Complete Guide to NBA Free Agency (Part 2/2)

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This is Part 2 of my NBA Free Agency Preview. If you haven’t done so already, please check out Complete Guide to NBA Free Agency (Part 1/2). If you have, enjoy reading about where I think these big targets should land. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Paul George Image result for paul george

Yeah, I know he’s not actually a free agent, but he might as well be one with all of the rumors flying around. I won’t spend too much time with him because I think we’ve all heard enough about it, but I want to put my piece in.

Here’s the thing. I have no idea where he’s going. Indiana wants him to go to the Celtics because they can probably get the most from Boston, but the Celtics only want George if they can get Hayward. So, if they don’t, Indiana has to look at offers in the meantime, and there is a lot to sort through. First, the Cavaliers want to work out a three team trade (because they have nothing to offer the Pacers), that would give Indiana some prospects from a different team in exchange for Kevin Love. That sounds fine and dandy, but if the Cleveland Championship plan falls through again, both Paul George and LeBron James will likely leave to get a trophy in 2019, as they are UFA. So the concept of George being a potential one-and-done spices things up in the short term.

Second, the Los Angeles Lakers have made their cycle around the rumor mill, but with little getting done over the past week, I’m not sure this is realistic as a 2018 destination. Especially considering that the Lakers don’t have anything to offer the Pacers at this point. However, I could easily see George going to L.A. next offseason if he still doesn’t have any jewelry. But let’s cross that bridge when we get there.

Finally, and perhaps most intriguing beyond the Boston chaos, the Houston Rockets have emerged as legitimate contenders after picking up Chris Paul. Owner and fellow data analyst Daryl Morey is swinging for the fences and quickly assembling the Avengers to try to take out the Warriors. I would love watching George team up with Harden and Paul as they would certainly become the most fun team to watch in the entire NBA. We’ll see if these rumors come to fruition, but if I know Morey (and I think I do), he won’t quit until he gets his man.

The Celtics are still very much in control of these discussions, and Indiana and Boston have already gone back and forth on various offers. Basically, the Celtics think the Pacers want too much, and it’s a gamble to comply if the don’t pick up Hayward. However, if they do, GM Danny Ainge claims he is more willing to go the extra mile for George. That said, if the Hayward decision takes too long or he signs elsewhere, the Pacers might get impatient and pull the trigger with the Rockets or Cavs. It’s an insanely tense time as we wait for all of these pieces to simultaneously play out and unleash a bomb across the NBA.

Kyle LowryImage result for kyle lowry

Lowry is a complicated case because he’s 32, and no one wants to commit on the superstar long term. The Raptors have stated their interest in Lowry, but they’re more willing to sign him for a 3- or 4-year deal with a possible team option. Obviously, that doesn’t tempt Lowry too much, but as his career dwindles, his options are beginning to slim.

Lowry, in turn, has expressed interest in moving west. I don’t blame him either.  With James and the Cavs breaking the Raptors’ hearts every year, I’d want to move, too. However, interested and affordable parties include the Lakers and Nuggets, so if Lowry does in fact move West, it’ll be part of a rebuilding effort, which he doesn’t need in his mid 30s. The Philadelphia 76ers have reportedly thrown their hat in as well, which might be more tempting because of the weaker Eastern Conference. Stacked with young talent, they are much farther in the process, but still no farther away from the Cavs.

With all of this in mind, despite the Raptors lackluster offer, it’s the best option if he wants to continue to contend. So I expect Lowry to reunite with his brother DeMAr DeRozan and continue their lethal backcourt dominance in Toronto and to hope the Raptors’ front office can put the pieces together to beat the Cavs and Celtics. It’s a tough spot for the veteran, but there are plenty of less desirable places to end up.

One more thing – there are no rumors about this, and I don’t know why. The San Antonio Spurs. Talk about contender, and talk about a need at guard with Tony Parker on his last breath, and Manu Ginobili perhaps already retiring. These parties need each other. Lowry is a perfect fit to play at a high clip with Kawhi Leonard, and the Spurs can keep LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol around to keep a solid front court. The Spurs were 2nd in the West last year, and adding the depth with Lowry provides a smooth transition from old to less-old and keeps them in contention a little bit longer. Done and done. Make it happen. …I wish…

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Last but not least…Paul Millsap. Often overlooked due to his team’s constant finishes in the 1st round of the playoffs, Millsap excelled for the Hawks last year and has put himself in a great spot at the right time. Though he is not the first option for top contenders, or maybe even the second option, Millsap can fill the role at PF that so many teams struggle to find.

There are a ton of teams pursuing Millsap from all over the standings. The most high profile team is the Rockets. Other teams in the mix are the Nuggets, Kings and Suns, but I don’t see Millsap moving to any of those if he didn’t like Atlanta’s set up when he opted out of his contract. Millsap is the type of forward that can mold to any offensive scheme, and can earn a max contract from those who can afford it.

With the Rockets signing Chris Paul, and going after Paul George, it’s no surprise that Paul Millsap is on their radar. Can you imagine all of those Pauls on one court?? A commentator’s nightmare… With the Rockets coming out of nowhere and throwing out deals, I can easily see Millsap going to Houston if George goes to Boston. And that’s not the worst thing in the world.

I also want to send my apologies to the Nuggets.  I know they want a few of these guys, but I just don’t see what they have to pull them in. With the way this NBA is formatted to make superteams to compete, I’m not sure Denver can ever make it happen…especially being stuck in the Western Conference. By the way, if you don’t know what I mean by that, Google and compare the teams in the West to those in the East. The difference is staggering.

Homebodies

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One last thing before I wrap up. There are plenty of other free agents worth noting, but they are 99.99% going to re-sign with their current teams, and it’s easier to focus on the big story lines. In my opinion, it’s worth mentioning that Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are unrestricted free agents. They can literally sign with the Brooklyn Nets if they wanted. Obviously, the only drama is how much money the Warriors can give them to keep their team intact… but I’m just saying.

Other notables like this are Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony. Nowitzki was actually persuaded by the Mavericks to opt out only so they could restructure his contract to his liking. Melo, on the other hand, has been rumored to go everywhere but to New York. However his deal is such that it is his decision and not the team’s, so expect him to stay put. Although, in the past he has expressed interest in teaming up with his good friend LeBron James in Cleveland, so I guess anything’s possible.

 

Whew. Okay. That’s all for me today. I apologize for such a long post, but this free agency is unlike any other with so many variables in play. I can’t wait to see how the dominoes fall. Let me know your opinion in the comments below! I’ll be back shortly to react to the hurricane that sweeps through the NBA over the next week. Cheers!

Complete Guide to NBA Free Agency (Part 1/2)

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With the floodgates of free agency about to open at 12:00 AM on July 1st, fans, owners, and players alike wait to see how the NBA will get shaken up. There are a lot of top targets expected to be on the market, and plenty of possible destinations for them to call home next year. Let’s take a look at my top free agents for 2017, and where I think they should play.

Chris PaulImage result for chris paul rockets jersey

Before I could even finish this article, Paul was signed and traded to Houston. So instead of omitting him from this post, let me briefly describe why I love this trade so much. For those of you who do not know, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and the Clippers have been known to have some friction.  So much so that Paul and Griffin were willing to forego a hefty pay raise to stay in L.A. in favor of opting out of their player options. Nonetheless, Paul and Griffin were prepared to move out of Los Angeles. So the Clippers, realizing their two biggest superstars were about to leave without the slightest bit of compensation, devised a plan to relatively save their organization.

Here’s where it gets technical. Paul is an NBA veteran and is potentially due for a max contract at the end of next year worth close to $250 million if he were to choose to re-sign for 5 years. However, if he does not sign and simply picks a contract from another team in free agency, he can only make $152 million over 4 years. The fact that he was willing to lose $100 million to leave L.A. truly shows his distaste for the Clippers. And who can blame him? Arguably one of the best pure point guards of all-time, he has never made an appearance in the Conference Finals. With no real potential in L.A., I think he has a right to explore other options to help him find postseason success. I say pure point guard because he is an assist machine, he has unparalleled court vision, and can dictate the pace of the game. Also, standing only 6’0″ tall, Paul doesn’t have the capability to muscle up and score like the other non-traditional superstar PGs in the league today.

Anyway, as I was saying, Paul was going to lose out on $100 million, and the Clippers were about to lose their face of the franchise for nothing. So, the two parties orchestrated a deal to suit both sides. With Houston primed to compete with San Antonio for Paul’s talents, the second the free agency window opened, the Clippers had some leverage for a few more days. L.A. persuaded Paul to accept the player option and promised to trade him immediately. This makes Paul happy, as he gets his guaranteed $24.2 million this year, and his max, 5-year contract next year goes from $150 million to approximately $202 million because he was acquired via trade and not on his own volition so to speak.

So now Paul is happy. Check. The Clippers are happy because they get to work out a deal to acquire 3 mid-tier players and a 2018 first round draft pick when otherwise they would have received nothing. Double Check. The Rockets are even happy because they won the bidding war against the Spurs before it could even begin! Everybody wins! Bravo. All that remains is seeing how Paul and James Harden can work together. Assuming Harden can make a smooth transition to SG, Paul will give him some great touches and open looks, perhaps bolstering him to win MVP in 2018. I think the two can really tear up the league, and I can’t wait to see how it shakes out.

Blake GriffinImage result for blake griffin

Obviously, there are a couple of bigger names out there, but I want to discuss Griffin first. Before opting out of his contract, Griffin was scheduled to make about $21 million next year. Now, it appears that he’s ready for a max contract of his own. He hasn’t always gotten along with Paul, so I don’t believe CP3 influenced Griffin’s decisions at all. However, now that Paul has packed his bags, Griffin might be more willing to re-sign with the Clippers. That is surely L.A.’s hope, as he is now their #1 target, and they have the budget to give Griffin anything he wants.

However, there are many more variables in play. For example, Griffin has reportedly subtly expressed interest in playing in Boston, and the Celtics hold the key to seemingly every signing this July. With an embarrassment of trade assets, Boston can pick and choose who they want. However, it’s well known that the C’s want to prioritize signing Gordon Hayward, and if that works out, they can easily strike a deal for Paul George. However, if Hayward chooses to re-sign in Utah or to take his talents to South Beach, only then will Boston pursue Griffin. Again, as long as they’re  not too late, Boston should have no problem making it happen with all of their draft picks and depth at their disposal.

Still, it’s not that cut and dry. There are a couple of other dark horses in the mix: the Denver Nuggets, the Phoenix Suns, and the New York Knicks. The Nuggets emerging as contenders for a few of these big stars surprised me, but they have the means to make it happen under an aggressive team president in Tim Connelly. It’s hard to see where they will cash their chips, as they are an underdog to get Griffin, and they also covet Paul Millsap and Kevin Love. Clearly desperate for a PF, they may get their wish, but at what cost? Also, Griffin has a lot of self interest in Phoenix, but I’m not convinced that is a realistic option for him at this point in his career. Lastly, the Knicks have some down time to go after a big name. Team president James Dolan has expressed that his focus is on free agency before he will search for Phil Jackson’s replacement. With Carmelo Anthony confirming his interest in staying in New York, Dolan has the leisure of concentrating all of his efforts on Griffin. However, with all of the turmoil surrounding the organization, I find it unlikely that Griffin will choose to sign there.

The Clippers have the inside track to retain Griffin, but it all depends on the Celtics. Griffin will likely hold out making any formal decisions until Boston shows their cards, but seeing as they appear locked in on Hayward and George, that leaves Griffin on the backburner. The safe play will be to re-sign and restart with a new-look Clippers team, which I believe has the potential to surprise, despite the insanely deep and competitive Western Conference.

Gordon HaywardImage result for hayward gordon

I loved watching Hayward transform from a role player in Utah to potentially the most coveted player of free agency. After a terrific season, Hayward proved he was no fluke with his leadership and significant stat line during the playoffs. That, without the help of the injured Rudy Gobert for a few key games against the Clippers. I’m sure the Jazz are thrilled with his sudden production, but it comes at a pivotal time in the organization. Will Hayward leave for greener pastures (no pun intended), or will he stay home and bring the Jazz back to the high caliber that they had in the 80s and 90s?

There are 3 front runners in the Hayward sweepstakes: the Jazz, Celtics, and Heat. The Jazz have been campaigning hard with the hashtag, “Stayward”, on billboards throughout the city and on social media. It’s fair to say that Utah has fallen in love with their newfound hero, and are depending on him to return and to keep the Jazz trending upward. It’s a solid option for Hayward, as he is close with his teammates, and he has never suited up for anyone else. After playing in his first All-star game after 7 years in the NBA, he has earned a good contract that Utah can afford, too. If it wasn’t for the Celtics’ stronghold on the market right now, the Jazz would easily be favorites to make Hayward stay.

The Celtics have a lot going for them. They have money, history, and most importantly – a future. Their pitch to Hayward is the fact that he will be a centerpiece in the NBA Finals run in 2018. Not to mention, he already has ties in Boston. Head coach Brad Stevens mentored Hayward throughout his years at Butler. If anyone can take him away from “home”, it’s the family that Stevens has created with the Celtics. You have to remember, Hayward is just entering his prime at this point; he doesn’t need to chase championships yet. But as Boston forms their “superteam” one way or another, it’s probably better to be with them than against them. Better yet, if you have a chance to compete outside of the West, I think you should.

I’ll mention the Miami Heat simply because they have a history of grabbing free agents they shouldn’t. I’d consider them a long shot, but for no other reason than that they are the farthest away from a ring. Goran Dragic and Gordon Hayward would work well together, as they have nearly identical playing styles. With Hassan Whiteside down low, the Heat can definitely pitch a “Big 3 2.0” scenario. Pat Riley is a magician with capturing big talent like this who don’t have experience as free agents, but I wouldn’t bet on it this time. It’s a two-man race between the Jazz and Celtics, and with Hayward remaining mum on the topic, it’s anyone’s guess as to where he’ll end up after July 1st. In my opinion, I think Boston’s offer is too tempting to pass up.

 

I’m only half way done! Please head over and check out Complete Guide to NBA Free Agency (Part 2/2), and leave your own thoughts below!

 

 

2017 NBA Draft Winners & Losers

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After the draft concluded, many were left with a bunch of questions regarding players taken too early, falling too far, or being traded before they were even selected. Allow me to break down what happened on draft night, and let’s take a look at those winners and losers.

Winners:

Sacramento Kings– I was very impressed with the Kings to say the least. With a need at every position, they managed to stretch their resources and acquire 4 big name players. Their 2017 class is highlighted by superstar De’Aaron Fox, who is capable of earning rookie of the year. Alongside Fox is fellow point guard Frank Mason, who exhibited maturity and leadership throughout his 4 years at Kansas. Furthermore, the Kings traded their 10th pick for an underrated small forward in Justin Jackson, and a natural scorer in Harry Giles. Overall, the Kings just needed a bunch of players to step into roles all over their depth chart, and they did that on Thursday night. I hope the management can continue to make more decisions like these.

Minnesota Timberwolves– Obviously, the T-wolves are not just winners because of their draft pick, but because they were able to trade for one of my favorite players in the league. Jimmy Butler is the superstar Minnesota was missing, and he’s a huge upgrade from a guard recovering from an ACL tear. Furthermore, despite dropping 9 spots in the draft, the Timberwolves were still able to get Justin Patton and provide depth at center. Patton is a big body that can make space for Karl Anthony Towns and pick up some rebounds, too. With Rubio being a pass-first point guard, the T-Wolves are set to break into the postseason.

Portland Trailblazers– A genius move by the GM to trade up gives the Trailblazers a huge boost in 2018. Last year, the Blazers were unfortunate enough to draw the Warriors in Round 1, but with Zach Collins and my man Caleb Swanigan on board, they are in position to win their division and lock up home-court advantage next year. Before I get too ahead of myself, I want to take a look at this starting 5. First, one of the best back courts in basketball, Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Allen Crabbe unleash 3-point barrages every night. Also, Jusuf Nurkic really came into his own last year and proved he can be a key role player in the Blazers’ success. Now, two big men with experience in college are fully prepared for the pressure of the next level. Collins was a vital part of Gonzaga’s runner-up finish in the tournament, and Swanigan helped Purdue coast to the regular season Big Ten title and collected some personal hardware. I still don’t think anyone compares to the Warriors, but it doesn’t get much closer than Portland.

Los Angeles Lakers– I’m really loving this new-look Lakers team. Starting with Brooks Lopez and Brandon Ingram, the Lakers picked up a stellar point guard with pick #2. Lonzo Ball has proven he can play despite some questions on his shooting touch. Then, with the #27 pick the Lakers got Kyle Kuzma. I really didn’t care for this because he is undersized, unproven, and just not a great fit for the organization. But then I thought, he might be a good fit in Indiana… So, I hope L.A. can redeem themselves by shipping Kuzma, Julius Randle, and perhaps a draft pick to the Pacers for Paul George. Lastly, the Lakers traded their 28th pick for Josh Hart and Thomas Bryant. Bryant is a great talent from the University of Indiana, so it would be a nice story to see him traded too, but he’s a solid backup if Lopez needs rest. But the cherry on top, the icing on the cake, the ribbon to tie this package together- Josh Hart. An NCAA Champion groomed by some of the best coaches in college basketball, Hart is a stable leader with maturity L.A. can lean on when times get tough. If they get George- you’re looking at a serious contender in 2018.

 

Losers:

Orlando Magic– The Magic got some nice talent, but it just didn’t fit their draft needs. While Elfrid Payton is a lock at point guard, I feel they really need depth there, and a good shooting guard with the 6th pick. Instead, they went for Jonathan Isaac who is admittedly a very versatile player, but just not the right fit for Orlando. His style is a lot like Terrance Ross, and if you add on Aaron Gordon, it appears as though they’ve created a log jam in the forward position. So the next pick will surely be a guard, right? No. Seven-footer Anzejs Pasecniks. He’s a great international player don’t get me wrong, but I don’t know why the Magic felt they needed him to challenge Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo in the 5-spot. Now the Magic have no stability in the front court, and no depth in the back court. Yikes.

Chicago Bulls Fans– No, not the Chicago Bulls, but the fans. I don’t hate the trade as much as everyone seems to. Yes, the Bulls traded away a superstar and any chance they had at making the Divisional Round, but check this out: On Tuesday night they offered to give the Celtics Jimmy Butler for the #3 pick straight up, and luckily for Chicago, the Celtics somehow declined. So on Thursday, they get pick #7, a budding two-guard with lots of energy, and last year’s #5 overall pick. That doesn’t sound to bad to me when you consider the position the Bulls are in. Torn between going all-in or rebuilding, I think this is a great way to hit the reset button. Sorry Bulls fans, you’ll have to wait a couple of years to contend again, but take solace in the fact that this trade isn’t as bad as everyone is making it seem. Also, Lauri Markkanen is an absolute stud, so maybe you’ll make it back to the playoffs before you know it.

Utah Jazz– This was not a good night for Utah. It started off well with a trade up to draft the athletic Donovan Mitchell. I thought, “Great! He’s a solid backup if Gordon Hayward stays, and a good replacement of he leaves.” Well, then comes Tony Bradley and Nigel Williams-Goss. A national champion and the guy he beat. Unfortunately, neither player has the body for the NBA. Bradley is a raw prospect who needs a lot of conditioning, and Goss is a workhorse on defense but struggles on the offensive end. With that I realized, if Hayward leaves, the Jazz are screwed. And by drafting two guards, it appears the Jazz might be preparing for just that. It was fun while it lasted Utah…

Miami Heat– The Heat only had one pick and they blew it. Bam Adebayo was completely out of my 2017 NBA Mock Draft, and cannot be a difference maker for a team that missed the playoffs by one game. And fine, it’s one game, they can make that up, right? Well maybe, but look at all the talent that got scooped up in this draft by the teams behind the Heat. While Miami stays stagnant, teams like the 76ers and Hornets are making moves to pass them. Had they drafted Justin Jackson or Justin Patton, I would have put them in the Winners column for finding someone to work with Whiteside and prove the difference to breaking into the playoffs. Instead, the Heat will be stuck in limbo again in 2018.

 

So there you have it. Do you think I nailed it? Or did I get it all wrong? Let me know in the comments and be sure to check out my 2017 NBA Draft Grades for in-depth analysis of every first round pick.

LIVE: 2017 NBA Draft Grades

The NBA Draft is live with Sports Thoughts! Watch with me as I react and give grades for each team as their picks come in. Whether you can see what happens on ESPN or not, be sure to check back in to this post for the latest updates on all the action. And as always, feel free to discuss all the surprises and trades in the comments below and let me know what you think! Also, if you want to see how my predictions stack up, you can find them here: 2017 NBA Mock Draft. Now, join me as we take a look at the future stars of the NBA find their new homes.

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1      Philadelphia 76ers- Markelle Fultz, PG Washington

A.  This comes as no surprise as Fultz is far and away the most dynamic player in the draft and his self-described unorthodox playing style gives defenders fits. His phenomenal talent and ball-handling skills are enough to go #1, but what sets him apart is his leadership and ability to make his teammates better. With Fultz at the helm, the new era of 76ers basketball is here.

2      Los Angeles Lakers- Lonzo Ball, PG UCLA.

A-. The California kid is coming home! A predictable pick given L.A.’s preparation for the draft, Ball is a perfect fit in the Lakers’ game plan. He surely impressed new president Magic Johnson during his private workouts with his court vision and impressive work ethic. I only worry that his father may become an unnecessary distraction for the franchise. Regardless, time will tell if L.A. has the means to put the rest of the pieces together to make the Lakers a championship contender again.

3      Boston Celtics- Jayson Tatum, SF Duke

B+. The first mini-surprise of the draft falls to Boston. Given the fact that Josh Jackson never got a chance to work out for Danny Ainge’s Celtics, it’s not too shocking to see them take the safe route. Nonetheless, they got a gifted scorer who can mesh with Isaiah Thomas and help take the Celtics to the next level

4      Phoenix Suns- Josh Jackson, SF Kansas

A+. The Suns happily capitalized on Jackson falling right in their lap. A #1 overall talent, Jackson is an excellent rim protecter, and he always knows what to do with the ball in his hands. There is a small hole in his jump shot, but with extensive offseason training among the best coaches in the world, I expect Jackson to mold into the face of the franchise in Phoenix.

5      Sacramento Kings- De’Aaron Fox, PG Kentucky

A+. I love this guy for his personality alone. A likable character from a proven NCAA school, Fox is more than ready to take on the NBA. Furthermore, expect his vendetta with Ball to drive him to succeed in Sacramento. Despite my feelings for the decline of the Kings, I’m really excited to see what Fox can do at the next level.

6      Orlando Magic- Jonathan Isaac, SF Florida State

B. Another hometown kid makes the quick drive from Tallahassee to Orlando. Isaac is a great athlete with excellent defense. He can play all over the front court, and he has good range. For these reasons, I don’t mind the pick. However, I would have liked to see the Magic firm up their back court and establish stability before looking for big men, especially considering Isaac is not known for his strength down low.

7      “Chicago Bulls”- Lauri Markkanen, PF Arizona

A+. TRADE ALERT: The Bulls were able to trade Jimmy Butler to Minnesota and take the 7th pick as well as Zach Lavine and Kris Dunn to officially start the rebuilding process. Another man that will help is Markkanen. I had the Bulls selecting a big small forward with pick 16, so an upgrade to this 7-foot sharpshooter is well worth the trade. It’ll be interesting to see how he fits in the lineup with the way Nikola Mirotic has been playing lately, but Bulls fans can still be excited about the post-Butler era.

8      New York Knicks- Frank Ntilikina, PG France

A. You may recall the last reaction New York fans had after drafting an international player. However, none of the boos rained down on this guy. A truly gifted guard from France, the 6’5″ Frenchman has an excellent basketball IQ with a smooth fluidity to his game. Already familiar with top international competition, it won’t take long for Ntilikina to be the next big thing for the Knicks.

9      Dallas Mavericks- Dennis Smith Jr., PG NC State

A. I’m very impressed with the picks so far. Smith Jr. was my preseason #1, but after seeing him struggle with a poor NC State team this year, I still think he’s a good value in the top 10. His size and ability to drive to the hoop is a huge advantage, and he’s an easy plug-and-play in Dallas.

10      “Portland Trailblazers”- Zach Collins, PF Gonzaga

A+. TRADE ALERT: Portland moves up to #10 by trading picks 15 and 20. I like this move a lot because there isn’t much the Trailblazers can do to get better with a bunch of late round draft picks, and the Kings just need to stockpile assets. So, the Trailblazers go out and pick up a big team need with Collins. A huge presence under the rim, Portland now has a well-developed roster that can go out and win their division in 2018. They may not be championship caliber yet, but I commend their efforts by building a team the right way.

11      Charlotte Hornets- Malik Monk, SG Kentucky

A+. Finally! So far the steal of the draft, Monk lands in Charlotte. All of a sudden this roster is starting to look a little bit scary. With Kemba Walker and Monk holding up the back court and Cody Zeller and Dwight Howard down low, the Hornets are definitely capable of making the playoffs next year. It’ll be interesting to see how the new tools build chemistry, but if they work together throughout the summer, there will be no problem making the most of their combined talents.

12      Detroit Pistons- Luke Kennard, SG Duke

A. I apologize for all the high grades, but I’m really loving how well scouts and GMs are getting the perfect fit for their teams in this deep class. Kennard is one of the best shooters in the draft with great basketball IQ. Perhaps not a starter for the struggling Pistons, he can still be a very useful 6th man that contends for serious minutes in Detroit.

13      “Utah Jazz”- Donovan Mitchell, SG Louisville

A+. TRADE ALERT: The Jazz trade up and select a very athletic guard from Louisville who can play behind (or replace) Gordon Hayward. Like the Blazers, the Jazz knew they cannot get much better with a late-round pick, and wisely moved up to nab Mitchell. If they can sign Hayward back, I expect the Jazz to be back fighting for 2nd in the Western Conference next year.

14      Miami Heat- Bam Adebayo, PF Kentucky

C+. My first disappointment. Adebayo has great size, and you can never underestimate a Kentucky Wildcat, but I feel there are way better power forwards on the board. I like addressing their biggest need and giving help to Hassan Whiteside though. Hopefully he can be a big contributor to the best team to miss the playoffs, but I think Miami could’ve done better.

15      “Sacramento Kings”- Justin Jackson, SF North Carolina

A+. With their second of 3 picks now, the Kings pick up an awesome small forward. Many think he’s overrated, but I think he’s quite the opposite. I thought the All-American and NCAA Champion should fall 13th, and I’m thrilled to see him picked higher than the experts thought. His 6’9″ frame can control the glass and he has a very reliable jump shot. Nice job by the Kings so far.

16      “Minnesota Timberwolves”- Justin Patton, C Creighton

A-. Along with one of the best players in the league in Butler, the Timberwolves pick up Patton with their 1st pick. A very strong center, Patton excelled in the Big East. He may be young, but he has a very high ceiling and great range for a big man. I do have a couple more mobile centers above Patton, but if the T-wolves are looking for some muscle, they got it.

17      Milwaukee Bucks- D.J. Wilson, PF Michigan

D+. While Wilson has great length, he pales in comparison to my prediction of Anibogu. Furthermore, Wilson has a very low floor and a surprisingly small sample size even though he is a junior. I just don’t see where he fits on the floor in Milwaukee. If he can perform like he did at the end of his 2017 season, then great. However, I think he will wind up as a bust. Whatever the case, the Wolverine is now a Buck (haha).

18      Indiana Pacers- T.J. Leaf, PF UCLA

B. Leaf is a great power forward who can knock down 3s like nobody’s business. He also offers hustle on the defensive end and always exhibits a great work ethic. Furthermore, the UCLA freshman has shown great maturity, especially in the wake of all of the Lavar Ball distractions. All of that said- I don’t think he’s a first round talent. With the depth of big men in the draft, I think the Pacers had much better options with similar skill sets.

19      Atlanta Hawks- John Collins, PF Wake Forest

A+. Speaking of better power forwards, Collins is another big steal. A projected lottery pick, Collins commands the floor and has a seemingly endless battery. His energy can revitalize the Hawks as they start from scratch next year. Also, with Howard and Paul Millsap gone, he’s desperately needed to fill the void and perhaps start on opening night.

20      “Sacramento Kings”- Harry Giles, C Duke

B-. Mmmm. I’m fine with this, but Giles has some durability problems. Though he has some experience under his belt from a great university, I think there are better all-around players on the board. But if the Kings are looking for a great inside scorer and a good post player like Demarcus Cousins, it doesn’t get better than Giles.

21      Oklahoma City Thunder- Terrance Ferguson, SG Australia

B. Ferguson is a lengthy shooting guard who took his talents overseas instead of going to college. It paid off well for him as he absolutely excelled in the NBL down under. However, as I said in my predictions, it’s always risky to draft international players, and this 19 year old is definitely no exception. The NBL is not necessarily up-to-par with the USA college basketball programs, so it’ll be interesting to see how Ferguson’s skills translate. This is one of those boom or bust selections.

22      Brooklyn Nets- Jarrett Allen, C Texas.

A+. And finally here comes the worst team in the NBA last year. I had the Nets drafting Pasecniks, but that was considering Allen was off the board. So I really like that they’re addressing the need at center with Brooks Lopez gone. Allen is one of the most athletic centers in this class, and he’s a gifted defender with great hands off the glass. The Nets will depend on him to help slowly turn their organization around.

23      Toronto Raptors- OG Anunoby, SF Indiana

A-. The best player left from my mock draft, Anunoby is an athletic forward that can stretch the floor in Toronto. He can definitely help the Raptors continue their success in the regular season as long as Kyle Lowry stays in town, but I doubt he helps them get over the hump in the playoffs. Ousted by Cleveland the past two years, the Raptors probably need a little more help to compete with the Cavs and to go after a title.

24      “Denver Nuggets”- Tyler Lydon, SF/PF Syracuse

A+. I’ll be honest, this is mainly an A+ because I correctly predicted a pick this late. But don’t let that fact take away from Lydon’s all-around ball skills. A good passer with stamina to go up-and-down the floor, Lydon fits well in the Nuggets’ roster. I like this trade even more because Denver was able to drop back 11 picks in the draft, pick up a team need, and gain another asset in Trey Lyles. Very well done.

25      Orlando Magic- Andzjes Pasecniks, C Latvia

A. Orlando is a team that loves international scouting, and I’m sure they’re confident with this athletic big man. He’s a tall presence with tons of momentum in the lane that compliments fellow draftee Isaac very well. The Magic now have a very young inexperienced roster, but they look forward to growing together and building chemistry to be competitive in the future. Let’s also hope they hit the weight room because none of the starters have much strength right now, and that can lead to losing a lot of rebound battles.

26      Portland Trailblazers- Caleb Swanigan, PF Purdue

A+. YES! The Big Ten Player of the Year is by far the most underrated player in the draft. A relentless scorer, the 250-pounder loves to work his way around the lane. He also has a reliable fadeaway and jump shot if he can’t get the layup he wants. His shoot-first, aggressive mentality is key for a team trying to make a deep run in the playoffs.

27      “Los Angeles Lakers”- Kyle Kuzma, SF Utah

D+. He might be trade bait for Paul George, but there are way better small forwards out there. Kuzma is a hard worker, but undersized for the position. While he had a good season for the Utes, they still failed to make the NCAA tournament. I just think this was a missed opportunity for L.A.

28      “Utah Jazz”- Tony Bradley, C North Carolina

F. TRADE ALERT: The Jazz move up two selections to get this center from the Lakers… but why? They already have Rudy Gobert and, again, there are better big men with more size and mobility on the board. Bradley is a winner, but he struggles to maintain long minutes on the floor. Come playoff time for the Jazz, that is a big red flag. I would’ve preferred seeing Anigbogu, Hartenstein, or White here depending on Hayward’s pending decision.

29      San Antonio Spurs- Derrick White, PG/SG Colorado

A-. White is a small guard that can learn a lot from Tony Parker. With a bunch of trade rumors surrounding the Spurs, it might appear they’re selling this offseason instead of buying. I really wanted to see Chris Paul in San Antonio, but with LaMarcus Aldridge and Danny Green on the trading block, the Spurs might be willing to put their 20-year playoff run at risk to reload for the future.

30      “Los Angeles Lakers”- Josh Hart, SG Villanova

A++. Josh Hart isn’t the best player left on the board, but I LOVE this pick. Hart is a natural leader (and an Eagle Scout like myself), who will be vital in the Lakers’ success. I’m one of Hart’s biggest fans, and I’m thrilled to have called this pick by Los Angeles. Now the Lakers have two outstanding young guards, Brandon Ingram, a veteran Brooks Lopez, and potentially Paul George? Look out Western Conference. Look out.

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That wraps up the first round and does it for me tonight. Thank you to all of those who tuned in! Before I go, here are a few more players I like in the second round:

Ike Anigbogu, C UCLA– Has the most length in this class, and is an intimidating presence in the paint

Isaiah Hartenstein, PF/C Germany– A tall shooter with a little bit to learn, he can provide key minutes for ailing centers

Semi Ojeleye, SF/PF SMU– Incredibly very strong, athletic forward that can run the pick-and-pop to provide a versatile offensive attack

Jordan Bell, PF Oregon– Really good scorer with some solid experience. He can be a great asset to a team with a depleted front court

Frank Mason III, PG Kansas– Mason is very undersized and may never be a starter in the NBA, but he is another natural leader with a great motor off the bench

 

Thanks for reading and stay tuned to hear my winners and losers of this year’s draft in the coming days.

2017 NBA Mock Draft

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Russell Westbrook hasn’t even been named MVP yet, and it’s already time for the draft. Unlike the MLB, where the draft happens midseason, or in the NFL where we have to wait months after the Super Bowl to find out which college athletes will make the pros, the NBA gives us approximately one week to breathe after the season ends before making their picks. So after a lot of speculation, here we are. Let’s take a look at how the 2017 NBA Draft should go down.

1      Philadelphia 76ers- Markelle Fultz, PG Washington

The 76ers traded up for one reason and one reason only: to acquire the best player in the draft and solidify a young starting 5 with loads of potential. I may have gotten overzealous thinking they would come close to making the postseason last year, but with Fultz, that dream will be a reality by 2019.

2      Los Angeles Lakers- Lonzo Ball, PG UCLA

Ball and the Lakers want each other. Ball, a California native and UCLA grad, has always dreamed of donning the purple and gold, and the Lakers need him. With D’Angelo Russell struggling due to a lack of experience and veteran talent, the Lakers shipped him to Brooklyn. So, Ball’s talents are needed now more than ever. It’s too bad because with Ball’s vision and shooting skills and Russell’s insane passing ability, they would have just needed one more stud to solidify L.A. as a playoff team in 2018. . .

3      Boston Celtics- Josh Jackson, SF Kansas

I love the move down for Boston. By virtually trading Fultz for Jackson and a first round pick, Boston gains more assets to make trades. With Isaiah Thomas, Patrick Beverly, and Al Horford already on board, picking up Gordon Hayward or Paul George would be huge. With a stock pile of first round picks, it’s viable to use these as leverage to kick start the rebuilding efforts in Utah or Indiana.

4      Phoenix Suns- Jayson Tatum, SF Duke

Tatum is an excellent player, but not the 4th best in my opinion. Nonetheless, he falls where many believe he should in Phoenix. Tatum is a big body with extraordinary talent that could fit into the starting lineup on opening night, and that’s just what you want from a top 5 pick. Tatum isn’t for everyone, but he is for the Suns.

5      Sacramento Kings- De’Aaron Fox, PG Kentucky

Look, I’m not going to sugarcoat this. The Kings are a mess of an organization. Not only did they finish with only 32 wins, but after trading away their franchise player for pennies, they have no direction. I’m sorry, but it’s only going to get worse from here in Sacramento. Here is the best player on the board from the best basketball school in the country to play point guard. Good Luck.

6      Orlando Magic- Malik Monk, SG Kentucky

Monk is another great talent who really impressed at the combine and during private workouts. With Elfrid Payton emerging as a premier point guard, Monk’s athleticism is a perfect match. With a strengthened back court, the Magic can focus on forwards and big men for the remainder of the draft.

7      Minnesota Timberwolves- Lauri Markkanen, PF Arizona

This pick was tough for me because I love the Timberwolves’ roster as-is. They’re young like the 76ers with no true holes, and frankly, I can’t understand why their record isn’t closer to .500. So, if they don’t trade this pick they might as well get a sharpshooter in Markkanen. Regardless, they can’t go wrong unless they get a point guard after seeing how Kris Dunn underperformed off the bench last year.

8      New York Knicks- Donovan Mitchell, SG Louisville

Mitchell is a well-rounded player with developed offensive fundamentals, but the Knicks will need his tenacious defense. Coming off a season where opposing team’s routinely gouged the Knicks, Mitchell’s perimeter defense is a much-needed addition. However, with this historic franchise in shambles, it won’t surprise me to see them go in a different direction.

9      Dallas Mavericks- Dennis Smith Jr., PG NC State

If the Knicks don’t draft Mitchell, the Mavs certainly should as he’d be the perfect fit for their hole at shooting guard. However, since Smith struggled to lead NC State to a tournament appearance despite his vast skill set, it might be wise to allow him to make a transition to the two-guard slot. It’s also worth noting that owner Mark Cuban loves to makes big trades, so perhaps we can expect one here.

10     Sacramento Kings- Jonathan Isaac, SF/PF Florida State

Some experts are picking Isaac to fall in the Top 5 and with good reason. He’s an athletic big man that can excel almost anywhere. Even though the Kings should pass on him for Fox, he can seriously help their newly-depleted front court if he falls to #10. These two stars can try to help the Kings stop the bleeding and turn the franchise around.

11     Charlotte Hornets- Luke Kennard, SF Duke

This is another match made in heaven. Kennard is just what the Hornets need. Somewhat of a J.J. Reddick-like player, he can give Charlotte depth and perimeter shooting. Kennard is a proven talent with deep range to make the Hornets more diverse and to give a little relief to the bench.

12     Detroit Pistons- Zach Collins, PF Gonzaga

Collins is another experienced big man who made waves late in the year. Thanks to Gonzaga’s national attention, Collins was able to showcase his size and command of the lane. Andre Drummond will surely welcome this partner in crime to form a scary duo under the rim in Detroit.

13     Denver Nuggets- Justin Jackson, SF North Carolina

I’ll admit I like Jackson a little more than most people, but after his rookie season I believe those thoughts will come to fruition. Jackson is a strong shooting forward with size that will make space for Jokic down low and will spread out the Denver attack. While his ball handling skills struggle at times, he’s a strong passer that can open up the Nuggets’ game plan.

14     Miami Heat- Frank Ntilikina, PG France

The Heat are one of the best team’s in the country at international scouting, and as we transition from starters to 6th men, look no further than Ntilikina. The Frenchman is known for his vision and ability to adjust to changing defensive schemes. Miami would love to welcome him into the lineup behind Goran Dragic, that is, unless they can formulate a trade for Hayward instead.

15     Portland Trailblazers- Jarrett Allen, C Texas

One of the best duos in the country needs help inside, and there is no one better that is still on the board than Allen. Despite a relatively lackluster season for the Longhorns, Allen showed what he can be capable of doing for an NBA franchise. Without much support inside, Allen might find his way into the starting rotation within the first 40 games of the season.

16     Chicago Bulls- Og Anunoby, SF Indiana

Well, the more prevalent news in Chicago is whether or not they trade Jimmy Butler and start over, or find a big man and try to acquire someone of their own like Hayward. If they choose the latter, I like Anunoby to play the corner slot. Derrick Rose and Butler are incredibly athletic and know how to move without the ball. With Anunoby’s drive-and-pop playmaking ability, the Bulls can be deadly when given an inside presence on top of all of that.

17     Milwaukee Bucks- Ike Anigbogu, C UCLA

Anibogu is massive, and the Bucks love massive. Boasting over a 7’6′ wingspan, imagine trying to weave through the trees that are Anibogu, Giannis Antetokounpo and Thon Maker. That’s a combined 21′ 6″ wingspan amongst them, which literally covers half the court. I’m not sure all of that size will lead to balance, but I don’t know of any way to effectively beat 3 of the tallest men in the NBA on the floor at one time.

18     Indiana Pacers- John Collins, PF Wake Forest

Depending on what the Pacers do with Paul George, John Collins is a steal and a perfect fit for the Pacers’ scheme. As Indiana comes to a crossroad in their organization’s future, Collins has a chance to be a cornerstone in the next era of Pacers basketball. On top of his stellar career at Wake Forest, he’s a great leader in the locker room and loves to make his teammates better.

19     Atlanta Hawks- Isaiah Hartenstein, PF/C Germany

Hartenstein is a huge presence that can learn from the best before becoming a starter in the coming seasons. While Dwight Howard ages and Paul Millsap contemplates free agency, this German can study the game for a year or two before bursting on the scene when the time is right.

20     Portland Trailblazers- Semi Ojeleye, SF/PF SMU

One of the stronger men in the draft, this forward can drive and provide a more balanced attack for Portland. While Lillard and McCollum rain 3s, Ojeleye is a threat to knock them down as well as drive the paint. Furthermore, his size can compliment Allen and give the Blazers a seriously formidable attack.

21     Oklahoma City Thunder- Caleb Swanigan, PF/C Purdue

Probably the most underrated player in the draft, Swanigan can be the rookie of the year in Oklahoma City. Already a proven multi-talented player that earned Big Ten Player of the Year honors, his experience with Purdue can quickly transition to the NBA. Add on how future 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook (PLEASE) can distribute the ball, Swanigan can thrive in his new environment for years to come.

22     Brooklyn Nets- Anzejs Pasecniks, C Latvia

The Nets are reportedly very high on selecting Porzingis’ former teammate. In my opinion, any international player is a risky pick because of the unknown transition to the USA, but seeing how well Porzingis has played, I don’t blame the Nets for going after Pasecniks. Besides, what do they have to lose?

23     Toronto Raptors- Justin Patton, C Creighton

This is a steal for a massive rim-protector to compliment Serge Ibaka. The Raptors are another well-rounded team on the brink of being legitimate championship contenders, but they just seem to be missing that one piece to push them over. Patton has a few years of experience under his belt under an excellent Creighton coaching staff. He might not be the difference for a Toronto title, but he can be a big boost down low.

24     Utah Jazz- Tyler Lydon, SF/PF Syracuse

If Hayward leaves, the Jazz will be sunk. However, if they can manage to re-sign him and get Lydon for some scoring on the bench, they’re one piece away from losing to the Warriors in the Conference Finals. That is, Golden State is unbeatable right now, but the Jazz are closer than it seems to threatening them at the top.

25     Orlando Magic- D.J. Wilson, PF Michigan

Ojeleye and Lydon would be great here, but the Magic are just a little too late. Wilson is less versatile, but was a solid shooter at the end of last year. I’m not quite convinced his skills will translate from what I’ve seen in college, but if he continues to play like he did in the tournament, the Magic could walk away with a big steal. If they pass on him, it will be due to his low floor.

26     Portland Trailblazers- Derrick White, PG/SG Colorado

The Trailblazers could go anywhere with their 3rd pick of the first round, but after taking a center and forward, I chose another utility man. This guard can help give Lillard and McCollum rest with his contributions and completes the trifecta of picks. Meanwhile, with these three men in hand, Portland will be wise to go out and capture one of the powerhouses of free agency.

27     Los Angeles Lakers- Harry Giles, C Duke

Even with the trade for Brooks Lopez, Giles is too good to pass up. A proven stud, Giles can rotate inside and garner some playing time early. Another potential steal of the draft, Giles compliments everything the Lakers have. There is no need for a point guard after selecting Ball, and with Brandon Ingram and a certain small forward, the Lakers are right on the edge of title contention with the Jazz.

28     Los Angeles Lakers- Josh Hart, SG Villanova

Now with back-to-back picks, I believe that the Lakers have plans to draft Hart. A four-year starter and NCAA Champion, Hart is renowned for his leadership on and off the court. The Lakers need stability as they try to make the transition from 26-56 to 56-26. I’m not a fan of the trade because of Russell’s untapped potential due to his youth, but Hart already has that maturity and can make a fine replacement.

29     San Antonio Spurs- Jordan Bell, PF Oregon

Jordan Bell is another big presence that can do it all. You might be sensing a trend in this year’s draft. With many more front court players left, I think Bell could be a lottery pick almost any other year. Still, the Spurs pick up some size, scoring, and an excellent rebounder. With this pick, San Antonio is the full package, and all they need to do is stay healthy to try to get revenge on the Warriors in the Conference Finals.

30     Utah Jazz- Jawun Evans, PG Oklahoma State

Whether Evans replaces Hayward or becomes his backup, he’ll be needed. Utah lacks guard depth and Evans can give the Jazz some more production when Hayward is off the floor. Utah fans will just hope that that is not indefinite. The only downside with Evans is the fact that he is undersized for a guard in the NBA, but if Isaiah Thomas can mold into a superstar, why can’t Evans?

 

2nd Round Notables:

T.J. Leaf, PF UCLA

Ivan Rabb, PF/C California

Thomas Bryant, C Indiana

Frank Mason, PG Kansas

Johnathan Motley, PF/C Baylor

 

Busts:

Dillon Brooks, SF Oregon

Sindarius Thornwell, SG South Carolina

Nigel Williams-Goss, PG Gonzaga

Alec Peters, PF Valparaiso

Derrick Walton, PG Michigan

 

2017 NBA Finals Game 5 Reactions

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And with that, the 2016-2017 NBA season is in the books. I wish I could say I am surprised, but I’ll take my preseason pick becoming champions and a 1.000 record in the playoffs any day. Let’s take a look at how the Warriors triumphed, and at what we can expect in 2018.

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One word: identity. The Warriors are comfortable with up-tempo, quick possessions; score fast and score often. Over the course of the playoffs they were able to develop chemistry amongst their all-stars to a point where everyone was comfortable no matter who had the ball. This camaraderie would’ve been heightened during the regular season had it not been for Kevin Durant’s knee injury. Had everyone been healthy all year, we may have seen more of the dominant 31-2 run to end the season.

As the Warriors found themselves in the postseason, they stayed true to their comfort zone and controlled game pace and hit shots they knew they could make. It was a nice effort by the Cavs after Game 3, but had they played that aggressively from the outset, their season might not have been over yet. Only when the Cavaliers got under the Warriors’ skin did the facade begin to crack. If Game 4 wasn’t enough evidence of this, the scuffle in the second quarter (pictured below) led to the Cavs’ comeback before GSW was able to put them away late.

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With the help of their home crowd and some mental fortitude, the Warriors did it. They overcame one last obstacle en route to the second of many titles to come. LeBron James’ herculean effort wasn’t enough. Neither was J.R. Smith’s 7 3’s in Game 5. It was just too little, too late. The Warriors were consistent throughout the season, and will continue to be for years to come. That’s the best thing about Golden State… they don’t beat themselves. It takes a 110% all-around team performance, plus an off-night, for the Dubs to take an L. To have that happen four times out of seven? Nearly impossible.

Shifting gears a little to the controversial Durant decision, you have to give him credit. Agree or disagree with how he won his first NBA Championship, you can’t say he didn’t earn it. Averaging more than 35 points per game is more than enough for the Finals MVP honors. It’s quite the role-reversal from 2012, in which Durant lost to give James his first Championship. It’s pretty cool to check out the images below that capture the difference (or lack thereof) from 2012 to 2017.

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Now, with a dynasty firmly in place pending a huge Stephen Curry contract extension, what does it mean for the rest of the NBA? Answer: Lots of movement every season. Unfortunately, we’ve entered an era in which there is no more loyalty to one’s hometown. If a player wants to win titles, it takes a super team. While the Cavs and Warriors are the clear favorites for next season, the Celtics aren’t far behind.

The defending conference champions, Boston scored the #1 pick in the draft via a trade with the Brooklyn Nets a few years ago. Furthermore, they’re regarded as a prime landing spot for Utah Jazz front-man Gordon Hayward. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers are in position to draft Lonzo Ball, as well as to attract the likes of Paul George. Thirdly, as Chris Paul struggles to hit his stride in L.A., perhaps he can move to San Antonio and help the Spurs. I’m personally not a fan of all of this shifting around to chase championships, but it’s probably moot. It’s going to take everything the league has to offer for the Warriors to surrender their title next season, and I’m not sure any of these scenarios would be enough. With all of that movement merely rumors for now, I fully expect to see Cavaliers vs. Warriors IV in 2018. Until then…

Congratulations to the Golden State Warriors, 2017 NBA Champions.

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2017 NBA Finals Game 4 Reactions

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They’re not dead yet! After a historic night indeed, the Cavaliers stave off elimination and live to fight another day. “Fight” is the operative word, as Cleveland showed they were not about to watch their season end with a sweep. Let’s take a look at some mind-blowing statistics, how the Cavs found help from an unlikely uniform, and a few other takeaways as we try to digest what just happened.

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First things first… I was wrong. The Cavs overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to move past Game 3 to excel in Game 4. Furthermore, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James showed incredible focus on and off the court as they try to claw out of this deficit day by day. Before I go any further, however, allow me to share some facts from Friday night:

-The Cavaliers’ 137-116 victory is the largest margin of this NBA Finals, as they continue to improve with each game.

-Cleveland’s 49 points in the first quarter (and only 5 came from James) is an NBA Finals record, and their 86 first half points is an all-time record.

-The Cavs’ 13 3s in the first half and 24 3s in the game broke the Golden State’s NBA Finals record that they set 5 days before.

-Kevin Durant scored over 30 for the fourth time, as the Warriors truly didn’t play a bad game by putting up 116 points.

-Irving’s ridiculous 40 points and James’s 31-point triple-double was finally enough to outscore the Warriors. So that’s what it takes every game!?

-There were 7 technical fouls and 1 flagrant in this grudge match, but more on that later.

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With Cleveland’s offensive explosion in Game 4, fans and critics alike have shifted from, “Can the Warriors sweep?” to, “Can the Warriors still win?”.  As crazy as that sounds, it might not be that far-fetched. I’m not saying to bet against GSW just yet, but there is definitely still a lot of hope and grit in Believeland. Their outburst and composure throughout the wild Game 4 was remarkable… but is it sustainable?

I would say not. With the referee’s calling foul after foul as the Warriors continued to be incensed with the multitude of technicals, the Cavs home court was a huge plus. As Cleveland’s physical play and the crowd’s jeers got under Golden State’s skin, things snowballed into chaos. The Cavs won’t get that same treatment in Oakland. Whether or not the refs take the game away from the players with their constant whistles, the raucous fans at Oracle Arena will make things 10x harder on the Cavaliers to find their groove.

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Listen, it’s the Finals. Let ’em play! I know it gets testy when one team is a game away from the title, and the other has nothing to lose, but as a ref you have to understand the physical mindset of these powerhouses. This bitter rivalry will continue to swell, and while it’s important to keep things under control, dishing out technicals every 5 minutes isn’t the answer. As fans, we want to see the best players in the world battle it out for the trophy, so let them. Establish control at the beginning of the game and be consistent with the calls and show that there is no tolerance for all of the extra fanfare.

Back to my original point, the Cavaliers were able to overcome the many stoppages with the help of their fans backing them up. You can bet that Golden State is equally unhappy with the chaos the referees created. I mean, they gave so many technicals that they lost track of who they had assigned them to! On the game’s grandest stage, that’s utterly ridiculous. Anyway, in a worst case scenario, where the refs fail to recognize the gravity of the situation, the Warriors will have a 40,000 person swing to their side of the controversial calls. The question is… will Cleveland be able to stay focused and play the same way they did in Game 4?

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Again, I think not. While it’s incredibly impressive that they were able to shoot at such a high clip despite the breaks in the action, they were helped by the Warriors’ fighting both the white jerseys and the striped jerseys. Also, there is no conceivable way that they will be able to knock down as many shots as they did in Game 4, especially on the road. In a hostile environment, it’s going to come down to defense and focus.

The Cavaliers will have to expect some missed shots and bad possessions. More than likely, they’ll find themselves trailing. In Game 4, Cleveland did a good job of answering the Warriors’ scoring runs with some of their own behind the support of their fans. With few and far between making the trip to California, the Cavs will have to depend on themselves alone to squeak out a victory.

It’s going to take more toughness, more composure, and plenty of more clutch plays. Knowing that they will not play as well as in Game 4, the Cavs have to make sure that the Warriors don’t either. There is a lot of variables in play, but if Cleveland can survive Game 5 on the road and come home for Game 6… we are once again looking at an epic NBA Finals.

Unfortunately, Game 4 might have been the last hoorah for this team. As impressed as I was, I’m just not sure I can see them bringing that mental toughness into Oracle Arena. It’s just too late. Expect another battle, but expect the Warriors to become champions on Monday night.