Community Shootaround

Community Shootaround: Could Durant Save The Warriors?

With the Warriors facing a 3-1 deficit as the NBA Finals shift back to Toronto, many media members are theorizing that Golden State’s only hope is a return by Kevin Durant. Although Durant joined his team for the trip to Canada, his status remains uncertain. The MVP of the last two Finals hasn’t played or participated in a full practice since suffering a calf strain a month ago in the Western Conference semifinals.

There’s no question that a healthy Durant would make a difference. He was magnificent as usual before the injury, posting a 26.0/6.4/5.9 line in 78 regular season games and leading all playoff scorers at 34.2 points per game. Golden State hasn’t lost a postseason series since he joined the team three years ago.

Still, it may be an overstatement to say the Warriors would be in control of the series if he were available. The Raptors might be the best team they have faced over the past three seasons and have already dispatched a talented Sixers team and this year’s probable MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Kawhi Leonard has reminded everyone that he’s one of the league’s best players, and he’s surrounded by a talented supporting cast that is proficient on both ends of the floor.

Even if Durant returns for Game 5, there are questions about how effective he can be. The Warriors haven’t issued any progress reports on his condition, other than vague statements expressing hope that he’ll be back before the playoffs end. Timing would be a concern for someone who hasn’t been on the court for a month and is trying to return to the game at its highest level.

We want to get your opinion on whether Durant’s return can save the series for the Warriors. Would his natural talent be enough or would he just provide a distraction and an easy target for the Raptors to exploit on defense? Please leave your answers in the space below.

Community Shootaround: Draft, Free Agency Dates

The draft is coming up in less than two weeks but there are factions within the league that would like to see the June date changed in the future.

Last year, the Rockets made a proposal to move free agency ahead of the draft and some teams, including the Celtics, endorsed it.

Whether the proposal will ever gather enough steam to be enacted is uncertain. But Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge recently spelled out the benefits of making the switch.

“I think that most teams build from veteran players first,” Ainge said. “If you have a Top 5 pick, you’re most likely a rebuilding team, so free agency isn’t affecting that. … And then, all of the other teams, you more likely are fitting in draft picks in and around a veteran core group. So I think the calendar should follow our decision-making tree. So I think it should be switched.”

Draft-day decisions would become clearer if most of the free agents had already signed. It would certainly help teams this summer like the Raptors (Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green), Celtics (Kyrie Irving) and Bucks (Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez) if they already knew which key free in-house agents they re-signed or lost. It would also help a rebuilding team with cap space like the Knicks, who could base their draft-day options on how successful they were in free agency.

Salary-cap situations would also be clearer if it were already known whether players with contract options decided to stay or chose free agency.

It could also facilitate trades before and during the draft.

However, there are drawbacks. If the draft were pushed back for a month or so, it would greatly affect the summer leagues and force the acclimation process for rookies to be accelerated.

Would underclassmen get a few extra weeks to decide whether to stay in the draft? If so, it would create even more headaches for college coaches, who are already struggling with the uncertainty regarding the status of key players.

That leads us to our question of the day: Should the NBA swap the dates for free agency and the draft?

Please take to the comments section to weigh in on this topic. We look forward to your input.

Community Shootaround: Lakers Offseason

The Lakers’ franchise has been in a downward spiral since Christmas Day, when LeBron James suffered a groin injury during an upset victory at Golden State that sidelined him for more than a month.

From that point, the most notable developments the remainder of the season were their failed attempt to acquire Anthony Davis, their inability to make the playoffs, and the abrupt resignation of team president Magic Johnson.

It’s only gotten worse in the offseason. The Lakers fired head coach Luke Walton and their search for a replacement gave the franchise another black eye. Then got spurned by Monty Williams and saw negotiations with Tyronn Lue fall apart before settling on Frank Vogel. They also hired Jason Kidd as Vogel’s top assistant, putting Vogel in the awkward spot of having his potential replacement in the next chair.

Then came Johnson’s bridge-burning interview on ESPN in which he labelled GM Rob Pelinka a backstabber and detailed the dysfunction and indecision within the organization. This week, a detailed ESPN story spoke of the fear and confusion among staffers that developed when Johnson and Pelinka took charge and the heavy turnover in personnel.

It also detailed owner Jeanie Buss’ odd and ineffective management structure and the undue influence of James’ agent Rich Paul and others in James’ camp.

The only good thing that’s happened for the Lakers is that they moved up in the draft lottery.

Meanwhile, the franchise heads into a pivotal summer. It’s positioned financially to chase high-profile free agents and/or make a blockbuster trade.

Unquestionably, the Lakers need to acquire at least one superstar talent to pair up with James or else this offseason will be viewed as a complete disaster.

That leads us to our question of the day: Can the Lakers overcome the dysfunction and disarray within the organization and sign or trade for at least one superstar this offseason? Or are they doomed for a disastrous summer?

Please take to the comments section to weigh in on this topic. We look forward to your input.

Community Shootaround: Khris Middleton

The Bucks intend to re-sign all of their top free agents after reaching the Eastern Conference finals. But is that the best course of action?

The biggest question mark surrounds Khris Middleton, generally considered the second-best player on the team behind MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo. Middleton will opt out of the last year of his contract, which would pay him $13MM, and head to unrestricted free agency.

Once marquee agents such as Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler come off the board, Middleton would be viewed as a nice consolation prize for teams with salary-cap space that don’t land one of the big stars. Middleton averaged 18.3 PPG and career highs of 6.0 RPG and 4.3 APG this season after posting an average of 20.1 PPG last season. Middleton is a career 38.8% 3-point shooter and, at 27, in his prime years.

The nagging question is can Middleton be the second-best player on a championship team? Middleton had a 30-point outburst in Game 4 against the Raptors but averaged 10.2 PPG in the five other games of the conference finals.

A max offer for Middleton would be an approximate $189.6MM commitment over five years; he could receive a max of $140.6MM over four years from another team. Whether he gets the max or something close to it, it’s going to be awfully expensive to retain him.

An alternative for the Bucks would be to shoot higher themselves and try to convince a big-name free agent to come their way. The other approach would be to absorb the salary of an All-Star caliber player in a trade with the savings they’ll get by allowing Middleton to sign elsewhere. That doesn’t seem to be the way the Bucks are leaning but it would be a bolder approach.

That leads us to our question of the day: Should the Bucks go all out to re-sign Khris Middleton or should they seek another star to pair up with Giannis Antetokounmpo?

Please take to the comments section to weigh in on this topic. We look forward to your input.

Community Shootaround: Kawhi Leonard

The Raptors took a franchise-altering risk last summer when they opted to trade for Kawhi Leonard. They’ll find out soon how much that gamble will pay off.

A year away from free agency, Leonard became available after he made it clear that he wouldn’t re-sign in San Antonio following a bitter dispute with Spurs management over the treatment of his quad injury. Leonard played just nine games last season and was meeting with his personal doctors in New York after the Spurs’ medical staff cleared him for action.

Toronto wasn’t on Leonard’s list of preferred locations, but the Raptors were ready to swing for the fences after years of disappointing playoff exits. They risked team chemistry by trading away DeMar DeRozan, a franchise cornerstone and Kyle Lowry‘s best friend, to obtain a player whose health and desire to stay with the organization beyond this season were both in question.

It didn’t take long for Leonard to resolve the first issue. He appeared in 60 games this season, and many of the ones he missed were for “load management” rather than injury. He performed at an All-Star level, averaging 26.6 points per game and reminding everyone why he was considered one of the best two-way players in the league.

Once the playoffs started, he raised his game even further. Coming into tonight, Leonard was averaging 31.4/8.4/3.6 in 17 games. Not only has he brought Toronto to its first-ever NBA Finals, he has become the team’s on-court leader and arguably the MVP of the postseason.

Much like the Thunder did last year with Paul George, the Raptors gambled that they could win over a star player by bringing him into their system and letting him experience success. While the partnership has worked wonderfully and Leonard is a beloved figure in Toronto, there’s still no guarantee it will be more than a one-year arrangement. Leonard has said little to nothing about his future plans, but there have been rumors for a long time that he wants to return home and play on the West Coast.

We want to get your opinion. Do you believe the Raptors have accomplished enough to make Leonard want to stay, or will he move on from Toronto when the offers start coming in this summer? Please leave your answers in the space below.

Community Shootaround: Warriors’ Finals Match-Up

After a hard-fought series win over the Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals, the Warriors made quick work of the Trail Blazers without superstar Kevin Durant en route to a fifth straight NBA Finals appearance behind outstanding play from the trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.

This group seems destined to win another championship, regardless of whether Durant (or DeMarcus Cousins for that matter) returns, and it remains to be seen whether the Bucks or Raptors will be able to give Golden State a challenge in the finals.

So we’re asking you tonight whether you think Toronto or Milwaukee stands a realistic chance against the Warriors.

Which team matches up better with Golden State? Will the Warriors get another sweep regardless of who they face? Do they need Durant back in order to win it all?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section!

Community Shootaround: Warriors Without Durant

When Kevin Durant limped off the court on May 8, there were concerns that his strained calf could end the Warriors’ quest for a third straight NBA title and maybe even knock them out in the second round.

Golden State pulled out Game 5 against the Rockets that night and hasn’t lost since, building a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors have reverted back to a brand of basketball that was successful before Durant arrived, with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green all taking expanded roles on offense.

That’s important not only for the rest of the playoffs, but maybe for next season as rumors continue  that Durant will leave for the Knicks or possibly somewhere else this summer. Although the Warriors finally have full Bird rights on Durant and can offer him more than anyone else, the challenge of succeeding in a new situation might be more important to him than money.

Although it won’t be easy to replace 26.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game, Golden State would essentially go back to the same team that won a title and then 73 games in the two seasons before Durant arrived. Curry has reverted to his MVP form since Durant’s injury, and Thompson and Green have been better as well with more shots available.

There has been talk that the Warriors are better without Durant, but Sam Amick of The Athletic dismisses that as a ridiculous notion. He points out that Durant has been the MVP of the last two NBA Finals and that the team didn’t reach a dynasty level until Durant arrived.

Durant’s teammates don’t believe it either.

“I think everybody in this organization knows that we’re a better team with Kevin,” Quinn Cook told Amick after Thursday’s game. “… He’s been a superstar since he’s been in the league, so there’s a different narrative every day. I think he’s used to that. (But) he has a relationship with everybody on the team, so I think he knows how we all feel about him. … Everybody has to step up in his absence. That’s really the biggest thing. Everybody has been stepping up because we know we don’t have the best player on our team.”

We want to get your opinion on how the Warriors will survive without Durant — during the rest of the playoffs if he can’t return and next season if he signs somewhere else. Please leave your answers in the space below.

Community Shootaround: Lakers’ New Coach

The coaching search is over and the Lakers finally have their man.

Or men, more accurately, as former Nets and Bucks head coach Jason Kidd came along as part of a package deal with Frank Vogel. Kidd will be as an assistant and will serve as a mentor to Lonzo Ball, whose game was compared to Kidd’s coming out of college. However, it didn’t take long for speculation to spread on social media that Kidd has his eyes on Vogel’s job.

The Lakers need a transformation, and we’ll find out quickly if Vogel can make it happen. He built a reputation in Indiana as a tough, defensive-minded coach who led the Pacers to five playoff appearances and two straight conference finals. His standing took a hit during two seasons in Orlando, where the Magic were never competitive or especially strong on defense.

The most important question for any Lakers coach, of course, is how does he look to LeBron James. LeBron’s coaches have very short tenures when they don’t win over his respect, with Luke Walton recently being added to the list. Vogel doesn’t have a prior relationship with James or with any of this year’s top free agents, so his hiring wasn’t designed to give L.A. an edge in rebuilding its roster.

Ben Golliver of The Washington Post speculates that the addition of Vogel could be on ongoing source of friction inside the Lakers’ management team. He reportedly received “mixed reviews” after his interview on Thursday, with team adviser Kurt Rambis as Vogel’s top advocate.

Golliver notes that three factors could limit Vogel’s time in his new position. James, who will turn 35 in December and is only committed to the team for two more years before he can opt out, expects to contend right away. However, the Lakers have a poor defense in place and no center on the current roster, while Vogel hasn’t coached a team with a better-than-average offense since 2012.

In addition, Vogel’s short contract will make him easy to part with if the organization decides things aren’t working, and Kidd will be there looking over his shoulder.

We want to get your opinion on the Lakers’ coaching search. Was Vogel the right choice? And will he get time to succeed or will Kidd eventually take over? Please leave your answers in the space below.

Community Shootaround: Better Match-Up For Bucks?

The Eastern Conference Finals are halfway set, with the No. 1 seed Bucks set to face the winner of the Raptors/Sixers series. And while the Bucks ended up making quick work of the Celtics after losing Game 1 of that series, the match-up against Toronto or Philadelphia figures to be much more difficult.

The series between the Raptors and Sixers is now tied 3-3, and both teams have shown promise as a potential NBA Finals participant during stretches this postseason. Kawhi Leonard is having an all-time great postseason, while both Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid (when ostensibly healthy) have played great games.

Milwaukee took two of three contests from the Sixers this season, splitting the match-ups in Wisconsin and winning in Philly, while the Raptors lost their regular season series to the Bucks 3-1 (split in Milwaukee with the Bucks winning both contests in Toronto).

So, based on the above and any other factors you may consider, which match-up do you think would be the most compelling? Would either of the series go the full seven games? Could there be a sweep? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Community Shootaround: What Went Wrong With The Celtics?

“I did a bad job,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters after his team was emphatically eliminated by Milwaukee tonight with a 25-point loss in Game 5. “I’ll do a lot of deep dives into how to be better.”

If Stevens was a problem this year, he certainly wasn’t the only one in Boston. A year that began with the Celtics as clear favorites to win the East ended in a non-competitive effort with the season on the line.

“I’ve been a coach for 12 years and we let go of the rope, and cracked the rope, probably more than we should have,” Stevens says in the rest of the quote tweeted by ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. “As far as any year I’ve been a coach, it’s been the most trying.”

Chemistry issues were the main problem in Boston, causing several players to say they didn’t feel like everyone was on the same page. Marcus Morris proclaimed in February that the season “just hasn’t been fun for a long time.” Kyrie Irving complained numerous times about the difficulty of being a leader on a young team, even reaching out to LeBron James to apologize for his actions when he was a young player in Cleveland.

Players unwilling to accept their roles seemed to be at the heart of the Celtics’ misery. With Irving and Gordon Hayward both sidelined by injuries last year, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier stepped up to lead the team to the conference finals. The theory was that the Celtics would be much better with Irving and Hayward both back, but it turned into a season-long chore to make the pieces fit.

Another concern is that too many players may have had their eyes on the future. Irving’s next stop has been a topic of speculation as he slowly stepped back from a preseason promise to re-sign in Boston. The idea that the team could pay him and Rozier after giving big money to Marcus Smart has always seemed doubtful. Then there’s the matter of Anthony Davis, whom the Celtics are expected to aggressively pursue this summer. Trade rumors may have had the same effect on Boston’s locker room as it did on the Lakers’.

We want to get your input. Why do you think the Celtics underachieved this season? Please leave your responses in the space below.