Atlanta's (Racially) Confusing Rise to the Top

The Atlanta Hawks are in a very odd situation.  Despite sitting atop the Eastern Conference with a 29-8 record, the franchise finds itself up for sale.  It all started in September when majority owner Bruce Levenson “self-reported” a bigoted e-mail he sent out regarding the Hawks’ predominantly African-American fanbase.  Amidst the backlash from the Donald Sterling disaster, Levenson tried to save face and immediately declared that he would sell the team.

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Clippers: Countdown to Christmas

Things aren’t looking good for the Clippers as we countdown to the highly anticipated Christmas Night rematch against the Golden State Warriors.  The Clips started off a hectic upcoming week with a loss in Denver last night, the first of five games in a seven day span.  To compound things, they will have to travel to a different time zone in between each game.

The upcoming schedule includes two back-to-backs as well as elite competition from teams such as San Antonio (17-10), Atlanta (18-7), and Golden State (22-3).  And while the Bucks (14-13) are not quite up to par with the others, they just beat the Clippers a week ago in Milwaukee.

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R-E-L-A-X, It's Only December

Remember when everyone in Green Bay was panicking about the Packers’ 1-2 start?  After suffering defeats at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions, quarterback Aaron Rodgers took to the mic and reminded everyone to “R-E-L-A-X.”  Since Rodgers’ memo, the Packers have rattled off seven wins in eight tries and sit atop the NFC North.

Which brings me to the NBA… We are officially at that dangerous point in the season where the sample size of games is large enough that critics and fans think they know everything that the season has in store for them.  Contenders and title favorites are declared, struggling high-profile teams are overanalyzed, and MVPs are crowned.

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Marc Gasol: Center of Attention

The 2015 NBA Free Agency class is loaded with talent, but some of the biggest catches of the summer have essentially already taken themselves off the market.  LeBron James and Kevin Love are opting out of their deals after the season, but will most likely re-up in Cleveland.  LaMarcus Aldridge has expressed his desire to stay in Portland.  And Duncan and Ginobili are Spurs for life.

That still leaves some nice options, both restricted (Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Brandon Knight, Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris) and unrestricted (Rajon Rondo, DeAndre Jordan, Goran Dragic (Player Option), Greg Monroe, Roy Hibbert (Player Option), Monta Ellis (Player Option)).

However, Marc Gasol will be the one creating the most buzz during the offseason.  He has put himself in the discussion for best center in the league and terrorizes teams on both sides of the ball, but more importantly, there is a real chance he leaves Memphis.

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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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NBA Opening Night: Five Takeaways

The 2014-15 NBA Season has officially tipped off, and it looks like we’re in for an extremely entertaining year of basketball.  Only three games have been played, but we got a glimpse into what all six teams look like in competitive action that actually counts.  

Now I know it is dangerous to jump to conclusions so early in the season, but there were still a lot of telling signs in regards to teams' identities and players' roles and capabilities.  So whether you were able to catch the games or not, let's review some intriguing developments from Tuesday:

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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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