10 Breakout Players Entering ‘The Silver Era’

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It’s the NBA on Christmas, everyone!

What a disaster…at least until the nightcap.

No D-Rose, no Brook, no Melo, no Kobe. Just a bunch of old stars on their way out (Garnett, Pierce, Amar’e etc.), and a few Ryan Kelly sightings. Just before the Knicks and Thunder squared off at the Garden, it was announced that Melo was out. The commentator then quickly attempted to regain interest from his recently dejected Christmas audience by using the cliche, “…but a wounded animal can be dangerous!” In this case, the wounded animal looked, well, wounded – like Amar’e after this (below).

Also notable – the unpopular Chris Smith logged his first minute for the Knicks in this game. That’s how bad it was.

Shifting Gears…

Looking back to the beginning of this season, there’s been tanking, over-performing bad teams, many knee injuries, and the laughing-stock that is ‘Coach’ Kidd. Also, since when are the Pacers and Blazers the best teams in the NBA in the same season? Certainly not under the tyrannical rule of Darth ‘BIG MARKET’ Stern!

The league is transitioning. On February 1st 2014, the NBA will officially enter ‘The Silver Era,’ an era led by current NBA Deputy Commissioner, Adam Silver.

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But who really is Adam Silver?

Well, for starters he’s the tall, thin, man who announces the second-round draft picks on draft night.

He’s also a man who has not released his actual birth date on Wikipedia, making me inherently skeptical of his legitimacy. How can we trust that he is a true US citizen? How can we allow a man, who doesn’t even release his birth certificate to the public, to run an organization that is so very essential to our lives, like the NBA? I demand your papers, Silver, and I demand them now! 

Speaking of demands, my only real demand for Silver is to bring high-schooler eligibility back to the NBA draft. Remember how much fun that was?

How can you possibly recreate the adrenaline rush of not knowing whether your favorite team just landed Kevin Garnett or Kwame Brown / Kobe Bryant or Jonathan Bender? You simply can’t! There’s simply no more exciting way to spend a sticky Thursday night in late-June! By the way, the rest of the ‘High-Schoolers Who Took Their Talents Straight to the NBA‘ list is pretty damn good. Re-open the flood gates to the Ndudi Ebis and Robert Swifts of the world!

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I also heard a rumor from an unnamed inside source about a long-term goal to add NBA expansion cities where Mexico City was in consideration. Though after the recent escalator fire/smoke debacle, which postponed the Spurs-T’Wolves game a few weeks ago, Mexico City probably just lost a few votes. Just put a team back in Seattle, Adam.

Silver’s most legitimate initiatives are his interests in getting rid of divisions, and abolishing the lottery. Oh, the horror! Grantland wrote a very thorough article about abolishing the lottery so I won’t take the time to tackle that issue.

Regarding the divisions; this is what the Eastern Conference standings looked like last week…a goddamn bloodbath.

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You may notice that the Celtics should have been the 8-seed given their .417 winning percentage, but were seeded fourth (you may also notice that 12 of the 15 Eastern Conference teams were under .500 at this point). However, if the Atlantic Division continues to under perform like a (insert old guy without Viagra/Cialis joke), which they most likely will, this will be a disastrous situation.

Mark Cuban said it best in his quote in USA Today:

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“What’s happened now is the law of unintended consequences… Because there’s so many underperforming teams in the East, and they have to play each four times, poor teams are going to make the playoffs with better records than they expected to have and good teams in the West aren’t going to make the playoffs and you’re going to have good teams getting better players and this being a good draft… Teams that tried to underperform to get the better players are going to make the playoffs and not be in the lottery. There’ll be a new set of incentives to come out of all of this.”

Basically, weak divisions can lead to decent teams in the West who don’t make the playoffs, getting better draft picks than bad teams in the East, who do make the playoffs. In a draft that’s this stacked with talent, that ain’t fair.

Obviously, Cuban is partly looking out for himself. The Mavericks are a fringe playoff team that will either get knocked out in round 1 or have poor odds to get anything good in the lottery. For the purposes of this argument, let’s support Cuban’s intentions for being a man of the people.

Again, shifting gears…

To go along with this theme of transition, I’ve ranked the top-10 breakout players entering The Silver Era 

10. Arron Afflalo 21.9 ppg / 3.9 apg / 4.6 rpg / 19.80 per

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Afflalo is 18th in the NBA in estimated wins added (4.7), in front of James Harden, and has led the undersized and under-talented Orlando Magic to an overachieving, 8-20 start to the season. Yes, this is overachieving when your roster is constructed as poorly as Orlando’s.

Mo Harkless, Glen Davis, Andrew Nicholson, Jason Maxiell, Tobias Harris. Where’s the diversity (in skill-sets)?

Afflalo is averaging 21.9 points per game (10th in the league), and seems to have confidently assumed the leadership and scorer’s role for the young Magic.  Only time will tell if this is simply a case of ‘well, someone has to score the points,’ or if Afflalo can actually be considered an elite scorer in the NBA.

9. Andre Drummond 13.2 ppg / 12.5 rpg / 1.6 bpg / 22.45 per

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Drummond is currently 2nd in the NBA is field goal percentage at 62.2%, and 4th in the league in rebounding (12.5 rpg). He also recorded some monstrous stat-lines, like his 31-point 19-rebound outing against the 76ers earlier this season. On the flip side, he’s still raw as all hell from the line; however, you can’t argue with his consistency for inconsistency – this will make sense in a second.

He’s shooting 37.1%, which happens to be exactly his average from last year, 37.1%. It’s incredible, he just basically shoves the ball toward the hoop, wishing it in to no avail.

I am pretty confident that he won’t crack 50% from the line for years, if ever, but I do know that his 13 and 13 are making some noise around the league. He’s also 8th in the league in estimated wins added, tied with LaMarcus Aldridge with 5.8 EWA.

8. Jordan Crawford 13.6 ppg / 5.4 apg / 3.1 rpg / 17.35 per

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Coming in at number 8 is the NBA’s ‘Troll in Residence,’ (Michael) Jordan Crawford. He’s known for being an irrational confidence, heat-check guy, and he can be as inspiring as he can be exhausting to watch. While his 13.6 points per game isn’t as gaudy of a number as others on this list, Crawford is dishing out 5.4 assists per game, and has looked like a legitimate NBA playmaker for Brad Stevens and the Celtics.

A few weeks ago Jordan Crawford won the Eastern Conference Player Of The Week Award, averaging 23.3 points on 61% shooting with 6.7 assists and 3 rebounds during the week. However, over his last five games he’s come back down to earth, shooting just 32.2% from the field, and 16% from three. It seems as though Crawford is in the process of regressing to the mean.  If you are a Celtics fan who favors tanking, this is a good thing.

7. J.J. Redick 15.8 ppg / 2.0 apg / 2.2 rpg / 18.23 per

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Seven years removed from his unforgettable career at Duke, J.J. Redick is now in his prime. Coach Doc Rivers has given J.J. the ultimate green light, and Redick is taking advantage of every opportunity. He’s shooting 46% from the field, and should continue to be the x-factor in Doc’s offensive game plan after he returns from his recent injuries.

Enough praise for J.J. – if you have time, I suggest that you enjoy the video below.

6. Kemba Walker 18.7 ppg / 4.6 apg / 4.4 rbg / 18.19 per

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Many doubted whether Kemba’s game would translate to the NBA. ‘He’s just too small,’ or ‘He’s just not a good enough shooter,’ were common criticisms. Say what you will about his weak competition in the East, but Kemba Walker has led a pretty bad team to a 14-15 record, and the 5th seed in the conference.

If you peruse the Bobcats roster you’ll notice that almost nothing has changed. The only real difference is the addition of Al Jefferson, who doesn’t even shoot particularly well for a big man (45.1% fg). Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (9.1 ppg / 4.3 rpg) still can’t shoot outside of the paint, Ben Gordon (5.8 ppg) has been regressing for 3 years, Jeff Taylor (8 ppg / 26.9 3p%) isn’t shooting like he did in the summer league, and rookie Cody Zeller (5.5 ppg / 4.2 rpg) isn’t exactly setting the world on fire.

So how the hell are the Bobcats on pace to win 40 games and make the playoffs? Charlotte is currently 3rd in the NBA in points allowed (93.6), Al Jefferson is adding what he’s added for the last 5 seasons (16.7 points 9.6 rebounds), Kemba is becoming an elite point guard and team leader, and of course, there are a lot pathetic tankers in the Eastern Conference.

5. Klay Thompson 19.5 ppg / 2.7 apg / 3.2 rpg / 14.64 per 

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We could all pretty much see this coming, right? Klay is a 6’7” athletic shooter in his third season, showed us that he can compete on the big stage when he went for 34 against the Spurs in game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals, and he plays in the same backcourt as Steph Curry. This season he’s shooting 44.9 fg %/ 42.5 3pt %/ 78.2 ft %, and has solidified himself as not only one of the league’s top shooters, but also one of the league’s top all-around shooting guards.

4. Isaiah Thomas 18.9 ppg / 5.7 apg / 2.6 rpg / 22.33 per

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Back in high school I went with some friends to watch Winchendon play South Kent in a battle of two perennial powerhouse post graduate basketball programs. I went specifically to watch Alex Oriakhi (2013 2nd round pick to the Suns – plays overseas), whom I played against in both freshman ball and varsity. Needless to say, I lost both times by many points. In the freshman year matchup, Oriakhi drop-step dunked over my former teammate, and a current hipster.

Anyways, during the game I noticed that the point guard from South Kent was taking over. None of us had any idea who he was. The 5’8” lefty was finishing in the paint over 6’9” D1-commits, popping off screens and nailing three pointers, and slicing through any press that Winchendon threw at him. We found out later that his name was Isaiah Thomas.

Thomas, whose dad named him after the original Isaiah Thomas after losing a bet, has officially made ‘The Leap.’ Over the course of the first 20 games, Thomas averaged 18.2 points and 5.3 assists, but started in only 1 of those 20 games. He was backing up Greivis Vasquez. Why? No one knows.

The Kings recently shipped Vasquez to Toronto, entrusting the starting PG job to Thomas – finally. Now, the only thing left for the Kings to do is to sell the franchise to Seattle.

3. Anthony Davis 19.3 ppg / 10.3 rpg / 3.2 bpg / 27.24 per

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I am comfortable admitting that I think Anthony Davis would be a normal-looking guy without his stupid-looking unibrow. I also think this is a classic example of stupid, but effective marketing. I would want to fire my agent immediately if he recommended that I never wax my uni-brow, but if I were getting as much promotional value out of it as Davis is, I would consider keeping it for a year or two then start waxing the hell out of it. After two years, everyone will know his face anyways, and by that point no one will really care if he waxes/shaves his unibrow. Once you’re famous, you’re famous.

In regards to his basketball performance, Anthony Davis has asserted himself as an elite big man. He leads the league in blocks, and is a consistent double-double threat every night. He’s only getting better and stronger, and if he doesn’t get too banged up too much by bulkier guys inside, he has the ability to live up to his potential, and go down as one of the best big men of his era.

2. Eric Bledsoe 18.9 ppg / 6.3 apg / 4.5 rpg / 21.56 per

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Eric Bledsoe, unrelated to Drew, came into the league as a spark-plug off the bench – think Will Bynum. But over the course of his first 21 games of the 2013-14 season (he was injured for 6 games), E-Bled has made ‘The Leap,’ that Norris never made. He’s averaging 18.9 points 6.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds per contest; thus, the Will Bynum comparison is now insulting to Bledsoe.

He’s also led the Suns, who were supposed to be tanking, to a 17-10 start. Should the Suns be happy or pissed that their team is 17-10? I am torn enough as a Celtics fan in the 8th spot in the East. But maybe the Suns are actually good. But they can’t be. Eh, it’s Phoenix – I feel like no one cares, and that there’s not much passion for indoor sports out in the desert.

E-Bled has the F-U sneer down pat in his picture.

1. Paul George 23.9 ppg / 5.9 / 3.6 apg / 23.96 per

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Hearing about a player who’s coming out of a mid-major, and is advertised as a ‘6’9” freak athlete, who can handle like a point guard, shoot the three, and guard LeBron James,’ generally triggers two reactions – ‘What if?’ and ‘Bullshit’ – probably 2/3 of the reaction is ‘bullshit,’ though.

Three years ago, Paul George was the ultimate ‘What if?’ / ”Bullshit,’ prospect. Today, the only question left is when he will win his first championship. Leading the best team in the Eastern Conference, the Indiana Pacers (23-5), George is averaging 24 points and 6 rebounds, and is the obvious choice for #1 breakout player of this season. If LeBron James didn’t exist, Paul George would most-likely be the face of the Eastern Conference. With that said, he is the last hope in the East to take down LeBron, and the Miami Heat.

Replace the name Obi Wan Kanobi with Paul George in this video, and that’s how I feel…

Disagree with anything? Complain to me @gregmschwartz.

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Summer League Day 5 – “Orlando’s Penultimate Day”

The Las Vegas Summer League tips off today, and I couldn’t be more ready to watch new players. I have an active streak of watching at least 1 half of every game, and let me tell ya, I think I’ve … Continue reading

Summer league Day 2 – Wrap-up

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Andrew Nicholson

In the battle of the unrelated Lambs, Doron finished with an efficient 16 points for the Magic on 4-9 (FGM-A) and 2-4 (3PM-A), while Jeremy shot an inefficient 4-16 (FGM-A) and a cold 1-9 (3PM-A) to finish with 11 for the Thunder. Doron 1 / Jeremy 0.

Andrew Nicholson, the sleepiest looking player in the NBA since T-Mac, starred for Orlando in this game with some Hakeem Olajuwon shimmy shakes, and drop steps, leading to a game-high 19 points. Olapido was bothered by the quicker and smaller defender, Reggie Jackson (he also had a big time flush on Mo Harkless), but got to the line and finished with 12. For the Thunder, Daniel Orton looks trimmer and moved really well yesterday, finishing with 9 points and 7 rebounds in just 16 minutes. Lastly, Grant Jerrett continued to prove his hot shooting touch from the outside, going 4-8 from beyond the arc, putting up 14 points.

Pacers 96 76ers 75

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Miles Plumlee

Philly’s roster is pretty weak, but it’s allowing the Sixers staff to get a really good look at MCW, and Khalif Wyatt. MCW was attacking, but probably too much as he shot just 4-20 from the field and finished with 13 points. MCW cannot shot, and bricked several shots off the dribble. However, he took care of the ball much better yesterday, and didn’t turn the ball over once. Khalif Wyatt is making a strong push to make this Sixers team after pouring in a game-high 25 points.

For the Pacers, Solomon Hill who had 22 points on 4-5 from 3-point land, opened some eyes for the first time yesterday. He lost about 15 pounds since his days at Arizona, and looked fleet-a-foot. Miles Plumlee is an awkward athlete, but an effective body that can finish down low, and can block shots. Plumlee finished with 16 points on 7-13 from the field, and 4 blocks.

Celtics 93 Pistons 63

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Olynyk Clinic

The announcers continue to butcher Kelly Olynyk‘s name, often calling him Kyle, but it never really phased him. He only played 21 minutes, but finished with 13 points and 6 rebounds in a game that was never close. He continues to be the most dynamic player in this Summer League, however, I wish Andre Drummond played to see how Kelly would fare against a serious big-bodied big man.

For the Pistons, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope airballed 2 three-pointers, and just hasn’t found his rhythm yet. Slava Kravtsov had 9 points 8 rebounds and 2 memorable stuffs – they were both on Fab Melo at the rim. Other notable performances were Darius Johnson-Odom with 22 points, and Phil Pressy with 12 points and 4 assists.

Heat 93 Nets 86

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D.J. Stephens

D.J. Stephens, phonetically pronounced ‘STEF-fans,’ the man with the 46-inch vert who can kiss the rim made his debut for the Heat, and that’s all I really cared to watch in this game. DJ finished with 1 point. Tough debut. Scotty Hopson, the guard out of Tennessee, played really well both inside and out, finishing with a team high 22 point effort for the Heat.

Mason Plumlee starred for the Nets with a perfect 8-8 from the field, and 23 points. He was very active, had a few nice slams, and looks like a solid pickup for the Nets who can use a guy like him coming off the bench.

On to day three…

Summer League Day 1: ‘5 Players and 1 Coach To Watch’

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Yesterday was the opening tip at the 2013 Orlando Summer League, and thus the commencement of the 2013-14 NBA season – at least for me and other overly-observent NBA enthusiasts. The chaos of first-round picks striving to live up to lofty expectations, oversees journeymen trying to ‘take their talents’ back to the states, and un-drafted free agents just looking to sneak onto the end of an NBA bench are three reasons that the NBA Summer Leagues a series of turbulent tryouts.

After watching at least one full half of each game, the most exciting team was the Pistons. On the other end of the spectrum, the least interesting, least compelling product was put together by the Miami Heat. It seems as though they are following the old motto, if it aint broke, don’t fix it. But enough about the teams, these are fictitious rosters filled with ’97 Camrys with the occasional Ferrari or Maserati mixed in, and I would much rather focus on the five most intriguing player stories, and one compelling coach story of day 1 in Orlando.

1. Kelly Olynyk/Fab Melo – “Oh, The Juxtaposition”

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Olynyk Clinic

Let’s start off by admitting that there wasn’t one man on this planet who expected this good of a debut from the long-haired Torontonian. We all knew Kaveman Kelly was skilled, smart (finished his degree in Accounting from Gonzaga in three years), and a future Boston cult-athlete, but we didn’t know his first stat line would read 25 and 7 on 9-12.

He used his body well down low, went 2-4 from three, put the ball on the deck and finished with his left, made polished post moves – I could go on and on. Dare I mention early comparisons to Dirk? Obviously, I’m getting ahead of myself, but if Kelly keeps this up Danny Ainge will look like a genius. Unfortunately, if he does become a 15 and 7 guy in his rookie season as he very well could be, the Celtics might not be bad enough to be in the running for Andrew Wiggins – a Cadmean Victory. Here’s the full video of Kelly’s debut – Kelly’s Debut.

Although he’s not a rookie, I need to vent about Fab Melo. He’s really, really lost out there. His clueless defensive positioning, disconcerting shot selection, and soft disposition below the rim make his 9 point 8 rebound 0 turnover stat line a poor indication of his actual performance. He was bailed out twice on two phantom foul calls. One was a contested turnaround 15-footer early in the shot clock that he banked in, fell down and got a call, and the second was a weak take below the rim where he was cleanly swatted by Mo Harkless who is 6’8” – Fab is 7’0”. Lastly, he made a perplexing pass that wasn’t directed toward anyone on his team, but happened to hit the back of Kyle O’Quinn of the Magic, and redirected straight out of bounds.

Fab was practically applying for his pink sheet, but was continually getting bailed out by the refs, and ended with a decent stat line. Enough about Fab and his ironic name. I’d be shocked if he made an NBA roster at any point this season.

2. Andre Drummond – “The Next Shaq?”

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Andre Drummond

Andre Drummond is a physically dominating force who is just now beginning to use his body. Yesterday, he had 12 points, 16 boards (7 offensive), 5 steals, 6 blocks and one of the meanest rim rejections I’ve ever seen (can’t find a video). I used to question his motor and willingness to improve, but after yesterday I have no doubts about the possibility for him to be very, very good.

However, he still has some holes offensely. He was pre-programming his offensive moves rather than reacting to his defender, and he can’t shoot free throws. He was 2-9 from the line, and doesn’t have a pretty stroke/natural rotation so I’m not sure how much he can actually improve. It doesn’t seem like he’ll improve much on his percentage from last season (37.1%), and it’ll be tough for Cheeks to play him late in games . Overall, Drummond has the physical tools to dominate inside, but still needs to figure out how to read his defender… and shoot free throws.

3. Michael Carter-Williams – “Deception in the Box Score”

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Michael Carter-Williams

If you are a Sixer fan looking at the ESPN bottom line, you must be pumped to see what Michael Carter-Williams did yesterday. However, upon further review his performance was more complicated than 26 points 8 assists and 7 Rebounds showing on the bottom line.

He played a lot, had the ball a lot, and did a lot – good and bad. The Good: 26 PTS / 10-11 FT / 8 AST / 7 REB. The Bad:  8-23 FGM-A / 0-6 3PM-A / 9 TO. At times he showed the ability to use his expansive ‘passing angles’ as a tall guard, and other times looked uncomfortable bringing the ball up with a smaller defender. The 76ers will be watching him closely to see if today’s Jekyll and Hyde performance will be a trend, or if MCW can find a consistent rhythm to his game.

4. Trey Burke – “Can Heart Outweigh Size?”

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Trey Burke

T-Burke’s first game as a pro should make Jazz fans a little bit nervous. He didn’t finish anything at the rim, bricked almost every shot (1-12 FGA-M) including a puzzling attempt from about 4 feet beyond the arc early in the shot clock, and didn’t attack his defenders and try to get into the lane. I’d be a little worried about Trey given his inability to score on Myck Kabongo, and even more worried about his utter disappearance with a bigger guy like Scotty Hopson (6’5”) on him.

He showed very little emotion/swagger, didn’t explode off ball screens as he did in college, and just didn’t seem like the Trey we all watched in this year’s NCAA tournament. Salt Lake City should be worried, but alas, it is only one game. Let’s go back to this Trey, and not the one we saw yesterday.

5. Peyton Siva – “A Winner’s Mentality”

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Peyton Siva

What Peyton Siva lacks in height, he more than makes up for in experience and leadership. He quarterbacked the 2013 National Champion Louisville Cardinals, which is something both his teammates and opponents will naturally respect.

In yesterday’s game, Siva didn’t look to shoot much (0-2 FGA-M), but that’s not really his game. In a game with 45 turnovers Siva had just 1, which should be attributed to Viacheslav Kravtsov (took me a while to sound out that one too), who cut to the hoop anticipating a shot by Siva.

With the timely departure of Jose Calderon Siva will be able to step in right behind Brandon Knight, and allow Stuckey to play off the ball more. Ultimately, he’s a proven winner that will get minutes on a team that should contend for a 4 or 5 seed – possibly higher – in the east. With the addition of Josh Smith, and rising young stars in Greg Monroe, and the aforementioned Drummond and Knight, watch out for the Pistons.

5a. Jason Kidd & Lawrence Frank – “The Crutch”

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Law Frank and J-Kidd

First off, it makes sense as to why Jason Kidd hired Lawrence Frank from a resume standpoint, but definitely awkward from a relationship standpoint. Kidd played for Frank for five years, and now Frank is working under Kidd. Weird.

Also, I’m not really sure what Jason Kidd did today as coach of the Brooklyn Nets. He was sitting down most of the time, didn’t draw up plays in the huddle and got a technical foul on a play where his player was fouled… and the refs called it. In the third quarter I finally realized why Jason Kidd wasn’t doing anything, and it’s because Lawrence Frank was doing everything. Whether it was drawing up the plays or the in-game coaching, Frank looked like, well, the Head Coach of the Nets.

The real winner in this whole deal is Kidd. Although he boasts the title of Head Coach, we all know Lawrence will be doing most of the heavy lifting here. Well played, Jason.

Can’t wait for day 2…