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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3x3: Jimmy Buckets, Shump & the Brow

The 2014-15 NBA Season is rolling along.  It’s still early, but teams are beginning to show their true colors, players are figuring out their roles, and fans are beginning to form their opinions.  So in case you’ve missed out on the action, the Franchise is here to break down three hot topics from the NBA in three days.  This is Part 2, but you can find Part 1 here.  So without further ado…

Who is the most improved player so far this year?

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Brandon Knight A.D.J. (After DeAndre Jordan)

When someone mentions Brandon Knight in conversation, you know this is the first thing that pops into your head:

What an unfortunate memory for Knight.  He was the laughingstock of the NBA for days, as the posterization replayed ceaselessly on ESPN.  Social media didn’t make things any easier for him, as people hurried to their Twitter and Facebook accounts to take jabs at him.  Someone even took the time to change Knight’s Wikipedia page to state that he had died at the hands of DeAndre Jordan.

In a way, a part of Brandon Knight did die on March 10, 2013.  That fateful dunk would serve as a turning point in the career of the Florida native; he would be resurrected the following season as a changed basketball player.  Enter Brandon Knight A.D.J.

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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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Griffin, Love & Aldridge: On the Outside

Three of the NBA’s best power forwards couldn’t be more different.  Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, and LaMarcus Aldridge all have legitimate cases for claiming the title of top dog, (so does Anthony Davis, who has had two incredible games thus far) and each for completely different reasons:

Kevin Love might be the best rebounder in the NBA despite never being the biggest nor most athletic player on the court.  While he is a defensive liability, Love has an incredible basketball IQ, a plethora of moves in the post, a nice stroke from the outside, and one of the greatest outlet passes in recent memory. 

 

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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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Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: More Than a Number Game

The 2013 NBA Draft class didn’t exactly take the league by storm…. Of the top 7 picks, Victor Oladipo seems like the only player to truly meet expectations thus far.  Anthony Bennett became just the 5th number 1 overall pick in 26 years to miss an NBA All-Rookie team; Otto Porter was kept out with a hip injury for the first half of the year and was stuck behind Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster upon his return; Cody Zeller and Alex Len still look like big reaches as the 4th and 5th picks respectively; Nerlens Noel has yet to play a game due to an ACL tear during his one-year stop at Kentucky; and the most memorable part of Ben McLemore’s season came courtesy of LeBron James.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the 8th pick, doesn’t seem much different from his aforementioned fellow draftees….  Well, at least on paper he doesn’t: he averaged just 5.9 points per game on 39.6% shooting and not much of anything else, but quietly displayed his defensive prowess.

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POW! PAU! POW!

I'll try my best not to dance a little jig as I write this, but let it be known that as a Bulls fan, I am absolutely beaming.

This past week has been a nervous one.  While the wider basketball world waited on tenterhooks to hear where Lebron James planned to play next season, Chicagoans were preoccupied with Melo-watch, praying that the one of the league's most effortless scorers would choose to bolster our anemic offense, which, paired with the perennially dominant Thibodeau defense, figured to rocket the Bulls to the top of the Eastern Conference.  By noon on Saturday, it was clear Melo was staying with the Knicks, and Bulls-fans were left wondering what big moves the front office had left to make.  We needn't have feared--Gar Forman had a plan.

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All Quiet on the Lakers’ Front

Magic.  Kareem.  Shaq.  Kobe.  Jeremy Lin?

As the days pass, the free agent market is slowly drying up.  James, Anthony, Bosh, and Nowitzki have already figured out their plans for the 2014-15 season, Wade looks ready to re-up in Miami, and Gasol looks like he’s headed to Chi-Town.

But where are the Los Angeles Lakers?  Well, they made some moves after the King announced he was going home, but these aren’t the marquee moves you Lakers fans are used to seeing (yes, I’m a Clippers fan).  Rather, they made an array of smaller moves that seem to reveal the front office’s strategy going forward: a patient rebuild.

With only Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Robert Sacre under contract for the upcoming season, the Lakers have a lot of work to do.  So let’s break down the recent deals made by Mitch Kupchak, Jim Buss & Co.:

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LeBron Awaits His Kingdom in Cleveland

Before analyzing Cleveland’s imminent dynasty after the Homecoming, the Return of the King, the Decision 2.0, or whatever else you want to call LeBron’s move back to Cleveland, I want to quickly say something to the dying breed of hardcore LeBron haters still out there: 

One thing is clear about LeBron James’ public perception at this point: no matter what he does, there will always be those who shamelessly deride and treat him as a villain. LeBron has coped with the pressure of becoming the greatest NBA player of all time, ever since he was in high school.

Such a subjective expectation inevitably leads to constant controversy and scrutiny of every press conference, headband placement, cramp, and decision James has made throughout his young adulthood and tumultuous twenties. Most fans willing to exercise empathy can hardly blame LeBron for some of his missteps given his circumstances, but unfortunately, empathy tends to yield to sensationalism among sports fans.

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The LeBrottery: A Reaction from a Non-Entitled Heat Fan

I’ve been a Miami Heat fan my whole conscious life, but up until four years ago, nobody gave a shit. And why should they have? To be a fan of a given franchise is no more notable than any other fanhood… that is until the greatest, most polarizing player in the global cult they call professional sports decides to take his talents to your city. That decision- THE Decision- changed everything for me, Miami Heat fans, the NBA and, of course, SportsCenter.

Since that glorious day, LeBron has brought us two NBA Championships, two Most Valuable Player awards, four straight trips to the NBA Finals, and countless moments of awe-inspired pride. But along with these great things has come something rather grotesque: a sense of entitlement. Sure, that sentiment is anything but rare in the ostentatiously glittered streets of South Florida.  We feel entitled to beautiful weather, beautiful people, beautiful homes and cars. But it’s supposed to be different when it comes to sports.

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