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ONE37pm’s Sports Vertical Previews The 2022 NBA Free Agency

*This article was written prior to the news of Kevin Durant requesting a trade from the Brooklyn Nets early Wednesday afternoon.

As much action is filled on the court every NBA season, the same is said for off of it. Through the growing nature of free agency and trade talks, it’s become common for NBA fans and media to speculate about the future of players and teams. And that development will play out again as the 2022 NBA Free Agency begins at 6 PM EST tonight.

While this year’s free agency isn’t defined by its star power, it includes impactful contributors (Jalen Brunson, Zach LaVine, and Deandre Ayton) who have enticed teams that are determined to improve. Before the start of free agency, ONE37pm’s Sports Vertical came together and shared their expectations for this time of year.

Will there be any surprises? Is there a certain signing each team should make? Continue reading to find out more!

What is your biggest expectation for free agency this summer?

Justin Cohen: I think there will be a lot of player movement. I don’t expect a lot of blockbuster trades, but I expect teams to buff out their rosters and add depth with impactful role players. The CBA is set to expire at the end of this season, so I’m intrigued about how that may affect teams signing players to longer-term contracts. 

Martino Puccio: My biggest expectation is a team like the Lakers to make some sort of move that doesn’t waste time on the partnership of LeBron and AD. Whether it’s getting rid of Westbrook or adding great role players. They have the most pressure to figure it out

Which teams do you expect to be the most and least active?

Jack Tien-Dana: Considering the Knicks have already made three trades and loosened up $30 million in cap room, it’s hard to imagine a team being more active than them. To a degree, this activity is necessary—the Knicks have 22 draft picks over the next seven years and can’t possibly add that many guys to a roster that already has a critical mass of developing young players.

Continuing their decades-long trend, the Knicks will be confusing at best and smooth-brained at worst. Whereas the Knicks chronically do too much, Oklahoma City is devoted to never doing anything. With mega-prospect Victory Wembanyama looming as the prize of next year’s lottery, the Thunder are in no rush to try to be an actual team for the foreseeable future.

Justin Cohen: A team like the Miami Heat will be extremely active this free agency. Miami Heat president Pat Riley is never satisfied, and a loss in the Eastern Conference Finals surely left a fire burning in his seat.

I expect them to try and target another superstar to pair with Butler and Adebayo. I don’t think the Warriors will be active in acquiring new players but instead will focus on resigning players. 

Jael Rucker: I expect Brooklyn to be very active {laughs}.

If there’s a signing that makes TOO much sense, what would it be?

Bo Templin: You know what signing makes a lot of sense? The MASSIVE 5-year deal for the St. Louis product, Bradley Beal. Go get that bag.

The other fit that seems nice is PJ Tucker going to the Sixers. He’s played with Harden and would be an outstanding voice for that team.

Jack Tien-Dana: Mo Bamba to the Lakers. Despite having two of the very best players alive, the Lakers are a sclerotic team without many avenues to improve. Accordingly, Mo Bamba (of “Mo Bamba”  fame) is the sole realistic option who could make a meaningful difference.

An expert shot-blocker and budding marksman, Bamba was one of only four players to average more than 1.5 threes and 1.5 blocks per game. And he’s somehow rumored to be available for just the $6.5 million mid-level exception. Still only 23, Bamba offers an enticing package of immediate production and future promise.

Justin Cohen: Blake Griffin to the Clippers. Yes, this wouldn’t be the most impactful or even the best fit, but to see Blake Griffin in a Clippers jersey one more time would be beautiful.

It would also be quite poetic to see Griffin win a championship with the franchise he brought back from the dead. 

Martino Puccio: A signing that would make too much sense to me is Brunson to NYK. For the Knicks to move all these mountains and for him to get insane money for just four years is something that should be a no-brainer, IMO.

Speaking of Jalen Brunson, do you believe he’s worth a max contract?

Bo Templin: While I think Jalen Brunson is a very solid player, I’m not sold on him being a max contract player on a championship-contending team. He would help the Knicks, sure. But what would really change? A first-round exit maybe?

Jael Rucker: Yes! Give Jalen Brunson what he deserves!

Justin Cohen: When dissecting who ‘deserves’ a max contract, the context of player availability is crucial. I don’t think there are many great point guards slated to be free agents this summer and Brunson has proved he can put up wins in the postseason.

I’ve personally gotten the opportunity to watch Jalen grow since his freshman year of high school and the progression he continues to show is worth a max in my mind. 

Given the likelihood of James Harden and Bradley Beal resigning with their teams, do player options carry as much weight as they use to?

Bo Templin: This is a really interesting question. I think the player options only hold weight if the dominoes fall in your favor. Every off-season, it feels like there is a 1-2 domino falling process that really kickstarts everything else.

People with options have the luxury of waiting. So I think they still hold weight with the timing of the offseason.

Jack Tien-Dana: Player options are the most basic, effective way that players can control when and what they’re paid. Since Bradley Beal is opting out of his deal, the Wizards have no choice but to lavish him with a quarter-billion dollars to stick around—by turning down his $36.4 million option for next year, he’s now positioned to make $50 million for the next five.

Conversely, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving all exercised their options because it guarantees them a payday they wouldn’t receive otherwise. What teams are lining up to throw a max deal at two guys who are probably bad now and another guy who’s a terminally flighty weirdo? More than Brechtian trade demands or sub-tweet melodrama or podcasting, player options are how players are empowered.

Jael Rucker: Yes and no. I think it depends on the player, the team, and the situation. I will say that I think owners are kind of starting to take control back of situations.

Justin Cohen: They do because it’s just another way to give the players more freedom. I really like James Harden taking a page out of Tom Brady’s book and taking a pay cut to allow the 76ers flexibility with their cap space.

With the collective bargaining agreement set to expire at the end of next season, we could see a change in how player and team options work. 

Martino Puccio: I think these player options don’t hold as much weight depending on the situation, but the money for these superstars after the tv deals are so great that they have so much flexibility.

Seeing what an Evan Fournier can grab via FA these guys know the leverage they have so they probably don’t stress the options.

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Sports

How Many Rings Does Magic Johnson Have?

When trying to rank the best NBA players of all time, there is and will never be a definitive answer. With over 75 years of history there is simply too much top tier talent to rank one player above the rest. A more constructive exercise would be to rank the best players at every position, and for the point guard position, that spot is locked in. Steph Curry is in the rearview mirror, but Magic Johnson sits alone as the greatest point guard in NBA history. A five time champion, three time finals MVP, three time league MVP, and ten time All-NBA selections, few can hold a light to Magic. Here are the five championships that Magic won.

1980 NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers 4 – Philadelphia 76ers 2
21.5 Points, 11.2 Rebounds, 8.7 assists
(Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images)

The 1979 NCAA championship gave us a preview of the greatest rivalry in basketball history. Magic Johnson of Michigan State would square off against Indiana State’s Larry Bird. Michigan State won the game handedly and it is still to this day the most watched basketball game ever. The Lakers won the first overall pick in a coin-toss with Chicago, and the landscape of the NBA would be changed forever. The Lakers would take the fresh-faced smiling star from Lansing, Michigan, Magic Johnson. The Lakers new run-and-gun offense propelled them to 60 wins and the best record in the West. After bulldozing through the Western conference, the Lakers squared off against Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers. With the series tied in a pivotal game 5, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would jump up for a rebound and land on his ankle, spraining it completely. He remained in the game and dropped 40 points but would sit out game 6. Even though leading, it seemed the Lakers had no shot of bringing home the championship. That’s when Magic Johnson stepped in and started at center. He was spectacular in game 6 dropping 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists. He took home the finals MVP and remains the only rookie in NBA history to receive that honor.

1982 NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers 4 – Philadelphia 76ers 2
16.2 Points, 10.8 Rebounds, 8 Assists
(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

The Lakers were looking to become back-to-back champions in 1981, but were cut short in the first round. They lost to the eventual Western conference champion Houston Rockets in three games. The Boston Celtics would go on to win the 1981 NBA finals, giving Magic’s biggest rival Larry Bird the same amount of rings as him. With a new motivation to relinquish the title back from the Celtics the Lakers won 65 games and took back the best regular season record in the West. The Lakers plowed their way through the West again and found themselves in a rematch against the Philadelphia 76ers. Phill would meet its fate in six games again as the Lakers would go on to win the championship. Magic would nearly average a triple-double putting up 16.2 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8 assists per game. He also put together 2.5 steals per game through the six finals games. Magic would receive his second finals MVP award, giving him another edge against Larry Bird. 

1985 NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers 4 – Boston Celtics 2
18.3 Points, 6.8 Rebounds, 14.0 Assists
(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Lakers wouldn’t win another championship until 1985, despite appearing in the previous two NBA finals. The 1984 finals is what would stay fresh in the back of all the Lakers minds. The Lakers and Celtics met in 1984 in what is widely regarded as one of the greatest NBA finals ever. The Lakers had a 2-1 lead in the series heading into game 4. With 14 seconds left the Lakers held a two point lead and looked to be victorious. That was until Dennis Johnson stole the inbound pass to force overtime. The Celtics would win that game and eventually win the series in seven, giving Larry Bird his first finals MVP. 1985 would be a whole different story. The Lakers would lose game one by 40 points after an all-time bad game from Kareem. Pat Riley forced the team to watch the footage of this beatdown and repeatedly went in on Kareem. The Lakers would dominate the series from then on out and win it all in 6 games. Despite breaking the NBA record for most assists averaged throughout a series, Magic lost the finals MVP to Kareem after he averaged 25 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists.

1987 NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers 4 – Boston Celtics 2
26.2 Points, 8 Rebounds, 13 Assists
(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Lakers found themselves bounced from the 1986 playoffs by the Houston Rockets in five games during the Western Conference Finals, and the Celtics would reclaim the NBA title. Going into 1987 the Lakers had a newfound motivation to take what’s rightfully theirs back from the Celtics. The Lakers would win 65 regular season games and separate themselves as clear favorites to win another title. After working their way through the West, they met a familiar foe in the Boston Celtics during the 1987 Finals. At this point the Celtics and Lakers rivalry was pure mayhem. After facing off so many times this series was about way more than just basketball. The Lakers took direct control of the series after going up 3-1, and the rest was history. Magic would get his third and last finals MVP after a dazzling 16 points and 19 assists in game six. This fourth championship broke his tie breaker with Larry, giving him another edge in the rivalry.

1988 NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers 4 – Detroit Pistons 3
21.1 Points, 5.7 Rebounds, 13 assists
(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Lakers had clearly found their stride as a team as they coasted the 1988 regular season winning 62 games and finishing 1st in the West. They once again plowed through the conference and Magic Johnson found himself in his ninth NBA finals. Instead of the familiar 76ers or Celtics, the Lakers matched up against the scrappy Detroit Pistons, known for their manic defense and physical play. The Pistons would steal game five, taking a 3-2 series lead and just a single game from winning it all. In game six, Pistons star guard Isaiah Thomas would sprain his ankle but continue playing. Giving an all-time NBA finals performance he dropped 43 points and a record 25 points in the third quarter alone. It wasn’t enough however as the Lakers pushed the series to seven games. Back in Los Angeles the Lakers won a tight game seven by a score of 108-105 backed by a legendary performance from James Worthy. Worthy put up 36 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists in game seven and locked himself the finals MVP. This was Magic Johnson’s last NBA championship as he would soon retire in 1991. 

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Sports

Who Owns The Lakers?

There are certain franchises in every professional sports league that are household names, even in homes that don’t watch said sports. Everyone knows what city the Yankees, Patriots, Blackhawks, and Knicks play for because they are simply that famed. The Los Angeles Lakers, who have gone through five different ownership groups, are deservedly so on that list. The Lakers have the second most championships in NBA history and have been an integral part of the growth the league has seen since its creation. So who owns the Lakers now and how has ownership changed over the years?

1948-1957: Ben Berger
(Via Getty Images)

In 1947, Minneapolis businessman Ben Berger purchased the National Basketball Leagues Detroit Gems. He would relocate and rebrand the team as the Minneapolis Lakers. The early day Minneapolis Lakers can be heralded as the NBA’s first dynasty. They selected George Mikan with the 1st pick in the 1947 NBA draft. Mikan would be named a four time all-star, three time scoring champ, and help the Lakers win their first five championships. Despite the constant winning and having the best players in the league, attendance regularly fell short in Minnesota and Berger sold the team in 1957. 

1957-1965: Bob Short
(Photo by Paul Siegel/Star Tribune via Getty Images)

Bob Short would step in and purchase the Lakers in 1957. With Mikan retired, the Lakers were dealing with worsening attendance at games, and the Twin Cities didn’t seem to be a viable option for the Lakers to play in. Short then moved the team to Los Angeles, where they still play today. When the team moved to Los Angeles, winning ways ensued and attendance spiked. As a result of the new attendance numbers, Short sold the team in 1965. Bob Short had the shortest length of ownership with the Lakers having only owned the team for eight years. I think it’s safe to assume that Short was looking for a quick buck and knew moving the team would lead to increased revenue. When he was proven right, it was just about making a quick buck from selling the team again.

1965-1979: Jack Kent Cooke
(Via Getty Images)

Jack Cooke would step in and buy the team in 1965. Cooke was known for his fiery attitude and regular dismissal of his employees. He would purchase the Lakers for $5 million dollars ($43 million dollars current day). Cooke made a number of significant changes that helped the Lakers evolve into what they are today. First he changed their color scheme from blue and royal to the iconic purple and gold that the Lakers wear today. He also helped develop and build The Forum, the iconic home of the Showtime Lakers. After a very public and nasty divorce, Cooke was forced to sell the team in the largest divorce settlement in U.S. history. The settlement entitled $42 million ($157 million dollars current day) to Cookes ex-wife.

1979-2014: Jerry Buss
(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

To pay for his divorce settlement Cooke was forced to sell the Lakers and did so to a former acquaintance, Jerry Buss. Buss first met Cooke when he was looking for a venue to have his tennis team play at when he was convinced to buy a skybox at the Forum. Buss and Cooke built a business friendship, and Buss was his go to when he sold the team. Other owners were hesitant about letting a real-estate tycoon like Buss into the league, but Cooke vouched for him and he was approved. The NBA would never be the same. Buss turned the Forum into the must-be venue for anyone who is anyone in Los Angeles. He implemented the ‘Lakers Girls’, a halftime dance spectacle that rivaled the ones in dark, smoky night clubs throughout L.A. More than making the Lakers the cool kids of professional basketball, Buss cared about winning. When he took ownership the Lakers were known as the lovable losers of the NBA, as they would constantly find themselves falling short to the Celtics in the finals. Under Jerry Buss however, the Lakers won 10 NBA championships. Jerry Buss was and still remains one of the most important owners in NBA history.

2014 – Present Day: Buss Family Trust
(Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images)

When Jerry Buss passed away in 2014, he was still a 66% majority owner of the Lakers. When he passed he passed that percentage down to his six children evenly at 11% per kid. Jeanie Buss assumed the title of Lakers Governor and would be the franchise’s representative during the board of governors meetings. This means that at the end of the day, Jeanie Buss has all the muscle to make decisions on behalf of the franchise. Since 2014 the Lakers won a single NBA championship in 2020 amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. After a disappointing season in 2021-22, there is no clear sign what direction the Lakers will decide to go in.

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Sports

How Many Rings Does Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Have?

When debating who the unanimous ‘GOAT’ of basketball is, the same two names are thrown around. Before the days of the Jordan vs LeBron debate there was one player who was unanimously selected as the best basketball player of all time; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Off the court, Kareem broke down long standing barriers between athletes and social justice movements. On the court he broke down the best centers the league had to offer. Winning 6 league MVP’s, 19 all-star selections, 15 time all-NBA first team, 11 time all-defense, the list of accolades is never ending. What may be most impressive are the six championship rings that Kareem won in his 20 seasons played. Here are the six NBA finals matchups Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won and how Kareem performed in each one!

1971: Bucks defeat Bullets 4-0
27 points, 18.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists
(Photo by Vernon Biever/NBAE via Getty Images)

In the first of Abdul-Jabbar’s many rings, he squared off against Wes Unseld and the Baltimore Bullets. Abdul-Jabbar was coming off his first regular season MVP after averaging 31 points, 16 rebounds, and 3 assists during the regular season. The Bucks were able to finish off the Bullets in a four-game sweep to claim the franchises first ever NBA championship. Abdul-Jabbar was already one of the winningest players in collegiate basketball history, so this championship showed the world he could win at any level. Notably, Kareem took home the Finals MVP trophy for his outstanding performance in the series.

1980: Lakers defeat 76ers 4-2
33.4 points, 13.6 rebounds, 4.6 blocks
(Photo by Peter Read Miller /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

The first of Kareem’s five titles in Los Angeles would come at the end of the 1980 season. This season was highlighted by the turmoil the Lakers organization dealt with throughout the year. First the team was changing ownership, so a slew of changes were made to the front office. The Lakers went through nearly 4 head coaches from pre-season to the end of the season. Despite all that, the Lakers won 60 games and found themselves in the NBA finals. Kareem was sidelined for game 6 which Magic Johnson played all five positions during. Magic would take home the Finals MVP, and showtime would be kickstarted.

1982: Lakers defeat 76ers 4-2
18 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.2 blocks
(Photo by Manny Millan/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

The 1982 finals saw a Lakers and 76ers rematch from the 1980 finals. Unfortunately for the 76ers, the same fate would be met. Kareem was his usual self, defending the interior and snatching boards throughout the six game series. Magic would steal the spotlight once again however, nearly averaging a triple double and securing his second Finals MVP. The Lakers were in full-stride as ‘Showtime’ at this point and had no plans of slowing down. The Lakers finished with 57 wins this season although neither Magic or Kareem finished top 5 in regular season MVP voting.

1985: Lakers defeat Celtics 4-2
25.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists
(Via Getty Images)

The 1985 NBA finals gave us an epic rematch of the previous years Lakers vs Celtics matchup that went seven games. The biggest storyline here was the growing rivalry between Laker Magic Johnson and Celtic Larry Bird. Magic had a dazzling series averaging 14 assists a game, but that wasn’t enough to win Finals MVP. Kareem would take home the award after a huge 29 point performance in game six. This was Abdul-Jabbar’s second and last Finals MVP. 

1987: Lakers defeat Celtics 4-2
21.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.5 blocks
(Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)

The last NBA Finals matchup that saw the ‘Showtime’ Lakers take on Larry Bird’s Celtic’s was during the 1987 NBA Finals. The Lakers were able to take care of business in 6 games and claim another NBA championship. The most memorable moment of this finals was Magic hitting the patented Kareem ‘Skyhook’ to take a one point lead in game four. Larry got a great look at a buzzer-beating game-winner but the shot rimmed out. This year the wear-and-tear of being an NBA vet was finally starting to rust on Kareem as his production slowed down.

1988: Lakers defeat Pistons 4-3
13.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.1 block
(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

The last ring that Kareem and the ‘Showtime’ Lakers claimed would come at the end of the 1988 season. In a tight seven game series, the Lakers barely were able to edge out the physical Pistons. Isaiah Thomas stole the show with a legendary 43 point performance in game six on a broken bloody ankle, although the Piston’s couldn’t pull out the win. The Lakers pushed the series to seven games and the rest was history. Kareem was still able to make a real impact and help the Lakers win, but clearly age had gotten the better of Abdul-Jabbar at this point.

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Sports

How Many Rings Does Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Have?

When debating who the unanimous ‘GOAT’ of basketball is, the same two names are thrown around. Before the days of the Jordan vs LeBron debate there was one player who was unanimously selected as the best basketball player of all time; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Off the court, Kareem broke down long standing barriers between athletes and social justice movements. On the court he broke down the best centers the league had to offer. Winning 6 league MVP’s, 19 all-star selections, 15 time all-NBA first team, 11 time all-defense, the list of accolades is never ending. What may be most impressive are the six championship rings that Kareem won in his 20 seasons played. Here are the six NBA finals matchups Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won and how Kareem performed in each one!

1971: Bucks defeat Bullets 4-0
27 points, 18.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists
(Photo by Vernon Biever/NBAE via Getty Images)

In the first of Abdul-Jabbar’s many rings, he squared off against Wes Unseld and the Baltimore Bullets. Abdul-Jabbar was coming off his first regular season MVP after averaging 31 points, 16 rebounds, and 3 assists during the regular season. The Bucks were able to finish off the Bullets in a four-game sweep to claim the franchises first ever NBA championship. Abdul-Jabbar was already one of the winningest players in collegiate basketball history, so this championship showed the world he could win at any level. Notably, Kareem took home the Finals MVP trophy for his outstanding performance in the series.

1980: Lakers defeat 76ers 4-2
33.4 points, 13.6 rebounds, 4.6 blocks
(Photo by Peter Read Miller /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

The first of Kareem’s five titles in Los Angeles would come at the end of the 1980 season. This season was highlighted by the turmoil the Lakers organization dealt with throughout the year. First the team was changing ownership, so a slew of changes were made to the front office. The Lakers went through nearly 4 head coaches from pre-season to the end of the season. Despite all that, the Lakers won 60 games and found themselves in the NBA finals. Kareem was sidelined for game 6 which Magic Johnson played all five positions during. Magic would take home the Finals MVP, and showtime would be kickstarted.

1982: Lakers defeat 76ers 4-2
18 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.2 blocks
(Photo by Manny Millan/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

The 1982 finals saw a Lakers and 76ers rematch from the 1980 finals. Unfortunately for the 76ers, the same fate would be met. Kareem was his usual self, defending the interior and snatching boards throughout the six game series. Magic would steal the spotlight once again however, nearly averaging a triple double and securing his second Finals MVP. The Lakers were in full-stride as ‘Showtime’ at this point and had no plans of slowing down. The Lakers finished with 57 wins this season although neither Magic or Kareem finished top 5 in regular season MVP voting.

1985: Lakers defeat Celtics 4-2
25.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists
(Via Getty Images)

The 1985 NBA finals gave us an epic rematch of the previous years Lakers vs Celtics matchup that went seven games. The biggest storyline here was the growing rivalry between Laker Magic Johnson and Celtic Larry Bird. Magic had a dazzling series averaging 14 assists a game, but that wasn’t enough to win Finals MVP. Kareem would take home the award after a huge 29 point performance in game six. This was Abdul-Jabbar’s second and last Finals MVP. 

1987: Lakers defeat Celtics 4-2
21.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.5 blocks
(Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)

The last NBA Finals matchup that saw the ‘Showtime’ Lakers take on Larry Bird’s Celtic’s was during the 1987 NBA Finals. The Lakers were able to take care of business in 6 games and claim another NBA championship. The most memorable moment of this finals was Magic hitting the patented Kareem ‘Skyhook’ to take a one point lead in game four. Larry got a great look at a buzzer-beating game-winner but the shot rimmed out. This year the wear-and-tear of being an NBA vet was finally starting to rust on Kareem as his production slowed down.

1988: Lakers defeat Pistons 4-3
13.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.1 block
(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

The last ring that Kareem and the ‘Showtime’ Lakers claimed would come at the end of the 1988 season. In a tight seven game series, the Lakers barely were able to edge out the physical Pistons. Isaiah Thomas stole the show with a legendary 43 point performance in game six on a broken bloody ankle, although the Piston’s couldn’t pull out the win. The Lakers pushed the series to seven games and the rest was history. Kareem was still able to make a real impact and help the Lakers win, but clearly age had gotten the better of Abdul-Jabbar at this point.

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Sports Strength

NBA Highlights From December 20th-26th

Even though daily news of NBA players and coaches having to enter health protocols have become common, it was nice to go through a week where the focus was on the games. Alongside the league’s annual slate of Christmas Day matchups, there was plenty to watch and learn from an assortment of players and teams who made one last statement before this year ended. Down below are my four takeaways from the league’s latest week in action.

Harden and Westbrook represent the line between success and failure

Besides being teammates twice throughout their illustrious careers (First in Oklahoma City and then Houston), James Harden and Russell Westbrook have a lot in common as arguably two of social media’s most criticized yet accomplished superstars. But last Saturday, we discovered what makes the two players different and ultimately favors one of them to win their elusive first championship.

As the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers competed in a 122-115 thriller that was won by the Nets, Harden’s combination of efficient and timely playmaking and scoring (36 points, ten rebounds, and ten assists) outlasted Westbrook’s inconsistent and ugly performance (13 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists). Despite struggling for most of this season, Harden has found ways to ultize his strengths to benefit his team; an action Westbrook has not discovered yet in LA.

When will help arrive for the Joker?

As much as NBA Twitter loves to proclaim their favorite player should be “freed” or given additional help, no one is more deserving of either claim than Nikola Jokic. “The Joker” is having an all-time season (he’s on pace to break the record for highest player efficiency rating at 33.33) and could win league MVP again if reinforcements arrive by his side in Denver.

With dynamic guard Jamal Murray’s return from his torn ACL injury still unknown and forward Michael Porter Jr being out because of his back injury, one has to wonder if the Nuggets could make a trade or two for additional scoring and playmaking that lessens Jokic’s load.

Keldon Johnson is worthy of your attention

Regardless of how you’re watching the NBA on a nightly basis, there’s one player who is worthy of your time: Keldon Johnson. The third-year San Antonio Spur, who you may remember as a late-minute addition to the US Men’s gold-medal-winning basketball team last summer, is quickly becoming one of the team’s best players, and rightfully so.

Johnson is averaging a career-high in points and rebounds per game (15 and 6.6) while also shooting a remarkable 47% from the three-point line. The Kentucky product’s development is a more than welcomed sign for the Spurs, who already have a promising talent in Dejounte Murray.

Houston is balancing Jalen Green’s development and their desire to compete

While some teams love to have dynamic, young talent and still collect high lottery picks, others are fine with having young talent who could help them win right away (Think Evan Mobley and Cleveland). Even though the Houston Rockets, and their 2021 No. 2 overall pick Jalen Green, aren’t in a position to compete for the playoffs, they’re happy with being competitive and making each other better.

Despite the team’s seven-game winning streak earlier this month without Green because of his injury, the Rockets would rather have him on the court. Out of 19 games played, Green has scored 20 points five times and proves to be a viable offensive threat with his athleticism and, at times-solid shooting. It’s just a matter of making him more effective while also eliminating their tendency for extensive losing streaks.

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Sports Strength

What We Learned From This Year’s NBA On Christmas Games

Amidst all the concerns about rising COVID cases and player entries in their health protocols, the NBA managed to have another star-studded and exciting day of Christmas Day games. Whether it was Kemba Walker achieving a first-time accomplishment to both of the last-minute thrillers that occurred in Phoenix and Los Angeles, here are our three biggest takeaways from this year’s NBA on Christmas games.

Kemba is making the most of his return to action

There was an ongoing discussion regarding Kemba Walker and his career for three weeks due to his surprise benching by New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau— who attributed Walker’s benching to his lack of aggression. But over the past week, the former All-Star guard is not only playing again, but he’s making history in the process.

During the team’s 101-87 victory against their close rival Atlanta Hawks, Walker produced a triple-double (10 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists) and became the first Knick to accomplish that feat on Christmas. “It’s kind of hard to put it into words, to be honest,” Walker said after the game. “It was special, just to be home, with that New York on my chest … a New York City kid, born and raised. It felt amazing.”

Giannis proves why he’s the best player in the world

Even though the conversation about who is the best player will always exist, there are times where there’s a clear answer. Last Saturday, Antetokounmpo presented an open and shut case for his claim as the best player in the league via his spectacular second-half performance against the Boston Celtics.

When looking beyond the reigning Finals MVP’s stat-line (36 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists), Antetokounmpo’s impact on both ends of the floor became a massive obstacle for the Celtics to overcome, despite leading by double digits throughout the game, including with five minutes remaining in regulation.

The Warriors and Nets proved their toughness in last-minute thrillers

During primetime matchups such as the Golden State Warriors vs. the Phoenix Suns or the Brooklyn Nets vs. Los Angeles Lakers, the idea of a measuring test existing between either team comes to life. And while there was much to observe in both of those two games, one thing was for sure. The Warriors and the Nets are the best teams in their conferences.

Even with several key contributors and stars out of action and playing in challenging environments, the Nets and Warriors relied on their toughness and “next man up” mentality to secure a pair of big wins. At this point of the season, speculation could be created for a potential Finals matchup between these two teams.

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Sports Strength

Where Do the Lakers Go From Here?

Last Friday, Anthony Davis sprained his MCL, which, knowing Anthony Davis, will keep him out for between four and 40 weeks. On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Lakers were pulverized 108-90 by the Phoenix Suns, dropping the Lakers to 16-16. Despite the fact that Lebron James is still one of the best players in the world, he’s failed by a supporting cast that seems to actively sabotage him; in their loss to the Suns, the Lakers’ depressing back-up point guard battery of Isaiah Thomas and Rajon Rondo combined for 3 points on 1-13 shooting. It’s clear to even the most ardent Lakers believers that shit is going south. For LA’s legendary, aging warrior, is this a dagger which he sees before him?

It might be a little bit premature to say the sky is falling, but it’s definitely sagging dangerously. While the Lakers are still firmly in the playoff picture, they’ve been buoyed by the league’s fourth-easiest schedule so far; schedule-adjusted metrics such as Basketball Reference’s simple rating system or 538’s ELO both peg the Lakers as a bottom-ten team. Still, the team has generally been given the benefit of the doubt—almost nobody actually believes that there are 24 teams better than the Lakers. But now, as the team faces a prolonged Anthony Davis-less stretch, the Lakers’ playoff hopes seem increasingly grim. 

For a team with such lofty pedigree, the Lakers’s success was always oddly precarious. Whereas most great teams are able to win easily, the Lakers are visibly straining. They have no easy releases—the spacing is naturally cramped and relies on layers of intricate off-ball actions to unclog the floor; their offensive production and defensive soundness are both almost entirely reliant on Lebron James’s all-history greatness. If teams like the Suns and Warriors are proof of how synergy and physical empathy can engender victories, the Lakers operated on the assumption that their talent and experience could paper over their awkward construction. And they were kind of right—before their recent Davis-less three-game slide, the Lakers were 11-6 with James in the lineup. 

As such, Davis’s injury reveals the fragility of this team’s internal calculus—you can only out-talent your opponent if you can guarantee the health and availability of all your talent. Davis has always been an elemental part of the team that the Lakers imagine themselves becoming, even if he’s struggled to recapture his previous Bubbled greatness. In particular, he caulks over some of the team’s more glaring structural flaws; he represents a broadening of possibilities. A versatile defender and slithery interior scorer, Davis is a central component of every style the Lakers could potentially assume—he’s dextrous enough to play alongside another center in ultra-big lineups, yet physically imposing enough to anchor units on his own. Amongst a topsy-turvy team, he had been the one consistent, stable force in the frontcourt; 12 Lakers’ lineups have logged more than 50 possessions and Davis has been part of eight of them. 

In this sense, it’s almost hard to imagine how the Lakers can play without Davis—and, evidently, it’s been hard for the Lakers to imagine this too. Under head coach Frank Vogel, a crucial element of the Lakers’ identity has been their humongousness, the result of the combined size and skill of James and Davis. Without Davis, though, that arrangement is impossible—Vogel’s infamous two-big lineups barely worked when Davis was healthy, but any lineup with both Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan would be such a disaster it’d border on farce.  

Unable to play large-ball, the Lakers have downsized, relying on lineups that are anchored by James or (gulp) Carmelo Anthony. And while these lineups are offensively potent, they place a possibly unmanageable load on two guys more used to load managing. More, these lineups reveal the Lakers’ paucity of wing depth; the weirdly lopsided Lakers just don’t have enough useful players, especially in this Covid-addled state. Outside of their star troika and Anthony, the Lakers bench ranges from mediocre (Talen Horton-Tucker, Malik Monk, Austin Reeves, Wayne Ellington) to bad (Kent Bazemore, DeAndre Jordan) to quite literally some of the worst players in the NBA (Isaiah Thomas and Rajon Rondo). 

Going into this season, it was clear that Davis’s injury prone-ness, James’s oldness and Westbrook’s general on-court vibe made the whole operation more tenuous than anybody in Laker-land seemed willing to admit. To a degree, this team represents the limits of Lakers exceptionalism, the belief that everything will be okay because, well, everything has always usually been okay. This roster isn’t quite the maladaptive ratking that NBA Twitter seems to believe it is; rather, it’s a victim of organizational hubris.

At some point, the cavalry will return—Davis’s injury isn’t supposed to be season-ending and Kendrick Nunn will presumably shore up their rickety backcourt. But that’s almost besides the point—nobody has any reason to fear the Lakers anymore. It’s no longer heretical to question whether the King still has clothes.

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Isaiah Thomas Is a Laker, For Now At Least

Joining his sixth NBA team since 2017, Isaiah Thomas has signed a 10-day contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, continuing his years-long quest to prove that he is not, in fact, irrevocably washed. On a micro-level, this is a victory for Thomas, who has spent the bulk of the last few years on a barnstorming journey through the basketball world while thirstily trying to Tweet his way onto a roster. This is vindication for the martyr of Real Hoopers everywhere, a triumph of the fearless bucket-getter over snarky blog boys and analytics dorks.

On a macro-level: who cares? 

This is the unspoken, yet universally acknowledged truth about Isaiah Thomas: there’s a very good reason he wasn’t in the NBA. Sure, he can score 82 points against insurance agents and gym teachers in a Seattle Pro-Am game or light up the Fort Wayne Mad Ants or hold his own against the powerhouse that is the Bahamian national basketball team, but scoring was never really the problem for him. 

At just 5’9, Thomas holds the central tension within his game of whether he can produce enough offense to offset his world-historically bad defense; even when Thomas was at his All-NBA best, the Celtics had to gin up increasingly complicated schemes to insulate him on defense.  But back then, this was fine—Thomas was credibly one of the 10 best offensive players in the world in 2017. Now, though, as Thomas enters his hooping dotage and struggles to recover from hip resurfacing surgery, the proposition is suddenly a much fraughter one; during his last full-ish season, Thomas actively harmed his own team more than just about any other player in the league.

For Thomas, the difference between being a great NBA player and not being one at all can be measured in the half-rhythms and beats that he no longer has to spare. Thomas is too small to overpower defenders, so he must outrace them; he’s too short to access the full array of passes, so he must thread them through rapidly closing windows. Every player will make mistakes, but the difference between Isaiah Thomas and, say, Malik Monk, is that Monk has the physical tools to recover from them. 

With the Lakers, Thomas doesn’t really have a clear role. Beyond every single other player on the team catching Covid, it’s hard to imagine a realistic path for him to get minutes. Whatever value that Thomas could supply as a high-usage playmaker is probably zapped by the fact that Lebron James, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis soak up most of the offensive possessions. 

No other player is the subject of such strong dramatic irony—he’s seemingly the last person (besides, I guess, Rob Pelinka) to recognize that the meaningful part of his basketball career is over. In this sense, Thomas is in the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull era of his career, desperately trying to prove that he’s Still Got It, even though his creaky body reveals that he very much doesn’t. 

So this is probably how the world ends: with a whimper, not a Mike Breen-supplied bang. Thomas is one of the NBA’s most tragic recent figures, his career undermined and sabotaged by forces beyond his control. He was traded by the team that supposedly loved him and then stiffed by the rest of the league; he had every drop of value extracted from his labor and from his body, only to become a meme once he no longer offered any utility. This late stage of the Isaiah Thomas Experience requires ambivalence: he inspires both sympathy and mockery; he’s a great basketball player, but a bad NBA one; it would be cool to see him succeed, but the Lakers probably should’ve just given this roster spot to Joel Ayayi. 

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Sports Strength

NBA Highlights From December 6th-12th

On any given night, NBA Twitter is abuzz with reminders to appreciate Lebron James or Kevin Durant while they’re still active. This week, they gave us ample opportunities to do so. To be sure, though, they weren’t the only players in the league to have notable performances. Down below are our four takeaways from it!

LeBron and KD continue to add to their highlight reels

While their greatness gets anticipated on a nightly basis, James and Durant somehow surpassed even the loftiest of expectations this past week. In addition to leading their teams to a combined 6-2 record, the pair of former NBA Finals MVPs produced one signature performance after another.

Between Durant scoring 51 points, the most scored by a player this season, and James becoming the oldest player in league history to produce a 30-point triple-double on Sunday night, it only served as additional highlights on their overwhelmingly extensive resumes.

Kelly Oubre Jr is becoming must-watch TV

Despite his obvious talents, Kelly Oubre Jr. has flown under the radar and hasn’t really showcased the true breadth of his abilities. But throughout this month, the 6-foot-6 swingman has played the best basketball of his NBA career, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the playoff-contending Charlotte Hornets.

Oubre Jr is not only averaging 26 points per game since December 1st, but he’s helping the Hornets as an additional playmaker who takes some pressure off of star point guard LaMelo Ball. And the Kansas product should be applauded for being a willing rebounder, too, as he snagged ten rebounds against the Philadelphia 76ers last Saturday night.

Luka’s conditioning is now in the spotlight

Although many things said on social media about NBA players and teams don’t gain any traction, the conversations surrounding Luka Doncic and his conditioning have only gotten louder. Ever since he arrived in the league, the Mavericks’ superstar has thrived despite not being in top shape, and fans have wondered what it would be like if he were.

But with his recent ankle injury expected to have him out for multiple games, Doncic’s health is being examined more than ever. Alongside dealing with various ailing injuries over the years, Doncic has struggled with his weight and conditioning, especially with the star confirming his issue of staying in playing shape.

The LA Clippers have discovered another talent in Brandon Boston Jr

When people think about the Los Angeles Clippers, they immediately think of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, but the franchise has quietly become one of the league’s best talent developers. This season, Terrence Man has built on the role that he established in last year’s playoffs and second-round rookie Brandon Boston Jr. has wormed his way into the rotation.

The 2021 second-round pick from the University of Kentucky had his best NBA game against the Boston Celtics last Saturday. Boston Jr scored 27 points and was a marksman from downtown, making five out of eight three-pointers. Even though George and, eventually, Leonard will determine the Clippers’ immediate success, their team’s ceiling could be defined the development of its promising young talents.