NBA Offseason Grades: Pacific Division

gs warriors champs

Welcome to the final part of my 6 part series of NBA Offseason Grades! If you’ve been keeping up with series, I thank you for lending me your time and patience. If you’re just joining us now, well, better late than never!

For the newbies:

I’ve taken it upon myself to evaluate each team’s offseason transactions. I’ve given each team a letter grade based on whether or not I thought they made good moves considering their respective situations. This includes the draft, resigning period, free agency, trades, firings/hirings, and anything else I deem important. Most importantly, I answer the one pivotal question: Are they better?

I’ve unintentionally saved the most entertaining division for last, as today we discuss the Pacific Division. This division has given us so much in regards to entertainment value since June. We’ve seen a team make NBA history, free agency masquerading as a romantic comedy, the fall of an empire, and Vivek Ranadivé doing Vivek Ranadivé things!

This was awesome!

If you missed it:

Atlantic Division Grades

Southeast Division Grades

Central Division Grades

Northwest Division Grades

Southwest Division Grades

Key: 

  • (R): Rookie
  • (DnS): Draft-n-Stash – players drafted, but playing overseas next year
  • (D): Draft-n-Stash player joining the team
  • Bolded Names: Particularly notable players

And we start with our reigning Pacific Division/NBA Champions:

Golden State Warriors: A+

Re-signed: Leondro Barbosa, Draymond Green

Lost: Justin Holiday, Ognjen Kuzmic, David Lee

Acquired: Chris Babb, Jason Thompson, Gerald Wallace

Drafted: Kevon Looney

Other notable moves: N/A

What did they even do?

Exactly.

The disease of more* runs rampant through championship teams across all sports; and the presence of a salary cap keeps this concept a reality. Winning a championship was great, but the iron is hot. And once the team actually climbs the mountain, self goals often take over for team goals. Players want more money, more playing time, more recognition, a bigger role, etc. And so we see key cogs end up taking huge contracts from other teams and then they disappear, with their new money, into irrelevance; all while their former team struggles to defend their title.

*NOTE: “The disease of more” was coined by Don Pat Riley in his book “Showtime.”

Golden State’s team management were able to avoid the disease of more; at least during this offseason.

Of the 5 team free agents that Golden State needed to make a decision on, only 2 were regular rotation guys. Draymond Green may have gotten a huge raise (5-years/$82 million), but his value to the Warriors is actually fairly represented by his max contract; therefore, is exempt from this rule. And Leandro Barbosa (1-year/$2.5 million) is coming back on a very team-friendly deal.

The David Lee salary dump was a way for Golden State management to save money on the luxury tax. Lee is a solid player, but he really didn’t fit in Steve Kerr’s system anyway. He only played 904 minutes in 49 regular season games in 2014-15 (both career lows), and really only had a cup of coffee in the NBA Finals. Lee may be a good guy to have in your foxhole, but the Warriors certainly don’t need him to defend their title.

(Image from USA Today) Yup, the Warriors are bringing back everyone [who matters].

The drafting of Kevon Looney with the 30th pick sparked a little debate due to the prospect’s health issues (he had offseason hip surgery). This doesn’t worry the Warriors, though. They’re super deep and Looney is likely to ride the pine his rookie season anyway. However, he was expected to be a lottery pick before the report of his surgery surfaced the day of the draft. This makes Looney one of those low-risk/high-reward draft picks. And considering the personnel that the Warriors are boasting next season, they’ll have time to wait on Looney.

So management did their part in avoiding the disease of more. The Warriors will be bringing back just about everyone who mattered on an NBA championship team that boasted one of the 4 best regular seasons of all time. Golden State was right not to tinker with the roster. In this case, less is more. And now we’ll wait and see if Steve Kerr can keep the disease of more at bay during the regular season.

The Warriors may not have gotten better from a personnel standpoint; but they’re still a super deep team with championship experience and arguably the hardest home court for opponents to play on. The Spurs may have won the offseason, but the Warriors are still the champions. And like the Nature Boy Ric Flair once said, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.”

Are they better?: No (But dammit they’re still good).

Los Angeles Clippers:  F-   A

Re-signed: DeAndre Jordan, Austin Rivers

Lost: Matt Barnes, Glenn Davis, Jordan Hamilton, Spencer Hawes, Lester Hudson, Dahntay Jones, Hedo Turkoglu, Ekpe Udoh

Acquired: Cole Aldrich, Branden Dawson (R), Chuck Hayes, Wesley Johnson, Paul Pierce, Pablo Prigioni, Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson

Drafted: N/A

Other notable moves: N/A

DeAndre Jordan was rumored to want a larger role than one he was receiving with the Clippers. Perhaps to finally have an offense built around him. ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz reported that DJ also grew tiresome of his relationship with Chris Paul , saying:

He [DJ] was tired of Paul’s constant barking and petty gestures, like distributing high-fives to the three other guys on the floor following a timeout but somehow freezing out Jordan.

And so on July 3rd, DJ agreed (in principle) to sign a 4-year/$80 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks.

A few days later in an interview with Bleacher Report Radio , JJ Redick gave the Los Angeles Clippers his own grade on how they handled their offseason to that point. Keep in mind JJ Redick is still under contract with the Clippers for 2 more years…

Is there an F-minus?

Listen, we had one priority this summer and that was to re-sign DJ and we missed out on that, so barring some miracle, [the] makeup of our team is completely different now. He’s such an integral part of what we did, not just defensively but offensively with his screening, his rolling, his offensive rebounds. His presence down low essentially made teams either commit to the three-point line when Blake [Griffin] or Chris [Paul] penetrated or commit to him, and that either opened up lobs for him or threes for guys like me and Jamal [Crawford] and Matt [Barnes].

So he was a huge part of what we did and missing out and having him leave for Dallas gives us a failing grade.

Yes JJ, I make up the rules for this article, so there is such thing as an ‘F-.’

But on the last day of the free agent moratorium, team owner Steve Balmer, Head Coach Doc Rivers, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, JJ Redick, and Paul Pierce organized a special ops mission to bring DJ back to the Clippers on a long-term deal. They literally infiltrated his house in Houston, Texas, with the intent of locking DJ inside his house until he agreed to sign a contract. They hashed out their differences, and then they played cards until midnight when DJ was able to officially sign a 4-year/$87 million deal to stay in Los Angeles.

It was an emojional day…

with a few laughs…

and some hurt feelings.

It was the most entertaining offseason day in NBA history.

Getting DJ back puts the Clips in good standing grade-wise. I roasted the Mavericks for even trying to sign DJ; so why would I applaud the Clips for going to such lengths to woo their center back?

It’s simple, the Clippers needed DJ to stay.

DJ is actually a perfect fit with the Clippers, his overpaid price tag be damned. He’s the third best player on a contender (ideal role), CP3 and Blake Griffin are running the offense and are very good passers, DJ is the best pick-and-roll finisher in the NBA, and he anchors the defense.

Obviously I was alluding to the fact that I don’t think he’s worth the $21 million+ per year, but it’s not like the Clippers could parlay that money into other players. The Clippers were already over the salary cap before the DJ contract, and the only reason they could pay him big money in the first place was because they owned his Bird Rights. If they lost DJ, they’re not getting anyone else who can replicate what he does for this team; at least not in free agency.

Last post-season the Clippers beat the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs in a 7-game first round series, and were 1 win away from making it to the WCF. Their starting point guard/league’s best point guard turned 30 in May and is entering year 11 of his career (history suggests he will begin to drop off this year or next), and Blake Griffin is just entering his prime. It’s simple, the Clippers are in win-now mode, and the way they went after DJ during the moratorium confirms that notion. DJ walks, and the Clippers are wasting next season.

The Clippers’ Achilles heal in the playoffs last year was their lack of depth. As I mentioned earlier they didn’t have much in the way of cap room, either. General Manager Doc Rivers turned chicken crap into a half-way decent chicken salad by acquiring depth through means of trades, trade exceptions, and minimum contracts.

They traded Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes to the Charlotte Hornets for the notorious headache that is Lance Stephenson. Stephenson was a triple-double machine 2 years ago in Indiana, but played his way out of the starting line-up in Charlotte via his 38-17-63 shooting splits and just all around bad attitude. I don’t love the risk of bringing in Lance just because of his tendency to rub people the wrong way; but he’s coming into a situation where there’s strong leadership in both the locker room and organization, and he stands a better chance of being kept in check. I can justify the risk given these circumstances. Good move.

The Clippers will miss Matt Barnes’ toughness, his ability to defend multiple positions, and his ability to hit the 3; but the Clips were able to replace Barnes when they signed Paul Pierce to a 3-year/$10 million deal via the tax-payer’s mid-level exception. Pierce brings the same package to the table as Barnes did, plus a proven leadership presence. Pierce is also a native of Los Angeles and won a championship with Coach Rivers in Boston in 2008, so there’s also a little bit of a full circle narrative in relation to this signing. But hey, Pierce is a guy you want in your foxhole.

Doc also managed to pry Josh Smith away from a Western Conference rival despite only being able to offer a minimum contract. Smith is an 11 year veteran who showed a lot of value coming off the bench for the Rockets in the second half of last season; which instantly makes him an upgrade over the 87 year old Hedo Turkoglu. And I imagine the 14 4th quarter points that Smith threw down against the Clips in game 6 to save the Rockets’ season had a little something to do with this signing, as well. But that’s none of my business.

And the Clips also managed to bring in Cole Aldrich, Chuck Hayes, Wesley Johnson, and Pablo Prigioni to beef up the end of their bench. Solid role players at good prices.

Seems like Doc is getting better at this Coach/GM thing.

Are they better?: Yes.

Phoenix Suns: C-

Re-signed: Brandon Knight 

Lost: Earl Barron, Reggie Bullock, Gerald Green, Andrew Harrison (R), Jerel McNeal, Marcus Morris, Marcus Thornton, Brandan Wright

Acquired: Tyson Chandler, Jon Leuer, Ronnie Price, Mirza Teletovic, Sonny Weems

Drafted: Devin Booker

Other notable moves: N/A

I haven’t had a good grip on the Phoenix Suns’ game plan ever since they traded for Isaiah Thomas in 2014 when they already boasted a Goran Dragic/Eric Bledsoe back court; then essentially traded Dragic, Thomas, the Lakers’ top-5 (now top-3) protected first round pick + spare parts for Brandon Knight.

I can’t base this summer’s Suns grade on what happened in past years, but its worth noting I have no idea what’s going on in Phoenix.

Anyway…

The Suns kicked off free agency by signing Brandon Knight to a 5-year/$70 million deal. I personally like Brandon Knight as an all around player, and I think he gets unfairly lambasted based solely on the amount of times he’s landed on the wrong side of a YouTube clip . But he’s a versatile combo guard who does a lot of things well. For some reason his stats dropped after the trade to Phoenix. Granted the sample size was small (11 games in Phoenix compared to 52 in Milwaukee), so it is possible he may have struggled adjusting to a new system on the fly.

(Image from USA Today) With Phoenix committing to Brandon Knight long-term, could Eric Bledsoe be the next Sun to go?

That being said, the Suns went about this all wrong.

Knight was a restricted free agent and the Suns came in with a massive deal in hand without letting the market decide his value. That’s a big no-no when it comes to restricted free agency, unless the player’s name is Kawhi Leonard or Anthony Davis of course.

They would have been better off letting him find a deal in free agency and just matching it. Sure, they may have ended up overpaying him to stick around anyway, but it beats overpaying the guy when the only team you’re competing against is yourself.

The Suns also brought in Tyson Chandler on a 4-year/$52 million contract. He’s obviously being brought in to anchor the defense and serve as a positive veteran leader with championship pedigree; which is good. I imagine Dallas would bring him back if they had a mulligan on free agency. The drawback is that Chandler turns 33 in October, has 14 seasons under his belt, and has had trouble staying healthy his whole career. It’s an alright pick-up at a fairly steep price. I can’t imagine that contract ages well, either.

The Suns also traded Marcus Morris (the lesser twin), and let Brandan Wright and Gerald Green walk in free agency. Mirza Teletovic is a nice pick-up as a floor spacer on the cheap; but other than him, the Suns brought in a cast of role players to fill in the blanks.

I liked the decision to draft Devin Booker at number 13. Booker was arguably the best shooter in his draft class, and should develop nicely in Phoenix’s pace-and-space system.

It’s obvious LaMarcus Aldridge was the apple of Phoenix’s eye this offseason. But LMA chose the San Antonio Spurs, and it appears the Suns didn’t have a contingency plan in case that scenario occurred. So now they find themselves in a situation with no star player and no real direction to go in next season.

The Suns went 39-43 last season (10-17 post trade deadline). Given whom they let walk and whom they brought in, I can’t say that the Suns are better than where they were April 15th. Jeff Hornacek is an under-rated coach who’s been really good at bringing out the best in his players; but even he has his work cut out for him this year in the loaded Western Conference.

I don’t really know where the Suns go from here; but it’s certainly not up.

Are they better?: No.

Sacramento Kings: F

Re-signed:  Omri Casspi

Lost: Reggie Evans, Ryan Hollins, Carl Landry, Ray McCallum, Andre Miller, Eric Moreland, Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson, Derrick Williams

Acquired: Quincy Acy, James Anderson, Marco Belinelli, Caron Butler, Seth Curry, Duje Dukan (R), Kosta Koufos, Rajon Rondo

Drafted: Willie Cauley-Stein

Other notable moves: N/A

Congratulations, Sacramento Kings! You just took the Most Dysfunctional Organization in the NBA title belt away from the New York Knicks!

Where do I even start?

How about allowing your 3rd head coach in 1 calendar year the opportunity to alienate your franchise center? Then let said head coach keep his job after he publicly looked to trade said franchise center? Yes, DeMarcus Cousins has 3 years left on one of the best bargain contracts in the league; but there’s no chance in Hell he’s sticking around Sac-Town after the 2018 season.

Or how about paying the Philadelphia 76ers a package of Nik Stauskas (2014 – Round 1, Pick 8), a future 1st round pick, and the right to swap picks in 2 future drafts just to take on Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, and their combined $26 million+ salaries over the next 2-3 seasons?

Yes, this trade actually happened.

Forget the fact that they could have used the stretch provision to buy out Carl Landry. Why wouldn’t they just offer this trade to Denver for the right to Ty Lawson? After all, Denver basically ended giving away Lawson to the Houston Rockets following his 2nd DUI of the past year. This would have ultimately been a win-win for both the Kings and the Nuggets had it come to fruition. Instead, Denver dumped Lawson for spare parts and a late first round pick, the Rockets solidified their spot as a contender, the 76ers (briefly) looked like the smartest team in the room, and the Kings ended up tossing their future draft picks away and overpaying for a point guard who’s best years were left behind in 2013.

Speaking of which…

Go ahead and add a 1-year/$10 million contract for Rajon Rondo to Sacramento’s dumpster fire. In case you missed it, last season the Mavericks bet the farm on a Rondo resurgence in the hopes that he would be the missing link to a championship team. Instead, Rondo butt heads with Head Coach Rick Carlisle and played his way out of the rotation in the playoffs. Rondo threw away any leverage he had in a big money contract in free agency, and then the Kings gave him a $10 million deal when no one else even wanted him.

Yes, Boogie Cousins and Rondo will play for a team coached by George Karl. This instantly makes the Kings a must-watch NBA League Pass team. Not for the games themselves; rather for the comedy. Boogie, Rondo, and Karl could end up choking each other out on any given night! No seriously, its going to be Survivor: Sacramento Kings in 2015-16.

A couple other moves I’m not a huge fan of:
1.) Kosta Koufos – 4-years/$33 million. Bleh.
2.) Drafting Willie Cauley-Stein with the 6th overall pick; passing on Emmanuel Mudiay (7), Stanley Johnson (8), and Justise Winslow (10). I love WCS as a prospect; but the last thing the Kings needed was another center. There were better options at number 6, even if they planned on trading Boogie.

I’ll close with this. Pardon me while I borrow/touch-up a quote from Billy Madison that I think correctly reflects the Sacramento Kings’ offseason:

[Sacramento Kings], what you’ve just [done this offseason] is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever [seen]. At no point in your [embarrassing], [franchise debilitating moves] were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational [plan]. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having [witnessed] it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Original Version!

Are they better?: No.

Los Angeles Lakers: D

Re-signed: N/A

Lost: Vander Blue, Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis, Wayne Ellington, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, Jeremy Lin, Ronnie Price

Acquired: Brandon Bass, Michael Frazier (R), Jonathan Holmes (R), Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams

Drafted: D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance, Jr., Anthony Brown,

Other notable moves: N/A

This summer we witnessed the end of an era. Sure, the Lakers haven’t won a championship since 2010, and they last made the playoffs in 2013. But I’m not talking about wins and losses. Down years happen to just about every franchise, and the presence of a salary cap has made it especially difficult to maintain dominance over consecutive years.

Instead, I’m referencing the aura and the mystique that once upon a time surrounded the Lakers franchise. 16 championships, a big market, an LA lifestyle, establishing a legacy; what star player wouldn’t be drawn to these elements? Especially if the money was equal.

After all, good things would just happen to the Lakers throughout NBA history. Stars like Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal would just fall onto their laps.

But not this time. There was no LaMarcus Aldridge; nor Greg Monroe. Instead their was Brandon Bass and Roy Hibbert.

It’s not just failing to get a star, it’s why they didn’t get a star. Aldridge sat down with the Lakers twice, where they pitched branding, young pieces, and the opportunity to play with Kobe Bryant; but LMA was turned off by LA’s old-fashioned style of play. And he had no interest in being the Pau Gasol to his Kobe Bryant.

Meanwhile Greg Monroe turned down both the Lakers and the Knicks to play for the small-market Milwaukee Bucks because he believed they had the best chance of winning.

It was a bigger loss for the Lakers than it was for the Knicks. The Knicks have sucked for the better part of the last 15 years, and have swung-and-missed on a number of premier free agents. The Lakers aren’t used to this. This uncharted waters.

This summer was one of the last chances for the Lakers to extend Kobe’s career by adding another star, and yet it ended horribly.

I mean, the sum of the parts gained is actually fairly better than the parts lost. Brandon Bass cancels out the loss of Ed Davis, but Roy Hibbert finally gives the Lakers a rim protector. Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams is a good pick-up assuming the Lakers keep him in that role and not try to shoe-horn him into the starting line-up with Kobe.

I also LOVE D’Angelo Russell as a prospect. But even D’Angelo drew the ire of Lakers Nation when he had the cajones to call Tracy McGrady the GOAT when one Kobe Bryant is on his team. Take a lap, young fella.

The Los Angeles Lakers now find themselves (temporarirly) stripped of their competitive advantages. Now they are forced to rebuild the old fashioned way like the rest of the teams in NBA: through draft picks and smart business decisions. Truth be told, it’s not the worst way to rebuild in this league. But this was not the gameplan GM Mitch Kupchak drew up. So this is going to cost them.

Are they better?: Yes.


 

 

6 divisions and 30 NBA teams later, and we’ve have completed the NBA Offseason Grades series! I’ll revisit these grades somewhere around the all-star break just to see where each team stands and see how accurate each representation was. Only 7 more weeks until opening night!

Thank you very much to basketball-reference.com , espn.go.com/nba , and hoopshype.com for the stats and information used in this article.

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Lakers Fans Celebrate For Now

The Los Angeles Lakers got their first win of the season as they beat the Brooklyn Nets 104-98 on Friday night. Kobe Bryant had 18 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists.

Bryant finally made it out of his slump after losing four straight games. He even sat out one of those games. We all saw how he was playing.

It got pretty bad.

It was just a few days ago people were saying Bryant has lost “it.” Perhaps his own biggest critic, even Bryant himself noticed.

“I’m the 200th best player in the league, Bryant said after losing to the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday. “I freaking suck.”

Let’s not forget that the Black Mamba is 37-years-old and he can’t do what he did ten years ago. Some of the best players to ever play basketball have a bad night.

That’s when the supporting cast is supposed to make up for it.

These first few games can’t erase history and what Bryant has done for the game. What else does he have to prove?

He’s a five-time NBA champion and two-time NBA Finals MVP. Bryant is also No.3 on the NBA all-time scoring list , behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. With 32,545 points Bryant is one spot ahead of Michael Jordan, according to ESPN.

Bryant also set another record by entering his 20th season with the Lakers, the most years a player has been with a team.

In the event Bryant is off rhythm and just can’t make a shot, these are the players that need to step it up.

D’Angelo Russell, 19

Russell was the 2nd overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft selected by the Lakers. He had 16 points, 4 rebounds and 3 steals against the Nets. It’s too soon to tell whether Russell will be a bang or bust, but he has a solid start.

Career Stats

FG%: .400

PPG: 8.5

APG: 2.8

RPG: 2.5

Julius Randle, 20

Randle was the 7th overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft selected by the Lakers. Last year Randle broke his leg in the first game of the season against the Houston Rockets. He missed the remainder of the season. We never got to see what he could do, until now.

Career Stats

FG%: .467

PPG: 12.0

APG: 2.0

RPG: 6.7

Jordan Clarkson, 23

Clarkson was the 46th overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft selected by the Washington Wizards. After being traded to the Lakers he spent some time in the D-League before establishing himself as a starter with the Lakers.

Career Stats

FG%: .458

PPG: 12.4

APG: 3.4

RPG: 3.2

The majority of the Lakers are young and they will have to put in work. We don’t know when Bryant will retire but when he does, maybe one of these guys will emerge as the face of the franchise.

For the moment the Lakers can enjoy this victory because the Black Mamba is back. Who knows if Bryant will win another championship, but we’ll keep watching.

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Old Versus Older, One Versus Two

 

The Minnesota Timberwolves will kick off their 27th NBA season October 28th at Staples Center against the Los Angeles Lakers. This will be the second year in a row that the Wolves open up on the road after playing opening night at home for 13 straight seasons. The game will feature two NBA legends, well past their prime, in Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant. These future Hall of Famers are great, but on opening night the focus will not be on them. We all know, the Timberwolves and Lakers went One, Two in this years draft. With those picks, they chose Karl-Anthony Towns and D’angelo Russell, respectively. On the opening game of the season, that’s whose eyes everyone will be fixed on, no the two former All-Stars.

Garnett and Bryant with laser focus defending one another. Photo courtesy of basket4us.com

D’angelo Russell, the explosive, potential super star point guard out of Ohio St, joins A Lakers team that won only five more games than the Timberwolves last season. The Lakers are hoping they were able to salvage their offseason with some notable pick ups, no thanks to Kobe’s recruiting skills. The Lakers acquired reigning 6th man of the year, Lou Williams, and veteran power forward, Brandon Bass, in this years free agency market. Bass brings veteran leadership with him, and should be able to invoke hustle into this young Lakers core. With Nick Young on his game, assuming that he stays in LA, the combo of him and Williams creates a deadly shooting duo. In 25.2 minutes per game, Williams averaged 15.5 PPG on 40.4% shooting(espn.go.com) . Williams also averaged 2.1 APG and 1.9 RPG(espn.go.com) .

The Lakers also traded for former Indiana Pacers big man, Roy Hibbert. He was quite the bargain as the Lakers only gave up their two second round picks to acquire him. The Lakers did have to take a financial as they  have to give up 15 million of their 23 million dollar salary cap to accommodate Hibbert’s salary. The Lakers should have a fairly decent starting line up come opening night ,if the projections stay true. They should have a decent bench depth as well with the acquisitions of Williams and Bass. Come opening day, I project a starting line up of Jordan Clarkson, Russell, Bryant, Julius Randle, and Hibbert taking the court for the opening tip off, should be marked a improvement from last year.

The Minnesota Timberwolves. 16-66 last season, hope to write a different script for their season as well. They ranked last in the league in Opponents Points Per Game last season at 106.5, and last in three pointers taken(14.9) and three pointers made(5)according to teamrankings.com . These numbers will not be replicated this season according to Timberwolves Head Coach, Flip Saunders. In a recent and triumphant return to twitter, Saunders stated he loves three pointers,   despite the fact the statistics don’t support his tweet. One can only assume now that Saunders’ young “timberpups” will have a little more freedom to take that downtown shot. 

Outside of resigning Kevin Garnett, the Wolves added two veteran players in Andre Miller and Tayshaun Prince. Saunders must think he’s apart of the Jedi Order bringing in these veteran mentors to help train and lead his plethora of younglings. With the additions of Prince and Miller, the Wolves are now two players over the roster limit. Look for Anthony Bennett, Lorenzo Brown, and Damjan Rudez to be either waved or traded in the upcoming weeks. The Timberwolves have finally brought over reining Euro League MVP Nemanja Bjelica, who they hope will be a key front court addition. Answering the Lakers Starting line up come opening night I predict the Timberwolves will be going with Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Garnett, and Towns. So as the ref tosses the rock in the air for the opening tip on October 28th, you have old versus older, and one versus two. How well the old impacts the young, just might be the deciding factor in this “don’t miss” opening tilt.


MLB Authentic Collection 59Fifty Cap


There's more than one way to SKIN a laptop!

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Bryant’s optimism not as misguided as you might think

(photo from www.variety.com)

Kobe Bryant made headlines last week by proclaiming his Lakers could be good enough to make the playoffs this year. The Lakers were atrocious last year, finishing second from the bottom in the West due to a rash of injuries, but mostly due to a roster that was better fit for the D-League.

And yet, Lakers’ pride has reason to exhale. This year’s team will look nothing like last year’s concoction of misfits. Jeremy Lin, Jordan Hill, Ed Davis, Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Price, Wesley Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Xavier Henry are gone. Mitch Kupchak and the rest of Lakers’ brass were extremely active this offseason, desperately trying to build a contender in what may be #24’s swan song season.

They didn’t reel in a big fish free agent that Laker fans had hoped for. LaMarcus Aldridge nearly chose LA, having met with Lakers’ officials twice before ultimately succumbing to a realistic shot at a title and becoming the heir apparent to Tim Duncan in San Antonio. Instead, they acquired Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams and Brandon Bass, additions that don’t make the purple and gold sudden championship contenders by any stretch of the imagination, but a solid trio nonetheless. Hibbert provides a much needed presence beneath the rim while Williams and Bass will add more scoring options to a team that is too reliant on one player to shoulder the load offensively.

Third overall draft pick D’Angelo Russell is probably the team’s most intriguing offseason addition. Russell, combined with an already promising guard in Jordan Clarkson, make the backcourt in LA a very young and talented one. It will be interesting to watch how Russell adjusts to pro ball. Unlike many rookie guards, the lefty has a smooth touch from the perimeter. Jump shooting is one of his strengths and his ability to finish at the rim shouldn’t be overlooked. And while he isn’t the most explosive player, his backcourt mate may be the Lakers’ most athletic player. At 6’4″ Clarkson entertained audiences throughout his rookie campaign with a litany of highlight reel plays. His length, to go along with that of Russell, could prove to be an under-the-radar weapon in LA.

But as has been the case the last few years, the health of Kobe Bryant remains paramount. If the Black Mamba can stay healthy, the Lakers have a chance to live up to his optimistic outlook. With a solid batch of offseason reinforcements and youthful promise abound, Laker fans can exhale.

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Drafting For Fit Among Lottery Teams — Top 5 Edition

(Photo from 345sixers.wordpress.com)

Opinions have long been divided when it comes to the NBA draft–is it better to draft based on need or talent? More often than not, the teams picking highest have biggest void of talent, which swings sentiment more towards the latter camp, as any chance of getting that elusive superstar is worth risking a positional imbalance. But since it’s April and the Knicks have already broken the franchise record for incompetence, I’m going to go the other way and take a look at which incoming rookie would be the best fit for each lotto team. This section will be about the Top Five Picks.

(Rankings as of April 2nd)

Top 5:

1. New York Tankerbockers– Jahlil Okafor

I’m of the opinion that should the Knicks’ season of disgrace and misery be rewarded with the first pick, they should grab and then spend whatever money necessary on the development of Karl-Anthony Towns, who could be an absolute monster in coming years. But that’s not the point of this exercise. Truth be told, the Knicks are in a scramble to maximize the mega-contract just doled out to Carmelo Anthony, and to do that, they need scorers who can take the load off of Melo’s tired knees. Okafor will be able to come in and immediately make an impact on that end, even if Towns might have the better overall career when the day is through. Classic Knicks panic move, but it’s hard to argue with the big Dukie’s production .

2. Minnesota Timberpups–Karl-Anthony Towns

Flip Saunders has made it clear that he values long athletes that can defend multiple positions–Wiggins, LaVine, and Shabazz Muhammad (having a breakout year before injuries tabled him) all are examples of that. They also have a center shooting under 44% in the paint (per Vorped.com) and slowly crumbling from the feet up (poor Pek. It’s hard not to love the guy ). Sliding Towns into the five spot would allow Gorgui Dieng (who has shown flashes, but needs to become much more consistent) to more over to the four, where he will have a slight speed disadvantage, but should be better equipped overall defensively. If Rubio can stay healthy, that’s an exciting young core that could become one of the best defense and fastbreak teams in the league in coming years.

3. Philadelphia Tankertysixers–D’Angelo Russell

Mudiay certainly fits the Sixers’ recent draft history, as yet another long athlete who can’t really shoot. But Hinkie already failed with that experiment once, and it seems like Russell, with his passing artistry, smooth outside shot, and overall versatility, could be exactly what they need. Of course, if one of the top big men get hurt before Draft Night, look for Hinkie to be there, nodding and smiling to himself in demonic glee.

4. Los Angeles Lakers–Emmanuel Mudiay

Alright, I’m tired of team puns. I’m sure you are too. Let’s move on.

The Lakers seem to have found something in second-round pick Jordan Clarkson, who should be getting more attention than he currently is, but having two athletic, big guards (Clarkson is 6’4, Mudiay 6’5) with a knack for distribution should only make them better. Kobe has already taken to mentoring his young backcourtmate, and could help instill Mudiay with the fundamentals he missed out on while playing professionally in China.

P.S. I really hope this pick ends up going to Philadelphia. Not because I want Philly to be rewarded for what they’re doing, but just because I don’t like the Lakers and think it would be funny.

5. Orlando Magic–Justise Winslow

Orlando has two positions of need, depending on what they end up doing with Tobias Harris, a restricted free agent this summer: small forward and power forward. It’s tempting to say that they should bring back Harris and try to draft a PF that could bring some defense and spacing (cough*Kristap *cough) to help out Vucevic, but after watching Winslow put Duke on his back during the tournament, I want to see him playing next to Oladipo and Payton. That, in a few years, could be the best 1-2-3 defensive combination in the league, and Winslow seems to offer enough shooting to space a painfully crowded halfcourt. Plus, that hair ! Winslow and Payton have great hair individually –together, that hair could run for office and I’d vote for it over Ted Cruz.

 

 

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Mudiay to Save the Day

(Image from USA Today)

The month of March in the NBA. The dog days of the mid-season stretch are over. Each game starts to mean a little more with each passing day; and if you’re fortunate, your favorite team is still playing for a playoff spot. However, even some of the most extreme NBA-Heads will concede that March belongs to Division 1 Men’s Basketball, as its NCAA Tournament is arguably the most exciting three weeks in American sports. Some NBA fans will use this period as a break from the 82 game marathon; maybe to cheer for their Alma Mater, or dare I say maybe they filled out a bracket for a chance to win a few extra dollars and office bragging rights. But if you’re NBA team’s season is as busted as your bracket, then maybe you find yourself looking closely at the amateur talent pool; licking your chops as you watch the likes of Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns, and D’Angelo Russell beef up their draft stock. While the most polarizing prospects will be competing in March Madness, perhaps the most intriguing draft prospect is someone who chose the road less taken to the Association; someone who elected to not become a household name in the month of March. This prospect’s name is Emmanuel Mudiay.

As reported by Corbett Smith of the Dallas Morning News , Emmanuel Mudiay was born in Kinshasa, Zaire, better known today as the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Tragedy struck early in his life, as his father passed away when Emmanuel was just a toddler, leaving his mother, Therese Kabeya, to raise him and his two older brothers, Stephane and Jean-Micheal, on her own.

In the ensuing months, rebels overthrew the existing government, resulting in political violence on the streets of Kinshasa. In 2001, in an act of desperation, Emmanuel’s mother left her three sons with her parents and migrated to the United States, hoping to find refuge for herself, and eventually her sons. About a year later Stephane, Jean-Micheal, and Emmanuel were reunited with their mother, this time in the comforts of an Arlington, Texas community.

Oldest brother Stephane soon became infatuated with basketball, and the younger brothers immediately followed suit. Stephane and Jean-Micheal would go on to play basketball on the collegiate level, but it was Emmanuel who was drawing by far the most attention. (See his hoop MixTape below — thank you, CityLeagueHoopsTV !)

 

A 6-foot-5, 200 pound point guard, Emmanuel was the number 2 high school recruit via Rivals.com and the number 5 recruit via ESPN.com , eventually drawing a scholarship offer from Coach John Calipari of the University of Kentucky. However, Emmanuel shocked the system by snubbing this powerhouse program in favor of the Southern Methodist University (SMU) Mustangs , coached by Hall of Famer Larry Brown. He would join Jean-Micheal on the Mustangs roster, admitting it was his desire to one day play with his brother. Many believed that he would be the number one overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Emmanuel Mudiay on National Signing Day (Image from The Dallas Morning News)

However in July of 2014, just a little over a month before the fall semester would begin, Emmanuel alerted Coach Brown and the rest of SMU Mustangs that he would be jumping to the pro’s instead of completing his first (and likely only) year at SMU. Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated reports on Emmanuel’s decision:

“I was excited about going to SMU and playing college basketball for Coach Brown and his staff and preparing for the NBA,” Mudiay said in a statement relayed by his brother, Stephane, to SI. “But I was tired of seeing my mom struggle. And after sitting down with coach [Larry] Brown and my family, we decided that the best way for me to provide for my mom was to forgo college and pursue professional basketball opportunities. I am grateful for Prime Prep coach [Ray] Forsett for developing me into the player and man that I am, and I am also grateful for Coach Brown’s guidance and his support. This has nothing to do with my eligibility in any way.”

**Note: The final line referred to rumors that Emmanuel would not be eligible to play for the Mustangs due to an NCAA rules breach.

Shortly after his decision was made, Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski announced that Emmanuel Mudiay was signing with the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) for $1.2 million over one season; which is the largest contract ever awarded to a high school player playing overseas.

**Side Note: the Southern Tigers are arguably the most prestigious franchise in the CBA. Of the 20 year history of the league, the Southern Tigers have competed in the Finals on 12 occasions (the most appearances) and won the championship title in 8 of those years (tied for most with the Bayi Rockets).  You might as well call the Guangdong Southern Tigers the Boston Celtics of China.

While most pundits are quick to compare him to Brandon Jennings, the first player to bypass college by playing overseas for one year, Emmanuel Mudiay’s career has taken more of a Kyrie Irving-like story arc. You may remember Irving was averaging 17.4 points, 5.1 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game through his first 8 games for the Duke Blue Devils before a toe injury sidelined him until his return later on in the NCAA Tournament.

(Image from Draft Express)

Emmanuel was off and running for the Southern Tigers early in the season. He was averaging 17.7 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists through his first 10 games, until he was sidelined with a sprained ankle. After an 8-3 start and missing four consecutive games, the Southern Tigers elected to shut down Emmanuel, allowing him to rehab his ankle and allowing them to find a replacement for the injured guard (CBA teams are only allotted two Americans for their active rosters). Guangdong went on to sign former NBA Veteran Will Bynum to a contract, and the Southern Tigers proceeded to roll through the rest of the regular season, only losing one more game.

However, the Southern Tigers found themselves in a 2-0 deficit in the CBA playoffs semi-finals against Stephon Marbury and his reigning champion Beijing Ducks. With their championship hopes dwindling (CBA playoffs are a best of 5 series), the Southern Tigers elected to bring Emmanuel back into their line-up, replacing fellow American Jeff Adrien. The move was justified as Emmanuel helped lead the Southern Tigers to victory, logging a stat line of 24 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists.  However, it was Stephon Marbury’s veteran leadership that propelled the Ducks to an overtime victory over the Southern Tigers in a deciding game 4, ending Emmanuel’s only season in Guangdong.

Emmanuel is still getting top 5 pick-buzz for this June’s NBA Draft despite not being in the spotlight on a nightly basis. Draft Express currently has him as the number 3 pick, behind Okafor and Towns. “Outstanding ball-handler,” “very quick first step,” “sees the entire floor,” and “makes great decisions off the pick-and-roll” are just a few of the strengths  for the Congolese guard. His 6’5, 200 pound frame combined with his level of speed makes him a tantalizing prospect. While we never saw his body of work in China, his NBA-ready body and willingness to improve will keep Emmanuel at the top of the mock drafts based on upside alone. Factor in his current skill set and strengths, and we may have a legitimate franchise player on our hands.

Many balked at Emmanuel’s decision to bypass college and go directly to the pros; but much like his mother, Emmanuel did what was best for his family. Therese Kabeya made the difficult decision of leaving her family for a year in the hopes that they be able to join her in the land of opportunity. She sacrificed so much so that her children would not have to suffer anymore.

Emmanuel faced a decision of his own last July. He had dreams of playing basketball with his older brother on the collegiate level, and he had the opportunity to stay close to home and learn under a Hall of Fame coach. Instead Emmanuel sacrificed his desires and made an adult decision to leave his family and community; signing a contract to play for a team 7,000 miles away from his comfort zone.

American Poet Robert Frost once wrote ,

“I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

You can find the final stanza of Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” in many a yearbook quotes and social media updates; but how many people actually live by these words?

At 18 years old, Emmanuel forced himself to grow up so that he could finally repay a debt to his mother who never sought any sort of return for her sacrifice. For Emmanuel, the decision led to a $1.2 million paycheck, and now his mother may never have to work again. For Emmanuel Mudiay, that has made all the difference.

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