NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Saturday Slam: The Washington Wizards are probably stuck with John Wall, at least for a while

                                         (Credit: Joe Robbins-Getty Images) 

On Saturday, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst both reported that Wizards point guard John Wall is set to undergo season-ending surgery on his left heel. Estimated recovery time is 6-8 months. At 14-23, the Wizards are already having a rough enough season as it is. With Wall now done for the season, their playoff hopes are dashed and their future suddenly becomes very murky.

What really adds to the complexity of all this is the fact that the Wizards inked Wall to a 4-year, $170M extension in the summer of 2017. Given that he played in just 41 games last season due to left knee troubles and is now set to play in only 32 games this year due to a left heel issue, it's fair to wonder whether or not the Wizards can count on Wall to be their franchise piece for the future.

The question that needs to be asked is where do the Wizards go from here? When healthy, Wall is one of the best point guards in the NBA, averaging 19.0 points, 9.2 assists, and 1.7 steals per game for his career. You definitely don't want to give up on a guy with that type of talent who is 28 years old. On the flip side, you don't want your future to be hampered by a guy who isn't playing up to the level expected of him.

Just to give you all a quick sense of what Wall's contract situation is, he is scheduled to make $37.8M this season, $40.824M in the 2020-21 season, $43.848M in the 2021-22 season, and $46.872M in the 2022-23 season, which is a year he has a player option, meaning he can opt out of his contract if he wants to. He doesn't actually hit unrestricted free agency until the summer of 2023, which is when the Wizards can let him walk away.

Given his contract, the Wizards are going to have a hard time trading Wall anytime soon. No team is going to want to take that on with him being so injury prone. There's not much the Wizards could get back for him at this stage, which means that it's probably in their best interest to ride this out and see what type of production he gives them over the next couple of seasons. If some team is willing to sell the farm to get him, the Wizards should pounce all over it, but I'm highly skeptical of any team taking such a gamble.

The bottom line is that the Wizards are probably stuck with John Wall. At least for a while anyways. The best they can hope for is that he gets healthy after this season and lives up to his contract, helping them become a true contender in the Eastern Conference. In the meantime, the Wizards should secretly be hoping to tank the rest of the season and get has high of a draft pick as possible. If they could get a really talented rookie to come in next year, maybe things will start to trend upwards for them again.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Tomahawk Tuesday: The Sacramento Kings are finally on the rise

                                         (Credit: Okearah) 

With a 16-14 record, the Sacramento Kings are in the mix for a playoff spot, playing their best basketball since the days of Mike Bibby, Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, and Peja Stojakovic. For the last couple of years, we've been sensing a possible turnaround for this team, but now we can officially say that the Kings are on the rise and back to being a relevant team.

The reason for this turnaround is their combination of youth and depth. De'Aaron Fox (17.9 points & 7.3 assists), Buddy Hield (19.3 points & 5.0 rebounds), Willie Cauley-Stein (13.8 points & 8.2 rebounds), Marvin Bagley III (12.7 points & 6.1 rebounds), and Bogdan Bogdanovic (14.7 points) all form a very balanced scoring attack that can be difficult to guard. On top of that, they're all very young with Bogdanovic being the oldest of the bunch (2014 NBA Draft).

After years of ineptitude under the Maloof brothers, owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Vlade Divac are making smart decisions. They have a vision for this team and a strong sense of where they are heading. Head coach Dave Joerger is also doing a good job coaching this team, helping them grow and develop. This change in culture is exciting to see and the Sacramento faithful definitely deserve it.

They key for this young Kings team is to keep grinding and maintain a strong belief in what they can accomplish. De'Aaron Fox is blossoming into one of the best point guards in the NBA and he has the pieces around him to be successful. It's just a matter of them going through the maturation process that all up and coming teams have to go through.

I don't know if I see this team winning a playoff series this season or next, but it is definitely fun to have the Sacramento Kings relevant again. Those teams in the late 1990s and early 2000s proved that high level basketball can be played in California's capital. With some seasoning and growth, I don't doubt that the Kings will very soon return to that same level.

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Saturday, December 15, 2018

Saturday Slam: The Chicago Bulls are a disaster

If the 6-23 Chicago Bulls thought firing Fred Hoiberg was going to solve their problems, they're in for a rude awakening. Since relieving Hoiberg of his head coaching duties and promoting Jim Boylen to head coach on December 3rd, the Bulls have already had their worst loss in franchise history, losing to the Boston Celtics by a final score of 133-77. To make matters even worse, their $40M man Jabari Parker, a Chicago native, is being shown the door as he has been put on the trading block and dropped from the rotation.

Given how things are going, it wouldn't be surprising to see Bulls players spontaneously combust on the court. Everything else appears to have gone wrong, so why not? They're clearly heading in the wrong direction and it's tough to envision things getting better for them anytime soon.

The only thing that the Bulls can take some comfort in is the return of second year power forward Lauri Markkanen and the stellar play of combo guard Zach LaVine, who is averaging 23.8 points per game. Both Markkanen and LaVine look like a legitimate duo to build around for the future, but it's the rest of the team that's a mess.

Personally, I'm puzzled of as to why they're already giving up on Parker. He's averaging 15.2 points per game and is one of the few guys they have that can create his own shot. I understand he's not the best defender in the world, but that said, he's still a very solid player. Even more puzzling is the way they've gone about handling this whole thing. Wanting to trade him in and of itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. What's bad is to drop him from the rotation, lower his trade value, and then seek a trading partner for him. If they were smart, which they clearly aren't, they would showcase his skills and try to up his value to get as much back for him as possible. Instead, they're potentially stuck with a two-year, $40M contract that they desperately want to get off their books.

The bottom line is that this Bulls team is a disaster and there's no easy solution to turning them around. Their general manager Gar Forman has his work cut out for him and if he doesn't figure out how to right the ship, he'll soon be looking for a new job. Sit tight Bulls fans, I'm afraid the bumpy ride has only begun.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Tomahawk Tuesday: Can the Denver Nuggets weather the storm?

The Denver Nuggets have had a really impressive 18-9 start to the season and for the first time all year they are about to face some serious adversity. Last Friday at Charlotte, their star power forward Paul Millsap went down with fractured right big toe that is expected to sideline him for the next four-to-six weeks. Millsap has been averaging 13.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game, doing a little bit of everything for this Nuggets team. On top of his absence, the Nuggets are also dealing with the absence of their star shooting guard Gary Harris, Jr., who has been diagnosed with a strained right hip, keeping him out for the next three-to-four weeks. Harris is putting up 16.6 points per game, carrying a good chunk of their scoring load.

It would be bad enough if it was just Millsap and Harris that were out. But there's more: Will Barton is considered week-to-week with a sore hip; Isaiah Thomas is still out indefinitely as he recovers from right hip surgery; rookie small forward Jarred Vanderbilt is yet to play a game as he recovers from right foot surgery; and rookie small forward Michael Porter, Jr. is also yet to play a game due to back surgery.  Things have gotten so bad for the Nuggets that they've had to use their hardship exception to sign guard Nick Young to a non-guaranteed contract.

As good as the Nuggets have been playing, it's tough to see them staying afloat in such a tight Western Conference amid all of these injuries. The good news for them is they still have guard Jamal Murray (17.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 4.9 assists) and center Nikola Jokic (17.1 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 7.6 assists) healthy. Both of those guys are having fantastic seasons and are certainly capable of shouldering more of the load. The only question is how much of the load can they carry?

During the next three-to-four weeks, the fate of this promising Nuggets team will likely be decided given how competitive the Western Conference is. If Murray and Jokic can keep their team playing above .500 ball, odds are good they'll be able to gain some ground back in February and March. If on the flip side, they play below .500 ball, we're probably looking at a team that finishes 7th or 8th in the Western Conference with the possibility of missing the playoffs altogether.

The NBA can be a cruel world and the Denver Nuggets are finding that out right now. Hopefully for them they'll be able to weather the storm and keep themselves in contention. They've been one of the feel good stories of the league this year and it would be a real shame to see their season go down the tubes due to injury so early on.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Tomahawk Tuesday: Are the Clippers the best team in Los Angeles?

The Western Conference has been pretty wild and the Los Angeles Clippers leading the pack just underscores this fact. The Clippers have won 8 of their last 10 games and are in first place in the Western Conference with a 13-6 record, ahead of the Golden State Warriors (15-7), Denver Nuggets (14-7), and Oklahoma City Thunder (12-7). With Blake Griffin going to the Detroit Pistons and DeAndre Jordan going to the Dallas Mavericks, many people including myself saw this Clippers team entering a rebuilding phase. Instead, they are holding their own and showing they intend to compete in the here and now.

What accounts for the Clippers' early success is their balance. While Tobias Harris is the top scorer averaging 21.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, he has a lot of help around him. Danilo Gallinari (18.6 points), Lou Williams (17.8 points), Montrezl Harrell (15.8 points), and even rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (10.5 points) are also scoring in double figures on average. When you have this kind of balance, you become tough to prepare for because of all the different ways you can beat opponents.

While we rarely see teams with this kind of balance, that doesn't mean it can't be an effective model. The 2003-04 Detroit Pistons won an NBA championship because of their balance: Richard Hamilton (17.6 points), Chauncey Billups (16.9 points), Rasheed Wallace (13.7 points), Tayshaun Prince (10.3 points), Mehmet Okur (9.6 points), Ben Wallace (9.5 points), and Corliss Williamson (9.5 points) all chipped in and helped to take the pressure off of one another on offense. On defense, this Pistons team was even better, holding opponents to 84.3 points per game on 41.3% shooting from the field and 30.2% shooting from 3-point range.

When looking at this Clippers team, they have a similar scoring distribution as that Pistons team did. While they're allowing 112.5 points per game, they're holding opponents to 43.5% shooting from the field and 33.3% shooting from 3-point range. The potential to play good defense is definitely there. Especially on the perimeter where they have both Avery Bradley and Patrick Beverley.

Even though it's too early to say whether or not these Clippers are the next 2003-04 Detroit Pistons, it's not too early to acknowledge the fact that they're playing good basketball.  For all the buzz the Lakers had in getting LeBron James, they're currently 7th in the Western Conference, 2.5 games back of the Clippers. While they don't have the same level of star power, the Clippers are getting it done and until proven otherwise, they have to be considered the best team in Los Angeles.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Wednesday Windmill: How much better does Jimmy Butler make the Philadelphia 76ers?

The Philadelphia 76ers ended the Jimmy Butler drama by agreeing to acquire the polarizing shooting guard from the Minnesota Timberwolves. In the deal, the 76ers acquired Butler along with Justin Patton while giving up Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and a 2022 second-round pick.  The 76ers made the move with the hopes of improving their chances to reach the NBA Finals while the Timberwolves made the deal with the hopes of returning to a sense of normalcy.

While the 76ers should be excited to add another elite player to the fold, they run the risk of messing with their team chemistry. Butler's time in Minnesota was controversial and there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of his ability to help out a team as a result. Butler will need to prove that he is not a head case and that his beef with Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves organization was legit.

Assuming he's able to prove that he can be a good guy in the locker room, Butler should be a nice fit in Philly. He's a 20+ points per game scorer and an excellent defender, averaging 2.4 steals per game this season. Joel Embiid has become one of the most gifted big men of all time while Ben Simmons is blossoming into a B+ version of LeBron James. When you give those guys an elite wing like Jimmy Butler to work with, you're giving them a real shot to reach the NBA Finals and contend for a championship.

Aside from Butler being a problem in the locker room, the biggest concern for the 76ers is their lack of depth. Covington, Saric, and Bayless were solid pieces that gave them a nice bench. With them gone, they're going to have to rely even more on their star players to carry them to victory. It's a calculated risk that they feel is worth taking, but it's still a risk nonetheless. Guys like Wilson Chandler, J.J. Redick, and Markelle Fultz will need to step up and prove that they are capable of handling more of the load as well.

While there's always a risk in making big trades in the middle of a season, I feel like the 76ers are making the right move here. Jimmy Butler is one of the best shooting guards in the NBA and a legitimate All-Star player. If you have the chance to add a guy like him to your team without giving up another All-Star in return, you should do it every time. As far as how the Timberwolves should feel, I think they should feel good about the move. They added some solid role players to their team and can finally focus on building around Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, one of the most promising duos in the league.

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Sunday, November 11, 2018 Southeast Division Preview

The last division preview on looks at the Southeast Division, home to the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, and Washington Wizards. Enjoy!

The Atlanta Hawks are in rebuilding mode, but they have a pretty exciting piece to build around for the future in rookie point guard Trae Young, who is averaging 18.4 points and 7.8 assists per game on 42.4% shooting from the field and 80.7% shooting from the foul line. Kent Bazemore (14.1 points) and Taurean Prince (14.6 points) are the other two Hawks players scoring in double figures on this team, taking some of the pressure off of Young.

Giving how young and inexperienced this Hawks team is, they're not going to win a lot of games, but they will be exciting to watch thanks to the presence of Trae Young. They have a piece they can build around for the future, but they don't have enough around him at the moment. This is a team that should be looking to make some moves at the trade deadline so as to acquire more assets for the future.

Kemba Walker is the face of this Charlotte Hornets team, averaging 28.3 points and 6.2 assists per game. He's established himself as one of the best players in the NBA and the Hornets as a result are playing .500 level basketball. Around Walker, the Hornets have some solid players in Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lamb, Malik Monk, and Tony Parker, who I'll admit is still weird watching in a non-Spurs uniform.

As presently constituted, this Hornets team has the pieces to make the playoffs and possibly win a game or two once they get there. If they want to go beyond that and actually compete to win a series, they're going to need to get a legitimate number two option to go along with Kemba Walker. The pieces they have around him are nice, but not enough to make them a serious threat. They need someone else who can average around 16-17 points per game.

How the Hornets go about doing that remains to be seen, but they might be wise to unload some players in exchange for some draft picks that could blossom into the type of number two option that they need. There's also the possibility of maybe making a trade for a younger player with more upside. The bottom line with this Hornets team is they're nice and heading in the right direction. It's a just a matter of taking that next step and figuring out how to put the right pieces around Kemba Walker.

The Miami Heat have themselves a couple of really nice players in Josh Richardson (20.8 points) and Hassan Whiteside (14.0 points and 15.5 rebounds), who both look like keepers for the future. In addition to those guys, they also have Goran Dragic (16.1 points), Rodney McGruder (13.6 points), and Dwyane Wade (14.3 points), who help give this team some balance.

Given that this is Dwyane Wade's final season in the NBA, the Heat would like to make the playoffs and be competitive in his final year. However, it's probably good for their long-term future that he's moving on after this year so as to focus on the next chapter of their franchise.

The way I read this Heat team is that if everyone stays healthy, they have the pieces to sneak into the playoffs and maybe win a game or two, but that's it. They have the potential to be really good down the road, but they're still young and in need of more seasoning. The main thing to look for this year is how D-Wade's final season goes and whether or not he has any playoff magic left in him. If he could make them competitive in a first round series, that would be a lot of fun.

The Orlando Magic are another team with a lot of nice young talent in Aaron Gordon (16.3 points and 8.1 rebounds), Evan Fournier (16.5 points), and Nikola Vucevic (17.8 points and 10.7 rebounds). It's just a matter of these guys growing together and staying patient.

I truly believe that if this core can stay together for the long-term, they have the chance to be a force in the Eastern Conference. They're not so much in need of another piece as the are in need of going through the maturation process that all teams have to go through.

One name to keep an eye on this year is second year wing Jonathan Isaac out of Florida State. He hasn't been playing as well as the Magic would have hoped and it's unclear whether or not he'll become the elite scorer that they've been hoping he'd be. If he could have a breakout sophomore year and really turn the corner, that would be huge for this team.

At the moment, I see the Magic as a team that will be in the mix for the eight seed in the playoffs, but nothing beyond that. They're too young to make serious noise in the playoffs, but if they can get there, that'll be progress for them.

Led by John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards on paper should be the best team in this whole division. Both of those guys are scoring over 20 points per game while Otto Porter, Jr. and Kelly Oubre, Jr. are both evolving into solid players in their own right. On top of that, they added Dwight Howard into the fold, who while getting old is still a pretty productive big man. For whatever reason, this Wizards team is failing to live up to the hype, starting the season 3-9.

For them, they need to not panic and see if they can calmly right the ship. The season is still young and with a division filled with young teams, they should have plenty of opportunities to catch up. If the Wizards do not make the playoffs this year, that will be a major disappointment considering the level of talent that they have. When you have guys as good as John Wall and Bradley Beal on your team, you should be an automatic playoff team. Especially in the Eastern Conference.

How things go for the Wizards over the next six weeks will be really interesting to follow. My money is on them figuring things out and getting back in the playoff race. I really like Wall and Beal and I also really like the pieces they have around them. If they cannot get it together this season, there will be a lot of questions for their front office to answer in the offseason.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2018 Central Division Preview

Up next in my division preview series is the Central Division, home to the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Milwaukee Bucks.

After years of rebuilding and putting the right pieces together, the Milwaukee Bucks finally appear to have a team capable of doing some serious damage. They're 8-2 at the moment and anything but a fluke. Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 26.1 points, 13.9 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game on 53.6% shooting from the field, making him one of the most dangerous players in the NBA. In addition to "The Greek Freak", Khris Middleton is averaging 19.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game on 49.3% shooting from 3-point range while guards Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon give the Bucks some additional weapons in the back court.

What is perhaps most remarkable about the Bucks' 8-2 start is the fact that they're doing this without Jabari Parker, who signed a two-year, $40M contract with the Chicago Bulls last summer.  Parker was viewed as an integral part of their future and for them to be playing such stellar basketball with him no longer a part of their plans is a testament to how good "The Greek Freak" is and also how smart their front office is. Most teams would have had a hard time parting ways with a guy of Parker's caliber, but the Bucks' recognized they could succeed without him and appear to have no reason to second guess their decision.

With the Eastern Conference wide open, the Bucks have to be viewed as serious contenders to reach the NBA Finals. Gianni Antetokounmpo is arguably the best player in the NBA and he seems ready to lead his team deep in the playoffs. This is undoubtedly shaking up to be the most exciting season in Milwaukee in a very long time.

Led by Victor Oladipo, the Indiana Pacers have one of the more balanced and deep teams in the NBA. In addition to Oladipo, who is averaging 22.5 points per game, the Pacers have five players scoring in double figures per game (Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, and Tyreke Evans). This depth and balance allows them to compete with teams that have more talented players.

Where the Pacers really do damage is with their efficient shooting and ability to force turnovers. They are 4th in the NBA in field goal percentage (49.3%) and tied for 6th in steals (8.5 steals per game). They do a really good job of finding easy baskets for one another, making them tough to stop when they have the ball.

While the Pacers are not a team picked to reach the NBA Finals, they do have the pieces to win a series and make some noise in the playoffs. Especially if they are able to get home court advantage for the first round and stay healthy. Few teams have the depth and balance that they have, making them one of the more intriguing teams in the NBA.

The Detroit Pistons are led by Blake Griffin, who so far seems to be enjoying his time in the motor city. Griffin is averaging 28.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game this season while Andre Drummond is averaging 17.6 points and 15.4 rebounds. Together, Griffin and Drummond form a very formidable front court, making it hard for any team to get rebounds and find success in the paint.

The problem for the Pistons is their lack of depth. Reggie Jackson is a nice player as is Ish Smith, but after that it really starts to tail off. The Pistons need one more weapon in order to be really competitive. The hope for them has been that Stanley Johnson will be that additional weapon, but so far he doesn't appear to be up to the task.

With Griffin and Drummond at the helm, the Pistons should be in the mix to make a playoff appearance, but that's the extent to which I see them succeeding. Those guys simply need more help and right now they don't have it.

Zach LaVine is having a really nice season for the Chicago Bulls, averaging 26.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while Jabari Parker is averaging 14.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. The Bulls hope that with LaVine and Parker as their core for the future, they can start to move in the right direction.

While they do have some promising pieces like Justin Holiday and Wendell Carter, Jr. in addition to LaVine and Parker, this Bulls team is too young to make any noise this season. They have some growing pains to go through this season before they see the fruit of their labors.

For the Bulls, the main thing to see is if LaVine and Parker can both stay healthy. They've had injury issues in the past, casting doubt on their abilities to carry a franchise. If they are able to play the bulk of the games without incurring any serious injury, it should be a good season in the Windy City regardless of what the team's record is.

In the post-LeBron James era, the Cleveland Cavaliers are expected to struggle. They decided to fire Tyronn Lue early in the season and Kevin Love is out for an extended period of time due to a toe/foot problem. Such a combination is certain to yield a lot of losses. So long as Love is out, this team is going to struggle to find any sort of identity as he is the best player they have.

The main thing to look for this year in Cleveland is how well rookie point guard Collin Sexton performs and who else looks like a good piece to put around him. A combination of Kevin Love and Collin Sexton could be intriguing, but they aren't enough to make this team competitive. They need some pieces around them.

I personally see this as a year of cleaning house in Cleveland. Tyronn Lue won't be the last to go. They'll probably look to find trading partners for J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson and hope to get some assets back that they can use to build for the future. Whether or not they'll find any takers remains to be seen, but they should at least try.

What's frustrating for the Cavaliers is they are cellar dwellers again, but at least they won a championship in the LeBron James era. They've overall had a good run, but now it's time for them to start from scratch and build a team that can once again compete.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018 Atlantic Division Preview

Up next in my division preview series is the Atlantic Division, home to the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors, and Philadelphia 76ers. This division projects to be the most competitive in the Eastern Conference with three teams that all have a real shot at reaching the NBA Finals.

Of all the teams in the Eastern Conference, I believe the Boston Celtics are the most talented and on top of that, they are the most experienced. Kyrie Irving has won an NBA championship while Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum both got invaluable experience last year, leading the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals with Irving and Gordon Hayward sidelined. This Celtics team is really good and are the odds on favorites to win the Eastern Conference.

The biggest challenge for the Celtics will be finding a way to integrate all the talented pieces that they have without messing up the chemistry they developed last year. Specifically, finding minutes for Hayward, Brown, and Tatum since they all play the same position. The Celtics didn't expect Tatum and Brown to burst on the scene like they did and now that they have, they have a bit of a problem on their hands. It's a good problem to have, but one that still needs some sorting out.

I wouldn't be shocked to see the Celtics get out of the gates a little slow, but by the end of the season, Brad Stevens will have things figured out and they'll be right at the top of the Eastern Conference. They have too much depth and talent to not be playing deep into May and possibly June.

Many feel the biggest challenger to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference is the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers have a talented roster of their own consisting of Joel Embiid, J.J. Redick, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz, and Ben Simmons. Simmons draws comparisons to LeBron James while Embiid draws comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon with a better perimeter game. After years of losing games and racking up high draft picks, the 76ers are back and ready to make a serious run for an NBA title.

The biggest concern for the 76ers is health. Simmons, Embiid, and Fultz have all dealt with serious injuries in the past and it's no guarantee that they stay healthy going forward. Brett Brown needs to do all he can to give these guys as much rest as possible. It's a rather unique situation in that they're pretty young but also vulnerable to injury. Usually it's older teams that are more worried about the injury bug.

In regards to their championship chances, I think these guys are a couple years away from being serious title contenders, but the Eastern Conference is up for grabs with LeBron James going to Los Angeles. If they are able to survive the grind of an 82 game season and stay healthy, they will once again make a deep run in the playoffs. They're simply too talented not to with all the pieces they have.

The Toronto Raptors have a new identity after trading DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Pöltl to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The Raptors have had a lot of success in the regular season, but they have failed to do much in the playoffs. Their front office felt a big change was needed and so they rolled the dice on Leonard, who they only have as a one-year rental.

With Leonard as their top player, I do expect the Raptors to be serious contenders in the Eastern Conference. Leonard has an NBA Finals MVP under his belt and knows what it takes to win a championship. The Raptors needed somebody to show them the way and there's no reason to doubt Leonard's abilities.

Like any contender, staying healthy is the biggest key for this Raptors team. Leonard missed nearly all of last season due to a quadriceps injury and was never able to get into a rhythm. The Raptors need him to stay healthy if they are to have any chance at winning a title.

Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, and Danny Green form a really nice core around Leonard. Even though those guys weren't able to get over the hump, they're still really good. If Leonard is able to stay healthy and be the superstar this team needs him to be, don't be shocked to see the Raptors in the NBA Finals.

The New York Knicks are led by shooting guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., who is averaging 24.4 points per game so far this season and power forward Kristaps Porzingis, who is rehabbing from a torn ACL. So long as Porzingis remains out without a firm return date, it's going to be a long season in New York. Even with him, they don't have a ton of talent, but without him, they really don't have much to lean on.

One bright spot for the Knicks early on this year is rookie forward Allonzo Trier, who is averaging 8.6 points per game. Trier went undrafted out of Arizona, so it has been a real surprise to see him producing like he has. If he continues on playing like he is, he not only will have a permanent spot on the team, he'll also be commanding a lot more money next year, similar to Wesley Matthews, Jr. after his breakout rookie season with the Utah Jazz.

For the Knicks, this year is all about player development and figuring out who belongs on their team for the long-term. Enes Kanter will be an interesting player to keep an eye on as he is very talented but also comes with some baggage. If he can get along with head coach David Fizdale and accept whatever role is given to him, he could be a nice piece for this team going forward.

The frustrating thing for Knicks fans is that their team is forever in a state of "development" without actually yielding any fruit. Hopefully for them things will be different in the near future, but as far as this season is concerned, it's going to be another rebuilding type of situation whether they like it or not.

Similar to their crosstown rivals, the Brooklyn Nets are also in a state of rebuilding and figuring out an identity. D'Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Caris LeVert are doing an admirable job of leading this team for being so young. LeVert in particular as he is having a breakout season, averaging 18.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game.

For the Nets, what they need to hope for is that this young trio can mature and grow into something special. As an extension of that, they need to hope they can find the right pieces to put around them to help make that happen. It's going to be a long season in Brooklyn in terms of wins and losses, but hopefully for them they'll start to figure out an identity and get a feel for who belongs on their team for the long-term.

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Monday, October 22, 2018 Southwest Division Preview

Up next in my division previews is the Southwest Division, home to the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, and New Orleans Pelicans. This division once again projects to be highly competitive and very interesting. 

The Houston Rockets were a healthy Chris Paul hamstring away from reaching the NBA Finals last year and will look to finish the job this year. The addition of Carmelo Anthony is aimed at giving them more offensive potency off the bench and another veteran in the locker room. Anthony will be coming off the bench for the first time in his career and will have to adjust to this new role. 

Another key piece on this Rockets team is big man Clint Capela, who is one the most talented big men in the league. He runs the floor extremely well and is becoming a pretty versatile player, capable of scoring, rebounding, and blocking shots. With him anchoring the middle, the Rockets have one of the better front courts in the NBA. 

While Anthony and Capela will have big roles on this team, the success of the Rockets ultimately hinges on the success of James Harden and Chris Paul. When healthy, these two guys form one of the most dangerous backcourt in the NBA, capable of putting up points and making plays for others. When they're not at full strength, this team suddenly becomes very beatable. 

The key thing for Mike D'Antoni to do this year is to manage his minutes effectively and keep Paul and Harden as rested as possible for the playoffs. That won't be easy, but it's essential that he finds a way to keep these guys fresh. If he's able to do that, these guys just might reach the NBA Finals. 

It's a new era in San Antonio. Manu Ginobili has retired, Tony Parker is now with the Charlotte Hornets, and Kawhi Leonard is now a member of the Toronto Raptors. Despite these changes, the Spurs have a very talented team led by DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Rudy Gay

Of course the main guy to watch this year is DeRozan since he is the main new face on this team. Coming up short in the playoffs dogged him during his entire time in Toronto, so he'll be eager to show that same reputation won't follow him in San Antonio. 

I don't see the Spurs coming out of the Western Conference this year or anything along those lines, but I do expect them to make the playoffs and compete to win an opening round series. What really hurt this team last year was the drama surrounding Kawhi Leonard. With that now behind them, these guys can get back to focusing on playing Spurs basketball. I expect this renewed focus to do them a lot of good and make them a sneaky good team. 

The New Orleans Pelicans are led by double-double machine Anthony Davis, who is arguably the best player in the NBA. His 32 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists, and 3 blocks in their opening night win over the Rockets speaks for itself. When you have a guy like Davis on your team, you are automatically going to be a tough team to beat every night you step on the floor. 

In addition to Davis, the Pelicans have some other talented pieces in Nikola Mirotic, Jrue Holiday, and Elfrid Payton. Holiday and Payton form a really dynamic backcourt while Mirotic is one of the better stretch forwards in the game. They're starting to put together a talented core around Davis and that should put the rest of the Western Conference on notice. 

Like every team, health will play a big factor in the success of this team. If they are able to remain relatively injury free and develop some cohesion, they should be another team vying for a playoff spot. 

With Dirk Nowitzki in the twilight years of his career, it is a new era in Dallas led by Dennis Smith, Jr., DeAndre Jordan, and rookie sensation Luka Doncic

Doncic will be the one to really watch on this team. There was talk of him possibly going #1 overall in the 2018 NBA Draft and many feel he's got the chance to be really special due to his unique blend of size, shooting, and play making. While I think Deandre Ayton will win rookie of the year, Doncic should put himself in the conversation. 

If there's one other guy to really focus on, it would be DeAndre Jordan, who is looking for a fresh start after spending a decade with the Los Angeles Clippers. For the first time in his career, Jordan is expected to be the top dog on an NBA team, which puts more pressure on him than ever before. I expect Jordan to have a solid season with the Mavericks, but he's not enough to make these guys competitive. 

It will be a long season in Dallas, but hopefully one where they are able to develop their young talent and start to build an identity. The future could be bright for this team, but we are at least a couple of years away from finding out what they really have. 

The Memphis Grizzlies still have their one-two punch of Mike Conley, Jr. and Marc Gasol and they added a really talented rookie power forward in Jaren Jackson, Jr. out of Michigan State. It's a bit of rebuilding situation in Memphis, but the hope is they'll be back to playoff form sooner rather than later. 

Conley is coming back from a left Achilles injury and might take a little while to get back to full strength. So long as he's not 100 percent, it will be hard for this Grizzlies team to be competitive. As good as Marc Gasol is, he can't shoulder the load all on his own. 

If the Grizzlies are going to have any success this year, they're really going to need major production from their first round pick Jaren Jackson, Jr. There are high hopes for him and with a really young roster, the opportunity for a lot of minutes are there to take advantage of. If he can have a big rookie year, the Grizzlies could exceed expectations. 

Similar to the Mavericks, this will be a year for the Grizzlies to really focus on cultivating their young talent and figuring out who they want to be a part of their franchise for the long-term future. One such example is Ivan Rabb, who got some minutes for them in the front court last year and showed some promise. If they can get a feel for Rabb's future along with their other young players, the Grizzlies will have a productive season regardless of their record. 

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Sunday, October 14, 2018 Northwest Division Preview

Up next is my preview of the Northwest Division, home to the Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets, and Portland Trail Blazers.

One year ago, the Utah Jazz were worried about the departure of Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics. One year later, the Jazz seem to have forgotten about Hayward thanks to the breakout rookie campaign of Donovan Mitchell, who averaged 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game last season. With Mitchell at the helm, the Jazz are one of the most dangerous teams out west and appear poised to wreak some havoc in the playoffs.  In addition to Mitchell, the Jazz have some other quality players in center Rudy Gobert, power forward Derrick Favors, point guard Ricky Rubio, and rookie shooting guard Grayson Allen, giving them a nice blend of scoring and defense.

The most valuable member of this Jazz team is head coach Quin Snyder, who has implemented a really good system predicated on cutting, motion, and ball movement. The Jazz aren't the most talented team in the league, but they make up the difference with their execution and unselfish play. When you add a budding superstar like Donovan Mitchell to such a system, you suddenly have something really special.

The Jazz should win the Northwest Division and put themselves in a position to possibly reach the Western Conference Finals. While the Warriors, Rockets, and Lakers are getting most of the press in the Western Conference, do not sleep on the Jazz.

The Oklahoma City Thunder lost Carmelo Anthony to the Houston Rockets but were able to hang onto Paul George, giving Russell Westbrook one other superstar to take the pressure off of him. With George and Westbrook alone, the Thunder have a team that is capable of beating a lot of teams out west. When those two guys go off, they are very hard for even the best of teams to stop. 

The problem for the Thunder is their lack of depth and lack of a good system. Billy Donovan doesn't seem to know how to get Westbrook and George to play in a system and instead allows them to play street ball. I don't now how much of that should fall on Donovan given that Westbrook and George would be hard guys to coach, but that notwithstanding, the lack of a system in Oklahoma City appears to be holding this team back. 

Due to their raw amount of talent, the Thunder will be competitive and probably make the playoffs, but I do not see this team winning a series. In the playoffs, they become too predictable and aren't able to mix things up. It'll be more of the same in Oklahoma City, which isn't a bad thing but also not a good thing, either. 

Led by Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic, and newly acquired point guard Isaiah Thomas, the Denver Nuggets have a very solid team. They almost made the playoffs last season and will once again be in a dog fight to sneak in. The potential to be really good is definitely there if they can get rookie Michael Porter, Jr. to become everything he was hyped up to be before his injury. Given that Porter is not expected to do much this year, it'll be hard for them to make significant strides from last season. 

A good season for the Nuggets would be to make the playoffs and give someone a bit of a scare in the first round. I don't know if that will happen, but if they can stay healthy, they'll at least give themselves a shot. 

The Minnesota Timberwolves are in a very weird spot right now. They're coming off their first playoff appearance since the 2003-04 season and have a lot to be excited about. However, the drama surrounding Jimmy Butler and his desire to get out of Minnesota has overshadowed all of that. As presently constituted, the Timberwolves have a very good team consisting of Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Jeff Teague to go along with Butler. I understand why Tom Thibodeau wants to keep Butler given the pieces he has around him. At the same time, you cannot let distractions like a disgruntled player distract your team. 

If the Timberwolves are going to trade away Butler, which looks foggy at the moment, they'll want to make sure they get something good back in return. If they trade him away, they can still be a playoff team, but it would really help to get something of value in return. Assuming the drama around Butler can resolve itself one way or another, it should be another exciting season in Minnesota. 

The Portland Trail Blazers are once again led by the backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who combined for nearly 50 points per game last season. On top of those two dynamic guards, the Trail Blazers also have a gifted big man in Jusuf Nurkic, who averaged 14.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game last season. Lillard, McCollum, and Nurkic form a nice trio that gives the Trail Blazers outside shooting, inside scoring, and penetration from the wing.

The problem for the Trail Blazers is their lack of depth. Outside of Lillard, McCollum, and Nurkic, they really struggle to get other guys going. Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Zach Collins will need to be the ones who provide some production off the bench in order for this team to be dangerous. If these guys are able to combine for 25 points per game, the Trail Blazers could be a team that maybe wins a series in the playoffs. If they are not able to produce, the Trail Blazers at best will be a playoff team with a first round exit.

My prediction is the Trail Blazers will more or less be the same team we saw last year. They'll win around 47-49 games and be decently competitive in the regular season, but come playoff time their lack of depth will come back to haunt them. I like their top three players a lot, but without getting enough help, there's only so much that they can do.

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Thursday, October 4, 2018 Pacific Division Preview

I was debating about whether or not to preview the conferences as a whole or if I should do it the old school way by divisions. Since I wish the NBA placed more of a premium on divisions for the purpose of creating more rivalries, I'm going to preview the NBA season by divisions. Up first is the Pacific Division, home to the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angles Clippers, Sacramento Kings, and Phoenix Suns.

The Golden State Warriors are the defending NBA champions and are the odds on favorites to win it all again. Their core is back and on top of that they've added DeMarcus Cousins, who is coming back from a torn Achilles injury.

The bottom line with the Warriors is that so long as they stay healthy, they're going to be almost impossible to stop this year. They simply have too many weapons for any other team to deal with. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the greatest shooting backcourt in NBA history, Kevin Durant is one of the best pure scorers in NBA history, and Draymond Green is one of the most underrated players in NBA history. When you then add a defensive specialist like Andre Iguodala and a supremely gifted big man like DeMarcus Cousins to the mix, you have a team that is virtually unstoppable.

The main thing to look for with this Warriors team is how Cousins fits in and how productive he can be coming back from such a serious injury. The good news is they don't really need him until May and June and if he becomes a headache in the locker room, they can always cut him. It's a low risk high reward move that could pay off handsomely.

The Los Angeles Lakers have a new lease on life after landing LeBron James in free agency. Joining James in Los Angeles is Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley, Kyle Kuzma, and JaVale McGee. The Lakers may not be favored to win the NBA championship this year, but they have a very interesting squad nonetheless.

Personally, I believe the Lakers are going to be very good this year and have the chance to make a deep playoff run. If you have LeBron James on your team, you should never be counted out. LeBron has reached the NBA Finals with lesser talent around him, so they definitely should be feeling confident.

The major question mark is how the surrounding pieces will work together. Rondo, Stephenson, Beasley, and McGee make any team they're on more interesting by themselves. Together, they could form one of the most entertaining teams we've ever seen. Entertaining isn't always a good thing, though. What I'm particularly curious to see is what the Lakers' roster looks like after the trade deadline. I wouldn't be surprised to see a couple of these guys shipped out before the season comes to an end.

The Sacramento Kings are in rebuilding mode, but hopefully for them they finally have a core they can build around in De'Aaron Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Marvin Bagley III. Fox had a solid rookie year, averaging 11.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game and looks to have an even more impressive sophomore year. I think he'll prove to be a really good point guard in this league.

The big question is whether or not Bagley is the real deal. He looked like a men among boys in college and has the tools to be an elite player in the NBA. It is imperative for the Kings that he has a big year. If he does, the future will look bright. If he struggles and has an underwhelming season, the future will look murky.

The Los Angeles Clippers don't really appear to have an identity right now. Blake Griffin is in Detroit, Chris Paul is in Houston, and DeAndre Jordan is in Dallas. It's a totally new team led by Lou Williams, Avery Bradley, Patrick Beverley, and Tobias Harris. It's unclear what this team is with them as their new core. Rookie point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is an intriguing talent and could prove to be the next star of this franchise, so it's not like the cupboard is totally barren here.

The change in direction was necessary, but not if it comes with lacking an identity. The Clippers need to find an identity this season if they want to feel good about this change in direction. Otherwise, they'll just go back to being the Clippers of old and that's definitely not a good thing.

DeAndre Ayton is looking like the real deal so far and with quality wings in Devin Booker and Josh Jackson alongside him, the Phoenix Suns finally have a team to be excited about. Actually, outside of the Warriors and Lakers, the Suns have more long term upside than anyone else in this division. The key for them is to keep these pieces together and get everyone to buy into their long term future. Locking in Devin Booker to a five-year, $158M extension helps a ton in that regard.

As far as this season is concerned, if the Suns can win 30+ games, that will indicate significant progress from last season's 21-61 record. They need to look at this as a retooling season and a chance for everyone to get comfortable with one another. If their core has fun playing together and is able to develop some chemistry, it will be a successful season in Phoenix.

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Saturday, September 22, 2018

Saturday Slam: Five likely landing spots for Jimmy Butler

                                          (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) 

Earlier this week on, I addressed the tension growing between Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler and head coach Tom Thibodeau. Since that article was published on Tuesday, multiple reports have surfaced that confirm that the Timberwolves will indeed look to move Butler and that he will not be present at team media day on Monday.

Personally, I think the Timberwolves should entertain the possibility of firing Thibodeau if that will keep Butler around, but it does not look like they are going to go that route. With that being the case, below are five likely landing spots for Butler.

#1. Los Angeles Clippers: There have been additional reports that Jimmy Butler would prefer to get traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. He likes Los Angeles and the Clippers are in need of a new superstar to build around.  The Clippers also have some assets that the Timberwolves might like such as Tyrone Wallace, Lou Williams, and rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. If the Timberwolves want to get rid of Butler as quickly as possible, the Clippers should be the first team they call.

#2. Milwaukee Bucks: Butler played his college ball at Marquette in Milwaukee, so going to the Bucks would be a homecoming of sorts for him. I don't know if a duo of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Butler would be enough to get the Bucks to the NBA Finals, but it would certainly be interesting to find out.

#3. Los Angeles Lakers: If Butler wants to go to Los Angeles, the Lakers are the only other alternative to the Clippers. What makes the Lakers a likely landing spot for Butler is they have a ton of assets to offer and are in desperate need of another superstar to pair with LeBron James. A duo of James and Butler would wreak some serious havoc in the Western Conference. They'd be instant contenders.

#4. New York Knicks:  The New York Knicks are rumored to be on Butler's list of preferred destinations and they could really use another superstar to pair with Kristaps Porzingis. If the Knicks can land Butler, they'll definitely be cooking with gas at Madison Square Garden. I don't know how good they'd be, but they'd be an instant playoff team in the Eastern Conference.

#5. Brooklyn Nets: The Brooklyn Nets are also rumored to be on Butler's list of preferred destinations and they are in desperate need of a superstar. On top of that, they have the space to sign him. Like Chicago and New York, an added bonus of trading Butler to Brooklyn is that he'd be out of the conference. The Timberwolves are probably hesitant to help out a team that they might end up facing in the playoffs, upping the odds of Butler getting shipped out East.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Tomahawk Tuesday: Is Tom Thibodeau the right man to coach the Minnesota Timberwolves

On Tuesday, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Tom Thibodeau met with Jimmy Butler in Los Angeles to talk about his future with the Minnesota Timberwolves organization. Despite reaching the playoffs in his first year with the team, Butler is reportedly unhappy about the direction of the franchise, specifically as it pertains to the job that Thibodeau is doing as head coach and president of basketball operations.

While he has a track record of success in Boston, Chicago, and now Minnesota, Thibodeau has been known to be a hard guy to play for. He demands a lot from his players and doesn't seem to be too sympathetic to the pounding NBA players go through during a full 82 game season. Rather than resting his players and playing his bench, Thibodeau tends to go with shorter rotations, resulting in his star players having to exert more energy on a nightly basis.

Thibodeau's coaching philosophy may be a contributing factor to all the injuries that Derrick Rose had during his time in Chicago as well as injuries to Joakim Noah, Zach LaVine, and Jimmy Butler. While it's conceivable that Butler has other issues with Thibodeau as well, the way he treats his players appears to be his main gripe. If you are an NBA player, you want to make as much money as you can and play basketball for as long as you can. Playing for a coach that runs his players into the ground is something a player should want to avoid at all costs. Even it means playing for a less competitive team.

In regards to how the Timberwolves should handle this, it's a tricky call. The name of the game as far as they are concerned is to win basketball games and Thibodeau has done a good job of that during his brief time in Minnesota, guiding the Timberwolves to their first playoff appearance since the 2003-04 season. On the flip side, when you have such a talented young core consisting of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, do you really want to risk long-term damage to them?

What could ultimately decide this is how the other players on the team feel about him. If it's only Jimmy Butler that has a beef, maybe the Timberwolves trade him for some assets before he gets the chance to walk away from them next summer in free agency. If on the other hand, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and others also complain to ownership and take things public, it would probably be the wise thing to fire Thibodeau and find a guy who is a little less stringent in his thinking. I guess we'll have to wait and see what final direction this takes, but if I'm making a prediction, I don't see how Thibodeau stays with this team for the long haul. The short-term benefits don't seem to outweigh the potential long-term damage.

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Saturday, August 25, 2018

Saturday Slam: People are overreacting to the Warriors' addition of DeMarcus Cousins

                                         (Getty Images) 

When the Golden State Warriors landed DeMarcus Cousins in free agency, it felt like the basketball world became unglued. Everyone from fans to players were upset that the Warriors landed another superstar. The Warriors already have the most stacked team in the NBA and for them to land perhaps the best big man in the league for just $5.3M felt like highway robbery.

If you follow on social media, you will know that I expressed frustration over the move. So, I don't want to come off as hypocritical when I say people are overreacting to Cousins going to the Warriors. I admit that I contributed to the hysteria and that I overreacted to the news like everybody else.

After thinking about the move for a little while, I've come to the conclusion that this move isn't something to get all up in arms about. What people are forgetting in all of this is the fact that Cousins is coming back from a torn Achilles, an injury that is as serious as they come. If Cousins hadn't suffered a torn Achilles to end his season in New Orleans, the Warriors wouldn't have landed him in the first place. What made him available for just $5.3M is the fact that it is far from certain that he'll ever get back to his regular self again. He might still be able to play at an NBA level, but will he once again put up 25.2 points and 12.9 rebounds per game? That remains to be seen.

I totally understand why everyone reacted the way they did. The Warriors are stacking up on talent and adding Cousins for so little money felt like they were rubbing it in everybody's faces. There's a certain arrogance that this Warriors team possesses that rubs people the wrong way. As one who lives in the Bay Area, I get it. I'm around "Dub Nation" 24/7.

Still, we shouldn't let an overall frustration with the Warriors cloud our judgment over this particular move. The reality is that we are yet to see how strong Cousins bounces back from this injury and until we do, we should reserve judgment about him giving the Warriors a dominant big man. As for the other 29 teams in the NBA that are upset about this move, if they are really so upset, why did none of them offer Cousins a decent contract? The fact that the Warriors are the only team that offered Cousins a deal just shows how uncertain his future really is. If there was good reason to believe he could do some serious damage, another team would have offered him a contract in the neighborhood of $20M or more.

My prediction is DeMarcus Cousins will have a nice year for the Warriors and give them just what they need, which is a sound presence in the paint that can score, rebound, and protect the rim a little bit. However, I do not expect Cousins to produce like he did prior to his injury. A torn Achilles is the most serious injury an athlete can get and for a lot of guys, it might as well be a death wish. With that in mind, I think we should all just step back and wait to see what happens before declaring this move the crime of the century.

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