Lionel Messi, Steve Nash, Jimmy Butler and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. Lionel Messi deserves better from Barcelona
When Barcelona and club president Josep Bartomeu refused to honor Lionel Messi’s request to leave, the best player in the world was left with two choices: stay at Barcelona against his will or take the club to court. Messi chose the former because he cares too much about the club to get involved in a legal battle. So Messi will spend one more season in Spain under leadership he called a disaster playing for a manager who just unceremoniously told his close friend Luis Suarez he was no longer wanted.
By refusing to work with Messi to come to a resolution, Bartomeu all but ensured the greatest player in Barcelona’s history will walk away for free. It made sense to part ways now so Messi can chase a fifth Champions League and the club can get his salary off its books. Not only was it a logical conclusion to the marriage, but it was also a chance for Barcelona to do right by such a loyal servant. Bartomeu had no interest in doing so, leaving Messi to demonstrate his unconditional love for Barcelona yet again.
2. Series aren’t over until they’re over in the bubble
Teams facing a 3-0 or 3-1 deficit at some point in a series during the NBA and NHL playoffs last season won a total of five games. Three of those victories were by the San Jose Sharks, who reeled off three straight wins to defeat the Vegas Golden Knights in seven games. This postseason, eight teams have combined to win 13 games when trailing 3-0 or 3-1 in a series. The Philadelphia Flyers and Vancouver Canucks were down 3-1 and forced a game 7. Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets escaped a 3-1 hole and are now tied 1-1 with the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round.
There’s also the Toronto Raptors going from .5 seconds away from being down 3-0 to evening their series with the Boston Celtics at two games apiece. Just like one game doesn’t matter as much at a neutral venue because it doesn’t swing home court advantage, trailing 3-1 or 2-0 isn’t as daunting when there are no road games. That’s not to say a bunch of teams are going to come back from 3-1 down, but playoff bubbles are demonstrating that no one should be written off until a team wins four games.
3. Jimmy Butler is finally where he belongs
The 2020 playoffs are not some sort of redemption tour for Jimmy Butler. The 40-point effort in Game 1 of the second round was new but this is a guy who dropped 36 on the Brooklyn Nets and scored 22 or more points in five straight games against the Raptors last postseason. There is nothing particularly surprising about Butler putting up 17 points in the fourth quarter like he did in Game 3 to put the Milwaukee Bucks on the brink of elimination. What is different is that Butler is in an environment — both organizationally and physically — that suits him perfectly.
While other players are thrilled to have family and friends inside the bubble, Butler didn’t want anyone to distract him from his “business trip.” He is coping with the mental challenges of being isolated better than any other player in the league while being surrounded by teammates who enjoy practicing almost as much as he does. The five-time All-Star doesn’t have to demand focus and effort from Bam Adebayo or anyone else because that’s what expected when you’re a member of the Miami Heat. Butler hasn’t changed one bit; he’s just where he should have been all along.
4. The hiring of Steve Nash is the continuation of a sports-wide trend
From soccer to baseball to basketball, former players with literally zero coaching experience have been called upon to lead some of the biggest sports brands in the world. Zinedine Zidane wins trophies left and right at Real Madrid and all of a sudden Juventus are appointing club legend Andrea Pirlo out of nowhere. David Ross gets handed control of the team he won the World Series with in 2016. On Sept. 3, the Brooklyn Nets continued the pattern by hiring Steve Nash to coach a team with championship aspirations.
On one hand, the move makes sense. Nash has an excellent relationship with Kevin Durant and is an all-time great at Kyrie Irving’s position. On the other, it is another reminder of how quickly former stars — especially white ones — can jump longtime assistants in the coaching pecking order. Guys like Pirlo, Ross and Nash weren’t just given coaching positions. They are leading teams with sky-high expectations. That’s not to say Nash doesn’t deserve a chance and it’s not like the Nets are the first team to do something like this. However, Brooklyn is taking an unnecessary risk that it will have to answer for if Nash doesn’t work out and the title window closes.
5. The American League’s playoff teams are all but decided
Major League Baseball’s expanded playoff format would theoretically make the race for the Wild Card spots more interesting since the bar for reaching the postseason was lowered. That is not the case in the American League, where eight teams have more than an 10% chance of making the playoffs as of Sept. 7 according to FanGraphs. Of course, there are now eight slots for those teams to organize themselves into as the regular season nears its conclusion.
It took 40 or so games to separate the top half of the AL from the bottom half and there weren’t any major surprises. Over in the National League, four teams in every division with better than a 23% chance of making the playoffs. Only six teams — the Braves, Phillies, Cubs, Cardinals, Dodgers and Padres — have better than a 52% chance. Instead of dramatic conclusions across the board, all eyes will be on the NL down the stretch.
No conversation about the best pure point guards in basketball history is complete without the inclusion of the Chicago Sky’s Courtney Vandersloot. While assists can be deceiving, the 31-year-old is averaging a career-high 9.8 per game and dished out 18 in 34 minutes against the Indiana Fever on Aug. 31. Keep in mind she is doing this while playing just 31 minutes per game too.
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