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Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Durant

Is Portland a threat to sign Kevin Durant in 2016?

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9 years after passing on him for Greg Oden and after a history of bad breaks since their 1977 title, it would be a great story if Kevin Durant signed with the Portland Trailblazers in 2016.

Portland has been rarely listed as a possibility for Durant’s free agency. Portland isn’t known as as a big enough market to be a free agent destination. His hometown Washington has become a popular Durant free agency talking point. There’s also the likelihood Portland will have Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge on max contracts and Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez both making over 10 million a year by 2016. This makes them a less obvious fit capspace wise even though Nicolas Batum’s contract expires that summer.

Here’s my retort to each of those problems:

Portland as a free agency destination

Portland’s lack of free agent history doesn’t bother me because from an outside perspective it appears Durant doesn’t care about the size of his market. Durant is already swimming in endorsement deals and fame playing in Oklahoma City. We just saw Kevin Love spurn the Lakers but embrace playing in Cleveland because he wanted to win. I’m guessing the competitive Durant has the same mentality: It’s all about winning. If he leaves Oklahoma City after 9 seasons my money is on it’ll be because he has more faith winning championships and enchancing his legacy elsewhere.

Washington: A red herring?

I’m strongly against the odds of Durant leaving the Thunder for Washington for this reason. Does Washington provide a better opportunity to win than Oklahoma City? Washington has a star PG and competent defensive big men but so do the Thunder. Washington’s coaching and management in Randy Wittman and Ernie Grunfeld do not have a more trustworthy history than Scott Brooks and Sam Presti. Durant’s sentimental attachment to his hometown may still pale to the sentimental attachment to staying with the team that drafted him. Washington would need Bradley Beal to become more of a 3rd star than Serge Ibaka to really sell Durant that Washington is a “talent upgrade” in my opinion, but Beal’s 3rd season has been barely more productive than Jeremy Lamb’s. Some argue the move from the West to the East in competition could help sell Durant on switching. But the main difference between the West and the East is likely to come in the first 2 rounds which Oklahoma City hasn’t struggled with anyways by making the conference Finals the last three years Russell Westbrook was healthy. In the conference finals and Finals you play 1 West team and 1 East team to win the title no matter which side you are on so I don’t buy conferences are a major swinging factor by that point. Furthermore with teams like Cleveland and Chicago in the East and up and coming teams like Toronto who could be dangerous by 2016-2017, making the Finals in the East would not be a cakewalk.

What I like about Portland’s case is they conceivable *could* provide that elusive talent upgrade. Damian Lillard and Lamarcus Aldridge are two other true perennial all-stars compared to one in Oklahoma City in Russell Westbrook. If they can keep Wesley Matthews this also gives them an excellent starting shooting guard who fits perfectly on a team with other stars. A case can be made Matthews is as valuable at SG as Serge Ibaka is for a PF. Terry Stotts is also a coach of the year contender and appears to be ahead of the ball more than Scott Brooks in terms of offensive creativity. A team headlined by Lillard, Matthews, Durant and Aldridge with Stotts coaching could conceivably be enough of an upgrade over Oklahoma City to draw Durant’s attention.

Salary cap problems

Now a big retort to Portland is how getting Durant would work under the cap. While Portland currently has all but nothing signed after 2016 it’s a no brainer Aldridge and Lillard will have max deals by then. Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez are unrestricted free agents this summer and should easily clear over 20 million a year combined if they both resign. Portland is contending now and most likely won’t let either go for a longshot chance at Durant.

Their saving grace is the upcoming TV deal where capspace is expected to rocket in 2016. This doesn’t mean Portland will have enough capspace to have all of Lillard, Aldridge, Matthews, Lopez on the books and still sign Durant. But consider what will happen in the rest of the league in 2016. There will be a massive oversupply of capspace compared to quality free agents available. Even in a non-TV deal year teams who expected to hit it big in free agency strike out and are forced to overpay whichever free agent is left. In 2016 the prices for the available free agents could be a ridiculous bidding war.

What this also means is sharp teams could end up seeing a more appealing alternative: Using capspace to trade for players with expensive contracts. This allows them to take on contracts that were signed in the pre-TV deal era and many of these contracts would only have an affordable 2-3 years left.

Because salaries will be so liquid a case can be made Kevin Durant could sign on virtually any team in the league. For example say Durant wanted to sign with the L.A. Clippers but they are blocked by a new Deandre Jordan contract at over 12 million a year, plus Spencer Hawes and JJ Redick’s mid-level deals. The Clippers in this situation may find it very easy to dump Jordan, Hawes and Redick to teams who have tens of millions in capspace but are garnering no free agent interest. Just as Houston this summer managed to move Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin’s contracts relatively easily to make room for Chris Bosh if he had chosen to sign there. I suspect that only the worst NBA contracts will be unmovable in 2016 considering the amount of excess capspace that teams will have. Even for the ones just over the line of untradeable, throwing in a 1st round pick could help grease the wheels to move a contract.

I suspect in 2016 Portland could simply move however many non-Lillard or Aldridge contracts they need to make space for Durant, such as trading Robin Lopez or an MLE signing made in the summer 2015 to bolster their depth to a team with capspace. I haven’t checked the math close enough to see if keeping Wes Matthews along with Lillard and Aldridge and signing Durant at the same time is possible but if push comes to shove, moving Matthews to make room for Durant is still a no-brainer. All in all for teams like the Blazers, Clippers and Rockets I don’t see the salary cap getting in the way of signing Kevin Durant. The real race for Durant is to see who can offer him the best chance of winning a championship after 2016 if he doesn’t have one by then. If he feels Oklahoma City’s chance from 2016 on is as good as anyone else’s I doubt he leaves. If Portland’s supporting looks more dynamic by then, I would treat them as a big a threat as anyone.

Written by jr.

December 27, 2014 at 8:56 pm

The case against Kevin Durant going to Washington

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The persistent rumor of Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City for Washington reared its head again when Grantland’s Zach Lowe mentioned “rumblings” of Durant narrowing his 2016 choice down to the Thunder and Wizards.

Let’s break down the case for and against the Wizards as a Durant destination

Should the Thunder be worried about Durant leaving?

Absolutely. By the time of his free agency in 2016 he’ll have played 9 seasons in the league and the media pressure will be eating at his legacy if he hasn’t won a championship yet. The Thunder will have had 4 seasons after the James Harden trade to prove they made the right choice and Durant will have to consider whether the next 4 years will be any different. That Oklahoma City’s inability to win a title so far has been so heavily affected by its owners refusing to pay the luxury tax or amnesty Kendrick Perkins, may also rub Durant the wrong way. Oklahoma City’s owners are not doing everything in their means to win a title.

Why Washington?

Those making a case for Washington are doing so for two reasons. First, Washington, D.C. is Durant’s hometown. Secondly, Washington has appealing young players like John Wall and Bradley Beal along with other pieces like a centre in Marcin Gortat, to help Durant contend immediately after making the move. Playing in the weaker Eastern Conference also helps the new Wizards become a powerhouse, albeit if Lebron’s Cavaliers and Durant’s Wizards are both in the East and West no longer has a Thunder with Durant, the days of conference imbalance may have shifted.

The case against

I have a hard time buying into the Wizards as this major a threat for Durant, for the same reason the years of Kevin Love to the Lakers rumours never sold me. The problem is most of what Washington can provide is similar to Oklahoma City’s case. Durant playing in his hometown has sentimental appeal, but does it have more sentimental appeal than staying in Oklahoma City with the love he has for the city and long time teammates there? Likewise, Washington has young talent, but playing with the Wizards talent like John Wall, Bradley Beal and an older Marcin Gortat is not a more elite core than playing with Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, etc. The Eastern Conference would only be easier than the West in the first two rounds which hasn’t been Oklahoma City’s problem. Facing down a conference final-Finals combination like Cleveland and the best West team isn’t an easier task to the title than the Thunder have now. If Durant is dissatisfied with Oklahoma City management and coaching, this doesn’t play in Washington’s favour as their current ownership/management/coaching core of Ted Leonisis Ernie Grunfeld and Randy Wittman has often been derided.

As mentioned before, the key reason for Durant leaving Oklahoma City is losing faith the franchise can win him a title. Does moving to the Wizards really solve this problem for Durant? Or is it just a lateral move?

I haven’t even mentioned yet that Oklahoma City will also be able to offer Durant the highest maximum salary, likely the biggest contract the league has ever seen at that point. Durant is the type of competitor who would take a pay-cut to land in the best situation, especially with his sizeable marketing income, but it’s another reason why Washington has to provide a clearly better situation than Oklahoma City, not just one as good.

Is there better candidates?

So if he leaves, what we likely have is a Durant who’s played 9 seasons without winning a title and despite his love in many ways for playing in Oklahoma City, has to find a better spot to achieve in goals and fulfill the potential of his career.

What I want is a team with two other veteran superstar players, like Miami had. Then when adding Durant, they become a “super-team” everyone should fear. The part that’s playing against Oklahoma City is that the cap is expected to rise heavily due to a new TV deal, which could give more teams the available cap-space to chase after Durant.

There’s 3 teams that stand out to me:

L.A. Clippers – No star wants to go the Lakers anymore, so the Clippers may as well take their place for the L.A. team who’s success attracts the big stars leaving their teams. More-so, in terms of willingness to spend whatever luxury tax it takes, surely Steve Ballmer would be the utter opposite of Oklahoma City’s owners. Durant joins two other superstar talents in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and while Paul would be heading into his 12th season, he has the skill and smarts to age beautifully, especially if he’s the 3rd scoring option of this core.

Getting Durant to L.A. is tricky financially, as Paul, Blake, J.J. Redick and Spencer Hawes combine for 56.2 million already signed in 2016-2017 and this is before considering Deandre Jordan’s likely sizeable next contract. The cap in 2016-2017 is estimated to be at something like $88.8 million based on a 45% increase from 2015-2016, but Durant may also have to be paid something like $25-30 million in his first year to match the increase.

Why I believe it can work is if the cap blows up this heavily in the summer of 2016, there will be more capspace than free agents to sign with it which could lead to a comically insane bidding wars for the free agents available. Because of this, teams may realize the sharper move is to absorb contracts from other teams to make use of their capspace. Therefore if it takes the Clippers moving Jordan, Redick, Hawes or other contracts to make room for Durant after he agrees to sign, considering the cap conditions this may be a fairly easy roadblock to get past. The important number is that Paul and Griffin’s combined 43 million owed in 2016-2017 is so far below a projected cap number like $88 million, that fitting Durant after a few moves looks more than feasible.

Houston Rockets – The appeal is similar to the Clippers. They have two stars in James Harden and Dwight Howard and would promise a super-team to Durant. In addition the owner/GM combination of Les Alexander and Daryl Morey is one of the most reliable and committed in the league. The upside is a more complimentary fit, with a defensive anchor in Dwight beside Harden and Durant instead of two offensive stars like Paul and Blake. But Dwight also represents the downside, as he’d be heading into season 13 and has a style of game expected to age less gracefully than a player like Chris Paul. Dwight will always be both gigantic and a smart players, so I expect he wouldn’t be chopped liver, but the longevity of the trio is less clear-cut.

Financially the Rockets are set to make a run at Durant. Dwight Howard will likely opt out of his 23.3 player option in the summer of 2016 considering the new TV deal’s prices and the bidding war that will come with it and could cost more than Durant to keep. However, Harden only makes 16.7 million in 2016-2017 so this helps make the combination more affordable. Trevor Ariza’s 7.8 million in 2016-2017 is the only other notable contract for the Rockets, unless Terrence Jones is extended a year early. In any case like the Clippers, moving contracts that aren’t Harden and Dwight probably won’t be hard.

Cleveland Cavaliers – Oh, did you forget these guys? Yes, the immediate question is if Lebron James is blocking Durant from SF and Kevin Love is blocking Lebron from going to PF again, how do you start all three? But to me it’s not out of the question that eventually Cleveland decides its favorite lineup is Lebron at power forward and Kevin Love at center, a godly mismatch even before adding Durant at the three.

Financially it’s the most difficult of these options, considering Lebron will also be getting a new contract with the TV deal. Kevin Love has an opt out in the summer of 2015, but financially he may feel the best decision is to opt in, then get a mega contract the summer after. This is before considering Kyrie Irving’s 14.8 million and Anderson Varejao’s new 10 million extension. Getting all of Durant, Lebron and Love would likely require both Love signing next summer at a smaller deal and moving Irving and Varejao’s contracts first. Otherwise perhaps the Cavaliers just let Kevin Love go in free agency and still manage to win over Durant into playing with Lebron and Kyrie. Either way, if Durant’s goal is to win a title the frontrunners are the teams with the most talent and Cleveland fits that bill.

Written by jr.

November 4, 2014 at 3:30 pm

Why OKC is struggling in the playoffs

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Oklahoma City is down 3-2 headed to a Game 6 in Memphis. If the Grizzlies close out at home, it will be a disastrous result for the Thunder who haven’t had a healthy playoff exit since the 2012 Finals and who would be forced to celebrate Kevin Durant’s MVP in a press conference, 2007 Dirk Nowitzki style. If they get through the Grizzlies, this series and losing 2 games at home already, doesn’t bode well for them in the 2nd round and beyond.

What is happening? Scott Brooks is getting the biggest blame, Russell Westbrook as always has his detractors and Kevin Durant’s disappointing numbers, possibly from fatigue, haven’t helped. There’s also the fact that the Grizzlies may just be one of the 4 best teams in the league with the Heat, Spurs and Clippers and sometimes, you just get took by an even bigger dragon.

My explanation for the Thunder’s problems and why I never expected them to get out of the first 2 rounds heading into these playoffs, can be explained in an 7 word sentence:

They don’t move the ball well enough

Ball movement is crucial in the postseason. When I envision most of the great playoff runs, I see teams who are surgical dissecting the opponent’s halfcourt defense. By moving the ball they pressure the defense into exposing an open shot sometime in the 24 second shot clock. From the stars to the shooters to the big guys, if a team is smart and patient enough they can find the shots. The phrase “read and react” is important when understanding how great offenses beat great defenses.

For having one of the best records in the league the Thunder are not good enough at this. Whether it’s because of Russell Westbrook’s erratic of play, Scott Brooks lack of an offensive system, the insistence to play non-offensive threats like Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha, or a combination of factors. They are not a team who patiently dissects the opponent or excels at read and reacting. Instead of working the body to weaken their opponent, they just throw haymakers and hope they land.

Consider the example of the 2011 Mavericks, one of my favorite recent champions. Offensively they gave the opponent a no-win situation. If you didn’t cover Dirk with more defenders, he annihilates his matchup. The moment you put extra defensive attention on Dirk, the Mavs supporting cast used their passing skill and basketball IQ, to find one of their many open 3 pt shooters or bigs at the rim. They at once had the most unguardable one on one scorer in the league and a team masterful at taking advantage of it once you left other defenders open to guard him. The combination meant there was practically nothing teams could do except hope they missed good shots.

Ideally the same could be built around Durant, but with an even more talented star. But right now the Thunder are not a skilled or smart enough team, or are not getting the right message from the coach, to play a read and react style or to master their opponent tactically. The Thunder are losing for the same reason John Calipari’s Kentucky only has one national title so far, despite having the most talented team virtually every season. In the tournament Kentucky’s age and less refined style of play, usually catches up to them. The difference is Cal’s team’s warts come with the territory of building rosters around often raw freshman. In OKC’s case, they can build whatever type of team they want and have just chosen this path.

Written by jr.

April 30, 2014 at 2:58 pm

Is Russell Westbrook’s talent level overrated?

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Wizards v/s Thunder 03/14/11

Wizards v/s Thunder 03/14/11 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I tried to make a list of the 30-40 most talented 25 and under players, using my talent grading system. I may not post it. My apprehension is that a large number of the players are too closely graded, making it hard to rank one over the other.

However I will say that if I do post it, Russell Westbrook will be ranked lower than you can imagine. Now, by making it onto the list, Westbrook is still a blue chip talent. Some other players I gave a similar grade include Chandler Parsons, Derrick Favors, Jrue Holiday, Larry Sanders, Mike Conley, Jr. to name a few. All excellent talents, but in a tier below superstar, perennial all-star talent, which many believe Westbrook has.

As a talent Westbrook has a unique combination of strengths and weaknesses. In what I call “physical impact talent”, Westbrook may be as gifted as any PG in NBA history. Westbrook is one of the most athletic specimens in all of sports, pairing that explosiveness with a strong body. Add in elite ballhandling and he’s as dynamic as it gets in the NBA, for skills attacking the basket off the dribble. In both the halfcourt and transition he puts relentless pressure on the opponent that defines the pace of the game.

However, the above only makes up 1/3 of what I use to rate talent. Where my doubts about Westbrook’s talent lie is the other 2/3.

My “skill impact (shoot, post, pass) talent” category treats shooting range as key, in addition to passing or post skills if a player has them. Westbrook is an average shooter at best for a PG. With a career 3P% of .302 and 0.6 3PM/2.1 3PA split, including .321 3P last year and 1.2 3PM/3.7 3PA, his outside shooters are weak – especially considering that with the defenses worrying about Westbrook’s slashing and Kevin Durant, those 3 point shots are likely to be open. Westbrook’s career 81.4% FT rate is respectable for a PG.

With that said, Westbrook is at least a decent passer and his size gives him post potential against smaller defenders.

In this category, I’d rate Westbrook from average to slightly above average.

The final category I look at is “feel for the game talent”, or to put it another way, instincts. Russell’s decision making and awareness of teammates has been criticized throughout his career. Fluidity and control is the biggest smoking guns I look for in feel for the game. Westbrook does not have fluidity that stands out and at times, can look out of control driving to the basket. I’d rate Westbrook from average to slightly below average in feel for the game.

In short, this combination – all time great physical impact tools, but average skill and feel for the game, does not rate as a superstar talent by my system. I do have Derrick Rose on that next level of talent because I see his feel for the game as elite, showing great fluidity and control – while his skills and physical talents are similar to Westbrook’s. Stephen Curry is an all time great shooter with an elite feel for the game, making up for a weakness physically. Rajon Rondo is an elite athlete with an elite feel for the game, but struggles to shoot, albeit making it up with exceptional passing skills. Those players are elite in 2 categories and average in another by my grading, while Westbrook is elite in 1 and average in 2.

Mike Conley, Jr. is obviously physically inferior to Westbrook, however he is a better shooter (.362 3P last year on 3.7 3PA) and is a more controlled, fluid and feel for the game friendly player. Jrue Holiday doesn’t shoot any better than Westbrook, but also has a high feel for the game, in addition to a great combination of speed and strength superior to Conley, but inferior to Westbrook. It makes sense to me that their feel for the game/fluidity talent, or shooting in Conley’s case, would make up for what Westbrook has over them physically.

Ricky Rubio is something of an inverse Westbrook. He has a feel for the game that is truly special – genius, arguably. However with just decent athleticism and serious shooting/touch problems, the “other 2/3s” for him is also a problem.

At other positions, Westbrook’s teammate Serge Ibaka compares favorably to him as a talent, for me. Ibaka has elite athleticism and length, helping him physically impact the game. Struggling to put the ball on the floor hurts his ability to attack the basket. He has a great jumpshot for a PF, better range than what Westbrook has for a PG. However, I likewise do not see more than average feel for the game. He at times can look stiff instead of natural and uses athleticism more than positional instincts to defend.

Now whether you take any of the above as meaningful is up to you. However it poses another question. How can I justify saying this, when Westbrook’s production can (seemingly) only be reached by a superstar talent? There are different methods of evaluating production of course, some may trust his 23.2ppg, 7.4apg, 5.2rpg as meaningful, whereas I’m more impressed by his combination of volume (25.08 possessions/game, using FGA+0.44*FTA+TOV) and above average efficiency (111 ORTG, league average 105.9). Others may point to that he helps spearhead one of the best offenses and teams in the league.

Either way, it’s hard to argue Westbrook isn’t a superstar talent, if he’s producing like one.

My argument against this is unreliable context. In other words, there could be a Kevin Durant effect. Durant is a rare type of superstar offensively, enough that it’s reasonable to present that Westbrook, among other Thunder players like Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison, may benefit in the efficiency category from it.

And certainly, if Westbrook had been traded to his own team last summer, my initial reaction would’ve been “watch out above for falling shooting percentage”. With the extra defensive attention on him, I’d have actively expected that efficiency to fall below the league average rate of 105.9. His TS% of .532 last year is already below average, it may have dripped dangerously to .50 on his own team. Both of this would have made it reasonable to call him a blue chip, but flawed talent.

This isn’t entirely fair, of course. To call out Westbrook’s efficiency for falling, when he’s never had the chance to prove that won’t happen. My point is more to present reasonable doubt. That just because Westbrook has star numbers, doesn’t mean he has to be a superstar talent.

And frankly, it’s not that big of a deal to be ‘only’ as talented as a player like Mike Conley, Jr. or Chandler Parsons or his teammate Serge Ibaka, if he is. Westbrook is an excellent talent and with Ibaka, Sefolosha, Collision, Jackson, etc., along with Jeremy Lamb, who I feel has superstar talent – the Thunder still have a stacked team around Kevin Durant.

Written by jr.

September 14, 2013 at 8:41 pm

The Presti Dilemma, or the Perils of Premature Zealotry

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English: James Harden, a player for the Oklaho...

English: James Harden, a player for the Oklahoma City Thunder at ARCO Arena. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A new NBA season dawns and it feels like a breath of fresh air. After an off-season of claustrophobic analysis done in a vaccum, we now get to actually see how it all plays out, and of course on the top of everyone’s mind right now is OKC and what will come of the trade of James Harden to the Rockets.

We are now two games in. Two otherworldly games in where James Harden took the favorable prognostications of the most analytically inclined and blew right past them. There is the urge to crow of course, although that runs plenty of risk in terms of prematurely asserting a conclusion based on poor sample size. What I’m more interested is the position and decision making of Sam Presti.

Presti has recently been the darling of the NBA’s GMs and understandably so. He sat on the knee of the Godfather of contemporary NBA team franchise building, Greg Popovich, and since moving to the Oklahoma City Thunder has had nothing but great success. He seems to have it all coming and going, and even if you foresee me quibbling with that diagnosis, I’m not going to say that’s terribly wrong.

What I note though is that Presti is currently, and will be for the foreseeable future, on the virtual hotseat for the decision to trade Harden, and I think that to the extent he made a mistake here, the mistake was made quite a while ago.

As Presti neared the time when a decision about re-signing Harden could be no longer put off, theoretically he had 3 choices:

1) Re-sign Harden to continue playing his current 6th man role.

2) Let Harden go.

3) Re-sign Harden and bump up the man’s primacy at the expense of others (ahem, Russell Westbrook).

In reality, this wasn’t much of a choice. Or rather, the difference between the first two choices is blown up out of proportion, and the risks involved with the third choice are so massive it’d be shocking if any GM would dare be so bold. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Matt Johnson

November 2, 2012 at 10:44 pm

MVP/Power Rankings Monday: The 10 Best Points I Can Make About the James Harden Trade

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BOOM! James Harden to the Rockets. Trades like this simply don’t happen often. Harden is 23, has All-NBA talent and was very controllable by the Thunder. Therefore, it’s really fun to talk about.

Here are roughly the 10 most insightful points I could make:

10. The Veto strikes again – Fun game, what happens if David Stern doesn’t block the Chris Paul to the Lakers deal? Paul obviously is on the Lakers, the Clippers either still in NBA hell or peeking their head above with an 7th/8th seed. Does the Dwight Howard-Andrew Bynum trade still happen, or do one of the Magic, Nuggets or Sixers go “Eff that, I’m not letting the Lakers have a dynasty”. If so, Howard is on another team as well. Either way, both Paul and Howard’s career paths and probably at least 1 title are affected. Then there’s Anthony Davis likely being on a different team than New Orleans. Davis could end up having an iconic career for the Hornets, changing that team and the one that would’ve gotten him if not for the veto. Finally, James Harden ends up on a team that isn’t the Rockets if not for this and if he breaks out to be a franchise star, the veto changes an era for Houston. And the Thunder assuming they trade Harden, get very different pieces for him – these pieces possibly changing the title picture in upcoming years. The Veto had a massive butterfly effect on the league.

9. The brilliance of the Omer Asik signing – The second most important piece on the Rockets now isn’t Jeremy Lin, it’s Omer Asik. Asik looks to be one of the best defensive centers in the league immediately for the Rockets. Getting a true defensive anchor at C is very hard, some teams go decades without one. The brilliant part of this signing is it happened while Houston had gone all in on trading for Dwight Howard. They had the foresight to have a plan B if they didn’t get Dwight and the balls to sign Asik as a backup C again if they had secured Howard. I suspect many teams would’ve been too blinded by the thought of Howard playing center for them, to consider signing Asik at the same time.

8. The Rockets still have huge cap flexibility and assets – As has been noted in a few places, the Rockets’ are looking at max free agent capspace next year. If Chris Paul leaving the Clippers becomes a real possibility, the Rockets will be involved trying to get him. Josh Smith and Al Jefferson are other plausible targets. Capspace is also valuable in a trade – Perhaps Memphis wants to get out of Rudy Gay’s contract next summer. With capspace and young players to trade, the Rockets are an ideal trade partner.

Speaking of young players, aside from Lin, the Rockets do have other enticing pieces like Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones, Royce White, Donatas Motiejunas, Marcus Morris, Cole Aldrich and Scott Machado. Aside from giving Harden talent to work with, the Rockets just proved building up a store of trade assets is always a good strategy if another star becomes available. Read the rest of this entry »

MVP/Power Rankings Monday – The 10 most likely future NBA MVPs (who haven’t won any yet)

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Kevin Durant waiting for the tip-off in OKC vs...

Kevin Durant is a near cinch for future MVP (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The NBA MVP feels the most important of the 4 major sports’. Since the best player in basketball matters more than the rest, so does the all-time rankings of players – and next to championships, MVPs are the most prestigious award they can get. Furthermore the NBA is unique from the other sports in that only the greatest talents even have a shot at the award, while in the NFL, MLB and NHL a very good but not transcendent talent can win an MVP if he breaks out to a spectacular statistical season. The MVP club is a much more exclusive lounge to join in the NBA.

Here are my rankings of who the most likely future MVPs are, among players who haven’t been awarded with one yet

Tier 1 – The frontrunners

1. SF Kevin Durant – A near lock to eventually get an MVP. He’s finished 2nd twice, is the dominant scorer in the league and is a media favorite due to his class and hard work. Most importantly perhaps is that winning an MVP just about requires finishing top 2 in the conference and Durant’s Thunder have the talent to consistently grab 1st and 2nd place finishes in the West for the rest of his prime. It’s much more likely Durant wins 2 or more MVPs than it is he wins 0.

2. PG Chris Paul – With 2nd and 3rd place finishes he’s proven he has the respect of MVP voters due to his transcendent true PG ability. Like Durant on the Clippers with Blake Griffin beside him he has the talent to lead a team strong enough to win an MVP and if the Clippers ever get that high, the narrative of saving that once tortured franchise will play in his favor.

3. C Dwight Howard – Like Durant and Paul he’s a consensus superstar who has 2nd, 4th and 4th MVP finishes. He’s easily the best at his position and the value of dominant two way centers has been recognized. My only concern with him is that after leading 59 W seasons in both 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, he still only was rewarded with 4th place finishes both years. Even in the year he finished 2nd many argued Derrick Rose didn’t have the same value to his team enough to beat him. Is it possible Dwight’s lack of dominant scoring talent and polish hurts his chances of getting MVP respect? Perhaps, but he deserves to be ranked top 3 at worst. Read the rest of this entry »