Tag Archives: Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers’ Major League Collapse

Movie quotes are a form of friendship identification for me. If I spout off a line from “Tommy Boy” and you have no idea what I am talking about, we have to re-evaluate the grounds of our relationship. The sports movie that I most quote is a comedic classic with top-notch actors and great plot. “Major League” is the comedic sports movie EVERY person should watch when able. It has everything. Loveable losers, villainous owners and hijinks abound make this a great watch any time (only on channels allowing swearing, the PG version is lame). There is a team in the NBA that reminds me of the lovable Cleveland Indians of “Major League”, but without the winning. The LA Lakers are going nowhere fast and have a cast of characters worthy of a movie script. The line from “Major League” that pops into my mind when thinking of the Lakers this season is “a bunch of has-beens and never was.” This describes the Lakers roster minus a couple players. Let me break down this analysis cast member by cast member.

Kobe Bryant as Jake Taylor
Jake is the older, injured catcher leading a team with emotion and smarts. He solves problems in the clubhouse no coach or admin wants to touch. Kobe is the older, injured leader of the Lakers. Both Kobe and Jake’s bodies are falling apart and they are ready to walk away from the game. Kobe is trying to have fun with a young team and lead them while not wanting to kill everyone for not being better. The flaw in this comparison is everyone likes Jake.

Jordan Clarkson as Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn
Ricky is a raw talent. He has control issues and doesn’t always fit in. His talent needs guidance and when he gets it he is a true star. Jordan Clarkson is a second round pick (by the Wizards) that flashed stardom last year and was named first team all-rookie. Despite his rookie year success Jordan doesn’t fit in with this team. The Indians featured Ricky the next year, the Lakers are pushing Kobe and Deangelo Russell combo. This could be a huge mistake for the Lakers moving forward.

Roy Hibbert as Roger Dorn
Roger Dorn is a veteran third baseman with an inflated sense of self. He is also deathly scared of using his body to make a play at third. A fear he conquers and becomes a valuable asset and cornerstone to winning. Roy Hibbert is a veteran big man with an inflated sense of self and fear of getting dirty in the post. He is the tallest player on the court most days and isn’t even the rebounding leader on his own team (Julius Randle has him beat by nearly 3.5 rebounds per game). Similar to Dorn, if Hibbert can learn to clang and bang on the inside he would be a valuable part of the Lakers and their rebuilding.

Julius Randle as Pedro Cerrano
Pedro Cerrano is the hot-headed power hitter with a hole in his swing. He can only hit the fastball and looks to everything from Jesus, voodoo and golf head covers to help. When he figures out the solution to his deficiency is in him he becomes the terror the Indians need. Julius Randle is not a one trick pony like Pedro is, but he hasn’t figured out pacing, team basketball or how to fit in quite yet. Julius was taken out of a game recently (after 16 minutes of total playing time) and was not a fan. This led his coach, Byron Scott to say, “He’s got to grow up. Simple as that. I think the main thing I don’t like is when you take him out of games, how he reacts sometimes. I chalk it up to immaturity and just being inexperienced in this level. It’s going to happen again. I’m going to take him out of other games that he’s not going to like.” Similar to Pedro, Julius can be the terror they need. He has the talent and the aggressiveness Hibbert is missing. He just needs to understand his role and the solution is in him.

Jim Buss as Rachel Phelps
Rachel Phelps is the owner of the Indians. She wants to move them to Florida and tries to sabotage the team so they lose value and must move. The team rallies around her plan and wins despite her. Jim Buss is in charge of basketball operations for the Lakers. He doesn’t want the Lakers to move, he isn’t purposely putting a poor product on the court and the team is definitely not rallying despite him. He is the person in charge of this group of has-beens and never-was and that is a good enough reason to cast him in this role. “Major League” is a great movie. It is funny, exciting and lively. The Lakers are…not any of these things and if they don’t land a free agent to pull them out of their current state the sequel will not be worth watching.

Indiana Pacers: A State of Flux

A lot has changed since the 2014-15 Indiana Pacers ended their season just short of a playoff berth last spring. Gone are veteran power forward David West and defensive-minded center Roy Hibbert. The style of play has also changed, going from a deliberate pace to a more uptempo approach. The other thing that has changed? The team is winning.

Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird was planning to make at least one more run with the core group he had after the 2014-15 season. However, David West chose to opt out of his contract to sign with the San Antonio Spurs (at a greatly reduced salary). Once this domino fell, Bird decided to reshape the team in order to play the uptempo style that he prefers.

In order for the Pacers to play at a faster pace, plodding center Roy Hibbert had to go. He was given, er, traded to the Lakers during the offseason. Now, some players needed to be added that would fit the uptempo game. The most significant of these additions was Monta Ellis, a 6-3 combo guard who is an accomplished scorer and underrated passer. A younger, more athletic center was brought on board when Bird drafted 6-11 Myles Turner out of the University of Texas. There were several other minor player additions made, all with an eye toward playing at a faster tempo.

The big question now would be: after missing nearly the entire season recovering from a gruesome leg injury, what would the Pacers get out of All-Star Paul George?

George was a bright, up-and-coming talent who had already achieved All-Star status after being drafted by Larry Bird in 2010. While practicing with Team USA on August 1, 2014, George suffered a severe leg fracture, causing him to miss all but the last six games of the regular season. After a lengthy rehab process, would Paul George ever be the player he once was?

We now have the answer to this, and it’s an emphatic no. Paul George is not the player he once was, but incredibly, he’s better. So far this season, George has averaged 28 points, eight rebounds and four assists per game. He’s also shooting an impressive 45% from 3-point range. Add to that the stellar defense he plays every night, and it would be fair to say that George has come back with a vengeance.

There was talk before the season started that George would be moved to power forward in this new uptempo scheme, but that hasn’t been an issue for him or for the team. While George is spending some time at the ‘4,’ it’s not dramatically changing the way he plays…he’s still showing the all-around game that he’s always had, but he’s doing it even better in this system.

pg and cj miles

A guy who deserves a lot of credit for Paul George’s performance so far this year is C.J. Miles. Why? Because C.J. has been willing to take on the daunting task of defending the opposing team’s power forward when that player has superior size and has a post game. Miles is three inches shorter than George, but he’s battling with those big men for the good of the team, and so far, it’s working.

It’s usually difficult for a team to find any success with multiple new players and a new offensive system, but after a slow start, Indiana is really taking to the uptempo approach. It’s a fun system to play in, and the Pacers have a roster stocked with guys who are well-suited for a faster style of play. As much as their offense has improved, their strong defense from last season hasn’t fallen off very much, and that’s a real key to why this new philosophy has been successful.

And, the most important piece to this puzzle has to be Paul George coming back and playing at a superstar level after suffering such a devastating injury. Pacer Nation would have been thrilled if George had just returned to his prior All-Star form, but he’s a better and more dominant player now than he ever was before.

Indiana found out this past Tuesday night just how far they have to go to get to an elite level, however, falling at home 131-123 to the defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. The Pacers are now playing a similar style to that of the Warriors, but the Warriors do it better than anyone. The Indiana Pacers are clearly on their way up, but they haven’t reached the top of the mountain yet.

The Pacers have been one of the surprise teams of the league thus far, and the future looks bright as well. They should continue to get better at executing this offense as the season unfolds. The main concern, other than significant injuries, would be maintaining their defensive focus in such an offensive-oriented system. If they can do that, Indiana will be a tough “out” for anyone they play once the playoffs begin.

Appreciating Kobe

Why do we always find it necessary to compare great players to one another instead of appreciating them for their greatness alone?

In his book, “The Four Loves”, C.S. Lewis said this: “The human mind is generally far more eager to praise and dispraise than to describe and define. It wants to make every distinction a distinction of value; hence those fatal critics who can never point out the differing quality of two poets without putting them in an order of preference, as if they were candidates for a prize.”

I can’t disagree with Lewis. This is precisely what we do. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Nobody peers out onto the jaw-dropping beauty of the Grand Canyon and says, “That’s pretty awesome, but it’s no Bryce Canyon.” We just appreciate it for the gloriousness that it is. We don’t feel compelled to compare or contrast it with any other canyon, but if we do, it isn’t in order to ascribe greater value to one than the other, it’s only to point out how they’re different or how they’re similar.

Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest to ever lace up a pair of hi-tops recently announced his retirement from basketball at season’s end. I know many of you are already mentally placing him in your preferred pecking order of great players.

But I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to tell you where I think he ranks among Laker greats or all-time greats. I’m not going to give you a list. I’m tired of lists. My purpose isn’t to create social media banter for you. I’ll leave that to list-happy ESPN. Nor am I going to mention how poorly he has played this season, for one season does not whitewash a lengthy achievement-filled career or diminish greatness.

Instead, my one and only purpose is to tell you what made Kobe Bryant great. I’ll tell you why watching him play the game of basketball brought you and me great pleasure and great joy.

He is an artist. Not only was he exceptional at his craft, but he was also aesthetically pleasing. Kobe has made no bones about his being a student of one Michael Jeffrey Jordan-in every way. He even walks like Michael, talks like Michael, and carries himself like Michael.

On the court: his impeccable footwork, his body control, his creativity, his ball-handling, his majestic textbook shooting form, his fadeaway, and his insatiable will to win were all vintage Michael. If you wanna be like Mike you don’t mimic and model Paul Mokeski.

image

Oops. I have a confession to make. I almost fell into doing the very thing I just railed against; I was about to compare Michael and Kobe and then realized what I was doing. Even I like to compare. But alas, I will not.

I remember when I saw Kobe play for the first time. He oozed head-turning athleticism and obvious swagger. He was only 17 years old when he played his first game; but you knew he was, for lack of a better word, special.

What struck me most about Kobe when he came on the scene was his brazen willingness to take crunch-time shots; now he didn’t always succeed; you might remember his four consecutive air balls in game 5 of the 1997 Western Conference semifinals versus the Utah Jazz. But he didn’t mind taking the heat if he failed.

Isn’t this what we love to see in all walks of life?: fearlessness. This is what we loved about Jordan, Bird, and Magic. There are great players, but beyond them are the transcendent ones who combine immense skill with a robust appetite to win by their willingness to put the burden of winning or losing on their back. Kobe was and still is one of those players, despite his diminished skills.

How can you tell a transcendent player from merely a great player? Transcendent players are the ones we compare up-and-comers to. We say things like, “Could this guy be the next Jordan or the next Shaq or the next LeBron or the next Kobe. No one ever wondered who the next Barkley or Payton would be.

Another trait of a transcendent is that they cause us to sit on the edge of our seats in anticipation of their next spectacular feat. You could love them or hate them, but you were compelled to watch them. We put everything on hold to put ourselves in position to watch them. We fit them into our schedule.

Transcendent players also win. Tiger Woods didn’t become must-see television on Sunday afternoons because of talent alone. He won. He won often. So too did Kobe. For the majority of his career, the last couple of years not withstanding, his Lakers were in the mix to win championships. Kobe won five. He was the necessary Robin to Shaq’s Batman for three of those titles, although when Shaq left for Miami, the Lakers had in many minds, become Kobe’s team. He went on to win two more rings as the indisputable top dawg.

Like Jordan, Kobe is the extremely rare blend of charisma, swagger, superior athletic ability, basketball IQ, skill, gracefulness, and work ethic.

His departure from the league at season’s end will leave a void that will never be refilled. Only time will make us forget how truly special he was. Ten years from now, even watching footage of his glory years won’t be able to replicate what they meant to us and did for us the moment they happened. His 81 point game against Toronto can be watched on film but can never be experienced again. Those emotions have already been spent.

Kobe, thank you for being a part of our lives. Thank you for the memories. Thank you for the joy we experienced watching you play the game that we, both you and I, love. It’s been a grand treasure. I appreciate you Kobe “Bean” Bryant! Next!

 

Kevin Love and LeBron James Don't Have to Be BFF's

The Cleveland Cavaliers are 46-26. There are ten games left in the regular season and they sit squarely in second place in the Eastern Conference. They’re on their way to a fifty-win season, which I think is something most Cavs fan would’ve taken before the year started.

Yet not all is well in The Land (I cannot believe I just used that worn out, lazy nickname that could indicate hundreds of other cities in the United States).

Things may or may not have been blown out of proportion (they were) when Kevin Love went on a media tour this Monday. A couple of quotes sent the media into a frenzy, including:

From Mike & Mike:

“You know, we’re not best friends, we’re not hanging out every day, but we see each other every day, whether we’re at the practice facility, whether we’re on the road or going to a game.”

From the Dan Patrick Show:

“They’re both having an MVP-type season, but I’m going to go with Russell Westbrook because he’s, every single night you’re looking at his stat sheet, they’re fighting for a playoff spot, with Serge Ibaka going down now, Kevin Durant potentially being out the rest of the year and him still going out there and fighting for his team, and winning, and fighting for that seventh or eighth spot in the playoffs,” Love said. “I think Russ is arguably having the better season.”

Of course, cherry picking a small quote is dangerous and usually destroys the context of the whole interview. But that doesn’t stop people from doing this.

Even when using tunnel vision to focus on a singular part of these two interviews, is it really a big deal that Kevin Love and LeBron James aren’t best friends? It shouldn’t be.

Don’t get me wrong; it’d be a whole hell of a lot more fun if we, for instance, saw Love piggyback LeBron in a postgame interview… wait.

https://vine.co/v/OY33nUpiWWV

I don’t think I’m that naïve though. One moment of fun doesn’t equate to a lifelong friendship. But that still doesn’t mean that their commitment to a 50-year brotherhood is crucial to the Cavs.

And we had that at one point in LeBron’s first seven years in Cleveland. The Cavs didn’t have the most talented group of players but people were reluctant to trade players for fear of messing up the great chemistry. Where did all the fun on the sidelines leave the Cavs? Ringless after being swept in the 2007 NBA Finals.

Chemistry is important, no doubt. But the two superstars being friends off the court isn’t.

And in case you’ve missed it, it’s not like no one on the Cavs is getting along with each other. This is an ultra fun group.

https://vine.co/v/OPataYdE3F5

https://vine.co/v/OEn3ud6gxua

It doesn’t matter that Love and LeBron don’t have a bromance or that Love is excluded from LeBron’s dumb “clique.” What’s important is that they relatively get along on the court and in practice and respect each other as basketball players. LeBron has already expressed his respect for Love as a player, namely in January after a win over the Lakers (pointed out by Tom Pestak of Cavs: The Blog here in this incredible breakdown of Kevin Love).

If you don’t want to take my word for it, that’s fine. The only thing I have to my name basketball-wise is a 24-0 record against division opponents on my junior high CYO basketball teams.

However, maybe the words of a five-time NBA champion, 17-time NBA All Star, 11-time All-NBA First Team member, and 2008 NBA MVP will attract more weight.

Kobe Bryant was on The Grantland Basketball Hour earlier this month with Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose. And while I don’t typically like what Simmons has to say, Kobe shared some candid responses. One of which I thought applies to the situation Love and LeBron are in now.

(5:21-6:12)

Simmons: “So Westbrook and Durant are buddies. You and Shaq were coworkers; I don’t think you were ever buddies. Does it even matter?”

Kobe: “No. It doesn’t.”

That should really tell you all there is to understand about the Love-LeBron dynamic right now.

There is a difference between those Lakers teams and this Cavs team, though. There is no other player to offset LeBron. Kobe mentioned in that sit down that he was the one to get on his teammates and Shaq was the one to put his arm around someone. Simmons accurately described it as a good cop/bad cop dichotomy. I don’t think that’s what the Cavs have.

Sure, they have the type of talented players that the Lakers have. But Kobe and Shaq were guys that had won playoff games and championships. Kyrie and Love can go on to become those types of players – we all hope so. But they’re not that yet. Neither has even sniffed the playoffs in their career. I’m not sure they would garner the type of respect that a Kobe or a Shaq got starting in the early 2000’s.

LeBron is the sole player that will bark out orders. He’s the only player that can take over a huddle or put players in certain situations (like when he yelled for Mozgov to be put in to guard an inbounds play late in the game against Indiana last Friday). You don’t see Love or Kyrie getting on guys for screwing up a defensive rotation or not being at a spot on offense. Conversely, there’s no Shaq on the team that has won championships and also happens to be one of the best players at his position.

James Jones, Mike Miller, and Shawn Marion have won championships, but are they the type of guys that teammates want to put their arm around to tell them everything will be okay?

The one thing that can help this is winning. Winning cures all. That may be the one sports cliché that rings true time and time again.

The Cavs winning multiple playoffs series – which they will probably do this season – and winning a championship – something they might do this season – would go a long way to ease anyone’s worries. These petty debates as to whether Kevin Love feels slighted for being left out of an Instagram picture should fade away.

NBA: Around the Association (Week Three)

Player Recognition

All-Star Synopsis:

Damian Lillard, PG, Trail Blazers
The NBA has “oohed and awed” over Damian Lillard’s ability in his young career with excellent passing skills, high-percentage three point shooting, and his ability to somehow always get to the basket. Lillard has been a vital part in building up this once down franchise to a legitimate championship threat out west. Lillard’s play this week sparked many putting together his best statistical week in his career. Lillard, with LeBron James, was nominated as NBA Player of the Week.

Damian Lillard POW

Lillard’s Stats Week Three:
at LA Clippers (L, 102-106): 25 points (4-8 from 3P), 8 assists, 7 rebounds
vs. Charlotte (W, 102-100): 29 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals
at Denver (W, 130-113): 27 points (5-6 from 3P), 9 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals
vs. Brooklyn (W, 97-87): 28 points (4-6 from 3P), 10 assists, 5 rebounds

 

Lance Stephenson, SG, Hornets
The Hornets’ signing of the Pacers’ X-factor guard Lance Stephenson made big headlines and was easily the strongest move this past offseason outside of Cleveland. Stephenson highlighted the 2013-14 season with multiple triple-doubles while helping lead the Indiana Pacers to the top spot in the Eastern Conference. With his stock high, the Hornets acted fast picking up the hot name, whether that meant overpaying the young gun or not. While the season is still young, Stephenson has yet to blossom into that All-Star type shooting guard the Hornets were expecting. Stephenson has shown some glimpses foreshadowing that he will get to that point.

The streaky shooter has become more efficient as of late versus quality playoff teams with performances with 14, 13, and 16 points accompanied with some high rebounding numbers. The LeBron James agitator started out slow, but seems to be becoming into his own mold after a rough first week and a half.

He was known this week for a stunt only he could pull off:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRzX0gxxeTo

Rookie Rundown:

Jabari Parker, SF, Bucks
Jabari Parker has been a big proponent on how the Bucks have managed an early .500 record, even though he doesn’t have gaudy numbers. Parker averages 11.6 points per game and 6.1 rebounds per game (both statistics lead all rookies in those categories). Parker didn’t have a fantastic week with a tough three game stretch versus Oklahoma City, Orlando, and Miami in which he combined for just 25 points on 11-23 shooting (not terrible) within that span. Parker is becoming a valuable piece to this trending Bucks team as his minutes increase and his role becomes more demanding.

 

Flying Under the Radar:

Jrue Holiday, PG, Pelicans
When healthy, Jrue Holiday is one of the more productive point guards in the league and he is proving that statement in an underrated fashion this season. Holiday is not the primary scorer as he was in Philadelphia and doesn’t look to return that form, but he is becoming a more well-rounded point guard and is a vital part in the Pelicans’ 2014-15 possible journey to the playoffs. Holiday averages 16.3 points per game, just fewer than seven assists per game, and is shooting 48% from the field.

Reggie Jackson, PG, Thunder
Following the injury to Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson’s role increased in becoming the starting point guard for the Thunder. On paper, Jackson is one of the league’s leading stat packers with 21.5 points per game, 7.6 assists per game, and 4.9 rebounds per game. Regardless of his stats, the Thunder are still losing, but mostly due to the domino effect of injuries Scott Brooks has had to deal with. Jackson is doing all he can to keep pushing and carrying this team until the All-Star duo returns, hopefully, in December.

The Thunder appreciate his contributions (rumored):

Reggie Jackson

 

 

Team Outlooks

Top Five:

1. Golden State Warriors (8-2)
Records aside, Golden State is the best team in the league and may have one of the best coaches, even though being in his first season. No, Golden State didn’t have the best week with back-to-back losses to Phoenix and San Antonio, but the turnovers have been lowered since the time I wrote about them last week. While the offense continues to impress, the Warriors are off to their best start since 1975 at 8-2 and should improve this week to 10-2 with games versus Utah and OKC. Remember, this team is still without one of the league’s better rebounders in David Lee.

2. Houston Rockets (9-1)
Even with ugly wins versus Philadelphia and OKC, the Rockets are still one of the top teams in the NBA with a 9-1 record. Houston has been known for its offense in recent seasons finishing in the top five in three of the last four seasons in scoring, but the trend of this 2014 Houston version is the improved play of the defense, especially James Harden.

(Getty Images)
Getty Images

3. Memphis Grizzlies (9-1)
The Grizzlies franchise is not familiar with quick starts as this season marks only the third time the Grizzlies have exceeded the .500 mark within the first ten games in the team’s existence. The Grizzlies have benefitted off of two close losses giving them a 9-1 overall record. The upcoming week should give us a good idea of how strong this unit is with home games versus Houston and LA Clippers and a road trip to Toronto.

4. Chicago Bulls (7-3)
I’m a little higher on the Bulls than most right now, as I’m not putting much stock into the chain of Derrick Rose injuries. The offense has seen improvement whether Rose is on the court or not with improved play from Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson and good minutes from Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich off the pine. A Chicago team that is the ninth ranked offense in the league is unheard of which makes this team even scarier with the already tough Tom Thibodeau defense led by reigning defensive player of the year Joakim Noah.

5. San Antonio Spurs (5-4)
Many other teams including the Mavericks, Raptors, Clippers, and Trail Blazers could place here, but the Spurs get the nod this week with impressive back-to-back wins over the Warriors and Clippers. The Spurs haven’t been as effective in scoring this season averaging just 94.4 points per game which ranks 24th in the league. Tony Parker is the team’s leading three-point shooter. Take that in whatever way you want.

 

Bottom Three:

28. Minnesota Timberwolves (2-7)
Minnesota is one of the less intriguing teams in the NBA possibly even behind Philadelphia, but let’s not get too carried away now. The defense has been terrible with Ricky Rubio’s absence and the offense hasn’t been much better. This was a terrible week for the Wolves giving up a combined 270 points to Dallas and New Orleans. Minnesota has a nice stretch of home games coming up with New York, San Antonio, and Sacramento all coming to town.

29. Los Angeles Lakers (1-9)
If you follow me on twitter (@cpage2911) I constantly like to bash the Lakers and their decision to overpay Kobe Bryant, therefore receiving an incredibly weak roster. Kobe has produced, but that was expected. The defense is the worst in the league and will get smashed this week with three straight road games at Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas.

Kyle Terada, USA Today Sports
Kyle Terada, USA Today Sports

 

30. Philadelphia 76ers (0-9)
The 76ers continue to lose big and find a way to give up and blow the close ones, but what more can you expect from this roster? Tony Wroten is the team’s leading scorer. Yup.

 

What’s Trending:

The Cavs
If you don’t watch ESPN, I will update you on the Cavs real quick. After the 1-3 start the Cavs have reeled off four straight wins. A dominating win over Atlanta sparked many, but the defense still needs some work. LeBron has been, well, LeBron in this four game winning streak and the team chemistry and body language seems to be improving in the eye’s of this non-psychology major writer.

Buzzer-Beating Controversy
The Kings are protesting last week’s loss to the Grizzlies countering the officials’ final decision on the “game-winning” buzzer beating alley-oop. You be the judge:

 

(All stats and records taken before Monday, November 17th)

NBA: Around the Association

Curry #2

Player Breakdowns

All-Star Synopsis:
Stephen Curry, Warriors

The rumors are true. We really could be embarking on America’s next big time super star. Stephen Curry has improved his game from all aspects including on the defensive side of the court. Curry has wowed us in year’s past, but this season could be even more special for the young upcoming poster boy of the NBA. Yes, we’re only a couple of weeks into the NBA season, so I will not try to overreact too much but here is Curry’s 2014 stat line: 27.7 ppg, 7.2 apg, 6.3 rpg, and 3.5 spg. Curry is also shooting at a high percentage from the field at 49% and just under 41% behind the arc.

Curry’s biggest improvement has come on defense in which he averages 3.5 steals per game. Curry has shown elite defense versus some of the league’s best including Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Goran Dragic, and Eric Bledsoe. His defense has grabbed the attention of those who cover the sport and Curry has some big plans for himself:

Curry Tweet

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks
The Knicks are struggling out of the gate and their all-star forward cannot seem to find any rhythm. Carmelo Anthony has been no stranger to bad shots and low shooting percentages, but he always seems to get around the terror and be productive. This season is a little different. The Knicks new triangle offense does not center around the seven time all-star, yet is “supposed” to find the best scoring options based off pick and rolls and passing the basketball. Both of these new styles to the Knicks may have Carmelo in a rut. Melo pointed out the team struggles in an interview with the New York Post, “We can’t move forward until we get the basics down,’’ Anthony said. “Some nights we have it down, some nights we don’t. It’s going to be a little bit inconsistent until we get the foundation of the system down and we can add things we have to add on” (full article here).

Melo Tweet

It’s safe to say that Carmelo has to get comfortable with this new offense and that is expected. What is not expected is Melo’s awful shooting percentage and not draining open shots. Melo has had a horrible four game stretch, which could possibly be his worst stretch in his twelve now thirteen year career.

Melo Tweet #2

Rookie Rundown:
Elfrid Payton, Magic

Rookie Elfrid Payton did not have much waiting time to begin his rookie season with the offseason departure of Magic great Jameer Nelson and the injury to Victor Oladipo. Payton leads all rookies in assists per game, but still has yet to find his stroke on offense shooting just 37%. Payton’s ugly percentage is no surprise. The rookie point guard, though, continues to control the tempo of the offense and is heavy in the passing end and is constantly contributing on defense, which is a luxury for NBA rookies. Payton recorded seven, seven, nine, and seven assists in his first four games as a pro while also averaging 1.5 steals per contest.

KJ McDaniels. 76ers
KJ McDaniels flew completely under the radar in the 2014 NBA Draft falling to the 76ers in the second round (32nd pick). McDaniels could be a future gem for Philadelphia who has flirted with potential young stars, but none have reached the star power one could hope for. McDaniels has wowed followers with his ability to shoot threes with a high percentage (31.3 3P% career at Clemson). McDaniels’ ability to score and block shots as a wing makes him an asset to this degrading Sixers squad.

It’s a little shocking McDaniels has yet to break the starting lineup, but I expect the change to be made in the near future as McDaniels is the best wing defender and overall best wing player the Sixers have on its underdeveloped roster.

Flying Under the Radar:
Dwyane Wade, Heat

The moment LeBron packed his bags to head back to Cleveland the Heat have gone extinct, well, at least from a media perspective. The Heat (5-2) quietly put together a nice first season stretch with wins over Toronto, Washington, and Dallas. In those games Dwyane Wade has been on a tear playing his best basketball since maybe even before LeBron showed up. Wade has showcased what the ten time all-star is capable of when healthy. Wade on the season averages 19.7 ppg with 6.9 apg and 3.4 rpg. Wade is shooting 50.9% from the field and an even 40% from three point range (29 3P% in career). Wade’s impressive performance against Minnesota on Saturday displayed the much-improved shooter and also passer (25 points & eight assists).

He’s also breaking records:Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 5.57.04 PM

Kyle Korver, Hawks
Kyle Korver owned the Knicks Saturday night in Atlanta on every angle of the court. Korver scored a season-high 27 points (6-9 3P) and also had three blocks. Korver’s stock market indicator is soaring with three 20 point games to start the season. Korver struggled with an illness this past week, but still managed to score a combined 47 points in that stretch knocking down a combined ten three-pointers (61.3 3P% on the season!).


Team Outlooks

Top Dog:

Stephen Curry on his team and new coach a few days before the first game of the season:

http://youtu.be/ioRCDUeYHfA

Golden State Warriors
New head coach Steve Kerr has this team playing at a high level despite the turnover issues. Stephen Curry has been lights out and Draymond Green has been the man of the hour filling in for the injured David Lee. We know the scoring ability for the Warriors is top notch, but the defense is what has this team buzzing as the Warriors rank first in the league in defensive efficiency. The Warriors proved to be the elite power this past week with wins over Houston, Portland, and Los Angeles (Clippers), even though falling to the Suns Sunday night 107-95.

Gaining Some Buzz:
Sacramento Kings
DeMarcus Cousins may have finally busted the seams as he playing the best basketball of his young career. The Team USA tag team of Cousins and Rudy Gay are playing smart basketball with more focus and the whole team is buying in as Carl Landry says here: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=espn:11839760

The Pits: 
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are and will be the laughing stock of the entire 2014-15 NBA season. Sure, Kobe is one of the league’s biggest point getters, but the offense is insufficient and so is the defense. To be honest, the Lakers were at its best when Jeremy Lin was running the offense this past week. Yeah, that ain’t good.

NBA Free Agency 2014: A Decision fit for the King?

NBA free agency commenced this past Tuesday morning at the stroke of midnight. While the Cleveland Cavaliers were busy convincing Kyrie Irving to re-sign for 5 more seasons. Several of the NBA’s premier players including Carmelo Anthony, Lebron James, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, and Pau Gasol, among others, are now free to decide if greener pastures await them in other NBA cities across the country.

In South Beach, more commonly known as Miami, what seemed to be a foregone conclusion not more than two weeks ago may now be very much in peril, as rumors are running rampant that Lebron James is seriously considering taking his talents north to the shores of Lake Erie.  After four straight NBA Finals appearances, including two championships, people everywhere may be wondering why James would leave that situation to head back to the team he abandoned 4 years ago, which hasn’t sniffed the playoffs since his unceremonious “decision”.  The answer is multifaceted and, on some levels, may not make sense, while on others it makes so much sense that only a personal trainer could prophesize it. Will the King stay or will he go? I don’t know, but  “sources” tell me we’ll all know very soon…
If James leaves Miami, what does that mean for his other “Big Three” mates? I think the most likely scenario involves Chris Bosh leaving for Houston, as the Rockets provide him the best option to make the most money while having a legitimate chance to win, not too mention that Bosh is from the Houston area.  As for Dwayne Wade, I don’t see any scenario where he leaves Miami, as Wade will not be able to command the same amount of money that Miami can offer him. Not only has Wade been their “franchise” player for years, but it would be a last ditch effort to save some face after allowing James and Bosh to do the unthinkable and leave, Pat Riley and the rest of the Heat organization will have to take care of their long-time star after he opted out of the remaining 2 years and $40M dollars on his previous contract or be left with even more egg all over their faces after going from champs to chumps in a year.

Speaking of former champs and chumps, the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks appear to be the most likely destination for Carmelo Anthony.  Anthony, who opted out of his contract with the Knicks, has visited with the Lakers, Chicago Bulls, and Houston Rockets.  The most recent reports have Anthony whittling down his list to either the Lakers or Knicks. While neither of those teams seems like the best possible solution for Anthony to win games, he’ll definitely get the max salary and exposure he seems to crave. Then again, maybe Knicks’ President Phil Jackson has some more Zen Master tricks up his sleeve to turn the Knicks into a winner.

 

Conversely, the Lakers still don’t have a head coach, unless Kobe Bryant is planning to coach and play next year, so why any free agent would sign there at this point could only be related to paycheck or the “Lakers” mystique (if there is such a thing any more) which now plays second fiddle to the Los Angles Clippers’ “Clip Show” and is nothing compared to the glory days of Magic, Kareem, and the “Showtime” Lakers teams of the 80’s. In fact, Pau Gasol, the Lakers other star player, quite possibly won’t be returning to the Lakers either, who, despite the presence of Bryant, are likely in for a rebuild unless Anthony decides to head west. Then all bets are off.

As we come to the conclusion to the first week of free agency, the dominoes should fall into place quickly. James will likely makes his decision in the next two to three days, then everyone else will follow suit. After that, the remaining second and third tier free agents will sign new deals, while other teams will make trades to solidify their rosters before training camp. Once the smoke clears, we’ll find out if there’s a new challenger for the defending Champion San Antonio Spurs, or if it’s the same old “Big Three” trying to piece together one more title run before the wheels fall completely off. Either way, the past few days have been a wild ride of rumors and speculation, while the next few could be transcendent and change the landscape of the NBA moving forward.

Sad Times for the NBA’s ”Big Three” Franchises

 

As the NBA regular season winds down to its final week and some teams begin to prepare for their first round playoff opponent, others are preparing leave for that long overdue visit to the Vegas party circuit. A bit of history occurred, as the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, and New York Knicks all missed the playoffs in the same season for the first time ever.  While any person who’s not a fan of those teams probably doesn’t care, this is a big deal historically, as these three teams have been around since the 1940’s. Going even more in depth, the Lakers, Celtics, and Knicks have combined to win 35 NBA championships and made more than 150 combined playoff appearances! Think about those numbers for a minute, 35 championships and 150+ playoff appearances. That’s just crazy!

Here’s what’s even crazier, it took 65+ years before at least one of these teams didn’t make the playoffs, and I think there is a decent chance that all three may not make it back again next season.

Starting with the Lakers, they are a very old team playing a style of basketball that has proven it can’t win in the playoffs and doesn’t match their athletic ability, nor their advancing age. Other than Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, they are void of talent, have little cap room and their two aging superstars have been breaking down physically at an alarming pace. My guess is the Lakers will fire coach Mike D’Antonio and try to rebuild on the fly. Will it work? Time will tell, but things aren’t boding well in LA-LA land.

The Celtics, on the other hand, will be beginning year two of their gut-and-rebuild job under head coach Brad Stevens, who’ll be entering his sophomore season with them. The biggest question facing the Celtics is what to do with aging point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo has one more year remaining on his contract but, in the middle of a rebuilding project, does it make sense to keep someone like Rondo around? Or would the Celtics be better off swapping him for draft picks or up-and-coming players? If I were the Celtics, I’d trade Rondo for the best-available players or picks and continue to move forward as a franchise. He is the only remaining remnant of the “glory days” with Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen.  While his continued presence on the Celtics will provide fans with warm feelings, the reality is that it’s better for everyone involved that he moves on.

Meanwhile in New York, the Knicks are about to go through a whirlwind of change. In fact, the change has already begun as the Knicks recently hired long time Chicago Bulls and Lakers coach Phil Jackson as President of basketball operations.

Jackson already has two big decisions awaiting him. He needs to decide if he’s going to fire head coach Mike Woodson (which is almost guaranteed) and if he’s going to negotiate the return of impending free agent Carmelo Anthony. These two decisions could make or break Jackson’s legacy in New York before it even started.

Jackson was always a master of manipulation as a head coach. If he can prove to have that same acumen as an executive, then things will be looking up for Knicks fans very quickly, but if Jackson turns into Isaiah Thomas 2.0 well, lets just say I wouldn’t want to be at Madison Square Garden any time soon!

For Sacramento Change is Good

Today was the Sacramento Kings’ season and home opener. For Sacramento this was the best news since just about a year no one was sure if there would even be a team in Sacramento for the 2013-2014 season.

That was until Vivek Rendive decided that he and his business partners were going to buy the team. It was the best news that fans had heard in a really long time. The city and fans rallied behind them to keep the Kings and Sacramento and to get the Kings a new arena. (I will save the arena talk for another article).

Growing up in Sacramento I would watch every game the Kings played. I remember in the 4th grade I would read the sports section every single day and anything to know about the 1999-2000 team I knew. I loved the team and the games. They were always so exciting.

This was where my passion for sports started. There were so many great players that were on those teams; like, Chris Weber, Peja Stojavic, Hedo Turkoglu, Scott Pollard, Lawrence Funderburk, Jason Williams, Mike Bibby and Bobby Jackson to name a few. The Kings and Lakers rivalry was one of the best during those years. norCal and SoCal have always had rivalries and this was one of the best during those years.

There was so much passion rough those games that it just captivated you. It was something that seemed to be missing for the past few years. Something was missing with the passion, the players and the owners. This year though its all changed. And we owe it all to Vivek. Thanks to him he is helping Sacramento become an NBA city again. A team that is here to stay and compete.

I feel like it has been a while since I’ve gotten excited about an NBA game and season. This year is definitely making me feel like a kid again.

Last season everybody could tell DeMarcus Cousins had a bad attitude. It rubbed off on fans, ownership and coaches. When Vivek came in and got the team he didn’t trade Cousins. I was surprised but happy. It showed he cared about him and that he didn’t want to give up on Cousins. I think it was good for Cousins to have the ownership have his back and support him. By Vivek showing Cousins him that Cousins knew he had to reciprocate it.

On the opening night game Cousins proved he changed. He showed a type of fire inside of him that was about the game. He played one of the best games I’ve seen him play. He was passionate about the game and you could tell that he was going to start the season right. He was focused and was playing smart too. The local news channel, News10, played the game on TV with no commercials to show their support for the new franchise.

This is exactly what this city needed. Without the Kings I don’t know what Sacramento would be like and I don’t want to know. I love having the Kings here. This is their home and they aren’t going anywhere. This is going to be a good year and I can’t wait to see what else this season will bring us.

NBA Preseason 2013 – 5 Questions

In just under 2 weeks, the Chicago Bulls travel to Miami for the opening game of the NBA season, so it’s a good day to ease our way into the NBA season. Today will be light fare, a bacon wrapped scallop or two of NBA commentary. If you want to read any of my main course thoughts on team-building, Tim Donaghy and officiating, and a few other hoop related topics, please feel free to pig out.

We’ll get a little gimmicky for now. Here are five I wonder’s for the 2013-2014 NBA season:

  • I wonder how good the Chicago Bulls will be.

For me, the answer to this is “very damn good”. Either Brooklyn or Chicago is winning this year’s title, and if I had to wager money right now it’d be on the Bulls (at +1000 in case you’re wondering). They hit on so many of the things you need to win a title: a superstar who raises his game in big spots, a lockdown defense, a guy who can defend LeBron James, an elite coach, shooters off the bench.

The bigger advantage that this year’s Bulls have is the experience gained without Derrick Rose the past 18 months. Joakim Noah is now a franchise center rather than a role player and Jimmy Butler is now a lockdown defender at the 2. Noah’s rise should have every Bulls fan in America very excited to watch him and Rose together, and Butler can guard both Dwyane Wade and LeBron James better than just about anyone.

As always, this prediction (and all NBA predictions, really) is very injury-dependent. A little Noah plantar fasciitis, a re-aggravation of the Rose knee, or Luol Deng‘s 75 minutes a game catching up with him, and this season could go downhill fast.

It seems that anyone who has ever written about Rajon Rondo is required to use the word “mercurial” to describe him. For example, “Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett learned quickly how to work with their mercurial point guard, as opposed to Ray Allen who never really did.” I just made that up, but seriously, that sounds like a real quote, right?

Deron Williams is a better scorer in just about every way than Rondo, and he’s a physical beast. But the negative descriptions of him seem to go beyond mercurial all the way into “bad attitudinal”. Surely some of this flack is just sensational writers writing sensational things, but if you watched him play last year, you know that he’s at least bordering on that at times.

For Brooklyn to make a serious run at the title, Garnett and Pierce are going to have to be big parts of this team. If Williams makes it his priority to coalesce his teammates, this team will be very special. If he makes it his priority to get his, they will struggle under a coach without any experience.

I keep reading that Rondo’s getting dealt as soon as he proves his health, and that the albatross contract of Gerald Wallace will leave town along with him. I’m not so sure about this. I’ve written in the past about how special I think the Rondo / Brad Stevens relationship can be, and my bet is that Danny Ainge feels the same way. The real question is around how far the Celtics will go to get themselves Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, or Julius Randle. If Rondo is ready in December, and they want an honest shot at one of those guys, they’ve got to trade him.

  • I wonder who will be crowned Tank City 2014

Early leader in the clubhouse is Philadelphia. I love what that team’s done, and if I were a basketball loving fetus with no ties to any NBA city, I think Philly would be the smart choice for a favorite team. They are AWFUL.

You can read here for my opinions on franchise building, and the Sixers are doing it the right way, I think. They recognized that what they had was decent, but not title-worthy, so they blew it up and plan to stink for a year or two. But after that year or two, the plan is to build around Nerlens Noel (the consensus most talented player from the 2013 draft), Michael Carter-Williams, two very high picks in 2014, and a cadre of recent, high picks (Arnett Moultrie, Tony Wroten, even Royce White). This is the best bit of franchise building since the heyday of Red Auerbach.

  •  I wonder how Andrew Wiggins is going to look in Laker yellow 

Can’t we just assume that David Stern’s final devious move will be to send Andrew Wiggins to a huge market where he’ll play on national television all the time and make gobs of money for himself, his team, and the league? The Knicks and Nets will be too good to get that pick, the Celtics are way too unlucky (and a little too good) to snag the first pick, and the Bulls, Clippers, and Rockets are legitimate title contenders as they stand right now.

The freaking Lakers. This might end up being my final straw with the NBA. I’ve been able to overlook the shady officiating, the hero ball from 1995-2011, the WNBA, Carmelo Anthony, Charlie Villanueva, Ron Worldpeace, and all the other pock marks on the league. But this? A seamless transition from Kobe Bryant to another superstar? I don’t think I could take that.

Unless, of course, Brad Stevens and the new look Celtics are the real thing. Welcome to the season.