Author Archives: William Martin

This Is What Rock Bottom Feels Like

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In 2012, the Brooklyn Nets arrived on the scene in Downtown Brooklyn riding white horses as they were seeking to create a buzz and steal fans away from the New York Knicks. The Nets would make the playoffs in each of their first three seasons in Brooklyn, but they would never advance past the second round. And since then the Nets have become the equivalent of a hyped-up stock that has crashed and burned as they’ve gone on to be one of the worst teams in the NBA.

Brook Lopez, Jeremy Lin

After the Nets went 21-61 last season they barely managed to win 20 games this campaign as they secured the worst mark in the NBA. But the bad news for the Nets is that with all of this futility, they don’t even possess their own first-round pick which would be in the top three of the NBA Draft this June due to a trade in 2013 that saw them acquire guard Jason Terry, power forward Kevin Garnett, and small forward Paul Pierce from the Boston Celtics in arguably the worst trade in sports history. As a part of the deal, the Nets sent three first-round picks, along with the ability to swap first-round picks here in 2017 to the Celtics which they’ll really feel the effect of this summer since Boston finished the regular season as the top team in the Eastern Conference. The trade was a win-now deal for the Nets and they flopped as the trio of Terry, Garnett, and Pierce combined to appear in just 206 games for the Nets. The Nets have been feeling the effects of the deal ever since as they are attempting to recover, but they haven’t had the draft picks or salary cap flexibility to expedite the process.

Sean Marks

Sean Marks took over as the Nets general manager last year knowing that he had a tall task ahead of him being that Brooklyn was hamstrung due to a lack of draft choices. Marks hired Kenny Atkinson to be the Nets head coach as they knew that their first year together in Brooklyn was going to be a harsh one. At no point this season were the Nets at or above .500 which included them only winning one game from December 16-January 17. The Nets lacked NBA talent on their roster and with the exception of center Brook Lopez who averaged 20.5 points and became the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, there wasn’t that much for Brooklyn to hang their hats on. The nostalgia of that moment wore off rather quickly for the Nets as the reality of one of the worst seasons in franchise history kicked in which was culminated by their 112-73 loss to the Chicago Bulls to end the season this past Wednesday night. The Nets had six players including Lopez sit out that contest as the blowout loss summed up their season. And even with so much against Brooklyn, they must find a way to improve heading into the summer.

The main thing that Marks must do is find a way to trade Lopez. Lopez has been a model citizen for the Nets since they drafted him in 2008. But the reality of the situation is that the Nets aren’t going to contend with him and thus they need to acquire as many assets as possible for him. This past season saw Marks make Lopez available just prior to the NBA’s trading deadline, however his steep asking price of a pair of first-round picks scared off potential suitors. For Lopez’s NBA career he has averaged 18.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks. Lopez is set to earn more than $22 million next season which is the final one of his contract, but he could be enticing enough for a contenting team to pick up.

During the season the Nets traded small forward Bojan Bogdanovic to the Washington Wizards in exchange for a first-round pick this summer. But like the Celtics, the Wizards are headed for the NBA Playoffs which means that the pick will be towards the end of the first round. However that is as active that the Nets will be on draft night as their second-round pick which is 31st overall is now property of the Atlanta Hawks as the result of the trade that saw them acquire swingman Joe Johnson in 2012. The Nets already have more than $70 million committed to player’s salaries for next season, but the operative word for them needs to be “patience”.

The Nets mortgaged their future and now they are paying for it severely. The Nets and their owner Mikhail Prokhorov had to learn the hard way that their is no quick fix in the NBA unless it involves you signing LeBron James. The Nets must focus on drafting, stick to the plan, and accept the fact that they are going to be bad for some time. This is a franchise that has not won a championship of any kind since their days in the ABA. And during the Nets time in the NBA, each time that they appear to be a verge of building something positive, it crumbles like a deck of cards.

The Nets call the Barclays Center home and it is one of the most state-of-the-art facilities in the NBA. However it hasn’t been much of a home-court advantage for the Nets as fans typically show up to cheer for their opponents. And until the Nets solidly establish themselves with a team that is a playoff contender, people will only show up to cheer for their opponents, along with the amenities that are at the arena.

Kenny Atkinson

This season you knew that Marks and Atkinson would receive a pass for the Nets struggles on the court. And even though that the deck will be stacked against the Nets again for next season, they must find a way to improve.

Sources: Prosporttransactions.com, Basketball-reference.com

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The Orlando Tragic

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Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier

As the 2016-2017 NBA season is coming to a close, another abysmal campaign for the Orlando Magic is coming to an end. The Magic are 28-53 and this will mark their fifth consecutive losing season, and fifth straight year without a trip to NBA Playoffs. Following the 2011-2012 NBA season wholesale changes were made in Orlando as general manager Otis Smith and head coach Stan Van Gundy were let go, while All-Star center Dwight Howard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Rob Henningan would replace Smith and his first order of business was to hire Jacque Vaughn as his head coach. However Vaughn was never able to kickstart things with the Magic as he compiled a record of 58-158 during his tenure in the Magic Kingdom. Vaughn would be fired midway through the 2014-2015 NBA season, and since then Orlando has employed three different head coaches. The Magic have consistently missed in the category of drafting as this organization is an afterthought in the NBA. But make no mistake about it that wholesale changes should be forthcoming in Orlando at the conclusion of this season.

Rob Hennigan

The Magic are no closer to being a playoff team than they were when Hennigan became their general manager. Only two of Hennigan’s first-round picks with the Magic are still on the roster. Shooting guard Victor Oladipo was the second overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft. Oladipo came into the NBA being compared to Dwyane Wade, but after averaging 15.9 points in three seasons with the Magic, he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder last summer. Power forward Aaron Gordon was taken fourth overall by the Magic in 2014, and although that his numbers have improved in each season in the NBA, he is a classic tweener as he is too big to be a small forward, while being too small for the power forward position. And unfortunately for Gordon, he is primarily known around the NBA for his dunking ability. Shooting guard Mario Hezonja was taken fifth overall by the Magic in 2015, but he is only averaging 4.8 points per game this season as his production doesn’t match where he was selected in the draft as all of this falls into the lap of Hennigan. And as a small-market franchise, the Magic don’t have the luxury of being able to lure big named free agents to Orlando which puts that much more emphasis on the NBA Draft for them as they cannot afford to miss there.

Frank Vogel

Frank Vogel is finishing up his first year as the head coach of the Magic and this will just be the second time in his coaching career that he’ll miss the NBA Playoffs. The last six years saw Vogel as the head coach of the Indiana Pacers and he led them to the postseason five teams. But in Orlando, Vogel simply doesn’t have the pieces in play yet for his system to be effective. And if the Magic decide to move on from Hennigan, is Vogel’s job as head coach safe?

But regardless of who is running the show in Orlando next season, there needs to be a huge culture change there. As the Magic have missed the playoffs in each of the last five years, they made it there in the previous six seasons. This is an organization that has lacked a buzz for quite some time and this season didn’t make it any better. The Magic have not posted a winning record at any point of this season which includes them going 9-21 in their 30 contests. And the icing on the cake of this futility was a 114-75 beatdown at the hands of the Chicago Bulls this past Monday night.

Shooting guard Evan Fournier is leading the Magic in scoring this season at 17.2 points per game, while center Nikola Vucevic can consistently get double-doubles which is evident by his 14.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per contest, but the Magic simply lack a centerpiece for their team that everyone can play off of. And until the Magic can find those kind of players in the NBA Draft, they are going to continue to be an afterthought in the league.

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Still In Search Of A Focal Point

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Stan Van Gundy

Stan Van Gundy is close to finishing his third season as the head coach/president of basketball operations for the Detroit Pistons. Van Gundy took over a Pistons team that was looking to get back on track after six straight seasons without a playoff appearance. Last season Van Gundy was able to get the Pistons to the playoffs for the first time since 2009, but just like that year they would be swept in the first round by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Pistons have a young team and because of that along with Van Gundy’s proven track record to turn around NBA franchises, there was some optimism that this team would improve even more this season. However that has not been the case as the Pistons currently have a record of 36-43 which will see them fall short of making the postseason. And as this NBA season is ending earlier than expected for the Pistons, you can expect some changes to this roster.

This season the Pistons have six players who are averaging at least 10 points per game, but they are lacking a proven go-to-guy. Injuries have limited point guard Reggie Jackson to just 52 games this season, but even if he were healthy it wouldn’t be enough. The Pistons acquired Jackson from the Oklahoma City Thunder prior to the trade deadline in 2015, and Van Gundy would even go on to sign him to a five-year extension for $80 million. However Jackson is not the type of point guard that makes Van Gundy’s system go.

Reggie Jackson

In 27 games with the Pistons during the 2014-2015 NBA season, Jackson averaged 17.6 points and 9.2 assists per game which led to him getting that lucrative extension. However in each season with the Pistons, Jackson’s production has declined. This season Jackson averaged 14.5 points and 5.2 assists before being shut down due to a foot injury. Jackson is a shooting guard that is in a point guard’s body and Van Gundy needs a player at that position who can consistently get everyone else on the team involved.

Center Andre Drummond can clean up on the glass as in his five-year NBA career he has averaged 12.9 rebounds per game which included him leading the league in the category last season at 14.8 per contest. However Drummond is not a player who can consistently create his own shot and after averaging 16.2 points per game this season, he is down to 13.9 this season as he would benefit from having point guard who has a pass-first mentality. And the same can be said for small forward Tobias Harris and power forward Marcus Morris who are solid players, but they also would benefit from having player that could create for them.

So when this summer rolls around, I expect Van Gundy to attempt to do some wheeling and dealing after his team underachieved this season. But with more than $103 million already committed to salaries for next season, how much will Van Gundy be able to do? Aside from Jackson who is owed roughly $52 million over the next three years, the Pistons are on the hook to pay Drummond $23.7 million next season, while Harris will receive $16 million. The Pistons need a spark on offense as their 101.1 points per game in 26th in the NBA and that simply won’t cut it in today’s offensive minded league. ¬†And with the Pistons set to leave Auburn Hills and move back to Detroit for next season, the last thing that they can afford to do is lay another dud.

This will just be the second time in Van Gundy’s NBA coaching career in which a team that is led by him will fall short of making the playoffs. But by hook or by crook, Van Gundy will do everything in his power to get the Pistons back on track this summer.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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Mr. Triple-Double

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Since Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook entered the NBA in 2008, he has been nothing short of pure excitement. Westbrook has been front and center for the Thunder’s ascent in the Western Conference, while he has become one of the NBA’s best players. At 6’3″, 200 lbs., Westbrook is one of the fastest players in the NBA and he is also fearless. It’s nothing for Westbrook to drive to the lane while also mixing it up with the big men in the paint. Westbrook is a six-time NBA All-Star and following the departure of small forward Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City last summer to join the Golden State Warriors, you expected Westbrook to have a special season; just not as spectacular as it has been.

This season I expected Westbrook to lead the NBA scoring in scoring as he would now be the focal point of the Thunder’s offense, but he has done it in the fashion of making history. Westbrook is on the verge of becoming the first NBA player since Hall of Fame point guard Oscar Robertson in 1962 to average a triple-double for an entire season. On the campaign Westbrook is averaging 31.8 points (which leads the NBA), 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists. Westbrook has already tied Roberston’s single season record of 41 triple-doubles in a season, and he just missed setting the new mark as he had 45 points, 10 assists, and 9 rebounds this past Wednesday night in a 103-100 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. Westbrook will have another opportunity to get his 42nd triple-double tonight when the Thunder face the Phoenix Suns. With Westbrook leading the way the Thunder are heading to the playoffs for the seventh time in the last eight years and regardless of what happens in the postseason, he should be ready collect some individual hardware.

Being that Westbrook has done something which hasn’t been accomplished in more than 50 years, he is the odds-on favorite to become the NBA’s MVP. On 18 occasions Westbrook has scored at least 40 points this season which included going for 58 points against the Portland Trail Blazers on March 7. From February 26-March 3, Westbrook had four consecutive games in which he scored at 41 points. Westbrook has 10 contests in which he has gotten at least 15 assists which was highlighted by him going for 22 assists versus the Suns on December 17. And the other caveat is that 32 times this season Westbrook has tallied at least 12 rebounds in a game which included him grabbing 18 boards on two separate occasions which is why he’ll be a shoe-in to be the NBA’s MVP.

Westbrook has made the impossible possible as he has done what many people thought would never be done again which is to average triple-double for an entire season. Since Robertson pulled it off in 1962, the NBA has seen a plethora of great point guards such as Magic Johnson, Isaiah Thomas, and John Stockton. But whereas these men had other talented players to shoulder the load, Westbrook is doing this without a talented squad around him as he needs to do what he is doing in order for Oklahoma City to win basketball games. This season the Thunder are 31-10 when Westbrook records a triple-double as he has been a one-man wrecking crew and thus head coach Billy Donovan has given him the green light to turn it loose.

With the NBA Playoffs right around the corner, I don’t expect Westbrook to slow down his production even though that the deck will be stacked against him as far as Oklahoma City being able to make a deep run in the Western Conference Playoffs due to the fact that they’ll have to go through the likes of the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, and Houston Rockets.

I knew that Westbrook would be locked in this season as he was out to emerge from the shadow of Durant in Oklahoma City. And since the folks in Oklahoma City weren’t thrilled at how Durant left along with the team that he joined, it has led them to embrace Westbrook more than ever; especially since he signed an extension to remain there.

Averaging a triple-double for an entire season in the NBA is the equivalent to hitting for the triple-crown in Major League Baseball, rushing for 2,000 yards in a season in the National Football League, and scoring 75 goals in one campaign in the National Hockey League. Occurrences such as these don’t come down the pike that often and thus they should be put onto a pedestal. And regardless of what Westbrook is able to do for the remainder of his NBA career, his name will forever live on in the history of the league.

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