AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn

51Q: Who’s the second-best team in the East — and does it matter?

10 Comments

We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season.

The Bulls have just Taj Gibson left from 2011. The Celtics have only Avery Bradley left from 2012. The Pacers are down to just Paul George from 2013 and 2014. The Hawks have already moved on from three starters (Jeff Teague, DeMarre Carroll and Al Horford) from 2015. The Raptors are largely in tact from 2016, but for how long?

LeBron James hasn’t just won the last six Eastern Conference titles. He has torn apart his conference-finals opposition.

LeBron is going for a seventh straight conference title this year, and his Cavaliers are heavily favored to get it.

Toronto will take another stab at unseating Cleveland, and a new-look Boston appears formidable. But the rest of the East lags well behind the Cavs.

LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love form an untouchable trio in the conference. Tristan Thompson is an excellent fourth wheel, and assuming J.R. Smith eventually signs, he’ll fit well as a 3-point sniper and push Iman Shumpert into being an effective sixth man.

But there are cracks in the foundation. Cleveland is short a reliable backup point guard after losing Matthew Dellavedova to the Bucks and Mo Williams to retirement. Several key contributors – Channing Frye (33), Mike Dunleavy (36), Richard Jefferson (36) and Chris Andersen (38) – are old. This is where LeBron’s Heat teams got into trouble, asking too much of over-the-hill veterans no longer capable of providing quality depth.

Again, though, it didn’t matter until the Finals, if it did at all. Miami still won the East all four years LeBron played there.

LeBron been so dominant within his conference, there’s virtue in second place.

The Raptors should probably be thrilled with repeating last season’s results (a franchise-best 56 wins and their first two victorious best-of-seven playoff series). With Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas returning, it’s possible not to slip. A healthier DeMarre Carroll could even make Toronto more threatening, though losing Bismack Biyombo hurts.

The Celtics should be better with Al Horford, a true-way contributor built for the playoffs. A solid core with Horford, Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, a treasure trove of extra draft picks and plenty of cap flexibility have Boston well-positioned for the next several years. If that means finishing second in the East this year, that’s an excellent step in the right direction – one that could help the Celtics lure their much-coveted next star.

Other teams – like the Pistons, Hawks, Pacers and Hornets – should be over the moon with losing to the Cavs in the conference finals. That’d be a major breakthrough for those upstarts.

But it’s still likely to be Cleveland in the end – even if there’s room for false hope first. LeBron’s teams have fallen short of the No. 1 seed most years of his NBA Finals streak. They’re just good enough to win in the playoffs regardless.

LeBron is 72-20 Eastern Conference playoff games and 18-0 in Eastern Conference playoff series the last six years. His Cavaliers had won 17 straight Eastern Conference playoff games before dropping its guard against Toronto last season. Cleveland still regrouped to dominate the last two games of the Eastern Conference finals and advance to face the Warriors.

The Warriors could be even better this year, with Kevin Durant joining Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. But Golden State might not even be the most likely team to win its conference. The Cavs are that much ahead of their Eastern Conference foes.

Everyone is fighting to face Cleveland in the conference finals – to be the last team standing in case. In case LeBron gets hurt, in case the Cavs’ shooters go cold, in case Kevin Love fits out, in case…

In case the longshot pulls through.

But we know the resounding favorite.

Nets reportedly extend Caris LeVert on 3-year, $52.5 million deal

Getty
Leave a comment

The Brooklyn Nets have Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, and that’s going to be important for the next half-decade or so. Those two players will shoulder the bulk of Brooklyn’s championship hopes over that time frame.

But so too is it important for the Nets to keep a strong team around its superstars. Too many teams seem to end up top heavy as they try to chase championships year after year.

To that end, Brooklyn has reportedly signed their own budding star Caris LeVert to an extension that takes him through 2023.

Via ESPN and Twitter:

LeVert’s extension starts at $16.2 million in 2020-21 and escalates to $17.5 million and $18.8 million in the next two years, ESPN’s Bobby Marks reported.

The deal gives LeVert security and a chance to return to free agency or negotiate an extension before his 28th birthday.

LeVert’s extension is worth a reported $52.5 million, which makes him reasonably paid within the team context and should give him a chance to cash out yet again before he hits age 30.

This season will be an interesting look into how LeVert and Irving work together on the floor without Durant. They can get into some kind of rhythm and find an understanding between them, which is going to be vital for when Durant eventually returns in 2020.

Team USA sees betting odds in World Cup skew downward

Getty
Leave a comment

Team USA is 12 man roster is now set, and they are prepared to take on the rest of the world in the 2019 FIBA World Cup In China with summer.

The United States finally lost a game for the first time in 13 years on Saturday, falling to Patty Mills and Australia, 98-94.

But despite that loss, the United States is still the odds-on favorite to win the World Cup this year. Then again, their odds have started to slip since the start of the summer.

According to Westgate, the United States is favored at 4/7 to take home the gold. Team USA originally opened at 1/5. Now some other teams have moved up in oddsmakers’ minds.

Via Westgate and Action Network:

  • United States: 4/7
  • Serbia: 2-1
  • Greece: 10-1
  • Spain: 20-1
  • France: 25-1
  • Australia: 30-1
  • Lithuania: 60-1
  • Canada: 100-1

Serbia seems like a pretty good shot to usurp the throne for the United States. Nikola Jokic has said that he wants his team to medal, but no doubt he and his squad will be looking for a gold medal.

The United States is suffering from a lack of continuity and star power. That might not matter given that Gregg Popovich is still the head coach and USA Basketball far out matches other countries in terms of raw talent.

But as we saw in 2004, talent doesn’t trump all when it comes to Team USA. The door is open for other countries to grab the top spot for the time being, and oddsmakers think so as well.

Rui Hachimura pumped when friend Sumo wrestler Hakuho drains free throw

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Rui Hachimura, the Gonzaga star drafted ninth by the Washington Wizards, is having a blast this summer playing for his native Japan as their national team gears up for the World Cup in China starting in one week.

However, he may never have been more pumped than when his friend, legendary sumo wrestler Hakuho, came out in his robes and drained a free throw.

The Wizards have to get Hakuho to a game this season, let him take a few shots during a timeout. We all need to see this.

And Hakuho was nothing, another sumo wrestler walked out in robes and drained a straight-on three.

I need to see a sumo wrestler pickup game now more than I need anything else in my life. I want to see the battle for post position.

Hachimura has played well for Japan, he dropped 31 points on Germany in the final tuneup game for the World Cup, showing off a comfort level from the midrange that is impressive. He hit shots off the dribble and on the catch.

Hachimura and Japan are in the same group as Team USA in the World Cup, and the two teams face off Sept. 3 in Shanghai.

Enes Kanter says he might add ‘American’ name once he’s a U.S. citizen (VIDEO)

7 Comments

Enes Kanter has been dealing with being a man without a country for some time. The Turkish-born Boston Celtics center has openly criticized Turkish president Recep Erdoğan, And as such he is no longer welcome back in his home country.

In fact, Kanter didn’t have a valid Turkish passport this past spring, so the question of whether he might be able to re-enter the United States if he went to Canada was raised by several Portland Trail Blazers fans, including Senator Ron Wyden.

Kanter has been in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen for some time, and he appears close to that goal. As such, Kanter mentioned this week that he might add an “American” name onto his name when that happens.

Speaking to TMZ, Kanter said that, “I’m actually becoming a U.S. citizen in two years: I’m actually thinking about adding an American name. I’m still thinking about it. I don’t know yet.”

One of the newest Celtics, Kanter appears to have a diplomatic way about him and the ability to network with folks higher up. Given amount of time, resources, and potential political power behind him as an NBA player, there is hope that he will become an U.S. citizen.

Whether Kanter really wants to add an ”American” name — whatever that’s supposed to mean — is anyone’s guess. One of the founding principles of this country is the concept of the melting pot, and so a great American name for Enes Kanter would be… Enes Kanter.