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What Have We Learned From NBA Free Agency So Far?

As fireworks continue lighting up across the United States in honor of Independence Day, the NBA has witnessed its share of them. Since last Thursday, the 2022 NBA free agency has kept fans, media, and even players glued to their phones in great anticipation of what could be next.

Sparked by the evolving nature of player movement, the known and unknown worked together in creating the madness we experienced during free agency’s opening stretch. While fans knew of the likelihood that Jalen Brunson would sign with the New York Knicks, we were thrown a curveball upon the news of Rudy Gobert getting traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Even the broad daylight robbery of a trade done by the Boston Celtics with the Indiana Pacers threw us in for a loop.

As free agency’s opening week concludes in two days and the shift turns to the second wave of signings– while we’ll also wonder who gets traded first: Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant?– now is the perfect time to examine what has happened so far.

Here are our five biggest takeaways from the opening weekend of NBA free agency.

Why leave home when there’s a super-max deal?

Even with the combined desire by fans and media to see players leave their home teams, it’s becoming less of a reality given the introduction of super-max contracts. Fueled by incentives including All-Star and All-NBA selections, players are quickly putting pen to sheets near the end of their rookie or latest deal.

Within the first 48 hours of free agency, six super-max contracts were signed that totaled over one-point-two billion dollars (Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, Nikola Jokic, Ja Morant, Darius Garland, and Zion Williamson).

Put some respect on Brian Windhorst’s name

The long-time ESPN Insider was arguably the MVP this past weekend, given his memorable explanation behind the Utah Jazz’s way of thinking before they moved All-Star center Rudy Gobert.

All meme-worthy moments aside, Windhorst’s connecting of the dots between the Jazz suddenly moving Royce O’Neale and current team CEO Danny Ainge’s willingness to start from scratch painted a great picture of what would happen in Salt Lake City.

Productive veterans will always be paid

Even for a league that is getting younger, they will always pay productive veterans– even if it’s expensive. The Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks, two legitimate Eastern Conference competitors, both signed or resigned productive veterans, PJ Tucker and Bobby Portis, at a combined cost and commitment of $79 million over seven years.

You never know when the trade market will be active

Minus an on and off busy night from the Draft, there wasn’t much happening in the trade market before Kevin Durant’s sudden trade request last Thursday. But you still have to remember this: Even with a busy rumor mill, it doesn’t mean trades will happen right now.

In the case of KD, the Nets can let his situation play out longer due to four years remaining on his contract. Regarding a potential Kyrie Irving for Russell Westbrook trade, the hold-up can be over one thing. And if you’re the Jazz, you must be 100% certain you want to let go of All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell.

Who you got: Woj or Shams?

I’m more of a Woj guy but Shams is nice too *shrugs.

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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

Ranking The Ten Best NBA-Inspired Lyrics In Hip-Hop

If you’ve been around sports and hip-hop long enough, then you’ve come across this quote– “Rappers want to be like athletes, and the athletes want to be like rappers.” The two very influential entities, specifically basketball and hip hop, have a special chemistry. It has become familiar as the sunlight to find our favorite rappers sitting courtside at games or our favorite players quoting their lyrics. But their relationship is sustained by tributes (or plain disrespect); rappers pay homage to ballplayers in their songs, which sparks another round of conversations.

Down below are the ten best NBA-inspired lyrics from hip-hop.

1. Ice Cube, “Today Was A Good Day,” 1992 –

“Get me on the court and I’m trouble.

Last week f—– around and got a triple-double.

Freaking n—– every way like MJ.

I can’t believe today was a good day.”

2. Jay-Z, “Encore,” 2003 –

“As fate would have it, Jay’s status appears.

To be at an all-time high, perfect time to say goodbye.

When I come back like Jordan, wearing the 4-5.

It ain’t to play games with you, it’s to aim at you, probably maim you.”

3. Drake, “Thank Me Now,” 2010 –

“I can relate to kids going straight to the league.

When they recognize that you got what it takes to succeed.

And that’s around the time that your idols become your rivals.

You make friends with Mike but got to ‘A.I.’ him for your survival.”

4. Lil Wayne, “Kobe Bryant,” 2009 –

“Kobe doin’ work, 2–4 on my shirt.

He the greatest on the court and I’m the greatest on the verse.

Going for the fourth ring like it was his first.

Gotta get the bling, do it for Kareem.”

5. Jay-Z, “Pump It Up (Remix),” 2003 –

“Go ahead, bug out, I’ll Raid, n—-, scurry.

Worry, I’m, not, the Mike Jordan of the mic recording.

It’s Hovi, baby, you Kobe, maybe; Tracy McGrady.

Matter-fact, you a Harold Miner.

J.R. Rider, washed up on marijuana.

Even worse, you a Pervis Ellis.

You worthless, fella; you ain’t no athlete, you Shawn Bradley.”

Getty Images

6. Kendrick Lamar, “The Heart Part IV,” 2017 –

“Tables turned, lesson learned, my best look.

You jumped sides on me, now you ‘bout to meet Westbrook.

Go celebrate with your team and let victory vouch you.

Just know the next game played I might slap the s— out you.”

7. J. Cole, “Return of Simba,” 2011 –

Ced said, ‘Look, my n—–, we got a foot in’.

Being good is good, that’ll get you Drew Gooden.

But me, I want Jordan numbers, LeBron footin’.

Can’t guard me, Vince Lombardi, John Wooden.”

8. Jadakiss, “Put Your Hands Up,” 2001 –

“And y’all scared I can tell.

That I’ma get Bucks like Milwaukee, cause like Sam, I ca’ sell.”

9. Kanye West, “New God Flow,” 2012 –

“Went from most hated to the champion god flow.

I guess that’s a feeling only me and LeBron know.”

10. Drake, “0 to 100 / The Catch Up,” 2014 –

“I’ve been Steph Curry with the shot.

Been cooking with the sauce.

Chef Curry with the pot, boy… 360 with the wrist, boy!”




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Sports Strength

NBA Highlights From November 15th-21st

While we’re still at a relatively young point of this current NBA season, just about 20 percent of the season has elapsed and it’s becoming increasingly clear what fate holds for each team. Down below are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action!

Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan are the league’s best duo

To some, this first takeaway may be absurd, but it’s not if you’ve watched LaVine and DeRozan play consistently. Even in a league where dynamic duos are as common as foul calls and slam dunks, there hasn’t been a better and more impactful duo than the Bulls’ pair of likely 2022 All-Star selections.

Between the two leading the league in fourth-quarter points (DeRozan has 126 and LaVine has 111) and being the fastest duo in 59 years to produce ten games with 25+ points apiece, DeRozan and LaVine have lifted the Bulls’ ceiling from fringe-playoff team to a viable title contender.

The Bucks are beginning to bounce back

Even though the reigning world champion’s 6-8 start had a few people questioning their chances of repeating, the Bucks have righted the ship after winning three consecutive games. Giannis Antetokounmpo is not only going beast mode as he’s averaging 33 points, 16 rebounds, and five assists per game during the Bucks’ winning streak but so is the rest of their roster as key players recover from injuries.

With the return of fellow All-Star Kris Middleton (COVID-19) and Bobby Portis and Jrue Holiday regaining their productive form, the Bucks have the opportunity to rack up wins during a soft portion of their schedule; until December 8th, the Bucks only face four teams with a winning record (Charlotte, Cleveland, Denver, and Miami), and two of them are battling injuries as we speak (Cleveland and Denver).

Rudy Gay is going to fit in nicely in Utah

Sure, the 11-5 Utah Jazz already have a plethora of talent, but that doesn’t mean they can’t receive additional help. While receiving reliable and all-around production from their regular cast of contributors, the Western Conference competitor received a sizable bump in scoring and size when veteran forward Rudy Gay made his season debut on Saturday night.

The former San Antonio Spur delivered 20 points in his first game as a Jazz and has added another dimension to the team’s offense. At 6-foot-8, Gay is comfortable playing on the perimeter and is able to create his own shot from any area of the court because of his ability to shoot over defenders. This development is massive for a Jazz team that enjoys having as many shot-creators as possible, especially in the postseason.

The Lakers can’t be any worse than what they just were

The last three weeks have certainly been a roller-coaster in La-La land, but you know what? Even at 9-9, the Los Angeles Lakers are pretty much at their nadir as a team, and, for them, that’s a good thing. Even while enduring a recent Lebron-less three-game losing streak and randomly getting blown out by the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Lakers showed just enough promise of what they could become soon.

And while it’s easy to look at Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook as the primary reasons for such optimism, the most promising development has been the improvement of third-year wing Talen Horton-Tucker. Through his first five games, Horton-Tucker has offered the Lakers a needed jolt of energy and athleticism; head coach Frank Vogel has to keep him involved no matter what.

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Sports Strength

Don’t Panic, Lakers Twitter: the Lakers Are the NBA’s Most Interesting Puzzle

No matter what agenda you want to push, the Los Angeles Lakers are here to help.  Through the first seven games of the season, the Lakers have unsurprisingly offered fertile soil for the NBA Twitter Hot Take Industrial Complex to harvest—depending on who you ask, Russell Westbrook is an elite point guard or the dreaded Westbrick; Carmelo Anthony is either barbecuing chicken or is barbecue chicken himself; the narratives around Lebron James form such an unparseably dense palimpsest that it’s not even worth engaging with them. But amidst all the daily frenzy, the Lakers remain one of the best teams in the league—this is the NBA’s most interesting puzzle, a mish-mash of players that turn line-up construction into an exercise of faith.

More than just about any other team, the Lakers have a rupture between who they are and what they can be. Although the team boasts a winning record at 4-3, they’ve largely been lurching and wooden, unable to muster the focus or synergy to play cogently and cohesively for more than a few minutes at a time; their 107.7 points per 100 possessions is barely a smidge above league-average. And this is totally fine—it’s barely November. But within the scrum of wayward pull-up jumpers and too-long isolations, flashes of future goodness are visible in moments—kick-out passes that land in shooting pockets, cuts that unravel defensive shells. 

When the Lakers’ offense is humming, it presents a path forward for what a post-postmodern NBA offense can look like. Whereas most current NBA offenses focus on spreading the floor, the Lakers primary concern is compacting the opposing defense. At times, they’re a study in how to create spacing without the benefit of great shooters, occupying weak-side defenders with clever cuts and the threat that’s posed by genius passing.

Built around Lebron James, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis, the Lakers’ attack can be sketched in stark, brutal vectors. Every possession is informed by a sense of momentum, informed by the Big Three’s combined defense-warping gravitational force. Even if the awesomely frightening parade of dunks and layups hasn’t quite come to fruition, the Lakers are able to parlay their potential rim pressure to create open three-pointers; according to NBA.com’s tracking data, only 8.2 percent of the Lakers’ three-pointers are taken with a defender within four feet of the shooter. 

The problem, though, is finding lineups that can supply that point-scoring goodness while maintaining enough defensive integrity. Carmelo Anthony has become a load-bearing presence in their offense as he’s eased into a regular season version of the mythical Olympic Melo, but he’s possibly the leakiest defender in their rotation and requires stauncher teammates to cover for him; Malik Monk offers a much-needed jolt athleticism and shooting in theory, but not much of either of them in practice. Anthony Davis is possibly the best center in the NBA, yet insists on playing as a power forward alongside Dwight Howard or DeAndre Jordan—which, in turn, makes it difficult to find a natural spot for Russell Westbrook. 

As such, the challenge for Frank Vogel is to assemble lineups that accentuate his players’ strengths while masking their obvious weaknesses; the roster is stocked with gifted players, albeit ones who largely require the right context for their gifts to fully come into focus. The Lakers have an array of shooters who can’t defend, defenders who can’t shoot, big men who can’t play together, and a Rajon Rondo who straight-up can’t play. For Vogel, building a workable five-man unit is a task somewhere between playtime with Mr. Potato Head and an LSAT logic game—here’s an adaptable, customizable set-up with a raft of distinct and productive parts, but one that’s also riddled with prerequisites and limitations. 

Certainly, there’s no rush (yet) for Vogel to solve the Gordian Knot that is his roster. The Lakers have such iridescent, undeniable talent that they could probably secure home-court advantage in the playoffs if they were coached by a semi-trained seal; the Lakers have a winning record even while James, Davis and Westbrook have gotten off to uncharacteristically slow and irritable starts to the season. Still, for the Lakers to achieve the kind of postseason success that this roster is capable of achieving, they need to solidify an identity and scheme.

It’s a mystery whether the Lakers will unleash inverted pick-and-rolls with Westbrook screening for James or if Trevor Ariza and Talen Horton-Tucker will be the remedy for the Lakers’ shallow wing depth once they get healthy or if Davis can rediscover his bubble sharp-shooting. But, in a regular season that sometimes feels like a lifeless prelude to the postseason, the Lakers’ fledgling attempts at self-discover will, at the very least, be a joy to watch.