Even Cavs Players Are Doubtful They Can Win a Championship This Season

Contrary to popular opinion, LeBron James is human after all, and though his run of seven consecutive trips to the NBA Finals might make him seem otherworldly, it doesn't make him invincible. This season more than ever, it feels like Cleveland is surviving rather than thriving. At some point, someone in the East is going to beat them. And after Cleveland's 118-108 home loss to the defending champion Golden State Warriors last night, we might've officially reached that point.

According to ESPN's Dave McMenamin, there is growing discontent and a strong sense of concern within the Cleveland locker room. The Cavs are 26-17 with only three wins in their last 12 games. They got blown out by a combined 62 points against Toronto and Minnesota last week. They might have the worst defense in the entire NBA, and they've slid so far that many of the team's veterans now doubt whether they can fix their problems this season.

Age. One-dimensional role players. Defensive-issues that go far beyond fundamentals. Several prominent players told ESPN, Cleveland.com, and The Athletic that the team's problems won't go away simply by getting healthy. 

This is not the first time we've heard grumblings coming out of Cleveland this season. Just last week, Yahoo! Sports reported there were complaints in the locker room about “personal agendas” getting in the way of success. Some Cavs players thought LeBron was chasing assists in an effort to win one final MVP award. Others didn't like coach Tyronn Lue's rotations. The bickering reeks of familiarity, like a family that's been living together far too long.

In past years during their inevitable regular season lapses, the team could lean on Kyrie Irving. But Irving is gone, and his replacement is a 28-year-old, 5'9″ defensive problem who may or may not ever be the same after returning from a major hip injury.

LeBron has to know all of this. He also knows Cleveland holds the rights to Brooklyn's first-round pick next summer—and that there are several names potentially available on the market. That pick and this year's trade deadline might be Cleveland's final chance to position themselves for one last run at a title. Among the NBA's contenders, they have the least to lose and the most to gain by making a deal.

No one ever expects a run to end before it does. Miami's Big Three era faded with a whimper, getting blitzed by 14 points per game against San Antonio in the 2014 Finals. Kobe's Lakers collapsed in a surprising sweep in 2011, burnt out and exhausted. Before that, it was Shaq and the Lakers getting old before our eyes and even before that, it was Houston and Hakeem Olajuwon getting run into the ground by Seattle and the Detroit Bad Boys wilting under the athleticism of Jordan's Bulls. 

Is this Cleveland's moment of reckoning? If it is, it shouldn't surprise anyone.

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Carmelo Anthony ‘Done’ With NBA Refs

According to Royce Young, Carmelo Anthony last week said, “You look at somebody wrong, you get a technical foul. You say one wrong thing, you get a technical foul.” Last night, it was true. Russell Westbrook was ejected after receiving two technicals for yelling at the referee, after the ref blatantly missed a call on Westbrook. The ref instead called a traveling violation on Westbrook, which he didn't respond kindly to. 

Westbrook finished the game with 19 points, 16 rebounds, and 9 assists while leading the Thunder to a 95-88 victory over the Sacramento Kings. However, Carmelo Anthony and head coach Billy Donovan weren't happy with the officials after the game. Anthony stated that he was “done with them” when speaking to reporters last night. 

Westbrook also didn't speak with reporters after the game (duh) which is a good thing because it probably saved him some money from a fine he would've received. Young points out that this was the second straight home game that Westbrook left the locker room before speaking with reporters. The Thunder have been up and down all season long, and still haven't figured out their identity. They sit at fifth in the Western Conference at 24-20, but if they figure this thing out, lead by last season's MVP and DPOY candidate, Paul George—the sky is the limit for this Thunder team. 

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Did Jay Rock Take Shots at Big Sean on “King’s Dead”?

Jay Rock's star-studded single “King's Dead” features labelmate Kendrick Lamar, Future, and James Blake, along with solid production from Mike Will Made-It and Teddy Walton. That alone should get people talking, but it also sounds like the Watts representative has bars for a certain rapper: Big Sean. Though the suspected references are subtle, the theory isn’t much of a reach when you consider Sean’s ongoing feud with Kendrick.

Let’s take a look at some of the lyrics.

At the beginning of his verse, Jay uses the term “lil bitch,” which is a regular Sean ad-lib and one that Kendrick used on “The Heart Part 4.” (That song was also suspected of being a Sean diss track).

And it's like that, lil bitch
MVP, I get no sleep
No, I don't like that, lil bitch
Bust that open, I want that ocean
Yeah that bite back, lil bitch
Do it bite back, lil bitch?
Need two life jackets, lil bitch

Jay then goes on to rap: “I ain't gon’ hold you, I ain't gon’ press you, never control you/I ain't gon’ front you, keep it 100, I don't know you.” The use of the word “control” could be a reference to Sean’s 2013 song “Control” featuring Kendrick and Jay Electronica. The No I.D.-produced record seemingly sparked the beef between the rappers, as K-Dot rapped:

And them niggas should know what time it is
And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale
Pusha T, Meek Millz, ASAP Rocky, Drake
Big Sean, Jay Electron', Tyler, Mac Miller
I got love for you all, but I'm tryna murder you niggas

Though Sean insisted he approved Kendrick’s verse, “Control” was ultimately left off his sophomore album, Hall of Fame. Which brings us to exhibit C: Jay later raps, “Stutter steppin', got a Hall of Fame in all my posters.” Interesting.

And then we have these lines: “My bitch been ready, my clique's been ready/My shit's been ready, my check's been ready.” Though it may be a stretch, the use of the word “clique” could be alluding to Sean’s feature on the Cruel Summer track “Clique,” with Kanye West and Jay Z.  

So, was Jay actually taking subtle jabs at Sean? You be the judge. “King’s Dead” is now available to stream on SoundCloud. The track is the lead single off Jay's upcoming studio album, and will appear on the Black Panther soundtrack.

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Does The Heisman Trophy Matter Anymore? Is Ben Simmons As Good as Lebron? | Out Of Bounds

On today’s episode of #OutofBounds, the team determines whether or not Mayfield deserves the Heisman trophy and if it even holds the same significance that it once did. They take their picks on who will win MVP this season in the NFL. Gilbert Arenas shared stories of what it was like on the court with Lebron James and Dwight Howard as rookies, and we got a taste of what it’s like to be a Bills fan. Fortunately none of us are. 

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Mia Khalifa and Gilbert Arenas Discuss DeMarcus Cousins’ Sacramento Homecoming on ‘Out of Bounds’

On today’s episode of Out of Bounds, Mia, Gilbert, Pierce, and Adam tackle the wackness of Thursday Night Football matchups, how Adam was correct about picking Giannis Antetokounmpo (a.k.a. the Greek Freak) as a dark horse MVP candidate, and David Stern’s change in position on marijuana. The crew also discuss DeMarcus Cousins' Sacramento homecoming, unpack a surprising scandal involving doping in dogs, and dive into an unfortunate catfish scheme involving Steeler Cameron Sutton. 

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Who Won the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas Trade? We All Did.

Well, the trade everyone was expecting to happen finally happened. The Cleveland Cavaliers sent All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night, in exchange for fellow All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas and a whole mess of other assets, including Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick—a pick Celtics GM Danny Ainge had seemed loathe to give up for anything. In the end, not only did he give it up, he gave it up to the team that beat his in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Say what you want about the NBA, just never say it’s not fascinating.

The Celtics now have just one starter—center Al Horford—remaining from a 53-win team. Their longest-tenured player, 23-year-old Marcus Smart, was a first-round pick in 2014. They gave up nearly all they had left to land Irving. Thomas was the heart and soul of the team, an undersized scorer who dominated fourth quarters and had completed the unlikely journey from the final pick of the 2011 Draft to MVP candidate. Jae Crowder is a 27-year-old defensive stalwart on a bargain of a deal. Ante Žižić is a 20-year-old, 7-foot center with tremendous upside and even more tremendous accent marks. It was a lot to offer up even without the Nets pick—especially for someone who’d expressly said he wanted out.

But consider what the Celtics got back: Irving may have been drafted the same year as Thomas, but he’s three years younger and locked into a max deal (making $9 million less a year than Horford) with a player option in 2019. He’s six inches taller than Thomas as well, and, alongside Gordon Hayward, makes for quite the backcourt. And while Thomas’s fourth-quarter exploits are the stuff of legend, Irving has had his moments in the spotlight as well, including, well, the biggest shot in Cleveland Cavaliers history. If you’re ever going to go all-in for a single player, a 25-year-old four-time All-Star who’s excelled in three straight NBA Finals is the one to go for.

As for the Cavaliers, they got one hell of a return for someone who clearly wanted to be elsewhere. They had no leverage at all, yet received an All-Star still in his prime, a valuable building block in Crowder, and effectively a pair of first-round picks, seeing that Žižić has yet to make his NBA debut. While Thomas doesn’t exactly replace everything Kyrie is able to do, the addition of Crowder should enable LeBron to get a little more rest next season after leading the league in minutes played. And next summer, should James decide to decamp for the West along with all the other All-Stars, the Cavaliers will have yet another top pick. Or maybe the prospect of getting another top pick helps convince James to stay. It’s a win/win.

None of this is meant to sell IT short (er, sorry), since he’s become one hell of a player since he was drafted 60th overall out of Washington in 2011. He’s made multiple leaps in his career, from bench player to starter, from star to superstar. He averaged a career-high 28.9 ppg last year and finished fifth in MVP voting a year after averaging 22.2 ppg and making his first All-Star Game. The big question is what is that worth. With his Bird Rights travelling with him to Cleveland, he stands to receive a major payday when his deal expires next summer. (This season he’ll make a paltry $6.2 million.) It’s possible that Ainge just wasn’t ready to pay max money to an undersized crowd favorite—and maybe Cleveland won’t either. They have a year to make up their minds.

Who won the trade? That’s yet to be seen. They’ve gotta play the games first. But on the surface at least, this appears to be one of those rare deals where no one really loses. (Except for perhaps NBA2K, who put a Cavs-uniformed Kyrie on the cover of their latest game.) The rest of us, though, we all win. Because when the season starts on October 17th, guess who plays each other on TNT first? Even Charles Barkley might watch that game.

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Clippers Agree to Send Chris Paul to Rockets in Blockbuster Trade

Chris Paul is on his way to the Houston Rockets, according to a report from Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski, in a move that is expected to shake up the NBA's power structure.

Reports came down early Wednesday morning that Paul moving to the Rockets was a serious possibility. ESPN's Marc Stein said at the time that James Harden was part of the recruiting team for Houston, urging Paul to join up with him to take on other Western Conference powers.

Paul and Harden were “determined to play together,” so once it became clear that Paul was going to leave for Houston in free agency, he reportedly arranged for the Clippers to send him in a trade instead in order to leave Los Angeles with something in return. The Clippers will receive Rockets players Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Lou Williams, and a 2018 first-round pick from Houston.

Things aren't so great on LA's end of things, but this is as good of a return as you could hope for when a star player has informed you he could leave you with nothing. There are other dominoes to fall for the Clippers—Blake Griffin's free agency just got a whole lot more interesting—but they'll come out of a no-win situation with something, at least. In a post on his Twitter, Paul expressed his admiration for the Los Angeles community and thanked the fans for all their support during his time there.

Of course, the focus will be on Houston's end, and NBA Twitter was sent into hysterics with a single tweet, hardly knowing how to process Paul leaving L.A. to join up with Harden. Though some expressed concern about each player's preference to work with the ball in their hands, the general reaction was one of excitement about the possibilities.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding Paul's offseason, the Rockets never seemed like a real threat to obtain his services. Early buzz revolved around Paul going to San Antonio, where he would have been the clear alpha dog in the Spurs' back court from day one. Now, he'll have to share that space with last year's MVP runner-up, who had transitioned to playing the de facto point guard role under Mike D'Antoni. There's also the question of whether Paul will buy into D'Antoni's offense, as his teams have traditionally played at a slower, more methodical pace at Paul's behest, while D'Antoni is all about running and gunning.  

But if the Rockets can get it to work, they might be one of the most exciting offensive teams to watch in the history of the league. Harden and Paul are ruthlessly efficient offensive players and more than capable as shooting threats off-the-ball, and if they come to an understanding about sharing the workload, there's no telling what their offensive ceiling is. 

For those of you wondering how Kevin Durant joining the Warriors might shift power around the league, you're looking at a direct product. Faced with an unstoppable juggernaut, players and teams are going to move heaven and earth just to give themselves a chance against Golden State. 

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How Draymond Green’s Suspension in Last Year’s Finals Changed NBA History

There comes a crossroads in every sport where a single play or moment transforms everything that comes after. The ripples affect everything. Sometimes they are more like a tsunami, and an entire sport is restructured. That’s what occurred when LeBron James casually tripped Draymond Green and then stepped over him in Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals, provoking an emotional Green to whip his right hand at James’ groin in retaliation.

Because of Draymond’s series of kicks to Steven Adams’ baby-making area in the Western Conference Finals, and a tremendously stupid takedown of Michael Beasley in the waning moments in Game 3 of Golden State’s first-round series against Houston, he was assessed a Flagrant 1 for the James retaliation, which triggered a suspension for Game 5 of the Finals.

The NBA would never be the same.

It’s not crazy to suggest that if Draymond had been on the floor in Game 5, the Warriors would have gone on to win the game and the series. The fall-out from the suspension and the fact—here we go—the Cavs came back from 3-1 down against a 73-win Warriors team and the first-ever unanimous MVP to claim the title, transforms Green’s suspension into a gigantic boulder dropped in the NBA Lake with concentric tidal waves crashing into the surrounding shore and changing the entire landscape of the league. What would have happened if he wasn’t suspended?

For starters, the Cavs don’t win the title and blow up their core nucleus.

The 2017 Voltron in the Bay doesn’t ever form if Draymond Green isn’t suspended for Game 5, and the NBA is a completely different place. For that reason alone, Green’s groin thwack will reverberate throughout history.

A second-straight loss in the Finals to the same Warriors team likely means a monumental change. Cleveland general manager David Griffin had already shown midway through the 2015-16 season he had no qualms making big moves, replacing coach David Blatt with lead assistant Tyronn Lue despite the fact the Cavs had the best record in the Eastern Conference at the time.

The Kevin Love trade whispers would have ratcheted up into a piercing howl and he’s likely not playing for the Cavaliers in 2016-17. Whoever he’s traded to, lets say Boston, is then missing whomever they gave up to get him; in Boston’s case, their 2017 draft pick and some other players to a third team who then sends their star to the Cavs. (Remember, LeBron isn’t waiting around for some rookie, even the No. 1 pick—like when Andrew Wiggins was traded for Love the fall after James arrived in Cleveland.)

Maybe Kyrie Irving—LeBron’s current mentee—gets dealt, and the Cavs bring in a pass-first point guard, the same playmaker LeBron groused about not having earlier this year.

Lue isn’t brought back as coach. Remember, in late July of 2016 Lue signed a five-year, $35 million (fifth year is team option) extension to remain Cleveland's head coach.

LeBron still opts out of his contract, but signs another two-year deal, explicitly putting more pressure on Cavs brass to give him the players he needs to really compete—luxury tax be damned—with a Warriors juggernaut who just won back-to-back titles and an NBA-record 73 regular-season games.

James also falls to 2-5 in the NBA Finals, and doesn’t leapfrog all-time greats Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan, Larry Bird, and Kobe Bryant like many felt he did after his historic comeback win over the Warriors. The Michal Jordan comparisons never really gain serious traction. People continue to say dumb things about James inability in the “clutch.” Some in Cleveland start to wonder if James will ever win a ring in Cleveland, and we spend most of the 2016-17 season wondering about his future with the Cavs.

J.R. Smith signs elsewhere in the summer of 2017 for substantially less money. Smith stupidly opted out to be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015, but no one really wanted him. He then re-signed with Cleveland to a paltry-by-comparison two-year deal for $10.4 million with a player option for second year. He opted out again after winning the title and re-signed a four-year, $57-million deal in mid October of 2016. That doesn’t happen if Green isn’t suspended.

LeBron James Draymond Green Game 4 NBA Finals 2016
Image via USA Today Sports/David Richard

Perhaps the most important Cavs consequence after Green’s suspension: Matthew Dellavedova likely doesn’t get his own signature sneaker.

The biggest changes happen on the Golden State side, though, and those reverberations are felt throughout the league.

Draymond Green likely wins Finals MVP or—depending on how Game 5 goes—Stephen Curry does, cementing his status as an all-time great. Instead, many feel he’s an overrated two-time MVP who can’t hack it on the biggest stage. If Draymond wins MVP, he instantly becomes an all-time great, too. But, he probably still gets arrested over the summer for punching a Michigan State wide receiver.

Kevin Durant never goes to Golden State. He admitted as much in a Rolling Stone cover story that came out the fall after his shocking free agency announcement:

That means KD’s likely back with Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, and Russ doesn’t average a triple-double over the entirety of the 2016-17 season. Because of this, James Harden becomes the de facto 2017 MVP front-runner after teaming with Mike D’Antoni to bring seven seconds or less to Texas.

Affecting the 2017 MVP is one thing, but Durant’s decision to join the Warriors had much bigger ramifications. Super teams have been around in the NBA since Red Auerbach was chomping on a cigar and hoodwinking rival executives in smoke-filled back rooms, but nothing resembling the 2017 Warriors, who have two MVPs in their prime; a Defensive Player of the Year threat every season and perhaps the best defender in the space-and-pace era, and maybe the best two-way off-guard in the entire league, who is only their fourth-best player.

The 2017 Voltron in the Bay doesn’t ever form if Draymond Green isn’t suspended for Game 5, and the NBA is a completely different place. For that reason alone, Green’s groin thwack will reverberate throughout history as one of the biggest watershed moments in NBA history.

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Lil B Offers to Lift Curse From James Harden Following Horrendous Playoff Performance

What in the world happened to James Harden during the Rockets’ elimination playoff game against the Spurs on Thursday night? That’s the question that many NBA fans both inside and outside of Houston were asking after San Antonio destroyed the Rockets 114-75 to advance to the Western Conference Finals, where they will face off against the Warriors.

The Spurs played Game 6 of their series against the Rockets without the services of their superstar Kawhi Leonard, who suffered an ankle injury in Game 5, but Harden played so poorly against the Spurs that it didn’t even matter. He scored just 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting and committed six turnovers during the game. And worse, he looked disinterested in playing for most of the night, which caused more than a few fans to question what he was doing:

To his credit, Harden shouldered the blame for the blowout loss after the game.

“Everything falls on my shoulders,” he said. “I take responsibility for it, both ends of the floor. You know, it’s tough, especially the way we lost at home for Game 6. But it happened. Now we move forward.”

Harden, who didn’t score his first points of the game against the Spurs until almost the six-minute mark in the second quarter, also said that the Rockets simply struggled to get into any sort of rhythm at the start of the game.

“I feel like I was making some passes, and we just didn’t knock down shots or whatever the case may be,” said Harden, who averaged 28.5 points and 8.5 assists during the Rockets’ playoff run. “As a team, as a unit, we didn’t have a rhythm, and they capitalized on that.”

And while there might be some truth to that, Harden himself was so bad that some people accused him of fixing the game, as if that was the only explanation for his putrid performance:

But Lil B saw things differently. Way back in May 2015, the rapper called Harden out for stealing his cooking dance and threatened to curse him:

Rockets fans begged Lil B not to put his infamous Based God Curse on Harden, but it was to no avail. Harden continued to use the cooking dance, and eventually, Lil B cursed him. And it looked like there was something to that curse after Harden put up a terrible 14-point, 12-turnover performance against the Warriors during an elimination game in the 2015 NBA Playoffs. He also shot just 2-of-11 from the field in that game.

Lil B briefly lifted the curse from Harden in June 2015, but it didn't last. He credited the curse with helping Harden set a new NBA record for most turnovers in a single season in April 2016:

He also warned Harden about using the cooking dance again this past April and reminded him about the curse:

And as recently as just last week, he spoke with ESPN’s The Undefeated about the curse and said Harden “is the only player in the NBA that’s cursed” at the moment. Kevin Durant had been subjected to the Based God Curse in the past, but Lil B lifted it after he joined the Warriors last summer.

But is the curse really the reason Harden played as poorly as he did against the Spurs on Thursday night? We can’t believe we’re actually saying this, but it’s as good an explanation as some of the others we’ve seen. There are literally people who think Harden threw the game to benefit the mafia, so who are we to say that the Based God Curse didn’t play a role in Harden’s struggles?

Whatever the case may be, Lil B is now offering to lift the curse from Harden—if he’s willing to put his ego to the side and talk to Lil B this offseason. Shortly after the Rockets got bounced from the playoffs, Lil B sent out this tweet:

And plenty of people responded to it by urging Harden to pick up the phone and call Lil B to have the curse lifted:

Whether you buy into this Based God Curse business or not, it’s clear that something wasn’t right with Harden on Thursday night. So it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea for him to take whatever steps he feels are necessary—including possibly calling Lil B—to correct the problems he had before next season rolls around. Otherwise, this curse might continue to haunt him.

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Isaiah Thomas Is Now a Certified Celtics Legend

Over the summer, the Boston Celtics went all in pursuing free agent Kevin Durant. Not only did Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens bring their own players, they even enlisted Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to help recruit. The hope was that Brady, the reigning Boston-area champion, could help convince KD to become the next Celtics great. Little did any of them know, that next great was with them the whole time.

Isaiah Thomas came to the Celtics in February of 2015 as part of a three-team deal with the Pistons and the Suns. Thomas was the last pick of the 2011 Draft, 60th overall, selected by the Sacramento Kings. The 5’9” Thomas was a revelation for a Kings team desperately in need of one, but they already had Darren Collison, so they traded Thomas to the Suns for Alex Oriakhi—the 57th pick in the 2013 Draft, he’d never play a single game in the NBA—and a trade exception. Kings gonna Kings.

The thought this past summer was that Durant could become the next Celtic in line to receive that honor. That wasn’t the first time Thomas was overlooked. It might very well be the last. 

Which brings us to last night. Thomas, fresh off delivering a eulogy for his younger sister and hours of dental surgery following an impromptu on-court extraction in Game 1, dropped 53 points on the Wizards, the second-highest total in Celtics playoff history, leading the Celtics to an overtime Game 2 win. He scored 29 in the fourth quarter and overtime alone, stared down the much larger Markieff Morris, outdueled John Wall (who put up 40 points and 13 assists), and did it all on what would have been his sister Chyna’s 23rd birthday. A 2-0 series lead is not insurmountable, of course, but it may as well be with the Celtics—they’re 34-0 all-time in series where they take the first two games.

Circumstances aside, Thomas has simply been doing in the playoffs what he’s done all season long. He was 7th in PER, second in Offensive Win Shares, as the Celtics posted the best record in the East. He missed six games, in which the Celtics went 2-4. In any other season Thomas would have been a serious MVP candidate. He averaged nearly 29 points per game, scored over 2,000 points, dropped 20 in the All-Star Game. He’s been on NBA Jam fire all year long. An All-Star last season as well, his leap this year should make him a lock for Most Improved Player.

In the playoffs, all he’s done is drop 33 on the Bulls the day after his sister was killed in a car crash, then lead the top-seeded Celtics back to a six-game series win after dropping the first two at home. He lost his 3-point shooting stroke through the final three games of the first round, going a combined 3-of-26, but rediscovered it in time for the second, shooting 5-of-11 in Game 1 and 5-of-12 in Game 2. His Celtics have won six straight playoff games now, and seem destined for a showdown with the Cavaliers that few expected after going down 0-2 to the eight-seeded Bulls. And he’s apparently made longtime fan Floyd Mayweather a lot of money.

Thomas’s emergence as a top-level postseason star comes at an interesting time in Celtics history as well. Paul Pierce, the 2008 Finals MVP, announced his retirement after 18 seasons. Soon enough, Pierce’s No. 34 will rise to the Boston Garden rafters. The thought this past summer was that Durant could become the next Celtic in line to receive that honor. That wasn’t the first time Thomas was overlooked. It might very well be the last.  

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