Monthly Archives: July 2013
The NBA, and any professional sport for this matter, is about keeping up. With teams constantly making changes in efforts to improve, the rest of the league is left in a position to match or be left behind. For a number of teams, being “left behind” isn’t a problem, as it falls into their plans exactly. The popular term for teams that choose to lose games (or not make a significant effort to improve) in an attempt to recuperate down the road is “tanking.”
Tanking isn’t a socially popular route to success, but it is effective in its own right. If implemented correctly, and without lapse, it can be the best way for a team to improve.
The idea works this way:
- Losing a lot of games earns the team a better chance at securing a high draft pick
- Draft picks come with rookie contracts, which means guaranteed salary relief for 3+ seasons
- With salary relief in the fold, the team is open to pursuing open-market contracts
The process is long and grueling for players and the fan base. In the absence of shortcuts, though, it can carry with it the opportunity for future success. The most notable team to successfully implement the tactic: the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s in their mold that teams take their shot at revamping, and the effectiveness is evident in the team’s recent streak of success.
Here are some teams that have endured failure, and are on their way to recovering winning tradition.
The road back from a 2005 Finals appearance has been a bumpy one for the Detroit Pistons. An excruciating Game-7 loss to the Spurs left the team in shambles, and though they’ve had to take their share of beatings, they seem to finally be back on the way up.
Following the upcoming season, the team will rid themselves of old losing traditions in the forms of Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey. Exit the fighting, enter exciting. The Pistons signed the do-it-all forward Josh Smith to a 4 year/$54 million contract during this offseason. Pairing him with their young big men, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, gives the Pistons their front court of the future.
On paper, the team looks to be a floor-spacing disaster, but the success doesn’t have to be immediate. With the flexibility that the team possesses past this season, they will have the resources to address their biggest concern.
As for the back court, Brandon Knight is a solid option for the time being. A true passing point guard might be ideal, with so much muscle down low, but that too will likely be addressed within the season. Rodney Stuckey is still on the roster as a guard, and the team signed aging-but-effective point guard Chauncey Billups as well.
These are certainly short-term solutions, but regardless of immediate indecision, the team is poised for future success. That’s what this is all about. The Pistons have placed themselves in a position where winning games is no longer distant and out of focus. If they continue on this path, and avoid bad contracts, they can jump on the contender’s bandwagon in the near future.
New Orleans Pelicans
In the absence of Chris Paul, the freshly-bestowed Pelicans have made quick work of their recovery. The route they have taken has been a combination of cellar-dwelling and sound free-agent decisions. Each has provided the team with the opportunity for future and immediate success.
With the 1st overall pick in last season’s NBA Draft, the Pelicans took Anthony Davis, the über-talented forward/center out of Kentucky. While the draft didn’t provide many high-reward options, the pick was solid and the player received will certainly prove his worth. In addition to selecting Davis, the Pelicans signed stretch-forward Ryan Anderson. This season, the Pelicans traded another high draft pick, Nerlens Noel, to the Philadelphia 76ers in return for Jrue Holiday and a future draft pick. With their point guard of the future in fold, the Pelicans received Tyreke Evans in a three-team trade.
Eric Gordon included, the Pelicans have secured themselves one of the best starting-5’s in the Western Conference. While the price tag on piece might prove to be a problem in later seasons, the team is primed for immediate success in a conference as wide open as their future. The team’s purpose post-Paul was to return to the postseason, and develop a new winning tradition. It seems as though the team has done just that, as they have once again given the city a reason to hope.
Cavaliers fans have been the victims of an NBA casualty. Once-in-a-generation superstars usually stick with one team in an effort to establish legacy and renouncing geographical fame. It’s for this reason that the city took such a big hit when LeBron James decided to bolt for Miami (which turned out to work in his favor).
Three long seasons removed, Cleveland is once again in a position to win games. With two 1st overall picks in the last three seasons, the Cavaliers picked up a superstar in Kyrie Irving and a promising young forward in Anthony Bennett. That’s not all they’ve done right, though. Pairing the two with underrated big man, Tristan Thompson, and the high-reward gamble in Andrew Bynum has the team primed for playoff contention.
The most exciting thought for Cleveland is that team is poised to contend beyond this season. Jarrett Jack is the player with the highest guaranteed salary going into 2014. Andrew Bynum is working with a second-year option, so if he doesn’t work out, cutting him will be the team’s option of choice. Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Tyler Zeller all have team options as well. Assuming they are all exercised, and Bynum is kept around, they will still be sitting on $17 million worth of cap space.
If you can tell where this is going already, don’t stop me now. With the potential to sign a big name in 2014, the Cavaliers will most definitely move still waters in an attempt to make a splash. An abundance of non-guaranteed contracts gives the front office all of the power they need to operate. If an opportunity to sign a player such as LeBron James were to present itself, the team will be in the mix from beginning to end. It’s this position that the team has worked hard to place themselves in, and it is in their every right to reap the benefits of early suffering turned success.
Questions, comments, concerns? Leave me a comment below or contact me on Twitter (@VoicetheStands).
Over the last 5 seasons, Major League Baseball has been held captive by the Senior Circuit. Having taken home 4 of the last 5 World Series Titles, and the last 3 consecutively, the National League has made the “best League” debate one-sided. The difference between the last 3 seasons and the present one, however, is home-field advantage. The effects of home-field advantage in the World Series cannot be overstated, as the home team has won the 7 of the last 10 titles. In the only recent World Series to go the distance, home-field played its role, with the Cardinals winning at Busch Stadium in 2011.
With 2013’s home team represented by the American League, I present to you a few of the teams with the best chances of winning in October.
Why they can win
The Detroit Tigers are on a mission to accomplish what last season saw them fail to do: win the World Series. Riding a storm that had the team fall to the San Francisco Giants in sweeping fashion, the Tigers have picked up right where they left off. The biggest difference between this year and last? Max Scherzer. Scherzer has found a way to put it all together this season, holding a 3.19 ERA while amassing 152 total strikeouts.
Though Justin Verlander (3.69 ERA) hasn’t been his regular MVP self, Anibal Sanchez (2.85 ERA) and Scherzer have picked up all of the loose pieces. Given that the team once again boasts a thundering offense, they are in prime position to reach the promised land once again.
Combining stellar pitching with Miguel Cabrera (.359 BA, 96 RBI) and the near-All-Star shortstop Jhonny Peralta (.363 OBP) gives the Tigers one of the best chances to avenge themselves in this season’s World Series.
Why they might not
Outside of Joaquin Benoit (1.60 ERA) and Drew Smyly (1.83 ERA), the Tigers’ bullpen has been shaky at best. Not only have they struggled to keep close games close, they’ve failed to seal games that should have never been close to begin with. Giving the closer’s job to Jose Valverde was ill-advised from the start, but letting him keep it for as long as he did might have been downright wreckless.
The overwhelming belief (and rightfully so) in baseball is that hitting wins games, but pitching and defense win World Series. The Tigers have more than enough starting pitching to make noise in the postseason, but unless those starters are pitching complete games, the holes in their bullpen can and will be exposed. Top that with one of the most error-prone (47) defenses in baseball, and you have a less-than-hopeful combination. Unless they can make a change in either department, the Tigers might be setting themselves up for another heart-wrenching finale.
Odds on favorite to win the World Series: 6/1*
Boston Red Sox
Why they can win
Put simply, the Red Sox have the best offense in all of baseball. With Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and David Ortiz rounding out their lineup, it’s not difficult to see how this team scores runs.
Though it might be unbearable to a certain East coast fanbase, using the phrases “Red Sox” and “World Series” in the same sentence is hardly an overstatement. The team has led the Majors in runs scored (504) for the majority of the season, and has one of the highest batting averages (.276) and on-base percentages (.349) in the American League. Aside from an offense that seems to be unstoppable, the team has managed to stay in stride in the absence of their best starting pitcher.
Why they might not
The asterisk at the end of their hitting, Boston starting pitching has been inconsistent all season long. Though we’ve finally seen John Lackey (2.95 ERA) put together a year that lives up to his contract, it hasn’t been enough to pencil them in atop the American League’s best starting lineups. An injury to their top starter, Clay Buchholz, and an inconsistent showing by Jon Lester (4.58 ERA) have left a lot to be desired in terms of sheer performance.
The good news in terms of pitching, though, has been the bullpen’s ability to do what the starting pitchers have failed to accomplish- establish a norm. Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazaw, and Andrew Miller have been fantastic in each of their roles this season. The reason the bullpen is listed in this section, however, resides in the fact that the team has recently lost their closer, Andrew Bailey, for the rest of the season. Koji Uehara, the team’s fill-in closer, has boasted a whopping 19.29 ERA in postseason play, albeit in just 2.1 innings. If he can turn his late season struggles around, this might turn out to be a blessing in disguise for an already formidable Red Sox bullpen.
Odds on favorite to win the World Series: 8/1
Tampa Bay Rays
Why they can win
The fact that the Rays are on this list is not only a testament to their willpower, but one to the overall competitiveness of the AL East. Easily the toughest division in baseball, the Rays have found ways to put a good team together, and place themselves in a position to make a postseason push.
When the Rays lost James Shields during the offseason’s Wil Myers trade, it was hard to believe that their starting pitching could amount to rotation that gave them a CY Young Award winner in the season prior. The resulting thought, however, is that Rays pitching depth should never be questioned. They have once again pieced together a stellar starting rotation, starting with a much-recovered David Price (4.03 ERA) and tallying 6-deep with Chris Archer (2.76 ERA).
An old baseball adage tells that “you can never have too much starting pitching.” That statement is true in as many ways as the Rays can run at you. With pitching in the fold, and Evan Longoria (20 HR) leading the way offensively, the Rays seem to have more than enough to compete for a Title. Wil Myers (.310 BA) is turning out to be everything the organization had hoped for, and James Loney (.314 BA) has seemingly come from nowhere to save the day at first base.
Why they might not
The interesting theme for this Tampa Bay team is that it does not have any deal-breaking holes aside from one glaring one: its bullpen. For every positive that the Rays’ starting rotation has, the bullpen has an equal negative. Starting with the team’s closer, Fernando Rodney (4.04 ERA), and furthering with the team’s setup man, Joel Peralta (3.07 ERA), the bullpen has been unspectacular to say the least.
While it might not be enough to keep the team from making the playoffs, the bullpen might be enough to keep them from winning a World Series. For all of the same reasons that Detroit might be setting themselves up for disappointment, the Rays might be riding in the same boat.
Fortunately for them, the team has enough serviceable starting pitching to bolster the bullpen on a postseason roster. Shorter rotations mean more help in the peripheral categories. Whatever they are able to accomplish, the Rays remain baseball’s most prominent feel-good story.
Odds on favorite to win the World Series: 13/1
If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about my leaving your favorite team off of this list, leave them in the section below. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.
The Las Vegas NBA Summer League has, for 9 years, served as a platform for young stars to showcase their every talent. Teams continually hand young players the proverbial keys, and watch as they grow and operate before their eyes. The event has given way for many incredible performances, with players such as Anthony Randolph, Randy Foye, and Anthony Morrow setting the basketball world on fire, if only for 10 days.
The bottom line is the event has inspired leadership, creativity, and the willingness to succeed. Here are a few of this year’s players who have stood above the rest in terms of development and sheer talent:
Goudelock’s brief NBA career has seen him opposed to seemingly unsurmountable odds. He’s gone from being a relative nobody to becoming a player that Lakers fans everywhere identify with. He served as one of the late season’s feel-good stories, and he’s kept on the same track through his first 3 games in Las Vegas’ NBA Summer League.
During the season turned shipwreck for the Lakers, Goudelock was able to earn himself national recognition. Injuries to Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant left the Laker backcourt in shambles, allowing for Goudelock to earn playing time for a team who hardly held him in their afterthoughts.
Through his postseason stint, Goudelock averaged 12 PPG, 1.7 RPG, and 1.7 SPG in 26.7 MPG. While not earth-shattering numbers, the ability to create points in bursts gave the 2nd year guard life beyond the pine. In his second game with the Bulls’ Summer League squad, Goudelock unleashed on his potential, dropping 31 points on 10-13 shooting.
The competition hardly speaks for itself, but the ability to score is evident in Goudelock’s approach. His abilities, along with the development of Marquis Teague, have secured the Bulls the 1st overall seed in the tournament-style format the NBA Summer League introduced this season. Though not with the Lakers now, Goudelock may be earning himself a bench spot for a team in need of a backup guard who can create baskets in a burst. At worst, he could be drawing interest from teams overseas, which is a significant success in its own right.
The 2012-2103 season saw Valanciunas force his way in the Raptors’ starting lineup, only to give minutes back to players behind him on the depth chart. While his size and mental makeup are prime for his position, his basketball IQ and offensive moves need work. It’s for this reason that he wasn’t awarded more than 23.9 MPG in his rookie campaign.
The NBA Summer League has given Valanciunas the opportunity to showcase his abilities, and prove to the team that he can be their lone starting center. Though he has continued to struggle with foul counts, he has shown a few reliable post-up moves along with enough defensive presence to make a difference.
There’s a lot riding for the Raptors with Valanciunas’ development. With only way-past-his-prime center Marcus Camby and Aaron Gray serving as positional backups, it will be up to Valanciunas and Amir Johnson to equip the paint for the Raptors.
Against the Miami Heat on July 13th, Valanciunas scored 23 points on 8-10 shooting. It’s this same type of production that the team hopes to see out of him in the regular season, as the former 5th overall pick will finally have the opportunity to prove what he’s made of. Odds are in his favor as his success in limited opportunities has evidenced.
Another Chicago Bulls standout, Thomas quickly put the basketball world on notice with his 22-rebound performance against the Denver Nuggets on July 15th. If otherwise not noted, that now stands as the Las Vegas NBA Summer League record for rebounds in a single game performance.
Thomas has bounced around during his first couple of years in the league, unable to find a stable fit. Having been undrafted in 2011, the expectations have never been high for the former San Diego State transfer. It seems, though, that Thomas has found a home abroad as On October 3, 2012, Thomas signed a one-year contract with the Euroleague team Maccabi Tel Aviv of Israel.
If his Summer League performances can be used as testimony, the Israeli team will be very hopeful to keep him. Though his skill-set is limited defensively, Thomas possesses great offensive abilities for a man his size. Soft hands and a knack for corralling rebounds, Thomas is poised to succeed at the professional level. If Thomas can develop a few reliable post-up moves and learns to defend the paint with some authority, we could be seeing him back in the States within a few years.
The reality of the matter is that players like Malcolm Thomas are aplenty in events such as the NBA Summer League, but it’s the few that are able to shine in their limited opportunities that have a chance at future exposure. In Thomas’ case, it might be a few years before we see real development, and we might never see him suit up for another NBA team. His performances this summer have been, if nothing else, an indicator of the unappreciated talent that the NBA possesses.
Questions or comments you’d like to share? Feel free to leave them in the marked section below. I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you all.
The 2013 NBA offseason has given way for a few major and a lot of minor changes atop the Western Conference, though probability points toward many of the same faces residing above the West in the upcoming year. Things move at a blistering pace this time of year, and today is the official start to a dramatic offseason that’s seen a few teams get better, and a few embrace the wrong side of .500.
Let’s begin with this offseason’s Better or Worse
The team that made one of the biggest splashes during the last offseason might have one-upped themselves in this free agency period. The Houston Rockets were able to secure the biggest ticket on the market this offseason in the form of the “Dwightmare” himself, Sir Howard.
Though the fit is yet to be determined, the fact of the matter is that the Rockets reeled in the game’s premier center in Dwight Howard. The past couple of seasons have displayed the 6’11” big man in negative light, but the reality tells a different tale. Dwight Howard is finally in a comfortable basketball situation, with the next four years of his basketball life taking place in a static location, with a team that has as much potential as any up-and-coming team this league has to offer. Combining Howard’s low-post game with Kevin McHale’s love for the back down game will be a joy to watch, as Howard will surely blossom in the soon to be revamped Houston offense.
Combining him with young and quickly rising players James Harden and Chandler Parsons should bode well for the Houston’s success this upcoming season. Houston is desperately shopping Jeremy Lin, presumably to give Harden heavy run at the point guard position, while allowing them to play Omer Asik alongside Howard in the frontcourt.
Regardless of the moves yet to be made, the Houston Rockets stand now as one of the most interesting teams to watch in the upcoming season. No other Western Conference team made a playing change as significant as Houston’s addition of Howard, and it will bode well for them in the coming months.
Estimated 2013-2014 Record: 50-32
Los Angeles Clippers
A lot of noise has come from down south this offseason, but the team with arguably the biggest difference-maker of the offseason is out beachside in the form of Doc Rivers. The addition of Rivers not only gave the Clippers one of the biggest coaching edges in the league, but it ensured that they kept their superstar point guard, Chris Paul.
Doc Rivers gives the team something that hasn’t been on the table in the past: home-grown motivation. Doc, over the years, has had an immeasurable impact on team unity and overall confidence. He has already begun lighting a fire underneath one of the team’s best players, Blake Griffin. In a recent ESPN interview, Griffin had this to say to a reporter asking him whether or not he thinks he’s “soft”.
“I’ve never really worried about being called soft or people thinking I’m soft,” the star power forward told ESPN reporters. “If anybody wants to step and take that challenge I’m more than happy — off the court — because I don’t want to get suspended. It’s not something that I dwell on. I’ve never really had a problem with being soft.”
Now, this isn’t to say that Blake Griffin is going to come out throwing elbows this season, but we could see him impose a new presence on the court. If he does take a big step forward in the upcoming season, you can bet that Doc Rivers will have a lot to do with it.
The team traded away rising backup point guard Eric Bledsoe and starting small forward Caron Butler, but they replaced them with two sure-handed shooters in J.J. Reddick and Jared Dudley. Both of these players have displayed a blistering touch from beyond the arc and will surely love the opportunity to receive passes from Chris Paul. Combined with the presumed progression of Blake Griffin’s low-post game, the team will be primed for a well-spaced and well-armed team this upcoming season. They found their backup point guard in Darren Collison and their backup small forward in re-upped Matt Barnes.
The Clippers are poised to take a big step forward in the upcoming season, and LA’s new star-studded lineup will prove that they’re worth the trip for primetime ticket payers.
Estimated 2013-2014 Record: 56-26
The Denver Nuggets are not on this list because they made bad moves. They’re on this list because of the moves that they failed to make, for better or worse.
The key losses the Nuggets are set to incur come in the form of ex-head coach George Karl and ex-midl-level-star Andre Iguodala. George Karl was released upon the end of yet another postseason fizz-out, and Andre Iguodala left for the team that would actually offer him a contract: the Golden State Warriors. Not only has Denver lost out one of the best head coaches in the NBA, but they’ve lost out on a source of much of their defensive presence during last season. They’ve yet to attract a significant free agent, and have balked at any significant improvement whatsoever.
It seems that the Denver Nuggets have given way to the Brian Shaw era, which isn’t really a downgrade at the head coaching position. Shaw has worked hard for his opportunity, riding one pine too many in my opinion. The problem here is, that the retooling needs to take place from the bottom up, and the simple addition of Shaw will not help Denver’s case this season. It seems that they are doomed to remain a middle of the pack team, unless they were to make a move worth talking about in the next few weeks.
Estimated 2013-2014 Record: 44-38
Los Angeles Lakers
It’s interesting to see that the team across the offices in Staples Center are on the opposite side of things in terms offseason improvement. While they missed out huge in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, the Lakers may have actually set themselves up for future success. Regardless of that detail, though, this segment is about the 2013-14 season, and the Lakers have definitely gotten worse this offseason.
Dwight Howard bolting to what Shaq refers to as a “small town” in Houston, basically turned the upcoming season into a Wiggins-or-bust scenario for the Lakers. Unfortunately for them, they have a certain spirit in the locker room that will not allow for that sort of thinking to take place. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol will be back and at it trying to help raise another banner on the Lakers end of Staples, but it will be in vain for reason beyond their control. This team is simply not equipped to win. The move they’re set to make in the amnesty of Metta World Peace is not for this season’s team success, it’s a financial decision handed down in order to save money for an otherwise wasted season.
The Lakers’ only available funds were handed to Chris Kaman in the form of the team’s mini-mid-level exception. The move is solid, but it’s hardly a game changer. The team is simply too old to compete, and if they knew what were good for them, they’d take a year off and hope for better things in the next offseason, when bigger and better names become available. As much as it pains me to say, the Lakers have no plausible solution, and their season will leave high hopes tarnished in LA.
Estimated 2013-2014 Record: 40-42
Leave me any comments or questions in the comment section below. I look forward to hearing from you, for better or worse.