Golden State, the best team ever?

In the aftermath of Golden State’s NBA finals victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, some sports pundits were quick to declare the Warriors as the greatest NBA team of all time. After all, they dominated the playoffs with the best record ever and had another incredible regular season with 67 wins. But are they better than the great Boston Celtics teams of the 80’s or the Michael Jordan teams of the mid 90’s? Such questions make for interesting discussions of sports talk radio, but in my mind, comparing teams from different eras is almost impossible to do. One could argue that the NBA is more watered down in this day and age. How many top quality teams really had a legitimate shot at winning the title this year? The lack of parity in the league has certainly helped the Warriors, however, lets not diminish what a dominate and great team they are. They could easily beat any team that has ever played in a 7 game series.

Very few teams have ever been made up of 4 all-star players in the starting lineup. As a lifetime NBA observer, I have never seen a more unguardable team in the league. The only team that can really stop the Warriors are the Warriors themselves. Not only are they an extremely potent team on the offensive side of the floor, their defense is extremely solid as well. Many people fail to give them credit for being an extremely good defensive team. Draymond Green might be the best overall defensive player in the league and Klay Thompson is one of the best defensive guards in the league. Kevin Durant is a very underrated defender as well. It is one thing to have a team of all-stars who can score the ball, but Golden State has several good 2 way players and that is what makes them the elite team that they are.

Do the Warriors have any weaknesses? I often wonder how they would fare against some of the past champions with good centers. Do they have the size to go up against the old Celtic’s teams of the 80’s or the Lakers with Abdul Jabbar. But on the flip side, those teams probably would not have the athleticism to compete against the Warriors.

Regardless, this debate will continue and in my opinion, they are without a doubt one of the teams ever. Are they the best ever? Time will only tell. A great team is also a team of dynasty and I still need to see the Warriors win a couple more championships before they are the greatest team ever. With their core players being so young, that possibility is extremely likely.

A few ways to make the NBA a better league

The NBA has been at the center of the sporting world’s attention this weekend with its annual all-star game taking place tonight. I know I am a little biased in saying this, but I believe the league is one of the best, if not best, run major professional league in this country. The NBA markets their players like no other sport does. The league will soon overtake major league baseball as the second most popular professional sports league. The leagues popularity is also growing in other countries. Yes, the NBA is a good product, but I believe there are a few things that could help make the league even more enjoyable to watch and follow. Here are some concerns that I think the big shots of the league should address.

1) Parity.  There is an extremely good chance that Cleveland and the Golden State Warriors will play in the championship series for the 3rd straight year. Outside of those 2 teams and maybe San Antonio, what other teams really have a legitimate chance of winning the title? I believe a league is much stronger when more teams have a shot at winning the title. There is so much more suspense come playoff time.

2) Eliminate half of the playoff seeds. Instead of having 16 teams make the playoffs, only have 8 teams qualify (4 in each conference). There will probably be a few teams making the playoffs this spring with losing records. That is not right! 8 teams instead of 16 seems to be the right number in my view.

3) A 3 game per week maximum. In an effort to cram an 82 game schedule in, the NBA often schedules teams to play 4 games in 5 nights or several back to back games during the course of a season. That not a wise idea for several reasons. Why not start the season earlier so there are more off days? Is it any wonder why teams rest certain players during the season. The schedule is too heavy and needs to be spread out.

4) Speed up the last few minutes. Generally speaking, I think the rules are pretty good, but something has to be done about the ridiculously length of the final minutes of games. For example, last week, I saw a game where the final 90 seconds took 15 minutes to play. There were about 6 time outs called in that span of time. Nothing turns me off more in watching basketball than this very ugly part of the game.

5) International expansion. I know this would cause travel nightmares for several teams, but wouldn’t it be great to have new expansion teams in Mexico City and London? Or maybe have a sister league overseas? As I mentioned earlier, the game is growing around the world and I can see a day when the NBA becomes a global league.

I know there are several other ways to improve the league and the league certainly seems to be flexible and willing to improve its product. Whether you like the league or not, you have to admit that the NBA has a bright future and the sky is the limit for it to grow.

 

Farewell to KG

It seemed like just yesterday didn’t it? A tall skinny high school kid from Chicago was drafted by our local NBA team, the Minnesota Timberwolves. My initial reaction was that of disbelief; here you have a struggling franchise in desperate need of talent and they go out and draft some high school kid. Why? Well he soon proved us doubters wrong in a short time. Kevin Garnett went on to have a hall of fame career and is no doubt one of the 50 best players the game has ever seen. Very few big men his size had that kind of versatility. If he had any faults, it could have been that he was too unselfish. He was the ultimate team player and could guard nearly every position on the floor.

My biggest memory of Garnett¬† occurred during one of the few good years the franchise has ever had. It was game 7 of the 2004 Western Conference semi finals when Garnett had a monster game, 32 points and 21 rebounds. After the Wolves won the nail bitter of a game, Garnett jumped on the scorers table and saluted the fans. The building was going absolutely crazy. It was just very unfortunate that Garnett didn’t have more moments like that one. Near the end of Garnett’s tenure here, the Wolves were downright awful and it was time for him to move to greener pastures. He got his much deserved championship ring after being traded to Boston.

So what will Garnett’s legacy really be about? I can pretty much sum it up in one word, intensity. He had this intensity about him that very few pro athletes can match. Not only in the games, but in practice as well. If any young player wants a good role model to look up to, Garnett is the guy to follow. It is no surprise given his work ethic and intensity that he reached the hall of fame level.

The NBA could really use more players like Garnett. He will sorely be missed on the court and I hope he stays involved in the league. He was huge positive for the league and I can’t thank him enough for the many memories that he gave us NBA fans here in Minnesota. Best of luck, KG, with any future endeavors.

 

The surprising Kevin Durant decision

One of the topics that has the sports world buzzing these days is the somewhat surprising announcement by NBA superstar Kevin Durant that he is leaving Oklahoma City and signing on with the Golden State Warriors. I was personally stunned when heard his decision on the 4th of July, but in the grand scheme of things, should anyone be surprised by what goes in that league these days?

The team that he left, Oklahoma City, took Golden State to 7 games and was probably playing as well as anyone at the end of the season. They had a good young coach, great fans and one of the best duos in the NBA, Durant and Russell Westbrook. Had Durant stayed, they could have easily been contenders for next year’s championship. I don’t know about anyone else, but that exciting 7 game series would have created even more of a desire in my heart to stay and beat Golden State. Instead, Durant decides to go join the enemy? It makes no sense!

If you listen to many of the sports experts, Golden State should already be crowned champions for next year’s NBA season. Why even have a season next year? Just award the trophy to the Warriors. I mean, who is going to beat them? They set the NBA regular season record without him. Heck, they might even go undefeated next season!

Well not so fast, Warrior fans. Obviously their lineup looks very imposing to say the least, but it is not perfect. Are there enough basketballs to go around with 4 high-profile scorers in the starting lineup? Sometimes, team chemistry often gets overlooked in assembling a team. I think a much overlooked change on their team is the loss of Andrew Bogut. He was not the greatest scorer in the world, but he provided a lot of good interior defense for the club. I think his injury in the finals really hurt the Warriors more than people realize. Do they have someone who can step in and replace him? A big physical team could give them fits this coming season.

It should be really fun to watch the Warriors play this season now that Durant is playing for them. Is it good for the NBA for teams to stack their roster full of superstar players? That is very debatable. I personally think no. As a fan, there is just something exciting about watching a team stacked with great players. I just think that there is absolutely no guarantee that Golden State will win the title next year.

Some people have ripped Durant for his decision, however, I am certainly not one of the them. He is free to play for any team he desires. I am free to work for any company I want so why can’t he play for any team he wants? This is a free country for crying out loud! If teams have a problem with Golden State being too stacked with good players, then do something about it! Perhaps this decision might inspire other teams to be wiser in their selection of players so they can also be winners that players want to play for. I wish KD the best of luck. He is one of the good guys in the league and certainly deserves to win a championship.

Those insane NBA contracts

There are many very talented young talented multi-sport athletes who are currently trying to decide which sport to go on and pursue at the college or professional level. For instance, a high school kid might be a standout football, basketball and baseball player. He has the potential to play professional at any of the three. After seeing what has happened in the last few weeks with NBA contracts, how could you not blame the kid for wanting to pursue an NBA career? Even marginal players are now making roughly 10 million a year. A player who warmed the bench for a playoff team just recently signed a 4 year contract for roughly 16 million a year. What other sports even come close to paying marginal players that kind of dough?

The NBA is growing rapidly in popularity not only here in the United States, but around the world. The recent record television deal with the league reflects the growing popularity of the league. Now teams have approximately 25 million more dollars per year to spend on coveted free agents. It seemed like just yesterday that a salary of a million a year was the norm. Now that figure will probably rise to around 8 or 9 million. The payroll ceiling for each team is now around 97 million and teams must have a total payroll of at least 90 percent of the 97 million. It does not take much of a math major to figure that even the low-end players will get a healthy chunk of change.

You really have to wonder how this record deal and the outrageous salaries will affect other sports. I know the NFL has to be looking at this with a great deal of interest given their immense popularity. How will this affect their next television contract negotiations? Is this a new trend for sports? Will we be now seeing some backup quarterback in the NFL make 10 million a year or some MLB guy make 15 million a year for hitting just .197?

One of the things that really troubles me about this whole salary bonanza in the NBA is the fact that many players are being paid far more than their worth to the league. To me, that is just not right. Why should a backup player make more than one of the top stars in the league? Steph Curry might be one of the top 5 most marketable players in the NBA and he is vastly underpaid compared to a guy like Timofey Mozgov. Is that fair? Absolutely not! I also wonder what kind of effect this will have on teams keeping key players who might just want to search for greener pastures. Will this have a negative impact on teams trying to hold onto players? It could very well have. If I were a top-notch NBA player, I would feel insulted if a number of players, who are not even close to my worth to the league, got paid more than I did.

These record salaries just shows that television really controls sports. I can’t really complain about some backup center making 15 million a year. I turn on the television and watch the games thus contributing to the madness. If only I was a little younger! Maybe some team can pay this old white guy 5 million a year to sit on the end of the bench. Hey, I can still hit the jump shot! The NBA is definitely now a dream league for any young aspiring athlete.

 

LeBron and Cleveland 6 years later

In the closing seconds of last night’s epic game 7 NBA championship showdown between Cleveland and Golden State, my mind flashed back to a moment I vividly recall 6 years ago. It was a July night in 2010 when LeBron James had that much hyped interview announcing that he intended to take his talents to South Beach and play for the Miami Heat. James was a free agent at the time and there was some speculation that he would remain with the Cleveland Cavaliers and sign a new contract. At least that is what the fans of Cleveland dearly wanted. When James decided to sign elsewhere with the Heat, fans of the Cavaliers were livid. There were several incidents of fans burning James jersey. He was public enemy number one. The owner of the Cavaliers was equally angry. He took out a full-page age ripping James to shreds; even taking some personal shots at LBJ. If someone had told you back then that James would come back to Cleveland and lead that team to an NBA championship, you might have been tempted to call the police and have the person arrested for being criminally insane! A certain blogger from Minnesota made that bold prediction shortly after James started playing in Miami and was met with the most ridicule and abuse that any sports fan should ever endure. Yes, I hate to beat my own horn, but I did predict that LeBron would come back someday to Cleveland and lead his team to the title. And yes, I will enjoy rubbing it in to some of my buddies!

In all seriousness though, has there ever been a more unlikely scenario happen to any professional athlete? The fact that LeBron came back to Cleveland in the first place is stunning in itself. LeBron must have more forgiveness in heart than Jesus Christ for coming back to a team in which the owner publicly took him to task for leaving Cleveland. And to go on and help the team win a professional sports title for the first time in nearly 52 years is something Hollywood could not even dream up. It is like having your high school sweetheart run off with a richer guy, then she comes back to you and you end up marrying her. I have never see anything like this in all my years of watching sports.

Sometimes we really have to look at professional sports for what it is worth. This is a prime example of my theory about professional athletes. It is all about winning pure and simple. James saw an opportunity to win another title in Cleveland and jumped at the opportunity. Why would any athlete come back to a team after the team’s owner publicly humiliated him in the paper? I think the same owner should publicly thank James for coming back to Cleveland and helping him become a richer owner. And you have to wonder what ever happened to those idiots who set James jersey on fire back in 2010. What are those guys thinking now? I suppose they will be the front row during the victory parade wearing their new LBJ jerseys.

You have to wonder what the next chapter will be in this very strange relationship with the James and the Cavaliers. I find it very unlikely that they will win back to back championships. Perhaps James will find greener pastures once again. Or perhaps he will finally settle down in Cleveland and end his career there. Stayed tuned to the next chapter. I just find it very intriguing that the same city who wanted James banned forever now wants to proclaim him mayor. Oh how sports can be so fickle at times! It is amazing how winning that shinny trophy can erase all ill will. Of all the greatest accomplishments and feats that LBJ has ever performed, this one ranks at the top. This man is indeed a miracle worker! He converted an entire city to his side. Who would have thought it was possible just 6 years ago?

Kobe’s legacy

There was a lot of talk and discussion during last weekend’s NBA all-star game about Kobe Bryant since it was his last all-star game in his final season. A very common question seemed to involve Bryant’s rank among the greats of the game. Is he the best ever, top 5, or top 10? How does he rank compared to say Jordan, Magic or Bird? These questions are what many NBA fans love to debate into wee hours of the night. As a fan of the league myself, I have a few takes about Kobe’s legacy.

First of all, everyone talks about how Bryant can go out and score 81 points in a game and end up being the 3rd leading scorer of all time in the NBA. There is no question that can fill up the nets with his sweet jump shot and dazzling moves to the hoop. But people often forget to talk about the fact that Kobe made the all NBA defensive first team 9 times in his career. How many of the greats in the game can say that they made the all-defensive team 9 times in their career in addition to being great scorers? Only a hand full. There are a lot of players throughout the course of history who could put up big numbers on the offensive end with lots of points or assists, but his ability to play and dominate at both ends of the court really separates him from many players.

There are very few players in the game who can match Kobe’s total resume and longevity as a player. The fact that he made the all-star game 18 straight times really stands out in my mind. Most players are lucky to being playing for half that many years, let alone playing at an all-star caliber level. His ability to be so dominate for so many years is something that speaks volumes of his greatness. When you talk about his resume, you also have to include those other things like 5 championships, MVP titles, scoring championships, all defensive team and so on. But his greatness for that many years really puts him in the greatest ever conversation. How many NBA players can say that they have played at an all-star level for 18 straight years?

The last thing that I need to add about Bryant is his work ethic and determination. He might be the hardest working basketball player ever to the play the game. If any young players wants to be inspired, all they have to do is look at Kobe and the number of hours that he put into his game. That is how you become a good player.

I know Bryant has had his critics and I have been an occasionally critic as well. His shot selection has been very questionable at many times during a game. His treatment and attitude towards some of this teammates really make you question whether he is a good teammate to play for.

I don’t know how you even begin to rate great NBA players and compare this player to this player. I don’t have a clue where Kobe ranks among the all-time greats. There are many intangibles that makes a player great that is often very hard to measure. I don’t know if Bryant necessarily made his teammates better like many great players have in the past. But the facts that I just listed definitely put him among the upper class of all time greats in the NBA. He will be missed after this season.