NBA Off-Season Part 1: Playing Matchmaker – Top 20 Free Agents

When a player finds himself in Free Agency, he usually lies somewhere within three distinct categories.

Category A: The ‘Marquee’ Player, the Game-Changer, the Franchise savior.. I think you get the point.

Category B: The instant starter, who along with a few other pieces, can go a long way in transforming a franchise. This player could also have the potential to one day become a ‘Marquee’ guy. Also 6th men who would start on most teams in the league, think James Harden.

Category C: The Role Player. The player who puts a team ‘over the edge’. A player who is a nice piece to possess coming off the bench but isn’t necessarily going to transform your franchise, and should by no means be a starter, and thus should by no means be recieving a starter pay-cheque.

Whatever the Category, free agency is a time for teams to find solutions to needs that were not addressed in the draft. Free Agency is a time for teams to take that next step, be it from a lottery to a playoff team, or a playoff team to a Championship contender. They might  secure multiple pieces, or they may look to go after that marquee guy who is able to transform their franchise. Sometimes, teams won’t be active at all in free agency, they might already be content with the team they have or they may simply lack the finances or allure to attract high-calibre free agents.

Whatever the strategy, free agency will ultimately decide where the balance of power in the league will shift. It will indicate which teams have managed their salary cap effectively and which teams have been quite frankly, idiotic. Will parity be restored? Or will the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer? This years Free Agents class doesn’t possess many ‘game-changers’ but the next few weeks will go a long way in giving us a brief preview of the landscape of the NBA for the upcoming season. So lets preview this years free agency, and take a look at the Top 20 free agents for 2012. Who will become immediate title contenders? And who will become the next Charlotte Bobcats (Ok I slightly over-exaggerated)? Lets find out.

1. Deron Williams (UFA)

Category: A

Potential Destinations: Nets, Mavericks.

Best Fit: Mavericks

Summary: The top name in Free Agency this year, and if he had any sense, he would have already signed for the Mavericks by now. You know, that classy franchise that actually know what they are doing. Unfortunately it looks inevitable that he ends up staying in Brooklyn along with his buddy Dwight Howard (via trade).

2. Steve Nash (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Knicks

Summary: Possibly the most compelling storyline from Free Agency this year, as for the first time since joining the Suns, Steve Nash finally looks set to move on. The Heat, Knicks and Raptors are all possible destinations, all would make a ton of sense and all would be incredibly fun options. Steve Nash with Lebron and Wade? Fun. Steve Nash playing mentor to Jeremy Lin whilst trying to bring the Knicks back to relevancy? Fun. And Steve Nash returning to Canada? Very Very Fun. All fit, I said the best fit was the Knicks, but ultimately I see him taking his talents… to Toronto, who will wind up bidding the other teams out of the water.

3. Eric Gordon (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Hornets.

Summary: This would have been a lot more debatable if the Draft had not been fixed granted the Hornets the Number 1 pick, Anthony Davis. But unfortunately, the draft has been fixed granted the Hornets Number 1 pick, so New Orleans (just two years after Chris Paul’s departure) should be ready for another run with a solid foundation in Gordon, Rivers and Davis.

4. Roy Hibbert (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Pacers.

Summary: The man who has been attracting the most attention in Free Agency so far, with the Blazers and Pacers both offering Hibbert max deals. It is quite clear, the Pacers are not willing to let Hibbert go and with him being a restricted free agents, I see nothing preventing this from occuring.

5. Tim Duncan (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Spurs.

Summary: The only way Tim Duncan is not performing in a Spurs jersey next year, is if he has decided he’s done wearing jerseys.. I have now realised how bad this sounds.. Lets move on.

6. Brook Lopez (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Trade to the Orlando Magic.

Summary: Dwight Howard.

7. Kevin Garnett (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Celtics.

Summary: This has already been confirmed. Much like Tim Duncan, there was no way Kevin Garnett was going to be seen in any other Jersey, than a Celtics one (I think I phrased it better that time).

8. Lou Williams (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: 76ers

Summary: The fact Lou Williams a) opted-out of his contract and b) wants to be a starting Point Guard wherever he ends up, makes me think he doesn’t end up in Philadelphia at the start of the season. Lou Williams fits perfectly into Category B, he is a fantastic asset to possess, for a team looking to take that next step. He is first and foremost a scorer who can ignite an offense, be it coming off the bench or being a starter, and wherever he ends up, I see nothing preventing him from being very productive.

9. OJ Mayo (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Celtics.

Summary: Ray Allen looked all but gone when I started writing this. Who better to replace him than OJ Mayo, one of the best 6th men (Is that how you say it, or is it ‘6th Mans’?) in the league.

10. Goran Dragic (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Rockets.

Summary: Another player who replicates the scenario of Lou Williams. A young, talented scoring point guard who hustles, who will immediately improve any team he is on. Unlike Lou Williams however, I see the best fit actually coming to fruition. Why? Because the Rockets are going to make at least one trade before this season begins. It is simply, inevitable. Does that mean Dragic himself could wind up being traded? Maybe. But it’s just as plausible that Kyle Lowry gets traded, and Dragic gets the starting gig. I see him staying in Houston.

11. Ersan Ilyasova (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Nets.

Summary: I have already stated that I believe Dwight Howard will be a Brookyln Net this season. That almost certainly means Humphries and Lopez are gone, so who better to pair with Howard than Ilyasova? A guy who consistently averages a double double, hustles, crashes the board and is generally a nightmare. You put him in a starting lineup with D-Will, Gerald Wallace and Dwight Howard, and all of a sudden this team looks capable of competing in the East. I don’t see a scenario where this doesn’t happen. Double-negative aside, I have never been this confident making this many assumptions for one NBA team.. ever.

12. Ray Allen (UFA)

Category: C

Best Fit: Heat

Summary: Doesn’t this just make perfect sense? We saw it in the Finals, with the Lebron/Wade pick and roll, driving to the basket, the Heat relied heavily on perimiter shooting from guys like Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller. With Ray Allen, you get a guy, who gives you Miller’s Game 5 production, on a consistent basis. In Boston, Ray Allen had to work for his looks. In Miami, with Lebron and Wade, he will be shooting Wide Open looks almost all of the time. The Celtics have reportedly doubled the Heat’s offer, now it comes down to whether Allen wants the pay-cheque or the Championships.

13. Jeff Green (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Celtics

Summary: David Faulk, who coincedentally is Jeff Green’s agent, stated that Jeff Green was the 2nd best free agent on the market. Obviously that is not true, especially coming off Heart-surgery, but he is still a valuable nonetheless. I see him returning to the Celtics, who if healthy can add another component to a team whose lack of depth was evident in the post-season.

14. Brandon Bass (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Celtics

Summary: Brandon Bass was a revelation for the Celtics this past season. The combination in the front court, between him and Garnett should prosper again this season. As referred to in the Jeff Green summary, the Celtics severely lacked depth last season, so if they can ensure that Bass, Garnett, Allen and Green all return this season, they should be contending again.

15. Chris Kaman (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Heat

Summary: Can the Heat afford him? Maybe not, but there is no disputing that this is the best fit. Chris Kaman, contract aside, is severely underrated. Any guy that produces a double-double is valuable to a team, especially one that lacks a true center. This makes a ton of sense, unfortunately it is very unlikely that the Heat have the cap space to turn this into a reality.

16. Jeremy Lin (RFA)

Category: B 

Best Fit: Knicks

Summary: Linsanity was a great story last year, and there is no disputing his potential. Even without all of the conjecture from the media, Lin proved he was a top 15 point guard, worthy of a starting job. He should return to the team, that (sort of) helped establish himself. After all, who wouldn’t want to play with Carmelo and Amare? Now that they are all healthy.. ermm, I’m struggling to make anything of this, er… lets just move on.

17. George Hill (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Pacers

Summary: A combo guard who, much like Lou Williams, isn’t your typical point guard. He can play the 1 or 2, he can score and can consistently be the 3rd best scorer on a team. The Pacers have obviously been focusing most of their attention so far on trying to re-sign Hibbert, but they have also expressed an interest in Hill. He should end up re-signing.

18. Jason Terry (UFA)

Category: C

Best Fit: Mavericks

Summary: Jason Terry is the perfect, if you can’t get Ray Allen, option. He is a fantastic 6th man, who can explode at any point and re-energize a stagnant offence. If Allen ends up going back to Boston, then the scenario I just made reference to, could surface, but ultimately I see Allen in Miami, OJ Mayo in Boston and Terry returning to Dallas.

19. Brandon Roy  (UFA)

Category: Dammit, he ruined my category theory!

Best Fit: Timberwolves

Summary: Brandon Roy has had a tough time of it. A 3 time all star, forced to retire through injury. However, he claims his injury has been given the all-clear and he has returned to give it another shot. I repeat, this man is a 3-time all star, he isn’t some scrub. If he can come back half the player he once was then your happy. Minnesota with Ricky Rubio as the Point Guard, is the perfect fit for him and with it being a small-market team, can return without the pressure of say.. Chicago (who are also interested). This move makes almost too much sense.

20. JaVale McGee (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Nuggets

Summary: Three words can summarise JaVale Mcgee’s career so far. Incredible talent, disruptive. Sure he entered the league early, but by now he shoud have matured. I see him returning to Denver, where at times he showed flashes of that incredible talent.

Let’s just put that into perspective. This Free Agent Class posesses just the 1 Marquee player, 16 Category B player, 2 Category C players and 1 “Dammit, he ruined my category theory”… category. In short, this Free Agent Class isn’t spectacular. We are not going to get anything that rivals The Decision, what we are getting are a lot of solid players who will make immediate contributions. It isn’t exciting, but a lot of teams, are all going to slightly improve, and if the NBA can replicate anything near to the NFL’s parity, then we can be satisfied going into this upcoming season. We are after all, getting another off-season of Dwight Howard telling people where he wants to go before he ends up staying in Orlando… Excited? Yeah, me too.

Advertisements

Why The Heat Won: Evaluating The 5 Keys

With over a minute to go in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, a smile stretched across Lebron James’ face. A smile we rarely ever see from Lebron James. Was it relief? Was it just sheer joy? It doesn’t really matter. We can debate all we want. We can criticise him all we want. We can question whether he has the ‘clutch’ gene. But ultimately, Lebron James was clutch for 23 games, for over 900 minutes, in some of the most high press circumstances we have seen a superstar placed under, during this current generation.

Now Lebron James has a ring. The pressure SHOULD ease slightly. The criticism SHOULD cease to exist. Sure, we will still get the haters, but that’s just part of the world we now live in. Lebron James proved he has what it takes to be a champion, and after two years, it’s time to forget about ‘The Decision’, it’s time to forget about “not 1, not 2, not 3…” (even though that is looking a distinct possibility now), and it is time to embrace Lebron James.

So Why did the Heat win? Let’s evaluate the 5 keys that I made reference to a week ago.

Russell Westbrook’s Decision Making

This was a prominent feature during the remaining three games of the series, prominently… a problem. Yes we are sometimes unfair to Russell. In Game 4, he had his best game ever, scoring 43 points, but we will remember it for the unnecessary foul with 10 seconds left in the game, because that is the world we live in now. Much like Lebron for a time, Can we not accept Russell Westbrook for who he is? He is going to give you fantastic production, probably put up 25+ a night, but you can also expect him to make one incredibly irrational decision. Lebron James for a while was percieved to not possess a ‘clutch gene’. So if that was the case, why couldn’t we accept him as the guy that consistently dominated for 46 minutes, and put that team in a position to succeed? Why must a guy have a flawless game, or hit the game-winner to somehow validate his legacy?

But ultimately, this was a deciding factor. Yes the Thunder may have still lost if Russell hadn’t made those poor decisions, but we can never be sure. This part of Russell Westbrook’s game has been far too prevalent for far too long, and if Russell wants to take the next step, it needs to be addressed. Maybe, it’s just because he’s young. Maybe, just like the Thunder, they need one more year.

Advantage: Heat

Dwayne Wade’s Continued Production

What had become abundantly clear by the time the NBA Finals had come around, was that this was now Lebron James’ team. Whether or not Dwayne Wade believed it, he admirably played the sidekick, and he did a pretty good job of it. What is sometimes overlooked by the Heat, is their ability to play team ball. But with ALL of the Big 3 making big contributions, that was particularly evident in the finals. There were questions about whether or not Wade and Lebron on the same team would be a good ‘fit’ but when you see these two driving to the basket, kicking it out to the perimiter, running the pick and roll, it is a joy to watch, and is virtually unstoppable.

And that would be impossible if it were not for Dwayne Wade’s  continued production after his admittedly poor play-off run.  Dwayne Wade is an essential part of this team. And whilst he may not be ‘the guy’ anymore. he still finds a way to make contributions. He still gets his fair share of the ball, driving to the basket on a consistent basis. But it’s the hustle plays that are sometimes overlooked. Now more than ever, he is chasing down loose balls, crashing the boards and producing blocked shots, as he knows that he doesn’t need to be the guy that puts up 40 points anymore. And that is crucial, because now with a team possessing an identity, with the quality of players like the Heat have, it really is a scary to consider what the next stage of the evolution process is for this team. Whatever it is, it can’t be anything good for the other 29 teams in the NBA.

Advantage: Heat

Battle of The Coaches

And what was previously mentioned also links in to the role Erik Spoelstra played in the Heat’s Championship success. He had been more criticised than any other coach in the league. Can he make adjustments? Why hasn’t he perfected the rotation yet? Why is it this team still lacks an identity? These were all frequently asked by people questioning Spoelstra’s coaching ability. But with one series, all of those questions were put to rest. He made all of the right adjustments; playing small ball whenever necessary and giving Lebron a much-needed rest whenever it looked necessary are just two of the examples. The fact of the matter is, Spoelstra made fantastic adjustments at opportune moments.

With the return of Chris Bosh, the second question was also answered. Spoelstra finally found a way to utilise Chris Bosh at the center position, and with his superior athleticism at the position, and his ability to spread the floor, everything else fell into place. Now Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and even Mario Chalmers could drive to the basket at will, whilst also obtaining the ability to kick it out to the perimeter to players like Shane Battier or even Chris Bosh to hit open 3’s. And with that, Spoelstra manged to perfect his 8-man rotation.

This all enabled the Heat, to establish an identity on offense. Pick and roll, drive to the basket, kick the ball out to the perimeter, ball movement. That is the process behind the Heat’s offense. And in most of those categories, the Heat were far superior to the Thunder. The pick and roll between Lebron and Wade was unstoppable. Wade, Lebron and Chalmers driving to the basket with Bosh’s ability to spread the floor, was unstoppable. The Heat’s 3 point shooting, was unstoppable. And the ball movement.. oh the ball movement. Is it ok to label the Heat the best passing team in the league? I would guess so.

And with all the positives that Spoelstra’s coaching had brought to the Heat, I almost completely forgot about Scott Brooks. I am not going to be too critical as it became abundatly clear by the end of Game 4, that the Thunder just weren’t ready yet. But at times he did make costly decisions, with the most evident being when he chose to rest both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook when up by 10 at the end of the third quarter… That lead soon evaporated. But this was ultimately a very well-coached series. A series in which everything clicked into place for Erik Spoelstra and the Miami Heat.

Advantage: Heat

Battle Of The Role Players

This one is fairly self-explanatory. The heat established a game plan that was virtually unstoppable, and it allowed the Heat’s role players to thrive. Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and (In game 5) Mike Miller all caught fire, whilst James Harden went cold turkey. A major question going into the Finals, was how the Heat were going to compete with a team with far-superior depth. Ultimately, by the end of the series, we were questioning where the points were going to come from the Thunder. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both clearly had great statistical series, but so did Wade and Lebron. It would come down to who’s role players could produce the remainder of those points. Unfortunately for the Thunder when you start a game with 3 defence-first players, there is always going to be a lack of scoring options. It just so happens that during this series, those flaws were highlighted by a Heat Bench that exploded.

Lebron James vs Kevin Durant

The marquee match-up of the series. The two best players in the world, playing the same position, competing in a finals series that most of us thought would be decided by the outcome of this match-up.  And Lebron James decided, that the outcome would favour the Heat. Sure, Kevin Durant put up his 30 points a night but he ultimately just didn’t do enough. For a guy with his length, why isn’t he rebounding more? Why isn’t he contributing more on defence? Yes he’s still very young, and has plenty of time to mature, and develop his game. Lebron after all, only just figured everything out and he is 27. Kevin Durant will get his time, if the Heat let him.

Advantage: Heat

5 keys, all of which were dominated by the Heat, and all of which would be necessary components in the Heat’s eventual success. As much as this series will be remembered as the series where Lebron ‘figured it out’, the Heat needed every single component to secure victory. The role players, Dwayne Wade, Erik Spoelstra AND Lebron James were all needed for the Heat to secure that ring. Because where would Lebron and Wade be if they kicked the ball  out to perimeter players who couldn’t shoot? And what would those role players do, if their two superstars didn’t rip apart a defence by driving to the basket, obtaining open looks on the perimeter in the process?

The decision was two years ago, it is time to move on. Because this TEAM is everything you could hope for. This is a TEAM who enjoy playing team ball. A TEAM with an unselfish Star who enjoys playing team ball. A TEAM with 12 players, and one very talented coach, who pride themselves, on team ball. Lets embrace the Heat, because I have a feeling they might be around for a while.

NBA Finals – Heat vs Thunder: 5 Keys to the Series

It’s not often in an NBA finals where the two greatest players in the world are playing on opposing teams let alone playing the same position, but that’s what we have been gifted with this years finals, as the Scoring machine Kevin Durant and his Thunder team match up with the ‘Freight train’ Lebron James and the Heat. It’s a salivating prospect, and with both of these teams stars, still very much in their prime, we could be getting treated to this series for the next decade. Here are the 5 keys to the remainder of the series.

1. Russell Westbrook’s decision making

Let me just make something abundantly clear, Russell Westbrook is a fantastic point guard. My criticism doesn’t occur because he’s a terrible player who needs to dramatically improve, this is just one aspect of his game that needs to be slightly improved to ensure that he can maximise his contribution for Oklahoma City.

Let me hit you with some stats. In game 1 Russell Westbrook went 10-24 for 27 points with 11 assists. In game 2 he went 10-26 for 27 points with 7 assists. Now if you were to analyse both of those stat-lines without any contextual knowledge, you would find very little disparity between the two games. And yet he only draws criticism from Game 2, the game in which his team was defeated, even though his performances were essentially identical apart from slightly fewer assists. Now this isn’t me defending Westbrook, this is me saying, that this has been a problem with Russell Westbrook for far too long now. So Why must it take a Thunder loss, to make people realise that, that is the case?

And that’s not even the worst part about this. In both games, Westbrook took more shots than Kevin Durant, who has only taken 20 shots per game, at a much higher field goal percentage. Kevin Durant, You know, that scoring machine who has been essentially unstoppable in the play-offs so far. Come on Russell, you are a very talented point guard who is at his best when you are using your athleticism to drive to the basket, not pulling up to take Jumpers. Drive to the basket, if the rim is being defended, kick it out to a Kevin Durant or whoever, on the wing. If he does that, the Thunder instantly get a significant increase in production from not only the point guard position but also their entire team.

2. Dwayne Wade’s continued Production

When Lebron James joined the Miami Heat, it was for one reason only, to win championships. He knew during the 08 Celtics series that he couldn’t carry a team on his own, he would need numerous pieces in place to help him achieve his main goal. So when he joined up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, that was exactly what he was expecting. Unfortunately, Chris Bosh has been injured for almost the entire playoffs and Dwayne Wade’s production has been rapidly declining, thus Leaving Lebron to carry a Heat team that he joined in the first place, to avoid that exact scenario.

But now Chris Bosh has returned and has almost instantaneously emerged as his All-Star self and Dwayne Wade finally had a big game, in Game 2. Guess what? The Heat won. Now it’s time for Dwayne Wade to continue that production level, because if that continues and Lebron continues to put up 30 points per night and SHANE BATTIER is shooting 70% from 3-point range, the Heat are almost unstoppable.

3. Lebron James vs Kevin Durant

THE story of Game 2, was Kevin Durant getting into foul trouble, and that was for one reason alone, Lebron James. A lot of people have been anticipating this finals series because of this very-matchup and if a theme has been established from the first two games, it’s that whoever gets the better of this matchup generally secures the victory for his team.

In Game 1, Durant blew Lebron out of the water in the 4th quarter, and in Game 2 Lebron returned the favour. In game 2, Lebron took it upon himself to guard Durant, and his incresed aggression ensured that Durant got into very early foul trouble. Did it ultimately affect the outcome of the game? Maybe not, as Durant was very sensible with the way in which he handled playing almost the entire 4th quarter with 5 fouls, but it must have been in the back of his mind.

And even the defining shot of the game with 10 seconds left on the clock was defined by this crucial match-up. Durant seemingly had the advantage over Lebron who seemingly fouled Durant, before Durant missed the easy shot. Yes it should have been a foul, but Durant still should have made the bucket. Then with 5 seconds left on the clock, Lebron hit two CLUTCH free-throws to secure the victory for his team. In Game 3, I expect another game that replicates the close nature of this one. Ultimately it is going to come down to which one of these two superstars gets the better of his rival. Everything so far has been pointing towards a series decided by a Game 7, and if we get to see these two go at it for four more games, then count me in.

4. The Battle of The Role Players

I feel like I am being highly disrespectful by referring to James Harden as a role player, but for the purpose of this point, I am going to go along with it. Usually when James Harden comes off the bench and ignites his offense, The Thunder win the game. In Game 2 James Harden put up 21 points, so you would expect the Thunder to win right? But they didn’t. And that’s because the Heat role players managed to match the performance of James Harden. Shane Battier continued his unbelievable resurgence with 17 points, shooting 5-7 from 3-point range, and the Heat won the game.

Shane Battier scored 17 points in Game 1 aswell, so Why did that not play a contributing factor to a Heat Win? Because the Thunder ‘bigs’ showed up in a major way. Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison combined for 23 rebounds and 8 offensive rebounds most of which came off the bench with Nick Collison having a massive impact. He had 5 of the offensive rebounds, and unsurprisingly the Thunder’s ability to crash the board was one of the main reasons why the Thunder came away with the victory.

Expect the same to happen for the rest of the series. Both team’s role players are going to have to step up because whoever gains the advantage, is more than likely going to contribute to a victory for their team.

5. The Coaches

This has been a very well-coached series so far. BUT CHRIS, ERIC SPOELSTRA IS COACHING, YOU HATE THAT GUY!!” I have admittedly, been very harsh on Spoelstra throughout his time as the Heat coach, but it was for good reason. But in Game 2, he finally did something that he hadn’t done for his entire time as the Heat Coach, he made fantastic adjustments.

He finally decided to start Chris Bosh which was a good decision albeit way too late, thus spreading the floor for players like Dwayne Wade and Lebron James to drive to the rim. And what do you know.. Dwayne Wade had one of his best performances of the playoffs so far. But that’s not where it ended, as the entire complexion of the heat’s half-court offense adapted, with multiple pick and rolls being run through Lebron James and Dwayne Wade. This also links in with the Chris Bosh move, as by having a big that can shoot jumpers or drive to the basket, you immediately make it easier for those pick-and rolls to work efficiently. And with those changes, the Heat secured a victory. Now Spoelstra has to continue to make those adjustments, if he wants his Heat team to secure victory.

A guy that hasn’t drawn as much criticism for his coaching is Scott Brooks, who has done a fantastic job in Oklahoma City. And it was once again a major contributing factor in why his team won Game 1, and also came very close to making a comeback in Game 2. With Game 1, he recognized that James Harden was having an off-night and that his bigs (plus Thabo Sefolosha) were having massive games. So instead of reverting back to his usual ‘small ball’ in the fourth quarter, he played his defensive lineup. This allowed Sefolosha to continue to contain Lebron James, where on numerous occasions he was able to give Lebron very difficult looks and it also allowed his team to continue to dominate the glass, resulting in a major turn-around as the Thunder continued to put up big points (thanks to Kevin Durant) whilst his team still managed to restrict the Heat’s offense very effectively.

Even in defeat, Brooks did a fantastic job considering the start his team made. In the fourth quarter, down by double-figures, the Thunder’s star was on 5 fouls. But instead of subbing him out of the game, Brooks recognised that his team wasn’t going to get back in the game, with his star on the bench for the majority of the quarter, so he decided to put his trust in Kevin Durant, and played him for the entire fourth quarter. The end result? Kevin Durant went off, reducing the lead to as little as 2 points before a bit of unfortunate luck on a foul call ultimately resulted in defeat. In game 3, Brooks is going to have to keep adapting, to ensure his team has the best possible chance to succeed.

So if you have learnt anything from this article, I think we can all agree… This series is going to be fantastic. That is all.

10 Reasons Why Miami Are A fantastic Fit For Hard Knocks

Even before Coach Philbin and the Miami Dolphins announced that they would be the team in the spotlight of HBO’s reality television series ‘Hard Knocks’, the Dolphins had already become acclimated with its fair share of the media spotlight. Dating back almost a year ago, the Miami Dolphins head coaching search had been amidst with controversy, firstly missing on John Harbaugh whilst Coach Sporano was still under contract, then missing out on Jeff Fisher after a tireless pursuit, before finally deciding that Joe Philbin was their guy.

And that was not the only talking point from the Dolphins off-season this year. The Peyton Manning saga undoubtedly left a lot of franchises scarred, but maybe none more so than the Miami Dolphins. A team who in the past, have missed so many times in finding Dan Marino’s replacement. In total, 17 quarterbacks have been under center for the Dolphins since  Marino’s retirement. So when Peyton Manning decided to take his talents to Denver instead of South Beach, who most considered the early running favourites, Miami fans were left with that eerily similar feeling to that of when they missed out on Drew Brees years before. Ultimately, Ryan Tannehill was drafted by the Dolphins with the 8th overall pick, signifying the first time the Miami Dolphins have selected a quarterback in the first round, since Marino.

So why you ask, are the Dolphins and Coach Philbin even considering making their locker room susceptible to even further criticism? Some say Coach Philbin’s hand may have been forced by owner Stephen Ross, but when Joe Philbin came out during his daily press conference and announced that this was entirely his decision, it made me think, that maybe this is not as bad as we first thought. Here’s 10 reasons why Miami are a fantastic fit, not only for HBO, but also, for the Dolphins themselves.

10. Wide Receiver Battle

A lot of people were shocked that the Miami Dolphins did not address the Wide receiver position until the 6th Round in the 2012 NFL Draft, considering that just a couple of months prior, Jeff Ireland executed a trade that sent star receiver Brandon Marshall to Chicago for 2 3rd round Picks. But even before that there was uncertainty as many people questioned Brian Hartline as a no.2 reciever (and now it looks like he’s going into the season as the no.1 guy).

Joe Philbin has stated on numerous occasions that in his system, much like in Green Bay, there is not a true no.1 receiver, he likes to spread the ball about. But even without that security of a Brandon Marshall type receiver on your offense, the Dolphins only possess two certified locks at the wide reciever position to make the team. Clyde Gates, was highly touted after being drafted by Miami last year, but has yet to show up on game day, Marlon Moore and Roberto Wallace have both shown flashes but injuries have stagnated their progressions and then there are the three rookies. Jeff Fuller, an unrestricted free agent, who just so happened to be Ryan Tannehill’s number one target in college, Rishad Matthews was a perceived 3rd round pick who fell to the Dolphins in the 7th round, and BJ Cunningham (taken in the 6th round), was the leader in Receptions and receiving yards in Michigan State history.

All of those receivers have a shot at making the roster. And with only Davone Bess and Brian Hartline as ‘locks’ to make the team, that alone would make for compelling tv, but throw in the fact that one of those ‘fringe’ players could end up starting, and the sheer breadth between success and failure, gets that bit bigger.

9. Lauren Tannehill

When the Miami Dolphins selected their Quarterback of the future with the 8th overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, there was a lot of Buzz about a person with the ‘Tannehill’ surname. No not, Ryan Tannehill (the guy they drafted) but his wife, Lauren Tannehill. Yep, she is definitely something, and when Hard Knocks airs its Premiere on August 7th, I fully expect her to be a large feature, as her fame spreads from Miami to the national audience. Expect some form of storyline focusing on the Tannehill’s getting acclimated to their surroundings. That’ll be the context, but really, HBO are doing it because she could potentially emerge as a star.

8. South Beach

There are not many glitzier, more glamorous cities than Miami, Florida. Celebrities will be out in abundance, the Miami Marlins and the Miami Heat get massive media attention. Could we potentially see people like Lebron James on the show? Maybe, but the amount of celebrity activity in the area is sure to provide HBO with great incentive to create some very compelling storylines.

7.  Celebrity Owners

Stephen Ross’ early years as owner of the Miami Dolphins have definitely not gone smoothly so far. Initial controversy incurred by Ross’ decision to give B-list celebrities such as Serena Williams minority stakes in the Dolphin’s ownership, and criticised for his involvement in the John Harbaugh affair, whilst Tony Sporano was still under contract, maintains that Mr Ross has definitely got his doubters within the Miami fan base. And that controversy should no doubt provide HBO with some fantastic storytelling opportunities, but it not only benefits HBO. Hard Knocks provides Stephen Ross with the chance to clear up his image. It could end disastrously, but then again, that would just further benefit HBO, and who are we to complain about controversy?

6. The Miami Dolphins Fanbase

This is very much in the category of why this is a great fit for the Dolphins organisation. Yes, it is a well-known fact that the Dolphins fan base has certainly deteriorated over the years, and what better way to bring the Dolphins some National media attention than through Hard Knocks? Many say this issue will be addressed when the Dolphins start winning games, but Hard Knock’s is a nationally televised television program. People will take notice, and if anything, this is certainly a step in the right direction.

5. Joe Philbin

Never before on Hard Knocks has a rookie head coach been a part of the show. That all changes this year, when Joe Philbin, who is not only in his first year with the Miami Dolphins but also as a head coach, takes center stage under the spotlight. Many of the Miami media have been impressed with his attention to detail (he does after all come from Green Bay), capped off with his dry humour, and he has certainly to some extent, re-energised the fan base. It may not have been the glamour hire that Stephen Ross was hoping for, but it could turn out to be a very shrewd bit of business. Joe Philbin could definitely emerge as a star from the show. Sure, it could certainly end disastrously, as a rookie head coach, there are all sorts of new acclimatization’s that need to be made, and the added distraction of having 24 NFL Films cameras constantly over-looking you, could certainly pose a problem. But something makes me feel that, that might not be the case with Coach Philbin. He has an aura about him that emphasises that this extra media attention is unlikely to phase him. He may make quips like stating he’s “more of a radio guy” but he is certainly popular with the Miami Media. Could that translate to the national media? I can’t see why not.

4. Reggie Bush

Miami is most definitely a glamorous city, but the Miami Dolphins organisation doesn’t really pertain to that philosophy. Most people would struggle to reel off the starting depth chart for the Miami Dolphins because they simply lack the ‘big-names’. But when the Dolphins acquired Reggie Bush in a trade with the New Orleans Saints, and he produced his best season in the NFL yet as he rushed for over 1000 yards, that all changed. Yes there aren’t many more famous individuals in the NFL. He’s hosted Live! With Kelly and he was certainly in the spotlight through his tumultuous relationship with Kim Kardashian.

In previous iterations of Hard Knocks there has always been a ‘star’. Rex Ryan was the star of the New York Jets Hard Knocks, the Bengals had Ochocinco and the Cowboys had TO. Could Reggie Bush find himself on that ‘PRESTIGIOUS’ list? Maybe, I can’t wait to find out.

3. Ryan Tannehill

I mentioned his wife earlier, but now it is time for Ryan, to take the spotlight. Quite shockingly, there has never been a rookie quarterback on Hard Knocks, Ryan Tannehill signifies the first time, and that is sure to make for compelling television. How will Ryan Tannehill deal with the expectations of the fan base? How will Ryan Tannehill deal with the ‘ghost’ of Dan Marino? How will Ryan Tannehill acclimatize to the NFL? Will Ryan Tannehill impress in Training Camp? There are tons of questions surrounding this kid, and I only named four. HBO must be licking their lips, because this is a fascinating storyline.

2. 3 Way Quarterback Competition

And if that previous point wasn’t enough, the Rookie Quarterback has been thrown into a 3-way Quarterback OPEN competition for the starters job. Matt Moore impressed down the stretch last season, David Garrard’s whose time as of late has been marred by injuries was brought in to provide competition, and then there’s the franchise ‘saviour’ rookie quarterback, who some say is not ready to start week 1. It’s a fascinating competition and fits perfectly with everything that defines the Hard Knocks television series. Even Stephen Ross has shared his thoughts, stating that he expects Matt Moore to be the starter week 1. Now whilst your perception may be that he is trying to force the issue, he was saying that as a fan. As a fan that’s what he thinks, and that is also a great sign for the Dolphins who were worried by the rumors that Stephen Ross was forcing Jeff Ireland and Coach Philbin’s hand to start Ryan Tannehill right away. It’s an interesting dynamic and is one of many branching storylines that HBO can take with this issue.

Great stuff. And if all of that wasn’t enough, Joe Philbin has promised that a starter will be named by week 3 of the pre-season, which just so happens to be slap-bang in the middle of the Hard Knocks programming. This really has the potential to be great.

1. A Chance for the Dolphins to Clear Up Their Image

Yes, this one is most definitely concerned with why it is a fantastic fit for the Dolphins organisation, because let’s face it, bar the saints there is not a more screwed up organisation in the league. With Joe Philbin’s arrival, the franchise promised a more transparent organisation.Yes there has been controversy, and that controversy is one of the many reasons why this is a fantastic fit for HBO, but by agreeing to this, Hard Knocks marks the next step on the road to transparency for the Dolphins. Jeff Ireland has had his critics, over things such as the Dez Bryant controversy and Stephen Ross certainly has tarnished his image. By agreeing to Hard Knocks, all of that can change. The Dolphins have a chance to address that negative perception. Jeff Ireland may have poor management skills, which could be disastrous when it comes round to showing the front-office making their cuts, but he has shown that he has impeccable football knowledge. This is a smart man, now here’s a chance for him to show that off to the world.

You may not be watching the show to see this being enacted, but it is without doubt the most important factor in why the Miami Dolphins are a fantastic fit for Hard Knocks.

The tide may be shifting in Miami. With the hiring of Joe Philbin and the drafting of potential franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill, a new feeling of prosperity has descended upon the Miami fan base, Hard Knocks is simply the next phase in that progression. So let’s sit back and enjoy the ride, times are changing down in South Beach, and Hard Knocks allows you the fan, to embrace that change.

 

Lebron Has a Decent Game As The Heat Tie The series

Usually referring to a game as ‘must-win’ comes only during an elimination game. Usually that would be the only scenario in which I would refer to a game as must-win, but last night during the Pacers Heat game 4, the Miami Heat were in a must-win situation. The Heat may not have been eliminated with a defeat, but they would have been down 3-1, meaning they would of had to win three straight to even advance to the conference finals. Would that have been possible with Chris Bosh active? Probably, but the Heat wouldn’t have been in this situation in the first place if Chris Bosh had not been injured. But without Bosh, without the man who the Heat run their entire pick and roll game through, I very much doubt a Heat team which is effectively a 2-man team would have been able to last seven games, let alone being able put in consistently high quality performances that would ensure a series victory. So let me emphasise this, Game 4 was must-win for the Heat.

And with must-win games comes high pressure situations. So you would have expected Lebron James to have had a poor game right? Because lets face it, whenever Lebron is faced with a pressure situation, he crumbles right? But no, Lebron James displayed exactly why he is the MVP with a stat line, unprecedented in the past 25 years. Seriously when was the last time anybody came close to a 40 point, 18 rebounds and 9 assist game? An incredible all-round display of sheer dominance.

This is not hyperbole, this is not reactionary. Ever since he joined the heat, Journalists and fans alike have been waiting for Lebron to ‘explode’ and have a Cleveland esque game, but last night he did that and more. I used the stat line to support my argument, because there is physical, undeniable evidence that it happened, but that was really only the aesthetics of what made last nights performance so tremendous, because last night, Lebron James achieved something that Kobe Bryant could never do, he played team ball.

If the 1st half emphasised anything, it was that Lebron could not carry the Heat on his own. He was having his best performance of the seasons with 19 points and  essentially serving as Miami’s entire offense, and yet the Heat still trailed by 8 at the end of the half. And Lebron knew that he couldn’t carry the team, he knew that he needed Dwayne Wade to get out of his slump, so what did he do? He kept feeding the ball to Wade, trying to get him out of his funk and with 40 seconds left in the half, the entire complexion of the game changed, as Lebron James pinpoint pass, allowed Wade to put home an easy dunk.

You may think that was just a typical two point play, but if you look back on last night, you will realise that, that one play served as the spark that ignited not only Dwayne Wade, but the entire Heat team. Wade hit seven consecutive field goals, Lebron continued his dominance, and when both are at the top of their game (which they were in the second half, last night) they are not only the most unstoppable force in the league, they inspire their team mates as well, and that was none more evident than in Udonis Haslem’s fourth quarter.

A man who has been plagued with injuries the past couple of seasons, and up until this point, had still failed to re-discover his form. But during that fourth quarter, Haslem’s mid-range game returned, which has been the foundation of his success over the years, and with it came four crucial field goals, ensuring the Heat maintained a comfortable lead. The Heat need their bench players to step up, Haslem did it last night,  and if some of the other bench guys step up, suddenly we will be looking at a completely different team.

And whilst Lebron James was playing team ball, two nights ago in Staples center, during game 4 of the Thunders-Lakers series, Kobe Bryant kept trying to play hero ball, then after the game when the Lakers had slumped to a 3-1 series deficit, that same Kobe Bryant blamed Pau Gasol for the defeat. And even though, admittedly, Gasol was having a terrible game, Kobe never attempted to get him out of  that slump, instead he shot his jumpers, he ran his isolations and Kobe continued to be his brilliant self, but at the expense of having a fantastic performance, he forgot the very essence of Basketball. Because, no matter what criticism you have of Lebron James’ ‘clutchness'(I have had my fair share in the past), you cannot argue with the fact he is a team player.

I have come to realise that the term ‘clutch’ is so over-excessively mis-used, and is often mistaken for simply hitting a game winning shot. However that is only one scenario in which you are clutch, because being ‘clutch’ happens when you make big plays, when your team needs you the most. Lebron James consistently made big plays for his team last night, Lebron James was clutch for 45 minutes.

A Crazy Two Weeks of Football

 

These past two weeks have epitomised why football is the greatest sport in the world. A dramatic champions league victory for Chelsea, preceded by a late-winner in the championship playoff final, preceded by the greatest end to a Premier League season ever. Yes all of that happened in two weeks, and those two weeks could not have served as a better advert for the sport, be it in America, where soccer is gaining popularity or anywhere over the world.

Chelsea Win In Europe

So lets start with that compelling Champions League final from last night. No, it was not the prettiest game in the world, I can’t really remember that many chances being created but any loss in the quality of the game was superseded by the unprecedented tension. And who else to get the game winner than Didier Drogba. The man whose time at Chelsea has been surrounded by conflict and controversy, the man who may not even wear the blue jersey again, not only scored the equaliser with an astonishingly powerful header, but then followed it with the game-winning penalty. As stories go, it does not get much better than that.

And the stories don’t stop there. England defeated Germany on penalties for the first time I can remember,  the injuries and suspensions that ensured Selection nightmares for Roberto Di Matteo who ended up starting youngster Ryan Bertrand at left Midfield to compensate for the threat of Arjen Robben, turns out Ashley Cole would have done a fine job by himself and as I just mentioned, the main man himself, Roberto Di Matteo. What does his future entail now? It is hard to imagine  a scenario where he does not get the job now, he has after all provided his boss with the one trophy he thought unobtainable. And he not only won the trophy, he did it in a manner that would have been impossible without the belief that is extracted from fantastic coaching. Could you have imagined that Chelsea team defending for their lives against Barcelona and Bayern Munich under Andre-Villas Boas? No, this was as much the coaches victory as it was the players, it would have been impossible without him, and if he does not get the job after this, then shame on you Mr Abramovich!

Whilst this game will be remembered as Didier Drogba’s game, there were two players contributions that surpassed even his. Gary Cahill and Ashley Cole were both fantastic. Firstly, with Cahill, the task must have been enormous to walk into a Champions League final in your first full season as a Chelsea defender, but to do it coming off a hamstring injury? To put in a performance like that after being without match practice? I think it is fair to say Chelsea have found their new John Terry. Then there was Ashley Cole, I mentioned Ryan Bertrand earlier, but whilst most people knew Arjen Robben was Bayern’s biggest threat, it would appear everybody forgot that Ashley Cole is one of the best Left Backs in the World. His ability to shut down World Class Midfielders such as Cristiano Ronaldo, has been well-documented and he put in another World Class Performance last night.

Congratulations to Chelsea, with Barcelona practically dominating football these past four years, its nice to get a reminder that this style of football still exists. The gritty, fight for your lives, defensive effort that can never be replicated through pure skill. Admittedly, they did ride their luck at times, Mario Gomez put in one of the worst performances I have seen in a Champions league final, Franck Ribery once again disappeared, with his night being further emphasised by him walking off injured and Arjen Robben was shut out. But that is not just luck, the defensive ability of Chelsea enabled all of that to happen.

So no matter the criticism that Chelsea may receive for the manner in which they were able to pull off the victory, it was a victory none the less, and that is all that matters. A fantastic, and well-deserved victory.

West Ham Are Back In The Premier League

Amidst all the drama from the Champions League final, West Ham’s promotions seems to almost have been forgotten. But for West Ham fans, this game was just as important. The significance of not only promotion, but also the £50+ million that the promotion entails, ensures that this is one of the most important games of the season. I do feel slightly bad for Blackpool, they were the better team on the night, and Ian Holloway’s men were fantastic to watch in the Premier League two seasons ago, but squandered chances meant that West Ham were victorious on the night. And that is the nature of play-off football. You have to take your chances, or it will undoubtedly come back to haunt you later on.

Side Note: How fantastic is it that Blackpool gave Liverpool just £600,000 for Tom Ince, and then Liverpool followed that by spending £20 million on Stewart Downing? Great piece of business there Kenny, you truly did deserve another year.

Hearts Win The Scottish Cup!

Yep, this happened yesterday too. It was 5-1!

The Final Day of The Premier League Season

Then there was last weekend. The Greatest, most incredible, amazing, I’m running out of superlatives Premier League season ever. And it could not have ended any other way than Sergio Aguero’s boot winning the title for Manchester City with the last kick of the game. I don’t usually like saying that teams deserved to win the title because ultimately, whoever has the most points at the end of the season is the rightful champion. But on this occasion, Manchester City deserved it. They simply played better football than United this season, they won both Manchester Derby’s, and who can forget that 6-1 victory at Old Trafford?

One thing that became very evident as events from the Etihad Stadium transpired, was how much Manchester City missed Yaya Toure. He is the engine of that team and nobody can replicate his energy. When QPR went 2-1 up, I thought that was going to cost them. Ultimately, it took a bit of brilliance from Sergio Aguero and an assist from none other, than Mario Balotelli. Another man much like Drogba, that has been surrounded by controversy throughout the season, and another man whose season has been validated during the most important game of the season. And that is who Mario Balotelli is, he shows up for the big games. He was fantastic in the 6-1 victory over United earlier in the season, and coming off the bench against QPR, he made a massive impact, in a big game once more.

That game between Manchester City and QPR also had implications at the other end of the table, but unfortunately for Bolton, the result did not make much difference. Yes, Bolton have been relegated. I can’t help but feel sorry for them as without all of the circumstances that hindered their season, they would have probably, comfortably avoided the drop. But as it is, Fabrice Muamba’s situation sadly did happen, and that was only one of the elements that affected Bolton’s season. Hopefully they will be back, Bolton are a Premier League club, and we need them back.

Then there was the race for the remaining Champions League spots, and we could only really put this into perspective after the Champions league Final. So, Arsenal ended up 3rd, Tottenham 4th and Newcastle 5th, who despite their defeat, would have remained in 5th place with a victory against Everton. Chelsea, who finished in 6th place, won the Champions league, so Tottenham have to settle for Europa League football next season.

I now have to go on a rant about how ridiculous it is that Tottenham aren’t allowed into the Champions League. The Barclays Premier League is clearly the best league in the World, the fact 6th place is able to win the Champions League emphasises that. That is the equivalent of Levante winning the Champions League (they finished 6th in La Liga) so we should assume that Levante could do the same right? No, they couldn’t, so why should the English League be given the same allocation of Champions League places as La Liga? UEFA want the Champions League to be advertised as the greatest club competition in the world, and yet they don’t let the best teams into the competition. I would be satisfied with the other two english clubs having to go through the 1st round of qualifying to make it into the tournament, just anything that showcases an appreciation of the English League as the best in the world will do. But now, Tottenham are out, despite finishing 4th, ridiculous, simply ridiculous.

To finish on a positive note, congratulations to Arsenal. Your inner turmoil has (shamefully) been one of the most entertaining parts of the season, and to see you almost throw it away once again, made for compelling television. But they pulled it out, securing 3rd place with a 3-2 victory at the Hawthornes. After that humiliating 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford, you could not have imagined a scenario where Arsenal finished 3rd in the league. But they did, and it is largely down to the role from the best striker in the league, Robin Van Persie. Hopefully this past season will finally signify to Arsene Wenger that he needs to spend some money. He has already displayed his intent with the signing of Lucas Podolski, but there needs to be a lot more. That defence is very, very poor, and money needs to be spent. It all starts with retaining Van Persie however, and if he does leave for a team like Manchester City, I cannot help but think that would be Arsene’s biggest mistake yet.

A fantastic two weeks of football, that proved to the world what a fantastic sport it is. I am already excited for next season, Would I have been if United had won the title? Probably not. City are the Champions, Ferguson has already stated that he is ready to spend, and with Manchester United chasing the title, next season could potentially be even better.

ESPN ’30 for 30′ is Back! My Thoughts on Pete Rose

Sports fans rejoice, ESPN’s fantastic documentary series ’30 for 30′ is back! And now with extra ‘shorts’ to go along with it. Today marked the day that the first of those ‘shorts’ were published with Bill Simmons having this to say:

“Why expand the series with short films? Because “30 for 30″ needed its own Mini-Me. Because live streaming has gotten so reliably fast that we felt like we could pull this off. Because there are stories out there that we loved for four to 12 minutes, but maybe not for a full hour. Because talented filmmakers are usually juggling multiple projects, so sometimes it’s easier for them to take on a shorter project than a bigger one. Because we wanted you to waste more time on your iPad, or possibly rear-end the car in front of you as you’re watching these on your mobile device when you shouldn’t be watching these on your mobile device. Because Pete Rose bet we couldn’t do it. (Just kidding.) And most important, because we felt like there was a creative void sitting there for this specific form of storytelling. As you’ll see with our first short film, you might not want to spend an hour in Pete Rose’s world at this point of his life. But eight minutes? Absolutely.”

And it is Pete Rose’s story that was released today. I’m not necessarily going to review the episode, it was interesting seeing how his life has transformed from the greatest ever all round baseball player, in my opinion to a man who runs a shop in Las Vegas, signing old memorabilia, but not enough to devote an article to. One thing I will say that I was slightly offended by, was the route that ESPN decided to take with the Pete Rose storyline. “You might not want to spend an hour in Pete Rose’s World?” Seriously? This is one of the most compelling sports stories of all time, and you think it’s only worthy of a short eight minute video? You could have easily devoted the documentary towards how he won those 1972 games, how his gambling affected the world of baseball, and THEN show the aftermath. What we got was one of the most iconic baseball players, sitting in a shop for eight minutes.

I’m not angry, I am actually excited the 30 for 30 series has returned, but eight minutes was simply not enough time for this story. It did however, send me off on a long convoluted thought process debating the Pete Rose saga, should he be named into the Hall of Fame? Absoloutely.

As I mentioned earlier, In my personal opinion, Pete Rose is the best all round baseball player, of all time. The Baseball Hall of Fame, quite frankly, feels empty without his name enshrined. He deserves to be inducted, as a PLAYER. Pete Rose, the guy that won 1972 games, was not the guy gambling on his own games, that was the coach. By all mines ban him from entering as a coach, but as a player, there is no trace of wrong doing throughout his career, just unrivalled success.

Players are consistently charged with criminal offences such as DUI, they get a couple of games suspension. But gambling is considered the ultimate sin? People have done a lot worse than Pete Rose, trust me, and those types of people, surround the Baseball hall of fame. But Pete Rose is omitted because of gambling offenses. I’m not advocating what he did, it was a mistake that I am sure Pete regrets now. But he deserves to be in the hall of fame, if you aren’t going to do it for him, then do it for baseball. The Hall of Fame simply doesn’t feel right without him in.

One thing I can take comfort in however, Pete Rose’s legacy will live on forever. The controversy surrounding his name will ensure his name lasts forever, even if he isn’t inducted into the hall of fame. Pete will remain in the spotlight, I just hope in fifty years times, he will be remembered for the good things, the things that defined him. Like being the most winningest sportsman of all time, because that is ultimately what I will remember him for.

What’s next for the Knicks – Can Amare, Lin and Melo Co-exist?

So Linsanity was pretty awesome right? In the seven games that the Knicks were without Carmelo, an asian sensation emerged out of nowhere and put up astronomical numbers (25-10- 4). Lin was averaging a double double, Jared Jeffries and Landry fields were both giving the Knicks 25 minutes per game and then there was the emergence of the best three-point shooter in the NBA, Steve Novak and the best defensive player, Tyson Chandler. Lin’s energy did not only provide an improvement at the Point guard position, the entire team improved. But no matter what individual statistics you look at, one thing that gets completely overlooked, was their markedly improved defence. The rotations were fantastic, Chandler was anchoring their defence, and the team conceded on average 90 points per game. In those seven games, the Knicks never conceded 100 points or more. That’s pretty incredible. Especially considering pre-lin, this was probably one of the worst five defences in the league.

Then Melo returned, essentially killing Linsanity, and also getting Mike D’antoni fired in the process (Not that the latter was a bad thing). In the seventeen games that the two played together, the Knicks returned to their average selves, which was emphasised by their.. well.. average 8-9 record. The defence deteriorated as on nine separate occasions, the Knicks conceded more than 100 points. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, Lin required knee surgery and was declared out for the season, which further put the proverbial ‘nail in the coffin’ on Linsanity.

What happened for the rest of the season? Well, Carmelo returned to his superstar self and transformed his game, manning the 4 spot rather than his typical position at small forward. Under his adopted position, he averaged 30 points per game and 7.4 rebounds. Along with that, the defence improved once again, Tyson Chandler averaged a double double (10.7ppg and 12.2 rebounds) and rookie guard Iman Shumpert emerged as the best all-round player on the roster, as the Kicks went 11-4 and managed to scape a playoff spot, securing the 7th seed and a series with the Heat. Everything after that however, was a disaster. Shumpert and Baron Davis got injured, Amare punched a fire extinguisher case and Carmelo proved why he’ll never get a ring, culminating in a 4-1 series defeat to the Heat with all four losses being by double digits.

So what’s next for the Knicks? If one thing has become abundantly clear it’s that Carmelo and Lin can’t co-exist, their play styles simply do not mesh. Carmelo relies on isolation plays, which keeps the ball out of his teammates hands, thus reducing the need for a point guard like Lin. Melo also relies on his mid-range jumper, with statistics showing most of his shots come from 16-23 feet away from the basket. Those shots also don’t require the sort of ball movement that Lin would bring to the offense. Just 15% of Lin’s assists came from Carmelo’s preferred ranged, whilst 45% were near the rim, mainly to Chandler and Amare and 33% went towards 3-pointers, where Steve Novak and Jr Smith excelled.

With that said, The Knicks have two options as to how they want to tackle this off-season.

a) Trade one of Lin/Stoudemire/Carmelo

b) Make it work with the three of them.

Option A

This is where things get interesting/tricky from whichever perspective you are looking at it. Which one do you trade? How much can the Knicks realistically expect in return for any of them? Will the trade have any negative implications on the locker room? There are lots of questions raised from this option and I do not envy Glen Grunwald for one moment. So lets talk about the liklihood of each trade.

Amare Stoudemire

This is probably the guy that the Knicks would be most content with trading but his contract makes it almost impossible. Over the next three years he’s set to make $63 million, with a cap hit of $19 million for next season. Realistically, which team is going to want a guy who’s immature enough to punch a Fire extinguisher case, and also possesses a contract worthy of a top 10 player in the league? But for the sake of speculation, lets play GM for a second and analyse some of the teams that could potentially make a trade for Amare.

Rockets – Houston actually have a pretty nice roster, but lack that big offensive weapon to ‘take the next step’. Their cap has also been managed well enough that they could afford his contract.

Bobcats – This is one of the worst teams I have ever seen and they need all the help they can get. The contract is terrible but combine Amare with the potential number 1 overall pick in the draft, Anthony davis (Monobrow), and the bobcats have actually got a pretty explosive front court.

76ers – Much like the Rockets, the 76ers have a deep roster but lack an offensive weapon that can give them 20+ points a night and also lack a physical prescence in the front court.

Magic – This one is even more unlikely than the others. Whilst the magic clearly want to get as much value from a potential Dwight Howard trade as possible, and Amare would almost certainly provide them with a viable replacement, trading one immature baby for another doesn’t make much sense for the Magic.

 If you had asked me during the regular season whether or not I thought a trade with one of those four teams would have happened, I would have said yes. But after the debacle that was the Knicks playoff ‘run’, any potential trade for Amare Stoudemire was extinguished (All pun intended).

 Jeremy Lin

I’m struggling to find a reasonable reason to trade Jeremy Lin other than, he’d be a hindrance to a team that wants to build around Carmelo (which would be a mistake).  Lin’s contract is such that any player that the Knicks could trade for would go nowhere near replicating the production that Lin has provided, as the Knicks do not have the cap space to take on another big contract. Let’s just rule this one as, not happening.

Carmelo Anthony

This would be the boldest move. It would be incredibly risky to simply move on from Carmelo after only one and a half years, especially considering he has actually had a very productive season. He was putting up 30 points almost every night, and essentially carried the Knicks on his back. He provided a consistent mis-match for any team in the league when he played the four spot and the Knicks looked legitimately dangerous. But can you win a championship with Carmelo? I’m not sure. When he’s at his best, he’s the focal point of the offense and there isn’t another superstar in the lineup. He can’t play with a point guard who actually distributes the ball, because his offense is pre-dominantly him keeping the ball for himself and attacking the basket or attempting mid-range jumpers. And he can’t play with two bigs, as they eat up the space for those isolations. Essentially, what I’m saying is, he’s a teammates nightmare. But would the Knicks really trade him? I struggle to see a scenario where that event occurs.

Option B

So that leaves us with Option B. We somehow have to make this work, so that all three ‘superstars’ can co-exist. How do we do that? We give everybody what they want. You let Carmelo be the focal point of the offense, whilst also keeping him away from Lin and Amare. How do you do that? You have Lin and Amare come off the bench. Yes it sounds ludicrous, Lin and Amare would probably start for every other team in the league, but they’re not going to be prototypical bench players. The Knicks will still be playing them for 25 minutes per night, but for the sake of a title, you are getting production out of Lin and Amare off the bench, whilst also satisfying Carmelo too.

So lets Breakdown how this would work:

Starting 5

Point Guard – I’m pretty sure at this point Baron Davis is done. He’s had far too many injuries, and even when he was healthy last year, it was clear he wasn’t the same player. The Knicks will need to find somebody to fill this spot, with the limited cap space they do possess, in free agency or via trade. JR Smith did a decent job at the point guard position when asked last season so he should be able to take some of the burden. (25 Minutes)

Shooting Guard – Iman Shumpert. This one is a given, Shumpert had a fantastic rookie season, and could easily become a star in a couple of years time. I’m not sure how the injury is going to affect him, let’s hope he’s the same player, but whilst he’s gone, JR smith should be fine starting. (35 Minutes)

Small Forward – Landry Fields. You’re not going to get massive points out of him, but he hustles. He’s going to chase down stray passes, crash the boards, and you can’t have enough ‘effort’ guys on your roster, especially if Carmelo is your starter. If you can work a trade or pick up somebody free agency, this could be a potential position the Knicks could look to address. (25-30 Minutes)

Power Forward – Carmelo Anthony. This is the position where he excels. He is a massive mis-match at the 4 as his combination of size and speed plus the added space created from only having one true ‘big’ ensures that he is almost un-defendable by a true power forward. The only guy that can stop him, is really Lebron James. He’s also got enough size, that he won’t be a liability on the defensive end as most forwards will only have a few inches on him. (35 Minutes)

Center – Tyson Chandler. The pivotal player on this Knicks team. If this team is going to work, then Tyson Chandler continuing his defensive dominance is essential. He is the anchor of the defence, and fits perfectly with the system the Knicks would try to run with this starting lineup. (As many minutes as you can get out of him)

Coming Off The Bench

Jeremy Lin – When he comes in, the offense runs through him. He can come off the bench and provide an insant injection of offense. It even pleases the homers that think Lin is a glorified bench player! (25 Minutes)

Amare Stoudemire – Amare is a fantastic basketball player, there is no disputing that. And if you have a guy as good as him coming off the bench, you know your team is going to put up points. He may leave something to be desired defensively, but he gives the Knicks size, he can rebound and he will immediately come off the bench and put up big numbers. But let me re-iterate something.  If you can trade Amare, you do it. Simple as that. 20million is too much for a bench player, but if you are lumbered with his contract, you may as well use him. This would allow the Knicks to address the Point guard and Small forward spots whilst still having Lin, JR Smith and Novak on the bench. So if Glen Grunwald can make it work so that he gets decent value from a trade for Stoudemire, you absoloutely,100%, excuse the cliche, pull the trigger. (25+ Minutes, can potentially play with Melo)

JR Smith & Steve Novak – If the offense is stagnant, these two can immediately correct that. When JR smith gets hot, he is unstoppable and well, Steve Novak is the best three point shooter in the league. (20+ Minutes)

All of a sudden, The Knicks possess nine players that can all make a big contribution. That’s massive, for any team. Also, the minute allocation isn’t formulaic. If Melo is having an off-night and Lin is lighting it up, you give Lin the ball for the last five minutes. If you’re trailing by more than 10+ points with only a short period of time left, why not put Melo, Lin, Stoudemire and Chandler in the game at the same time? I’m sure, most teams would be pretty frightened by that lineup.

What this does serves to do, is give the Knicks a purpose. You’re saying that Carmelo was the star during the regular season, and were going to try our hardest to make it work so he can replicate that for the whole of next season, including the playoffs. We’ll also (excuse the use of we, I’m not a Knicks fan, I’m just looking at it from their perspective) possess a bench that is as good as any team in the league. This is a dangerous team, it may not work, but at least it provides the team with some stability and a direction. And if it does work, there’s no reason why they can’t compete with the likes of the Bulls in the East.

It may blow up in their face. With the characters on that team, it could easily cause a split in the locker-room. Some people might want Lin as the star, some might want Melo, I could see that happening. But at least if it does to that, there will be indisputable evidence, that this ‘project’, the Knicks set out on two years ago with Carmelo and Amare, has been a complete failure.

The team has the talent and if the Knick’s have shown anything this year, it’s adaptability. The team suffered through injuries, they have had to adapt to different offensive philosophies as the ‘main man’ changed on a monthly basis and combined with that, they had a head coaching change half way through the season. That is a lot to deal with in one season, and if I could guarantee one thing next season, it’s that the Knicks should have stability. Whatever direction they go, be it, new coach, whether or not they trade one of the ‘big 3’, the Knicks should be improved next season.

<a href=”http://www.hypersmash.com”>www.HyperSmash.com</a>

Early NBA Round 2 Playoff Preview

Well that was a pretty disappointing Round 1 of the playoffs wasn’t it? Yes it hasn’t finished just yet, but looking back we were provided with one entertaining series between the Grizzlies and the Clippers before Chris Paul said fuck it, and carried the Clips to Round 2, and injures.. dam there were a whole lot of injuries.

Yep, Derrick Rose is out of the playoffs, basically removing the only legitimate threat to the Heat within the East, and essentially removing all interest out of the eastern conference playoffs. It’s going to be a Heat-Celtics finals, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Heat swept them. The only interesting storyline that can be extracted from that matchup is the series from last year. How much of a factor was Rondo’s elbow in the Celtics pitiful attempt at competing with the heat? The Celtics fans certainly think it was massive, but then again, they’re fans, you have to be optimistic about your own team right? Oh wait.. I’m a Dolphins fan.

Yeah it will probably make some sort of difference, but at the end of the day, the Celtics are not beating the Heat in the series, maybe Rondo’s elbow will take it to a Game 6, and who knows from there? It certainly would be nice for these NBA Playoffs to throw up an interesting storyline.

Who will be facing the Heat? I’m pleased to announce I have no idea, with Chris Paul’s stellar play during overtime against the Grizzlies in Game 4 (27-9-7), I can honestly appreciate the Clippers as a viable Title contender, along with all three of the Lakers, Thunder and Spurs.

So let’s break down the four candidates.

San Antonio Spurs

Story So Far

We haven’t learnt anything that we didn’t know already from the regular season. I expected the Jazz to at least slightly resemble the Grizzlies from last season, not necessarily taking the series, but at least putting up a fight. What we were presented with, however was an incredibly lop-sided series, with an incredibly deep Spurs team, simply overpowering a Jazz team, that you could tell were just happy to be there.

Biggest Surprise

That this team has been completely overlooked so far. Seriously, how come nobody is talking about the Spurs?

Biggest Concern

Injuries. It’s been the biggest talking point of the playoffs so far. The lockout shortened-season is clearly starting to have an affect on the players, the Spurs have managed to stay completely healthy so far, but age is bound to be a factor at some point. Let’s just hope they can stay healthy, David Stern has already taken a lot of abuse for the injuries completely ruining the playoffs so far, we don’t need any more. But if there is a team that can afford an injury, is it the Spurs? They’re incredibly deep and have already proven that they can play without the likes of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Either way, I don’t want to see it happen, there was a lot of excitement about these playoffs, and injuries don’t need to tarnish the NBA’s reputation anymore.

Prediction

This one is tough, it’s hard to gauge what level of playoff basketball the Spurs are playing at after that Jazz series, because quite frankly, Utah would have made pretty much any team look good. But the Spurs are indisputably looking very good. If I had to make a prediction, I could honestly see Chris Paul and the Clippers shocking the Spurs, but if you were analysing the matchup based on performance, depth and experience, you would have to make the Spurs the favourites. At this point however I’m not sure it matters, as that Thunder team is looking pretty good.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Story So Far

The Thunder stunned everybody by sweeping the defending champ, Dallas Mavericks but that’s only partially the reason I’m so excited about this Thunder team, it’s mainly the fact that three of the four games went down to the final possession. You know, the time when you’d expect the experienced veterans like Dirk Nowitski, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd to shine, and the youth of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to falter. But no, the Thunder won all three of those games by an average of 3.3 points, proving that not only does this team possess the potential to reach the Finals, but has now proven it’s got the mental capacity required to turn that potential into rings. And when you combine what is probably the deepest deep in the NBA with the willingness to succeed and close out games, you’ve got a scary prospect.

Biggest Surprise

This one has to be James Harden. It’s not even the fact that we thought of him incapable of this level of production, he’s the best 6th man in the league, he’d be starting for every other team in the NBA, but the numbers he has produced, in the clutch as well, have been astronomical. Ranking 9th in the entire Western Conference for scoring, averaging 18 points per game, coming off the bench in the playoffs is simply unheard of. And you would have to say James Harden is not only the biggest surprise for the Thunder, but of the entire playoffs.

Biggest Concern

Derek Fisher. He’s started to step it up these last two games, but when you bring in an experienced veteran, you do it for these exact set of circumstances; playoff basketball, a team in need of experience and the ability to close. What you don’t expect is that veteran to score 0 and 4 points in the first two games which were both separated by three points or less. I questioned the move in the regular season, and now that it’s the playoffs, the time when we were expecting to see the pay-off for this trade, Fisher has disappeared.

Prediction

There’s not a lot to hate with this team. They’re the deepest team in the league, only the Spurs would have anything to say about that. They have two players that are among the best at their position, one of which is an MVP candidate and a superstar coming off the bench that can immediately ignite a stagnant offense. The only way I see the Thunder faltering is if Scott Brooks gets the rotations wrong. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick perkins manning the 4 and 5 spots for the majority of the game is not going to work when it gets to the finals, this team is most dangerous with Harden at the 3 and Durant at the 4. Seriously, which team is going to stop that? The spurs could, potentially but it is most definitely not going to be the Heat. Lebron can’t defend all of them. So I’m predicting that not only will the Thunder make the finals, I honestly like them to beat the Heat too. And this comes a week after predicting the Mavs would be the upset pick of the first round, oh how times have changed.

Los Angeles Lakers

Story So Far

The Lakers have made light work of the Nuggets in Round 1. Kobe is leading the playoffs in scoring, Andrew Bynum has consistently proven a nightmare for the Nuggets (You can tell just by looking at the television, with no knowledge of the NBA, that Andrew Bynum presents a massive mis-match for practically any team), and the Lakers bench has stepped up. Yep, this team is dangerous.

Biggest Surprise

The Laker’s Bench. Who knew players like Devin Ebanks and Steve Blake would be making this Laker’s more than just a four man team? If the Lakers can continue to get consistent production out of their role players, then suddenly were looking at a title contender.

Biggest Concern 

The potential matchup problems. The one crucial advantage the Lakers possess over the majority of teams in the NBA is the size and production from their bigs in Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. But if there were two teams that the Lakers wouldn’t want to play, if there were two teams that can counter that, it’s the Spurs and Thunder with Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Tim Duncan. That puts a lot of emphasis on Kobe, but let’s be honest, it’s not a bad guy to go to in reserve.

Prediction

There are very few ‘true’ centers in the league anymore. I would say there are only two ‘dominant’ centers in the NBA, Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum. And if Bynum can continue to dominate, if Kobe can continue being great and if the bench can continue to provide production, then the Lakers are definitley a title contender. Unfortunately that’s a lot of if’s, especially for a team with character concerns. That’s a lot of responsibility on Mike Brown, but if he can make it work, then there should be nobody questioning his coaching ability. I still think they lose to the Thunder, mind.

Los Angeles Clippers

Story So Far

Well I was not expecting that. I had the Grizzlies nailed on for the Finals but somehow with a combination of Chris Paul’s clutch 4th quarter/overtime brilliance, Blake Griffin’s improvements and Randy Foye’s defence (wait did I really just say that?), the Clippers managed to advance to Round 2, or at least, have got close to advancing.

Biggest Surprise

I could have gone a lot of ways with this one, Blake Griffin’s breakout game or Nick Young’s barrage of 3’s in game 1, the Clippers have simply been fantastically surprising in practically all facets of their play. But I went with the inconsistent play from Rudy Gay because I was simply not expecting it. If there was one thing I was sure of going into this series it was the fact that the Clippers didn’t possess a player on their roster who could guard Rudy Gay. Whether you want to blame Rudy Gay or Randy Foye’s defence, there is no disputing the fact that the Clippers have been able to contain him.

Biggest Concern

A similar scenario to the Lakers but it’s not the fact potential matchups will counter their bigs, it’s the fact that the Clippers don’t possess any. The Thunder, spurs and lakers are all going to be able to crash the boards and pound it inside. Can Blake Griffin single-handedly stop that from happening? I doubt it.

Prediction

If there’s one thing, I’ve learnt from Round 1, it’s that I can’t discount the Clippers. And even though they clearly lack an ‘anchor’ for the defence, we used that exact same reasoning as to why they would lose to the Grizzlies and look what happened. The fact remains that Blake Griffin is set to break out during the playoffs, and we know exactly what were going to get from Chris paul – clutch play, because that’s what we’ve been getting all season. So the prediction? I like the Clippers to beat the Spurs, it’s just a feeling, I don’t see them winning the finals, but they most definitley cannot be overlooked any more.

So what can we conclude from my latest ramblings? I really like all four of the remaining teams in the Western Conference. It really is a toss-up for the spot in the finals to face the Heat. So what will the main storyline be when it comes to the NBA Finals? Will it be the ‘over-coming the odds’ Clippers? Will it be the passing of the guard from the Spurs to the Thunder? Or will those ‘oldies get one more run at it? If it were up to me, I want to see the battle of Los Angeles, it really is the dream series, can you imagine the Staples Center for those seven games? Unbelievable, and to think it’s completely plausible now. One thing is clear, The playoffs begin now, so let’s go, sit back, enjoy. It’s going to be a wild one.

Knicks take Heat to a Game 5 – Is Spoelstra to blame?

16. That’s the number imprinted on Lebron James’ mouthguard. 16 wins for a championship, that’s all that matters. No moore goofing around before games, Lebron was strictly business. Yesterday afternoon, I was ecstatic. With the clutch three pointer and the ridiculous spin move layup combo leading to the and-one,  I was anticipating that today would be the day that I could finally devote a column to the maturation of Lebron James and his clutch play. However, somebody overshadowed him, and no it was not Carmelo Anthony.

There was a reason the Mavericks were so confident of victory in the NBA finals, it wasn’t because of the overall talent levels of both rosters, it was because they were assured in the fact that Rick Carlisle would  out-coach Erik Spoelstra. Marc Cuban, the Maverick Owner, made it abundantly clear on multiple occasions that the Miami Heat failed to make adjustments, and that blame ultimately has to lie with Eric Spoelstra.

Yesterday, against the Knicks, controversy ensued after a questionable play-design on the final play of the game, undoubtedly a litigious topic when discussing the Heat. As mentioned previously, Lebron had exploded in the 4th quarter, but when the game was on the line with 14 seconds to go,  Erik Spoelstra designed a play that made Dwayne Wade the number one option on the pick and roll. Lebron just stood helplessly in the corner and observed Dwayne Wade as he proceeded to run around in circles for 10 seconds before attempting an almost impossible turn-around fadeaway jumper from the three point line.

I can just imagine the conversation during the timeout:

“Ok, Lebron, you’re clearly the best player in the nba, and you’re unstoppable right now, but what if we give it to
Dwayne and he can run around in circles for 10 seconds and hit an impossible turn-around fadeaway jumper, from the 3 point
line.. Sound good? OK, lets go.”

Obviously, that’s an exaggeration, the play in theory should have worked. Tyson Chandler had been fouled out, leaving the Knicks with a defensive void in the paint. Get Wade the ball off the pick and roll drive to the basket, pick up the easy two points to tie the game, maybe even get an and-one and everyone can go home happy as the Heat sweep the Knicks. Unfortunately it didn’t work out like that, Landry Fields defended well, covering the drive to the basket, forcing Wade to escape to the three point line.

So what does this tell me about Erik Spoelstra? Does it simply display a lack of confidence in Lebron James? Or is it just tactical ineptness? It’s hard to imagine there being a lack of confidence, considering Lebron has carried the Heat on his back for the final two weeks, so does that mean he’s tactically inept? It’s hard to dispute it from that play, but ultimately if it had worked, we would have reverted back to slating Lebron, and would have forgotten all about this moment.

Maybe it was just Dwayne Wade mis-handling the ball that made the play look so disastrous and whilst most people will enjoy debating the final play of the game, if you look at the box score, you’re not going to be able to infer that it was a questionable play-design on the final play of the game that cost the Heat the series. You’ll look at the box score and see that Carmelo scored 41 points, and with that there is indisputable evidence of Erik Spoelstra failing to make adjustments.

Throughout the series, Carmelo Anthony has been shut-out due to the defensive display from Lebron James, so what changed in this game? Well for 30 of Carmelo’s 41 points, it was Shane Battier that defended Melo. Where was Lebron? Defending that big offensive threat Tyson Chandler, of course.

It’s the reason, that Mike Bibby was wide open with a minute to play, due to Carmelo being double-teamed (something that would never of happened if he was being guarded by Lebron James) enabling him to hit the the three pointer that gave his Knicks team the three point lead.

It was the reason that a few possessions later Shane Battier had fouled Carmelo after a three point attempt. A potential game-ender but Melo missed two of his three free throws. Instances like this showed up throughout the game, in which Shane Battier failed to contain Carmelo Anthony, and yet Erik Spoelstra was insistent, “Lebron was guarding Chandler to do some other things defensively”.

Why was that the case? I have no answer for you. For some reason Spoelstra, instead of a lack of adjustments, made unnecessary ones as his team succumbed to a defeat that could have easily been avoided. And whilst I can appreciate Carmelo’s offensive display, when we look back on this one, it’s going to be the tactical mis-calculations of Erik Spoelstra that are remembered.

<a href=”http://www.hypersmash.com”>www.HyperSmash.com</a>