Of all the owners, executives, GMs, and other management types in the NBA, few approach Mark Cuban and Daryl Morey in terms of openness with the media. Neither is afraid to speak their mind, and neither has a reputation for pulling any punches.
That’s part of why their first-round matchup is among the most interesting. There’s also the Chandler Parsons saga from last summer, and a rivalry that’s been simmering for a while, but the main sources of fuel for that fire are Morey and Cuban. And, in the NBA playoffs, where familiarity breeds animosity, it’s only fair to expect some sparks to fly.
It just didn’t seem like it’d be this early.
Here’s what Cuban said in a Grantland feature from Kirk Goldsberry:
If Cuban’s 2011 experience taught him anything, it’s that a team with a smart coach, or a hot player, can suddenly outthink or outplay a team with a much higher seed. Playing against the same opponent over and over again, with less travel and no back-to-backs, favors certain kinds of tacticians and certain kinds of players.
When coaches like Carlisle and Gregg Popovich have time to hone their game plans against a single opponent, suddenly that corner 3 that was there all year dries up, or that basic defensive rotation that was rock-solid all season is coming a second too late. In the playoffs, teams with limited game plans get exposed. Conveniently, Cuban believes that Houston, his team’s first-round opponent in this season’s playoffs, is one of the most one-dimensional teams in the playoffs.
“[The biggest difference is] practice time. There’s no more predictable team than the Rockets. You know exactly what they’re gonna do,” he says. “But James Harden is so good. That’s what analytics have begot. Right? Predictability. If you know what the percentages are, in the playoffs, you have time to counter them. Whether you’re good enough to do it is another question. Because they are very talented, and James Harden, I think, is the MVP. Because that’s not a very good team over there.”
Interesting to see Cuban refer specifically to analytics, a concept that, in the NBA world, is often associated with Morey. Also interesting how Cuban manages to compliment Harden and say that the Rockets are “very talented” while also saying they’re “not very good.” He’s got a knack for that.
DERRICK ROSE IS BACK
I didn’t get to watch a ton of playoff games today, but what caught my eye in the bits of the Bucks-Bulls game I did see was one play from Derrick Rose: he drove along the baseline, towards the hoop, hung in the air seemingly forever, waited for the defender to sail right by, and only then laid it in off the glass. It was gorgeous. It was the sort of play few guys can make. It was the sort of play Derrick Rose used to make every night.
The lights dimmed, and the pump-up songs filled United Center. Fans stood, and spotlights circled the arena. The word “playoffs,” in red lighting, flashed on the floor. The Bulls’ starting lineup for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference series against Milwaukee was introduced, and the public-address announcer had a long-awaited treat for the home crowd.
“Frrrooom Chicago,” he bellowed, “No. 1, Derrick Rose!”
The rafters seemed to shake.
Rose was returning to the playoff stage for the first time since another April Saturday three years ago. That was the day he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament, derailing one of the N.B.A.’s most promising young careers and setting Rose off on a journey of injury, recovery and soul-searching. But on this Saturday, the pain of the past three years seemed, finally, behind him.
Rose, 26, was not perfect, but he was close. The league’s most valuable player in 2010-11, he scored 23 points in 27 minutes while shooting 9 of 16 from the floor and adding seven assists in a 103-91 win over the Bucks.
He made his presence known early, catching the ball on the wing, splitting two defenders and flying toward the rim for a layup. He later threw down a thunderous two-handed dunk on a fast break, helping to ignite a second-quarter run that pushed Chicago’s lead to double digits. In the third quarter, he drilled three 3-pointers and then stepped to the free-throw line to chants of “M.V.P.! M.V.P.!”
“I only had, like, three goals tonight, and that was to have fun, have no expectations and to compete,” Rose said.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR KHRIS MIDDLETON?
While Khris Middleton’s focus is on helping the Bucks win the series, his own performance could have a significant impact on his impending free agency.
Middleton will become a restricted free agent on July 1 and figures to draw interest from several teams.
While most observers would agree the 6-7 Middleton has made nice strides this season, his stats during the regular season don’t necessarily bear that out.
• Middleton played 82 games last season, 79 this season. He started 58 games this season, down from the 64 last season.
• He averaged 30 minutes this season, just as he did last season.
• His scoring average this season was 13.4, slightly up from last year’s 12.1.
• He shot 44 percent from the field last year and 47 percent this season. His 3-point percentage was 41 percent last year and this year.
• He averaged 4.4 rebounds this season, slightly up from last year’s 3.8.
Several NBA execs said they expect Middleton to sign a multi-year deal this summer for around $8 million annually although, with a big playoff series, that figure could undoubtedly rise.