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Archive for the tag “Washington Wizards”

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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What’s Wrong With The Washington Wizards?

(photo courtesy Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

(photo courtesy Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

The Wizards were playing the Atlanta Hawks tough in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season. John Wall was leading his team and giving them everything he had. But one fall he had changed the dynamic of the entire series. Wall took a tumble in the 1st game and ended up having some fractures in his left hand. He played through the fractures for the rest of Game 1, helping the Wizards steal homecourt advantage from Atlanta. But in doing that, Wall suffered an injury that would change the series. The injury to Wall would cause him to miss the next three games, which the Wizards would lose two of them. Washington would get a surprise return in Game 5 from Wall, but those two games they lost without Wall would come back to haunt them, as they would lose the series 4-2. Heading into this season, there were higher expectations for the Wizards. They had a very young and talented backcourt duo returning in John Wall and Bradley Beal. And to go along with that, they had some veteran big men returning to their team and a swingman in Otto Porter Jr who gained valuable experience. It was thought that this team would be competing for the Eastern Conference crown. Well, those thoughts have not come to reality as the Wizards are currently 21-25, good enough for 10th in the NBA’s Eastern Conference and outside the playoff picture. So what has happened to this up-and-coming team?

The pairing of Wall and Beal was talked about as being one of the most talented backcourts around. And when they are on the court together, they can have their moments. But the issue has always been the health of Bradley Beal. The talented young wing from the University of Florida was taken with the 3rd pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. And when he was taken, there was the thought of what he could be with Wall. But because of him always being injured, we never get to see the consistency of those two playing together. This season is especially important to Beal because he is seeking a max extension from the Wizards. But if I am the Wizards, I think long and hard on that one. Do you really want to give a max extension to a guy that has missed over 25 games twice in his four-year career? That is the dilemma facing the Wizards at this point. Beal is a talent, but he is a talent that stays injured all the time. And if he continues to get injured at this pace, then he may start entering the realm of guys that are talented but a risk. So far this season, he has only played in a total of 25 games, staring 17 of them. He played well in the game Wednesday night versus the Golden State Warriors. But looking at his numbers this season, he has been an up-and-down character. If the Wizards are to make a push for the playoffs, then Beal has to be more consistent. The Wizards need him to be on the floor and effective at all times because it seems like the weight of this team is falling on John Wall.

But the issue is of the Wizards’ decline does not squarely fall on the shoulders of Wizards head coach Randy Wittman and the injuries of Bradley Beal. The Wizards pretty deep inside last season. The duo of Marcin Gortat and Nene were punishing people inside last season. Add to that guys like Kevin Seraphin and Kris Humphries to that mix along with veteran forward Paul Pierce and you have a group of guys that are solid and can give something to the team. This season, Paul Pierce is gone (signed a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers) and Kevin Seraphin signed with the New York Knicks. Other than those two, the Wizards have the same crew there as their big men. But unfortunately for them, the Wizards have not been the same underneath. Gortat has not been quite as consistently and Nene has definitely not been the same guy. Both were huge for the Wizards at one point in time. Now it seems like they both struggle to get it going from night to night. Gortat cannot finish the point blank layups despite having layups spoon fed to him. And defensively, it seems like they are just getting outworked on the boards at different points. That kind of play from their big men will not help them win very many games at all.

The Wizards have a multitude of issues. The heath of Beal has to be monitored along with the play of their bigs. But the good thing for them is they are close to the playoff picture. And looking at where they currently standings, the Wizards have some time to get it there. The big task is to get more guys to consistently show up every night. Beal could be that guy, but he has been in and out due to injury. As far as Gortat, he has to show up every night as well. The Wizards paid big money to keep him and so far he has not produced to the level they paid him to. And to go along with that, there has not been consistent production from the power forward position. It will be interesting to see what they attempt to do to solve these issues because right now, they are looking like a team that is falling apart more than coming together.

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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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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.

Agent Zero Reinvented?

Gilbert Arenas was on top of the world three years ago. He was considered one of the top point guards in the NBA and he was one of the most lethal scorers in the NBA when he was “in the zone”. Then, just like that, Arenas hit the toughest stretch of his career.

Arenas and then teammate Javaris Crittendon got into an incident with each other where guns were brought into the locker room. This incident led to Arenas getting a lengthy suspension and putting a black eye on his career. That incident, along with knee surgeries, caused Arenas to fall from grace and tarnish what was once a promising career. The Washington Wizards were looking to move him. They lost all faith in Arenas being a solution and had deemed him the problem.

With the huge contract Arenas was under, moving him was no easy task. But there was one team out there that was looking to cause a major shakeup and that team was the Orlando Magic. The Magic traded Rashard Lewis to Washington for the services of Arenas in hopes that he would become the guy that everyone feared. Well, the magic didn’t return as Arenas changed teams. In fact, Arenas looked increasingly like he would never get over the serious knee surgeries and that he was a shell of himself. Gone was the explosiveness. Gone was the brashness. Gone was the guy we knew as Agent Zero.

After the NBA lockout, their was a clause created called the amnesty clause. This clause meant that teams could get rid of one bad contract and not have any repercussions in releasing that player. As soon as that clause came about, the first person many teams spoke about was Gilbert Arenas. Arenas, like most thought, was released by the Magic. He was thought to be done in most fans and GM’s eyes. After all, who wanted a guy with a bad knee who seemed to have lost his explosiveness and jump shot?

It took a while, but the Memphis Grizzlies, in March 2012, took a chance on signing the fading star with limited expectations. They were hoping to get the guy we all saw in Washington and not the guy in Orlando that looked pedestrian at best. Memphis was in need of more offense and a backup to Mike Conley, Jr. So far, Arenas has been on the money. But, he’s done it in a different way than usual.

Arenas used to be able to explode past you to the rim as well as shoot the deep ball. Now, with his explosiveness gone, he now plays off the ball a little bit better and has become more of a jump shooter than playmaker. Another noticeable difference is he is now giving effort on the defensive end. Arenas always had quick hands and feet, but he never seemed to have a ton of interest in that end of the court. Flash forward to now and he is deflecting passes and using his basketball smarts to make plays on the defensive end.

Arenas seems to have turned a new page in his career. He has scored in double-figures 3 of his 8 games with the Grizzlies, but not only has he done that, he has played with an intense desire to not only make this team better, but to revive his career. You could say he has reinvented himself, knowing that this may be his last chance to make something happen in the NBA.

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