Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

This year, can an underdog win the NBA title?

4 Comments

Bill James, the legendary baseball statistician, has said the problem with the NBA is the best team almost always wins.

In baseball, the summer-long 162-game season gives you the best teams in each division, but the best-of-seven playoff series involves a lot of luck and favors hot pitchers and bullpens. In the NFL the playoffs are single elimination, favoring the hottest team not always the best team. Same with the NCAA college basketball tournament.

But the NBA, with its best of seven, heavily favors the heavily favorite. Put simply, at the start of the NBA season you can name the five teams most likely to win an NBA title and 9 times out of 10 your champion comes from that group.

Which makes this season’s NBA playoffs interesting. Sure, we may still wind up with Lakers vs. Celtics in the finals, but this year there will be upsets and new faces.

Could an underdog actually hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the season?

Well, define underdog. Do you mean a team that is an underdog in its first-round playoff matchup? Then no. Look, maybe the Knicks get by the Celtics, or the Trail Blazers knock off the Mavericks, but do you really think New York or Portland are making a run all the way to the NBA finals? I like LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace as much as the next guy, but Portland would have to get past the Lakers and the Spurs just to reach the finals. The Knicks would still have the Heat and Bulls just to get to the finals. So, no, that’s not really happening.

But, could someone we didn’t expect at the start of the year win the title?

The Chicago Bulls fit that bill. And if defense wins championships then they have a real chance because nobody defends like them, taking away what other teams are comfortable with, closing out on shooters. They get enough offense from Derrick Rose, at least they did during the regular season. That will be the test, when teams start trapping Rose and daring anyone else to beat them who will step up. The Bulls will still execute better than anyone on defense, but will their offense be up to the task.

Out west, the Oklahoma City Thunder fit the bill. There were everybody’s darling when they were running up and down the court and pushing the Lakers to six games last year. Now they are more mature and they added Kendrick Perkins to address a need in the paint. They are on the verge of a breakthrough, and they should get past Denver in the first round.

They likely face San Antonio in the second round, and that will be their big test — the Thunder are the more athletic team, but have they matured in how to use that athleticism enough overcome the calm, efficient execution of the Spurs. Will Kevin Durant be a playoff assassin, will Russell Westbrook use his quickness within the system. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was worried they could and said last week that his team would be challenged trying to run up and down the court with the Thunder.

If the Thunder defend, if they get Durant and Westbrook going, they can beat anyone. They can beat the Spurs, they can beat the Lakers. They are contenders.

Still, maybe not this year. But in a couple of years, expect to see a Thunder vs. Bulls finals. But by then they will be the favorites.

Stephen Curry tries to pass off backboard to himself (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

NEW ORLEANS — LeBron James can do it.

Stephen Curry? Not so much.

The Golden State Warriors PG tried to pull the Trady McGrady in Sunday’s All-Star Game but found himself coming up just a little short.

Before trade, DeMarcus Cousins’ agent said client unlikely to re-sign with new team

Western Conference forward DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings (15) plays during the first half of the NBA All-Star basketball game in New Orleans, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. The New Orleans Pelicans agreed to acquire Cousins from the Kings on Sunday, the same night the center was playing in the All-Star Game in their arena. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)
AP Photo/Max Becherer
2 Comments

DeMarcus Cousins signing a five-year, $209 million contract extension?

That’s out the window with his trade from the Kings to the Pelicans rendering him ineligible to become a designated veteran player.

Which could explain why Cousins’ agent, Jarrinn Akana, was making noise about not re-signing with another team. Dissuading potential suitors and staying in Sacramento was Cousins’ only path to the biggest payday.

Here’s Akana, before the trade was set, via Marc Stein of ESPN:

A straight contract extension next summer makes no sense. The most that could pay Cousins is $92,559,167 over four years ($23,139,792 annually).

If he simply lets his contract expire and re-signs in 2018, a new deal projects to be worth about $179 million (about $36 million annually).

The Pelicans can try for a renegotiation-and-extension, but they would need cap room to raise his 2017-18 salary from $18,063,850 toward his projected max of about $31 million. With significant money due to Anthony Davis, Solomon Hill, Omer AsikE'Twaun Moore, Alexis Ajinca, Quincy PondexterDante CunninghamTim FrazierCheick Diallo and, they hope, a re-signed Jrue Holiday, it’s unlikely the Pelicans clear enough room to renegotiate Cousins’ deal.

Cousins is probably headed toward unrestricted free agency in 2018. Then, New Orleans projects to be able to offer about $179 million (about $36 million annually) to another team’s projected max of about $133 million (about $33 million annually).

It’s an advantage, but not a bulletproof one. I think Cousins will be more amenable to re-signing than his agent indicated now that a trade is actually happening, but he could still walk.

This is the risk the Pelicans took.

 

 

Why did Kings get so little for Cousins? Lakers not willing to part with Ingram sign of soft market

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Vlade Divac of Serbia watches during the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Getty Images
3 Comments

Back in 2015 there was already a push from people inside the Sacramento Kings organization to move on from the DeMarcus Cousins era. There were groundwork talks with a number of teams, but a lot of rumors circulated around the Lakers, where Jim Buss was trying to land a star for his franchise that would lead to a quick turnaround. While the deal was never finalized, reports had the Lakers offering both their first round picks that year, which became D'Angelo Russell (No. 2) and Larry Nance Jr. (27th), plus a few other pieces.

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive shot the deal down then — as he did with every deal until Sunday night.

By the tine Ranadive came around to the idea of trading Cousins, the market had changed. And dried up. All the Kings landed was last draft’s No. 6 pick Buddy Hield (who Vlade Divac has been higher on than most), the Pelicans pick this draft in the mid-teens, a high second round pick, and some pieces such as Tyreke Evans that are not part of the Kings’ future.

The deal has been widely panned for the Kings, but what they got may well have been the best offer available right now. A lot of teams have concerns about Cousins’ impact on their locker rooms — teams that liked their rosters didn’t want to add drama. Plenty of teams would not talk trade. Also, there is a glut of bigs on the market right now. If teams wanted to give up multiple first-round picks for a center, they could have already because Nets have Brook Lopez on the block — not as talented, but also not a challenge in the locker room. Jahlil Okafor, Tyson Chandler and other centers also are available.

The Kings went back to the Lakers, but when they asked for the young guy the Lakers are highest on, Brandon Ingram, it fell apart, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report added this interesting tidbit about the Kings and Lakers talks in recent days.

Then Buss, in particular, was sorely tempted to shift course yet again Sunday, break from those plans and trade whatever youth it took in the hopes of landing DeMarcus Cousins, according to a team source.

It wasn’t just the Lakers who would not go in big on Cousins.

Calls to Boston found even worse offers, with Danny Ainge worried about Cousins’ impact in the locker room and if they could/would want to retain him. The Booklyn picks were never close to on the table.

Philly is no longer really interested thanks to Joel Embiid (even with the health concerns there).

There were talks with the Suns, but Sacramento didn’t like Brandon Knight as the best player they would get back.

And so it goes down the list, teams were hesitant to give up much and the Kings were left to take the best of bad options. Part of the reason for the Cousins market being dry is that since he is traded, Cousins is no longer eligible for the “designated player” supermax deal, and the difference between what the team that has his Bird rights in 2018 can offer and what other teams can offer is not that great. Which is to say, a lot of teams think they can take a swing at Cousins as a free agent in two summers if they really want him, and they don’t have to give up assets to get him.

The Pelicans were never going to get a seat at the table in those free agent conversations, so trading for him makes a lot of sense for New Orleans.

But for most teams, they were willing to pass. Which left the Kings without good options for a deadline trade.

Of course, what a more stable organization might have done is decide the offers were terrible and hold off on a trade until around the draft or into summer free agency. The deals are not going to get worse, and they might well get a little better. But for whatever reason — concern that Ranadive would change his mind, again? — the Kings moved now.

And that leaves them in a tough spot.

 

Report: Kings expected to waive Matt Barnes to facilitate DeMarcus Cousins trade

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 28:  Matt Barnes #22 of the Sacramento Kings looks on against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on November 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images
4 Comments

The Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins to change their culture.

So, Sacramento is also unsurprisingly dumping the player who allegedly partnered with Cousins nightclub fight: Matt Barnes.

 

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Beyond fitting the Kings’ new vision, the move is necessary, because they have a full roster and are acquiring more players (Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans and Langston Galloway) than they’re sending out (Cousins and Omri Casspi) in the Pelicans trade.

Barnes, who turns 37 in a couple weeks, is slipping. But he could still add experienced depth to a contender as a 3-and-D wing. (Hello, Cavaliers?)

A hard-nosed player, he’s a great teammate in many ways. And the veterans who comprise contenders would be less likely to be influenced by the ways he’s not — which wasn’t the case in Sacramento.