LeBron James Signs With the Lakers

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As I craftily predicted, LeBron James will be taking his talents out west to Hollywood. The deal, as Woj pointed out, is a league max of 4 years and $154M. It was also interesting to note that some of LeBron’s reps were in Philly meeting with the 76ers, who were the other team that seemed most likely to land his services. He was not present at those meetings, though, and he was in fact in Los Angeles. Now he joins the storied Laker franchise that has the second most titles among all NBA franchises (trailing the Celtics, of course).

So what does this mean for the NBA? Well, first and foremost the Western Conference is now even more of a bloodbath than ever. You have, of course, the Warriors, who have won 3 out of the last 4 titles and were a blown 3-1 lead away from having won 4 in a row. You have the Houston Rockets who took the Warriors to the brink and are bringing back their future Hall of Fame point guard in Chris Paul with a max deal (again, as I craftily predicted) as well as reigning MVP James Harden. You have the Thunder, sort of, who managed to convince Paul George to stay even though everyone and their mother thought he’d be joining LeBron in LA. And now you have the Lakers, who are mainly just LeBron James right now since he hasn’t really acquired any teammates yet. However LeBron has taken a worse supporting cast to the NBA Finals before so just because there isn’t a ton of talent around him now doesn’t mean that doesn’t make the Lakers contenders.

This also takes a mack truck and clears all the small children out of the road for the Celtics to reach their first NBA Finals since 2010 (which happened to be against the Lakers). There is virtually no competition for them. Yeah, the 76ers and Raptors are pretty good, but the Celtics curb stomped the 76ers in the second round of the playoffs last year while the Raptors got destroyed by the Cavaliers, whom the Celtics took to Game 7. And the Celtics did all that without Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward, who will both be healthy for the start of the 2018-19 season. The LeBron signing also opens the door for a potential LeBron James vs Kyrie Irving NBA Finals, which will just be a bonanza of storylines to work with.

So what do the Lakers need to do in order to unseat the Warriors? Well for one, they need another player. Since they traded Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance to the Cavaliers at the Trade Deadline (very sneaky play there, LeBron), the Lakers now have room for 2 max contracts in their salary cap. LeBron takes up one of them and they could use another one on one of the potential free agents still out there (DeMarcus Cousins) or pay Kawhi Leonard after acquiring him in a trade from the Spurs (or both, since Leonard has stated he doesn’t really care about the max contract, he just wants out of San Antonio). The development of Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball is also critical, however the latter’s may take a little more time since he tore his meniscus and it is unknown how much time he’s going to miss. Provided, their development only matters as long as one or both of these two aren’t part of a package for Kawhi Leonard. However, since the Lakers have no other ammunition except the potential of Ingram and Ball, there really isn’t any other option for them if they want to land Leonard. I’m also interested to see how LeBron works with Lakers head coach Luke Walton, who was taken 31 spots after LeBron in the 2003 NBA Draft. Pretty much everywhere he’s been, LeBron has basically been the Jackie Moon of his organization and has been the alpha over his head coach. Walton doesn’t strike me as the pushover that Tyronn Lue does or David Blatt and Erik Spoelstra did so there could be some potential head butting.

But regardless, this coming NBA season will certainly be a lot more interesting than last season’s. That’s it for today’s blog, sorry about the brevity but I just came back from the beach and I am just dead, however I couldn’t NOT blog this news so I powered through it the best I could. Good on me. Let me know what you think of LeBron James joining the Lakers in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Top 10 NBA Free Agents

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Before I get into the blog, I’m sure many of you might have noticed that it wasn’t me writing the blog yesterday. That would be James Neary, who will be occasionally contributing to this blog now. He’s a friend of mine from high school with whom I played baseball and basketball. You’ll love him.

As for the blog itself, last night was the deadline for players to opt in or out of their contracts and the free agency class is finalized. So I figured it’d be fitting to look at the class this year and predict where everyone will wind up. So with that, let’s not waste any more time and get to it.

10. JJ Redick-G-Philadelphia 76ers

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Redick is the definition of a catch-and-shoot player with a 3-point shot that can fit pretty much any system. He was a big part of the 76ers’ emergence and if they don’t land LeBron James, I think they’ll put some of that cap space towards bringing the sharp shooter back.

Projected Landing Spot: Stays with Philadelphia 76ers

9. Marcus Smart-G-Boston Celtics

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Smart is one of the toughest players in the league and his defense and energy was critical in the Celtics’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals despite injuries to key players such as Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. There’s just one issue: he can’t shoot. Smart’s biggest asset, though, is his toughness and ability to draw fouls and get in the heads of opposing players and while he is looking for a large contract (he’s looking for an annual salary between $12-14M), I’m sure somebody will be willing to give it to him to bolster their depth and improve their defense.

Projected Landing Spot: Signs with Utah Jazz

8. Isaiah Thomas-G-Los Angeles Lakers

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What a crappy year for Isaiah Thomas. He was the man in Boston, got traded seemingly out of nowhere, and wound up being forced out of Cleveland before being forgotten with the Lakers. He has a chance to start fresh and he has shown he is very capable of leading a team on a deep playoff run.

Projected Landing Spot: Signs with Phoenix Suns

7. Clint Capela-C-Houston Rockets

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As bad of a year that Thomas had, Capela’s was that good. Capela was a revelation this season for the Rockets and made himself into one of the premiere defenders in the NBA. He was a big reason why the Rockets were able to give the Warriors a run for their money in the Western Conference Finals. He’s probably the best defender available and I think that any team that lands him will become that much tougher in the paint.

Projected Landing Spot: Stays with Houston Rockets

6. Chris Paul-G-Houston Rockets

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Like the emergence of Capela, the addition of Chris Paul was a major factor in the Rockets becoming a threat to the Warriors. His chemistry with James Harden helped the bearded one land his first MVP award. He is looking for a max deal but the Rockets have one to spare so if they’re smart, I think they keep the formula that worked so well last year and give it to CP3.

Projected Landing Spot: Stays with Houston Rockets

5. DeAndre Jordan-C-Los Angeles Clippers

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Jordan opted out of his deal with the Clippers at the last minute and became an unrestricted free agent. Jordan is another excellent defender and arguably the best rebounder in the entire NBA. The story about how his last free agency tour went is one of the oddest stories in recent memory and now that there’s nobody left with the Clippers to barricade him inside his house so that Mavericks officials can’t reach him, I do think a deal with Dallas does happen. They are, in fact, rumored to be heavily pursuing him.

Projected Landing Spot: Signs with Dallas Mavericks

4. DeMarcus Cousins-C-New Orleans Pelicans

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DeMarcus Cousins suffered an achilles injury midway through the season, which probably hurt his free agent stock. But he’s one of the most dominant big men in the game when healthy and he was just starting to form a strong 1-2 punch with Anthony Davis in New Orleans prior to the injury. He’s the type of guy who you can count on for a 20-10 season and be the vocal leader of your club house, provided he’s not in one of those “moods.”

Projected Landing Spot: Signs with New York Knicks

3. Paul George-F-Oklahoma City Thunder

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George was traded to the Thunder from the Pacers prior to this past season in what was then perceived to be a VERY lopsided deal for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. However Oladipo earned an All Star bid and won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award while George played second fiddle to Russell Westbrook as the Thunder got bounced in the first round of the playoffs against the Jazz. George is still one of the better all-around shooters in this free agency class though and a star player who will command a max deal.

Projected Landing Spot: Signs with Los Angeles Lakers

2. Kevin Durant-F-Golden State Warriors

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Technically, Durant is a free agent, which is why he makes this list. However nobody believes he’s not returning to Golden State, as they can afford the potential deal despite the ludicrous amounts of talent on that roster. So I’m not going to give this much more thought for the 2-time NBA Finals MVP.

Projected Landing Spot: Stays with Golden State Warriors

1. LeBron James-F-Cleveland Cavaliers

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The one we’ve all been waiting for. It’s very unlikely that LeBron remains in Cleveland, as his relationship with team owner Dan Gilbert is pretty strained. Plus, the talent on the Cavs’ roster is nowhere near where it needs to be in order for the King to get his 4th ring. I’ve heard of a million different potential landing spots for him and I really don’t have the faintest clue as to where he’s ending up so for my Projected Landing Spot, I’m going with the team that I’ve heard the most about.

Projected Landing Spot: Signs with Los Angeles Lakers

Bonus: Kawhi Leonard-F-San Antonio Spurs

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No, he’s not a free agent, but Leonard wants out of San Antonio and the Spurs are fielding offers. With just a year left on his current contract, if a team is going to give up the king’s ransom it’s probably going to cost to get him, they’re going to want to ensure that they’re going to be able to lock him up to a multi-year deal. And based on some of the packages I’m hearing, there’s only one team that has the assets to land the former NBA Finals MVP.

Projected Landing Spot: Traded to the Boston Celtics for a package including the Kings pick, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier (Yes, I am aware that Danny Ainge just said the team isn’t looking to make a blockbuster deal. But I’ll believe it when I see it)

Let me know what you think of the 2018 NBA Free Agency class in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

What NBA Free Agency Can Teach Us about the International System & Political Signaling

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By James Neary

The intersectionality of politics and sports is an ever-present fissure in the harsh divisions of America today. You can yell back and forth across the dinner table about why players should or should not kneel, wear black hoodies, or lambast the president. But you can’t argue this: sports ​are politics. Power dynamics, economics, and public relations are obvious driving forces behind both the Warriors and the White House. While this article largely focuses on the context of the NBA and the boisterous atmosphere surrounding free agency headed into this weekend, the concepts mentioned here will be largely applicable to other leagues as well. While to most political scholars the metaphor is apparent, the sports fan less versed in the traditions of Capitol Hill stands to gain a lot from this discussion.

Although the metaphor isn’t perfect, the NBA today can be seen as an international system similar to the one every human on earth calls their own, except for maybe Marxists. Political scholars usually refer to our syste​m as ​anarchy ,which you know the meaning of. Despite the UN and other international organizations’ best effort to instill some rule of law on a global level, realist theory in political science argues that doesn’t mean much. How the NBA functions similarly to this follows: Each team acting as a nation, or ‘black box,’ in which you can hardly see the inner policy, practices, and traditions of the institution itself, but are left instead with the resulting implications of the choices made through their internal processes. There are institutions such as the NBA itself, the NBPA, the television and internet service providers, etc. that do impose rules over combat (games), economics (salary caps), diplomacy (trades), and ethics (dress code). Politically, either from a realist or liberal (not like that, idiots) perspective, the argument can be made both that these institutions do and do not play a leading role in the decisions made by teams.

Now that the overall framework and political theory is established, it’s time to take a look at this year’s NBA free agency circus and see how it corresponds to our political conditions. To be completely forthcoming, I’m a diehard Celtics fan, but I also appreciate the unprecedented grandeur of (IMHO) the greatest player of ever, Lebron. In our metaphor, the games these teams play against each other are representative of actual battle between states. This can be thought of as either military or economic competition, as the former seems to be traded for the latter in recent politics. If you are going with the most basic metaphor, games as battles, then in that context Lebron is equal to the largest concentrated nuclear payload on Earth. Golden State has the most combined nukes, and maybe even the second largest single concentration in KD or Steph. Draymond is kind of like a predator missile: easy to deploy and very destructive, but can cause a lot of unwanted damage. Teams, just like states, are in a constant struggle with others to secure these assets and deploy them effectively on the battlefield to maximize their returns.

As stated above, the metaphor isn’t perfect, but it’s obvious the teams in the NBA (and the WNBA, NFL, CFL, MLB, NHL, MLS, LLWS… maybe not that last one) function according to a framework of power dynamics similar to that of our international system. What prompted this discussion, however, is the ​seemingly exaggerated media circus leading up to Lebron, Kawhi, and PG’s decision to stay or leave their respective teams this year. Sorry to burst the bubble, but I’m of the school of thought that this is not out of the ordinary in any way. It’s the very nature of our political institutions and their derivative economy to systematically bombard us with information every hour of the day, every day of the year. This might be a phenomenon that has developed recently, seeing as the most unrelenting place it manifests itself, in both the political and athletic arenas, is my push notifications. The logic stands though, the NBA or any other sports organization has nothing to gain in a quiet offseason. They lose money, they lose ratings, and they lose traction. Michelle Beadle and Mike Greenberg, on GetUp! On ESPN following the NBA awards, pointed out the balance of awkwardness for having the show so long after the regular season (when the votes were cast) and of politics for having so much invested in such an ambitious event. So there it is, whether through free agency, championship parades, fallings out between superstars, or fashion shows, the NBA will always give you as much to talk about in the offseason as it can.

 

That being said, what was about this offseason in particular that prompted such a discussion on the intersectionality of sports and politics? To be honest, I think the average basketball fan is becoming increasingly aware of this connection due to the rate at and ease with which we see these developments. What has been particularly noticeable this offseason is the amount of political signaling going on between teams and parties. Magic Johnson, proving to be a very skilled statesmen, has executed some of the better attempts at this so far. Signaling to fans his resolve, he recently committed to stepping down as President of Basketball Operations for the Lakers if he were unable to land some big free agents this offseason or next. Signaling resolve is often used by leaders during international combat, but can be utilized in economic and diplomatic relations as well. Perhaps most similar to Magic’s case in a relevant American context, Republican Senate Candidate for Missouri Austin Petersen challenged grassroots Republican primary adversary Tony Monetti to a high stakes unofficial ballot in which the loser would resign. Both candidates initially agreed, but Monetti backed out, signaling weak resolve to his voting base while Petersen signaled strong. US Rep Maxine Waters’ call for private discrimination against members of the Trump administration and Senator Chuck Schumer’s condemnation of her remarks are also signals of resolve relevant to their respective voting bases. Magic Johnson’s recent strategic move, however, is also indicative another political phenomenon we’ve seen play out on the international stage recently. What Magic did was essentially ‘draw a line in the sand,’ as President Obama did in 2012 with his denunciation of the Assad regime in Syria. What weight these red lines actually hold in practice however, is up for debate.

Besides just the words of Magic Johnson, there have been numerous occurrences of political signaling in recent days of the NBA offseason. Perhaps the most obnoxious form of signaling is coming from Lavar Ball. When looking at the dynamics of the Kawhi Leonard situation, Lavar’s endless media stunts, self-promotion, and cold takes make perfect sense. The Spurs, a franchise notorious for flying under the radar and giving the media as limited access as possible, see Lavar as significant cost to obtaining Lonzo from the Lakers. The fact that it’s the Spurs makes that cost significantly higher than it would be for any other team as well. Knowing that the Lakers will probably have to deal Zo or Kuzma to San Antonio to grab Kawhi, Lavar is making it exponentially more difficult for that deal to happen with his son. Therefore, Lavar is setting up Lonzo, a pass-first and lanky rebounding point guard, to play with two of the greatest two-way wings of all time. A pretty brilliant move in my opinion, and one that echos Israel’s attempts to leverage as much power as they possibly can to shift the international relation strategies of the United States more in their favor.

 

The metaphors and political connections in this scenario between the Lakers, Spurs, and Lebron do not stop there obviously. You have virtue signaling, like in that horrible poem that Lakers intern wrote for softy Paul George. Commitment signaling, like in how Kyrie was absent from the Celtics bench in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals this year. I think it could even be reasonably argued that Lonzo’s diss track to Kuzma was a signal to Lebron that he was willing to part ways with his good friend to make space for him. The Lakers, evidently thought this was poorly executed, as they reprimanded the two rising sophomores for their antics, thus signaling to Lebron their capabilities. Lebron has even engaged in this signaling himself, most probably by orchestrating leaks from his camp that he doesn’t want to hear any pitches, most absurdly by wearing a hat during the finals saying “There is no magic pill.” It seems that every year, every summer, there has developed this atmosphere of circus surrounding NBA free agency. I hope that I’ve established this atmosphere is far from unprecedented or unreasonable. Applying frameworks of political science, including organizations of international systems, political signaling, and power dynamics is useful for understanding the neverending onslaught of Joel Embiid’s tweets and Stephen A.’s rants involving the NBA.

2018 Full NBA Mock Draft

So the NBA Draft is today and for you basketball fans out there, I apologize for not going nearly as in depth about this as I did with the NFL Draft but as I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’m not nearly as good with basketball as football. Also, I’m not going to lie, I didn’t do nearly as much research before doing this as I should have. I’ve been VERY busy with some things that may or may not be in the works right now as well as being a cashier at a liquor store. So if you’ve been following this draft and my analysis is just flat out wrong, that’s why. But I’m going to do my best with this one and I’m going to do the entire 2-round NBA mock. I’m only doing explanations for the lottery picks (1-14) because really those are the only picks anyone cares about. So with that, let’s get to the mock.

Round 1

1. Phoenix Suns-DeAndre Ayton-C-Arizona

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This is pretty much the only guarantee I can make with this draft because it’s basically a foregone conclusion that Ayton is going to be the top pick to the Suns. He’s the best prospect and probably the safest, too. I liken him to DeMarcus Cousins minus the mean streak (that we know of) and I think at worst he’s going to be a quality starter.

2. Sacramento Kings-Marvin Bagley-F-Duke

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Marvin Bagley was the preseason pick to be the top selection in the draft but with the rise of Ayton and Bagley not being as amazing as everybody thought (he was still really good, though). But Bagley’s potential is too high to pass on so I think the Kings will take their shot here.

3. Atlanta Hawks-Jaren Jackson-F-Michigan State

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The Hawks have nothing right now and Jaren Jackson is among the best prospects in this draft. Jackson needs to put on some muscle but his basketball skills are top-notch. He might get bullied in the paint a little bit at first but if he can fill out, there may not be a bigger threat in the post.

4. Memphis Grizzlies-Luka Doncic-G/F-Slovenia

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This is the biggest question mark of the draft. Yeah, Doncic is 6’8 with really good handles, but his competition is trash. Also I guess he’s getting fat? I don’t know, like I said at the outset, I haven’t done as much due diligence as I probably should have. But from what I understand, Doncic could be another Ben Simmons, but he could also be another Andrea Bargnani.

5. Dallas Mavericks-Mo Bamba-C-Texas

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Bamba’s potential is off the charts but he’s raw as all Hell. He’s going to need a year or two before he’s really ready for the big time. But he’s a 7-footer with a 7’9 wingspan, which at worst he’s just going to block every single shot. Dirk Nowitzki’s not getting any younger and there’s nobody better for Bamba to try and model his game after.

6. Orlando Magic-Michael Porter-F-Missouri

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We really don’t know anything about Porter since he missed basically his entire season at Missouri with a back injury. He was the number 1 recruit last year, though, and that doesn’t just get handed out for nothing so I think the Magic, who really have no marketable talent right now, should take a chance on him.

7. Chicago Bulls-Trae Young-G-Oklahoma

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Young was the story of the college basketball world last year as his shooting numbers were just stupid. However he faded down the stretch and people are really wondering whether he’s another Jimmer Fredette. Quite frankly, I think he’s going to be another Monta Ellis but better passer (Young’s a better passer than people give him credit for).

8. Cleveland Cavaliers (from Boston Celtics through Brooklyn Nets)-Mikal Bridges-F-Villanova

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Despite Jalen Brunson garnering all the attention, Bridges is the better prospect. With Cleveland expecting to lose LeBron James, they need to nail this pick in order to remain relevant. Bridges, of course, is far from being LeBron James, but he’s a similar style of player and has the potential to be a star in this league.

9. New York Knicks-Wendell Carter-C-Duke

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I mentioned this the last time I did a mock, but when Duke came to Indiana last year, I actually came away more impressed by Carter than I was by Bagley and I think he has the potential to be the steal of this draft. Aside from Kristaps Porzingis, who may not even want to be there much longer, the Knicks don’t have shit from a talent standpoint so adding a bruiser like Carter could give them a very dominant duo down low.

10. Philadelphia 76ers (from Los Angeles Lakers)-Collin Sexton-G-Alabama

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Full disclosure, I actually like Collin Sexton a bit more than Trae Young, mainly because I think I trust Sexton a little more. I think he’s the safest of the two and he’s a better passer. He doesn’t have Young’s shooting ability, which is why I think Young will go higher, but Sexton is more of a traditional point guard that could be a real asset to the 76ers, especially if Markelle Fultz is as broken as everyone says he is.

11. Charlotte Hornets-Kevin Knox-F-Kentucky

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Knox was a high-ranking recruit but he didn’t do as much at Kentucky as everyone expected. He’s a bit raw right now and pretty much everything we have on him is projection at this point. But there’s no doubting his talent and if developed properly, he could be the perfect sidekick for Kemba Walker in Charlotte.

12. Los Angeles Clippers (from Detroit Pistons)-Shai Gilgeous-Alexander-G-Kentucky

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This is a guy whose draft stock is rising a lot lately. In fact, there are rumors that the Raptors are so enamored with Gilgeous-Alexander that they are trying to trade into the top 10 to land him (the Raptors do not have a pick in this year’s draft). Since they don’t have a pick, a trade to land this guy would likely cost a star player such as Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan. If a team is that in love with a guy, there’s definitely more worth delving into.

13. Los Angeles Clippers-Miles Bridges-F-Michigan State

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Miles Bridges was my favorite player in college basketball, but as far as NBA talents go, he’s a little raw. There is definitely something to work with, though, as he took over plenty of games while in East Lansing. If he can translate that over to the NBA, the Clippers could find themselves with a Hell of a player.

14. Denver Nuggets-Lonnie Walker-G-Miami (FL)

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Full disclosure, I know nothing about this guy, but that hair is so absurd that he has to be a lottery pick. Not as nuts as Elfrid Payton’s, but it’s pretty damn close But he’s rated pretty highly on all draft boards so he’s probably a guy who could help the Nuggets in the short and long term.

15. Washington Wizards-De’Anthony Melton-G-USC

16. Phoenix Suns (from Miami Heat)-Zhaire Smith-G-Texas Tech

17. Milwaukee Bucks-Robert Williams-C-Texas A&M

18. San Antonio Spurs-Kevin Huerter-F-Maryland

19. Atlanta Hawks (from Minnesota Timberwolves)-Troy Brown-F-Oregon

20. Minnesota Timberwolves (from Oklahoma City Thunder)-Elie Okobo-G-France

21. Utah Jazz-Jacob Evans-F-Cincinnati

22. Chicago Bulls (from New Orleans Pelicans)-Mitchell Robinson-F-N/A

23. Indiana Pacers-Keita Bates-Diop-F-Ohio State

24. Portland Trail Blazers-Melvin Frazier-G-Tulane

25. Los Angeles Lakers (from Cleveland Cavaliers)-Khyri Thomas-G-Creighton

26. Philadelphia 76ers-Shake Milton-G-SMU

27. Boston Celtics-Grayson Allen-G-Duke

28. Golden State Warriors-Donte Divincenzo-G-Villanova

29. Brooklyn Nets-Dzanan Musa-F-Bosnia and Herzegovina

30. Atlanta Hawks (from Houston Rockets)-Jerome Robinson-G-Boston College

Round 2

31. Phoenix Suns-Jalen Brunson-G-Villanova

32. Memphis Grizzlies-Devonte Graham-G-Kansas

33. Atlanta Hawks-Chandler Hutchison-F-Boise State

34. Dallas Mavericks-Aaron Holiday-G-UCLA

35. Orlando Magic-Anfernee Simons-G-IMG

36. Sacramento Kings-Landry Shamet-G-Wichita State

37. New York Knicks (from Chicago Bulls)-Mo Wagner-F-Michigan

38. Philadelphia 76ers (from Brooklyn Nets)-Bruce Brown-F-Miami (FL)

39. Philadelphia 76ers (from New York Knicks)-Gary Trent Jr-G-Duke

40. Brooklyn Nets (from Los Angeles Lakers)-Jarred Vanderbilt-F-Kentucky

41. Orlando Magic (from Charlotte Hornets)-Rodions Kurucs-F-Latvia

42. Detroit Pistons-Gary Clark-F-Cincinnati

43. Denver Nuggets (from Los Angeles Clippers)-Josh Okogie-F-Georgia Tech

44. Washington Wizards-Trevon Duval-G-Duke

45. Brooklyn Nets (from Milwaukee Bucks)-Omari Spellman-C-Villanova

46. Houston Rockets (from Miami Heat)-Kenrich Williams-F-TCU

47. Los Angeles Lakers (from Denver Nuggets)-Hamidou Diallo-F-Kentucky

48. Minnesota Timberwolves-Justin Jackson-F-Maryland

49. San Antonio Spurs-Rawle Alkins-G-Arizona

50. Indiana Pacers-Ray Spalding-C-Louisville

51. New Orleans Pelicans-Tony Carr-G-Penn State

52. Utah Jazz-Malik Newman-G-Kansas

53. Oklahoma City Thunder-Vince Edwards-F-Purdue

54. Dallas Mavericks (from Portland Trail Blazers)-Isaac Bonga-F-Germany

55. Charlotte Hornets (from Cleveland Cavaliers)-Chimezie Metu-C-USC

56. Philadelphia 76ers-Devon Hall-G-Virginia

57. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Boston Celtics)-Svi Mykhailiuk-F-Kansas

58. Denver Nuggets (from Golden State Warriors)-Alize Johnson-F-Missouri State

59. Phoenix Suns (from Toronto Raptors)-Jevon Carter-G-West Virginia

60. Philadelphia 76ers (from Houston Rockets)-Kevin Hervey-F-UT Arlington

That’s going to do it for this NBA Mock Draft. I’ll try and get a recap out after the actual event is over, but I can’t promise anything since I’ll be working during it (I’m going to try and stream it on my phone but I won’t be able to get instant reactions onto paper like I did for the NFL Draft). Let me know how you think this draft is going to go in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Golden State Warriors Sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers to Win Their 3rd Title in 4 Years

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Finally, it’s over. An NBA season that was about as predictable as the sun rising has mercifully come to an end. Warriors-Cavs IV was kind of a drag when all was said and done. Yeah the Cavs kept it close a couple times (probably should have won Game 1), but I don’t think anybody really believed they were going to pull off the upset over Golden State. I figured they’d at least win one game, but alas, Golden State pulled off the sweep in convincing fashion with a 108-85 victory. Now that I think about it, there hasn’t been a sweep in the NBA Finals since the Spurs swept the Cavs in 2007, LeBron’s first ever trip to the Finals. So I guess I’ll give the NBA that. In all honesty, this was really the first time I didn’t give a shit. The first installment of Cavs-Warriors was basically “oh cool, two new teams even though one of them has LeBron James for the 5th straight year.” The Warriors won in 5 games thanks in large part to a Kyrie Irving knee injury. Cavs-Warriors II was like “oh…a repeat.” That one actually turned out to be a really good series as the Cavs won the city of Cleveland’s first title since 1948 in 7 games, a series in which the Warriors famously blew a 3-1 series lead. Cavs-Warriors III’s main storylines were “the tie breaker” and “can Kevin Durant get that elusive first ring?” Warriors won in 5. But what can you really do with Cavs-Warriors IV? There weren’t any interesting storylines and even the Warriors didn’t even look that excited that they won the Finals.

The Warriors won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, either. Kevin Durant can opt out of his contract basically whenever he wants but as long as this team is winning like they are, why would he? Steph Curry has 3 years left on a deal he signed last season, Draymond Green has 2 years left, and Klay Thompson will be a free agent after next season provided he doesn’t get a new deal before that. So this super team isn’t going anywhere and its nucleus will be firmly cemented next season.

As for the Cavaliers, this was most likely their last chance. LeBron James is a free agent and all signs point to him leaving the Cavaliers once again and it would be hard to blame him. There’s just no way the Cavaliers are going to be able to get much more help for him to get over the hump that is the Warriors. When a guy takes that supporting cast to the NBA Finals, you know he’s on another level. There’s a reason people are legitimately debating whether he’s better than Michael Jordan. The problem with his legacy, though, is that he’s now 3-6 in his NBA Finals career, a .333 winning percentage. The first title came in a strike-shortened season, the second came with the help of a CLUTCH Ray Allen 3-pointer to save them from elimination, and the third came after Draymond Green got suspended for a Finals game, giving the Cavs the momentum they needed to overcome the first ever 3-1 Finals deficit. I’m not one to say that these should be held against LeBron, because as far as I’m concerned, a win is a win is a win and the fact that he has played in 9 NBA Finals is incredible and he doesn’t get enough credit for that feat. But there will always be naysayers who will pick apart literally everything. I won’t delve too deep into where I think LeBron James will wind up in the offseason because, quite frankly, we don’t know shit yet. For a while I heard it was certainly going to be the Lakers, now I’m hearing 76ers. All I know is that I really want him to choose a Western Conference team so my Celtics can go to the Finals for the first time since 2010.

We also shouldn’t discount what LeBron has done in these last 8 years. Since 2011, every single Eastern Conference representative in the NBA Finals has featured LeBron James (4 years for the Heat, 4 years for the Cavaliers). The last time LeBron wasn’t in the Finals was 2010 when the Lakers beat the Celtics in 7 games. Where was I the last time there was an NBA Finals game without LeBron James? My middle school graduation dance, which had the horrifically poor timing of being during Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Here’s a picture of me from that day.

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In case you were wondering, I was mad because my crush was dancing with another dude. It was a rough night for me. She was with that dude and the Celtics were losing a sloppy game to the Lakers while I was stuck at this dance I didn’t want to be at but was morally obligated to because I would never see most of these people that I had grown up with ever again. Now look how far I’ve come since the last time LeBron James wasn’t in the Finals.

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I conquered Westeros, took my place on the Iron Throne, and got a much-needed hair cut. It’s unbelievable what can happen in 8 years.

So here’s to what should be a VERY interesting offseason in the NBA. Let me know what you thought of the Finals in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

JR Smith

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I didn’t watch a second of NBA Finals Game 1 basically out of protest for seeing the same matchup every year. I was playing a Sporcle quiz on my computer where I had to name every pick of the 2018 NFL Draft (like the normal person I am). All of a sudden I get a text from a buddy asking if I’m watching the game. I told him “no, why?” He gave me the situation. But it can all be summed up by just saying “JR Smith.” Here are some of the seemingly hundreds of Tweets I saw in my newsfeed.

I guess you probably want to know what happened, huh? Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you might have seen that George Hill was at the free throw line shooting free throws with the Cavs down 1 with about 5 seconds left. He makes the first free throw to tie the game. He missed the second, though, and it gets rebounded by JR Smith. Smith, not realizing the game was tied and the Cavs did not, in fact, have the lead, tried to dribble out the remainder of the clock (about 5 seconds). He realized his mistake too late and the Cavaliers were unable to get a legitimate shot off before time expired, sending the game into OT. Here’s the play in question.

All this could’ve been avoided had George Hill just hit the free throw. Alas, JR Smith’s blunder will likely live on in infamy as the Cavs ended up losing the game 124-114 in OT despite LeBron James dropping 51 points. And quite frankly, if you were to tell me that a mental lapse by JR would cost the Cavs an NBA Finals game, I would’ve totally believed you. The man is very well known for being one of the more interesting personalities in the game of basketball and that’s not necessarily a compliment.

Instead of being up 1-0, the Cavs find themselves down 0-1 to the best team in the NBA all thanks to a lapse in judgment. Who’s to say the Cavs would’ve hit the shot at the end of regulation? For all we know, they could’ve missed it and it would’ve been the same outcome as Smith running out the clock. But in Smith’s case, they never got an opportunity for a shot, which is where all the “what-if’s” will be coming from.

And one last thing, I’m normally all for people giving a guy shit for a major screw up. But Smith screwed up on the biggest stage in basketball. He knows he screwed up. Don’t go pestering the man about it. He’s going to live with that the rest of his life and it may end up defining his NBA career unless he does something in this series to redeem himself. And honestly, I do feel kind of bad for the guy. I do hope he gets a chance at redemption.

2018 NBA Finals Preview

*Sigh.* Here we go again. As I, and literally everybody else, predicted, it’s Warriors-Cavaliers for the fourth consecutive season in the NBA Finals. I already bitched about this yesterday so I’m not going to do that here. I’m just going to do what I always do when I prepare for championship games: go position-by-position and give advantages where I see fit. So without further ado, let’s do it.

Point Guard

Warriors: Stephen Curry

Cavaliers: George Hill

Advantage: Warriors

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Duh. Even if Curry isn’t 100%, he’s still the most impactful point guard in the game today. He’s one of the greatest shooters of all time and people don’t talk about his handles enough. Hill’s not a bad player, don’t get me wrong, he’s actually pretty good. But he can’t hold a candle to Steph.

Shooting Guard

Warriors: Klay Thompson

Cavaliers: Rodney Hood

Advantage: Warriors

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Another pretty easy one and it’s basically the same explanation as point guard: Thompson is one of the best shooters of all time and while Hood isn’t a bad player, he can’t hold a candle to Thompson. I know it’s copy-paste, but that’s been the NBA Finals the last four years, hasn’t it?

Small Forward

Warriors: Kevin Durant

Cavaliers: LeBron James

Advantage: Cavaliers

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This is probably the closest matchup in these comparisons. Kevin Durant has been doing most of the dirty work for the Warriors while Steph Curry has been dealing with an injury. But LeBron James is the best player on the planet, perhaps all time (I’m not getting suckered into the LeBron-Jordan debate. I won’t do it). He has to win out here. But that being said, KD can do things with a basketball that nobody else can and he will have a huge impact on this series.

Power Forward

Warriors: Draymond Green

Cavaliers: Kevin Love

Advantage: Warriors

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This was another close one but I’m going to give the edge to the Warriors mainly because I have a soft spot for guys that stuff the stat sheet. Green may be a bit undersized for his position and style of play, but you can’t deny the guy gets numbers and plays great defense. Love has a tendency to disappear at times from games but he can also put on an absolute show if he can get into a rhythm. But Green is more consistent, so he wins out.

Center

Warriors: JaVale McGee

Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson

Advantage: Cavaliers

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JaVale McGee is easily the weakest link in the Warriors’ starting 5 but the other members are so good that he can get away with just being in the background. Tristan Thompson is a rebounding machine and really turned it on late in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics. He’s going to need to dominate the glass if the Cavaliers are going to have any shot of upsetting the Warriors in this series.

Bench

Warriors: Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Nick Young, David West, Kevon Looney, Zaza Pachulia, Patrick McCaw, Jordan Bell, Damian Jones, Quinn Cook

Cavaliers: JR Smith, Jeff Green, Kyle Korver, Larry Nance Jr, Jordan Clarkson, Jose Calderon, Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, Kendrick Perkins, Okaro White

Advantage: Cavaliers

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This might be a slight upset but my reasoning for putting the Cavs over the Warriors in this regard is that Andre Iguodala is not healthy. A healthy Iggy and the Warriors win this category no problem. But aside from him and Shaun Livingston, the Warriors bench doesn’t do a whole lot for the team. With the Cavs, a lot of their bench guys have had plenty of time in the starting lineup and can explode at any second (Smith, Green, and Korver in particular). So I’m going with the Cavs for bench.

Head Coach

Warriors: Steve Kerr

Cavaliers: Tyronn Lue

Advantage: Warriors

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Tyronn Lue may be the worst coach to ever win the NBA Finals. Granted, he was technically an interim head coach when the Cavs won in 2016, having fired David Blatt midway through the season, but Lue is basically just a guy who chills at the head coaching chair on the bench while LeBron runs this team. As for Kerr, I honestly have no idea if he’s good or not because his team is so goddamn good. I mean, Hell, he took a game off and his team still won by 40. But I do know for certain that he’s better than Lue so the Warriors win this category.

Final Score: Warriors: 4 Cavaliers: 3

I do believe that the Warriors will win this series in 5 games. Now yes, they only won my categories by 1 spot, however the gap for the Warriors’ wins was significant while the gap for the Cavs’ wins was minuscule. So I stand by my prediction from yesterday that the series will go 5 games. As for MVP? I think Durant repeats as Finals MVP. That’s going to do it for my NBA Finals predictions, let me know how you think the series is going to go in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

I’m Sick of Seeing the Same Shit Every Year

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You want to know why I don’t blog about basketball that much? Do you want to know why I blog more about random baseball games than I do about the NBA Playoffs? It’s because it’s just not worth writing about. It’s the same shit every year, it seems. There is a MAJOR parity issue in the NBA.

The Cavaliers have won the Eastern Conference for the 4th consecutive year and it’s the 8th consecutive year that the East’s representative in the Finals is led by LeBron James. Now, that’s not to say I’m salty against LeBron or saying that he should stop winning so damn much. He’s the greatest player on the planet and perhaps of all time, especially considering he’s taken this dumpster fire of a Cavs team this far (I still think his taking the 2006-07 Cavs to the Finals was more impressive. LeBron really was by himself that year. At least this year he has Kevin Love, who people often forget is a good player).

This also may come off as sour grapes considering I’m writing this shortly after my Celtics lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. I’m well aware of that. But believe me, I blame the Celtics for that loss. They shot 29-85 (34.1%) from the field and 7-39 (17.9%) from 3. You’re just not going to win when you shoot that poorly. Defensively, they did their job. They just couldn’t get their shots to fall.

But there is literally no parity in the NBA and it’s making it hard to care about the league. Now yes, the Warriors still have to beat the Rockets in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals tonight, but come on, who really expects the Rockets to win this game, especially without Chris Paul and with James Harden in this weird stretch of shooting? I may come back to eat those words, but whatever. That would make it 4 straight years of the same matchup in the NBA Finals. FOUR!!! It’s never happened in baseball (there has never been more than 2 consecutive identical World Series matchups), it’s never happened in the NFL (they have only repeated Super Bowl matchups once: Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII where the Cowboys beat the Bills on both occasions), just now in the NBA. It never even happened in the NHL, either, and there was a time when there were just 6 fucking teams!

The NBA seems to have this issue of super teams that also plagues the United States, where most of the league’s talent is held by the top 1% of teams. But basketball seems to be the sport that is easiest for one player to take over a game. LeBron James is so good that he could probably lead this year’s Suns team to the Finals while the Golden State Warriors have the “Death Lineup” (I refuse to call them the “Hampton Five” because that’s just so much less cooler than “Death Lineup”) that is so good that head coach Steve Kerr literally took a game off, let the players do whatever they wanted, and still won by 40. The fact that a team like the Warriors can boast 4 superstar players and still somehow not face any sort of salary cap restrictions is just bonkers.

Am I saying the Warriors and Cavaliers should tone it down and let other teams catch up? Absolutely not. This is more that the other 28 teams need to step their game up because the NBA is just getting unwatchable to me. I can’t just keep watching the same NBA Finals over and over again. I can already tell you how this year’s series is going to go, too. The Warriors will win in 5 and will absolutely dominate a couple of them. LeBron will be so good in one of the games (let’s say…Game 3) that he practically wins it all by himself. However despite the fact that Steph Curry isn’t 100%, the Warriors are still able to lean on Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green to take over the game and fluster the Cavs’ cast of benchwarmers to the point where LeBron actually breaks down in tears in frustration. Book it.

So what do I suggest the league do about such a thing? Well I don’t know if there’s anything they really CAN do. The Warriors drafted Curry, Thompson, and Green and the success of those three allowed them to land Durant in free agency. What are you going to do, encourage teams NOT to draft quality players when they already have some? Quite frankly, the only way I see any real change happening is if LeBron left the Cavaliers this offseason and joined a Western Conference team. That way it will become a legitimate mystery as to who will come out of the East and it won’t be an absolute cakewalk getting to the NBA Finals for the Warriors.

But something has to change in order to renew my interest in this league because quite frankly, I’m sick of it.

I apologize if I come off as testy. The Celtics’ crap shooting can do that to a man. I was actually in a really good mood before I turned that game on because I just got done watching Solo and I was actually pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t the dumpster fire I was expecting it to be and I actually had fun watching it. Also, the cameo at the end has me very intrigued about the Star Wars Anthology films going forward. I’d go into more detail but this is a sports blog and Star Wars is for NERDS, not us jocks. Oh well. Am I overreacting to the NBA’s parity issue? Or is this a legitimate concern? Let me know what you think in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

NBA Season Recap

The NBA regular season has come and gone and now we’ve got what feels like the longest postseason in sports to look forward to. The NBA playoffs typically last around 2 months, with the first playoff game starting up on Saturday and Game 1 of the NBA Finals scheduled for May 31. I think there’s one too many playoff rounds, but that’s neither here nor there. The point of this blog is to recap what was a pretty interesting NBA season, from giving out my personal awards to playoff predictions and every storyline in between. So let’s get to it.

Awards:

NBA MVP: James Harden-G-Houston Rockets

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This is probably going to be unanimous amongst the writers, as not only did Harden lead the NBA in scoring with 30.4 PPG, but the Rockets are now legitimate threats to the Golden State Warriors, something we haven’t had in the Western Conference since the twilight of the Spurs. Russell Westbrook may have averaged a triple-double for an entire season again, making him the only player ever to do so, and LeBron James was LeBron James, but Harden’s the pick here.

Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert-C-Utah Jazz

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This was tough because Gobert only played 56 games and it was really tempting to choose somebody else. But there’s no denying the impact Gobert had in those games. Utah’s defensive rating was the best in the NBA when Gobert was on the court and he himself had the best individual rating in the league. Other candidates include pretty much every member of the Celtics, DeJounte Murray, and Joel Embiid.

Rookie of the Year: Donovan Mitchell-G-Utah Jazz

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This might be a bit controversial because Ben Simmons is more than likely going to win this award. But if you’ve been reading my scarce number of NBA blogs, then you know my stance on what qualifies as a rookie and apparently, Donovan Mitchell shares that sentiment, as he’s been wearing sweatshirts that are seemingly against Simmons’ rookie eligibility. Mitchell has turned the Jazz from a team that was in an apparent rebuild to the 5 seed in the Western Conference in just his first season. Ben Simmons’ overall numbers are better, but again, I don’t consider him to be a rookie. He had his chance but missed his rookie year with an injury.

Coach of the Year: Brett Brown-Philadelphia 76ers

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I’m seeing that other coaches are getting more love than Brown, but when your team goes from 4th worst record in the NBA to 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference, that should make you a lock for Coach of the Year. I did predict that the 76ers would make the playoffs for the first time in years, but I didn’t expect them to be this good. Trust the Process, indeed.

Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams-G-Los Angeles Clippers

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Lou Williams was a big part in keeping the Clippers from being an embarrassment this season. He averaged 22.6 PPG and while he did start 19 games this season, he primarily came off the bench. That scoring total was 18th best in the NBA and was best amongst players who primarily came off the bench. That’s going to win you the award pretty much every time.

Most Improved Player: Victor Oladipo-G-Indiana Pacers

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Oladipo finally emerged as the star he’s always had the potential of being. He credits this to his year in OKC, as he got a chance to watch Russell Westbrook and mimic his work ethic. That has led to the Pacers being the 5 seed in the playoffs with a legitimate chance of taking down the Cavaliers. Oladipo scored 23.1 PPG, 12th best in the NBA, this coming after being a sidekick for much of his career.

Comeback Player of the Year: Jrue Holiday-G-New Orleans Pelicans

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This was a hard one to pick but I’m going with Holiday on this one mainly because he had a career year after many injury-plagued seasons. This was the first season since his 2012-13 All Star campaign that he was healthy for the entire season and he proved his health by scoring a career-high 19 PPG.

Playoff Predictions:

Eastern Conference:

Round 1:

1 Toronto Raptors vs 8 Washington Wizards

Not a hard one here. The Wizards have looked lost with John Wall injured while this may be the best team the Raptors have ever fielded.

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The Pick: Raptors

2 Boston Celtics vs 7 Milwaukee Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo may cause problems to this injury-riddled Celtics squad, but Boston is too deep to be overcome by the Bucks.

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The Pick: Celtics

3 Philadelphia 76ers vs 6 Miami Heat

The 76ers are arguably the hottest team in the NBA right now and they continue that momentum by easily dispatching the Heat.

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The Pick: 76ers

4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs 5 Indiana Pacers

The Cavaliers are their lowest seed by a LeBron-led team since the 2007-08 season (which was also the 4th seed) and the issues surrounding them have been well-publicized. But LeBron in the playoffs is nearly untouchable so while I do think the Pacers give them a bit of a scare, I’ve got the Cavs moving on.

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The Pick: Cavaliers

Round 2:

1 Toronto Raptors vs 4 Cleveland Cavaliers

Yes the Raptors are really good, but it’s hard to bet against Playoff LeBron. I think the Cavs make the Eastern Conference Finals for the 4th consecutive season.

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The Pick: Cavaliers

2 Boston Celtics vs 3 Philadelphia 76ers

This is going to be a really fun series, one that was a lot more evened-out thanks to Kyrie Irving’s injury. But I’ve got the Celtics prevailing on the strength of their defense.

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The Pick: Celtics

Eastern Conference Finals:

2 Boston Celtics vs 4 Cleveland Cavaliers

Things might go differently with a healthy Kyrie, but alas, that is not the case and the Celtics’ luck runs out against Playoff LeBron as the Cavs make a 4th straight trip to the NBA Finals.

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The Pick: Cavaliers

Western Conference:

Round 1:

1 Houston Rockets vs 8 Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves are ice cold and run into the best team in the NBA. This won’t take long.

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The Pick: Rockets

2 Golden State Warriors vs 7 San Antonio Spurs

Steph Curry will miss the series due to injury, but without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs never stood much of a chance anyway.

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The Pick: Warriors

3 Portland Trail Blazers vs 6 New Orleans Pelicans

This is the one series I have where a lower-seeded team wins and it’s mainly due to the stretches of dominance the Pelicans have had throughout the season. No knock against the Trail Blazers, but New Orleans is too hot right now.

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The Pick: Pelicans

4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs 5 Utah Jazz

The Jazz had a fun run but Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and the Thunder will be too much for Donovan Mitchell’s Jazz squad.

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The Pick: Thunder

Round 2:

1 Houston Rockets vs 4 Oklahoma City Thunder

The Rockets stay hot and Harden beats his old running mate in Russell Westbrook. I still shudder to think of what OKC would look like if they kept the trio of Durant, Westbrook, and Harden together, especially with the versions of each player we have today.

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The Pick: Rockets

2 Golden State Warriors vs 6 New Orleans Pelicans

With a healthy Steph Curry, the Warriors squash the Pelicans’ momentum and return to the Western Conference Finals.

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The Pick: Warriors

Western Conference Finals:

1 Houston Rockets vs 2 Golden State Warriors

This is the first time in a long time that there was a legitimate threat to the Warriors’ chances of returning to the NBA Finals. I think this series goes a full 7 games, but I’ve got the Warriors emerging victorious once again.

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The Pick: Warriors

NBA Finals

2 Golden State Warriors vs 4 Cleveland Cavaliers

I would hate to see this matchup for a fourth consecutive season because I enjoy parity when it doesn’t involve my favorite team. But I just have a bad feeling that it’s going to happen again. I would love to see Raptors-Rockets in the Finals, but I think we’re going to get more of the same and I’ve got the Warriors once again wiping the floor with the Cavs.

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The Pick: Warriors

Congrats to the Warriors on another title, 3rd in 4 years. Don’t get comfortable, though. The Celtics are coming for you next season. That’s going to do it for my NBA regular season recap, let me know what you think in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

NBA All Star Weekend Preview

We’re at that magical time of year where it’s NBA All Star Weekend, which aside from the Super Bowl is really the only sporting thing of note in February. It’s in Los Angeles this year and I typically find that the challenges they do to be more interesting than the actual game itself. I’m writing this around 6 pm on Friday night, so I’m just going to give a couple of quick picks on the Celebrity Game and Rising Stars Challenge. I think that team Lakers, coached by ESPN NBA Analyst Rachel Nichols, is going to win mainly because they’ll have Candace Parker on their team, who is really the only person on either roster that I know for a fact is good at basketball. For the Rising Stars Challenge, I think Team World is going to defeat Team USA. I know, that’s very unpatriotic of me, but Team World has both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The best Team USA has to offer is Donovan Mitchell and Jaylen Brown, two good players but not up to par with what Team World can offer. I’ll be rooting for Team USA, though, not just for nationalism purposes, but because they have 2 Celtics players (Brown and Jayson Tatum) whereas Team World has none. We’ll see how my picks did on Saturday morning when this blog is published. Let’s get into the festivities.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

Are they not doing that Shooting Stars challenge this year? Damn shame, I actually really enjoyed that event, especially once everybody got to shooting half-court shots to try and beat the best time. Well as we get into the third year of the Skills Challenge obstacle course/gauntlet/whatever you want to call it, the new twist implemented has been pretty riveting. The 6 participants are not only just guards now, but big men as well and in fact, both years that this has been in effect a big man has won (Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porznigis). Granted both winners were genetic freaks of nature, which makes it surprising to me that Giannis Antetokounmpo is not taking part in this, as I feel he could totally keep the streak going for big men. But as it stands right now, the participants this year are guards Buddy Hield of the Kings, Jamal Murray of the Nuggets, and Lou Williams of the Clippers to go along with big men Andre Drummond of the Pistons, Al Horford of the Celtics, and Joel Embiid of the 76ers. Drummond’s involvement in this has to be a joke, right? The guy’s a terrific defender and post player, but handling a basketball? Come on now, the guy has a family. Of course, as soon as I say that he’s probably going to go and win the damn thing. I’ve got to imagine the favorite to actually win this thing is Clippers guard Lou Williams, but the way this competition has been going, it’s going to be an athletic big man. Al Horford is probably the most athletically gifted of the bunch but he gives off such a vanilla air that it’s probably going to be a colorful personality like Joel Embiid, who had a pretty great comment over the weekend. Paying homage to Dikembe Mutombo, Embiid was asked what his favorite pickup line is, to which he responded “who wants to sex The Process?” Legend. Embiid’s probably going to win.

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Projected Winner: Embiid defeats Williams in the final.

JBL Three-Point Contest

Wrestling fans will probably do a double-take at the sponsor, but no, it’s not that JBL, but a speakers company. Shame that there won’t be anyone yelling “ballgame” or emotionally (and in some cases, physically) abusing coworkers. But all tangents aside, the contest this year will feature reigning champ and former Indiana Hoosier Eric Gordon of the Rockets, Klay Thompson of the Warriors, Devin Booker of the Suns, Wayne Ellington of the Heat, Paul George of the Thunder, Bradley Beal of the Wizards, Kyle Lowry of the Raptors, and Tobias Harris of the Clippers. Klay Thompson’s got to be the odds-on favorite to win this event as he’s arguably an even more prolific 3-point shooter than his teammate Stephen Curry is, but that’s probably because shooting 3’s is all Thompson is really known for while Curry has insane handles to go with his 3-point shooting prowess. But I actually think that Thompson won’t win. He did win it when the event was in Toronto two years ago, but I think the fact that he has won it before will kind of take the sense of urgency out of him. I’m actually going to go with a guy who’s star is on the rise…a star…rising to the sun? Okay, I’m saying I’m picking Phoenix Suns’ guard Devin Booker to win. He’s a very capable shooter and I think he’s going to be on a mission to make an impression on the rest of the league, considering he doesn’t get much respect being the best player on one of the worst teams.

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Projected Winner: Booker defeats Thompson and George in the final.

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest

Didn’t it always use to be Sprite sponsoring this? I wonder how Verizon is going to make their little scorecards look. But that’s neither here nor there. We’re at the Slam Dunk contest and here’s another event where I think the NBA is totally whiffing on an opportunity to have Antetokounmpo participate. A guy of his freakish athleticism would certainly shine. But we do have a pretty solid list of participants. We have rookies Donovan Mitchell of the Jazz and Dennis Smith Jr of the Mavericks, Larry Nance of the Lakers, and former Indiana Hoosier Victor Oladipo of the Pacers. No real household names (though the way Mitchell and Oladipo are improving, that may change), but some real hop from all of these guys. Oladipo lost in the final round of this contest in 2015 to Zach LaVine, which pretty much spells disaster if you have to face that guy. The fact that he still won in 2016 even though Aaron Gordon’s dunks were way better still doesn’t sit well with me. The reigning champ, Glenn Robinson III, is not participating this year in a dunk contest that was ultimately a letdown from the absolutely incredible 2016 affair. But I think Oladipo is going to come out on top this year. I don’t know if the contest is going to be great, as 3 of the 4 competitors will be making their first appearance in this contest so we don’t know how creative of dunkers they really are. But I do know that Oladipo is capable of some impressive dunks in games, plus he was pretty good when he lost to LaVine in ’16. I think he takes home the hardware this year.

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Projected Winner: Oladipo defeats Mitchell in the final.

NBA All Star Game

This one has an interesting component to it because the top two vote getters, LeBron James and Stephen Curry, picked their teams. On Team LeBron, we’ve got of course, LeBron James of the Cavaliers, Anthony Davis of the Pelicans, Kyrie Irving of the Celtics, Kevin Durant of the Warriors, LaMarcus Aldridge of the Spurs, Bradley Beal of the Wizards, Goran Dragic of the Heat, Andre Drummond of the Pistons, Paul George of the Thunder, Victor Oladipo of the Pacers, Kemba Walker of the Hornets, and Russell Westbrook of the Thunder. On Team Curry, we’ve got of course, Stephen Curry of the Warriors, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks, DeMar DeRozan of the Raptors, James Harden of the Rockets, Joel Embiid of the 76ers, Jimmy Butler of the Timberwolves, Draymond Green of the Warriors, Al Horford of the Celtics, Damian Lillard of the Trail Blazers, Kyle Lowry of the Raptors, Klay Thompson of the Warriors, and Karl-Anthony Towns of the Timberwolves. I’m not nearly as interested in the winner of this game as I am to seeing if a team reaches 200 points. They’ve come close each of the last two years, as the West hit 196 and 192 in 2016 and ’17, respectively. But I guess I have to pick a winner in this game and I think I’m going to go with Team Curry here, as I think they’re a little deeper than Team LeBron. Poor LeBron, can’t seem to shake that Curry kid.

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Projected Score: Team Curry: 187 Team LeBron: 181

That’s going to do it for my NBA All Star Weekend preview, let me know what you think is going to happen in each event in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.