UConn Basketball: How the Huskies Can Limit Jahlil Okafor’s Impact vs. Duke

After falling out of the national conversation thanks to a three-game losing streak, the Connecticut Huskies have a chance to jump right back in it with a victory over No. 2 Duke on Thursday night. 

As we have witnessed during the first month of nonconference play, Duke is the one team that actually has a legitimate chance to defeat mighty Kentucky. Although they don’t have five Monstars on the court at all times, the Blue Devils have a very influential player down low in Jahlil Okafor. 

In Duke’s 75-62 at home over Elon Monday, Okafor scored 25 points and pulled down 20 rebounds. If you can believe it, another big man had a better game than Okafor in the last week. It just so happens that player is on UConn’s roster, and his play is the key to containing one of college basketball’s newest stars Thursday night. 

Amida Brimah went off against Coppin State Sunday, as he scored 40 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. If that didn’t impress you enough, the sophomore from Ghana shot 13-of-13 from the field and 14-of-16 from the free-throw line. 

Big men aren’t supposed to be that perfect in the shooting department, but Brimah was able to pull off that feat with ease. Before we get carried away with the praise for Brimah, he was playing Coppin State, whose only win this season is against Division II’s Goldey-Beacom. 

Brimah will obviously be facing stiffer competition at the Izod Center Thursday, but the major confidence boost he received against Coppin State will do wonders for his matchup against the lauded Okafor. 

If you take guard Ryan Boatright‘s word for it, Brimah is ready to face the challenge Okafor presents.

But whether Brimah is actually ready to limit Okafor’s impact on the game remains to be seen. As a freshman last season, the 7-footer never made a consistent contribution down low for the Huskies. 

He showed spurts of potential against Louisville in the American Athletic Conference tournament final with 14 points and seven rebounds. He also impressed against Central Florida, Rutgers and Temple in conference play. 

Other than those four games last season and Sunday’s outburst against lowly Coppin State, Brimah has not proved he can be a reliable threat in the frontcourt. 

Thursday presents a perfect opportunity for Brimah to silence the critics. But if he wants to hold Okafor to his first single-digit point total this season, the Huskies must come together as a team. 

Accompanying Brimah on the court will be guard Rodney Purvis, who played twice against Duke during the 2012-13 season with North Carolina State. Although Duke has a brand new set of toys to play with, the system instituted by Mike Krzyzewski is still similar to the one Purvis saw in previous years. 

With that in mind, Purvis could provide the Huskies with a mental edge heading into the game thanks to his familiarity with Duke. 

Purvis also has a bit of a point to prove himself since he has failed to get off to a strong start this season. Other than a 19-point performance against Dayton, Purvis hasn’t played a major role in determining the final score of any game. 

If Purvis is able to connect well with Boatright in the backcourt and get the transition game going, Duke could be in some serious trouble. Okafor is extremely athletic, but if the Huskies dictate the pace, he will eventually run into some difficulty on the court. If the game is a fast-paced one, Okafor also won’t receive a chance to establish his dominance in the paint. 

If the Huskies fail to make the game a track meet, it will be because of the presence of Okafor down low. By snagging offensive rebounds and forcing UConn into bad shots, Okafor can easily control the tempo of the nonconference showdown. 

When he pulls down offensive rebounds, Okafor can create scoring chances for the Blue Devils in a few different ways. He can easily go right back up and finish, but he also has the luxury of dishing the ball out to Justise Winslow, Quinn Cook and others behind the three-point line. 

If the big man can create second-chance opportunities on offense that result in big shots by one of his teammates, the game will be over quickly. 

Because of the threatening scorers Duke has on the wings, UConn will not be allowed to double Okafor on every possession. Just ask Stanford how well that game plan worked. 

In Duke’s early-season win over Stanford, the Cardinal opted to double Okafor to begin the game, which opened up space for Amile Jefferson on the other side of the paint. With other players lurking to capitalize on the potential double-team, head coach Kevin Ollie will have to ask Brimah to take care of Okafor by himself. 

One way Brimah can take Okafor out of the game entirely is to force him into foul trouble. Against Wisconsin, Okafor picked up two early fouls in the first half. Despite his lack of rhythm during the first 20 minutes at the Kohl Center, Okafor still finished with 13 points and six rebounds. 

Taking Okafor out of the game for 40 minutes is a nearly impossible task. But if UConn can limit his opportunities in both halves, there is potential for a terrific finish at the Izod Center. 

For the Huskies to earn their biggest win of the season to date, they must control the tempo, limit Duke’s second-chance opportunities and have Brimah play out of his mind for the second consecutive game. 

If the game plan comes together perfectly, we could begin to forget UConn’s three brutal nonconference losses. 


Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

All statistics obtained from ESPN.com

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Earl Clark Rumors: Breaking Down Potential Los Angeles Lakers Impact

The Los Angeles Lakers are searching for some options to solidify a roster that’s been crushed by injury woes in the early going. It sounds like a familiar face in the form of Earl Clark might be the first reinforcement to arrive.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reports the Lakers are looking to sign Clark out of the D-League, where he was playing for the Houston Rockets‘ affiliate. He also notes the forward would be getting a deal to cover the rest of the season:

Clark has averaged 29 points per game for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA Development League, and the eventual finalization of a deal could bring Clark back to the Lakers in the next few days, sources said.

His scoring average is good enough to rank third in the league behind Brady Heslip and Manny Harris. The Louisville product has also averaged better than seven rebounds and three blocks in four games at the development level.

Clark played for the Lakers during the 2012-13 campaign. He appeared in 59 games, starting 36, and averaged seven points while shooting 44 percent from the field. Offensive woes have prevented him from making a bigger impact in the NBA with a career shooting percentage of 40 in 251 contests.

He’s connected on 45 percent of his shots during the hot start with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Whether he can carry that over to provide the Lakers with some valuable minutes is a question mark.

What Clark does bring to the table is a player who can play both forward positions and stretch the floor offensively. Jory Dreher of Laker Nation thinks that’s the main reason they are likely bringing him in:

He could be in line for some serious minutes, at least for awhile. Julius Randle is out for the season due to a leg injury and Ryan Kelly is currently sidelined with a hamstring issue. Add in a banged-up Carlos Boozer, who’s trying to overcome a shoulder problem, and the Lakers need healthy bodies up front.

Ed Davis has filled in admirably alongside Jordan Hill. Robert Sacre has also been serviceable in limited minutes. But Clark would give Los Angeles a different type of player at the power forward spot to help stretch defenses, and the fact he’s been with the organization before helps.

Back in July, when he was looking for a landing spot, Clark talked with Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders about his previous stint with the team:

When I was with the Lakers, I got the opportunity to get out there and play some big minutes–I didn’t have to look at the bench every possession to see if I was coming out. It was the first time where I felt good, where I was comfortable playing basketball again. That’s something that I’m looking for.

Although he probably won’t get as much run as he did the last time around, it’s still a golden opportunity. A chance to prove his lackluster stays with the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks aren’t representative of what he can provide to a rotation.

Clark isn’t going to turn the Lakers—who currently rank 18th in offensive efficiency, according to ESPN—into a juggernaut on that end of the floor. Instead, he’ll just provide a little more balance to a team that can’t really be too picky given the options at this stage.

All told, it’s a signing that makes sense. Now the wait is on until it becomes official barring any late setbacks in the process.


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Will NBA’s New TV Deal Impact Boston Celtics’ Future Plans with Rajon Rondo?

Long-term team planning in the NBA has always been a challenge, but now you can use another adjective to describe it: ambiguous.

For the Boston Celtics, that uncertainty looms from the potential changes the NBA’s new TV rights deal will have on the salary cap. Any shifts in those numbers could have a major effect on how the team plans on handling Rajon Rondo‘s future, for this season and beyond.  

Richard Sandomir of The New York Times first reported last week about the new TV deal, noting that Turner Sports and ESPN will pay an average of $2.7 billion a year to the NBA for nine seasons (starting in 2016-17) in exchange for retaining exclusive broadcast rights for the league.

The new deal will send league revenues skyrocketing over the second half of the decade. The NBA salary cap rises and declines based on league revenues.

With the NBA expected to more than double its current average yearly intake for TV rights starting in 2016, the league’s salary-cap number could make a dramatic jump from the latest estimate of $66.5 million.

NBA salary-cap expert Larry Coon reported the NBA was projecting that cap figure for the 2015-16 season back in April. 

Zach Lowe of Grantland explored just how significant that increase could be in a column last week:

The league right now projects a jump to $66.5 million for 2015-16, a modest rise pegged to the final year of that modest $930 million TV deal. If the new TV deal kicks in for the 2016-17 season just shy of $2 billion, the cap could exceed that same $14 million leap, all the way to around $80-plus million, in a single year.

Lowe also reported that the league is considering the option of smoothing, a process which would tie the new TV deal revenue partially to the 2015-16 season as well.

That scenario would lead to higher revenues—and a higher salary cap from the league’s current $66.5 million projection—during the 2015-16 season, thus creating a more staggered rise to an $80-plus million salary-cap number in 2016.

The path the league elects to take in implementing any changes remains to be seen, but it is clear that many pending NBA free agents will be significantly impacted by this new TV deal when they hit the open market this summer.

Both teams and agents will be attempting to map out the value of each player in the midst of enormous shifts within the salary-cap landscape.

The most intriguing player to watch next summer, with these changes in mind, may very well be Rondo. In preparation for Rondo’s looming free agency, I took a closer look at just how much of an impact, if any, the pending salary-cap changes might alter the Celtics’ plans with their star point guard.

The value Rondo deserves in his next contract has always been a common topic of debate among league observers. The 28-year-old has amassed an impressive resume when healthy during his eight-year career, especially during the postseason when he helped carry the Celtics to deep playoff runs in 2010 to the NBA Finals and to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012.

Those performances, combined with elite point guard numbers throughout his career, have made Rondo a four-time All-Star.

The Celtics captain said on the team’s media day last Monday that this kind of production has made him worthy of receiving a max contract in his next deal, a suggestion that Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge didn’t exactly dispute:

“I think a four-time All-Star by the time he’s [28] years old would qualify for max based on what we’ve seen in the marketplace,” Ainge said. “If I were Rajon and I were Rajon’s agent, I would definitely say that. But since I’m negotiating against him, I’ll withhold.”

Knowing the effects the NBA’s new TV deal is likely to have on player salaries, Rondo’s camp should be in a better position to secure a max-level contract from the Celtics or another team in the league next summer.

That stance is contingent on the point guard performing at an elite level on the floor upon returning from a broken left hand which will sideline him until November.

Assuming Rondo is able to return to his peak form, the Celtics will likely be more compelled to bring their captain back for the long haul due to a variety of factors influenced by the TV deal.

The first of those is a financial component. As I mentioned earlier, all NBA teams will be dealing with more salary-cap room than anticipated in future seasons, perhaps as early as 2015.

That means a potential max-level contract offered by Boston to Rondo, which would be worth a bit over $107 million over five years (based on next year’s $66.5 million salary-cap projection), won’t put as much of a dent in the team’s salary-cap room for future seasons as had been anticipated.

In fact, that kind of a contract for Rondo may be viewed as somewhat of a bargain later in the decade, when the salary cap jumps to over $80 million per season and max salaries for stars also see considerable jumps.

Crucial from a team-building perspective for the Celtics front office, however, is that the franchise would still have plenty of cap room to spend in free agency, even after potentially handing Rondo a $20-plus million annual salary.

They would have enough cash to try to lure another prominent player or two and have them team up with Rondo and other parts of the team’s young core to take the Celtics to the next level.

That line of thinking leads us to the other main reason the TV deal could increase the chances Boston keeps Rondo. The Celtics won’t be the only team benefiting from additional salary-cap space in future seasons; other teams will also have plenty to spend, and this fact will lead to increased competition for free agents on the open market.

That factor may also limit Boston’s trade market for Rondo if it explores moving him this season. Why would most teams give up assets for a player they can conceivably sign as a free agent with their added cap size?

The extra cap space will create a more aggressive marketplace overall in free agency, increasing the importance of appealing to any prized free agent with the lure of winning and a formidable supporting cast.

As the Celtics enter the next stage of their rebuild, landing top-flight free agents is the team’s best hope of developing into a contender once again. If Rondo is not in the fold for future seasons, the challenge of landing these types of players becomes tougher for Ainge.

The painful truth is that the rest of the Celtics roster doesn‘t exactly inspire the kind of confidence in future success that someone like Rondo, with his strong postseason track record, would.

The other wild card in play here for Boston’s plan with Rondo is the possibility that he will want to explore a short-term contract as a result of the TV deal. LeBron James pursued this strategy last summer, signing a two-year contract with a player option that will guarantee he can become a free agent in 2016-17 when the biggest jump in salary is expected.

If Rondo wants to benefit from the raised max-salary levels (35 percent of the salary cap for players with 10-plus years of experience, according to the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement), he could seek a short-term contract that would give him the opportunity to become a free agent in the summer of 2016.

That strategy would maximize Rondo’s potential earnings but may be considered somewhat risky for a player with a significant injury history in recent years.

The bottom line is, beyond all of these variables, Rondo’s play on the floor this season still remains the biggest factor in his next contract and if the Celtics will be willing to pay a high price in future seasons.

The new TV deal will provide an opportunity for Rondo to earn a bigger deal, but the truth is, Rondo still has to prove he is worthy of it.

The Celtics still have not seen their longtime starting point guard play minutes while healthy under Brad Stevens. Even though Rondo suited up for 30 games last season, there were plenty of telltale signs that he was not in peak form in his return to the hardwood in January 2013.

Sure, there were glimpses of strong play from Rondo, but reduced minutes, an inability to play both games in a back-to-back and a career-low mark in field-goal percentage (.403 percent) demonstrated that Rondo had still not fully recovered from ACL surgery.

Ainge admitted these realities when discussing Rondo’s preparation for this season:

“[Rondo] was motivated [this summer] because he didn’t play very well last year, to his standards coming off the knee injury,” Ainge said. “He doesn’t like not to be good. He doesn’t like not being considered one of the best point guards in the game. That’s what drove him to hard work this summer.”

Rondo already had plenty to play for over the next six months, but if the point guard can return to his All-Star ways this season, the NBA’s new TV deal made the odds of the 28-year-old landing a lucrative deal with the Celtics just a bit better.


All quotes were obtained firsthand by the author at Celtics media sessions. 

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Russell Westbrook, Scott Brooks Talk Impact of Kevin Durant Injury on PG’s Role

The Oklahoma City Thunder are Russell Westbrook‘s team now. Kevin Durant‘s Jones fracture in his right foot is expected to keep him out no less than six weeks, leaving Westbrook with the temporary keys to his own kingdom.

So, what does this all mean for the polarizing point guard’s role? Not all that much, according to Thunder head coach Scott Brooks and the man himself.     

“It’s not about me. It’s about our team. I can’t win games by myself. I can’t do anything by myself,” Westbrook told ESPN.com’s Royce Young on Monday. “I kind of want to take the attention off me and put it more on the team. Everybody keeps asking what I’m going to do and how I’m going to change. I think it’s more about our team and what we can do.”

Durant, the reigning NBA MVP, was diagnosed with the foot fracture Saturday. He is still considering a course of treatment—mostly related to whether or not he has surgery—but similar injuries have kept players out between six and eight weeks in the past, Thunder general manager Sam Presti said in a statement.

Without Durant, who has led the NBA in scoring four of the past five years, much of the scoring burden is expected to be placed on Westbrook. 

The situation runs parallel to the one Durant was placed in last season, when Westbrook missed most of the first half while recovering from multiple knee surgeries. Durant responded to his co-star’s absence with an offensive tour de force, most memorably averaging 35.9 points per game in the month of January. Westbrook’s absence in many ways allowed Durant to take that final leap and knock LeBron James off the MVP perch he’s owned for most of the last half-decade.

But where some believe Westbrook’s injury unleashed Durant, the verb takes an entirely different connotation with the enigmatic guard.

Westbrook, himself a three-time All-Star and one of the NBA’s 10 best players, is also one of its most highly critiqued. His shot selection ranges from free-wheeling to utterly befuddling, his whirling dervish playmaking from captivating and awe-inspiring to cringe-worthy. As John Schuhmann of NBA.com pointed out on Twitter, Westbrook shot 35 times in the 41 minutes he played without Durant last season. 

A possibly months-long Durant absence left some wondering if Westbrook would succumb to his worst impulses. While we’re still a little more than two weeks away from the Thunder’s season-opening tilt with the Portland Trail Blazers to see their plan in action, Brooks and Westbrook have gone out of their way to downplay the latter’s responsibility. 

“We’re not asking Russell to be a 35-point scorer,” Brooks said, per Young. “Obviously, he’s going to be a scorer because he can, and he does that at a high level. There will be games he might have 20, there will be games he’ll have 30, but there will also be some games where he has 15. He just has to continue to lead like he has been and that’s good enough.

“Everybody has to step up. It’s not one guy. You’re not going to replace Kevin with one guy. It’s the team getting better as a group is what I’m looking to replace him with.”

Words aren’t the only reason for optimism, either. Grantland’s Zach Lowe made the astute point Monday that lineups featuring Westbrook without Durant outscored their opponents by 9.5 points per 100 possessions in 2012-13. That would have been nearly a point and a half better than the Spurs’ rate from last season, per NBA.com.

The point being: Russell Westbrook can play. His and Durant’s constant pairing was more about Brooks’ desire to keep them together than an indictment on Westbrook.

The Thunder are going to be worse without Durant, but to pretend they’ll be some unmitigated disaster ignores the remaining talent on the roster. In Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City still has two of the league’s 20 best players and a supporting cast that held water without Westbrook last season.

Plus, Westbrook’s role is going to change. Public bluster or not, Westbrook will be blowing away his career scoring average by the time Durant returns.

He’s the only player in Oklahoma City’s projected starting lineup—assuming Brooks replaces Durant with a wing over Reggie Jackson—who can create an open look for himself. Westbrook, Durant and Jackson were the only three regular rotation players who were assisted on less than 60 percent of their field goals, per NBA.com.

Broken possessions are going to be a way of life without Durant. In most of those cases, it’ll be up to Westbrook or Jackson to use their off-the-dribble skills to make something happen. If Westbrook’s role truly doesn’t change—if, say, he’s averaging numbers right along with his career averages—then the Thunder are in trouble.

Oklahoma City needs Westbrook and Brooks to say the things they are now. In reality, they’ll need Westbrook to step up the way Durant did in his stead a year ago.


Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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Bradley Beal Injury Impact: ‘John Wall Has Got to Be a Better Leader’

The Washington Wizards will be without shooting guard Bradley Beal for up to two months after the young star was forced to have surgery to repair his wrist. Can John Wall and the rest of the Wizards step up in Beal‘s absence?

J. Michael of CSN Washington joins Stephen Nelson to give his take in the video above.

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Predicting Zach LaVine’s Impact for Minnesota Timberwolves This Season

The Minnesota TimberwolvesZach LaVine has the potential to be a future All-Star, but what can fans expect from the 19-year-old in his rookie season? 

LaVine was taken with the 13th overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft. His college numbers weren’t amazing, but his athleticism and ability to shoot from long range were enough for the Wolves to take him in the first round.

As a freshman at UCLA, he only averaged 9.4 points and 1.8 assists per game, but he managed to shoot an impressive 37.5 percent from beyond the arc.  

His struggles in college were mostly due to his inability to score in isolation and his inability to run a successful pick-and-roll. Matt Kamalsky of DraftExpress had a similar opinion:

Using 9.7 possessions per-game, he ranks as the lowest usage player in this group, and as the least efficient scorer in both one-on-one and pick and roll situations. On the positive side, LaVine‘s athleticism shows here, as 32.1% of his possessions came in transition, more than any other player, and while he scored an above average 1.148 points per-catch and shoot jump shot, the team drafting him probably won’t be overly concerned with how he looked on paper this past season as focused as they’ll be on putting him in position to reach his lofty potential a few years from now.

LaVine was drafted as a point guard, but due to his size (6’5″) and struggles in the passing game, he may be better suited on the wing. LaVine‘s athleticism and catch-and-shoot ability are prototypical attributes for any successful 2-guard.  

It’s also worth noting that the Timberwolves already have Ricky Rubio, Mo Williams and J.J. Barea as point guards.   

LaVine‘s biggest strength is clearly his athletic ability. This summer, LaVine showcased his elite leaping abilities with a Twitter dunk contest:

Even though LaVine may be an exciting prospect, his game is still way too raw to make an immediate impact. As seen in the infograph below, he was very inefficient in the Las Vegas Summer League (stats courtesy of NBA.com).

32.3 .397 .263 3.33 15.7  

He was able to score over 15 points per game, but his poor shooting percentage and high turnover rate proved his offensive immaturity.  

LaVine also struggled in the Wolves’ first preseason game versus the Indiana Pacers. The rookie shot 2-of-9 from the field and had as many turnovers as he did points: five.  

Fans can expect similar numbers from LaVine during the regular season. With several guards on the roster, it’ll be tough for LaVine to get on the floor.  

According to ESPN, the Timberwolves depth chart has LaVine as the third-string shooting guard. This could be misleading, because players such as Shabazz Muhammad and Corey Brewer have been known to play the 2-guard spot as well.

With the roster presently constructed, it will be hard for LaVine to average over 10 minutes per game.

He also struggles on defense due to his thin frame.  His skinniness allowed players to bulldoze past him and get into the paint with ease. Fortunately, LaVine is only 19 years old, which means he still has plenty of time to bulk up to a more typical NBA weight.  

If he can mature both on offense and defense, he could find a small spot in the Wolves’ rotation. LaVine has all of the potential to be an NBA stud, but right now, he is nothing more than a mere bench player who could occasionally receive spot minutes.

Projected 2014-15 Season Stat Line

9.5 .380 .310 3.5 0.5 1.0 5.5


All stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.

Love the T-Wolves? Follow me on Twitter @SupermanJZ

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3 Under-the-Radar Additions That Can Impact the 2014-15 Season

The Miami Heat enter a new era this upcoming season.
Gone is the best player in the world, LeBron James. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade return, except now they’ll be depended upon to be the faces of the franchise, rather than LeBron’s sidekicks. Familiar faces such as Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole and Chris Andersen will be looked to for stability. Additions like Luol Deng, Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts will be expected to offset the departure of ‘The King.’
While a lot has been made of the Heat recovering from the loss of a four-time MVP, much of the attention has been placed on the franchise cogs—Bosh and Wade. Pressure is not only facing the likes of the ‘Big Two,’ but their supporting cast—the returning core from the championship years and the new additions from free agency and the 2014 NBA Draft.
Much pressure has been placed on the aforementioned groups, but there is one group of players that won’t be facing any pressure this upcoming season—let’s call them the “under-the-radar”

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Major Impact of NBA Reportedly Increasing Salary Cap

You no longer have to worry about finding a place to watch NBA action for the next decade. 

Even though the world knew a television deal was coming for the league, the number itself was still enough to induce some slack-jawed reactions. Per Richard Sandomir of The New York Times, the NBA agreed to a new deal with ESPN and TNT that will secure broadcasting rights for the next nine years and pay the Association $24 billion. 

Twenty-four billion dollars. 

It’s a huge number, and one that is going to lead to huge salary-cap changes in the coming years. Of course, as of now there’s no telling exactly how high the cap is going to rise, as Grantland’s Zach Lowe makes clear by breaking down one of the many potential options: 

“Smoothing” is a popular word now around the league. There is no way to avoid some shock to the cap figure at some point, but there are ways to ease the trauma. The league and its TV partners, the same partners as under the old deal, could agree to make 2015-16 sort of a hybrid year, at some price point between the old $930 million and the new $2 billion–plus. That would raise revenues more than anticipated for 2015-16, and thus raise the cap beyond the current $66.5 million projection.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has already gone on the record saying that he would prefer a gradual increase—there’s that concept of smoothing, again—rather than a one-year mega-leap that fundamentally changes almost everything about NBA contracts all at once. 

We have a meeting later this afternoon to gauge their interest in creating a smoothing effect,” the commissioner told reporters at a news conference. “I mean, they will get their 51 percent (of basketball-related income) no matter what, it’s just a question of how it comes in in terms of the cap.”

No matter what the exact numbers are—and we likely won’t know for quite a while—the salary cap is going to rise. That much is inevitable, and we aren’t talking about some statistically insignificant rise. 

The ramifications of this deal are bound to be massive and will lead to quite a few changes in how contracts work and are viewed throughout the next portion of the NBA’s increasingly lengthy and complicated history. 

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NBA Rookies Who Could Make Impact on Playoff-Bound Teams

Playoff-bound NBA teams aren’t always above needing help from fledglings. 

Some of them are, for the record. The day Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers entrusts pressing responsibility to a rookie is also the same day Boris Diaw stops walking his dogs while riding a Segway.

Other situations—sincere apologies to C.J. Wilcox—aren’t as hopeless. Sometimes, teams with postseason and championship aspirations play rookies. Sometimes, they start rookies.

Our big reveals will rest heavily on the following logic: Certain rookies are just too good or promising to sit. There may not be an obvious need for them to log extensive minutes, but their skill sets complement their respective team’s system and on-court culture, and subsequently they cannot be ignored.

To be flat-out honest, it’s necessary in other instances. If a team—however prominent—is especially thin at one position or needs dire assistance on one end of the floor, it will be forced to experiment with combinations and players it wouldn’t otherwise use. Think (spoiler alert) Chicago Bulls and their anemic offense. 

Collegiate and overseas performances will matter as well, though not as much. It’s all about immediacy here. Needs vs. possession. Supply vs. demand. All that good stuff.

Leave the lottery-pick-stalking gear at home, folks (unless you’re Charlotte Hornets, Phoenix Suns or Bulls fans). It’s high time we lay some dap upon neophytes who have stumbled into winning situations.

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Could LeBron James Ever Surpass Michael Jordan’s Cultural Impact?

LeBron James may one day become the cash-stacking, trend-setting pan-media mogul Michael Jordan is. But if he ever reaches that level, he’ll owe a debt to the man who blazed the trail.

That’s because the basketball-player-as-business-icon game, driven by the commodification of cool and the sale of sneakers, is still one dominated by the man himself.


James: Trying His Best

According to Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes.com, James makes an estimated $20 million per year from Nike. His signature shoes accounted for approximately $300 million in sales in 2013, making them the most lucrative of any active player’s specific kicks.

His equity in Beats headphones earned him a reported $30 million when Apple bought the company. He’s a pitch man for McDonald’s and a ubiquitous presence in television ads for Samsung. He also collects loads of cash from endorsements in Asia that include Dunkin‘ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins.

A partnership with Fenway Sports Management netted James part ownership of Liverpool FC, which is among the most popular clubs in parts of the world outside the U.K.—especially Asia.

All told, Forbes estimates James has made $326 million in endorsements since coming into the league as a teenage phenom, including $72.3 million last season. He collected more than $50 million in each of the past two years, and his year-over-year earnings have increased consistently since 2003-04.

Chump change.


Jordan: Still Dominating

That $300 million in sales of James’ signature shoe sounds impressive…until you learn Jordan brand apparel did $2.25 billion in the same year, according to another report from Badenhausen. Jordan didn’t collect more than a fraction of that number, but he still made an estimated $90 million last year (20 percent more than James without an NBA salary).

And for Jordan, being a cultural icon isn’t solely about the money, though James will almost certainly have to become MJ‘s rival in finance before we consider him equal in sphere of influence.

Jordan’s legend (and it is a legend, by the way, which is another reason LeBron has so far to go to catch him; James is merely human at this point) is about more than cash. It’s about creating a brand, cultivating cool.

When Jordan signed a $500,000 deal with Nike in 1984 for a signature shoe, the NBA did everything it could to stop him. It banned his shoes and fined him $5,000 in every game he wore them.

Combining his business sense with his inborn defiance, Jordan rocked them anyway. And Nike picked up the tab on the fines.

That’s a cool move. Jordan flouted the rules. He stood up to the power structure, which, viewed in context with his otherwise very uncontroversial public life (he deliberately avoided stances on touchy political issues), seems shocking in retrospect.

It’s hard to know if Jordan benefited from such a guerrilla start to his life in business, but it’s worth noting that he triumphed in a market that was far harder to navigate than the one James exists in today. Now, instead of banning shoes, the league pushes Kia Optimas out onto the court for Blake Griffin to jump over in dunk contests.

Jordan taught a reluctant NBA that the best way to market itself was through individual players, but he had to fight to do it. And you’d have to assume he’ll continue to fight for his market primacy.

All the cash Jordan makes is one thing, but his continued recognizability and approval make it tough to imagine James overtaking him.

Per Badenhausen: “Jordan’s Q score, which gauges awareness and popularity, has been tops among sports fans every year since 1991. His 25 million Facebook fans are 43 percent more than any other U.S. athlete.”

The fact that MJ is more recognizable and popular than James right now, despite the fact that His Airness hasn’t done the thing that initially made him famous for over a decade, is remarkable. In fact, it makes it difficult to imagine LeBron ever surpassing Jordan in that regard.

To do so, James would have to become significantly more popular than he is right now, which seems almost impossible.


A New World

Jordan built his empire in the pre-Internet age, which makes his rise that much more astounding. At the same time, James understands how the world has shrunk, and he’s been better than Jordan at utilizing social media and technology to grow his brand in avenues MJ never considered.

Perhaps that’s the secret. Perhaps James will find more ways to reach his fans, to influence culture.

He’s already got his own app, and he’s diving into television production, with two shows set to premiere this year. In terms of multimedia, James is already ahead of Jordan—even if he’s still being actively influenced by him.

“I’m really excited about helping develop Becoming and bringing this kind of program to kids,” James said in a statement, via ESPN.com. “Sports and athletes were my inspiration growing up. It was the stories about Michael Jordan, Deion Sanders and Allen Iverson that kept me dreaming. When I learned that they had some of the same struggles and challenges I did, it made everything seem possible.”

Younger fans (if not this generation, then the next) may not relate to Jordan the same way they will to LeBron—especially if the latter is making his way into their smartphones and TV sets. At some point, MJ will become the guy whose logo is on a pair of shoes, and it’s even possible some especially young fans won’t even realize Jordan once played.

Ask a bunch of 15-year-olds whose likeness is on the NBA logo (it’s Jerry West, kids), and you’re likely to get far more shrugged shoulders than you would from a group of 30-year-olds. The same thing could happen here.

If Jordan is just a guy with a cigar on a golf course to young fans, maybe he’s not as cool as someone still winning titles on the court and setting trends everywhere else. Then again, there are plenty of brands that maintain influence and cultural ubiquity long after their namesakes have faded away. Maybe Jordan is Levi Strauss or James Barclay.

Who knows?


Getting by Giving

James is in his prime, on TV, playing hoops, pitching products and capitalizing on his popularity. He’s everywhere.

Jordan is in full icon mode. You don’t see him often, and he’s becoming a bit more withdrawn (a cool guy move if ever there was one) as he ages. He sits back and smirks at the world while James sprints up to smile and shake its hand.

His days of changing things are over. He already pioneered the shaved head, the longer shorts, the endless string of chill-inducing commercials.

James has yet to put those kinds of stamps on the game and its fans.

But he has an opportunity to do something Jordan never did. He can use his social conscience to make an impact through charity.

That’s not to say Jordan wasn’t concerned with effecting change outside of his own bank account and reputation. But it’s hard to ignore the way James has made giving back a priority.

Per Sam Amick of USA Today, James explained:

I’m 11 years in, (and) I feel like I’m in a great place as far as my professional career and I feel like as far as off the court, that’s the more meaningful thing for me. I believe my calling is much higher than basketball, and I will continue to use that tool to continue to inspire because it has helped out a lot.

We’ve never heard anything like that from Jordan.

If James ever reaches MJ‘s level of fame and influence, this is how he’ll do it: with a far more human touch.


Homage to the Master

LeBron’s public-relations missteps (The Decision, principally) have made him more eager to please, while Jordan never had to make amends during his career. Playing at a time when the media wasn’t salivating for schadenfreude certainly helped.

Jordan commodified cool, but he did it with a complicit press that ate it up and rarely tried to tear it down.

Nobody stays on top forever, and James is definitely making progress toward Jordan’s throne as an icon. If the young gun ever catches the old dog, he’ll owe his predecessor a great deal.

Because even if James eventually does it better, Jordan did it first.

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