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NBA Sunday: Noah Recruiting Anthony to Bulls

Joakim Noah is reportedly recruiting free-agent-to-be Carmelo Anthony to the Chicago Bulls … Where do the Houston Rockets go from here?

Alex Kennedy

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Noah Recruiting Anthony Via Text Messages

Joakim Noah reportedly started recruiting free-agent-to-be Carmelo Anthony to the Chicago Bulls at this year’s All-Star weekend, when the Bulls center gave a pitch to the New York Knicks forward. It was during this conversation that Anthony supposedly asked Noah what it was like to play for Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and seemed to express some level of interest in playing for Chicago.

Well, Noah has continued to recruit Anthony, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Joe Cowley writes that Noah and Anthony communicated via text messaging throughout the second half of the 2013-14 season, including talking one day after the Bulls were eliminated from the first round of the playoffs by the Washington Wizards.

“Sources said Noah has been in Anthony’s ear as often as possible, and he has told other Bulls to push hard for Anthony this summer,” Cowley writes, citing multiple sources including one of Noah’s Bulls teammates.

“I was kidding Jo that they were boys now,” one source told Cowley. “‘Well, get your boy to come to Chicago.’”

Noah is no stranger to the role of recruiter. During the 2010 offseason, Noah took free agent Carlos Boozer out to dinner during his visit to Chicago and helped lure the forward to Chicago. Don’t be surprised if similar plans are made after July 1 this summer, when Anthony will likely visit Chicago. Noah also called to LeBron James when he was a free agent 2010, but never got a phone call back. When Noah was at the University of Florida, the school’s football coach Urban Meyer would send Noah to meet with some recruits.

The Bulls can offer Anthony a four-year deal worth approximately $95.8 million, while the Knicks can offer him a five-year deal worth approximately $129 million.

IN RELATED: Chicago Bulls Salary Cap Information

During the season, Noah was asked about the reports that he was recruiting Anthony, but he chose not to comment on the “gossip.” This was a smart move by Noah, since this is somewhat of a grey area in the NBA. While the NBA tends to look the other way when players privately discuss teaming up in the future, this could potentially be considered tampering if Noah talked about the duo’s conversations and made his recruiting public.

In order to sign Anthony, the Bulls would likely have to get rid of Boozer, who is set to earn $16.8 million in the final year of his contract. Chicago will reportedly try to trade Boozer. If they aren’t able to do that, they’ll likely amnesty him. Bulls general manager Gar Forman admitted that the team will consider using the amnesty provision this summer.

“Obviously, we still have the amnesty as an option that we haven’t used that a lot of teams have,” Forman said. “That’s something, as we go into July, we’ll have to evaluate. If it’s something that makes sense as far as getting our team stronger, we may go that way. But we also may not go that way.”

Boozer and Noah are the only Bulls eligible to be amnestied, and Noah obviously isn’t going anywhere. The Bulls will try to trade Boozer before amnestying him, but that’s certainly an option for Chicago.

According to the Sun-Times article, Noah doesn’t want to see the Bulls part ways with Taj Gibson in order to land Anthony, as Gibson emerged as a significant contributor for Chicago this past season and will slide into the starting lineup to replace Boozer. Gibson is locked up for the next three seasons, on a very reasonable contract that will pay him just $8 million next season.

IN RELATED: Pivotal Crossroad for the Bulls

If the Bulls are able to land Anthony, it would give them a very impressive core of Noah, Gibson, Anthony and Derrick Rose, who is expected to be at full strength in time for the start of the 2014-15 season after missing most of this year with a torn meniscus. It remains to be seen how effective Rose will be after missing most of the last two seasons, but if he can return to form, the Bulls would have to be considered one of the league’s elite teams on paper. Throw in the fact that they have Thibodeau, who is one of the best coaches in the league, and they’d be a legitimate threat to the Miami HEAT and have a good shot at representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.

The Bulls will have some competition for Anthony. The Knicks will obviously try to re-sign their All-Star, and their new team president Phil Jackson recently met with Anthony to discuss the team’s future. New York has an edge entering the summer, since they can offer significantly more money than other teams (although Jackson seems to want Anthony to take a pay cut). The Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers have also been mentioned as potential suitors for Anthony, who will exercise the early termination option in his contract to become an unrestricted free agent and secure a new long-term deal.

Last summer, we saw Dwight Howard land in Houston after communicating with James Harden and Chandler Parsons via text message in the months leading up to free agency. We’ll see if Noah’s recruiting can help the Bulls become the frontrunner to land Anthony this offseason.

Where Do the Rockets Go From Here?

When Dwight Howard signed with the Houston Rockets last offseason, he did so because he believed it gave him his best chance at winning a championship. Howard joined James Harden to form an incredible duo, with a talented supporting cast that featured Chandler Parsons, Patrick Beverley, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik among others. The team had title aspirations entering the season, and understandably so.

However, after Damian Lillard’s series-winning three-pointer with .9 seconds left in Game 6 to lift the Portland Trail Blazers to the second round, the Rockets will be watching the remainder of the postseason from home. Houston was a favorite entering the series, but only managed to win two playoff games this year – the same number of postseason victories they had last series, without Howard.

IN RELATED: Who Has Been the Biggest Star of the Playoffs?

“It hurts,” Howard said. “When you put everything you’ve got on the floor and somebody hits you with a dagger like that, it’s a tough pill to swallow. It’s a tough loss, but it’s something we’ve got to learn from.

“I’ve been to the Finals, I’ve been to the Eastern Conference Finals, I’ve been to the top and it’s not easy getting there. You’ve got to make everything count. I think that’s a big lesson for us all. No matter who we play, no matter what happens in the regular season, you can’t take any team for granted. … There are a lot of things we can learn from this series and hopefully come back next year and be a lot better.”

“It’s the worst feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” Parsons said. “If we get a stop, this locker room is totally different and we’re going home to play Game 7 and move on. Instead it’s over and there are no words to describe the feeling.”

Now, the Rockets enter the offseason with some uncertainty surrounding the franchise. Kevin McHale is certainly on the hot seat going forward, but he won’t lose his job this summer, according to the Houston Chronicle. The Rockets will reportedly pick up the 2014-15 option on McHale’s contract, but there’s now a lot of pressure on the head coach moving forward. If this talented group can’t go on a deep postseason run next year, McHale is likely out as the team’s coach.

Some people around the league felt that McHale should’ve been fired now, that he wasn’t the championship-caliber coach that this team needed. However, Rockets owner Les Alexander is said to be a fan of McHale and it seems the team wants to have some continuity on the sideline entering the 2014-15 season.

But will the team also resist making roster changes this summer? That’s less likely. Houston has been mentioned as a potential destination for a number of free agents, most notably Carmelo Anthony. While the Rockets have $56,983,489 in guaranteed commitments for next season, they are reportedly “confident” that they can clear the necessary cap space to be active in free agency this summer. That would likely entail trading Asik and/or Lin, who will each have a $8,374,646 cap hit for next season but an actual salary of $15 million due to the poison pill contracts the Rockets signed them to as free agents in the summer of 2012.

IN RELATED: Houston Rockets Salary Cap Information

If the Rockets can’t upgrade their roster by signing a player, they will try to make a trade for a significant piece. The Rockets have reportedly tried to trade for stars such as Kevin Love and Rajon Rondo. If they pull of a blockbuster trade like that, other players and picks would have to be included as well, such as Parsons and Terrence Jones.

The Rockets will also need some internal improvement from their core. Harden is still just 24 years old, so he should continue to get better. If Harden could improve even a little bit on the defensive end, that would really help the Rockets. He didn’t play well in the postseason, which really hurt Houston. The Rockets have a number of other players who are 25 or younger including Parsons, Lin, Beverley, Jones and Troy Daniels, all of whom played a significant role in the series against Portland. Howard, who is 28, also vowed to return even better next season after the Game 6 loss.

“It hurts to be going home early,” Howard told Rockets.com. “It hurts to sit and watch somebody hold up a trophy and I won’t have a chance to get it this season. It should just push us for next season. I know it’s going make me continue to get in the gym, continue to get better and also push these young guys, letting them understand that we can’t take these moments for granted. Nothing is promised. The playoffs aren’t promised. Rings aren’t promised. You’ve got to go out there and earn it and it takes a lot of hard work.

“We’ve got a great nucleus of guys. Everybody has to come back better next season and see the mistakes we made this year as a team and try to learn from them, so next year we won’t have situations like this.”

This was a disappointing year for the Rockets, and now they enter a very important summer for the team. Another reason why Howard chose this team over other suitors was because they had a wider window to compete for a title. This is true and Houston should continue to contend, but changes may have to be made in order for the Rockets to live up to the lofty expectations set for this team.

 

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Path Back to the NBA Finals

In the wake of Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Bobby Krivitsky examines the Los Angeles Lakers’ path back to the NBA Finals.

Bobby Krivitsky

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It’s been 15 games since a high ankle sprain sidelined LeBron James. 

With the Western Conference standings congested and Anthony Davis already out due to a right calf strain and a re-aggravation of his right Achilles tendinosis, the Los Angeles Lakers faced the threat of a fall that would require their participation in the play-in tournament.

However, the Lakers have fought admirably in the absence of their two stars, going seven and eight. As a result, their fall in the standings has been painless, going from third at the time of James’ injury to now occupying fifth place in the West.

The primary reason the Lakers have been able to tread water without their two stars is they’ve remained stingy on defense. Since James’ injury, they have the fourth-best defensive rating in the league. That’s despite facing four teams who rank in the top five in offensive rating and six of the categories’ top-10 members.

Right now, the Lakers are 2.5 games ahead of the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, with a 4.5-game cushion between them and the Dallas Mavericks, who are seventh in the conference. That should be a large enough gap to keep Los Angeles out of the play-in tournament, but the two teams are going to converge for a two-game series starting Thursday. For the Lakers, getting swept would re-open the possibility of having to compete in the play-in tournament.

Fortunately for them, even splitting that series would make it unlikely the Mavericks finish ahead of the Lakers in the standings. And help might be on the way for the Lakers: Davis may soon rejoin the lineup, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, meaning there’s a distinct possibility he’s active for at least one of those two matchups. As for James, he’s on track to return in three weeks.

While Los Angeles’ stars are getting closer to making their returns, the Denver Nuggets got dealt a more severe blow when Jamal Murray tore his ACL in a recent game against the Golden State Warriors. Denver is 10-2 since acquiring Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline and looked the part of a legitimate title contender prior to Murray’s injury. 

Denver is fourth in the West, 1.5 games ahead of Los Angeles. But even if the Nuggets have home-court advantage, they’re the preferable opening-round opponent, not just for Los Angeles, but any team with a legitimate chance at the fourth or fifth seed.

Fortunately for the Lakers, that’s the place in the Western Conference pecking order where they’re most likely to finish this season. So long as the Nuggets don’t freefall in Murray’s absence, Los Angeles will likely start the playoffs against an opponent that’s gone from having the potential to present the greatest challenge to the defending champions’ quest to get back to the Finals to becoming a desirable first-round matchup.

After that, the Lakers may have to get past the Utah Jazz and or the Los Angeles Clippers to make a return trip to the NBA Finals. The former has the best record in the league this season, but locking horns with the defending champions in a best of seven series is a far more challenging and potentially rewarding proving ground.

The Jazz have a deep, reliable rotation, they have the best net rating in the NBA, they’re in the top five in points for and against per 100 possessions, and they’re attempting the most threes per game, but also rank in the top five in three-point shooting percentage. However, the Lakers would have the two best players in a series against Utah. Usually, an opponent doesn’t overcome that disadvantage.  

As for the Clippers, Rajon Rondo has quickly proven to be an impactful acquisition. Los Angeles is seven and one with him in the lineup, generating the highest net rating in the league during that span. Last season, the Lakers saw first-hand how impactful playoff Rondo can be. Now, the Clippers are hoping he can bring structure to their offense, something they sorely lacked last postseason and was at the forefront of them blowing a 3-1 series lead over the Nuggets. Doing so would go a long way towards maximizing the production of a team that has the talent to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time in franchise history.

If this is the year the battle of LA takes place in the postseason, it figures to be a slugfest. Still, the Clippers have their doubters after last year’s meltdown in the playoffs. There’s also a large contingency who are skeptical about how far the Jazz can go in the postseason, given their lack of a top-tier superstar. Despite the validity of those concerns, both teams can beat the Lakers in a best of seven series. That no longer appears to be the case for the Nuggets, which is a shame for them and people who want to see the best possible matchups in the playoffs. But Murray’s injury, as unfortunate an occurrence as it is, makes it easier for the Lakers to get through the gauntlet that is the Western Conference and have a chance to claim an 18th championship, which would break their tie with the Boston Celtics for the most titles in NBA history.

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NBA

NBA AM: The Play-In Game – West

With the season winding down, Ariel Pacheco takes a look at how the play-in tournament is shaping up in the Western Conference.

Ariel Pacheco

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With the regular season’s end in sight, teams are making their last push to make the playoffs in what has been a condensed season. But the new play-in tournament is providing more teams than ever a chance at a coveted playoff spot.

Here is what the new play-in tournament will look like: Teams that finish with the Nos 7 and 8 seeds will face off against each other. The winner of this game will be No. 7. The Nos. 9 and 10 seeds will also play and the winner will play the loser of the first game. The winner of this game will be the No. 8 seed. 

The play-in tournament provides intrigue and adds pressure on teams in both conferences to finish in the top six and avoid the play-in altogether. The Western Conference, in particular, is shaping up to have a rather exciting finish. There are a number of teams who could find themselves fighting for their playoff lives in this year’s tournament – all below in tiers.

Teams Likely To Avoid Play-In

Portland Trail Blazers (32-24)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 8
Games Against Teams Over .500: 12
Games Against West: 11

The Trail Blazers are currently the sixth seed in the West meaning, for now, they are safe from the play-in tournament. However, they are just two games above the Mavericks from possibly dropping down a place. They’re the team most likely to secure that sixth seed because they have more talent than the teams below them – hello, Dame – and they also have an elite offense. However, the defensive concerns are very real and if they were to slip, it would likely be because of their struggles on that side of the ball.

Likely Play-In Teams

Dallas Mavericks

Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 9
Games Against Teams Over .500: 5
Games Against West: 8

On paper, the Mavs have a really easy schedule as the season winds down. They have just five games against teams over .500 and two against the Los Angeles Lakers, who may be without their two stars for those games. However, they are just 10-12 this season against sub .500 teams and are coming off a disappointing loss to the Sacramento Kings. There’s still a pretty good chance they get the sixth seed and avoid the play-in, but it also wouldn’t be surprising to see them in it as well.

Memphis Grizzlies
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 7
Games Against Teams Over .500: 8
Games Against West: 12

The Grizzlies are often overlooked, but they are about as well-coached as any other team in the NBA. It is likely they will be in the play-in game, but don’t be surprised if they are able to sneak into the sixth seed. They lost last year’s play-in game in the Bubble to the Blazers, so they do have experience in this type of setting. They may be getting Jaren Jackson Jr. back soon which should help. 

Golden State Warriors
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 9
Games Against Teams Over .500: 6
Games Against West: 13

The Warriors are getting just other-worldly performances from Stephen Curry on an almost nightly basis at this point. However, they continue to struggle to win games, in large part due to the struggles when he sits on the bench. Their schedule is pretty light to close the season, which bolsters their chances. The talent on this team isn’t great, but Curry’s play should be enough to get them in the play-in tournament. 

San Antonio Spurs
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 6
Games Against Teams Over .500: 12
Games Against West: 7

The Spurs have struggled of late, especially after the All-Star break. Their defense has dropped off badly, but if there’s any reason to be positive, it’s that they are still coached by Gregg Popovich and their young guys continue to show improvement. They have been really good on the road this season and a majority of their games are on the road. It won’t be easy, but the Spurs should find themselves in the play-in tournament.

Outside Looking In

New Orleans Pelicans
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 6
Games Against Teams Over .500: 9
Games Against West: 11

The Pelicans have been hit with the injury bug of late, but their inconsistent play this season continues to be a huge problem. Their defense continues to bleed three-pointers and while point Zion Williamson has worked, there just isn’t enough shooting to maximize him just yet. It seems unlikely the Pelicans make a late-season run to the play-in game.

Sacramento Kings

Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: 8
Games Against Teams Over .500: 8
Games Against West: 14

The Kings are the least likely team to make the play-in tournament. Their defense is still problematic and they just recently ended their 9-game losing streak. It’ll take a huge late-season push and the Kings just haven’t shown that they are capable of putting it all together for a long enough stretch. 

The play-in tournament adds a new layer of competition that will bring excitement at the end of the season. Be sure to check out how the play-in tournament is shaping up in the Eastern Conference.

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NBA Daily: The Play-In Game — East

With the play-in tournament just around the corner, Matt John previews who in the Eastern Conference might qualify for it.

Matt John

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It’s official: we’re entering the regular season’s endgame. Every game from here on out will have much bigger consequences, a statement even truer in 2021 than perhaps any other season thanks to the NBA’s new play-in tournament.

If you’re not familiar, the play-in tournament will consist of two matchups within each conference. The seventh and eighth seeds of both conferences will face off against one another, while the ninth and 10th seeds shall do the same. The winner of the seven-eight matchup will take their conference’s seventh seed, while the winner of the nine-10 game will face the aforementioned match’s loser for the eighth and final spot in the postseason. It’ll serve as a nice appetizer before the playoffs get underway.

So, now that we have 15 games left give or take, it’s time to get a full scope of who we’re most likely to see in this year’s play-in, starting with the Eastern Conference. There’s really no need to go over teams that have all but clinched their playoff spots like Philadelphia, Brooklyn, or Milwaukee. Just like there’s no need to mention teams that are way too out of a reach for a playoff spot like Detroit and Orlando.

But that does leave ten teams in the Eastern Conference that we could potentially see in the play-in. At first glance, it would sound ridiculous to say that Boston and Cleveland could be in the play-in seeing how they are separated by ten and a half games, but Boston is only two and a half games ahead of Miami for that seventh seed while Cleveland is only three games behind Chicago for the tenth seed.

The best way to evaluate is to divide these into tiers. One for playoff teams who are likely to avoid the play-in, one for teams that are most likely to be in the play-in, and those that are likely to miss out on the play-in.

Likely to Avoid

Atlanta Hawks (30-26)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: 11
Games Against Teams Over .500: Six
Games Against East: 13

Replacing Lloyd Pierce with Nate McMillan proved to be a genius move by Atlanta’s front office, as the Hawks have won 16 of their last 23 games. They may have had that stretch where they lost four of five, but that was on a West Coast Trip. Seeing how almost 75 percent of their remaining games will be at home, it’s hard to see Atlanta collapsing. They may be decimated by injuries right now, but the schedule seems a little too easy for them to blow this.

Boston Celtics (31-26)
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Four
Games Against East: 10

Much like Atlanta, Boston’s really hit their stride over the past few weeks. Getting healthy and making a few roster changes have helped them rediscover the team that started out so well at the beginning of the season. It’s hard seeing Boston folding down the stretch primarily because they won’t be facing too many strong opponents from here until the regular season’s end. Given their recent strong play, don’t expect an appearance at the play-in tournament.

Likely Play-In Teams

New York Knicks (30-27)
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: Nine
Games Against Teams Over .500: Eight
Games Against East: Six

Give credit where credit is due. The Knickerbockers are not going away. They’ve stayed the course when many thought this was going to be another wasted year for them. They’ve given no reason to indicate that they’re stopping now. The reason they’re not as sure of a thing as Atlanta or Boston is because, over this last stretch, they’re going to face off against several Western Conference contenders looking for the highest seeding possible. As tough as that’s going to be, the Knicks are going to make each one of them earn those wins, guaranteed.

Miami HEAT (28-28)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Seven
Games Against East: 11

It’s been difficult to get a read on the reigning Eastern Conference champions. They go on stretches that basically even out each other. After starting out 11-17, they win 12 of their next 13, then follow that up by losing their next six games, then win six of their next seven, then finally and most recently, they lose their next three games. No one really knows what Miami’s ceiling is right now. Odds are, the HEAT will probably be in the play-in. It’s just a matter of where. Also, why have we still not gotten any updates on Victor Oladipo?

Charlotte Hornets (27-28)
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 11
Games Against Teams Over .500: Eight
Games Against East: 13

What’s happened to the Hornets over the past few weeks is just straight up not fair. If LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward were playing, they’d solidly be in the same tier as Boston and Atlanta. With their squad fully healthy, Charlotte’s a playoff team, but being down their two best players definitely takes them down a peg. They deserve props that they haven’t rolled over since losing those two, but sadly they’re nowhere near as good as they were with their whole squad. Their schedule is easy enough that it shouldn’t knock them out of the play-in. If LaMelo and Hayward are back by then, then it’s hard not seeing the Hornets get into the postseason.

Indiana Pacers (26-29)
Games Left: 17
Home Games Left: 11
Games Against Teams Over .500: Seven
Games Against East Teams: 11

It hasn’t been talked about enough how injuries have really shaken up Indiana’s season. TJ Warren’s foot injury was a substantial season-long setback and Caris Levert’s cancer, as miraculous of a story as that was, was another prolonged absence. Overall, Indiana’s injuries have led to a rather underachieving season compared to past results. Luckily their schedule for the rest of the season shouldn’t be too tough, so making the play-in seems realistic.

Outside Looking In

*One of these teams will get the play-in as the 10th seed.

Toronto Raptors (23-34)
Games Left: 15
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Nine
Games Against East Teams: Seven

That’s right, the same Raptors, who only weeks ago were in serious talks to trade Kyle Lowry to the highest bidder, have suddenly found themselves in the fight for the final spot for the play-in. It’s not that they’ve suddenly turned it all around. It’s that the competition is too weak for them to bow out completely. Their schedule may allow them to go all-in on the tank, but maybe one last hurrah with the franchise’s greatest player isn’t the worst way to go.

Chicago Bulls (23-33)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Seven
Games Against Teams Over .500: Nine
Games Against East Teams: 16

Good news: Nikola Vucevic looks like he’s fitting in splendidly. Bad news: The team has been on a downward spiral since his (and others) acquisition. Chicago has only won four of their last 13 games since the trade deadline and their remaining schedule is not going to be a breeze. On paper, they should be a shoo-in for the 10th seed, but the roster holes right now appear to be too glaring for Chicago to take the next step. If they don’t at the very least make the play-in, that’s not going to be a good look after all the moves they made.

Washington Wizards (23-33)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Eight
Games Against Teams Over .500: Five
Games Against East Teams: 10

Remember when Washington was one of the worst teams in the league record-wise? And how they managed to only slightly improve themselves over the course of the season? Well, apparently that was enough to get them into the conversation for the play-in because, lo and behold, they’re now tied with Chicago for that 10th seed. It gets better too. They only face two tough challenges from here on out – Lakers and Bucks – but after that, it’s honestly easy enough that they might be the favorite to get that last play-in spot.

Cleveland Cavaliers (20-36)
Games Left: 16
Home Games Left: Nine
Games Against Teams over .500: Six
Games Against East Teams: 12

This sounds the most ludicrous seeing how the Cavs are currently the East’s 13th seed, but being three games behind Chicago while facing only six teams over .500 gives them a fighting chance. If the Cavaliers are actually able to get the play-in, that’s a big stepping stone for their future. It’s an accomplishment to build off of in an era with no LeBron James to speak of, which they haven’t been able to do since Friends was on the air.

As you can see, the play-in has, in a way, brought a new dimension to the NBA season. In any previous season (excluding the last one) no one would bat an eye at the 10 through 13 seeds. Their season at this point would be all but done and no one would care, but because of the possibility of going to a play-in tournament, teams suddenly have the chance to make something of what usually would have been a lost season.

Some teams may get annoyed by it because their time is coming to a close and there’s no need to delay the inevitable. For others, the play-in signifies that it could just be the beginning.

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