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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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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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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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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