Category Archives: Basketball

LeBron James Is A Great Storyteller

 

Every good story has four elements. The first three are provided by the storyteller be it a novelist, director, or playwright. The last is provided by the audience be it a reader, moviegoer, or a person who watches plays (there is no name for this, I checked). There are of course other elements to consider but, these are the absolute basics. The first three basics are provided by the storyteller and are a beginning, a middle, and an end. The last basic element, courtesy of the audience, is belief. Every story starts somewhere, goes somewhere, and ends somewhere. A good story is then believed by the people who see it. This is true no matter how fantastic or whimsical a story. If the audience believes in the story, it’s real.

LeBron James believes the story, as do we all. It’s why he went back to Cleveland and, it’s why we’re all okay with it. This, by the way, is not to say that LeBron James needs permission to go back to Cleveland but the last time he made A Decision everyone was markedly not okay with it.

James told his story starting from the beginning, in an essay he wrote in collaboration with Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated explaining his decision to return to Cleveland. This is an interesting choice when you think about it. He could have just written about his love for Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, followed by his decision to go back home but, he didn’t. He chose instead to tell a story. His story. In his essay he explains the familial relationship he has with Ohio as well as his roots there.

Now the more cynical among us may think LeBron is selling a bunch of hock, just like he did four years ago. The more cynical among us would simply believe that he’s better at it now. The more cynical among us would be absolutely wrong of course. This is because LeBron wasn’t selling anything four years ago either. He was just believing in another part of the story.

Rewind to four years ago. A 25 year old LeBron James looks into the camera and says he’s taking his talents to South Beach and to the Miami Heat. He would later say he was shocked by the reaction he got. Why? Because LeBron tried to make his departure the spectacle everyone wanted, which backfired, as plans of that nature are ought to do. The narrative that should have played out is every sports analysts wet dream (the way the Cleveland return actually did turn out). The best player in the league takes a massive pay cut to try and win multiple titles with his friends. He selflessly turns aside money in the name of team work and winning. Any rational person knows that this totally works on paper. Theoretically it’s a good story. Hell, it’s a even a great story.

A bizarre thing happened though. Somewhere between LeBron’s good intentions and the broadcast of The Decision, the media and fans hi-jacked the story and changed it. They didn’t believe the story line given to them so they turned into something else. Something worse. They turned into the story of a man arrogant enough to air a half hour special about himself. They turned it into the story of a superstar unable to win a title, unfairly teaming up with other stars to finish a singular superstar’s job. Mostly though, astonished media and hurt fans turned it into the story of a traitor who betrayed his hometown for a more glamorous city.

Faster than it took the nickname “the Heatles” to stick, Lebron had become the villain in his own story. He wanted to be the hero but, instead was wearing the black hat.

The only thing that clears up that kind of stink is winning. The revamped Miami Heat did just that, notching 54 wins in their first season together. They did however have some perplexing losing streaks in the 2010-2011 campaign, which only exacerbated the learning curve that James had to overcome in playing with his teammates. That struggle and eventual Finals defeat at the hands of the underdog Dallas Mavericks gave everyone the storyline most near and dear to every sports fan’s heart. Hatred.

Lebron, very much not wanting to be the villain, was not just considered a villain but a defeated one. A Finals victory would have cleared the air, instead fans and media alike took some twisted joy in Miami’s defeat. The Big 3 as they had become known had everything about them questions from their ability to win together to their actual desire to win basketball games. To overcome the villainous title thrust upon him James had to become something he had never been before. An NBA Champion.

On October 29, 2003 LeBron James was becoming something he had never been before. An NBA player. The Sacramento Kings hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers as the first chapter of LeBron’s NBA career had officially begun. Cleveland lost the game but, with the brilliance of the rookie LeBron was on full display, they gained so much more. The Cavs gained the notion that this guy was special and that his story with them was far from over. LeBron, at just 18 years old, dominated the game. The kid was supposed to be raw. He wasn’t. He wasn’t supposed to be able to shoot. Yet he was making shots. He showed a tremendous feel for the game, as though he had been in the league for years. His jumpers fell. Not just the open ones either. On one play LeBron had the ball as the shot clock was running down, he pivoted to his right, elevated and leaned back, he released a high arcing fade away. Everyone knew it was going in and down it went. LeBron James was a natural.

It’s the summer of 2014 and LeBron James is 29 years old. He’s at the point in a player’s career where they begin to think about their legacy. He’s a superstar with two NBA championships, he’s been a future Hall of Famer for a while now, and he’s still in the middle of his prime. It’s the middle of the story. The 29 year old LeBron James headed back to Cleveland is still a natural but he is now at the height of his powers. James has never been better. He’s never been more popular, in fact, after his decision to return to Cleveland, LeBron James surpassed Michael Jordan as the most popular athlete in America. So, what’s next?

A story that has belief also has challenges (if not physical ones then mental ones). Nobody wants to see a hero traipse unencumbered from goal to goal, only stopping to wonder occasionally why life is so incredibly easy. It’s not entertaining and it’s not at all like real life (after all we like stories to remind us of ourselves). LeBron became the most popular athlete post-Cleveland Return. In so doing he must overcome the inherent challenges in it. There are a lot of them.

This is by far LeBron’s most inexperienced team so far, featuring a bunch of youngsters, who not unlike you or I have only seen the NBA playoffs on TV. Just months ago that locker room had a level of dysfunction bordering on complete implosion. The stories coming out of Cleveland were soap opera-esque; Tristan Thompson was accusing Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving of playing buddy ball, passing to just each other, and not getting him involved. After a 3-6 start punctuated by a 29 point loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, there was a players only meeting that allegedly got confrontational. In short, the team was a mess.

Belief is a necessary part of storytelling involving the audience buying into what ever the story is. Who is telling this story? The LeBron story I mean, not the Irving-Waiters-Thompson fiasco. Whose narrative is important here? Is it the media who would have you believe that LeBron going to Miami is an example of his childishness; while his return to Cleveland somehow makes him a paragon of maturation? Is it the fans who spurned James for taking less to win but, rejoiced when he took more to back home and possibly win less? Is it LeBron who insisted that his return to Cleveland and inspire the boys and girls of Northern Ohio? It’s also possible that there is no story at all and that everyone involved you, me, ESPN, and LeBron are all choosing the parts of his life we would most like to romanticize. This inevitably says more about us than the story we’re observing.

The funny thing about sports and in this case, basketball is that while the games are played inside some painted lines, it’s the things that happen outside the lines that seem to impact people the most. There is a blurring of the lines between storyteller and audience that makes it hard to figure out who is commenting on whom. Examples of this are Isiah Thomas’ remarks that if Larry Bird were black he’d be ‘just another good guy’, or Magic Johnson contracting HIV, and the hilarious rivalry of Reggie Miller and Spike Lee. Those moments had a direct impact on how we viewed those players even as they continued their jobs inside the lines.

Each party has a say; the fans, the media, and players alike. Each party believes the story belongs to them. The story really doesn’t belong to anybody but, there is a power of equality in the misconception. If we all believe we own the story, then in a weird way, actually do own it. What makes LeBron special, apart from his freakish athleticism and eidetic memory, is that he figured it out. He’s owned the beginning and middle of his story. He also knows how he wants it to end. He wanted and needed the rest of us to believe it too. And you know what? We did.

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The Sad Case of Donald Sterling (Or how everyone missed the point).

If I’m Donald Sterling I’m confused. I’m confused because I said some extremely racially charged things, in what I thought was a private conversation with my girlfriend, and now everyone is killing me over it. I’m confused because in my 33 years of owning the Los Angeles Clippers, nobody has ever had a problem with my bigotry before. After all I was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the NAACP in 2009 and was about to receive another this year.

Donald Sterling, Clippers owner, banned by the NBA for life. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters).

However, I’m not Donald Sterling and while I’m certain nobody wants to be in his shoes right now I can’t help but feel that all of this must be extremely confusing for the man. The reason of course is how inconsistently we treat racial issues in this country, and everyone is responsible. The journalists, analysts, viewers, and in this specific case the NBA. The truth of the matter is that Donald Sterling’s bigotry, his racism and sexism, predate this internet age that we live in. He was racist long before this, and you know what? Nobody cared. Well, almost nobody cared. It wasn’t until Donald Sterling’s Clippers were actually good and in the limelight, couple with the fact that we live in the sound bite era of the internet and you realize that Sterling’s downfall was years in the making. What is sad about this, the truly regrettable thing, is that everyone should have seen it coming. A few did but more people shouldn’t have been shocked by this.

Sports Illustrated writer Franz Lidz wrote a story on Donald Sterling 14 years ago. The story mostly details the eccentricities of the Clippers owner but was originally supposed to have more bite to it. It was edited down because it “demonized him(Sterling)” which as we know now is ridiculous. If anything, he’s being demonized now because we allowed him to get  away behaving like this for years before we finally had a sound bite of him saying it that we could play over and over. The “we” that I’m referring to by the way is a collective “we”. We fans, writers, and the NBA allowed this to continue.

As Bill Simmons poignantly points out in his (vastly superior) column, Sterling was attempting to settle housing discrimination lawsuits in 2003,2006, and 2009. The real world application of Donald Sterling’s outdated beliefs in which he tried to keep Latino-American and African-American tenants from living in his apartments. In his sworn statement of those lawsuits he unleashed some of his most direct racism dropping such bombs as, “it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day” and “that’s because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean.” 

Where was this outrage then? The people that are all up in arms right now, which is most of America at this point, are more delusional than Donald Sterlings wife who at this point is orbiting Pluto in her attempt to distance herself from her husband (like she didn’t know the man she was married to for 50 years was capable of such despicable behavior).

Actually, an a side tangent, Rochelle Sterling wife of Donald Sterling posed as both a health inspector and a government official in an attempt to  ascertain the race of her husbands’s tenants. Of course she knew he was racist, because she helped. This is a woman who pretended to be both a health inspector and a government employee, so as to find out exactly what ethnicity her husband’s tenants were.

More to the point, this whole story from beginning to end, has become a depressing ouroboros situation. The joke is on us, as told by us(collective “us” because that’s how I roll). Doc Rivers and Chris Paul forced trades to the Clippers, Blake signed an extension, the fans showed up to the games, and the NBA knew for years that this man was a bigot. All of the outrage is completely reactionary. The constantly recurring sound bite is the reminder that everybody messed up.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver

None of this is to say that the league’s actions aren’t just. They are. Racism is a hard thing to get out of sports once it’s in. Just look at soccer in Europe, we still have fans throwing bananas at players and other kinds of nonsense. There’s no room for it. It just seems like the NBA is trying to distance itself from the racism of a man it knew to be racist with disproportional outrage and shock that seems like it could come straight out of an Onion News headline. “Racist Man Says Racist Things, League Is Stunned!” Yet here we are pretending like this is a bright day, while we sweep under the rug the sins of the past that could have been averted if only we cared enough. The NBA is a business and it just didn’t care when profit margins weren’t being affected. Now, with sponsors dropping like flies, it seems like a good time to give Donald Sterling the boot that he should have been given years ago.

The next time, and I promise there will be a next time, let’s be prepared to do the right thing. Money and good basketball be damned.

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90s Nostalgia: Why We Love the Indiana Pacers.

90s nostalgia. It’s all the rage these days (for us millennials anyway). With each passing year, a bunch of kids born in the 90s become adults. With their new found time, money and independence; they choose to re-live the halcyon days of their childhood.

This is my generation, we like the 90s because it reminds us of a purer, more free time in our lives. It’s not just about innocence per se, it just seemed from our youthful points of view, that things just worked. The games seemed better; Pokemon, Zelda, Mario, Sonic, and Spyro were the staples of a lot of child hoods. The cartoons seemed better too; Dark Wing Duck and Courage the Cowardly Dog will always be some of the best TV I’ve watched in my life.

From left to right: Roy Hibbert, Luis Scola, Lance Stephenson, George Hill, and Paul George

So it stands to reason that basketball of the 90s seemed better. It’s teams seemed more cohesive, especially compared to those of the late 2000s. The defenses were certainly better as they were allowed to get away with more. The rivalries were nastier. There was also some guy named Michael Jordan. MJ, a man who defined 90s basketball, and is compared to no other superstar before and is the standard for every superstar that followed (even Lebron James who doesn’t play like Michael at all). The 90s were also the last years that big men really reigned supreme. Maybe things weren’t better back then. Maybe that’s just how we remember it, but then again, that’s the point of nostalgia. What nostalgia does is cover everything that used to be in a veneer of perfection, and that very same reason is why we love the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers are 90s nostalgia but better. They exist now. And they’re very go. Indiana is a prototypical 90s team. Heady, aware point guard? George Hill, check. Two large temperamental big men in the paint? David West and Roy Hibbert, check and check. Versatile offensive and defensive impact player? Paul George, check. The wild card? Lance Stephenson, check.

To be fair, and you’ll have to forgive me for taking off my nostalgia colored glasses, most 90s team had all of the “essential”  parts but most of those teams had some of them.

Let’s face it though. Most nostalgia is in fact quite pointless. It’s all about the feelings, there’s no practicality at all. The actual application to one’s life of watching Boy Meets World again is nil. Which is the other reason we like the Pacers. Their Clinton era roster is one that is capable of being a contender in today’s NBA on a championship level.

Indiana’s practically proof that the 90s were better. Paul George continues to grow as a player. The way he plays defense and then runs the floor makes him look like Scottie Pippen redux. Roy Hibbert is just so fundamentally sound on the low block with his ability to make hook shots, especially his running hook, that he may as well be an alien compared to guys like DeAndre Jordan and Al Horford, no disrespect to either but they don’t play big. Roy also comes off as a rather mean guy which a lot of modern big men, and players in general, just are not.

While they seemingly represent an era that is past, the Pacers play in the here and now. They play in the era of fast break and offensive juggernauts. They play in an era with Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and most importantly Lebron James. The way the Pacers play is not only a throwback but a statement. What’s the statement?

The road to the finals goes through Indianapolis.

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Doc Rivers Kills Lob City (Inadvertently).

Okay, so Doc didn’t really kill Lob City, not that you could tell by the way Blake Griffin was talking about it. In an interview with Shelly Smith of ESPN he said,

Lob City doesn’t exist anymore. Lob City is done. We’re moving on and we’re going to find our identity during training camp and that will be our new city. No more Lob City.

The last time something this beloved was mercilessly killed off, FOX cancelled Firefly (sorry Browncoats). Blake Griffin sounded like he was in mourning. To be fair any time you have to kill your team’s identity and trade it for a new one over night, it’s never an easy task, but in this instance the Clippers are better for it.

That’s right. Better.

Lob City can’t completely die. Blake and DeAndre Jordan are too athletic to not throw lobs. Hell, for all his size, strength and athleticism it’s not like Jordan can do anything else. He has no post moves, no reliable interior shot and absolutely no desire to play defense. It’s this kind of attitude that gave the team formerly known as Lob City another moniker with it’s old nickname.

Soft.

The one word every professional athlete tries to avoid being tagged with. Being soft means you’re weak willed and that you can be broken. Everyone thought Lob City was soft, Doc Rivers and Blake Griffin, believe the Clippers won’t be. In order to get to that point, they’ve decided to erase everything associated with their old identity. Doc Rivers teams play defense. They just do, and while that doesn’t guarantee that they won’t be abused by the Grizzlies some more, it does guarantee that they’ll put up a fight. That’s exactly what Doc Rivers wants.

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Young Teams Rise In The East

The thing about the NBA is that, very much like pop music, it’s all about star power. That, and depth I suppose, but mostly star power. Almost always in the NBA, the team with the best stars win. You could build a band with Ringo Starr and Ronnie Wood if you wanted to but, I’d imagine that Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger sell the tickets. Likewise, it’s not impossible to build a good team with Chris Bosh and Joakim Noah but, the star power lies with Lebron James and Derrick Rose.

The NBA’s eastern conference has had a bit of a shake up in the last couple of years. A few stars have changed teams, and hopefully a few future stars have been drafted into the league. This has given some teams in the east the ability to, for the first time in years, make it to the playoffs.

Wizards point guard John Wall (left) and Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (right).

The Cleveland Cavaliers are going to be in post season contention if they can stay healthy. They have a number of pieces at their disposal and some potential stars. They’ve made some moves that give them an opportunity to be in the post season for the first time since Lebron James left.

Two years in, and Kyrie Irving is an emerging star. He’s an extremely reliable scorer, has handles for days, is great in crunch time and has court vision to boot. Apart from making Jason Kidd, Brandon Knight and Damian Lillard look silly; Kyrie specializes in shooting. He shoots the ball very well from basically everywhere on the floor. While he does lack a strong defensive presence, he always a threat on offense getting easy shots for both himself and his teammates.

Andrew Bynum is an all star caliber center who averages a double-double when healthy. His biggest problem being, of course, that he is not always healthy (or ever; in the case of the Philadelphia 76ers who never once saw Bynum play a regular season game in their uniform). Andrew Bynum is the perfect example of a player that is worth the risks taken on him. He’s a legitimate 7 footer with a variety of useful and often times crafty post moves. While Andrew Bynum may have red flags concerning his maturity but, he is worth the risk if he plays up to his potential.

Anthony Bennett is the number 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. This came as a surprise to many but, not too surprising since Cleveland general manager Chris Grant tends to be, shall we say, unconventional in his moves at times. The Cavaliers hope that Bennett can bring the athleticism that he showed when he played at UNLV. Bennett is explosive and is capable of finishing above the rim. He’s got a quick first step and speed when running the open floor. Anthony Bennett is not a consistent jump shooter and doesn’t play active defense, those are coachable issues however. Look for Bennett to contribute right away.

Not to be forgotten: Dion Waiters 14.7 ppg 2.4 rpg

The Detroit Pistons are ready to put their previously disappointing seasons behind them. General manager Joe Dumars through some form of magic (most likely) has found a way to keep his job despite putting together a myriad of bad teams. These bad teams directly preceded the  team that won an NBA Finals in the 2003-2004 season and had four other conference finals appearances, that Dumars also built. In a return to form, Joe Dumars has made a number of shrewd moves in the offseason in an attempt to bring the Pistons back to prominence.

Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond have a lot in common. They are both versatile big men. Both are 6’10” and are both highlights waiting to happen. They move well on the fast break. They are both smart and willing passers. Greg Monroe has 3 NBA season under his belt while Andre Drummond just wrapped up his rookie season. Monroe played 33 minutes a game to Drummond’s 20 minutes most likely because they occupy roughly the same place on the floor, and Andre is a rookie. Both show a lot of promise and skill.

Josh Smith is more than capable of being an all star. He isn’t but he could be. Josh Smith has strength not unlike a bull. When he attacks the basket he’s difficult to slow down. On the low block, he’s a nightmare to defend. He’s athletic and has tremendous leaping ability. The Pistons were able to acquire the former Hawks forward for a relatively affordable 4 year $56 million. If Josh Smith had a downside, it would be his tendency to settle for jumpers. He’s big, strong and fast yet is completely satisfied with taking some bad 10-15 foot jump shots.

Brandon Jennings (since we’re on the subject of bad jump shots) joins the Pistons roster via a sign and trade with the Milwaukee Bucks. In exchange the Bucks got point guard Brandon Knight. In Brandon Jennings the Pistons get a bit of a boost in scoring ability. Jennings is more of a volume shooter but he has his nights where he scores extremely well. He’s left handed and unsurprisingly goes to his left a lot; he avoids finishing with his right hand almost to the point of phobia. Brandon Jennings is a much better passer than he gets credit for, even averaging 6.5 assists per game on a team with Monta Ellis on it. Jennings is an improvement at the point guard position and is a better fit than Brandon Knight for this team.

Not to be forgotten: Chauncey Billups 8.4 ppg, 2.2 apg

The Washington Wizards believe this is the year they can make it to the post season. They’ve dealt with everything from bad injuries to just having bad players. This year their roster is stronger than it’s been in a long while giving them hope that they can end a very long drought. They haven’t been to the playoffs since 2007 and haven’t won a playoff series in about 25 years.

John Wall signed a 5 year $80 million deal with the Wizards earlier this summer. This is the maximum amount of money that he could have been paid. While Wall’s career numbers thus far do not justify this pay day, the Wizards believe that he can be an all star caliber point guard in the NBA. 2013 saw a marked improvement in Wall’s jump shot, which is still a work in progress. Wall at 6’4″ is a big point guard yet, he has incredible speed and is capable of going baseline to baseline in under 6 seconds. His jumper is his biggest barrier. At this point nobody takes it seriously. What is taken seriously is his court vision, passing ability and speed that leaves defenders standing still. Wall is also a very good defender.

Bradley Beal just finished his rookie season and it was very impressive. He’s an accurate shooter who, if given any daylight at all, can score at will. Beal can attack the basket both on the fast break, and in the half court. He runs through screens effeciently. Bradley Beal’s biggest draw back is ball handling. He’s not bad but when John Wall was injured earlier in the season he did not seem comfortable in the position of primary ball handler. However, his off ball skills are not to be over looked.

Otto Porter the rookie from Georgetown is a player in development. He looked like the most anemic of the rookies drafted this year when he participated in NBA Summer League play. He is adapting to a new offense and a new role. The Wizards re-signed veteran Martell Webster who plays the same position as Porter, so Otto shouldn’t have too much pressure on him early. He will likely not start. Otto Porter is extremely long and his huge wingspan gives him a defensive advantage. Otto was a good defender in college and an extremely scrappy player diving on the floor for loose balls, actually boxing out and sticking with broken plays.

Not to be forgotten: Nene 12.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg

All of these teams are either trying to develop stars or acquire them. That’s what it takes to win in the NBA. They are on the right track to get to the playoffs and to maybe one day compete for a title.

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Jay Bilas Exposes NCAA Shop, Defends Justice.

Go to the NCAA Shop now. Here’s the link: http://www.shopncaasports.com/

Do you see a search bar? No? That’s because there isn’t one. The NCAA Shop disabled it after ESPN analyst Jay Bilas did some searches of players on it’s site. This is important because the NCAA claims not to make money off of players names and likenesses. Yet a simple search on the site proved that this isn’t the case. Typing in a player’s name in the search bar led directly to the correct team and corresponding jersey number.

Does it matter that the player in question was suspended? Or if they are currently being investigated for alleged rule breaking?

Nope . . .

. . . and nope.

This is the NCAA that won’t allow college athletes to sell their own memorabilia under the facade of amateurism. This is the NCAA that suspends them and slaps them on the wrist for doing so and then turns around and sells, what is essentially their name and likeness online. That’s not even the really unfair part. The part that is truly unfair is that there isn’t a whole lot the student athletes can do about it. Not Manziel, nor Bridgewater, nor Clowney. None of them can really stop it. Besides the media no one can hold the NCAA accountable.

As long as fans buy merchandise and video games and the like, it’s the players who get continually screwed. Fans feed the machine. Specifically, the money of fans feed the machine. The NCAA doesn’t care about the spirit of the game or protecting amateurism. They care about having your money in their pocket without having to pay the people that get it there. I’m all for fair but, does that sound fair to you?

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The Lakers Are Growing Old. Are They Growing Up?

The Los Angeles Lakers find themselves at a very interesting crossroads. Considering the age of the team, let’s call it a midlife crisis. After all, isn’t midlife crisis about realizing one’s mortality and diminished strength due to increased age? If mortality for the Lakers is defined by life after Kobe Bryant, then the term fits quite nicely.

 

Almost too well. Acquiring Dwight Howard in the misguided belief that he would stay in Los Angeles, is nothing short of the guy in his mid 50’s buying an expensive sports car in an attempt to recapture his youth. To be fair to the Lakers, Dwight took them farther than Andrew Bynum would have, by virtue of breathing air and being on the floor. But since when has a 7th seed and a first round exit ever been enough for Los Angeles?

I’m not very good at playing general manager but there is one truth about the Lakers. They need to face reality. They can’t win a title next year. They are not even close to being considered contenders. In fact, the Lakers would be fortunate to make the playoffs next year. They are instead engaged in the petty exercise of avoiding rebuilding. Which of course is ridiculous because all teams have to do it eventually. Yet with rumors that the great organization is eyeing Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony in 2014 one can’t help but think that they have learned nothing.

The Lakers should probably take the lumps that come with any amount of sustained success; and just suck for a little bit. I’m not saying tank per se but let nature take its course instead of constantly trying to drink from the fountain of youth by signing young stars in free agency. You think Carmelo is going to fix the Lakers? Nope. Not by himself anyway. Role players are going to be necessary to do anything of substance. Let’s not forget that Kobe Bryant, for all his wear and tear, has no intention of taking a pay cut. And that’s if Carmelo opts out next year at all.

For goodness sake’s just draft already! I mean if ever there was a year to build through the draft, 2014 would be it. For starters there’s next years draft prize Andrew Wiggins. If that doesn’t work out, there is Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, either of the Harrison twins and Dante Exum. The list of potential  lottery picks goes on. There is a way to win this. A good team built from the ground up can have continued success, whereas going for the quick fix, a move the Lakers seem committed until the bitter end, will net them less. A lot less.

I’m not suggesting the Lakers tank. Nor do I suggest that they shouldn’t go after the big name free agents next season. What I am saying is that Mitch Kupchak trying to put together a “winning” team within the next two seasons is a mistake. At best it is fan service. Not unless you actually think the offseason additions of Jordan Farmar, Chris Kaman and Nick Young make the Lakers contenders. Because it doesn’t.

Whatever decision they make it needs to be the right one. It will affect the course of this organization for years to come.

 

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Thunder Gamble With Harden Trade and Lose . . . For Now.

The Oklahoma City Thunder were at the mercy of their opponent. They were in a tight spot and at the mercy of their opponent, and I’m not talking about the other night when they were eliminated by the Memphis Grizzlies. The opponent in this case was Rob Pelinka. Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Pelinka wanted the max contract for Harden at $60 million over four years. The Thunder GM Sam Presti was only willing to go as far as $54 million to avoid paying the luxury tax. This was after, of course, Pelinka turned down $52 million deal before. Presti had to do something.

So he gambled. In the Houston Rockets, he found a team desperate for the services of James Harden. Rockets GM Daryl Morey wanted James badly enough to pay the extension, and then some. The Rockets paid Harden $80 million over 5 years. In exchange for Harden (as well as Daequan Cook, Cole Aldrich, and Lazar Haywood) Oklahoma City received Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, 2 first round picks, and a second round pick.

It was a two way gamble. Rockets bet that James Harden was an elite player that could finally garner them post season success and the Thunder gambled that they could replace Harden and keep enough firepower to return them to the Finals. They were almost right.

Russell Westbrook’s torn meniscus in game 2 against the Rockets in the first round, made sure the Thunder’s plan backfired. Without Westbrook or Harden from the year before, the undermanned Thunder lost in the second round to the Memphis Grizzlies in just 5 games. Kevin Martin didn’t provide the firepower that Harden once did and without Westbrook, Durant was forced to carry the load of a team that had no punch. For instance Kendrick Perkins posted a -0.7 player efficiency rating the worst of a player in the playoffs with at least 200 minutes played, in league history.

Oklahoma City’s first year without James Harden ends in a failure almost directly related to not having Harden on the roster. That’s not to say that the Thunder are in long term danger without him. If Jeremy Lamb develops into the player the Thunder front office thinks he can be they hope to regain some scoring power there, as well as adding to it with the draft picks acquired in the trade. While Kevin Martin as a Harden replacement was initially a flop the Thunder still have pieces to work with.

They’re just going to have to wait a bit.

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A Tale Of Two Cities: Examining Derrick Rose and Robert Griffin III

In two different cities, two young leaders of two burgeoning franchises, playing two different sports suffered two separate ACL injuries. These young men, both possessing the most important knees in their respective cities have one more thing in common. A single question that haunts them, and their fan bases.

When do I return?

The Season Derrick Rose, the Bulls point guard, is known for his quickness and devastating crossover. He tasked himself with carrying the offensive load of his team in his fourth season. He also became a solid defender as well. In the 2011-12 NBA season, Rose led his Bulls to the league’s best record and the number 1 seed in the eastern conference. That season, Rose 21.8 points per game and 7.9 assists per game. While not career highs, these are extremely impressive numbers all the same.

The Injury When the playoffs began, the Bulls faced the surging Philadelphia 76ers. Philadelphia was inconsistent all season but, had won four out of their last five games heading into the post season. Still, the Bulls were heavy favorites going into the matchup with the upstart eighth seed 76ers. Then it, happened.

With 1:22 left in the game, Derrick Rose jumped off his left in the lane as he attacked the basket. This is a routine move for Rose but, this time, he didn’t finish the play. Lacking elevation, he fell to the ground and crumpled in a heap. He attempted to stand but simply could not. Rose had torn his ACL.

The Return Without Derrick Rose, the Bulls in the 2012-13 season, are playing playoff caliber basketball. Not quite at the level that they were a season ago, when they were considered championship contenders. With a current record of 39-31, the Bulls sans Rose are more than capable of holding their own. They displayed their mettle when they ended the Miami Heat’s historic winning streak at 27. The Heat with the best player in basketball, playing the best basketball of his career are all but a shoe in to return to the finals. The kicker? They did it without the team’s second best player, Joakim Noah.

There are obvious downsides to Derrick Rose missing games. Prior to the injury, Derrick Rose was the focal point of the offense. Since then, his Bulls have had to find ways to win in his absence. There will definitely be chemistry issues when he returns. However, by not playing, Derrick Rose and the Bulls staff are hoping to  prevent further injury. This is a great decision. It hurts the Bulls now, but if Derrick Rose is the player that everyone believes he can be, and reaches the heights that fans believe that he can reach, Chicago has everything to gain.

Which brings us to Robert Griffin III.

The Season Fresh off of his Heisman winning season at the University of Baylor, the second overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft was ready to take the league by storm. He did exactly that. Griffin passed for 3,200 yards and completed 65.6% of his passes. He threw 20 touchdowns and accounted for 7 touchdowns on the ground. He threw 5 interceptions, all season. The Redskins began the season an underwhelming 3-6 but, won 7 straight games to win the NFC East title for the first time since 1999 and make the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

The Injury The week 15 matchup between the Redskins and eventual Superbowl champion Baltimore Ravens marks the beginning of a two part tale. In order to get a first down Robert rolled out of the pocket and scrambled upfield. As he attempted to get down he was hit by Raven’s tackle, Haloti Ngata. The weight of the 330 lb Ngata hit the leg of Griffin causing his knee to bend momentarily in the opposite direction.

Griffin led the Redskins down the field twice in the first quarter of the playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Twice they scored but, on the second drive, Robert’s knee buckled in an attempt to elude defenders. It is at this point that Robert Griffin III should not have been in the game. Whether the coach, staff or player is at fault is the question that still needs to be answered.

The Seahawks rallied and climbed back into the game. The Redskins were deep in their own territory with 6:15 to go in the 4th quarter, and they needed a drive to hold off the Seahawks. The ball was snapped low and as Griffin reached to pick it up, his knee gave out. The Seahawks recovered the ball and scored.

The Return Orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, who is overseeing the recovery of Griffin had only great things to say about his recovery so far.

He wants his recovery to be fairly private, but I can tell you he’s way ahead of schedule. His recovery has been unbelievable so far.

– Dr. James Andrews

This statement and the an interesting Adidas ad almost make it seem like Robert is trying to come back for week 1 of next. This is not smart. When a team trades two first round picks and a second round pick to take a guy, they expect to build around that guy for the next ten years. Robert is that guy. He’s got to be smart and learn from Derrick Rose. Comeback 100%. If that’s week 1, which is unlikely, then it’s week 1. If it’s week 7 then so be it. However, if  Griffin needs to miss the whole season, he needs to accept that that’s just how it’s got to be. Everyone is wondering if he, and the Redskins will make the same mistake twice. If the Redskins make the wrong decision and set him back, then it won’t matter if he’s superhuman or not.

Two young players, two big decisions, and two very bright futures on the line.

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In LeBron’s Shadow.

For years, LeBron James has lived in the shadow of Michael Jordan. All great players, especially those with an aptitude for scoring, usually wind up there. This is a testament to how larger than life Jordan is. However, this season is different, LeBron James has found his style and hit his stride. One NBA season after his first ever championship, LeBron has found a way to slide from behind the shadow of Jordan. By playing his own game. LeBron with his size and new found agression, is playing in a style that Michael Jordan never could. He’s scored 30 points in his last 6 games while shooting 60% from the field. This has never happened in NBA history. His efficiency is staggering. The tear that LeBron is on has him garnering consideration for a second consecutive MVP award. Deservedly so, but with this attention going towards James it is leaving an unlikely player in his shadow.

Kevin Durant.

Yes, Durant. LeBron has been playing at such a high level that it’s easy to overlook what Kevin is doing with the Thunder. It’s also easy to miss the fact that statistically, James and Durant are nearly identical. I don’t mean identical in some statistical categories, I mean almost all of them.

Typically in a Kevin Durant versus LeBron James debate, LeBron always gets the edge because he, like no one else in the league, is capable of filling out a stat sheet. Except, that isn’t quite true. Durant is more than able of filling out a stat sheet himself.

Comparison

Points Per Game – James: 27.1 Durant: 30

Rebounds Per Game – James: 8.1 Durant: 7.4

Assists Per Game – James: 6.9 Durant: 4.4

Steals Per Game – James: 1.6 Durant: 1.6

Blocks Per Game – James: 0.9 Durant: 1.2

Field Goal Percentage – James: 56.% Durant: 51.9%

3-Point Percentage – James:42% Durant: 43.2%

Kevin Durant is more of a shooter than LeBron is, attempting more shots and scoring slightly more points but, LeBron maintains a higher shooting percentage. This is likely because he takes higher percentage shots, especially since he has put more of an emphasis on attacking the basket and playing in the low post. They are both proficient on defense averaging the same amount of steals per game and a high number of blocks.

This is not to say that Kevin Durant has been getting no consideration or that he’s “underrated” or anything along the lines of those cliches. Far from it.

The point is that LeBron is playing more dominantly than he has ever played. He has elevated his game to such a high level that he  has actually managed to out shine a fellow all star and a player with stats comprable to his. Durant and James play the same position and are both dominating at it in very different ways. The race for MVP and an NBA title may be one in the same, and it’s a race that is much closer than it looks.

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