Where Does Kobe Bryant Belong Among the NBA Greats?

Kobe Bryant has proven that his career isn't over just yet.

Nearly grabbing a scoring title against now three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant was an impressive feat for the 33 year old future Hall of Famer. Although he has probably at least a couple years until he retires, Bryant has already been rightfully placed in the conversation with all-time greats. But where does he fit in with the likes of Michael, Larry, and Magic?

First of all, let's dispel the myth that he can even be compared to Michael Jordan. Magic Johnson said himself that "there's Michael Jordan and then there is the rest of us." Larry Bird remarked after a playoff game that he played against "God disguised as Michael Jordan."

These guys are top 10 players of all time and here they are saying that Jordan is on a different level then they were. Bryant averages less points per game than Jordan and has less MVPs, NBA championships, scoring titles, and fewer achievements for just about everything.

Put simply, there is no comparison between 23 and 24.

Now where does Kobe fit in among all-time Laker greats?

Magic Johnson was a five-time champion and generally regarded as the greatest point guard of all time. At 6'9", Magic was one of the most well-rounded talents the NBA has ever seen. He averaged 19.5 points per game, 11.2 assists per game, and an astounding 7.2 rebounds per game.

The former Laker point guard also has more MVPs (3) and Finals MVPs (3) than Kobe.

Many may regard Kobe as a clutch performer, but this ESPN ranking give the best playoff performance to Magic Johnson (and Kobe isn't even in the top 10). In Game 6 of the NBA Finals, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wasn't able to play due to injury.

So Magic Johnson, a point guard, played center.

His 42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals led the way for the Lakers to beat the 76ers and legend Julius Erving.

And that was in his rookie year.

There are two more Laker legends ahead of Kobe: Shaquille O'Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Shaq was the most dominant player of his generation. In the Lakers three-peat from 00-02, "The Diesel" won every single Finals MVP award and even reigned in a regular season MVP award in 2000.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is another big man who simply dominated the game. Six NBA championship titles, six MVP awards, 19 times an All Star, and of course the NBA's all-time scoring leader. There isn't much of an argument for Kobe against the legendary career of Kareem.

That makes Kobe the fourth best player to play in Hollywood and therefore not a top five player in NBA history.

Considering the staggering achievements in the careers of Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird and Bill Russell, Kobe drops down at least a couple more spots. He and Tim Duncan are in a similar spot among the NBA's greatest.

So is he in the top 10 of all time? Possibly. But top five? Definitely not.

LeBron James: Get Ready for a Grand Encore from the King

Nobody has ever had more pressure than the Miami Heat's LeBron James had this year to win an NBA championship.

The combination of self-, media- and fan-inflicted pressure weighed heavily on LeBron after losing to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2010-11 NBA Finals.

I, and many NBA fans, lost a lot of respect for LeBron James after his abysmal performance in the finals. There was no excuse after his "not one, not two, not three..." proclamation to the world. He didn't let the court of public opinion determine where he fit into the NBA elite, but rather put himself at the top, choosing to tattoo the "Chosen One" onto his back rather than let others make that decision.

The man is a freak of nature. Rarely (if ever) has his combination of strength and speed ever graced the basketball court before. His size, strength and speed have already been validated on the basketball court.

And for as arrogant as he was prior to the loss to Dallas, he was humbled after the loss.

For the first time in his career, he lost that entitlement. LeBron said himself: "The loss to Dallas was the best thing that happened to me."

That is exactly why LeBron will come back better than ever in the 2012-13. His season this year backed that up and now he has the ring off his mind.

He played like the best player in the world. The results?

It started with an MVP regular season and continued on into the postseason. With impressive (and clutch) performances in the playoffs against the Pacers, Celtics and Thunder, LeBron paved his way to the top. He remained calm when falling 2-1 to the Pacers, facing elimination against the Celtics and losing Game 1 to Oklahoma City.

Not only that—he shined.

He's playing for all the right reasons now. He quieted Mario Chalmers in Game 5 of the finals when the young point guard was getting overconfident. James has been there and done that. The results weren't pretty.

LeBron James has been aptly compared to Tiger Woods—a star in another sport who also has talent through the roof. Woods had also been dimmed by controversy and, like James, had gone from loved to hated in a matter of days. Tiger may not recover from his debacle.

LeBron has suffered for his mistakes, but he has changed as a person in all of the right ways.

And in a land of second chances, he will not make the same mistake again. He has gone from the top to "rock bottom" and now back to the top.

After achieving his ultimate goal, he can enjoy more climbs with the experience and knowledge that comes with the new jewelry and new attitude.

Watch out, NBA, the real King has come.

Predicting the Boston Celtics Starting Lineup for 2012-13 Season

The era of the original Big Three appears to be coming to a close.

While teams try to emulate the incredible talent that the Boston Celtics were able to accumulate in one offseason to complement lifelong Celtic Paul Pierce, they will nearly all be gone come the commencement of the 2012-13 NBA season.

The demand for money by some of the elder Celtics will further encourage the front office to part ways with some future Hall of Famers who have led the C's to prominence in the Eastern Conference.

One of the original Big Three will remain—the one who saw the era begin will be left when it all ends. At first glance, it does look like a huge change from 2011, but keep in mind that three starters will return.

With talented youth like Rajon Rondo leading the way, Boston will more than hold their own next year.

Point Guard: Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo is the new heart and soul of the Boston Celtics.

While he will be in the starting lineup come opening day, don't be surprised if he gets traded. If the Thunder don't win the NBA Finals a lot of blame will land on their young point guard.

A trade that has a foundation of Rondo for Russell Westbrook is a viable option. Why?

Rondo is the best traditional point guard in the league: unselfish, incredible passing ability, tough defensive presence, quick and can finish at the rim if he needs to.

Like Rondo, Westbrook is young and talented. But Westbrook is a scorer and alongside the league's premiere scorer: Kevin Durant. The Thunder will be better off with a Rondo-type point guard because something is wrong when the scoring champion is not getting the most shots on his team.

As for the Celtics, they will need a scorer for the future. Pierce is slowly fading and has shown he is more than willing to share shots (hence the acquisition of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007) unlike one Kobe Bean Bryant.

If that doesn't work out, the Celtics are more than happy with their energetic young star. If he improves his jump shot this offseason, then he could easily be one of the best players in the NBA.

Shooting Guard: Avery Bradley

Ray Allen will be gone.

Other teams are attracted to one of the NBA's best pure shooters, and the Celtics shouldn't overpay an aging Ray Allen because they have Avery Bradley waiting in the wings.

Although NBA fans may only know Bradley as the defensive specialist the Celtics lost to injury during the playoff series against the 76ers, Bradley had an excellent finish to the 2012 regular season, as well.

During the month of April, he averaged 15 points on more 50 percent shooting on field goals and from beyond the arc.

Not only that but he had six games scoring over 17 points and put up 28 against the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks. Bradley is an inexpensive option at only $1.6 million in the short term and will be a solid guard for the future who can run the point if the Celtics decide to trade Rondo for a scorer.

The 21-year-old had an excellent first full season, and the Celtics should be very optimistic of his ability to contribute in 2012-13.

Small Forward: Paul Pierce

In his career as a Celtic, Pierce has won an NBA championship, been named to the All-Star team 10 times and averaged 22 points in more than 1,000 games played in the green and white.

And the funny thing is he grew up rooting for the rival Los Angeles Lakers.

Pierce is under contract for the next two seasons and will be making more than $30 million during that time period. That may be overpaying their star, but Pierce has earned it. The Celtics should respect the Celtic great.

While Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen jumped in on the fun when the Celtics were good, Pierce had endured some difficult years during the prime of his career in Boston and stayed loyal when he could have demanded a trade.

A Hall of Fame-bound forward, Pierce has scored more points in his career than Celtic legend Larry Bird.
Even though the 2002 scoring champion may be in the twilight of his career, he can still play.

Power Forward: Brandon Bass

Kevin Garnett will likely no longer be a Celtic come 2012-13. He had a solid season this year and will command a large paycheck.

With his age, the Celtics should not go out of their way to keep Garnett. If he is willing to stay on a one- or two-year deal for around $10 million per year, the Celtics should jump on that offer.

The reality is that other teams who want the winning attitude and overall ability of Garnett are probably willing to overpay him.

And let's not forget that Brandon Bass was a vital player in the Celtics 2012 playoff run.

The 27-year-old did opt out of a $4 million player option to become an unrestricted free agent, but his agent Tony Dutt told CSNNE.com that Boston is "definitely where Brandon wants to be."

He is a solid defensive big man with a decent mid-range game.

The Celtics would be wise to re-sign the 6'8" power forward/center that had a 27 point Game 5 performance against the 76ers in the second round of the playoffs.

Center: Chris Kaman

The Celtics will peruse the free agent market for a big man. Roy Hibbert would be an excellent option, but the Pacers have the restricted free agent in their power and would be crazy not to re-sign him.

There are other good bigs available like Brook Lopez, JaVale McGee and Spencer Hawes, but the Celtics probably won't be able to pry those players out of the hands of the teams they played for in 2012.

The New Orleans Hornets, however, should not be interested in re-signing seven-footer Chris Kaman.

As is obvious by now, it is nearly a guarantee that the Hornets will draft hopeful franchise player Anthony Davis in the 2012 NBA Draft.

The former Kentucky star will command big money and Chris Kaman made nearly $13 million in 2012, which should discourage the Hornets from re-signing him.

That is a high price tag, but in a league starved for good centers, the Celtics would be wise to grab him.
At 30 years old, he is a solid all-around post player who averaged 13 points and eight rebounds last season.

With additional cap space after the losses of two of the Big Three, the Celtics should be able to come to an agreement Chris Kaman.

NBA Finals 2012: Will the Next Great Coach Arise?

In a star-studded NBA Finals, OKC coach Scott Brooks and Miami coach Erik Spoelstra are looking to make a name for themselves.

Spoelstra (or “Spo” as he is affectionately known as) is best known for being the protégé of coaching legend Pat Riley.

Scott Brooks, coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, is a former NBA point guard who jumped around the league, playing for six different teams in his 11-year playing career from 1988-1999.

On November 22, 2008, Brooks became the Thunder's interim head coach. As the 2008-09 season came to a conclusion, Brooks was named head coach of an extremely young and talented OKC squad. GM Sam Presti praised Brooks for “fostering accountability…[and possessing] the ability to communicate” in the Thunder locker room.

While he may be a newcomer to the head coaching scene, Scott Brooks gained the respect of his players quickly. In his first full season as a head coach, he earned the NBA Coach of the Year award.

Brooks was able to manage a host of young talent effectively—something that could have easily gone awry considering the egos involved.

Kevin Durant certainly deserves credit here, as well.  His quiet, humble nature somewhat calmed the personalities of players like Russell Westbrook. If the star of the show was calm, cool and collected, there was no reason for anyone else to disturb the good thing they had going.

On the other hand, Spoelstra [tries to] manage a bunch of personalities in Miami. But Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports quotes Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls as saying “They’re Hollywood as hell.”

That doesn’t surprise anyone, really. The first thing Wade, James and Bosh did when they united in Miami was throw a party like they had just won the finals.

Coach Spoelstra does deserve a tremendous amount of respect for being the first Filipino-American head coach in the NBA, but he only has so much control of his three superstars. Not to mention that at times he seems to be baffled by opposing superstars (see Rajon Rondo in the Eastern Conference Finals).

Spo came into a team that was filled with veteran players and has had a tougher time earning the respect of Heat players. To this day, if you watch the Miami huddle in timeouts, you can often see the eyes of players like LeBron James wandering away from Spoelstra and his clipboard.

That doesn’t happen when Doc Rivers is yelling at his guys to bear down or when Gregg Popovich is demanding Duncan & Co. to get “nasty.”

And of course there was the incident with Dwyane Wade.

Although the heated exchange was undoubtedly blown out of proportion, suffice it to say that Wade would never challenge Pat Riley in that manner.

Regardless of prior successes and failures, both coaches have led their respective franchises past some well-respected teams. Now they look to have their name etched in NBA history as a champion.

The reality is neither coach appears to be the next Phil Jackson or Pat Riley, but they have talent like few other teams in the NBA.

Don’t be surprised to see these two coaches combine for more than a couple titles in the next decade (unless, of course, the Heat lose and Spoelstra is fired).

But that doesn’t matter to these guys, what matters is the here and now. Erik Spoelstra wants to get that elusive first title under his belt and Scott Brooks wants to get his young guns able to fire effectively.

Who will be crowned? That remains to be seen. 

The NBA champion might just come down to coaching decisions in what will be an intense series.

NBA Finals 2012: Preview and Predictions of Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Miami Heat

Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder have made it to the Finals by beating the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, and San Antonio Spurs—teams that have won 10 of the past 13 NBA championships.

LeBron and the Miami Heat proved that they weren’t going to lie down and let the Boston Celtics take a Game 7 on their home court. In an outstanding team performance where role players stepped up and Chris Bosh was 3 of 4 on three pointers, Miami is headed to the NBA Finals to face the young, talented Oklahoma City squad.

Here’s a breakdown of what will undoubtedly be a thrilling NBA Finals.


Both teams have “Big Threes,” but the NBA Finals will be a battle between the two best small forwards in the NBA.

Kevin Durant, a three-time scoring champion is going to battle three-time MVP, LeBron James. Durant is one of the best shooters in the game who also has a tremendous ability to finish at the rim. LeBron James is, well…LeBron James. By now, the NBA and their fans know what the man who put up 45 points on 19 of 26 from the field is capable of when he is at his best.

Although statistics may not tell the whole story, they certainly give us a good picture. In the playoffs these two superstars have put up incredible numbers. Look at a side-by-side comparison:

Per Game Stats
Kevin Durant
LeBron James
Free throw %
eFG %
Statisticss as of 6/10/12

Durant is a complete offensive threat but he will have LeBron James & Co. defending him—something that amounts one of the best defenses in the league.

The OKC star has shown that he can succeed against the league’s best defenders (see MWP of the LA Lakers in the conference semifinals), but LeBron has a combination of size and strength that nobody else in the NBA provides.

Similarly, Chris Bosh is an athletic big man that will defend Durant from some brief stretches. With James, Bosh, and likely Shane Battier splitting minutes guarding the scoring champion, Miami should be able to contain Durant as much as is possible with the league’s premiere scorer.

On the other side, OKC will have Durant, Sefolosha, and possibly Ibaka guard LeBron James. None of them pose significantly challenging matchups for the Miami star, but with Ibaka and Perkins defending the rim, OKC will try to contain James from scoring in the paint.

But, Chris Bosh made a tremendous impact in the last couple games of the Eastern Conference finals. In Bosh’s absence, Garnett was able to sag off Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem. Now, OKC must respect Bosh’s jumper and outside shot.

This will cause problems for the Thunder. They must either double James and Wade on drives and risk the kick out to Bosh or defend James and Wade one-on-one and hope Miami misses shots in the paint.

Who gets the edge? As great as Durant is, he isn’t in the prime of his career, like LeBron. To the dismay of LeBron haters, James has proven he can perform in clutch games this postseason. He is under constant scrutiny and has come up big.

Reading The Hunger Games does not legitimately exemplify LeBron’s drive to win a title. Regardless, he has that drive now. He has not forgotten how the NBA Finals ended last year.

He won’t let it happen again.

Edge: Miami Heat

Battle of the Big Threes

Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade are the other four players that round out Oklahoma City and Miami’s “Big Threes.”

19 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 for 4 on three-pointers shows that Chris Bosh has returned from his injury ready to go. Dwyane Wade, on the other hand, has had a problem in the first half during games in the playoffs.

Wade may be the Achilles heel of the Heat. If he starts off slowly against the Thunder, Miami will be in trouble.

For OKC, Westbrook and Harden have been performing impressively. They have combined to average just less than 40 points per game during the playoffs, helping take the pressure off Kevin Durant.

Even though Westbrook and Harden have played well this postseason, Chris Bosh adds a dimension to Miami’s scoring capabilities that the Thunder’s Big Three does not have. Serge Ibaka has the ability to hit mid-range shots, but Bosh excels in that area.

For that reason, the “others” in the Big Threes favor the team from South Beach.

Edge: Miami Heat

Defense and Coaching

Miami has only allowed 100 points in two of 18 games this postseason. OKC has allowed the scoreboard to hit three digits four times in 15 games.

While Miami’s offense has been inconsistent at times, they are solid defensively. The Wade rejection of Brandon Bass and the James steal in Game 7 are two examples of superb defensive plays in Miami.

That couples with the versatility of Battier, James, Bosh, and Wade overcome the lack of a true center in Miami.

On the other hand, the interior for OKC is incredible. Perkins and Ibaka are two of the best big men in the league.

There is a catch, though. Ibaka and Perkins can be painful to watch offensively. Perkins has missed lay-ups and Ibaka’s 11 for 11 shooting performance in Game 4 vs. San Antonio was an exception, not the norm.

OKC has no choice but to go small against a potent Miami offense thus negating their edge in interior defense.

In terms of coaching, it is an opportunity for Erik Spoelstra and Scott Brooks to make a name for themselves. Neither is well-established and although Spo is a protégé of legend Pat Riley, Scott Brooks has beat Greg Popovich in the playoffs—a feat in and of itself.

Overall, Miami will be able to put a better defense on the floor. That gives Miami the advantage because the two teams’ coaching is about equal.

Edge: Miami Heat

Role Players

When you got a Big Three like Miami and OKC have, who needs role players?

Just kidding.

Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem made big shots for Miami in Game 7 against the Celtics. Derek Fisher has had glimpses of his old self come out in the playoffs. Thabo Sefolosha and Daequan Cook have had combined for a couple decent performances.

The reality is, though, these teams rely on five and six man rotations.

And they have gotten this far for a reason; it isn’t players seven through 12. They may provide a temporary stress relief from the stars, but not for long.

Edge: None


This is where the NBA Finals will be won or lost. Both teams are offensive powerhouses, so games will come down to who can stay calm when the other team makes their run.

And, of course, who can hit the big shots.

Durant and LeBron will take over a couple games simply because they are so talented. If both happen to go off in the same game, what a duel NBA fans will be in for.

Both teams are hungry after making their respective deep playoff runs just last year. They may not have years of experience (save Dwyane Wade and Derek Fisher), but they haven’t forgotten the bitter taste that ended their seasons last year.

This series comes down to the 2012 NBA MVP. If he continues to perform like he has been this year, Miami will be looking good.

If he plays like he did in the Finals last year, the series may be over in five games.

LeBron won’t let that happen. He has begun to embrace a “me-first” attitude and knows his legacy hinges on winning a ring. James’ trips to the biggest stage in Cleveland and Miami have given him ample experience.

He realizes the future of the Miami Heat as we know them may depend on this title.

Now is his time.

Series: Heat over Thunder, 4-3

See this article on the Bleacher Report.

Game 7, Heat vs. Celtics: What to Expect from LeBron James

In Game 6, LeBron James put on one of the greatest playoff performances of all time.

19 for 26 is something truly special. You can do the math - that's over seventy percent. Of course he hit his shots around the basket, but he drained nearly every jumper and outside shot he took.

He was unstoppable.

Not only did he put on an offensive clinic, but to the disgust of LeBron's haters, James' performance was one of the most clutch of all time. His legacy was on the line - as was the future of the Miami Heat. People had already begun speculating how to break up the Big Three in Miami.

And many people were watching - probably hoping he would fail.

Don't forget: this amazing show was against a team that allowed less than 90 points per game in the regular season.

So what should we expect from King James in Game 7?

Well, the three-time NBA MVP has averaged over 30 points and nearly 10 assists this postseason, and if he wants to take over a game he can (and must) do it.

Dwyane Wade has been too inconsistent this postseason, and it is hard to expect an outstanding performance from the recently reactivated Chris Bosh.

We have seen that the role players perform pathetically, too. In Game 6, three-point specialist Mike Miller missed all three of his three-pointers and Udonis Haslem managed to make only two of his six shots.

With that in mind, James will be nothing short of spectacular - he knows the Heat depend on him. He may not shoot 19 of 26 - but he doesn't need to do that. If he stays within himself and makes somewhere just shy of 60 percent of his shots and goes for 35, he will be just fine.

On top of that, there is no reason why LeBron can't record a triple-double.

If he can impact the game at both ends of the floor - like he has been doing - the Celtics won't be able to stop him. Even though they may be the most playoff-experienced team left in the playoffs, the talent of LeBron James will be too much to overcome.

Last year in the playoffs, as we all know, LeBron failed to show up when it mattered most. He has already shown that he will not make the same mistake this year, with incredibly clutch performances against the Pacers and the Celtics, two teams that are more well-rounded than the Heat.

LeBron James proved that at his best, is one of the greatest players of all time - and certainly better than Kobe Bryant.

He will perform like he can, and should lead the Heat into the Finals.

Not only that, but if LeBron James keeps his mouth shut and continues to play like he wants to win a title, he will.

Yes, it's really that simple.

View this on the Bleacher Report here.

NBA Power Rankings: Top 10 NBA Players Under 25

With Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and the Big Three in Boston all in the twilight of their respective Hall of Fame careers, some may wonder if the NBA will lose popularity over the next few years.

When you look at this list of top players, you'll realize that the NBA's young guns are not only the best players under 25 (many even younger than that), but these players are also some of the best players in the game.

NBA fans have nothing to worry about—we are in good hands.

Honorable Mention

Stephen Curry, Golden State
Notable statistics (career): 44 percent three-point shooter, 90 percent free-throw shooter, 18 PPG
Ricky Rubio, Minnesota
Notable statistics (2012)11 PPG, 8 APG, 4 RPG, 2 SPG
John Wall, Washington
Notable statistics (2012)16 PPG, 8 APG, 1.4 SPG
Eric Gordon, New Orleans
Notable statistics (2011)22 PPG, 4 APG, 45 percent on field goals

10. Ty Lawson

The Nuggets point guard put on a very impressive show in 2012, leading the Nuggets to the playoffs without star Carmelo Anthony. He and the Nuggets put up a valiant fight against the playoff-experienced Los Angeles Lakers.

At 24 years old, the former North Carolina Tar Heel is known as one of the quickest players in the NBA.
If he continues playing at the level he was at during the 2012 regular season, the Nuggets can only improve.

Selected 2012 Statistics: 16 PPG / 7 APG / 4 RPG / 1.3 APG

9. James Harden

The third-best player on the talented OKC squad lands a well-earned spot in this top 10.

The 22-year-old was the Sixth Man of the Year in 2012 and would be a primary or secondary option on most other NBA teams. He is an all-around offensive threat with the ability to hit three-pointers, jump shots and shots around the basket.

Also, if you need a reminder about the clutch gene in Harden, here's a shot for you that sent the Spurs packing in a critical Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.

Selected 2012 Statistics: 17 PPG / 4 RPG / 4 APG / 1.0 SPG

8. Blake Griffin

The man is a dunking machine, we already know that. But many people fail to give him his due credit for his full capabilities as a basketball player.

His athletic ability has proven he can be a force in the paint both offensively and defensively. And he will only get better.

So even though the 23-year-old power forward may be the newest "Human Highlight Film," with hard work he may become a formidable all-around threat at 250-plus pounds. The success of the Los Angeles Clippers rides on the finishing half of what has become known as "Lob City."

The Clippers are in good hands.

Selected 2012 statistics: 21 PPG / 11 RPG / 3 APG

7. Kyrie Irving

Within the past 10 years, players like LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul have won the NBA Rookie of the Year award.

The Cleveland point guard is now in the company of those players.

Replacing LeBron James hasn't been easy, but Kyrie Irving has done as good as you can ask a 20-year-old to do. If he can improve upon a stellar 2012 campaign, Irving could easily become a top point guard in the NBA.

Selected 2012 Statistics: 19 PPG / 5 APG / 4 RPG / 1.1 SPG

6. DeMarcus Cousins

In a league that has an unquenchable thirst for post players, Cousins has proven he will be a force.

As terrible as the Sacramento Kings were in 2012, Cousins (and his double-double average) was certainly a bright spot. His personality may not win him a popularity contest anytime soon, but numbers don't lie—and Cousins put up impressive statistics.

Although it may be unlikely the Kings improve much from their 22-win season, Cousins and Tyreke Evans provide solid, young centerpieces for this rebuilding organization.

Selected 2012 Statistics: 18 PPG / 11 RPG / 1.5 SPG / 1.2 BPG

5. Andrew Bynum

The Lakers center Andrew Bynum may not be the most mature player in the NBA, but he has performed well. Aside from sporadic disappearances in the playoffs this year, Bynum looks to be a major part of the Los Angeles Lakers organization moving forward.

With Kobe Bryant's career inevitably ending within the next couple of years, the 24-year-old, 280-pound center is certainly talented enough to take over the reigns.

Whether his lack of maturity leads to the Lakers choosing to deal him remains to be seen, but he is already a top center in the NBA.

Selected 2012 Statistics: 19 PPG / 12 RPG / 1.9 BPG

4. Kevin Love

The former UCLA Bruin is one of the best power forwards in the game, and he deserves some "love" at the No. 3 spot.

Love is an underrated monster in Minnesota and stuffs the stat sheet in ways very similar to the 2012 NBA MVP. He is able to score anywhere from the post to the three-point line.

The 6'10'' power forward won the three-point contest in 2012, showing a side of his game so unique for a big man. And he is a dominant defensive presence as well, averaging over 11 rebounds per game every year after his rookie year.

At 23 years old, Love was fifth in the league in PER (player efficiency rating), behind only James, Paul, Wade and Durant.

Selected 2012 Statistics: 26 PPG / 13 RPG / 2 APG / 45 percent on field goals

3. Russell Westbrook

Although I'm certainly not one of Westbrook's No. 1 fans, the man is an elite athlete and premiere offensive threat. Averaging 24 PPG with the three-time scoring champion on your team is an impressive feat.

His ability to drive to the basket and pull up for a 15-foot jump shot are second-to-none.

The 23-year-old already has six triple-doubles in his career (including a Game 7 playoff performance in 2011). He is a two-time All-Star and will be making his first NBA Finals appearance this year.

Selected 2012 Statistics: 24 PPG / 6 APG / 5 RPG / 1.7 SPG

2. Derrick Rose

Even though he is injured right now, 23-year-old Derrick Rose is indubitably one of the best players in the NBA. He won the NBA MVP award in his third season, two years after he had won Rookie of the Year award.

He is a three-time All-Star who has also been named to the All-NBA First Team.

In a city synonymous with the most famous basketball player of all time, Rose hasn't had small shoes to fill. Expect him to be as hungry as ever to win once he can get back on the basketball court.

Selected 2012 Statistics: (in 39 games played) 22 PPG / 8 APG / 3 RPG / 1 SPG

1. Kevin Durant

This was a no-brainer. There isn't an argument out there for Kevin Durant being anywhere other than the top of the list.

He was Rookie of the Year and also is a three-time scoring champion, three-time All-Star and three-time All-NBA First Team player.

Durant has come up clutch in the 2012 playoffs, adding that vital piece to his basketball resume. And let's not forget his defense.

He may not be a top defender just yet, but guarding Kobe Bryant—and shutting him down—in key possessions in the fourth quarter of the playoffs is something worth considering if you doubt this young star's defensive capabilities.

The 23-year-old superstar has already led his team to the NBA Finals. After leading the Thunder past the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, Durant looks to solidify himself as an NBA great by winning a title this year.

Yes, he's already this good at 23. Just imagine the scoring machine four or five years from now.

Selected 2012 statistics: 28 PPG / 8 RPG / 3.5 APG / 1.3 SPG / 1.2 BPG

This article is published on B/R, as well.

The Rise of Oklahoma City: From the Ground Up (to the Gates of the NBA Finals)

After their 50 win season in 2004-05, coach Nate McMillan left the Seattle SuperSonics for a well-paying job in Portland. Once that happened, the SuperSonics dropped rapidly to the cellar of the NBA.

Averaging more than 50 losses a year for the next three seasons, the Sonics were not looking good. Clayton Bennett, an Oklahoma businessman, took on the challenge and purchased what would become the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2006.

Now, Bennett’s team is an elite organization looking to make a push for the first championship in Oklahoma City. Here is a look back to how Oklahoma City has risen from the laughing stock of the NBA to a formidable franchise.

The Rebuilding Begins

The Seattle SuperSonics were lucky to have future Hall of Famer Ray Allen for as long as they did, but after winning 66 games from the 2005-06 season to the 2006-07 season, Allen was ready to move on. The time had come for Seattle to begin the painful process of rebuilding.

Rebuilding is generally an elongated process that involves getting rid of well-paid superstars in favor of draft picks and younger talent. Many teams have problems with this process—it is a struggle. A rebuilding team needs to get good draft picks and the right balance of talent and chemistry.

Just look at the Golden State Warriors and Charlotte Bobcats, among other teams that haven't drafted well to get the rebuilding process jumpstarted.

Many people didn't think an improvement for the Seattle/OKC organization would come for a long time, but with a little bit of luck in getting good draft picks, the Thunder would rise farther and faster than anyone could have predicted.

Draft Picks

Nobody has drafted better than Oklahoma City.

In 2007, the Thunder drafted Kevin Durant, a pick that was then a risky pick at number two. According to NBC Sports, Durant was unable to bench press 185 pounds and was slower than the seven-foot big man who was taken with the No. 1 pick (Greg Oden).

Three scoring titles later, I think it’s fair to say that OKC is happy with its pick.

The very next year, the Thunder had the No. 4 pick after a 60-loss season. With it, they grabbed UCLA star point guard, Russell Westbrook. He may not be the best complement to Kevin Durant, but he has certainly emerged as an elite NBA player and a major reason why OKC is a premier team.

Later in the first round of that draft, OKC picked a big man from the Congo, Serge Ibaka. A raw talent at the time, OKC has nurtured the player his teammates call “Air Congo.” In 2012, he finished ahead ofOrlando superstar Dwight Howard in voting for Defensive Player of the Year.

How did the 2009 draft go? Oklahoma City landed the No. 3 overall pick and selected Pac-10 Player of the Year, James Harden. The basketball version of “Fear the Beard” has become an aggressive scorer and would be a primary or secondary option on most other teams. He won Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2012.

In all honesty, can you do it any better? Three of the Thunder’s five starters were drafted by OKC.
Maybe Charlotte owner Michael Jordan will hold out hope for his Bobcats because Oklahoma City is proof that you can create a great team if you draft the right prospects.

A Bright Young Coach

Nate McMillan looked like he had Seattle headed in the right direction. But he followed the money and left for the Trail Blazers in ‘05—ironically, the team would draft Greg Oden over Kevin Durant.

Over the next four seasons, the Thunder hired and fired three coaches (Bob Weiss, Bob Hill, and P.J. Carlesimo). None of those coaches won half of the games that Seattle/OKC played under them.

In 2008, the Thunder front office promoted assistant coach and former NBA point guard, Scott Brooks.
Originally only an interim coach, Brooks has become one of the league’s best coaches, which is validated by his deep playoff runs the past couple years and the 2009-10 NBA Coach of the Year Award.

A Small Market with a Large Fan Base

Anybody who was worried that Oklahoma City was no place for basketball has been proven completely wrong. The deafening roar at Chesapeake Energy Arena is one of the loudest in the entire league.

No team wants to go to the arena that houses the team with the third best home record behind onlyMiami and San Antonio.

With no other major sports franchise in Oklahoma City, the fans there live and die by their Thunder. The energy combination of the young OKC players and their diehard fans is an extremely difficult proposition for any visiting team to overcome.

A Championship Caliber Team

No current coach has been in the NBA longer than the San Antonio Spurs' Gregg Popovich. So when someone of Popovich's stature—two-time coach of the year and four-time NBA champion—says that a team is a "championship team," he isn't joking around.

That is exactly what he said in post-game interview about the Thunder.

Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder have beaten the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakersin the playoffs this year—the two teams that won the NBA championships the past two years. They look to add the San Antonio Spurs to that list in the Western Conference Finals.

If they go on to win the championship (which isn't too much of a stretch anymore), they will have beaten four of the top teams in the league. It'll be the ultimate culmination that OKC has done it right.

If OKC does not win, they still have many, many more opportunities. The members of the "Big Three" in OKC are all 23 years of age or younger.

They have made it from the bottom of the NBA to the elite.

View this article on Bleacher Report here.

2012 ESPYs: Making Fun of LeBron James, Tiger Woods, and More

Admit it, you love it when people fall on their face—especially when that person is an athlete who is making millions upon millions of dollars. Other than the SportsCenter segment “Not Top 10,” the ESPYs are the place to go for your dose of sports-related laughter.

According to ESPNDaily Show correspondent Rob Riggle will host the 2012 ESPYs, which means we will certainly be in for an amusing ride. Previous hosts that will show up include Samuel Jackson, Justin Timberlake and Seth Meyers. I will admit that I’m not a huge fan of Timberlake, but after watching his 2008 performance I changed my mind at least a little bit.

Having said that, nothing—absolutely nothing—compares to the hilarity Will Ferrell has brought to the Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Awards (kind of a weird name, no?). Here is a must-see classic from the 2008 ESPYs, in which Will Ferrell impersonates Tiger Woods.

Ferrell wasn’t done, either. Check out this skit he performed for that same show with John C. Reilly, co-star in their movie Step Brothers.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve replayed these videos—they never get old. Will Ferrell singlehandedly got me hooked on this show. When he showed up two years later for the 2010 ESPYs,impersonating those annoying vuvuzelas from the World Cup, I was in hysterics.

For those who have seen it, you know you probably want to watch it again. For those who haven’t seen it, you’re welcome.

Okay—that’s it for Will Ferrell, although he did do a promotion for Talladega Nights on the ESPYs which wasn’t too bad, either.

Another one of my favorites was after the infamous summer of 2010, when LeBron James made his famous, albeit arrogant, “Decision.” Seth Meyers was the host when Steve Carell did this parody.

The ESPYs attract the biggest names in sports along with the biggest celebrities, and everybody is free game for the host to poke fun at. We can definitely count on Rob Riggle to take advantage of that.

There are inspiring portions of the show as well, like the Jimmy V Award, named after the college basketball coach who gave an amazing speech while battling bone cancer. Also presented in the ESPYs are Best Male and Best Female Athlete of the Year, Best Team of the Year, and more.

So, as you have probably figured out by now, in about a month you will know where to find me: sitting down and enjoying the jokes and inspiration that the ESPYs have to offer. I humbly recommend you should be, too. 

Where: ESPN (unless you can get into the Nokia Theater in L.A. to watch it live)
When: July 11, 2012
Time: 9 p.m. ET

Completing the Comeback: Five Keys for the Boston Celtics to Put Out the Heat

In Game 3, the Boston Celtics showed the reason they are a Conference Finals team. The original “Big Three” may be a group of aging Hall of Fame bound players, but they still have some gas left in the tank. Even with Ray Allen performing at a mediocre level, Boston won their first game of the series by 10 points, and was winning by more than 20 points at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

The reality is the fate of the series is pretty much in the hands of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and the Miami Heat, but there is a Ray-jon Rondo of hope for basketball’s winningest franchise. After all, they have playoff experience second only to the San Antonio Spurs, so winning on the road in the series isn’t an unrealistic proposition.

If Boston manages to control these areas of the game, they have a chance at pulling off a huge upset. Don’t forget, the city of Boston is familiar with the greatest comeback in sports history. A trip to the Finals this year would be right up there.

1. Rajon Rondo Plays Like a Superstar

Even though he discounts it as “irrelevant” because it was in a losing effort, Rajon Rondo’s play in Game 2 was one of the best playoff performances in recent memory. 44 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds don’t even tell the whole store of the energy Rondo brought to the court.

He has been criticized for his inability to knock down a mid-range jump shot (something that has at least in part to do with his incredibly large hands), but he showed in Game 2 that could he drain jumpers. To the pleasant surprise of the Celtics, he also hit a couple shots from behind the arc.

Rondo is a triple-double threat every night and even Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he’s “not sure” how to play the Celtics superstar point guard.

Rondo doesn’t need to put up 40 for the Celtics to win because he can create good shots for his teammates as good as any player in the game. If he continues to do that at a high level and can knock down the occasional jump shot, Boston will be more than happy with his effort.

2. Role Players (like Marquis Daniels) Continue to Step Up

As is the case for virtually any playoff team, role players are key. This applies even more so to the aging Celtics.

Look not too far back in the playoffs for examples: Steve Blake hit crucial three pointers for the Lakers. In the Western Conference Finals, Thabo Sefolosha came up big for Oklahoma City; on Friday, Marquis Daniels hit some clutch shots to help Boston win Game 3.

Star players will have off nights. Dwyane Wade did last night, not shooting a single free throw for the first time since his rookie year. The Celtics have more depth than Miami with Daniels, Pietrus, Stiemsma, and Dooling coming off the bench which gives them the edge when those stars do have off nights. Doc Rivers will find whoever is hot and roll with it (no pun intended).

The only problem is that Miami has two superstars and when one isn’t playing too well, chances are the other one will pick up the slack.

3. Kevin Garnett Goes for 20 and 10

With Chris Bosh still injured, Kevin Garnett may be the number 1 key for the Celtics to win. If he mans the key with authority and can get 10 rebounds and a couple blocks, Boston will be head and shoulders ahead of the Heat in terms of interior play.

Offensively, Garnett is the best big man on the floor in the series. Garnett can hit 17-foot jump shots from all over the floor, a dangerous threat when Rajon Rondo drives and kicks to Garnett. In the post, Garnett has the ability manhandle Anthony, Haslem, and Battier. If the Celtics can spread the floor and get it to him in the post the Celtics will take control of the pace of the game, something that has proven absolutely critical against a much more athletic Miami Heat team.

The C’s need Garnett to go for about 20 and 10 in order to win, something not unreasonable considering he’s averaging 19.7 and 10.6 over the 2012 playoffs.

4. Paul Pierce Stays out of Foul Trouble

The Celtics great has fouled out in two of the past four playoff games. That simply cannot continue to happen for the Celtics to compete in this series. His scoring ability and playoff experience make him the number one choice when the Celtics need a bucket.

Also, his strength and size make him one of the best players the Celtics have to defend LeBron James. Pierce may be more than a step slower than LeBron, but in terms of defending the Miami superstar in the post, Pierce does as good of a job as anyone on the Celtics. LeBron will certainly get his fair share of points but with Garnett defending the paint and the Celtics playing good help defense, Pierce can lead the way to containing LBJ as much as possible.

5. LeBron James Slows Down

Surprised the last member of the Big Three isn’t a key factor? The Celtics just can’t count on him. During the regular season, Ray Allen shot over 45% on three point shots—the best in his career. However, the career 89 percent free throw shooter is hitting a pathetic 61 percent from the line during the playoffs. Yes, it is mainly due to the ankle injury—this dramatic decrease doesn’t happen overnight to one of the best pure shooters the NBA has ever seen. Truth is, he needs two good ankles to help the Celtics.

So we arrive at the league MVP. He is the best player in the game and as such has the ability to take over games, like he has already done many times this year in the playoffs. Not only does this series ultimately come down to the play of LeBron James, but so does the rest of the playoffs.

If the Celtics can stop him or if he pulls a disappearing act like he did in the fourth quarter of last year’s finals, then the Celtics have a shot at delaying the end of an era for just a bit longer. If LeBron plays to his ability, we may be watching the final games of a trio that has revolutionized how the NBA builds successful teams.

You can check out this article in slideshow form at Bleacher Report here.

Kevin Durant Will Go Off: Bold Predictions for Game 4, Spurs vs. Thunder

The Thunder proved in Game 3 that they will not just roll over and put a halt to the Spurs 20 game winning streak, which included sweeps in the first two rounds of the playoffs over the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. A large part of the success that OKC had in Game 3 was due to their incredible home court advantage. While watching the game, your television is enveloped by a sea of blue to combine with the deafening chants of OKC pulling for their young stars.

Kevin Durant had a modest 22 points in Game 3, something that will surely change. Look for him to go off in Game 4. His youth and talent are energized by the incredible home court advantage, and that is a dangerous threat considering he is a three time scoring champion. He could easily put on a 40 point show.

OKC’s number two, Russell Westbrook, probably feeds off of the crowd more than any player on the team. His numbers in Game 3 don’t fully represent the tremendous impact he had on the game, but he should be able to rack up 25 points in Game 4.

With a combination of Derek Fisher, Thabo Sefolosha, and James Harden coming off the bench, someone will step up. San Antonio will lock in on Sefolosha, the most valuable player for the Thunder in Game 3, which will limit his impact. This will open up opportunities for Fisher, who was on fire in Game 1, and Harden, who will provide enough diversion to help Durant have a big night. Fisher and Harden will chip in 25 to 30 points.

Although it is looking grim, I did pick the Thunder to make it to the NBA Finals before the playoffs begun. Game 4 should give me some false hope. Whether or not they can win in San Antonio is in large part in the hands of their young point guard, something I think does not bode well for Thunder fans. However, the combination of the young talent at home looks good for Scott Brooks’ squad for tomorrow night. OKC will win Game 4 by at least 10 points.

(See this article on Bleacher Report here.)

Top 10 San Francisco Giants Players of All Time

The Giants franchise has the most Hall of Famers (23) and franchise wins in MLB history. They were briefly known as the New York Gothams in the 1800s until they became the New York Giants before moving to San Francisco in 1958. Here is a list of the top 10 players to don the San Francisco uniform, which you can also see published on the Bleacher Report.

10. Matt Williams

The Nevada native played college ball at UNLV before being taken with the third overall pick in the 1986 draft.

Although many people may remember Matt Williams as a member of the Diamondbacks 2001 World Series championship, he played a strong left side of the infield for the Giants from 1987 through 1996.

“Matt the Bat” played on the 1989 World Series (losing) Giants team and had over 1000 hits and nearly 250 home runs as a Giant.

He won three Gold Gloves and appeared as an All-Star four time as a Giant.

9. Robb Nen

Robb Nen was one of the most feared closers of the steroid era, something that shows the true talent the Giants enjoyed closing out ballgames. His fastball hit the high 90s and his slider was just nasty. The three time Giant All-Star played in San Francisco for five years until retiring after the 2002 season because of rotator cuff injuries.

The all-time Giants saves leader is in the top 20 saves leaders of all-time and had a 2.43 ERA over 365 appearances for San Francisco. His name appears three times in the top 5 single season save totals for the Giants.

And oh by the way, in his Giants tenure he had a 10.8 SO/9 ratio and struck out more than four batters per walk allowed.

8. Will Clark

Will the Thrill was the pre-Barry Bonds star of San Francisco. His sweet swing gave him another prestigious nickname, “The Natural.”

Clark was drafted by the Giants organization in 1985 and began playing for them when Bonds was a rookie on the Pirates in 1986. Staying with the career parallelisms with Bonds, he played in the City by the Bay through Bonds first year on the Giants (1993).

He was second in MVP voting in 1989 and made five All-Star appearances for San Fran. He hit as many as 35 HR in a single season and had three seasons of 100+ RBI. A very well liked Giant, Clark fits nicely into San Francisco’s top players.

7. Gaylord Perry

Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991, Perry wore the San Francisco jersey for 10 years in the 60s and early 70s. During that time he sported a solid 2.96 ERA to go with 134 wins, 21 shutouts, and a 6.3 SO/9 ratio in over 2,200 IP. Over his career, he would win more than 300 games and total over 3,000 strikeouts.

He earned a spot on the NL All Star team twice while on the Giants and was known for throwing a “spit ball” that spun unpredictably and tied up hitters. Gene Tenace, Perry's catcher when the two played for San Diego, told the New York Times: "I can remember a couple of occasions when I couldn't throw the ball back to him because it was so greasy...I just walked out to the mound and flipped the ball back to him."

6. Orlando Cepeda

Cepeda’s nine years in the 50s and 60s began with the Rookie of the Year Award in 1958 and culminated with his induction into the Hall of Fame.

The 11-time All-Star has his number (30) retired in the Giants organization. Sadly he didn’t win an MVP award until joining the St. Louis Cardinals (1967) but his .308 average and nearly 1,300 hits, 200+ home runs, and 750+ RBIs as a Giant earn him a spot in every Giants fans recollection of the greatest Giants.

5. Tim Lincecum

Even though "The Freak" hasn't been doing too well this year, his contribution to the 2010 Giants World Series win earns him a spot in the heart of San Francisco’s best. Hopefully he can turn it around and get his ERA this year back in the respectable range, but don’t forget in his first three seasons in the majors he earned two Cy Young awards.

Also a four-time All-Star, Timmy currently has the Giants all-time record for strikeouts per 9 IP and is making his way up the top 10 list in strikeouts for San Francisco. In his heyday, Lincecum had a dirty changeup to complement his blazing fastball.

If you haven’t already seen his quirky delivery (taught to him by his father), check it out in slow motion.

4. Juan Marichal

The Dominican Dandy was known for more than just his famous leg kick. He won more games than any other pitcher in the 1960s and collected eight All-Star appearances in those ten years.
He would have gotten even more recognition if there weren’t two other dominating starting pitchers in the wild 60s – a couple guys named Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson.

If you haven’t seen his leg kick, here it is in all of its glory.

3. Willie McCovey

Willie Mac played nearly two decades for the San Francisco Giants. His powerful stroke was a dominant force in the middle of the Giants lineup in the 60s.

A member of the 500 home run club, he won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1959. A decade later, he won the NL MVP award , leading the league with 45 HR and 126 RBI.

The 6-time All-Star was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986 and left a lasting impression on San Francisco. The Giants appropriately retired his #44 and the water behind right field, McCovey Cove, also honors this Giant great.

2. Willie Mays

The Say Hey Kid is one of the most legendary players in the game, not just the Giants organization.

His famouse play, "The Catch," occured in the 1954 World Series when Mays was playing for the New York Giants. It was the final World Series the Giants organization would win in the 20th century. (They would have to wait until 2010 to get their first title in San Francisco.) I think it’s fair to say Willie Mays made the transition to San Francisco in 1958 quite smoothly.

In his 2,857 games as a San Francisco Giant—which is the most of any Giant—Mays leads the team in career home runs, runs scored, hits, total bases, and doubles, among many other statistics. The 24 time All-Star is currently fourth on the list of career home runs with 660 big flys. He was also a 12-time Gold Glove Award winner, 2-time NL MVP, and member of the 3,000 hit club (3,283 hits to be precise).

The Giants retired number 24 in his honor, and I think it’s fair to say that gesture is well deserved.

1. Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds is undoubtedly the greatest player to play in San Francisco – after all, he is arguably one of the greatest players to ever play the game. The most feared hitter of his generation, Giants fans had a blast watching him hit bombs into McCovey Cove. As a reminder of his greatness, just look these numbers:

762 Career Home Runs *
2558 Career Walks *
73 Home Runs in 2001 **
12X Silver Slugger Award Winner
7X National League MVP
14X All-Star
688 Career Intentional Walks *
232 Walks in a Single Season (2004) **
2,935 Career Hits
514 Career Stolen Bases
(* indicates all-time record; ** indicates single season record)

The list goes on and on. Yes, he took steroids, but that doesn’t override the fact that he was the single best player for San Francisco. Whether or not he is a Hall of Famer is a whole different discussion (of which you can read my opinion here).

He wasn’t exactly the most likable guy either, but his presence on the baseball field was simply legendary.