It’s such a New York Knicks move

It’s such a Knicks move it’s not even funny anymore. I’m not against Brunson securing the bag; I’m happy for him. The Mavericks probably don’t get to the Western Conference Finals without his contribution in the playoffs. Brunson took over against Utah in the first round, with Luka Dončić inactive during the first three games of that series. Brunson led Dallas to a 2-1 series lead, scoring 41 and 31 points in games 2 and 3.

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But this signing doesn’t jump off the page when you think of New York City and the wow factor. Then again, Knicks free agent pickups never really scream “wow.” Not in the good sense, at least. Last year it was NYC native Kemba Walker coming home to play for the franchise, and that wound up not working out. They also brought in Evan Fournier, which was great for about one night at the start of last season.

A couple of years before Walker and Fournier, Julius Randle signed a big free-agent deal with New York. That came on the heels of Kevin Durant turning down the Knicks in favor of following his buddy Kyrie Irving to the Brooklyn Nets. That hasn’t exactly worked out as planned, but it’s the same old song for the Knicks.

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This franchise hasn’t landed a big-name star since Carmelo Anthony in 2011. That should have been a free agent signing, but the Knicks gutted their roster trading for Anthony instead of waiting until the summer. That move produced a couple of postseason appearances and a 54-win season where the Knicks were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Certainly not the outcome Knicks fans had hoped for.

With the Brunson deal, the kicker is now the team will likely be penalized because it leaked that they’d been in contact with him before they were supposed to. Honestly, who cares? Damn, near every team, is tampering. Someone’s always spouting off about this player and that player going to another team. It’s already the wild west in terms of player movement. Let’s remove “tampering” and let them all have at it. Teams and players are already doing it anyway.

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Tampering in the eyes of the NBA is all over the board. If you mention a player while being even remotely affiliated with a different team, you could get popped with a tampering fine. The Lakers incurred a $50,000 fine a few years ago after Magic Johnson spoke glowingly in public about the greatness of Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Brunson’s situation relates more closely to actual tampering, but even that seems ridiculous. There’s no way the NBA believes organizations aren’t having conversations with soon-to-be free agents during the season. Even if it isn’t directly with the player, messages are relayed through an agent, family members, friends, etc.

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These franchises know the deal, and they’re still out to get the upper hand on acquiring players by any means necessary. It’s time to give up this charade. Teams and players don’t give a crap. The league makes so much money that teams don’t care about $50K or even $100K fine if it means landing their man.

Trust me, these owners care much more about the recklessness of player movement and these guys demanding trades with multiple years left on existing contracts. But that’s likely to end in the next collective bargaining agreement. Player empowerment is wonderful, but it’s gotten out of control, and the owners will reel it in soon.

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When the two sides return to the bargaining table, one thing on the agenda needs to be removing tampering. It’s downright silly. It can’t be that significant a factor affecting competitive balance if nearly everyone engages. They just need to eliminate it and move on. 

In the NBA, who just got overpaid? And who got underpaid?

One of the best things about NBA Free Agency is witnessing the many athletes who have spent years toiling on blacktop courts in ignored corners get paid. Nothing wrong with hard-working people getting money legally. Isn’t that the American Dream? Playing armchair quarterback in group chats, comment threads, and…

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It’s time to stop kicking the word ‘superstar’ around the NBA like it’s a game of hacky sack

Basketball Superstars for Shaq

You won’t find many people that disagree with the Hall of Famers’ statement. I might add one or two names to that list, but it certainly isn’t as long as some folks would have you believe. Luka Dončić was crowned by some two years ago as a superstar. I needed to see him lead the Mavs past the first round of the playoffs before I could even consider it. Luka went a step further and carried Dallas to the western conference finals. So, I’m okay with adding Dončić to the list.

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Borderline (Madonna voice)

It feels like I’m going to lose my mind over all these supposed superstars. After about four or five players, we get into murky water in this debate. Can we still consider Kawhi Leonard a superstar? How about Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokić? Embiid and Jokic were the frontrunners for league MVP most of the season, with the latter winning. That made Jokić a back-to-back MVP.

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For most people, that’s enough. Winning two MVP awards in a row is one hell of an accomplishment. Including Jokić, only 14 players in the history of the NBA have won consecutive MVP awards. Three of those guys did it a third time. So, it’s hard not to include Jokić on the superstar list, but when you follow up a great season by getting bounced in the first round of the postseason, that decision becomes much easier.

Before you denounce everything I’ve said, think about this. Go back a decade-plus and think about current Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash. He won back-to-back MVP awards in the mid-2000s. Nash was a great player but never considered a superstar. That’s how I see Jokić right now. He’s a darling among the analytics community, but what did all those pretty numbers accomplish when it was “show me” time? Nikola and the Nuggets went home early.

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Embiid is another one that I think many of us want to be included in the superstar conversation. Joel had his best year in ‘21-22, winning a scoring title, averaging over 30 ppg, and he played in 68 games. That’s the most games Embiid has played in a season since he entered the league. Ultimately, two things are keeping Embiid on the borderline of the superstar/star discussion: 1.) Availability 2.) He’s yet to lead the Sixers to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Others

With the level of talent in the NBA today, just about everyone is capable of posting gaudy statistics based on their role with a team. DeMar DeRozan averaged nearly 28ppg for Chicago this year after falling off the map in San Antonio the previous two seasons. No one is mistaking DeRozan for a superstar despite the fantastic season he just finished. Most people felt Embiid should’ve won MVP anyway.

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I think it’s close for Embiid and Jokić, but I’ve got both big men on the outside looking in. Yes, in the Orlando bubble a couple of years ago, Jokić got the Nuggets to the conference finals. But since that WCF appearance, the Nuggets haven’t gone past the semi-finals, and Jokić won his MVPs in those two campaigns. It’s splitting hairs, but I’ve got Embiid and Jokić on the cusp of superstardom.

Then we’ve got a player like Leonard, who was viewed as a bonafide superstar at one point. But if availability is part of the formula that keeps Embidd out of the club, then we’ve got to show some consistency. When healthy, Kawhi is one of the five best players in the NBA because of what he brings offensively and defensively. Although he’s no longer the defender he was a few years ago, he was still considered a top two-way player before his ACL injury in the 2021 playoffs. Until Kawhi proves he’s still one of the top five players in the league, he’s coming off the list.

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James Harden is another player that was included in this conversation for years, and now he’s more of an afterthought. Anthony Davis has been called a top-five talent since he entered the NBA but hasn’t been able to creep into that superstar category.

Davis played great in 2020 when the Lakers won it all in the bubble, but LeBron was the main driving force on that team like he’s always been. The following year when James was ready to hand over the keys to Davis, he wasn’t prepared for the transition. The most significant issues with Davis have been health and not stepping up and leading when it’s been his time.

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Jayson Tatum flirted with the superstar label this year but ultimately was too inconsistent during their playoff run to plant his flag on that mountain. Trae Young is another young star who could be next in line to become a superstar, but he’s not there yet. I’ve heard Donovan Mitchell’s name mentioned as a superstar over the last couple of years, and I just can’t agree. He’s an outstanding player. Not a superstar.

Damian Lillard is another one who’s right there, and just when it looked like he might have made that crossover into superstar status, he gets hurt and misses more than half the season. Lillard played in about as many games as Kyrie Irving did this season. Lillard was injured, and Irving lives in outer space. But Lillard is much closer to superstar status than Irving will ever be. But due to the rough start last season, then only playing 29 games, Dame is just outside the superstar tier.

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So What Defines a Superstar?

All the players mentioned can be deemed exceptional, but I don’t think a few great moments make one a superstar. Doing it as the lead player on a team, year after year, is what does it. Winning awards and accolades are a factor, without a doubt, but team success means just as much, and probably more.

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The four players that Shaq mentioned have all won rings, regular-season MVP, and Finals MVP awards. LeBron, Giannis, Steph, and KD are bonafide NBA superstars. There’s no debating that. I added Luka to the group, but I wouldn’t begrudge anyone for leaving him off. Right now, he doesn’t have any of the accolades mentioned above. But I think he’ll get there in time.

Superstar should be reserved for the best of the best; in the same way, the term “great team” should also be preserved. Since 2010 there have only been two truly great teams in the NBA. The Miami Heat of the early 00s with James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. Then the Golden State Warriors later in the same decade.

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That’s it. Those were the only teams to win more than one championship that decade. And both teams had superstars leading their squads. The same rule applies to the term superstar. If so many superstars exist in the league, then the word’s meaning no longer carries the same effect. 

Riding the Chet Holmgren overhype train

Over the past 24 hours, Banchero jumped into the favorite spot in betting odds to be the No. 1 pick. This comes as a surprise since most of the talk had been about Smith or Holmgren going first until now. Regardless of Banchero’s overnight rise, I’d still be inclined to draft him ahead of Holmgren. Banchero’s game and body are ready to contribute in the NBA immediately. He’s 6′-foot-10, 250 pounds. Wherever he falls, I can see him starting from the opening tip next season.

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Holmgren will probably need more development time which he’ll get in Oklahoma City, where he’s largely projected to go at this point. The Thunder have been very successful in the draft over the years and always have multiple picks. So, they’re probably OK with Holmgren not being NBA-ready for a year or two after drafting him. But if they want a quicker bang for their, they’d select Banchero, assuming Smith is the first player taken.

I’m not saying Chet can’t be a good player in the NBA. I just don’t see a star in the making. A nice solid role player feels like what he’ll eventually settle into. Of the three, Smith seems like he’s most likely the future star of this trio.

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Of course, where a player lands plays a huge part in how their career turns out. Since the Thunder have four picks in the top 34, whiffing on one wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. But missing on the second overall pick when there’s a better option (or two) available is something not easily forgotten.

None of this is an exact science for anyone. The so-called “can’t miss” guys often become career role players or wash out of the league before their rookie contract expires. Other times we see someone like Giannis Antetokounmpo go on to shock the world in his progression over several years.

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One of the more recent comparisons for Holmgren has been to a young Giannis. Not MVP Giannis, but 2013s 15th overall pick of the draft. I see where some might make this comparison as you have two tall, skinny kids with potential and upside. Antetokounmpo claims he’s gained 50 pounds since coming into the association in 2013. It’s not impossible, but I’d like to see if Holmgren can add half the weight Giannis has over his time in the league. It just looks like that will be a tremendous battle for Holmgren.

We saw in the NCAA Tournament that Holmgren’s play felt underwhelming at times as the competition got stronger, tougher, and stepped up a notch. In Gonzaga’s final two tourney games, Holmgren scored a combined 20 points against Memphis and Arkansas. He did grab 23 rebounds in the two games, which is a great sign but whether he can do this consistently in the NBA is open for debate.

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Holmgren has a nice skill set, but whoever drafts him will need to spend many hours with this kid in the weight room. He has a nice handle for a 7-footer but isn’t very explosive. So, I just think it’s going to take time for Holmgren to become comfortable with the NBA game, and it’s going to take a patient team (like OKC) that’s fine with him needing two-three years before he’s ready to play significant minutes. 

Your 2022 NBA All-Postseason Team

In the NBA, the playoffs are truly a second season. There are no more back-to-backs, but there are also no more rest games for players. Also, there are no more sub-.400 teams on the schedule. To recover from a bad loss in the postseason, requires returning to the court 48 hours later and playing against the very same…

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