Shootaround (March 22) -- LeBron James shares his thoughts on rest conundrum
Plus, a big man scuffle in Toronto last night, a 20-year reunion in Utah and more
No. 1: LeBron sounds off on rest conundrum — No topic has been more discussed in the NBA sphere the last few days than the issue of resting stars as the season wanes. Everyone from the NBA commissioner himself to countless pundits have weighed in on the issue. Players, too, have had their say and Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James wasn’t one to bite his tongue about the topic when pressed Tuesday about it. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com has more:
LeBron James disagrees with NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s memo demanding that team owners be involved with decisions to rest star players, and said the league is only calling it a “problem” because he’s sat out a couple times this month.
“I love what Adam is doing for our league, but I don’t see how that (would help),” James said Tuesday. “I don’t understand why it’s become a problem now, because I sit out a couple games?”
When a reporter suggested to James that Silver’s reasons for sending the memo may stretch beyond his not playing in Cleveland’s 30-point loss in a national TV game against the Clippers on Saturday, James disagreed.
“That is the case. It’s absolutely the case,” James insisted.
And when it was mentioned that the week before, in a game that, like the Cavs’ loss to the Clippers was televised on ABC, Warriors coach Steve Kerr sat Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala from a game against the Spurs, James said: “Come on, man. You guys know the real.”
“Listen, Pop’s been doing this for 10 years, 12 years, 15 years and everybody was like, ‘You know what? That’s the smartest thing Pop has ever done,’ ” James said. “Give his guys a couple games off and here they go and win five championships. That’s the smartest thing.
“But some of our coaches in our league don’t have the stature that Pop has, and our head coach doesn’t have it so he gets killed for it. So, I’ve got to keep winning to help my coach be able to have a reason why he can sit his players.”
James has missed six games this season, five because of rest. He’s led his teams to the last six Finals, something no player has done in 50 years.
The Cavs are 0-6 when James rests. Often this season, at least one of Cleveland’s other stars missed games along with him; and three times James, Irving, and Love have all been out.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue and James joked about the memo before practice, with James instructing Lue to put down “fever” instead of “rest” as the reason for the next time James sits. Lue cracked that he’d only coached “95 games,” so he was still learning how to manage his roster.
Lue said he didn’t want to comment when asked if he could imagine running lineups by owner Dan Gilbert.
But when asked if Lue would again rest players in the coming days, when the Cavs play in Charlotte Friday, at home against Washington Saturday, and at San Antonio Monday, he said: “I don’t know. Call the owner.”
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No. 2: Bulls, Raptors await fallout from scuffle — Robin Lopez is the lone Chicago Bulls player to appear in every game this season. Serge Ibaka was added to the Toronto Raptors just before the trade deadline to help the team’s final push for playoff seeding. Both players, though, are unlikely to be on the court for at least a few games after they threw punches at each other in last night’s game in Toronto (which the Raptors won 122-120 in overtime)
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune provides the perspective from Bulls side of things:
The Bulls are almost guaranteed to lose Robin Lopez for Wednesday’s matchup against Andre Drummond and the Pistons, ending Lopez’s distinction as the only Bull to play in every game this season.
Lopez and Serge Ibaka were ejected with 3:38 left in the third quarter for a fight in which both threw punches, a rarity in today’s NBA. Nikola Mirotic and Raptors assistant coach Jamaal Magloire also drew technical fouls for the fracas, which began after Jimmy Butler matched the Bulls’ biggest lead at 16 points with one of the team’s 14 3-pointers.
Ibaka appeared to back into Lopez, who took exception by swatting at the ball as Ibaka prepared to inbound. Words were exchanged and haymakers narrowly missed landing.
“It seemed like I had three guys on me and I was being pulled back,” Lopez said. “And I’m not sure what was going on with him. But it felt like nobody had any hold on him. He just kept coming at me with his arm. I was just trying to get him off me.”
Lopez said he expects to be suspended. Jimmy Butler was more blunt.
“Obviously, he’s going to be suspended. We know that,” he said. “We’re going to miss that guy, but what’s new? Next man up.”
And Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun has the Raptors/Ibaka side of the fracas:
It was the first time Toronto has beaten the Bulls since New Year’s Eve 2013 and it took a near career night of scoring from DeMar DeRozan and a fourth quarter defensive turn by the Raptors that should have caused whiplash it was so dramatically opposed to what happened in the first three.
The fist fight, which featured closed-fist punches, first from Robin Lopez and then returned in kind by Serge Ibaka, got both big men tossed with just under four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Actual fist fights are about as rare in the NBA these days as Raptors wins over the Bulls, at least they were until last night when both streaks got busted.
Both players are almost assuredly headed for suspensions after each was ejected for fighting fouls which brings, according to the NBA rulebook, a fine not exceeding $50,000 and/or a suspension.
Lopez threw the first punch after some shoving ensued missing Ibaka completely. Ibaka threw back and grazed the side of Lopez’ head.
Lopez may get a game more for having thrown the first punch, but again, both are likely to miss at least a couple of games.
“I just hope the league will do a better job to watch, because if that was me, we would not get to that point, punching and stuff,” Ibaka said after the game. “Know it’s basketball, sometimes we can talk trash or push each other. Punching like that, there’s no room, I think. I want to play basketball, I don’t want to get suspended. The fact that he’s talking to me first and like a man I respond and protect myself.”
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No. 3: Shaq says triangle offense can still work in NBA — The triangle offense run by coach Phil Jackson’s teams with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers led him to 11 NBA titles while also bringing the offense into the lexicon of NBA fans. The success rate of other teams running the triangle hasn’t been duplicated since — even by the New York Knicks that Jackson now oversees as team president. Many today question whether Jackson’s system can work in the pace-and-space NBA of today, but Hall of Famer/former Jackson star Shaquille O’Neal says otherwise. ESPN.com has more:
“It works,” O’Neal said of the triangle, speaking with reporters in Los Angeles after calling Monday’s Knicks-Clippers game on TNT. “When you’re a player, you’re used to doing something one way, and you bring in a system, a lot of guys don’t like to give up their habits. But the triangle, the ball can’t stop. It can’t stop.”
O’Neal didn’t name any Knicks specifically, but team president Phil Jackson said earlier this season that Carmelo Anthony could thrive in the offense but has a tendency to stop the ball at times. O’Neal credited the Knicks’ younger reserves for running it well, indirectly suggesting that veterans like Anthony and point guard Derrick Rose have struggled to adapt to the offense because of previously established habits.
“If you look at how the [Knicks’] second team runs the triangle, guys who don’t have a lot of experience in the game and a lot of habits, they ran a lot of it late in the fourth quarter and got a couple of backdoor plays,” O’Neal said. “It definitely does work. Look at the guys, when Phil put this team together, I was liking it: [Kristaps] Porzingis, Carmelo, Rose, [Joakim] Noah. I said, ‘OK, it’s going to work if they embrace the triangle. I like it.’ But again, the ball can never stop.”
O’Neal said the Lakers, who won five championships under Jackson, also didn’t initially appreciate the triangle.
“Guys are stubborn — it took us a while to break it, too,” O’Neal said. “When we first started, we were doing terrible. I had to look at the mirror and say, ‘OK, I was probably one of the main problems.’ Because I like to get the ball and tell everyone to move out of the way and get to work, so I had to look at the mirror and say, ‘Let me try it.’ It became easier. I get it. [Guys] cutting, and it opened up for me and made it easier for me.”
Jackson won a combined 11 rings as a coach running the offense with the Chicago Bulls and Lakers. But some observers say that those championships had less to do with the offense and more to do with the talent on those teams (Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant, O’Neal).
O’Neal pushed back against that assertion on Monday.
“I have three championships because of the triangle,” O’Neal said. “You always hear people say, ‘Of course the triangle works with Mike [Michael Jordan], Scottie [Pippen], Shaq and Kobe [Bryant],’ which is true. But if you look at all our games, it was the others who propelled us to the next level.”
Overall the Knicks are 76-158 in Jackson’s three full seasons as team president. So how has Jackson dealt with the losing?
“He’s not used to it,” O’Neal said. “He’s definitely taking a beating, definitely have to make changes this summer. He’s a strong guy. You’re not going to really hurt his feelings. Just another chapter and challenge in his life. When you’re dealing with certain people, everybody has to be on the same page.”
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No. 4: Report: Sixers made big trade offer for George — Indiana Pacers star Paul George was one of the biggest names being bandied about during last month’s trade line. At the end of trade deadline day, though, George remained with Indiana — although word of what some trade suitors offered for him leaked out here and there. Add the Philadelphia 76ers to the list of teams that tried to pry him from Indiana, writes Kyle Neubeck of LibertyBallers.com:
Early Tuesday morning, ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote a column about the significance of the upcoming summer for George’s future with the Indiana Pacers. He described the suitors as follows:
Bird knows he is on the clock with George. The Lakers loom as a threat in free agency. The Pacers engaged at least the Celtics, Sixers, Hawks and Nuggets in trade talks for George at the deadline, though they never appeared serious about moving him, per league sources.
Standoffish though Larry Bird may have been, the Sixers did indeed make an offer for the Pacers forward. Multiple sources told Liberty Ballers the Sixers offered Indiana their choice of one of the Sixers’ young bigs, Robert Covington, and at least two first round picks for his services.
According to multiple sources, the Sixers’ preference was to keep their own future picks and move the draft rights of other teams — like those of the Lakers and Kings — in an effort to protect themselves against George leaving. However, the Sixers were not turned off by George’s reported preference to play for the Lakers, according to one member of the organization, and believed they could sell George on staying with the Sixers long-term by enticing him to play with their promising core players. As a result, their own picks beyond the 2017 Draft were not untouchable, per sources.
Amongst the people Liberty Ballers spoke to, there was not a consensus on which big man was most prominently involved in the trade equation. One source said it was specifically Nerlens Noel being offered in the package alongside Covington and the first-round picks, but others painted a more flexible picture on the Sixers’ behalf, believing Jahlil Okafor would have been the man to go if it made the difference on Indiana’s end.
Though one of the proposed pieces of the deal was subsequently moved on to Dallas, the Sixers could very well be involved with George again down the line, whether in trade discussions or 2018 free agency. A deal for George would have made for a significantly different deadline, and the degree of their interest in an immediate impact player should be taken seriously when assessing how they’ll approach the market this summer.
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No. 5: Jazz ready to celebrate glorious 1997 run — The NBA history books will show the 1997 (and, for that matter, ’98) Utah Jazz as the team that fell to Michael Jordan’s mighty Chicago Bulls in The Finals. Yet that Jazz team also featured three future Hall of Famers (John Stockton, Karl Malone and coach Jerry Sloan) and gave the Bulls perhaps their greatest challenge on The Finals stage. That ’97 team will be honored tonight at halftime of the Jazz-Knicks game (10:30 ET, ESPN), a moment sure to be special for all involved. Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune has more:
You can bet there will plenty of smiles and knowing nods Wednesday as most of the Jazz team — everyone from players to coaches to support staff — that reached the 1997 NBA Finals gathers at Vivint Smart Home Arena for a 20-year reunion celebration.
Led by Hall of Famers Jerry Sloan, Karl Malone and John Stockton, the Jazz won a franchise-best 64 games during the regular season then beat the Clippers, Lakers and Rockets in the playoffs before falling to the Chicago Bulls in six games. The Jazz would return to the Finals the next season, only to be stopped again by Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
Two decades later, however, those squads remain the most successful in Jazz history, the years since only amplifying the magnitude of the achievement.
“That’s the nature of basketball,” said Stephen Howard, a backup guard on the 1997 team who now works as an analyst for Fox Sports. “There are things you have to overcome to be a champion. We just weren’t able to overcome that. That doesn’t take anything away from our journey and our ride and what it took to get there.”
Former players have been landing in Utah over the past few days, some already meeting up to share memories and rekindle bonds that were galvanized over the course of a 64-win season.
“For John, Karl and I, the big question when I got traded there was how long would it take for me to figure all this stuff out,” Jeff Hornacek said. “Fortunately for me, I think we played Utah 50-60 times prior to that.”
But it wouldn’t be until May of ’97, when Stockton’s bucket ripped the net in Houston, that they would break through.
“We we were working our tails off for three years prior to that trying to get there,” Hornacek said. When he jumped with joy on the Rockets’ court, he said, he was celebrating for a community. “Not just for the guys, but for the coaches, for the city of Salt Lake and the state of Utah to have that team finally get that.”
All these years later, Hornacek still keeps in close touch with Stockton. Former Jazz forward Chris Morris, now a juvenile detention officer in Houston, keeps up with Bryon Russell and Antonie Carr, a fellow Texan.
But for many on the ’97 team, this week’s reunion will be their first contact with the men with whom they formed friendships during that memorable season.
“It will be fun, a chance to catch up with all those guys,” Morris said. “We were like a family. We’ll get a chance to say that we love each other.”
Back in Utah 20 years later, Greg Ostertag toured Salt Lake and Park City this week. Back in the place he used to call home, the former Jazz center said he has fond memories of that Finals team, though he still has regrets about how it ended.
“In the big picture, we fell short twice. It was a great experience, but the ultimate goal was to win, and we didn’t do that,” Ostertag said. “We did have a hell of a run. We just weren’t able to pull off the ultimate goal. It’s a great thing to come back and celebrate, but it would have been even better to celebrate the 20th year of the championship.”
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: A great tribute from K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune on Jerry Krause’s career … Vince Carter — still amazing … Brook Lopez isn’t exactly feeling sorry for his brother after he got in a fight with Serge Ibaka last night … Did Brent Barry troll Shaquille O’Neal (albeit in a subtle manner) on Monday? … Portland Trail Blazers big man Meyers Leonard wore custom socks last night to pay tribute to his ailing dog … That Stephen Curry vs. Seth Curry matchup last night all sizzle and little substance …