Lakers: Having A Ball

This Monday night, some of you may have flipped through channels and because of curiosity, boredom or a “secret guilty pleasure” you viewed WWE’s Monday Night Raw.  Personally, I stopped watching Monday Night Raw since Charlotte Flair was moved to WWE Smackdown on Tuesday nights, but for a few others, they might have stumbled across something that to some may have seen as “over-the-top” and to others may have been “entertaining.”  Regardless of what you felt, watching LaVar Ball take off his shirt in the middle of the wrestling ring flexing some kind of shadow-martial arts talent, was a sight to behold.

LaVar Ball, the famed (or in some circles “infamous”) father of Lonzo Ball, this year’s number two pick overall draft pick, selected by the Los Angeles Lakers, has been making waves for some time now.  You have heard him claim that his son is better than Steph Curry and how he himself, LaVar could beat Michael Jordan one-on-one.  Of all his ridiculous claims he’s made, there was one that he nailed:  that his son would be a Los Angeles Laker come draft night.

To effectively, truthfully and respectively break down what the Lakers got on draft night comes not only in the form of Lonzo Ball, but also his father LaVar.

It’s a package deal.  If you get Lonzo, you get LaVar.  And if you get LaVar, you’ll get the swag, the Big Baller Brand, the mouth and the confidence.

But lets start with the basketball side of things.

The Lakers sent former first round selection, D’Angelo Russell packing to Brooklyn, which brought along veteran center Brook Lopez.  The Lakers felt it would be fine to move Russell, who team president Magic Johnson said what they needed was “a leader,” because of the talent they have in Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram – two young players who have shown growing potential in the Lakers organization.

On good days, Lonzo Ball has been compared to Jason Kidd, and although Kidd may have been the physically stronger of the two, Ball is a wiry, athletic type and in terms of instincts and passing ability the comparison is valid.  Ball has an awkward jump shot but in college shot 55% from the field and 41% from three-point-range.  His free throw percentage of 67% is a little off-putting but one would think with his shooting ability, that will improve to at least 75%.

The Lakers, at their best, are known as the Showtime Lakers.  Los Angeles loyalists have been waiting for those glory days to re-appear, and although there is still building to do (even making the playoffs won’t easy – remember, it’s the Western Conference) – LaVar brings  a lot of Hollywood, to those fans clamoring for “showtime.”

LaVar ball is in the  belief that good or bad press, is good press at the end of the day and what he has done in establishing a market not only in the basketball world but outside of it, is remarkable.  The Big Baller Brand may not have a lot of purchasers due to ridiculous price tags attached to their merchandise, but everyone knows the name, and it’s a topic more times than not in basketball discussions.   The Ball “presence” has been felt by the NBA and Lonzo hasn’t even played in a scrimmage yet.

LaVar has already made himself nearly a regular guest on the ESPN and Fox Sports networks, and although the things he says waver on the “ridiculous” it’s entertaining.  For this Lakers team, they take on probably the biggest personality in the league in LaVar Ball.  He has already spoken against Lonzo’s college teammates publicly – who’s to say that pattern won’t repeat again with the Lakers? It will be interesting to see how the Lakers “handle” LaVar Ball.  Will there be any sit-downs with him, restrictions, etc. ?

The LaVar Ball antics, might actually be tolerated now because, Lonzo and the rest of this Lakers team is young – and barring any ridiculous acquisitions or multiple key injuries on other teams – the Lakers will be lucky to hover around being a 9th or 10th seed in the Western Conference.  With that being said, LaVar may be the best show in town – BUT – if and when the Lakers become a more serious contender LaVar may have to be quieted down, or maybe the return of the Showtime Lakers, will be enough to silence anything else in the city of Los Angeles.

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Brook Lopez: Class Act

It’s crazy to think that back in 2008 the New Jersey Nets selected Brook Lopez in the first round of the draft.  Lopez has never gotten the credit he deserved while on the Nets.  Mostly because playing for the Nets is generally a curse to those who are doomed to play for the franchise – but mostly because Lopez was consistently under-the-radar his entire career.  Maybe it’s because he’s a finesse-type center, soft-spoken, kind of doofy looking – whatever it may be, the spotlight was never on Lopez.  Even at times when it was obvious he was the best player on the Nets roster, the spotlight was always on somebody else: Kris Humphries (for all the wrong reasons), Deron Williams (for all the wrong reasons), Kevin Garnett or even Joe Johnson.

Lopez was a guy who came to work and enjoyed what he did, with whoever was around.  It’s a rare quality in people – let alone a professional athlete.   Brook Lopez somehow managed to be an  unassuming seven footer.  This, as well as his price tag which came with an injury history, is why his name has come up in trades for the last three or four seasons.  On paper trading Lopez always made sense: a finesse-center, with a big salary, lower leg issues, who can’t run the floor – seems like the type to be a welcoming issue on a good team, instead of a player it’s fan-base looked at as “holding back.”  To be fair to Lopez, he was never, holding back this team – the team, eh and Billy King, have put the Nets in a perennial moon-walk avoiding the big dance – but anyhow. . .

The day has finally come for Lopez to be traded.  Reports have come out that on draft day, the Lakers and Nets have agreed to a trade in which the Lakers give up D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov and the Nets give up Brook Lopez and their 27th pick in the first round.  The Lakers relieve themselves of the Mozgov contract and get in return assets – and for the Nets their big takeaway from this is acquiring D’Angelo Russell – a young player with the potential to become a very promising piece to the Nets much needed rebuild.

With Lopez now gone, the Nets have nothing but young guys trying to prove they can hand in this league, and veterans filling in spots and collecting pay-days.

Nets players went on to social media to show love to Brook Lopez as soon as the news came out.

Sean Kilpatrick posted a touching picture of him hugging Lopez during a game followed by: “First player I met once I became a Net & said do what you do best. Thanks for making sure I was always alright. Good luck in LA big fella”

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson posted a video of him and Lopez reinacting theme song from the television show The Wayans Brothers, and you can tell RHJ was really hurt by this move: “Couldn’t sleep… I’ve had a lot of teammates throughout my life and I loved and embraced every single one of them. But this guy right here became a best friend, biggest critic, big brother, smart ass, goof ball, turned me into a Disney lover and more. But the one thing that always meant a lot to me is no matter what we went through on or off the court we always talked to each other. You will be truly missed “BROTHER” good luck with everything and remember “We ride together We die together……. Bad boys for life”

This is what made Brook Lopez special in the Nets community.  Sure, the Nets are on nobody’s radar – ever.  They are the worst team in the NBA today but there are two things nobody can take away from them.  One is, the re-brand is a much better look (from New Jersey to Brooklyn, new uniform, new home) and that Brook Lopez was always a class act.

Back to the trade itself.

As previously stated, for the Nets this was a small price to pay to get someone like D’Angelo Russell.  CBS Sports’ Chris Barnewell says this is good for Russell, in that he gets a “fresh start” in Brooklyn.  Russell bumped heads with Byron Scott, then had that infamous “snap chat controversy” with Nick Young – there was definitely a need for change.  Brooklyn has a bunch of young guys on the squad, but none came into the league with more potential than Russell.

It’s a shame Brook didn’t get a chance to be traded to a contender though. Personally, I’ve always been a fan of Brook Lopez and I always said that he deserves better, he deserves to be on a winner.  There is no telling what the Lakers plans are with Lopez, but my guess would be to have his veteran presence in a locker room full of young guys – to help them along the way.  Or maybe, ultimately, to be used as a piece for another trade before the draft or mid-season before the trade deadline.

Regardless, it’s officially the end of an era for a franchise riddled with errors.  Lopez leaves the Nets as the team’s all-time leading scorer and one of the most over-looked stars in the last decade of New York area sports.

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

 

 

Lynch vs Peterson

The NFL off-season gets fans in a frenzy and for good reason.  It’s in the off-season where the draft happens and free-agency happens, and it’s because of these tools that fan-bases are given new hope.  Whether the hope is fabricated optimism or reality is to be revealed as the actual season unfolds, but until then it’s all open for debate.  This season, the Raiders went and acquired running back Marshawn Lynch and the New Orleans Saints signed free agent running back Adrian Peterson.

They are both products of the 2007 NFL draft, Lynch going number 12 to the Buffalo Bills, while Peterson went number 7 to the Vikings.   Comparing the numbers side by side, Peterson is clearly the better running back.  In some discussions, Peterson is looked upon as the best back to emerge out of college in the last decade.  His production, when healthy, is always league-best or close to it.  His last three seasons have been a sea-saw of consistency though. In 2014, he played one game and was suspended because of  child-abuse charges and in 2016 he tore his meniscus (right knee) and was limited to three games of action where he didn’t average over two yards a carry. . . 2015 though he led the NFL in rushing yards, yards per game, carries and rushing touchdowns. . .

Peterson found himself a free agent in this off-season and the only team he’s ever played for, the Minnesota Vikings were ready to let him go.  The New Orleans Saints signed Peterson to a two year, $7 million contract, with a signing bonus of two and a half million dollars. It was an interesting move for the Saints, whose running back Mark Ingram had a career high in rushing yards with 1043 and averaged over five yards a carry.  Considering the Saints, who led the NFL in passing yards last year, are team who’s offensive attack is concentrated around Drew Brees and the passing game – it was an interesting signing to say the least.  Maybe, the Saints will focus on a more “ball-control” oriented offense, to help preserve the health and stamina of their veteran quarterback?

Marshawn Lynch’s story is a bit different from Peterson’s.  Actually it’s a vastly different scenario.  After 2015, Lynch retired from the NFL altogether, sitting out the 2016 season but when the Oakland Raiders showed interest in the Oakland native, he was all about “the comeback.”  A year off might’ve been what “Beast Mode” needed as he had an injury plagued 2015 season, that saw him finish the season with a little over 400 yards at less then 4 yards a carry.  After Seattle traded his rights to the Raiders, Lynch was signed to a two-year contract worth $9 million with a $2 million signing bonus.  Lynch joins an Oakland Raiders team that some feel may be the only team to challenge the New England Patriots in the AFC.  Last season the Raiders had a very balanced offensive attack, finishing ninth in passing yards and fifth in rushing yards.  The rushing yardage total was more because of the offensive line than the actual ball-carriers though.  The Raiders worked with a running back by committee system, and it’s leading rusher was Latavius Murray who finished with less than 800 yards on the season (in a twist of irony, Murray signed with the Vikings this off-season).

So who got more bang for their buck?

Of course this is all built off of assumption, but everything points to Marshawn Lynch having more of a positive impact with the Raiders this season than Adrian Peterson will with the Saints.  Peterson, looked bad the last time we saw him – before he got hurt and he’ll be definitely splitting carries with Ingram in the backfield.  Drew Brees, might like the insurance policy that is Adrian Peterson, but the way this offense moves, and the language it uses, his comfort-level with Ingram will be hard to dethrone.  Lynch on the other hand, is on a team that truly believes with this offensive line, a well rested and newly motivated Marshawn Lynch will give them the consistency they need in the backfield.  Lynch retired from Seattle, because he wasn’t happy there anymore – let’s not get that twisted.  Lynch is looking forward to representing his hometown, especially on a team that is so focused on winning a championship like the Raiders.

For Peterson, it might be a season that we’ve seen once too many times for sports-greats.  Peterson is a lock to get into the hall of fame one day, but this might be a season that leaves his fans remembering him NOT as the dominant back he once was, but as a veteran hanging on to his glory days – and cashing out while he can.

G.W. Gras

@GeeSteelio