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NBA playoff overview

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This year’s NBA playoffs are underway, with the finals around the corner in less than a month. The first round has just finished with the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, Golden State Warriors, New Orleans Pelicans, Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers, and Boston Celtics advancing to the semifinals.

Only two of the Round 1 matchups ended up going all the way to Game 7. After a close set of six games, one of which the Cavaliers lost to the Indiana Pacers by 34 points, the Cavs defeated the Pacers 105-101 in Game 7 to advance. Also in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics took Game 7 over the Milwaukee Bucks with a score of 112-96.

Now, the semifinals have begun, with a powerful lineup of teams set to play.

On Tuesday at 8:00 PM, the Cavs will face off with the Raptors in Game 1 of their semifinal. Two and a half hours later, the Warriors will attempt to follow up their Game 1 win with another win against the Pelicans. Then, on Wednesday, the Rockets will also have the opportunity to take a second win from the Utah Jazz. And finally, Thursday will bring Game 2 of the semifinal matchup between the Celtics and the 76ers.

Although the semifinals of the NBA playoffs have only just started, several predictions and questions about the teams can still be brought up.

Is LeBron James good enough to carry the Cavs?

It is widespread knowledge that LeBron James is the star player on the Cavaliers. Across all seven games of this year’s NBA Playoff Round 1, the Cavs played only 27 minutes without LeBron on the court, and during those 27 minutes, Cleveland’s defense wasn’t doing too well, to say the least.

The Cavs rely heavily on LeBron, but there’s only so much that he can do for the team himself. LeBron is, after all, just a single player, and in Round 1 of the playoffs, we saw the Cavs struggle against Indiana. Their matchup went all the way to Game 7, and most of the games were close.

In fact, the only game that was a wide-margin win was Game 6, in which the Cavaliers lost to the Pacers by 34 points. Furthermore, in the entire first-round matchup of seven games, the Pacers outscored the Cavs by 40 points, even though the latter ended up moving on to the semifinals.

It is worrying that the Cavaliers are now facing off against a much better team, the Toronto Raptors, the Eastern Conference number one seed. It is safe to say that LeBron will have to play well in this week’s games for the Cavs to have a chance of moving on to the conference finals.

Will the Celtics manage to make the conference finals without Kyrie Irving?

Kyrie Irving, one of the best scoring options on the Celtics, will not be playing for the rest of the season. On April 5, the Celtics announced that Irving, a new player for Boston, would be having another knee surgery and, as a result, would also be missing the rest of the season.

On March 25, Irving underwent a minimally invasive knee surgery to remove a tension wire in his left knee. The wire had been implanted along with two screws, following a knee fracture in 2015. Unfortunately now, doctors found the presence of an infection at the site of the screws and wire. To ensure that no infection remains in Irving’s knee, he will have to undergo another surgery.

The Celtics will also be playing without Gordon Hayward and possibly Jaylen Brown, both of whom are also very good scoring options for Boston.

At the same time, the Celtics did manage to win three out of four games against Philadelphia in the regular season. Their only loss against the Sixers was when Joel Embiid swept the court with 26 points, 18 boards, and six assists. However, going against a strong Sixers’ offense and forward Ben Simmons, the Celtics, lacking Irving, Hayward, and potentially Brown, will have to play their best to win four games.

How long can the Pelicans hold off the Warriors?

The Warriors are seeded number two in the Western Conference and are currently facing the Pelicans in the semifinals. On Saturday, the Warriors defeated the Pelicans in Game 1 of the semifinals, with a score of 123-101. While the score itself was impressive for the Warriors, the more impressive feat was that the team won the game without star point guard Stephen Curry. Curry was out for an MCL injury but will almost certainly return for Game 2 on Tuesday.

It will be interesting to watch how Curry fares in his first game in over a month. He last played on March 25 and has been out since then due to his knee injury. Still, whether or not Curry plays to his best, his return in Game 2 is great news for the Warriors. They are finally close to full strength again, something that has not been a reality for most of this season. It’s safe to say that Curry’s return will certainly give the Warriors a better shot at defending their title.

The Pelicans still do have the ability to match up with Golden State. Jrue Holiday has continued to play at a high level and has the chance to take on Klay Thompson and Curry. Additionally, Anthony Davis, another of the Pelican’s top players, will be doing his best to stay on Kevin Durant. Still, with the return of Curry and the fact that the Warriors won Game 1 by 22 points without him, the future semifinal matchups will be tough for the Pelicans, and the Warriors will likely win in Game 6 or 7.

All in all, the teams in the semifinals right now will put on some interesting matchups for the next two weeks of games. Predictions for the conference finals: Rockets vs. Warriors and Raptors vs. Sixers.

Cavs dominate the NBA trade deadline

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The 2018 NBA trade deadline came and went this past week, and despite being dominated by one team, the deadline certainly lived up to the hype. When the dust settled at the 3 p.m. deadline on Feb. 8, the three-time reigning Eastern Conference champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers, had completely restructured their roster, although little else of significance had taken place across the rest of the NBA.

The trade deadline is a significant moment in the NBA season, when star players are often traded to rival franchises. Traditionally, the deadline falls on the Thursday after the All-Star break, but it was moved forward 10 days this year in order to give players more time to acclimate to their new teams and new cities.

“[There] was the sense that it was more unsettling to have a player traded right after the All-Star break, that the All-Star break would have been an opportunity for the player to move himself, his family, get his family readjusted and get readjusted to the new team when they have that four- or five-day period to do that,” explained NBA Commissioner Adam Silver at the conclusion of the annual NBA Board of Governors meeting.

This year, 12 trades took place on deadline day, with the Cavaliers involved in a quarter of those deals. The Cavs were in desperate need of sweeping roster changes. Despite making the NBA Finals for three years running and despite sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference this year, the team has struggled in recent months. Since Dec. 17, the team’s record sits at a measly 10-12, with two of those wins — and no losses — coming after the trade deadline. The losing spell culminated on Feb. 6, when the team turned a 20-point lead into an 18-point loss against Eastern Conference bottom dwellers, the Orlando Magic. In addition, there have been reports of faked injuries, dissatisfaction with coaches, and a competition of egos among the plethora of star players in the Cleveland locker room.

In order to rebuild and restructure around their star player, LeBron James, the Cavs made three substantial moves on deadline day. These moves turned over 40 percent of the team’s roster on a single day and left the organization with just five players (James, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, and Kyle Korver) from last year’s Eastern Conference Championship squad. First, the Cavs sent All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, who was acquired by Cleveland at the start of the year, role player Channing Frye, and a 2018 first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for up-and-comers Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson. Clarkson, who is averaging 14.5 points, 3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists this season, will provide energy and scoring off the bench, something the Cavs have struggled with this year. Nance, a gifted defender and athlete, will also give depth to Cleveland’s roster.

This trade was the biggest of the day, but hardly surprising given Thomas’ inability to fit in to the Cavs organization. Thomas missed 36 games this year recovering from a hip injury, and after his return, struggled to perform on the court. As a member of the Cavs, he posted a minus-18.5 on/off rating, which measures the difference between a team’s success when a player is on the court and when he is on the bench. In addition, Thomas was at the center of the team’s locker room drama and was perceived by teammates and fans to be cocky, arrogant, and selfish.

One NBA scout said, “Cleveland definitely needed a culture/chemistry change. That team did not like each other.”

The Lakers also benefited from the Thomas deal. By acquiring two expiring contracts and handing Clarkson’s large contract ($26 million owed over the next two seasons) over to Cleveland, the team freed up enough cap space to sign two maximum contract free agents in the offseason. A maximum contract describes the maximum amount of money a player can sign for based on his experience in the league and the salary cap. Max contracts ensure that one player is not being paid more than the rest of his team combined and that teams are more balanced throughout the league. In other words, as a result of the Thomas trade, the Lakers will be able to bring two superstars to Los Angeles this summer.

The Lakers also received a first-round pick in the deal that can be used to add a young role player or prospect to the team’s already youthful core.

The second deal of the day was a three-team trade between the Cavs, the Utah Jazz, and the Sacramento Kings that saw swingman Rodney Hood and veteran point guard George Hill move to the Cavs. In the deal, Cleveland sent small forward Jae Crowder and former MVP point guard Derrick Rose to Utah, while shipping defensive specialist Iman Shumpert to Sacramento along with a 2020 second-round pick.

Like Nance and Clarkson, Hood and Hill will provide immediate upgrades to Cleveland’s roster. Cagey veteran Hill, who has played in 83 career playoff games, will provide the Cavs with experience and solid defending, and will help the team space the floor with his stellar three-point shooting (45.3 percent this year, first among all NBA point guards). Hood will provide the Cavs with a playmaker who can act as a third scoring option behind James and Love.

Following the trade, Cavs General Manager Koby Altman, described Hood,

“He’s a 6-foot-8 2-guard, and that’s just not normal. He’s a lefty, so he’s unorthodox. He’s hard to guard. He can move his feet, can defend. We found out a kid with that much talent was on the market, and we wanted to explore it.”

The Cavs’ final move of the day was a sentimental deal that saw 12-time All-Star Dwyane Wade return to the Miami Heat, the organization with which he spent 13 seasons and won three NBA Championships, in exchange for a second-round pick. Wade, a hero in South Beach, was interested in a larger role than the one he had in Cleveland.

Overall, Cleveland successfully maneuvered the trade deadline. The organization added three 25-year-olds (Hood, Clarkson, and Nance) to add energy and youth to the team, acquired an experienced, skilled player in Hill, and got rid of aging stars and competing personalities in Rose, Wade, and Thomas. In Cleveland’s first game with all of its new pieces, the team blew out then Eastern Conference leaders the Boston Celtics 121-99, while looking far more cohesive, energetic, and happy.

Cleveland head coach Tyron Lue described his team’s changed attitude during the Boston game. He stated, “I thought our spirit was different. I didn’t know what the outcome would be. But I knew we would compete and play hard. Move the basketball and move bodies. Those guys are flying around and it was good to see.”

The Cavs’ acquisitions do come with some financial drawbacks. Cleveland will inherit Hill and Clarkson’s large, guaranteed contracts, meaning that the organization’s already-exorbitant payroll will be bumped further above the salary cap. As a result, the Cavs could owe the league in excess of $50 million in luxury tax penalties this summer. The NBA’s luxury tax rules require NBA teams to pay the league a penalty greater than a dollar for every dollar by which their payroll exceeds the salary cap. The intent of this rule is to prevent teams in major markets with high incomes from signing all of the league’s best players and to keep the league competitive.

In addition, if the Cavs continue to struggle this season, James, who will be a free agent in the summer, may decide to move on to a host of suitors willing to offer him a max contract, such as the Lakers. 

Ultimately, however, the Cleveland Cavaliers won on deadline day. The aging team became younger, more unselfish, and more of a complete team. Before the deadline, many NBA analysts and fans had written off the Cavs as serious NBA Finals contenders. But now, the organization looks back on track to win its fourth consecutive Eastern Conference crown and potentially even challenge the defending NBA Champions, the Golden State Warriors, and the Houston Rockets for the title of NBA Champions.

Athletes Send Prayers for Vegas

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Though a few calls for political action have been sprinkled throughout the array of tweets, Facebook posts, and statements about the tragic shooting that occurred in Las Vegas recently, the responses have overwhelmingly just been voicings of solidarity, sadness, and support. Countless celebrities have spoken out and expressed their cares and prayers for the victims of the mass shooting. Included among these, of course, are professional athletes. Professional athletes have always occupied a space of revered celebrity in our culture, and thus had a platform to release statements and opinions. However, perhaps now more than ever, with many more pro players contributing to political dialogue and performing social demonstration, we turn to them to hear their takes on current events.

While many other types of celebrities have to be at least a little cautious about political opinions and tones they adopt when discussing tense, emotionally-charged issues like the Vegas shooting,  professional athletes aren’t required to have as much concern for this problem. Ultimately, though fame is certainly a by-product of their profession,  their professional success doesn’t completely or even mostly hinge on their public likeability and branding – although those things certainly have their place in the world of pro sports.  This allows athletes to speak more candidly and personally, especially when addressing tragedies and messy situations like the shooting in Vegas.

We see this in Philidelphia Eagles’ own quarterback, Carson Wentz, who offered up prayers for everyone affected by the shooting, claiming on Twitter that “[t]he World needs Jesus in a bad way.”

His teammates, Rodney McLeod, Rick Lovato, Torrey Smith, and Zach Ertz also took to Twitter to express their mourning and support for the victims through prayers. But the Eagles aren’t the only ones setting this trend.

Pray for Vegas!! … My prayers sent to the heavens above for all the families,” was tweeted by LeBron James on the morning of Oct. 2, the day after the shooting took place. Many of his peers, for instance Bryce Harper, Chris Paul, and Mike Timlin, the latter of whom was at the concert where the gunman attacked, echoed these prayers and sentiments, invoking God in their statements on the Vegas shooting.

On a larger scale, whole professional sports teams are also honoring the victims of the Vegas massacre. The Raiders, who plan to move to Vegas in two years, played with helmet decals that read “Vegas Strong.” The NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights have indicated that their plans for Tuesday night’s games would be focused on a special tribute to those killed in the shooting.

“We have to do our part to help this city past this whole ordeal,” said Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland, who predicted a very emotional response from the city at the game. The team’s Twitter announced that rather than ads, messages of support and the words #VegasStrong would play during the game.

“[Tuesday] night is not about us. It’s about honoring and remembering the victims, supporting their families, and recognizing the first responders who did tremendous work,” explained George McPhee, the team’s general manager. Gerard Gallant, a Golden Knights coach, agreed that the night was about something much bigger than hockey or the team.

“It’s bigger than hockey — a lot bigger,” said McPhee.

Professional athletes will continue to be notable celebrities and public figures and, though they are often cautious of their image as brand spokespeople and role models, often what we see of them, especially in tense and trying times such as the Vegas massacre, is authenticity and true concern. So many of us have idolized athletes from childhood on, and there is something so comforting about seeing that your hero feels the same way you do about a nationwide tragedy, and it is comforting to see them offer the support to those who need it.  

Wade Reunites with Lebron

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This NBA offseason has been filled with ample excitement. Blockbuster trades have occurred, new “Big 3’s” have been formed, and old teammates have reunited. While the season’s outcomes are largely unpredictable, one thing is for sure: LeBron James is happy to have Dwyane Wade back on the court with him.

LeBron and Wade have been longtime friends, dating back to their first interaction at the 2003 pre-draft combine at which the two started talking while waiting to be examined by a doctor.

Wade referred to the moment in an interview with the NBA.

“I was in there waiting on the doctors to come in to see me for about an hour. He walked right in and they seen[sic]him. We kind of kicked it off from there. It’s just something that happened – there’s no way to really explain it.” That single interaction has stemmed one of the greatest duos in basketball history as well as a lifelong friendship.

The duos on court success started immediately when James became a member of the Miami Heat for the 2010-2011 NBA season. That year, the two dominantly marched their way past the competition directly into the NBA finals against the Dallas Mavericks. After establishing an early 2-1 lead in the best of seven games series, they ended up losing the title. One year later after another dominant season, the Heat again found themselves in the Finals versus the Oklahoma City Thunder. Fueled by the prior year’s defeat, James, Wade, and the rest of the team stepped up their game. The extra effort paid off when they won four games to one, marking the first championship won by Wade and James on the same team. With a tried and true blueprint from the season before, the team found themselves in the finals for the third year in a row. After beating the legendary San Antonio Spurs in seven games, LeBron and Wade claimed their second NBA title together.

Because their success on the court has been so profound, much of what has been reported in the media about the two relates to just that. Perhaps just as interesting, however, is the bond that the two have established off of the court. Wade and LeBron have been on countless vacations together and even this past month were featured all over Instagram for their combined off-season workouts in Los Angeles. Less well-known is the fact that Dwyane Wade was with LeBron the night that James proposed to his then fianceé, Savannah James.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lebron said “I had D-Wade hold the ring for me all night because I didn’t want Savannah to accidentally bump against me and feel that I had the ring on me. When I asked for the ring, D-Wade looked at me and said, ‘Are you ready?’”.

Perhaps Wade’s wife Gabrielle Union said it best when describing Wade and James’ irreplaceable relationship. “If we played ‘The Newlywed Game’, I don’t know if I’d have more information on my husband than LeBron would,” she said.

While Wade and LeBron have proven multiple times that they are capable of winning an NBA championship, this year’s competition is fierce. Of course, the Golden State Warriors led by superstars Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are a force to be reckoned with. In addition to the Warriors, however, are many improven teams that share the same goal of winning a title. For example, the Oklahoma City Thunder, who lost to the Rockets in the playoffs last year, added superstars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Furthermore the Boston Celtics, last year’s number one seed in the East, appear to be reinvigorated with the addition of Kyrie Irving to their roster by means of a trade that sent MVP candidate Isaiah Thomas and starting small forward Jae Crowder to the Cavaliers.

While the journey toward the ultimate goal of winning the NBA championship is arduous, I am confident that LeBron wouldn’t trade the opportunity to do it all over again with Wade for anything.

 

Reviewing the first half of the 2014-2015 NBA season

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Lebroncavs
LeBron James is starting his first season back on the Cleveland Cavaliers since leaving the team in 2009.

The 2014-15 NBA season has been a breath of fresh air for most NBA fans. Teams that have dominated the NBA playoffs the past three years were either broken apart in free agency (Miami) or decimated by injuries (OKC, San Antonio and Indiana), leaving room for Washington, Atlanta, Golden State, Memphis and others to swoop in and vie for the pole positions in each conference. Other than the newfound disparity in the league, there have been several compelling storylines to follow across the Association that make this one of the more exciting seasons in recent memory.

This article could not be started without mentioning LeBron’s “return” to Cleveland and the Eastern Conference’s new Big Three (James and all-stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving). The four-time MVP left the Miami Heat for the hometown team he spurned in 2010, quickly erasing much of the hostility that had been built up towards him during his four years in Miami. This move, coupled with a pre-season trade for Love, lead many to believe that there was a clear new beast in the East. The truth couldn’t be further off. While the Cavs posted an offensive rating of 113.5 points/100 possessions with the Big Three on the court, the team was a very average 21-20 at the midway point of the season, with glaring chemistry, leadership and defensive issues.

The power vacuum following the Heat’s breakdown did, however, create a different power in the Eastern Conference: the Atlanta Hawks. Last year’s eighth seed, barely making the playoffs — even in the weaker East — has now won 30 of its last 32 games and sits atop the conference by a wide margin. Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap are essentially guaranteed All-Star bids, but don’t sleep on Kyle Korver and Al Horfords’ impact on the team’s offense and defense respectively. Atlanta is dominating top teams from both conferences with regularity and is living proof that team play and effort can trump star power, even in the NBA.

On the other side of the NBA, the Warriors are proving that you can have star power and team play, showcasing what the best backcourt in the NBA (possibly in NBA history), two potential Defensive Players of the Year (Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut) and an experienced and innovative coach can do. The team has absolutely taken the league by storm and are on track to have the second highest win total in league history.

A part of that backcourt, shooting guard Klay Thompson, deserves his own separate storyline for the greatest shooting display in NBA history. In an impressive win over the Kings, Thompson shattered both his personal career high for points in a game and the NBA all-time record for points in a quarter by scoring 37 points in the third and 52 in the game. He hit all 13 of his field goal attempts, including nine threes in the period. To give this some context, 13 teams in the NBA haven’t had any player score 37 points in an entire game all season and no other player ever scored more than 33 in a quarter.

No stranger to scoring the basketball, Kobe Bryant returned to action after a year and a half on injury leave and tried to bring life to a dead Lakers franchise. Bryant started off as advertised and captured the attention of fans and haters across the nation. High-volume shooting allowed him to lead the league in scoring for the first three months of the season. At the same time, Kobe surpassed his inspiration, Michael Jordan, in total career points scored. However, the Lakers, hit early by season-ending injuries to Steve Nash, Julius Randle and a long absence by Nick Young, resulted in Kobe carrying far more of the load than his old body should. He shot a horrid 37.3 percent from the field, making him the first player since 1961 to shoot that badly with 20 attempts per game. Not that it mattered, as the Lakers lost to nearly everybody in the league. In the end, a rotary cuff tear has ended the season, and possibly the career of the great Kobe Bryant — a hard way for a legend to go down.

In Chicago, Derrick Rose attempted the same by coming back from major surgery on both knees in the past two years, but in a very different situation. Rose returned to a contending team featuring a revitalized Pau Gasol and a blossoming Jimi Butler, and has been able to ease his way into playing like a star. The Bulls, explosive Rose or not, figure to be a contending power in the East, but if Rose and Noah are not playing at their highest, they don’t seem to be able to compete with the Wizards, Hawks or any contenders from the West.

In total, the first half has left us with more questions than answers. Will Cleveland turn it around? Can the young, streaking teams stay hot? How will the MVP race end? Will the Thunder catch the Suns for eighth seed in the West? The beauty of sport, however, is that we know we’ll get the answers; we just need to be patient, watch and enjoy the basketball in the meantime.

Positional growth opens the NBA up to excitement, change

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There are some realities in life that we don’t question, for good reason. 1+1= 2. The sun rises and sets. Ross and Rachel never made sense. Swarthmore is the best college in the country. Then there are some realities that we just take for granted and, bang, they’re changed and never coming back. Pluto anyone? Marijuana legalization in the U.S.?

The same principles apply to sports. On one hand, the New England Patriots and San Antonio Spurs will make the playoffs, MLB players will use performance enhancing drugs and Duke will have an early upset loss to some school nobody’s heard of.

On the other, Manchester United went from ruling the Premier League to collapsing to seventh, beneath Tottenham and Everton, in the span of one season. The Los Angeles Lakers, having missed the playoffs just 4 times ever, appear set for mediocrity for the next half-decade. And there are more than 5 NBA positions.

Wait, what?

Historically, the sport of basketball has had five players on the court with distinct roles. The point guard’s, otherwise known as “the one”, job was to bring the ball across half-court, call a play and pass. The shooting guard’s (two) was to do just that: shoot and shoot accurately. The small forward (three) was an overall athlete, capable of defending and driving for vicious dunks. The power forward (four) filled space in the paint and rebounded. The center (five) was as big as possible and bulled his way to the rim for layups, dunks and put-backs. It all seemed simple.

Today, due to the NBA’s obsession with efficiency, the traditional basketball systems are evolving. General managers want to find the next revolutionary formula to rule the NBA. This has shattered the five-positions model. There are already four new NBA positions and we can already see more coming.

The first position to be radicalized was point guard. This started during the mid-1990s, but the change is most visible today. I’m referring to the change from the Bob Cousy, John Stockton-style pure facilitators to athletic scorers. Tim Hardaway, Baron Davis and Stephon Marbury started this movement with their “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality, but it wasn’t until Allen Iverson started leading the NBA in scoring annually at 6’1” that point guards really took note and started working as much on their scoring repertoire as their defensive and ball-handling skills. In recent years, we have witnessed the takeover of hyper-athletic guards such as Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and John Wall, who foray to the rim to challenge bigger men as often as they defer. Then you have Damien Lillard, Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry who shoot 600 three-point attempts a year, making over 250 of them, further demonstrating the shift towards scoring three instead of one.

This, in turn, leads to the development of the complementary players on teams built around these scoring guards. Teams now have specialists at the two and three positions: players known as “three and D” guys. Teams are paying for players such as Trevor Ariza, Chandler Parsons and Klay Thompson to shut down the opposing team’s stars, come down to the other end and chuck up a high volume of ranged jump shots to keep defenses honest. This opens up the court and lanes for the ones and threes to slash through.

Another interesting byproduct of this is a position known as the point forward. Much like the traditional point guards, point forwards are players who specialize in setting up their teammates and running a team. The LeBron Jameses, Andre Igoudalas and Paul Pierces of the NBA are often defensive stalwarts and solid rebounders. However, they can bring the ball up, call plays and lead teams. This adds depth to NBA attacks, allowing players like Irving and Curry to take possessions off the ball and spot up for jump shots or cut.

The center has also officially died out according to the All-NBA and All-Star teams, as a “front-court” position has replaced forwards and centers. The monsters of the ’90s, behemoths like Shaq, David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon, are simply not patrolling the paint anymore. Instead the NBA requires hyper-athletic 7-footers to block from the weak side, gobble up rebounds and catch alley-oop passes from anywhere in the arena. DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Andre Drummond and Tyson Chandler have extremely limited offensive arsenals and miss more free throws than they make; however, they are in high demand and are paid multi-million dollar annual contracts, because of their athleticism rather than their skill or size.

The fourth and probably most drastic change from the players of yore is in the power forward position. No longer is the NBA filled with players whose names are forgotten before they retire, who live five feet from the basket and who need a point guard to set them up. Rather, NBA fours are being dragged further from the rim and towards the three-point line in order for the wings to dive at the basket. This started in the early 2000’s during Dirk Nowitzki’s reign over the basketball world. People simply couldn’t guard 7-footers who could shoot from 30 feet away. Suddenly, it’s become a prerequisite for power forwards to have an outside shot. Almost every team has a four that can hit three-pointers like Kevin Love, Ryan Anderson or Nowitzki. Even players whose games live closer to the rim are berated by critics and coaches until they develop a midrange jumper. Just ask Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge.

So, it is pretty apparent that the NBA currently has at least 9 positions and that new developments have led to a faster paced and more spaced NBA game, meaning higher scoring and more action. So, the NBA makes more money. Yay! “But is this it? What else can these guys do?” you may ask between shaking your head and writing the number ‘five’ fervently on a piece of paper.

Well, the center position is starting to develop in more than one direction and is the most likely position to change next. In addition to these hyper-athletes, there is a growing breed of centers spearheading offenses themselves, not with ball handling, but with passing and court vision. Joakim Noah and Marc Gasol have recently begun seeing more touches without an increase in shooting volume. The reason? They’re the primary facilitators on their team. In March this year, Noah incredibly averaged eight assists per game, which, over the course of a season, would be more even than elite point guards Tony Parker and Westbrook’s best assisting seasons ever. That’s amazing. Now this trend is not definite, because these ex-defensive players of the year are exceptional talents. However, if NBA coaches increasingly begin running offense through the high post, players will, seeing the demand for those skills, work on them. It’s an interesting proposition for the position that used to be the NBA’s primary scoring option to develop in a completely polar opposite direction, towards defense and passing.

In general, the world is moving towards efficiency and specialization at a higher level and this is true in sports as much as elsewhere. Thus, the NBA’s positional growth is not unusual and is opening the game up for excitement and intrigue. What’s next?

 

Donald Sterling and advertising ignorance

in Columns/Out of Left Field/Sports by
Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been banned for life for racist comments he made to his girlfriend.
Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been banned for life for racist comments he made to his girlfriend.

Donald Sterling managed to make himself the most hated man in basketball with a ten-minute audio recording. Sterling told his girlfriend that she could associate with African Americans in private, but she couldn’t bring them to Clippers games. This led to outrage across the league and his eventual ban for life from the NBA, a $2.5m fine and a move to make him sell the Clippers to another ownership group.

It seems that Donald Sterling may have been harboring racist thoughts all this time and nobody knew about it. Or did no one really? Because this isn’t the first time that Sterling has been accused of discrimination. In 2006, a large case was brought against Sterling for refusing to rent his properties to African Americans and those with families. At the time, it was the largest ever case of property discrimination and ended with Sterling paying out $2.725m as a settlement. That, it turns out, was just the beginning.

What got Sterling in trouble this time was an audio recording of a conversation between him and his much, much younger girlfriend. In the recording, Sterling touches on a number of topics such as that fact that he is superior to the black players on his team because he feeds them, that his girlfriend shouldn’t have Matt Kemp, Magic Johnson or black people in her Instagram, and finally that black Jews are inferior to white Jews. It is really all quite ridiculous. Some of the things he’s saying are so weird that it’s difficult to tell if he really believes them, but the problem here is that he does. He really believes that black Jews are inferior to white Jews, and that it is okay to believe this since, “We don’t evaluate what’s right and wrong, we live in a society. We live in a culture. We have to live within that culture.” Except we do evaluate what’s right and wrong, as Sterling has found out in recent days.

Adam Silver, the new NBA commissioner, had a major decision to make when it came to Sterling. Silver has not been in the job long and any decision he made would set the tone for the rest of his reign. What he did was send a message to anyone with outdated ideas: you’re not welcome in the NBA. It was a clear statement and one that had to be made. Sterling was hit with the biggest fine possible, the harshest punishment that could be handed down by the NBA in the form of a lifetime ban and he will likely be forced to sell his franchise, which has only recently stopped being a complete laughingstock. What Silver did was set a precedent that racism in the NBA will not be tolerated and the league will come after those who do not change with the times. I’ve heard excuses from TV personalities that Sterling should be punished because the majority of the league is African American, but that shouldn’t matter. This isn’t political correctness; this is a fight for respect in the league.

The decision has been made and it is unlikely that Sterling will win any appeal because, in an interview with Silver, he admitted it was his voice in the recording. The only thing left is to value the Clippers and to find a buyer for the franchise. So instead of discussing hypothetical situations, I think it is more useful to analyze what others around the league and America said publicly on the Sterling affair, since this event has garnered loads of attention in the American media. Even President Obama commented on Sterling while conducting an East Asian tour designed to ease rising tensions between Korea and Japan. Obama gave a press conference and stated, “When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything. You just let them talk. And that’s what happened here.” Obama is right: Sterling’s ignorance is on show here.

LeBron James and Doc Rivers had the best things to say about Sterling. James, when interviewed after the Heat-Bobcats game, said, “We’re the model citizens of all sports around the world because we are the most recognizable figures … It’s very disrespectful and it’s appalling.” LeBron also led the Heat’s show of solidarity with the Clippers before game 4 of their series with the Bobcats. Rivers pointed out that while he would usually be looking forward to going back to LA, it was unlikely to be a happy return. But Rivers called for solidarity, “I think the biggest statement we can make as men, not as black men, as men, is to stick together and show how strong we are as a group.”

Magic Johnson’s response was most telling since he was actually targeted by Sterling in the recording. Sterling told his girlfriend, “don’t bring him to my games, OK?” Johnson has given a number of interviews since the event and has recently announced that he will be trying to get his Dodgers friends together to buy the Clippers. Johnson announced in an interview that, “I will never go to a Clippers game again as long as Donald Sterling is the owner,” which may not be for long.

Even Lil’ Wayne has offered his opinion on the matter, although what he had to say was a little too risqué to put into print (it is worth watching though). But this shows how problematic Sterling’s actions are. Pretty much everyone has rallied against Sterling, and Silver realized that drastic action was necessary in order to restore tranquility to the NBA. The good thing to note is that nobody is defending Sterling and everyone is focused on castigating him. So maybe Sterling is one of the last members of the ‘ignorant’ community and we should be celebrating the fact that he has been found out and hopefully forced out. Hopefully he will soon be gone and the Clippers can carry on with a push for the finals.

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