first major decisions upon taking the Warriors' coaching job last year was to pry Gentry from Rivers' staff in L.A. and make him associate head coach in Golden State.

But when The Finals end, Gentry will be off to New Orleans, where he'll be the Pelicans' new head coach next season. That the Pelicans, who hired Gentry May 30 to replace Monty Williams, are willing to wait this long for Gentry speaks to their hope that he can ultimately convince Anthony Davis to stay long-term in the Crescent City.

GameTime: Gentry to Pelicans

Brent and Rick discuss the Pelicans hiring of head coach Alvin Gentry.

For Gentry, there is no splitting of priorities, even though he had hundreds of texts to return after getting the New Orleans gig.

"Every ounce of energy I have is right here in this arena," Gentry said before the start of the Finals. "That other one will happen when this is over. And I think everyone understands that."

The Pelicans didn't want to wait for The Finals to end before reaching out to Gentry, and didn't want to wait more than a month to replace Williams, who was fired shortly after the Pelicans' first-round playoff defeat to Golden State.

He's a great players' coach. I think players will really like playing for him. I think it will be a good run for him. The team is good.

– Former NBA coach Mike D'Antoni, on Alvin Gentry

While other former coaches like Scott Brooks and Tom Thibodeau were or would become available, and ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy was also interested, the Pelicans wanted an offensive specialist to guide Davis through the next phase of his career.

Davis continued his exponential growth at both ends last season, but the Pelicans wanted to play much faster in the future than they'd done under Monty Williams, who was fired despite reaching the preseason mandate from ownership to make the playoffs.

New Orleans was ninth in the league in offensive rating (108.2 points per 100 possessions), but the Pelicans were near the bottom of the league -- 27th -- in pace, according to NBA.com/Stats, with just 93.7 possessions per 48 minutes.

Gentry was an acolyte of D'Antoni and his "Seven Seconds or Less" philosophy that revolutionized NBA offenses, with Steve Nash orchestrating an attack that featured stretch fours, rim runs by a young and athletic Amar'e Stoudemire at center, and multiple 3-point shooters on the floor -- in short, the way the game is played today by most teams.

The Starters: Anthony Davis' Future

Should Anthony Davis sign a 5-year extension with the Pelicans this summer?

"I expect him to play up tempo and obviously utliize one of the best and soon to be the best big man to play in Anthony Davis," D'Antoni said of Gentry Sunday. "He's a great players' coach. I think players will really like playing for him. I think it will be a good run for him. The team is good. The only chink in the armor is that you're playing in the West. There's a lot of good teams out there. They did a great job last year getting into the playoffs but it's not easy."

D'Antoni said Gentry will have no problem challenging Davis or anyone else on the team when necessary.

"You haven't seen that side of Alvin," D'Antoni said. "He's a nice guy to everybody, but he's a competitor. He'll get his back up. But it won't be done falsely or to show somebody up."

The Pelicans believe it's imperative that Anthony play at a faster pace and be used more often in the team's offense. His athletic ability requires New Orleans get more possessions to get him more touches. The Suns weren't their exact template -- the Pelicans don't have a point guard like Nash, obviously, and their starter, Jrue Holiday, was hurt most of last season. But the Pels do think a combination of the way the Warriors get up and down the court, and how the Clippers maximize their halfcourt possessions, is ideal.

The Warriors had to decide how helpful they were willing to be to help Gentry. While most teams would never stand in the way of an assistant coach getting a shot to be a coach, Golden State was trying to advance to The Finals, and win it, for the first time in 40 years.

GameTime: Analyzing A.D.

David Aldridge and Mike Dunleavy Sr. take a look at New Orleans playoff hopes and what it will take to keep their franchise player, Anthony Davis, in a Pelicans uniform.

New Orleans contacted Warriors General Manager Bob Myers between the end of Golden State's conference semifinals win over Memphis and the start of the Western Conference finals against Houston.

"Every organization, I think, handles it a little differently, which is their prerogative, certainly," Myers said. "Steve and I collaborated, and thought, what is the right thing to do here? He has had a great history with Alvin. We felt like Alvin was equipped to handle the process. He's been a head coach four times, and able to maintain focus.

"We did try to put some parameters on it in terms of time spent away from us, as far as timelines on decisions being made. We didn't want it to bleed into the games or anything like that, so we did ask if a decision was made, that it be made quickly."

Gentry got two huge breaks: the Warriors finished the Western Conference finals in five games, and the NBA opted not to move up the start date of The Finals from June 4. That gave Gentry and New Orleans a huge window to hammer out a deal after the conference finals.

Myers allowed that if there had been less time, the Warriors may not have granted Gentry and the Pelicans permission to talk.

"But that's the NBA, right?" he said. "Timing is everything. If there was no week off, would there have been that window? Maybe not, to be honest. But he's been in the business 30-some years. He's probably had moments where things broke the wrong way. And for him, this time, it broke the right way. Good for him."

GameTime: Future NBA Star

Dennis Scott and Isiah Thomas discuss why Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the Future of the NBA.

There was also recent precedent to follow: the Spurs allowed their long-time assistant coach, Mike Budenholzer, to interview and negotiate with the Hawks in 2013, after San Antonio won the Western Conference finals and before the Spurs played the Heat in The Finals. Budenholzer remained on San Antonio's bench until after the Finals, then left for Atlanta.

The Pelicans interviewed Van Gundy and Vinny Del Negro for the job. But Gentry, a league source indicated, was New Orleans' guy. He's already spent substantial time poring over the Pelicans' roster with General Manager Dell Demps.

New Orleans has already lured Darren Erman, one of the league's best defensive minds, from the Celtics' staff, and named him associate head coach. They also hired Robert Pack, the former quicksilver point guard who was an assistant in Oklahoma City the last two years, to the bench. They will fill out the rest of the staff at the end of The Finals.

I think Alvin and Anthony will get along great. I think there's going to be a great bond there in figuring out how to get to the playoffs and then how to win a title.

– Former NBA coach Mike D'Antoni

But Davis' progression is the only thing that matters. Davis is not quite the same player as Stoudemire was in Phoenix, but his skill set is more diverse, his potential to become the game's best player -- if he isn't so already -- through the roof.

"Everybody's a little different in how they play the game," D'Antoni said. "More power than Amar'e, I don't think is possible. There's probably more finesse in Anrthony's game. But it doesn't take a genius to coach the kid -- give him the ball and get out of the way. The one thing I know about Anthony having been with him with the Olympic team, is that he's a great kid.

"I think Alvin and Anthony will get along great. I think there's going to be a great bond there in figuring out how to get to the playoffs and then how to win a title."

Kerr believes D'Antoni was the catalyst for the new era of offensive basketball in the NBA, and thinks Gentry will play that way in New Orleans.

"I have no doubt Alvin will do that," Kerr said last week. "You'll see Davis at the five at times, and they'll find another guy to throw out there who can space the floor, and they'll find somebody who'll do that. But the thing is, to really win at the highest level, I think, you have to get stops, too. And that's the trick. That's what Miami and San Antonio and Dallas were able to do when they won titles. Dallas had Tyson Chandler and Dirk (Nowitzki) was their four and was out on the perimeter, so they had that floor spacing, but they had the defense. Miami and San Antonio were great defenses the last few years."

The league and the coach who loves to go small and play fast are merging just at the right time.

"I think everybody loves playing this way," Kerr said. "I think the players love this way. I think the fans appreciate the up-tempo style. I think it's here to stay. There's not a ton of big guys around. So I think you'll see it continue to be with the stretch fours and the really athletic guys. Everybody can play small. But everybody's playing with guys who appear to be small, but really are big."

Gentry has a treasure trove of pet plays saved up over the years, out of timeout plays from Rivers, Gregg Popovich and Collins ("Doug is probably as bright as anybody I've been around on out-of-timeout plays," Gentry said. "You go back and look -- I guarantee you the efficiency rate will be shocking.") And he's learned a lot from Kerr in his one year at Golden State.

"He looks and he studies and he says 'this would be good for us,' " Gentry said. "And he's got his sheet right there and he says 'let's try this.' "

Most people don't get five shots at being a head coach. This was almost certainly be Gentry's last. He coached young teams in Miami, Detroit and Los Angeles. He took a veteran Suns team to an unexpected Western Conference finals appearance in 2010. But he's never had a young superstar like Davis as his centerpiece -- and it's not easy to put thoughts about the future to the side, even as the Warriors begin the week one win away from a championship.

"It's hard," Gentry acknowledged. "But I've been in this league 27 years. This is the closest I've ever come to a championship. And nothing's going to deter me from having all the energy directed toward that, right there."

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU EITHER

I am decidedly not ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille. From Kim Peters:

What is the rule re LeBron and shooting the free throws? If he didn't shoot them is he out of the game? This is in regard to the head injury with the camera (in Game 4). When is the NBA gonna get those photographers back off the floor entirely? There has already been one horrendous injury; what will it take?

LeBron's Hard Foul In Game 4

LeBron James drives and is fouled by Andrew Bogut, sending James careening into a cameraman and sustains a head injury.

A lot of NBA players agree with you, Kim. Portland's Meyers Leonard Tweeted Thursday night:

It makes perfect sense for them to take that position; it's their careers that could be wrecked if they trip over a camera person and tear an ACL -- or bang their noggins, as James did. Phil Jackson has said for years that the standard 94x50 court, which has been in place for more than 50 years, needs to be widened or lengthened to account for the greater athletic abilities of today's players. He's right. But who's going to give up their courtside seats to make that happen? And what players will give up a chunk of their salaries if and when capacities at NBA arenas are reduced so that camera people can sit a few feet further back -- thus reducing revenues from their teams, and reducing their share of BRI? Don't all step up to the mike at once, fellas. As for the free throws, yes, LeBron had to shoot them in order to remain in the game. If he had been substituted for in that situation, he couldn't have come back to play.

Trash, meet treasure? From Elute Ogedegbe:

I hope this is funny, thought provoking and or snarky enough to get published!

My question is about the excitement that has been produced about the NBA Finals games this year. It seems like Games 1-3 were all-time classics and for me personally they were brilliant to watch overtime at 4 a.m. in the UK!

But in terms of the quality of play I think it has to be said that both teams aren't playing at the level of the Heat and Spurs in 2014, in terms of poise and execution on both ends of the floor.

Do you think the quality of the play of the teams in The Finals is as important as how close the games are and the intriguing story lines they produce (i.e. Delly's emergence)?

Essentially I'm wondering if we'd be happy to watch Atlanta vs Houston in a close seven-game series with terrible periods of Dennis Schroeder vs Pablo Prigioni, over a Golden State beat down of Cleveland with great passing and weaving movements?

NBA Finals Game 5 Report

NBA.com's John Schuhmann and Sekou Smith break down Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Elute. I'm seeing great, great defense from both teams -- the Cavaliers straining to allow the Warriors to set the pace on offense, the Warriors competing with the bigger, more physical Cavs on the glass. But, from an offensive standpoint, there's no question that neither the Cavs or the Warriors are playing at the level that the Spurs did last year. Generally, I think people like close playoff games, regardless of the score -- though fans outside of New York and Miami didn't appear to like the mud wrestling of the early 1990s between the Knicks and Heat. The question of markets, though, is a different one: the Hawks, for example, have not yet built a national following, so they may not yet be as appealing to casual fans during a Finals series as, say, Golden State -- which has the Splash Brothers.

The right of first refusal. From Karlo Jakic:

In your last Morning Tip, you mentioned a case in which Kobe Bryant, in a deal with his agent, basically forced his way to the Lakers refusing to play for the Nets. It made me think about Steve Francis and his situation with Vancouver Grizzlies, Danny Ferry who went on to play in Europe rather than play for the Clippers and even Yi Jianlian and Bucks.

As the Draft approaches, I'm interested in your opinion about these kind of moves made by players.

Because what would be the point of the Draft if all the players start expressing their wishes, start choosing which team they want to play for and doing everything to make that happen. I know there hasn't been a lot of these examples throughout history of NBA Draft, but what if it becomes more common thing, and players start dictating where they want to play.

In what position does that put teams if they want to draft a player they think could be next superstar and that player does not want to play for them.

Do you think there should be some penalties for those players if they try to do something like that?

No. A player has every right to express his willingness or lack thereof to play for a certain team or city or coach. But that team has every right to say 'if you don't play for us, you won't play for anyone for five years,' as dictated by the CBA. That's what Vancouver should have done with Francis, instead of panicking and making a dubious deal. The team still has the leverage -- especially today, when every player coming into the league wants his time served clock to start as soon as possible, so he can reach free agency as soon as possible. Also, I don't think players are as leery about going to "small" markets as they once were. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard and Paul George, to name a few, have thrived both on and off the court in recent years while playing in so-called small markets.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and what you would do with, say, 3.5 acres of free space with no nosy neighbors to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

POSTSEASON MVP WATCH

(Last week's averages in parentheses)

1) Stephen Curry (28.7 ppg, 5 rpg, 5.3 apg, .517 FG, 1.000 FT): Became dehydrated after Game 5 victory Sunday, and had to return to the Warriors' locker room following his press conference to drink some fluids.

2) LeBron James (33.3 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 9 apg, .400 FG, .774 FT): Tied Rasheed Wallace for 19th on the all-time list for playoff games, with 177, on Sunday. James has played 107 playoff games since 2010, his first season with Miami and the first of five consecutive seasons in which James's team has played in The Finals. If these Finals go seven games, James will tie Michael Jordan for 18th place on the all-time playoff list at 179. James is fifth among active players in postseason appearances, trailing only Tim Duncan (241 career playoff games), Kobe Bryant (220), Tony Parker (203) and Manu Ginobili (187).

3) James Harden: Season complete.

4) Chris Paul: Season complete.

5) Blake Griffin: Season complete.

BY THE NUMBERS

6 -- Combined charges against Atlanta's Thabo Sefolosha and Pero Antic, who will be in court Tuesday in New York. The charges against Sefolosha and Antic stem from a late night April incident outside a New York nightclub in which Sefolosha and Antic were arrested by police. During the arrest, Sefolosha suffered a broken right fibula and ligament damage, injuries he claims were caused by the police. Sefolosha missed the Hawks' entire postseason and his status for next season is uncertain.

104 -- Days since the Nuggets fired coach Brian Shaw. Assistant coach Melvin Hunt coached the rest of the season on an interim basis after Shaw was dismissed March 3, and is still being considered for the permanent position. But the Nuggets are still looking at candidates -- Mike D'Antoni, TrailBlazers assistant coach David Vanterpool, Wizards assistant Don Newman and former Kings coach Mike Malone (twice) have reportedly interviewed for the job. But the Nuggets' only deadline is to have a coach in place by the June 25 Draft.

9 -- Days until the June 24 deadline Monta Ellis has to decide whether to return to the Mavericks next season for $8.7 million next season -- the last of the three-year, $25 million deal he signed with Dallas in 2013 -- or to opt out of the contract and become an unrestricted free agent. The Mavericks can offer Ellis a fifth year on a new deal if he opts out, while other teams can only offer him four years.

I'M FEELIN' ...

LeBron James' Game 5 Double-Double

LeBron James records a triple-double, 40 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists, during Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

1) Jerry West and Chuck Howley may need to move over. LeBron James is definitely in the conversation for MVP in The Finals, and if he has another triple-double Tuesday in a potential series-ending Game 6 for the Warriors, there remains a strong and compelling argument for making James the MVP, despite potentially being on the losing team. He has been otherworldly in these Finals, and anyone who dismisses his efforts because he's taking a lot of shots is willfully missing the point entirely.

2) Kristaps Porzingis wowed 'em in Vegas Friday with his pre-Draft workout at his agent Andy Miller's pro day. The 19-year-old Latvian was a certain high Lottery pick already, but his performance puts him in play as high as three, where Philly may have to reassess its plans after confirming the Yahoo! Sports report that Joel Embiid's foot isn't healing as quickly as the 76ers expected.

3) Don't think I've ever seen a team take this approach with naming -- or, in this case, not naming -- its own building.

4) As ever, Kimmel is hilarious on NBA-related business.

5) One name to put away for next year's Draft: Dragan Bender. The 17-year-old 7-footer made another big splash last week at the adidas Eurocamp in Italy, and is likely to be a Lottery pick next year, when he turns 18 and becomes eligible to apply for the Draft. Bender flashed last year at the Under-18 FIBA European championships and continued his upward trajectory this past season, playing for Israel's Ironi Ramat Gan team after playing in 2013-14 for Maccabi Tel Aviv the previous season. At adidas, the Croatian showed a demeanor and basketball IQ that were "off the charts," according to one impressed NBA customer in attendance. "He needs to put on muscle and his shot must improve out to (the) NBA line," the NBA guy said. "But he really knows the game at both ends and played like a grown up."

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) I have as much respect for Steve Kerr as anyone that I've ever covered as a player, executive and coach, and that I've ever worked with in television. He is decent and self-effacing and funny and aware of the world, and it's hard to think of anyone who, for 20-plus years, has been as accommodating to the media. But he was wrong when he lied to reporters before Game 4 about whether he was going to start Andrew Bogut against the Cavs. I wasn't at the presser and I didn't ask the question, but that doesn't matter. All of us in the media represent you. You don't get to come into practices or press conferences or locker room to ask players and coaches about the game. We do. I know that sounds corny and a lot of people don't believe that's true anymore (if it ever was). But we are there to represent fans in a professional and knowledgeable manner. To be okay with Kerr's falsehood is to accept the idea that lying is wrong -- unless it's about something really, really important.

Kerr Lies to Media

Steve Kerr admits he lied about Andrew Bogut starting Game 4 and instead started Andre Iguodala.

2) How was LeBron James not subject in any way to the league's concussion protocols Thursday, after banging his head into a camera, suffering a deep cut that required stitches, and acknowledging that he was suffering from a headache? The NBA has, correctly, been very aggressive in making sure players are fully recovered from concussions before letting them back on the court. But as far as can be determined, James wasn't subject to any tests on site at Quicken Loans Arena Thursday to even see if he had a concussion. It would be one thing if he had been evaluated for a concussion at halftime (he hit his head in the second quarter) and found not to have any symptoms. That does not appear to be what happened, though. (UPDATE: Adam Silver said on NBA TV at The Finals Sunday that James didn't display any symptoms of a concussion after hitting the camera, and that the protocols are triggered when players display symptomatic behavior.)

Game Time: Adam Silver

Commissioner Adam Silver joins Game Time to discuss the league business that gets done during the Finals.

3) This is the essence of J.R. Smith-iness, wouldn't you say? Well, that and acknowledging, after going 0 of 8 from three in Game 4 that night, that his play was, in a NSFW word, not up to par. Good or bad, Smith never backs away from who he is.

4) This prison break in upstate New York is way too "Shawshank Redemption" for me, without the uplifting character disposition.

Q & A: VLADE DIVAC

It is congenitally impossible not to like Vlade Divac. He came to the States as a Jerry West special in the 1989 Draft, with the Logo basically overruling his whole basketball staff to use the 26th pick in the first round to bring Divac from what was then Yugoslavia instead of Missouri center Gary Leonard, whom everyone in the room believed L.A. would be taking.

Divac was part of that incredible class of Yugo ballers who were caught up in that country's cleaving in the late 1980s and early '90s, dividing teammates like the Serbian Divac and his great friend, the late Drazen Petrovic, who was Croatian. Like many players from Europe, Divac knew a lot more English than he let on, but it was a funnier story when he said he watched "The Flintstones" to help him learn the new language.

Most of his 16 seasons were with the Lakers, but his most important were in Sacramento. He shocked the league in 1998 by signing with the Kings as a free agent, going to what may have been, at the time, the most desolate NBA outpost imaginable. Teaming with Chris Webber, acquired from Washington soon afterward, Divac helped lead Sacramento to a basketball renaissance, mastering one of the fastest, best-passing, most beautiful offensive systems the league had seen in years. The Kings never won the title, but pushed the Lakers to seven games in that celebrated, controversial 2002 Western Conference finals series -- when Divac and Shaquille O'Neal battled in the paint, with Shaq dunking while Divac drove Shaq crazy with his flopping antics.

After retiring in 2005, Divac has mainly been involved with the Serbian Olympic Committee, for which he served two terms as president. But Divac remained beloved in Sacramento; the Kings retired his jersey in 2009. And it was not necessarily a surprise, given Divac's popularity, that Kings owner Vivek Ranadive named him the team's vice president of basketball and franchise operations in March.

But it was a shock when Ranadive, whose first forays into decision making with the Kings were, simply, disastrous -- the Kings fired former coach Mike Malone, who was the only coach that DeMarcus Cousins seemed to like and play for, last Decmber -- disclosed that Divac would be in charge of the basketball side of the franchise, and not Pete D'Alessandro, who was the general manager.

That certainly would explain the quick departure of Kings advisor Chris Mullin to take the St. John's head coaching job in March; D'Alessandro moved on last week to the Nuggets, taking an executive position working for Denver president Josh Kroenke. For his part, Ranadive says that he's now got his preferred front office team in place, with Divac calling the shots off the floor and George Karl coaching. But Divac has a full plate.

The Kings are coming off another desultory season, finishing 29-53, a scant 38 games behind the Warriors. Cousins and Karl are circling each other, looking for common ground. Sacramento has some pieces -- Cousins, guards Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas -- but has a lot of work to do. Divac, though, is the ultimate ruffled feather smoother.

Me: I know you're looking to add some more people to the front office, but when you're done, what will the hierarchy look like?

Vlade Divac: The idea was to make sure our front office is stable. Now we can focus on how to make the team. With Pete leaving, nothing changed. Our priority is still to make our roster better and to do better next year. We're just going to focus on priorities. The front office is not a priority now, because we have Mike Bratz, we have myself, we have people, and we obviously have a coach who is one of the best coaches in the league. And we'll try to make sure to bring to him players that he can coach.

Me: How much input, if any, do you see George having on the personnel side, or will you just have him coach the players you and Mike bring to him?

VD: Well, he's a guy with a lot of experience. I'd love to talk to him. I'm in the office almost every day and we talk about possibilities, obviously. I'm in charge right now and I'll make decisions, but I want to make sure that we're on the same page and working for the same thing.

Me: Is this what you thought the job was going to be when you came aboard in March?

VD: Yeah. I mean, since I retired, I worked a year in Los Angeles (with the Lakers). I worked for the Real Madrid basketball team, and then went back to Serbia (to chair) the Olympic committee. It's a familiar place for me when you talk about management. This new job, it's a good situation for me. Basketball is my life. It's nothing new for me. It's something very familiar. I feel very comfortable with that.

Me: You've seen how the NBA game has evolved in recent years, with the proliferation of 3-pointers and the emphasis on smaller lineups. Is that something you're okay with and expect the Kings to emulate?

VD: Well, right now, that's the type of game that most successful teams are playing ... a lot of people talk about small lineups. I still believe that the big guy has to be influential, in terms of putting the ball down and going out. You can't just rely on shooting, because some nights he's not going to make shots. You need the big man's presence, anyway.

Me: What do you think of DeMarcus?

VD: He's one of the toughest guys in that position. It was very tough for him last year, with three different coaches. That's why I want to make sure that we try to bring stability. DeMarcus is an All-Star player. And he's a National Team player. So we want to make sure that we bring the healthy climate so he can be in a winning game. It's a combination of us doing our job and keeping his development up. It's a combination.

Me: What does he need to improve on?

I like sharing the ball. Basketball is a team game. ... I don't like those East Coast types that slow down and you've got the one guy with the ball and two waiting around the corner like something's going to happen.

– Kings executive Vlade Divac, on how he wants Sacramento to play

VD: Well, I think he just has to be a leader, make sure that he makes everybody better on the floor. Everything else, I think he's right on target. He's just so powerful, can dominate in the low post. He can play outside. He can play sometimes four, sometimes five. He's a very smart basketball player. He has very great potential.

Me: So you wouldn't entertain any offers for him at this time?

VD: Well, if it's Michael Jordan there, I'll think about it. (Laughs)

Me: How did your time with Real and with the Croatian Olympic program help prepare you for coming back over here with the Kings?

VD: It was an important opportunity. As a basketball player, you're just on one side of the basketball job. Off the floor, you don't think about what's going on behind the scenes. But I spent a year with the Lakers and Real Madrid and on the Olympic Committee, showed them how much it's important to work behind the scenes to make sure guys have a peaceful environment. I worked hard to do that. It's a lot of time, spending time looking at tapes, talking to people, the insiders, rumors -- you guys aren't helping, the media -- I communicate with everybody. It's a totally different world.

Me: What would a team playing to your vision look like on the floor?

VD: Well, I really like the style of basketball that I used to play, starting with the Lakers, the Hornets and then the Kings -- the type of basketball Golden State plays right now. I like sharing the ball. Basketball is a team game. You want to end up and make sure that every player is involved. I don't like those East Coast types that slow down and you've got the one guy with the ball and two waiting around the corner like something's going to happen. I need everybody to be involved.

A lot of people talk about small lineups. I still believe that the big guy has to be influential, in terms of putting the ball down and going out. You can't just rely on shooting, because some nights he's not going to make shots.

– Vlade Divac, on the popularity of small ball

Me: Will you and Mike be the main people making basketball decisions?

VD: Well, I will be the one who will make the decisions. I support Mike because he's a basketball mind. He can help me right now to make that first step. I think that's what you're supposed to do, what it's all about. You can't really rush these things. You have to go step by step. Draft day is a big day for us. That's the first thing. We'll try to sign some free agents. And if we have to make some trades, we'll do it.

Me: What has Vivek said to you about his expectations for you and what he anticipates you'll be able to do?

VD: The good news is we have a trust between us. Vivek's vision about what basketball can do and bring to society, I think it's very important. Basketball is a world game. You always talk about how basketball can touch people's lives. And we have to make sure we use basketball as a tool to create a better society, and that's what we're going to try to do -- make sure our players are good for the community, and good for the kids, not just in the Sacramento community, but all over the world.

Me: Kind of the way you and C-Webb were out and about in Sac when you were together?

VD: Yeah. I think Sacramento is a great example of how you can make a team that is international, that everybody recognizes. I remember during my time in Sacramento, we were probably the most popular team outside of the USA. I think it's a great opportunity to explore the world. Because basketball is in every corner in this planet. The NBA is the best basketball league in the world. And I remember when I grew up, we had the chance to see maybe one or two games a year. Now almost every day basketball from the NBA is all over the world.

Me: Are you stunned that you and Shaq are working together? Will you make him carry bags or something?

VD: I have to say, I'm lucky to have him on our ownership group. Sometimes I like to talk to people like that about things that I'm not sure about. The other day, I was talking to Shaq, getting some advice. It's great to communicate.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

-- Actor Rob Lowe (@RobLowe), Friday, 10:02 p.m., recalling an encounter he had with referee Joey Crawford -- who was in the NBA news this week after telling Cleveland's Timofey Mozgov to "shut up" during Game 4 of The Finals with Golden State.

THEY SAID IT

"I don't want to bug him. Whatever decision he makes, I respect it because he's given us a lot over the course of his career. If he comes back, that would be great. If he decides to leave and go home or go to another city, he has a right to because this is the NBA and people that work normal jobs have the right to leave and go work at other places. We should have the same leeway."

--TrailBlazers guard C.J. McCollum, during an appearance on Portland radio station 1080 The Fan, on whether he had been in contact with teammate and likely max unrestricted free agent LaMarcus Aldridge.

"Now you read the history and all people know is that we won the title that season. Then we won it again in '95. They know me as Big Shot Bob. But the reality is that if it wasn't for a medical emergency, I might have been known as the depressed dude slumped over in the press box. There are so many winding paths and forks in the road in this game."

-- Robert Horry, in a great first-person column in The Players' Tribune on his career and how he developed the don't be afraid to shoot philosophy that led to all of those big shots in the playoffs throughout his career -- a change of heart that occurred once the trade that was to send him to Detroit in 1994 with Matt Bullard for Sean Elliott was rescinded because of Elliott's kidney problem.

"I'm pretty sure I can, so I don't want to do that and demolish their confidence. So I stay away from them, I let them think they're good ... but I'm too old to do that anyway."

-- Michael Jordan, in an interview with the French magazine L'Equipe, on whether he'd be able to beat some of his Charlotte Hornets players in a game of one-on-one.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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