NBA Season Preview

It’s the Warriors’ world, everyone else is just living in it.

With the start of the 2017-2018 NBA season upon us, every fan has the hope and dream that their team can ascend to the top of the league and be crowned as NBA champions. If the last three seasons are any sort of indication, that’s wishful thinking at best. There’s no doubt the Golden State Warriors are the team to beat, but it would be unwise to say the Western Conference didn’t get a little more interesting after an off season that resembled the wild wild west.

In the Eastern Conference, it’s still LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers sitting at the top of the mountain. However, even the king and his soldiers look beneath them and see a potential rising power in the otherwise lowly Eastern Conference.

Here’s how the conferences will finish when it’s all said and done.

Western Conference

1. Warriors 67-15

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A team that steamrolled through the playoffs last season en route to an NBA championship managed to retain all of their key players and add more depth to their bench. It’s not fair.

2. San Antonio Spurs 60-22

Gregg Poppovich is still coaching, and they’ve got an MVP candidate in Kawhi Leonard returning from injury. The off season acquisition of Rudy Gay will also help this squad as well.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder 55-27

The combination of last season’s MVP PG Russell Westbrook and all-stars Carmelo Anthony and Paul George gives them enough offensive fire-power to hang with the best the NBA has to offer. It’ll be on coach Billy Donovan to manage these 3 big personalities.

4. Houston Rockets 53-29

Head coach Mike D’Antoni will have his hands full trying to manage ball dominant guards James Harden and Chris Paul. There isn’t much reason to believe this relationship will work or last, but their talent alone keeps them at the top of the conference.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves 51-31

The popular pick to make headway in the Western Conference this season, there’s no doubt a starting lineup that contains superstars Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler, and Andrew Wiggins should help catapult this team to new heights. Maybe not as high as their 2003-2004 season when they appeared in the Western Conference Finals, but higher than they’ve been in over a decade.

6. Los Angeles Clippers 44-38

Yes, losing PG Chris Paul hurts, but they’ve got PGs Patrick Beverly and Lou Williams to fill in for him. They also still have PF Blake Griffin, C DeAndre Jordan, and a good head coach in Doc Rivers who finally gave up his head of basketball operations hat to the logo, Jerry West. They’re no longer title contenders, but they’re good enough to be in the playoff discussion.

7. Portland Trailblazers 41-41

PG Damian Lillard and SG C.J. McCollum have enough firepower to keep this team around the .500 mark, but they’re going to need a mid-season acquisition if they want to rise from the bottom of the playoff picture.

8. New Orleans Pelicans 40-42

The twin towers combo of PF Anthony Davis and C DeMarcus Cousins didn’t excel last year. However, having a full off season under their belts and the additions of defensive stopper SG Tony Allen and a once healthy PG Rajon Rondo should be enough to sneak into the postseason.

9. Sacramento Kings 38-44

The off season additions of  SG Vince Carter, PF Zach Randolph, and PG George Hill along with Rookie of the Year candidate PG De’Aaron Fox will make the Kings a compelling watch. However, can a dysfunctional front office led by GM Vlade Divac and owner Vivek Ranadivé finally stay out of the way? More than likely not.

10. Denver Nuggets 37-45

They’ve got offensive firepower, averaging 111 points per game last season. But if they’re expecting an aging PF in Paul Milsap to be the difference between them making the playoffs and them missing the playoffs, they might be in for a rude awakening.

11. Los Angeles Lakers 35-47

There’s a buzz to this team with the arrival of Rookie of the year candidate PG Lonzo Ball, but will his father, LaVar Ball, be too much of a distraction for the big baller? Also, if you think the off season additions like C Brook Lopez and SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will help you get into the playoffs, you’re living in LA LA Land.

12. Memphis Grizzlies 34-48

There’s always been a grittiness and toughness about the Memphis Grizzlies the last decade or so, but that’s nearly gone with the departures of PF Zach Randolph and SG Tony Allen. Sure, they’ve still got a solid PG in Mike Conley Jr. and a superstar in C Marc Gasol, but losing the heart and soul of your team is nothing short of crippling. Take that for data.

13. Utah Jazz 33-49

Losing SF Gordon Hayward hurt this team immensely. They still have a rising star in C Rudy Gobert and a good coach in Quin Synder, but this will be a down year for the team in the wake of recent success.

14. Dallas Mavericks 32-50

They have a Rookie of the Year candidate in PG Dennis Smith Jr., but as the Dirk Nowitzki era winds down, their best offensive play is SF Harrison Barnes. Let that sink in. Mark Cuban will be spending more time on Shark Tank this year.

15. Phoenix Suns 26-56

Potential Rookie of the Year candidate SF Josh Jackson may showcase his talent enough to suggest the future is bright in Phoenix, but he’s also the guy who called Stephen Curry “Small and unathletic.” After an idiotic statement like that, maybe the future isn’t as bright as the Suns hope.

Eastern Conference

1. Cleveland Cavaliers 54-28

Despite all the drama surrounding the Cavaliers this off season and the rumors that coach, GM, and best player in the world LeBron James is bolting his hometown for the Lakers next year, the Cavaliers’ additions of SG Dwayne Wade, SF Jae Crowder, and PG Isaiah Thomas (*once he’s healthy*) keeps them at the top of the East. Plus, LeBron is not going to let Kyrie Irving beat him, especially with another shot at the Warriors on the line.

2. Boston Celtics 52-30

Sure, the off season acquisitions of SF Gordon Hayward and PG Kyrie Irving make the Celtics more appealing on paper, but for a team that was the number one seed in the East last year to have only 4 returning players from the previous year is troubling. They’re definitely the future best team in the Eastern Conference, but they’re not getting past the King.

3. Washington Wizards 50-32

The dynamic guard duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal is enough to keep this team at the top of the East, but paying SF Otto Potter Jr $106.5 million is ridiculous. It makes you wish you were an average NBA player, you’d be financially set for life.

4. Toronto Raptors 48-34

Why PG Kyle Lowry decided to stay in Toronto is puzzling, as the Raptors aren’t nearly as good as they were 2 years ago when they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. When SF C.J. Miles is your best pickup of the off season, that should be an indication of how appealing of a destination Toronto is to free agents.

5. Milwaukee Bucks 46-36

SF Giannis Antetokounmpo, otherwise known as “The Greek Freak”, is a superstar that can carry the Bucks back into the spotlight. The development of PG Malcolm Brogdon and a healthy PF Jabari Parker can only further this team’s chances of obtaining relevancy.

6. Miami Heat 44-38

Even after a disastrous 11-30 first half of the season last year, head coach Erik Spoelstra was able to turn SG Dion Waiters into the go-to offensive threat en route to a .500 record. Add in PF Kelly Olynyk, and the Heat should find themselves back in the playoffs.

7. Charlotte Hornets 41-41

Yes, C Dwight Howard is not the player he once was, but he’s a big acquisition for a team that allowed 106 points per game last year. If he doesn’t get his act together, owner Michael Jordan may have to suit up for one practice to relive his glory days of punching teammates during scrimmages.

8. Detroit Pistons 40-42

While the Palace of Auburn hills is no longer the Piston’s home, new life will be breathed into this franchise with the opening of their new arena, Little Caesars Arena. Off season moves such as acquiring SG Avery Bradley adds toughness and grit to the team, something that’s been missing from Detroit to help them back into the playoffs.

9. Philadelphia 76ers 38-44

Yes, they have a lot of young talent in red shirted rookie PG Ben Simmons, rookie PG Markelle Fultz, and the recently turned 148 million dollar man C Joel Embiid. But it’s not yet the time for the “trust the process” montra to make its way into the playoffs.

10. Orlando Magic 36-46

If you really think about it, the Magic aren’t that much better than they were last season, particularly when you account for the fact their biggest signing of the summer was SF Jonathan Simmons. But since other teams have gone into full re-build mode, they’re able to ascend the ranks and avoid the dregs of the East.

11. Indiana Pacers 33-49

No Paul George spells rebuild for the Pacers. PF Myles Turner’s development will be key for the Pacers’ future success, but even former GM Larry Bird didn’t want to stick around to see just how boring a development that might be.

12. New York Knicks 30-52

The Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony eras (*or errors depending how you look at them*) mercilessly came to an end this off season. But removing 2 problems doesn’t mean you’ve found a solution. PF Kristaps Porzingis may be a unicorn and a superstar, but he can’t do everything all by himself.

13. Atlanta Hawks 25- 57

It’s puzzling as to why the Hawks have decided to tank. Sure, they weren’t ever true contenders, but this was a team only 3 years ago that won 60 games and was the number one seed in the East. PG Dennis Schroder is an exciting young player, but the Hawks went from mediocre to awful seemingly overnight.

14. Brooklyn Nets 22-60

Remember when Jay-Z owned the team all so that he could steal money from Brooklyn to build a new stadium for a team people in New Jersey didn’t even pay to see? Good times. Hopefully new PG D’Angelo Russell can finally live up to his potential after bombing with the Lakers, but he may be too busy breaking the bro-code filming his teammates.

15. Chicago Bulls 19-63

Bulls management fired coach Tom Thibodeau for being too difficult of a coach to deal with. Their current head coach, Fred Hoiberg, still finds it difficult to coach grown men after 2 years. Whoops.

Award Winners:

MVP: (*It’s actually LeBron James every year*) Kevin Durant, Warriors

Rookie of the Year: De’Aaron Fox, Kings

Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau, Timberwolves

Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert, Jazz

Sixth Man of the Year: Rudy Gay, Spurs

Most Improved Player of the Year: Myles Turner, Pacers

Playoff Predictions:

Western Conference Finals: Warriors over Spurs

Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers over Celtics

NBA Finals: Warriors over Cavaliers

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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 Winners and Losers of the NBA Off-season

One could argue the off-season was more unpredictable than the season itself.

This past NBA off-season was as unpredictable as ever. However, not everyone emerged a winner from this wild wild west of an off-season. With an off-season that was seemingly more exciting than the actual season itself, here are the winners and losers of the 2017 NBA off-season.

Winner: Gordon Hayward

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Hayward was the biggest free-agent of the off-season, and he cashed in big time by signing a 4-year, $128 million contract with the Boston Celtics. Hayward reunites with his college coach, Brad Stevens, in a move that puts him in a better position to win than he would’ve been in had he signed with the Miami Heat or re-signed with the Utah Jazz.

Loser: Boston Celtics/ Danny Ainge

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Boston may have scored the top free agent of the off-season, but they gave up a lot to get him. G Avery Bradley was traded to the Detroit Pistons, and C Kelly Olynyk signed with the Miami Heat. General Manager Danny Ainge also continued to show he is paralyzed by fear, as he passed up trading for forwards Jimmy Butler and Paul George. On top of that, he traded the number 1 pick in the draft in an effort to draft Kansas F Josh Jackson, but was given the cold shoulder by him and ended up taking Duke F Jayson Tatum instead. They’re no closer to beating LeBron James/ the Cavaliers, and they seem to get cold feet as it pertains to trying to win now.

Winner: Minnesota Timberwolves

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Losing Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn wasn’t ideal, but gaining forward Jimmy Butler in the process makes it all seem worthwhile. With a young core consisting of center Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Jimmy Butler, the Timberwolves seem primed for a quick rise to the top of the Western Conference not only next year, but also remain there for the foreseeable future.

Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder

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The Thunder improved their team immensely by trading for Paul George, and only gave up an overrated Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to get him. While it is a huge one year gamble for Sam Presti with rumors of George bolting for the Lakers in 2018, there’s no doubt the duo of George and MVP Russell Westbrook will inch the Thunder closer to the top of the Western Conference.

Loser: Los Angeles Clippers

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I’m sure Jerry West is regretting leaving the Golden State Warriors by now. After seeing the writing on the wall that superstar point guard Chris Paul was going to bolt LA in free agency, the Clippers traded Paul to the Houston Rockets for Lou Williams, Patrik Beverly, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harell, and the equivalent of a bag of magic beans. With the exception of the magic beans, that’s not a bad haul. But when you consider the team signed the oft-injured forward Blake Griffin to a 5-year, $173 million contract, it makes you wonder what direction the Clippers are heading.

Winner: Sacramento Kings

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For once, it seems like the Sacramento Kings know what they’re doing. They signed veteran guard George Hill to a 3-year $57 million contract, veteran forward Zach Randolph to a 2-year $24 million contract, and veteran guard Vince Carter to a 1-year $8 million contract. Not to mention the fact they drafted Kentucky guard De’Aaron Fox, who looks like a stud. After catching heat for trading away DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans at the 2017 trade deadline, general manager Vlade Divac may finally be able to implement his plan and bring the Kings back to glory.

Winner and Loser: New York Knicks

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The Knicks finally fired check collecting Phil Jackson after three aimless, embarrassing seasons. They fired him too late, however, as Jackson was not let go until after the NBA draft. While forward Kristaps Porzingis will now want to stick around now that Jackson is gone, forward Carmelo Anthony is still on the team, and his value diminishes every waking moment he remains on the team. After seemingly luring former Cavaliers general manager David Griffin to the same position, Griffin pulled his name out of consideration because he wouldn’t be able to hire his own staff.  And by the way, none of their dysfunction will go away so long as they are owned by the worst owner in professional sports, James Dolan, who skipped the NBA Draft in favor of playing at a concert with his band.

Winner: Golden State Warriors

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Guard Stephen Curry was re-signed to 5-year $201 million contract. Forward Kevin Durant took less money and allowed the Warriors to re-sign forward Andre Iguodala, guard Shaun Livingston, and center Zaza Pachulia. They also signed forward Omri Casspi and guard “Swaggy P” Nick Young. If you thought the Warriors were unbeatable last year, next year’s squad should prove to be even better.

Loser: Cleveland Cavaliers

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Owner Dan Gilbert seems too complacent with the Cavaliers title win back in 2016. He unceremoniously fired general manager David Griffin right before the draft, and then low-balled general manager candidate Chauncey Billups. The Cavaliers haven’t made any impact signings either, they don’t have a general manager after all. While the Cavaliers are still the class of the Eastern Conference, rumors of a disgruntled LeBron James don’t bode well for the team come next off-season.

TBD: Houston Rockets

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The Rockets pulled off a blockbuster trade by acquiring guard Chris Paul from the Clippers. On paper, the Rockets seem better.  However, last time I checked, you can only play basketball with one ball at a time. One must wonder if the combination of two ball-centric players in Chris Paul and MVP candidate James Harden will pay off, but its much too early to tell whether or not Daryl Morey pulled off one of the best or worst trades of all-time.

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.

Eastern Conference Finals Preview

The beats from the east are about to be unleashed.

The Eastern Conference finals are set, and the top two teams are set to clash with the one seed Boston Celtics facing the two seed Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Celtics and Cavaliers faced each other four times during the regular season, with the Cavaliers winning three out of the four games. The most recent meeting between the two occurred on April 5th, when the Cavaliers came into Boston and obliterated the Celtics 114-94.

If there’s one thing to admire about the Celtics, its their tenacity and ability to respond to adversity. This team was down 2-0 to the Chicago Bulls and came back to win the series in six games. They just escaped a no-holds-barred seven game series against an up-and-coming Washington Wizards team that features one of the most dangerous backcourts in the NBA. Their leading scorer and MVP candidate PG Isaiah Thomas has been resoundingly resilient throughout the postseason. First, he dealt with the tragic death of his 22-year-old sister while averaging 23 PPG in the first round. Then in the semi-finals, he underwent dental surgery after his teeth were knocked out and averaged 27.4 PPG, including a 53 point masterpiece in game 2. The Celtics have exceeded expectations this year. They finished the season as the number one seed in the east and have a bright future ahead of themselves due to their impeccable ability to steal draft picks from bumbling NBA franchises (*cough* Brooklyn Nets *cough*).

But to be blunt, the Celtics are done. The Cleveland Cavaliers are in a class of their own in the eastern conference. They’ve swept the competition they’ve faced in the eastern conference so far, toying with Indiana Pacers in the first round and straight-up clowning the Toronto Raptors in the semi-finals to the point the Raptors should be re-named the Barney the Dinosaurs. LeBron James is on a mission to achieve what Hall of Fame PF Moses Malone predicted for the 82-83 76ers, fo, fo, fo. Translation? Four, four, four. The 82-83 76ers went 4-0, 4-1. 4-0 en route to an NBA title, so LeBron and the Cavaliers have the opportunity to achieve what Moses and the 76ers couldn’t. LeBron is averaging 34.4 PPG, 9 RPG, 7.1 APG, and shooting 48.8% from behind the three point line this postseason. Even Michael Jordan at his peak would envy what LeBron has done in just eight postseason games so far.

Simply put, the Cavaliers have LeBron James. The Celtics do not.

Prediction: Cavs in 5