Text
Text

When the Philadelphia 76ers took their team picture last month, Jason Richardson was nowhere to be found.

Of course, very few people noticed and/or cared because Andrew Bynum - both hilariously and appropriately - also happened to be a no-show for the aforementioned photo session.

Despite both players’ legitimate excuses for their absences (both were rehabbing their surgically-repaired knees), the picture day fiasco (henceforth known as the “Glamour Shots By Deb Incident”) fits perfectly into the “Richardson as invisible man” narrative. Not only was the 32-year-old shooting guard largely ignored in the trade that bought Bynum to Philadelphia last August, his January knee injury was an afterthought in the midst of Bynum’s cornrowed, bowling-for-dollars, cartilage-grown-in-Petri-dishes, flamenco-dancing hilarity.

Unlike Bynum however, Richardson played in actual NBA games last season. Yet save for an encouraging stretch early in the year, it was clear that we were witnessing the slow decline of a man whose athleticism was - once upon a time - literally jaw-dropping.

Richardson’s mind may be willing, but his body is clearly weak. The 12-year veteran dealt with knee, chest and ankle injuries during his final season with the Orlando Magic, and he missed 49 games this past year with similar ailments.

We’ll see glimpses of the old J-Rich going forward, but they’ll only serve to remind us of what once was. The 360 dunk against the Milwaukee Bucks in November may ultimately be Richardson’s finest moment in a Sixers’ uniform, but even the optimists among us believe that similar feats are sure to be fewer and farther between.

The 33 games that Richardson did appear in this past season isn’t a huge sample size to draw from, but it still paints a sobering picture of what to expect in the future. When he wasn’t stepping on cameramen, Richardson shot a career-low 40.2 percent from the field, and he knocked down just 34.1 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.

To his credit, Richardson did manage to earn the coveted “Ace of Spades” Award three times last season. And while he grabbed rebounds at a fairly decent clip in 2012-13 given his position - Richardson finished with a Defensive Rebound Percentage of 13.4 - the knee injury that he suffered in January will rob him of a fair amount of his already fading explosiveness going forward.

In a perfect world, we’d be able to bottle up the J-Rich we saw at the beginning of last season. Richardson averaged 13.4 PPG in November while shooting nearly 47 percent from three-point range. He rarely strayed from his role as the Sixers’ designated spot-up shooter, and served a fine complement to the emerging Jrue Holiday.

Sadly, that may have been the last shining moment for Richardson prior to his denouement. The above-mentioned knee surgery will keep him out at least until late January, and even when he returns to the lineup, expecting him to play more than 15-20 minutes per night may be unreasonable at this point.

But barring a major setback, J-Rich will (and should) be back in a Sixers’ uniform, primarily because buying him out simply doesn’t make sense.

In a world without consequences and repercussions, Richardson would have received a firm handshake thanking him for services rendered shortly after his exit interview last month. However, the NBA has certain rules and regulations that teams must adhere to, and since his contract was signed under the previous collective bargaining agreement, the Sixers would be on the hook for the full note salary cap-wise if they let him walk ($6.2 million in 2013-14 plus a $6.6 million player option in 2014-15). So, for better or worse, the Sixers are married to Richardson for at least one more year.

And while the two parties aren’t staying together just for the kids, the youth of the team will be the ones who should benefit the most from Richardson’s presence. For what it’s worth (and it’s worth something) Richardson has twice as much experience as every other player under contract next season with the exception of Kwame Brown. And as we learned from the @Sixers Twitter account back in March, you “can’t put a price on veteraness.”

Actually, you can put a price on it, and $6.2 million is a big, lottery-sized check to write for veteran savvy alone. Hopefully, Richardson can serve as a solid rotation player upon his return, and maybe even impart some of the wisdom that he’s picked up over the past dozen years in the interim.

If nothing else, the man still owes the 76ers a picture.

Source: libertyballers.com
Text

image

Don’t be fooled by the Los Angeles Clippers’ strong defensive showing during in the first round of the playoffs: Their day of reckoning is coming soon.

That day won’t come during their series against the Memphis Grizzlies, however. For whatever reason, the Grizzlies have failed to find an answer for the Clippers’ defensive puzzle. Including the postseason, the Clippers and Grizzlies have met seven times this year, and Memphis has yet to score more than 96 points in any game.

And, to be fair, the Clippers aren’t a bad defensive team: They allowed just 94.6 points per game during the regular season (fourth in the NBA), and their Defensive Rating of 103.6 ranks seventh among the 16 teams currently competing in the playoffs.

That said, they aren’t the Grizzlies, who are seemingly on the wrong end of an ill-timed role reversal of sorts. Memphis held opponents to 89.3 points per game in 2012-13, so it’s odd to find the Grizzlies in a series where they’re the ones who are getting outworked on defense.

It wasn’t too long ago where Clippers’ head coach Vinny Del Negro’s job status was in question due to his team’s lackadaisical effort on defense. L.A. was just 7-7 during the month of March, and the team’s Defensive Rating over those 14 games was a troubling 106.2.

Since then, Del Negro has implored upon his team to step up its intensity on both ends of the court, and the Clippers have responded by holding their opponents to less than 100 points in eight of the team’s last nine games dating back to April 5.

"We have to go in with the mind-set that we’re down," said Del Negro in a recent interview with Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times. "We have to go in with a mind-set that we have to play with a desperation and urgency and match the physicality of the game."

The Lob City crew should be able to ride this wave out for a few more days, but their title hopes will come to an end if and when they face the short-handed Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals.

As good as Los Angeles has been defensively this season (despite a few stretches of inconsistency), the Clippers still haven’t figured out how to handle Oklahoma City. In three regular-season matchups against the Thunder, L.A. has allowed more than 111 points per game while dropping all three contests.

Aside from Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, Memphis’ offensive options are limited at best. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City has a number of players who can go for 20 points or more on any given night, and even without Russell Westbrook in the lineup, the Thunder’s ability to stretch the floor with Kevin Durant, Kevin Martin, Serge Ibaka, et al. will make the Clippers work exceptionally hard on defense.

It should also be noted that at 88.4 possessions per 48 minutes, the Grizzlies played at the slowest pace in the NBA this season. By comparison, the Thunder averaged 93.3 possessions per game, roughly two possessions more than the Clippers.

Four of the five Los Angeles starters have playoff Defensive Ratings of 105 or more. And just like every other team in the league, the Clippers are powerless to stop Durant, who averaged 34.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG and 5.3 APG in three games against L.A. this season.

Each NBA playoff series is a separate and distinct matchup between two teams: short of injuries and fatigue, nothing from a previous round carries over into the next. So read little into L.A.’s success against Memphis so far. The true test of the Clippers’ defense is slowly approaching on the horizon, and it will prove to be a challenge that they aren’t quite prepared for.

Source: bleacherreport.com
Text

image

Rarely in NBA history has a 21-year-old been the key to a team’s playoff chances. Even rarer are those cases where that same young player has a green light to shoot on a team that boasts three future Hall of Famers.

That’s the situation in San Antonio these days, however: Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili may get all of the press, but without an exceptional effort from Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs’ run in the postseason doesn’t figure to be a long one.

"[Leonard is] the complete player," said Minnesota Timberwolves’ forward Andrei Kirilenko in an interview with Paul Garcia of Project Spurs. "With him having Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili on the team, it’s opened up opportunities for him to be unattended."

Leonard was a sophomore at Martin Luther King High School in Riverside, California back when San Antonio won their last title in 2007. In those days, the Spurs’ trio was a legit “Big Three”: Ginobili, Parker and Duncan each averaged at least 16 points per game that season, and the latter two were legitimate MVP candidates.

Age has gotten the better of the threesome in recent years, and it’s clear that the men who comprised the core of the Spurs attack for so many seasons are closer to the end of the line than they are the beginning.

Enter Kawhi Leonard.

"Kawhi is a competitor," said Gregg Popovich in a recent interview with Jose Grijalva of Project Spurs. "He knows he has a license to play."

Leonard earned that license after shooting better than 49 percent from the field for the second season in a row. The black mark on Leonard’s resume at San Diego State was his suspect long-range game, but the former Aztec has knocked down nearly 38 percent of his three-pointers over the last two years.

San Antonio doesn’t need Leonard to score 20 points per game in order to win. In fact, the Spurs would settle for the March edition of Leonard throughout the playoffs. Last month, the second-year small forward averaged 14.2 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting nearly 53 percent from the floor.

In a perfect world, San Antonio would get the Kawhi Leonard that went shot for shot with Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant back on April 4. San Antonio lost that game by 12, but Leonard put up his best line of the season (24 points, 14 rebounds, six assists) while making Durant work for each of his 25 points.

That game was admittedly an outlier: What isn’t rare, though, is Leonard’s bulldog-like tenacity on defense. Frequently matched up against the opposing team’s best wing player, Leonard’s Defensive Rating of 99.4 was the 11th-best mark in the league.

"I don’t think nothing of it, really," said Leonard in an interview with Jeff McDonald of Spurs Nation. "It’s how I’ve been playing my whole life, guarding the best player on the other team."

Thanks to Leonard’s contributions on both ends of the court, the Spurs are 10.1 points better per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor. Leonard’s greatest gift is his efficiency: Few movements are wasted as he continually finds ways to produce without dominating the basketball.

The most telling statistic of all is the Spurs’ win/loss record: With Leonard in the lineup this season, San Antonio is 43-15. Without him, the team is just 15-9.

Since the passage of time cannot be defeated, the proverbial torch of the Spurs will eventually be passed down to Leonard. Not only does the 6’7” forward represent San Antonio’s future, but he also happens to be a vital part of their present as well.

Source: bleacherreport.com
Text

Lost in the midst of yesterday’s public feting of Doug Collins, the Philadelphia 76ers are apparently looking for a New Media Manager.

For better or for worse, this person would be in charge of the team’s online initiatives and digital marketing strategies. All things considered, it sounds like a pretty sweet gig: Few among us wouldn’t enjoy working for a professional sports team if given the opportunity, and between the salary and the perks, it sure beats working at Moe’s.

We here at Liberty Ballers are all but banned from applying for the job, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t throw your hat in the ring. In fact, we’ve come up with a sample cover letter that you can use when you apply. By the way, if you do get hired, don’t forget who helped get you that corner office…

—————————————

To whom it may concern:

I am writing to express my interest to the New Media Manager position that you recently posted on the NBA.com Team Jobs Web site.

I’ve been an avid Sixers’ fan for the past XX years, ever since the team drafted (pick one, depending on your age: Leo Rautins, Christian Welp, Shawn Bradley, Allen Iverson, Craig “Speedy” Claxton, Jrue Holiday). I live, breathe and eat Sixers’ basketball, so working for the franchise that has the third-most playoff appearances in NBA history would be something of a dream come true for me.

I watch every game as it is, so I would have no problem working nights, weekends and/or whenever needed. I am also well-versed in social media - there would be no issue for me to continue the current practice of posting dozens of pictures (and even Vine video) of Spencer Hawes going through his pregame warmup routine.

Unlike most others interested in this position, I already have a relationship with a number of those associated with the Sixers’ organization: Jrue Holiday, Nick Young and Molly Sullivan each responded to one of my tweets this past season. Furthermore, I have enhanced my written and interpersonal skills by passionately, intensely, and proudly defending the team on a variety of Internet message boards and blogs, including Liberty Ballers.

As the team’s New Media Manager, I will be vigilant in ensuring that members of the ownership group don’t use Twitter to solicit advice on player personnel decisions. In addition, I am cognizant of the fact that Sixers’ fans may not be aware of all of our social media initiatives - therefore, I will be exceedingly cautious when using phrases like “mean monkey dunk” out of context.

I appreciate your taking the time to review my credentials and experience. Thank you for your consideration - I hope to hear from you soon.

Go Sixers! #ShowYaLuv

Sincerely,

Your Name

Source: libertyballers.com
Text

image

Unlike the positions of shooting guard and center, there’s a legitimate debate as to which player is the best power forward of all time.

Tim Duncan’s resume sparkles thanks to his four rings, two MVP awards and perennial appearances on the All-NBA team. But a case can be made for a number of others, including Karl Malone (second in NBA history in total points with 36,928), Charles Barkley (an 11-time All-Star with averages of 22.1 PPG and 11.7 RPG for his career), Bob Pettit and Elvin Hayes.

Yet if Duncan can lead the San Antonio Spurs to the franchise’s fifth title, there are no more arguments to be made: The former Wake Forest standout will undoubtedly be the best to ever man the 4 spot in the history of professional basketball.

Longtime Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan said the following about Tim Duncan back in 2007: “He is probably the best player to ever play the position the way he plays it.” It should be noted that Sloan coached Malone for 14-plus seasons that included back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals.

The main knock against Duncan is that he’s actually more of a center than a true power forward. And over the last several years, the 36-year-old veteran has probably logged more minutes at the pivot that he has as an actual forward.

Such delineations are akin to nitpicking, however—Duncan is one of the best big men in NBA history regardless of what positional number is assigned to him. The fact that the Spurs are now largely Tony Parker’s team is a more valid argument, but one that holds little weight as well: Duncan clearly keys the San Antonio attack on both ends of the floor.

"He may be a 7-footer, but he’s basically a quarterback in shorts," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich in an interview with David DuPree of USA Today.

In terms of endorsement deals and accolades, Duncan’s lack of flash has worked against him his entire career. The 6’11” forward rarely shows emotion on the basketball court (unless Joey Crawford is around) and is generally seen as “boring.”

His game, however, is anything but. No player in the league has better moves in the post than Duncan, and his signature jump shot off the glass is just one of the reasons why “The Big Fundamental” nickname is remarkably on point. And while most of the attention is paid to his prowess on the offensive end, Duncan also made 13 straight NBA All-Defensive teams at the start of his career, and he ranks fifth all-time in Defensive Win Shares with 93.4.

It may sound like blasphemy to say, but if Duncan captures his fifth Larry O’Brien Trophy, he might not be just the best power forward ever, but the most dominant player of his generation as well. Only Kobe Bryant owns as many rings, but the Lakers’ superstar teams haven’t been as consistent as the Spurs have been throughout Duncan’s career. For the record, San Antonio’s current streak of 14 consecutive seasons with at least 50 wins is the best mark in NBA history.

In what’s supposed to be the twilight of his career, Duncan’s per-36 minute averages in 2012-13 (21.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks) are in line with his figures from his prime. So while the 16-year veteran may not be able to play 38 minutes per night like he used to, he’s still as productive as ever. According to Rob Mahoney of SI.com, Patrick Ewing is the only player in NBA history who has played as well as Duncan has over the age of 35.

"The minute [Duncan] doesn’t think he can perform like he is now, he’ll just quit," said Popovich in an interview with Sam Amick of USA Today. "His focus is pretty unique, and something that we really respect."

We may be years away from that day, however: The way Duncan is playing these days, there’s no reason to walk away from the game just yet. He may already be the best power forward ever, but he still has time to remove the doubt from everyone’s mind.

Source: bleacherreport.com
Text

In some ways, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the team that many want the Philadelphia 76ers to be.

On the surface, the previous sentence may appear to be a mistake. After all, the Sixers have a better record from the Cavs, and are (sadly) only a few wins removed from playoff contention.

But as history as shown us, mediocrity is akin to a death sentence in the NBA. Under the league’s current competitive structure, it’s better to be bad than it is to be average, and Cleveland is as bad as they come.

Even so, the Cavs are a promising franchise centered around a dazzling young point guard (Kyrie Irving), and they’re only a couple of drafts/smart offseasons away from making some noise in Eastern Conference. There’s little preventing the Sixers from following that same blueprint, but in order to do so, they have to be willing to take a step or two backward in order to take a few steps forward. If they don’t, then the team’s title drought will continue well into its fourth decade.

During the game against the Cavs - the last home contest of the season - the 76ers will celebrate the accomplishments of the 1982-83 team that captured Philadelphia’s last professional basketball championship some 30 years ago.

And on what usually would have been Fan Appreciation Day down at the Wells Fargo Center, we here at Liberty Ballers would like to take a moment to express our appreciation and gratitude to those of you who have hung with us over these past six months. We’ve been through a lot this year - most of it unpleasant - and if losing builds character, then we’re all better people after this train wreck of a season.

There was the emergence of Jrue Holiday, followed by the brief love affair with Swaggy P. Jason Richardson sprained his ankle landing on a cameraman, and then he injured his knee by… just being old.

Maalik Wayns and Shelvin Mack both made an impression during their brief stints as Sixers, while Kwame Brown has been here all year and we’ve barely seen him. And between Orthokine, bone bruises, and cartilage grown in Petri dishes, we all became medical experts thanks to the presence (or lack thereof) of one Andrew Bynum.

We’ll always remember this year as the season that Thaddeus Young proved that he could be a solid option at power forward. The season that Damien Wilkins shot better than 49 percent after the All-Star Break. The season that the Sixers took (and missed) more long 2s than any other team in the league.

There were times where it seemed like Doug Collins spent more time looking at the box scores of Maurice Harkless and Nik Vucevic than he did coaching Arnett Moultrie. It wasn’t too long ago that Adam Aron gave Collins a vote of confidence at a recent town hall meeting, and now reports are that the front office wants their head coach to walk away from the final year of his deal.

With the end of the season-long marathon finally in sight, we’re left with more questions than we had at the beginning of the year. Are the Sixers willing to cut their losses with Bynum? Will the team bring back Collins for a lame duck season? Should we be worried about Holiday’s lack of production at the end of the year? Does Evan Turner fit into the team’s long-term plans?

No matter how you look at it, the Sixers are clearly at a crossroads…

*************************

Bone Thugs-n-Harmony - Tha Crossroads (DJ U-Neek Sixers Remix)

Bone Bone Bone Bone.. Bone.. Bone.. Bone.. Bone.. Bone

Now tell me whatcha gonna do

When Moultrie gets no run

When judgment comes for you, when judgment comes for you

Now tell me whatcha gonna do

When we only play for pride

When judgment comes for you (Cause it’s gonna come for you)

Head south, bring it in for Marc Z., Malik and even Molly

There’s Blue, but Doug’s got him and I’m gonna miss everybody

When Bynum collected a wage, we wondered when he would play

And then there’s Swaggy P, Nick’s too deep for me to say

Back when Kwame came to me, told me if he could sit out, well then please

Bury him on that bench was the plan, and when you can, DNP-CD

Doug bless you working on a plan for winning

Ride in the tank all 24/7 days

Lucy’s who we praise

Even though Adam Aron’s all up in my face

But he keeping me safe and in my place, say grace

For the case to tank, we couldn’t even give a nudge

Our draft position won’t budge

We live in a world that’s Doug’s

Ooh what can I do, it’s all about the Sixers and how we roll

Can I get a witness, let it unfold

We living our lives, no Oladipo, aye-oh-aye-oh

Prayyyyyyy, and we pray and we pray, and we pray, and we pray

That the guy that we take at 11 can play

And we pray, and we pray, and we pray, and we pray

In 9th place

Now listen up real slow

Losing games is Heaven

Come let’s go take a visit of people that’s long gone

Shelvin, Maalik, Maurice, Nik Vuc

We still wish they were part of the family

Exactly how many games we got lasting

While you laughing, we’re passing, passing away

So y’all go rest y’all souls

Cause I know I’ma meet you up at the crossroads

Y’all know y’all forever got love from the Night Shift, baby

Mo Cheeks is long gone

Really wish he would come home

But I want to pick high

Can’t believe my eyes

All a lil’ fan can do is cry, cry

Why they trade my dog, remember

When we had Sir Charles y’all

and he shoudn’t be gone, from his first home

When didn’t know who was wrong

Oh so wrong, oh so wrong

Gotta hold on gotta stay strong

When the day comes

Moses Malone got a shoulder you can lean on (lean on)

Hey… and we pray, and we pray, and we pray, and we pray

That the guy that we take at 11 can play

and we pray, and we pray, and we pray, and we pray

That the guy that we take at 11 can play

Sixers at the crossroads

Where’s Marc Iavaroni?

Sixers at the crossroads

Where is Andrew Toney?

Sixers at the crossroads

Where’s Marc Iavaroni?

Sixers at the crossroads

Where is Andrew Toney?

And I’m gonna miss everybody

And I’m gonna miss everybody (when Doug’s gone)

And I’m gonna miss everybody 

And I’m gonna miss everybody

And I’m gonna miss everybody (when Doug’s gone)

And I’m gonna miss everybody

Winning in a tanking world sending us straight to Hell (That’s how we roll)

Winning in a tanking world sending us straight to Hell (That’s how we roll)

Winning in a tanking world sending us straight to Hell (That’s how we roll)

I turn and ask Coach Collins “Why?” and sigh

He told me that we play for pride

What’s up with that winning y’all, Damien Wilkins and Thaddeus Young

You’re doing it wrong, you must not read our blog

Then Coach Collins wanted Ivey to ball, 

and nobody’s quitting and Doug intended on ending it when it ends

Wanna win again, again and again

Now tell me what’s he gonna do

Can somebody anybody tell me why?

Hey… can somebody anybody tell me why we can’t pick high?

Just want to pick high…

Ohhh so wrong

Ohhhhh wrong

Ohhh so wrong

Ohhhhh wrong

Sixers at the crossroads

Where’s Marc Iavaroni?

Sixers at the crossroads

Where is Andrew Toney?

Sixers at the crossroads

Where’s Marc Iavaroni?

Sixers at the crossroads

Where is Andrew Toney?

Source: libertyballers.com
Text

image

Chris Bosh referred to the members of the Miami bench as “the best supporting cast in the business,” and the leader of the Heat’s second unit will be an extremely valuable figure come playoff time.

It’s strange to think of Ray Allen as a role player: The 37-year-old shooting guard is a sure-fire Hall of Famer who helped lead the Boston Celtics to the 2008 NBA title. But when Allen decided to take his talents to Miami last July, he knew that he would play a supporting role behind Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

The Heat’s now infamous trio has already proven that they can carry most of the load on their own throughout the course of a grueling season. But on those rare off-nights when one (or more) of them can’t seem to get it going, one of the best understudies in the NBA is ready to go at a moment’s notice.

"I’ve always had the vision that it would it be great if he was on my team," said James in an interview with Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today back in December. "Just that threat, the guy who spaces the floor and can make clutch shots no matter what part of the game, no matter what the situation is."

Those who say that Allen is having a disappointing campaign aren’t paying close enough attention to the numbers. The 16-year veteran is fourth on the team in scoring with 10.7 points per game, and his per-36 minute averages (15.0 points, 3.9 rebounds) are pretty good for someone who has more than 1,300 career games to his credit.

The boxscore doesn’t tell the whole story, however: On the court, Allen has something of a symbiotic relationship with the Heat triumvirate. The attention focused on Wade, James and Bosh often leads to better looks for Allen, and his ability to knock down anything from 25 feet and in gives the others more room to operate in the half-court set.

It’s not a coincidence that Miami is shooting a league-best 43.9 percent from 16 to 23 feet this season. And as breathtaking as the Heat were on offense during their championship run, they’re even better with Allen in the fold. Miami’s Offensive Rating year-over-year has increased from 106.6 to 112.6, and the team is shooting nearly 50 percent from the field as a unit.

"You can see they are totally in tune with one another," said Atlanta Hawks’ coach Larry Drew in an interview with Zach Lowe of Grantland. "They play so unselfishly."

According to Synergy Sports, Allen is averaging an impressive 1.04 points per possession this season (31st in the NBA). Since the All-Star break, Allen has knocked down more than 44 percent of his three-point attempts and is a plus-140 over the Heat’s past 23 games.

Figures such as these often go overlooked when one plays in the shadow of men named James, Wade and Bosh. But not only do Allen’s coaches and teammates appreciate what he brings to the team, they know that he’ll be even better once the postseason begins in earnest.

A right ankle injury severely hampered the 37-year-old shooting guard in last season’s playoffs, and Allen shot just 39.5 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from beyond the arc. But even at less than 100 percent, Allen posted the lowest postseason Defensive Rating of his career (102) and still averaged 4.1 rebounds per game despite limited mobility.

The last time a healthy Allen entered the playoffs (2011), he averaged 18.9 points per game and shot a blistering 57.1 percent from three-point range. He won’t get nearly enough touches to approach those numbers, but as long as Allen knocks down the open jump shot more often than not, the Heat will have little difficulty rolling through the postseason.

Allen would have been rewarded handsomely had he decided to stay with the Boston Celtics, but he instead chose to join the Heat for (at least) one more title run. In the process, Miami didn’t just land one of the biggest bargains in free agency, but they also acquired a playoff-tested veteran who will pay huge dividends once the NBA’s second season gets underway.

Source: bleacherreport.com
Text

image

It’s almost inevitable at this point.

The San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat are set to meet in the NBA Finals this June, and there’s little that anyone can do about it.

Prepare to witness a battle between the old guard and the new era. The most successful franchise of the past 15 years will go head-to-head with a team that could be the league’s next dynasty. A coach with four NBA titles to his credit is set to square off against a man who was an advance scout for the Heat back when the Spurs won their first Larry O’Brien Trophy.

There’s no conspiracy to force any particular outcome, no back room machinations to assure that the other 14 playoff teams will fall by the wayside. Miami and San Antonio are simply the two best teams in the NBA, and the cream will ultimately rise to the top.

And even with an alleged disdain for all things Spurs, NBA Commissioner David Stern won’t have too many negative things to say if a Miami/San Antonio matchup is the last NBA Finals tilt during his reign.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to liken Spurs/Heat to a modern-day, roundball version of the infamous “Catholics vs. Convicts” tussle between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Miami Hurricanes back in 1988.

The Spurs, of course, would be the Catholics: the relatively clean-cut crew from middle America. A franchise that was able to build and sustain a dynasty by doing things “the right way” as former Spurs head coach Larry Brown would say.

San Antonio is a “superteam” in only the loosest definition of the term. Spurs general manager R.C. Buford’s fiefdom isn’t a result of three talented friends wanting to play together. Instead, a number of shrewd trades as well as a mastery of the draft has led to what may be the most underrated dynasty in the history of professional sports. The Spurs are the only team in NBA history that has won at least 50 games in 14 consecutive seasons.

Meanwhile, the men in the black hats (or jerseys, if you will) are the Miami Heat. The initial ire that came in the aftermath of “The Decision” has long since dissipated, but not everyone is on board with the Three Kings of South Beach. Much like “The U” in the late ’80s, Miami is the franchise that everyone either loves or loves to hate.

The Heat didn’t violate the league’s collective bargaining agreement in any way, but there are those who believe that the team somehow worked the system. That said, with two NBA Finals appearances and one championship to their credit in the past two years, maybe Miami is just ahead of the curve.

While the Heat have been dominant all year, they steamrolled through the league for the better part of the past two months, winning 27 games in a row. Yet despite only losing a single game since the Super Bowl, their record is nearly identical to that of the Spurs.

The respective marks of the two teams could have been identical at this point had San Antonio not pulled a little gamesmanship earlier in the season. Prior to the Spurs’ Nov. 29 game against the Heat, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green were all sent back to San Antonio.

The reasoning was simple: Popovich wanted to give a few key members of his rotation some much-needed rest after playing four games in six nights. Stern wasn’t happy with the decision, and subsequently fined the Spurs $250,000.

"The Spurs decided to make four of their top players unavailable for an early-season game that was the team’s only regular-season visit to Miami," wrote Stern in a statement issued by the NBA. "Under these circumstances, I have concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans."

Did Popovich owe fans an early-season playoff preview? Perhaps. But Spurs-Heat is the rivalry that isn’t: Miami and San Antonio haven’t played often enough to engender a genuine level of dislike. If anything, it’s more of a mutual admiration society, though that may change by Game 4 of the Finals.

"[San Antonio is] obviously a very, very, very good team," said Miami shooting guard Dwyane Wade prior to the Heat’s second matchup against the Spurs this season. "[Playing them is] not going to be easy but that’s kind of what we enjoy."

Strangely enough, a tough game against a Western Conference powerhouse may be just what Miami needs going into the homestretch. The Heat clearly lacked a sense of urgency near the end of their winning streak, and it was so obvious that even the most powerful man in the world noticed.

"I just want you to know the Heat are going to be just fine," said President Barack Obama when asked about the NBA’s hottest team back on Mar. 29. "They are playing basketball the right way."

Home-court advantage throughout the postseason is still up for grabs, and every game between now and the playoffs is vitally important for both Miami and San Antonio. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra is already on record saying that he’ll try to give his stars a game off here and there, but he may not have that luxury.

So while we aren’t sure yet where Game 1 of the NBA Finals will be held, we already know which two teams will be participating. We’ll just have to wait a couple of months before Heat-Spurs becomes a reality.

Source: bleacherreport.com
Text

Not only is John Wall the best player on the Washington Wizards’ roster, but he’s a franchise-type playmaker who has the tools to be a perennial All-Star.

Yet Wall’s name is often omitted whenever there’s a debate as to who the best young point guards in the NBA are—an odd circumstance for a man who put up 47 points, eight assists and seven rebounds against one of the best teams in the league.

Wall’s Player Efficiency Rating this season (20.20) ranks sixth among all point guards, and he has been nothing short of phenomenal so far during the month of March (21.8 PPG, 8.0 APG, 4.5 RPG, 1.9 SPG, 52.3 FG%), earning Player of the Week honors for the period ending March 17.

As the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, great things will be expected of Wall until the day he walks away from the game of basketball. The problem is that nearly three years into his career, we still don’t have any idea of how great he can be.

Wall has missed significant portions of two seasons due to various foot and knee injuries, and when the former Kentucky star has been on the court, he hasn’t always been surrounded by a talented supporting cast.

Things are different these days: Rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal is the perfect complement for Wall’s ability to blow past opposing defenders. Emeka Okafor is a consistent force in the middle who handles most of the Wizards’ dirty work, and Martell Webster has blossomed into a consistent long-range threat.

The playoffs are out of the question for Washington this season, but there’s more hope in the nation’s capital these days than there has been in years. And Wall is the main reason for the increased sense of optimism. In turn, he’s likely to receive more than just a pat on the back for his services.

"I feel like I’m a max guy, just on how I am as a person. I feel like I make my teammates better,” said Wall when asked about his contract status during a recent interview with J. Michael of CSN Washington.

Wall’s impact on the rest of his team is undeniable: Since the 22-year-old point guard returned to the lineup back on January 12, the Wizards have been playing at a .568 clip.

When Wall is on the court, Washington is 8.8 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents. Conversely, when their star point guard is on the bench, the Wizards shoot less than 42 percent from the field and average just 88.4 points per 48 minutes.

While Wall was recovering from a stress injury to his left patella earlier this season, Beal averaged just 13.1 points per game and shot a paltry 36.7 percent from the floor. Since Wall’s return, Beal is averaging 14.9 points per game and is shooting 45.6 percent from beyond the arc.

But while Wall excels at making his teammates better, there are still some notable deficiencies that are hard to ignore. Detractors will point out that Wall doesn’t have much of a long-range game to speak of, but despite a much improved jump shot, the third-year point guard is shooting a mildly respectable 45.5 percent from the floor since his return.

Furthermore, Wall’s career turnover rate of 18.7 percent doesn’t exactly scream “ball security”, and according to 82games.com, opposing point guards have typically outperformed him this year.

From a purely statistical point of view, one can in fact make a case against Wall receiving a max deal. Denver’s Ty Lawson and Golden State’s Stephen Curry have had comparable careers to Wall, and neither of them signed a max contract this past offseason.

Philadelphia’s Jrue Holiday made the Eastern Conference All-Star team earlier this year, and his four-year, $41 million deal appears to be in line with both his abilities and future potential.

But Wall’s value to the Wizards goes far beyond mere numbers in a box score. He isn’t just the cornerstone of Washington’s foundation—he’s the kind of player who can convince free agents to come play for the Wizards.

Allowing Wall to walk would mean starting over from scratch, and a franchise that has won just one playoff series in the past 30 years simply isn’t in a position to begin the rebuilding process yet again.

"If they believe I’m their franchise guy, that I’m the max player that I feel that I am, [the Wizards’ front office will] do what’s best for them," said Wall.

Washington isn’t foolish enough to let their star point guard walk without offering him a contract that’s commensurate with his true value to the team. But it remains to be seen if Wall will ultimately get the respect that he deserves from NBA fans.

Source: bleacherreport.com
Text

With power forward Pau Gasol fully recovered from a torn plantar fascia, Mike D’Antoni now has the unenviable task of integrating the four-time All-Star back into the Los Angeles Lakers’ rotation.

Fortunately for D’Antoni, he doesn’t need his 7’0” center to play the role of savior. The Lakers went 13-7 during Gasol’s absence, and the team broke the century mark in scoring 12 times over that stretch. Earl Clark did an admirable job holding down the power forward spot (he averaged 8.5 PPG and 6.4 RPG while starting in place of Gasol) and an even more impressive job of staying out of Kobe Bryant’s way.

Clark is little more than a role player, however. Dwight Howard is the star of the Lakers frontcourt, and the 27-year-old center is finally starting to resemble the player who the team traded for this past summer. Howard averaged 16.3 points and 13.8 rebounds while Gasol was on the shelf and appears to be more at home on offense than he was at the start of the season.

Much like Howard, Steve Nash is slowly getting accustomed to his niche in D’Antoni’s system. Instead of initiating the Lakers’ offense, Nash now allows Bryant to handle most of the ball-handling responsibilities. These days, Nash is more of a spot-up shooter than a textbook point guard—the 39-year-old playmaker has finished with 10 or more assists in a game just three times over the past two months.

To refer to Bryant as the Lakers’ “point guard” would be a bit of a stretch, but most of the team’s offensive plays start with the ball in his hands (many of them end the same way as well). In his last seven games (he missed two contests recently with a sprained ankle), Bryant has tallied eight or more assists on five times.

So with Howard assuming the role of the traditional big man, and with Bryant and Nash essentially switching positions, what does this all mean for Gasol? For starters, now that he’s no longer burdened by being the Lakers’ primary interior presence, he can focus on facilitating the offense: setting screens, making good passes and finding soft spots in opposing defenses.

In an interview with Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles, Gasol said:

"Once I get back into a better rhythm and get in better shape and start being more effective out there, I’ll try to do the right thing, make the extra pass and create a good flow out there. But I don’t want to get away from the other attributes that I do have and I think will be very helpful to our team."

Meanwhile, it’s entirely up to D’Antoni and the rest of the Lakers coaching staff to figure out the best way to utilize both Gasol and Howard simultaneously. While it’s clear that Gasol is most effective when he’s around the paint, half of his shot attempts in his first game back were taken more than 10 feet away from the basket.

D’Antoni and Gasol haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, however. Back in December, the two met for dinner one night after practice in order to iron out a few differences. They appear to be on the same page now, but if they aren’t, there isn’t much time left to bridge the gap.

"We can’t do anything in the playoffs without Pau being comfortable," D’Antoni said in an interview with Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated. "Pau is too talented and too good, Dwight is too talented and too good, not to figure it out."

But as we learned in Gasol’s first game back, it’s going to take a while before Gasol is back at 100 percent both physically and mentally.

D’Antoni has less than a month to go before the postseason to figure it all out, but the smart money says that the team will be able to work Gasol back into the lineup with very little disruption. And while the Lakers aren’t counting on Gasol to be a star by any means, he’ll have to play at a high level for the team to have any chance of going far in the playoffs.

Source: bleacherreport.com
Text

During most in-depth discussions of San Antonio Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich, there is at least one reference to “the system.”

Because of “the system,” Popovich—who just notched his 900th career victory—can get away with benching most of his starters and still come close to upsetting the defending champion Miami Heat. But more importantly, it also happens to be the reason why the Spurs recently became the first team in NBA history to win at least 50 games in 14 consecutive seasons.

The genesis of “the system” came back in 1996 when Gregg Popovich hired…himself. As San Antonio’s general manager and vice president of basketball operations, Popovich assumed the team’s bench duties after the Spurs fired head coach Bob Hill early in the 1996-97 season.

Without the services of David Robinson, thanks to a back injury, the Spurs got out to a 3-15 start that year, and the team’s dismissal of Hill was a bold change made in an attempt to save the season. “You have to be crazy to be doing what I’m doing today,” said Popovich upon replacing Hill.

More than 16 years later, a move that was unpopular at the time proved to be the best decision in the history of the San Antonio Spurs’ franchise.

His stint on the Spurs’ bench didn’t start off on the right foot, however: Popovich went 17-47 in his first year as head coach. In his defense, he was dealing with a roster that was decimated by injuries.

Both Robinson and Sean Elliott missed extended time that season, and by the end of the year, the team was forced to start 32-year-old journeyman Greg “Cadillac” Anderson and 37-year-old Dominique Wilkins.

The dark cloud that hung over the Spurs that season did have a silver lining, however: San Antonio’s struggles netted them the No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 NBA draft, and the team used that selection on Wake Forest power forward Tim Duncan.

The tandem of Robinson and Duncan would prove to be too much for the rest of the league to handle, and the Spurs would go on to win the NBA title during the lockout-shortened 1999 season. But even that campaign wasn’t all peaches and cream: San Antonio began the year with an 8-6 record, and there were plenty of calls for Popovich’s head.

"I also caused El Nino and tripped Mary Decker," joked Popovich at the time when the subject of his job security came up.

That would be the last time that Popovich ever had to worry about his employment status. The Spurs would go on to win 29 of their final 36 games that year before capturing the franchise’s first-ever championship.

Popovich’s journey to the mountaintop was extraordinarily quick for a man who cut his teeth as a coach during eight seasons at Pomona-Pitzer College. And with three additional titles to his credit (2003, 2005, 2007), Popovich has established himself as the best coach of the modern era not named “Phil Jackson.”

While most NBA bench bosses lead a nomadic lifestyle, San Antonio is the only place that Popovich has ever known as a head coach. Thanks to his ability to convince dozens of players to buy into “the system,” he is one of just two coaches to win 900 or more games with the same team (former Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan is the other).

Stephen Jackson swears by Popovich. Players who were once thought of as marginal talents—Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair, Bruce Bowen, Matt Bonner, Avery Johnson—have thrived in San Antonio. If, for some reason, a player doesn’t work out with the Spurs, it rarely appears to be Popovich’s fault.

But not everyone is a devotee of the “Tao of Pop.” Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports wrote earlier this season that NBA commissioner David Stern has had a long-standing dislike of the Spurs and their “uninteresting, unappealing and impossible to market” style of basketball.

So when Popovich decided to send four key players—Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green—home prior to the Spurs’ Nov. 30 meeting against the Miami Heat, the decision didn’t go over so well in the league office, and San Antonio was fined $250,000.

"The Spurs decided to make four of their top players unavailable for an early-season game that was the team’s only regular-season visit to Miami," said Stern in a statement issued by the league. "Under these circumstances, I have concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans."

The fact that it was San Antonio’s fourth game in five nights (and fifth game in seven nights) was inconsequential to Stern, but it meant everything in the Spurs’ head coach. And that’s part of the beauty of Popovich: He has no qualms about making unpopular decisions that he feels are in the best interests of his team going forward.

His is a macro view: Winning a single game is far less important than bringing home a championship. And that alone explains why Popovich sits his veteran starters multiple times a year to save their legs for the playoffs.

Why he makes no excuses for using a potential Hall of Fame shooting guard—Manu Ginobili—off of the bench. And why, when things don’t quite go as planned, Popovich is not above substituting in five players at one time in order to make a point.

Unlike the schemes employed by most head coaches, “the system” itself has evolved over time: In the early years of the Popovich Era, Stern’s alleged description was rather apt: The average fan didn’t find San Antonio basketball all that enjoyable to watch. But with Duncan and Robinson patrolling the middle, there was little reason (and/or incentive) to run up and down the court at a breakneck pace.

Things have changed quite a bit over the past couple of years as Duncan is now in the twilight of his career. Defense is still a key tenet of Popovich’s philosophy, but the Spurs’ offense plays at a much faster tempo than in years past. In each of the past two seasons, San Antonio has been among the top eight teams in the NBA in terms of pace, and most of their scoring now is provided by their wing players.

And those perimeter players are well aware that they need to be ready at a moment’s notice. Because of injury (and whatever else may be going on in Popovich’s head at the time), 13 different players have started a game for San Antonio this season. That type of instability would wreck most teams, but then again, most teams aren’t the Spurs.

And most coaches aren’t Gregg Popovich. No doubt, 900 victories later, it’s clear that “the system” works. But whether the system can do anything to calm the waters between Popovich and Stern is another matter entirely.

Source: bleacherreport.com
Text

image

The sad reality is that Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra will never truly get the respect that he deserves.

It’s unfortunate, really. After all, Spoelstra is a self-made man whose meteoric rise all but epitomizes the American dream. But the lack of credit that he’ll receive for leading the current iteration of the Heat is an unfavorable by-product of the situation.

The prevailing thought in the minds of plenty of basketball fans is that Spoelstra is supposed to win. With the best player in the world (LeBron James) and two other All-Stars (Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) at his beck and call, Spoelstra is a failure in some people’s eyes every year he doesn’t bring a title back to South Beach.

Those types of expectations come with the territory. Phil Jackson’s accomplishments are discounted to this day, and all he did was win more championships than any man in the history of professional basketball. It doesn’t matter that others coached the Michael Jordan/Scottie Pippen and Shaquille O’Neal/Kobe Bryant duos to far less success than Jackson did: With that type of talent at your disposal, there’s little room for excuses.

Much like Jackson, Spoelstra is extremely skilled at managing egos. Somehow, he took three star players—three men who were each the alpha dog on their respective teams—and convinced each of them that sacrificing a bit of themselves was necessary for the greater good.

It took a while for the trio to buy in—the 9-8 start in Year One had more than a few pundits predicting the return of Pat Riley to the sideline—but once they did, the Miami Heat became the most dominant team in all of professional sports.

Back in Cleveland, James was a fantastically gifted player who could do whatever he wanted to on a basketball court and was widely considered the game’s premier talent. Three years later, the narrative on James hasn’t changed all that much, but there is one noticeable difference: Thanks to Spoelstra, he’s much more efficient now than ever before.

These days, James has cut down on the long jumpers and has focused on taking more high-percentage shots. As a result, his shooting percentage is at an all-time high, and both his field-goal and three-point percentages have steadily increased in each of his three seasons in Miami.

The average Player Efficiency Rating in the NBA is 15.00—over the past two seasons, James’s PER has been more than double that.

James isn’t the only one who has benefited under Spoelstra’s tutelage: Wade (who is enjoying something of a career resurgence) and Bosh are also shooting better from the field this season than they ever have before, and the Heat as a team have made nearly half of their field-goal attempts this year.

To many, Spoelstra will never be much more than a glorified video coordinator who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Those same people will ignore the fact that Spoelstra has been a member of the Heat coaching staff since 1997 and was named the team’s director of scouting in 2001.

As he has made his way up the Miami hierarchy, Spoelstra has always made it a point to emphasize the fundamentals of the game. After Wade’s rookie year, the 23-year-old guard worked with Spoelstra to smooth out the rough spots in his shooting form. The following season, Wade earned Second Team All-NBA honors as he averaged 24.1 points and 6.8 assists per game (compared to just 16.2 PPG and 4.5 APG as a rookie).

Spoelstra stresses ball security more than most coaches, and he knows that smarter, deliberate possessions will ultimately lead to better (and more) scoring opportunities.

"If we force turnovers and win the turnover game," said Spoelstra in an interview with Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com, "that’s the most important thing."

In reality, the most important thing is winning basketball games, and Spoelstra has the third-highest winning percentage among active coaches (Tom Thibodeau and Gregg Popovich are first and second, respectively). And while Spoelstra may never receive the adoration that is bestowed upon the elite head coaches in the NBA, the jewelry on his hands will ultimately speak for itself.

Source: bleacherreport.com
Link

A Day in The Life: Rhea Hughes, WIP

A piece that I wrote on a day spent behind the scenes at the 94 WIP Morning Show…

Source: 215mag.com
Text

The Los Angeles Clippers made a strong play for Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, but the 17-year veteran refused all overtures to waive his no trade clause.

According to Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald, Chris Paul even offered to pull some strings behind the scenes, but Garnett stood firm.

Unfortunately for the Clippers, the lack of a proven center may come back to haunt them this postseason.

A Clippers’ frontcourt of Garnett and Blake Griffin would have been absolutely devastating and could have given the team the boost that it needs to knock off the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. With all due respect to DeAndre Jordan, Garnett is simply better on both ends of the court, even at 36 years of age.

While Jordan has taken all of 16 shots from outside of the paint this season, Garnett excels from mid-range, knocking down 48 percent of his jumpers from 16-to-23 feet this season.

Jordan’s limitations on offense are compounded by the fact that his terrible free-throw shooting (42.9 percent on the season) makes him a liability during crunch time. According to HoopData, Jordan averages just four-and-a-half minutes of playing time in the fourth quarter of Clippers games this year.

While getting swept in the Western Conference Semifinals last season, the tandem of Griffin and Jordan were outrebounded by the combination of Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw. Garnett, meanwhile, if ranks No.15 in the league in defensive rebound rate (24.9 percent).

Jordan has made a name for himself thanks to his prowess at blocking shots, but the 6’11” Garnett is a better overall defender. Garnett’s defensive rating this season is 98.4 (ninth in the league), and he has made the NBA’s All-Defensive team in 12 of the past 13 seasons.

Oddly enough, the Clippers are a better defensive team when Jordan is off of the court.

According to 82games.com, L.A. gives up 8.1 fewer points per 100 possessions when Jordan is on the bench. By comparison, the Celtics allow 9.6 more points per 100 possessions when Garnett isn’t in the game.

If the numbers are any indication, the Clippers should have been more aggressive with the Celtics in order to get a trade pushed through. As a guest on WEEI’s “Mut and Merloni”, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports suggested that if the Celtics truly wanted to deal Garnett, they could have just traded Paul Pierce first.

With Pierce gone and Rondo injured, it’s highly unlikely that Garnett would have wanted to serve as the anchor of a rebuilding project. And given the Clippers’ interest, as well as Garnett’s residence in Malibu, Calif., the “Big Ticket” may have chosen to punch a ticket to finish his career out West.

Instead, the Clippers are in pretty much the same position that they were a year ago. They’re still roughly a notch below the power teams out West (as evidenced by their 26-point home loss to the Spurs on Feb. 21) and perhaps two notches below the Miami Heat.

The allure of “Lob City” can only last for so long: At some point, the Clippers will need to prove on the court that they’re truly the best team in Los Angeles.

Source: bleacherreport.com