NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Wednesday Windmill: Will Dwight Howard have a renaissance in Atlanta?

                                               (Credit: Keith Allison. Click here for source)

     During the 14th-16th centuries, Europe underwent a transformation in which there was a renewal of intellectualism and artistic achievement. The movement was started by some of the most brilliant men to ever walk the face of the earth. When you set foot inside the Sistine Chapel and see the ceiling that Michelangelo painted, it's impossible to not be overwhelmed by feelings of awe and wonder. After so many years of darkness, confusion, and lack of progress, Europe found its groove again and bounced back stronger than ever.

     While Dwight Howard isn't trying to revive an entire continent that has seen better times, he is trying to revive his career and have a renaissance of his own. During his introductory press conference with the Atlanta Hawks, Dwight Howard talked about how good it was for him to be back home and how he needed to go back to his roots. He talked about all the hours he spent playing basketball in the Hawks' arena as he pursued his dream of playing in the NBA and how important his family has been in his development as a basketball player and as a person.

     Dwight Howard is optimistic that coming home to Atlanta and representing his hometown Hawks will help him get back on his feet and return to the player that he was during his prime in Orlando. As a matter of fact, I would say he expects to be an even better player than he was back then. While it is certainly touching and heartwarming that Dwight Howard has this loyalty for Atlanta, the question that I want to address is whether or not Dwight Howard will actually have a renaissance in Atlanta like Europe did in the 14th-16th centuries.  I personally believe that he will and I will explain three reasons why I believe this.



     The first reason I believe Dwight Howard will have a renaissance in Atlanta is that for the first time since his days in Orlando, this Hawks team will be his team. Even though Paul Millsap is still on board, it's pretty obvious that Dwight Howard is the new franchise player of the Atlanta Hawks with Al Horford now in Boston. Dwight Howard will get the chance to be the man of this team without having a guy like Kobe Bryant breathing down his neck.

      Secondly, Dwight Howard is still pretty young. He's turning 31 during the 2016-17 season and plenty of NBA big men have had their best years in their mid-late 30s. Hakeem Olajuwon and Karl Malone come to mind as two guys who played their best basketball during this stretch of their careers. Dwight Howard should feel confident in his ability to have at least four, maybe five really productive seasons in Atlanta.

      Lastly, the pressure is off. When Dwight Howard went to the Lakers, there were expectations of him bringing a title back to Los Angeles like Shaquille O'Neal. When he went to the Rockets, there were expectations of him delivering the city its first championship since Hakeem Olajuwon in the mid 1990s. In Atlanta, Dwight Howard isn't in anybody's shadow and nobody expects him to win a championship or turn the Hawks into serious contenders. This lack of pressure should help him out since I believe he really was hurt by all the expectations that were on his shoulders during his time in Los Angeles and Houston.

        I expect Dwight Howard to have his own renaissance and get back to playing the type of basketball he was playing in Orlando (20 points, 13 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game). He averaged only 13.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game last season and I have to believe he's got more gas left in the tank than that. With a fresh start in his home city, I expect Dwight Howard to be rejuvenated and in the end have the best years of his career.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Tomahawk Tuesday: How good will the Utah Jazz be next season?


     The Utah Jazz are quietly building one of the more interesting and dangerous teams in the NBA. They have a promising young front court with Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, some versatile wings in Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood, and Alec Burks, and they have a very young point guard in Dante Exum who has a ton of potential. The Jazz also made a nice move to land a quality veteran point guard in George Hill by trading away the #12 overall pick in this year's NBA Draft. 

     It is clear that the Utah Jazz are trending upward. But the question is how much? Some dude on Bleacher Report put them in the top 4 overall in the NBA next season. While I think that's a stretch to say the least, the Jazz should be projected to make the playoffs next season considering that they missed the playoffs by one game last season. Provided they continue to improve and stay healthy, they really have no excuse to not be one of the final 8 teams standing in the Western Conference. 

     What makes the Jazz so scary is that they are extremely versatile. Gordon Hayward is continuing to improve and turning into one of the best wings in the NBA, averaging 19.7 points per game last season on 34.9% shooting from beyond the arc and 82.4% shooting from the foul line. Rodney Hood also really came into his own, averaging 14.2 points on 35.9% shooting from beyond the arc and 86% shooting form the foul line.  In regards to the front court, Derrick Favors continues to steadily get better, averaging 16.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game last season while Rudy Gobert averaged 9.1 points, 11 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks.  

     The Utah Jazz can beat you out on the perimeter or they can beat you inside. They have wings who can shoot and big men who can control the glass and block shots. The point guard position remains a little iffy, but they did land George Hill and Dante Exum is expected to be healthy in time for training camp. Plus, Alec Burks will be back and he is capable of playing some point guard as well. 

      The only real concern for the Utah Jazz outside of health is their lack of a true superstar. Gordon Hayward has proven to be a really good player, but he's not turning into a guy who can lead a team to a championship. The Jazz have to hope that with time, one of their other young guns like Rudy Gobert or Dante Exum takes on this role and they also have to hope that they can win via a "Strength In Numbers" sort of way that has been working for the Warriors. I'm not confident that they have anybody on their team who will eventually be the best player in the NBA. But, I am confident that they are forming a core that can make up for that due to their depth and versatility. 

     The bottom line for the Utah Jazz is that provided they stay healthy and don't lose any key players, they will be a playoff team next season and they will threaten to win a playoff series. I don't see them advancing to the Western Conference Finals next season since that will likely be the Warriors, Spurs, or Thunder taking up two of those spots, but they should be able to put themselves in a position to win a series and make things interesting in the second round. The sky is the limit for this Utah Jazz team as we look ahead to the next three and four seasons. But for next season, they need to hope to make the playoffs and win a series. If they do that, they'll be right on schedule to accomplish what they are hoping to accomplish in seasons to come. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Saturday Slam: Tim Duncan is the Bill Russell of our era

                                                (Credit: Keith Allison. Click here for source) 

     Earlier this week, Spurs power forward Tim Duncan retired after playing 19 seasons and winning five championships in the NBA. He's competed against Karl Malone, Reggie Miller, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Andrew Wiggins. He's virtually a living basketball history exhibit. What's even more impressive is that he played all 19 seasons in a San Antonio Spurs uniform. In an era where even the best of players typically play for at least three teams, Tim Duncan played for just one.

      When it comes to looking back on Tim Duncan's career, it's hard to know where to begin. The man has accomplished so much and in the process said very little about himself, choosing to put his team first. He always shied away from the spotlight and never wanted to be the center of attention. He never went for the Top 10 play on Sports Center and didn't give a crap that he played a more finesse style that was less flashy. If banking a turnaround jump hook off the glass was the best shot, then that would be the shot he would roll with. He honestly didn't care if it wasn't as flashy because he was consumed with one thing and that one thing was winning.

     Duncan's selfless approach to the game of basketball yielded a lot of fruit for him personally. In addition to winning five championships, he won the NBA Finals MVP award three times, NBA regular season MVP award two times, been named to the NBA All-Star Team 15 times, the All-NBA First and Second Defensive Teams a combined 15 times, and the All-NBA First Team 10 times. Plus, he won the NBA All-Star Game MVP Award in the year 2000.

     If there is any player who I can compare Tim Duncan to in NBA history, it would be Bill Russell. Like Tim Duncan, Bill Russell won a lot of championships with one team and was the centerpiece of those championship teams (Boston Celtics). Bill Russell won 11 championships and five NBA MVP awards and did it while not being the flashiest player of his era, which was Wilt Chamberlain. Bill Russell says the most excited he's ever been on a basketball court is when he won his first championship during grade school. He was so excited that his team won even though he himself hardly played any minutes. He says what made him so excited was the fact that his team won and that was all he cared about.

                                                  (Credit: Kip-koech. Click here for source)

     Tim Duncan has a similar attitude. Towards the end of his career, he didn't care that he was no longer the best player on his team. He happily let Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge take over those roles because what he cared about was winning championships, not personal accolades. Don't get me wrong, Tim Duncan didn't mind winning all those MVPs, but personal awards and recognition wasn't his aim. Winning championships was his aim and the personal awards followed as a result. Let that be a lesson to all you young basketball players out there! If you make winning your priority, good things will come your way as a result.

     As far as where Tim Duncan ranks among the games' greatest players, I'm not sure he's a top-ten player from a one-on-one standpoint. But, if you are ranking the games' greatest players from the standpoint of team player and franchise centerpiece, he has to be in the top-five behind only Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

     To help you better understand this train of thought, when ranking the games' greatest players based on their individual achievements, one-on-one abilities, and overall package (both physical and skill), I would rank LeBron James ahead of Tim Duncan. But, given that Tim Duncan has won five championships all with one team and been the cornerstone of that franchise for the last 19 years, he's been a better team player and championship centerpiece.

     The beauty of Tim Duncan is that he did everything the right way. He didn't leave San Antonio to chase rings somewhere else, he didn't let his ego blow up a franchise, and he didn't have to be the one who scored the most points. He's the ultimate team player because he put his team first and understood that winning championships was a team effort. In his prime, he was no doubt the best player on those Spurs championship teams, but he still made sure everybody understood it was the San Antonio Spurs who won the championship and not Tim Duncan.

     What separates Tim Duncan from guys like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and even to some extent Shaquille O'Neal, is the fact that he was never on a quest to win championships for HIMSELF. He was always on a quest to win championships for his TEAM and never once was he consumed with the whole "I gotta get this many rings to be considered great" plague that has in many ways been a curse for so many players.

     It's not that Tim Duncan didn't care about his legacy so much as he wanted his legacy to be about putting his team first and letting his game speak for itself. As a result, he goes down as perhaps the most successful basketball player since the great Bill Russell, a man who had the same approach to the game. Hopefully more young basketball players will see Tim Duncan as THE player to model their game after as opposed to guys like Kobe Bryant, who at the end of the day are only worried about themselves.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Wednesday Windmill: The Chicago Bulls are shaping up to be pretty interesting


     While the Golden State Warriors have made the biggest free agency splash in the Western Conference by landing Kevin Durant, the Chicago Bulls are the ones who have made the biggest splash in the Eastern Conference, landing Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. With a trio of Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and Rajon Rondo, the Bulls certainly have one of the most interesting rosters in the NBA. But, do they have a roster that can threaten the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference? That's the big question.

    If one is going to put forth an argument for why the Bulls can threaten the Cavaliers, the argument has to revolve around the fact that Jimmy Butler is becoming one of the elite wings of the NBA and Dwyane Wade, while getting older, is still capable of putting up around 20 points per game. The way that you can spin this is if you say that the Bulls have their franchise player in Jimmy Butler and all he needs is a sidekick to take the edge off. Dwyane Wade certainly appears capable of being such a sidekick since he can still put up 20 points per game and command a two-year, $47M contract.

     Then, as a kicker, if you add a quality pass-first point guard like Rajon Rondo to the mix, you suddenly have your ball movement problem solved and somebody who can set up Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler for easy shots. Michael Wilbon said on PTI this week that Rajon Rondo would average 14 assists per game with the Bulls due to having guys like Wade and Butler around him. Considering that he averaged 11.7 assists per game on the lowly Sacramento Kings last season, it's not at all unreasonable to figure his assist totals will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 per game.
   
     To help round out their roster, the Bulls have decided to part ways with Derrick Rose, sending him to the New York Knicks in exchange for Robin Lopez,  Jerian Grant, and Jose Calderon. Calderon has since been traded to the Lakers to free up space for Dwyane Wade, but both Lopez and Grant remain, promising to be solid role players off the bench. In the draft, the Bulls added a quality shooter in Denzel Valentine from Michigan State to help stretch the floor. Plus, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mitotic still remain.

     The only real significant loss to their team is Joakim Noah, who is joining Derrick Rose as a member of the New York Knicks. The Bulls will definitely miss Noah's defense and rebounding, but with Robin Lopez, Taj Gibson, and Nikola Mitotic, their front court should remain relatively formidable. I don't think the loss of Joakim Noah is a big one in terms of his on court production, though I do think it is a big loss in terms of what he meant to the city, community, and locker room.

     The bottom line with the Chicago Bulls is that while they are unlikely to actually win the Eastern Conference, they are certain to reach the playoffs and expected to win a series or two. The ceiling for this team is the Eastern Conference Finals if they play their cards right and get a good draw in the playoffs. Outside of Cleveland, the Eastern Conference is wide open and I think the Chicago Bulls recognize this.

     If the Bulls can put themselves within one series of reaching the NBA Finals for the next two years, then these recent moves will have certainly paid off. Hell, it could theoretically result in a championship. All you can do in the NBA is position yourself as best you can and positioning yourself for a possible run to the conference finals is as good of a position as you can ask for.

     The Bulls are definitely doing the right thing by getting Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. The alternative would be to start from scratch and build through the draft, which we know from watching the Philadelphia 76ers is a very risky proposition. If you are faced with rebuilding or setting yourself up to be one of the last four teams standing in the NBA, you roll with being one of the last four teams every time. It's a no brainer.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Tomahawk Tuesday: The Memphis Grizzlies are finally spending some money


     Like most small market franchises, the Memphis Grizzlies have not been ones to go out and spend tons of money. Over the years they've been pretty conservative with their spending, which for the most part has been a good thing since they haven't made any really bad decisions. However, with the NBA salary cap expanding to over $94M, the Memphis Grizzlies have decided to live a little and throw around some money, giving Mike Conley a 5 year, $152.6M contract and Chandler Parsons a 4 year, $94.4M contract.
   
     Mike Conley's contract is the most lucrative deal in NBA history and Chandler Parsons' contract, while not nearly as big, is still costing the Grizzlies more than $23M per season. The big question down on Beale Street is whether or not this kind of spending will pay off for the Grizzlies and result in an NBA championship. The Grizzlies have been to the playoffs six years in a row, but each time have fallen short of the ultimate prize. They are hoping that by retaining Mike Conley and adding Chandler Parsons into the fold, they may finally have the recipe for championship success.
   
     At the end of the day, the Memphis Grizzlies did the right thing with both Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons. While I do believe they overpaid for Mike Conley a little bit, he is still a young player at 28 years of age. He is just starting to enter his prime and every NBA contender needs a quality floor general. While his 15.3 points, 6.1 assists, and 1.2 steals per game don't exactly jump out at you, they are still very solid numbers and indicative that Conley knows how to run an offense.
   
      As for Chandler Parsons, it's a similar situation. He's only 27 years old and just entering his prime. While his 13.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game also don't grab your attention, his 41.4% shooting from 3-point range does, especially since the Grizzlies have been in sore need of somebody who can stroke it from beyond the arc.

     Whether or not these moves will result in an NBA championship on Beale Street remains to be seen and quite honestly, I don't think that they will. But, what is important is that both of these moves keep the Memphis Grizzlies in the mix and relevant. With Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies have a team that is capable of doing some serious damage in the playoffs and given the right breaks, a trip to the NBA Finals. Considering how tough the Western Conference is, that's as good of a position to be in as you could ask for.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Saturday Slam: Kevin Durant isn't the player we thought he was

                                             
                                                   (Credit: Keith Allison. Click here for source)


          On a day when the United States of America celebrated its independence, Kevin Durant exercised his freedom as an unrestricted free agent, choosing to sign with the Golden State Warriors on a two-year, $54.3M deal. Most people who follow the NBA, fans and journalist alike, were expecting Kevin Durant to return to the Oklahoma City Thunder and build upon the success he had with Russell Westbrook last season.
            
          I was one of those people who thought he would return to OKC because I didn’t see any good reason for him to leave. He had the Oklahoma City Thunder up 3-1 on the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals and appeared to have a team in Oklahoma City that was prime for a serious championship run in 2017. If Kevin Durant had decided to return to the Oklahoma City Thunder, they would have been favored by many to come out of the Western Conference in 2017.

           The fact that Kevin Durant ran away from an opportunity to deliver a championship to a city that has been so loyal to him just shows that he isn’t the player we all thought he was. When talking about players who you would want to build a championship team around, Kevin Durant has always been in the conversation. He has led the NBA in scoring, won an MVP, and been to the NBA Finals once. Many of us assumed that it was just a matter of time before we’d see Kevin Durant deliver a championship to Oklahoma City. 

          However, it looks as though we were wrong to assume he could lead a team to a title. Instead, it appears as though Kevin Durant is rather a role player and a guy who can be used to round out a championship roster as opposed to being the centerpiece of one. If he were truly capable of being the centerpiece of a championship team, he would believe in his ability to be such a centerpiece. If he believed in his ability to be such a centerpiece, he wouldn’t have left Oklahoma City. It’s that simple.

          During this past week, Kevin Durant has received a lot of criticism from fans and former NBA players alike, especially hall of fame players who never won a title like Reggie Miller and Charles Barkley. Reggie Miller stands on the firmest ground of all since he played for the Indiana Pacers his entire career and never tried to short cut his way to an NBA championship.

          Reggie Miller said earlier this week that if there were any place he would want to win a championship in, it would be Indiana. He wouldn’t want it any other way. After the way they supported him through all of his ups and downs and all of his high moments, he wanted them to be right by his side if ever celebrated a championship.

          In the case of Kevin Durant, he clearly doesn’t feel the same way about the fans in Oklahoma City as Reggie Miller does about the fans in Indiana. If he did, he wouldn’t have left them high and dry. Thunder fans have every right to feel upset and betrayed. Right as they appeared to be on the cusp of breaking through to win a championship, their knight in shining armor jumped off his horse to join forces with the enemy so that he could pillage and plunder for jewelry.  

          In case you haven’t caught on by now, I’m not a fan of Kevin Durant’s decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors. It was a coward’s move and also disappointing. Kevin Durant had a golden opportunity to bring a championship to a city that he helped build and put on the map. Instead of being a man and doing his best to deliver them what he owed them, he took the easy way out and left right when the pressure started to build.

          The best players in the history of basketball do one of two things: They either step up under pressure and win a title or they go down swinging until they have given everything that they got. In the case of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Tim Duncan, Stephen Curry, and LeBron James, they rose to the challenge and delivered their teams a championship.

          As for guys like Karl Malone, John Stockton, Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller, Patrick Ewing, Steve Nash, and Gary Payton, they will be remembered as guys who in their primes did everything they could to lead their respective teams to a championship. While guys like Barkley, Malone, Nash, and Payton chased rings at the end of their careers, they didn’t do this until it was clear that they could no longer be the go-to option on a championship team.
            
          Kevin Durant, sadly, is joining a separate and rather pathetic group of individuals who run away from greatness and instead try to ride other people’s coattails to success. Some of these people include… on second thought, I can’t think of anybody because they aren’t the ones who we remember in the history books. We remember the guys who either delivered or failed to deliver but at least tried to.
            
          Let me give you an example from another league, the NFL. We all remember how John Elway led the Denver Broncos to three Super Bowls in the 1980s and got creamed in all of them. Even though those Denver Broncos teams never won a Super Bowl, we all remember how hard Elway tried and how he never gave up. Fast forward several years later to 1997 and 1998, John Elway finally won two Super Bowls with the Broncos. What made those Super Bowls all the more sweeter is the fact that we knew of his three Super Bowl losses in the 1980s.
            
                                          (Credit: The Denver Post)

          The same could have been for Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City. As soon as next season, or shortly after, Kevin Durant could have hoisted the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, it appears as though this will not be a sight that we will ever see. Unlike LeBron James’ relationship with Cleveland, Kevin Durant has no personal ties to the Oklahoma City area beyond his former relationship with the Thunder. He doesn’t have the same incentive to go back and bring them a title. Durant is instead from the Washington D.C. area, which he calls home, and not even they have a spot in Durant’s heart that is soft enough to make him want to go deliver them a title.

          The fact of the matter is that when it comes to basketball, Kevin Durant is solely consumed with amassing as many championship rings as possible no matter the cost to his legacy, community, or reputation as a human being. This is his sole focus and he’ll probably get what he wants. He’ll probably win multiple rings in Golden State and become a part of a dynasty in the Bay Area.

          But, when he looks back on those days of his career, will there be any part of him that wonders what would have happened had he stayed in Oklahoma City and not quit on the city? I sure hope not and at the end of the day, I do wish him good luck. I wouldn’t want his decision to haunt him forever. 



Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Wednesday Windmill: LeBron James finally figured out how to close

                                                   
                                                 (Credit: Keith Allison. Click here  for source) 

     Before I start talking about all the key NBA free agency happenings on here, I need to address the phenomenal performance that we saw from LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals. NBA fans and journalists alike are too quick to look ahead to the next season and talk about free agency while not giving the NBA Finals the proper attention that it deserves.

     While we don't know what the future holds in terms of who will win the NBA championship next season, what we do know is that LeBron James led the city of Cleveland to its first professional sports title since the 1960s. By getting a ring in Cleveland, LeBron James elevated himself into a pantheon of basketball greatness that includes the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, and Kobe Bryant. This isn't to say he wasn't already in that discussion before winning a title in Cleveland, but after seeing the way he carried the Cavaliers on his back to win the 2016 NBA championship, it is clear that he is definitely in the same class as those guys.

     The big difference between the LeBron James we saw in the 2016 NBA Finals and the LeBron James we saw in previous seasons is that the LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals figured out how to close out a championship series, which is what the NBA's greatest players have been able to do.  After trailing the Golden State Warriors 1-3, the Cleveland Cavaliers led by LeBron James won three straight games to win the championship, something that has never previously been done in NBA Finals history.

     In Game 7, on the road, LeBron James took over the game with 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, 3 blocks, and 2 steals. While the NBA regular season MVP Stephen Curry made an errant pass out of bounds and was unable to score the basketball in the final four minutes of the game, LeBron James did just the opposite, coming up with a superhuman block and clutch baskets. LeBron James truly had a performance for the ages in the 2016 NBA Finals and in the process accomplished something that had never been done before.

     Going forward, LeBron James should have more confidence than he's ever had before. Nobody is calling him a choker, nobody is calling him a guy who can't lead a team to a championship, and all ghosts from "The Decision" have departed. LeBron James is a new man now and he has all the pieces around him to win multiple championships in Cleveland. To quote Blake Griffin in one his Kia Commercials, "The future in Cleveland is bright. Very bright."