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End of the Season Talk — Bad Predictions, and Obvious Award handouts!

Getty Images/Jesse D. Garrabrant

Getty Images/Jesse D. Garrabrant

I haven’t published a single NBA piece since October. I say published because I’ve had something else written since Thanksgiving, that’s unfinished, but I intend to publish at a later time. I could have written something during the All-Star break. Chose not to. No reason to. I’ve seen a LOT of basketball over the last 6 months. More than I’ve ever watched in my life. I’ve come to a conclusion on what it all meant.

The NBA is the best league in the world. Point blank. Period.

It’s unpredictable. The top two seeds in the Eastern Conference (Miami Heat & Indiana Pacers) missed the Playoffs. And, the Oklahoma City Thunder, in the NBA Finals two years ago, and Western Conference Finals just last year, have missed the Playoffs as well. Last two years, the Golden State Warriors have locked up the 6th seed in the Western Conference Death March. This year? No significant roster additions, and the 1 seed. And it isn’t even close. The Atlanta Hawks. Marred by racist ownership and management and the team up for sale, the team got Al Horford back and they’ve become dubbed the Spurs East. From 8th in a horrible Eastern Conference to 1st. And, like the Warriors, it isn’t even close.

Its athletes are the best in the world. And they’re in numbers. Right now, the NBA class is the most athleticism across 30 teams I’ve ever seen. Granted, I’ve not been alive as long as others. LeBron James, even at 30 years of age, is punishing opponents with his incredible athletic prowess. Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving, so on and so forth.

You can like NFL, NHL, Premier League, MLB or otherwise better. That’s fine. You’re going to like what you’re going to like. But you’re wrong if you don’t agree that the NBA is the best in the world.

Also, in the last 6 months, I’ve learned that making predictions is a dangerous because, as I said above, this league is unpredictable. And guess what I’m going to do now? I’m going to make predictions! The likelihood of me being right on any of these is very, very low. Let’s start with the awards and All-NBA teams.

Coach of the Year

You can go several ways on this one. There were some really good coaches this season. Honorable mentions before I tell the winner and the runner ups: Jason Kidd, Frank Vogel, Brad Stevens, Kevin McHale, Doc Rivers & Quin Snyder.

Runner Ups: 3. Mike Budenholzer, 2. Gregg Popovich

Winner: 1. Steve Kerr

Mike Budenholzer navigated the Atlanta Hawks to one of the better NBA regular seasons and finished well above the Cleveland Cavaliers who have destroyed through everyone who dare stand in their way since mid-January. Budenholzer, from Popovich’s school of Demented Coaches, has made sure that every single person who plays for the Hawks in a game has a role. Much like the Spurs, turning the sub-par into the excellent. All it took was the Hawks getting their star Center, Al Horford, back from the torn pectoral muscle he sustained last season. And even beyond that, the Hawks have faced adversity since the start of the season. Their owner claiming he said something racist and, essentially, said he’d sell the team he’s been trying to sell for the longest time. Then General Manager Danny Ferry hops on the racist train and berates Luol Deng (who was a Free Agency target of the Hawks before choosing the Miami Heat). Through everything, he managed to keep this team’s head on straight and ignore the racism — no matter how little the issue ended up becoming — and made it look insignificant by winning 60 games and hold the best record against the Western Conference of any team in the East. Job well done, Mike. Job well done.

What more can you really say about Gregg Popovich. He’s the NBA’s best coach by a thousand miles. He took on several injuries to Patty Mills, Tiago Splitter, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and still finished on fire in the NBA. They won 14 of their last 16 all anchored by Tony Parker, Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard. Finished 2nd (behind Golden State) in Defensive Efficiency, & 7th in Offensive Efficiency. Not much left to say. He continues to coach these guys to success. By the way, the Spurs getting the 6th seed isn’t an indictment on Pop or the Spurs, it’s just that the Western Conference is pretty much a Hell in a Cell match. the winner escapes the cage and are bleeding all over with a belt that is seemingly meaningless, over their shoulder while the Eastern Conference is a simple, fixated Steel Cage match. Damage done, but you walk out relatively unscathed.

I want a public record of the folks who said that Steve Kerr was crazy for turning down the Knicks job. As you can see, he picked the better roster over long-term future. Although, NOBODY could have seen this kind of success. 67 wins as a rookie coach. It’s like Steve Kerr is on the Bulls all over again. 1st in Defensive Efficiency, and SOMEHOW, only finished 2nd in Offensive Efficiency (behind the Clippers). And yes, you could mount the argument that he hired Alvin Gentry as an assistant and Gentry had large success running a fast and gunning offensive system back when he was coaching Steve Nash in Phoenix, but Kerr has flipped the culture in that locker room. Mark Jackson did a serviceable job. But Bogut, seemingly now appears to have hated Jackson and along with that, Coach Jackson was pissing management off, and throwing assistant coaches to the file room and whatever. Kerr has made the locker room fun. No, we’re not in there, but you can tell by the way they play and the way Kerr rarely gets angry at anything his players do and his lax policy on resting players. There are several stats out there that show that the Warriors could absolutely dominate every one they play in the Playoffs. But the biggest one that shows their dominance? Steph Curry hasn’t played in the 4th Quarter, NINETEEN TIMES this season.

Most Improved Player

You can pick several players for this depending on how you define, “Most Improved”. I’m going to leave out Jimmy Butler and that’s awful because he was great until post-January. Also, I’m leaving out Draymond Green which hurts because he’s been an absolute freaking joy to watch this season. So here it goes:

Runner ups: 3. Harrison Barnes, 2. Rudy Gobert

Winner: 1. Hassan Whiteside

Yes, Harrison Barnes has great teammates. But he’s made a good amount of leaps towards improvement. Confined to the bench last season and not really a big player in Mark Jackson’s plan for the Warriors, he’s been aided by Steve Kerr’s vote of confidence by sticking him into the starting 5 and keeping him there despite Draymond Green’s surge and David Lee being the highest paid player on the team (yes, really).

2013-14 Season: 9.5 PPG, 4 RPG, 39% FG, 34% 3-Point FG, 105 Defensive Rating

2014-15 Season: 10.1 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 48% FG, 40% 3-point FG, 104 Defensive Rating

He’s likely to not get any run or consideration in Most Improved Player, but I mean, looking at those numbers on a team where it’s about Curry & Thompson, that’s pretty solid improvement, most of all in his shooting. There should be consideration at the very least.

Nobody had really heard of Rudy Gobert coming into this season. He was riding the bench behind Enes Kanter. Since then, he dominated and forcibly took Kanter’s starting spot from him (which also led to Kanter throwing a temper tantrum and forcing his way out of Utah to OKC), and also developed a sweet nickname: The Stifle Tower, because he’s French and what have you.

2013-14 Season: 2.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 0.9 BPG, 48% FG, 104 Defensive Rating

2014-15 Season 8.4 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 60% FG, 98 Defensive Rating

Unlike Barnes, Gobert is likely to get a lot of consideration. He played on a bad (but sneakily improving) Jazz team, & earned his starting spot by being leaps and bounds better at defense than Enes Kanter. Gobert has all the tools to improve on offensive and could likely be back in this conversation next year.

Hassan Whiteside’s story is nothing short of a basketball miracle. He was drafted in 2011 by the Sacramento Kings. After that, he floated around between the Kings and the Kings’ D-League Affiliate before falling out of the NBA altogether. His career looks like this:

Sacramento Kings, Reno Bighorns, Sioux Falls Skyforce, Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Lebanon, China, Lebanon, China, Iowa Energy before coming back to the NBA when, because of injuries, Pat Riley and company took a risk on a kid that had maturity issues and who’s skills lacked translation into the NBA. But again, because of injuries and because he was 7 feet tall. He got his shot to contribute to a bad Miami Heat team.

2013-14 Season: OUT OF THE NBA

2014-15 Season: 11.8 PPG, 10 RPG, 2.6 BPG, 62% FG, 97 Defensive Rating

This is an incredibly great story. Yes, people might vote elsewhere. Yes, people might vote elsewhere because Whiteside got into that brawl with Alex Len and got the cheap shot on Kelly Olynyk, but again, he’s still young and is looking like a generational big that the Miami Heat can build around going forward.

Sixth Man of the Year

This one is a fun conversation. It’s not a flame war where everyone is shouting that LeBron is better or Curry/Harden is great. This is a fun conversation. Who contributed most coming off the bench? It’s fairly obvious. I’m not exempting anybody because I feel like there’s only three true candidates here.

Runner ups: 3. Nikola Mirotic, 2. Andre Igoudala

Winner: 1. Lou (LOUUUUUU) Williams

Nikola Mirotic was called the LeBron James of Europe before finally coming over to the United States to play for the Chicago Bulls, who just happened to end up with his draft rights after being traded from the Rockets (who originally drafted him in 2011) and then from the Timberwolves and ultimately landing in Chicago. Mirotic hasn’t shown that great talent that he was known for during his time with Real Madrid in Spain, but his skills have translated better, probably better than most thought they would immediately. I guess it helped he had Spanish National teammate, Pau Gasol there to guide him and help him transition better. During times where Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose & Taj Gibson were hurt, and Pau Gasol and Noah had run out of gas, Mirotic through the team on his back for the time being and erupted. He didn’t shoot particularly well, but he got the job done. What he’s gone through this season is something that’s rarely asked of rookies in the NBA.

Think about what I’m about to say from an outside perspective. You’ve never watched basketball before this year. Andre Igoudala makes $12.8 million dollars this year. You would think he’s a superstar player, right? Wrong. He’s adopted the bench and led the team whenever he’s been out there. He has provided a great amount defensive energy when needed and often times, when not needed. Took a hit in offensive numbers, but he’s been incredibly valuable to this franchise when they needed him most. Not many players making $12.8 million in a single season would be very willing to take that 6th Man role. Crazy thing is… Igoudala isn’t the only guy on that team you can consider for 6th Man of the Year. You could easily consider Marreese Speights and David Lee as 6th Man. But yes, Igoudala has been so important for the Warriors massive success and yields votes.

Lou (LOUUUUU) Williams has a reputation as a chucker. He’s like Kobe Bryant. He’ll chuck shots up because he has high confidence. However, I’ve seen enough Toronto Raptors games this season that if it weren’t for the bench contributions from one Lou Williams, the Raptors would have drowned. Not out of the playoffs completely — their talent level is way too high and the East is too bad — but at least fighting for that 8th and 7th seed. It’s been a year filled with high expectations for the Raptors. From the 3rd seed last season, to possible Eastern Conference Finals contenders, back down to possible 1st Round elimination. Lou has helped them a great deal giving a solid 15.5 points per game. He’s been so good for the Raptors this year that Raptors fan (since 2013-14), Drake, made a song about him. Lou is an Unrestricted Free Agent this summer and will demand a lot of money wherever he signs. If he stays consistent throughout the playoffs, or maybe even improve, the Raptors would be a fool to let him walk.

Defensive Player of the Year

This is quite simply, in the new age of analytics and basketball in general, the second most important award in the NBA. Even though, in the thick of things, these things don’t matter. Honorable mentions in this category: Rudy Gobert, Tim Duncan, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, & DeMarre Carroll.

Runner ups: 3. Andrew Bogut, 2. Draymond Green

Winner: 1. Kawhi Leonard

97 Defensive Rating. Andrew Bogut is the defensive anchor for the Warriors. He gets injured, things don’t fall apart, but their defensive performance suffers. He, like Andre Igoudala, is massively important to the Warriors success. The success of a team doesn’t exactly hinge on the acquisition of a rim protector, but you might want to have one anyway. Teams like the Pacers and Spurs pride themselves on having rim protectors and use it to their advantage. Bogut’s defense has always been a strength of his. In fact, he’s so good, it doesn’t even matter that his offensive game is just decent at best. Provided he not get injured, he’s going to be of great help.

Draymond Green, starting from Game 6 and 7 of last season’s series against the Clippers, has emerged has one of the NBA’s biggest bargains. At a salary of $915,243 and a Defensive Rating of 97, he’s headed for unrestricted Free Agency this summer where he’ll end up with $13 million a year or more in pocket. He’s become one of the more defensively exciting players in the NBA and as a basketball nerd, I get giddy watching him at his best.

Forgive me for not having the exact statistic, but since the San Antonio Spurs traded for Kawhi Leonard on Draft Day 2011, the Spurs have only lost NINE times when Kawhi is in the starting lineup. Zero chance that a player who has done all this, is a product of the Popovich system.

Season stats: 16.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.3 SPG, with a 96 (!!!!!!) Defensive Rating.

It’s not crazy to say that Kawhi is the best perimeter defender in the NBA right now. He’s playing out of his mind defense right now and aside from shooting percentage, he’s posting career high’s in all categories. While they’re not the best defensive duo in the NBA (Bogut-Green, Hayward-Gobert, Gortat-Wall, are better but not by much), but when Duncan and Kawhi are on the floor at the same time, their defensive rating is 97.4.

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While defenders are getting better and better every year in the NBA, it’s amazing that the Spurs are still among the best examples when it comes to defense.

Rookie of the Year

This year’s rookie class were all demolished with injuries. Jabari Parker looked to begin to be running away with this award before tragically tearing his ACL. He was doing everything right on that young Bucks team and the game had slowed down for him. While this draft class was touted as the best draft class since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade & Carmelo Anthony draft, only 3 of the Top 10 picks managed to impress this season due to either injuries or growing pains and in some cases, both. The three rookies that impressed from the ’14 class: Elfrid Payton, Marcus Smart & Andrew Wiggins. My honorable mentions will fall onto Elfrid Payton & Marcus Smart.

Runner ups: 3. Nikola Mirotic, 2. Andrew Wiggins

Winner: 1. Nerlens Noel

Drafting a European player and stashing him away for when he’s ready to come over to the NBA is a high risk. Doing this as an executive, you have to have an astounding amount of patience, a little luck and a set of balls. Especially when you’re trying to build for the future. So in 2011, when the leading voice for analytics, Houston Rockets GM, Daryl Morey, drafted Nikola Mirotic, had to think something good would come of this whenever Mirotic would decide to enter the NBA. However, he didn’t wait that long. He flipped his draft rights to the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire, now useful big man, Donatas Motiejuanas. Then disgraced Timberwolves General Manager, David Khan, didn’t even wait that long. He flipped the draft rights to the Chicago Bulls. That was all in the same year. So while the Bulls were building and marching towards an NBA Finals appearance while rivaling the Miami Heat, little did they know, that the draft stash guy they traded for was a gem, waiting in the wings. Yes, the Bulls failed miserably in trying to rival a LeBron James-led team, and still failing, by the way, but Mirotic choosing to come over this year couldn’t have worked out better for the Bulls. He’s been available and ready at every angle.

Season stats: 10.2 PPG, 5 RPG, 40% FG, 31% 3-point FG, 111 Offensive Rating.

LeBron James came home and decided that he gets to run the show. He preached patience from the fans because building a Championship team would be process with Dion Waiters, Kyrie Irving & Tristan Thompson. He decided to forgo practicing what he preached and got right in the thick of things by trading Andrew Wiggins to the Timberwolves for, then, unhappy Kevin Love. He had built, what he thought, would win now (before going 19-20 and eventually trading for JR Smith, Iman Shumpert & Timofey Mozgov). Andrew Wiggins then developed a chip on his shoulder. A Kobe Bryant sized chip. Flip Saunders, while criticized as a coach, has done a low key solid job as an executive. He’s drafted well thus far (Dieng, & LaVine) and got significant return for Kevin Love in Andrew Wiggins. Unfortunately, Flip Saunders’ plan to at least contend for the playoffs didn’t play out as he thought. Injuries quickly ravaged the team and everything fell apart. But for Wiggins, it was an opportunity for him to play extended minutes to show what he can do. He managed well. He didn’t do some things well, but that’s why he’s a rookie. He showed more promise than expected.

Season stats: 16.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 43% FG, 31% 3-point FG

On most draft boards coming into the draft of 2013, Nerlens Noel was #1 or #2. Didn’t quite turn out that way. He fell to 6 overall and got picked up by the New Orleans Hornets. We all thought the Noel/Davis pairing would be great and exciting. Didn’t work out that way and needless to say, the Philadelphia 76ers, got lucky. The Hornets, soon to be Pelicans, wanted to skip further rebuild and build around Anthony Davis, fast. So New Orleans management found the package that would entice the Sixers. They received Jrue Holiday and Noel was headed to Philly. The Sixers, as a whole, were going to begin to undergo a painful rebuilding process that consisted of tons of patience, stock piling draft picks (in both rounds), and drafting smartly. Sam Hinkie is no idiot, and while the franchise currently has no direction, it looks like Noel and Embiid are the guys Hinkie wants to lead the way.

Season stats: 9.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 46% FG, 99 Defensive Rating

Most Valuable Player

Finally. You happy now? The only award you’re reading this for. I’d say the majority of people who watch the NBA, don’t care about any awards that’s not the MVP. I’d say it’s 52/48 of people who care about the MVP only vs people who like to see who wins other awards. There are only 5 legitimate cases for MVP. And all 5 of them could be MVP. Even my honorable mention could have won MVP if that unfortunate thing called not making the playoffs happened. And yes, my honorable mention is Russell Westbrook, the 2014-15 NBA scoring champion.

Runner ups: 5. LeBron James, 4. Chris Paul

3. Anthony Davis

2. James Harden

Winner: 1. Steph Curry.

First, Season splits:

LeBron James: 25.3 PPG, 6 RPG, 7.4 APG, 48% FG, 112 Offensive Rating

Chris Paul: 19.1 PPG, 10.2 APG, 48% FG, 126 (!!!!!) Offensive Rating, 105 Defensive Rating

Anthony Davis: 24.3 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 2.9 BPG, 53% FG, 122 Offensive Rating, 100 Defensive Rating

James Harden: 27.4 PPG, 7 APG, 5.7 RPG, 1.9 SPG, 44% FG, 37.5% 3-point FG, 118 Offensive Rating

Steph Curry: 23.8 PPG, 7.7 APG, 4.3 RPG, 2 SPG, 48% FG, 44% 3-point FG, 122 Offensive Rating, 101 Defensive Rating

Chris Paul is an underrated name, but considering how he put the Clippers on his back when Blake Griffin went out with a staph infection, and still put up consistent assists and points, is great. That stretch without Blake is what gives CP3 all of the consideration. LeBron James is still the best player in the NBA and that, ALONE, gives LeBron consideration. But when you start to throw out his numbers, they’re still really damn impressive and he, and Kyrie to a degree, saved the Cavs season from complete calamity.

Anthony Davis was simply a beast. I don’t think it’s crazy to put him as one of the 5 best players currently in the NBA. This playoffs is a coming out party for Anthony Davis. There’s a good chance he captures America’s Heart. And it helps he’s incredibly likable, has that unibrow AND is the underdog. Good person, unique look & underdog. All checks off. That’s the formula to be loved in sports.

James Harden vs Steph Curry is the analytical, nerd speak, 2015 equivalent of Kobe Bryant vs Steve Nash. You have the elusive point guard who has a smooth, beautiful shot and can do amazing things on the court and puts up impressive numbers. Then you have the volume scoring Shooting Guard who can get his own shot and drop 50 points on any given night. There’s one glaring difference between James Harden and Kobe Bryant. Harden passed the ball more. There’s one glaring difference between Steph Curry and Steve Nash. Curry plays really good defense. However, there’s an argument that James Harden should get MVP simply because he led the Rockets to greatness when the Rockets lost Dwight Howard for most of the season because of a knee injury, and that if you put Curry on the Rockets, the Rockets would fall to the 6th, 7th, maybe 8th seed and if you put Harden on the Warriors, the Warriors are still the #1 seed in the West. That’s simply not true. There’s a statistic that destroys that argument completely: The Warriors are +11 when Curry is on the floor, while the Rockets are only +6 when James Harden is on the floor. If you don’t know what that means, basically, what I’m saying is… Curry is more valuable to the Warriors than Harden is to Houston in most overall statistics. This doesn’t discredit what Harden has done, because holy crap has he been great. When talking about Steph Curry, you’re talking about the man who has been the best player on the best team, consistently all while being more VALUABLE. Which is the name of the award.

All NBA Teams

Time to figure out who the best players in the NBA were this year. This is also fun.

All Rookie 2nd Team

G Marcus Smart

G Langston Galloway

F Rodney Hood

F Bojan Bogdanovic

C Jusuf Nurkic

All Rookie 1st Team:

G Jordan Clarkson

G Elfrid Payton

F Nikola Mirotic

F Andrew Wiggins

C Nerlens Noel

All Defensive 2nd Team:

G Chris Paul

G Danny Green

F Tony Allen

F Anthony Davis

C Rudy Gobert

All Defensive 1st Team:

G Steph Curry

G Jimmy Butler

F Kawhi Leonard

F Draymond Green

C Andrew Bogut

All NBA 3rd Team:

G Kyrie Irving

G Jimmy Butler

F Paul Millsap

F Blake Griffin

C Al Horford

All NBA 2nd Team:

G Chris Paul

G Russell Westbrook

F Kawhi Leonard

F LaMarcus Aldridge

C Marc Gasol

All NBA 1st Team:

G Steph Curry

G James Harden

F LeBron James

F Anthony Davis

C Tim Duncan

NBA Playoffs

4,000 some words later and here we are at the Prediction part of the column. The playoff match ups are interesting to say the least. The two most interesting: Spurs vs Clippers; Mavericks vs Rockets. Every thing else falls short of exciting. But it doesn’t mean they aren’t interesting. All playoff games are watchable except, of course, Nets vs Hawks (lets pray Hawks end that series in 4 games).

Things to look out for: Damian Lillard, Playoff Rondo, and how many almost fights happen.

Eastern Conference – Round 1

1 Hawks vs 8 Nets – Hawks in 4

4 Raptors vs 5 Wizards – Wizards in 7

2 Cavaliers vs 7 Celtics – Cavaliers in 5

3 Bulls vs 6 Bucks – Bulls in 6

Western Conference – Round 1

1 Warriors vs 8 Pelicans – Warriors in 5

4 Grizzlies vs 5 Blazers – Blazers in 6

2 Rockets vs 7 Mavericks – Mavericks in 7

3 Clippers vs 6 Spurs – Clippers in 7

Eastern Conference Semi-Finals

1 Hawks vs 5 Wizards – Hawks in 5

2 Cavaliers vs 3 Bulls – Cavaliers in 5

Western Conference Semi-Finals

1 Warriors vs 5 Blazers – Warriors in 5

3 Clippers vs 7 Mavericks – Clippers in 6

Eastern Conference Finals

1 Hawks vs 2 Cavaliers – Hawks in 7

1 Warriors vs 3 Clippers – Warriors in 6

NBA Finals

Hawks vs Warriors – Warriors in 6

Closing Thoughts

My pre-season predictions were terrible. My original prediction of Bulls vs Spurs is still in play, I might add. But I had Blake Griffin as pre-season MVP. And while nobody will ever get all their picks right in this league, it doesn’t really matter. It’s been an absolute joy to watch this season thanks to League Pass. Crazy how none (except one) of the best games of the year took place on national TV this season. That Mavericks vs Bulls Double OT thriller is the one that sticks out in my head right now.

It was reported today that the NBA salary cap, in Summer of 2016, will shoot up from $67.1 million to $89 million and then Summer of 2017, could reach up to $108 million. All the thanks to the new NBA TV deal that was finalized earlier this season. Add that along with the new jersey deal that’s rumored to be completed soon with Nike, and the business of the NBA is strong at the moment. Owners and players alike are just diving in cash. This isn’t especially good for the small market teams of Utah, Oklahoma City, Indiana, Orlando, etc. Teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, who have been trying to spend big to rush their rebuild, will love this news as it gives potential free agents something to think about when picking a new location to play. A condo on Manhattan Beach, tapped with management that will take care you, if you take care of their needs. That’s, obviously, not the only example, because there’s also another good team in Los Angeles called the Clippers.

Enjoy these playoffs. Like every year, they have the potential to be an all-time classic. The greatest game I ever saw was Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. That one will stick with me for a while. Or maybe until this year when one game captures the moment better than that game did. All the awards have been decided. Now all that’s left is to figure how who’s going to be the NBA Champion.

Follow me on Twitter – @NotClayMerritt

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NotClayMerritt’s 2014-15 NBA Preview — The Cliché Name

The NBA is back. Are you happy? I’m happy. Basketball consumes my life from October 28th till the end of June. And if your reading this, your life must be the same. And if you’re not a big basketball fan, please stay! I will turn you into a fan with my witty humor and uninteresting analysis!

So where do you want to start?

THE RETURN OF THE KING

I’ve been waiting since July to use that headline. As we all know, LeBron James went to Cleveland, his home, after failing to win a third straight NBA Championship in four tries with fellow superstar teammates Dwyane Wade & Chris Bosh. So he went home in a meticulous manner and joined budding superstar, Kyrie Irving and the team then traded away Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett to acquire the second best Power Forward in the NBA in Kevin Love.

So now with the new “Big 3” in tact along with supporting pieces in Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters, Shawn Marion, James Jones & Mike Miller (& maybe Ray Allen), this team is the prime favorite to skate through the Eastern Conference and clash with one of the several Western Conference favorites in the NBA Finals come June. Except it won’t be as easy as some are pegging it to me. LeBron James made a point in his wonderfully done Sports Illustrated letter that it wasn’t going to be easy. It won’t be. I, personally, would have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade & Chris Bosh over the new tandem of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love & LeBron James. And it has nothing to do with the lack of playoff experience on the Cleveland team. It has everything to do with who they are as players.

When LeBron joined the Miami Heat in 2010, he was joining Chris Bosh and D Wade who were two of the 8 very best players in the entire NBA. You can make the case that D Wade was one of the THREE best players because of how efficient he was playing (28.4 PPG, 7 APG, 4.9 RPG, 48% FG in the two seasons before LeBron came to Miami). LeBron James is the best player on the planet, and has been for the last 4 years now and he can change your fortune as a franchise as he did for Miami, and as he’ll do again for Cleveland for the remainder of his career. You know, at this point, what to get from LeBron. Kyrie Irving is not a Top 5 PG. And that’s the main difference between LeBron’s first Big 3 and his new one. Don’t get me wrong, Kyrie Irving is a flat out star – by association. If he never establishes his own personal star status, he’ll always be one by association playing with LeBron James. Just right now, he’s not a Top 5 Point Guard in the NBA.

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One thing people overlook when discussing the comparisons between the Miami Big 3 and the Cleveland Big 3 is how similar of a player Chris Bosh and Kevin Love were before they departed their not-so-good former teams in Toronto & Minnesota, respectively.

2009-2010 Chris Bosh:

24 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 51% FG, 25 PER, 9.6 Win Shares

2013-2014 Kevin Love:

26.1 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 45% FG, 26.9 PER, 14.3 Win Shares

Look how similar the two are. Bosh did some things better, and Love did other things better. But Bosh was still the better player by how good of a defensive player Chris Bosh was/is.

2010-2014 Chris Bosh:

17.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 50% FG, 19.4 PER, 34.2 Win Shares

2014-??? Kevin Love:

TBD……

Between Dion Waiters, and the new Big 3, this team is going to throw up a ton of shots and as Zach Lowe from Grantland said, this team has the chance to be the best offense in NBA history. 

There is, however, another problem with this team. Defense. Monster of an offensive team, yes. This Defense won’t be as good. The makings are all there for them to learn and grow, it’ll just be interesting to see if they, indeed, will be. It also brings up somewhat of a subplot in this ring of madness: Will David Blatt be any good? I know he’s being praised as a genius and an innovator while coaching in Europe. He’s critically acclaimed in Europe. Got it. But these kinds of things are no guarantee. He could fall under the pressure, or he could win Coach of the Year. Both of which is entirely possible. Ever since the template of the roster came together I’ve been under the thought that maaaaaybe the Cavs start out 4-14 (or something horrible, early on) and then the Cavs fire David Blatt and then immediately hire Kentucky coach John Calipari. Which, the former is certainly possible, but the latter is more of a long shot due to the fact that Coach Cal has a very good team himself under his tutelage. I doubt it’ll happen because there’s so much talent on that team, but just be on the look out. That team will have growing pains. David Blatt will be the scapegoat and could be fired, regardless on if it’s his fault or not. This team is an interesting team, as all LeBron teams usually are.

RAJON RONDO – FUTURE [INSERT YOUR FAVORITE TEAM NAME HERE]?

Yes. Rondo will be traded this season. But guess who also said that last year? That’s right. Everybody. Were we wrong? BIG TIME. Will we be wrong again? You’re asking me to give a prediction of the prediction. I’m just not sure I can do that. So, we’re going to go ahead and predict he’ll be traded by February. Rondo is in a Contract Year, so chances are, after he returns from his broken hand, he’s going to have one of the, if not the best year of his career. Maybe average a double-double, get a couple of triple-doubles. It’s been the consensus for the last year that Rondo would/could be traded to the New York Knicks. But for some reason Jose Calderon is the Knicks current Point Guard. The Knicks have their future draft picks going everywhere including to Denver, to Houston, to Utah. On the other hand, however, the Celtics now have, seemingly the other 50% of Draft picks that the Philadelphia 76ers don’t already own (joking). It appears that, with stockpiling all these draft picks, the Celtics are in full tank mode. To me, the Celtics are that team that doesn’t want to tank but realizes that it’s going to have to due to lack of any real significant playmaker on the roster. I predict that the Celtics will try and trade Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo in a package, whether it be to one team, or in a three-team trade and the C’s will get significant compensation for it. However, I also think that before Danny Ainge pulls the trigger on a Rondo trade, he will look into all options on trades to improve the team and contenders in the East. We know that Ainge wanted to pull off a coup for Kevin Love but that ended up going nowhere because Cleveland had Anthony Bennett & Andrew Wiggins. Regardless of the trades the Celtics will execute, it’s almost a lock that the Celtics will win the trade. Just last summer, they robbed the Nets blind when they traded 3 old guys who weren’t winning your team a championship, for every single Nets draft pick until 2919. So here’s some rumored trade scenarios.

Rondo to the New York Knicks:

Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, 2015 1st Round Pick (via LAC)

for

Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Tim Hardaway Jr., 2015 1st Round Pick, 2018 1st Round Pick, & 2018 2nd Round Pick

There are rules set in place to help teams keep their futures in tact while trading for a superstar talent. For those unaware of that rule, a team can trade away their 1st Round Draft Picks as often as they want however, they cannot have no 1st Round Draft pick in consecutive. Therefore, that’s why the Celtics would trade their (likely) high future 1st Round pick from the Clippers.

Anyway, this would only strengthen the Knicks roster who are, currently, a team that doesn’t appear likely to make the Playoffs this season. This would be a power move by Phil Jackson who would rather make the Playoffs this year, rather than have to scrap for Free Agents next summer in a market that’s lost value after Kevin Love’s all but signed extension with the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s not a guarantee, but Rondo would be likely to re-sign with the Knicks after the season due to the huge market, sweet location & competitive roster for the foreseeable future. What’s always over looked in those competitive and Championship Celtics’ teams is that Rondo was the piece nobody talked about within the teams’ success because of the other great players on the roster. This happened to Chris Bosh in Miami. It was always LeBron and D Wade who everyone would see, and Chris Bosh’s contribution would just sort of be there waiting for recognition. Rondo has kept his game at a high level and I think he can elevate it even more if surrounded by a top player in Carmelo Anthony.

Rondo to the Kings:

Rajon Rondo & Brandon Bass

for

Carl Landry, Jason Thompson, Ben McLemore, Ray McCallum, 2018 2nd Round Pick, & 2019 1st Round Pick

Disclaimer: This is very unlikely to happen due to the lack of available Draft picks. Sacramento has several future Draft Picks that are locked up in Protected scenarios with other teams.

This would be good for Sacramento who, after prevailing and keeping their team from moving to Seattle, still haven’t made the Playoffs since 2006. Rudy Gay is an expiring, they haven’t extended his contract yet, they have Boogie Cousins for another 4 years. With a new owner, they would ideally need to do something to re-energize that fan base who hasn’t been in the Top 25 in attendance in six of the last seven years. This fan base likely thinks they are on the cusp of something, which they appear to be without Rondo, but if the team lands Rondo and starts to string together wins for a playoff push, then the fan base will be there (duh). There’s only one catch to making this power play for Rondo, for Sacramento management. He’s probably not going to re-sign there. Maybe they grab the 7th or 8th seed, take their 1st Round opponents to six games before getting knocked out. They’ll offer Rondo all the money in the world before they would do the same for Rudy Gay. Rondo is the sure-fire superstar and a Top Five Point Guard. Rudy Gay, well I don’t think we’re too sure what he is. I’ll say he’s a borderline superstar. He can score, but can take too many shots. Not really a beneficial player to have on your team, but he’s nice to have. You think Rudy Gay is better than I’m describing him? See the Memphis Grizzlies who have been making the Playoffs and competing without him, and the Toronto Raptors, who traded him last year and had one of the best records in the league after December 8th, 2013. Bottom line: Rondo would enjoy minimal success on a team that’s not as good as it was last year and he will leave if he ends up there because there are greener pastures in Los Angeles and New York and even Miami.

Rondo to the Rockets:

Rajon Rondo, and Jared Sullinger

for

Trevor Ariza, Kostas Papanikolaou, Terrance Jones, Clint Capela & some future Draft picks

The Houston Rockets, since metrics man Daryl Morey took over, have been all about acquiring the big names. They almost got Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol in a 3-team trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers and acquiring the aforementioned players as cap clearing players to be used in future trades or building blocks to a future Championship contender. They got budding superstar James Harden in a steal with OKC, they signed Jeremy Lin from the Knicks, ripped an unhappy Dwight Howard away from the big market monster, Los Angeles Lakers and even made big pushes at Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh (who was very close to becoming a Rocket) this summer. The Rockets may not be able to land all the big names, but they can certainly attract their attention. And as long as they can stay competitive with Dwight Howard and James Harden leading the way, and the NBA continues to annually raise the salary cap, this team will always be a threat to sign the big names in the Free Agent market. Trading for Rondo would certainly continue to follow that mantra. The Rockets are certainly a team that Rondo would certainly give serious thought about re-signing with in the summer considering the situation.

Rajon Rondo is worth a max contract. He’s going to get it from every team in the league that needs a Point Guard this summer if Rondo goes into Free Agency. The Celtics have a Plan A, which is to improve the roster to an Eastern Conference contender. And a Plan B, which will only be executed on if Plan A fails. The Celtics realize they still had Rondo after the team traded away Terry, KG & Pierce last year. And they also realize that he is, indeed, a max player. So their plan to tank isn’t reading Sam Hinkie’s bestseller, “How To Tank Like Philly with Sam Hinkie”. I would buy that book. Danny Ainge bought that book. And through his reading last year he realized, “Oh shit! Rajon Rondo is on my team still!” He then immediately halted all plans to tank once Rondo returned, they didn’t have enough to win and he wanted to tank again, until word got out that Kevin Love wanted out. Danny boy tried and tried to get Flip to flip and give K Love to Boston. When they didn’t get Love, Ainge wanted to tank again and he’s basically performing the good ole half-assed attempt to tank.

“I WILL TANK AND WE WILL BE GOOD AGAIN IN FOUR TO FIVE YEARS!” – Danny Ainge, today

“OH FUCK I JUST OFFERED RONDO A 5-YEAR/$125M EXTENSION. SOUND THE HORNS, COACH. WE’RE TRADING EVERYONE FOR DURANT.” – Danny Ainge, tomorrow

Rondo, while not one of the flashiest personalities and players in the NBA, he’s a Top Five Point Guard and has one of the most intriguing situations in the NBA. Whatever happens, whether he signs the max extension or gets traded away, we’ll be surprised  and quote the tweet of the reporter who tweeted the breaking news with, “WHOA,” or, “#WOJBOMB” because these blockbuster trades are part of why we love the NBA. Big business is fun business and brother… business is a boomin’.

ANTHONY DAVIS – EATER OF WORLDS

If you’re a rational thinker who loves the NBA and doesn’t allow your team bias to cloud your judgment then it’s common knowledge that Anthony Davis is THE next MVP of the NBA whenever LeBron and Kevin Durant are done passing it around.

And speaking of Anthony Davis….. OH GOD WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!?! BAH GAWD YOU’VE KILLED THEM.

By the way, he averaged 20.8 PPG, 10 RPG, 2.8 BPG, 51% FG, 26.5 PER, & 3.2 Defensive Win shares (which is an estimate of the number of wins he contributed due to his defense). All of this while only playing 67 games and he was also only 20 years old last season. Do with that as you may.

LAKERS, PLAYOFFS?

No.

AWARDS PREDICTIONS

I did this at the end of last season and it was a pain to figure out all the nominees what with the amount of stats I was consuming. Luckily for me, everybody on an NBA roster right now has an average of zero in all categories so I don’t have to do all that this time.

First Team All-NBA: F LeBron James, F Blake Griffin, C Chris Bosh, G Russell Westbrook, & G Derrick Rose

Second Team All-NBA: F Kevin Durant, F LaMarcus Aldridge, C Anthony Davis, G Kobe Bryant, G Steph Curry

Third Team All-NBA: F Kawhi Leonard, F Carmelo Anthony, C Dwight Howard, G Damian Lillard, G Chris Paul

Rookie of the Year: Jabari Parker

Sixth Man of the Year: Nick Young

Most Improved Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Defensive Player of the Year: Serge Ibaka & Anthony Davis (I’M CALLING A TIE HERE, THEY’RE TOO GOOD)

Coach of the Year: David Blatt

Time outDavid Blatt does, indeed, already have an amazing roster at his disposal. At the end of the year, he may not necessarily be the most deserving of this award because his team is the Eastern Conference Favorite by default. However, because he’s coming from Europe and he’s touted as a genius by those who are familiar with his work in Europe, he has ringing endorsements and might be a lock to win this award (plus, Coach Pop can’t win every year).

Most Valuable Player: Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin was the, “guy who could only dunk”. I was one of those people who said he’s only one of those players along with DeAndre Jordan. And it’s painfully obvious that he was. Was. Doc Rivers came in and changed the whole landscape of the the Clippers organization. Over Doc’s career, he’s turned mediocre big men into dominant superstar forces. For example, in Boston he did this with Kendrick Perkins (who got overPAID by OKC because of this) and the same with Glen “Big Baby” Davis in Orlando. Both have shown they aren’t too valuable of assets without Coach Rivers. But Blake Griffin may be different. Griffin now has a new mindset and a goal, that seemed unattainable before. That goal is obvious. It’s the NBA Championship. But along the way and quietly, Blake Griffin developed a jump shot. Even this summer he was expanding his range and even this pre-season he’s been taking three pointers. Also, quietly, Griffin finished 3rd in MVP voting. Right behind Kevin Durant and LeBron James, respectively. Due to the situations of Durant (injury) & James (taking a new role), this is the year for Blake Griffin to win the MVP. He’s already the Clippers’ most valuable player, and now he’s about to become the NBA’s.

PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS:

Eastern Conference:

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (58-24)

2. Chicago Bulls (57-25)

3. Toronto Raptors (50-32)

4. Washington Wizards (48-34)

5. Miami Heat (47-35)

6. Charlotte Hornets (45-37)

7. Detroit Pistons (43-39)

8. Milwaukee Bucks (41-41)

Barely Missed:

9. Atlanta Hawks (40-42)

10. New York Knicks (39-43)

11. Brooklyn Nets (38-44)

EASTERN CONFERENCE FIRST ROUND:

Cavaliers def. Bucks in 5 games

Jason Kidd will deliver the ultimate motivation speech and really stun the Cavs in Game 1 and the whole day before Game 2 the pundits will expertly discuss if the Bucks actually have chance in the series. No.

Bulls def. Pistons in 5 games

Stan Van Gundy will overwork his new Center, Andre Drummond, excessively when he realizes he’s the only one playing his heart out. It just won’t be enough. Getting close though, Pistons fans.

Raptors def. Hornets in 6 games

Lance Stephenson was a nice addition but they’re really shaky as far as depth goes. Big Al and Lance will lead the team to the Playoffs but lack of depth will be exploited here.

Heat def. Wizards in 7 games

Poor Wizards. They’re just waiting out the days until Summer 2016. They don’t care what happens until then. Miami’s experience comes in handy here.

EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMI-FINALS:

Heat def. Cavaliers in 7 games

This would be a great story, but people are also really underrating the Heat. Like, did people just forget Chris Bosh was a 20 and 12 player before he played with LeBron?!?! D Wade’s health will be fine by the Playoffs, per usual. No matter what steps they’ll take. D Wade is a 26p/7r/6a a night guy I feel. Cleveland’s lack of Playoff ability will show here. LeBron said they had a long way to go and was careful not to guarantee Championships because he knows how hard it is now. Plus it’s kind of silly to just assume LeBron, Kyrie and Love (along with Waiters & Thompson) can just go to the NBA Finals when a lot of that team plus the coach has ZERO Playoff experience.

Bulls def. Raptors in 6 games

Toronto is young. They’ll have their moment if everything keeps coming together for them. DeMar DeRozan is a freaking star in the making. He can flat out shoot. Lest not be forgotten, the future superstar Center Jonas Valanciunas and the newly underrated Point Guard, Kyle Lowry. Bulls have crazy depth and strong Defense. Lets see if their Offense can materialize.

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

This isn’t really a toss up. Luck just really threw Miami back in the Eastern Conference Finals for a Fifth Straight Season. Again, it goes back to if the Bulls Offense can materialize and Derrick Rose can stay healthy and return to any sort of resemblance of what he was when he became the youngest MVP in the NBA a couple of years ago. I never, and still kind of don’t, saw where Pau Gasol fits on this team. He’s not the starting Center, they already have Noah. He’s a Power Forward (which he never really, ever fit well in at this position) but the team also has Taj Gibson who’s been deserving of that starting spot at PF for the last 2 years now. They’ll make it work, though. Thibs, the butcher, always does. Even if it means sitting Gasol down for the entire 4th Quarter, like Thibs did with Carlos Boozer last season. Gasol is better than Boozer, obviously, but it just seems like too much congestion down low. This is one of the situations that plagued the San Antonio Spurs over the last 2, 3 seasons is that they would start Duncan at the 4 and Tiago Splitter at Center and the paint would be so congested. They didn’t have the proper floor spacing until Splitter started coming off of the bench and Diaw started at PF and Duncan was sliding over to the 5. Now the Spurs look a lot more comfortable with how they’re playing, as you can see from that Championship banner they’re going to hang up on Opening Night. Problem with the Bulls, Taj Gibson isn’t a stretch 4 like Boris Diaw is. Diaw was allowing that free flowing passing to go around until the right shot came up. The Bulls have interesting tactical basketball decisions to make, along with their depth I think they topple the Heat.

Bulls def. Heat in 5 games

Eastern Conference Champion: Chicago Bulls

WESTERN CONFERENCE:

1. Los Angeles Clippers (61-21)

2. San Antonio Spurs (59-23)

3. Portland Trail Blazers (57-25)

4. Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)

5. Dallas Mavericks (55-27)

6. Golden State Warriors (51-31)

7. Phoenix Suns (50-32)

8. Denver Nuggets (49-33)

Barely Missed:

9. Memphis Grizzlies (49-33)

10. New Orleans Pelicans (45-37)

11. Sacramento Kings (42-40)

12. Los Angeles Lakers (40-42)

Western Conference First Round

Clippers def. Nuggets in 6 games

Nuggets have depth. They’ll be lead by Arron Afflalo & Ty Lawson, but the Clippers are just too good, man.

Spurs def. Suns in 6 games

Suns are quite possibly the fastest team in the NBA. At some point in the season look for the incredibly dangerous and really fun and abnormal lineup of PG Bledsoe, SG Dragic, SF Thomas, PF Green, C Markieff Morris. Mind blown. Spurs always do have trouble with these really fast teams (Rockets, OKC, Dallas) but Coach Pop is Coach Pop and he knows how to figure out how to beat a team. Don’t ask me how, the dude sleeps 1.5 hours a night and figures shit out.

Blazers def. Warriors in 7 games

This is the series I wanted to see last year in the Playoffs but ’twas not to be. I think the Blazers are a deeper team with the additions of Chris Kaman and Steve Blake and the Warriors, new coach and all, will just shoot their way into the Playoffs and it won’t be enough when it really matters. Shame because I like The Splash Brothers.

Thunder def. Mavericks in 7 games

This was the first real toss up of my predictions. Kevin Durant just destroys everything and everyone is his path when he gets going. The Mavericks are kind of getting there. Slowly but surely. Thunder crush the Mavericks in 7.

Western Conference Semi-Finals

Clippers def. Thunder in 6 games

It’s the reverse this time. The Clippers are loaded. OKC lost Thabo to Atlanta and got Anthony Morrow who, from what I can gather, is really good at 3-point shooting….. that’s it. It matches the identity of that team (shots, shots and more shots), but they’re going to need a whole lot to get further. They just don’t have it. Chris Paul advances to his first Conference Final. And that Championship window in Oklahoma City is rapidly closing.

Spurs def. Trail Blazers in 7 games

It’ll be a shoot out this time. The rematch will be bloody, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge just don’t give a shit. They want to knock out the old team. They just won’t do it. The Spurs young really, now, balances out their old. Blazers come up short, but it’ll build them up to make further runs because they got a bright, bright future (as long as LMA signs that extension).

Western Conference Finals

Spurs def. Clippers in 7 games

And in typical Spurs-ian, low key mode, the Spurs brought everyone back from last year INCLUDING a rookie, Kyle Anderson from UCLA, who they apparently REALLY like. The Spurs are the team you have to beat in the West. No Country For Old Men is an unoriginal joke that will be applied to Kobe Bryant for the rest of his playing career. Tim Duncan isn’t old because he isn’t human. Tim Duncan is a human turned android. Like Robocop, except less tragic. Anytime Duncan misses a game it’s because he needs time to let his new parts break in before he uses them in the rigorous manner that is the NBA season. Same with Ginobili & Parker is soon to fall to the same fate. You can’t beat robots. History (through the cinema) have taught us all this valuable lesson.

Prediction: Kawhi Leonard will put up MVP numbers, but won’t get recognition because he’s with the Spurs. Also, he’s now going to lead this team to another NBA Finals.

Western Conference Champion: San Antonio Spurs

NBA FINALS: CHICAGO BULLS vs SAN ANTONIO SPURS

So after a window many of us thought to be closed, turns out it was open. And Pau Gasol stuck his head in to see if they needed any help. Gasol isn’t necessarily the offensive explosion the Bulls needed, but he knows how to get his own shot and is has the best footwork of any big man in the NBA currently. However, he’s on the decline. He’s past his prime, but is still one of those players that you can squeeze every bit of talent out of them before they retire and if anybody in the NBA is going to do it, it’s going to be “The Butcher” Tom Thibodeau.

The Spurs window was closed after losing in 2011 in the First Round to the Memphis Grizzlies. But Coach Popovich blew a hole in the house to ensure that the window is A. No longer there. & B. He can walk in whenever he wants. Both of these teams have made huge strides in their own way. Bulls have made huge strides in the Draft and in the Free Agent market & the Spurs have made huge strides in staying one of the greatest teams in the NBA. I’ll just go ahead and say it, because it’s obvious, the San Antonio Spurs are the greatest small market team in NBA history. 50 wins or more in 16 of the last 17 seasons, 6 NBA Finals Appearances, 5 NBA Championships and is still turning sub-par NBA Players into absolute stars.

The Bulls haven’t made an NBA Finals Appearance since 1998. Since then, Bulls management have been living off the success of Michael Jordan. After being a mess of a franchise since 1999, somehow things have turned around. Smart draft picks, not to lucky in the Free Agent market, but managed to sign Pau Gasol which, even that was lucky because he was being jerked around by Miami, LA and even New York. The pieces have amazingly come together for the Bulls. There will be something to be said, however, about management and the team as a whole if they can’t make it to the NBA Finals. This is finally their best chance to make the Finals since this whole thing started back in 2011. Expectations are high, but the veterans on that team know how to manage those expectations and not let it be a distraction.

After much thought, I have decided that your 2014-15 NBA Champions will be…..

Spurs def. Bulls in 6

They made it to the Finals, but that’s what they’ve been striving for. They’ll have a great season and they’ll have nothing to be ashamed of come the end of it. The Spurs are the impossible team. Ball movement, spacing, 3-point shooting, Robots, Defense. Bulls don’t, right now, have spacing. Or Robots. You can bet your bottom dollar they have defense, though.

CONCLUSION

Last season was a terrible season. Happy for the Spurs, but a terrible season. In a narrative-driven season (D Rose, Kobe, LeBron, Pacers) there were also injuries everywhere, which sucks. I hate to see players get injured. That’s why it’ll kill me to watch OKC these first couple of months without Kevin Durant (who’s my favorite player in the NBA not named Kobe Bryant). I’m incredibly excited for this season because of all the storylines that are here for us. Sometimes we take things for granted, and at the level of play we see night in and night out, we’re definitely spoiled. I’m expecting a fun season and you should too. So much to watch out for. I’m also predicting we see a busy trade deadline and will hereby set the over/under on Blockbuster trades at 1.5. The .5 is a trade involving a up and coming superstar, a former superstar that still has trade value (Danny Granger for Evan Turner), or a player that has lost his way but still has trade value because he’s a great defensive Center (Roy Hibbert). Rajon Rondo will be traded. This prediction eats me up for some reason because I was so sure he was going to be out of there come February. So while we argue about Kobe Bryant, who’s fault it is the Lakers suck, and other crazy things we argue about, we should just take this season to do less reacting and more enjoying. It’s fun to debate without any hostility which rarely happens. We should enjoy these players now. I love basketball.

Follow me on Twitter – @NotClayMerritt

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Home Invasion (Original Short Story)

Preface: I originally posted this on Reddit 3 months ago. I hope you enjoy it. 

Not again.

The cold thought rushed through my body as I heard the noise. It couldn’t be possibly happening again, could it? My wife was scared out of her mind, borderline crying. I knew she was trying to stay strong. Let me back up here.

Back in ’99, my house was broken into. I lived on a small farm just outside Pittsburgh. You could say I was happy then. Finally for the first time in my life I had everything going for me. I made 230 thousand dollars a year at my job, I had been married to my wife for 4 years, something my buds said was impossible. Then that cold summer night of June 5th, 1999 came. It was 4 of them. By the initial sounds I heard outside I thought it was just a bunch of teenagers having some fun. I figured they probably just graduated and want to have some last fun before their lives to to hell. I knew the garage was locked, the shed out back was locked and as long as they didn’t come into the house, everything was fine. I wake up that next morning before my wife, I thought, “I want to surprise her with morning sex….. nah.” So I went downstairs to make some coffee and breakfast for us and the kids. God, I loved my children. I get to the kitchen and it has been ransacked. Our house phone is broken, the fridge and freezer left open every thing is broken and everything in the freezer is melted and aside from all that, something much, much more disturbing than that there was a bloody knife on the floor and it had a blood trail that led to the back door. I stopped what I was doing and ran upstairs – the kids were gone. I lost my mind, woke up my wife and told her. She’s crying and screaming. I follow the blood trail. I walk out my back door and off the patio where the blood stops. The shed’s lock is broken and one of the doors slightly left open. I walk in scared as hell with my heart pumping harder than ever and I see my dog, Stringer, dead with his head removed and thrown God knows where.

December 21, 1999

My kids are found. They were found at the docks in a shipping container headed to Germany. Someone made a mistake and didn’t properly lock said shipping container. Port Authority was patrolling and decided to take a look. The Officer found 30 kids in one container inside the bigger container. 2 dead, 5 injured, the rest unharmed. Including mine. We took them home, put them into counseling after New Year’s. My kids were clearly wrecked by what they had experienced. I have a boy and a girl. He was 6 then, she was 11. We moved in Spring of 2000 back home to North Carolina about 15 minutes away from my parents house. Everything was great. I was never the same. I can equate those 6 months as the months that killed me inside. My emotions rendered nonexistent. Much like the God that I was silly enough to believe was real until my kids were kidnapped. My wife pulled through… barely. My kids ended up, thankfully, like their old selves and me? I threw on a fake face anytime I did something. I couldn’t will myself to be genuine anymore. Now I can understand why.

December 21, 2005.

My kids, now 16, and 11, are asleep in their rooms when the chill runs down my spine and I think to myself, “Not again.”

This time I didn’t connect it to some teenagers being assholes. No, no, no. I heard the door unlock. In my house, I now hear everything. Protecting my family was a priority in the wake of getting my children back and about a year after that. Then it became about death. I had fantasies about killing people in the subsequent years following my kids kidnapping. It didn’t really start until after 9/11 when those thoughts ran rampant though my head. I thought, “Fuck those terrorist fucks. I’m going to join the Army and kill every single piece of American hating shit that I come in contact with.” But who was I kidding? I was 33 then. I’m now 38, sitting in my house wondering what my next course of action should be. I loved guns, and I even purchased 14 months ago. Got my concealed carry license and everything necessary. Just in case. While I never wanted this to happen again, I hoped it would.

“Baby, do something!” “Stay here, I’ll go check on the kids, and tell them to come up here. You know where shotgun is just in case, right?” “Y….yea….yeah, yes, yes.” “Good. Go get it, have ammo next to you and be ready to shoot that gun.” “Okay.” It use to be painful to see my wife in pain. Now, I could care less. I grab the pistol that was in a locked drawer the desk in our room. I load it up and leave the room, ready for anything.

Upon exiting the room I hear the person kick the door down… or at least open and they walk in. I quietly rush into my daughters room down the hall.

“Daddy!” “Go to my room, now. Mom is in there with a shotgun. She’ll keep you safe until I come back. Go. NOW!”

She runs up and leaves. To the door on my right, across from my daughters room, is my son.

“Dad! Who’s downstairs?” “I don’t know. But I’m going to find out. Go to my room. Mom has a shotgun and she’ll keep you safe until I come back. Go.”

My son rushes up and scurries off on to my room. I have now reached the highest level I could reach. I reek of anticipation. This is going to satisfy me.

I need this.

I want this.

We finally meet face to face. I guess he hadn’t found nothing valuable because all he had was a gun in his hands. He also had the whole cliche dark clothing with a ski mask get-up going, which I found amusing.

Who knew standing a mere feet away from someone who wanted to murder you in cold blood would provide such an adrenaline rush?

“Who are you?”

No answer. I cracked a smile. Its as if I wanted to earn his identity through torture rather than him voluntarily give himself up.

“Ok, I’ll ask again. Who are you?”

“I have unfinished business. I don’t want to kill you, but you’re going to force my hand.”

Was this one of the guys who tried to ship my children off to Europe?

“How did you find me?”

“The only thing you need to know is, my identity is hidden within the lining of your heart and mind.”

“You want my children?”

“Only to make a profit. This is America, we’ll do anything for a profit.”

His identity became irrelevant. I no longer cared.

I moved out of the way to let him pass.

“Good.” he said. GOOD. The very definition of the word Good is “to be desired or approved of.” People don’t remember good. They remember great.

As he started his trek up the stairs, I grabbed him by the waist and threw him down. He dropped his gun upon impact and I kicked it away. We fought for several minutes, breaking lamps, glasses, the china cabinet. I got the upper hand when I inserted a steak knife into the side of his knee. I’ll spare the gory details, but I drug him outside to the shed. I liked this shed. It was smaller than the last, but just the right size I originally wanted when I started looking at houses many years ago.

I used the rope I kept in the shed to tie him up to a steel folding chair. You know, like the ones in professional wrestling. Anyway, he quickly tried to fight his way out. But I had my gun in my hand. Pointed right… at… his… head.

“When I pull this trigger and you die, what will be your legacy?”

I kept the following speech I had built up in my head to save for a rainy day, as loose as possible as if I were talking to a friend in a regular ole conversation.

His face got serious pain winced with pain and every drop of blood he was losing from his wound.

“You know, I’m not sure what mine will be. I’ve been thinking about what my legacy would be since I was seventeen. I knew a couple things though: 1. I had slept with a lot of women and I was popular because of that reason. 2. I had rich parents. At seventeen you feel invincible. I liked my legacy at seventeen. Then I turned eighteen. Then nineteen. Then twenty. And by twenty-five, I knew I had no legacy. Now at thirty-eight years of age, I still haven’t made my legacy until now. I can write my own legacy. I can kill you and get this over with, OR call the cops let them pick your miserable self up OR I let you go, kill my wife, take my kids and let you make your profit.”

I could tell in his eyes even he was excited that I was pondering option C.

“I figure hey, my life would be boring without my children and wife so I’ll just keep them right where they are.”

“His eyes went from high to low in a moments notice. I sense he knew was option I was going to choose.

“Getting the Police involved? Yikes. I don’t think so. You deserve Option A and you know it.”

I got right in his face and removed his mask.

“The only thing you need to know is, my identity is hidden within the lining of your heart and mind.”

He was my best friend from high school. He dated my wife before he beat her and she left him for me. It broke his heart. This was a turn of events that I could have seen coming if it was still high school.

“Why?”

“When me, you & Loral reconciled back in ’97 this was the plan all along.”

I smiled again. Except I pointed the gun right between his eyes.

“You know God talks about forgiveness. My favorite Bible verse is probably Isaiah 43:25. It says, ‘I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. Review the past for me, let us argue the matter together; state the case for your innocence.’ It must’ve took a lot of hubris for you to wither down here and expect to heist my children twice. Funny. When I heard they arrested your other three comrades, I was furious because I knew there were four of you when police insisted there were only three. But here I am blotting out your transgressions for my own sake. But I’m not stating the case for your innocence.”

He tilted his head back and closed his eyes.

“You have to take your release where you find it, Jared. Or, where it finds you.”

With the gun pointed between his head, I knew my release found me. Then again, my release is probably also the darkness that now surrounds me.

June 5th, 2013.

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Uncategorized

Depression, Getting Help & Cats

Warning: This does get really dark & heavy with some adult language. If you think I’m a bad human being or if you just don’t care then close this and shut up and go away. This is not for you. If you simply can’t handle the dark & heavy, I understand. 

First and foremost, let me begin this by saying that Robin Williams was one of the most spectacular actors and an even better comedian. Robin Williams, as you know, died at the age of 63. He was said to be suffering from depression which led to his eventual tragic suicide. Everybody has an opinion nowadays. Freedom of speech. Social media gives folks a right to say whatever — and I mean whatever. Too many folks have this preconceived notion that depression is a mood and you can get over it at the snap your fingers. That’s not depression. And suicide is not for cowards. That’s among the worst things said. Once depression corrupts your mind, soul, and body, you’re lost. Upon hearing the news everything just hit at once, and I felt two things:

1. Shock. I couldn’t believe this man was gone because of his depression. Such a big influence just gone.

2. Nostalgia. I continued to flashback to a place I use to be and a place that I reached again very recently.

I’ve opened up on Twitter about this, but never in full. I’ve told 1 friend a semi-full version. A version that fits in text anyway. People who know me, or have known me throughout middle school and high school always were laughing at me or laughing with me. Those people always took me for the funniest guy in school and I was a joy to be around. That last sentence may just be something I made up. So if I put words in your mouth and/or you hate my guts….

Let me backtrack here. Back in 2011, I started high school. Great, great year in retrospect. It taught me a lot. In that year, I started dating women. Something I had done before, but now on a more mature level now that it’s in high school. Normal thing to do in high school. It was a great month and a half. She was great. So we mutually split due to the fact that she was moving. I moved on to her best friend, at the time. Don’t laugh. It wasn’t mean spirited. I remain great friends with Ex-Girlfriend #1 to this very day. Anyway, I don’t remember why I was so quick to move on. I guess it was because I never really wanted to be lonely because the thrill of being with someone felt so great. I developed a great liking to this girl. more so more than Ex-Girlfriend #1. What you have to remember is, I was really stupid then. Both girls were great, #1 was a great match for me, #2 was more lustful and fear of being lonely. It was December when we hooked up. Long, cold winters. Christmas Break rolls around, I made an attempt to see her, but that’s a subplot I don’t want to get into. January is here, back to school. Within the first week, or two that’s when she ended it. It was abrupt. The real reason was never brought to my attention. I was broken. Literally the rest of the day was me forcing jokes on my friends. Jokes that weren’t even funny. I just needed a laugh to keep myself together. I got the laugh. I thought I would be okay. I was wrong. I now use Kanye West’s, “Heartless” to describe that winter for me.

Ex-Girlfriend #1 told me #2 wanted to break up. Tough shit. For me anyway. I delved inside my mind for the next month and a half with theories as to why. I never asked her. I didn’t want any of my theories to be true, to be honest. I asked people within her inner circle, they weren’t giving me anything, either. I eventually believed my theories to be true. She thought I was cheating on her. No, wait… She was cheating on me. That’s the only explanation. Right? No.. no.. We were really close. Maybe she wanted someone else? Damn. That’s it. In March, she was with somebody new. And no, my theory didn’t come true. But I thought it had. I was believing my own crap. I was the most popular kid in school. How could she do that to ME?! I wasn’t, though. I was a class clown. Nothing more. I stopped making people laugh in class and people would frequently ask me, “Hey, Clay, are you okay?” Knowing they didn’t care — and about 99% of them didn’t — I responded, “Yeah, just tired. I hardly get any sleep.” Half of that was true. This was when it started.

I worked hard to get her back until she was with somebody new. Some asshole, I thought. Never got to know the guy, really. I remained friends throughout the school year with Ex-Girlfriend #2. Still bitter, before she was with a new guy, I was suffering from Delusions of Grandeur. I believed I was someone I wasn’t. I wasn’t hugely, if at all, popular. I didn’t play any sports. I just made people laugh. That’s it, despite my friendship with a couple football players. On through March (which felt like it lasted an eternity) I still remained friends with Ex-Girlfriend #2 and witnessed this new guy hurt her on an emotional and mental level, not once, but twice. My initial reaction after the first time was, okay, I’m going to wrangle my football player friends and we’re going to go kick this kids’ ass after school. Didn’t happen because I was pre-occupied with her on my mind. The second time, I consoled her despite everyone else rolling in pretending to be her friend and took over my consoling duties. My emotional state continued to resemble a dumpster fire rolling down a hill, full speed, to a hole of never-ending loneliness and darkness. I knew something was wrong with me when sometime after Spring Break, a teacher in the lunchroom approached me sitting alone on one side of the table a teacher asked me, “Hey, you’re not eating again. Do you need money to eat?” I hadn’t even realized that I wasn’t eating. I respectfully declined her offer and chalked it up to the fact that I wasn’t hungry. I didn’t eat until the next day. There would be stretches where I would either, A. Eat once a day once I got home, or B. Not eat for a couple of days. There were no little snacks, no middle ground at all, in fact. I got down on myself all the time. Nobody there to pick me up. All my friends were with their other friends and Ex-Girlfriend #1 & #2 were going about their business. I started to lose some weight, which gave me a confidence boost… until I realize it was for all the wrong reasons. I slept an average of 2 hours a night around the time frame of late-January till mid-June. One miserable day I remember listening to music on my computer until I saw I had to wake up in 45 minutes for school. I said, “Oh well.” and proceeded to close my laptop, remove my headphones and sleep approximately 40 minutes until my alarm went off and I was up for another day. I saw hope one day in April when she ended it with whats-his-nuts who was hurting her. I strategically made my move. I failed. She wasn’t interested in anyone and we both took her need to date away from her at that time. It was getting worse.

It was the end of April and I was sitting alone in Biology class one day. I usually took that hour to sleep and not care. However, on this day I was sitting on that stool in front of that table just looking at the floor for that entire hour seriously considering suicide. My reasoning was that my friends didn’t really hang out with me as much as they did pre-December. I was failing school in all classes with the exception of the two I had a D & C in, respectively. But most of all it tracked back to Ex-Girlfriend #2. Those 3 things, in succession, was the reason I wasn’t eating. The reason I wasn’t sleeping. The reason I was down on myself. And the reason I wanted to kill myself. Again, I was, in theory, everybody’s friend because I can make people laugh by saying or doing something crazy. I talked back to teachers (which, looking back, was warranted one time) I was in I.S.S. several, several times throughout April. I was skipping the classes I liked the least, just the high school rebel. I didn’t care as a result. I put on the rebel suit to hide my depression from folks. And Based God forbid that my parents, or any teacher picked up on any of this. I wanted to live in my own little, sick world.

I would think about suicide once a week. It got so bad to the point I thought about killing other people and then myself. Never once did I think I could hurt Ex-Girlfriend #2. It would always be somebody I didn’t like in school and then hang myself. I played it in my head with no one in particular. I was killing a Crash Test Dummy, essentially, in my head.

I never got around to killing myself. Something always happened before I had a real chance to execute my demise. May rolled around and I became real close with someone who, I thought anyway, saw me as a joke box. Faith Roberts gave me light. Not in the sense that I wanted to date her, but it was the first true friendship I had experienced in some time. Suicide was still on my brain at this time, but it had moved to the back of my head, for the time being. I was gaining my old friends back even though I never really ever lost them in the first place. But Ex-Girlfriend #2, man… The more we talked, the more those suppressed feelings would return. She really liked me, she would say. But we can’t be together. We would be separated next school year and she doesn’t do long distance relationships. She would tell me that we could be together if I stayed, which was an impossibility due to the contrasting situations we found ourselves in. Me, going to a new school the next year, and her staying and possibly going to a new school any day. Mercurial futility. Much like how my life had become then. Constantly stringing me along and then pulling the rug out from under me when I was taking the bait. I did open myself up to the abuse and I took it even though my life was getting better and I kept blowing the never-ending tunnel up every time I saw a glimpse of light at the end. Finals time came around. I threw a marker in a classroom at another student as a joke, she got mad (we were friends), the teacher acted like I had defecated and set the feces on fire right on his desk and he sent me to the principal and the subsequent punishment was 3 days out of school suspension. These last 3 days just so happen to be the last 3 days of school. I would talk to Ex-Girlfriend #2 in these infamous 3 days. Within these Facebook messages is when she would then proceed to tell me  the aforementioned remarks about liking me and wanting to be with me. I came to terms on an agreement with my parents about being dropped off on the last day of school in order to say goodbye to my friends. Unfortunately the school had an apparent restraining order rule set in place of suspended students which makes sense NOW, but then I thought was dumb. I didn’t sleep those 3 days. I was really exhausted even though I didn’t look like it. I did see Faith, I saw Michael, I saw Kevin, DJ, all those awesome people who lived in my old neighborhood. A really great day. But, summer was here. And while I would see Brandon eventually, what am I to do with my entire summer? I returned home and entered a shell of myself that I was fighting to leave behind. I didn’t have to put on a fake funny-man persona for people now. I can live in sadness for good. It’s time.

My Uncle’s Wedding was in 2 weeks. I was supposed to leave a few days before the wedding and stay in this really nice vacation house in Destin, Florida. I was going to kill myself 13 days before my Uncle’s Wedding to his long-time girlfriend. I grabbed a belt. I was going to hang myself. I came to terms that it was time. This is an incredibly tough thing for me to write as I think about how far I’ve come along to this point in my life. I started crying to myself as I wrapped the belt around my neck and then stopped before I let go of my body. I thought about how beautiful the state of Florida is. Maybe one last time. I’ll experience what I can experience and enjoy whatever I can enjoy out of it and at the conclusion of the trip I’ll just get this crap over with. I removed the belt. That would be the last time I ever considered suicide.

I packed for Florida. During that trip I was still processing what I almost did. It was utterly insane. I couldn’t believe it. I got to Florida and it was my family living under the same huge vacation house as my Uncle’s soon-to-be wife’s family. If you put them together they’re all just a cast of fascinating characters to listen to and observe. Unique, every single one of them. Funny, too! I endlessly got food, I could never stop eating. I slept on average 8 hours. I even was even projecting smiles that weren’t fake. I played Monopoly. I got engaged with everyone in the house. Like I said, unique characters. Just being near the ocean was so relaxing for me. Nobody was going to hurt me out here. The Wedding itself, was just a relief. I was angry that day — for whatever reason — but the actual wedding, near the ocean was a recovery process. I felt myself getting better. All my troubles were floating away. I couldn’t get worse could it? Even returning home to Kentucky was encouraging. I had friends wanting to spend their summer’s with me. I didn’t really have a support system as friends. From that moment on they were all great recovery tools in the off chance I was having a rough time. I took everything that I had built on in Florida and used it once I returned home. This would be the beginning of my love affair for the state of Florida. Upon my return, Ex-Girlfriend #2 escaped my mind. My lust for companionship ended. My bad grades were remedied. My friends were around. My family was great. Zero complaints. Life was back on track.

Fast forward to this June 2014. I’ve come a long, long way to be where I am today. But the familiar feeling was back. I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t sleeping. Old eating habits returned. I was falling asleep at 6 am and waking up to live the day sometimes at 7 am, or maybe 9 am. I would think constantly, I have no girlfriend, I have no job, I’m a high school graduate that doesn’t want to do work because I’m lazy. All my friends live away from me. Suicide? And there’s a question mark there to pose that as a question. It’s open ended. I said I never thought about suicide again. And I didn’t. This was a question, as in, should I let those thoughts back in? This lasted for 10 days in June. Luckily, I realized that my Family is amazing. I didn’t need to keep having these thoughts. I recovered using basketball, my family, friends, and my cats. My cats are great. They love me, even when I yell at them for pooping outside of their litter box. After the passing of my first pet (my dog Chase), I never imagined a scenario in which I loved another animal on the same level as I did Chase. The cats have brought great comfort in all avenues of life. But, I thought, why do I need to be feeling this way when I would just be missing out on all of this around me. I love basketball so much that I literally despise the summer because the NBA is practically nonexistent from August to the end of September when the training camps open. Also, I’m a friggin’ screenwriter and aspiring filmmaker (which I find to be a very pretentious thing to call yourself and this is the only time in which I will do so for myself) my Mom would never see me win an Academy Award on TV, plus I would never get to show off a fine lady on my arm, any of those fun fantasies in my head would just be locked in a vault and never mentioned again if I let depression return. I’m a very objective & rational person now so luckily when this episode came I was able to step out of the box and look at things as such.

I now experience a full range of human emotions that are not fabricated and are legitimate. And, for whatever reason, that gets me stoked. I like being happy. I follow PMA. Positive Mental Attitude. It helps make every day a new and great experience even when times get tough. Sometimes you have to say, “What the fuck!” and make your move. I made my move. Every now and then say, “What the fuck.” What the fuck gives you freedom, freedom brings you opportunity and opportunity makes your future. The previous 2 sentences were quotes from the 1983 film, “Risky Business”. These are quotes I found profound, and the movie was cool, too.

I share this because I feel a certain responsibility to help others struggling. Don’t be like me. I got SUPER lucky. I never told anybody about how I was feeling. Therefore, I couldn’t get professional help or even any help at all. If I had gotten to suicidal thoughts in June, I would have definitely told somebody and gotten help. It probably won’t be the last time I have an episode of depression because that’s just how life works out. Again, I got incredibly lucky. Can I live with it in the future? Time will tell. I’m still growing as a person. I’m more accepting, and tolerant as a person and I still have room to grow, I think.

The sole purpose I wrote this is for you, or anyone you know who is depressed. Get help. Mental health is also a sensitive issue for folks and I’ll never understand why. There’s always hope. It may be difficult as hell at first, but once you reach stabilization and you’re back on your two legs, so to speak, it will be something scary but guess what? That just means your recovery is almost successfully complete. Depression CAN be survived, and you CAN live a happy and healthy life. Don’t think. Reach out for help. Whether it be to me, or to your family or even the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Help is around you. Don’t think. Just do it. Because I’m restored to happiness, my story isn’t meant to be a narcissistic self-profile. I want this to be an a example that depression can be overcome and life can be lived happy & healthy – the way it’s meant to be.

“Suicide is just a permanent solution to temporary problems.”

If you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

 

 

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Sports

Kobe vs LeBron – The Greatest NBA Finals We’ll Never See

kobe-lebron011909

Preface: 1. I AM A LAKERS FAN. 2. I understand there’s still two, possibly more, years left in Kobe Bryant’s career. From a realistic standpoint, he & the Lakers will have a Playoff appearance at best. Unless Mitch and Company can pull off a miracle, Lakers #17 Championship is as likely as Michael Jordan coming back for one more season.

 

4 years ago, LeBron James left the city of Cleveland to chase a Championship he was unlikely to get if he had stayed. That same year, Kobe Bryant had successfully secured his fifth NBA Championship by defeating the Boston Celtics in 7 games. He was one ring away from tying his idol Michael Jordan and had one more ring than a player that has also dominated the same generation in Tim Duncan. What we’ve seen from the Spurs and Lakers since 1999 is something we’ll never see in the NBA again. Duncan, Kobe, Shaq & Coach Pop being the major players behind the dominance have shown incredible resilience in the light of adversity in the Western Conference.

So much so, that these are the Western Conference winners since 1999:

1999: Spurs – Champions

2000: Lakers – Champions

2001: Lakers – Champions

2002: Lakers – Champions

2003: Spurs – Champions

2004: Lakers

2005: Spurs – Champions

2006: Mavericks

2007: Spurs- Champions

2008: Lakers

2009: Lakers – Champions

2010: Lakers – Champions

2011: Mavericks – Champions

2012: Thunder

2013: Spurs

2014: Spurs – Champions 

Truly remarkable. Even more insane is that LeBron James, the best player in the world today, was 22 when he appeared in his first NBA Finals and in the list above has been in 5 NBA Finals. However, none of them come against Kobe’s Los Angeles Lakers. The closest we’ve come to such a legendary NBA Finals was in 2009 when the Orlando Magic faced the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals and the Orlando Magic won in 6 games. We sit here pondering what could have been. LeBron James just didn’t have adequate help. He carried a lot of the load that series being his teams’ leading scorer in all 6 games. Finishing with 231 points on 48% shooting in that series. 

In the 3 straight Finals Lakers’ teams, I was always of the opinion that the 2009 team was the best of the three. They completely clicked on all cylinders and finished the Magic off in 5 games with Kobe averaging 32 points in 5 games on 43% shooting. 

No matter how you look at it, nobody in the NBA has ever been bigger than LeBron James & Kobe Bryant (aside from Michael Jordan). If Michael Jordan was the biggest star in the NBA EVER, then Kobe is 1A, and LeBron is 1B. There is no close number 2. Kobe & LeBron are the only ACTUAL Superstars in this league today as far as popularity, their reach in popularity and their brand. Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki & Tim Duncan — all-time greats — never really had huge reach in popularity and never had a brand on the level of the two aforementioned athletes, or even close to it. In 2013, LeBron surpassed Kobe as the highest paid basketball player in the world as far as endorsements and other non-NBA related funds go. 

I read an article from Bill Simmons yesterday entitled, “God Loves Cleveland“. Out of all the analysis about LeBron’s return to his hometown, this was probably the best one, outside of LeBron’s S.I. essay where he made his decision. But in it, Simmons calls LeBron a genius. And it makes sense. In an era of social media, deconstructive criticism from strangers, agents leaking false information to reporters hoping for a story and to bump a player’s market price up, LeBron has his inner circle. His agent, Rich Paul, took these meetings for LeBron and Paul’s agent only took meetings with Miami and Cleveland. Despite all the noise, despite people telling LeBron what they think he should do, LeBron does business sense and basketball sense and manages to keep them separated when deciding on what’s best for his family and in his best interests. Does that sound easy? Of course not. LeBron compared his four years in Miami to college, something LeBron never experienced. Instead of chasing a stepping stone to the NBA, he chased NBA Championships he succeeded, and has returned back home despite returning to play for the management that turned on him in 2010. His career could possibly end in Cleveland and it only took 4 short years to get what eluded him and management has seemed to not screw things up (for now) so it appears things are good. Trust, regained and the hatchet, buried. The Cavaliers may not make the NBA Finals in 2015, and might not even make the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015, but LeBron, (who’s maneuvering for a bigger max contract once the NBA secures its new TV Rights deal and raises the salary cap to a huge number hence the 2-year max deal) is said to be committed to the long term. He knows he will lead the Cavs to a championship for the city of Cleveland before he retires as a player. His reign as the best player in the world is almost over. Durant is catching up, Blake Griffin has come along into a major player in the window of a year, but yet out of these three 2014 MVP candidates, LeBron’s Championship future is the only one that isn’t clouded by uncertainty. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. 

In 2007, Kobe Bryant was fed up with his team. Lakers weren’t making any positive additions to the roster to help Kobe. At the time, the Lakers had just lost to the Phoenix Suns in the Playoffs for the second straight year (4-3 in 2006, 4-1 in 2007) and all sorts of crazy scenarios were running wild after Kobe told Stephen A. Smith on his radio show that he wanted to be trade and that there was nothing the Lakers could do to fix it besides trading him. Among the real scenarios discussed for Kobe Bryant were the Clippers trading Elton Brand, the Mavericks trading Dirk Nowitzki, the Bulls trading Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas, and even future All-Star Joakim Noah. And even the Phoenix Suns with A’mare to the Lakers or even Nash, Diaw & Marion for future picks. If it wasn’t for Phil Jackson talking Kobe off the metaphorical cliff, this would have changed the NBA (and my eventual team allegiance) forever. Kobe then got Pau Gasol by his side and the Lakers were back in business, they won 2 championships off 3 straight appearances, Phil Jackson left after a failed attempt at appearance number 4, the Lakers got Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, that project failed, Mike Brown came and went, Dwight Howard left for greener pastures, Lakers got a lottery pick, Mike D’Antoni resigned, Julius Randle is now thrown into this madness of huge expectations, and after striking out on Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, and throwing their money to Jordan Hill ($9M/year), Swaggy P ($5M/year, which in my mind is cheap compared to how much he would have gotten on the open market), and even trading for Jeremy Lin ($8M/year) there’s even more uncertainty than there was before. Pau Gasol is now in Chicago and this team is somehow worse due to incompetent management — like before. You have Lakers fans (MY PEOPLE) saying “F LeBron, he can stay where he is” at the mere sight of a rumor that the Lakers were going to pursue LeBron James, they were also, I’d say about 75% against the team signing Carmelo Anthony mostly because they had no idea what to do with him or some other irrational opinion and now you have Lakers fans lobbying for Byron Scott to be hired as the next head coach of this once proud franchise. If you didn’t know any better, you would think Lakers fans enjoyed tanking for the #7 Overall pick and only winning 27 games. This isn’t a dig at Lakers fans. I’m a Lakers fan. I bleed purple and gold and I was skeptical and disappointed when Kobe signed that big cap eating extension (but I was elated because he could/would have entertained the open market). Allow me to reiterate the rhetoric that experts have been commenting on since the Lakers even got a meeting with Melo and LeBron [‘s Agent Rich Paul]: If Kobe takes one for the team and goes 2-year/$10M (maybe a little more) this team would have been in serious contention for not only the option to retain Pau Gasol but sign two of the biggest players in the world today in Carmelo & LeBron. The Lakers have all the means to convince a player to sign with them in Free Agency year after year when they have the financial flexibility, these were one of those rare times where the Lakers don’t have a roster to compliment said Free Agent & Kobe Bryant. They won’t in 2015 for Love & Rondo, and it’s already bleak in 2016 for Durant. The only bang Kobe looks like he’ll go out on in 2016 is the similar bang Michael Jordan felt in 2003 when he retired from the NBA for good. The everlasting ovation from the road team’s crowd as Jordan sank 2 free throws and walked off the court and took his final bow. The sad thing about Kobe Bryant is, as great as he is, he’ll only be a player that won’t be fully appreciated until it’s settled in that he’s gone. The instant appreciation won’t come like it came for Jordan, Magic. Or like it will come for Duncan, KG, Pierce, and even Dirk. Kobe is vilified for past mistakes and is called selfish, a terrible teammate, so on and so forth. One thing he’ll never have to apologize for though, is for being great. 

 

Playoff Statistics —

Kobe Bryant:

5 NBA Championships

7 NBA Finals Appearances 

8,641 Minutes Played, .157 Win Shares, 106 Defensive Rating, 110 Offensive Rating, 54% True Shooting Percentage

25.6 PPG, 4.7 APG, 5.1 RPG, 44% FG, 33% 3-point, 81% Free Throw, 7.4 Free Throw Attempts Per Game, 5,640 Points, 22.4 PER

LeBron James:

2 NBA Championships

5 NBA Finals Appearances

6,717 Minutes Played, .242 Win Shares, 101 Defensive Rating, 116 Offensive Rating, 57% True Shooting Percentage

28.0 PPG, 6.4 APG, 8.4 RPG, 48% FG, 33% 3-point, 75% Free Throw, 9.7 FTA Per Game, 4,419 Points, 27.7 PER

 

Use these stats, assemble formidable rosters around both players, insert them into the NBA Finals and let your imagination do the rest. LeBron James does things better than Kobe Bryant does, and vice versa. We shouldn’t compare them. We live in a world where we’re comparing every great player in today’s NBA to Michael Jordan when in reality these players should stand on their own ground if they’re great enough. Everyone who plays basketball in the NBA is going to have similarities to this player and that player, but comparisons are, and have always been, silly. Kobe is Kobe, LeBron is LeBron, KD is KD, so on and so forth. None of these players will ever be like Michael Jordan. Just like these future crop of upcoming All-Stars will never be like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Kevin Durant and Paul George co-lead this crop. Kevin Durant is 25 years of age and already has one Finals appearance under his belt, has led the league in scoring 4 out of the last 5 years, has won the MVP Trophy, and this upcoming season at some point he will, barring injury, be the youngest player to score 15,000 career points. Paul George, on the other hand, is 24 is improving his game year after year and is arguably one of the best 3 Defenders in the NBA today. 

Nothing is given in the NBA. Only earned. From a selfish fan standpoint we want, or at the very least, wanted Kobe vs LeBron in the NBA Finals. We yearned for it. Kobe is past his prime, and has allowed terrible management to overflow onto business on the court and LeBron’s prime may be closing soon, while the management that he works for is currently in the palm of his hands. Festering at the opportunity to meet his every demand, not just because he’s the best player in the world. No. Because he’s the best player that would ever, willingly, come across the godforsaken cursed land of Cleveland and decide his home state is the the place he wants to raise his family. Kobe won’t go down quietly. He’s too good and has done this too long to the point where he’ll keep himself, and his team if they’re lucky, relevant for the foreseeable future. Whereas all LeBron has to do is shake hands with Johnny Manziel to get any sort of massive media attention.

Time moves fast and it does not wait for anybody lagging behind. In the end, Father Time wins his battles against stubborn athletes. Father Time only wins one of two ways: He fights a slobber knocker against said athlete wins with the last second KO punch or he dominates all 12 Rounds and wins the belt (athletes career) and it tarnishes the athlete’s overall body of work regardless of how good he/she was. That’s life. 

One of my favorite shows, currently, is Game of Thrones. There are so many exquisite characters and story lines that you can draw akin to many of the NBA’s characters and story lines. For example, Pat Riley is Lord Tywin Lannister. Despite not holding the throne like King James does, Lord Riley truly possesses all the true power behind the scenes and uses his power, intimidation and skillful persuasion to convince players & coaches whatever he wants them to believe. Kevin Durant is Stannis Baratheon. Fighting to be King. He feels it’s his absolute, 100% right to be King and but he’s got to fight King James and his Army to clinch it. Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey is Daenerys Targaryen. Mother of Dragons (James Harden, Dwight Howard & Chandler Parsons). She….I mean, he… is struggling to keep ahold of her…. his… dragons, in fact one Chandler Parsons has already flown away and Morey set it free to be on its own. Derrick Rose is Bran Stark, “hurt” and is on an adventure of his own with his own Hodor — Joakim Noah. Tim Duncan is Barristan Selmy. He’s seen more wars & battles than he cares to remember. He’s a grizzled veteran who, at his age, is not to be trifled with. Your best course of action against Barristan Duncan is to tread lightly. Kawhi Leonard is the KingSlayer. By outperforming King James in the 2014 War for the Larry O’Brien, Kawhi Lannister ended King James deadly reign over the realm of the NBA and forced the King’s Landing Heat dynasty to disband forever. Nate Robinson is Tyrion Lannister……… yep. And that leaves us with the subjects of of this article. 

LeBron James was King Joffery in Miami. The villain everyone loved to hate and in some cases hated to love. He was successful at the behest of his teammates. Except now the game has changed. King James has been banished to the North (Cleveland) and is now Lord of Winterfell. He’s battle tested and is one of the best, if not the VERY best to ever wield a sword (basketball). He has persistent, but excellent natural leadership and does his absolute best to make everyone around him better all while looking out for himself and doing what’s best for him and playing the Game of Thrones to a minor success throughout his young life (career). Lord LeBron Snow, bastard son of Lord Dan Gilbert, is truly the natural born warrior who refuses to give up. 

Kobe Bryant is Robb Stark. The most mentally strong player in the Game of Thrones and will go to battle against anybody. Kobe, the heir to Michael Jordan’s throne, never really lived up to the success and popularity that MJ once carried before his tragic death (end of his career). Kobe Stark was there for the execution of Gared (John Stockton’s Career) for abandoning the Night’s Watch in the 1998 Battle for Larry O’Brien when his MJ behead him clean in front of an audience. Kobe saw that with envy in hopes that he could one day aspire to the leadership of MJ. Once MJ was out of the way, it was on Kobe to lead an army of his own to fight the fight against all that was evil and that did him & his family wrong in the realm of the NBA. He stood strong and had many successes until one night before a bedding ceremony (earning a 6th NBA Championship aka the 2013 Season) Kobe was betrayed by Jim Walder Frey Buss and ordered several men to murder him and his teammates. Luckily for them, Dwight Howard, Earl Clark, & Antwan Jamison were able to make it out alive. Ordered by Walder Buss, Roose Kupchak Bolton stabbed Kobe in the heart finishing him (and possibly his career) off as Catelyn Pau Gasol Stark watched on in horror before a Walder Buss henchman, named Trade Rumors, slit Gasol’s throat, thus killing him (don’t worry, though, Gasol will later become reincarnated into a Chicago Bull). 

All the while this all goes on, Deron Arya Stark Williams is on a journey fueled by revenge and blood lust with Kevin The Hound Garnett to destroy who did them wrong (MOSTLY Jason Kidd). 

Seriously though. A LeBron James and Kobe Bryant NBA Finals would obviously sell out arenas. But it would also be the most tweeted about sporting event, ever (a recored currently held by 2014 World Cup Semi Final – Brazil vs Germany). It would also be the most talked about event in Facebook’s history (LeBron & Kobe’s Facebook pages have a combined 39,969,491 likes) it would likely sell out a few sports bars & Buffalo Wild Wings around the USA as well as public viewings in China. Kobe Bryant might be the most popular athlete in China. I say ‘might’ because Yao Ming was a very successful Asian NBA player. You can be the judge.

Example #1

Example #2

But China also loves superstars like Kobe who have endless amounts of skill and talent on the court. LeBron is almost there. 

Only Great Example I Could Scour the Internet For

As a wrestling fan, all us fans typically do in the fantasy department is discuss dream matches. Sting vs the Undertaker at WrestleMania, Hulk Hogan vs John Cena, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs CM Punk or even The Rock vs Shawn Michaels. As an NBA fan, some of those dream match ups come to mind for an NBA Finals. Duncan vs Russell, Magic vs Nash, Bird vs Dirk, Shaq vs Dwight. We officially, with maybe a sense of nostalgia and a splash of sadness, reach the point where we must add Kobe vs LeBron to that list. Two all-time greats playing in the same stratosphere, crossing paths & generations. One’s career ending, and another’s prime beginning to wind down. Just another ‘What If’. 

Counting Kobe out is what Kobe Bryant thrives on. Motivation gets him prepared for the next challenge. While it’s foolish to say he’ll ride out his remaining years (whether it is indeed 2 more years remains to be seen) quietly while succumbing to Father Time, passing Michael Jordan on the All-Time scoring list is probably the only realistic goal we can set for Kobe since everything else is ambivalent and quixotic at the moment. Kobe wishes everything were as utopian as it was in 2010. With screwy management, and the RIGHTFUL unwillingness to turn down 2-year/$48.5M, Kobe’s visionary optimism will keep him sane if his supporting cast is that of underachievers. LeBron won’t admit this publicly because it’s simply a fan’s reverie, but if he could chose an opponent for any future NBA Finals, hell, maybe even a past NBA Finals, one of his two answers would be Kobe Bryant. Kobe and LeBron with his current team would have to move massive mountains for this to happen, but if it did: the NBA simply watches with a GIANT smile on their face as all the revenue they make off a Finals of this magnitude would be simply too big for words. One could argue in an NFL subdued nation, a LeBron vs Kobe NBA Finals would be better than any Super Bowl we’ve seen in the last decade. 

As much as I have said, and continue to say about this subject, it’s just simply put: The Greatest Finals we’ll never see. Painstaking. One thing remains true, though. Kobe Robb Stark Bryant, the steadfast warrior with endless mental toughness executed enough power plays in his life to make it a special kind of tragedy when it all came crashing down in the end. All the while, King James makes stealthy maneuvers through the ranks with all the attention on him and playing it smart. Hence why the end will be bittersweet and constructive instead of betrayal and lies. 

When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.

 

 

Follow on Twitter – @NotClayMerritt

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Top 15 Free Agents in the NBA

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NBA Free Agency is mere hours away. Lets take a look at the Top 15 (in order) best Free Agents currently available on the market and their options

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1. LeBron James

He’s the best player in the world today and there should be no argument. However, there are people gunning for his position after being King for so many years now such as Kevin Durant, & Blake Griffin. He had an unfortunate ending to the 2013-14 Season, ending in 3 straight blow out losses to the San Antonio Spurs in this years NBA Finals. He opted out of a 2-year/$40M guaranteed contract and became an Unrestricted Free Agent. Conflicting reports are coming from everywhere since he opted out. One source says he’s staying, another says he distanced himself from Heat management this last year and another source says it’s up in the air as he doesn’t even know what he’s going to. Around the mystique and mystery for LeBron’s future, we know with certainty, he’s not taken meetings with other teams around the league, yet and regardless of where he goes he will likely continue to be underpaid, and while that can be admired, we all know he’s worth a 7-year/$300M deal if there wasn’t a salary cap in the NBA. If the Miami Heat can’t build a formidable roster around him despite all the cap space they’ve now cleared out with Wade & Bosh opting out, the chances are big that LeBron looks elsewhere.

He has options. I mean, being a player of his status, why wouldn’t he? Here are some in no specific order:

1. Phoenix Suns

They’re rumored to make a big push for Melo & LeBron. They have great young assets, and tons of cap space and can offer LeBron a deal that no other team (aside from the Miami Heat, who could offer more) can offer. While it may seem smart to go to a team with such good young talent on the roster and signed to small deals, there’s also its cons. The young talent are actually young. While they almost made the Playoffs this year (missed the 8th seed by 1 game), there’s no guarantee they can sustain this amount of success going forward and especially if the team with LeBron were to make the Western Conference Finals.

2. Houston Rockets

This one seems like a long shot simply because there’s no genuine personal level respect between LeBron and Dwight Howard but if LeBron wanted to live in Texas this could be a good one. They already have a yearly playoff contender and aren’t trying to build anybody up so LeBron could contend in the brutal Western Conference immediately rather than wait a year or two. LeBron only cares about his Family, Legacy and winning Championships.

3. Los Angeles Lakers

This one has a 1.7% chance of happening, but the Lakers have something no other team could offer. LeBron would, potentially, be teaming up with Carmelo Anthony and together they would be playing with Kentucky big man, and #7 Overall pick, Julius Randle, the Lakers would give the pair significant input in who the new head coach would be, and they could build the roster they want to play with. Whether that includes Swaggy P or not is undetermined. No matter what you think you know about players in the NBA, I can tell you that having the option to have input in who the next head coach will be is an option that several players would find heavily appealing if given the option. The Lakers have thrown their hat in the LeBron James Sweepstakes as GM Mitch Kupchak has made it public that they’re going to go all in on LeBron & Melo in Free Agency this summer.

4. Dallas Mavericks

Highly unlikely due to the fact that as history determines, they never get a max-level star to play for the Franchise. Dirk is the only one who’s been a max-level star and wanted to stay there. Not to say Monta Ellis CAN’T be a max level one of these days. He’s still young and has the potential to be one of those stars. However, if LeBron were to pick Dallas, he would have, obviously, some input in who he wants to play with as a lot of the Mavericks roster is empty at the moment. He would also be playing under the tutelage of Coach Rick Carlisle who is a great coach with a smart basketball mind. Great coaches are always a strong selling point for players of LeBron’s caliber.

5. San Antonio Spurs

The wild card. Unlikely that he’ll even consider it if he opens up his doors to teams, but if he does. I like the Spurs chances of signing him. He’ll take a pay cut, obviously and they have cap flexibility to make it happen. Would it be fair to the rest of the league? Hell no. LeBron James would be playing with a 5-time NBA Champion and the greatest Power Forward ever in Tim Duncan, future Superstar, Kawhi Leonard, who he can work with and help develop even more, and of course, Coach Pop. What more needs to be sold here?

6. Los Angeles Clippers

Unlikely as their cap situation is very tight and I don’t think LeBron would accept Vet minimum. Plus, the Clippers have their own good thing going with Blake Griffin who finished 3rd in MVP voting this season which is amazing for a guy who’s game was limited in the 12-13 season and now it’s MVP caliber in 2014. Why would you trade him to Miami for LeBron? It would be beneficial but would make no sense.

7. Cleveland Cavaliers

Because hometown return narrative and all that jazz. Plus, Kyrie, Wiggins, LeBron trio, yadda, yadda, yadda…

 

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2. Carmelo Anthony

He’s not the 2nd best player in the world. Maybe not even the 3rd. Maybe not in the Top 5. But, Carmelo Anthony has offensive efficiency and it’s third only behind KD & LeBron. Despite this, Carmelo Anthony missed the Playoffs for the first time in his 11 year Career and despite the last second attempt to sneak in the 8th seed to play Indiana. The Knicks can’t compete for the next year due to being in Financial Hell with A’mare Stoudemire & Andrea Bargnani’s refusal to exercise their Early Termination Options. The Knicks reportedly feel good about their chances to re-sign Carmelo when the time comes for him to make a decision. One thing is for certain, Melo won’t want to sign with a team that will have to wait and see for a whole season before they can try to become contenders. He’ll want to contribute immediately and win immediately.

Much like LeBron, Carmelo has options. However, he is 30, and can be a defensive liability at times. Here are his options, again in no certain order.

1. Phoenix Suns

With the Suns having the room to do so, they’re going to make a Power Play to sign both LeBron and Carmelo. They have should-have-been MVP Candidate in Goran Dragic and young talent such as Markieff Morris & Miles Plumlee. They have a good young coach in Jeff Hornacek who’s proven his system is working pretty well so far. The only problem with young talent is it’s unknown how long they can sustain this amount of success as they’re learning their game and trying to understand their place with the team.

2. Los Angeles Lakers

While bringing LeBron & Melo to LA have a 1.7% chance of happening, I think Melo coming to the Lakers by himself has a higher chance and if I had to guess, I’d say Melo to LA by himself is about 40%. He has a good friend in Kobe, and the Lakers could give him the options to help pick a head coach, as well assist in the roster he can play with.

3. Dallas Mavericks

This choice would see him team up with Dirk and Monta Ellis (Young Kobe) and presumably take a pay cut as Mark Cuban has said the Mavericks don’t plan to offer a max contract this summer. History dictates that the Mavericks won’t get Carmelo as they have had great difficulty trying to lure max Free Agents into their team.

4. Houston Rockets

I’m sure every Rockets fan would love this as well as the organization but to be honest… there’s no enough shots to go around here on this team with James Harden and Dwight Howard. There would be obvious issues on this team no matter how good of friends Melo & Dwight may be. If he were to sign in Houston, however, they would, notwithstanding, be a very good team.

5. Chicago Bulls

This has been the heavy rumored one forever. Melo has said in the past that he respects Coach Thibs and that Thibs reminds him of Coach Popovich. Melo would add some heavy offensive fire power to a Bulls team that desperately missed some offensive kick in their one and only Playoff series against the Washington Wizards that they lost in 5 games. Everything is in flux with the Bulls organization with rumors that Derrick Rose prefers Kevin Love instead of Carmelo and whether or not Derrick Rose can play another full season in the NBA ever again. Carmelo would almost definitely make the Bulls a Championship contender. A lineup of Rose-Butler-Melo-Gibson-Noah would be the best starting 5 in the NBA, in my opinion.

 

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3. Chris Bosh

Despite how valuable Bosh has been to the Miami Heat these last 4 years, he’s always been the third wheel. Overlooked among the presence of Dwayne Wade & LeBron James. With his game now developed as a stretch 5, he would be incredibly valuable to any franchise looking to sign him. The problem is, it’s unknown how much the Miami Heat value Chris Bosh and it is unknown if Bosh would be looking to take a significant pay cut to keep the Big 3 in tact in Miami. One would assume he would be. I almost wish Bosh would leave and take a max deal elsewhere. Not for the sake of breaking up the Big 3, but because he deserves it. He’s worth more on the open market than he is in Miami. Loyalty is as strong as money. Or so we think.

Bosh is as valuable as Carmelo is on the market. His public perception doesn’t dictate as so, but believe me, he is.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers have been rumored to try and sign him since February and will no doubt show interest if the team fails to land LeBron or Carmelo. He would be a nice compliment alongside Pau Gasol if the Lakers chose to re-sign Gasol. If not, he would also help compliment newest member of the Lakers, Julius Randle. Whether he would be a good fit or not is TBD at this point, but it would greatly help a team that, at this point, is desperate to win an NBA Championship.

2. Phoenix Suns

As much as the Suns are more interested in signing LeBron & Melo, it wouldn’t be insane to think that they would go after Bosh if they fail to sign either or one of the two max free agents. He fits the fast style offense the Suns run and him adapting his 3 point game makes it even more a match made in Heaven.

3. Toronto Raptors

He could return to where he was drafted and to a team that has now returned to Playoff contention. If they re-sign Kyle Lowry and then manage to sign Chris Bosh, this Toronto team would be a heavy favorite in the dull, but steady improving Eastern Conference.

4. Dallas Mavericks

He could play alongside Dirk and Monta and return to the city of Dallas where he is from. Obvious storybook narrative here. Unlikely due to Dallas’ unwillingness to offer a max contract to keep their financial flexibility.

 

Dirk Nowitzki

4. Dirk Nowitzki

He’s old but he does one thing better than a lot of the Free Agents available, get buckets. He should have been an MVP Candidate and almost became apart of the 50/40/90 club at AGE 36! He could easily fall victim to his Father Time next season, but it’s unlikely as he’s going to make all the steps necessary to assure that he’s back at 100% and ready to drop buckets. Also: If he has 50/40/90 splits by the close of MVP voting next year, he should be MVP. Just my opinion.

No options here.

1. Dallas Mavericks

He isn’t leaving. If he didn’t win an NBA Championship in 2011, this might be a different conversation, but he did and while it’s unknown how much of a pay cut he’ll take, he’ll take it and effectively retire a part of the Dallas Mavericks organization.

 

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5. Kyle Lowry

He pretty much had a career revival with the Raptors this year. They traded Rudy Gay and made the Playoffs and while they lost to the Nets in 7 games, they left with their heads hung high and with the potential to come back in 2015 and do something greater. This all depends on Kyle Lowry. If he wants to make this work and create something organic. Every time the Raptors appear to have something going for them, a pivotal player on their roster leaves to play elsewhere. Lowry should want to re-sign and build of the success they had in 13-14. But you can’t make a guy want to play somewhere, you have to make your pitch and hope you made your case well enough for him to come back.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers have a bit of a Point Guard problem and especially last season where they were to desperate they had to play Kobe Bryant at Point Guard. Signing Lowry would add stability to that Point Guard position especially with Kendall Marshall trying to develop his game and Steve Nash not being able to sustain any sort of health in an 82 game NBA season. The Lakers have been rumored to pursue Lowry if the team isn’t able to sign LeBron and/or Melo.

2. Miami Heat

There’s been mutual interest between these two parties and rightfully so. Lowry is obviously aware of his revived career and the Heat could use a Point Guard who’s name isn’t Mario Chalmers. However, it’s unlikely this happens due to rumors that Lowry is looking for $11M/year and the Heat’s priority being re-signing the Big 3.

3. Dallas Mavericks

Quite a good fit really. Lowry’s skill to go along with the skills of Ellis and the Mavericks traded Calderon for Raymond Felton who, isn’t a starting PG even if he ends up being one. Lowry isn’t asking for a max contract and the Mavericks aren’t giving anybody a max deal so I could see this being an option. A Lowry/Ellis back court could be increasingly dangerous and really fun.

 

6. Greg Monroe

He’s been stuck on an abysmal Pistons team that had him play Power Forward so they could start emerging Center Andre Drummond. Monroe is more of a Center, but appears to have developed his game enough to be a solid 4. He’s massively overlooked on Offense and has a good understanding of all angles of attack with a good basketball IQ to match. He’s a restricted Free Agent heading into July 1, and while the Pistons will appear to let him walk, you never know what Stan Van Gundy ends up doing.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

He’s another player the Lakers are targeting if they can’t sign LeBron & Melo. He’s a quality rebounder and can score with smart intentions. He’s simply underrated and that’s because Andre Drummond is a future star and could outshine every player in the NBA with his freakish rebounding numbers except for LeBron James.

2. Charlotte Hornets

For a team that lacks Power Forward depth, this would be a good option if Monroe would want to still play the 4 position. They drafted Noah Vonleh but he won’t be an impact for another couple of years. Al Jefferson and Greg Monroe could be dangerous and could make the Hornets a REALLY good team next season. Not elite like the Bulls, Pacers, & Heat, but really good. Depending how the East’s Free Agency works out, probably a strong favorite in the East.

3. Brooklyn Nets

Doubtful, due to salary cap and luxury tax issues, but he could fill a Power Forward void here that the Nets will be missing if Paul Pierce doesn’t return to the team.

4. Boston Celtics

Could fill a Center and/or Power Forward spot here and have Sulinger play the 4 and Olynyk as back up. The Celtics are a rebuilding team that aren’t entirely committed to rebuilding and look to become a Playoff contender once more if the opportunity for trades and Free Agency signings come about. They will offer Rondo the max contract but without Playoff contention opportunities, it’s unlikely Rondo will sign that max extension and become a Free Agent in the Summer of 2015. If they want to get better, who better to sign than Greg Monroe.

 

7. Eric Bledsoe

He’s athletic and can provide a huge jolt of energy from just about both sides of the floor. He’s a star Point Guard and this is obvious by his ever improving game. He improves on a yearly basis and never lets up. The only issue here is that he’s a Restricted Free Agent this summer and if the Suns want LeBron & Melo, they’ll probably let him go because Bledsoe will likely demand the max or something a bit less.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

Yet another name the Lakers have been rumored to pursue. He’d fix a Point Guard problem and could be the next huge star in a city that is use to having star after star player play for the Purple & Gold.

2. Miami Heat

Another Point Guard option for the Heat here.

3. Dallas Mavericks

They would replace Felton as current starting Point Guard. Easy option right here. It’s not that I don’t like Raymond Felton as a person, it’s just that I don’t like Raymond Felton as a player. It’s obvious he is not a starting Point Guard in the NBA.

 

8. Lance Stephenson

Lance can do it all and probably has the highest energy level of any Free Agent available. Smart defender, although sometimes can drift off on who he’s guarding and how overwhelmed he can get. I don’t believe his on-court antics is a real problem. It’s just magnified because he played against LeBron and the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s really a non-issue. He’s a top tier talent a Top 15 Player and nobody should pass him up just because he blew in the ear of the King. Yes it may be immature but there’s no reason to consider offering him less because of his antics. Ridiculous.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

Another rumored name. He pretty much fits here because to be quite honest anybody would fit because the Lakers only have 6 players on the roster as it stands (Kobe, Sacre, Nash, Marshall, Randle, & Clarkson). Although I think it would be a bit of an issue with Kobe meeting Lance’s antics.

2. Miami Heat

This would be akin to Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest in 2009 and 2010. Kobe and Ron feud all series in the Playoffs and then win a Championship as friends next season. I wouldn’t put it past Lance to sign with the Heat next season, especially if LeBron re-signs. They could be the next Kobe and Artest. Think about it.

3. Charlotte Hornets

They have cap room and could his energy to help better the team. Plus, a Lance & Big Al friendship just seems right.

4. San Antonio Spurs

Coach Pop & Lance’s Defense could…… ok maybe that wouldn’t work. I had dark thoughts after I typed Coach Pop and Lance.

 

9. Chandler Parsons

He’s a Restricted Free Agent but, much like Bledsoe, could be allowed to walk if they get LeBron and/or Melo. He could light the opposing team on fire at times with his ability to drop bombs (3-pointers) like it’s the friggin apocalypse.

1. Minnesota Timberwolves

They could keep Kevin Love, for at least one more year, and try to make the Playoffs with a sharpshooter like Parsons teaming with a deadeye like Kevin Love. Don’t see it happening due to the bad management of the T’Wolves but in this league? Never rule anything out unless a team doesn’t have cap room.

2. Los Angeles Lakers

He’s a rumored name. He talks shit about the Lakers during the off-season, so it’s unlikely but he could bring his Human Torch talents to the Lakers in pursuit of Championship #17.

3. Chicago Bulls

This team is looking to stay relevant in the Championship contender category so they’re willing to due anything possible. Not sure Parsons would really help those aspirations, but he would provide great Offensive fire power that the team so desperately misses with Rose absent.

4. Dallas Mavericks

The other Texas team are trying to become Title contenders once more and this could increase those chances.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers

Cap space, yes. Wanting to win now with future Star, Andrew Wiggins, yes. Still trying to get LeBron? Yes. Will they sign Parsons? If I’m Houston, I’d match any offer the Cavs make because I don’t want Chandler Parsons to go to Cleveland.

 

10. Dwayne Wade

He’s had a tragic past 2 years. Once a Top 5 player has now played less regular season games year after year over the past 2 years and his body still breaks down once near the finish line. He had his chance to make $20M (which he’s never done in his career) but instead he unselfishly opted out and now await verdict on what LeBron’s intentions are so he’ll know how much money he should take.

1. Miami Heat

He’s staying. No matter how much he needs to take per year, he’ll take it because he wants to win more championships while having to do the least work. We’ll probably never see Dwayne Wade ever play 70 or maybe even 65 games again for the remainder of his NBA Career which is sad because he is so great and has all this skill that he’s not able to use because he’s not physically able to. Regardless of what LeBron does, I would expect Wade to sign something that resembles a 4-year/$40M deal. This way he still gets the $40M he gave up when he opted out and may play longer than we all expected him to. With 3 rings, and 17,000+ career points & 10 All-Star Appearances, he really has nothing to lose at Age 31 in his situation.

 

11. Pau Gasol

Through it all, he still is an elite big man. He can have some injury issues but his skills are beautiful when executed. His defense is meh but I truly believe if he slimmed down (not that he’s overweight) he could revitalize his game completely much like Tim Duncan did a couple of years ago. I like his chances to re-sign due to his strong ties to Kobe but lets look at his options.

1. New York Knicks

In financial hell, so unlikely, but if he wants to sign for $4M/year, he would be near Phil Jackson, a coach who he still loves, and a former teammate who’s the actual coach. He would likely be a product of the Triangle Offense that he would thrive in and also could help A’mare revive his career.

2. Denver Nuggets

Another case of the Triangle system, this time run by Brian Shaw a former Lakers Assistant who was with the team in the Championship years. Not sure how he would fit as the team already runs deep in the Big man positions.

3. Miami Heat

A quality signing for a team that’s looking to please LeBron by adding quality pieces for more Championship runs.

4. Dallas Mavericks

A team that has expressed interest for Gasol. That was, however, before they went out and traded for Tyson Chandler. I don’t think Gasol or Chandler want to play back-up, at least not at this stage in their career. So it’s unlikely at this point but the option is always there.

5. Detroit Pistons

A dark horse, but a long shot as well. Stan Van Gundy could use a big man if they plan to let go of Greg Monroe. The team is far from Playoff contending as it stands, but you never know.

 

12. Luol Deng

He got traded to the Cavs after informing the Bulls he wasn’t going to re-sign with him and I don’t think he played at his very best with Cleveland due to it just being a transition year while he just waited out for Free Agency. Well now he’s here.

1. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks want to get better and they have cap room to do so. They’ve recently shown interest in Deng and they currently look like the front runners to sign him. Atlanta isn’t necessarily a good market to sign and play in, but their current pieces (Horford, Millsap & Teague) make it attractive from a player’s perspective.

2. Los Angeles Lakers

Many years ago, there was a brief window where Kobe wanted to leave the Lakers. In that window, he almost went to the Chicago Bulls. He liked and respected Deng’s game in Chicago and he really wanted to play with Deng. Once he learned that a trade to Chicago without the Lakers receiving Deng as compensation was impossible, he stayed with the Lakers, got some really good players placed around him and the rest is history (2 rings). This would be an opportune chance for Kobe to get his wish all these years later. He could play alongside Kobe and help the team reach more Playoffs.

3. Charlotte Hornets

They would be adding a 29 year old offensive juggernaut and to their deep Small Forward depth. He could mentor Michael Kidd-Gihlchrist and Chris Douglas-Roberts while improving this already on the rise Hornets team.

 

13. Marcin Gortat

He had a breakout year in a way after the Suns traded him to the Wizards. The Wizards will likely re-sign him, but…

1. Miami Heat

There have been rumblings. This would be an astute way to improve the Heat right off the bat with Gortat.

2. San Antonio Spurs

Cap flexibility and would add more international flavor to the already international-heavy team. But very doubtful as they already have Splitter as their starting Center going forward.

3. Portland Trail Blazers

They have some cap flexibility and could use a Center with offensive prowess which Robin Lopez does not provide. Perhaps a sign-and-trade is possible.

 

14. Gordon Heyward

Tremendous upside and to settle all debate right now, he is NOT better than Chandler Parsons. He has the ability to get hot off his 3-point shooting, but isn’t as good as Parsons. Heyward is also a Restricted Free Agent.

1. Utah Jazz

No way the Jazz let him walk. They’re rebuilding and he’s a strong piece to help the cause. If Phoenix or some other team were to offer Heyward the max, it’s pretty much a solid bet that the Jazz match the offer sheet. Highly doubt Jazz let him go.

 

15. Boris Diaw

Diaw has shown that he’s one of the better Power Forwards in the NBA today and being a stretch 4 along with a good defender, makes him a sought after Free Agent this summer. He was truly the difference maker in the NBA Playoffs when Coach Pop inserted him into the starting lineup over Splitter who, along with Duncan, could clog the lane and make room for perimeter shooting to open up. He was truly the difference maker, that’s indisputable. However, the one thing about Diaw is, he’ll likely return to the Spurs due to his friendship with Tony Parker and his now newly won NBA Championship ring.

I digress…

1. Charlotte Hornets

He could return to the team a couple of years after the team cut him. With a new skill set, along with being a smart defender with a developing 3 point shooting game, he could help the Hornets with their Power Forward depth.

2. Boston Celtics

He could strengthen a Power Forward section of the roster that’s just okay at the moment. He would be a key player if the Celtics hope to make the Playoffs next season.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

They have Tristan Thompson but Diaw would help accomplish the Cavs’ mission of “Win Now”. They’re desperately trying to win now in hopes of requiring LeBron, but more importantly lock up Kyrie Irving long-term with a max extension. Diaw could spread the floor and pretty much guard and 3 or 4 in the NBA today.

 

There’s 3 events in the NBA that piques every person’s interests. 1. the NBA Finals, 2. The NBA Draft, & 3. Free Agency. In some cases, Free Agency is more enthralling than the NBA Finals and the Draft itself. 2014’s order is 1. Free Agency, 2. the Draft, & 3. The Finals. The NBA Finals only went 5 games this year. What did you expect? Free Agency is something all good players must experience at least once in their career. Dwayne Wade & LeBron James experienced it in 2010, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett experienced it in 2007, Carmelo Anthony is experiencing it this year, & Rajon Rondo and Kevin Love will (likely) experience it next year. Top players leave their teams not because they’re not loyal, but because championships mean more than loyalty. NBA Championships hold weight with players. Especially players who are 30 years of age and haven’t even been to a Conference Final (Melo). It’s fun for us fans because it’s constant drama. What are the star players going to do? Only they do.

Smaller market teams are the teams that were absolutely bad in years past while the big market teams were winning Championships are now the teams winning Championships while big market teams (Boston, LAL), falter and search for answers. The NBA is quite the amazing place when you think about it. The NBA is the only sport in the world where you will see a superstar player take a pay cut, and even play shorter minutes, to play with his friends on a Championship team. Everyone else is too greedy and selfish in sports. While you may not like the LeBron James’ of the world, he took a pay cut to play in Miami, while guys like Tony Romo & Colin Kaepernick are taking full star QB salaries to stay on teams that don’t necessarily mean a Super Bowl win let alone a Super Bowl appearance. In Tony Romo’s case, even a single, solitary playoff appearance.

Free Agency is a fun and amazing spectacle within itself, don’t you think?

 

Follow me on Twitter – @NotClayMerritt

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Uncategorized

Draft & Trade Options – 27-30

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Part 27. Phoenix Suns. 

There’s still going to be some of the picks I mentioned in Picks 21-26. Take a look if you haven’t already:

Draft & Trade Options – 21-26

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Part 28. Los Angeles Clippers. 

With some expiring contracts and little cap room to improve, they’re going to count on a Draft Pick to contribute immediately. Not be THE  GUY, because they have 3 of those players already, but contribute. 

Draft Stokes. Jarnell Stokes could be the guy here for the Clips. He’s big and tough and Doc Rivers can mold those guys into quality players. Kendrick Perkins & Glen Davis being viable examples in this case. Most recently Blake Griffin & hopefully DeAndre Jordan.

Other Options: Mitch McGary, Klimenko, Glenn Robinson III, Jordan Adams, & C.J. Wilcox

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Part 29. Oklahoma City Thunder. 

If any of the guys mentioned at the 20th pick in the 16-20 options article fall, then there ya go. 

Thunder could trade the pick and maybe for a veteran. Also: Don’t count them out in the trade race for Arron Afflalo. They were a rumored team to trade for Afflalo back in February. I like their status even now. This would be one of those moves in the NBA which seemingly come out of nowhere. 

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Part 30. The San Antonio Spurs.

The 2014 NBA Champions will be looking to get lucky in the draft once more. Maybe look at a Power Forward to groom as Duncan’s successor. Duncan may be a couple of years away from retirement, but it’s never too early to think about this scenario. 

Draft Tavares: Even if Diaw leaves, Walter Tavares wouldn’t fill his shoes but it’s somebody you can easily groom. It makes sense. 

Draft McAdoo: The Forward out of UNC can ball. He may be a tad bit overrated but he’s the perfect guy to start grooming as a possible Duncan replacement. He has size and length and can run the floor. He’s maybe the guy that would be most popular among fans to draft, despite the Spurs willingness to draft and groom European players. 

Other Options: Glenn Robinson III, Roy Devyn Marble, Vasilije Micic, Jordan Adams, & Nick Johnson. 

 

I’ve finally completed my 30 Part series, even if I did skimp and break down Parts 11-30. The Draft is upon us and still the question, no matter what team we’re fans of, is who goes first? Wiggins or Parker? Over the last couple of days, I’ve been led to believe it’s Andrew Wiggins. Even though, I think Jabari Parker is the best player in the Draft aside from Embiid. Parker is better on Offense, but Wiggins is just a better defender and can play both the 3 and 2 spots. I do think that they’ll both be in the MVP competition together many years down the road. My prediction: If Cleveland doesn’t trade the pick, it’s Wiggins only on the basis that he’ll play 2 guard and the Cavs still have some preconceived notion that they can get LeBron back. If they trade the pick to Sixers? Wiggins. Trade to Magic? Wiggins. Trade to the Jazz? Parker. Because of the Mormon thing. 

This is going to be a good, and fun Draft with many things going on. Probably the most busiest draft in recent memory. LeBron and Melo opting out really throw a cog into relatively simple plans. 

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Follow on Twitter – @NotClayMerritt

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