The Hoops 101 Exam: March 2016
True or False
1. LeBron James will leave the Cavs within the next 3 years. T F
A: False. By now you’ve heard LeBron James’ recent comments from a Bleacher Report interview where he expressed desire to be part of another “super team.” LeBron talked about possibly joining forces with his basketball brothers Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Dwyane Wade at some point before their careers come to a close. His statement, the Cavs’ chemistry woes this year, and the fact that James is in the last year of his 2-year contract, have a lot of us wondering if he’ll peace out from Cleveland similar to his exit in 2010. Looking at the circumstances and thinking we have some idea of what LeBron values, we’re going to say no….he’s not leaving Cleveland. Not this summer and probably not for the rest of his career unless he’s able to win a championship for the Cavs within the next few years.
LeBron is fully aware of the hit his legacy took when he left Cleveland for Miami on that day in July 2010. From the outside looking in, you could tell that in spite of his public comments, Bron-Bron wasn’t a fan of playing the villain for the next four years as a member of the Heat. He realized leaving his home state and home area in the fashion that he did and without a championship would forever tarnish his basketball legacy. That’s why even after four straight Finals appearances and two championships in glorious Miami, he made the decision to go back to Cleveland---to repair the damage that he caused and solidify his spot among the all time greats. If he could lead the Cavs to the promised land and bring Cleveland its first major sports championship since 1964, all of the NBA universe: retired legends, media, fans, haters, etc….they would all have to finally give him his due and respect.
With that narrative, LeBron knows that there’s no way he could voluntarily leave Cleveland before he finally calls it a career. If he does, he would face a wave of hate so great that it’ll make the aftermath of July 8, 2010 look like a springtime tea party. There’s no way LeBron wants to face that. So, the idea of these four generational superstars somehow teaming up in New York or in Los Angeles (Lakers) is not going happen. That is unless LeBron is a able to lead the Cavs to a championship over the next 2 or 3 years. Then he can stand firm and say, “I’ve given you what you longed for Cleveland. I’ve redeemed myself and paid for my wrongs, and now I can move on without guilt or blame.” However, the way the Warriors have been looking the past two years and with the Spurs and Thunder somewhat close behind, it’s hard to see the Cavs claiming the title in the foreseeable future.
This “brotherhood” team up is only going to work if CP3, Carmelo, and DWade come to Cleveland. A Kyrie trade for CP3 or something to that effect seems reasonable. Wade signed a one-year contract with Miami last year so he’s free to go his own way this summer. We could certainly see him signing for less money to team up with LeBron again in Cleveland. As for Carmelo, that seems a bit tricky. He’s already stated, in the midst of trade rumors this year, that he wants to stay in New York. Maybe some summer chats between him and the rest of the brotherhood might convince him otherwise. If Melo then gives the green light, we could see Carmelo coming to the Cavs in exchange for a package including Kevin Love as the centerpiece.
When you sit down and think about it, this could actually happen. LeBron may be able to have his cake and eat it too. The question is (and has been for the last 6 years), is another super team like this good for the league. That, friends, is a test question for another day.
2. As we quickly approach the end of the 2015-16 regular season, which team underperformed the most this year:
A: The Bulls. After a 6th-place finish in the Eastern Conference last year, the signing of Greg Monroe last summer, and Jabari Parker coming back from injury, the Bucks understandably had high hopes going into this season. However, even with all that good news, the Bucks generally weren’t picked as a top-3 team in the East this year.
The Wizards have made it to the playoffs the last two years but with the departure of forward Trevor Ariza in 2014 and Paul Pierce’s stint only lasting one season (2014-15), a drop-off from the WizKids was to be expected. John Wall is a talented point guard but his strength is distribution and penetration. He’s not a score-first point guard by nature. Without another consistent go-to scorer, a role that Ariza and Pierce helped fill, Washington was going to take a step back. Many in D.C. have hoped that Bradley Beal would emerge as the primary scoring option and to his credit, he’s played very well the last two years in the playoffs. Even still, Beal is often injured, hurting his progress.
The Rockets made it to the Conference Finals last year but with San Antonio signing LaMarcus Aldridge over the summer and Kevin Durant coming back from injury, the Rockets should have been expected to drop down a few notches. Also, let's be real: James Harden’s style of play as a ball-dominant guard was going to inevitably create chemistry issues between him and Dwight Howard.
The Bulls were on many people’s list to be the second best team in the East behind Cleveland as long as Derrick Rose stayed healthy. For the most part, he’s been fairly healthy, playing 62 games this year as of March 30. However, Jimmy Butler’s knee and back injuries set the team back a bit along with the Bulls’ drop off in defense and intensity (two attributes they were known for in the Tom Thibodeau era). As a projected top-5 team in the league before the year started, they are the biggest underperformers this year.
Fill-in the Blank
3. The best word to describe Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour this year would be ________.
A: Anticlimactic. Every couple of weeks or so I’ll see a commercial from ESPN advertising Kobe Bryant’s last game against a team or another superstar (e.g. Kobe’s final matchup versus LeBron...Kobe’s final game in Chicago, etc.) but each time I see a commercial like this, I can’t help but shrug off the event. The Lakers won 27 games in 2013-14 and 21 games in 2014-15. This year, they probably won’t crack 20. They’ve been largely irrelevant in the NBA landscape in recent memory. Because of their struggles and the fact that Kobe’s play has been inconsistent this year, the Mamba’s farewell tour hasn't lived up to the hype.
By this year’s All Star Weekend many were wondering if Kobe should just dip then. It’s been tough to watch and you feel for Kobe being the competitive person that he is. When we’ve seen other greats in their last seasons, although they too were uneven in their contributions (thanks to Father Time), their teams were still competitive if not playoff contenders.
In 2002-03, MJ’s Wizards missed the playoffs but at 37-45 and 9th place in the Eastern Conference, they were competitive. In 1995-96, Magic Johnson’s Lakers went 53-29; playoff bound but lost in the first round. Larry Bird, wrestling with back issues, played his final season with a Celtics squad that made it to the second round of the playoffs. Kareem’s final year saw his Lakers making it to the Finals where they were swept by the Pistons. The fact that this year’s Lakers have been more than disappointing has made this a forgettable ride off into the sunset for Kobe. But in the midst of the storm, I give Kobe a lot of credit for staying the course and sticking with the Lakers to the end. In today's NBA, it certainly would have been easy for him to jump ship and sign with a team on the cusp of a title.
Extra Credit - Short Answer (College Basketball)
4. Please briefly assess the results of the Maryland Terrapins’ 2016 season
A: A team with a super talented starting five and high expectations coming into the season (No. 2 in the AP preseason poll) finished the year as a 5th seed in the NCAA tournament and was struck down by Kansas in the Sweet 16. As much talent as the team had, it was unfair to tie them down to such lofty predictions. A team like that needs a season or two to develop and maintain good chemistry. Of that great starting five on paper, 3 of those players (Stone, Carter, and Sulaimon) were just in their first year with the team.
It’s a shame that due to the current landscape of college and professional ball that Robert Carter will probably be the only one from that lineup who will be back next season. Sulaimon and Layman were in their last year of eligibility. Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone are probably headed to the NBA. If Melo, Carter, and Stone had another year together, improving on their respective games, and if the supporting cast continued to develop, the Terps would truly would live up to their potential in 2017. From these eyes, Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone could use another year in school to refine their skills, especially Stone. But, as a friend jokingly pointed out to me, why develop at the amateur ranks when you can develop in the NBA and get paid to do it.