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Knicks/Hawks recap 4/3/2013

The New York Knicks defeated the Atlanta Hawks by a score of 95-82.  The high scorer was Carmelo Anthony with 40 points, 5 Rebounds, 3 assists and 1 turnover.  That was the Knicks 10th win in a row.  Thought I’d come back and share some thoughts on the win last night against another quality opponent.

– Let’s first start with Carmelo’s play, which if you’ve been catching Sportscenter, you’ve seen Knick highlights a little bit higher up on the sports queue.  A 50 point night, regardless of who’s on the court, will do that.  Melo, since having his knee drained and talking up how healthy he’s feeling since that, has done nothing but dominate offensively.  Tuesday night’s jump shot clinic against the Heat was an example of a player feeling no pressure, and showing no lack of confidence.  I am almost certain that regardless of Lebron or Wade’s presence, Melo would’ve had a big night.  That’s just how it is with jump shooters.  Once they hit their first 7 or 8, (Melo hit his first seven jumpers on Tuesday) they get hot.  Melo began the opposite, by missing three of his first four attempts, but his Tuesday performance was special because of his almost allergic reaction to anywhere near the restricted area.  It was raining jumpers for Melo on tuesday and when its raining, the points were pouring in so why go anywhere that’s a ray of sunshine for Heat defenders.  As all of you astute NBA observers know, the Heat like to pack the paint and attract some extra bodies in there and allow the confusion to befuddle wanna be scorers, leading to bad possessions and ugly outlet passes that ultimately will be deflected and lead to the Heat’s bread and butter, fast break opportunities.  Melo never gave them that chance and kept hitting jumper after jumper in any and every Heat defender they threw at him.

Last night’s game featured all around Melo.  The guy that has about a hundred moves at his disposal.  In honor of Opening Week in baseball I’d make the comparison that Melo is like a pitcher with about 15 different pitches he can use at any time.  His one dribble-then fadeaway-jumper was devastating tonight.  His dribble penetration was excellent.  His read of double teams allowed open corner threes for Steve Novak, who obliged by hitting all three of his attempts.  During this recent stretch, its been important to note that Melo’s passing has gotten far too little praise.  Yes, his offense is often awe inspiring but his ability to read and react to a defense, and the crisp passing that has resulted leads to wide open shots and usually makes by his mates.

– Playoff match ups are a hot topic of discussion on most blogs and last night’s opponent is a team that the Knicks may potentially face depending on the outcome of the final 8 games (4 home and 4 road).  The Hawks have been getting underground praise for being competitive despite shipping off Joe Johnson (his contract), and not making any major moves.  First year GM, Danny Ferry’s major task is to field a competitive team (easy when you still have a decent young pg in Jeff Teague, a vastly underrated player in Al Horford and the enigma that is Josh Smith) and also set up a much better cap situation and he did that while robbing the Bulls of a perimeter shooter in the process in Kyle Korver.  Korver’s absence on the Bulls can be seen on a nightly basis when they turn to the bench and see Nate Robinson’s arm waving in the sky trying to get Tom Thibodeau’s attention so he can put him in the game to get somebody who can score the basketball.  The Hawks have a decent offense but absolutely NO answer to Carmelo Anthony.  You saw it yesterday.  When a team doubles as often as the Hawks did with Melo, it means they have no one that they can trust one on one to guard Melo.

One small caveat about that, Melo was lights out scoring so that may have had something to do with it, but Melo wasn’t jump shooter Melo.  He wasn’t one pitch Melo.  He was 15 pitch-selection Melo.  Using his vast array of moves to get into the restricted area, invite contact and get to the free throw line (he made 5 of 6 from the charity stripe).  Melo’s passing was the difference tonight but having an extra shooter like JR Smith and guys like Steve Novak who can hit the corner three gave the Hawks problems all night.  I dont care how many times I have to repeat this but the NBA playoffs are all about match ups.  The Knicks would welcome with open hands a first round match up with the Atlanta Hawks.

– Not to get overly excited but an underrated aspect of the Knick offense that we haven’t really seen till now and it bugs me out is that corner three.  They have made it a team wide edict that every person who has dreams of wanting to get a green light on shooting a three had better be stationed at either corner and Novak and Shumpert have done an excellent job of doing that.  I dont know if its something the Knicks have talked about doing more of but its clear that its working and its gotten Shump’s 3 point field goal percentage up and has helped Novak regain a more steady touch from beyond the arc.  One of his threes was such a quick twitch release that literally a milisecond after he got the ball from Shump on the baseline he threw up a corner three and it went in.

– If you had to rank the number of surprises that the Knicks have had this season, one of them would most definitely be JR Smith’s mature offensive game.  Yes, his reputation is feast or famine on a nightly basis but its clear that JR has turned a corner thanks to Mike Woodson’s tough love and his new found love for using his tremendous dribbling skills not to set up the step back fadeaway jumper, but to go forward and get closer to the rim.  Its been interesting to see how the conversation has changed during the broadcast itself where Mike Breen, like every talent evaluator, has talked up JR’s natural ability but plays up the knucklehead factor.  Yes, he makes boneheaded decisions.  When he got a technical for what seemed like a small nudge towards Ivan Johnson, to me it was more of a product of reputation more so than what he actually did.  The referees hoping to avoid any escalation decided that it would be best to hit Smith with a technical, and get him away, but Smith remained calm.  He walked away and came back into the game.  That was a result of Smith’s reaction to the technical in Woody’s eyes.  Usually coaches like to let players cool off after a technical but this wasn’t the case and it had a ton to do with how JR reacted.  His maturity has been the real engine for his turnaround.  Hopefully it continues.

– A small little note on the Hawks who I’ve been surprised by.  If there’s one free agent I would pick to be a buyer beware candidate I can’t see how Josh Smith doesn’t top the list.  No one doubts his talent.  But last night’s game was the kind of head scratcher that makes you wonder if anyone can untap that huge reservoir of talent on a nightly consistent basis.  There were stretches of that game where he probably had no idea about the set he was in and would loft these 22 footers that made zero sense in the scheme of things.  There are those nights where it seems like he’d rather be anywhere else but a basketball court and there are those nights like the one in Milwaukee where he can score 12, grab 16 rebounds and throw 6 assists.  I’m convinced that there’s literally nothing he can’t do at his height that if he put it together he wouldn’t be one of 10 most terrifying athletes in the game.  But you have no idea where his head is at most times and it has to be frustrating.  Im not going to guess where he ends up but if I were any GM other than Danny Ferry I would monitor how he handles it.  If Ferry raises his hands and does nothing and lets Smith go, it will tell you everything you need to know about him.  The organization that knows him better than anyone wants nothing to do with him.  If I were Ferry, I would let Smith go.  I would’ve let Smith go during the trading deadline but its possible that the deals he was receiving for him probably didn’t make him budge.  But I would let him walk and use that cap space to make a run at Dwight OR keep signing players to one year deals and build around Al Horford who is clearly the most underrated player in the NBA.

– To expound on that point about Horford, there were stretches where it seemed like Teague and co, were playing keep away with the big man.  I may be reading into it but there were times where I was wondering to myself why the Hawks weren’t utilizing him when the Knicks, known for over-switching, would have Pablo Prigioni guarding Horford which is a mismatch that a PG like Teague has to recognize quickly and get him the ball.  I’m befuddled by Teague who’s also a hot and cold candidate on a nightly basis.  You can tell that Teague still has very little handle of Larry Drew’s playbook as he’s seen carelessly throwing passes and doing the old point to a spot like the man who was supposed to catch that was supposed to be there routine.  Teague, to me, has that extra burst at times that can play in an uptempo offense but Drew likes his half court sets that love to swing the ball around.  The Hawks average the second most assists according to NBA.com’s database and that’s why Kyle Korver was able to get so many easy buckets.  The Hawks offense really doesn’t rely on too many one on ones but on a lot of movement and cuts and screens and pick and rolls.  Its like a fast break team but in a half court set.  They love to move, a ton and it works for them.  How Horford doesn’t get more involved is beyond me but last night’s game had to be frustrating for the big man who was yelling at times for the ball when the Knicks would over-switch.

– Is there a more scarier player than Ivan Johnson?  He looks like Deshawn Stevenson’s bigger, scarier brother.  And that dude is scary as hell too.

– The third quarter had to be the toughest for Mike Woodson to watch.  Continuous over switching led to numerous open looks to the one guy that can hurt the Knicks from deep on the Hawks: Kyle Korver.  Korver’s three point barrage led to numerous shouting sessions aimed at Shumpert and anyone who had the responsibility of guarding Korver.  Korver kept getting open and Woodson kept getting more and more upset and it showed.  Its clear if the Knicks want to keep this stretch going, they will have to do a better job in minimizing missed assignments and have the five guys much more in synch.

– Is there a much more professional guy than Jason Kidd who came in the game and instantly closed any passing lanes for Kyle Korver with which to get him the ball.  Amazing that he’s still playing an effective brand of basketball on muscle memory and basketball IQ gained over a 19 year NBA career.

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Where is this all headed?

lebron-james-heat-1280x1024Its been a while but I just had a few thoughts on the Miami Heat and their streak going into Friday’s game against the Chicago Bulls where everyone has these grandiose dreams and expectations.

The Lebron conversation has been one of the most fascinating in all of sports over the last three years going back to the final game in a Cleveland Cavs uniform where he walked off the court, scratching his head, taking off his Cavs jersey and entering what would end up being the single biggest PR disaster of an offseason that anyone of his ilk has ever undertaken.  Since that time, Lebron has been to two Finals series, won an MVP, on his way to what should be a unanimous second consecutive MVP, won a ring, been humbled, has gone on the longest streak of consecutive wins since the ’71-72 Lakers who won 33 consecutive, and has regained his status as the most popular athlete alive.

Nike recently released an ad stating the obvious and perfect summation of what those much wiser and those who had spent more time on earth said way back in those early months: “winning takes care of everything.”  And win he has done.  You can read Zack Lowe of Grantland fame for the nitty gritty details about how Miami’s offense has evolved into the crisp machine that it was.  Lowe’s recent article detailing the Miami juggernaut says that the Heat stumbled upon the Lebron as the 4 in the most productive of Heat line ups as the single biggest reason for it but I think mentally a hurdle was jumped over that number crunchers even as great as Zack Lowe can’t quantify.

There’s something to be said to how much confidence one can gain from passing your greatest test.  A sense of relief?  Sure.  A confidence that is soaring and unable to be restrained? Definitely.  But what happened on that night that Lebron realized he was NOT going to win an NBA championship to secret rivals, the Dallas Mavericks had to have been the turning point.  The summer of 2010 was one of turmoil and constant roadside attractions that did more to take away from Lebron’s brilliant decision to team up with good friends Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to form the super Trio, than actually enhance it.  Why was the public so aghast at the idea that Lebron needed help?  Michael Jordan admits on nearly every occasion that he wouldn’t have been as successful if he didn’t have Scottie Pippen.  Magic and Bird had stocked teams to the max.  Isiah Thomas won with one of the five greatest rebounders in NBA history, Dennis Rodman, and Shaq won with Kobe, and Kobe won with Pau and Bynum.

His summer of 2011 was vastly different.  He went into a hole, some had surmised brought on by his humiliating defeat at the hands of Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.  The Mavs partied on their turf all into the wee hours and for a majority of the NBA fandom who had grown tired of arrogant Lebron who had promised not five, not six, not seven rings in a parade that the Heat threw to announce the arrival of impending doom on the rest of the NBA (Which i’m sure 29 other fan bases and teams saw and didn’t really appreciate), it was a sweet victory for everything that is good.  Bad guy Lebron left that building understanding one thing: he needed to work harder, and keep his mouth shut.  So we didn’t hear a peep from him or the Heat during that summer of the lock out.  They would tweet out workout pics on occasion.  They would put up quotes of inspiration, more for themselves.  And when the season opened, nobody was more prepared for the grind of a lockout shortened season than them.  They played at a pace that was vastly different and superior to a majority of the competition.  But they still weren’t the dominant team that everyone expected and feared.

Then something happened in the playoffs.  I call it the Neo moment.  The Neo moment happens to a player in every generation in each sport or walk of life.  Its that part in the first Matrix movie (the only one really worth watching, though I give a thumbs up to the second Matrix movie too even if its not cool to do so), when Neo having been shot, gets up and stops the bullets and finally understands and takes on the responsibility of his immense talents instead of running away from his potential.  That moment happened in Boston, in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals when Lebron, tired of losing to the Celtics in every big spot and moment since 2008, decided that the Heat were not going to lose.  He dominated the game in the same way that Magic Johnson announced himself to the NBA world in 1979 when he led the Lakers to a championship by playing center and scoring 42 points in a game six win.  He scored 45 points pulled in 15 rebounds and the Celtics had virtually NO SHOT from there on out and neither did the rest of the league.  For the first time, Lebron let himself know that he was the best player on the court and he could dominate when he wanted to.  When his team needed a basket he could pull up and hit a three.  When his team needed him to facilitate, there he was to throw the right pass.  When his team needed him to crash the boards and eliminate second chance opportunities there he was again beasting and flying way above the heads of anyone and everyone to pull the loose balls down.

He was a man possessed and nobody, and nothing was going to stand in his way.  This season’s consecutive wins streak is a manifestation of that belief.  If this isn’t impressive to the casual NBA fan, then nothing will do it.  If this doesn’t signal that Lebron is competing against ONLY his own shadow at this point then nothing will do it.  Its not just his belief, its his teammates belief that no matter what the situation, being down double digits in Boston late in the 3rd quarter or being down 17 against the Knicks in the third quarter or going down by 20+ in Cleveland, where even their vitriol seems to have slowed to a halt (it may have something to do with the fact that Lebron left the door wide open for a reunion with his home town in 2014 when he may have accomplished everything he wants to in South Beach), it doesn’t matter.  At this point, Lebron does what he wants when he wants.

Tom Haberstroh another wise sage of the stat kingdom, spoke about the vertical spacing that Chris “Birdman” Anderson gives to the Heat.  But the point is, it all starts with Lebron.  It all ends with Lebron.  He’s the single greatest athlete alive in sports and everyone that doesn’t believe that is just foolish.  I’m old enough where I’m not as anti-greatness as I was back when Jordan was around.  I hated MJ for the routine beat downs he would put on my beloved Knicks and though my fandom overtakes me from time to time where I’m foolish enough to think that my Knicks have a chance against Lebron’s Heat, its just dumb.  Its the kind of talk that’s reserved for a few beers in me, while watching the Knicks dispatch the Celtics in Boston talk.  Its just all talk.  Lebron is a man amongst boys and when athletes come along and dominate on this kind of level you just wonder how anyone can compare?

Like most people my age, we hold on to this memory of Michael Jordan as the single greatest player ever, but I can say without any hesitation that we’ve NEVER seen anyone like Lebron.  Never.  Not a single person has combined his athletic gifts with a superior knowledge of the game in such a package.  And that package is rolling.  Its steamrolling through what looks like diluted NBA competition.  Its not making any pit stops, its just coming to a town near you, taking care of business and moving on.  Seeing the eternal glory that history can give to his team, Lebron has done the right thing.  He’s set his sights even higher.  He sees Michael’s six.  He sees his legacy and the player he’s always compared to for whatever reason we choose to do it, and he wants to beat it and good for him.  I’m tired of stubbornly refusing to engage in that conversation.  I’m ready to say it.  I’m ready to do it.  Lebron James is heading towards that lone spot on the mountain top.  Good for him.  Its time that a successor came to the Jordan reign.  We though we’d never see another Russell or Wilt, then Kareem came.  We thought we’d never see another Oscar Robertson and Jerry West till Magic and Bird came.  We thought we’d never see another Jordan and then Lebron came.  Yeah I’m saying it.  No hesitations.  If he continues down this path, he WILL BE THE GOAT.  PERIOD.

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Daily Rounds 12/29

The Knicks were tied heading into the fourth quarter but lost 92-78 to the Warriors.  Mike Vacarro says that the Knicks are still working out the kinks and so it may look like this for a while.  Mark Jackson got the last laugh against the team that almost hired him says Mitch Lawrence of the Daily News.  Howard Beck of the New York Times says that IF the Knicks superstars could’ve saved them they would have.  Meanwhile the Knicks newest import found the court yesterday and Jeremy Lin’s journey has been tumultuous to say the best in the last 18 months but at least he didn’t have to travel far to reach his newest team, says Howard Beck of the New York Times.  

Howard Beck touches on exactly what was wrong with the Knicks.  If the stars aren’t hitting their shots, it will be almost impossible for the Knicks to win.  That’s the problem in a nutshell.  The Knicks don’t have a playmaker that can create offense for the team.  There isn’t a point guard on the team that will create shots for other players.  This team will look better when Iman Shumpert returns and Baron Davis too.  Those two guys slash into the basket and create offense for themselves or others.  They don’t have that kind of athleticism right now.  Amar’e is a pick and roll player.  Melo is a pick and pop player.  The Knicks don’t have the player that will generate offense right now.

Like I wrote in my post game report early this morning, Toney Douglas’ progress as a point guard has been non-existent.  He’s a few seconds late seeing almost everything which means he’s not a natural floor leader.  More and more I see him the more and more I have an appreciation for true point guards who have such excellent court vision and can see a play develop before it happens.  Good point guards can see things happen before they do and I’m rethinking this whole “we need Dwight Howard over Deron Williams” argument that is developing.

Unfortunately for the Knicks, all they need is a semi-reasonable point guard who can play the position and run a simple pick and roll.  A pick and roll because that’s ALL Amar’e needs.  That’s all Carmelo needs.  Someone to hit the man as they are running right to the hoop.  The Knicks are too much of a half court team and settled for far too many jumpers while the Warriors were getting to the hoop with regularity.  Tyson Chandler got into foul trouble and without him the Knicks were a layup line again.

There was far too many troubling signs on offense that continue to plague them  If the Knicks superstars aren’t hitting their shots nobody is trying or attempting to grab the offensive rebound and nobody is trying to initiate any offense.  The limitation the Knicks have is that too much of the offense depends on Melo and Stat.  Stat is not an offensive initiator.  He took far too many double teamed and contested shots instead of finding the open man.  Too many isolation situations where there was NOBODY willing to pass off.  It was too stagnant while on the other end, the Warriors were putting on a clinic.  This time an average point guard dominated the Knicks.  It was kind of sad to watch and its troubling that the Knicks don’t have any kind of sustained defensive intensity right now.  I get that they need more practice time.  I get that they need more time to get used to one another and the defensive schemes of Mike Woodson.  I get all of that, and I see some improvement from Amar’e but again, its not a sustained effort throughout and that’s what they need.

The Knicks will need to work on how to run plays on offense that consist of more than one guy being isolated and everyone standing around watching.  Now granted there will be few games like this where the Knicks have both stars off their games.  And right now the Knicks have two guys capable of dropping 30 on any given night and so the Knicks will overcome and have rare games like last night but here’s the good news:  The Knicks had a pretty terrible day shooting and yet they still led through three quarters of the game.  Their defense kept them in it and they were great in keeping their hands actively in passing lanes.

The final verdict:  these games will be far and few between.  The Knicks will play better.  They just need to keep their defensive intensity alive for longer stretches.  Slow and steadily the Knicks are getting better.

Osi Umeniyora returned to Giants practice right in time for the G-men who will need the waves of pass rush to stop the Cowboys and it appears, according to Paul Schwartz of the New York Post, that he returned faster than ever.  Jorge Castillo of the Star Ledger reports that amidst the thrill of victory was the reality that the Giants passing attack has suffered in the last two weeks and will be depended upon to play well Sunday night.  

Osi is going to be key for the Giants but I agree with Jorge, the passing attack has been average.  Eli has been good, however but the receivers haven’t been making plays.  Apart from that 99 yard play, the Giants have been uneven.  I think it has to do with the reshuffling of the line.  I liked Mitch Petrus at Guard and Kareem Boothe at Center.  If the Giants hope to fly they need Jake Ballard back and they need Travis Beckum to finally show some kind of skill.  They need Hakeem Nicks to catch passes again.  They need Mario Manningham back in the line up.  They need guys to step up on offense.

The defense is tough to figure but it can only get better having Osi in it.  Osi figures to get plenty of pass rush and in the report, it says that he will probably only see action during obvious pass rush situations.  Which would move JPP into the interior and give the Giants four really good strong defensive players on the line.  That line would cause massive mayhem and given that the Cowboys will have Sammy Morris and a banged up Felix Jones, the Giants will need the athleticism to get pressure on Romo.  Add on to the fact that Romo will have a banged up arm its not looking good for the Cowboys.

Which is what scares me about Sunday night’s game.  Add on to the fact that the Giants are playing at home which has been anything BUT good.  Like I said earlier: this game is so evenly matched that it can literally go EITHER WAY.  Ugh.

The Miami Heat were in their second close game in a row and they found a way to win.  And for the second consecutive game, crunch time buckets went to player not named Lebron James and that will get plenty of the attention if its a trend that continues.  Tom Haberstoh of ESPN’s TrueHoop (who’s been fantastic by the way) covers the Heat and said that the bucket that Wade hit to win it for the Heat should not have counted according to Rob Mahoney.  On a night full of close games, another one came down to the wire between the Thunder and Grizzlies and Kevin Durant won the game for the Thunder, but it wasn’t without conflict.  According to Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman, Durant and Westbrook got into a fight where both had to be restrained.  This is bad news for the Thunder.  

These are two of the most talented teams and the two that most of the expert crowd predict to make the Finals this year.  But this shows the problem with having too much talent in two different ways.  Last year, the Heat struggled with who would get the crunch time scoring opportunities and especially who WOULDNT.  The Heat this season have played 2 close games out of three and are already hearing the whispers of superstars who can’t get it done.  And again, Chris Bosh is quietly having monster games in which both Lebron and Wade are expected to step up.  Regardless of what happens, the Heat are facing similar pressure to show up every night.  In front of a sell out crowd, the Heat got the opposing team’s best game.  The Bobcats played tremendously last night and came close to pulling off the upset had it not been for the general excellence of Lebron and Wade.  Lebron had the monster game.  Wade wasn’t nearly as effective and Bosh was having a really good game as well.  The Bobcats put forth their best effort and yet the Heat’s three man team were too much for the Bobcats to handle.  Of course it didn’t help that Paul Silas chose to not play his two most effective scorers in Byron Mullens and Kemba Walker (I already know what you’re thinking, Kemba who right?) down the stretch.  But its interesting that the Heat still play in that rock star atmosphere where every single game they play they get the very best from the competition and they are surviving on pure talent.  The point though comes down to what exactly was the rationale behind giving a cold D-Wade the look at the final shot OVER Lebron who had 35 points OR Bosh who had 28 points.  Wade who was troubled by an ankle sprain that kept him out for most of the third quarter came back in and defensively played great blocking a few shots and coming back in transition to finish a few more.  But offensively the night belonged to Lebron and yet the coach decided to draw up a play for a cold D-Wade who finished the night 5 for 13.  So why would the coach give the ball to Wade if Lebron had it working last night?  And that’s the question that will be posed to Lebron every time a game comes down to the wire and the Heat require someone to hit a clutch shot or make a clutch decision.  That’s the price of being given such uncoachable talents (I promise that’s not an insult and that’s a compliment).

On the other end, this brotherly blood feud between Durant and Westbrook was eventually bound to happen but it appears that the schedule is not the only thing that’s being compressed.  With only 66 games, it appears the drama is fitting itself in pretty early with this team.  After finishing a stinking 0 for 12 and with no regard to his team’s position in the game, Westbrook kept shooting and I kept thinking to myself “uh oh”.  To me, and this is just me, Westbrook has the higher ceiling than Durant.  Durant is a phenomenal scorer and he can make plays happen and he’s a willing passer but Westbrook has the ability to be it all.  Scoring/defensive/slasher/playmaker and thus I’d rather take Westbrook’s upside more so than Durantula.  I think Durant just works on his shooting and becomes automatic like Dirk in the coming years while, if Westbrook dedicates himself he can become a much better player.  Which is why I floated the possibility of the Lakers making a run at Westbrook instead of Chris Paul.  I love Paul and to me he’s the best (pure) point guard in the NBA today BUT if they added Russell Westbrook and Kobe took him under his wing, how awesome would he be for them?  He’d give them the kind of jump athletically they haven’t had in quite some time and for Kobe having that second superstar on his team would help his old legs because he could resolve himself to be that pop and stop shooter.  Kobe’s getting up there in age and the Lakers are asking him to be the focal point of the offense and while he can manage that on some nights, its not something he can do on a nightly basis.  Its also interesting that I see a lot of parallels between Kobe and Russell Westbrook.  Westbrook has the talent to be a great, not good player in the NBA.  He just needs guidance.  Something he will NOT get in OKC.  He’s as untouchable as Durant and while Durant is more highly regarded among front office people, Westbrook is like I said more talented potentially than Durant and so keeping him in a Thunder uniform is of utmost importance.  But imagine the Lakers offer them Andrew Bynum for Westbrook and Nazr Mohammad.  Imagine what that does to the Thunder?  That front line would be beastly.  Kendrick Perkins and Bynum down low and Durantula playing the three.  AT 6 feet 11.  How tough a match up would that be for opposing teams?  Meanwhile the Lakers get a good developing young player WHILE still preserving precious cap space for Dwight to supersize their front line WHILE still having Pau Gasol for next year.  Imagine THAT team in LA.  How does this not work out well for both teams?  Please.  Someone tell me?  Oh wait.  You can’t.

Aside from the issues that Durant and Westbrook have, which are real and exist and were eventually going to reveal themselves, the fact is the Thunder have a problem that most teams would love to have.  How Scotty Brooks handles that will be something to watch.  Remember, this is what Phil Jackson used to do really well.  Great coaches know how to handle egos and massage them while making the co-existence workable for the betterment of the team.  Embedding that team philosophy in guys who clearly are looking out solely for their own stats is tough but a necessary evil in this profession.  At some point, Durant and Westbrook will have to face the prospect of putting aside their issues and working out an understanding.  Westbrook will be told he’s the playmaker and Durant will be told to shoot because that’s how this will work.  Until Westbrook can be trusted on a nightly basis to keep the plan, this situation bears watching.  How long can you trust Westbrook to set aside his ego?  How long can you expect Durant to play Mr. Nice teammate?  How long before it becomes painfully obvious to everyone involved (Sam Presti, please) that the Thunder NEED to get some value for Westbrook now before it becomes impossible to get anything good for him? People may say its too early but let’s be real, the path to a championship has been cut to 66 games and now is a better time than any to make that run start to count while you still have a chance to.

Ken Davidoff of New York Newsday finds common ground for A-Rod and the Wilpons.  Kinda.  

This shady German operation has me thinking about aging superstars and their constant need to compete with their younger competition.  Whatever happened to aging gracefully?  Speaking of gracefully has anyone put those sad puppy Coupons out of their misery yet?

Mike Pereira went postal on Jon Gruden in this FoxSports column.  

Me and Mike Pereira are FOREVER cool after this.  Does anyone else feel like Jon Gruden likes almost everything on the planet?

Finally, if women EVER wanted to understand why they feel they are being objectified on television.  They had better hope that THIS never gets shown in front of a nationally televised audience.  

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Seriously Lebron- What’s up?

52 to 11.

That’s Dirk Nowitzki’s fourth quarter tally and that second number is Lebron James.

I am going to preface this by saying I didn’t watch all of Game 5 but the beauty of social networking websites and 24 hour sports news networks and league specific channels running on an all day clock make it so that you NEVER have to kick yourself for not setting your DVR.

A few days ago I wrote an article questioning what was eating Lebron James.  What could possibly be weighing on his mind that could possibly cause a second consecutive crash and burn for the self-appointed King James?  If you believe the internet, then its Rashard Lewis.  But Mike Wise had a great line in his Washington Post article which says it best:

“After boxing, nothing affords a naked-eye view of a supreme talent like basketball. Viewers see James’s mood swings, interpret his body language, see the fidgety nibbling of his nails, the primal roar after a malicious slam, and they instantly feel they know him in a way they could never know a helmeted free safety or a masked goaltender.”

And we all feel that instant connection to Lebron James, the most televised athlete in the history of the game.  Lebron the phenom came up at just the right time, as social networking was exploding, as tv cameras were following child prodigies around, everyone carrying around smartphones so we would never miss a score, and as DVR’s made it possible for people to NEVER miss an important sports game ever again.  So his connection with us is instant.  We see everything even this unbelievable footage of Wade and Lebron clowning Dirk and acting as if he were putting on a performance with the reports of a sinus flu.

Yet, the biggest act has been this Lebron James.  Whoever this Lebron James is.  Is the real Lebron the guy who torched Boston and absolutely destroyed Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls?  Or is it THIS James, on the biggest stage of his career and looking about as lost as a kid who walked into the wrong classroom on the first day of school.*
*= not like that ever happened to me 

For James haters this is best case scenario: the Heat losing, and Lebron being a shadow in the fourth quarter shrinking under the weight and burden that his talent brings.  Who is Lebron James?  He’s the most televised athlete of our generation and yet we have no clue what he is.  But we will find that out in Game 6 and perhaps Game 7.  The law of averages for a talent of his kind suggests that he will get it together, put his skirt away and bring his man pants to American Airlines Arena in Miami on Sunday and help the Heat reclaim some of the lost momentum.

Of course, if they don’t, Lebron may never recover.  The camera tells the whole story.  Nail biting.  Lebron looking around for someone to get this hot potato we call a basketball away from him.  The pathetic display of emotion when he creates a turnover.  You know, the “I gotta show something here so that fans don’t think I don’t care” look of half ass incredulous-ness.*
*= yeah, I just created a word right there- deal with it! 

But if these last few outings have proven anything its this: we now have a clear understanding of who’s the man.  Its almost universal that Lebron James is the better player than Dwayne Wade.  But perhaps even that discussion is changing and shifting.  Because its what have you done for me lately and lately James hasn’t done diddly.  Wade, with bruised hip and all, sitting a quarter managed 23 points.  Lebron happy to play stat-sheet killer threw up a triple double and still the haters were in full force.

His supporters will run to that argument: are you kidding me? He had a triple double.  What else do you want him to do?

The only problem with that argument is he came to Miami because his supporting cast was infinitely better here.  Yes, I’m even giving Chris Bosh some props because I can’t be more impressed by him.  He can’t fall on that safety crutch that his teammates suck like he could in Cleveland.  Dwayne Wade has consistently shown up.  He will get the Finals MVP if the Miami Heat win.  Chris Bosh has been better than I EVER expected on the glass and he’s been consistent with his jumper.  But everyone’s waiting for Lebron to show up.

Don’t count him out either.  With his kind of talent you never want to give a guy like that motivation but the Mavs have consistently given him that motivation throughout.  Deshawn Stevenson said he quit.  Jason Terry dared him to think he could guard him for the next five games like that.  These threats should’ve fueled Lebron to have a monster games 4 and 5 and yet, it seemingly deflated him even more.  The thought process here is this: what’s going on that Lebron can’t seem to focus?  Where is Lebron James when his team needs him?

Physically its tough to miss him, mentally he’s miles away.  In his mind, the Heat have won the title and he’s playing pick up games with Jason Kidd and Jason Terry.  He probably hasn’t seen the huge banner that reads FINAL on it.  This is it Lebron.  Make or break.  Its about that time.

Oh wait, he said that too.

Now all this is making sense.  Lebron wasn’t teaming up with Wade, he was running to Wade.  Lebron said it perfectly: he was taking his talents to South Beach to be Wade’s lackey.  It makes sense that Scottie Pippen, always jealous of Michael Jordan and never able to do what he did, would dis Michael to give props to Lebron.  Because he sees everything in him that he saw in Lebron.  He wants everyone to make THAT comparison.  Lebron is Scottie 2.0.  And ya know what Scottie?  You’re right.  He is.  He’s Karl Malone 2.0.  He’s freaking Shawn Kemp 15.0 (i mean he has a lot of baby mama drama doesn’t he?).  Yep, he’s the evolution of the talented Superstar with one glaring thing missing: that ring.

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New York and the NBA after “The Decision”

New Yorkers are incredibly resillient.  That much I’m sure of.  So recovering from the mess that was Lebron took only a few hours.  We’re a city that moves so quick that tourists complain about our rudeness.

We’re not walking fast, you’re just walking slow.

So no wonder that yesterdays press conference to announce 4 new players to the Knicks roster was met more with answers of what was to come than what wasn’t.

Allan Houston, the Knicks GM-in-training, knows about defeating the Miami Heat.  He lives on in New Yorkers hearts for his teardrop shot to shock the Heat during the 99 season. A season where an 8th seed like them beat a 1 seed like the Heat, a scenario that the Knicks could find themselves in this season.

Projected records so far have the Knicks winning between 38-42 games which would be, at best, a 12 game turnaround.  Its entirely possible that the Knicks could be the surprise team if you buy into all the doomsday theories of the Knicks going back to irrelevance now that Le-Bum spurned New York’s advances.  If we had anything over the past two years, it was hope that Lebron was on his way like a knight in shining armor to save the day.

But that prince turned into a frog instead.  He became Hollywood Hogan and went AWOL on the good guy list.  Now he’s the villain universally.

My question is..was that…a good thing?  Hear me out Knick fans.  Maybe I’m just sipping from the kool aid a bit too much but I’m thinking pretty clear, I promise.

My points are all purely circumstantial so I have nothing to stand behind but a hunch.  What if Chris Paul’s reported announcement of his own big 3 wasn’t all talk?

If you haven’t read the newest rumor to drive Knick fans crazy, here it is.  Marc Berman, the Knicks beatwriter for the New York Post, said that in a speech during friend Carmello Anthony’s wedding, which James was also in attendance for, said he, Melo, and Amare would form their own Big 3 in New York to challenge the one in South Beach.

How much truth lies in that statement remains in question.  Remember Knick fans, Lebron started flirting with coming to New York two years ago too.  So let’s hold our horses and not get set up again.

Ok, so let’s start imagining a scenario I’ve been thinking about since this newstory leaked.  What if this Big 3 forming in Miami sparked an idea in the minds of all free agents to be that the only way to assure yourself of greatness is to be teamed with a really good squad and form your own super team?  What if guys like Chris Paul and Deron Williams (both free agents in 2012) want a championship badly enough that they would let statistics be damned and join forces to make it happen?

It makes sense now that the discussion on the superstars are changing.  If stars no longer care about competing against each other then expect more super teams to come together.

So now the only relevant topic left is to scout potential landing spots for that kind of star power and all signs point to New York being the last glamour spot left in the NBA for stars to really shine on a huge stage.  The Knicks and Nets can basically play up the image part of being a champion in New York now that its become clear what this generations stars are after.  Its not about individual glory.

Which brings us to David Stern’s comments regarding Lebron’s exit strategy.  He said his decision making was poor and he wished he had informed Dan Gilbert, the crazy owner of the Cavs, sooner than he had about him leaving as opposed to a nationally televised audience.  The interesting part is how Stern views this shift.  Its bigger than you think.

Stern’s marketing made his stars huge.  In the early 80’s basketballs ratings were so poor that the Finals were shown on tape delay on CBS.  Magic and Bird brought the NBA back with their rivalry and MJ took it to a whole other level.  Basketballs popularity skyrocketed with MJ’s emergence.  The marketing job they did on Jordan and helping take his accomplishments and multiply its importance was and remains why we view Jordan the way we do.  Stern always had a star to build around.  Like the sun to the rest of the planets orbiting around it.

Its why when Jordan left, the discussion was where the NBA would find its next Jordan.  How could you follow that act up?  It took years and years before fans were able to accept that there was no next Jordan.  Remember Harold Miner? T-Mac? Vince Carter?*  All good players but never nearly as great as we as fans thought they’d be.
*= I especially hate Vince Carter because I was almost positive he was the next best thing.  He came from Jordan’s alma mater, North Carolina, and he had all the easy athleticism that made Jordan so enjoyable to watch even though he was beating my franchise down.  But his injuries never seemed genuine and he quit on the franchise that invested in him.  I just had very little respect for a man who I felt was wasting his talent and not using it which is why I suppose this Lebron “Decision” irks me too.

If championships are the only category to worship then Russell is the champ.  If its scoring ability its Kareem.  But because of his flair and the commercials and the aura he built with the marketing dollars, we all ceded that it was Jordan.  I believe Jordan was the greatest because you just knew when you were watching him that you were going to be treated.  A singular talent like him shined brightest on the bright stage as if he did it without a supporting cast, as if there was no Pippen.

Need a more contemporary example?  Everyone that watched the Finals know that Gasol outplayed Kobe in game 7, but Kobe, with a 6/24 shooting performance won the series MVP.  Why?  Because Kobe is the biggest star.  Kobe basically had to show up in order to win the MVP.

The NBA is a star’s business and Stern was a master in pushing his sports top athletes.  He understood that and he made it profitable.  So when he sees Lebron make a business decision personal to join friends in search of championships, he’s seeing his biggest meal ticket ruin what could be millions more in branding and other things.

Now Stern has to sell the team to fans as opposed to two separate entities.  He can’t just market Lebron by himself.  He has to market him with Wade.  Wade and Lebron are close enough to assume sporting headlines in matchups against each other.  Remember the NBA on NBC ads? “Jordan and the Bulls vs Ewing and the Knicks.” Who but the Lakers can match in star power?

Stern’s anguish was evident during the press conference.  He looked like he went to happy hour a few hours prior to the presser.  He looked tired and stressed like he’d been on multiple conference calls to sort out the mess that he knew he was in.  Imagine having crafted your business one way and now having to change it even slightly not because of your customer base but because of your employees.

Stern doesn’t have his heir apparent to Kobe.  It could be Wade but he had Lebron fitted for that crown.  Now its up in the air and Stern has to wonder what it means for the future of his stumbling league if stars are leaving smaller market teams to join together and form super teams then Stern will have an even bigger problem.

Guys talking about joining together publically?  The biggest star in the game coming out of this with more trash flying at him than Hulk Hogan when he made the heel turnV  Stern now has a PR and business problem at hand.

But Stern’s loss may end up being New York’s gain.  What if the summer of 2010 ended up shifting the thinking among young stars.  If a guy like Lebron cedes he can’t lead a team by himself then everyone may begin feeling the same and by the time your done in a few years you have 5 or 6 really really good teams and a bunch of bad ones.  Its natural to assume that the NBA will be in trouble and Stern should be worried about how this summer has gone but you think Miami Heat fans are worried about the state of the NBA?  Well if it benefits New York then neither should we.  New York is resillient, we will get through the hate.

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