Russell Westbrook: the ScapeG.O.A.T.

While the top athletes in their respective sports garner the most fame, popularity, and wealth, they must also deal with the most criticism and scrutiny from the media.  Superstars are held to the highest of expectations, making it essentially impossible to satisfy the masses.  A prime example of this is LeBron James, one of the most consistent and dominant basketball players ever.  In his first stint in Cleveland, James, who was then 25-years old, won back-to-back MVPs and led the Cavaliers to the best record in both seasons.  Yet, he was criticized for failing to overcome the Celtics’ Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen despite carrying a weak supporting cast.  LeBron was quickly labeled as “unclutch” and mocked for failing to deliver on the big stage.

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Kobe Bryant: Scoring Titles or Free Agents?

Amidst a season filled with losses and disappointment, Kobe Bryant is still looking to make more history.  He already set the all-time mark for most misses in a career earlier this year, but is also on the fringe of breaking several other records held by the player he has always been compared to: Michael Jordan.

Before the New Year, the Lakers’ superstar should pass Jordan’s 32,292 career points, replacing him as the third highest scorer of all-time.  Kobe is also looking to usurp M.J.’s title as the oldest player ever to win the scoring title; Jordan averaged 28.7 points at 35 while Kobe currently leads the league with 26.7 at 36.

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Should the Thunder Tank?

With the injuries to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban recently had a suggestion for Oklahoma City’s management: “The question I don’t think anybody has asked is, why don’t they pull a David Robinson and try to get Tim Duncan?”

If you don’t understand what Cuban is talking about, he is referring to the 1996-97 Spurs.  David Robinson had an injury plagued season, missing all but six games due to a broken foot.  The Spurs finished with a miserable 20-62 record, but in the process, put themselves in the running to grab the #1 overall pick in the upcoming draft.

You know the rest… The Spurs won the lottery, drafted some kid named Tim Duncan, and never looked back.  After five championships, I don’t think the Spurs have any regrets and the 1996-97 season is long forgotten.

The Spurs make Cuban’s question sound intriguing.  But should the Thunder actually follow through and tank this year?

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Opening Week: NBA Roundtable

The NBA Season is barely a week old, but so much has already transpired. Among other news, Westbrook and D-Rose have both already gotten hurt, Klay Thompson got paid, and the King made his return. There's clearly too much to talk about, but we'll try to cover some of the NBA's hottest issues in the infant stages of the season.  So without further ado...

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Has Kevin Durant Already Lost This Year's MVP Race?

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the reigning MVP Kevin Durant will be sidelined for 6-8 weeks with a Jones fracture, an injury where the bone at the base of the small toe breaks.  And with just under two weeks until the 2014-15 NBA season tips off, the Thunder will undoubtedly miss their superstar on the court.  But how will this injury impact Kevin Durant’s chances of defending the Maurice Podoloff Trophy?

Well, before Durant went down, Vegas had LeBron James as the favorite to win the MVP this year with 3:2 odds while Durant came in at second with 3:1 odds.  Now, James’ odds have improved to 5:6 while Durant's have fallen to 4:1.  While the odd shifts correctly reflect that Durant’s chances of winning MVP have diminished, Vegas still severely underestimates the uphill battle Durant faces.  Let’s see why by breaking down a few key components to winning the NBA’s most coveted award:

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Tony Allen: the Birth of the GRINDfather

I had a chance to make my first trip to the FedExForum, home of the Memphis Grizzlies.  My beloved Los Angeles Clippers were playing in the playoffs for just the fifth time in my 22 years of life (and three of those appearances occurred before I was 5).  Luckily, I was attending Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and decided to make the 3-hour drive to Memphis to root my team on in Game 1.

The game was a memorable one.  The Clippers made a historic 27-point comeback.  Reggie Evans transformed into our MVP.  Swaggy P drained three consecutive 3’s in the 4th quarter. And I blacked out when Kenyon Martin locked down Rudy Gay at the buzzer.  But the thing that stuck out most to me that night wasn’t our miraculous win.

On the long drive to the Forum, my friends and I were debating which Grizzly player was likely the most popular.  Was it Zach Randolph?  Rudy Gay?  Marc Gasol?  Mike Conley?

While there was a good mix of Z-Bo and Gay jerseys, there was another jersey that popped up with alarming frequency around the arena: #9, for Tony Allen.

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Drafting Like a Champ

Although there is no blueprint for winning an NBA championship, we have encountered only a few strategies that have resulted in league success. For example, Danny Ainge revitalized the 'Big Three' Strategy by adding Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to Paul Pierce's Celtics. This blueprint was famously followed in the 2010 by the Heat, when Lebron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade teamed up in Miami.  While these triumvirates dominated the media's attention, they depended upon a strong group of role players to complete a championship roster--Ainge's Celtics would not have defeated Kobe and Pau's Lakers without stringy point guard Rajon Rondo or even Glen "Big Baby" Davis, and Miami’s “Big Three” could not have won consecutive titles without timely contributions from the likes of Mike Miller, Shane Battier, and Udonis Haslem.

But signing superstars leaves little money to fill out the rest of the roster. Teams have met this challenge by completing their rosters with efficient role players who demand lesser contracts. Teams like the Heat have achieved this by adding veterans like Ray Allen who have been willing to play for less than market value to play for a contender. While well-known veterans taking pay cuts grab the headlines, the contributions of young players on rookie contracts have proven invaluable to teams looking for contributions at a bargain. This article focuses on the latter group, one that is often overlooked when discussing team building.

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