Welcome to the Monday edition of The Cooler, where schadenfreude works both ways. Let’s get to it:
*Before we get to one of the greatest buzzer beaters in basketball history (and the elimination of a certain former Timberwolves player), let’s talk for a moment about the Western Conference Finals.
Portland, which is easily becoming one of the most likable and easiest teams to root for in professional sports thanks in large part to its backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, outlasted Denver on the road in Game 7 on Sunday to earn a spot in the conference finals. The back-and-forth slug-fest of a series was quite reminiscent of the throwback NBA — and reminded me a lot of the Wolves vs. Kings Western Conference semifinals in 2004, which also culminated with a low-scoring Game 7.
The reward for Portland is facing Golden State, gunning for its fourth NBA title in the last five years (and really what could be its fifth in a row). Kevin Durant figures to miss at least the early part of the series, so the Warriors are down to the star players who won one of the championships and had a 73-win regular season before Durant arrived.
More to the point locally: Any increased exposure for the Warriors brings to mind the franchise-altering draft blunder in 2009 when David Kahn passed twice on drafting Steph Curry in favor of two other point guards (Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn). And yes, we are coming up in a month on one decade since that happened. But no, people will never forget about it. Do you still talk about the Herschel Walker trade? Well there you go.
Golden State playing Portland, though, is a double Wolves draft whammy. In 2013, in charge of the draft for the first time, the late Flip Saunders passed on taking McCollum at No. 9. Instead, he sent the pick to Utah for two later picks in the round — taking Trey Burke for Utah while getting Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng at No. 14 and No. 21, respectively, via the Jazz. (Giannis Antetokounmpo was No. 15, by the way).
McCollum doesn’t hurt as much as Curry, but it’s a sneaky hurt. That said, all the revisionist history about the draft tends to forget that taking either Curry, McCollum or both would 1) Have altered those players’ trajectories. Maybe they don’t become the stars they are now. 2) Probably would have made the Wolves good enough that they wouldn’t have had the No. 1 pick in 2015 and therefore would not have Karl-Anthony Towns.
That won’t stop you, though, from torturing yourself with what-ifs. So feel free!
*OK, yes, Kawhi Leonard’s shot. You’ve almost certainly seen the four-bounces-and-in buzzer beater by now. A shot going in from that angle in that manner would be pretty stunning in the course of a regular-season game. To have it decide Game 7 of a playoff series is astounding.
Three extra things to think about …
1 This excellent photo. It’s like one of those Renaissance paintings. Zoom in and study the faces if you have 15 minutes to spare.
2 This on-point tweet.
3 The future of Jimmy Butler. You might notice the former Wolves guard at the bottom of the picture above, staring at the ball going through the hoop.
The 76ers made it one round further than the Wolves did last year after their similar all-in push for Butler, but they have huge questions. Sign Butler — who himself has never advanced past the second round of the NBA playoffs — to a huge deal with big money committed or soon to be committed to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons? Max out Tobias Harris, too? Or instead of Butler?
Butler was excellent through most of the playoffs, but he fired a dud Sunday (16 points on 5 of 14 shooting).
“These are the type of cornerstones you want in your organization,” Butler said after Game 7 in reference to Embiid and Simmons. You can read that as a guy surveying the room and still angling for the biggest contract possible. You can read it as a guy who genuinely believes in those two young players. You can read it as a rebuke of Towns and Andrew Wiggins, the young players he left behind in Minnesota.
Maybe it’s some combination. Regardless, Butler could soon be playing for his fourth team in three seasons. Or he could stay in Philadelphia.
One thing is certain: There were far more tears shed Sunday in Philadelphia over the way the series ended than in Minnesota.