NBA

Dirk Nowitzki signs on for a record-breaking 21st season with the Dallas Mavericks

Jay Asser 24/07/2018
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Dirk Nowitzki will likely play one final season.

Dirk Nowitzki will ride into the sunset in record-breaking fashion.

Unsurprisingly, Nowitzki has signed on for his 21st season with the Dallas Mavericks, the only franchise he’s ever played for in his Hall of Fame-worthy career, which will break Kobe Bryant’s record for most consecutive years with one team in NBA history.

It’s also likely to be the 40-year-old’s final season before hanging it up and he’s prepared to play in a reserve role, according to the New York Times, who reported Nowitzki’s one-year deal to be valued at $5 million.

Though he’s remained a regular starter throughout the years, Nowitzki has already accepted a reduced role, with his minutes per game dropping each of the past three seasons. Last year, he averaged 24.7 minutes – the lowest mark since his rookie campaign – while averaging 12.0 points.

Nowitzki, who is considered one of the greatest shooters in league history, especially for a 7-footer, has remained an efficient marksman, shooting 45.6 per cent from the field and 40.9 per cent on 3-pointers last season.

Where his skills have diminished have been as a scorer at the rim and a primary threat. He’s no longer the go-to option he once was, with his quickness and athleticism significantly sapped at the tail-end of his career.

Nowitzki has been content to remain the face of the franchise despite their descent since breaking through with a title in 2011. Dallas have made the playoffs four times in the past seven years and failed to win their first-round series all four occasions.

This past season, the Mavericks won just 24 games, their fewest since Nowitzki’s rookie year when they went 19-31 in 1998-99.

While they’ll struggle to reach the postseason this coming season in what looks to be a loaded Western Conference, they should be better after adding DeAndre Jordan in free agency and Luka Doncic through the draft.

Nowitzki probably won’t get to compete for a title one last time, but he should pass Wilt Chamberlain as the league’s fifth all-time leading scorer with 233 needed points to move up on the list.

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NBA

How Carmelo Anthony could help or hurt the Houston Rockets next season

Jay Asser 23/07/2018
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Carmelo Anthony will join James Harden on the Rockets.

The Houston Rockets will add a former All-Star in Carmelo Anthony to their core, but it’s yet to be seen how much he’ll improve their title hopes.

Anthony still has to wait for his pending trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Atlanta Hawks to be officially completed, and must clear waivers after being released by Atlanta, but he then plans to sign with Houston, according to the New York Times.

He’s reportedly expected to receive a one-year deal for the veteran minimum of $2.4 million. Because the Hawks will waive Anthony, he’ll still receive the $27.9m on the final year of his contract, allowing him to join Houston on a cheap deal.

Anthony has been linked with the Rockets for much of the summer and James Harden revealed his excitement at the thought of the 10-time All-Star joining him and Chris Paul.

“It would be a great acquisition for us,” Harden told the Houston Chronicle at a community appearance on Friday. “Melo’s a proven vet. He just wants to win at this point, so it would be great for him to be on our team. The current roster we have now, we’ve got good guys back and we keep making forward progress.”

While Anthony is certainly a big name, it’s unclear if he can still make an impact befitting his reputation.

How it could go right

Anthony is no longer the kind of star who can carry a team’s offence, but as the third option playing off other creators, he can still be effective.

His offensive talent can’t be questioned, even now at the age of 34. Dumping the ball into Anthony in the high to mid-post and leaning on him to score in isolation is no longer a viable primary attack, but as a change-of-pace option, especially with second units, it can yield buckets.

Considering how much defences have to switch to contain the Rockets’ offence, Anthony should find himself in favourable mismatches quite a bit, whether that gives him a size advantage in the post or a quickness advantage on the perimeter.

At the very least, Anthony should be useful as a spot-up shooter on the receiving end of passes from Harden and Paul. He knocked down a career-high 169 3-pointers last season with Oklahoma City and while his efficiency wasn’t great at 35.7 per cent, he’ll likely get more wide open looks in Houston’s attack.

With Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute leaving the Rockets in free agency, they needed a wing who could play small-ball four. In Anthony, they’ve undoubtedly upgraded offensively on both players.

How it could go wrong

The downside with Anthony has little to do with him as a player and more to do with how he views himself at this point in his career.

Despite all the evidence that suggests he’s well past his prime, Anthony still considers himself to be a star and as such, may not be accepting of a reduced role. That was the case last season anyways when he laughed off the notion of coming off the bench for the Thunder.

If he was willing to be a sixth man, Anthony could be a dangerous weapon off the bench against second units. But the more time he spends on the floor, the more he’ll have to go up against the opposing team’s starters and as a result, the more his weaknesses will be exposed.

On the defensive end, he’s simply a zero. Teams chose to hunt mismatches against Anthony last season and he struggled to be anything more than a revolving door. That will be a major concern for a Rockets team that relied heavily on its ability to switch one through five, especially against the Golden State Warriors.

And if coach Mike D’Antoni keeps him on the bench during critical moments, Anthony’s attitude may become a problem.

The entire situation likely hinges on Anthony’s willingness to do what’s best for the team – something that may finally be a priority for him so late into his career.

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NBA

Appreciated or not, LeBron James comes to the Los Angeles Lakers as an outsider

Jay Asser 22/07/2018
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Mural by Jonas Never in Venice which was vandalised and later painted entirely white by the local artist.

The reason it felt so weird to imagine LeBron James on the Los Angeles Lakers – at least prior to this year, before his arrival felt inevitable – was the history he was following.

In Cleveland, LeBron was the Cavaliers. With all due respect to Bill Fitch, Lenny Wilkens, Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, ‘The Shot’ and the entire history of the franchise leading up to 2003, the Cavaliers didn’t truly feel relevant until James entered the league and became their saviour.

LeBron’s four years spent in Miami – his study abroad years – exposed him to life on a team that wasn’t his to begin with. But even though Dwyane Wade was already established as the face of the franchise and a championship banner was already hanging in the rafters, the Heat – a team that only came into existence in 1988 – didn’t have the kind of history that feels inescapable.

The Lakers, a franchise that is as blue blood as it gets, do. LeBron isn’t just joining any team, he’s coming into an organisation that has prestige coming out of its ears thanks to their accomplishments of yesteryear – 16 titles (second only to Boston’s 17) and a list of Hall of Famers that features some of the best players who’ve ever touched a basketball.

Who knows how much that factored into LeBron’s decision. Maybe he’s drawn to the Lakers lore and wants to write his own chapter. Maybe he just likes Los Angeles as a home for himself and his family, as well as his outside business ventures.

Regardless, James is going to feel the weight of that history to some extent. By no means will it cripple him, but even the best player in the world – and arguably of all-time – will experience what it’s like to be an outsider.

The Lakers are his team now, but the franchise doesn’t belong to James like the Cavaliers did. He isn’t instantly their most beloved figure. And unlike in Miami, Lakers fans have enough to be nostalgic about to rationalise their arrogance.

They’ll come to love LeBron, if they haven’t already, but he may never fill the space in their hearts that’s already occupied by Kobe Bryant. And that’s okay. Kobe spent his entire career with the team and helped bring them five titles. He’s a Laker through and through. He should be revered in LA.

But in a delicious twist of irony, the Kobe Bryant acolytes who swear he’s the rightful comparison to Michael Jordan as a GOAT (greatest of all-time) and not LeBron, will now have to root for a player they’ve gone out of their way to criticise. Not all Kobe fans, of course, but they’re out there.

That brings us to what’s happened in LA with murals of James.

The ink hasn’t even dried on LeBron’s contract, yet two murals have been vandalised this month.

The first featured James in a Lakers jersey with the message “King of LA” on a restaurant wall in Venice. It was defaced when someone spray-painted “we don’t want you” and “no king”, along with “3-6”, a reference to LeBron’s Finals record.

The second was an illustration of James in a Lakers jersey looking up at legends Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain on a wall near Melrose and Fairfax. That mural was defiled when someone poured white paint on James.

It’s useless to draw any conclusions from the actions of unknown perpetrators. It’s possible they’re not one of the aforementioned Kobe acolytes, or even Lakers fans. It’s unfair to look at what happened to these two murals and then characterise an entire fan base by saying baseless statements like ‘Lakers fans don’t want LeBron’, or ‘Lakers fans don’t deserve LeBron’.

However, these murals only add to the feeling that LeBron is starting his time in LA as an outsider. Lakers fans can say these vandals don’t represent them all they want, but it’s a lot like your fiancée promising that the rest of her family don’t dislike you as much as her unwelcoming brother.

As small as the group may be, there are definitely Lakers fans who would have preferred to never see James in purple and gold. Even though he revives their exceptionalism and instantly makes them relevant again in a way they haven’t been in years, in their mind, he’s a mercenary for hire who has no prior ties to the area and the franchise.

There’s a kernel of truth in that. LeBron probably won’t ever be a Laker in the same vein as Bryant or Johnson.

But if he returns the franchise to glory, it won’t make a bit of difference to Los Angeles.

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