Antawn Jamison has never been to the conference finals. He’s been open about his desire to get there. In the last two offseasons, Jamison has signed a pair of relatively cheap contracts in hopes of advancing deep into the NBA playoffs. Last season he went to the Lakers, and that didn’t work out. This season he moves across the hall to the Clippers. If it’s true that Jamison just wants to end his career playing for a competitor, this move could easily be read as the latest sign of an ongoing power shift within Staples Center.
It’s been quite the offseason for the Los Angeles Clippers. By re-signing Chris Paul, snatching Doc Rivers away from the Celtics, turning Eric Bledsoe’s potential and Caron Butler’s contract into J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, and retaining Matt Barnes, the Clips have been remolded as a true Western Conference power.
Paul’s presence on the roster essentially guarantees Los Angeles a top-flight offense and should alleviate any cause for concern related to the dreary and unimaginative system Rivers’s Celtics used for the last few years. Over the past six seasons, Paul’s teams have scored 109.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the court — good enough to place in the top four in efficiency in any of those seasons. Paul already has wonderful chemistry with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in the pick-and-roll, and the dead-eye shooting of Redick (39.0 percent from beyond the arc in his career) and Dudley (40.5 percent) should make that trio even more dangerous by manufacturing more room for Paul and the Clippers’ bigs to operate in the middle of the floor.
The concerns for this Clippers team will come on the defensive end. Griffin, Jordan, and backup center Ryan Hollins are the only players on the current roster taller than 6-foot-7. None of them could be described as a game-changing defender at this point in his career, or even a consistently above-average one. Griffin and Jordan each improved last season, but both still struggled to defend pick-and-rolls and were often a half-step slow or late when called on to rotate behind the play. Any good defensive coach will tell you those half-steps cumulatively make up the difference between a top defense and a middling one, and after a strong start to the season, the Clippers defense could only be described as middling.
In Part 1 of 2, Bill dials up ESPN's Matthew Berry to talk about Dwight Howard leaving the Lakers. Then Bill's dad comes on to talk about rebuilding the Celtics and the Boston sports scene. In Part 2, Bill talks to Grantland's Zach Lowe about the moves in NBA free agency before the two recap the NBA Finals.
To listen to these podcasts, download them on iTunes here, or to listen at the ESPN.com Podcenter, click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.
For some, it took yesterday’s scene in Playa Vista — Doc Rivers, seated in front of a Clippers background, just behind a branded placard bearing his name — to believe this was real. As the rumors of a Rivers trade began, and through the negotiation’s stops and starts, there seemed to be endless opportunities for the Clippers to be the Clippers, to bungle what could be a franchise-altering decision that might serve as one of the final steps from cursed organization to actual contender. But there he was, the highest-paid coach in the NBA, wedged between team president Andy Roeser and vice-president of basketball operations Gary Sacks. There was Doc Rivers, head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers.
You can count Doc among those nonbelievers. By Sunday, he’d resigned himself to a return to Boston. Conversations with Danny Ainge about the state of the Celtics' roster had already begun, and when Rivers stepped into his son’s AAU game and turned off his phone, he wasn’t prepared for what awaited him when he powered it back on. There were a couple calls from Danny Ainge and more than a dozen from Rivers’s agent. “That's how volatile this whole thing was and had been," Rivers said. "I thought that this just took a long, winding path, but it found its way, so I'm happy."
As Rivers entered the gym at the Clippers’ practice facility yesterday, he did so in a polo shirt, slacks, and what looked like a pair of casual sneakers. This had all happened so fast that Rivers left straight from his offseason home in Orlando, where his wardrobe is mostly shorts and T-shirts. There wasn’t a suit to be had.
The trio was introduced by Clippers play-by-play announcer Ralph Lawler, and Sacks wasted no time in outlining the magnitude of the day. “This is truly one of the biggest moments in Clippers history,” Sacks said. “We feel [Doc] is the best coach in the NBA and a perfect fit for our organization.” In the 30 or so minutes Rivers spent in front of a microphone yesterday, he was every bit the media-savvy presence he’d been in Boston. At one point, he asked that everyone refrain from using the “best coach” bit; he’d just watched the Finals like everyone else here. “I hope this is the last time I’m the center of attention,” Rivers said.
Let the record show that we always made fun of Ubuntu. The gradual disintegration of the Celtics’ Big Three era — which hit another milestone this weekend with Doc Rivers bouncing on Boston to try to make sure the denizens of Lob City play nice — might lead you to believe it’s only in hindsight that the rallying cry of the 2008 champions seems dopey as hell. Trust me: It always seemed dopey as hell.
Let’s travel back in time. The year is 2007, the city is Rome, and Ubuntu has just been born. From ESPN The Magazine’s cover story on the newly minted power trio: “‘Ubuntu!’ the Celtics shout as they break their huddle after practice. Coach Doc Rivers says he chose the chant over the typical ‘1, 2, 3, Celtics!’ after reading about Bishop Desmond Tutu over the summer. ‘Ubuntu,’ from the African Bantu language, stresses collective success over individual achievement. And maybe it's already having an effect. Boston's starting five all sported shaved heads in Rome, and Garnett bought each rookie three custom-made suits. The players hung out together nearly every night, cracking on one another for hours one evening on the Spanish Steps.”
Then, on opening night, when the new Big Three romped all over the Wizards, the heretofore unproven ameliorative effects of the work of Archbishop Tutu on basketball psychology appeared to have been confirmed, with much Úlan. As the team rattled off wins (8-0, 20-2, 29-3), these were, for Celts fans — grounded, after years of Vin Bakerisms, into sunken-eyed indifference — heady times. A manufactured all-star patchwork wasn’t expected to jell this quickly; this was almost an embarrassment of goodwill. But two things helped them avoid the post-Decision vibes that hurt the Heat. One was that KG, Paul, and Ray were just past their primes, which meant their team-up felt noble and selfless rather than craven and calculating. The other was that the big-grinning Doc, the ultimate players’ coach, had been handed his appropriate mound of clay and appeared to be molding it into elite, defense-first, team-basketball perfection. So yeah, sure, why not: Ubuntu, motherfuckers.
There are two fairly recent precedents for what happened with the Clippers and Celtics and Doc Rivers over the past 10 days. The first began on June 5, 1995, when Pat Riley, while still under contract with the Knicks, sent a secret 14-point memo to the Miami Heat outlining his contract demands, which included a 20 percent ownership stake, plus "$300 per diem expenses, credit cards, limousine service to and from games and a $15 million salary over five years."
Apparently that worked for Micky Arison and the Heat, because 10 days later Riley faxed a letter of resignation to the Knicks. Three months later, after the Knicks accused Miami of tampering and all this evidence — of, uh, blatant tampering — became public, the Heat agreed to send $4 million and a first-round pick to the Knicks as compensation. That's trade no. 1, and there are two lessons to be learned.
1. Never, ever trust Pat Riley.
2. In 1995, it was good to be negotiating contracts as Pat Riley.
In case you were busy bounding home incredibly after being left in the woods by your family, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The Blackhawks are one game away from a Stanley Cup championship after Patrick Kane scored two goals in Chicago's 3-1 Game 5 win over the Boston Bruins. Kane's anticipation and hand control carried the day, which he explained as coming from "being like any other boy. You know, you're lonely, looking for things to do, and your hands naturally you know." When met with a decidedly awkward silence, Kane said, "What? I'd practice wristers and close control by myself. What? Oh. Oh. Ohhhhh. Well. Hmmm."
After extensive negotiations, the Los Angeles Clippers have their man: Doc Rivers will take over as the team's head coach with a first-round pick headed to the Boston Celtics as compensation. "This move is just what the doctor ordered," said Clippers general manager Gary Sacks, before receiving a call from his physician Dr. Pete Shulman reminding him that the acquisition will not be a suitable replacement for the Atorvastatin prescribed to help Sacks maintain control over his high cholesterol.
Daniel Lopatin wears a lot of hats in the metaphorical sense — he and Joel Ford are the masterminds behind the eerie accuracy of ’80s synth-pop revivalists Ford & Lopatin, as well as the Brooklyn-based boutique label Software. But Lopatin’s best known for his work as groundbreaking and critically acclaimed electronic act Oneohtrix Point Never, a restless creative conduit for hours worth of noisy drones (2009’s Rifts), odysseys into the dark, subzero recesses of space (2010's Returnal), and his 2011 masterwork, Replica, a haunting, affecting collection of aural experimentations built on outdated synthesizers and commercials dubbed from VHS cassettes.
But if you’re talking about a hat he wears in the literal sense, it’s almost always a Celtics cap. If you couldn’t tell by the pun of his name (based on Magic 106.7, Boston’s adult-contemporary station), Lopatin reps his hometown to the fullest, an outré artist with the knowledge and passion of an NBA insider. In an interview I did last year for Pitchfork, nothing brings him more excitement than having “one fucking fantasy basketball window open and Ableton in the other monitor, going apeshit.” Considering the instability of the C’s right now, if he’s poring over bootleg recordings from Germany these days, it’s more likely to be grainy highlights from Dennis Schroeder workouts rather than some lost recording from Cluster.
It might not be Jay-Z using Game 5 of the NBA Finals to announce Magna Carta Holy Grail, but in anticipation of 0PN’s upcoming LP R Plus Seven, out later this year on Warp, Lopatin took the time to give his laptop-GM view of the Celtics’ current offseason strategy and the proposed blockbuster deal with the Clippers. He also describes “Nil Admirari” as the feeling of losing out on Tim Duncan in the 1997 lottery and will offer Ableton lessons to Danny Ainge free of charge.
In case you were busy learning hard lessons about hubris and foosball but mostly hubris, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Tuukka Rask had a shutout and Daniel Paille had his second goal in as many games as the Boston Bruins seized a 2-1 advantage in the Stanley Cup final with a 2-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Ageless right winger Jaromir Jagr, who was held scoreless again but had a critical assist in his team's win, said after the game, "I can't believe I'm here trying to win my first Stanley Cup in 21 years. I could have had children after my last Stanley Cup win who would be almost old enough to drink." Jagr then narrowed his eyes and said, "No, seriously, given how that night went almost 21 years ago, I could have had children after my last Stanley Cup win who would be almost old enough to drink. Let's say the Cup has a lot of volume, I was 19, and if we do win this, there are some mistakes that Lord Stanley and I will not repeat."
Max Scherzer struck out 10 and improved to 10-0 as the Detroit Tigers beat the Baltimore Orioles, 5-1. "But am I an ace?" a concerned Scherzer asked after the game. "Please tell me! Am I an ace on a staff with a pair of aces, or the best no. 2 in the game? Or am I an ace in the making who still has something to prove? Do I need to escape Justin Verlander's shadow, or do we make each other better by pitching back-to-back? Won't someone please debate these designations and render a verdict based on a meaningless quote from my manager?" Detroit manager Jim Leyland then added, "He's at the top of his game pretty much," which pretty much settled the ace question once and for all.
In preparation for the NBA playoffs, this is the first of four entries breaking down one key play or action central to the success of each playoff-bound team. Check back later this week for the remaining 12 breakdowns.
New York Knicks: The Carmelo Anthony Iso
New York was considered a relative afterthought in the Eastern Conference before the season started, but thanks to a shift in its offensive philosophy, the Knicks now represent the biggest threat to Miami. Their explosive offensive scheme leans heavily on their star forward to create mismatches in isolation plays all over the floor.
Knicks coach Mike Woodson gets Anthony into these spots in two ways. The first is by using false action.
By using a loop cut or quick down screen, the Knicks give Anthony just a little separation in order to cleanly get to his spot and use his jab-attack game. But because the team has played a vast majority of the season with one lone big (or sometimes none at all), it's also been able to just let Anthony walk into isos without any help.
The key to Anthony’s success is the newfound space he has to operate. With shooters spread around him, teams are forced to pick between letting Anthony attack an overmatched defender one-on-one or leaving an open shooter on the perimeter.
The NBA is churning out a wonderful product right now, and last night’s game in Boston serves as a perfect example. LeBron James, the league MVP currently in the midst of an incredible winning streak with his Miami Heat, arrived in the city of his most bitter rival. Like it or not, Boston is still one of the league’s best atmospheres. And like it or not, Miami is still the best team in the league. Factor in Miami and Boston's “hate” for each other, and you've got a recipe for a great night.
Unfortunately, about an hour prior to tipoff, the Celtics announced that Kevin Garnett would not play. If the Celtics had a puncher’s chance to beat the Heat with Garnett on the floor, without him their chances were seemingly reduced to those of Glass Joe's. But this was no ordinary night.
Playing in his fifth game in seven nights, LeBron was focused, even before tipoff. After the Celtics' introductions, James was the first man to take the floor. Well before the dancers had even cleared the court, James stood straddling the midcourt line like Roberto Duran waiting for Sugar Ray Leonard.