Five Reasons Why Oklahoma City is Still the Team to Beat Out West
In recent years, the Oklahoma City Thunder has consistently improved until they became one of the elites last year. They improved from making the playoffs a few years ago, to winning the first few rounds, to losing to the eventual champions in the Western Conference Finals in the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and reaching the Finals last year. The way they established their team has made them the mold that other young teams want to emulate.
But right now though, all eyes seem to be on the new look Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers were able to complete a coup after they formed their own super team when they acquired both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in the offseason. They have made quite a splash and they are the proverbial talk of the town.
After the Lakers formed their super team this offseason, the Lakers became the sexy pick to win in the West. However, the Thunder is still the logical pick to defend its Western Crown. Although they may not have made a huge splash in free agency and in trades, they have improved from within and I firmly believe that they will once again hoist the Western Conference trophy in May. The Thunder are a young and talented team and their Finals loss last year should only make them that much hungrier to give it their all in the new season. With that said here are five reasons why the Thunder is still the team to beat this year.
5. They are the defending Western Conference Champions.
While this may not mean much, as evidenced in the Mavericks first round loss last year, the Thunder are the defending Western Champions until they are dethroned. The difference between the Mavericks and the Thunder is that the Thunder actually got better. All their key pieces return and they have added a promising rookie that could be a contributor as soon as this year.
After the fantastic showing in the recently concluded Olympics, the trio of Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant should only get better in 2013. Durant trained with Lebron James in the summer and he should be much better this year.
Harden as well, will be entering the new season motivated to prove that he is a max contract player. Add all this up and you have a stronger and hungrier Thunder team this year.
4. Kevin Durant is going to be special this year.
As mentioned in the previous slide, Durant just got back from an impressive showing in the Olympics. He also trained with James this summer. All the signs are pointing to another excellent year for Durant.
He has the opportunity to continue his amazing scoring run this year. For three straight years, he has won the scoring title, after an impressive summer, he should only build on this amazing run and be that much better in 2013.
Durant could surprise us and show an even better defensive effort this year. He could show a stronger killer instinct on the defensive end and be that much better. What is scary about this kid is that he is still just 24 years old and he has yet to tap on his true potential.
3. The Chemistry is already there.
Say what you will about the super teams, but there is something special about a young team like the Thunder coming together in a magical year where they win a championship in the end.
They have a plethora of young players and they have truly grown as a team. They are indeed a family and this kind of chemistry is reminiscent of the 80's showtime Lakers or the legendary Boston Celtics.
The Thunder have a special bond as a team and it shows on the court. They have grown up together and they have experienced all the highs and lows of a young team trying to prove that they belong. As long as they are intact, they should be the front runner in the Western conference year in and year out.
2. The Lakers still have some question marks.
The Lakers have formed the quintessential super team, as they have picked up two players who have multiple All-NBA teams to their credit. There is only one ball though, and you have four former All Stars longing it.
What the Lakers don’t have is chemistry, and that is what the Thunder has in spades. The Thunder has built an atmosphere of familiarity and you can see their chemistry is truly special. Meanwhile, the Lakers have brought in parts to make a team great, however we still don't know if those parts will work out in the end. While the Lakers will indeed be a fun and exciting team, I’m picking the team with the best chemistry going forward.
You also have a ball dominant player in Kobe Bryant who needs the ball to be effective. We still don't know what version of Kobe will show up once the season starts. Will he show up as the inefficient chucker who broke up the Shaquille O'neal and Kobe era? Or will he come into the season ready to give the reins to point guard extraordinaire Steve Nash?
One last thing to note is that Mike Brown is still the coach of the Lakers. He is a good coach, but can he be a championship level coach for this team?
1. Kevin Durant is a generational talent like Lebron.
Durant is a one of a kind player. He is a freak athlete with an offensive arsenal like no other. He is also a strong rebounder and he is well on his way on becoming a good defender.
I truly believe that he will eventually win a championship. As long as Durant, Westbrook and Harden are the core in Oklahoma, then they will always be the top challengers in the West.
In the end, the Thunder is still the team to beat until proven otherwise. They may still be young and inexperienced. But their Finals loss last year will motivate them to be even stronger in 2013.
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Top Five Players Who Will Benefit From a Change of Scenery
In the NBA, there are players who are lucky enough to find success with the team that drafted them. Other players however, don't have that luck. Chauncey Billups, for example, played for four different teams before finding success with the Detroit Pistons. There he was an NBA Finals MVP and earned the nickname Mr. Big Shot. Now with the Los Angeles Clippers, Billups is one of the most respected players in the league.
Different players have different NBA experiences, for every Lebron James, Kevin Garnett or Kevin Durant, we have a Kwame Brown, Greg Oden or Darko Milicic. Players who are supposed to come out of the gates and be strong but become disappointments usually become journeymen and travel from team-to-team. Instead of realizing their potential, they become role players who are seldom used and become benchwarmers.
We do have journeymen who have enjoyed a successful career as well. We’ve had Bobby Jackson who suited with seven different teams. We have Kurt Thomas who changed jerseys 8 different times. We’ve had Juwan Howard who suited for 10 different teams as well. This may not be quintessential superstar players, but they’ve made valuable contributions in every team they’ve landed in.
There are also players that have underachieved with their previous teams but breakout with the new team they ended up. Similar to the career path Billups enjoyed, I’m here to list the players who have the chance to make a big impact with their new team. Here are five players who will make a noticeable impact with their prospective new teams.
Number Five: Ben Gordon
After having five solid years with the Chicago Bulls, Ben Gordon signed with the Detroit Pistons in 2009, however he regressed there and posted averages of merely 12.5 points 2.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists in three years. The Pistons ultimately regretted the signing and they have failed to reach the playoffs as a result.
Gordon was traded to the Charlotte Bobcats in the offseason for Corey Magette. Now Gordon has another chance to be a major contributor on a young team. If he was sharing minutes and touches with Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince in Detroit, now he has the chance to come in and just score in Charlotte.
Gordon has the opportunity to regain the form he had when he was with the Bulls, at least scoring wise, he can go back to scoring 18 to 20 points night in and night out. Obviously all he will ever be is a great scoring option and nothing else, but for the Bobcats that’s all they’ll need.
Number Four: Ryan Anderson
Ryan Anderson has slowly developed in his time with the Orlando Magic. He has consistently seen a steady spike on his minutes until he plateaud with 32 minutes per game last year. Thanks to the spike in his minutes, he won the most improved player award last year. After signing a long term contract with the New Orleans Hornets, he is now ready to really show his skills on an up-and-coming team.
Anderson will go to a Hornets team with number 1 pick Anthony Davis, Austin Rivers and Eric Gordon. The team is unquestionably talented, and head coach Monty Williams is a fine coach. Anderson will have a chance to grow and really develop on a team that is clearly on the rise.
Anderson will have the chance to play the four or the five alongside Davis. He will have the chance to really dictate different matchups and he can even help Davis in his adjustment towards the NBA. Look for Anderson to score 18 to 20 points once again with at least 7 rebounds per game.
Number Three: Darren Collison
Darren Collison was one of the most intriguing young players in the league when he was playing for the New Orleans Hornets in the 2009-10 season. When he started sporadically for the Hornets, he averaged 18.8 points and 9.1 assists per game. When he was traded to the Indiana Pacers though, he struggled to really break out even though he was given starter’s minutes. He averaged over 30 minutes a game in his two seasons with the Pacers, but he was underwhelming and averaged less than 12 points and five assists per game.
He now has a chance to do well on a new team once again. He was traded to the Dallas Mavericks this offseason. He will be playing for a new contract in the 2012-13 season, and he has an owner in Mark Cuban who is extremely supportive to his players. I bet he will breakout this year with the Mavs to secure his future with the team.
Collison is still a relatively young player, and he still has time to realize his potential. This is the year he needs to show up and prove he still has what it takes to be a contributor on a good team. He will be given a lot of opportunities with the Mavs and he should average at least 15 points and 7 assists per game.
Number Two: O.J. Mayo
O.J Mayo is another player who has seen his stock plummet after an excellent rookie and sophomore campaign. He was averaging 38 minutes a game for the Memphis Grizzlies in his first two years but saw his role change and his minutes drop to only 26 minutes a game the last two years. As a result, his numbers dropped across the board and he was unceremoniously dropped by Memphis in the offseason.
After Memphis let go of Mayo’s qualifying offer, the Mavericks took their opportunity and signed him to a two year contract. Now Mayo has a chance to regain back his form on the Mavs. Mavs’ owner Mark Cuban showed his unrelenting support by even saying that Mayo could become a star in the NBA.
As long as Mayo is provided starter’s minutes then he will have no problems gaining back his confidence and his game. He could even realistically be the Mavs’ second scoring option behind Dirk Nowitzki this year. I would be surprised if he doesn’t come close to averaging 20 points per game with the Mavs.
Number One: Goran Dragic
Goran Dragic was initially drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in 2008, his draft rights were then traded to the Phoenix Suns and he became officially a Sun on September 22, 2008. He played sporadically with the Suns in his first few years with the team and averaged 15 minutes per game for two-and-a-half years before being traded to the Houston Rockets in the 2011 trade deadline.
Dragic showed some of his skills on the Rockets and was even named the Western Conference Player of the Week for the games played on April 2 to April 8, 2012. He returned to Phoenix this offseason as he signed a four year contract with the team.
Now that he will undoubtedly be the starter on the new look Suns, he will have no problems showing what his made of on his second go-around with the team. I have no doubt in my mind that he can average at least 15 points and 8 assists this year and be one of the most entertaining and electric players in the NBA.
Gerald Wallace: Five Reason Why His Trade to Nets Was Actually a Good Acquisition
Ever since the Gerald Wallace Trade in the trade deadline was made, fans and analysts alike were scratching their heads on the sheer “stupidity” of the New Jersey Nets’ management. Some fans would even call the trade as one of the most lopsided trades in recent history. They would bash the Nets and the trade every chance they had and some Nets fans were furious that management would willingly give up what was a high profile prospect in what was supposed to be a stacked draft class.
For those who don’t remember, the trade in question was a trade between the Nets and the Portland Trailblazers, where the Trailblazers would give up Wallace for spare parts and a Top-3 protected pick. At the time, the trade was extremely questionable as Wallace was an expiring contract and in essence it was going to be a half-season rental for what would have been a premium pick.
At the deadline, the Nets was pushing for a third pick or higher, and with the arrival of Wallace, the Nets began to win more games and was pushed out of a top 3 pick. Fans bashed the Nets for missing out on the opportunity to get Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Harrison Barnes, Thomas Robinson and others.
However, the new season is about to start and now that we see the completed roster the Nets have as training camp looms, I have five reasons why I believe the trade was actually the right decision moving forward.
FIVE: The Brooklyn Nets Now Have an Intriguing Team Moving into the New City.
The Nets always planned on making a big splash when they had their imminent transfer to Brooklyn. They were coming from years of mediocrity and they wanted to start fresh and cultivate a winning culture in Brooklyn.
The Nets had young pieces but they were mostly players that weren’t very good. If they went to Brooklyn in the 2012-13 season with a bad roster, then the New York media would eat them alive and they will have a hard time trying to capture a worthy market.
The Nets were doing whatever it took to gain notoriety in Brooklyn. New owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s mantra was to get fans from the New York Knicks and convert them to Brooklyn. It was certainly a bold move, but so far the Nets have successfully put publicity in the new brand and all they need to do now is to show what they can do on the court.
FOUR: The Brooklyn Nets Were Able to Sign Gerald Wallace Long Term.
In recent years, the Nets were unable to sign any worthwhile free agents. They lost out on Lebron James, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade and any of the premier players in the last two free agent classes.
In the last two years, the only players they were able to sign were subpar players like Travis Outlaw, Jordan Farmar among others. It was obvious that the Prokhorov and JayZ partnership was so far failing and they were striking out on any of the players they wanted, which left them with second and third tier players that they had to overpay to sign with them.
Although Gerald Wallace was a free agent, it was unclear if he was willing to sign in Brooklyn if he wasn’t traded mid-season. Wallace was a small-town guy and didn’t really like the big city, and he was going to opt-in for the 2012-13 season with the Trailblazers if he was not traded. But ever since he was traded to New Jersey/Brooklyn, he understood what the team was going for and hence he accepted a long term extension with the team. Say what you will about Wallace’s weaknesses and apparent “decline”, but he was the first “major” player that the team signed.
THREE: The Nets Had to Create A Winning Team Before They Moved To Brooklyn.
This is connected to the fifth reason but the Brooklyn Nets needed to have a strong roster for their move to Brooklyn. Say what you will about Wallace but he was the domino that needed to fall so that the Nets could have a strong offseason.
The new look Nets is infinitely better than the 2011-12 version of it. The 2012 version was a 22 win team with very little chance of growth. But now, the Nets are intriguing and interesting and they could very easily win at least 40 games with the new roster.
Once again New Jersey/Brooklyn needed to make a big splash for their move to the new arena. The new arena that Prokhorov had built was a state of the art facility and was very expensive. If the Nets didn’t take advantage of the move with a strong team, then Prokhorov would risk an embarrassment of utter proportion and it would be very bad for the NBA.
TWO: Prokhorov Wanted to Have a Rivalry With New York.
Ever since Prokhorov bought the New Jersey Nets on May 11, 2010, he has had more than a passing interest in creating a rivalry with the Knicks. Prokhorov wanted Brooklyn to surpass New York as the “mecca of basketball” in New York. He wanted his team to be the team to regain the former glory New York lost in the 21st century.
This is important because we barely have any rivalries in the NBA. Back in the 90s, rivalries were what kept the NBA interesting and competitive. Now we barely see heated rivalries and when we do, it is usually squashed immediately following a playoff series loss or when players pair up to form “super-teams”. Now that we have two good teams in New York, it will spur excitement in a city that has been marred by disappointment ever since the Isiah Thomas era started in 2001.
You can say that Boston, Los Angeles and San Antonio are the premier organizations in the NBA, but to have two good teams in New York will only benefit the NBA, especially if there will be a genuine heat between the two teams.
ONE: Deron Williams Signed a Long Term Extension With the Nets.
You can say that Deron Williams signing a long term extension has more to do with the Joe Johnson trade than anything, but I believe that the sequence of events were what lead to Deron’s decision to re-sign.
Let’s not forget that Deron endorsed the Wallace trade in the first place. Now maybe giving power to your star player is bad, but if it helps in keeping him long term then I’m all for it. Wallace was the first player to sign an extension that allowed the Nets to have the offseason that they did. Without him signing, maybe the Nets don’t go after Joe Johnson and maybe Deron leaves.
Lastly, the Nets are looking to make a big splash when they arrive in Brooklyn, and they will not achieve that if they field rookies and young players once again. Short of maybe drafting Anthony Davis, there was no way that keeping the pick would help in Deron’s decision to stay. You can argue that the pick could’ve been used to acquire Dwight Howard, but again the Orlando Magic seemed adamant to trade him anywhere but the Nets, especially after the rumors flew out that the Nets contacted him "illegally".
In the end, the new look Nets look that much better than they were a year ago, and they will be fun to watch for the next three to four years. At the very least, Wallace should help form a pretty formidable starting five alongside Williams, Johnson, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez.
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