A Tale of Two Series: The NBA and NHL Finals Are Strikingly Different

After two marathon playoff seasons, the NBA and NHL playoffs are both down to the final series. On one side of the coin the Golden State Warriors face off against the Cleveland Cavaliers for the fourth consecutive NBA Finals. On the other side, the Washington Capitals are making their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals since 1998, and the Las Vegas Golden Knights are the first NHL expansion team to make the Finals since 1968. The matchups in the NBA and NHL final series couldn’t get much different.

It’s hard not to appreciate the greatness of LeBron James. This is his eight consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. It’s an amazing accomplishment. And no one can downplay how dominant the Warriors have been the past four seasons. But here we are, two impressive teams about to face off for the fourth straight year, and it is hard to get excited about it. Maybe because it is a forgone conclusion that the Warriors will send the Cavs packing in a short series. The Cavaliers are one of the biggest underdogs in NBA Finals’ history. Regardless, the fourth successive matchup between these two teams just feels anticlimactic. LeBron2.jpg

Skating on to the Stanley Cup Finals, there are all kinds of story lines. First, how about the fact that there is an expansion team in the final series? It may seem unfair to long suffering fanbases, and maybe the NHL expansion draft rules need changing, but this is an incredible story. This is a collection of rookies and guys not protected by their former teams, the fact that they have made it this far is amazing. Meanwhile, the Capitals are back in the chase for the championship after their last appearance 20 years ago. The Capitals have never won the Stanley Cup. Alexander Ovechkin is one of the greatest players of all time, and the only multi-time MVP not to win the Stanley Cup. The list of intriguing topics in the Stanley Cup Finals goes on and on. knights

So here we are, two final series that could not be more different. The Cavaliers-Warriors IV is like Shrek Forever After: the first two series/films were great and then followed by a dud. Watching the fourth installment seems more like a chore than a pleasurable experience. On the other hand, Capitals-Knights is like Baby Driver: a new, exciting series/film that is bursting with energy. Even though my love for basketball is exponentially higher than my feelings toward hockey, the Stanley Cup Finals has me more excited than the NBA Finals for the first time ever.

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LeBron and Who?

In the Cleveland Cavaliers’ blowout loss in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals, they played all 13 players on their active roster. Some of these guys only got in because of the nature of the game, it was 25 point blowout in Boston’s favor. Still, the majority of the Cavs’ roster were ineffective against Boston’s stout defense. It begs to question: who should be in the Cavs’ rotation going forward?

The Obvious: LeBron James and Kevin Love

These guys are no brainers. LeBron should see the court as much as he wants, and Love is undoubtedly the second best player on the team. Right now, Love is starting at center and LeBron at power forward, but going forward it might make sense for both of them to slide down a position and play more minutes at the 4 and 3, respectively.

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Other Should-Be Starters: George Hill, Kyle Korver, and Tristan Thompson

Hill needs to start at the point because who else are the Cavaliers going to play? Jordan Clarkson? Hill can be a shooting threat and is definitely the Cavaliers’ best defender at point guard. The decision to start Korver over JR Smith comes down to consistency. Korver has shot better these playoffs than Smith. To be most effective, LeBron needs knock down shooters around him. As for the decision to move Thompson from the bench to the starting lineup, playing the two bigs (Thompson and Love) could force Boston to counter with two bigs (Horford and Baynes) which would be to Cleveland’s advantage.

Bench Contributors: JR Smith, Jordan Clarkson, Jeff Green, and Larry Nance Jr.

JR Smith and Jordan Clarkson are instant offense off the bench. Both of those two have the potential to be sparkplugs for the Cavaliers’ offense. Clarkson will need to shoot well to see meaningful minutes. As for Jeff Green, he has a higher free throw rate than anyone else that should be getting minutes for the Cavaliers. Oddly enough, Green also has third highest win share total on the Cavs’ roster, behind LeBron and Love. That’s enough reason for him to get some run off the bench. Finally, there is Nance. Nance has been disappointing these playoffs, but he has the athleticism and size to match up well with Boston’s lineups. Maybe Nance will remind the Cavaliers why they traded for him in the first place.

Four Predictions for NBA All Star Weekend

NBA All Star Weekend is here, and this year’s edition looks a little different than past years. A couple of weeks ago, LeBron James and Steph Curry took turns drafting their teams. Sunday, we get to see the first NBA All Star game that isn’t simply Eastern Conference versus Western Conference. Here are some quick predictions for All Star weekend.

Caleb McLaughlin wins MVP of the Celebrity Game: Four time MVP Kevin Hart won’t be playing this time, he’s still trying to get onto the Super Bowl podium. With Hart out, there are three former MVPs playing: Win Butler, Brandon Armstrong, and Justin Bieber. That said, it’s time for some new blood. Caleb McLauhlin, better known as Lucas Sinclair from Stranger Things, will win MVP. McLaughlin is 16 years old, the same age as Justin Bieber when he won MVP. McLaughlin might only be 5’5″, but short players have won MVP before (looking at you, Kevin Hart). On Twitter, McLaughlin posted a video of him hitting a three point shot. On top of that, the celebrity game will have a four point shot this year, and McLaughlin has the range to make it from there.  If McLaughlin’s jump shot is falling, I like his chances.

Donovan Mitchell wins the Slam Dunk Contest: This year’s dunk contest is stacked. Three guards (Donovan Mitchell, Dennis Smith Jr., Victor Oladipo), and  one forward (Larry Nance Jr.) make up the field. Nance is the son of the first NBA dunk contest winner, so that’s a cool bit of history. Oladipo and Mitchell are 6’4″ and 6’3″ respectively, and both have a 7’0″ wingspan. Oladipo and Mitchell are very athletic, but their long arms make them especially good dunkers. Mitchell’s insanely long wingspan doing a windmill is mesmerizing, he just makes it look easy. And then there’s Dennis Smith Jr., who is the shortest contestant at 6’2″, but he is insanely athletic. I have extremely high hopes for this year’s contest. While I think all four contestants have a chance to win (especially the guards), I’ll take Mitchell to win it.

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Team LeBron wins in a close game: LeBron and Curry took turns picking their teams weeks ago at this point. Why? I have no clue. Since the draft took place, four of LeBron’s players have gotten hurt and needed to be replaced. Team LeBron’s depth is lacking compared to Team Steph, but Team LeBron still has LeBron, Kevin Durant, and Anthony Davis. That’s a pretty good trio. On top of that, they also have Russell Westbrook, and you know he’s going to be giving it 100%, even if no one else is. My prediction is that Team LeBron wins in a close game, with LeBron himself winning MVP.

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The All Star Game will get more tweaks next year: Look, letting players pick the teams is a cool idea, and this year’s All Star Game should be better than the last few. But this is not the final iteration of the All Star game. I expect that captains will get to choose the teams, but the draft will be moved closer to the actual game because of the injury issue. I also expect a total elimination of voting for All Stars based on conferences. With the elimination of Eastern Conference versus Western Conference, the best players should be selected to the All Star Game, regardless of what conference they come from. So, the basic concept of the All Star Game will stay the same, but there will be some tweaking to the new format.

Quick Predictions for the 2017 NBA Season

The NBA season is upon us. After a whirlwind of an offseason that featured a lot of all-stars moving teams, it will be interesting to see how the season shakes out. Here are some quick predictions.

1. East Playoff Teams: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards, Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers

Boston wins the East again, mostly because Cleveland is without Isaiah Thomas for a few months. Despite trading Paul George, the Pacers manage to make the playoffs.

2. West Playoff Teams:  Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trailblazers, Utah Jazz

The Northwest division manages to get four of five teams into the playoffs. The Warriors run away with first place while the Rockets, Thunder, and Spurs all fight for spots 2-4.

     3. Kevin Durant wins MVP.

The Warriors are the best team in the NBA, and after a full year to mesh with Kevin Durant, they should be firing on all cylinders. I expect the Warriors to win around 70 games, and if they hit that mark it is hard to imagine Adam Silver not handing a Warriors player the MVP trophy.

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    4. Avery Bradley makes the all-star game.

Avery Bradley has long been one of the best defenders in the NBA. Bradley will help the Pistons make the playoffs, and he will get the recognition he deserves. Oh, and he’s going to get paid a lot of money this offseason.

    5. The Pelicans trade DeMarcus Cousins.

The Pelicans are aiming for a playoff spot, but in the ridiculously tough Western Conference, it seems like a bit of a long shot. Instead of potentially letting Cousins walk for nothing in the offseason, the Pelicans trade him away for pieces that better fit their team.

     6. The Warriors play the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. Again.

This match up will occur for the fourth consecutive year. Some might be fatigued from the past three Finals with these two teams, but at least the Cavaliers have shaken things up.

Unprecedented: the Cavs-Celtics Mega-Trade

Unprecedented. That’s the word that comes to mind in regards to the blockbuster trade that sent Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics, and Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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Stunning, shocking, flabbergasting. Those are other words that could describe what occurred. But after the initial shock, unprecedented is the word I keep coming back to.

The Celtics and Cavaliers finished the 2016-2017 season number one and number two in the Eastern Conference standings. Later, they met in the Eastern Conference Finals with the Cavs winning in five games. This is the first trade in the history of the NBA in which players who met in the Conference Finals were swapped. A trade between two top teams like this is unheard of. Not only that, but this is the first time in NBA history a trade has swapped two players who averaged 25 points a game (in this case, Irving and Thomas). Yes, unprecedented is the word to describe this trade.

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For the Cavaliers, they get rid of a disgruntled star and get an all-star point guard in Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder who provides good defense on an amazingly cheap contract, a 20 year old center with potential in Ante Zizic, and the 2018 Brooklyn pick that is likely to be in the top five. This trade might make the Cavaliers better this year, and provides them more flexibility for the future. On top of that, it reunites Kevin Love with his AAU pal (Thomas and Love better recreate this picture).

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Rumors have been swirling for months that LeBron James will leave the Cavaliers after the 2017-2018 season. Perhaps this reshuffling of the deck makes LeBron more likely to stay. However, if LeBron does walk away the Cavaliers now have some pieces to build around. The Brooklyn pick should be in the top five, so they can get a good young player, and a lot of people are excited about the player Zizic can potentially be. The pick and Zizic can also be used as trade chips to get an established star. On top of that, Thomas is on a one year deal, if LeBron leaves the Cavs can let Thomas walk and not break the bank, or they can bring Thomas back and still be a playoff team. The trade provides the Cavaliers with a lot of flexibility.

For Boston, they now don’t have to worry about giving the 5’9″ Thomas, who is coming off of a serious hip injury, a max contract. The Celtics have a big three of Irving-Hayward-Horford, which is pretty good. Plus, they also have young guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum who can grow and contribute. Do not underestimate Kyrie Irving in Brad Steven’s offense. In Vegas, Irving’s MVP odds went from 50-1 to 25-1, and for good reason. Point guards put up big numbers in Boston. If Irving scored around 30 points a game, would you be that surprised? He averaged 25 points a game in an offense that was centered around LeBron. Irving is going to put up huge numbers.

Perhaps the most shocking part of this trade is that it makes sense for both teams. You could argue that both the Cavaliers and Celtics improved. It seems like a win-win. Between the two top teams in the Eastern Conference. Unprecedented.

Kyrie Irving Wants Out of Cleveland

The 2017 offseason has been a rough one for the Cleveland Cavaliers. First, rumors about LeBron James joining the Los Angeles Lakers next summer started popping up. Then general manager David Griffin’s contract was not renewed and the team went weeks without a GM. There’s the fact that the Cavaliers had very little cap space and no real way to improve their roster. Finally, Kyrie Irving has requested a trade and rumors say there is a lot of animosity between Irving and LeBron. Now that’s a bad summer.

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For Cleveland, their present and future is now in serious doubt. On one hand, with the current roster the Cavaliers are favorites to win the Eastern Conference. On the other, one of the best players in NBA history is rumored to have a foot out the door, and another of their stars wants out too. While LeBron has the ability to leave the team next summer, Irving is still under contract at least another two years (with another year possible due to a player option).

It will be curious to see how the Cavaliers deal with Irving’s trade demand, the team has no real incentive to deal him now. Trading Irving before the upcoming season would likely make them a worse team, and a down year for the Cavaliers could mark the end of LeBron in a Cavs uniform. However, it is possible that Irving’s trade value is higher now than it will be next season because his contract will only have one (possibly two) years left.

Irving reportedly wants to be traded the Minnesota Timberwolves, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, or New York Knicks. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, those teams do not have much in the way of assets that will help the Cavaliers get better now. The Heat could build a package around Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow, but that does not seem like enough for Cleveland. Minnesota could trade Andrew Wiggins back to the team that drafted him, but that is more of a long-term move for the Cavs, and time is not on their side. Of course, the Cavaliers can send Irving wherever they deem fit because he does not have a no trade clause. If Irving is traded, it certainly is not a lock that he would be moved to one of his four preferred destinations.

The Cavaliers are in a tough spot, but not an impossible one. The Lakers won multiple championships with Shaq and Kobe hating each other. Winning a title with disgruntled players is possible. The best thing for the Cavaliers is to stand pat. This same team is coming off of back to back Finals appearances. The Cavaliers cannot jeopardize what possibly is their last season to win a title with LeBron just because Irving is upset.

LeBron Going Hollywood? Other Possible Destinations for The King

Rumor has it LeBron James has his sights set on joining the Los Angeles Lakers next summer when he can opt out of his contract. Los Angeles seems like a likely destination for LeBron. Why not enjoy the great weather, better position his million dollar media company, and join a storied franchise on the rise after several years in the gutter? Yes, the Lakers seem like a good fit for LeBron, but let’s examine some other franchises that it would be fun to see LeBron consider.

1. Los Angeles Clippers – Hey, remember when I listed those reasons why LeBron would be a good fit for the Lakers? Well, forget that last bit about a storied franchise, but the rest applies just as well to the Clippers! Also in LA, the Clippers are the something of the Lakers’ ugly step-sister. That said, the Clippers could pair LeBron with Blake Griffin and make the Clippers a title contender. LeBron and Grffin would be a great top two. LeBron signing with the Clippers would probably force all star center DeAndre Jordan out of town, but the Clippers would still have a great team. If he opts into his player option, I suspect Jordan would be easily flipped for a good contract or draft pick. A core of LeBron and Griffin, with role players like Danilo Gallinari and Patrick Beverley would be a tough team. Though the Clippers may not be a legendary franchise like the Lakers, there are still plenty of benefits to joining them over big brother.

2. Miami Heat – Pat Riley and LeBron may have ended their time together in Miami on a sour note, but maybe LeBron would consider taking his talents back to South Beach. Unlike the Lakers and Clippers, the Heat would have to make some big moves to make room for LeBron. The Heat gave sizable contracts to the likes of Dion Waiters, James Johnson, and Kelly Olynyk this summer, plus Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, and Tyler Johnson are also on large contracts. The cap situation and LeBron’s relationship with Riley alone make the Heat an unlikely destination, but bear with me. Playing in the Eastern Conference has had a profound impact on LeBron’s career. The East has been weaker than the West for a long time, and that does not seem to be changing any time soon after Jimmy Butler and Paul Millsap both went West this offseason. Chilling in the East may give LeBron his best chance at more NBA Finals appearances. A team centered around LeBron, Dragic, and Whiteside is pretty good and would definitely compete for the best team in the East. Plus, who could blame LeBron for wanting to enjoy the Miami lifestyle? NBA: Finals-Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs

3. New York Knicks – The weather in New York is not nearly as nice as Los Angeles, but imagine LeBron playing in the Big Apple and bringing some respect back to one of the league’s marquee franchises. There are problems about LeBron going to New York, though. First, James Dolan is possibly the absolute worst owner in the NBA. Then there’s the fact that the Knicks cap situation looks bleak due to Joakim Noah’s atrocious contract, and the newly acquired Tim Hardaway Jr. appears to be absurdly overpaid as well. Even if the Knicks had enough cap space for LeBron, it would be difficult for them to get a decent surrounding cast to compete for titles. Still, it would be cool to see LeBron go to the biggest market in North America and maybe position the Knicks as a potential destination again.

4. Brooklyn Nets – At the very least, the Nets will have the cap space for LeBron. Brooklyn is not a destination LeBron would consider, but how awesome would it be for him to come into Brooklyn and turn the worst team in the league around? LeBron could do it. He won’t, but he could. Plus, LeBron would look pretty cool in a Nets jersey.

5. Boston Celtics – The Celtics are currently LeBron and the Cavaliers biggest competition in the East. Even going back to LeBron’s first stint in Cleveland, the Celtics with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen were a huge challenge for LeBron. But now, the Celtics are probably LeBron’s best chance at maximizing his title odds. The Celtics are in the East, making the path ahead of them easier. The Celtics would have to dump Horford and not re-sign Isaiah Thomas for this to work, but the potential is mouth watering. A team centered around LeBron James and Gordon Hayward is already something special, but don’t forget about all of the young talent the Celtics have. Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart are all promising young guys, plus the Celtics have the Nets’ 2018 pick and possibly the Lakers’ 2018 pick as well (if the pick falls between 2-5, otherwise it converts into the Sacramento Kings’ 2019 pick). What this means is that the Celtics could build around LeBron and Hayward with some great young talent, setting them up for both an amazing present and future. The Celtics could have a potential dynasty on their hands, and LeBron would add to his already amazing legacy.

6. Cleveland Cavaliers – It’s fun to imagine LeBron on different teams, but staying in Cleveland might be the most practical option for LeBron. The Cavs still have Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. If the organization decides to move on from one or both of them, they should be able to acquire some serious assets in return. The Cavaliers are still the favorites in the East. As constructed, the Cavs have as good a chance as any team to dethrone the champion Golden State Warriors. After all, they were able to defeat the Warriors just a year ago. Even if LeBron is never able to win another championship in Cleveland, there is something to be said for sticking with them, the team that drafted him, his hometown team. LeBron left Cleveland once already, and faced severe backlash for that decision. What would leaving again do to his legacy? Ending his career with the team that drafted him would be poetic in a sense. This is the outcome I’m rooting for. Ride it out, LeBron. The Cavaliers have assembled a great group of players, and the city of Cleveland worships LeBron. The most impactful decision LeBron could make next summer would be opting into his contract, and ending his career with the Cavaliers. LeBron-Cavs-Championship