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The Open Run | Guaranteed

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The NBA Playoffs get me open.

Someone told me I was happy because Spring has Sprung, but…

It’s just that time of year.

I will probably be this way for the rest of My Life, however long that is…

Even at my age, much like I did when I was a kid, if and when I walked through a doorway and didn’t act like I was going to the saucepan, taking a bump from an imaginary defender, screaming ‘And One‘ in my mind and finishing the play with a ‘dunk’ at the top of the door frame, one might question if I was really about this hoop life!Just sayin’…

When I played actively on a high level, I recall being told by an opposing player once that my scouting report had but 3 three words:

HE.

WILL.

FINISH.

And finish I will!

At any rate, finishing has been on my mind a lot lately.

What’s next, if anything, after This Thing is done?

I had a family member who passed recently.

While there is absolutely nothing quite like a Black funeral in the inner city, I sat in staid observance of the proceedings.

I am not one who frequents these kinds of homegoings.

It was a somber, sobering moment for me, seeing and feeling the pain of her family’s loss.  

I was also encouraged by the strength of their character to forge ahead while mourning the loss as well as celebrating her Life.

She is not suffering anymore.

But is she necessarily in a better situation, beginning to enjoy the luxury and promise of Eternal Life in a place no one has ever seen?

It is my understanding that Promises are the Refuge of Desperate Men.

And when men make pledges for things often beyond their reach or control, the adage above holds true.

How sweet then is the irony that the man who stated that only your eventual mortality and state-imposed financial levies on the citizenry are certainties is also the face that adorns the most coveted piece of legal tender in the United States?

In this NBA Life, at least currently, there seem to only be three things that apply to Ol’ Ben’s assertions: Death, Taxes and Blake Austin Griffin getting injured, especially when it counts the most.

The Clippers, in whatever city they’ve resided, in whatever incarnation, have generally been one with pain and suffering.

From Bob McAdoo in Buffalo to World B. Free in San Diego and Bill Walton in Los Angeles, the good times for the franchise were fleeting at best.

Long overcooked movie and TV stars like Billy Crystal and Penny Marshall agonizingly supported the moribund franchise through their downs and further downs in various Coliseums of Tears.

Then Glenn Anton Rivers and Christopher Emmanuel Paul eventually hit Tinseltown to help Griffin flip the Clipperland script.

Rivers was already a former NBA Coach of the Year and world champion bench boss with the Celtics, guiding them to the NBA Finals in 2008 and 2010, winning the first of them. His resume was relatively justified in getting the keys to the car in LA.

Paul’s career arc, while superlative, had been a bit maddening as well.

I have been known in the past to question why Chris Paul never received the level of criticism and vitriol Dwight David Howard had over his career in terms of underachieving in the crucial moments.

But at least D12 has a Finals appearance under his belt from when he led the Orlando Magic to its JV vs. Varsity Death Match against Kobe and the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2009 NBA Finals; Paul has never even advanced to a conference final in his stellar, but incomplete career.

It was imagined that drafting Blake in 2009 would be the cornerstone and bringing in CP3 in 2011 and Doc in 2013 as the missing pieces to the Clippers’ seemingly unsolvable puzzle toward success.

Doc’s ability to win is proven.

Paul’s hoops IQ and leadership is rarely questioned.

Griffin’s athletic prowess and basketball abilities are matched or exceeded by few.

For a man built like Hall of Fame iron man Karl Malone, but as brittle as past superstars like Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill and former 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Martell Rose, Blake Griffin’s injury history, as much as anything else, seems to have stunted his potential.

As it would be wholly unfair to rest blame squarely on Griffin for what seems to lay ahead for the Clippers: the full closure of their window of success as currently comprised, his inability to stay healthy and in the lineup will certainly get him dragged on social media and in contract negotiations.

With high profile free agency awaiting come July 1 for Blake and Paul, and to a lesser degree for Jonathan Clay Redick, reorganization is imminent.

The questions will run rampant regarding next steps on who stays and who is allowed to find greener pastures. Will there be a full reset or just a retooling of a franchise recently recognized as near elite after an existence of losing and suppositions.

It’s difficult for any team to go to playoff war without one of its best and most capable weapons.

But when that same weapon has missed 72 of 175 games over past two regular and postseasons, how can you count on him to help you when you need it most.

Exclusive unreleased footage of a Clippers post-practice film session offered some insight as to Head Coach Doc Rivers’ trepidation to depend upon Blake, questioning whether or not he was prepared to help the Clippers take the next step toward a Western Conference Finals appearance and even beyond.

PLEASE NOTE: Authenticity of footage is still under Press Basketball.com Internal Review

By early Saturday morning, April 29, 2017, the Clippers as we know and have known them during the Griffin-Paul-Jordan Era: fringe contenders who tantalized fans with talent, teased the league with promise and teetered on the precipice of Almostitude, could be no more.

In the paraphrased words of that Immortal Hoops Poet, Micheal Ray Richardson:

THE CLIPPERS’ SHIP BE SINKIN’!

Maybe that’s it…

Maybe that is all they were supposed to be…

Maybe that is all the oft-injured and soon-to-be running out of elite-level NBA lives Blake Griffin will be as well.

I couldn’t go up to the open casket where my cousin was on one of her last stops before the final resting place.

I just wanted to remember her as I’d last seen her alive: smiling, funny… and eating all of my Garrett’s Chicago Mix popcorn, though she claimed she didn’t like it.

She will be missed.

Perhaps she is in a better place than here…

Never truly understood what it meant when people would refer to those who had passed on as being “in a better place”.

Who has ever gone and come back?

Tough to know what the future holds for any of us.

And if the Clippers, down 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, get washed in Game Six of their first round playoff match-up with the Utah Jazz, perhaps a homegoing of a different kind might be in order for Blake Griffin.

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The change of scenery might not automatically equate to success on being in a better place.

Maybe it’s just a necessary one.

Win or lose, there will be a complicated off season ahead for owner Steve Ballmer, Doc Rivers and the front office brain trust on that side of Staples Center.

The fall of Blake Griffin and Lob City: another offering of what could have been within a Paradise Never Realized in the City of Angels, is seemingly on the horizon.

The last chance the Clippers had to achieve with this unit is being realized in the moment.

The saddest part of all, for the franchise and Griffin, is that he truly had no hand in determining how it all ends.

Most of us rarely do…

Will, the former Division-1 student athlete and professional b-baller internationally, is a longtime sports multimedia broadcast content creator & personality from that sleepy burg of New York City.

His guest/co-hosting appearances and contributions to such networks as HBO, CNN, ESPN, NBA TV Canada, Sirius/XM, The Score/SportsNet, TSN and more will pale in comparison to what he does here at PressBasketball.com.

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Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers

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Lonzo Ball is the new face of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. The new savior. The Big Baller Brand is now here to stay and LaVar Ball’s family’s future is set. But is that enough?

Lonzo Ball is a great kid and athlete who knows his talent will take him to another level. The major question mark that remains is whether or not he will take the Lakers there as well. He has the platform and skillset to do so, but with that comes the added pressure from the city and league to basically become part of the next version of Kobe and Shaq. It’s too strainful for a young kid—a rookie—to achieve.  

Magic Johnson, the recently named President of Basketball of Operations for the Lakers, is taking an aggressive approach to get this team back into playoff contention his first year in. One of his first moves was sending D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick. Brook Lopez is definitely an upgrade at center, but has a couple of years already under his belt.   

Lopez will provide a much needed veteran presence with a great IQ for the game at his position. The only downfall is that a couple of years under his belt doesn’t really transfer to great experience, but simply wasted miles on his body. He isn’t as quick as he used to be and doesn’t even rank in the top 10 centers in the league. In fact, Bleacher Report had him last season at exactly 15 out of the top 30 centers in the NBA. While he is has improved by adding the three-point range to his arsenal, there is no doubt that he is nearly past his prime, and although he can still contribute on a nightly basis, who knows how much and what effect it will have with Lonzo Ball running the point.  

Ball has great court vision that has been often compared to that of LeBron James. Combined with his passing skills, he is a true PG with tremendous upside in the backcourt. With that being said, he will only reach a certain extent. His full potential is years from being maximized and people are buying into it early on. In fact, the pressure for him to lift a sub .500 team to the playoffs for the first time in five years is daunting. 

These are Lonzo Ball’s stats during his rookie—and only—year at UCLA: 

  • 14.6 Points
  • 7.6 Assists
  • 6.0  Rebounds
  • 1.8 Steals
  • 0.8 Blocks
  • 55.1 FG%
  • 41.2 3P%

He did a tremendous job maintaining that statline and even added a triple-double in the NBA Summer League, earning him the Summer League MVP.  

Don’t get me wrong, Ball seems ready for the challenge and is definitely a one-of-a-kind talent mirroring that of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, but he is not an All-Star or MVP—at least, not yet. These way-too-early predictions that he is the Lakers’ new savior are farfetched. He has yet to face the elite NBA offensive threats and superstars that have been at it for 10-plus years. Defensively speaking he will not be able to keep up. Not in his first year. He still needs NBA experience and a more rounded roster to be able to reach the playoffs.  

He is off to a good start, but being named NBA Summer League MVP doesn’t necessarily mean a spectacular season is coming as some think it does. Especially if you consider the previous Summer League MVP winners.

Year Nat. Player Pos. Team
2012 Damian Lillard (co-MVPs) PG Portland Trail Blazers
Josh Selby (co-MVPs) PG Memphis Grizzlies
2013 Jonas Valančiūnas C Toronto Raptors
2014 Glen Rice Jr. SG Washington Wizards
2015 Kyle Anderson SF San Antonio Spurs
2016 Tyus Jones PG Minnesota Timberwolves
2017 Lonzo Ball PG Los Angeles Lakers

With the exceptions of Damian Lillard in 2012 and Jonas Valanciunas in 2013, the past five Summer League MVP winners have gone on to produce very mediocre NBA careers. All I’m saying is, don’t read too much into NBA Summer League. It’s the pre-preseason that no one really watches or cares about.  

The NBA season is nearing—exactly a month away—and my somewhat harsh criticism of Lonzo Ball isn’t too cruel. I am just not ready to jump on the Ball bandwagon following LaVar’s prophecies of his son being the Lakers prodigal son. He won’t be. Again, at least not yet. He needs to earn his spot and the transition will surprise him his first year in. It will hit him hard, but, despite my concerns, eventually Lonzo Ball will become a future NBA All-Star and a daring NBA point guard.  

Not yet though, and until then all we can do is prepare for his official NBA debut. Until then, we can enjoy and bask in his newly released rap single paying tribute to his little brother LaMelo Ball.  

If the NBA doesn’t end up being his calling in life, at least he has a back up career in mind.

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MELO-dy Cool

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Carmelo Anthony has been traded away from the New York Knickerbockers to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

You probably knew this before you laid eyes on these words.

It honestly doesn’t matter much who the Thunder traded away for “Melo” and who the Knicks received, because they weren’t anywhere near Melo’s overall value. But, it matters that Melo himself is gone and away from New York City, and for all his accolades, he honestly had a major part to play in his exodus.

Melo altogether is a player that both outplayed and underplayed his own potential. No one that saw him at Oak Hill Academy as a high schooler could for-sure say that he’d be a superstar, and everyone that saw him at Syracuse University might say he was a can’t-miss by then.

And he didn’t miss on most of what he’s teased, he’s delivered in a lot of ways; but, the reason why he didn’t work out in New York was because he was selfish to a fault in the key places that required compromise.

Do you remember how he got to Kings County in the first place? He forced a trade to the Knicks from his then-Denver Nuggets, a team that was teasing with talent abundant, but not unlike today, stuck in the mighty Western Conference. With title contenders like the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers at that time of the NBA, the 2010–2011 season, the Nuggets just weren’t going to make the noise they wanted to make. Melo was a free agent-to-be at the completion of that season, and it was likely that he’d leave. His time with the Nuggets, a very successful time, had run its course. The change was coming, and he was catalyst to the change he wanted to see in his world. Nothing wrong with that.

The problem was that Melo didn’t want to wait for New York. He wanted New York then and there, and it didn’t matter how it was going to happen.

It didn’t matter that the Knicks weren’t in a position to compete for a title during that season, something he long wanted to bring to New York upon his eventual arrival.

It didn’t matter that the Knicks would have to gut their team’s best assets in a trade for the Brooklyn-born, Baltimore-raised native. It didn’t matter that if he waited until the season was over, he could be playing with a young and promising Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov (a revelation upon his arrival to the States from Russia), amongst others.

It didn’t matter that the Knicks would have to sacrifice draft picks for him, instead of keeping them upon signing later.

It didn’t matter to Melo.

And so, when he arrived in New York, in early 2011, he received the adulation and praise of a prodigal son. Sure, the team lost some valuable talent and depth, but surely Melo would will the Knicks into wild success — just like he did in Denver, right?

And sure enough, after he rebuked the Linsanity of 2012 when Jeremy Lin became an overnight NBA superstar and balked at the prospect of Lin’s resigning, he gained some success.

The 2012–2013 season saw Melo as the closest thing to being an MVP candidate that anyone had ever seen from him as a professional in an 82-game season, but not before being totally indifferent to former head coach Mike D’Antoni’s wishes for him to play more at power forward to stretch the offensive side of the ball for the Knicks and the defenses of the opposing league teams. D’Antoni quit before the end of the 2011–2012 season, because of Melo’s loathsome resistance to D’Antoni and the coach’s embrace of Lin.

A big aspect of Melo’s failure to bring glory to Manhattan was his resistance to doing what has made him a legend in USA Basketball. Having won multiple gold medals as a stretch-four shooter, that he refused to embrace that positioning as an NBA pro limited the ability of his teams to win.

As a four, Melo, who had gained grown-man weight from natural maturity and strength and conditioning, didn’t have to be the cavity in his team’s defense as he struggled as a man-to-man defender. Moving from his formerly-natural small forward slot could allow him to defend more ably and allow someone more fleet of foot to stop the dominant wings that Melo often matched up against. Becoming something different and better in a new place would’ve allowed him the opportunity to be greater than anyone had known him to be in an NBA uniform.

But, he refused and rebuked such a change.

And one last thing: Injuries and front office politics aside, Melo was loyal to the Knicks organization through and through. But, he had a choice to go.

So, to recap, Melo forced a trade to New York that gutted the talent of the roster, and then he refused to change to a position that would behoove him and the team in the journey to championship gain.

Well, he also had a chance to leave for greener pastures and become a Chicago Bull, where he could experience more success with a front office committed to his development and surrounding talent. He didn’t want to do that, and that’s fair. New York was home, but if he was going to win in New York, seeing as to how being the way that he’d always been wasn’t helping — that is shoot-first, ask questions and defend later — why return to The Big Apple if you aren’t going to change?

He saw what being a score-only wing was giving his teams — it gave his teams very little success for the vast majority of 14 years. Sure, his Nuggets and Knicks made the playoffs (not so much New York) much of the time, but he said he wasn’t playing for that.

In the end, Melo and the Knicks not working out could be seen before he even became a Knick, when Melo stomped his way out of Denver to play immediately for New York when it would’ve behooved him to stay put for two more months.

Championship or bust, they say.

He couldn’t really compromise too well for the chip, it appears.

In the end, Carmelo Anthony — despite years of league-leading jersey sales, runway appearances, and bright lights on the New York City streets with LaLa — was a big, fat, shining, New York bust.

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Reloaded Raptors Banking on Young Guns

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Masai Ujiri is a smart guy.

No matter which conference your team is in, you’re either stuck with the issue of figuring out how to combat/wait out the Warriors, or you’re stuck with the issue of figuring out how to combat/wait out LeBron James. For Ujiri’s Raptors, the latter is the elephant in the room. So when the offseason came, the club had some decisions to make that would indicate the direction of the franchise’s future, both immediate and long-term.

Ujiri and Toronto GM Bobby Webster were somehow able to re-sign Kyle Lowry for a three-year deal instead of the five years that Lowry desired, and then managed the same with Serge Ibaka. This effectively put the Raptors on a three-year timeline until the next big shift in the franchise. For these upcoming three years, the Raps will stay competitive with their tried-and-tested core, and they will simultaneously cultivate young talent around their stars.

It’s a great formula. LeBron is going to be 33 years old this December, and by the time Lowry and Ibaka’s contracts are up, he will be entering the twilight stage of his career. Suddenly, the East could be wide open again. Ujiri knows it, and he wants to be ready for it.

But what about the present? The Raptors lost a couple of their veteran role players this summer in the re-signing of their core, including Patrick Patterson (an advanced analytics darling), and P.J. Tucker (a terrific perimeter defender). The team also traded away DeMarre Carroll—who was never able to return to his Atlanta peak—to Brooklyn in order to shed his contract, as well as Cory Joseph to Indiana, who snagged them sharpshooter C.J. Miles—swiftly signed to a three-year deal, no less—as a return.

These changes have left the Raps with a squad that, outside of the starting lineup, is quite young. None of their bench players have played more than three seasons in the NBA, and their total average age is about 23 years old. A number of them have yet to see significant minutes, with Norman Powell, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, and newcomer K.J. McDaniels being the exceptions.

The regular season is a marathon, not a sprint, and the keys to racking up wins in order to put yourself in a good position come playoff time are chemistry and consistency à la the Spurs. If the Raptors are to continue their regular season success of the last few years, then they’ll need their young guns to step into formerly veteran roles and rise to the challenge.

Thankfully, a few of them already seem prepared to break out and have impactful seasons. Both Powell and Wright gave the team some fantastic minutes last year, especially in the playoffs. Norm in particular was a standout, putting the league on notice with his athleticism and tough defensive play. He was part of the best lineup the Raptors had in the postseason (a +5.3), and the team’s offensive rating shot up from 101.7 to 107.9 when he was on the floor compared to when he wasn’t.

In the first round against the Bucks, Powell went for 55/91/92 per cent shooting, averaging 12.4 points per game and torching his opponents. He was a key cog in helping the Raptors win that series and fully earned Dwane Casey’s trust, which is not an easy thing to do for a young player.

Wright didn’t get quite as much time to shine with CoJo being the primary backup point guard, but when he was on the floor he scrapped defensively and showed in flashes that he was able to run the team. His length and effort have been the two most noticeable qualities when watching him so far, and his nose-to-the-grindstone mentality is one that Casey must love.

Siakam is another high-energy guy, and good for a few minutes a game, although playing him for a substantial amount of time isn’t a great idea since he’s undersized and a below-average rebounder. Jakob Poeltl should get more run, and like Wright—though less frequently—he showed instances of strong play, both on the boards and around the basket.

Perhaps the two most interesting youngsters are the newcomers: Raptors 2017 draft pick OG Anunoby and K.J. McDaniels. Anunoby has been touted as an excellent defender, a grinder, and he already has an NBA body that should allow him to guard multiple positions on the floor. Unfortunately, he’s recovering from an ACL tear and therefore it’s possible he doesn’t even play this season. Still, this is the kind of player you get excited for as a fan and as a coach—he’ll likely be impactful right away, at least in one aspect.

As for McDaniels, he’s spent time bouncing around the league during his three seasons. He’s already played for Philadelphia, Houston, and Brooklyn, and has never had a chance to get comfortable. He’s another player with defensive potential—he’s got some pretty sweet block highlights—but has yet to find any sort of consistent shooting. If he can’t show Toronto something this season, he may be on the move again.

And finally, as we ask every year, is this the season when Bruno Caboclo breaks loose and starts going Brazilian Kevin Durant on the rest of the league? My answer: Unlikely. It may be hard to believe, but Bruno is still one of the youngest guys on the team at 21 years old. His time in the D-League—now the G League—can only be good for him, but his scoring dropped off significantly last season compared to the year prior, when he was putting up double-figure numbers almost every game. There’s still a lot of time left for Bruno to prove himself, and as such it’s tough to imagine that time being this season.

It’s difficult—though intriguing—trying to judge a group of players who don’t have an extensive NBA resume as of yet (I feel for you, Philly fans). Even if one has seen a player be productive in spurts, it’s impossible to know whether or not they’ll be capable of handling a bigger role long-term without actually seeing it. For the Raptors in particular, Powell is probably the only young player that the team has a good grasp on.

So let the experiment begin. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

And remember: It’s all part of the three-year plan.

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MELO-dy Cool

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