The storyline of team USA’s disappointing loss in the quarterfinals to Serbia has dominated the FIBA World Cup headlines. Team USA will not take home the gold medal and will not medal placing seventh.
The locker room was full of excitement champagne was spraying everywhere. The players were overcome with joy, excitement, and laughter. They had just accomplished their goal in becoming the 2004-2005 NBA champions.
The series was a grueling seven-game series one of the best in NBA history. In fact, it out did last years finals, that was deemed a classic.
In the other locker room, there was total despair. They had just lost one of the toughest, most well-played finals in history. After hoisting the Larry O’Brian the previous season this year there would be no laughter, no champagne, and no hoisting of the trophy.
For the last three seasons, the Phoenix Suns and the Orlando Magic have met in June to decide the World Championship of basketball. The two greatest players of their generation, and perhaps to ever play the game have battled each other for the title.
Those two players are Grant Hill and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway. Both players up to this point have had illustrious careers. Both winning championships, and every individual accolade a player could win.
Hill had won two MVPs he was 12x All-Star, 12x All-NBA, two finals MVPs, and now two championships.
Hardaway has been equally impressive being named to the All-NBA team 11x, 11x All-Star, one finals MVP, one MVP, and one championship.
Hill was now 2-1 over Hardaway in the finals. Hill won their first final matchup in six games. He was super dominant showcasing one of the most versatile skill sets the game has ever seen.
Penny came back the next season with a vengeance and something to prove. He was named league MVP, and this time he would get the best of his long term nemesis Hill winning his first championship and being named finals MVP.
Now Grant Hill was able to be victorious in third and final matchup between these two all-time greats.
This would be their last matchup, because in an unexpected turn of events, while on the podium accepting his finals MVP trophy Hill announced his retirement from the game.
He received a boisterous, deafening, resounding round of applause from the home crowd in Orlando. Just like that the career of one most versatile players to ever play the game was officially over.
After learning about Hill’s retirement during his post-game press conference. Hardaway was explaining how much Hill meant to the game and how he pushed him to become the best player he could possibly be, and the game will definitely miss him.
Just like that I was awaken by my front doorbell. It was the delivery man from amazon here to deliver my medium roast gourmet coffee.
I sat up stretching and rub my eyes not realizing I had dozed off on the couch. I jumped up and ran to answer the door and just like that one of the best dreams I have ever had was over.
Grant Hill and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway are two names that always come up and headline the “What If” discussion.
Both players were two of the most talented, versatile players to ever play the game. Although both players played for many years, due to injuries both players extraordinary potential and talent was never fulfilled.
Grant Hill’s Hall of Fame career spanned for 18 years. He was named to the All-NBA team five times. He was a seven time All-Star, and was named rookie of the year in 1994-1995. With his shifty right to left crossover and explosive athleticism Hill was a matchup nightmare.
Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway’s career lasted 15 seasons. He made the All-NBA team three times, and was a four time All-Star. Hardaway made one NBA Finals appearance as a member of the Orlando Magic, but lost 4-0 to the Houston Rockets.
Hill had a six prime years before suffering a devastating foot injury in his last season in Detroit. During the 1999-2000 playoffs against the Miami Heat Hill suffered an ankle injury. This injury would cause Hill to pull himself out of game 2.
According to Hill, and multiple reports at the time many people including the Pistons medical staff were questioning the validity of Hill’s injury.
When asked about the injury years later Hill was quoted as saying:
"I (had been) told everything was fine. I even found out that certain team doctors were questioning whether I was really hurt, thinking I was soft or whatever. This was after I had pulled myself from Game 2 against the Heat. At that time, when I found out I had broken my ankle, as crazy as this sounds, I was relieved. I finally had some confirmation, I finally had proof that I'm really not making it up." Kelly Dwyer yahoo sports Apr 28, 2011.
Hill is known for being a class act and will never just come out and just bash the Pistons organization, but he does believe that his injury was misdiagnosed and this gross misdiagnoses ruined his career.
Hill was one of the most sought after free agents that off season, and he would sign a seven year $93 million dollar contract with the Orlando Magic. That same summer Tracey McGrady would sign a seven year $92.8 million dollar deal.
Hill and McGrady was suppose to be one of the most dynamic formidable duo’s the league has ever seen. Unfortunately that dream would not be realized. Hill over a seven year span would only play 200 games out of 500.
While having another procedure on his ankle in the summer of 2003 Hill would develop a Staph infection that almost killed him, and caused him to miss the entire 2003-2004 season. Hill could not catch a break, but would leave the city of Orlando finally on a healthy note.
For the Magic Hill’s tenure in a Magic uniform was definitely filled with disappointment. The duo of G Hill and TMac never was, and Hill moved on to Phoenix.
While in a Suns uniform Hill would have some solid years and was a key contributor to some really good Suns teams. He would at times show flashes of that athletic brilliance that had him on the cusp to be one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
Hill would close out his Hall of Fame career as a member of the Clippers. Hill had six peak years and avg. 21 PTS ., 7.9 REBS. 6.3 ASTS.
As far Hardaway when he was drafted he was supposed to be the perfect guard to play along side Shaq, and form a dominated duo. He possessed the height, the skills, and the athleticism that no other guard possessed playing the point guard position. The future appeared bright in Orlando, and in his second season Penny was named first team All-NBA and to the All-Star team. The Magic would make the finals and lose, but nevertheless the future seemed bright.
Many believed that the Magic’s first trip to the finals was the first of many to come. Unfortunately it was not to be Shaq would eventually leave to be come a member of the Los Angles Lakers, and by Penny’s fourth year he started experiencing knee trouble.
He would only play in 59 games, the Magic made it back to the eastern conference finals, but would be swept by the eventual champion Chicago Bulls.
The next two seasons in Orlando Hardaway would only appear in 69 games, and would join the Suns via a sign and trade in the summer of 1999.
Despite his knee troubles Hardaway would ink a six year $87.6 million dollar deal. In his second season as a member of the Suns Hardaway would miss 78 games due to his knee. He would return the following season and play 80 games, but due to the degenerate nature of the cartilage in his knee Hardaway would never be the same.
Penny would finish his career with stops in New York and Miami before retiring in 2007-2008. Unlike Hill who was able to have some longevity and be a solid contributor to a NBA team Hardway was not so lucky.
He was one of the first NBA players to have micro fracture surgery in his knee. It is a procedure that is an attempt to put cartilage back into the knee. Even with this procedure Penny was not unable to return back to the player we witnessed early on in his Magic days.
Penny would only have three prime years. Avg. 19.7 Pts., 4.6 Rebs., 6.7 Asts. during that span. Which is incredible because Hardaway is remembered in high esteem. So much so one would think his prime was longer that three years.
So although these two players would never matchup against each other in the finals like in my dream, although neither one of them won a title, or a MVP, they will still be remembered as two of the most complete players the game has ever seen. They definitely will be forever remembered as the ultimate “What If”.
Sometimes in life perception can be a reality, and this concept can be applied to Carmelo Anthony. The 10x All-Star, 6x All-NBA, has scored over 25,000 points and is a bonafide Hall of Famer.
Now, this future Hall of Famer finds without a team as he looks to close out his career on his terms. Anthony has been working out vigorously in hopes that a team will sign him. Skill-wise it looks like Anthony can still score and contribute to an NBA team.
The NCAA announced for no foreseen reason that it will be changing the criteria that an agent must possess to represent an underclassman who wants to test the draft waters.
In 2018 the NCAA already changed the rule allowing for underclassmen to hire an agent and test the waters without ruining their eligibility.
One takeaway that stood out is how bitter and jealous a lot of former players are of this generation of NBA players. Charles Barkley is at the top of this list. Known as the “round mound of rebound” during his playing days Barkley has to turn into the “loud mouth from Leeds”. Spouting off opinions that are often viewed as honest, real, and straightforward, oftentimes lack depth, knowledge, and are just plain ignorant.
When Kevin Durant made his finals debut Monday night you could not have asked for a better start. The “Hamptons 5” was reunited and the Warriors appeared to be back to their dominant self. Durant made his first three shots and it seemed that Golden State was going to win the game and officially find themselves back in the series. Nine minutes into the second quarter every basketball fans worst fear happened, and Warriors nation collective heart stopped.
Five Star recruit R.J. Hampton appeared on the ESPN morning show “Get Up” to discuss his basketball future, but what came next shocked the basketball world. Hampton announced that he would bypass college and would be signing a professional contract with the New Zealand Breakers, of the NBL. The Australian league has become a well respected league in recent years with players like Andrew Bogut of the Warriors, Terrance Ferguson of the Oklahoma City Thunder both playing in the league. Ferguson passed on college as well and elected to play in the league.
Thursday marked the day that many NBA stars had circled on their calendars. The All-NBA teams were named, and for stars like Klay Thompson who will be free agents this summer $30 million dollars were at stake. During a press conference after the Warriors morning practice, Thompson received the news that he did not make one of the three All-NBA teams.
With 2:05 left in the third quarter of a highly contested game 5 Kevin Durant drove baseline right an elevated for a mid-range jumper. The shot bounces off the rim and he turns to run back on defense. In the process he stops looks back as if somebody kicked them, but nobody was there.
Durant immediately starts limping and at that moment a dark cloud covered Oracle Arena. You could hear a pin drop as everyone held their collective breath. Reggie Miller stated what everyone feared that KD may have suffered one of the most devastating injuries a player could suffer, and that is a torn Achilles. Durant limps back to the locker room and just like that Steph Curry steps up and reminds us of his greatness.
Prior to Durant’s injury, Curry was struggling mightily on the offensive end. Mentally he was not there he did not Look focus and he was not sharp. He was 5-15 from the field for 11 points and was a dismal 1-8 from three. Without knowing the extent of Durant’s injury the Warriors needed Curry to shake out of his series shooting slump, and summon the swagger that made him a back to back MVP.
Curry was able to do just that as he scored 16 points on nine shots in Durant’s absence with several coming in classic Steph fashion. On one play, in particular, Clint Capela was switched off on him, and he was able to shake him and side step him creating enough space to knock a deep three-pointer.
One thing that was painfully obvious during this series is that Curry is struggling while Durant is thriving. According to the Ringers’, Kevin O’Connor Curry with KD was 25 points on 17.5 shots per 75 possessions. Without KD, Curry was 30.7 points on 24 shots per 75 possessions these number date back to the 2016-2017 playoffs. According to these numbers Curry’s production increases greatly when KD is off the floor which allows Curry to be his old self. The question now becomes are the Warriors better without Durant? Of course not you are never better without the best player in the NBA not playing, but if there is a silver lining to Durant getting injured is that Curry for a quarter was back to himself.
Now we must patiently wait for the full diagnosis of Durant’s injury as he will be re-evaluated, after having an MRI. The good news he was initially diagnosed with a strained right calf. So he might be able to return for the rest of the series. The Warriors may have to finish this grueling series without Durant, which will be the biggest challenge during their rein. If they are going to defeat the Rockets and move on to the western conference finals they are going to need Curry at the peak of his powers. And at least for a quarter, it seemed like we got just that.
Despite the absence of LeBron James, the 2019 playoffs have not disappointed. The last time James missed the playoffs the year was 2005 and Steve Nash won his first MVP. The San Antonio Spurs won their third championship, and Tim Duncan was named Finals MVP. Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Allen Iverson were still in their primes. The 2005 draft would produce Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Lou Williams, and the number one pick was Andrew Bogut. Needless to say, a lot has changed.
This year's playoffs have produced a plethora of clutch moments, plays, and headlines. Damion Lillard’s sidestep three-pointer from 30 plus feet on Paul George to send the Thunder home and advance the Trailblazers to the second round. Kevin Durant’s offensive onslaught in the first round of the Clippers was one of the best scoring performances we have ever seen.
The reemergence of Kawhi Leonard as the best two-way player in the game has drawn comparisons to the great Michal Jordan. Nikola Jokic is basically averaging a triple-double and has the Nuggets one game from the western conference finals. Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden have had teams scratching their heads all season on how to stop them. The playoffs have been no different sparking discussions and debates on what’s a foul and what is not a foul while trying to defend these two superstars.
Round two of the Rockets vs Warriors has met all expectations and has not disappointed. Durant and Harden are having one of the best duels in recent history. They a both putting up astronomical numbers KD is averaging 36 points, 5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. On 46% shooting from the field and 48% from three, while playing a whopping 45 minutes per game. Harden has been equally impressive and up to the task averaging 35.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 5.0 assists. He’s shooting 41% from the field and 34% from 3.
The majority of his makes have been the step back variety. This go to move by Harden has been unguardable and demoralizing to the Warriors defenders, and has been the centerpiece of “landing gate”. The story dominated the headlines after game one and drew much debate. The debate was over where a defender can land on closeout in relationship to the jump shooter and not be called for a foul. The Rockets provide video evidence to the league office showing how frequent Harden was fouled while attempting a three in game one. With the series tied at 2-2 games, apiece the stage has been set for an incredible ending to one of the best playoff series in league history.
With LeBron aging and coming out of his prime three players have taken center stage in the debate of who is the best player in the league. Kawhi, KD, and Giannis have used the stage of the playoffs to stake their claim to being the best player in the league. Giannis is averaging 28.4 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 4 assists on 51% shooting from the field. His brilliant, aggressive play has the Bucks on the precipice of make their first eastern conference finals since the Ray Allen, Sam Cassell, and Glen Robinson days. He has followed up an MVP type regular season with a high level of play fueled with determination and grit in the playoffs.
Kawhi Leonard’s elevated play as stated earlier has drawn comparisons to the great Michael Jordan. Leonard is averaging 31.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 3.5 assists on 57% from the field and 46% from three my goodness! During the game last night the announcer stated that he is currently shooting 75% at the rim, 63% in the mid-range, and 46% from three. These type numbers along with his great defensive play show why he has been getting compared to “His Airness”. Leonard looks healthy and more explosive after missing last season due to an injured quad muscle. With his health concerns now behind him, when this playoffs are over you would not be wrong in saying he is now the best player in the league.
That brings us to Mr. Durant who many have argued has taken the title as best in the league from James two years ago. Some feel until he leaves a loaded Warriors team he can not be seen as the best in the league. With the playoffs, Durant is having whichever aisle of the argument you fall on you can no longer deny the fact that KD is the best player in the world. Kevin Durant is averaging 35.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists on 51% shooting from the field and 42% from three.
In the last four games of the Clippers series, he averaged 38.7 points and put up 50 points in the closeout win. In the Rockets series with Steph Curry struggling and Klay Thompson unable to get on track KD has had to shoulder the offensive burden. Durant has become a great distributor and playmaker for the Warriors so much so that, Steve Kerr has made him the primary ball handler in the fourth quarter of games. Whether Durant wins his third straight title and finals MVP, or the Rockets eliminate the Warriors KD has solidified himself as the best player in the NBA.
LeBron James has spoiled all of us with an impressive all-time great career. He made eight straight finals winning 3 championships and three finals MVPs. He has four league MVP’s to his name and has been named to the All-NBA team a total of 14 times and 12 to the first team. At some point, Father Time catches up with you, and someone has to take your place. The game continues to go on, and all you can ask of yourself is did you elevate the game? Did you give it your best? Did I leave the game in good hands? The answers to all three questions is a resounding yes. The league has the most talent it has ever had, and this playoffs have demonstrated just that. Even though we all want to see King James compete in the playoffs, the 2019 playoffs have still given us a feeling of enjoyment despite the King’s absence.