Carter & Swift NBA (Finale): Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat

We’ve been wanting a Kobe vs. LeBron finals ever since the Nike Puppet Commercials came out. It’s in our reach. So…close. Alright, I can’t wait any longer, let’s play this out now.

Swift:
Before we get there, before we toast, our final topic….

Miami LA. The whole reason Mr. O’Brien had us write this particular piece. Storylines. Hollywood vs. South Beach. Kobe v. Bron. Can Metta slow Bron? Can Nash guard Wade/Allen? Does Howard make Bosh pay? Does Miami stick with small ball against Gasol/Howard? Who makes the more ignorant decisions, Mr. Potato Head or Crazy Eyes?? Can LeBron find the drive to repeat? Does Kobe stay healthy enough in his 17th season? Who’s bench provides the spark in that all important Game that will turn the series?

You’ve got a traditional team, with a pass first point, a shooting 2, a defender of a 3, a talented 4, and a beast 5. You have a very non-traditional team, with no real set lineup, just a mindset of playing the 5 best at that moment and matching up how it’s deemed best fit.

To me, it comes down to this. As truly great as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, Steve Nash, Ray Allen, etc. all are, this series will solely come down to Gasol and Howard. Miami is going to play small. That’s when they’re at their best. If they choose to play Joel Anthony to guard one of the 2, I’ll take Kobe’s 6th, and laugh after a 4-0 sweep. They’ll play small, hit 3’s, make it very tough for LA to guard them. But as tough as it would be for LA to guard them, LA has their opportunity. You have two talented and great 7 footers going against two guys who aren’t true post defenders. Dwight Howard. Earth to Dwight Howard. For 7 games, you will be guarded by Chris Bosh! Pau, you can be soft as Charmin, but listen, LeBron James will be playing 45 minutes a night and will be taxed having to “do it all” on the offensive end. You have to punish him on the box. It’s really that simple.

KC, LeBron could give you 40-10-10. Kobe might give us 50-5-5. I really don’t care though, because in this series, I don’t think it will matter. If Dwight wants his ring, it will be ours. If Gasol wants to cement himself as more stud than soft in the minds of LA’s faithful, he’ll come out ready. I just don’t see a way that you can matchup with that. You’ll hit some 3’s, you’ll get some fastbreak buckets. But over the course of 7 games, I think the size HAS THE POTENTIAL to win this series.

That said, I do not see it happening. I expect both Kobe and LeBron to play a fantastic series. And I expect Dwight to absolutely melt on the big stage. I don’t think this story is over. I don’t think Dwight is in LA for good yet, and next June worries me. I see him struggling mightily.

Miami in 7, winning in Miami. LeBron James, Finals MVP, though I see this Finals being remembered as Dwight’s meltdown more than anything. Stay tuned folks. This story has only begun.

Carter
I want a Miami-LA Final for the entertainment and chance to view quite possibly one of the best series of all time, easily the most star-studded series in the history of the NBA. Given that, part of me hopes my Heat, scratch that– my guy LeBron James– does not have to go through what will be the most over-analyzed, ignorantly criticized, sports media orgy spectacles in the history of sports. Like you, I do not believe that the series will be won based on the performance of the two best players in the game, being LeBron and Kobe. This series will be ultimately determined by the will and toughness of the supporting casts, each with their own question marks.

LA has the closest thing to a perfectly constructed starting five that the league has ever seen. Miami has the most dynamic and versatile lineup since the Magic-led Showtime Lakers of the 80’s. Both have their own strengths and weaknesses, the latter being minimal when both are healthy, and the series would be a heavyweight fight of epic proportions.

I chose Miami to win in 7 for one reason: I am going to stand in the corner for LeBron James. Do I really think the Heat have better pieces? No. Do I think the Heat are the tougher team? No. Do I think Dwyane Wade can contain Kobe? No. I just have a religious-like faith in LeBron to be superhuman every night he steps on the floor. Despite the fact that I know this series will not be won or lost on LeBron’s shoulders, I cannot help but give him the benefit of the doubt.

Objectively speaking, I am extremely worried about the Heat if they get matched up with LA. The Lakers have a point guard who runs the show like a maestro, a center as physically imposing as any we’ve ever seen, a power forward with the most diverse skill set since a young KG, and of course the Black Mamba, a cold blooded assassin who wants nothing else but to stomp on your neck for 48 minutes.

Miami has a great point guard, when LeBron is the distributor. They also have a great versatile defender who anchors their defensive schemes and energizes their potent fast break game, his name is LeBron James. They also happen to have a guy that, along with Mamba, finishes in the top 3 in scoring every year, this guy named LeBron James. Get the picture? LeBron is the best scorer, passer, rebounder, and defender on the Miami Heat. Although Dwyane Wade can be a efficient and big time scorer, 90 percent of his buckets come from five feet and in. Meet Dwight Howard. Meet the new anti-flop rule. Wade will struggle mightily to be efficient in this series. Chris Bosh is one of the best pick and roll bigs in the game due to his ability to hit the 20 foot jump shot with ease. Meet Pau Gasol. Pau is the only player in the league better than Bosh at that exact skill. Both have the tendency to go on prolonged Vagisil regimens so there is no “toughness” edge to make me feel more comfortable, and, on top of that, the Heat lack a true center making Bosh’s defensive matchup Dwight Howard.

The one thing the Heat do have is a stable full of shooters. Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Shane Battier, Mike Miller, and Mario Chalmers have all shown their ability to knock down open 3’s with ease. Given that LeBron will be running the show and demanding doubles, the number of opportunities to knock down 3’s will be limitless. Ray Allen is a big game performer which will settle my heart rate in late game situations and his experience against the Lakers in NBA Finals situations will be extremely valuable. BUT, if Miami plans on relying upon 3’s to repeat as NBA Champions they are in for a huge letdown. LeBron can be LeBron but if they cannot find ways to get easy buckets in the paint, they will lose. Period.

If we do in fact get this matchup in the NBA Finals, it will be LA’s to lose. Am I positive that Pau Gasol will stay focused and aggressive against Chris Bosh? Absolutely not. Am I sure that Dwight will be the beast he should be? Not at all. Do I trust Mike Brown to not make a crucial tactical mistake by going to a zone with Allen/Rashard/Miller all on the floor? Nope.

The thing LA has going for them in this matchup is that all those things can be resolved by choice. Pau can choose to play tough. Dwight can choose to be a physical presence. Mike Brown can choose to let Kobe and Nash run the logistics. Miami does not have that luxury. Their best game plan is put the ball in LeBron’s hands and hope he does what he did last year while the shooters consistently knock down open looks. Those things are not simple products of choice and will, hence my cautiousness and unwillingness to really buy into the “Miami is better than LA” sentiment.

In the end, though, I will stand by LeBron. This series will undoubtedly be remembered for Kobe vs. LeBron but will be decided by the supporting casts. Either way, by the conclusion of this season, I believe Kobe Bryant will have tied Michael Jordan for rings or LeBron will have begun CEMENTING his legacy. Although I pray for the latter, to be honest, I’m okay with both. Let the games begin.

Swift
Couldn’t have said it any better myself. Countdown to Tip. Now.

Carter & Swift NBA (Part 3): Kevin Durant Wait Your Turn, This is Between Kobe & LeBron

You wouldn’t hop into Breaking Barker or the Chip-N-Dip at Episode 3, so go back and read Part 1 and Part 2 before tackling the second to last chapter of Carter & Swift Present the NBA. Where’d they leave off? Let’s just say neither Carter or Swift have plans to buy their Thunder Dynasty shirts anytime soon…

Reed Swift
There’s no piece of me that says, “KC you’re overstepping on the Durant piece”. Let’s clear some things up. Durant is an uber-talent, just like you said. Generational type talent. 6-11 with guard like skills and that shooting touch?? Mmm. It is absolutely delightful to watch sometimes.

That said, KD has not developed that presence yet in my eyes. That presence that when he walks on the court, you know that you’re in for an absolute ass-whooping that night. All in all, I think this culminates completely around what I think his one flaw is. He’s soft. Now. I get he’s young, and I completely agree this could change down the road. But right now, sorry, I don’t think he’s tough enough to win anything, physically or mentally. Kevin Durant can absolutely score the basketball at a rate that is right at the top with some of the best ever. Problem for Durant is that when he’s having an off night, there’s nothing there. I can’t promise you he’s going to find other ways to impact the game.

Example. Kobe Bryant. Game 7, 2010 Finals. Shot 6-24. Didn’t have it that night. Went out, got 16 rebounds, the MOST on a court with Gasol, Bynum, Garnett, Wallace, Davis, Odom, etc. Oh, and guarded Rondo for 45 minutes. That’s right, on one knee he guarded the game’s best point guard for 45 minutes. Shot like shit, scored like shit, but found a way to win the game. What Durant doesn’t realize is that he’s going to have these games, and as he gets older, they’re going to come more frequently. He’s going to have to find a way to get gritty, get nasty, and do the small things. Get in the post, get rebounds, dive on the ground, do it all. He’s not willing yet. And with the changes Presti just made, that’s incredibly dangerous. OKC may be in trouble, more than folks realize.

For the topic I’ve been waiting for…..LA LA land. And sorry folks, we aren’t going to talk about the JV team who just happens to rent out a spare locker room across the hall and declare it a rivalry even though they haven’t won anything meaningful since…ever. We’re talking about the Big Boys. The Lakers. Let’s recap. Howard and Nash for Bynum. Lol.

Folks. Mitch Kupchak has a knee-slapper. For those of you who aren’t quite on par with the lingo, Mitch Kupchak’s genitalia slaps his knees. Yes, I’m implying girth of epic proportions. He found a way to trade a glass-kneed, immature, bipolar big man for the best Center in the game, and a Top 10 point guard of all time. Lmao. WHAT?!?! Excuse my attitude, but I still laugh at this til this day. Let’s begin with Nash. This is actually where I am most concerned, and really it only surrounds Mr. Potato Head (Mike Brown for you casual fans). Mike, Steve Nash is your offensive coordinator. Don’t force feed anything. You’re still going to Kobe, especially late, but Nash pick and roll with Dwight and Gasol can be absolutely devastating IF and ONLY IF you don’t get in the way. He’s going to shoot his usual 50-40-90, but where LA can become truly special is Nash being allowed to be Nash.

Don’t F this up Mike. Trust me. I’m only a plane ride away and I will end your coaching career faster than Dwight dunks lob passes. Next topic. Kobe. He’s leaned down a bit to trim the stress on the knees. Legs look fresh. And I think the chip on his shoulder is growing by the day after all the talk about the new kids. Folks, this is still a really, really BAD MOTHER FUCKER. Don’t kid yourselves. He doesn’t operate on what he’s got left. Yeah, I’m slightly concerned that eventually father time is going to give him a ton of minor injuries that really start to hamper him, but in the end, this is a man who runs on his mentality. He’s tougher than the next, and stronger than the rest. The minute he steps on the court, mentally he already has you beat. It’s over for you. Rejuvenated? Oh boy. Playing next to Nash and Dwight, not to mention Gasol?? mmmm. He’s foaming at the mouth. I’ll go ahead and say I think he looks awful opening night, probably playing through a foot strain he shouldn’t, but that’s Kobe. And why he’s won 5.

Now, for what will direct this team. Dwight Howard. LA’s most important player. Yes, the biggest Kobe fan on the planet admits this. I know what I’m going to get. 22-15-3-3. Easy. It’ll look stupid once he’s back in sync and conditioned. What Dwight needs to understand is that he is now in a situation where he can erect a legacy, if he wants to. He has the potential to win 2 with this group, and then rebuild in 2014 with a free agent class that could be more spectacular than in 2010. What he needs to do? One thing, and one thing only. Nash and Kobe are going to figure out the offense, and Dwight will get his. No worries there. Gasol is going to look like a man on a mission one night, and terrified the next. It is what it is. Metta is leaned down and ready to D up. Jamison should add some scoring, Meeks can stroke it, Hill can really crash the boards, and I think they make a play for Calderon at the deadline using Blake or Duhon’s deal. But what this team has the capability to do is be absolutely dominant defensively. You have two twin towers in Dwight and Gasol, two perimeter defenders in Artest and KB, and Nash can be covered up.

Dwight has to take this to heart and realize that if he anchors the D the way he is capable of, gets nash out on the break with an outlet, and gets this team easy buckets, it’s title time. this team operates in the half court beautifully. And if you D up and find a way to get easy buckets, LA could get scary. Really, really quickly. I see a struggle out of the gate. Kobe’s foot, Nash finding his niche, Dwight getting in shape, but I think LA finishes around the 2-3rd seed, 53-56 wins, but absolutely no one wants them come playoff time. No one.

Thoughts my man?

Carter
Pardon the delay as I wipe drool and tears of laughter from my face after reading those one liners. Before I begin, I must say there needs to be an LA Times Reed Swift column. That is all.

If I had to give you a template for the perfect basketball team, I would want a pass first pick-and-roll point guard who knocks down open 3’s, a Michael Jordan prototype shooting guard, a big physical wing that plays tough D and knocks down open shots, a skilled power forward with a post game and an ability to stretch the floor, and a behemoth freak of a center that anchors the defense and dunks anything near the rim. That would be my perfect team. Look at the 2012-2013 version of the Lakers and that’s pretty much what you have.

Granted, there are a couple asterisks… One being that the behemoth center shoots 20 percent from the free throw line and cries like a newborn baby. Another being that the skilled power forward morphs into a spitting image of a vagina for large stretches of the season. The last asterisk being that the big physical 3 is fit for a mental institution. But in the scheme of things for this season those asterisks can be overlooked. This LA team has everything you need in personnel, the biggest question I have has nothing to do with the pieces but rather the guy that manages them in the 48 minutes we call a basketball game. Mike Brown is in a lose-lose situation. He has never proven himself to be a good coach, so if he wins it’s because his team was just that good, if he loses it’s because he is just that inept of a coach. Sorry to say it Mike, but its a fair assessment given your career thus far.

This team was built for the postseason. The time when every possession counts, every mental lapse can prove to be costly, and most importantly the time when big players make big plays. I could care less what they do in the regular season so I’m just going to skip the personnel analysis and get to the things they have to do in the postseason. LA has three things to their advantage over every single team they play: 1) Smarts/Leadership 2) Tempo Control 3) Kobe Bryant.

The smarts/leadership refers to the fact that the guy running the show, Steve Nash, is a high IQ, low turnover, team-centric player. Add in the leadership and motivation of Kobe and I’m pretty sure the mental lapses we’ve seen from past versions of the Lakers will be taken care of. Tempo control revolves around getting stops on defense and securing rebounds. Dwight Howard is the best defensive big since Shaq and has led the league in rebounds more times than I can count. If you miss late in the game against these Lakers, God have mercy on your soul.

Lastly, Kobe Bryant. I don’t know what else needs to be said about a guy who seemingly finds ways to come back 5 years younger every other year, a guy who is chasing his 6th ring (hey Mike, I’m behind you), and who still finishes as one of the top 2-3 scorers in the league on a yearly basis. Although I do not think he is the best overall player in the game anymore, there is still no other player on this planet that I would rather have taking my last shot than Kobe Bryant. That is something no other team has. When its Game 7 in late June, every player and fan for the opposing team holds their breath when that man has the ball. Case closed. This team will be in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. If I am correct and am lucky enough to witness this clash, we could easily be looking at one of the most entertaining, drama-filled, historic championships of all of sports history. Kobe. LeBron. Nash. Wade. Howard. Bosh. Gasol. Allen. Hollywood. South Beach. Need I say more?

Swift
You see why we weren’t meant to do this? I’m rolling on the damn floor laughing right now. It’s a good thing that our main talking points from November to May generally revolve around the flexibility of Bosh and Gasol’s vaginas, and the immaturity of the likes of Wade/Bynum/Howard. Tis a great life we live man.

You know what man, fuck it. I fully planned on diving into Denver (in the end, they don’t have THAT guy who will win them THAT game that their team ball needs them to), Clippers (they still rent out. I can’t get over this. Sorry, no.) and San Antonio (they’re going to win 60, get the 1 seed, but in the end, they are too damn old. sorry haters). Let’s just get right into it man. Predictions. 1-8, both conferences. Break down Conference Finals, and then let’s hand out some awards. Saving the best for last. We’ll dive into Miami v. LA. Because it’s coming.

East:
1. Miami
2. Boston
3. Indiana
4. Brooklyn
5. New York
6. Philadelphia
7. Chicago
8. Atlanta

I’ve got Miami v. Boston in the East, and Miami heading to the Finals, winning in 6.

West:
1. San Antonio
2. LA Lakers
3. Denver
4. LA Clippers
5. OKC (I think OKC really struggles out of the gate minus Harden. In the end, not the 5th best team, but they’ll land there because of the trade)
6. Memphis
7. Minnesota (*Rubio returns in December. He doesn’t, this goes out the window).
8. Dallas (though I am going to go ahead and say I really think SAC makes a run at this and it won’t surprise me if they take it)

I’ve got an LA v. LA WC Finals. And I think Lakeshow wins in 6 likewise.

MVP: LeBron James
MIP: DeMarcus Cousins (I really think he has a monster year, hence why I think SAC makes a run at that 8th seed. He follows the Artest mental alignment, but the talent is obvious)
Rookie: Damian Lillard
6th Man: Jason Terry

Alright Slay, let’s hear it.

Carter
East:
1. Miami
2. Boston
3. New York
4. Indiana
5. Jay-Z
6. Chicago
7. Philly
8. Cleveland

Miami and Boston in the ECF with Miami advancing to the NBA Finals for a 3rd straight year. Commence the greatest Finals of all time with Miami vs. LA, Miami in 7.

West:
1. Los Angeles Lakers
2. San Antonio
3. Los Angeles Clippers
4. OKC (first round bounce if they do meet the Nuggets)
5. Denver
6. Dallas
7. Memphis
8. Minnesota

Lakers-Spurs in the WCF barring any significant injuries or Viagra toxicity to that Spurs squad. LA advances in 6 to play the Heat in the Finals, once again, losing in 7. Although that last statement has barely 50 percent confidence.

MVP: LeBron James (4th in 5 years….)
MIP: Paul George (I see him averaging close to 18-10 this year)
Rookie: Anthony Davis (I think he is THAT good. 18-10 as a rook)
6th Man: Jason Terry (I mean, who else could it be since Harden is now a starter)

Carter & Swift NBA (Part 2): The 76ers, The New York Teams, The Harden Trade

If you’re starting your reading here at Part 2, well, what do you think you’re doing? Go read Part 1 and come back. If you need a refresher of where Part 1 left off, the two are discussing Philly’s chances. Bynum is a huge add, but Iggy’s defense will be missed on the perimeter. And… action!

Reed Swift:
Couldn’t agree with you more. Bynum’s knees are still more fragile than Wade’s female organs, his psyche is about as bipolar as Rasheed Wallace and, in the end, he’s never been relied upon like he will be now. People don’t understand the distinct difference between being a very solid top three option, and being THE guy. The responsibility is 100 percent different. Now, instead of Kobe taking the tough shots, those tough mments are  on you Drew. Instead of Kobe taking the tough questions after a tough loss, you have to man up and stand at the podium, taking them all like a man. Think you can take games off now? Sorry, the scrutiny is now here.

Can’t agree more with you on Iggy. Though Turner may add some dimensions offensively having a bigger role, and J-Rich could hit a couple 3’s, Iggy was Philly. Gritty, tough, hard-nosed. I think Philly got more versatile as a WHOLE team, but I actually think they lose toughness, even though they add Bynum. I think a lot of people forget just how mentally weak Bynum is.

Before we move on to the Wild Wild West, I think we have to mention the two teams from the burroughs real quick. The Knicks. The Nets.

I have two simple, basic thoughts. As for the Knicks, until Melo and Amare begin to do the little things, they aren’t going anywhere. I don’t care how many solid veteran role players you bring in. Kidd, Camby, Thomas, Rasheed, etc. Don’t care. In the league, your stars have to lead. If Melo and Amare somehow discover that, then we can sit down over a whiskey and start to talk about the Knicks. The talent is there, but the mindset still isn’t.

Oh the Nets. Let me preface this by saying that I actually think they made very solid moves. Johnson horribly overpaid, but what better SG could they have gotten? Clearly the Russian Mob has deep pockets, so the tax penalty isn’t a huge deal. Crash Wallace had to be resigned, especially after you traded away a Top 5 pick, and he’s not a bad alternative to guard the Bron/Melo/Pierce types of the east. We all know about Deron. One of the best PG’s in the game. Humphries….man he gives you 10 and 10 a night, not bad considering he won’t ever get plays called for him, but defensively he’s Amare-bad. Lopez was a good resigning. Centers are hard to come by.

As for their bench, I actually think they did some nice things. I think Watson is a darn good backup point, and Taylor can really, really D up. Marshon Brooks is perfectly suited for a 6th man role, and if you haven’t seen……hold on….sit down….I’m going to say it….Andray Blatche is in the best shape he’s ever been in. What in God’s name got into this man??? It’s preseason I know I know, but he looks lean as lean can be. IF, and I mean an IF the size of Ron Artest’s suspension file down at the league office…he can find a way to compliment Humphries’ rugged game with some scoring and playmaking…you have yourself a big piece off the bench. These two teams have potential….but I think they need a lot, and I mean a lot, of gelling and stars falling into place for things to happen.

Kelvin Carter
Let’s make this easy. Knicks. If Melo and Amare ever figure out how to both be offensively aggressive and hold each other accountable at the other end simultaneously…. I’ll down your glass of whiskey and raise you a championship cigar. I have always thought that talent-wise Melo is one of the best three players in the game, it has always been his mentality and attitude that have gotten in the way. I pray he figures it out one day because if he does, and Amare does the same, that Knicks squad becomes extremely dangerous. One of the best defensive bigs anchoring the paint, athletes on the wing, and Felton is a million times better than Lin (anyone that wants to argue with me can go fall down the stairs). Everything I’m saying should come as no surprise, everyone knows that they have all the talent to make noise in June, it’s just a question of when will they turn the “what ifs” into concrete goals. The Knicks will be the 3 seed this year with a very good regular season but I see their immaturity being put under the spotlight in a second round matchup with the Celtics.

Nets. The Brooklyn HOVA’s. Deron Williams is easily one of the best point guards in the league and he anchors that squad. Good start. Joe Johnson looks stoned half the time he’s playing but as long as D-Will controls the game he can just do what he does best: shoot the rock. Gerald Wallace can lock up and crash the boards as a dynamic 3-4, while Kim Kardashian’s experimental husband is actually much better than people give him credit for. Never been a big fan of Lopez, or his Jew-fro for that matter, but he is probably the second best offensive center in the East which is more than most other teams can say for their own center. They have pieces, they have a decent coach, they have a Russian mob boss as an owner that could buy the league out, but in the end the Nets are a sideshow. This honeymoon phase in Brooklyn could be full of highlights, maybe a first round win, but will not have nearly enough substance to materialize into anything in the next couple years. 48-34, 5 seed, first round they’re bounced.

Swift
Touche. The only thing I have to add is a complete agreement about Felton over Lin. I’ll just go ahead and say this now. Harden may help him, but I see Lin being an absolute FLOP this year. Check back in February.

West time. I’m gonna start off with the team that made the news over the weekend. The Oklahoma City traded their most important player. Wait you say. They traded Kevin Durant???  No folks. They didn’t trade their best player. But they did trade their most important. James Harden. 19.3 on 11.3 shots a game. That is the key. You had a 3rd option, who was CONTENT being the 3rd option. His problem was never with his role, but rather that he wanted to be recognized as one of the best 2’s in the game and paid like it. (Mind you, Eric Gordon got the max 3 months ago).

James Harden is an efficient pick and roll animal. Why is this so important to OKC? Their other two players are two of the worst ball-stoppers in the league. They don’t play with a point guard. Russ is an undersized, uber-athletic two, while Durant is George Gervin reincarnated. Pair those two with Sefalosha, and you have three perimeter players who can’t make a play for anyone else. Just really that simple. Ibaka can’t throw the ball in the ocean, and Perkins…well…Perkins belongs at the Y with Coach Carter….and Coach Carter probably wouldn’t even pick his lumbering ass. What folks fail to realize though is how stagnant OKC’s offense gets when Harden isn’t involved. Harden got them easy buckets, free throws, and sped the tempo up. The only tempo increases now will come via a Russ fastbreak, which in reality is a flaw for him because it causes him to go overboard.

They added some nice pieces in Thabeet (laugh but they do develop players well, I think they’ll get something out of him), and PJ3 ( I can NOT believe he fell that far. Great value). Maynor is back to man the 2nd unit, and Collison is always a stud backup big.

Here’s where the difference again is. Kevin Martin vs. James Harden. Listen folks, Kevin Martin can score. He’ll be able to til he’s 60. The problem is that he’s a volume shooter when scoring, something that won’t be available to him in OKC, and his defense is A T T R O C I O U S. Trust me, Kim defends her goods better than Kevin Martin defends his man, and we all know how often Kim’s giving it up like a donation at Salvation Army.

Let’s not beat around the bush here. OKC is going to be playing LA. We’ll discuss SA and DEN in a minute, but it’s coming down to Kobe and Co. v. Durant and Co., and know what that now means? Kevin Martin is defending Kobe Bryant….yes. This is where Presti just completely dropped the ball. Sure, they still have Sefolosha, but that plays right into LA’s hands, as Nash can guard Thabo, and Kobe can take Russ. Nash is no longer a defensive liability. This trade was a true disaster for OKC in my eyes. Don’t give me Jeremy Lamb. He won’t contribute to winning titles for atleast 2-3 years. You have a 23-year-old stud, who again, LOVES PLAYING the 6th man role, never quabbles about shots, and you move him over $4 million dollars? Mind-boggling. Harden took the ball out of Russ’s hands, which is always the best solution for OKC. Martin won’t do that. I see OKC really struggling out of the gate, and being taken to 7 in the WCSemis before getting bounced in the WCF. Presti sealed this team’s fate before it even happened.

Carter
This is the team I have been waiting to talk about. I’ll be honest Reed, you nailed the Harden piece on the head.

James Harden was easily OKC’s most important player, the third best player but still the most important. He was able to wear many hats for the Thunder; when KD and Russ struggle he manages to put up 30+, when KD is rolling and Russ is running the point like a 3rd grader hopped up on Ritalin he distributes, when both are playing well he locks down the other team’s best player, I could go on. Harden was the perfect complement to that team, a third option who knew he was the third option and was completely fine with it.

Enter Kevin Martin. Think the Thunder had a hard time finding shots for just KD and Russ? If Kevin Martin gets fewer than 15 shots a game he is pretty much worthless. This is one time where the saying, “there aren’t enough basketballs on the court” is 100 percent true.

Some positives: they still have a beast defender in Ibaka, Maynor coming back, PJ3 showing promise early, great young core, and a bench full of good role players. This team did make it to the Finals last year. Even without Harden, they deserve their due.

Now. I’m not going to hold my tongue any longer, I don’t care if every OKC fan in the world thinks I’m high on bath salts when I say this. The reason the Thunder did not win a ring last year, the reason they will not win one this year, and the reason they might not get one for awhile, is Kevin Durant. He is so talented, one of the most effortless scorers in the game. A 6’11” nightmare matchup for anyone and everyone, a very likable personality, and a late game motor that warrants the “clutch” nametag that is tossed around so casually today.

BUT, its not enough. Kevin Durant averaged 30 a game in the Finals, one game Russ even chipped in with 40+, and he got beat in 5. That says something. What it says to me is that his impact on the game is not nearly as meaningful as his numbers would indicate. I’ve seen games where KD scores 40+ and they lose by double digits. I’ve seen games where he shoots 5-25 from the field and they win by 20. Granted, there have been numerous times where he’s seized the game by the throat and ended it himself, but overall I don’t think that his game is impactful enough to rely on him to carry a team to a championship. With Harden, I thought they could do it. Without Harden, the responsibility of KD to play defense, rebound, be vocal, and distribute will increase tremendously and he’s not up to that task. Yet. One day he will be but that time is not now.

I see the Russ-KD pseudo-feud escalating in the media this year, I see management getting questioned about the Harden trade whenever struggle sets in, and I see the Thunder regressing drastically from what they did last year. 50-32, 2-3 seed, possibly bounced in the second round and definitely in the WCF. Sam Presti put the West firmly in the hands of Kobe Bryant, something he will regret doing come playoff time. I’ll let you take it from there.

Carter and Swift Present: The NBA (Part 1)

They’ve given us more wisdom on Twitter in 140 characters than Skip Bayless has given us in his entire professional career. With the BIG 2012-13 NBA season ahead, I decided to turn to Kelvin Carter @kslay623 and Reed Swift @Swiftyy10, one a Heat fan one a Laker fan, and let them break down the teams that matter this upcoming season.

No space restrictions. No hypothetical trade rumors. Just pure NBA talk. Let it begin!

Reed Swift
It’s time. Time to commence what could be. Heat and LeBron, defending champion with the best player in the league. Scary combination. Celtics, deeper than the Big Blue Sea, lost the best shooter of all time, but now a youthful infusion. Knicks adding a rejuvenated Felton, veteran bigs in Camby and Thomas, and a Melo who supposedly now “gets it”.

Thunder obviously returning their youthful core, but adding some pieces in PJ3 and Thabeet… possibly contributing? Lakers adding their best point guard since Magic, and replacing their inconsistent big man with a big who fits Nash’s PnR game much more fluidly. Brooklyn adding pieces around D-Will, as well as moving into what will probably be one of the most live playing environments in the league. And lord knows, somehow San Antonio’s old and decrepit bodies will somehow find a way to muster out 55-60 wins.

List goes on. Philadelphia adding a post presence in Bynum, Indiana getting another year to gel their pieces, Minnesota adding Roy and Kirilenko to go with the talents of Love, Rubio, Pekovic and Williams. What’s scary about this league now, KC, is there are a bunch of well-rounded teams. Teams added pieces, and in most situations, you can’t look and say, “Oh, well in the end Darko sucks so who cares.” Boston is going to use Darko for a five minute breathing period for KG’s knees.

No longer can you walk into LA and just know that your mediocre point guard is going to earn his next seven-figure contract playing against Derek Fisher. No longer can you just double LeBron and pray to the high heavens that James Jones won’t have a career night twice a season. No longer can you know that Melo will dominate the ball to a fault because he finally has a point guard that he respects more than the guy at the barbershop. (Linsanity is a whole separate issue to be discussed later). No longer can you walk into Philadelphia and just attack the paint. There’s now a 7-1, 280 pound behemoth waiting for you.

Let’s get this started. Chain time. Contender by contender. Let’s do it. We’ll start with where respect is due. Your Miami Heat Mr. Carter. Break it down for me. What do you expect?

Kelvin Carter

The Miami Heat start and finish with LeBron James. Skip Bayless cannot argue that, the idiot at the barbershop cannot deny it, and no John Hollinger statistic can make that statement untrue. From scoring, to creating open lanes for Wade to slash, to getting the newly added Ray “Jesus Shuttlesworth” Allen open looks from 3, to involving Bosh in the pick and roll game, and anchoring the defense, LeBron James is the key to all of it. The Miami Heat will go as LeBron goes and judging from last year and especially last year’s postseason, the Heat have little to worry about come April in the Eastern Conference. Let’s just get that out of the way from the outset. LeBron has proven time and time again that one player can take a team to the playoffs, experience so much success, even reach an NBA Final, but if last year was evidence of anything, it was that you need a TEAM to win rings in today’s league. Therefore, even with LeBron putting up insane lines on a near nightly basis, consistency from the supporting cast will be essential to complete the daunting task of repeating as NBA champions.

First and foremost, Ray Allen is quite possibly the most important signing short of Dwight Howard to LA during this off-season. He is nowhere near the best player to switch teams but what he will bring to the Heat will prove to be monumental in their quest to repeat. Championship experience, positive attitude, leadership, and of course, one of the greatest sniper arms in the history of the league, will round out the already potent mix of talents Miami brings to the table. Adding Rashard Lewis also brings more versatility to an already tough matchup for any team and I see his impact being most evident in crunch time when the Heat can push a lineup of Allen, Wade, James, Lewis, and Bosh. Quite simply, the Miami Heat won last year on the shoulders of the best player in the NBA today and he, as well as the rest of the team, have all gotten better. Until someone proves otherwise, they are the favorites.

This is not to say I don’t have some reservations about this group. Given the Olympics and a late June end to the NBA season, it is inevitable that LeBron will hit a physical wall that he has yet to hit in his career. How the Heat stay afloat and refocus during this time will be essential. Also, Dwyane Wade has not had a “serious” injury in years, he is most definitely due for one. Will Ray fit into the screwy Spoelstra offensive scheme as seamlessly as anticipated? Will Rashard Lewis refocus back to the late Orlando days when he was one of the best stretch 4’s in the game? Will Chalmers solidify himself as a legitimate lead guard or continue to turn the ball over at a rate never seen before in the NBA? These are just a few of my most pertinent concerns for the 2012-2013 version of the Miami Heat. What do you think?

Swift

There is zero doubt that the Miami Heat have become LeBron James’ personal circus tour. City to city, LeBron and his fellow showmen take their show on the road and rarely fail to please. They are clearly the favorites in this upcoming season. LeBron proved last year that he has not only grown in terms of his personal skill set, but also in his mental capacity to focus on basketball. This is where I always contended LeBron failed. For years now, LeBron has hoisted a set of talents that this league hasn’t seen in decades. With those same talents however came an obsession to please those around him and be liked by the basketball community. There were moments of immaturity, entitlement, and annoyance, but that all changed following the Mavericks victory in the 2011 NBA Finals. LeBron rededicated himself to his craft. This isn’t to say that he never worked hard or desired to achieve greatness. But he found an extra gear in terms of the desire to place himself amongst the upper pantheon. You saw this play out in the 2012 playoffs. LeBron not on Twitter. LeBron joking around way less. LeBron not partying following games. He put his eye on the prize, and he took control of his own playoff destiny. The most talented player in the league is now equipped with the knowledge of how to win a championship, and the ability to separate himself from his previous failures. The only personal question that remains with LeBron is whether the hunger will transcend into an obsession. Repeating is the most difficult accomplishment in sports. I have no conjecture to whether or not he’s ready for this, I just know that I am excited to see his personal journey play out.

As for the Heat as a unit, they present a unique situation for teams across the league because their two biggest strengths also present opportunities to become their two biggest weaknesses. Amongst the Heat rotation (James, Wade, Bosh, Allen, Lewis, Battier, Chalmers, Miller, Cole, Anthony, Haslem), the Heat’s strongest 5 is undoubtedly Allen Wade Battier James Bosh as you described above. Last year, with Chalmers’ as the substitute, teams weren’t ready to capitalize on this. While LeBron is undoubtedly one of the best defenders in basketball, I never saw one team attempt to punish the Heat for playing LeBron at the 4. Coaches and players alike have now had an offseason to deal with what will be a similar problem with Allen included. By no means am I ever going to believe that LeBron James would be a matador on defense at the 4. However, look across the board. Melo is an absolute bull on the block. He could undoubtedly create foul trouble for LeBron if he put his mind to it. Pau has atleast 5 inches on LeBron, with giraffe arms to boot. While his female organs may frequently overtake his infant male parts, same problem. The point is this. There is no beating the Heat at their gameplan. Small ball, they will run you off the court. LeBron is too good in this system. You have to punish their weakness. Inside. Chris Bosh is possibly even softer than a banana nut muffin from Big Apple Bagels, so rim protection is solely LeBron. As is distribution. As is rebounding. As is defense. See the trend here? This is all made possible by this small ball lineup. As we saw in 2011, LeBron was semi-lost on the perimeter having to share the ball with Wade. But now, operating as a point-forward out of the high post, the circus is his show. And as long as it remains that way, the Miami Heat will remain your NBA champion.

Through reading above, some of my concerns are obvious. As dominant as Miami’s small ball lineup can be, there are obvious opportunities to capitalize. I don’t see Spoelstra having a solid counterpunch to teams who choose to absolutely punish the Heat down low. Don’t give me Oklahoma City tried, it failed. Serge Ibaka can’t throw the ball in the ocean unless it’s a hammer dunk, and Kendrick Perkins might as well be selling donuts to the homeless. The Thunder are a great matchup for the Heat, because Durant will never punish LeBron in the post, and Russ couldn’t run an offense if his life depended on it. But for teams like the Lakers, Celtics, Knicks, etc. who will attempt to bully the Heat, things are going to get interesting. Ray’s ankle, how does he deal with this through the season? The Heat want to run, he’s not going to be able to take plays off. Lewis, does he revert to Orlando form, or is he cut by November? Bosh, does he finally embrace doing the small things to help LeBron down low, or does he add extra butter to his banana nut flavor? I haven’t even gotten to Wade, who might have the softest psyche in the league. I’m still not entirely convinced that he believe’s it’s LeBron’s team, and that’s a concern. He was hurt last year, so he willingly took a back seat. Does he try and reinstall his dominance this year?

The bottom line with the Heat is that their strengths override their weaknesses, but they are by no means a shoe-in title winner. But as my man KC says, any discussion about a championship begins and ends with them. We might as well get right to it. What do you think of Boston’s offseason upgrades?

Carter

Always thought the end of the Big 3 era in Boston would end in a complete remodeling of the league’s second most storied franchise.

Losing Ray Allen to their conference nemesis was undoubtedly a big time haymaker to their team identity, attitude, and most importantly their floor spacing capability. But in this critical off-season the Celtics have validated their ability to fill holes by adding Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, and Leandro Barbosa while also bringing back key injured players in Jeff Green and Avery Bradley. The original Big 3– Pierce, Garnett, and Allen, made Boston a perennial title contender. The new Big 3, starting with Rondo and ending with Pierce/Garnett, might be even better given the potency of this new and improved youthful supporting cast.

Rondo has a legitimate claim at being one of the best point guards in the game, if not the best on any given night. I always believed the only player in the league capable of coming close to averaging a triple double would be LeBron James, but seeing Rondo in his unrestricted and aggressive form makes me question that sentiment. Doc Rivers is the best Xs and Os coach in the NBA today, which makes Boston a monster in any close game situation. KG still anchors the defense as an intimidator with his intensity and extensive vocabulary while Paul Pierce, although no longer “The Truth”, is still a viable lead scorer option when it comes to winning time. I see this Celtics squad easily securing the number two seed in the Eastern Conference and posing some serious problems to Miami if they can get to the Conference Finals.

As always, the biggest question with this Celtics team will be age. Yes, they brought in some youthful exuberance capable of sparing Geriatric Garnett and Wheelchair Pierce some minutes throughout the regular season, but is it realistic to expect those two to remain in prime health come playoff time? Although Rondo is the best player on this team, Pierce and Garnett are still the heart and soul of the city, something Boston fans know not to take for granted. I also question their attitude. At this stage, this Celtics team needs to adopt the Spurs longevity formula: shut up, play hard, play together. A game has yet to be played and newcomer Jason Terry is already taking personal shots at the now NBA Champion Miami Heat. Rookies Jared Sullinger and Kris Joseph, to be effective, need that “work hard, play hard” mentorship from a guy like KG, not the “talk tough, play weak” sideshow that often accompanies Terry and Paul Pierce. But that’s just me, I know you have a lot of experience analyzing the Celtics, what you thinking Reed?

Swift

I have to agree KC, I did not see Boston’s Big 3 era transforming into what we see today. Let’s start with Ray. I honestly can’t say I’m stunned they let him go. You’re talking about a guy who’s had multiple ankle issues, and last year, really struggled. He’s never had truly fluid chemistry with Rondo, whether they admit it or not, and I think in the end, we can see clear as day Ray ended up being a little bit more of a drama queen than Boston wanted to handle. To hear they offered him double the money and a no trade clause just shows me he really felt like they should’ve made him feel like royalty. Sorry Ray, not happening.

I gotta say, I love what Ainge put together. To fill Ray’s void, you sign hands down the best option in Jason Terry, who really will be much better suited to this team because he can play some point. One of Boston’s weaknesses has been wearing Rondo down. Now, you can play Jet 15 minutes a night at SG, and 10-12 at PG to keep Rondo fresh. I love what they did at the 2 as well. Bradley will come back at some point, and Lee quietly was 2nd in the league in 3pt percentage last year. Gotta think that helps replace Ray. And then to sign Barbosa? While he still won’t play defense, that’s gotta be one of the best 11-12th men in the league. Resigning Bass and KG was huge obviously, but more than anything, I loved their draft. Sullinger is the type of undersized 4 who will find his niche immediately, and I would not discount Fab Melo making an impact. He can’t shoot, he will NEVER score, but lord, he can really give KG a breather. Boston’s other problem last year was when KG went out, their length was gone. Now, Melo can fill that void when needed.

Here though, is what I believe is the key to Boston’s success. Jeff Green. He holds the keys to Boston’s season. If he is back to being Jeff Green, this team just added a whole new dimension against Miami. One of Miami’s major advantages against Boston was putting Bron at the 4, their favorite small ball lineup. Well now, Boston can defend that more solidly. Go with a lineup of Rondo, Jet, Pierce, Green, Garnett, and that all of a sudden looks much more imposing in terms of defending the small lineup.

Let’s make this clear. When you have GREAT players, no one person can truly defend that man. Be it Kobe, LeBron, Durant, whomever, you don’t lock those guys down. I’m not saying Jeff Green is going to stifle LeBron James. Impossible. However, Jeff Green is one of the few guys in the league who LeBron can’t look at and say, “Hmmm, I’m either going to blow by you like Reggie Bush, or bully the hell out of you like James Harrison.” Green has experience playing in the post, and has the physical attributes to make LeBron work a little harder than he’s accustomed to. All in all, they still have whom I believe is the best coach in the league, Doc Rivers, and couple that with a VERY, VERY deep roster, they’re scary to me. Really are. I think you can really limit their minutes now.

Starters: Rondo, Bradley, Pierce, Bass, KG. Bench: Jet, Lee, Green, Sullinger, Collins, with guys like Joseph, Melo, Darko, and Wilcox. Laugh at some of those guys, but mind you, some of them won’t be dressing every night. They are deeper than deep. Which is the formula you need to counteract age.

Okay man I gotta hear your thoughts on Philly. Expect improvement with Bynum manning the middle, or do you see a drop off losing Iggy?

Carter

You will start to see a recurring theme with my analysis of the remaining “contenders” from the Eastern Conference: I do not care. Aside from Boston I do not see a single team taking Miami past 5 games. Just too much weaponry, experience, and heart on both of those teams for even an upgraded Knicks squad to contend with.

To humor the conversation, Philly is one team I see making noise in the future. I love Jrue Holiday as one of the most underrated point guards in the league and with the guidance of Doug Collins plus the departure of a ball stopper in Lou Williams, Holiday’s role in the offense is about to surge. Bynum is the best center in the league 20 games out of the season but the other 62 he’s barely in the top five in a league with only 2-3 legitimate classic big men. Nonetheless, the Eastern Conference is allergic to playing against good big men, hence why Orlando was always a top five team regardless of how bad the rest of the team outside Dwight was. Bynum will have a tremendous impact.

The rest of this analysis will be devoted to the biggest reason I don’t value Philly this year any more than my grad school IM rec team. Andre Iguodala has been one of the most overlooked perimeter players in the league for a long time, something we saw during the Olympic run. He is a poor man’s LeBron James, less flash and awe dropping talent yet way more blue collar intangibles. He was the engine to last year’s team throughout the regular season, and even in the playoffs, it was Iggy who hit big shots and came up with huge defensive stops on a regular basis. There is no substitute for Iggy. Philly will be inept to stop LeBron, Melo, heck, even Paul Pierce’s wheelchair bound ass. Every contender in the East has a dynamic player at the 3 spot and it was Iggy’s job to contain or at least make it difficult for them. With that piece gone, I see Philly finishing in the 6-8 spot and getting bounced first round.

Miami Heat Preview

By: Rob Surbrook

They signed Ray Allen, the best shooter of their nemesis, and possibly the best shooter in the world. They signed Rashard Lewis, who is largely garbage, but again, he can shoot and stretch the floor for the new-new-look small ball Heat. As Bill Simmons likes to say, the scariest thing about the Heat is their willingness to stray away from the traditional basketball positional setup of two big men, two wings, and a point. Instead, they find themselves unstoppable when Chris Bosh is their biggest player on the floor, and they have shooters spacing the floor and giving Dwyane Wade and LeBron room to do their thing. And it’s all held together by the positionless wonder himself, LBJ. Defensively, he’ll guard any player at any position, and offensively he’s found a way to play point guard from the post.

But with the improvements of nearly every Western Conference championship contender, the Heat need to figure a way to sustain the play they achieved in the playoffs, and in my opinion, that starts with keeping the starting lineup from last spring:

Mario Chalmers: Chalmers hasn’t exactly developed like the Heat hoped he would have coming out of college, but he is overall a stable player for his position. He improved his dribble-drive game against the highest competition in the playoffs and doesn’t hurt the team with his shooting and decision making, although refinement of both should continue to happen.

Dwayne Wade: Still one of the best players in the game, Wade really started to accept his role as second-banana in terms of offensive usage and it really helped the flow of the team and its offensive efficiency. He’s lost a step to age and injury, but he’s still one of the game’s best difference-makers on defense as well. His ability to stay healthy in the wake of surgery is probably the team’s biggest question mark, and honestly, it isn’t that questionable.

LeBron James: What can I say that hasn’t been said before? It becomes harder and harder to figure out the holes in Bron’s game as the years go on. I guess the biggest thing he needs to do is make sure he doesn’t revert back to the days before he perfected his inside-outside game. I’m a little scared to see what we’ll see out of him this year.

Shane Battier: When Erik Spoelstra slotted him in to start at “power forward” during the playoffs last year, the Heat really found their identity as a small-ball club. His defense against bigger post players was something that I didn’t personally see coming, but hey, if it works, it works. As long as he can keep defying age and hitting open threes to go with that defense, the Detroit Country Day grad should find himself a starting gig once again.

Chris Bosh: The unsung hero of this team, the half in the Two-and-a-half men joke proved his worth to every doubter last year when he came back from injury just in time to save the Heat from another early playoff exit. He plays better than advertised defense, and can hit a jumper like KG in his prime. He definitely should have shut up the trade talks by now.

Bench: Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, and Mike Miller’s reanimated corpse (is this joke still funny?) can all hit threes, although Allen gives you no defense or rebounding, and Lewis gives you no defense. Norris Cole showed signs of being able to thrive in the type of offense the Heat would like to run, but he can get a little out of control at times. He’ll mature. Dexter Pittman will be gone soon if he doesn’t start giving some positive minutes, and Mickell Gladness is another non-factor, but he has a new deal, so they must see something in him. Joel Anthony is undersized and athletic, but doesn’t add much to the Heat’s scheme. He’s a good paint defender. Udonis Haslem is like the cool uncle of the team. He is usually awesome and adds positivity when he’s around, but occasionally he shows up drunk. Not literally, sometimes he just plays like he is.

3. Teardrops on My Keyboard: A Letter to James Harden

By: Mike Spitz

James,

I wish I could quantify how much it pains me to write this. I was riding so high
yesterday. I had a great night Friday, my Spartans won in overtime, I went on a
wonderful date to PF Chang’s with my girlfriend and then sometime around 11
pm… I checked Twitter. Finding out about your trade to Houston took the wind from
my sails. Suddenly watching ‘The Social Network’ wasn’t interesting; I just wanted to
take a short walk off a long bridge.

Watching you, Kevin, Russell and the gang the last three years was like hopping into
a time machine and watching the real life version of the Super Friends. I remember
what it was like being a Thunder fan before you arrived. You should’ve seen Kevin.
You think he’s skinny now. The reason most of us were excited for the future was
Kevin and Jeff Green. We just didn’t really know what to make of you and Russ in
the long term. How were we supposed to know your talent and chemistry would
materialize so quickly? I watched you a few times while you were at Arizona State,
but I really had no clue what kind of pro you would be.

My first concrete memory of you is draft night, 2009. I had just graduated high
school. It feels so long ago. I was pretty excited; the Thunder had shown a lot of
promise the season earlier and they sat in a really good position with the 3rd pick
in the draft. I was certain the Thunder were going to take Steph Curry or Ricky
Rubio. I think you and Sam Presti were the only two guys on earth who knew what
you were destined to become. I should’ve known I was destined to become a huge
fan the moment I saw your bow-tie on draft night. I wasn’t too disappointed when
you were selected, I just didn’t know what to think. I’m sure you understand.

At one point during your rookie season, I texted my friend and fellow Thunder
fan with an observation I made of you. “Harden looks like he doesn’t care
about anything. I never see his facial expression change.” He replied somewhat
concerned, “Hmm. That isn’t good.” How were we supposed to know about all the
different expressions hiding under that glorious facial hair?

In your first season, who would have thought! We made the playoffs, helping the
team more than double their total wins from the year before. The world didn’t really
get a good chance to see you and we still weren’t exactly sure what you would
become. So what if we were only the 8th seed and bowed out of the playoffs in the
first round. I watched every playoff game and spent most of my time when you guys
weren’t playing online looking up Thunder flags to hang proudly in my living room.
You guys playing so well and making the playoffs sure made it easier for this fan
from Michigan to see you guys. You definitely helped my wallet too, as I didn’t have
to go to Bdubs multiple times a week just to watch you guys play.

Your second year didn’t see much statistical improvement, but those of us following
definitely had good reason to be excited. You were our best player on the bench,
and we all thought it would be only a matter of time before you were starting next
to your superstar running mates. We couldn’t figure out why Scotty Brooks made
you keep starting games on the pine.

Your beard started getting lots of notoriety two years ago, and so many people were
hopping on the Thunder bandwagon that it was hard to keep my comfortable seat.
I’ll never forget you guys growing up in front of my eyes against that pesky Grizzlies
team, advancing to the conference finals. We were so close to the Finals! Who could
have possibly predicted how quickly you guys would progress. Of course then Dirk
happened, nobody on earth could stop him that spring, and that was okay. It was his
time.

With an obviously depleted Mavs team attempting to defend their title, the world
started catching on to what myself and a few close friends were already thinking; it
was your year last year. The previous summer you tore up the summer league, and
it looked again like you would definitely start. Scotty somewhat broke our hearts
again by retaining Thabo Sefalosha as the starter. I don’t know if this has anything
to do with you leaving, if you felt slighted being on the bench and third banana on
an elite team while people you came into the league with like Curry and Brandon
Jennings thrived on poor teams. If it is, just know that we loved you with the same
ferocity we love KD and Russ. Your beard became a cultural icon in OKC. I wonder
if you’ll cut it in Houston, starting completely anew. I wont forget you guys taking
down the mighty Spurs in the playoffs and being so close to that ring. I won’t forget
before games in the Finals when you would hug all of your teammates and then run
and swing around the rim like a kid on an eight foot hoop, flames erupting
in the backboard.

You even made the Olympic team this year. I was so excited when you threw down
what may have been the best dunk of the Olympics . I watched like a proud friend when you, KD and Russ were given your gold medals and Serge earned his silver.

I’m not going to lie, yesterday was the first day I’ve ever felt like I can relate to
Taylor Swift. I almost went and bought her new album. My heart is in pieces. Staying
home on Friday nights because the Thunder game is on ESPN won’t feel quite the
same this year. I’m not fully prepared for my first game as a fan where I can’t count
down the minutes until it’s your turn to enter and get the offense going
again. I think the Thunder will still be great, but it’ll be like watching Recess without
Vince or Spinelli. It’s just not gonna be the same.

I’ll still support you James. It won’t be easy at first, but the Rockets are a team I
already thought was on the cusp of success. Houston fans are going to have some
great memories thanks to you, and I’ll be clapping the whole time.

-Mike

Go share your words of support, maybe chip in to buy some Taylor Swift concert tickets for the proud, but hurting, OKC Thunder fan and great writer @micspitz

7. Indiana Pacers

By: Nic Talbott

The NBA has continued to become a superstar league with this offseason only solidifying the point. With powerhouses such as the Miami Heat and LA Lakers improving their already prominent, flashy rosters many novice basketball fans do not see the likelihood of  teams other than the elite to compete. I disagree though because I am just too big of a fan of basketball. The fundamentals, the team play, the hard work. I am an obvious Hoosier at heart.

This leads me to my team summary of the Indiana Pacers, the definition of a balanced NBA team. What’s so intriguing about the Pacers is how efficient of a team they were this past season without a true “superstar”. With a 42-24 record over a shortened lockout season they had the 3rd best record in the East and the 5th best record overall. They took care in the first round of the playoffs, taking out the Dwight Howard-less Magic 4-1 in the first round. In the second round they fought hard in a slugfest series with the Miami Heat leading the series 2-1 before eventually falling 4-2. The progress made during the 2011-12 season leads for a promising season with higher expectations in Indy since the Carlisle era.

This Indiana team is a deep roster without a well-known star, but is one of the deepest teams in the league. The offseason did not start as well as the Pacers had hoped for, with Larry Bird stepping down as president and the loss of GM David Morway as well. But with adequate replacements, the Pacers quickly moved on in preparation for the draft.

The NBA draft was interesting for the Pacers with a questionable first round pick in Miles Plumlee and then trading with the Sacramento Kings for Orlando Johnson. Plumlee was quoted as being “a rich man’s Jeff Foster”, but with an already tall roster the pick did not seem necessary even with Plumlee’s deserving athleticism and unparalleled work ethic. Johnson was a true leader from the University of California Santa Barbra and the Pacers desperate attempt to find a true shooter and play maker off the bench.

After all of these early complications the Pacers got to work over the offseason. The first few weeks consisted of a lot of sitting around, making sure not to be too anxious to make any rash moves. Then they went with a conservative approach, yet an expensive one. They re-signed Roy Hibbert to a max contract for $58 million over 4 years and then re-signed George Hill for $40 million over a 5 year span. From there they made a few subtle splashes via free agency and a trade. The Pacers made a sign and trade deal with the Dallas Mavericks sending Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones for Ian Mahinmi. Then they picked up free agents Gerald Green and D.J. Augustine. With that, the roster was complete, and many future deals were dealt with.

PG George Hill: Although the new deal agreed upon seemed a little high for a combo guard that’s not a true pure point guard, it was something the Pacers needed to take care of. The Pacers goal was to keep the starters from last year, which, with their resigning’s, they were able to accomplish.

SG Paul George: The most potential of any Pacers player, George is a projected break out player in the NBA this season. He is a superior athlete complimented with shooting skills and crazy height for a shooting guard at 6’10”.  He is the breakout superstar the Pacers are looking for and it’s a good possibility he could do so.

SF Danny Granger: Granger is the most well-known player on this work horse roster from his prior days as an All-Star. He is not quite up to the standards he used to be, but is still a long athletic player with a wide array of offensive skills.

PF David West: The leader and the enforcer on this young roster, David West proved that he is still the same caliber player he was before tearing his ACL just over a year and a half ago. His athleticism and height won’t blow you away but his fundamentals and leadership are unmatched.

C Roy Hibbert: If the Pacers had to officially tag one of its players as a superstar it would have to be Hibbert. The giant became an All-Star for the first time last year despite not having dominant stats. He is much better than his stats though and always has a major impact on the game. This showed during the playoffs where the point differential when he was in the game was in his favor in a major way. His work ethic and sheer height makes him a great center in a shrinking league.

Bench: The changes made this offseason by the Pacers definitely focused on changing the bench in hopes of improvement. The new additions of Mahinmi, Augustine, and Green were made to give the second unit an offensive punch, something they didn’t have this past postseason. Also on the bench is the captain of the goon squad himself, Tyler Hansbrough. Wrapping up the bench is the infamous Lance Stephenson who has a boatload of talent, but questionable character issues. The remaining bench players are Ben Hansbrough (Psycho B), Jeff Pendegraph, Sam Young, and the rookies who all have talent, but most likely won’t see the court.

Overall the Pacers are a scary team to face this next NBA season. Although not many flashy changes were made, they have another year to mesh with a young talented roster. Statistically speaking, the Pacers had the most efficient starting five in the league this past season. With improvements on the bench and lots of raw talent, the Pacers have a massive amount of potential.

An X-factor the Pacers have is their height. In a shrinking league the Pacers have the tallest roster in the NBA. Their starting 5 is insane with heights of 6’3”, 6’10”, 6’8”, 6’9”, and 7’2” all of which have longer wingspans than their heights. Also they have Psycho T, Pendegraph, Plumlee, and Mahinmi off the bench with Plumlee and Mahinmi being athletic reliable big men. What makes this such a dangerous skill is the fact that the Eastern Conference elite teams lack quality big men talent. The defending champs only have Chris Bosh as a reliable returner from last year and he plays more of a pick and pop game and is notoriously soft in the middle. The Celtics are similar too, recently going small this past season playing Garnett at center.

My bias tells me the Pacers will be an incredible team this year, but the numbers and talent speak for themselves. I think for the first time is a while many people are expecting big things for the Hoosiers

Prediction: 56-26 2nd place in the Eastern Conference
Lose in the Finals to the Lakers 1-4
Beat the Heat in the Playoffs, revenge

It’s a bold prediction to have them defeating the defending champs especially with the NBA and refs on their side but I wouldn’t be a true fan if I thought they couldn’t do it. The Pacers are coming, better brace yourself before they take the NBA by storm.