Golden State Warriors

Am I Becoming Jaded with the NBA?

There’s nothing worse than a bunch of jaded old farts, and that’s a fact.

For the first time in nearly three years, I didn’t renew my NBA League Pass.

It wasn’t an easy decision to do.

I got the automatic re-payment this September on my credit card. Almost 200 dollars. Usually, I would be okay, almost excited with the payment. The start of the NBA season has been traditionally one of the more upbeat parts of the year for me: late October, Fall still in bloom, baseball winding down, and the promise of NBA games every night on my laptop thanks to NBA League Pass. Hell, this year I even had a TV with Bluetooth capability. If there was any year to enjoy the 2016-2017 NBA season, this was it.

But I couldn’t be okay with the 200 bucks this time around. Something in me just couldn’t pull the trigger. I put in my cancellation notice, got my refund and just like that my NBA League Pass was gone.

How could this happen? How could someone like me, who loves professional basketball (both NBA and Euroleague) as much as me not subscribe to one of the greatest online services in the history of the internet? How could I pass on Grant Napear Sacramento Kings broadcasts and random Charlotte Hornets-Milwaukee Bucks February contests on a weekday night? What would it be like not falling asleep to West Coast games that wouldn’t start until 9-10 p.m. in Kansas City?

The short answer: perhaps I have become a little jaded with the NBA after this off-season.

Now let me get into the long answer.

This NBA off-season broke me. I was excited for the increase in salary cap, hoping that either middle-level teams would be able to make that key off-season acquisition that would put them over the top, or teams would be able to keep their star-cores intact and build on a run to challenge the Golden State Warriors or Cleveland Cavaliers, who had faced off against each-other in back-to-back finals.

And then Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors.


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This move brought up a bunch of mixed feelings. As stated on this blog before, I did not grow up a Kings fan. I grew up masochistically rooting for the Warriors.

Run TMC. Joe Smith. Chris Mills. Bob Sura. Adonal Foyle. Erick Dampier. Gilbert Arenas. J-Rich. Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy as “thunder and lightning”. Andris Biedrins. Don Nelson leading the helm. Monta Ellis. “We Believe.” The weird superhero mascot. The orange jerseys. Mikki Moore playing way more than he should. Eric Musselman getting one crazy good year and shitting the bed  the next. Dave Cowens looking frazzled every night. Keith Smart acting as head coach while Nelson nearly fell asleep in his plush chair. Former owner Chris Cohen screwing the team over every chance he got.

Hell. I loved the Warriors. But then the team changed. It started with the change in ownership and then the uniforms. Then Mark Jackson and his uber-conservative social comments. And then people started to jump on the bandwagon. And then they made the playoffs and started winning consistently. Steph Curry won back-to-back MVPs. Draymond Green became a ball-punching and small-ball 5 savant. They launched a ton of 3’s and pushed the pace under Steve Kerr. Bandwagon fans not only came on in droves, but became more insufferable each and every game.

I have always had a soft spot for the Warriors. My mother still considers herself a devout fan, following every game possible on TV or radio even though my parents still live in Sacramento and get mostly Kings broadcasts on CSN California (I tried giving her my League Pass password, but she is terrible with technology and gave up after she couldn’t figure out what app to download). I cheered for them hard throughout the past two seasons, even though I had turned to the Kings, changing my allegiance from the Blue and Gold to the Purple and Black (or white…or gray…whatever the hell their color scheme is nowadays). The last NBA Finals was crushing. I remember all the elation I felt after they made that 3-1 comeback against the OKC Thunder only to see those feelings sink to low depths I didn’t think possible after they lost Game 7 at home to LeBron and Kyrie and Kevin Love (unlike most, I am  not a big fan of Love; it mostly stems from following him in his high school days while I was a sophomore at Gonzaga where he was treated as the Pope of the State of Oregon during his high school years, only to result in him and his pompous father dumping on the Ducks in the recruiting process and going to UCLA…screw the Love’s). I couldn’t even talk about the Finals for weeks. The loss felt like a girlfriend I was about to ask to marry suddenly dumping me the day after I bought an engagement ring.

Yes, I didn’t consider myself a Warriors fans technically. But that Finals hurt.It hurt fucking bad because of my prior history cheering on the Warriors during their lowest of lows, only to see what should be one of their crowning moments in NBA history (setting the regular season win record and get a second-straight championship) get absolutely stomped on.

God I hate Cleveland. I hope the Cubs obliterate the Indians.

But my feeling should have faded eventually over the summer. There would be next season. Their core would come back stronger and motivated, and though I still would primarily cheer for the train wreck that was the Sacramento Kings, the Warriors would still garner my interest and my secondary League Pass watching (it was common for me to have a split screen when the Kings and Warriors played at the same time; god I loved that).

And then the Warriors pompous owner, who was busy talking to the media about how he and his organization “changed basketball” (he didn’t; people were taking three’s and running and gunning way before him; check Paul Westhead and Nelson), stepped in. He got rid of Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli and Leandro Barbosa and Marreese “God he’s so weird looking and he can’t rebound for a big man, but I love him as a heat check dude” Speights.

And the Warriors somehow signed Kevin Durant.

Yeah I should have been happy for the Warriors. But I wasn’t.

The bandwagon won out. It was like how the Tea Party won with Donald Trump as the Republican nominee. The “old” Warriors were gone. The Warriors had now evolved into the Lakers and Heat in terms of they could get whoever they wanted now. The days of Arenas not wanting to sign in Golden State because they didn’t have money and he didn’t think they could win were a thing of the past. They no longer were the charming, plucky, underdogs represented by Curry and Klay Thompson and Green, guys who got passed over in the draft in favor of “sexier” prospects in the draft (sexy being Jonny Flynn).

The Warriors were able to acquire and pay for a former MVP, one of the Top 5 players in the league.

I can’t back a Warriors team like that. That’s not why I cheered for them, fell in love with them in the first place.

I can’t bare to watch a team with Durant in a Warriors uniform. It feels dirty, sacrilegious and traitorous to everything I invested in and experienced as a Warriors fan from 1997-2013.

Cheering the current version of the Warriors, who are now the new “Boston Three Party”, the “Decision” Heat and “Dwight-Nash-Kobe” Lakers (oh wait… they sucked…never mind) just feels like voting for Trump this November. And if I lost my second-favorite current NBA team, the team that made me get made fun of at Hunter’s Barbershop in Roseville throughout my high school years, then what’s the point of keeping my League Pass?

But losing one team isn’t that big a deal, right? I still got Boogie and the Kings. And they got the new arena. I’m sure those alone would be worth the annual 200 dollar fee.

Well…not exactly.


NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Sacramento Kings

I have pretty much cheered for the Kings since they changed ownership from the Maloofs to Vivek Ranadive. For starters, the Kings fans’ fight to keep the Kings from being pried by Chris Hansen and his Seattle group inspired me. It made me proud to be from Sacramento, which isn’t easy to do considering are just above Fresno and Bakersfield in terms of California city popularity. Sacramento doesn’t have much beyond the Kings and the Capital. So for Sacramento to fight the NBA and keep their team from being another Seattle or Vancouver was refreshing to see.

For a while, I loved what Ranadive aimed to do when he took over. He wanted to make the Kings a thinking-tank when it came to innovating the team on and off the court. He hired Pete D’Alessandro, a more business-type who seemed to be more concerned with manipulating the salary cap in creative ways than buying Raising Cane’s and playing pea-knuckle with free agents. Petey D did all kinds of cool, out-of-the-box thinking when it came to roster compilation and the draft (the Kings Grantland short documentary on them crowd-sourcing for the draft really solidified my allegiance to the Kings franchise). And him and Vivek seemed prime to be different. For a small-market team like the Kings, it was what they needed to do. The way I saw it, the Kings were on their way to becoming the Bill Beane “Moneyball” Oakland A’s of the NBA.

Unfortunately, the honeymoon didn’t last long with Kings fans. The city of Sacramento, unable to be satisfied after shit fell apart once Rick Adelman left town, grew impatient and quickly frustrated with the Kings’ “process.”

First, he fired Mike Malone, which in retrospect was a poor choice. Yes, maybe Malone didn’t want to play the breakneck pace that Vivek wanted, but Malone was a good coach. He has proven that in Denver, making the Nuggets the “Denver Internationals” with a fun, balanced-style that features all kinds of entertaining foreign players such as Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic and Danilo Gallinari. It would have been interesting if Malone was still the coach in Sacramento. I guarantee you they probably would have been in the playoff hunt longer last season.

But Malone really was the tip of the iceberg. Cousins failed to get along with coaches post-Malone, through a combination of his and the coaches’ fault. Vivek, unable to let go of his micro-managing ways and harboring the desire to compete with Joe Lacob and Robert Pera of the Grizzlies for title of “most obnoxious” owner, continued to meddle to the Kings’ detriment. He hired and fired or (didn’t fire sooner, as was the case with George Karl) coaches without reason. He brought in guys in the organization who were unprepared to work in a NBA front office (sorry Vlade). He let his biases negatively affect the Kings when it came to player acquisition, putting them back development wise year after year. (Stauskas!) Vivek basically represented all the negative collateral damage of the “new  brand” of NBA owner who had arrived in the league post 2010: meddlesome, wanting to be in the spotlight more than necessary.

And in that process, with the combination of Vivek’s inability to balance ego and appeasing fans, the Kings started to fade from the neat little “Moneyball” franchise to the typical, shitty, in no-man’s land NBA team. Petey D left. After setting scoring records in the D-League the past two years thanks to head coach David Arsenault Jr’s experimental system from Grinnell College, the Big Horns let go of Arsenault this off-season and seem to be content to revert to traditional, not to mention joyless, minor-league basketball. Speaking of up-tempo, Karl and his push-the-pace preference (the Kings led the league in pace last year) were kicked out of town for a more typical, grind-it-out style under new coach Dave Joerger. And that’s no offense to Joerger. He’s an excellent coach and I think he has the chance to do good things in Sacramento. It’s just that…he’s a typical NBA coach who will play a typical NBA style…and that’s disappointing considering I thought the Kings were going to be more than that with Vivek took over in 2013.

I know that’s weird to be disappointed about. But in all honesty, I loved the Kings last year. Yes, the chemistry was awful. Rajon Rondo and Rudy Gay needed to go. Cousins needed a new coach with less baggage. But holy fuck. The way they played. The way they scored (and gave up) points proved to be fun to watch night after night. For all the lackluster matador defense of Rondo and Cousins, you had Omri Casspi catching fire from beyond the arc and Quincy Acy going beast mode on the boards. The Kings weren’t good. They weren’t a playoff team. But they looked to be developing something special. Just a tweak from a coach who advocated that similar style, and perhaps they could be the Warriors-lite, with worse defense, but still as effective when it comes to getting buckets.

However, that seems to be gone. The Kings have resorted to aging and retread vets like Aaron Afflalo and Matt Barnes and Ty Lawson to build around Cousins. It sucks. This team reeks of a Brooklyn Nets team during the Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett years. It feels boring. It feels unlikable. (seriously, how can anyone like Barnes?) And it still feels like it’s going to suck. At least the last couple of years, the Kings were fun as they sucked.

So why pay to watch that? Why pay to watch Barnes bitch at other players in his typical “Respect me! I’m Matt Barnes! I don’t care if my wife left me for Derek Fisher!” way? Why watch a Kings team that feels like the late 2000’s/early 2010’s ones that appeared to be “dead men walking” when it came to staying in Sacramento?

200 bucks isn’t worth that. And that’s hard because I love Boogie. I love what he did this summer with the Olympic team. I still want to see him as a King for life.

Yet the rest of the Kings roster, organization and future? I just can’t back that.


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I pretty much ordered League Pass to indulge in not only my passion for the NBA, but my two favorite teams: the Warriors and Kings. And do so from afar here in Kansas City, where there is no NBA team within driving distance. For a couple of years, I was able to happily enjoy those two franchises, albeit in different ways. However, this summer and off-season has just been miserable for me. I don’t feel optimistic about the future of either team, and in that pessimism, I have grown distant from not just the Warriors and Kings, but the NBA.

My twitter, which is pretty much a NBA news source, remains relatively unchecked and unused for days at a time, sometimes weeks.

I rarely listen to my NBA Ringer or Lowe Post podcasts. They were required listening for me on my daily commute to work not just during the season, but all year long.

I felt more unprepared and apathetic for my NBA Fantasy draft in comparison to years past. I am depending on Mirza Teletovic and Doug McDermott for threes.

In one summer, thanks to my two favorite teams’ off-seasons, I have not just grown more apathetic to the NBA, but perhaps cynical and jaded. I don’t believe I will be able to enjoy this year as much as I have the previous years post-2009, when I graduated from Gonzaga and switched from primarily following college basketball to the NBA.

NBA League Pass was the greatest thing to happen for me leisurely the past few years and now I will be without it. And I don’t feel bad or sad or frustrated or anything. I am just in “meh” mode, fuckified from a NBA off-season from hell for me personally and spiritually as a NBA fan.

Who knows though.

Maybe my jadedness will fade and I will rekindle my passion for drinking Miller High Life and watching multiple NBA games during the week by December.

League Pass goes down by fifty bucks around Christmas time.

Can the Warriors Survive the Second Round Without Curry?

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What are the chances the Warriors will be upset in the second round without Curry? The Clippers and Blazers will prove to be interesting challenges.

With Stephen Curry at least out for two weeks due to a sprained MCL, the big question on Warriors and NBA fans’ minds is whether or not the Warriors will still capitalize on their record-setting 73 win season and finish with a NBA title. Or will the Warriors have the biggest letdown in NBA history and not even make the Finals, let alone win the championship?

With their reigning (and possibly repeating) MVP possibly out for an extended period of time, there is major concern in terms of how the Warriors will fare in the coming rounds of the Western Conference playoffs. Though it is not over, the Warriors should close out the Houston Rockets will relative ease, which brings the focus to the second round of the playoffs. Yes, I know everyone is looking ahead to the Western Conference playoffs where a Spurs-Warriors “Super-Matchup” looms (though don’t count out the Thunder who are playing great “F***You” ball right now (especially Kevin Durant, who was all kinds of salty and spitting straight fire to Mark Cuban after their Game 5 win) after dismantling the Mavericks after a Game 2 let down), but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Every round counts, and there are still two possibly dangerous (though flawed) opponents waiting in the second round that could give the Warriors trouble, especially sans-Curry.

So, with that being said, let’s take a look at the possible matchups for the Warriors in the second round and how big a threat they pose to the Warriors from making into the Western Conference Finals.

 

The Los Angeles Clippers

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A week ago, this matchup would have had the Warriors and Warriors fans sweating. Without Curry, the Warriors would be depending on Leandro Barbosa and Shaun Livingston matching up against CP3. Add that problem along with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, not to mention a playoff-experienced (though insufferable) coach in Doc Rivers, as well as some fiery history between the two franchises, and the Clippers seemed poised to pull off an upset for the ages in the second round.

However, that has all changed in the past couple of days. Blake Griffin was ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs, and then Chris Paul broke his hand in Game 4 against the Blazers, ruling him out until the NBA Finals should the Clippers get that far. That means the Clippers will be relying on DeAndre Jordan, who is only a shade better than Andre Drummond when it comes to shooting free throws, JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford and Jeff Green to carry them to victory against the still-loaded Warriors. Losing Griffin is a tough blow, but in all frankness, the Clippers got through most of the regular season without him. Losing Paul however is a death knell. To not have their floor general and main facilitator, and replacing him with Austin Rivers is a MAJOR downgrade. Livingston and Barbosa should not be able to just handle him, but they most likely will outplay him extensively on the offensive and defensive end of the ball.

Now, this could be a breakout series for Jordan. After all, he nearly left the Clippers because he wanted to be the “main guy” on the team and didn’t want to be in the shadow of anyone (hence a dig at Paul and Griffin until they came over with some Raising Cane’s and mended the turmoil in one hilariously chronicled night on Twitter). Ironically, Jordan will now get the chance to do what he could’ve in Dallas (be the main man), though I’m sure that’s not what he expected when he re-signed with the Clippers this off-season. Jordan will need to be a beast on both ends, and go up and above what he normally contributes to give the Clippers a chance in this series. Redick and Crawford are good, but Redick is more of a complimentary player, and Crawford is a streaky player who can rescue a team one night and sink them the next.

What keeps me from thinking though Jordan will reach “Superstar” status and help the Clippers upset the Warriors in this series though is his free throw shooting (or lack thereof). Yes, Drummond of the Pistons replaced him as the “Superstar player you can’t play in the 4th quarter because he is so dog crap with free throws.” However, Jordan still is pretty sub-par in a pretty essential category, as evidenced by his 43 percent FT percentage this season, and his 619 free throws this season were a career-high, which is evidence that teams have caught on to his glaring weakness, and fouled him in key moments to give themselves an advantage to stay in games or preserve leads. I don’t see Jordan turning around that miserable stat in the second round, which means that the Clippers might not have anybody on the floor at times in the 4th that they can really go to with any confidence in crunch time. That’s a huge detriment to their team, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s one of the reasons why the Clippers fail to get out of the first round against the Blazers.

If Paul and Jordan were in this series, I would be worried about the Warriors without Curry. But not only will the Warriors be able to neutralize Rivers, Redick and Crawford without Curry, but the Clippers’ biggest strength (Jordan) will also be neutralized by the Warriors’ depth in the post with Andrew Bogut, Mareese Speights and Festus Ezeli. Bogut and Ezeli will be able to bang with Jordan down low, and Speights can stretch Jordan out of the paint with his outside mid-range shooting, which will clear the lanes for the Warriors’ perimeter players, especially Green and Thompson. And if worse comes to worse, James Michael Mcadoo can come in, foul the crap out of Jordan without regard (I mean he has six fouls for a reason, right?) and give breathers to the trio above as they watch Jordan apply for membership to the Bricklayers Union at the line.

And remember…Cole Aldrich is the Clippers’ backup center.

Yikes.

Projection if it’s the Clippers: Warriors in Four (Five at the most, if the Warriors shoot like a crap house in one game).

 

The Portland Trail Blazers

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This series is definitely the more intriguing second-round matchup for NBA fans, and probably a lot more worrisome for Warriors fans. Unlike the Clippers, who will be relying on Jordan in the post to succeed in the playoffs from here on out, the Blazers biggest producers come from the guard positions. While Rivers should be easy to contain for Livingston and Barbosa, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will be much tougher tasks, as they are the main focus of the Trail Blazers offense. Furthermore, the Blazers also had one of the more dynamic wins against the Warriors, as they beat the Warriors 137-105 in spectacular fashion at the Moda Center on February 19th. To show how big Lillard and McCollum were in that series, Dame and CJ were responsible for 72 of the Blazers 137 points (with Lillard scoring 51) and 46 of the Blazers’ 97 shot attempts. And that is with Curry on the floor. It is frightening to think what the Blazers will do without Curry in the lineup this series.

However, there are a couple of things to consider this series that will work in the Warriors’ favor:

  1. The Blazers lack depth, especially in the post. The Blazers play a nine-deep lineup, and the lack of Meyers Leonard this series is going to hurt them. Ed Davis is a good physical hustle player and Mason Plumlee is a serviceable starting center, but he should be neutralized against the Warriors trio of Bogut, Speights and Ezeli. And though Noah Vonleh has stepped up in Leonard’s absence, I don’t trust the second-year player to do much damage, especially considering he has showed issues with keeping his composure at times on the floor. If there is one thing the Warriors do very well, especially in the post, is that they “dirty” it up much more than one thinks. The Warriors have a reputation as a “finesse” team because of Thompson and Curry, but when you go beyond the duo, the Warriors actually are one of the more physical teams in the league, especially in the post. I can see the Warriors frustrating the hell out of the Blazers’ post players, and I don’t think the Blazers will be able to combat that, especially considering this Blazers team is pretty green when it comes to deep playoff experience.
  2. I think the Warriors hold multiple advantages beyond the guard positions. As big a surprise as Al-Farouq Aminu has been, I don’t know how he will do against Draymond Green, who is such a versatile and physical player. Furthermore, I think Allen Crabbe, Mo Harkless and Gerald Henderson will have their issues, not just against Green, but against Klay Thompson as well. And, as crazy as it sounds, while I think Dame will get his share of point (as well as big time moments) in this series, I think the Warriors will really focus on shutting down McCollum this series with a combo of Thompson and Green (with them alternating matchups with Aminu). While Dame has had his highs against the Warriors in their season series (Dame also scored 40 in their first game with the Warriors this season), McCollum hasn’t hit the 20 point mark in any of their four games this year. Add that with an much more intense playoff atmosphere, and I doubt he’ll crack 20 in the playoffs, which I think is needed if the Blazers realistically think they can win four games this series against the defending champs. I think Dame will have a big game, and he may win a game or even two in this series by himself. But the Blazers will need McCollum to really shine above and beyond for the Blazers to pull the upset, and I don’t see that happening. I think the Warriors perimeter players, knowing they will need to step up without Curry on the floor, will focus even more so on the defensive end in terms of stopping McCollum, thus making the Blazers more of a one-man show, which will not be enough.

This possible second-round matchup will definitely be a more entertaining series than the Clippers one (especially considering the Blazers’ willingness to push the pace). However, even without Curry, I think the Warriors’ depth will simply be too much for the young Blazers to handle. The youth is just too much of a detriment, I don’t necessarily see the Blazers matching the Warriors’ physicality, and though Terry Stotts has proven himself as a mainstay in the NBA, his record is pretty suspect when it comes to the playoffs (he has never gone beyond the second round). The Blazers will put up a hell of a fight, and I think Lillard will showcase why he is one of the more underrated superstars in this league, but I think the Warriors hold too many advantages in other positions for the Blazers to pose as a threat.

Prediction: Warriors in Five (maybe six if they get two CRAZY games from Lillard). 

Who You Should Cheer for in the NBA Playoffs: Western Conference

Yesterday, I did a post on who you should cheer for in the Eastern Conference. Today is the Western Conference edition. So you know the drill: no stats, no analytics, just highly biased fan-opinion. Let’s get it on!

 

No. 1 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 8 Houston Rockets

Let’s face it. Houston doesn’t have a chance. They have an interim coach in JB Bickerstaff who most likely will be replaced this off-season by a much bigger name. James Harden went from trendy 2015 MVP pick to classic “I don’t play defense and I make crappy turnovers” James Harden of previous years. Dwight is Dwight with all his on and off court issues, and the supporting cast has been tremendously disappointing this year after being key to the Rockets’ Western Conference Finals run a year ago.

But I can see why people would cheer for the Rockets. The Warriors have set a NBA record with 73 wins. They are looking to make history and truly beat the Bulls for the moniker of “greatest team of all time”. That doesn’t happen if they don’t win a championship. But a loss in the first round? That would be something of epic proportions. I mean…that would be the single greatest upset of all time in any sports, no bones about it. And the Rockets have…somewhat of a shot…right? They have Harden and Howard. Those two certainly would give the Warriors a better shot than anything the Jazz would have brought (come on…Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors? Please).

And to be honest, I have soured a bit on the Warriors the past few years. You see, I grew up a Warriors fan during the lean days. I grew up with Antwan Jamison, Bob Sura and Erick Dampier. I saw them waste the potential of a Gilbert Arenas-Jason Richardson-Jamison core. I reveled in 2007’s “We Believe” team, only to see cheap ownership and overly egotistical Don Nelson (egotistical but lovable nonetheless) ruin the core two years later. When the Warriors broke through with Stephen Curry (who I was a huge fan of when the Warriors drafted; people forget that not everyone was in favor of the pick at the time), it seemed right. All the painful waiting had been worth it. Those days of Monta Ellis and Stephen Jackson as our premiere 1-2 combo was a thing of the past.

However, then all the bandwagon fans jumped in. Suddenly the Warriors became the OKC Thunder: everyone’s suddenly favorite team. Family that used to talk Lakers now suddenly were “All In” on the Warriors. I grew tired of that bullshit. I grew tired of having to defend my Warriors fandom to a bunch of bandwagon fans. And thus, I started to cheer for the Kings. They sucked sure, but at least I wouldn’t be dealing with the insufferable bullshit of all these “newly minted” Warriors fans.

Despite this though, we (myself included) should be pulling for the Warriors, and not just in this series, but in the playoff in general. We could see history and no team has captured basketball’s attention like this Warriors bunch. Yes, the Bulls won 72 games. But they won it in a time where there wasn’t constant media scrutiny. They won it despite the game being much different. They won it where the talent level between the top and the bottom teams was a lot more lopsided than it is now. And they won it with a lot of veterans who were expected to be great. This Warriors team is still relatively young. Yes, there are vets like Iggy and Bogut, but Draymond, Curry, Klay and Barnes still are relatively early in their NBA careers. The Warriors don’t have the potential to be just the greatest team of all time this year, but for the next 3-5 years. That is crazy, and as a basketball fan we should revel in that potential and greatness and not see it spoiled by an inferior bunch, which Houston is.

Yes, I know the “Hipster” thing would be to cheer against Golden State. But don’t do it. Let’s see the Warriors let this ride. Let’s see them dispatch the Rockets and the rest of the Western Conference.

We’ll be all glad to say that we witnessed history when it is all said and done.

 

No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 5 Portland Trailblazers

Chris Paul, Damian Lillard

 

No team has been more entertaining this year than the Blazers. Remember: this team lost four starters from last year’s playoff squad. FOUR!!! And they’re back in the playoffs and arguably more fun than the team a year ago. CJ McCollum and Damion Lillard have been one of the best 1-2 combos in the league, up there along with Curry and Thompson. Mason Plumlee has made everyone forget he was a Dookie. Al-Farouq Aminu and Noah Vonleh have been an interesting and athletic duo that have given the Blazers all kinds of versatility in the post. The Blazers are young, they’re fun, and they play hard night in and night out. This is the kind of Blazers teams Portland fans have been hoping for years, and not only have they been successful this year, but they have set themselves up for a bright future in the next five as well.

And, the Blazers are going against a team that is so easy to hate. This is a Doc Rivers coached team that has Chris Paul, who may be the most chippy player in the league. They have insufferable players like JJ Redick (who continues to be an example of a hate-able Dookie) and Austin Rivers, who I’m still surprised is in the league. They have DeAndre Jordan who basically played all kinds of drama this year in terms of his free agency decision just so he could play a mom in a State Farm commercial. Blake Griffin is Blake Griffin and new owner Steve Ballmer is a lot less racist, but a lot more annoying not to mention sweaty. And for god sakes…look at those damn uniforms!

Unless you were an original fan of the Bill Walton-led Clippers, I don’t know how you can enjoy this team. Especially when they are playing a team like Portland. Portland is scrappy and overachieving, while the Clips are entitled and seem to always pale in the big moment. Terry Stotts is composed on the sideline; Rivers is always in the ass of some ref complaining over every little call. Trail Blazers fans have been with this team through thick and thin and the Sebastian Telfair-era. Clippers fans couldn’t even name who Loy Vaught is.

Seriously. If you’re cheering for this Clippers team, you are an ass hole. I know Portland isn’t a good matchup against this Clippers team, especially with a healthy Griffin. But God…I want them to pull the upset. I want Dame to go nuts. I want Mason Leonard to be streaky, crazy Leonard, like he was in the playoffs last year. Why? Because a first round exit and Kevin Durant going to the Lakers next year would devastate this Clippers fanbase beyond belief, and we’ll see a sharp regression in LA fans sporting those terrible jerseys in the Staples center next season.

Seeing less of those jerseys would be a victory for mankind people. Plain and simple. Go Blazers.

 

No. 3 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 6 Dallas Mavericks

Just FYI: I don’t like Mark Cuban. I think he’s self-centered and an overblown personality who imbues all the qualities of the “rich venture capitalist who shits all over the little guy, but convinces people that he is good for the economy because he wears jeans instead of expensive slacks.”Nothing was more glorious than seeing the 2007 Warriors totally shut Cuban up in the playoffs after Cuban’s Mavs teams had the best record in the NBA and was coming off a runner-up finish in the NBA Finals the previous year. Many people felt sorry for Cuban and the Mavs. I didn’t. He was tampering anyways before the free agency period, and of course, Cuban gets no serious kind of punishment, much like his insider trading on Wall Street.

But…I can’t get behind this Thunder team. Maybe I don’t like Oklahoma. Maybe I have ill-feelings about the Thunder stealing the Sonics. Maybe I secretly hate Steven Adams because he ripped off Adam Morrisons’ look and nobody is getting over his ass like they did with Morrison. Maybe I don’t like Billy Donovan and want his NBA career to look closer to Rick Pitino than Brad Stevens. Maybe I want Kevin Durant to walk and go somewhere in a bigger market that deserves and would utilize him more than the small market of OKC.

So, plain and simple, I can’t get behind this Thunder team. I love Durant and Westbrook. Serge Ibaka isn’t the player we thought he would be, but he’s still damn impressive. If this were the Sonics, I would be riding behind this Thunder team all day. But it’s not. It’s the Thunder. With their boring uniforms and lame mascot. Beyond the players, there’s nothing to really like about OKC.

Dallas on the other hand has been an enjoyable mish-mash to watch this year on League Pass. They really shouldn’t be all that impressive. Their starting center mixes between Zaza Pachulia and some dude I can never remember, though I know he is Lebanese or something. Their star player is Chandler Parsons, a third wheel in Houston. They have Raymond Felton and Deron Williams, both over the hill, running the show. And Charlie Villanueva, somehow in some damn way, gives them productive minutes.

This Mavericks teams shouldn’t win. On paper, the Kings look better.  But the Mavericks win. Dirk keeps defying age and keeps doing Dirk things. And Rick Carlisle continuously shows that he’s one of the best coaches in the league, up there with Pop from San Antonio. Seriously, other than Pop, who else could make the playoffs with this kind of talent?

I know Westbrook and Durant are fun, and I know Midwesterners might want to pull for OKC because they represent the Midwest in fan-appreciation and city size. But don’t. Let’s see Durant walk. Let’s see the Thunder implode. And let’s see the Mavs and Carlisle, despite their rag-tag collection, upset a team that really should have won 1 title by now, but hasn’t due to injuries, bad coaching and dumb personnel moves.

The city of Seattle will thank you with a free latte for doing it.

 

No. 2 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies

I love Grit n Grind, but this is Grind n Wheeze. Gasol? Out. Conley? Out. Grindfather. Barely walking. All this team has is Z-bo and a bunch of guys from the Iowa Energy. Memphis has no chance. Give Dave Joerger credit for getting this team to playoffs. But when it comes to competitiveness? Holy Cross had a better chance of winning in the first round than the Grizzlies.

So this is about San Antonio, arguably the second-best team in NBA history. Seriously. In any other year, the Spurs would be discussed as having one of the best seasons of all time, and unfortunately, the Warriors go out and win 73 games and steal all their spotlight. Just see anything with the Spurs out there and it’s always prefaced with the statement: “But the Warriors…”

And that is what makes the Spurs-Warriors Finals possibility so exciting. It’s the de-facto title game, really. It is going to be Kings-Lakers 2002 all over again in the sense that whoever wins this series is going to win the NBA Finals. And we need to see this. We need get immersed in this possible scenario where the Spurs and Warriors slug it out for seven games. It’s going to be the greatest Western Conference Finals in history and you should cheer that nothing gets in the way of it. Not the Grizzlies (not that it would happen anyways). Not the Clippers. Not even the Blazers, should they pull off the upset. The basketball world deserves Spurs-Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.

Leonard and Curry. Pop vs. Kerr. The Bay Area vs. the Southwest. The new dynasty vs. the old guard. The storylines are endless.

So yeah…cheer for the Spurs. The Grizzlies would want you to anyways. They want this damn season to end as soon as possible. And we don’t need to see Matt Barnes celebrate anything either.

Kings Retro Draft Journal: The Short, but Lasting Negative Legacy of Tyreke Evans

Despite winning Rookie of the Year, Tyreke Evans failed to live up to expectations in Sacramento

Despite winning Rookie of the Year, Tyreke Evans failed to live up to expectations in Sacramento

With the Draft coming up on Thursday, I felt it was time to look at some of the Kings’ previous draft classes. In this post, I am going to focus on the 2009 draft and specifically Tyreke Evans, the Kings’ first draft pick (No. 4 overall) out of Memphis. Though Evans was a highly heralded prospect out of college (and even high school), he is best remembered for being drafted over All-Star players Demar Derozan, Jeff Teague, Jrue Holiday (who he is teammates with ironically) and famously Stephen Curry (yes…All-Star, Regular Season MVP, NBA Champion and father of cute kid Riley Stephen Curry). And yet, Evans has been productive in his NBA career (he ranks 11th in Win Shares in a loaded draft class that also includes Blake Griffin, James Harden and Ty Lawson just to name a few) despite injuries, and he did win the 2009-2010 Rookie of the Year award, which gave a lot of Kings hope in his future initially. So he hasn’t heard total bust status in the Greg Oden or Adam Morrison mold, but it’s obvious that the Kings got hosed in what was a legendary draft class.

Let’s take a look at the brief, but lasting legacy Evans left with the Kings and if there is anything the Kings or Kings fans can learn from Evans’ four years in Sacramento.

The Theus-Natt Disaster, Looking to Rebuild and Settling for Fourth

The 2008-2009 season, you could argue with good and valid reason, was the worst in the history of the franchise. After a 6-18 start, the Kings fired second-year head coach “Hangtime” Reggie Theus and assistant Kenny Natt took over in the interim to disastrous results. Under Natt, the team finished 11-47 and 17-65 overall, the worst record in the NBA that year. The Theus-Natt-led Kings that season were catastrophic on all kinds of levels and let’s compile a list of what they were putrid at:

  • They ranked dead last in SRS (Simple Rating System) at negative-8.60.
  • They were awful defensively, as they rated dead last in defensive rating, allowing 114.7 points per 100 possessions, and were second to last in points allowed per game, allowing 109.3 ppg.
  • Kings fans noticed this too, as they ranked second-to-last in attendance. While you could contribute the empty seats mostly to a lousy team with no recognizable stars, this season was also the beginning of the Maloofs losing money and looking to sell and possibly move the Kings.

The Kings had a couple of pieces to build around. Rookie Jason Thompson had a decent, though unspectacular rookie campaign, helping satisfy fans who thought the product out of Ryder was an over-draft at No. 12. (For a while former GM Geoff Petrie was really good at drafting unheralded guys and getting the most out of them). Thompson averaged 11.1 ppg and 7.4 rpg and put up a 49.7 percent field goal percentage while average 28.1 MPG. Furthermore, Thompson was the only King to appear in all 82 games that season. Second-year center Spencer Hawes complemented Thompson in the low block, and greatly improved from a lackluster rookie campaign. In his second year, Hawes appeared in 77 games and started 51 and put up a similar stat-line to Thompson, averaging 29.3 MPG (over double his 13.1 MPG average his rookie year ) as well as 11.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.9 apg and 1.2 bpg. With his balance skill set and surprising passing ability for a big, Hawes reminded many Kings fans of Vlade Divac and Chris Webber, who also were adept passing big men during the Adelman-era Kings.

Beyond Thompson and Hawes though, things looked rather bleak roster-wise. The Kings the past couple of years tried to toe-the-line in NBA no-man’s land, trying to still be competitive as a playoff team even though they didn’t have the firepower to get past the first round. Theus kept the team respectable in his initial season as coach, helping the Kings go 38-44 after the 1 year disaster of Eric Musselman when the Kings went 33-49 after making the playoffs the year previously. But it was obvious that the Kings needed to go a different direction after 3 seasons with Ron Artest (i.e. Metta World Peace) and playing in that 8-12 seed level. The Kings traded Artest to the Rockets before the season, and as the team floundered, they also traded John Salmons and Brad Miller (a long-time Kings standout) for practically peanuts (i.e. Drew Gooden, Andres Nocioni, Michael Ruffin and Cedric Simmons). Martin was heralded as the “star” of the group and he put up gaudy numbers (24.1 ppg and team-leading 19.1 PER and 4.7 win shares), but he only played in 51 games, and his frail frame and lack of defensive value made Kings circles wonder if he really was the “man” going forward.

Due to a mixture of incompetency and subtle tanking, the Kings earned the worst record and thus, the most ping-pong balls in the lottery. It was obvious that Blake Griffin was going to go first, and even though the Kings were already set with Thompson and Hawes in the post, Griffin was such a special player that they could make room for him amidst their crowded front court. However, as typical with the Kings, luck bounced them out of the Top-3 (LAC, Memphis and OKC earned the top-3 picks), and they had to settle for the fourth pick, which put them out of the franchise-changing Griffin sweepstakes.

“Stuck Between a 1 and 2”: Evans vs. Curry

With Griffin out, it was obvious that the Kings needed to focus on the perimeter (Center Hasheem Thabeet was a consensus Top-3 pick, but with Hawes, he wouldn’t fit in the Kings’ plans anyways). Beno Udrih was expendable, as he put up a lackluster 12.3 PER and 1.2 win shares in 73 appearances the previous season. So, the shift focused on upgrading the point guard position, (James Harden was known as the most polished player in the draft, but with Martin manning the same position, there didn’t seem to be a lot of outcry for Harden from Kings fans at the time).

That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as the draft was loaded with point guard prospects such as Ricky Rubio, Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, just to name a few. However, the “pure” point guard prospects certainly had their concerns. Rubio wasn’t averse to playing in Sacramento, but he was still signed with his Spanish club DKV Joventut, and he would have required a $6-8 million dollar buyout to come state-side. Though Rubio certainly had the most upside out of any of the point guard prospects in the draft (he was only 19, and he impressed people with his performance with the Spanish National Team in the Olympics the previous summer), it didn’t seem like the Kings were all that hot on Rubio sporting a Kings hat on Draft Day. Jennings was another impressive prospect who ended up skipping out on college to play a year in Europe, but stories about his struggles with Roma as well as maturity issues seemed to push him out of the No. 4 pick discussion.

So the discussion centered on two guys who were considered point guard prospects in the draft but really weren’t pure point guards in college: Memphis’ Evans and Davidson’s Curry.

If you look at Evans and Curry’s Draft Express profiles, it is funny how they both are labeled “stuck between 1 and 2”. Evans made the transition to the Point midway through the year at Memphis and helped Memphis rally to a No. 2 seed in the tournament (though they did get bounced in the Sweet 16 by Missouri). Evans size and ability to get to the rim was lauded and pointed out as a key reason why Memphis was able to not miss a beat after their National Runner-up campaign a year ago. Furthermore, Evans’ strong season at Memphis was constantly compared to Derrick Rose, who led the Tigers as the point the previous season. Evans averaged 17.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg and 3.9 apg, and some people at the time preferred Evans to Rose due to Evans’ size and rebounding ability, which was superior to Rose in college.

As for Curry, he was known for his strong performances in the 2008 tournament, but he played mostly off-guard that year and had a much deeper, polished Davidson team. In 2009, with a lot of players gone, Curry took the reigns as point, and suffered some growing pains, as the Wildcats missed the NCAA Tournament after making the Elite 8 the previous year. Despite missing the tournament, Curry was lauded for carrying the shorthanded Wildcats, as he averaged 28.6 ppg and 5.6 apg his junior season, all career highs.

Curry had the shooting touch, NBA pedigree (his dad was long-time NBA sniper Dell Curry) and the “star” value to merit the No. 4 pick in the draft, but Evans had the size, the tutelage (Calipari was being dubbed a “point-guard whisperer after getting successful one and done season from Evans and Rose back-to-back) and the versatility that attracted Kings fans more. Even if Evans didn’t pan out as a point guard, the thought amongst Kings fans was that he would develop into a versatile enough wing that would eventually push Martin out-of-town, and then the Kings could get the point they wanted down the road. In Mock Drafts, the consensus seemed to be Evans at 4, even with the sharp-shooting Curry available.

Quick Start, Regression and Internal Strife Lead to Departure

For a season, it looked like the Kings made the right decision. Evans got off to a hot start with a couple of buzzer-beaters, and his strong, confident demeanor was backed up by an impressive 20.1 ppg, 5.8 apg, and 5.3 rpg line in 72 games for the 25-57 Kings. Evans was most impressive in the beginning of the year, as were most of the Kings, as they got off to an 8-8 start and were 18-34 at the All-Star break, not bad considering that was 1 win better than they had all season a year ago. But new head coach Paul Westphal failed to keep any momentum as they struggled in the second half (they went 7-23 post All-Star break) and on the road (7-34 away from Arco). Evans also suffered regression after the All-Star break, with his scoring declining (from 20.3 to 19.8) and shooting regressing as well (53.8 to 51.3 True Shooting pct. from first to second half). The silver lining in all of this? Evans’ rebounding jumped (from 4.8 to 6.2) as well as his assists (5.1 to 6.9). Despite all the concerns with his “tweener” status, Evans showed hope to Kings fans that he could be the Kings primary playmaker (the assist jump was a nice sign) as well as bring different strengths to the Kings lineup (such as rebounding).

Despite Curry’s solid campaign (17.5 ppg, 5.9 apg, 43.7 3-PT percentage), Evans’ hot start and gaudy triple category numbers (points, rebounds, assists) earned Evans the Rookie of the Year award. After that season though, Evans simply struggled to replicate his rookie year in the subsequent seasons with the Kings. Evans battled through injury (he suffered through plantar fascitis) and played in only 57 games through a rough 24-58 campaign. Evans’ numbers tumbled down as his PPG (17.8), RPG (4.8), True Shooting (48.2%) and PER (14.4) all regressed greatly. And to make matters worse, the Kings, hoping Evans would turn into their versatile point guard of the future, rarely played the position. After earning 10% of his floor time at point his rookie year, Evans only played the position 1% of the time his sophomore season. This proved to be a trend, as Evans hasn’t played point guard more than 1% of the time until this season (where it bumped up to a whopping 2%).

As Evans floundered, Curry improved, posting 18.6 ppg and a 19.4 PER his sophomore campaign under Keith Smart. But a coaching change to Mark Jackson his third season, who gave Curry more leash and ability to be creative really marked the difference in Curry going from fringe-star to bonafide-star. Since his third season, Curry hasn’t posted a PER less than 21.2 and has totaled 49.1 Win Shares from his third-year on. And Curry has been a two-time All-Star, won a MVP award and helped the Warriors win their first title since 1975.

As for Evans, well he didn’t quite have the continuity in Sacramento that Curry benefited from in Golden State. Though the Kings upgraded in talent the following year by drafting Demarcus Cousins, the two never really fit and struggled to concede Alpha Dog status in the three seasons they were together in Sacramento. And it made sense. Cousins needs the ball to be productive, and Evans, who showed glimmers of ability to be a playmaker, ended up showing his true colors: as a score-first guard. These two styles were bound to clash (which they did) and considering where both players were at in their careers (just starting out) and without good leadership on the coaching staff or front office, it was just bound not to work out in the long run for both of them despite their talent. Add that with the fact that Evans never seemed to mesh with either Paul Westphal or Keith Smart (who replaced Westphal in the middle of the 2011-2012 season and coached the entire 2012-2013 season as well), and the emergence of another shoot-first guard (Isaiah Thomas) and Evans, who was originally seen as the cornerstone of the franchise, seemed expendable.

And he was. With a new ownership (Vivek), a new coach (Mike Malone) and new GM (Pete D’Alessandro), Evans seemed to be a relic of the old guard that wasn’t worth keeping around. On July 10, 2013, Evans was traded to New Orleans in a three-way trade (along with Portland) that basically saw Evans swiped with more pass-first oriented Grievis Vasquez.

What went wrong with Evans in Sacramento?

After being traded to New Orleans, Evans signed a four-year extension worth a little over $43 million. The money really isn’t that bad when you think about it. Despite the disappointing tenure in Sacramento, he still has a career PER average of 17.3 and has accumulated 21.7 Win Shares. In terms of traditional stats, his career ppg average is 16.8, his career rpg average is 4.9 and his career apg average is 5.2. Yes, Evans struggles from beyond the arc (career 27.8 3 PT percentage), and he still seems privy to taking that shot (he shot 2.9 3 point attempts per game last seasons). But Evans finishes well around the rim (55.8 fg percentage on shots 0-3 ft out) and has demonstrated a decent mid-range (39.8 fg percentage on 16<3-pt shots) to still merit himself as an above-average NBA player. Also, his improvement defensively (he was consistently less than 1 when it came to defensive win shares, but he actually earned 2.2 defensive win shares a year ago) also demonstrates that his game is maturing and becoming more well-rounded in New Orleans than it was Sacramento.

However, why didn’t things work out for Evans after so much promise his rookie season? How come Evans didn’t progress like Curry did in Golden State? Yes, a NBA title and MVP for Evans might have been a bit of a stretch, but you think a guy who earned Rookie of the Year in that draft class would have at least one All-Star appearance in Sacramento, right?

Well, what killed Evans was management’s lack of building around him in the right way. Yes, it’s hard to argue the drafting of Demarcus Cousins, but if the organization was really serious about making Evans the centerpiece of the Kings, they would have drafted somebody more complimentary, such as a Greg Monroe, who would have complemented Evans more with his passing ability from the high post. (And I am NOT supporting drafting Monroe over Cousins BTW…I am just saying that is what they should have done if they were serious about building the team around Evans). And Cousins is really the tip of the iceberg: the drafting of Jimmer Fredette, the acquisitions of John Salmons and Marcus Thornton, these were all decisions that really clashed with Evans truly being the “man” in Sacramento. If you look at Golden State, they took the opposite route of Sacramento. Instead of getting talent that clashed with their “franchise” player, they built around him, even letting talent go (Monta Ellis) in order to build around their star player. That lack of foresight didn’t just hurt the Kings (they have consistently been a lottery team since drafting Evans), but hurt Evans as well, who was never able to find the right cast around him to succeed beyond his individual numbers.

Of course, to play Devil’s Advocate, you could argue that all the chaos in ownership and the front office hurt Evans’ development in Sacramento. You could also argue that they never felt Evans was a franchise guy to begin with, and that when they had a chance to draft Cousins, the writing was on the wall for Evans in SacTown. You could also argue that Evans was subject to bad coaching in Sacramento, and if that he had the kind of coaches that Steph Curry had in Golden State maybe Evans would have closed that gap between them a little more and maybe he would be wearing purple and black still. There are a lot of scenarios of course, and all are plausible. Evans really is a fascinating case because the talent is there, still productive and he is still young at 25 years old. One would think there is still hope for the guy even if he will never, ever touch Curry’s career heights.

And really, a comparison to Curry isn’t fair because they aren’t the same player. Curry really is a point guard who needed time in the position. Evans probably never was and was unfairly expected to be one because he played half a season in the position at Memphis in a pinch. But it’s tough to stomach for Kings fans because they were initially seen as the same type of player in the draft, they were only 3 picks apart, and they were just hours apart in terms of their respective teams’ distance. Maybe the Kings would be celebrating their title and the Warriors would be looking at the lottery if Curry and Evans swapped. Maybe the parade would be a couple of hours north in Downtown Sac rather than in the Bay Area.

It’s those kinds of things that gnaw at Kings fans. And it’s those kinds of things that really make the drafting of Evans over Curry hurt more and longer than it really should.