Tag Archives: Chicago Bulls

The Revenge of Steph Curry

I know what you’re thinking, “That’s a weird title for this article”, right? I mean, why of all people, would Stephen Curry want any sort of revenge? He may have had one of the greatest seasons a professional athlete could have had last season. He was the MVP of the NBA. He was the most popular player (in jersey sales and all-star votes), his team had one of the greatest seasons in NBA history (83 wins regular season + playoffs) that was capped off by winning the NBA Finals, and he turned his family into celebrities (especially his daughter Riley…… & his hot Momma). What more can you ask for? You’d be right to ask that question. He should be happier than anyone can imagine coming into this season, & I’m sure he was. But then a funny thing happened in the NBA right after Curry & his teammates popped champagne in Cleveland’s visiting locker room….. 

…… July happened.

Outside of the playoffs, the free agency period in July is the most exciting time of the NBA season, and this past off-season didn’t fail to bring the excitement and the drama. The Spurs reloaded with LaMarcus Aldridge & scooped up David West for the cost of a Wendy’s Value Meal (at least that’s what it felt like). The rival Clippers got back DeAndre Jordan, & picked up Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith, & maybe more importantly, Paul Pierce. OKC retained their free agents (Enes Kanter) + got their superstar back in Kevin Durant. Across the country, the LeBronvaliers restocked the entire kitchen cupboard & the basement with groceries like one of those old Supermarket Sweep shows resigning all their free agents, plus Mo Williams and a rejuvenated Richard Jefferson. Even Houston stole Ty Lawson from the Denver Nuggets for peanuts (depending on if you think adding Lawson was an incredible deal for Houston, which I wasn’t crazy about this summer). Once free agency settled down, the rumbles of doubt started vibrating about the Warriors chances to repeat. Adding to that, the NBA Players Association launched their first ever Players Awards show (on BET of all channels) in July. When they gave out their MVP awards, it went out to the official NBA MVP runner-up James Harden, which I guess was fine. What wasn’t fine was the general comments from all the players who attended the awards show, “this is the real MVP award”, trying to more or less devalue the MVP award that Curry just recently won. An award that’s been around for about 50 years. Now if you’re Curry, heading into your training for the summer, how exactly are you supposed to feel about this? 

A large part of how an athlete drives themselves is based on challenges and slights. Having to prove you can achieve your goals athletically to yourself first, then to everyone else afterwards. Your peers, your coaches starting from as far back as high school, your region, & the proving net that you cast starts to get wider and wider the more that you grow into your craft. Steph Curry is no different. A son of one of the best shooters in NBA history (Dell), Steph not only had to prove that he was good enough to escape his father’s shadow, but because of his slight build, he had to escape the stigma of not being athletic, or big enough to make something out of himself in the basketball world. With only one scholarship offer coming out of high school, he ended up at Davidson, a small, mid-major college program. Within 3 years he became one of the best players in the nation, leading his mid major college to a magical Elite 8 journey in the 2008 March Madness tournament. Once he got drafted in the lottery by Golden State in 2009, he had to prove that what he did in college as well as his size could correlate to the NBA, especially when he was paired in the backcourt with a similarly built Monta Ellis. He fought off the challenges of those stigmas (including from his own teammate), fought of the ankle injuries that plagued him his 1st few seasons & became an all-star level player. By the end of the Warriors 2013 playoff run, Steph had officially arrived under the brightest lights. Whatever doubts he had earlier in his career was erased by coach Mark Jackson, who boosted his confidence like Bhundini Brown used to do for Muhammad Ali. Once the coaching change occurred last year & Steve Kerr took over, Steph’s game, as well as his teammates escalated to an even higher level, which resulted not only with all the accolades they could achieve, but also becoming by far the most exciting team to watch in the league.

Now after getting to the level that Steph did last season, how does he continue to get better when he’s reached the mountaintop? If you’re a self motivator & care deeply about your craft at that level, you will get better. But how do you reach “generational” status? In some case, perceived slights and challenges can account for something. Curry trained to the point that his handles are somehow even tighter, his shot has somehow improved from last season, and he now finishes better around the basket than ever before. When Curry and the rest of his teammates had to hear the comments again in the pre-season that they were lucky to win, & have Harden still talking about how he still feels snubbed for the MVP award five months later, they didn’t respond back in the politically correct way, which I loved. Their responses were sarcastic, annoyed, & in some cases “Shots Fired” worthy. You could see the level of disrespect felt in full view, and they made it a point to exact their “It’s like that? Ok, well F*** YOU THEN!” Revenge world tour on the league right from opening night. And it hasn’t stopped since.

We’ve seen a great example of this before in this sport. Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player the world has ever seen in almost all arguments that you want to make, right? In 1995, when he played in the Eastern Conference semis vs. Orlando right after his 1st comeback, Nick Anderson stole the ball from him during the end of Game 1, that helped them lose the game & became a foreshadowing example for the Bulls ultimately losing the series. That summer, after hearing people start to question if Jordan would ever be dominant again, MJ trained maniacally to the point that by August, people who played in the now infamous pick-up runs on the Warner Brothers parking lot (where MJ was filming Space Jam) all swore that he was “back, back”. That revenge factor & the playoff failures fueled him to his second 3-peat of the 1990’s. I remember that ’95 – ’96 season when they won 72 games, they treated the contenders & the lottery bound teams with the exact same disdain. They wanted to cut their hearts out as fast and as ruthless as possible, & Jordan was their ringleader in all ways. That ruthless, relentless approach defined that particular season for them. No better example was shown in a loss to the expansion Raptors team. 1st year team from Toronto led by their rookie Damon Stoudemire beating one of the greatest teams ever assembled by one point was an amazing feat. It’s a game that still shows on NBA TV Canada every now & again. However, the best part of that game is when Jordan shot a fadeway just after the buzzer, that banked in off the side corner of the glass, a shot that’s basically impossible to replicate. Even back then I remember celebrating with my family. Then the shot went in & we all basically yelled out, “Oh f***!”, & shaking our heads way after the game was over. It was like in the movies when you jump in the getaway car & start laughing as you drive away from the bad guys, and while you’re laughing they still manage to shoot out the back window. No one gets hurt, but it still scares the shit out of you the rest of the drive to safety.

Until this year, I haven’t seen a championship level team come into a season with that kind of mindset since the fall of ’95. Twenty years later, we have the Warriors getting off to the greatest start in NBA history with no signs of slowing down, and are being led by the reigning MVP who’s entering a legendary level that has rarely been seen. Watching Curry play right now makes you feel like he can do anything on the basketball court & it feeds into the mentality of his entire team. He has become the best basketball on the planet at the moment, the most dangerous player to be fearful of at all times, and the most exciting player to watch. Like Bird, Magic, Jordan, Duncan, Shaq, Kobe, and LeBron, Curry has reached a level to watch that’s a mixture of awe & inspiration for everyone involved (fans, opponents, teammates, peers). He’s also entering the prime of his career, which means barring any injury or unforeseen circumstance, there’s a good chance he may even get better than this. He’s a point guard who’s unselfish but yet is averaging 32 a night, almost 3.5 point per game higher than the 2nd place leader (Harden, 28.7 PPG). Throw in his other stats (6 assist, 5 boards, 2.6 steals, just under 5 three’s made a night, 33.76 PER, 51% FG/43 % 3P/94% FT), and his level of play is becoming artistic. After every game, you almost want to hang his performance on a wall & just stare at it with your head tilted to the side.

While its still too early to say they will win 70+ games, I do think this will be the first team to actively try for that record, no matter what they say publicly. Their core is still so young that they can throw caution to the wind, go after every record, & not worry about sacrificing wins to rest their guys. More importantly, they know how to win games in any situation, & are playing free without any limits of fear because they can lean on their championship experience. They are not taking their defense of their championship lightly, & healthy permitting, whoever takes that trophy from them will have to pry it from their hands. But so far, they are well on their way to bringing a 2nd title back to the Bay if this revenged intensity keeps up. As a sports fan, no matter how many wins they get, we need to enjoy the journey that Curry and this team is on right now, because it’s rare that you see a vengeful journey look this sweet.

 

Sideline Notes

At this time, I’d like to send a shout out to my friend Luugi. Out of all my friends, he’s the one that gets his rocks off on watching teams implode, crash, and burn internally. This past summer after watching some of the off-season moves go by, I decided to buy into his Trainwreck watching way of life. I think we can all agree that going into the season, Sacramento would have qualified for the #1 seed. DeMarcus Cousins + Coach George Karl are bad enough, but then you add Rajon Rondo to the mix? This team is so talented and volatile, can grab the 8th seed in the West, or they can win 25 games & daily fist fights could go down in the locker room & I wouldn’t bat an eye either way. Then I started watching the Lakers situation. They have some young talent but added a weird mix of vets that don’t gel together (you really thought adding 6th man gunner Lou Williams with Nick Young was a good idea when you have rookies who needs minutes & shots Lakers management???), plus, you know….Kobe. Mix that up with coach Byron Scott who’s still clinging to his old school coaching ways (surprised he doesn’t have Roy Hibbert laying guys out who try to make a layup), I had to upgrade them to Trainwreck status. You know that story will be more disastrous with each passing day, especially when D’Angelo Russell keeps getting nailed to the bench during 4th quarters………

You know who’s my underdog Trainwreck squad to look out for? The Houston Rockets. Not only did they get their coach Kevin McHale fired with their dog-shit effort since the season started, but I truly don’t believe in James Harden & Dwight Howard as leaders on your team. Now some veterans in the locker room (i.e. Jason Terry) may have a strong voice in the locker room, but in basketball, you only go as far as your best players take you. At least it’s better that way. While I’ve voiced my opinions of D12 in the past, I think Harden is a great, great talent. However, the whole, “move out of my way while I play Iso ball for 1/2 the shot clock, put it between my legs 4 times before I shoot this step back J” offense doesn’t lend itself to any kind of real continuity between the players. Regardless of how I feel about Dwight’s offense & the fact that he genuinely seems broken down, he’s got to shoot the ball more that 8-10 times in a game. It doesn’t matter that McHale is gone, the philosophies (especially on offense) are still the same under the interim coach, J.B. Bickerstaff. Personally, I don’t see this downward spiral changing anytime soon………

I’ll say this: you know when Houston takes over the #1 spot on my personal Trainwreck rankings? When they lose tonight vs. the 76ers. #BoldPredictionoftheWeek………

By the way, if that prediction comes true, I think my friend Luugi will be happier than the men who find out they are not the fathers……… 

R.I.P Kobe Bryant’s career. It was a great ride, & he will go down as one of the 10 greatest players I’ve ever seen in person. One thing about great players in any sport is the struggle of knowing when to say when, especially before anyone one else sees your demise. The confidence in their own abilities that gets them to unbelievable heights as an athlete is viewed as their biggest strength. Once you get older, all of a sudden, that same stubborn belief becomes their greatest weakness when their body officially fails them & they still believe that they can get the job done. Forget the stats (averaging 15.2 PPG on 16.4 shots, shooting 31% from the field), Kobe can’t get by ANYONE anymore on drives or create any space on his jumpers. That’s only going to get worse unless he gets on the HGH workout cycle in the next week or so. Remember when Mariano Rivera played his last game & before he can get the save, Derek Jeter & Andy Pettite walked out to the mound & gave him the pat on the back? & then Mariano started bawling on their chest? I’d like Magic Johnson to walk onto the middle of the court during the 3rd quarter of some game in March, hold Kobe by his shoulders & tell him, “It’s time. Time to come on home son,” while Kobe starts sobbing into his suit jacket. It’s time Kobe. Let’s remember you in a good light, & please let this be your last season & not find you next season wearing # 24 for the Grizzlies or something. Please end this Kobe……please……. 

 

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

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Kobe, Kobe, Kobe….

Kobe Bryant. One of the 10 best players in NBA history. The second greatest shooting guard ever. The 3rd leading scorer in NBA History (for now). One MVP; Two Finals MVPs; Five NBA Championships; 16-time All Star; 4-time All Star MVP; 2-time Olympic Gold Medalist1997 NBA Dunk Champion; and once dropped 81 points in a game on Toronto. A couple of weeks before that he dropped 63 points in three quarters against Dallas, outscoring them by himself in the process. He’s dunked on countless people & completed some of the most ridiculous shots we’ve seen since Michael Jordan. He has a legendary work ethic both physically & mentally. He has achieved almost everything you can possibly think of as a basketball player and professional athlete. He’ll be a first ballot Hall of Famer whenever he retires. Did I leave anything else out of this paragraph as far as accolades and compliments go? No? Ok…… good!

We now need to add that he has been THE anchor for the Los Angeles Lakers at the end of his career.

Strong words? Yes, but not really. A lot of the strengths that make Kobe as great as he is — his biggest weapon among other things is his supreme self-confidence – which is what holds the Lakers back. That, “I can do this by myself if I have to” and “Hero-ball/I’m throwing on that cape now” combination. It allows him to take crazy shots if need be, shoot over triple teams if need be, and ignore his teammates when he has to. The sad thing is, there is literally no one in the Laker organization that can tell him any differently about his playing style because, well, it worked in the past. However, that past was something that happened a while ago. Kobe has proven over the years that he can’t be the guy doing it his way 100% anymore. It’s something I noticed personally back in 2012, when they faced Oklahoma City in the playoffs. Not only were those young guys (Durant, Harden, but especially Westbrook) past him when it came to athleticism which is expected, but they had no fear against him anymore. That fear factor was totally gone, & the way they went after Kobe the whole series was crystal clear that Kobe’s time as the main guy making the team an automatic contender was done.

The following season, was when the Lakers tried to load up, trading for Dwight Howard & signing Steve Nash, but we all know how that turned out. I actually don’t blame Kobe for that season, I put the blame on Mike D’Antoni.  His rigid ways of running his system, only keeping a 7-man rotation on a veteran squad, making Pau Gasol (a guy who’s inside game & footwork is almost masterful at times) spot up & shoot 3s as a Stretch-4, generally running Kobe into the ground & helping to blow his Achilles, should take the majority of the blame. Dwight, leaving shortly after the season was over & leaving somewhere around $30M on the table to get away from Kobe, is not totally Kobe’s fault either. I don’t believe Dwight was ever built for the pressure of winning in LA, he’s just not wired that way & that’s fine. It’s not for everyone & it is possible to be an NBA champion outside of Los Angeles. BUT at the time of his Free Agency, he was the Laker’s #1 future asset going forward & they had no Plan B otherwise. And well, Kobe’s personality helped to put Dwight’s desire to stay a Laker in a body bag & help drive it out of Los Angeles with that whole, “you can learn to be the man, as long as you learn from ME with MY ways” speech during Dwight’s free agent meetings. He can’t get out of his own way. Either that or he knew of Dwight’s mindset & basically set to test it one last time. If Dwight walked out the door, he was okay with it because as long as he didn’t fall in Kobe’s line, he didn’t need to be there.

Now, after the smoke clears, Laker Nation are forced to watch a 36-yr old shooting guard who’s had major injuries to his lower extremities, & believes he’s still a God. This team is young, has no young studs outside of Julius Randle (who won’t be there until next year unfortunately, while he recovers from a broken leg), & are trying to learn ways to succeed while the losses piles up.  I can understand that Kobe is trying to possibly teach them his ways of never giving up & continuing to fight, which is great. However, that message gets lost when you’re watching a guy who has carte blanche to do & say whatever he wants within an organization that still fawns over him (only he’s not quite as good), jack 25+ shots without any remorse. The Kobe lovers/defenders/apologists/stans can’t even ignore the 8 of 30 for 25 pts & 9 TOs display he put on a few days ago vs. Sacramento, I mean….. it’s borderline disgusting. At this age, why is he still trying to get up so many shots?? It can’t be for the sake of winning. It’s dumb basketball, & if you’re a basketball lover watching these Laker games, how can you even support this? Over the course of the year, he’s averaging 24.6 pts on 22.5 shots per, shooting 37% FG and 27% from three. The efficiency simply isn’t there, but it’s not gonna stop him from getting up the 4th most shots per game on average over his 19 year career.

He claims nothing is more important to him than getting his 6th ring before he retires, right? Then does he not realize that his continued refusal to alter or change his style of play is like a nightly audition to future major free agents that could possibly help him get that ring? With every cut eye he shoots off at his teammates, every shot he jacks, you can almost hear another door closing on that option that could help him meet that goal. He’s still trying to prove that he can still be elite at what he does & try to dispel history that a shooting guard at his age can still get it done every night. Only that really shouldn’t matter anymore. He has nothing left to prove as a ballplayer, my first paragraph should tell you that.  If anything, his next phase right now should be about trying to make everyone else better, proving to other free agents that they can definitely co-exist with him. At this stage of his ego development, that’s like asking a tiger to change his stripes to zebra. It will never f***ing happen……

……other than that, I love the way Kobe’s been playing this season. It’s been awesome.

**** UPDATE: By the way just so you know, this post was written last night before the Lakers went out and drubbed the NBA League-Leading Golden State Warriors 115-105 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. Also, Kobe not only did not play due to rest (plans to start & give Bulls guard Jimmy Butler every shot he can handle tomorrow at Chicago in front of a worldwide audience), but was nowhere near the building. I watched the 1st three quarters of that game last night, and let’s be honest, Golden St. just didn’t have it. So while I don’t think this is a big deal in terms of the Warriors losing to a crappy team because it’s a long season and these things will happen at some point (remember Chicago’s 72-10 season back in ’96? One of their 10 losses was to an expansion Raptor team that had names like “Zan Tabak” in the starting lineup), I found it interesting to read some of the comments that the players made post-game as well as the overall joy that was in the building from the Staple Center. You can come up with your own conclusions here. *****

Sideline Notes

  • As far as passing Michael Jordan for 3rd all-time in scoring, I think it’s a nice accomplishment & he deserves it. Why don’t I call it great? Because I’m starting to observe articles & hear opinions asking “Is Kobe actually better than Michael?”, and the “Kobe vs. Michael” comparisons. Stop it. Stop it now. I won’t even get into the part where Kobe followed Jordan’s career and mannerisms, wanting to not only be like him, but surpass him so bad that it borderline feels like what Matt Damon was doing to Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Passing Jordan’s all-time scoring record if anything means this: whenever this debate comes up 15-20 years from now, it may cloud people’s judgment in their eyes just by looking at the stats. People will look at it & think, “Well, a case can be made that Kobe is better. He did score more points and went to more Finals than he did…and he did win 5.” Let it be known, Kobe’s the closest thing to Michael Jordan…..but he ain’t Michael Jordan. I don’t care if he scores 40,000+ points. Here are some comparisons I’ll mention: He passed a record in Year 19 (One season missed due to injury) that took Jordan just under 14.5 years to get (One season missed due to injury). Mike was THE MAN in all SIX titles that he won, winning all six Finals MVPs, Three-Peated twice in 8 years, while never going past Game 6 in any Finals he was in, much less never losing in one. Kobe won 5 rings, but Shaq was the man for three of those. He also lost twice in the Finals.  Michael won 10 scoring titles, Kobe won twice. Michael’s won 6 MVPs, Kobe won once. Also, Kobe never shot higher that 47% in his career. MJ not only surpassed that percentage 10 different times, but shot over 50% six times, while just missing that mark two other times (49.5%). Kobe gave himself two different nicknames (Black Mamba & Vino). Jordan never did that shit. I’m gonna stop this now. Before I start getting upset…..
  • My favorite player so far this season outside of Steph Curry: Jimmy Butler. He went from being a solid role player to the best two-way Shooting Guard in the Eastern Conference over the course of one summer. His scoring leaped tremendously from last year (13.1 to 22.1), as well as his FG% (40 to 48), FT% (77 to 83), and 3P% (28 to almost 35), all while keeping his defense at a high level. He is the perfect example of improving your game in the offseason folks. Usually it might be a component or two, but he raised the bar on everything. If he continues like this, I don’t know how anyone’s taking down Chicago in the East on top of all the other weapons that Chicago has added or gotten back off the injured list this season.
  • That Rajon Rondo trade makes Dallas super dangerous. However, with the West being so supremely strong this season, I don’t even know what that statement means anymore. This trade could push Dallas over the top & make them NBA champs this season, they could also lose in the first round….. and it would still be a great trade that they wouldn’t regret in both those scenarios.
  • Marshawn Lynch’s TD run & crotch dive….. I’m not even a fan of the Seahawks, but that was amazing & rebellious at the same time. It just had to be said, 49er fan or not.

Happy Holiday to all of you, drink responsibly, and have a safe and joyous time out there.

 

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

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South Shore Ave’s NBA Season Preview: The East

Welcome to Part Deux of our South Shore Ave’s NBA Preview where we tackle the improving Eastern conference. Click here if you missed Part 1. Please enjoy…..

Does Derrick Rose need to drink Holy Water before the season officially starts?

Not only do I think he needs to guzzle it by the litre, but I would nominate Rose for a Holy Water Bucket Challenge if said challenge existed. I won’t even rehash the knee troubles that Rose has gone endured.  You already know he’s missed the last two seasons due to his injuries. It’s robbed him of some of his prime years, & as a basketball fan, it’s disheartening. As it stands, coming off his participation at the World Championships this summer, this is the healthiest that Rose has been in a few years. With that said, it once again vaults Chicago to championship contending status, which for Bulls fans must scare you enough to stunt your breathing. I think Chicago management knows that the future isn’t promised because between Rose’s injury history, and with LeBron heading back to Cleveland with Kevin Love & company in tow, boy did it load this summer to win. They added Paul Gasol, along with rookies Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott, to last year’s Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, and 6th Man runner up Taj Gibson to form the best frontcourt in the NBA. Between Gasol & Noah, they also have the two best passing big men in the league, and honestly, the offensive sets need to go through those two guys as much, or even a little more so than through Rose.

Chicago’s biggest problem since 2011, is they don’t score easily. Having two big men that can pass from both the low block and high post, and you can run screens & cuts off of them open things up for a team more than people think. They need to score easier, & for now, they have to lessen the load for Rose & get his legs ready for the second half of the season. If they can do this on offense, coupled with the defensive intensity they usually bring every night, they will be the best team in the East, no matter what Cleveland has in store. They have to take advantage now because in 2016, Cleveland may also be ready to take over the East once Kyrie Irving & Kevin Love pop their playoff cherries. The Bulls can’t wait for the future.  They have to go for it all now.  Sometimes ‘later’ can become ‘never’.

LeCavs

For the second time in four years, LeBron James completely dominated the offseason like no NBA player ever. His move to Cleveland not only shocked the NBA, and all its fans alike, but its ripple effect set off change across the league. Except for San Antonio who probably looked at LeBron’s move and laughed amongst themselves.

Let’s break it down in a few ways:

By returning to Cleveland, LeBron gained as much control as any NBA player has wielded since Michael Jordan during his 1st retirement comeback. The way his contract is laid out, he will be receiving max money for the foreseeable future. By signing a 2-year deal, he not only gave himself flexibility, with the new TV deal set to begin in 2016, but he ensured that he is no longer leaving any money on the table. Quite frankly, he shouldn’t due to the salary cap almost tripling in two years, LeBron can, & will make much more per year than the $21M he’ll be making in the next two years. Going into his 12th season, this will only be the 4th time he is actually the highest paid player on his own team, which quite frankly is ridiculous considering he is only the 4th player in NBA history (Russell, Abdul-Jabbar, & Jordan) to win 4 MVPs. Let’s face it, LeBron is still far and away the best player in the world.  He is still in his prime, and will probably win at least one more MVP if not two. The value of the Cavalier franchise in itself has been raised at least by $100M with his return & the regular season camp hasn’t started yet. He probably sees that he’s sacrificed enough financially given what he is worth for the NBA as a whole, & will get his Carmelo on* from here on out. He reaped the benefits of coming home by appearing humbled, & more endearing than ever before. Now everyone will root for Cleveland if and when they finally get to have a championship. Taking Kevin Love, Mike Miller, Shawn Marion, along with incumbent Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, and Anderson Varajeo, the likelihood of that happening will be very high. Basically, LeBron left the wife he was with (“Heat”) for the younger, hotter version of her (“Cavs”). Speaking of which…..

Was the Miami move really THAT successful? It’s not a crazy question to ask, right? Yes, LeBron joining Dwyane Wade & Chris Bosh four years ago at the peak of their prime was viewed as almost unfair in some eyes. No matter how people looked at LeBron with disdain for leaving his home and joining a super team, he wanted to be in a position to win titles every single year, and he had a chance to do that in Miami. He went against the conventional ways, took over the power of player free agency, in ways that had never been done before or experienced by the NBA, & set his destiny. And for that, I give him a lot of respect…… but here’s the thing: With that move, the Big 3 set the bar extremely high for themselves, the organization & everyone watching (& I’m not talking about their infamous “Not one, not two, not three…” rally). After four years, didn’t you expect them to win more than two titles? Weren’t you expecting at least three by 2014? In the annals of the NBA’s greatest champions, would you even put this Heat run in the Top 5? Think about this for a second: If Ray Allen clangs his three off the rim instead of swishing it at the end of Game 6, the Heat literally walk away with ONE title after everything’s said and done. I mean, it’s literally that close. They don’t come close to the MJ Bulls run, Magic’s Lakers or Bird’s Celtics. Shit, they don’t even reach the Shaq/Kobe Lakers (3-peated, 4 Finals in 5 years). This run, in retrospect, falls in the tier with the Bad Boy Pistons of the late 80s (Back-To-Back titles, 3 straight Finals appearances) which isn’t fine when you put together three Hall of Famers (yes, Bosh is one too. Face the facts people!) entering their prime years together. This was something that was supposed to last until the latter part of the decade, not end before Year 5. We will remember the run as probably the most polarizing sports team of the digital/social media era. LeBron/Wade/Bosh all became more popular (especially Bosh), made more money, & raised their brand profiles higher than it would have reached if they remained carrying a team by themselves, but the collaboration wasn’t fully completed. The run was similar to the Watch The Throne collaboration from Kanye & Hova: Good, but not great.

* The term “Carmelo On” means that under no circumstances do you leave any money on the table when signing an NBA contract, no matter how much it might hurt your team from being able to afford to build a championship team around you.  Unless of course you leave $4M short of the $129M contract you sign to show everyone publicly that you can in actuality sacrifice money for the good of the team.

Who should be the happiest player in the NBA right now?

Who else can it be but Chris Bosh? Think of where he was as a player four months ago. He was perfecting his role as the 3rd option of the Miami Heat. Once the Heat got demolished by the Spurs in the Finals, and the Big 3 all opted out of their contracts, Bosh was hoping that the ride would continue as normal. Once LeBron decided he was heading back home, Bosh figured he would head back to his home state of Texas, fall into the 3rd option role behind James Harden and Dwight Howard in Houston, while getting paid max money of course. At the last minute, Pat Riley rides the waves on his desperation surfboard and throws the max contract for Bosh to stay. Now he gets to wear the real superhero costume? He can now sit in the cabin of the Bat-mobile and not hop in the trunk like he’s been used to doing since 2010? I mean, how can he not sign that deal?? He got a max deal to be at worst the #2 option most nights, and didn’t even have to leave his beachfront mansion. He should have been sending LeBron roses, boxes of After Eight chocolate mints, and Twerk-a-grams on a weekly basis as an appropriate thank you this summer.

Instead, we find out that he didn’t even talk to LeBron this whole summer outside of Wade’s wedding. He’s giving advice to Kevin Love stating that he’s going to have trouble sacrificing his game to LeBron & more or less sticking his chest out. Is that the way you say thank you??? LeBron saved him from 3rd wheel status forever with this move, and with Wade’s health over the last couple of years, he gets to be the man on South Beach! Does he not understand this?!?! And now he seem like he don’t even care if LeBron is gone. The audacity….

With that said, the Heat are still a playoff team, scooping up Luol Deng in free agency this summer, adding Josh McRoberts, and signing Danny Granger (ok, pretend I didn’t type that last name) to a team that has championship pride and pedigree. In addition, Wade looks pretty loose and limber this preseason, cutting his weight down from last year, we’ll get to see how good of a coach Erik Spoelstra is, which was taken for granted these last few years, and we also really can’t count out a team led by Riley, can we? They will still play hard, tenacious, and efficient every night. If there’s one thing we can count on, those fairweather Heat fans will be showing up by halftime to these games if at all now. If they showed up late when LeBron was there, what are they gonna do when he only comes once a year?

We The North!! (Hollup Hollup Hollup) #WizKhalifavoice

I have to say, I have been wrong about the direction of where the Raptors needed to be in. About this time last year, I had them pegged to win around 35 games, not make the playoffs & secure a high draft pick. After they traded off Rudy Gay, I celebrated like they won the championship, figuring that they were headed to #TankCity for Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, or Jabari Parker. However, the way the Raps played from that point on was what basketball fans want to see: hard working, intelligent, efficient play where the team leaves everything they have out on the floor. This is exactly what they accomplished right until the last second of their Game 7 loss vs. Brooklyn. Going forward, I believe that not only can they get better this season, but I feel most people are sleeping on Toronto.

It all starts with the resigning of Kyle Lowry. With him coming back & teaming up with DeMar DeRozan to form one of the best backcourts in the NBA, they give the Raps stability at both spots that they haven’t had since Alvin Williams and Vince Carter were on the floor together 10+ years ago. DeRozan is the team’s best player and their hardest worker, but Lowry is the heart and soul. My only concern that I have is that last year was a contract year, & you hope that he doesn’t start the process of shutting things down now that he’s got his money. While I don’t believe that this will happen, I thought the same thing when Antonio Davis signed his $60M deal after making the All-Star team & helping the Raps come within one win of the Eastern Conference Finals back in 2001. He was the team’s heart and soul too. By 2003, he was falling into the “Thanks guys, it’s been fun…but I’m gonna shut this things down….nnnnnnow” mode & was never the same player. Contract year runs are funny to predict with players sometimes. It can wake a player up, & help him reach his potential from that point on, or that player can rest on his laurels once he gets his cash. Again, I don’t think that will be Lowry in this case, but stranger things has happened, especially with this franchise.  Which leads me to my next point….

We know Toronto is a hockey town, and most likely will never change. But the way Tim Lieweke came in bringing energy and light to this franchise as part of running MLSE is so important. This is why I feel losing him, is a huge & underrated story moving forward this season. He made basketball a priority for the corporation and even for this city in 2014, and with him scheduled to leave at the end of the season (or possibly before that), I’m afraid that his successor will be a hockey guy that will throw the Raps on the backburner again like in years past. Lieweke is a basketball guy at heart, and having him run MLSE I felt gave the feeling like the Raptors won’t be ignored anymore. They can start setting championship goals and not be laughed out of the room for saying it. From getting the All-Star game here next season (finally!!), getting Drake as the Global Ambassador (& let’s face it, secret recruiter), upgrading its practice facility, getting Masai Ujiri as a GM, the possibility of an MLSE nightclub, he’s put steps in place to be recognized as a prominent franchise in the sports world. Will the next person that steps in keep that train moving and take things further? It remains to be seen. Another year of improvement from Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, a deep bench (resiging Grevis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson, trading for Lou Williams, picking up former Raptor James Johnson from the Grizzlies), another year under the belt for Dwayne Casey, the confidence that both DeMar and Jonas bring back from their respective World Championship teams is all very important going into this season. In fact, I believe they will win 50+ games for the first time in the franchise’s history. The short term views look promising to show everyone in the NBA that last season was not a fluke. But the long term vision of where this franchise will be headed post-Lieweke & if the goals will remain high, is what worries me more than anything else. I’ll tell you one thing: if the new MLSE head honcho doesn’t get along with Ujiri and forces him to explore his options (which happens sometimes when the new guy wants to bring in his own people), I think the “We The North” mantra will change to “We Be Done” in Raps Nation. Stay tuned…

Biggest Sleeper

I’m very tempted to say Charlotte will make some moves up the standings (and they will), but don’t sleep on the Atlanta Hawks. Even if there’s a possibility that Hawks GM Danny Ferry has a little passive-aggressive racism in him, getting back Al Horford from injury, picking up Thabo Sefolosha, and drafting rookie Adreian Payne to this team will hopefully continue to mask the uncertainty in the front office. For Ferry’s sake, he better hope I’m right and that the on-court production masks his unresolved problems. This team has a chance to still make some noise in what will be the toughest division in the conference. With Washington finally tasting some playoff success, Charlotte adding Lance Stephenson, and having a great draft in grabbing Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston, and all the chipped shoulders residing in Miami, this division will be really tough to deal with most nights. With that said, Atlanta can possibly be that team people don’t want to deal with come playoff time.

Regular Season Standings

  1. Chicago – As long as Rose, Gasol, and Noah (offseason knee surgery this summer) stay healthy, this is the best team in the conference. Built to win now.
  2. Cleveland – If the Bulls falter in any way, Team LeBron will take advantage in what will be a two-team race all season.
  3. Toronto – Surprised??? You shouldn’t be. I’m going to predict 53 wins this season. #WeTheNorth
  4. Charlotte – Surprised??? Hornets coach Steve Clifford had them playing hard last season, now Stephenson brings more attitude to a team that needs it.
  5. Atlanta – Sefelosha signing is underrated.  What he brings on defense will be needed for the SGs he’ll have to go against in the division (Wade, Beal, Stephenson….Oladipo???)
  6. Washington – Beat a depleted Bulls roster in Round 1, then got wiped out by a Pacer team who decided to flick it’s “On” switch halfway through Round 2. With Nene and Bradley Beal’s health, Randy Wittman on the sidelines, old Paul Pierce….I need to see more.
  7. Brooklyn – I love the signing of Lionel Hollins. Don’t love that Nets GM Billy King is still making decisions in the front office. Also, I like my franchise center Brook Lopez to average more than 7 boards for his career. Is that too much to ask?
  8. Miami – Too much pride for them to miss the playoffs. Would be great if they can meet Team LeBron in Round 1.
  9. Detroit – Stan Van Gundy will have to move a couple of contracts around before this team gets better. Which players (Brandon Jennings, Greg Monroe, Josh Smith) will remain to be seen. Will have them playing better.
  10. New York – Carmelo Anthony will have the most efficient season he’ll ever have in this offense. But still, no playoffs here.
  11. Milwaukee – Now THIS is the kind of team Jason Kidd should be coaching to start off his career. Let him have fun and experiment with Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
  12. Indiana – “We take any and all applications here at #TankCity. Fill out these forms please…”
  13. Boston – Just counting down the days until Rajon Rondo is traded. The question is, “Where”?
  14. Orlando – Still 2 years away from making any kind of noise. Good thing they have Nikola Vucevic locked up for the next four years.
  15. Philadelphia – I won’t watch a game of theirs until Embiid steps on the court. See you in 2016.

 

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

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#TANKCITY VOL.2

#TANKCITY

“Tank City Bit**/Tank Tank City Bit**/50-60 something losses equals Joel Embiiiiiiiiiiiid Wiggins Biiiit**…..”

With the season starting to come down the end of the tunnel, teams are either jockeying for playoff positioning or showing us all the inventive ways to gut out their team like a fish so they can get the most ping-pong balls in this year’s much publicized draft. We are officially at the “veterans on the lottery bound teams shutting down their seasons for real &/or phantom injuries” phase of the #TankCity programming that most lottery bound teams employ. After the first edition of #TankCity, we give you Volume 2. Is this a nod to the old Jay-Z albums back when he was kicking chicks out of his place at 6:15 AM? No, it isn’t. It’s just a coincidence though that I typed out this post in an IceBerg sweater, black Enyce jeans with a matching doo-rag, and mustard colored Timberlands. Ya heard?

Before we follow up on the residents of #TankCity, we have to first say goodbye to a few tenants first…..

CHICAGO

Let’s face it, Chicago plays like Jason from those Friday the 13th horror movies. You can shoot Jason, try to blow him up, start a fire & escape from the cabin…… but as soon as the smoke clears and the girl that’s running with you sprains her ankle, Jason always emerges to slit your throat. With the Bulls, it doesn’t matter if Derrick Rose’s knees keep exploding on him, or if they trade Luol Deng, or if Carlos Boozer finds new ways to underachieve, the Bulls keep coming. Even with all those things that happened, they continue to move forward with a murderous intensity. They picked up DJ Augustine off the street & he’s been one of their best players, turned Taj Gibson into a 6th man of the year Candidate (as well as someone who’s making Boozer expendable going forward), & replaced Deng production with Jimmy Butler’s game. However, nothing moves forward without Joakim Noah stepping up his game immensely. He is having his best season of his career (12.2 PPG/11.3 RPG/4.9 APG, 0 games missed), contributing at a high level all-star pace on defence while the offense is being worked around his high post set up and passing abilities. He’s looking like a one-man Princeton offense in some games. As I wrote in the first edition of #TankCity, I thought the best thing to do after Rose went down was to take a dive, stockpile a lottery pick (hopefully a Dante Exum or Andrew Wiggins type) to go beside Rose when he comes back next season. Instead, they turned their slow start to the season to battling neck-and-neck with Toronto for the 3rd seed in the East.

I’m sure Chicago must cut eyes at Tom Thibideau every time they see him in the hallways, but Coach Thibs, I’m sure, doesn’t give a shit. He wants to win every game he coaches & will push his players to the brink of their abilities. He is a great coach & if Chicago lets him go in the near future, he will be the hottest coach on the market in years. Unfortunately though, much like those Jason movies, we all know how this movie ends. Miami or Indiana will end their season after a long knockdown/drag out series in May. Chicago still go through lulls of scoring droughts that will catch up to them the further into the playoffs they go. As it stands, for Chicago to be flying out of #TankCity post-Rose injury & Deng trade is ridiculous.

BROOKLYN

You remember that Chris Rock joke from one of his stand up concert specials, where he makes the joke about men who want credit for the things they’re supposed to do? Like, “yeah well, I take care of my kids! Well, you’re supposed to take care of your kids, you low expectation having muthafu**a!!!!”. That’s kind of how I feel about Brooklyn this season. When you’re spending over $80M in luxury taxes, you’re supposed to make the playoffs. Especially when it takes you until March to be over .500.  It’s not something to be proud of. Honestly, I don’t even want to mention them really, but I must mention this one point. We’re now in March, & this team still has no real identity. Are they an offensive team? A defensive-mind squad? Do they share the ball? Do they like to play big? Small? Who are their leaders? Isn’t it a little late to be still trying to figure this out? Yet, they’ve beaten Miami three times this season. Go figure. 

I’d like to say that they would be dangerous when they get into the playoffs, but unfortunately for them, we can’t set up the playoffs series to a Best-of-1 format like we can in our settings for NBA 2K. It’s a mediocre team, even with all their stars. On another quick note, what exactly happened to Deron Williams? I know he’s been hurt this season, but wasn’t it just 3 years ago him & Chris Paul were the PG standards of the league? Even when he’s healthy, his game never jumped to the next level that Paul’s did. It’s almost at an “he is what he is” point of his career. He’s still an all star caliber PG when he’s healthy, but before you can believe that there was a higher ceiling to reach. However, now you’re starting to realize that there isn’t another flight of stairs to take you there. To think the Nets have to still fork over another $60M over the next 3 years is a pretty sobering thought.

TORONTO

What a strange season this has been for Toronto. Coming into the season, the players were all-in for the playoff push with Rudy Gay being their leader and best player. While GM Masai Ujiri & head honcho of MLSE Tim Lieweke, taking a wait-and-see approach, they were more leaning towards blowing up the roster. After the first month or so when the Raps were struggling and Gay was ignoring stat sheets to not focus on his horrendous shooting numbers, they traded him to Sacramento (which was brought home in that episode of Open Gym). We figured they were headed to the lottery, which would have been clinched once they traded Kyle Lowry. Since that trade with Gay went through, the Raps have gone on a serious run. They share the ball on offense, play stingy defence, gotten solid play from their bench, Demar DeRozan has elevated himself to become an All-Star this season, Terrence Ross has also been able to spread his wings playing more assertive & confident with the extended minutes available to him, & Kyle Lowry has turned himself into the best PG in the East this season…….although it still has a faint odor of a contract year run to me.

Combined all of these factors up, they have a stranglehold on the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference. The scary thing about it? I don’t see them relinquishing that spot either. Every team below them is either being decimated with injuries & have already started free-falling (i.e. Atlanta & Washington), have under achieved to being with (i.e. Brooklyn, New York), are too far back to make a run for that seed (i.e. Charlotte), or were over-rated to begin with (i.e. Detroit). For the City of Toronto, making the playoffs is a necessity. They have the most under-rated playoff crowd in the NBA when they’re actually in the playoffs. Basketball fans haven’t had much to celebrate since last making the playoffs in 2008, when the Chris Bosh-led squad fell in five games to Dwight Howard’s Orlando Magic.

Still, I believe that deep down inside, Lieweke and Ujiri have to feel a little bittersweet about the whole experience. This team, especially after Gay was traded, was destined for the lottery & to solidify a high level talent from this year’s draft which is the deepest in 11 years. As nice as it is to grab a 3 seed & get an excellent chance of reaching the second round for the first time since 2001, it’s almost built on a mirage. The East has been atrocious this season, & unless they meet the Bulls in Round 1, Toronto will most likely make the second round. There, they’ll either meet Miami or Indiana & will at most win a game in that series. As players, having that playoff experience will be great, but as management, it might have been nicer to build for the long term. You almost have to commit to this roster for the time being, which has some good assets to it, but it’s not what the new management necessarily envisioned in December. I think they would have been happier getting rid of some of the contracts, clearing up cap space, keeping Jonas, DeRozan, Ross, & having marquee draft pick to build around instead of wondering if they need to resign Lowry to a long term deal this summer.

CLICK HERE FOR PART TWO OF #TANKCITY VOL.2 

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

Follow me on Twitter or email me at southshoreave@gmail.com

Does D-Rose Really Need to Play?

SHOULD A ROSE BLOOM?

Question: Should Derrick Rose play during the playoffs this season?

Answer: No. 

…..Ok, I’ll explain. Even though Derrick Rose has been cleared to play, coming off major knee surgery can be as taxing mentally as it is physically. Basketball is a game of rhythm. If he’s not ready mentally & his rhythm isn’t right, then why play? He’s being paid $95M to represent the franchise for the rest of the decade health permitting. If he’s holding that kind of responsibility, then let him be responsible for his body to be at its best.  Those looking to ostracize him for sitting the bench aren’t thinking clearly. Asking any player (even a superstar) that missed a whole regular season to now come into a playoff series to, A) get his game rounded out & his rhythm in order and B) do so without thinking about his knee is preposterous. Or worse, to rush him in to come off the bench & play 15-20 monitored minutes a game. That’s like asking Chris Martin to come back to Coldplay, play the guitar & sing backup during a World Tour.

The Bulls’ concern SHOULD be to the future. In Game 3 the 2003 Western Conference Finals, Dirk Nowitzki badly strained his right knee against the San Antonio Spurs. Pressed with the opportunity to play the remainder of the series with a trip to the Finals on the line, Head Coach Don Nelson decided to shut down their 24-yr old cornerstone. You think they regret that decision now? Within the next 10 years, he’s surpassed 25,000 points, played in 11 All Star games, won the 2007 MVP, brought the franchise their 1st title, a future 1st ballot Hall of Famer  becoming one of the best players of his generation & helping solidify value to the franchise around the league. I’m pretty sure it was worth it for them. Now a similar situation may occur with Russell Westbrook. While the team says that he’ll be out for the rest of the playoffs following knee surgery, if OKC makes it to the Finals again in June & Westbrook is way ahead of schedule, will he get the pressure to sacrifice the long term goals for the now?

Remember when Brandon Roy had late season surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee in 2010, then came back, & was ahead of schedule to play at less than 100% for the Trailblazers who didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting out of the first round vs. Phoenix? How did that turn out? His knees — never being 100% to begin with coming into the league — was never the same after the series & is most likely retiring after this season for a second time partly due to no one protecting his future in Portland. How about Gilbert Arenas who tore his MCL in 2007 after running through a 3-year span as one of the most explosive guards in the NBA? Everyone loved him when he came back early from his knee surgery…. until he started overcompensating for that same knee, ending up having more surgeries & injuries within the next 2 years.  Arenas & the Wizards haven’t been the same since. Where is he now? The Far East trying to recoup what’s left of his career (well, that & shaking off the “Gunplay” image.) It serves no purpose for Rose to come back. Protect him, protect the future of his career, and protect the franchise. By continuing to release reports on his status , Chicago’s PR team is putting the pressure on him to get back on the court & create more short-term buzz financially to the team. It’s refreshing that he’s strong enough mentally to take care of his most valuable asset: himself.

Notes

Don’t underestimate Friday’s deal that the MLSE made with appointing Tim Lieweke their President & CEO.  Anyone who hasn’t followed his career needs to sit up & take notice to the possibilities that are now open to the Toronto Sports scene. Here’s the main feature to understanding Lieweke:  Tim is a MAJOR player in the Sports & Entertainment world who only aligns himself to major projects (ie. Bringing David Beckham to MLS).  Mediocrity is NOT in his vocabulary, so for anyone thinking Bryan Colangelo is sticking around to continue what he’s been doing (ie. Wanting to sign Rudy Gay to an extension even though he has 2 more years left at $37M & has NEVER played in an All Star Game), I’m not sure what else there is to say….. Of many quotes that’s been said in basketball, the phrase, “You live by the jumper, you die by the jumper” has always been one of the truest. Well, I’m willing to live by Steph Curry’s jumper for the foreseeable future….. As much as I am on the Clippers Bandwagon (I currently reside in the VIP Section), I still can’t help but think why Blake Griffin isn’t better than he is.  I’ve had this debate with others in the last couple of months but I ask, how can he be considered the best Power Forward in the game when he gets 2 rebounds in a game? Too many times this season he’s had 5 rebounds or less beside his name. Somewhere between his rookie season & Game 5 of this series, he has regressed rebounding-wise. We really can’t expect the Clippers to go far in the post season if Griffin & DeAndre Jordan can’t control the paint & are using their hops for lobs that’ll rarely come during this time of the season.

 

Cal Cee  // South Shore Ave

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