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 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 Predictions

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Well, it’s finally here… the inevitable rematch fans have waited 347 days to see. For the 3rd straight year, the Golden State Warriors face the Cleveland Cavaliers to settle the score once and for all. Actually, scratch that – at this rate, who knows when we won’t see these two powerhouses battle for the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June. But for now, let’s enjoy a series that promises to be an instant classic, and will surely be well worth the season-long wait. Now, let’s take a look at who will go up 2 series to 1 during this epic saga. And if my perfect record so far this 2017 postseason is any indication.. it’s appropriate to add: SPOILER ALERT.

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Alright, I’ll cut to the chase. This series isn’t about Lebron James or Stephen Curry. It’s not even about Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving. This series is about Andre Iguodala and J.R. Smith, and the rest of the bench players. Let me take you back to 2015. Which starter for the Warriors won MVP? Keep looking. Oh, there he is! Iguodala had started exactly 0 games during the regular season before stunning the Cavs with his MVP performance throughout the 6-game series. Now let’s look at last year, who had the grit and tenacity to keep the Cavs fighting through every game? It was the clutch shots of J.R. “Swish”. So, if you haven’t caught on yet… the difference in this series won’t be by the superstars. The 2017 champion will be defined by the heroics of a surprising role player… but who?

Before I get to that, I guess I have to mention those who have the spotlight on them. You saw how James Harden’s disappearing act in the Conference Semifinals virtually handed the San Antonio Spurs a berth in the next round. It’s no small task for the leaders to just do their jobs. Remember, Iguodala is a tenacious defender who looks to keep James in check, and the same can be said about Draymond Green as he battles Kevin Love in the post. However, in my opinion, there is no stopping Irving’s unholy handles. Even so, I’m giving the defensive edge to the Warriors.

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On offense, it’s hard not to side with the Warriors as well. They’re the first team to reach the Finals at 12-0, and they’ve won 26 of their last 27 games. This team doesn’t lose! And that’s the problem. They haven’t faced any adversity, and you better believe the Cavs are going to give them a battle. As much as the Warriors have been dying for redemption against the Cavaliers, I’m not sure they’ll be ready. Look at who they’ve beaten – the #8 seed Trailblazers, the exhausted and inexperienced Jazz, and the Warriors were down 25 before Kawhi Leonard suffered his season-ending ankle injury. That’s not the epitome of top competition (looking at you Draymond Green). Their biggest test was beating a team without their two best guards, and not to mention, they haven’t even had a coach!! It’ll be very interesting to see how they respond after losing on their home floor in Game 1.

Wait, What!? Cavs win Game 1 on the road?? Yes. There’s a little mini prediction for you, and here’s why I think it’ll happen. As hungry as the Warriors are for revenge, you don’t think the Cavs want a piece of their new rival? Cleveland is going to come out firing and try to prove to the country that they’re the undisputed NBA champions. They’re clicking on all cylinders and have deadly ball movement. There isn’t a player on Cleveland’s roster that doesn’t know what to do with the rock. As long as the Cavs keep the Warriors’ defense on their heels (and they will), they’ll be tough to stop. Offensive Edge: Cavaliers.

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Now for the X-factor. I’ve been impressed with two particular big men all season whom I believe have flown under the radar for too long. Behind Green vs. Love, I see a towering JaVale McGee, and a tough Tristan Thompson. This one-on-one matchup could easily determine the fate of this series. You may not find McGee on the stat sheet (yet), but watching his tape you can see he does all the small things correctly. He sets ball screens for his teammates, spreads the floor with his passing, and protects the rim with his length. He’s the perfect utility man the Warriors need. However, Thompson nearly averages a double-double, and looks forward to shining under the bright lights of the Finals.  It’s the perfect time to break out, but will he be able to step up when the Cavs need him most?

Aaaaand finally. The winner of the 2017 NBA Finals. I’ll give a quick summary so I can say, “I told you so,” but you can look forward to my game-by-game recap and prediction during the off days. That said, here is how the final series of the 2017 NBA season will go down:

Game 1: Cavaliers come out strong and stun the Warriors, winning 119-108.

Game 2: Warriors shake off the rust and escape in OT to even the series with a 121-115 victory. Game on.

Game 3: The Cavs fight hard behind their fans at the Q, but its not enough to retake the series lead as GSW gets the W, 107-102.

Game 4: Cavaliers play desperate as Tristan Thompson shines with a 19-point double-double, propelling Cleveland to a 116-113 victory.

Game 5: Back at home (and nice to see you again Steve Kerr), the Warriors still struggle to find their footing and lose at home again, 118-106.

Game 6: Not ready to wait another year to get their revenge, the Warriors delay the Cavs celebration, forcing game 7 in Oakland. Golden State cruises 124-105.

Game 7: A back and forth battle with every twist and turn imaginable culminates with…

Prediction: …The Golden State Warriors reclaiming their spot as World Champions. In the end, they simply have too much talent for the Cavs’ defense to handle as they pull it out 117-112.

MVP: Stephen Curry. Despite a relatively down year, Curry comes up big for the Warriors in Games 6 and 7, as he earns his first NBA Finals MVP trophy. But don’t be fooled, it’s going to take way more than this sharpshooter if the Warriors want to avoid more offseason anguish.

2017 NBA Conference Semifinals Predictions

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The first round is in the books, and famed sports blogger Mark Leopold is 8-0, including the daring prediction of the Jazz prevailing in game 7. Now as we march on to the Conference Semifinals, the final 8 teams look to move one step closer to the Larry O’Brien Trophy. So many questions loom: Which teams can be the first to 4 wins? Which teams will enter their offseason prematurely? But most importantly… will Mark Leopold improve to 12-0?? Let’s take a look…

Golden State Warriors (1) vs. Utah Jazz (5)

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Even though the Jazz just came away with one of the biggest wins in their franchise’s history, they now must face a red-hot and well-rested Warriors team that is out for blood. Golden State hardly broke a sweat in its first round sweep of the Trailblazers, and they look to do the same against the Jazz. With a healthy roster complete with 4 All-stars, the Warriors look unstoppable. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have built chemistry all season, and now is the time for it to pay off. The only thing that can get in the way of the Warriors’ advancing to the Conference Finals is if their textbook ball movement gets disrupted.

For the Jazz, it’s imperative to keep playing tenacious defense, and to avoid letting Golden State play within their game. Gordon Hayward has been the leader for Utah all season, and he’ll need to step up and play the best series of his life for the young Jazz to have a chance. Furthermore, it’s a gift that Rudy Gobert is back, but he needs to stay healthy and stay out of foul trouble. His presence inside is invaluable, and he’ll look to win the one-on-one match-ups with Draymond Green. You cannot overstate this David vs. Goliath series, but if the Jazz follow this plan and catch some lucky breaks, they might have a chance to win a game or two at home.

Prediction: The Warriors are forced to fight hard on the road, but don’t drop a game… move to 8-0 in the 2017 Playoffs.

San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Houston Rockets (3)

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From one MVP candidate match-up to another, now the #2 and #3 contenders square off. With the superior Russell Westbrook out of the way, James Harden can breathe a sigh of relief as his Rockets turn to face a complete Spurs team. From veteran point guard Tony Parker to the newly acquired Lamarcus Aldridge, this team has it all. Of course, the x-factor is superstar Kawhi Leonard. Coming off the best season of his career, he continued to dominate on both ends of the floor against the Memphis Grizzlies in Round 1. Hitting clutch shot after clutch shot while providing suffocating defense on the other end gives San Antonio a huge boost in the Conference Semifinals.

As for the Rockets, the key is guard play. Both of these Texas teams’ strengths are in the back court. It’ll be very important for Houston’s Harden and Patrick Beverley to win the battle against the Spurs’ guards. With San Antonio owning a slight edge under the rim thanks to Aldridge, it’s imperative for Houston to beat Parker up top. Harden is certainly capable, as he averages almost 30 points and 11 assists per game, but can he do it against the league’s 2nd best overall defense?

Prediction: A back-and-forth series comes down to who wants it more, Spurs pull it out in 6.

 

Boston Celtics (1) vs. Washington Wizards (4)

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This blossoming bitter rivalry will come to a head in these next couple weeks as All-star point guards Isaiah Thomas and John Wall go one-on-one for a chance at their first Conference Finals appearance. Not only that, Wall hopes he can lead his team past the Conference Semis for the first time in 38 years. But a resilient Boston team stands in his way. Following the unexpected passing of Thomas’s sister, the Celtics dropped the first two games of the first round series against the Chicago Bulls before rattling off 4-straight wins. How Thomas performed at such a high clip despite unimaginable pain is nothing short of incredible. It’ll be interesting to see if he gets better as time passes, or if his emotions get the best of him.

For Washington, watch for them to continue the excellent team ball they’ve showcased this season. Beyond the hot shooting of Wall and Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. has shown he’s capable of greatness, too. Finally, long-time big man Marcin Gortat has competed with the best from the league, and should control Al Horford’s numbers. All in all, The Wizards are a complete team with outstanding guard play run by Wall. His handles, ball distribution, and trust in his teammates to hit big shots are the reason they’re in the position they are. It’s been 38 years in the making, but could this be the year the Wizards finally break into the National Semis?

Prediction: Isaiah Thomas is just too good for Washington, Celtics outlast Wizards in a high-scoring series… winning in game 7.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers (2) vs. Toronto Raptors (3)lebron-james-driving-on-demar-derozan_0.jpg

After a scare from Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, the Raptors return to the Conference Semis. More importantly, they have a chance to exact revenge on the team who ended their title chance in Game 6 of the Conference Finals. Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan will have a tough challenge when not one, but three superstars come up north. As frustrating as the Greek Freak was, imagine how they try to handle Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. Toronto will have to hope their home crowd and blistering momentum can help them escape Cleveland, because I’m not sure that all the talent is there for revenge.

The Cavaliers just need to stay focused and play their game. This won’t be an open and shut series, so Cleveland needs to learn from mistakes and have a tactical approach. Go moment by moment, and don’t let the slides snowball. If they keep up chemistry and continue to fight, there is no reason they won’t see the final 4. Look for Irving and James to control the tempo and make the necessary plays to clinch this series.

Prediction: Cavs are in full playoff mode, and regardless of how short or long this series is, they don’t get eliminated- I’ll predict it ends in 5.

2017 NBA Playoffs Predictions – Round 1

2017-04-136-15-35.jpgThe bracket is set, and the road to the Larry O’Brien Trophy begins this weekend. There’s a lot to watch for, as the defending champs look to retain their crown, while the runner-ups try to avenge their infamous 3-1 blown lead. Meanwhile, resurgent teams will attempt to shake things up. Let’s take a look at how the first round will go down.

Golden State Warriors (1) vs. Portland Trailblazers (8)miozr6.jpg

The Trailblazers’ reward for outlasting the Denver Nuggets for the last playoff spot is a date with the 2-time defending Western Conference champions. This Warriors team is, of course, a little different from years past. Kevin Durant has made a huge impact this season, and although he was recently sidelined with a knee injury, he has returned to the lineup just in time for the playoffs. The Blazers feature a 3-point barrage of talented point guard Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Allen Crabbe. However, expect Golden State’s sharpshooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to match them shot-for-shot.

Prediction: The only question is whether or not Portland can win a game at home. I’ll say yes- Warriors cruise in 5.

Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs. Utah Jazz (5)9644226-nba-utah-jazz-at-los-angeles-clippers-850x560.jpeg

The Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers finished with identical 51-31 records, but the Clippers were able to snag home court by winning the season series 3-1. That might be very appropriate for how this series will go. Both also have identical 29-12 home records, among the best in the NBA. With both teams suffering playoffs droughts (Jazz haven’t won a playoff game since 2010; Chris Paul is about to have the NBA record for most playoff games without appearing in the Conference Finals), it’s going to be a question of who wants it more. At the end of the day, it’s L.A.’s veteran shortcomings vs. Utah’s youth and inexperience.

Prediction: A hard-fought series goes the distance, just like these teams’ regular season battle – Jazz wins Game 7 in OT.

Houston Rockets (3) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (6)russell-westbrook-james-harden-960.jpg

If you only have time to watch one series, make it this one. The two best players of the 2017 season are going head-to-head on and off the court. All season experts have weighed in on whether the Rockets’ James Harden or the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook should be MVP. Now, the two will have a chance to go 1-on-1 in a grudge match after the votes have been cast. Westbrook is a machine, breaking the great Oscar Robertson’s once unbreakable 41 triple-doubles in a season record by 1. Without Durant in OKC, he has really shined as a premier player and the focal point of the Thunder. But Harden’s supporting cast as boosted Houston to get 8 more wins and home court advantage.

Prediction: An incredible back-and-forth series ends in game 6, Rockets advance.

MVP Prediction: PLEASE give it to Russell Westbrook. Not even a debate in my mind… just saying.

San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (7)nba_g_spurs_grizzlies2_mb_576_413727864.jpg

The Grizzlies have made an impressive 6-straight playoff appearances, but the Spurs have only missed the playoffs once since 1989. I’m not sure anyone can comprehend how incredible that is. Even Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls “only” made the playoffs 14 times in a row and, at best, 20 appearances in any 27-year span. So, it’s fair to say this isn’t coach Gregg Popovich’s first time around the block. With Tim Duncan retiring, Kawhi Leonard has stepped up and had an incredible year. He does it all and never stops hustling from the opening layup to the clutch buzzer-beaters. Mike Conley Jr. will have a big series, but the Grizzlies will have their hands full with this tough opening draw.

Prediction: Get your brooms ready, Spurs easily sweep past the Grizzlies in 4.

Boston Celtics (1) vs. Chicago Bulls (8)8987159-jimmy-butler-isaiah-thomas-nba-chicago-bulls-boston-celtics.jpg

This matchup of all-time great franchises will exceed expectations. Jimmy Butler’s Bulls are far more talented than their record implies, and they have serious upset potential. Also, the Eastern Conference has been much more evenly competitive than the West this year, and this series will prove it. Skillful 5’9″ point guard Isiah Thomas led Boston to a surprise run at the #1 seed, but they face a very tough matchup with Chicago. Butler and Thomas are both incredible athletes that make their teams better. The game will be won when the Celtics have the ball. Boston can score in bunches and have shown excellent ball movement through Thomas, but Chicago’s claim to fame has always been scrappy defense and getting rebounds.

Prediction: After splitting the season series, Boston wins the tiebreaker in game 7.

Washington Wizards (4) vs. Atlanta Hawks (5)USATSI_8366858.jpg

What seemed to be an epic collapse by the Hawks turned into a solid rebound as they clinched the 5 seed by winning 4 of the last 5 games. Meanwhile the Wizards have held steady as the 4th best team all year. Streaky vs. Consistency. In the long run, you’ll always pick the consistent back court of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Two pure athletes, they average 23 PPG a piece, and Wall averages over 10 assists per game as well. It’s a true asset to know exactly what you’ll get from D.C. every night. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s front court of Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard have been dominant in the paint. But when either has an off night, it affects the entire team.

Prediction: Wizards make quick work of Atlanta, advance in 5.

Toronto Raptors (3) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (6) raptors-bucks.jpg

Giannis Antetokounmpo has had a phenomenal campaign for Milwaukee. Definitely the MVP of the Bucks, he’ll surely settle for the league’s Most Improved Player. That said, the red-hot Raptors are going to be hard to stop. They’re 12-2 since March 17, and have won 4 straight coming into the postseason, including a rout over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday. The tandem of Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan light up the stat sheet and can overpower anyone. With Antetokounmpo controlling just about every aspect of the Bucks, it could be relatively easy to shut him down.

Prediction: Bucks play well and force the Raptors to play hard, but Toronto still sweeps.

Cleveland Cavaliers (2) vs. Indiana Pacers (7)dm_170402_nba_cavs_pacers.jpg

The Cavaliers are firmly at the center of the NBA’s attention. Lebron James and the Cavs look to make their 3rd straight Finals appearance (James’s 7th!), while the Pacers try to derail Cleveland’s hopes of a repeat. Don’t count on any funny business. Although Cleveland limps into the postseason the losers of 4 straight, they know how to win when it matters most. The Cavaliers have simply too much talent from top to bottom to be ousted this early by Paul George and company. I wouldn’t worry yet if I were a Cleveland fan, but the Conference Semifinals could prove to be a challenge if they don’t gather enough momentum with this dream matchup.

Predictions: Cavaliers overcome early deficits and prevail in 5.