Kurt Helin

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Kyrie Irving says playing in Boston feels like “I’m really playing in a real, live sports city”

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This isn’t going to play well in Cleveland.

Kyrie Irving is an East Coast guy, he grew up in New Jersey (which is on the East Coast even if the rest of the states there don’t want to claim it). He likes the pace of life there. Now, after six years in Cleveland, he is back on his preferred coast in Boston.

He was talking about that move before a preseason game and said this, via the Charlotte Observer.

“It’s exciting to be back on the East Coast,” said Irving, who grew up in New Jersey. “It’s fast-paced. A lot of different cultures, food and people. You get it all, especially in Boston.

“You would go to Cleveland, and it would be at nighttime, and things would be going on, but you just see a vast difference.”

A difference, too, Irving said between Boston and Cleveland as sports cities: “Boston, I’m driving in and (thinking), ‘I’m really playing in a real, live sports city?’ ”

Real sports City? Did he mean to say that?

Is Boston a bigger city, does it offer more nightlife/entertainment options? Yes. Is it more culturally diverse? Yes (although Cleveland does better than people think in this regard.) Is the pace of life faster and more to Irving’s liking? Clearly.

But Clevelander’s love their sports teams. LOVE them. Even the Browns, who have done little to earn that love for years. Cleveland is a great sports town — and Irving will always be part of that legacy because he hit the series-clinching three over Stephen Curry that won the city its first pro sports title in five decades. He had to have seen the passion, the emotion that came with that.

Bostonians love their sports teams, too. They stuck with the Red Sox through a century of heartbreak. But is it a “real sports city” compared to Cleveland. Come on man.

Michael Jordan on Superteams: “28 teams are going to be garbage”

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Michael Jordan was the heart of one of the NBA’s great super teams, a Chicago Bulls squad that dominated the 1990s with six rings. It also happened to be the NBA’s most popular era.

Today, Jordan is a smaller-market NBA owner (Charlotte is the eighth-smallest media market in the NBA), and from his new business perspective, he’s not a fan of NBA superteams. This summer saw a consolidation of power as Houston and Oklahoma City loaded up to go at Golden State, while Boston put itself in position for future runs at Cleveland. A lot of owners had hoped that the new CBA would flatten out the talent pool, but that has not happened.

Here is what Jordan told Cigar Aficionado (in an article where MJ says he smokes six cigars a day), with a hat tip to Ben Goliver of Sports Illustrated (who apparently is a cigar aficionado).

“I think it’s going to hurt the overall aspect of the league from a competitive standpoint. You’re going to have one or two teams that are going to be great, and another 28 teams that are going to be garbage. Or they’re going to have a tough time surviving in the business environment.”

Jordan isn’t the only small- or middle-sized market owner to make this argument, although few others use the word garbage. The argument is that the league is top-heavy with a few great teams and if smaller markets like Charlotte are merely “good” — and the Hornets should be a good team, a playoff team in the East, although the Nicolas Batum injury is a setback — it will be hard to draw fans, get big sponsors, get good local television deals, and make money.

Jordan’s concern also isn’t new. The NBA’s national television ratings always thrive when it can get its biggest names on its biggest platforms — LeBron, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry in the Finals last season meant the best ratings since the Jordan era — and that has always led to a challenge in other markets. Smaller market owners were making this very case in the 1980s when the Lakers and Celtics bi-coastal rivalry dominated the sport. Same during Jordan’s 1990s run (he’s just on the other side of it now), or when Shaq/Kobe dominated, or when LeBron was in Miami, or… you get the picture.

Some fans will argue this is different because the players are recruiting each other and teams aren’t “organic,” but it’s not because no matter how these super teams were put together the impact is the same.

Overall, I would argue super teams are good for the sport — and with that smaller market owners. Superteams drive popularity, and while Jordan may struggle to make an annual profit in Charlotte, those figures don’t include how much teams like Golden State and Cleveland (and Houston, and OKC) are driving up the value of all franchises in the league. The Rockets just sold for $2.2 billion. With a “B.” It is a rising tide that floats all boats — and it also leads to massive national television contracts that all owners share in.

And all that’s not even getting into the argument that Oklahoma City and San Antonio are small markets, but with well-managed teams they are doing just fine.

Jordan may be frustrated about team building and his Hornets not being in position to, or able to, draw a superstar player, but that’s not the system’s fault.

In a watered down East, Celtics-Cavs is the best thing going

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — As star after star migrated from the Eastern Conference to the West this summer, the lesser of the NBA’s divisions got so watered down that some spice was badly needed.

Kyrie Irving delivered.

The mercurial guard stunned the rest of the league by requesting a trade away from LeBron James and the Cavaliers and the annual trip to the NBA Finals that comes with James. In subsequent interviews since he was traded to the Celtics, Irving has done little to smooth things over with the game’s best player or the franchise that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2011.

“It’s just really between two men,” Irving said last month when asked if he planned to reach out to James to clear the air. “If it happens or not, I’m pretty sure you guys won’t know about it.”

James didn’t hide his disappointment in Irving’s decision after teaming with him to go to the last three finals and win a championship two years ago.

“I tried to give him everything and give him as much of the DNA as I could,” he said. “At some point, when he was ready to take over the keys, I was ready to give them to him. So, the only thing I’m upset about is he took a lot of the DNA and a lot of the blueprint to Boston.”

James wasn’t the only one upset by the deal.

Isaiah Thomas was deeply wounded by Boston’s decision to trade him after an emotional and dominant season, setting the stage for a tense fight for conference supremacy.

“It definitely caught me off guard, but it also woke me up,” Thomas said. “It made me realize that this is a business and anybody other than probably LeBron James or Kevin Durant or those type of guys can be traded.”

This level of drama and intrigue is needed in a conference that lost Jimmy Butler, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague over the summer.

A look at the East, in predicted order of finish:

PLAYOFF BOUND

1. Cleveland – Death, taxes and LeBron in the finals.

2. Boston – The biggest question may be how will they account for the loss of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder on defense.

3. Washington – John Wall and Bradley Beal are ready for prime time. Now they have to get the rest of the team to follow them.

4. Toronto – Perpetually overlooked around this time of year, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan refuse to give in. Adding C.J. Miles was an underrated score. If they can breathe a little more movement into their offense, they’ll be in the mix again.

5. Miami – Here’s betting the second half of last season (30-11) was a lot closer to what the Heat actually are than the first half (11-30) was. A team that plays as hard as they do could climb even higher in the wide-open East.

6. Milwaukee – Giannis Antetokounmpo – aka the Greek Freak – seems destined for MVP consideration in the very near future. Jabari Parker‘s recovery may keep him out until February, which could hinder the Bucks’ climb up the ladder this season.

7. Charlotte – Here is where it starts to get really tricky. This is a vote of confidence in coach Steve Clifford’s ability to get more out of Dwight Howard than anyone since Stan Van Gundy.

8. Philadelphia – If Joel Embiid is somehow able to stay healthy for 60 games or more, veterans like J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson should be able to usher these kids into the postseason.

IN THE MIX

1. Detroit – Getting Bradley from the Celtics is a nice fit for Van Gundy. The bigger issue will be getting a team that at times seemed fractured and miserable last season on to the same page. That starts with Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond.

2. Orlando – Someone has to be 10th. Adding Jonathan Isaac‘s defensive instincts to the roster is a plus, but it remains an imbalanced team light on shooters and long on big men in a league that is getting smaller by the day.

FACING LONG ODDS

1. New York – New GM Scott Perry is boldly trying to go where few Knicks executives have gone – to Rebuilding Road. Now that Carmelo Anthony and Phil Jackson are gone, it’s Kristaps Porzingis and a bunch of unknowns trying to turn the corner.

2. Brooklyn – A year after posting the worst record in the NBA, the Nets should be … a little bit better. Coach Kenny Atkinson has more to work with in DeMarre Carroll, DeAngelo Russell and Allen Crabbe.

3. Indiana – Everyone knew Paul George was on his way out. That made deal-making difficult for GM Kevin Pritchard, and it showed in the return he got for one of the best players in the league. Now Myles Turner will have to step into the void, which is a big one.

4. Atlanta – That 60-win season seems longer than two years ago. New GM Travis Schlenk arrives from the Warriors, and it is going to take him some time to tear things down and build them back up.

5. Chicago – Likely opening night starting five: Jerian Grant, Justin Holiday, Paul Zipser, Nikola Mirotic and Robin Lopez. Enough said.

WHAT TO KNOW

LEBRON’S FUTURE: There are more than just whispers that James will leave the Cavaliers after this season, with the Lakers and Clippers as two potential suitors. James has said he intends to finish his career in Cleveland, but that doesn’t figure to quiet the questions until he signs a new contract next summer.

SIMMONS DEBUTS: 76ers G/F Ben Simmons, last year’s No. 1 overall pick, missed the entire season with a foot injury. He is ready to go this year, giving the Sixers even more hope that all the pain of the last few years is finally behind them.

HAYWARD’S IMPACT: Gordon Hayward was one of the few stars to leave the Western Conference for the East this summer. How quickly he assimilates with Irving and Al Horford will directly impact Boston’s ability to unseat the Cavs.

HOT SEAT: In a volatile industry, the NBA went an entire season without a coaching change for the first time since 1963-64. The odds of that remarkable stretch of stability holding until the start of next season are remarkably small. Van Gundy, Clifford, New York’s Jeff Hornacek and Indiana’s Nate McMillan enter the season under scrutiny.

 

PBT Podcast: NBA MVP, Awards predictions with Sean Deveney of The Sporting News

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With all the help Russell Westbrook got this season, does he stand a chance of repeating as NBA MVP? Is James Harden in the same situation now that Chris Paul has arrived — the team is much improved, but the Beard’s MVP chances get worse? (A trade they are willing to make.) Does LeBron James want to chase his fifth MVP?

Is Lonzo Ball going to be the Rookie of the Year? Who picks up the Sixth Man award, Coach of the Year and all the other trove of NBA postseason awards?

Kurt Helin of NBC Sports welcomes in Sean Deveney of The Sporting News make their predictions and break down all the races in this latest PBT Podcast.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Our NBA MVP predictions for 2018

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Last season saw Russell Westbrook and James Harden put up such ridiculous numbers that it turned a deep pool of quality MVP candidates into a two-man race (which Westbrook won). Then this summer they both got help — Harden is now paired with Chris Paul, Westbrook with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Adding that kind of talent will cut into their numbers (even if it’s best for the team).

All this throws the 2018 MVP race wide open. Here are our staff picks.

Kurt Helin: LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)

Things just set up for LeBron to win this award for the fifth time. In recent years it seems we’ve become complacent to his greatness — the man averaged 26-8-8 last season, played great defense, and we shrugged. This season, with Kyrie Irving gone and Isaiah Thomas out until January, the spotlight on LeBron will be brighter. Combine that with Westbrook and Harden getting superstars to go next to them, Kevin Durant being on a flat-out loaded team that wins a lot (same with Stephen Curry), and LeBron seems the favorite. (Either LeBron or that two-way player down in San Antonio seem the frontrunners, and I like Giannis Antetokounmpo as a dark horse, but the Bucks need to win more). I think this just sets up for LeBron to pick up award No. 5, the only question is how bad he wants it.

Dan Feldman: Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs)

Leonard is the safe choice, an elite player who’s not playing with another. The Spurs are always an excellent regular-season team, and Leonard dominates both ends of the floor. Kevin Durant (Stephen Curry), Curry (Durant), Russell Westbrook (Paul George and Carmelo Anthony) and James Harden (Chris Paul) all must share the spotlight. LeBron James lost his highest-usage co-star and gained motivation to show out this regular season, but 82 games is a long time to sustain peak performance. I’ll go with the 26-year-old over the 32-year-old who has played in the last seven Finals.

Dane Carbaugh: LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)

The Eastern Conference didn’t do itself any favors this offseason with many stars heading West. LeBron James has always beaten up on his conference opponents, but this season will be different. There’s less Kyrie Irving to go around, and Kevin Love is playing the 5. James is slated to go back to the role he played on offense for the Miami Heat, one in which he excels as a wing creator and point forward.

That’s not a huge departure from how he has played with the Cavaliers in the past, but we are talking about small tolerances here. The margin between LeBron, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, and James Harden is so razor thin that something like a simple change in style could make all the difference.

The main challengers in the East still have to go through Cleveland, and there are some serious doubts for each of those teams. Are the Celtics deep enough? Can the Raptors be less Raptors-y? If LeBron can dominate his conference opponents yet again, I think the MVP goes to him one more time.