Posted 16 hours, 16 minutes ago
Posted 16 hours, 49 minutes ago
by Michael Stewart
Yup, we're starting our rankings with the good ol' Cleveland Browns, or as I've called them in past articles - the Cleveland Steamers. This team was baaaaad last season, and somehow got worse during the summer. Let's look at how terrible they'll be, while offering a (sort of) silver lining to an otherwise gloomy forecast.
THE REALLY, REALLY BAD
Listen, there's nothing that encouraging to write about Cleveland. They're ranked dead last in my gambling power rankings for a reason - I think they're going to be awful on both sides of the ball. You should freely bet against them every chance you get until they show a glimmer of potential which probably won't happen for a few years.
They lost their two best playmakers in Josh Gordon and safety T.J. Ward. I'm not as high on rookie Justin Gilbert as other people are, but he could surprise and be a bit of a delight. Opposite Joe Haden, one of the best in the league, Gilbert and the Browns will probably be pretty good against the pass and they're thick enough up front to cause some disruptive problems for opposing run games.
But without Gordon, how in the hell is this team supposed to score? Their next best wideouts include Nate Burleson, Jordan Cameron and Miles Freaking Austin. That's a lot of name value, and a serious lack of actual value. Ben Tate has a chance to shine as the marquee running back, but he's never proven that he can handle a full workload and has been pretty seriously injured the last two seasons. He's one serious concussion away from never playing football again.
I'll get to the quarterbacks in a second, but I don't think this team really has the capability of being anything more than a punching bag, especially given that their division rivals are all taking steps forward in the right direction.
THE BETTING STUFF
Cleveland finished with a division worst 4-12 SU record and a 6-10 ATS betting record. They covered one game at home and it was against Oakland. At no point did they show that they were worthy of your money, and two late season covers in Week 16 and 17 against Carolina and Baltimore (both of whom had shut down at that point) were pointless endeavours. The defence is much better than you'd think (9th against the pass, 18th against the run last year) but they were also the 27th worst team in offensive scoring in 2013 with just 19.2 points per game. That was with perhaps the second most explosive wide out in the game last season. Even if there's an upgrade at quarterback, who the hell is he going to throw to? Yikes. Serious yikes.
Johnny Football vs. Brian Hoyer! Could there be anything more interesting about this team? It's actually the only interesting factor about the Browns.
Hoyer has floated around as one of those talents that general managers and fans are always curious about. After six seasons in the NFL, all we really know about him is that he was prized by the Patriots for a while and then injured after two stellar runs where he brought Cleveland's fans to their feet. He's from Ohio! Exciting stuff, right?
Well, Hoyer is now coming off a torn ACL that happened in a horribly heartbreaking manner - on Thursday night football against the Bills in a game where he was making his "hometown" debut. Now he has to deal with Johnny Manziel, a torrential hurricane of a personality.
I'm rooting for Hoyer, but I can't deny that I'm super excited to see Johnny Football in the NFL. Part of it is his talent - he's a proven playmaker at the college level and a scintillating athlete. You can hate on the kind of person you think he is through what you've seen in the media, but to downplay his athletic ability is silly.
I also love/hate it when the media can't help themselves with a certain player and I'm not really one to just go along with public sentiment for the sake of it. If broadcasters are so freaking sick of talking about Johnny Manziel then DON'T F----ING TALK ABOUT HIM ALL THE DAMN TIME! HE'S NOT EVEN GOING TO START WEEK 1!
But it's also fun to just watch the media be mandated to mention a player ad nauseum even when they really don't want to. Like Owens, Ochocinco and many, many players before him, Manziel is a fine gentleman. He serves his community, plays sports for a living and doesn't steal cars, do drugs, take steroids, hit women or murder people. So what if he's a cocky ego maniac? He plays in a league where you can't survive unless you're an alpha. Hell, it's a league played by alpha dogs, run by a self-serving millionaire (Goddell) and owned by a bunch of billionaire top dogs. Who cares if Johnny Football is having fun and pissing people off? It's really not that big of a deal to have an opinion about who Johnny Football is as a person. Look where all that arguing got us with Tim Tebow.
The sad part is that when the two most interesting parts of your team are a player who's suspended for the year (Gordon) and a backup quarterback, there isn't much else to really get that excited about.
At least the Cavaliers will be worth watching. God doesn't hate Cleveland. He/she just really despises the Browns.
Posted Wednesday, July 16, 2014 05:35 PM
by Michael Stewart
Are you ready for (reading about) some football?!!?!? I know I am even though I loathe proofreading! Over the next six weeks I'm going to be writing team previews about all 32 franchises in order of how I think they'll do. This article serves as a primer for how the power rankings work, and what to expect.
A few reminders about how my Power Rankings:
1) They are my opinion and while the in-season version of the rankings is more so designed to make you laugh hysterically (or roll your eyes and my lame attempts at humour), the preseason version will be rife with some statistical and betting information.
2) Teams are always ranked based on a reasonable balance of their recent records, their season record and their betting records. If a team is 8-4 SU, they'll probably be somewhere in the top-7, but if they're also 0-12 ATS I'll probably demote them much further down the list.
3) Personal biases and grudges influence how teams stand. Suck it, Miami.
4) You have to understand that we know almost nothing about how teams are going to perform in the 2014 season, which is why smart gamblers usually wait until Week 3 to start leaning heavy with their action. All we can do right now is speculate.
If you've been keeping up with my obscene NBA obsessions lately, you'll understand that that's a league that functions around the premise of more known commodities.
The NFL is a totally different beast. There are always sleepers, action magnets and huge injuries that influence how betting lines on football are generated. The biggest of those is the well known "public factor". So as you move from the last place team in the power rankings, towards the first place team, understand that I am making my best guesstimations about which teams are going to be absolute wretches and which ones are actually Super Bowl contenders.
Another way to think of it is that I rank the bottom ten teams as the worst bets in the NFL. I rank the top-7 as the legitimate Super Bowl threats. I probably should've just lead with that.
Ok, so that's it. Before I get to it, here was how each team ranked by the end of the regular season last year and remember that gambling records really matter. Houston's abysmal three covers last season drowned them on my rankings every week, while Arizona's routine surliness as a betting team (11-5 ATS) shoved them in to the top end despite missing the playoffs. Got it?
Revisiting the 2013 Rankings - Week 17
THE TOP SEVEN
1. Denver Broncos
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. Seattle Seahawks
4. New England Patriots
5. Carolina Panthers
6. Kansas City Chiefs
7. Cincinnati Bengals
The four conference champion finalists were the four best teams in the league. Duh. The next crop included Carolina (a defiant play), Kansas City (an undervalued team that went 9-7 ATS and won 11 games overall) and the Cincinnati Bengals (who were the worst team on the road and the best home team all year. The fact that the Bengals were seventh explains the parity we saw in 2013. And despite all of the "balanced market" crap we try to create, parity isn't as fun as you'd think. We had a lot of bad teams last year.
The next two or three teams on the rankings probably deserved to be ranked ahead of Cincinnati, but here's the one thing I loved about the Bengals - I knew what I was getting with them every week. No team was more profitable for me overall last year. That meant a lot in the grand scheme of things.
THE NOT SO GREAT EIGHT
8. Indianapolis Colts
9. Arizona Cardinals
10. Philadelphia Eagles
11. New Orleans Saints
12. San Diego Chargers
13. Miami Dolphins
14. Pittsburgh Steelers
15. Green Bay Packers
This was the over-achievers and under-achievers grouping. Indy, Arizona, Philly and San Diego were all wildly strong plays last year and surged in to the final week of the season. Pittsburgh, Miami and Green Bay started out poorly and then slugged their way in to near-contention. New Orleans was...well...let's just say I have a strong love-hate relationship with the Saints (as in I love to see them lose and I hate to bet on them).
16. Chicago Bears
17. Dallas Cowboys
18. St. Louis Rams
19. Buffalo Bills
20. Baltimore Ravens
21. New York Jets
22. Detroit Lions
All of these teams generally flirted with .500 in the ATS department except for the mildly frustrating Chicago Bears who couldn't seem to buy a cover at any point in the season. Chicago ended up with the second worst betting record in the entire league behind Houston, but they also won eight games so whatever. This is probably the letdown group, although the presence of the Jets probably discourages that idea.
THE WORST OF THE WORST
23. Tennessee Titans
24. New York Giants
25. Minnesota Vikings
26. Atlanta Falcons
27. Jacksonville Jaguars
28. Cleveland Browns
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
30. Oakland Raiders
31. Washington Redskins
32. Houston Texans
Eventually the bottom of the barrel gets sorted out in a simple way: teams that are supposed to be good but are terrible That's why Washington, playing with a backup to a backup quarterback, edged out Houston, a team that was simply supposed to be much better.
So now that that's out of the way, let's move on to our offseason team previews for 2014! They'll be some good news, a lot of bad news, and some betting analysis along the way. Hopefully you enjoy it and it helps stymie your never ending hunger for the sport we all love to watch, bet on and yell at our TV's about. First up...the Cleveland Browns!
Posted Wednesday, July 16, 2014 02:55 PM
by Michael Stewart
I'm at my busiest from late August to June when the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB are pretty much in full throttle. I have freely admitted I'm not the most committed when it comes to the pinetar league. Baseball betting is a full time job, unless you do it casually as a way to kill time between the lulls of the other majors. That's usually what I do - stripping things down by focusing on simple metrics like starting pitching and interior defence. I don't risk a ton, and there are a lot more handicappers that simply understand the sport better than I do. Scroll through my archives - I'm a roundball and eggball type of guy.
With the World Cup finally over, the NBA free agency period simmering down and three weeks remaining until my football frenzy starts to boil in to overdrive, my intrigue in baseball also begins to inch up. So if you're like me as a half-hearted baseball gambler, you might need a refresher on what's going on.
Half of the entire league is worth ignoring unless you have some vested hometown interest. Let's get an overall look through the lens of the all-telling division winner prices in the futures market. Odds listed below are to win the division, which you can find easily enough in our 2014 MLB Futures drop-down in the sportsbook.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
This is a two horse race between the Nationals (-200) and the Braves (+150). Washington has always been a problematic play down the stretch, and despite this the oddsmakers have always built in insulation against them for long term investments over the past few years. The best play in this division might actually be the - and I can't believe I'm even suggesting this - New York Mets (+5000) but right now the strongest actual gun belongs in the branded holster of the Atlanta Braves. I know it's a boring bet. If you prefer to swing for the fences in a division go with New York because why not?
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
I wrote early on in the season that something about the Milwaukee Brewers (+250) feels real, and there's really no better overall wager on a division winner here. The oddsmakers and pundits will always love the St. Louis Cardinals (+120) for very good reason, and there's always potential with the Cincinnati Reds (+350) but their injuries terrify me because they just don't seem to be clearing up any time soon. Excuse me while I continue to drive the Brewers bandwagon and pour one out for the Pirates...
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
The Giants and the Dodgers continue to be the two biggest action magnets in this division, and are also two of the most frequently bet on teams according to our bookmakers. There's no real value on the Dodgers (-350) and the Giants hold strong appeal at (+220) so that's where my money's going. It's an even numbered year and if you don't know what that means, just look at when the Giants won their last two World Series (it's 2010 and 2012 if you're feeling lazy). This is a number you should grab right now for San Francisco because nobody in their right mind is going to risk $3.50 to get a $1 return on the Dodgers. Not in the futures anyways.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Though the Seattle Mariners showed some fun punch in the early going, they've faded to the background where you'd expect to find them. The favourites in this division are still the Oakland Athletics (-180) which isn't a bad way to go considering they shored up their pitching recently and hold a 1.5 game lead on the Los Angeles Angels (+140). This is the part where I suggest that a bet is only as good as it's actual chance of coming through. The Angels leave me wanting more whereas the Athletics have everything going for them, plus tons of momentum. The A's are the only minus-favourite that I'd encourage in the entire league.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Kansas City sits 6.5 games back of the division dominating Detroit Tigers who are far and away the biggest favourite of any division winner anywhere at -800. MINUS EIGHT-HUNDRED! So go ahead and throw some cash at Kansas City if you have to get in here. Anything can happen, especially with Kansas boasting more fortitude than they did last year overall. I'd stay away from Cleveland.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Urgh. You can't really count any of these teams out of the rat race which is why the numbers here will continue to fluctuate right up until the tip of August. Tampa Bay and Boston are both +2000 longshots whom you can never count out and are probably the only flier bets worth taking a stab at. They're 9.5 games back each and anything can literally happen in the most harrowing division there is.
New York's +400 number is less than it actually should be. The injury to Tanaka feels like a nail in the coffin, but the ever present Yankees faithful will be there to buoy the futures prices of this team as long as Jeter is around. Talk about respect - even when the Yankees are bad their fans still back them.
Baltimore is the current favourite at -120 and are just inches ahead of Toronto (+260) which could actually be the best bet in the division right now. Injuries have killed the Blue Jays, who lost their four best bats to the shelf temporarily. It doesn't help the Jays that their overall reputation in the second half of recent history is absolutely dismal but I'm willing to throw some faith their way. Baltimore is the steady tortoise but Toronto is the better team...ya know, if they don't implode as per usual.
Posted Tuesday, July 15, 2014 04:22 PM
by Michael Stewart
I've been writing a lot about the Eastern Conference lately because most of the free agency action is there, but right now I want to give the better conference it's due and there is no better place to start than with the defending champions.
The San Antonio Spurs are +280 to win the conference right now, which are basically the same odds they'll have closer to the end of the regular season. There's no point in throwing yourself at the champs this instant since you can find around the same value later in the year when you know what they are.
Like any team that hasn't played 82 games yet, the Spurs are an expected commodity. Last year, they were a force to be reckoned with in the sportsbook going 15-4 ATS down the stretch and squashing nearly everyone in the playoffs. Those that underestimated their transformation in to an offensive beast were burned. So can we legitimately expect the same kind of production out of them next year?
Of course we can! They've kept the core of what made them great together and could peak as they moderate themselves through the regular season and give Tim Duncan that sixth ring that would push him over Kobe and in to the throngs of Jordan. It would make the arguments for the over lapping LeBron and Duncan Eras in the post-Jordan era even more violent. I do like debating these kinds of things.
There are problems with this team, but not many. Age will always be a "con" against them even though Kawhi Leonard seems ready to blossom in to an all-the-time All-Star, and you can't underestimate the fact that they won't have the same motivation that they did last year. The 2013 Finals loss was what motivated the Spurs throughout their awesome campaign in 2013-14. That won't be there. It's not really a reason to knock them down long term because Pop is the best minutes-manager in the game and they've been to two Finals in the past two years. Other little elements, like Patty Mills' injury, has me concerned but they also proved that they're the prime cut of the western conference without a shadow of a doubt.
Oklahoma City and the L.A. Clipper will probably have something to say about that. I'm going to get the Clippers out of the way because my opinion of them is pretty clear. The Clippers are a regular season team. That's the nutshell on them. Their bigs can't shoot free throws, which basically causes inadvertent playoff suicide, and the team has always lacked a reliable wing. Defence wins championships and the Clippers are amongst the worst offenders when it comes to playing reliable team defence. I have never trusted them in the playoffs, and though their 2014 run can be chalked up to Donald Sterling's bigotry placing unreasonable pressure on them, I just don't see how they improved or can improve anytime soon. Not until 2015 free agency, anyways.
The Thunder, however, represent a very reasonable threat to the Spurs. Their issue is always going to be depth because Coach Smiley (i.e. Scott Brooks) never seems to give any of his role players enough run in the regular season to become reliable playoff assets. They seem to prioritize rebounding in their drafting lately, taking Steven Adams and Mitch McGary in the last two years (and Cole Aldrich a few years ago though he's a Knick now). It's a decent plan, but it still means that the Thunder are going to be running Westbrook and Durant in to the ground.
I've said it time and again - they need to and have followed the 2011 Mavs plan for building around Dirk because if there's any guy that compares to the greatest foreign player ever, it's Kevin Durant. They're both insanely unique, stretch four, scoring machines. OKC has their rim protector (Ibaka), and another superstar guard who can create his own shot (Westbrook). They're a phenomenal Big Three.
But every "big three" needs a fourth and fifth guy, along with at least three more off the bench to really be championship worthy especially when the road to the Finals runs through San Antonio. The Thunder don't have that fourth guy anywhere. Perry Jones ended up being a bust and Reggie Jackson comes and goes. And if they don't have a fourth guy, you can bet that the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth options won't be there either.
I wailed on Scottie Brooks all through the season and the playoffs. He's a horrible coach, one that relies on the second best player alive too heavily without really building anything around him. I'm sure he's a wonderful person, but as a basketball coach he's proven to be extremely limited. If you're building a team to go up against the Spurs, which the Thunder have to do, then you need size and length on the edges to disrupt their passing lanes. You also need to develop more than your two (or three) All-Stars.
We can revisit the Harden Trade over and over again but the simple fact is that he's not on the team anymore and even then, his body of work in Houston is lacking where the Thunder need it most - on defence. Let's put this side of the story to rest. It's still not the worst trade in history (the Vince Carter to the Nets trade is).
This team can beat the Spurs at full health, but that's also been a major problem for them these past two seasons. Ibaka and Westbrook's injuries have as much to do with their insane amount of minutes as plain old bad luck. We saw what Ibaka meant as a real scale tilter in the Western Conference Finals last year, and if he was healthy that series probably would've been extended. But the Thunder have put their three eggs in to one basket and their absurdly cheap owners won't bend the books to improve their stature. We know what the Thunder are, and at +300 they have a balanced value to win their conference. Unless you believe that the Sonics actually cursed them (which is also entirely possible).
What about the other, mid-tier teams in the west? The Clippers, Spurs and Thunder are the three best teams in the conference and after that it's a relative platter of "I'm not sure". I hate the Houston Rockets. I think Portland is just missing too many important cogs in the wheel although they have some really attractive parts. Phoenix is tantalizing because they might as well be called Contract Year City. Gotta have motivation right? I think we've seen the best out of Golden State already and it's sheer lunacy that they valued Klay Thompson that much over Kevin Love. The rest of the teams out there are a blithering mess.
Except for the always curious Dallas Mavericks, a team I openly root for (they're not my favourite team but I love them anyhow). Dirk is one of my personal favourites of all time and if you've read any of my posts before, you know I'm a shameless Rick Carlisle supporter. He's the second best coach in the league as far as I'm concerned. And as long as those two are on the team, the Mavericks have a chance. They're the only team that really pushed the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs...and they were an eighth seed! Unreal.
Chandler Parsons is the big catch for them, and not because he's an All-Star caliber player but more so because this team can't get anyone to sign with them. He's a downgrade on the defensive side from Vince Carter, but he's a massive upgrade on offence and a more consistent threat who doesn't need his minutes managed. Parsons is a great toolbox type of player - a Gordon Hayward type who excels at a lot of elements but doesn't do one thing that well in particular.
Shawn Marion seems to be on his way back to Dallas too, now that Lance Stephenson has signed in Charlotte (and way to go Charlotte - you're now the team to beat in the Eastern Conference's horrible Southeast! I'm genuinely excited about Charlotte this coming year. MKG and Stephenson are havoc wreckers on defence, and the scoring is there. It's the East. C'mon.). Marion won't find a better team or a better fit for what he does at this point in his career. With Marion and Parsons, the Mavericks can patch up holes all over the place.
Which is a good thing because there are a lot of holes. Losing Calderon is a bigger deal than you might expect. He's been terrific his entire career and though he's a defensive nightmare (in a bad way), he's an exceptional point man on offence and a great scorer in his own right. Shane Larkin proposes intrigue, but Dallas is also in win-now mode so they don't have time for him to develop.
Carlisle's biggest challenge will be turning Raymond Felton in to anything more useful than big, fat, heaping bag of garbage. That's probably not going to happen. Devin Harris is still around, and there are talks of Don Nelson bringing in his good buddy Mo Williams but neither of those guys really makes Dallas any better. Calderon is an under-appreciated player in this respect and none of those guys can really replace what he does for an offence.
Still, we've seen Rick Carlisle work wonders before and I'm just so excited to see what kind of miracles he can pull out of his bag of tricks. One of the reasons I love Carlisle so much is that he doesn't force round pegs in to square holes. He wouldn't take a guy like Steve Nash and run the Princeton or force the triangle on guys who low basketball IQ's. He takes what he's given and adapts the team accordingly. Outside of the Spurs and Thunder, who are both reasonably decent bets, there's no better value play than the Dallas Mavericks at +2800...even if the Spurs are likely to win the conference for a third time in a row.
by Michael Stewart
A handful of years ago, I happened to be in Toronto for a friend's birthday. We were at a club and I was talking with some of the straggler's in the group and one of the guys there happened to be a high school basketball coach. "You write about sports don't you?" "Well sort of...if you like gambling". Eventually he threw himself at me to tell me about this kid who had just obliterated his team, dropping - if I remember correctly - a triple double with 56 points on his poor squad of teenagers. "The kid is going to be good...I'm not sure how good, but definitely D-1 ball for sure. You have to go seem him," he urged. So I did. Just once, and I missed the first two quarters because it's high school basketball and I had a million other things that seemed like better options at the time.
The kid that my friend's husband had told me about ended up being Andrew Wiggins, and seeing him as a slight teenager in high school was a sight to behold. Even if you don't consider Toronto be a mecca of any sort for basketball, anyone that knows a thing or two about athletics can recognize greatness when they see it. Wiggins wasn't a stand out in terms of pure basketball skill, and he was frankly a colossus amongst children in that type of environment. If I was an agent, I would have been in his ear immediately. Instead i just shook his hand and wished him the best of luck without identifying myself as anyone in particular. "That was awesome - good luck in your career." I was one of a hundred eager spectators that Wiggins probably glad handed in a given week.
Fast forward to today, and I'm still a happy little nobody in the big picture while Andrew Wiggins has blossomed in to the top overall pick in the NBA Draft. He has dazzled at summer league and despite what your feeling are about the strength of competition in Las Vegas (or Orlando), it's obvious that Wiggins is a cut above.
Wiggins' name has been floated in trade rumours over the past week in relation to Kevin Love, but the staff in Cleveland is adamant that they're keeping him. And why wouldn't you? He's on the rookie scale, and even as the top overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, his actual market value is a pittance compared to that of the salary Love will demand. And Cleveland can contend even if Wiggins ends up being an above-average player because his athletic ability can translate immediately to defensive responsibilities.
Gamblers aren't rushing to bet on Cleveland solely because of Wiggins. Any team that has LeBron James has a chance at winning the title, but as I said last week, Cleveland is far from perfect. Their pre-season imperfections might be totally washed away by the fact that they'll be trotting out four number-one picks all under 30, but right now Cleveland is the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. You could say that about any team in an Eastern Conference that is completely wide open.
You wouldn't be able to discern that by looking at the Eastern Conference Championship futures. Cleveland is the hands down, top dawg at +135 on our board but that mostly factors in the massive public backing they'll receive as interest in basketball futures picks up. It also has built in protection for the assumed Kevin Love trade (that probably won't happen). In actuality, the Cavs should probably be +300 but the landslide of action has forced the hands of the oddsmakers in Vegas and off-shore. LeBron James also being in town has everything to do with it.
The slight blemishes on the Cleveland Cavaliers will be discussed ad nauseum in the coming months, and for your own protection I urge you to remember what I'm about to write because you're going to be beaten over the head with thoughts about where they have problems. Listen, the Heat weren't perfect either and they made it to four straight NBA Finals with a half-hearted Wade, an overwhelmed Bosh and everyone screaming at Rio. The Cavs are a great bet, even at a shrunken value.
Aside from the city of Cleveland and its beleaguered fans, there are plenty of winners here. LeBron James has salvaged his reputation after The Decision, Kyrie Irving has earned a max contract that will see him play with the world's bet player, and Andrew Wiggins will get to learn how to be a superstar alongside the greatest active legend in the sport. The money for Wiggins will be there when the new TV deal kicks in and spikes the salary cap once again. He's already signed the biggest endorsement contract for a rookie with Adidas.
The big loser ends up being Dion Waiters who has already stated that he doesn't want to come off the bench. Good luck with that. Waiters is a fine player, but he's not nearly as good as he thinks he is and his self-interested attitude will book him on the first flight out of Cleveland if LeBron doesn't feel like putting up with it. Waiters as a sixth man is the best situation for all parties, but his willingness to do that is the hinge. We'll see...
This ends up being a best case scenario for Wiggins, who no longer has to be the saviour of the Cavaliers. That duty belongs to LeBron James and this is still an offence that will be run by Kyrie Irving. Wiggins will be asked to do plenty as they develop the offence, and though he's still "raw", you can tell that he understands the game. His acclimation to the NBA standard will be 100 times easier with LeBron showing him the ropes and shouldering more of the burden that Wiggins would have if the King hadn't returned to his kingdom. Being the first, off-ball option is a tremendous task for any rookie, even one of Wiggins' unearthly potential. But being a third banana, or even a fourth banana? Piece of (relative) cake.
Wiggins has plenty of detractors out there who believe he's still overrated. These people love to call him "raw", which is a massive misnomer. Wiggins has been seasoned and marinated. He just needs to sizzle a little on the burner. If you want to use the word "raw", then you'd talk about Toronto's own draft pick, Bruno Caboclo, who is the very definition of raw. Shooting mechanics can be developed. Offensive and defensive flow can be learned. Wiggins is much farther along than any of us expected. The memories of his 4 point game against Stanford in the tournament seem like a distant memory.
If you want to see what it's like to be a rookie Atlas (the guy with the world on his shoulders) you'll probably have to look to Milwaukee, where Jabari Parker will become the only offensive weapon on the team in his first year. That's an unenviable situation from a basketball standpoint. Even if the Greek Freak somehow explodes in to an All-Star caliber player, or close to it, the Bucks are going to be absolutely dreadful. If Wiggins was on that team, I'd be more fearful of his potential. You can learn a lot of bad habits playing on a brutal team.
Basically, pray for Jabari Parker.
The Cleveland Cavaliers can absolutely win a championship with Kyrie, LeBron and Wiggins as the "big three". There are problems with Varejao's health, Tristan Thompson's seemingly limited ceiling and the question mark of where Anthony Bennett fits but this is the off-season where we can pretend to be optimistic about everyone.
So who else can we target as "glass half full" teams? Well you start with the Chicago Bulls, who added Pau Gasol and THANK GOD because if he had gone to the Spurs there would almost be no point to the 2015 season at all. A four man rotation of Gasol, Splitter, Diaw and Duncan would be unstoppable. As is stands, Gasol fits in really nicely to the idea of the Chicago Bulls. Unfortunately, considering the need for Doug McBuckets to become a starter this season, and with Derrick Rose's legs being a massive question mark, that's all the Bulls are - a novel idea.
Chicago is the second best team on paper and in the east futures at +320 but there's still lots to sort out. They have an iffy bench and Derrick Rose has gone from an MVP to a cautionary tale in the matter of just two seasons. His mental and physical toughness is belied by a body that seems unwilling to do what he wants. I'm intrigued by what the Bulls can do with this group, but I'm not sold all the way. Rose has tons to prove, as does Gasol who has been a ghost for the past two years as well. Not that I blame him.
The handful of challengers to the Cavaliers still includes the Indiana Pacers who remain the best option for Lance Stephenson. Sentiments about this team are rightfully mixed: there's still a ton of potential from a two-time Eastern Conference Finalist, but I'm not sure if we've seen the best of them already. Roy Hibbert is turning 27 and nobody really knows what to make of him. Paul George is still amongst the league's best. But the rest of the team is dwindling and Indiana might have to bring the same band back for the 2015 season with a disgruntled Lance, and Frank Vogel emotionally straining to keep everyone happy. There's a lot to like with the Pacers and their +700 odds and a ton to hate too. Especially with them having to play Chicago and Cleveland all year as they battle for division supremacy. If we're using the glass anaogy, the Pacers are a glass of milk that's been left on the counter. Either it's fine, or it's gone rotten.
The usual suspects are floating around in the two other divisions. Aside from the previously mentioned Caboclo, Toronto's done a great job in keeping a contending core together and they could be an actual force if all their young assets take a step forward and Amir Johnson's ankles don't betray him again. Toronto is priced at +2500, in a 20-to-1 logjam that also includes Washington, Miami, New York and Brooklyn. Of those four, I prefer the Raptors the most but there's simply no way you can expect them to muscle past Cleveland or Chicago on their best day. It's apt to suggest that Toronto is a half-drank glass of Canadian beer. Nobody really believes they'll be contenders, but the fans in Toronto are drunk on passion for a successful team.
Washington could in fact be the sneak play in the Eastern Conference, so much that pundits are already leaping on the bandwagon. Again, there's a lot of half-full / half-empty arguments here. Actually, I don't even know what's in the glass with this team. Wall has become one of the best point gaurds in the league (finally!), but Nene is up-and-down, and there's no telling what Pierce or Otto Porter can do side-by-side. Bradley Beal can be deadly, but he can also disappear completely and his defence is still in shambles. Marcin Gortat is...well he's Marcin Gortat. I'm not even three sentences away from touting the Wizards and I'm already feeling bored by them. They play in what promises to be an awful division.
Miami, for some reason, is still in the mix and just ask the Raptors what it's like to have Bosh as your number-one guy. Even with Luol Deng, the Heat are going to be scrambling to make up the 25-30 points LeBron contributed a night and they don't have the defensive prowess with his big body clogging up the perimeter and offering post defence where applicable. LeBron is the ultimate gap filler on a basketball team. We're about to see how leaky the Miami Heat's ship actually is. Still a playoff team, but probably the eighth seed at best and a team that's poised to be crushed by their former leader's new team. I do think that Miami will boast more value in the book than they have in the past as an underestimated team but I'm not willing to endorse them as anything more than a regular season play. It's not what's in Miami's glass - it's the fact that the cup itself is made of paper. Leaks are bound to happen and this could get really messy.
That's more than I can say for the New York Knicks, who brought back Melo for what's essentially a max deal. Great for them...bad for Melo. The guy's 30 and this is his last, substantially pay day. New York is years away from being competitive, even if everything goes right. Melo will eventually be a guy that earned tons of money and never really mattered in the grand scheme of the season. That's not entirely his fault, but the summer of 2014 will always be a huge dent in his legacy. He had a chance to go wherever he wanted: to the Bulls to really contend, Miami to replace or even the Lakers to rebuild.
Whereas LeBron chose to go to a promising destination for tons of outlying reasons, Melo chose to stay in New York because it was the safest, richest and easiest decision to make. It's hard to really backhand the decision when $118 million is part of the overall equation, but Melo can no longer claim he ever wanted to win. If that was the case, he would've gone to Chicago without blinking. Instead, he made his choice and when you make yours in 2015, don't follow Melo's lead. New York will be bad again next year. Even thinking about the wasted opportunity for Melo makes me depressed. The glass for the Knicks isn't even half-full.
The future is bright in Cleveland both long term and in the interim and it can only get better with Wiggins in the fold and maturing as the player we expect him to be. Chicago has plenty to be both absolutely terrified of and excited for. Indiana could implode on themselves. Toronto is scrappy and under the radar. Washington is on the verge of something, I'm just not sure what. So what does that leave us?
Holy geez. Forget what I said earlier - Cleveland is totally winning this conference.
Glad we had this talk.