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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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Players Who Sucked This Week

There’s a million baseballers on this week’s list again. Okay not a million but still too many to count.

 

Hockey

What happened to the Senators on Sunday? All playoff games were close this past week except for the bludgeoning the Penguins gave them last night. Other than that, what we’ve seen from the the NHL playoffs thus far should make for an awesome Stanley Cup Final.

 

Basketball

Danny Green went 5-18 from the field and shot .200 from long range. But would it really matter if he played better? Nope! The Warriors are still going to the Finals.

Matt Barnes shot .143 from the floor and missed all three-point attempts. Another bench-sitting player dude named Deron Williams wasn’t much better, shooting .182 from the field.

Both the Celtics and Cavaliers get a mention for being blown out by 44 points and blowing a huge lead, respectively.

 

Baseball

Jered Weaver should consider retirement or the Padres need to cut him. He didn’t make it out of the first inning Friday night before giving up seven runs on five hits and two walks. Heck, even the opposing pitcher had an RBI and run scored in the first inning. He’s now 0-5 with a 7.44 ERA for the season.

Tommy Milone had two rough starts last week – he combined for 12 earned runs, four home runs, and five walks in eight total innings. He also earned his first two losses of the season.

The following guys pitched one game and that’s probably all the coach wanted to see: Ian Kennedy, Julio Teheran, Chris Heston, AJ Griffin, Julio Urías, Josh Tomlin, Zach Eflin, Scott Feldman, Jason Hammel, and Tom Koehler.

Chris Young added to Ian Kennedy’s terrible Sunday start, giving up three more runs in five innings of “relief” work.

Yovani Gallardo and Dillon Overton gave up 14 earned runs to the White Sox in 8 innings. Yikes!

“I’ll never figure out these guys”

Jarlin Garcia was a great relief pitcher if you were on the Astros or Dodgers. He gave up five runs in 3 ⅔ innings of work, boosting his ERA from 3.00 to 5.02.

Masahiro Tanaka let Yankees fans and this fantasy owner down. But I’m not too mad since it was against my Rays.

Mike Bolsinger started and lost two games last week, giving up nine earned runs in as many innings.

Mike Montgomery might’ve been the worst reliever of the week. In two games he allowed five runs in less than three innings while walking four batters. He was credited with the loss in the latter game. Enny Romero gave him a run for his money as the worst. Jose Alvarez, David Hernandez, Blake Wood, Donnie Hart, and Giovanni Gallegos are also here to join the terrible relief party.

Tanner Roark was not like himself last Thursday, surrendering seven runs in five innings. He even nearly upped his ERA a full point!

Oliver Perez had two relief appearances where he didn’t even record an out. Talk about being expendable.

Michael Ynoa appeared in just one game but it’s one he’ll want to forget (four runs and only one out). His teammate Anthony Swarzak joins him after giving up three runs without an out in his last appearance.

Junichi Tazawa and Brad Ziegler were both terrible last Monday. I got nothing clever to go with that.

Ryan Goins was the worst hitter of the week, going 1-23 from the plate with eight strikeouts. His teammate Darwin Barney cut it close by going 2-23. Adam Rosales was slightly better than both as he went 2-22 but then he had to strike out 12 times so now I don’t know who the worst hitter is.

Goins trying to figure out what went wrong.

Tuffy Gosewisch went 1-13 at the plate and struck out eight times. He was then demoted to triple-A. Justin Ruggiano was also terrible in 13 at-bats, dropping his BA by 36 points and striking out eight times as well.

TJ Rivera had a stunning .091 BA for the week but somehow managed to get an RBI.

Joe Panik got his act together by the end of the week, but still hit .111 in five games.

Luis Valbuena went without a hit in 17 at-bats but also had an RBI. His BA plummeted from .265 to .176.

Jace Peterson hit .125 for the somehow-second-place-Braves with nine K’s.

 

Dishonorable Mentions

Joe Musgrove is hit or miss. Should I drop him from my fantasy team? I’m leaning yes.

Chad Kuhl had a terrible Tuesday but bounced back yesterday against the Phillies.

Marc Andre-Fleury shutout the Senators last Monday, then allowed four goals on nine shots Wednesday before being pulled in the first period.

 

Got anyone to add? Write ‘em in the comments.

 

*Stats week of May 15-21

 

Photo credits:
http://www.athletepromotions.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Danny-Green-Camp.jpg
http://americaswhiteboy.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/2017-MLB-Season-Team-Preview-San-Diego-Padres-Jered-Weaver-funny.jpg
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/sp-mlb-a-20170404.jpg
http://mediadownloads.mlb.com/mlbam/2015/10/18/images/mlbf_524028483_th_45.jpg

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Players Who Sucked This Week

I’m back after forgetting to do last week’s list, and there are a ton of baseball players on the list. Like what-the-heck-happened-to-these-players-last-week a ton.

 

Hockey

Craig Anderson let up 11 goals in three games last week, losing two of them. With a .867 SV% in those three starts, he’s the lone hockey player on this week’s list.

The Oilers’ defense allowed 64 shots against Talbot Friday night and lost in double overtime; eight Anaheim skaters had 5 or more shots on goal. They got it together last night, beating the Ducks to force Game 7.

 

Basketball

There weren’t any consistently terrible performers last week except some guy Dejounte Murray. Of note, Harden went 3-17 from the field in Wednesday’s loss to the Spurs.

 

Baseball

Nick Tepesch didn’t last two innings before allowing 7 runs against the Red Sox Friday night.

The face you make after the two worst outings of your career.

Brett Anderson was any-word-you-can-think-of awful on the mound last week. In two starts he didn’t last two total innings, gave up 12 runs on 13 hits, and was credited with two losses. His ERA jumped from 3.54 to 8.18. This is mean, but maybe it’s a good thing he’s currently on the DL.

Jered Weaver is just terrible this year. No really, check out his game log.

Matt Belisle and Justin Haley combined for 10 runs in the 9th inning Sunday afternoon, 7 of them earned. The Twins ended up losing 17-6 instead of a respectable 7-6.

Mike Foltynewicz, Kyle Gibson, Alex Meyer, Kyle Kendrick, Nick Martínez, Trevor Bauer, Jameson Taillon, Mat Latos, Matt Moore, Marcus Stroman and Ian Kennedy all had a crappy start last week. They didn’t help any fantasy owners.

Ty Blach got his second start after a solid outing against the Padres (well duh), and really messed it up. Like three innings, 11 hits, eight earned runs, two homers, and a walk messed up.

Miguel Diaz was every hitter’s dream come true last week. In three appearances he pitched 2 ⅔ innings, gave up 10 total runs on seven hits, and walked four guys. His ERA is now 10.67.

Matt Cain pitched atrocious last Friday. I think he may have celebrated the Mexican holiday before the game because how else do you rationalize 10 hits, nine runs, and six walks in 3 ⅓ innings of work?

Basically sums up Cain’s career post-2013.

Brad Ziegler made two appearances and lost both. The worse one came Friday night when he gave up five runs without getting a batter out and the Marlins lost 8-7. Maybe he went out with Cain.

Luke Gregerson wasn’t quite as bad as Ziegler overall, but consistently sucked in both appearances. He allowed five runs between the two games, gave up five hits, but escaped both without a loss.

Cesar Valdez nearly matched Sonny Gray’s box score last Tuesday with five hits, four runs, and three home runs…except Valdez did it in one inning instead of six.

Austin Pruitt screwed up Blake Snell’s last start, giving up five runs on seven hits in the 6th inning which led to the Marlins beating the Rays at home.

Josh Collmenter helped contribute to three losses for the Braves last week, giving up six runs over four innings of relief work. But who’s worse was Matt Wisler, giving up seven runs in less than two innings.

Dylan Covey gave up six runs in each of his starts, had a WHIP of 2.16, and lost both.

Abraham Almonte, Chris Heisey, and Austin Hedges all went hitless last week. Yup, not even one basehit.

Danny Espinosa also went hitless, but his streak goes back to April 28. His season BA sits at .147.

What did Matt Wieters, Carlos Gonzalez, Christian Vazquez, Kelby Tomlinson, Jackie Bradley Jr., Ryan Flaherty, Yasmany Tomas, and Russell Martin all have in common last week? Getting just one hit in 10 or more at bats.

Carlos Gomez and Shin-Soo Choo both managed four hits in 25+ at bats last week.

Steven Souza Jr. collected two hits in 17 at-bats, struck out seven times, and dropped his average 27 points in the slumping process. The Rays season looks pretty similar to his stat line.

Jason Heyward hasn’t improved much from last year, and he only got worse in his last five games going 1-13.

 

Dishonorable Mentions

Jeremy Hellickson wasn’t awful but really didn’t pitch that great in two starts. He didn’t make it through the 5th inning in both and gave up nine runs in nearly as many innings.

John Gibson played well in his first two starts winning both against the Oilers, but then allowed three goals on six attempts to start yesterday’s game. Jonathan Bernier didn’t help by allowing two more in the first, then another two before they lost 7-1.

 

Got anyone to add? Write ‘em in the comments.

 

Stats week of May 1-7

 

Photo credits:
http://storage.edmontonsun.com/v1/dynamic_resize/sws_path/suns-prod-images/1297952442906_ORIGINAL.jpg?quality=80&size=650x
https://usatftw.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/ap_nlds_dodgers_mets_baseball_76678384.jpg?w=1000&h=600&crop=1
http://cdn0.sbnation.com/uploads/chorus_image/image/10761755/149389087.0.jpg
http://the30ish.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/braves.jpg

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Players Who Sucked This Week

This should have been posted yesterday but I had a brief episode of amnesia and forgot I wrote this til now. Better late than never!

 

Hockey

The Blackhawks and Flames get the nod for getting swept in the first round of the playoffs.

That feeling when you get swept.

That feeling when you get swept.

Brian Elliott let up six goals on 30 shots, including two on only three shots in Wednesday’s sweeping loss to the Ducks. I’m still confused how the Flames (and Maple Leafs) made the playoffs.

Sergei Bobrovsky was not impressive in his two final playoff games, giving up nine goals with a .857 SV% in those contests.

Braden Holtby and Frederik Andersen both made their opposing skaters look good. The Capitals-Leafs series was a shootout with only one game not going into overtime. The Caps now face the Penguins and will not make it past them if Holtby continues to let shots go by.

 

Basketball

The Pacers set the record for biggest blown lead in the playoffs (26 pts). Then they lost Sunday and were swept by Cavaliers. If it’s any consolation, they lost the series by a combined 16 points.

I bet you clicked that.

I bet you tried to click that.

Manu Ginobili missed every single field goal attempt in the 2017 playoffs thus far. He’s got at least two more games to make up for it.

Markieff Morris nearly fouled out in the last two games he’s played in and shot .294 from the field.

Mike Muscala only made one shot in seven attempts, and nearly fouled out Wednesday.

 

Baseball

The Padres had some plain bad luck last Tuesday night. First their pitcher Cosart bunted the ball with men on first and second; the catcher snagged the ball and threw out the lead runner. Then in the following inning the D-backs scored on a 2-out, bases loaded walk. Then Chris Owings BUNTED the ball,Stammen bobbled the ball and made a throwing error which led to two more runs. The Padres ended up losing 11-2. It might be one of those years for ‘em.

This is the face of an 0-20 guy.

This is the face of an 0-20 guy.

Jeff Mathis is hitless in his last 20 at bats, striking out in half of them. Luckily for the D-backs he isn’t the starting catcher.

JaCoby Jones couldn’t reach base in 14 plate appearances this week, striking out nine times. Not to mention he got hit in the face by a pitch. This was not a good week for him. Marwin Gonzalez also went 0-14 but drew three walks. This lack of hitting has dropped his average 135 points in the last ten games. Cody Asche went 0-10 this week with half being strikeouts. His season average is a tragic .057 as of now. What’s with all these guys with the donut stats?

Dansby Swanson went 3-28 last week with a season average of .139. The former first overall pick is off to a poor start.

Kevin Gausman is making me regret drafting him. He’s given up 13 combined runs in his last two starts over eight innings. His season ERA sits at 7.50 with a WHIP of 2.04. He better get back on track.

Kyle Gibson continues to underwhelm the Minnesota fan base with his lackluster pitching. He lost both starts with a combined nine earned runs, 17 hits, and four walks. He’s 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA to start the year.

Twins fans can relate.

Twins fans can relate.

I picked up Cody Reed after he pitched eight shutout innings prior to his first start. Then naturally he gives up seven runs in just two innings. That sucks for both of us.

Julio Teheran had just one start but gave up as many runs as that Reed fella above him. But he lasted two more innings. So he wasn’t quite as bad as Reed.

Rafael Montero outsucked both Reed and Teheran; he gave up three runs in only a third of an inning. He was then sent down to the Minors.

 

Dishonorable Mentions

Cam Talbot allowed five goals last Tuesday, but stopped 50 of the next 54 shots he faced.

 

Got anyone to add? Write ‘em in the comments.

 

Stats week of 4/17-23

 

Photo Credits:
https://cdn0.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/0eN-YREpBtkdluXkZqkdscKcBR0=/0x0:3000×1903/1200×800/filters:focal(1834×341:2314×821)/cdn0.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_image/image/54373387/669632864.0.jpg
https://i.ytimg.com/vi/wrOwoKETpKo/maxresdefault.jpg
http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/images/players/head_shot/425772.jpg
http://stmedia.startribune.com/images/twinsgal041816+3+19.JPG