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Warriors Capture Title, Complete Near Sweep of NBA Playoffs Amid Parity Concerns

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Ever since signing superstar free agent forward and now Finals Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant, making an addition to a roster whose core group won an NBA record 73 wins the previous season, the Golden State Warriors have been the betting favorite to win the 2017 NBA title since the start of the season. Predictably experiencing their own ups and downs throughout the season, the team’s biggest test came when a brief injury  sidelined Durant, which sparked questions of the Warrior’s potency. Presently that doubt now seems like a half-baked concept being drowned out with champagne, coupled with the glare of a trophy in Durant’s grasps that acknowledges his team couldn’t have done this without him.

Not to be completely dismissed are the questions of whether a team like the Warriors in full command of the league is a selling point or a black eye.

Golden State Warriors teammates celebrating

To somewhat quell these thoughts is to accept the reality of there being an odd conceptual blend between the game of basketball and the business of the NBA in our minds, which we expect to be all-inclusive. Durant’s move to the Warriors for a while catered to the entertainment value of the league, but once the winning became a foregone conclusion, the interest in the game of basketball began to feel compromised, which began the ongoing tug of war in the minds of fans.

Standing opposite the Warriors in this year’s physical tug of war in the NBA Finals were the Cleveland Cavaliers who were looked upon as the only team that could challenge the 2017 NBA champs this season.  Lead by forward LeBron James, making his eighth Finals appearance, looking to add another accolade to one of the most accomplished resume’s in NBA history, the Cavaliers’ supporting cast simply fell short

The counter narrative for Cleveland was that of the mad scientist of the “super team” formula having his creation come back to haunt him. While averaging a triple double for the series, James and all-star point guard Kyrie Irving looked anything, but fearful. However as a team, the Cavaliers were basically a two-man show, with the headlining acts having their own momentary, but significant lapses.

“He paved the way” Durant told Bleacher Report, speaking of James. While forming star-studded teams has been going on before James could even pronounce legacy, never has it been done where the unofficial best player in the world, in the prime of their career made the decision to take their talents elsewhere.

Warriors forward Kevin Durant and Cavaliers forward LeBron James preparing to match up in the 2017 NBA Finals

With Durant’s talents presiding in Oakland, California for the 2016-2017 NBA season, the Warriors were a sight to behold. Aside from numbers like the 67 win season to give them the most wins in a three-year span in history and the second best winning percentage all time, the highlight of this team was there display of sound fundamental training and unselfishness.

Two time MVP Wardell Curry II, while one of the greatest shooters in league history was a willing passer all season. Star shooting guard Klay Thompson, almost equally prolific from the three-point line was a terror on the defensive end for opponents. Six foot seven all-star power forward Draymond Green would go from the team’s leader in rebounds one game, the leading assist man the next, then the team’s leader in double-doubles for the rest of the month.

Warriors forward Kevin Durant being named Finals MVP

While the term most valuable can be ambiguous and misleading, the sight of it is more defined as it was in these 2017 NBA Finals. Durant’s maturation not just as a scorer was on full display as he shown his complete arsenal on the biggest stage there is. While it’s likely he appreciated the journey just as much as this commercialized defining moment, he at least has the silence of a large number of critics, while the rest are overwhelmed by shouts of joy and adoration.

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Sports

Bull’s Interest in Budding College Star Limited by Flawed Draft Lottery System

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Being the first Oklahoma Sooner to score 20 or more points in 11 straight games since former Chicago Bull Stacey King, it was only natural to be spotting Bulls scouts at numerous Sooner basketball games this season to check out college basketball’s new sensation in point guard Trae Young.  Just standing at 6’2 allegedly, but averaging roughly 30 points and 11 assists for the season, Young has a certain wizardry and craft to his game that extends beyond his physical capabilities. After tying the division 1 record for assists a few short weeks ago, he likely has the eye of any NBA team in search of a point guard.

Starting their season out rough to say the least, the Chicago Bulls looked like a lock to get at least a top three pick in this upcoming draft. Then over the next couple of months the development of young players like guard Chris Dunn and forward Lauri Markkanen, the return of forward Nikola Mirotic from injury, and the improvement of overall team chemistry, the Bulls have created some distance between themselves and the bottom spot in the league. Now with guard/forward Zach Lavine making his long-awaited debut, it seems likely their will be even more separation created.

For every Bulls fan you see rejoicing in the team’s hottest stretch of the season so far, you’ll find two more questioning why more isn’t being done to lose games to increase the odds of landing a top draft pick. The answer to that question is progressive tanking.

While the NBA seems to reward the teams at the top and bottom, the closer teams inch towards to the middle of the pack, the less incentive there is to move forward unless a sure shot presents itself.

Progressive tanking in a nutshell is developing the young assets you do have while removing or limiting the short-term assets still present.

The Chicago Bulls version of progressive tanking comes in the form of Mirotic and Lavine.

With Mirotic’s representatives holding firm to his early season request to be traded, look for him to be moved by the upcoming trade deadline in spite of how well the team has been playing since his return. To the dismay of many Bull’s fans the likely return package will come in the form of draft picks preferably, but expiring contracts if necessary.

In the case of Lavine, while being the centerpiece of the receiving end of the trade for former Bulls all-star Jimmy Butler, look for him to be limited this season. Depending on how well he plays, you’ll be seeing him sit more games as the Bulls continue to win. At some point down the line, he likely will be ruled out for the rest of the season.

We’re not going to rush Zach back,” vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said to the Chicago Sun Times. “But we’re also going to listen. When they say he’s ready to play or to practice, we’re going to allow him to do that. The one thing I’ve always found — and it’s big — is guys come back from an extended time out, especially coming off surgery, and when they get the OK, they need to get in basketball condition. And that doesn’t happen overnight.”

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Chicago Bulls players during a mid-game huddle

How this all relates to Trae Young is a matter of the ebbs and flows of the season. Should the Bulls create the predicted distance from last place in the league, Young will become an afterthought. Should they struggle moving forward, look for the aforementioned moves to be taken.

 

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Lifestyle

Crimson Tide Roll to National Title Over Underdog Georgia

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Seeing the Alabama Crimson Tide hoist the national championship trophy at the conclusion of their match-up with the Georgia Bulldogs Monday night, the vibe in the air was of that of an expected surprise. The Tide were definitive favorites going into the game, yet for the bulk of it, Georgia had the “team of destiny” label in everyone’s minds as they rushed out to a 13-0 lead, but simply couldn’t create enough separation to halt the Tide’s will power to win this game. With the routine player turnover in college sports, the term dynasty isn’t quite a perfect fit for programs such as Alabama, but it still seems to be a look they’ve been pulling off for years.

“These kids really responded the right way. We said last year don’t waste a failing, they sure didn’t the way they played tonight.” said Alabama head coach Nick Saban post-game to ESPN.

Shortly after Saban’s comments, freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was named the offensive player of the game, highlighted by his 41 yard touchdown pass to win the game.

Having been the SEC Offensive Player of the year among many other accolades under his belt, Alabama starting quarterback Jalen Hurts was more likely the face being pictured as the hero of Monday’s game, but after severely struggling in the first half of Monday’s game, Saban took a gamble which paid off.

In another twist, standing opposite Tagovailoa for Georgia was another freshman quarterback, Jake Fromm, being coached by former Saban assistant, Kirby Smart. While not playing a perfect game, Fromm like Tagovailoa displayed a great deal of poise given the circumstances.

The game as a whole was one of opportunities. Georgia is known for running, yet had more success throwing the ball. Alabama had several plays that should have been converted in the first half that resulted in field goals or punting. Then in the second half, Alabama’s defense began to put the clamps down on Georgia who still managed a few good plays, but ultimately couldn’t stop the balanced attack from the Tide. The game would’ve even been over in regulation had Alabama connected on a field goal attempt by kicker Andy Pappanastos which veered wide left, but in the end things worked out for Alabama.

Saban is now in possession of his 6th national title, and while this is the time for celebrating with his team, the elephant in the room still remains in the question of how much longer this streak will continue.

In my interview with SEC Network analyst Marcus Spears who played for Saban’s 2003 LSU championship team, we discuss among other topics the dilemma with parity in the SEC in our upcoming issue.

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2003 LSU Tigers national championship team

 

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Former Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison Joins New England Patriots to Start Playoff Push

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In a somewhat of a surprising move, the defending champion New England Patriots have just acquired Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison after being waived by the team this past week. Although a surprise to some, Harrison sited the team’s commitment to it’s youth movement while baiting him along all season with promises of a secured role as the reason for his departure from the team. Playing sparingly for just under 30 snaps for the first 12 games of the season and recording only one sack for the season, his frustration was understandable.

“After the first week of the season, I said to them, it’s clear you want to play your younger guys and I understand, so why don’t you release me. You go on your way and I’ll go on mine. They said, ‘No, no, no, we got a role for you.” Harrison told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Ironically, the failure to appear in the Steelers week 14 loss to the New England Patriots was when Harrison felt enough was enough. “If I didn’t play in the biggest game of the year, that told me I wouldn’t get any more snaps. So all that lip service you gave me before didn’t matter.”

The thought of the defending champions adding a big name to their already talented roster could easily be looked at as the rich getting richer, but unfortunately the Patriots haven’t had any resemblance of consistency from some key defensive positions all season, so the move makes sense on their end. Players such as Cassius Marsh and Eric Lee were given ample opportunities all season long, but struggled, with the former being released and the latter experiencing severely reduced playing time. There were also several key names like Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard who were lost to free agency and Rob Ninkovich to retirement.

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Harrison during his peak years as a Steeler was a five time pro bowler and defensive player of the year.

With his brief retirement from football in 2014, the question of what Harrison has left should be raised. However, with the Patriots reputation of turning nothing into something, it wouldn’t be foolish either to think they could get the best of what’s left of the former defensive player of the year at age 39. In spite of all of the question the Patriots defense has faced all season, they are still sitting on a first round bye for this year’s playoffs as well as the record tying most 12 win seasons in NFL history, so Harrison won’t be too pressed to return to being “Deebo” on the field.

When asked about Harrison’s departure, former teammate Maurkice Pouncey told the Boston Herald “He erased his own legacy. If you didn’t want to be here, come out and say it. Don’t make it look like it’s the team’s fault. You think the team and the organization wanted to get rid of James Harrison? Come on.”

Admitting this move wasn’t the easiest choice to make, Harrison ultimately called this a business decision. “I made a decision on what was best for me.”.

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