DA's Morning Tip

Morning Tip Mailbag: Your questions on The Finals, the Phoenix Suns and more

David Aldridge

Is life not a thousand times too short for us to bore ourselves? From Dylan Wesson:

Make the case to keep watching the NBA. Four years with the same monotonous matchup and no signs of anyone knocking Golden State off its perch. Best thing that can happen is LeBron forms another super team and they go to The Finals and maybe beat Golden State. Thanks for nothing, KD.

Bonus question: Did the dominant dynasties before Golden State like the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics also bring the same sort of soul-crushing inevitability to the league? Or were there more genuine contenders in the mix?

I do not understand the argument against watching excellence at work, Dylan. I would have jumped at the chance to go to a Prince concert every week. I never get tired of watching Meryl Streep act, or get tired of listening McCoy Tyner play the piano. And it’s not boring to me to watch the Warriors dominate opponents.

Now, I have no rooting interest, as fans do. The “boredom” that many express — I’m not saying you are here, but many do — is, more accurately, frustration and/or jealousy that their team can’t beat the Warriors. People always ask me who my favorite team is, and I always give the same answer, because it’s true: I’m a fan of the game, and I love seeing it played at a high, intelligent level.

The great thing about basketball is that the individual and the team have to operate as one to win championships. For all his individual feats, and he was the most dominant individual to ever play, Wilt Chamberlain couldn’t beat the Celtics by himself. The Warriors struggled plenty against Houston because the Rockets’ defense was able to take away so much of the movement and weakside action that Golden State loves to run, and made the Warriors frequently go to iso ball with Kevin Durant. And it damn near worked.

I know I’m easily dismissed because I cover the NBA for a living, but I love to watch the Warriors move the ball, pass after pass, until someone has a wide open 3-pointer or a layup/dunk. Their synergy of getting Durant the ball but also never letting up in their demands that he move without it and create shots for his teammates is the essence of the pro game. It is up to the other 29 teams to put a team together that’s good enough to beat them. Every team in the league had a chance to sign Durant in 2016. They should have had a better team to entice him.

As for the ‘80s, the Lakers and Celtics were must-see TV throughout their rivalry; I don’t recall many being bored with seeing Magic Johnson and Larry Bird go at each other three times in The Finals. And, it was only three times. Which reinforces what I said above. The Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls didn’t whine about how hard it was to beat Boston in the Eastern Conference. They put teams together that challenged, and finally vanquished, the Celtics. I’d tell today’s teams as well as their fans: stop whining about how unfair it is that Golden State’s so loaded. Get to work.

Here comes the Sun(s). From Devin Naganoolil:

I am a huge Phoenix Suns fan and I enjoy your commentary when I watch NBA TV. This is my question: Who should the Phoenix Suns acquire in free agency after drafting their 1st overall pick (most probably DeAndre Ayton) in order to become a playoff-contending team in the 2018-19 NBA season? Moreover, who should they trade or release? Who should be traded for whom?

The Suns have said they’ll be aggressive in free agency, so there’s no reason not to take them at their word. In that case, Paul George would be a great fit next to Ayton and Devin Booker; George could certainly provide a young Phoenix core with leadership, and go a long way toward beginning to fix what was a horrific defense last season.

But if they can’t get the marquee guys like PG-13, I’d go after someone like Marcus Smart, who’s a restricted free agent. Boston loves him and wants to keep him, but the Celtics have major loot tied up in Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, will have to commit nine figures to Irving next summer and now have to pay Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum big bucks in just a couple of years. They can’t pay everybody.

If I were Phoenix, I’d put my best cap guys to work coming up with an offer sheet that would as difficult as possible for Boston to match — think back loading so that the big paydays for Smart come in years three and four of the deal, just when Boston will be hip deep in its biggest payouts. A Smart-Josh Jackson-Ayton trio would have the makings of a potentially formidable defensive skeleton for Phoenix to build on. But even if the Suns got someone like Smart, I’d still pump the brakes on the playoff talk. It’s going to take Phoenix a minute.

Vegas, baby: Vegas! From Ezra Pate:

What is a realistic starting five of an NBA expansion team that makes a Vegas Golden Knights-esque playoff run?

I don’t think the NBA is the NHL, Ezra. It would be next to impossible to field a team in the NBA with enough talent/offensive firepower to win 35-40 games — the minimum you’d have to win to have a shot at the postseason — in its inaugural season. But I like the academic bent of the question.

The normal expansion draft method is that an existing team can protect a certain amount of players on its roster from being taken by the expansion team, and once a player is taken from an existing team, it can’t lose any additional players to the expansion team. In last year’s NHL expansion draft for the Golden Knights, existing teams had the option of either protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender, or eight skaters of any combination and one goaltender. Importantly, rising unrestricted free agents were treated by the NHL as still belonging to their existing teams, and thus could be protected under one of the two scenarios above.

If that was extended to a theoretical NBA expansion team (let’s call them the Sevens), that means guys like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Paul George would be able to be protected by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder even though their contracts with those teams would expire if they, as expected, opt out of the last year of their current deals.

Vegas, needing to field a roster of up to 23 players per NHL rules, took one player from each of the other 30 teams. In the case of an NBA expansion team, you’d only need to take 13-15 players, depending on the number of Draft picks the Sevens had in their inaugural season. (For the sake of argument, let’s say they get one first and one second, neither ahead of any Lottery team from the previous season. That would mean the Sevens would pick no higher than 15 in each round.)

Let’s also say the NBA allowed its existing 30 teams to each protect 10 players on their current official 15-man rosters, which would also cover some (though not all) players on two-way contracts. I’d look to teams like the Utah Jazz, Brooklyn Nets and the Thunder, who all put a premium on player development, and see if I could poach a young guy from them that they might have to leave exposed. Maybe a Josh Huestis from OKC, an Isaiah Whitehead from Brooklyn, a Raul Neto from Utah. Guys like that. I don’t think you could put a playoff team together in one season, but the good news is you’d have an awful lot of really good young assistants around the league from which to build a formidable staff. And would I look hard at San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon as my coach? Damn right I would.

Send your questions, comments and other improvised methods for mastering rush hour to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is funny, thought-provoking or snarky, we just might publish it!

PLAYOFF MVP WATCH

(Last week’s averages in parenthesis)

1) Kevin Durant (31.5 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 8.5 apg, .550 FG, 1.000 FT): Even KD’s own people were a little surprised he got Finals MVP, but his Game 3 carried the day, and further cemented his standing as one of the best of his generation.

2) LeBron James (28.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 9.5 apg, .488 FG, .833 FT): Probably should have come out without the soft cast on after Game 4, even if you thought everyone already knew about your hand injury. You know how we are.

3) Stephen Curry (24 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 5 apg, .349 FG, 1.000 FT): It is amazing that Curry, still, does not get enough credit for allowing Durant to come to his team — his team — without a minute’s complaint about what it would mean to him, a two-time Kia MVP winner when this all went down in 2016, how it would affect his shots or his standing or his station how it could hurt his endorsements or Q rating. Nothing. Just, “we want you, KD.” If Curry had said no, or hinted no, it would have never happened.

4) James Harden: Season complete.

5) Anthony Davis: Season complete.

BY THE NUMBERS

$200,000,000 — Estimated amount of the Bucks’ new local television deal with Fox Sports Wisconsin, per the Sports Business Journal, a significant increase over the team’s current deal. SBJ reports that the Bucks’ local ratings this past season rose almost six percent, and were the team’s highest in 12 years.

477 — Career coaching victories, including playoffs, for the Pelicans’ Alvin Gentry, who received a two-year extension from New Orleans last week that runs through the 2020 season.

5 — Players with more than two Finals MVPs — Michael Jordan (6), and Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal (3 each). Per basketball-reference.com, Kevin Durant became just the 11th player in league history to win at least two, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kobe Bryant and Willis Reed with his second.

I’M FEELIN’ …

1) It’s never going to be a bad thing for me that Warriors fans, among the most loyal and long-suffering in all of pro sports, have a dynasty to celebrate and enjoy. They’re a great team to watch, and they’re the NBA’s gold standard until further notice.

2) Saw Donovan Mitchell in Cleveland; he was there to observe Game 3 as a pro after going to the Finals last year as a fan. He is such an impressive young man in all ways. The Jazz have an elite talent and elite person who should only get better in the coming years.

3) I don’t like the Nuggets’ new sets of uniforms, including the “Mile High City” blue alternates. I love the Nuggets’ new uniforms. Dope. Fire. Fresh. However the kids describe such things these days.

4) Watching Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals win his first Stanley Cup championship Thursday night, it was hard not to think about Dirk Nowitzki, and his run to the NBA title with the Mavericks in 2011. The parallels between Ovechkin and Nowitzki are striking. They both became franchise players for U.S. teams who came from other countries, a rarity in the States that brings its own unique set of issues. Both were castigated for more than a decade for not being good/diverse enough to lead their teams to championships — Dirk for not rebounding/posting up; Ovechkin for not backchecking and blocking shots. Neither, as far as we know, ever seriously considered ever leaving the team that drafted them. And both, finally, broke through and won it all in their 13th pro seasons.

NOT FEELIN’ …

1) There was just way too much glee around the basketball world — some out in the open, some sotto voce — at the demise of Bryan Colangelo in Philadelphia. I know the story was just too juicy for some not to go for cheap yuks, and that there are Hinkie Stans who couldn’t wait for Colangelo to get his comeuppance, having replaced Hinkie as the Sixers GM in a move the Stans viewed as a coup. But Bryan Colangelo was, and is, a quality executive, who built a title contender in Phoenix with Mike D’Antoni and good teams in Toronto. Transparency, though, requires the following be said:

1. The Sixers made the right move. There was just too much damage done to Colangelo’s present effectiveness as an exec for him to be allowed to go further, especially with free agency looming next month and the Sixers needing to have everyone pulling in the same direction as they go after the blue chippers.

2. I’ve known Bryan’s wife, Barbara, since she worked in the league office in the early ‘90s, and I like her, a lot. She’s been nothing but pleasant and decent to me during two-plus decades, as has Bryan, who worked with me for a time at NBA TV before he was hired in Philly. And I hate to see people I actually know a little reduced to caricature by people who don’t them at all.

3. The statement Bryan Colangelo put out after his resignation was announced was not a good one. whatever the truth of Barbara Colangelo’s role in the burner accounts that caused all this, the statement blamed her way too harshly and publicly. At any rate, the Colangelos will need some time to themselves as a family to figure out exactly what happened here, and that’s what bothers me most: so many are forgetting that a family, with children, was impacted terribly by what transpired, and please spare me the false equivalency of ‘what about the damage done to the team?’ takes. It’s not the same. Don’t even let those words leave your mouth. Your entertainment is not the same as a family’s internal pain, and it’s not a plaything for you to bat around until you get bored with it and go to the next shiny object on the internet.

2) Wish we would have had a better Finals, but what are you gonna do?

3) Oy. This is not good.

4) You know, the machines are gonna take over eventually, anyway. Why are we helping them become self-aware quicker?

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Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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