News, notes and observations as I reemerge from my post-bubble slumber …
· There’s a lot on the line for everyone in Tuesday night’s Nuggets-Clippers Game 7, though perhaps no one more than Paul George. George was excellent in Game 6, posting 33 points, six rebounds and five steals, while shooting above 40% from the floor and the three-point line. But his shooting percentages in the playoffs have been well off his regular-season averages, and, after early exits the last two postseasons a poor performance in a Clippers loss would linger. On the flip side, a strong effort in a Clippers win would erase much of what happened the last two seasons in Oklahoma City and recall the young star who put up big numbers leading Indiana to back-to-back conference finals.
· Frank Vogel ranked right behind Nick Nurse on my Coach of the Year ballot, and in these playoffs he is showing why. LeBron James deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the Lakers’ postseason success, with Anthony Davis right behind him, but Vogel has been excellent. He kept the team—and the rotations—steady after dropping Game 1 to Portland. He didn’t panic and shake up the lineup after falling in the opener to Houston, either. He didn’t cave to public pressure to limit the role of Rajon Rondo after Game 1 of the conference semis, and his confidence was rewarded by brilliant play from Rondo over the final three games of that series. Vogel wasn’t the biggest name on the Lakers’ coaching list last summer, but he has shown all season that he was the right one.
· Is there any more obvious trade than Chris Paul to Milwaukee? Oklahoma City looks prepared to begin a full rebuild, and Paul’s salary ($86 million over the next two seasons) limits potential trading partners. Enter the Bucks, in desperate need of proven talent. At 35, Paul is not without risk. But he’s coming off an All-Star season and is still a strong defender. Milwaukee can make the math work—Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, Ersan Ilyasova and some salary filler can get it done, and the Bucks can throw in a draft pick as a sweetener—and the ever-creative Sam Presti can turn around and potentially move those pieces elsewhere. Besides—don’t the Bucks have to roll the dice? Miami exposed Milwaukee’s offense, and don’t even try to use Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ankle as a reason why. If Antetokounmpo doesn’t sign a long-term extension—and really, why would he?—the Bucks could have one shot to sell him on Milwaukee’s ability to build a winner. Paul is the easiest path.
· Add the Rockets to the list of coaching openings with Mike D’Antoni’s exit, though it’s fair to wonder how appealing the Houston job is. The Rockets have two elite talents in James Harden and Russell Westbrook. But both are on the other side of 30, and with Westbrook it’s fair to wonder how his game will age as his superior athleticism wanes. And all the wheeling and dealing Daryl Morey has done in recent years has left Houston tapped out of assets and with limited flexibility to improve. Ty Lue and Jeff Van Gundy are the experienced coaches Houston will kick the tires on, while Sam Cassell and Stephen Silas, a finalist for the Rockets job in 2016, could be considered.
· Celtics-Heat will have a personal flavor for a couple of Miami players. Jae Crowder spent 2 ½ seasons with Boston, helping the Celtics reach a pair of conference finals. Kelly Olynyk spent his first four seasons in green, exiting in 2017 to sign a four-year, $50 million contract with the Heat. On Monday, Olynyk admitted he has wondered what might have happened if he had stayed in Boston.
“I guess there’s always the, ‘If it’s not broke don’t fix it,’” Olynyk said. “Everybody was just doing their job. Obviously [Celtics president] Danny Ainge was just doing his job. Sometimes it’s tough. You’re trying to get better every single year. It’s also a business. Money goes into it. We had a great team. We really played together. We had a good run there. Obviously it would have been cool to see what we could have done the following year or the next year, but sometimes in life that doesn’t happen.”
· So let me get this straight: Joe Dumars, the most experienced basketball executive on the Kings payroll, is not involved in Sacramento’s search for a new general manager? That’s the report from The Athletic, which says the Kings coaching search is being run by owner Vivek Ranadivé and Mike Forde, a search firm headhunter. The Kings have some good names on their interview list—Wes Wilcox is an experienced executive, while Nuggets GM Calvin Booth is a rising star—but the idea that Ranadive, whose last move was to entrust the franchise to an ex-player, Vlade Divac, with no front-office experience, is leading the search for Divac’s replacement is truly nuts.
· Finally, I do not hate Matt Tumbleson. Last week I took a friendly shot at the Oklahoma City p.r. man in my “farewell to the bubble” column. At least I thought it would be read as friendly. Tumbleson couldn’t get me a podcast guest I’d been chasing for a few months, so I warned him I was going to hit him. Tumbleson is, in fact, a terrific p.r. guy and a better person. Not sure how in a column where I called myself fat, banged on several media friends and admitted that I wore the same pants for two months that the Tumbleson crack is what was taken seriously, but to some it was, so this is me setting the record straight. But I warn you, Tumbleson—I’m coming for that podcast next year.