Category Archives: National Basketball Association

Don’t Cry For LeBron

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Little did the NBA know that when small forward LeBron James came onto the scene in 2003 that he would become one of the most polarizing figures that the league has ever seen. James was the first overall pick of the 2003 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers and he was seen as being a savior for a struggling franchise. Before James played one minute in the NBA, he was already a household name due to his exploits in high school. And as James came to the NBA straight out of high school, it didn’t take him that long to show that he belonged in the professional ranks.

As a rookie, James averaged 20.9 points and he was named as the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. By the 2005-2006 NBA season, James averaged 31.4 points per game and he helped the Cavaliers win 50 games for the first time since 1993. And by 2007, James did the unthinkable which was to get Cleveland to the NBA Finals.

In seven years with Cavaliers, James had put the City of Cleveland back onto the sports map while becoming one of the top players in the NBA. But as good as James was, he could not help the Cavaliers win an NBA Championship, and when he had the ability to opt out of his contract with the Cavs in 2010, he would leave to join the Miami Heat.

With the Heat, James would win a pair of NBA Championships, while Miami made the NBA Finals in each of his four years there. However once the Heat lost the NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, James would again opt out of his contract to become a free agent; this time to return to the Cavaliers.

And just like it was when James was drafted by the Cavaliers in 2003, he once again gave the franchise credibility. In James’ first three years during his second stint in Cleveland, the Cavaliers have made the NBA Finals in each season with him leading the franchise to its first NBA Title in 2016. However the well is beginning to run dry for James in Cleveland.

This past season saw James publicly express that he wanted the Cavaliers to re-sign general manager David Griffin. Griffin had orchestrated several key trades that helped the Cavs win an NBA Title, and more importantly he was a person that James liked for his ability to get the players to Cleveland that he (James) wanted there. But when Griffin’s contract expired at the conclusion of the past NBA season, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert chose not to retain him after he was seeking more money. And when Griffin was shown the door, it did not sit well with James. After losing to the Golden State in the NBA Finals, the Cavs have been dormant in regards to attempting to improve their roster. Trades to acquire the likes of small forward Paul George from the Indiana Pacers and swingman Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls fell through once Griffin was let go as the Cavaliers were operating without a general manager, while other contenders like the Warriors and Boston Celtics were getting better.

Kyrie Irving

Last week a bombshell was dropped when point guard Kyrie Irving let it be known that he wants the Cavaliers to trade him. Irving has spent all six years of his NBA career with the Cavaliers. Like James, Irving was the first overall pick of the NBA Draft in the year in which he was selected, but unlike James he was unable to elevate the Cavs in the fashion that James has. In three years without James, Irving was never able to help the Cavaliers to the playoffs, however he became a household once he played alongside James. But as vital as Irving has been in the last three years for the Cavaliers, he no longer wants to be in the shadow of James.

When the Cavs made Irving the first overall pick in 2010, he was expected to be first piece to turning things around. And when Irving signed a contract extension with the Cavaliers in 2014, he was sold on being the franchise player. But days after Irving re-signed, James decided to rejoin the Cavs which meant that Irving would be taking a backseat to him. As good as James is, other star players typically have to alter their game in order to accommodate him. Irving has somewhat done that, but he’s tired of it. With the growing frustration of James towards the Cavaliers front office, all signs point to him leaving Cleveland once again next summer when he can opt out to become a free agent. However Irving is attempting to beat James at his own game and jump ship while it is still afloat which would put a damper on the Cavaliers making it four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. However no one should shed a tear for Akron’s favorite son in James.

When James left Cleveland in 2010, he took a ton of criticism, but he also was praised by some people. The City of Cleveland has never been an attractive landing spot for NBA free agents and as much as James tried to get the top players to team up with him there, he simply could not make it happen. That would change once James joined the Heat as Miami is full of nightlife and partying which is something that most NBA free agents look at. James was also lured to Miami being that he would team up with shooting guard Dwyane Wade and power forward Chris Bosh. Heat team president Pat Riley also has a championship pedigree as he had already won a combined five NBA Championships as a head coach with the Los Angeles Lakers and Heat.

Riley built a championship team around James which led to a pair of NBA Championships. But Riley who has an old school approach to things and he would not let James get his way in regards to preferential treatment. James was also frustrated by taking less money and not always seeing Riley get the players that he wanted to Miami. And this led James to returning to Cleveland in 2014.

Dan Gilbert

However James was more than happy to return to the Cavaliers in spite of the fact that Gilbert wrote a very disparaging letter about him that stayed on the team’s website for four years. And it only came down once James decided to return to Cleveland. It was a strategic move by James to return to Cleveland since they had received the first overall pick in the NBA Draft three times during his four-year stretch in Miami. But if that wasn’t the case, James would have never returned to Cleveland as all of his talk about wanting to come home and win one for Ohio would not have ever come to fruition.

When James doesn’t get his way, he takes it upon himself and exit stage right in order to chase down another championship opportunity. However James must realize that team owners in the NBA are billionaires and they made their fortunes by not backing down to people no matter what star appeal that they possess.

So now the countdown for another sideshow with James has begun as teams around the NBA have already begun the process of piecing their rosters together in order to lure him on board. James will be 33-years of age by the time that he becomes a free agent and he will have plenty of mileage on his legs, but teams will still be willing to break the bank in order to chase the championship dream.

James has changed the game as the NBA has never seen a player of his caliber that chases rings only to have egg on face at each stop along his journey. James knew what Gilbert was about and he still decided to rub elbows with him once more. And now James will be stuck in Cleveland for another year while his sidekick in Irving more than likely won’t be there.

You win some and you lose some, and in the case of James his attempts to cherry pick his team in Cleveland may have officially come to an end.

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A Man With A Plan

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From 2008-2013, the Boston Celtics were always in contention to win the NBA Title which included them winning it all in 2008. However following Boston’s elimination in the first round of the NBA Playoffs in 2013, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge decided that it was time to start over. And instead of Ainge waiting for aging players such as small forward Paul Pierce and power forward Kevin Garnett to completely break down physically, he was able to ship them off to the Brooklyn Nets while receiving a litany of draft picks in the process. And as longtime Celtics head coach Doc Rivers did not want to participate in a rebuild in Boston, he was sent to the Los Angeles Clippers which resulted in more draft picks for the C’s since Rivers was still under contract with them.

Brad Stevens

Ainge would then raise some eyebrows when he pegged Brad Stevens to replace Rivers as the Celtics head coach. Stevens had never coached in the NBA as he was the men’s head basketball coach of the Butler Bulldogs. Stevens’ time at Butler was highlighted by him reaching the championship game of the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and 2011, but how would he be able to fare in the NBA?

In Stevens’ first year with the Celtics, Boston would go 25-57 which was to be expected. However the following season would see the Celtics win total improve by 15 games and they earned the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics would continue to build off of that as they won 48 games during the 2015-2016 NBA season, and this past campaign would see them earn the best record in the Eastern Conference with a mark of 53-29. Boston would make it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2012, however after being eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers, it was clear that the C’s still had a ways to go in order to close the gap on them and become legitimate contenders to win the NBA Championship.

Gordon Hayward

That gap closed somewhat on Independence Day when the Celtics signed small forward Gordon Hayward to a four-year deal that is worth $128 million. Hayward has spent his entire NBA career with the Jazz which included him averaging 21.9 points per game this past season while earning his first NBA All-Star Game selection. The acquisition of Hayward reunites him with Stevens who was his head coach at Butler, while it also displays that Ainge’s plan is coming to fruition.

Although that the Celtics 17 NBA Championships are more than any other organization in league history, no star player wanted to come to Boston when Ainge decided to rebuild. And instead of Ainge going for a quick fix in order to turn around the fortunes of the Celtics, he did it the old-fashioned way which required patience on his part, along with the ability to take some ridicule in Beantown.

Danny Ainge

Ainge has never been willing to give away draft picks as he has instead stock piled them like poker chips. In sending Pierce, Garnett, and shooting guard Jason Terry to the Nets, the Celtics received four, first-round picks in the NBA Draft. Ainge’s ability to sell water to a whale has been magnified as the trade with Brooklyn allowed the Celtics to select small forward Jaylen Brown third overall last year. This year the Celtics had the right to swap first-round picks with the Nets who earned the first overall selection in the NBA Draft. And with Ainge not blown away with point guard Markelle Fultz who was projected to be the top pick in the draft, he made a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers and moved down to the third overall selection. The Celtics would then select small forward Jayson Tatum and in the process they procured a first-round pick from the Sixers for next year. The Nets also owe the Celtics a first-round pick for next year which will more than likely be in the top five of the draft which means that Ainge can draft another quality player early, or find a sucker that is willing to give him a king’s ransom in order to move up as the rich simply get richer.

Ainge has also taken chances on bringing players to the Celtics that nobody else wanted. In 2011, point guard Isaiah Thomas went undrafted by the NBA. Thomas would begin his NBA journey with the Sacramento Kings. In three years with the Kings, Thomas’ numbers improved and in his final season in Sacramento, he averaged 20.3 points per game. Thomas was then traded to the Phoenix Suns where he averaged 15.2 points in 46 games. Thomas would then be traded to the Celtics in 2015 and he has gone on to become a household name.

Isaiah Thomas

Thomas has averaged 24.7 points per game during his time with Celtics and this past season saw him become an MVP candidate as he averaged 28.9 points. And once you factor in the emergence of Thomas, along with the overall improvement of the Celtics, things are changing as far as this organization’s reputation around the NBA.

Now Boston is once again becoming a popular destination among free agents around the NBA which was illustrated by Hayward joining the Celtics, and there is more to come.

The draft picks that the Celtics are in possession of gives Ainge plenty of flexibility if he needed to get another star player to team with Thomas and Hayward. This past season saw Brown show flashes of his potential, while Tatum has gotten off to a hot start in the NBA’s Summer League as the Celtics now have one of the deepest teams in the league.

Ainge has built the Celtics into a contender simply off of the fact that there is always a sucker in regards to making a trade. Ainge was able to find that sucker in the mode of former Nets general manager Billy King who mortgaged the future for three washed up players. Pierce and Garnett are retired, while Terry is currently playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, but the Nets are still on the hook for one more first-round pick to the Celtics.

Ainge learned from one of the best as far as making trades as former Celtics general manager Red Auerbach knew how to exploit loopholes in the NBA’s rule book, while also finding a sucker to make a trade with. And this ability by Auerbach allowed the Celtics to draft Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, while acquiring Robert Parrish to form one of the best front court’s in NBA history as the combination helped Boston win three titles in the 1980’s.

Now Ainge is writing his own chapter and as he doesn’t appear to be slowing down with making moves, the 18th NBA Title for the Celtics doesn’t appear to be that far around the corner.

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Another MSG Fatality

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When New York Knicks owner James Dolan named Phil Jackson as the team president in 2014, there was a renewal of excitement for a fan base that had lacked in the category for a very long time. As a player Jackson was a part of the only two NBA Championships in Knicks franchise history, while he would go on to re-write the record book by winning 11 titles as a head coach. But there were still skeptics who were wondering if Jackson was going to be able to have that same success as a front office executive.

Jackson’s success as a head coach came on the strength of his famed triangle offense. And Jackson attempted to attach the triangle to the Knicks when he named Derek Fisher as the team’s head coach in 2014. Fisher played for Jackson when he was the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers as these two helped the franchise win five NBA Championships. Fisher had just wrapped up his playing career in the NBA and Jackson was eager to groom him in regards to being a head coach.

Derek Fisher

However Fisher would never have that success with the Knicks as his first season would see New York lose a franchise worst 65 games. For the 2015-2016 NBA season the Knicks would get off to a 23-31 start and Jackson decided to part with Fisher as his maturity was brought into question. Fisher missed practice on several occasions due to the fact that he could not make it back from Los Angeles after spending time with his girlfriend who also happens to be the former wife of current NBA player Matt Barnes. Reports also surfaced about Fisher potentially being linked to a woman who was also involved with Tim Hardaway Jr., who happened to be on the Knicks roster at the time. And as the locker room began to go against Fisher, Jackson had no choice but to fire him as it marked his first official failure as Knicks team president;however there would be more to come.

When Jackson joined the Knicks front office, he inherited a star player in small forward Carmelo Anthony. Anthony is one of the better scorers of this era and now Jackson was going to attempt to sell him on the qualities of the triangle offense which could potentially lead to an NBA Championship for the Knicks. However Anthony was no closer to winning an NBA Championship than he was when Jackson joined the Knicks.

At first it appeared to be a marriage made in heaven when Jackson gave Anthony a contract extension in 2014 to the tune of a five-year deal for $124 million. But things began to sour quickly as a knee injury would limit Anthony to just 40 games in the first season under his new deal. Anthony would continue to put up solid numbers, however Jackson would publicly admit that the Knicks were rebuilding which was going to limit Anthony’s chances of winning a title. Jackson took it a step further this past season when he began to publicly criticize Anthony as it was a classic “bait and switch” with Jackson attempting to irk Anthony in order for him to waive his no-trade clause. However Anthony never budged on waiving his no-trade clause which left Jackson with egg on his face.

Kristaps Porzingis

Jackson’s greatest claim to fame as Knicks team president was selecting power forward Kristaps Porzingis in the 2015 NBA Draft. At first the selection of Porzingis was welcomed with many boos, but he quickly was able to win over Knicks fans as in two seasons in New York he has averaged 16.1 points and 7.3 rebounds. However aside from the selection of Porzingis, Jackson’s time with the Knicks has been a train wreck.

Last summer Jeff Hornacek was hired to be the Knicks new head coach in a move that was influenced by Dolan which made people wonder if some of Jackson’s power within the organization had been taken away as Hornacek isn’t a head coach that consistently operates the triangle offense. This past season we saw the Knicks go 31-51 for their fourth consecutive losing season as the team owner, president, head coach, and star player were not on the same page. And just when you thought that things could not get any wackier at Madison Square Garden for the Knicks, Dolan decided to part ways with Jackson earlier this week.

In three years under Jackson, the Knicks never won more than 31 games in a season and they never came close to making the playoffs more less being able to win an NBA Championship as he joins a long list of basketball legends whose careers came to die at Madison Square Garden while being associated with this franchise.

As good as Jackson’s triangle was for him, it worked when he had the likes of Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant playing for him. Jackson never attempted to adjust his style and in watching Anthony play during his time in the NBA, he should have known that his skill set doesn’t fit that system. Now instead of Jackson simply being revered as one of the greatest head coaches that the NBA has ever seen, he now must take with him the stain on his time with the Knicks. But as bad as Jackson’s time with the Knicks was, he does not deserve all of the blame.

When Dolan hired Jackson, he hired a man who didn’t have any previous front office experience in the NBA. At first Dolan gave Jackson full autonomy as for the first time he was going to attempt to be a “hands off” owner. But in giving Jackson free reign, Dolan allowed his team president to force his triangle on players that did not fit system. And as Jackson’s arrogance got in his way, it also prevented the Knicks from having any success. Jackson’s public criticism of Anthony got him in trouble, while the calamity of errors that is the Knicks franchise has already frustrated Porzingis in just two seasons in New York. Jackson’s idea of remedying the issues with Anthony and Porzingis was to attempt to ship both of them out of them out of town which is when Dolan finally decided to intervene.

So now Jackson will limp off into the sunset knowing that he could not attain the same success in the front office as he did on the basketball court, but it will be hard to feel sorry for him since Dolan recently signed him to an extension. And as Jackson has left New York, the question of who will fix the Knicks comes around the bend once again to which there is no answer as you simply cannot polish a turd no matter how hard that you try.

 

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