Friday, July 18, 2014

WINNERS AND LOSERS OF NBA FREE AGENCY 2014

       By: Connor Glowacki

     Once the big news of where LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were going to sign ended up dying down, the rest of the NBA free agents started falling like dominoes one by one. The Miami Heat signed forward Loul Deng while keeping two-thirds of their 'Big 3' in guard Dwayne Wade and forward Chris Bosh. Forward Pau Gasol left the Los Angeles Lakers to join the Chicago Bulls and guard Lance Stephenson left the fleeting Indiana Pacers to join an emerging Charlotte Hornets squad. So with free agency beginning to wind down in the NBA, it's time to take a look back at the top winners and losers so far of this free agency period.

WINNERS

courtesy of bleacherreport.com
1.) Cleveland Cavaliers: Is there really any other choice here? Sure it took several years of misfortune, terrible seasons, ousted coaches, and lottery draft picks; but the Cavs all of a sudden were filled with talented youthful players and a large amount of cap space that was enticing enough to convince LeBron James to leave South Beach and return to the shores of Lake Erie. Add in the signings of guards Mike Miller and James Jones, and the amount of shooters make the Cavs look like the 2014-2015 version of the Miami Heat. There will be even more excitement in Cleveland if the Cavs are able to pull off a trade for Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, as is rumored. 

2.) LeBron James: It's might be true that LeBron wanted to come back to Ohio merely to help the city of Cleveland win their first major sports championship since the 1960s. But let's admit it, a more talented roster full of potential breakout players like Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins plus the extra amount of cap space and future 1st round draft picks were probably bigger factors in LeBron leaving Miami. He is hailed as a hero once more and has turned back into being the biggest and most beloved star in the NBA. He will also get to reap the benefits of a new salary cap change through the CBA in 2016 that will allow LeBron to make way more money than he ever could in Miami. 

courtesy of sportsworldreport.com
3.) Chicago Bulls: By amnestying forward Carlos Boozer and effectively replacing him with former Lakers star Pau Gasol, the Bulls are now neck and neck with the Cavs as the best team in the Eastern Conference provided that point guard Derrick Rose is actually able to come back healthy after a second knee operation. Yes, the Bulls couldn't land Carmelo. But by landing Gasol, they add an improved post player who can shoot mid range jumpers and space out the offense. The potential of a Bulls rotation with Rose, Gasol, center Joakim Noah, forward Taj Gibson, guard Jimmy Butler and rookie guard Doug McDermott could mean that the Bulls finally have the offensive firepower to match their brawling defensive intensity. 

4.) Washington Wizards: Yes I'll admit that I'm a huge Wizards fan as I'm typing this down 
(the Andray Blatche-Javale McGee era was a dark time indeed), but after an impressive playoff run last year, the Wizards made some moves to make a run for the top of the Eastern conference. Despite losing forward Trevor Ariza to the Houston Rockets, the Wiz were able to bring in Brooklyn Nets forward Paul Pierce who can still defend top small forwards in the league and make big shots in crunch time. Add that to forward Kris (formerly known as Kardashian) Humphries, forward DeJaun Blair and a returning core of point guard John Wall, guard Bradley Beal, forward Nene, and center Marcin Gortat, this Wizards team is deeper and better than what most people think. 

courtesy of usatoday.com
5.) Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA, as a whole: This is the first time in awhile that the national media is still talking about the NBA in late July, over a month after the Finals had ended. In the midst of World Cup soccer action and the heart of baseball season, basketball has remained in the public eye in a large part due to the LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes. With more positive attention on the league than ever, Commissioner Adam Silver has to be pleased with his first year on the job so far. 

LOSERS

courtesy of arialamo.com
1.) Houston Rockets: Again, no surprise here. The Rockets and General Manager Daryl Morey arguably won the last two summers of free agency by acquiring all-star guard James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder, for just about nothing, in 2012 and center Dwight Howard last year. The plan was at first to go after Carmelo and when that wasn't going to happen, go after Chris Bosh. The Rockets traded away center Omer Asik and guard (former sensation!) Jeremy Lin in order to create cap space for Bosh. Everything was going according to plan when the Rockets offered Bosh a four year/$90+ million deal. LeBron signed with Cleveland and we all believed Bosh was going to Houston. Instead, Bosh signed for more money with the Heat and the Rockets lose talented forward Chandler Parsons to the Dallas Mavericks. They acquired forward Trevor Ariza from Washington, but  it doesn't otherwise appear that Houston is anywhere closer to competing for a championship than it was over a month ago. 

courtesy of bleacherreport.com
2.) Los Angeles Lakers: At least the Rockets still have Harden and Howard to fall back on, but the Lakers biggest acquisitions this offseason have been forward Carlos Boozer off of amnesty waivers and Jeremy Lin from the Rockets. Boy, how the mighty have fallen. The Lakers have vastly overpaid to keep guard Nick (Swaggy P?) Young and forward Jordan Hill. Guard Kobe Bryant's max deal is hurting this team and if he can't play at one hundred percent, the Lakers will finish near the bottom of the league again for the next few years. Gasol left for the Bulls and guard Steve Nash might only have one year of basketball left in him. Rookie forward Julius Randle will probably have a tough year ahead of him. 

courtesy of nbatitlechase.com
3.) Indiana Pacers: With Lance Stephenson leaving for less money to the Charlotte Hornets, the weaknesses of the Pacers are still open for the rest of the league to look at. Yes, forwards Paul George and David West and center Roy Hibbert will be back next year. But with the way this team fell apart at the end of last season, Stephenson was the only one that played with some kind of heart. The starting backcourt right now of guards George Hill and C.J. Miles is just not good enough to compete for a top seed, even in the East!

4.) Joel Emblid: I like 76ers rookie center Joel Emblid as much as the next guy and think that he can actually be a strong force when he comes back from injury. But trying to tweet at LeBron to get him to play in Philadelphia when they never had any realistic chance of getting him and then publicly unfollowing him when he doesn't join your team is just a pathetic look. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

CARMELO RE-SIGNS WITH THE KNICKS, BUT WAS IT THE RIGHT MOVE?


          
By: Connor Glowacki

courtesy of usatoday.com
      Just a few hours ago, New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony finally agreed to stay with his current team by reaching a 5 year deal worth around $122 million. In a statement, he said, "this organization has supported me and in return, I want to stay and build here with this city and this team". In any other year, he would have been the biggest free agent and this story would have received the largest amount of attention around the sports world.
      With LeBron James' decision to come back to play for his (nearby) hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, Carmelo's decision to return to New York, where he grew up, has become secondary news. And in all honesty that has how his career has shaped out.
     Carmelo Anthony has always been in LeBron James' shadow. In 2003 as a freshman at Syracuse University, Carmelo won the national championship and was the best player in the country. Usually that would net a player the first overall pick in the draft. However, Carmelo was taken third in the 2003 NBA Draft behind LeBron and, surprisingly, international player Darko Milicic.
      Throughout his NBA career with the Denver Nuggets and the Knicks, Carmelo has averaged a remarkable 25.3 points per game and has shot over 45% from the field. Impressively he has made the playoffs every year since being in the league, outside of this past season. It took LeBron longer just to make the playoffs. But where the two stars differ is postseason success. While LeBron got Cleveland to the NBA Finals in 2007, and later the Miami Heat to four straight finals appearances with NBA titles in 2012 and 2013, Carmelo has only gotten out of the first round TWICE in his 11 year career. Those being when he led the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals in 2009 before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers and to the second round with the Knicks in 2013 before being quickly disposed of by LeBron and the Heat.
       Before the 2013 season even began, Carmelo was mulling over free agency and how he had always dreamt of being courted by different teams. After a disastrous 2013 season for the Knicks, Carmelo went on a countrywide tour to visit several teams, similar to what LeBron did in 2010. Up to 6 successful teams had gauged interest in Carmelo, but it was eventually whittled down to the Knicks, the Chicago Bulls, and the Lakers. Both the Knicks and Lakers would be part of rebuilding projects.
       The Knicks utilized new President and NBA legend Phil Jackson to try and convince Carmelo that with new coach Derek Fisher, they'd be able to utilize the triangle offense to wonders in New York and get him more help in the 2015 free agency period. The Lakers attempted to woo him by getting across the idea that he could player with Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and forward Pau Gasol to form their own 'Big 3'. However with no other viable player options on the roster, the Lakers would still be a rebuild. The Chicago Bulls, arguably one explosive scorer away from a championship, believed that Carmelo would be the final piece of a championship puzzle and be paired with star (but oft-injured) point guard Derrick Rose, center Joakim Noah and one of the best coaches in the league, Tom Thibodeau.
       The Knicks and Bulls were the final two teams left in the sweepstakes and it basically came down to this: have a chance to win a title now with the Bulls OR potentially struggle for another season in New York, but make 50 MILLION DOLLARS MORE. Having a ring vs. Having his cake. And today Carmelo decided to have his cake.
       While Carmelo is in desperate need of a championship to help his legacy, this was not a bad decision that he made. He will make much more money in New York and will have one of the greatest coaches of all-time in Phil Jackson making executive moves to help turn this team into a title contender in two to three years. Jackson is reportedly already targeting Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol for 2015 free agency. But it is important to point out that while LeBron received almost unanimous praise from sports fans for returning home to play for Cleveland, Carmelo is getting none of that for returning to play for his hometown New York Knicks. Why is that?
courtesy of rapgenius.com
        Even though LeBron won his two titles in Miami, he still has two titles and is a champion. He also plays basketball in a way that makes his peers take notice. Incredible passing ability, tenacious defensive intensity, efficient offense and explosive athleticism. He makes the other players on his team(s) better and is able to get players from around the league to play with him. Carmelo is purely known for his offensive scoring abilities. He's not a prolific passer, usually plays one on one isolation dribble basketball and has been accused of being an extremely lazy defender. We are still unsure if Carmelo makes his teammates better and for all of these reasons, he continues to remain in LeBron's shadow.   Granted, he has had an interesting array of teammates around the years that include, trigger happy guard J.R. Smith, inconsistent point guard Jeremy Lin, injured and aging center Tyson Chandler and consistently injured forward Amare Stoudemire.
courtesy of nypost.com
      But what Carmelo has on his side finally is a guy in Phil Jackson, who is a winner and knows how to put winning teams together. Jackson will have to figure out which players he needs to put around Carmelo so that he can succeed as the focal point of the Knicks offense as well as make his teammates better and want to fight for him. Carmelo Anthony is 30 years and now has all the money he could possibly want out of playing basketball. There is still time for him to win a championship and define his legacy. But instead of what Carmelo does on the court, it might be more on how well Phil Jackson does behind the scenes.


Friday, July 11, 2014

NBA FREE AGENCY 2014: 'RETURN OF THE KING' LEBRON RETURNS TO CAVS

By: Connor Glowacki

courtesy of The Cleveland Plain Dealer
LeBron James has handled his two major NBA career decisions very differently. In 2010, with no career championships, he led an entire country wide tour visiting with teams before making the announcement of joining the Miami Heat on ESPN's television special, 'The Decision'. That special broke the hearts of every citizen of Ohio and made LeBron the top villain of the sports world. Upon arriving in Miami, LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh threw a huge celebration at American Airlines Arena where the Akron native famously told the crowd, "not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven".
        Today, over four years later, LeBron made his announcement to come home and play for the Cleveland Cavaliers in a printed article/letter that he wrote for Sports Illustrated. No television special or gimmicks, just honest words and emotions. There were no leaks from LeBron's camp and there was no clue if he would go back to Cleveland or remain in Miami. And in his letter, LeBron declared that there would be, 'no press conferences or parties. Just getting to work'. He has become a beloved hero once more and is doing it on his terms.
        LeBron was gracious in his letter thanking Heat owner Micky Arison, executive Pat Riley, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh among countless others. He essentially forgave Cavs owner Dan Gilbert's scathing letter that he wrote in the wake of the 2010 'Decision' special. LeBron acknowledges in the letter that it will take longer to compete for a championship in Cleveland, but that he is looking forward to the challenge and is ready to take on a mentor role in his quest for redemption. If LeBron is able to lead the Cavaliers and the city of Cleveland to their first championship since 1964, it won't matter if he ever catches up to Michael Jordan's six titles. LeBron has redefined his legacy and has developed a niche in NBA history by being the hometown kid to return home.
       The Cavs roster is young and inexperienced, but contains potential. Point guard Kyrie Irving averaged 20.8 points and 6.1 assists per game last season and will have to share ball handling duties with LeBron to make head coach David Blatt's offense run efficiently. Irving will have to develop a consistent jump shot as he will be getting more open looks from passes when LeBron is double teamed. Guard Dion Waiters and forward Tristan Thompson, while still raw, can grow as players as they learn to play with the same defensive intensity that LeBron played with in Miami. Center Anderson Varejao provides LeBron with a familiar face to help with defense and rebounding down in the post and their previous TWO number one overall draft picks, forward Anthony Bennett and guard Andrew Wiggins will have an incredible opportunity to learn from one of the best that the NBA has ever seen. AND if the Cavs are able to trade some of their younger players to the Minnesota Timberwolves for all-star forward Kevin Love, the Cavs will have the best post presence support that they have ever provided for LeBron.
courtesy of basketusa.com
      Today was a big day for the NBA. It proves that a player of LeBron James' stature can still come home to a small market team. With the recent news of Bosh's 5 year/$118 million dollar deal with the Heat, making him the highest paid player in the NBA, and an increasingly likelihood of Wade returning, it appears the Heat will survive this setback. A team with Wade, Bosh, rookie guard Shabazz Napier, forwards Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts, and guard Norris Cole with several free agents will allow the Heat to make a solid playoff push. That being said, today is about LeBron James and the city of Cleveland. He has decided to change his legacy's narrative and the NBA will be much better for it.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

NBA FREE AGENCY 2014: LEBRON AND HIS LEGACY

By: Connor Glowacki

         Miami Heat forward LeBron James opted out of his contract over a week ago to become a free agent and the sweepstakes has begun for multiple NBA teams to try and claim the league's best player. It's been four years since the free agency of 2010 that led to the infamous 'The Decision' television special and LeBron deciding to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for South Beach. Some things remain the same: Ohio's general hatred for their once beloved star and the continued scrutiny over LeBron James' basketball legacy. Yet it's very different from 2010. LeBron is a two time NBA Champion with a stable organization that has made the NBA Finals for the last four years. Back in 2010, you could easily argue that Los Angeles Lakers' star Kobe Bryant was the best player in the game. Now, Kobe is recovering from a torn achilles and the only player close to James, Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant, is still one more star teammate away from seriously competing for an NBA title.

     
courtesy of NBA.com

      LeBron carried the load offensively and defensively for the Heat this year, a team that has the oldest median age of players in the league. Guard Dwanye Wade sat out for a good portion of the regular season and couldn't make it through an entire playoff run due to his bad knees.
Chris Bosh, Ray Allen and Chris Andersen couldn't duplicate the magic they had in the 2013 Finals and other players such as Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole were complete non-factors.
      Wade and Bosh will most likely take less money to stay with the Heat so that the team will be able to use remaining cap space to get quality free agents. But LeBron, deservedly so, wants a max contract. Miami won't be able to get the free agents that they want if they resign LeBron to a max deal, which makes this next week very interesting.
      LeBron's agent has reportedly met with the Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, and even the Cavaliers, to allow the respective teams to throw their 'sales pitch' as to why LeBron should join their team. In Phoenix, LeBron would get his max contract and the team could add another star player due to the number of impressive trade assets they possess. LeBron could join the Rockets and team up with all stars Dwight Howard and James Harden or in Dallas with Dirk Nowitzki.  The Lakers are trying to persuade LeBron to take less money, so they could get both him and Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony to play with Kobe, forward Pau Gasol and new rookie Julius Randle. And Cleveland now has point guard Kyrie Irving locked up for a long term deal as well a potential superstar in rookie guard Andrew Wiggins.
         
courtesy of espn.go.com
LeBron has unfairly been compared to NBA legend Michael Jordan throughout his entire career, even though his game is far more comparable to another legend, Magic Johnson. Unlike Jordan, who was a pure scorer, LeBron is a facilitator with incredible passing skills who draws triple coverage when driving towards the basket and then kicks out to a wide open shooter. He makes everybody on his team better because of his presence. Our society has determined that the only way for LeBron to surpass Jordan is for him to win more than 6 rings. LeBron is in WIN NOW mode. Any team he goes to will be an instant contender. Personally, I think LeBron needs to stay in Miami or go back to Cleveland to keep his legacy intact. If he goes to his third NBA team, there is a great chance he will be perceived as merely a 'hired mercenary' who needs to play with other stars to win.
       
         This isn't as big of a decision as 2010 because LeBron now has two titles under his belt. That part of his legacy is intact. Now it's about being measured up against the NBA's all time greats, which is not a bad spot to be in. He and his agent have been much quieter this time around and it is still probable that LeBron will simply sign back with the Heat. But when you get the chance to see the greatest player in his sport make a decision that will ultimately affect the landscape of that league, all you can do is sit back and watch history be made.