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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Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour: The Beginning Of The End

The Los Angeles Lakers had a lot of hope coming into the 2015-16 NBA Season. They drafted three young talented rookies, signed the reigning Sixth Man of the Year in Lou Williams, and even traded for a proven elite Center in Roy Hibbert.

For all Laker fans, the goal is to always win a championship. This is due in part to the incredible winning tradition of the franchise, that has won sixteen championships.

A big factor in the past five championships for the Lakers, has come in the form of Kobe Bryant. Bryant has been playing with the team for twenty years now.

He is widely considered one of the greatest competitors in the history of the sport. Unfortunately, the last couple season have not gone very smooth for the seventeen time All-Star.

He has suffered three season ending injuries that required surgery, and months of rehabilitation. However, Bryant is very driven and resilient. He refused to let these potential career ending injuries stop him from playing.

This season has not started off very well for the Lakers. As of right now, their record sits at 3-17. After a slow start, Bryant announced his plans to retire at the end of the season.

In the final year of his contract, most Laker fans hoped that Bryant would have stayed beyond this contract. Instead, Bryant has stated that he is ready to retire from the game of basketball, and has come to peace with his decision.

In the past, Bryant has also stated that he did not want to prematurely announce his retirement, in order to avoid a “farewell tour”. Bryant announced his retirement right before the Lakers went out on their longest road trip of the season.

All their games will be played against Eastern Conference teams, and it will be the final time Bryant plays in all of the teams respective arenas. As of today, the Lakers have played against the Philadelphia 76ers, Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks and Detroit Pistons.

Kobe Bryant has been honored at every game with either a tribute video, some sort of gift, standing ovations from fans, etc. This will most likely be the sight at every road for the Lakers as Bryant does go through a “farewell tour”.

In a post game interview, Bryant had stated that one of the first people he told about his retirement was Michael Jordan. Jordan had apparently told Bryant to “just enjoy it”, speaking on Bryant’s final season.

There have been many comments by players, coaches, writers, and analysts regarding Kobe Bryant’s retirement announcement. Most comments alluding to the unfortunate reality of one of the game’s most decorated players retiring.

In these last couple seasons, Bryant’s play has been noticeably different. He is certainly not the same player he used to be, but that is a given with age.

With this being Bryant’s last season, fans are just going to want to enjoy every moment of it. Bryant is also looking to finish off the season healthy for the first time in three years. He would be content with ending his career healthy.

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On Coming To Terms With Kobe Bryant’s Final Season

“I am older than either of you; therefore be guided by me. Moreover I have been the familiar friend of men even greater than you are, and they did not disregard my counsels…These were the mightiest men ever born upon this earth: mightiest were they, and when they fought the fiercest tribes of mountain savages they utterly overthrew them…Not a man now living could withstand them, but they heard my words, and were persuaded by them. So be it also with yourselves, for this is the more excellent way.”

-Nestor (Iliad; Book 1)

Watching former superstars wrestle their final seasons can be excruciating. Some veterans, like Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Dirk Nowitzki, adopted Nestor’s approach from the Iliad. When one is too old for battle, he should settle for a mentorship role, and the younger players should heed the advice of the elders.

Kobe Bryant is taking a different approach. Instead of mitigating his shot selection and aiding the maturation process of younger prospects, he’s determined to win every game for his team. But can you really blame him? His calling card was never selflessness. Bryant hangs his hat on unparalleled work ethic, internal competitiveness, and a hunger for a spot among the greats.

Whereas Michael Jordan played basketball for the glory and love of the game, Bryant seeks refuge on the court. His visible social anxiety has always plagued his relationships with teammates. Most ball hogs shoot incessantly because of a superiority complex. I don’t think that’s the case for Kobe.

While teammates like Shaquille O’Neal appeared in films, hit the clubs after games, and attended various celebrity events around the country, Bryant was in the gym. The twenty-year veteran could do without fans, coaches, and even teammates. He needs basketball because that’s the only place he feels comfortable. That’s why he shoots so much and that’s why he never really gelled with his peers.

Kobe thinks he’s alone on the court. In his prime, Kobe himself could compete with championships – or just as easily drop 81 points in a single contest. If Bryant shoots for seven straight hours in the middle of the night while his teammates go out for drinks, why would he feel compelled to pass the basketball? Similarly, if 19-year-old rookie DeAngelo Russell calls for the ball on the wing, should an individual with 32,683 points, 6,853 rebounds, and 6,166 assists be obliged to dish the ball out? I don’t think so.

It would be different if Jerry Buss shelled out the veteran’s minimum for Bryant, just as the Timberwolves did for Garnett and the Clippers did for Pierce. Even Nowitzki and Duncan took major salary cuts to make room for younger talents. Buss paid Kobe a league-high $25 million to play basketball this season. Even in a crippled, feeble state, the franchise player needs to play as much as possible, shoot the most important shots, and be the face of the organization. Kobe has never been shy about domineering the Los Angeles Lakers, and this year is no different.

The irony in Kobe’s legacy bled from his rhetoric last night. No offspring of the Jordan era has mirrored His Airness like Bryant. The fadeaway, the up-and-under, the post-ups on the baseline, the fashion, the sound of his voice, the demeanor – everything matches that of Michael Jordan. Yet Bryant is one of the most unique professional athletes since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. For an individual so determined to embody a former player, Bryant is very much his own person. He stands alone, away from all other players and coaches, completely disregarding the camaraderie that typically accompanies team sports.

Almost all NBA legends possessed that fanatic love for the game, but Kobe is the only one who needed basketball. He needed it so desperately that he can’t sleep, so badly that even the teammates who reached for his coattails en route to a championship were unable to truly cling to his greatness. Kobe wouldn’t allow it.

Jordan smoked cigars, played golf and baseball, gambled, and starred in the second-best basketball movie of all time (1. Hoosiers; 2. Space Jam; 3. White Men Can’t Jump; 4. He Got Game). Kobe did basketball. Basketball was his sport, the court was his lair, and the ball was his to decide how the game will ensue. Again, this season is no different.

Unfortunately for the Lakers faithful, housing a 37-year-old veteran with this mentality is destined for failure. But this season will never tarnish his legacy. In fact, it may epitomize it. With a depleted knee, a ravaged Achilles, and two inoperative shoulders, Bryant still wants the last shot. Actually, he wants every shot. He wants to be better than LeBron James, better than Kevin Durant, better than Anthony Davis, hell he wants to better than Kristaps Porzingis.

As a lifelong basketball fan, I agree that watching Kobe steamroll through the 2015-2016 season is painful. Sometimes, it’s just flat-out disgusting. Even for a Pacers’ fan, watching him unnecessarily shoot an uncontested fadeaway with five seconds still remaining was disgruntling. But this is how Bryant’s career was meant to conclude. No Shaq. No Pau. Just Kobe, isolated from his teammates by a decade and determined to leave his mark on every game.

To all the Lakers’ fans out there, I understand your grievances. It would have been more eloquent to see Buss snag some younger stars and give Kobe one more shot at a sixth title, but it’s clear now that wouldn’t have worked. Regardless of who Buss acquired, Kobe would still shoot himself silly and cost the team any shot at offensive efficiency. That’s who he is. And let’s not forget, Magic didn’t leave the Lakers on a high note, and neither did Elgin Baylor. At least we get to see Kobe conjure every last ounce of basketball life out of his body.

I won’t write on Kobe again this season. What’s said has been said and will be said again. Bryant will be forever be remembered for his illustrious offensive attack, for attempting to reincarnate Michael Jordan, for winning five titles, and for successfully turning a team sport into an individual showcase. His future is mostly a mystery. I picture Kobe in Italy, drinking wine, shooting baskets all night and finally being completely alone on the court. No teammates to hold him back. No coaches trying to manipulate his efforts. And no one to compete with except himself.

 

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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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Are The Lakers Imploding? Byron Scott Calls It ‘Passion’

As if he were a public relations guru navigating a client through public turmoil, Los Angeles Lakers’ coach Byron Scott did his best “damage control” after several Lakers’ players engaged in a verbal “altercation” on the bench during the 4th quarter of Tuesday’s 120-109 loss to the Denver Nuggets. The loss the Lakers to 0-4.

“It was late in the fourth quarter, where we were losing the game and guys weren’t happy,” Scott said after practice Wednesday.

“A few guys kind of discussed it in a very angry way. If they would have just sat on the bench with a smile on their face, I would’ve been much more concerned.

“I loved it. It tells me guys care.”

Although it’s unclear which players were involved in the altercation it seems that the Lakers are not only having a terrible start to their season but also slowly imploding, with visible cracks spidering throughout their foundation.

“I don’t know if we needed it, but sometimes I think it’s necessary if guys need to go at each other, kind of hold each other accountable,” Scott said. “I like the fact that guys weren’t just sitting there smiling, having a good time when we were down by 8, 9 points with 35 seconds left. I like the edge that they got.”

As much ‘spin’ Scott puts on the situation, it’s concerning when you consider all factors of the season so far.

Kobe Bryant’s plummeting field-goal percentage is well documented in the image below, courtesy of ESPN, and could be an indicator of a sharp decline in his game this year.

(ESPN)

(ESPN)

On top of that, rookie D’Angelo Russell recently expressed concern about his playing time in the 4th quarters of games, something that Scott and the Lakers’ may have preferred stayed within the locker room.

The Lakers’ have a lot of young pieces but seem to lack composure when dealing with adversity. The winding down of Bryant’s career is becoming more paramount as the season progresses and seems to be on an expedited pace, which can only add to the emotional stress on a team that will need his veteran presence and leadership as well as his production.

Regarding the altercation, Julius Randle, who was on the court during the bench incident, seemed to go in-line with Scott’s spin;

“We don’t want to lose, man,” he said. “[We’re] just competitive. [It’s] just how it is. We’ve got guys in here that care. It’s going to happen.”

Drama such as this, only 4 games in to an 82 game season, rarely ends up well and this will be an interesting storyline to follow as we progress through the 2015-2016 NBA season, a season that could be incredibly difficult for the Los Angeles Lakers.

 

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Early Season Surprises & Disappointments

Though the NBA season is barely in its second week, several teams have already made quite the impression, and not all in a good way. From surprising starts to disappointing beginnings, the NBA season so far has yielded some interesting results.

Surprises

Pistons

With a 32-50 record last year, not too much was expected of the Detroit Pistons this year, especially not after losing Greg Monroe to the Bucks in the offseason. Despite the loss of the big man, however, Detroit opened their season with impressive wins over the Hawks and the Bulls, two playoff teams from last year. One of the main reasons for the improvement has been the play of Andre Drummond. If Drummond and the Pistons can build on this impressive start, they just might find themselves in the playoffs come next year.

Timberwolves

After Minnesota finished last season with the worst record in the league, the Timberwolves were rewarded with the #1 overall pick in the NBA draft. The T-Wolves picked Karl Anthony-Towns over Jahlil Okafor and it seems so far they chose wisely. Off to an impressive 2-1 start, the T-Wolves just might be playing inspired basketball after the recent and sudden loss of their long-time coach Flip Saunders.

Raptors

With Toronto finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference last year, the Raptors impressive 5-0 start (which includes a big win over OKC) shouldn’t really be that big of a surprise. Especially not when you consider all the additions Toronto made this offseason. With Luis Scola, Corey Joseph, and Demarre Carroll all adding to the already successful team the Raptors had previously, the Raptors just might be last year’s Atlanta Hawks.

Disappointments

Pelicans

After winning the final seed in the Western Conference playoffs last year, expectations for the Pelicans were accordingly set higher than in previous years. With Anthony Davis having an extremely successful season last year that included talk of him in the MVP race, doubt anyone could have predicted their 0-4 start. If the Pelicans don’t turn things around soon, teams like the Utah Jazz or the above mentioned T-Wolves just might beat them out of a playoff spot come the end of the regular season.

Lakers

Given the Lakers record last year, their second straight 0-4 start probably wasn’t much of a surprise, however this is still LA we are talking about so these kind of starts shouldn’t be the norm. Especially not when you have a healthy Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle back in the lineup. If this is Kobe’s last year, as some have predicted, it definitely won’t be a memorable ending for the Laker great if the Lakers finish with a losing record once again.

Rockets

Though the Rockets have finally started winning some games, you can’t erase their 0-3 start to the season especially not when you consider how they lost each of those games by 20 points. While they might get a pass losing to the the defending champs by 20, losing to the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat by that same amount shouldn’t be acceptable for a team that was in the Western Conference Finals last year. With Harden claiming he should have won the MVP last year, his slow start to the season definitely hasn’t helped his cause. Hopefully their recent big win against OKC will help turn things around for the Rockets.

 

Fans With Pride

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Should Players Risk Their Shooting Percentages At The End Of Quarters?

In an interview with Basketball Insiders last week, John Wall commented on the areas of his game that he’s fixated on over the summer. Obviously, his dire shooting was an issue that needed to be addressed, but it seems Wall was more focused on his actual percentage than developing a truly deadly jumper.

“I can shoot the three well, but I just need to focus on not taking bad ones,” said Wall, “like half-court ones and ones in late shot-clock situations so I can have a good percentage.”

For television’s talking heads and NBA media outlets alike, a player’s shooting percentage holds tremendous value. It makes sense. The more efficiently a player converts his shots, the more productive he is as a scorer. In 2013, superstar Kevin Durant deliberated the half-court heave in a conversation with the Daily Thunder . His remarks paralleled those of Wall.

“It depends on what I’m shooting from the field,” said Durant. “First quarter if I’m 4-for-4, I let it go. Third quarter if I’m like 10-for-16, or 10-for-17, I might let it go. But if I’m like 8-for-19, I’m going to go ahead and dribble one more second and let that buzzer go off and then throw it up there. So it depends on how the game’s going.”

Even at the highest level, where players procure millions of dollars based on individual performance, basketball is still a team sport. Since 2004, only twice has the team with the best player won the championship (’12-’13 Miami Heat). Therefore, should a player ignore opportunities to score his team points to protect his personal statistics?

Kobe Bryant never shies late in the clock, which is why he’s widely considered the most clutch player since Reggie Miller. Consequently, he receives an abundance of criticism for his poor shot selection and declining efficiency percentages. Below, I have compiled shooting statistics of John Wall, Kevin Durant, and Kobe Bryant with under 24 seconds left in a quarter. The data spans from the 2010-2011 season (Wall’s rookie year) through the 2014-2015 campaign.

Shooting Statistics with Under 24 Seconds Remaining (2010-2015)

G

40-90 Feet FGM-A FG% 3PM-A 3P% Total PTS

PTS/G

John Wall

345

0-27 136-424 .321% 19-117 .162% 291

.84

Kevin Durant

333

0-4 132-312 .423% 35-121 .289% 299

.90

Kobe Bryant

259

0-11 106-356 .298% 23-153 .150% 235

.91

Clearly, Durant’s concentration on his percentages is revealed in his mark from beyond 40 feet. Despite playing 74 more games than Bryant, he shot seven less shots from that distance.

The key here is points per game with under 24 seconds on the clock. Bryant averages nearly a point per game by shooting late in the quarter, which can be quite valuable in a competitive contest.

Furthermore, it seems the primary issue for Wall is not his shot selection with time running out. He attempted 112 more shots than Durant, yet converted eight less points – a clear indication of poor shooting in general. Wall’s concern should not be whether or not he defers to his teammates late in quarters, but rather his ability to shoot the basketball at an efficient rate.

I’m taking the coach’s position on this inquiry. If a player has the ball in his hands with an opportunity to score late in the quarter, he should always shoot the ball. Bryant’s percentages with under 24 seconds are atrocious, but he averages more points per game in that span than either Wall or Durant. Therefore, he gives his team the best chance to win. If Durant surrendered his individual statistics, he would probably average points than Bryant when the clock is ticking down.

Paying individuals to play basketball changes the realities of the game, but it never alters its fundamental truths. Time after time, the players that sacrifice for the greater good of the organization reap the benefits. Bill Russell was the quintessential team player, one that performed so selflessly that he was the head coach and starting center on two championship teams.

Tim Duncan and Michael Jordan fall into that same category. Duncan has abdicated millions of dollars to preserve the San Antonio Spurs’ legacy. Likewise, Michael Jordan never abandoned an opportunity to score points for his team. In his two-year tenure with the Washington Wizards, Jordan averaged an impressive 1.03 points per game with under 24 seconds remaining. I wish these stats were available for his stint with Chicago.

In the 2014 NBA finals, nine Spurs scored twenty-three or more points in the series, compared to just five for the Heat. These are all indications that the team that plays unselfish basketball with players willing to sacrifice individual statistics have the best chance to win. It’s undeniable.

Regardless of his percentages late in the clock, John Wall will always make the All-Star team, his pay checks will keep coming, and fans will still adore him. Similarly, even if Durant purposely shoots after the buzzer sounds, he will still be a top-five player in the NBA. But if I’m building a dominant team, I’m looking for players who disregard their individual marks. Unselfish basketball still wins championships, plain and simple.

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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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DiMoro’s Call: Landing Spot Predictions for 5 Top Free Agents

(Bruce Ely/The Oregonian)

As we inch closer to the official start of 2015 NBA Free Agency and rumors are swirling, I wanted to take a look at 5 of the Top Free Agents and where I project them to end up signing. I based my predictions on what I have gathered from reading reports, my gut feeling and how I perceive the free agent landscape panning out once Wednesday arrives.

For each free agent I’ll provide a darkhorse team to watch. So, just in case you haven’t had your fill of NBA free agent speculation (is there ever enough?) here are a few more tidbits to help feed the appetite for more free agency talk.

For those looking for LeBron James on this list, he isn’t. Why? Because I don’t think for one minute he won’t re-sign in Cleveland.

 

LaMarcus Aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge’s schedule of visits reads like a band’s national tour.

According to reports he is scheduled to meet with the Los Angeles Lakers first. After he meets with the Lakers he’ll then meet with the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks (in that order).

Many people have Aldridge signing with San Antonio but I’m not completely sold that it’s pretty much a “lock” he ends up in silver and black. Yahoo Sports is reporting that Tim Duncan will reportedly join Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich when they meet with LaMarcus Aldridge in Los Angeles on Wednesday so it appears San Antonio is preparing their full court press.

But I don’t think the Spurs are interested in anything dragged out in terms of Aldridge’s decision process. So, if Aldridge leaves the meeting without a deal with the Spurs ironed out, I think it’s more likely he ends up in another uniform.

So who could that team be?

Although many would think the Mavericks or Lakers would be my choice, I think the Phoenix Suns could be a team to watch here. They have a young roster and a big need (no pun intended) for a low-post presence like Aldridge. This move would make a lot of sense and the style the Suns play could appeal to the offensive-minded Aldridge.

This is if, and a big if, he leaves his meetings with the Lakers and Spurs without deals.

Signs with: San Antonio Spurs

Darkhorse: Phoenix Suns

 

Kevin Love

Cavalier fans may not be too high on Kevin Love but he certainly is in their long-term plans.

I don’t anticipate anything dramatic happening unless the negotiations drag out a bit. The only team I would think could put a wrench in the Cavs’ plans to re-sign Love would be the Los Angeles Lakers, but I think with LeBron James putting pressure on the organization to improve the quality of talent of their roster the Cavs will get this nipped in the bud.

I anticipate Love being signed on Day 1 of free agency.

Signs with: Cleveland Cavaliers

Darkhorse: Los Angeles Lakers

 

Marc Gasol

This might be the most boring of the list.

All report are indicating the the Memphis Grizzlies are re-signing Gasol and Gasol has no visits scheduled outside of his meetings with Memphis.

I think of all the names on this list, Gasol re-signing with the Grizzlies is the closest to being a “lock”

Signs with: Memphis Grizzlies

 

DeAndre Jordan

According to ESPN, Jordan is 50/50 split between returning to the Los Angeles Clippers or signing with the Dallas Mavericks. Bottom line; he is likely staying in Los Angeles. How’s that for a headline?

At the end of the day I think Jordan will ink with the Lakers. The fact that he is even 50/50 on a decision to stay or leave isn’t a good sign for the Clippers in my opinion and I don’t think many Clipper fans are going to be heartbroken over his departure (judging from your reactions on social media)

There isn’t really a ‘darkhorse’ here since it’s pretty much a three team race, but I think the allure of a fresh start with the Lakers will be too good for Jordan to pass up.

Signs with: Los Angeles Lakers

Darkhorse: Dallas Mavericks/ Los Angeles Clippers

Greg Monroe

Detroit is likely to lose the services of Monroe, who will be seeking a lucrative short-term deal to test life outside of the Pistons’ organization.

A lot of reports link Monroe to the New York Knicks and it makes plenty of sense, but I think team’s like the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers could come calling if they lose out on LaMarcus Aldridge.

Don’t count out the Los Angeles Clippers or the Portland Trailblazers either, but something tells me the biggest threat to a union of Monroe and the Knicks are the Toronto Raptors.

Signs with: New York Knicks

Darkhorse: Toronto Raptors

 

 

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