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The General’s Top Three Teams In The Joe Johnson Sweepstakes

(photo courtesy of www.fansided.com)

(photo courtesy of http://www.fansided.com)

The trade deadline has come and gone and some players that could affect teams were moved. One notable one is now-Pistons forward Tobias Harris. But after that, is the season where veteran players get to pick the team they want to go to. Yep, buyout season is upon us now and after the trade deadline is usually when it happens. Of course, some players get traded and get bought out with no one to pick them up. But there are some that are coveted but not coveted at the pricetag they were being paid at. Joe Johnson was getting paid 21.9 million this season for the Brooklyn Nets. Plenty of teams were interested in him, but the pricetag was just too high for them. Many teams were hoping instead of trading for him, that the Nets would reach a buyout with him eventually. It may not have happened when many expected it to, but now Joe Johnson is a free agent on the open market. The Nets and Johnson agreed to a buyout of his contract on Thursday. And assuming he will clear waivers, Johnson will be able to pick where he wants to go. More than likely, a contender will take a chance and bring him in for the rest of the season and the playoffs. But the question is which team will he choose? The answer to that question is still up in the air, but here are the three teams (in no particular order) that are expected to make a run at the 34 year old veteran.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been better under the leadership of Tyronn Lue. The teams seems to be more in tune defensively and Kevin Love is more involved offensively. Even with some of the struggles that they have had this season, they are still the best team in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. But even with that, there seems to be an issue with the shooting they have coming in off the bench. Channing Frye was acquired to add to the shooting off the Cleveland bench, but anytime you have Richard Jefferson coming in off your bench to backup LeBron James, then there is an issue. Johnson is not a small forward, but at 6’7”, he can play the small forward position. He and Iman Shumpert coming in off the bench would be a solid duo because they both have length and size defensively and offensively Joe could balance out the inconsistent shooting that comes from Shumpert and some of the backup guards. Johnson would be a shot in the arm for the backup crew in Cleveland and could also run with starting crew sometimes with LeBron James. And with LeBron’s propensity to break down defenses, Johnson could spot up and nail the three (Johnson is a career 37% three-point shooter). He essentially would help create even more lanes and space for LeBron, especially if they go to the small lineup with LeBron at the power forward position. And more importantly for Johnson, he could play on a team that could potentially get him to the NBA Finals for the first time.

Johnson could definitely help the Cavaliers’ bench, but he could also help the Thunder whether it be off the bench or in the starting lineup. The Thunder have been carried all season long by their superstars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But what they have had all season is a hole at their shooting guard spot. They filled it earlier in the season with Andre Roberson. The young wing player is in the mold of former Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha in that he is a defensive player and can spot up offensively and can occasionally hit the open shot. But in a playoff series, he helps other teams play four on five. His offensive game is not respected and that causes things to be harder for Durant and Westbrook in crunch time. The other shooting guard the Thunder have is Dion Waiters. The young guard out of Syracuse has been inconsistent at best for his entire career and you never know what you will get out of him, whether it be off the bench or starting. Johnson would give them a career 17 point per game scorer that is feared scoring the ball and could help some of the playmaking pressures off Durant and Westbrook in the playoffs. If he decides to go with that team, that gives them a veteran presence that could conceivably give them enough to challenge for the Western Conference crown.

Johnson would be heading West, but there is another team that should take a look at him. That team: the San Antonio Spurs. Many will probably wonder why he would fit that team. They are pretty deep as it stands right now. But Joe would fit in seamlessly on that team. Manu Ginobli will be back momentarily with this team and they have the energetic Jonathan Simmons coming in off the bench as well. But Johnson adds something that they miss when they look down the bench. Johnson can play the small forward position off the bench in San Antonio and give them some much-needed shooting there. And he can also play the backup shooting guard position as well if Ginobli does not make it back like they expect him to. There will not be huge minutes for Johnson to be had there, but he would be on one of the best teams in the West and a team that some think can knock off the Golden State Warriors. Having a guy like this coming in off your bench is never back for a team that covets guys that can shoot and move the basketball. Joe can become a Black Hole at times with the ball, but I’m sure he could adapt to the play in San Antonio pretty easy.

This decision for Joe Johnson is a huge one for him. It could be the difference between winning a title and going home earlier than expected. Johnson may not have this type of opportunity again in his career, so he may want to examine his fit to each team before making his choice. He brings some good things to all three of these teams and it will be interesting to see which one he chooses, whether it be one of these three or another wildcard team.

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Remember Andray Blatche?

(photo courtesy of The Philippine Star)

(photo courtesy of The Philippine Star)

The NBA season is heading towards the playoffs and many teams are still looking for help. Some teams out there are hoping veteran players like the Nets’ Joe Johnson and the Timberwolves’ Kevin Martin get bought out by their current teams. But another option people are looking at is the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). The CBA consists of some former NBA players along with some local Chinese players. And every now and then, there is an NBA player that revives his career overseas. One player that seems to be doing so is Michael Beasley. Currently he is averaging 32 points and 13 rebounds for the Shandong Lions. And even though he is halfway across the world, many NBA front offices have been keeping tabs on how he is doing. Their belief is that Beasley will continue to show his worth and they want to be the team to take a chance on him to make it work. And because of his talent, he will more than likely yet another shot to make the NBA. But one guy that many have seemingly forgotten about is currently playing overseas as well. His name is Aundray Blatche.

Plenty still remember when Blatche came into the NBA. He entered the NBA Draft out of high school in 2005 and fancied himself a first-round pick. But instead of being selected as early as he thought, he was selected with the 49th overall pick in the draft. His selection late meant that he was not assured to make the team and that there would be no big-time money given out to him to sign his rookie contract. He had to play himself onto the roster in Washington that season and he did. He seldom played his rookie season, but he eventually worked his way into being a player that the Wizards were looking to in their future. He was signed to an extension in 2010 that was going to pay him $35 million over the next five years. There was some thinking that he had turned the corner when he signed that deal. But unfortunately, he did not live up to that deal. The first season after signing the big deal, he did average 17 points per game and eight rebounds. But the following season (2011-2012), he suffered a setback in his progress, dropping down to nine points per game and getting in some trouble along with showing up out of shape. The Wizards decided to move on and they did so using the amnesty clause, cutting bait and going as far as to say Blatche was not in their future plans. Blatche would end up playing two seasons for the Brooklyn Nets at a discounted price (he was still getting his paychecks from the Washington Wizards per the amnesty agreement while in Brooklyn). Those two years reinvigorated his career. He was in double-figures despite not playing more than 25 minutes a night and it was thought that he would be highly sought after in the free agent market in 2014. But instead, Blatche went a different route.

Blatche declined his $1.43 million player option in Brooklyn and tested the free agent market. But that test ended up landing him in China. And from there, he has never come back. Blatche signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal in China that season and many thought he was going to come back to the NBA after that time. Instead of coming back, Blatche stayed away, deciding to sign a three-year deal with the Xinjiang Guanghui team in China worth $7.5 million. And the contract he signed included no opt out to come back to the NBA. He has decided that his second chapter will stay away from America (for now) and that he will try to make his career elsewhere at this point. So far he is averaging 23 points and 10 rebounds over in China this year and he seems to be happy there. Beasley is the guy many talk about taking a look at, but Blatche could probably help a team more than him (provided he is in shape). The versatile big man can handle the basketball, shoot and has vision on the court to hit the open man. As far as Beasley, he can score but there is not much else he can do besides that. Beasley has always been a liability in his career and that is something that has hindered him, along with the other off-the-court issues. Blatche may fit in great, but he does not want to fit into the NBA anymore. He instead chooses to go the path less traveled, and take his talents overseas to make a living.

Beasley may be the name many are talking about, but Blatche is the guy that could help teams more right now. But as the years go by, his name will fade more and more from the NBA. Plenty will remember him for his flounders in Washington with he and JaVale McGhee beside each other. But many will forget that he righted himself in Brooklyn only to leave the NBA and not return. Now we will only see Blatche from a distance as he continues his career in China. It would have been interesting to see what he could have been if he signed to play in the NBA again. But we will probably never get to see that one happen again.

Here are some highlights from Blatche in China last season:

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The Failed Marriage Of Deron Williams And The Brooklyn Nets

Deron Williams and the Nets are officially over. (photo courtesy of www.espn.com)

Deron Williams and the Nets are officially over. (photo courtesy of http://www.espn.com)

Deron Williams was at one point in his career considered one of the best point guards in the NBA. His size, shooting ability and passing skills made him one of the best in the NBA at that position when he was in Utah. But in Utah, he began to be unhappy under head coach Jerry Sloan. The veteran coach eventually decided to step down in February of 2011. There were reports that Sloan and Williams’ relationship was getting bad and that was one of the reasons he stepped down, but Sloan never alluded to that when making his retirement speech. But nevertheless, Sloan was gone and Ty Corbin stepped in. However, it wasn’t long before Williams was gone from Utah as well. In the same month Sloan retired, Williams was traded to the Nets for guard Devin Harris, forward Derrick Favors, two first-round picks and cash considerations. Williams played for the Nets for a year and change and then signed a new deal in the summer of 2012 when he was a free agent and many thought he could help bring that franchise out of the doldrums. Williams was considered the guy that could help take the Nets to the next level as they were about to move into their new Brooklyn arena and away from New Jersey. But they could not have been more wrong about the exploits of Williams.

The signing of Williams was supposed to lead the Nets to the top of the East according to the Nets thoughts as an organization. They believed that his skills would make that team better and that he was a franchise player that was good enough to carry their franchise. They could not have been more wrong. Ever since he signed that five-year, $98 million deal, it seems like he has not been healthy nor as effective as the Nets envisioned. Sure, he averaged 18.9 points per game the first year of the deal, but his play regressed with every season he was in a Nets uniform. It seemed like he was never sure of himself when he was with the Nets. He would show glimpses of being the player he once was in Utah, only to come back to the guy that was still searching for who he was. His points per game slipped ever single season he was with the Nets organization, including slipping to 13 points per game this past season, his lowest since his rookie season. Even his former teammate, albeit for one season, questioned his role with the team. Paul Pierce said this when asked about Williams in Brooklyn: “Before I got here, I looked at Deron as an MVP candidate. But I felt once I got there, that’s not what he wanted to be. He just did not want that.” Pierce would also go on to say that the pressure of New York and the media market may have played a factor in Williams and his performance with the team. But for a guy that demanded a high salary and was billed as a big-time player, it seemed he should have been better than what he was. But unfortunately, the hype never lived up to the reality of who he was as a player.

Going into this offseason, many wondered what the Nets would do with Williams after there were some questions about his future with the team. Would they find someone to take on his contract and relieve them of the burden of his contract or would they have to suffer through another year or him not meeting expectations? Well, word began to get around that he was not happy with coach Lionel Hollins last season. And he reportedly had to be restrained from going after Hollins around the All-Star break. Around the time this news was breaking, the Nets were working on a buyout for the veteran guard. The Nets were willing to wipe their hands clean of him and they were willing to do what they had to do to make it happen. The Nets and Williams eventually ended up getting a buyout together for him and he is now slated to sign with the Dallas Mavericks for a reported two-year deal. And as for the Nets, they will use the stretch provision to pay him his buyout in yearly increments. Essentially, Williams will be getting paid by two teams for the next two seasons. And as a bonus for him, he is headed back to his hometown to play for his hometown team. The benefits for him to be where he is from should make him more comfortable. But some have to wonder if Williams will ever be the guy he once was as a player. He is 31 years old at this point and he wasn’t the most overly athletic point guard to begin with. Dallas is taking a chance on him and that they can get the best out of him. While Williams has moved on, the Nets are starting to move forward as well. They have Jarrett Jack and a few others that are there to step into the spot for Williams. And you could definitely argue that Jack played better than Williams all season long. But the fact remains that Williams is gone and the Nets are moving forward without him. And both could probably not be happier.

The Nets thought they were getting a star when they brought in Williams. But instead they received a guy that was not comfortable in the big city and was never the same player outside of Utah. Many can even argue that the system in Utah is what created the rep that he built before getting traded. And it can also be said that the same system he tried to corrupt in Utah under Jerry Sloan is the thing that he needs the most at this point. Williams’ tenure with the Nets is probably something the Nets wished was a bad nightmare. But with them paying him over the next few years in regards to his buyout, he will continue to haunt them like a ghost in a haunted house. Williams may be gone but his memory there in New York will be something that will not go away soon enough for the Nets. As for the Mavericks, they are taking a chance here with Williams rediscovering who he is. But if they were paying attention to what happened in Brooklyn, they should temper expectations.

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Paul Pierce Has A Decision To Make Regarding Next Season In The NBA

Paul Pierce takes Toronto's Amir Johnson off the dribble. (Photo courtesy of www.SI.com)

Paul Pierce takes Toronto’s Amir Johnson off the dribble. (Photo courtesy of http://www.SI.com)

Paul Pierce has had an excellent career in the NBA. He has played for the Celtics and won a title along with playing for the Brooklyn Nets and the Washington Wizards. Going into this offseason, there was a question as to whether he would come back or not. He was clutch for the Wizards in the playoffs, hitting big basket after big basket for them. But he also was an older player in the NBA (37 years of age). As a result of his age, the Wizards seemingly paced him all year long to keep him fresh for the playoffs. He played a career-low 26 minutes a game and scored his lowest point total of his career. But the good thing about him playing for the Wizards is they did not need him to put up 18-20 points per game. The show belonged to guards John Wall and Bradley Beal as they were the main focus on the team. All Pierce was brought in to do was bring leadership and hit big shots. He definitely made an impact there, but the team did not succeed as much as they expected. The Wizards lost to the Hawks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and went home earlier than they envisioned. And with that loss, Pierce was not sure he wanted to come back. There were stories out that Pierce had thought about hanging up the sneakers instead of taking his player option to return to Washington in the 2015-2016 season. But those rumors were quickly put to bed as it has been confirmed that Pierce will be playing next season. That announcement was good news for a team, but that team may not be the Wizards. It is said that he could come back to Washington. But there is also a chance that Piece could be heading to the West.

The Los Angeles Clippers have had a void at small forward for a while now. Last season, Doc Rivers used veteran journeyman Matt Barnes as his starting small forward. And even though Barnes was a tough defender and had a solid season scoring (10.1 points per game), he was nowhere to be found in the playoffs and capped that disappearing act off with an underwhelming performance against the Houston Rockets where he disappeared in the biggest game, Game 7. It was obvious to anyone that watched the Clippers play that Barnes was not the answer for them at small forward and they needed to upgrade that position this offseason. When the Clippers traded him to the Charlotte Hornets in a package deal for the services of Lance Stephenson, it was apparent the team wanted to make some changes at the small forward position. Paul Pierce has had his most success in the NBA under coach Doc Rivers and currently Doc is the head coach and team president of the Clippers organization. There have been rumors out there for a while that Pierce would love to play for Doc again and this seems like the perfect opportunity. If he is able to come to terms with the Clippers on a cap-friendly deal, he would definitely be a huge upgrade over the now-departed Barnes. The veteran small forward has been known for his veteran leadership for some time now. And that leadership could be something that could help the Clippers even though Chris Paul is a veteran in his own right. Another thing he could bring to Los Angeles is his clutch shooting. Pierce has hit many clutch shots over his lifetime and we all know he isn’t shying away from any shot that could help the team win. The biggest thing that Pierce could bring to this team is his championship experience. Pierce won his lone NBA championship under the leadership of Doc Rivers in Boston. And if you look at the Clippers roster as it stands, Pierce has gone the furthest in the playoffs. The championship experience he brings as a player would prove invaluable in getting the Clippers over the hump.

The Clippers option looks excellent for Pierce, especially since he would be coming back to an area in which he grew up. But playing for the Clippers and Doc Rivers aren’t the only option out there. Paul Pierce still has an option that has to be decided upon pretty soon. In that option, Pierce would be receiving $5.5 million if he were to pick up the option with the Wizards. It has been rumored that he has declined the option with the Wizards next season, but that has yet to be confirmed. Even with him potentially declining the money, it could still be possible for him to come back there. He has a good opportunity to win if he comes back to Washington. Some can argue that if John Wall does not injure his wrist, the Wizards would have beat the Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. If he were to stay with the Wizards, the team would probably continue to play him less minutes while building on their progress from the 2014-2015 campaign. That would allow for him to be fresh during the playoffs and would also allow the Wizards to continue the development of young swingman Otto Porter, Jr. But along with him playing the same minutes, the team would have great continuity heading into next season. Pierce seemed to have a positive effect on Wall and Beal. Both would continue to grow under the leadership of Pierce. Eventually, the Wizards hope his leadership will be something that allows Wall and Beal to make consistent big plays down the stretch of big games without having to depend on Pierce to bail the team out. It would also give them a consistent shooter from the three-point range that could be counted on when they need him. That is essential when you have a playmaker with the ability of Wall and Beal. In fact, playing with Wall and Beal provides Pierce wide-open shots should they penetrate ore often. But the biggest thing, like what he would bring the Clippers, is championship experience. When some team has never won anything, it can be really tough for the opponent to handle the pressures that come from winning. And Pierce would help them check those emotions while focusing on the task at hand. Besides LeBron James’ Cavaliers, the Wizards have just as much hope as anyone next season to win the East. And quite frankly, the East would be an easier path for Pierce to go back to the NBA Finals.

Over the next few weeks, Pierce has to make some decisions. Does he leave for the Los Angeles Clippers or stay with the Wizards for his remaining time? It all depends on what Pierce wants to do. But in the meantime, it is down to the Wizards or the Clippers in this one. If he stays where he is, he could help the Wizards go to the next level. But if he goes home, the road to success could be more difficult.

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The 2015 NBA All Ski-Mask Way Team

Who made the NBA's All Ski-Mask Way team this season? (photo courtesy of www.imgarcarde.com)

Who made the NBA’s All Ski-Mask Way team this season? (photo courtesy of http://www.imgarcarde.com)

The NBA season is almost to a close as the NBA Finals are upon us. We have had many exciting games, plays and individual performances along the way. Who can forget the reception when LeBron returned Opening Night to Cleveland or when Russell Westbrook was on his triple-double streak? While those moments stand out in the memory of a lot of people, there are also performances that many would love to forget. Some fans may want to even forget their teams even played this year. And even worse, there are some players that fans may want to forget were even on their roster this past season. The trouble is some of those players are hard to forget because of the huge pricetag they tote with them. Some fans may accuse them of stealing money from their organizations. These players have earned the ire of many fans across the board and have been taking their paychecks with a ski mask all season long. So to honor these players, The Everyday Man’s Sports Blog presents the NBA All-Ski Mask Way team, dedicated to recognizing the best of the best of stealing money from organizations in the NBA.

Lance Stephenson-Guard, Charlotte Hornets)

When Lance was given the opportunity in Indiana to replace Danny Granger, he took full advantage of his chance. He was putting up triple-doubles and making the winning plays for them. He also was the only one that played and showed up consistently when the Pacers played the Heat last season in the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals. It was all set up for him to have a huge payday and take his career to the next level. Some thought he would stay in Indiana and continue his growth there, but he decided to take his game and go to Charlotte. His deal with the Hornets was for three years and $27 million (last year of the deal is a team option) and he was expected to be the number two option beside center Al Jefferson. Well, he did not quite exactly reach the level he thought. Lance averaged 8.7 points per game, even less than his average salary per year. And he shot below 40% from the field (37.6%) for the first time since 2011. And to top it all off, the youngster out of Cincinnati was relegated to the bench for most of the season. Not what you expected from him going there. He may rebound next year, but we know the Hornets are looking to get rid of him if they can. But for now, he is there little salary albatross they cannot ship out of town if they wanted.

Eric Gordon- Guard, New Orleans Pelicans

Who can remember in the summer of 2012 when Eric Gordon was a restricted free agent? At that time, he signed an offer sheet with the Phoenix Suns and declared that he had found his home and did not want to go back to New Orleans. Well, the then Hornets signed matched the four-year, $58 million offer from the Phoenix Suns and ever since he has been disappointing the Hornets/Pelicans. This season he continued his downward fall in scoring from 15.4 points per game to 13.4 points per game. And he wasn’t even a dynamic player this past season either. It seems like he has been passed by on the team by the play of Tyreke Evans and if Jrue Holiday is healthy next season, he could be looking at a bench role or even (or should I say hopefully) someone will take his expiring contract off their hands. The Pelicans are probably very thankful that he is coming off the books after this year. But until then, that over $15 million salary for next season is a haunting upon the management there in New Orleans.

Deron Williams- Guard, Brooklyn Nets

Who can remember the time when Williams used to be in the argument about the best point guard in the NBA? The Nets were banking on Williams showing them that he was that guy when they signed him to a five-year, $98 million in the summer of 2012. To say the Nets have not got a good return on their investment is an understatement. The guard out of Illinois has been battling injuries during his entire time in Brooklyn and when he has been on the court, he has not been the same guy he once was. In fact, since he signed the big deal with the team, Williams’ points per game have declined each season, dropping to 13.0 points per game this season (his lowest since his rookie season in the NBA). People can say that it was because of his coach and the change of system, but good players get it done no matter what system they are in. As time goes on, it has become apparent that Williams was a star in Jerry Sloan’s system in Utah, but is an ordinary guard outside of it. He does have his moments, but he is not steady enough to be even considered a superstar point guard anymore. He does not perform like it and he likely never will again. He played good at the right time for the Nets and Brooklyn has been footing the bill for his declining performances ever since.

Channing Frye- Power Forward, Orlando Magic

Channing Frye was one that probably would not have made this list if it had not been for Orlando overpaying to obtain his services. Nevertheless, the rangy big man out of Arizona locks down the power forward spot on this team. Frye had the worst shooting year of his career (39.2%) after signing the four-year, $32 million deal. The Magic may not have expected Frye to be a superstar, but they certainly did not expect him to have his worst output since the 2009-2010 season. And to be someone that is 6’11”, you would think that he would average more than 4 rebounds a game despite averaging 25 minutes a game. But that is just the reality when you have a stretch four shooting three’s that does not do much else. Hopefully next season will be better for him, but that all depends on if his jump shot is falling. Because if it isn’t, then he will not have much more impact on anything else at all. Whatever the Magic saw in him as a prized free agent was an illusion.

JaVale McGee-Center, Denver Nuggets/Philadelphia 76ers

The JaVale McGee experience was limited this year due to injuries at the beginning of the year. But once McGee hit the court, the hilarity ensued. It just seems like McGee is not all there at times when he is on the court. And honestly, it seems like he is purposely trying to make us laugh and make Shaqtin-A-Fool each week. Tragic Bronson, as he is called by Shaq on his bloopers segment, is a very talented athlete. He is that rare combination of speed, agility and leaping ability. And that was on full display when he was under the tutelage of former Nuggets coach George Karl. But since he has been gone, he has been non-existent and not deserving of that contract that pays him $11 million a year. He may not have played but 23 games, but that was enough of a sample to let us know he was getting things done the Ski-Mask way and that he played good enough at the right time to fool the Nuggets to give him a deal. Great thing for the next team that signs him is that he has devalued himself enough where he does not come close to getting that amount of money. Philly bought him out once he was traded to them and he is out there for someone to grab.

All Ski-Mask Way MVP- Kendrick Perkins, Center, Oklahoma City Thunder/ Cleveland Cavaliers

The MVP had some stiff competition this year, but in the end, it could only be him. The big man was getting an average of $9 million a year from the Oklahoma City Thunder. When he was brought there, he was brought in for brute toughness, his defense and his locker room leadership. He definitely was not brought there for his scoring at all. But when his defense started to suffer and he was just a body out there that could not finish a layup consistently, then he became a liability. Honestly, his contract extension was not the smartest thing that Oklahoma City could have done because at the time, his deal knocked them out of contention to sign both Serge Ibaka and James Harden. And for what? 4 points per game. He was eventually traded to the Utah Jazz and bought out by them, only to join Cleveland on their championship run. But even though he is making a little less than $500,000 for the rest of the season, he still robbed the Thunder in broad daylight for a couple years. He is the true definition of doing things the Ski-Mask way.

Honorable Mention

Landry Fields-Guard, Toronto Raptors

Many have not heard this name in forever and that is because since he has been a member of the Toronto Raptors, he has entered the basketball equivalent of the Witness Protection Program aka the end of the bench. Not what many expected from a guy that made $8.5 million this season. The Raptors must be jumping for joy that he is not on their roster next season at that number. And with the exit of him, maybe they can use that money to bring in someone that can actually contribute in points per game and not claps per good plays by his teammates.

This is your 2015 NBA All Ski-Mask Way team! Hope you all enjoyed the team and enjoyed arguing about how bad they were this year.

Three Reasons The Atlanta Hawks Are About To Be Eliminated From The Eastern Conference Finals

Jeff Teague is a part of an Atlanta team that is fading fast in the Eastern Conference Finals (photo courtesy of www.ajc.com)

Jeff Teague is a part of an Atlanta team that is fading fast in the Eastern Conference Finals (photo courtesy of http://www.ajc.com)

The Atlanta Hawks were the top seed heading into their series versus the Cleveland Cavaliers but it did not seem like it. The Hawks had struggled to win series against the Washington Wizards and the Brooklyn Nets before facing the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs, on the other hand, had an easy matchup versus the Boston Celtics and got a little push from the Chicago Bulls. And even without the services of Love since the first series, it seems like the Cavs have taken it to another level and have blown through the playoffs. Some expected a good battle between both teams. After all, Atlanta was nicknamed “Spurs East” due to their ball movement and their head coach, Mike Budenholzer, who was a longtime assistant in the Spurs organization. But there were others that looked at this team and were waiting on the Cavs to taken them apart like they did to the Celtics and Bulls. Well, at this point we are still waiting on any semblance of a series to show up. The Cavaliers have handled the Hawks pretty easily through the first three games on their way to a 3-0 series lead. It’s hard to believe that the #1 seed in the East could be getting swept so late in the postseason and so soundly. But there are three big reasons why this is happening to them and why Tuesday will more than likely be their last game in the playoffs.

Like was mentioned before, the Hawks are a team that moves the basketball a lot. The constant cutting, movement and passing has led to the Hawks being able to find high-percentage shots created by all the action going on offensively. And as a result, the Hawks averaged 102.5 points per game and were a difficult matchup for teams due to their multitude of players that can step away from the basket and shoot a three pointer. But in the playoffs, it seems as if the movement has gotten worse and worse. They had some ball movement versus the Nets and the Wizards, but it seems as if that motion has come to a halt. Part of that is the defense of Cleveland, which has been the best in the postseason. But the Atlanta Hawks have to take most of the blame in this one. They have become a stagnant offense in the playoffs and it seems like Budenholzer cannot get them out of their tailspin. Instead of the ball movement that was attributed to their offense, the Hawks have now become a more isolation-oriented offense. And with that type of style, the Hawks will never win, as evidence by this series. The best thing for them to do would be to stop looking at the matchups and where they may have the size advantage. By doing that, maybe it will bring some of the focus back to what made the Hawks so dangerous this season. Of course it will be a little bit harder for them to attempt to dig out of this hole, but it is something that would not be deemed impossible either.

Another thing that has helped them into their 3-0 is their lack of rebounding. The Hawks have not been considered a team that has been great rebounding this season. In fact, they were ranked in the bottom half of rebounding this season (ranked 28th in the NBA). Atlanta was successful in the regular season despite the lack of rebounding on both ends of the court. But as the postseason has gone on, they have definitely been exposed in the paint. They came into this series versus Cleveland ranked as the 11th worst rebounding team out of 16 teams. A successful playoff team should never be that low and when they are, they should know that it will catch up to them. Well it took a while, but the Cavaliers have been punishing the Hawks on the boards this series. As it stands before Game 4, the Hawks are a have been beat on the boards every game and are an astonishing -41 on the boards for the series. Tristian Thompson, LeBron James and Timofey Mozgov have been tearing it up on the boards while the Hawks have been missing shots and missing blockouts on the offensive end as well. As a result, the Cavaliers seem to get more shots each game and they also seem to be the tougher team. The Hawks never adjusted to the physicality of the Cavaliers and it is evident not only in the rebounding, but the games.

But the biggest reason the Hawks are down is they have no superstar or star guy that takes over when times get tough. Taking a look at the teams left in the playoffs, they all have a guy they can go to when the offense gets tough and stagnant. Steph Curry (Golden State), James Harden (Houston) and LeBron James (Cleveland) have been coming through for their respective teams and carrying them when it is evident their teams need someone to step up. All three of these guys make plays and can elevate the roles players around them to new levels of productivity. For the Hawks, they have some good players, but not one that can make other teams pay no matter what they do. It is commendable they have made it this far without one, but for the future, Atlanta will need that one guy to take over and make their offense go. Al Horford is a good post player, but he is not taking over when the going gets tough for them. All the Hawks have to do is look at their opponent to see how much a star player can help in tough times. The Cavaliers have been playing without Kevin Love since the Chicago Bulls series and have been missing Kyrie Irving the last two games. But despite those absences, the team still wins and it is all because of the LeBron James setting the table. He has not only scored when they needed it, but he has also made players like Matthew Dellavedova and veteran James Jones effective on the offensive end by setting the table for them. Having that star takeover has gotten them through the absences and the tough times and that is something a team trying to win a title needs. And unfortunately for Atlanta, they do not have that guy.

As it stands, it looks like the Hawks great season is going to go by the wayside in embarrassing fashion. They more than likely will lose the fourth game in this series and be going on vacation earlier than they though. But most of it is in their own doing. Sure, there have been some questionable calls and there may be some plays that bothered the Hawks and made tempers rise, but the Hawks cannot blame any of those on the execution of their offense and lack of rebounding. The star power search is up to the front office of their team. And even though there is one candidate in Jeff Teague that could be a star for them, he unfortunately has not reached the level they want him to just yet. The season has been a whirlwind for the Hawks, but the time has come for them to head to the offseason and the Cavs are going to take them there with a broom in hand.

Kyle Lowry’s disappearing act

Kyle Lowry walks back to the locker room dejected after a loss (photo courtesy of www.cbc.ca)

Kyle Lowry walks back to the locker room dejected after a loss (photo courtesy of http://www.cbc.ca)

The Toronto Raptors made a surge last season into the playoffs. A team that many were not sure about before the 2013-2014 season was led back by a small but strong guard that was working on his third team in his career, Kyle Lowry. It seemed like when he was traded there from Houston that he found a fit for what he does. He was the lead guard in a good system that allowed him to facilitate and also to be a scorer as well. It seemed like everything clicked for him. Lowry averaged 17.9 points per game and also dished out 7.4 assists leading the Raptors to the playoffs last season. Unfortunately the Raptors lost in seven games to the Brooklyn Nets, but the season last year was a success. And along with the success, the expectations for this season rose. Plenty begin to think about the Raptors and what they would be in the 2014-2015 season. And more importantly, the questions surrounded Lowry as to whether he would return to Toronto because he was a free agent. Well, despite the pulls of free agency and signing with another contender, Lowry decided to stay in Toronto. The Raptors and Lowry agreed to a four-year, $48 million deal to stay above the border and continue to build. The expectations were definitely that this team would be able to make a more serious push this season. And with Lowry at the helm, he was expected to be the main reason they made their push.

Lowry was good during the regular season this year. He averaged around the same amount of points and assists he did last season although he was shooting the basketball just a little bit more than he did the previous season. One thing that was an issue with Lowry this year was injuries, but the team still was able to right the ship enough to make it into the playoffs, especially since they are in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. But the Raptors did not just sign Lowry for the regular season. He was signed back to take the Raptors further into the playoffs than they have gone since Vince Carter donned a Raptors jersey. But unfortunately, it seems like an old nemesis has arrived in a new city to disrupt that vision. Veteran forward Paul Pierce, who eliminated the Raptors last season while playing for the Brooklyn Nets, is on the verge of doing so again with the Washington Wizards. The Raptors have yet to get on the board against the Wizards in the playoffs and after the loss last night versus Washington, all hope seems lost with the Raptors. The team has not progressed as some thought they might. Shooting guard DeMar DeRozan has shown up for the Raptors. Although his shooting percentages have been pretty bad, he is playing hard and making an effort to make things happen while averaging 22.3 points in the playoffs. But the man that many pinned the Raptors’ playoff hopes on has been non-existent this playoffs. And ironically the guy that was the man for the Raptors last season has become just a guy on the team in the playoffs.

Kyle Lowry averaged 21.1 points in the playoffs last season for the Raptors and carried them in the playoffs last season in the first round. But that seems like a distant memory when it comes to Lowry in this postseason. Lowry has gone from the face of the team to a man that some forget is on the court this postseason. His average has dropped from the 21.1 points last postseason to a paltry 9.3 points per game this postseason. This is a far cry from what was expected from him this postseason and has no doubt been disappointing to see. Each and every game it seems like John Wall gets the best of him, while he just cannot make things happen to offset what he is doing to him. Lowry’s assist-to-turnover rate is great, but he is shooting an anemic 23.8% from the field and an awful 18.8% from the three-point line. We know that he has battled injuries, but that is no excuse for what we have been seeing from Lowry this postseason. He is supposed to be the star guard alongside DeRozan on this team and he has been anything but for them when it has mattered the most. It is improbable that the Raptors will come back and win this series and much of the blame should be shouldered by one of the Raptors’ marquee players. He has pulled a disappearing act when it matters the most and as a result, the Raptors will be going home earlier than it was expected for them. The hot start they got off to at the beginning of the season is all but forgotten as they play out the string in the last games of their season.

As for Kyle Lowry, the feelings of being the guy to bring the Raptors back will soon be replaced with the thoughts of potentially being overpaid. Of course the Raptors had to try and keep him there for the continuity of the team. And he isn’t the only one that has not shown up in the postseason for the Raptors. But he got paid to bring more success to the Raptors this season when it mattered. And as it currently stands, the Raptors will have the same results they had last season but in five games instead of seven like last postseason.

Joakim Noah: The Soul Of Chicago

Joakim Noah At the beginning of the season, the Chicago Bulls were expected to challenge for the Eastern Conference crown. They returned a strong defensive team, Derrick Rose was on the mend and of course they had one of the best coaches in the NBA in Tom Thibodeau. Everything was in place for them to succeed. In the preseason and the beginning of the regular season, it looked like Rose was still shaking the rust off. He was starting to gain some steam after the team played the Denver Nuggets, but early in the season when the Bulls were playing the Trailblazer in Portland, this confident Bulls team was shook to the core by Rose going down again:

Rose was later diagnosed with a torn meniscus in his knee and was lost for the season. After the injury, the Bulls looked like a defeated team the next few games. They eventually got out of the short slump, but then management dealt them another body blow.

Chicago forward Luol Deng was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers after he had rejected a three-year, $30 million dollar extension from Chicago. In return, the Bulls landed Andrew Bynum, who they quickly released to save money against their salary cap. This team was left for dead after that trade. All hope anyone may have had for them to at least make the playoffs dissipated. And some thought the team was getting ready to tank. But one man had other ideas. He refused to quit and give into those thoughts. After all, he did not quit when the chips were down in his career.

Joakim Noah was selected with the 9th pick of the 2007 draft. He was the center of the two-time defending National Champion Florida Gators and had declared after his junior season. But unlike his collegiate teammates Corey Brewer and Al Horford, Noah was a mystery to people as to what he would be. He could rebound and pass, but he could not shoot and was not a smooth operator out of the post. In the first couple of years of his career, the doubts about Noah were validated by his play. He was only averaging around six points and six and he really seemed like just another player. But it was not until the 2009 Eastern Conference 1st round series that Noah then showed he had arrived. Noah played with heart, desire and fought to the bitter end as the Bulls fought the veteran Celtics. Who can forget this memorable play during Game six of the Bulls 128-127 triple overtime win that series:

The Celtics would go on to win the Game seven, but Noah definitely made his presence felt. Gone was the guy that no one knew about and present was the guy that would become the emotional barometer of the team.

Noah would continue to improve every season from that playoff battle. And over the years, his skill and his grit have become the backbone of this team. And because of that grit, he would not let this team quit when all had given up on them this season. Instead of letting his team tank, Noah has taken the reins and become the leader not only by his emotion but by his play. He is again averaging a double-double and he is making the game easy for his teammates with his excellent passing skills (leads all centers in assists per game with 4.3 a game). And after their big win versus the Brooklyn Nets Thursday, the Bulls have gone from the bottom to near the top of the NBA’s Eastern Conference. They now are hot on the Toronto Raptors trail for the third spot in the East and they are only gaining momentum. The unselfishness, emotion and grit of Noah has been permeated throughout the whole team. His effect cannot be measured by mere stats because he is now the heart and soul of the Chicago Bulls. And as long as he is there, the Bulls will always be a tough out for anyone.

For more sports talk, feel free to follow me on Twitter @General_MP or come check out my Facebook page at Mike Patton-The General .

With The New Additions, Can The Pacers And Nets Knock The Miami Heat Off Their Throne?

(Photo via Getty Images)

(Photo via Getty Images)


The Miami Heat are the reigning champions. They escaped sure defeat in Game 6 on the heroics of LeBron James and Ray Allen to come up with another championship. The veteran Spurs just could not muster enough to win in Game 7 as the Heat pulled away in the end. But going into next year, the Heat will not only have competition from the West but from teams in their own conference. Looking at the Heat as the barometer, the Indiana Pacers and the Brooklyn Nets made some interesting changes to bolster their team. But is it enough for them to beat the Heat come playoff time?

The Pacers pushed the Heat to the brink last season in the Eastern Conference Finals. But in Game 7, their youth showed up as point guard George Hill and wing player Paul George disappeared at the wrong time. The one thing the Pacers had that damaged the Heat a lot last postseason was their post game. Big men Roy Hibbert and David West were hitting the Heat with body blow after body blow and the Heat could not do anything with them. But the one thing that hurt the Pacers inside was they did not have that third big man to give the Heat problems. Well, the Pacers think they have resolved that issue. According to Yahoo! Sports, the Pacers have acquired veteran forward Luis Scola and sent forward Miles Plumblee, guard Gerald Green and a protected 2014 1st round draft pick to Phoenix. This move, along with the re-insertion of sharpshooter Danny Granger and swing forward Chris Copeland, makes the Pacers a stronger offensive team while still retaining the toughness that they are known for. Imagine if they would have had Scola, Copeland, Lance Stephenson and veteran point guard CJ Watson coming off the bench. They would have been even tougher last year.

But with the additions, the Pacers are still missing a lead guard to initiate the offense. George Hill is good, but he is not a point guard. And we all saw what happened with him at point guard when the pressure picked up against Miami. His uneven play cost them big time. They don’t necessarily need a star point guard, but a guard that won’t turn the ball over in crucial times. And other than Hill, the only other guy that can initiate that offense is the newly acquired Watson. If the Pacers could rely on a guy like Granger or Paul George to initiate the offense, then maybe they would be fine with Hill (who is really an undersized shooting guard) playing the point. But because of no solid addition at the point guard spot, the reservations are still there about the championship aspirations of this team. For the Pacers’ sake, they better hope Hill has learned from last year and will be better when the pressure comes his way.

In Brooklyn, the thirst of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov for a championship is real. And to quench his thirst to make the Nets a serious contender, he has thrown money and caution to the wind. The Nets made a trade that brought them veterans Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry from the Boston Celtics. Immediately the expectations of the team went through the roof as some touted them as the biggest contender to the Heat. The starting lineup they now boast will be Garnett and Pierce at the forwards, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams at the guard spots and Brook Lopez at center. But not only will they have those guys starting for them, the Nets re-signed backup big Andray Blatche, signed forward Andrei Kirlenko to backup Paul Pierce, brought in guard/forward Allan Anderson to backup Joe Johnson along with having the aforementioned Jason Terry to backup Deron Williams. This team has all the tools to make a run.

But one thing that has to be looked at is the age of their key additions. Paul Pierce has been an incredible player for Boston his whole career, but over that time he has broken down. Injuries have taken away some of his explosiveness and with that, some of his effectiveness as a player. Signing Kirlenko was a good thing, but if he is playing more than Pierce when it really counts, then the Nets basically wasted money to bring him in. Another thing that may be an issue with Pierce is how he fits in Brooklyn. After being in Boston so long and becoming a legend there, how will playing in a new city for a new team for the first time in his career affect him? It could be excellent, but it could also be something that goes like Joe Namath when he played for the Los Angeles Rams. Kevin Garnett has been very durable during his entire career, but last year he started to show signs of breaking down. He ended up missing 14 games last season and he also had the lowest rebound and point totals of his career last postseason. Garnett brings intensity and passion when he plays, but what happens when your body is telling you that it cannot produce like it used to? It seems like in the case of Garnett and Pierce they are battling two enemies: the Heat (as the defending champions) and Father Time. The Nets will need these two to be at their best to win the East. We shall see if they can get it going when the time is right.

Both squads made perceived improvements. But in the end, it is still in question whether it is enough to defeat the Heat.

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