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A League of Pair-ity

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One of the perks from Kawhi Leonard’s decision last weekend for the majority of NBA fans was that it led to a feeling of balance in the league. Where the average fan could have predicted one of the two NBA Finals teams, and often the champion, each of the last nine seasons… now the league appears to be wide open.

Without knowing what major free agency domino falls next, the top half of the NBA teams have more or less each found a pair of stars to construct their team around. Nine years after the creation of the Miami Heat Big 3, the league has returned to more parity through pairings.  And there’s something nice about a league full of even pairs, as opposed to some three or more headed monster resembling Harry Potter’s Fluffy looming in some corner of the league.

While the NBA game is far from just a 2-on-2 game, 2-on-2 has been played in gyms across the country for decades. It’s as simple as pick and roll, isolation and kick out, and “can you stay in front of that guy on defense?” There’s beauty in the simplicity of 2-on-2, much like the splendor of a league of pairs.

While it is older than some of the players in the NBA today, one of the hallmark depictions of 2-on-2 basketball was the NBA JAM video game of the 1990s. While the game adapted to include more players, the initial console and arcade style versions of NBA JAM were just 2-on-2.

Friends could pair up to be the L.A. Lakers vs the San Antonio Spurs, but had to be Shaq and Kobe vs. Tim Duncan and David Robinson. There were difficulties, however. For the Rockets side, you had to chose two players from Hakeem Olajuwon, Kenny Smith, Robert Horry, and Clyde Drexler. The Sonics had the same task with Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, and Detlef Schrempf. And the Warriors? How can someone choose two thirds of the famous RUN TMC trio?

While the NBA JAM franchise shifted and added more players to the court in 2001, it may be time for a comeback in 2019-20. The pairings would be much, much easier as free agency just ended.

Atlanta Hawks – Trae Young and John Collins

Boston Celtics – Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum

Brooklyn Nets – Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant (or DeAndre Jordan, until Durant is healthy)

Charlotte Hornets – Terry Rozier and Miles Bridges

Chicago Bulls –  Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen

Cleveland Cavaliers – Kevin Love and Collin Sexton

Dallas Mavericks – Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis

Denver Nuggets – Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray

Detroit Pistons – Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose

Golden State Warriors – Steph Curry and D’Angelo Russell (until Klay Thompson returns)

Houston Rockets – James Harden and Chris Paul

Indiana Pacers – Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner / Malcolm Brogdon

LA Clippers – Kawhi Leonard and Paul George

LA Lakers – LeBron James and Anthony Davis

Memphis Grizzlies – Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

Miami Heat – Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic

Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton / Eric Bledsoe

Minnesota Timberwolves – Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins

New Orleans Pelicans – Zion Williamson and Jrue Holiday

New York Knicks – RJ Barrett and Julius Randle

Oklahoma City Thunder – Russell Westbrook and Danilo Galinari

Orlando Magic – Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon

Philadelphia 76ers – Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons

Phoenix Suns – Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton

Portland Trailblazers – Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum

Sacramento Kings – De’Aarron Fox and Marvin Bagley

San Antonio Spurs – DeMarr DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge

Toronto Raptors – Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam

Utah Jazz – Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert

Washington Wizards – Bradley Beal and John Wall

Granted, some of the pairs are much better than others. It’s a league of more parity, not complete equality. But as going quickly through indicates, the league is full of dynamic pairs of talent. Some, like Atlanta, Phoenix, Dallas, or New Orleans, are young talent that project to a bright future. Some, like Houston, the Lakers, or the Spurs, may be nearing the end of their reach. Then there are pairings like the Clippers or 76ers, who have their sights set on an NBA title for the next several seasons.

Dominoes may still be falling in free agency, but right now, the NBA is full of pairs of fun players to watch as they come through town. Further, with the talent so spread out, the truth is that it really does seem that several pairs of stars can win a title in the near future.

There is no inevitability that LeBron James’ team is making one of its eight consecutive trips to the NBA Finals; there’s no predictable powerhouse in Oakland making its way through the west for a sixth consecutive year; and there’s a zero percent chance there’s a repeat Finals MVP and repeat NBA champion… ok so there is a chance they give the Finals MVP to Kawhi Leonard in a loss and the Raptors win it all, but the odds are near zero.

It’s been nearly a decade since we’ve had this much uncertainty in the NBA, and another decade since we’ve cared this much about pairs of players… but perhaps it is as good a time as any for NBA JAM to come back.

Basketball

Chris Paul May Start Year in OKC With No Trade Imminent

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When Chris Paul become a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder in a trade for Russell Westbrook last week, it was assumed that it would only be a pit stop for Paul.

As soon as the deal was done, reports were that Paul was already being shopped by Thunder GM Sam Presti, as he tried to shed payroll in preparation for a rebuild.

Unfortunately this is the worst time to try to move a significant contract, as it is near the end of the free agency and other teams have very little financial flexibility. Because of his limited market, it looks like Paul may stay in OKC for the near future.

The only team that seemed to have interest in Paul was the Miami Heat, as they look to pair a second star alongside their newest addition, Jimmy Butler.

Paul had mutual interest in playing for Miami, where his good friend Dwyane Wade called home for all those years.

Trade talks stalled though when Miami asked for their two first round picks back from the Thunder, which they acquired as part of the deal that sent Paul George to the Clippers.

Because of the Stepien Rule, which states that team’s can’t trade their first-round picks in consecutive years, the Heat can’t trade another first-rounder until 2024 at the earliest.

The Thunder own Miami’s 2021 and 2023 first-round picks, the latter of which is heavily protected. Because of those protections, the Heat also won’t be able to move another pick until that one is used by the Thunder.

So the motivation to get those picks back is obvious for Miami, as they are staring at the possibility of not being able to trade another first-round pick until 2026 when that pick becomes unprotected.

For the Thunder, trading two first-round picks would be tough to swallow as they got two first-rounders along with Paul, so in some regards using picks to get off that contract equates to them trading Westbrook for nothing.

If Paul does in fact start the season with the Thunder, you have to wonder how bad they will really be. Last year, the Thunder went 49-33 and made the playoffs.

While they lost Westbrook and Paul George, they have added Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander giving them a surprisingly solid roster to compete in the Western Conference.

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Basketball

Enes Kanter Already Becoming a Fan-Favorite in Boston After Taking Shot at Kyrie

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The Boston Celtics announced their newest two members in a press conference today, as Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter were introduced to the media.

Walker may be the headliner, but Kanter is the type of player that offers the media great headlines, as he has always spoken his mind and is a great quote.

Well, Kanter got the whole room laughing at the press conference when he was asked why he chose to wear the No. 11.

When Kanter says that, “He wants to be the last guy to wear it,” he is referring to a quote from Kyrie Irving when he was introduced to the media a few short years ago.

At the time, Irving was still loyal to Boston and was at least articulating the notion that he would be so good that his number would one day be hanging in the rafters.

Now Kanter is wearing the No. 11 for the Celtics, while Irving is hoping to get his number up in the rafters of the Barclays Center for the Brooklyn Nets.

With Kanter’s sense of humor and hard-nosed intensity on the floor, is is sure to become a fan-favorite in Boston. If he isn’t one already.

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Basketball

Klutch Sports’ to Become Part of United Talent Agency’s Sports Division

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Klutch Sports is the sports agency run by LeBron James’ close friend and agent Rich Paul. Klutch represents many of the best basketball players in the NBA, namely LeBron’s newest teammate Antony Davis.

Paul has been building out an impressive client list ever since leaving CAA to form his own agency back in 2012. Now his work is paying off in a big way, as Klutch is set to become part of one of the biggest talent agencies in the world.

United Talent Agency is a major player in Hollywood, representing big-name movie stars such as Kevin Hart and Angelina Jolie.

Up to this point, United Talent did not have their own sports division, so they are essentially making Klutch that division. As part of the deal, Paul will still operate Klutch under that name, but will also be the head of UTA sports.

For years the narrative around Klutch is that it was a somewhat puppet agency for LeBron, where the NBA superstar could represent his friends and wield massive power in the league, with Paul just being the face.

While it is clear that Klutch’s motives align with LeBron’s at times, such as when Davis forced his way to the Lakers, this deal is more about Paul than it is about LeBron.

One of the biggest talent agencies in the world is looking at Paul and saying they want him to be the face and voice of their sports division. Having LeBron as a client surely helps that image, but it is still one that Paul has earned on his own.

Three years ago, Phil Jackson came under fire when he referred to LeBron James’ close friends and business associates as his posse.

James argued in behalf of his friend and all the hard work they have done to become the best at what they do in their respective fields.

As we see the massive success of Paul as an agent and Maverick Carter as a producer, it is about time we give these men the credit for the success that they have earned, rather than just giving all of that to LeBron.

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