Category: Sports

Why This Won’t Be the Warriors’ Last Dance

What are the odds the Warriors are back in the NBA Finals next season?

Pretty damn high, if you ask me, since there’s no reason to believe the smartest, savviest franchise in the NBA won’t make the right moves this off-season to keep the good times rolling.

Before the 2019 NBA Finals kick off in Toronto Thursday night, one of the most popular narratives surrounding the Warriors will be whether we’re witnessing the end of their dynasty. And it’s legit, of course, since we all know the Warriors could experience a seismic shift in fortunes when two of their top four players become unrestricted free agents.

But as long as the Warriors retain the services of their homegrown sharp-shooting star and No. 1 priority Klay Thompson—and there have been zero reports or indications that Thompson and the Warriors won’t come to a lengthy and lucrative agreement—what makes you think Golden State still won’t be one of the best teams in the Western Conference next season? Even if they lose the game’s best player in Kevin Durant. Because keeping the core of Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Thompson intact, while allocating dollars to beef up the supporting cast, easily makes Golden State NBA Finals material, if not the favorites to win it all again. Yeah, the Warriors are undoubtedly better with Durant than not. Anyone making that argument is a clown. The Warriors would be fools not to try to retain him for another year or two. But with Thompson back, they’ll be just fine without KD—who reportedly has his sights set on other squads—and we’re not coming to a knee-jerk conclusion after watching the Warriors dispatch the Rockets and Blazers while Durant was sidelined with his calf strain. Real talk, Durant has always been a luxury item for Golden State. They know it. Basketball fans know it. So spreading the money that could go to Durant and instead dispersing it to a dynamic veteran or two while upgrading a bench that isn’t what it used to be is certainly the fiscally responsible thing to do. It also might be savvier than blindly re-signing KD. With at least two all-time greats ripping nets from long distance in Klay and Steph, and a motivated Green looking to cash in big time as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2020, tell me how Golden State isn’t still going to be a beast. We didn’t even mention the widely respected front office, support staff, and coach that set the Warriors apart from everyone else. Culturally speaking, they are unlike any franchise in the NBA right now. Everyone wants to play for them. Maybe they can even entice DeMarcus Cousins to comeback on another team-friendly contract, since Cousins raved to us about how “first class” the Warriors are. The Warriors loved how he fit into the locker room, and we didn’t really get a great taste of the Boogie experiment as he worked his way back from the Achilles injury midway through the regular season and then went down with a quad injury in the first round of the playoffs. I’d easily contend that the hypothetical version of the 2019-20 Warriors outlined above would be just as formidable as any squad in the league and certainly in the Western Conference—unless maybe, just maybe, KD formed a new super squad with the Clippers. Of course, that’s a big if, and accurately predicting what Durant is going to do is an exercise in futility. Durant could end up in Los Angeles, he could end up in New York, or he could even return to Golden State, since the Warriors have actually planned for years to be able to fit him into their budget—even with Thompson’s significant raise on the immediate horizon. The opening of their new arena in San Francisco is projected to bring in tons of extra cash. They should be able to cover just about any cost they deem reasonable. READ MORE: https://www.complex.com/sports/2019/05/why-this-wont-be-the-warriors-last-dance

For the Warriors, a Lack of Doubt Should Create Some Doubt

2019 N.B.A. Finals Preview
This N.B.A. season has been treated as a foregone conclusion, but Golden State will not want to get too comfortable against Kawhi Leonard and his loaded Toronto Raptors.

Game 1: Thursday, 9 p.m.

The games will air on ABC and will be streamed on Watch ESPN.

The Warriors, for better or worse, have always fed on doubt. No matter how invincible they have seemed, they have managed to find slights to inspire them — often going to somewhat comical lengths to do so.

The last time they faced significant doubt — and even then, it was hardly from a majority of pundits — was before the 2015 finals when, as a group of upstarts, the Warriors had to prove their mettle against LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers. But over the last four seasons, as they made the shift from powerhouse to dynasty, they have used injuries, inexplicably sloppy performances and some apparent figments of Draymond Green’s imagination as ways to make winning feel less inevitable and more like a chance to prove “everyone” wrong.

Even last year, as they pulled off one of the most dominant sweeps in finals history, they seemed to be powered by a reserve of doubt created by the team barely having survived a clash with the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference finals.

As Golden State comes out of a nine-day break, looking to win its third consecutive championship and a fourth in five years, the doubt created by injuries to Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins — doubt that helped inspire some of the best basketball of Green’s career — has faded away. In what should be ringing the “lack of doubt” alarm in Green’s head, the players and coaches have spent the last few days being asked about the possibility that Stephen Curry will finally win a finals M.V.P. Award.

Shaun Livingston and Curry both answered questions about the award on Monday, playing down the importance of Curry becoming the M.V.P., while neither pushed back against assumptions that the Raptors have only a slight chance of winning the series.

Steve Kerr, for his part, seemed to understand that the line of questioning could be counterproductive for his squad. “We’re trying to win” the series, the coach said when asked two consecutive questions about the award. “So we’re not talking about any awards, we just want to win four games.”

This Raptors team, after all, is far more complete than any of the James-led teams that faced off with the Warriors in their previous four trips to the finals.

After five years of watching his team dominate in the regular season only to fall apart in the playoffs, Masai Ujiri, the Raptors’ president, blew things up, trading DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The move did not pay tangible dividends in the regular season — the Raptors played slightly worse over the 82-game grind than they had the season before — but the killer instinct they had previously lacked became a defining characteristic of the team once the playoffs began.

You saw it in each series, as the Raptors systematically eliminated Orlando, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, playing suffocating defense as Leonard led the way on both ends of the court.

Leonard, who has a finals M.V.P. Award on his shelf from his days in San Antonio, has already justified the cost of trading away DeRozan, a franchise icon. Even if Leonard signs elsewhere as a free agent this summer, he has taken Toronto farther than it has ever been before.

His buzzer-beater to end the second-round series against the 76ers was the most important shot in franchise history, and Leonard followed it up by averaging 29.8 points and 9.5 rebounds a game against the top-seeded Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals, thoroughly outplaying Giannis Antetokounmpo, the presumptive winner of the league’s Most Valuable Player Award.

And Leonard is hardly alone. Pascal Siakam, who has the makings of a superstar, is a worthy sidekick on offense and defense. Marc Gasol, a rugged veteran acquired during the season when Ujiri sensed yet again that his franchise needed a shake-up, could be a problem for the undersize Warriors. And Kyle Lowry, once a centerpiece of the franchise along with DeRozan, has looked like his old self in spurts, even if he has had more mediocre playoff games than great ones.

Fred VanVleet probably can’t keep up the 82.4 percent he shot from 3-point range in the final three games of the series against the Bucks, but he will still provide a scoring threat from the bench that has to be accounted for.

The Raptors have more length than the Warriors and, at least until further notice, better health. They have home court advantage — a luxury Golden State had in each of the previous four finals — and, with help from their raucous fans, could win Games 1 and 2 before Durant’s anticipated return.

If Green and Curry can pick up where they left off in the Portland series, Durant’s return might be a formality. In the last six games, Curry has quieted talk about his “disappearing” in the playoffs by averaging 34 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists. In those same six games, Green, in the best shape of his career thanks to some late-season weight loss, has nearly averaged a triple-double, with 13.4 points, 11.5 rebounds and 8.8 assists, while also playing elite defense at multiple positions. The Warriors’ ability to go galactic, and the likelihood that Thompson has a few big scoring nights in him as well, could make quick work of Toronto.

But Curry’s game is mercurial enough to make one wonder if he is due for a rough stretch, and Green is volatile enough that the task of tangling with Leonard and Gasol could put him in consistent foul trouble — or worse if he were to get three more technical foul points, earning a one-game suspension.

If both of those things happen, the Warriors have to hope they can count on Durant, currently reduced to being an extremely tall fan, to fly in for the rescue, putting the team on his back and securing the three-peat. The only problem, of course, is that Durant’s return has been a moving target. Pinning too much hope on a player who has been out since May 8 seems unwise.

As it stands, these two teams are more evenly matched than the average fan might assume, though a combination of top-shelf talent and finals experience should give Golden State a slight advantage. However, if Green is looking for some motivational doubt, there is no need to manufacture it this time around. The Warriors, the first team to play in a fifth consecutive finals since the Celtics appeared in their 10th straight in 1966, are nowhere near a sure thing.

Following the Mayweather Model, Errol Spence Jr. Wants to be Boxing’s Next PPV Star

When you block off almost an hour to sit down and chat with Errol Spence Jr., the first question you ask yourself is: How can it possibly go the distance?

For the briefest of seconds, you’re almost (and I can’t stress almost enough) in the same shoes as the IBF welterweight champion’s overmatched opponents. One of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world hasn’t seen the final round of a fight since 2014. He’s too good, too fundamentally sound, too devastatingly powerful for his bouts to last all 12 rounds these days. But as much noise as he’s generated inside the ring the last few years, outside of it, the 28-year-old from Desoto, Texas, keeps it quiet.

“This man talks with his action,” says Lennox Lewis, the former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. “He doesn’t need to do much talking.”  

It’s an atypical rainy winter day in downtown Los Angeles when Spence, the best boxer in the sport’s best division, rolls up to the Presidential Suite of the NoMad Hotel. With only two pals in tow, the reserved and soft-spoken champ, rocking designer duds and an absurdly expensive watch that glistens every time he moves his wrist, doesn’t attract too much attention. And that’s just fine with him. One of his idols might be Floyd Mayweather Jr., but you’ll never confuse the two, since Spence doesn’t take social media too seriously, keeps the bragging to a minimum, and almost never calls out another fighter.

But entering the most important year of his career, Spence might have to change his ways. For starters, the mild-mannered pugilist needs to endear himself to a bigger audience than boxing’s hardcore fans before his highly-anticipated fight with Mikey Garcia on March 16 at the AT&T Stadium in Dallas. That’s because the bigger goal, for him, is to become boxing’s next pay-per-view star. “I don’t think I’ve officially arrived yet,” says Spence. But entering 2019, he’d like everyone to know he’s on “the brink of my superstardom.”

“When you watch him you’re pleased because he’s doing everything you want a boxer of his caliber to do. He can be a really big superstar.” – FORMER UNIDISPUTED HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION LENNOX LEWIS

If you haven’t been paying attention, Spence has rapidly become one of the baddest men on the planet. His fists either put opponents on the mat or make their corners throw in the towel. A southpaw who is bigger than many welterweights, Spence bristles when people label him a brawler because he prides himself on being a well-rounded fighter. He can counterpunch. He’s a sound defender. His body work usually leaves his opponents buckled. You see the brilliance as he strategically takes them apart. READ MORE: https://www.complex.com/sports/2019/01/errol-spence-jr-wants-to-be-boxings-next-ppv-star

Playoff Mode? LeBron James and the Lakers Are Failing to Activate A move West came with dire warnings, but the reality is setting in that a James-led team might miss the playoffs.

LeBron James can’t say that he wasn’t warned.

Lots of us were crowing in the summer, and pretty loudly so, about what would greet the unquestioned Lord of the Eastern Conference if he dared to defect.

Sign with the Los Angeles Lakers if you wish, for the sunnier Hollywood life and all the perks, but brace yourself for the most trying regular season of your career if you decide to go West.

That was the gist of the scouting report — which in retrospect could not have been much more prescient.

On cue: The most daunting and, yes, disappointing season of James’s career is right here, right now, for the biggest name in basketball.

And it appears he will soon have to stomach that it’s going on his ledger in the most permanent ink that he was unable to bring a halt to the longest postseason drought in Lakers history — barring an unforeseen resurrection from a fractured group that sits four and a half games out of a Western Conference playoff berth with 19 games to go.

No matter how much culpability you wish to assign James for what is poised to go down as the Lakers’ franchise-record sixth successive trip to the draft lottery, he’s going to have to own this as much as the front-office tandem of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka as well as the under-fire coach Luke Walton.

The LeBron Way, for years and years, has worked something like this: He inevitably gets most of the credit when his team flourishes; his teammates absorb the bulk of the blame when things unravel. But this is different. This would be the jarring sight of James, fresh off his eighth consecutive finals appearance, actually missing out on the N.B.A. postseason for the first time since his second professional season in 2004-5, when he was just 20.

Even though he can rightly point to his recent groin strain as the biggest standings-altering disruption these Lakers have endured, James surely understands that his maiden campaign in Los Angeles is bound to be recorded in many precincts as a failure to make the playoffs that belongs to him. The Lakers are 4-7 since James returned from the groin injury that sidelined him longer (17 consecutive games) than any previous injury in his 16-year career. They have followed up an unsightly road loss to Atlanta in their final game before the All-Star break with harder-to-rationalize road losses to New Orleans, Memphis and Phoenix since the break.

After Saturday night’s humiliation against a 13-51 Suns team, which dropped the Lakers to 30-33, James’s gang only sports a 1.3-percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

They also have the league’s eighth-toughest remaining schedule, according to Tankathon.com.

We’ll never know if the Lakers, who had risen to a heady fourth in the West at 20-14 when James sustained the groin injury in a Christmas Day rout of Golden State, could have kept building upon that promising start with a healthy LeBron. But we most certainly do know that James’s mere return to the lineup, at 34, wasn’t enough to rescue a roster that has been assailed since conception for its lack of perimeter shooting and its defensive deficiencies. Nor has he been able to galvanize a locker room that was deeply destabilized by the Lakers’ trade pursuit of the New Orleans superstar Anthony Davis, which became all-consuming in late January, and has never recovered.

It obviously doesn’t help that James, after missing two key free throws in the final minute Saturday, is also converting a substandard 66.9 percent of his attempts from the line to give his critics more handy folder.

Leaving his home-state Cleveland Cavaliers for the Lakers last July without the accompaniment of a second superstar meant that James, in a far deeper conference, would have little margin for error just to reach the playoffs. When you combine James’s injury absence with the continuing post-Davis malaise and the team’s declining ball movement since Lonzo Ball (ankle) was sidelined six weeks ago, it adds up rather quickly to a margin that is long gone.

The calls for Walton’s dismissal, as they were in January, remain nonsensical. A coaching change now, much like New Orleans’s decision to fire General Manager Dell Demps shortly after the trade deadline, would have no discernible effect on the Lakers’ short-term prospects beyond providing their frustrated fans with a “See? We did something” sacrifice.

The prevailing assumption in league coaching circles remains that Walton will almost certainly be dismissed after the season, followed by the Lakers resuming their trade quest for Davis. But denying Walton an opportunity to at finish out a season wrought with drama and distraction since James’s first dribble in purple and gold would be cruel and needless.

Changes are coming, though. It’s an open secret that a big off-season reset looms in Lakerland. James always knew that his new club would not be in the title mix until his second campaign as a Laker, but his patience predictably faded quickly — one more reason desperation has become so palpable around this team.

Many of us know-it-alls in the news media indeed wrote in our preseason forecasts that the playoffs were no certainty for these Lakers, as constructed, but very few of us were actually willing to outright predict that they would miss out. Reason being: It’s not very smart to bet against LeBron Raymone James.

Yet we’ve suddenly reached that unprecedented juncture where it would be wholly irresponsible to advise you that James can extricate himself from this jam just because he’s LeBron. Whether it’s the lingering effects from his groin injury, or his own unmistakably waning spirit in the face of increasingly bleak odds, James has been lacking the zip you associate with his well-chronicled playoff mode — which he assured us on Feb. 21 had been “activated” earlier than usual.

I briefly stood beside James on the floor in Charlotte, N.C., before the All-Star Game tipped off and bought into the idea a surge was coming when he insisted he was eager to embrace “the challenge” of hauling the Lakers out of their hole.

“And I’m getting healthy, too,” James said that night.

A mere two weeks later, it’s already time to start imagining the N.B.A.’s first spring without King James after watching him for eight straight Junes — and wondering how on Earth he’s going to cope with not being a part of it.

Tom Brady vs. Michael Jordan: Who is the Real GOAT?

With the Patriots win over the Rams on Sunday in Super Bowl LIII, Tom Brady has now accrued more rings than any other player in NFL history.

He has also tied Michael Jordan’s mark of six championships.

You can rest assured that barber shops around the country are about to ignite with an all-important sports debate: Which GOAT is greater?

Critics will say that’s an impossible question to answer—you can’t compare two athletes who play totally different games! Nonetheless, you know the conversation is going to happen so we’re here to reduce some subjective uncertainty.

Though there’s no way to create a perfectly valid and reliable comparison between Brady and Jordan, we’ve shed light on the debate by breaking down each player’s key numbers. Afterward, we share our (admittedly imperfect) verdict on whose résumé is superior.

In one corner: TB12, the Cali QB who’s become Boston royalty. In the other: His Airness, the iconic No. 23 with the hoop earring. Let’s get ready to rumble.

Jordan: 6 (in 6 appearances)
Brady: 6 (in 9 appearances)

Jordan’s six-for-six mark is holy ground; that record is the main reason some folks won’t even listen to arguments about LeBron James (who’s gone 3-for-9 in the NBA Finals) being basketball’s best of all time. And there’s no short-selling its impressiveness—seriously, who goes six for six in championship matchups?

The question is, should Brady be penalized for getting close but falling short three times? Jordan made the finals in 6-of-15 seasons (.400). Brady has made the Super Bowl in 9-of-19. (.464). It’s ridiculous to penalize a player more so for losing in the championship than, say, the divisional round of the playoffs.

It should also be noted that Brady now possesses the most Super Bowl victories (six) in NFL history, whereas Jordan is tied for 10th (first-place Bill Russell is way ahead with 11).

Edge: Brady

READ MORE: https://www.complex.com/sports/2019/02/tom-brady-vs-michael-jordan-who-is-the-real-goat/championships