Steve Ballmer Reportedly Agrees to buy the Clippers

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has reportedly agreed to purchase the Los Angeles Clippers for the cool sum of 2 BILLION dollars, according to the LA Times. The sale is pending approval of Donald Sterling and the NBA’s owners.

Ballmer attempted to purchase the Sacramento Kings last year to bring them to Seattle, where Microsoft is headquartered. Now retired, Ballmer has claimed to have no intention of relocating the Clippers should he obtain ownership of the team.

I think this is a good purchase for both the league and the Clippers, should it go through. Ballmer is a wealthy, wealthy man (approx $20 billion) with a large personality, and clearly a strong desire to own a franchise. In reality anyone would be an upgrade over Sterling, who has proven inept over the past few decades, so good for the Clippers contingent of Los Angeles to get this breath of fresh air.

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Does the Cavs winning the lottery mean LeBron will return to Cleveland?

Last night, miraculously, the Cavaliers won the lottery yet again. Today the hot topic among the talking heads is whether this signals LeBron James’ triumphant return to Cleveland. I don’t understand it.

ESPN’s Colin Cowherd sent out this dumb tweet:

Really Colin, he loves that role? How has LeBron possibly demonstrated his desire to mentor young players in his entire career? Was it when he left a Cleveland roster with 21 year old JJ Hickson, 22 year old Danny Green, 23 year old Daniel Gibson, 24 year old Sebastian Telfair, etc. to join up with his veteran friends to win titles? He really seemed like a perfect caretaker then, Colin. (I’m sure Colin’s tweet was intended to stir this kind of reaction, but it was so stupid I had to comment).

It’s not just Cowherd, though, as the topic has been discussed all over sports radio and ESPN today. So let me guess this straight, 4 time MVP and 2 time defending champion LeBron James is expected to trade Miami for Cleveland because he can’t resist the urge to teach a 19 year old how to play in the NBA? This is all foolish, manufactured news, typical of ESPN and mainstream media.

The only plausible theory I’ve heard is that Cleveland could use to pick to acquire Kevin Love, which could draw LeBron back to Cleveland. Why would LeBron possibly leave his current situation, living in a tropical locale, playing with hall of fame caliber close friends, for a top organization, for that? What is it about playing with Kevin Love, who has never appeared in a postseason game, that would be so irresistible? I know Love is younger than Bosh or Wade, which would have some appeal I’d imagine, and he’s a terrific player, but I think Pat Riley has shown the creativity needed to surround LeBron with talent that he could only dream of during his first stint with Cleveland. And oh yeah, he’d have to go back to working for this guy.

This stuff is fun, and it’s good for the league’s popularity, but don’t believe everything you hear or read. I’m not saying for sure that LeBron won’t leave Miami, because that would be impossible for me to say, I’m just saying be wary of the million speculative headlines you’ll read from now to July.

 

 

Image Credit: Corey Sipkin/ New York Daily News

Western Conference Finals Preview

The Western Conference Finals starts tonight, as the Spurs take on the Thunder in San Antonio. It’s not really surprising that either team is still playing, as they’ve pretty much been the top two teams out West all season. What should we expect from this match up?

To me the thing to watch is the injury factor, for both teams. Spurs point guard Tony Parker strained his hamstring in the second round against Portland, but he is expected to play tonight. Obviously the Spurs need him to be effective, as he’s unquestionably their most important player offensively. Fortunately the Spurs are deep and balanced, but Russell Westbrook is a nightmare to cover on a good day, now imagine doing so on a bad hamstring. For Oklahoma City, Serge Ibaka is expected to miss the rest of the post season, although the Spurs are skeptical. Without Ibaka, someone will have to step up for the Thunder as a third scoring option behind Westbrook and Durant, as well as help protect the rim. Ibaka helps draw opposing big men from the paint with his strong mid range game, and Kendrick Perkins ain’t scaring anybody from outside, so it could be troublesome for OKC to move Duncan and Tiago Splitter from where they’re comfortable.

Two years ago these teams matched up in the Conference Finals, and San Antonio won the first two games, extending their win streak to 20. Oklahoma City proceeded to win the next four games to advance to the Finals, losing to the eventual champion Heat. I don’t think either team will win 4 straight in this series, but I do expect Oklahoma City to win. I think it’s incredible what the Spurs have been able to do (I wrote about it here), but I think they’re running into a team that is younger, fresher, and perhaps feeling more pressure with their newly crowned MVP. I know it seems more logical that the Spurs would face more pressure, being that they are older and another year closer to the end of their run, but at this point they’re almost playing with house money. They shouldn’t be doing what they’ve been doing for so long, but OKC has two superstars entering their prime, with nothing to show for it yet. Can they get back to the finals, or continue to regret trading James Harden? We’ll see.

To be clear, I’m not picking OKC because of pressure, or anything like that, it’s only one factor. The Thunder offense, when clicking, is just too explosive for San Antonio. The Spurs do have excellent three point shooting on their side, however, and I do not like the way OKC executes late in games. I’m not one to jump on Westbrook like many members do, because I think OKC needs him to be his explosive, attacking self to be able to advance, but Durant needs to ball late in games. I expect one or two of Steven Adams, Jeremy Lamb, or Perry Jones to step up and make significant contributions in this series. Kawhi Leonard will certainly bother Durant defensively, but he hasn’t blossomed into the offense force expected of him yet, and there’s still this to worry about:

Westbrook

I’m picking Thunder in 6, but of course it wouldn’t at all be surprising if the Spurs advanced. They are the Spurs, after all, and they just do not die.

Featured image credit: Mark D. Smith- USA Today Sports

Eastern Conference Finals Preview

Finally the matchup we’ve all been waiting for all season is here. The Heat and Pacers took different paths to get here, and this should make for an interesting series.

Down the stretch of the regular season both teams played relatively subpar basketball, with the Heat finishing at 3-6 in the month of April and the Pacers at 10-13 from March 4th on. Typically you can attribute this kind of play to two teams sitting comfortably atop the conference and resting for the playoffs. Few truly questioned whether Miami would turn it on for the playoffs, and after steamrolling the Bobcats and Nets in 9 games it’s clear that’s what they’ve done. Something has been different about this Pacers team since their scorching hot start to the season, though. There was Roy Hibbert calling out his teammates, rumors of fights between players, and some weirder stuff going on. There was also the trade sending longtime Pacer Danny Granger to Philadelphia for Evan Turner, which many have speculated ruined the team’s chemistry (I think that’s somewhat of a copout, but whatever). While the Pacers have succeeded in advancing this far, it hasn’t been easy. The team played a seven game series against an awful Atlanta Hawks team and looked inconsistent in defeating Washington in six.

So what can we expect from this series? Despite the mind-boggling inconsistency the Pacers have played with for several months, I expect them to look better against Miami. These two teams seem to bring out the best in each other, so I wouldn’t count out the Pacers just because they look like they forgot how to play team basketball for two and a half months. Last year’s series was intensely physical. The Pacers typically try to take the Heat off their game with chippy fouls, but the veteran Heat are usually not too bothered. The important thing for Indiana is Center Roy Hibbert playing like a 7’2″ all star, not playing entire games without recording a point or rebound. Indiana has good size and when Paul George plays like he’s capable of playing they are a tough team to beat. If the Pacers got any positive contribution from the maddening Lance Stephenson it would be an enormous x-factor, but I wouldn’t count on it. His immaturity was on full display in their previous matchup, when Dwyane Wade baited him into a senseless ejection.

It was widely talked about when the Heat took a flier on Greg Oden that he would be their answer to Hibbert, but interestingly the Heat have used Udonis Haslem instead, to relative success. Haslem is a pro’s pro, at times a team enforcer, and his contributions are rarely reflected in box scores, but his defense on Hibbert will be crucial to the Heat returning to the Finals for a fourth straight year. He will be helped by “Birdman” Chris Andersen, who at 35 is as active as ever down low. Otherwise the keys for the Heat are relatively straightforward. LeBron has to be the MVP, scoring, creating for teammates, while locking down Paul George on the defensive end. Wade needs to make the most of his rest days so he can attack the Indiana defense, and it will be important for Chris Bosh to stretch the floor and draw the Pacers’ big men out of the paint.

My prediction for this series isn’t groundbreaking, it’s a victory for Miami, but I do think it will be a better series than most would have you believe. These two teams dislike each other too much for the Heat to roll through the series as they did in the previous two rounds. Look for a lot of hard (dirty-ish) fouls and trash talking, and probably a couple close finishes. I just think the Heat are playing better basketball, maintain their composure better in big games, and have enough three point shooting coming off their bench. At this point it’s hard get a feel for what kind of team these Pacers truly are, and I think the two time defending champs are a considerably safer bet. Oh yeah and they have the best player in the world, which is always a plus. Look for the Heat to win in 6.

Western Conference Finals preview to follow.

Featured image credit: Steve Mitchell Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

Some perspective on the brilliance of the Spurs

The Spurs have once again made it to the Western Conference Finals. In other news, water is wet. Really, it’s astonishing what the Spurs have been able to accomplish all these years, so I wanted to try to put it in some perspective. All stats/facts will be in regards to the “Duncan Era,” from the time Tim Duncan was drafted (1997) until the present.

In the Tim Duncan Era, the Spurs have yet to miss the postseason. That is seventeen straight years, so you could have been born during Duncan’s first season and be legally driving an automobile in any state in the U.S.

The last time the Spurs missed the postseason, 1997

  • Bill Clinton was starting his second term as U.S. President
  • OJ Simpson was found liable in a wrongful death suit
  • The average cost of gas in the U.S. for the year was $1.245/gallon
  • The Florida Marlins won the World Series, and 22 year old Livan Hernandez was series MVP
  • The Titanic debuted in theaters
  • Harry Potter was published in the UK
  • Hong Kong was returned to China
  • Princess Diana was killed in a car accident
  • Spurs Guard Tony Parker was 15 years old, and Forward Kawhi Leonard was 6

In the Duncan Era, leading into this Western Conference Finals, the Spurs have a postseason record of 141-87, good for a .618 winning percentage, tops in the NBA over that span. The Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics, who have each won a championship and have been to the Finals twice over the same period, have won 140 postseason games, COMBINED. Additionally, the Spurs 141 wins are more than the postseason wins of Charlotte, Washington, Toronto, Golden State, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Memphis, and Denver COMBINED.

The Spurs postseason winning percentage in comparison to other notable eras since 1983 (as far back as realgm data goes):

  • 1986-1992 Detroit Pistons-Bad Boy era- .663% 2 championships
  • 1984-1998 Chicago Bulls- Jordan era : .661% 6 championships
  • 1996-2004 LA Lakers-Shaq/Kobe era: .639% 3 championships
  • 1997-Pres San Antonio Spurs-Duncan era- .618% 4 championships (obviously will change until conclusion of 2014 post season)
  • 2007-2010 Boston Celtics- Big 3 era- .576% 1 championship
  • 1992-1999 Houston Rockets- Hakeem/Rudy T era- .567% 2 championships

Bear in mind the difficulty of maintaining such a high level of production over 17 seasons, factoring age, injury, free agency, etc.

Postseason numbers courtesy of http://basketball.realgm.com/nba/playoffs/history/1998

The Spurs have employed one head coach during the Duncan Era, Greg Popovich. A look at how many coaches each team has employed or will soon employ during the Duncan Era, either on a full time or interim basis:

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*Team employed the same coach on more than one separate occasion

The Spurs await the winner of the Thunder vs. Clippers series, and they just may go on to win another NBA Championship. Win or lose this conference or league finals, sooner or later the reality will sink in that this just can’t go on forever. The run that the Spurs are continuing is nothing short of remarkable, in the age of big free agent contracts and the formation of super teams, it’s the small market Spurs who have been the model franchise for nearly a span of two decades. We may not see anything like it again, or maybe we will. Either way it’s something to cherish and marvel at, because it simply defies logic.

(Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)

Breaking: Steve Kerr to Golden State

TNT’s David Aldridge has reported that Steve Kerr has turned down the Knicks head coaching offer, and has accepted the same role with Golden State. This comes as somewhat of a shock, as it has been widely speculated for weeks that it was only a matter of time that Kerr would join ex-coach Phil Jackson with the Knicks. Yahoo! Sports is reporting that the deal is for 5 years and $25 million.

In terms of just basketball, this is a no-brainer decision for Kerr. Golden State has a younger, more talented roster, and additionally Kerr can remain close to home on the west coast. I wonder how difficult it may have been to turn down the Zen master and Madison Square Garden, but it was reported that the Knicks were unwilling to offer 5 years, which was likely the deciding factor. The next move for the Knicks remains to be seen, but I’ll take a stab in the dark and predict Jim Cleamons or Derek Fisher. Of course Phil could coach the team himself, but that seems unlikely given his advanced age and health problems in recent years.

Is Stan Van Gundy a good hire for Detroit?

Yesterday the Detroit Pistons signed former Heat and Magic coach Stan Van Gundy to a 5 year, $35 million deal as President and Head Coach. Van Gundy was away from coaching for a year after his ouster from the Orlando Magic. Was this a good move for Detroit?

On a coaching level, I think it was. SVG has a habit of rubbing some of his guys the wrong way (Shaq and Dwight aren’t his biggest fans), and he ran his mouth to the media entirely too much at the end of his stay in Orlando regarding his relationship with Dwight. Despite some of his flaws, Van Gundy can coach. He led the Heat to the Eastern Conference finals in 2005 (and probably would have made it to the finals had Dwyane Wade not cracked his ribs), and never got the chance to coach the 2006 championship team after he left the team “for family reasons.” He then lead the Magic to a surprise trip to the Finals in 2009 with Dwight Howard and a bunch of shooters. Unless he forgot how to coach in the last year, I think he should be fine.

The part that worries me is the President of Operations part. I would be very hesitant to hand over control of Operations to someone with no experience in that capacity, especially with a mess of a roster. Van Gundy will have his work cut out for him. Early reports indicate that Van Gundy will likely bring in former Magic GM Otis Smith to reunite with him in his new home. I think that’s a good idea, familiarity is a good thing. This roster isn’t devoid of talent, with quality young pieces like Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. SVG should be great for Drummond’s development, as his tough style often helps maximize his talent.

The bottom line is this franchise has lost its way for a while, and change was necessary. Bringing in a smart, established vet like Stan Van Gundy should help bring legitimacy to a franchise that lost it under Joe Dumars. For those reasons, I think this was a good hire.

Who wouldn’t want to coach a guy with crazy untapped potential like this?:

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