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Most Anticipated NBA Season in…Decades?

The NBA season kicked off tonight. I cannot recall being as excited for a season as I am for the 2019-2020 campaign. As much as that can be attributed to my beloved Sixers being legitimate title contenders, I have just as much enthusiasm for where the league is as a whole. 

Instead of giving a generic list of “what to watch for”, I can simplify it for everyone ranging to the true hoop heads to the borderline casuals. This is arguably the first time in multiple decades where we enter the season without a clear-cut favorite or a limited list of 3-4 teams that have a realistic shot at winning the NBA title. That has very much been the reality of the NBA for a very long time. 

The NBA has historically been a very top-heavy league in comparison to the other major sports. I have to wonder if there is a connection to it being the first league to embrace tanking, but that is a story for a different day. 

In recent years, and specifically during Lebron James’ second act with the Cleveland Cavaliers, it was virtually a foregone conclusion in October that they would be meeting the Golden State Warriors that June in the NBA Finals. It was so predictable that you couldn’t get even odds on a Cleveland/Golden State preseason futures wager. It took Lebron leaving the conference altogether last summer for the East to send a Lebron-less team to the Finals for the first time since 2010. 

But that is not the case this season. You could make a legitimate argument for at least eight different teams to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy this upcoming. According to Bovada, there are eight teams that have title odds shorter than +2000, or 20-1. 

Lakers +300
Clippers +333
Bucks +575
76ers +750
Rockets +850
Warriors +900
Jazz +1300
Nuggets +1800

An argument could be made for the Celtics if they were to make an in-season trade for a star. But at this point, it looks like a two-horse race in the East. Turn to the West, there are six true contenders. So, how did this happen? How did the NBA magically become more open? 

The answer is not that complicated, especially if you have been paying attention to the offseason. This was one of the most active offseasons in many years. But it wasn’t active like the spending frenzy of 2016 when average players were handed out lavish contracts, accented by Kevin Durant’s decision to join the already historically great Warriors. Instead, we had a heavy dose of player movement, which some could suggest was the apex of the “Player Empowerment Era”. 

There has never been another offseason in which so many high-profile players changed teams:

Anthony Davis (Pelicans to Lakers)
Kawaii Leonard (Raptors to Clippers)
Jimmy Butler (76ers to Heat)
Kyrie Irving (Celtics to Nets)
Kevin Durant (Warriors to Nets)
D’angelo Russell (Nets to Warriors)
Paul George (Thunder to Clippers)
Chris Paul (Rockets to Thunder)
Russell Westbrook (Thunder to Rockets)
Al Horford (Celtics to 76ers)
Kemba Walker (Hornets to Celtics)

Amongst the flurry of activity, there was a common theme that stuck out to me. The talent is much more spread around the league than it has been in a while. A few years ago, you might have these players team in up in threes, forming multiple super teams. Instead, we are entering a season of super duos. 

If this offseason followed old trends, we could have seen new super teams like Lebron James, Anthony Davis and Kemba Walker on the Lakers or what about the idea of Kyrie Irving, Kawaii Leonard and Paul George on the Clippers. 

I think just about everyone outside of Los Angeles and ESPN HQ is very grateful that it didn’t happen.

Instead of only a couple of teams led by a few superstars, we are entering a season with several teams led by two stars and stronger supporting casts. If not already obvious, that equates to a much more balanced league. A more balanced league means a more competitive and enjoyable regular season. 

The NBA regular season has been deemed practically meaningless in recent years. In a season with so many more contenders jockeying for playoff seeding, that definitely will not be the case. 

This should naturally lead to a more compelling Playoffs or at least one that gets interesting far before the Conference Finals. Just think about the potential scenarios…

What if the Warriors, missing Klay Thompson, grab the 6th or 7th seed. Would a tested team like that not give a scare to the Lakers, Clippers or Rockets in the first round? When it comes to a team very familiar with each other against a talented team still trying to figure out how to play with one another, I like the odds for at least a fun first round. 

How about the prospects of the Heat, who recently acquired Jimmy Butler, facing a Celtics team that will have an interesting new look after replacing Kyrie Irving with Kemba Walker. 

Obviously there are more compelling matchup possibilities in later rounds…an all-LA series, Sixers/Bucks featuring a battle between Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo, and eventually a very fun NBA Finals between the teams that managed to make it through what should be much tougher roads than usual. 

Either way, it’s definitely going to be a lot of fun to watch. 

 

Photo courtesy of clutchpoints.com

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Warriors Have Changed the Optics of Super Teams

The Golden State Warriors made history a couple weeks ago when they completed the sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers to win their third NBA Championship in four seasons. The Warriors became the first team to win three championships in four years or fewer seasons since the Los Angeles Lakers won three in a row from 2000-2002. Most people considered the result a foregone conclusion a whole year ago, being that Golden State has asserted themselves into a rare air of league-wide dominance.

With how the Warriors are currently constructed, they don’t have any signs of fading any time soon. Sure, if Kevin Durant rediscovers any semblance of competitive fire and chooses to pursue the challenge of winning with a team not already loaded with star players, then we could see them slip a little. But if the Golden State core stays together in an effort to chase the Bulls of the 1990s or Celtics of the 1960s, they’ll continue to force opposing teams to expend all bits of creativity in order to come up with a solution for the NBA’s latest dynasty.

It was just a few years ago that the basic NBA team building approach was to obtain a superstar talent through the draft who could evolve into a franchise player and surround that player with additional star and solid complementary pieces. Prior to 2016, it was easy to feel optimistic about your chances to win an NBA Championship by following that formula. But, the Golden State Warriors have completely changed the dynamic of the league, as teams have to figure out how to beat this “super team” by trying to form another, you guessed it, “super team”.

The concept of a “super team” was born during the 2010 offseason when Lebron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwayne Wade in Miami to go on an impressive run that culminated in two championships and four NBA Finals appearances. Everyone outside of South Florida was repulsed by the act of star players teaming up to basically form an all-star team. It was unprecedented in the NBA, and while most basketball purists would hope it was an anomaly, the desire to somehow takedown Golden State may have not only incentivized stars to team up again, it has made the concept completely acceptable to the viewing public.

If Lebron James teams up with Paul George and/or Kawhi George when free agency kicks off next week, the move will not face more than a small fraction of the national vitriol that James and the rest of the Miami Heat faced back in 2010. In a way, I’m sure there are some basketball fans that would love to see it, especially after the complete bore of this past NBA Finals. Let’s be real, a competitive NBA Finals of uber-talented teams is pretty compelling. 

Sure, there are a handful of young, talented teams that are arching towards being able to compete for a title. But it will realistically take a team comprised of multiple elite players like James, Leonard, and George to defeat Golden State as soon as next season.

With Lebron James coming off consecutive defeats to the Warriors in the NBA Finals, he certainly knows that he needs to surround himself with better players to have a better shot next year. I won’t be the least bit surprised if he soon finds himself on a team just as talented and high-profile as the 2010 Miami Heat. But this time around, I won’t fault him for a bit. Let’s hope he skips the ESPN special.

 

Source Credits:

https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/6685099417556914/

https://www.sbnation.com/2010/7/29/1591097/miami-heat-2011-record-projection-lebron-james

https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/durant-warriors-arent-super-villains-just-a-super-team-deal-with-it/

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Top Storylines of the NBA Season

Thanks to the NBA responding to the players’ complaints about the number of back-to-back games, the regular season is tipping off tonight, about a week and a half earlier than the usual start to the season. It was one of the most active and fascinating offseasons in recent memory. The flurry of player movement has contributed to this being the most anticipated NBA season since Lebron James and Chris Bosh joined the Miami Heat before the 2010-2011 campaign. Let’s dive into what should be the top storylines to follow up through the 2018 NBA Finals in June.

Did the Rockets and Thunder do enough?

The summer was interesting in that it seemed like some perennial teams made very little effort to get better, suggesting they were punting on the season as they came to grips with the reality of not being able to compete with Golden State. On the other hand, a few of the league’s better teams brought in high caliber complimentary pieces to surround their franchise players.

The Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder were far from being equipped to compete with the Warriors when the summer began. Both teams were led by elite franchise players in Russell Westbrook and James Harden, who coincidentally finished 1st and 2nd in the MVP voting, respectively. But in what has been proven in the NBA, it takes more than one great player to be a legitimate title contender.

The Rockets added Chris Paul to form one of the NBA’s most lethal backcourts. The Thunder brought in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony on what could very well be for one year depending on how things go. Both Houston and Oklahoma City look to be the best candidates to challenge Golden State in the Western Conference.

I don’t know how either of these situations will work out. But both will be fun to watch and I give a lot of credit to the teams by recognizing they were not good enough as they were constructed at season’s end and making the necessary moves to bolster their squads.

Cavs, Celtics and everyone else in the East

There is very little if any debate who the two best teams in the Eastern Conference are. Both the Cavs and Celtics finished atop the Eastern Conference a season ago and possibly got better over the summer. The Celtics improved by bringing in Gordon Hayward and possibly got even better when adding Kyrie Irving. Or at least they think they got better by making a blockbuster trade with the Cavs this past August.

I personally think the Cavs got the better of the trade as they acquired Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round draft pick, and Boston’s 2020 second-round draft pick. But who got better for the upcoming season may be up to debate. However, the Cavs also added Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose, for whatever he can still contribute at this stage of his career.

Bottom line is that barring major injury, the Cavs and Celtics look like locks for 50+ wins, the top two seeds and destined to face each other in the Eastern Conference Finals again. After that, the drop off in the East is precipitous. The Wizards and Raptors are good teams that will likely grab the #3 and #4 playoff seeds.

Next, you have your group of mediocre to above average teams that could win anywhere between 35-45 games. In this category, I’d put the Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets, and Detroit Pistons.

After that, you have your up and coming teams like the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks who are likely a year or two away from making noise in the playoffs but likely have a ceiling as high as #5/6 seeds if all goes well. Both teams are similar in that they have elite, young talent but do not have quite the experience to be able to safely project where they will finish this season.

Who will win this year’s tank-a-thon?

While the NBA failed miserably in their attempt at lottery reform by evenly out the odds to acquire the #1 overall pick, there will be a competition for the rights to likely draft Michael Porter in the 2018 NBA Draft. Based on the activity of a few teams this past offseason, there appear to be a handful of teams on the quest for a top pick.

The Chicago Bulls traded Jimmy Butler on draft night, a player who was in trade rumors for about a year. In return, they acquired draft capital and young guards, Kris Dunn and Zach Lavine. The Bulls will be fortunate to win 20 games and look to be a good bet to make it to the commercial on the night of the Draft Lottery.

After what seemed like several years of being a perennially above average team with zero hope of competing for a championship, the Atlanta Hawks look like they headed for a very lean year. The positive is that Atlanta finally will get out of NBA purgatory, assuming they are able to land a top draft pick with finding their next franchise player, a role that has been vacant for way too long.

What else is there to say about the New York Knicks? They have been the joke of the NBA for the past few years and will only be worse following the departure of Carmelo Anthony. While they hit on Kristaps Porzingis at #4 overall in the 2015 Draft, there have been rumblings that he wants out of New York. Can you blame him? Assuming their best player does, in fact, get dealt before the trade deadline, the losses and ping pong ball combinations will add up quickly.

ROY Race

This past draft class was the most hyped since the 2003 group that brought in Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Lonzo Ball, more thanks to his helicopter father got plenty of attention before being selected by his hometown Los Angeles Lakers at #2 overall. Lavar Ball possibly put even more pressure on his son and the expectations will be extremely high in his first NBA season.

Markelle Fultz, who the Sixers traded up for with their long-time bitter rival Celtics, was the top pick in the draft. Even with being the #1 overall pick, Fultz looks like a project who we may not see blossom until his third or fourth season. I don’t expect a lot from him in his rookie year. I’m more intrigued by his teammate, Ben Simmons as a “Rookie of the Year” candidate. Simmons missed his entire first season due to injury and has received rave reviews from scouts and coaches around the league. Some have suggested his skillset is a blend of Lebron James and Magic Johnson.

The darkhorse candidate may be Dennis Smith Jr., who was selected ninth overall by the Dallas Mavericks. His flashes of brilliance during the NBA Summer League have ignited the conversation that he may have been the steal of the draft. Smith was an explosive, exciting player at N.C. State who arguably would have been drafted higher if not for his injury history. He should be fun to watch and I wouldn’t rule him out to take home the award.

Top Trade Candidates

I’m very skeptical that DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis can co-exist in New Orleans. Talent-wise, they could form the most formidable frontcourt in the NBA. But they have a big, uphill climb in a very tough Western Conference. If the Pelicans get off to a rough start and if it’s starting to look like they’ll miss the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven years, I could either guy getting moved before the deadline.

I already mentioned Kristaps Porzingis when making the argument for the Knicks being one of the teams to watch in this year’s tank-a-thon. When you combine the report of KP wanting out of New York due to the front office dysfunction along with the Knicks likely headed for a bad year, he looks like a prime trade candidate.

Despite re-signing with the Clippers in the offseason, I still won’t rule out Blake Griffin getting moved if the team struggles in the first half. By trading Chris Paul over the summer, I took that as a sign of waving a white flag on the 2017-2018 season. Given the Clippers’ lack of cap space and draft capital, I could see Griffin being moved if there is an offer that could jumpstart their inevitable rebuild.

The Final Four

I’m going chalk for the Eastern Conference, anticipating a rematch of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics. But I do not anticipate quite the drama that the networks will hype up leading into the series. I like the Cavs’ playoff experience and I think Kyrie Irving may end up eating his ungrateful remarks about playing with Lebron James when he discovers how much of a dropoff it will be in Boston. I go Cleveland 4-2.

It may take some time for Russell Westbrook to establish chemistry with newcomers, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. But they’re talented enough to be a Top 4 seed. I am going to bet on the Oklahoma City Thunder getting to the Western Conference Finals either by the conventional standards of getting the #2/3 seed and facing the Golden State Warriors or struggling initially, grabbing a lower seed, forcing an upset and getting there. Either way, I like them to give the Warriors a scare before losing in seven games, 4-3.

Cavs and Warriors, again. How boring. Unfortunately, while parody is common in the other three major sports, it is completely absent in the NBA. I don’t have any reason to believe it will be Golden State again, but I like the series to go seven, giving them the 4-3 win.

Source Credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nodUYAWcgDs

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Move Over NFL, the NBA Offseason is King

The NBA didn’t waste any time from the conclusion of the Finals to the start of what has already been an incredibly active offseason. It began with a rare trade between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, where the teams swapped their first and third overall draft picks, respectively. A flurry of trades followed up until and during last Thursday’s NBA Draft as Jimmy Butler and Dwight Howard changed teams. Just days before the beginning of Free Agency, Chris Paul was traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to join forces with James Harden and the Houston Rockets. To cap off the pre-free agency period, the Indiana Pacers dealt Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder to team up with Russell Westbrook for what could only be for one season.

Again, free agency has not even begun. There is potential for this to be a very active free agent period with guys like Gordon Heyward, Blake Griffin, Serge Ibaka and a plethora of role players that could be on the move. I still wouldn’t rule out Carmelo Anthony being moved at some point this summer. The NBA offseason has been incredible up to this point and should remain in the forefront of sports news at least through the summer.  

This offseason is not an outlier. Back in 2010, we witnessed Lebron James and Chris Bosh team up with Dwayne Wade in Miami. Two years later in 2012, a blockbuster four-team trade sent Dwight Howard to Los Angeles to join Steve Nash who joined the Lakers earlier that summer. A couple years later, Lebron James returned to Cleveland and just last offseason, Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City to team up with the Warriors. 2018 projects to be another active offseason with several notable players due for free agency.

The changing dynamic of the NBA and player movement only means this activity will continue. The new trend of players teaming up to form super teams, as much as I detest it, is not showing any signs of dissipation with the current contract structure in today’s player-controlled league. Each summer projects to be a new soap opera, with a flurry of activity that will keep the fans and media engaged up until the regular season.  

The NFL and NBA are undoubtedly the two most popular professional sports in America. The NBA is slowly following the path of the NFL of becoming a year-round sport to follow. But while the NBA may have accomplished this goal, it’s not crazy to suggest the NFL is going in the opposite direction.

The NFL is the king of the professional sports world, for now. Some would argue this is the case twelve months a year. The offseason drama can occasionally draw just as much interest as the regular season action and storylines. There have been specific stories when the attention was justified, whether it was Deflategate, the Aaron Hernandez saga or the work stoppage which preceded a rapid free agency frenzy in the fall of 2011.

While each of those stories and some of the ancillary headlines have kept the sports world mildly interesting during the dog days of summer (and spring), we all can agree that the offseason does not measure up to the regular season. I’m not jumping out of a limb with that statement. However, over the past few years the media outlets, both local and national have hyped up offseason activity in an attempt to convince the public both are on the same level.

But here’s the reality. The NFL offseason is not remotely as interesting as the media wants us to think. Sure, we anxiously await the four o’clock hour in March to start the new league year which kicks off free agency. And we love following the player movement as we try to project what teams upgraded their roster the most and are poised for a better season ahead. The release of the NFL schedule seems to have become a new national holiday that allows fans to start planning out the upcoming fall.

Aside from those events, the build up to the NFL Draft has become one of the most insufferable storylines in all of the professional sports. Is the Draft itself exciting to a certain extent? Sure. While I seriously question the priorities of anyone entertained by watching all three days and seven rounds on television, the opening round can be filled with drama and intrigue that involves players who most football fans have some familiarity with from watching in the prior college football season.

But the build up to the event is terrible. I’ll concede that learning more about prospects, especially the highly touted ones from relatively unknown college programs, can be fascinating. But that, unfortunately, makes up very little of the coverage and conversation. Most of the attention goes to the dreaded draft rumors reported by NFL insiders who are tipped off by agents, scouts and general managers regarding “who’s rising, who’s falling” and what each of the 32 teams intends on doing in the draft.

In reality, any competent member of an NFL front office will not leak any honest indication of their draft plans. Yet so many people fall for it every single year as if they didn’t learn from any prior years. Its complete and utter garbage. The pathetic thing is that these rumors get leaked as if it is real news, so the public anticipates the draft to fall a certain way. And guess what, it doesn’t and the television networks react to the draft results we’re watching a critically acclaimed drama because it doesn’t fall the way all the experts and insiders tell us it would.

I’m not begrudging anyone for making predictions or posting a mock draft, especially since I’m guilty of doing one myself. But the entertainment and allure of the draft and ultimately the NFL offseason is so fabricated, but we somehow fall for it each year like its a bonus season of Breaking Bad. It’s not. If anything, the teams with the most active offseason, specifically free agency usually accomplish very little the following season. Usually, the teams with the boring offseasons have more success. But that’s a separate issue for another day.

The NFL is a great product. But it would be even greater if accepted the OFFseason and took a break. Also, just accept that the NBA is now the king of the offseason. The NFL offseason is about hype and misdirection that has little impact on the following season, while the NBA is about action that shifts the balance of power from one year to the next.

 

Source Credit: http://worldversus.com/NFL-vs-NBA

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The Process was Worth Trusting, and is Worth Copying

With the finalization of the trade with the Boston Celtics, the Philadelphia 76ers own the #1 overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft. The Sixers are expected to select Markelle Fultz, the combo guard out of Washington who is the consensus top prospect. While this draft class has been described as the deepest in many years, the one thing most draft experts have agreed upon is that there is a significant drop off after Fultz at #1.

On top of Markelle Fultz fitting the biggest needs of the Sixers, the front office recognized his value (and fit) and more importantly capitalized on their ability to move up in order to select him. The fact that the Celtics were already pretty loaded with guards certainly had to play into their willingness to pass up drafting a high-caliber prospect like Fultz.

How good Fultz will ultimately be is a fair debate. An argument can also be made for how much a team should give up in order to move up in a draft. The NBA is much different than the NFL in that one player has the chance to make a significant impact and there are only a handful of those players coming out in the NBA Draft each year.

Easy Trade to Make

The Sixers recognized that Fultz has the best chance to be that guy and fortunately did not have to give up that much to get him. Aside from moving their own first round pick at #3, they’ll be sending only one additional first round pick. It will either be the 2018 Los Angeles Lakers first rounder if it falls between picks 2-5 or it will be the 2019 Sacramento Kings pick, unless that pick ends up being #1 overall. In that case, the Sixers would send their own 2019 pick to the Celtics.

What makes the trade more palatable is that both of those potential outgoing picks were acquired in prior deals in which Philadelphia gave up very little in exchange. The Lakers pick was acquired for Michael Carter-Williams and the Kings pick (along with a pick swap that led to the Sixers moving from the #5 to #3 spot this year) came in a “salary dump” trade when the Kings were trying to free up cap space.

The bottom line is that the Sixers will retain one of these picks, keep all of their own future selections and not have to part with any of their talented young players in order to draft Markelle Fultz. Fultz should round out one of the most promising young cores in the NBA along with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Dario Saric. We all know nothing is guaranteed, but Philadelphia has incredible potential to become something very special in coming years. An argument could be made that outside of Golden State, San Antonio and Boston, there are few teams in a better position over the next 5-10 years. Minnesota, Phoenix, and Milwaukee certainly have promising young cores as well, but entering the 2017-2018 season, the Sixers are right there.

The Process of the Process

“The Process” has been one of the most hotly contested sports topics over the past few years. The supporters have argued it was the best course of action based on the team’s situation back in 2013. The detractors argued it was immoral, by their “blatant tanking” for high draft picks. I’ve been a supporter of “The Process” since day one, acknowledging the flawed structure of the NBA incentivizes mediocre teams to blow it up, and try to build with young talent through the draft.

While winning has not “been a priority” during this stage of the rebuild, the plan was much more than that. Did the Sixers acquire highly talented young players thanks to high draft picks awarded due to low win totals? Absolutely. On top of that, former General Manager Sam Hinkie made terrific trades to acquire ammunition in the form of draft picks that made a trade like this possible. As previously noted, he cashed in on the high value of Carter-Williams, something that we found out had an expiration date. At the 2014 NBA Draft, Hinkie got wind of the Orlando Magic’s interest in Elfrid Payton, selected him only to flip him to the Magic minutes later in exchange for Dario Saric and their original first round pick which was previously sent to Orlando in a trade.

I’ll always look at what Hinkie did with the Sixers as a sign that he recognized the flaws of the NBA, exposed it and took advantage of it. Through 2013-2016, Hinkie acquired first round picks of the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Sacramento for the simple “price” of taking on bad contracts of teams who felt strapped by their salary cap situation. You don’t have to look much further to see that all he did was take advantage of poor team management of other franchises.

With how the Sixers are now positioned with a young, talented core, future draft assets, and an incredibly flexible salary cap situation, other teams around the league would be doing a disservice to themselves and their fans for at least not considering a similar route. Does it test a fan base’s patience? Absolutely. Will a lot of fans reject the idea of a massive rebuild with very lean years? Of course. But if you asked the majority of fans of teams that either missed the playoffs or were bounced very early if they wouldn’t love for their team be where the Sixers are right now, I guarantee most would take it in a heartbeat.

Looking Forward

The worst of it is over for the Sixers. Will there be some growing pains with an extremely young, albeit talented team? Sure there will be. Is the team guaranteed to make the Playoffs in 2018? No. But the most important thing is that the Sixers now have a young team with multiple players with star potential. If Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons reach their potential, this is a team that should be making deep playoff runs in the very near future for what can be a very long time.

One of the most important feelings a sports fan needs to have is “hope”. The Philadelphia 76ers and their fans finally have some genuine, tangible hope. If I objectively look at most teams in the NBA, it’s hard to find a lot of other teams that are offering this same level of hope to their fans. It is easy for an outsider to look at the past few years to question the optimism. To that, I say it sure beats the previous ten years of maxing out as a 40-win, 7th seed team who’s ceiling is getting bounced in the first round by a real contender.

With good health and player development, the Sixers should soon be on the other end of that matchup: a high-seeded playoff team that is knocking out the perpetual mediocre teams in the first round that embody what they were for such a long time. For the sake of those teams and their fans, I hope they don’t take as long to recognize what the Sixers did was necessary and they should follow in their path.

 

Source Credit: http://www.csnphilly.com/tags/markelle-fultz

 

 

 

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Lebron Has Reclaimed the Role of “Good Guy”

What a difference a few years make. It seemed like just yesterday that Lebron James became public enemy #1 in the NBA when he left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in what was the most disgraceful hour of television of the past ten years. Sure, “The Decision” raised a lot of money for the Boys and Girls Club. So, it may be unfair to be 100% critical of the event. But if you take out the charitable benefits of the TV special, it was one of the most cringeworthy and embarrassing moments in sports entertainment history.

From the pompous delivery that James was “taking his talents to South Beach” coupled with the fact that he was conspiring with other superstars in Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to form a “super team”, he officially put a target on his back and the Miami Heat became the league’s most despised team.

I’ll never begrudge Lebron James for leaving Cleveland back in 2010, nor will I blame any other superstar for leaving a team that fails to effectively build around their franchise player. It was how James left that made him such a divisive figure. Admittedly, I rooted very hard against the Heat during the 2010-2014 run of the “Big 3” that made four NBA Finals appearances while winning two titles. But in the 2017 NBA Finals, Lebron James is no longer the villain. He’s the good guy that everyone should be rooting for to prevail.

Kevin Durant has assumed that role. He arguably became the new NBA villain when he left Oklahoma City for the Golden State Warriors, the team that ended his season in the prior Western Conference Finals. It was commonly labeled as a cowardly move, and deservedly so. The Warriors, coming off a record-setting 73-win team added a top-five player to form the NBA’s next super team.

The last super team was the Miami Heat, led by Lebron James. One could argue the current Cavalier’s are also a super team, as James is surrounded by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. While Cleveland is super-talented, you can at least concede they were built by conventional means. Irving was a top draft pick, James signed as a free agent (to the team that originally drafted him), and Love was acquired via trade.

Technically, Kevin Durant did not do anything wrong or commit a crime by joining Golden State last summer. But it warrants scrutiny, given the impact of competitive balance in the NBA and the fact that he abandoned a contender that was on the cusp of reaching the Finals last year. The second that signing occurred, there was zero to little doubt that we’d have a third consecutive NBA Finals of the Cavaliers against the Warriors. That’s bad for the league. It’s bad for any sport when the regular season starts with 28/30 teams all competing for bronze.

If Durant stayed with Oklahoma City, they would have been the biggest challenger of the Warriors (again) in the West. Instead, Golden State steamrolled through the Western Conference Playoffs and is the heavy favorite in the NBA Finals. If they win, it will undoubtedly feel “cheap”. When you have a team so unbelievably loaded as they are, anything short of another title would be considered a failure in today’s watered-down NBA.

Unless you’re a Bay Area resident, I don’t see how you can support the Warriors. They represent everything wrong with the NBA. They’re the new “bad guys”. As much as some people want to criticize teams for tanking, the formation of super teams is just as bad for the league, if not worse. A professional sports league with only two legitimate title contenders lends to a boring postseason. And that’s exactly what happened. These NBA Playoffs have been dreadful.

So I find myself doing something that I would have never envisioned after Lebron James formed a super team in Miami back in 2010: Rooting for him. As nauseating as the “Lebron vs. Jordan” debates have been and will intensify if he leads the Cavs over the Warriors, I’d love to see him do it.

The Warriors are a great team, but the addition of ring-chasing Kevin Durant makes them very hard to like. What’s that mean? Lebron is the good guy, the underdog and the player who has a chance to be a hero if he brings home another title to Cleveland over the “unbeatable” Warriors.

 

Source Credit:

http://www.ibtimes.com.au/2017-nba-finals-lebron-james-compares-2017-warriors-2014-spurs-1554206

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Lavar Ball Should be a Cautionary Tale

In case you didn’t know, Lonzo Ball is the Freshman Guard from UCLA who has declared for June’s NBA Draft and is projected to be a top 2-3 pick. I have to make such a seemingly obviously statement because unfortunately, it is his father, Lavar Ball who has been grabbing more of the headlines over the past few months. Lonzo Ball’s dream of playing in the NBA is about to become a reality in about a month. But, it has been his pompous, self-promoting father who has claimed the spotlight leading up to the draft.

It started with Lavar Ball’s foolish claims that his son was already better than Steph Curry. If Ball’s credibility wasn’t already in doubt, his foolishness reached a new level when he said that he would have “killed Michael Jordan one-on-one”. 

In case you didn’t know, Lavar Ball’s basketball career ended after averaging 2.2 points per game while playing at Washington State. To say Ball was not the same caliber player of Jordan is the understatement of the year. Despite those humbling facts, Lavar has not backed down from his family promotions. After his demands for a shoe deal were rejected by Nike, Under Armour and Adidas, he released a proof of Lonzo Ball’s signature “Big Baller Brand” shoes were released with a reported price of $495.

Most people would agree that $495 is a ridiculous amount of money to spend on basketball shoes. But for a pair of shoes linked to a 19-year old yet to be drafted in the NBA, it is pure insanity. The most troubling aspect of this entire story and hype surrounding Lonzo Ball is that virtually all of it is “thanks” to his dad. And Lavar Ball is not doing his son any favors.

Lavar Ball has earned a very negative reputation across the sports landscape, and deservedly so. But as crazy as he may seem, there is truly not anything unique about Lavar Ball. Lavar Ball represents the worst behavior of a sports parent.

Anyone who grew up playing youth and/or high school sports came in contact with at least one crazy, helicopter parent who was way too invested in their child’s athletic endeavors. In most cases, these parents cared more about their kid’s performance than the actual kid. Most people describe this behavior as an attempt to live through their children’s athletic accomplishments following an athletic career that fell short of their own personal expectations.

With as eccentric as Ball’s behavior is, he is not as unique and original as the media makes him out to be. In fact, there are hundreds to thousands of “Lavar Ball’s” across the country. We are just not hearing about them. We’re not hearing about them because their kids are currently playing Little League, Pop Warner Football or are participating in youth swimming and gymnastics. These are the parents of children as young as eight years old, Their kids are not competing at a level that warrants national attention, like Lonzo Ball, who’s UCLA Bruins fell to the Kentucky Wildcats in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament in a nationally televised game on CBS.

These parents would like nothing more than for their child to reach the level of Lonzo Ball. Usually, they want it more than their own kid does. For most kids, their purpose in youth sports participation is fun and exercise. Sure, their heads will go into the clouds at some point as they dream about the possibility of being drafted or participating in an Olympic Games. But for 99.9% of them, it is not realistic.

As these kids grow up, these kids start dropping these sports for a variety of reasons. It may be to focus on other activities, free up time for an after school job or simply a loss of interest. The worst reason I have witnessed is when the parent ruins the experience for the child. This is when their parent is acting too much like Lavar Ball, and it is no longer fun for the kid. It happens every day.

They make the sport too much about them, start trouble with the coach(es), likely create a scene (or scenes), embarrass their child and ultimately hurt their child more than helping. You might be thinking, “Well if they were as good as Lonzo Ball, then they definitely won’t quit”.

Not true. The talent and potential, as elite as it may be is rarely enough to mask the torment felt by young athletes caused by their parents’ overbearing behavior. Up until now, Lonzo Ball has been able to put up with it. But Lonzo Ball is in the minority. There are plenty of young basketball players who likely had a similar ability that have cracked or are likely to crack before too long.

This is why Lavar Ball should be a cautionary tale. There are too many “Lavar Ball’s”. And “Lavar Ball’s”, as much as they claim to be doing whatever it is they do for the benefit of their child, are only being a detriment. They justify their behavior with the defense of supporting their child, or by that, they are “putting them first”. Sadly, these parents are blinded by how much worse they are making the experience for their children.

If you watch Lavar Ball on television or hear him on a radio and feel disgusted, good. You should be disgusted. More importantly, he should serve as a warning and provide a lesson to parents of young athletes. Lavar Ball’s greatest contribution to sports may ultimately be educating sports parents on what NOT to do. Let’s hope the lesson spreads, and this behavior starts to subside in this next generation.

 

Source Credits:

http://deadspin.com/lavar-ball-is-a-great-showman-and-an-unabashed-dickhead-1793788278

http://www.cbssports.com/

 

 

 

 

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Two Things the NBA Can do to Stop Tanking

Tanking, or “deliberately losing on purpose” has been a major epidemic in the NBA for at least the past 30 years. The first speculated team to do it was the 1983-1984 Houston Rockets, who would go on to select Hakeem Olajuwon 1st overall in the 1984 NBA Draft. It was notably followed up by the San Antonio Spurs in 1997 in order to draft Tim Duncan.Those are just some of the “successful” examples. There have been several other occurrences along the way, but this has been a unique season in that several teams had blatantly tanked down the stretch of the 2016-2017 season.

A fair case can be made that the Lakers, Suns, Sixers, Kings, Magic, Knicks and Mavericks had mailed it in late in the season, knowing that doing so will result in increasing their odds at the NBA Draft Lottery in May. This 2017 Draft Class is being hyped as the best group since 2003 when Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh entered the league.

I do not fault any of these teams for tanking, nor do I for any team that has previously done so or will in the future. The unfortunate reality for the NBA is that tanking is the best option for teams that lack a superstar, which as I have previously presented is essential for winning a championship. If you already have a star, odds are that you are in the position to build around that player in order to become a contender. It’s a lot easier to get a second and third star when you have one than it is to get one when you have zero.

If you are simply a bad team, then you will have an opportunity to select a player at the top of the draft. But for those average 35-45-win, low playoff seeded teams that do not have any realistic chance to win a championship, blowing it up is usually the best action to take. Its the worst place to be, as you are not bad enough to draft a difference-making franchise player.

Tanking is a league problem, and it has never been a specific team problem. Instead of taking the old-school, sanctimonious approach of chastising these franchises, we should be trying to come up with a solution. So, I thought I would do my part by offering two suggestions.

  1. Change the Draft Eligibility Requirements

As it stands, players only need to be one year removed from high school before entering the NBA. The highest rated prospects play college for one season before entering the draft, inspiring the term “one and done”. While this is an improvement from old rule of players being eligible immediately following high school, it’s still not good enough. I am proposing the NBA copies the NFL by forcing players to stay in school for three years before entering the draft.

The argument against this proposal has always been it that it holds players back from cashing in and starting to “work” when they feel ready. While that notion has some merit, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives. Players would have an extra two years of development and an opportunity to mature both on and off the court. By virtue of this, a higher quantity of NBA-ready players will be entering the draft each year. Therefore, teams will not be inclined to take such drastic measures to secure a top draft pick.

The other factor in play is that these players, with only 20-25 college games under their belt, are that much more of an unknown to the NBA scouts trying to evaluate them. Drafts in any sport are enough of a dart throw as it is. But it is infinitely more difficult for teams attempting to project how good they will be at the next level with such a small sample size. Even if a prospect plays an entire season, usually at least a third of the games will be against very inferior competition, making that sample size for an accurate NBA projection even smaller. If these players have the chance to develop after a few seasons, more of them will be much easier to scout as NBA prospects. This ultimately puts less importance of securing a top pick in order to draft one of the very limited “sure things”, with the rest of the prospects being “complete unknowns”.

  1. Reward teams that are just missing out on the Playoffs

Teams just on the cusp or barely getting into the playoffs are in purgatory. In the NBA its better to be very bad than mediocre. Most teams have caught on, in that there is more incentive for a team to win 20 games than there is to win 40. Imagine the season is winding down and your 5-10 games below .500. At this point it may seem like the absolute ceiling is reaching a 7-8 seed if this team goes on an unbelievable, unexpected run to close out the season. Teams in his position usually op for tanking the rest of the way because it can be the difference between securing a top-five pick as opposed to just sneaking into the playoffs, only to get swept by a championship contender in the first round and get handed a mid-round pick.

Naturally, this presents a problem and was exacerbated down the stretch of the 2016-17 Season. But, what if there was more incentive to finish right out of the playoffs? What if all 30 teams tried to win all 82 games on their schedule? Everyone would agree it be much better for the league if this was the case. But the incentive needs to be there.

Here’s my idea: Award the best team not to make the playoffs with the most lottery chances, and conduct a drawing for picks #1 and #2. The drawing would only be for the top two picks and would simply be a reverse of the current lottery odds. So it would look like this…

Lottery Finish Chance of #1 Pick
14th 25%
13th 19.9%
12th 15.6%
11th 11.9%
10th 8.8%
9th 6.3%
8th 4.3%
7th 2.8%
6th 1.7%
5th 1.1%
4th 0.8%
3rd 0.7%
2nd 0.6%
1st 0.5%


Under this structure, every team out of playoff position will be trying their hardest to win every game down the stretch, which is essentially eliminating the incentive to tank. After the drawing for the top two picks, reward picks 3-14 on a worst-to-first order. This would guarantee that the worst team in the NBA will not draft any worse than #3, second-worst at #4 and so on. This is to ensure that authentically bad teams still have a good chance at drafting a top prospect.

It’s the best of both worlds. Average teams have the incentive to win down the stretch and if they miss out of the playoffs, they are in a position to draft a franchise player that they most likely lack. On the other hand, the truly bad teams still have a shot at a pick in the #3-5 range.

I firmly believe instituting both of these changes will have an enormous impact on the NBA. It will benefit teams, players and will ultimately eliminate tanking.

Photo Credit: http://www.nba.com/kings/blog/kings-2016-nba-draft-lottery-odds/

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Should Teams be Fighting this Hard for a Draft Pick? NBA History Says Yes

Until the NBA makes changes, tanking still remains the best option for getting out of the dreaded purgatory of being an average team. You know there is a problem with a sport when a team is in a better position to become a contender as a 20-win team, as compared to a 40-win team.

Earvin "Magic" Johnson, second from left, beams as he holds a Los Angeles Lakers uniform at New York's Plaza Hotel, Monday, June 26, 1979 where he was selected by the Lakers in the first round of the National Basketball Association draft. "Magic" is joined by NBA Commissioner Larry O'Brien, second from right, and by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Earvin Johnson, left and right, respectively. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler) ORG XMIT: APHS186045 [Via MerlinFTP Drop]

Unfortunately, being a mediocre-to-average team is a position in the NBA that is very difficult to escape. Each season, there are arguably 3-4 teams that have a legitimate shot at winning the NBA Championship. The sport is unique in that way. The NFL, MLB, and NHL have had its share of low seeds and wild card teams make deep playoff runs. Case in point, only twice in NBA history has a champion emerged as the #4 seed or later (4th seed 1969 Boston Celtics and 6th seed 1995 Houston Rockets). The first and second seeds have dominated the list of NBA Champions, with the last #3 seed to win being the 2011 Dallas Mavericks.

The takeaway is that flukes and parity are virtually nonexistent in the NBA. So what’s the big discovery, that the best teams from the regular season traditionally hold up the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June? Obviously. That is a given. But if you examine most of the NBA Champions in recent memory, they have a consistent similarity: They are led by or receive a major contribution from a player selected at the top of the NBA Draft.

Let’s take a look at the NBA Champions going back to 1980 along with the draft position of their best player

Year NBA Champion Player Draft Selection
1980 Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson 1st
1981 Boston Celtics Larry Bird 6th
1982 Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson 1st
1983 Philadelphia 76ers Julius Erving 12th
1984 Boston Celtics Larry Bird 6th
1985 Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson 1st
1986 Boston Celtics Larry Bird 6th
1987 Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson 1st
1988 Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson 1st
1989 Detroit Pistons Isiah Thomas 2nd
1990 Detroit Pistons Isaiah Thomas 2nd
1991 Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan 3rd
1992 Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan 3rd
1993 Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan 3rd
1994 Houston Rockets Hakeem Olajuwon 1st
1995 Houston Rockets Hakeem Olajuwon 1st
1996 Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan 3rd
1997 Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan 3rd
1998 Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan 3rd
1999 San Antonio Spurs Tim Duncan 1st
2000 Los Angeles Lakers Shaquille O’Neal 1st
2001 Los Angeles Lakers Shaquille O’Neal 1st
2002 Los Angeles Lakers Shaquille O’Neal 1st
2003 San Antonio Spurs Tim Duncan 1st
2004 Detroit Pistons Chauncey Billups 3rd
2005 San Antonio Spurs Tim Duncan 1st
2006 Miami Heat Shaquille O’Neal 1st
2007 San Antonio Spurs Tim Duncan 1st
2008 Boston Celtics Kevin Garnett 5th
2009 Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant 13th
2010 Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant 13th
2011 Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki 9th
2012 Miami Heat Lebron James 1st
2013 Miami Heat Lebron James 1st
2014 San Antonio Spurs Tim Duncan 1st
2015 Golden State Warriors Steph Curry 7th
2016 Cleveland Cavaliers Lebron James 1st


There are a few outliers. In 1983, the Philadelphia 76ers were led by Julius Erving who was drafted 12th overall and began his career in the ABA. Secondly, the Lakers of 2009 and 2010 were led by Kobe Bryant, a 13th overall draft pick. On the surface, it looks like an absolute steal. For what it’s worth, it sure was. However, when Bryant was drafted in 1996, a time when it was normal for high school players to be selected highly in the draft.

NEW YORK - JUNE 26: Kobe Bryant poses for a portrait after being selected by the Charlotte Hornets in the first round of the 1996 NBA Draft on June 26, 1996 at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1996 NBAE (Photo by Andy Hayt/NBAE via Getty Images) [Via MerlinFTP Drop]

Bryant was certainly not the first high school player to be drafted, but he picked at a time when teams were still very nervous about drafting someone right out of high school. A lot changed over the next few years; as in 2001, we saw the first four draft picks forgo college basketball for the NBA. It was not until 2006 when eligible players had to be at least one year removed from high school to enter the NBA. The bottom line is that if a prospect with the potential of Kobe Bryant came out a few years later, he most certainly would have been drafted much higher than 13th overall.

While one could argue that the best player on the 2006 Miami Heat was Dwayne Wade(drafted 5th overall in 2003), that team would have won without Shaquille O’Neal (1st overall in 1992). But the purpose of this exercise is to look at the importance of having a highly drafted player on the roster. But, fifth overall isn’t exactly low.

If we took all of the players leading their teams to championships from 1980 to 2016, the average draft selection was 3.27. If we remove the aforementioned outliers of Erving and Bryant, that average moves up to 2.44. So what does that tell us? That recent NBA history will tell you that if you want a legitimate shot at an NBA Championship, you need a superstar-caliber player that can most realistically be acquired within the first three picks of the NBA Draft.

The Golden State Warriors of the past few years could also be viewed as an anomaly, as Steph Curry was a 7th overall pick. It may be easy to forget how Curry was not viewed as an elite prospect coming out of Davidson in 2009. 

Same can be said for Draymond Green, who slipped into the abyss of the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft. 

GettyImages-50964347.0The 2004 Detroit Pistons, despite having Chauncey Billups who was drafted 3rd overall, may be the last NBA Champion without a true superstar. That was thirteen years ago.

Aside from the very few outliers and anomalies, the message is clear. In the NBA, if you do not have a superstar, you do not have a chance. It’s that simple. With the lack of NBA-ready talent entering the draft each year, teams without that star, franchise player have had to resort to tanking to put themselves in the position to draft that individual who will hopefully lead the franchise out of the dreaded NBA purgatory to the promised land.

Teams good enough to sneak the playoffs as the 7th or 8th seed define NBA purgatory. Those teams have virtually zero chance of winning it all, yet have equally long odds of drafting a player with the potential to become the superstar that can make the team a true contender.

As easy as it may be to criticize teams who have tanked, or have intentionally put together a roster that will yield very few wins, you can’t blame them for doing it. The flawed structure of the NBA essentially incentivizes teams to do it. Several teams have “blown it up” and tanked for their next franchise player. The Spurs did it for Tim Duncan. The Sonics/Thunder did it for Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.  

More recently the Sixers and Lakers have been following the same strategy with hopes that it will yield the same results. The Sixers are Lakers are not the first teams to tank, and as long as the NBA doesn’t make any changes to its structure, they won’t be the last. And I don’t blame them for doing so.

Source Credits:

http://ballislife.com/35-years-ago-the-lakers-selected-magic-johnson-with/

http://www.basketball-reference.com/

http://www.sportingnews.com/

http://ftw.usatoday.com/

http://www.detroitbadboys.com

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Joel Embiid: The Potential Superstar the NBA Needs

Joel Embiid is the talk of the NBA. After being drafted third overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2014 NBA Draft, he has sat out his first two seasons due to a fractured navicular bone. Yao Ming experienced the same injury, which led to recurring foot issues that ultimately cut his career short.

Sixers fans were hanging on the hope of Embiid finally getting healthy and that he would be worth the wait created by the massive rebuild the franchise began back in 2013. Whenever a sports team enters rebuild mode, it tests the fans’ patience considering the early stages involve very lean years. Most fans were receptive to it, but the angst was exacerbated by the mystery of when Joel Embiid would ever be able to make his NBA debut.

On October 26th, 2015, Joel Embiid made his long-awaited debut against the Oklahoma City Thunder. In just 22 minutes, Embiid led the Sixers with 20 points as he set the tone for the long-awaited feeling of hope and excitement for fans. Embiid has not slowed down yet. Despite averaging 25.4 minutes a game due to the team-imposed restriction, he is averaging 19.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. Statistics are courtesy of basketball-reference.com. 

Embiid’s  “Per 36 minutes” numbers are historic for a rookie: 28.8 points, 15.1 rebounds and 4.7 blocks per game. Think he is a typical big man who cannot shoot? Think again. He has a .461 field goal percentage, a free throw percentage of 79% and is shooting .348 beyond the three-point line. Those are pretty remarkable statistics for a volleyball player who didn’t start playing basketball until he was fifteen years old. 

joel-embiid-africa-His impact on the basketball court is at a level that even the biggest optimist could not have imagined. Embiid has brought energy to a Sixers team that is coming off a 10-72 record a season ago. They enter Friday’s game against Portland with a 14-26 record. If Embiid was not on a minute restriction and being held out of the second game of every “Back to Back”, it’s easy to imagine how much better Philadelphia would be. With Embiid in the lineup, the Sixers are 12-17 and have won each of their last seven. For the season, they are 2-9 when Embiid has not played.

In addition to the tangible results, Joel Embiid has completely changed the mood of the franchise and has injected a confidence that was lacking over the past few seasons. He has shown every sign of being a terrific, supportive teammate. This Instagram post following a last-second win over the Knicks, thanks to a buzzer beater by T.J. McConnell says it all.

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The NBA is a star-driven need, more so than any of the other professional sports. In terms of building a championship contender, having a star player is a prerequisite. But looking at the sport as a whole, the league’s popularity, and image and directly tied to its star players. Going back to the 1970s, the NBA was at a very low point. Most of it was attributed to the widespread drug use, low attendance numbers and a decade devoid of star players. Fortunately, the introduction of players like Julius Erving who was later joined by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson helped propel the NBA back into a positive light.

As we know, that torch was eventually passed onto and carried by Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and now Lebron James. Sure, the present-day NBA has its share of stars who take turns sharing the spotlight. However, almost every big star has a semblance of a dark cloud over their head.

zzzlebronLebron James, for as great as he may be, is still trying to repair his image which took a disastrous hit for “The Decision”, the superfluous television announcement that he was signing with the Miami Heat in 2010. Yes, he has made nice with Cleveland by returning home four years later and put the cherry on top by delivering a championship last June. Despite the Cavs reunion, there is still a large section of the population that take issue with James. The detractors will frequently accuse him of being passive-aggressive or get frustrated with his frequent “flopping”.

The recently retired Kobe Bryant certainly wasn’t the most likable player, same for Russell Westbrook and even Michael Jordan in the past generation. In the present day, Kevin Durant did major damage to his reputation when he abandoned the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the conference rival and historically good, Golden State Warriors last summer.

The NBA could greatly benefit from a new, young and likable superstar. Joel Embiid has knocked and has already started to make his way through that door. His size, skill, and ability have already drawn comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon and Wilt Chamberlain. No one is getting ahead of themselves by saying he will have a career that mirrors those aforementioned all-time greats. But after watching Joel Embiid through 29 games into his NBA career, it’s easy to imagine he will be a very special player.

Embiid’s play on the court is enough to believe he will become one of the most popular basketball players over the next decade. But it’s his presence, personality and even social media game that could turn him into the ultimate fan favorite.

Immediately following the 2014 Draft, Embiid let his fun-loving personality show through his Twitter account. Just weeks after being drafted by the Sixers, he began trying to recruit Lebron James to Philly.

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When his recruitment efforts fell short, Embiid turned his attention to Rihanna. In addition to his attempts to court the music star, he showed off some of his photoshop skills.

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For those of you are not already following Joel Embiid on Twitter and Instagram, promise that you will when you finish reading this article. But in the meantime, enjoy a few more of his classics over the past couple of years. 

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Now, pay special attention to the locations.

 

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The NBA as a league could greatly use a new young star for the public to fall in love with, and Joel Embiid has the ability, personality, and charisma to be that guy. Basketball fans around the world are watching with excitement, and are hoping we get to watch him blossom into the next NBA superstar.

 

Photo Credits:

http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/sports/sixers/Raptors-coach-compares-Joel-Embiid-to-a-young-Shaq.html

https://www.reddit.com

http://www.chicagotypewriter.net/

https://www.instagram.com/joelembiid/?hl=en