• Hello, friends. Welcome back! How have you been? Good? Great. This is Last Week This Morning, basketball words and things and hoops and slams and jams and mama there goes that mans, etc.

    NBA Finals

    I know, everything and anything that could possibly have been said about the NBA Finals has been said. I’m a week late to the party here, but when you’re supposed to collect all of your thoughts once a week, and Game 7 of the NBA Finals occurs on the same night as the day you’re supposed to be writing said column, this is what you get – late takes. I’ll make it short.

    For a certain generation of younger basketball lovers, and I’m speaking as part of that generation right now, LeBron James’ NBA Finals performance was the single most impressive stretch of important basketball that we’ve ever seen. I’ve witnessed impressive regular-season runs, long winning streaks, and impressive full seasons (the 73-win Warriors are certainly one of those) but as far as an individual performance on the grandest stage of them all, what LeBron did from Game 5 on was the best basketball I have ever seen.

    That is sort of a bold statement, but it does come with some caveats. First of all, on a personal level, I’m really only counting the last five or so years of NBA basketball. I’m 26, and I’ve probably watched well over 100 NBA games per season since I was 10, but I didn’t start thinking about basketball until about five years ago. I am, admittedly, having a hard time making my point here, so hopefully this makes some sense. I feel like I know what I’m watching now, where as when I was younger, I simply watched basketball because I loved it. I love it now, possibly more than ever, but I have a much better Idea of what I’m watching.

    I’m not claiming that LeBron James is the best basketball player of all-time, or that his 2016 NBA Finals performance was the best NBA Finals performance of all-time, I’m simply stating that for folks in a similar stage of their basketball-watching life, LeBron James’ 2016 NBA Finals performance was the highest level of basketball, again, on the grandest stage, that my generation has ever witnessed.

    He was remarkable and he played as close to perfection against unparalleled competition that I cannot even really put what I saw into words. He would go through quarter-plus long stretches of making the right decision on every single defensive and offensive possession. Now, the execution might not have been there every time. He didn’t make every shot, and it’s not like he didn’t commit any turnovers, etc, but it just seemed like, from a basketball IQ standpoint, he continued to make right play after right play after right play. It was awesome.

    Appreciating Online NBA Communities

    Personal anecdote time – I bought a new car almost two years ago. I guess when you buy a new car the SiriusXM dudes give you a free year of satellite radio. I don’t know, at any rate, I had a year of free Satellite radio. They convinced me to sign up for another year, blah, blah, blah, whatever. The point is, I used to listen to a lot of local (Boston) sports talk radio, and have listened to A LOT less since I got the new car.

    I actually like a lot of the people on the radio here in Boston, but I had a long drive ahead of me the day before the 2016 NBA Draft, the Celtics had a million picks, so I decided to tune in to one of our two local stations. One stations was talking Red Sox, fine, the other guys were talking draft, so that is where I stopped.

    Oh man. It was bad. It was bad in the ‘ESPN’s draft coverage is so far behind twitter’ kind of way. The information and / or draft talking points they discussed were weeks late. The prospect analysis was, at times, dead wrong. And I understand that I’m not their audience, really, and if you’re reading this, you aren’t their audience, either, but it made me really appreciate the kind of smart basketball dialogue plastered all over the Internet. From podcasts, to the speed and frequency of information we can get on Twitter, to /r/NBA, and so on. There is just so much awesome NBA work being done online, and I feel so blessed to know where to find it.

    I’m not breaking any news with that realization, but seriously, go listen to your local sports radio station for a few hours. It’ll make you appreciate our little community of hoop lovers like never before.

    Anyone Can Win

    The last little tidbit that stuck with me from the past weekish of hoops was J.R. Smith’s NBA Finals performance. I don’t think J.R Smith was amazing in the NBA Finals, but he wasn’t a liability, either, and considering J.R. Smith’s spotty reputation around the league, ‘not a liability’ is quite good. He shot the ball well, he never lost his confidence.  And most impressively, Earl Smith III played 39 minutes of basketball in a Game 7 for the NBA Championship against the greatest regular season basketball team of all-time. That is so far from the lower points of J.R. Smith’s career that it really helps reinforce how important ‘fit’ is to a player’s success in the NBA.

    We are SO quick to label NBA players. I’m as guilty as anyone. ‘Can you win an NBA Championship with this guy?’ is a hypothetical question I hear people ask about a host of players around the league all the time. It’s a frequent podcast topic, writing topic, etc. That ‘can he win?’ narrative is everywhere, always.

    Of course, LeBron James is kind of a cheat code player in J.R. Smith’s example, but the Cavaliers were supposed to lose this series, and it’s not like J.R. Smith wasn’t a HUGE part of the Cavaliers’ win. You can question his production, but the fact of the matter is, he played nearly 40 minutes per game in the NBA Finals. That is a major, major piece of a championship team’s rotation. If you asked me a couple of years ago if ANY team could win with J.R. Smith playing that big a role, I’d probably tell you ‘I don’t know’, because I like to ride the fence, but deep down inside, I would certainly lean towards ‘hell no’.

    But it’s hard not to look at J.R. Smith and come away from his NBA Finals win thinking that any proven NBA player can win in the right circumstances. I think Rudy Gay, or someone like Carmelo Anthony, are two good examples of proven NBA players who we generally mock for their collective ‘losing’ when a lot more focus should go on who their playing with, and what their organization is like. For both the Knicks and the Kings, the answer is ‘bad’ and ‘bad’.

    I’m not suggesting that those guys are efficient basketball players, and in both cases a ‘downsizing’ in role and salary is probably necessary to find them the right team.

    Rudy Gay, for example, had a bad season in Sacramento this year. He was horrific in Toronto, but I won’t make the blanket statement that you ‘can’t win with Rudy Gay’ anymore. You can, he just needs to be surrounded by a team of players, or a disciplined organization that can keep his warts, namely shot selection and uninspired defense, in check.

    He had that in Memphis. I’m not sure he’s had that anywhere else, and look where his reputation around the league is right now. It’s not great, and I’m not absolving him from blame, because he is a frustrating player to watch at times, but he is so talented. More so than J.R. Smith, and if he found the right team, and started making consistent playoff runs, his current reputation would vanish.

    I’m going to make a conscious effort to stop generalizing in the wake of J.R. Smith’s success. Some players are better than others, but if J.R. Smith can play 40 minutes of NBA Finals basketball, a lot of these so-called ‘losers’ around the league can, too. Fit is such an underrated part of how we value players, and it might be the single biggest component to said players’ success.

Fantasy News

  • Kostas Antetokounmpo
    PF, Dallas Mavericks

    The Raptors are planning to claim Kostas Antetokounmpo off waivers, per Eurohoops' Nikos Varlas.

    Blake Murphy of The Athletic reports that the Raptors were interested in adding Antetokounmpo last season, but had their plans dashed when Dallas took Antetokounmpo with the final pick in the draft. He's incredibly raw still, but has the physical build that the Raptors seem to love in their developmental projects.

    Source: Nikos Varlas on Twitter

  • B.J. Johnson
    PF, Sacramento Kings

    The Kings have waived B.J. Johnson.

    Johnson had a decent showing in Summer League but never seemed likely to last in Sacramento given the team's depth at forward. After making seven appearances on a pair of 10-day contracts with the Hawks last season, Johnson will look to find more concrete footing in the league this season.

    Source: Jason Jones on Twitter

  • Kostas Antetokounmpo
    PF, Dallas Mavericks

    The Mavs have waived Kostas Antetokounmpo, per Shams Charania.

    The youngest Antetokounmpo was Mr. Irrelevant in the 2018 draft but only appeared in two games with the Mavs last season. Dallas opens up a two-way contract slot and will likely find a more NBA-ready player on the market, while Antetokounmpo will look to latch on with another team for camp. Perhaps the 20-year-old can make it a family affair, with both of his older brothers playing in Milwaukee.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Christ Koumadje
    C, Philadelphia Sixers

    The Sixers have agreed to a one-year, partially-guaranteed deal with rookie Christ Koumadje according to Michael Scotto of The Athletic.

    Rich Hofmann of The Athletic reports that it will be an Exhibit 10 deal. Koumadje went undrafted but flashed his defensive potential by averaging 2.4 blocks in only 13.6 mpg at Summer League. The 7'4" big man will be a developmental project for Philly and is not part of the fantasy landscape for the time being.

    Source: Michael Scotto

  • James Harden
    PG, Houston Rockets

    James Harden has taken his name out of consideration for the FIBA World Cup this summer.

    Harden will be focusing his efforts on getting ready for next season. There figures to be a large adjustment coming with Russell Westbrook replacing Chris Paul, and Harden playing alongside a ball-dominant scoring guard rather than a distributor will be something that figures to have a rough patch or two. Still, Harden reportedly told the Rockets that he's comfortable with playing off the ball more, so it should work out. Team USA, meanwhile, figures to be just fine considering the depth of talent available.

    Source: Jonathan Feigen on Twitter

  • Josh Gray
    G, New Orleans Pelicans

    Josh Gray has agreed to a two-way deal with the Pelicans.

    Gray had a cup of coffee with the Suns back in 2017-18 and spent last season playing in Korea. The former LSU product has always been adept at stacking up steals, but he's unlikely to see much playing time given the backcourt depth in New Orleans.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Christian Wood
    PF, Detroit Pistons

    Christian Wood will be competing for backup center minutes this season, per Keith Langlois of Pistons.com.

    Markieff Morris and Thon Maker will be his primary competition, and Wood has the edge if Detroit is looking for some strength and rebounding. If they're looking for shooting, then it's safe to say that we'll see some smaller bench groups this season. Wood has been dominant at the G-League level and had some monster games at the end of last season but it's not a great landing spot for fantasy value given that Detroit's roster is built on their frontcourt stars. Deep-league owners should keep an eye on that battle in the preseason.

    Source: Keith Langlois on Twitter

  • Justin Holiday
    SG, Indiana Pacers

    Justin Holiday has agreed to a one-year deal with the Pacers as of Friday's reports.

    Holiday will likely be a wing option off the bench for a secretly deep Pacers squad. There's some potential here if he can find an appropriate minute load.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Isaiah Pineiro
    PF, Sacramento Kings

    The Kings agreed to a one-year, partially guaranteed deal with Isaiah Pineiro on Friday.

    This seems like just a depth move for the Kings to have a G-League option for this upcoming season. He played for the Kings in Summer League and clearly impressed enough to get a contract.

    Source: Michael Scotto on Twitter

  • Kosta Koufos
    C, Sacramento Kings

    Kosta Koufos has reached an agreement with CSKA Moscow according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo.

    Haynes goes on to say that Koufos' deal will make him the highest paid American in all of Europe next season, so it's safe to say that it was an easy sell for Koufos who appeared to be facing a rather tepid market. His deal will also include an NBA option that will allow him to opt out of his contract should he decide to return to the States.

    Source: Chris Haynes on Twitter