June 4, 2016, 4:52 pm
The grind of the season and the pressure of the playoffs have brought us here; right back where we were a year ago. The route has been a little bit different, but we’re back. It’s at this point where we can get into some serious discussion of what works and what doesn’t when we try and predict the finals.
By now the teams are used to the scrutiny, especially when they’re seasoned squads like Golden State and Cleveland, but to suggest that it has only intensified now is an injustice to this season’s also-rans.
By the time the conference finals hit it’s a media circus for everyone. The spotlight is on every time you take the court and there’s plenty of time to analyze, overanalyze and second guess everything.
Given the time spent looking at Cleveland, Golden State, Oklahoma City and Toronto, it’s time to look at what’s next. What could, should and might the future hold for the league’s final four and where do they go from here?
The theme for Oklahoma City right now is probably disappointment, but as the distance grows between the present and their Game 7 loss it will look more and more like hope. They were expected to lose to San Antonio and while they gained some support following that upset, were still major underdogs against Golden State. In a way, losing this year shouldn’t be more disappointing than any other year.
Except that they were up 3-1. It fueled some fun discussions about Golden State’s sudden vulnerability and for a minute it looked like the overwhelming favorites would be tossed aside. But you know how it goes and how it eventually went; everything was okay for the Thunder until it wasn’t. The sentiment of ‘I don’t see how OKC loses three straight,’ was en vogue until they were beaten in three straight. And then their season was over.
‘Choke’ is an awful word. It gets thrown around frequently by people who live to jam narrative elements into every sporting event they can. Not every loss involves someone choking; sometimes it’s two good teams playing each other and one happens to be ahead at some arbitrary time limit. Sometimes one team just beats another. So now what?
Giving up a series lead like that will sting, but the Thunder might be ready to get over that hump next year under Billy Donovan. And no matter the expense, the road forward has to involve Kevin Durant. This is the team that’s best equipped to topple the Warriors in the coming years, with all due respect to everyone else. Truth be told, I’d rather the Thunder face the Warriors for seven more games than have Golden State take on the Cavs.
For Durant the likely step is to go back to OKC on a short deal with an opt out to maximize his earnings, which makes a ton of sense for both parties. The Thunder are close. Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and a developing Steven Adams make for the type of foundation that you should be trying to join, not one you leave for the uncertainty of another situation.
There are many out there who think all the big stars should head east because it’s an easier road to the Finals. Granted, that’s probably true. It was painfully obvious that the Raptors couldn’t hang with anyone else in the conference semis. But if you go do decide to go eastward, there’s still the LeBron problem. I think the only teams out east that could beat Cleveland by simply adding KD are Toronto and Miami, with Boston and Atlanta being within the realm of possibility. This ignores the fact that adding Durant means opening up holes elsewhere on your roster, as well as the fact that Durant controls his own future.
Their strong postseason shifted the mood in OKC from uncertainty to hunger. At the beginning of the year, it was looking like KD might bolt for greener pastures. Now it seems like his return is a foregone conclusion while the team is left to sift through the tape to see how they were bested; how they can make sure it won’t happen next year.
For the Raptors, in keeping with Toronto’s proud sporting traditions, the mood has to be one of cautious optimism with underlying anticipation for total failure.
We’ve chatted about what they’re looking to do following GM Masai Ujiri’s end of year presser as well as after Bismack Biyombo said he’d be open to a hometown discount. The Raptors should be proud of their showing, as they’ve established both team and personal bests across the board and have dragged the team and city back to relevance after some dark, listless, time-wasting years.
Toronto feels like the league’s little brother. They’re the outsiders who don’t get to hang with all the cool kids, an identity that’s galvanized a ferocious fanbase thanks to some deft marketing and honest-to-goodness success. The brother who gets clowned for having a goofy rapper show up courtside, the one whose fans can be easily provoked by a bad call or an online poll; any perceived slight is a call to arms because they’re used to the short straw.
In many ways, the Raptors are easy to make fun of and the spotty performances that dotted these playoffs don’t help their case. But much like an actual little brother, people around the league took a moment after the final Crying Jordan was tweeted and gave Toronto their due. This was a season to be proud of. One to build upon.
It’s a path with many forks, as Toronto will be looking to take the most difficult leap in going from good to great. The team has many options this summer, with DeMar DeRozan’s contract chief among them. Ujiri has spoken about his desire to get the band back together, something the fans and players would love to see happen. But is it the right call?
For all the fun and goodwill this season brought to Toronto, it’s imperative that Ujiri wade through the sentiment when he needs to so this team can keep getting better. There’s a non-zero chance that this is where the Raptors max out with Kyle Lowry and DeRozan driving the bus. What happens then? Can DeRozan learn to be effective if his shot doesn’t fall? What if Jonas Valanciunas is just a huge tease? What if Dwane Casey’s offense allows for goodness but not greatness?
So there’s hope, and rightfully so. But there’s also those lingering ‘what-ifs,’ because there are major questions unanswered and the fine folks of Toronto have been burned so many times before. Game 7 against Brooklyn. Last year against the Wizards. The 2013 Leafs. Even the bat flip led to Game 6 against the Royals. They fight the desire to go all in, until they finally cave and are immediately handed a crushing defeat. Toronto is on the path to success, but Ujiri and company need to be ready to change course if need be.
So what does the road ahead look like for our finalists?
July 21, 2019, 10:09 amAnthony DavisPF, Los Angeles Lakers
When asked by Chicago Tribune reporter K.C Johnson on how he'd feel about wearing a Bulls jersey someday, Anthony Davis said that "If the opportunity ever presents itself and when that time comes, I’d definitely consider it.”
The chances of that time coming is more likely for 2025 than 2020, but still, until Davis is firmly committed to the Lakers long-term speculation of his future will remain. It's nice to know if you're a Bulls fan that he imagines playing for his home town at some point, but don't expect him bolting LA for them after one season.
Source: Chicago Tribune
July 20, 2019, 6:42 pmKenny WootenPF, New York Knicks
The Knicks have signed Kenny Wooten to an Exhibit 10 contract.
Wooten posted 10 blocks in only 52 minutes during Summer League and possesses some serious leaping ability. He will spend most of his time in the G-League and should not be on the radar in drafts.
Source: Marc Berman of The New York Post
July 20, 2019, 3:09 pmOshae BrissettSG-SF, Toronto Raptors
The Raptors have signed Oshae Brissett to an Exhibit 10 contract.
Brissett, a Toronto native, went undrafted after two seasons at Syracuse and played with the Clippers at Summer League, where he averaged 6.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 0.8 steals in 17.6 minutes a night across five games. This puts Toronto's roster at 20 for the time being, so barring any further transactions the Raptors have their camp group set.
Source: Blake Murphy on Twitter
July 20, 2019, 2:32 pmJordan McLaughlinG, Minnesota Timberwolves
The Wolves have inked point guard Jordan McLaughlin to a two-way contract.
McLaughlin went undrafted in 2018 after a four-year USC career where he averaged 12.8 points, 7.8 assists and 2.0 steals in his senior season. After his strong play for the G-League's Long Island Nets last season, he earned a spot on this years Wolves summer league roster where he continued to impress, leading his team to a 6-1 record. He is unlikely to get many NBA minutes this season with Jeff Teague, Shabazz Napier and Tyrone Wallace on the roster.
Source: Jon Krawczynski on Twitter
July 20, 2019, 1:26 pmEmmanuel MudiayPG, Utah Jazz
The Jazz have officially announced the signing of Emmanuel Mudiay, Jeff Green and Ed Davis.
All three project to come off the bench this season with Green and Davis part of the frontcourt second string while it is unclear if Mudiay or Dante Exum will assume the backup point guard duties. Davis is coming off a career-high 8.6 rebounds per game in only 17.9 minutes last season while Mudiay enjoyed his best year as a pro with the Knicks but all three players can be left undrafted in standard leagues for the time being.
July 20, 2019, 12:59 pmCJ McCollumSG, Trail Blazers
C.J. McCollum has withdrawn his name from the Team USA training camp and 2019 FIBA World Cup.
Following the trend, McCollumn is the fourth player to withdraw his name this week in order to focus on the upcoming season. The original 20 invites are now down to 16 with the final 12-man roster expected to be announced on August 17.
Source: Chris Haynes on Twitter
July 20, 2019, 12:51 pmFrank MasonPG, Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks have agreed on a two-way contract with Frank Mason III.
Mason did not get much opportunity with the Kings last year and sat out all of Summer League with a sore hip. He projects to spend most of his time in the G-League and called up only if Eric Bledsoe or George Hill need to miss time. The Bucks recently signed Cameron Reynolds to a two-way deal and still have Bonzie Colson on one from last season so they are one over the limit. They still have an empty roster spot even after signing Kyle Korver so maybe one of their two-ways gets a standard deal instead. Otherwise, one of them will need to be waived.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter
July 20, 2019, 12:25 pmKyle KorverSF, Milwaukee Bucks
Kyle Korver has agreed to a one-year deal with the Bucks per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
This is not the worst landing spot for Korver but he will strictly be a backup and entering his 17th season, he should not be relevant in standard leagues. He was able to knock down 2.1 triples per game in only 20.1 minutes last season so he may have value as a specialist in super-deep leagues however.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
July 20, 2019, 11:49 amChris PaulPG, Oklahoma City Thunder
Chris Paul has reportedly settled on the idea of starting the season for the Thunder.
Although Oklahoma City and Miami did not have formal discussions regarding a Chris Paul trade according to Brian Windhorst, the Thunder were willing to discuss giving back the Heat some picks but the Heat would have also wanted Paul to decline his $44 million player option in 2021-2022, which is not going to happen. The Heat want to remain flexible in the next big free agent class of 2021 and adding Paul on his current deal would take that away. Paul's usage rate will likely increase on the Thunder but keep in mind that he has missed at least 21 games in each of the three seasons before drafting him as the 9-time All-Star enters his 15th season in the league.
July 20, 2019, 11:20 amEric GordonSG, Houston Rockets
Eric Gordon withdraws from Team USA training camp for the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
Gordon is the third player to withdraw this week after James Harden and Anthony Davis. The original training camp list of 20 is now down to 17 and the official 12-team roster will be announced on August 17.
Source: Shams Charanis on Twitter