76ers fans can get free tickets with a box of Mac & Cheese

The Philadelphia 76ers, not surprisingly, are not drawing well so far this season. The team is 0-5 at home (0-11 overall) and are bringing in an average of 14,856 fans per game, bad enough for 28th in NBA attendance rankings, although the fact that nearly 15,000 fans each game speaks to the undying dedication of…Read More
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76ers fans can get two free tickets with a box of Mac & Cheese

The Philadelphia 76ers, not surprisingly, are not drawing well so far this season. The team is 0-5 at home (0-11 overall) and are bringing in an average of 14,856 fans per game, bad enough for 28th in NBA attendance rankings, although the fact that nearly 15,000 fans each game speaks to the undying dedication of…Read More
The post Philadelphia 76ers fans can get two free tickets with a box of Mac & Cheese (pic) appeared first on Sportress of Blogitude.

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It’s Up to the Oklahoma City Thunder to Keep Kevin Durant in Free Agency

If Kevin Durant leaves in 2016, the Oklahoma City Thunder will have nobody to blame but themselves. 

Fortunately, the Thunder have a season and a half to prove to the reigning MVP that it’s in his best interest to stick around. Unfortunately, the rest of the league has the same time frame to come up with ways to lure KD away from the only NBA team he’s ever known. 

There hasn’t been this much premature anticipation surrounding a free agent since the lead-up to LeBron James’ “decision” in 2010.  For the next two years, Durant is the prettiest girl at the bar, and every team will be putting its best pitch together. It will be like men lining up after hearing Kate Upton will be on The Bachelor. 

While a lot can change between now and 2016, Grantland’s Zach Lowe reported that the battle for the four-time scoring champion may already be a two-team race:

Some teams are optimistic it will be open season, and others have heard rumblings that Durant has already made it known it will come down to the Thunder and Wizards.”

The allure of the Washington Wizards is understandable. For starters, it’s close to home. The nation’s capital is a half hour away from Durant’s hometown of Seat Pleasant, Maryland. The Wizards also play in the weaker Eastern Conference, and have two rising stars in John Wall and Bradley Beal

Oklahoma City isn’t too shabby, either. The Thunder have two star sidekicks of their own in Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. They have also been a title contender for most of Durant’s tenure. Still, with no championship to speak of, the franchise still has work to do to retain its best player’s services. 

 

Where OKC Has Gone Wrong

In 2012, Oklahoma City was faced with a very tough choice. With the finances of a small-market team limited, the franchise had to choose between paying big money to a blossoming shot-blocker in Ibaka or a potential star in key reserve in James Harden.

Inevitably, the club picked Ibaka, and the move to trade Harden to the Houston Rockets prior to the 2012-13 season is one of basketball’s greatest “What if?” debates. 

What if the Thunder chose to wait another year to move their star sixth man and made one last run with Harden, Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka? At the time, the team was coming off its first Finals appearance, losing in five games to the Miami Heat

Would the Thunder have won a title if they kept the band together for one more season? Who knows. 

However, the decision to deal Harden doesn’t haunt this franchise as much as the return. In exchange for “The Beard,” Oklahoma City received Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and a 2013 lottery pick that became center Steven Adams. 

Martin would eventually bolt for the Minnesota Timberwolves after a modest lone season with the Thunder (14 points, 45 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from three). Lamb has been slow to develop, while the jury is still out on Adams. 

As for Harden, he hit the ground running in Houston. He’s averaged at least 25 points per game in his first two seasons with the Rockets and has blossomed into the league’s best shooting guard. 

The Thunder find themselves in a similar situation this year. Like Harden heading into 2012, Reggie Jackson is a starter-quality sixth man angling for a new deal. Unlike with Harden, the team is letting Jackson play out his walk year. 

Oklahoma City would like to keep Jackson, but the price may be too steep. According to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, the 24-year-old could nab a deal that would pay him $13-14 million annually. 

After coming up short on the Harden trade, it’s crucial for the team to make the right move with Jackson. If he walks, you let your fourth-best player leave for nothing. If he’s traded, the return will have to be good enough to compensate for Jackson’s absence. 

If it’s not, the team’s championship window becomes even smaller, and Durant could feel compelled to chase a title elsewhere. 

 

What OKC Should Do

In his HBO documentary, The Offseason: Kevin Durant, the star small forward made it abundantly clear what he wants out of his time in Oklahoma City (h/t to SI.com’s Ben Golliver for the quotes):

“I’m in this league to win a championship,” Durant said. “I have no doubts about us getting there. I feel confident we can get there one day. … That’s the biggest thing in this league: winning a championship. It’s time to get it done.” 

For the better part of the last seven years, Durant has been the NBA’s second-best player. During that time, he’s watched James leave the team that drafted him to go make four straight trips to the NBA Finals with the Miami Heat. 

The difference between Durant now and James’ first stint in Cleveland is KD has a better core around him. When healthy, this is a championship team. While injuries have decimated the roster this season, it has also opened up opportunities for guys like Jackson and Perry Jones to step up. 

Still, the Thunder need to do whatever it takes to reinforce their standing as a title contender inside Durant’s mind. That means better coaching from Scott Brooks, who has done a masterful job rallying the troops in the face of adversity. 

It may also mean making a move or two to bring in guys who can contribute right away. Call it “The Reverse Harden.” While building for the future is always important, the next 19 months supersede that. With the clock ticking until Durant hits the market, the Thunder can’t afford to keep waiting for players to develop. 

If that means moving someone like Lamb or Andre Roberson, so be it. Earlier this week, I wrote that Oklahoma City should consider moving Jackson. With the team ill-equipped to get into a bidding war this summer, why not sell high on the 24-year-old’s hot start (team-leading 22.8 points)? 

In the past, teams have been successful in mortgaging the future to win now. In 2007, the Boston Celtics packaged young players to acquire Kevin Garnett from Minnesota. They won the title later that year. Last season, the Wizards traded a first-round pick for Marcin Gortat and ended their five-year postseason drought. 

For the Thunder, a two-way guard like the New York KnicksIman Shumpert or a veteran shooter like the Denver Nuggets‘ Arron Afflalo could come in handy. Even with the 3-6 start, the Thunder can still make a playoff run. One or two proven contributors could put them over the top. 

For the next two years, Kevin Durant’s free-agency plans will be the main narrative in Oklahoma City. Up to this point, the Thunder have done almost everything in their power to keep their star player happy. 

Except win a championship. 

With James winning his titles in South Beach, Durant now becomes the best player in the league without a championship ring. The longer he goes without one, the more nervous the Thunder and their fans should become. 

As with any human being, when you aren’t getting what you want somewhere, you’re going to look for it elsewhere. Durant wants to win it all. It’s up to the franchise to do whatever it takes to make that dream come true. 

If you’re Oklahoma City, you don’t want to look back and wonder what you could have done. There should be no more “What ifs.”

The future for the Thunder starts now and ends in the summer of 2016. 

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After tragedies, Michigan’s Hatch hits emotional free throw

After enduring tragedies, Michigan’s Austin Hatch hits emotional free throw.

      
 

 

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Report: Lakers to pursue Rajon Rondo in free agency

Could Rajon Rondo and Kobe Bryant coexist in the same backcourt? The Los Angeles Lakers reportedly would love to find out.
The Lakers plan on making a hard push to bring the Boston Celtics point guard to L.A. when he hits free agency after this season, SI.com’s Chris Mannix reported Wednesday.
“Several rival executives believe the Lakers will make a strong run at Rondo next summer, and it’s easy to see why,” Mannix writes. “Rondo is young (28), plays a critical position and shares the same win-at-all-bleeping-cost attitude as Bryant.”
Mannix goes on to note that the Celtics have their potential point guard of the future in rookie Marcus Smart, which might dissuade them from shelling out the massive contract it likely would take to re-sign Rondo.
Pursuing the four-time All-Star would make sense for the Lakers, too. Bryant & Co. look well on their way to second straight playoff-less season, and their point guard situation — Jeremy Lin, Jordan Clarkson, Ronnie Price and the injured and el

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Student Wins Free Truck During Shooting Contest Despite Being a Terrible Shooter

Drake University freshman Alex Tillinghast could certainly use some work on his mechanics, but he definitely has that “clutch” factor.

In order to win a Ford F-150 at his school’s Bulldog Madness event, Tillinghast had to make a layup, a free throw, a three-pointer and a half-court shot in 30 seconds. Given the way things started, it didn’t look likely he would leave the court victorious.

Tillinghast struggled to make a layup and had an even tougher time with the three-pointer. However, with two seconds remaining on the clock, he showed he had some clutch genes and sank his only attempt from half court.

If he were tasked with getting his own rebounds, he would’ve been toast. Thankfully, he had someone who could track down the ball and kick it out to him.

It doesn’t matter how it got done. Tillinghast had to make four shots in 30 seconds to win the truck, and that’s exactly what he did.

[Drake Athletics, h/t USA Today's FTW]

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Knicks’ Contract Decisions Prove New York All-in on Building Through Free Agency

New York Knicks management isn’t messing around here. Despite the lack of young talent on the roster, it’s decided against committing to 22-year-old point guard Shane Larkin and 24-year-old combo Iman Shumpert past this season.

We pretty much saw this coming with Shumpert, who’s regressed since tearing his ACL as a rookie. There’s just too much uncertainty surrounding his game and not enough production worth rewarding.  

But with Larkin, we’re talking about serious cost-cutting. You typically see teams pick up third-year options on young first-round picks. Larkin and Nemanja Nedovic, who was taken No. 30 overall, were the only ones from the 2013 first-round draft class whose third-year options were declined. 

They’re just tough to say no to, like the girl behind the refreshment counter at the movies who tells you the large is only 25 cents extra.

It would have cost the Knicks $1,675,320, per ShamSports.com, of their 2015-16 cap room to lock up Larkin for next season. Choosing not to was essentially a statement emphasizing their all-in move to build through free agency.

Carmelo Anthony, Jose Calderon, Pablo Prigioni, Tim Hardaway Jr. and J.R. Smith, assuming Smith opts into his $6,399,750 deal, will be the only guys under contract after the season. That means goodbye Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Samuel Dalembert—and probably Larkin and Shumpert

The Knicks can still re-sign these guys as restricted or unrestricted free agents, but unless any are willing to return at discounts, you can probably forget about it.

For team president Phil Jackson and New York, not committing to Shumpert and Larkin is all about maximizing cap space for the next two summers. And as of right now, Jackson is looking at the type of flexibility that should allow him to throw maximum dollars at a free-agent prize in July 2015.

That’s really the only answer for the Knicks, who’ve been unable to upgrade the roster with Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony each making over $20 million a year. 

New York has been waiting for this opportunity for a few seasons now, and Jackson apparently isn’t risking any of it on unproven role players like Shumpert and Larkin.

He shouldn’t. The Knicks have finally positioned themselves to land another star they can pair with ‘Melo. And they’d be crazy not to have Marc Gasol sitting right atop their must-get list. 

There’s a good chance he’ll be unrestricted in July. And what a fit he’d be in New York.

Between his passing ability and shooting touch for the triangle, along with his Defensive Player of the Year capability and toughness up front, Gasol makes sense for the Knicks from just about every single angle. 

His brother Pau even recently told Zach Braziller of the New York Post that it’s “possible” Marc could land with the Knicks and that he talked to him ”enough about Phil that he knows what he brings to the table.”

Gasol is the type of addition that could potentially help move the needle for New York. He did for the Memphis Grizzlies, now one of the more feared grown-man type of teams in the Western Conference.

Jackson might also have the chance to go after Rajon Rondo, though personally, I’m not sure the fit is convincing enough—given his weaknesses as a shooter and ball-dominant tendencies—for the Knicks to pay top dollar. 

If Jackson swings and misses on Gasol and passes or whiffs on Rondo, smaller free-agent fish like Greg Monroe, Paul Millsap and Wesley Matthews could all get looks as well. 

By not extending Shumpert long term, Jackson also appears to be saving up for July 2016.

ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Begley notes that depending on how they choose to spend this summer and how the TV contract impacts the cap, “New York might be able to chase max free agents in summer 2016, when Kevin Durant is expected to be available.”

Obviously, Durant is a long shot that shouldn’t even be thought about in 2014, but the Knicks’ idea here is clear and sensible—have as much money to spend on the best available players. Because Jackson isn’t improving the team through the draft, and trading for stars without picks is awfully difficult (the Knicks lost their 2016 first-round pick in the Bargnani trade, and the rule states you can’t trade back-to-back first-round picks, meaning they can’t offer their 2017 pick to anyone). 

I’m not breaking any news here, but to compete for a title in this league, you typically need a team driven by star power. Jackson knows it from his time with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers.

The Knicks have waited too long to recharge their star power with Stoudemire’s contract having clogged up the books the past couple of seasons.  

Maybe Larkin ends up emerging into a serviceable backup point guard. And maybe Shumpert‘s offensive game comes around. But the chances of each happening soon, along with the potential reward that’s tied to them, aren’t worth jeopardizing the team’s chances of landing additional game-changing marquee players.

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Butler’s free throws lift Bulls over Wolves (Yahoo Sports)

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 1: Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls prepares to shoot a free throw against the Minnesota Timberwolves on November 1, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Jimmy Butler’s surprise return to the Chicago Bulls’ starting lineup should really come as no surprise at all. Butler is the embodiment of the Bulls’ mind-over-matter mantra, and he returned just in time to teach No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins a hard-to-swallow lesson. Butler coaxed the over-aggressive Wiggins into a foul with 0.2 seconds left. Then Butler calmly knocked down two free throws to help the Bulls weather another absence from Rose in a 106-105 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night.


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Bulls’ Butler appears headed to free agency (Yahoo Sports)

CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler is headed toward restricted free agency next summer.

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Ranking the 15 Best Free Agents of the 2015 Class

Forget about regular-season NBA action for a second. Think about the 2015 free-agency class instead.

Yes, I know. The season just started. You’re only just coming to terms with all that’s happened since the end of last year. LeBron James is back in Cleveland. Kobe Bryant is teammates with Carlos Boozer. Chris Douglas-Roberts’ shorts aren’t as short as you thought they would be. 

It’s madness.

But that doesn’t make this any less necessary.

Halloween has come and gone, and so too has the deadline for fourth-year players to sign contract extensions. Some studs successfully brokered one—Ricky Rubio now has 56 million reasons to continue working that boyish smile of his, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein. Other extension-eligible talents weren’t so lucky, and the free-agency landscape has changed as a result, even if only slightly.

Restricted free agents rarely find new digs. Incumbent teams have the ability to match any offer they receive, making it hard to leave. Sometimes, though, it happens, and there are now more than a few cases to monitor.

Which of these restricted free agents stand among next summer’s best available mercenaries? Who else makes the cut?

Age, position and past statistical prowess are our guide. Immediate performance outlook counts, too. Then there’s the subjective aspect of all this, which, basically, consists of asking yourself: How good is Player X compared to the rest of his free-agent class?

Put that way, Kostas Papanikolaou obviously lords over all. Everything else about this exercise isn’t as certain. Join me, then, in finding clarity.

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