Giannis Antetokounmpo: It’s Your League Now

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Behind a legendary performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks overcame a 2-0 series deficit to defeat the Phoenix Suns and win the NBA Championship. After scoring 50 points in the series-clinching game, Giannis could not hold back tears when describing his journey to the top of the NBA.

We’re running out of adjectives to describe Giannis and his journey to the NBA. Inspiring stands above the rest. From selling purses in the streets of Greece to picking up a basketball for the first time at age 12, Giannis is the culmination of how a dream and a strong work ethic can lead to great things. My favorite Giannis story is the time he wired all of his money back to his family in Greece, which meant he had to run to the arena in the cold since he couldn’t afford a cab.

Giannis’s journey off the court should not overshadow what he did on the court to win the championship. Giannis has been knocking on the door of greatness since the 2019 season, where he won his first MVP. After losing to the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals despite having a 2-0 series lead, doubt started to creep in as many felt Giannis would need to join up with other superstars to win a title. Kawhi shut down Giannis in those last four games, and Giannis’s offensive limitations started to stand out.

The next season, Giannis went scorched earth, averaging 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1.0 blocks on his way to his second-straight MVP. Oh, by the way, the Greek Freak also won Defensive Player of the Year in that same season. Giannis ascended into the top 5 for player rankings, but his team came up short again, losing embarrassingly to the Miami Heat in the Conference Semifinals.

Let’s be honest. There are a lot of players who would’ve left Milwaukee if they were in Giannis’s shoes. At the very least, most players would have entertained free agency instead of signing an extension before the season. The possibility of teaming up with another superstar like Luka Doncic would entice many players to consider their options.

To steal a quote from LeBron James, Giannis is “built different.”

Giannis signed the supermax before this past season, lead the Bucks to the NBA Finals, and won the whole damn thing. Not bad for a guy who shot 18% from behind-the-arc in the playoffs.

It cannot be understated how good Giannis was during the Finals. These numbers are staggering, considering it came on the biggest stage in the most important spot of the season.

  • Game 1 – 20 points, 17 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 2 block
  • Game 2 – 42 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 3 blocks
  • Game 3 – 41 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1 steal
  • Game 4 – 26 points, 14 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, and an iconic block
  • Game 5 – 32 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists, and an iconic alley-oop
  • Game 6 – 50 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists, 5 blocks, and 17/19 from the line

Going into the playoffs, Giannis solidified his spot in the top 5 for player rankings. Before the Finals, the Greek Freak was in the top 3, no questions asked, alongside LeBron and Kevin Durant.

After last night, Giannis became the best player in the NBA. Giannis crowned himself a year too early, but he earned that crown last night. LeBron and KD are talented enough to take back the title of best in the league next season, but for now, it’s Giannis’s league.

When you look at Giannis’s resume, it’s arguably the best resume of all time through age 26.

Only two players have multiple MVPs, DPOY, and a Finals MVP. It’s Michael Jordan and Giannis.

The NBA has been searching for someone to take the torch from LeBron as the face of the league. An athletic, humble, and likable superstar from Greece might be the perfect option.

Do you think Giannis is the new face of the league? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

2020 NBA Champion’s Asterisk Will Signify Toughest Title Ever Won

Nba disney

In sports, asterisks tend to have a negative connotation. Barry Bonds’ home run record, the Spurs 1999 championship, and the baseball team that plays in Houston have all been victims of the asterisk. (Houston deserves this asterisk in 2017, but we’ll refrain for now.) In the NBA, the asterisk might be placed next to this season’s eventual NBA champion. However, it should represent a badge of honor, not a stain on the sport.

Taylor Rooks of Turner Sports received the following text message from Austin Rivers, who discussed the NBA restart and the possibility of an asterisk.

As Rivers stated, the asterisk should elevate, not diminish, the champion. What’s occurred during the 2019-2020 NBA season is unprecedented. How it will play out is something we’ve never seen before. The regular season stopped abruptly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The last game occurred on March 11, the same night when Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. Many players haven’t seen or practiced with their teammates for months.

After a four-month hiatus, teams are set to head to the Orlando bubble next week to finish the season. Games will take place in one location and be played with no fans in attendance. At first glance, the bubble at Disney may look like a summer camp for adults. DJ sets, ping pong tables, lounges, pools, and golf courses may seem like a 12-year-old’s dream come true.

However, if the 1992 classic, Groundhog Day, taught us anything, it’s that living the same day in the same environment over and over again could turn into your personal hell. The bubble is not a prison, but it’s also not utopia. Players and their families will be forced to remain on the campus at all times. Once they’re in the bubble, there’s no escape until your team loses. In fact, players could be suspended if they break the rules of the bubble and according to Stephen A Smith, they might break the rules for some “recreational activities.”

Last but not least, there’s a not-so-small threat looming at every corner, the coronavirus. If a player contracts the virus, they will be forced to isolate in their hotel room for at least 14 days before they’re eligible to return to play if they pass the required tests.

Between a pandemic, a shutdown, and a bubble, winning this season’s NBA Championship is going to one of the toughest tasks ever. If that’s the case, why would we think less of the team to win it all? Why should an asterisk go in front of an unmatched championship? There are some like Shaq who believe the season should have been scrapped entirely because the champion will never receive the same amount of respect that they would normally attain in a regular year.

I completely disagree.

For players, the remainder of the season will be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. Guys are moving into a hotel for weeks, even months, and being told they can’t leave under any circumstance. Think about the joy one gets coming home after a long day of work. That feeling of relief when you walk into the door is something that money can’t buy. In the bubble, that mental reprieve vanishes and ceases to exist.

In 1993, Michael Jordan went to Atlantic City with his father during the 1993 conference finals in order to clear his head. Even though they lost the following game, the Bulls came back to win the series and went on to win the championship. In the bubble, where are guys going to go to clear their heads? Can LeBron James take a few trips on Space Mountain after a poor night shooting? Will Giannis Antetokounmpo ride the Tower of Terror if the Bucks fall behind 2-1 in the conference finals?

Let’s be honest. Twitter was going to put an asterisk on the championship if the Lakers, Bucks, or Clippers didn’t win it all. Guess what? The same asterisk will be put on the title in the bubble if a team like the Rockets or Jazz win it all.

We need to stop finding ways to invalidate this season and start accepting that it’s a season like no other. Winning the title in one location after four months while battling a pandemic could turn out to be the hardest path to a championship that any team has ever faced.

Erase the asterisk, and embrace the difficulty.

Do you agree or disagree with the idea of an asterisk? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

NBA Regular Season And Playoffs: Readjust, Not Reinvent, The Wheel

LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard

The 2019-2020 NBA season will restart at some point in the next two months. There will most likely be no fans and all the games will be played in one location. Commissioner Adam Silver wants it to happen. The NBA teams and players want it to happen. Fans are begging for basketball, and every sport for that matter, to restart in order to establish a sense of normalcy. The question is not if the NBA 2019-2020 will start, but how will it begin again.

Last week, the NBA sent a survey to all 30 general managers concerning the various proposals as to how to restart and finish the season. Competition formats, game locations, and roster issues were at the top of the list. Yesterday, Adam Silver held a conference call with NBA GMs to discuss the results of the survey. Shams Charania of The Athletic broke down the results.

It’s apparent that the biggest issues revolve around the continuation of the NBA’s regular season and the playoff format. It boils down to two questions: Should the regular season continue, and what format should be used for the playoffs?

Let’s start with the first issue, the regular season. This is where ownership and the players seem to be divided the most. Players want to have at least a few regular-season games to get back into “basketball shape” instead of jumping right into the playoffs. Plus, teams a few games out want to have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs. The majority of GMs want to end the regular season and keep the current playoff format.

If the regular season ended today, how would it affect teams on the outside looking in? In the East, it shouldn’t matter at all. The 8 playoff teams are not going to change without a miracle. Washington is 5.5 games behind the current 8 seed, Magic. If the Wizards couldn’t make up that difference during the season, what makes you believe they’ll make up the ground now? Giving the 24-win Wizards the chance to make the playoffs should not be a high priority. In the West, there’s more of an argument. Memphis holds the 8th seed with a record of 32-33. Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento all are 3.5 games back, while San Antonio is 4 games behind. It’s not inconceivable that one of these teams could make a final push for the final spot, which is where a play-in tournament could be beneficial.

The other issue involves the playoff format. Several ideas are floating around as to how the NBA should proceed with their playoffs. They could leave it as is with 8 teams in the East and 8 teams in the West. A proposed World Cup group stage received some positive responses from the GMs. The group stages would replace the regular season and first round. It would be a round-robin type of event where 5 teams (amount of teams is yet to be determined) are placed into 4 groups. Teams play every team in their group twice and the teams with the best two records advance to the second round of the playoffs, where the current format would apply. Problems could arise if the teams are drawn at random like they are in soccer, so a “group of death” could form if the groups are not seeded beforehand.

Now is not the time to belittle creativity. In fact, the NBA should be praised for addressing concerns and creating new formats to serve as solutions. There really are no bad ideas. However, there is a word going around that should scare the NBA and that’s the word, “asterisk.” The NBA is in unprecedented territory, which means all hell could potentially break loose in terms of who wins the championship. Shaq mentioned the NBA should cancel its season because the champion would be labeled with an asterisk. Shaq’s not entirely wrong. If any team other than the Lakers, Clippers, or Bucks win a title because of a new format like a World Cup group stage, no matter how many times Silver says it’s legitimate, it will be difficult for many fans to accept the champion without using an asterisk.

However, if every team plays under the same set of circumstances, there’s no reason to put an asterisk on the season. In fact, one could argue it will be even harder to win this year’s title because of the stoppage and the removal of home-court advantage. Whatever the case may be, the NBA does not need to reinvent the wheel. The best way to ensure the legitimacy of the champion is to keep the playoff format as close to normal as possible. The best teams should advance in the playoffs no matter what. That being said, some minor adjustments could be made in order to give more teams a chance if the regular season is shortened or canceled completely.

If I was the commissioner, this would be my plan.

  • 24 teams restart the season. The teams: top 8 seeds in the East, the top 8 seeds in the West, and the next four teams with the best record in each conference.
  • Teams seeded 9-12 have a play in-game. 9 vs. 12 and 10 vs. 11. So if that happens, here are the matchups – West: 9. Blazers vs. 12. Spurs / 10. Pelicans vs. 11. Kings. East: 9. Wizards vs. 12. Knicks / 10. Hornets vs. 11. Bulls. Winners advance and losers leave town (literally).
  • The two winners then play the 7 and 8 seed in their conference to determine the final two spots in the playoffs. The higher seeded team from the play-in games will play the 8 seed. Potential matchups – West: 7. Mavs vs. lower-seeded team / 8. Grizzlies vs. higher-seeded team. East: 7. Nets vs. lower-seeded team / 8. Magic vs. higher-seeded team. Winners move to the playoffs.
  • While those play-in games occur, every team that’s in the top 8 will play two games that will count towards their record. To keep it random, the games would be against playoff teams from the other conference. To reward the higher seeds, it will be playoff-style seeding. For example, the top-seeded Lakers would play the 8 seed in the East, which is the Magic. The 2 seed, Clippers, would play the 7 seed, Nets, and so on so forth. For game number two, the same rules apply except there are fewer teams. The top-seeded Lakers would then play the 6 seed, 76ers, since teams 7 and 8 will be in the play-in game. 2 seed would play 5 seed and so on and so forth. These games serve as a way for players to get back into basketball shape before the playoff grind begins and in some cases, teams could improve their playoff seeding with wins.
  • Once the dust has settled, start the playoffs under the normal formula with 8 teams in the East and 8 teams in the West. If you need to cut games, make the first round best-of-five. Other than that, the best-of-7 format remains intact throughout.

The plan is not perfect, but no plan will be. Let’s just get the players back on the court and go from there.

How would you continue the NBA season? Leave your thoughts in the comments or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

Kawhi Leonard v. Nike, Inc.: The Fight For “The Klaw”

Kawhi Leonard files lawsuit against nike over claw logo

With the series tied 1-1 heading into Game 3 of the NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors, much talk has been centered on the Raptors’ pursuit to overthrow the latest dynasty to grace the hardwood. However, Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard has become the subject of a storyline off the court.

The Battle of Intellectual Property Rights

Kawhi Leonard’s Registered “The Klaw” logo with the USPTO

On June 3, Kawhi Leonard filed a federal complaint against Nike asking the court to declare that Leonard is the author of “The Klaw,” the logo commonly associated with Leonard throughout his professional career. The complaint further states that Nike committed fraud on the Copyright Office by seeking registration of the logo.

Leonard is the owner of six trademark applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Three applications include “The Klaw” logo for use with various goods and services such as basketballs, backpacks, and apparel.

The issue is Nike’s alleged ownership of the logo. United States Copyright Law grants owners the exclusive right to display their works as they see fit. Without the ability to reproduce the logo, Leonard’s trademark registrations are essentially useless. But copyrights are assigned solely to the authors of the works, and therein lies the rub. The complaint states Leonard created the logo in “late December 2011 or January 2012”; however, Nike’s copyright registration claims the company authored the logo in 2014. The facts surrounding these dueling timelines will play a vital role in the court’s determination.

The Nike Agreement

Even if Kawhi Leonard created “The Klaw,” that may not be enough. After being selected in the 2011 NBA Draft, Leonard signed a contract to provide “personal services and expertise in the sport of professional basketball and endorsement of the Nike brand and use of Nike products.” Such contracts usually include a “work for hire” provision, which typically read as follows:

Athlete hereby unconditionally and irrevocably transfers and assigns to Company all right, title and interest, including all intellectual property rights, in and to all materials, including all works of authorship, developed with Athlete’s involvement or by or on behalf of Athlete hereunder as part of the Services or otherwise in connection with this Agreement (“Works”).  Athlete agrees to complete and provide Company with any documents requested by Company to evidence Company’s ownership of such Works as well as the assignment of any and all rights.

The complaint mentions that any personal services provided did not constitute copyrightable material and/or constitute a “work for hire.” However, the complaint fails to attach the contract. If a transfer of rights language is included, Leonard’s claim fails, and Nike has a claim for ownership rights in “The Klaw.”

Will Leonard Prevail?

Nike has a history of staunchly defending intellectual property rights, so the company will not go down without a fight. It took Roger Federer until April 2019 to reclaim the rights to his “RF” logo despite leaving the company to sign a 10-year deal with Japanese clothing brand, Uniqlo, in 2018. New York Times reporter Marc Stein reported that the Los Angeles Clippers looked into purchasing “The Klaw” from Nike in order to boost their anticipated free-agency pitch for the coveted star. Settlement or purchase may be the best bet to resolve what may be Leonard’s toughest case on (or in) the court.

Follow Alan Wilmot on Twitter and Instagram @alanwilmotlaw

When Should Criminal Charges be Filed for Incidents at NBA Games?

Masai Ujiri NBA fans and players criminal charges

Last week in Oracle Arena, the Toronto Raptors clinched their first NBA championship. The Raptors had a lot to celebrate as they not only made franchise history, they made NBA history. The Raptors made franchise history by bringing the franchise its’ first championship. Amongst the people who made their way to the floor was the Raptor’s president of basketball operations and general manager, Masai Ujiri. Ujiri made his way to the floor he allegedly had an altercation with an Alameda County Sheriff deputy. A video of the actual altercation has yet to surface, however, there is a video of the aftermath.

During the altercation, the deputy allegedly stopped Ujiri from entering the court because he did not have proper credentials. Ujiri allegedly shoved the deputy. Witnesses say that Ujiri did not shove the officer. However, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department plans to charge Ujiri with misdemeanor battery. Ujiri may face criminal charges for this altercation. NBA fans are questioning whether the Alameda County Sheriff’s department is going a little too far or if Ujiri actually deserves to be charged? However, this situation presents a broader question. That question is whether players or fans should be charged with crimes for incidents that occur inside sports arenas?

Should Players or Fans Face Criminal Charges for Incidents that Happen at Games?

The short answer to this question is it depends. The issue of potential criminal charges certainly depends on the severity of the act. This season, the NBA has experienced several instances where it was forced to address player and fan interactions. All of the incidents brought up what is considered a sore spot for the NBA. That “sore spot” is the night of what became known as “Malice at the Palace.”

In 2004, during a game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons, a brawl between the fans and players took place. It all started when a fan threw a drink that hit the Indiana Pacers star, Ron Artest.

Chaos immediately ensued and several NBA players got into a major fight with several fans. The NBA issued some of the harshest penalties in NBA history. Several of the players and fans faced criminal charges for misdemeanor assault and battery. In this case, criminal charges were appropriate especially on the part of the fan who threw the cup at Ron Artest. After all, that was the catalyst that started the whole brawl. The incident was a clear fight between the players and fans. Whether a fight takes place inside of the arena or outside of the arena, such acts cannot be tolerated. Valid self-defense arguments could be and was made in this case. However, the prosecutor did not overstep in this case, as there was clear video showing a major brawl with multiple parties at fault.

Player Interactions With NBA Fans This Season

The NBA was forced to address the issue of player and fan interactions several times this season. Two incidents involved Oklahoma City Thunder star, Russel Westbrook. Another took place during the NBA Finals in Oracle Arena. The most recent took place immediately after the last game of the NBA Finals involving Masai Ujiri.

Russell Westbrook’s Incident With a Young fan in Denver

During a game in Denver, Westbrook was touched by a young boy on the sideline. He politely told the father that it was not appropriate for his kid to touch the players. Ultimately, this was a no harm no foul situation. However, it did lead to discussions about players, fans, and safety and how those issues should be addressed. Clearly, in this situation, there was no need for any type of criminal charges to even be discussed. However, later in the season, Westbrook experienced an encounter with a fan in Utah where such a discussion may have been warranted.

Russell Westbrook’s Interaction With Hostile Fan in Utah

During a game in Utah, Westbrook is seen yelling expletive comments to a fan. After the game, Westbrook stated that the fan made disrespectful and racial comments towards him. The fan told Westbrook to get down on his knees like he was used to. Clearly, in this situation the fan was wrong. The fan’s conduct was extremely inappropriate. This again led to discussions of how players are treated by fans. The Utah Jazz organization immediately addressed the situation and banned the fan from the arena for life. The punishment definitely was the appropriate action for this situation. No one was physically hurt, so any criminal charges would have seemed a bit over the top, especially with the Jazz making sure the fan could no longer attend games at the arena.

Kyle Lowry Shoved by Golden State’s Minority Owner

During game three of the 2019 NBA Finals, Toronto Raptors star, Kyle Lowry, was shoved by Golden State Warriors minority owner, Mark Stevens, when he divided for a loose ball. Here, Stevens shoved Lowry for no reason. He had no reason to touch him. This case again reignited the discussion about player and fan interactions. It had overtones of how the “Malice at the Palace” brawl began. Fan assaults player and the incident gets out of hand from there. Current NBA players took up for Lowry and called for Stevens to be punished. Most notably LeBron James spoke out and made the point that if it was the other way around people would be up in arms calling for Lowry to be suspended and maybe even put in jail.

This is a case where misdemeanor battery charges could have been made because Stevens intentionally shoved Lowry for no reason. No such charges were made in the case. However, Stevens has been fined $500,000 and banned from all team events next season. This punishment is certainly appropriate given Stevens’ actions.

The Masai Ujiri Case

Given the limited details of what actually transpired between the deputy and Masai Ujiri, it would seem that criminal charges may be going a little too far. This is a determination that will be made after the investigation is done. If an assault occurred then criminal charges may be appropriate. If an assault did not occur then criminal charges are not appropriate. From the facts that have come out so far, the altercation appears to be a huge misunderstanding. A misunderstanding like this can be resolved without criminal charges against Masai Ujiri.

Whether Players or Fans Should Face Criminal Charges at Games Must be Determined on a Case-by-Case Basis

The NBA and its teams have a duty to ensure the safety of both fans and players during games. This is especially true if the NBA does not want another “Malice in the Palace” situation. Whether and if criminal charges at games should be filed is a fact-specific determination. In most cases, it appears appropriate punishment can be given out without ruining people’s careers by invoking criminal charges.

Delayed, Not Dead: How The Warriors Dynasty Can Return To Prominence

Golden State Warriors dynasty

Injuries and the free agency status of Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson put the future of the Golden State Warriors up in the air. However, with healthy recoveries and a solid core, the dynasty may not be over just yet.

The worst case scenario happened again for the Golden State Warriors. With a little over two minutes left in the third quarter, Klay Thompson went up for a dunk and landed awkwardly on his left knee. At this moment, Klay was the best player on the floor with 28 points. It was typical “Game 6 Klay.” However, once Thompson slammed the floor and agonized in pain, something was terribly wrong. The dynasty was in trouble.

Despite stretching, jumping around, and making two emotional free throws, all hope was lost when Thompson went to the back and could not return to the game. 72 hours after Durant’s season ended due to a ruptured Achilles, Thompson was done for the year as well with a torn ACL. Despite leading the game when Klay exited, the ending was inevitable. Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors prevailed in Game 6, 114-110, to win the NBA Championship.

What seemed like an inevitability at the beginning of the season became an impossibility once KD and Klay suffered horrific injuries. Injuries happen so credit the Raptors for taking advantage of the depleted Warriors. They flexed their dominance and earned this title. Now, the future remains uncertain for Golden State. Durant can opt out and become a free agent and will most likely miss the entirety of next season. Thompson is a free agent and won’t be able to return until next winter or spring. Without those two stars, can Steph Curry and Draymond Green handle the scoring load? Although it was a small sample size, Curry and Green both struggled at times especially late in games when both KD and Klay were out. The question on everyone’s mind revolves around the Warriors’ dynasty. Is it dead?

Dynasties tend to end abruptly. After winning two straight championships, the “Bad Boys” Pistons lost to Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals and did not win a playoff series until 2002. Speaking of Jordan, the 90s Bulls won six titles. After defeating the Jazz in the 1998 NBA Finals, Jordan retired, Phil Jackson resigned, Scottie Pippen was traded, and the Bulls didn’t win a playoff series for almost a decade. Does this loss to the Raptors signify the end of the Warriors’ dynasty?

Let’s state the obvious. Steph Curry is a three-time NBA Champion and two-time MVP. Draymond Green is a three-time NBA Champion and a former Defensive Player of the Year. They are not falling off a cliff. Despite long recoveries in their future, Brian Windhorst said that the Warriors plan to offer both Klay and KD max contracts this offseason.

Bob Myers cried his eyes out while announcing Durant’s Achilles injury. I appreciate the passion and love for a player, but let’s not act as though Durant died. KD is going to come back in two seasons. Whether or not he’ll be the best player in the world again is up in the air, but I’m confident that Durant will become a prolific scorer again when he returns. The same goes for Klay. Thompson showed that he’s a freak athlete and competitor when he returned to shoot the free throws on a torn ACL. Expect Thompson to undergo a full recovery and return sometime next March.

The elephant in the room revolves around their free agency. Will Klay or KD leave the Warriors this offseason? I’m inclined to believe that Klay will resign with the Warriors for a max contract. It’s hard to believe that Klay won’t want to continue playing with his fellow Splash Brother. Durant’s status is up-in-the-air. Durant has been rumored to sign with the Knicks for months now. The Knicks and a few other teams will most likely still offer Durant a max contract, but the injury makes a return to the Warriors more possible than ever. Durant can either sign a max contract with the Warriors or opt into the final year of his current deal and become a free agent after next season.

The long-term dynasty might still have a chance, but next season is going to be a struggle. The Warriors glaring weakness this year was their lack of depth on the bench. However, when you have most of your money tied up in four players, creating a bench full of depth can be tough. Even if both Klay and DK both resign with the Warriors, they are not going to play for most of, if not all of next season. For as great as Steph Curry is, without any offensive help, it will be difficult to win games if he’s the singular piece for opposing defenses to guard. For as versatile as Draymond is, 7.4 points per game average is not a viable number two option. Who can the Warriors sign to make up the difference? Steph, Draymond, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston are all under contract next season. Demarcus Cousins is open to returning, but without a lot of cap flexibility, it may be difficult especially if Cousins has a high asking price.

The Warriors dynasty may also be in trouble due to the potential shift in the competitive balance. If Kawhi Leonard signs with the Clippers, he automatically elevates them to a playoff contender. A healthy LeBron James will return to the Lakers and if they trade for Anthony Davis, the Lakers will be the favorite to come out of the West. The Rockets are still a force. Plus, the Thunder, Nuggets, Blazers, Jazz, and Spurs should all be in the mix for the playoffs. Simply put, the Western Conference is a juggernaut. Unlike the previous five seasons, Golden State will have to fight hard for a playoff spot next year.

The five straight appearances in the finals might come to an end next season, but don’t be so quick to declare the dynasty, “dead.” The Warriors will need to develop a stronger bench, but thankfully, they still have one of the best President of Basketball Operations in the league, Bob Myers, to build a roster. The Warriors still have Steve Kerr, who is in the upper echelon of NBA coaches. If Golden State can at least resign Klay, the core of Steph, Draymond, and Klay will continue to be one of the best combinations in the game. Plus, you never know if Durant will change his mind about leaving and come back to the Warriors.

The Golden State Warriors will take their lumps next season, but don’t expect them to die. Push the pause button and wait a season. The dynasty is delayed, not dead.

The Kawhi Leonard Effect: Will More Teams Go All In For One Year?

Whether he stays or leaves Toronto, the Kawhi Leonard trade has been a massive success. Will more teams take an aggressive approach for player rentals this offseason?

Following a third straight playoff exit to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Masai Ujiri knew something had to change for the Toronto Raptors. Ujiri realized that the Raptors had maxed out their potential with their current core. Even with LeBron taking his talents to the Lakers, Ujiri still believed that DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and coach Dwane Casey could never get over the hump as a unit. Something drastic had to change.

Enter Kawhi Leonard. Yes, the same Kawhi Leonard who won the NBA Finals MVP in 2014. It’s also the same Kawhi Leonard who played nine games in 2017-2018 after a long battle with the San Antonio Spurs and their medical staff over a lingering quadriceps injury.

Masai Ujiri threw all of his chips into the middle like Teddy KGB and bet it all on Kawhi Leonard. To reiterate, Leonard’s mysterious injury was still up-in-the-air. Plus, Leonard never said he would resign with Toronto. However, Ujiri took the risk because it bought him one year to put a potential rebuild on pause and go for it all.

The Raptors traded franchise legend DeRozan, center Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round pick in 2019 for Kawhi Leonard and an aging Danny Green. A few weeks prior, Ujiri fired reigning Coach of the Year, Dwane Casey, and promoted his assistant, Nick Nurse. It was safe to say Ujiri was not a fan favorite for not only trading away DeRozan, but for making a bold move for a superstar that by every indication would sign with a team in Los Angeles in the summer of 2019. Ujiri not only traded a fan favorite in DeRozan, but he traded Kyle Lowry’s best friend. In fact, Lowry felt betrayed and didn’t speak to Ujiri until midseason. Speaking of midseason, Ujiri gambled again by trading Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, CJ Miles and a 2024 second-round draft pick to the Grizzlies for Marc Gasol this past February.

Fast forward to now and the Raptors are one game away from winning an NBA Championship against one of the best teams ever assembled, the Warriors. Just a season ago, Leonard’s medical battle with San Antonio overshadowed just how good Leonard is and could be. Leonard has carried the Raptors and the entire city of Toronto on his back this postseason. During this historic postseason run, Leonard is averaging 31.1 ppg and 9.1 rpg. Leonard has scored a remarkable 30 points or more in 14 of 22 playoff games this postseason.

What’s even more remarkable is that win or lose, Leonard could be a one-and-done in Toronto. Ujiri knew the risks of trading for a rental in Leonard who has given zero indication on where he will end up in the offseason. However, in this instance, a high risk led to a high reward as the Raptors made the NBA Finals and could win their first championship in franchise history.

Players change their minds all the time. The Thunder traded for Paul George knowing that in a year, he may leave for the Lakers. However, the gamble paid off as George resigned with the Thunder. The same may happen with Leonard and the Raptors. Leonard and his success could be an exception, but there’s no doubt that the Raptors have inspired front offices especially in smaller markets to consider gambling on rental or one-and-done players. According to Adrian Wojnarowski, Kawhi Leonard’s success in Toronto seemed to embolden factions of Anthony Davis’ nonpreferred and smaller-market destinations to probe New Orleans on trades.

Take Daryl Morey’s “5 Percent Theory,” which states if you have at least a 5 percent chance to win the title, you should be focused on doing whatever it takes to win a title. If Kevin Durant leaves Golden State for New York and Kawhi Leonard for Los Angeles, the balance of power will once again shift. If you’re the Knicks and Durant signs with you, why wouldn’t you mortgage your future to acquire Davis, who will be a free agent next offseason? A duo of Durant and Davis (even if it’s for one year) skyrockets the Knicks into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.

Take another team like the Portland Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum proved why they’re one of the best backcourts in the league as they brought the Blazers to the Western Conference Finals. Even with a healthy Jusuf Nurkic, can the Blazers reach the NBA Finals with their current roster? What’s to say the Blazers package McCollum, Nurkic, and draft picks for Anthony Davis. Would you make that move if you’re Portland and get no promise from Davis that he’ll sign long term? That deal may not be on the table, but being aggressive to capitalize on Lillard’s prime is the right idea.

The worst place to be in the NBA is mediocrity. Either compete for a title or rebuild. Fighting for the last playoff spot every year and then losing in the first round will get you nowhere. The Kawhi gamble may end up sticking this offseason if more teams take a similar, aggressive approach to upgrading a roster. That may not happen, but for the Raptors, the gamble worked.

NBA Finals 2019: Warriors Vs. Raptors Preview And Prediction

After the dust has settled, two teams remain in the Warriors and Raptors. The Warriors were expected to be here while the Raptors were not necessarily the top choice out of the East. The Warriors are going for four titles in five years, but the narrative is not around their play on the court, but rather, the player that they’re missing in Kevin Durant. The Raptors one year gamble on Kawhi Leonard paid off as they reached their first NBA Finals ever. Can the Warriors win a championship without Durant? Can Kawhi slay the defending champs? Here are my preview and prediction for the NBA Finals 2019: Warriors vs. Raptors.

Biggest Storyline

Where Will Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard end up in the offseason?: Not to take anything away from this series, but the biggest storyline is the impending free agency decisions for Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. I compare it to going to the beach and seeing a dark cloud on the horizon. You should enjoy the beach, but all you can think about is the storm that’s on its way. Both Durant and Leonard have been rumored to be leaving Golden State and Toronto respectively for almost a year. If Durant doesn’t play at all, does that signify he’s leaving the Warriors? If Kawhi wins the title, does that make him more inclined to stay? Both questions will be asked after every game this series no matter what happens.


Kevin Durant’s Calf: It’s not every day that the best player in the game is an x-factor, but that’s exactly the case here. Kevin Durant has been sidelined the past five games with a strained right calf and will miss Game 1. Most teams would falter without their best player. The Warriors aren’t like most teams as they have gone 5-0 since Durant exited the lineup. That being said, the Warriors are a better team when Kevin Durant is on the floor. I don’t care how many games or titles the Warriors won without Durant. KD was averaging 34 points per game before his injury. Without KD, more pressure is on Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green to deliver. From a psychological standpoint, Toronto has to feel like they have a better chance of winning the series without Durant in the lineup. Can you blame them? Also, don’t forget about the health of Demarcus Cousins and Andre Iguodala. Both should play in this series at some point, but I doubt they will be 100%.

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Pascal Siakam: The real X-factor for the Raptors is Pascal Siakam. The future Most Improved Player of the Year took a monumental leap this past season. Siakam improved in almost every statistical category with the most notable advancement coming in the form of his points per game average, which increased from 7.3 to 16.9. With all of the focus going towards Kawhi, Siakam needs to be a viable scoring threat as the Raptors’ second option. More importantly, Siakam will have to contain the pick and roll between Steph Curry and Draymond Green. If Siakam can hold his own on switches against Steph, the Raptors will keep games close.

Matchups To Watch

Pick and Roll Offense versus Switching Defense

The Curry-Draymond pick and roll combo can be a nightmare for opposing defenses. If you hedge out too quickly, Steph can hit Draymond on a roll to the basket. If you sag off, Steph will have a field day from 3. Just ask the Blazers how sagging off worked. On the flip side, Kawhi Leonard has been very good in the playoffs when he runs pick and roll and has a 47.9% scoring frequency in those situations. How will both the Warriors and Raptors defend pick and rolls? I’m expecting both teams to switch on most, if not all, pick and rolls because of their versatility. Leonard, Siakam, Danny Green, and Serge Ibaka for Toronto and Thompson, Green, Durant (if he plays), and Andre Iguodala for Golden State can switch all matchups and guard all of the positions (to an extent). Whichever team is more successful with pick and roll defense will have the edge in the series.

Steph Curry vs. Kyle Lowry: Before the playoffs started, if you saw this matchup on paper, it’s a huge mismatch in favor of Curry. The “Lowry disappears in the playoffs” narrative has somewhat disappeared this postseason thanks to an improvement in Lowry’s defense and clutch shooting. That being said, Curry has been on an unreal tear since Durant’s injury. In the past five games (all Warriors wins), Curry has averaged 35.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg, and 6.6 apg. Lowry cannot stop Steph, but he needs to contain him. In crunch time, do no be surprised if Kawhi is guarding Steph especially if Durant isn’t playing. If Steph dominates this matchup, the Warriors will win in 4 games.

Kawhi Leonard vs. *Insert Golden State Player*: As important as Steph Curry’s defender will be, the Warrior to guard Kawhi Leonard is just as crucial. Leonard has been unstoppable these entire playoffs with averages of 31.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 3.8 apg, and 1.6 spg. Good luck stopping Leonard. Luckily for Golden State, they have a few capable defenders that can guard multiple positions. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, and Andre Igudola will all be on Leonard at some point. The plan is simple: Force Leonard to pass the ball. Expect a lot of traps to force the ball out of Leonard’s hand. As I said earlier, good luck stopping Leonard because so far, no team has slowed Kawhi down.


The Plays: Odds via Oddshark

Steph is obviously the play to win Finals MVP since he has not won this award in any of the Warriors’ previous finals appearances during this run. However, if you’re getting Kawhi at +225, I would sprinkle some money there. The Warriors outside of Steph to watch is Klay Thompson. +800 for Klay is a steal.

For a series bet, I’m not sure how you could bet against Golden State. I firmly in the camp that the Warriors win the series, but if I’m looking for a game that the Raptors can win, it’s either Game 1 or Game 2. Since the Warriors are 18-1 SU in Game 1s of playoff series since 2015, the game to bet on the Raptors is Game 2. Plus, the current line for Game 1 is Warriors +1.5. I’m not betting against the Warriors as underdogs.

Warriors vs. Raptors Prediction

Warriors in 5: On paper, the Raptors match up well with the Warriors even with Durant on the floor. Toronto has the better bench and Leonard has been the best player in the playoffs. However, when it’s winning time in the fourth quarter, are you going to trust the team who has won three out of four titles or the team making their first finals appearance in franchise history? Look for Kawhi to go off this series, but in turn, the Warriors to neutralize the Raptors’ supporting cast. The Warriors win in five games and Steph Curry destroys the false narrative that he’s not good in the NBA Finals by winning MVP.

What are your predictions? Comment with your thoughts below or join in the conversation on Twitter@UnAfraidShow.

LeBron James Impact Review 2018-2019: The Cleveland Cavaliers Fallout and the Los Angeles Lakers Future

LeBron James Impact Review 2018-2019: The Cleveland Cavaliers Fallout and the Los Angeles Lakers Future

With LeBron James, Four Straight NBA Finals. Without LeBron James, Nothing

The fallout from LeBron James’ departure from Cleveland is massive. After advancing to the NBA Finals four years in a row, the Cleveland Cavaliers are at the bottom of the league. It is no secret that the Cleveland Cavaliers have been in turmoil without James. After his departure, their 2018-2019 season has been nothing short of a disappointment. The 2018-2019 Cavaliers lowlights include:

A question remains: Just how different are the Cleveland Cavaliers with and without LeBron?

Strictly Looking at Wins and Losses

After compiling win/loss records from the last 20 seasons, there is a stark difference between the Cavaliers with and without LeBron James. The following two tables illustrate this chasm. In the first table, the Cleveland Cavaliers season are split into different eras to depict LeBron’s impact historically. Then, the second table looks strictly at the overall record of the Cavaliers during James’ NBA career, in seasons with and without him.

RecordWin Percentage
Pre-LeBron (1999-2002)108-22033%
First LeBron (2003-2009)349-22561%
Post LeBron (2010-2013)97-21531%
Second-Coming (2014-2017)211-11764%
Post LeBron II (2018)19-6323%
RecordWin Percentage
w/o LeBron (2003-2018) 116-27829%
w/ LeBron (2003-2018 )560-34262%

Following a look at those records, LeBron’s effect on the Cavalier’s is even larger than expected. In seasons with James on the roster, their win-percentage more than doubled. What other star’s departure can be seen in such a resounding way? Then, looking past regular season records illuminates LeBron’s Hand of Midas in playoff pushes. In 11 seasons with the Cavaliers, he led them to 9 playoff appearances, 5 NBA Finals and 1 NBA title over the prolific Golden State Warriors. With LeBron, the Cavaliers were a team of legend. Without him, they have been nothing but bottom-feeders.

Did the Los Angeles Lakers see the same LeBron bump?

Well, no. Here’s why:

Lack of an Efficient Supporting Cast

However, there are a few reasons to explain this. First off, the players surrounding LeBron James in Los Angeles did not have an efficient season. According to numberFire’s nERD Score, which measures a player’s efficiency and contribution to team wins, only LeBron James and JaVale McGee ranked in the top-100. The next closest was Johnathan Williams, who ranked 144th. The team around him needs further development and building.

LeBron is, in Fact, Human

Granted, LeBron has taken seemingly-untalented teams to the playoffs before. But this year was different. LeBron was plagued with injuries. Perhaps it was all of his extra playoff minutes that caused him to break down. In terms of playoffs, LeBron played the most minutes of any player in the NBA since 2010. Recently, in his four Cavalier seasons from 2014-2018, James played a total of 81 playoff games. He basically played an additional season. To top it all off, he averaged 41.1 minutes per game in those appearances. All of those extra minutes had to contribute to this poor outing.

Because of the nagging groin injury, James played just 55 games. Late in the season, the Lakers and LeBron reached an agreement to limit his minutes, with no more back to back games. Then, when playoff chances were infinitesimal, the team decided to sit James out the final six games of the season. This first year with LeBron was not pretty.

Hope for Lakers Fans To Cling To

Nonetheless, there still is hope of the Los Angeles Lakers return to glory. Obviously, the Lakers still have LeBron James, one of the greatest players of all time. That definitely helps. Even in his injury-riddled season, he still averaged 27.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game. Additionally, the Lakers record with James in the lineup was actually 28-27. Therefore, James still has yet to experience a losing record since his rookie season.

Furthermore, the disappointing season of the Lakers has a few benefits. The first comes with a lottery chance. Their overall record gives them a 2-percent chance to win the first pick and a 9.4-percent chance to win a top-four pick. The lowest spot the Lakers can pick in the upcoming 2019 NBA Draft is spot 14. They have a chance to reload the roster with some young, fresh talent. The 27 games sans-LeBron also gave the other players on the Lakers a chance to develop more. Without LeBron being the focal point of the offense, the rest of the cast could gain vital experience. Magic Johnson also stepped down as team president. His tenure with the Lakers has been a failed dream for a Lakers legend. But, stepping down was the right thing to do and allows a genuine executive to step forth. Last, LeBron’s 2018-2019 campaign gave him rest. In the playoffs, his off-season is essentially extended. 2019-2020 LeBron James can start the season revived.

Rebuilding LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers

At the end of their seasons, both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Lakers are in need of a better team. Fortunately for the Lakers, they have LeBron James for at least three more seasons. Their losing record also granted them a higher chance to hit in the 2019 NBA Draft. Lakers fans can have high hopes for playoffs next season.

On the other hand, the Cleveland Cavaliers are far behind. According to an article early in the NBA season by Scott Davis of Business Insider, the Cavaliers have severe, systemic issues.

“Issues within the organization were only thinly veiled in recent years, even with James on the roster. The Cavs went all-in to build around him, and the aftermath was always going to be ugly. But at least in recent years, the winning masked some issues.”

Building a team around LeBron with big contracts and again veterans was highly criticized. “GM LeBron” was a nickname offered up by many and both the Cavaliers and James were given negative reviews on cap spending. It worked well and didn’t matter as much when LeBron was on the team. Advancing a team to the NBA Finals four years in a row offset the penalties. But, those problems became maximized the second James left. As Davis put it, “Salary-cap relief could finally come in 2020, but that would essentially be the start of the rebuild”.

Last, we all need to reflect on the rarity of this LeBron James/Cavaliers relationship. It is absolutely incredible that one player can impact an entire franchise so significantly. The sudden quick uplifts and sudden drop-offs the Cavaliers experienced were very easy to see. How much credit/blame goes to LeBron or the Cavaliers organization is up for debate. Regardless, this story has been remarkable to witness. From NBA fanatic to a fan of mild interest, LeBron James made the Cleveland Cavaliers interesting. Let’s just hope that we can see an equally compelling storyline in the next two decades.

Should We Say LeBron is the GOAT or Greatest Player of This Era?

Jordan Lebron GOAT

King James has fans up in arms once again. In the latest episode of the docu-series “More Than An Athlete,” LeBron James made comments proclaiming himself to be the Greatest Player of All Time (GOAT). The “More Than An Athlete” docu-series, which airs on ESPN+, tells the story of James and his three friends and business partners Maverick Carter, Rich Paul, and Randy Mims.  As can be seen in the clip below, James stated that winning the 2016 NBA Championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers made him the Greatest Player Of All Time. James’ comments have added even more fuel to the GOAT debate.[yotuwp type=”videos” id=”87AIZBYuIXY” pagination=”off” title=”off” description=”off” player=”modestbranding=0&showinfo=0&rel=0″]

Fans and critics have been debating whether James or Jordan is the GOAT?  Fans and critics have been debating whether a great player should proclaim himself to be the GOAT? Perhaps these are the wrong questions. The question should be whether there can truly be a Greatest Player of All Time? Or should the debate focus on the greatest player of each era?

Should a Great Player Proclaim Himself the GOAT?

Many fans and critics do not think so. After James’ comments, fans, critics, and the media went into a frenzy. While most acknowledged that James is a great player, many felt his comments were inappropriate.  Critics argued that no one should proclaim themselves as the GOAT because it is disrespectful to other greats who came before.[yotuwp type=”videos” id=”56pTyJKcqKY” pagination=”off” title=”off” description=”off” player=”modestbranding=0&showinfo=0&rel=0″]

Of course, it would not be a GOAT debate involving LeBron James if Michael Jordan was not mentioned. Critics of James’ comments referred to a  2009 interview of Michael Jordan when he was questioned about being the GOAT. Jordan stated that he would never say that he was the greatest player because he never had the chance to play other great players that proceeded him like Wilt Chamberlin and Jerry West. This statement, essentially proves that there can never be a true greatest player of all time. 

Can There Ever be a True GOAT? Or Should the Debate be Focused on the Greatest Player of Each Era?

There can never truly be a GOAT because there are too many players who were regarded as the greatest during their era. Great players have stood above the rest throughout basketball history. Given the number of great players to play at various times within the sport, it is very difficult if not impossible to single out one person to be the true GOAT. How does one choose between Bill Russell, Oscar Roberston, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, just to name a few? Bill Russel played during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s.  He became a player-coach and went on to win 11 NBA championships. Oscar Robertson was the first basketball player to average a triple-double. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar still holds the NBA all-time leading scorer record.

The answer is that one cannot choose because they were all great in their own right. One could argue that they were the greatest players of their eras. However, it would be difficult to designate one of them the true GOAT because they all made invaluable contributions to the game.

Furthermore, the game has evolved over the years. The style of play has changed and continues to change, which makes it very difficult to designate a true GOAT. Plays that are thought of as great today were not before. For example, the game today has largely shifted to three-point shooting.  This is largely due to the dominance of the “Splash Brothers,” Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Before their unprecedented three-point shooting, stopping to shoot a three instead of going for the “easier” bucket was unheard of. Due to their unprecedented three-point shooting, Curry and Thompson will also go down as two of the greatest players of their era.

The 2016 Finals Did Not Make James the GOAT, Because it is not Possible to Designate a True GOAT

First, let us acknowledge that James was correct in some of his comments. He did do something special that had never been done when he led the Cavaliers to defeat Golden State. In 2016, Golden State was arguably unstoppable.  The Warriors beat the Chicago Bulls’ record for most wins in a season finishing at 73-9. The Cavilers came back from being down 3-1 in the series and defeated the Warriors for the Championship.  No team had ever come back to win after being down 3-1.

King James was already a phenomenal basketball player and his accomplishments in the 2016 NBA Finals solidified his greatness that much more. However, does that performance make King James the GOAT? No, it does not make him the Greatest Player of All Time simply because there are too many great players who dominated at different times to have a true GOAT.  However, it may make him the greatest player of his era.

King James’ Performance May Have Solidified his Position as the Greatest of his Era

King James’ performance in the 2016 NBA Finals certainly makes him the greatest player of his era because they beat a team no one thought they could beat against all the odds.  The Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 deficit and beat what is the best team in NBA history, as far as the record goes. The Cavaliers cemented their win with a pivotal moment that was offered by none other than King James.  James ran an almost full 94 feet to block Andre Iguodala’s shot to keep the game tied in game seven. At that moment, the momentum officially shifted to the Cavaliers.

[yotuwp type=”videos” id=”-zd62MxKXp8″ pagination=”off” title=”off” description=”off” player=”modestbranding=0&showinfo=0&rel=0″]

The Cavaliers rode that wave all the way to victory. With beating the team with the best NBA record, ending a 52-year championship drought, and making the big play to push the team to the win, it is likely that the 2016 NBA Finals may have made James the greatest of his era.  However, King James is still playing. He surely has many great moments to come that could rise to or even exceed the 2016 NBA Finals.  We will see.

We cannot forget that LeBron James is winning in ways no other NBA player has. He has helped start a school, send over 1100 kids to college, won’t “Shut Up and Dribble“, and produced a documentary highlighting the NCAA hypocrisy.