NBA Playoffs: Prepare for a More Exciting First Round Than Usual

Is it because we all sense that Kevin Durant is on his way to the bright lights of New York City? Is it because the Draymond-KD feud seems real? Is it because James Harden just put together one of the top-7 offensive seasons in NBA history? Is it because for the first time since his second season in the league, we have a LeBron-less postseason? Whatever it is, the 2019 version of the NBA Playoffs seem different — like we need to be paying closer attention to things we typically would gloss past. We can’t — and shouldn’t — just swipe right and try to move to the conference finals. Not this year, anyway. In the East, there’s no LeBron James so the door is open for any of the top 4 seeds; each of them can make a convincing case for advancing past the first two rounds. Out West, it’s fact — Denver, Portland, Oklahoma City, or San Antonio will be in the conference finals, playing for a shot at the NBA Finals.

It’s already shaping up to be a thrilling playoff ride. And we’re just getting started.

Western Conference

(1) Golden State v. (8) Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers might have the brighter future (AND brighter present) than their L.A. counterparts, the Lakers. But make no mistake, this series goes as long as the Warriors want it to go. Doc Rivers has done a masterful job this season and should get major Coach of the Year consideration; but his Clippers can’t hang with the Warriors, even if they choose to sleep-walk a game or two. Warriors in 4.

(2) Denver v. (7) San Antonio

The young Nuggets are super fun to root for. The problem is that they have no surefire scorer other than big man and top-4 MVP candidate Nikola Jokic — who actually prefers to pass than score. Yes, maybe Jamal Murray emerges as the go-to-guy when Denver needs a bucket late. Or maybe Paul Milsapp. Or maybe Gary Harris. Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. The uncertainty surrounding how the Nuggets are going to get their offense in a seven game series against the best head coach of his generation (and maybe of all-time) cannot be overlooked. I don’t love the Spurs, but at least I know what Pop can do. I think LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan can do enough and will be put in opportunistic situations this series to get the job done. Spurs in 7.

(3) Portland v. (6) Oklahoma City

This is the great “Who Can Exorcise Their Postseason Demons?” series. Russell Westbrook has won 2 playoff games since Durant bolted for the Bay Area while the Blazers are looking to put last year’s embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Pelicans in the rearview mirror. Damian Lillard has had a top-6 MVP season in my estimation, and he’ll need to carry that over into the playoffs if Portland plans on advancing. Yes, OKC dropped in the standings over the final month and rumors swirling about Paul George’s shoulder only get worse by the week, but in the end the Thunder can throw so much more at the Blazers. Thunder in 6.

(4) Houston v. (5) Utah

I hear a lot of NBA insiders saying how this series is nearly a coin flip and that the Jazz could seriously threaten the Rockets. Listen, count me as one who fully believes in Quin Snyder and Rudy Gobert (and in Donovan Mitchell to an extent). But these Rockets won’t be slowed on offense — more specifically, James Harden won’t be slowed. Utah will bring the defensive intensity without question, but I have to ask: where are they getting enough offense to outscore Houston? Rockets in 5.

Eastern Conference

(1) Milwaukee v. (8) Detroit

The Pistons limped into the playoffs, and the Bucks have been the most consistent team in the entire NBA from start to finish. If the Pistons can steal one, the playoffs will have been a success. But don’t count on it. Bucks in 4

(2) Toronto v. (7) Orlando

I kind of like seeing the Magic back in the postseason. I don’t know if it’s the uniforms or the floor or the aerial views of Orlando and Epcot and Disney. I better not blink, though — it’s going to be over quickly. Raptors in 4.

(3) Philadelphia v. (6) Brooklyn

I’m not sold on the Nets giving the 76ers a huge scare. But it’s worth keeping an eye on Joel Embiid and his injury, as well as how Philly’s big 4 play together in postseason games. Brooklyn will play loose and fun and will challenge the Sixers. But in the end, I’m more interested how Philly looks entering round 2. They need to make quick work of the Nets. 76ers in 6.

(4) Boston v. (5) Indiana

The Celtics might have actually caught a break with the Marcus Smart injury. As strange as that sounds, at least now Brad Stevens can properly allot minutes to Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier. The key to this series — and the entirety of the postseason for the Cs — is Hayward’s ability to score and score efficiently. Boston was 21-4 when he went for 14 or more points, and they were 25-3 when he shot better than 50% from the field. The increased minutes should help him see an increase in production. Celtics in 6.


Thanks for reading. Subscribe to the Sports Talk Center blog and you can receive emails when content is updated. Also, follow me on Twitter @brian22goodwin. You can also subscribe and download the Sports Talk Center Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts from: Apple iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, Google Play, or Spotify. Just subscribe, download, listen, and enjoy.

Listen to EPISODE 164 (“Seven Questions Heading into the NBA Postseason”) right here: 

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Evaluating the Winners and Losers at the NBA Trade Deadline

Although nothing happened on the Anthony Davis-to-L.A. front, the NBA trade deadline last week was still exciting right up until the end. Which team made the most impactful move? Who’s the player who is capable of pushing a contender over the top? Who got better? Who got worse? What team is set up for the brightest future? And, of course, where do we go now with the Lakers, LeBron, and AD?

Best Long-Term Vision

Clippers. Everyone wants to talk about the Lakers being the ultimate free agent destination this summer — New York and Brooklyn even get mentions. But maybe the “other” L.A. team is where we ought to turn our attention. Do you realize what the Clippers did at the deadline? Jerry West and Larry Frank shipped out contracts to clear space; added multiple draft picks giving them two first rounders in 2020 and ’21 and two seconds in ’21 and ’23; plus by trading away Tobias Harris — who they weren’t keeping this summer anyway — they should bottom out nicely, allowing them to keep their first round pick this year (had it fallen in the lottery, it would have gone to Boston). Make the playoffs this year and get run in the first round? The Clips boldly said, “No thank you.” Now, you ready for this? Sit down. The Clippers have $59 million in space to sign TWO max free agents this summer. (You know Kawhi Leonard bought a house an hour out of L.A., right?) That’s not all. With the draft capital, Steve Balmer could package together a nice deal for another star player in a trade. Ummmm, hello Anthony Davis.

Best “Win Now” Mentality

Bucks. This is easy. While most are touting the Sixers and the big move Elton Brand made in bringing in Tobias Harris (as a rental mind you) and jettisoning former number-1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, I remind you that the Bucks are a top-2 team in the East and just added a 6-10 stretch forward who has playoff experience and can shoot the three (37%). The addition of Nikola Mirotic gives Milwaukee a third forward who is comfortable shooting behind the arc — he joins Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez, who each shoot at a 38% clip from three. Mirotic was a also a key cog in the Pelicans rotation last year that got them into the second of the playoffs, despite losing DeMarcus Cousins. This move should really help spread the floor and open up even more lanes for Giannis to get to the bucket. Love this move. If I said the Bucks were the favorites in the East, I dare you to challenge me.

Worst “Win Now” Mentality

76ers. So I give Elton Brand credit for going for it. The problem is that Philly still isn’t any better than the other three teams in the East that they’re competing with for the top 4 spots. Plus, they still don’t play defense — who’s going to guard Kemba or Kyle Lowry or Eric Bledsoe or Kyrie in the playoffs? Oh, and we’re just supposed to assume Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris are going to re-sign? I’m not sold at all that even one will be back in 2019. Then what? The best outcome is that the Sixers get to the Finals and that’s enough to convince one of them to return and then they sign another free agent. But, shhhhhh — Jimmy isn’t re-signing in Philly.

Brightest Future

Mavericks. After last season, what if I said that by February the Mavs would get the best player in the 2018 draft and then fall into Kristaps Porzingis on his rookie deal? Seems nuts, but Dallas is in prime position to be fun and very competitive for at least the next few years — and much longer if you believe in Luka Doncic (and you should). Luka plus KP plus another star? Wow. Sign me up.

“Good for Them” Award

Kings. The Harrison Barnes deal gives this young group some veteran presence. And with the Clippers throwing the towel in this year and the Lakers flailing around in confusion, the Kings have an excellent shot at the playoffs. They have no reason to tank or try and get a better draft pick — they don’t own their’s this year. So win, Kings, win!! Go for it!

Potentially Bleakest Future

Raptors. Give Toronto credit. They have played the role of LeBron’s punching bag for years; they’ve been saddled with the “they’re soft” tag; and they’re sick of it. SO they’re doing something about it. Be aggressive and get Kawhi. Loved that move for the statement it made, and with him playing at an MVP-level, it’s great for the Raptors. The questions remains, however: will he stay beyond this year? I think we all kinda know the answer. So now we ask, what would MAKE him stay? Adding Marc Gasol — does that do it? I have my doubts. If it doesn’t keep Kawhi from bolting for, say, the West Coast, then I ask this: where are the Raptors in 2019?

The “We-Won’t-Be-Bullied” Award

Pelicans. Sometimes being a little aloof is a positive. Reports were that Tom Benson’s widow, who is the owner, couldn’t get past trading their star player a year and a half before his contract was up. Sometimes just taking a step back can give you perspective. The Pelicans hold the cards and will get a great deal this summer.

Team Killer

LeBron, Klutch Sports, Rich Paul. Enough said.

Newest Villian

Anthony Davis. Now, New Orleans hates their greatest player of all-time. His teammates can’t be thrilled with him. The league as a whole (other than the Lakers) was rooting hard for him to not get what he wanted. Who’s on AD’s side at the moment?

The “What-Are-We-Doing?” Award

Lakers and Magic Johnson. Swing and miss and look utterly foolish at the deadline. From all reports, the Pelicans were totally messing with Magic and Co. But, ok, so you got done over by the Pels. Fine. You need to have a plan B, right? Nikola Vucevic would have been nice for Lonzo Ball and a couple picks, huh? No? Nothing? Well, that’s not true. They pulled Reggie Bullock.


Thanks for reading. Subscribe to the Sports Talk Center blog and you can receive emails when content is updated. Also, follow me on Twitter @brian22goodwin. You can also subscribe and download the Sports Talk Center Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts from: Apple iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, Google Play, or Spotify. Just subscribe, download, listen, and enjoy.

Listen to EPISODE 139 (“Evaluating the NBA Trade Deadline Moves”) right here:

 

 

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

NBA All-Stars: Who’s Joining the Starters?

The NBA All-Star starters were announced last week, and, for me, there weren’t any real surprises. Would I have included LeBron James over big men like Anthony Davis or Nikola Jokic? No, but it’s LeBron so who’s losing their minds over that. Plus, now Davis is a little dinged up and I don’t blame anyone for preferring James over Jokic in an exhibition game for the fans. I was pleasantly surprised Kemba Walker is representing the East at the second guard spot alongside Kyrie Irving. I had Walker penciled in — and if you listened to my podcast from Friday last week (“NBA All-Stars & MVP Power Rankings”-Ep. 132) — then you know I was practically talking myself into Bradley Beal over Walker with Ben Simmons a very close third. But I stuck with Walker, and I’m glad the voters did, too.

Now, on to the tough part. Fourteen reserve spots remain that the NBA will announce January 31. Be reminded these 14 spots are divided up between the two conferences — seven for the East, seven for the West. Yet, the new “Captains Draft” format isn’t based on conferences so we won’t see an East v. West game like in years past. So why we’re still selecting viable all-stars based a parameter like “which conference you play in” seems laughable. Think about it. Multiple players out West will get left off the roster simply because they play in the West. Conversely, a few lucky souls in the East will be all-stars and can include that on their career resumes all because they play on an Eastern Conference team. The NBA is usually as progressive and ahead of the curve as any professional sports league we have in this country. C’mon Adam Silver, let’s fix this.

Anyway, here’s my reserve selections for the 2019 NBA All-Star Game:

WEST

I had Anthony Davis starting in my top 5. Listen, he’s an MVP candidate and it doesn’t matter that his team isn’t that good. AD is doing things we’ve never seen another player do — ever. His 29/13 stat line is impressive on its own, but then go ahead and add in that he also goes for 4 assists, 2 blocks, and a steal per game. That overall line has never been done in NBA history. Speaking of things that have never been done, Nikola Jokic is changing what we think a big man can do with his court vision. His 19/10/7 doesn’t totally jump off the page — although it should because the last center to do that was Wilt Chamberlain. But I urge you to pay more attention to those 7 assists and the fact that the Nuggets’ big man leads the NBA in passes per game. That’s crazy. You could argue no player impacts his team more than the Joker.

Let’s stick with the bigs and talk about the anchor of the league’s 4th best defense. Utah’s Rudy Gobert is the NBA’s best rim protector, but his impact on the Jazz offense cannot be discounted. Gobert leads the league in screen assists, leading to a league-best 14.1 points per game. (Full discloure, if you listened to my podcast on my all-star picks, I left Gobert out. That was dumb.)

If it’s guard play you like, then you’re in for a treat because the West has a bunch. Damian Lillard might be the most underrated and under appreciated player in the NBA. Playing way up in Portland doesn’t help his marketability, but Dame is nearly on Steph Curry’s level when it comes to range. Plus, he’s averaging 1.1 points per possession off the pick and roll. The team that swept the Blazers in last year’s playoffs has two players making it for me. Jrue Holliday has put up some really nice numbers in New Orleans — 21 points per game and 8 assists. What’s more impressive is that when he and Davis are both on the floor, the Pelicans have an efficiency rating equal to that of a 60-win team. On the other hand, when one leaves the court, the rating plummets to that of a sub-30 win team. Yikes.

The Sacramento Kings got off the that fast start, and while they’ve slowed down, De’Aaron Fox has not. Along with Buddy Hield, the two comprise one of the youngest and fastest backcourts in the league. Fox should be an All-Star. And if we’re talking about youth, let’s not forget about the shot of adrenaline that Luka Doncic has injected into the Mavericks team. Luka’s the leader of that team already — he’s only 19. His numbers bear out all-star consideration — 20/6/5. Only eight rookies have gone for 19/6/4 and all eight were on the team.

EAST

The case could easily have been made for either Ben Simmons or Bradley Beal to get the starting nod over Kemba Walker. I love Walker and he’s single-handedly responsible for keeping the Hornets in the playoff picture. But Simmons’s court vision is beyond reproach and he’s got the numbers to back it up — 17/9.5/8. If he could only shoot. Then there’s Beal who has completely taken over in D.C. — 31.1 points and 7 assists per game — after John Wall went out with injury.

As for a couple more guards, JJ Redick is putting up some really special numbers, considering he’s the fourth option in Philly. He’s attempting a career high in 3s per game and his 18.5 points per game is the most of his career. And if someone said the Nets would be pushing for the 5th seed in the East before the season started, I would have called for them to be institutionalized. Instead, here we are and De’Angelo Russell has been really good — 19.2 points and 6 assists per game. In January alone, Russell is averaging 23.1 points and his shooting percentages are up across the board from the field (+6%), from 3 (4%), and from the line (8%).

The three remaining spots go to Nikola VucevicBlake Griffin, and Pascal Siakam. No one has been more surprising this year than the Orlando big man. Vuc’s 20 and 12 have kept the Magic in the mix — although they seem to be fluttering now. “Point Blake” is being used in a way that completely maximizes what Griffin does best now at this stage of his career. His 26/5/5 might be the quietest 26/5/5 I’ve ever seen. And Toronto has such a strong bench and one of the most soundly put together teams in the NBA, you’ve got to look at rewarding somebody besides just Kawhi Leonard. Enter Siakam’s 15 points and 7 rebounds per game along with his 57% shooting from the field. He’s consistent and he’s reliable — and he’s their second most important player. Crazy? Maybe.

Honorable Mentions

There were a number of deserving players left out — as there always is. And if you play in the West, you really feel left out because the players grabbing the last few spots in the East are not as worthy as the first few guys in the West that have to stay home, such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Karl Towns, Danilo Gallinari. If not Gallinari, Tobias Harris and his 21 points a game could easily be making the trip to Charlotte as the Clippers representative. Also, it seems weird to leave a player from the Spurs out, especially after they’ve overachieved when everyone declared them dead and the dynasty done. Aldridge or DeMar DeRozan could certainly be All-Stars this year.

A name you want me to mention is one that I have little problem keeping off the All-Star roster. Well, there might be two — one is Jimmy Butler and I’m not making any apologies for this. You forfeit All-Star recognition when you publicly act like he’s acted and attempt to ruin one franchise and now seem to be working on another (not to mention your past history in Chicago). The other is Russell Westbrook. I love Russ and watching him the All-Star Game is fun — truth be told, I’d have little issue if he ended up on the roster. His true shooting percentage is so awful that it makes you question if he’s the most important player on that Thunder team. I know he’s practically averaging a triple-double, but how meaningful is that when of 291 players who’ve attempted 20 shots a game, Russ’s field goal percentage ranks him 273? He’s more entertaining, but Mike Conley might be more worthy of an All-Star selection this season.

There aren’t a lot of snubs in the more watered down East in my opinion, but Milwaukee’s Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton could make a case. The Bucks are a top-2 team in the conference and, usually, teams that good get multiple selections to the game. Their numbers balance out quite evenly, but Bledsoe’s defense might give him a slight edge over his teammate.


Thanks for reading. Subscribe to the Sports Talk Center blog and you can receive emails when content is updated. Also, follow me on Twitter @brian22goodwin. You can also subscribe and download the Sports Talk Center Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts from: Apple iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, Google Play, or Spotify. Just subscribe, download, listen, and enjoy.

Listen to EPISODE 132 (“NBA All-Stars & MVP Power Rankings”) right here:

Listen to EPISODE 134 (“What’s Next for AD and Potential Suitors? And SB53 Storylines “) right here:

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Thunder’s Move to Keep Paul George Doesn’t Change Anything

When Paul George re-signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder — and left all Lakers fans stunned — Saturday night, a few things could be gleaned.

First, he most certainly followed the money. As Adrian Wojnarowski reported, George cashed in with the franchise that could give him the most.

Secondly, George was either (a) not as desired by the Lakers as many believed or (b) the Lakers did like the idea of adding the all-star but had a change of heart when Kawhi Leonard became available. Or maybe it was neither. Maybe George really fell in love with OKC after a year there and decided being wanted, as much as they seemed to want him, was worth staying put.

Thirdly, the Thunder are confused, desperate, and snake-bitten. Can this team, as constructed, be better than the Warriors? Ok, we know that answer. But how about this: are they even better than the version we just saw, finish 4th in the West and get trounced by Utah in the first round? It’s hard to imagine the 2018-19 Thunder will be better than the Warriors, the Rockets, or the Lakers (assuming they look, how shall we say, differently). And who’s to say they’ll have any sort of edge over Portland or Utah. Plus, Denver will be considerably better than the 9 they finished last season. The point is OKC has a lot of money wrapped up in Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, George, and Steven Adams. They have Andre Roberson coming back and did re-sign Jerami Grant, but what else is there and where is the room to add anything else?

GM Sam Presti and the Thunder front office have been burned before — a la Kevin Durant. (By the way, it’s interesting how Russ planned a huge house party for PG and all the Thunder players and management yet did nothing of the sort to try and make a pitch to KD a few years ago.) And this seems more of a reactionary move to losing Durant — how could the fan base the another star player leaving their city for a likely championship somewhere else? That said, is this the right way to build this team moving forward. I get the rationale by Presti, but I just don’t think it’s the prudent thing as far as the franchise’s future. OKC is strapped for cash for the foreseeable future and the roster isn’t good enough to win the West.

Russ isn’t exactly easy to play with and, as great as his numbers are, sometimes numbers don’t tell the whole story. The question the Thunder will have to confront at some point (and I think now might have been the best time to do so) is this team capable of winning a championship with Westbrook as the centerpiece? Certainly, it isn’t right now; but can it be before the end of PG’s new deal — say when the Warriors reign of terror is over in maybe 2 or 3 years? Maybe, but 3 years is a long time to project and let’s be honest — Russ plays hard on his own body because of his style of play and he can wear on teammates. So who’s to say what level of play he’s at three years down the road and what George thinks of playing alongside the ball-dominant point guard for that many years.

So where does this leave the Thunder now? That’s easy: the same spot they’ve been since losing Durant — a middling playoff team that can be exciting to watch but won’t threaten the top teams in the conference.


Thanks for reading. Subscribe to the Sports Talk Center blog and you can receive emails when content is updated. Also, follow me on Twitter @brian22goodwin. You can also subscribe and download the Sports Talk Center Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts from: Apple iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, Google Play, or Spotify. Just subscribe, download, listen, and enjoy.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Get Ready for NBA Free Agency Fireworks

With less than a week away from NBA free agency beginning, all the rumors swirling about this player or that player or this team or that team will be put to bed, as the biggest names in the NBA make their plans for the future public information. Of course, LeBron’s “Decision: 3.0” is the headline-grabber, but he’s by no means the only superstar debating where to suit up in the Fall of 2018. Here’s some of the biggest and most intriguing names on the market; and my thoughts on how things may wind up going once the bell rings on July 1:

LeBron James

Potential Suitors

Los Angeles Lakers: All signs point to La La Land as the ultimate destination for LeBron. The Hollywood lifestyle, playing for an all-time great franchise, and learning under the media mogul and NBA legend Magic Johnson are elects that no other city can offer. It doesn’t hurt, mind you, that the Lakers can bring in two more max free agents or position themselves to be players in the market in 2019.

Cleveland: The Cavs have shown the willingness to revamp their roster on the fly in order to please The King. They would no doubt do it again this summer if it means he stays put in Cleveland. Adding a piece like Kemba Walker in a deal with Charlotte has been reported by The Sporting News as enticing to LeBron. Also, we can’t forget that Kawhi Leonard could be shipped out of San Antonio. Anyone who says the Cavs roster will prohibit James’s return in 2018 doesn’t realize that rosters can change in the blink of an eye in the NBA.

Philadelphia:  This one is interesting because Philly worked so hard to tank and tank and tank for years in order to acquire all this young talent through the draft. Now that it all seems to be coming together, here comes the notion of adding LeBron (and all that he brings — good and bad). Would his presence agitate the team’s current — and future — stars, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons? Would he be up and outta there in two or three years — and what would be left in Philly? In my opinion, the Sixers need a younger top-5 talent to  keep that championship window open for longer. You know, Kawhi Leonard could be available, right?

Houston: The Rockets, I believed, positioned themselves a couple weeks ago as the front-runners for LeBron’s services. Since then, however, the likelihood of GM Daryl Morey abandoning his plan on how to dethrone Golden State seems slimmer and slimmer by the day. Houston was a Chris Paul hamstring away from the NBA Finals. Re-sign CP-3 and Clint Capela and run this thing back one more time.

Kawhi Leonard

While he’s not a free agent yet, Kawhi must be mentioned here due to the fact he’s entering his final year of a contract that he can opt out of following the 2018-19 season. Oh, there’s the whole “I want to be traded” thing, too, that we shouldn’t gloss over. Bottom line is if the Spurs want him for the remainder of his deal, they got him. If Gregg Popovich views this as too much of a distraction or thinks it’s more beneficial to the franchise to trade Kawhi and get what they can, then they’ll do that. It’s all up to the Spurs here. Kawhi has said his peace.

As I stated earlier, the Cavs and Sixers would be wise to inquire and see if there’s a deal that can be struck. Teams in the East are going to be competing for second place behind the Boston Celtics for the foreseeable future — why not make a deal now that puts you on that same level? It’s not often a top-5 talent becomes available.

Paul George

Possible Suitors:

Los Angeles Lakers: It’s no secret that George’s dream is to play for the Lakers. His Pacers teammates knew it and now all the league and it’s fans know it. It’s no secret whatsoever that a LeBron-George combo in L.A. has been bandied about for months.

Oklahoma City: Uniting with LeBron in L.A. and creating a power team to challenge the Warriors is likeliest scenario; but OKC is pushing hard to keep PG-13 as Russell Westbrook’s running mate with the Thunder. Marc Stein spoke to Dan LeBatard and said he believed George would in fact stay in Oklahoma City. The 5-time All Star could be in the market for a 2-year contract worth $60 million, with an opt-out clause that would allow him to test the market again in a year.

Philadelphia: I say this because I’ve thought it for months. Don’t sleep on the Sixers going after George. He’s a safer fit in their system than LeBron is, in my opinion. And if the Sixers are truly trying to keep up with Boston, they’ll need to make at least one splash this summer.

DeMarcus Cousins

Possible Suitors:

New Orleans: It makes sense for the Pelicans to re-sign the big man. But an achilles injury is the scariest to come back from and they may not want to get into a bidding war if another franchise offers the max — and I’d fully expect a team like Dallas to do so.

Dallas: The Mavs have the money to spend and the desire to win now. They traded for the best player in the NBA Draft, as I saw it, in Luka Doncic, and they could easily be the most improved team in the league next season by adding another piece in free agency.

Chris Paul

Possbile Suitors:

Houston: It seemed all year like a fore gone conclusion that Paul would re-sign with the Rockets this offseason. However, a hamstring in Games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference Finals and some missed games in the regular season has apparently given pause to the franchise and whether they want to tied up a max deal in an injury-prone point guard for the next how ever many years. I’d expect a two-year deal to get worked out where Paul gets his money. The Rockets are still the only ones who have any chance in the West of stopping the Warriors. And without CP-3, they have a significantly worse chance.

Los Angeles Lakers: Teaming up with LBJ in L.A. became the talk of the internet a couple weeks ago. Depending how talks go between Paul and the Rockets, this possibility cannot at all be ruled out.

Marcus Smart

Possible Suitors:

Dallas: Teams like Dallas, Chicago, Sacramento, and Philadelphia could offer Smart the type of contract he desires. The Mavs have declared a “win now” attitude so Mark Cuban likely would be willing to outbid the competition. Dallas could be in a decent spot with a transformed roster heading into 2018-19.

Boston: The Celts won’t match anything beyond the $12 to 14 million range. Danny Ainge values Smart’s intangibles, but at what price?

Chicago: The Bulls have the money to spend and rumors are that they’d prefer to spend it now instead of waiting to be major players in the summer of 2019. Bringing Smart’s grit and tenacity to Chicago might be what the franchise needs. But it will overpay.


Thanks for reading. Subscribe to the Sports Talk Center blog and you can receive emails when content is updated. Also, follow me on Twitter @brian22goodwin. You can also subscribe and download the Sports Talk Center Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts from: Apple iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, Google Play, or Spotify. Just subscribe, download, listen, and enjoy.

Listen to the Sports Talk Center Podcast, episode 42, here:

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

How the West will be Won & LeBron Suddenly has Help

Houston v. Golden State

Golden State’s Motivation

I know you can’t measure this, but when Golden State is engaged and interested, they’re practically unbeatable. The problem is that during the long 82-game regular season (and having come off of 3 consecutive years reaching the NBA Finals) the Warriors stop caring and realize it’s smarter to do just enough to get through to the playoffs, where they turn on the jets. And I’d expect the jets to be functioning at full capacity the series, considering Golden State’s heard all the same things we’ve heard as far as Houston being constructed, solely, to take down the champs. If any opponent can get the Warriors playing to their potential, it’s this Rockets team.

Klay Thompson on James Harden

James Harden is the MVP, but his playoff resume isn’t as impressive. Even in the 9 games the Rockets have played this postseason, Harden has not been stellar on a routine basis. In four games, he’s shot below 40%. In this series, one of the league’s best defenders, Klay Thompson, will draw Harden. The history of this matchup favors Thompson — in fact Harden has not gone to the line when guarded by Thompson since a game they played against each other in February of 2016. A huge part of why Harden is so scary as a scorer is his ability to draw fouls. If he’s unable to do that in this series, Houston may have to rely on Chris Paul a lot more.

Paul and Harden Together

Paul’s presence has been a difference-maker this year, including in these playoffs. In the four games that Harden struggled from the field (shooting below 40%), Paul has averaged nearly 27 points and the team is 4-0. That’s a break from Houston’s past, where they were 5-10 in such games without Paul.

But the Rockets need both to play well , simultaneously. If they “trade off,” that won’t be enough. In short, neither guy can afford an “off night” in this series

KD’s Willingness to Take Over

Much was made about the late night text message that Draymond Green sent Kevin Durant, encouraging him to be more aggressive and to take over. The bottom line is Durant is capable of doing that at any given moment in any given game. I’d fully expect KD to be the alpha in this series — knowing the stage and knowing the opponent. It won’t take any text from a teammate to inspire Durant.

If you’re hearing Clint Capela’s name….

That’s great thing for Rockets’ fans. If all the talking heads are saying Clint Capela’s name, it’s because he’s grabbing a lot of boards and he’s serving as a major defensive presence in the paint — both of which are big for Houston in this series. His rebounding means two things: (1) Golden State is missing shots; and (2) he’s active on the offensive glass which is allowing for more shots and possessions for his shooters. And if he’s cutting off penetration and the Warriors aren’t able to get to the rim, this becomes a different series. On the other hand, if he’s silenced, it means this is a shooter’s series and that bodes well for Golden State.

Boston v. Cleveland

Slowing LeBron

Ok, no one is stopping LeBron. He’s playing some of his most dominating playoff basketball of his entire career — 34/9/9. So let’s not misunderstand what I’m saying, however the Celtics do have the firepower to slow James down. Brad Stevens will throw a rotation of guys at LeBron — some will hit and foul him, some will attempt to keep him out of the paint, some will contest any jumper he takes. Again, “slowing” is different than “stopping”. With a combination of Marcus Morris, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and Semi Ojeleye, Boston will be able to throw more options at LeBron than any other team has been able to this postseason.

Showing Some Love

The Kevin Love that the Cavs so desperately need, if they’re to advance to the NBA Finals, showed up in a big way in Games 2, 3, and 4 against Toronto. Love was a force — offensively and on the boards (31/11, 21/16, and 23/6). Al Horford will be tasked with defending Love, which he’s had some success doing. This season Love scored just 5.0 points per game against Horford, on 25 percent shooting.

Clutch Time

Remember when people used to claim LeBron didn’t want the ball in his hands at the end of games? That he dished off too much? That he was missing the “killer instinct” that made greats like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant so invaluable?

Yeah, I think we can agree that’s no longer a topic of conversation. And if you need statistics to back that up, well, I’d just encourage you to watch more basketball. Sometimes the eye test tells you everything you need to know.

But don’t overlook Boston in this discussion. Let me be frank — there’s no disputing if you want LeBron to have the ball at the end of a game or not. But the Celtics have some guys who, in this postseason, haven’t shied away from the big moments. Terry Rozier and Al Horford rank fourth and fifth, respectively, behind James as far as scoring in the clutch — the final 5 minutes of a game where the teams are separated by 5 or fewer points.

Again, LeBron’s “clutch-ness” is at a level you can only appreciate if you see it. But understand that Boston hasn’t exactly disappeared at the end of close games.

Predictions

How important is getting off to a good start? Well, winning Game 1 in the conference finals is pretty good indicator of success. Since using this playoff format (1984), of the 68 teams that have taken a 1-0 series lead,  57 have gone on to make the NBA Finals.

While I don’t completely share Charles Barkley’s take that Game 1 is a “must-win” for Houston, I do believe winning the opener for both underdogs (Houston and Boston) will go a long way in making both series very competitive.

If Golden State is totally engaged, that could be over in 4 or 5. I’ll say they lose interest up 3-1 and the Rockets force a Game 6. But that’s as far as the Rockets will take it. Golden State in 6.

In the East, no team can throw more defenders at LeBron than Boston can. Brad Stevens’ s rotations will make it an interesting series, and if LeBron felt tired after the Indiana series, he’s going to feel downright exhausted and beaten up after this one. In the end, he’s the best for a reason, and he’ll find a way into his 8th straight Finals appearance. Cleveland in 6.


Thanks for reading. Subscribe to the Sports Talk Center blog and you can receive emails when content is updated. Also, follow me on Twitter @brian22goodwin. You can also subscribe and download the Sports Talk Center Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts from: Apple iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, Google Play, or Spotify. Just subscribe, download, listen, and enjoy.

Listen to the Sports Talk Center Podcast, episode 35, here:

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The NBA Playoff Race is On Fire!!

I have to admit that it’s been a few years since I paid this much attention to an NBA regular season. Over the last few seasons, I’d make sure I knew enough about the best teams (predominantly Cleveland and Golden State) to understand what’s going on, and then by the time the playoffs rolled around, I’d start watching more games, more closely. However, this season has captured me in a way that no season has over the past decade, probably. I don’t know if it’s because the Cavs are a mess and LeBron’s streak of Finals appearances is very much in jeopardy; or maybe it’s that the Rockets have put together such a strong year that we can actually envision an NBA Finals without the Warriors; or maybe it’s the unbelievably tight playoff races in both conferences, where a team could fall from the 4-seed to the 8th in a matter of a couple of nights.

Whatever it is, it’s fun and it’s made the NBA very compelling to me in 2018. Here’s five items that particularly jump out at me:

1. Do the West playoff contenders lose ever?

Houston’s won  23 of 24 and just had a 17-game win streak snapped by Toronto. The Warriors had a 7-game win streak earlier this month before being bit by the injury bug. The Blazers just had their 13-game winning streak end Tuesday night. Oklahoma City has won 6 of 7. The Pelicans had a 10-game winning streak earlier this month. The Jazz have won 21 of their last 24. Even the Spurs have reeled off 4 straight wins after falling out of the top 8 a week ago.

So the short answer is no, these teams out West do not lose. Ok, they do, but not very often. So when they do, it can vastly change the playoff picture.

2. What’s going to happen with the Cavs?

Oh boy. Here we go. LeBron will leave, Ty Lue is gone due to sickness so it’s likely a new coach is in, the other players — oh wait, you mean what’s going to happen with the Cavs as far as the playoffs go this season. Oops. Got a little ahead of myself.

Ok. So let’s just start with this: it’s in no way, shape, or form a given that the Cavaliers are back in the NBA Finals. It’s not even a slam dunk that they’re in the conference finals. They’re likely going to be in some sort of 3-6 or 4-5 matchup against a team like Philadelphia or Indiana or Washington. And that will be an exciting series, I think. But not one that the Cavs should worry toooooo much about. It’s that second round series that could be problematic for LeBron & Co., where they’d meet Toronto or Boston most likely.

No matter how far their run takes them in the playoffs, Cleveland will need to play a better brand of defense than they’ve played all season and LeBron will need his complimentary pieces to answer the  bell when called upon.

3. Is the East Toronto’s to lose?

It’s hard to argue a way the Raptors don’t come out of the East. Conversely, it’s hard to envision the Raptors in the NBA Finals. But, hey, they’ve been the East’s most consistent team, the East’s deepest team, and the East’s best team. Head Coach Dwane Casey will be one of the 2 or 3 finalists for Coach of the Year, and DeMar DeRozan has thrown his name into MVP consideration with his team-leading 24 points per game. What I’m trying to get at is – as hard as it may be to get behind them – the Raptors are not the Raptors of years past. This version has a bonafide star and a deep bench and a coach that seems to have gotten over the questions about his ability to adapt.

4. Did the Celtics miss out on a chance to steal the conference this season?

This is an argument I’ve had over and over with myself in my head for a few weeks now. At the start of the season before Gordon Hayward goes down, the Celts were the outsider to get through the East, if the Cavs stumbled. But then Hayward broke his ankle and expectations came back down to earth – except that Kyrie Irving carried Boston through the majority of the season’s first half and they looked less like an outsider and more like the favorite. But they really were overachieving.

And now the Celtics have run into hard times and really have not played consistently good basketball for a couple months – which is pretty understandable considering the injuries they’ve been dealt recently, on top of missing Hayward all year. But still with the Cavs in a bit of disarray, it sure seems like the Celtics could have had this conference this year. In fairness, it’s a combination of Boston not playing great and the Raptors playing out of this world. Hard to fault the Celtics, but it feels like they could have stolen the East this year.

5. Are we destined for Rockets – Warriors in the WCF?

For nearly the entire season, we’ve spent little time wondering who’d be in the Western Conference Finals. The Rockets have been outstanding and the Warriors and still the Warriors. But now we’ve been introduced to the newest belle of the ball: the Portland Trail Blazers. Damian Lilliard has catapulted into the MVP conversation and the discussion of 1st team All-NBA. I’m not totally ready to abandon Rockets-Warriors yet, but I’m ready to entertain the notion that the Warriors might be vulnerable (gasp!). Four straight Finals is no joke. It’s got a way of wearing you down and the Warriors don’t seem to be above being able to get worn down. If you’re not ready for the Blazers yet, I guess now would be a bad time to bring up Utah.


Thanks for reading. Subscribe to the Sports Talk Center blog and you can receive emails when content is updated. Also, follow me on Twitter @brian22goodwin. You can also subscribe and download the Sports Talk Center Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts from: Apple iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, Google Play, or Spotify. Just subscribe, download, listen, and enjoy.

Check Episode 21 — March Madness and NBA Storylines

 

 

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

2017 NBA Mock Draft

Get ready for a topsy-turvy, upside down, not-sure-how-we’ll-end-up-getting-through-the-night NBA Draft. If you thought the flurry of trades and trade rumors was wild over the last few days with Philadelphia trading up to the top spot with Boston and Dwight Howard relocating to his fifth NBA team as he moves to Charlotte, you haven’t seen nothing yet! Thursday night promises excitement, surprises, and some sure-fire head scratchers that leave us all wondering how some of these GMs got their jobs.

So before the big, fun-filled night begins, here’s my two cents on what might happen:

1. 76ers: PG Markelle Fultz, Washington

At least we get to start the evening with some predictability. The Sixers didn’t trade up to take a flyer on someone. They know Markelle Fultz, they like Markelle Fultz, and they’re going to draft Markelle Fultz. Pretty simple.

2. Lakers: PG Lonzo Ball, UCLA

A great passer who should make everyone on the floor better.

3. Celtics: SF Jayson Tatum, Duke

Tatum has been called the “most ready” player in this draft. Add him to a 50-win team? Celtics should be thrilled.

4. *PROJECTED TRADE – Knicks (from Suns): SF Josh Jackson, Kansas

This is contigent on Phil Jackson being serious about trading Kristaps Porzingis — and he sounds like he is. The Knicks like the Kansas star but likely will only get him if they trade up.

5. Kings: PG De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky

Maybe the best point guard in the draft, if you listen to some experts. The Kings are known for doing, well, shall we say “funny” things when it comes to player personnel. Not even they can screw this one up though. Right?

6. Magic: PF Jonathan Isaac, Florida St.

Orlando’s front office will love this pick if Isaac is available. And I see no reason he’s not.

7. Timberwolves: SG Malik Monk, Kentucky

I’m not too sure where Minnesota really wants to go with this selection. I think they’d love to trade it — Dallas or New York seem the obvious suitors. If not, Monk is the pick.

8. *PROJECTED TRADE – Mavericks (from Knicks): PF Lauri Markkanen, Arizona

The player in the draft who has been compared most often to Dirk Nowitzki. No surprise he ends up in Dallas.

9. *PROJECTED TRADE – Knicks (from Mavs): PG Dennis Smith, NC State

This is a position the Knicks must improve at. It’s Smith or the Frenchman, Frank Ntilikina.

10. *PROJECTED TRADE – Jazz (from Kings): SG Luke Kennard, Duke

Perhaps, the best shooter in the draft. Would be a great replacement for Gordon Hayward, if he leaves.

11. Hornets: G Frank Ntilikina, France

This would be a solid selection for Charlotte. Ntilikina could be a nice backcourt mate with Kemba Walker.

12. Pistons: G Donovan Mitchell, Louisville

Mitchell is tough and versatile. The Pistons shouldn’t pass him up. Although, they may choose one of the Collins kids here to add to their front court.

13. Nuggets: F OG Anunoby, Indiana

Denver is one of the best at scouting overseas.

14. Heat: SF Justin Jackson, North Carolina

Jackson can shoot and is versatile, but lacks great athleticism or else he’d be a top-10 pick.

15. Trail Blazers: PF/C John Collins, Wake Forest

Portland can’t keep and pay all their picks in the first round (they have 3). But this is one they should.

16. Bulls: G/F Terrance Ferguson, Australia

The Bulls will need a scorer — especially if Jimmy Butler is traded this offseason (or Draft night for that matter).

17. Bucks: C Zach Collins, Gonzaga

It’s a bit surprising the Zags big man is still on the board. I imagine the Bucks would scoop him up in a heartbeat.

18. Pacers: C Jarrett Allen, Texas

Super talented center, who’s athletic and long. Pacers need to start adding young talent — with the impending loss of Paul George.

19. Hawks: C Justin Patton, Creighton

Patton will replace Dwight Howard and his offensive skill set should have Atlanta very pleased.

20. *PROJECTED TRADE – Clippers (from Trail Blazers): C Bam Adebayo, Kentucky

Blazers will move at least one of their first round selections. I can see the Clippers jumping up to get a guy who fits the mold of the “new NBA center”. This is assuming DeAndre Jordan is shipped out of LA.

21. Thunder: PF T.J. Leaf, UCLA

Leaf is a big kid, who moves around well and can get out to the three-point arc. Should add a nice dimension to OKC’s offense.

22. Nets: PF/C Harry Giles, Duke

Risky pick with Giles’s history of knee trouble. But his talent cannot be questioned. And the Nets need to acquire talent.

23. Raptors: F Tyler Lydon, Syracuse

Toronto will likely need to reload on the wings with Kyle Lowry probably taking off this summer. Lyon can flat out shoot the 3.

24. PROJECTED TRADE – Kings (from Jazz): C Anzejs Pasecniks, Spain

Utah would give up this pick in order to move up to 10. The Kings are unpredictable.

25. Magic: F Semi Ojeleye, SMU

Long, versatile 3 or 4 fits the mold of what Orlando wants on their roster.

26. Trail Blazers: C Isaiah Hartenstei, Latvia

This is a pick that could (and likely would) remain overseas for a another couple years.

27. Lakers: PF D.J. Wilson, Michigan

A stretch 4 who can get his own shot.

28. Lakers: SG Josh Hart, Villanova

Lakers will not be afraid to shoot. Hart will contribute immediately.

29. Spurs: F Jonah Bolden, UCLA

The Spurs need another scorer who can stretch the floor a bit to compliment Kawhi Leonard.

30. PROJECTED TRADE – Kings (from Jazz): PF Jordan Bell, Oregon

His defensive presence and versatility is outstanding. His motor is always going. Although, he won’t contribute much as far as offense goes.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed, @brian22goodwin.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Are the 2016-17 Warriors the Best NBA Team Ever?

Now that the Golden State Warriors have captured their second NBA Championship in the last three years, it’s worth asking the question: Have we just witnessed the greatest single season in NBA history? The ’16-17 version failed to haul in 73 wins like the ’15-16 team did. Yet, when you start digging, the numbers tell a very powerful story.

I have to preface this, first, by explaining that I’m a product of the 80s. I grew up on Detroit Pistons Bad Boys basketball. I hated Michael Jordan (even refused to recognize the number 23 when counting in grade school, if I may hyperbolize). I often watch games today and get annoyed that offensive players are allowed so much freedom and go to the rim without so much as a finger being laid on them. I miss Robert Parrish, Bill Laimbeer, and Charles Oakley. That said, I can appreciate greatness — past greatness and current. And it cannot be denied, the Warriors we just watched represented some sort of greatness.

All I ask as you continue, check your heart and your gut at the door. Everyone already has their own feelings, beliefs, biases when it comes to greatness and debating who’s the best — at anything (me included). Here, though, we’re going to talk numbers. If we’re going to have a real discussion about which NBA team is the greatest of all-time, we can’t ignore our core beliefs and what we’ve seen on the court with our own eyes — I understand that. But numbers are powerful too — and we’d be remiss to not entertain them.

So let’s nail down some criteria:

1. Can we agree that the regular season record does mean something? No team with less than 60 wins can really be in this conversation. Remember, we’re not talking just “great”. We’re talking greatEST.

2. Dominance in the regular season. Strolling through a weak schedule on the way to 65 wins is fine for that particular team and they need not apologize — you play what’s on your schedule. But let’s be frank — tougher schedule means greater respect. We view those teams as a little stronger when you start the discussion of “greatest team ever”.

3. Playoff run. Regular season is one thing — and should count for something. But how a team plays against playoff teams means quite a bit also.

So, now, on to the numbers.

Regular Season

There have been 13 teams win 67 or more regular season games, including the last three Warriors’ teams. Nine of those teams won NBA championships (the ’16-17 Warriors, the ’14-15 Warriors, the ’99-00 L.A. Lakers, the ’95-96 Chicago Bulls, the ’96-97 Bulls, the ’91-92 Bulls, the 85-86 Boston Celtics, the ’71-72 Lakers, and the ’66-67 Philadelphia 76ers.

Seems like a fair jumping off point to start the discussion — 67-plus wins and a title.

Point Differential per Game (PDpG)

Wins and losses don’t always tell the full story. If the league happens to be “watered down” for a stretch, history ought to reflect that when discussing the best teams of that particular era.

Point differential per game (PDpG) is a good indicator how dominant a team was. A measure that takes this a step further is Basketball Reference’s simple rating system (SRS), which takes into account average point differential along with strength of schedule.

There have been only 11 teams in NBA history with a PDpG over 10, and 10 teams with a double-digit SRS — and by the way each of the last 3 Golden State teams are on that list. Add these two components to the formula and the list of 9 teams from above shrinks to 6 — the 2 Golden State teams, the 3 Chicago teams, and the Lakers of ’71-72.

Postseason

To get the full picture of just how dominant a team is often comes from how they perform when the lights are the brightest, the competition is at it’s toughest, and when the pressure is at it’s highest.

So to be the best of the very best, you have to not just win in the playoffs and walk away with a trophy, but you have to dominate the opponents. Historically-speaking, here’s the teams we’re looking at and where this Warriors team stacks up:

Add to it, the Warriors won 16 of their 17 playoff games — which comes out to being the best winning percentage in playoff history. They didn’t end up notching the first ever sweep of the postseason, but their margin of victory is only bested by the ’71 Bucks, who in all fairness played in an era that included only 20 total NBA teams — 3 of which won north of 50 games that year.

What Do the Numbers Say?

The numbers, the stats, the metrics all point to ’95-96 Bulls and the ’16-17 Warriors as the two stand-alone teams that are left when all the criteria gets flushed out. Both teams (1) posted 67 or more wins — which puts them immediately in the top 13 teams of all time as far as regular seasons go; (2) both won NBA titles — now they’re each in the top 9; (3) both dominated the playoffs like no other teams in history — sporting a PDpG of plus-10.

And now let the full-on debate begin: Michael Jordan’s Bulls of ’95-96 versus Kevin Durant and the Warriors of this past season. While the Bulls had the better regular season, the Warriors arguably just ran the playoff table more impressively than any team ever has in NBA history.

This is where we start to get a little nit-picky. The Bulls needed 6 games in the Finals to beat a 64-win Seattle team while the Warriors rolled through the heir to MJ’s throne — LeBron James — in only 5 games.

In the end, this debate has now become a bit more enticing to have. No longer is there an easy answer to this question.

Former Miami Dolphins running back Mercury Morris is known for being very dismissive of undefeated teams — as his 1972 Dolphins are the last to win the Super Bowl without a blemish on their record. He’s often said when asked about a team who’s 10-0, “Call me when they’re on my block”. In this case, the Warriors might be on the Bulls’ porch. Heck, they might own the house.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed, @brian22goodwin.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

How Adam Silver Deals with the NBA’s Newest Dilemma Could Further Separate Him from His Counterparts

Trust. It’s one of the most difficult words in the English language to get a handle on. We preach to our children to not trust strangers. But we, as adults, are some of the the most trusting creatures on this planet — even if we think otherwise. Just think about how many times a day you put your faith in someone or something else other than yourself. Walking to school, driving to work, crossing an intersection, using an elevator, shaking hands, sharing a story with a friend or colleague, discussing weekend plans, and so on. We trust every day that people won’t hurt us, injure us, judge us, tease us, make us sick, make us sad, or wrong us. But ask someone about trust, and they’ll say “I don’t trust anyone” or “you can’t trust people anymore” or “don’t trust people at their word”. How we view and talk about the word is much different than how we behave and interact with it.

The NFL has a trust issue. And it starts with it’s commissioner. Roger Goodell. The 58-year old Goodell is entering his 17th season as the czar of the National Football League. In that decade-and-a-half-plus, Goodell has worked to expand the NFL to more overseas games and has put many more millions of dollars into his owners’ pockets over that time. On the other hand, he has also managed to alienate some of his star players through the means in which he suspends and fines them; Goodell, also, has lost the trust of a large section of former players over how he and his league have handled controversies, like CTE and player health during and after their NFL careers.

The NHL has a trust issue. And it, too, starts and ends with commissioner Gary Bettman. Since his career as commissioner began in 1993, Bettman has never been able to get past his slow and disastrous start out of the blocks — which was the 1994 lockout of the players. The NHL seemed poised to take leaps and bounds forward in popularity and financial gain after the New York Rangers ended their 50-year Stanley Cup drought by hoisting the trophy that summer. However, Bettman could not bring the players and owners together so the ensuing season started with a lockout. And since, Bettman hasn’t exactly been a wiz in trying to bring his most loyal fans back. Instead, there have been two more lockouts (one that took away the entire 2004-05 season) and numerous failed expansions of franchises to locations like Raleigh, Phoenix, and Atlanta yet cities like Winnipeg (for a long time) and Quebec were left empty-handed. The Canadians think he’s trying to take their teams away and Americans, quite honestly, don’t want the franchises that Bettman brings to them — at least not in the locations he chooses. For Bettman, it’s all about money, and the trust that fans put in him clearly gets pushed to the back-burner.

Major League Baseball does not have these trust issues — partially because commissioner Rob Manfred is only in the infant stages of his job. But watch him closely — he’s making decisions that while it appears are good for the game and geared at intentionally entertaining a younger fan base, players are a bit weary and the older audience is curious to why the national pastime is re-tooling it’s rules. I’m not judging Manfred — just saying it’s too early.

This brings us to the NBA. Adam Silver has only been in charge of the NBA for three years, but he may have had to confront the biggest challenge of any sports commissioner in his opening
six months of the job when he swiftly and firmly forced former Clippers owner Donald Sterling to sell the franchise and, then, consequently, banned him for life from the league. Silver, who seemingly, is soft-spoken, thoughtful, and conscientious, put the owners back on their heels following the Sterling situation.

In the years following, Silver has made moves on tangible issues, such as re-locating the 2017 All Star Game from Charlotte out of respect for the LGBT community. But his impact has reached deeper. He’s facilitated talks with owners and sponsors about weekday morning tip-offs and revamping the seeding for the playoffs. Yes, of course, there’s money involved and Silver wants increase his league’s profitability — I’m not naive to think those thoughts don’t cross his mind. But it seems like his initiatives and proposals all have one common factor: they’re all in the best interest of fans.

Recently, Silver spoke about changing the way fans can watch NBA games, more specifically,
how they can watch the final minutes. Silver appears to be more in touch with this generation’s fanbase than his fellow commissioners. He understands that the NBA has to compete with smartphones, technology, Twitter, Instagram, and fading attention spans. What millennial can devote 2 1/2 hours to a basketball game? Fans who buy tickets and are actually at the games can’t resist their phones and all the distractions that take their attention away for the product on the court, let alone those of us at home sitting on our couches with even more distractions.

At the root of many of the commissioner’s initiatives lies what he feels is best for the fans of the NBA — what will keep the fans that already exist and what can work to bring in another faction of potential fans. And that’s why so many fans and players (and owners) appreciate what he’s doing and have come to trust him in only three short years.

So when Silver sits with the Players Association representatives and proposes items, they will at least listen and give him their respect — in their eyes, he’s earned it. He’s earned their trust. There are stories of LeBron James and other superstars casually, informally dropping by the commissioner’s New York City office when they’re in town, just to sit and talk. Much in part to his track record, the players trust in what Silver’s doing.

Now comes a moment that, while it may not come to define his tenure as commissioner, could certainly shape (or reshape) how players, fans, and coaches view him. Fans, who Silver seems to put first above almost everyone else associated with the league, are unhappy with how and when coaches and teams choose to rest their players — namely their superstars. A coach like
Gregg Popovich has been practicing this for years now — he’ll give his whole starting five the night off, whether it’s a midweek game against the Nuggets or whether it’s a Saturday primetime game on national television against the Warriors. Now the practice has spread to Golden State and Cleveland — resting Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, LeBron, and Kyrie Irving. The angle from the coaches is obvious — rested players are better in May and June than are fatigued players; and the coaches engaging in this are quite often times playing late into May and usually in June in the Finals.

But Silver has a responsibility as the head of the league. On one hand, he can’t forcibly make coaches play guys who they want to rest because it’s in the player’s and team’s best interest. Yet, he can’t ignore cries from fans, who shell out big bucks for tickets and all that goes with attending a professional basketball game.

Silver has stated that this is “a significant issue for the league” and that fans and sponsors deserve better; he’s also said he understands “there isn’t an easy solution to [the] problem”.

However this ends and whatever Silver’s solution is, likely, it will not be universally loved; but the commissioner has worked hard at building up a lot of goodwill with all parties involved. And that goodwill should suit him well as he hopes to find another layer of trust that fellow commissioners in other leagues cannot seem to find.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed, @brian22goodwin.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail