TrueHoop: Golden State Warriors

Aaron Craft scrapping in summer league

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
10:00
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Aaron Craft Dominic DiSaia for ESPNUndrafted out of Ohio State, undersized point guard Aaron Craft is trying to stick on an NBA roster.
If it’s possible to lose half your fame in a couple of months, then it’s happened to Aaron Craft. The transition from March Madness to summer league is funny that way. In the spring, Craft is the archetype of college ball grit, a well-publicized symbol of what the NCAA experience means to many of its fans. Come summer, Craft is no longer attached to any of that. He’s now just a defensive-minded, undrafted point guard on the Golden State Warriors’ summer-league team.

Steve Kerr has gushed over the former Ohio State point guard’s defensive effort and it’s apparent in every minute of action in Las Vegas. Craft really does hit the floor more often than a jackhammer. Right now his play looks like the epitome of summer-league striving, but summer-league striving doesn’t sell like college ball scrappiness.

There’s only so much crossover between college and pro basketball fans, so Craft’s massive renown is lost on many NBA followers. To them, being big at Ohio State might as well be like being big in Japan. That also means Craft attracts fewer haters in this phase of his life. Though a good student and by many accounts a good teammate, there was something about the way scrappy Craft was praised by announcers that attracted a fair amount of backlash.

That hate dies in the Vegas heat. Something else also happens out here, for Craft on a personal (not public) level. Like so many of us who graduate from college, he must transition from having a safety net to making his way in a world that can be confusingly anonymous.


What is this transition like for you?

It’s just different, everything’s a little different, from what you do in the hotels with the team, to shootarounds to everything. It’s sort of an overwhelming experience.

How’s the hotel stuff different?

You don’t do much with the team, maybe just because it’s summer league. You have a lot more free time than you do when you’re traveling in college. Meals are on your own, so you gotta find your own meals, which is different. They always gave you team meals, you always ate together, so you’re kind of on your own, you gotta figure things out.

So it’s like graduating college for a lot of people, where there’s less structure and you have to grow up fast?

Yeah, you gotta figure it out. I learned early on that there’s a ton of free time, so you gotta figure out how to maximize, not just waste it. Am I perfect at it? No. But I find some things I enjoy doing and that’s fine.

How do you fill that free time?

You have to actually pursue relationships now, so calling people on the phone, seeing how they’re doing. I’ve read a lot recently.

What are you reading?

I read the Bible a lot, and this book “Recovery and Redemption” by Matt Chandler, got into that, finished a book by John Piper during the pre-draft process. Just trying to fill the time.

Do you feel like there’s less pressure here right now than there was when you were at Ohio State?

There, it’s right at you, you can feel it. Here there’s some pressure because you have no idea where you’re going to be a month from now.

I don’t know much about the college ball scene, but I kept reading and hearing you were a polarizing player. Did you have any thoughts on why that happened?

I don’t know. Either you liked me or you didn’t like me at all?

But why would someone not like you? You seem like a nice guy.

I am a nice guy. There was a lot of stuff, a lot of ideas thrown out there, but for me, if anything it could have taken some pressure off my teammates. I felt comfortable handling it and dealing with it.

What are the ideas that were thrown out about why?

I’m white. I’m short. Other people can do what I do. Things like that. It’s interesting.

Did that feel insulting to you? That people would reduce your talent like that?

No, not at all. It was always about what the coaching staff thought, what our team thought. There’s a lot of people out there thinking they know what they’re talking about and they have no idea. They’re not in practices, they’re not in film sessions, they don’t see the work we put in. I’m fine with it, you know. People want to fill time, and that’s fine with me. I’ve done pretty well to this point and hope to continue to do so.

Do you like the change in the amount of scrutiny or does it not affect you at all?

I tried not to notice it in college. It’s just a different kind of scrutiny now. People kind of dissect your game, tell you what you can’t do now.

Obviously defense was a calling card of yours. Is it different at this level.

There is more space on the floor now obviously with the three point line, there’s less help and gap, so it does change it, but I like the challenge. Picking guys up full court is a challenge in of itself, being in better shape than everyone else is just something I need to do.

How do you maintain the energy for that? What do you do off the court to be able to do that an not die?

It’s a big mental challenge. It’s a big toughness factor kind of thing. If I’m going to make it, I have to be better shape than pretty much any guy on the floor.

The back of the envelope guide to Las Vegas Summer League: The West

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
10:05
AM ET
By D.J. Foster
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Julius Randle, Dante ExumGetty ImagesWelcome to the NBA, rooks. High-profile picks Julius Randle and Dante Exum finally hit the pro stage.
There's something for everyone at Las Vegas Summer League. For all the prized rookies in this year’s draft class, it’s a chance to get their feet wet. For the prospects who haven’t found luck in the league yet, it’s an opportunity to jump-start a career. For others, it’s simply a shot at getting on the radar.

The following is our annual "back of the envelope" guide to the Las Vegas Summer League teams, highlighting some of the more promising and intriguing prospects who will take the floor. The West guide is below, and the East guide is here.


Dallas Mavericks


Gal Mekel: Perhaps it was a show of confidence in Mekel’s abilities that the Mavericks were willing to send both Jose Calderon and Shane Larkin to New York. Raymond Felton may be the worst projected starter at point guard in the league right now, so there’s a clear path to playing time for the Israeli point guard. A great summer league could go a long way.

Ricky Ledo: The mystery is no longer there, but the appeal still will be. Ledo came into Vegas last year without a minute of college or international playing time under his belt, but he’s showed glimpses of being a capable wing scorer. He plays with blinders on sometimes and can chuck a bit, but the talent is there.

Ivan Johnson: He’s the only player in Vegas with the distinction of being “banned forever” from the Korean Basketball League, but Johnson can really play despite some dustups over the years. In two seasons for the Atlanta Hawks, Johnson averaged a 15.1 PER and was solid on both ends. After playing in China last season, he’d make a nice bodyguard for Dirk Nowitzki off the bench.


Denver Nuggets


Quincy Miller: One play he’ll look like Kevin Durant, the next he’ll look like Austin Daye. Miller is a 6-foot-10 wing with guard skills and a sweet stroke from deep, but he’s a little too slow and a little too soft to really put it all to good use. You’ll fall in and out of love with him multiple times over the course of a game.

Gary Harris: He had one of the more surprising falls on draft night, but the Denver Nuggets were smart to snatch up a young 3-and-D wing for Arron Afflalo to mentor. Afflalo, on his second tour in Denver thanks to a pre-draft trade with Orlando, suffered a similar fate on draft night in 2007 despite a strong pedigree, but he turned himself into something much more with his great work ethic. Harris should take notes.

Erick Green: Last year’s second-round pick struggled a bit in Italy last season, and this is still one of the league’s deepest rosters. Green has a knack for creating space and finding his own shot, but with Harris and Miller needing to be fed and the Nuggets probably looking for a third point guard, he should focus more on distributing.


Golden State Warriors

Travis Bader: There have been a lot of great shooters in college basketball history, but Bader holds a spot above them all as the NCAA Division I leader in 3-pointers made, with 504. With shooting coming at a premium (here’s looking at you, Jodie Meeks) in free agency, smart teams may opt for a cheaper, younger specialist like Bader.

Nemanja Nedovic: Being dubbed the “European Derrick Rose” has been the highlight of Nedovic’s career thus far. He couldn’t find playing time under Mark Jackson last season, but with Steve Kerr taking over, Nedovic will get a clean slate and a chance to unleash some of the much heralded athleticism.

Rob Loe: After the Warriors missed out on acquiring Channing Frye and shored up the backcourt instead, the big man from Saint Louis might get a long look to fill the Warriors' need for a stretch big man with legitimate size. Although his percentages weren’t great in college, Loe’s mechanics are literally perfect when he parks himself on the 3-point line.


Houston Rockets


Nick Johnson: Most expected the Rockets to go with an international draft-and-stash candidate in this year's draft to avoid taking on salary, but Daryl Morey and company liked the Arizona guard enough to take the plunge. Early returns have been positive -- Johnson’s nasty throwdown in Orlando is the early favorite for the dunk of the summer.

Omar Oraby: Plenty of countries are represented in Vegas every year, but Oraby is looking to become the first player from Egypt to play in the NBA. The USC grad has size on his side (7-foot-2), but he’ll need to show he can protect the rim without fouling before warranting any serious consideration.

Isaiah Canaan: He got a little bit of burn with the Rockets last season, but Canaan was most impressive with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the 3-happy D-League affiliate of the big club. Canaan hit a whopping 3.7 3s per game on 38.7 percent shooting with that squad, and after teammate Troy Daniels temporarily saved Houston’s hide in the playoffs, Canaan could find a role.


Los Angeles Clippers


Delonte West: It’s no secret that Doc Rivers has an affinity for veterans and his former players, and West qualifies as both. Since 2010, West has worked for a furniture store, been arrested for carrying guns in a guitar case "Desperado" style, and has played in the D-League, China and the NBA in stints. This would be quite the career revival.

Keith Benson: The Clippers could probably stand to add some more depth in the frontcourt even after the signing of Spencer Hawes, and Benson might fill a need. After seeing what he did with DeAndre Jordan, a similar big man in terms of size and athleticism, Rivers may decide to take on another project big man with all the athletic tools and very little polish.

Jon Brockman: A summer-league tradition like no other. Brockman made his debut way back in 2009, and for years now he’s provided dogged offensive rebounding and physical play in the paint in this setting. The proceedings wouldn’t feel quite right without him here.


Los Angeles Lakers


Julius Randle: Randle will have a leg up on some of the other post prospects in town, as he’ll get a buffet of touches thanks to Kendall Marshall. The seventh overall pick should be able to put on a nice show for the always-present Lakers contingency as a magnet for the ball with superior motor and athleticism.

DeAndre Kane: If you tuned into an Iowa State game last season, it was tough to keep your eyes off Kane. His age (25) and lack of a true position kept him out of the draft, but Kane plays a very similar style to Lance Stephenson and can make his impact felt all over the court. He’s a serious sleeper.

Kendall Marshall: Great tweeter, better distributor. Marshall averaged 11 assists per 36 minutes last season for the Lakers, and while some of that is inflated by noted point guard whisperer Mike D’Antoni, Marshall also knocked in 39.9 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. He’ll have questions to answer in a new system, but he has staying power.


Minnesota Timberwolves


Zach LaVine: Minnesota is just going to keep acquiring UCLA guys to try and placate Kevin Love, apparently, as LaVine is the third Bruin (Shabazz Muhammad, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute) to join the roster in the last year. With a ridiculous 46-inch vertical leap and a stylish flair, the raw singman’s dunks should set the internet on fire. Unless there’s an up-and-comer out there named Putmeon LaYouTube, LaVine is probably the most appropriately named prospect we’ve ever had.

Shabazz Muhammad: The Las Vegas native returns for a second run at summer league, this time with a year of NBA experience under his belt. With a new coach in Flip Saunders and a possible youth movement taking place in Minnesota, Muhammad’s sturdy under-the-basket post scoring could be an asset. Question is, can he do anything else?

Gorgui Dieng: One of the lone bright spots in an otherwise lost season, Dieng burst onto the scene late and averaged 12.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes. Although he’s stuck behind Love and Nikola Pekovic for the time being, Dieng’s ability to play out of the high post and protect the rim puts him in pretty exclusive company among fellow big men.


New Orleans Pelicans


Josh Howard: Yes, that Josh Howard. At 34 years old, the former Dallas Mavericks forward is hoping to follow in Rasual Butler’s footsteps by performing well in summer league and landing another NBA contract. Injuries have ravaged his career, but given the need in New Orleans for a glue guy at small forward, Howard should get a fair shake if the body is willing.

Russ Smith: The lightning bug Louisville point guard should perform pretty well here, as he’s been blowing by elite opposing point guards for quite some time now. Unlike a few other guards in attendance, the frantic pace Smith played at with Louisville should transfer over nicely.

Patric Young: The Florida big man is a real grinder, and watching him lock horns with other big bodies in the frontcourt is always a treat. Young has some nice role-player potential behind Anthony Davis and Omer Asik in New Orleans, even if he’s limited offensively.


Phoenix Suns


T.J. Warren: NC State gave him all the possessions he could handle, but it’s hard to say how well Warren’s high-usage attack will translate to the next level. He’s a throwback scorer who lives primarily off the in-between stuff like floaters and below-the-rim finishes, but can he survive as an efficient offensive option without a more reliable jumper and better range?

Alex Len: It’s easy to forget that Phoenix battled for a playoff spot without the fifth pick of the 2013 draft involved, but there’s still hope that Len will become the skilled, mobile rim protector the Suns need in the middle. The fight for playing time with Miles Plumlee, who isn’t on the summer league roster, starts right now.

Tyler Ennis: Canada can trot out a pretty dangerous Olympic team all of a sudden, can’t it? Ennis was a somewhat surprising pick since Phoenix has Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe to run the point, but he has the kind of distributing ability and shake off the dribble that could make him a dangerous player down the line. The point guard rich look like they got richer.


Portland Trail Blazers


C.J. McCollum: If McCollum can stay healthy, it’s not hard to imagine him winning a sixth man of the year award in the near future. At the very least he fits the typical profile - a combo guard with the ability to shoot the lights out and create for himself off the dribble. He could be the answer to Portland’s bench woes offensively.

Thomas Robinson: It feels like Robinson should have already moved on from playing in the summer league since he’s bounced around so much, but the fifth pick in the 2012 draft is still just 23 years old and raw enough to justify another appearance. He’s an elite rebounder, but he needs to bring something else to the table to earn real minutes.

Meyers Leonard: Do you trust recently signed big man Chris Kaman to stay healthy for a full season? Me neither. At some point in the near future, Leonard is going to need to soak up minutes at the 5 for a team with legitimate playoff potential. With that in mind, it would be nice if he didn’t float in the background again this summer.


Sacramento Kings


Ben McLemore: It’s been a while since an otherwise legitimate prospect has been crippled by tunnel vision this severe. Last year’s seventh overall pick seems to be lacking a basic feel for his surroundings, but he’s still trouble in transition when he can make straight line drives to the rim. If the jumper starts falling, there’s some 3-and-D potential here.

Nik Stauskas: The problem in Sacramento, as it always seems to be, is that there might not be enough distributors on the roster. We know Stauskas can shoot and shake and bake, but Sacramento may need him to take on more of a creating role, especially if Darren Collison: Starting Point Guard, ends up being a real thing.

Sim Bhullar: Vegas serves as a home for plenty of P.O.U.S (players of unusual size) this time of year, and New Mexico State big man Bhullar is the biggest of them all. Don’t adjust your screen -- Bhullar is really 7-foot-5 and 360 pounds, and he’s a serious threat to crush a cameraman under the basket at some point. If he’s going down, I’m yelling timber. Also, I’m so sorry.


San Antonio Spurs


Kyle Anderson: How did the rest of the league let this happen? Allowing a young Boris Diaw clone to learn from the real Boris Diaw could have serious consequences for the rest of the league down the line. Yes, Anderson is slower than molasses, but his playmaking, size, ballhandling and intelligence are top notch. This is how the Spurs stay the Spurs.

Deshaun Thomas: He can get buckets in a hurry. It’s a little surprising that Thomas hasn’t found a C.J. Miles-type role for an NBA team yet, but at 22 years old, there’s still plenty of time for that to happen. San Antonio’s roster is understandably crowded, but this guy is too good offensively to ignore for much longer.

Vander Blue: Marquette has a history of pumping out pesky perimeter defenders, and Blue certainly qualifies. If his 3-point stroke finally starts to cooperate, Blue could hold down a steady roster spot. For teams that miss out on Kent Bazemore in free agency, Blue should be an option worth considering if his mechanics are cleaned up.


Utah Jazz


Dante Exum: No more chopped up footage from four years ago -- we’re finally getting the real thing. The Australian guard and fifth overall pick in this year’s draft certainly appears to have all the natural tools you love to have from a lead guard, and he could take on a role in the same vein as someone like Brandon Roy once occupied. That kind of star power is exactly what a franchise like Utah needs.

Trey Burke: How’s the potential backcourt of the future going to co-exist? On paper it seems like a good fit, as both Burke and Exum can swing the ball side-to-side and attack against recovering defenses. This could be the start of a beautiful relationship if the two play off each other instead of simply taking turns, which is always tempting in these types of games.

Rudy Gobert: After exploding onto the scene last season in Orlando Summer League by showing surprising mobility, good hands and natural shotblocking ability, it’s easy to dream on what Gobert might look like with a little more seasoning. Big men typically develop a little slower, but here’s hoping he gets unleashed yet again in the Jazz’s first ever summer-league appearance in Las Vegas.

D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.

Livingston puts a bounce in Warriors' steps

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
11:42
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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 Shaun Livingston and Stephen CurryBrad Penner/USA TODAY Sports Shaun Livingston will be working alongside Stephen Curry with the Warriors next season.

The Golden State Warriors' three-year, $16 million agreement (third year partially guaranteed) with Shaun Livingston addresses a basketball issue so basic it has been easy to miss: The Warriors need a guy who can dribble. Too much of the offense has been dependent on Stephen Curry, in part due to Curry’s incredible talent and in part due to how the Warriors have lacked for competent ball handlers.

Livingston is a guy you can trust with the rock, as he can drive, dish and post up depending on the situation. What he can’t do is shoot 3-pointers, a staple of Golden State’s perimeter offense. Though he has yet to develop the skill, his .827 free throw mark might speak to some potential in that area.

This is a move the Warriors make even if they aren’t eyeing a future without Klay Thompson, who has been linked to Kevin Love trade talks. That said, the move makes parting with Klay less painful should they choose to go that route.

On the face of it, Livingston and Thompson couldn’t be more different in terms of basketball skills. Livingston handles and passes, while Thompson shoots and, well, shoots. The similarity comes on the defensive end where both players can leverage their length to bother opposing perimeter players. Should the Warriors cast aside their reluctance and deal Thompson for Love, they can ask Livingston to fill in for Thompson defensively.

In Golden State’s defensive system under former coach Mark Jackson, Thompson would defend opposing point guards, leaving Curry hidden on a less talented perimeter player. This strategy allowed Curry some rest, spared him unfavorable matchups and got opposing teams into mismatches when the ball changed sides. The Warriors can resume doing this, even without Thompson. And, should they hold on to Thompson, they’ve just acquired someone who can find him for many a 3-pointer.

Show some Love

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
4:41
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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David Thorpe says it's a mistake to discount the accomplishments of Kevin Love, and that Klay Thompson is not a max player.

video

To make splash, Dubs must break up duo

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
10:14
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Don’t be fooled by the "Splash Brothers" nickname. The fraternal moniker makes it seem as though Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry are perfectly complementary, as though theirs is a bond the Golden State Warriors will suffer for losing, that they will live to regret even dangling Thompson in a trade for Kevin Love.

The on-court relationship between the guards is complicated, if not fraught. While it’s true Thompson helps Curry by defending the league’s better point guards, the dynamic on offense trends toward frustration.

First, let's praise what’s good about Thompson. He’s an excellent 3-point shooter with one of the quickest releases in basketball. He’s also a good post-up player who can punish smaller defenders. On defense, he’s physical on the ball, and he made Chris Paul look human over a seven-game playoff series.

Thompson is not, however, an untouchable asset for Golden State. He is coveted by teams because he seems like a prototypical "shooting guard." He’s of the right size and, well, he shoots. For whatever reason, we’re still dividing players into five semi-arbitrary categories, which works in Thompson’s favor. "Shooting guard" is a weak position, and Thompson does the thing that’s in the position’s description. Perhaps if the second-smallest player on the floor was called a "rebounding guard," Thompson wouldn’t be such a hot commodity. Fortunately for Thompson's bank account, history went a different direction.

While Thompson is an excellent 3-point shooter, there are holes in his offensive game. If the second-smallest player was called a "passing guard," "athletic guard," “dribbling guard" or "foul-drawing guard," these holes would be more apparent.

Per the passing, Thompson has a bad habit of looking Curry off when his backcourt mate is wide open. The Splash Brother relationship flows only in one direction: Curry feeding Thompson. It’s not a reciprocal relationship in the way a pick-and-roll between Love and Curry would be.

It’s not just an open Curry who gets ignored -- Thompson was 56th among shooting guards in assist percentage last season. This helps explain how a player who is scoring 18.6 points per game registers as only 23rd among shooting guards in PER.

It’d be wrong to call Thompson a selfish player because who knows what he sees in the adrenaline-driven chaos of an NBA game? It’s easier for the observer to wring hands over his tendency to look off open shooters on the strong side than it is to actually make those passes in a game.

At the same time, he’s deficient in areas in which other guards are strong. Another one of those areas is his handle, which is too weak for the amount of forays he takes into the teeth of opposing defenses. A player can improve at dribbling, as we’ve seen with Paul George and Kevin Durant. Minnesota Timberwolves fans can at least take solace in that if Thompson is traded to their team.

As for Thompson’s defense, we have a debate between the stats and the eye test. Warriors coaches from last season were emphatic in their support of his defense, some even feeling that Andre Iguodala drew first-team all-defense status from a lot of Thompson’s work.

On film, Thompson did a fantastic job of forcing guards away from the middle of the court and executing Golden State’s scheme. He sticks to the game plan, doesn’t freelance and doggedly pursues his mark. We just don’t see any of that reflected in the numbers, in which Thompson is a negative in Defensive Real Plus-Minus.

What to make of this stats-versus-film discrepancy? My thinking is that defense is hard to quantify, lineup data is noisy and Thompson might have some flaws that aren’t so glaring on film. He lacks the explosive athleticism to haunt passing lanes in the way Iguodala does. It’s easy to see Thompson sticking to his man, harder to see a lack of scaring teams from throwing certain passes.

Thompson also racks up fouls, 4.1 per 100 possessions this season and last season. It’s easy to see Thompson defending his guy physically but harder to see the wages of how all those fouls hurt the team's defense.

It’s also possible that Golden State’s strategy of hiding Curry wasn’t the best approach. It spared its superstar the fouls and fatigue that come with handling opposing point guards, but Curry often wound up guarding far larger players. Though Curry was defending limited talents, in some cases, the height advantage made up for that.

On balance, Thompson is probably a good defender and, were Love not an option, the Warriors would be happy to move forward with him. On the balance sheet, though, this is trickier. Thompson is still on his rookie contract and is eligible for a qualifying offer in 2015. With Andrew Bogut, David Lee, Curry and Iguodala all making eight figures per season moving forward, there just isn’t much room for Thompson. This is why trading Thompson (and Lee) for Love makes sense for Golden State: The Warriors get a superstar in exchange for two guys who will be commanding an unsustainably large amount of money. Thompson is due a big payday, and Lee has one of those pre-2011 collective bargaining agreement deals that will have him making more than $15 million in 2016.

The Warriors also have another concern beyond the money: They need to keep Curry in the Bay Area. The ugliness surrounding Mark Jackson’s ouster put pressure on the franchise.

They were a "fun" team on the rise, free to fling 3s that easily lofted over low expectations. The Jackson firing changed things, upsetting a superstar who’s already playing at a discounted rate and sending a message that 51 wins isn’t good enough.

Golden State was comically dependent on its point guard last season. With Curry in the game, the Warriors posted a 109.7 offensive rating. When he sat, they posted a 93.8 rating. The former would qualify a team for the league's best offense, and the latter would qualify a team for the league’s worst.

In the playoffs, Curry suffers the game-plan scrutiny that Derrick Rose once did. Teams are free to fixate on him since there’s no other dynamic offensive option.

This wouldn’t be the case with Love in Golden State. Not only can Love get his own shot, but he’d afford the Warriors the "four-out" spacing with which Curry thrives.

Since teams must respect Curry’s off-the-dribble 3-point shot, they have to guard his pick-and-rolls a bit differently. When there are four 3-point shooters on the floor, Curry gets teams in situations in which not a single defender is in the paint. A Love-Curry pick-and-roll would shatter a lot of defensive schemes. And with uncommonly sharp shooting for a power forward, Love complements Curry in a way Thompson can't.

These are some large stakes. Either Golden State gets that perfect superstar to align with Curry and allay his concerns, or they're stuck worrying about what he'll do when his contract is up in 2017. Suddenly, the feel-good Warriors are like a lot of big-market teams: pressured to make a splash so as to placate their franchise player.

To make that splash, they must be willing to sacrifice one of the Splash Brothers.

Welcome Royce Young and Ethan Sherwood Strauss

May, 27, 2014
May 27
4:29
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
You probably already know their names, but now they're becoming key parts of our NBA team; ESPN.com has enhanced its NBA coverage with the addition of Royce Young and Ethan Sherwood Strauss. Both have deep roots in the TrueHoop Network and will continue to be locally based to cover two key NBA markets.
  • Ethan Sherwood Strauss, in writing on ESPN.com and TrueHoop Network over the last four years, has established a unique and independent voice. He weighs in on some of the most sensitive issues of the NBA and the Golden State Warriors. Based in Oakland, Strauss will continue to cover the Warriors and the league for ESPN.com. Prior to ESPN, he covered politics for Salon.com and worked for the NBA. Strauss graduated from the University of California, Berkeley.
  • Royce Young is the founder and editor of the TrueHoop Network's charter member: DailyThunder.com. He has been a leading voice covering the Thunder since the team arrived in 2008, and now will continue covering the team for ESPN.com. Most recently, Young spent the last three years covering the NBA for CBSSports.com and had previously written for The New York Times and SLAM Magazine. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma.

 

Gift of Love: 29 trades for 29 teams

May, 21, 2014
May 21
11:07
AM ET
Harper By Zach Harper
Special to ESPN.com
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Kevin LoveBrad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports
The end is nigh. Or so it seems. Reports about Kevin Love’s uncertain future with the Minnesota Timberwolves are coming out left and right. Every team in the league is positioning itself to capture the star power on the market right now.

With the draft a little more than a month away, it would behoove the Timberwolves to maximize the trade market now while cap flexibility, draft picks and crushed lottery night dreams are fresh in the minds of the potential suitors.

The Wolves don’t have the upper hand in this situation, but they do have the ability to leverage ravenous front offices against one another and create a trade-market bidding war. As team president Flip Saunders and owner Glen Taylor face a gut-check moment of whether to risk Love leaving for nothing in summer 2015, here are the deals I would blow up their phones with if I were in charge of one of the 29 teams in the league.


Atlanta Hawks


The deal: Trade Machine

Hawks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroder, the rights to Lucas Nogueira, No. 15 pick in 2014

This is a big haul for the Hawks to give up, with three rotation guys plus the pick going to Minnesota. But pairing Love and Al Horford together in Mike Budenholzer’s offense would be an alien invasion without Bill Pullman and Will Smith to fight it off. For the Wolves, Millsap is a nice option you can win with now and flip if he isn’t happy; Schroder is the backup point guard they crave; and Nogueira would give the Wolves a tandem with Gorgui Dieng that makes Nikola Pekovic and his contract expendable.


Boston Celtics


The deal: Trade Machine

Celtics receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Phil Pressey, Vitor Faverani, Nos. 6 and 17 picks in 2014, Celtics’ first-round pick in 2016

Here, the Wolves are basically getting the picks and then a bunch of cap filler and former first-rounders. There’s no reason to pretend Olynyk and Sullinger would be pieces for the Wolves at all. Being a Wolves fan since they've come into the NBA, I am pretty good at recognizing overvalued first-round picks who won’t be as good as you hope they are. This is about the picks, and with Nos. 6, 13 and 17 in this draft, they could load up or move up.


Brooklyn Nets

The deal: Trade Machine

Nets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: The 2003 Kevin Garnett

Look, I don’t know how owner Mikhail Prokhorov got his hands on a time machine, either, but billionaires have access to things we don’t. Let’s just take advantage of the opportunity to grab 2003 Kevin Garnett and get this team back into the playoffs.


Charlotte Hornets


The deal: Trade Machine

Hornets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Gary Neal, Nos. 9 and 24 picks in 2014

The Wolves never got to truly test out the Al Jefferson-Love big man tandem because Love wasn’t that great yet and Jefferson hurt his knee. They get a redo in Charlotte in this scenario, and with coach Steve Clifford’s defensive stylings, it could actually work.

Wolves would get a former No. 2 pick with potential; Zeller, whom they were enamored with before last year’s draft; and two first-round picks. The Pistons conceding the No. 9 pick to the Bobcats makes this a very attractive deal.


Chicago Bulls


The deal: Trade Machine

Bulls receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, the rights to Nikola Mirotic, Ronnie Brewer, Nos. 16 and 19 picks in 2014

Of the most realistic trade scenarios for the Wolves in unloading Love for assets, cap relief and picks, this is probably the best move they could make, unless Phoenix is willing to be bold. You could also swap out Boozer for Taj Gibson, but his long-term money isn’t ideal for a rebuilding team. The Wolves could flip him to a contender later. The Bulls would be giving up a lot, but a big three of Joakim Noah, Love and Derrick Rose (assuming he's healthy) is an amazing way to battle whatever the Heat end up being after this season.


Cleveland Cavaliers


The deal: Trade Machine

Cavaliers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, No. 1 pick in 2014

Why would the Cavaliers possibly trade the No. 1 pick in a loaded class, plus three rotation players, for Love? Because they seem to have a pipe dream of bringing LeBron James back to Cleveland this summer and this is the way to do it. It’s not stockpiling a bunch of young role players for James to play alongside. He wants to play with stars, and having Love and Kyrie Irving in tow would go a long way.


Dallas Mavericks


Mavericks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: 2011 NBA championship banner and one free pass for a business idea on “Shark Tank”

I’ve always had a problem with teams hanging up “division title” banners in an arena because it seems like a lower-level franchise thing to do. Considering the Wolves are about to lose their best player and potentially miss the playoffs for an 11th straight season, it’s safe to consider them on that lower level right now.

It would be nice to take down the 2003-04 division title banner and replace it with a championship banner. And the extra revenue from getting a business idea funded through “Shark Tank” could give this organization a little extra money to play around with during the next few years. The Wolves are renovating their arena, so they could use the cash.


Denver Nuggets


The deal: Trade Machine

Nuggets receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Darrell Arthur, Randy Foye, No. 11 pick in 2014

Coach Brian Shaw gets his coveted big-time power forward and a nice offensive complement to Ty Lawson in the backcourt. While Martin isn't even close to being a defender, he at least has some size to utilize on offense.

The Wolves get a lot of quality players and a couple of veterans (Arthur and Foye) they can flip. They could even add a lottery pick here in this draft, although this sort of feels like a lot in return. Oh, who cares? The Wolves get to be greedy here.


Detroit Pistons


Pistons receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Stan Van Gundy

I don't want your horrible Josh Smith contract and shot selection that makes most government agencies look like well-oiled machines. I don’t want an improbable sign-and-trade deal with Greg Monroe. I don’t want any of the young players. I don’t even want the pick. I want SVG in all of his coaching glory and I’m willing to relinquish this fake GM power to him when the trade is completed. I’m going full-on Veruca Salt on this one. I want Stan Van Gundy to coach the Wolves and I want it now!


Golden State Warriors


The deal: Trade Machine

Warriors receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: David Lee, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, right to swap picks in 2015 and 2016

I don’t actually think this is a good trade, but it allows me to bring up a point. I get the mindset of wanting to maximize the value you receive in a trade versus what you’re sending out. But there are Warriors fans worried about giving up Thompson and Barnes in a deal for Love, while ridding themselves of Lee’s contract. Back when the Clippers were trading for Chris Paul, there were fans and writers who thought it was a bad idea to include Eric Gordon. Think about that now. Sometimes it can get out of hand for players who probably won’t be All-Stars.


Houston Rockets


The deal: Trade Machine

Rockets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jeremy Lin, Donatas Motiejunas, Chandler Parsons, Jordan Hamilton, first-round picks in 2015 and 2017

This is an incredibly tricky situation because while the Rockets have lots of assets to move, the inclusion of Parsons makes the deal really difficult. The Wolves would need to pick up his team option for next season, but that means he’s an unrestricted free agent in 2015. How likely is it that he will want to stay in Minnesota?

Lin’s contract will cost more than owner Glen Taylor wants to pay for a non-winning team. Motiejunas would be the best prospect in the deal and you’re taking late first-round picks in the future. Can we just forget this deal and ask Hakeem Olajuwon to be an adviser to the Wolves instead?


Indiana Pacers


The deal: Trade Machine

Pacers receive: Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic
Wolves receive: Roy Hibbert, David West

I want to see just how good of a coach Frank Vogel is. The Wolves were 29th in defending the restricted area this season, and I would guess the only reason they weren’t the worst is because of Dieng’s late-season rim defense. The Pacers were the best at defending the rim this season. Can Vogel keep that defensive prowess with these non-shot-blockers? Can the Wolves defend the rim with these two big men? These two teams don’t match up at all in the trade department, so we might as well experiment.


Los Angeles Clippers


The deal: Trade Machine

Clippers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford

I don’t know why the Clippers would ever do this trade, but it’s unfair for other fan bases to have all of the fun and none of the depression. Griffin gets to receive alley-oop passes from Ricky Rubio while Crawford dazzles the media members with his dribbling and charm.

The Clippers get another shooter to stretch the floor to allow DeAndre Jordan to further develop. Martin wouldn’t exactly add anything to what the Clippers do now, but again, I’m sick of all the depression in these scenarios, so just take one for the team, please.


Los Angeles Lakers


The deal: Trade Machine

Lakers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, Nick Young, MarShon Brooks, No. 7 pick in 2014, future first-round pick, Flip Saunders gets a statue outside Staples Center, Minneapolis Lakers’ title banners

In this scenario, I suffered a head injury when I tried to pull off one of those 360 layups Swaggy P loves to do so much and I fell into the celebrating elbows of Sacre. It left me a little woozy, but I think I came up with a good deal to finally get Love to Los Angeles. Nash's deal is expiring, Sacre and Ronny Turiaf form the greatest bench-cheering duo ever, Young gets to teach me that layup and Brooks is cap filler. Those Minneapolis Lakers banners will look great at Target Center, too.


Memphis Grizzlies


The deal: Trade Machine

Grizzlies receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Zach Randolph, James Johnson, Jon Leuer, Jamaal Franklin, first-round pick in 2017

This does one thing that’s pretty cool: It gives a Grizzlies team that struggled to score in the half court two very good half-court scorers. They lose some toughness but they can actually round out their overall game quite a bit. For the Wolves, it gives them the potential for a Pekovic-Randolph-Johnson frontcourt, which, if Randolph opts in this summer, will protect Minnesota when the zombie apocalypse happens. Nobody is taking out that frontcourt.


Miami Heat


The deal: Trade Machine

Heat receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Chris Bosh, Norris Cole, right to swap first-round picks in 2016 and 2018

The Wolves are torn between a full-on rebuild (try selling that to the fans again during this decade-long playoff drought) and trying to still find a way to sneak into the playoffs. Granted, Bosh has to agree to this deal by not opting out of his contract this summer, but the Wolves would at least remain hyper-competitive on the playoff bubble. They’d also grab a backup point guard who isn’t as erratic as the incumbent, J.J. Barea.

The Heat get younger and give LeBron the chance to really have a great second scorer with him in his next deal in Miami.


Milwaukee Bucks


The deal: Trade Machine

Bucks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo, No. 2 pick in 2014, Wisconsin has to pretend the Vikings are the best team in the league

Sure, Sanders has the potential to be a nice defender in this league for a long time, Mayo would be a possible cap-relief trade chip in a year and the No. 2 pick, whoever it ends up being, could be a major star in this league. But the win here for Minnesota is Wisconsin having to pretend the Vikings are the best. A fan base that was 27th in attendance in the NBA and 13th in attendance in the NFL doesn't really care how they make out in any Love deal. They just want the football win. Vikings fans aren't used to getting a lot of those.


New Orleans Pelicans


The deal: Trade Machine

Pelicans receive: Kevin Love, Chase Budinger
Wolves receive: Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon

Sure, you guys are laughing at me and how ridiculous this is, but in my head the deal has been made and I’m doing a little dance of celebration. Have your laughter, and I’ll have my delusional mind, and never the twain shall meet.


New York Knicks


The deal: Trade Machine

Knicks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: [processing ...]

The Knicks gave up a first-round pick to get Andrea Bargnani. Comparable value means they’d have to give up the entire Wall Street district for Love. I can’t even pretend there is a combination here that works for the Wolves. Maybe they could do a double sign-and-trade and swap Love for Carmelo Anthony? Someone ask cap guru Larry Coon if this is allowed. Can we get a reality show just recording La La’s face when Melo has to tell her they’re moving to Minneapolis?


Oklahoma City Thunder


The deal: Trade Machine

Thunder receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Serge Ibaka, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Hasheem Thabeet, Mavericks’ first-round pick in 2014, Thunder’s first-round pick in 2017

I’m not going to be unrealistic and pretend Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook are in play here, but there’s no reason the Wolves can’t ask for Ibaka, while also unloading Martin’s deal (three years, $20 million left) and picking up young talent in Lamb and Jones, a first-round pick this year and an unprotected pick in 2017. Why 2017? Let’s pretend this Thunder thing doesn’t work out and Love and Durant both leave in 2016. In this scenario, the Wolves position themselves to take advantage of a team falling apart. It’s like what every team does to Minnesota every single time it trades a draft pick.


Orlando Magic


The deal: Trade Machine

Magic receive: Kevin Love, No. 13 pick in 2014
Wolves receive: Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson, Jameer Nelson, No. 4 pick in 2014

I recognize that the Wolves getting the No. 2 pick from last year’s draft plus the No. 4 pick in this draft seems like a lot, but Love is a lot better than Oladipo and it’s not all that close. Even if Oladipo maximizes his potential, he’s probably not reaching Love’s status. Flip was enamored with Oladipo heading into the 2013 draft and would probably be willing to swap firsts with the Magic this year in order to complete this trade.


Philadelphia 76ers


The deal: Trade Machine

76ers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Thaddeus Young, Jason Richardson, Nos. 3 and 10 picks in 2014

The Wolves get a young asset, cap relief and two lottery picks in this draft in exchange for Love and getting rid of Martin’s deal. It sounds like the Sixers are giving up a lot here, but they have assets to spare. You’re teaming Love with a defensive-minded center in Nerlens Noel and a pass-first point guard in Michael Carter-Williams. Plus, the Sixers still have room to add another major player.


Phoenix Suns


The deal: Trade Machine

Suns receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Eric Bledsoe, Timberwolves' first-round pick in 2015

This is the dream scenario. The Wolves would have to convince Bledsoe to want to play in Minnesota, and then execute a sign-and-trade. Most likely, they’d have to max out Bledsoe in the process. The Suns do it because of the knee concern for Bledsoe, and Love is a much better player who fits coach Jeff Hornacek’s style of play. Getting their top-12 protected pick back for dumping Wes Johnson in Phoenix helps, too. It’s a risk by the Suns and a concession by the Wolves, but this is the “fingers crossed” scenario.


Portland Trail Blazers


The deal: Trade Machine

Trail Blazers receive: Kevin Love, medium-quality bike lanes from Minneapolis
Wolves receive: LaMarcus Aldridge, second-best bike lanes from Portland

This needs to happen and it doesn’t have anything to do with basketball. I just want to see both fan bases reverse course on the vitriol thrown each other’s way when discussing which power forward is better. The Blazers fans would have to embrace Love as the top PF while the Wolves fans pretend they never meant the things they said about Aldridge’s rebounding.

The bike lane aspect of this trade would really help Portland take back its title as top cycling city in the country.


Sacramento Kings


The deal: Trade Machine

Kings receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Williams, Jason Terry

This one doesn't even involve a draft pick because Cousins has so much potential. The Kings can take a big man with the No. 8 pick this year and pair him next to Love. Martin returns to Sacramento and doesn't have Tyreke Evans to hog the ball and make him want to get out of town. Terry is salary-cap relief for the Wolves, and they can to try a do-over with Williams. This trade can’t happen until after July 1, so that and reality are the only two hang-ups right now.


San Antonio Spurs


Spurs receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Gregg Popovich

This works out perfectly in a couple of ways. Let’s say the Spurs win the title this year and we see Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili ride off into the sunset. Love would immediately be the replacement for Duncan and give the Spurs a bridge from this era into the next successful one.

For the Wolves, I don’t even want to subject Popovich to coaching the team. He should just be a consultant for a month and let the organization know all of the awful ways in which they do things and the way the Spurs “would never consider something like this.” He’d essentially be The Wolf in "Pulp Fiction" for Minnesota.


Toronto Raptors


The deal: Trade Machine

Raptors receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, John Salmons, No. 20 pick in 2014, Knicks’ first-round pick in 2016

It would leave the Raptors searching for a big man to protect the paint, but in today’s NBA, you could get away with a Love-Amir Johnson frontcourt against a lot of teams. The Wolves get the young assets they crave, the draft picks they need and the cap relief necessary to keep their options open. They’d have to move Pekovic next, and they don’t get rid of Martin's contract in this scenario, but it’s a good start to the rebuilding plan. This might be a lot for the Raptors to give up, but general manager Masai Ujiri can just fleece the next four trades he makes and even it all out.


Utah Jazz


The deal: Trade Machine

Jazz receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Derrick Favors, Jeremy Evans, John Lucas III, Rudy Gobert, No. 5 pick in 2014

Requesting the Jazz’s top big man and the fifth pick is asking Utah to do the Wolves quite the ... Favor(s) ... you know? No? Wait, where are you guys going? I still have one more team to poach players from!


Washington Wizards


The deal: Trade Machine

Wizards receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Bradley Beal, Nene

This would be an incredibly tough decision for the Wizards to make. They have one of the best young shooting guards in the NBA, and pairing him with John Wall would produce an awesome tandem for a decade. And yet, they could upgrade for Love while still keeping a scorer at the shooting guard position. In the process, they’d rid themselves of the long-term money owed to Nene. They would owe long-term money to Martin, though.

It’s not an ideal scenario in a few ways, but you’d be making this team a big threat. Plus, it would give coach Randy Wittman a chance to apologize for telling a young Love that he should abandon the 3-point shot.

Steve Kerr, successor of a player's coach

May, 20, 2014
May 20
7:26
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive

OAKLAND, Calif. -- In Steve Kerr’s introductory news conference as Golden State Warriors head coach, he had to answer legitimate questions about how he’d fare in the environment that swallowed up Mark Jackson. These questions were a little more pointed than if the Warriors had hired a coach with experience. Though a basketball lifer and former GM, Kerr is a neophyte as a coach, vulnerable to skepticism.

Fortunately for the Warriors, there’s perhaps no better person to answer the question of “Why Steve Kerr?” than Steve Kerr. The logical quality of the answers ceases to matter, or at least, starts to feel immaterial as Kerr turns on that effortlessly agreeable charm. Maybe he’s the perfect coach for this Warriors team, but that’s not entirely what got him $25 million for a first-time coaching job. For all the speculation on what played a factor in Kerr’s hiring, it might be wise to look back on what got his predecessor a gig. Jackson, no stranger to charisma himself, famously swept Joe Lacob off his feet in an interview. Kerr sweeps metaphorical feet better than Bruce Bowen swept under real ones.

[+] EnlargeSteve Kerr
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsSteve Kerr said Tuesday that "when I sat down with the Warriors, it just clicked."
Kerr’s charisma is packaged differently from Jackson’s as it’s a flaunted kind of humility. He spoke of how he bonded with Golden State’s owner and GM over confessed errors, saying, “Bob [Myers] and Joe [Lacob] admitted mistakes along the way in the process the last few years, and I shared mistakes that I made in Phoenix as a general manager.”

Jackson had a gift for humor, but self-deprecation wasn’t in his repertoire. The new guy is presented as a consensus builder who acknowledges his own fallibility. Warriors management hopes this makes for a significantly less rocky relationship than what they just went through.

Perhaps they played a part in roiling the waters, but Golden State upper management just didn’t want to commit to what had become a turbulent situation with Jackson. Kerr presents himself as someone who’s more in concert with his bosses, saying, “The most important thing that I’ve learned in sports is owner, GM, coach, that troika, that relationship between those three is critical. The relationship between those three will determine how you get through those bumps, that adversity.”

Jackson often credited management, but he certainly didn’t frame himself as part of a harmonious team. He oversaw an insular locker room, for better or worse. He advertised himself as the player’s coach. Kerr is the golf-playing owner’s coach.

What remains to be seen is how the players react to the owner’s coach. Stephen Curry might be a Kerr fan, but he was certainly no fan of Mark Jackson’s firing. Golden State’s other players greeted the news of Kerr’s hire with radio silence on social media. Jackson has been wrenched away from the unique culture he built, a culture that heavily incorporated his religious faith.

Kerr offered his view of how he might address that disrupted culture.

“I’m extremely open-minded. I believe in the sanctity of the locker room. Phil Jackson was a very spiritual coach. He was more a Buddhist than a Christian. But it didn’t matter. He gave his players space to think and some quiet time before games. I anticipate doing something similar, but each player has to develop his own routine and what makes him comfortable before a game,” Kerr said.

If Kerr can’t mimic Jackson’s brand of bringing players together, he can at least give players the space to be themselves. That seems to be the plan anyway. As for other personnel-based plans the former GM is mostly mum -- save for one thought on what Golden State’s roster could use going forward. Kerr recounted a detail from his interview with Lacob and Myers, saying, “I did tell them I think this team could use a stretch 4. I think a shooting 4 could really make things difficult on the opposition.”

Does that mean Golden State is pushing hard to acquire Kevin Love? Such an endeavor isn’t part of Kerr’s purview anymore. That’s for Bob Myers to figure out now that Kerr has signed a contract. The new coach’s job is to maintain a tricky balance of simultaneously leading and following.

Time to get to know Steve Kerr, the coach

May, 14, 2014
May 14
10:21
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive

You don’t know Steve Kerr, the coach, even if it seems like you do.

Neither do the Golden State Warriors, though they have more information than most on the matter. They’re largely guessing and so are we.

Just as it was easy to assume Mark Jackson, the coach, would be exactly like Mark Jackson, the color commentator, it’s natural to judge the Kerr hire based on his announcing. Mark Jackson taught us that these assumptions are flawed, that a broadcaster is an actor playing a character on TV.

As a coach, Jackson couldn’t be summed up by his handful of colorful catchphrases. He brought an array of qualities and concerns that were hidden from broadcasts. For example, religious preaching, a galvanizing and possibly dividing feature of his coaching, was largely absent from the booth.

With this in mind, who knows what multitudes Steve Kerr hides, obfuscates or simplifies for a TV audience? He has been playing “Steve Kerr” for a medium that cannot convey much of his personality and management style.

That’s not to say that Kerr will or won’t impress us. We simply don’t know, which is why his hire is a letdown compared to the assuring prospect of Stan Van Gundy.

If the coaching candidates were ranked, Van Gundy would have owned the top tier. A proven commodity, Van Gundy is arguably the second best coach behind Gregg Popovich. That’s an easy, low-risk, high-reward hire to herald. It’s difficult to envision how a skilled offensive and defensive coach like Van Gundy could screw up in Golden State.

With a rookie coach, it’s easy to imagine how it might all go sideways. To be fair, Kerr’s GM reputation is that of a smart, intellectually curious manager who’s inclined to canvas multiple opinions. The latter quality is something the Warriors crave after Jackson’s “my way or the highway” approach.

Kerr also brings a sense of how a great offense functions, given his stewardship of the latter Nash-era Phoenix Suns. Stephen Curry boasts many similarities to Nash in his prime, but has yet to play for an elite offense. The Warriors are certainly hoping that Kerr will be the bridge to that destination.

How this influences Golden State’s defense is a giant mystery. Mark Jackson and his since-exiled assistants combined to finally foster a defensive culture in Golden State. There exists the possibility that it’s impossible not to have a great defense with Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green in tow. We’re about to find out how much of their success on that end was attributed to Jackson’s brand of motivational coaching.

One loser in this hiring process might be David Lee, someone Stan Van Gundy regularly, publicly complimented (Van Gundy once called Lee the league’s most underrated player on the Dan Le Batard radio show). There’s an open question as to where Lee fits going forward. He’s skilled offensively, but struggles defensively and doesn’t space the floor with strong outside shooting. Kerr’s Suns teams used spacing as the fuel for their offense.

Perhaps Lee has been languishing in Mark Jackson’s iso-heavy system and he’s about to flourish under Kerr. The Lee question is one of a few major ones Kerr will be tasked with solving as he confronts high expectations in a cutthroat Western Conference. As for Kerr himself, questions abound. How good a coach is this guy? Nobody knows, and we’re about to find out.

Mark Jackson's way and the highway

May, 6, 2014
May 6
11:20
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive


Mark Jackson placed enough oomph behind the metaphor to make it seem almost literal.

“I’m fighting for my life,” Jackson said after the Golden State Warriors' Game 6 win against the Los Angeles Clippers, before clarifying: “basketball life.”

Five days later, Jackson suffered basketball death by the hand of an ownership group that had enough. He was smart, funny and charismatic, but also stubborn, abrasive and bellicose. Jackson thrived on having enemies. Eventually, he’d made the wrong ones.

The 2013-14 Warriors coaching staff has ended like a Shakespearean play, with plots and counterplots leading to death for all. Not even the video guy survived the final act.

Mike Malone was able to escape Jackson’s ire with a head-coaching gig in Sacramento, but others were not so lucky. Jackson and Jackson’s loyalists (Pete Myers and Lindsey Hunter) clashed with Brian Scalabrine, which resulted in Scalabrine’s D-League exile. Then Jackson’s group clashed with Darren Erman, leading to Erman secretly recording what became his own pink slip.
Jackson isn’t to blame for everything that happened in these quarrels, but his “us against them” ethos likely exacerbated the rifts.

While it’s true Jackson got the players on his side -- valuable allies to have -- Jackson’s other alliances may have hurt him.

The September introduction of Hunter, a friend of Jackson’s, was regarded as a destabilizing force, according to multiple sources. This marks the third consecutive time his hiring has coincided with a head coach getting fired within a year. Hunter had a reputation as an undermining individual from his days in Chicago and Phoenix. While he did not sabotage Jackson specifically, he made life difficult for others on staff.

It’s quite possible Jackson couldn’t have survived even with a cohesive coaching staff.

It all started off on the wrong foot, with Jackson deciding to coach the Warriors while living in Los Angeles and presiding over his church as pastor. Management found this arrangement less than ideal, but Jackson flat out refused to reconsider.

Being a pastor meant a lot to him, and he wasn’t giving it up for anything. Though he claimed an Oakland apartment, his family lived in Los Angeles and he spent a majority of the offseason there. It was the first of many instances when ownership perspective was met with a firm rebuke.

Jackson just wasn’t a compromiser, and perhaps his players loved that about him. With ownership, such an attitude could only go so far. Bosses generally like to have their input listened to at the very least.

The firing has taught us a few things about Joe Lacob's group, if not a few things about the new class of NBA owners in general. We’ve learned 51 wins is not enough for everybody. Lacob is heavily involved in team operations and expected a top-four playoff seed.

We’ve also learned that the Warriors aren’t the New York Knicks. Stephen Curry might be a budding superstar, but he doesn’t get to hire and fire coaches. Perhaps this Jackson firing will harm the relationship between Curry and management, but Warriors brass is willing to take that risk. That’s bold, maybe hubristically bold, but Lacob didn’t buy this team to live in fear of his employees.

The Lacob group wanted to be in charge of the operation that it, in theory, controls. It isn’t alone, either. To quote Kevin Arnovitz’s annual rundown of the top coaching candidates, “League execs insist there is no consideration more important in hiring a head coach than whether he conforms to the sensibility of ownership -- not personal background, whiteboard skills, media relations, city or even pedigree.”

Jackson didn’t conform, and now he’s gone. Is that fair? Fairness is beside the point in a hypercompetitive environment where tenures are short and glory is fleeting.

Jackson probably could have avoided the fork in the road that led to this, but he chose to do it his way. He worked a second job in Southern California, emphatically flaunted his faith and hired less than highly regarded friends. Maybe he needed to make these kinds of choices to be successful, but he wasn’t successful enough to validate his decisions in the eyes of management.

If you’re going to do it your way, you need to win big. Jackson didn't.

The basketball Rorschach test by the Bay

May, 5, 2014
May 5
11:45
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Mark JacksonRichard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsMark Jackson is beloved by his players, but is he what's best for them? A decision awaits in Oakland.
The question was posed to Stephen Curry after his 2013-14 had already ended: “Was this season a success or a failure?”

“It’s hard to put it in black-and-white terms like that,” Curry responded; sensibly, I might add. Life doesn’t often fit into a binary of bad or good. After expounding a bit, noting where the Warriors finished, he continued, “It’s hard to say it’s a failure of a season. Obviously we had our eyes set on bigger goals.”

That’s where the Warriors are right now. They came up short of their objective, but want to defend how far they got. Is a hard-fought first-round exit enough? If, as it’s often said, the Warriors would run through a wall for their coach, then why did such intense motivation only add up to 51 regular-season wins and three more in the postseason? Why did it lead to home losses against mediocre teams?

The other side is that, after losing Andrew Bogut, they had no business being in that series with the Los Angeles Clippers, and were leading late in Game 7. The season may have ended in disappointment, but their brief playoff performance was far from disappointing.

[+] EnlargeMark Jackson
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezMark Jackson has built a rapport with his players, but is it enough to cover up X's-and-O's miscues?
That’s the Mark Jackson Warriors for you, a cloudy basketball Rorschach test. If you like him, you’re inclined to see an embattled, underappreciated coach, willing his men to the playoffs through unfair trials and tribulations. If you dislike him, you’re inclined to see a glorified motivational speaker whose questionable decisions are what separate the Warriors from contender status. There’s little agreement between the two sides on how good a coach Jackson is. Because of this, there’s little agreement between the two sides on how good the Warriors were supposed to be.

There’s a great case for bringing him back. He’s unafraid to lead, thick with personality, and meaningfully supportive of his players. He doesn’t overwork them in practice, knowing from personal experience that an 82-game season takes its toll.

Many fans find Jackson easy to connect with because he’s so emotive. Unlike the traditional guarded coach, Jackson’s humanity is on display. In April, a reporter teased Jackson after a news conference. “You’re sensitive, Mark,” he said with a smile.

The response from Jackson was swift and loud, “I am NOT sensitive! I am NOT sensitive!”

Fortunately, Jackson isn’t this guarded in his coaching. He just doesn’t coach scared. Foul trouble? Keep playing. Three-pointer in transition? Fire away. He’s willing to trust younger players, and he’s willing, on a whim, to trust Hilton Armstrong with post-ups in a playoff game.

He’s also not afraid to tell his guys he loves them, even if it’s in the heat of battle. His players love him back, and Curry will tell you as much. Jackson’s openness has led to a lot of positive relationships.

Sensitivity isn’t a problem, but the attached defensiveness became one. In the aftermath of this Warriors season, many NBA fans shake their heads at how Golden State management could be uncomfortable with a coach so beloved by his players. Did owner Joe Lacob & Co. not see how the Warriors fought in that playoff series?

Much of the mysterious friction can be traced to the coach’s own discomfort, his inability to quell an insecurity that paradoxically mingles with a swelling confidence.

Before Game 2 against the Clippers, before the Donald Sterling incident became public, Doc Rivers was in his “Aw, shucks” mode, talking about how he can only control so much, letting us in on how he questions himself: “You really do, honestly. I’m not kidding around. You do all the time. You second-guess yourself a lot when you [win], too. But when you lose, you really do; probably more so in the playoffs.”

Jackson followed Rivers’ presser with far less projected security. After Game 1, Andre Iguodala had credited Armstrong with a key strategic suggestion, and Jackson pushed back hard on this story.

“It wasn’t a tweak. You guys fell for that? That was nice,” Jackson laughs. “[If] we needed Hilton to give us that, we’re in trouble.”

Maybe Jackson just wanted to set the record straight, but why even bother pushing back against the narrative his starting small forward offered? It’s not a bad look to seem amenable to player suggestions. Nobody would hold it against him.

Though they aren’t blameless in what happened, the two assistant coaches Jackson had issues with are gone -- one fired in front of the team without adequate grounds, the other caught attempting to record what he felt was a campaign against him, sources have confirmed to ESPN.com.

While it’s easy to portray management’s discomfort with Jackson as a bunch of suits hell-bent on ruining a good thing, place yourself in that suit. Are you comfortable committing long-term to a coach who reportedly emotionally clashes with employees to such a degree? Perhaps you are, but committing to that guy comes with some risk. Jackson is fond of saying, “I’m low-maintenance.” He might be a fine coach, but he is high-maintenance.

The insecurity can mushroom into what sounds like paranoia. Apropos of very little, he’ll say: "The way that this team conducts itself, in spite of everything that we've gone through, all the lies, all the adversity, all the sources, I could not be prouder, because what we are doing collectively speaks against it. Somebody's lying."

Somebody’s lying? Who? How?

“Please don’t twist my words,” he commands the media, after Bogut publicly responded to Jackson’s theorizing that the big man might have hurt himself sleeping. But who’s doing the twisting? That part is left vague.

There’s a “doth protest too much” element to the denunciations of critics. Jackson hates the word "dysfunctional," using it sarcastically multiple times after a story by Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski introduced it to the Warriors lexicon. But how else could you characterize the ousting of assistant coaches? Job-ending disagreements, undermining, secret recordings -- all these things speak to a lack of harmony on the bench.

[+] EnlargeStephen Curry
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesWith hopes high in Oakland, will someone else lead Stephen Curry and the Warriors into next season?
Yet somehow, the 2013-14 Warriors were functionally dysfunctional. We saw the best defensive Golden State team in decades, a gloriously nasty collection of physical defenders like Bogut, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Iguodala supplemented the physicality with knowledge and craft, filling in whatever gaps opened up on the perimeter.

We saw Curry make good on the hype he generated in last year's playoffs. We saw Thompson develop further as a defender. The Warriors were a good team this season, there’s little doubt about that.

What we didn’t see was a Warriors offense that played up to expectations. In two seasons, Jackson has yet to field a better-ranked offensive team than Keith Smart’s Monta-ball Warriors.

Jackson’s “hockey substitutions” of five bench players at once created bad stretches on offense. The Warriors played too much isolation ball, relied on post-ups as though the team were playing in Jackson’s era. Curry’s an elite pick-and-roll weapon, though you couldn’t tell on the possessions when Jermaine O’Neal burned a shot clock going to work on the block.

For a second straight season, they eschewed small ball till the playoffs, when again it worked famously. There’s much talk of how big a mistake it’d be for the Warriors to fire Jackson. That could well be true, but here’s a question that’s posed less often: Why didn’t Jackson learn from his mistake? Why did it take another playoff injury for the Warriors to discover floor-spread potency?

Now we’re back to the basketball Rorschach test, where Jackson’s supporters can argue that at least he made the right adjustments when the games mattered most. That’s if they’re deploying an argument other than the repeated “His players will run through a wall for him.”

The players can offer to run through walls and still never break the one that divides Jackson from management. For all his fine attributes, that insecurity festered enough to become self-fulfilling. Fifty-one wins probably wouldn’t be an issue if Jackson’s reign was a calm one. His job would be safe. Few would be debating his fate or his merits. Instead, fear of judgment may have manifested the feared judgment.

The Warriors' new weapon

May, 1, 2014
May 1
6:42
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Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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One of the Golden State Warriors’ most effective moves during the course of their first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers has been posting up Klay Thompson against the Clippers guards. Thompson has been able to get to the basket or shoot a short-turnaround jumper over his smaller defenders.

Thompson said it’s something that he added to his repertoire in the middle of last season, and he worked on it even more last summer.

Why not utilize it more? Because it’s risky to stray too far from the normal flow of an offense, no matter how successful a breakout play can be. And the Warriors offense is at its best with the ball in Stephen Curry’s hands and the other players playing off the defense’s attention to him, not standing around watching one player work his matchup.

“It’s something that we don’t want to overkill,” Thompson said at Warriors’ shootaround Thursday morning. “But if it’s working and I feel like I have a mismatch, I’m going to go to it. I try to go with it within the flow of the offense. If they send a double or something we’ve got easy looks at the rim on that.

“I’ve got a lot of good looks. I’ve been successful in that area in this series. If it’s in the flow of the offense, I’m up for it. But if it’s something that we’re going to have to [isolate] and keep force-feeding me, I don’t think it works as well for us.”

Curry's big breakthrough?

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
2:44
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Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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By the time Stephen Curry figured out a way to attack the swarming defense the Los Angeles Clippers threw at him it was too late to make a difference in Game 2. That doesn’t mean it’s too late to make a difference in this series.

The Clippers’ strategy is to make Curry into a passer by having a big man jump out on Curry whenever he attempts to come off a screen or make a foray into the lane. It helped keep him in check for the first six quarters of this series. But in the third quarter of Game 2 Curry managed to squirt between the two defenders and race toward the hoop, usually getting there before the defensive help could arrive. Aided by a couple of transition buckets, Curry scored 20 points in the quarter…although it wasn’t nearly enough to close the gap in what eventually was a 40-point Clipper victory.

It did provide a plan of attack heading into Game 3 Thursday night, when the Golden State Warriors hope the raucous crowd in Oracle Arena can help them gain the advantage in a series that’s tied at 1-1.

“Just continue to be aggressive, knowing that if they play the pick-and-roll a certain way, I’ve got to attack it and not have to settle for taking on that trap every single possession and forcing me to give it up,” Curry said. “I’ve got to be able to get around the big [man], be able to take the guard off the dribble, get into the paint and be able to make plays from there.”

Of course it would help if there were a second Curry, as in the Chris Paul/Cliff Paul commercial for State Farm running during this series that has the Paul twins come across a pair of identical Currys.

“That was done last summer,” Curry said. “I don’t know the whole decision-making process. I’m guessing it worked out pretty well for State Farm.”

Point guard battle for the ages

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
12:09
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Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Chris Paul, Stephen CurryJayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsChris Paul and Stephen Curry are succeeding with different styles at the NBA's glamour position.
“Point guard” evokes a certain kind of romance that other positions on the basketball floor don’t hold. Even if the league’s two best players are “small forwards,” the “SF” designation doesn’t mean as much to people. The point guard is the floor general, the quarterback, the engine of the offense, the head of the snake.

Perhaps the idea of a team’s smallest player as its offensive fulcrum is outdated, but it endures. Equally enduring is the idea that there’s a “right way” to be a point guard. “He’s a pure point guard” gets said a lot more often than “he’s a pure power forward,” for instance.

Chris Paul and Stephen Curry may be the league’s two best at the position, and the Clippers-Warriors series could serve as a contest in whose style is paramount. Paul is the archetypal floor general, heir to a rich tradition of how to run a team. Curry is something different, something new. While Paul attacks defenses “the right way,” Curry’s distance shooting bends defenses in ways we haven’t seen before.

Let us establish their similarities, though. Each hails from North Carolina and played college ball at a private school in his home state. Each claims excellent vision and an exquisite handle. On the face of it, these are similar players. Their differences are stark, though, and are probably rooted in personality traits that can manifest on the court.


CP3: The Controller


After a loss in Game 1 against the Warriors, Doc Rivers was asked about the status of Paul.

“Typical Chris,” Rivers said. “Very hard on himself as usual. Very focused. I don’t know well in that, but I’m learning as this year goes on that if he has a game he didn't like, he gets real hard on himself. And I don’t always know if I like that or not yet, to be honest. That’s something I’ll have to find out.”

Earlier in the season, after going 5-of-15 against the Warriors, Paul engaged in a lengthy late-night shooting practice on the Staples Center floor. This was after a game the Clippers won handily.

[+] EnlargeChris Paul
Glenn James/NBAE/Getty ImagesA control freak, Chris Paul is the Peyton Manning of point guards.
It’s no surprise Paul’s haunted by failure, as he’s so detail-oriented about success. He’s famously competitive and a total control freak in manner. He constantly works the refs throughout a game, and lobbies with a viciousness that a taller man couldn’t pull off.

Every edge must be leveraged, every market inefficiency must be exploited. The head whips back when the defender makes contact, lest the ref ignore the foul. Those 2-for-1 opportunities are all getting used, as though Paul is accumulating frequent flier miles with each of them. He’s a coupon-clipping point guard, always seeking to save what less committed men might squander.

The refs aren’t the only recipients of his competitive fury. Coworkers get an earful, too. “I swear I hate a dude who get there, and feel like they done made it,” Paul once groused of an unnamed slacker teammate.

He isn’t lying in telling younger players, “When I step out on the court, Bron, Melo, D-Wade, they know not to take the ball from me.” Some defenders would sooner reach into an active garbage disposal than reach in for a steal on CP3. His hands are too strong, too quick. He also doesn’t panic. Defenders try to hound their marks into “speeding up,” but Paul refuses to hurry. The little man sticks his butt out, widens his stance, occupies as much space as possible.

You adjust to him, not the other way around. When defenders chase after him, he’ll delight in slowing down to bludgeon them with his backside, or draw contact for the foul. Knowing full well he has total control of the ball, Paul operates at his own pace, probing the defense until it falters.

If he’s the quarterback of an offense, he’s Peyton Manning -- obsessively studious in the impossible pursuit of perfection. The study leads to minimized risk, meaning fewer interceptions or, in Paul’s case, turnovers.

Like Manning, Paul’s greatest strength -- that tight control -- might be his greatest weakness. Similar to how the Denver quarterback has been criticized for ignoring his running backs, the ball can stick in Paul’s hands at times. While Paul tends to end possessions with brilliant passes, he can phase teammates out during the search.

On balance, though, Paul’s method produces results. It’s also worth noting that he’s ceded a measure of control to Blake Griffin's creative powers this season. It should also be noted that some Paul passes are more triumphs of imagination than feats of problem-solving.


SC 30: In the Flow


When asked about how he feels after a loss as rough as the Game 2 loss to the Clippers, Curry said, “Once I go home, I’m the same guy. I try not to let anything on the court affect anything at home and that kind of deal.” He later added, “I don’t go home and quarantine myself.”

Curry is certainly competitive and, like Paul, has a renowned work ethic. But his approach is a bit more relaxed, perhaps more Zen. Laughter is the steady metronome of his shooting drills. He jokes and banters his way around the arc. His quest for perfection might be more about getting in tune with something than exerting control over it.

[+] EnlargeCurry
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSteph Curry is stretching defenses and the definition of a point guard.
To David Fleming, Curry described: “I love everything about shooting, but mostly that perfect form, when your body is in rhythm from the time you plant your feet to the time you release the ball. When it happens, everything is very smooth and calm from your feet through your release. Everything moves through you like a wave, almost. It's a beautiful thing."

Though he can’t claim a better handle than Paul, he certainly looks more comfortable out there. He’s more upright, preferring regular walking form to Paul’s jutted crouch.

Only defenses are subject to Curry’s wrath. “If you don’t get along with Steph, then the problem is you, not Steph,” Mark Jackson said when asked if Curry ever chewed out a teammate. Refs are mostly free of Curry’s scorn, too. Whereas Paul collected 10 technical fouls this season, Curry went the whole season without one until Monday night’s blowout loss. “I would get very tired talking every possession, every play," Curry explained of his lack of lobbying. Perhaps it’d all be a distraction from the pursuit of that perfect shooting wave.

If Curry has a quarterback comparison, then it’s Packers-era Brett Favre. As the Favre cliché went, Curry’s “just having fun out there.” He might pull up from 35 feet if the inspiration strikes, or he might, in full gait, zip a one-handed pass across the court. The bold decisions are animated by a whimsy that seems to insulate him from pressure.

Perhaps his carefree style is born out of being a prodigy. Nobody can shoot like he can off the move. It may come so easily to him that the game seems less a quest for minute advantages and more a testing ground for a superior talent.

Like Favre, Curry’s gunslinging style brings big risks and big rewards. This season, Curry leads all players in turnovers while also leading all in 3-pointers made. On the balance, he’s super efficient, but that efficiency comes with some horrific-looking giveaways.

The gunslinger’s approach is most pronounced in Curry’s passing, where he’s doing some of the most daring work around the league. Two examples stick out, both from a tightly contested regular-season game against Memphis. Notice here how Curry throws Harrison Barnes open with a pass that whizzes between four Grizzlies. From the media row angle, it was difficult to see why the pass was going that particular trajectory until Barnes rose up for the dunk. To make this play, you can’t be playing scared. There’s more evidence of Curry’s “no fear” approach later in the game, when with less than a minute to go and a three-point lead, Curry threw a no-look over-the-shoulder pass to Jermaine O’Neal.

At the time, the game was considered crucial in helping the Warriors get a playoff seed. The stakes didn’t dissuade Curry from going Harlem Globetrotters when inspiration struck. They ended up winning and Curry scored 33 points to go with eight assists.


The Choice


If you’re choosing between these two players for one game, you’re probably taking Paul. He’s marginally more efficient in his offensive output, and his defense is superior. Curry might find it difficult to prove his value in this series, as the Warriors are likely to struggle without the injured Andrew Bogut.

That’s today, but Curry could well rule the future. He’s two years younger and he twists defenses in a way Paul does not. Right now, the Clippers are trapping Curry with everyone but the ball boy, for fear he’ll hit 3-pointers off the dribble. The Warriors are mostly playing Paul straight up with Klay Thompson. Curry’s singular ability to hit 3-pointers off the bounce represents a shift in what the position can be, and how it will get teammates open. Paul’s command and controlling style harken back to a past of great point guards getting in the lane and expertly micromanaging their teams to success. Curry’s free-wheeling, long-bombing style -- which you can see flashes of in the emerging Damian Lillard -- promises new space for offenses to explore. Paul is a “true point guard” today. Curry might be what a “true point guard” becomes.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, who is covering Clippers-Warriors for ESPN.com, discusses the 40-point blowout in Game 2, what the Warriors need to do to answer in Game 3, and mouthguards gone wild.

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