Eliminate the NBA Buyout Rule

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By Jared Peterman

Every year, NBA teams and players mutually agree to buyout the remainder of the player’s contract, usually at a lesser cost than what the player is owed, for the chance to join another team.  This action is usually a domino effect from the NBA trade deadline in the middle of February where teams out of contention make a trade for an expiring contract attached with draft picks or a player that will get minutes down the stretch for them.  This also happens with teams out of contention that couldn’t find a trade for the player or promised the player a buyout to allow them to play for a contender, while the team plays younger guys.

This year, the buyout rule seemed to go to an extreme.  Useful veterans like Deron Williams, Andrew Bogut, Brandon Jennings, Terrance Jones, Jose Calderon, and Matt Barnes were all bought out by their teams, cleared waivers, and now are free to sign with any team they would like.  The common trend lately for veterans in free agency has been to take less money and in some cases, less minutes to play for the Cavaliers or Warriors.  Teams like the Houston Rockets even made trades during the deadline that looked useless to create more money in their buyout wallet for these players.

The verbal agreement signings have already begun as the Cavs will sign Williams and Bogut after clearing waivers at 5 P.M. to boost their bench down the stretch and in the playoffs.  The Warriors agreed to sign Calderon, but after the injury to Kevin Durant, they plan to waive him and sign Barnes instead, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.  The current three seed in the East, the Washington Wizards, are also reaping the benefits by signing Jennings to backup John Wall, a need all season.

This rule seems outrageous in a sense.  It’s almost like playing fantasy football when a team out of contention drops a solid fringe starter after the trade deadline to help another team out.

Yes, teams save some money on the end of the player’s contract, but it’s not like the teams will go bankrupt if they pay the player’s full contract.

Yes, teams out of contention want their younger guys to play and clear some roster spots to try out some of their D-Leaguers, but why can’t they just bench the veteran or make them inactive?

Buyouts happen every year, and most years, the players aren’t of the caliber as this year’s buyout market, but it’s to a point where this rule can be abused.  Last year, the big coup was Joe Johnson signing with the Heat, and before that was Caron Butler signing with the Thunder.  Did either team get significantly better or win the title? No, but that doesn’t mean the rule should be allowed.  This year, it almost seems inevitable that Bogut, Williams, or Barnes will play a role in winning a NBA championship.

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Top 10 NBA Unrestricted Free Agents

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By Jared Peterman

As the clock ticks from 11:59 PM on Thursday night and strikes midnight, flipping the calendar to July, NBA free agency will officially open.  Teams will be racing to make phone calls and meet with players in the wee hours of the night hoping to land their franchise’s next superstar. The 2016 free agency class is star studded as well as deep, so I’ll be ranking the top 10 unrestricted free agents on the open market for every team to sign. My list will not include the following players as I fully anticipate them to return to their teams from the previous season: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, and DeMar DeRozan. Along with ranking the free agents, I’ll also make a prediction where each player will land and add my personal opinion of their perfect fit with a team.

  1. Kevin Durant, SF

A top five player in the league hitting the open market with this much anticipation of possibly switching teams hasn’t happened since LeBron James leaving the Cavaliers for the Heat. Durant is currently in the process of lining up team meetings, creating the possibility of leaving the Thunder very real.  The seven footer has a couple of options at hand: re-sign a one year deal with Oklahoma City and test free agency again next year when the salary cap increases yet again, or simply sign a traditional long-term deal with the Thunder or anyone else.  Every team in the league would love to have Durant as he’s a generational talent with incredible shooting skills so well for his size.  Durant wants rings and will likely sign wherever he feels he can hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy the quickest.

Perfect Fit: Golden State Warriors- Creates the ultimate lineup of death while becoming title favorites.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder

  1. Al Horford, C

The crafty big man has played his entire nine-year career in Atlanta after winning two National Championships at the University of Florida.  Horford just turned 30 years old and should be ready to cash in a pretty penny as the top big man on the market.  Horford does a little bit of everything, averaging 15.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in 2015-2016, even extending his game beyond the perimeter shooting 34%. The four-time All-Star will have a large market as he can not only shoot well for a big man, but also has a post-game along with great passing abilities and plays sound defense.  Atlanta traded Jeff Teague to clear some cap space in order to resign Horford, who liked his time in Atlanta and apparently wants to resign there.  We’ll see if he holds true to his word when winning franchises like San Antonio and Boston come calling for his services.

Perfect Fit: San Antonio Spurs- Possible Duncan retirement, compliments Aldridge and Spurs system.

Prediction: Atlanta Hawks

  1. Mike Conley, PG

After spending his first nine seasons playing point guard for Memphis, Conley will finally hit the open market and probably upgrade his situation.  Conley was stuck in the slow it down, grind on defense style of play in Memphis between coaching tenures of Lionel Hollins and David Joerger. Conley will turn 29 years old during this upcoming season, but would definitely benefit from a more up-tempo system.  A much underrated player for his position who has never made an All-Star game averages around 15 points and 6 assists per game and will strongly benefit whichever team he ends up with.  One concern is injuries as he’s missed games the past four seasons mainly due to foot issues. According to reports, Dallas is planning to go strong after Conley, with San Antonio possibly in the mix as well as the potential of Conley resigning in Memphis.

Perfect Fit: Houston Rockets- Allow Conley to play in Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo system next to a playmaking superstar in James Harden.

Prediction: Dallas Mavericks

  1. Nicolas Batum, SF

Batum had his best NBA season to date in 2015-2016 after being traded from Portland to Charlotte, and really enjoyed his one season in Charlotte. The senses are he resigns, but there’s a chance a powerhouse team could woo him in a meeting and steal him from Buzz City. The versatile Frenchman will turn 28 in December and receive close to a max contract after posting 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game while shooting 34.8% from downtown in 2015-2016.  Batum is someone that catches the attention of almost every organization due to his versatility and could have a long line of suitors if he allows.

Perfect Fit: Los Angeles Clippers- Struggled to find a SF over the years, perfect mix of skills to fit the offense. Clippers may not have the cap space to get him. Paul, Redick, Batum, Griffin, and Jordan starting.

Prediction: Charlotte Hornets

  1. Hassan Whiteside, C

Whiteside, a late bloomer in the NBA, becomes a free agent after having two very productive seasons in Miami while not even making a million dollars per season. Whiteside will be looking for a lucrative contract to make up for his slow start in the NBA, as he just turned 27 and proved to be a crucial part of the Heat’s success. Whiteside averaged 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks in his first full season during 2015-2016 while leading the league in blocks and defensive rating. These numbers will have teams very intrigued this offseason. In the first half of the season, the center seemed immature and often foul-prone, making Heat fans wary of a potential trade, but something clicked for Whiteside down the stretch and led him to this hefty pay day.  Miami will make Whiteside a priority in free agency after the impact he had in the second half and in the playoffs when healthy, but they will be rivaled by big money spending organizations such as the Lakers and Mavericks. Whiteside will look at his market and say, “I like that,” in the voice of his buddy, DJ Khaled.

Perfect Fit: Los Angeles Lakers- Young core in need of a rim protecting center.

Prediction: Miami Heat

  1. Chandler Parsons, SF

Parsons knows how to play the free agency game, as he already cashed a big deal before from Dallas as a restricted free agent after three solid seasons in Houston and will look to do the same after opting out of his three-year contract a year early. Parsons’ time in Dallas was a bit frustrating as he battled injuries and never played 70 games in a season for the Mavericks while making around $15 million a year.  Parsons, a versatile small-forward, excels in shooting three-pointers while doing a little bit of everything else. Parsons will turn 28 in October, so teams will still view him as a valuable asset to have on their roster. Despite the injury concerns, Parsons believes he can get a max contract on the open market. From who? My only guess is a desperate Dallas, but Parsons isn’t set on returning there quite yet. Teams who lose out on Durant may turn to Parsons as their replacement option, but it may not be the max contract he is hoping for. Whatever contract he signs, I doubt it will be as exciting as the last one.

Perfect Fit: Portland Trailblazers- Coming off of a surprising playoff appearance in need of shooters surrounding their backcourt. Lillard, McCollum, Parsons, Aminu, and Plumlee in crunch time.

Prediction: Miami Heat

  1. Pau Gasol, PF-C

Gasol is the oldest valuable free agent on the market, which will be very appealing to contenders looking to add a veteran who can still produce at a very high level on a shorter contract. Gasol will enter the upcoming season at age 36 and showing no signs of decline as he averaged 16.5 points, 11 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 2.0 blocks per game for Chicago in 2015-2016. The six-time All-Star will most likely only entertain contenders or familiar relationships (Phil Jackson or Marc Gasol). At this moment, there’s no real sense of where Gasol will land and I wouldn’t be surprised if he let the bigger signings land first before committing to a franchise. The only thing I can guess of his free agency at the moment is he signs before playing for Spain in the Olympics on August 5th.

Perfect Fit: Oklahoma City Thunder- Assuming KD returns, OKC is in need of a starting PF with the departure of Ibaka. Add in Gasol and possibly be title favorites.

Prediction: San Antonio Spurs

  1. Marvin Williams, PF

Marvin Williams provided a magnificent contract year for Charlotte that will have him handsomely paid this offseason as many teams will be aggressive for his services.  Williams became the stretch four Charlotte envisioned when signing him two years prior as he shot 40.2% beyond the arc compared to 35.8% from the year before. This improvement alone will make him millions this coming offseason. Stepping into a permanent starting role, Williams averaged 11.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.7 assists. He should have a wide open market as the stretch four is becoming the most popular and essential position in basketball. The former Tar Heel will be entering his age 30 season and should command $12-15 million per year.

Perfect Fit: Toronto Raptors- Perfect stretch four that Toronto desperately needs, keeping Toronto in the top half of the Eastern Conference.  Don’t know if they have the cap available to sign him. Lineup of Lowry, DeRozan, Carroll, Williams, and Valanciunas.

Prediction: Charlotte Hornets

  1. Joakim Noah, PF-C

Joakim Noah is two years removed from the best season of his career winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award, finishing fourth in MVP voting, and landing on the All-NBA’s 1st Team. Since then, there hasn’t been much to write home about as Noah faced injuries the past two seasons that many people blamed on the wear and tear of playing so many minutes season after season under Coach Tom Thibodeau.  Over the past two seasons, the former two-time All-Star played a total of 94 games. It’s been a bumpy two seasons and Noah will look to be rejuvenated on a new team, possibly in a bench role. Noah will turn 32 during the 2016-2017 season, making teams believe he still has valuable minutes left in the tank to turn back the clock to a version more similar to 2013-2014.  Regardless if the production returns, teams can depend on Noah for energy, defense, rebounding and great passing for a big man.

Perfect Fit: Golden State Warriors- Think of Anderson Varejao and his role for the Warriors on steroids and that’s what Noah could provide for their bench.

Prediction: New York Knicks

  1. Kent Bazemore, SF

Kent Bazemore flourished during his two seasons in Atlanta after struggling to find traction in the league after two seasons. Bazemore flashed his talent during a late season signing with the Lakers in 2013-2014, playing 23 games with the embarrassing roster.  The Lakers let him slip to Atlanta, and after two seasons, Bazemore is in for an incredible pay raise. Mainly a key bench guy during year one in Atlanta, Bazemore became a starter this past season and played 27.8 minutes per game, averaging 11.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. Bazemore will turn 27 years old on the date free agency begins and he will get a great birthday gift with a new contract, probably in Atlanta.  He plays hard, fits Atlanta’s system, and does all the little things that will earn him a very nice contract in the rising salary cap era.

Perfect Fit: Atlanta Hawks- Bazemore fits their system and team perfectly already, I don’t think he can go anywhere better than the team that took the chance on him in the first place.

Prediction: Atlanta Hawks

Just Missed: Dwight Howard, Luol Deng, Rajon Rondo, Bismack Bioymbo

*All stats are from Sports Reference

 

Chicago and Minnesota: Perfect Trading Partners

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By Jared Peterman

A day after trading former MVP Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls actively listened to trade offers for SG Jimmy Butler during the NBA Draft Thursday night. The Bulls were hoping to fetch a top five pick with other pieces in return for Butler’s services. Boston, owning the third pick, and Minnesota, owning the fifth pick, were the main suitors for Chicago.

It was rumored that Chicago demanded a king’s ransom of Boston’s three 2016 first round picks, as well as Brooklyn’s first round pick in 2017 that Boston owns along with Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder for Butler, according to CBS Boston. Danny Ainge probably had a heart attack when hearing the price. That’s the only explanation for the rest of his first round selections. Chicago was much less demanding from Minnesota as they apparently offered Butler for Zach LaVine and the fifth pick, according to The Vertical’s Shams Charania.

Minnesota and Chicago never came to an agreement during draft night, but it was noted that the two teams will still discuss this offer. Tom Thibodeau and company selected Providence PG Kris Dunn with the fifth overall pick, who Chicago reportedly coveted.

So as the offer sits, Chicago would receive LaVine and Dunn while sending Butler to Minnesota. This trade benefits both teams and the directions they’re heading. Allow me to break it down.

Good for Minnesota:

Minnesota instantly becomes a playoff contender that could possibly win a series and push a team in the Western Conference Semifinals similar to what Portland did this season. The starting five would include Ricky Rubio, Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Gorgui Dieng. Thibs and Butler are familiar with each other from their time together in Chicago and fit perfectly with defense first mentalities. The Wolves may see an opportunity with Butler on the team to attack free agency as well, possibly adding a starting PF. Acquiring Butler not only speeds up the rebuilding phase, it makes Minnesota a legit contender in the West for years to come.

I believe the hesitation from Minnesota comes from Thibs’ dissatisfaction with PG Ricky Rubio along with the infatuation of the potential between Dunn and LaVine.  Rubio and Butler provides a more experienced and better defensive backcourt that would be ready to compete immediately.

Good for Chicago:

Chicago enters full rebuilding mode after trading Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler while probably losing Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah to free agency. Normally, rebuilding takes multiple years and is a painful process for teams to go through, but Chicago has hope through this process. Acquiring Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine would immediately set the backcourt for the future, which can be extremely hard for teams to accomplish. They also acquired 2015 first round pick, Jerian Grant, from the Knicks in the Rose trade who has potential to be a third guard in a rotation. These three guards allow Chicago to focus on the forward positions and lining their frontcourt.

The Bulls’ frontcourt of the future starts with their first round selection in 2015, PF Bobby Portis. Portis showed flashes in his rookie season to be a very solid NBA player down the line, who rebounds extremely well while showing post and midrange skills on offense. The other two forwards consist of Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott, who played much better under Fred Hoiberg’s up-tempo system than they showed in their previous seasons. Both players are fairly young and provide great shooting at the forward positions. Add in Chicago’s 2016 first round selection of SG/SF Denzel Valentine, the AP National Player of the Year, who has a mixed bag of skills that can fit anywhere on the court, and the Bulls start to have a firm structure in place. To add to the move, the Bulls then have the decision to either flip Robin Lopez for picks or more young assets to add to this process or keep Lopez on the roster to make this process a tad smoother as a formidable defensive minded, scrappy center. The first season of the rebuild will land the Bulls in the lottery for a second consecutive season, but could make the playoffs as early as the 2017-2018 season as they watch their young backcourt flourish and add more pieces in the 2017 draft.

2016 NBA Draft Prospects

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By Jared Peterman

Lifelong dreams will be fulfilled in a week as prospects will be selected in the NBA Draft by teams trying to accomplish their own dreams of turning around franchises to eventually win a title with their new building blocks. The 2016 draft class is highlighted by big name prospects at the top of the draft that teams have watched over their collegiate careers.  I simply rank the top prospects, discuss their strengths while adding occasional concerns, and compare their style of play to a current NBA player in the league.  The style of their play is different than a projection or comparison of the player they will become.  I only cover prospects playing collegiate basketball and not overseas due to familiarity reasons.  Let’s dig in.

  1. Ben Simmons

Simply put, the 6’10” Australian who played a collegiate season at LSU is the smartest player in the entire draft and just so happens to have the highest upside of any player in the entire draft.  In college, Simmons produced numbers we haven’t seen at the level in quite some time, averaging 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 2.0 steals per game.  Simmons is a floor general with great ball handling for his size and is basically a “point forward,” rather than a traditional basketball position.  His court vision is unprecedented, providing any and every type of pass with accuracy as seen throughout his season at LSU with entry passes down court to lob passes in the half-court set and everything in-between. The Aussie also rebounds extremely well and runs the floor by himself, instantly starting the offense.  For Simmons, offensive scoring is strictly in the paint as he holds position well and has nice touch on his turn-around moves.  Simmons faced tons of scrutiny at LSU for poor or lack of mid-range and perimeter shooting as well as not winning enough games to even make the NCAA tournament.  NBA analysts and teams will be more concerned with the former, but the talent and tools that already exist are too high to pass on.

Style of Play: LeBron James

  1. Brandon Ingram

The frail, lengthy one-and-done small forward from Duke displays a perfect skill set for the new era NBA.  Standing at 6’9”, Ingram has a great shooting stroke from the perimeter, shooting 41% from downtown in college, while also possessing a deadly post spin move coming off isolations.  Throughout the college season it was noted that Coach K implemented some Team USA isolation situations for Ingram, becoming a successful part of Duke’s offense as Ingram excelled in them.  Seeing him in person, his impact on the game was obvious as he was able to take over portions of games with his scoring. Though Ingram’s scoring ability won’t be a concern for NBA teams, neither should his passing ability as he showed throughout the year that he has solid court vision, dumping down to his big men in isolations at times.  Ingram’s length helps him a ton on defense as he often jumped passing lanes in college and provided help-side defense with blocks.  He may not be an elite defender, but should definitely provide at least average defense at the next level, the only concern being his 190 pound figure not being able to body bigger forwards.

Style of Play: Kevin Durant

  1. Jamal Murray

Jamal Murray first caught my attention when he played for Canada in the Pan Am Games in the summer leading up to his freshman season at Kentucky.  Murray torched USA in the fourth quarter to lead his team to victory in overtime eventually in which he scored 22 points, all in the fourth quarter and OT.  Murray proved that performance wasn’t a fluke during his collegiate career as he averaged 20 points per game as a 6’5” freshman.  In my opinion, Murray is the best perimeter shooting prospect in this draft class and could eventually be the best scorer from this draft class years from now.  He shot 40.8% from downtown in college, breaking Brandon Knight’s school record for three pointers made by a freshmen as well.  Murray scored 20+ in 12 straight games during SEC play and the conference tournament, while only failing to score double digits once throughout the entire season, posting his season high 35 points vs Florida with eight 3 pointers.  The sharpshooter can also bring the house down with thunderous slams, as he did multiple times at Kentucky, showing a true strength of driving on the left side of the court to the hoop.  Murray will simply score day one entering the league, carving defenses for years to come.

Style of Play: Brad Beal

  1. Kris Dunn

The Providence guard jumped up draft boards after coming back for his redshirt junior year and repeating the production from 2015 in 2016.  The athletic, 6’4” one-man fast break can make an immediate impact for teams during his rookie season.  He possesses plus ball handling with a mean crossover that helps him get free in isolation and on fast breaks.  Dunn’s isolation game is a strength as he has great body control when attacking the basket and finishing at the rim.  The combination of his length and speed make him a great transition guard, which is spotlighted due to his defense.  Dunn averaged 2.7 steals per game in 2015 and repeated it with 2.5 steals per game in 2016.  The impact point guard also gets his teammates involved as he posted 6.2 assists per game in college, which should increase at the next level.  Dunn’s one knock is concerns with shooting efficiently from the perimeter, but I don’t view it as a huge issue due to his tools and athleticism should be able to cover it up until he fully develops.

Style of Play: Jordan Clarkson

  1. Jaylen Brown

Jaylen Brown is one of the more interesting prospects in this year’s draft class.  A top prospect coming out of high school with a 6’7” frame and uber athleticism, only stayed at Cal for one season before turning pro despite a frustrating season.  Cal’s season failed expectations and Brown’s did in some ways too, but was able to flash some highlights that had NBA scouts drooling.  Efficiency was an issue for Brown as he struggled shooting the ball, posting 43% from the field and 29% behind the arc.  This is the main concern for Brown in the perimeter driven NBA, but he still possesses multiple tools to make him a successful NBA player early in his career.  He can handle the ball well on the fast break for his size and punishes the rim at the point of attack.  He finishes really well in traffic and even more importantly, can take contact first and still score for three point plays.  Brown’s athleticism shines on defense, leading to his transition game where he can create a highlight in a hurry.  The upside of Brown is very high, but due to the poor shooting displayed in college, some teams may shy away from him.

Style of Play: Dwayne Wade

  1. Marquese Chriss

Marquese Chriss simply played the entire college basketball season with most fans never hearing his name, being buried on a mediocre Washington Huskies team on the West coast with little TV exposure.  When he declared for the draft, I have to admit, I was surprised. But now, it makes the most sense as he quickly darted up draft boards across the NBA after becoming more familiar with his game.  Chriss is a human pogo stick that will probably play the center position in the NBA, a position that is dying.  So why is Chriss moving up draft boards? Chriss simply is an athletic freak that shoots particularly well from the mid-range, as well as even stepping beyond the arc to make three pointers (21-60 on the season).  The 18-year old, 6’10” prospect catches lobs and finishes put-back slams with the best of them while also rejecting shots on the other end of the floor.  His athleticism should allow him to play in small ball lineups and protect the rim.  Scouts are simply drooling over the potential Chriss holds and the already smooth jumper for a man of his size.  He may have went unknown to most throughout his lone season at Washington, but he won’t be unknown inside war rooms surrounding teams in the top 10.

Style of Play: Kristaps Porzingis

  1. Buddy Hield

The 6’4” senior was the most exciting player in college basketball, leading his Oklahoma Sooners to the Final Four before losing to the eventual champion, Villanova Wildcats. Hield, unlike many others, used his senior year to improve his draft stock despite being a 22 year old prospect.  He boosted his offensive stats from his junior year to senior year: points per game from 17.4 to 25, field goal percentage from 41.2% to 50.1%, and three point percentage from 35.9% to 45.7%.  “Buddy Buckets” emerged as much watch TV as he unloaded a barrage of three pointers on opponents all year long while watching his draft stock soar.  He made eight threes in a single game twice, one coming in the Elite Eight versus Oregon.  Hield scored 30+ in 12 games during his senior season, including a season high 46 on the road versus Kansas in a triple overtime game. His scoring ability will absolutely translate to the NBA due to not only his three point shooting, but also his driving ability containing an array of hop-steps and euro-steps that hoax defenders.  Hield has the perfect size for a guard, but doesn’t pass often and will need to be better defensively in order to become a true superstar.  Regardless, teams drafting Hield will get an elite scorer.

Style of Play: James Harden

*All stats are from Sports Reference

Why the Warriors Will Repeat

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By Jared Peterman

After being buried 3-1 by Oklahoma City in  the Western Conference Finals, many people doubted and ridiculed the Golden State Warriors for likely not even making the NBA Finals after setting a regular season record of 73-9.  The Warriors saw the end of their season minutes away in each of the final three games of the Western Conference Finals, but didn’t budge. The resilient group from the Bay Area not only came back and won the series, they set up a guaranteed repeat of winning an NBA championship in my eyes. 

Going down 3-1 was the best thing for the Warriors and the worst thing for their Finals counterpart, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Warriors already hold a 1-0 lead in the NBA Finals, but these are the reasons why they benefited from being down 3-1:  

Challenged. The Warriors finally faced a challenge in the Thunder. All season long you saw the starters resting during fourth quarters of regular season blowout victories. For the most part, the Warriors strolled to 73 wins without breaking a sweat. Steph Curry getting injured in the playoffs broke the metaphorical sweat. The Warriors lost a game to Houston and Portland in each series, but it wasn’t anywhere close to the challenge they were going to face with OKC. The Thunder’s stars and credentials alone were a challenge, add in a 3-1 deficit and it seemed like an almost impossible task. The Warriors overcame the deficit, living to play in another NBA Finals against an inferior opponent than the Thunder. 

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers simply faced zero challenges throughout their postseason run. Even when Toronto knotted the series at 2-2, did anyone really think it would go to a deciding game seven? No. They breezed their way to the finals only to run into a juggernaut that they hardly have a chance against. Cleveland is facing the challenge of the century: Beat the 73-9 Golden State Warriors in a seven game series who have regained every bit of confidence and swagger known to man. 

Refocused. The OKC series simply refocused the Warriors. Their backs were against the wall. They needed a historical performance by Klay Thompson to even play a Game 7. They saw their historic season crashing down without a NBA Championship ring or banner, let alone a Western Conference Championship. Now they’re here, in their second straight NBA Finals against the same opponent from the year before (just at full strength this time). They simply won’t face pressure in this series because they weren’t supposed to be here after being down 3-1. Game 1 showed this. Steph and Klay shot miserably and they still won by 20. The Warriors are locked in on winning three more games to have another ring, another banner, and another drunken speech by Draymond Green at their parade ceremony. 

Oracle Arena. Home court is crucial in the playoffs, but protecting home court is the difference between winning and losing a series. The Warriors have protected home court throughout the playoffs going 9-1. I previously mentioned Cleveland being tied 2-2 with Toronto, where Cleveland lost at Toronto twice in front of a monstrous crowd. How do you think Oracle Arena compares when the crowd thought their season was over, but now finds itself in the finals again? Well, let’s put it this way: it doesn’t favor Cleveland. OKC stole Game 1 in Oracle, but couldn’t steal another one after that. I can’t see Golden State losing on their home floor again this season after winning Games 2, 5, and 7 in Oracle during the Western Conference Finals. The jolt in Oracle may be even louder now with the confidence gained from the OKC series, and after watching Game 1? Cleveland doesn’t stand a chance in the Bay Area. 

I predicted the Warriors to win the series in five games before the series started: 

https://twitter.com/peterman_24/status/738404042628534272

As of now, it looks great with the Warriors holding a 1-0 lead without having a good first game from Steph or Klay, but getting Lebron James down 0-2 will be the most difficult thing of this series.

Jacksonville’s Promising Future

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By Jared Peterman

Two days and three rounds into the 2016 NFL Draft and the Jacksonville Jaguars look like they’re putting a red ribbon on an outstanding offseason.  Owning an offense with no glaring weakness, the Jacksonville brass focused on handing their defensive minded head coach Gus Bradley playmakers on his side of the ball, and that’s exactly what they did.  At the fifth pick overall, Jacksonville debated CB/S Jalen Ramsey from Florida State and OLB Myles Jack from UCLA, but eventually ended up with both on their roster after two rounds.  Ramsey was the fifth overall selection, but Jack would have to wait to join Ramsey in Duval County.

Thursday night’s first round ended and Jack remained on the board due to teams wary of his knee injury puncturing the possibility of an impactful, long-term career in the NFL.  Jack responded by posting a video of himself dunking a basketball off two feet to Twitter Friday morning, captioning it with a sleepy face emoji.  Though Twitter hasn’t been the friendliest to draft prospects lately (Laremy Tunsil), this was promoting the health of his knee at the moment.  Jack didn’t have to wait long into the second round of the draft as Jacksonville traded up from pick 38 to 36 with the Baltimore Ravens and selected the other half of their debate at pick five in the first round.

https://twitter.com/MylesJack/status/726113668602036224

This would have seemed impossible at the start of the draft process, let alone a week ago.  Concerns of Jack needing micro fracture surgery on his knee eventually was enough to scare teams off and allow Jacksonville to hit the “Jack Pot.”

Ramsey and Jack boost the defense immediately, but they aren’t alone as Jacksonville aggressively attacked free agency by signing possibly the biggest name on the market: DE Malik Jackson.  The 26 year old DE cashed in on his second contract in the NFL after winning a Super Bowl with Denver the previous season, by signing a six-year, $90 million deal with the Jaguars.  The spending didn’t stop, as they also signed FS Tashaun Gipson (25 years old), CB Prince Amukamara (26 years old), LT Kelvin Beachum (26 years old), and RB Chris Ivory (28 years old).  Besides Ivory, every player signed in the offseason is in their prime years as NFL players.  Jacksonville also has the additions of 2015 third overall selection, DE/OLB Dante Fowler Jr. and DL Sen’Derrick Marks coming back from injuries.

The offseason showed how committed the front office is to making this team not only be competitive, but make the playoffs in the near future.  Blake Bortles should take the offense to yet another level in his third season with outstanding weapons on the outside of Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Julius Thomas while adding a power run game facet with Chris Ivory sharing carries with second year RB TJ Yeldon.  Ramsey and Jack will contribute immediately on defense along with the aforementioned additions, giving Bradley similar pieces he needs to recreate the Seattle defense he ran during their dominance a few years ago.  The Jaguars showed growth last season and should continue to get over the growing pains this season with a revamped defense helping take pressure off Bortles and the offense.  The Jags are ready to compete in the weakest division in the AFC and finally stop selecting in the top 10 every April.

Tennessee Titans: Don’t Overthink the Draft

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By Jared Peterman

            The Titans created a foundation in the 2015 NFL Draft by selecting quarterback Marcus Mariota and a potential star in the making wide receiver to throw to in Dorial Green-Beckham.  Every move in the offseason has been focused on improving the talent around Mariota to take a big step forward in his second season.  The icing on the cake would be for the new regime of General Manager Jon Robinson and Coach Mike Mularkey to knock out the 2016 draft, and that starts with the number one overall pick.  First, let’s recap some important offseason transactions.

Two free agent signings and one bold trade revamped the offense that Mariota will lead the huddle with in his second season.  The Titans signed a new possession receiver from Miami in Rishard Matthews, who the New England Patriots coveted in the offseason as well.  He adds to the already talented pass catching corps surround Mariota including: Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Delanie Walker and the aforementioned Green-Beckham.  Another playmaker was added via trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, acquiring running back, DeMarco Murray, after just one season with the Eagles.  This should obviously improve a Tennessee run game that relied on David Cobb and Antonio Andrews last season.  The biggest offseason addition? Signing center Ben Jones to provide a leader and the staple to an offensive line protecting the savior of the franchise.

This puts Tennessee on the clock with a player on the board to make this offseason an absolute step forward in the right direction.  That player proves to be left tackle Laremy Tunsil from the University of Mississippi.  This pick would not only protect Mariota’s blindside, but solidify the offensive line as an entire unit.  This move would have 2014 first round pick, Taylor Lewan, move to right tackle alongside 2013 first round pick, Chance Warmack, the starting right guard.  Scouts and analysts believe Tunsil is an absolute stud who will have a long, tremendous career.  If the consensus becomes true, and the Titans select Tunsil, Mariota shouldn’t have to panic in the pocket as he did in 2015.  Mariota was sacked 38 times in his 12 games as a rookie.  The offense would be complete in almost every facet, allowing Robinson to focus on the defense for the majority of draft and the rest of the offseason.  It’s not the sexiest selection, but it is the smartest.  Don’t overthink it, Tennessee.