This is spectacular.  After working with the team last season, the San Antonio Spurs have hired former WNBA player Becky Hammon, making her the first-ever female assistant coach in NBA history.  Kudos to Spurs ownership and management, Gregg Popovich, commish Adam Silver and the NBA  for taking this progressive step.

There were signs that this day would eventually come back in 2009 when Nancy Lieberman became the first woman to coach an NBA D-League team.

Of all teams, the Spurs were the obvious choice to pull this off as they have consistently stepped outside the box during the Popovich era.  The five-time NBA champions were one of the first clubs to fully embrace international players and their style of play.  

The NBA has made significantly bigger strides than other major sports leagues in the last few years regarding inclusion.  

Celebrating diversity, acceptance of the LGBT community and booting Donald Sterling clearly demonstrate where the NBA stands on some of the most important social issues of this generation.  

With the hiring of Hammon, the NBA once again proves that it isn’t afraid to take a stand on social and political issues, which is a risk that many professional sports leagues and teams are too afraid to take (for obvious reasons).  

This is a wonderful day for women and sports.  

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Today is proof that progress is and always will be an evolutionary process.  

"We are one." If only this rally cry posted on the Los Angeles Clippers website in response to the scandal involving owner Donald Sterling were a universal truth, well, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.  

While actions are now set in place to ban Sterling from the NBA for life, the incident prompting “we are one” should remind us that Sterling is not the end-all, be-all face of discrimination.  There are millions of other individual and institutional bigots around the globe.

Today, the United States inched closer.  Unlike many other countries around the world that do little (or nothing) to prevent or punish blatantly racist actions pertaining to sporting events,  NBA commissioner Adam Silver has done his best to implement justice.  Unfortunately, the emergence of Sterling’s vile views is not an isolated incident.  

For those of us who follow the Clippers and the NBA, as well as anyone who reads the newspaper here in Los Angeles, we’ve known all too well about Sterling’s rap sheet.  ESPN wrote a horribly damaging piece back in 2009 which detailed lawsuits filed against Sterling by both the Justice Department and basketball great Elgin Baylor, claiming disgusting instances of illegally bigoted business practices and workplace discrimination. 

What about the players, coaches and other team personnel who signed with the Clippers knowing Sterling’s smutty track record and reputation?  

Other NBA owners, the league office, and advertisers were also aware of these allegations throughout the years.  

I’m guilty too.  As a young adult, I became conscious of Sterling’s reputation when lawsuits against him were covered by the Los Angeles Times and other news sources I followed.  I remember discussing Sterling and his nauseating practices (both in his other business ventures and running a basketball franchise into the ground) with my friends, family and co-workers. For some reason my distain for the man never stopped me from watching Clippers games on TV or buying tickets and merchandise.  Why didn’t I - as someone who comes from a family of activists and Holocaust survivors, and has had the pleasure of spending time with people like Tommie Smith and John Carlos - take any proactive measures to voice my views in such a way to make a tangible difference? Why didn’t I put my money where my mouth was, instead of straight into Sterling’s filthy, sexist, racist pockets? 

Actions speak louder than words and Sterling’s actions were heinous long before the words on this tape were recorded.  Sterling’s actions were far more harmful to our society than Sterling’s words.  Shame on us for taking the easy way out and doing nothing while leaving people like L.A. renters hoping to live in safe, healthy residences and Elgin Baylor to fight the good fight alone.  

It’s a shame that many of us ignored Donald Sterling’s discriminatory actions for so long thus further enabling him, but today is finally a step in the right direction.  

Finally, we can, in a way, pay homage to the struggles and sacrifices made by so many in the sports world over the last 65 years.  Hopefully the NFL will take a page from the short-but-brilliant Adam Silver playbook and get its ass in gear to change a racist team name that has been tolerated for way too long.

Thankfully, the Sterling debacle doubles as a teachable moment in which we can learn valuable lessons about history, justice and ourselves.  This is the evolution of progress. 

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Sporting events might just be the only authentic reality television.  The personalties, athletic ability, competition, story lines and lack of a predetermined outcome captivate fans and audiences worldwide.  

Historic rivalries provide some of the best drama sports has to offer.  At a certain point, attempting to find new ways to spin old stories can become a bit tedious for writers, reporters and producers of sports content.   

NFL Network recently found a brand new way of examining one of the NFL’s most popular modern rivalries, Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning.   

One could easily argue that this isn’t quite a rivalry at all considering opposing quarterbacks never set foot on the field at the same time, but the games between Brady’s New England Patriots and Manning’s Indianapolis Colts (and now Denver Broncos) have given us suspenseful pleasures for more than a decade. 

Before proceeding, you should know that I worked for NFL Network as a production assistant for nearly two years, and Anthony Smith, an NFL Network features producer who created the network’s latest series about Brady v. Manning, is a good friend of mine.  That said, it never hurts to give credit when and where it’s due. 

"The Rivals" is a multi-part video series that chronicles not only the history of Brady v. Manning, but also, examines the heart and soul of great rivalries, as told by several of the modern era’s biggest sports rivals. 

"The concept came about this summer during a brainstorm for the current season," Smith, in his eighth year at the network, tells PepperOnSports.com.

"I was looking at a way of telling the Brady-Manning story in a way that I hadn’t seen yet."

"The Rivals" roster is long and accomplished as the following athletes participated in the series: 

Jack Nicklaus & Arnold Palmer

Bill Walton & Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Goose Gossage & Carlton Fisk

Jimmie Johnson & Jeff Gordon

Martina Navratilova & Chris Evert

Pete Sampras & Andre Agassi.

"Pitching the project to the rivals was pretty easy.  All of them immediately understood what the project was looking to accomplish," says Smith.

"All of these athletes are sports fans.  And all of them followed the NFL, with the exception of Andre Agassi who was up front and honest about that."  

Watching and listening to sports titans talk about their career rivals within the context of Brady and Manning is a treat for any sports fan, regardless of one’s familiarity of the historic rivals.  “If you don’t know, now you know.” 

One of my favorite lines in the series comes in the Bill Walton vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar episode when Walton says of Abdul-Jabbar, “that guy’s left leg belongs in the Smithsonian.” 

It is rare that athletes are given the opportunity to discuss peers in other sports.  The group chosen to participate in “The Rivals” legitimately loves the sport of football, and Brady v. Manning.

"I was pleasantly surprised by the vast football knowledge of all of them," says Smith.

The episodes debuted on the web and were shown during various televised programming on NFL Network in the week leading up to Broncos v. Patriots in week 12 of the NFL season.  

I’d bet most of the “The Rivals” participants watched Sunday night’s instant classic that will undoubtedly find a place in rivals lore and further the legend that is Brady v. Manning.  

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The NBA season is fast-approaching as teams begin training camp in the coming days.  For one last hurrah, a few NBA players hit the red carpet at Greystone Manor in West Hollywood for the launch of the video game NBA2K14.  

The Western Conference’s Pacific division was well-represented at the event, where Pepper On Sports spoke with Andre Iguodala (Golden State Warriors), Nick Young (L.A. Lakers) and Ryan Hollins (L.A. Clippers).  

We discussed the controversy-ridden NCAA, wacky injury stories, players one would want as a coach, and how the old Celtics crew will fare in Brooklyn.

Here are some highlights.  

Does the NCAA needs an overhaul that would include compensation for athletes? 

Andre Iguodala:

"I think there will be major changes.  I flew under the radar in college so I’m pretty sure I didn’t make the NCAA too much money so I’m cool with them.  But as far as, especially the case with Ed O’Bannon, he’s kind of the one who pioneered the whole thing.  He did make the NCAA a whole lot of money and he didn’t quite reap the benefits and then he didn’t have that exciting of an NBA career afterwards, so you know, it’s very understandable.  Guys who are legends in college, and kind of taken advantage of.”

Editor’s Note: Despite his modesty, Andre was a fantastic player in college and made the NCAA plenty of dough.  

Nick Young:

"I think [players] should get a little bit [of monetary compensation], but USC, no, we’re legit.  We’re strictly by the book up there."

*Editor’s note:  Nick laughed as he mentioned USC…obviously.  Remember this, and this?  Nick certainly remembers the latter, as he and Mr. Mayo were teammates.  

Ryan Hollins:

"I’d love to see it.  It’s deserved.  I think you’d have a chance to eliminate a couple of kids leaving early, a couple of kids from going out and doing silly stuff to make ends meat, and just bringing real honesty to the game.  I was a scholarship athlete, my parents did okay, but I was broke in college.  I didn’t make enough to get by, you know?  You’re put in a very very tough situation so I’d love to see them you know at least get compensated enough to where these kids don’t want for much."

"Obviously you want a little spending money but just enough to cover your bills…simple necessities, you know?"

With Jacoby Jones and Nate Burleson’s injuries in mind, what is your strangest injury story?

Nick Young:

"I don’t think nothin’ can top being hit by a stripper. Nothin’ is topping that right now.  That’s one of a kind."

Jason Kidd went directly from playing to coaching.  If you had to choose one current NBA player to be your coach, who would you choose? 

Andre Iguodala:

"Probably Andre Miller, just because he passes me the ball more than anyone [lauhgs].  I’m pretty sure he could teach someone how to pass the ball to me.  No, but he’s a very smart basketball player and has a very high IQ and that’s why he’s been able to play so long at a high level and he’s going to be a very good coach once he gets the opportunity."

"He’s still  competing though, giving guys problems night in and night out so I think he probably has three more years left in him."

Nick Young:

"I’d probably have to say Jason Kidd…he’s like a coach, he’s been a coach out there on the court since he’s been playing."

How will your former Celtics teammates Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce adjust to playing for Jason Kidd in Brooklyn?

Ryan Hollins:

"I think they’ll do great.  After playing with those guys, I don’t want to say that they don’t need a coach, but if there was players that would fit in with Jason Kidd in his first year, the type of player that he is and now growing into a head coaching role, it’s a perfect cast to throw together."

 

On that note, I’m ready for some basketball!!!

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This afternoon I sat down at my computer to write a blog.  I had it titled “Being Johnny Football: #ItsComplicated,” and the content outlined in my head.  In the hopes of finding a few articles to cite in my blog, I pulled up twitter only to find a Richard Roeper retweet of a Chicago Sun-Times article about Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose.

The tweet read, “Derrick Rose on Chicago violence: ‘it all starts with poverty.’”  

I thought, wait a minute… a superstar athlete is publicly discussing a pertinent social issue and offering meaningful insight?  This, I have to see.  

Blocked from reading the article because I’m not a Sun-Times subscriber, I did a quick Google search and was surprised to see a CNN interview in which Rose made these comments was five days old, yet this was the first I had heard of it.  

Check out the first few sentences of the CNN article: 

"NBA star Derrick Rose has spoken out about gun crime in his hometown of Chicago and identified poverty as its root cause.

"The Chicago police department recorded 506 murders in 2012 — with estimates that about 80 percent were gang related, while there have been 185 murders on record up until July 3rd this year.

“‘It all starts out from poverty,’ Rose, who grew up in the city’s impoverished South Side district of Englewood, told CNN.”

Perhaps the article and video clips from the interview got lost in the ocean of George Zimmerman coverage.  But the “not guilty” verdict quickly popped race, gun laws and violence back up to the surface, so much so that crime in Chicago was often included in the Zimmerman conversation.

Instead of seeing or hearing anything whatsoever about Rose’s comments in the last five days, we’ve been saturated with Dwight Howard’s press conference in Houston, whisperings of Major League Baseball potentially punishing Alex Rodriguez for alleged PED use, a magazine cover photo and most egregiously, the life and times of 20-year-old Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Johnny Manziel. 

Chicago, we’ll raise your 506 murdered folk with this 558-word article dissecting and grading Manziel’s Wednesday press conference at SEC Media Day.  The two topics certainly seem congruent in terms of real life impact and importance right? 

It would be simplistic and naive not to consider the fact that the college football machine is just a tad more profitable than murder victims in urban Chicago, which likely contributes to the disparity in media coverage.  But one would think that attaching the famous face of Rose to this issue might buy it more appeal.  

After all, Google search “Derrick Rose crying” and you’ll get countless hits from major news outlets to personal blogs commenting on the video of Rose becoming emotional during a press conference at which he launched his new Adidas shoe. 

Google search “Derrick Rose chicago gun violence” and this is all that comes up:

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Really, Internet?  

In the paparazzi/Internet age of celebrities lacking any inkling of privacy and straying from the “role model” tag, it’s surprising that we are ignoring one of the few megastars who embraces it.  

Rose told CNN, “I’m young, but for some reason, people tend to listen to me, especially the younger kids.

"Just knowing where I grew up and what I had to go through to get where I’m at today. Being a role model, of course, that’s what I try to do.

"I try to stay positive, just really trying to bring hope to my city, where of course, we’re going through so much stuff with crime." 

Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan (among other globally recognized athletes) have often been criticized for refusing to publicly take a stand on social/political issues, yet when a high profile athlete finally steps up to the plate, we turn a blind eye.  Heck, Jordan’s father was shot to death, and I couldn’t find any trace of the international icon discussing gun violence in South Carolina, Chicago or elsewhere. 

Fans, reporters and pundits alike were quick to speculate about Rose’s return from a knee injury (understandably so in many cases), blanketing social media and traditional news platforms with coverage over the past year. 

Rose’s mental state was picked apart on national television time after time last season, yet I haven’t seen his recent interview mentioned on cable sports networks, nor any discussion a few months ago of Rose’s offer to cover funeral costs for a 6-month-old girl shot and killed in Chicago.

When asked what he can do as an individual to help combat gun violence in his native Chicago, Rose told CNN, “I’m just trying to bring that positive energy back, bring that excitement back, so that we can get it back on the right track.”

The media so often judges the priorities of others, questioning why those who seem to have it all can’t stay on the right track.  Isn’t it only fair that we ask the same of ourselves? 

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Times, they are a-changin’ when it comes to sexuality in the United States.  With every new generation comes increased acceptance of gays and lesbians as evidenced by nine states (and Washington DC) legalizing gay marriage. 

Roy Hibbert became the latest high profile athlete to learn a hard lesson from this culture shift after the Indiana Pacers beat the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday.  During the the televised post game press conference Hibbert used the homophobic slur “no homo.”

Hibbert also dropped a “motherf****r” in that press conference, which was aired (and bleeped) on TNT.  The “MF” hardly raised an eyebrow (although the NBA will surely fine Hibbert for using the more traditional curse word…UPDATE: The NBA fined Hibbert $75,000 for his post-game remarks), but the gay slur had the social media world buzzing with comments and criticism of Hibbert’s word choice. 

Shortly after the press conference, the Pacers big man tweeted Jason Collins, requesting a conversation with the recently-out NBA player.  The tweet has since been deleted and Sunday, Hibbert released a statement through the clean-up crew… errr…Pacers, apologizing for his comment.

While speaking with Collins is a fine idea, Hibbert should strongly consider giving Kobe Bryant a call. 

Remember when Bryant landed in hot water after yelling a gay slur (the other “F” word) at a referee back in 2011?  Well, Bryant’s bank account remembers as he was fined $100,000 by the league.  Bryant issued the obligatory apology and professed that his words didn’t reflect his personal views (just as Hibbert has done), but the L.A. Lakers superstar put his money where his mouth is in continuing to advocate for acceptance by making public service announcements, publicly supporting Jason Collins and even calling out a fan’s anti-gay language on twitter.

Heck, maybe Hibbert, Bryant and Tim Hardaway should hold an NBA “acceptance summit.”  

In Hibbert’s statement, he apologized for using the “slang” term.  Yes, certain words and phrases are ingrained in our heads from a young age (or even during adulthood) and removing them from our vocabulary can take time and practice.  I don’t know about you guys, but after making a conscious decision at the age of 14 (and with my Mom’s insistence), I kicked “gay” and “retarded” out of my lexicon for good.  Were there occasional slip-ups early on?  Absolutely, but unlearning hurtful words ain’t that tough a task. 

Not long ago, a tweet popped up on my timeline written by an athlete from one of the many teams I covered for work.  In his tweet, said athlete used the word “gay” in the context of “bad” or “stupid.”  I immediately texted him a mini-lecture, detailing why he should remove the tweet (for his own sake) and that he should strongly consider attempting to remove the word, in such context, from his vocabulary both publicly and privately.

He quickly texted me back saying “you know I didn’t mean it like that,” so I text-lectured a bit further.  Within five minutes of posting, the tweet had disappeared. A few hours later, the athlete told me he had received instant blowback from several of his twitter followers, prompting him to delete the tweet.  He told me that he agreed with my stance and that he would make an effort to stop using “gay” in a negative connotation.  I haven’t seen or heard him use the word since. 

This player is a guy with a wonderful personality and a big heart.  He was quite young at the time and it was apparent that all he needed was someone to point out something that he hadn’t considered previously.  I cut him some slack and tried to help him out a bit because I didn’t think he was anti-gay, and I believed he fell into the “even good people make mistakes” category. 

The aforementioned athlete, Bryant, and Hibbert all claimed that their hurtful words did not align with their personal beliefs and that their intent didn’t come from a discriminatory place. 

Unfortunately, that is of little consequence to the closeted gay teenager who reads a tweet from his favorite pro-athlete and feels his heart sink.  As much as some public figures stray from the “role model” position, it doesn’t make their words any less far-reaching or diminish the power of their actions.

Intentions are practically meaningless in situations like these because emotional and physical responses are attached to certain words (like the “N” word) that historically, have been used in the vein of hate, violence and persecution.

Kobe Bryant turned a huge negative into an even greater positive with the steps he has taken since his on-court outburst in 2011.  I’m guessing the driving force behind such a drastic turnaround is sincerity.  Do I know for a fact that Bryant isn’t anti-gay?  No I don’t, but I’d be shocked if he was faking it.  If Hibbert truly has no issue with homosexuality, he should follow in Bryant’s footsteps. 

At what point will influential public figures like Hibbert (and plenty of others) step out of their personal bubbles and learn from the mistakes made by their peers and predecessors?   At what point do we stop making excuses for ourselves and learn to do the right thing without having to first, do something wrong?

The movement for LGBT equality has been on the forefront of American politics and society over the last several years with professional athletics finally joining the party as sports stars spanning the globe have trickled out of the closet.  

John Amaechi, Gareth Thomas, Robbie Rogers and Brittney Griner have all publicly disclosed their sexuality in recent years, proving that yes, some of the best athletes on earth are indeed gay.  

Last week NBA player Jason Collins disclosed he is gay, becoming the first active male athlete in one of the four major North American team sports to come out.

Supporting Collins and the right for players to be open and honest about their sexuality were fellow athletes Baron Davis, Kobe Bryant, Chris Kluwe, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Scott Fujita, Steve Nash, CC Sabathia and Jerry Stackhouse. 

All of these men have one thing in common.  They are all over 30 years old.  Why is this important?

Traditionally, the Gay Rights movement leadership may be comprised of an over 30 crowd, but surveys indicate that the greatest support for equal marriage rights lies among younger Americans.   With every new generation entering adulthood, the country becomes more accepting of gay rights.

I, for one, would think that today’s college players and younger professional athletes would be the folks leading the way for openly gay players in sports.  It seems that I’m only half right, especially in men’s sports.  

Academia frequently serves as a catalyst for social change and we’re seeing an increased number of college athletic programs publicly encourage players to come out.  However there’s a significant drop off in that sentiment among the pro ranks. 

It’s no coincidence that many veteran players, such as those previously mentioned, are freely expressing opinions on a controversial issue.  Many of these guys are at the end of their professional careers or are so dominant in their sport that they won’t face any career-threatening or financial consequences.  

But what about young players who aren’t yet established in their sport?  Just a few months ago, an NFL prospect was asked about his sexuality at the Combine.  What kind of message does that send to young players? 

There is one player who has managed to break the mold.  He’s not a veteran but he has faced years of taunting as a result of sticking up for his beliefs. 

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Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets is just the kind of young, talented, high-profile athlete needed to encourage other heterosexual athletes of his generation to help open the doors even wider for lesbian and gay teammates.  

Raised by two moms,  Waudda and Manasin, the 23-year-old Faried has been active in supporting the LGBT community for several years.  An impressive rookie season earned Faried respect and a solid reputation heading into this season, his second in the NBA.  

Veteran, heterosexual players (and obviously, the gay athletes who have come out over the years, such as Martina Navratilova) have paved the way for Robbie Rogers, Brittney Griner, and now, Jason Collins.  But those guys are on the way out, leaving a huge void in the movement.  Kenneth Faried is the man to fill that void for his generation.  Hopefully by the time his career ends, Faried won’t need a successor because the movement itself will no longer be necessary.  

Sports fans often obliterate the boundaries of good taste when supporting their teams.  The free, fun-loving nature of the games which we all grew up playing sure seems to have a regressive impact on adults, doesn’t it?

It’s a fine line to walk, but whomever created the billboard below nailed this tightrope act with expert precision.

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Complex Magazine posted photos of an electronic billboard in Chicago featuring a rotation of creative images supporting the city’s pro sports teams.  Joakim Noah -the Bulls’ most eccentric and interesting player since Dennis Rodman- is shown blasting a grimacing LeBron James with a fire extinguisher. 

I’m actually laughing just typing this up right now….The look on LeBron’s face is priceless. 

Sure, it was only ONE playoff game in which Noah and the rest of the depleted-yet-not defeated Bulls shocked the defending champs, but the fans and city should savor every single moment they can. 

Kudos to whomever created these ads.  Aside from a burst of carbon dioxide to the face, the “Noah extinguishes LeBron” image (as well as the pro-Blackhawks billboard) is hilarious without hurting anyone’s feelings. 

If anything, the billboard will add fuel to the Heat’s fire heading into Game 2. 

Without Luol Deng and Derrick Rose, that billboard might be the last we see of the Bulls putting the Heat on blast. 

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One thing we’ve learned from the Dwight Howard sweepstakes is that no deal is a sure thing until it’s done.  Signed, sealed, delivered. 

First it was the Nets.  Then it was the Rockets.  Then it was the Lakers.  Now it’s the Nets.  Again.

In the last 24 hours, Yahoo! Sports hoops gurus Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc Spears have reported a proposed deal revolving around the Magic center that would involve movement of more than 10 players between four teams. 

While the Lakers are still interested in a trade that would send Andrew Bynum to Orlando in exchange for Howard, Bynum’s hesitation to sign a long-term contract with the Magic has significantly hampered L.A.’s ability to strike a deal, according to a source (as well as several previously published reports).

As a result, Bynum’s reluctance left the door wide open for the Brooklyn Nets, who along with the Magic, would lead the way in this four-team deal, according to Y! Sports.  When doing a deal with so many moving parts, its only natural that there will be a few hiccups in the process. 

One piece of this gigantic puzzle, as reported by Marc Spears of Y! Sports, would send Kris Humphries (sign-and-trade) to the Cavaliers with a one-year contract.  Problem is, the Hump is interested in a four-year deal, which is understandable.  Who doesn’t want some job security?


One guy who has a LOT of power in this situation is agent Dan Fegan, who represents both Howard and Humphries.

Awwwwkwaaaard. 

How do you convince Humphries to go against his own best interest, basically for the sake of another one of your clients?  Humphries (along with several other players said to be on the trading block) would have to agree to a sign-and-trade for the deal to happen. 

As an agent, a multi-year deal for Humphries would certainly be in Fegan’s best interest as more years equals more money (and mo’problems, no doubt).  But it seems like this is quite a predicament for Fegan and his clients, Humphries in particular. 

Plus, if TMZ’s reports of Humphries’ impending fatherhood are accurate (http://tinyurl.com/cevmfze), the financial security of multi-year contract will be of even more importance. 

Moving forward, it will be interesting to watch how this part of the deal plays out.  If Humphries refuses to do a sign-and-trade to the Cavs for a measly one-year contract, can the teams involved get creative and find a way around the Hump?

As if we weren’t already glued to this damn story, the Howard-Humphries connection just adds one more element to this so-called Dwightmare. 


To read the Yahoo! Sports’ story on the proposed mega-deal involving the Magic, Nets, Cavs and Clippers, click this link:  http://sports.yahoo.com/news/nba—nets-emerge-again-as-strong-contender-to-land-dwight-howard.html 

Ahhhh yes, the so-called “coronation of King James” finally happened Thursday night as the Miami Heat beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 4-1 for the NBA Championship.  LeBron James, the self-proclaimed King, earned his crown in his ninth season in the League, leaving everyone asking questions like “is this redemption,” and “does a title signify the pinnacle for James and will it quiet the haters?”

With one notch on his Championship belt comes a level of respect for James that even the toughest of the haters must acknowledge.  You don’t have to like the guy or forgive some of the crappy choices he’s made in the past, but with this title comes the confirmation that LeBron is more than just a superstar; he’s a winner. 

James has experienced a true career evolution, but in reverse.  As a high school phenomenon, James was, without earning them, handed the keys to the kingdom -based on talent, not results- before making an NBA roster.  While he was a celebrity from Day 1 and showcased an arsenal of offensive skills in his very first season as a Cleveland Cavalier, it took James a few years to get his defense up to par, which elevated his game and reputation significantly. 

Since becoming the complete package circa 2009, the question seemed to be not “if” but “when” James would win a Championship and enter the elite ranks of the NBA.

For years, nobody doubted James’ talent, instead, using non-basketball reasons to pick the man apart.  From the rumored affair between ‘Bron’s mom Gloria and Delonte West, to Handshake-gate vs. the Magic, to The Decision and The Heatles, much of the James-hatred was self inflicted. 

The criticisms of being unable, and even worse, unwilling to take “big” shots tainted James’ on-court image just enough to change the question to, “will he EVER win a title?”

Individual talent is no longer good enough for those playing team sports.  The debate exists, “can you be at the most elite level without a Championship ring?”

Look at Dan Marino, or Peyton Manning before he finally led the Colts to a Super Bowl victory in 2006?

With career averages of 27.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 48 percent shooting in 39.9 minutes per game, PLUS a host of hardware including three MVP awards, four NBA All-Defensive First Team honors and eight All-Star appearances, all that remained was a Championship to put a bow on an already-Hall of Fame worthy career. 

John Stockton & Karl Malone, TOGETHER, never won a championship.
Eglin Baylor never won a championship.
Charles Barkley never won a championship.
Reggie Miller  never won a championship.
Dominique Wilkins never won a championship.
Patrick Ewing never won a championship.

These guys are some of the best to EVER play the game of basketball, an opinion backed up by the fact that each one is a member of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.   Had James failed to win a title during his career, he would still be in great company.  That said, he would be haunted forever, just like the men listed above remain, to this day. 

Michael Jordan won his first of six Championships in his seventh season.  It took Shaquille O’Neal eight years, and poor Dirk Novitzki toughed out 13 seasons before winning it all. 

While second place is indeed the first loser, there is something to be said for the fact that James had already been to the Finals twice, with two different teams.  Neither the Cavaliers nor last year’s Heat team would’ve made it there without James on the roster.

Every great individual basketball player needs a good team surrounding him (or her) to win at the highest level.  It took James a LONG. ASS. TIME. to get the right people around him on the court, clipboarding on the bench and sitting in the front office before he could possibly put on a ring. 

After Miami’s Big Three went through all kinds of trial and error in its first season together, the players finally fell in place this year as the Heat figured it all out.  Miami completely dismantled a Thunder team that looked unstoppable, losing a mere three playoff games heading into the Finals. 

There would be no taking a backseat for James in the Finals this year, no sir.  He did not defer to his teammates.  James was the first option, period.  That says a lot when Dwayne Wade is on the court as well.  I don’t care if Wade looked old and beat up at times, he’s still a damn good basketball player who was dwarfed by LeBron in this series, a few specific moments aside.  James averaged 28.6 ppg and 10.2 assists in the series, earning him the title of Finals MVP.

After the series-clinching Game 5 win, Wade said of James, “I don’t know if I could be happier for another guy, another man to succeed in life as I am for him.”

Talk about a different tune.  Not so long ago, word would occasionally leak from Cleveland depicting a young, cocky and often times selfish player who was so untouchable that the head coach was afraid to discipline him, causing resentment among fellow Cavs players.  Now, it sounds like James is clearly adored by his Miami teammates, including Wade, the brightest of stars in his own right.

The haters will keep on hating.  “Well, how many rings will he get?  I mean, Mark Madsen has more rings than LeBron.” 

True.  But who cares? 

In my book, all it takes is one, therefor James can finally rest on top of the mountain and enjoy the view. 


The Kings went from trying to make happy history by winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in the franchise’s 45-year existence to possibly ending up on the wrong side of history with a hockey collapse of epic proportion. 

In a seven-game series, a 3-0 lead looks insurmountable regardless of the sport.  A deficit of that magnitude has never been overcome in an NBA playoff series.  The Boston Red Sox were the first to break the barrier in their legendary ALCS win against the New York Yankees en route to the World Series title in 2004. 

Compared to baseball and hoops, Hockey teams are entitled to have hope when down 0-3, albeit just a tiny sliver.  Three times in NHL playoff history has a team climbed out of the huge 3-0 hole to win the series.

As a No. 8 seed ripping through the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Kings have not only taken the hockey community by surprise, but it’s own home city of Los Angeles has been transformed from a collection of beach-going basketball and baseball fans to a population of people warmly embracing the cold ice of hockey along with the excitement and edge the fight for the Cup creates. 

Winning 10 consecutive road games in this year’s playoffs (12 dating back to last season) en route to series victories over the 1, 2 and 3 seeds out West had the media and most fans crowning the Kings invincible heading into the Cup Finals against the also surprising New Jersey Devils.

Beating the Devils twice in Jersey only continued the clamor for the Kings, despite both games being decided in overtime and the Devils actually outplaying L.A. in Game 2.  But Game 3 in L.A. was all Kings as the home team crushed the visiting Devils 4-0 making the sweep look pretty realistic. 

The Kings had twice led three games to none in these playoffs and lost the fourth game at home, so it shouldn’t have shocked anybody that a desperate Devils team staved elimination with a Game 4 victory, sweeping the brooms aside.  But the Kings are better on the road than on home ice making a Game 5 win all the more difficult for the Devils.

The Kings have vastly improved over the last few months (after a trade and coaching change) as the players have become so in synch with each other that L.A.’s lines seem to move in flawless formations with each man knowing exactly what each of his teammates is doing and where on the ice he’s doing it. 

L.A. has won games while being outplayed because the Kings players have consistently been in the right place at the right time for rebounds, redirects and deflections near the net, on faceoffs, etc.  Despite playing extremely well in Game 5, the Kings lacked their usual “right place, right time” magic.  Missed shots that lingered deliciously close to Martin Brodeur and were ripe for the taking went untouched by the Kings who were often times nowhere near position when it came to rebounds and second chances.  The Kings were off-kilter while the Devils were carried on the back of Brodeur. 

With Bryce Salvador’s shot deflecting off of L.A.’s Slava Voynov and into the net, along with captain Zach Parise’s goal, the Devils found themselves with the “right place, right time” style typically fit for the Kings. 

With the 2-1 victory, the Devils became the first team to force a Game 6 after losing the the first three in the Stanley Cup Final since 1945 and only the third team ever (out of 26) to do so since adopting a seven-game series format in 1939. 

Only the 1942 Maple Leafs have overcome a 0-3 deficit in the finals to win Lord Stanley’s cup.  33 years later, the New York Islanders turned the 0-3 upside down on the Penguins, beating Pittsburgh in seven games in the 1975 quarterfinals. 

But what has me worried is what I watched with my own two eyes while I lived in Boston in 2010 as the Philadelphia Flyers became only the third team (in 167 tries) in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a series.  The momentum shift was palpable in that series, like a ship swaying back and forth on choppy waters.   The ship finally settled in Philly’s favor after the Flyers took Game 5.  That was the turning point, the halfway mark. 

It’s easy to say, “boy, it sure is hard to beat a team four straight times.”  Heck, I thought there was NO WAY that after winning 20 straight games, the Spurs could lose four in a row to the Thunder.  It just didn’t make sense.

But it does make sense, especially in a sport like hockey where one mistake can cost an entire game.  The first two games in this series could’ve gone either way.  The series easily could have returned to L.A. with the Devils leading 2-0.  That’s why it is so hard to predict “if the Kings lose Game 6, they’re done.  The momentum will be clearly on the Devils’ side and it’s over.”  All of the momentum in the world can’t stop one guy from making one mistake, turning the tide.

If the Kings do lose Game 6 at home, Game 7 will prove to be one fierce battle for the crown as it will truly be anyone’s game.  I say Kings in six, or Devils in seven. 


WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

It’s a battle of old school versus new school in the Western Conference Finals as the good ol’ San Antonio Spurs look for a fifth championship while the young Seattle Super Sonics….errr, Oklahoma City Thunder strive to make their first-ever trip to the NBA Finals.

Both teams have only ONE loss between them through the first two rounds of the playoffs, a stat which really boggles the mind.  The Thunder swept the Dallas Mavericks before losing just one game to the L.A. Lakers in the second round while the Spurs swept both the Utah Jazz and the L.A. Clippers.  The Spurs won the regular season series between the two 2-1.

The Spurs have won 18 straight games dating back to early April, making this a run for the ages if they make it past the Thunder in any number of games. 

What makes San Antonio so good?  The Spurs run a quick offense with superb ball movement led by point guard Tony Parker who is having the season of his life.  with Russell Westbrook running the point, the Thunder are even faster, especially in transition (especially on the fastbreak) and have been successful shooting jumpers from all over the floor.  Just as important, OKC is averaging a league-low 10.7 turnovers in the playoffs while often capitalizing on opponents’ mistakes instead.

During the regular season Westbrook, NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant and James Harden were the top scoring trio in the league combining for 68.4 points per game.  That is FIERCE.  Sure, we’ve watched each guy go through shooting slumps are various points throughout the playoffs, but they were short in duration and clearly, didn’t cost the team wins at the end of the day. 

The Spurs aren’t exactly slouches on the other end.  He might be on the older side, but Tim Duncan is having an outstanding year.  The big man up’d his 28.8 ppg in the regular season to a fierce 32 points even in these playoffs.  Duncan also boosts a small hike in rebounding, now averaging 17.6 per game.  The guy is 36 years old.   Seriously.  It’s beyond impressive. 

Might OKC’s Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins limit him down low?  Yes.  The Thunder defense stifled L.A.’s bigs Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol at times, forcing the Lakers to settle for bricks, errrr, jump shots and three-pointers.   Luckily for the Spurs, who, along with its own trio of stars (Manu Ginobili being the third), also have legitimate depth as NINE guys on the roster averaged 8.9 points per game during the regular season.  Rookie Kawhi Leonard has come up big for the Spurs in these playoffs.  San Antonio will need all of the help it can get in dealing with a tough Thunder team.

The Thunder definitely took the tougher road in getting to the Conference Finals while getting nearly the same amount of rest as the Spurs.  My heart says the Spurs will win this series because of their experience level and coaching, but my eyes have seen the Thunder and the fury they play with.  I see this series going seven games and boy, would it be tough to send San Antonio packing on their own home court.  You guys will have to decide your own winner on this one since I can’t!

EASTERN CONFERENCE

I hate to say it, but I don’t think the Boston Celtics matter all that much in this series.  What I mean by that is the winner of the series depends on which Miami Heat team shows up at the arena.  Is it the confused, Bosh-less Heat?  The secure, pink-pants-wearing DWade, Bosh-less Heat?  The Heat, with Bosh? 

Surprisingly, the Celtics won the season series 3-1 against the Heat and even with players out due to injury, looked their best against Miami.  The old Big Three definitely get inspired taking on the new Big Three and it shows.  The great thing about Boston is the palpable emotion that drips from the pores of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, lifting not only their teammates but firing up the crowd as well, at home or on the road.  Aside from the Lakers, no other team enthuses the Celtics the way Miami does.

I would give the playoff edge to the team with a true center, but neither the Celtics or Heat has one, which is pretty interesting considering the value of the position historically.  I was looking forward to a Bosh vs. Garnett match up down low, but that is unlikely given Bosh’s abdominal injury.

The season-ending injury to Boston’s Avery Bradley could really hurt the Celtics as he has been integral to Boston’s defense, which has carried the team through the playoffs.  Boston is holding teams to a mere 83.9 ppg in the playoffs, good for the best team defense in the postseason.  It should be fascinating to watch that defense go up against the ever-potent Heat offense which is averaging 95.5 ppg.  The highest score against the Celtics this postseason has been 92 points while the Heat have scored over 100 points in six of 11 games. 

What makes the Heat machine run so well?  LeBron James and Dwayne Wade.  When they are on and feelin it, back up or else! Despite having issues at times, check out the overall playoff performances of these two.  James: 29.0ppg, 8.7 rpg, 5.9apg.  Wade: 23.8ppg, 4.5rpg, 3.6apg.  Of course, various Heat role players step up to the plate each night which is great, although not fabulous for the sake of consistency.

Interestingly, the Celtics Big Three has been offensively inconsistent throughout the playoffs while Rajon Rondo has done most of the heavy lifting averaging 15.0ppg, 12.5apg, 6.4rpg and 2.6 steals.  If Miami’s defense heats up and the Big 3 are off the mark offensively, it will make life tough on Rondo.  Sure he can sore and be a one man show, but his job is to distribute the ball.  Rondo alone can’t beat the Heat.

If Miami plays the way they did closing out the series against Indiana, they’ll beat the Celtics with the youth, speed and strength of LeBron and DWade along with the shot of Mario Chalmers (ok, shots…many shots… should they make it in the net).  I say Miami in 7. 

 

Who could’ve seen this coming?  Every resident Staples Center team has made it out of the first round of the playoffs, each team finding itself as the lower seed the rest of the way.  It’s crazy but true as the Lakers, Clippers and Kings are all on a roll, the hockey team, shockingly, finding the most success in the post-season thus far.  For now, we’ll set our sights on hoops as we take a look at the upcoming Western Conference Semifinals. 

5. Los Angeles Clippers vs 1. San Antonio Spurs

From the cities they play in, to their rosters, to their playoff paths thus far, the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers couldn’t be more opposite. 

The Spurs swept their first round series against the Utah Jazz while the Clippers needed all seven games to sneak past the Grizzlies.

An older San Antonio team is comprised of a veteran, championship-winning nucleus while the young squad from L.A. is made up of a youthful core and a collection of drifters with little NBA Finals experience.

On paper, the Clippers absolutely have the talent to beat the Spurs in a seven game series, but I don’t picture it happening in reality. 

The Spurs come into this Western Conference Semifinals series healthy and as well-rested as they come after watching games from their couches for the past week.  The Clippers, in comparison, will go from Memphis to San Antonio, beginning the series on one full day’s rest which doesn’t bode well for beat up stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

In the regular season, the Spurs took 2 of 3 from the Clipps with L.A.’s lone victory coming against a Tony Parker-less team.  The two Spurs wins saw a fantastic duel of the league’s top point guards (sans Rajon Rondo, obviously) where Parker got the best Paul.  When Parker was out with an injury for the final meeting between the teams, CP3 had his way with the Spurs, scoring 36 points and dropping 11 dimes.  Parker will not allow Paul more than two great games in this series, MAXIMUM. 

Clippers bigs De’Andre Jordan and Reggie Evans can absolutely challenge Tim Duncan in the post, but Jordan, especially, will need to produce offensively and do a much better job on the boards than he did against the Grizzlies.

As much as I enjoy watching the Clippers and would give anything to see a Staples Center Hallway Series in the Conference Finals, I don’t think the Clippers are ready to take down a team like the Spurs just yet.  If Chauncey Billups were playing, I would likely think otherwise, but without his veteran savvy and Finals experience out on the floor, the Clippers might have a tough time in the maturity department.

Plus, the Spurs have one of the best coaches in the NBA in Greg Popovich who has seen and done it all, and is sure to out-coach Vinny Del Negro nearly every time out. 

It wouldn’t surprise me to see adrenaline carry the Clippers to a Game 1 upset over a rested but rusty Spurs team in San Antonio, but at the end of the day, I’ll take Duncan, Parker and Ginobili in six games. 

3. Los Angeles Lakers vs 2. Oklahoma City Thunder

What is not to love in this series?  As basketball fans, all we can hope for is that the the postseason brings more drama than the regular season series between these two did, otherwise this one will be over in a hurry. 

For starters, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and the Lakers bench need to play at a good 80 percent of their maximum efficiency if they want to have a snowball’s chance of beating the Thunder.  If they step up each and every game, the Lakers can definitely win the series.  They have too much championship experience and the one guy nobody else has… Kobe Bryant.

Then again, on paper, the Lakers backcourt is in big trouble.  Kobe, Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake versus Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. 

It doesn’t seem like a fair fight, and it isn’t, which is why the Lakers will be in desperate need of strong performances from Bynum and Gasol down low.  With Kendrick Perkins nursing a hip strain, L.A.’s bigs have a chance to exploit the Thunder in the paint if Serge Ibaka has to carry most of the load for OKC in the post.  Ibaka had a monstrous regular season but the tandem of Bynum and Gasol could wear him down in a seven-game series if Perkins is sidelined, or playing at or below 50 percent.

While not impressive on the court this season, word out of OKC is that Derek Fisher has made an impact in the locker room and he can do even more than that in a playoff series against his former team.  From helping a young team keep calm to divulging whatever secrets and information he can about the Lakers, the Thunder will be better for having Fisher on the roster in this series.

And then there’s Metta World Peace versus James Harden. 

As if the Lakers learned nothing from the bulletin board material provided by Bynum opening his trap about close-out games being “easy,” Metta just couldn’t resist jumping into the trash-talk game head first.

Since his elbow made contact with Harden’s dome resulting in a seven-game suspension, Metta had to diss the concussed Thunder guard multiple times through twitter and in interviews, most recently saying he won’t be shaking hands with Harden anytime soon because he doesn’t “shake hands with subs.” 

While technically speaking, Metta is accurate in the sense that typically, only the starters of each team shake hands right before tipoff, it’s not like Harden, the recently-named Sixth Man of the Year, is some fresh-legged, bench-warming scrub. 

In watching the impact of World Peace in Game 7 against the Nuggets, it’s plain to see how effective he can be for the Lakers defensively, an area in which L.A. must play at the highest level to beat the offensively-firepowered Thunder. 

We probably won’t see many one-on-one showdowns between these two, but the energy and animosity between World Peace and Harden will serve its purpose in sparking both teams and crowds to a level likely palpable through our television screens. 

If both teams played to the best of their abilities, I think the Lakers have the edge because of championship experience, the skill and will of Kobe, and the presence of Bynum and Gasol down low.  But nobody ever plays at 100 percent all of the time, so for that reason, I’m taking the Thunder, with hesitation, in seven games (maybe even six). 

 

Nuggets at Lakers, Game 7

The Lakers need to get a grip.  Now.
On one hand, I’m not worried because I’ve seen this sad act before.  The last time the Lakers won an NBA title, the Houston Rockets took them to seven games in the first-round series, which was in no way indicative of what was to come in the rest of the playoffs. 

We all know the Lakers are superior to the Nuggets, it’s just a matter of which team decides to show up Saturday for Game 7. 

Will it be the Lakers team that had six players score in double figures?  Or will it be the team in which a sickly Kobe Bryant carried nearly the whole load while two 7-footers were practically invisible?

Will LA continue to be stifled by a blistering Nuggets defense that left Pau Gasol with an empty stat sheet after going a pathetic 1-10 from the field in Game 6?  Will Andrew Bynum continue to regress to middle school behavior by bragging without pause and sitting alone at the end of the bench like a boy whose lunch money got stolen?

If each team plays to its potential, there is no doubt that the Lakers will easily beat the Nuggets in Game 7.  Denver is too inconsistent and too weak from long range to beat a team with players in the post such as Gasol and Bynum with Kobe waiting in the wings. 

We will see what Gasol and Bynum are really made of Saturday as a Game 7 is the perfect opportunity to expose a player’s mental fortitude. 

Look for an extra boost of energy from Metta World Peace who will return from a seven game suspension to emotionally inspire the Lakers  to reach their physical potential on Saturday.  As lovely a Cinderella story as Kenneth Faried, Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee, Andre Miller and Corey Brewer have written, I think Denver’s glass slipper finally breaks come Saturday. 

Clippers at Grizzlies, Game 7

This could very well be the end of the road for the Clippers.  Sure, the 27-point comeback was incredible, as was jumping out to a 3-1 series lead, but L.A.’s injuries will likely do them in against the Grizzlies in Memphis on Sunday.

The last thing on the Grizzlie’s minds is the Game 1 loss to the Clippers after Memphis has not only beat L.A. twice in Staples Center, but has watched L.A’s two stars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, break down over the course of the series and the Grizz smell blood in the water.

Without Paul and Griffin at a good 70% in terms of health, it will be awfully hard for the Clippers to beat this Grizzlies team - which many thought would be a wild card winner to come out of the West - in Memphis in a decisive Game 7.

Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph finally figured out how to work the Clippers in Game 6 and with help from Rudy Gay and Mike Conley, the Grizzlies had just enough to get the win in L.A. 

The edge in Game 7 has to go to the Grizzlies because of the team’s playoff experience last year, the injuries ailing the Clippers two star players and of course, home court advantage.

Sleepy Spurs & Thunder?

The long layoff between the first round of the playoffs and the conference semi-finals can’t be long enough for the San Antonio Spurs, who are “old,” but perhaps not as old as you might think.  The average age of a Spurs player is 27.29 years old, compared to the Oklahoma City Thunder, whose average age is 25.8. 

Greg Popovich’s decision to rest some of the team’s older players like Tim Duncan is in part, what earned him NBA Coach of the Year honors as sitting the more “mature” men on the team for a game here and there certainly paid off in the long run. 

The younger Thunder, whose stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both 23 years old, might have a slightly tougher time adjusting to the long lay off, but I’m sure will be right back up to speed after one game, maximum. 

In the short term, the long break between OKC’s first and second round series could cause some rust, but it will definitely be helpful in the long run as whichever team  comes out of the West will have taken the much tougher road to the Finals.

Celtics & Heat In The East

Barring catastrophic injury (a la the Chicago Bulls) the Celtics and Heat should meet up for an Eastern Conference Finals showdown in a few weeks from now. 

I give Paul Pierce one obligatory wheelchair ride and Ray Allen six missed periods with a bum ankle and still have the Celtics beating the 76ers for an eventual date with the Heat.

As much as I love the young-buck Pacers, they have no shot against Miami unless two of the Big Three go down with major injuries. 

That said, does the old Big Three actually stand a chance against the young Big Three?

Ehhh…no. I could see the Celtics taking Miami to six games, but that’s probably as far as it goes.  By the time the Conference Finals roll around, the Heat should be drooling for the sweet taste of revenge after last year’s embarrassing Finals loss and willing to pounce on whomever stands in their way of getting there.

With a weak Eastern Conference and a tough, tough road for whomever comes out of the West, this truly is the Heat’s year to win an NBA Championship.  Again, barring injury, the Celtics CANNOT beat the Heat in a 7-game series.  All that the team coming out of the West can hope for is that the guys in green put up one hell of a fight. 


After last season’s transformation under then-rookie head coach Tom Thibodeau, 2011-2012 was  supposed to be “the” season in which Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls would fully bloom into a team that could legitimately challenge the Heat for a spot in the NBA Finals.  

But something was wrong from the start. 

First and foremost was the NBA lockout which kept many players away from their typical off-season workout and conditioning programs in efforts to adjust to an unknown timetable of when the season might start up again.  This affected every player. 

Then, Rose was the passenger in a car when his buddy, the driver, was pulled over and arrested for DUI.  While Rose wasn’t in any trouble personally, surely the incident shook the quiet 23-year-old who goes out of his way to keep his personal life private. 

But things seemed to turn around in late December as Rose agreed to a five-year contract extension worth a whopping $94.8 million just days before the start of a shortened NBA season. 

The much-deserved reward from his Chicago bosses would prove be the high point of Rose’s season which turned ugly quite quickly as the All-Star guard suffered a myriad of injuries. 

Toe, back, groin foot and ankle injuries forced Rose to miss 27 of the Bulls’ 66 regular season games.  Rose had only missed six games in his first three NBA seasons combined. 

The Bulls logged a respectable 18-9 record without Rose and held on for the No. 1 seed in the East, despite the frequent absence of their superstar. 

It was only fitting, in sports’ version of a cruel shakespearean tragedy, that Rose would wilt for good late in his team’s first playoff game against the Philadelphia 76ers, sidelined for up to eight months with a torn ACL in his left knee.

Kyle Korver said after the game, “It’s the saddest win,” as Rose’s teammates were clearly shell-shocked by the severity of his injury and the impact it would have on what was, just minutes earlier, a postseason full of promise and potential. 

Leading the series against the 76ers 1-0, the Bulls have enough talent to dispose of Philadelphia, even without Rose.  As fate would have it, Rose’s teammates are fairly used to playing without him, having figured out a system that worked well enough in the regular season. Chicago’s stellar defense, combined with adrenaline and the competitive spirit will propel the Bulls for the rest of this series against an inconsistent 76ers team. 

It’s the long-term prognosis that is worrisome for the Rose-less Bulls. 

While the Bulls beat Miami once and Boston twice without Rose during the regular season, a seven-game playoff series is a completely different animal. 

Rose is so important to the Bulls not just because of the points he puts up, but because of the opponent’s perception of him as a scoring threat, forcing double teams which allows open looks for his Bulls teammates. 

Who will opponents double team now?  It won’t be Carlos Boozer or Joakim Noah.  They SHOULD be the guys drawing a double team but they won’t be because neither is consistent offensively  warranting the additional attention.  Rip Hamilton and Kyle Korver certainly won’t draw the double team, thus the big guys shouldn’t get many easy scoring opportunities down low. 

Ideally, opponents tried to force Rose to shoot outside instead of driving the lane, the place where he often put on a spectacular show while having his way with the defense.  With veteran guard C.J. Watson set to start in Rose’s place, the defense will strive for the opposite in forcing Watson closer to the rim rather than allowing him to shoot from his comfort zone outside of the key.  

This will be Luol Deng’s time to shine, even brighter than he has already this season.  He has to make good choices and consistently execute offensively.  Boozer, whose biggest knock as a pro has been that he doesn’t play up to his potential, finally has the chance to prove the haters wrong by stepping up and leading my example.

The biggest challenge for Chicago, in this series at least, will likely be mental, not physical.  Losing your MVP can shatter one’s psyche.  The Bulls have to find a way to quickly shake off the stench of losing Rose and focus on the immediate task, which is the 76ers.