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.

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.

Should the Suns Trade for Kyrie Irving?

There are reports that the Cleveland Cavaliers would be willing to trade disgruntled star Kyrie Irving to the Phoenix Suns for a package of Eric Bledsoe, rookie Josh Jackson, and first round pick. For the Cavs, they get a talented (but brittle) point guard to replace Irving, and Jackson and the pick give them some assets to build around. For the Suns, they get a star player to pair with Devin Booker and expedite the rebuilding process.

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Rumors of the Suns angling for a star have been around for years now. The Suns were in the mix during LaMarcus Aldridge’s free agency in 2015, and have been rumored to be targeting players such as Kevin Love and Paul Millsap recently. The franchise appears to be enamored with the idea of snagging a star. The Suns haven’t made the playoffs since the 2009-2010 season, wanting a star to make the team competitive again isn’t surprising. But is Irving the right star to target, and if so, is Cleveland’s asking price too high?

First, lets take a look at the Suns roster. The team has a lot of good young talent. Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender were drafted last year and showed some promise, and Booker is already a very good player. Plus, many have faith in Jackson, though his shooting woes in college make others wary. Bledsoe is a good player, but he doesn’t really fit the team’s timeline. The team is certainly not a playoff team this season, and it is hard to imagine they make the playoffs in the stacked Western Conference even with Irving.

However, a core of Irving and Booker would be dynamite offensively. If one of Chriss or Bender develop into a good rim protector, it would help mask some of the poor defensive skills of Irving and Booker. The Suns would be a difficult team to face, but probably not a playoff team. Irving can opt out of his contract in two years, and it is certainly possible he would leave the Suns if they are not competing for a playoff spot. That’s a pretty big risk.

The package that the Cavaliers are reportedly asking for is Bledsoe, Jackson, and a first rounder. As of now, the Suns have their own first rounder in 2018, as well as the Miami Heat’s first round pick. If the Suns could trade Miami’s first rounder, they still would have their own pick, likely to be in the lottery. Bledsoe is a good player, but he’s injured a lot and is 27. Plus, Irving would replace Bledsoe, so that isn’t an issue. The big question comes down to how the Suns view Jackson. The fourth pick in the 2017 draft, many consider Jackson to have star potential. Jackson’s biggest asset is his defense, but his offensive game seems solid besides his inconsistent shooting. If the Suns think Jackson is a star in the making, trading him away is silly. If that’s the case, just stay the course and let the young guys develop. This isn’t a team ready to compete, Irving or no Irving.

Ranking NBA Logos: 20-11

This is a continuation of the NBA logo ranking series. Rankings 30-21 can be found here

 

 

Magic

20. Orlando Magic – How would you represent magic in a basketball logo? That’s a tough task. That said, the current Magic logo is pretty good. The blue color is nice, and the flying ball is a good way to get the magic idea across. The font could be a little less deliberate, but overall the style is much better than the old jagged font.

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19. Phoenix Suns – I miss the purple. The switch from purple to black make the Suns looks like they’re representing Halloween everyday of the year. Still, the ball/sun hybrid is iconic. If the Suns ever go back to their classic purple, this logo will jump up the rankings.

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18. Cleveland Cavaliers – Another shield logo. Thankfully this is the last one. And you know what? The shield fits the Cavaliers name well. It is certainly fitting. The Cavaliers unveiled the new logo right before their NBA Finals appearance. The design is simple but modern. It is the second best of the reworked logos for the upcoming season.

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17. Utah Jazz – The Jazz ditched their mountain surroundings for the more retro jazz music note a few years ago. The results? A better logo. Like the Magic and Heat, the Jazz have a difficult name to personify. Especially in Utah, which is not exactly a hotbed for jazz music. While the mountains the Jazz left behind might be more Utah, the music note looks nice and has a retro feel to it. Plus, their jerseys have been majorly upgraded this past decade.

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16. Los Angeles Lakers – It’s classic, it’s iconic, it has a ton of history behind it but… It’s a little boring. Purple and gold is a really cool color scheme, but really, that’s all this logo has going for it that makes it cool. It’s just the team name over a basketball. The significance of this logo cannot be undersold, but in the end, it’s pretty plain.

 

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15. Houston Rockets – There’s a lot to like about this logo. The pointy end of the R resembles the nose cone of a rocket, and the rush of exhaust coming off at the bottom during a launch is a nice touch. Unlike most logos, the Rockets logo is just a simple red color. It’s a cool logo. Hopefully the Rockets can work on their jerseys though, they could use an upgrade.

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14. Indiana Pacers – Simple, but what suits one of the NBA’s smallest markets better? The Pacers logo has no flash or frills, but it’s still well done and easy on the eyes. The ball flying across the P is reminiscent of the speed found at the Indianapolis 500. The lines also remind me of the Pacers old pinstripe jerseys. Fun fact: the Pacers have the only logo in the NBA that does not feature the team’s city or state.

Kings

13. Sacramento Kings – Remember the Kings old logo? This monstrosity that looks a little like the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones. Man, what a mess that was. I would have ranked it last on this list. Like the Jazz, the Kings went back to their roots for their new logo. The gray and purple is a unique and really cool look, and the crown actually looks like a real crown this time. The Kings went from the worst logo in the league to top 15, that’s quite an improvement! Congratulations to the Kings.

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12. New Orleans Pelicans – This is one intimidating bird. New Orleans spanning just on top of the wings of the pelican has a font that is reminiscent of the city. The fleur-de-lis (which is also featured in the New Orleans Saints logo) at the top screams New Orleans. If you’re curious, a fleur-de-lis is a stylized lily that usually represents French royalty or saints. Pelicans aren’t the coolest of birds, but the Pelicans logo still manages to look fierce and aggressive.

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11. Toronto Raptors – The Raptors logo reminds me of Jurassic Park, which is pretty cool. The raptor claw doubling as the laces of the ball is awesome. But dang it, I miss that dribbling raptor. How much cooler does it get than a dinosaur dribbling a basketball? It may seem a little silly, but what a cool idea. As it stands, the Raptors have a good logo. It just isn’t the dribbling raptor.

 

 

 

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.