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The Open Run | Transition Game

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It’s been said that Change is the only Constant.

From the end of the Celtic dominated 60s to the wide open 70s, including the merger with the ABA, Larry O’Brien’s league was THISCLOSE to being dead and gone toward the end of the decade. Winds of change had to blow for the NBA or it might have been a wrap for a league that had operated for over 30 years, but was faced with a multitude of dilemmas, from cultural and optical to moral and stylistic issues.

The confluence of drugs and politics with music and sports in my nascent world view by February 1983 ended up being the variables by which I would begin to shape the design of my Life.

Magic, Bird, Kareem, Isiah…  NBA All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles…  Hollyweird.

Back then, the Lakers owner, the now-departed Dr. Jerry Buss, was a pioneer of sorts. Dr. Buss was all about blending the game with entertainment as an avenue of expanding his fan base and reach of the game itself.

The Lakers Girls, Jack Nicholson, Dyan Cannon, Dustin Hoffman, Denzel Washington… To be in Inglewood, in The Forum, home of the defending NBA champion Los Angles Lakers, was to be IN!

For what it’s worth, the 1983 NBA All Star Game was an entertaining and naturally star-studded affair. Watching the level and speed of it all, along with the joy of making millions for playing a childhood game, enraptured me.

Julius Winfield Erving II won his second and last NBA All-Star Game MVP as his Hall of Fame career was winding down. He was made for TV. He was made for dreams. He was The Doc: My Favourite Player of All Time. And The Doc rocked my Holy Grail of Fine Athletic Footwear: The Converse Pro Leather.

I wante– no I needed them, though I suspect even if the classiest, coolest, most elegant cat to ever lace them up in The Association wore Chucks or PF Flyers, I would have desired those, too.

What made the festivities of the day all the more extraordinary was the singing of the National Anthem by Marvin Gaye.

Before Gaye, the song had rarely, if ever, been taken by singers to craft their own unique renditions of the national standard.

To many, Gaye’s performance was heresy, tantamount to treason in the eyes of so-called patriots. NBA Commissioner Larry O’Brien was fully aware and concerned by a continued perception of his league. O’Brien’s primarily White financial base considered the NBA a drug-addled band of primarily Black millionaires in short pants snorting half of Peru and was furious at the aberration in protocol by Gaye.  But the players, fans and O’Brien’s right hand, then Executive Vice President of the NBA, David Stern, loved Gaye’s offering.

Stern, who in his role as EVP, helped to establish a huge concession with the players’ association: drug testing, always talked of ways to improve the league.

AP Photo/David Pickoff

The game, the song and the decision would mark a dramatic shift in perception of culture, entertainment and the inevitability of change.

“What’s Right Ain’t Always Popular…

And What’s Popular Ain’t Always Right!”

I can hear my Dear Ol’ Dude’s (Bless The Dead) booming baritone rumbling in my ears time and time again, constantly schooling me on the life that lay ahead.

Ronald Wilson Reagan.

The name stayed with me often as Dad decried him The World’s Biggest Drug Dealer… and his Commander In Chief.

Confusing?

Maybe.

I was 12 and the world was changing around me in a multitude of ways.

This thing called “crack” was taking hold in many a socioeconomically distressed area across #Murica.

The violence and human destruction that came along with it had ancillary effect. Kids my age, some even younger, were making more money than I’d ever hustled in my picayune revenue generating schemes by just walking bags of “something” to various houses back and forth across the street.

My Intellect of Curb was growing rapidly much to the dismay of a proud man who did everything to keep me and my younger brothers from getting graduate degrees in Street Knowledge.

The allure was intoxicating… as was the luxury of unassisted breathing in lieu of a long stay in a hospital bed if I became a line stepper in Dad’s eyes, much less a habitual one.  Value proposition offered, I wisely opted to remain proficient in my studies at school as well as basketball, especially now that I’d finally defeated by biggest hoops foe, My Dear Ol’ Dad.

I’d worked all summer, fall and winter the year before to get me here. Dad used to abuse me on the court, pushing… grabbing… fouling… telling me this was the way the world would treat me, if I allowed it. And if I fought back, there would be a pay off… a reward.

Mine would be for him to buy me a pair of my beloved Converse Pro Leathers aka The Dr J’s IF I beat him in a game of one-on-one to 12!

This would be a huge step up from the burnt orange Converse One Star All Stars that were a size or so too big that my Uncle Kevin bequeathed to me some time ago.

I hated my father at the time for treating me like this. I would learn to understand the method to this madness eventually, but that time would have to wait. I planned my work to work my plan. Every waking moment, no matter the weather, I was on that dangerous court where even the cats forever tied to the streets would look out for me.

“Hey Shorty!

It’s About To Go Down, B!

You Should Get Outta Here NOW!”

It was not gonna be a just a friendly game of basketball. It wasn’t gonna be basketball at all.  And while Dad and The Lost Souls Of Concrete, Cocoa Leaves x Steel did their best to protect me, I found it hard to protect the first real pair of freshness to bless my feet… well, at least the first fresh I purchased with my own dough.

As much as I loved Doc and Converse, this relatively new company called “Nike” started blessing the world with butters.

Another relatively new company, FootLocker, is where I found them: Nike Bruins aka “Kiki Vandeweghes”.

I was in lust!

Fights would ensue as classmates in Chucks and Pro-Keds wanted to play “stepsies” with my new fresh. It was a struggle to keep them clean and new looking. I was Learning… Growing… Living…

Additional education was coming in the form of this thing called “rap”.

Dad wasn’t hearing it.

He was a jazz head, so Bird, Miles and Trane got top billing, with some Gil Scott-Heron and Last Poets to help season my sonic cultural expressions diet.

Moms was Motown. Really super hardcore R&B fan. Smokey, Stevie… Marvin… Marvin Pentz Gay was her guy; The Crooner’s Crooner.

Somewhere, born out of it all, I came to find Grandmaster Flash x The Furious Five’s “The Message” as the anchor to my young, expanding Life. The song played a huge part in helping to shape my early world view. I wasn’t going to fall victim to being a product of my environs. I could be from a place and not necessarily be of that place, dig me?

“Don’t Push Me, ‘Cuz I’m Close To Edge!

I’m Try-In’ Not To Lose My Head!”

Despite my song-fuelled semi-tough guy courage, I was still sneaking to watch NBA Finals games on tape delay at 11:35, just after your late local newscast, under my sheets with the volume on sub-zero with my 13″ black and white set.

I loved basketball so much I was willing to catch a slap from my parents for violating their rules. So be it! I was a fiend for hoops before I became a teen! I dreamed of melting would be defenders like cones of ice cream, word to William Michael Griffin, Jr. I just wanted to be a star… in everything! I wanted to be Magic, Isiah, Kareem, Bird…

Ok. Maybe I reached with Bird, but I respected his gangsta on the court. I couldn’t stand whenever he won anything, though!

Fiending for professional basketball had an entirely different tone.To say Commissioner O’Brien’s league had a drug problem would be slightly akin to saying I had a sneaker problem as I schemed constantly of how to get them.

Moms’ favourite singer, Marvin Gaye, also had a severe drug problem. It was said he’d kicked the habit, but…

“Flying High In The Friendly Skies…

Without Ever Leaving Ground…

I Go To The Place Where Danger Awaits Me…

And It’s Bound To Forsake Me…

So Stupid Minded (I Can’t Help It)…

But I Go Crazy When I Can’t Find It…”

By 1984, Larry O’Brien had ceded control of the Association to his right hand man, David Stern, who in his 30 years as NBA Commish totally changed the landscape and dynamics of the professional sports business.

Never hurts that in the same year of 1984, the NBA draft class was top heavy with Hall of Fame stars, including the most transcendent star of them all, Michael Jeffrey Jordan.

The intersection of culture, style, defiance and substance forged Jordan’s iconography, supported by his stellar play and his signature sneaker, the Air Jordan.

Stern’s enhancement of All-Star Weekend, including the revival of the dunk contest, introducing community and global initiatives and the breadth of the entertainment value, would forever change how I viewed sports.

Marvin Gaye forever changed the way we would hear the Anthem, for better or for worse.

After his Sexual Healing Tour launched in April 1983 on the back of overwhelming wave of visibility from his version the Star Spangled Banner, he would never sing another song.

By the next year, Gaye would be dead, high out of his mind after freebasing on coke and shot in a dispute with his father.

And, by the next year, I was officially a teenager; a little less innocent… and a lot more aware of the world.

High school. Girls. Sports… and a Choice: stay on my functions in class and excel in athletics or… Well, there was no “or” for me.

No matter how much I wanted “things” like the dope boys around me had, I wanted something more… something more endearing to me.

I wanted my Life.

And…I got my Dr. J’s!

Until the next time we cross paths, maybe even in New Orleans in the midst of The Association’s annual mid-season celebration of its best, brightest and most popular stars not named Zaza Pachulia, and peek to observe the flame broiled goodness that is affixed to our feet in quiet, mutual admiration…

Walk Good!

“Wall $t.” Will Strickland

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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