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Bill Henry Jersey Signed

Nine-year NBA veteran Jeremy Lin is recognized everywhere from New York to his parents’ native Taiwan, but one Milwaukee security guard still refused to believe the 6foot2 guard was a member of the Toronto Raptors.

As he recently told the Bill Michaels Sports Talk Network, Lin was stopped by Fiserv Forum security as he tried to board the Raptors’ bus following the team’s Game 2 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Admittedly, the 30-year-old Lin did not have any identification on him.

‘After game two in Milwaukee, I was trying to get to the team bus and one of the dudes in the Milwaukee Arena just screams at me,’ Lin explained, as quoted by the South China Morning Post. ‘He’s like, “Where do you think you’re going?!” And I’m like, “Uh, I’m trying to get to the team bus.” He’s like, “What? Where’s your pass?”

‘”I don’t know what you’re taking about. I don’t have a pass” This happens in a lot of arenas, so I just kind of go with the flow.’

Despite his experience, Jeremy Lin (left) is averaging only 3.7 minutes a game in the playoffs as Raptors coach Nick Nurse has primarily relied on Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet at point guard +6
Despite his experience, Bill Henry Jeremy Lin (left) is averaging only 3.7 minutes a game in the playoffs as Raptors coach Nick Nurse has primarily relied on Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet at point guard

Lin had a similar experience in 2015 after signing with the Charlotte Hornets.

‘Went to the Hornets arena for first time and tried convincing security I’m a player,’ he tweeted in September of 2015. ‘She said, ‘What team?!?’ lollll.’

Lin’s Raptors beat the Bucks in Saturday’s Game 7 to advance to the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors, who actually signed the former Harvard star as an undrafted rookie in 2010.


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He was later cut, picked up by the Houston Rockets, and waived again before landing in New York, where he became an international sensation for the Knicks in 2012.

After injuries forced him into action in early February, Lin led the injury-raved Knicks – losers of 11 of their previous 13 games – on a seven-game winning streak while averaging 20 points a game and earning the nickname ‘Linsanity.’
Bill Henry Jersey Signed

A knee injury ultimately derailed Lin’s breakout season that March, and he has struggled to stay healthy over the last seven seasons.

Craig Dill Jersey Signed

To two generations of Pittsburghers who have been raised to believe theirs isn’t a basketball town, an account of the 1967-68 Pittsburgh Pipers seems apocryphal at best.

But 50 years ago, on May 4, 1968, Pittsburgh was on the pro basketball map after the Pipers won the inaugural American Basketball Association title. Arvesta Kelly, 72, was a rookie guard with the Pipers then, and the memories of that day and that season remain fresh.

“That,” he said about the title-clinching win at Civic Arena, “was the best thing I have ever experienced in my life.”

The story of the Pipers could be told in terms of their success: having the best record (54-24) in the ABA, having the league’s MVP (Connie Hawkins) and coach of the year (Vince Cazzetta) or staving off elimination in Game 6 of the finals in New Orleans to force the deciding Game 7 in Pittsburgh.


But the story of this nearly forgotten team is one of relationships: between the players, between a team and a city, between a city and a sport.


Like their ABA brethren in that formative season, the Pipers were assembled from a collection of players who were cut or blackballed by the NBA. Pittsburgh’s two best players, Hawkins and Charlie Williams, were banned by the NBA: Hawkins for his alleged ties to point-shaving and Williams for failing to report a bribe offered to a teammate at Seattle University.

Being shunned by the NBA gave the players a common cause.

“There were good players (in the ABA). Most of us had either been drafted or had tryouts (in the NBA),” said Pipers guard Jim Jarvis, 75, who was drafted out of Oregon State by the NBA’s San Francisco Warriors. “As competitors, we felt like we were as good as the (NBA).”

Hawkins, who died in October, was the unquestioned star and leader. At 6-foot-8 with large hands, long arms and freakish athletic ability, “he was Julius Erving before Julius Erving,” said guard Steve Vacendak, 73.

“(Cazzetta) called me in Seattle and asked me if I wanted to come and play for him in Pittsburgh,” Williams, 74, said. “I said, ‘Well, what kind of players do you have?’ He said, ‘Well, I have Connie Hawkins …’ I said, ‘I’m coming.’ ”

Hawkins’ talent and unselfish play — he led the Pipers in scoring and assists — endeared him to his teammates. His graciousness endeared him to the town where he would make his home for nearly three decades.

Walt Szczerbiak, who grew up on the South Side and later played for the Pittsburgh ABA franchise when it was re-branded the Condors, remembers Hawkins being a frequent participant in pick-up games around the city. A summer basketball league Hawkins helped to create and played in was active in Pittsburgh from 1975-2010.

“He grew up in New York, but he became a Pittsburgher,” Szczerbiak said.

While Hawkins was the Pipers’ go-to, Art Heyman was their glue. Though his personality could be mercurial — he had several physical confrontations with heckling fans — his influence on the Pipers was obvious.

Before Heyman was acquired in a trade with the ABA’s New Jersey Americans, the Pipers were 11-12 and had lost their previous four games. After his arrival, the Pipers went on a 15-game winning streak and were 43-12 the rest of the way.

In stark contrast Hawkins’ fluid style, Heyman played a more like bull in a China shop.

“He would just put his head down and drive to the basket,” Szczerbiak said, “He would just make shots in traffic that you wouldn’t expect a guy that unathletic to make.”

Lower Burrell native Mark Whited recently interviewed the living members of the Pipers for his upcoming book, “The Pittsburgh Pipers, The Forgotten Franchise.” He said the importance of Heyman, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1963 NBA Draft, could not be overstated.

“This was a really interesting and unique cast of characters,” he said, “and they weren’t the type who would necessarily mesh right away, and they didn’t. But once they got Heyman, they came together as a team.”

It was fitting that a black player (Hawkins) and a white player (Heyman) were the linchpins of the Pipers.

In the late 1960s, Jarvis pointed out, the integration of professional sports still was in its infancy. But while racial tensions simmered in various sectors of society, there were no such issues with the Pipers.

“I hung out more with Connie Hawkins and Chico Vaughn and (the black players),” center Craig Dill, 73, said. “They always laughed and called me the honorary blue-eyed soul brother.

“We were players and friends, and color really didn’t mean anything.”

Kelly agreed: “We enjoyed each other, and we won as a result.”


Despite winning, the Pipers were slow to catch on with fans. According to, the Pipers averaged about 3,200 fans — good by early ABA standards but hardly overwhelming.

Whited said the Pipers were handicapped by playing many of their home games on Tuesday and Friday nights — high school basketball nights in Western Pennsylvania. They also had to compete with the newly formed Penguins, who had a ready-made fan base after Pittsburgh had been home to the AHL’s Hornets for the previous 30 years.

But the Pipers finally made people sit up and take notice.

Against the New Orleans Buccaneers in Game 6 of the ABA Finals, the Pipers appeared in danger of being eliminated before Hawkins pulled them off the deck. He scored 41 points and had 12 rebounds to pace a 118-112 win.

By the time the team returned to Pittsburgh for Game 7, the city’s interest was piqued. More than 11,000 reportedly watched the Pipers win the title 122-113 behind 35 points from Williams.

Now the team had momentum, and, Vacendak said, the city embraced it.

“The fans, everywhere we went, when they realized we were with the Pipers, they were congratulatory and supportive,” he said.

The players and their new legion of fans were ready for an encore. What they got instead was the shock of their lives: The team was moving to Minnesota.


Minnesota’s original franchise flopped at the box office and relocated to Miami. Because the ABA’s headquarters were in Minneapolis — NBA legend George Mikan was the commissioner and insisted on having his office in Minneapolis — the league believed it was necessary to have a franchise there.

And who better than the league’s best team with the league’s best player?

The Pipers didn’t fare any better in Minnesota than their predecessor. After one season, the team returned to Pittsburgh — without Hawkins, who had his NBA ban lifted and went on to a hall-of-fame career.

The franchise slogged through three more seasons, the final two as the Condors, before folding.

The damage from the move was irreparable.

“To get up and move and come back,” Kelly said, “people felt like we betrayed them. And we did.”

Vacendak and Williams remain convinced that if the Pipers had stayed, there might still be pro basketball in Pittsburgh today.

“We thought we had a real good following that would have carried over to the next year,” Williams said. “If we would have stayed, there might be an NBA team there now. Who knows? I think the city was ready for professional basketball.”

Others have tried — the Piranhas, the Xplosion, the Phantoms — but pro basketball hasn’t stuck in Pittsburgh since.


The Pipers have become a footnote in Pittsburgh. Whited said he cringed when, during the Penguins’ recent Stanley Cup runs, local media would say a Pittsburgh team had a chance to win a title at home for the first time since the 1960 Pirates.

He believes the Pipers’ legacy should be the same as that of every other Pittsburgh pro sports champion.

“There’s a tendency to think (the ABA) was a minor league, and (the Pipers) don’t rate the same kind of due. But that’s nonsense,” he said. “If you add up the 12 NBA teams and 11 ABA teams (from 1968), that’s 23 teams, less than are in the NBA now. The Pipers were part of a very legitimate league.”

Added Dill: “It was a basketball team that could have competed at almost every level with the NBA that season.”

Members of the Pipers will return to Pittsburgh on May 4-5 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their title. Kelly said he hopes the reunion will spark appreciation from a city that has overlooked one of its champions.

“A lot of people don’t know anything about us,” he said, “and to be able to come to Pittsburgh and be presented to the public, it’s a great moment for all of us and the city of Pittsburgh.”

Walt Davis Jersey Signed

Klutch Sports and Anthony Davis envision the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks as the only fitting destinations for the All-Star power forward.

According to The Athletic, Davis narrowed his official preferred list of four teams submitted to the Pelicans at the 2019 All-Star break to only two. Still, Davis has no say in the matter based on his existing contract. He could choose to instruct Rich Paul and Klutch Sports to inform suitors he will not sign beyond next season, but the same message of uncertainty didn’t halt the Toronto Raptors’ 2018 pursuit of Kawhi Leonard.

In the meantime, the Pelicans are trying to get a grip on Davis’ market. Davis said during the 2019 All-Star break that he wouldn’t turn down a trade “anywhere” in the NBA but described his motive as “just wanting to win.”

–Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant was traveling to New York City on Tuesday for evaluations on the injury, league sources told The Athletic.

Durant was lost in Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors on Monday and Walt Davis likely for months to come with a ruptured right Achilles.

Durant, who is three weeks from another foray into free agency, played for the first time since May 8, when he strained his right calf. He exited in the second quarter in a game the Warriors won 106-105 to prevent Toronto from winning the series.

–MVP finalist Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder underwent left shoulder surgery to repair a small tear in his labrum, the team announced.

The surgery comes five weeks after George underwent right shoulder surgery to repair a partially torn tendon.

George, who is also a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year, established career-best averages of 28 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.2 steals while sinking a career-high 292 3-pointers in 77 games this season. He also matched his career high of 4.1 assists per game.

–Charlotte Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist underwent surgery for a chronic groin strain.

The Hornets said Kidd-Gilchrist is expected to be available for the start of training camp in September.

The 25-year-old Kidd-Gilchrist averaged 6.7 points and 3.8 rebounds in 64 games last season (three starts). In seven seasons with the Hornets, Kidd-Gilchrist is averaging 8.8 points and 5.6 rebounds in 421 games (356 starts).

–The Memphis Grizzlies hired former Milwaukee Bucks assistant Taylor Jenkins as their head coach.

The Grizzlies fired J.B. Bickerstaff at the end of the 2018-19 season. Jenkins will be introduced at a Wednesday press conference.

Jenkins was assistant to head coach Mike Budenholzer for the past six seasons, five with the Atlanta Hawks (2013-18) and last year with the Bucks. Jenkins will oversee a reshaped roster in Memphis that could include dealing point guard Mike Conley as the Grizzlies hold the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft and are expected to select Murray State point guard Ja Morant.

–The Golden State Warriors, even without the injured Durant, were listed as a consensus three-point favorite Tuesday to win Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

Golden State opened as a 4.5-point favorite for Game 6. Westgate posted the Warriors with a 2.5-point edge on Tuesday. Toronto, leading 3-2 in the finals, is at -320 to win the best-of-seven series, according to FanDuel. Golden State is +230 to win the series, which would conclude Sunday in Toronto, if necessary.

It’s a two-man Finals MVP race, with Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard the favorite at -323 on FanDuel, while Warriors guard Stephen Curry is at +240.

–Hornets forward Marvin Williams exercised his $15 million player option for the 2019-20 season and will return to Charlotte.

Williams, who turns 33 on June 19, was the second overall pick by the Atlanta Hawks in 2005 out of North Carolina and played for the Utah Jazz before joining the Hornets.
Walt Davis Jersey Signed

In 75 games last season, Williams averaged 10.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. He has a career average of 10.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in 1,014 games.

Rich Niemann Jersey Signed

Getting lost in the crowd has never been an option for Rich Niemann.

That’s the way life is for people who hover above most everyone.

Niemann, a 6-foot-10 center at DuBourg in the early 1960s, went through his share of struggles in his days with the Cavaliers.

“You’re just different,” Niemann, now 65, said of his towering stature. “Blending in is just not possible.”

Niemann, however, had a few things that kept him grounded. One of the most important was basketball.

As a senior during the 1963-64 season, Niemann averaged 25 points to lead DuBourg, a school of almost 2,000 students back then, to the large-schools state championship.

It not only was a big moment for the team’s players, but for the school and its student body. The school newspaper published a special 24-page keepsake, “Red-clad Conquest,” that tells the story of the title run and is filled with photos of cheering students, beaming players, postgame celebrations and championship assemblies.

As for Niemann, the championship season gave him a sense of accomplishment that has stayed with him through the years.

“DuBourg was a life-changing event that gave me the confidence to be what I wanted to be,” he said. “It tempered the feelings of ‘I’m not good at this or that.’”

Niemann went on to play ball in college and in the NBA before settling back in St. Louis. Following stints in both chemical and steel sales, Niemann returned to school, earning a master’s degree and starting a long career as a teacher and coach.

He coached basketball for a few seasons and spent 22 years as the baseball coach at Brentwood. Niemann and his wife, Julie, who works in the financial reporting field, reside in University City.

Today, the boys basketball championships are played at Mizzou Arena in Columbia. Back then, the games alternated between St. Louis and Kansas City, and in 1964 the site was Washington University.

In the semifinals, DuBourg held the ball for the last four minutes before defeating Kansas City Central 43-41 on a last-second layup by Gary Kovarik. The Cavaliers then beat Springfield Parkview 62-52 in the title game. Niemann scored 40 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the final.

Niemann went on to play at St. Louis University where he teamed with Randy Albrecht, who has coached the St. Louis Community College Archers (formerly the Meramec Magic) for 28 years. Albrecht, still one of Niemann’s close friends, joined the SLU coaching staff when he graduated and worked closely with the Billikens big center late in his career.

At first, when Albrecht was a senior and Neimann a sophomore, they didn’t see much court time.

“We were part of what we called ‘F-Troop’, after the old TV show,” Albrecht said, laughing. “We were the guys that got beat up by the first team in practice all the time.

“Later, I worked with him all the time. I think I passed the ball to Rich Niemann more than any human being.”

Niemann was drafted by the Detroit Pistons and spent three seasons in professional basketball, most of it in the ABA. His best year came with the Carolina Cougars, where he averaged 11.3 points and 8.9 rebounds during the 1969-70 season. Niemann played two more seasons in the ABA, but had left the game by the time the Cougars became the Spirits of St. Louis in 1974.

“That was a fun year for me,” Niemann said. “I would have liked to have stayed a little longer.”

Albrecht said Niemann’s improvement was tremendous.

“He was a real effective center in the pros,” Albrecht said. “I remember when he played against (Kareem Abdul-) Jabbar. The plan was to draw Jabbar away from the basket, so Rich shot a lot from the outside. But Rich ended up going two for 12 against him.

“Rich is a really great person,” Albrecht added. “If everyone was like Rich, there would be no wars.”


As DuBourg teammate and close friend John O’Brien recalls, there was nothing about the gawky freshman who arrived at DuBourg in 1960 that hinted at a future college and pro basketball career.

“You would certainly not look at him and say he was going to be a super athlete,” O’Brien said. “I’m sure that when he was a freshman, there were people snickering. The biggest thing to me was how he worked his butt off to get better.”

By the time he was a junior, Niemann’s game was dramatically improved. He developed a pretty nice touch for a big man.

That came in handy as the Cavaliers, coached by Roger Laux, made their run to the state championship. Starters included Niemann, O’Brien, Kovarik, and 6-foot forwards Jim Eberhardt and Mike McEvoy. The pivotal victory that had the Southside talking was a 57-56 regional win over rival St. Louis U. High, which had beaten the Cavaliers twice during the season.

“The school was caught up in it, and it just kept getting bigger and bigger,” O’Brien said. “The bishop even gave the nuns permission to go to the title game. It became the school’s focus.”

The title contest was broadcast on KMOX radio with “Easy” Ed McCauley and SLU coach John Bennington on the call.

“This was before the advent of the media,” Niemann said. “They would play some of the excerpts over the intercom at school long after we graduated.”

Former DuBourg athletic director Kevin Regan said Niemann still makes it back for alumni contests at the school every season. The next one is coming up in early February.

“He still gets his fair share of points out there,” Regan said. “He’s a very pleasant person who never misses it.”

Niemann said it all came together at the right time and in the right place. Had the title game not been local, it would have been a totally different experience.

“We had a really fortunate situation at Washington University, being reasonably close to where DuBourg was,” Niemann said. “It was different to ask your dad if you could drive to Clayton versus driving to Columbia. It was a special time.

“It all goes back to basketball. It is the core.”

Clifford Lett Jersey Signed

Mark Cuban, the wildly successful entrepreneur, charming host of CNBC’s “Shark Tank,” and owner of the Dallas Mavericks is no shrinking violet. Mr. Cuban Clifford Lett has an opinion on, well, everything. College? He’s against it. NBA officiating? It stinks. President Donald Trump? He’s awful.

Yet when it comes to a matter rather close to Mr. Cuban’s own interests — the brouhaha involving another Texan NBA team, the Houston Rockets, the People’s Republic of China, and the mistreatment of Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey — he has uncharacteristically clammed up. His usually prolific Twitter feed has gone silent and he’s made no public statements on the matter.

That reticence continued Tuesday evening. Reached via his personal email account, Mr. Cuban would only tell the Washington Times, “‘ll refer you to Adam silvers [sic] comments.” NBA Commissioner Silver released a statement earlier this week declaring that “we have seen how basketball can be an important form of people-to-people exchange that deepens ties between the United States and China.”

Of course, Mark Cuban is hardly the only usually chatty NBA figure to go uncharacteristically silent on the China issue. Steve Kerr, the Warriors coach whose postgame press conferences tend to dwell more on politics than rebounds and the pick and roll, has evinced complete ignorance on the matter. LeBron James, the wildly talented forward for the Lakers who never shies from politics, has gone silent.
Clifford Lett Jersey Signed

But Mark Cuban’s silence is the most telling. When Mark Cuban — I repeat, Mark Cuban! — of all people declines to comment, you know how much fear of China there really is out there.

Stanley Jackson Jersey Signed

Basketball is a game of numbers and statistics, but can one number sum up a team’s outlook for an entire season? The Crossover attempted to give you the most important number for all 30 teams as the 2019-20 NBA season begins.

Chicago Bulls: 21
It’s unreasonable to expect young big men unaccustomed to the rigors of the NBA to never miss time, but last season Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. played only 21 games together. Any path to relevance for the young Bulls involves their 2017 and ’18 lottery picks joining forces on the court.

As a rookie Carter had the fourth-worst offensive rating (97.8) among players 6′ 10″ or taller. He barely took threes (32), didn’t make them when he did (six) and generally looked the 19-year-old kid he was. But he did have the second-best defensive rating on the team, was solid as a rebounder and, with a season of experience, is sure to improve. Markkanen, 22, lived up to his reputation as an offense-first, defense-optional player. He might never be able to switch onto smaller guards, but if he is anything close to the next Dirk, the Bulls won’t mind any defensive shortcomings, especially with Carter’s play on that end. —Joe Wilkinson

Cleveland Cavaliers: 3
Collin Sexton’s defensive rating last season was 118.1. The good news: There were two players who were worse. The bad news: They were both teammates (Cedi Osman and Tristan Thompson). Yes, the Cavaliers had the three worst defenders in the NBA, which goes a long way to explaining Cleveland’s team rating of 117.6, the worst in history.

In May the Cavs hired coach John Beilein, a 66-year-old with no pro experience. What he does have is a reputation, burnished at Michigan, for leading teams with stifling defenses. Last year’s Wolverines gave up 58.3 points per game, second best in the nation. Sexton had the misfortune of playing point guard, the league’s most star-stacked position. This year he’ll share that spot with another newcomer. For the Cavs to avoid the cellar, Beilein’s system will have to translate—and No. 5 pick Darius Garland will have to have a smoother transition to the NBA than Sexton. —Joe Wilkinson

Washington Wizards: 36.9
It’s the only intriguing question about the team: Will Bradley Beal finish the season in Washington? He clocked a league-high 36.9 minutes per game in 2018–19 while his backcourtmate, John Wall, played just 32 games due to multiple Achilles injuries. Despite Beal’s best efforts—he set career highs in points, rebounds and assists—the Wizards missed the playoffs two years after a 49-win season.

Beal, 26, is both the Wizards’ only hope at achieving respectability and their only means to reap valuable assets for a rebuild. Rookie GM Tommy Sheppard is in a tough spot. Wall will likely miss all of this season, and his massive contract (he’s owed $171 milion through 2023, when he will be 33) limits the team’s flexibility. Giving up on Beal, who is signed through 2020–21, wouldn’t be easy, but unless Sheppard can find a way to get out from under Wall’s deal, it could wind up being the only move he can make. —R.N.

Miami Heat: 6.4
As evidenced by the 6.4 points per fourth quarter he scored last season—even on a star-studded Sixers team—Jimmy Butler is a bona fide No. 1 option, a role that is neatly carved out for him on the less top-heavy Heat. Miami missed the playoffs last season in large part because it needed a closer: The Heat outscored their opponents by an average of 0.5 of a point in the first three quarters but had a deficit of 0.7 in the fourth. Butler’s fourth-quarter output was the 12th-best in the league; the Heat’s leader, the since-retired Dwyane Wade, was 45th (4.6 per game).

With Butler as the clear frontman, Erik Spoelstra won’t have to tinker with the rotation as much as he did last season. The 6′ 8″ veteran will also make life easier for his teammates, who won’t be asked to play above their station. Butler brings a lot to the Heat, but at the start of the season, simply balancing the roster could be his biggest contribution. —R.N.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics: 30.8
A large share of criticism surrounding Kyrie Irving last season was his ball dominance. Jayson Tatum’s and Jaylen Brown’s development slowed after a breakout postseason in 2017–18, when Irving was out injured. Boston’s secondary scorers spent much of the season isolated on the wing waiting for a catch-and-shoot opportunity. As Irving cooked, Boston watched.

Irving is now in Brooklyn, replaced by former Hornet Kemba Walker. Does that mean Boston will feature a more egalitarian offense in 2019–20 under Walker? Don’t assume so. Walker’s usage rate of 30.8 was actually higher than Irving’s 28.6. And it was especially pronounced late in games. His 126 shots in clutch situations (within five points in the final five minutes) led the league. Charlotte’s dreadful roster is at least partly responsible for Walker’s late-game volume, but don’t assume a marked change in Boston’s offense to close games without Irving. —M.S.

Portland Trail Blazers: 167
The most successful ride of the Damian Lillard era was marked by 53 wins, playoff theatrics (Oklahoma City would never be the same) and a trip to the conference finals. There’s little question that the backcourt tandem of Lillard and CJ McCollum has been the driving force behind the Blazers’ success. In turn, much of the defensive responsibilities had fallen to their workmanlike wings: Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless and Jake Layman, who combined to start 167 games last season. All three are gone, and their roles will be filled by the inconsistent Rodney Hood; 21-year-old Zach Collins, who’s better suited playing center than power forward; and bargain-bin additions of Mario Hezonja, and Anthony Tolliver. This suggests a defensive regression for a defense that was just in the middle of the pack. Is Portland still a playoff team? Probably. But in the West, there are few guarantees. —Jeremy Woo

Brooklyn Nets: 40.3
Kevin Durant hasn’t publicly explained his decision to join the Nets, but as general manager Sean Marks recalled, after Durant signed, he told the organization, “I love the system. I love how you guys play.” What’s to love? Perhaps it’s this: Brooklyn took a three-pointer on 40.3% of shot attempts last season, the fourth-highest mark in the league. The Nets’ three-point frequency in 2015–16 was 23.1%, the third-lowest.

Kenny Atkinson took over as coach one year later, and Brooklyn has now finished in the top five in three-point frequency for three consecutive seasons. Atkinson’s run-and-gun approach will also appeal to Kyrie Irving, who made the 13th-most pull-up jumpers last season. Irving’s quick (and accurate) trigger will elevate Brooklyn’s offense, and it will only get better in 2020–21, when Durant should be healthy following his Achilles injury. —M.S.

Los Angeles Lakers: 27
Through last Christmas the Lakers had the NBA’s ninth-best record, LeBron James was meshing well with his new teammates, and on Dec. 25, L.A. blew out the defending champion Warriors. During the game, though, James injured his groin, causing him to miss the largest chunk of time of his career and sending the Lakers into a tailspin.

All in all, James sat out 27 games. After giving up much of their depth to acquire Anthony Davis, the Lakers obviously can’t afford many nicks and bruises this season. A more pressing concern, however, is the consistent availability of the 34-year-old James. The mileage on his body is absurd: Counting the playoffs, he has played 7,760 more minutes than 42-year-old Vince Carter. Logic would dictate that at some point LeBron will start to wear down. If that happens soon, then the pressure shifts to Davis, who never took New Orleans past the second round. —R.N.

New York Knicks: 161
There’s no greater misery in the NBA than Knicks fandom: six straight losing seasons, a 20-year Finals drought and an endless stream of p.r. disasters. Last summer brought a double whammy of pain, as New York missed out on both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency. The franchise may be at its nadir.

Now, a dash of optimism. The Knicks drafted RJ Barrett of Duke with the No. 3 pick, then signed Julius Randle in July. Yet it may be a former -second-round center who will have the Garden buzzing. Last season 7′ 1″ Mitchell Robinson blocked 161 shots in 66 games (a league-high 5.6 per 100 possessions). Only Pau Gasol has swatted more as a rookie this century, and that was in twice as many minutes. Another miserable season awaits, but Robinson, who also showed signs of being a weapon around the basket, serves as a reminder that it’s not only big-name players who can make big impacts. —M.S.

Toronto Raptors: 104.1
Expectations are reset in Toronto after Kawhi Leonard’s departure to the Clippers, Stanley Jackson though the Raptors won’t need to undergo a full makeover to remain competitive. They weren’t just functional without Leonard—they went 17–5, a 63-win pace (albeit with a favorable schedule). Toronto’s superstar exodus won’t cause a collapse into tankdom.

Surprisingly, Toronto’s D shone brightest when missing one of the best stoppers in the game. Without Leonard, the Raptors had a defensive rating of 104.1, a mark that would have ranked first last season. Toronto should hover near the top five in defensive rating again. Pascal Siakam anchors a crop of long, switchable wings, including OG Anunoby, who didn’t play in the postseason. Marc Gasol is a former Defensive Player of the Year. And Kyle Lowry is perhaps the smartest point guard in the league not named Chris Paul. —M.S.

Milwaukee Bucks: 1
From Brook Lopez to Trevon Duval to Christian Wood, all 24 players who suited up for Milwaukee last season made at least one three-pointer. Mike Budenholzer won Coach of the Year partially because he turned the Bucks into the second-most fearsome long-range shooting team in the league (after the Rockets). Milwaukee hit 53.9% more treys than in 2017–18, which helped spread the floor and allowed Giannis Antetokounmpo to terrorize opposing defenses.

Milwaukee’s proficiency from behind the arc lifted it to the top of the regular-season standings, but it’s no lock to earn that spot again. While the team’s three-point volume was impressive, its percentage was a pedestrian 14th in the NBA. Eric Bledsoe, Pat Connaughton
and George Hill can get buckets attacking close-outs, but with Malcolm Brogdon now in Indiana,
those shaky-shooting guards will be in the spotlight even more. —Joe Wilkinson

Indiana Pacers: 106.0
The Pacers were dismissed as a postseason contender on Jan. 23 when All-Star guard Victor Oladipo went down with a right-knee injury, but they battled to the fifth seed in the East. How’d they do it? Well, not with their 18th-ranked offense. It was with a defense that had a rating of 106.0, third best in the league. Indiana forced turnovers on 15.8% of possessions, the second-highest rate, yet allowed free throws at the sixth-lowest rate (.243). And all without Oladipo, the team’s best defender.

Oladipo will miss the first couple of months, but the Pacers could still improve defensively. Their two biggest departures were Bojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young, and the team’s defense was better when they were off the court. Indiana added Malcolm Brogdon, a workmanlike stopper at either guard spot. The Pacers may not be a lot of fun to watch, but their efficient and tenacious D should keep them in the playoff picture. —Joe Wilkinson

Oklahoma City Thunder: 15
During the most hectic NBA offseason ever, no team underwent a more profound sea change than the Thunder. Forced to trade All-NBA forward Paul George, then iconic point guard Russell Westbrook, they needed to squeeze out every possible drop of value. Enter GM Sam Presti, whose shrewd feel for negotiating and timing yielded not only veterans who will keep Oklahoma City relevant in the short term but also the best long-term assets imaginable. After sending George to the Clippers for Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Westbrook to the Rockets for Chris Paul, the Thunder own the league’s richest treasure chest of draft choices: as many as 15 first-round picks in the next six drafts, Stanley Jackson Jersey Signed plus a pair of swaps. With all those selections there’s no need to tank, and Paul, Gallinari and Steven Adams will keep things competitive. Presti has turned what looked like a no-win situation into something resembling a W. —Jeremy Woo

Red Dehnert Jersey Signed

Note: This was written before the Mets won the 2015 National League Pennant, and before Mike Piazza was elected to the Hall of Fame and the retirement of his Number 31 was announced. Other than that, it’s all still valid.


So the Mets beat the Yankees yesterday, 8-2. Matt Harvey (4-0) had his good stuff, and CC Sabathia (0-4) picked a fine time to not have his after pitching superbly in defeat in Detroit earlier in the week. Mark Teixeira hit a home run off Harvey in the 7th (his 8th of the young season), but that was hardly enough.

The series concludes at 8:00 tonight, with Nathan Eovaldi pitching against Jon Niese.

Yes, Harvey put the Mets on top yesterday, evening the series.

Do the Mets’ idiot fans think that this changes anything? Yeah, they probably do.

Well, it doesn’t. The Mets are still a joke, and nothing is going to change that anytime soon.

Top 10 Reasons the Mets Are a Joke

These are in chronological order. Not in order of lameness. Trying to put them in that order could take about 18 innings.

1. The National League. The main reason the Mets even exist is because fans of the stolen New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers could have a National League team in New York, alongside the American League’s Yankees. They specifically wanted a National League team.

What the hell is so special about the National League?

“Well, Uncle Mike,” you might say, “the NL doesn’t use the designated hitter. It’s real baseball.” The Giants and Dodgers moved after the 1957 season. The DH didn’t come in until 1973. It wasn’t even seriously considered until it became a Spring Training experiment in 1969. So that wasn’t one of the reasons at the time.

The NL is older. It was established in 1876, to the AL’s 1901. Is that really important? Not by 1957, it wasn’t; it certainly isn’t in 2015.

The NL integrated first, beating the AL to it by a few weeks, April 15 to July 5, 1947. The NL got lights first, beating the AL to it by 4 years, 1935 to 1939. The NL had teams on radio first, although television was about even.

Somehow, I don’t think that’s what erstwhile Giant and Dodger fans meant from October 1957 to April 1962, when they had to get by in the New York Tri-State Area with just the Yankees.

Then there was the Continental League, which was announced in 1958 as debuting in 1960. In the end, it was a bluff, designed to get the established leagues to expand, which they did. If the CL had happened, and a “New York Mets” had debuted in it at the Polo Grounds in 1960, I don’t think the former fans of the Giants and Dodgers would have given a damn that it didn’t have official NL identification, or even the NL’s blessing.

I think the real reason is that these people just hated the Yankees. Why? Because the Yankees (nearly) always beat them? From 1923 to 1956, the Yankees played the Giants and Dodgers in a combined 11 World Series, and won 10 of them.

Getting the Mets didn’t help: They’ve now played each other exactly once in the World Series in 53 seasons (52 if you don’t count 1994, as that season didn’t reach its intended conclusion), and the Yankees beat the Mets in 5 games.

So it wasn’t all about the National League. They were just too chicken to admit, “We hate the Yankees.”

Also, look at the other teams that lost teams in the 1950s:

* The Braves left Boston, leaving the city to the AL’s Red Sox. Did New Englanders demand a new team in the NL? No.

* The Browns left St. Louis, leaving the city to the NL’s Cardinals. Did people in the Mississippi Valley demand a new team in the AL? No.

* The Athletics left Philadelphia, leaving the city to the NL’s Phillies. Did people in the Delaware Valley demand a new team in the AL? No.

These places just accepted that turning a “city” into a “metropolitan area,” as inner-city whites moved into the suburbs — some because they could afford to go to a nicer place, some because their neighborhoods were turning black and they didn’t want to get called out on their racism by their neighbors — meant that these places could no longer afford to support 2 teams each.

New York could afford to support 2 teams. Indeed, there’s been times, even since 1957, when it looked like it could afford to support 3 teams. (That may have been the case as recently as 2008, but I don’t think it’s the case now, judging by home attendance at both Yankee Stadium II and Citi Field.)

But there was nothing special about the National League then, or now. Nor was there anything unacceptable about the American League, then or now. And if you think the DH makes the AL unacceptable, then you’re an idiot who needs to enter the latter part of the 20th Century, because, apparently, getting you into the 21st Century is too much to ask. (I’ve mused on the stupidity of the Hate-the-DH argument before.)

So the fans who would be Met fans weren’t devoted to the National League. They were just hating on the Yankees. I’m fine with that — as long as you freely admit it, like the American League teams do. (Hell, on September 5, 1977, desperate for attendance as they’d fallen far out of the AL East race, the Cleveland Indians held “Hate the Yankees Hanky Night.” It worked: They got 28,184 fans waving hankies at the Yankees, and they swept a twi-night doubleheader.)

Or maybe these ex-Giant fans and ex-Dodger fans just wanted a team in the NL so that their old heroes could come back and see them. The problem with that is, by the time the Mets arrived in 1962, most of their old heroes were retired — or, as they saw when Gil Hodges and Duke Snider actually became Mets, should have been retired.

By the time Shea Stadium opened in 1964, there were no more Brooklyn Dodger heroes still playing (Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale pitched for the Dodgers before the move, but didn’t become stars until after it), and the only New York Giant hero left was Willie Mays. And he had already returned to New York to play the Yankees in the 1962 World Series.

2. Blue and Orange. The colors themselves, while a hideous combination, aren’t really the problem. It’s the reason for them. The Mets’ founders said that they were combining the blue of the Dodgers and the orange of the Giants.

That made sense. When the Islanders were founded 10 years later, the also used blue and orange, and, like the Mets, they still use them today. (They even kept the color scheme while wearing those ridiculous “Gorton’s Fisherman” jerseys in the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons.)

Except… When the Knicks were founded, they used blue and orange. That was in 1946, 16 years before the Mets first took the field. Were the Knicks trying to combine the blue of the Dodgers and the orange of the Giants? No. The colors worn by the baseball teams were completely irrelevant.

New York City was founded by the Netherlands, as New Amsterdam, in 1624. The Dutch flag of the time was blue, white and orange. The City’s flag used the same colors. It still does, unlike the current Dutch flag, which is a tricolor of 3 horizontal stripes: Red, white and blue from top to bottom. The Dutch royal family remains the House of Orange, and the Netherlands national soccer team wears orange shirts at home.

And the Knicks were named after the title character in Washington Irving’s 1809 satirical novel A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker. From that point onward, “Knickerbocker” became a slang term for Manhattanites, and the caricature of “Uncle Diedrich” was modified for the Knicks’ 1st logo. So it made sense that the Dutch colors became the Knicks’ colors.

(A previous New York-based pro basketball team, the Original Celtics — aside from the name, there was no connection to the later Boston franchise — even had a star player named Henry “Dutch” Dehnert, although he was German, “Deutsch,” rather than descended from the Netherlands, “Dutch.”)

That the combination of the Dodger and Giant colors could be used for the Mets was nice, but let’s not pretend that they weren’t already being used by a New York team that had reached its sport’s finals 3 times — although they wouldn’t win their 1st World Championship until after the Mets, and even the Jets, had won their 1st.

3. Shea Stadium. Beyond the delays that meant that “the William A. Shea Municipal Stadium” wouldn’t open on Opening Day 1963, or in mid-season 1963, and was mere hours away from not being ready on Opening Day 1964…

It was billed as “the greatest baseball stadium ever built.” It wasn’t. Not by a long shot. Not by a center-field-at-the-Polo-Grounds-long shot.

Oh, sure, it wasn’t nearly as cramped as the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field were. And it didn’t have ridiculous dimensions like those 2 parks. And, unlike both of them and Yankee Stadium, it wasn’t in a ghetto, and it had plenty of parking, and it didn’t have support poles blocking your view.

What it did have was seats that were properly angled for football instead of baseball, upper-deck seats that might as well have been in another Borough, back rows of decks that had overhangs from decks above them that cut off your view of fly balls (a worse obstruction than Yankee Stadium’s support poles), nasty wind that made a Met game in May as cold as a Jet game in December, and those planes taking off from nearby LaGuardia International Airport. (The ones taking off would go right overhead. The ones landing went on a different flight path, behind center field.)

Also, it was a lot harder to get an express train from Manhattan to Flushing Meadow-Corona Park. The D Train’s express from 59th Street/Columbus Circle to 125th Street (bypassing 7 local stops) made getting from Port Authority Bus Terminal to Yankee Stadium 5 stops, and about 25 minutes, even with the switch from the A to the D at 59th.

But to get from Port Authority to Shea, you had to first go through that dank tunnel with the nasty incline connecting the Port Authority and Times Square subway stations, then get the 7 Train, and 9 times out of 10 it wouldn’t be an express, so you had to make 19 stops! And it takes 35 to 40 minutes, considerably longer. Even the express makes 9 stops.

Shea, and now Citi Field, always had better parking and better food than Yankee Stadium, old and new. That’s it. The stadium itself was never better than Yankee Stadium, even in 1973, when Yankee Stadium was a 50-year-old uneasy relic with thick support poles in the ever-nastier South Bronx, and Shea was a multicolored suburban palace. The original Yankee Stadium was a baseball park that hosted football; Shea Stadium was a football stadium that hosted baseball.

4. The Reaction to Losing Tom Seaver. Yes, it was awful the way he was pushed out by M. Donald Grant and his grinning lackey in the press, Dick Young of the New York Daily News.

To be fair, Young was a strong advocate for black players, and for a new team in New York, either through the Continental League or MLB expansion. That was before he, like Frank Sinatra, got grumpy and conservative in his old age.

Yes, Seaver deserved better. Yes, you, the Flushing Heathen, whatever else I can say about you, you deserved better than to have “The Franchise” taken away from you in that fashion.

But… come on. Babe Ruth left the Yankees in 1935. Joe DiMaggio retired in 1951. Mickey Mantle retired in 1969. Reggie Jackson was not re-signed in 1981. Mariano Rivera retired in 2013, and Derek Jeter retired in 2014. On none of those occasions did Yankee Fans react like a child who had been told his dog was “taken to a farm upstate.”

There were 2 times when Yankee Fans did react like that. The 1st was for Lou Gehrig in 1939. Except he actually was going to die. The 2nd was for Thurman Munson in 1979. And he actually did die.

Great players leave. Great players come to take their places. Grow up.

Besides, it’s not like having Seaver would have appreciably helped the Mets from June 1977 to September 1982 anyway. He would have made the difference between the Mets being horrible (which they were) and the Mets being merely mediocre and not as good as the Yankees (which they already were from April 1974 to June 1977). He would have given Shea a few thousand extra fans every 4th home game. That’s it.

5. Retired Numbers. Yes, the Yankees have too many. I get that. We should give guys like Roger Maris, Don Mattingly, Tino Martinez and Jorge Posada plaques for Monument Park, but don’t retire their numbers. Fine, Met fans, go ahead and make that argument. Especially now that you have your own team hall of fame in a room off the Citi Field rotunda.

(Actually, the Mets have had a team hall of fame since 1981, but it’s only since 2010 and the opening of that room that it’s been on public display.)

But the Mets’ retired-number policy isn’t much better than the Yankees’. It just stinks in the other direction.

Retiring 37 for Casey Stengel made sense for the Yankees: He managed us to 10 Pennants and 7 World Championships. It made no sense for the Mets to do it: He did nothing for you. He made you laugh? Then why haven’t numbers been retired for Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano, Chris Rock and Jon Stewart? Or, for that matter, for Marv Throneberry, Frank Taveras, Oliver Perez? Or even Steve Somers, Joe Benigno and Doris From Rego Park?

(Yes, I am aware, they never wore numbers for the Mets. They can share Number 66, in honor of WFAN.)

Retiring 14 for Hodges made sense, as he was the manager who won your 1st title. Retiring 41 for Seaver made sense, as he was your greatest player ever.

But keeping 24 semi-retired for Willie Mays, a decision made by founding owner and former Giants part-owner Joan Payson, is ludicrous: He did next to nothing for the Mets. Not retiring 8 for Gary Carter, especially once you knew he was dying, was really crummy. (Although Bobby Murcer died of the exact same thing, and the Yankees also had lead time on that, and didn’t give him a Monument Park Plaque while he was still able to attend the ceremony, and still haven’t, 7 years after his death.)

And, certainly, 17 should have been retired for Keith Hernandez. Who made the decision that it shouldn’t be retired? Who does this guy think he is? Whoever he is, he hasn’t done as much for the Mets as the man who can answer that question, “I’m Keith Hernandez!”

And if Mike Piazza was so great, how come 31 hasn’t been retired for him? Are you waiting for him to be elected to the Hall of Fame? That wait wasn’t kept for Stengel, Seaver, Mays, or Hodges (who, unfairly, is still not in the Hall).

(And if you think Piazza’s not in the Hall of Fame because of his personality, well, that would be understandable… but that’s not why he’s not in yet.)

6. The Dynasty That Never Was. Under the current 3-divisions-plus-wild-card setup, putting the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central Division, the Mets would at least have won the NL Eastern Division every season from 1984 to 1990.

Instead, under the setup we had then, with only 2 Divisions, and only the Division Champions made the Playoffs, they won just 2 Division titles, riding a lot of postseason luck to winning the World Championship in 1986, and blowing the NL Championship Series to the Dodgers in 1988. That’s it.

Face it: The 1986 Mets were not that good. Yes, they won 108 games in the regular season, the most won by a New York team between 1961 and 1998, and still the most ever by an NL team in New York in 139 seasons. But, statistically, they didn’t match up well with any of the great Yankee teams, or the title-winning Giant and Dodger teams. Even the ’69 Mets were better, statistically speaking.

Granted, it wasn’t just drugs and booze. A lot of those guys (including the substance abusers) got hurt, and missed time for reasons that had nothing to do with drugs, performance-enhancing and not. But if the 1980s Mets were as good as you think they were, why only the 1 Pennant?

The competition was good? Yes, it was. So was the competition for the 1996-2003 Yankees, and in 8 seasons they won 6 Pennants and 4 World Series. In just 8 seasons, they won 50 percent more Pennants and twice as many World Series as the Mets have ever won in 53 seasons. And the 1990s Yankees had to survive 1 more postseason round than the 1980s Mets. If the Mets had to win a Division Series just to get to the ’86 Houston Astros, would they have won it, or gotten derailed? Look at all that talent the Atlanta Braves had in the 1990s, and the NLDS and NLCS that the statistics say they should have won, but didn’t.

If the 1986 Mets had to play the 1998 Yankees in a World Series, it wouldn’t have gone the full 7. It’s not like the ’86 Mets could, like the ’98 Yankees, call on David Cone, who didn’t arrive in Flushing until ’87.

But Met fans still hold up the ’86 team as exemplars of “Baseball Like It Oughta Be.” That’s because it remains their last title. But the way they went through the season, acting like Animal House in polyester? Maybe it was effective, but it wasn’t anything “like it oughta be.” And, starting the next season, it wasn’t nearly as effective as it should have been, either.

The 1993 Philadelphia Phillies (who, like the ’86 Mets, featured drunken bum Lenny Dykstra) are hailed as beloved, successful slobs. But ask a Phillies fan what meant more: The 1993 “Macho Row” Pennant, or the 2008 World Series title. He’ll tell you 2008. If the 1999-2000 Mets had been good enough to go all the way, they would have been far better as role models than the 1980s version. Though Piazza and Armando Benitez would have fit in well in ’86.

7. Bernie Madoff. Say what you want about George Steinbrenner, and he did some rotten things and made some boneheaded decisions, but he never would have been fooled by Bernie Madoff.

What’s that, you say? George got fooled by Howie Spira? That’s because Spira had something George was a sucker for: A hard-luck story. Something Madoff didn’t have. And getting fooled by Spira didn’t cause George to lose millions, forcing his team into 6 years of mediocrity. (True, there were 4 such years, but it wasn’t due to a drop in George’s finances.)

8. Sportsnet New York. SNY could have been a great sports network. And, I’ll admit, while it’s not as good as YES, it’s a pretty good sports network. But comparing it with YES, it falls well short.

Showing classic games? Most of those wouldn’t register as “Yankees Classics” if the Yankees had done the exact same thing.

Focusing on Johan Santana’s no-hitter? All that does is allow people to see that Carlos Beltran’s line drive was a clean, fair base hit, and that the “no-hitter” was bogus.

Showing regular-season wins by the Mets over the Yankees? You don’t see too many Yankee regular-season wins over the Mets on YES’ Yankees Classics — although you do see replays of the 2000 World Series’ Game 1 (a 12-inning classic) and Game 5 (the clincher, which wasn’t decided until the last swing of the bat).

Also, where’s the Met equivalent of Yankeeography? Then again, they did do a 50 Greatest Mets, whereas we don’t yet have a 50 (or 100) Greatest Yankees program.

Then there was that “broadcasters’ challenge,” the radio guys against the TV guys. It was shocking to see how little the Met broadcasters — including former players like Hernandez and Ron Darling — knew about the team for whom they broadcast. Even Gary Cohen, who grew up as a Met fan and should have known better, came up well short. That was embarrassing.

9. Citi Field. You guys had many years to plan this. Years to figure out how to get it right. And, I have to admit, nearly everything about it is an improvement over the Flushing Toilet. Except the planes: I think the noise from the planes might actually be worse.

But it really isn’t all that different from some of the other 1990s and 2000s ballparks. It’s basically a copy of Camden Yards in Baltimore, Globe Life Park in the Dallas area, Turner Field in Atlanta, Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Petco Park in San Diego, and Nationals Park in Washington, with team-specific differences. Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Jacobs Field in Cleveland, Coors Field in Denver, and Target Field in Minneapolis, with their 3 decks in right field and a bleacher section in left, are mirror images.

And it doesn’t have any spectacular features. It doesn’t have a warehouse like Camden Yards and Petco Park, the river view like Great American Ball Park, the bay view like AT&T Park in San Francisco, a monument like the Gateway Arch like the new Busch Stadium in St. Louise, or the view of the downtown skyscrapers like PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

Even the minor-league parks in town can top it on that score: MCU Park in Brooklyn has a view of Coney Island’s landmarks, and Richmond County Bank Ballpark in Staten Island has a few of Lower Manhattan. As someone put it when it opened in 2001, it looks like the Statue of Liberty is playing a very deep center field.

But the most annoying part of Citi Field is your beloved Shake Shack: It has lines that cause fans to miss an inning or two. That sort of thing was supposed to be left in the 20th Century! The 1st time I went there, the game went to extra innings at 1-1, and I missed both runs while on line for Shake Shack!

(The shakes are pretty good, but not good enough to make anybody echo John Travolta’s line from Pulp Fiction about whether a milkshake is worth $5.00.)

The most embarrassing thing about Citi Field is the name. And I’m not even talking about naming it after a hated bank. It was understandable: Citi bought out Chemical Bank, which bought out Manufacturer’s Hanover, which was a big sponsor for the Mets (and, for a time, the Yankees, too). It’s a part of your heritage, just like Kahn’s hot dogs and RC Cola. (Although you seem to have abandoned those.)

But “Citi” can be rhymed. Some fans, reflecting the “Flushing Toilet” nickname for Shea Stadium, call the new park “Shitty Field.” I prefer to call it Pity Field, because the Mets have mostly been pitiful since it opened. But the name was just too easy to parody. The Met organization should have known better.

But then, if they knew better, they would not be the Mets. There’s always going to be a little bit of 1962, a little Marvelous Marv Red Dehnert Throneberry and Clarence “Choo-Choo” Coleman, in them.

10. “Take Back New York.” Tell ya what: Beat the Yankees in a World Series. Then you can say that you’ve taken back New York.

Until you do, nothing you do will mean you’ve taken it back. Even if you pull off another “miracle” and win the whole thing this season, it’ll still be 27 to 3.

You talked about taking back New York in 1999, and you couldn’t set up the real “Subway Series.” You talked about taking back New York in 2000, and you lost the real Subway Series. You talked about taking back New York in 2006, the one season since 1988 that you’ve actually gone further than we have, and you choked. You talked about taking back New York in 2007 and 2008, and we know how those seasons ended. Don’t we?

Now, you’re talking about “taking back New York” again. Based on what, exactly? David Wright? He disappears every September. Matt Harvey? He’d be the Yankees’ 4th starter. Jacob deGrom? He’d also be the Yankees’ 4th starter. How ya gonna take back New York with a 36-year-old Michael Cuddyer as your cleanup hitter?

No, “Take Back New York” is a joke. The Mets are a joke. Have been for most of their history. Have been continuously since 1992. Still are. Will remain so for the foreseeable future.

And I haven’t even mentioned Chico Escuela. Or Spider-Man. Or Sidd Finch. Or Bobby Bonilla. Or Steve Phillips. Or the marijuana situation of a few years ago. Or Warm Bodies, the film suggesting that zombies inhabit Citi Field — at least zombies are looking for brains. Or Sharknado 2. Or Jeff Wilpon firing a woman for being unmarried and pregnant.

Or how Jack Klugman would have been better off visiting Shea Stadium in character as Dr. Quincy, to perform an autopsy on the team, that he would have if he’d visited in character as Oscar Madison of The Odd Couple.
Red Dehnert Jersey Signed

The Mets are a joke.

(UPDATE: Even after winning the Pennant in 2015, the Mets spectacularly failed in the World Series, blowing leads in all 5 games, including the 1 they won anyway. The Mets are still a joke.)

Billy Hassett Jersey Signed

Brian Hassett is looking for the Capital Region’s Jerry Colangelo.

The Phoenix philanthropist and former owner of the Phoenix Suns and the Arizona Diamondbacks gave the first-ever $1 million gift to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona.

That donation brought awareness to the nonprofit and helped Hassett, then the organization’s CEO, double the annual fundraising campaign to $48 million.

OK, $1 million donors may not be a dime a dozen here, but Hassett is on the hunt for new and bigger funding streams for the United Way of the Greater Capital Region. “I’ve always loved separating people from their money for a good cause.”

You were quite a handful in your younger years.

It wasn’t my background—my parents were upper middle class. I was hanging around with the wrong people. We were “borrowing” cars when I was 11 or 12. I think I’m the only one from the original neighborhood who’s living, or on the outside.

“Outside” meaning not in jail?

Yes. Here’s a Christmas story I remember: I was out of high school six months and my best friend was sent to jail. I couldn’t raise enough money for his bail, so I went to a Brother—I graduated from a Catholic school—and he put up the rest of the money. That friend wound up dying of liver cancer at a young age.

My attraction to nonprofits is, in part, because I grew up in places like the Boys & Girls Club. They were a big influence on me. I became a Big Brother in college and never really looked back.

Plus, philanthropy runs in your family.

I had two fairly famous uncles. The first, Buddy Hassett, played pro ball as a first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Boston Braves and eventually the Yankees. One of his coaches was Babe Ruth.

The other, Billy Hassett, played for the first NBA championship team, the Minneapolis Lakers.

Both were very active in their communities. They’d raise money for their church, the Boy Scouts, whomever needed money.

Your LinkedIn profile shows you standing beside shock-rocker Alice Cooper. What’s the story there?

When I took over as CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona, the organization was in big financial trouble, and I knew we really needed to do something off the wall. I took ideas from two other places that had used similar techniques to raise money, and came up with “Guitar Mania.”

We got backing from [guitar maker] Fender, had a boat company build the guitars and enlisted all these celebrities to paint 10-foot Stratocaster guitars for a public art project. We auctioned the guitars and raised $1 million.

Alice Cooper, who lives in Phoenix and is nothing like his public persona, by the way, wound up chairing the project. He has his own Phoenix foundation, Solid Rock, for at-risk youths. He’s very spiritual, actually.

A lot of celebrities painted one of the Stratocasters: Eddie Van Halen and his son, Wolfgang; Nickelback; Wayne Gretzky; Sen. John McCain; Stevie Nicks, Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns.

Dennis Leary actually drove his guitar up the hill to his house because the delivery driver wouldn’t do it.

Things were so bad when you took over that you were willing to put your own home on the line.

Let’s just say that I had a conversation with the bank that I would consider taking out a second mortgage. I’d just come on, and I wanted the bank to know I was committed to the organization.

The bank gave us a line of credit and became one of our biggest supporters.

What are your plans to grow the local United Way?

We raise $7.9 million through our annual campaign. I really believe we can raise that to $15 million in the next five years or so.

It all comes down to asking people. You can’t keep going back to Mr. and Mrs. Golub (owners of the Price Chopper grocery chain).

Only three or four local law firms contribute to the United Way. Only 300 local companies give to the United Way. I don’t want to paint a picture that people here aren’t generous. I don’t think that’s the case. They just have to be asked.

We also have to start thinking more regionally. People in Saratoga may not be so inclined to support a homeless center in Albany because the donor doesn’t understand what’s needed in the community.

The United Way spends the entire year looking at this. I’m working to increase our percentage of “unrestricted” funds, which would give us more ability to direct money where it’s needed locally.

How are things going in the three months you’ve had the job?

It’s a little tough in these economic times, but we’re making progress. For example, someone pointed me to a local individual who flies under the radar, but is very generous. I asked him to donate, and to please not designate the funds to a specific cause. He gave $75,000, which can be used at the discretion of the United Way.

We have only 15 $10,000 donors in this community. I think there are at least 200 to 300 people in the area that could contribute that much a year. My goal is to do better.

Really, though, Albany isn’t Phoenix.

We might not have the same celebrity contingent, but there’s plenty of potential.

I was told that the Saratoga Performing Arts Center was organized by a couple of families that wanted a world-class entertainment center. Look what happened.

Agencies really need us now. Everybody wanted less government. We’re getting it. And along with that comes casualties. This is America and hunger is a big issue in America. There’s something wrong with that.

There are 400 to 500 female war veterans in the Capital Region who are homeless. What’s going to happen when we pull out of Afghanistan?

About 80 percent of our donors are people who give $50 to $100 a year through payroll deductions. They get it because they’re often the people closest to the need.

One of the reasons you moved to Albany was to be closer to your son, Kevin. You’re also a cancer survivor who should stay out of the hot Phoenix sun.

It was diagnosed 15 years ago during a routine physical. There were big spots on my back that were taken care of, then they started showing up on my face and head.

I’ve had topical chemo where they burn off a layer of skin. I shave my head to keep an eye on things.

People in Scottsdale pay lots of money for what I’ve had done because it makes you look younger. I’m just trying to stay healthy. But if younger is a benefit, I’ll take it.

Quick info:

Brian Hassett
Age: 57
Title: CEO, United Way of the Greater Capital Region
Born: The Bronx, grew up in Utica
Resides: Clifton Park
Educated: Niagara University, bachelor’s in political science; University of Rhode Island, master’s in public administration

Marquis Teague Jersey Signed

Note: This piece is part two of an ongoing series breaking down who we project to be the top 50 G League players for the upcoming 2019-20 season. In an easier way to select these players, we looked for players that have already impressed against solid pro competition, whether they were in the G League, elite European leaguers and even the NBA. That was due to how difficult it could be to project how former college players can perform at the G League level. If you’re just stumbling this piece, you can go here to read part one!

That was evident last year with former DII prospect Haywood Highsmith and 2018 All-American Trevon Bluiett. Highsmith shined at the G League level to the point where he landed a two-way with Meanwhile, Bluiett struggled due to getting inconsistent playing time with the Westchester Knicks and SLC Stars

40. Levi Randolph – Canton Charge: 14.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 steals on 48% from the field and 45% from beyond the arc on 4.3 attempts per game for the Canton Charge of the G League
For the third time in this article, we make our way to Canton and look at a member of the Charge roster. Although that may cause some repetition, Levi Randolph is a great veteran wing that definitely deserves a spot on this list. The biggest reason for that deals with his tremendous outside shooting as his 45% three-point shooting percentage stood as the fifth most efficient average in the entire G League. He’s able to maintain that tremendous efficiency either through catch-and-shoot or working off the dribble.

Perimeter shooting isn’t the only way that the veteran can contribute on the offensive end as he’s also able to shine as a post-up threat on the right block and attacking closeouts. Those traits allowed him to be a vital part of the Charge’s offense. His importance is shown by how the team was 2.4 points better per 100 possessions when he was on the court (104.4 points per 100) compared to when he was sitting on the sidelines (102.0 points per 100).

Randolph’s role as a consistent offensive weapon should allow him to maintain his status as an extremely key part of a Canton Charge team that has the talent to make a run in the Eastern Conference.

39. Jordan McLaughlin – Iowa Wolves (two-way with Minnesota): 15 points, 4.7 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game on 42% from the field and 33% from beyond the arc on 6.1 attempts per game for the Long Island Nets of the G League
Shortly after the end of the 2018-19 season, we did a series breaking down the twenty G League prospects that should sign two-way deals during that off-season. While a lot of those players ended up going overseas or signing exhibit 10 deals, there were a few players on that list that actually were snagged on those type of contracts. Former Long Island Nets guard Jordan McLaughlin is one of those guys, as he signed a two-way deal with the Timberwolves on July 20th.

As we described in that piece from June, McLaughlin spent his rookie year developing into the type of player that NBA team would love to have. For one, he’s tremendous on the defensive end through his work as one of the league’s best ball hawks. In addition to his great defense, the USC alum was a total package on the offensive end through being a tremendous on-ball driver, efficient facilitator (maintained a 2.7 Ast/TO ratio), to improving as a perimeter shooter. That development came over the course of the 2018-19 season as he started it off shooting 31% on 7.2 attempts per game from opening night to New Year’s Day. From that point until the end of the season, he shot 36% on 5.2 attempts per game.

While his great rookie year allowed McLaughlin to get a two-way deal with Minnesota, the 23-year-old definitely has an opportunity to keep boosting his stock as a player through his work with the Iowa Wolves. Despite only being a 2nd year player, expect the guard to take more of the team’s scoring load due to how young the Iowa Wolves will be.

38. Cam Reynolds – Wisconsin Herd (two-way with Milwaukee): 16 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists on 46% from field and 42% from 3 on 7.1 attempts in 28 minutes per game with Stockton Kings of the G League
One of the most pleasant surprises of the 2018-19 G League season was 6’8 rookie forward Cam Reynolds. When he entered Stockton Kings training camp last year, he honestly stood as forgettable rookie due to his status as an inconsistent shooter with Tulane University. However, it didn’t take long for him to make G League fans and writers take notice as he immediately looked like a different player during his first month with the Stockton Kings.

In November, he averaged 14.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists on 46% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc on 6.7 attempts per game. That mix of volume and perimeter efficiency was honestly surprising considering how he shot only 33% from 3 during his four-year college career.

That progression continued to the point where he was averaging an unbelievable 23.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1 steal on 56% from field and 51% from 3 on 8.2 attempts per game during five games in March. The forward didn’t have a chance to improve on that impressive stretch as he signed a 10-day deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 9th. Reynolds impressed during his limited time with Minnesota as he averaged 5 points and 1.6 rebounds on 42% from the field and 41% from 3 on 2.7 attempts per game.

Although the Timberwolves placed him on waivers before the official start to NBA free agency, he didn’t have to wait long to get picked up as the Bucks signed him to a two-way on July 22nd. Through that deal, he’ll likely spend most of the 2019-20 season in the G League with the Herd. With that team, the 6’8 forward will be in position to improve on that rookie year as he’ll work alongside Milwaukee’s talented two-way guard Frank Mason.

37. Demetrius Jackson – South Bay Lakers: 15.4 points, 5.5 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game on 44% from the field and 31% from beyond the arc on 4.4 attempts per game in 66 total G League games:
Since leaving Notre Dame after his junior year to declare for the NBA Draft, Jackson has been caught in the proverbial pickle between the NBA and G League. Although that journey did start out in the Association, as he was selected with the 45th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Like a lot of players taken that late, Jackson never got much of an opportunity with the team as he played a grand total of 17 minutes with the Celtics before getting waived by the team in the following July.

In the following two seasons, Jackson stood in two-way purgatory with the Houston Rockets in 2017 and the Philadelphia 76ers in 2018-19. He was solid for both teams as he put up solid numbers in both locations. With Delaware and the RGV Vipers, he averaged 15.7 points, 5.1 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals on 46% from the field and 34% from beyond the arc in 34 total games.

Now in his fourth year as a pro, Jackson will look to build upon that solid stretch as an affiliate player for the South Bay Lakers. He might actually get a chance to improve his stock as a scorer as he’ll be working alongside pass-first guard David Stockton. In the moments he’s working as the team’s main facilitator, the young guard will have weapons to dish it off like Kostas Antetokounmpo, Zach Norvell, Jordan Caroline and Reggie Hearn.

36. CJ Wilcox – Fort Wayne Mad Ants: 15.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists on 47% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc on 6.5 attempts per game in a total of 41 G League games
For the first time since the 2016-17 season, Wilcox will enter the month of November healthy and ready for the upcoming season. Leading into the 2017-18 season, he suffered a right knee injury during training camp as a two-way player with the Trail Blazers roster which prevented him from stepping on the court until February 13th.

That season debut came with the Santa Cruz Warriors, where he 10.4 points, 2 rebounds on 45% from the field and 38% from 3 on 5.7 attempts in only 10 games. His brief run with Santa Cruz would later seem like a bright spot as the guard missed the 2018-19 season after suffering a torn Achilles during training camp with the Indiana Pacers.

One year after dealing with that misery, Wilcox will make his return to the G League as an affiliate player with the Indiana Pacers. Is it the best idea to get optimistic about a player that has struggled with injuries at the rate that the 6’5 guard has? Probably not. However, the veteran previously showed signs of brilliance back in the 2015-16 G League season with the Canton Charge and Bakersfield Jam (now Northern Arizona Suns).

He was the pinnacle of efficiency during that run where he averaged 18.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists on 46% from the field and 42% from 3 on 7.8 attempts per game. In that stint, he was a well-rounded offensive weapon that can be efficient from the perimeter, probe to the paint and even facilitate. After an off-season and two training camps where he was able to rehab and get back into shape, I’m personally betting that CJ Wilcox will return to that level as a member of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.

35. Chris Chiozza – Capital City Go-Go (two-way): 13.2 points, 7.7 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game on 44% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc on 4.3 attempts per game with the Capital City Go-Go and RGV Vipers:
To say that Chris Chiozza’s first month as a pro was lackluster would definitely be an understatement. During the month of November, he had an intense battle with inefficiency by averaging 10.6 points, 7.7 assists and 5 rebounds on 35% from the field and 24% from 3 on 4.7 attempts per game. For a lot of rookies, they might’ve lost their confidence after that rough first month.

However, that was the opposite for the Florida alum as his efficiency both grew and remained steady for the rest of the year. From December 1st through the end of the regular season, he averaged 13.7 points, 7.8 assists and 1.9 steals per game on 45% from the field and 44% from 3 on 4.3 attempts per game. That improved production caught the attention of the Houston Rockets, who signed the young guard to a 10-day deal with the Houston Rockets. He stayed with the organization for the remainder of the year making rare appearances with the RGV Vipers, their G League affiliate.

Similar to a lot of G Leaguers that get signed to late season contracts, Chiozza was waived by Houston once the calendar turned to July. It took until September 26th for him to figure out his immediate basketball future, as that date represented when the Wizards signed him to a training camp contract. Almost a month later on October 21st, that deal turned into a two-way contract. This will allow Chiozza to return to the Go-Go while having an opportunity to spend up to 45 days in the NBA with Washington.

34. Norvel Pelle – Delaware Blue Coats (two-way): 11.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 2.9 blocks per game on 70% from the field.
The fact that Norvel Pelle is on this top 50 list is a real testament to how hard the 6’10 big has worked to improve his game during his career. When he started his relationship with the G League back in the 2013-14 season, Pelle was a 20-year-old kid looking to continue his basketball career after being academically ineligible to play college ball.

During that year with the Delaware 87ers, he showed his upside by averaging 5.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in only 13 minutes per game. That playing time was limited due to Pelle struggling to actually stay on the court as he had 2.9 fouls per game. Those struggles persisted when he embarked on an overseas career where he played in Italy and Lebanon with Homenetmen Beirut, OpenJobMetis Varese and Fiat Torino from 2015-16 through 2017-18.

Following that three-year run in Europe, he returned to the United States in 2018-19 to play with the Delaware Blue Coats. Although he couldn’t totally push his foul troubles to the background, Pelle still had his best year as a pro. In only 23 minutes per game, he averaged 11.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 2.9 blocks on 70% from the field. Those numbers allowed him to finish 4th in the G League in blocks per game and maintain the league’s 2nd best True Shooting Percentage (72% TS%).

Although he wasn’t called up during that season, the Philadelphia 76ers still kept him on their radar. That was evident during the summer when they signed him to a two-way contract. This deal should allow Pelle to get his first taste of NBA regular season action, which is crazy to believe as someone that watched him struggle to stay on the court back in 2013.

33. Jemerrio Jones – Wisconsin Herd: 9.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.4 steals on 54% from the field in 25 minutes per game with the South Bay Lakers in the G League
4.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game on 36% from the field in 24 minutes per game in the NBA with the LA Lakers

Although Cam Reynolds was a pleasant surprise during the 2018-19 G League season, the former New Mexico State guard takes the crown for the player that absolutely came out of nowhere. Getting selected with the 18th overall pick in the 2019 NBA G League Draft, the 6’5 wing was immediately able to stand out as one of the most unique players in the league. Although he was in the starting lineup only six times and averaged 25 minutes per game, Jones was still able to stand as a special player due to being a tenacious defender and amazing rebounder.

His great play on defense is shown by how worse opposing teams six points worse when Jones was on the court (89.2 points per 100) compared to when he was sitting on the sidelines or called up (95.6 points per 100). As a rebounder, his 3.4 boards per game were more than the likes of Alan Williams, Amida Brimah, Chinanu Onuaku, and Chris Boucher. That great production ultimately allowed Jones to get called up by the Los Angeles Lakers on March 31st.

During his brief six-game run with the team, he transferred his rebounding and defense over to the NBA as he found a way to average 8.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 24 minutes per game. While the 6’5 guard’s offensive efficiency was awful compared to his run with South Bay, the ability to defend and rebound at the same rate shows that he honestly has a future at the NBA level.

After an off-season that saw him get traded to the Wizards and then get waived by the team on October 16th, Jones was signed by the Milwaukee Bucks to an Exhibit 10 contract before getting waived just a few hours later. These moves ultimately leads to Jones’ current spot as a member of the Wisconsin Herd, where he’ll join the talented duo of Frank Mason and Cam Reynolds. With those guys likely to handle most of the scoring load, expect to see Jones focus on improving his work as a rebounder, facilitator, and defender.

32. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot – Long Island Nets (two-way): 5.7 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 1.1 assists on 39% from the field and 32% from 3 on 2.5 attempts per game in 171 career NBA games
For most NBA teams, they use their two-way slots on high upside 2nd round/undrafted rookies or players that stood out in the G League. However, the Brooklyn Nets have taken a different path with the concept that was introduced for the 2017-18 NBA season. While there are examples of them following that path with Jacob Wiley and Theo Pinson, they’ve taken a few detours with Yakuba Outtara in 2017-18 and Alan Williams in 2018-19.

One year after signing the experienced center, they’ve basically put a middle finger to the normal way of using two-ways by signing Henry Ellenson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who have played a combined 247 games in the NBA. 171 of those have come from Luwawu-Cabarrot, who bounced around with 76ers, Bulls and Thunder after getting selected by Philadelphia with the 24th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.

As is probably evident from him bouncing around with three teams in that amount of years, Luwawu-Cabarrot wasn’t productive in the NBA. His efficiency took a stumble while being unable to contribute in the ways that were brought up in an article on him from 2016.

While those three years of lackluster play might remove most people’s optimism about a player, hope still rests in my heart. Is some of that due to not wanting to be proven wrong on the praise that was heaped at him three years ago? Definitely! However, he’s still an athletic 6’6 guard that plays great perimeter defense and is the owner of a pretty jumper. Those tools could ultimately led to him playing great basketball as a go-to guy for the Long Island Nets.

31. Marquis Teague – Memphis Hustle: 15.6 points, 5.7 assists, 2.7 rebounds on 43% from the field and 37% from 3 on 2.7 attempts per game in 161 career G League games.
For full transparency, Marquis Teague wasn’t part of this top 50 list just thirty minutes before I write this section. That change occurred after seeing ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski report that the Orlando Magic have signed Amile Jefferson to a standard two-year contract. While Jefferson was part of the list from the time of the rough draft to earlier today, him getting signed to a guaranteed NBA deal automatically makes him ineligible to this list dedicated to G Leaguers.

After that realization came, there was a fair bit of anxiety about making changes to a list where ⅕ of it is already set in stone. However, that worry subsided after taking a second look at Teague’s RealGM page as the eyes caught his great 2017-18 performance with the Memphis Hustle. Averaging 17.6 points, 6.1 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game on 45% from the field and 43% from beyond the arc on 3.2 attempts per game. In addition to those great averages, he also maintained a fantastic 2.7 Ast/TO ratio. To be honest, Teague probably would’ve been a G League All-Star if that still existed.

Following a year in South Korea, Teague returns to the G League with the Memphis Hustle. The guard will have a great chance to recapture that 2017-18 magic through being the likely starting point guard for opening night. In addition to that, he’ll have a lot of weapons to dish it off to which include: Dusty Hannahs, John Konchar, Yuta Watanabe, Jarrod Uthoff, Bennie Boatwright and Shaq Buchannan.

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Kendrick Nunn has been among the biggest surprises in the NBA landscape this 2019-20 season. Nunn earned a spot in the Miami Heat’s starting lineup and has so far been thriving as part of a new nucleus in South Beach.

So, how did the Heat land an undrafted rookie with such high upside and untapped potential?

The Heat have had a long history of finding diamonds in the rough — from Bruce Bowen to Malik Allen to Tyler Johnson to Udonis Haslem, who spent his entire career next to Dwyane Wade and still finds himself employed by the team at 39 years old.

Those reasons start with the scouting department, as they are the ones tasked with identifying potential NBA players and tracking them through their venture into the league:

“There’s a story behind each one of them,” said Miami’s longtime Director of NBA Scouting, Chet Kammerer, according to David Aldridge of The Athletic. “We’ve been fortunate the last three or four years getting a guy that goes undrafted that we like. Part of it is I think we probably spend more time looking at ’61,’ as I call it, than most teams. Because most teams have two draft picks. They take a long look at guys who go in the 40s and 50s (in the second round). There’s years where we don’t have any draft picks. Since I’ve been there, we’ve always looked at finding the best undrafted players. I think that gives us a little bit of an edge. People ask me that and I think we spend a little more time combing through those guys.”

Nunn was no different. He played for the Golden State Warriors during Summer League after going undrafted out of Oakland. He was second in the nation in scoring, finishing right behind Trae Young with 25.9 points per game while winning the Horizon League Player of the Year award.

Pleading guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge in 2016 kept bigger schools at a distance, which is why he wound up at Oakland after getting kicked off the Illinois team following his plea deal.

It took one matchup between Golden State and Miami for the Heat to see his potential:

“The day we played them, he was really good,” Kammerer said. “He was better than most of us thought. We kind of talked about that, this is a kid we need to track. I give Adam (Simon, the Heat’s assistant general manager) and Andy (Elisburg, Miami’s Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations) a lot of credit for that. Rather than just bring him up, we hoped he’d be available for a late signing in April (of 2019) like most teams are doing now. We were thinking of bringing him up earlier and they were like ‘no, let’s wait a little longer and see if he’s there.’ And he was available. He was a guy who was available.”

The Heat would have to do some waiting, however, as Nunn signed an Exhibit 10 contract with Golden State before he was cut during training camp in 2018 and promptly stashed to the Santa Cruz roster of the G League.

Nunn came off the bench for Santa Cruz in a Lou Williams-like role — something that made a lot of NBA teams barely gloss over his resume, despite averaging 19 points in 29 minutes per game for the G League team, shooting 47.3% from the floor, 33.5% from deep, and a strong 85.6% from the foul line.

The young guard pushed hard for a 10-day contract, but the Warriors were already elbows-deep in the luxury tax, and signing him to a 10-day deal would result in hundreds of thousands in tax payments.

After the G League playoffs had come to an end, the Heat swooped in swiftly, offering Nunn a three-year deal shortly after waiving Rodney McGruder, who the Los Angeles Clippers picked up from waivers.

The rest will be part of NBA lore from here on.

Nunn posted 112 points in his first five games in the league, breaking the record for most points scored in that stretch by an undrafted player, surpassing Connie Hawkins’ 105. The 6-foot-2 rookie impressed even more, as his 112-point tally was the most recorded by a rookie in his first five games since Kevin Durant scored 113 in 2007.

Through seven games, the rookie gem is leading the Heat in scoring with 18.3 points per game on 45.9% shooting from the floor and 40.9% from deep, showing that rough diamonds just need the right polishing to shine the brightest.