The Warriors Achillies Heels

Remember when the Miami Heat repeated as champions in 2013 and the rest of the NBA cowered under their boots? Seems so long ago. Little did we know how gentile Miami’s foundation was. Behind the Herculean efforts of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, Miami laid waste to a league unable to contain either of them. So what eventually brought these titans down? Age… specifically, D-Wade’s. And Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Chris Anderson and various other role players who provided key assistance in championship runs in the past fossilized over the course of a summer.

Coming off their second straight championship, their third in four seasons, the Golden State Warriors possess the same hubris and internal flaws that’ll surely bring them down… one of these days. Perhaps it’ll be this year their eagerly awaited demise arrives and the NBA will ceased to be “ruined” and return to a nirvana that never really existed.

Forget the noise surrounding the DeMarcus Cousins signing. The reason no one offered anything significant, which lead to this apparently earth shattering deal is because historically Cousins is a moody player and relies heavily on athleticism to get his points. Coming off an achilles injury he’ll be rehabbing until February and there’s no telling what he’ll look like once he returns to the hardwood. At best, Cousins is a complete zero on defense. Will Steve Kerr be able to inspire constant effort on the defensive end when previously there was never any? He’s more likely than to squeeze that out of the similarity egotistical, aging star Carmelo Anthony than Cousins.

The departures of veteran centers David West and ZaZa Pachuila hurt this team more than we’re letting on. Even Pachuila was still setting quality screens and effective in the pick-and-roll (1.32 points per possession)in a noticeably down year. West, though pushing 37, is the superior passing big and a clear-cut professional. West was also an alternative to Draymond Green as the Swiss-army knife in a small-ball lineup when Kerr wanted to rest Green. With that option gone, you’ll see an awful lot of Kevin Durant at center. Which isn’t bad, but there’s a reason the Al Horford’s and Anthony Davis’s of the world don’t like playing the position – it’s awfully taxing on the body to have people Cousins’s size jump on your back every thirty-seconds. With K.D pushing thirty, a history of injuries to his lower body, is it wise for Kerr to put his star through the ringer in such a manner?

The other free agent signing of former Utah Jazz Jonas Jerebko performs better as a stopgap center than Cousins. Yes. That is something I just said. You want to know why? Because it’s true. I’ve watched Jerebko play during his time in Boston and let me tell you, he’s a great hustler. Surely able to guard the likes of backup power forwards and centers such as Montrezl Harrell, Trey Lyles, Patrick Patterson and maybe even slow footed starters like Tobias Harris.

A frequent spot-up shooter, his 49.1 freq% rate last season was higher than Danny Green. Jerebko posted a solid 1.12 PPP in spot-up situations, and 41.4% from three-point land on 2.1 attempts per game. His lone season was Jerebko’s finest, I expect nothing less from him in Golden State.

To discuss the situation in the backcourt, I can in no way explain how fucked the Warriors are if Stephen Curry misses 30-games again. The price never dipped far enough for Wayne Ellington for the Warriors to offer the $5.3 million they have to Cousins; Ellington later signed a $6.3 million deal to stay in Miami. And they drafted Cincinnati forward Jacob Evans, someone who acts more as a specialist 3-and-D personnel rather than a playmaker like Villanova guard Jalen Brunson would’ve acted as if selected. Evans did maintain a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in Cincinnati.

Curry doesn’t just shoot threes. He passes, creates constant movement in the offense and raises havoc in opposing defenses. With him on the bench it’s easier quell the likes of Durant or spot-up shooter Klay Thompson. It’s astonishing they didn’t just offer a pick to Boston for Terry Rozier just to see if Danny Ainge bit.

There is no playmaker besides Curry on this Warriors team that can conceivably play point guard. As great as Shaun Livingston is, he’s pushing 33 and his assist total last season was just 2. He’s a fine placeholder for Curry – for now. Will he be this year? An awful lot depends on it.

The Cavaliers Can Win Without Kevin Love

After a virtuosos performance from Boston in Game 5 how could have we possibly believed the momentum would carry over to Cleveland when the Celtics, quite possibly, are the worst road team to get within one game of the NBA Finals. The home/road disparity between both teams is jaw dropping. Both the Celtics and the Cavaliers aren’t powerhouses you’d expect to meet in the eastern conference final. They’re flawed teams coached by men still learning the game, while the Celtics are young and relatively inexperienced, the Cavaliers are older, but lack the explosiveness they once did to string together two straight quality games.

The George Hill vs Terry Rozier matchup I thought was Boston’s biggest advantage in the series besides coaching. Hill’s been through a lot in his career and isn’t the same fringe All-NBA defender like his days in Indianapolis. In Boston he’s an empty shell who makes Bron pine for the days of whack-job Delonte West:
(3 Games) George Hill at home (per game):
15.3 points, 2.6 assists
(3 games) Away:
5 points, 1 assist
Conversely, the home version of Hill makes LeBron wish he’s given his nutsack in either 2010 or 2014 to have such a quality player in his corner.
It’s no secret Cleveland’s defense is atrocious. Their near-fatal issues are masked when able to rain threes without mercy on their opponent. Made shots means the other team cannot get into a fast break in transition, it also has a correlation to good overall defense… at least for Cleveland. Boston averages a poor 99.6 points in the six-games played, but average 103.6 at home where the Cavaliers splits are 41.2/25.2/78 percent. To hammer the point home Boston points per game drops to 95.6 on the road, where the Cavaliers splits are an amazing 48.7/42.5/79.Since LeBron’s return to Cleveland their best defense has been their offense and that is on full display in this Jekyll and Hyde act this series.
Of course, the Cavaliers will be without Kevin Love the only player on the team averaging double-digits in scoring for the series. For all the doom and gloom of the Cavs being without who’s supposed to be their second best player, this forces the usually inflexible Ty Lue to dig deep into his bench for younglings like Larry Nance, and gives more opportunity to someone like George Hill the Cavs are a drastically different team when Hill is competent, which is why I’ve been so disappointed in Rozier’s efforts to defend him.
The Cavs don’t run a democratic offense, it’s no secret. Everything runs through LeBron and when he’s on the bench it’s generally an unorganized mess. There’s a hidden wrinkle in Cleveland’s wonky structure and that’s they’re better (for whatever reason) with Love off the floor. Currently the Cavaliers are minus-20 with Love on the floor (lowest on team) and plus-18 with Love on the bench (highest on team). The teams offensive rating bounces skyward from 98 to 109.8 in this series.
When Lue inserted Tristan Thompson into the starting lineup for Game 2 it forced Marcus Morris on T.T and Jaylen Brown on LeBron, perhaps that’ll be the matchup for Game 7 as neither Baynes or Horford have proven able to contain the bouncy career-underachiever.
We’ve all convinced ourselves that magical pixie dust will descend from the heavens and make Hill, J.R Smith and Kyle Korver the players they are at home for the final game in Boston. We know LeBron is going to be an unstoppable nightmare, while he too has experienced his worst outings in the Garden, the larger sample size of Bron’s dominance edges out two horrible games. Regardless, the lights have never shined brighter on either Tatum, Brown or Rozier a chance to take on a visibly worn down Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors team hangs in the balance. And while the Celtics have already won a Game 7 with this core of players all playing at a high-level, you can’t help but worry if the specter of LeBron will be just enough to have them quivering by the forth quarter.
If Larry Nance, George Hill and Jeff Green (of all people) get going (and it’ll be simultaneously) then it’s a long night for us Celtics fans as another season comes to a close in a heartbreaking manner. But if all LeBron is left with his himself and a bunch of goofs, like in Game 2, then perhaps we’ll see our young boys on top of the basketball world before the clock strikes twelve on this unprecedented Cinderella story.

Celtics Improbable Home Magic

“It’s true. All of it.” Stern words said by the late galactic hero Han Solo when Rey realizes all the legends she was told was in fact true as day. She reacts amazed, astonished. Such begins the whimsical, but treacherous ride into a bold new world. This is what life is currently like for Boston fans. Going into the playoffs the team looked ready to waive the white flag. Injuries waste potentially the last year of Marcus Smart and robs us of two prime All-Star seasons from Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. It’s as if the Basketball Gods don’t want us to get this far.

No matter what this ragtag group of late draft picks and role-players ended Giannis Antetokounmpo’s season prematurely and now lead the best 1-2 punch in the conference 2 games to zilch. At home the Boston Celtics are indestructible. The mystique of the old Boston Garden carried over to the new TD Garden(Still the FleetCenter to me). The Celtics can’t seem to stay dead when they play in front of the Beantown faithful. Terry Rozier is at an All-Star level of good at home, 22.8 points in six games, 50.5% from the field. Versus 11.7 points on 27.8% shooting on the road. It’s somewhat smoke and mirrors but Boston enjoys home-court advantage throughout this series, even if Philadelphia ties this series up by Monday, I’d still feel confident in Boston going into a pressure packed Game 5.
Embiid faltered late, possessions featuring him bogged down to one-on-one everybody else standing around. Either Embiid makes the basket or misses, if it wasn’t for the early advantage Philly gained on second chance points (18-12) the Sixers would not have jumped out to a 22-point lead by the second quarter. Horford shut down Embiid forcing the dynamic center to settle for long range shots, of which he finished 1 of 6. Coming off the Miami series where he and Simmons imposed their will, it’s a drastic shift from those two being on God mode to the minuscule effect they’re having now.
Al Horford succeeded in dragging Embiid out of his work zone opening the lanes up to rim drives from T-Ro, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. What’s shocking is the Sixers were outscored by eight when Embiid was on the floor. The veteran Horford got the first step on Embiid numerous times, including the skillful layup off the feed from T-Ro. Embiid still has lots of learning to do. Perhaps the restrictions he’s been on for the season make him vulnerable in high pressure situations when the intensity is ratcheted up a level.
Embiid wasn’t even the best player for the Sixers in Game 2. J.J Redick and Robert Covington carries Philly’s offense. Rookie sensation Ben Simmons did not convert a single field goal attempt, his lone point coming from the charity stripe in the first quarter. Brad Stevens learned from coaching against Giannis for seven-games transition defense is tremendously important. Philly scored only thirteen points in the fast break, ten in preceding Game 1. While Simmons says his did of a Game was “self inflicted”, may be right, it doesn’t negate the Celtics walling off B.S comfort zone near the basket begging him to shoot every-time he touches the ball. Maybe at home, away from the disruptive confines of Boston Simmons can regain his prowess. It’s certainly possible.
But none of this is possible without Al Horford solidifying himself not just worth his max contract but making a strong candidacy for the Hall of Fame. Ripping off a postseason run reminiscent of Bill Walton of 1977 and Pau Gasol of 2010. Horford is everything to this Celtics team, there’s so much truth to the fact he does more “beyond the box score.” A sentiment usually ridiculed by those in the toxic Boston sports media.
Bill Walton, ‘77 Postseason:
18.2 PPG, 15.2 RPG, 5.5 APG, 50.7 fg%, 19.7 P.E.R, .162 WS/48, ORtg N/A
 
Pau Gasol, ‘10 Postseason:
19.6 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 3.5 APG, 53.9 fg%, 24 P.E.R, .224 WS/48, 126 ORtg
 
Al Horford ‘18 Postseason:
18.4 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 3.6 APG, 61.4 fg%, 23.3 P.E.R, .228, 129 ORtg
Players who’ve averaged more than 18 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and a block in the playoffs are usually the shot blocking lane clogger kind of center (David Robinson and Ralph Sampson) and dynamic forwards (LeBron, Barkley, Durant). But for a non-traditionalist big like Horford, someone who wishes he shot the three ball sooner in his career, it’s quite the accomplishment given the duration of the Celtics run and what he was saddled with this start.
Do the Celtics have enough magic in them to continue this improbable run on Saturday nightat the Wells Fargo arenain Philadelphia? Eh. I doubt it. But with home court advantage it is not inconceivable the Celtics Win this series in 7 and have a date with LeBron in a East-Finals rematch.
And then… I don’t know what I’ll think.

LaMarcus Aldridge Yawns His Way Back To An All-NBA Team

Quick question: name the second and third best players on the San Antonio Spurs. No. Don’t say, “Kawhi Leonard” because he’s only been available for nine games this season. And it doesn’t look like he’s coming back anytime soon. Is it Patty Mills? A decent point guard, averaging below 10 points a game this season? Or how about Tony Parker, currently averaging his lowest assists per game in his seventeen-year career. From top to bottom the Spurs roster is made out of… ok NBA players, largely ineffectual and wouldn’t move the needle for most franchises. After striking out in last summer, signing extension contracts to both aging big men Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge, many were perplexed as to why the Spurs tied themselves to this current core who clearly maxed out their potential the year prior.

It felt as if the sun set on the Spurs Empire. Twenty-years of excellence wasn’t enough to woo Chris Paul into coming. Aldridge made his displeasures towards the organization known, asking to be traded. Humbled by this, Popovich did what most coaches would never even consider: he apologized to Aldridge, taking full responsibility for his down-year in 2016-17, where Aldridge fell from a 3rd Team All-NBA player, to looking like a complete has-been. Yet, it hasn’t been fun to watch as the Spurs have been even more uninteresting then they’ve been stereotyped to be in the past. An unfamiliarity with the players on the court, the ability of Popovich to get just enough out of these no-names to squeak by is nothing short of magnificent.

Instead of going in the tank (like I advocated, earlier in the season) they stayed the course and are 43-31. Aldridge carries a team of net zeroes, he’s fifth in two-point field goals made (588), 12th in points per game (23.2), 18th in usage% (29.2), 7th in win shares (9.8) and a 6.2 net rating. Enjoying a career-high in effective field-goal percentage (51.9), offensive rating (117), P.E.R (24.8), this is Aldridge most productive season as the vocal point of the entire offense since his last season in Portland. The year he made All-NBA Second Team. The moment Aldridge got on my radar was the dynamic performance against Utah – the best defensive in the NBA. Raining mid-range jumpers over Rudy Gobert without any regard for him as a human being. Twenty-eight of his forty-five points coming at Gobert’s expense. Playing mostly an old school style, using his elbows to back down his defender, letting loose a beautiful tear drop finger roll, or a mean step back.

Since the All-Star break, Aldridge’s been cranking out 26 points, off of 53.3% shooting, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and an ORtg Of 122 in thirteen-games.

Yet, the Spurs are still not remotely interesting. This season is very reminiscent of the 2006 Patriots, when the best days of the initial run of dominance is coming to a close and a revamping of the roster should be imminent. Just like Brady, Aldridge is given nothing to work with, the infrastructure of Popovich leading to many victories that shouldn’t be. Outside of San Antonio, this season won’t be fondly remembered. The drama off the court surrounding Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs team doctors garners the most attention of the media, me, and fans.

What-If Larry Bird Retired In 1988?

Written By: Vinny @sailboatstudios

 

It’s difficult to understand how great someone from the past really was, especially when you’ve never experienced them firsthand. This probably explains why so many people think LeBron is the greatest player ever. All under twenty-five-year olds have of Michael Jordan is YouTube clips, full games the lack the sense of mystery because the viewer knows how it ends. The cold hard numbers help the narrative that even Kobe Bryant is superior; the numbers don’t tell you Jordan took a sabbatical and missed 99 games. All I’m left with of Larry Joe Bird is the statistics, stories and grainy old footage. We label the 1980s as an overrated era of slow, rugby style basketball that couldn’t possibly work today. The past epic duels between Bird and Dominique, Dr. J, M.J, and Magic are forgotten. By the late-1980s Bird’s status grew to the popularity of where Tom Brady is right now. If there was a stat to describe how many times an athlete came through in the clutch, when fans knew they would, Bird would lead the league.

While the era of Brady lives on, Bird it hung up prematurely at the age of thirty-one. 31. Thirty-one. Reminiscent  of Red Auerbach did before the 1965-66 season Bird announced he was giving the rest of the league “one more” shot at knocking him down. Except Auerbach himself did everything short of getting on his knees to beg Larry not to keep true to his word. Camping out of Bird’s estate in French Lick, Indiana, it wasn’t until September when Red saw Bird laying down gravel in his mother’s driveway did he come to grips with the reality: Bird’s back been giving him trouble since 1985, and it would only get worse from here.

It’s alright, Larry.” He told him. “At Least we still have Lenny.”

And just like that the face of the franchise changed from this skinny gent “The Hick from French Lick” to a physical specimen from Maryland that rivaled Jordan in ego and competitive drive. “If it wasn’t for Bias, I wouldn’t have retired after ‘88.” Bird said in an interview with columnist Bill Simmons.

“What?” He didn’t believe it.

“We’ve just won the title, I finished second in the MVP vote to Jordan… I still felt like I had some good years left in the tank. But I knew the Celtics were in good hands. Lenny was someone I liked the moment I first saw him.

The change was drastic and threw fans into a loop. Fans were expected to toss away their black Converse sneaks in favor of a sleek black, white stripe shoes. Outside of New England the transition was easy; within the area they didn’t know how to feel. The sad era of fans thinking the NBA was “too black” wasn’t a distant memory. When Bird became the coach in 1990, fans chanted “Larry Larry Larry” after every win, Bird could’ve personally told them to stop and they wouldn’t.

Bias eventually won the younger generation over in the early 1990s, out-dueling M.J in the 1990 Semi-Final. Bias was Kawhi Leonard before Kawhi was a twinkle in his father’s eye. Locking up the scoring champ in Game 7, holding him down to sixteen points, five turnovers. “It was the worse game i’ve ever played.” Jordan would confess. Behind the lockdown perimeter defense of Bias and outside shooting of UConn shooting guard Reggie Lewis, the Celtics snuck into the NBA Finals, where they would bow out to the Portland Trailblazers. The team labeled “too old” and simultaneously “too young” the Celtics surprised many, Bias proved his worth as a successor to the legacy of Bird.

How could you not sympathize with the Danny White of the NBA? No matter how well Bias did, he was a mere mortal compared to Bird’s Staubach. Maybe a championship would’ve helped him escape the shadow of The Legend. But basketball is a team sport. The fossilizing of Kevin McHale; Auerbach’s inability to replace the greatest post player in NBA history, passing on Shawn Kemp for Michael Smith in the crucial 1989 NBA Draft set Bias up for failure. Coach Larry Bird tried to get around the aging Kevin’s mcHale by experimenting with the 6’5 Kevin Gamble at the power forward spot, but when playoff time rolled around he went back to the traditional lineup that couldn’t keep up with the speed of the Bulls.

It wasn’t until the death of Reggie Lewis in June of 1993 did fans learn to appreciate the talent before them, realizing how good they got it. Bravely the twenty-nine-year old Bias lead the Celtics through the despair, leading the undermanned Celtics passed the Hornets and heavily favored Knicks en route to a gallant defeat at the hands of Jordan. And thus, the book closed on the Bias era in Boston, fans didn’t know it then.

Three Eastern Conference appearance, two-time runner-up, five Atlantic division titles, getting the best of the GOAT twice(!) in the playoffs. It wasn’t enough. He was Superboy taking over for Superman. Any other team Bias would’ve been revered. But not here, where all that matters is bringing home the Larry O’Brien trophy every year.

The New Look Cavs

By Vinny @sailboatstudios

Visit the @goodtimebball Twitter account.

From constantly working the Trade Machine we now shift to fruitless attempts to getting into the psyche of one Joe Johnson. The Cavaliers dominated the Trade Deadline. Wheeling and dealing everything that wasn’t nailed to the table (LeBron, Love, BKN pick). It was a “Everything Must Go” sale that required collateral. George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance, Jr. and Rodney Hood are now in Cleveland and expectations have been risen from the dirt by Koby Altman. The Cavaliers tossed out Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas, basically punting on all of what they’ve received from the Kyrie Irving trade – besides the Brooklyn pick.

It’s a tough sell to fans saying the aforementioned names are going to save the Cavaliers season… well, they need to. Course, they have LeBron who’ll be reenergized, reengaged and whatnot. Perhaps they’re now in prime position to win enough games not to drop further than the third seed and then LeBron takes over come playoff time. Certainly that has to be the plan, it happened last year.

Rodney Hood is the wonderful player I’m still shocked Utah traded him for Jae Crowder and the corpse of Derrick Rose. Hood is enjoying career highs in FG (42.4), 3P (38.9), FT (87.6) percentage and points per game (16.8). A starter in Utah and considered a valued prospect until Donovan Mitchell’s ascension ruined his life. In 2015-16 Hood stared 79 games; out of the fifty-nine he was able to suit up for the following year, 55 he started, and this year the number has dwindled to 12 starts. There’s also the issue of his ability to stay on the court, missing thirty-two games his rookie season and twenty-three this season. Course the injuries that sidelined him weren’t ever serious. Just bumps and bruises, but there’s a point to be made that the Cavaliers will need to handle Hood carefully. In Boston Stevens mandates that a player of Irving’s importance is only allowed to play 32 minutes a night and no more. This helps avoid anything cataclysmic *knock on wood*. Cleveland doesn’t have the infrastructure to do this. But, maybe they’ll turn over a new leaf?

On the floor, Hood is a fine shooter and can elevate off the dribble. Unfortunately, consistency isn’t one of his strong suites. For every 12 of 24 or 10 of 18 shooting night, there’s a 1 of 10 and 4 of 17 stinker.

Last year’s Jazz team will never be recognized as anything more than just a forgettable solid team, in part because the core players were never healthy at the same time. But you look at that roster and see the quality of players, none of them outstanding, just solid, helpful guys who’d help you win, that’s what the Cavaliers did to their roster from top to bottom by snagging Hood. They have hope again. And it starts with Rodney Hood.

 

I find it hilarious during Dan Gilbert/Koby Altman’s wheeling and dealings they inadvertently created the necessary cap space L.A pined for to sign to max contract free agents in the upcoming summer. Props to Jeanie Buss or Rob Pelinka… or dare I say… Magic Johnson(?) for managing to get rid of Jordan Clarkson’s contract, due $37.5 million for the next three seasons, and getting a first round pick. Though it did cost them a young, rookie scale contract player in Larry Nance, Jr., the move to take on Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye’s expiring give the Lakers $46.9 million in cap space next summer, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks. The cap space will increase to a whopping $69 million if the Lakers let fourth-year forward Julius Randle walk in RFA and stretch the $37 million owed to Luol Deng over 5 years, according to Bobby Marks of ESPN.

As for Clarkson the player, arguably negated by the George Hill acquisition… but he’s young, the Cavaliers have no way whatsoever to create cap space; the payroll can exceed $150 million with a luxury tax bill of $100 million if LeBron returns to Cleveland, per Marks. The risk is worth it. Clarkson can play both guards spot, averages 14.5 points on a decent 44% shooting, a good 22.9 AST% for someone who splits time between on and off ball. The biggest asset for Clarkson is his ability to finish strong at the rack, 61% in the restricted area. Compare that to where they were before with an angry Isaiah Thomas and the corpse (I know I said that before) of former MVP Derrick Rose, Clarkson will come across as a godsend to Cavalier fans. His shortcomings on defense are prominent and hard to ignore. Will he even be an option during a Golden State series? Probably not. The majority of these moves help Cleveland escape the East.

Another name trading the glitz and glamour of L.A for the cloudy depression of Cleveland, Ohio, 25-year-old Larry Nance, Jr. Since Tristan Thompson up and died, the frontcourt in Cleveland was going to be the main reason they lost in the first round to either Sabonis or Greg Monroe. Nance’s knees aren’t shot. He can jump, 59 dunks this year; to Thompson’s 27 (its kinda crazy the year before Thompson dunked the ball a total of 122 times).

With Nance the Cavs are getting a strong presence offensively in the frontcourt, Nance converts 60.1% (69.9% in the RA) of his attempts, averages a respectable 8.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.9 stocks (blocks + steals). Thompson 6.2 points, 6 rebounds, 0.6 stocks. Cleveland won’t have to cross their fingers the old Thompson returns before the end of the regular season. Expect some “Hack-a“ as Nance shoots 63.2% from the free throw line. But, like the Clarkson move it was just something the Cavaliers had to do.

The Cavaliers go from one of the oldest teams in the league to a more younger, bouncier roster. They’re the favorites in the East again, and as a Celtics fan… it sucks.