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The Open Run | Reptile Dysfunction

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As you approach certain points in your Life, occasionally things that worked at optimal level no longer function in the same way.

Having turned the page on another chapter in my existence recently only served to reinforce what was readily evident to me before:

THINGS CHANGE

Spending time in quiet reflection and in appreciation of the love and respect shown on my special day, I luxuriated in the notion that, though it seems I possess more past than future, The Moment needed embracing so much more than thoughts of former glories or potential new ones.

How had I gotten here?

Not asking how I got to Toronto; that is an entirely different conversation.

The question is rooted more in how I had arrived at the point in my Life where re-calibration wasn’t necessarily seen as a major overhaul, but more a tune up for continued prosperity and stability.

I do recall, however, the first time I was in the city as an adult doing something with basketball, it was in 1995 and this guy was donning Raptor purple.

A season later and with another number one draft pick in tow, the 1996 College Player of the Year, Marcus Camby, the potential for greatness was being built.

The future looked bright for the young expansion franchise north of the 49th Parallel.

At least that’s how the story was supposed to go, according to some.

Injuries, spotty coaching, lax leadership and the top players looking for an out seemed to damn the Dinos.

But after drafting a sleepy-eyed prep star named Tracy McGrady in the team’s third draft and subsequently acquiring T-Mac’s similarly explosive and talented cousin Vincent Lamar Carter two drafts later, could that bright future originally promised on selecting Stoudemire and Camby finally become realized in the short life of the organization?

The turn of the century brought the Raptors its inaugural playoff visit, albeit brief, getting swept in the first round.

Free agency led to T-Mac finding his stride as an NBA star in his home state with the Orlando Magic, leaving Carter to fend for himself against GraduationGate.

In 2001, Vince’s decision to walk the stage as he earned his diploma at UNC was seen as problematic.

It was on that very same day he and the Raps were to face Allen Iverson’s Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semis with the organization’s first ever conference final on the line.

Carter’s last second missed jumper set off a vitriolic storm of controversy about his priorities and where they ultimately rested.

That game marked the start of the ending for Half Man/Half Amazing’s run and relationship with the T-Dot, the country of Canada and her fans, whose sons fantasized of being like the man who literally made professional basketball visible and viable in the Great White North.

The Christopher Wesson Bosh Era was marked by Sam Mitchell’s NBA Coach Of The Year, matching the team’s season wins benchmark to date of 47, an alleged wrasslin’ match with Vince Carter and two relatively resistance-free first round playoff exits, including one at the hands of Carter, who was then a New Jersey Net.

After just over fifteen years of existence and relative futility, the Raptors hired former Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Dwane Casey, a defensive guru who had just helped bottle up LeBron James and the Miami Heat for the Mavs’ lone title the year previous.

A season later, Toronto lured 2013 Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri from the Denver Nuggets and back across the border as their new General Manager.

Little did many know a true culture change was imminent.

All-Stars are made in the regular season.

Superstars are made in the postseason.

It is an adage to which I have firmly adhered in my thinking, writing and audio-visual commentary on the NBA over the years.

It hasn’t changed.

And as great as the Raptors All-Star backcourt and best friend duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar Darnell DeRozan have been over these past four regular seasons in leading the Raps to the playoffs each of those years, their performances have been grossly underwhelming in the postseason.

Credit: Jack Perkins

In the team’s initial visit to the playoffs under Coach Casey, a first round 4-3 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, fronted by the ancient Kevin Maurice Garnett and Paul Anthony Pierce in 2014 was the end result.

Getting cooked 4-0 in the first round in 2015 by the Washington Wizards and previously mentioned proven playoff performer in Pierce, alliteration game aside, didn’t help comfort fans or players on the team’s direction or potential, either.

Were the Raps simply happy to make the playoffs?

Would merely making it to the “real season” be justification enough to continue growing ‘the culture’, retaining Dwane Casey, who, despite the squad’s steady improvement each year under his guidance, seemed to always be on the hot seat and in a lame duck situation as coach?

Did the Raptors jump the line in 2016 by making it to the Eastern Conference Final vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers without a history of progressive series victories?

Their most recent playoff appearances seemed to suggest so.

But in doing that, perhaps an unfair expectation was heaped upon a team and a country thirsty for success in a sport whose inventor was a native son.

Perhaps the 2017 NBA Playoffs would offer hope and maybe answers to the contrary.

The roster, now bolstered with the power forward long coveted by Ujiri in Serge Ibaka and fellow midseason acquisition in the rugged, defensive minded Anthony Leon Tucker, Jr., was perhaps at its strongest level in history.

Adding Ibaka and Tucker to one of the top teams in the league would certainly spell success for Toronto against other Eastern powers, right?

The necessary variables were all there.

DeRozan and Lowry, steady vet Cory Joseph, a young man with seemingly no country in today’s NBA in Jonas Valanciunas and possibly the lone misstep in Masai Ujiri’s reign as front office bawse in DeMarre Carroll, looked to be the franchise’s most rounded and well-balanced from the start.

Though the Raptors escaped after an opening round series win in six games over a rapidly improving Milwaukee Bucks squad, facing the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers would prove revealing, cathartic and maybe even prophetic.

After getting washed in the 2017 conference semifinal 4-0, losing once again to the Cavs, huge decisions are on the horizon for this team.

Some of these decisions will be second guessed and derided as the Raptors have never known this level of prosperity and stability; some will be applauded.

All of them will be tough.

Before the 2014-2015 campaign, Kyle Lowry was the first major free agent to re-sign in a place long eschewed by top flight free agents as a destination location based on perceptions and hard realities about weather, taxes and outright fallacies.

Ujiri believed Lowry to be the man with whom he’d help to establish the Raptors’ winning culture.

He gambled correctly.

Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Four consecutive playoff appearances, multiple All-Star selections for both Lowry and DeRozan and an engaged fan base are all results of that trust.

I’ve been quoted saying “In Masai, you must trust!” on occasion.

The man has done a masterful job in the establishing a winning and pervasive culture in Toronto.

Adroitly moving albatross contracts of Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay to effectively hand the reign of the team to his budding backcourt along with other less newsworthy moves was key.

But now with the spectre of offering Lowry his Lifetime Achievement contract of 5 years at $200 million-plus, despite being on the wrong side of 31 with a worrisome injury history, is in plain sight.

Re-signing Ibaka and Tucker to big deals aside, the Lowry package alone could potentially lead to the kind of roster and cap inflexibility eventually signalling a nuclear winter for pro hoops in Canada for quite some time.

Apocalyptic? Maybe.

Plausible? Absolutely!

Stand pat?

Adjust and amend slightly to stay relevant; good but never “great”?

Blow it up, moving your best assets and hope the fans stick with you?

Tough.

Stripes on Ujiri’s executive management uniform signal that he has earned the stroke with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to govern the Raptors’ future as he sees fit.

It’s a pretty safe bet he will.

I’m also looking at next steps in my Life.

The world and its prospects seem to get smaller as you get older… if you let them.

Knowing that forever will my altitude be determined by my attitude and action brings me solace and comfort in an uncertain world.

I’ve long despised phrases like:

“IT’S TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE!”
“ALL GOOD THINGS MUST COME TO AN END!”

When you ask those who allow the words to exit their blabberboxes a simple one-word question:

WHY?

They never seem to have a sensible answer.

To live through what you love is a blessing.

Sometimes, the cost comes in the form of time, effort and the loss of friends and loved ones who may not necessarily share your enthusiasm and optimistic outlook on achieving beyond your wildest dreams.

I am a huge proponent of planning your work so that you can work your plan.

But at this point in my Life, maybe Today is the tomorrow I dreamt about yesterday… and now I am living it, through my work and passions.

My born day offered me a reset on my Life’s direction.

What I choose ultimately might not be liked by anyone.

That’s ok…

I can live with the weight of my choices.

“EVEN THE SUN GOES DOWN
HEROES EVENTUALLY DIE…
HOROSCOPES OFTEN LIE…
AND SOMETIMES “Y”…
NOTHIN’ IS FOR SURE…
NOTHIN’ IS FOR CERTAIN…
NOTHIN’ LASTS FOREVER,
BUT UNTIL THEY CLOSE THE CURTAIN…”

– Dre3Stax, AQUEMINI

As long as they keep on readin’,watchin’ and listenin’, imma keep on doin’.

Until we reconnect in text again, keep doing what’s Popular with the Population…

#DoWork

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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Editorial

Something Out of Nothing

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It’s March 2016, and I’m driving with Alan Shane Lewis to Montreal to meet with Marc Griffin and Phil Boileau. We’re meeting to speak about this exciting new idea I pitched to them. We were tired of spinning the wheels on our own individual internet shows, and I told them that it was time we stopped waiting for a network and became the network.

We spoke that weekend about creating a community of content creators that all loved ball and came together to make unique content with unique voices – voices we felt were never heard in the mainstream. This community was the base of Press and we’d continue to push forward from that spot. We spoke about some amazing show ideas, article ideas, social media plan. It was truly an exciting time, and still one of the best weekends of my life.

Two years later and that group is a lot smaller, and that idea is Press Basketball.

It caught fire at the beginning and we had people joining our bright shiny new plaything left, right, and center. It was exciting, but now I kind of realize that a lot of it was just that we were that “bright shiny new thing”.

We ended up with a lot of Press Basketball “members” but when I stepped back and looked at what was happening… it wasn’t what I’d imagined. The fire burned out. The idea was gone. We had just become another thing trying to stay alive, waiting for some deus ex machina to show up with money and make everything okay.

I’ve gone through most of my life making something out of nothing. It’s never easy, but when it happens it’s always worth it… ALWAYS. Press made me feel alive at a point. It was literally all I could think about, and while it still is on my mind, it doesn’t make me feel alive. This hurts more than I can ever explain.

Changes are coming my friends. We’re not laying down and dying, and if we do it’s not going to be like this.

The core of Press will be setting fire to a lot over the next few weeks and I personally can’t wait for this to start. From the ashes something new will rise (I watched a lot of XMEN growing up).

Stay tuned, because it’s not over.

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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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