8 Things Learned in Game 1 of NBA Playoffs

Game 1 has come and gone everywhere, and here’s 8 things we took away.

1. 6ce4a89feccacb54dd93276dde49b8f1_crop_north

The Toronto Raptors had a hype rally before the game Saturday and were as pumped up as ever, even Masai Ujiri was in on it… Unfortunately, they couldn’t close out the Nets at home and are now facing a 1-0 deficit against a more experienced team. What lost them the game? How bout 19 turnovers and a combined 17 points from DeRozan and Terrance Ross. Taking care of the ball is the most important thing, next comes their need for DeRozan and Ross to become scoring threats as the series continues. They out rebounded Brooklyn, so all they need is to value each possession and get DeRozan going. Series Prediction: Nets in 7. 

2.d6a7cbe17b3c40febaa2de3d18f61521_crop_north

Blake Griffin played 19 minutes and had 5 fouls for the Clippers while Chris Paul shot 50% from the free throw line for the first time in god knows how long. Despite those two disappointing Game 1 stats, the Clippers only lost by 4 points. That doesn’t look good for the Warriors, especially because Chris Paul scored 28 points and if Blake can stay on the floor for 30 minutes or more, that combination means good things for Los Angeles. Jamal Crawford also shot 2-11, something we can’t expect from him going forward. Unfortunately, for the Clippers fans, Stephen Curry and Andre Igoudala combined for 22 points and 10 assists, including a foul out for Iggy. Who knows what happens if Curry scores his normal 24 points next game and Igoudala can stay on the floor for more than 20 minutes. More unfortunate news is the Warriors winning despite their 23 turnovers. The Clippers shot surprisingly well from deep, which kept them in the game but I don’t think 10 threes a game is something they can maintain, while 11 threes for the Warriors is hardly surprising nor hard to keep up. The Warriors did a good job of limiting the Clippers in transition and will need to keep it that way for the rest of the series. All in all, I think there are many ways to interpret Game 1 and weigh the pros and cons for each team, but for me the Clippers are taking this. The Warriors only won Game 1 because Blake Griffin played 19 minutes. They played terribly and their 23 turnovers are not going to be acceptable if Blake is on the court and running in transition. I think Stephen Curry can continue to be subdued by Chris Paul/Darren Collison who gave up the 2nd least amount of points to starting point guards all season with 17 a game. They only lost by 4 points with Blake Griffin fouling out, Jamal Crawford scoring 2 points and Matt Barnes scoring 2 points. The Warriors fall very in love with the three ball, and if it’s not falling for them and they turn the ball over at the same rate they did in Game 1, the Clippers will win the series. The Clippers on the other hand have a good balance of half-court and transition offense. In the half-court they have many options to go to, while the Warriors depend very heavily on Thompson, Curry and Lee. Blake Griffin will pick it up, and the Clippers will take it.  Series Prediction: Clippers in 6. 

3.NS_20MAVSSPURS15_37218847-620x407

Tim Duncan playing against Dirk Nowitzki in a playoff series is a sight for nostalgic eyes. The Mavericks almost stole Game 1 in San Antonio, but if you ask me it’s all part of the way the Spurs get in your head… Letting you think you have it when really they’re pacing themselves for the end. Call it crazy, conspiracy or whatever you want, but they’re masterminds down in San Antonio. The Spurs’ big 3 combined for 65 points and as a team they out rebounded Dallas by 8. Dirk Nowitzki was limited to 11 points but we can expect the German wonder kid to make up for that with big scoring outputs the rest of the series. It might be frightening for Spurs fans however, knowing they won by only 5 points with only 11 from the opposing teams best player. Their bench also needs to step it up for the rest of this series, the Mavericks are very well rounded and had 5 guys hit double digits in Game 1, with three of those 5 coming off the bench. The Spurs, neglecting the 17 points from Ginobili, only produced 6 points off the bench. However, like Dirk’s quiet night, the Spurs’ depth can be counted on later in the series to help the starting lineup out. Series Prediction: Spurs in 7. 

4. Atlanta Hawks v Indiana Pacers

The Indiana Pacers continued their late-season struggles with an 8 point loss to the Hawks and all of a sudden, this matchup is looking perfect for the Hawks who just made the playoffs over the Knicks. They’ve taken away Indiana’s home-court and have furthered the mental funk the Pacers have been stuck in for the past two months. Jeff Teague had an unbelievable game penetrating the lane and should be able to continue to do that in this series until Indiana puts another defender on him. Indiana played another disappointing and shocking game, and it’s beginning to seem like the Pacers will never get out of their slump. The Pacers can’t score the ball easily and so their 93 points isn’t shocking, but they can’t afford to give up 101 points to the Hawks. They also can’t afford to turn the ball over 17 times. The Pacers need to shake up their approach to the Hawks because Pero Antic is someone who is comfortable playing on the perimeter knocking down open threes. That pulls Roy Hibbert out of the paint, which not only puts him at a disadvantage having to move around the perimeter, and at some points even fighting through screens, but it takes a rim protector out of the paint and opens it up for Jeff Teague. If Roy Hibbert helps, that leaves a wide open three point shooter in Antic, and if they help on Antic the Hawks have either Millsap (36% 3 point shooting) or Kyle Korver (47% 3 point shooting) open to hit a three. David West is not a rim protector so leaving him as the only big man in the paint isn’t going to work against the Hawks. They’ll have to play more of a Mahimi/West or a Scola/West or even a Copeland/West combination to counter the small-ball of Atlanta as well as switching either Paul George or Lance Stephenson onto Teague to limit his penetration. If the Pacers decide to keep Hibbert on the floor, they have to make it a priority to pound the ball in the paint and get Hibbert touches, thus forcing the Hawks to match him instead of the other way around. The Hawks are underdogs, with an early advantage and nothing to lose up against an offensively handicapped team in a defensive funk with match-up issues… I think I’ll go with the upset on this one. Series Prediction: Hawks in 6. 

5.130505192309-kevin-durant-single-image-cut

Nobody on earth can stop Kevin Durant anymore and the Grizzlies certainly can’t bother him one on one. Tayshaun Prince could’ve in 2004, and Tony Allen could if he were a couple inches taller but unfortunately for them they are who they are and they can’t stop KD. The Grizzlies need to control the pace for the rest of the series if they want to contain the Thunder. The Thunder scored 32 fast break points on the Grizzlies and the more they get easy baskets the more comfortable they feel, the more excited their fans get, and the harder it is for the Grizzlies to gain momentum once again. The Grizzlies like playing in the half-court and they need to keep the game in the half-court in order to be successful. For the Thunder I don’t think guarding Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph will be a problem, they have the defensive assets to do it (Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins) mainly Ibaka who is far more athletic then both of those guys and will cause problems with his energy and activity defensively. Both Memphis big men had solid games in Game 1, but for one, solid games won’t cut it and two, the rest of the team is very offensively challenged, similar to the Pacers. I think their scoring problems will come back to bite them as the series progresses and if the perimeter guys can’t step up offensively consistently, the series won’t go on for long. I also think down the stretch, the Grizzlies are going to find it hard to score in crunch time and to keep up with the superstar talent the Thunder have between Westbrook and Durant. Series Prediction: Thunder in 6. 

6.NBA: Washington Wizards at Chicago Bulls

The Bulls scoring issues are going to hurt them going down the stretch, and with only 18 points in the 4th quarter, their lack of a go to scoring option was evident. The Bulls’ half court offense is usually efficient and although they don’t score a lot, they make the most of every possession but when they need a basket in a critical time of the game, it’s becoming a struggle. Losing at home isn’t a good start to Chicago’s postseason hopes but their energy and defense enables them to win anywhere. Looking forward I think Joakim Noah will watch the game tape and see what Nene was doing to him and fix that in their next matchup. If the Bulls can keep the Wizards to 95 points or lower in the rest of their games they can win this series. Something is very interesting about the Wizards however. They’re combination of youth and athleticism fused with their defensive identity and veterans makes them kind of unpredictable. Everybody is playing well, Nene is fresh off an injury and I think the Wizards might be able to squeeze this one out. However, knowing the Bulls I don’t think they’d lose a Game 7 at home and I think they played a good offensive game by their standards, they had 7 guys in double figures, all they need is an extra spark from somebody. They have to consider playing Jimmy Butler on John Wall to limit his activity and overall their defensive performance was hardly characteristic of the Bulls. If they play their stingy 91 points allowed type of defense, they can take this series. However, the Bulls struggled with the Wizards during the regular season going 1-2 against them. That plus their Game 1 disadvantage puts them in poor position to take this series. If the Wizards are up 3-2 going into Game 6 in Washington they will win, if they have a Game 7 I’ll give it to Chicago. Series Prediction: Wizards in 6. 

7.7dfc95ca1a728ccd15535797c49da979_crop_north

Things don’t look good for the Rockets right now. They lost Game 1 at home, and with Patrick Beverley as the only guy on the team who could guard Damian Lillard, getting injured with a sprained right knee – the same knee in which he tore his meniscus on March 27th. Beverley couldn’t even hold Lillard in Game 1 as he put up 31 points, so with him not at 100% for Game 2 and the rest of the series, guarding Lillard is going to become a huge problem. I also think Lamarcus Aldridge has the best matchup in the entire league right now. The Rockets gave up a horrid 22 points and 13 rebounds to opposing starting power forwards throughout the regular season. Aldridge averaged 27 and 16 against Houston during the regular season. If last nights 46 point, 18 rebound performance is any indication, this series should be a breeze for Aldridge. The Rockets played a good game, they limited their turnovers, they out rebounded Portland, and all their starters were feeling it offensively. The problem will clearly be on the defensive end where they’ll have to contain the duo of Aldrige and Lillard. They’ll also have to watch out for the Blazers’ game plan of attacking harden in the post with Wesley Matthews. They couldn’t quite get Harden in foul trouble but Matthews did have 18 points, and I think that’s a viable strategy going forward for the Blazers. Harden is defensively careless and attacking him and his side of the floor in help defense is the right way to go offensively. Series Prediction: Blazers in 7. 

8.Move it

The defending champions vs the former worst team in the history of basketball. It’s a matchup that doesn’t have many people favoring the Bobcats. Now with Al Jefferson dealing with a foot injury, they’re chances are looking slim to none. They’re not as talented and not nearly where the Heat are as a team both with their goals to get a three peat and as a team in terms of personnel. They had a great, feel good type of season and defensively became one of the best teams in the NBA. Unfortunately, I don’t think they have what it takes to beat Miami in this series, especially with Dwyane Wade playing as well as he did in Game 1. He’s been managed superbly by Erik Spoelstra and the training staff and is looking very healthy and like Flash from the old days. Not only is Dwyane Wade’s level of play dangerous for Charlotte but for the rest of the league. This will be a quick one for Lebron and the Heat. It’s a sweep now considering Al Jefferson isn’t 100%, he is their leader and go to guy offensively and without him down low they won’t stand a chance. Series Prediction: Heat in 4. 

Award Season

Awards. Mom’s love them. Athletes like to keep track of them. Trophy cabinets would die without them. It’s that time of year. The regular season has dawned, and the playoffs are on the rise. So before the official winners come out, here’s my take on the deserving winners and their not as happy runner ups in each category.

Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich.

gregg-popovich

Runner Up: Tom Thibodeau.

Pop deserves the prize for this one. He’ll likely say…”Thanks,” and nothing else in his acceptance speech, or some other one liner representative of his dry humorous personality, but Gregg Popovich has out coached everyone this year. For a team to lose in Game 7 of the NBA Finals and come back with a better record the next year is pretty exceptional. Especially when a lot of critics were ready to say the Spurs dynasty of Parker, Duncan and Ginobli were done for good. It’s especially easy for a team to come back the next year less intense, justifying their play with something like, “We made it last year, it’s too hard to do it again.” However, Popovich got his team to better themselves and raise the bar even higher for a team that is usually flawless in their execution. Even more than that, an old team like the Spurs whose best players are in the last few years of their careers could’ve let that Game 7 defeat be the end of them. They could’ve taken their past championships and hit the road. However, they’ve all raised their level of play. Popovich has even brought in new guys and has been able to play 10 or 11 men deep every game and win without his stars, who I’ll mention again are not in the prime of their careers like those on other contenders (Miami Heat, OKC Thunder). The Spurs went on a 17 game winning streak, clinched the best record in the league, and have secured home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Thibs garners my runner up selection simply because the Bulls remain one of the best defensive teams in the NBA and manage to upset the big dogs in the league without Derrick Rose for a second season, but this year without Luol Deng, their leading scorer and arguably their best player.

Most Improved Player: Goran Dragic

MIP-20-Tom-Szczerbowski

Runner Up: Anthony Davis

The Suns have made the biggest turnaround in the NBA from last season. After an embarrassing 25-57 season last year, the roster was transformed and Jeff Hornacek was put in office. The result? A faster, more energetic young team that outcompeted its opponents on a nightly basis. Everything went right for this team except the playoffs, which may not even be a bad thing given their plan for the future and the fact they’ll now receive a higher draft pick. Their backcourt tandem of Bledsoe and Dragic worked perfectly when both were healthy. Their young players developed like they should’ve, and even exceeded some expectations. However, the leader of this team from the beginning till the end was Goran Dragic. He played 76 games, and raised his PPG average, FG% and 3Point% all from last year (20.3 ppg, 50 FG%, 41 3Pt%). I think there are two distinctions that can be made about Goran Dragic that justify his earning of this award. The first is that he was the best player on his team and the leader. He had the team on his back the entire year, even more so when Eric Bledsoe got injured. With added responsibility, he stepped up. Additionally, and probably the most important thing is that Goran Dragic did not “improve” because of added opportunity, or a drastically different system. He is playing 1.5 minutes more a game, on the same team with someone people thought would take opportunities away from him. He’s actually improved. People point to someone like a Gerald Green and say easily most improved player, just look at his stats. Yes, it’s true he’s had a career year, but has he improved, or was he given 10 more minutes a game and an additional 40 starts from last season on an extremely faster paced team than the Indiana Pacers? Think about that.

Anthony Davis garners runner up recognition because many players run into a sophomore wall and after a stellar rookie campaign, can’t break through any more barriers in their careers. Anthony Davis is still improving and becoming one of the most dangerous players in the NBA. He’s still a 2nd year man, and that’s why he doesn’t get my vote, because his improvement is supposed to happen – especially with a guy loaded with as much potential as Anthony Davis. His minutes didn’t increase that much (only a 6 minute difference from last season) but his production in every statistical category improved.

6th Man of the Year: Jamal Crawford

e276cebd150f4a1a5e552b08a59c053c_crop_north

Runner Up: Taj Gibson

Jamal Crawford wins the honors once again after missing out last season to J.R Smith. Jamal Crawford is one of the most lethal and instant offenses in the entire league, averaging 18.6 points, 3.2 assists, and 2.3 rebounds a game, shooting 41% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc. Simply put, Jamal Crawford knows how to put the ball in the hoop and every team needs that off their bench, not only to keep the defense honest but to give the bench a spark when the starters aren’t doing their job. By having a scoring machine playing against 2nd units, it gives the team a huge advantage. Jamal Crawford, for his respective role, probably does it better than everyone in the league. His scoring average (18.6) is the third highest for a 6th man in the last 20 years. He also dabbled as a starter this season when Chris Paul and or J.J Reddick were injured and averaged 20.6 points those 23 games. He’s had six 30+ point games and has hit or eclipsed the 25 point mark 13 times. It’s no question that Jamal Crawford is someone Doc Rivers can rely on, and Crawford has been called to the plate numerous times in the 4th quarter where he averages a 3rd best in the NBA 6.7 points a game, on 9.5 minutes. Beyond the statistics, Jamal Crawford is a spark plug – someone that can bring the fans to their feet quickly, and can start a run with an ankle breaking crossover or a deep three pointer. He has the edge against the other 6th men candidates, because yes, his statistics are better, and he plays in the Western Conference on a better team and is relied on heavier than most of the other candidates in this category.

Taj Gibson garners runner up recognition because he has surpassed Carlos Boozer as the go to Power Forward in the 4th quarter. He plays 10 minutes a game in the final quarter, and defensively and energetically Taj Gibson brings another multi-fasceted weapon to the Bulls game. He is active in help defense and in protecting the rim, and has developed a nifty offensive game around the rim and as far out as the free throw line for jumpers. Along with Joakim Noah he has become the 2nd emotional leader of the team, a humongous part of why they are in 4th in the Eastern Conference even without Derrick Rose and the mid-season trade of Luol Deng. The only thing that held him back from winning in my eyes, is the competition. The Eastern Conference was historically bad this season, home to 8 losing records, and the 4 worst teams in the entire league. Taj Gibson did what was asked from him and more but its the teams he played against which may have prevented him from winning this award.

Defensive Player of the Year: Joakim Noah

Joakim-noah-fired-up

Runner Up: Roy Hibbert

Joakim Noah is the epitome of energy when on the court – playing with more passion and fire than some teams altogether (Knicks, Pistons, etc..) Defensively, it’s his presence on the court, his protection of the paint and his versatility to be able to guard every player has brought Chicago to the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference even without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng. The Chicago Bulls were 1st in opponents points allowed per game, only allowing 91.8 points throughout the season. They were 2nd in opponents FG% with 42% and in the top 10 in opponents 3 Point%, holding teams to only 35% from beyond the arc. They say anybody has the ability to play great defense, all you need is energy and the desire and Joakim Noah lacks neither. His passion is contagious and has many times won Chicago games or secured them the ball on big possessions down the stretch. Joakim is a fierce rim protector, but what garners my vote over Roy Hibbert is his ability to guard every position on the floor. Unlike most defensive centers, Joakim Noah has no problem switching pick n rolls, or going out to the perimeter and guarding quicker guys. Joakim is agile, quick and disciplined on defense and has been seen many times stuck on someone like Lebron James on the perimeter and given him trouble. That kind of versatility isn’t seen often in 6’11 guys and it gives the Bulls more leeway defensively knowing Joakim Noah can do everything on that side of the court.

Roy Hibbert gets runner up because the Pacers were right behind the Bulls defensively in opponents points per game. I think his reputation was tarnished slightly toward the end of the season due to the Pacers’ rough end to the year and his being taken out of many games due to foul trouble or attitude. However, Roy Hibbert is the best rim protector in the NBA and plays the verticality game to perfection.

Rookie of the Year: Michael Carter-Williams

 

Runner Up: Victor Oladipo

103013_williams-carter_600

While it’s acceptable to argue against MCW’s rookie campaign and deny him the ROY because of the historically fast pace at which his team plays with, and the embarrassingly scarce, inexperienced and untalented roster he had around him, the talent was obviously there and for a rookie MCW definitely took the most of the opportunities he was given. His team was the 2nd worst in the league and in tank mode like we’ve never seen before, but throughout it all, he was the beacon of hope for a franchise looking toward the future. MCW led all rookies in points per game (16.7) assists (6.3), rebounds (6.2), steals (1.9) and usage rate (25% of his teams possessions) – some fantastic numbers for a first year guard. He is also the first rookie since Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson to average at least 16 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.

Victor Oladipo is the close runner up, and had a great season in his own right. He was second amongst rookies in usage rate (24%) and averaged 13 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. He played 31 minutes a game for a team with a slower pace than the 76ers and still averaged numbers that somewhat resemble those of MCW. But it’s really his energy, athleticism and aggression to the basket that have the Magic smiling about this guy.

Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant

182413688_WARRIORS_THUNDER_MURDOCH_0470_crop_exact

Runner Up: Lebron James

Finally Kevin Durant surpasses Lebron James and wins an MVP. Kevin has been chipping away and sprinting on Lebron’s heels for years now and finally he should be awarded with the MVP. His individual season has been historic. I’ll repeat what I said in an earlier post about Durant in terms of some eye-opening statistics:

Kevin Durant is averaging career highs in points (32.2) and assists (5.6) a game. With Russell Westbrook struggling with knee injuries, Kevin Durant has often had the entire team to carry by himself, and that has led to two 50-point games, twelve 40+ point games, three triple-doubles and an Oklahoma City Thunder record of 59-23 good for 2nd in the Western Conference. In comparison to previous great individual seasons, Kevin Durant surpassed Michael Jordan’s record of consecutive 25+ scoring games with 41 in a row. He’s the first player since the 1988-89 season to average 32 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists per game – the last to do it was Michael Jordan. To further the comparison with Jordan, Kevin Durant is the first player since MJ’s 1991-1992 season to average 30+ points, 5+ assists and 5+ rebounds a game while shooting 50% or higher from the field. 

Lebron James obviously is a close 2nd, and like every season he’s ever had he’s been consistent and amazing. He is still probably the best player on the planet but this year was Kevin Durant’s year, and I’m sure it won’t be his last.

 

The Dilemma of Love

love121112-jpg_200943

The Timberwolves of Minnesota were once a competitive and storied franchise. In the early 2000′s led by a young Kevin Garnett, the Timberwolves made the playoffs 8 years in a row from 1996-2004. After 7 first round exits, they finally reached the conference finals only to be beaten by the Los Angeles Lakers who ended up losing to the Pistons in what would be Shaq’s last season in Hollywood. The Timberwolves may not have reached their ultimate goal, but they were noisemakers in the West and were a team to be reckoned with. Kevin Garnett was traded to Boston where he won a championship in his first year with the team – a complete f*** you to Minnesota who nurtured him and raised him for 12 years only to watch him win what they wanted the year they got rid of him.

Since 2008, the Timberwolves have drafted players such as O.J Mayo (traded for Kevin Love) Mario Chalmers (traded to Miami) Nikola Pekovic (from Miami) Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn, Ty Lawson (traded to Denver) Wayne Ellington, Wesley Johnson and Derrick Williams. Of that group, only Kevin Love, Pekovic and Rubio are still with the team. Pekovic turned out to be a steal as the 31st pick in the 2008 draft, while Ricky Rubio continues to mystify both critics and coaches alike with his lack of shooting and general improvement. Fast-forward 6 years, and it’s 2014. The West is as strong as it’s ever been with only 6 of its 15 teams below .500 and the top 3 teams being the top 3 teams in the entire league record wise. The Timberwolves are still on the outside looking in. Why? Maybe it’s the lack of a big market to attract free agents. Maybe it’s the weird obsession they have with drafting point guards such as Jonny Flynn, one pick after they had just drafted Ricky Rubio. But, there is no purpose to dwell on and regret the past, what they have is what they have and they have to deal with it. The future is where they’ll need to be smarter.

The Timberwolves are 36-37 right now and although the season is not over, it’s highly likely they will end up below .500 once again and while they aren’t technically out of the playoffs, being 7 games behind the Mavericks with 9 games remaining isn’t exactly where they want to be. Their failures have been a product of a lack of improvement from Ricky Rubio, a significant lack of production from the bench, and a lack of commitment on defense.

Ricky isn’t even on the FG% list for point guards on ESPN.com because to be on the list a player must be on pace for 300 field goals made… Make your own conclusions for what that says about a player who’s averaged 32 minutes a game in 73 games this season. He’s shooting 37% from the field and 35% from 3-point range in case you were wondering – he’s only scoring 8.9 points a game. Compared to last season he actually has improved his shooting percentages – 1% from the field and 6% from 3-point range. Congrats, Ricky, you no longer suck at shooting, you’re just really really bad. The problem with a point guard who cannot shoot is that guards tend to sag off and play more below the three point line and around the free throw line extended, kind of like how people guard Rajon Rondo, at least Rajon was a constant threat to get to the basket. The sagging defense creates more traffic in the lane, and enables teams to either double on Love in the post, or help really hard off Rubio knowing that he’s not a threat to hit an open three. His offensive weaknesses hurt the team, and for a team that isn’t particularly strong defensively, they need to be as explosive offensively as humanly possible.

Besides Ricky Rubio, the Wolves are probably in possession of the league’s most disappointing and lackluster bench. They average 27 points a game, rank 22nd in offensive efficiency and 29th in defensive efficiency. When Kevin Love is on the court Minnesota scores 109 points per 100 possessions and give up 102 points per 100 possessions. However, when he is off the court, they only score 94.4 points per 100 possessions and give up 104 points. It’s clear both offensively, and less but still defensively the Wolves are stronger with Kevin Love on the court then without him. And while he is the superstar, it’s unfair to put the burden on him of having to literally play every minute of the game to prevent his team from dropping off.

The Timberwolves’ defense also holds them back significantly. Rubio although is a master at picking pockets, is not a strong one-on-one defender and rarely prevents penetration in the paint. Inside, Kevin Love and Pekovic are both below-the-rim players and don’t have the length or athleticism to defend the rim. Kevin Martin is a below average defender as well, and if you look down the entire roster, they don’t have players who are strong defenders. Their best defender is probably Gorgui Dieng the raw rookie who has proven he can defend the rim and be an inside presence given the minutes, but if Pekovic is still around there is going to be limited opportunity for him.

So what do they do?

The Timberwolves are in a strange position. We’ve seen this whole “superstar tries to force his way out of town” kind of thing many times in the past 4 years with LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony. However, Kevin Love is the only superstar in this group whose team is still bad with him on it. The Cavaliers reached the finals in 2007, were the best team in the NBA through the regular season in 2008-2009, and 2009-2010. They also reached the playoffs every year from 2005-2010 – advancing to at least the Conference Semi-Finals in each of those appearances. Dwight Howard and the Magic made the playoffs every year from 2006 to 2012 even reaching the finals in the 2008-2009 season. Carmelo and the Nuggets made the playoffs every year from 2003 to 2013, and although 9 of those appearances were cut short in the 1st round it gave the team and the city both hope and something to build off of.

When all of these players went to their new teams, (Miami, Los Angeles, New York) the direction of their old teams was simple and clear: Rebuild. The Cavaliers grabbed Kyrie Irving and are in the process of rebuilding their young squad. The Nuggets restarted with Chandler, Gallinari, and Mozgov and are now being led by Ty Lawson, granted they have had a plethora of injuries and a coaching change hold them back, they knew they were going to start over. The Magic grabbed a ton of assets and draft picks and they have just begun rebuilding with a team of young talent such as Victor Oladipo, Moe Harkless, Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris. The Timberwolves are in a strange position because yes they are bad, but in Kevin Love’s 6th season they were supposed to be a playoff team, yet they are still bad. So does that mean once Kevin is gone they rebuild on top of the shitty team they have? Or do they try acquiring more stars and shooting for the moon to win immediately? If they’re rebuilding then they’re getting rid of Rubio, Pekovic and Martin and starting with what? Dieng and… They don’t have any other pieces to build on considering Rubio and Shabazz Muhammed have both been wildly disappointing this season.

Kevin Love has been around the stars of the league during the Olympics and All-Star Weekends and has returned home to Minnesota many times wondering why they all have success but he doesn’t. Wondering why he isn’t surrounded by talent like his friends Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook. The Timberwolves are on thin ice and it’s time for them to make a move.

The only way Kevin Love is going to stay is if the roster is drastically improved. He wants a big market, so the Timberwolves are already at a disadvantage so the biggest thing they can do is improve on paper. Kevin Love doesn’t want another high draft pick, because it’s so vividly clear that the Timberwolves are not the best pickers. He wants to make the playoffs; he’s been with the team for 6 years and expected them to be in the hunt in the West by now. The problem is that the Wolves don’t really have the tools to do this. The only thing they can do is trade Pekovic as Gorgui Dieng has jumped onto the scene as a viable rim defender, but Pekovic is dealing with injuries and whatever they receive in return for Pekovic will likely not be enough to change Kevin’s mind.

Besides possible trades, the Timberwolves have about 66 million on the books this summer so there is no room for them to sign any free agents that will be able to make an impact on the team. Therefore, I think if I’m the Timberwolves front office, I trade Kevin Love before he has the chance to inevitably opt-out and go somewhere like Los Angeles or New York. If they look at past examples, that I’ve stated before, both the Orlando Magic and the Denver Nuggets traded their stars rather than waiting for the off-season. The Magic are a promising young team, and the Nuggets as well – both full of assets and talent. The Cavaliers however, are toxic and despite the talent they have, chemistry issues and defensive lulls have held them at the bottom and have even got their newest star, Kyrie Irving ready to leave when his contract is up. Don’t wait on the summer of 2015 and hope to god that he re-signs, don’t let the player control the organization, control the player before he has a chance.

Trading Kevin Love is obviously a very hard thing to do. When you have a talent like Love’s, your instinct is to never let him go, no matter what. However, with the Wolves out of the playoffs for another year, and no strong case or way to keep him in Minnesota past next summer, trading Love is the right thing to do. I think the Timberwolves, when trading Love will have to see if one of the draft picks they land has superstar potential and if not Rubio and Pekovic will likely leave on their own accord anyway. The trade that has been most prominent in the media and in the rumor mill is a trade sending Kevin Love to Los Angeles. The Lakers are the perfect destination for him, and for the Timberwolves a team crazy, and championship obsessed enough to give them the right deal.

Per ESPN’s Marc Stein: “The suggestion is already in circulation that the Lakers will attempt to use their forthcoming high lottery pick in June to assemble the sort of trade package that finally convinces the Wolves to part with Love and end the uncertainty that hangs over this franchise even before the 25-year-old enters the final year of his contract.”

What this means is Kobe’s influence along with the dream to be back in championship contention has choked and blinded the front office of any rational decisions, and now the Lakers are being pressured (probably by Kobe) to do anything they can to win now in Kobe’s last two seasons in the NBA. Kobe is coming back next year, and with a vengeance and what he doesn’t want is 1. Mike D’Antoni and 2. A rebuilding project. Therefore, although it’s probably not the right move to make for the future, some feel that the Lakers owe it to Kobe to make one last final run before they rebuild for real. So if the Lakers were to put a probable top-5 pick in this year’s draft in the package for Love then they would most likely make the deal. If the Wolves also do the smart thing and begin tanking the rest of this season for better draft position for their own pick, then if a Kevin Love trade with the Lakers went through, the Wolves could have in their possession two top-10 picks in this year’s draft – a beautiful way to start the new era of a ‘Loveless Minnesota.’

I know some might say the Wolves have picked poorly in the past, what’s to say they won’t pick poorly again, well, two reasons: 1. This is arguably one of the deepest and most talented draft classes ever so to have two top-10 picks both bust would mean that the Timberwolves are cursed. 2. Just like gamblers never know how to say no, and shooters never stop shooting to get themselves out of a slump, the Timberwolves front office, any front office for that matter, will never say no to two top-10 picks in a draft class stacked with star talent. Additionally, for the Minnesota fans probably considering moving or suicide after a Kevin Love trade is made, the potential and intrigue of two top-10 picks would be enough for them to stay supportive of their team through the next era of basketball. *** Reminder: All of this depends on the Lakers possibly giving up this pick. If not the Lakers, there are plenty of teams vying for Love’s services, many of which have assets and picks at their disposal.

Kevin Love is capable of carrying a team. Do not question that. He averages 26 points and 13 rebounds, he’s shooting 46% from the field, 38% from 3-point range, his team is better with him on the floor, his PER is 27.44, Kevin Love’s only flaw is his lack of defensive intensity and athleticism, the latter which he surely makes up for with strength and rebounding position. The team is not a failure because of Kevin Love, rather an accumulation of the failures from his organization and his teammates that are stated in depth above. His team and his organization has let him down, and is now ready to run away from the freezing and unsuccessful seasons in Minnesota and go to a big market with a championship in their future. The Timberwolves need to let go of their love, before their love leaves them. Trade him before it’s too late, rebuild, and try again.

 

MVP Race: Who’s in 3rd Place?

When the conversation of best player in the NBA is brought up, it’s usually a debate over Kevin Durant, the 7 foot, 240 pound, scoring phenom and Lebron James, the 6’8 athletic monster and four-time reigning MVP. And this season like the many that came before it will be no different. The MVP will be either Kevin Durant, or Lebron James.

Kevin Durant is averaging career highs in points (32.2) and assists (5.6) a game. With Russell Westbrook struggling with knee injuries, Kevin Durant has often had the entire team to carry by himself, and that has led to two 50-point games, eleven 40+ point games, three triple-doubles and an Oklahoma City Thunder record of 52-19 good for 2nd in the Western Conference. In comparison to previous great individual seasons, Kevin Durant is currently on a streak of 36 games in a row where he’s averaged 25 points or more – he’s four short of Michael Jordan. He’s the first player since the 1988-89 season to average 32 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists per game – the last to do it was Michael Jordan. To further the comparison with Jordan, Kevin Durant is the first player since MJ’s 1991-1992 season to average 30+ points, 5+ assists and 5+ rebounds a game while shooting 50% or higher from the field. His most unbelievable performance?

             

For Lebron James, he has led his Miami Heat team to a record of 48-21. Individually, he has stayed consistent in terms of his excellence. He has averaged 26.8 points, 6.4 assists, and 6.9 rebounds a game, while somehow managing to shoot 57% from the field on 17 shots per game. He’s 4th in the league in field goal percentage and has the 2nd highest PER in the league, behind only Kevin Durant. Don’t forget about his 61 point performance that broke his personal career high and franchise high against Charlotte.

Now KD probably deserves the MVP and will get it if one of two things happen. See the MVP voting will be determined by one ‘X’ factor shall we say. Both Lebron and Kevin Durant have strong cases for MVP, but KD will seal it if voters get tired of giving it to Lebron again – voting fatigue, they say. Now KD might not win it, because in voters’ eyes, they have the opportunity to create a legacy for Lebron by awarding him his 5th MVP, it catapults Lebron even further into the greatest player ever debate. We’ll see…

Although this 3rd candidate is irrelevant when it comes to crowning MVP, it’s still an interesting question to ask nonetheless. This player has to not only have had an outstanding individual season, invaluable to their team, and be on a playoff contending team. So that eliminates someone like Carmelo Anthony. Even though he’s had another amazing season averaging 28 points and 8 rebounds, his team has been more than disappointing. Blame it on injuries, other guys not stepping up, but I think to be an MVP your team has to be one of the best in the league – at least top 4 in its respective conference. If it were based simply on individual seasons then Kevin Love would have at least two MVP’s by now.

The 3rd candidate in my opinion is a competition between Joakim Noah, Al Jefferson, Blake Griffin and Lamarcus Aldridge.

Joakim Noah: 12.4 points, 5.1 assists, 11.2 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 1.2 steals, 48% FG

Without Derrick Rose for another season Joakim Noah stepped up as leader of the team. As one of the most passionate players in the league, he united Chicago and kept the team together. Then mid-way through the season, Luol Deng was traded to Cleveland and once again Joakim Noah had to step up. In a paper league, where wins were granted based on heightened skill on paper, the Bulls probably wouldn’t even make those playoffs. However, it’s a combination of coaching, defensive intensity and energy that has allowed the Bulls to continue to play at a high level. Joakim Noah has led the Bulls to a 40-31 record, good for 3rd in the Eastern Conference. Before Luol Deng was traded the Bulls were 14-18 and Joakim Noah was averaging 10.2 points, 3.4 assists and 9.8 rebounds. After the trade, when people thought the Bulls would start losing or tanking to put themselves in a better position for this season’s draft and next seasons Derrick Rose return, they did the opposite. Led by Joakim Noah, the Bulls are 26-13 and Joakim Noah is averaging 13.3 points, 6.1 assists and 11.7 rebounds. Yeah, you might say the increase in production is a result of losing your leading scorer, but that’s not always the result when a player needs to step up. Joakim Noah took no time in carrying the Bulls to the playoffs and now they are competing for the 3rd seed.

Al Jefferson: 21.4 points, 2.2 assists, 10.4 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 0.9 steals, 50% FG

In 2012 the Charlotte Bobcats were the worst team in NBA history, winning only 7 games. In 2013 with the improvement of Kemba Walker and additions like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, they improved to 21 wins. This season that win total has already been exceeded and the Bobcats are sitting 1.5 games out of the 6th seed in the East with a record of 35-37. They haven’t eclipsed .500 but in the shitty Eastern Conference they will most likely make the playoffs. Without Al Jefferson, they wouldn’t even be close. He gives them one of the best low scoring presences in the league and consistently puts pressure on opposing defenses, attracting double teams and attention down low opening the floor up for his teammates. He also provides the team with a veteran presence. On a team with an average age of 26, Al Jefferson’s experience has been valuable in helping the team stay consistent and helping the younger guys maintain confidence throughout the long season.

Blake Griffin: 24.4 points, 3.8 assists, 9.7 rebounds, 53% FG

Blake Griffin is averaging a career high in points and has finally come into his own as a superstar in the league. He’s been criticized for only being a dunker or an athlete but this season he has improved his shooting from the field and the free throw line. He’s averaging a career high 70% from the free throw line and a career high 58% true shooting percentage. The Clippers are 50-22 on the season, good for 3rd in the Western Conference. Along with Chris Paul, he has led the Clippers to the 2nd highest offensive efficiency in the league and the most points scored per game with 107.5 a game. Although the Clippers were considered threats in the West, they weren’t really taken seriously as true contenders. Now with Blake Griffin’s improved low post game and shooting percentages, he has enabled the Clippers to play in the half-court. They had struggles playing in the half-court when the playoffs came around, but now he’s become a complete offensive player and the Clippers have no problem playing a slower paced game.

Lamarcus Aldridge: 23.4 points, 2.7 assists, 11.1 rebounds, 46% FG

With career highs in points per game and rebounds per game, Lamarcus Aldridge has elevated his game and helped the Blazers contend in the West. They have cooled down recently, but the Blazers started the season 13-2, which included an 11 game winning streak in November. Remember that last season, the Blazers were 33-49 and missed out on the playoffs completely, only making the 11th seed. This season with improvements from his supporting crew of Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard, and the addition of Robin Lopez down low, Aldridge has carried the team to a 45-27 record good for 5th in the West. He and Damian Lillard have developed one of the strongest pick n pop relationships in the league and with Lamarcus Aldridge commanding so much attention in the low-post area, the floor is spread for the rest of the perimeter players.

Who to choose? Well, for me I take Joakim Noah. For the Bulls to be 40-31 without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng is crazy. Joakim Noah has been the emotional leader of the team and has led through increased production as well. Although his individual statistics aren’t as flashy as the other contenders for 3rd in the MVP race, he is a walking triple double and one of the strongest defensive players in the NBA. His increased production after Luol Deng left also shows his commitment to put the team on his back. If we’re talking about a guy who has not only been exceptional individually but has been the most valuable guy to his team, then 3rd place in MVP voting has to go to Joakim Noah.

 

 

Screw Me, I’m a Knicks Fan

San Antonio Spurs vs. New York Knicks

Being a Knicks fan is a one-of-a-kind experience. I won’t speak for everyone, but I don’t think it compares to rooting for any other sports franchise in the world. Being a Knicks fan makes you cry. Being a Knicks fan makes you shake your head. Being a Knicks fan makes you turn off the TV five minutes into the first quarter in disgust. Being a Knicks fan is a roller coaster ride, and for a 16-year old like me, I’ve seen it all. I was there when we were a team of Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford. I was there when Latrell Sprewell was choking coaches. I was there when Stephon Marbury was supposed to get us a ring. I sat disappointed, yet not surprised when LeBron didn’t come here in 2010, and once again I felt the same when we traded half our team to get Melo – and still are yet to pass the 2nd round. What’s worse is that I’m still a fan now. The Knicks are like that girl you know you shouldn’t trust or get too attached to, but something about them makes you keep coming for more. Unfortunately, time and time again they disappoint and right now, like I have been every year I have been alive, I’m wondering why I still care. We are in arguably the worst situation in the NBA. There’s nothing worse than coming into the season with goals of a championship, and ending the season with goals of an 8th seed. We have no cap space. We have no 1st round draft picks. We still have Steve Mills and James Dolan. We still don’t move the ball or play defense, and we are being imprisoned by contracts like that of Amar’e and Andrea. So what’s the point. Is making a push for the playoffs even important? Does it even make a difference? Why are we supposed to be excited to earn ourselves a 1st round matchup against Miami or Indiana, where we will presumably lose in 4 games? Why raise expectations or create a feeling of progress, when getting to the playoffs and then being eaten alive is worse than not making the playoffs at all? It’s painful. It’s hard to watch, and it’s just gotten old. One of the worst parts is when we have spurts of success and New York blows it right out of the water. Like what’s going on now.

Let’s cut the bullshit and all the hype and the yadyadyayda. Phil Jackson wasn’t the reason they won 8 in a row and no they aren’t going to make the playoffs just because he’s now apart of the team. Frankly, he can’t do shit until summertime, for now he’s just a face to plaster across newspapers claiming he’s New York’s savior.

Yes, they had an 8 game winning streak. Yes Amar’e is looking better and better each game. Yes, Phil Jackson is apart of the organization. But let’s not blow all of this out of proportion. Let’s use a little thing called perspective to properly evaluate what’s going on right now. The Knicks didn’t lose a game from March 5th to March 21st a 16 day period where they won 8 straight games. Wonderful. Look closer. They played teams with an average winning percentage of 35.7%. Of the 14 teams below .500, they played 6 of them… They played Philly twice! So yes a good win against Indiana is still credible, but their winning streak was bound to end. And look at how it ended. Their 8 game winning streak is now a 2 game losing streak to the Cavaliers… without Kyrie, where they blew a 17-point lead! And the Lakers who started Chris Kaman, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, Jodie Meeks and Kendall Marshall… And not only did they lose to the Lakers but they were embarrassed – giving up 51 points in the third quarter to add to a total of 127 points.

On the season they are giving up 100 points a game and are 25th in defensive efficiency. Offensively they’re a bore, as almost every play involves Melo isolation. What’s worse is that tonight against the Lakers, a team with absolutely nothing to lose, a team that has been embarrassed time and time again by blowouts, criticisms, naps on the bench and more, played with more energy than the Knicks, a team scrapping for the 8th seed in the East. That’s what makes the least sense. They don’t play like they want it.

I’ve always said the Knicks roster is flawed because they lack two-way players. Look at all the premier teams in the NBA and you’ll see they all have a roster full of role players who excel at a specific skill and then players who lead the team, all of whom play both ends of the floor. Fly to Oklahoma City and you’ll see Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook – two players who are just as passionate defensively as they are offensively. Alongside them are role players who are on the floor to help in one specific facet of the game – someone like a Nick Collison. Go to Miami and see Dwyane Wade and Lebron, offensive superstars but guys who time and time again are on the All NBA defensive teams. Beside them are role players confined to their specific jobs like Ray Allen (shooter) Chris Andersen (rebounder) etc… The Knicks lack those types of players. Carmelo is a scorer. Tyson has no offensive game besides alley-oops. J.R Smith plays little to no defense. Raymond Felton is out of shape and has been average on both ends. The list goes on and on. The Knicks need guys willing to play both ends, like Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni. They’re not the most talented guys, but watch closely at all the forced turnovers and energy plays and it’s those guys who are right in the mix of things. They play both ends. So there’s task number one for Phil in the future, sign players who can play both sides of the court. Not just a bunch of puzzle pieces that don’t fit into any others. Get pieces that complete a puzzle.

The Knicks are one of the most disappointing teams ever. And yes, injuries have plagued them. Chandler missed a lot of time… Amar’e misses a lot of games. Shumpert has had some trouble. But cry me a fucking river. The Bulls have played the past two seasons without Derrick Rose and with a plethora of injuries. This year they’re without Rose, they lost Deng and still with the players they have not nearly as talented as a Carmelo or a J.R Smith, still manage to be the 3 seed in the East! They are 40-31! You know why? Because it doesn’t matter who they have on the floor, they have a system, and they have a culture and they stick to it. That system happens to be aggressive and intense team defense, and an offensive system full of ball movement, screens and basket cutting. On paper they don’t compare to most teams in the league. If you wrote the starting five of the Pistons and the Bulls and asked people which was better, they’d go Pistons. But it’s Tom Thibodeau, defense, and passionate play that has kept the Bulls playing at such a high level. Step two to Phil Jackson’s makeover? Instill a new defensive and passionate culture of basketball in the Knicks.

What needs to be done is simple. I know I just wrote about Amar’e possibly opting out and helping the Knicks financially but what Phil needs to do is completely rebuild this team. It’s crazy to think but the difference between this year’s team and last year is two main things. J.R Smith played like the 6th man of the year last year posting career highs in points, rebounds and assists. This year his scoring has dropped from 18 to 13 and for a team so reliant on Melo to score, without their second option, the Knicks struggle offensively. They don’t have anybody besides Melo and J.R to create his own shot. The 2nd thing is the veteran presence of Rasheed Wallace, Jason Kidd and Kurt Thomas. Defensively, Rasheed and Kurt were the co-anchors of the team alongside Tyson. Granted Rasheed was injured a lot last season, his presence in the locker room and on the bench can’t be overstated. These guys were competitors and were guys who understood what it took to win games and how to win games. They were spirited and defensively motivated. Jason Kidd was a leader and floor general, teaching and keeping everyone composed. Without these guys, the team lacks that leadership and that competitive presence.

So Phil has to break it all down. Look at his roster and see who he wants stickin’ around for his time in New York. If I’m him, I’d try my hardest to keep Melo, Hardaway Jr, Shumpert and Tyson and let everyone else go. Start fresh and build around Melo and Tyson. Shumpert and Hardaway Jr are too young to give up on, and both have tons of potential on both ends of the floor. None of this will be easy though. Carmelo would have leave about 35 million if he went somewhere else, but why in the world would the guy want to stay here. It’s toxic. He’ll be stuck with probably the exact same roster as this year, with no draft picks, nor cap space. If he’s smart he’ll leave and go to Chicago and win a championship, or go to Houston and have fun playing basketball. He’s 30, and while all his friends have won championships, he’s still the odd one out. Time is running out for him, and with all the money he has and all the money his wife is making, he doesn’t need the extra $$$. He’s ready to run out the door, and I don’t blame him. So fuck us. When he’s gone we’ll be as bad as the 76ers. Except it won’t be on purpose.

For now the Knicks need to play with more passion and more attention to defense. They play 12 more games this season and are in 9th place in the East, 2.5 games behind the Hawks. 9 of those 12 games are against playoff teams, so if I had to guess, the Knicks will not be making the playoffs this year. Big fucking surprise. If they had a first round draft pick, I’d say tank, but they don’t… And there is no point in telling them to tank because they’re doing it anyway.

For a team projected to contend for a championship, they sure are a disappointment and a clusterfuck of an organization. I think I’ve come to terms with the fact they won’t win a championship before I die. So to be honest I’ve accepted their shittiness, as have all true Knicks fans, who love the team, but know what to expect from them. The Knicks have us hooked – hooked on big names, MSG, bright lights and the ever so slim chance of being successful in the future, but in reality the Knicks will always be the Knicks. Always coming short, always disappointing and always making us shake our heads wondering what just happened. But hey, that’s part of being a Knicks fan and I accept it. But let’s all pray Phil Jackson can wave his magic wand and make a new team appear – a team that is excited to play, a team full of young talent just dying to bloom into stars. A team of two-way players who love defense and love moving the ball and playing together. Will it ever happen? Who knows, but for now all we can do is… Well, there’s not much to do. We’re Knicks fans. Screw us.

Amar’e Holds the Key to the Knicks’ Future

Image

The New York Knicks brought in Phil Jackson and as a fan base – so easily hypnotized by big names, we instantly thought that he could change things. And while it remains to be seen whether he will be able to make a change, that change however significant, will only happen in two years. Why is that? Well it’s because the team is being held hostage by Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani.

If you trace the Knicks’ ups and downs since the beginning of the Carmelo days, it’s clear that their failures all originate from Carmelo’s initial selfishness. After 8 years of playoff short fallings Carmelo had his mind clearly set on New York. With the leverage he held over Denver as a superstar in the league, he forced his way out mid-season. That got him to New York, but instead of waiting till the off-season to join a team of Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert and a strong Landry Fields, he insisted on coming in mid-season. For some reason joining a diluted team in terms of talent – a team with only Amar’e Stoudemire, made more sense to Carmelo then being patient and waiting to sign the same contract but with a stronger core. Looking back there was no reason to go mid-season. The Knicks were not a playoff contender, and without their core of Chandler, Gallo and Felton they certainly were not ready to compete for a championship. It made sense to come through free agency but it’s that selfish choice that put the Knicks at their first disadvantage.

Now, this summer, it’s a selfish choice once again that could hold them back. Amar’e Stoudemire has an early termination option in his contract, enabling him to opt-out of his current contract and either test free agency or re-sign with the Knicks for a lesser contract. Amar’e Stoudemire signed a 6 year 100 million dollar deal in the summer of 2010 and was an MVP caliber player before Carmelo and his injuries came around. Amar’e is the 3rd highest paid player in the NBA, behind only Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki. He is due 21 million this season and even more next year and for a guy averaging 14 points and 6 rebounds a game, he is most definitely the most overpaid player in the league. Granted numerous knee injuries have held him back, he is still not worth what they’re paying him. However, he has the opportunity to make things right. In an ideal world he will, but in reality, why would he? We can all sit here naively and say players play for the love of the game, which is true to a certain extent, but they are also in a business – one of the most profitable in the world.

The thing is, Amar’e Stoudemire is not a bad basketball player. He is a solid back up forward in the league. Amar’e has actually been excelling as of late. In the last month he has averaged 17.4 points and 6.5 rebounds a game. When his knees are healthy he is a solid player, able to get to the basket and score down low. I think that if Amar’e opted out and re-signed for a much smaller contract maybe something like a 3 yr 10 million dollar deal like the one Raymond Felton has at the moment, the Knicks could benefit. If he’s playing basketball for money then there is no reason for him to opt-out. However, if he’s playing basketball with aspirations of winning a championship he has to understand that although it’s not completely his fault, and injuries caused his production to decline, he is still a big part of why the Knicks can’t move forward for a while. The question may arise to why the Knicks would want to re-sign him at all if he opted out, thus breaking all ties he has to the team, but if he commits this selfless act, the Knicks would not only appreciate his willingness to better the team but also would feel an inclination to honor him with a smaller contract as he was the one who sparked the new look Knicks in 2010, with the famous quote, “The Knicks are back baby!” Without Amar’e, Carmelo wouldn’t be here. If Amar’e opted out and resigned for a smaller contract he’d help the Knicks as an organization by cutting their cap space down significantly and put himself and the team in a better position to win a championship. By keeping his money and waiting for 2015 free agency he does two things: First, he holds the Knicks hostage for another season, preventing them from doing anything this summer and second, almost assures he gets a much smaller contract if any at all in the summer of 2015.

Now if Amar’e does the admirable thing and opts-out and works a much cheaper deal with New York, they would still be held hostage by one other guy… Andrea Bargnani. Andrea, the 45th highest paid player in the league is averaging 13 points and 5 rebounds on 44% shooting and 28% shooting from the 3 point arch. So, he’s definitely competing with Amar’e for most overpaid. If anything Knicks fans, you can hang your hat on that, you have what most teams don’t dream of having or wanting, two of the most overpaid players in the NBA. Andrea will not opt-out next year because on a good day he doesn’t bring enough to the team that is valued, especially by Phil Jackson. He knows the Knicks won’t bring him back, and there is no way that he leaves 11 million dollars on the table. If Amar’e and the Knicks work out a diluted contract and Bargnani doesn’t opt-out they can use his expiring contract in trade talks so keeping one of the two isn’t a terrible thing for them financially. They have no draft picks so the most they could get by one of these guys opting out is some extra cap space for this summer. And let’s not forget how important this summer is. Bringing in a core that can surround Carmelo is pivotal for him to stay this summer. He can potentially go to Chicago and Houston, two playoff teams with championship potential. The Knicks have more money to offer, but if their roster doesn’t change then he won’t resign. Why would he? He’s 30, his 2003 draft friends have all won championships in Miami, he feels the pressure. The one guy that holds more power than he thinks is Amar’e Stoudemire. By opting out and shedding salary, the Knicks have flexibility – something they so desperately need if they want to reconstruct the team and elevate them to championship contention. This summer could be the most important summer for the Knicks in the next decade, Amar’e can either keep his money and play another season for a bad team with the risk of losing Carmelo, or cut a deal with New York, sign a smaller contract and play for a much better team in the future with a more likely chance of keeping Carmelo. This is more likely to work now then in 2015 for Amar’e because he’s ending this season on a strong note and can point to his recent performances as a way to help convince Jackson to keep him. Injuries will always linger and are a risk the team will have to pay but if the last two months is any indication, (3 DNP’S) he is slowly recovering from his numerous knee injuries.

The Knicks owe him, he has been excelling lately, and for Amar’e it makes sense to help improve the team by taking less money. Look at Miami for example, Dwyane Wade, LeBron and Chris Bosh all took less money and it has made all the difference. It may seem like a big sacrifice but he has made 80 million over the course of these 5 seasons, he has endorsements and he’s in a huge market. The right and sensible thing to do would be to opt-out with reassurance of a smaller contract extension with the Knicks and help them attain flexibility and an improved roster in years to come. It creates a more appealing scenario for Carmelo and a brighter future for New York in general.

76ers Losing Streak Is Just What They Want

Image

For most teams in the NBA losing 24 games in a row would be something to worry about. But if your sole goal for this season is to tank, then you’re doing exactly what you want.

The NBA is divided into the Eastern and Western Conference, however, if you really look past the geographical division of teams, you’ll find that teams can be grouped into two divisions: Those who want to win, and those who want to lose. I don’t mean the players, as all players play to win, I mean the organization itself. For example, the Heat are clearly in contention for a championship, and therefore, you don’t have to be a genius to see that they are a team who wants to win, whose GM has put them in a position to win games. On the other end of the spectrum you look at a team like the Milwaukee Bucks; the worst team record-wise in the NBA (13-57) who are in the early stages of rebuilding and as a result could care less about the wins they accumulate over the course of the season. The players will care, and as professional competitors, they should. However, climb up the ladder of power in the organization and for every game the Bucks lose, the happier the General Manager and the Owner is.

Teams status’ shift overtime and a team like the Lakers who have historically been one of the most successful franchises in sports are now one of the most laughable teams in the NBA. Years of mediocrity, losing, or declining stars turns into a complete breakdown of the roster and after years of rebuilding and tanking, the team hopes they climb back up the ladder of success and make it to the top.

So if we shift our attention back to the 76ers, losing 24 games in a row may be torturous for the players, but for GM Sam Hinkie, there is nothing to worry about. In fact, if them losing 24 games in a row is the equivalent of the Miami Heat winning 24 games in a row. It’s exactly what they want and in fact not even enough as the Milwaukee Bucks are somehow, by some miracle, worse than they are. And while for players and fans it might seem intolerable, they have to take a step back and look at the course they’re on. A team with Michael Carter-Williams, Thaddeus Young and a group full of scrubs can easily turn into a playoff team in two or three years – especially in the Eastern Conference, where to be an 8th seed all you need is a 31-38 record (Atlanta Hawks).

For the 76ers, although it may seem weird to say out loud, have one of the brightest futures in the NBA. Think about it like this. Would you rather be disgustingly mediocre like the Atlanta Hawks who although are thrilled about their soon to be playoff birth, know deep down they have no chance of moving past the first round. They are neither rebuilding nor contending, simply sitting contently with no trajectory up or down. Or if not the Hawks, think about a team like the New York Knicks who are awful but not purposefully like the 76ers are. They are just bad. They’re not rebuilding, in fact they were supposed to be contending but instead they’re 29-41, with no cap space and the risk of losing Carmelo Anthony this summer. It’s all about perspective.

During this season, the 76ers are tip-toeing on that “worst team ever” status but what some don’t realize is that’s music to Sam Hinkie’s ears. The 76ers are aware of the draft class coming out this year – a group highlighted by names like Andrew Wiggins, Marcus Smart, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid, just to name a few and tanking puts them in the best position to acquire a potential franchise player like those stated above. Then they have their first round pick from the Pelicans, which is 1-5 protected, meaning if the Pelicans get a top 5 pick they get to keep it. However, with the Pelicans being the 11th worst team in the NBA it’s likely their pick will go the 76ers. In addition to those 1st round picks, they have a plethora of 2nd round picks they have at their disposal either to use as assets, to trade up in the draft, or to steal some talent that may drop in the draft. In addition, to the favorable draft position, they also have tons of cap space to potentially sign high end free agents this summer. They have 8 players signed through next season, three of those players hold player options in Jason Richardson, Byron Mullens, and Eric Maynor. Take into account those players plus two first round lottery picks who will make a combined 6.9 million next season, the 76ers go into this summer with 33.9 million on their payroll. That leaves them around 30 million to spend on free agents that include guys like Pau Gasol, Lance Stephenson, Luol Deng, Kyle Lowry and Carmelo Anthony just to name a few.

The pieces they have right now aren’t awful either. Michael Carter-Williams will most likely win Rookie of the Year and will bloom into one of the better point guards in the NBA in years to come. Don’t forget Nerlens Noel and his knee sitting on the edge of the bench waiting to become the next Anthony Davis, or a poor man’s version of him at least. Thaddeus Young is a highly capable, athletic power forward, and Tony Wroten can be an effective back up point guard in the league as well.

So yeah, 76ers fans, this season sucks… no shit. But it’s all about perspective, you have a brighter future than half of the NBA. Just wait.