A Legacy of Consistency: Nick Collison

In every relationship there needs to be consistency.  In order for a relationship to flourish someone has to be intentionally consistent.  Now, consistency isn’t the most flashy thing to look for and may not be one of the first traits you think of when describing your dream significant other, but without it a relationship falls apart.  It’s the straw that stirs the drink. In basketball, consistency within a franchise or a player is not always the biggest attention getter. While important, it won’t garner many headlines.  Nick Collison is the embodiment of consistency. Putting himself on the grinder day after day knowing he won’t be getting any love on the next edition of SportsCenter. Nick Collison went to war with OKC on his chest every year since the team got here.  We never heard a complaint or a grumble, all we heard was the refs whistle as he drew yet another charge. He was the ultimate fan favorite who battled with Dirk, Zach Randolph, Pau Gasol and so many others while stepping up and taking on the dirty work each and every night.  Nick Collison became Mr. Thunder and the consistency he brought is gone.

Collison 2
Mark D. Smith – USA Today Sports

It’s been a few months since “The Old Man” announced his retirement and the thought of an OKC roster without him still feels unholy.  “The Old Man” is a term of endearment given to Commanding Officer William Adama by his crew in the popular show Battlestar Galactica. In the twilight of Collison’s career my father and I attributed this affectionate nickname onto one Nick Collison. The commanding officer of this team is gone now so to speak and the man who led with a cool confidence is no longer our face of consistency.  It will be impossible to gaze onto the Thunder bench next season and not feel a little empty at times knowing Mr. Thunder is no longer sitting there with his hair given to him by the basketball gods. When you feel this way just remember that while he is no longer physically on the court taking a charge or making a backdoor pass look sexy, his presence on the court is manifested by Russell Westbrook who called Nick Collison a mentor. He is seen in Steven Adams as well and every single one of his former teammates. Can we pause for a minute and remember how hilarious Collison was in those Stache Bros videos campaigning for a Russ MVP? Nick had a way of influencing every teammate he had with one thing he did better than everyone else.  He was consistent.

OKC felt a strong connection with Nick from the beginning.  Perhaps it was the way we felt drawn to a true unsung hero. Oklahomans feel underappreciated on a national scale all the time. His perfect hair played a major part of course as it sat upon his head with impunity.  Nick Collison made looking completely ordinary a cool thing, but most of all OKC fans appreciated his consistency. It was a trait he passed down to every teammate he played with. It was something this franchise will embody even now that he is gone because Nick Collison left a legacy and he will always be remembered as Mr. Thunder.

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Celebrating 17 Years of Tony Parker and the Spurs

Tony Parker

Before the 2001 NBA draft, future hall of famer Tony Parker was merely a skinny Parisian kid who was making some minor waves overseas. He was an unknown diamond in the rough.

At the time, former New York Times reporter Mike Wise predicted he was a chance to scrape into the first round of the draft, but nothing more. Standing at a meager 6-foot-1, Parker didn’t even start in his debut season for French club Paris Basket Racing. However, after earning the starting role and putting up 14.7 points and 5.6 assists per game. After the breakout year, the time was right for the 19-year-old to make the move stateside.

When the big night did arrive and the San Antonio Spurs did nab the Frenchman with the 28th pick, he was the typical giddy teenage soon-to-be millionaire basketball player.

“I’m excited, I’m happy. Playing with a good team, play with superstars, very exciting. Can’t wait to meet them and play with them” he said in his post-draft interview. 

Parker entered the Spurs fold at the ideal time, as incumbent point guard Avery Johnson bolted to Denver that summer, leaving the starting position wide open for head coach Gregg Popovich’s newest draft pick.

His maiden regular season in the big leagues wasn’t a mind-boggling one by any means, as he put up 9.2 points, 4.6 assists and 1.2 steals a night in the starting role. Although he did log the third highest minute total – behind legends Tim Duncan and David Robinson – on a team that won 58 games, which provided a crucial building block for the soon-to-be All-Star.

Parker used that stepping stone to explode in his first ever NBA playoffs. As we know now, it was a sign of things to come. San Antonio was eliminated in the second round by Kobe and Shaq’s Los Angeles Lakers, but Parker announced himself to the world, averaging 15.5 points and 4 assists while nailing 37 percent of his 3’s.

It was an awesome showing by the Parisian –  if the Big Fundamental, who was already a fully-fledged star, didn’t take much notice. As Parker explained to ESPN Los Angeles’ Dave McMenamin back in 2014.

“[Duncan] didn’t talk to me for a whole year. It was kind of weird coming from France and you have your superstar player that doesn’t talk to you as a point guard, it’s kind of tough, you know? Because you’re supposed to talk to everybody.” Parker said.

As Robinson’s star-studded career reached its twilight, Tony Parker – who only just snuck into the first round of the draft just a year earlier –  was already Popovich’s undisputed second fiddle. Still just a tender 20-years-old,  he carried his playoff momentum into his sophomore season, a campaign that ended with the first of four championship runs.

Now, Manu Ginobili had joined Parker and Duncan as the future of the organization, one that blossomed into the winningest in 21st-century hoops. By the 2004-05 season, the trio had just won their second NBA title, with Parker at the helm every step of the way. A year later, the skinny French kid was an All-Star for the first time.

Parker was averaging 18.9 points and 5.6 assists per outing, those shifty in-and-out dribbles, floaters and mid-range jumpers, up-and-under layups and crisp passes had become second nature for Spurs viewers, and so had winning games consistently.

The following season the Spurs capped off their third championship in six years, on the back of an all-time NBA Finals performance by the 24-year-old. Tony Parker played a hefty 37.8 minutes per night and put up 24.5 points, 5 rebounds and 3.3 assists, shooting a blistering 56.8 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from long-range, spring-boarding his squad to a finals sweep over Cleveland.

Six years after drafting him, Gregg Popovich stood on top of the world with his star point guard. In an interview with Reuters’ Steve Ginsberg, Pop explained what he told his point guard on the stage as the trophy presentation took place.

“I reminded him that when we gave him his first workout, we didn’t think he was tough enough and we sent him home,” Popovich said. “Then we set up another interview, another workout where we stacked it and had some people go after him physically and he was fantastic in that one.

“I reminded him of that and he had a big laugh. And I said, ‘Now you’re standing here on the stage with the finals MVP trophy,’ and he just kept laughing. He couldn’t believe it.” he said.

While the Spurs stayed relevant as ever for the next six seasons, that fourth championship ring eluded Parker and his usual band of talent. However, the wily guard continued to cement his resume as one of the best point guards to play the game. He averaged 18.8 points and 6.7 assists, featuring in three All-Star games and three All-NBA squads.

Tony Parker was in career-best personal form throughout those six seasons. He exploded on the Minnesota Timberwolves for a personal best 55 points in a 2008 tilt and posted a career-high 17 assists against New Orleans back in 2012. The personal accolades were coming in abundance, but there was one final title-winning run for that same kid who couldn’t even start for Paris Basket Racing back in France.

After falling at the last hurdle of a grueling seven-game series against LeBron James’ legendary Miami Heat in the 2013 Finals, Parker and the Spurs got their revenge in 2014. San Antonio slapped the Heat to the tune of a five-game series win, and the now 31-year-old was his usual productive self – pumping out 18 points and 4.6 assists per game while shooting a sizzling 41.6 percent from 3-point land throughout the series.

After that last outburst from the hall of famer,  it Father Time was slowly but surely catching up with him. However, like all of the best players, Parker quickly adjusted his game to remain effective for a few more years.

A career 32.6 percent 3-point shooter, he was never a high-volume shot taker from behind the arc (1.3 attempts per game), but he re-calibrated as the NBA as the NBA game evolved into a long-range game. Parker nailed 42.7 percent of his triples in 2014-15 and backed that up by hitting 41.5 percent in 2015-16.

Now, after his final two seasons in Texas failed to cover him in glory, Tony Parker will likely finish his all-time great career in Charlotte after signing a 2-year, $10 million deal this summer. Bringing an end to one of the most underrated but brilliant careers San Antonio – or the NBA in general – has ever seen.

Kudos Tony Parker, thank you for 17 years of magic.

 

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Kevin Durant’s Legacy

A philosopher’s guide to championships: How The Office, Curt Schilling and a track meet determine Kevin Durant’s legacy

Durant

The Lead in

When I was a freshman in college I played soccer for the Suffolk University men’s team. I was a goalkeeper, and somehow found my way into the starting lineup halfway through the season.

We were picked to finish 7th in our conference. Next thing I know, we’re playing for the conference title against one of the best D3 teams in the country. In my home state. 15 minutes from my hometown. In front of a 2,000 people. Friends. Family.

We won the title and I felt elated. I had won sports championships before, but this was different. I had beat the best competition that I had personally ever faced. I had never felt more like a champion.

So how does Kevin Durant fit into all of this? Stick with me, you’ll find out.

 

Two elite shooters, a podcast, and a twitter beef walk into a bar

Have you heard this one before? During an appearance on C.J. McCollum’s podcast, Kevin Durant and his host discussed the former MVP’s move to Golden State. In short, McCollum lightheartedly expressed his disdain for the move, and even more so the addition of DeMarcus Cousins.

KD fired back by saying that Portland doesn’t have a shot at the title anyways, inferring that even if the Trail Blazers landed Cousins in free agency, it wouldn’t have made a difference. Then this ensued.

Quick summary: C.J. McCollum called KD “soft” for joining a team who had A) just had the best regular season of all time and B) came back from a 1-3 deficit to beat Durant and his Thunder during the postseason. KD has historically taken offense to these barbs.

Is this the first time NBA players have expressed their feelings towards KD’s infamous free agency choice? No. I am positive players have talked privately about how Durant has made the league less competitive, or lowered a players’ chance of getting to the finals.

Nonetheless, Durant is a Finals MVP and two time world champion of the best professional basketball league in the world. Naturally, it is time for a specific question to unfold itself once again…

Are Kevin Durant’s titles worth less than other championships?

 

Principle 1 – the 100 yard dash

Imagine you are in high school again. You compete in the 100 yard sprint and have qualified for your State Finals. There you are, on the track and waiting for the gun to go off. You can win this thing.

And you do! Congratulations, you are the fastest sprinter in your state, a true champion of your event!

Now, imagine during that same summer, you are watching the Olympics. Usain Bolt is lining up to run the 100 yard dash. The gun goes off and he sprints. As majestic as he is powerful, Bolt wins the race and earns the title of fastest man in the world.

He is literally the best person in the world at running 100 yards.

Here we have it. Two champions. One champion won their State title race. The other won a World title race.

Imagine one more thing for me. You are at a restaurant. You tell a guy sitting next to you that you won your State title for the 100 yard dash. You look up and see Usain Bolt on TV, getting his gold medal for winning his respective 100 yard dash. You ask the guy sitting next to you: Who is the real 100 yard champion? Me, or Usain Bolt?

His response: Usain Bolt, of course. Now shut up and let me eat my chicken piccata.

What do we have? Two champions, but one champion. What? Let me rephrase it. Two champions of the same sport, but only one of them can call themselves the world’s best sprinter.

What’s my point? It’s simple.

Championships are weighted according to the talent in the tournament.

 

Principle 2 – Trivia night with The Office

Remember that episode on The Office where the gang goes out and crashes Oscar’s trivia night? For those who aren’t addicted to the show, here’s what happens.

The boss, Andy, is a thousand bucks or so short of hitting a company goal for the quarter. He decided to go to Oscar’s trivia night contest and see if he can win the money there. The whole office divides into teams, as to increase their odds of winning. There is a smart team, a backup smart team, and a team of dummies who simply want to drink and have fun. Long story short, the dummies end up winning trivia night!

So what the hell does this have to do with Kevin Durant, the Warriors, and winning NBA championships? I am glad you asked.

Oscar’s trivia league was socially reserved for the best and brightest. The league is a serious one, and at least a working knowledge of transcendentalist painters, French film noir, and the classic fideism versus hypercriticism debate, are all a must-have. In essence, the talent level in this league is elite.

Yet, the dummies were eligible to play. And they won. Now, pretend they were in a fictional, TV character trivia league. Our dummies from The Office play against Peter Griffin and his gang, Homer Simpson and his family, Will Smith and his Fresh Prince crew, and lastly, Walter White and the rest of the Breaking Bad cast.

But at the last second, right before trivia night starts, genius Walter White, child prodigy Lisa Simpson, and nerd Carlton Banks decide to join the dummies from The Office. Woah. That team just became stacked. The talent level in the trivia league didn’t change but, the talent dispersal did.

Before this change, there was no clear favorite to win the trivia night championship. Now, however, there is a sure favorite – the loaded Fresh Prince team. The league is still as talented as ever, but on the whole the teams are worse. Hmmm.

Back to Kevin Durant.

The year before KD went to Golden State, his Thunder met the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. They were up 3-1 in that series. They had the Warriors on the ropes during game 6 in Oklahoma, tied 101-101 with 2:00 minutes remaining. What happened? Klay Thompson had an historic shooting performance, going 11-18 from deep for the game while hitting 7 threes in the second half and 5 of them in the 4th quarter. It was a new postseason record for threes in a game.

In order to beat the Thunder, Klay Thompson had to literally rewrite the history books.

Fast forward a year. Durant is now on the Warriors. In fact, the Warriors start 4 All-stars, 3 total MVP awards, and by 2018 what will become 16 total All-NBA selections. They possess 2 of the top 3 shooters of all time, and one of the top 5 pure scorers of all time. In addition, the have a 6’5″ forward with a legitimate shot as going down as the best defender ever. Oh, and their bench is stacked, including a coach who played with Jordan, and 2x MVP Steve Nash doing consulting work for them.

Without question, the Warriors from 2016-now are the most talented team to ever exist. And I didn’t even mention Boogie…

Yet, the NBA has more talent within its league than ever. So, if Durant wins a title today, doesn’t it abide by principle 1 and actually help Durant’s legacy?

Nope.

Let’s check back in and see how our TV character trivia night is going. The intellectually dominant Fresh Prince crew is winning by a ton. In fact, it looks like they just won the tite. Wow. Congrats. Yet, they do not look ecstatic. Happy, but not the sense of blissful, everything-is-perfect, pure joy that comes usually comes with winning a ‘ship. The losers aren’t too down either. In fact, they’re more mad, if anything. Not mad that they lost, but mad that they never had a chance. Mad that there was no competition.

Despite a league with high-end talent, Walter White, Lisa Simpson, Carlton Banks and co. didn’t beat the best. They were the best. How can the best beat the best when they are the best? Confusing, but not not so confusing, if you know what I mean.

Okay Espo, what’s the principle here?

There is a difference between the talent you compete against, and the talent in the league.  If the best talent in the league is on your team, then who are you truly competing against? This principle sounds very close to principle 1, but they are as important as they are different.

Championships are weighted according to the talent you directly compete against.

 

Principle 3 – Curt Schilling and the ’04 Sox

Before he became an extreme right TV personality, Curt Schilling was a member of the drought-ending 2004 Boston Red Sox. He coined the team’s phrase, “Why not us.” Now allow me to explain why their series win over the Yankees (not even a title-winning series, but the ALCS) is the one of the greatest moments in sports history.

The season before, the Red Sox had a chance of going to the World Series and therefore ending a title drought that spanned over 8 decades. Yet, Aaron Boone decided to hit a series winning walk off homerun against Tim Wakefield (who I met in Martha’s Vineyard, really nice dude.) The next year, the Yankees stole A-Rod away from the Sox and went into the season with 8 potential Hall of Fame players. Yikes.

To make matters worse, Pedro Martinez famously called the Yankees his “daddy.” Oh no.

Flash forward to game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. It is the bottom of the 9th inning in Fenway Park. The whole ballpark knows Dave Roberts is going to try and steal second base against Jorge Posada. He does it anyways and is safe. Bill Mueller knocks in Roberts to tie the game. David Ortiz hits a walk off homer in extra innings and the greatest comeback in the history of sports began.

The Red Sox go onto win this series, and the World Series, and a bunch of idiots becomes one of the most beloved teams in sports while ending an 86 year title drought. Nuff said.

Alright Mr. Durant, what is the lesson here?

Timing matters. History matters. Context matters.

Indulge me by reading another hypothetical situation. Pretend you are LeBron James and you have to remove two of your three titles from history. Totally obliviated. No one remembers them, they only remember the one of your choosing. Which one do you pick?

Does LeBron go with title number one? Maybe. He beat an OKC team that was still too young to really win it all. But, it is his first title. I still say no, though. What about title number two? With the help of Ray Allen (UConn shoutout) LeBron beats a two-decade old Spurs dynasty and one of the best coaches to ever do it? Maybe, but I am not sold.

The obvious choice is that LeBron would keep the 2016 trophy. The title he won by being the first ever team to come back from a 1-3 deficit and win it all. The first title in Cleveland in over 50 years. Beating a team which had just won an NBA record 73 games and possessed a 2x MVP who was also the first unanimous MVP in NBA history, a team which had beat them the year before.

Yeah, he’s picking that one.

But LeBron isn’t just picking this title because it has sentimental value to him and his home state. He’s picking it because it was the toughest feat he has ever accomplished. This was his Mt. Everest. His Ivan Drago.

In others words, the 2016 title is worth more because it has more value.

Woah. Reread that. I’ll give you a second…

…Okay, are you back? Good to go?

Titles can change in value, although that does not mean LeBron now has 3.5 titles. Numeric value doesn’t change, but legacy-value changes. LeBron truthers can always say: Did Jordan ever come back 1-3 to beat a 73 win team with an MVP and bring the first title to his home state in 52 years?

That means something, right? Context matters. What is KD’s context?

In the most factual and objective way possible, Durant left a team that just blew a 3-1 lead in the WCF. Furthermore, he left a team loaded with talent, including a future MVP. He left his team to go to what may already be the most dominant dynasty in all of 21st Century American sport. He left his team to go to a team who were already title favorite the past two seasons and will be for the foreseeable future.

I’ll be even more blunt.

Kevin Durant joined an uber-talented, title winning team who many were fans were already starting to hate.

The rule here, Espo?

Championships are weighted by cultural habitat during the time of the title

 

So, how do I really feel?

We now know that while a championship never has a numerical value of more than one, it can still have a legacy-value of more than one. Paul Pierce only has one ring. Yet, he will be remembered as a better Celtic than Kevin McHale, who has three rings and beat their rival Lakers! Don’t be fooled, either. It is strictly Pierce’s ring which allows him to be in the top three greatest Celtics discussion.

What’s more impressive? Completing the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history to bring a title to your birth state, or joining an historically talented, record breaking team and beating Cleveland in the finals?

If you like to observe truth, then clearly LeBron’s title is more impressive. Oh, and what does impressive mean? Quite literally, it means “to evoke admiration.” And if we admire one title more than the other, shouldn’t it reflect in a player’s all-time legacy?

So here it all is. The three principles for establishing legacy through championships.

#1. Championships are weighted according to the talent in the tournament.

#2. Championships are weighted according to the talent you directly compete against.

#3. Championships are weighted by cultural habitat during the time of the title.

As of right now, people are torn about how to weight KD’s titles towards his legacy? Should we hate KD? Should we ease up a bit? My twitter poll doesn’t know what to do either.

https://twitter.com/MattEsposito_/status/1022303145572163584

But now you know the rules. Go and make your own judgement.

 

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Who is the next NBA Star to be Traded?

Kemba Walker

After the Kawhi Leonard trade that sent him to Toronto and DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio, the Thunder dumped Carmelo Anthony on the Hawks in order to lighten their luxury tax bill. With free agency for the most part behind us, teams will start revving up trade talks before training camp starts. The question is, now that Leonard has been dealt, who is the next star player to find himself in a new city.

 

Kevin Love

Possible trade partners: Blazers, Wizards, Pacers

Best trade offer: Love to the Blazers for Evan Turner, Anfernee Simons, future first-round pick (top 10 protected).

The Blazers are over the luxury tax and need to make a deep run in the playoffs to make it worth wild. The western conference has gotten stronger this offseason and the Blazers are being left behind. Adding Love, who grew up in Oregon, would give the Blazers a third star to pair with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Turner hasn’t been an ideal fit with Lillard and McCollum and has negative trade value. Pairing him with the high upside Simons and a first round draft pick should be enough to get the Cavaliers to trade away the 30 year old, injury prone Love.

Just because the Cavaliers recently signed Love to a contract extension, that doesn’t mean they won’t trade him if the right offer comes along. The extension is a win-win for Love and the Cavaliers. For Love, he has locked up an additional $120 million dollars. For the Cavaliers they have a star player on the roster long term if they choose to do a quick rebuilding. However, if the team struggles and they decide to take the long term rebuilding approach, a new team will like that Love is locked up through the 2022-2023 season. Assuming the Cavaliers trade Love, the Blazers can offer back a solid package. Turner has only two years left on his deal and is a good locker room guy. Simons is a 19 year old kid with some athleticism and upside to him, that should get plenty of minutes on a rebuilding team. The first round pick would give the Cavaliers another asset to help rebuild around Simons, Larry Nance Jr., and Collin Sexton.

Kevin Love
USA Today Sports

 

Kemba Walker

Possible trade partners: Knicks, Nets, Suns

Best trade offer: Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Frank Kaminsky to the Knicks for Joakim Noah, Kevin Knox, future first-round pick (top seven protected).

For the Knicks, this is the kind of move that pushes all the chips all in for a chance to make a run as the top team in the eastern conference starting in 2019. Finally being able to shed Noah’s contract for the 2019 offseason, the Knicks will have a projected $46 million dollars in cap space with the cap holds for Walker and Kristaps Porzingis. Both Lamb and Kaminsky are free agents after the season and should be renounced. The Knicks can use the cap space to add a third star in free agency and still have enough room left over to add another starting caliber player, then resign Walker and Porzingis using their bird rights. While giving up the first round pick and the promising Knox is a tough pill to swallow, getting rid of Noah’s $19.3 million dollar salary for the 2019-2020 season is critical.

Given all the bad contracts on their roster, the Hornets best course of action might be to trade Walker for young assets, bad contracts and rebuild long term. Taking back Noah’s contract isn’t ideal but they could work towards a buy out in order to save some money. Like Knox, Miles Bridges had an impressive summer league and looks like a future impact player. The Hornets would likely have two lottery picks next year to go along with Malik Monk, the 11th pick in the 2017 draft, Bridges and Knox that can help jump start their rebuilding process. The best part about this deal for the Hornets is it keeps them out of the luxury tax; which is critical for a rebuilding team.

 

Jimmy Butler

Possible trade partners: Lakers, Clippers, Knicks, Nets

Best trade offer: Butler to the Lakers for Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, future first-round pick (top three protected).

With the reports that Butler is frustrated with the young Wolves players and won’t resign with the team this coming offseason, they should look to move him for the right package. So, who wouldn’t love to play on the wing with LeBron James in Los Angeles. If the Wolves fear they will lose Butler next summer they could look to trade him for a younger player and an expiring contract given their long term cap issues. With both Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns up for contract extensions next season, the Wolves will be very deep in the luxury tax penalty in 2019. Caldwell-Pope is a 3&D guy who can help this season and is on an one year deal. Ball is only 20 and while his rookie season was a disappointment to some, maybe a change of scenery will help. For the Wolves, Butler didn’t really fit their long term plans while a trio of Ball, Towns and Andrew Wiggins (all 23 or younger) could turn into the next great big three.

Now the James is a Laker, the team’s mindset has totally changed. Ball is no longer the focal point of the team. The Lakers can finally have enough with LaVar Ball and ship Lonzo off to Minnesota much easier now; especially if it lands them a star player. Butler would be able to play off the ball better than Ball and guard the other team’s best player. The Lakers would now have two star players and several of their young players still on the roster, setting them up for a big summer in 2019 where they could add a third star.

Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns
USA Today Sports

 

Karl-Anthony Towns

Possible trade partners: Celtics

Best trade offer: Towns, Jeff Teague for Kyrie Irving, Aron Baynes, Robert Williams, Kings 2019 first-round pick (top one protected).

Reportedly, Butler wants to team up with Irving, his best friend, this offseason. Also reportedly, Butler has grown frustrated with the young Wolves players. If the Wolves want to keep Butler long term, getting Irving would certainly help. While giving up Towns is tough, the Wolves would get back two big men in the trade, a likely top five pick and the multi time all-star Irving. Baynes would provide some size and veteran leadership, while Williams is a raw and athletic 20 year old kid. If the Wolves can resign Butler and Irving next summer and add a nice prospect with the Kings 2019 first round pick, this trade will be a steal for them.

The report that Butler wants to team up with Irving next season has to be concerning for the Celtics as well. However, the Celtics won 55 games and went to the eastern conference finals last season despite Irving missing 22 games in the regular season and not playing a minute in the post season. The combination of Teague and Terry Rozier would give the Celtics solid enough production to replace Irving. The biggest factor for the Celtics is they would have control of Towns as he is a restricted free agent next season. The Celtics have struggled at times rebounding the ball when Al Horford is playing at center. Meanwhile, Towns’ has averaged 11.7 rebounds per game for his career. Lastly, Horford can become a free agent after the season and at 33 years old, the Celtics may not be so inclined to give him a long term deal at a big salary given they have to think about locking up Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum in the coming years.

 

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Toronto. Seriously? Yes, Toronto

Kawhi Leonard

Get your jokes in now and laugh while you can because the fiery curse surrounding the Toronto Raptors is about to be extinguished. In recent years they have been a laughingstock and the butt of many jokes because of their routine postseason collapses, but for the 2018-19 season the Toronto Raptors will reign supreme at the top of the food chain in the Eastern Conference.  The acquisitions made by the Raptors this off-season have made them more versatile, athletic and most importantly, more talented.

Many of you are thinking Boston is the clear favorite in the East or maybe even Philly, but it should be Toronto.  They are coming off a 59 win season while being the only team in the top five in both offensive and defensive rating.  Philly and Boston were both in the top five for defensive rating as well, but neither of these teams finished in the top 10 in offense. Toronto was the most balanced team in the NBA last regular season and upgraded into an even stronger monster this off-season.  

The acquisitions of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green will transform what is already an elite defense into an impregnable fortress. Adding the best perimeter defender in basketball to a team already 5th in defensive rating is incredible and Danny Green is a great defender in his own right. Wings like Leonard, Green, OG, Miles, and Powell, can guard multiple positions on the perimeter allowing the Raptors defense to be able to switch with ease.

DeRozan was a great player for this franchise, but if Kawhi Leonard buys in this season no one would deny he is a vast upgrade over DeRozan. He is a two time DPOY and Finals MVP that brings a tremendous level of playoff success to a team in desperate need of it.  A culture change was needed in Toronto and they went all in on that change this summer with the Kawhi trade and parting ways with long time head coach Dwane Casey. Next postseason, Toronto enters with three things they didn’t have last year. Their kryptonite is gone now that LeBron has moved to LA. No longer will we see the Raptors melt when that particular man walks into the room.  Second, the Raptors have a new culture. With a new head coach and new players being brought in, this Raptors team won’t have quite the same baggage as the teams of the past. And lastly, they will enter every series with that particular series’ best player. Having the best player in the series can make up for many deficiencies elsewhere and Toronto will already be the most efficient and well balanced team in their conference. With the move of LeBron, a culture change, and the best player, this is a team ready to ascend as the team to beat next year in the Eastern Conference.

 

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Bulls sign Rawle Alkins to a Two-Way Deal

Rawle Alkins

On July 22, Rawle Alkins and the Bulls agreed on a two-way contract, according Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports.

The sophomore guard out of Arizona didn’t hear his name called on draft night, but this didn’t stop him from putting on a solid performance during his Summer League stint with the Raptors. The former wildcat played in six games for the Raptors, and averaged 9.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. This includes a 25-point, 11-rebound game against the Hornets.

Alkins is a 6-foot-4 guard that is known for his athleticism and intensity. He measured in with a 6-foot-9 wingspan. This gives him the ability to guard multiple positions on the wing, which is what the Bulls are lacking. Alkins is an unselfish, energetic player that has already played a season with Lauri Markkanen during his freshman year of college. Every Arizona Wildcat fan knows that Alkins possesses the ability to sky up for a posterizer.

Weaknesses for the Brooklyn native include an unproven jumpshot. Alkins shot .359 from three point range in his second season at Arizona, and hasn’t shown any ability to be a playmaker. He also has the tendency to lose the ball in traffic. In late September of 2017, Alkins suffered a foot injury that sidelined him for 12 games of the college season.

This move seems to foreshadow that John Paxson and Gar Forman have decided to move on from guard David Nwaba, who the team rescinded earlier this month. Alkins will likely attempt to fill the same role that Nwaba played for the team this past season.

Signing Alkins adds good wing depth to a Bulls team that needs to be able to guard the modern NBA small forward. Expect to see him checking in to a few games during the course of the regular season, but Alkins will likely spend a lot of time in the G-League for the Windy City Bulls. If Alkins proves to be a solid perimeter defender at the NBA level, he definetely has the potential to earn minutes in Fred Hoiberg’s rotation.

 

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5 players who can bring ‘Showtime’ back to the Los Angeles Lakers

Kawhi Leonard Lakers

One would need unhealthy doses of both Magic Johnson’s beaming confidence and LaVar Ball’s unflappable optimism to claim with a straight face that the Los Angeles Lakers got everything they wanted this offseason.

Of course, LeBron James was the biggest piece of the Lakers’ plan for the immediate future, and the franchise was quick to get him under contract soon after free agency opened.

But it was no industry secret that the Lakers’ summer goals involved teaming LeBron with at least one more All-Star, be it Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins in free agency, or Kawhi Leonard or Damian Lillard in a trade. Some dream scenarios had the Lakers bringing in two stars to flank LeBron and creating an instant contender.

So far, however, the Lakers have failed to land any of those big-name targets. George decided to re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Cousins joined the Golden State Warriors. Leonard was traded to the Toronto Raptors, and the Lillard trade talks didn’t materialize into a deal.

Barring a surprise move, the Lakers will begin the 2018-19 season similar to how the Cleveland Cavaliers ended the 2017-18 season — with a roster that features LeBron leading a collection of youngsters and veteran role players.

No one outside of the Lakers’ front office knows exactly what the plan is moving forward, but the end-goal is obviously to contend for NBA titles. Which means competing with the Warriors. Which means having the offensive firepower to keep up with the Warriors. This means the Lakers may have to reach back into the archives and create a team that is reminiscent of their “Showtime” glory days from the 1980s.

And who better to build that team than Magic Johnson?

Whether it’s at the 2019 trade deadline or next summer’s free-agency period, there are some available players that can truly bring the “Showtime” element back to L.A.

 

5. Ricky Rubio

Word on the street is that LeBron wants to move away from playing de facto point guard, and it looks like the Lakers are trying to facilitate that by employing true playmakers like Lonzo Ball and Rajon Rondo.

As brilliant as he is at orchestrating an offense, it’s not a coincidence that Rondo has played on five teams in the past four seasons. He’s clashed with enough coaches and teammates that it seems no one is willing to commit more than one season to him despite his talent and his knack for stepping his game up in the playoffs.

If things go according to trend, Rondo won’t be with the Lakers after next season.

At the same time, Rubio will be a free agent after next season. And as I’ve written before, Lonzo Ball would be in pretty good shape if he were to put together a career using the Rubio and Rondo blueprint. (Jason Kidd would be the ceiling in that scenario.) So if the Lakers lose Rondo, bringing in Rubio would be the next best fit for that style of point guard.

Rubio is an incredible passer (7.9 assists per game in his career), a defensive playmaker (2.0 steals per game) and a good rebounder for his position (seven games last season of 10-plus rebounds). He and Ball, like Rondo and Ball, have similar skill sets, all the way down to their suspect jump shots.

Rubio currently has a nice gig in Utah as the starting point guard on a playoff team. But if he wants to be on a championship contender sooner than later, he might be willing to accept a lesser role in L.A.

4. DeAndre Jordan

During his last season in Cleveland, LeBron reportedly wanted the Cavaliers to make a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers for Jordan. It wasn’t difficult to see why.

Jordan is one of the more explosive athletes at his position in the league. He’s a three-time All-NBA pick, one-time All-Star, two-time All-Defensive pick and a two-time league leader in rebounds.

His offensive game doesn’t go far beyond catching lobs, getting putbacks and dunking the ball, but at least he knows what he can and can’t do and stays within his limitations. Jordan has led the league in field goal percentage five times — last season was the first time he hadn’t been No. 1 in that category since 2012 — and he is the NBA’s career leader (67.3 percent) in field goal shooting.

Surrounded by great passers like LeBron and Lonzo (and Rubio?), Jordan would thrive like he did when he played with Chris Paul in L.A.

Jordan left the Clippers this summer to sign a one-year deal with the Dallas Mavericks. He’ll be a free agent next summer. After coming up short in the playoffs so often in L.A., and being on a likely lottery team next season in Dallas, he may be another player interested in winning a title with the new-look Lakers.

3. Klay Thompson

One player who certainly has his share of championship rings but may have other priorities next summer that work in the Lakers’ favor is Klay Thompson.

The four-time All-Star shooting guard has won three NBA titles with the Warriors, and will be favored to add a fourth ring in 2019. After that, he’ll become a free agent.

Because he has previously been the No. 2 and now the No. 3 option with the Warriors, and perhaps because he’s been labeled by many as a shooting specialist rather than an all-around star, Thompson hasn’t been making superstar-level money. He’s not broke by any stretch — his salary is $18.9 million next season — but he hasn’t yet cracked that $20 million mark that often represents real superstardom in the league.

Klay is also an L.A. native whose father, Mychal Thompson, won championships with the Lakers in the 1980s. There may be a part of Klay that wants to wear the purple and gold for the hometown squad.

Klay won’t rise beyond being the No. 2 option in L.A. as long as LeBron is around, but he could get out of the No. 3 spot he’s currently in behind Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, if that means anything to him. Like De Andre Jordan, Thompson would benefit a lot from having passers like LeBron and Lonzo getting him the ball, and he could continue winning championships.

2. Jimmy Butler

While his game isn’t flashy like the style that the name “Showtime” brings to mind, Butler is simply a great all-around player who excels on both ends of the court that would make the Lakers a real title contender if he joined the team.

The 6-foot-7 wing achieved the NBA triumvirate of individual honors last season: He was named to the All-NBA, All-Star and All-Defensive teams for the Minnesota Timberwolves. But there have been reports that Butler isn’t happy in his current location, talk that only gained traction after he recently turned down a $100 million contract extension offer.

Butler has a player option that allows him to become a free agent in 2019. If he chooses that route, the Lakers should be among the teams pursuing him. Butler was a tough rival for LeBron when they were both in the Eastern Conference, so the two know each other’s games well.

Viewed as more grit than glamour on the court, Butler is nonetheless a versatile weapon (22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 2.0 steals per game last season) who is one of the game’s elite talents.

1. Kawhi Leonard

After LeBron, the Lakers’ top target this summer was Leonard. Of course, the hard part would be prying the two-time Defensive Player of the Year and 2014 NBA Finals MVP away from the San Antonio Spurs via trade, when it was widely reported that the Spurs really preferred not to deal with the Lakers.

Still, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Leonard would be headed to L.A. Not only had he burned his bridges in San Antonio and made it clear he didn’t want to be there anymore, but he’d also reportedly made it clear that he planned to sign with the Lakers as a free agent in 2019. That took away the incentive for a lot of teams to pursue a trade, if Leonard would be a one-year rental at best.

The Lakers still failed to get their man. The Spurs traded Leonard to the Toronto Raptors.

But that may turn out to be a good thing for the Lakers. In order to get Leonard this summer, L.A. would’ve had to trade some valuable pieces from their young core. To get Leonard next summer, L.A. just needs some room under the salary cap, which they should have.

Injuries (and a rumored disinterest in playing when he was healthy) caused Leonard to miss all but nine games last season. But when he’s at the top of his game, Leonard is one of the best players in the league. He finished in the top-3 of MVP voting in 2016 and 2017. In his last full season, he averaged 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game.

Like Butler, Leonard is not a flashy player. He’s just highly skilled, productive and tough. Which is what “Showtime” is really all about in the first place: Winning games and hanging banners. Leonard can help the Lakers get back to where they used to be.

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