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The Open Run | A Love Supreme

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It rained pretty heavy this past Tuesday.

All day…

I sat, in a partially melancholy state, wondering on what exactly I would write this week as I plan to pass out my inaugural NBA accolades for #TheOpenRun next week, The #DoWork Awards.

As usual, basketball was on my mind.

I thought about the UConn Lady Huskies having their 111-game losing strike broken, new-minted Women’s Team USA head coach Dawn Staley leading her South Carolina Lady Gamecocks to their first national championship and resisting the urge to clown the University of North Carolina’s men’s program for winning their sixth by giving shouts out to their Afro-Am Studies department’s fine professors who have guided many a student-athlete toward the ability to speak fluent Swahili…

All the while, I had music playing in the background, offering the soundtrack to my thoughts and foundation for this piece.

Music is huge part of my Life.

I love music.

It has provided me with a livelihood doing something I love.

I’ve been able to share that love in a multitude of fashions, whether it be via performance, my work in the industry or as a professor of hip hop culture, it’s been a blessing.

I kicked in the door on the rest of my day, waving the 4-4, as in thinking about April 4, 1968, when The King was excommunicated permanently on a motel balcony in Memphis and being reminded of The Godfather of Soul’s performance on that same evening in the racially divided powder keg of Boston, Massachusetts at the time.

Brown was credited by many for saving Boston from bloodshed and retribution in retaliation for the assassination of the non-violent civil rights leader.

Wondering if Boston was as bad as it was presented by some didn’t deter me from taking the opportunity offered through my accomplishments in the culture to create and teach the first ever university-accredited course on hip hop. I was able to do my thing through my course, Edutainment: The Impact Of Hip Hip On American Culture, at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 1998.

My lone advocate in the department was a man by the name of John Bracey.

We shared a love for fresh squeezed lemonade and the sonic stylings of legendary jazz musician John Coltrane.

When I arrived on campus for my first class, he invited me out to an early dinner at a very posh, swanky restaurant called “KFC” where I was planning to ask him for tips on how to handle this incredibly groundbreaking responsibility.

Thinking the man might impart some technical wizardry about the craft on how to deal with young people in a university setting, Professor Bracey actually gave me the best advice I had ever gotten as a professional anything:

Be Yourself.

Love Yourself.

Credit – Mo Daoud

Love is perhaps Life’s most elusive commodity.

Boston is a city that paid homage by erecting statues in the likenesses of Bobby Orr, Red Auerbach and Larry Bird while even naming a tunnel after the World Series ringless Ted Williams before seemingly deigning itself to begrudgingly offer the commodity that had escaped pro sports most decorated winner, William Felton Russell.

Washed away in memory are the halcyon days of Bird, McHale and Parish roaming the parquet at the old Boston Garden.

Long gone are the days of the GAP Band of Garnett, Allen and Pierce.

If change is truly the only constant in life, what’s different about Boston or its team in the National Basketball Association, the Celtics, now?

At one time, they stood as the standard bearers and are easily the most storied franchise in league history.

But things have shifted so dramatically that the Celts sit near the top of the Eastern Conference, currently a game and a half behind the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers at 50-29, and have a player in Isaiah Thomas averaging almost 30 points a night who isn’t in serious consideration for the league’s Most Valuable Player.

Photo by Stuart Cahill

This is not your father’s NBA.

These are not your father’s Celtics.

The results of Boston GM Danny Ainge fleecing perennial candidate for NBA’s worst general manager in the Brooklyn Nets’ Billy King by moving KG and The Truth for a multitude of picks are just beginning to manifest themselves.

Improving every season since Ainge introduced one of the best young sideline technicians in “President” Brad Stevens before the 2013-2014 campaign, including two playoff appearance albeit brief ones, the buzz around the Beantown Gang centers on their readiness to make the leap and ability to write a new chapter in Celtic lore.

By building Boston through the draft, strategic trades and quality free agent acquisitions in a fashion similar to another once-moribund team that was in transition just a few years ago, the Golden State Warriors, The Celtics are pouring the foundation for the future. As drafting Wardell Stephen Curry from tiny Davidson College in North Carolina marked the launch of a new age in Oakland, trading for Isaiah Thomas and making him the top gun for the squad may be the genesis of good in Beantown.

The Celtics can only hope to duplicate some semblance of the success found in the Bay Area.

This is not to say that Boston is Golden State, but there seems to be some merit in noting the similarities in the way the team has been and is continuing to be constructed.

Both teams have small, very talented leading men in Curry and Thomas, but the tough and offensively improved Avery Bradley is no Klay Alexander Thompson and The One Man Army, Jae Crowder, can only reasonably imitate the glue guy/emotional soul/Swiss Army knifeness of Draymond Green.

Rookie Jaylen Brown looks like he could be special for this team and picking up veteran Al Horford may seem like a consolation prize in the Kevin Durant Free Agency Sweepstakes a year ago, but he may be a better fit long-term for the Celts.

Rounding out the roster are quality pieces with some playoff experience and the feeling of the view from the top like stoic worker bee Amir Johnson, the evolving and rugged Marcus Smart and versatile backups in Jonas Jerebko and Canadian Kelly Olynyk.

With the kind of roster lineup flexibility that will help them in the playoffs, Stevens could conceivably go ten deep off of his bench.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

But do they have killers offensively?

After being touted by Isaiah Thomas as “just another game”, the Celts’ April 5, 2017 tilt vs. the Cavs found Boston having a very difficult time generating offence with the league’s second most prolific fourth-quarter scorer off the floor.

This offensive anemia has stricken the squad on occasion and should be addressed before the playoffs. NBA coaches possess a certain degree of sadism in exploiting team and player weaknesses during the second season. Best believe whoever faces the Celtics will look to exploit their deficiencies time and again.

But who will step up to be the dog Boston needs to generate points for himself and others when Thomas isn’t so prolific?

Do the Celts have enough to overcome other contenders like Washington and last season’s other Eastern Conference Finalist, the Toronto Raptors?

No matter how their season ends, because of Billy King’s largesse, the Celtics will undoubtedly exercise their swap option with the Nets, possibly selecting the missing piece to their puzzle in the ongoing renaissance, imbued with the splendor of the past and the promise of future glory.

In a city that has fallen in love with its Lilliputian leader and the rest of its scrappy, well-coached squad, will that love manifest even if they don’t topple the current Beasts of the East from Northeast Ohio?

Will monuments ever be raised in praise of the 60th of 60 players selected in the 2011 NBA Draft?

Time will tell it.

I ended up enjoying my time in Western Massachusetts teaching at UMass and visiting Boston from there.

Never faced any overt racial issues, but then again, I was but a visitor on a short stay.

My visit to Berklee College of Music in The Town was an experience that renewed some things in me that I’d forgotten.

It reminded me that through my work in music, no matter where I was on this planet, if I played with skill and moved in love, I could make an impact; an indelible and historic impression.

Credit – Mo Daoud

Perhaps the seed for this impression was planted during a PBS documentary on Louis Armstrong I watched Fourth of July Weekend when I was eight.

Here I was: a damn nerd, in the house, gawking at an educational program in the middle of summer and school was out of session.

So inspired by Armstrong was I that I expressed to Moms my desire to play the trumpet.

She told me we couldn’t afford all of that. Yet there we were, walking into a second hand store, grabbing a dented, but functioning horn then off to buy a new mouthpiece.

That whole summer was spent having no clue how to play it while threatening to injure myself with a trumpet-blowing induced brain aneurysm.

Once school began that fall, a dedicated band teacher named Mr. DeSantis taught me how to play and to find my voice through that instrument.

By the end of that year, I made an all-region band and got good enough to play a solo of “All Blues” by Miles Dewey Davis, a collaborative partner of Coltrane’s and a man generally considered his equal as a creative genius and jazz giant.

Then things changed…

I moved away and stopped playing my horn, but I never stopped loving music.

The trail I felt I was blazing had taken a different course, but with the same destination: Greatness.

The Boston Celtics want to fly in the rarefied air their franchise reveled in 17 times previous.

Even if they don’t get there this season, the future, even in the Era of Free Agency, is promising.

The Celts shouldn’t be afraid to dream big and fly high.

 

Love Awaits…

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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