Tag Archives: Cavaliers

Which Comeback Was Most Unlikely?

Last night was ridiculous. Only Brady and Belichick can go down twenty-five points in the Super Bowl without their fans losing hope. And to score thirty-one straight points to do it? And to win the first ever overtime Super Bowl? And to do it while setting records left and right? Holy crap.

Then again, the Patriots are really just continuing a trend that’s been going on since June. This past year has been filled with tremendous comebacks and upsets. Like the Pats, the Cubs, Clemson, Trump, and the Cavs have all accrued huge deficits and overcome them. But which comeback of these five was the most improbable of all? Let’s figure it out.

5. Donald Trump (28.2% chance of winning)

This was a difficult probability to determine. While we can rely on Vegas and ESPN’s win expectancy for sports, there are a number of conflicting predictions out there. Accordingly, I went with Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight’s empirical prediction model, rather than predictions from places such as the New York Times (15%) and the Princeton Election Consortium (1%) that were less based on statistics.

Although the Trump’s victory seemed unbelievable and shocking at the time, statistically, it wasn’t all that unlikely. Accordingly, all four sports comebacks were more miraculous than the election results.

4. Chicago Cubs (21.7%)

The Cubs’ comeback seems unlikely, and it was, but they were favored in each of the fateful final three games, by significant margins. Vegas expected Chicago to win each of the individual final three games, so the fact that it did isn’t too surprising.

Based on the money line, Chicago was expected to win 67.7% of the time in Game 5, about 59% in Game 6, and 54.5% in Game 7. Combined, they had barely better than a one in five chance of winning three straight games and emerging victorious at their nadir, which, while improbable, isn’t quite the act of God that it appeared to be.

3. Clemson Tigers (9.6%)

Clemson’s low point came after a Calvin Ridley reception gave Alabama a first down. At that point, in the middle of the second quarter, Clemson was down two touchdowns against a dominant defense. Despite this, the Tigers came roaring back to draw within three.

Later on, O.J. Howard’s 68 yard touchdown catch pushed their odds of winning back down to 14%. Once more, Clemson fought hard and eventually took the lead for the first time, gave it up, and finally regained it with one second remaining.

This was an impressive victory against the Evil Empire of college football, and the situation for Clemson was dire for large chunks of the game. However, the deficit was only fourteen points at its largest, so it doesn’t seem like the Tigers had a major comeback, even though their win expectancy reveals they did.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers (5.9%)

Both the Cavs and Cubs had to win three straight games, including two on the road, to break a mammoth championship drought. So why was Chicago nearly four times as likely as Cleveland to end its season with champagne?

The main reason is that the Cubs were superior to the Indians, while the Cavaliers were inferior to the record-setting Warriors. Furthermore, basketball is much less reliant on luck than baseball, so Cleveland needed to legitimately beat a dominant, otherworldly Golden State squad three straight times–a lucky, fluky win wasn’t possible.

Because of this, the Cavs’ championship comeback was the most unlikely of all until…

1. New England Patriots (0.03%)

The Pats had a huge comeback over the Falcons last night: after going down 28-3, New England roared back to score thirty-one points unanswered. The Falcons had a win probability of over 92% for thirty straight minutes, including a twelve minute streak when it never dipped below 98%.

The situation was bleakest after an incomplete pass from Julian Edelman left the Pats facing a 3rd and 3 from their own 46 with just over six minutes left in the third quarter while down 28-3. ESPN gave the Patriots a 0.03% chance of coming back to win the game at that point.

Even if you want to use the least optimistic Trump prediction, which gave him a 1% chance of winning the election, last night’s Patriots victory was three times as unlikely as Trump’s triumph.

Any way you slice it, this Super Bowl comeback was nearly impossible, and was the most improbable of the last year’s five unlikely moments. Of course, that’s just from a quantitative standpoint, which can’t capture the in-the-moment insanity that accompanies any spectacular event, along with all the other qualitative factors that go into making a memorable moment. Which one do you think was the craziest comeback of all? Let us know in the poll and in the comments!

Sources: FiveThirtyEight for Trump, ESPN for Clemson and New England, and oddsshark.com for Chicago and Cleveland. 

NBA Playoff Predictions

Round 1

Cleveland over Detroit (5 games)

Toronto over Indiana (7)

Charlotte over Miami (6)

Boston over Atlanta (6)

Golden State over Houston (4)

San Antonio over Memphis (4)

Oklahoma City over Dallas (4)

Los Angeles over Portland (5)

Round 2

Cleveland over Boston (7)

Charlotte over Toronto (6)

Golden State over Los Angeles (4)

San Antonio over Oklahoma City (7)

Conference Finals

Cleveland over Charlotte (5)

Golden State over San Antonio (7)

NBA Finals

Golden State over Cleveland (5)

Eastern Conference Playoff Bubble: Who’s In and Who’s Out?

As the NBA heads into the final stretch of its season, playoff seeds are beginning to crystallize. By my count, eleven teams have already essentially clinched a spot in the playoffs, leaving five positions available for the other nineteen teams.

In the Eastern Conference, there are two playoff berths available for four teams and Washington, Indiana, Detroit, and Chicago are set to duke it out over the next month to make it into the postseason.

Which teams on the Eastern Conference playoff bubble will make it in? Which ones won’t? Let’s take a look.

In the East, the seventh and eighth seeds are up for grabs. Currently, the Pacers and Pistons hold those two spots, but the Bulls are tied with the Pistons for the eighth seed. The Wizards are lurking one-and-a-half games behind the Bulls and Pistons after recently pulling out of a tailspin; after making it back to .500, they lost five straight games before a dominant forty-three point blowout against the Pistons earlier this week on national TV and a twenty-one point victory against the Bulls last night.

Washington is the furthest from a playoff spot, but there remains hope in D.C. thanks to a fairly easy schedule to close out the season. Of its fifteen remaining games, only two are near-certain losses (@GSW and @LAC). In addition, the Wizards play three times against the Hawks, although two of those games are at home, and once against the surging Hornets in Washington.

Though Washington is one-and-a-half games out of a playoff spot, there still remains a head-to-head opportunity to make up ground on its direct competitors. The Wizards will play in Detroit on April 8th, a game that will be vital to their playoff aspirations.

The Pacers are elevated above the fray, sitting two-and-a-half games above the Bulls and Pistons and four above the Wizards. With a strong finish, Indiana could even push its way into the fifth or sixth seed, and with a creampuff schedule down the stretch, there’s a very real possibility that it could happen.

The Bulls have the easiest schedule of all, but they currently face severe problems with injuries. Jimmy Butler returned only a couple of days ago from a knee injury, Derrick Rose is dealing with a groin injury, and Pau Gasol has an injured knee. If Chicago is down its best three players, it won’t matter how easy their schedule is.

The Pistons begin a nine-game homestand against the Hawks, but their schedule is the most challenging of the teams they’re competing against. Eight of Detroit’s fifteen remaining games come against playoff teams, and that doesn’t include the games against its direct competitors. It plays in Chicago on April 2nd and against Washington at home on April 8th.

The question remains: Which of these teams will make the playoffs?

It seems to be a forgone conclusion that the Bulls will miss the playoffs since the 2007-08 season. They have too many injuries to adequately compete, and if they lose to the Pistons on April 2nd, they won’t have the tiebreaker against either the Pistons or the Wizards. Chicago will compete to the end, and it’s certainly within its capabilities to scratch out just enough victories to make it to the playoffs, but the postseason seems out of reach at the moment.

The Pacers have a stranglehold on a playoff berth. They’re as close to the #4 seed as the Pistons and Bulls are to them. It’s far more likely that Indiana moves up the ladder to nab a higher seed than they collapse and miss out on the playoffs.

The most intrigue comes with the battle for the eighth seed between the Wizards and Pistons.

I’m torn on this prediction, and although it’s safer to bet on the Pistons maintaining their lead, the Wizards have the tiebreaker and the ineffable, possibly nonexistent “mental edge” after the blowout earlier this week. Instead, I think that whoever wins that April 8th game in Detroit will take home the eighth seed. Washington should be the underdog in that game, so I guess my prediction is Detroit, but if it can defy expectations and win that game on its way to the playoffs, I bet there’ll be a big…

(at least until they get blown out by the Cavs in the first round)

The Blockbuster Trade That Needs to Happen

As fans, blockbusters are fun to think about. It’s great to imagine stars flying around willy-nilly, the landscape of the league changing every other minute.

The problem with blockbusters is that they almost never occur. The reason why blockbusters so rarely happen can be easily explained by Newton’s first law: An object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside force (thanks 8th grade science!). GMs are unwilling to gamble their jobs on one big move, so rather than taking a chance, they’re content to just sit back and do nothing.

There are a couple of stars rumored to be available: Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard. However, it’s unlikely that a team overcomes its inertia to pull off a blockbuster trade for either of them, because Doc Rivers’ asking price for Griffin is sky-high and teams have little interest in trading for Howard, who’s on an expiring contract, is declining, has dealt with nagging injuries, and will expect a max contract in free agency, one that starts at $30 million per season. In addition, the team that has the most assets available in a trade and is looking for a star, the Celtics, “have recoiled at paying a price Houston would find acceptable,” according to Zach Lowe of ESPN.

Speaking of those Celtics, although they won’t be going after Howard, there are still plenty of other options. And that’s the impetus for the blockbuster trade that absolutely needs to happen:

New York trades Carmelo Anthony to Cleveland 

Cleveland trades Kevin Love to Boston

Boston trades David Lee, Kelly Olynyk, Terry Rozier, James Young, unprotected Brooklyn 2016 1st round pick, top-7 protected Dallas 2016 first round pick to New York

I absolutely love this trade. It works for every single team involved.

As we were just saying, the Celtics are in the hunt for a star, and Danny Ainge has long been an admirer of Love’s game. The two make a perfect fit.

Personally, I’m not so high on Love, as to me, he’s just a more famous version of Olynyk, but if Ainge wants him, this is a reasonable price to pay. Even better, unlike Howard, Love is signed long-term; he won’t reach free agency until 2020.

Losing five good young players will hurt, but as we discussed a few days ago, the Celtics might have too many good players (if that’s possible) and are therefore unable to play them all. The same logic in trading three good players for a very good player like Al Horford applies here as well.

This trade would make Anthony happy. Melo said last Friday: “I think everybody always kind of dreams and hopes that they can play with another great player, another star player,” adding “It’s a star players’ league. I think that’s what we all talk about every time we get together.”

We can infer from that quote that Anthony is hoping to play with a star and doesn’t want to wait for Kristaps Porzingis to blossom into one. And what better a way to do it than to join his friend LeBron in Cleveland for a title run?

Every couple of years, we see Melo on Team USA, enjoying himself, just swishing three-pointers whenever someone passes to him. On the Knicks, he can’t be a complimentary player; on the Cavaliers, he can. Even better, if Tyronn Lue decided to stagger his three stars’ minutes, two of LeBron James, Melo, and Kyrie Irving would be out on the floor at the same time. All three of those guys can create shots for themselves and others, meaning that Cleveland’s offense wouldn’t miss a beat when LeBron takes a breather.

Speaking of LeBron, this trade would make him happy too. James has historically wanted to play with his friends, and Melo would make basketball sense for the Cavs as well.

Love is shooting 36.8% from three-point range, while Anthony is shooting 32.7%. However, Anthony is attempting far more challenging shots than Love; 61% of his three point attempts have come on catch-and-shoots, compared to 91% of Love’s. As you can see, unlike Love, Anthony is capable of creating his own shot. And, as more of a complimentary player, Anthony will be playing off the ball more, leading to more catch-and-shoot attempts. That’ll raise his 3FG% much closer to Love’s.

Defensively, Anthony is far superior to Love. A good way to measure defensive prowess is by defensive field goal percentage. Comparing the player’s defensive FG% to the usual FG% of the player being defended allows us to find out how the defender is playing when compared to an average defender. To illustrate this point, holding Stephen Curry to 45% shooting is considered a success, while allowing Lance Stephenson to shoot 45%, well, isn’t.

Anyways, in this regard, Anthony is a big winner. He ranks sixth in the NBA among the players who have played in at least forty games, holding his opponents to a FG% 6.3 percentage points lower than their norm, while Love ranks 229th out of the 250 players, with a mark of +4.3.

As we can see, Anthony is a clear upgrade over Love. Naturally, that leads to the question: Why wouldn’t the Celtics just trade for Melo instead? Well, Anthony has a no-trade clause, and although he’ll likely waive it if he’s sent to Cleveland to play with LeBron, he’s unlikely to allow the Knicks to trade him to Boston. On top of that, Love is 27, four years younger than the 31-year old Melo, which makes him a better fit for the up-and-coming Celtics team.

Now that we’ve established why both the Cavaliers and the Celtics would make this trade, it’s time to figure out why the Knicks would too.

Well, it’s really not that hard to figure out. Anthony is nearly twelve years older than Porzingis, and by the time the latter enters his prime, the former will be way past his. Accordingly, the Knicks would be wise to build around Porzingis and this trade would allow them to do so.

Porzingis is 20, Rozier is 21, Olynyk is 24, and Young is 20. The two 2016 first rounders will be similarly aged. Add in the 23-year old Jerian Grant and the 24-year old Langston Galloway, and that’s the start of a damn good roster.

The Knicks will also have control of all of those players for years to come, allowing them to develop chemistry through continuity.

The last guy New York would acquire is Lee. He’s an unimportant part of this deal, as he’s on an expiring contract and would be included just to make the salaries work.

Again, I’m doubtful that this blockbuster will ever occur, but if ever there were a time for NBA teams to overcome their inertia to actually make a trade, this is definitely the trade with which to do it.

A Critical Review of ESPN’s Virtual Three-Point Line

Just before January 30th’s Cavs-Spurs game, Heather Cox, an ESPN sideline reporter, had an exciting announcement: ESPN would now be using a “new technology”, a virtual three-point line.

Cox later mentioned that the supposedly “new technology” was based off of the 1st and 10 technology in football, a blatant contradiction.

Anyways, Cox explained that the virtual-three point line would light up after every three-point attempt and remain lit up until the next possession if the shot was made.

To further explain this innovative technology, here’s a GIF so you can see it in action:

ESPN Virtual-Three Point Line GIF

This “cool technology” (as Cox put it) is such low-hanging fruit that I almost feel guilty for making fun of it. Almost.

I’ve gotta wonder whose brainchild this one was. Perhaps some random executive’s seven-year old kid pressed a few random buttons during “take-your-child-to-work day”; after all, what other explanation could there be?

Perhaps I’m judging a little hastily. Maybe I’m wrong about this technology. Let’s talk about why it’s useful.

One of the best things about it is that it caters directly to one specific subset of the population: the people who can’t see a player taking a jump shot but who can see a red line lighting up right next to the shooter. That demographic is obviously a huge part of the sports-watching population and ESPN did well to creatively cater to its needs.

Another demographic that this technology helps is the one consisting of people who can’t see the basketball going through the net or hear the announcers telling the audience what just occurred but who somehow are able to see the three-point line up. Yet another wise business decision by ESPN.

For those of us who don’t belong to either of those groups, this technology is still useful. After a three-pointer, the line lights up for a few seconds. In the meantime, many teams try to get fast-break points against opponents who have fallen asleep. They’ll quickly inbound the ball and push up the floor as fast as possible. For much of the time the three-point line is lit up, the viewer can’t see it as action occurs on the other side of the court. I, for one, still think that the technology is useful because, somehow, I find it reassuring to know that the three-point line is lit up, even though I can’t see it.

I know that this technology is based off of the 1st-and-10 technology, but I wonder how ESPN implements it during the game. My best guess: Some poor intern at a computer has to press control-b every time a three-pointer is attempted.

Cox added at the end of her explanation: “I certainly hope you enjoy this new toy as much as we do.” Yeah, Heather, I’m definitely enjoying this “new toy”, but probably not for the reasons you intended.

Notes From Knicks-Jazz

Last night was chock full of basketball, with local channels carrying both the Knicks-Jazz and Nets-Cavs games.

Luckily, I was able to avoid most of the ugly Nets game in favor of the Knicks, but the one significant play I saw was a classic LeBron transition dunk met with cheers from the Barclays Center crowd. The TV only showed the seats close to the court, but those seats were filled with Cavs fans. I guess Nets fans have officially given up on the most boring team in the league. Good for them.

Anyways, let’s talk about the Knicks-Jazz game.  I was very impressed with how Young Kristaps was able to hang with Trey Lyles, a speedy power forward, on defense. That skill a big part of his appeal: He’s big enough to play center but fast enough to cover stretch-4s. That flexibility gives the Knicks multitudinous lineup options.

Rudy Gobert, the French Rejection, the Stifle Tower, is a gangly 7’2″ center for Utah. He’s not much of a driver—Gobert drives only once every two games—but early in the first quarter, he put the ball on the floor and drove for a layup. If Gobert can combine some offensive skill with his fearsome rim protection he could become even more valuable than he already is.

And, for the record, he is already extremely valuable as a rim protector on defense: Opponents have hit only 40.7% of their shots at the rim against him, one of the best marks in the league. Gobert displayed his rim-protecting prowess last night when he absolutely destroyed a Melo dunk attempt

As always, Walt Frazier’s rhyming commentary was entertaining and enjoyable. After Robin Lopez hit his unblockable hook shot, Frazier noted that he was “looking and hooking”. Following YKP’s lovely turnaround shot from the baseline with the shot clock running out, Frazier exclaimed that the Latvian was “shaking and baking”.

The best one of the night, though, was a triple-rhyme: “bounding and astounding and confounding”.

After yesterday’s game, Carmelo Anthony has now played a combined ninety-one minutes over the past two games. For someone who underwent a season-ending knee surgery last season, it seems a tad reckless to be playing so much. The Knicks certainly don’t need another Amar’e Stoudemire clogging up their cap for years. New York would do well to sit Melo for a game of rest sooner or later.

We need to talk about Gordon Hayward, the Jazz’s starting small forward. He’s a very good player, but his lips are bright red. It’s scary. It looks like he rehydrates on the sideline either with Kool-Aid or blood, I’m not sure which. Someone needs to investigate this.

Anyways, the Knicks ended up winning 118-111 in overtime. Including free throws, New York shot a blistering 11/16 in OT, scoring nineteen points over the five minute period.

The Knicks are back to .500 at 22-22 as they head into a challenging stretch of their schedule. They currently stand a half-game out of a playoff spot in the East, and if they can survive the next few games, they’ll be in prime position to make a run at the playoffs after the All-Star Break.

Which Games Should You Watch on Christmas?

On Christmas Day, us fans of the NBA have a serious conundrum. There’s basketball for thirteen hours straight, which is great, but we also have familial obligations and the like. For those of you who can only escape your family for a game or two, here’s a guide to determining which games you should watch and which ones you shouldn’t.

Miami Heat vs. New Orleans Pelicans

Watch if you like: Freakishly long arms, all-lefty lineups, aging stars,  unibrows, imagining what Young Kristaps will be like in three years, having a quick snooze before the good games start.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Chicago Bulls

Watch if you like: Teams still finding their identities, power struggles, Enes Kanter’s bushy eyebrows, discontented players, Steven Adam’s fake-looking mustache, ex-college coaches in their first season in the NBA, Bobby Portis sitting on the bench, Dion Waiters hoisting up awful shots that miss by a mile.

Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Watch if you like: Games with history behind them, unstoppable pick-and-rolls, superduperstars, injured players returning, going small, raucous home crowds, great basketball, ridiculous displays of shooting from Steph Curry, ridiculous displays of athleticism from LeBron James, Iman Shumpert’s hair, JR Smith hoisting up awful shots that somehow go in.

Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs

Watch if you like: Spectacular wing defense, Hack-a-Howard, intra-state rivalries, Spursgasms, foreign players, beards, dazzling sequences of passing, free throws, lefty shooting guards with Eurosteps.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Los Angeles Clippers

Watch if you like: Kobe Bryant missing shots, thunderous dunks, Chris Paul to DeAndre Jordan alley-oops, young studs against in-their-prime superstars, brutal blowouts, watching the last quarter and a half played by scrubs.

Notes From Knicks-Cavs

Last night, the Knicks lost in Cleveland, 91-84. After watching the game, I have a few thoughts to share.

First off, at the end of the first quarter, there were .8 seconds remaining on the clock, enough time for a quick shot attempt. The ball is inbounded to Langston Galloway, but, instead of taking a shot immediately, he takes a couple of dribbles and takes the shot right after the buzzer sounds.

That type of behavior is something I’ve noticed a lot lately. Rather than taking generally futile last-second heaves, players have been messing around just enough that the shot is taken just after the end of the quarter. Instead of mumbling empty platitudes about doing everything possible to win and whatnot, why don’t players actually do that, instead of just pretending to try their hardest for the sake of a field goal percentage point or two?

In addition to Young Kristaps and YK, I may have another nickname for the Knicks’ Latvian star: KPP. I heard it from a friend; it stands for Kristaps Perfect Porzingis. I’ll try it out, and see if it feels comfortable.

Speaking of Latvia, the last time I wrote about KPP (I like it!), about 40% of the hits on the article came from Latvia, so for all my dear Latvian, KPP-loving readers, veiki, paldies par lasījumā, un iesim Knicks!

Young Kristaps had a pair of spectacular plays near the end of the first half. The first was a block of a layup attempt by LeBron James.

There were two impressive aspects to this play. First, the block came after YK read the play perfectly, noticing that Jose Calderon was guarding LeBron, who has fifty pounds and five inches on him, and walled off both the basket and the passing lane to his own man. To find the second thing, rewatch the video and pause it at eighteen seconds: KPP’s head is on one side of the rim and his arm is long enough that he’s able to reach across it to block the shot. That’s ridiculous.

The second play was a confident, swished, buzzer-beating three.

There was no hesitation whatsoever. Even from a few feet behind the three point line, his shot was smooth and unflustered. This play was in line with the rest of the game, as he hit four threes on five attempts.

There was one poor play at the start of the third quarter. On an Irving-Love pick-and-roll, Calderon and YPP both jumped out on Irving, leaving Love with an opportunity to nail a wide open three. I can’t say for certain if it’s the scheme’s fault or the players’, but either way, you can’t trap a ball handler, even if it’s Irving, if it means leaving a good three-point shooter like Love wide open.

The most mystifying part of this game came in the fourth quarter, when Young Kristaps didn’t play at all. Wait a second… He did? Sorry, I must not have realized since he didn’t take a single shot until a last second heave when the game was out of reach.

With Melo out, KPP is the Knicks’ best player—why is he not being given the ball? I understand that it’s never good to force up shots when they’re not there, but he was wide open from three point range multiple times and was ignored in favor of awkward, off-balance, mid-range attempts.

The team ended up scoring twelve points in the fourth quarter. Maybe, just maybe, ignoring Young Kristaps had something to do with it.

It’s especially annoying as the Knicks entered the final quarter tied, on the road, without their best player, against the best team in the Eastern Conference, but gave the game away. The points they left on the table could have given them the game.

NBA Free Agency Winners and Losers

With the NBA free agency season winding down, I decided to stop procrastinating and to recap the ups and down of the hectic free agency period. What better way to do that than with a good old winners and losers column? Let’s start with the most obvious example.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Winners

Gee, I don’t know… They didn’t have that great of a summer. All they got was the best player alive, who, just by being in Cleveland:

  1. Immediately made them into title contenders and
  2. Made all of the valuable veterans chasing rings come to Cleveland

In addition to getting LeBron, they have a bunch of young, cheap, and valuable assets and could get Kevin Love.

As I said, not a particularly good July for the Cavs.

Sacramento Kings: Losers

What the hell are they doing??? Here are two facts that shed light on why the Kings have been consistently one of the worst teams in basketball for the last decade:

  1. They let their young, talented, restricted free agent point guard (Isaiah Thomas) leave for Phoenix so they could instead save money by picking up a career backup (Darren Collison) instead. How much did they save? About a million dollars per year for the next three years (and seven mil in the fourth year). They say they have some advanced stats that show that Collison is better than Thomas, but I, like most observers, am skeptical.
  2. They’re currently ducking the luxury tax line by just under a million dollars. That’s normally fine (for instance, the Thunder are also just under the luxury tax) but they’re spending a ton of money for a lottery team with no upside.

That seems like a loss to me.

Houston Rockets: Losers

Well, the Rockets are still in a good position for the future, with two stars in Howard and Harden, along with plenty of cap flexibility. They have the normal number of picks (the 1st rounder that they traded to the Lakers with Jeremy Lin is replaced by the 1st rounder they got from the Pelicans for Omer Asik) so they’re not completely screwed like the two New York teams, and they’ve got a top-notch GM who isn’t completely incompetent. Due to Houston’s positive long-term outlook, it’s strange to see them on the list as losers.

The reason why their summer wasn’t a success is due to their failed attempts at landing the upper tier free agents available. They dumped off Asik to New Orleans and Lin to Los Angeles to create cap space to sign free agents. That’s normally commendable, but when you miss out on the best free agents, you suddenly find yourself without two valuable rotation players.

Not only did the Rockets miss out on Melo and Chris Bosh, but they also decided not to keep Chandler Parsons. Their plan for free agency was to let Parsons go into restricted free agency, keeping his cap hold at about 2-3 million and to get rid of Lin and Asik, thereby creating enough cap space to sign a max level free agent. Subsequently, the plan was to sign a max level free agent while remaining under the cap. They would then be able to go over the cap to resign Parsons, giving them a big four of Harden, Howard, Parsons, and Bosh/Melo.
Of course, when Parsons signed an offer sheet with the Mavs, the Rockets only had three days to sign a free agent and then to resign Parsons. They were unable to do so, and then, at the end of the three-day waiting period, they simply let Parsons go.

To replace Parsons at the 3, Houston signed Trevor Ariza. Ariza is older than Parsons and is signed to a longer contract, although for less per year, meaning that Houston will have more cap space for additional free agent signings. Ariza, outside of the contract itself, is a good signing for Houston. He shoots 3s as well as Parsons and plays much better defense, which is especially important on a team with Harden, a defensive sieve. Still, he’s not Bosh, Melo, or even Parsons.

Houston came into this free agent period with high hopes, and left with less than they came in with. The team that suffered a first round playoff exit to Portland just got worse. That’s a pretty bad summer.

LeBron James: Winner

Let’s list the four biggest ways that LeBron won the summer, he:

  1. Goes home to Cleveland, erasing much of the pain from his brief defection in 2010
  2. Gets out of a deteriorating situation in Miami, where he would have been stuck with old and expensive teammates, where he would have had to carry his team every night (kinda like the late 2000s Cavs)
  3. Goes to the only place he could have gone to win titles without being branded a mercenary
  4. Gets a team where he either gets to play with a bunch of young stars who can save his legs, or with less young stars and Kevin Love, a top 10 player.

Not too shabby a summer for King James, huh?

Miami Heat: Losers           

Speaking of LBJ, the Heat had a bad summer. They lost the best player on the planet. That alone is enough to make a team a loser. However, outside of losing LeBron, the Heat actually had a surprisingly good summer.

They resigned Dwyane Wade to a more manageable contract. The kept Chris Bosh, who’ll become their new franchise player. If Bosh can keep up his defense while shouldering the offensive burden, the Heat will be in good shape.

In addition to the players they resigned, they also signed a few good free agents. They signed Luol Deng to replace LeBron (if anyone can truly do so) at the 3. They got Josh McRoberts, a 3-point-shooting, floor-spacing big man, who fits well with Miami’s offensive philosophy of passing, movement, and space. They also acquired Danny Granger, a veteran like the Heat have signed in years past, but, unlike those prior veterans, he’s (probably) not washed up.

Although the Heat lost LeBron, they had a pretty productive summer. However, next year they’ll almost certainly get worse after losing their best player and the strengthening of their in-conference rivals. That’s enough to make them losers.

Phoenix Suns: Winners

They are loaded. Perhaps not skill-wise, at least not yet, but there are really no teams out there that have a better long-term outlook than the Suns. You could make a case for the Hawks. You could make a case for the Sixers. But really, no team compares to the Suns.

Last year they won 48 games when they were trying to lose. Phoenix won with a young team that can only get better. They had four first round draft picks in this year’s draft. They aren’t hamstrung by cap concerns. The Suns can resign Eric Bledsoe and will still have max level cap space next summer. Even if they can’t sign a free agent, they can still trade for a star. They have a ton of young, cheap, and movable assets. For a team that’s pretty good already, adding a max level player would make them elite.

Still, that’s their long-term outlook. We’re only looking at this summer, though. They had one notable free agent acquisition, signing Isaiah Thomas away from Sacramento. In Phoenix’s two-point-guard offensive system, Thomas will be a good fit. However, one free agent signing is generally not enough to make a team a winner. In this case, though, it’s what the Suns don’t do (or at least don’t need to do) that makes them winners.

Originally, they offered Bledsoe 48 million over 4 years. Bledsoe turned them down. They moved on and signed Thomas for 4 years and about 27-28 million dollars. The advantage here is twofold. One, they get a cheaper replacement for Bledsoe. Two, they can afford to play hardball with Bledsoe, forcing him to accept less money to come back to Phoenix.

If Bledsoe comes back, great! They have another good player. If he doesn’t, that’s great, too! They have extra cap space to use to improve up and down their roster.

Now, if Phoenix hadn’t signed Thomas, they would have either lost Bledsoe or been forced to give him a cap-crippling contract that would mess up their cap space for years to come, just so they could keep together their core from last year.

The Thomas signing, because of all of these reasons, is one of the most underrated signings of free agency and is enough to make the Suns winners.

Indiana Pacers: Losers

The Pacers stagnated, not signing anyone of great import. However, they lost Lance Stephenson, a brutal blow.

Despite his antics, Stephenson was one of two players on Indiana last year (in addition to Paul George) who knew the definition of the word ‘score’. If you subtract him from a horrendous Indiana offense and don’t replace him with anyone good, that’s a combination for disaster.

Even the Pacers’ vaunted defense will be affected. Stephenson was a big part of the defense with his long arms and physical defense. He’s also valuable on defense because of his ability to guard the 3, in addition to his position at 2-guard.

Stephenson’s ability to create offense along with his flexibility on defense will be sorely missed in Indiana.

Indiana’s loss of Stephenson coupled with the gains other Eastern contenders made this offseason is enough to make them losers.

Charlotte Hornets: Winners

The Hornets (it feels weird calling them that) were the team that signed Stephenson away from the Pacers. It was a great signing for them. Their, at times, stagnant offense gets a big boost from adding someone who can make his own shot and (kinda like a linebacker) is able to bully his way to the rim for easy layups.

Steve Clifford’s defensive system gets another versatile, long-armed defender. Adding another elite defender to a team that was among the league leaders in defensive efficiency last season? That’s a recipe for a top-3 defense.

With an elite defense, a decent offense, and Lance Stephenson (not to mention an NBA great running the show), could Charlotte be turning into Indiana 2.0.? That potential is more than enough to make this a successful summer for Charlotte.

NBA Fans: Winners

We were the biggest winners of all. Let’s just quickly run through all the ways we won the summer. We got…

  1. Two weeks of nonstop excitement, constantly refreshing our Twitter feeds and ESPN to see if an important free agent had signed.
  2. To dream for the future, imagining our favorite team acquiring LBJ, Melo, Bosh, or whoever else.
  3. To see new teams rise, young teams get even better, and established teams get worse.
  4. To feverishly work out trade scenarios on the ESPN Trade Machine that’d net our team Kevin Love
  5. To watch a player make amends for one of the worst things to ever happen to a fan base in the history of sports

It’s been a helluva summer.

 

The Lottery and the Cavaliers

Image

 

Well, I was in the middle of writing the Week In Review column about the lottery when I realized that I had enough to say that I needed to devote a whole column to expressing my thoughts on the lottery. Hope you enjoy!

The Cavs won the lottery. This has a lot of ripples, like tossing a boulder into a small pond. Most relevant to me, it’s going to be hard for me to write about how God hates Cleveland anymore now that they’ve won three lotteries in four years. Of course, the only year in the last year that they didn’t win the lottery had Anthony Davis as the top pick, the last ‘sure thing’ superstar center in the draft since 2008 when Greg Oden was the presumptive 1st overall pick (although we all know how that panned out) so maybe God STILL hates Cleveland. We can always hope. Or, maybe, three first overall picks in four years may be compensation from the Basketball Gods for LeBron leaving, and ripping their hearts out in the process. This is all waaay too confusing. Let’s hold off on a decision to make sure that Cavs don’t screw it up, either by taking Embiid and his back problems flaring up or taking a point guard like Dante Exum while somehow forgetting that they’ve already got an all-star point guard (see: Irving, Kyrie). Don’t count out the Cavs from doing something stupid like that, they’re capable of doing anything. They’re absolutely crazy.

 

Should the Cavs should be rewarded with the first overall pick? They’re incompetent and horribly run, but at least they tried to win this year. They sent picks and Andrew Bynum to Chicago for Luol Deng and they sent a couple of second rounders to Philly for Spencer Hawes, although that evidently didn’t work out too well. The question is whether or not the trying hard outweighs the fact that the Cavaliers are a dysfunctional organization.

 

This conundrum also applies to the Suns, Bucks, and Bobcats—wait, Hornets. (Quick tangent: As far as I can tell, the whole point of a team’s name is to sound strong and powerful. That’s why you see names like the Giants or the Kings throughout sports. I’ve always thought it amusing when teams use names like the Hornets—am I supposed to be intimidated by a bug? Being the Bobcats was a lot better and moving down the scale-of-scary-names was not a great idea. At least they weren’t as bad as New Orleans, who originally had the name of Hornets and then decided to become the Pelicans.  Wow, I’m scared. I suppose that tangent wasn’t all that quick, but whatever.) We’ll be getting to the Hornets in a bit but I’ll quickly go through the Suns and Bucks.

 

First, Milwaukee. They tried to win this year and never officially started tanking, but they were led by Herb Kohl who just wanted to make the playoffs. While they wanted to do well, they didn’t exactly go the right way about doing so. Of course, the best thing for them to do to be good is to tank (which is what they ended up unwittingly doing) just showing how weird it is to be in a league in which eight teams were aiming to willfully throw their seasons away in order to get better in the long run and how that strategy actually makes sense.

 

Now for Phoenix. Phoenix was planning on throwing away their season, but when they were unexpectedly good at the start of the year, the rolled with it and finished with 48 wins which would have made them the three seed in the Eastern Conference. Of course, in the West, they missed the playoffs and ended up in the lottery anyway. How are they not being rewarded for trying their best? To solve this problem, here’s what I propose: a complete change of the lottery system.

 

It’s always great when a borderline good team manages to acquire a transcendent player to turn them into a very good team. Of course, with the lottery, that never actually happens. Why not change the lottery around? Clearly, you can’t have tanking, nor can you have the elite teams getting even better, so here’s my proposal: You have the same lottery format, but with switched odds. So, this year, Phoenix would have had a 25% shot at the #1 pick. You can’t tell me that it wouldn’t be awesome to see Wiggins or Embiid tearing up the NBA with the Suns next year. Teams couldn’t purposely lose games because they’d be destroying their hopes for the playoffs AND for the lottery. The only potential downside is an eight seed tanking out of their spot for a good shot at the 1 pick, but that’s okay for three reasons: One, rather than having eight teams tanking, we’d only have, at most, two or three. Two, teams attempt to tank out of the playoffs to get into the lottery anwyay. This year the Hawks did their best to get out of the playoffs but they were unable to, due to the incompetence of the Knicks and Cavs. Three, it’d be fine with me if we were improving teams that were already half-decent. Why aren’t we doing this? Get Silver on the line!

 

The Cavs moving up to number one overall is quite bad for the Pistons as they had a top eight protected pick that they owed to Charlotte in the Ben Gordon for Corey Maggette bad contract swap. When the lottery began, Detroit was in the 8th spot, but when Cleveland moved ahead of them, they moved down to the 9th pick, meaning that they had to send it away to Charlotte. It means that the Pistons won’t have a draft pick in Steve Van Gundy’s first year, something that dampens the excitement that he brought to their organization. On the flip side, the Bobcats are an up-and-coming team and, after adding a high draft pick, they have a chance to get even better. That’s how the lottery SHOULD be, improving teams that are genuinely attempting to get better. Who would rather see a young star having his growth stunted by having to carry a crappy team by himself over a team that’s already pretty good getting two high-ish picks and reinforcements. For me, at least, it’s no contest. Charlotte now, depending on how well they pick, have a chance to improve enough to get the 4th or 5th seed, maybe even the 3rd seed (and if LeBron leaves Miami to go to the West, the two seed). Hell, if Toronto can get the 3 seed, certainly Charlotte with a couple of new, very good, rookies can too.

 

Other ripples: after destroying its team and MCW’s good habits, the 76ers only have the third overall pick and the tenth overall pick, which they got from New Orleans in the Nerlens Noel and top 5 protected pick for Jrue Holiday robbery—I mean trade. The Cavs moving up affected the Sixers a lot as they moved from the potential 2nd overall and 9th overall to 3rd and 10th.  Kind of sucks for the Sixers and their fans when after ravaging their team and throwing away a season they only get the 3rd pick. It’s great for everyone else though: it shows that tanking doesn’t result in a guaranteed superstar and that the lottery works (although that’s debatable after the Cavs winning three times in four years). Other than that, there’s all the aforementioned story lines in play from before.

 

Hope you enjoyed and I can’t wait until the draft (I think I’ll even write a running diary for that too).