Musings From a July that we Won’t Soon Forget

LeBron James Back to Cleveland

Image courtesy of foxsports.com.

It’s Sunday evening, the 13th of July and my sports mind is reeling from 72 hours of full 360 degree LeBron-mania media immersion. In a way, I feel similar to how I felt in April when the NBA and NHL playoffs were in full swing and Bubba Watson was torching his peers at Augusta. April is the best month in sports, hands down. You get the Final Four at the beginning of the month, followed by scintillating NBA and NHL postseason action. Throw in arguably the grandest and most history-laden PGA major championship, The Master’s, and it’s hard to argue that April does not sit at the top of the list.

July is one of the worst months. The NBA and NHL seasons concluded weeks ago, while baseball is still months away from being relevant and the NFL is a month away from taking our undivided attention.

If we’re baseball fans (I for one am not), we need to be honest with ourselves: the only exciting things happening in baseball these days are in this order:

  • Derek Jeter’s year-long retirement tour
  • The Orioles leading the AL East at the All Star break
  • Jose Abreu’s break-out year for the White Sox
  • The Orioles inevitably falling to the bottom of the AL East (along with the 2nd place Blue Jays) by Labor Day

Points #2 and #4 were meant to be facetious. Baseball doesn’t actually matter until the 1st week of September. April through August is merely a tune up for the last 8 weeks of play (including the postseason). Teams such as the 2013 Red Sox were left for dead at this time last year, only to get hot in late August and emerge as the World Series Champion. I’ll never forget what the Sox did for a city and region last year.

If we’re being honest about the interminable 162 game regular season schedule, the Red Sox’ play in July contributed very little to them winning the World Series in late October. Sure they worked out kinks, tinkered with lineups, unleashed different bullpen combinations and generally learned what didn’t work during this time, but you can’t tell me that games 40-60 were essential to their success in a season that stretched to 184 games (162 regular season + 22 postseason games).

This July has been tangibly different though.

For one, the World Cup has injected much needed passion into a month that is typically marred by shoddy Mets games and “Not Top 10’s” on SportsCenter highlighting every miscue imaginable on the baseball diamond.

 There’s no doubt that the World Cup is one of the most incredible sporting events on the planet. No other event brings the world together for one month, with the unbridled passion and energy that flows through each match.

Second, anytime LeBron James and free agency are intertwined, it’s bound to be a full-court media onslaught covering the pseudo news and rumors around where the best basketball player on the planet will take his talents for the 2014-2015 season.

In that vein, here are my top 5 thoughts regarding NBA free agency through the first two weeks (and really during just the last 72 hours, since LeBron held up 90% of all NBA free agent signings and commandeered the entire sporting news cycle).

#1. LeBron’s decision to return to Cleveland

I’m not going to spend much time on this, since 120,000 words have been written/spoken to regarding this topic during the last several days and weeks leading up to his decision. I’ll throw a few hundred words at this and then move on.

My first thought upon hearing the news on Friday afternoon was, “Good for him.” He has clearly matured during the last four years and handled this decision in a much more respectable, mature and level-headed manner than the red carpet fiasco that he and his camp rolled out in July 2010.1

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LeBron clearly still felt the sting and vitriol directed to him from the greater Cleveland area four summers ago. He’s won his championships and removed that considerable monkey from his back. Now he’s set his sights on bringing Cleveland a championship, something the city has not experienced since the 1964 Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship (pre Super Bowl).

Incredibly, LeBron has changed the course of the following players’ careers: Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Love, Carmelo Anthony, Andrew Wiggins, Trevor Ariza, Luol Deng, Jarrett Jack, Shabazz Napier, Josh McRoberts and every Cleveland teammate who will now have the privilege of playing with LeBron and every teammate in Miami who was jilted (re: McRoberts, Josh & Napier, Shabazz).

I’m psyched. I can’t remember a season where the East has been this wide open.

#2. The Lakers Demise

Outside of the Miami Heat, no one has had a worse offseason than the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe’s 2-year, $48.5 million contract extension that he signed in November 2013 is looking more and more like a 5-year mistake. By eating up significant cap space, the Lakers were unable to match the Knicks 5-year, $125ish million offer (final details still not disclosed) to ‘Melo.

Here is the Lakers body of work thus far this offseason.

  • Re-signed Jordan Hill and Nick Young
  • Acquired Jeremy Lin from the Rockets
  • Drafted Julius Randle with the #7 pick in last month’s draft

With Pau Gasol confirming that he will sign with the Bulls and Steve Nash a year from retirement, this squad does not have the makings of winning more than 30 games. More importantly, the Lakers have swung and missed in each of the last three offseasons and frankly, may miss out on one last run with Kobe.

#3 Chicago Bulls Quietly Enjoying the Best Offseason

I am absolutely mesmerized by the possibilities of teaming Joakim Noah with Pau Gasol, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson. Noah and Gasol are two of the best passing big men in the league, Butler continues to develop and Taj Gibson continues to improve.

In a vacuum, this frontcourt is already a formidable squad. Now flank them with Derrick Rose, Mike Dunleavy, Doug McDermott and Tony Snell. Mike Dunleavy and Doug McDermott provide the requisite outside shooting, while 2nd year guard Tony Snell is this year’s 2013 Kawai Leonard. He is going to at least double his points per game (4.5 PPG in ’13-’14).

I haven’t even mentioned Nikola Mirotic (no one for that matter has mentioned him). Real Madrid’s Mirotic was acquired by the Bulls in 2011 and now has finally decided to suit up for the Bulls, signing a 3-year, $17 million contract.

The video below tells us everything we need to know about how talented Mirotic is and how translatable his skills are to the NBA. He’s a 6’10” 210 lb forward, who can shoot, put the ball on the floor and finish around the rim. With no further ado, let’s roll the tape.

#4 Jazz Matching Charlotte’s Exorbitant Offer

4 years and $63 million is a contract for a 1a or 2 guy. On a great team, Hayward is a #3 option, no more. He’s not a guy you run your offense through, which was evidenced last season. As per thehive.com, Hayward’s usage rate continued to climb last season and “his efficiency went into a free-fall, dropping from 50.1 percent in effective field goal percentage to 45.4 percent, nearly a 10 percent drop in scoring efficiency. His three-point percentage took the hardest hit as he shot nearly 27 percent worse from behind the arc than in the previous year.”

This is why you don’t shell out $16 million per year for 6’8” small forwards who have never averaged more than 16 PPG and 5 RPG in any season. Hayward just turned 24 and is entering the beginning of his peak years, so he has that going for him. Let’s hope that Utah does not regret signing Hayward to a contract that frankly, a guy such as Chris Bosh was hoping to get before his opportunity ballooned once LeBron jettisoned Miami

#5 Brooklyn Likely Another Middle Seed in the East

Brooklyn’s win now mantra and subsequent mega moves to make this happen during the last 12 months have left this team in a state of flux. Gone are Jason Kidd, Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston, all key pieces to the team’s relative success last year. They also jettisoned Marcus Thornton and are waiting to see whether KG returns for what’s likely to be his 20th and final NBA season.

Brook Lopez

Image courtesy of 2015people.com

The reason the Nets was the most dangerous team in the East outside of the Heat last year was their unrivaled depth. Brooklyn was rolling out Andray Blatche, Alan Anderson, Mirza Teletovic, Mason Plumlee and Andrei Kirilenko at different times during the game, keeping their older starters fresh. Their small ball lineups with Paul Pierce at the 4 were particularly lethal in the second half of the year. They wore teams down with their 10-deep rotation and Livingston’s emergence (at 6’7”) enabled them to go small at other positions.

Their two key guys, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are coming off surgeries and Joe Johnson is another year older, at 33. They did acquire Jarrett Jack, who’s a nice player at the tail end of his prime (turns 31 later this year) and are hoping to have Brook Lopez return to all-star form this season. Throw in the steadying hand of Lionel Hollins and they should be right in the mix.

However, for a franchise that lost an estimated $144 million last year, “in the mix” is not where you want to be. While there’s flux at the top with Miami and Indiana. Cleveland, Atlanta, Toronto, Charlotte and the Wizards are all improving, which makes it difficult to see the Nets win more than one playoff series this season.

In the depths of summer, there are typically not too many reasons to get excited. If you’re a Germany citizen/fan or an NBA fan, you have enjoyed two weeks of scintillating action. Apologies to all baseball fans out there, but I can’t wait for Halloween weekend when LeBron is sporting a Cavs jersey and Pau is donning a Chicago jersey.

About Jim Armstrong

Jim is a life-long sports fan and split his childhood between the ‘burbs of Chicago and central NJ, while throwing in a summer living outside of Boston into the mix. This explains his passion for the 90′s Bulls, late 90′s/early 00′s Knicks and late 00′s Celtics (he will explain in a future post). Jim never played a minute of college basketball or football but did complete a Tough Mudder recently and continues to play in basketball leagues year-round. If this doesn’t make him an expert, then I don’t know what does. Jim crunches numbers for a living and enjoys applying these analytical skills to his sports obsessions. In his free time, Jim enjoys spending time with his family, fishing and writing.

Comments

  1. Corey Goldstone says:

    Paul Pierce to the Wizards baby, #dcRISING!

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