With Tuesday in the rear view mirror we are one day closer to the return of the NBA, with Game 1 of the NBA Finals between Golden State and Toronto scheduled for Thursday night. And the big news of the day centered on the “travel plans” of Warriors forward Kevin Durant, who was already ruled out for Game 1 as he continues to recover from the right calf strain he suffered during the second round. Durant traveled with the Warriors to Toronto, a move that should be beneficial to the reigning two-time NBA Finals MVP on multiple fronts.
First and foremost he’ll be able to continue on his rehabilitation regimen with team trainers. Secondly he’ll be with the team for all activities, including film sessions and the like. It was also reported on Tuesday that the Warriors are hopeful that Durant will be able to play in Sunday’s Game 2, but given the fact that he’s yet to be cleared for on-court activity that appears to be a long shot at this point in time. Golden State will provide status updates on both Durant and DeMarcus Cousins, who’s been out since Game 2 of the first round with a torn left quadriceps muscle, on Wednesday. Cousins is considered to be questionable for Game 1, so he could very well make his NBA Finals debut Thursday night.
Those are the two biggest injury concerns for Golden State heading into the Finals, with Andre Iguodala (left calf strain) expected to be ready to go for Game 1 after missing the final game of the Western Conference Finals. Iguodala and the Warriors will have had more than a week without an actual game to play when the Finals begin, and Steve Kerr gave the veteran wing three days off from practice last week. A healthy Iguodala would give the Warriors one more option to throw at Kawhi Leonard, which is important given the absence of Durant from at least the series opener.
In the lone meeting between the two teams that Leonard played in, Durant was the defender on 50 of the possessions according to the NBA’s statistics. Next in line from a possession standpoint was Klay Thompson, who took on the assignment for 26 possessions. Thompson can obviously slide into the role of being Leonard’s primary defender with Durant out, but there could be times when Thompson’s not in the game and they need to look at another option. That could be Iguodala, although he defended Leonard on just four possessions in the November 29 meeting between the two teams (a 131-128 overtime win for Toronto).
Danny Green plans to keep shooting despite recent struggles
The Eastern Conference Finals weren’t the best for Raptors guard Danny Green from an individual standpoint, as he struggled with his shot throughout the series. Green averaged 3.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 0.7 three-pointers per game against the Bucks, shooting 18.8% from the field an 17.4% from beyond the arc. He failed to make a three-pointer in any of the final three games of the series (0-for-9), and after playing at least 22 minutes in each of the first four games of the series he played a total of 30 minutes in Games 5 and 6.
Green will be key defensively in the NBA Finals, with the Warriors having two of the game’s greatest shooters in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but what about his offense? On Monday the veteran guard, one of the Raptors who have both prior NBA Finals experience and the experience of having faced the Warriors in the postseason, said that he intends to keep shooting despite the recent struggles. And that’s pretty much all that he can do, as Toronto can ill afford to have a player on the court who’s hesitant to shoot the ball.
In two games against the Warriors during the regular season, Green averaged 14.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 0.5 steals and 2.0 three-pointers per game, shooting 52.4% from the field and 36.4% from beyond the arc. The Raptors have a different look now thanks in large part to the deadline deal that added Marc Gasol to the rotation, but with Leonard, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam receiving attention from the Golden State defense there will be opportunities for Green to knock down relatively clean looks. The Raptors will certainly need him to make his fair share, and that starts with the willingness to put the shots up to begin with.
Miami has some salary cap issues to address this offseason
Outside of the NBA Finals, the teams not playing have shifted their focus to next month’s draft and a free agency period that will begin at 6 PM Eastern on June 30 (moved up from midnight on July 1). The Miami Heat are in a very tough spot when it comes to free agency, as there’s a clear need to improve the roster after failing to make the playoffs but not much room to do so. According to Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald, even if the Heat waive Ryan Anderson by July 10 the team will have about $134 million in salary for the 2019-20 season on its books, and that number doesn’t include cap holds. The projected luxury cap threshold for next season is $132 million.
Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside both have player options for the 2019-20 season, with the former set to make $19.2 million next season and the latter $27.1 million if they sign on for another season. Dragic missed a significant amount of time in 2018-19 due to a knee injury, and in his absence Miami moved Justise Winslow into the role of primary playmaker with the first unit. As for Whiteside he started 53 of the 72 games in which he played, averaging 12.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game with shooting percentages of 57.1% from the field and 44.9% from the foul line. Whiteside and Bam Adebayo split the minutes at center, with the latter playing nearly 27 minutes per game during the final two months of the season.
The question for any player heading into free agency with a player option is whether or not they’ll be able to command similar money on the open market, and their potential role matters as well. The Heat could get some much-needed cap relief if either Dragic or Whiteside (or both) decided to opt out. But given their respective price tags, the Heat may have both back for the 2019-20 campaign.