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NBA PM: Replacing Kevin Love, Wild Wild West

Adam Silver should not unilaterally pick Kevin Love’s All-Star replacement. Moke Hamilton explains.

Moke Hamilton

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Who Will Replace Kevin Love? The Voters Should Decide.

Oh the irony.

After taking quite a while to develop synergy and chemistry with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love has finally emerged as the All-Star player he once was with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Only problem? He won’t be able to participate in the annual classic.

Earlier this week, Love underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and is expected to be sidelined for approximately the next six weeks. With Serge Ibaka having been traded to the Toronto Raptors, things promise to be somewhat interesting with the Raptors nipping at the heels of the Cavaliers for supremacy atop the conference (assuming they can pull themselves out of their recent slump).

Aside from that, though, and aside from the questions that will continue to be asked revolving around whether the Cavaliers would be well served by engaging the New York Knicks in a swap featuring Love for Carmelo Anthony, the most immediate question that Love’s injury brought forth was who Commissioner Adam Silver would name as his replacement in Sunday’s All-Star game.

Bradley Beal is the name many have mentioned as the most deserving replacement, while others have mentioned Hassan Whiteside and Carmelo Anthony as dark horse frontcourt candidates. Kristaps Porzingis has also received mentions, as he and Anthony finished as the runner-ups in voting.

Still, at the end of the day, the decision is Silver’s and Silver’s alone.

That’s a bad thing.

Since having taken over for David Stern in February 2014, Commissioner Silver has done an exemplary job of running the NBA. Earnings are through the roof and a lockout that many thought was inevitable has been avoided. Donald Sterling is no longer an NBA owner, players are playing fewer back-to-back games and, most recently, the NBA announced a partnership with Gatorade that may help cement the NBA’s newly anointed “G-League” as the best minor league in pro basketball.

When Stern spoke with Basketball Insiders in a one-on-one interview in August 2015—about 18 months after Silver took over—he had nothing but positives to say about his former Deputy Commissioner’s job performance.

Indeed, Silver stepped right in and immediately addressed a few issues that people have been complaining about prior to his installation. And through the early goings of his tenure, he has proven to be many things that Stern was not perceived to be—even-tempered, fair and impartial among them.

With Silver having tweaked the NBA’s All-Star selection system to incorporate votes from the players and media in determining who will be All-Stars, a very simple question needs to be asked and answered: Why in the world does the Commissioner still have the authority to unilaterally name the replacement of an injured player who cannot participate in the game?

It’s almost as puzzling as the league’s decision to go with three “frontcourt” players in the All-Star game, but still have a center position designated on the All-NBA teams.

If the All-Star game truly is about the fans, it would probably make the most sense to have the runners-up serve as the injury replacements. And based on what we have been hearing, it sounds as though that’s exactly the way that things will end up.

Still, though, the authority to name the injury replacement is one that is reserved to the Commissioner. If the goal, however, was to make the All-Star process incorporate more voices, Silver should step up and announce that moving forward, the injury replacement will be based on how the voting ended up. At this point, it doesn’t make sense for that right to be reserved by the Commissioner, and frankly, it flies in the face of who Silver has proven himself to be through the early goings of his tenure.

In such an instance, Kristaps Porzingis—who will already be in New Orleans to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge—would have already punched his ticket for Sunday’s big game.

Fair is fair, Mr. Commissioner. Do the right thing. Name Porzingis the replacement for Love and then announce that moving forward, the replacement will be named automatically.

Still The Wild, Wild West

For years, the Western Conference has been regarded as a dog fight. This year, it remains so, only toward the bottom of the conference.

Entering play on February 15, as the Denver Nuggets sit in the eighth seed out West, we can’t help but be baffled at the fact that they are only 3.5 games ahead of the 12th seed, which happens to be the New Orleans Pelicans. Jostling with the Sacramento Kings, Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks, there appear to be five teams battling for one final playoff spot out West. With less than 30 games remaining in the regular season, this trade deadline will be quite interesting.

The Nuggets are believed to still be shopping while the Kings would be served well by finally giving DeMarcus Cousins a taste of the playoffs. The Blazers committed more than $300 million in salaries this past offseason and may not even make the playoffs, while Mark Cuban tries to figure out where his franchise is heading in the twilight of Dirk Nowitzki’s career.

Meantime, the Pelicans are still desperately trying to recapture the mojo they had when they qualified for the playoffs back in 2015.

All five teams have the incentive to want to qualify for the playoffs, meaning that quite a few deals are likely on the horizon. With the deadline coming up on February 23, there’s just over a week to go.

Things will only get more interesting.

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NBA Daily: Meet Chimezie Metu, A Versatile Big Man

Chimezie Metu could end up being one of the steals of this year’s draft.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when it comes to the NBA draft, there always seems to a few players flying under the radar a bit. Players who are underrated or overlooked for whatever reason. This year, one of those players is Chimezie Metu from the University of Southern California.

In early mock drafts, Metu was projected to go anywhere from mid to late first-round. In some of the more recent mocks, he’s fallen out of the first-round altogether and into the second-round. If those projections hold and he does end up being selected in the second-round, then some team is going to get a huge steal.

Metu is a versatile big man who impacts both ends of the floor. He is an agile shot blocker who can control the paint defensively, and on the other end, he can score in the post while being able to step out and knock down mid-range jump shots. He is confident in what he’ll be able to bring to an NBA team.

“I think being versatile and being able to make an impact on defense right away,” Metu told reporters at the NBA Draft Combine this past week. “Being able to switch on to smaller players or guard the post, and just being able to knock down shots or make plays when I’m called upon.”

In his three years at USC, Metu blossomed into one of the best players in the Pac-12 conference. This past season, he led a solid Trojans team in scoring with 15.7 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting. He also led the team in rebounding with 7.4 per game and had a team-high 59 blocked shots.

He’s taken note of some of the best big men in the NBA, some of whom he’s tried to model his game after. He told reporters at the combine that some of his biggest influences are Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid. He knows that there may be misconceptions about his game, or those that doubt him, but he isn’t worried about that at all.

“I don’t really worry about what other people are saying about myself. I just go out there and play hard, and try to help my team win games,” Metu said. “My strength is being versatile, being able to impact the game in multiple ways. Not being one dimensional and being able to have fingerprints on different parts of the game.”

It’s been busy past few days for Metu. He’s had 13 interviews with NBA teams to go along with workouts, medical testing and media availability. Although it’s been a hectic time, part of what has made it so worthwhile is all of the NBA personnel he’s been able to interact with. What really has stood out to him being at the combine is the difference between college and the NBA.

“I can just go up to the owners and the GMs and just talk to them,” Metu said. “Coming from college you basically have to act like they’re not there, cause of the rules and stuff. Just the fact that they can come up and talk to you, you can talk to them, that’s probably the most surprising part for me.”

Aside from all the front office personnel he’s interacted with, Metu has also had the opportunity to meet with some of the most respected names in NBA history. Among the former players who he’s had a chance to meet with, Magic Johnson and Bob McAdoo have definitely stood out to him.

While he’s grateful just to have been able to meet NBA royalty, he’s used it as an opportunity to pick their brains. He’s also been able to showcase his game in front of them. He is confident that he’s been able to impress them and hopefully make an impact on their decisions come draft night.

“Just coming out here and having fun, there’s a lot of basketball royalty,” Metu said. “Being able to get a chance to shake their hands, being able to take stuff from them and what helped them become great. I’m just trying to take their advice. It feels great because never in a million years did I think I’d be here. It’s fun just going out there and showing what I can do.”

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The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft

College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when the NBA draft comes around, there seems to be an aversion to taking upperclassman with a top selection. More specifically, it’s college seniors who often find themselves getting drafted in the second-round if at all.

It can be understandable. NBA teams are clearly looking for a home run pick with a lottery selection. They’re looking for a player who they can build a foundation around for years to come. College seniors often project as solid role players to strengthen a team once that foundational superstar is already in place.

However, recent years have seen the entire first round dominated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. In 2017, a college senior wasn’t drafted until the San Antonio Spurs took Derrick White with the 29th pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed that up with Josh Hart. Hart ended up having a better rookie season than a few of the underclassmen taken ahead of him.

A few other upperclassmen, Frank Mason III, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, both had better rookie seasons than many of the freshmen taking before them as well. Junior Semi Ojeleye is playing a major role for the Boston Celtics who are in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In 2016, Malcolm Brogdon, another college senior, was taken in the second-round with the 36th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and was a starter for a playoff team.

Senior Tyrone Wallace was taken with the last pick in the draft at No. 60 that year. When a rash of injuries hit the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Wallace stepped in right away as a starter at times and helped keep the team afloat in the playoff picture.

There were a few college seniors that went undrafted in 2016, players such as Fred VanVleet Yogi Ferrell that have had better NBA careers to this point that a lot of the underclassmen taken ahead of them.

This isn’t to say that NBA teams should completely abandon taking young, underdeveloped players in the first-round. The Spurs took Dejounte Murray, a freshman point guard, over Brogdon, Wallace, VanVleet and Ferrell. That’s worked out well for them. It’s more a testament to having a good front office and scouting team than anything else.

But maybe NBA teams should start expanding their horizons when it comes to the draft. There appears to be a stigma of sorts when it comes to upperclassmen, particularly college seniors. If a guy can play, he can play. Of course, college production is often not the best means of judging NBA success, but it does count for something.

With the 2018 NBA draft about one month away, there are a few interesting names to look at when it comes to college seniors. Players such as Devonte’ Graham from Kansas, Theo Pinson from North Carolina, Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State, Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Bonzie Colson from Notre Dame are all guys that should be on NBA team’s radars.

Sure, none of those guys are going to turn into a superstar or even an All-Star. But you’re probably going to get a player that becomes a solid contributor for years to come.

Again, it’s understandable when teams take projects in the lottery. After a long season of losing, and in some cases years of losing, ownership and the fanbase are hungry for results. They don’t want a top pick to be used on a player that projects as only a solid contributor.

But after the lottery, the rest of the draft gets a little murky. A good front office will find an NBA caliber player whether he’s a freshman or a senior. The NBA Draft isn’t an exact science. Nothing is ever for sure and no player is guaranteed to become the player they’re projected to be.

College upperclassmen tend to be more physically developed and mentally mature for the NBA game. If what you’re looking for is someone who will step right in and produce for a winning team, then instead of wasting a pick on the unknown, it might be better to go with the sure thing.

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NBA Daily: Are the Houston Rockets in Trouble?

Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals may have been the perfect storm for Houston, writes Shane Rhodes.

Shane Rhodes

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The Houston Rockets took a gut punch from the Golden State Warriors, but they responded in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

After they dropped the first game of the series, Houston evened things up at one apiece Wednesday night with a 127-105 blowout win over Golden State. With the Warriors struggling on the offensive end and Houston rebounding from a less than stellar Game 1, the Rockets rolled through the game with relative ease.

But was their improved demonstration a fluke? While fans may not want to hear it, Game 2 may have been the perfect storm for Houston.

The Rockets’ gameplan didn’t change much from Game 1 to 2. They attacked Steph Curry relentlessly on the offensive end, James Harden and Chris Paul took plenty of shots in isolation and their role players got shots to drop that just weren’t going down in Game 1. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker exploded for 68 points while shooting 66.7 percent from three after scoring just 24 the previous game. The trio averaged only 35.8 points collectively during the regular season.

Meanwhile, Golden State couldn’t buy a bucket; starting Warriors not named Kevin Durant scored just 35 points. Curry shot just 1-8 from downtown while Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguadola combined for just 19 points while shooting 35 percent from the floor. All of that will undoubtedly change.

So, going back to Oakland for Game 3, where do the Rockets find themselves? Not in a great place, unfortunately.

Golden State did their job: they stole a game — and home-court advantage — from the Rockets at the Toyota Center. Now, as the series shifts back to Oracle Arena and, assuming the Warriors return to form in front of their home crowd, Houston will have their work more than cut out for them. If Curry, Thompson and Durant all have their shot falling, there isn’t much the Rockets can do to keep up

The Warriors, aside from Curry, played great team defense in Game 2, something that will likely continue into Game 3. The Rockets hit plenty of tough, contested shots — shots that won’t drop as they move away from the energy of the home crowd and shots that Golden State would gladly have Houston take again and again and again. Harden and Paul didn’t exactly bring their A-game in Game 2 either — the two combined for a solid 43 points but took an inefficient 38 shots to get there. If the two of them play like that at Oracle, the Warriors will abuse them in transition, something that can’t happen if the Rockets want to steal back the home-court advantage.

The aforementioned trio of Gordon, Ariza and Tucker are unlikely to replicate their Game 2 performance as well, and relying on them to do so would be foolish on the part of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. Devising a game plan that will keep the offense moving while not leaning heavily on the role players will be of the utmost importance — if the offense returns to the bogged down effort that Houston gave in Game 1, the Rockets stand no chance.

Meanwhile, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will likely adjust his defense in an effort to limit the Rockets effectiveness in the isolation while also trying to find somewhere to hide Curry on the defensive end. It almost certainly won’t be the same sets that Houston throttled in Game 2 which will take another toll on the Rockets offense, especially if they fail to execute.

Not everything looks bad for Houston, however. Faced with a do-or-die scenario, Harden, Paul and co. were the more aggressive team from the jump. Pushing the pace flustered the Warriors and forced some pretty bad turnovers consistently throughout the night. If they come out with the same kind of energy and pace, the Rockets could have Golden State on their heels as they did in Game 2.

Budding star Clint Capela also has plenty of room to improve his game, as he has averaged just 8.5 points and eight rebounds through the first two games of the series — the Rockets need him to play his best basketball of the season if they want a chance to win.

Still, the Warriors are virtually unbeatable at home. The team has lost three games this postseason, just four times over their last two playoff trips and not once at Oracle, making the Rockets’ task even more daunting than it already was. Like Game 2, Game 3 should be played as a do-or-die situation for the Rockets because, if they don’t come out with the same aggressive, up-tempo energy, things could be over quickly.

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