2017-2018 NBA Season Preview L-Z

For Part 1 of the 2017-2018 Season preview : A to tha K, click here.

 

Lonzo Ball Era in Lakerland

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After having to endure a full season of hype and speculation, basketball fans finally get to see Lonzo Ball step onto the court as a professional. Ball had a pretty solid Summer League against his peers and other young prospects. Although I think Lonzo will be at times brilliant, he is going to take more L’s this season than he has in his entire life. This is a really young team, but they have a lot of talent.

They also have a great young coach in Luke Walton, and I like the combination of Andrew Bogut, Corey Brewer, Brook Lopez and Luol Deng acting as the vets in the locker room. With former legends like James Worthy and Magic Johnson only a phone call away, these young bucks for the Lakers have a chance to soak up some real game. I’m really excited to see highlights Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr. trailing alongside a fastbreaking Lonzo Ball. Things are looking up in Lakerland–hell, maybe they’ll even hit .500 this season……….. Nahhhhhhhhh! That shit ain’t happening. 

 

 

My Dark Twisted Fantasy Point Guard

 

Mike Conley has been silently carving up defenses for years now, a largely unheralded hero who has achieved a cult status among NBA geeks. Conley would have already gotten his proper due as an elite point guard if he played in the Eastern Conference (still hoping to see this when Seattle gets a team again and the Pelicans move to Vancouver). He has never been chosen as an All-Star is because of the imbalance of superlative players at his position out west. After playing a perfect playoff series against the Spurs, Conley has proven that his skills can no longer be ignored.

Take a look at the Memphis roster going into this season. They are thin. Besides Gasol, there is no one else on this team that they can count on to consistently chip in with scoring. The front office is banking on Chandler Parsons to be healthy this year (HUGE GAMBLE) and hoping that Ben McLemore’s game will rise after being freed of his situation in Sacramento. This is the youngest the Grizzlies have been in a long time, and this time not for the better. The only way I see the Grizzlies making the playoffs this year is if Conley and Gasol stay healthy, and both have MVP level seasons–and even that may not be enough.

New York’s Next Chapter

 

With the departures of Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks are content to look forward on their road back to national relevance. The air will be fresher for the franchise as a whole, as New Yorkers endured one of its most dysfunctional seasons of all time (which is saying a lot). This year’s team won’t be significantly better, but this season promises to be relatively drama free (outside of the Charles Oakley/James Dolan legal standoff).

Jeff Hornacek gets to enjoy the freedom of working without a 6’10 micro-managing geriatric looking over his shoulder at every practice. Also, any locker room with the combination of Michael Beasley, Joakim Noah, Enes Kanter, Nigel Hayes, Ron Baker, and Kristaps Porzingis promises to be an interesting mix of personalities. Jarrett Jack and Courtney Lee will be great locker room influences, and I really like what Kyle O’Quinn has to offer under the boards.

Sorry Knicks fans, your boys will be lucky to win more than 35 games. But I think you are going to be proud of this year’s team. I think you will a ton of hustle plays that receive standing ovations from the Garden faithful and the team will fight until the very end of each and every loss. I just don’t think they had to pay Tim Hardaway Jr. 71 million dollars to accomplish this level of play from the Knicks.

One Tough Lottery Bound Squad

 

No one is going to be looking forward to playing the New Orleans Pelicans. This is another example of one of those “they’d be a playoff team if they were an Eastern Conference” teams. Rajon Rondo’s playoff performance against the Celtics made skeptics think twice about calling him washed, but it is hard to put money on a team to make that is relying on a full healthy season from Rondo. The Pelicans are an imbalanced team going into this season. Their starting front line with Boogie “down” Cousins and Anthony Davis is powerful, but their backcourt is thin and suspect. The biggest question concerning the Pels is “will they trade Cousins before he becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent next season and if not, where does Boogie end up? “

Is it crazy to imagine Cousins and John Wall teaming up in a Washington uniform in the 2018-2019 season? If I’m New Orleans management I’m taking calls from other teams the minute we go 10 games below .500. Demarcus Cousins might be one of those linchpin championship pieces (a la 2008 Pau Gasol or 2004 Rasheed Wallace) come February. Stay tuned folks.

Portland Keeps it Pushing

 

Paul Allen and Neil Olshey stay pulling the Okey Doke on the Portland locals–this is one of the luxuries of being the only professional sports team within 200 miles. Blazer management continue the formula of trotting out a couple of players good enough to get butts in the seats, then signing ill-fitting role players to high handcuffing salaries.

Are they good enough to make the playoffs? Certainly. Damian Lillard (who has worked himself into becoming an elite player) continues to show us something different every season and C. J. McCollum looks like he intends to light up the league this year. We”ll see how much of a difference a full season of Jusuf Nurkic makes. They are still a player or two away from being a title contending team (how many times since 2001 has someone written this sentence about the Blazers?), but the right kind of trade package for Demarcus Cousins could make very things interesting up there.

 

Quicken Loans Last Hurrah

 

Enjoy this last run Cleveland fans. Lebron is doing his hometown one last solid before he heads off to finish his career in Hollywood. The Cavaliers were already one of the oldest teams in the NBA going into the off-season. Now they’ve added Derrick Rose’s broke jumper and bad knees, Dwyane Wade’s bad knees and decent mid range jumper, and Isaiah Thomas’ busted hip to their payroll.

Wade and Lebron both know that the regular season is just for show, and the real money is made during the playoffs. Barring a major injury to Lebron, it is hard to imagine them finishing anything lower than a three seed out east before getting yet another eastern conference title and NBA Finals loss. Then its back to years of undetermined mediocrity for a mediocre sports city. Well Cleveland, at least Lebron got you one title. Some cities don’t ever get one. 

 

Reunited (and it feels so good)

 

Boston fans haven’t had a legitimate reason to be this excited about the Celtics since the 2012-2013 season. The C’s got younger, and even though they lost two of their best defensive players in Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, they managed to upgrade their point guard position, (Kyrie Irving is a slightly better defender than Isaiah Thomas) and picked up some badly needed scoring in Brad Stevens’ former apt pupil, Gordon Hayward.

I’m still not sold on the Celtics beating any team with a healthy Lebron on it. They are well stocked at the wing position, but their backcourt is suddenly thin. Outside of Kyrie and Hayward, there really isn’t anyone to bring the ball up the court. I still think they are a trade away from being a serious threat to the Warriors or Cavs. Perhaps, the city reunites with Rajon Rondo, if the Pelicans’ season goes belly up?

 

Sixers Sniff the Playoffs?

 

I don’t know if the Sixers have enough vets to get into the playoffs, but they will certainly show more offensive firepower this season. Washington Huskies phenom point guard Markelle Fultz  joins up with a healthy Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and don’t forget the Sixers added the sharpshooting (at least until the playoffs) J.J. Redick. They have an extremely young team, but much like the Lakers, they are talented.

However, it takes more than talent to win NBA games, and Brett Brown has shown he is a good coach and teacher. Win or lose, they will be a fun team to watch, and the combination of Embiid, Fultz, Saric and Simmons could be promising. There is still a good chance that trading Jahlil Okafor will tilt the Sixers in a favorable direction, depending on who they can net for him.

 

Thibs the GM >Thibs the Coach?

 

Minnesota jump started their rebuilding efforts with the acquisition of Jimmy Butler, and on paper, the Timberwolves finally have a playoff team. Years from now, you’re going to be reading think pieces in Sports Illustrated and ESPN about how Andrew Wiggins career trajectory took off when he became teammates with Jimmy Butler. This is the alpha dog the Teenwolves needed to help push Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns into playoff contention. That signing alone would’ve given Minnesota an A+ for the off-season, but then Tom Thibodeau went and grabbed Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, and Jamal Crawford.

Now we get to see what Thibs the coach will do. His “win at all costs” attitude has been known to shorten player’s careers 2 years for every one season they play for him (I bet Thibodeau has snapped more than his share of pencils doing his weekly crossword puzzles).  Outside of Jamal Crawford, there are still question marks concerning the T-wolves backcourt. Aaron Brooks is old, and didn’t exactly make his name with his rugged defense; while Tyus Jones still hasn’t proved himself to be a consistently viable option.

The biggest question is can Thibs utilize his role players. It only takes a 8-9 player rotation in the playoffs, but it takes all 15 players to get through the regular season and still have something left in the tank. Thibs’ biggest problem is that he has always coached each game as if it were game 7 of the Finals. This intensity, while admirable, is stupidly short-sighted and might cost the Timberwolves their best players down the stretches that they are needed the most. Do you really want to see Minnesota begin their first playoffs in over a decade with Cole Aldrich and Shabazz Muhammad in the starting lineup, while Jimmy Butler and Karl Anthony Towns cheering the team on in tailored suits? Me neither. Let’s hope this is the season that  Thibodeau figures it out. 

 

Utah Takes a Step Back

 

I found it strange that Boris Diaw couldn’t get on with any playoff contenders (If Emeka Okafor can get a job, I don’t see why Boris couldn’t get signed somewhere). I’m sure he’d have fit in well up in Portland or down in Memphis. He’ll be playing in France this season with an opt-out clause if any NBA teams want to take a flyer on him. 

Moving on, Utah lost their other biggest star, scoring forward Gordon Hayward and now are hoping Joe Ingles can take over the scoring duties at the small forward position. I was excited about backcourt of Rodney Hood and Ricky Rubio until I remembered that basketball is a two-way sport.

Rudy Gobert is going to have plenty of chances to swat shots because their perimeter defense looks a little suspect on paper. The good news is they will get another lottery pick, because they will not be in the playoffs this year.

 

Veteran Locker Rooms

 

You can count the number of veterans on any NBA roster and figure out what direction the franchise is going. The Dallas Mavericks for example are in the middle of a quiet  rebuild. On paper, they are a veteran team, but this year they will lean heavily on the production of Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews, and Dennis Smith Jr.–all three players who are still relatively young for their positions. Dirk will still be the guy who takes the final shot, but at least this season he knows the young guys can carry him until money time, late in the 4th quarter. No one quite expects the Mavericks to win more than 45 games, but it also wouldn’t surprise anyone if they got 50. Rick Carlisle is too good of a coach for Dallas not to compete.

Minnesota, has been perpetually rebuilding ever since before the Kevin Garnett trade. They went young in 2007 and stayed young. If you went and looked at any game footage from ’07 to the present and you won’t count more than three or four veterans on the roster. In just one off-season, the Timberwolves have gone from just hoping to win every night, to expecting to a playoff berth in April.

Of course, the most extreme example of a veteran locker room was the 2015 San Antonio Spurs who were one of the oldest teams in NBA playoff history and they got their shit rocked by a younger, more physical Oklahoma City Thunder team. The point is that a championship team has to have a perfect balance of superstar players in their prime flanked with role players around the same age or slightly older. This is why I can’t convince myself that Boston can beat Cleveland in a 7 game series–I think their key role players are just too young.

Washington, D.C. belongs to John Wall

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John Wall passed his “Point God” audition last playoffs with flying colors. He was the only reason to even check in on the games out east. Had he had even a little bit of help with the ball handling duties, we’d probably have been treated to a more competitive Eastern Conference Finals. Unfortunately for Wall, the Wizards didn’t get any better, and they will be lucky to get to the 2nd round. The Wizards can’t expect to get far with such thin backcourt reserves.

 

X Marks the Spot

 

One of the downsides to teams like the Warriors playing with pace and space, is that the rest of the league tries to copy that formula, and it messes with the product. Sure it works for the Warriors because they have three of the best 3 point shooters in NBA history. That doesn’t mean I want to watch the Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers just chuck 3 pointers up for 48 minutes a night. It doesn’t look good even when they are going in. Expect more three-point shots attempted, which of course means more three point shots missed this season. We’re going to see a lot of bricks this year.

 

Yesterday’s New Quintet

 

People are sleeping on the Clippers, but a couple of things happened this summer that makes me take them seriously:

1) They finally relieved Doc Rivers of his front office duties and

2) They hired Jerry West as a team consultant.

The media narrative is that the locker room is a lot looser now that Chris Paul has been traded. I thought their biggest problem was replacing him, but the team looks like theya re having more fun playing with Milos Teodisic at the point. Lou Williams only steps on the court to get buckets. Austin Rivers is better than he was three seasons ago, and has managed to go from being laughable to playing like a dark-skinned Steve Blake. The Clippers are going to be a real pain in the ass to play with Patrick Beverley on the perimeter and DeAndre Jordan in the paint. 

We can only be so lucky to see another  Rockets-Clippers matchup come April. I could be talked into watching any of the series swinging games with the right company. I like what the Clippers have done this off-season and think they will make the playoffs.

 

Z-Bo Making M’s, smoking  Taking L’s

 

Zac Randolph has been the OG around the block for a while. He, George Hill,  and Vince Carter are teaming up to be the big homies of reason for the Sacramento Kings this season. The mixture of players on that roster has the feel of a bad basketball movie , and not because Randolph looks like the dude from Family Matters.

It is a shame to see Randolph ending his career on a rebuilding team, but I guess Sacramento isn’t a bad place to spend your late 30’s–especially as a multi-millionaire. It wasn’t that long ago when Randolph was one of the scariest black dudes in the NBA. Remember when he would just mush Blake Griffith’s face into the court floor and Blake wouldn’t even look Z-Bo in the eyes? If there is any justice from the basketball gods this season, Randolph will get bought out of his contract and end up a key bench contributor for a title contender.

Fans of rebuilding franchises like Philadelphia, New York, Sacramento, Dallas, and Minnesota should feel optimism going into this NBA season. There is a lot to look forward to throughout the league and you won’t have to watch the Warriors or Spurs to be spiritually fulfilled. For the first time in a long time, the NBA has enough good basketball to go around for everyone.

 

 

Other Predictions:

East Standings

1)Boston 2)Cleveland 3)Washington 4)Milwaukee 

5)Miami 6)Charlotte 7)Toronto 8)Philadelphia

 

West Standings

1) Golden State 2) Houston 3) Oklahoma City 4) Minnesota

5) San Antonio 6) Los Angeles Clippers 7) Portland 8) Denver

 

Regular Season MVP Kawhi Leonard

Defensive Player Of Year Draymond Green

Most Improved Player Zach Lavine

Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams

Co-Rookies of the Year Ben Simmons/Lonzo Ball

Coach of the Year: Brett Brown

Western Conference Finals Golden State vs. Oklahoma City

Eastern Conference Finals Boston vs. Cleveland

NBA Finals Golden State over Cleveland in six games

Finals MVP Kevin Durant

 

BM

profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. Follow him on twitter @goodassgame. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com. 

2017-2018 NBA Season Preview: A to the K

“A to the K?” 

 

“A to tha mutha*%$king Z”

 

~Hold up scene from the movie Wild Style

 

 

I love NBA basketball, but I find it unfortunate the off the court news is more entertaining than the majority of what happens on the court . We’ve had a lot of players changing jerseys to bridge the gap between the top four teams (Golden State, Boston, San Antonio, and the Lebrons). Some teams got better (Minnesota, Houston, Boston, Los Angeles, Golden State,Oklahoma City). Some teams got worse (Toronto, Utah, Memphis, Chicago and the Clippers) and some teams stayed the same (Detroit, Portland, Washington, San Antonio, and Dallas).

Although this season will undoubtedly be more competitive (at least out West),–all things being equal— I don’t see how a Warriors-Cavs finals is anything but inevitable. Luckily for me,  I’m a hard-core hoops fan, and NBA minutiae fulfills the geek in me. There is a lot more to a basketball season than who wins and who loses. It is a long season and if all you care about is your favorite team winning a championship, then outside of the four cities I mentioned earlier; there are going to be a lot of dissatisfied people. There is a lot to look forward to this year: new players in the league who look to be exciting, and older players looking to leave their mark on the league before their career is over. Personally, I’m looking forward to the various basketball threads I have running in my email and text message inboxes.  And with that, I’m happy to bring back for you: Bobby Mickey’s 26 most compelling NBA story lines: A-Z.

 

Adjusted schedules

Shout out to Adam Silver and staff on this one. Despite the national anthem edict, the man is such a breath of fresh air compared to that old Fuddy-Duddy–ass fun ruiner, David Stern. Silver saw a problem that was ruining the product and he wasn’t afraid to fix it. There will be no more stretches of four games in five nights for the players, and back–to–back games have been reduced for all the teams, with no team having more than 16, and no team having fewer than 13. And guess what else? Marquee games will no longer fall in the midst of those back to back or five games in seven nights scenarios. Let’s get it!

 

Beware: Deer Crossing

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Sacramento Kings

Like Bambi, we’ve had the privilege to watch Giannis Antetokounmpo grow up before our very eyes. My Nigerian brethren even thinks he can make a run at the MVP this year–which typically scares me away from a player– but in Giannis’ case, his swag level may be justified. Other than Khris Middleton, and an injured (expected back at the second half) Jabari Parker, the Bucks are a team filled with role players. I expect their backcourt to be better with the return of Rookie Of the Year winner Malcolm Brogdon, and the vets Brandon Rush, Jason Terry, and Gerald Green can help out on the court in addition to being good locker room guys. Don’t be surprised if they get a second seed in this year’s Eastern Conference playoffs.

Carmelo Finally gets a Mulligan

 

Let the Hoodie Melo-era begin. As rough as Melo’s season was last year, it was tough to feel sorry for the guy knowing that he chose to sign a huge contract extension–with a no-trade clause. Who knows how much that had to do with his family dynamic, but he took James Dolan’s money– which is like doing a deal with the devil. But Melo is free now, and he finally has some teammates in which to share the burden with Russell Westbrook and Paul George. It took me a minute to process it, but when you look at the collective star power of the three, and the incoming role players, it is hard to not to get excited about this lineup.

Oklahoma City might be pretty nasty (at least in the regular season). Presti may have finally got some players whose playing styles blend with Westbrook. Russ might average a triple double again this season with an increase in rebounds and assists and a decline in points. Paul George doesn’t have to be the man, and can just concentrate on spot up three pointers and playing defense. Andre Roberson just has to shoot a better free throw percentage to justify his playing time. Raymond Felton  (by the way, OKC finally got a decent backup point guard) can just feed Melo when Russ is taking a breather, and now the Thunder have one more lethal offensive option in endgame scenarios. Teams can’t just key in on Russ anymore and the most immediate beneficiary for that is Carmelo Anthony.

Dejounte’s Big Audition

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Tony Parker’s torn quadricep may end up being a blessing in disguise. Parker stands to be a little extra rested come April (and we saw what a rested Parker was looking like before he had that season ending injury last spring). Which brings us to the precocious point guard out of Seattle, Dejounte Murray. It isn’t his time yet, but this is a pivotal opportunity for him to develop.

Murray showed flashes of a very dynamic skill set last season. He is tall, quick, a decent ball handler, and can finish around the rim. We should see an overall improvement in his game. He has had a year to see what it is like running an NBA offense, and with Kawhi Leonard handling the ball at such a high user rate, Murray won’t be asked to do more than he is capable of at this point in his career. I think he’ll show flashes of brilliance that will become more frequent as he develops into the player that we suspect he is.

Eastern Conference Still Doo-Doo

 

While 50 wins may not even be enough to get into the Western Conference Playoffs, we may only see four teams out east that get to 50 wins. You know Boston and Cleveland will hit their 50, but would you put money on Washington or Toronto hitting the half century mark? If you are just aching to bet on someone other than the Celtics or Cavs, I’d suggest the Bucks, which may be asking much to see an 8 game increase in win expectancy. I doubt I will be watching much basketball before 6 pm this season and that is probably a good thing. As busy as I am for the next 12 months it will be hella difficult to justify watching any scrub teams–east or western conference– this season. Life is too short.

Feels like 1996 Again

 

Remember when the 1996 Chicago Bulls won 72 games and they were immediately hailed as the greatest team of all time? Do you remember the very next year when they brought back almost exactly the same team except they added Robert Parish (well past his prime) and Bison Dele (RIP)? We bout to have some De Ja Vu up in this mofo (shout out to Co-founder of Steely Dan, Walter Becker who died last month).

The Warriors have managed to get better this season with the additions of (don’t laugh) Nick Young and Omri Casspi. They managed to snag a couple of bigs from Oregon out of the draft in Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell (possibly the biggest steal of the entire draft). Both players could make great pupils under the tutelage of Draymond Green and David West. Somehow Iguodala had everyone convinced that he was washed before last season started, but then he managed to stay healthy for the entire year with no major injuries. Was it luck, or conditioning and diet? His health is still the key, but what is great about the Nick Young acquisition for the Dubs is that they added yet another 6’5 ball handler to come off the bench.

Good and Terrible: The Phoenix Suns

 

Poor Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley must feel like they got sent down to the junior varsity team. The Suns are a young team, which makes this the perfect place for Earl Watson to start his head coaching career. He has a chance to kick some real game to those youngsters down in Phoenix, and this is a great opportunity for him to springboard his career. No one expects Phoenix to win 40 games (at least no one sane), so what Watson will ultimately be judged on his how the players developed individually and as a team.

Under the stewardship of Robert Sarver, this franchise (from the front office to the players) has become a great farm system for the rest of the NBA.  Watson eventually leaving for a better situation is an inevitable reality, once the young studs in Phoenix play themselves into situations where they control their next NBA destination–while the Suns franchise revolve into their perpetual rebuild. I think Devin Booker will continue to get buckets, and Josh Jackson will give us a glimpse of what Andrew Wiggins would be like had he grown up in America. Also, don’t be surprised if Eric Bledsoe (reunion with Doc in L.A.?) finally gets traded this season; as Tyler Ulis and Brandon Knight’s (geezus they’ve got FOUR  Kentucky guards) combined salaries equal what Bledsoe is due to make. I’d go to a Suns game, but not for anything higher than 28 bucks (after fees).

Houston Remains Annoying

 

I was worried the Spurs would acquire one of my least favorite NBA players, Chris Paul, and was so relieved when Houston signed him. He is a great player and the best point guard in the league, but I’m not trying to root for that guy. Plus, Houston is such a great fit for him and his cantankerous on court personality. I thought there could be no more of an annoying scenario than watching the Chris Paul-era Clippers play the Harden-era Rockets. I was wrong.

The fascinating part of this trade is that neither the Clippers nor the Rockets got any less annoying for this season. Add Patrick Beverly to a team that already has Austin Rivers and Blake Griffin, then subtract Jamal Crawford, and voila! The Clippers got MORE annoying. For the Rockets, you’ve just put one of the biggest crybabies in the NBA and paired him up with the biggest flopper in the NBA. Good luck watching that for 82 games a year Rockets fans.

The good news for NBA fans is that Rockets are coached by Mike D’Antoni. We finally have a coach that can use Chris Paul the way God intended Paul to play basketball. Harden says he wants to just spot up and shoot, but watching the both of them run a fast break will be–at times– a thing of beauty. Also, don’t sleep on the Tarik Black and P.J. Tucker signings. The Rockets front line just quietly got bigger and meaner. Rebounding, while always important, is even more integral in a D’ANtoni  run offense, where so many shots are taken during the course of a 48 minute game. Also, is Isaiah Taylor going to get some tick playing for D’Antoni? Or is he Daniel Gibson 2.0?

Indiana is NBA Siberia

 

Unlike places like New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Miami,  Atlanta, or D.C. where a player can take solace that they are a millionaire in a premier city, Pacers players have only basketball and road  *ahem* attractions to keep their minds off the fact they play for a floundering franchise. A guy can even drown his sorrows in some delicious fried chicken in places like Charlotte and Chicago. But I can’t imagine an NBA reality worst than playing for a midwest franchise that has no chance of competing for a title.

I took a peek at the prospective depth chart of the Pacers and my first thought was, “maybe they aren’t as bad as I thought they’d be.” But then I saw that their strongest locker room personality is Lance Stephenson and that Nate McMillan is their head coach (No disrespect). They have some good young players. but I’m not sure they have enough veterans to push them through the tough times and into the playoffs. I think they’ll come close though and it will be a dogfight for that 8th seed between *YAWN* Indiana, Miami, and Charlotte. 

 

Jokic Might Be The Real Deal

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Every time I look at the Nugget roster, I want so badly to plug them in as an eighth seed but there is no way to do it without envisioning an injury to someone in the Portland Trailblazers’ backcourt.  While Jokic may not be enough for the Nugs to be playing a home game on April 20th, I think this is the year that he turns the mainstream media’s heads–and maybe even make the All Star Team. He averaged six more points last season than he did his rookie year, and he should average 20 points a game in this one. In addition to being a decent ball handler, the young Serbian is an avid passer, averaging 4.9 assists last season and he gobbled up 9.8 rebounds a game. Jokic is in line for a monster year if he can stay healthy. If there is any slippage with Portland at all, then I think Denver will take that eighth seed for the West.

Kawhi’s MVP Campaign

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My alter ego, formerly over at Fansided, predicted the jump Kawhi Leonard would make right before the beginning of last season, by midseason, NBA nerds were wide open to the San Antonio phenom. Kawhi’s metamorphosis has been nothing short of beautiful and spectacular and now that he has everyone’s attention, his game will take yet another leap. People are high on the Thunder, Rockets, and Timberwolves, but the Spurs will still win their 60 games, and it will be because Kawhi Leonard put the team on his back. He just might be Jordan 2.0, but if that is the case, then he still needs his Scottie Pippen 2.0.  Which is why he will win MVP, because of all the superstars left on title contending teams, Kawhi is the only one without a superstar to step onto the court with him.

 

To Be Continued…….

BM

profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. Follow him on twitter @goodassgame. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com. 

 

Clicks to Pick Dec. 19-24

[Editors note: We’ve just received a ransom note from Bermuda demanding 100,000 dollars (HA! Good Luck with that kidnappers) for Bobby Mickey’s return. We’re doing our best at the Fullsass office to round up that kind of money up so close to the holiday season. We will continue to give you the Clicks to Pick during his absence–in addition to old pieces he sent in that have yet to be published. We hope the year 2017 brings with it a safe and healthy Bobby Mickey. Happy Holidays.]

 

This Week’s Clicks to Pick

Monday

Phoenix at Minnesota

 

Tuesday

 

San Antonio at Houston

Los Angeles Lakers at Charlotte

Utah at Golden State

Cleveland at Milwaukee

Portland at Sacramento

 

Wednesday

 

Dallas at Portland

Sacramento at Utah

Thursday

 

Los Angeles Lakers at Miami

San Antonio at Los Angeles Clippers

Friday

Sacramento at Minnesota

Saturday

No Games Scheduled

 

Sunday (Christmas Day)

Golden State at Cleveland (Good Ass Game Of The Week)

 

 

Dame D.O.L.L.A.

My two favorite things in the world are rap music and basketball. I’m very particular about what I like, so keep that in mind. My favorite rapper of all time is Kanye West. My favorite young rapper is Young Thug. I thought “To Pimp A Butterfly” by Kendrick Lamar was a perfect album, but I have zero interest in ever hearing it again.

I hold the belief that rappers in 2016 are objectively better at rapping than 90’s dudes. When I say better at rapping I mean interesting flows, ability to rhyme multi-syllabic-ally, and an innate skill at having catchy melodies mixed with content that is either intelligent or reflective of a larger societal view.

My favorite basketball team is the Portland Trail Blazers. My favorite player on the Blazers? Damian Lillard. So, when I found out Damian Lillard was making a rap album, I hollered at my Editor-In-Chief-Keef Bobby Mickey, and begged him to let me do a track by track review of Dame’s debut LP “The Letter O”. This is that review.

EXPECTATIONS: Having only seen Lillard rap on “Sway In The Morning” and having heard him rap during a commercial timeout at a Blazer game, I’m expecting the word “lyrical” to be said over 15 times. I’m hoping for some cool basketball references or wordplay “I’m coming with that heat flow/Making it look easy like a free throw”, something about Portland’s fans being the best, and reference to grinding hard to make it out of Oakland.

Track 1 – Bill Walton

I already am skeptical based off the title. Is there any way this song isn’t about winning a championship for Portland like Bill Walton did? Well, the song isn’t ABOUT Walton, but Dame does end this freestyle with a line about Walton.

As far the rapping, Dame does a lot of multis, which is cool. He clearly has a skill to rhyme words. As for the content of the lyrics? Pretty generic. I won’t hold that against him… unless his only thesis on the album is “we didn’t have much when I was a kid and no one believed in me.” The beat was fine–a solid head nod with some 90’s style drums.

STATS: 18pts/3rbs/4ast

Track 2 – Wasatch Front

More 90’s drums! I’m starting to make assumptions about what the sound of this album will be. This track is about Dame’s time at Weber State (where he went to college). It’s a solid narrative, the song doesn’t feel too long, and there’s a chorus. The chorus is alright, too!

There’s still too much talk of struggle for my liking. Still not holding that against Dame though. The unquestioned best part of the song is the ad-libs though. Dame’s ad-libs are like Kent Bazemore on the Golden State bench in 2012. They’re hyped, funny, and positive. More ad-libs, less boring narratives, please!

STATS: 22pts/5rbs/5ast

TRACK 3 – Growth Spurt (feat. Dupre)

808s! Hashtag rapping! This is the best song on the album after 10 seconds, easily. Some dude named Dupre shows up for an alright song. Dame sounds better on the track than Dupre. That’s a good sign. Dame sounds more comfortable on the beat, but maybe I’m just getting used to it? I don’t hate this song.

Also, I haven’t read  much of anything about Dame as a rapper, but he’s not cursed once, and I think by track nine he’ll address not needing to swear. “I’m everywhere, you ain’t never there/why would I ever swear?” is my Jay Z lyric flip prediction for not swearing. Three songs in, and the most modern sounding track is my favorite.

STATS: 24pts/6rbs/8ast

TRACK 4 – Misguided

It took four songs, but we finally got Dame to mentioned another NBA player. And, drum roll please… it’s LeBron. And he mentions owning Yeezys. This is definitely Dame’s “I guess the money changed him” song. But Dame is capital R Real, so he’s not gonna forget where he came from.

Portland, we can believe in Damian Lillard. This song is the most interesting, as far as content goes. I found myself actually kinda caring what Dame would say about growing up, getting money, etc. Not shockingly, it’s pretty run of the mill. The saving grace of the song is the tend to see/Tennessee wordplay in the first verse. A third of the way through the album and I think I’ve know what to expect for the rest of it.

STATS: 21pts/4rbs/7ast

TRACK 5 – Thank You (feat. Marsha Ambrosius, Brookfield Deuce, and Danny from Sobrante)

Based off the title and the names of the features, I’ve got low expectations for this. I expect this song to be the Blazers on their third game in four nights, coming off a double overtime loss in Denver. It’s hard to hate on a song for someone’s deceased family members, so I’ll just say this song isn’t for me.

Brookfield Deuce is an alright rapper, he provides us with the second NBA player reference when he alludes to Kobe Bryant! The chorus is fine, I don’t love the woman’s voice, and it’s mixed a little weird that makes it stand out in a not great way. Tonally, this song sounds like a heartfelt Beanie Sigel song from ’02. Dame does TWO verses on this song, so it’s probably the most important song. Verse two has Dame mentioning Hulk Hogan and getting caught drinking by his grandma. Dame wants us to know he’s a good kid.

STATS: 20pts/6rbs/6ast

TRACK 6 – Plans (feat. Jamie Foxx)

Ray Charles himself, Jamie Foxx is featured? This could be interesting! Jamie’s chorus is pretty good. This is clearly Dame’s song for the ladies. He mentions sending an eggplant emoji and a woman’s waist line! Dame is for the ladies! A good juxtaposition after his heartfelt song for his grandmother. Dame is for everyone.

The production is modern again, but the beat certainly doesn’t knock, which shouldn’t be expected. Dame doesn’t exactly rattle the rim with his dunks and the beats on the LP reflect that. Halfway through the album and no swearing, no mentioning his teammates, no mentioning other NBA players who have rapped, and still no cursing! These are things to watch out for on the second half of the album!

STATS: 25pts/4rbs/5ast

TRACK 7 – Legacy (feat. Juvenile and Danny from Sobrante)

I guess at this point my biggest question is, what is Sobrante? And why is Danny, who is from there, on this album twice? I’m not actually going to look up who the dude is though, I’m not getting paid for this. Juvenile of “Back That Azz Up” shows up for a guaranteed emailed-to-Lillard feature here. The inconsistency in the mixing on this song is unpleasant. I like the beat though, AND Dame says “hell” which MIGHT count as cursing? But since we know Dame is a God fearing man, it probably isn’t. Portland is name checked on this song, which is cool because I live in Portland, so now I can relate more to multimillionaire Damian Lillard! I gotta be honest, if this song was just Juvenile and Danny from Sobrante I’d really like it. Dame sounds uninspired and completely extraneous here.

STATS: 11pts/2rbs/0ast

TRACK 8 – Loyal to the Soil (feat. Lil Wayne)

Holy moly this is generic struggle rap. The best part of the song is the Lil Wayne overdub of his lighter sparking. And my goodness, Wayne is so much better at rapping than Dame. Wayne’s flow is sharper and bouncier, his metaphors are more clever, he enunciates words in an interesting way, and he doesn’t swear! Wayne does mention being a Blood though, which is kinda weird and jarring.

I was hoping the way Wayne raps here is how Dame would have rapped on the song, but that’s not the case. Props to Dweezy F. Baby for bringing a quality verse and providing overdubs and ad-libs on Dame’s second chorus! Dame is whatever, by the way.

STATS: 17pts/4rbs/2ast

TRACK 9 – Roll Call (feat. Brookfield Deuce)

I like this beat. I can imagine a Future clone rapping on this. The chorus isn’t catchy, like, even a little bit though. I’m not sure how someone with such a pretty jump shot would have zero ear for melodies, because nothing on this album is catchy. And based off how he raps, you know Dame listens to J Cole and Kendrick Lamar, two guys  who are capable of writing mammoth choruses that get stuck in your head instantly. As impressive as Lillard’s ability to string together multis is, when you’re not supplementing it with anything that makes the listener want to hear what else you’re capable of, it might be time to make that LP an EP.

STATS: 15pts/4rbs/4ast

TRACK 10 – Pillow Talk (feat. Manny Lotus)

Sexy flow Dame alert! “I’m feeling that arousement” is the basic idea of the whole song. I will say, it seems a little weird to make a song called “Pillow Talk” when Zayn Malik did it this year and reached Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Again, Dame rapping sexy or about anything that’s not working hard in a small town doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t sound right either.

I appreciate the production on this song, as it sounds more similar to the sort of music I listen to the most. This feels like a Manny Lotus song featuring Dame D.O.L.L.A., which isn’t the best to have on your debut album.

Part of me isn’t sure if Lillard isn’t taking a risks topically because he’s not interested in it or he wants to keep up a good guy Portland image? Regardless, this album’s lack of concepts and subject matter is making it wear pretty thin after only 10 songs. STILL NO SWEARING!

STATS: 12pts/3rbs/1ast

TRACK 11 – Baggage (feat. Adrian Marcel)

Another back half of “The Letter O” song, and another generic R&B chorus that doesn’t fully work. If this song was supposed be a parody of cliche ridden rap I’d love it, but it certainly doesn’t do that at all. In the words of Roman on “Party Down”; “Am I supposed to enjoy the irony, or pity the sincerity?”. Since I’m pretty bored with this song, I’m just gonna imagine what Kristaps Porzingis would sound like on a track. It would be so dope. And I guarantee he’d be a gun rapper. Fuck. I need this to happen now. “I’m seven foot, so you know I bang/after I dunk on you ain’t the only time I can hang”. “Gatvia” by Kristaps Porzingis, coming soon.

STATS: 15pts/3rbs/3ast

TRACK 12 – Hero (feat.Raphael Saadiq) [Bonus Track]

Dame sounds like he yearns on this track; which is actually kinda interesting. This track also has Dame making a handful of basketball references, including Erik Spoelstra and Villanova. Unfortunately, “Hero” also takes the previous track’s generics to a new level. This song is exactly what you’d think a song by a non swearing, basketball player with a song called “Hero” would sound like. Given the ridiculous signing bonuses and endorsement deals that NBA players made in the last two off-seasons, it makes sense that this is a bonus track. It’s unwarranted and unwanted.

STATS: DNP (Coach’s Decision)

After listening to “The Letter O” by Damian Lillard, a few things are clear. Dame’s favorite rapper of all time HAS to be someone whose heyday was in the 90’s. Dame is definitely a basketball player before he’s a rapper. He’s a “real” rapper,  not a “real rapper”.

This is most apparent when anyone appears on the track with him. 2016 rap heavyweights Brookfield Deuce, Dupre, Danny from Sobrante, and Lil Wayne do to Dame on a track what anyone does to Dame on defense, which is to say low-key embarrass him. When Lillard raps on a song by himself, it’s fine and cute; however, when going toe to toe with someone who raps for a living rather than as a hobby, a lot is left to be desired.

In summation, the best way to describe Damian Lillard as a rapper, and I say this as objectively as possible, is that he’s the EXACT opposite of Young Thug. Where Thug opts for flows, melodies, and absurdism, Damian Lillard goes for his version of introspective, emotional, and REAL.

I can’t say I’d recommend this album to any of my friends who listen to rap, and I wouldn’t even really recommend it to my friends who don’t like rap. Lillard can ride a beat decently, has above average rhyming ability, but isn’t catchy in the least bit. If Damian Lillard the rapper were a basketball player, he’d be George Hill.

ALBUM STATS: 18pts/4 rbs/4 ast

 

 

 

image1-7  Jordan Paladino is a Portland comedian, internet troll, rapper, and writer for the show “Who’s the Ross?” He is a staunch defender of all things Lebron James, Drake, and Kanye West. He is also a KD hater. We try not to hold these things against him.

On the Legacy of LeBron James, the Future for Kevin Durant and the Zenith of Busterism

 

Kevin Durant should be celebrated. He is a fantastically gifted scorer who possesses the skills of an elite guard, but has the wingspan of a center.The University of Texas product is certainly on the way to the Hall of Fame, if not the top of the Association’s all-time scoring register. He can shoot, he can create, and as this year’s Western Conference Finals showed, he can actually play some defense.

Yet public opinion on Durant has been waning for years, long before his aptly-timed Independence Day heel turn that saw fans – and sportswriters – roll their eyes in disgust and revolt from his side en masse. The timeline of how this happened, or more accurately, how Durant let this happen, is a complicated one.

Because of his prodigious talents and the timing of his league entrance, KD will always (probably unfairly) be compared to LeBron James. Although both players are nominally small forwards, with the blurring of positions and roles in the modern NBA, the two couldn’t be any more different.

“Bron-Bron” has never been a deadly spot-up shooter like KD, just as Durant has never possessed the world-class court vision and passing ability of James. LeBron thrives on creating for others in the Magic Johnson point forward role; KD is at heart; a volume shooter (albeit a brilliant one). Their respective games are markedly different, a fact that’s always been understated in comparing the two.

But those die have been cast. James and Durant are both super-duper-megastars, they’re of a similar age, they play the same position; therefore, they have to be measured against each other. This is product of fan culture, of media culture and of the pressure former players put on current stars. Durant is not to blame for that.

He’s far from blameless, though. When LeBron signed with Miami following the infamous “The Decision” special in 2010, the public opinion of him plummeted. Never mind that the Cleveland team(s) he left had embarrassingly weak supporting casts (more on this later). He was abandoning his hometown (more or less) team to create a super team and was roundly derided for it.

In that first season in Miami, James tried to double down. Tired of being the calm, collected superstar, he attempted to play the bad guy on the Heat. It didn’t work. It was forced, and later, he admitted that he was mentally exhausted by the act. Notably, the next season, Leron returned to his normal personality en route to his first title. This is where Durant should have been better.

Writers have said for some time that Durant is impressionable and emotional, that “he sometimes makes decisions rashly” and, more alarmingly, “with the intent of choosing the course of action that will please others.” In that context, it is easy to see how a marketing team in KD’s ear could have watched James’ struggles over the first year in Miami and seen an opportunity – one that Durant was all too quick to embrace.

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With LeBron as the league’s new villain, KD tried to position himself as the NBA’s new golden boy. Aided by sycophantic writers eager to buy into the idea of Durant as the humble superstar, public opinion of KD soared. He bought into his own mythos, signing a contract extension with the Thunder in a clear attempt to make himself the anti-LeBron: soft spoken, nice, loyal, and team-first.

LeBron gained some supporters back by defeating Durant soundly in the 2012 Finals, but with the Thunder positioned as the West’s team of the future, the loss didn’t seem particularly significant. A group as talented and as young as OKC would surely be back.

History played out differently. Trading James Harden was a massive mistake, yes, and injuries derailed the Thunder at various points. But as this past season showed, the team has copious talent and is still a championship contender. The excuses started to wear thin, and public perception of the team slowly pivoted from “celebrated young upstarts” to “brash loudmouths without a ring.”

This was helped in no small part by the team’s behavior, from publicly claiming things would have been different with a healthy squad, to the actions of individual players. Serge Ibaka plateaued, and fans got tired of being told he was an elite defender. OKC kept bringing in unlikable, or overrated role players (Caron Butler, Dion Waiters, Kendrick Perkins). And as the lack of ultimate success continued, the team’s constant complaining – which manifested in the form of three consecutive top-two finishes in team technical fouls – got old (a Thunder player led the league in T’s in three of the past five seasons).

There’s a word for this kind of stuff: buster. OKC saw the public gradually turn on it because a team can’t be unlikable AND unsuccessful. If you’re going to be loud and defiant and claim you deserve respect as one of the league’s best teams, you’d better back it up. Failing to do so qualifies you as posers. Durant, as the team’s leader, was deservedly the face of that failure.

From an individual perspective, KD didn’t do himself any favors. As LeBron reestablished himself as (unquestionably) the best player in the world, and Durant continued to promote himself at the expense of another player, fans became less receptive. His impressionable, eager-to-please nature likely made it easy for his handlers to convince him this was the best course. He didn’t make that decision in a vacuum.

However, he did choose to tweet “Now everybody wanna play for the Heat and the Lakers? Let’s go back to being competitive and going at these peoples!” just days after “The Decision”. He chose to sign that big extension, knowing how it would look. And in the absolute nadir of blatant nice-guy pandering, he told Bill Simmons he wanted his nickname to be “The Servant” because he made his teammates better.

It was phony, it was obvious, and it was widely rejected. People don’t want to be told how humble you are. A move that transparent, combined with the rest of the Thunder’s collective busterism, soured fans tremendously. This brings us to KD’s decision to leave OKC and sign with Golden State.

To be clear from the outset: Durant has every right to leave. OKC management drafted well and was reportedly player-friendly, but it also made several questionable personnel decisions– headlined by the Harden trade and the curiously long tenure of one Scott Brooks. Without a doubt, the media-and-fan-created stigma of retiring without a championship loomed large in his mind.

It’s the destination he chose that solidifies Durant as a first-team All-Time Buster. Had he left for San Antonio, his hometown Wizards, or some other team with a decent roster, it would be understandable. Moving on for a better chance at a ring is a respectable business decision. What isn’t respectable is leaving for the team that broke the regular-season wins record, just beat you in a thrilling seven-game conference finals and was likely the best collection of talent the NBA has ever seen (if not the greatest basketball team of all time).

It is the ultimate cop-out, the ultimate admission of defeat and disinterest in carrying a team. This isn’t LeBron leaving for Miami. Look at the roster Bron was playing with his final season in Cleveland. Look at the list of corpses he dragged to the 2007 Finals against the Spurs. No wonder he couldn’t get it done before he went to Miami.

By contrast, this year’s OKC team featured a great young center in Steven Adams, a halfway decent bench and another one of the top five players in the world in Russell Westbrook. The Thunder just made a fantastic trade for Serge Ibaka that landed them Victor Oladipo as well as a pair of bigs to add depth in Ersan Illysova and (rookie) Domantas Sabonis. With KD, that team was possibly going to be as good as the Warriors next year, and the Thunder knew they really should have knocked off the Dubs this season.

When LeBron went to Miami, the Heat’s Big Three had never played together. They had spacing issues and chemistry issues and no real center on the roster. It was a remarkable collection of stars, but there’s a reason it took time for the team to learn how to play together.

Golden State will face far less of a challenge in adding Durant. The Warriors have already won a championship and should have won a second. They were, despite the end result of these playoffs, probably the best team of all time. All they’re doing is replacing a good player in Harrison Barnes with an elite one in Durant. It’s a significantly smaller obstacle that will in turn make winning a title significantly less meaningful for KD.

This move isn’t close to LeBron going to Miami. It’s the equivalent of an alt-history in which Lebron signs with Boston after being eliminated by the Celtics in 2010 (upgrading the position manned by Paul Pierce) and riding the coattails of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to a ring. It’s the equivalent of Michael Jordan throwing up his hands after being eliminated by the Pistons three straight seasons and signing with Detroit in 1990. It’s disappointing, it’s weakness personified and it’s the ultimate endgame of the busterism KD signed on for way back when he agreed to be the foil to LeBron no one needed.

LeBron, on the other hand…

Where did last year’s Finals leave us with Lebron? To start with, it re-solidifies his place among the very best the game has ever seen, and his status as the current top player in the world. It makes the MVP’s of Derrick Rose (2010), Durant (2014) and Steph Curry (2015) look even more ridiculous in retrospect (Curry’s 2016 nod is acceptable). Most importantly, and thankfully, it finally closes the absurd argument that somehow Bron hasn’t done enough in his career to be included in “Greatest Ever” talks.

I get it. It’s natural to be threatened by change. People dislike when something new challenges their preconceived notions of what is and what should be. It’s why aged stars like Oscar Robertson claim players like Steph Curry would get crushed “back in their day.” It fuels the insecurity in Scottie Pippen when he claimed his Bulls would sweep this season’s Warriors. Ex-players don’t want to be forgotten or have younger players rewrite their accomplishments. Fans are no more rational than the players they support. But there seems to be a particular bent on diminishing James’ accomplishments.

That’s undoubtedly because James is the best player we’ve seen since Michael Jordan. He might end up being considered greater than MJ, or he might not, but it’s the mere notion that he COULD be that strikes so much unnecessary fear in the hearts of some fans. Why is this such a big deal? It comes back to insecurity.

If LeBron COULD one day be better than Mike, then what have all these fans been wasting their time with, stanning for a guy who isn’t the best player ever? It’s a particular fetishism of “The Best And Only The Best” that permeates so much of American culture, and when intertwined with personal identity it creates some truly inexplicable results.

LeBron James

You’d think that LeBron dragging a garbage fire to the Finals against San Antonio in 2007 would be a feat worth celebrating, but no, it makes him a choker. Ditto for the crippled six-man team he willed to a 2-1 lead last year against Golden State – one of the best teams of all time in their own right. What matters is that LeBron lost, and MIKE NEVER LOST IN THE FINALS SO Lebron is a fraud!! Apparently he’d have been better off losing in the first round like Jordan.

 

Never mind that LeBron was just 22 years old, and in his fourth season, when he took a bad team to the Finals. Never mind that it took four seasons for Michael Jordan to get out of the first round of the playoffs (and he promptly lost 1-4 in the second round). The sheen of a six-for-six Finals record is rightfully celebrated, but it tends to distract from MJ’s playoff struggles before he got to that point. Do you know how many playoff GAMES Jordan won without Scottie Pippen?

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The answer is one. MJ went 1-9 in the first round in his first three seasons, making the playoffs each year despite a losing record. The latter, of course, was a result of a smaller league, featuring talent consolidation on fewer teams and a near-total lack of quality international players (but that’s a discussion for another time). It’s an ugly mark, but Jordan’s later achievements overshadow those early years, as they should.

If it’s down to rings and rings alone, as some fans attempt to use as a trump card, then neither Michael Jordan nor LeBron James is the best player of all time. Bill Russell’s 11 rings are more than MJ and Bron combined. Yet even the most ardent old-guard supporters would likely concede that Russell is not the greatest player ever. Different eras are difficult to compare, even back-to-back ones like Jordan and James’.

All this of course, misses the point. There is not, nor will there ever be, a consensus greatest player ever. The subject is too subjective and emotion-based to have an “answer.” The most a player can do is put himself in the conversation. If a reasonable argument can be made for a player’s inclusion on that short list, he’s in the conversation. Jordan is there. LeBron is too (and by the way, his career is not over).

That’s what makes Durant leaving for Golden State so disappointing. Michael Jordan broke through in 1991 after struggling for years to get out of the east and rewrote the end of his story. LeBron James went to Miami, learned how to be truly great, then came home and did the same.

No matter how many championships KD wins as a Warrior, he’ll never be the leader of his team the way MJ and Bron were. The Warriors belong to Steph Curry. Durant going along for the ride will only diminish respect for what he accomplishes.

 

img_3186 Devon Singrey is a Portlander and creator of the college football blog, Making Sense of Saturday. His interests include basketball, football, history, mythology, funky music, and all things Prince.

2016-2017 Season Preview: Top 26 Storylines Part Two

[This preview also appears as a post on fullsass.com. What does Fullsass mean? Well check it out for yourself.] 

All Illustrations by Louis Eastman

We are only a few days away from the beginning of training camp, and it is time to dust off the cobwebs and fire it back up. Although the biggest story of the off-season was the Kevin Durant free agency, there are plenty of other story lines to follow this year. I’ve listed (from A-Z ) the ones that I find the most compelling for the 2016-2017 season.

Did you miss Part One? Well catch back up here

 

The LOL Lakers are finally Kobe-free

Maybe Mr. Jellybean Jr. should have hung it up after that first Achilles tear back  in 2013, but I understand why he kept coming back. He was only 34, what else was he going to d0? Join a hipster bingo league? His hard work paid off handsomely because the Lakers gave him an extra 38 million to invest in drones, video games, or whatever is really wealthy people do when they get bored with being rich.

The Lakers will still have their growing pains, but at least they won’t be as pitiful as they have been in past years. With some young, talented wings in  Jordan Clarkson and Brandon Ingram, and an occasionally dazzling point guard in D’Angelo Barksdale  Russell, they should  be competitive on a nightly basis.

I think Larry Nance Jr. will have some opportunities to get loose this season, and a locker room with Luol Deng, Thomas Robinson (hopefully), Tarik Black and Timofey Mosgov will have a positive impact on the younger players.

Luke Walton will actually get a chance to coach the team this year. I was never sold on Byron Scott as the head coach, but the organization put him in an unfair situation when they signed Kobe (after multiple surgeries) to that contract extension.

Manu Ginobili’s Swan Song?

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The 2016-2017 may be the last chance for Spurs fans to celebrate the phenomenal basketball career of Argentina national hero, Manu Ginobili. He won’t average 19 points for the season like he did in his prime, but you can expect at least 1-2 wow plays a game. He may be old, but the man still plays like a veteran magician.

Nerlens Noel and The Other Philly Bigs

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Sam Hinkie’s Matt Millen impersonation (drafting 3 big men in 3 straight years) probably  contributed to him being ushered out-of-town. I still have yet to read the rationale behind it, put so eloquently in his manifesto (and I probably never will), but apparently it was a good internet laugh for a day or three.

I think at his best, Nerlens becomes a Marcus Camby/Tyson Chandler type defensive specialist. He needs someone to get him the ball because he can’t create his own shot. Don’t be surprised if Noel is traded to a playoff contender near the February deadline. Philadelphia needs either assets or some wing/back court help if they are going to do anything positive in the next 4-5 years.

Joel Embiid, Noel’s backup is reportedly ready to begin his rookie campaign. I’m slightly skeptical that he will remain healthy since it hasn’t even been proven he can last a full season of NCAA hoops. Foot problems can be the death of big men’s careers, and I hope this is not the case for “Embiidst Mode”. Joel is a gifted player who has a lot to offer the game. It would be a shame if he didn’t get a chance to show off those gifts.

Ben Simmons is coming into the league with Lebron James level type of hype. Simmons is tall, athletic,and a gifted passer, but word on the street is that he lacks a jump shot. I’ve only watched a handful of LSU games last season, where Simmons was playing with scrubs, and he still handed out assists like cops be handing out beat downs.

Philly has not one transcendent ball handler on their roster, so expect the ball to run through Simmons hands more often than not. I think he will be the real deal, but I don’t think this is the right situation for him.

Jahlil Okafur’s sophomore season can’t be nearly as bad as his first year. I feel bad for the guy. He gets drafted by Philadelphia, a terrible God forsaken, racist sports city, and he loses more in the first month than he did his entire freshman season at Duke. The good news: 76ers surely win more than 10 games this season. The bad news: they will still end up in the lottery. But look on the bright side Sixers fans, you may end up with yet another number one pick next summer.

Oladipo Lands in Oklahoma 

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Victor makes a great back court mate for Russell Westbrook. Oladipo’s pressure on the defensive end will create a ton of fast break opportunities. He isn’t a great shooter yet, but anyone who saw him play for Tom Crean at Indiana, knows that he is a great defender and a high flyer. He ain’t no punk. Oklahoma City lost some talent, but they still will not be fun to play against –especially for teams coming off the front end of back-to-back scheduled games.

The Parsons-Timberlake Bromance

You mean you haven’t thought about this?  He’s probably already having dinner with Timberlake and Jessica Alba, bringing a different girlfriend over to their house every other week. Jessica be like, “Chandler, when you gonna finally settle down–meet you a nice girl? You know I have plenty of single friends in Hollywood.”

Justin cuts her off, “Uhhhh you don’t wanna mess with no Hollywood girls man.”

JA: “What’s wrong with Hollywood women Justin? I’m from Hollywood.”

JT:“Yea but you’re different baby.”

JA: “How?”

JT: “Well you know, the only difference between a lot of Hollywood women and NBA groupies is that Hollywood girls have a better acting resume–though I could argue that NBA groupies may be better actors.”

JA:“Wait what? Half the women you’ve messed with were from Hollywood or Mickey Mouse Club.”

JT: “Which is why I’m able to give an informed opin–never mind. Do what you want Chandler. You’re a grown man.” Jessica turns her back to take the dessert plates into the kitchen. J.T. shakes  his head feverishly and mouths“NO! Don’t do it.You’ll thank me later.”

By the way, am I the only one who thinks Chandler Parsons is destined to be either an agent, or a general manager, or maybe both? I bet he looks at Warriors GM, Bob Myers and thinks, “That is going to be me someday.”

Quinn Snyder’s Moment of Truth

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This is Quinn Snyder’s year to prove he belongs in the NBA as a head coach. I personally have mixed feelings about Snyder. Here is a guy who played at Duke and coached at Missouri, but was also a Gregg Popovich disciple. Maybe my dislike can be reduced to just not liking his face. I guess because he looks like he could’ve been Andrew McCarthey’s understudy in all those corny 80’s movies.

Unfortunately for me I will be seeing a lot of his face this season, as I plan to watch a good chunk of Jazz games. They are primed to take that next step of the young, pesky team that pushed their first round opponent to the brink of elimination. On paper there is no reason this team doesn’t make playoffs. The veteran signings of Boris Diaw, George Hill, and Joe Johnson should be the extra push in the right direction.

Russell Westbrook Unleashed

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A lot of people are excited to see Russell Westbrook win the scoring title, put up multiple 40 point games, amass a long reel’s worth of jaw dropping, head shaking highlights, and lose 40 plus games this season. I mean, I guess if you are into that sort of thing. By the way, major props to Russell Westbrook for speaking out about all these shootings. He isn’t hiding behind his “brand” he is saying what a lot of us feel (I’ve never felt more proud or terrified to be a black man in this country than I do right now). I appreciate Russ, and I’ll never (publicly) give him grief for doing #fucboishit again, but unless they get some outside shooting, there is going to be some ugly basketball played in the land of red dirt.

Spurs Enter The Post-Duncan Era

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I don’t know if I can put it better than my dude Robert McFail, who sums it up perfectly with this preseason preview of the Spurs. Yes the Spurs will still win, but it would take a series of extraordinary strokes of luck for a return to the NBA Finals. Spurs fans, it is time to start having realistic expectations. For the first time in a very long time, your team is in the “everybody else”category.

Thibs’ Crazy Litter Of Teen Wolves

The Timberwolves are only slightly better than last year. Drafting Kris Dunn may signal the end of the Ricky Rubio experiment in Minnesota. Rubio should get on the phone with his agent and see if they can swing a deal to get him to Boston rather than a spot in Sacramento, Atlanta, or Philadelphia. Minnesota will be a tough team to beat night in and out, but they are young and still rebuilding. I bet the Knicks win more games than they do this year.

While I’m sure players like Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns will be improved, they brought back pretty much the same team minus Kevin Garnett (who retired yesterday) and Nikola Pekovic (who may not ever play basketball again). Kansas Jayhawks fans will watch more Timberwolves games this season with the addition of Brandon Rush and Cole Aldrich, but that won’t necessarily translate to wins will it?

Uncle Drew Earns A Ring

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Kyrie Irving shut up all the haters (including me) when he balled out in the final 3 games of last year’s Finals. For the record, I’ve never said he wasn’t good. He just could never stay healthy. I’m still of the belief that last year was about as fluky of a title this side of 1999 (sorry Spurs fans–even you all admit that was the worst roster of all the championship seasons).

Now that Kyrie has that chip, let’s see if he will lose some competitive fire. Or will he ball even harder now that the pressure of winning a title is lifted? Will he shock the world and remain healthy for another full season? Last season, Clevelanders believed he would be the difference between another Finals L and some champagne, and I guess they were right.

 Vroom!!! Vroom!! (Go The Houston Rockets)

Pick up your door prize if you guessed that the letter V would be dedicated to the Houston Rockets. How do you appease a high volume scoring 2 guard who doesn’t like playing defense? You go out and you hire a coach who doesn’t give a shit about playing defense. This is a marriage made in NBA heaven for Mike D’Antoni and James Harden. There will be some games this season where they will score 132 points. The bad news is they will be giving up 145 points in those same games.

No Dwight Howard? No problem. Ryan Anderson will have multiple 30 point games. James Harden will score at least 60 in one game and have multiple 50 point games. Even Corey Brewer will break 30 points in a couple of games this year. The Rockets season will resemble an after-party thrown by Magic Johnson in the 1980’s, EVERYBODY GETS SOME!!!!

Waiters Island

Remember when I said that “everyone” in the NBA was eating? This is absolutely true. However some people are eating expensive grass-fed Chilean steaks from cows that were shipped to the U.S. before they were slaughtered, and some people, like Dion Waiters, are going to Sizzler.

Dion Waiters sat on a 1 year offer for 6.7 million dollars from the OKC Thunder for so long, that the organization rescinded it. Miami, blindsided by the Dwyane Wade departure, offered Waiters a 2 year contract worth 5.9 million (1st year worth 2.9 million with a second year player option).

I’m no mathematician, but isn’t  6.7 million is a larger sum than 2.9? You ever hear the phrase “He bet on himself and won”? Well no one is saying that about Dion Waiters. This scenario screams of two jilted lovers, fresh out of relationships, clinging to the first warm body they could get to move into their apartment with them.

Time will tell which as to which party “settled” the hardest. I think Waiters has to stay the full 2 years to make this worth his while. Imagine the phone calls Dion made when he fired entire entourage because he can’t pick up any checks this season (how much of that 2.9 million will be left after taxes and agent fees?). Funnily enough, this is exactly the kind of player that Miami Heat fans deserve. Maybe we’re witnessing karma for the Lebron years.

X’s and O’s

The NBA as a whole got better in the head coaching department. Frank Vogel is a solid replacement for Scotty Skiles. I think he’ll be worth an extra 5-7 wins for that franchise. Dave Joerger will be a good fit for Sacramento,  but their dysfunctional front office will find a way to mess that up. I’m still not sold on Tom Thibodeau as a long-term solution,only because I think he burns his players out.

The Knicks can’t help but get better under Jeff Hornacek, who hopefully won’t date his players’ ex-girlfriends like the previous coach. Scotty Brooks may or may not be better than Randy Wittman, but it is D.C. Those Wizards are going to do what Wizards do regardless of who is coaching them.

In Dallas, it feels like Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle sit down at the beginning of every off-season to figure out a way to keep Carlisle mentally stimulated. “What is that Rick? You don’t feel challenged enough? Well how about we go into next season with only 1 small forward, and I’ll pay him a 100 million to keep our salary cap strapped? You’ll definitely win Coach of the Year with this lineup we’re trotting out.Be sure to thank me in your acceptance speech.”

Youth Movement

Out with the old and in with new right? KG, TD, and Kobe are done. Steve Nash is done. Vince Carter, Jason Terry, and Tony Parker are old. Jason Kidd is a head coach now. Remember that 2003 draft? Well those guys are veterans now, and many of them are on their way out of the league too. Guard play and small ball is the new emphasis of the NBA, which means its even more of a young person’s game.

It is hard to believe, but players like Demarcus Cousins, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook are barely into their primes. Once Lebron finally slows down, the league will belong to the picks from the previous 5 drafts (Devin Booker is getting all kinds of hype). Compared to the vacuum the Jordan era players left when they retired, NBA fans of today are pretty spoiled. The legends from my youth are done, but NBA basketball is still a good ass game.

Zach Lavine: Is He Good?

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It seems silly to judge a 3rd year player too harshly, but NBA fans will be watching Zach Lavine closely, if only to see how much he improved from last season. His decision-making last year was spotty at best, and teams dared him to settle for 3 pointers and jumpers. Will Lavine be the next Demar Derozan, or will be he more like Gerald Green? This season could give us a glimpse into Lavine’s (and Minnesota’s) future.

 

Season Predictions:

Eastern Conference Playoff Teams:

Cavs, Celtics, Pistons, Raptors,Hornets, Pacers, Bulls, Bucks

Western Conference Playoff Teams:

Warriors, Spurs, Trailblazers, Clippers, Rockets, Mavericks, Jazz, Thunder

 

Eastern Conference Finals:

Cavs vs. Pistons: Cavs in 5 games

Western Conference Finals:

Warriors vs. Thunder: Warriors in 6 games

NBA Finals:

Warriors vs. Cavs III: Warriors in 7 games

Finals MVP: Draymond Green

Regular Season MVP: Russell Westbrook

Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond Green

Rookie Of The Year: Ben Simmons

 

BM

 

 profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com. 

 

2016-2017 Season Preview: Top 26 Storylines Part One

[This preview also appears as a post on fullsass.com. What does Fullsass mean? Well check it out for yourself.] 

All Illustrations by Louis Eastman

We are only a few days away from the beginning of training camp, time to dust off the cobwebs and fire it back up. Although the biggest story of the off-season was the Kevin Durant free agency, there are plenty of other story lines to follow this year. I’ve listed (from A-Z ) the ones that I find the most compelling for the 2016-2017 season.

Amin Elhassan fullsizerender-4

ESPN’s most merciless twitter troll is a must follow this season.

Amin is great not only for his tendency to roast any unlucky soul stupid enough to tweet some dumb shit, but also for his great insight into how things operate behind the NBA scenes. Having worked in both the Knicks and Suns front office before his stop at ESPN, Elhassan is a wealth of insider knowledge.

What I love most about him is that he does not hold back in any of his funny–but often wickedly straight forward analysis. His creation of the #Pitino game is one the more underappreciated social media phenomenons you’ll experience during playoff elimination games. #Pitino game is just as a part of the playoff pageantry as TNT’s Gone Fishing segments, but more interactive and way more clever. 

Buddy Hield

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Back in 2015 he simply slid into place. Buddy Buddy Buddy All up in my face.

Is Buddy Hield the Real Deal Holyfield? Inquiring minds want to know. It is a little too early to anoint him as the sidekick to Anthony Davis, but if Hield shoots as well as his reputation suggests, then this could be a good working relationship for the two. Hield wasn’t exactly a defensive stopper in college, but that hasn’t kept James Harden from receiving tons of (mostly deserved) accolades. He could be a nice small ball option for Pelican’s coach, Alvin Gentry, who is looking at a very thin back court-especially with Jrue Holiday absent from the team for personal reasons. 

Celtics Are Legit Contenders

Had the C’s managed to get Horford and Durant this off-season, you could have  penciled them in for the NBA Finals (and I doubt anyone one would have argued with you). As it stands, they only have two reliable scorers, Isiah Thomas and Horford (who has never averaged a 20 and 10 at any point in his career). Isiah Thomas is great at getting his own shot, but he isn’t much of a distributor.

Avery Bradley is an all NBA defender, but anything he gives you on offense is considered icing on the cake (Bruce Bowen 2.0?), and their outside shooting is too reliant upon Kelly Olynk shooting a high percentage. I think they are still two really good players away, or one superstar and a role player (probably a backup pg) away from being in the conversation to knock off the Lebrons for the Eastern Conference crown.

Draymond Green

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Steph Curry may be the league MVP, but I think the team MVP for the Golden State Warriors is Draymond Green. Klay Thompson, Curry, and Green are all irreplaceable, but the intangibles that Dray provide for that team are immeasurable. The league’s decision to suspend him changed the course of that series, as the Warriors were dead in the water after game 5. Regardless, had Dray kept his head, the hometown of Jive Ass Don King would still be without a title today. 

Had we laid money on “Finals player most likely to send pictures of their ding-dong to all their Snapchat followers”, most people would have place their bets on J.R. Smith. I think the public opinion of Draymond Green will be cemented for the rest of his career, according to how he performs both on and off the court this season. The Warriors need his fire, but he has to learn to harness it if they are going to get back to the Finals.

Everybody Eats This Season 

The NBA has never been a better league to play in. Owners are making money hand over fist. The league just signed a lucrative television deal that allows even scrubs *ahem* players like Matthew Dellavedova to cash in a meal ticket. Allen Crabbe made 70 million to stay in Portland.

The Grizzlies’ Mike Conley leveraged his way into a 153 million dollar contract and for a couple of months, was the highest paid player in league history. This year’s 90 million dollar salary cap is only going to get larger (reportedly $118 million next season), so dudes are about to get paid. Now that everybody is eating, let’s start taking bets on who will eat themselves out of the league.

Finals Rematch (Again)

We can just stop this right now huh? No need to even play the season out. Forget preseason. Let’s put it on simulation mode like NBA Live 95? Barring any major injuries, I don’t see how anyone out west beats Golden State, or anyone out east beating Lebron.

I’m looking forward to the rubber match between these two teams. Kevin Durant is going to be the deadliest 4th option you’ve ever seen in the NBA Finals. The running thread all season will be “If Lebron beats the GSW super team will he be the greatest?” or “Will this championship validate KD’s career even though he joined a super team?” I personally don’t blame Durant or the Warriors for signing him. I bet it sucks losing to Lebron, but I bet it sucks even more losing to him after getting spotted a 3-1 series lead. This is the best reoccurring story line since Lakers vs.Celtics last decade. Stay tuned.

Giannis Antetokounmpo Playing The Point 

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I’m not saying the Bucks will be in the Eastern Conference Finals. I’m not saying that I think they will get back in the playoffs. I’m not even saying they will be fun to watch, but there will be at least 20 nights this season where Giannis does something to make Sportscenter top 10 highlights. 

Harrison Barnes: The 94 Million Dollar Man

I personally think Barnes will do well in Dallas. The city has a way of being a decent stop for exorbitantly rich black athletes (if they perform decently ). Of course, you have to wonder what is considered reasonable expectations for a contract like the one Barnes signed. For what it is worth Mavs fans, he will be a better investment than Roy Tarpley, Cherokee Parks, Erick Dampier and Shawn Bradley all put together. He can’t be any worse………right?

Iggy’s back  

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No I am not talking about the Nick Young’s ex fiancee’s booty (although it makes for an interesting google search #therabbithole). If Andre Iguodala is unhealthy, forget about the Warriors getting a chip for Kevin Durant. Iggy is one of their best defenders, and he was the guy who guarded both Durant and Lebron down the stretch of last year’s playoffs. By the time games 6 and 7 of the Finals came around, he was gassed (who is to say that a healthy Iggy doesn’t try and dunk the ball on that infamous Lebron chase down block?). 

Now that Durant is a teammate, there is no one in the west (outside of Kawhi Leonard) to push him defensively. Theoretically, he should be fresh for his Finals dance with Lebron. Then again, 30-year-old backs are more fickle than 23-year-old girlfriends. You never know how things will flare up from night to night. 

 

The 3 J’s (reboot)

My dude Joakim Noah is back in his hometown playing for the Knicks. No matter how he does on the floor, homie is going to be slaying it off the court. It is good to see Jeff Hornacek get another head coaching shot. He got a raw deal in Phoenix. Robert Sarver pulled the old bait and switch with Hornacek. The Suns front office didn’t bring back key players, but kept expecting the same results . It was unfair to everyone involved; Hornacek, the players, the fans, and League Pass subscribers who were unexpectedly treated to a near playoff run in 2014.

As for Phil, no one could figure out why the hell he hired Derek Fisher; but he corrected that mistake by firing D-Fish midway through the season. This is his third and most pivotal season as Knicks GM, because if they suck again this year, it will be tough to lure free agents to sign with the club next season. 

Are they going to make the playoffs? Maybe, if 40 wins is enough to get in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Courtney Lee was a good pickup, and Derrick Rose may be able to add some punch if he can find the basketball court, and stay out of the criminal court. Rose thinks they have a super team in New York, but kind of like the word consent,there may be some confusion as to what the definition of a super team is.

40 wins for this roster would be the equivalent of making the Finals. I’d play with them on NBA2K, because you don’t really need subs on a video game, but in real life, their bench is thin. Pencil them in for 30 wins.

Klay “ I’m Not Sacrificing Shit” Thompson

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I’ll fight anyone who says he isn’t the best 2 guard in the league. He may not be able to attack the rim like Demar Derozan (apparently the 46th best player in the NBA), but the man is the best defensive 2 guard; and his shot is wet. He is Ron Harper with a knock down J. Klay Thompson only benefits from the arrival of Kevin Durant.

TO BE CONTINUED:

 

BM

 

 profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com.