Throughout the season there was a consistent drip drip of articles, blogs, and regurgitation of the narrative that the Toronto Raptors had upgraded their team culture and modernized their offensive scheme. It was supposed to be a passing and three-point shooting oriented offense that was not dependent on the team’s so-called stars. Player development was key, as their young bench players needed to be aggressive and hit open shots. Changed men.
They almost had everyone fooled right up until the team stepped on the same wood panels as Lebron. In game one, Lebron got switched onto guarding Kyle Lowry a couple times causing Lowry to jump and hide under the bed for the rest of the series. Coach Dwane Casey wasn’t even able to play the Raptors’ best player, Demar Derozen, in late games because of how much of a liability he had suddenly become. The Raptors forgot all their offensive principles and had what many have so kindly put, a complete mental breakdown. Coach Casey, who likely won coach of the year for his alleged culture changing accomplishments during the season, is already fired and he won’t be the last fired or traded. Every player, assistant coach, and staff on the Raptors better be ready to call Tyrone.
2. When Carmelo Anthony pretty much said, “f— you pay me.”
The 2003 draft class includes an array of career archetypes. There’s the soft European bust in Darko Milicic. There’s the cerebral but unathletic player bound to be a coach in Luke Walton. There are players who made great sacrifices of their role and recognition to be a part of a championship team in Chris Bosh. There’s Lebron James, who seems to be able to perform any intangible imaginable in order to win.
Carmelo Anthony might be the biggest disappointment of the class. Throughout his career, on many occasions, through many coaches (including D’Antoni who wanted him to be more of a playmaker) and teammates (including Linsanity), he refused to leave his comfort zone as nothing more than the team’s go-to iso scorer. His comfort zone of being the iso scorer was prioritized over winning and even just having other talented teammates.
With the Thunder, there’s been the perfect storm of Melo maintaining his priority plus him not making his shots. During the playoffs, his field goal percentage went down to .375 and his three-point percentage went down to an awful .214. Melo went through hard-to-watch dry streaks where he missed wide-open three-pointers over-dribbled just to miss contested mid-range shots.
Melo has a $28 million player option for next season. If his poor performance continues, it might be the worst contract in the league. Basketball heads have been writing and talking everywhere about how that would hurt the Thunder by taking away their cap flexibility that could be used to sign or trade for more productive players this summer.
During his exit interview after the Thunder’s loss to Utah, Melo made it clear he would not be giving up any of his paper nor playing time.
Who can blame him for wanting $28 million? “I love to see a black man get paid,” as J. Cole says. Plus, is Melo opting into his contract really that bad for the Thunder? A big expiring contract can be pretty valuable nearing trade deadlines.
The Timberwolves are doomed to be in a salary jam in the next few seasons especially with Karl Anthony-Towns still on a smaller rookie contract. Maybe they want to take on Anthony’s expiring contract for Wiggins, who has been whining all season about not having a big enough role on the team. Wiggins and Westbrook would be an athletic duo and maybe Wiggins could learn from Westbrook on how to be more assertive with the ball.
Maybe the Heat will want to trade for Melo as he could have a renaissance under the team’s strict body-fat policy. The Thunder could certainly use some better role players, like James Johnson for his defense or Olynyk as a nice complement to Adams in the frontcourt.
If the Thunder can pull off a trade or not, Melo will get his money.
3. When Kawhi didn’t even show up
The drama surrounding Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard has dragged out for most of the season. The behavior by both Coach Popovich and Kawhi has seemed unprofessional. ESPN’s Romona Shelbourne and Michael C. Wright gave the most detailed insight yet on the fallout between Kawhi and the Spurs. There are a lot of questions about Kawhi’s dedication to the franchise and whether or not he wants to jump ship. What puts the nail in the coffin of for many was that he did not even show up to the Spurs playoff games to show support.
If somehow the rehab for his injury got in the way of his ability to show up to his current team’s playoff games, he could have done what Gordon Hayward did 5,000 times this season for his team and send a nice video of himself. Just get your uncle to record you on your cell phone saying, “I’m watching, I’m rooting for you, Go Spurs.” That’s all you need to say, man.
While he couldn’t find the time to make his team’s playoff games or send a video, he was able to make a Dodger game, adding coal to the lustful fire that is the hope of Lakers fans.
Along with everyone in the world, Kawhi should do his best to embody the spirit of little Michael:
4. When Russell Westbrook took 43 shots
In the Thunder’s final elimination game against the Jazz, Westbrook went full Westbrook and attempted 43 shots to score 46 points. That’s a lot of shots. For context, when Kobe Bryant scored 81 points in 2006 he attempted 46.
There’s something that is just not right about Westbrook. It’s lazy to bring up the cliché of, “he doesn’t make his teammates better.” Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver described his game as “playing with purpose but not a purpose,” which colleague Andrew Sharp properly dismissed as an empty maxim. The Ringer‘s Bill Simmons, was a little closer to the target describing Westbrook as “not adaptable.” He explains that no matter if it’s working or not, Westbrook just drives hard and shoots a lot, which leads to both great success and great failure.
The takeaway from the pundit babble is that he is never going to be the best player on a championship team. His efficiency rate is far too low relative to the massive amount of time he has possession of the ball (most in the league), plus his style of play either deters or does not allow the rest of his team to be a versatile offensive threat, as all championship teams are.
5. When Victor Oladipo near-cried in LeBron James’ arms
After being traded twice and a disappointing season under the shadow of a tidal wave known as Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo became the nation’s underdog story. When he was traded along with Demontis Sabonis last summer to the Pacers for star Paul George the consensus among pundits was how the trade was lopsided, and many predicted Oladipo’s version of the Pacers would inevitably sink to the bottom of the league.
But over the summer Oladipo worked his ass off to get in serious shape plus improved on his ball handling and defensive skills. His points per game went up, from 16 to 23 with an improvement in field goal percentage. He also led the league in steals, all with a grind it out, tough-nosed demeanor. He was a blue-collar player in a red state, and he remained overlooked with only one nationally televised game the whole season.
But every David faces a Goliath, and in the first round, Oladipo’s Pacers needed a perfect series against Lebron’s Cavalier’s to pull off the upset. The Pacers won game 1 in Cleveland with 32 points from Oladipo, who gleefully out-hustled Lebron on many plays. After trading wins with the Cavs and a pivotal uncalled goaltend later, the series came down to a tightly contested game 7.
The rejection of a whole year of hard work, blood sweat and tears showed through in this heartbreaking moment:
We feel your pain ‘Dipo…Wakanda forever.