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Winners and Losers NBA Finals edition

I wrote a few days ago about Lebron in the internet age.  I have to admit it got me to thinking about how the Finals, and his entire career has been a no-win situation for him since he got here.  Hyped since day 1, it was impossible for him to be what everyone wanted him to be.  Why did we love Jordan?  Because we didn’t know we needed him to be the standard until he became it.

After winning game 6, the Cavs have forced a game 7 in the NBA Finals.  This will be the 18th Game 7 in NBA Finals history.  The last Finals to go 7? Lebron remembers- that was in 2013 when the Heat were saved by a miraculous 3 by Ray Allen in the final minute in Miami in game 6 against a talented Spurs team to win the second of their back to back titles.  The last team to overcome a three games to one deficit were the 1966 Lakers who took the series to 7 until ultimately losing to the Boston Celtics.

People have tried to force the buy into the dislike that the Warriors have for Lebron and vice versa by hyping up every back and forth between the two teams.  Want trash talk?  Red Auerbach announced before the season that he would retire after the season was over giving his haters one last shot at him in 1966.  After an emotionally uplifting come from behind victory in Game 1 by the Lakers, Auerbach pulled yet another one of his classic psychological chess moves by announcing that Bill Russell would succeed him as head coach becoming the first African American head coach in the NBA all but destroying any momentum the Lakers had going into game 2.  The Celtics won the next three by an average of 13 points and eventually won the series.

In 1951 The Rochester Royals went up three games to none against the New York Knicks.  The Knicks won the next three to force a Game 7 in improbable fashion…and then lost game 7.

What does this mean?  It means that doing what the Cavs have already done is ridiculously difficult.  Just so everyone’s on the same page, they are facing the greatest regular season team in the history of the NBA, the defending NBA champions.  They also have a lineup called the “lineup of death”.   They also employ the reigning two time defending NBA MVP who still has not had a signature game and there’s  an unsettling inevitability that it will happen.

Last night’s victory had wives losing their minds, then there were the psychological tricks the Cavs were supposedly playing on the Warriors family and friends bus.  But the Cavs didn’t win Game 6 in Cleveland for any other reason than Lebron James willed them there.  It got me to thinking about who could be the biggest winners and losers here once Sunday’s Game 7, not just within this series but in the NBA as a whole.  Here’s my list:

WINNERS (if Cavs win):

  1. Lebron James- If the Cavs manage to pull off what no one else has done in NBA history, which is win a Game 7 on the road, against the greatest regular season team in NBA history, after being down three games to one, it would catapult Lebron into a whole other stratosphere.  Songs would be sung about him, babies named after him, and streets too.  Historically, the significance of it would make him unlike any other athlete that has ever graced this game and hopefully would even give the Lebron haters some chill, though I doubt the Curry household would.  Also Lebron the GM would get a huge boost.
  2. Cleveland- This city hasn’t won a championship in so long, and has been starved for some real hardware that I don’t know if there will be a city left to do a parade on Monday morning.
  3. Kyrie Irving- He’s done more in these last two games to answer questions about his ability to lead a team than ever before.  Not at the level of James, but his Game 5 performance will be difficult to duplicate.  Shooting 71% and hitting some of the highest degree of difficulty shots you’ll ever see.  Also being called champion will help Kyrie shake the stigma of being a good player on a bad team.
  4. NBA- A small market like Cleveland winning will only make the NBA look better.  Even if I’m stirring the conspiracy theorists with this idea, the NBA needs to go into the next lockout having had a team from a small market win to prove that their current financial system has NOT kept small market teams at a disadvantage.
  5. Ty Lue- Taking over a team in midseason after a questionable coaching change which was rumored to be a Lebron power play and Lue has been admirable in not being the center of it all.  You can tell the Cavs players enjoy playing for him and go all out.  Even if we have no idea how to gauge his ability to coach because he’s coaching a stacked squad, Lue will have NBA champion on his resume as head coach and player and that’s a feat not many have accomplished.  In fact here’s the list: Rick Carlisle, Pat Riley, KC Jones, Phil Jackson, Billy Cunningham, Tommy Heinsohn, Bill Russell, and Red Holzman.  That’s some elite company no matter how much you give him credit for.

LOSERS (if Cavs win)

  1. Warriors being the greatest team in NBA history- The obvious choice, but really its their place in history.  It ain’t no thing if you ain’t got that ring.  Being the greatest regular season team of all time is a good accomplishment but nothing to write home about.  The Bulls will pop champagne, and those other teams like the 86 Celtics, 87 Lakers will all rest easy and have the right to puff out their chest and say they were better too.  If they lose Game 7, the Warriors will have lost as many games in the playoffs as they did during the entire 82 game regular season.
  2. The Curry’s- This is now the second Finals where he’s gone MIA.  Yes, he scored 30 points last night but it was the quietest 30.  He also fouled out of a game for the first time and showed un-Steph-Curry-like undisciplined behavior.  He’s the reigning two time MVP but if they lose this series after being up 3-1, Steph will bear a lot of the blame and for the first time in his career face criticism.  That should make for a fun summer for the Curry household.  Continuing in the Curry household- her twitter rant after Game 6 will be discussed incessantly until Game 7.  If they don’t win, I’m sure Warriors fans will support Ayesha’s thoughts and complain about how the NBA doesn’t want the Warriors to win.  This will harm the Curry brand which was really beginning to take off.  NBA and other corporate sponsors can’t be too happy about her flying off the handle.  They don’t take too kindly to being called names by wives or part of the crew types calling their product or company into question.
  3. Draymond Green- The nut job as I’m calling Game 5 will rank as one of the weirdest suspension/momentum turners in NBA history.  Green’s value is immense to the Warriors, but his play and attitude were limited in Game 6 as he played with the thought that any kind of brash play would likely see him get suspended for an all important Game 7.  I’m assuming he’s saving all that rage for do or die Game 7.
  4. Knicks fans/Celtics fans or any fan base that wants a superstar off their team and Kevin Love on it-  If the Cavs win, the push or Kickstarter campaign to trade Kevin Love will take a huge hit.  No complicated three way deal that will net the Cavs Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks draft picks they desperately need to continue the rebuild or no superstar Kevin Love to join the revolution in Boston.
  5. NBA refs- If the Cavs win, tape of Game 6 will be studied as closely as the Kings/Lakers series in 2002 and the Heat/Mavs series in 06.  Tim Donaghy’s legacy will be safe and secure.

WINNERS (if Warriors win)

  1. Steph Curry- No one stands to gain more by his team’s success than Steph Curry.  I’m not saying he’s a product of that system- you can’t make that argument for Steph when he’s undoubtedly the greatest shooter this sport has ever known.  But he’s pretty much been non-existent in the NBA finals for the second consecutive year and the internet notices shit like that.  I’m expecting a 30+ point effort, but I think the Cavs have allowed Steph to get his 30 albeit working hard, but he may have been exposed defensively.  Steph has to be aggressive in Game 7 and if he does, he can secure his legacy.
  2. Klay Thompson- It seems people discuss Steph and Draymond when it comes to this team, but Klay does as much as Dray on the defensive side of the ball (look at his assignments during each round of the playoffs, Harden, Lilliard, Westbrook and now Kyrie) and has done more than Steph on the offensive end.  The Warriors do NOT force a Game 7 against OKC without Klay’s insane 40 point game.  He loves being in the background which tells you why the Warriors have so much success because all of their stars are uncharacteristically unselfish and genuinely like playing with each other.
  3. Kevin Love trade mongers- Knicks fans/Celtics fans will be spending countless hours on the trade machine to try and figure out how to get Kevin Love to Boston and the Knicks with a few draft picks.
  4. Joe Lacob- His NYT article probably turned off a number of people.  It made him out to be the arrogant douchebag we’ve all come to expect the rich to be.  If the Warriors win, those people can all suck it.  Many of his enhancements have enabled the Warriors to become the standard for front offices to aspire to and Lacob will have engineered one of the greatest turnarounds for a franchise in sports history.
  5. NBA tweeners entering the draft- The shift in thinking about how to employ players like Draymond has changed.  Every league is copycat so many teams will look at players who fit that description during the draft and may reach to grab them in hopes of getting the next Draymond Green.  Denzel Valentine’s draft stock is already flying high and I’m sure teams will be paying close attention to shooters who can stretch the floor.  There will be teams trying to fit square pegs in round holes in hopes of duplicating the Warriors success.

LOSERS (if Warriors win)

  1. Lebron James- Because he’s Lebron and no matter what, the haters will come out.  That’s the burden he bears and whether right or wrong, fans will forget the back to back 41 point games and herculean effort to force a Game 7, only done twice before in NBA history in order to troll the King.
  2. Kevin Love- Second to Lebron, the NBA will collectively ponder the future of Kevin Love in Cleveland.  Since he got to Cleveland, it hasn’t been a clean fit and his play in Game 6 was everything you needed to know.  He picked up 2 fouls in the first three minutes and saw most of the second half from the bench.  This was a top 15 player in the NBA two years ago but things have NOT gone well.  Love will likely have to leave Cleveland and be put up on the pantheon of hated athletes in Cleveland.
  3. Old Guys- All the Hall of Famers who have opened their mouths about a jump shooting team winning will have to admit that they were wrong.  Which they still won’t do, but maybe next time we won’t pay attention to click bait articles about a quote from an 80’s player that discounts the Warriors success.  They can stop the whole Kurt Rambis would’ve stopped Lebron and Draymond from entering the lane.  Seriously you think THIS GUY is stopping Lebron from getting in the paint?
  4. Harrison Barnes Free Agency- Barnes had a chance to step up in the Finals and take a $100M contract even if everyone would be screaming that its a bad contract.   This Finals has only proved what we all knew.  This guy isn’t worth the money and while its still entirely possible that Barnes can go off in Game 7, and the cap is so crazy high and every team has so much money that they may throw money at him- I can’t see him being the star and Steve Kerr sat Barnes down for a majority of the second half while the Warriors were trying to make a comeback.  Kerr thought a clearly hobbled Andre Iguodola was a better option.  Ouch.
  5. City of Cleveland- It bears noting that no fan base is more prepared for defeat and gut wrenching loss than the City of Cleveland.  No fan base has seen their hopes dashed in the way this city has.  I will say that this team right now has very 2004-Red Sox feel to it to me.  Take it as you will.

 

 

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NBA Season Preview Part II (Teams from 30-16)

The NBA season is upon us and with that, its time to preview the season.  You can find part one here.  For this preview I decided rather than write some long winded thing about how Kobe Bryant is ruining the Lakers franchise (more on that later), I would rather structure it in a crowd pleasing way: go reverse order in rank of all 30 NBA franchises heading into the season and list one player to watch and one subplot over the course of the season.  Hope you enjoy it and hope you learn and hope you care enough to curse me out over the internet and tell me I don’t know crap.  Here is part I:

30. Sixers logoPhiladelphia 76ers-

Player to Watch- Nerlens Noel (C)- Noel is in his second year out of the NBA training academy in Kentucky known as the Wildcat collegiate program.  He’s a long armed, afro-d rim protector sent to the Sixers to play with the emotions of players hoping to score in the paint.  Obviously this season is lost in the midst of the biggest, most open tanking party known to sports (as the NBA Twitteratzi will have you believe), so the most important story on the court will be Noel’s development along with MCW’s development playing with Noel and then maybe if we’re lucky we may even see a Joel Embiid sighting!

Major Subplot of the Season- Tankapalooza- Technically the Sixers won their first game of the season when major lottery reform was shot down by a vote of 17-13.  Zach Lowe of Grantland expertly outlined what was at stake for this vote.  The NBA and its righteous police will surely devote thousands of words and twitter memes to symbolize what a horrible thing this is, but I’m all for any careful, thought out process of becoming good again.  Fans will come back once the team starts winning.  Suffer for a few years, but beware when the tag of losers are ripped off.  That’s when the fun starts.

29. jazz symbol Utah Jazz-

Player to Watch- Dante Exum (PG?)-  I put a question mark because the Jazz and rookie coach Quinn Snyder will likely use him in a variety of roster spots.  But he’s a natural point guard.  Exum is the baby of a youtube highlight clip, reared by Twitter GIF’s and raised by the blessing of the NBA Twitterverse.  Which is to say he’s a completely digital creation.  Now comes the human element: actual games.  I like what i’ve heard, and I’m more intrigued by the few highlights I’ve seen from Jazz preseason games.  I’m not going to venture a guess on his ceiling because nobody knows, but a point guard that can fly and has court vision?  Should be fun.

Major Subplot of the Season- How Toure Murray and Steve Novak will save the Jazz!  Young and the Restless- The Utah Jazz have the youngest roster in the NBA.  Twelve of the 15 players that will suit up for the Jazz are 25 and younger.  Talent wise, they have three Top 5 Picks (Exum, Kanter, and Favors), six lottery picks (+ Hayward, Burks and Burke), and nine first rounders (+Booker, Hood, Govert), pedigree which suggests they should be good.  They are like Philly three years into their tanking program, but the feeling is that there will be more losses piling on for the Jazz.  They play in the ultra-competitive West where there are legitimately 10 teams vying for the 8 playoff spots.  So it gives Utah liberty to continue piling on assets before they have to make their first big move, which likely will mean either Kanter or Favors is on their way out.  Bet on Kanter, but definitely lay money on the fact that the Jazz will look very Spurs-ian on offense (don’t we all aspire to) while running exciting rotations which should keep hoop nerds in the East up long hours watching this young 20 something line up explore themselves like a young teenager watching porn for the first time.

28. Lakers-Logo Los Angeles Lakers-

Player to Watch- Kobe Bryant (SG)- C’mon, as if there was anyone else.  I honestly don’t know how Kobe’s season will play out but after this article by Henry Abbot (a journalist of the highest order) where he lists anonymous sources within the Lakers organization who believe that Kobe is the reason they are bad and will continue to be bad.  Not helping matters was Jeannie Buss going all Steinbrenner-ish by publicly criticizing these anonymous sources and calling any player who doesn’t want to play with Kobe a loser anyway, I can’t help but feel uneasy about predicting anything but a ton of back and forth between Kobe’s fan base (long one of the most fierce in NBA history) over Twitter that could get nasty.

Major Subplot of the Season- Byron Scott and the National Advanced Stats legion- Not only are advanced stats here to stay, but they have crept into every crevice of NBA operation and major NBA writing which will likely skew your thoughts on the matter.  Fact is, Byron Scott is wrong based on all the statistical evidence we’ve seen (see!  its happening to me!).  To be fair, Scott came to Cleveland on July 2nd, 2010.  We all know what happened on July 8th when Lebron tap danced on Cleveland fans hearts and went to Miami.  Well, he comes to Los Angeles, the place of his greatest trumps RIGHT as Kobe is entering a “prove you’re still great” season where he’ll launch a ton of shots while playing a bunch of one on two or threes and giving below average defense and demanding minutes.  Also, the best free agents the Lakers got were Jeremy Lin, who will now be pushed into more minutes with Steve Nash being done for the season, and Carlos Boozer who’s biggest contribution the last few seasons was this.  Things could get bad in Tinseltown fast.  But hey, at least they will sell out!

27. bucks logoMilwaukee Bucks-

Player to Watch- Jabari Parker (SF)- Carmelo Anthony clone.  Number two draft pick in a loaded draft.  Thought to be a franchise player.  There’s tons of things here to like, but let’s call it what it is.  Here is the season for the Bucks right here:

Major Subplot of the Season- Jason Kidd dealing with a young roster- In Brooklyn he was a rookie coach trying to get the most out of a veteran roster.  He flipped the script, jumped ship (there’s really no other way of saying it) and went to a team with a bunch of young pieces.  Kidd had plenty of lows in Brooklyn but the fact is, he did it his way which is how you can accurately describe his NBA career.  He’s a natural leader and he will be the voice the players turn to when they are down in a crunch time situation and youth and inexperience will drive them to the Fountain of Kidd.  This may not be a good team, butut expect them to be hungry and give teams a good scare down the stretch.  Expect them also to be very busy come trade deadline.  Shoutout to John Henson who I saw give everyone elbows because he still hasn’t figured out how freakishly long his limbs are.  You can’t teach that.

26. Magic logoOrlando Magic-

Player to Watch- Elfrid Payton (PG)- Many expect Payton to challenge Jabari Parker for the Rookie of the Year.  Payton is that mix of rangy athleticism with a good body that compares well to Exum, only he played in the States.  While he did play in the Sun Belt Conference, the experience of playing States-side players is very critical when seeing how he projects and he’s proven in both Vegas (7.2 APG) and in 27 MPG in the preseason (5 APG) that he’s up for the challenge.  It also helps that everyone has been glowing about how mature and wise beyond his years he is.

Major Subplot of the Season- They can play but can they shoot though?- The stats suggest not.  Jacque Vaughn is in a weird spot.  They already have lost Victor Oladipo for an extended stretch when he broke his orbital bone.  They brought in Channing Frye to help spacing but you can almost make the case that 60% of their starting lineup not only can’t shoot, but are historically bad.  Aaron Gordon doesn’t project well as a shooter, and neither does Tobias Harris who the Magic have to make a decision on whether to extend.  How can you create space for Payton to drive, or Oladipo to drive or Gordon to roll to the basket if NOBODY is afraid of them from 10 feet and beyond?  That’s the question for them to  ponder.

25. CelticsLogoBoston Celtics-

Player to Watch- Rajon Rondo (PG)- In my 10 bold predictions for the upcoming season, I wrote that Rondo would not be traded and that Jeff Green would be.  Most may think I dislike Rondo which is far from the truth.  I love Rondo.  I think having a competitor like him can only help your team and he has the playoff chops to take your team over the top.  Even if he isn’t a fit in the triangle, I would welcome him to my Knicks.  But this season the Celtics, who drafted Marcus Smart specifically to take over the mercurial yet talented point guard of the Celtics mantle that Rondo held firm for so many years,  are continuing their rebuilding and transition.  They have quality pieces to give away in trades and Rondo being the big chip.  I just don’t see it happening, unless the Celtics find a very anxious bidder who’s willing to overpay which is exactly how Danny Ainge wants to play it.  But Rondo isn’t the cookie cutter and he comes with hard edges that will make him a very tough add to any team hoping to add Rondo to their team easily.

Major Subplot of the Season- Can Danny find a home for Rondo?- I realize I’m doubling up on this but let’s face it, the Celtics will try like heck to trade him.  Getting back value will be completely up to Danny Ainge.  Will he hold on to Rondo even though he knows retaining him will take repairing their relationship?  We still have yet to see Rondo and Brad Stevens collaborate in an 82 game season which is something that could be fascinating.  But Ainge’s responsibility first and foremost will be to trade Rondo and get back draft picks, salary relief, and young players.  I don’t know that he will accomplish that goal but the season will likely be in limbo until Ainge either trades him or pays him. You know who’s the x-factor on how this plays out?  Rajon Rondo.  Who knows if he wants to stick it to Celtic management?  Who knows if there’s resentment or bitterness on how the Celtic saga ended with the smearing campaign when Ray Allen left?  Coming to NY won’t help that but you can see how a change of scenario will help.  If Ainge has Rondo after the trade deadline, all the leverage will return to Rondo and that’s the scenario that Ainge does NOT want to see played out.

24. Timberwolves logo Minnesota Timberwolves-

Player to Watch- Andrew Wiggins (SF)- He said all the right things about how he was looking forward to the challenge.  How he’s motivated.  How he wants to play for a team that wants him.  Those are all fine and well.  He and Anthony Bennett will be compared in the impossible microscope of the Kevin Love trade.  That’s tough for any rookie, no matter how heralded.  Now comes the proving ground.  There’s no question about the defensive ability already.  His offensive game still needs a lot more work and he will get plenty of minutes to develop it.  Now’s the time rook.  Now.

Major Subplot of the Season- How does Flip Saunders deal with making a good deal?- Look, when you’re losing the quality of big man in Kevin Love, the fact is, there is no such thing as equal value.  So reality has to set in and accept the best deal possible.  Saunders did as decent a job as he could given the position the team was in.  They got a guy in Wiggins who could wind up being a generational talent, another number one pick who could be who knows what, and wound up with a quality NBA big man in Thaddeus Young.  Its not perfect, but its something.  They drafted Zach Lavine.  The Love departure will open up minutes for Gorgei Dieng who in limited minutes and then in international competition opened eyes.  There’s plenty to like about what the Love trade did for the franchise, but really it opened things up for a young group.  Now, Flip has to make sure Flip can coach them up.  This is the roster Flip gave Flip.  This is the roster that Flip will die with even if Flip doesn’t like it.

23. Kings logoSacramento Kings-

Player to Watch- Boogie Cousins (PF/C)- Count me in on the Boogie bandwagon.  The question becomes: is he a franchise player?   The Kings extended him, but that’s a referendum on a small market team desperately holding on to its best talent by offering him the most any team can offer, rather than the seal of approval by a brand new ownership/front office.  Talent has never been the question.  Its his inability to keep his emotions in check or be a leader that folks can draw from.  Well, I’m all in on the Boogie breakout season, which is saying something because he’s one of 5 players to average 20 and 10.  I’m all in on the goal of ONLY drawing 5 technicals.  Let’s go Boogie.

Major Subplot of the Season- Does Mike Malone have the pieces and/or time to make this work? Malone was a highly regarded assistant and son of Brendan Malone who served as a Knicks assistant in the Warriors when Vivek Ranadive, majority owner of the Kings, was a minority owner in Golden State.  So, it seems curious when the Kings head honcho came out and said now its about wins and losses. Regardless, the Kings will struggle by sheer virtue of geography (maybe they should’ve moved huh?).  They won 28 games and while improvement would be winning 30, that’s not the kind of improvement this Kings team wants.  Their cap is pretty clean and they have all their draft picks which is the good news.  The bad news is again, they play in the Western conference.  Dave D’Alessandro, the Kings GM, has turned this roster over aside from two players, and sees the turnover as a way to get better.  Losing Isaiah Washington was tough but I understand them not wanting to devote too much cap room for too many years to him.  Rudy Gay posted some of his best numbers playing alongside Boogie and they didn’t want to kill each other which is a major plus.  The Kings are a match for the Celtics if they are looking for draft picks and salaries to throw in a trade without too much of a long term commitment.  Add in the fact that Rudy Gay and Rondo are buddies, there’s definitely smoke there to start a full on fire.  But adding Rondo without the assurance of a contract being signed would be silly.  But with an edict like the one given to the Kings from ownership- do they have a choice if Ainge comes calling?

22. Hawks logo Atlanta Hawks 

Player to Watch- Al Horford (PF/C)- He’s quietly been one of the best PF/C’s.  People forget that he came from back to back national titles in Florida playing alongside Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah on those great Gator teams.  But he’s playing on a team that has been playing for the 6th-8th spot in the league since the days of Iso Joe offense.  Horford is due $12M this year and the next.  It will be interesting to see how both the Hawks and Horford play contract negotiations after a terrible winter.

Major Subplot of the Season- Change is coming- The Hawks under Danny Ferry have done a good job in retaining flexibility while signing solid veterans to decent deals.  How Danny Ferry’s racist rants and owner Bruce Levenson’s racist email plays into the Hawks future is clear: change is coming and its going to come quick.  Once Levenson’s email was leaked, and audio of Ferry making racist remarks were made, the clock officially began on their collective tenure expiring in Atlanta.  But this is a particularly interesting case.  Atlanta is a semi-big market that players love coming to because of its, umm, night life, and when the salary cap explodes in two years, this will be a team with almost 3 max salary slots available- one of them that will likely be filled by Horford unless something funky happens during negotiations.  There will be plenty of offers from more rich white guys (including a group headlined by Chris Webber) and a presence by Dominique, the former Hawk great, which is all but a certainty given how much positive press that would generate for any incoming group.  Until there is a new owner, plenty is up in the air about this franchise.

21.Pistons logoDetroit Pistons-

Player to Watch- Josh Smith (PF)- With Stan Van Gundy as the head coach and GM, its likely that Josh Smith will really have to mind his P’s and Q’s.  But here’s where Stan Van has the edge.  He’s already dealt with Josh Smith’s old pal Dwight Howard and knows how to get the most out of a talented big man who may just need direction.  Smith signed a 4 year contract worth $54 million last year when Detroit threw money around like a 24 year old with daddy’s new Black card.  Smith will be asked to play closer to the basket which goes against Josh Smith’s version of events that sees him as a stretch 4.  Of course real world statistics don’t bare that out, and that’s Stan Van’s mission: to convince Smith of who he is. There are talks about putting Smith as a sixth man In the end, this is more about developing Smith so that Stan Van can develop Andre Drummond into Dwight 2.0, only one that’s nicer to Nickelodeon stars they have relations with.

Major Subplot of the Season- Can Stan Van the exec agree with Stan Van the coach? SVG has long been regarded as one of the brightest minds in coaching.  His looks and personal style have left much to be desired but we haven’t minded.  He singlehandedly outed Dwight Howard as the biggest D-bag on the planet after we were duped with all the stories of farting and those big smiles that made us all think he was a swell guy.  So he has a history in player management.  But a coach can convince himself that he can right a player.  This is Stan’s first go-round as the top of the food chain.  No longer will he be told from execs within the organization about a player’s dislike of him, the information will have to be funneled through him.  Don’t think that teams won’t reach out to pull a fast one on him either.  Greg Monroe signed a qualifying offer but only because nobody else came calling with a max offer which shouldn’t shock him.  Nothing about Monroe’s game screams max-contract guy.  His skill set takes a backseat to the stylings of Andre Drummond and Monroe may seek greener pastures elsewhere where teams don’t have an Andre Drummond to shine light on his physical failings.  Bringing him in as a sixth man to help spacing, which was discussed as well with Josh Smith, could be the final nail unscrewed to make Monroe walk through the door, but there’s reason to believe he was headed out anyway.  Plenty of decisions for Stan Van the coach and Stan Van the GM, but can they both agree to help the team?

20. Pacers logoIndian Pacers-

Player to Watch- Paul George (SF) Roy Hibbert (C)- Last season’s fun ride and good times stopped because Roy Hibbert forgot how to be Roy Hibbert from the Knicks series.  The Great Wall of Roy who swatted everything with ferocity the likes of which had not been seen since Patrick Ewing roamed the center position for the Georgetown Hoyas.  So it goes without saying that this season will be extremely important to his development.  This season will likely feature Hibbert a whole lot (possibly in hopes that they can deal Hibbert for some financial freedom).  Frank Vogel may even run the offense through him.  If he wants to procure a big contract during the suddenly scorching Summer of 2016- he had better develop this year into the guy he showed in the Knicks series in 2012.

Major Subplot of the Season- Will the band be broken up?  My guess is that they will trade pieces, go for the lottery and then try their luck with a young piece next to a recovering Paul George.  George is their everything.  So if they go this route, it will allow Indiana to bring George back slowly rather than rushing him back.   They have seen in their division how a roster full of complementary pieces without a bona fide superstar and a very good coach can only achieve so much in the Chicago Bulls. It remains to be seen what it would do to a fan base that was only beginning to fill up the stands again, but its understandable and in my opinion the right move.  My guess is that David West gets moved and they shop Hibbert  as well, dangling George Hill with both players to net the best possible return.

19. Knicks logoNew York Knicks-

Player to Watch- Iman Shumpert (SF)- Phil likes him.  We know this because he told Charley Rosen as much.  Shumpert’s athleticism helps him play on both ends.  His defense is at times overrated and his offense is nowhere near where it is.  Last season his minutes began to get slashed because of some reported rift between he and Coach Woodson so its important that he get off on the right foot with rookie head coach Derek Fisher.  Entering Restricted Free Agency, Iman could play himself into bigger bucks, a trade that could bring back a huge package or an enigma that has the tools to be great but none of the actual stats to back that up.

Major Subplot of the Season- Will the Triangle be a success in NY?- There are enough questions about Derek Fisher being able to handle the media spotlight of New York, and handle a star laden lineup that features several players that think they should have the ball a lot, but implementing a system that has been a failure everywhere else but when the current GM was the coach?  I worry for Fisher.  He played in Los Angeles which is a different type of pressure than the one that New York presents.  But if Fisher is going to be successful, and believes 100% in the triangle, and I believe he does, he will have to be patient.  Yes, players are who they are and many won’t change, some like JR Smith may even find the transition a lot more difficult than they ever thought,  and there are others in the basketball community who believe that it isn’t about system that its about the players at the end of the day.  All are true and a reality of the Knick season.  How quickly they adapt to the system will be the true test.

18. nuggets logo Denver Nuggets-

Player to Watch- Jusuf Nurcic (C)- He’s 20 years old, from Boznia and he’s got the Nuggets fan base buzzing along with several personnel folk.  Zack Lowe gave a shoutout during the Grantland NBA hour.  He’s intriguing enough but this speaks more to the rest of the roster more than Nurcic’s potential.  There’s so many B+ guy with one A- in Ty Lawson that its tough to pinpoint one player, so we go with the unknown here in the spot.  At some point these Eastern European giants will put together a season right?

Major Subplot of the Season- Is now the time to break up the roster or do we keep playing this game that the Nuggets can be a contender in the West?- Judging by the level of snark in that sentence you get the sense of where I’m going with this.  I don’t think so.  As a matter of fact, I think that the Nuggets with all of their traceable pieces could go so many different directions.  They could make a trade, and still be a mid-tier contender status.  They could trade a Gallinari and Foye for a pick that could eventually be a lottery pick if things end up right.  There’s so many different ways this could play out for the Nuggets a.k.a. the Knicks of the West, but the truth here is that in a stacked Western Conference, it will be very difficult for THIS version of the Nuggets to make noise.  Just so its clear, I tried really hard NOT to put Wilson Chandler and Danilo Galinari in the players to watch section.

17. Brooklyn-Nets-logo Brooklyn Nets-

Player to Watch- Brook Lopez (C)- No team’s destiny is tied to one player’s health like Nets to Lopez.  If he’s healthy, and the rest of the roster, this is a playoff team that can give a top 4 seed a scare in the East.  They have a solid front line in Garnett, Lopez and Plumlee that can cause problems.  But if Lopez doesn’t play, this is a lottery team.  Again, the Eastern Conference is chock full of mediocre to below average teams that could eventually make this a moot conversation.  But Lopez’s health will ultimately decide the fate of the Brooklyn Nets.

Major Subplot of the Season- Are there bigger shakeups in store?-  They don’t have the assets to get a big superstar so they may have to stand pat.  But there are enough signs that point to a major shake up of the entire organization including rumors popping up that Mikhail Prokhorov has begun gauging interest in selling the team in the wake of Steve Ballmer paying $2 Billion for the Clippers. I don’t blame him.  He has political aspirations for 2016 and sees the NBA’s latest TV deal as a sign that he could fetch a very healthy sum for his team.  Add that to reports that the Nets lost $144 million due to operating costs and there’s motive.  Prokho has been silent for some time which leads people to believe that he’s already planning his exit.  If so, it could potentially lead to large scale changes.  Billy King might be asked to sell off assets to make the books look a lot cleaner than it is and who knows what could be had and for what.  King has never struck me as an awesome deal maker, save for the Deron Williams trade which was an all time hammer move.  Either way, Brooklyn’s activity come deadline time could be a sign of potential ownership changes to come.

16. Suns logoPhoenix Suns-

Player to Watch- Eric Bledsoe (PG)-  All that needs to be said.  And to think, they were playing a staring contest over a contract extension:

Major Subplot of the Season- Can a two point guard system work full-time?  The Suns are betting on it.  Big time.  They re-signed Eric Bledsoe.  They signed Isaiah Washington, and drafted Tyler Ennis.  Initially you could’ve said that the last two moves were in case Bledsoe left, but when the restricted market was a dry patch of pavement, Bledsoe came back to the Suns at a reasonable price for both sides.  Looking at that contract from the perch of a huge TV deal that could make the salary cap explode to close to $100M that means the Suns could be major players for free agents with all the assets they have and the cap space.  Consider they still have Minnesota’s 1st rounder protected 1-12 in 2015 or 2016 and the Lakers 1st round pick protected 1-5 in 2015 and 1-3 in 2016.  Add to that the miracle workers that is their training staff, and a young smart head coach its easy to see why this can be a destination for would be free agents or a good trade partner for teams trying to get young guys and unload veterans. The Suns who streaked their way 48 wins running a fast paced offense surrounded by shooting might want to look at the advanced stats that show that when Bledsoe or Dragic played with Miles Plumlee, Channing Frye, PJ Tucker, and Gerald Green, their offense flew.  Maybe they see another market inefficiency that they can exploit and try and go two point guards and pick up the pace.  Either way, Hornacek’s rotations, coaching and outright defiance against tanking have led me to lay upon them the unenviable title of my favorite Western Conference team.  Let’s see how this plays out!

Part II coming soon.

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NBA Season Preview Part I (10 bold predictions for the 2014-2015 NBA season)

With the NBA season on the horizon I figured I would take a stab at the foolish exercise of making 10 bold predictions rooted in reality as I could.  This is part I of the NBA season preview.  These are ten reasonably based yet bold predictions I’m guessing will come to pass after staring at that crystal ball I have:

1. The Celtics won’t trade Rondo, but will trade Jeff Green- I’m working without any knowledge of how the television deal will affect the salary cap moving forward but I expect an announcement will come midseason.  The trade deadline will either be super busy with teams absorbing big salaries from teams trying to add cap space for the future, or teams hoping to gather assets to make a bigger trade down the line.  In theory, most teams could use a Rondo.  When healthy and motivated, he can hold his own with the best the league has to offer and is NOT afraid of the spotlight.  You can thank Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen for ultimately helping him flourish.  However its clear that his time in Boston is about to come to an end.  He may go to New York or go to Sacramento, or even Houston who would love to add Rondo as their third star, but the question remains who will bite the bullet to trade for such a mercurial spirit Rondo?  Boston’s asking price for the point guard is pretty high and teams have shied from giving up future number ones without any assurances Rondo would re-sign with them.

Green on the other hand, is owed $9.2M this season and next.  His salary would definitely make a team bite on an expensive asking price and I think the Celtics could get back more.  When Green is on, he’s a force that can play big and constantly attacks the rim.  The Cavs are all in for the next few seasons so trading away future first round picks will be nothing for them.  I think the team that makes the most sense for Green in the East would be Atlanta as Al Horford insurance and another quality big to help space out for Budenholzer’s scheme to have every person on the court be a threat from deep.  Atlanta perpetually maintains flexibility and they have picks to throw at Boston too.

2. Dwight Howard will re-emerge as an MVP candidate- Howard has gone from superstar center, perennial defensive player of the year candidate, and Top 3 player to, not even mentioned at all in these kind of discussions.  The popular name to throw into MVP discussions is Anthony Davis, the soon to be best player in the league in 3-4 seasons.  But I think Dwight is poised to have a breakout season in his second year in Houston.  For the first time in three seasons, he’s not exploring ways to skip town or avoid Kobe’s death stare or playing on a bad back.  Howard’s entering age 29 where he should be at the peak of his powers and playing on a team that will likely boast at least two to three players at a time that shoot 35% or better from beyond the arc.  That was the kind of roster he played with in Orlando.  When Dwight is playing regular minutes without any distractions, he’s a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.  I’m betting on Dwight to have a big year.

3. The Indiana Pacers will NOT make the playoffs and subsequently will trade David West- Technically this is TWO bold predictions for the price of one.  Consider yourselves lucky.  The Pacers lost their best offensive threat when Paul George went down in a scrimmage for Team USA and Lance Stephenson took his services to Charlotte to play for Michael Jordan.  My guess is that when Paul George starts practicing with the team, he won’t recognize 40% of the roster.  The fact is, the Pacers are still a very solid defensive unit but I think Larry Bird, Kevin Pritchard and co know that the best way to make this right is to start over.  HIbbert will be off the books after 2016 and chances of him signing a long term deal for big money are slim; the Pacers just aren’t built that way.  They have enough smart people to know that they don’t stand a chance this year with the roster as constructed.  Wanna know how I know?  They basically gave the keys to the offense to Rodney Stuckey.  West is their best trade asset and every playoff team will be angling to get him.  The Pacers will likely take a bad contract back if they can recoup a decent draft pick.  A team like the Suns, with extra first rounders may make a play here if they are in contention.  When he initially signed with Indiana, he was coming off a torn ACL- and he’s mostly answered his injury concerns with solid play over the last few seasons as the heart, soul and muscle of an Indiana team that for most parts of last season looked like the best team in the East and a top 4 squad.  But if Indiana is willing to take a lesser deal, he could shift the balance in either division.

4. The Top 4 in the East will be Cleveland, Chicago, Washington and Toronto- in that order.  I had a hard time picking between Washington and Charlotte.  Bradley Beal is set to miss the first month of the season at the least after breaking his wrist, and I’m STILL picking the Bullets to win the division.  I don’t trust Toronto’s young guns to take a step forward and I don’t expect them to make a crazy trade, even with Masai at the helm.  Cleveland, and Chicago will be the toast of the Eastern Conference and my hunch here is that Chicago will limit Derrick Rose’s minutes.  Knowing Thibs that means someone else will feel the whip and I”m guessing its Jimmy Butler.  Lance Stephenson vaults Charlotte into serious consideration for one of the top 4 spots in the East but that transition will take some time and losing Josh McRoberts will hurt.  I think Miami is a lock to make the playoffs as well.  That’s six spots with the remaining two to be fought between Brooklyn, the Knicks, Atlanta, and the Pistons.  If I had to pick two today, I think the two New York teams round out the eight but don’t sleep on Stan Van Gundy and the Pistons, and I could be totally wrong on the Pacers.

5. Kobe will be top 10 in scoring this season- Have you seen the Laker roster?  Have you heard that ESPN ranked him as the 40th best player in the NBA?  Shockingly Kobe took neither thing very well and there’s little doubt that Kobe will shoot himself into some conversation.  Whether its the analytics folks talking down to Kobe as a black hole of efficiency or the Kobe fanatics flooding ESPN’s comments sections with not so polite things to say about ESPN’s columnists and their lack of basketball wisdom, trust and believe that Kobe will shoot through the season with no remorse.  I want to see Byron Scott try and make a power move on Kobe and try to bench him for not making the extra pass to Jeremy Lin in the corner.  I want to see it.  Even if it happens, I won’t believe it.

6. The Knicks will trade Iman Shumpert- I don’t think this is a crazy bold prediction but one that will surely make Knicks fans upset.  Look, I like Shump.  I think with his physical gifts, he can grow into a very good sixth man and defensive stopper but he is also an asset.  He and Hardaway are the two guys that everyone asks for with the Knicks but I believe the Knicks love Hardaway’s offense more than they love Shump’s defense.  In the end, he will be the one traded and it may be to a Western conference team looking for a guy to guard the wings in the West and who knows what Uncle Phil will look for when it comes to trade time.  I do know that if the Knicks trade anyone Shump is going in the deal and that includes an Amar’e or Bargnani trade that would rid the team of an expiring contract which recently hadn’t been something teams were willing to do but now would be the quickest way to free up the most amount of money in anticipation of the Summer of 2016.

7. The top four in the West will be the Spurs, Clippers, the Warriors, and the Thunder- in that order.  I like the rivalry brewing between the Clippers and the Warriors and I think that battle will come down to the final three weeks.  Losing Kevin Durant for at least a month and a half will slow the Thunder down in that race and the Spurs know how to get to 55 wins in their sleep.  Its the Warriors I’m extremely high on who I think will make a play to be one of the best teams in the entire league.  I think Steve Kerr is a bright coach and he comes into a great situation with a loaded team.  The one thing that worries me about them is when they go through an extended slump or an injury and then the Kevin Love what-if scenarios start playing out in post game questions.  This is a team full of young guys with a rookie head coach.  Expectations will be high for a young head coach and as easy as it is to talk about doing the right thing, its another thing to coach it.  Let’s see what happens.

8. Four head coaches will be fired this season; and one of them in season- My guess on the coach who will see the ax midseason?  Mike Malone.  Which is fascinating because Vivek Ranadive the majority owner of the Kings knows him from his time as a part owner of the Golden State Warriors and took him to Sacramento.  But Ranadive hired him before hiring a GM which can make for an uneasy co-existence.  Add to that the quote recently by the owner that the “team will be judged by wins and losses,” and you can already see that the stage is being set.  One can only wonder how much time will be given to coaches to make their mark here but it won’t be long.  The other three?  I think Jacques Vaughn in Orlando will get the heave ho.  I also see  Brian Shaw getting the early ax as he has two more guaranteed years remaining and in a tricky ownership situation Mike Budenholzer getting the pink slip once new ownership group gets settled but that likely won’t happen until after the season.  Budenholzer will naturally go back to San Antonio to make a great coaching team even stronger.  Awesome!

9. The Nets will be sold- Based on everything I”ve read, and the fact that Mr. Prokhorov has already tested the waters, and the promise of a huge payday given how much the Clippers were sold for (THE CLIPPERS!), Prokho may already have five people blowing up his assistant’s phone chomping at the bit.  The fact is, the new television deal makes owning an NBA team even greater than it already was and with a market like Brooklyn behind it, its easy to see why the possibility of an insane bidding war would make Prokho look at this as the best possible time to sell everything and move!  Once he realized he wasn’t winning a title anytime soon, you have to figure that the White Russian basically lost all interest and had his sights set on selling it.  This would be the best time to sell.

10. The Minnesota Timberwolves will be the 2014-2015 version of the Phoenix Suns-  The Suns were the biggest winners of last year when given the amount of draft picks they had, rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek installed an ultra aggressive two point guard system that scored at a crazy pace.  This year, Minnesota has the young guns to run up and down the court for days.  While Flip Saunders isn’t my idea of a great head coach, his handling of the Kevin Love situation was something I agreed with.  He got Andrew Wiggins and drafted Zach Lavine who’s more than just a dunk show freak.  Look for them to make noise for the 8th seed, but fall short.

I should get extra points for not writing the names of Lebron James or Kevin Love at all in this article about the upcoming NBA season.  OH wait…

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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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Headlines 1/11/2013

copelandThe Knicks were without Carmelo Anthony last night in Indianapolis and predictably the offense faltered.  Tony Williams of the Star Ledger writes that that’s either glass being half empty or half full if you’re a Knicks fan. Frank Isola of the Daily News writes about the exercise in futility that was the Knick offense last night.  George Willis of the Post writes that maybe the Knicks have lost their swagger entering a seven game home stand.  Nate Taylor of the New York Times writes that it wasn’t just the missing Carmelo Anthony and his 29 points per game and his usual brilliant late game shooting, but it was just the Knicks missing in general.  Jared Swerling of ESPNNY.com writes among his notes about Marcus Camby’s injury that sidelined him for most of the game.

There was a time in that game that the Knicks were capturing some of that momentum.  They were up 4 after being down most of a very sloppy game, and then the Pacers went on a 13-2 run and it felt like a 28-2 run.  It felt like an enormous lead that this team just could not overcome because they didn’t have their best player on the court.  But let’s add on, that the Knicks haven’t had their best players on the court all season.  Their best team is still sitting on the bench wearing tailored suits.  Yes, Carmelo Anthony wasn’t in the building last night but also consider that primary point guard Raymond Felton is out for another four to five more weeks.  The Knicks best perimeter defender Iman Shumpert is now only beginning live practices.  Rasheed Wallace, another veteran center, was out because of a recurring foot issue that has him day to day.  Amar’e Stoudemire is only beginning to round into form.  

Last night people began wondering if the Knicks were as good as the early season start or if this recent rough stretch was in reality who the Knicks were.  I am willing to say that the Knicks are somewhere in the middle.  One thing I will say is that when healthy this team can go against anybody.  They have the veteran leadership.  They have the bigs to control the paint.  They have the defensive mindset in a half court game.  They play the style of basketball that wins in the postseason and in the end, that’s what this team’s ultimate goal is.  To win in May and June.  Playoff seeding be damned, had the Knicks not gotten off to that fast start, who knows where in the standings they would be.  Thanks to Miami losing they didn’t lose any ground so they remain a half game back of number one seed Miami, but Indiana has to be a real threat.  They added a ton of size to their team and the difference between last year’s team and this year’s team is Paul George.  

It makes the alpha dog status of this team an interesting one when Danny Granger returns.  The Pacers don’t have a top 10 player on their team but they have several excellent pieces.  George is showing signs that he could be their go-to guy.  He still doesn’t have a consistent enough shot, but his perimeter d and his otherworldly athleticism make him a candidate with further room to grow and improve.  He’s the kind of guy that will only get better and oh by the way he’s only turning 23 this May.  

A line up that I saw last night that worries me is the Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire, JR Smith and Steve Novak.  While Novak isn’t a terrible defender, Amar’e has been a liability on that side of the ball and Kidd gets beat consistently by the quicker point guards.  Its only his hands that make him a threat to poke the ball away from an offensive player running right by him.  He still has the quickness and strength to poke balls away when they aren’t secured.  I understand its to give the Knicks the most amount of shooters, but Amare and Tyson can’t create their own offense so teams play zone and never have to stray too far away from their guy.  If you were to replace Novak or Smith with Prigioni, this gives you two ball handlers who can run dual pick and rolls.  A play they may want to run is Pablo/Kidd coming from the top of the arc and working their way down while getting two screens from both Amar’e and Tyson, as soon as the bigs start to roll, only one big can rotate back to their original man leaving one guy with the point guard while allowing a big to have a mismatch.  Either a lob to the open big to set up a roll to the basket or a bounce pass would suffice.  Now, what happens if someone else rotates to the basket to prevent the easy dunk?  You now have whomever was standing at the corner three locations running behind their man and the big can quickly pass it to him for the easy lay up.  That line up needs as many ball handlers and offensive creators as possible due to the limitations of Chandler and Amar’e to create offensively.  

Once Amar’e gets his stuff together (ie: his 15-18 footer that he was routinely knocking down in 2010), and gets more acclimated to the pace of the game (which he should be by now), the Knicks won’t feel as crippled by the fact that both are primarily pick and roll players.  The Knicks just can’t let Amar’e play center and allow teams easy buckets in the paint and offensive rebounds by the dozens.  Amar’e just does not box out well (he admitted he was never taught), and you can’t let a defensive liability to be left out there without any protection.  Funny thing is, if Rasheed Wallace had been in both games, I think the Knicks win both.  Not kidding you at all.

With the blank entry list to the Baseball Hall of Fame thanks to the suspicion of steroids use by many of the first timers on this year’s ballot, baseball followed that announcement with this: the Players Union and Major League Baseball agreed to expand HGH testing.  Andy McCullough of the Star Ledger writes that the plan is to monitor testosterone levels to note any changes to them in players.  Michael Schmidt of the New York Times writes that this is another way for baseball to argue that it has the strictest testing of all the four major sports.  Both stories spoke of the NFL’s hesitation in blood tests for HGH in season.  This comes a day after a story revealed that Junior Seau was in fact diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease named CTE that is caused by repeated blows to the head perhaps due to his years playing football.  According to this NYTimes report, out of 34 cases that the researchers at Boston University have examined where the subject died, 33 were found to be linked to CTE.

Dr James Andrews, Mike Shanahan RGIIIIt was an unusual day for science in the sports landscape.   I wouldn’t describe baseball as reeling from the aftershock of not inducting anyone to the Hall of Fame, but the numerous empty ballots certainly created a buzz in the sporting community.  Performance enhancing drugs are an ever changing market.  One day its anabolic steroids, the next its something more subtle that alters a player’s ability.  Tomorrow it will be a substance that is virtually untraceable.  I’m willing to bet that every year we will read about two or three more athletes that continue to feel that they can cheat the system and get away with it.  Until the sports world has universal Olympic testing prior to every competition, how can a team not feel they were cheated by somebody who came into a game all “juiced up”.  Obviously that kind of testing will never happen but baseball will always have this stigma attached to it thanks to the almost two decades long period of not caring to do anything about the problem.  

Football on the other hand has a very very serious problem.  I’ve said for years now that Roger Goodell’s legacy will be linked to how he contains or doesn’t contain the concussion issue and player safety.  Those who think that he’s not doing enough will ask for more measures of reeling in the violence.  And there will always be those who feel he has done too much to risk the primal nature of the game that makes it what it is.  I’m of those that believe that you play football knowing the risks.  The hits just keep getting harder and tougher the bigger the players get and the faster they come to hit.  But players continue to compete knowing the risks.  There’s no place in the game for HGH considering how big these guys are and how physical this game is, but don’t try and convince me that Goodell’s stance on this issue isn’t driven by his fear that if he doesn’t do anything the lawsuit by former NFL players contending that the NFL does very little for its former players will make the NFL pay a huge hefty sum.  Goodell has implemented rules and barriers to use in court to say that the NFL is doing its level best to not compromise player safety.  One of the biggest issues that I saw in a report for HBO’s Real Sports series was a story done by Andrea Kremer in which the NFL was asking players to sign a waiver agreeing to free the NFL of any kind of lawsuit before taking a painkiller called Toradol which acts as a numbing agent.  The Players Union is asking players NOT to sign the waiver which continues the back and forth of this issue.  Neither side is willing to be fully on board with the player safety issue as the NFL is trying to lead everyone to believe and its being done with the intention of trying to avoid any further legal hassles in the future.

My opinion is, the NFL is a dangerous sport.  Junior Seau’s case is one that will never change.  Players play injured.  Players go in when they aren’t supposed to, ask RGIII.  The sport almost demands a player to play through and to show the teammates their individual toughness.  The fact is, the risks aren’t being explored in game situations and are only being asked after the fact.  After a game has been played and the player has taken a few extra lumps on top of the lump that caused the injury.  Players do this all the time in the NFL but they do so under their own recognizance.  That’s where team doctors or medical officials need to step in and be authoritative when they demand a player’s removal from a game.  If Dr. James Andrews, the most renowned name in orthopedics, can’t have his professional opinion taken seriously enough then what shot does any other medical official have.  Its a dilemma that won’t go away and good for the NFL that it doesnt!

Hal Steinbrenner calmed Yankees fans fears a little in this Ken Davidoff report saying that the $189 million figure is just a number and doesn’t represent an end all figure if the Yankees aren’t seriously contending for a World Series in 2014.

Sammy Sosa is just weird, on his Pinterest page.

John Clayton of ESPN.com writes that several teams will have a difficult time in reshaping their roster, especially the Jets who are currently $19.4 million over the cap and Dallas who are currently $18.2 million over.  The Giants sit at $4.7 million over.

Gary Meyers of the Daily News writes that Tim Tebow doesn’t have a prayer of having a starting gig in the NFL.

 

 

 

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Post game react: Knicks vs. Spurs

Tony Parker had just delivered another pinpoint pass to Tiago Splitter who had somehow managed to score the Spurs last 12 points (and also had outscored the Knicks 12-5 in the 4th quarter up until that point) and while finishing the dunk, Tyson Chandler fouled Splitter hard.  Some of it was frustration and some of it was the inability of the Knicks to control Tony Parker’s ability to find the open man on a consistent basis.  But there was an extra muscle added to that foul.

The lead ballooned to 11 and it seemed as though the Spurs were on the kind of run that good teams manage to negotiate in critical moments of games.

And yet there was 7:14 left in the game.  A timeout was called.  Splitter hit the free throw and the Knicks came right back up without missing a beat and Raymond Felton decided he wasn’t going to be outdone by his point guard counterpart.  He drove to the hoop and had an opportunity to get the and one but failed.  But the foul by Parker was a loud snap on the wrist of Felton and it seemed as though both teams were beginning to get chippy.

Much of the premise of last night’s game was that this was going to be the Knicks first real test.  They had written off the Miami win as a product of an emotionally charged Knick team playing for a noble purpose that Miami almost felt guilty about ruining.  Translated: the Miami Heat gave up on that game the moment they stepped foot in to superstorm Sandy ravaged New York and the moment Wade made his now infamous comments about the game which made him give up his salary to benefit relief efforts. The Sixers were playing without Andrew Bynum and were a mess offensively without their anchor in the middle.  And of course the Magic were a lottery team.  All valid arguments.  Yet, how could you possibly do it this time to a Spurs team who picked up right where they left off from last year’s 50 win regular season.

So there were the Knicks 7 minutes away from validating everyone’s eyebrow raising over the Knicks 5-0 start.  They were going to lose to an actual contender that everyone had penciled in for, at the very least, the Western Conference semis.  The Knicks for the second straight game turned it on in the fourth quarter and began to pull away thanks to a strong defensive effort.  But it came from two places that one couldn’t have possibly seen coming.

Stephen Jackson said of Carmelo Anthony following the game: “I think last year Melo would have forced a lot of shots,” Jackson said. “This year he’s trusting his teammates and it’s shown out there, especially tonight. It’s amazing how they went from two guys shooting all the balls to a team that everybody has confidence in everybody else.’’

There he was with the Knicks down 6, getting an entry pass with a clear look at the basket and passing off to Tyson Chandler who had a clear path for a dunk and an and one.  If that weren’t enough for you Carmelo doubters there was this: with the Knicks down by a single point, following a steal by Kidd on a bad pass from Manu Ginobli, Kidd fed Melo for what usually would’ve been one of Melo’s patented stop and pop three point shots.  Instead he faked, took a quick step towards the rim, saw the defense collapsing on him and passed to Felton who was cutting towards the basket from the opposite side.  It was critical from this sense: Kidd from the moment he began pushing saw Melo working his way up the court in transition and anyone in Kidd’s position would’ve expected Melo to shoot the ball or take the ball to the hole there and initiate contact and, best case scenario, get an and one.  Its why Melo is paid the big bucks: he’s the best player on the Knicks.  Their best offensive player.

But last night was not Melo’s night offensively.  The defensive pressuring of Stephen Jackson, Kawhi Leonard, and the doubling of Melo when others would switch defensively had done a number on Melo.  So there was Melo feeding the guy who had the hot hand: Ray Felton on what would’ve been an easy lay up had Tim Duncan’s hall of fame shadow not shown up to dismiss that thought from Felton’s brain.  Felton immediately turned his body and saw JR Smith waiting for the ball and for the moment.  Three point.  Gun shots.

But that was NOT the end.  There’s something equally impressive Melo managed to do on the following possession by the Spurs.  With the Spurs trying to recover from a backbreaking JR Smith 3 to give the Knicks their first lead of the quarter, the Spurs kept going east and west, and when the ball finally landed in Kawhi Leonard’s arms, Melo SOMEHOW angled his body away from Kawhi Leonard who was scared of taking the corner three thanks to Melo’s crazy waving arms and couldn’t get the shot off in time.  24 second violation.  Imagine that.  Carmelo going from making the unselfish offensive move to the rotating defense that caused a shot clock violation.  Was there a better indication of whether Carmelo “gets it”?

It was always the big question about Carmelo: did he understand what it took to play on both ends?  Everyone knew what he was offensively: a me first guy who put the team second.  Who could play that kind of way because his offense was just so good sometimes that even in the face of double teams he could manage to get off shots and make them that made you shake your head.  Those makes, reinforced in Carmelo’s mind perhaps that maybe it was ok to hoist those shots.  Even when people (stats included) told Melo that playing the 4 would make him unstoppable, early on he resisted.

But he’s been everything the Knicks had ever hoped for him to be.  A superstar understanding what it takes to win.  That in the course of 82 games, not every shot will fall, but when there’s a match up that is working like Raymond Felton against Tony Parker, that you go to it.  That when there’s an open man you trust your teammates to make the shot.  Those realizations are huge and if Carmelo gets it and I mean truly gets it, the sky is truly the limit.  He’s trying on the defensive end like I had seen from him in spots last season.  He’s buying in to Coach Woodson’s system.

Then there’s the ageless wonder Jason Kidd.  Kidd had said prior to the season that he didn’t care to play major minutes.  He came to mentor Jeremy Lin.  But most important, in those critical final four to five minutes of a tight ball game, he wanted in.  He wanted the opportunity to help the Knicks win.  Well, two out of three aint bad.  He once again proved his worth by playing stellar defense and doing all the little things during the course of the game and when Tony Parker’s slashing and Tiago Splitter’s offense was destroying everything in its path, it was Kidd who like in the Orlando game had managed to calm the Knicks down as things seemed to be going against them, calmly hit two threes back to back to cut a 12 point lead to 6 and inject life to a hapless Knicks squad.

Huge swings of momentum are gifts given to teams by fortune, but sometimes players can force nature’s hand and cause it all by themselves.  And when the Knicks needed to hit a back breaking three to extend the 2 point lead, there was Jason Kidd with a hand in his face, off balance hitting his final three of the night to put the Knicks up 5.  There are players who have a sense of timing about these things and when you have a veteran laden team you’re bound to have a couple who get it.  This is why Kidd was brought to this team.  These are the moments he desired to be a part of.  These are the situations he was born to lead and direct.  There he was playing maestro and the lead role.

There’s much to like about this Knicks team.  And I haven’t even got to the point guard situation yet which is light years ahead of what last year’s team had.  But if you’re not a fan of Melo “getting it” or of J.R. Smith changing his outlook on the sixth man role or Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas’ combined experience being a good omen for this squad then you’re not a Knicks fan. But that’s alright.  But as a basketball team when you see a team playing together.  Understanding roles.  Having each other’s back.  Its just fun to watch.

This is great basketball.  Who would’ve thunk that meant New York Knick basketball.

NOTES:

– Tim Duncan said it all when he glanced at Carmelo Anthony’s point total and said ”  “You assume we win that game.”  So would everyone else Timmy.  The Big Fundamental joined the rest of the Spurs organization in singing the Knicks praises after a gutty comeback win by the Knicks in which the Knicks showed mental toughness and the ability to pull a comeback with their best star only scoring 9 points.  It indeed is a new age for the Knicks who are probably as shocked as their opponents are at how great Anthony is playing on both ends.  He’s the epitome of a leader and in my opinion is doing what he needs to do to shed all the previous labels that stuck through his career.  It will be interesting to see how long this new attitude by Melo can last but having this many veterans on the team, especially guys with rings can ONLY help.  Right?

– Again, all of these are small sample sizes but right now Raymond Felton is playing the kind of basketball that begs the question: Does the New York Knick uniform give him super powers?  Many had attributed his success in his first stint with the Knicks to playing in D’Antoni’s uptempo system.  Of course many had also made the Pudge Felton jokes too.  But perhaps the Woodson system that asks him to slow it down here and there and penetrate through screens and get assists through pick and rolls (which he’s building quite the rapport with Tyson Chandler by the way), is the best system he’s been a part of.  Lin was brought to the Rockets where he would be head of an offense that he was probably as aptly suited for as the D’Antoni system.  But Lin is still having his turnover issues whereas the Knicks are NOT.

– One of the biggest surprises of the early season has been the almost allergic reaction to turnovers that the Knicks have.   Zack Lowe of Grantland says that not only would it be historic, its a clip thats unsustainable.  That tweet, got him in so much hot water from Knick fans who attacked him as a hater.  BUT, the fact is, to expect the Knicks will go an entire season averaging 10 turnovers a game, is not realistic and fans can expect that number to go up as the season progresses.  But that’s not the only thing that the Knicks are doing that bear watching and Knick fans can expect to regress:  JR Smith is currently hitting 70% of his 3 point field goals.  The Knicks are also beating teams by over 13 points.  But then there’s the poor shooting of Steve Novak, the inclusion of Amar’e Stoudemire which at the very least will help the offense (maybe?) and the return of Iman Shumpert that should help the team defensively so there are some things that bear watching.

– The game tonight against the Grizzlies is probably going to be closely watched by those in NBA circles to see the Knicks ability to respond after an emotional win against the Spurs.  Should they win tonight, the Knicks would almost definitely have to be taken seriously by the talking heads of the NBA who marginally praised them following the win against the Spurs.  The Grizz feature Zack Randolph and Marc Gasol- the best front court they have faced thus far.  It will be interesting to see toned down Carmelo giving up 30 pounds to Z-Bo in the paint.  That will be very loud match up.

Other than Marc Gasol, I think the player I’m most impressed with on that roster has to be Mike Conley who, at one time, had one of the worst contracts when he first signed it, but over time has justified the investment by getting better in increments.  That’s all you can ask for from your team’s point guard.  It will be interesting to see the Mike Conley and Ray Felton match up tonight.

 

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Thoughts on the Knicks start, why its all one guy, and how the Olympics shaped it.

Knick fans woke up this morning again to the news that their team was 4-0 and probably assumed this was an eerily too real dream that they would rather be asleep for.  Lord only knows how wide awake they were for those Isiah teams and those that played to the tune of no defense and not enough offense that left the Garden faithful talking up the team’s what ifs rather than what actually happened.

But the dream isn’t dead yet.  Your Knicks may be this good.  At the very least, we know this: when the effort is there, this team can and WILL compete in the Eastern conference.  A conference that should you believe conventional wisdom is the Miami Heat and then everybody else.  But conventional wisdom didn’t have the Knicks as the last undefeated team in the NBA either so let’s hold to what we’re seeing.

Currently the Knicks are holding opponents to the fewest points per game (87.5),  have a point differential (+17) that’s a shade under 9 points better than the second best (+9.5), holding opponents to the worst shooting percentage in the league (.407), and are third in forcing turnovers (18) while being number one in terms of turning over the ball (only 11.3 a game.).

All those stats show the obvious proponent of this current hot start: their defense.  But the real reason for it may be that their superstar Carmelo Anthony’s has a newfound dedication on the defensive side of the ball.  Its easy to draw the conclusion that because the Knicks are being coached by Mike Woodson, a defensive oriented head coach, his influence is rubbing off on Carmelo.  But in reality, whats happened could be traced back to the Olympics when Carmelo was able to watch the newly minted champion Lebron James work his way up and down that locker room and hold court as the best player in the league.  Its obvious that this Olympic experience was far different for Carmelo from the perspective that he knew the focus of many people’s interest would turn to him, as he’s the final member of that famed quartet from the 2003 draft class still without a ring.  Wade has 2, Lebron (finally) has one and so does Chris Bosh.

Much like Lebron in 2008, Carmelo’s Olympic experience was more about his own personal growth as a basketball player.  Watching Kobe Bryant get up at 6 AM and work on his craft, having won 3 championships at the time (and on his way to 4 and 5), and yet still working on his craft as if he were ringless.  The bar Kobe set was high, but perhaps that’s what was needed for Lebron to realize what he had to do in order to accomplish his goal of winning an NBA championship.  Remember, also that Kobe had just come off a Finals loss to the Celtics, and was determined to get back and ultimately would and win back to back championships that year and the following one.  That Olympics shaped and transformed Lebron.  Remember, it was that Olympics that many conspiracy theorists believe that he, Dwayne Wade and Bosh decided to team up and come together in 2010.  Lebron, Wade, Bosh, Carmelo and CP3 were good friends but became very close on that trip and yet, Melo and CP3 were left out of that super team.  Of course that’s because Carmelo could only become a free agent the year after and CP3 was still only 2 years into the league and locked into his original rookie deal, but for anyone in a similar position, it could feel like you were being left out.  That may explain CP3’s half joking/half serious intimation that he, Melo and Amar’e (who had signed a 5 year $100 million deal with the Knicks that summer) would band together as well to form their own super team at Carmelo’s wedding, days after Wade, Bosh and Lebron had revealed their plan to the world.  But much like Lebron, this Olympic experience may have shaped his mind.

In 2012, he saw his close friend Lebron realize his dream of being a champion and yet Carmelo could only watch as he took his rightful place at the top of the game.  There was no discussion any more.  This was Lebron’s league and finally, to some, we could get to the business of cementing his legacy with a run of championships.  The vultures had left South Beach and were headed Melo’s way.

But the talk circling Melo has always been far different from Lebron.  Lebron has always been viewed as having the skillset to be the greatest ever, a discussion that will certainly heat up with all the hardware he accumulates.  Melo is seen as just a scorer.  The comparison would be Clyde Drexler and Michael Jordan.  In the Dream Team book written by SI columnist Jack McCallum, Clyde Drexler expressed his belief, at the time, that he was as good as Michael Jordan.  Drexler wound up winning a championship in Houston, but history shows that it was never as “the man”, that would be Hakeem.  Michael, of course went on to win 6 championships and change basketball for the generation we’re watching now.

But I started thinking about Melo and, what sometimes could be perceived as, his steadfast stubborn nature to accept generally held beliefs about him.  Case in point, when the idea was suggested to Carmelo that he should move from the 3 to the 4 where his athleticism and body could handle and overwhelm other 4’s, he responded as if someone had made the suggestion that he couldn’t play the 3.  Despite overwhelming evidence that his game would benefit tremendously by playing in the paint, its come with Carmelo kicking and crying along the way, no way to act for a guy trying to shake the reputation that he’s NOT a team player.

But Carmelo has come out of the gate being aggressive and judging by some overly handsy defensive that resulted in some foul trouble, its clear that he’s still not completely comfortable.  But I’ve forgiven Melo because its clear that his effort is turned up and he’s completely tuned in because of the offseason the Knicks had.  It became clear why Carmelo is all in with Coach Woodson.

This offseason, fans were confused by the number of “veteran” players the Knicks brought in.  Guys who were perhaps well past their primes.  While Los Angeles added 2 superstars, and OKC was subtracting one, and Miami was adding stars, the Knicks went a very different route.  They cut ties with their super nova point guard, Jeremy Lin and watched him go to Houston.  They traded for point guard Raymond Felton who enjoyed his time in NY enough that he forgave the team for trading him for Carmelo in the first place.  They traded for Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, signed Ronnie Brewer and stole Jason Kidd from the Mavericks.  None of these moves really rocked the basketball blogosphere except for the excess of material for NBA writers to use to poke fun at the Knicks, an unusually favorite past time for most national reporters.

It might have seemed weird, but it became clear the message that GM Glen Grunwald was sending, and who he was sending it to.  He was telling Melo that this was indeed his team and that the collective talent he had assembled was there NOT to take away from Melo’s star, but to make it shine brighter.  No offense to Amar’e Stoudemire, the lone free agent from the famed 2010 free agent class, to sign with the Knicks, but it was an obvious nudge to him in the ever present power struggle that the two super stars wage to win over New York.

But it matters not.  The average NBA fan knows who the better player is and finally Carmelo is getting his chance.  Too many times his reputation was limited to: “great offensive player, but not willing to play within the construct of the team.”  Through four games, he’s given his team points and more rebounds but also given his team a head turning statistic as well: blocks.  This was his second game in the span of three that he’s blocked two shots, a statistic that if he allows it to trend will ultimately get him the kind of recognition that his Olympic teammate Lebron did: MVP.  Finally we can begin to assess Carmelo fully and not just through the lens of just an offensive game.  We can begin to take him seriously as a leader, and as one of the best players in the NBA.

Clearly the effort is there, and the record is there, the recognition will be soon to follow.

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Questioning the Linsanity of James Dolan

This morning fans of the New York Knicks woke up to the news that the Knicks would not be matching the $25 million offer sheet given to Jeremy Lin by the Houston Rockets.  The deadline to match was last night at 11:59.  Through a Knick official, they informed the press and the Houston Rockets that Jeremy Lin was now no longer their property and was free to take his talents to the big ol state of Texas.

Most fans greeted this news with outrage that James Dolan, the owner of the New York Knicks, picked this time to become frugal when he has repeatedly in the past paid the luxury tax despite fielding a much weaker team.

I decided that it were appropriate to talk to someone who is completely removed from the sport of basketball and from sports in general but was aware of Linsanity as it was happening.  As always, this is a fictitious person who shall remain nameless.

1. What happened to Linsanity?  How come he’s no longer on the team?

It isn’t easy to say exactly why he’s no longer on the team.  The Houston Rockets decided that he was worth a 3 year $25 million contract.  Its pretty crazy, he was waived by the Rockets in the beginning of the season before the Knicks picked him up but the Rockets were so adamant that they wanted him back that they gave him this offer sheet that the Knicks just had to match.

2.  How come the Rockets thought he was worth it now when they originally waived him?

Linsanity was huge and I would like to think that the prospects of continuing their relationship with China was important.  They had Yao Ming, a Chinese center who was a major attraction as a global phenomenon.  Adding Lin to continue their global (read: Chinese) branding was a smart move.  Knicks fans also feel that Darryl Morey has a particular fetish for screwing over the Knicks.

3.  Why do you think the Rockets are screwing them over?  Didn’t The Rockets offer him a larger contract?  What the problem with accepting that contract?

Its not quite that simple.  Well, at least according to James Dolan.  The NBA had a lockout that eventually led to a brand new CBA.  This CBA was supposed to allow teams to keep their players and the Knicks even won a motion prior to the free agency period that allowed the Knicks to have Jeremy Lin’s Bird rights.  Bird rights are the ability of any team to extend their salary cap space in order to resign the player.  Usually Bird rights are achieved when a player stays with the team for 3 seasons but the Knicks won a motion on Lin and Novak- players who were waived and whom the Knicks picked up off of waivers- to get it.

Darryl Morey, the Rockets GM, took advantage of this new CBA as well by offering Jeremy Lin a 3 year $25 million deal.  In this deal, the Rockets would pay $8 million a year while the Knicks would have to pay $5.1 million for the first two years and then $14.8 million for that last year.

4.  How is it fair that the Knicks have to pay it like that?

According to the CBA that’s how the payments would be structured for the Knicks.  That last year is what’s known as a “poison pill” meant to stop teams from matching.  The CBA was very ambitious in trying to both help teams keep their players and to help player movement.  We all know that’s the equivalent of having their cake and eating it too.  The new CBA has far worse tax penalties for teams who are repeat offenders of going over the luxury tax threshold and thus place a greater burden on them and give those who remain financially clean a much greater advantage.  In year 3, given the new tax, the Knicks who would be over the luxury tax would have to pay up $42 million in tax penalties for Jeremy Lin alone.

For most teams that would make them reconsider, but for a team like the Knicks who make money hand over fist (they own their own network and are in the media capital of the world), the ability of them to market Lin alone would justify that tax hit thanks to how popular Linsanity is and became during his run and the overall Asian population in the world.

5. So why didn’t the Knicks match when it makes financial sense?

Well, financially it makes sense but there’s an argument to be made whether it makes sense basketball wise.  This is a guy who was let go by the Golden State Warriors, his hometown team, and by the Houston Rockets before being picked up by the Knicks.   Though to be fair, the Rockets were forced to cut him thanks to a numbers game at point guard.  He came into Mike D’Antoni’s system where point guards with any kind of athleticism can excel in and, well, excelled.  He then got injured and didn’t play for the rest of the regular season all in all making his 2011-2012 season a total of 25 starts and 36 games suited up in.  Turning 25 starts into $25 million is quite the feat even for a kid from Harvard but there are questions about whether he can sustain that performance in Mike Woodson’s isolationist scheme.  His numbers dipped when he had to play with Carmelo Anthony, who the organization has pinned their hopes on to lead them to a championship, and they never got any momentum going.

6. So wait, Lin has ONLY played 25 games in his professional career?  That’s a pretty short time to suddenly be wanting a huge contract don’t you think?

A valid point, one which JR Smith had also brought up.  He said that a lot of players would have a problem with Lin making that kind of money when he hasn’t proven himself over a long period of time.  But to answer your first question, no, he has played in more games than that but his career really began when he started for the Knicks.  The Knicks were 8-15 when Lin entered the starting line up and they won their next 7 games to reach .500 where Lin averaged 18 points and 8 assists, pretty nice numbers for a guy who just entered the line up from off the waiver wire.

7. So if he isn’t that experienced why are so many Knick fans upset?

Well that part has very little to do with Lin and more to do with the ownership of the Knicks, namely James Dolan.  Dolan has made some, how do you say, TERRIBLE personnel decisions and this one is his greatest and sadly his dumbest move to date, atleast according to the majority of fans I’ve spoken to.  In 2015, there is no doubt that the Knicks will be taxpayers.  Give or take a few million the Knicks were in the red to begin with so the idea that they would suddenly get stingy makes no sense to any Knick fan.  Knicks fans fondly remember teams with Penny Hardaway and Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry paying luxury tax year after year and producing little to nothing.

The other part of this that’s complicating matters is the arrival of the Brooklyn Nets.  There are now two franchises in New York and the Nets threaten to take a borough of New York and who knows how many more fans with them when they open for business this October in Brooklyn.  This is the kind of move that could divide the fanbase and force them to turn their affections and dollars towards the new kid in town.  This is the first time the Knicks fan has ever had anything remotely close to a competing product to choose from since New Yorkers fail to acknowledge New Jersey’s existence.  This is a crucial time for the Knicks to not screw around with their fan base and the fan base, for better or worse believed in Linsanity.  Now, is their faith warranted?  Sure, there’s a chance that Lin will turn into the superstar that he has the potential to be OR he will be a supreme bust (supreme because he has a long term contract now and its the only thing that anyone wants to talk about).  That’s the spectrum here.

The point is the fans LOVED him and it shows poor judgement to waste that because of a tiny misunderstanding.

8. So this is all a misunderstanding?

Kind of.  The reason, according to sources within the Dolan camp, that the Knicks aren’t retaining Lin is that they feel betrayed.  For better or worse, James Dolan is a man who puts loyalty first and he feels that Lin was being disloyal to the first franchise that gave him a real shot.  They supported him when, at 85%, opted NOT to play in the playoffs despite numerous players deciding to play if put in his position and in spite of their lack of point guard depth as the series went on.

In defense of Lin, Dolan did advise Lin to seek out his market value and should have seen this coming when Lin came back with this “ridiculous contract” as Carmelo Anthony so eloquently put it.  Once Lin came back with the offer the Knicks were reportedly set to match it however Dolan’s camp learned that Lin had went back to the Rockets to renegotiate.  This infuriated Dolan and forced his hand in bringing back Raymond Felton and former Knick Kurt Thomas.

9. Kurt Thomas?  I loved that guy!  Isn’t he a 100 years old?  But doesn’t this mean that the Knicks can put that $25 million into signing Chris Paul next year?

Unfortunately that money was and can only be given to Jeremy Lin thanks (again) to the Bird rule which only allows the Knicks to stretch their payroll for their own players as opposed to signing free agents.  So the Knicks are now still in salary cap hell and have very little wiggle room to improve their roster for the next three years.  Kurt Thomas is currently the oldest player in the league and yes he played with the Knicks a lifetime ago.  But he can still be a useful veteran you know to put six hard fouls into Lebron, Wade, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook or anyone else hoping to drive to the paint.

10. Speaking of Veterans didn’t the Knicks also sign Jason Kidd, and Marcus Camby?

::Nodding sadly::.

11. So what now for the Knicks?

The Knicks now have no choice but to win in order to win back some of their fans and some of those on the fence on joining the Brooklyn-ites.  The fans will certainly be upset by Lin’s departure claiming its just another example of how James Dolan doesn’t care and has no clue about anything except doing whatever the hell he pleases.  While it is his right to spend his money as he wishes, fans are not that forgiving and may wind up vacating the Garden to go over to the Barclay’s Center.

This was probably the wrong time to get such an easy decision wrong.  The Knicks still had an out here.  In the CBA there’s a stretch provision which would have allowed the Knicks to literally stretch the last year of that contract over three years so that the tax hit wouldn’t have been that great.  The Knicks could have also used him as an expiring contract in that final poisonous year and gotten a trade exception.  There were reasons to let him go and keep him but there are just so many more reasons to keep him that it boggles the mind how vindictive one person can be in order to prove a point.  Dolan could’ve swallowed his pride and re-signed him because he was going to pay a heavy tax that year anyway with Amar’e, Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony all entering the final years of their huge contracts.  But he chose to spin this as Jeremy being less than honest in his attempt to secure a much better future for himself.

12. So you’re saying that this was bad for the Knicks?

Surprisingly I don’t.  Look, was Linsanity great?  Absolutely.  He was entertaining and fun and made the Knicks relevant again.  The Knicks are going for it all and having a 23 year old point guard come of age would’ve been nice, but the Knicks aren’t suddenly going to tank.  And if the Knicks really are “All-In” this season as their moves have suggested the Knicks don’t have time for a player to work his way into a system and don’t have time for a player to get acclimated and for there to be the kind of drama that a Carmelo ANthony, Jeremy Lin supposed power struggle would have brought. Whether real or manufactured, it would’ve existed. The Knicks are always ones to make crazy moves, but anyone who thinks this is crazy are those that are under the assumption that having Lin would’ve made them better than the NBA Champions Miami Heat.  That’s crazy.

Unfortunately the Knicks are still not as good as the Heat and while losing Lin is tough for the Knicks, from a competitive standpoint nothing about the team’s chances have dramatically changed now that Raymond Felton is taking over for Lin.  Felton was unhappy and unproductive in Portland, I would imagine that will change now that everyone expects him to show up to camp weighing 300 pounds and unable to productively handle the point guard position.  He has played in NY before and was pretty good before he joined half the team in Denver in the Carmelo Anthony trade.  The fact that he doesn’t hold grudges over how it went down is probably a good sign and an indication that he had fun during his tenure here and can handle being the point guard.

On the face of it this seems like a bad decision temporarily but we really won’t know how bad or good this decision is until we see it play out.  The biggest negative in all of this is how much unnecessary pressure will be put on the Knicks to win early and often and get a top 4 playoff seed in the East.  The Heat and the Celtics have improved.  The Bulls are the Bulls.  The Pacers are bringing back a core that was a 3 seed.  The Hawks and Magic will obviously both take a hit with Joe Johnson leaving and Dwight on his way out but of course the Nets are there and the Sixers announced that their new free agent acquisition Kwame Brown is their starting center so needless to say that the Sixers are probably going to take a step back as well.  If the Knicks don’t at least fare better than the Nets heads will roll.

Every night will be a daily test and the blogosphere of crazed Linsanity fans will inundate the wire with every Jeremy Lin 20-10 game he has in a Rocket uniform.  This could all have been avoided had they matched.

13. So what are the chances that this works in the Knicks favor?

As always, these are the Knicks.  With all due respect to David Kahn, Jeremy Lin IS manna from heaven and James Dolan decided to say no to it inexplicably.  So what are the chances that this works in James Dolan’s favor?>  He literally sent down a gift from heaven, free from CAA’s control and having nothing to do with his influence and he decided to say no.  You ever say no to a gift from God?

14. No.

15. Are you going to start being a Nets fan now?

No.  It would sadly take much more than this to keep me away.  I’m programmed to handle this kind of heartbreak on a regular basis.  Anything good that happens is a result of sheer dumb luck and in this case that’s what Lin was.  It was a shot in the arm for a team desperate for one and yet even that wasn’t enough, but to suddenly walk away from a long term hazardous relationship that has left me with more scars than an abusive spouse would be dumb.  If I’m leaving having stayed after Jordan repeatedly destroyed my childhood, then Isiah came along to destroy my early to mid 20’s and decide to leave because the Knicks didn’t retain a 23 year old point guard who started 25 games,  I was never a fan to begin with.

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Dwayne Wade and the Conspiracy

Can we even have a rational discussion about the Miami Heat anymore?  Is that possible?  If we criticize Lebron James it turns into a “you’re mad that he’s not on your team” or “what more do you want from him, he scored 30 points?” argument and it gets no where quick.  Its weird what has happened in today’s NBA that superstar Lebron James has to deal with the fans wrath and the support of columnists who claim to go more in depth than ever before thanks to incredibly deep statistical breakdowns and shot charts and mathematical formulas that prove how efficient Lebron James is.  How about, how he makes the right decision almost 90% of the time data?

Last night’s Pacers victory wasn’t just an indictment on the Miami Heat but also on this very notion that gets stuffed under the rug and created the same dull point that every reporter or blogger goes to: “If Lebron James had the game that Dwayne Wade had, he’d be on a national rotisserie”- Greg Cote, Miami Herald.

Yes its true but….wait, why is that?  Is it because Lebron James hijacked ESPN for a primetime special to announce his new digs?  Is it because, he and Wade threw a parade in Miami and gosh darnit how did those cameras get in there and capture all the footage and air on ESPN and live on in youtube infamy?  Is it because Lebron was wooed by a number of teams and fan bases clamoring for his services despite ample evidence that he had made his decision years ago?  Maybe its this legion of NBA fans who thought that Lebron would channel his inner Jordan and felt betrayed by the fact that he went to another superstar’s team and decided to play Robin to someone else’s Batman when he should’ve asserted his will?

Those are all arguments to make but, that was two years ago.  Fast forward and two years later Dwayne Wade is STILL getting the better end of the deal.  And three years later when their contracts run out I imagine Wade will walk away from this deal, one ring or no ring heavier and still have the same reputation of warrior, closer and everything else Lebron James is NOT.  By almost every single measure Lebron James is the best player in the NBA and its not close.  He had a PER rating on par with some of the greatest seasons in the NBA and rightfully won his third MVP in four seasons and yet night in and night out he plays with a 100 pound weight over his neck of silly criticisms that don’t bear out when you look at the body of work OR at what he does on a nightly basis.

He guards the other team’s best scorer.  He runs point for 90% of the game.  He grabs rebounds.  He pushes the pace.  He scores 25-35 on a nightly basis and does that all while everyone else seems to give Wade a pass for any non-star like performance.  If Lebron has a bad game its the first thing on Sportscenter and the first and last word on First Take.  The obvious flaw is that Wade is supposed to be on par with Lebron on this star ship.  He’s as guilty of courting other teams during that summer of love, 2010 despite having that plan cooked up with him, Bron and Bosh and yet he never sees half the amount of criticism.  Why?  Because he has a title?

Oh, and don’t get me started on that title.  If this season has done anything, its shown that perhaps Miami’s post-basketball careers are already on the way.  Grab your agents.  Avengers 14 due out in the summer of 2023 should star Lebron, Wade and Bosh with their ability to act like they were hit with a taser and smacked in the head by a baseball bat on a simple screen.  Some people call it savvy.  They are superstars and they know they will get bailed out by some ridiculous call by an official who knows the league wants them to cater to their superstars.

But Wade’s performance last night was weird for a few reasons.  One, this myth that Wade is a nice guy just isn’t true.  Wade has always had a mean streak which has helped his game and will eventually shorten his career.  He attacks the rim with reckless abandon and usually lands right on the injured report on a consistent basis.  His years of banging bodies has really taken its toll.  He was considered the next tier of stars, along with Chris Bosh in that 2003 draft and has, in some people’s minds, jumped ahead of Carmelo Anthony because of his commitment on the defensive end.  In truth, Melo is a better offensive player, and most won’t question that, but defensively Melo rates a soft 2 while Wade is a hard 8.*  His foul on Darren Collison wasn’t borderline flagrant, it was a flat out dirty play which should’ve warranted a suspension but we all know the league is not about to sit out one of its best players during the playoffs.  This isn’t the first time he’s done this either.  His elbow shove wasn’t a physical play it was a dirty shot made by a hot tempered athlete who loses his cool at times and makes plays warranting suspensions and yet time after time he gets away with it.  Don’t give me that Wade isn’t a dirty player.  He’s not gaining a reputation, at this point he’s collecting royalties on that rep.

*= Yes that was a strong suggestive sexual remark and yes, it was meant to be said.  Think about it.  Don’t think too hard.  Oh wait, I did it again.

Secondly, his little argument with Erik Spolestra was destructive for one simple reason: it brings up this notion that he is not capable of running this team like Pat Riley had hoped.  Riley doesn’t want to come out of retirement.  Its obvious.  Maybe he knows he can’t control this team either.  Or maybe he’s just tired and old and doesn’t have the energy to do it.  Either way, Wade’s blow up will not be easily swept under the rug.  Not with the supposedly superior Heat team trailing the best of 7 series 2-1.  Not with the way the Heat lost and not while Chris Bosh is out for an extended period of time without a timetable given for his return.

Wade’s temper tantrum at his coach, who I believe called him out for not getting back on defense, was the right move by the coach-wrong reaction by the player that can get a team in trouble.  Spolestra HAS to assert his power on this team and if he has to step on toes to do it then that’s what he has to do.  Wade getting in Spolestra’s face and acting like he wants to duke it out with the coach on national television in Indianapolis not only shows you the level of frustration he was feeling that entire night but the reaction by the announcing team shows you how protected Wade is by a national media that adores him.  Hubie Brown went back to him being frustrated.  Mike Tirico talked about how much of a competitor he is.

Wait WHAT?  No!  He bitched out his coach.  He has already committed a flagrant foul worthy of a suspension.  He was shooting an 0-fer in the game and yet you want to pooh pooh Wade for having a bad game?  Its amazing how far you can get with a Colgate smile, a nationally run set of  T-Mobile commercials, TV friendship with Charles Barkley*, a stylist, and a ring can get you.  Oh and not to mention having the most polarizing athlete since Wilt Chamberlain on your team.  That helps too.  Wade has been saved by having all these things working for him and the media can say whatever they want, but they have never dropped the hammer on Wade like they do to Lebron on a nightly basis.
*= Chuck has carte blanche to say what he wants, when he wants to whomever he wants.  I watched Bones for half an hour waiting for TNT to do a live cut-in of the TNT studio where Charles Barkley was going to go ape shit on D-Wade and the Miami Heat for playing lackadaisical.  But I had…..BONES.  These are the nights when Charles and Kenny are clutch and go IN.  How come they do that for the Knicks and not the Heat? WTF CHUCK? 

But this morning Lebron is thankfully not on the minds or conscience of the national media.  Nope its Roy Hibbert.  Not Wade blowing up and acting like a baby and completely tuning out in the second half.  We are subjected to Roy Hibbert and the Hibbert face.    Listening to interviews with the gentle giant while rose petals and daisies come flying out of his eyes.  The Heat got owned by THIS DUDE.   Don’t get me wrong, Lebron had a dirty moment as well.  Yes, Danny Granger needs to stop drinking fifteen red bulls before coming on the court to Lebron, but he had every right to wonder where the referees eyes were while ringing HIM up for the technical while not acknowledging that Lebron had raised his elbow and held it there like Jordan taking a last second shot in Utah.  Or Mario Chalmers, who happens to be a good defender but a guy who tries to get in everyone’s face or talk shit to the wrong guy.  This time, knocking the ball out of David West’s hands to purposely annoy him.  Those are the stupid, childish things that Chalmers does that works well to draw technicals.  Credit him for taking advantage of how pumped up West was on that play.

But last night was not about them.  It was about Wade.  Please national media.  For once.  Be fair.  Hammer Wade.  And maybe, next time the league sees another one of these, the league won’t be stupid and will actually do something.

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