LeBron Season: Where will LeBron James land this summer?

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LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world –  this is an irrefutable fact and needs to be acknowledged. On numerous occasions he has won the NBA Championship, each time as the best player in the world, and has even delivered upon his promise to bring the fledgling Cavaliers franchise a championship.

Getting down to business, LeBron is in the last year of his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers made a number of  moves at the trade deadline to help them both in the future, and for the remainder of this season. This begs the question: will LeBron stay, or go? I believe his mind is already made up. This July, LeBron will be taking his talents to a new destination.

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The Cavaliers have been attempting to prepare for life without LeBron for awhile. The team’s recent moves, while productive and calculated in the short-term, are more focused on the future rather than the now. The players they brought in (George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance) are not rentals, but rather insurance policies, as the Cavaliers know the likelihood of LeBron’s departure is quite high. With LeBron’s departure seemingly imminent, the question remains: where would LeBron go? Let’s visit where LeBron is at both professionally and personally.

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He is one of the most accomplished basketball players of all-time, achieving the title of world’s best player, as well as building a global brand. LeBron’s brand includes: Klutch Sports Group – the brainchild of Rich Paul and LeBron – was the 34th ranked sports agency by commissions ($20.7M) in the world during 2017. During the All-Star Game, LeBron had the phrase “More Than an Athlete” on his shoes, a slogan used by both him and his production company Uninterrupted. LeBron’s initial $1 million investment in Blaze Pizza is now estimated to be valued at a minimum of $35 million. On top of all of this, LeBron has a minor stake in Liverpool FC. It is clearly evident that one of the world’s top athletes’ business interests extend well beyond the basketball court. Therefore, it would only make sense for LeBron to take his talents to a bigger U.S. market in an effort to further expand his brand. According to this theory, only 3 NBA teams would make sense for LeBron.

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Firstly let’s open with the obvious one. The Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron have been linked for some time. LeBron has had quite a few television and movie ventures, so it would only make sense that the star makes his commute to Hollywood much shorter. Furthermore, Klutch Sports’ current location is Cleveland, Ohio. Assuming LeBron wants to continue its growth, a bigger market such as Los Angeles would be a great business move. In December, LeBron, who spends off-season time in L.A., bought a second home in the Brentwood neighbourhood. Additionally, rumours have surfaced that LeBron’s family has been scoping out private schools in the Brentwood area for his children. However, recently the Los Angeles Lakers have cooled off on their expected pursuit of LeBron.

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First reported by Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne, the Lakers are intending to shift their focus and priorities to the 2019 free agency class. A class which would include the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson, both Los Angeles natives. However, the Lakers did make moves at the trade deadline to clear cap space for not only the summer of 2019, but for this summer as well. The hunt for LeBron could still be on for the Lakers, but I believe their little brother could slip in and steal The King away.

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“Our ultimate goal isn’t to beat one other team…. It’s to beat 29 other teams. If you tell me you were the top team in L.A., but the 28th team in the league, I say to heck with that.” Steve Ballmer, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers has made it apparent that his intentions for NBA success remain focused on winning the NBA Championship. What better way to position your franchise than to have the best basketball player in the world? LeBron could easily end up on the Clippers. The Clippers off-loaded Blake Griffin’s max contract this season to make cap room, and, with some tinkering of the roster, there could be a Clippers future with LeBron James. With the Clippers front-office working overtime to make cap room, Jerry West, now a consultant for the Clippers, has the opportunity to lure LeBron to the franchise. A man LeBron refers to as “The Godfather”, West was brought in by Steve Ballmer for this exact purpose: to attract and recruit the best basketball players in the world. It must be reiterated that this move for LeBron would not only be a great move on the court, but off the court too, as he would not only be in Los Angeles, but he would also be aligned with multi-billionaire Steve Ballmer. The Clippers may seem to be a darkhorse in this race, but as time continues to pass, it seems more and more plausible for LeBron to be a member of the Los Angeles Clippers.

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Another plausible destination for LeBron is Houston. Teaming up with Chris Paul, James Harden, and the rest of the Rockets,they could turn an already established title-contender into a potential favourite, even over the Warriors. This move for LeBron would undoubtedly be more oriented towards winning and basketball, but it would also leave room for growth off the court as well. Houston is a Top 10 media market in the U.S., one of the fastest growing cities in America, and has tax exceptions to allow LeBron to retain more of his paycheque. Houston would be a great location for LeBron to move his empire. It seems like a perfect fit, except for one potential problem. LeBron is very passionate about politics, and going to Texas means he would be in a state which primarily supports Donald Trump – someone who LeBron does not see eye to eye with. Many are probably thinking, “Ya, but why would LeBron care?” To those people, remember LeBron’s motto “More Than an Athlete”. Would this be a deal-breaker for LeBron? No way, but I believe that LeBron’s political agenda will certainly have an influence on his decision as to where he would like to play.

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Those are the three teams which best fit my theory for LeBron. Does this mean LeBron to Los Angeles or Houston is a sure thing? Absolutely not, there are plenty of other teams which may make sense too. But, none seem to compliment LeBron’s on-court play and off-court interests quite like these three franchises. A lot of things could change by July, but rest assured, we will be kept guessing and theory-crafting all the way up until LeBron James signs his next contract.  

Disagree with me, or have some feedback? Let me know on Twitter (@sassysaslove), on my personal Facebook, or in the comment section below. Please do not forget to share my work with your friends, and to stay tuned for more of my posts. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to grab your attention again sometime soon.  

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Unforgivable: Trading Away The Ottawa Senators

Unforgivable: Trading Away The Ottawa Senators

How did it come to this?

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May 25th, 2017, Chris Kunitz made a whole city stand still and weep. That evening, in double overtime the Pittsburgh Penguins sunk the Ottawa Senators ship, and the most magical season I have experienced as a Senators fan was over. The season had it all; drama, adversity, ecstasy and excitement, but most importantly it made me proud to be a Sens fan. The Ottawa Senators were the choo-choo train that could, the underdog, a sign of inspiration. Clarke MacArthur, who scratched and clawed just to play was defying the odds and producing in the playoffs. Craig Anderson, whose mind was certainly at home was able to shut down potent offenses and carry the Sens to victories. And finally, the fearless captain of the Ottawa Senators, Erik Karlsson, on one foot was introducing the hockey world to his awesomeness that had been gifted to Senator Fans throughout his career. It was simply magical. 9 months later that feels like a lifetime ago, and the Ottawa Senators could be days, maybe even hours away from trading Erik Karlsson.

How did it come to this?

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My Twitter timeline used to be filled with optimism. Is this the beginning of something special? Could Bobby Ryan be a serviceable Top-6 forward? Are the Sens poised to be a playoff team for years to come? All these questions were asked, and for the most part, the Sens fan-base happily discussed these questions. Today, my Twitter timeline makes me want to cry. We have evolved from, what will the Erik Karlsson’s next Senators contract look like? To when will Erik Karlsson be traded from the Sens?

How did it come to this?

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The franchise player, a generational talent and the captain of the Ottawa Senators being dangled as trade bait. It is appallingly bad. I am more insulted by this, then when Eugene Melnyk publicly denounced the Sens fans. In what world can a franchise improve by trading its best players, who’s in his prime? Karlsson has endured a tough season, but the blame is certainly not all on his shoulders. His teammates, management and ownership have all performed poorly. Yet he we are, seriously debating as to when he will be traded. He is the beginning of the solution to the woes of this franchise, he is the franchise player.

How did it come to this?

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July 5th, 2013, Ottawa was left confused and horrified when Ottawa Senators’ captain Daniel Alfredsson walked. The greatest Ottawa Senator of all-time left the only NHL franchise he had ever known. On that day many fans walked away with Alfie, leaving the Sens. I myself even took a pause from Sens fandom, to heal the wounds that were left by Alfie’s departure. These wounds only began to reach a fully healed state last year, when I felt comfortable enough to allow this team to consume me. Along with myself, many fans have returned. The Sens even created new fans last season with their magical run. Yet after all that, here we are again. The Ottawa Senators are once again preparing to move on from their captain. Letting Alfredsson walk, thereby hurt the Sens relationship with their fans. Trading Karlsson would not hurt the relationship with Senator Fans, it would end it.

How did it come to this?

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Before last season I explained to many that the Ottawa Senators would arguably be a bottom-five team in the NHL without Karlsson. This season, they would unquestionably the worst team in the league without him. If the Sens trade Karlsson forget about being the worst team, the Sens become the worst franchise in the NHL. Hell, they would become one of the worst franchises in professional sports. Ottawa is a fair-weather town, and Karlsson will take the sun and fans with him. Fans will stop buying season-tickets, children will choose heroes outside of Ottawa and Ottawa sport fans’ support will shift towards Lansdowne.

How did it come to this?

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Two months ago I would have said there was no possible way the Sens would trade Karlsson. A month ago I would have said they would only trade him if he refused to re-sign with the Sens. Today I believe they are going to trade him, get absolutely fleeced, and look back on it, thinking “why in the world did we do that?” At that same moment the Ottawa Senators will have played their last game in Ottawa. At that same moment, Quebec City will be preparing to welcome a relocated franchise, and former Ottawa Senator Fans will be left thinking about what could have been. If the Sens trade Erik Karlsson, I truly do not see a future for the franchise under the tutelage of Eugene Melnyk.

How did it come to this?

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Mr. Melnyk has been adamant that he wants to maintain ownership of the Ottawa Senators, despite his damaged relationship with the fans. The relationship between himself and the Sens fan-base would be unrepairable if he was to trade Karlsson. And yes, I say he, because he has made it extremely clear that this is HIS hockey team. He made that clear when Daniel Alfredsson left. He made it clear when Kyle Turris was traded. He made it clear when he hi-jacked the NHL 100 Classic festivities to take shots at his own fans. The man who once saved the Sens from complete implosion has become not just a villain, he has become hated. #MelnykOut was and still is a popular trend in social media used by fans to describe their disdain for the Sens owner. Instead of seeing the end of Melnyk’s tenure in Ottawa, we could be days, maybe even hours from the end of Karlsson’s tenure in Ottawa. It is an awful nightmare. This has been the saddest and toughest season I have ever experienced as a Sens fan. I am embarrassed to be a Sens fan, and I am not sure if I will be able to stomach a trade involving Erik Karlsson. Trading Karlsson would be in a word, unforgivable. How did it come this?

 

 

Thank you for reading as always.

The Case for Canada: Adding a Canadian Team to March Madness

The Case for Canada: Adding a Canadian Team to March Madness

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March Madness is one of the greatest spectacles in sport. For nearly a full month, 68 NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division 1 schools fight to be the sole survivor and be crowned NCAA champions. This tournament has exploded in popularity over the past 2 decades. The tournament’s audience has also expanded north of the border, as Canadians have begun to join in on the basketball craze. In 2015, Bell Media reported a 24% increase in viewership for March Madness compared to the 2014 tournament. In total, 6.9 million unique Canadian viewers took in a portion of the 2015 tournament. Furthermore, that year’s Final saw a 62% increase in viewership compared to 2014’s. ​

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Much of this increase in viewership came with TSN’s expanded coverage of the NCAA in 2014, but in particular their coverage of the Kansas Jayhawks because of young Canadian Andrew Wiggins. However, for the viewership to not only hold, but increase in 2015, it showed excellent promise for the future marketability of March Madness in Canada. This poses the question, other than viewership, how could the NCAA market March Madness to Canadians? This has been done with Canadian players. In 2017, 26 Canadians took part in March Madness, highlighted with the Oregon Ducks and their trio of Canadians (Dillion Brooks, Chris Boucher and Dylan Ennis) who made a Final Four run. Canadian basketball and its influence on the NCAA is at its peak, as Canada continues to churn out high quality prospects, highlighted by next year’s #1 recruit R.J. Barrett. Barrett has committed to Duke University, and will certainly be garnering the attention of Canadians in the lead-up to March Madness.

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In the fallout of next year’s tournament, and in the wake of potential increased viewership, the NCAA should take the next step for expansion into the Canadian market. Give the U SPORTS champion a spot in March Madness. Currently, U SPORTS men’s basketball holds their annual Final 8 tournament the week before March Madness. Therefore, it would only make sense that the winner of the Final 8 would gain a spot in the NCAA tournament and represent Canada in March Madness. This idea may seem far-fetched, but hear me out. NCAA pre-season games vs U SPORTS schools have shown that Canadian schools can hang with mid to high majors and even some Power 6 teams. The Carleton Ravens, the class of USPORTS men’s basketball, played 11 pre-season games versus D-1 NCAA schools in 2017. They went 9-2, winning all 3 games against Power 6 conference teams. Furthermore, in the majority of these games the NCAA schools were playing their starters. Alabama, who lost 84-71, played projected NBA lottery pick, Collin Sexton. Sexton went 4 of 13 from the field and was held to just 15 points. While these may be pre-season games, they should also be huge indicators of the quality U SPORTS possesses.

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In spite of this talent, I do agree it would be unfair to take away a spot from an NCAA team who earned it, especially mid-major schools. But, there is a solution. When the First Four was introduced it took March Madness from 64 to 68 teams, adding in 4 “play-in” games for bubble teams and low mid-major conference winners. The winners of the First Four games make it to the First Round of March Madness, joining 60 other teams. The First Four is annually held in Dayton, Ohio on the Tuesday and Wednesday before March Madness begin, and has helped expand the tournament’s length and media presence. With this in mind, why not have 2 First Fours? This solution appeases 2 populations; the angry fans of bubble teams who missed out on the tournament thanks to the selection committee, and it appeases Canada who would get to see a U SPORTS school do battle with NCAA schools in March Madness. Angry populations of many NCAA mid-majors could benefit from additional at-large bids. Schools such as Monmouth, who, despite a 27-7 record, missed out on March Madness last year, would instead get an opportunity to participate with these additional “play-in” games.

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The venue for this second First Four could easily be Buffalo, who hosted First/Second round March Madness match-ups last year. Putting the second First Four in Buffalo also gives a pipeline for Canadians to come and take in the First Four action as it borders Canada. Consequently, Southern Ontario and Toronto itself could make the trip down. These two regions have never been more interested in basketball with the Toronto Raptors rise in popularity. While adding more teams to March Madness may seem over-saturated, an additional 4 teams makes much more sense than the NCAA’s pondered expansion to 128 teams.

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This expansion would do wonders for the NCAA, as it is not only an expansion of their tournament, but of their market. Furthermore, it could elevate Canadian basketball to an even higher level and encourage more youth to dribble a basketball. In a time where the NCAA has seen some of its basketball programs go under FBI investigation, it may be wise to shed a positive light by granting a huge opportunity to a U SPORTS school. Is it possible to expect anything like this to happen within the next 5 years? Probably not. But, the NCAA would be naïve to brush this aside. The numbers do not lie, and they spell success for the NCAA with the addition of the U SPORTS champion to March Madness.

Diamond In The Rough: Mark Stone’s Emergence As A Leader     

Diamond In The Rough: Mark Stone’s Emergence As A Leader

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On July 8, 2009, the Ottawa Senators traded Alex Auld to the Dallas Stars for their 6th round draft pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. The trade would become a memorable one for Sens fans. With the pick, the team selected Mark Stone from the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League. Once projected to be a Top-50 pick, the forward’s injuries and below-average skating ability hampered his draft stock.

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After being drafted, Stone would score 229 points in 137 games for the Brandon Wheat Kings, and, in 2012, would give Senator fans a glimpse into their future. The Senators chose to recall Stone for a pivotal 1st round Game 5 match-up vs the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Stone played a meager 8:43, but showed his offensive capability by recording 3:35 in power-play time and recording the primary assist on Jason Spezza’s game-winning goal.

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It was not until the 2014-15 season, though, that Stone secured an opening night roster spot. Since then, Stone has become a treat to watch due to his offensive abilities. In his first 226 games, Stone tallied 179 points and 339 takeaways, over 100 more than any other player in the NHL. Stone is a masterful two-way forward, able to pick opponents’ pockets and turn takeaways into offensive opportunities.

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Outside of Ottawa, many fans have overlooked Mark Stone. He was left off of TSN’s list of the top 50 players for the 2017-18 season, and his projected goal total was just over 20. Stone has exploded this season: in 43 games, he has 18 goals and 42 points. In a year where the Senators have struggled, Stone has been an offensive mainstay. Stone has used his quick hands in tight to fill the net this season.

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Stone has not lost sight of the main goal; to win hockey games. In December, frustrated with his team’s play after another blowout loss, Stone called out the locker room, This has not been the only time Stone has been the loudest voice among his peers. A no non-sense approach, accompanied by blunt and critical statements, has made Stone a leader on and off the ice. This approach has grabbed the attention of the Senators organization and management.

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Shortly after these comments, the Senators asked their players for their no-trade lists, signalling that change could be on the way. For a period of time, the entire Senators organization was being openly scrutinized. Then, Pierre Dorion and the Senators made their best decision of the season. While Dorion did indicate the Senators were ready to make roster moves, they also made it clear that Erik Karlsson and Mark Stone were untouchable. The once-6th round pick was not only having a spectacular season, but his value was deemed so important that the Senators found him unmovable. Once a diamond in the rough, Mark Stone is now one of the few positives found on an underachieving hockey team as they have hit the mid-point of their season.

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The Senators are in rough shape, and no bye week could hide that. But, this team and organization has a knack for stringing together wins in the second half of their season. It would be surprising to see them tank, and there is no way Stone will stop playing hard. As many may remember, the “Hamburglar” run of 2015 was the Andrew Hammond story. Yet, this was the beginning of Stone’s coming out party. In his last 27 games of 2014-15, Stone recorded 31 points, and finished the season on a 9-game point streak. If the Senators are going to have any hope of making the playoffs, they will need this sort of production from Stone. A tall task, but it would be a shock if he did not provide it.

Culture Change + 1: The 2017-18 Toronto Raptors

Culture Change +1: The 2017-18 Toronto Raptors

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The Toronto Raptors’ off-season appeared to have been a disappointment in September. Re-signing Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry were good moves; however, these are aging veterans getting huge contracts. With the These moves stopped them from signing any big name free agents, which looked to hold the Raptors in a state of limbo. However, the disappointment has changed into optimism.

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The Raptors have undergone a culture change internally, which has led to this change in weather. The architect of the Raptors’ recent success, Masai Ujiri, saw the potential of young guards Fred Van Vleet and Delon Wright. Accordingly, he traded Cory Joseph for cap space to sign C.J. Miles in mid-July, who gave the Raptors some much needed scoring and a greater ability to stretch the floor. Comfortable beyond the arc, Miles has given the Raptors’ offense a new weapon. The Miles move also signaled a change in the Raptors game-plan and their offense.

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After the moves by Ujiri, Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey has retooled the Raptors and created a new system for the offense; turning it into one which emphasizes ball movement and encourages their players to shoot for three. Furthermore Casey’s offense has seen the Raptors play more of an up-tempo style, resulting in an increase in pace, from 94.7 in the previous season to 98.3. In doing so, Casey has dug into his depth and bench, which has resulted in an uptick of usage for young players. On paper, the Raptors offensive rating has only improved slightly from last season’s rating (112.3 to 113.5). However, when looking at their assist and three point statistics it becomes apparent where the Raptors have improved. Last season the Raptors ranked dead-last in assists per-game, their offense was static and often relied on isolation. Much of their prior offense did not engage all five players, and made it easier to defend. Team basketball is especially important come the playoffs, in past years the Raptors have been exposed in the playoffs, due to their previous isolation-heavy offense.

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This year, the Raptors rank 21st in assists per game, going from 18.5 assists per game to 22.8. The improvement in assists comes largely from their spacing and ball movement. They also have no fear to shoot from three; while last season they shot 24.3 3-pointers per game, this year they have skyrocketed to 32.1. While their 3-point percentage is down from 36.3% to 35.1%, their effective field-goal percentage is up from 51.7% to 53.8%, good enough for 6th in the NBA. This has been Casey’s greatest year in Toronto because of his ability to create an effective team-oriented offense, especially with his use of the second unit and young talent.

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Van Vleet and Wright have seen an uptick in minutes and production, and have been a key players in the Raptors Van Vleet’s net rating of 9.9 is 12th best in the NBA, yet is not even the best on the team. Rookie OG Anunoby has the 2nd best net rating in the league (14.4), and the 3rd best offensive rating (115.5). While these numbers are a bit skewed from Anunoby’s small sample size (21.3 minutes per game), the rookie has exceeded all expectations thus far. A perfect fit for the Raptors tough defensive style, he is the perfect two-way starter. Anunoby’s movement and effort on defense may even be more impressive, as he has the ability to lockdown the NBA’s best as a rookie. The rugged Raptors have continued to defend well, but to get players to embrace their new offensive culture, the Raptors needed their best player to buy in.

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DeMar DeRozan is a different animal this year, and has been the leader for this Raptors offense. DeRozan’s scoring has dropped from 27.3 points per game to 25.3, but his efficiency, three pointers, and playmaking have all improved. DeRozan is averaging a career-high 5.0 assists per game, and has an effective field goal percentage of 51.8%, also a career-high. An obstacle for the Raptors superstar has been his inability to shoot from three, however, with hard work and an increased volume, DeRozan’s 3-point shooting has improved. He is shooting 3.1 three-pointers a game, which is an increase of 1.4 attempts compared to last season. Additionally, he is knocking down a higher percentage of threes. DeRozan is sporting a career-best 37% 3-point shooting percentage, a huge improvement compared to his 26.6% last season. As DeRozan continues to improve and gain confidence from the 3-point line, the Raptors will become even more potent offensively.

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The Raptors are a good basketball team, but they are not great. But, with one move, they can make the jump from good to great. In particular, the Raptors’ frontcourt could be better. Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas are not a scary combination; but, the addition of Marc Gasol would see the Raptors become contenders. The Memphis Grizzlies have had a disaster of a season thus far, and are unlikely to make the NBA playoffs. With the season awash, the Grizzlies have discussed moving Gasol. While nothing is imminent, the Raptors have an opportunity to get an NBA all-star. Gasol is potent from three, a former defensive player of the year, an elite rebounder, and an above-average passer. He is a great fit for the Raptors, as he provides rough and tough defense while spreading the floor and moving the ball offensively. This culture change is still in its infancy. It would be solidified and accelerated by acquiring Gasol.

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To add, you must subtract. It seems straightforward for the Raptors to subtract from the position they are adding at, which would mean trading Jonas Valanciunas. The Lithuanian, while highly regarded by the Raptors, has never risen to the heights the team had hoped for. His role has been in question for some time, and the new playing style the Raptors have adopted makes JV stand out as a sore spot. Now JV alone would not be enough but, with a first-round selection and a couple of secondary picks, this deal could get done. A comparable deal would be the DeMarcus Cousins deal between the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings from a year ago. Gasol’s price would be lower though, as he is an older player and is not as valued as Cousins.

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The Raptors have a rare opportunity and need to get this deal done. Players like Gasol are rarely available, let alone on a contract that is not expiring. Gasol’s contract matches the team’s ideal timeline, as DeRozan is in his prime and Lowry and Ibaka will likely only have 2-3 quality years left as starters. Grabbing Gasol is a calculated risk, which would most likely not require parting with valuable assets, outside of JV. The culture change has started well, but it is not fully complete. It needs one more piece: Marc Gasol.

 

 

Lonzo Ball: Basketball’s Greatest Project

Lonzo Ball: Basketball’s Greatest Project

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What comes to mind when thinking about Lonzo Ball? Some might say Lavar Ball, his out-spoken father. Others would say the Big Baller Brand, a sport apparel business founded by his father. Yet, when I hear Lonzo’s name, I think of the future. Recording the most assists in a season at UCLA ever, being the second overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, and being the youngest player to record a triple-double in NBA history, Ball is worth the hype. Much of the focus on Lonzo has been negative. Many want him to fail, not because of his actions, but more his father’s and his brothers’ actions (LaMelo and LiAngelo), who have both landed themselves in trouble with the media. Lonzo, though, has been classy, and has been a professional throughout his young NBA career. Many are quick to judge Ball’s talent based off of his stat-line. But, those who watch him play understand Ball’s talent.

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Playmaking: Lonzo Ball has found success in the NBA off of the pick and roll. Watch here, where Ball uses the screen of his teammate Larry Nance Jr. to create a lane for himself, then has the patience to draw the double team and find Nance off of the roll. On the surface, this is a simple play that Ball has used effectively. However, the “simple play” shows Ball’s vision. Ball reads the situation and understand how it will play out before it happens. In this particular play, watch how Lonzo recognizes the established screen, and then a cutting teammate. Ball gives nothing away, and lays up a pass to Brandon Ingram. He also shows this vision in transition. The following play, Ball looks down the court and identifies an unestablished defender after collecting the rebound. Using this advantage, Ball hits his teammate, who has made himself available, and the teammate scores. This elite vision makes Ball a dangerous play-maker.

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Clutch: As the game intensifies, Ball becomes more confident and comfortable. Here, in overtime, Ball recognizes the shot clock being turned off, and slows down a fast-break into an established half-court offense. He finds Ingram, and instantly breaks for the corner to run a play, instead of running an isolation play. By getting open, Ball causes his opponents to panic, draws in multiple 76ers, and drives the basket to create more space for Ingram. After having three committed defenders on him, Ball passes back out to Ingram, who scores the game-winning shot. All of this, made possible by Ball’s vision and ability to slow down where other young players might panic.

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Shooting: Ball has shown below-average shooting thus far. Ball is attempting 11.1 field goals per game, and only makes 3.9. Moreover, Ball is shooting 29.7% from three-point range. However, where people need to be looking at is Ball’s fearlessness. Despite his struggles, Ball has no fears of shooting: while he may be a pass-first type of point guard, he is not afraid to shoot. The key here will be for Ball to find his shot. There are options with this:

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Option #1 (The floater): Lonzo’s most consistent shot is coming off of a pick and roll, where he reaches the free-throw line and launches a floater. Watch here, as the Lakers coaching staff continues to run him through the practice of timing and getting his floater off at speed. At 6’6, this shot is perfect for Ball: he has a height advantage over most guards, and it is not difficult for him to jump over a center protecting the rim.

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Option #2 (Mid-Range): It has been documented how Ball has struggled from three, however, in college he posted respectable numbers from three. The arc of the NBA three point line is 23 feet and 9 inches, while college’s arc is 20 feet and 9 inches. In a perfect world Lonzo takes a step or two in and then shoots his shot. This will help further develop his shot and Ball will be able to up his efficiency and confidence. Ball’s shot form is ugly, but it can be effective. Look here, as he consistently knocked down shots from 20-22 feet in college. The mid-range shot is a lost art form in today’s NBA game, but it has been utilized by some of the NBA’s best scorers, like DeMar DeRozan, and should be something Ball considers.

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Option #3 (Driving Layup): Ball’s 6’6 frame can make him a matchup nightmare as a point guard, and he can have success around the rim. With the ability to rise above defenders, Ball can find points in the paint. In this highlight, Ball uses the dribble hand-off, and ball screen set by Nance Jr. to get himself around the corner and then hold his line through contact with Klay Thompson for the bucket. Ball’s size and athleticism give him the ability to rise up and take contact while converting layups. Ideally he utilizes this shot, along with one of options #1 and #2.

 

Ball’s shooting obviously is not his main strength, as he is a pass-first point guard. However, having a key shot or two can make him an elite pass-first point guard. This would resemble the game of Jason Kidd.

Jason Kidd Stat-line for Rookie Season:

33.8 Minutes per Game

11.7 Points per Game

5.4 Rebounds per Game

7.7 Assists per Game

38.5% Field Goal Percentage

27.2% 3-PT Field Goal Percentage

3.2 Turnovers per Game

1.9 Steals per Game

0.3 Blocks per Game

Compared to

Lonzo Ball Stat-line for Rookie Season (Through 27 Games)

33.3 Minutes per Game

10.0 Points per Game

6.9 Rebounds per Game

7.1 Assists per Game

34.9% Field Goal Percentage

29.7% 3-PT Field Goal Percentage

2.9 Turnovers per Game

1.4 Steals per Game

1.0 Blocks per Game

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The pair sport similar stat-lines, having both been starting point guards in their rookie seasons. Kidd’s scoring production and efficiency were better, but their play-making abilities are alike, and Ball surpassed Kidd in rebounding. Paul Pierce, a future Hall of Famer, gave his take on Ball’s early struggles. Pierce explains that Ball, like Kidd, has struggled early on, but with time and experience, Pierce believes Ball will be a better player. Furthermore, Pierce believes the circumstances surrounding Ball – the Big Baller Brand, the Los Angeles Lakers, and being a Top-2 pick – has magnified Ball mistakes. He is under a microscope, and many wish to see him fail.

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In the midst of this there are some who have showed compassion for Ball. Following a Lakers loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James pulled Ball aside and gave him some advice. James has said before that he believes Ball will “probably be great” if he continues to work hard. Ball seems to improve week by week, and with a fixed and capable shot, could become one of the NBA’s best point guards. Seeing Ball being compared to Kidd shows his great potential, perhaps they will continue to be compared when Ball’s career over.

 

Big thanks to my editor Geoff Marlowe as always, and a thank you to you the reader! I hope you enjoyed this piece and will be back for the next one in a week or less. For now enjoy your holidays and happy new year!

Unjustified Disrespect: Eugene Melnyk’s Last Stand

Unjustified Disrespect: Eugene Melnyk’s Last Stand

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In 2003, the Ottawa Senators had filed for bankruptcy, but were saved by Eugene Melnyk, a Toronto-born businessman who was eager to win a Stanley Cup. For nearly a decade he helped foster and create a culture of winning and consistency in Ottawa.

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On July 5th, 2013, he made his most infamous decision. Melnyk decided to not pay Daniel Alfredsson’s his requested salary, and the Ottawa Senators lost their greatest player in franchise history. Once heralded as the saviour of the franchise, Melnyk cast away the greatest Senator of all-time for a mere 1 million dollars. This show of disrespect for Alfredsson’s contributions not only wronged the Swede, but it wronged a fan-base who embraced Alfredsson as family.

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Melnyk’s downfall has accelerated over the past few weeks. There had been speculation regarding his desire to sell the team and his ability In the midst of this the NHL 100 Classic, a celebration of the Senators and Ottawa was looming. A win over the New York Rangers this past Wednesday had perked up the fan-base, who grew excited for the outdoor game and its festivities. Then, on the biggest weekend in team history, Melnyk decided to challenge and disrespect the city.

During the Senators’ alumni game on Parliament Hill, Melnyk used the media attention to make a statement.

“I think the market here has to prove itself, or you have to make changes. We’ve cut everything to the bone in the organization. We are probably one of the thinnest management groups in the league. The next thing you have to look at is players.” – Eugene Melnyk

Per Frank Seravalli: (https://twitter.com/frank_seravalli/status/941837557842690048)

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Before 30,000+ paying customers braved frigid temperatures at TD Place, Melnyk felt the need to question the market of the National Capital Region. Recall that Melnyk was fighting for his life in 2015, and used his celebrity status to skip the line and recruit potential volunteer donors. Over 500 people volunteered to donate their liver so Melnyk could receive his transplant. An experience which would have humbled most seems to be forgotten by Eugene. Not only this, but Melnyk used last year’s playoff struggles at the box office as ammunition against his fan-base.

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Melnyk, a long-time horse owner and inductee into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame claimed that the Rideau Carleton Horse Racetrack “is a little, tiny C track that wouldn’t even make it in the Idaho State Fair.” Melnyk made this comment because the City of Ottawa had declined his proposal and intent to build a casino close to the Canadian Tire Centre. These statements were not only damaging to the horse-racing community, but it was not received well by many regular attendees to the Rideau Carleton Raceway. Melnyk has built quite the reputation in Ottawa. Eugene Melnyk has disrespected the Senator fans on numerous occasions, and fans are bellowing their frustrations.

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#MelnykOut took Canada by storm this past weekend. The hashtag can largely be accredited to Abdi Omer, who first tweeted the phrase on December 14th, but peaked in usage on the 16th. The fan-base is clearly not pleased with their controversial owner who attempted to steal the spotlight on the Senators’ most important weekend in franchise history. Melnyk’s actions and comments have even expanded beyond Canada’s borders and reached the U.S. On Friday evening, Keith Olbermann aired his opinion on Melnyk and the Senators’ unique situation. Olbermann said, “This is not a bright man, even for an owner”. Olbermann highlighted an absolutely ridiculous situation, and brought worldwide attention to it.

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Melnyk’s comments were not mentioned to the Senators’ players until today, when Erik Karlsson was questioned as to his thoughts on Mr. Melnyk’s comments. Karlsson was quoted as saying “It’s none of our business.” Karlsson went onto make it clear that the team’s focus was on playing hockey. Gary Bettman and the NHL took a different line at the situation. “We believe in all of the places that we have franchises now.” Bettman would go on to say the NHL is not looking to threaten markets, and he believes that LeBreton Flats is “vital” to the Senators’ future success, and believes it will also benefit Ottawa as a city. Bettman firmly backed Melnyk’s ability to get a deal done, but I would be incredibly surprised, if he was the sole owner of the Senators as they move to LeBreton Flats.

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Recently, talks of selling the team have heated up, and the Desmarais family has emerged as a possible buyer for the Senators. The Desmarais family was with the Devcore, Canderel and DLS group, who were the competing bid against that of Melnyk’s for the LeBreton Flats development. This same group has previously tried to buy the Senators from Melnyk. The events from this weekend will remain in infamy for some time, and you can be sure that things will not got better for Melnyk if he continues to be the owner of the Senators. Therefore, I am willing to make a bet. By this time next year, Melnyk will not be the sole owner of the Ottawa Senators. I do see a possibility of him remaining a minority owner, but there is no way he could recover from this and remain the sole owner. He has betrayed Ottawa and the National Capital Region once again, and for many this was the last straw. This past spring, Melnyk blamed “previous management” for the Senators attendance woes, and Don Brennan, a post-media journalist, responded by saying “It must be Eugene Melnyk”. Many months later the narrative stays true. What is the problem Mr. Melnyk? Simply put, it is you.

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Your continuous penny-pinching roster moves have plagued the Senators and stained management’s reputation. The Alfredsson decision still has ramifications today, as Alfie recently stepped away from his hockey operations position with the Senators. Melnyk is even entertaining the thought of repeating negotiation history with Karlsson’s contract coming due. According to reports, Melnyk was quite “unhappy” after Karlsson made it clear he would not be taking a hometown discount. The Sens fan-base would likely launch into anarchy if Melnyk let Karlsson walk, as he did with Alfredsson. Furthermore, the constant belittling of Ottawa and its citizens is insulting. It is nearly impossible to sell a product to people, whom he continuously disrespects. Melnyk has expressed his frustrations and the fans have responded vigorously. It is time for new ownership in Ottawa.

 

 

My wonderful readers, thank you so much for your support. Apologies for the lay-off school and work gave me a busy November and December, but I am back and hoping to better than ever. I hope you enjoyed this piece and those which are to come. Thank you to Geoff Marlowe for the editing as always, and I hope that your eyes will grace Josh Saslove’ Sports Talk again in the near future. Happy holidays everyone!