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NBA Season Heats Up Again

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Less than five months after the Miami Heat outlasted the San Antonio Spurs to capture their second straight NBA title, the league is prepared to tip off the 2013-14 season with the other 29 teams still chasing LeBron James and company. Here are the hot storylines that will shape the season.

Can the Heat Repeat?
The clock is ticking on the potential dynasty in Miami, as LeBron James is set to become a free agent after this season. The Heat are setting the pace for the league, sprucing up its loaded roster with small forward Michael Beasley and center Greg Oden. Injury-plagued Oden is a huge question mark, but if he and Chris Bosh can produce in the paint, it would allow James to avoid having to play so much at center, making him even more dangerous. It seems doubtful if “The Big Three” will be together next year, so the group must collect their third big championship this season.

The Return of Rose
Derrick Rose missed the entire 2012-13 season with a devastating knee injury he suffered in the 2012 playoffs. He will be on the court opening night when the Chicago Bulls face the Heat. It is rare for a player of Rose’s magnitude to miss that much time, so it will be a challenge for the Chicago Bulls to adapt to having their biggest star back in the lineup.

L.A. Story
At the beginning of last season, the talk around Los Angeles was the loaded roster the Lakers managed to build by adding Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. However, the team could never mesh, as Nash was plagued with injuries the whole season and Howard proved to be a bust. The Clippers took advantage of the Lakers’ woes by stealing the spotlight as the best team in the City of Angels. Kobe Bryant is ailing and Howard is gone to Houston, so the Lakers do not appear to be a contender in the Western Conference. However, the Clippers continue to improve, and could challenge Oklahoma City and San Antonio for supremacy out West.

Rocket Fuel
Houston surprised the league last season by reaching the playoffs behind strong work from James Harden. The Rockets won the Dwight Howard sweepstakes in the offseason, but questions remain if Howard can perform any better in Houston than he did for the Lakers. The Rockets are one of the youngest teams in the league, and could be the next dynasty. This is a pivotal year for this quality squad.

Can the Spurs Bounce Back?
San Antonio suffered a devastating Game 7 loss in the NBA Finals after squandering a 3-2 series lead and a big lead in the final minute of Game 6. It remains to be seen if that was the last hurrah for Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the rest of the Spurs’ seasoned lineup. The Spurs do have some youth, led by potential star Danny Green, but the clock is ticking on this team.

The Thunder Carries On
Fans of the Oklahoma City Thunder dreamed of NBA titles going into last season’s playoffs, but those dreams went up in smoke with an injury to point guard Russell Westbrook in the series against the Rockets. Kevin Durant carried the team to the Western Conference semifinals, but the lack of depth really caught up to the Thunder. Oklahoma City may still be a contender, but Westbrook’s injury revealed limitations that the Thunder may not be able to overcome.

Warriors On the Hunt
Golden State surprised the league by reaching the Western Conference semifinals last season. The Warriors may actually be better this season as Andrew Bogut is healthy and the team added Andre Iguodala in the offseason. Golden State has excellent chemistry and are not going to surprise anyone this season, so sharpshooter Stephen Curry is going to have to stay hot.

The Fall of the Celtics
Age and attrition finally started catching up with the Celtics last season, as they bowed out in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals to the improved New York Knicks. Boston hired Brad Stevens away from Butler University to coach a team featuring Rajon Rondo and not much else. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are now with the Brooklyn Nets. It was a major surprise to see Stevens take an NBA coaching job, especially for a team that is essentially dismantled and must be reconstructed from the ground up.

Setting the Pacers
The Indiana Pacers pushed Miami to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals last season, and everyone from that team is back and better. The Heat are a major roadblock for Indiana, but if the Pacers can continue to get strong production from Paul George, Roy Hibbert and the rest of this improving squad, the Pacers may prove to be a force in the Eastern Conference.

Resources:

  1. 2013-14 NBA Schedule
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  3. Transactions

Three Reasons Why Teams Should Avoid Handing Out Big Contracts To Players

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It seems like the cool thing to do these days to hand ridiculously large contracts to professional athletes. In 2013, several major league players have been handed contracts in excess of $20 million per year. However, is it worth it to pay one player so much when the entire team needs to play well to win games? Let’s take a look at a few reasons why it may not be the best idea to overpay a player.

It Prevents Roster Flexibility

If your star player gets hurt, how do you replace that player without spending too much money? Unless you have a player already on the roster who can replace the production that you were getting from your star player, it will be hard to trade for or sign another player of equal productivity.

On the flip side, if that player doesn’t play well, you can’t sit a player who is making $10,000 or more per game. That is a waste of money, and the fans will remind you about that each game that the struggling player sits. Therefore, you have no choice but to put a struggling player in the lineup when someone else could be getting the job done in his place.

Team Chemistry Can Be Altered

Over the past several seasons, teams in all sports have tried their luck at assembling rosters full of talented players in the hopes of making the playoffs. However, most of those efforts failed or took awhile to get going.

The Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL went 8-8 with a supposed dream team in 2011, the Miami Heat started 9-8 the first season that LeBron played for them and most recently, the Dodgers and Blue Jays have stumbled out of the gate after acquiring many high priced players.

Why is it hard to win when you spend so much money? Part of it is the pressure of living up to the contract as well as having never played with your teammates before. Ideally, a team wins when it has players who have grown up together and have learned a single style of play together.

Athletes Get Old Quickly

Alex Rodriguez is the perfect example of why you don’t give an older player a long-term contract with a lot of guaranteed money. At the age of 38, Rodriguez is still owed $100 million over the next five years. However, there is little chance that he will see the field much for the Yankees this season or any season after that. He is doing nothing but holding the team hostage at this point. Unfortunately, the Yankees have no one to blame but themselves in this case. It should be a warning sign to teams in the future to offer either many years or a large annual salary instead of both.

Justin Verlander has over 200 million reasons to smile over the next several seasons. However, if he doesn’t bring a World Series to Detroit, the fans may wonder if he is worth the money. Management may be on the hook as well if the deal doesn’t pan out as the team hopes it will. Overall, players who earn large guaranteed contracts have everything to gain and almost nothing to lose.

Does John Wall Deserve An $80 Million Contract?

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Washington Wizards point guard John Wall is close to receiving a maximum contract extension that will keep him in Washington for the next five years. While fans of the Wizards are surely happy to keep their young star in town for the long-term, is he worth the $80 million that he will get from the team?

He Is The Face Of The Franchise

At the moment, John Wall is the only marketable player that Washington has. That means that Wall is right to demand the extra money to stay put. Although the Wizards have not made the playoffs since he joined the team, it is hardly his fault. Over the course of his career, he has averaged 16.9 points and eight assists per game.

That puts him near the top in both categories for point guards over the past three years. In 2013, he averaged 18.5 points and 7.8 assists. Considering that a point guard is a player that you want to build your team around, it’s a good thing that he is staying.

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How Does His Contract Compare To Other Players?

Another good way to determine the market value of a player is to see what other players at a similar age with a similar skillset were able to get. For example, Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans is making $11 million per year over the next four seasons.

Rajon Rando of the Boston Celtics is making an average of $12.5 million over the next two seasons. While he is a young player, he also has won a championship and been one of the top point guards in the game over the past three seasons.

Seeing what other top point guards make, you can conclude that John Wall is not worth $16 million a season based on what he has done for his team alone. If he was being paid based on his worth on the open market, he would be getting closer to $12 million a season.

What’s His Ceiling?

While he may not be worth the money he is being paid based on past production, you have to assume that he will get better. When Wall was in the lineup, the Wizards had a record of 25-25. That is compared to the 4-28 record that the Wizards suffered through when Wall was on the bench. If Washington had managed to go 41-41 last season, they would have found their way into the playoffs.

By stumbling over the past few years, Washington has been able to draft players to help build a team around Wall. This could be the year when the entire team comes together to make a playoff run and help cement Wall as a player to be reckoned with.

Is John Wall worth $16 million per season? At the moment, you could argue that he is overpaid based on what other top players at his position are getting paid. However, you can’t deny that he is the face and the future of the franchise. If he goes, it could set the Wizards back another three seasons. That is something that the fans just won’t tolerate.

The Heat Repeat in 2013

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In what may be the final game for the Big Three of the Miami Heat, beating the other Big Three in the NBA may have been the best way to end their run together. With a stellar performance by LeBron James in the final moments of Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals, the Heat go on to celebrate their third NBA Championship in franchise history on their home floor. LeBron got revenge on Duncan when the Spurs celebrated a Championship on Cleveland’s home floor, back in the LeBron Cavaliers Era.

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All in all, this was a topsy turvy seven game series that saw big momentum swings for both sides. Game 6 was probably the most thrilling and may go down as the most decisive game of this great NBA Finals series. The Spurs just couldn’t muster enough scoring as the game went on and missed some crucial, however make-able shots. Tim Duncan was the focal point towards the end of the game, but missed a running hook shot and tip in that would have tied the game. It was just that kind of series for the San Antonio Spurs.

There is no doubt that LeBron James is the best player in the world today and with another NBA Championship ring on his already loaded resume, this Championship over the great San Antonio Spurs should really put a lot of doubters to sleep. Let’s not neglect the contributions by his teammates like D-Wade and Shane Battier. Nevertheless, this is all about James and he showed why he is a true Champion.

The Spurs move into an offseason of much uncertainty and their Big Three of Duncan, Parker and Ginobli may have played their last game together as a team. Father time has been tugging at their jerseys for quite some time now, and in the waning moments of Game 7, it showed. Duncan was solid nevertheless, but Ginobli and even the younger Parker struggled to find their usual shot selection. Credit the Heat defense, but this is Parker and Ginobli and they didn’t show up the way they could have and usually do.

Until next season, the King has held court and South Beach is once again home to the NBA Championship crown.

2013 NBA Finals Preview

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On the heels of Miami’s Game 7 triumph over the upstart Indiana Pacers, the 2013 NBA Finals opens in Miami on Thursday night with the Heat hosting the Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs. The two teams met twice during the 2012-13 regular season, with Miami winning both times, 105-100 back in late November at home and an 88-86 nail-biter in San Antonio on March 31st. Miami finished with an NBA-best 66-16 W-L mark, while the Spurs finished 58-24. This will mark the first meeting between the two in the Finals, and they have a combined six NBA Championships, with the Heat defending their 2011-12 title. The first two games will be played in Miami, with the next three held in San Antonio and, if necessary, Games Six and Seven back in Miami.

With a ten-day layoff since their Western Conference Finals sweep over Memphis, the Spurs certainly should be well-rested, which can only be a plus for the team’s three “elder statesmen,” Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Parker, in particular, had to welcome the long rest period since he’s battled nagging injuries throughout the postseason. It wasn’t apparent in his series against the Grizzlies however, as he dominated whichever unlucky Memphis defender was assigned to slow him down. The 31-year old Parker scorched the Grizzlies to the tune of 24.5 points, 9.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game while connecting on a blistering 54% of his field goal attempts over the four-game series. His season-high 37 points in the deciding Game Four was a highlight-reel performance, with him routinely coming through with big plays whenever the Grizzlies appeared to be staging a comeback. 37-year old Tim Duncan has seemingly rediscovered the Fountain of Youth in the late stages of his Hall of Fame-bound 15th season as leader of the Spurs. Although nowhere near the young spring-legged colt who burst onto the scene in 1997, Duncan has brilliantly adapted his game to his limitations, all the while remaining among the most cerebral big men in the game’s history. This will be his fifth NBA Finals appearance. Despite long stretches of inconsistency, 35-year old Manu Ginobili continues to be one of the league’s more clutch performers, more than willing to take the game’s critical shot, even if he’s 0 for 10 to that point. Like Duncan and Parker, Ginobili possesses an incredibly high basketball IQ, and combines that quality with a street-fighter’s mentality to overcome most obstacles. Those three, along with rising second-year star Kahwi Leonard, three-point specialist Danny Green, and savvy role players Matt Bonner, Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal and Boris Diaw, present a more than capable rotation for Miami. San Antonio’s “ace-in-the-hole” however, may be head coach Gregg Popovich, who has been here many times before and is virtually unmatched when it comes to finding the perfect “X-and-O’s” strategy to seal last-minute victories. “Pop” has the complete and unwavering trust of his team, which isn’t merely a cliche, but a vital element on championship-caliber squads.

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Just when it appeared that the expected Miami “dynasty” was in danger of being derailed, the Heat righted the boat against the young Pacers and completely annihilated them in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals. Dwyane Wade snapped out of his postseason-long funk to lead the Heat to their third consecutive Finals appearance, while LeBron James continued his ascension to the ranks of the game’s all-time greats. James is averaging 26 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists in the playoffs, but has also demonstrated a willingness to get “down-and-dirty” when called upon, and his defense, long overlooked due to his offensive excellence, has been a primary key to the team’s postseason success. Chris Bosh, the other member of the “Big Three,” hasn’t equalled the numbers or performance of his two colleagues, which has to be a concern for coach Eric Spoelstra. Bosh usually plays well versus Tim Duncan however, and no doubt the team hopes that remains true to form over the next week or so.

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Veteran Ray Allen has come through in some tough situations over the postseason run, but the biggest surprise among the Heat’s “other” guys has to be backup PG Norris Cole, who has hit clutch baskets time and again, especially against the Pacers. Another critical component for Miami has been the play of the “Birdman,” Chris Andersen. Normally known for his annoying defensive abilities, the Birdman has compiled a sizzling .826 FG % during the playoffs, albeit primarily on put-backs and garbage baskets. His contributions versus the Spurs could be a huge factor. The Heat bench is loaded with veteran contributors, including Allen, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller. The key for a championship repeat however, will probably boil down to how much help James gets from his teammates, which served as the determining factor against Indiana.

This NBA Finals should be extremely entertaining and offers an interesting contrast in style of play. The Heat much prefer to let their smothering press create easy transition points, while the Spurs are essentially a walk-it-up, half-court unit. If San Antonio can somehow manage to impose their pace on the Heat, give the edge to the Spurs. If however, Miami’s athleticism and flair puts the Spurs in “catch-up” mode, it’s questionable if Parker, Duncan et al can keep pace. Regardless, this series has the potential to be a classic, so settle in and enjoy the festivities.