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

NBA: Playoffs-Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors

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.

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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.

 

 

 

Bro Commentary: The NBA Season is Over

NBA All Star Weekend, in other words, the end of the season, is finally here.

President’s Day weekend has typically been reserved for the NBA’s star-studded event where the top players of the league come together to showcase their lack of competitiveness against each other on a much broader scale. That star studded event? The NBA All Star Game/ All Star Weekend. It is also the time to make an official declaration on the NBA season: THE SEASON IS FINISHED.

Yes, there are more regular season games left to play. Playoff seeding is not set. And while you might hear the complaints of Celtics fans crying foul over PG Marcus Smart’s phantom foul on Chicago Bulls F Jimmy Butler as a deciding factor on who may get home court advantage in the playoffs, it literally doesn’t matter. The Celtics should be happy they’re even getting mentioned here. That’s not an indication of how bad I think the Celtics are, it’s an indication of just how predictable the NBA has become in recent years. There are really only 4 teams that I believe have a chance of winning the title, 75% of which hail from the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Oh, and that other team that could win that’s from the Eastern Conference? It sure as hell ain’t the Boston Celtics.

The four teams that can win the NBA title this year are as follows:

Cleveland Cavaliers: 39-16, 1st Place in the East

Why They’ll Win It All: LeBron James. ‘Nuff said. Alright, I’ll talk about the defending champions a little more here.  They’re in first place despite not having SG J.R. Smith over an extended period of time, PF Kevin Love set to miss 6 weeks due to a knee injury, and not having another play-maker as their coach, GM and franchise savior LeBron James said. All LeBron meant there was that he needs a backup point guard. Even if his wish isn’t granted, the Cavs are in prime position to not only represent the Eastern Conference again, but win the title as well. They’re the 3rd best offense in the league scoring 111 points per game, they shoot 39% from the 3 point line behind only the San Antonio Spurs (and ahead of the Golden State Warriors by the way), and they’re 10th in the league with an average of 44 rebounds per game (as legendary coach Pat Riley once eloquently stated, “No rebounds, no rings.”). Did I mention they have the greatest basketball player of our generation in LeBron James? Did I mention that?

Why They Won’t Win It All: The obvious factor to point out here is that the Cavaliers have faced numerous injury issues. Starting SG J.R. Smith hasn’t played since December 20th after breaking his wrist, and according to his twitter account, he still has “a ways to go” before he makes his return to the court. Starting PF Kevin Love is also set to miss 6 weeks due to knee surgery, a big loss since he is having his best season since joining the Cavaliers, averaging 20 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.

Now while everything I just mentioned is true, this would be glossing over the fact that the Cavs haven’t played defense since their Christmas day victory over the Warriors. They rank 15th in the league in opponents points per game, allowing them to score 106 points night in and night out. Teams are also shooting an average of 45.5% per game against them, ranking 16th in the NBA. Even more troubling is the fact that teams are also shooting from behind the arc well against them, with an average of 36.2% per game, ranking 19th in the NBA. I know we’ve just made it through what are the dog days of the NBA season, but c’mon man. You gotta stop somebody if you want to win.

Bottom Line: The Cavs will represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. Once they get all of their players back healthy and actually start to play defense, there’s no one that can stop them. Oh yeah, they have LeBron. He’s the difference between you being in the NBA finals or picking in the NBA Draft lottery. Can you name another player that has ever had that kind of impact on a team? Didn’t think so.

Golden State Warriors: 47-9, 1st Place in the West

Why They’ll Win It All: The Warriors are out for vengeance after blowing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals last year to the aforementioned Cavs, forever going down in meme history (it never gets old) and bringing no ring to the greatest regular season ever. They went out and got Benedict Arnold… I mean F Kevin Durant from the Oklahoma City Thunder, who has fit nicely with the squad averaging 25.8 points per game. They also have a healthy Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who continue to electrify the league with their three-point shooting. And of course, they have the best offense in the league once again, averaging 118.2 points per game, shooting 50.1% from the field every game, and 38.8% from behind the arc. (*Ok, that last one I mentioned is only 3rd best in the league, but you get the point.*)

Why They Won’t Win it All: Noted punk and loud mouth F Draymond Green has continued to show he hasn’t learned a damn thing since getting suspended for game 5 of the NBA Finals last year, as he has accumulated 10 technical fouls this season. If he continues his antics, he could cost the Warriors another championship.

Some will also be quick to note that the Warriors are a top defensive team in the NBA. If you look at the numbers, this is true. Opponents shoot only 43.6% per game from the field, and that number goes down to just 32.5% per game from behind the 3-point line, the best in the league. However, I believe these numbers are misleading. Teams get in trouble with the Warriors when the try to play the Warriors’ style of Basketball, leading to them hoisting shots in order to keep up with them. When you try to play Warriors basketball, you lose. If you slow the game down, play halfcourt offense and tough hard-nosed defense (*like the Cavs did last year in the Finals*), you win. It also important to note that as of now, the Warriors are only 3-5 against the Cavs, Grizzlies, Rockets, and Spurs (*1-5 against the Cavs in their last 6 if we’re getting technical*). These are all teams they could potentially face in the postseason, and they’re proven they can hang with the Warriors.

Bottom Line: The Warriors should be the favorite to make it out of the Western Conference. However, it won’t be nearly as easy for them as it has been the past 2 seasons. And if they get to the Finals, while they should be favored, LeBron James is lurking.

San Antonio Spurs: 43-13 2nd Place in the West

Why They’ll Win It All: As they do every year, the Spurs are having a great season. They are led by MVP candidate and reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year winner Kawhi Leonard, who is averaging a career best 25.9 points per game. And let’s not forget the best coach in the game, Greg Popovich, who is perhaps doing his best coaching job ever without his partner in crime, former Spurs PF Tim Duncan. He’s has successfully taken the younger players such as PF LaMarcus Aldrich (17.5 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game) and PG Patty Mills (9.7 points per game) and blended them seamlessly with old veterans PG Tony Parker (10.6 ppg), SG Manu Ginobili (7.7 ppg), and PF Pau Gasol (11.7 ppg and 7.9 rpg). They also are 1st in the NBA in 3 point field goal percentage at 40%, and 2nd in the NBA in opponents points per game at 98.4. While the offensive fire power is a new wrinkle in Popovich’s game plan, he still has the suffocating defense that can stop anyone.

Why They Won’t Win It All: They’re old. Tony Parker is 34 years old, and doesn’t have the quickness he once had. Manu Ginobili is 39 Years old. Pau Gasol is 36 years old. While Greg Popovich has done a great job in blending the old with the young on his team, the old players may not have anything left come post-season time. This may not be a measurable stat, but if you want an example of an old team that ran out of gas, look no further than last years’ Spurs. They got to the Conference Semi-Finals against a younger Oklahoma City Thunder team and had no answer for their youthfulness. While experience should be valued, it should also be seen as a hindrance as well.

Bottom Line: The Spurs are the New England Patriots of the NBA. They’re always great. They’re always around. They probably have the best shot at knocking off the Warriors atop the Western Conference, but it’s no guarantee they’ll make it that far.

Houston Rockets: 40-18, 3rd Place in the West

Why They’ll Win It All: Houston has the leading MVP candidate this season, SG James Harden. With him running the offense, he’s averaging a career best 29.2 points per game and a career best 8.3 rebounds per game. He also has the 2nd most triple-doubles in the league with 15. Head coach Mike D’Antoni, a questionable hire for the Rockets at the start of the season, has this offense firing on all cylinders, as they rank 2nd in the league in points per game at 114.4. Add in a reborn SG Eric Gordon, who is 4th in the NBA with 184 3-point field-goals made, and you’ve got an offense that can run with the Warriors.

Why They Won’t Win It All: You know when you hire Mike D’Antoni as your head coach, you’re going to get a potent offense. You should also be prepared to have an impotent defense. Houston ranks 24th in opponents points per game, allowing opponents to score 108 points every night. Teams also shoot an astounding 46.1% per game against Houston as well. There’s an old adage that says defense wins championships. Houston needs to step it up in this department, or they fall in danger of not being included in this article.

Yes, there are 26 other teams in the NBA, but none of them have a chance of winning the title this year. These are the 4 that could win. The NBA has become so calculable it has rendered its regular season meaningless. It may only be the middle of February, and the NBA season officially ends in June, but make no mistake about it. With the arrival of All Star Weekend, the NBA season is over.