The NBA’s shot of the year, plus new reporting around Caleb Williams

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Good morning! I won’t be franchise tagging you today.

Things You Need to See: A 59-foot, playoff-altering bucket

There is something special about basketball during the moment when the calendar turns from February to March. College tournaments loom, and NBA regular season games start to have weight. Each result feels like it means a little more. 

It all made this unbelievable shot  from Cavaliers guard Max Strus — the second-deepest game-winning buzzer-beater in NBA history, according to ESPN — even more fun:

The win helped cement Cleveland’s hold on the East’s No. 2 seed, though the top half of the conference has become extremely entertaining over the last two weeks. Consider: 

  • Cleveland is 7-3 in its last 10 and could make an argument as the hottest team in the league outside of Boston. This team doesn’t receive much fanfare, but the roster just works. Adding Strus this offseason was a major bonus.
  • Milwaukee, now on a three-game winning streak, is quietly becoming the super team we expected after a bleh start to the Doc Rivers era. We’ll see how he holds up in the playoffs, but putting a coach with his experience in charge of this talented roster should lead to many wins.
  • The Knicks are still great, despite a loss last night, and the Heat look unstoppable again. 

And then there are the Celtics, riding a nine-game win streak, embracing the world-destroyer label. Do any of these others have a chance? Hitting 59-footers helps.

Draft Mysteries: The Caleb Williams guessing game

All we can seem to talk about in this NFL Draft season is the Bears and, more specifically, Justin Fields. It’s understandable — both are characters in what is the most important storyline of the offseason, and the path Chicago decides is franchise-altering. 

And yet we’ve lost a little focus on the guy projected to go No. 1, USC’s Caleb Williams. As Kalyn Kahler writes today in a great piece, Williams is a wild card of his own. No one actually knows what he wants or where he even wants to be

Let’s zoom out: 

  • On the field, Williams is a singular talent. A mix of Patrick Mahomes and Cam Newton. Eye-popping highlights became routine at both Oklahoma and USC. He won the Heisman in 2022 and struggled (per his standards, at least) in 2023 largely because of an awful defense.
  • Off the field, Williams is also different. He handles media differently than most athletes. He doesn’t have a traditional agent, instead surrounding himself with his father, Carl, and business advisers. He has already made an estimated $10 million in marketing and NIL deals before he even takes an NFL snap.
  • This has led to confusion in NFL circles. Carl, as Kalyn details, has made waves by inquiring about possible equity in any team which drafts Caleb. Incredibly, he quizzed agents about possible loopholes in the NFL’s rookie quarterback contract scale. 

So is he a pusher? Asking for the world before he even becomes an NFL employee? Or is he maximizing his value while pointing out some possibly unfair limitations? 

As a player, Williams seems like a sure thing. But year after year, the NFL teaches us we have no clue who will actually be good in a QB draft class. Bryce Young may still see greatness, but I don’t know if anyone foresaw the gap between him and CJ Stroud. What if we have all this conversation about Williams and he’s just an okay NFL QB?

Read Kalyn’s story for more tantalizing details about the mystery surrounding Williams. We still have two whole months until the draft. Williams did go No. 1 to Chicago in our college writer mock draft yesterday, for what it’s worth.

News to Know

BYU shocks No. 7 Kansas
Parity continues in men’s college basketball. The Cougars gave the Jayhawks their first home loss of the season in a 76-68 upset after being down 12 points. It was also Kansas’ second conference loss on a weekday in the 21-year Bill Self era. There’s a stat.

The death of the RB tag
The Raiders will likely not franchise tag running back Josh Jacobs, general manager Tom Telesco said at the Combine yesterday, opting instead for a committee approach with “no lead back.” Jacobs joins Saquon Barkley as talented backs who won’t be tagged this offseason. Now comes the hard part: finding common ground on a deal, which was difficult last offseason for both.

USMNT to play Brazil
The Americans will play the five-time World Cup champions in a June friendly, the team announced, as part of its prep for Copa America later this year. The match is set for Camping World Stadium in Orlando. Tickets go on sale Friday. See more details here.

More news

Feedback Loop: The jerseys are good, yes

Clips jersey poll

Quickly: I expected a little more favor for the new Clippers kits, but I’ll take that big of a split. My opinion: A huge win for the team, whose current uniforms look awful to my eye. 

One thing I wish they would’ve done: keep the royal blue instead of opting for navy. It feels like the trend in the 1990s and 2000s when every NFL team ditched a beautiful, bright uniform for a toned-down, drab version of the color scheme. Looking at you, Rams and Broncos. 

Thanks for voting.

Watch This Game

NCAAM: No. 11 Auburn at No. 4 Tennessee
7 p.m. ET on ESPN2
The Volunteers sit atop a tight SEC race, with four teams — Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina and Auburn — within one game of each other. Tonight’s matchup will matter. 

NBA: Lakers “at” Clippers
10 p.m. ET on ESPN
The Lakers are so frustratingly mediocre, while the Clippers could be favorites in the West. LeBron’s L.A. team needs a win to stay comfortably in the Play-In bubble.

Pulse Picks

Chris Kirschner has an exclusive sitdown with newest Yankee Juan Soto, who opened up on his trade to New York, contract outlook and more. The Yanks might be our most interesting team this year. 

Across the division, Jen McCaffrey wonders why the Red Sox are still playing the waiting game with Jordan Montgomery

Klay Thompson was understandably bummed when he was moved to the sixth-man role. Then he heard from Larry Bird

Zach Harper has new NBA Power Rankings, which are always flawless, as he likes to say. 

The Match, golf’s made-for-TV celebrity competition, is good again, as Brody Miller writes. I was a fan, too. 

The final member of our Black Aces project: CC Sabathia, who was as talented as he was hip. The Hall of Fame should be his next stop

The same problems that doomed the Winnipeg Jets in 1996 are reappearing, writes Eric Duhatschek.

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(Photo: David Liam Kyle/Getty Images)

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