Random Rumblings: April 26th

After a weekend in New York, the blog returns for NFL Draft week and some interesting turns in the NBA Playoffs. "Reads of the day" will also be different today. No reading involved! The four hour bus ride back from NYC lead to some great podcast listening, so I'll give you those instead. To the blog:

Don't Poke The Bear

Mavs owner Mark Cuban is really, really smart. Sometimes really, really smart people do really, really dumb things. Mark Cuban did a really, really dumb thing before Game 5 of Mavs-Thunder on Monday night.

Cuban said that Kevin Durant was the only superstar on Oklahoma City's roster. Asked about Russell Westbrook, Cuban said he's just an all-star, not a superstar. Westbrook proceeded to go score 38 points as the Thunder ended the Mavericks season.

Cuban's comments didn't make any sense on a number of levels. First, they were blatantly wrong. Westbrook set an NBA record with 18 triple-doubles this year. The Thunder were 18-0 in those games, meaning he wasn't out there collecting empty stats. He's a force of nature that defies science in how hard he plays every night. His intensity and passion are palpable. He's a more than occasional pain in the ass for the media, but there is no denying his greatness as a player.

So while Cuban was wrong and may have fired up Westbrook if the comments got back to him before tipoff (the Mavs seemed to try to get under Westbrook's skin all series), there are larger implications at play as evidenced by Kevin Durant's post-game press conference.
Durant is a free agent this summer. Westbrook is one next year. The Mavericks have consistently put themselves in a position to land big free agents, but have never reeled one in. Why would an owner, who is consistently mentioned as a major positive of the franchise (and is one of the very best in sports), put himself in a position where he could hurt his team? It seems short sighted and self-defeating. Even if the Mavericks consider Westbrook less than Durant from a scouting standpoint, there's no reason to publicly say that. Instead, you do what Rick Carlisle did after the game, which is to overly emphasize the greatness of both players.

I'll never complain about honesty from someone we cover as a collective media, but this one just doesn't make sense. There's a part of me that wonders what Cuban's motivation was and if there is some ulterior motive. Cuban's way smarter than me. He's a genius on many levels, so I'd be naive to just assume that I've got all of this figured out without at least acknowledging he might have some grand plan here. The question is if that plan exists and if it is ill-advised.

From my seat, it seems like it is. There seems to be no benefit. The Mavericks will certainly try and get in a room with Durant this summer. We'll see if they get a visit with one of the league's premier superstar after their owner diminished his friend, who is also in that class.

The Injury Bug Bites Twice (UPDATE: Three Times)

The NBA Playoffs were likely to play out in a rather direct fashion if everyone stayed healthy. The Cavaliers would face some challenge along the way to winning the Eastern Conference where they would lose to the Warriors, who would be pushed on some level (possibly to a decisive seven games) by the Spurs on their way to winning the west. However fast-forwarding is not allowed and the "if everyone stayed healthy part" is always a long shot. This is why they play the games.

Steph Curry hurt his ankle in Game 1 and had the entire NBA holding its collective breath after falling in Game 4 of the Warriors opening round series. The MVP has a grade 1 knee sprain and is out at least two weeks. In the regular season, that means a set amount of games. In the playoffs, that's a giant TBD.

This is where one injury affects another. The Clippers were having a hard enough time with the Blazers with Chris Paul and will likely now be without him. The star point guard broke his hand Monday night as the Blazers tied their series at 2-2. The winner of that series faces the Warriors, who will presumably close out the Rockets in Game 5 tonight at Oracle Arena. While Golden State isn't going to root for another team to suffer a key injury, they're undoubtedly rooting for that series to go as long as possible. The more time the series needs, the fewer games Curry misses while his knee heels.

While you make think the Warriors would be just fine without Curry, the numbers say otherwise. The Warriors were more than 1,000 points better than their opponents this year. They were also outscored with him on the bench for the second straight year.

2014-15 2015-16
Curry On-Court +920 +1022
Curry Off-Court -92 -140

It's astounding that team that won 73 games and outscored opponents by more than 10 points per game could possibly have a player it couldn't live without, but it seems the Warriors are in that position with Curry.  It's worth pointing out that Dryamond Green actually had a bigger plus and lower minus in his splits than Curry, although with the two playing a high percentage of their minutes together, it's impossible to separate who is responsible at what percentage. Clearly Curry is massively important and it'll be tough for the Warriors to beat whoever is next without him. Perhaps the Paul injury will extend the Blazers-Clippers series just enough that Golden State won't have to worry about playing without Curry for more than a game or two, both of which would come at home.

Update at 5:04 PM EST on Tuesday: Clippers forward Blake Griffin will miss the rest of the playoffs with a quad injury. Paul is officially listed as out indefinitely.

The Clippers with Griffin, but no Paul were still formidable. Griffin's good enough to run a highly effective offense through, at least against the Blazers. The Warriors might've been a different story because Griffin would be guarded by Green, but the Clippers could (and have before) figured out how to score without Paul. Now, beating the Blazers is not only going to be difficult, I'm predicting it won't happen. I just don't see how they guard Damien Lillard or score enough to win. Injuries are a part of sports. The absolute worst part of sports.

Don't Read, Just Listen

As mentioned, here are the podcasts I enjoyed on the bus ride from NYC to DC.

Clippers guard J.J. Redick has done an exceptional job with his podcast. I enjoyed his chat with Late Late Show Producer Ben Winston. The two somewhat interviewed each other, providing some cool insight into both the entertainment and sports worlds: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/vertical-podcast-jj-redick/id1078782233?mt=2&i=367039936

Redick also had Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. The two comparing notes was really insightful. I especially enjoyed Rodgers comfort with his own greatness. He skipped the fake humbleness that a lot of athletes indulge in, acknowledging his high level of play comes from a place of extreme preparation: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/vertical-podcast-jj-redick/id1078782233?mt=2&i=367472055

The same can be said for ESPN analyst Louis Riddick. Listening him talk to Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch on both football and media was really interesting and entertaining: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/si-media-podcast-richard-deitsch/id997819235?mt=2&i=367080648