Miami Heat can’t survive NBA Finals with a punchdrunk Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler went 6-of-14 shooting in Game 1

Jimmy Buckets was in standby mode for Game 1. Maybe it was the altitude that Ball Center resides at, or the altitude of expectations, but regular season Jimmy Butler pulled up for Game 1. Butler seemed more intent on picking his spots and taking the Denver Nuggets’ temperature. Likewise, the Miami Heat followed Butler’s lead, settling for threes and refusing to engage driving lanes. En route to a 104-93 loss, Miami only attempted two free throws. The season for strategic resting ended. The Heat fashion themselves as spartan hoopheads. Well, this is the Roman Coliseum.

Maybe Miami is outgunned, but Butler was expected to do his best impression of LeBron in Game 1 of the 2018 Finals. James ultimately lost that series on a roster riddled with more holes than Sonny Corleone at the toll plaza. However, in Game 1 he took the fight to the Golden State Warriors’ doorstep. The Cavs lost by 10 in overtime, but it only reached that juncture courtesy of James’ 51-point downpour.

Likewise, the Heat followed his lead, settling for threes and refusing to engage driving lanes. Miami hit wide-open triples at an unprecedented proficiency against Boston. In Game 1, they shot like they weren’t used to the gravity in Denver. Role players are going to bounce between extremes, but Bam Adebayo’s production versus Nikola Jokić was a major key to this series for Miami and Butler didn’t do his part. On a night when Adebayo was in an offensive groove, Butler looked punchdrunk from the Conference Finals. His 13 points were his 2023 playoff low. He passed up good shots and was pathologically committed to deferring.

While Butler was testing out his jab, Jokić smelled blood in the early rounds. The Heat have always been a team that won on the scorecard and the scoreboard. They create deflections, set bone-crunching screens, and make it hurt, but they were the ones getting bullied. Jokić came out like Tyson Fury. His soft dad bod, and long gangly arms, belied the wiggle of a man half his size.

He was a human microwave, simultaneously helping his teammates get hot while overcooking the Heat under the Finals lights. The pudgy Michelin Man frame is an even starker contrast to Heat Culture’s CrossFit All-Stars. Jokić hits like a Mack truck and in the waning moments, he Sombor Shuffled the Heat to sleep without making a big show of it.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics stifled themselves by running around with their tails stuck between their legs for half the series. This Nuggets thing isn’t going to the cards after seven rounds.

If Jayson Tatum had started the Finals in this type of funk, the yak shows would be splitting him like an atom, and dissecting his private school background never allowed him to develop the prerequisite Mamba mentality. Hopefully, it pisses Butler off that Denver has had Miami’s number throughout the Butler era. This isn’t a series Butler can swagger into like he has against the Celtics and Bucks. The Heat are 1-6 against the Nuggets with Butler in a Heat uniform dating back to 2019.

Butler’s coffee addiction deserves partial credit for his playoff vibrancy, but BigFace coffee isn’t enough. Butler is at his most aggressive when he’s seemingly radiated by a cacophony of skeptics.

Jimmy Buckets carried this team to the Finals

The seminal parable about Jimmy Buckets’ career was him walking into the Timberwolves practice facility pissed off in October 2018, handing Karl-Anthony Towns his ass while hooping with the benchwarmers against the starters, howling “You can’t win without me,” at the top of his lungs toward general manager Scott Layden before storming out to record an audacious interview with Rachel Nichols. When Butler came to Miami, oddsmakers projected them as a 43-win team who would make for a nice sparring partner against a contender. Instead, he locked in, carried them to the Finals, and was immortalized in a shot of him doubled over in exhaustion. The Heat can’t defeat Denver without that version of Jimmy Butler.

Calm Jimmy Butler isn’t going to get it done. Miami has navigated through higher seeds like a swashbuckling group that just downed an 8-ball stashed before tip-off. Jimmy Buckets is the alter ego who can derive that out of the Heat. Whether he’s got Udonis Haslem ready to throw down or he’s giving Jrue Holiday the business to help ignite a Heat comeback, that’s the scrappiness they’ll need to steal a game on the road against Denver.

Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex

Jimmer Fredette is still out there nailing jumpers

Jimmer Fredette from distance

Former BYU and Shanghai Sharks star Jimmer Fredette will be donning the red, white, and blue this summer. Fredette is a member of the United States Men’s 3×3 team. That team will attempt to win a gold medal in the FIBA 3×3 World Championships. The tournament began on May 30, and a champion will be crowned on June 4.

Fredette is 34 years old, and last played professionally in China during the 2020-21 season. From the highlights though, it appears that the sharpshooter who honed his game playing against inmates at a prison in upstate New York still has enough game left to flummox defenders worldwide.

He joined the Men’s 3×3 team in 2022. In November, the men won the Americup against Puerto Rico. Fredette hit the shot that clinched the victory. Being that the games are played playground style — not in the dog whistle sense, the first team to 21 points wins — traditional basketball stats can’t really quantify his performance. Nor has John Hollinger invented an advanced analytic for this style of play.

The only way to know if Fredette is lighting up opposing defenders is to catch the highlight reels later or watch the livestream of the tournament on YouTube. His next game is at 1:20 p.m. EST when the men take on Slovenia.

It has been 12 years since Fredette and Kawhi Leonard faced off in one of the most highly anticipated regular season Men’s College Basketball games of that decade. The game in which Kawhi Leonard burst onto the national scene by picking up the eventual Player of the Year full court. BYU defeated San Diego State that afternoon, and Fredette did score 25 points while going 4-of-8 from the 3-point line. However, those were the only four shots that he made that afternoon as Leonard held him to 34.8 percent shooting from the field. Fredette also turned the ball over four times in that game.

Fredette’s star burned out once he reached the NBA

He was selected 10th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2011 NBA Draft. He was traded to Sacramento Kings and was a decent player for two seasons and change before being traded again, but he would not be the shooter that would revolutionize the game. That player would be Stephen Curry who was drafted two seasons before him. Fredette’s release isn’t as quick as Curry’s and he also measured two inches shorter than Curry did at the NBA Draft Combine.

It’s good to see him on the court again though, especially in an American uniform. Fredette had a historic college basketball career. He played four years at BYU and won enough awards to fill up a U-Haul.

Go look at the highlights kids. Fredette was a monster. For those of us that remember, we get to experience the nostalgia now, and probably again at the Olympics next summer in Paris.

Heat can’t get past Nuggets on guts alone

Nikola Jokic had his way with Miami, recording a triple-double

For once a Miami Heat 2023 playoff game played out the way that was expected. The Denver Nuggets are bigger, more talented, and won Game 1 of the NBA Finals by a double-digit margin — 104-93.

In an assessment relying on the eyeball test, statistics, or both, the conclusion would be that the Heat have no chance in this series. The Nuggets’ postseason net rating is more than double that of the Heat. During the regular season, the Nuggets won nine more games than their Finals opponent. While the Heat crawled into the playoffs after losing their first play-in game on their home floor, the Nuggets wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference so early that Nikola Jokić did not play in four of the final six games of the regular season.

By any analysis, this series should be considered a mismatch, except for the fact that somehow Heat have shoved their way into the NBA Finals as a No. 8 seed. They rolled through an Eastern Conference that was considered by those who cover the NBA to be the strongest of the two. A first since at least the turn of the millennium. The Heat’s unexpected run looked like it was on the verge of collapse in Game 1, but somehow they fought back and avoided being demolished on national broadcast television.

The Heat trailed by 24 points with 40 seconds remaining in the third quarter. By the 9:29 mark of the fourth, the Heat had cut the lead to 10 points after going on a 14-0 run. While the Heat did not win, playing Game 1 at altitude with only two days rest after playing all seven games of a conference-finals series, slicing that far into a 20-plus point lead is further proof of their resilience. After all of the upsets that the Heat have pulled off in 2023, even though this is the first Game 1 that they have lost this postseason, why shouldn’t they think of Thursday night as a positive?

Denver is healthy, unlike Milwaukee and Boston

The Nuggets are the only healthy team that the Heat have faced in a seven-game series this postseason besides the New York Knicks. Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks are a hardscrabble bunch, but also struggle mightily to convert from the field. The Milwaukee Bucks were playing with a hobbled Giannis Antetokounmpo, and against the Boston Celtics Jaylen Brown and Malcolm Brogdon were both dealing with upper body injuries that hampered their scoring ability. In Game 7, Jayson Tatum turned his ankle on the Celtics’ first possession.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope left the court at the end of the third quarter of Game 1, but was able to return in the fourth to finish the game. Not only are the Nuggets loaded with talent 1-6 in their lineup, but they are also largely healthy. They are certainly healthier than the Heat with Jimmy Butler perpetually dealing with knee problems, Tyler Herro having missed all but a few moments of the postseason with a broken hand, and the ankle that Gabe Vincent turned in Game 4 against the Celtics.

Herro might be ready for Game 2 on Sunday, but he hasn’t played in an NBA basketball game since April 16. The Heat might finally be outmanned. Even if they were completely healthy the Nuggets would still have an advantage when it comes to top-end talent. All that the Heat can rely on in this series is the guile and grit that has been a part of “Heat Culture” since Pat Riley arrived from New York.

The Heat played with that culture force in the fourth quarter of Game 1, and the result was a mildly competitive finish. However, can sheer will keep them alive in a series against a vastly superior team?

The Nuggets are clicking on all cylinders and after one game have no significant injuries to any player in their rotation. If the Nuggets’ health of their rotation players remains, only variance will be able to hinder their shooting percentages.

In no way will the Heat allow the 2023 NBA Finals to be an easy ride for the Nuggets, but if there was ever a postseason series in which their basketball talent discrepancy will be made plain, this is the one.

The definitive NBA Finals player rankings

This should be fun

The NBA Finals are upon us, and it’s time to rank the players involved. You’ll notice Tyler Herro is just an honorable mention, and that’s due to his injury status and not fully knowing when he’ll play in the series. These rankings are based on the level of importance and influence each player will have on their team’s hopes of winning the championship and hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in the end. Miami Heat vs. Denver Nuggets. Quick fun fact. This is the first NBA Finals since 1990 (Pistons-Blazers) that will not include a first-team All-NBA selection. There were no second-team selections either. Now, let’s get it on.

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Word on the street is Tyler Herro could make his return from a broken hand between games one and three of the NBA Finals. Sounds a little like wishful thinking, so Herro is an honorable mention. He’s been no less than the Heat’s third option at full strength this season, but a shooter coming back from such an injury is dicey.

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Bruce Brown is one of those players that’ll sneak up on you in the sense that you’ll look up, and he’ll have scored 15-20 points without much fanfare. Being a leading scorer isn’t his primary job but getting that type of production from your utility guy who plays multiple positions is always huge.

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Another sharpshooter for the Heat, who can get hot at a moment’s notice. However, Strus can be streaky, which was evident against the Celtics as he made just 34 percent of his three-pointers. It’s a feast or famine situation with Strus. He made three or more treys in four of the six games in the New York series. Against Boston, he had just one game where he hit three three-pointers.

Kyle Lowry

This one is simple. Kyle Lowry brings leadership, championship experience and can still heat up occasionally from the mid-range and hit timely shots. Duncan Robinson is on the court strictly for his shooting prowess, and when he gets going, it’s hard to stop him, as the Celtics witnessed in their series.

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An unlikely hero for the Heat during this phenomenal postseason run, Vincent has hit big shot after big shot for Miami. Vincent rolled his ankle against Boston and missed game five but bounced back to contribute 15 points in that heartbreaking game six loss in Miami. The ankle won’t be 100 percent, but with some treatment and extra time off, he should be ready to contribute heavily by Thursday because Miami will need all hands on deck.

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KCP is no stranger to the NBA Finals, being a member of the 2020 bubble champion Los Angeles Lakers squad that defeated the same Denver Nuggets he now plays for in the Western Conference Finals in Orlando. Caldwell-Pope is another guy who can knock down threes for Denver taking pressure off Jokić and Murray. When KCP hits double-digit scoring, the Nuggets usually win.

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Mr. Martin came alive in the Eastern Conference Finals, averaging over 19 points per game against Boston on nearly 49 percent from behind the arc. If the Heat can get any resemblance of that same type of production out of Martin in his first NBA Finals, Miami might pull off the upset most feel they have no shot at completing.

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Gordon is in the best position of his NBA career. The fourth option is on a stacked team where he doesn’t have to worry about how many points he scores. You won’t get a lot of style points out of Gordon, but what he will do is get to the rim, rebound, and defend. He’ll have the occasional 20-point performance, but overall, he’ll do the dirty work. Don’t be surprised to see Gordon matched up defensively against Bam Adebayo often in this series to spell Jokić.

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MPJ has finally become that third option the Nuggets expected him to be when they drafted him 14th overall in the 2018 NBA Draft. Porter can spread out defenses with his shooting ability and 6-foot-10 frame making him a matchup nightmare for most teams. Porter’s hitting just under 41 percent of his three-point shots during Denver’s playoff run. If he’s left open too often, he’ll make Miami pay.

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Miami’s big man will need to put pressure on Jokić in this series for the Heat to stand a chance. No one expects Bam or anyone else to shut down Joker on offense. Still, Jokić can be taken advantage of defensively by Adebayo, using his speed and agility to potentially wear down the former MVP. He’ll need to be active all over the floor, especially in the paint, for Miami to complete the improbable.

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Next to Nikola Jokić, Murray is the most crucial player for the Nuggets. When he gets hot, he could wind up being the best player on the court on a given night. After missing an entire season, Murray returned this year and has picked up where he left off before the ACL injury in 2021. Murray has stepped up his game in the postseason, averaging 27.7 points per game compared to 20 during the regular season.

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If there was an award for the grittiest player, Playoff Jimmy would’ve won it the past two years after these postseason runs. Even when Butler isn’t the Heat’s leading scorer or shooting the highest percentage, he’s the reason they’re in the NBA Finals as the No. 8 seed. Only the second eight-seed to do so in NBA history. Butler was a little tame at times in the ECF against Boston, but Jimmy Buckets will need to make a few appearances for the Heat to raise the Larry O’Brien trophy once again.

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The obvious best player in this series is likely to average a triple-double in the process. Joker presents a tough assignment for every team, so the Heat will have their hands full. The Lakers were able to get Jokić into early foul trouble during the Western Conference Finals but couldn’t quite capitalize. Jokić will get his, but this series won’t be as easy as the previous one for the Nuggets.

Did Bob Myers step away, or did he just not get a contract worthy of his ego?

Will Bob Myers reemerge with another team?

Bob Myers’ reign as the strategic basketball mind behind the premier dynasty of the past decade came to a conclusion on Tuesday afternoon when the 48-year-old team president and general manager stepped aside on Tuesday morning. The Splash Brothers were the core of Golden State’s five NBA title quests, but he unlocked them by acquiring Draymond Green through the draft and trading for Andre Iguodala. Equating a general manager’s contributions is an inexact science, but it’s safe to say Myers left his mark.

Myers is the mastermind who probably booked his ticket into Springfield’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Equating his value to the Warriors is impossible, but we can try. The Golden State Warriors are in their early-stage Waystar-Royco years. Riding off the high of Myers’ Warriors accomplishments, constructing a dynastic roster, the elder Joe Lacob seems intent on installing one of his scions as the basketball operations heir apparent. Myers’s former assistant general manager Travis Schlenk is currently unemployed after rebuilding the Atlanta Hawks with an impeccable touch in the draft, but he just left a situation involving an owner’s intrusive son.

A legacy of savviness

Myers’ legacy in Golden State is remembered for his savviness. Head coach Steve Kerr was a Joe Lacob hire. Myers left his fingerprints all over the roster by supplying Kerr with Green, Iguodala as well as the majority of the supporting cast around their cornerstone players. After this season, the climb begins anew, and rebuilding the Warriors is a difficult climb that Myers seems eager to avoid. If the Warriors weren’t willing to match his compensation requests after the hundreds of millions of dollars they’ve stockpiled since moving into the Chase Center on the back of those titles, that would be an egregious error in judgment. (Myers said he “declined ownership offers on a new deal that would’ve paid him among the league’s top-earning executives,” according to Woj.)

Myers hasn’t drafted well

Since plucking Draymond Green out of the second round of the draft, Myers’ has struggled to develop role players. His most notable selections in the last 10 drafts were Kevon Looney and Jordan Poole, but both players wound up integral to their 2022 title.

The demand for Myers will be felt during the next season rather than this summer when most front office openings have already been filled. If he chooses to return to NBA front offices, he’d likely seek the type of autonomy that Danny Ainge now enjoys in Utah or the all-mighty power Pat Riley has had in Miami for three decades. That was never going to be possible in Golden State with the owners pulling a Logan Roy and attempting to smuggle his children into the basketball operations side.

Maybe he finds it in Houston, which has suffered from a massive power vacuum since Daryl Morey stepped down in 2020. Establishing a kingdom of his own is the only logical next step after reaching the pinnacle besides leaving basketball entirely and using his brand in the broader business world. Myers’ record has its warts. Drafting James Wiseman over LaMelo Ball is the most egregious of his NBA Draft missteps. As the Warriors advanced deeper into the postseason, he became increasingly ineffective in sniffing out rotation players. 

Anthony Bennett and the NBA Lottery’s biggest draft busts of the last decade

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Every day, fans of Aleksej “Poku” Pokusevski, Josh Green, or James Wiseman swear next year is the year their favorite players are not the bums the rest of the NBA thinks they are. I went through the last decade, from 2013-2023, and highlighted the 10 players who are on track to be the biggest busts during that stretch. Some of these players still have time to develop into a semblance of the player who earned their high Lottery selection. But for now, I’ve gathered the guys around the league who were selected between Nos. 1-10 in the last decade who are on track to bustville.

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Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

Pick: No. 1

Draft class: 2013

Bennett is the only No. 1 pick on this list, and is definitely the worst first pick of the last 10 years, especially now that Markelle Fultz and Andrew Wiggins have revitalized their careers on new teams. Bennett was out of the NBA by his fourth season and fourth team, lasting only a season in Cleveland and never averaging more than 16 minutes per game and 5.2 points per game. Bennett was supposed to be part of the rebuilding bridge between LeBron James’ first and second tenures with the Cavs, who had the brilliant stroke of luck of winning three No. 1 picks between 2011 and 2014. Bennett was an odd choice, as, by 2013, the league had evolved past the post-play of slow, vertically challenged bigs. And while the 2013 Draft was the worst of the last decade, the Cavs would have been better off picking any other player that was taken top 10.

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Team: New York Knicks

Pick: No. 9

Draft class: 2018

This season, under the anonymity of Detroit, Knox began to revive his career. Up until this season, he had been an unmitigated bust. He has never looked like a Lottery pick, especially considering who was taken after him, including notable names like Mikal Bridges, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Michael Porter Jr. Knox had the build and abilities to be the offensive perimeter weapon the Knicks were hungry for. But it was evident on his Draft Day suit, featuring Fortnite stitched into the inside of his jacket, he was not mentally mature for the task at hand. The Knicks fanbase is not known for its patience. Knox’s softness on defense and passivity on offense kept him out of the rotations of multiple head coaches on the Knicks, most notably Tom Thibodeau, who was in charge when Knox was traded to Atlanta.

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Team: Orlando Magic

Pick: No. 5

Draft class: 2021

This one hurts, as it’s still so soon in Suggs’s young career. An explosive, dynamic lead guard on a Gonzaga team that made the 2021 NCAA Tournament Final, it was expected Suggs would be the Magic’s unstoppable point-of-attack. The Magic already had a ton of talented two-way wings and saw 2020 first-round pick Cole Anthony as more of a backup, leading the way for Suggs to take over as the starter. But Suggs has fallen to the third-string point guard behind Anthony and Fultz. In his rookie year, his defense was atrocious and he was limited by first a hand injury and then ankle issues. Suggs finished his sophomore season with averages of 9.9 points, 2.9 assists, and three rebounds per game while appearing in more games (53) than he had in his rookie season (48). But there were some signs of life. He shot 32.7 percent from three on the year, a marked improvement from the 21.4 percent of his rookie season, and his defense improved, especially on steals. He also improved his impact on the starting line-up, showing opportunities for him to partially live up to his potential, finishing the season with a +11.3 net rating (113.7/102.4 split) in 58 minutes with the starting lineup.

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Team: Sacramento Kings

Pick: No. 8

Draft class: 2014

While Canada is making a claim as the second-best basketball country in the world, it’s not because of the Canadian-born Staukas, who has been in and out of the NBA since he was drafted in 2014. It’s rare to see a Lottery pick bounce around the Association and in minor leagues around the world like Stauskas. He’s tried a few times to mount comeback stories with the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, and Boston Celtics. What makes the Stauskas pick more painful are the players who were chosen after him, including multi-time All-Star Zach LaVine and back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokić. After a storied college career with the Michigan Wolverines, Stauskas was never able to carve out a role with any of the seven teams he has played for.

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Team: New York Knicks

Pick: No. 8

Draft class: 2017

Ah, “Frankie Smokes,” Knicks fans hardly knew ya. The Knicks had two shots at Lottery point guards in this draft, taking Ntilikina in 2017 and then trading for Dennis Smith Jr. in 2019, who went ninth in the same draft. Unfortunately for them, neither worked out for the Knicks. Ntilikina was never the planking lead guard he was projected as, instead, he fits more as a defensive-minded wing with a streaky shooting ability. He is currently part of the role-playing supporting cast around Luka Dončić in Dallas. He is a free agent this summer and might be on his way out of the league due to his poor shooting from the perimeter.

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Team: Sacramento Kings

Pick: No. 2

Draft class: 2018

Of all the players on the list, Bagley is having the best current career, currently playing for the Detroit Pistons as a part-time starter, averaging 12 PPG (shooting 53 percent on field goals), and 6.4 RPG. While Bagley has eased into a role-player role with Detroit, he is far from the offensive heavyweight projections that influenced the Sacramento Kings to select him second overall in 2018. It’s not just that he was selected second, but he was selected before Dončić (third), Jaren Jackson Jr. (fourth), and Trae Young (fifth). He will always be remembered as the player taken before Dončić, but that’s not his fault, but former Kings exec Vlade Divac’s. Bagley is still waiting for his three-point shot to come around after five seasons (29 percent career average). But he has maintained a solid career average of 13.3 PPG. If Bagley can become a threat from long distance, he could slot in as the future of the power forward position for Detroit and pair with fellow potential Lottery bust Wiseman in a frontcourt revival.

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Team: Philadelphia 76ers

Pick: No. 3

Draft class: 2015 

When the 76ers took Okafor in 2015, he was supposed to pair with Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel to form a dynamic and powerful frontcourt trio. Okafor was dominant in his time at Duke, shooting up to Lottery status with an array of back-to-the-basket post-game and rebounding prowess. But Okafor’s old-school post-game was being phased out of the modern pace and space game. He only lasted three seasons in Philly after a scorching rookie season where he averaged 17.5 PPG, 7 RPG, and 1.2 BPG. Knee issues hindered his development, and he was forced out of Philly during a strange disinformation campaign by then GM Bryan Colangelo involving the exec’s burner Twitter account. He would play four more seasons but only an average of 35 games per season. He left the league in 2021 after playing for the Nets, Pelicans, and Pistons.

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Team: Phoenix Suns

Pick: No. 4

Draft class: 2016

While Dončić has changed the dialogue around the toughness and superstar potential of European players, Bender was the blueprint for the kind of in-and-out league tenure overhyped Euros had in the 2000s. Bender was named as the best international player in the 2016 Draft. And he came with much hullabaloo around his potential, as he was the highest-drafted-ever Croatian and the Suns’ highest-selected draft pick since Armen Gilliam was taken second by the team overall in 1987. So the pressure cooker was already there and boiled up when he only averaged 3.4 PPG and 2.4 RPG in his rookie season. He only lasted three seasons in Phoenix and four seasons in the NBA, he was part of three different teams, including the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks, averaging 5.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game. He is most known for a particular fan using Bender’s jersey as a refurbished Kevin Durant jersey, as the two both wore number No. 25.

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Team: Phoenix Suns

Pick: No. 4

Draft class: 2017

Jackson only lasted five seasons in the league, Jackson spent two seasons with the Suns before being traded to Memphis in a four-player deal following the 2018-19 season, during which he played 22 games. After becoming a free agent, he signed with his hometown team, the Detroit Pistons, where he remained for a season and a half. Eventually, he concluded his career in the 2021-22 season with the Sacramento Kings. Before he was drafted, ESPN rated him as the nation’s second-highest-ranked player in the class of 2016. Throughout his tenure with the Kansas Jayhawks, he averaged 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, shooting an impressive 51.3 percent from the field. That potential never manifested itself in the league, shooting 41.6 percent from the field for his career and out of the NBA by the time he was 25.

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Team: Phoenix Suns (traded to Minnesota Timberwolves)

Pick: No. 6

Draft class: 2019

This one is still fresh, as Culver played his last game in the NBA this season after being waived by the Atlanta Hawks in January and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the G League acquiring him via trade from the College Park Skyhawks. Culver was supposed to be the athletic complement to Karl-Anthony Towns’ shooting ability. Culver had a minimal impact rookie season. In his second year, the SG/SF experienced a drop in nearly half in all of his major stats, including points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and even minutes. His three-point percentage dropped from an already below-average 30 percent to an unacceptable 25 percent.

The Miami Heat have the Boston Celtics right where they want them

Even Jaylen Brown can’t believe it.

Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals is going to decide nature vs. nurture, talent vs. culture, one and for all. Jimmy Butler has been giving the cameras a wry smile and an occasional wink since the Miami Heat lost Game 4, and even went as far as to say “We can and we will win this series.” Despite that, pundits still swear by the Boston Celtics’ pedigree.

We’ve been throwing the Heat a parade for a solid week now, and I genuinely think that knocked them off their game. Coach Erik Spoelstra’s Seal team mentality doesn’t hit the same way when his squad is frontrunning. I would say that’s why I trust that Miami will earn a trip to the NBA Finals on Monday, but I don’t trust either of these teams.

The 2023 playoffs have reflected the regular season more than we’d like to admit. It felt like a ton of teams were sandbagging — none more than Miami — November through April and biding their time until the real hooping starts. For the past month, they’ve shown us who they are, with Angela Bassett yelling “Show them who you are,” and Jimmy Buckets obliging. He did that in Game 6, too, but it wasn’t enough. At the same time, we’ve been expecting a regression to the mean from Miami, and that’s sort of what happened in Games 4, 5, and 6.

You can say it’ll be extremely difficult for the Heat to bounce back from coming .1 seconds away from the Finals. I won’t be saying that, but you can.

Beware of public perception

This Game 7 has serious “favored team gets the football pulled out from under them” vibes. That Derrick White escape was almost as improbable as the Kansas City Chiefs 13-second win over the Buffalo Bills, but if you remember, they lost the AFC Championship to the Cincinnati Bengals.

To steal another example from the NFL, how about the Minnesota Vikings edging the New Orleans Saints on a pass to Stefon Diggs with no time remaining only to get blasted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC title game?

So many people have said all the pressure is now on Miami that it might’ve flipped back to Boston. The finale is in Beantown, and the C’s opened up at 8-point favorites. That was the exact same line as Game 1, when Miami took over late, and Boston didn’t help its cause at all.

Nothing would make me happier than seeing Butler get some comeuppance for those team picture day dreads, and it’d be even sweeter if he was the Big Face of a 3-0 collapse.

You see, those are the exact kinds of thoughts the Heat want you thinking. 

If D’Angelo Russell can be ‘better’ than your starting point guard and shooting guard, then why isn’t he?

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After a playoff series that highlighted why a 27-year-old former No. 2 overall NBA Draft pick could be playing for his fifth franchise next season, like clockwork, D’Angelo Russell couldn’t help himself and did something dumb.

“I’m nice. I know who I am as a player. … I can be better than your point guard. I can be better than your shooting guard,” he told Jovan Buha of The Athletic, about his game entering this offseason.

Confidence is a necessity. Conceit is needless.

When the Denver Nuggets swept the Lakers in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals earlier this week, it sent Denver to a place they’ve never been before — the NBA Finals — and Los Angeles back to the drawing board. And one of the first things that Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka has to do is figure out what he’s going to do with Russell, who is an unrestricted free agent.

During the conference finals, Russell only scored a total of 25 points. He came off the bench in Game 4 and finished his season with four points, two rebounds, and two assists on a night in which he only played 15 minutes and was 2-of-4 from the field. After multiple games throughout the series, Russell went back to the court to get up some postgame shots — it didn’t translate.

Despite his cold shooting in the series, the meaningless shots he took after games, that asinine quote he gave about his abilities, and how bad he was on defense, what’s so bothersome about all of this is that it seems like he hasn’t learned from his past.

Russell secretly filmed Nick Young during his first Lakers stint

Russell’s first stint with the Lakers was cut short after he broke the ultimate locker room code of conduct when he secretly filmed former teammate Nick Young discussing his dealings with other women when he was in a very public relationship with rapper Iggy Azalea at the time.

“D’Angelo, great guard, but had a problem when (Young) and the whole thing went down, so we had to get him out of there,” said Magic Johnson during his time as the Lakers team president.

The Lakers sent Russell to Brooklyn for a fresh start. But before he could even play a game he was running his mouth — again — as he snitched on a teammate during his introductory press conference. “The workout was last night. Caris (LeVert) was supposed to be there, but he wasn’t” said Russell as he blasted his new teammate for no reason.

To some, the comments were overblown and weren’t a big deal. But, six years later, they’re proof that he has a history of not understanding when to keep his mouth closed — whether it be about the personal lives of his teammates, their whereabouts for offseason workouts, or his unrealistic beliefs about his role in the NBA.

D’Angelo Russell is a former All-Star who can help out many teams in the NBA next season — maybe even the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s just been interesting that he hasn’t quite figured out that he could help himself by playing better and talking less.

Carmelo Anthony and the top retired NBA players never to win a ring

Carmelo Anthony retired with accolades, but no championship

With Carmelo Anthony’s retirement announcement this week, we thought it’d be fun to look at some of the greatest retired NBA players to never win a ring. It’s a discussion that’s often had, and now Anthony is officially a club member. Besides never winning the ultimate prize, one other thing each of these players has in common is being part of the NBA’s 75th-anniversary team. So, all these players are considered all-time greats regardless of title status.

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Melo announced his retirement earlier this week and left the game as the NBA’s ninth-leading scorer. Anthony was never seen as the best player in the NBA, having played during the LeBron James era, but he was the Association’s most prolific scoring threat at one point and even won a scoring title in 2013 to prove that claim. He never made it to the NBA Finals but led Denver to the Western Conference Finals in ’09, where they lost in six games.

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Charles Barkley is more known for being a talking head at this point than he is for having a stellar NBA career. Barkley’s prime was 30 years ago, but he’s still one of the greatest players to step on an NBA court to not win a championship. Only 39 players in league history have averaged over 22 points per game for their career, and Barkley is one of them at 22.14 ppg. Sir Charles had an 11-year stretch where he never dipped under 20 ppg, and that might not sound like much in today’s era, but he played in an era where teams weren’t averaging 120 ppg in the 1990s.

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The Answer has been called the best little man in the game, and while Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons bad boy) might dispute that, there’s no question Iverson had the most heart of any player during his time in the NBA. Iverson was a four-time scoring champ, three-time steals leader, 11-time All-Star, and the ’96-97 Rookie of the Year. Plus, he was the ’00-01 MVP and a Hall of Famer.

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Here we have one of the few back-to-back MVP winners in NBA history. Nash never seems to get the respect he deserves which is fitting as he barely got it when he played. He’s one of the best pure point guards the Association has ever produced, but Nash was also a phenomenal shooter as he shot just under 43 percent from three-point range over his career. Nash’s coaching career may have fizzled quickly, but he’ll forever be known as one of the most outstanding point guards ever.

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He is one of the forgotten stars of a past era who never seems to get the respect he deserves. Elgin Baylor was the Rookie of the Year in ’58-59 and won the All-Star game MVP that same season. He retired in ’72 and still has the third-highest ppg average in NBA history at 27.2. Today we hear the term “he’s a bucket” thrown around like rice at a wedding, but Baylor really was that. Baylor could score with the best of ‘em but wasn’t quite able to capture a championship despite playing for the Lakers his entire career in Minneapolis and Los Angeles.

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Miller Time was always thrilling, and Reggie did his best to lead the Indiana Pacers for 18 years. While only making one NBA Finals appearance, the Pacers were perennial contenders in the eastern conference while Miller played. But, like many others, he continually ran into Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. But Reggie’s legacy was built on memorable moments, not accolades. Like the night he scored eight points in nine seconds against the New York Knicks in the ’95 playoffs. That’s legendary stuff right there.

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Big Pat Ewing was one of the most skilled centers of the 90s but could never capture that elusive NBA title. Despite that, he’s one of the more loved figures of 90s NBA hoops and had a Hall of Fame career. In the deepest era of big men the NBA has ever seen, Ewing was among the best and always had the Knicks in the mix in the east. Like others on this list, he just happened to play in the same era as Jordan.

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Another star of the 90s who was foiled by Jordan not once but twice in the NBA Finals, Malone is still considered one of the best power forwards to ever play the game despite never winning a title. Malone was a 14-time All-Star, 14-time All-NBA selection, two-time MVP, Hall of Famer, and part of the 75th-anniversary team. He’s also third on the all-time scorer’s list and was second for many years before LeBron James passed him.

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Stockton is seen as a bit out there these days but is known as the assist king around the NBA. Stockton was part of one of the greatest, most lethal duos in NBA history while playing in Utah with Karl Malone. He dropped so many dimes that the second-leading assist guy in league history (Jason Kidd) is more than 3,700 assists behind. The closest active player, Chris Paul, is in third place on the all-time list but trails Kidd by nearly 600 as his career winds down. The way basketball has evolved, Stockton may hold that crown for a few more decades.

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They called him the human highlight reel. Anytime you watch a player with that type of nickname, you know you’ll be entertained, at the least. Nique was a nine-time All-Star and seven-time All-NBA player. Wilkins is considered one of the top three, if not the best, NBA dunkers of all time. He was never able to reach the NBA Finals but made a significant impact in helping shape the Association in the 80s and 90s. 

Lakers’ front office competence helped turn slow start into Western Conference Finals appearance

Darvin Ham and Rob Pelinka chat before Game 4

Remember that Baxter Holmes’ ESPN report about the Los Angeles Lakers from four years ago? News of it has been floating around for months before its publication. Holmes made an appearance on Zach Lowe’s podcast in the aftermath of the world reading what he uncovered about Magic Johnson, the Rambis and Buss families, and Rob Pelinka. This is Holmes’ quote on his original tip that led to the bombshell report.

“I started on this story about a year ago, Holmes said on The Lowe Post. “After Sports Illustrated did [an expose] on the Dallas Mavericks and the inner workings of their culture which were troubling, a source reached out to me, or I maybe heard from a couple of sources, they said ‘if you wanna take a look inside a culture that’s troubling, take a look at the Lakers.’”

Those calls came in response to a story that reported former Mavericks beat writer Earl Sneed remained employed by the organization after being arrested at the facility on assault charges. (Editor’s note: Sneed pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of family violence assault and interference with emergency request. He allegedly assaulted a female employee two years later.)

Nothing that egregious was in Holmes’ report, but what it revealed was an organization that was the opposite of the word in Tinsel Town. That season the Lakers missed the postseason, and did so again in 2021-22. This season, they made it to the Western Conference Finals.

Lakers’ run fueled by February’s roster overhaul

This run was made possible by the Lakers executing a Herculean roster overhaul in February. A much-needed influx of talent allowed them to go on the necessary late-season run to avoid missing for the third time with LeBron James on the roster. The 2022-23 season for the Lakers was able to go from pumpkin to carriage, because of true organization from the Lakers’ front office, and patience.

Holmes’ report confirmed some of what Magic Johnson had said eight days earlier on ESPN’s First Take. There were too many influential and powerful voices with their hands on the Lakers’ on-court product. During the 2021-22 season, it appeared that the problem was still present. It was reported that Kurt Rambis was heavily involved with the coaching staff including sitting in on meetings.

One of the first signs of Laker competence came after Darvin Ham was hired as head coach. His conditions for accepting the position were that he had to have the full authority that is supposed to come with the position. Per NBA Insider Marc Stein, there would be no more Rambis freely sitting in the meetings and offering his two cents. Also, unlike Frank Vogel before him, Ham would have complete autonomy in assembling his staff.

Then came the decision on what to do with Russell Westbrook’s expiring contract. There were debates throughout NBA media about a potential deal with the Indiana Pacers to acquire Buddy Hield and/or Myles Turner, and them receiving the Lakers’ only two remaining tradeable first-round draft picks this decade along with the Westbrook contract.

According to a report from The Athletic it was seriously considered. However, In order for Pelinka to make this kind of seismic deal, he wanted the Lakers’ entire braintrust in favor of it including their new head coach. Consensus could not be reached, and Pelinka elected to not go through with the deal. The Lakers also made some inquiries into acquiring Kyrie Irving from the Brooklyn Nets, but nothing materialized. Soldiering forward with the same key players was certainly a far more practical decision than the Lakers gutting their team to acquire Westbrook in the summer of 2021.

A painful start to the season

While the decision to hold the line was the right call, it brought forth a lot of pain to start the season. A 2-10 start, and another season of the Lakers hovering around the play-in tournament with jokes being hurled at the franchise from all corners of sports and social media.

In Pelinka and Buss’ defense though, remaining patient until past the halfway point of the season while eating that daily criticism by the spoonful, is a sign of good leadership. Going through a thorough process to make the best possible decision and riding out the result is the only way for leaders to advance their organizations.

Then in late January, they were able to acquire Rui Hachimura from the Washington Wizards for Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks. They brought in this 2019 ninth-overall pick and it cost them none of their top assets.

Was Hachimura worth three second-rounders? If the Lakers front office believed that one of those picks will turn into Nikola Jokić, then no. Being that Jokić is making a case to be one of the 20 best NBA players of all time and rising, it’s fairly safe to say that kind of lightning won’t strike twice. Instead, for some potential players who probably wouldn’t have been on the roster after training camp, the Lakers received a player who turned into a top-four contributor on a team that went to the Western Conference Finals.

The deadline deal to acquire D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Malik Beasley was not nearly the same home run even though it provided some necessary depth. Vanderbilt and Russell had their problems in the playoffs — Beasley barely played — but it only cost them the 2027 pick, and it’s top-four protected.

Only 4 Lakers are under contract next season, and LeBron’s future is in the air

Only four players for the Lakers are currently under contract for next season — James, Anthony Davis, Vanderbilt, and Max Christie. That giant hold that Westbrook’s contract had on their salary cap is gone, but soon more big decisions must be made. The entire NBA saw Austin Reaves and Hachimura in the playoffs. A couple of scorers with size who can be counted on to play competitive and intelligent defense are going to command quite a raise this offseason.

Also, the Lakers still need more 3-point shooters, another on-ball creator, and also there is a chance that James does not return for a 21st season. After all, that is 21 regular seasons of NBA basketball minutes and enough playoff minutes to add on another three.

While the franchise has a lot of uncertainty to sift through, for now it appears to no longer be shrouded in instability and incompetence. The roles are defined clearly enough so that decisions can be made in an organized and thoughtful manner.

It took a while to get here, and maybe the Lakers are a losing season away from more reports of meddling. For right now though, Pelinka, Buss, and everyone involved in turning the tankard away from the trash heap deserves to be commended for their work.

Yes, it didn’t result in a championship, but sleeping during the offseason has to be much more restful after getting swept in the Western Conference Finals, as opposed to finishing the regular season winning 35 games or less.