Kevin Durant Headlines NBA Free Agency 

Kevin Durant is by far the most coveted free agent this side of LeBron James. Following an epic collapse by the Oklahoma City Thunder (losing 3-in-a-row to Golden State) in the Western Conference Finals, rumors have been swirling about where the best landing spot is for Durant. 
The following is a list of Durant’s likely suitors and where I think is the best landing spot for him.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Durant has been with the Thunder (formerly the Sonics) since he was drafted 2nd overall by them in 2007. Since he’s been there, they’ve been formidable and extremely completive in the [superior] western conference. If it wasn’t for injuries, I believe the Thunder would have made it to more than one NBA Finals appearance during Durant’s 9 years with the team. Out of all of his options, the Thunder has the greatest upside with a young team, a great front office, a promising head coach and a point guard that’s considered one of the 5 best players in the world. He has the backing of the fans and plays in arguably the greatest home court advantage in the league. In my mind, Durant would be crazy not to re-sign [for at least one more year] with this team.    

San Antonio Spurs: The thought of Durant alongside Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge is pretty compelling. However, I think it would significantly taint Durant’s legacy to go to an “established” team like the Spurs in order to win a championship (which is why the idea of him going to Golden State is never going to happen). The main reason LeBron was skewered by so many was that he “ran away” from the challenges in Cleveland to get help from Wade and Bosh in Miami. Durant leaving OKC for a San Antonio franchise that has been one of the best over the past 15 years wouldn’t do him any favors in the long run. 

Miami Heat: Regardless of what many say, I believe that this pairing would be the least likely to happen. First off, Miami fans don’t deserve a great basketball team; they’re arguably one of the worst fan bases in all of professional sports. Secondly, we’ve seen this story before; superstar player leaves for Miami to try and capture elusive championship. Lastly, Miami’s roster isn’t getting any younger and Durant would have to allow Miami to build a younger team around him. Rather than taking a step towards a championship, it would seem that Durant would be taking two steps back.

Boston Celtics: The Celtics have a young core, a strong front office (led by Danny Ainge), and an exceptionally talented young head coach (Brad Stevens); almost exactly what Durant already has in OKC [minus Westbrook]. As much as I’d love to see Durant in Boston (not so much because I’m a Celtic fan, more because of my fandom for Brad Stevens) but as their currently constructed, I just don’t think it makes much sense. However, if Boston is able (and willing) to make a trade with their 3rd overall pick [in this year’s draft] and acquire another star player to play alongside Durant, than I think Boston would the best option outside of OKC; the main reason? Because, he’ll be playing in the watered down eastern conference and his addition (along with another star player) would make the Celtics co-favorites with Cleveland to make the Finals. It’s understood that OKC is a co-favorite almost every year to represent the western conference, but it’s a much tougher road to get through the gauntlet that the west provides every year than it is the east.

Los Angeles Clippers: In the past, you’d mention LA and immediately think Lakers; well, those days are over the foreseeable future, thanks Jim Buss. The Clippers are an enticing option because of the squad that they’ve already constructed. A starting lineup of Paul, Reddick, Durant, Griffin, and Jordan sounds pretty damn epic; I just don’t think it’ll work. Partially because it’s the Clippers and they always find a way to screw something up, but primarily, I don’t see it working in the locker room. Durant already has an aggressive point guard in Westbrook (who clearly dominates that locker room), why would he leave OKC to play alongside another point guard with a bloated ego? Paul has been known to be a pain to deal with in the locker room (hey there Blake Griffin) and I don’t think he’ll like a superstar player coming in and taking over “his” team. Furthermore, Doc Rivers is as overrated a coach as there is in professional sports, and I don’t think he’ll be able to control all those egos; especially since he doesn’t seem to have a handle on it now. Durant wouldn’t be doing himself any favors playing in LA.    

Overall, I believe that OKC should be Durant’s first and only choice. It makes sense not just financially but professionally as well. However, if he were to choose to test the free agent market, he would certainly look good in Celtic green.
If you like what you’ve read, find me on twitter: @lavalleech

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Cleveland’s Easy Road to The Finals Puts More Pressure on LeBron to Deliver

Following the Golden State Warriors championship season last year, there were many skeptics (aka Trolls) who denounced the legitimacy of their NBA title. Their [the skeptics] argument stemmed from the fact that the Warriors continued to face teams plagued by injury; while they [the Warriors] stayed healthy. The skeptics ranged from Doc Rivers to Charles Barkley to every retired NBA player from the 80’s & 90’s. It’s an absurd argument to make but one that’s continued to make the rounds throughout this NBA season.
Lebron James and “his” Cleveland Cavaliers have had the easiest road to the NBA Finals in league history. Their first round matchup was against an up-and-coming but clearly inexperienced Pistons team that was still learning how to close out games. Their second round opponent was the Atlanta Hawks (or the Cincinnati Bengals of the NBA) who are formidable in the regular season but completely choke come the postseason. Finally, they reach the third round and get to face the overhyped and underwhelming Toronto Raptors.
The Cavs waxed the Raptors in the first two games of the series so badly that many believed (myself included) that the series would be over in 4 games. However, the Raptors played up for their home crowd and took games 3 &4 handily. All of sudden the narrative shifted and everyone started wondering if the Raptors had a real chance of stealing game 5 in Cleveland. Game 5 came and went, and the Raptors left all their talent in Toronto as the Cavs decimated them by 35 points. Game 6 is tonight and I fully believe that the Cavs will leave Toronto with a win.
Now, I brought all of that up to point out this; if these Cavs win the NBA Championship this year, shouldn’t their title be tainted? After all, they’ve played against inferior teams in one of the weakest Eastern Conferences the league has ever seen. If the Warriors title from last year is allowed to be put into question, why can’t the same be done to the Cavs? Furthermore, if Lebron makes it to the Finals and loses [again], what does that say about him as an all-time great?
As far as I see it, Lebron HAS to win a championship this year. He’s spent part of his season playing GM and making a coaching change and the other part trashing the Warriors and the accolades that have come their way; which they’ve deserved, regardless of what he says. He’s played in the extremely watered-down East which has helped him reach the Finals for 6 straight years (6 including this year).

The competition this year has been dreadful and his team has taken full advantage of that. With that being said, if he doesn’t come out of this season as a champion, I don’t think his legacy/reputation will ever recover.
If you dominate your conference like the Cavs have, all while throwing shade at the defending champs and contending that you’re still the best player in the game, you sure as hell better show up and deliver in the Finals. If you don’t, you’re no longer the “King” and you don’t deserve to be in the conversation as an all-time great (now I’m talking Magic, Jordan, Bird, Wilt etc.).
Don’t get me wrong, Lebron is one of the two best players in the game; but, he can’t go 2-5 in the Finals and be considered as an all-timer. It just doesn’t add up. For instance, if Tom Brady didn’t win the Super Bowl two years ago and had a 3-3 record rather than 4-2; no one would be saying that he deserves to be in the same conversation as Joe Montana. You can’t continue to come up short in championship games and be considered one of the best ever.
LeBron and the Cavs have had a smooth ride up to this point. If they don’t deliver a title back to Cleveland, not only will it be devastating for the city but for James’ legacy as well.

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Spurs Lose Series: Duncan’s Future Up in the Air

Last night the Oklahoma City Thunder dispatched the heavily favored San Antonio Spurs 113-99 to win the second round series 4-2.  Given OKC’s blowout loss in Game 1, if anyone told you that they saw the Spurs dropping 4 of the next 5 games (including 2 at home), they’re full of you know what.  The second best team in the league got rocked in the only upset so far in these playoffs.

However, given all that, that’s not the main story; at least, not the one I took from this series.

The real story of this series was the blatant decline of Tim Duncan.  Duncan came into the series looking relatively spry for 40 and had completed one of his best defensive regular seasons in some time.  No one expected see father time catch up with Duncan so drastically; but alas, here we are.

It was tough watching Duncan struggle to get up and down the floor; the poor guy couldn’t even make a layup anymore.  In many ways, watching Duncan’s brutal performance was eerily similar to Peyton Manning’s harsh decline during the Broncos Super Bowl run last February.  As a “millennial”, it’s been tough watching two of the greatest ever decline so rapidly and within a few months of each other.

During the postgame, Duncan didn’t specify on his future plans; however, many believe that he’s leaning towards retirement.  If he does retire, he’ll join Manning, Kobe Bryant and Derek Jeter, as not just champions but icons in their given sport; who have retired within the last two years.

Being 28, it’s hard to reconcile with the fact that all of the sports legends of my youth are retiring.  The only one remaining at this point is Tom Brady.

Given his performance during these playoffs and specifically in the second round, I hope Duncan decides to retire.  I’d hate to see him end his spectacular career in the same manner as Bryant; because that was downright dreadful to watch.  Regardless of what Duncan chooses to do, there’s no doubt that he’s a first ballot hall of famer and arguably the best power forward ever.  We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks.

 

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Curry + Warriors Are NBA’s Best

As it stands today, Steph Curry is the best player in the NBA.  I know that we’re only five games into the season and I’m not trying to be prisoner of the moment, but when a player has scored 179 points in five games and the only other player in NBA history to match that total is Michael Jordan; that player deserves some praise.

Curry’s averaging 35.8 points per game, 5.0 rebounds and 5.8 assists.  That’s insane.  Just for a comparison, Lebron James’ season stats are; 22.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists.  James being widely considered as the best player in the game is the reason for the comparison; but it’s time for the NBA community to wake up and realize that James is no longer the ‘king’ of the league.

Not only has Curry been playing at the highest level of anyone in the league, but he’s lead his team to a 5-0 start.  That’s right, he’s lead the defending champion Golden State Warriors to a 5-0 record.  You know the same Warriors team that everyone has dismissed as champions because their opponents lost some key players to injuries.  That because their players stayed healthy for the majority of the season [especially through the playoffs], their championship isn’t as legitimate as others in the past.  Well, regardless of what everyone else thinks, this team is annihilating their completion and looks to be in prime position to repeat as champs.

What’s interesting to note is that this Warriors team seems reminiscent of another team in a different league; that team would be the New England Patriots.  Like the Patriots, they have a superstar player in Steph Curry, who had to deal with the media not giving him a fair shake during the offseason.  The Warriors have also had to deal with the media and the league’s unenthusiastic view of their championship.  I understand that comparing the two teams is a bit of a stretch given that the Patriots have been caught cheating on more than one occasion, however the way they (the Warriors) punish their opposition as their way of legitimizing their standing in the league is eerily similar.

Steph Curry is currently the best player who’s playing on the best team in the league.  There’s no guarantee that he and his team will repeat as champions, but one thing is for sure, they’re going to be a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

The Pressure’s on in OKC

The pressure is on in Oklahoma City this year and it falls squarely on the shoulders of Kevin Durant.  The former MVP is entering his ninth season in the league and is on a team that many believe should represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.

It’s time; hell, it’s been time.  This is the year that Durant needs to step up and lead his team to the promise land.  He’s believed by many to be the second-best player in the world on one of the best teams in the league.  Outside of bringing his team to the finals in 2012, the Thunder have had a lackluster run in the playoffs over the course of his career.  Now, it’s not all Durant’s fault; but the expectation is that a superstar of his caliber should be able to rise above the mediocrity on the team, and lead them to a championship.

With that being said, it’s important to keep in mind that he’s playing with one of the top five players in the game; Russell Westbrook.  While many speculate that they can’t win a ring together because of how ball centric Westbrook is, it’s not like Durant is lacking for talented teammates.

I’ve someone that called out Lebron for leaving Cleveland and running to Miami so he could play with All-Stars because he couldn’t win a ring on his own.  Well, he won two in Miami and almost singlehandedly brought the Cavs to a championship last season; Durant has played with the likes of Westbrook and James Harden, and still doesn’t have a ring to show for it.  To be fair, Durant does play in the much more competitive Western Conference, but again, the time for excuses are over; it’s time to get it done.

Believe it or not, I’m a huge Durant fan and supporter.  There was a time early on in his career that I believed he could end up being a better player than Lebron [clearly I was wrong], when their careers were all said and done.  Being such a strong supporter of Durant, it’s getting harder for me to defend him being the second-best in the game with no ring and a lackluster playoff resume.

I believe that this is his last year as a member of the Thunder and it’ll mean more to Durant’s legacy if he wins a championship in Oklahoma City, then if he leaves and wins one with another team.  If he wants to be considered one of the best [ever], then it’s time for him to show up when it counts.