Author Archives: William Martin

Clueless In Chicago

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11 of the last 13 NBA seasons have seen the Chicago Bulls make the playoffs, but they’ve never been able to recapture the magic that they had in the 1990’s. That decade saw the Bulls win six NBA Championships as they were led by Michael Jordan who many people view as the greatest basketball player to have ever played. Jordan would leave the Bulls in 1998 which paved the way for the franchise to head into a tailspin. The next six seasons would see the Bulls fail to make the playoffs as they were one of the worst teams in the NBA. Since 2005, the Bulls have been respectable in spite of the fact that have never made it back to the NBA Finals since Jordan’s departure. However that respectability appears to be heading by the wayside.

Jimmy Butler

Leading up to the 2017 NBA Draft, the Bulls began to shop swignman Jimmy Butler with the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers showing some interest. However the Celtics weren’t willing to part with high draft picks, while the Cavaliers don’t have the salary cap space, and they’re also dealing with front office issues. Those proposed deals fell through rather quickly and it appeared that cooler heads would prevail with Butler remaining in the Windy City.

However during the draft it was announced that Butler was part of a deal that would see him traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Butler along with the draft rights to center Justin Patton are being sent to the Twin Cities, while point guards Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, along with the draft rights to power forward Lauri Markkanen are going to the Windy City as this could be one of the worst trades in the history of Chicago based sports franchises.

Butler was selected 30th overall by the Bulls in 2011 and in that time his game has improved immensely. Butler’s points per game total has increased in each of his six NBA seasons with him averaging 23.9 points this past season to go along with 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 1.9 steals per game. Each of the last three seasons have seen Butler be an NBA All-Star, while he is also a three-time NBA All-Defense Second Team member. Butler rose through the ranks to become the face of the Bulls franchise, while he has also become one of the better players in the NBA. But none of that matters as the Bulls have sent Butler packing. However this should not come as a super surprise since the Bulls front office has been making poor decisions for a very long time.

Gar Forman

Gar Forman assumed the post of Bulls general manager in 2009 which did see the team reach the postseason over the next six years. However Forman and head coach Tom Thibodeau could not remain on the same page which led to him begin fired in 2015 in spite of the fact that he made the Bulls into one of the NBA’s better teams. Things have continued to spiral downwards for the Bulls since they let Thibodeau go as Forman hired a head coach in Fred Hoiberg who he is on the same page with, but the same cannot be said about the players that were retained that fit the system of their former head coach.

During the 2015-2016 NBA season, the Bulls went 42-40 and missed the playoffs, while they would back into the playoffs this past season with a record of 41-41. The Bulls won the first two games of their opening round series with the Celtics before they would lose the next four to be eliminated which symbolized their season in a nutshell.

The Bulls dealt with in fighting all season long as Butler and veteran shooting guard Dwyane Wade criticized the team’s young players, while the youngsters fought back with point guard Rajon Rondo as their mouthpiece. Hoiberg doesn’t have the personality to police the Bulls locker room in the same fashion as Thibodeau as it appeared that the inmates were running the asylum which is never part of a formula for success. And that dysfunction continued with the trade of Butler which hurts the Bulls franchise is several ways.

The Bulls no longer have a face of their franchise that fans in Chicago can relate to and more importantly get behind. This also signals that the Bulls won’t be a competitive team for the upcoming season as they don’t appear to have any semblance of order when it comes to figuring out what direction that they are going in. And last but certainly not least, they’ve traded Butler to a Timberwolves team that employs Thibodeau as their president of basketball operations and head coach.

Tom Thibodeau

Upon taking over the Timberwolves last year, Thibodeau attempted to pry Butler away from the Bulls, but he was unwilling to part with a first-round pick as well as small forward Andrew Wiggins. Thibodeau used his first-round pick on Dunn last year who is now headed to Chicago, while he gets Butler to team with Wiggins and center Karl-Anthony Towns to give Minnesota one of the better trios in the Western Conference. And more importantly the Timberwolves now have a finisher in Butler who not only excels at both ends of the floor, but he is a Thibodeau guy.

Now the fortunes for the Timberwolves have risen as this is a franchise that has failed to make the NBA Playoffs since 2004 which was the only year in their history that they advanced past the first round as they made the Western Conference Finals. And for the Bulls, Forman must now face the music as both the media and fans alike in Chicago are not thrilled that an All-Star in Butler was shown the door in exchange for what could amount to nothing more than a hills of beans.

No matter what the sport, great players and great teams don’t win championships as it comes down to great organizations, and what the Bulls have shown us is that the people of Chicago will have to worship the statue of Jordan that is outside of the United Center even more because it is going to be a very long time before we see another championship parade for this team heading down Michigan Avenue. And for a man in Forman who wasn’t on the same page with Thibodeau when they worked together in Chicago, he certainly went out of his way to make his new job in Minnesota that much easier.

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Statement Made By Ward

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There was a buzz this past Saturday night in Las Vegas, Nevada for the much anticipated rematch between WBA, IBF, and WBO Light Heavyweight Champion Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev. These two engaged in a battle last November in Las Vegas that was tightly contested with Ward winning 114-113 on all three cards to hand Kovalev the first defeat of his career while also taking his title belts. The rematch was highly anticipated due to the fact that Kovalev appeared to be extra motivated to regain his belts and avenge the only defeat of his career, while Ward wasn’t ready to lie down for him. And when Kovalev and Ward stepped into the ring to face each other for the second time, we were all hopeful that this meeting would be as good as the first.

An incensed Kovalev began the fight extremely aggressive as he took a page out of Ward’s playbook which consisted of holding and punching. Kovalev did this while also attempting to land power punches as he was seeking a knockout that would have left no doubt that he was the king of the Light Heavyweight Division. And even though that Kovalev came out seeking to make a statement, Ward never diverted from his game plan.

Ward earned his reputation as one of the best boxers in the sport due to his impeccable defensive skills as well as his ability to frustrate his opponents by taking away what they do best. And coming into this encounter I expected Ward to exploit the fact that Kovalev was seeking a knockout which is exactly what he did.

As Kovalev came out swinging for the fences, Ward tired him out by not allowing him to get clean shots, while also working on the Russian’s body as it was these same body shots that allowed him to get victory last November. The tide began to turn after the fourth round this past Saturday night when Kovalev didn’t have the same steam on his punches which is when Ward went to work.

Ward began to have his way with Kovalev as those early body shots began to take their toll, and he continued to add salt to the wound. Ward would keep working the body which included a few borderline “low” punches that slowed down Kovalev who would claim that the punches were indeed low. Initially referee Tony Weeks instructed Ward to bring his punches up, but after awhile he was not buying selling what Kovalev was selling.

By the eighth round Ward was beginning to open up to the point that Kovalev had nothing in the tank as he was out of gas. Kovalev was on the ropes in more ways than one as he needed a breather to which Ward wasn’t ready to oblige. Ward continued to hit Kovalev with a flurry of punches. And with Kovalev bent over, but on his feet, Weeks had seen enough and decided to stop the fight which brought the crowd at the Mandalay Bay Events Center to their feet. For the second time in as many fights, Ward would get his hand raised against Kovalev, but just like their encounter in November, this one ended in controversy.

Following the fight Kovalev once again was not ready to give Ward credit as he simply referred to him as being “lucky”. Kovalev wasn’t thrilled that he lost the first fight with Ward 114-113 on all three cards as he entered that match as the champion while also sending his opponent to the canvas in the second round. That frustration fueled Kovalev for the rematch, but he became fatigued due to the body shots that he was receiving from Ward along with the fact that he finally met someone who he could not overwhelm with his power. The body shots that Kovalev complained about were borderline, but they were not low. And even if Weeks had not stepped in to stop the action, Kovalev wasn’t going to make it past the tenth round.

Kovalev’s gripe took another step as Main Events CEO Kathy Duva who promotes the former Light Heavyweight Champion acknowledged that she intends to protest the decision with the Nevada State Athletic Commission. After the first fight with Ward, Kovalev’s camp wanted a new referee as they felt that Robert Byrd didn’t do enough to stop Ward from grabbing and holding, while they also wanted new judges. The first time around saw Burt Clements, Glenn Trowbridge, and John McKaie as the three officials who were scoring the fight. Duva and Kovalev got their wish as ┬áthe Nevada State Athletic Commission got a new referee for the rematch in Weeks, while also getting some new judges. Glenn Feldman of Connecticut and Steve Weisfeld of New Jersey joined Nevada’s Dave Moretti as the three judges for the rematch as Duva was seeking to get judges who were not from the West Coast. But all of the king’s horses and all of the king’s men couldn’t prevent Kovalev from getting beaten by Ward again. Once the fight was over Kovalev still had Ward on the brain as he could be seeking a third fight, but the same cannot be said about the champ.

After the fight Ward acknowledged Kovalev as a great fighter, but he didn’t want to leave anything to chance the second time around. And being that Ward won such a close fight in his first meeting with Kovalev, he knew that he plenty to improve on. But since Ward has now beaten Kovalev twice, he not only sits as the undisputed king of the light heavyweights, as he is also arguably the best current pound-for-pound boxer.

Ward is finally getting the recognition that he has deserved for a long time as issues with his former promoter as well as injuries kept him on the shelf for nearly three years. But whereas Ward is now 33-years of age, he has made up for lost time.

Ward studied the defensive skills of former boxer Bernard Hopkins who himself became a Light Heavyweight Champion. Hopkins made it his business to consistently frustrate his opponents and take over the fight in the second half of the bout which is something that Ward has down to science as you can ask the likes of Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler, and of course Kovalev. And whereas most fighters tend to go for the head shot in order to finish off an opponent, Ward continues to work the body until his counterpart has no choice but to succumb to the damage that he is receiving.

I doubt that Ward will take on Kovalev for a third time as this is in the category of “been there done that”, and although that Adonis Stevenson is the WBC Light Heavyweight Champion, he doesn’t receive that much respect since he ran from fighting Kovalev twice. But for Ward he is now in the catbird’s seat as he can write his own ticket while running things at Light Heavyweight. Ward always has the option to move up cruiserweight, but since he isn’t packing a ton of power, he could get lost at that level.

When Ward exited the ring this past Saturday night, his undefeated record remained in tact due to the fact that he has maintained the moniker of professional boxing being “a hungry man’s sport”. The wolf that is at the top of the mountain typically isn’t as hungry as the pack which is climbing to overtake him. However in the case of Ward he has shown that he has what it takes to not only stay at the top, but also fend off of all of those who are intending on dethroning him.

 

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2017 NBA Mock Draft 2.0

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1. Philadelphia 76ers (via Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics)-Markelle Fultz-Freshman-Point Guard-Washington

The 76ers once again have the first overall pick in the NBA Draft and they will get themselves a quality ball handler.

2. Los Angeles Lakers-Lonzo Ball-Freshman-Point Guard-UCLA

It would not shock me to Lakers pass on Lonzo Ball here, but the fact that they brought him in for a second workout means that they’ll more than likely give in and select him.

De’Aaron Fox

3. Boston Celtics (via Sacramento Kings and Philadelphia 76ers)-De’Aaron Fox-Freshman-Point Guard-Kentucky

The Celtics trade and still get themselves a quality point guard, while also stock piling more future draft picks.

4. Phoenix Suns-Josh Jackson-Freshman-Small Forward-Kansas

The Suns already have a solid young back court of point guard Eric Bledsoe and shooting guard Devin Booker, and now they can add another versatile perimeter player in Josh Jackson.

5. Sacramento Kings (via Philadelphia 76ers)-Jayson Tatum-Freshman-Small Forward-Duke

All signs point to small forward Rudy Gay leaving the Kings as a free agent and they can find his replacement right here.

6. Orlando Magic-Jonathan Isaac-Freshman-Small Forward-Florida State

For years the Magic have been without an impact player at the small forward position. Jonathan Isaac won’t be a superstar, but he could be a solid developmental project in Orlando.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves-Lauri Markkanen-Freshman-Power Forward-Arizona

If the Timberwolves don’t trade this selection they will be in a position to select the best athlete available.

8. New York Knicks-Malik Monk-Freshman-Point Guard-Kentucky

Don’t look know but the Knicks could find the perfect player at the point guard position to compliment power forward Kristaps Porzingis.

Dennis Smith Jr.

9. Dallas Mavericks-Dennis Smith Jr.-Freshman-Point Guard-North Carolina State

The Mavericks could go in several directions with one of them being finding a floor general.

10. Sacramento Kings (via New Orleans Pelicans)-Frank Ntilikina-Point Guard-Belgium

The Kings are building towards the future which means finding a point guard to run their offense.

11. Charlotte Hornets-Luke Kennard-Sophomore-Shooting Guard-Duke

The Hornets could go in several directions with this pick, but they need to find more perimeter scoring if they want to be a consistent playoff team.

12. Detroit Pistons-Terrance Ferguson-Shooting Guard-United States

If all the top point guards are gone, I would not be surprised to see the Pistons trade down. But at the same time Terrance Ferguson could fill a need in the Pistons back court if shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope elects to leave in free agency.

13. Denver Nuggets-Zach Collins-Freshman-Center-Gonzaga

The Nuggets are continuing to stock pile depth in their front court as they seek to make a playoff push next season.

Harry Giles

14. Miami Heat-Harry Giles-Freshman-Power Forward-Duke

The Heat were on the cusp of making the playoffs this past season. And with the selection of Harry Giles, along with what could be a busy summer for them in free agency, Miami could once again be a force in the Eastern Conference.

15. Portland Trail Blazers-Justin Patton-Freshman-Center-Creighton

If the Trail Blazers decide to retain this selection they could find a developmental project for their front court.

Justin Jackson

16. Chicago Bulls-Justin Jackson-Junior-Small Forward-North Carolina

The Bulls already have Jimmy Butler at small forward, but they could get some depth behind him, while also finding a player who fits perfectly into the system of head coach Fred Hoiberg.

17. Milwaukee Bucks-Jarrett Allen-Freshman-Center-Texas

The Bucks are already one of the most athletic teams in the NBA, and they can get better here with a player in Jarrett Allen who can clean up on the glass, while also blocking every shot in sight.

18. Indiana Pacers-Donovan Mitchell-Sophomore-Shooting Guard-Louisville

In a last ditch effort to possibly keep small forward Paul George happy, the Pacers must hit on this selection.

19. Atlanta Hawks-John Collins-Sophomore-Power Forward-Wake Forest

There is a chance that power forward Paul Millsap will leave the Hawks this summer which means that it’s more than likely time for them to start over at that position.

20. Portland Trail Blazers (via Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets and Cleveland Cavaliers)-Ike Anigbogu-Freshman-Power Forward-UCLA

For the Trail Blazers it’s all about finding players in their front court that can compliment point guard Damian Lillard.

21. Oklahoma City Thunder-Tyler Dorsey-Sophomore-Shooting Guard-Oregon

I would not be surprised to see the Thunder either trade down, or attempt to get more picks for next year.

T.J. Leaf

22. Brooklyn Nets (via Washington Wizards)-T.J. Leaf-Freshman-Power Forward-UCLA

With the Nets not having a first-round pick next year, they need to hit a home run with this selection.

23. Toronto Raptors (via Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks)-Caleb Swanigan-Sophomore-Power Forward-Purdue

If the Raptors are going to be a serious contender in the Eastern Conference, they will need more offensive production from their front court.

24. Utah Jazz-OB Anunoby-Sophomore-Small Forward-Indiana

This could be an interesting selection for the Jazz as all of their hopes will rest on whether or not that small forward Gordon Hayward will re-sign with them.

25. Orlando Magic (via Toronto Raptors)-Jonathan Motley-Junior-Power Forward-Baylor

Aside from Aaron Gordon, the Magic currently don’t have any power forwards on their roster which would give Jonathan Motley the opportunity to come in and be an immediate contributor.

26. Portland Trail Blazers (via Cleveland Cavaliers)-Bam Adebayo-Freshman-Center-Kentucky

With a trio of first-round picks I expect the Blazers to trade at one of them, but if they draft Bam Adebayo, I see him staying in the Pacific Northwest.

Tyler Lydon

27. Brooklyn Nets (via Boston Celtics)-Tyler Lydon-Sophomore-Small Forward-Syracuse

Tyler Lydon could provide the Nets with some quality perimeter shooting that they lacked last season.

28. Los Angeles Lakers (via Houston Rockets)-Josh Hart-Senior-Small Forward-Villanova

Josh Hart might possess a second round grade, but he has plenty of intangibles which includes knowing how to win.

29. San Antonio Spurs-Ivan Rabb-Sophomore-Power Forward-California

If Ivan Rabb left school last year he could have been a top-five pick. However Rabb’s loss could be the Spurs gain.

30. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors)-Dwayne Bacon-Sophomore-Shooting Guard-Virginia

In watching the Jazz this season, their lack of depth in the back court was a glaring weakness.

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The X-Factor

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It has been a marriage made in heaven since small forward Kevin Durant joined the Golden State Warriors last summer. Durant received a ton of criticism when he joined Golden State last summer in free agency after he spent the first nine years of his NBA career with the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder franchise. To some it appeared that Durant went to Oakland to merely ride the coattails of the Warriors core of point guard Steph Curry, shooting guard Klay Thompson, and power forward Draymond Green as this trio had already won an NBA Championship together. However Durant’s union was much more calculated and thought out than most people imagine.

The 2016 NBA Playoffs could be categorized as extremely bizarre. Durant and his Thunder teammates had 3-1 lead over the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals and appeared headed for a meeting with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. But instead the Thunder came apart during the final three games of the series and were sent home. In the NBA Finals, the Warriors themselves built a 3-1 series lead over the Cavaliers before they became the first team in league history to lose the championship after being on the cusp in that fashion. And what made it worse was that the Warriors had just set an NBA record for regular season wins as they had gone 73-9. Golden State was constantly being compared to the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls who went 72-10 in the route to the NBA Title. However that talk would dissipate as soon as Golden State struggled to get past Oklahoma City.

As the old saying goes “birds of a feather flock together”, and as the Warriors had a glaring need at small forward, while Durant was growing unhappy with the Thunder, the two sides decided to join forces.

Durant was chastised for being a bandwagoner and being weak for joining the Warriors, but his move to the Bay Area should be embraced.

Durant was not happy with the Thunder due to the fact that the team’s starting point guard in Russell Westbrook is not a team first point guard. This past season saw Westbrook become the first player in NBA history since Oscar Robertson in 1962 to average a triple-double. But even though that Westbrook was able to achieve the milestone, he doesn’t make his teammates better. Westbrook is a shooting guard that is trapped in a point guard’s body and he constantly needs the basketball in his hands to excel. Durant needed Westbrook to play off of him and that was not going to happen. And although that Durant and Westbrook had helped the Thunder reach the NBA Finals in 2012, they were not any closer to winning it all. So instead of Durant staying in Oklahoma City and being unhappy, he not only decided to leave, however he made up his mind to go to the team that gave him the best opportunity to win it all.

In meeting with the Warriors last summer, Durant was blown away by their camaraderie and togetherness as he knew that these were the players that he needed to be around. So Durant made his decision and as the criticism mounted, he knew that he had to excel as nothing less than a championship was going to leave him open to more criticism.

Due to the Warriors depth, Durant’s offensive numbers slightly dipped as he averaged 25.1 points per game this season compared to 28.2 last season, but his effectiveness has been magnified. Durant’s presence took some of the scoring burden off of Curry, Thompson, and Green as he shot nearly 54% from the field, while he also chipped in by averaging 1.6 blocks.

As a team the Warriors went 67-15 during the regular season in spite of the fact the Durant missed 20 games due to a knee injury. But even with another stellar regular season in the books for the Warriors, it wouldn’t mean a thing without doing it in the spring for a ring.

And unlike last year the Warriors would set the tone while also maintaining it in the NBA Playoffs as they became the first team since the Los Angeles Lakers in 2001 to advance to the NBA Finals without losing a game which setup a meeting with the Cavs for the third consecutive year.

The NBA Finals would go on to become the Kevin Durant show as in Game 1, he erupted for 38 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists to lead Golden State to an easy 113-91 victory as even with the best player in the NBA at small forward for them in LeBron James, the Cavaliers still didn’t have anyone who could slow him down. Durant wouldn’t stop there as in Game 2 he would get Cleveland for 33 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 blocks as the Warriors coasted to the 132-113 win. For the series Durant would average 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 5.4 assists which included going for 39 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists in the series clinching victory over the Cavaliers this past Monday night in Game 5. For Durant’s troubles he was named as the NBA Finals MVP, and although that he’ll have some folks say that he took the easy way out, he did the right thing.

Durant was faced with pressure throughout the entire NBA season as people wanted to see him fail and nothing short of a title would have been disastrous for both he and the Warriors. However Durant never backed away from the challenge and when the spotlight was on him, he rose to the occasion.

So now Durant has his first NBA Championship while people must accept the fact that superstar players joining championship caliber teams is not just a recent trend. After the Philadelphia 76ers lost in the NBA Finals two times in a three-year span, they acquired center Moses Malone from the Houston Rockets which finally allowed them to get over the hump in 1983. After power forward Charles Barkley was unable to win an NBA Championship with the Sixers of the Phoenix Suns, he was traded to the Rockets in 1996 to team with center Hakeem Olajuwon and shooting guard Clyde Drexler. But after the Rockets had won it all in 1994 and again in 1995, they would not win another title. 2003 would see power forward Karl Malone leave the Utah Jazz to join the Lakers, and he would have company in the form of point guard Gary Payton as they would look to team with center Shaquille O’Neal and shooting guard Kobe Bryant who had already won three NBA Titles together. 2004 would see the Lakers reach the NBA Finals, however they would be upset there by a Detroit Pistons team that didn’t have star appeal, but they would play as a team. And this would mark the only season in which this quartet played together for the Lakers. We saw the success that the trio of power forward Kevin Garnett, small forward Paul Pierce, and shooting guard Ray Allen had with the Boston Celtics in 2008 which produced an NBA Championship, while LeBron James had his run with the Miami Heat, and now with the Cavs.

However Durant has been vilified since he joined a team that already had a championship pedigree even though that he wasn’t the first guy to realize that the grass was actually greener on the other side of the fence. Durant wasn’t going to stay somewhere that he was unhappy at, and he had a chance to help make a great team greater. Yes the Warriors had been to the NBA Finals in each of the two previous seasons, but Durant was a tremendous upgrade to small forward Harrison Barnes whom Golden State allowed to leave last summer as a free agent. And that difference was displayed when it needed to be in the NBA Finals.

Now it is time for the Cavaliers to see if they’ll be able to somewhat counter what the Warriors were able to do as there is a strong possibility that we can see these two teams meet next year in the NBA Finals for a fourth consecutive season. But in the interim Durant got the championship that he has coveted, he didn’t break any laws in signing with Warriors, and most importantly he was the difference maker in another Larry O’Brien Trophy being celebrated in the Bay Area.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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