THE ’15-’16 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS COULD BE THE ’07 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS.

Commentary:

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Record breaking, historic season all comes down to one Thunder win away from losing all of it. Photo: Associated Press

The Oklahoma City Thunder are one win away from eliminating the best team in NBA history based on regular season wins.

After delivering another beatdown last night, OKC now on the verge of returning to the NBA Finals, needing only to win one game out of 3 remaining matches. They have contained the Warriors’s deadly offense, forced turnovers, outrebounded Golden State and just flat out outplayed them during their two home games. They are now a win away from being able to chase the ultimate prize.

The Warriors have been complacent. Both Draymond Green and Stephen Curry have struggled mightily in this series. Curry hasn’t shot the ball well, and has been giving the ball away plenty. Green is not in his usual self, not as energetic and has been contained all over the court. The entire Warriors’ defense, their calling card, has not been visible outside of Game 2.

The Warriors are on the verge of missing out on one of the best seasons in all of sports. After breaking the record of having the most wins in a regulars season, and having the first ever unanimous MVP, Golden State is closing in on what could be a failure of year, just by not finishing and winning the year’s championship. What that means could simply be one thing…

Irrelevancy.

In sports, the year is defined by winning the Championship. Records are made, performances have been highlighted, but the rest of the world will talk about the one who takes the crown. Always.

Take the case of the 2007 New England Patriots.

The Pats have ran sacked thru the 2007 NFL season, going undefeated, 16-0, a new league record. They reached SuperBowl 42 in 2008 going 18 – 0, including the two wins they had in the AFC Playoff picture. Everyone is talking about Patriot destiny, the perfect season, they even had the Pats as a 12 point favorite in the biggest game in American Sports.

And then came the New York Giants, the biggest SuperBowl underdog in history riding a hot streak. The Patriots, the dominant team that they were, didn’t play to to their dominant standards, and the Giants took advantage, and pulled off not only the biggest upset in SuperBowl history, but ending the Patriots’ perfect season in the process.

And while the 2007 Pats are still being considered one of the best American Football teams in history, no one is talking about their perfect 16-0 regular season, instead, when people hear SuperBowl XLII, they think of one thing.

Eli Manning’s pocket awareness, and this catch by David Tyree.

It goes to show, a magnificent regular season won’t matter if there’s no title. These Patriots are one of the best teams in history, a team you can debate, can beat any SuperBowl Champions in any era, and with one bad game, and and unbelievable play, they have, in a way, got brought to irrelevancy.

It’s not to say that the series is over. Eight NBA teams have come back to win a series from being down 3-1 in the Playoffs, two of them won the championship in the same year, so it’s plausible. But this is different. There is something different about this one, and it’s the magnitude of the pressure.

These Warriors have been talked about as quite possibly the greatest basketball team to ever stepped on a hardwood. There are talks of dynasty possibilities, and how they are close to being invincible due to their roster makeup, their style of basketball and their results. The 73-9 season made it even more of a possibility, and then you add the first ever player to be voted first place for MVP.

And they are one win from Oklahoma City away from having it all crumble down.

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What happened to the energetic Draymond Green in this series? Photo courtesy of thecomeback.com

The pressure to succeed has far reached sky limits. This is what the Warriors have to deal with to save their historic season, or they get brought down to the pits of irrelevance along with the 2007 Pats. A great team, a once in a lifetime squad, ending as a “what if” topic because they couldn’t close the year with a Championship.

Is that going to be the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors’ destiny? Are they going to be the 2007 New England Patriots?

They need to get their stuff straight, or all this talk about them being the greatest, will be replaced by how great LeBron James was in the Finals, or how Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook final got their ring, or how the Toronto Raptors make history.

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SAM HINKIE GONE. THE PROCESS IS OVER.

Commentary:

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Sam Hinkie has stepped down as Sixers GM, leaving a big mark in NBA history. Photo courtesy of thesixersense.com

The Process has come to an end.

Sam Hinkie, the very famous (now former) General Manager of the Philadelphia 76ers stepped down from his duties on April 6th. And boy did he become famous alright.

In his tenure in Philly as the GM, Hinkie had a plan, a plan that actually challenged the NBA mettle in their sort of reward system of giving the worst teams a very nice gift, a high draft pick. The Process, or as it is popularly known, involved Hinkie completely dismantling the Sixers, starting in 2013 to, in a sense, have a roster in which the goal is, well, to lose games. And lose games they did (they really did).

The Process was simple and straight to the point, tank like no else have done before, try to a top three draft pick in the process, and acquire assets along the way. It made sense in analytical and mathematical perspectives, be the stupidest team in the league, have the best chance of the best prospects coming in. It has been that way, the whole time, until 2 days go, or when the Sixers hired Jerry Colangelo as Chairman of Basketball Operations, possibly ending the Process and leaving the future of Philly in doubt as to what comes next.

In a way, it has worked. Sam Hinkie in his tenure, have managed to give the Sixers multiple draft picks, something they didn’t have after using them for the Andrew Bynum trade (remember that trade?) and has positioned the Sixers within striking distance of getting the top overall pick in the last three years. Sure, the plan is to not win a lot of games, and doing so gave them back to back #3 picks in 2014 and 2015, and could possibly have another one this year.

As far as moves, trading away All-Star PG Jrue Holiday for a pick that ended up being Nerlens Noel might seem questionable at the time, but along this Process, Hinkie made good moves to cut salaries, and acquire draft picks along the way. He traded Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams to what could now be a top 10 pick in the upcoming draft or the next year (via the Lakers with a top 3 proetection). He fleeced Sacramento to get yet a couple of first round picks and has gotten one more from Oklahoma City.

The tank and grab part of the Process has worked. They are in position AGAIN for a top three pick, and a plethora of assets to move around or include to be a trade package to acquire more pieces. So what went wrong? Why is it all of a sudden Hinkie is stepping down?

The Process had one major flaw. It does, in a way made sense, but only if you have no sense of emotion. The Sixers have became a joke of a franchise in the last three years, closely coming in as the worst team in the history of the NBA. Hinkie failed to realize that while it’s great to have top draft picks every year, it’s also necessary to build a culture of competitiveness, cohesiveness and winning. He embraced losing, and it rubbed off to the entire franchise. It’s one thing to tank, it’s another to flat out just didn’t care, and it showed not only in games, but in player morale, media backlash and fan support, who ultimately paid the price in the Process’ ultimate side effect.  He also wasn’t willing to sign good players despite the cap space he created, and settled on D-Leaguers and bench players with longer contracts who would not sniff and NBA floor in any other team, but is welcome in Philadelphia because they come with a draft pick along the way.

There was no certainty, there was no sense of urgency, and there was no interest in the locker room, mainly because their GM is smiling ear to ear every time the team gets blown out.

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Sam Hinkie drafted Center Jahlil Okafor, after drafting two Center in the two previous drafts. David Dow, FOX Sports

Hinkie’s draft history with Philadelphia isn’t helping the Process’ case as well. The tank worked, it landed them Noel two top 3 picks in two straight years. But the decisions were rather questionable. Hinkie drafted 3 Centers (THREE) in a row in the last three years, one of them hasn’t even played an NBA game yet. And sure, we can’t blame him for Joel Embiid’s injury, and he’s clearly the best prospect within that spot at the time, it’s baffling that Hinkie would be willing to carry three young Center prospects in his team. DeAngelo Russell being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers could have thrown the Sixers’ and Hinkie’s draft board, but they could have easily moved down to draft either Emmanuel Mudiay, Stanley Johnson, Justise Winslow and a couple of other names that were not Centers and had a better fitting team, while possibly getting more . Instead he had Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, two guys who lacked floor stretching capabilities that completely don’t compliment each other. And Dario Saric is still yet to be seen after being traded for Elfrid Payton in 2014, a guy the Sixers have drafted and is developing into a decent PG on his own in Orlando. But of course, Saric won’t play for possibly two years, which means it’s an open roster spot to get an inferior player to get his place, more losing.

The Sixers were a laughing stock, and Hinkie seems to be alright with it. There’s only one thing on his mind, get a franchise player from a draft class, and then rebuild. The Sixers possibly decided they won’t have none of it when they hired Colangelo on December of last year. The ownership bought in the Process, but the humiliation probably was too much that they decided to bring in help. And now help seems like it’s taking over.

Speculation about Hinkie’s resignation is possibly due to him being forced out. Adrian Wojnarowski that Colangelo wanted Hinkie to be a “glorified director of analytics or run  or run him out of the Philadelphia 76ers altogether. And that was the Process to begin with. Hinkie put a plan in place based on numbers, probability and analytics, completely ignoring basketball. With his resignation, it’s going to be interesting to see where the Sixers go to next. They have the best shot of landing the #1 overall pick in this year’s draft, again. And boy would it hurt for Sam when they do. His plan was to land that top pick from the start. He missed out on Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, not Anthony Bennett but he could have had Victor Oladipo. The Process could have had a payoff this year, and he won’t be there to see it. It promises a new path for Philadelphia this year, but the foundation, oddly enough, has been laid by Hinkie, at the expense of total disregard for results and culture.

The Process is over, Sam Hinkie is gone. The master plan will not be seen until the very end by it’s crazy designer, but it could end up being a very good plan after all at the end of it, when new builders come in. And that’s bittersweet.

He did leave a 13 page resignation letter that is so worth reading, so there’s that (via Deadspin.com).

http://deadspin.com/here-is-sam-hinkies-full-13-page-letter-of-resignation-1769545687

SAME OLD OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER. SAME OLD ADVERSITIES.

Commentary:

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Not good enough. Photo courtesy of sportsworldreport.com

Dropping their 4th game out of their last five, the Oklahoma City Thunder is slowly looking like it could once again miss out on representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.

OKC has dropped 2 games vs the Golden State Warriors in that stretch, one of them they should have one, blew a 20 point lead vs the Los Angeles Clippers, and an even more excruciating loss against bottom dwelling New Orleans Pelicans. The Thunder, one team being considered a big threat to the Warriors’ run, has been swept by Golden State, and hasn’t had any answer to their problems stemming from two years ago.

The same problems they had two years ago.

They have arguably two of the top 5 players in the NBA in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Both have been relatively healthy this year, so the injury excuse of how they struggled the last couple of years are thrown out the window. The problem, their joke of a roster.

The talent of Durant, Westbrook and a little Serge Ibaka is enough to win 50 games, but vs the elite teams, they are clearly outmatched, due to the rest of their squad. They have been mediocre defensively. They have no problems scoring, and why would they, KD and Rus can light it up on any given night. But they are 15th in the league in Defensive Efficiency, thanks in part of the roster Sam Presti has built. Enes Kanter is making max money, and is absolutely atrocious on defense. Dion Waiters  and Kyle Singler are getting regular minutes, and not contributing on the defensive end. Their team as a whole has been sub par stopping the ball, as evident by 3 fourth quarters vs Golden State and Los Angeles where they have been outscored.

To get stops, Oklahoma City relies on players like Andre Roberson, Steven Adams, three guys who are decent defenders in their own right, but makes their offense way too predictable due to the three not being any threat to score consistently. The Thunder are talent heavy, but they don’t defend, and outscoring opponents would work on middle of the pack teams, but not when they’re trying to beat teams like the Clippers, the San Antonio Spurs or the Warriors 4 times out of 7 games.

The arrival of coach Billy Donovan also hasn’t done any improvements. The offense is still as predictable as it has been, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook taking turns, little to no ball and player movement. While the duo can drop points at any point in the game, the game plan is as vanilla as is was the last 2 years, in which teams are just loading up on them, closing the gaps and putting as many bodies as they could, leaving the rest of the group to beat them, and why wouldn’t they? None of the supporting cast has shown any ability to put pressure on opponents offensively. None of them seems to be in position, nor even understand what they need to. The ball goes to Kevin and Rus, and only leaves their hands when they can’t get their shots.

The offense has been the same, they can be figured out, and they don’t defend. There’s only a handful of times where top talent could win this team games. But come post season, their lack of ability to stop opponents and little to no offensive execution could be their deathbed.

Losing to the elite teams in the West, and vs Cleveland Cavaliers, it’s looking like the Thunder are withing a level below the elites. With about a month left in the regular season, the Thunder need to answer these problems to be able to sniff even a tiny bit of a chance to get to the Finals. Unfortunately for them, they may not have the pieces to come up with a solution.

TRADE DEADLINE COMMENTARY (Part 2).

Commentary:
Part 2 of rumors, ideas and all out uncertainty on my end as teams approach the Thursday deadline.

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Whatcha gonna do, Doc? Kirby Lee – USA TODAY Sports

With the All-Star break done, the focus of the NBA world is now shifting to the Trade Deadline. Who’s moving? Who’s teams are going to make a shakeup?

As with Part 1, we’ll delve in into the hottest rumors, teams that would need a move, and a few other trade ideas coming from wherever.

CHANNING FRYE COULD HELP YOUR FLOOR SPACING:

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Big man shooter. High value commodity. Kim Klement – USA TODAY Sports

Orlando Magic C/F Channing Frye could easily help in any team’s shooting and spacing. Hoopshype.com has reported that multiple teams have inquired about the shooting big man, and for good reasons. The Magic, have a young nucleus to build around, and could go away with their veterans for the right price to help their rebuild.

Several teams could use Frye’s ability to stretch the floor. The Los Angeles Clippers, being one who could really be beneficial. The Milwaukee Bucks could be another team that could use more shooting and floor spacing.

HASSAN WHITESIDE:

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Photo courtesy of chatsports.com

The dilemma continues. Hassan Whiteside has been a revelation, and is due for a big payday that the Miami Heat may not be able to afford. It has also been proven that the Heat can go really well without him.

Miami could certainly be well moving Whiteside now, than lose him in Free Agency for nothing. Little problem here, Hassan is making very little money, which means it’s tough to trade him straight up, but they could easily use him along with contracts they want to move to free money and get some assets back. Another problem is that which teams can use him?

There’s really not a ton of teams remaining that could use a Center who can block shots but clogs the lanes. Portland could be one team who can upgrade their Center position, but would probably not give up assets as they could be in position to just sign him outright via free agency. Other teams doesn’t seem to have the need to trade for him right now, or have any use for him.

The Lakers are a very intriguing prospect for Hassan as well. While they are saving up money for a potential Kevin Durant signing (who knows), Hassan could be an easy Plan B to Los Angeles in case everything falls through. Still young, he would easily fit the young nucleus that the Lakers are going to sport once Kobe retires. They have a big expiring contract in Roy Hibbert as an asset, and while Miami can’t take Hibbert’s contract outright, he could certainly be moved to a third team and get assets along with him. Philadelphia and Portland can take the money and could give away some picks or players in return that the Heat could use.

In any case, the Heat have until Thursday to figure this out, but expect Hassan to stay due to lack of trade partners, and then leave Miami in the summer.

CAN DAVID LEE STILL BE USEFUL?

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Does he have something left to offer? Photo courtesy of sportsworldreport.com

David Lee has been relegated to the bench in Boston, as the young Celtics preferred to develop young talent. But his per 36 numbers are as close to his yearly averages, suggesting that he can still be an offensive option. Are there teams who could use him?

Portland, as with most cases, have the cap room to swallow his big contract. Lee could fit right in and be their starting PF or play off the bench, and be a veteran presence to lead the locker room as they make a Playoff push. The Blazers don’t need to give a big salary coming back, and also may not need to give a big asset to do the trade.

The Washington Wizards could be an interesting place for Lee. Nene has seen better days, and while Lee and Nene has shown similar numbers, David is more healthier and is able to play games than the Brazilian Forward has. Their salaries match, so a straight swap would work, but Boston would probably ask for something more in return. A second round pick could certainly be enough for the Celtics to pull the trigger here. As for the Wizards, another able body to help their post season push should be worth giving up a 2nd rounder.

BLAKE GRIFFIN:

And the final piece goes to Los Angeles Clippers F Blake Griffin, whom the media is suggesting is very much available.

The core of Chris Paul – Blake Griffin – DeAndre Jordan has run for a good 4 years, and it failed to reach the Conference Finals in each of them. The Clippers has shown great results without Blake Griffin, so it’s not improbable to suggest that moving Blake could put the put the Clippers in a position to gain valuable assets, and other players to bolster their god awful bench.

Griffin has been the issue of behavior problems as of late, but he’s a proven All-Star, a definite franchise player and is still young to build around. Denver has been rumored to be interested in Blake at one point, and it makes sense for Clippers to at least consider. Something where they would get a 1st rounder or two, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler could start the talks. Gallo can play PF, and could easily stretch the floor, something the Clips are at a desperate need, and while Chandler is out for this year, he boosts their SF spot the next for another title run, while being able to play minutes at the 4 to match up small lineups.

The Clippers and Doc Rivers would be absolutely nuts not opening any talks in any Blake Griffin interests. Griffin is indeed a top tier talent, but a chance to compete for a championship could still be in hand with even if he’s traded, seeming as it can upgrade their bench and can still compete with Chris Paul leading the charge, as they have been before the All – Star break.

Which reminds me…

WHO SAYS NO TRADE IDEA:

Boston trades:  
2016 1st round pick (via Dallas), 2018 1st round pick (Boston), 2 2nd round picks (one each year from 16-17), David Lee’s expiring contract, Jae Crowder, Jared Sullinger 

Los Angeles trades:
Blake Griffin, a filler to match salaries

The Brooklyn pick could be negotiable, but let’s start the talking here.

This is a very good package. What this does is help Los Angeles still be in win-now mode, while gaining assets they could use to bolster their 2nd unit or use a trade chips to get another player of quality.

Jae Crowder, I hate to let you go, as you are among the finest of hard working players who could do anything on the court. He fits well with the Clippers, EASILY addresses their needs for the SF spot, and can play small ball 4. Sully provides PF depth, can start, and in a way, can actually space the floor with his streaky, yet capable 3PT shooting. Lee’s contract expires next year, clearing up about $15 million in the books for the Clips to have at least some money to sign free agents that are not veteran minimum guys.

The Celtics get their franchise player, the one guy they’ve been collecting all this assets for.

Who says no?

In any case, we got a few more days of rumors, sources and tweets. Will we see fireworks? One can hope.

HASSAN WHITESIDE’S EMERGENCE COULD BE VERY TROUBLING FOR THE HEAT

Commentary:

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Could be too expensive to keep. Photo courtesy Fox Sports

Two years ago, the Miami Heat took a flier on a 7 foot Center who have been out of the NBA, made a name for himself overseas, and went back to the States and dominated the D-League. Now, their biggest problem moving forward is to how to keep him.

Hassan Whiteside has been a revelation. Last year, he was known as the guy who has the size and the athletic ability but not the mental fortitude to stay or succeed in the NBA. Fast forward a couple of years, and now he’s been a defensive stalwart, a shot blocking machine and on of the key reasons why the Heat has been enjoying success early on. From an outcast, to now averaging 14 points, 11 rebounds and close to 5 blocks per game, Whiteside has established himself as one of the top Centers in the league, and maybe on of the best rim protectors so far.

His shot blocking ability is on par with the very best in the league. He’s in the top 10 among Centers in Opponent FG% allowed vs Contes (per Nylon Calculus). He can clean up the boards, being in the top 5 in rebounding in the entire NBA. Hassan has definitely been a force in the paint defensively, protecting the rim and cleaning up misses. He’s offensively contributing as well. 14 points on 60% shooting, which is mostly coming from the inside, but good enough to make him a threat to score.

Whiteside has been so good, he’s being considered as an All-Star this year, and this is something the Miami Heat has not prepared for.

Whiteside is an Unrestricted Free Agent next year, and he’s playing like he’ going to get paid a max contract. Miami has a dilemma. Hassan can easily sign with anyone in the league that has enough room to sign him, and they can’t match that offer as he’s Unrestricted.

Another problem is that Miami only has his Early Bird Rights, not the full Bird Rights, which means they can only offer only as much as $6 million per year if they are over the cap, in which next year, including the cap holds they will have with their free agents, they will be.

Miami also will need to consider if they would resign Dwyane Wade, who’s also an Unrestricted Free Agent next year, which would cost pretty much around close the the max, if not the max. Miami also has used Wade’s Bird Rights to resign him this year, so he has no Bird Rights coming in.

Miami’s problem is that Hassan Whiteside has become too good. Too good that it would be really tough to resign him for his projected price. The Heat are at around $82 million (including cap holds) next year, not even close to being enough even if the cap rises to around $90 million projected. Miami can circumvent this by clearing all their cap holds, but that means just around $32 million for either Wade and Whiteside to be resigned, and not to mention thinning the bench completely. The Heat would have to be great negotiators to convince the one or both take price cuts, or face with a situation in which they could only keep one. (numbers courtesy of Spotrac)

Or Miami could just cut loses and put Whiteside on the trade block and get some assets than completely losing him via Free Agency for nothing, but replacing one of the best rim protectors in the league right now would be such a big task. In any case, they are in a situation where they have to make a decision on what and how to deal with Whiteside’s pending Free Agency. But that’s also a tough task in itself, as Whiteside is only making around $981,000, which means any trade for him straight up has to be around a player with the same salary, or no more than $1.1 million, and there’s not a lot of players with the same value as Hassan who’s making as much as him. It has to be draft picks, or it would involve other players, players the Heat may not want to move, but will be forced to just to match salaries if they pursue a Hassan trade.

The Heat are facing a tough situation here. They’re diamond in the rough has been a bright shining star, but with that, they are in a precarious situation to lose him and not get anything back, or keep him and possibly let their biggest icon in Dwyane Wade go.

Miami fans should cherish the days where Hassan would swat shots left and right, as this could very well be the last season he’s doing it in a Heat uniform.