What’s Next For Devin Booker and Nike?

Even though Devin Booker’s season didn’t end the way he wanted, his offseason has gotten off to a great start. Just minutes after free agency started nearly two weeks ago, the Phoenix Suns All-Star signed a super-max extension worth $224 million. Then he was named the cover athlete of the NBA2K23 video game. And now? Booker has signed another new extension– this time with sneaker giant Nike.

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Having been signed to the ‘Swoosh’ since arriving in the NBA seven years ago, Booker has proven to be a successful investment. Despite what some fans say about him, Booker is well-liked and accomplished–a high-level player who is clutch, hasn’t abandoned his team yet, and is racking up endorsements at the same rate as All-Star (three times) and All-NBA team appearances (Just made his first one this year).

So when considering that and the details of Booker’s latest extension, which is rumored to be six years long, the question is, what’s next for Booker and Nike? Suppose you were to go off the company’s current handlings of their NBA stars (Think LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, for example). Would these following options be the most realistic?

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Nike makes D-Book their go-to player to wear new signature sneakers

Similar to what Jordan Brand recently did with Jayson Tatum and the Air Jordan 36, Nike can make Booker their go-to player/litmus test to unveil new signature sneakers.

In his case, it makes too much sense for Booker to be the player revealing new color aways of the late Kobe Bryant’s sneaker line, given their relationship and similarities in playing style.

Does Booker receives his own shoe and collection?

While this option is closer to unlikely than likely, given his lack of a championship, I wouldn’t rule it out– even if he doesn’t win one within the next few years. Like any other shoe company, Nike is looking to build its following line of superstars, especially with LeBron James and Kevin Durant nearing the end of their careers.

A signature shoe and collection is never out of the question as long as D-Book continues playing at a high level.

Nothing changes (for now)

This option only exists because it could very well be the case. Nike doesn’t have to elevate Booker’s stature within the company. Not with LeBron and KD being their long-time acts, Antetokounmpo’s line getting pushed following his 2021 championship run, and Kobe’s on-court legacy properly preserved through his collection.

It’s going to be a lot of fun watching these two sides continue their relationship! Congratulations to Devin Booker once again.


The Five Best Teams Who Can Trade For Kevin Durant

Nearly 24 hours later, the NBA world is still in shock over Kevin Durant’s trade request from the Brooklyn Nets. The two-time NBA Finals MVP is likely to generate the kind of interest rarely seen by any player that’s suddenly available, but the questions are who will be pursuing him and at what price?

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And while there’s no doubt about Durant’s ability to play at a high level— he was placed on the All-NBA second team after averaging 29/7/6 this season– it does exist regarding his soon-to-be former team. Even during this era of player empowerment and movement, the Brooklyn Nets can’t get forced to trade Durant to his chosen place.

With four years remaining on his contract and a desire to either compete for a title or land a massive haul for him, the Nets and Durant could stay together beyond this summer. But what are those odds?

Below are the five best teams who can trade for the accomplished superstar.

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Phoenix Suns

After the initial shock of Durant’s trade request, another one came in the form of his most- preferred trade destination: the 64-win and No. 1 seeded Phoenix Suns.

Upon looking at their roster and assets, there’s an immediate offer that makes sense– Mikal Bridge, Cam Johnson, Deandre Ayton, and an assortment of first-round picks. The only thing to be discussed is if the Nets trade Ben Simmons elsewhere. Under the Designated Rookie rule, a team can’t have more than two players who signed four or five-year extensions after their rookie deals, and only one can be acquired through a trade.

This rule is huge because Simmons signed a massive five-year extension in Philadelphia before being traded, and Ayton is in line for a massive contract this summer.

Miami Heat

Like Phoenix, Miami is another title contender that ranks high on Durant’s list of trade destinations, yet; they have a critical asset that can’t get traded to Brooklyn because of the Designated Rookie rule (Bam Adebayo). But is that enough to stop a deal?

If anything, the Heat could offer a package of Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro, and a third player attached with first-round picks unless the Nets decide to trade Simmons elsewhere, as mentioned in our Suns discussion.

Memphis Grizzlies

Could you imagine if KD returned to the Western Conference as a Grizzlie? It’s certainly possible given the team’s salary cap situation, their immensely talented, young superstar in Ja Morant, and a trade package headlined by dynamic-two-way big man, Jaren Jackson Jr.

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Golden State Warriors

Talk about what would be a full-circle moment? But when looking beyond the jokes and chaos Durant’s return would create, the Warriors could offer a fair exchange for their former superstar— the newly-motivated Andrew Wiggins, a certified bucket in Jordan Poole, and 2020 No. 2 overall pick, James Wiseman.

Toronto Raptors

Hey, you better not sleep on the Raptors in these trade discussions. Besides the brotherhood Durant has with superstar musician and Raptors ambassador Drake and Masai Ujiri being an incredible dealer, the Eastern Conference competitor has several attractive trade assets.

Anyone between All-NBA forward Pascal Siakam, reigning Rookie of the Year, Scottie Barnes, and OG Anunoby could start a return for the Nets– especially with various picks involved.


Every NBA Team Needs Their Own Cameron Johnson

At a certain point, every NBA team has good players; the hard part is finding ones who are good in complementary and compounding ways. Perenially slop-eating teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Washington Wizards still boast the likes of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Bradley Beal, both of whom can measure up with just about any shooting guard on earth. Accordingly, winning in the NBA is certainly about talent, but it’s also the product of some complicated, intangible calculus of fit and scheme and luck and vibes. So even as the championship race and the digital fug of the NBA’s thriving Takes Economy understandably swirls around the league’s biggest names, day-to-day success is rooted as much in smaller goodness as larger greatness.

In fact, Phoenix Suns are the best team in the NBA precisely because of their ability to stack smaller goodness into something unmissably great. Between Devin Booker and Chris Paul and DeAndre Ayton and Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, the Suns are loaded with talent, albeit at a lower voltage than, say, the Brooklyn Nets or Los Angeles Lakers. But whereas the Lakers prompt apocalyptic Twitter Spaces after every loss and the Nets struggle to convince Kyrie Irving to unwedge his thumb from his third eye, the Suns play a unique brand of exacting, synergistic basketball. Phoenix has rampaged to a 43-10 record because their every possession is informed by a clarity of purpose, each player providing a skillset that serves a common goal.

Cam Johnson, the Suns’ first round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, is perhaps the player most indicative of Phoenix’s approach. A 6’9 wing who shoots 43.6 percent from 3, Johnson has the kind of portable game that every team in the NBA needs. He’s the archetypal, low-maintenance role player, spacing the floor without attitude or ego. While Paul and Booker dominate the ball, Johnson (alongside his wing cohort of Bridges and Jae Crowder) unlocks the Suns’ elaborate pick-and-roll attack in subtle ways. Away from the action, Johnson sneakily fools with his defender’s help responsibilities, placing them in a state of forced ambivalence–he relocates on the weakside to create longer rotations for his man or slips behind flare screens or sets them himself. The Suns are unstoppable partially because Johnson’s off-ball chicanery leaves teams confused on how to even go about stopping the Suns. 

Johnson would always have a high baseline level of utility because of his size and shooting touch, but his canniness and shot versatility is what separates him from the Pat Connaughtons and Georges Niangs of the world; he’s a good shooter in a variety of contexts, making him a roving, mobile weapon rather than merely a stationary spot-up threat. In this sense, Johnson is the NBA’s Bud Light Lime, an outwardly prosaic, generically decent option, but with a twist that elevates him towards greatness. 


NBA Highlights From December 27th-January 2nd

The last week of 2021 gave NBA teams a unique opportunity to finish strong before aiming for a strong start in the New Year of 2022. As we approach the halfway point of this regular season in a matter of weeks, the action will intensify amongst teams determined to build their momentum further or drastically improve their situation. Down below are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action.

DeMar DeRozan should be on your MVP ballot
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Even with fans and media members quick to name the usual candidates for this year’s MVP award (I.E., Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry, to name a couple), their dialogue lacks something if DeRozan isn’t mentioned. The multi-time All-Star has not only led the Chicago Bulls to the first seed in the Eastern Conference, but he’s easily the NBA’s most clutch player right now.

During the same week, DeRozan became the first player in league history to make game-winners on consecutive days; he averaged 28 points, six assists, and four rebounds per game during the Bulls’ ongoing seven-game winning streak.

Ja Morant’s leap into superstardom is happening
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While some may have expected this to happen, it doesn’t make it less exciting than it is. In Morant’s third NBA season, he is taking that leap into superstardom which consists of a career-best production, team success, and signature moments that could make him a dark-horse MVP candidate this season.

To conclude 2021, we watched the former second overall pick outduel LeBron James two days after making a game-winning shot against the 28-8 Phoenix Suns on the road.

To say Jalen Smith has potential is an understatement
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Even though the Phoenix Suns found a successful big man in Deandre Ayton (Selected first in the 2018 Draft), it was a rare bit of success for a team who has failed multiple times when looking for high-quality big men. But that could change again with the pending emergence of Jalen Smith.

The second-year power forward, who is thriving as a center at the moment, gives the Suns another very athletic and flexible big man to play regardless of Ayton’s availability. Over his past four games, Smith has averaged 16 points and ten rebounds per game while playing less than 30 minutes each game.

Kevin Love is turning back the hands of time
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After months of hearing about a potential breakup with the Cleveland Cavaliers and having a slow start to this season, Love is back to playing at the level one would expect from a multi-time All-Star and Olympic Gold Medalist. Throughout December, Love averaged 17 points and over seven rebounds per game, but he’s entering the new year amid his best stretch in a long time.

Over his last five games, Love averaged 25 points and eight rebounds per game, including his 35-point and 11 rebounds performance against the Atlanta Hawks on New Year’s Eve. Love’s reemergence is a welcomed sight for a Cavs team that needs all contributions as they compete for a playoff berth.


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
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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?
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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
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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
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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.


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
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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
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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
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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.


NBA Highlights From November 22nd-28th

Even amidst unusual change, there’s a tendency for things to return to normal; the chaos of the day-to-day of the NBA season eventually smooths away with time. The Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns, last year’s NBA Finals matchup, appear to be on an early track for a Finals rematch. Joel Embiid made his return to action and picked up where he left off. And lastly, we witnessed another example of how arrogant fans can be. Down below are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action!

The Suns’ winning streak is now at 16!
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While pundits and fans may harp on aesthetics and style points, true contenders are content to win by any means necessary. The Phoenix Suns are a proud member of the latter group, given the wide variety of recent victories that comprised ongoing 16-game winning streak.

Whether it’s blowing out teams (Knicks) or winning in the last minutes (Spurs and Nets), the Suns aren’t apologizing for how they win and are more focused on what’s ahead of them: a huge primetime matchup against the 18-2 Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night.

Anthony Edwards is on track to become a superstar
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Although most fans would expect a No. 1 overall pick to have the potential to become a superstar, it doesn’t make it less exciting when their potential is producing at a high level. The 2020 No. 1 overall pick, Anthony Edwards, is becoming a nightly highlight reel for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Alongside averaging 22 points, six rebounds, and nearly four assists per game in his second NBA season, Edwards offers energy and gamesmanship, which have helped drive the Timberwolves’ improvement this season. And besides his magnificent dunks, Edwards provides valuable intangibles—such as his leadership and clutchness—that were overlooked before he arrived in the league.

Joel Embiid’s absence didn’t bother him during his return
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Before missing nine games because he tested positive for COVID-19, Joel Embiid was beginning to find his rhythm as he lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a 7-2 record to start this season. And while a three-week absence would harm most players, last season’s MVP runner-up didn’t miss a beat in his return to action last Saturday night.

Despite the 76ers’ double-overtime loss to the Timberwolves, Embiid posted 42 points and 14 rebounds, reminding the league just how dominant he can be. Even at Embiid’s level of stardom, few players possess his combination of impact and production that can vault their team into contention.

Once again, fans cross the line for no other reason than being selfish
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Even though most interactions between players and fans aren’t harmful, there are times where a line gets crossed. Last Wednesday, during the Los Angeles Lakers and Indiana Pacers game, LeBron James asked for two fans to be removed from their courtside seats due to offensive comments they made towards him.

And while there hasn’t been confirmation of what the fans said to James, the fact they got removed (and almost received a lifetime ban from attending NBA games) proves the need to improve fan behavior further. Regardless of who you are and the location of your seats, fans must remember they have to abide by the high standard that’s in place for spectators at these events. It’s an embarrassment to everyone involved when situations like this happen.


NBA Highlights From November 8th-14th

While we’re at that time of the NBA season where everyone prematurely claims a specific player or team to be “back,” the Golden State Warriors indeed appear to be the team they once were a couple of years ago. And in the spirit of confirming one’s return or new status solidified across the league, there is much to discuss between the likes of the Washington Wizards and Paul George. Down below are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action!

Yeah, the Warriors found their swagger back
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Even though various fans, media members, and even the rest of the NBA enjoyed Golden State’s struggles over the previous two seasons (59-83 in the regular season and no playoff appearances), an organization of the Warriors’ caliber wasn’t going to struggle for much longer. As we’re approaching the end of the NBA’s opening month, the Warriors aren’t only good; they’re potentially the best team in the league.

Whether it’s because of Stephen Curry leading the way and producing another all-time MVP-caliber season in the process or because of their deep collection of depth and youth, the Warriors’ 11-2 start is legitimate. And amid the Warriors’ hot start, you should remember that they’re doing this without All-Star guard Klay Thompson, who is inching his way back to the court following two consecutive season-ending injuries.

Put some respect on Paul George’s name!
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As easy as it has been for NBA Twitter and other viewers to criticize and make fun of Paul George’s failures consistently, it’s only right his success gets highlighted the same way! PG13 has elevated his game to begin this season following his redemptive postseason performance this summer, and the Los Angeles Clippers couldn’t be more grateful about it.

Alongside averaging 26 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists per game while also providing two-plus steals per game, George’s leadership and clutch play have lifted the Clippers into early postseason contention at 9-5, which included a seven-game winning streak. With fellow star teammate Kawhi Leonard still out with a torn ACL, George has and will accept the responsibility of leading the Clippers until further notice.

James Harden is slowly but surely regaining his rhythm
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In recent weeks, one of the more common things to watch and react to as NBA fans is players getting used to these new foul rules. The league’s greater focus on not calling fouls created by unusual moves by ballhandlers has impacted various stars, most notably James Harden. But despite his slow start to this season, the Brooklyn Nets superstar might be heading in the right direction.

Harden had his best game of this young season by producing a 39-point and 12-assist performance against the New Orleans Pelicans last Friday night (yes, we know it’s the Pelicans) while also maintaining a solid mini-stretch of basketball. Since Nov. 7th, Harden has averaged 23/8/9 while shooting 47% from the field. And as for the free throws? The “Beard” did attempt 15 freebies against the Pelicans.

The Suns are playing like the team who made the NBA Finals

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For any of the teams that made the NBA Finals and lost, it was customary for them to have a slow start the following season, and the Phoenix Suns joined that group because of their 1-3 start. But unlike their counterparts, the Suns have flipped the switch, and as winners of seven consecutive games, they’ve looked every bit of the team that not only made last year’s NBA Finals but was two games away from winning it all.

In between obtaining notable wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Memphis Grizzlies, the Suns currently have six players averaging double-digit points per game, and that number could reach eight if Cameron Payne and JaVale McGee round out their scoring production to double digits too.


NBA Pacific Division Preview and Betting Odds

Division Winner Pick: Phoenix Suns +190

Phoenix was such a fun story to follow last season: they went undefeated in the bubble (without even making the playoffs); traded for Chris Paul; watched Devin Booker blossom into a near superstar; made the Finals; lost the Finals.

Now the Suns have a real shot to win this division and also get the top seed in the West. Not only are they bringing back their same core from last season, young guys like Deandre Ayton, Cam Johnson, Mikal Bridges and Cam Payne will continue to improve. As an organization, the Suns should look to maximize their current situation; they’re a legitimate title contender–and championship windows close fast. 

Just as Phoenix benefited from some well-timed injury luck in last year’s postseason, it will find itself in a favorable situation in their division this year. The veteran-heavy Lakers will probably care more about load-managing their stars than pursuing a division title; Kawhi Leonard might not even play for the Clippers this season. Too, Klay Thompson might not be back for Golden State until the new year and the Kings are, well, the Kings. At plus odds and taking all of those factors into account, the Suns offer a ton of value.

“What If Everything Goes Right?” Pick: Golden State Warriors +550

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Wardell Stephen Curry II. If you have him on your team, you have a shot. Steph will go nuclear. Would it really surprise you if he averaged 40 PPG in a month? 

The two surgeries for Klay aren’t great. And not playing in a game for over two years isn’t ideal. Still, that’s part of his allure. Maybe smoking weed, hanging out with his dog and going out on his boat will be just what he needs to return to prime Klay. Encouragingly, his game is sort of perfect for coming back from two major injuries. Even if his defense may not reach its previous peak, Klay’s effectiveness has never been predicated on his explosiveness or athleticism—it doesn’t matter if the guy barely dribbles because he’s the second greatest shooter in the history of his sport, behind only his teammate. 

Draymond is what he is. 

Andrew Wiggins is a wild card. 

Everyone should buy the dip on James Wiseman’s stock. 

Finally, if Klay comes back and is even 70 percent of his old self from the jump while Steph continues to do Steph Things, the Warriors could be elite.The other guys can play their own roles. Plus, it’ll be fun to watch the Warriors with some stake in the game at those division odds.

The Longshot Pick: Los Angeles Clippers +900

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Okay, +900 isn’t *really* a long shot, but it’s not like anyone’s going to pick the Kings. 

The case for the Clippers: Paul George, two years removed from a serious MVP push, really shut a lot of critics up last year in the playoffs, when Kawhi wasn’t healthy. Is it out of the question that we get some form of that for an entire season? Or maybe even three-quarters of the season? After all, he’s just three seasons removed from receiving serious MVP consideration. 

Along with George, guys like Reggie Jackson and Terrence Mann emerged in Kawhi’s absence. Sometimes, all it takes is guys experiencing a high pressure situation like the playoffs to build on that for an entire season. Also, Marcus “Flask Dad” Morris does some truly wild things to swing a handful of games every year. 

Is it probable that all this will happen? No. But they don’t call it the longshot pick for nothing.

Best of the Rest:

Los Angeles Lakers -106

A team with Lebron and Anthony Davis is good enough to beat anybody, but its ambitions lie far beyond the regular season. Maybe the Lakers will chase home-court advantage in the playoffs, but their ultimate goal will probably be keeping their cadre of old guys fresh. Although the greatness of Lebron James and AD aren’t in question, there are a slew of variables for this overhauled team: can they stay healthy? How will Russell Westbrook mesh with Lebron and AD? Can Melo score enough to warrant heavy minutes? How will their rotation shake out?

Odds of -106 with a team constructed like that is not particularly tasty. Come playoff time however, it’s a different conversation—never bet against Playoff Lebron.

Sacramento Kings +20000

A few nice things about the Kings: De’Aaron Fox is one the most thrilling players in the league and will form an intriguing backcourt, alongside Tyrese Haliburton. Marvin Bagley isn’t the worst rapper in the NBA. All of those people who claimed they could score against Harrison Barnes within five minutes, one on one, were wrong.

The Kings are not winning the division.


The Suns Screwed DeAndre Ayton

In a vacuum, the Phoenix Suns probably made a good decision to not offer DeAndre Ayton, the first pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, a $172 million extension. Ayton is the kind of low usage center that’s commonplace in the NBA; there’s hardly a shortage of tall guys who can jump high, catch lobs and clean up the stray offensive rebound—Daniel Gafford and Robert Williams signed contracts that, combined, total about half of what Ayton wanted from the Suns.

In reality, though, it’s organizational malpractice to let the October extension deadline pass without delivering Ayton the bag that was promised.

During last year’s charmed romp to the Finals, Ayton was solidly Phoenix’s third best player, providing the interior physicality that Chris Paul and Devin Booker lack. Over the course of their playoff run, Ayton shot 65.8 percent from the field and had nearly as many offensive rebounds (67) as he did missed shots (80). Even if he doesn’t possess the on-ball wattage of Paul or Booker, Ayton sneakily acted as the Suns’ offensive fulcrum; his screen setting and gravity as a roller provided the Suns with a new dimension of rim-ward oomph. 

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Defensively, he’s proven to be shockingly adaptable for a player who leans closer to “traditional center” than the “space-age anthropod” archetype that’s now in style. Against the Nuggets, Ayton troubled Nikola Jokic, holding him to 53 percent true shooting (down from 64.7 percent true shooting mark in the regular season). Against the Clippers, Ayton ably held his own against a five-out offense designed to target players like him. 

More, Ayton represents one of the last avenues for easily attainable improvement on an old, capped-out Suns team; the Suns’ best chance at repeating as Western Conference champs is dependent on Ayton’s steady growth. For Ayton, very-goodness is simple—he’s so massive and athletic and coordinated that reconfigures opponent’s gameplans and lineups simply by standing in the right place with his hands up. Although he’s clearly a step below the NBA’s best big men at the moment, it’s not hard to imagine Ayton progressing towards eliteness, whether that’s by evolving into a fearsome interior defender or by becoming an anti-small ball union buster who forces teams to guard him with a center. 

By entering the season without a new contract, Ayton will become the first number one pick since Anthony Bennet to reach restricted free agency. And while Bennett went contract-less because he was lumpy and apneic, Ayton’s deal was sabotaged by a factor beyond his control: Robert Sarver. A miserly real estate bigwig who can’t even stock his arena with warm nacho cheese, Sarver is possibly the worst owner in sports, offering all of James Dolan’s oafishness but with none of the largesse. 

In this sense, letting the extension deadline lapse is a transparent attempt to squeeze Ayton so that the Suns can save some money on their luxury tax bill—Ayton will probably sign a lengthy extension to stay in Phoenix over the summer, but the Suns are trying to get a discount on it by matching an offer from another team next summer rather than making a competitive one of their own. The Suns’ whole approach to the situation reeks of parsimony and bad faith; first, they artificially suppressed Ayton’s statistics by shoehorning him into a circumscribed role that inherently limited his value (his 10.0 field goal attempts per game last year was by far the lowest mark of his career) and then punished him for not posting gaudier stats.

There’s a difference between being correct and being right.