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NBA San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich

Spurs Plan On Interrupting Cavs Vs Warriors Part Three

By Frank McLean

It’s not a secret that NBA fans and those in the management offices at ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut want a Cleveland Cavaliers versus Golden State Warriors for a third year in this year’s NBA Finals.

With both teams being the winner of one of each of the last two finals you can imagine the ratings bonanza the rubber match would be for the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports”.

Well don’t tell that to San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich.

Making their annual visit to Toronto this week Popovich said he’s not ready to concede to the Warriors the Western Conference title for a third straight year regardless if they have added some guy named Kevin Durant.

“You do the best you can to take advantage of whatever weaknesses or strengths they might have. You have to go against their weaknesses, try to figure out what their strengths are and take’em away,” Popovich said about taking on the Warriors. “And that’s what this is all about. So the challenge is what makes it exciting. If you’re of the mindset that where you say what’s the point, then you’re in the wrong business.”

So Popovich is not going to sit down and kiss the Warriors championship rings and why should he?

Since he took the job in 1999 the Spurs have won five NBA championships, averaged 55-wins per season and are on pace for a second straight year of 65-wins.

When you see Popovich as a grumpy old coach in a wrinkled sports coat and khaki pants when he is interviewed on television, in most part it’s an act. When you ask him thoughtful questions he will give you thoughtful answers.

He is also humble.

His peers in the NBA, and that include Raptors coach Dwane Casey, feel that Popovich is not just the best coach in the NBA, but all of sports.

Popovich’s stock answer when you say this to him is that he had Tim Duncan for a long time and that made him look good. Popovich knows that if you don’t have good players a coach is not going to look smart. That’s something every coach I have ever come across well tell you, if you don’t have the horses, you aren’t going to win.

His theory of coaching a game is pretty simple and it explains how he lasted almost 20-years in the same job.

“The game starts and you play the game, you do your best. You make adjustments, make substitutions, get certain groups on the court, call timeouts, yell and scream and beg and love and be crazy and then you win or you lose and then what happens? You go to dinner. Sometimes the best part of the evening.”

He also had high praise for Dwane Casey who each year on the job has gotten his team to win more games than the previous year. Raptors fans may not want to hear this, especially with the club on a five game losing skid and social media is calling for his head as a result.

“It is difficult (to do that),” Popovich said. “You’ll see people have two good seasons or one, it goes down for two or three and then maybe it comes up a little bit and then the owner fires him. That seems to be the deal. But to sustain it and to sustain it and do better every year is a difficult thing. And what Casey’s done here is implemented a culture and a system. It doesn’t happen immediately, but as you all know by now, they’ve bought in, everybody knows what the deal is. He’s going to be consistent, he’s going to be demanding, he’s going to be fair.”

It’s too bad Popovich and the Spurs only come to Toronto once a year. Like I said, when you get Popovich engaged, he is one of the best quote machines in the league.

And as far as I’m concerned he is one of the best coaches in all of sports. The only person who comes close to him is in the NFL and that’s Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots who has won four Super Bowls in six appearances and is heading for his seventh appearance in the big one during his tenure there.

I’m sure the Warriors wish they only had to deal with Popovich and the Spurs once a year.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

NBA Cavs LeBron James

There’s Some Whine And Gold From Cavs LeBron James

Every NBA player tries to sell they’ve been fouled on every play and conversely no one seems to believe they’ve ever fouled anybody, but usually the constant complaining about calls stays on the court as it’s universally acknowledged the NBA game is very hard to officiate with all of the overt acting going on. But, not this time, there was some classic whine and gold as LeBron James felt the need to complain about not getting enough calls going his way after the Cavs had a couple of tough road games in the West.

ESPN’s Dave Menamin reports,

James is actually 10th in the league in free throw attempts per game. James also averages more minutes than everyone above him in the top 10.

Much of James’ detest comes from the fact that the vast majority of his shots come from within the paint … he feels contact is ignored.

“Yeah, I got fouled,” James said after the game, when asked about his outburst in Salt Lake City.

“It is, it is. It is. But I know what the main thing is — the main thing is to win — but it is. It is. It is.”

James is hard to officiate for a few reasons. One, he is bigger and stronger than some of today’s centers. Two, he’ll play like a guard, a wing or a power forward in the same sequence, so he isn’t doing what other players do and that makes it hard to anticipate plays for the referees. And three, he gets treated like a superstar at the defensive end so his opponents have a right to complain about getting frequently whacked by James with no call.

Funny, you never hear James talk about what he gets away with and it’s a lot. James, the ever active and very physical defender, fouls at the unbelievably low rate of just 2.1 fouls per 100 possessions. Only the Lakers Luol Deng and Lou Williams foul less (2.0). James gets the “kid-glove” treatment from the referees on defense like no one else does, so maybe he should be expecting the referees are getting an earful every night about calling the game the same way at both ends?

It’s not like James is getting no calls. He is 15th in the NBA for fouls drawn per 100 possessions at 7.2. The leaders being Joel Embiid (12.9), DeMarcus Cousins (12), Anthony Davis (10), Isaiah Thomas (9.9) and Russell Westbrook (9.3). All of these players play a very different style of game from James.

James isn’t a post-up player like Embiid (6 post touches per game). James (2.3 post touches) makes his living starting on the perimeter and is one of the game’s best facilitators, so like the seemingly numerous guards who get to the line more often, James is better known for his drives. But James doesn’t drive to the basket as often as you (he?) thinks.

Top five in drives to the basket include Thomas (13.5), Westbrook (11.6) and Harden (11.3). James (9.5) is way back at 16th and he should know, no one gets a call on every drive even when there is some contact.

So, no one should pretend James spends the same amount of time fighting for space as the league’s centers and power forwards under the basket where claw marks on your arms and shoulders after games is the norm. He’s far too valuable getting other players easy buckets to be “wasting” energy in those battles, so he shouldn’t be expecting to get the calls other big men draw over the course of a game either.

You don’t get a call every time you are whacked fighting in the paint with another big man. The game has never been called that way and the NBA isn’t about to change that for James. Big men are expected to man up and expect physical contact under the basket without complaining.

James mini-rant was pure gold and he probably did it in the hope he’d get some more calls on this road trip. It doesn’t always work and it shouldn’t, but history shows us that sometimes it does and that only encourages more whine and gold from the league’s stars.

Maybe he’d be happier getting called for all those whack-down “great” defensive plays and drawing more fouls at the other end? Probably not.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Toronto Raptors Need To Add More Offense To Contend

It was bad enough in the NBA East before the Cleveland Cavaliers traded for three-point marksman Kyle Korver, but now more than ever you need incredible offense to contend for a spot in the NBA Finals and even the Toronto Raptors averaging an East leading 110.6 points per game don’t have enough.

NBA EAST

No team in the East is holding opponents under 100 points per game and only three teams in the West are, but teams in the West are still giving up 104.7 points per game and they are scoring (105.4) at an even higher clip than the East’s inflated numbers.

The NBA is now a high-scoring, three-point shooting, defense-second league. You don’t stop players like Russell Westbrook (31.2 points), Anthony Davis (29.1 points), James Harden (28.2 points), DeMarcus Cousins (28.1 points), Isaiah Thomas (28 points), or DeMar DeRozan (27.8 points), you outscore them or you fail. This year traditional scoring leaders like LeBron James (26.2), Kevin Durant (25.9), Stephen Curry (24.8), Kyrie Irving (24.3) aren’t even given much of a chance at a scoring title. You need more.

Cavs Nation on Facebook

The Warriors got theirs. They lead the NBA at 117.5 points per game with three players that can’t be stopped averaging over 20 points per game. The Cavs have their own triumvirate averaging over 20 per game, a bevy of shooters and a strangle hold on first in the East.

Most teams are lucky to have one reliable 20 point scorer and the Raptors with DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are blessed with two, but even two isn’t going to be enough these days. When it seems like everyone that matters is giving up over a 100 points except the Spurs (97.5), you are fighting a trend that no defensive scheme is going to overcome – unless maybe you have a Kawhi Leonard on your team.

When you are leading the East in scoring, adding more offense doesn’t necessarily seem like the right solution, but the Raptors have been most often getting beat because they can’t always keep up in today’s shoot-out oriented NBA.

After an October anomaly, he Cavs have beaten Toronto 121-117 and 116-112 and as noted, Cleveland just added more firepower. The Warriors won by 127-121 and 121-111. Then losses to Clippers 123-115, Hawks 125-121, Bulls 123-118 and Rockets 129-122 only serve to illustrate what’s going on in the NBA.

Maybe Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is right that his team doesn’t need to do anything, but that’s except when it comes to the Cavs. It’s only reasonable to expect Cleveland to continue adding to their firepower between now and the last day to add players eligible for the postseason. The team Toronto can’t keep up with on the scoring front is going to add more scoring.

President Masai Ujiri has made it pretty clear the Raptors won’t sell off their young assets for short term gain. It’s been reported he tried to land Paul Millsap and Serge Ibaka last summer and in all likelihood is still trying, but the price has to right. Otherwise, the fallback position of the Raptors and apparently even their closest competitor, the Celtics, is to wait this thing out and see what develops on what are still very young and developing teams.

They can always just wait on LeBron James to get old?

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Crash And Burn On A Back-To-Back Again

The Toronto Raptors must believe the NBA schedule makers like to engage in some kind of sick humor, there have been some brutally tough back-to-back sets for Toronto in the first half of the season. Cavs on the road followed by the Warriors at home in November being the best-worst example.

Then Sunday’s game against the Rockets marked the shortest turnaround time between games for the Raptors this season at 22 hours. Toronto played at 8 pm ET game in Chicago on Saturday and then tipped off at 6 pm ET at home the next night. The Raptors lost in overtime to the Bulls and then faded in the fourth quarter against the Rockets to lose both ends of a back-to-back for the fourth time this season.

No team likes to use the schedule as an excuse and back-to-backs were not an issue for the Raptors last season, finishing with a record of 20-14, but this year hasn’t gone so well and at 6-8, most of their losses this season have come as a result of these challenging sets.

It’s not the “ordinary” back-to-backs that are hurting the team. The Raptors have won both ends of Hornets/Knicks, Lakers/Hawks and Timberwolves/Celtics. It’s the combination of games against elite teams and/or the teams that have historically given the Raptors trouble where disaster has struck.

Toronto has lost both ends of the back-to-backs against @Cavs/Dubs, @Kings/@Clippers, @Dubs/@Suns, and @Bulls/Rockets.

The NBA may as well just given the Raptors a couple of nights off and the Ls with the Cavs and Warriors on a back-to-back – thanks for nothing. The loss to the Kings in Sacramento was the infamous time running out despite time still on the clock game as Terrence Ross hits the game-tying buzzer-beater that wasn’t. Losing the next night in L.A. to a very good Clippers team wasn’t a surprise after that. Playing a second back-to-back set that includes the high-scoring, high-tempo Warriors before January is just cruel. Then there’s the Bulls, who Toronto had lost nine games in a row to heading into that game. Putting the high-scoring Rockets as their next opponent 22 hours later virtually guaranteed the Raptors were going to run out of gas.

The Rockets were “just” the fourth team currently ranked in the NBA’s top-10 for win percentage the Raptors have faced on the second night of a back-to-back with the opponent resting the night before – Golden State, L.A. Clippers, Boston and Houston. The Raptors will potentially face this same situation with the Bulls again before the NBA All-Star Break February 14-15 when they play in Chicago, then home to take on Charlotte in Toronto 22 hours later.

Maybe head coach Dwane Casey could’ve squeezed out a couple more wins by punting the fourth quarters of the games against the Cavs or Dubs in the first game of those back-to-back sets, but he would have been giving up the measuring stick against the competition that really matters in May and June. And even after the toughest schedule in the NBA’s Eastern Conference according to ESPN, the Raptors still hold down second place at 24-13.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Atanta Hawks Kyle Korver

Atlanta Hawks Crossing The Road To Rebuilding

We’re only barely into 2017 and the Atlanta Hawks will probably need the rest of the month to blow this whole thing up, but they are already crossing the road towards rebuilding despite still having a very real shot at winning the Southeast Division this season (for now).

The Hawks are at a crossroads of their own making. The core of this team is old, over half of this roster will be free agents in July and no one gives them a ghost of a chance of getting by the second round of the playoffs as constructed in a best case scenario. So, Kyle Korver is gone, Paul Millsap is expected to follow and things shouldn’t stop there.

This year’s starters Millsap, Korver and Dwight Howard are in their thirties as is sixth man Thabo Sefolosha and backup Kris Humphries. Millsap (PO), Korver, Sefolosha and Tim Hardaway Jr. (RFA) will be free agents along with Tiago Splitter, Humphries, and Mike Scott.

Sure the Hawks could have pointed to about $40 million in salary cap space next summer, but cap holds would have used up all of that and more and the Hawks are more worried about losing what they have for nothing than fantasizing about which free agents from other teams might be tempted to join them.

Another summer of losing their best player was (is still) definitely on the table and finding a replacement in free agency that would let them tread water again next year will be difficult to say the least.

So it appears that first round draft picks are the currency that will extract the Hawks veterans and in today’s NBA with exploding salaries, players coming in on rookie deals are the one class of asset management still has solid cost controls on.

To saddle the Hawks future with doom and gloom, however, would be a mistake. Dennis Schroder (23), Kent Bazemore (27) and Tim Hardaway (24) give them the start of a solid young core to build around and it should be possible to expand this group with players in their early to mid-twenties using their prime veteran players as trade bait. A complete tear down and rebuild from the ground up shouldn’t be necessary.

Millsap makes $20 million, so most teams will have to find at least $15 million worth of player contracts to send back and even if the Hawks get a decent first round draft pick in the deal, they aren’t going to accept players with deals extending past this season they wouldn’t be willing to keep on the roster. They should get at least one or two young players worth keeping.

While it might be hard to discern what the Hawks could get for their other players on expiring deals, they do have another impact player in Dwight Howard ($23 million, plus two more seasons totaling $47.3 million) who could take a contending team to the next level. Don’t laugh, Howard is averaging 14 points on 8.7 shots, 13.1 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 1.4 blocks in under 30 minutes. 7th in the NBA with 22 double-doubles and his salary is only about 2/3rds of next summer’s maximum so it isn’t as exorbitant as it sounds.

The Hawks may have “brought Howard home,” but things change and if the Hawks are willing to trade Millsap to get younger and acquire picks, they may as well start shopping the 31-year-old Howard as well. Korver is just the guy who got this party started.

 

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

Chicago Bulls Rajon Rondo

The Cavaliers Should Trade For The Bulls Rajon Rondo

One teams’ trash can be another team’s need and about the only thing the Cavaliers need is a backup point guard, so if the Bulls are fed up with Rajon Rondo, the Cavs should be making a phone call.

It’s beyond clear the Bulls think they made a huge mistake by signing Rondo in the off season. The only good news is they can opt out of the deal before next summer and limit the damages, but it would be even better if they find some poor sucker – er other team – to give them something, anything back in return.

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert seems to be the most willing of anyone in the NBA to take on reclamation projects if they advance his team’s chances at a championship and he’s spent the money to prove it.

Cleveland isn’t worried about making it back to the Eastern Conference Finals. They are only slightly concerned the Toronto Raptors pull off some miraculous trade that would actually have them worried about getting back to the NBA Finals. But, and it is a big but, with Kyrie Irving being backed up by Kay Felder (you’re excused for not knowing who that is?) and only Kay Felder, nabbing a reliable veteran point guard that could actually run the show when their real floor general LeBron James takes a rest would be more than just a little nice. Especially when it comes to boosting their regular season record and when they have to face the juggernaut that will come out of the West.

Sure Rondo has a history since leaving Boston of being more than just a little challenging to manage, but if he won’t toe the company line for James, he may as well hang up his sneakers. The Cavs are playing for Championships and Rondo could be a key cog in accomplishing that if he gets with the program – and the Cavs find a way to get him to Cleveland.

Somehow Rondo managed to talk the Bulls into paying him $14 million this season, so he doesn’t fit into one of the Cavs trade exceptions and Cleveland would have to send back nearly $12 million in salary to make the trade math work.

So, a trade isn’t going to be easy to do. Rondo’s value, other than maybe to Cleveland, isn’t that high, so the Bulls can’t expect to get a player back who’s a slam dunk and the Cavs aren’t that motivated to get a point guard to get fleeced.

However, Iman Shumpert makes almost $10 million a year and has shown himself to be a useful defensive guard. Add in Mo Williams $2 million expiring deal and the trade math works. The Bulls couldn’t realistically hope to do better and Shumpert could actually help them.

What the Bulls do at this point is anyone’s guess? Maybe management decides it’s head coach Fred Hoiberg that needs to go instead? But if Rondo is going to be riding the pine for $14 million this season, it behooves them to at least try to get something of value for that contract.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

ESPN Favors Toronto To Represent The East In The NBA Finals

Apparently last year’s 56-win season and trip to the Eastern Conference Finals by Toronto wasn’t an aberration, it was just part of a trend as the Raptors led by their two All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have continued the journey this season and are presently favored to represent the East in the NBA Finals this year by ESPN.

ESPN’s Ben Alamar writes,

The Raptors have ridden their offensive prowess to the No. 2 spot in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index and currently have the best chance to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals at 48 percent.

After playing their final game of calendar 2016, ESPN projects the Raptors to win 58 games this season, one fewer than the Cavs, but their Analytics team gives Toronto a 12.1 percent chance at an NBA title compared to just 8.9 percent for Cleveland. The Warriors continue to dominate projections with a 64.3 percent chance of winning it all this year.

While LeBron James and the Cavaliers will have a lot to say about how the rest of this season and the playoffs play out in the East, to this point Toronto has the top two offensive rated five-man units and the first and third best net rated five-man units in the entire league. So just maybe the objective analytics at ESPN is on to something.

 

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas, DeMarre Carroll, Kyle Lowry & DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Are Ahead Of Last Year’s Pace At The Quarter Pole

By Frank McLean

As we sit at the quarter pole of this current NBA season for the Toronto Raptors things are pretty much the same as they were when the 2015-16 season ended in late May as Toronto was eliminated by the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Final. The Raptors are the second best team in the conference.

After the Cavaliers knocked off the Raptors on Monday night for their third win against Toronto this season the standings looked like this, Cleveland sitting in first at 14-5, and the Raptors sitting in second at 14-7. Although, after 21 games last year, these Raptors were 12-9.

Forget the rest of the Eastern Conference, and yes just like last year you still have nine other teams fighting for the other six playoff  berths in the conference, but realistically if the Cavaliers and Raptors are at full strength roster wise, those nine squads are just not good enough to win a best of seven series against either team.

The Cavaliers know that there is only one team that could be a roadblock for them making a third straight appearance in the NBA Finals and that’s the Raptors.

“They have had our attention for a long time,” LeBron James was telling the media earlier this week in Toronto about the team that actually fought back and lasted six games in the conference final last spring.

“I think they’ve had the NBA’s attention. You don’t need them playing well and us not playing well or us playing well and them not playing well for them to get our attention. I think it’s there.”

“It’s a team that’s first of all well-coached,” James added. “It starts with their two-headed monster, (DeMar) DeRozan and (Kyle) Lowry. Their complimentary guys have been playing great. Their role players have been playing great. DeMarre (Carroll) and Patrick (Patterson), Terrence Ross coming in and giving them big minutes, obviously Cory Joseph being a solid backup point guard for them as well. Even some of the younger guys, they’ve been coming into the game have come in and played some good ball”.

Kyrie Irving also talked about the Raptors one-two punch at guard.

“Their two-guard set is one that just separates them in the league. DeMar, Kyle, they do an unbelievable job of leading this team offensively. And defensively, they compete every possession. They take advantage of different lineups you have because one of (Lowry or DeRozan) is on the floor almost every minute of the game.”

But still the Raptors are just the second best team in the conference and until they figure out a way to beat the Cavaliers they won’t be taking the next step of playing in the NBA Finals.

So the ball is in the court of president Masai Ujiri and general manager Jeff Weltman to make the trade that puts them over the top.

The Raptors are in a similar spot that the Toronto Blue Jays were in at the start of the 1990’s. After making the American League Championship series in 1985 and 89 and losing to Kansas City and Oakland, they needed to make a roster shifting trade to become a championship ballclub.

GM Pat Gillick made the trade that put the Jays over the top sending Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff to San Diego for Joe Carter and Hall Of Famer Robbie Alomar and as they say “the rest is history.”

So when do Ujiri and Weltman make the trade that puts the team in a position to make a championship run?

They do get their free agent signing of the summer, forward Jared Sullinger back around the all-star break from his foot injury suffered in the preseason. His defence and rebounding will help and it will be like getting player in a trade deadline deal without giving up someone.

But the question remains, does the Raptors management do something this year or wait?

The Raptors are getting the best season DeMar DeRozan has ever put out, averaging 28 points a game with 10 games of 30 points plus already.

But then you have starting center Jonas Valanciunas still not playing in crucial parts of games where you expect your starting center to play.

This team will win 50-plus games again, win the Atlantic Division title for a third straight year, and finish no lower than second in the East.

That’s why everybody will be watching what the Raptors do between now and the March first trade deadline.

Do they make a run now for a championship or wait until later?

Time will tell, but opportunities to win can be fleeting.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 


 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Three Is The Key For Raptors And Cavs

The game of the week in the NBA should be the rematch at the Air Canada Center between the 13-5 Cleveland Cavaliers and the 14-6 Toronto Raptors with first place in the Eastern Conference on the line. The style of play between these two teams couldn’t be more different, but the three is the key for both of them and it’s why Cleveland has beaten the Raptors twice this season already.

The Raptors are on a six game winning streak and the Cavs have dropped three in a row, but throw all that out as Cleveland is taking their opponents in last season’s Conference Finals seriously and LeBron James isn’t about to let his teammates put out another subpar effort.

The two teams have met on each others court already this season with the Cavs winning close games each time. A  107.5 – 104 margin of victory that can be attributed to Cleveland hitting on 12.5 of 32.5 three-point attempts while the Raptors were focused on the midrange and put down just 8.5 of 22.5 three-balls.

However, those contests came during the first 10 games of the season and things have changed dramatically since then for Toronto.

The Raptors started out this season looking like a team that had forgotten how to shoot the long ball, hitting on just 31 percent of 22.9 three-point attempts per game. DeMar DeRozan carried the team in scoring, but that just wasn’t enough against the Cavs.

Queue the next 10 games for Toronto after losing their second game to Cleveland 121-117 in mid-November and the Raptors got hot from outside and were about to get hotter. In the current six game winning streak Toronto is outscoring opponents 117.2 – 94.2 and they are hitting 50.6 percent of their 26.3 three-point attempts. While that’s still not at the same volume as the Cavaliers, the 13.3 makes matches the Cavs season average.

Cleveland is top five in three-point attempts (34.3), makes (13.3) and percentage (38.9), however, in their last two games they failed to attempt over 30 for only the second and third time this season. However, don’t anticipate they’ll shoot under 30 three-point attempts again in Toronto. The Cavs are deep in three-point threats with five players attempting more than four long balls per game.

The Raptors rarely get the respect they deserve from the US media who seem to forget the NBA Champion Cavs only won one more game than the Raptors last season. This third meeting between them is too close to call, but the three will be the key and neither team can have an off night from deep and be favored to win.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 



 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Go For First Place In The East Vs The Hawks

The surging (5-0) Toronto Raptors can claim a share of the top spot in the Eastern Conference with a win over the slumping (0-5) Atlanta Hawks at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.

The Raptors improved to 13-6 on the season with an easy wire-to-wire 113-80 win over the Lakers at home on Friday night to move to within a half game of the Cavaliers who lost their third game in a row as they fell 111-105 to the Bulls in Chicago. Toronto now plays the rare at home back-to-back tonight and the biggest concern may be to not look past the Hawks to the rematch against Cleveland on Monday.

Atlanta started out the season at 10-5, but a left hip injury to All-Star Paul Millsap in Utah has sent a team that was already starting to slide into a tailspin. Millsap played through the pain in losses to the Jazz, Lakers and Warriors, but he was finally sat down in the Hawks last two games and he isn’t expected to play against Toronto.

On Friday night the Hawks were crushed 121-85 by the Pistons and have now lost eight of their last nine games. They have been outscored by their opponents 104.4 – 92.7 over this stretch, however, the Raptors need to be cautious as this team started the season at 9-2 and dominated their opposition 107.8 – 98.2 including big wins in Cleveland (110-106) and against the Bulls (115-107).

The Raptors, in contrast, have been red hot over their past five games, dominating their opponents 115 – 96.2 as their offense has been firing on all cylinders led by All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry who is averaging 22.6 points and shooting 62.9 percent from three-point range over that span.

DeMar DeRozan who was leading the NBA in scoring until recently has retouched reality during the winning streak averaging just 20.8 points over the past five games, however, even he is hitting on 44.4 percent of his three-point attempts and contributing 6 boards and 6 dimes per game as defenses have decided to get the ball out of his hands at any cost. That cost has been letting Lowry and the rest of the Raptors three-point threats see a lot of open looks and they’ve been sinking them at a 50 percent clip, so eventually opponents may decide it’s better to let DeRozan shoot again.

Head coach Dwane Casey continues to preach defense, but after giving up an average of 105.5 points per game prior to the winning streak, his charges have kept their opponents below that in each of the past five games. The result may still not be up to Casey’s standards (it never is), but at least the trend is finally in the right direction.

The Raptors have lost both ends of their two previous back-to-back sets this season, so they shouldn’t be overconfident.

If Toronto can claim this winnable game against the Hawks, they’ll improve to 14-6 and sit in a virtual tie with the idle 13-5 Cavaliers. Cleveland has already defeated Toronto at the Q and at the ACC this season, so expect the Raptors to be motivated on Monday.

Note: The Toronto Raptors are in the midst of a six game homestand and the ACC has been sold out for 101 consecutive games including the regular season and the playoffs.  The streak began Nov. 11, 2014 vs Orlando and is the longest in franchise history.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 


 

 

NBA Los Angeles Lakers D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle & Jordan Clarkson

Lakers, Knicks, Pelicans And Jazz Are Better Than Their Records

The top teams of last season remain the top teams through the first full month of this year, so after April maybe nothing changes, but last year’s Lottery Teams in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Utah and New York look a lot better and the early signs point to the Lakers, Pelicans, Jazz and Knicks being playoff teams this season.

As of the end of November NBA teams have played 16 to 20 games and the early rust or lack of chemistry has started to fade. The revamped Warriors and the consistent Cavaliers remain the best in the league with the Clippers, Spurs and Raptors not so far behind. These five sit atop their respective conferences and are the only teams in the Association with winning records against opponents with a .500 record or better.

Expanded NBA Standings 11-30-2016

This early in the season the NBA standings can be misleading as teams will not have all faced the same level of competition, so one way to level the playing field is to look at records against opposition that are .500 or better.

The big changes atop the conferences are the better than expected start from the Clippers who aren’t underperforming this year and the modest, but expected, decline by the Thunder sans Kevin Durant. However, the Thunder are just one of two teams with a .500 record against winning clubs, the other team being the surprising Lakers.

Only those wearing purple and gold colored glasses had pegged the Lakers as a playoff team prior to this season and their youth may yet betray them, but the 9th place Lakers (10-10) are 6-6 vs teams with a .500 record or better and the losses that have kept them below the playoff line were against the Mavericks (3-14), Timberwolves (5-13) and the improving Pelicans (7-12).

In contrast to the Lakers, the Grizzlies and the Trail Blazers are above the playoff line thanks to a very soft schedule and going 8-2 against sub .500 teams.

The oft injured Pelicans dug themselves a deep hole to start the season by going 0-8, but they’ve started digging themselves out by starting to win against .500 or better teams. They’ll need to stop losing to the sub .500 crowd (1-5) like the recent loss to the Mavericks, but this team should soon be a lot better than their 7-12 record.

The Knicks currently reside in 9th place in the East, right where some of us thought they’d end up, but they’ve had a tough schedule to start the season and going 6-8 versus teams that are .500 or better and 3-1 against sub .500 clubs suggests this is a playoff team if injuries don’t derail them.

The NBA is just starting to round the quarter pole of the season, so a lot of things can still happen to improve or decimate a team’s fortunes, but the early trends suggest that while the top of the league may be stagnant, there could be big changes to the rest of the playoff picture before this is over.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 


 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving

Raptors Face Ultimate Test Of Style Vs Cavs And Warriors

No one can say the NBA schedule makers don’t have a sense of humor. The NBA’s fourth place overall Toronto Raptors face the favorites in the Eastern Conference tonight in Cleveland (second place overall) and then return home on the back-to-back to face this season’s Western Conference favorites Golden State (third place overall) in Toronto. This will be the ultimate test of style for the midrange focused Raptors. The Cavs and the Warriors love the long bomb, tossing up over 30 three-point attempts per night and burying opponents in an avalanche of points.

Led by the NBA’s leading scorer and midrange specialist DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors reside near the bottom of the league in three-point attempts and makes and are 15th in the NBA (opponents shoot 34.2 percent) at defending the long ball. Overall their defense holds opponents to a 7th best 43.4 percent shooting versus the Cavaliers 8th best 43.8 percent and the high scoring Warriors NBA median 44.7 percent, but they all do it so very differently.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey sets his defense to protect the paint first then runs teams off the three-point line, but so far Toronto’s opponents are attempting an NBA 7th most 30.2 attempts in the restricted area, although, the Raptors defense here is holding teams to a 6th best 57 percent shooting. Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise practicing against DeRozan that the Raptors are the NBA’s 2nd best team at defending the midrange (34.5 percent) and the fifth best team defending two-point shots (47.5 percent). It makes up for their very average defense of the three-point line.

As Casey often says, you have to take away something, and in Toronto they protect the paint.

The Cavaliers are one of the better teams at keeping opponents out of the paint altogether, giving up just 25.6 field goal attempts in the restricted area, but once there, teams score relatively easily (top 10 worst) at a 62.6 percent clip. The Cavs also give up a top 10 worst (41.9 percent) from midrange, but overall their defense has been more than adequate while scoring 109.4 points per game. It’s early in the season and the Cavs might be excused for playing just enough defense to win.

The Warriors “started slow” this season, but only by last year’s standards and they currently lead the NBA scoring 116.4 points per game. No other team has cracked 110 points on average. However, the Warriors give up 108 points per game, so they don’t appear to be winning with defense and their only losses have come when scoring 100 points or less themselves.

Opposing scorers that like to drive must be looking at the Warriors defense and licking their chops, it should be a big night for points. Golden State gives up an NBA 4th worst 64.4 percent opponent’s shooting in the restricted area. However, while the Warriors are bottom 10 at defending two-point shooting overall giving up 49.7 percent inside the arc, they are top 10 at defending the midrange (38.5 percent opponent’s shooting) and top 10 defending the three-point line (33.2 percent opponent’s shooting). They are a jump shooting team that can defend jump shooters.

The Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight at The Q where they completely dominated Toronto last season. Recently the two teams met in the second game of this season in Toronto with the Cavs pulling out a 94-91 victory on a last minute Kyrie Irving three-pointer followed by three-point misses by Patrick Patterson and Kyle Lowry. The Cavs were able to make their 12 made three-pointers standup in a tough defensive battle.

Toronto lost two close games with the Warriors last season by an average of 113.5 to 109.5 with Golden State sinking 27 three-pointers over the two games. If the Raptors want to steal a game here, they have to slow the pace down to something more to their liking and not get sucked into the “fun” of scoring easy buckets. The Warriors aren’t going to lose many shootouts this season.

The Raptors have been successful bucking the three-point focused trend in the NBA, but they face two of teams that have dominated by moving in this direction and these two games represent an early season ultimate test of opposing styles for Toronto.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 


 

 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

The Cavaliers Remain A Real Pain For The Toronto Raptors

By Frank McLean

The NBA’s schedule maker has teased fans of the Toronto Raptors this year. The official opening of the 2016-17 season had the Raptors open the campaign at the Air Canada Centre with the Detroit Pistons and there was time when the Pistons would be a very compelling opening game, but not anymore!

Detroit was a surprising eighth seed in last year’s playoffs, but the roster they throw out on the floor now does not have a Prince or a Hamilton on it anymore. Isiah Thomas, Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer weren’t coming out on the floor either.

To make matters worse the Pistons best player, Reggie Jackson, was out of the line-up with a knee injury and not expected back until sometime in December.

The next tilt on Friday night was the real opening night. The team the Raptors have to beat to make it to the NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs made their first visit to the “SIX” since they knocked the Raptors out of the Eastern Conference Finals in six games back in May.

In the last five months Cleveland has been a pain in the backside of Toronto sports fans. It used to be a city whose professional sports teams stunk and broke the hearts of their fans just like Toronto has experienced in recent decades.

In a matter of five months the Cavaliers eliminated the Raptors and won Cleveland’s first championship since the 1964 NFL’s Browns did it in football. Then the Indians ended the Blue Jays dream of a World Series berth.

Toronto fans were ready Friday night and you could feel a buzz in the ACC like it was, oh I don’t know, opening night!

The Cavaliers did win a nail bitter, 94-91 and it was a defensive struggle that made an early October match-up look more like a playoff battle in May.

“Specifically on the defensive side, I thought we did exceptionally well,” Patrick Patterson said after the game. “Granted, they missed a bunch of shots, but I thought our communication, finishing plays with the rebound and just talking overall whether it was guarding our man or just help-side defence, I thought we did a pretty good job. Offensively, we just missed a bunch of shots we normally make.

“Defensive side of the ball, I think that is the only positive thing you can take away. Just our effort and our energy on that side.”

The Raptors did miss a few shots that if they made them maybe they would have gotten the “W”.

“Some of the same shots we missed, I know we’re going to make,” head coach Dwayne Casey said in his post-game comments. “There’s no consolation, they beat us. We’ve got to continue to believe in our offensive shots. Those are the same shots we’re going to make, but we have to take care of the ball. We can’t have 18 turnovers because it’s a jailbreak against that team.”

One big positive was DeMar DeRozan who had scored 40 points in the Pistons game and added 32 against the Cavaliers. His 72 point total for the first two games of the season is a new club record.

He averaged 23.5-points a game last season and is on pace to push that to an even higher average.

However one problem which has cropped up in the first two games of the season is three-point shooting where they have shot just 7-for-34.

A lot of that has to do with the extended absence of power forward Jared Sullinger who signed a one year free agent deal with the Raptors after spending the first four years of his career with the Boston Celtics.

Sullinger was supposed to fill the void of outside shooting, but he will not make his debut until February since he has a broken bone in his left foot suffered in the first preseason game of the year.

Sullinger should make a huge difference in the second half of the season and the playoffs for the Raptors.

However, it’s only two games down with another 80 to go before the playoffs begin and like last year, the 82-game regular season is just a glorified preseason schedule. Monday night’s game against the Nuggets should only serve to emphasize that fact.

This Raptors team has been built for a long playoff run, so don’t worry, time will fly, and April will come soon enough. In the meantime, enjoy the ride.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 

 


NBA playoffs Cleveland Cavaliers Lebron James - Kyrie Irving - Kevin Love

Who Has The Star Power In The NBA East?

The NBA is a star driven league and the teams with the biggest stars seem to inevitably make it into the playoffs and the best on to the NBA Finals. However, no star is big enough to do it on their own, they need help on the level of the top 100 NBA players as described by SI.com’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney. SI might not be 100 percent right on their selections, but be assured, if a team doesn’t have more than it’s share of talent from this list, their playoff aspirations could be in trouble.

Eastern Conference teams with significant top 100 depth are:

Cleveland Cavaliers (5 players on SI’s top 100)

Assuming a deal eventually gets done with J.R. Smith (96th), the Cavs have SI’s number one ranked player in the NBA, LeBron James backed up by Kyrie Irving (25), Kevin Love (30) and Tristan Thompson (52). This returning starting five averaged an impressive 81.1 points and 31.1 rebounds.

Somehow it doesn’t seem fair that James gets to play with this much depth until one checks out the Warriors who have four players ranked in the top 20.

Boston Celtics (5 players on SI’s top 100)

The free agent acquisition of Al Horford (18th) gives the Celtics a top 20 player to play with Isaiah Thomas (45), Jae Crowder (53), Avery Bradley (72) and Amir Johnson (86). However, this likely starting five only averaged 74.1 points and 24.7 rebounds combined last year. The Celtics might just miss last season’s number 4 scorer and SI snub ranked in the “next 25” Evan Turner. Horford replaces Boston’s top rebounder and fifth leading scorer Jared Sullinger who signed with Toronto.

Orlando Magic (5 players on SI’s top 100)

It may come as a surprise, but the Magic really are a better and deeper team than last year’s 35 win squad, albeit with perhaps more depth at the 4/5 than usual? The acquisition of Serge Ibaka (42) fits in nicely with the smash-mouth style of new head coach Frank Vogel as does free agent Bismack Biyombo (91). They join Nikola Vucevic (75), Evan Fournier (95) and Aaron Gordon (99). A starting five Elfrid Payton, Fournier, Gordon, Ibaka and Vucevic averaged 65.5 points and 28.1 rebounds combined last year.

Orlando could be a playoff team, but with no star in the top 40, depth can only carry a team so far.

Toronto Raptors (4 players on SI’s top 100)

The Raptors top ranked players all played on last year’s 56 win team led by Kyle Lowry (14), DeMar DeRozan (46), Jonas Valanciunas (62) and DeMarre Carroll (73). SI snub Cory Joseph just missing the cut. Toronto’s starting lineup will include Sullinger from the Celtics replacing the 36-year-old Luis Scola. This anticipated starting lineup averaged a Cavaliers-like 78.8 points and 31.3 rebounds combined. Lowry is ranked as the third best player in the East and should be expected to carry his team far again this season.

Charlotte Hornets (4 players on SI’s top 100)

The Hornets live or die on the back of Kemba Walker (33), but he has help from Nicolas Batum (43), Marvin Williams (65) and Cody Zeller (94). Micheal Kidd-Gilchrist made the next 25 snub list despite only playing 7 regular season games last year. These five players averaged 68.9 points and 29.5 rebounds combined.

Washington Wizards (4 players on SI’s top 100)

No one ever said the Wizards didn’t have talent. John Wall (17), Marcan Gortat (55), Bradley Beal (58) and Ian Mahinmi (76) all make SI’s top 100. The presumed starting lineup includes Otto Porter and Markieff Morris with 74.5 points and 29.3 boards combined.

Atlanta Hawks (4 players on SI’s top 100)

This team doesn’t feel like a playoff contender, but Paul Millsap (15), Dwight Howard (34), Kyle Korver (70) and Kent Bazemore (90) indicate there’s still something here. Dennis Schroder takes over from Jeff Teague to lead this group at point guard, their combined averages were 62.6 points and 31.8 rebounds.

In a 30 team league, a middle of the pack team should have at least three players from SI’s list and five Eastern Conference teams do.  Teams hitting this mark include:

Chicago Bulls feature Jimmy Butler (16), Dwyane Wade (32) and Robin Lopez (82) plus three more in the next 25, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Rajon Rondo, so maybe they are better than average?

Indiana Pacers feature the resurgent Paul George (9), Jeff Teague (57) and Thaddeus Young (66) plus two snubs in Monta Ellis and Al Jefferson. George is ranked as the second best player in the East, so expect the Pacers to be in the middle of the playoff pack rather than the middle of the conference.

Milwaukee Bucks have Kris Middleton (39), Giannis Antetokounmpo (48), Greg Monroe (63) plus Jabari Parker in the next 25. (Note: Middleton is expected to miss the next 6 months due to injury)

Detroit Pistons rely on Andre Drummond (29), Reggie Jackson (54) and Tobias Harris (77). Head coach Stan Van Gundy might be the real star in Detroit.

In theory Miami had Hassan Whiteside (35), Goran Dragic (61) and Chris Bosh (37), however, Bosh failed his preseason physical so maybe the Heat can stop pretending they can even be an average team this season?

The star power in the East suggests Cleveland remains unchallenged with Toronto, Boston and possibly Indiana fighting it out for next best. However, the depleted Hawks with four players in the top 100 may not be as badly off as anticipated if they can find the chemistry needed to keep their 9-year postseason run alive.

It should be noted that the Knicks are one of just three Eastern Conference teams to have less than three players on SI’s top 100 list as Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah fell into the snubbed category. The East and the West each have 50 players in SI’s top 100.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 


 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Experts Rank The 2016-17 NBA East

It seems like months since an NBA team has made a move that wasn’t anticipated or mattered, so how the NBA East was ranked really shouldn’t have changed much since the end of July when ESPN forecast the standings for 2016-17. Recently Basketball Insiders Joel Brigham and Steve Kyler threw caution to the wind and talked thru their ranking of the Eastern Conference and Pro Bball Report has come to its own conclusions about where this season is headed.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers, last year 57-25

ESPN – Cavaliers
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Cavaliers
Pro Bball Report – Cavaliers

Even with the Cavs three-point leader J.R. Smith still unsigned for 2016-17, any team LeBron James is on remains the undisputed favorite in the East. Besides, no one believes the 31-year-old Smith really has any other option but to re-sign with the Cavaliers.

2. Toronto Raptors, last year 56-26

ESPN – Toronto/Boston tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Raptors
Pro Bball Report – Raptors

Don’t undersell a 56 win season. ESPN tends to overestimate the impact of the loss of backup (stress backup) center Bismack Biyombo on Toronto who Kyler suggests might have the worst hands in basketball and ESPN ignores the challenge Boston will face with the loss of their best rebounder in Jared Sullinger to Toronto. The Celtics may have picked up a few wins with the veteran savvy of All-Star Al Horford, but a really bad rebounding team got worse this summer. Boston is still going to struggle getting the ball back after playing their brand of stellar defense again this season.

3. Boston Celtics, last year 48-34

ESPN – Toronto/Boston tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Pacers
Pro Bball Report – Celtics

Kyler likes the Celtics here, disagreeing with his senior writer on this pick as he is not sold on the Pacers coaching change and he’s got a point, Frank Vogel is a superior coach. However, everyone seems to agree that the top four teams in the East are the Cavs, Raptors, Celtics and Pacers. It’s easy to like the Celtics here.

4. Indiana Pacers, last year 45-37

ESPN – Pacers/Pistons tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Celtics
Pro Bball Report – Pacers

After watching Paul George in the first round of the playoffs, it’s easy to say the Pacers are back and they have a superstar that can carry the team. The Jeff Teague for George Hill move is likely a wash, but acquiring Thaddeus Young is an upgrade and if Al Jefferson can get his game back on track, the Pacers will be one of the tougher teams in the East. Replacing Frank Vogel with Nate McMillan remains a head scratcher?

5. Detroit Pistons, last year 44-38

ESPN – Pacers/Pistons tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Bulls
Pro Bball Report – Pistons

Basketball Insiders seems to think that as many as 12 teams in the East could have 40 or more wins in 2016-17, although a couple of teams are likely to fall short of expectations. Like last season when 10 teams had 40+ win records, the battle for the last four playoff spots is going to be fierce. The Pistons are building from a solid base with a fiery head coach known for getting the most out of his guys (at least for a few years). All the rest have issues to overcome and the Pistons continuity should give them the edge.

6. Chicago Bulls, last year 42-40

ESPN – Hawks
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Wizards
Pro Bball Report – Bulls

ESPN hangs their hat on the acquisition of Dwight Howard to save the Hawks, but that’s not a limb everyone is going to be willing to climb out on. In Chicago the combination of Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade should be enough to get the Bulls back in the postseason picture and it’s hard jumping on a Wizards revival bandwagon before seeing them play a game.

7. Charlotte Hornets, last year 48-34

ESPN – Hornets
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Knicks
Pro Bball Report – Hornets

Yes the Hornets lost Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee, but this team lives and dies on the play of Kemba Walker and as long as he returns 100 percent from his August knee surgery, the Hornets should be back in the mix for a playoff spot. Kyler’s assertion that this team can’t put together back-to-back winning seasons notwithstanding. Unfortunately, the popular Knicks are a team built to break their fans’ hearts.

8. Orlando Magic, last year 35-47

ESPN – Wizards
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Detroit
Pro Bball Report – Magic

Kyler acknowledges the Magic, among others, can win 40 games, although it will likely take 44 wins again this season to make the playoffs in the East. The Magic have issues to overcome, but talent isn’t one of them. This team will rise or falter on new head coach Frank Vogel’s ability to get the most out of what he’s got and just in case you haven’t been paying attention, betting against Vogel hasn’t been a good idea.

9. New York Knicks, last year 32-50

ESPN – Knicks/Bulls tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Magic
Pro Bball Report – Knicks

On paper the Knicks should be fifth in the East like Kyler suggested, unfortunately at this point in their careers some of the Knicks best players have joints that seem to be made of paper. If Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Carmelo Anthony and Joakim Noah can stay on the court, the Knicks can stay in the playoff picture and be a threat in the postseason. Based on recent Knicks luck, that’s a lot to ask for.

10. Washington Wizards, last year 41-41

ESPN – Knicks/Bulls tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Bucks
Pro Bball Report – Wizards

A lot of people want the Wizards to figure it out. Wall and Beal are an exciting pair when they are healthy and don’t appear to hate each other (ok, hate is a little strong, but there are issues here). The Wizards are just one year away from a 46 win season, but that feels like ancient history now and if things aren’t going well by Christmas, changes will need to be made. Maybe Scott Brooks can save this motley crew, but we’re not convinced.

11. Atlanta Hawks, last year 48-34

ESPN – Bucks
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Hornets
Pro Bball Report – Hawks

Two seasons ago the Hawks were a 60 win team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but since then DeMarre Carroll, Jeff Teague and Al Horford have moved/been moved on and Kyle Korver has had his 35th birthday. The Hawks are good enough to win 40 games, but that record will still end a nine year run as an Eastern Conference playoff team. There’s no love for the Hawks chances from Basketball Insiders. ESPN putting the Hawks in sixth feels like a lot of wishful thinking.

12. Milwaukee Bucks, last year 33-49

ESPN – Heat
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Hawks
Pro Bball Report – Bucks

The Bucks appear to have improved somewhat from last season, but so much of their success will hinge on the development of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker and getting a collection of talent that doesn’t quite seem to fit to play better.

13. Miami Heat, last year 48-34

ESPN – Magic
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Heat
Pro Bball Report – Heat

The Heat’s Big Three are no more. LeBron James left for Cleveland last year. Wade bolted for Chicago this summer and Chris Bosh may or may not ever play again. Add to this to the loss of Luol Deng and Joe Johnson and the Heat are rebuilding – whether they admit to it or not. The only real question outstanding is if Miami is willing to move out the 30-year-old veteran Goran Dragic for young players and a draft pick or do they stay the course and hope for better than the rationally expected outcome?

14. Philadelphia 76ers, last year 10-72

ESPN – 76ers/Nets tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – 76ers
Pro Bball Report – 76ers

A very young and inexperienced roster of top NBA draft picks with veterans Sergio Rodriguez, Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson providing some badly needed leadership that should enable this team to double last year’s win total.

15. Brooklyn Nets, last year 21-61

ESPN – 76ers/Nets tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Nets
Pro Bball Report – Nets

It wasn’t easy to field a team that was worse than last year’s Nets, but with a little work (salary dump), the Nets made it happen. And the Celtics can swap first round draft picks with Brooklyn in June and own the Nets 2018 first round pick. This is what basketball purgatory looks like.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 


 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Is The NBA East Waiting On LeBron James To Get Old?

Father-time remains undefeated and in the NBA East that may be the only thing that can stop the reign of King James. Soon to be 32-years-old, LeBron has taken his team to the NBA Finals six times in a row and he is the overwhelming favorite to carry his Cleveland Cavaliers there again this season. With many of the Cavs so called rivals choosing to hold onto draft picks and young developing talent, no Eastern Conference team even looks like they have made a serious attempt to dethrone the King this summer. Almost everyone in the East seems to be waiting on James to get old and/or injured for now.

The Cavs aren’t going to make it easy to compete either. They’ll be a luxury tax team again this this season – expected to be the only tax team in the East. The sole remaining outstanding question is how deep into the tax will re-signing J.R. Smith push them? Can Smith extract the $15 million per year out of Cleveland he’s looking for before training camp opens? The Cavs aren’t losing to anyone because of money.

While there were a number of outlandish contracts handed out this summer and a lot of good players got paid, there were some cheap head scratching deals done by players that would have helped any Eastern Conference team that actually thought they had a shot this season and some veterans who could help a team’s depth that are still available, such as:

David Lee – 2 years, $3.1 million, Spurs
Zaza Pachulia – 1 year, $2.9 million, Warriors
Marreese Speights – 2 years, $2.8 million, Clippers
Brandon Bass – 1 year, $1.5 million, Clippers
Terrence Jones – 1 year, $980,000, Pelicans

Still available:
Lance Stephenson
Norris Cole
Tyler Hansbrough
Josh Smith
Jason Thompson

There are a lot more names that could be added to either list who would be better than just about anyone’s 11-15th player.

Toronto Raptors

The 56 win second place Toronto Raptors seemed to be in the best position to make a bold move by cashing in their two first round draft picks and some young talent to go for it in the upcoming season, but the mantra in Toronto continues to be “we’re not a finished product.” That Toronto isn’t a finished product is true, but with two returning All-Star guards, a breakout playoff performance by center Jonas Valanciunas before he got hurt and the anticipated return of a healthy ‘3-and-d’ stopper in DeMarre Carroll, president and general manager Masai Ujiri didn’t seem to even try to fill out his roster with veterans like the Cavs have done. After deeming other teams trade demands were too high, he ignored the numerous playoff proven veterans that were available on the cheap and in the East, he wasn’t alone.

With 8/10ths of last season’s rotation returning, the Raptors will be a 50+ win team again this season with a shot a first in the Conference, but they know the Cavaliers don’t really care about that and with good reason. It’s hard to identify any possibly available player or combination of players that would tip the scales in Toronto’s favor in a seven game series with the Cavs especially without Ujiri giving up the best of his young talent. So the Raptors doubled down on developing talent and kept their youth and their picks and signed four prospects to training camp invites to see if they could find another player to develop.

Boston Celtics

If the 48 win Celtics could have found a way to add another star player after picking up Al Horford in free agency, then maybe, just maybe, they’d be considered a threat to the King. The Celtics had more draft picks than any team could possibly add in one season, so when the trade market wasn’t any friendlier to them than it was to Toronto, they went about stashing what they could in Europe and jumping back on the player development bandwagon.

Boston should be a 50+ win team this year and challenge Toronto’s claim on the Atlantic Division , but with so many young players deserving and needing playing time to develop, it’ll be another interesting season for head coach Brad Stevens as he tries to balance between winning now and finding out what he’s got for a couple of years down the road when the James led Cavs might finally be gettable.

Indiana Pacers

Then there’s the Pacers. Indiana is betting on the resurgence of superstar Paul George to carry a veteran laden team to the next level. Respected head coach Frank Vogel was replaced by Nate McMillan and the team waived good-bye to Ty Lawson, Solomon Hill and Ian Mahinmi. George Hill was traded for Jeff Teague, they traded a draft pick for Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson was picked up in free agency. Where Toronto and Boston brought back essentially the same rotation with tweaks they hope will fit in seamlessly for the better and are loaded with young prospects, Indiana used a wrecking ball and added veterans.

The Pacers won 45 games last year and should, if everything comes together as hoped, be better this year and no one can say they are waiting for James to get old. On the other hand, no one seems to believe the changes will put Indiana ahead of Boston or Toronto either.

Myles Turner is a player to watch for the future, but after that, the Pacers are a win now team that aren’t being given much of a chance of advancing beyond the second round of the playoffs.

Realistically, the East is treading water waiting on King James to let them back in the game. Not that anyone would (should) admit to that, but waiting on LeBron to get old isn’t such a bad idea. He’ll be 33-years-old in another year.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 


 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Kyle Lowry Outperformed Cavs Kyrie Irving in Rio

Perhaps this shouldn’t have come as a surprise as the top players at international tournaments are invariably the more experienced veterans, so when Team USA was struggling – and they did struggle in Rio, they went to their 30-year-old veteran point guard Kyle Lowry from the Toronto Raptors to get things back on track.  It’s not that the Cavs 24-year-old Kyrie Irving had a bad tournament, he shot the ball well and was a significant contributor on offense, it was Lowry’s defense that allowed him to outperform his NBA rival as described by Kurt Helin of NBC Sports.

As they had every step of the way to the USA’s gold medal, the bench changed the dynamic of the game when they entered.

Deserving the most credit was the combination of Kyle Lowry at the point and Paul George at the wing — they changed games. Plural. Lowry is a better, more tenacious on-ball defender than Kyrie Irving.

Look at it this way, against Argentina in the quarterfinals the lineup of Lowry, Butler, George, Durant, and DeMarcus Cousins was +20 in 12 minutes, the rest of the team was +7 for the remainder of the game.

the USA doesn’t have gold without Lowry, George and the rest of Team USA’s bench.

Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski had a plan. Irving was paired with defensive center DeAndre Jordan who clogged the paint and intimidated at the rim.  Lowry played a lot with the offensively talented DeMarcus Cousins and the Kings big man had a monster performance in the Gold medal game. In the end, Krzyzewski’s rotations got the job done yet again and Team USA got better the longer the tournament went.

For all the NBA players that didn’t make it to the Olympics in Rio like LeBron James, Team USA was still an All-Star roster and their least utilized player Harrison Barnes just signed at $94.4 million contract with the Dallas Mavericks in July. Team USA won the Gold with their depth – again. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a veteran All-Star was one of the keys to victory.

Gold Medal Team USA at the 2016 Rio Olympics

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 


 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMarre Carroll

Ranking The NBA Eastern Conference 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers ended up defeating the Golden State Warriors bringing the Larry O’Brien Trophy back to the Eastern Conference, but the major question is what did the other 14 teams in the East do to keep the Cavs from repeating? Here’s an early season preview on each of the teams.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

Key Additions- Mike Dunleavy Jr and Chris Anderson
Key Loss- Matthew Dellavadova

Outlook – LeBron James just re-signed and although J.R Smith hasn’t (he will), the Cavaliers are the defending NBA Champions with no major losses from last year’s team. Kyrie Irving has turned into a superstar point guard and could be best point guard not named Paul, Westbrook or Curry in the NBA. Dunleavy Jr. brings a solid 3-point marksman off the bench. Now the real question is will Kevin Love still be on this roster on opening night? If he is, then they should repeat with no problems.


2. Toronto Raptors

Key Addition- Jared Sullinger
Key Losses- Bismack Biyombo and Luis Scola

Outlook – Toronto entered Free Agency with one major agenda and that was re-signing DeMar DeRozan as soon as possible. Well the Compton, California native didn’t entertain the chance to going back home and signed a huge contract to stay in Toronto. Playoff hero Bismack Biyombo got a huge payday from the Orlando Magic and the team lost a few spare pieces off a team that won 56 games and took the Cavaliers to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. So why do they stay at number 2? Well Jonas Valenciunas and DeMarre Carroll are both healthy and they added former Celtic Jared Sullinger to help in the forward rotation. Besides you have Kyle Lowry and DeRozan as your starting backcourt. There’s no need to go any further.

3. Boston Celtics

Key Addition- Al Horford
Key Losses- Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger

Outlook – Boston didn’t get Kevin Durant, but they got former Hawks All-Star Al Horford to come play in Beantown. The 31-year-old Horford, brings an interior presence, a solid team defender and inside/outside threat from the post. Armed with so many young players, they let Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger go in free agency, but 1st round pick Jaylen Brown should ease some of the load and remember the Celtics still have 1st time All-Star Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart and All-NBA Defensive wizard Avery Bradley as your lead guard rotation. One can only wonder when will Danny Ainge pull the trigger on a big trade for one more big fish to chase Cleveland and Toronto in the East.

4. Indiana Pacers

Key Addtions- Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson
Key Losses- George Hill, Jordan Hill and Ian Mahinmi

Outlook – No team was more active in the early part of summer than the Indiana Pacers. They made Draft day deals for Teague and Young and during the free agency period and added Al Jefferson from Charlotte. With the additions Teague and Young, the Pacers potentially the best starting 5 in the Eastern Conference. Jefferson brings one of the best low post games to the bench while they still have All-Star Paul George, the always dangerous Monta Ellis and the improving 2nd year stud Miles Turner. Remember CJ Miles and Rodney Stuckey will lead the bench unit along with Jefferson. The major questions is how will new head coach Nate McMillan turn this group into a Eastern Conference contender.

5. Atlanta Hawks

Key Additions- Dwight Howard and Jarrett Jack
Key Losses- Al Horford and Jeff Teague

Outlook – I know when you look at this your wondering why are the Hawks rated this high? Well, adding Howard is going to be bigger than most think. Howard, in this writers opinion, will turn back into the Orlando Howard. Yes he’s a bit older and a lot of his athleticism is gone, that doesn’t mean Howard can’t go back to 18 points, 12 rebounds and at least 2 blocks a game. Howard spending more time in the post will allow Paul Millsap to be able to have more space on the floor on the offensive side. Resigning Kent Bazemore was critical to this team upcoming success especially if one of the draft picks Taurean Prince or DeAndre Bembry can step into the starting Small Forward spot and allow Kyle Korver to come off the bench. But the evolution of Dennis Schroder into an upper ensulion Point Guard is the key for the Hawks to stay in this spot.

6. New York Knicks

Key Additions- Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee
Key Losses- Langston Galloway, Aaron Affalo, Robin Lopez and Derrick Williams

Outlook – New York made some major splashes and took some major risks in the process. By adding Rose and Noah from Chicago they are taking a big risk with guys with no good great injury histories. Noah has had one season since 2009-2010 of playing at least 70 games and we already know about Rose’s history. Bringing in Lee adds another solid role player who knows his role and plays it very well. If the Knicks starting 5 can at least by 65 games together, this ranking might be a bit too low.

7. Charlotte Hornets

Key Additions- Roy Hibbert, Ramon Sessions and Marco Bellini
Key Losses- Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee

Outlook – Charlotte did lose a lot this summer from a team that was one game away from being in the 2nd round of the Playoffs. So after losing 3 key members off last season’s team, how can they stay in the playoffs? Getting a full season from defensive wizard Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the 1st reason. With MKG and Nicolas Batum manning the wings it allows for Kemba Walker to play the passing lanes, which creates more steals. Adding Roy Hibbert at center is a massive upgrade on the defensive side of the floor because Jefferson couldn’t really guard anyone in the post. The main problem once again is can this team score enough points to win. For Charlotte to take that step forward, it’s going to have to be a team effort and they have enough guys who can do that. Watch for Walker to be an All-Star this year.

8. Chicago Bulls

Key Additions- Dwayne Wade, Rajon Rondo and Robin Lopez
Key Losses- Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose

Outlook – The Bulls didn’t make the playoffs last year and they lost Pau Gasol among other players, but this team will end up outlasting Detroit to make the final spot in the playoffs. Any time you have All-Stars in Wade and Jimmy Butler it’s kind of hard to leave them out of the playoffs. Wade has something to prove as he was passed over for a major contract this summer. Now they are issues everywhere when it comes to the roster and the style of play that 2nd year Head Coach Fred Hoiberg wants to play. He wants to be a perimeter oriented team, well with Wade, Butler and Rajon Rondo you won’t get that at all. None of the 3 of them are close to being 3 point threats. Good news for Bulls fans is with the losses of Gasol and Noah, the #FreeBobbyPortis movement can finally see the light.

9. Detroit Pistons

Key Additons- Jon Leuer, Ish Smith and Boban Marjanovic
Key Losses- Steve Blake and Anthony Tolliver

Outlook – Detroit made the playoffs last year and this unit is still young so they miss the playoffs for what reason? Well, Chicago added Dwayne Wade, New York has a better starting 5 and Atlanta and Charlotte are just better teams currently. Someone had to miss the playoffs. The Pistons can easily make the playoffs if Stanley Johnson and Kentanvous Caldwell-Pope can exceed expectations. What Detroit really needs is that star that can take games over in the 4th quarter. Andre Drummond is a free throw liability and Reggie Jackson is not a closer.

10. Orlando Magic

Key Additions- Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, D.J. Augustin and Jeff Green
Key Losses- Victor Oladipo, Ersan Illavsova and Dewayne Dedmon

Outlook – Orlando made some interesting moves this summer to say the least. Good news is that they have the best shot blocking duo in the NBA, added a new Head Coach in Frank Vogel and they created a buzz in Orlando. Now here is the bad news, they don’t have a go-to-scorer, they have forced the potential face of franchise in Aaron Gordon to play out of position at Small Forward to get him playing time and have a serious issue when it comes to outside shooting. They added Jodie Meeks from Detroit, but he’s still hurt currently. Evan Fournier and Augustin are solid from behind the arc, but that’s really it. 2nd year Guard Mario Hezonja better make a tremendous leap or it’s going to be a long year in Orlando. To be honest, I’m not sold on the Biyombo signing, he’s needed but not at over $17 million per season.

11. Washington Wizards

Key Additions- Ian Mahinmi and Andrew Nicholson
Key Losses- Ramon Sessions, Nene, Gary Neal and Jared Dudley

Outlook – Washington has been going through the injury bug for years, especially with newly paid Bradley Beal. If All-Star Point Guard John Wall could finally get his main guys healthy long enough, this team has enough talent to potentially breakthrough and make the playoffs. New coach Scott Brooks is very good at getting the most out of his teams and if gets this unit in the playoffs, then he should be a serious candidate for Coach of the Year. If Beal and others can’t stay healthy, Wizards fans will be looking forward to next years draft.

12. Milwaukee Bucks

Key Additions- Matthew Dellavadova and Mirza Teletovic
Key Losses- Jerryd Bayless, OJ Mayo and Grievis Vasquez

Outlook – For a team that has one of the best groups of talent in the NBA and were in the playoffs 2 years ago, to be out of the playoffs for potentially a 2nd season in a row is head scratching. Lets be honest, the major hole on this roster was at point guard going into the summer. They went out and drafted Thon Maker (a 7’0 power forward/center) in the lottery, let Bayless and Vasquez go to other teams and went out and overpaid for Dellavadova from Cleveland. They would be better, if Michael Carter-Willams played with a pulse or the team could acquire a point guard for out of place Big Man Greg Monroe. Otherwise it could be a wasted year for young studs Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton in Milwaukee.

13. Miami Heat

Key Additions- Dion Waiters, Derrick Williams and Wayne Ellington
Key Losses- Dwayne Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson

Outlook – It could be a long year in South Beach in 2016-2017 for Heat fans. They have lost the face of the franchise in Wade, key veterans in Deng and Johnson and they still don’t know about the health of Chris Bosh. This spells a recipe for disaster for head coach Eric Spolstra and company. On a positive note, this youth movement will allow Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson to grow as the leaders with Hassan Whiteside anchoring the low post.

14. Philadelphia 76ers

Key Additions- Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson
Key Loss- Ish Smith

Outlook – For the 1st Time in years the Philadelpha 76ers aren’t the worst team in the NBA. They added Ben Simmons, Saric and Joel Embiid to the front court that already has Nerlens Noel and Jahil Okafor in the rotation. Now if they can either be bad for one more year and draft a guard of the future or deal a big man or two to get an established one, then we are talking something special in Philly. Simmons alone is one of the few players worth getting NBA League Pass for in the upcoming season.

15. Brooklyn Nets

Key Additions- Jeremy Lin, Grievis Vasquez and Luis Scola
Key Losses- Jarrett Jack, Thaddeus Young and Wayne Ellington

Outlook – It could get really ugly in Brooklyn this year. I mean REALLY UGLY. They tried and failed in free agency, offering contracts to Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe only to have them matched by their teams. Their previous 1st round pick went to Boston and their upcoming pick will in most cases head right back to Boston as well. Unless the Brook-Lin connection is the basketball version of wrestling’s Rock and Sock Connection, they will not get out of the cellar in the Eastern Conference.

 

 

Danny Thompson Full Court Press Radio hostDanny Thompson is the Creator and Host of NBA Full Court Press Radio and Lead Columnist for FULL COURT PRESS RADIO.

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.

 

 

 


 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James and JR Smith

Few Options Left For Cavs Free Agent J.R. Smith – But Not None

The Luxury Tax challenged Cleveland Cavaliers left sharp-shooter J.R. Smith hanging out in the breeze until practically every other option was gone last summer and despite General Manager David Griffin assertion that, “I think the good news is J.R. wants to be here and we want J.R. back,” they are doing it again.

The Cavs cheaped out on Smith last summer when they got him back for just $5 million, but the soon-to-be 31-year-old has his ring now and this is his last chance a big NBA contract. It’s no wonder the multi-year deal at $10 million per season as reported by Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler hasn’t gotten it done.

League sources said that Smith and his camp were not overly concerned about reaching a deal, with a belief that the Cavs have put a multi-year offer in the $10 million per year neighborhood on the table weeks ago. They added that Smith and his advisors have been looking for a slightly bigger offer and that waiting things out was simply about leverage and trying to get a slightly better deal.

Like last year, the issue in Cleveland is with LeBron James new deal, they are already into Luxury Tax territory and signing Smith to a $10-15 million per season deal is going to cost near double that.

If Smith is going to get something close to market value for a veteran three-point shooter with a career average over 42 percent from beyond the arc, he needs to find someone willing to offer more. The bigger issue is his agent has to convince the handful of teams with sufficient salary cap space to make an offer that they aren’t just being used as leverage. Smith has to at least look like he’s willing to jump off the Championship bandwagon to get the payday that will make his career.

It shouldn’t be that hard. Smith’s career earning are “just” $45.5 million. He should at least double that with his next contract.

Possible Destinations

Brooklyn Nets estimated cap space $18.5 million

The Nets need to win games, if for nothing less than to stop Boston from getting another top five lottery pick from them. Boston can swap first round draft picks with Brooklyn next June and Boston outright owns the Nets 2018 pick.

Adding a veteran to this thin team would help them win a few more games. Offer J.R. something close to $18 million for one year and watch the Cavs choke on it.

Denver Nuggets estimated cap space $18.4 million

Denver is a team that should be looking to the future and handing the starting shooting guard spot to the 21-year-old Gary Harris, but if they have playoff aspirations/fantasies for this season, then J.R. would take their veteran talent level up a notch.

Minnesota Timberwolves estimated salary cap space $13.3 million

The Timberwolves should believe they are close to being a playoff team. Maybe they are not quite there yet, but their young talent is poised to take another step and a veteran from an NBA Championship team who could play significant minutes off the bench might just be the stabilizing factor that puts them over the top.

Wait – was that J.R. Smith and stabilizing factor used in the same sentence? The Cavs J.R. has not been the Knicks J.R. and he’s over 30-years-old now. If J.R. wants to help a young up-and-coming team get over the hump and play with some very talented future stars … the Cavs might just buy this move and match what the T-wolves could pay before discussions get too serious.

Philadelphia 76ers estimated cap space $30 million

Sure the 76ers could pay J.R. more money than he could turn down, but he wouldn’t be happy here very long and this doesn’t look remotely like a fit.

Phoenix Suns estimated cap space $15 million

The Suns underperformed – again, and their talent level suggests that despite the vast array of very confusing moves by the head office, this team should win a lot more than 23 games.

There would be an issue about where exactly J.R. would fit in this team’s rotation, not that such issues seem to have been much of a deterrent to acquiring players in the recent past.

Utah Jazz estimated cap space $12.5 million

With the additions of George Hill and Joe Johnson, this 40 win team is going to be fighting for a playoff spot. J.R. Smith would almost certainly put them in the postseason picture and make an already dangerous looking group that much more ready to challenge the “big boys” in the West.

The Cavs wouldn’t want to lose J.R. to a 4-year $50 million offer, but if they let things play out to save a few bucks off the Luxury Tax bill, it’s a realistic possibility the Jazz could sell the veteran three-point shooter that he’s wanted in Utah.

As LeBron James said when he announced his new deal, “Let’s get J.R. done. It’s that time.”

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Ball On My Mind is holding a Hold Your Own Showcase & Create Your Own Mixtape Event August 26 – 28, 2016 for high school age basketball players in the greater Toronto area with Chris Hemphill, scout with NC Preps in association with Rivals.com (One of the largest American Scouting Services in the US).
Spaces are limited. Registrations after August 12th will be accepted based on availability.

 

 

 

 


 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James and Kyrie Irving

NBA Eastern Conference’s Best Starting Lineups 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

Barring in major trades or injuries between now and the start of the NBA Season at the end of October, most teams across the league have their starting lineups pretty much in place.

Starting units are very important. Just ask the Detroit Pistons, who had one of the the best starting lineups last year by many metrics, which carried them to the playoffs despite having one of the worst benches by those very same metrics. Who has the best one currently in the Eastern Conference? Number one should be no surprise:

1. Cleveland – Kyrie Irving, J.R Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson

They are the defending champions, so why wouldn’t they be at the very top. With Thompson and Love, teams have a hard time grabbing rebounds against them. We all know that Smith can go off from behind the arc at any point in time and Irving has entered the discussion being a top 5 point guard. By the way they have LeBron James on their team as well.

2. Toronto Raptors – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Jared Sullinger and Jonas Valanciunas

This unit made the Eastern Conference Finals without Carroll or Valanciunas being anywhere near healthy. DeMarre Carroll was brought in to be a defensive stopper and glue guy, and this will be the year he makes good on that reputation. Sullinger brings another scoring threat who can take pressure off the Eastern Conference’s best backcourt.

3. Indiana Pacers – Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, Paul George, Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner

So much talent here among this group of five. The three returning starters, Ellis, George, and Turner are very good. George is an MVP candidate, Turner could very well be the 2nd best player in his draft class, and Ellis is still a dangerous scorer. Now they add Thaddeus Young and Jeff Teague to the mix? This Pacer team has a group that could be very special.

4. Detroit Pistons – Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris and Andre Drummond

Detroit had one of the best starting 5’s in the NBA after they traded for Harris at the deadline, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be in the top five now, giving the young age of this group. Caldwell-Pope is the real key for the Pistons this year.

5. Boston Celtics – Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Al Horford and Amir Johnson

This rating would be higher if they can find a way to replace Johnson without having to move Horford away from the Power Forward spot. Johnson is a talented defensive player, but he has a lot of issues especially with fouling that keeps this unit from being higher. Like last year’s Warriors, The Celtics best lineup may not be the starting one, given the strength of Boston’s guards.

6. New York Knicks – Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah

This team would be higher on this list, but there are so many injury flags with this group. If Rose and Noah can each play at least 65 games with this unit, Porzingis continues to develop, and Carmelo decides to lead this group like he’s leading Team USA this summer, then this rating is too low.

7. Charlotte Hornets – Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Ghilchrist, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller

Charlotte has one of the best defensive units in the league, especially with Kidd-Ghilchrist coming back off of injury. Batum, along with the departed Jeremy Lin, allowed Kemba Walker to play off ball a lot last season, which helped Walker to have the best season of his career. Williams is very underrated at Power Forward, and Cody Zeller has to step up and play at an even higher level if the Hornets want to back in the playoffs.

8. Chicago Bulls – Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez

Fred Hoiberg wants a team that can go up and down the floor and be able to hit outside shots. The major issue is, well, none of the five listed here can do that. Maybe a style change will be in order in Chicago.

9. Milwaukee Bucks – Michael Carter-Williams, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Greg Monroe

This could be worse, Jason Kidd still wants to run Giannis at Point Guard and then this unit would have to use Rashad Vaughn or John Henson in the starting lineup. But the current 5 here is solid, especially if Carter-Williams can go back to his 76ers rookie season numbers.

10. Atlanta Hawks – Dennis Schröder, Kyle Korver, Kent Bazemore, Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard

Kyle Korver will start the season at the shooting guard spot until one of the rookies ( Prince or Bembry) can adjust to the small forward spot which will allow Kent Bazemore to move to shooting guard. Millsap and Howard are All-Stars and Schroder is going to be very good in his first year as a full-time starter.

11. Washington Wizards – John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Jr., Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat

The talent is there, but there are glaring issues. Bradley Beal hasn’t proven to be a consistent 70+ game a year player, but Markieff Morris should have a better season after looking lost after the trade to Washington. Wall is one of the top Point Guards in the league and Gortat was outstanding last year which was a good thing. Now, if Beal can live up to his contract and Porter can finally live up to his 3rd overall draft pick from a few seasons ago, then Washington could get back into the playoffs.

12. Orlando Magic – Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Serge Ibaka and Nikola Vucevic

After a season of having poor paint defense, they traded for Ibaka to be able to play beside Vucevic. Payton has very good court vision, but still haven’t proven to be a good shooter. Fournier had a career year last year after being given starters minutes and will put up simlar numbers this year. The key for success is Gordon’s adjustment to the Small Forward spot.

13. Miami Heat – Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Chris Bosh* and Hassan Whiteside

I know there is an asterisk beside Bosh’s name; We don’t know if he is going to play at all this year. Whiteside is an elite defensive center and Dragic is a solid point guard, but the youth of Richardson and Winslow playing major minutes is going to be the key in Miami this year. Without Bosh, you’re looking at either Derrick Williams or Josh McRoberts at Power Forward.

14. Philadelphia 76ers – Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, Ben Simmons, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel

The 76ers are so imbalanced right now; all of their talent is in the front court positions. If they can flip a big man or two for help in back court, then this rating is bit low. Simmons has so much star potential, it’s ridiculous. Having Henderson and Bayless off the bench is fine, but starting is not a good sign.

15. Brooklyn Nets – Jeremy Lin, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Trevor Booker and Brook Lopez

Brook Lopez is a very good center, and Lin is an upgrade over last years group of Jarrett Jack, Shane Larkin and Donald Sloan. Hollis-Jefferson is a solid wing defender, and Booker can provide a decent option at Power Forward. All five of these players are certainly fine on their own, but outside of Lopez, are all fringe starters.

 

 

Danny Thompson is the Creator and Host of NBA Full Court Press Radio and Lead Columnist of FULL COURT PRESS RADIO.

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.