NBA Needs to Drastically Crack Down on “Resting”

I guess the Warriors schedule is too hard for a professional athlete. Photo Credit: NBA.COM

When the 2016-2017 NBA schedule was released and the schedule makers blessed us with a March 11th game where the San Antonio Spurs would host the Golden State Warriors in a late season push for the number one seed, it was expected to be the most interesting and viewed regular season meeting this side of each of the Kevin Durant versus Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder meetings. Especially after the 29-point manhandling the Spurs put on the defending Western Conference Champions on opening night with their new Big Four.

A potential preview of the 2017 Western Conference Finals was ruined when Warriors coach Steve Kerr decided to “rest” the healthy Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, with Kevin Durant already out with a Grade 2 MCL injury in his left knee, because Golden State was on the second night of back-to-back games and having played ten games in the last seventeen days (February 23rd to March 11th). Seven of those were on the road, and the last four of that streak in five days.

Add to that that Kawhi Leonard (concussion protocol) and LaMarcus Aldridge (minor heart arrhythmia) also missed the game killed any excitement the league was building by having these two juggernauts face off in primetime in the first season of their highly promoted venture with ABC/ESPN to broadcast the most compelling games of the week on Saturday nights.

Instead we got an unwatchable game that was a 20-point blowout at halftime, with a final score of 107-85 San Antonio, while the Warriors trotted out a bunch of dudes you wouldn’t watch play pick-up at the playground if you just happened to be walking by.

This was clearly Kerr’s attempt to throw up a middle finger at the Association and its schedule makers. He could have easily looked ahead and staggered resting his top guys earlier in the streak when they played inferior teams like the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers, with an eye on a big finish to end the 10-game span at full strength against the Spurs. Instead he basically said “F*** You” to anyone who cared about the game.

It’s time for Commissioner Silver to do something drastic end this trend. This isn’t good for the sport, the fans and business.

Why should fans pay hundreds and thousands of their hard earned dollars on tickets, travel, concessions and merchandise at any NBA game with the thought in the back of their mind they may or may not get to see their favorite player play or favorite team at full strength?

And why should fans across the country, that can’t attend the game in person, continue to pay a premium for League Pass and carve out time in their schedule to watch D-League quality?

So here’s what Commissioner Silver should do, NEEDS to do.

First, reduce the schedule to 65 games, similar to the format from 2011-2012 when the league was in a lockout that delayed the season. I’m cool if the owners want to take some money back from the players because of this, serves them right. Just back loading key divisional and conference games that will affect playoff seeding near the end of the season like the NFL did a couple of seasons ago isn’t working.

Limit preseason games if you have to as well, and spread the 65-games out over late October to mid April, and eliminate back to backs as well as three games in four night deals, giving no coach or player an excuse to “rest.”

Finally, heavily fine players that aren’t active for any reason other then a disclosed and diagnosed injury if they continue to “rest”. Instead of levying a hefty fine on teams like the one given to the Spurs when Coach Gregg Popovich did something similar as Kerr against the Miami Heat in 2013, dock from their salary cap which will hurt their ability to build a competitive roster. That will fix it.

Resting healthy players is also an insult to the history of the game and past players that so many of today’s players say inspired them. As ESPN/ABC analyst Michael Wilbon, said on ABC during Halftime of the Spurs-Warriors game, “twenty years ago forty-four NBA players played all 82 games. Last season only 18 players played all 82.”

For more perspective, arguably the greatest of all-time Michael Jordan played every game scheduled in a season nine of his fifteen seasons, including his final season at age 39-40. He also played 81 and 80 games two other seasons. By comparison, LeBron James, the best player in today’s era, has NEVER played all 82 games and has only reached 80 games two times in his fourteen-year career.

Today’s players are supposed to have better nutrition and better training, so what’s the problem?

How healthy and great would Kobe Bryant have played at the end of his 20-year career if he took so many nights off?

This is another reason why Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Tracy McGrady, Kevin Garnett and other legends of the game say today’s players are soft. And I’m starting to think they’re right.

Jalen Rose, Wilbon’s co-analyst on ABC’s Halftime show hosted by Sage Steele, also a 13-year NBA vet, pointed out that the Association is followed on Twitter more than any other sports league, the NBA also has thirteen current players followed on the social media site that are in the Top 100, while the NFL has none despite being the most popular sport in America. The NBA also has two current players in the Top 5 on the Forbes Endorsement list while the NFL has none.

NBA players are more popular and make more money based off their notoriety than any other sport. So figuratively and financially speaking, they’re spitting in the face of those who they’ve made their fame and fortune off of, the Consumer.

Mister Silver, you’re the only one that can fix it. You’re the most proactive leader in sports, so I trust that you will. Until then, hopefully when these two meet again on March 29th we’ll get something closer to what we expect to see come playoff time. But I doubt it. Got rest up for that playoff run.

Magic Use 3rd Quarter Explosion & Ross to Rout Atlanta

The Magic’s new acquisition, Terrance Ross, led Orlando with 24 points in their 105-86 win over the Atlanta Hawks. Photo Credit: Orlando Magic.com

The Orlando Magic has DESEPERATELY needed shooting and outside scoring all season. On Saturday night against the visiting Atlanta Hawks, they looked like that had never been a problem.

Who knew they might have found it by giving up the interior defensive player they highly coveted since Dwight Howard left five seasons ago.

Orlando held a three-point halftime lead at 49-46. In the third quarter, where they’ve struggled all season, they stretched that lead to 15 behind a 31-point quarter, while holding the Hawks to only 19. The catalyst behind the second half surge was Terrance Ross.

Ross, who was acquired before the All-Star break for Serge Ibaka, made General Manager Rob Hennigan look like a genius for that move Saturday night against the Atlanta. He played 35 minutes and scored 24 points on 10 of 15 shooting, 4 of 7 from 3 point range in Orlando’s 105 to 86 victory.

Late in the third quarter and into the fourth, the Magic ran several plays for Ross where he came off a pin down screen by a big and curled into the lane for a pull up jumper.

All this coming off a disappointing performance in his debut game in a blue and white uniform where he made only four shots on seventeen attempts.

The 26-year old former NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Champion didn’t just do it on offense end. Orlando’s new acquisition got his hands in the passing lane and created several turnovers. He had two steals and a block. Atlanta had 17 on the night leading to 26 Magic points.

The addition of Ross not only gives them the scoring punch they need, it also allows Aaron Gordon to play the power forward position — where he’s started the last two games — where he’s probably more suitable to play in today’s small ball style of the NBA. Gordon responded with 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting and several of his usual above the rim highlight plays.

After the game, Gordon told the Magic Live/Fox Sports Florida crew “I’m continuing to play on the perimeter just at the four position, it spreads the floor so much and I can pick and choose when I want to post up.”

Elfrid Payton was the beneficiary of having a spread court to roam through. Payton flirted with a triple-double dishing out 9 points, grabbing 9 rebounds while scoring 15 points. The offense was free flowing.

Nikola Vucevic looked liked his old self as he outplayed his predecessor, Dwight Howard, with 16 points and 14 rebounds. “Vooch” was able to play the pick and pop game he’s been so successful at during his time in a Magic uniform with Payton.

The spacing didn’t just help in the half court. Orlando played at a faster pace in the open court off Hawk misses and turnovers, scoring 27 fast break points. The youth movement was in full display against a quality opponent that has a lot to play for, and coming off a tough loss to the Miami Heat in south Florida the night before.

For one night, GM Hennigan looked like he may have solved the riddle that’s been holding this team back all season. Question now is, is it too late for a playoff push with 22 games remaining and 7 games back of the eight seed?

Probably so, but what this team needs is to build momentum going into the offseason. A strong finish will go a long way in setting the tone for the 2017-18 season.

The Magic have three days off to get some practice time before they host the New York Knicks Wednesday night at the Amway Center.

Small Forward is the New Center-piece Position 

Kevin Durant & LeBron James have revolutionized the game from the small forward position. Photo Credit: NBA/Getty Images

In the NFL the saying goes, “If you don’t have an elite QB, you won’t be an elite team.” Which basically means you can forget about winning the Super Bowl. In the NBA, many have compared the point guard position to the single caller on the gridiron and used that as an indicator of a team’s chance at success.

Right now the NBA is the golden age of point guards. Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, James Harden, Dame Lillard, Tony Parker and John Wall to name a few.

While many may say if you don’t have an elite PG you don’t have a chance at winning a title, I can argue that if you don’t have an elite small forward, you can give up any chance of holding Larry O’Brien.

To me, top elite small forwards have become as scarce as elite centers in the days of Kareem, Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, up to Shaq. In the 1980s and 90s, general managers built their teams around the big man.

In this age of position-less basketball, we are actually moving into the era of the multi-skilled small forward and GMs will do whatever it takes to acquire one. The mantra of “its a guard league”, is soon to end.

First-time NBA All-Star The Greek Freak’s potential is as wide as his wingspan. Photo Credit: NBA/Getty Images

Look at these names; LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kwahi Leonard, Paul George and Jimmy Butler. Then there are those coming up in Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Andrew Wiggins, and Giannis Antetokoumnpo. These hybrids have point guard playmaking skills, as well as the elite scoring ability on the perimeter and in the post are hard to come by.

The last five NBA Finals MVP’s have been LeBron James (2012, 2013, 2016), Kawhi Leonard (2014) and Andre Iguodala (2015). All three are multiple time all-stars, who are versatile on both the offense and defense ends of the court.

If that doesn’t wet your beak, check out these numbers from the 2016-17 John Hollinger’s NBA Player Stats. Yes it’s analytics that so many old school players and fans hate.

At the time of this post (2/17/17), two of the top five players and 5 of the 12 in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) are small forwards, the most of any position.

  • #2 Kawhi Leonard 28.23
  • #5 Kevin Durant 27.62
  • #8 Giannis Antetokoumnpo 26.71

Just barely outside the top ten at #11 and #12, LeBron James at 26.34 and Jimmy Butler 25.51, respectively.

Four of the previous mentioned are also in the top ten in Estimated Wins Added (EWA) which measures the estimated number of wins a player adds to its teams season total above what a “replacement player” would produce.

  • #3 Kevin Durant, 16.3
  • #4 Giannis Antetokoumnpo, 15.4
  • #4 LeBron James, 15.4
  • #7 Kawhi Leonard, 15.1

Just outside the top 10 in the number 11 spot is Jimmy Butler at 13.6

The Chicago Bulls are down right now, but their climb back will be headed by Jimmy Butler. Photo Credit: NBA/Getty Images

Take a look at ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus. Once again five of the top ten are small forwards, if you count Draymond Green, who at 6’7″ is more of a small forward with his swiss-arm knife playmaking ability even though he’s listed as Golden State’s power forward. That playmaking was on full display on February 10th when Green became the first player in NBA history to record a triple-double without double-digit points (12 rebounds, 10 assists, 10 steals, 4 points).

  • #2 Draymond Green, 6.90
  • #3 Jimmy Butler, 6.41
  • #5 Kevin Durant, 6.21
  • #7 LeBron James, 6.00
  • #9 Kawhi Leonard, 5.89

Also on ESPN’s real-plus minus, in the wins categories these small forwards hold 6 of the top 12 spots.

  • #2 Kevin Durant, 11.52
  • #5 Draymond Green, 11.38
  • #7 LeBron James, 10.94
  • #8 Jimmy Butler, 10.83
  • #10 Kawhi Leonard, 9.29
  • #12 Giannis Antetokounmpo, 9.14

These five guys make up half 2017 All-Star starters. It’s no wonder their teams have three of the best overall records in the NBA.

In the coming seasons, you’ll start to see the teams who are talented in every area but the 3-spot not being able to stay with the teams who are blessed to have a future Hall of Famer, perennial All-Star or future superstar in tow.

Take the Los Angeles Clippers for example. While the Clippers have their own all-star big three of Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, their glaring hole at the 3-spot has been their downfall in the past three or four seasons. They’ve tried Matt Barnes, Caron Butler, Wesley Johnson, Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson and Jeff Green. With the exception of Barnes and Butler, all those acquisitions flamed out.

It’s why the Golden State Warriors passed them up when they acquired Iguodala and the emergence of Green, who as I mentioned early is effectively their other playmaking small forward, especially in crunch time.

As the Association continues to trend toward making post play obsolete, big men will have to improve their perimeter skills to keep up and stay on the court. That means more players coming into the draft with the body types of Antetokoumnpo, Durant, James and throw Kristaps Porzingis into that mix as well, that will also attempt to emulate their those guys style of play.

Like the old days when teams built around rare dominant 7-foot big men who patrolled the paint, teams will now scourer for the next great versatile, athletic, Swiss Army knife wingman to build their championship dreams. The present and future is in the three spot, no matter how littered the Association is with all-star PG’s.

NBA Should Drop the Age Limit, Send Prep Prospects to The D-League

It's time for the NBA to make the D-League a more useful farm system.

It’s time for the NBA to make the D-League a more useful farm system.

2016 number one overall NBA draft pick Ben Simmons said in his Showtime documentary One & Done, “I’m here to play…. I’m not here to go to school” when speaking about his one year in Baton Rouge at LSU.

That sentiment is one that many Division I freshman college basketball players from Lexington Kentucky, to Durham North Carolina, all the way to Los Angeles California share. Simmons went on to say “he felt like he was wasting his time.” It was clear to anyone with any basketball knowledge that he was going forego his college illegibility to enter the NBA draft immediately following his freshman season, seeing how he was projected to be the number one overall pick back when he was playing prep ball at Montverde Academy in Florida.

He is the first one and done player to openly defy the rule implemented in the collective bargaining agreement in 2005.

The NBA age limit, where a player must be one year removed from graduating high school or 19 years old before being allowed to enter the NBA draft, has been under attack since its inception.  It’s a joke, and needs to be abolished. It clearly isn’t good for the players, Association or college basketball.

My suggestion to fix all three, the NBA should let high school seniors enter the draft, but the teams that draft them have to send them to their D-League affiliate. But if prospects do go to college, they should have to stay for at least two years.

Commissioner Adam Silver and the 30 NBA owners have recently showed they’re serious about making their Minor League a more valuable asset. On Valentine’s Day, the NBA and Gatorade announced their multi-million dollar union with Gatorade.

The popular sports drink will now sponsor the league and rename it the G-League. Their logo will be on everything from the jerseys, the court and to the game ball. That should boost some revenue for teams to use to sign players.

Some D-League salaries will double thanks to the new NBA collective bargaining agreement. Two players per team will make $50,000 to $75,000. The rest of the players in the minor league get paid between $19,500 and $26,000. Hopefully with the influx of money coming from the new sponsor, salaries will raise even more, making playing in the G-League more attractive to young prospects who usually bolt overseas for higher pay checks, and create a more competitive environment for players to get accustomed to the professional game.

But those are just the start of the benefits for the players, NBA, D-League, and even NCAA basketball. Here’s how sending top draft picks to the developmental league will benefit all parties involved.

  • Helps grow interest in the minor League system, better marketing of players, attendance boost and media coverage would sky rocket.

Sending top prospects to the D-League increases the visibility of the minor league. Now that each NBA franchise is making moves towards owning their own minor league franchise, currently 25 teams are single affiliated, this would give them the opportunity to market their “junior varsity” squad by getting fans in those mini-markets to support the future stars of tomorrow.

Fans currently aren’t attending or watching development league games because they don’t like basketball, they aren’t paying attention because they don’t want to invest their time and money-watching players they suspect they’ll never hear from or see again in two to three years.

If the NBA used their D-League teams like Major League Baseball teams use their farm system, fans would go watch. You can’t tell me that if Ben Simmons was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers straight out of high school and had to play a year for the Delaware 87ers, that fans wouldn’t pack the Bob Carpenter Center on the campus of the University of Delaware nightly to watch him play. Ben Simmons merchandise would be flying off the shelves upon his arrival as well.

This would also help with television deals. Currently NBA TV and ESPN air a couple D-League games a week on tape delay. Much like the NBA was back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. But only hardcore hoop fans – this author raises his hand – and scouts watch those games. I believe it would be as popular as the broadcast of NBA Summer Leagues have become in the last five years or so. Those games have to be drawing good enough ratings since they keep airing them each off-season. The D-League broadcasts would be more meaningful with many of the same players.

  • Better in helping players adjusting to the pro style on and off the court, and create an opportunity to better educate players on the importance of finances.

On the court players would immediately learn the rules of the pro game, which are drastically different from the college game. Prospects will also benefit from learning on the job in the system of their pro team. Development of top talent will likely be expedited since they’ll be taught by the best of the best.

Look at how effective the San Antonio Spurs use the Austin Toro’s to implement their sets and strategies. Greg Popovich and his staff have perfectly used to system to groom Jonathan Simmons, Danny Green and Kyle Anderson before getting their chance to make a championship impact on the big stage in San Antonio.

Off the court, the league can provide players with financial literacy courses and seminars to help them learn things like how to balance a checkbook, pay utility bills, and how to properly invest the millions of dollars they’ll eventually be earning. That may sound silly to some, but remember, we are talking about teenagers and early twenty-something’s. It also would be beneficial to help them learn the other perils of being a professional athlete like celebrity, drugs and alcohol.

Former players who have successfully navigated their careers and retired in great shape could construct the curriculum. You could also invite some who have failed to share their tales of mistakes not to make. The rookie symposium attempts to do this, but if we’re being honest, doing this type of stuff for a week in the summer isn’t going to really help. If you were able to make this a program they could go through over the course of their first season of professional ball, it would likely have more benefit.

  • College game improves because players will make the conscious decision to commit to being student-athletes.

There’s a lot that needs to be fixed in the college game that has nothing to do with players leaving early for the pro ranks. But one of the reasons fans don’t invest in the “amateur” game is because teams don’t stay together long enough to build on school tradition.

Before, players saw college basketball as a means to an end; they took pride in playing for their school and having success on the college level.

If prospects are allowed to enter the NBA via the D-league immediately after graduating high school, the players that do decide to attend college will be more likely to care about building something at their institution instead of having one eye on getting to the next level.

College coaches will be able to better recruit “their players” and put the best teams together because they’ll know the players they have WANT to be there, not FORCED to be there for one season. You could even make the age limit where if you choose college you’re choosing to be there at least three years like NCAA football.

I’m a die-hard basketball fan of all levels. I’d like to see all succeed. Something has to be done with this age limit because it’s hurting everyone. Even those collecting million dollar pay days.

 

City Game: Orlando (Central Florida)

Sunshine, theme parks, beaches and great shopping aren’t the only thing Orlando has to offer. There’s a thriving hoop scene here as well. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

When you mention Orlando Florida, most people’s first thoughts go to Disney World, Universal Studios, orange groves, tropical weather with hurricanes and pop-up showers, nearby sandy beaches, great restaurants and shopping.

Sports wise, you think mostly football or spring training baseball. But in the past two and half decades, roundball has also become synonymous with central Florida. Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter are no longer the biggest attractions from the area.

NBA LIVE: 

The Association has been apart of the “City Beautiful” community since 1989. As mentioned in the ESPN 30 for 30 “This Magic Moment,” it was thought to be a terrible idea to place an expansion franchise in Orlando, and Miami as well, because football was king in the “Sunshine State.” Boy were they wrong. The NBA has flourished in central Florida, even through the lean years the Magic franchise had in the beginning and in recent seasons.

It only took three seasons for Magic basketball to receive the National and World spotlights. In February of 1992, former commissioner David Stern smartly brought the All-Star weekend to Orlando, as he did with the other expansion franchises (Miami Heat in 1990, Charlotte Hornets in 1991) in previous years. That weekend would ironically become a celebration of Magic, as in Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who was playing in the game despite having retired before the season began due to finding out he had contracted the HIV virus.

In the spring of that same year the Magic won possibly the biggest draft lottery in league history, giving them the right to select the highly coveted Shaquille O’Neal with the first overall pick. The franchise and central Florida community would never be the same.

Shaq put the world spotlight on Orlando basketball. Photo Credit: NBA

Shaq put the world spotlight on Orlando basketball. Photo Credit: NBA

Shaq “Diesel” turned the small market city into more than a tourist destination. Die hard and casual sports fans all over world wanted to witness the 7 foot 1 dominating center with the millionwatt smile, exuberant charm and boyish personality. Orlando Magic jersey’s with the number 32 were worn from central Florida to the Far East of the globe.

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Penny with Shaq was the new Magic & Kareem. Photo Credit: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Shaq would lead the Magic to a .500 record (41-41), but they missed the playoffs by one game. It was a blessing in disguise as they won the 1993 draft lottery, a move that allowed them to draft the top prospect in that class, Michigan’s Chris Webber, who they immediately traded for the rights to Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway creating a dynamic duo with O’Neal that would only bring more wins and eye balls to the 407. To use Shaq’s words, they were “Shaq and Kobe before Shaq and Kobe.”

With Shaq and Penny at the forefront, the Magic became the NBA’s hot ticket and were showcased on national television a plenty. From 1993-1996, the Magic won 67.8% (167-79) of their games, two division titles, and the Eastern Conference title in 1995.

The Magic would fade away for a while when Shaq headed West to the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent, and Penny was traded to the Phoenix Suns after growing frustrated with injuries, coaches and losing. The rest of that dynamic team was broken up via trades and retirement.

There was a revival of sorts in the early 2000’s when Tracy McGrady, a native of nearby by Auburndale in Polk County, joined perennial All-Star Grant Hill as free agent’s in the Magic’s Kingdom. While the franchise made it to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons (2001-2003), they would never be able to duplicate the success of the original Orlando dynamic duo due to Hill’s chronic and nearly fatal injuries.

Dwight Howard revived the Magic in Orlando. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Winslow Townson

Dwight Howard revived the Magic in Orlando. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Winslow Townson

In 2004, Orlando would once again win the draft lottery and select Dwight Howard, the number one high school prospect in the country, first overall, but they also traded away McGrady to the Houston Rockets in an attempt to remake the squad around Dwight.

Howard would grow into being the big man Magic fans lost when Shaq bolted for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Howard reignited the national and global spotlight that had been dimmed in the days post Shaq and Penny. D-12 became an All-NBA performer, a leading vote getter in the All-Star game, while also winning the 2008 Slam Dunk contest and earning three Defensive POY awards. His individual success also led to major team success as he, Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, and Rashard Lewis under Stan Van Gundy’s leadership won three Southeast division titles from 2007-2011, and the Eastern Conference title in 2009.

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The six-year old Amway Center is the centerpiece of Orlando. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

The success even led to the building of the Amway Center (est. 2010), a state-of-the-art facility that is second to none in any league.

But history repeated itself as Howard, like Shaq, ended up with the Lakers after forcing his way out of the 407 via trade after a couple of disgruntled seasons.

So here the franchise is five years later, still in rebuilding mode like they were when Shaq left in ’96. But this time is different. The Magic are in the midst of the worse five-year period in team history.

BMOC (Big men on Campus):

Central Florida University, better known as UCF, is the main institution of higher learning in the area. In the last decade and a half they have produced several productive NFL players like wide receiver Brandon Marshall, cornerback Asante Samuel and quarterback Daunte Culpepper who were all All-Pro’s at some point in their careers. The UCF Knights hoops squad can’t say the same. It doesn’t have an extensive tradition as a team, but they’ve had a few notables come through the program.

The CFE Arena on the campus of UCF is only 10 years old and has a raucous atmosphere. Photo Credit: UCFKnights.com

The CFE Arena on the campus of UCF is only ten years old and has a raucous atmosphere. Photo Credit: UCFKnights.com

Marcus Jordan, the son of Michael Jordan, is the most recent big name that signed to play for the Knights (2009-2012), his older brother Jeffrey transferred from Illinois to play with him. Marcus made the Conference USA All-Freshman team in 2009 and Second-Team All-Conference in 2011. If it weren’t for Marcus and the controversy surrounding him wearing Air Jordan’s instead of Adidas, who had a sponsorship deal with the school, they’d probably wouldn’t have the lucrative deal they now have with Nike after Adidas decided to drop the athletic program.

Four players from the university have played in the NBA.  Joey and Stephen Graham, Jermaine Taylor in the 2000s, Mark Jones and Stan Kimbrough in the early 1990s.

The biggest name in the program right now is new head coach Johnny Dawkins. Dawkins learned at the feet of Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski as an assistant and associate head coach for ten seasons after his 9-seasons playing in the Association.

Even though the University of Florida is one hour and forty-one minutes (110.7 miles) away in Gainesville, the Gators are the favored program in central Florida as it is home to a huge group of Gator Alumns. It’s also a major pipeline for top talent. Several local high school prep stars have made their way north on the Florida Turnpike to I-75 to play at the O’Connell Center for legendary coach Billy Donovan, like Chandler Parsons and Nick Calathes.

Donovan successfully turned a dominant football school into a basketball powerhouse as well. From 1996-2015 he led them to two National Championships (2006,2007), four Final Four appearances (2000, 2006, 2007, 2014), eight Elite 8 appearances, eight Sweet 16 births, four SEC Tournament Championships (2005, 2006, 2007, 2014) and six SEC regular season Championships (2000, 2001, 2007, 2011, 2013, 2014).

Currently nine players are on NBA rosters that played for Donovan, including Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah who in the 2007 draft became the first trio from one school to be drafted in the first ten picks.

PREP GAME:

Nestled 23 miles west of Orlando in the shadows of downtown is the most prominent prep school program in America. Montverde Academy won three consecutive National Championships (2012-2015) and has produced three top two NBA draft picks in three of the last four NBA Drafts (Ben Simmons, D’Angelo Russell & Joel Embiid). Head Coach Kevin Boyle also coached St. Patrick’s High in New Jersey where he coached Kyrie Irving and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to name a few.

Equally as dominant, but on the state level in recent years, is Winter Park High School. The Wildcats have won three State titles since 2010. L.A. Clippers guard Austin Rivers led the school to back to back titles in 2010 & 2011 while winning Naismith Prep Player of the Year (2011). His younger brother Spencer was a key member of the team that won the title in 2014.

Dr. Phillips High Lady Panthers have won three FHSAA Championships in this decade (2011, 2012, 2013). The Boys’ team has produced several standouts. Most notably former NBA forward Damien Wilkins and guard Shane Larkin.

A couple of other schools in the area have had success producing top talent as well. Amare Stoudermire graduated from Cyprus Creek High in 2002 and jumped from there to the NBA where he won Rookie of the Year and was selected to six All-Star games in his 15-year career.

2004 McDonald’s All-American Darius Washington Junior graduated from Edgewater High and made the San Antonio Spurs in 2007 before having a successful career overseas. Another former Edgewater Eagle, Marquis Daniels played 10 seasons in the NBA, most notably with the Dallas Mavericks where he was selected to the 2004 All-NBA Rookie 2nd team.

Evans High School produced Darryl Dawkins and Chucky Atkins. Atkins played eleven seasons in the NBA for nine teams. Dawkins is one of the first players to go from high school to the NBA back in 1975. “Chocolate Thunder” was known for his colorful, playful attitude and ferocious dunks. He played in three NBA Finals.

Current Memphis Grizzles Vince Carter (Daytona Mainland High) and Chandler Parsons (Lake Howell) also call the Orlando area home.

On the AAU level, Orlando’s “Each 1 Teach 1″ squad has become one of the premier program’s in the country in recent years. Some of their well known alumns are Amare Stoudemire, Ben Simmons, D’Angelo Russell, Austin Rivers, Brandon Knight, NCAA Champion Allan Grayson (Duke), Daniel Giddens (Ohio State, 2015-2016), Antonio Blakeney (LSU), and 7’5” Tacko Fall (UCF)

RUNS:

Orlando isn’t a big city, but it’s the sum of its parts in the neighboring towns and cities that provide top quality runs. it’s too hot to hoop on concrete, and with the tropical storm season’s pop-up showers, it’s hard to get a full game in without an interruption from Mother Nature. So most runs will likely be indoors.

Despite this amazing scene which exemplifies why Orlando is called the “City Beautiful”, it’s hard to play ball outside with the hot, humid temperatures and pop-up showers. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

The hot spot within the city limits of Orlando is the Downtown Rec Center which was the practice facility for the Magic from 1989-1998. The court still host the Orlando Pro-Am in the summer complete with Magic logos and official NBA three point line. This is where many of you have seen the YouTube highlights of 41-year old Jason “White Chocolate” Williams still busting ankles and serving up dimes. Also centrally located in the city is Barnett Park/Gym. It fits your needs whether you want to go inside or outside.

The Oviedo Rec Center in East Orlando about 8 miles from the UCF’s campus also boast one of the most competitive men’s leagues in the area with rosters that have overseas pros and current college players, most of whom also get it in at open gyms.

North of Orlando in Sanford at the Boys and Girls club you’ll run into more current and former college players working on their games.

But if you must get some run outside and who could blame you, if you come to Florida looking to spend more time in the sun, you can stick around Sanford and hoop on one of the two courts at Fort Mellon Park. The lights stay on fairly late, so you can also cool off and gets some run when the sun goes down. In nearby Casselberry/Winter Park, where Chandler Parsons is from, you can head to Red Bug Lake Park. Here you’ll find several of the top high school players from the area. Also in the Baldwin Park Neighborhood in Winter Park, you can hit up Blue Jacket Park.

HOW WE DO:

Inside the six-year old Amway Center’s Orlando Basketball Hall of Fame. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

Speed, speed, speed. Most of the ballers in the area are dual sport athletes, and that other sport is most likely football. So these cats like to push the tempo at every opportunity. You have former defensive backs playing the guard spots using their ball hawking instincts from their secondary days to lock you up on D and their top line speed to beat you to the cup when they’re on O. The wings are built like linebackers and tall wide receivers running the lane, and center spots are manned by lineman-sized cats who want to bang in the post like it’s fourth and one even if they’re not your traditional 6’7″-6’10” bigs.

Bring your water, Gatorade or whatever your drink of choice is to replenish, because hoop games turn into track meets in the blink of an eye.

The Orlando Magic are still the main attraction in town despite a lack of success on the court. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

Magic Need a Trade, Immediately

Magic fans across central Florida just let out a collective “Duh!” when they read that headline. The team is 18-29 and 5 games out of the 8th seed coming into Friday night’s game against the Boston Celtics. At this point in the season they are in the 13th seed of the Eastern Conference. If that stands, it would be the 5th consecutive season they were disqualified from postseason play. So yeah, they need to make a move.

But ask those same fans what players can they get or, who are the players they’re willing to give up, and all at once they go silent and give a befuddled look.

Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan needs to make a move so quick and impactful or like former Philadelphia 76ers GM and President of Basketball Operations Sam Hinkie, he won’t be around to see his rebuilding process unfold either.

But he also can’t make a trade just to make a trade. When it comes to making moves in the NBA, getting what you want is harder then a teenager getting their parents to buy them the latest pair of $200 sneakers.

But before I go into who Hennigan and head coach Frank Vogel should target, first we must look at what they need and be realistic about who Orlando will have to say goodbye to.

The Magic needs scoring, particularly outside shooting. They are 24th in the Association in field goal percentage (44.1%) and 28th in 3-point shooting (33.4%). Orlando is 26th overall in points per game (99.7). So the players they should target should know a thing or two or three about how to put the ball in the basket.

So who should they be willing to part ways with?

Aaron Gordon. Is the 6’9″ super athletic wing a small forward or power forward? That’s the riddle Coach Vogel and former head coach Scott Skiles have yet to solve when it comes to the third-year pro. But Orlando can no longer waste time trying to figure it out. His display in the Slam Dunk contest at last season’s All-Star Weekend made him a fan favorite, but highlights don’t win games. Moving him would also unclog that long jam they have at the 3-spot.

Nikola Vucevic. “Vooch” is a very talented offensive center, but he’s yet to become a consistent go-to-guy in crunch-time over his five seasons in the 407. Defensively he leaves plenty to be desired as he’ll never be confused as a rim protector. It really is the weakest part of his game, which is why interior defense has been an issue since Dwight Howard left nearly five years ago. Have we seen Vooch’s ceiling? If it is, it’s not enough to get them into the playoffs and beyond in years to come.

Bismack Biyombo. As I just mentioned, this team had a huge whole in the middle defensively, that’s why they traded for Serge Ibaka and signed Biyombo to a huge deal in free agency last summer. So far it hasn’t panned out and offensively he clogs things up for Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier and other guards when they try to slash. It’s better to cut loses now and admit it was a bad fit before going on too long and hand cuffing him to your roster.

Those are the names that will have the most value at the trade deadline. Another name you’ll likely hear thrown out is Mario Hezonja, the 5th overall pick in the 2015 draft. Hezonja has only played in 34 of 47 games this season and his minutes played have dropped from 17.9 per game to 9.5 per game. He hasn’t yet become a proven commodity that GMs around the league would seek. Although, entering the draft his stock rose quickly. So maybe some of them will remember that and be wiling to take a chance on a project.

The Magic’s goal for this season was to make the playoffs. If that’s going to happen they’ll need to target a player that’s either an All-Star or borderline All-Star on a team that is on the verge of just barely missing the playoffs.

With all that being said, here are some realistic options Hennigan should be throwing all the marbles in hopes to acquire.

DeMarcus Cousins, Center, Sacramento Kings. He’s unhappy in Sacramento and both the Kings and he could benefit from a fresh start. A deal for the surly big man would likely need to include Vucevic. It would also likely involve losing Gordon who is from the Northern California area. Cousins is worth it. He’s a dominant low post presence averaging 28 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, which fits into the style Frank Vogel wants to play. He also has expanded his game to the three-point line, connecting on 36.5%. Pairing him up with Serge Ibaka, who is a more of a perimeter big, would give the Magic the physical presence they want on both ends of the court.

CJ McCollum, Guard, Portland Trailblazers. He and Damian Lillard are a good one-two punch and are the second best backcourt to “The Splash Brothers” in Golden State. But with both of them at 6’3″ there are some defensive deficiencies with them in the lineup together. The Trailblazers overachieved last season when they made the second round of the playoffs after losing four guys from their starting lineup the previous season to free agency. They need interior offensive and defensive help and could benefit from taking Biyombo, Vucevic and a draft pick for McCollum. McCollum can create his own offensive, which the Magic desperately needs. He’s averaging 23.5 points per game and is an efficient shooter making 48% of his field goals and 42.1% of his three’s.

Danilo Gallinari, Forward, Denver Nuggets. He’s a stretch four with great range on his jumper, and can create off the dribble and consistently get buckets on the block as well. In the two games versus Orlando this season he showed his value going for 21 points on 5-8 shooting, 2-3 from 3 and grabbing 6 rebounds in Denver’s 121-113 win in the Amway Center on December 10th, and 15 points on 5-11 shooting and 6 rebounds in the 125-112 win over the Magic in Denver on January 16th. He’s averaging 16.8 points per game on 43% shooting from the two and 39% from three. The Nuggets have plenty of young talent on the wings so they should be impressed by an offer of Vucevic or Biyombo, but a deal involving Gordon and Hezonja could be also be very tantalizing to pair with Emanuel Mudiay, Kenneth Faried and emerging big man Nikola Jokic.

Paul George, Forward, Indiana Pacers. This is my long shot, my EXTREMELY LOOOOOOOOONG SHOT. George is a perennial All-Star and Gold Medalist with team USA. The Pacers are underachieving right now at 22-22 and their pieces don’t seem to fit. PG-13 is also getting very frustrated with the decline this franchise is on since competing against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals a few seasons ago. He’s very familiar with coach Vogel and a reunion would do wonders for both player and franchise. The Pacers can benefit from completely moving on to their rebuild.

For the last half decade Magic management has collected assets in young talented players, but not franchise changing players. It’s time to flip those for one. Change is necessary. Not just for the Magic, but also for these guys I mentioned. Getting one of them will help better shape Orlando’s roster and not only get them into the playoffs this season, but also expedite this rebuilding process that has left Magic fans desperate for wins.

A Successful Pro Bowl Increases Orlando’s Case as a Major Sports City

Orlando is ready to make its mark as a true major sports city. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

The 67th NFL Pro Bowl takes place this Sunday in Orlando. It’s only the third time in 38 years it’s been held away from its mainstay location of Honolulu, Hawaii. Next season it will be in the “City Beautiful” as well, and there’s an option for 2019. What an opportunity for Orlando and Orange County leaders to show the sports world that we are a major league sports city. Not just a family-friendly tourist destination.

The NFL is the king of pro sports in America. Whatever they decide to do, you can bet the commissioners of the other major sports are taking notes. That’s why a very successful week of hosting the Pro Bowl and its events, official and unofficial — ahem, parties at nightclubs — will go a long way in enticing other major sporting events to make their way to central Florida.

Let me say this first, I know the Pro Bowl is a meaningless game that leaves much to be desired from hardcore football fans. Many of the top players have either withdrawn or are playing in the Super Bowl. Even with that said, the game has sold out the 65,000 capacity stadium including standing room only. Score one point for Florida Citrus Sports and their CEO Steve Hogan for making people care to spend their hard earned money for this game.

The great thing about moving the Pro Bowl to central Florida is it gives true football fans a chance to come out and get up close and personal with their favorite gridiron stars. That wasn’t the case when the game was held in Hawaii. It’s much easier and less expensive for NFL fans to get to Orlando for the game and week, then it is to get to Honolulu. Sure players would rather have that trip to the 50th state, but it’s not like central Florida weather and beaches is anything to sneeze at this time of the year with highs in the mid-70’s. But also in this day in age where the players are more worried about their brands, I’m looking specifically at you Antonio Brown, Mister Facebook Live, it would benefit them to be in the continental U.S. where their fan base can get to them. Score another point for the 407.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs want to be considered for future Super Bowls, NCAA National Football and Basketball Championships. We have the state-of-the-art facilities to host those events.

The 80-year old Camping World Stadium, better known and still affectionally called the Citrus Bowl, just underwent a $207 million dollar renovation. No it’s not the billion dollar playpens in Dallas, Minnesota and Atlanta, but It is already the hosts of three college football bowl games annually. Last season it was the site of Florida State’s spring game and a regular season matchup against Ole Miss. In the coming seasons, Louisville, Alabama, Florida and Miami will play in the Camping World kickoff game here. Just last November, the ACC moved its conference championship game from Charlotte to Orlando due to the controversial North Carolina House Bill 2 law. It has hosted Wrestlemania’s and it will host another this April. It can host major events.

In the past seven years, a the $480 million dollar Amway Center was built and hosted the 2012 NBA All-Star game and first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The Orlando City Lions of the MLS opens its $155 million dollar soccer specific stadium this spring. 10 miles east of downtown on the campus of UCF, there’s the 10-year old 45,000+ capacity Bright House Stadium and 10,000+ seat CFE Arena.

City leaders have spent the money and made the efforts to make sure everything needed is in place for central Florida to prove it has more to offer than Disney World, Universal Orlando and other touristy attractions. Another point on the board for Orlando.

With the new soccer stadium, there can also be an opportunity to draw National team events.  Maphre Stadium in Columbus, Ohio is currently the adopted hometown for the Men’s team, but  Orlando could extend an invitation to become the home base for the U.S. Women’s National team who recently played in the Citrus Bowl in 2015. The city was successful when it was one of the host sites for the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

All that can be decided in the future. But for the present it’s important that the city and its leaders maximize these rare opportunities. Orlando is ready to explode onto the national and world sports scene. And a great working relationship with the NFL will be the key that unlocks several other doors.