Towns, Wiggins can be better for Butler fiasco


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).


Time to talk G.O.A.T.


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.

Jurassic Mistake: Casey out after 59 wins


The Toronto Raptors have fired coach Dwane Casey after 7 seasons, including a franchise-record 59-win season this year. There were rumors that the franchise could make a move in the days leading up to this moment, but it seemed improbable Toronto would split with the winningest coach in its history after such a highly acclaimed season. His only mistake was losing in the playoffs to one of the greatest players in NBA history three years in a row, without a single superstar on his own team. But alas, here we are.

Four days after being swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Casey is out of a job in a move that only makes sense if the front office plans to blow up the entire roster. A coach that has been this successful doesn’t get fired when it’s clear the roster has overachieved under him. And such a move is actually unprecedented in recent NBA history.

The numbers

Since the 1999-2000 season, 18 coaches have achieved regular seasons of at least 59 wins. Of those 18 coaches, only three were fired prior to the next season – Casey, Mike Brown (Cavaliers) and Flip Saunders (Pistons). Casey is the only of the 18 coaches to be fired after his first season of at least 59 wins. Brown and Saunders had previous 59+ win seasons with their respective teams before eventually being let go. Brown and Saunders also inherited better situations with legit reasons for higher expectations. Brown took over a team with James on it during his ascension to becoming the game’s best player. Saunders inherited a team that won the NBA championship two years prior.

Casey, on the other hand, had expectations only created by the product he put on the floor. The team he took over as coach prior to the shortened 2011-12 season had won just 22 games the previous year. He went on to increase the team’s win total every year but one since then, including five straight winning seasons and three straight 50-win seasons.

Casey has the most wins in franchise history (320), best win percentage (.573), most playoff appearances (5) and wins (21), five most winningest seasons, and he’s the only coach in franchise history with a winning record overall. He deserved a chance to see this thing through.

It’s easy to assert that if Casey were white, he would’ve been given more leniency, as black people often aren’t afforded the same slack. Excluding the five coaches since the 1999-2000 season that won championships either the season of their 59 wins, or prior to winning that many games (Phil Jackson, Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers, Erik Spoelstra), 10 coaches were retained after 59+ win seasons – 9 were white. The only non-white coach retained was Avery Johnson, who had two 59+ win seasons with the Mavericks.

The others

Rick Adelman lasted 3 more seasons with the Kings after consecutive 59+ win seasons. Mike Budenholzer lasted 3 more seasons with the Hawks after a 60-win season. Scott Brooks got an extra year after winning 59+ games in consecutive seasons with the Thunder. Rick Carlisle got 3 more seasons with the Pacers after peaking with 61 wins. Mike D’Antoni won 60+ with the Suns twice and was kept for another season after the second instance. D’Antoni also led this year’s Rockets to 65 wins, and even if they lose to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, he’ll likely be retained. Mike Dunleavy got another year with the Trail Blazers after his 59-win season. Don Nelson got two more years after winning 60 with the Mavericks. Tom Thibodeau won 62 games his first year with the Bulls and stuck around for 4 more seasons before being fired. Stan Van Gundy was kept by the Heat for another year after winning 59 games, and two years by the Magic after consecutive 59-win seasons.

None of those coaches won championships in those respective situations, but their franchises gave them a chance to either show improvement or regression before making a change. Casey wasn’t given that opportunity.

What’s next?

The only next logical step for the Raptors is to try to trade star players Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and begin a full rebuild. Toronto’s talent isn’t good enough to get past, or grow with, the powers in the Eastern Conference, and no coach is coming in to change that. This isn’t a Mark Jackson to Steve Kerr situation, where the Warriors had budding superstars. The Raptors have fringe stars either in or past their primes. If the team tries to trot out a new coach with the same team, the reasons behind firing Casey have to be questioned.


Dunk contest needs more bravado


Can you remember the last time All-Star weekend was not defined by the dunk contest? In my recent memory, if the dunk contest disappointed, the entire weekend seemed to be underwhelming. And if the dunk contest was a good one, the rest of the events were that much more enjoyable.

So following Saturday’s events in 2018, and after giving the dunk contest a B- score, this All-Star weekend feels a bit average to me. The things I’ll remember most from this year are off-court; LeBron’s war of words with that Fox News pundit, the hype surrounding the release of Marvel’s Black Panther movie, and where guys were picked in the first ever All-Star draft.

I think a big part of the problem with the dunk contest is it’s lack of swagger. Guys don’t have the same bravado as a Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan, or even Jason Richardson, when finishing a dunk. Half the battle is showmanship, which made a return with Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine the last couple of years, but disappeared again this year. Victor Oladipo had a great idea to play off the Black Panther hype and wear T’Challa’s mask while dunking, but after missing his first attempt he seemed deflated on the second, giving an anticlimactic feel to what was already an underwhelming dunk. A little more flare would’ve sold the judges on how cool the idea was.

Even the champion Donovan Mitchell fell short in that category, all while paying homage to one of the dunk contest GOAT’s, Vince Carter. Vinsanity was all business in 2000, he KNEW it was over after his 360 windmill. Mitchell looked unsure of whether it was over, playing the role of a bad actor following a script Carter wrote 18 years earlier. Who did you believe more?

That being said, maybe the new All-Star game format has a chance to salvage the weekend – Team LeBron vs Team Stephen – no conference affiliations. Admittedly, I was half locked-in to Saturday’s events, because I was working while watching. So maybe others have enjoyed All-Star weekend more than me. But, I’ll also be at work during the All-Star game, and I’ll get a similar sense if the game underwhelms or if it has moments that make me wish I wasn’t at work. All-Star Saturday didn’t give me that feeling.