Every summer there are drastic changes in the NBA. Players are traded, retire or fall out of the league while coaches are shuffled in and out of jobs by hot seat general managers. The annual draft ushers in new crops of talent and sneak peak summer leagues berth and bury talent, young and old.
For teams, the new arrivals, departures and intriguing combinations that are a result of this movement is what leaves fans anticipating the start of the next season. These changes bring heartbreak and hope in equal parts, depending on what city you live in, and October brings a clean slate to all. To say there was simply change in summer ’16 would be to rank it as just another ho-hum offseason. The truth? This summer changed the NBA like few others before it . The league hasn’t been spun like this since LeBron James and “The Decision”. Here are five reasons why:
No Mamba, No Fundamentals, No Ticket.
There is an entire generation of basketball fans that have no clue what a life without Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett looks like. They don’t know how it feels. They don’t know how it tastes. For the past 20 years, this trio has represented a huge part of the NBA, its success and its championship runs. Now 20-something hoops fans everywhere are about to embark on the first season since 1996 without at least one of them. It sucks.
When they all retired this past summer in rapid succession, it marked a quick death to an era that produced two of the greatest power forwards of all-time and a shooting guard considered to be one of the greatest competitors of all-time, in any sport. They represent winners of 11 out of the last 21 championships, with a combined 15 NBA Finals appearances over that time. There are four league MVP’s between them and a staggering 43 total all-star nods.
That’s a lot of face time, and even before Twitter, Instagram and Vine (RIP) they were in your face. They were grandfathered into your life, which is why none of them needed social media. They were already the proof in the NBA’s pudding. Their sudden absence plays like a peripheral slight of hand that took them away while we were distracted by the ridiculousness of Stephen Curry, the hybrid beauty of Kevin Durant and the miracle-spinning dominance of LeBron James. It’s an absence that feels like a video game glitch, but it’s not. They are gone. Erased by the program.
Each exit was in character too: Bryant choosing a season-long swan song, Duncan bowing out with a letter and no press-conference and Garnett keeping everybody guessing until good friend Sam Mitchell was fired as head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team that drafted him and the one he returned to join at the end his career. He had no real attachment to this version of the ‘Wolves and Bryant had only a little more with the current Lakers roster. Meanwhile Duncan was clearly handing off the torch – the same one David Robinson had passed to him almost two decades earlier – to Kawhi Leonard. He ended his career with guys he won rings with, in the comfort of his own kingdom, and while Garnett and Bryant’s championship teammates have long since been scattered across and out of the league, they too retired with their original franchise.
Still, you can almost feel the gold rushing out of the league. The NBA will survive without them, of course. With record breaking salaries and unparalleled popularity, a new breed has done equally as well in capturing the next generation of fans. The NBA will move on, and we will too, but this one hurt.
Simmons Falls to Philly Curse
The only thing this run of bad luck in Philadelphia is missing is a label or a hashtag. Something to forever mark the horror. Why social media isn’t brimming with options to name the curse has me doubting its usefulness. Are we so defenseless against the onslaught of the news cycle that this is getting lost in the shuffle and being missed for the epic head spin that it is?
The 76ers have drafted or acquired the rights to four top-six players since 2013 – Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Ben Simmons. With the exception of Okafor, who played just 54 games during his rookie campaign, all of them have missed the first season of their careers due to concerning injuries. Embiid missed the first two. Simmons is expected to be sidelined until at least February with foot problems, meaning the combined games total between the four before this season’s opening game was 196. Since the 2013-14 season the 76ers have won a total of 47 games. There is no improvement in sight. If I were over 6’8 and headed towards the draft I would petition the league for the right to refuse being drafted by this club. It may not save me from damnation, but better that than the curse — or a broken clavicle.
The Hoops God clearly does not approve of the tank plan that got former general manager Sam Hinkie hired and fired, but there was at least supposed to be some payoff by now. Instead, injuries have plagued while Twitter games have elevated, as star rookies spend years rehabbing and tweeting about rehabbing until they finally make it back. Embiid has become the NBA’s Twitter king, but he’s looked great to start the season, which means his tweets will likely be fewer and farther between. Bad for us. Great for the Sixers. Here’s to hoping it all comes to a glorious head before the season is over with the now (now?) disgruntled Noel, Embiid, Okafor and Simmons all suiting up and playing together for the brief moment before it’s all torn apart with cruel trades and transactions. They’ll say then that they never gave it a chance, but that chance ended with Hinke and it’s just way too easy to blame Meek Mill.
A Rose in New York
Outside of his NCAA stop in Memphis to play for NBA flip man John Calipari and his Tigers, Derrick Rose was Chicago. Not like “born in” or “comes from” but more like “never left”. Except for that southern foray to play college (which has mostly been disavowed for program infractions during his time) Rose was a true son of the Chi. Then in June he wasn’t.
After multiple knee surgeries following his record-breaking MVP campaign in 2011, and the deteriorated numbers and empty playoff runs that followed, the Chicago Bulls were done with Rose. Even he had to admit it was time to move on, but it was forced: a white flag from the Bulls, a middle finger from Rose, and a fan base both relieved and saddened by his departure. Now he’s in New York as the latest Knicks gamble, the latest in a long line of flyers that usually fly away. It is also their last chance to give Carmelo Anthony a running mate to help him back to the playoffs. If the experiment fails Anthony is as good as gone and it will be the last time anybody takes this big of a chance on Rose. The reality is we are on the brink of the “Remember when Derrick Rose could…?” days and only one thing can stop it – another breakout season.
It might sound odd to use the word “breakout” on somebody with Rose’s accomplishments, but he’s still on the road back to all-star form –and why not? He’s finally away from the distractions of home, fresh off an acquittal in a rape trial, and convinced friend and former Bulls teammate Joakim Noah to join him in Gotham. The table seems set for improvement but there is enough injury history there to cast doubt. As much hope as a motivated Rose, a re-energized Anthony and a healthy Noah gives the Knicks, it isn’t enough to stop the vultures from circling.
Wading in Chicago
In the end, Wade couldn’t bring himself to make a mind-bending, Derrick-Rose like proclamation about the assembled trio in Chicago. Yes, just as the Bulls were sending out one native son, they were welcoming another in Wade, whose surprise defection from the Heat teamed him up with the rising Jimmy Butler and the declining Rajon Rondo.
Wade has been part of a big three before and he knows better than to make any comparisons here. Much has been made about their inability to shoot the three-ball in a time when it has never been more important and that is a legitimate concern. As a collective, this group shoots below the league average from beyond the arc and does not have the immediate potential upside to improve in that category. This could be historically bad and yet in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls will still challenge for a playoff spot. Why? Because there is enough veteran skill and defense to provide some balance.
Consistency in whatever kind of style head coach Fred Hoiberg settles on is key, but the mental game will be just as crucial. Rondo thinks he’s the leader wherever he goes. Butler inherited the Bulls from the ruins of Rose’s reign. Wade has rings and has never deferred to anybody not named LeBron. Hoiberg just hasn’t shown the chops to work that angle, and after being brought in to orchestrate a perimeter detailed offense, he’s now been saddled with the exact opposite. He faltered with short-term success coaching last season and the window is just as small this year, with Wade expected to go out on a 2-year, $47M bang.
Durant Goes to Cali
You can act like you knew but you didn’t. You couldn’t. Durant to the team that just busted him in the playoffs? A hiccup (or several) away from his second NBA Finals appearance? Versus the “unbeatable” Warriors no less? But he did dammit, and as one of my PRESS basketball colleagues put it, “he can be respected for making whatever decision he wants, but what it ultimately says about his character is fair game too.”
Still, this is Durant’s two-edged sword, just as it was LeBron James’ in Miami. Without a ring, he’ll forever be a failure in Oakland because they’ve already won it all without him. Already have an MVP. Were right there just a few months ago without him. Passed him on the way, actually. The LeBron narrative comes into play again when people say he took the easy way out in joining the juggernaut Warriors. You can criticize the franchise for overkill, but be reminded that Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were all drafted by the Dubs, making Durant the biggest free agent signing in club history. The pressure of a championship or bust environment never existed in Oklahoma. Ever.
Clearly the Warriors are designed to be a dynasty and are all-in with arguably four of the top ten players in the league. As a basketball player, Durant couldn’t ask for more, and as far as beginnings go, you might never witness a more exciting one as his era gets underway in California.
Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers
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.
|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.
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.
New York has agreed to a deal to send Carmelo Anthony to OKC for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a draft pick, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 23, 2017
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.
Reloaded Raptors Banking on Young Guns
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.
BIGS N smalls | The Break | Episode 11
Christmas Day Showdowns | The Break | Episode 10
Dads & Draft Picks | The Break | Episode 9
Progression is Power: On Social Justice in the NBA
Detroit Pistons talk with Duncan Smith — TWT 107
Christmas Day Showdowns | The Break | Episode 10
BIGS N smalls | The Break | Episode 11
Christmas Day Showdowns | The Break | Episode 10
Western Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 1
Eastern Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 2
NBA & More Mailbag with Josh Howe — TWT 102
Memphis Grizzlies Season Preview with Keith Parish — TWT 101
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