Towns, Wiggins can be better for Butler fiasco

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The only thing missing from Timberwolves practice Wednesday was introduction music, as Jimmy Butler showed up like a surprise WWE Royal Rumble entrant ready to cause chaos.

After a late arrival, he reportedly called out and cursed at teammates, coaches and executives during the non-public session, while teaming with the third-stringers and beating the starters. His inaugural participation in this offseason’s training camp, and the subsequent drama, was obviously premeditated as ESPN and Rachel Nichols were in Minnesota to get an interview from the disgruntled star almost immediately after.

What’s not as obvious is whether Timberwolves coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau was an accomplice to the ruckus – in on it from the start. The coach failed to confront his star player during the outburst, and Butler even suggested during his sit down with Nichols that Thibodeau secretly enjoyed it.

Some in local media believe Thibs’ job should be at stake for letting this fly, whether or not he was aware beforehand. I think the bigger problem is that Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins didn’t respond how you would want the building blocks of your franchise to respond. Both max-contract players, they were apparently victims of the verbal onslaught in practice and rather than confronting Butler, accepting the challenge and beating him on the court, they lost to a group of third-stringers led by Butler.

This outcome proves every point Butler has been trying to make since we learned of his trade request. You would think the outcome also lights a fire under everyone in the organization – which would be the reason Thibodeau possibly enjoyed what transpired. It forces his entire team to look at themselves and see what it is that Butler has in his competitive makeup that they’re lacking, and it forces the owner to see why Thibodeau never wanted to trade Butler in the first place.

Even if those moments of reflection occur, however, what has already transpired can’t be reversed, of course. So as Butler alluded to, everything is not fixed. Things may never get fixed with him on this roster. But the two people who should be better for this situation are the two being paid like stars, even though they’ve never led a team to the playoffs (2017-18 doesn’t count. Butler led that team).

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Caps’ title reflects working-class D.C.

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There’s a large segment of the DMV sports population that I would consider bigger Washington Capitals fans than myself, and a large percentage of that group is white people. So I know several people see me pull for the only hockey team I’ve ever been able to name more than five players from, and think I’m a bandwagon fan riding this recent success to the joy of a championship season. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

I’m a first generation Capitals fan. Like many African-Americans, I didn’t grow up in a household that cared for hockey. As anyone with vision can see, people who look like me aren’t well-represented in the sport. And unlike basketball, which started white before diversifying – therefore attracting viewers of all backgrounds – hockey has always been white. So drawing black fans can prove to be somewhat of a challenge. But I chose from a young age to root for all D.C.-area teams (aside from the pro football team), so over the years I’ve watched plenty of Capitals hockey games, playoffs or not.

That being said, hockey is my fourth favorite sport, and I’m more a Capitals fan than a hockey fan. So in the pecking order of my sports interests, hockey always came after the Wizards, Nationals, New York Giants, and the NBA and NFL in general. So no, I don’t remember the Caps’ 1997-98 playoff run and eventual sweep in the Stanley Cup Final the way I do the Bulls’ win over the Jazz that same year, when I was going on 11 years old. And although I do remember Peter Bondra and Olaf Kolzig being my favorite players at that time, my knowledge of what held those teams back isn’t up to snuff. But I do remember the recent Presidents’ Trophy-winning teams, and this year’s squad gave me a feeling they didn’t, a feeling best described through the city the Capitals play for.

Before this year, the Capitals reminded me of the white collar professionals and politicians of Washington, D.C. Somehow they eleveated to the status of something akin to blue blood without ever actually earning it through postseason success. They were often the favorites entering each season, and their style of play matched; it was rich, finesse, preventative, soft. This year’s team more resembled the working class folks of chocolate city however, the generational families of D.C. fighting tooth and nail to make a living and remain in the city. These Caps scrapped to keep pucks inside the blue line. They put shots on goal from anywhere on the ice and out-skated, if not out-willed, their opponents to rebounds. They seemed to hit more often and with more aggression than teams’ past, and they put their bodies on the line – like Devante Smith-Pelly in Game 7 of the Conference Finals – the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good of the team. And this was all done in a more disciplined manner, taking minimal penalties and capitalizing on power plays.

 

This Capitals’ championship means the world to the thousands of Capitals fans around the world who have been waiting for this moment since 1974. It also means a lot to the thousands more D.C. sports fans that have been waiting for a championship since the Redskins brought one home in 1991. But the meaning of this championship goes even deeper because this team wasn’t as favored to be here this year. And against another team that exceeded expectations but quickly ascended to become the Golden Knights child of the NHL world, the Caps played the role of underdog and kept winning. And in doing so, they represented a class of the city that can relate to and appreciate the story line of struggle more than the one any previous team could’ve provided.

Time to talk G.O.A.T.

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It’s that time of year again; when LeBron James amazes playoff audiences across the world with the things he can do on a basketball court and his legions of minions break out their best ‘he’s-better-than’ takes, crafted since the previous postseason. This in turn brings out the millions of passionate Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant fans who feel the need to shoot down the notion of James somehow passing either as the greatest basketball player of all-time. LeBron haters alike, who don’t necessarily love Kobe or M.J., join in to smother the “LeBron is G.O.A.T” wildfire before it can go any further.

I want to go on the record as saying Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player ever in my personal opinion. That statement as opinion should be a given, but whenever this debate comes up people state their opinions so matter-of-factly as to dismiss counter-opinions as wrong. I lean toward Jordan because I enjoyed his style of play more. It always felt like he was in charge and like his fingerprint was on every single play of every single game, a trait I didn’t feel James always had until recently. But I understand why people are beginning to say James is the greatest and it doesn’t bother me, and to say that I KNOW Jordan was better would simply be a lie. I have no clue. And that’s where most people in the Jordan corner begin to lose me.

People who argue James as the greatest of all-time usually do so based strictly on what they see on the basketball court. They watch James play, how high he can jump, the type of shots he can make, the chase-down blocks, and they can’t imagine another person being able to do those things for as long as James has been able to. To me, that’s the correct criteria when judging who can play basketball better, even if I disagree with the idea of James being the greatest. People who argue Jordan talk about rings, Finals MVPs, and an undefeated Finals record, things Jordan deserves a lion’s share of the credit for, but also things impacted by a surrounding team.

I’m not so sure that if you replaced James with Jordan on the 2006-07 Cavaliers, they wouldn’t still get swept by the Spurs. I’d like to think Jordan would get at least a win, but that Cavs team was terrible. It’s incredible how people try to factor that loss into an argument against James’ legacy, when he should be given credit for his 22-year-old self dragging those bums to the Finals in the first place. I’m also not sure Jordan could’ve done any better than James in his two Finals loses against the Warriors, one of the greatest teams ever.

I do, however, think Jordan would’ve beaten the Mavericks in 2010-11, the year James shit the bed in the Finals – but the attribute I point to as a reason for that is mental toughness. I think James at that point in his career was mentally fragile in a way I personally never saw Jordan. James tried to defer to Dwyane Wade his first year in Miami because it was “Wade’s team.” Jordan never would’ve conceded a team to another player. He could’ve joined Patrick Ewing in New York and that would’ve become Jordan’s team the day he signed the contract. But to hold Finals losses against James in the debate of G.O.A.T. is ridiculous. If we do that, we have to count Jordan’s playoff failures before reaching the Finals, but we don’t. Seven straight Finals appearances, regardless of outcome, is a plus for James. The personal attribute I felt held James back in 2010-11 is the negative, but people arguing for Jordan or Bryant fail to make such points. For them, it only comes down to 6-0, 5-2, 3-5

To flip the script and put James on those Bulls teams, some of the greatest teams we’ve seen play, I’m not sure he wouldn’t have two three-peats to his name as well. Not saying it definitely would’ve happened, but James is great enough to have beaten the same teams Jordan did, even if in a different way. And to think of James on those Lakers teams with Shaquille O’Neal, that’s scary. They might’ve won more titles because James would’ve deferred to Shaq in a way Bryant’s ego wouldn’t let him. That’s not a knock against Bryant, because that’s the same ego that made him great, but James is great in a different way.

I’m never bothered by the G.O.A.T convo, I’m just upset with how shallow it usually is. The people making lazy arguments for Jordan make it easy for the Bryant stans to piggyback off the same lazy arguments, when Jordan was far and beyond a better player than Bryant. Bryant’s game looked similar to Jordan’s, only it wasn’t as good. The thing working in Bryant’s favor was a similar mental fortitude. But as previously referenced, that sometimes worked to his team’s detriment in a way it didn’t for Jordan. Statistically, Kobe doesn’t stack up to M.J. or LeBron.

Now, if we want to make the argument about better NBA careers or resumes, then we can throw around Finals records and MVPs, and overall titles, and Jordan and Bryant rank more unquestionably ahead of James. And while we’re at it, let’s throw Tim Duncan, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and hell, even Robert Horry, in there. But if we’re talking about the best player to ever dribble a ball – keep your eyes on the games (not just the highlights), go look at the numbers, form an opinion and realize it’s incredibly subjective.