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Sam Miguel

  1. The Trade

    The Cleveland Cavaliers are becoming the NBA franchise for milestone events in the Internet Age.

    First there was "The Decision". Then came "The Return". Now we have "The Trade".

    The first two events centered around LeBron James, without a doubt the biggest damn star in all of Cleveland sports history, no disrespect meant to Mr James Brown.

    That third event though, that is something that has gotten quite the buzz.

    Allow me to explain, Praxedes:

    Kyrie Irving, the top pick of the 2011 NBA Rookie Draft, an All Star and USA Basketball stalwart, asked Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to trade him a couple months back, reportedly because he "wanted to be more of the focal point" according to media articles and features.

    Fair enough, a man can certainly make his own decisions regarding his career.

    Fast forward to less than a few hours ago (as of this writing) and that trade has been consummated.

    Who did Cleveland get for Irving?

    Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and an unprotected 2018 draft pick.

    Thomas, picked 60th and last in the same draft where Irving went first overall, became a bona fide superstar last season, at one point averaging 30 points per game and eventually settling down to a little over 28 ppg.

    Had this been a one-for-one trade nobody would be talking about it much. After all, it was basically score-first superstar point guards swapping places.

    But the Celtics threw in Crowder, a lottery draftee, who is one of the best two-way players in the league and a top defender at both forward spots. They also threw in Zizic, still a work in progress as another 7-foot project but one with pretty good upside according to scouts.

    But the ultimate throw-in is that 2018 unprotected draft pick.

    Praxedes, do you know how Boston got that pick?

    They got that pick during their massive housecleaning that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets. Yes, those Brooklyn Nets, a team so bad that draft pick could easily be a Top 5 player in a draft year projected to be top heavy with the likes of Marvin Bagley III and Mohamed Bamba among those the Cavaliers could take.

    For one Kyrie Irving.

    Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge seems to think Irving is worth it. "You want a high quality player you have to pay a high price," he said in one interview.

    But is this a price that is too high?

    Ainge has built a reputation as an executive who has generally managed talent very well in Boston and everywhere else he's been. How did Cleveland get him to give up so much for Irving?

    Truth be told Irving and Thomas are certainly one of a type: score-first, clutch-shooting point guards who need the ball in their hands a lot, and both aren't exactly known for their defense. Irving in particular put up career numbers last season with over 25 ppg while shooting a little over 40% from three-range. He hit the title-clinching three in Game 7 of their historic resurrection from 1-3 down to Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals.

    Yet his defensive metrics can charitably be described as "mediocre".

    Thomas for his part went on a tear last season and might have made even more noise is the playoffs were it not for a hip injury.

    For all his greatness, Thomas is still just 5-foot-9, and players that small tend not to last very long, playing at that level, in the league.

    So it was the throw-ins that really made this a fleecing for Cleveland, fleecing the fleecer as it were.

    And as fate would have it, or maybe it really was part of the plan, Cleveland and Boston take on each other on opening night this October 17.

    I guess, Praxedes, we will find out right away who really fleeced who then, eh?
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  2. Yes Internet, He Is The Best

    We could go on and on about the numbers posted by Lebron James in the recently concluded NBA Finals. Even the haters (God I hate that word... Does that make me one too?) have to concede that the man just flat out did every damn thing in these Finals.

    In the end it wasn't enough. Golden State rode the bullet train of destiny and won their second title in 40 years, fourth as a franchise overall. They did it primarily behind the brilliance of Steve Kerr, a man who always had a coaching career in his cards. He became the second man after Pat Riley to win an NBA championship in his first year as a head coach. He did it by selling a system that seemed too gimmicky, all of that constant movement and passing and outside shooting and running and gunning. "We had to get guys these guys to buy into the system, because they had gotten so used to the previous system," Kerr said in one interview.

    It felt too much like the Nash-D'Antoni Suns all over again, and we all know that did not go very far either. Yet this time around it worked. Steph Curry became the league MVP and showed the wholw world you don't necessarily have to be the prototypical stud athlete tearing down the rim every time to win the world championship. "We just had to stick to the plan, stick to the way we play, and it worked," said Curry in one post-title media session.

    It is a well-deserved, hard-worked-for title. In the midst of all that championship joy, after the outcome had all but been decided save for a couple of freethrows, in the dying seconds of Game 6 on the Cleveland homecourt, we now look to the other side.

    James had shaken hands and hugged the Warriors, Coach Kerr, and the other staff there. There was no need to ask how he felt at that moment.

    James is one of those sports figures in the Internet age that just seems to polarize everybody. You either love him or you hate him. Or you report on him. It is hard to believe he is in his 12th NBA season, that he is already 30 years of age. He just still seems so... Good. Heck, he is, as he stated, the best player in the world.

    Let's go back to that statement for a while.

    He said it after Game 5, when the Warriors had once again held tough to preserve the win and come within another win of the championship.

    The Internet went nuts with that one.

    Walk the walk.

    Money where your mouth is.

    Championships are won with play, not with words.

    Make baskets, not excuses.

    As the Internet continued on and on taking James apart for that statement, coming as it did off a very important loss, and with his fourth Finals failure looming, it suddenly came to me.

    To hell with the Internet.

    If you really, actually, objectively think about it, James really is the best damn basketball player alive today.

    Think about it. The man is 6-foot-8, 6-foot-9, 260, maybe 270 pounds. He is a freak athlete who runs like a freight train, can jump out of the gym, and plays with a superior skill level, especially at his size. He's essentially a power forward with guard skills. He fills up entire stat sheets. When his two All Star teammates went down with injuries in this postseason, he quite literally carried these Cavaliers by himself. All the way to the Finals mind you.

    Even the blasted bookies thought that this series would be a foregone conclusion. Joe told me P1,000 on the Warriors would only win P300. While P1,000 on the Cavaliers would win P1,800. For guys who make a living making sure they always win, that was a heck of a long set of odds to trot out.

    Yet somehow the Cavaliers were able to stretch this to a six-game series, even after star pointguard Kyrie Irving went out for for good in the midst of Game 1. Again, forget the actual numbers. Who the heck do you think even gave Cleveland a chance in these Finals? With some 20-something seconds left in Game 6 it was only 101-97. That was how close this all was. You think it was that close because of Tristan Thompson or Matt Dellavedova?

    Then I go back to how much the Internet savaged him for that "best player in the world" statement.

    What more could he do?

    You wanted him to score more? Like what, maybe he should've scored a minimum of 60 every game?

    You wanted him to rebound and defend more?

    You wanted him to pass more? Involve his teammate more?

    For cryin' out loud, did you see his numbers in these Finals?

    He failed to inspire his teammates.

    Seriously?

    How much do you think even the best of inspiration can do for a guy shooting 28% from the field? You think inspiration will suddenly make you a better shooter? Or take you out of a slump?

    Inspire his teammate for f---'s ...
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  3. There's Fight In Them Thar Spurs (Finals Version)

    People tend to forget that the San Antonio Spurs are one of only five current franchises that have active NBA championship experience. That means they still have a number of the significant players that allowed them to capture the NBA world championship. Center-forward Tim Duncan, off-guard Manu Ginobili and point guard Tony Parker are all still around from the the Black and Silver's last title squad from 2007. The now-31-year old Parker was a 25-year old water bug back then, and he was the youngest of the San Antonio Big 3. Perhaps only their longtime Western Conference nemesis the Los Angeles Lakers can claim to have as many key stars with that much championship experience.

    Parker and Company are now up 2 - 1 against the Miami Heat in this year's NBA Finals. In Game 3 they handed the Heat their collective South Beach asses 113 - 77. But unlike previous Spurs championship games, this time it was the unsung, unheralded role players that led the way. Guard Danny Green led all scorers with 27 points. Another guard, Gary Neal, added 24 markers. Forward Kawhi Leonard, the revelation of the season, had 14 points and 12 rebounds and continues to be the straightjacket of LeBron James.

    Truth be told it really didn't look like it would be a blowout in the first half, with both teams playing in spurts. San Antonio would go a run, build a lead, then Miami would chase it down, get the lead back, then lose it again on a Spurs run, and on and on it went throughout the first 24 minutes. It should have been an omen though, that the Spurs ended the first half with a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Neal to give his side a six-point lead. He eventually wound up with a half dozen of San Antonio's NBA Finals record 16 three-pointers. That accounted for 48 points right there. Back to back three-pointers from the Spurs late in the fourth and final quarter made it a 30-point bulge for the first time at 103-71. Before that, the Spurs totally owned the third quarter, with 6-foot-10 utility forward Matt Bonner, another role player, getting Neal going by playing a kick out and shoot game. Using Bonner's picks Neal nailed back-to-back treys to give the Spurs the 84-63 lead late in the third.

    “Huge win for us. It was just an all-around great team effort,” Duncan stated after the game. “We get our butts handed to us last game, and they played really well, and we came back here and change it up and just put together a great game all around,” he added. A lot of people tend to forget Duncan already has four championship rings himself, and is arguably still at least a Top 5 big man in the league.

    San Antonio head coach Greg Popovich had nothing but praise for his starting center, the man he's ridden to the NBA title four times prior. “Just because (Duncan’s) a little older doesn’t mean he’s lost his competitiveness or his professional will to compete,” Popovich said during media availability. “That’s not going to stop, and we all saw it out there today,” Popovich added. Teams that held a 2-1 edge in the NBA Finals have gone on all the way to win the title 11 out of 12 times. Guess who the only team was that failed to take a 2-1 lead all the way to the championship? Here's a hint: they had their asses handed to them in this Game 3.

    As much fight as them thar Spurs have shown, it looks like the Heat have been anything but, and might in fact have flashes of the Dallas Mavericks and their 2011 NBA Finals debacle fleeting before their eyes. Dirk Nowitzki and Dallas won their one and only NBA title against these self-same Big 3 Heat two years ago. And those Mavericks literally relied on Nowitzki's shooting and scoring to carry them, unlike the Spurs who collectively and relentlessly jab, prod, then grab and hold and tap opposing teams into submission.

    With Leonard all over him, James must be feeling a lot like it really is 2011 all over again. Leonard's unique combination of height, length, speed and strength were scientifically verified by sports scientists and biomechanical specialists as perfect for defending the 6-foot-9 260-pound league MVP. And while Leonard is the man specifically tasked with guarding James, once again it has been the total effort of Popovich and his coaching staff that has the Spurs defending as a team.

    James might eventually overpower or otherwise overcome Leonard. It would however be far more difficult for him to do the same against all five Spurs on the floor. While Leonard was his shadow, the other four guys on the floor were funneling James into trap zones along the sideline to take away his driving game. They helped and rotated and switched and recovered the minute he jab-stepped to indicate an attack to the rim, and dared him to beat them with his jumpshot. James wound up with a measly 15 points and made only about a third of his attempts. He and fellow All Star Dwayne Wade combined to ...
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  4. There's Fight in Them Thar Spurs!

    Six years is an awfully long time in the sporting world, especially in the realm of basketball. In six years two summer and two winter Olympics could have come and gone. A player could've played out at least two full multi-year mid-level contracts. Certainly at least three or four NBA champions could have reigned and been dethroned. Six years is also how long it has been since the San Antonio Spurs last won the NBA world championship. A little word about that: I personally think the best basketball on the planet is still being played in the NBA by the planet's best players. So whoever wins the NBA championship is in my book the one, true world champion of basketball, with all due respect to the Olympic gold medal team and the FIBA World champions.

    San Antonio, riding high on the multinational trio of center-forward Tim Duncan, swingman Manu Ginobili and pointguard Tony Parker, have won four NBA titles already: 2007, 2005 and 2003. Their first title in 1999 came with their version of twin towers when center David Robinson was in the twilight of his career just as Duncan was an up and coming sueprstar.

    Truth be told no one in his right mind would have bet on teh venerable old Spurs even advancing this far, much less having a legitimate shot at winning their fifth title. "At the beginning of the season it was all about the LA Lakers, and their wall to wall All Stars, and how they would win it all. We all know what happened after opening day," mused one long-time assistant coach from a rival Western Conference team. "(Coach) Greg Popovich and (General Manager) RC Buford should be canonized. They worked miracles with this franchise," he added.

    Duncan and Ginobili are both pushing 40. Ginobili even spent a good portion of the season in sick bay, returning just in time for the Western Conference Playoffs. No one expected him to contribute worth a damn, much less be a factor. Parker also had bouts of injury throughout the season. Their supporting cast does not seem all that special: Matt Bonner, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, DeJuan Blair, Cory Joseph... Who the hell are these guys? Tracy McGrady is here as well, but is but a mere shadow of the man who was once an All Star and scoring machine.

    Yet they have gone 12-2 in these playoffs, sweeping the injury-ravaged Lakers in the first round, finding a way to beat the dynamic Golden State Warriors in six games in the second round, and sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies in the conference finals. Memphis had upset the then topseeded San Antonio in the first round two years ago. Oklahoma used their speed and athleticism to overcome a 0-2 deficit to San Antonio in last year's conference finals. As much as they could still pile up the regular season wins and get good playoff seeding, the Spurs just didn't seem to have it in them anymore to win another title. Try telling anybody that now. "It feel good. You don't expect that to happen this late in the game with the same group. It's tough to do, to maintain something for that long," Popovich said after their Game 4 sweep.

    Indeed the Big 3 of the Spurs perhaps never felt so young. Duncan, at 37 nearly old as sin in NBA years, was huge in the overtime victories for Game 2 and Game 3. He had 24 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in Game 3, vintage Duncan, as if he was 10 years younger. Parker had a playoff-high 37 points in their Game 4 victory, shooting 15-21 from the field in that 93-86 win. Ginobili hit clutch basket after clutch basket to keep the Grizzlies at bay anytime they threatened to come back. "These guys have been winning together for so long, they just know how to get it done," said Stephen Curry, the superstar guard and leader of Golden State.

    As for the rest of the Spurs, Splitter was instrumental in containing the otherwise prolific Zach Randolph, preventing the brawny Memphis power forward from establishing his low post game. Leonard and Green helped open up defenses with shooting and driving hard to the rack. Blair and Bonner provided rebounding coverage and scoring in the lane whenever Duncan needed to sit. Popovich and Buford just have a knack for finding the right kind of talent to keep their payroll reasonable but their winning percentage high.

    Now the Spurs have returned to familiar territory, a territory in which they have never lost in their four previous trips. Six years is an awfully long time to be out of the championship fight, but make no mistake these guys are raring to go. No team has ever beaten these Spurs in the NBA Finals. They will face either reigning champion Miami, or surprisingly tough Indiana in the NBA Finals. Both teams are tied at two games apiece in their Eastern Conference Finals match. Whoever they will face, no one is betting against the Spurs anymore, old or not. "Timmy is getting old, and we gotta get it done for him," Parker said with a big smile. "It would be nice ...
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  5. The Young Are Not Restless

    It is the triumph of youth in the 2012 NBA FInals, with the Oklahoma City Thunder representing the West and the Miami Heat carrying the East. It has been a long time since the NBA has seen a marquee matchup of this sort, the reigning league MVP LeBron James going head to head versus scoring champion Kevin Durant.

    Both teams are young, with the just-about-30 year old Dwayne Wade as the resident geezer in this pack. Wade, the man who won the first NBA championship in franchise history for Miami in 2006, is joined by fellow members of that great draft class of 2003. James of course was the high school phenom out of the great state of Ohio who went straight to the pros. Chris Bosh was in that class as well. All three came together last year in South Beach, in what many said would be a championship team for the ages. Things have not quite worked out as planned. Bosh and James are also pushing 30 but are in their hoops prime. This is a Big 3 looking to go for all the marbles right now and into the near future.

    Oklahoma City is even younger, with all their key stars at 24 years or younger. This is a team that will likely dominate the NBA landscape for the next decade or so, establishing a new dynasty. That they beat the more experienced Heat 105-94 in Game 1 of the Finals is already a major step toward that. Durant is simply a freak of nature, a 6-foot-11, long-limbed jumping jack who can play all five positions just like Magic Johnson a generation ago. He is joined in their youth core by guard Russel Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka and newly-crowned NBA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden. Steadying the ship are veterans pointguard Derek Fisher, late of the Los Angeles Lakers, and center Kendrick Perkins.

    Oklahoma took a relatively easier route to these Finals, losing only three times in the Western Conference Playoffs while bouncing erstwhile champion Dallas, the Lakers and the aging San Antonio Spurs. Miami had to fight through a 2-3 series deficit in their Eastern Conference Finals versus the tough and battle-hardened Boston Celtics, as that series went the full seven games. They reactivated Bosh only in that Game 7 after he suffered through an abdominal muscle injury.

    Oklahoma is a deeper team with springs for legs. They can easily run right past or jump over any other NBA team, which they showed throughout the playoffs. They certainly made these heat look older than they are with all the running and jumping they did in Game 1. Ibaka and Durant had easily the best dunks done with total impunity in opponents' faces in a Finals series since Shaquille O'Neal was in a Lakers uniform. But the prettiest shot to my mind was when Westbrook made a stop-on-a-dime pull-up jumper in transition that found nothing but the bottom of the net. It was a display of pure athletic prowess that the Heat simply were unable to match.

    This Game 1 showed not just the best players in the world going at it. It also showed why a team game beats sueprstar isolation plays every time. While Miami insisted on all manner of high post, dribble drive and isolation plays featuring James or Wade, the Thunder barely saw the ball touch the floor in their halfcourt sets. Those end-game dunks by Nick Collison that all but giftwrapped the game for the Thunder came off simple short passes and movement without the ball. It was as if the Heat suddenly forgot what a screen-roll and a pick-roll looked like. They drove and they drove and they drove, and yet consistently ran into fast feet on the Thunder defense, cutting off driving lanes, with equally fast hands disrupting passing lanes. Sefolosha had a heck of a time picking passes that resulted into swooping dunks for his teammates.

    Durant led all scorers with 36 points. James had 30 for the Heat. Wade was woeful from the field, missing 10 or 11 of his first dozen or so shots. He still wound up with 19 points and eight assists, but was practically invisible in the second half, leaving James to try and fight the Thunder on his own. Wade insisted in the post-game that he'll do better in Game 2. Durant and Westbrook seemed too polite in the wake of probably the biggest win of their young careers.

    Game 2 will be another raucous night in Oklahoma City. These finalists may be young, but they are far from restless.

 
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