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.

Team USA: Second Straight Loss Highlights Poor Roster Construction

Kevin Durant of Team USA vs. Australia

On paper, Team USA is the most talented basketball team in the world. After two exhibition games, their superior talent hasn’t translated to victories.

Team USA lost their second exhibition game on Monday night, falling to Australia, 92-83, in Las Vegas, NV. This comes off the heels of their historic 90-87 loss to Nigeria this past Saturday night, where Team USA was a 29.5 point favorite going into the game. For context, the United States defeated Nigeria, 156-73, at the 2012 Olympics.

Team USA has been the most dominant international basketball team for the past 30 years. Since 1992, Team USA is 53-3 in the Olympics with all three losses coming in 2004. Furthermore, the United States had been 54-2 in major exhibitions since the 1992 Dream Team before dropping two straight games over the last three days.

Exhibitions are unofficial games but don’t tell that to the rest of the world. Playing against the USA is the equivalent of playing for a championship. Because almost every top International team has NBA players, the days of fearing Team USA may be of the past. Just ask Joe Ingles, who said that his Australian team expected to beat Team USA.

Losing two exhibition games is not the end of the world for Team USA, but it’s a cause for concern. The offensive chemistry will most likely improve considering the team has some of the most talented scorers in the world like Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and Jayson Tatum.

The problem with Team USA is rooted in its roster construction. On paper, 11 of the 12 players on the roster have made an all-star team. The team is constructed of combo guards and versatile wings that can guard multiple positions on defense.

This roster would thrive in the NBA, but the International game is much different. Teams are more traditionally structured, where multiple big men play at once, defenses pack the paint (no defensive three seconds), and teams consistently run offensive sets. It’s not the “3 and D” style that the NBA has morphed into over the past few seasons.

Plus, there is more physicality, and the US team lacks a dominant big man. Small ball will work against the inferior teams, but the United States could run into problems with bigger opponents due to their lack of size. It’s important to note that Australia outrebounded Team USA, 23-20.

The international game is officiated much differently. The refs are not as inclined to call touch fouls like they do in today’s NBA. To be honest, it’s refreshing, but so far, the Americans have failed to adjust to the officiating.

Team USA’s late-game execution has been horrendous. Australia ended the game on an 11-1 run to seal the victory. The Americans are looking to players like Lillard and Durant to bail them out on offense by playing iso-ball. That hasn’t worked in two exhibition games. Although Devin Booker, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday will join the squad after the NBA Finals, this team desperately needs a traditional, playmaking point guard like Chris Paul to get into their sets and generate easy buckets.

Why did Team USA select Kevin Love? In two exhibition games, Love has 0 points, 1 rebound, and 1 assist. In other words, Love has been nonexistent. Instead of selecting an aging veteran who could be bought out of his contract, the United States would have been better off filling this spot with a young point guard like De’aaron Fox, LaMelo Ball, Ja Morant, or Trae Young. If they elected to go with a rim protector instead, then Jarrett Allen or even Evan Mobley come to mind.

Team USA may still go undefeated at the Tokyo Olympics and frankly, they shouldn’t lose a game with their talent. If they do lose, then roster construction will be the reason for their downfall.

Do you think the United States men’s basketball team will win the gold medal? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

Khris Middleton Is An Enigma

Khris Middleton reminds me of M. Night Shyamalan’s filmography. It’s a neverending circle of confusion that starts as good, turns to bad at the halfway mark, and circles back up to good.

There are times where Shymalan looks like one of the most important directors of the last 30 years with films such as The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs. Then, Shymalan will direct bad films like The Happening and After Earth and make you question if he’s the same guy who was nominated for two Oscars. But, the circle must close back at the top, and adding good films like The Visit and Split completes the circle of confusion.

Apologies for my handwriting

Are you confused yet? Thankfully, HoopAnalysisNet created Middleton’s circle of confusion.

Just like Shyamalan’s plot twists, Middleton is an enigma. There will be games where he looks like the best player on the floor. Down 3-2 to the Brooklyn Nets, Middleton played the game of his life in a Game 6 win, scoring 38 points. He followed up that performance with 23 points in Game 7 including 11 points in the fourth quarter to help the Bucks advance past the Nets.

Following the circle, Middleton must come back to Earth, which he did in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, scoring 15 points in a Game 1 loss and 15 points in a Game 2 win. In the next four games, Middleton becomes Michael Jordan as the Bucks win three of the next four games to advance to the NBA Finals.

https://twitter.com/KB824Lukas/status/1411715658358923264?s=20

If we follow the circle, Middleton must forget how to play basketball at some point. Guess what? That’s exactly what happened in Game 2 of the NBA Finals where Middleton looked lost on the offensive end. Middleton ended the game with 11 points on 5 of 16 shooting and a Plus/Minus of -15.

Middleton either plays like of the 20 best players in the NBA or someone outside of the top 100. It’s baffling considering the Bucks paid him a max contract when he only showcases his true potential 70% of the time. Players can have bad games, but as the second-best player on the Bucks, it’s inexcusable to have this many no-shows.

For the Bucks to win, Middleton needs to become the lethal scorer from the end of the Nets and Bucks series. Jrue Holiday isn’t helping out whatsoever on the offensive side, but he’s still the third option. Middleton is the clear second option behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Greek Freak cannot win this series alone.

We can sit here and draw up offensive strategies where Middleton can exploit the Suns’ defense. If the Bucks can get Deandre Ayton into foul trouble, then Middleton can put Ayton’s backups (Frank Kaminsky and Jalen Smith) into pick and rolls and either create easy jump shots or get to the foul line.

That being said, it comes down to consistency. If Middleton can shoot over 40% from the field and score more than 25 points, the Bucks will win games. If he doesn’t, then it could be a short series.

Middleton has been good with his team’s back against the wall all playoffs. Let’s see which player shows up for Game 3 on Sunday night.

How The Match Provided Insight About The Future Of Aaron Rodgers

The Match

In a match between two Hall of Fame quarterbacks and two elite golfers, no one wanted to talk about who could drive the ball the longest or birdie the most holes. All everyone wanted to discuss was the future of Aaron Rodgers.

Well, everyone except Rodgers.

During Capital One’s The Match, Rodgers teamed up with Bryson DeChambeau to defeat Tom Brady and Phil Mickelson. It’s hard to look at Rodgers and Brady on the same course and not think of what transpired during the 2021 NFC Championship Game. I’m sure Green Bay’s star player would happily trade this golf win for a chance to go for it on fourth and goal.

Most people including myself use golf as an escape. Nothing beats hanging outside with your friends, drinking a few beers, and hitting a tiny white ball around for a few hours. The last thing anyone wants to talk about on the course is work.

However, The Match was anything but an escape as the topic of his future in Green Bay was discussed multiple times throughout the broadcast. The most relevant clip occurred when Brian Anderson asked Rodgers if he would be the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers on Opening Day.

Like he’s done all offseason, Rodgers sidestepped the question with a cryptic remark, saying “I don’t know. We’ll see.”

Does he really not know what’s going to happen? The reigning MVP acts cool, calm, and collected, but he’s just as calculated as Brady. These remarks were another chance to express his unhappiness with the Packers organization.

“I don’t know” is an answer of uncertainty, but in this case, it’s Rodgers who doesn’t know what to do, not the Packers. He wants a breakup with the Packers, but he wants the Packers to do it for him. Reports of frustration and unhappiness have been reported in the media, and Rodgers skipped OTAs to hang with Shailene Woodley, Miles Teller, and Keleigh Teller. (For the record, I would also choose Hawaii over OTAs.)

If Rodgers wants out so badly, all he has to do is ask. Yet, he’s never publicly said he wants to leave the Packers or demanded a trade.

Rodgers didn’t anticipate the Packers to bluff when the report about his disappointment with the organization leaked on draft night. He thought the team would cave into these reports and trade away the superstar. To the Packers’ credit, they stood their ground and didn’t budge. Packers GM Brian Gutekunst said they will “not trade” Rodgers.

It all comes back to the “I don’t know” remark. It’s not about the Packers. It’s about Rodgers and if he will play the one card he has left, which is to demand a trade and hold out of training camp. This is the nuclear option, but it’s his only remaining option. If Rodgers doesn’t ask out of Green Bay, he will be a Packer for at least one more season.

If Rodgers doesn’t want to talk about the Packers anymore, then I suggest he stays off the golf course.

What do you think the Packers will do with Aaron Rodgers? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet me, @danny_giro.

What Is The Best Trade Offer For Damian Lillard?

Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers

It’s time to jump into the NBA Trade Machine and come up with unrealistic trades for Damian Lillard. To quote Michael Keaton in Batman, “You wanna get nuts? Come on! Let’s get nuts!”

Who says no first?

The entire NBA community is waiting for Lillard to demand a trade out of Portland, and the first domino fell this past Sunday when Yahoo’s Chris Haynes reported that the inability to build a contender and the hiring of Chauncey Billups could push Dame out of town. Haynes is as locked in with Blazers’ news as one can be due to his time spent covering the team and his relationship with Dame so I believe this story.

The story is not a direct trade request, but the groundwork for a future trade has been set. The ball is in Dame’s court. If he wants out, he can go right to management and ask for a trade. Due to his loyalty to the organization, I don’t know if Dame has it in him to publicly request a trade. However, stories like Haynes’s might be a way for Dame to express his frustration with the Blazers and ask the front office for a trade privately.

Because of this story, every single GM should call the Blazers to discuss Lillard’s availability. Dame is one of the 10 best players in the NBA and a true cornerstone for a franchise. Did you watch what he did in Game 5 of the opening round of the playoffs? Imagine if Lillard finally teamed up with other superstars to form a superteam? It’s a scary thought.

Let’s take Lillard’s opinion out of this conversation for one second because we all know he wants to end up on the New York Knicks. (Yeah, I went there.) But seriously, Lillard will have a say in where he wants to end up, but let’s pretend he doesn’t. Which team provides the best trade offer?

Unlike my LeBron for Lillard trade, I’m going to keep this realistic, which means the real trade will be Anthony Davis for Lillard.

Shut up, Dan.

OK, here are some real packages I’ve been seeing that could make sense.

Celtics trade Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, younger players, and multiple first-round picks to the Blazers for Lillard.

Sixers trade Ben Simmons, younger players, and multiple first-round picks to the Blazers for Lillard.

Knicks trade RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley, and multiple first-round picks to the Blazers for Lillard.

Thunder trade every first-round pick known to man and players to match salaries for Lillard.

Warriors trade Andrew Wiggins, James Wiseman, a younger player, the 2021 No. 7 pick, 2021 No. 14 pick, and pick swaps for Lillard.

Pelicans trade Brandon Ingram, younger players, and A LOT of first-round picks for Lillard.

Every team could (and should) create a trade package for Dame. If the Blazers trade Lillard, do they want an ungodly amount of first-round picks or will they only request a few firsts if they receive a talented player in return?

Out of all the trades listed above, the Celtics have the best offer. Brown is an ascending star with a huge upside. Having Brown and multiple first-round picks to build around is a nice consolation prize. Plus, he’s under a fair contract until 2024 so the Blazers have time to construct a winning roster around the 24-year-old.

As good as Boston’s trade might be, there’s still another offer for Lillard that I haven’t mentioned yet. It happens to be the best offer for Lillard. That offer belongs to the Denver Nuggets.

Lillard for Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. is the best offer for the Blazers if their goal is to receive as much talent in return as possible. Murray is a budding star-guard in the NBA who was averaging 21 points per game before tearing his ACL in April. An ACL injury may be a cause for concern, but medicine has come so far in the last 20 years that he could return by the first-quarter of 2022. Barring a huge setback, Murray should return to full strength by the 2022 NBA Playoffs. Plus, for salary cap purposes, the 24-year-old is under his rookie max extension until 2025 so the Blazers have a solid building block for the future.

*For the Dame-Murray/Porter Jr. trade to happen, there are some salary cap issues that Denver would have to maneuver around including Will Barton’s player option. If Barton declines his option, it’s easier to make the trade for Lillard. If Barton opts-in, then Denver would probably have to trade him, which shouldn’t be an issue because many teams would want Barton for at least one year.

Then there’s Porter Jr., who fell down draft boards to No. 14 in 2018 because of a bad medical report. After averaging 19 points per game this past season, many teams regret passing on the talented 23-year-old. Porter Jr. is an electric scorer who hasn’t even scratched the surface of his potential. He’s a 6’10” forward who can create his own shot and hover around 40% from behind the arc. Porter Jr. is a special offensive player who could be a 25-points-per-game scorer in the future.

If the Nuggets want to keep either Murray or Porter Jr., the Nuggets could package one of those stars with multiple first-round picks attached. However, the best deal for Portland is to get both Murray and Porter Jr.

Why would the Nuggets trade two of their star players? Teams need to be more willing to sacrifice young stars for a hall of fame talent like Dame. Once again, did you watch Game 5 of their first-round series? Lillard is one of the three best guards in the NBA. Pairing Dame with Nikola Jokic expedites Denver’s title chances. The Nuggets go from a team on the fringe of being a contender to an immediate contender in the West. With Dame’s ability to create his own shot and Joker’s dynamic passing, this duo would be one of the best in the NBA.

Now, all we can do is wait for Lillard to make a move. Denver, get on the phone.

What do you think the best trade would be for Damian Lillard? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

NBA Instant Replay Continues To Hurt, Not Help, The Game

NBA refs looking over a replays / Flickr

NBA Instant Replay revolves around the idea of accuracy. No one wants games decided by a missed call so replay is all about getting it right. But what happens when the quest for precision becomes a problem?

Tuesday night’s game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns was the poster boy for the case against instant replay.

The Clippers and Suns were in an exciting battle all night. Role players like Cameron Payne and Ivica Zubac were playing like seasoned vets. No team could get an edge as they traded baskets throughout the fourth quarter.

Then, the last 90 seconds became a new game in itself.

90 seconds of the game took 33 REAL MINUTES. Not 3 minutes, not 13 minutes, but 33 minutes. That makes me want to puke. You could have started and finished the basketball episode of The Office with 1:30 left in the fourth quarter and not miss much from the real basketball game.

Something has to change.

Nothing personifies what’s wrong with replay more than the Devin Booker-Patrick Beverley situation. With just under 14 seconds left, Devin Booker drove to the right-wing. Patrick Beverley moved his feet, swatted at the ball, and knocked it out of bounds. The refs ruled Suns ball.

Not so fast my friend.

Beverley spun his index finger in the air like he was calling for a daiquiri break in Wedding Crashers. In the last two minutes of an NBA game, the spinning finger motion has more power over the officials than any coach or player. If you swing your finger in the air on an out-of-bounds play, nine times out of ten, the officials will huddle up and go to the table for review.

This situation was no different. The refs huddled up and went to the table for the review. After viewing super slow-mo replays for a few minutes, the refs decided to overturn the call on the floor and award the ball to the Clippers.

Awful.

Throughout basketball’s illustrious history, we know that the Booker-Beverley play should have resulted in Suns ball. If this game was in a local park, then it would be Suns ball. If that play that happened with 2:01 left in the fourth quarter, then it would be Suns ball. However, because of super slow-mo, the ball probably went off Booker’s fingertips at the last nanosecond so the refs changed the call to Clippers ball.

If Booker reached for the ball before it went out of bounds, then I have no problem with awarding the ball to the Clippers. But that’s not what happened. The ball was knocked out of his hands in one motion. That’s Suns ball, and you can’t convince me otherwise.

Even worse, replays take way too long. Five reviews in 30 minutes are unacceptable for a product that’s struggling with its ratings. I have friends who always complain about the end of games, saying the “last two minutes take two hours.” I love the NBA and will always watch the game, but the casual fan has a point in terms of length. Why should casual fans watch a game that spends more time at the scorer’s table than on the court at the end of games?

If replays are long, tedious, and inaccurate, why use them?

To fix replay, the NBA should steal a page from tennis. In my opinion, tennis has the best use of replay. It’s quick and accurate and gives players a definitive answer as to whether the ball is in or out.

The NBA should adopt the same principles. The league can still keep replay in the last two minutes of the game, but put a time limit of 30 seconds on each replay. If the refs can’t make a decision within 30 seconds, then it’s not a clear and obvious reversal so stick with the call on the floor. With a 30-second review, the coaches and players won’t receive a free three-minute timeout. The flow of the game will be preserved. Most importantly, the fans won’t get restless.

I’m all for getting the call right, but it’s time to adjust replay in the NBA.

Do you agree or disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

New York Knicks Must Show Patience This Offseason

New York Knicks

Should the New York Knicks extend Julius Randle? Which playmakers should the Knicks sign in the offseason? Is Chris Paul, Lonzo Ball, or Kyle Lowry realistic targets to bring in next season?

We all need to settle down.

It’s been less than 24 hours since the Knicks ended their season with a 103-89 loss to the Atlanta Hawks and the Knicks fanbase is thinking about next year. Instead of taking a minute to appreciate the team’s best season since 2013, fans are trying to make fake trades and free-agent signings without any regard for the rules of the salary cap.

I’m not here to shit on the dreams of unrealistic fans just yet. New Yorkers are happy about a promising season so they’re ready to create a better Knicks team. I’m guilty of looking ahead to next year, too.

Fans can look ahead and plan for the future right now because our decisions don’t affect the team. However, the organization needs to take a different approach in the next couple of months.

The Knicks front office must show patience this offseason.

The culture is in place thanks to Leon Rose and Tom Thibodeau. A team that plays good defense and plays hard every night has been established. Now, it’s time to take upgrade the roster with playmakers and stars.

The Knicks can’t run it back with the same group of guys. That doesn’t mean they should let veterans like Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson enter free agency. But the lack of talent throughout the Hawks series was alarming, and the Knicks need stars to win in the playoffs.

Unfortunately, this won’t happen overnight. Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul are legitimate stars that would improve the Knicks significantly. However, does Kawhi want to come to the East Coast after buying his third house in California? CP3 has the connection to Leon Rose, but why would he leave the Suns if they offer him the 3 year, 100 million contract he’s seeking?

If the Knicks strike out on Kawhi and Paul, which will probably happen, the worst thing New York could do is to panic and spend their 60 million in cap space on good, not great, players.

Dennis Schröder would be an upgrade at the point guard position, but is it worth paying him close to 90 million over four years?

Probably not.

DeMar DeRozan is an above average scorer. On a short term deal, DeRozan is a viable option. However, should the Knicks give a longterm contract to a guy that shoots 25% from behind the arc?

Probably not.

Lonzo Ball would start for the Knicks immediately. Ball improved his shooting from three and provides court vision that the Knicks haven’t had at point guard in over a decade. But, the price is probably going to be around 100 million over four years. Is it worth it?

Maybe.

Making the big splash in free agency might not happen this offseason, and that’s OK. The aforementioned cap space to go along with two first round picks (19 and 21) signify the Knicks are headed in the right direction. The team has the flexibility to improve in the backcourt and acquire more shooters.

In today’s NBA, stars get unhappy all the time. Just ask Kyrie Irving, who told the Boston media he would re-sign with the Celtics only to bolt for the Nets months later.

It’s only a matter of time before the best player in a lousy franchise grows tired of his situation and wants out. Bradley Beal, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Brandon Ingram could all be in potential trade discussions this summer. To a lesser degree, Collin Sexton and Buddy Hield would be fix a good amount of the Knicks’ problems.

Then, there’s always the dream scenarios where fans will photoshop players into Knicks’ jerseys. The prime target for the dream scenario would be Damian Lillard. We should all probably keep dreaming because it’s unlikely to happen, but it’s important to remember that situations constantly change.

The Knicks will need to acquire multiple superstars to compete for a championship. It may not happen this summer, but be patient. If the Knicks continue to rebuild and improve, it’s only a matter of time before a star forces his way to New York.

What should the Knicks do this offseason? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet me, @danny_giro.

Boston Celtics: Examining The Legacies Of Danny Ainge And Brad Stevens

Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens

Do the good times outweigh the bad? It’s a question I ask myself whenever I judge someone’s legacy. I’m confident in saying Danny Ainge is a good executive and Brad Stevens is a good coach. Ainge and Stevens both had success with the Boston Celtics, but after a few disappointing seasons in a row, their legacies ran into some problems.

On Wednesday, the Boston Celtics announced that Ainge is stepping down as President of Basketball Operations. Replacing Ainge is Stevens, who will leave his position as head coach to work in the front office.

A change was coming to Boston in some way, shape, or form. This past season was a disaster. After making the Conference Finals in the Bubble, injuries and Covid plagued the Celtics as Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker all missed significant time throughout the year. The lineup of Tatum, Peyton Pritchard, Semi Ojeleye, Jabari Parker, and Grant Williams wasn’t enough (shocker) to defeat the Nets as the Celtics were bounced from the first round of the playoffs.

Theo Epstein, who won championships for both the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, believes that 10 years is an appropriate amount of time to stay with a team before moving on. Theo’s rationale makes a lot of sense. At some point, the message in year eight or nine doesn’t positively affect the players and organization as it did in year one or two. A new voice for the Celtics is probably a good thing.

Ainge and Stevens have had more highs than lows. Ainge came in guns blazing in 2003 when he traded Antonie Walker, a fan favorite at the time, and essentially made coach Jim O’Brien resign. What happened next? Ainge hired Doc Rivers, and the two began to rebuild. In 2007, “Trader Danny” acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to form the Big Three with Paul Pierce, which resulted in one NBA Championship and two Finals’ appearances in three years.

Ainge also knew when to pull the plug on a team. Ainge committed highway robbery when he traded Garnett and Pierce to the Nets for every draft pick known to man. (Five players, three firsts, and a pick swap, but you get my point.) Trader Danny also acquired Kyrie Irving (more on him later) and drafted Brown and Tatum. Don’t forget that Ainge traded back to take Tatum instead of drafting Fultz.

Here’s what Ainge doesn’t get a lot of credit for, which is surprising. He took hired Stevens! The guy who led Butler to two straight NCAA Championship games became a top 5 NBA coach during the middle of this tenure with the Celtics. Stevens led a team with Isaiah Thomas and Crowder to the Conference Finals in 2017 and followed that up with a Game 7 loss in the same round in 2018.

Overachieving on a team with less talent than the opponent was the theme of Stevens’ tenure. The same underdog mentality he established at Butler translated to the Celtics with three Conference Finals appearances in the last four seasons.

Despite great starts, both Ainge and Stevens start to disappoint in 2019. Kyrie’s tenure in Boston was a disaster. Every GM would have made the Kyrie trade, but it clearly backfired. Stars like Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis would have been perfect to pair with Kyrie, but Ainge didn’t want to take a chance on guys who may not have re-signed long-term with Boston. There is some validity to Ainge’s thought process, but you can’t help but think “what if” they finally pushed their chips in and traded Brown for Kawhi or Tatum for Davis.

That’s one of my biggest gripes with Ainge. He was fearless in the late 2000s, trading fan favorites and draft picks to form a successful Big Three. He won a title because of his boldness. Because the Kyrie trade went sour, the big trades came to a halt. The Cs became the team that “almost” traded for a star. They almost traded for Kawhi and Davis. Almost isn’t good enough to win titles. Even this past year, the Celtics almost traded for Aaron Gordon, who is the third-best player on a Nuggets team with the best record since the All-Star break. Instead, they settled for Evan Fournier. What happened to “Trader Danny” who wasn’t afraid to make the big move?

For as good as Ainge as was drafting stars, he struggled to draft rotation players. Here are Ainge’s last two drafts.

If we’re grading these drafts, 2019 is an F, and 2020 is a D+. That’s not good for an executive that loves to accumulate draft picks. It may be apples and oranges, but the fact remains that the Nets are in a better position to win a championship than the Celtics, which seemed like an impossible task a few years ago.

For Stevens, the “can’t coach superstars” narrative started to form after the Kyrie debacle. In the Bubble, Erik Spoelstra ran circles around Stevens. Spoelstra is an elite coach, but at one point, so was Stevens. Maybe Stevens wasn’t more valuable than a superstar player.

To be fair, if Gordon Hayward doesn’t shatter his foot in Game 1 of the 2017-2018 season, maybe things work out differently for both Ainge and Stevens. However, the Celtics let Hayward walk for nothing this past year in a season where Hayward had the Hornets in the top 6 in the Eastern Conference before his injury.

Now, Stevens will get a chance at redemption when he becomes “the new Ainge.” With no front office experience, finding the right coach and roster to accompany Brown and Tatum will be a tall task for Stevens.

Overall, Ainge and Stevens had moments where they were at the top in their respective positions, but the past few seasons felt like major disappointments. It’s hard to end a relationship on a high note, but Ainge and Stevens’ 2020-2021 season was as sour as it gets. Now, both will look towards new opportunities to rewrite their endings.

What are your predictions for the Celtics’ future? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

Knicks Series Preview: How New York Can Defeat The Atlanta Hawks

RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, and Derrick Rose / Knicks

After a stellar regular season, the New York Knicks secured the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference and will play the No. 5 seed Atlanta Hawks in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs.

This is not a joke. Hell, it’s not even a dream.

To quote Amar’e Stoudemire, “The Knicks are back.”

Thanks to Tom Thibodeau and Julius Randle, the Knicks not only made the playoffs but have a great chance to win a series, which is unfathomable considering the team hasn’t made the playoffs in eight years. The Knicks won all three matchups against the Hawks during the regular season. But this is the playoffs so throw the records out the door.

The Hawks are a different team since Nate McMillian took over for Lloyd Pierce. On paper, the Hawks have the more talented roster with Trae Young, John Collins, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Deandre Hunter, and Clint Capela. However, the Knicks are the embodiment of toughness and grit, ranking third in team defensive efficiency.

For the Knicks to win the series, they must accomplish three things.

Julius Randle Must Assert His Dominance

To say Julius Randle dominated the Hawks during the regular season would be the understatement of the century. There’s dominance, and then there’s Randle against the Hawks. In three games versus the Hawks, Randle averaged 37.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 6.7 assists on 58.1/50.0/81.8 shooting splits.

The Hawks are an average defense so Randle should be able to exploit matchups regularly. If Deandre Hunter isn’t 100%, then Solomon Hill is probably the best option to defend Randle. I’ll choose Randle in that matchup eleven times out of ten. Even if Randle puts up his season averages of 24.1 ppg, 10.2 rpg, and 6.0 apg, the Knicks will be in good shape to advance.

Alec Burks Must Be A Scoring Threat Off The Bench

The Knicks’ three best scoring options are Randle, RJ Barrett, and Derrick Rose. If all goes according to plan, those three will lead the team in scoring. Reggie Bullock will chip in some threes, but he’s more of a catch-and-shoot player, not so much a creator. There has to be that fourth guy to create offense and provide some scoring off the bench especially when Randle and RJ sit. The best player to fill that role is Alec Burks.

Burks has been one of the bargain signings of the past season. Burks signed a one-year contract worth $6 million, and he’s completely exceeded expectations. Burks provides the Knicks with a guard who can create his own shot, shoot over 40% from three, and provide solid defense. Pairing him with Rose and Immanuel Quickley gives the Knicks three viable threats to create offense off the bench.

In Burks last three games, he’s scored 30, 14, and 17 points in just under 30 minutes per game. If Burks can score over 10 each game of the series, that’s one more option the Hawks need to worry about, which will help open up the offense.

Stop Bogdan Bogdanovic

Trae Young is going to score at least 20 points per game. Young is good at drawing fouls and hitting bombs from beyond the arc. John Collins will also provide some matchup problems for the Knicks.

That being said, the Knicks must stop Bogdan Bogdanovic. McMillian deserves a ton of credit for the Hawks’ turnaround, but Bogdanovic sparked their success on the court. Since Bogdanovic returned from a fractured knee, the Hawks are 27-11 including seven wins in their last eight games. McMillian has allowed Bogdanovic to create off the dribble and get to his spots instead of serving as someone to space the floor for Young. When Young’s off the floor, the Hawks don’t miss a beat with Bogdanovic serving as the primary ball-handler.

The Knicks are expected to play good, team defense. They’ve done it all year so there’s no reason why it would disappear now. However, the Knicks must contain Bogdanovic or risk getting into shootouts, which isn’t their strength.

Bottomline

No matter what happens, this season will go down as a success. The Knicks shattered their projected win total of 22.5 games with 41 wins. They finally have a stable front office, an above-average head coach, a star in the making with Randle, and a definitive identity.

The Knicks were not supposed to be here. But, since they are here, they might as well win it, right?

Knicks in 7.

Who do you think will win, Hawks or Knicks? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @danny_giro.

Casting My NBA Awards Ballot: Who Will Win In Each Category

Stephen Curry / NBA

It’s time to cast my (nonexistent) ballot for the NBA Awards. The NBA Awards include a mix of obvious winners and heated discussions. Categories like MVP and Most Improved Player are all but over. On the other hand, the All-NBA discussion is heating up rapidly as ballots are due next week.

Below is my ballot.

MVP

  1. Nikola Jokic
  2. Joel Embiid
  3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
  4. Steph Curry
  5. Julius Randle

When the dust has settled, Nikola Jokic will win the MVP. He’s almost at the top of every offensive statistical category including in the top five for assists. The 7-footer is averaging 8.4 assists per game, which is ludicrous for a center. Plus, he’s doing this all without Jamal Murray. The Joker deserves this MVP, make no mistake about it.

Update on 5/18/21: The original top 5 was Jokic, Embiid, Giannis, Randle, and Paul. After the weekend, I slid Curry into 4, moved Randle to 5, and removed Paul from the top 5.

Defensive Player of the Year

  1. Rudy Gobert
  2. Ben Simmons
  3. Bam Adebayo

What Rudy Gobert does for the Jazz is irreplaceable. FiveThirtyEight ran a piece about how Gobert’s season is one of the best ever. The Jazz are 11.9 points per 100 possessions better when Gobert is on the floor, which is the best in the NBA. Take Gobert off the Jazz and their entire makeup changes.

Most Improved Player

  1. Julius Randle
  2. Jerami Grant
  3. Christian Wood

I’ve written and tweeted about Randle’s improvement ad nauseam. His leap from a good talent to an All-NBA player is remarkable. Randle is the heartbeat of the Knicks and one of the key reasons for their turnaround. With career highs in almost every offensive category, Randle is a runaway winner.

Rookie of the Year

  1. LaMelo Ball
  2. Anthony Edwards
  3. Tyrese Haliburton

If LaMelo Ball doesn’t fracture his wrist on March 20 and miss time, he wins this award in a landslide. Ball’s averaging 15.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, and 6.2 apg and one of the main reasons why the Hornets will make the play-in tournament. However, it’s hard to ignore Anthony Edwards’s offensive explosion throughout the second half of the season. He’s a walking bucket, highlighted by his 40 point game in early May. Do you reward the better all-around player who missed more than 30% of the year due to injury or the electric scorer who played in every game and came on strong in the second half? Because he came back from injury and he’s on a playoff team, Ball gets my vote.

Coach of the Year

  1. Tom Thibodeau
  2. Monty Williams
  3. Quin Snyder

I’m sure some of you are going to accuse me of being a homer with this pick. You’re not wrong because I’m a diehard Knicks fan. However, ask yourself this question: Before the season started, did you have the Suns or Knicks making the playoffs? If you follow the NBA, then you would have selected the Suns, not the Knicks, to make the playoffs. Monty Williams has done a masterful job, taking the Suns from a fringe playoff team to a potential one-seed.

The Suns were trending in the right direction thanks to an 8-0 record in the bubble. The Knicks didn’t even make the bubble. No one predicted Thibs would turn this team around so quickly. I love the Knicks with all my heart and I had them as the 10-seed going into the year. Tom Thibodeau changed the culture of this organization in one season. He took a bunch of forgotten players, convinced them to play defense, and molded them into one of the six best teams in the East. That is the Coach of the Year.

Sixth Man of the Year

  1. Jordan Clarkson
  2. Derrick Rose
  3. Joe Ingles

With all due respect (even though I’m about to be disrespectful), the Sixth Man category isn’t as strong as it’s been in years past. There’s no Montrez Harrell, Dennis Schröder, Lou Williams, or Jamal Crawford on the ballot. This award will either go to Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles, who both had good seasons. Clarkson is second on the Jazz in points with 18.2 in just under 27 minutes per game. Ingles aka Jingles is the glue of the Jazz. He’s a sniper from deep (45.6 3P%), a solid pick-and-roll creator, and guards the opposing team’s top wing every night. I’ll go with Clarkson, but my heart truly thinks it should be Derrick Rose, who is in the midst of a career renaissance.

All-NBA

First Team

  • G: Stephen Curry
  • G: Damian Lillard
  • F: Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • F: Luka Dončić
  • C: Nikola Jokic

Second Team

  • G: Jimmy Butler
  • G: Chris Paul
  • F: Julius Randle
  • F: Kawhi Leonard
  • C: Joel Embiid

Third Team

  • G: Kyrie Irving
  • G: Bradley Beal
  • F: LeBron James
  • F: Zion Williamson
  • C: Rudy Gobert

Determining the 15 players to make All-NBA is like picking your favorite Taylor Swift album. You change your mind every two seconds. There are over 20 guys who can make a legitimate claim for one of the 15 spots. In a typical year, 13 of the 15 available spots are solidified and only one to two selections require a debate. This year, the entire third team is up for grabs. That’s how competitive it’s been in a year where many stars missed significant time due to injury.

Position eligibility is the biggest factor in determining each team. Embiid is a true center but can be voted in as a forward. Doncic is the point guard but can be voted in as forward. It’s category fraud that mirrors the best acting races at the Oscars.

My biggest conundrum involves Embiid and Doncic. If I move Embiid to forward, Doncic takes the second guard spot, and Damian Lillard moves to the second team. If I vote for Doncic as a forward, Dame moves up to the first team, and Emiid goes to the second team. Should Embiid be demoted to the second team when he’s going to finish second in MVP voting? All-NBA is a flawed system. If I could change the ballot, I would make it two guards, two forwards, and one position that could be a guard, forward, or center. With the current rules in place, I’m putting Luka at forward, bumping Embiid to the second team, and move Dame to the first team.

Quick Hitters

  • I couldn’t leave a Nets player off the team. If Harden doesn’t get hurt, he’s on the team. Since he missed too much time, Kyrie makes it. (Kyrie has been spectacular, by the way.)
  • Zion finished top 10 in both scoring and field goal percentage.
  • LeBron missed too many games to be on the first or second team.
  • It’s hard to deny Chris Paul’s greatness, which doesn’t reflect in the stat sheet.

What does your ballot look like? Leave your selections in the comments or tweet me, @danny_giro.