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. 

Kevin Durant wants a new team to front run for

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Hmmm, was the amount of research KD did simply looking at last year’s regular-season standings?

But, we know that Durant has pulled this act before. The first time he was open for wooing, he ended up on the greatest team of all-time, the 73-win Warriors that did that without him. He got a lot of plaudits and confirmation as a true NBA legend and a crunch-time hero for winning games in the Finals that the Dubs would have won without him. So too is his other big accomplishment, a Gold Medal in Tokyo, a bauble that Team USA likely would have found anyway.

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Durant tried to create his own power in Brooklyn, it didn’t work, and now he’s going back to the old playbook of just finding one already constructed. He wants the baby without the labor pains, which we all do in some way. Both the Suns and Heat would probably be stripped pretty heavily to acquire Durant, but that’s not his concern at the moment. And if they are, we’ll do all this again in two years.

And to be fair, Durant tried the hero thing the past couple springs. He couldn’t beat the Bucks alone in 2021, though he came awfully close. He couldn’t come anywhere close to beating the Celtics on his own this past spring. And perhaps that’s enough for him. This new road is awfully easier.

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But hey, as Homer Simpson told us, “If something is hard to do it’s not worth doing.” Durant tried to make the Nets something truly memorable, even noticeable, for the first time in their history. It didn’t work. So now he’s going back to what he knows, running the last lap of the race. Nice gig if you can get it.

Don’t mourn the NCAA being cut out

The main takeaway from USC and UCLA bolting for the Big 10 in two years, other than this:

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…is that this is just another big leap down the road to college football doing away with the NCAA. We’re getting to a point where the Big 10 and SEC will swallow up just about everything, and then they can just ask, “Why don’t we just have our two champions play one another and that’ll be the national champion?”

All the NCAA does now is just hold events and plan parties, and negotiate contracts for those, so why can’t these two conferences do it for themselves? Make them both 24 teams, and let them negotiate their own deals. It’s what the NCAA deserves. 

Kevin Durant wants out of Brooklyn, according to reports

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Durant’s interest makes restricted free agent Deandre Ayton a prime sign-and-trade candidate. Phoenix needed a lifeline this offseason. Their reluctance to sign Ayton to a five-year $177 million extension or match the four-year $131 million contract that other teams can sign him to put them in a tricky position. Given their tight championship window, Phoenix would do whatever it takes to slot Durant between Devin Booker, perimeter defensive pincer Mikal Bridges and Chris Paul as soon as possible. The Nets may demand Bridges as a sacrifice, but it’s one the Suns would make in a hot second.

The Portland Trail Blazers have been lobbying hard for Durant. Don’t be surprised if Mayor Ted Wheeler hosts a live press conference to woo KD to their title-starved hoops-obsessed city. Portland has the best formula of picks and young talent to sacrifice to the Altar of Durant while maintaining a roster deep enough to contend. They could throw multiple firsts, Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe in Brooklyn’s direction and both teams could be content. The Blazers might fight to keep Simons, but if it becomes a dealbreaker, his bags will be packed for him.

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The Lakers makes sense on paper. Durant joining LeBron would be the ultimate mashup. For years, they duked it out as the top-2 players in the league. They’ve both stumbled from their peaks, but their apex is so high, that they’re still consistently top-five players when they’re at their worst. From the Brooklyn Nets’ angle, Anthony Davis, 29, may have enough juice left in his tank to be an All-NBA big for another five years. His porcelain bones will always be a concern but when he’s healthy, he’s an elite, two-way velociraptor.

Miami got the cold shoulder from Jalen Brunson today after he signed a four-year $110M deal with the Knicks, but re-inserted themselves into the Durant discussions.

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However, the Heat don’t own a first-round pick until 2024 and can’t give up consecutive firsts because of The Stepien Rule, which prevents teams from being without first-round picks in consecutive drafts. For Brooklyn to surrender a player of Durant’s caliber they’d likely ask for Bam Adebayo. The Nets would be precluded from swapping Durant for Adebayo because of an obscure rule that prevents teams from having two players who were acquired via trades while they’re on Designated Rookie Extension contracts. After trading for Ben Simmons at the trade deadline, the only way Adebayo could wind up on the Nets is if Simmons were traded. That’s not outside the realm of possibilities, but unlikely because his trade stock is in the basement.

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Yet, where there’s a will there’s a way. NBA execs have written the book on twisting through corporate loopholes, but just because they can doesn’t mean they should.

Two point-centers as the focal point of the Nets lineup for the next few years is as problematic as Embiid and Simmons plodding through the rush hour traffic in the paint. However, a three-team trade in which Durant is whisked off to Miami, Bam shipped to another team, who traded their superstar to Brooklyn would be amenable to Miami and Brooklyn. Finding that third team is easier said than done.

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The Nets will have a pile of options to review. Ultimately, wherever Durant ends up will upend the league.

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. 

Tina Charles hops from superteam to superteam in midseason

The official line from Charles’ camp is that Charles was unhappy with her usage in Phoenix. However, that appears to be more like a smokescreen for her desire to play on a contender. This season, Charles is averaging 17.3 points on 53.0 percent true shooting, 7.3 rebounds and using 25.9 percent of the team’s possessions.

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She ranks eighth in the WNBA in usage rate and ninth in points while sharing the court with Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith. Charles was the scoring champ in 2021 on a Mystics team that missed Elena Della Donne for all but three games.

After spurning the Storm to sign with the Mercury in February, Charles’ 2022 season quickly became a mirror of 2021, when Brittney Griner was imprisoned in Russia. Charles was a liability on defense and without Griner in the paint, the Mercury struggled to compensate.

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The Mercury, as one would expect, aren’t happy about Charles jumping ship. During the Mercury’s 83-72 win over the Dallas Wings on Saturday, guard Sophie Cunningham eloquently laid out the team’s feelings toward their former teammate.

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The frustration from Phoenix is understandable. After signing Charles, Phoenix had arguably the most complete team in the WNBA. Instead, the 7-12 Mercury have been put through the wringer. Arguably their best player has been imprisoned in Russia for months and there appears to be no immediate release for her in sight. Griner’s imprisonment and the negotiations surrounding her release in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war have weighed heavily on the WNBA, but especially on the shoulders of the team that she has spent her entire career on.

We saw cracks in the facade when Diggins-Smith and Taurasi got into a screaming match on the sidelines in mid-May during the first half against Las Vegas. The Mercury could still rally behind the pieces they do have to make a playoff push, however, their realistic championship aspirations are likely kaput.

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On the other hand, Charles’s addition to Seattle elevates the Storm into the WNBA’s upper echelon. Charles was a title-hunting mercenary on a one-year deal. She’d already accomplished everything in the WNBA besides winning a title. In Seattle, she’ll provide an extra scoring punch beside former league MVP Breanna Stewart and Jewell Lloyd. Another former MVP, Sue Bird, is still a key distributor who is pursuing her fifth title to cap off her final season.

The Las Vegas Aces and Chicago Sky appeared poised for a Finals rematch, but Charles’ addition has the potential to put Seattle in the driver’s seat. The Aces have been the frontrunner for most of this season until the Sky caught them sleeping during a 28-point comeback. Now both of them have to keep an eye out for the Storm catching them from behind.

Kenny Atkinson pulled a Whitley, leaving Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Hornets at the altar

This is not said very often, but poor Michael Jordan. The NBA legend got Whitleyed by Kenny Atkinson. Jordan was about to start a new life with Atkinson leading his Charlotte Hornets. They fit together as well as Byron and Whitley in the fifth season of A Different World, but then Dwayne Wayne, a.k.a. The Golden State…

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Why the Warriors dominated the Celtics

Sometimes it just feels good to be right. After proclaiming before the NBA Finals started that the Boston Celtics had zero chance against the Golden State Warriors, the Dubs beat the Celtics by double-digits in Game 6 to end the series 4-2. Many across the internet chided this bold proclamation based on the Cinderella…

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