BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
When the 2016 – 2017 NBA season commenced it appeared to be a mere formality to yet another Cavaliers v. Warriors NBA Finals contest, their third straight. The most recent flurry of trade and buyout movement confirms that opposing General Managers not only agree, but appear to have willingly accepted such declarations.
Does anyone believe that by simply inquiring about the availability of an All-Star or by trading for non-All-Stars, the goal of stifling Golden State or Cleveland was successful? In a word, NO!!!! Whether opposing GMs were incapable or are incompetent, the lack of significant movement was startling.
In the Eastern Conference the Cleveland Cavaliers rest atop the playoff standings and a possible first round series against the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat or Detroit Pistons should not strike fear in the hearts of Cleveland fans. Indiana has Paul George and Myles Turner, Jr, Miami has Hassan Whiteside and Detroit brings Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson to battle, but those individuals are not good enough to defeat the best team in the East. Their decision to stand pat, makes sense because those three are not yet ready to compete for a title.
The Boston Celtics are the second seed, and elected not to make a final push to add Paul George or the Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler. The Celtics current roster is in desperate need of a second scorer, and General Manager Danny Ainge’s decision to stand pat rather than be “given” yet another All-Star should upset Celtic fans. Ainge was armed with draft picks and players, but without Kevin McHale on the other end the former shooter became gun shy and refused to pull the trigger. That hesitation may end up being the main reason Boston never even makes it to face the Cavs.
However, the Washington Wizards adding forward Bojan Bogdanovic will undoubtedly help bolster their group to the Eastern Conference Finals. But that acquisition did not springboard Washington over Cleveland. The major shakeup came courtesy of the Toronto Raptors bringing in Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker. To some these were significant moves, but Ibaka is more name these days then game. In his one game against the Cavs, Ibaka dropped 19, but failed to register a block and his defense is why he was brought to Toronto. The forward will be asked to provide shot-blocking and overall defensive punch to a Raptors club looking to knock off the defending champs. With the injury to starting point guard Kyle Lowry, the addition of Tucker should keep “the North” afloat. P.J. is solid all around but is of little consequence against the likes of Kyrie Irving and that will be an issue.
The Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls were rumored to be buyers at the trade deadline, but in the end nothing came to fruition. The Bulls tried to add Patrick Beverley and Marcus Smart, while the Hawks also tried to pry Paul George loose. In the end, the addition of Ersan Ilyasova in Atlanta and another point guard (Cameron Payne) in Chicago will not provide the necessary jolt to shake-up the Cavaliers.
The Western Conference saw much bigger names get moved, none bigger than former Sacramento King and current New Orleans Pelican DeMarcus Cousins. New Orleans gave up rookie Buddy Hield and former King turned current King Tyreke Evans all for the services of Cousins. Oddly enough, if Cousins lands on any team in the Eastern Conference he would have been a game-changer, but in the Western Conference the acquisition barely moves the needle.
The Pelicans are making a playoff push and adding Cousins should help……………….next year. This year New Orleans is currently three games out of the eighth and final spot. So the Pelicans would have to jump over four teams to grab the eighth seed. That is difficult enough without implementing one of the league’s premier talents and ball-hoggers. It is more likely the Denver Nuggets, or even the Sacramento Kings (who are just one game behind the eighth seeded Nuggets) make the playoffs in that final spot. The Nuggets adding center Roy Hibbert notwithstanding, the Golden State Warriors should make short order of any of these three regardless who “wins” the final playoff spot.
Golden State received the gift of complacency from the Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, and Memphis Grizzlies. These teams decided their combined record of 3 – 7 against the Warriors was sufficient enough heading to the playoffs. The Clippers (0 – 4) and Jazz (0 – 2) have not beaten Golden State all season, so their lack of aggression is very peculiar.
The same thing cannot be said for the Houston Rockets or the Oklahoma City Thunder. Houston refused to part with the aforementioned Beverley, but did come away with another bona fide scorer in Lou Williams. In three games against the Warriors the guard is averaging 16.3 points, which is two full points below his season average of 18.7. The Rockets addition of Williams to a second unit that already features Eric Gordon will be fun to watch. The question is will it be enough to unseat the Dubs, and the answer is a resounding “nah”. Golden State will muster up enough defense to stop a blistering Houston offense.
Meanwhile, the Thunder looked poised for an eventual first round exit before the trade deadline. Now with forwards Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson in house anything short of the second round would be an epic failure. Nevertheless, with the goal being to overtake the Warriors can anyone suggest that Williams or the combination of McDermott/Gibson is enough to accomplish that goal.
In fact, this month’s trade activity did nothing more than illustrate just how far behind the teams in each conference were from superseding the Cavs and Warriors. Yes, the moves provided entertainment but as for creating a viable option to Golden State v. Cleveland part three no squad believed in themselves or their components enough to pursue such a feat.
Before anyone can blame another player or agent for constructing yet again a “super team” they must first blame the assortment of league GMs who have somehow habitually mistake activity for achievement. In the end, we will be watching the third installment of a match-up against two teams who were talented enough to make it to the Finals, but more importantly fearless enough to pursue it.
BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
Russell Westbrook has used anger as the driving force to becoming one of the NBA’s elite, and now that force is driving his championship dreams away. Basketball’s history is rich with players who have dazzled one year only to fizzle the next. Therefore when a player who is already considered elite takes their game to even higher heights it is that much more electrifying.
What Westbrook has accomplished this season is nothing short of amazing. However, the guard’s talent should not be limited to statistical supremacy. The Thunder leader has allowed emotion to be the center piece in a prolific career thus far, but more is required if a championship is the goal.
Can the Thunder franchise player make the calculated and rational acknowledgement that he, and anger, are not potent enough to win a chip? Is Russell capable of pushing the furious pride that fuels him on a nightly basis aside and articulate that he needs more in order to win? For most players this is not a difficult task. However, most players are not powered by slights and a desire to prove they belong.
In requesting help the guard would be breaking from a norm that has been a staple throughout his basketball career. The former UCLA Bruin choose to remain with Oklahoma City after the organization was spurned by former running mate Kevin Durant. That decision, while admirable, may have been rooted in emotion and not logic. Either way it could very well cost Westbrook a chance to play for another NBA title.
It is hard to imagine a player balling any better than Russell has this season, yet the Thunder sit seventh in the western conference playoff standings. Barring some unforeseen miracle OKC will not make it out of the second round of the playoffs.
Nevertheless, his play and the team’s subsequent playoff run could be viewed as a success. Some might even suggest the organization rebounded well after losing Durant. Those same voices might echo that the Southern California native is a hero for being loyal to the team that drafted him. This thought process for a player driven by emotions might be viewed as vindicating. This is where intelligent and fearless Russell must breakaway from angry and passionate Russell.
While it is commendable to be loyal to a fault, it is wiser to be loyal to a point. Therefore this perceived vindication cannot be sufficient for the guard. The Thunder player must not allow that competitive fire on the court to be a scapegoat for the lack of an NBA title or the absence of even competing for one.
Cleveland Cavalier forward LeBron James used logic and reason for his pursuit. James felt the Cavaliers were not good enough or committed enough to win a championship. So the forward bolted for Miami. Former Los Angeles Laker icon Kobe Bryant went a different route, choosing to publicly call out management after multiple playoff early exits. The Lakers’ guard felt enough time had elapsed and it was necessary for the front office to be held accountable for its lack of success in amassing championship quality talent.
Two different approaches but both landed the same championship results. The proverbial ball is now in Westbrook’s court. We as basketball fans have witnessed something transcendent. One of the league’s best has gotten remarkably better in virtually every statistical category.
Which is wonderful…………………………. for the moment. But will this be good enough for Westbrook? Has playing every game “as if it’s his last” manifested itself into playing every game “as if I have something to prove”? There is something to be said for playing to prove a point rather than playing for a purpose.
If proving he is among one of the league’s elite was the point the fury displayed thus far has been more than adequate. However, if the purpose is to win a title than that fury, or chip on the shoulder, must subside itself for diligent logic.
For better or worse, heavy lies the head that wears the crown.
Emotion has carried the Thunder guard this far, now calculation is required for the rest of this journey. The former Bruin has too put Oklahoma’s front office on notice that what is currently in place is simply not good enough.
And adding Carmelo Anthony is not the answer either, for that matter.
When Durant walked away from Oklahoma City this off-season many believed Westbrook would follow, but he did not.Why? Was establishing his own legacy and proving to the world he was better than the current Golden State Warrior forward more important than the immortality that comes with a title?
Time will provide the answer to that question, just as time has proven the guard was not a hindrance to Durant’s title hopes. "I always play with a chip on my shoulder. There is always something to prove.” Westbrook once stated in an interview with Graham Beslinger. The beauty of competitive fire is that it is controllable, unlike competitive rage.
Competitive fire will allow him to go public if management does not make the proper moves. Conversely, competitive rage will allow the Oklahoma City franchise player to believe 24 triple-doubles and seven games of 40 or more points is all that is required.
When NBA fans elected two-time MVP Stephen Curry to start in the All-Star game, over the OKC guard, a message was sent. The message was Westbrook still had another level to reach. It is difficult to recall when a jump shooter overtook a rim rocking finisher in fan appreciation. Then when one watches the ease and comfort Curry plays with it and it becomes understandable.
Such ease and comfort is foreign to “The Brodie”.
However, no one would suggest the Warriors’ guard is any less competitive then Westbrook, it just feels as if Curry has chosen joy over anger.
Can Westbrook duplicate such a transition? Is the guard capable of transitioning from angry player to motivated champion? Will he push the necessary buttons to get the only results that matter in team sports?
It is easy to play angry and put up numbers. That is within the OKC guard’s control, the difficult part is holding those around him to his high standards. Finding, or better yet forcing individuals to do what he believes is required to win it all. Even if those moves or decisions do not yield the desired results.
But will he? It feels like the Thunder guard is content with the stubbornness that has gotten him this far.
In nine years the league has witnessed a tremendous talent develop into an unstoppable force, motivated by anger. However, the Thunder guard needs to realize that anger has taken him as far as it can. Now it is time for the games most emotional player to make some unemotional decisions.
BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
DeMarcus Cousins in Sacramento is a wildcard for a fringe playoff team, but in Cleveland the center could be the trump card to another championship run. As the Cleveland Cavaliers continue to have front row seats in watching their championship dreams disappear, adding a numbers harlot such as Cousins could be a necessary jolt to the stagnate squad.
Or it could be death to the close knit group. Regardless, the reward far outweighs the risk. The Cavaliers are in a problematic position, but tremendous aspiration always comes with tremendous strife. In this regard, aspirations for a second straight NBA title and third straight NBA Finals appearance have brought about the need for change. Cavs forward LeBron James has gone on record demanding Cleveland add depth to what he termed as a “top heavy” roster. As pundits debate how the King made his request, it does not eliminate or address the merits of the request.
Only social icon and NBA legend Bill Russell can speak to the obstacles of going to six straight NBA Finals and what is required to reach seven. Even the media anointed pillar of mental toughness Michael Jordan retired twice after three straight trips. Such company should award the man some clemency from the novices who have criticized him.
James has never shied away from making the unpopular move (see South Beach) or the audacious move (see exit from South Beach) in pursuit of a title. The forward’s recent cry for more weaponry, quite frankly, is par for the course for a player hell bent on winning.
Above all else, when has Lebron been wrong? If his-story is correct Cavs ownership should be responding to James’ request with “how high”. Management’s response may be more rooted in the frustration of having little to offer, outside of Kevin Love and perhaps an Iman Shupert. Which has solicited the “pardon my back” response from some teams. But the Cavs need to set their sights to the “Land of Kings”, to appease their King.
In six seasons Kings center DeMarcus Cousins has resembled the Minnesota Timberwolves version of Kevin Love. Meaning the center has put up eye-opening numbers too little or no team success, the difference being Cousins has been a lightning rod for attention.
Before Sac-town invests another five years and upwards of $207 million into the center, Cleveland needs to bring to the organization’s attention a few glaring things. Beginning with their record with the mercurial big man (147 – 293), mixing in the teams abysmal attendance (finished 19th or worse every season since “Boogies” arrival) and culminating with the advantage of stability in Love and Shumpert’s contract (both players are signed through the 2018 – 19 season).
Lastly, the addition of Love allows Kings’ management to not just save money, but it will also put an abrupt end to one of the more tumultuous media player relationships in league history. A chance to rid themselves of a player who has irritated, if not alienated, the local media.
In Love Sacramento would receive an All-Star who requires little maintenance and rarely makes waves. Shumpert, recent drug arrest aside, brings defense and toughness without requiring/demanding shots on offense.
A Kings’ roster featuring veterans such as Love, Shumpert and guard Darren Collison would allow first round picks Malachi Richardson and Willie Cauley-Stein more time and opportunities to develop. As much as ownership loves Cousins, a chance at team success along with a community presence should be enticing.
The risk is much greater on Cleveland’s side. In Cousins the Cavs are acquiring one of the game’s biggest talents and one of the game’s biggest enigmas. On the court the center is a beast in isolation plays and is capable of offensive explosions as he currently has 18 games of 30 or more points.
The King would add a different dimension to an already potent Cavaliers club. Cousins’ ability to put the ball on the floor, as well as, score through the flow of an offense would be a match-up nightmare for opposing teams. The big man, unlike Love, can finish over and through the competition. The mercurial center is the current league leader in “and-ones” (48) and three point plays (37). The former Kentucky Wildcat would thrive in the space created by a penetrating Kyrie Irving or a tilted defense preoccupied with James.
Off the court is where the issues begin. However, it is plausible to think the attention of playing with James and consistently having the national spotlight could change the tiger’s stripes.
Lawson would remove those second tier point guard and play-making issues. The guard has been bounced around recently, but was once an established scorer in the NBA (14.2 points per during his team with the Denver Nuggets). Nevertheless, a deal centered on Cousins and the addition of guard Ty Lawson would eliminate most, if not all, of Cleveland’s issues. While possibly creating new ones. Only time and results will tell.
There is a benefit of staying the course and truly getting a gauge of if this team can win a second title as constructed. After all the Cavs have made back-to-back NBA Finals. However, there must be credence placed on James’ demands of adding a play-maker on offense. Previous champions have made drastic roster changes, albeit in the offseason, but none have ventured into the waters the King is currently swimming in.
A deal for Cousins would be difficult to complete, due largely in part to the owner’s infatuation with keeping the player. Then there is the possible chance a move of this magnitude could be catastrophic. Or a move could provide the back-to-back title the King is envisioning and quite possibly allow Cleveland to widen their championship window.
The NBA is ripe with teams who have made disastrous moves to acquire cantankerous players. The Cavs were once one of those teams, filled with those players (Ricky Davis, Delonte West and Darius Miles should come to mind). Now Cleveland is a perennial championship contender in the mist of defending their title.
Management, the fans and the media can debate and analyze the methods James has used to bring about that championship madness. What they cannot and should not debate is its effectiveness. Cleveland’s King has requested more knights there should be no question as to why.