Posts Tagged ‘NBA’

Derrick Rose is an amazing basketball talent and there is almost nothing he cannot do on the court.   But after only three games of the monster NBA Eastern Conference finals series with the Miami Heat it has become abundantly clear to me that the real MVP of the NBA is not playing on the Chicago Bulls.  Lebron James had a relatively quiet scoring night (22 points) in game three but he was absolutely the most dominant and “valuable” player on the court.

In almost 44 minutes LBJ put home 22 points on 6 of 13 shooting (9 for 9 at the free throw line) to go along with 6 big rebounds and a stellar 10 assists with zero turnovers.  When the ball was in his hands the Bulls were on their toes with something seemingly good about to happen for the Miami Heat, whether he found the open man or just used his massive frame to get into the lane and ultimately on the free throw line.

Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have definitely helped take the load off of Lebron James, which was the whole point of him signing with the Heat but the real MVP of this series and really the entire NBA season is none other than Lebron James.  An MVP has the ability to dominant the play for extended minutes and make the players around him better on a nightly basis, can we really say with a straight face that Derrick Rose does this better than LBJ?

As much as it probably pains a lot of people around the NBA after watching the playoffs unfold thus far there is no doubt who the best player in the game truly is.  In fact as opposed to becoming irrelevant or “out of the conversation” I think the exact opposite is happening, Lebron is showing everybody he might still go down as the best player to ever play the game of basketball.

Lebron’s struggled in game one (as did the entire Heat team) as he scored only 15 points on a paltry 5 of 15 shooting night but even taking that game into consideration he has made Derrick Rose look like just another good player, but not an MVP of the league.  Lebron has scored only 3 fewer points, has shot better, rebounded better, and more importantly has even more assists than the point guard Rose.

Lebron James is the best player in the NBA by a wide margin and the Miami Heat are going to beat the Chicago Bulls on their way to the NBA finals.  Although Lebron James going to Miami was supposed to take him out of any MVP discussions the fact is there is nobody more valuable to their teams than the best player of the past 10-15 years.

Lebron James could and should have been the NBA’s most valuable player in 2010/11 and honestly if he so choose he could have strung off ten or more MVPs in a row given his talents and new situation in Miami.  I am not afraid to say I was completely wrong when I felt he was going to make major personal sacrifices when he decided to “take his talents” to South Beach.

Scoring, rebounding, shot blocking, defensive presence, size/strength and playmaking Lebron James has no equal.  Scary to think but he is actually better than ever and the true MVP.

Lebron James and Dwyane Wade have been on quite a roll over the past few weeks as the Miami Heat have fired off a ten game winning streak since last tasting defeat on November 27, 2010 to the Dallas Mavericks (in Dallas).  Some have anointed them as the best team in the game now and they have finally “arrived” or “gelled” but until last night nobody has seemed to mention that another team in the Eastern Conference is on quite a little tear as well.

When Paul Pierce went into his trademark dribble drive followed by a pull-up 12-13 foot jump shot and nailed it with 0.4 seconds to go in a thrilling comeback victory for the Boston Celtics at Madison Square Garden (a great game by the way) people discovered that the Celtics are on a bit of a streak as well.  The final dagger was almost nullified by a last second three-point shot that came just after the buzzer by New York Knicks stud power forward Amar’e Stoudemire. 

After the replay showed the shot was no good the Celtics had officially won their eleventh game in a row and are continuing to show that the East runs through them, the “Big Two” in Miami be damned.  Now I am not going to say the Heat haven’t been playing a more inspired brand of basketball and to reel off ten wins in a row is an accomplishment to itself but the Heat haven’t exactly been playing the stiffest of competition.

The cumulative records of the teams they have recently defeated (including beating the Cleveland Cavaliers twice) was an uninspiring 101-147, a .407 winning percentage.  Not exactly a who’s who of winning ball clubs and their only real impressive victory over the past ten games was a road victory in Utah against the super strong Jazz.  Sure, New Orleans (15-10) and Atlanta (16-10) have decent records but truth be told both teams have been playing horrible basketball for nearly a month.

This is not to say the Boston Celtics haven’t roughed up a few lacklustre NBA teams but since their last loss in Toronto versus the Raptors on November 21, 2010 the Celtics have beaten the surging New York Knicks, steady Denver Nuggets and the tough Chicago Bulls.  Combined the records of the past 10 teams they have defeated (they beat New Jersey twice) is 122-145, good for a .457 winning clip.  Again nothing to brag about but a pretty big difference when compared to the Heat’s hit list.

A lot can happen with so many games left to be played but as I see it now barring a Carmelo Anthony trade to the New York Knicks it appears the East will be a two team battle all season between the defending conference champion Boston Celtics and the “chosen” team down in South Beach.  This would make for an interesting playoff series with the hardnosed, battle tested Celtics trying to stave off father time and the new kids on the block from Miami.

A lot of interesting story lines, matchups, beefs and grudges in what could prove to be one of the best playoff series in recent memory.  Whichever team emerges victorious in the bloody battle had better hope they have some gas left in the tank as the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers will be anxiously awaiting the survivor, and will give no inch or show any mercy.

Not with the deadliest assassin since MJ firmly in control, the ruthless Kobe Bryant.

Losing a player with the abilities and talents of Chris Bosh is a tough pill to swallow.  Bosh was a gamer and a highly skilled player who was also fiercely competitive, his 24 ppg and 10 rpg is something you do not simply replace.  Chris Bosh was a star player, and in the NBA that means a few things.  First, you get calls (even marginal) and that will send you to the free-throw line, a lot, Bosh had a career high in FTA and FTM last season.  Second, you draw attention and the extra man, which frees up teammates and allows them to get into open space and hopefully take advantage offensively. 

Chris Bosh was also a facilitator, he often had plays run through him and he was excellent at reading the double team and finding the proper outlet, a skill that simply takes years to hone.  How often do you see a newbie big man dribble himself into trouble or turn the ball over repeatedly as they just do not have the court vision or awareness that year’s in the league brings.  Chris Bosh was also a solid teammate and an above average defensive rebounder given his relatively slight frame for the power forward position.  Bosh really stepped up his hustle game and made sure he was consistently attacking the basketball – that is all that makes a league average rebounder, hustle.

However, Chris Bosh was not without his weak points also.  Bosh was not a dominant low post player, he has shown he can be easily pushed around by a stronger big man and in all of the years he was with Toronto he could never quite carry them to the next level for any real extended periods of time.  His supporting cast, while not legendary was never completely horrendous.  Another worry for me with Bosh long term is the wonky knee, have you seen the size of that knee brace?  Images of a Jermaine O’Neal type decline just cannot escape my mind and I think he has already shown some signs that he just might be beginning to slowly break down. 

Bosh has improved his physique over the years which will bode well for the coming battles with Dwight Howard, but the Miami Heat better hope they pick up some much needed size and physicality to match up against some of the other bigger Eastern teams or they will get pounded down low.  I foresee some extremely intense battles in the coming season against the Celtics and Shaquille O’Neal, even if he doesn’t guard O’Neal, it appears O’Neal has a grudge against Bosh in some shape or form (think RuPaul)  so the bodies and elbows might be flying and that is a battle Bosh simply cannot win.

The biggest question remains how will the Raptors manage without their franchise star forward?  It appears they want to play an extremely up-tempo offensive game and they have even reworked their roster to be a little more defensively aware.  It’s hard to blame Bryan Colangelo for the Bobcat trade being reneged (would have landed them a solid centre in Tyson Chandler and swingman Boris Diaw while also disposing of the terrible Jose Calderon contract), he has proven to be a mover and a shaker and I think the team is still in great hands and in fact I think the franchise will be better sans Bosh going forward. 

The question was asked internally and will probably be questioned by his current employer in a few years, is Chris Bosh really worthy of being a MAX guy?  Even with Bosh’s weaknesses and drawbacks you just don’t simply replace the man you decided was your franchise player and the 24&10 that accompanied him on a nightly basis.  But we have discussed Chris Bosh ad nauseum and it’s time for all to move on and set our sights on the future, which certainly isn’t as bleak as most think. 

For any immediate success the Raptors will have to see some serious internal development year over year and two prime candidates for breakout seasons have to be the new power forward Andrea Bargnani and our 1st round pick from last season shooting guard Demar Derozan.  With Bargnani sliding into his natural position (or best suited) I think the best is yet to come with the silky smooth 7’0” Italian born shooter.  With improved strength and increased overall confidence I think Bargnani will definitely average 20+ points per game and with a little extra hustle (the key ingredient to a successful rebounder) could bump his rebound totals to 8-9 a game.  In short, I think Bargnani will take his game to a much higher level this season.

Demar Derozan was the talk of the latest NBA Summer League as he basically dominated each game from beginning to end, which was the reasoning behind sending him.  When I watched Derozan he reminded me of a young Tracy McGrady in terms of raw athleticism and natural ability.  If Derozan takes a big step forward in his development this season, that could go a very long way in helping to replace the 24 points coming off the books [Chris Bosh departing].  He has packed on some additional muscle and with the increased strength should come an even more explosive attack the rim style.

Another player I am extremely excited to watch game in and game out is the “Brazilian Blur” Leandro Barbosa.  Although he has battled injuries the past few seasons he has the ability to be an impact scorer (he averaged 18 PPG off the bench in Phoenix only a couple seasons ago) and it will be interesting to see how Jay Triano utilizes his new guard.  Will he save him for the second unit and the first man off the bench to hopefully punish the opposition guards (and wear them out) or will Barbosa find himself in the starting unit for basically the first time in his career? 

Small forward Linus Kleiza brings more of an edge and can be a fairly reliable bench scorer and possible starter.  Everybody remembers the baseline dunks that he will showcase from time to time and he brings the toughness and grit that we have been seriously lackingSonny Weems shouldn’t be underestimated and he has a lot of reasons to improve his overall game, money being the primary motivator after seeing his good buddy Amir Johnson sign a shiny new contract don’t think Weems doesn’t want to get his.  Weems has all the tools and raw athletic ability you could ask for but he needs to continue to develop that mid-range jumper and overall consistency to his game.

Speaking of Amir Johnson I have to admit I am a huge fan of his game, the guy gets up and down the court, is an outstanding rebounder and I believe has untapped offensive abilities but does not dominate the ball or require plays run through him to be an effective scorer.  Foul trouble has haunted him over his career but something tells me we are going to see a much improved and matured version of Johnson over the life of his contract, his best basketball is still to come.

It appears now that the chances of trading Jose Calderon are slim to none and our point guard situation will again be the two-headed monster of Calderon and Jarrett Jack, which isn’t the best duo in the league but teams could do worse.  Calderon for all the criticism has been a fairly consistent offensive player for most of his Raptors career, he is extremely efficient running the team’s offense and if a defensive scheme or system can be put in place to lessen the impact of his woeful on the ball defence the Raptors would still get plenty of value out of Calderon.

Wildcards for this season include Julian Wright (6’8” swingman who is an athletic defender) and Ed Davis (undersized but very athletic rebounder and strong defender).  Hopefully there is some available playing time for them to develop.  Joey Dorsey (likely NBADL bound)honestly has the physique of Dwight Howard and he looked liked an absolute monster in the summer league, he obviously isn’t even close to the same type of super-athlete that Howard is, but man that body.  Solomon Alabi is another intriguing big man who will likely see limited minutes and opportunities in a suddenly relatively deep pool of big men.

The Raptors have the trade exemption still firmly in hand, and with a few teams looking to unload, this could prove to be a valuable chip.  We also have more long term financial flexibility and what I feel is at least the beginning of a stronger team overall given the system we wish to employ.  Although though they are criticized for being too Euro-centric in their draft/sign strategy, I am afraid this will have to likely continue as it has become abundantly (and loudly) clear that American born African-American ballers just do not see Toronto as a serious and viable market for their tastes. 

Most will agree and some players have gone on record saying TO is the spot to visit for road trips (almost all the NBA ballers hit up Caribana annually) and even Sir Charles Barkley recently called Toronto “One of the ten best cities in the world” but whether it be the cultural differences, hockey mania, higher taxes or just the fact they do not get the desired American TV exposure (and the potential for milk moustaches) they do not want to commit their prime playing years to this city and scene.

Still, fact is, money talks and the Raptors will have some to spend in the coming years, and lets be real outside of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami, is there really a better all-around city in North America to spend prolonged time in than Toronto?  We will still continue to bring in talent, as we always have, this time we need to add the missing equation – sustained meaningful and winning basketball. 

What’s the old adage, if you build it, they will come?

BallHype: hype it up!

Why did I have trouble getting to sleep, was this really worth of all the fuss and attention, did I just get caught up in all of the hype created by ESPN?  Whatever it was, it had the whole world captivated during a horribly produced, lacklustre and at times boring/awkward one hour special called simply “The Decision”.

As a fairly serious and relatively experienced poker player I wanted to try and read Lebron James body language.   Upon hearing the mumbled words “Miami Heat” I looked at James reaction, his facial expression and overall demeanour.  My first thought was it appeared that he regretted his decision almost immediately, his eyes instantly peered downward and he looked deflated and maybe even slightly defeated, he certainly didn’t come across as a man fully confident with his choice. 

Lebron James choosing the Miami Heat, with superstars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh firmly in-toe was James admitting that he was not capable of being “the guy”, that he needed help in his quest for greatness, for a championship.  I often get annoyed when all great young ballplayers have the inevitable comparison to the greatest champion and player of all time – Michael Jordan.  But as “The Decision” was being rammed down the collective throats of sports fans worldwide I could not help but think “what was Mike thinking”.

Michael Jordan is the biggest icon and marketing machine nearly of all time, his brand and his name has never ‘lost it’, his style and swagger have persevered through a few rough patches – an awful minor league baseball career, stories of gambling and adultery, “Floor Jordan” in Washington and the controversial Hall of Fame acceptance speech that left more than a few people empty and a bit sour.  However, in his prime playing days, would Michael Jordan have put the city of Chicago through what Lebron put Cleveland fans through?

Imagine for a minute that back in the 1980s Michael Jordan after being defeated in a playoff series after clearly not playing his best basketball hold a news conference and state to the world, “I cannot beat them, so I am going to be joining the Pistons.”  Michael Jordan at one point was defeated while playing some of the best basketball in his illustrious career.  He was defeated for the first seven years of his career, just like Lebron James.  Admitting he wasn’t capable or talented enough to lead a team on his own was not part of Jordan’s DNA code and Jordan’s response to his adversity was simply to work harder, practise longer, sacrifice, battle and endure.

Lebron James for all the talk of winning championships (multiple according to him) took the easy way out as he is about to join a super-team, a team that will be soundly booed league wide, and a team that will have three superstars used to the bright lights and spotlight shining firmly on them, and only them.  James was on a path to immense greatness and the personal stats (nearly an average of a triple-double) he put up in his first seven years are on par with legends past.  Simply put, he was starting to be in the conversation of the greatest ballplayer of all time, I feel that conversation is over.

One championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers would have been worth three or four titles in Miami, the city of Cleveland is starving for a champion, for a glimmer of a champion, for a glimmer of hope.  Lebron James built that organization into something of a marvel, Cleveland basketball was relevant and even influential.  James isn’t leaving some sad-sack team that just couldn’t compete with the big boys, they were the big boys – the Cleveland Cavaliers had the top record in the NBA in 2009/2010!

The Miami Heat will be a force to be reckoned with, this point I cannot dispute without being a fraud.  They might not win in their first season together, but if/when the pieces start to fit together and if the ego’s can be firmly checked at the beach the Heat could be something extraordinary.  But the plain truth is that the individual legacy for Lebron James will be forever tarnished. 

After he made his choice to go to South Beach I had to turn on NBA TV to see what the pundits and experts were saying.  “The heir to Michael Jordan now dies with Kobe Bryant” Chris Webber stated.  “I think we can safely take Lebron James out of that equation.”  Most of the reaction was similar, that he was admitting defeat, that he was a front-runner, he couldn’t be the man the way Michael Jordan was the man.

James numbers are going to surely decline as there is no way around sharing the ball and touches with Dwayne Wade (who absolutely dominates the ball when he is on his game).  James has been a scoring champion, and MVP twice and basically the league’s pre-eminent player since his rookie season.  The NBA is a numbers oriented game and its players are judged by their stats accordingly.  If his numbers slip from 29/8/7 to 20/6/5 in my mind unless they reel off five or six championships in six or seven seasons his legacy will be forever lessened. 

MJ not only led the league in scoring and took his game to heights not yet seen, he also led his team to the Promised Land on six occasions, sure he had Scottie Pippen to ride shotgun, but mostly the teams assembled in Chicago were built entirely around Michael’s skills and talents, almost perfectly I might add. 

The Heat undoubtedly owns the best 2-3-4 combo in the league, but they are not without some lingering doubts:

*Are Wade and James going to be in sync, able to defer and play off each other as opposed to dominating the ball for long stretches of games?

*Who takes the final shot?  What animosity or jealousy will build due to this?

*Will Chris Bosh (oh yeah, he is on the team too?) live with being the forgotten man?  When we talk drop in numbers, could Bosh’s PPG be cut in half – Bosh averaged 24 per game last season?

*Injuries – Have you seen the size of Bosh’s knee brace, is a Jermaine O’Neal style decline not out of the question for the slightly built Bosh? 

Dwayne Wade has not exactly been the model of perfect health himself and the reckless abandon his style of play produces isn’t exactly a pre-cursor for future health – think Allen Iverson.

*Salary cap – The Heat still need to fill out a roster and will have 70-80% of their payroll tied up in three players, albeit three great players, this is still a legitimate concern.

*Chemistry – Some say this is overrated, but it can be a tricky thing for a basketball team, especially one under the microscope this one will be under.  Reporters will be searching for angles, stories, dissension in the ranks and any chinks in the armour.  How long until the first story breaks that one of Wade or James are unhappy with the current situation – even if it is not founded? 

So how does the story end?  Well, the players are signed for five or six seasons – depending on player options.  There will be a honeymoon phase, a transition period, a championship season and a moment of clarity.  We are clearly in the honeymoon phase, where nothing can possibly go wrong, and it’s all smiles, hugs, twitters and parties (in Miami). 

The transition period will start after training camp this October when it becomes real, when reality hits that suddenly they are the only player on the team that matters, that the ball does not necessarily run solely through James/Wade/Bosh.  This is clearly the most important period, when the ego’s must be checked, when the players must look in the mirror and backup their rhetoric about winning being the only thing that matters.

I would have to think the Heat will win at least one NBA Championship, they will straighten out any roster or salary cap issues for at least one season and get the ring that James and Bosh both covet.  But the NBA will adjust, teams will find a way and other big moves will be made – there is already talk of a New York trio of Chris Paul, Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, could this be the new trend for team building? 

The moment of clarity could come at any point, and it could come to one of the “Big three” at any moment in time.  The realization will come that their talents are rare, and they are being stifled and wasted, that they should be leading a team and taking their games to new heights as opposed to passively deferring.  Therein lies the danger of such an unprecedented move for an NBA franchise, never before has this been done so we do not have a barometer for success or failure or a model to judge it against.  With all due respect to the Celtics trio of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce I do not think anybody would argue that all three were in the early stages of their prime years.

All I know is as much as I try to pretend not to care about the NBA anymore; the truth is I couldn’t be more intrigued to see what the future holds.   I lost about half a night worth of sleep, I wonder if Lebron James will lose more when he suddenly realizes that “The decision” was the wrong one if he wanted to ever truly be considered the greatest basketball player to ever live. 

This loyal Raptor fan says “GO Lakers!”