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Larry looks back: Bird on Magic, free agency and shooting 3s

Sat Jun 22 9:40am ET
By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer

Larry Bird's place in NBA history stretches from the record book to the rule book.

A Hall of Fame player later became a successful coach and team executive. Along the way, he watched free agency transform from something rarely discussed to practically a year-round conversation - with his own name one of the talking points - and the 3-point shot go from afterthought to essential.

He will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award during the NBA Awards on Monday along with Magic Johnson, his rival-turned-friend with whom he competed in some of the most important events - they were bigger than just games - in basketball history.

Their meeting in the 1979 NCAA championship game is still the highest-rated college game on television, and the 1992 U.S. Olympic team they captained to gold in Barcelona was a pivotal moment in basketball truly becoming a global game.

''We came in in 1980. Here it is 2019. Whoever thought we'd be around this long?'' Bird said. ''But it's a great honor and we've seen a lot in this NBA over the years, and a lot of good and it continues to get better.''

It's been a little rocky lately for Johnson, with his recent resignation as Lakers president and subsequent reports of a bad work ethic and bad working environment. Bird eventually decided to read some of the stories for himself and was dubious.

''That's not him,'' Bird said. ''That don't sound like Magic at all to me and I just hope everything works out for him because we have a good relationship.''

It grew through the 1980s, when the Lakers won five titles and the Celtics three. With the expectation of competing for the championship every year, Bird never thought about leaving Boston or even when he'd be able to consider it.

That's not the way today's NBA works.

''I always thought I was going to be in one place and play for Boston and I always felt like Kevin (McHale) and Robert (Parish), them guys felt the same way. I really don't know that, but that's what I thought because when you're winning at a high level, why change?'' Bird said.

''But free agency's different. Everybody makes their own decisions and the thinking of the game is different. Everybody's trying to brand themselves and have their own teams. I never thought about that. I just wanted to go out there and play and try to win that game that night.''

The salary cap was introduced in the NBA a few years into Bird's career and one of the spending exceptions allows teams to exceed the cap to pay their own veteran free agents more with an extra year on their contract. With Bird reaching free agency when the cap arrived in 1983, the rule became known as the Larry Bird Exception, or Bird Rights.

Bird Rights are the biggest advantage an incumbent team owns in trying to retain a top player. Bird is glad the rule helps players earn closer to what he feels they're worth, though having your name on an important piece of NBA business isn't as cool as it sounds.

''I know a few years ago I was hoping they'd take that out of the last Collective Bargaining Agreement because you're sitting at home sometimes and you hear your name and you're like, `What are they talking about now?' and it's always the Bird Exception or the Bird Rule,'' Bird said.

After averaging 24.3 points, 10 rebounds and 6.3 assists in his 13 seasons, the Indiana native coached the Pacers to the NBA Finals and later built an Eastern Conference contender as team president. He is the only person in league history to be voted MVP, Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year.

Bird still does some scouting for the Pacers and is a fan of today's wide-open style of play and its heavy reliance on the 3-point shot.

''My concern 15 years ago was everybody's going to be 6-(foot)-9 like Magic Johnson at the point guard and the little guys are going to get squeezed out. Now it's just the opposite,'' Bird said. ''The big guys are getting squeezed out and the little guys are taking over, and the 3-point line has been there since 1980 and nobody utilized it until the last 15, 17 years. I can remember watching Kentucky play and Rick Pitino was shooting 3-pointers all the time and I go Jesus Christ, no way you can win like that. Now if you don't do it, you're not going to win.''

Bird won the first three 3-point contests at All-Star weekend and is on any list of the game's greatest shooters, though he said rarely even practiced the shot in an era when pounding the ball inside was the preference.

''Matter of fact, when I played we never guarded guys out there,'' Bird said.

Now teams have to - even when players are far behind the arc. Bird is amazed with what Golden State has done with its long-range shooting, marveling in particular at Klay Thompson's NBA-record 37 points in the third quarter of a game on Jan. 23, 2015.

''I mean, to me, I just can't believe that,'' Bird said. ''I played this game. I've been out there and I got hot before, but to score 37 points? I remember I scored 24 in a quarter and I go, `Geez, nobody will ever do that again.'''

Bird won Rookie of the Year after his first season and a gold medal after his last. In between, the game exploded in popularity and financially.

The records may be broken, but Larry Legend's legacy will last forever.

''I'm not a guy that talks about my past because I always look to the future, but you really sit down and look at it, I've been involved in a lot, it's pretty nice,'' Bird said.

Player Notes
Lou Williams Aug 5 9:00am ET

Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams made his NBA Bubble debut on Tuesday, finishing a 117-115 loss to the Suns with seven points, six assists, and six rebounds. He was clearly rusty, shooting blanks from downtown with two attempts and committing three turnovers in 21 minutes. It looks like Sweet Lou will need a bit time to get into game shape, but he's in a great spot to perform at the moment, with the Clippers' second major bench contributor Montrezl Harrell (personal) missing. Williams will have three more games this week to find his form.

Paul George Aug 5 8:50am ET

Los Angeles Clippers guard/forward Paul George had very little success from the field in Tuesday's clash with the Phoenix Suns, missing six of his seven attempts from downtown and finishing 6-for-17 overall from the floor. However, he still managed to exceed his scoring average with 23 points thanks to a perfect 10-for-10 record at the charity stripe. George added six rebounds and five assists. He had started life very well in Orlando, especially from deep with a 14-for-22 record, so this should just be a blip. George gets a chance to bounce back on Thursday against Dallas.

Kawhi Leonard Aug 5 8:40am ET

Los Angeles Clippers small forward Kawhi Leonard led the team with 27 points in Tuesday's 117-115 loss to the Suns, shooting 10-for-21 from the field and 2-for-4 from outside. He also had seven rebounds with three assists and one steal. Kawhi has had some shooting struggles in Orlando but he's starting to find his rhythm again, which is bad news for Dallas. Leonard has averaged 32 points and 9.5 rebounds against the Mavs this season, and this with 18 percent three-point shooting. The stage is set for him to produce a huge game on Thursday.

Cameron Payne Aug 5 8:40am ET

Phoenix Suns point guard Cameron Payne posted a team-high plus-14 rating and contributed 12 points off the bench in Tuesday's 117-115 win over the Clippers, adding three assists, three rebounds, and one steal. He shot 5-for-9 from the floor and 2-for-3 from three-point range. Payne, who was picked up for the Bubble games, is averaging 10.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and two assists through three games. He could be a key piece for the Suns again on Thursday against Indiana. Starting point guard Ricky Rubio, who posted an 18-3-4 line on Tuesday, will face some very good defense, but Payne should have it easier against the second unit.

Deandre Ayton Aug 5 8:20am ET

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton had a good game on Tuesday against the Clippers, picking up 19 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. He shot 9-for-18 from the field and even nailed one attempt from downtown. Ayton had mostly spent the previous game against Dallas in foul trouble and thus managed just seven points and eight rebounds. He has a dream matchup next against the Pacers, who own the second-worst defensive record against opposing centers. They are giving up 23.8 points per 48 minutes, while also allowing centers to collect 15.6 rebounds, which is the sixth-worst mark in the league.

Devin Booker Aug 5 8:20am ET

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker recorded his second consecutive 30-point game on Tuesday, finishing a 117-115 win over the Clippers with 35 points on 13-for-25 shooting. He shot 6-for-9 from deep and capped things off with the game-winner while adding eight assists and four rebounds. The Suns have now won all three games in Orlando, and they suddenly have a good chance of making the playoffs. Booker will try and do everything to make it happen, but he faces a tough matchup next on Thursday against Indiana. The Pacers have a very good defensive record against guards, and they limited Booker to only 16 points in this season's first matchup.

Robert Covington Aug 5 7:50am ET

Houston Rockets forward Robert Covington came into Tuesday's contest in fine form but was disappointing for daily players that thrust him into their lineups. Against a bottom-five defense, Covington had a chance to extend his hot start in the bubble. Instead, he posted six points, eight rebounds, and shot 2-for-11 on the night. All his attempts were from behind the three-point arc. One has to wonder if he could've been more effective against Portland's interior defense at times. Hopefully, RoCo can shrug this performance off and bounce back against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday. He recorded 14 points, eight rebounds, and four three-pointers against LA on Feb. 6.

Carmelo Anthony Aug 5 2:00am ET

Portland Trail Blazers forward exacted some revenge against his former employer on Tuesday night in a 110-102 win over the Houston Rockets. Anthony recorded 15 points, 11 rebounds, two steals, one assist, and one block in 36 minutes. Melo also iced the game in the final minute with a three-pointer that gave Portland a five-point lead. Anthony has been quite the fantasy surprise this season and is showing the rest of the association that they were wrong to think he was finished being a productive NBA player. The forward is averaging 15.3 points per game this year and is a consistent contributor to the Trail Blazers offense. He will look to continue his good form for himself, his team, and daily fantasy managers against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday.

Jeff Green Aug 5 1:50am ET

Houston Rockets forward Jeff Green scored 22 points on Tuesday night in a 110-102 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. It was a new season-high for Green, and life has been good for the 33-year-old in a Rocket uniform. He is averaging 10.3 points per game but is also shooting the ball at a career-best rate. He added six rebounds, one assist, and five three-pointers to his line, and could be carving out a more prominent role for himself down the stretch of the regular season. Mike D'Antoni's rotation is tough to crack, so if Green can stay in his good graces, he will provide some cheap value in daily contests. The forward has played at least 20 minutes in all three games since the restart and will hope to keep that streak going against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday.

Jaren Jackson Jr. Aug 4 7:00pm ET

Memphis Grizzlies forward/center Jaren Jackson Jr. (knee) will miss the rest of the season with a meniscus tear in his left knee. Jackson must have suffered the injury at some point in Monday's loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Jackson had 17 points on 41.2 percent shooting, two rebounds, two three-pointers and two blocks in 31 minutes. This is devastating news for Jackson who was in his second year in the league and may miss a good chunk of next year's season. With Jackson out, Brandon Clarke should be the biggest beneficiary for now with Anthony Tolliver seeing a slight uptick as well.

Jimmy Butler Aug 4 6:10pm ET

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (ankle) will not play Tuesday against the Boston Celtics. Butler is dealing with ankle soreness and will be forced to sit out after playing 33 minutes against the Toronto Raptors on Monday. This is a huge loss for Miami as they are just 2.5 games back from the Celtics for the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Without Butler, Kelly Olynyk, Derrick Jones and Andre Iguodala should all see an uptick in playing time. Goran Dragic could potentially move to the starting lineup, but the starters have yet to be announced.

Goga Bitadze Aug 4 4:00pm ET

Indiana Pacers center Goga Bitadze (knee) is listed as questionable for Tuesday's game against the Orlando Magic. He has been banged up from a knee issue, but could get back out there for this one. However, he could be limited during his first game back, which wouldn't make him an attractive fantasy option. Domantas Sabonis (foot) is still sidelined, which means Myles Turner could end up having significant fantasy value on Tuesday.

Jamal Crawford Aug 4 4:00pm ET

Brooklyn Nets guard Jamal Crawford (hamstring) was forced to miss the rest of Tuesday's game versus the Milwaukee Bucks due to injury. He played just six minutes before tweaking his left hamstring during his Nets debut. Crawford became the second-oldest player to suit up for the team, but sadly it didn't last long. He dropped five points and three assists before exiting the game. Hopefully he isn't going to be sideline too long because the Nets could use him on the court during the seeding games.

Mike Muscala Aug 4 3:50pm ET

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Mike Muscala (head) won't be able to participate in any games until he clears concussion protocol. It's unclear how long this is going to take, so he could end up missing a game or two. However, Muscala is not a big part of the rotation, so this won't make much of an impact. Nerlens Noel and Steven Adams are the main factors down low for Oklahoma City.

Lou Williams Aug 4 3:50pm ET

Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams has officially cleared quarantine and is available for Tuesday's game against the Phoenix Suns. He will be making his bubble debut, but could be somewhat limited since this is his first game back. His return will mean less minutes for Landry Shamet and Reggie Jackson. Williams probably isn't the ideal DFS option for Tuesday, but he should be reliable once he's back to full speed.

Aron Baynes Aug 4 3:50pm ET

Phoenix Suns center Aron Baynes (conditioning) has been ruled out for Tuesday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers. His is still getting his conditioning back to normal after dealing with COVID-19. Baynes has gone through some light practices, but his conditioning isn't where it needs to be yet. There's a chance that we don't see him at all during the seeding games. He won't have a much of a role anyway with Deandre Ayton healthy.

Tobias Harris Aug 4 12:50am ET

Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris filled up the box score in a 132-130 win over the San Antonio Spurs. The 28-year-old had 25 points, six rebounds, four assists, one block, and one steal in 31 minutes. The forward had 30 points in his first game, and adding another 25 in game two should give fantasy managers a boost of confidence heading into the final six games of the regular season. Harris is averaging 19.5 points on the entire season, but it's possible that the Sixers found something during the layoff and are working on getting Harris more involved in the offense. Harris will take on the Washington Wizards and their decimated lineup on Wednesday, where another 25-plus point should be in the cards.

Joel Embiid Aug 4 12:40am ET

Coming off a dominant performance in a loss to the Indiana pacers, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid contributed enough to get his team in the win column for the first time since the restart. Embiid had 27 points, nine rebounds, five assists, and one steal in 31 minutes of action on Monday. The All-Star went 9-for-17 from the field and made nine of his 12 free throw attempts. Embiid can erupt on any given night to win your contest, and it's tough to ignore that kind of ceiling. Another contest-winning performance could be on the horizon with a matchup against the Washington Wizards coming Embiid's way on Wednesday.

Derrick White Aug 4 12:30am ET

San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White scored 20 points on Monday night in a 132-130 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. The point guard also had an efficient night shooting the ball. He went 6-for-11 from the field, 4-for-6 from three-point land, and made four of his five free throws. White has now reached the 20-point mark in two of his three games since the restart. With the NBA schedule packed with stars every night, it's hard to find room for White in your lineup. However, his cost is still reasonably valued with his production, and there are far worse options out there to slot into the guard positions. White and the Spurs take on a banged-up Nuggets lineup on Wednesday. The 26-year-old should be in line for another reliable fantasy performance.

Rudy Gay Aug 4 12:20am ET

San Antonio Spurs forward Rudy Gay came off the bench and was efficient in a 132-130 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Gay scored 24 points on 15 shots and added four rebounds and two three-pointers to his box score. That's now two games with at least 19 points during the restart for Gay. Inside the bubble, he is shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 46.7 percent from three. The forward is very similar to his teammate, DeMar DeRozan, in daily fantasy. He will never do enough to win you a contest, but he is an acceptable roster-filler if you need some points at a lower price.