Let The Games Begin!

Once you see the leaves on the tree change from green to yellow, brown or maroon, when the air that we breathe in turns crisp, and little kids start to get ready for to get treats or give tricks for Halloween; Pumpkins of all types are on display everywhere, it’s an indication to me that one baseball season is coming to an end and Basketball is on the horizon….. it is indeed the best time of the year! This past off-season has been a busy one, as the previous season ended with the Miami Heat putting up another banner, it was time for teams to go to work to try to dethrone the current champions, some were in the midst of rebuilding, and some were making a splash in the free agency and the draft to try to bolster their rosters.  It’s time to recap an eventful off-season and see what could be in store for this season, let’s begin with the draft.

The Cleveland Cavaliers surprised everyone by selecting UNLV’s Anthony Bennett with the 1st overall pick; he’s a tweener who can play the Small and Power Forward positions, it makes one wonder why they didn’t go with a big man to pair with Kyrie Irving, and Tristan Thompson.  Bennett was projected at most an top eight pick in the majority of Mock Drafts, it will be interesting to see how they use the versatile big man.  What’s even more wild was how far Nerlens Noel fell on the charts, he was the consensus pick at the beginning of the season but it’s crazy what an injury history can do to player’s status after many witnessed the tearing of his ACL Against Florida in February of 2013.  He was drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans, but, the frontline dream of Davis and himself only lasted for a minute, as he was apart of a trade that sent Jrue Holiday to New Orleans and Noel heading to the Philadelphia 76ers. Victor Olapido was drafted 2nd to the Orlando Magic, Otto Porter went thrid to the Washington Wizards. the other surprises was Cody Zeller going 4th to the Charlotte Bobcats, and Ben McLemore, projected a top three pick fell to the Sacramento Kings at 7th, and Trey Burke, fell ninth to the Timberwolves only to be traded to the Utah Jazz.

Top Five Free Agent Signings

1. Chris Paul – Los Angeles Clippers

He re-signed with the Clippers for 5 years, $107 Million and we know he’s one of the top point guards in the game right now.  Hopefully with Doc Rivers in town, they can take the final step into being a contender, he’s special, but he hasn’t moved past the NBA’s Western Conference Semi-Finals….the pressure is building on him to win a title soon.

2. David West – Indiana Pacers

This was a great signing for 3 years, $36 million. West realizes this is a really good Pacers team, and have a chance to do some special things in the East.  The trade that brought Luis Scola from Phoenix takes even more pressure off West and gives the Pacers another option scoring wise off the bench all the while not clogging the lane with West.

3. Dwight Howard – Houston Rockets

This could be higher, but due to how he performed with the Los Angeles Lakers last season is why he is this low on my list.  I don’t know if it was his back injury that held him back or the enormous expectations in Los Angeles but Howard was a shadow of himself a far cry from the 3 time defensive player of the year with the Orlando Magic.  Hopefully he’s worth $88 million over 4 years, but, Houston seems like a better fit for him, it’s eerly silimar to Orlando’s set up, pick and roll guard in Lin, swingman that can handle the ball with Chanlder Parsons, almost a mixture of the 2009 team in Orlando with Nelson, Turkoglu, and Lewis. Perhaps this time, Howard gets the shooting guard he likes to play for that he never had earlier in his career in James Harden.  No disrespect to Kobe Bryant, but Howard can roam the paint all by himself instead of sharing it with Pau Gasol. To add, Joe Rogowski has joined the Rockets as their Strength coach, as he was his Strength coach in Orlando.

4. Josh Smith- Detroit Pistons

Back in the early 2000’s Pistons frontcourt was one of the best defensive units and actually their entire team was very solid.  Pistons legend and current GM Joe Dumars knew he had get back to that mentality which is why he signed one of the most versatile defenders in Josh Smith to add with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.  At 4 years and $54 million, I have a feeling they will be one of the best defensive teams in the league this year, one of my few bold predictions, and if that’s the case, I could see Josh Smith anchoring that defense, and putting him a front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year and earning himself an All-Star appearance that he’s been robbed of the last few years whilst  the Pistons will make the playoffs in the east this year.

5. Andre Iguodala- Golden State Warriors

The Warriors consist of shooters, playmakers, and rebounders, they now add a top notch perimeter defender that can guard the other team’s best wing player and occasionally give Stephen Curry a break with ball handling duties.  For 4 years, $48 million you have a player that fills out that stat sheet and sometimes does the little things on the defensive end.  The Warriors still love pushing the pace and at 29 years old Iggy can still fly up and down the court.  This team could win their division and make some noise come postseason in April.

On the Deck; J.J. Redick- Clippers, Al Jefferson- Bobcats; Nikola Pekovic- Timberwolves

Green Fades to Black……….

The biggest trade that occurred during the offseason involved The Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets where a trade focused on Kevin Garnett and long time Celtic Paul Pierce among the other pieces involved Jason Terry going to the Nets, and Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, Kris Humphries (Expiring contract) and three first round picks (2014, 2016, 2018) going to the Celtics.  This move put the Nets in very high luxury cap restriction, giving them a tab around $80 million, their payroll is at nearly $100 million.  It shows that Mikhail Prokhorov is willing to play Poker, taking a risk on older players but Kevin Garnett can help instill a culture like he did in Boston, which could reap benefits down the line.  Pierce is still a great isolation player and can get off his own shot and Terry adding some depth to the bench.  Are they championship contenders…… I can’t foresee them getting past Miami, Chicago or Indiana and they could possibly be fighting for the fourth seed with the New York Knicks.  Health could be an issue, even though their Coach Jason Kidd said he would rest Garnett in back to back games.  Depending on their seeding, they could make a run but everyone thought the Lakers would come out the west last season, it’s really a probability game with the Nets.

Orlando and Summer Vegas League

Watching some of these games during the Summer, keeping an eye on the young talent that came into this year’s draft, this has been noted as one of the weaker draft in recent memory according to experts. There was some players that lift some eyebrows, i will list my top five players.

1. Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics, Forward

Kelly has got quicker feet than i anticipated, he displayed an array of post moves, and was the go to player, for where he was picked (13th Overall), give Danny Ainge and his group some credit, because he may be a steal, and he has got to be in this years rotation. He was the Orlando Summer League’s MVP, no question, lead the way with 19.5 PPG on 58% shooting from the field, and grabbed a league’s high 7.8 RPG.

2. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic, Guard

Victor displayed his motor during the summer league, really pushing the ball up the court, getting into the lanes, either converting or going to the foul line. Orlando is running him at the PG in hopes to mold him into a Russell Westbrook type guard, he showed that he can be relied on to hit a jumper, which was one of his proposed weakness by experts. He finished with 19 PPG, 4 RPG, and 5 APG, the only downfall was his turnovers, averaging 4.8, but this was expected. He should be a great addition and see if this experiment by the Magic Front Office pays dividends.

3. Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats, Center

Down the line, Zeller could be one of the best centers that could run the floor, he’s that athletic, another Indiana player that is all about playing fast and hustling. his best game came against the Grizzlies, netting 18 points, and nine rebounds. The fourth draft pick finished with averages of 16.3 PPG and 9.3 RPG, shooting 52%. Charlotte’s draft history has been a few swings and misses, the Bobcat brass may have a really good player on their hands, which jaws were dropped when he was picked that high in the first place.

4. C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers, Guard

Declared as a hidden gem in this years draft, a diamond in the rough who could turn out to be a steal did not disappoint in Las Vegas. while his efficiency was down, he was able to lead the Vegas league in scoring at 21 PPG on 36 FG%, 4 RPG, and 3.6 APG. his Clutch gene was on display with about 15 seconds left, nail a buzzer tying 3 pointer against the Bulls to send it to overtime. he will add some depth to the Trail Blazers bench, which was very thin last year. Here’s to a speedy recovery to a broken foot which occurred in one of their training camp sessions.

5. Michael Carter Williams, Philadelphia 76ers, Guard

Besides the horrendous shooting percentage at 27%, and leading the league in TO’s at 4.8. MCW displayed some beautiful passing and control of Philly’s offense. there are going to be some ups and downs running the hardest position in the game, but the future is bright if Philly can add some pieces around him that can score, because eventually, he’s going to figure it out and put the ball in the right places for his teammates. He made a big splash on to the scene against the Rockets, even though they lost, he put down 26 points and 8 assists, so the talent is there, can he maintain consistency? This was a good pick for the 76ers.

EuroBasket 2013:  France takes Gold

There was some international play going on and the gold game featured France and Lithuania. This game featured NBA talent from Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw and Linas Klezia who played in the NBA and does not any longer. The game started out with Lithuania up 29-27, and Klezia went to the bench, and France decided to hit their surge behind a 21-3 run, giving them a 50-34 lead at Halftime. France continue to cruise their way to Gold, with the final result ending in 80-66. Batum ended up with a stat line of 17 Points, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals. Silver Medalist Linas Klezia had 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 assist to end the tourney run. Spain who showcases NBA talents such as Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon and Rudy Fernandez ended up with Bronze defeating Croatia 92-66. The Game was back and forward until Spain start making a huge run near the end of the first half and continue to do so after halftime with 20 points, and doing it in transition, ending up with 13 points in that category for the night, also 17 points off turnovers and 17 second chance points. It all started with Sergio Llull who pressured the ball handlers creating turnovers and help dictating the pace for Spain. It shows you how crazy the tournament went because, Spain was fourth in thier group, with Croatia leading group F with four wins and one loss, and France being third in their group as Serbia lead group E with four wins and one loss in the 2nd round.

Summer to a hardcore basketball fan is always a bit boring, but this off-season had some interesting storylines. A championship Head Coach moved West, or how one era came to an end in Boston which the power shifted 4 hours to Brooklyn. In one of the most unpredicatable drafts, a player who wasn’t even projected top three goes first. How about Kelly Olynik’s rise in the summer league, showing experts, he could be better than one thought. Dwight Howard’s indecisiveness comes to a end when he locked up a four year contract with Houston.  Al Jefferson signing with Charlotte came out of left field and Derrick Rose is back and looks ever bit explosive than before.  David Stern last season as commissioner is upon us as he passes his helm to Adam Silver in February…..the storylines are endless with the main one being, can the Miami Heat three peat?  Can Lebron put his name up there with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal to do it to recent memory.  That’s the beauty of Sports, sometimes you get to see things that re-occur in past time or you see something you have never seen before. It should be a great season, so the wait is over, so, do what you have to do, turn on your TV or stream your league pass, I declare, let the games begin!

Cortez Paul

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