The Cavaliers Celtics Megatrade

The NBA off-season continues to be more dramatic than last season.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have agreed to trade point guard Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics in exchange for point guard Isaiah Thomas, forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic, and the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected 2018 first-round pick.

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge finally pulled the trigger in an effort to pursue an NBA title. Acquiring Kyrie Irving gives them an All-Star caliber player and one of the most effective offensive players in the league, and he will compliment new free-agent forward Gordon Hayward very well. They also avoid having to pay a super-max deal to point guard Isaiah Thomas with this move as well, thus assuring they won’t have to overpay a 5’8 point guard who is a defensive liability.

Earlier this off-season, Kyrie Irving went to Cavaliers management and requested a trade, with the rumor he no longer wanted to play second fiddle to Cavaliers forward LeBron James and be “the man” on another team. While Irving was granted his request, is he really “the man” on the Boston Celtics? Sure, he’s their most talented offense player now even with the arrival of prized free-agent forward Gordon Hayward, but the Celtics aren’t going to build around Irving. They’ll play team basketball and incorporate everyone on the court, something Kyrie Irving hasn’t always been best at considering he  averages merely 5.6 assists per game for his career. Irving may have been gotten what he wanted in regards to moving away from LeBron James (*a dumb move, but more on that later*), but he isn’t going to be “the man” in Boston. And while there is also the rumor he will not commit long term to his new team, the Celtics will be hesitant to commit long term to an oft-injured ball dominant point guard.

Sure, the Celtics are now more offensively talented with the addition of Irving, but they’ve forgone their hard-nosed defensive mentality by trading away Crowder to the Cavaliers and trading guard Avery Bradley to the Detroit Pistons earlier this summer. Without their defensive tone-setters and swapping the same type of player, the Celtics aren’t much better than they were, and even then they weren’t able to be competitive in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavaliers. And considering the price they had to pay to acquire Irving wasn’t that much, we can still criticize Danny Ainge for being hesitant in trade discussions relating to now Timberwolves forward Jimmy Butler and now Thunder forward Paul George. All the Celtics had to give up was a starter or two and a future draft pick, so the Celtics could have easily had either Butler or George earlier this off-season and improve their chances of dethroning King James and the Cavaliers.

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The Cavaliers come out winners in this deal in the short-term. They are still the best team in the Eastern Conference by making this move and will represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals next year. While Isaiah Thomas is the worst defensive player in the league and there are lingering concerns regarding his hip injury he suffered in the Eastern Conference Finals, he is another offensive option for the Cavaliers who can get his own shot. They’ve essentially traded a ball dominant point guard for another ball dominant point guard, so not much changes for the Cavaliers offensively. The addition of Jae Crowder bolsters the Cavaliers’ defense as well, as he can guard a team’s best offensive player night in and night out. Crowder also shot nearly 40% from behind the three-point line last year, adding yet another sharp shooter to their three-point shooting heavy offense.

Regardless of whether or not the Cavaliers win the title next year, they know LeBron James is as good as gone. There’s only so much LeBron James can do to help this dysfunctional franchise, and the Cavaliers added an insurance policy for when LeBron James bolts for another team by acquiring Brooklyn’s 1st round pick. The Nets are sure to be one of the worst teams in the NBA this year, and the Cavaliers have effectively managed to mitigate the damage that will be done when LeBron James leaves, as they are sure to have a high draft pick in next year’s draft and can start rebuilding.

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One thing I cannot wrap my mind around, however, is why Kyrie Irving requested a trade. Even though the Celtics are an ideal situation due to the fact they are contenders, Irving has thrown away a guaranteed trip to the NBA Finals by jettisoning away from LeBron James. Over the last seven seasons, any team LeBron James has played for has made it to the NBA Finals. He’s managed to win three titles during that span. Irving was also a more efficient player upon James’ arrival back to Cleveland, and was the man who made the game winning shot for the Cavaliers in Game 7 of 2016 NBA Finals because LeBron James, the best player in the world and ever, deferred to him. Why would anyone abandon a situation in which you are the second best player on the team only because you are playing beside the best player in the league and the best basketball player ever, yet still treated as a superstar/ “the man?”

While there will inevitably be a Shaq/ Kobe situation in which Irving will say he regrets leaving LeBron James and the way in which their time together ended, for now the NBA’s Eastern Conference has been made somewhat dramatic. While the season opener between these teams on October 17th will be sensationalized in an effort to make the upcoming NBA season seem less predictable, the Cavaliers are still the class of the Eastern Conference. Every fan also knows, however, everyone is playing for second place, as the Golden State Warriors are the overwhelming favorites to be champions for the third time in four years.

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Kyrie Irving’s Trade Demand

Cleveland? More like LEAVE-land.

In the case that you’ve been living under a rock, Cleveland Cavaliers PG Kyrie Irving demanded a trade last week. Word is that Kyrie is tired of being under LeBron James’ shadow, as he has the “Mamba Mentality” and wants to be the focal point of a team. It has also been reported that LeBron James is upset with Kyrie Irving for mentioning his name in this topic, so upset to the point that LeBron is “Tempted to beat his (Kyrie’s) ass” should the two come into contact with each other.

With all of the rumors swirling around LeBron James that he is bolting the Cavaliers for the Los Angeles Lakers next off-season, one can hardly blame Kyrie Irving for wanting to be two steps ahead of the game. When LeBron James left the Cavaliers in 2010, they suffered 4 straight losing seasons, 3 of which Irving was present for. Ever since LeBron James left the Miami Heat to return back home to Cleveland in 2014, the Heat have missed the postseason 2 out of the last 3 seasons, and now have to settle for signing Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk to big contracts. Kyrie sees a pattern here. That pattern? Whenever LeBron leaves, the team he leaves is decimated. Kyrie Irving does not want to be the next victim in LeBron’s pattern.

However, it has not been confirmed LeBron is leaving Cleveland  for LA LA land (*he hasn’t denied it either, but that’s another argument for a different day*). As of right now, LeBron James is a Cleveland Cavalier. As evidenced by the previous 7 years, if LeBron James plays on your team, you will play in the NBA Finals. Evidence from 3 of those 7 years also indicates you might actually win a title. One of those years indicates you might be the player to hit the game winning shot to defeat the greatest NBA regular season team ever. Oh wait, was the player who hit that shot LeBron James? No, it was Kyrie Irving.

Irving’s desire to be traded can only be described as a petulant, spoiled brat who complains about the line at Starbucks being too long. Kyrie Irving, a man who took 74 more 2-point shots and 99 more 3-point shots than LeBron James last year, is complaining about not getting as much attention as the greatest player on the planet. And by the way, this isn’t Kevin Durant in free agency in the summer of 2016 having all of the power in the world. When you demand a trade, you’re still under contract. You don’t get to choose your destination. The Cavaliers could trade Irving anywhere they’d like or tell him to go kick rocks. Irving has no leverage.

Irving is of the belief he can be a franchise cornerstone. That a team can be built around him to be “The Man” and compete for a championship. Going by Irving’s preferred destinations, one must ask what on earth he is thinking? He wants to be traded from the Cavaliers, a team essentially guaranteed to be the representative of the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals, to New York to become a nothing with the woeful Knicks? To be the fourth best player for the Minnesota Timberwolves? To compete for more shots with Dion Waiters for the Miami Heat? To be the second option like he is now with the Cavaliers for the San Antonio Spurs? Irving doesn’t realize how good he currently has it. Kyrie Irving is demanding a trade from a team in which he is an all-star and regarded as the team’s closer? Talk about first world problems.

What makes Irving believe he can utilize his “Mamba Mentality” like his idol, Kobe Bryant, and be “The Man” elsewhere when he could be described as a supremely talented, but oft-injured ball hog? Prior to the arrival of Cleveland’s lord and savior, LeBron James, Irving was already “The Man”. He was the number one overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. As “The Man”, the Cavaliers won 21 games in the lockout shortened 2011-12 NBA season, 24 games in 2012-13, and 33 games in 2013-14. While Irving was “The Man”, he was also chronically injured, as he missed 49 games in his first 3 seasons. Even when LeBron came back, Irving has still been injury-prone, missing 46 games over the last three seasons, and that doesn’t even include the 5 NBA Finals games he missed in the 2015 NBA Finals.

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Also, let’s pretend LeBron James does in fact leave the Cavaliers for the Lakers next summer. Should Kyrie stay with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he becomes the sympathetic figure, as LeBron James would once again be painted as a man abandoning his hometown for a more glitzy, glamorous destination. Irving would regain his “rightful” place as “The Man” in Cleveland with two years remaining on his contract. Sure, he’s stuck with an aging roster riddled with bad guaranteed contracts, but in an Eastern Conference without LeBron James, that team could compete for a lower seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Kyrie Irving’s trade demand is understandable if you’re looking through the prism of not wanting to bite the dust should LeBron James ditch the Cavaliers in the summer of 2018. Every other prism you look through, however, cannot justify Irving’s immature stance of wanting to be “The Man”. His first three years in the league suggest he not only cannot carry the load as a team’s first option in terms of winning, but also cannot be on the court to help see that vision trough. Even in his three seasons with LeBron James, Irving hasn’t proven he can stay healthy. Why would any team risk placing their future in a guard who is unable to stay on the court? Why would you want to forgo competing for a championship when you would be nowhere closer to building towards this goal should you be traded to one of your preferred destinations, which you may not even be granted? Kyrie Irving needs to wake up before it’s too late, and realize he has been given an NBA player’s dream career: being the number one pick, being an all-star who is treated like a superstar, and playing alongside and winning championships with the greatest player ever, LeBron James. With Kyrie Irving’s trade demand and rumors circling LeBron James regarding his future plans, Cleveland might as well re-name themselves Leave-land.

 

 

The Plight of LeBron James

How can the best basketball player in the world be so maligned?

From the moment the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted him with the first pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, the spotlight was on the king from Akron, Ohio, LeBron James. While he was still in high school, James was proclaimed “The Chosen One” by Sports Illustrated. 14 years into his NBA career, LeBron James has not only lived up to this billing, he has exceeded it. Year after year, LeBron James showcases he is not only the most valuable player in the NBA, but also the best basketball player in the world.

Yet, after losing to one of the most talented teams ever assembled in the NBA, there are still detractors and haters out there who will continually deny LeBron the mantel of the G.O.A.T. They’ll point to his 3-5 Finals record, they’ll point to “The Decision”, they’ll say he’s no Michael Jordan. Whatever criticism you have of LeBron James now borders on insanity or pure hatred for the man.

LeBron James led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007 in just his fourth year in the league. The starting lineup for that Cavaliers team included Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Sasha Pavlovic, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. They’re hardly the dynastic San Antonio Spurs team they were swept by. LeBron wasn’t ready for the spotlight, and he was the only weapon on a team that would’ve won 20 games without him. You can’t hold the 2007 Finals against him.

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The one year you can rightfully hold against LeBron James is 2010-2011. In the summer of 2010, LeBron exposed himself as one of the most immature, self-absorbed human beings on planet earth by broadcasting on national television his intentions of “taking his talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat” in The Decision. A few days later, he and the Heat organization celebrated as if they had just won an NBA championship, where he made his infamous “not five, not six, not seven” championship remarks. James then led his Miami Heat “super team”, which included Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, to the 2011 NBA Finals. Unfortunately, LeBron pulled a disappearing act even the great magician Harry Houdini would have envied, and lost to the lesser Dallas Mavericks. It was poetic justice. A man who had spurned his hometown in a selfish pursuit of championships finally got what he deserved and acted like a sore loser in defeat.

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It was at that moment LeBron James evolved into the greatest player the game has ever seen. LeBron led the Miami Heat to back to back titles in 2012 and 2013, dismantling an Oklahoma City Thunder team consisting of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden in 2012 and finally overcoming the dynastic San Antonio Spurs in 2013. Both times he was the Finals MVP. In 2012 he averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game and in 2013 he averaged 25.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. In 2014, he led the Heat to their fourth straight NBA Finals appearance, but were abused by the vengeful San Antonio Spurs in 5 games. He was, however, the best player on the court, averaging 28.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 4 assists per game.

While LeBron was off winning championships, the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose owner Dan Gilbert infamously denounced James and said the Cavaliers would win a title before LeBron would, were a perennial NBA Draft Lottery team. They had won the lottery three times, striking gold by selecting Kyrie Irving in 2011, bombing in 2013 by selecting Anthony Bennett, and trading away Andrew Wiggins in 2014 to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love. This acquisition was made because LeBron James did what no other player in NBA history of his caliber had ever done, he came home.

For the last three seasons, LeBron James has led the Cavaliers to three NBA Finals appearances. In a losing effort in 2015, James averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game. He was without Kyrie Irving for 5 games of the series and was without Kevin Love for the entire series, as both were lost due to injury. Yet, LeBron James still took the Golden State Warriors, one of the most prolific shooting teams in NBA history, to 6 games when his starting point guard and second best player on his team was Matthew Dellavedova. In the 2016 Finals, James came back from a 3-1 series deficit against a 73 win Golden State Warriors team and won his third NBA title and Finals MVP, averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game. In the deciding game 7 of the series, LeBron James had a triple double and made one of the greatest plays in NBA history when he blocked Andre Iguodala of the Warriors to keep the game tied at 89.

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The Miami Heat, on the other hand, have not recovered since James left. The Heat have been in the NBA Draft lottery two out of the last three years, with their only playoff appearance coming in 2016, when James led the Cavaliers to an NBA title. LeBron James is the difference between your team winning an NBA title or your team picking in the NBA Draft Lottery. No other player in NBA history has had that kind of influence on a team. That includes Michael Jordan, as his Chicago Bulls went from winning 57 games in 1993 to winning 55 games in 1994 when Jordan retired for the first time.

This year, the best player in the world ran into the best team in the world. Anyone who tries to tarnish his legacy due to losing to a better team is blind to the greatness we have witnessed over the last seven seasons. Not even the great Michael Jeffrey Jordan, who yes, has more accomplishments in his career than LeBron to this point, made it to seven straight finals. LeBron James is the only man to do so, and keeps inventing new categories to judge players by. This past NBA finals, although losing in five games, LeBron James became the first player in NBA Finals history to average a triple-double, averaging 33.6 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists per game. As LeBron has gotten older, his NBA Finals numbers seem to get better and better each year.

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Any argument you have against LeBron James makes you look like as foolish as Skip Bayless. LeBron James may be the only man in NBA history who can seemingly do it all, yet we want to tear him down and make it seem as if he is not worthy of the G.O.A.T. label. LeBron James is more than worthy of this label, and denying him of it is an exercise in futility. I may not always be a man who hangs his hat on statistics, but by the end of his career, LeBron James will have obliterated Michael Jordan in every measurable statistical category. Yes, LeBron may not reach Jordan’s 6 titles, 6 Finals MVPs, and may not have an undefeated record in the Finals like Jordan. However, it wouldn’t take long for anyone to notice the player you’d want to build your team around is LeBron, a man among boys who can do it all as opposed to the high volume shooting and scoring Jordan.

We’re witnessing greatness before our very eyes. A once in a generation player. Father time himself has not yet caught up to LeBron James. Maybe this is why we hold LeBron James to such high expectations. We believe a player as gifted and talented as him should be perfect, despite the fact that no human being, let alone no basketball player, has a flawless resume. Fairly or unfairly, this is the plight LeBron James. A man so supremely talented,  a man with many accomplishments, yet no one wants to embrace him as the greatest of all time.

 

 

 

NBA Finals Preview: Warriors Cavaliers III

The trilogy that will define an era concludes.

I predicted it long before I started writing this blog. I famously declared the NBA season over back in February during NBA All-Star Weekend. And now here we are, for the third straight season, the only two teams left standing in the NBA are the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Never before has the NBA seen the same two teams face each other in the NBA Finals three years in a row. The Celtics and Lakers didn’t do it in the 80s, the Bulls and the Jazz only saw each other two years in a row in ’97 and ’98, and the Heat and the Spurs went head to head twice in two years as well back in 2013 and 2014. This is a historic NBA Finals, and if you thought the stakes were as high as they could be last year with the greatest season in NBA history and an all-time greats’ legacy on the line, the stakes are arguably even higher this year.

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While most would believe there’s little pressure on Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James this year since he came back from a 3-1 series deficit last year, this series has the potential to have him leap-frog the ghost and G.O.A.T. in Chicago, Michael Jordan. Jordan may have faced four 62 or more win teams in the 90s, but most would agree the ’93 Suns with Charles Barkley, the ’96 Supersonics with Gary Payton, and the ’97 – ’98 Jazz with John Stockton and Karl Malone are nowhere near as talent nor as good as the Warriors’ teams that have won 67 or more games the last three seasons. Should LeBron beat this Warriors team with four all-stars, three hall-of fame caliber players and one borderline hall-of-fame caliber player, it would become increasingly difficult to deny him the mantel of the G.O.A.T. . Also, considering the fact that he’s averaging 32.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 7.0 APG during this playoff run, it’s hard to count out LeBron James. Throw in the fact that he still has one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the game in PG Kyrie Irving and a surging Kevin Love, who’s coming off an explosive Eastern Conference Finals in which he averaged 22.6 PPG, 12.4 RPG, and shot 53.5% from the 3-point line, and the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers have more than enough to defeat the seemingly unstoppable Warriors.

However, the Warriors are out to avenge last years’ failure of adding a ring to their 73-9 regular season. To do so, they lured F Kevin Durant to Northern California, thus becoming the living embodiment of the phrase “If you can’t be ’em, join ’em.” While injuries and the Warrior’s success without him may have somewhat plagued his season, Kevin Durant has held up his end of the bargain, averaging 25.2 PPG in the playoffs and becoming a more active defensive player than we ever saw him be as a member of the Thunder. While Durant might be the best player on the team, make no mistake, this is still PG Stephen Curry’s team. Averaging 28.6 PPG and shooting 43.1% from the three-point line, Stephen Curry has arguably had just as magical of a playoff run as LeBron James. However, neither he nor SG Klay Thompson have lived up to their billing as “The Splash Bros.” in the last two NBA Finals. Curry failed to live up to his MVP standards, as he averaged 26 PPG and shoot only 35% from the three-point line in the 2015 Finals, averaged 22.6 PPG in the 2016 Finals, and Thompson averaged only 15.8 PPG and 19.6 PPG in the 2015 and 2016 Finals respectively.

Barring injuries, this is the no excuses NBA Finals. All of the teams are fully healthy. LeBron will have his other two counterparts unlike in 2015 and for some of 2016. Stephen Curry will have a leg to stand on after his knee left him somewhat ineffective in 2016. Kevin Durant won’t have to worry about PG Russell Westbrook hogging the ball like he did back when they were teammates on the Thunder. While memories of LeBron throttling Kevin Durant throughout his career aren’t forgotten, including in the 2012 NBA Finals, the Warriors have too much offensive fire-power for LeBron James to supplant MJ as the G.O.A.T. … for now.

Prediction: Warriors in 7.

NBA Playoffs: Conference Semifinals Preview

Now it gets interesting.

The first round of the NBA playoffs came and went. Some teams and players shined under the spotlight and are moving on, while others perished and will now watch the rest of the playoffs from the couch. The conference semifinals got underway today, and it’s time to predict which teams will advance to the conference finals.

Eastern Conference:

1. Celtics V. 4. Wizards, Celtics lead series 1-0.

The Celtics fumbled around with the Bulls in the first round but managed to finish them off in six games due to Bulls PG Rajon Rondo suffering a thumb injury that sidelined him games three through six. The Wizards also showed signs of being unfocused in their series against the Hawks, but still managed to win the series in six games. These two teams were evenly matched in the regular season, as each team won two out of the four games they played against each other. While the Wizards’ two guard tandem of PG John Wall and SG Bradley Beal will cause headaches for the Celtics, PG Isaiah Thomas and company should be favored to advance. The Wizards are flashy, fun to watch, and have a more experienced coach in Scott Brooks. However, they are also a collection of stooges led by PF Markieff Morris, and are prone to mental lapses. The Celtics are the better, more focused team, and they will squeak by the Wizards to advance to the eastern conference finals.

Prediction: Celtics in 7

2. Cavaliers V. 3. Raptors

The Raptors are the biggest conundrum of a team we’ve ever seen in the NBA. They have all the pieces in place: a strong backcourt led by PG Kyle Lowery and SG DeMar DeRozen, a physically imposing frontcourt led by trade deadline acquisition PF Serge Ibaka and C Jonas Valanciunas, and a solid head coach in Dwane Casey. Yet when they arrive to the NBA playoffs, they can’t seem to get out of their own way. PG Kyle Lowery laid a monster of an egg in a game 1 loss against the Bucks, and the team gave us a blast from the past by scoring only 77 points in a game 3 loss. They managed to rebound and win the series in six games, but it was against a relatively inexperienced Bucks team. Sure, the Cavaliers beat the lowly Pacers by an average margin of only four points per game, but the Cavs did what the best teams in the NBA are supposed to do and swept the Pacers. And once again, this series can be summarized like so: the Cavaliers have LeBron James. The Raptors do not.

Prediction: Cavs in 5

Western Conference:

1. Warriors V. 5. Jazz

The seemingly unstoppable Warriors are going through a period of adversity in the playoffs. Sure, they swept the Trailblazers (*again, as the best teams in the NBA are supposed to do*), but head coach Steve Kerr may not coach the rest of the NBA playoffs due to chronic back pain. Assistant head coach Mike Brown will now coach the team. Mike Brown may have coached the Cavaliers to an NBA Finals appearance in 2007 and spent time as coach of the Lakers, it would be foolish to think he’s as good of a coach as Kerr and that the Warriors won’t be affected by his absence eventually. F Kevin Durant missed games 2 and 3 of the first round due to a left calf injury, the same leg he hurt earlier this season that caused him to miss twenty games. None of that really matters in the semifinals, as they will advance to their third straight western conference finals despite these hardships. The Jazz are a youthful team that’ll challenge the Warriors every game, but there’s no reason to believe they can win four out of seven against them even with all of the adversity facing the Warriors.

Prediction: Warriors in 5

2. Spurs V. 3. Rockets

Rockets F James Harden may not walk away with MVP honors this year, but his team clowned soon to be MVP Russell Westbrook and the Thunder in five games. The Rockets showcased that they are a more complete team and are still loaded offensively. The Spurs, on the other hand, took six games to dispatch an offensively challenged Grizzlies team. While everyone will praise SF Kawhi Leonard as the best two-way player remaining in the playoffs (*What about that guy LeBron James? Isn’t he pretty good?*), the Spurs are missing a key component to their formula that has led to their successful twenty year run: a dominant big man. While it would have been naive to believe PF LaMarcus Aldrige could fill the big shoes left by legendary PF Tim Duncan or even resemble hall of fame C David Robinson, he hasn’t come close to matching the production he had during his time as a Trailblazer. While the Spurs have the edge in this series due to coach Gregg Popovich’s success against Mike D’Antoni in the playoffs (*he’s 4-0 in playoff series against Mike D’Antoni coached teams*), the Spurs will need more from their max-deal big man if they want to win an NBA championship.

Prediction: Spurs in 6.