Community Shootaround

Community Shootaround: NBA League Pass Rankings

With the 2019/20 regular season around the corner, ESPN’s Zach Lowe is back with one of his most entertaining annual columns, his NBA League Pass Rankings.

In the first and second parts of the rankings, Lowe lists the NBA teams from No. 30 to No. 1 based on how watchable he expects each club to be during the upcoming season. As he explains, several factors are incorporated into his rankings, including a team’s popularity, highlight potential, playing style, and – of course – unintentional comedy.

After several years of the Warriors finishing at – or near – the top of Lowe’s rankings, Golden State has slipped all the way down to No. 13 for the 2019/20 season, opening the door for some new-look rosters to take center stage.

Of course, the Los Angeles teams and their newly-formed superstar pairings are near the top of the list, with the Lakers coming in at No. 2 and the Clippers coming in at No. 4. But there are plenty of other unexpected teams in the top 10, including the up-and-coming Kings sneaking in at No. 10, while the Bulls land at No. 8.

Zion Williamson‘s arrival in New Orleans helps boost the Pelicans to No. 9, while the tantalizing star power of the Luka Doncic/Kristaps Porzingis duo in Dallas ensures that the Mavericks come in at No. 6. A pair of somewhat under-the-radar Western Conference title contenders – the Nuggets and Jazz – rank at No. 5 and No. 7, respectively, while reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks are at No. 3.

This year’s top League Pass team, according to Lowe? The Sixers, who feature one of the biggest starting lineups in history, including a 6’10” point guard (Ben Simmons) and a frontcourt that features Joel Embiid and Al Horford. Lowe describes the 76ers as “weird, big, goofy and loaded with personality,” noting that he has a ton of questions about how the unusual mix of players will actually look on the court together.

Again, Lowe’s full top 15 can be found here, along with the bottom 15. But we want to know what your personal League Pass rankings would look like.

Outside of your favorite team(s), which clubs are you most looking forward to watching in 2019/20? Do you agree with Lowe’s top tier or are there other teams that intrigue you more? Which club’s games are you most likely to seek out during the coming season?

Jump into the comment section below to share your thoughts!

Community Shootaround: Are The Knicks Cool?

For all the problems facing teams as they prepare for a new season, the Knicks suddenly have to wonder if they’re cool enough.

That was the issue raised by Kevin Durant yesterday in an interview with Ebro in the Morning on Hot 97 in New York. Durant said he briefly considered the Knicks in free agency, but not enough to conduct a “full analysis.” He also suggested that the franchise lacks a coolness factor with young players.

“I think a lot of fans look at the Knicks as a brand and expect these younger players who, in their lifetime, don’t remember the Knicks being good,” Durant said. “I’ve seen the Knicks in the Finals, but kids coming up after me didn’t see that. So that whole brand of the Knicks is not as cool as let’s say the Golden State Warriors, or even the Lakers or the Nets now. You know what I’m saying; the cool thing now is not the Knicks.”

Those comments drew a response from a couple of newly-signed Knicks, who told Steve Popper of Newsday that their franchise is just as cool as anyone else in the league. After New York missed out on its top free agent targets, its first move was to add Julius Randle, who got $63MM over three years.

“I feel cool in blue and orange,” Randle said. “I don’t know about everybody else, but I feel pretty cool wearing my Knicks gear every day. It’s a dream come true for me. Everybody has their own opinion, and I know [Durant], I don’t think he meant it as a slight, honestly. I feel cool every day walking into this practice facility, and I know for sure I’m gonna feel cool walking into that Garden Friday night knowing that’s my home court.

“I know [Knicks history] just because I love basketball. I wasn’t old enough to see the Knicks when they were really good, guys like Pat [Ewing]. I don’t think he said it as a slight. I understand it to a certain point, but us as NBA players, it’s our job to know our history and the people that came before us. You walk into Madison Square Garden as an opposing player, the energy is different from any other arena you’re gonna walk into. Whether you know the history or not, you know it’s a big thing when you walk and play in that Garden.”

His comments were echoed by Taj Gibson, who grew up in Brooklyn as a Knicks fan.

“Even when I was in Chicago every time we came back here we always talked about how special it is to play in the Garden, how special it is to play the Knicks,” he said. “Even when [Carmelo Anthony] and J.R. [Smith] and guys were here we always watched Knicks games. I always watch the Knicks, so in my opinion I always liked the Knicks. That’s just my opinion.”

We want to get your opinion. Is it a lack of coolness that prevents the Knicks from attracting elite free agents? Or is there something else that causes star players to bypass New York?

Please leave your responses in the comments section.

Community Shootaround: West Also-Rans

With training camps opening up, we will soon find out if the offseason moves have turned last season’s also-rans into playoff contenders.

In the Western Conference, it’s safe to assume the Lakers are firmly in the postseason picture — and a serious championship contender — with Anthony Davis joining forces with LeBron James. It’s also easy to deduce that the subtractions of Russell Westbrook and Paul George will drop Oklahoma City out of the playoff chase.

Are there any Western Conference teams that missed last season’s playoffs who have improved enough to reach the postseason?

The Kings, who finished with the ninth-best record in the West, are intriguing. They have a good young core led by De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley III. They re-signed Harrison Barnes and added another solid veteran forward in Trevor Ariza.

The Timberwolves have one of the league’s best big men in Karl-Anthony Towns and the Jimmy Butler drama from early last season is a fading memory. If coach Ryan Saunders can get more out of Andrew Wiggins, and if lottery pick Jarrett Culver can make an immediate impact, they could improve.

The Grizzlies probably need a couple more years but have two building blocks in high lottery picks Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

The Pelicans are a lot closer than the Grizzlies after winning the lottery and drafting the most highly-touted prospect in years, Zion Williamson. They no longer have AD but they acquired three rotation pieces in Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart. They also added proven veterans in Derrick Favors and J.J. Redick and still have Jrue Holiday.

The Mavericks had to wait half a season to see what Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic could do together. After sitting out last season, Porzingis is ready for a fresh start in Dallas.

The Suns won only 19 games but now they’ve got a respected floor leader in Ricky Rubio to elevate the play of their stars, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.

That brings us to our question of the day: Other than the Lakers, which Western Conference team that missed the playoffs last season has the best chance to reach the postseason?

Please take to the comments section to voice your opinion. We look forward to what you have to say.

Community Shootaround: Potential Hot-Seat Coaches

With the exception of the 2016/17 season, which took place during a period of unprecedented stability for head coaches, at least three NBA teams have made in-season coaching changes in each of the last five years. In 2018/19, Tyronn Lue got the axe after just six games, with Fred Hoiberg and Tom Thibodeau later joining him in the unemployment ranks.

While it’s possible that 2019/20 will be a repeat of ’16/17, recent history tells us that the safer bet is to expect multiple teams to make coaching changes before the season ends.

With that in mind, Ben Golliver of The Washington Post singled out five head coaches around the NBA who might end up on the hot seat in the coming months. Golliver’s picks are Frank Vogel (Lakers), Mike D’Antoni (Rockets), Brett Brown (Sixers), Billy Donovan (Thunder), and Scott Brooks (Wizards).

The Lakers, Rockets, and Sixers will enter the 2019/20 season with championship aspirations, so if they get off to slow starts, it’s not hard to imagine their respective head coaches feeling some pressure.

Vogel was just hired this spring, but he didn’t appear to be L.A.’s first choice and received a shorter-term contract than most other recent hires. D’Antoni is entering a contract year, which is rare for a head coach, and anything short of an NBA Finals appearance will be a letdown for Houston. Brown, meanwhile, appeared to be on the hot seat after losing in the second round of last year’s postseason before Toronto’s championship run made the Sixers’ series against the Raptors look more impressive in retrospect.

As for Donovan and Brooks, they’re suddenly at the helm of rebuilding clubs rather than the contenders they originally signed on to join. The Wizards also have a new head of basketball operations in place, so it’s possible that Tommy Sheppard will want to bring in his own head coach at some point.

What do you think? Will any of those five head coaches be dismissed during the 2019/20 season? Do you expect other coaches to find themselves on the hot seat in the near future?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your two cents!

Community Shootaround: New Anti-Tampering Rules

Tampering has quietly existed in the NBA for decades, but teams, players and agents barely tried to hide it this summer. Several big-money contracts were announced shortly after the official start of free agency on June 30 that were obviously too complex to have been formed during the few minutes in which negotiations were legal.

Teams that lost stars complained loudly about the process, and the league decided action had to be taken. The NBA’s Board of Governors voted yesterday to adopt tough new rules, which include a fine of up to $10MM if it’s determined that “egregious” tampering has taken place.

Commissioner Adam Silver stressed that the penalties may not stop with fines. Suspensions of team executives, forfeiting draft picks and voiding contracts are all now on the table.

“We need to ensure that we’re creating a culture of compliance in this league,” Silver said. “Our teams want to know that they’re competing on a level playing field and frankly don’t want to feel disadvantaged if they are adhering to our existing rules.”

The league also has the authority to review cell phones and other electronic communication devices to look for evidence of tampering. That provision has raised the most concern among team officials, who fear that their privacy may be violated and sensitive information could be leaked.

This is hardly the first time the league has promised to crack down on tampering, but the tough talk has never made a difference in the past. Part of the problem is that many of the sales pitches made to players who are under contract come from other players, which the league acknowledges it can’t prevent. There’s no way to stop players at an All-Star Game or an international competition from talking about becoming NBA teammates some day. And the league can’t do anything if friends like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving make plans to join forces when they hit free agency at the same time.

Previous penalties for tampering have never been strong enough to scare teams. The Clippers and Nets, for instance, wouldn’t care how much they were fined or how many draft picks they had to surrender as long as they get to keep the new stars they added.

We want to get your input. Will these latest rules on tampering make a difference, or will business as usual continue behind the scenes? 

Head to our comment section below to share your feedback.

Community Shootaround: Potential All-NBA Newcomers

Last spring, 13 of the 15 players who were named to the All-NBA teams for the 2018/19 season had earned an All-NBA nod at least once in the past. Only two players made an All-NBA team for the first time: Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (First Team) and then-Hornets guard Kemba Walker (Third Team).

There are a handful of players who we can expect to claim spots on one of those three All-NBA teams on an annual basis as long as they stay healthy. James Harden and Stephen Curry have made six All-NBA teams apiece. Russell Westbrook has made eight, while his former teammate Kevin Durant has made nine. LeBron James has earned a staggering 15 All-NBA nods, tying the all-time record.

Still, injuries like the Achilles tear that will sideline Durant for most or all of the 2019/20 season can create openings for newcomers, as can down years by established stars (think Anthony Davis in 2018/19). And longtime All-NBA mainstays like LeBron won’t keep playing at that level forever.

With the 2019/20 season set to get underway next month, we want to know which players you think are in position to potentially grab an All-NBA spot for the first time next spring.

Will a veteran All-Star like Bradley Beal, Jrue Holiday, or Nikola Vucevic make another leap and enter the All-NBA ranks for the first time? Will a former lottery pick like Ben Simmons, Luka Doncic, or Donovan Mitchell break through with a career year that puts him in the conversation for a spot among the league’s top 15 players? Will an up-and-coming star like Devin Booker or Pascal Siakam take advantage of an opportunity to be his team’s No. 1 option and deliver an All-NBA caliber season?

Those players all received All-NBA votes last season, but they’re hardly the only candidates to become an All-NBA player for the first time.

What do you think? Do you expect any NBA players to make an All-NBA for the first time in 2019/20? And which of last season’s All-NBA players – besides Durant – do you expect to fall out of the top 15 next season?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts!

Community Shootaround: East Also-Rans

All of the major offseason moves have been made. Training camp is just around the corner.

We will soon find out whether those changes improved some of the also-rans last season. In terms of the Eastern Conference, the seven teams that failed to reach the playoffs approached the summer in many different ways.

The Heat made the boldest move. They got a commitment from one of the top free agents, Jimmy Butler, and turned it into a sign-and-trade. Josh Richardson and Hassan Whiteside were sent packing in that four-team swap and Miami also acquired reserve big man Meyers Leonard.

The Hornets lost their All-Star point guard Kemba Walker and worked out a sign-and-trade with the Celtics to acquire Terry Rozier. The Wizards resisted trade overtures for Bradley Beal and replaced injured John Wall with stopgap veterans Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas. They also declined their option on Jabari Parker.

The Hawks continue to embrace improvement via lottery picks, adding De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish to a young core that includes Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and John Collins.

The Bulls added point guard Coby White in the draft but also acquired another guard, Tomas Satoransky, via sign-and-trade and inked veteran forward Thaddeus Young to a three-year deal.

Kevin Love remains on the Cavaliers’ roster for the time being but they’ve decided to build around young players. They surprised many people around the league by hiring Michigan coach John Beilein to spearhead that process.

The Knicks struck out on the major free agents, so they signed a bunch of second-tier free agents — Bobby Portis, Julius Randle, Marcus Morris, Taj Gibson and Elfrid Payton — on short-term contracts after drafting point guard RJ Barrett.

That brings us to our question of the day: Which non-playoff team from the Eastern Conference last season is most likely to make the postseason and why?

Please take to the comments section to voice your opinion. We look forward to what you have to say.

Community Shootaround: Is Team USA Still The World’s Best?

At least they were better than Poland.

Team USA wrapped up a disappointing World Cup experience this morning with a 13-point win over the Polish contingent in a battle for seventh place. It’s not what the Americans expected going into the tournament or where they appeared to be headed when the invitations for training camp went out last month.

But that was before Anthony Davis passed on the chance to play in China, followed by James Harden, Eric Gordon, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, Tobias Harris, Kevin Love and a host of other NBA stars. The final 12-man roster didn’t have enough shooting, size or cohesiveness to compete with the world’s best teams, resulting in the worst finish for the Americans in a major tournament since NBA players started participating in 1992.

It’s easy to dismiss this year’s results and expect Team USA to be back on top at the 2020 Olympics. But Kobe Bryant, who helped re-establish American dominance after a similar performance in 2004, isn’t buying it.

“It’s not a matter of the rest of the world catching up to the U.S., it’s that the rest of the world has been caught up for quite some time,” Bryant told Brian Windhorst of ESPN. “And it’s to the point now where us in the U.S. are going to win some, we’re going lose some. And that’s just how it goes.”

Windhorst believes the Americans didn’t underachieve, but finished about where their talent level should indicate. They lost to France and Serbia in the tournament and dropped an exhibition game to Australia, leaving their overall record at 7-3. It would have been 6-4 if not for a fortunate win over a Turkish team that let a victory slip away because of missed free throws.

Whatever the roster looks like for 2020, Team USA won’t have the overwhelming talent advantage it has gotten used to in Olympic play. LeBron James will be 35. Kevin Durant may still be awaiting his return from an Achilles injury. Kawhi Leonard has never played in an Olympics or World Cup and isn’t a sure thing to participate.

As Bryant noted, the rest of the world has been catching up for a while. Many teams are filled with NBA players and work together frequently, while the Americans will be starting from scratch when Olympic training camp begins.

We want to get your opinion. Does the World Cup performance mean that Team USA’s Olympic crown is in jeopardy? 

Head to our comment section below to share your feedback.

Community Shootaround: 2019/20 MVP Contenders

After Giannis Antetokounmpo beat out James Harden in a competitive two-man race for the 2018/19 NBA Most Valuable Player award, oddsmakers have made Antetokounmpo the favorite to earn MVP honors again in 2019/20.

BetOnline gives Antetokounmpo +350 odds to win the MVP award next season, meaning you’d have to risk $100 to win $350. Over at Bovada, Giannis is considered an even stronger frontrunner, with +300 odds.

Still, there are plenty of contenders who could spoil an Antetokounmpo repeat. Both Bovada and BetOnline give Stephen Curry the second-best MVP odds, with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, James Harden, and Kawhi Leonard, and Joel Embiid rounding out the top seven candidates.

An MVP case often relies heavily on both team success and narrative, which helped Giannis win the award this past spring — the Bucks won a season-high 60 games thanks in large part to his excellence on both ends of the court. It’s easy to imagine making a similar case for the Greek Freak next year if Milwaukee once again finishes first in the East. On the other hand, if the Sixers grab the No. 1 seed, Embiid might have a stronger case.

In the West, Curry is a popular pick now that Kevin Durant is no longer in the picture, since the league’s premier sharpshooter will be back to carrying the Warriors‘ offensive load like he did during his previous two MVP seasons — his scoring responsibilities will be even greater with Klay Thompson on the shelf for much of the season. Harden, meanwhile, is a perennial contender for the award, and LeBron, AD, and Kawhi could be in the mix if one of the L.A. teams finishes atop the West.

Among the dark horse candidates for the award, my two favorite picks are Nikola Jokic and Damian Lillard.

Jokic (+1500 on Bovada, +1600 on BetOnline) is the lone superstar on the Nuggets‘ roster, and after finishing second in the West last season, it wouldn’t be a total shock if Denver takes another step forward and finishes with atop the conference. Jokic, who averaged 20.1 PPG, 10.8 RPG, and 7.3 APG in 2018/19, could theoretically approach a triple-double average and would have a strong case as the clear-cut best player on the West’s best team in that scenario.

Lillard (+2800 on Bovada, +2500 on BetOnline) would probably have to increase his numbers beyond his current career highs of 27.0 PPG and 6.9 APG and count on the Trail Blazers making a similar run to the top of the West in order to be considered a true MVP contender. But that’s not entirely out of the question. At age 29, he’s very much in his prime and may have one more leap left in him.

Finally, while I’m skeptical about his chances to legitimately compete for an MVP award this early in his career, it’s worth noting that Luka Doncic‘s MVP odds on BetOnline are +1600, compared to +5000 on Bovada — the latter is obviously a significant better value if you’re bullish on Doncic’s outlook and want to wager on his MVP chances.

What do you think? Who is your way-too-early pick for the 2020 NBA MVP award? Are there are any dark horses that you like as under-the-radar candidates?

Head to the comment section below to share your two cents!

Community Shootaround: Bring Back The SuperSonics?

Jack Sikma dedicated part of his Hall of Fame induction speech Friday night to campaigning for a return of the SuperSonics. Sikma was one of Seattle’s most recognizable players and part of its only NBA championship team in 1979. His number 43 is among seven that have been retired by the franchise.

“To all the diehard Sonic fans who proudly sport the green and gold … there’s a hole in Seattle that needs to be filled,” Sikma said in comments relayed by Anthony Olivieri of ESPN The Magazine“Speaking for all Sonics fans, it’s our great hope that the NBA will soon find a pathway to bring a franchise back to Seattle. It’s time.”

The Sonics were a beloved part of the Pacific Northwest from their creation in 1967 until Clay Bennett moved them to Oklahoma City in 2008. Although it has since been broken, the team set a league attendance record by averaging 21,725 fans per night during the 1979/80 season.

Hope for a return was reignited by a new $900MM facility that will serve as home to Seattle’s expansion NHL team, which begins play in 2021. The building sits on the site of the former KeyArena, and fans in the area hope it will eventually house the Sonics as well.

Although Seattle has been rumored to be atop the NBA’s expansion list ever since the original team left, there’s no indication that the league plans to add teams any time soon. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has repeatedly thrown cold water on the idea.

“There’s no doubt there are a number of cities in the United States that could host NBA basketball, but we analogize it to selling equity,” he said in July. “I think we would want to make sure at the time we expanded we felt it would help grow the entire league and not just support the NBA in that particular city.”

What do you think? Does it make sense for the NBA to add another team or two right now? Or is it smarter to wait, regardless of the emotional attachment that many have to the Sonics?

Head to our comment section below to share your feedback.