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Ben Billman’s NBA Email Exchange

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Below is a transcript of an email exchange between United States Sports Academy doctoral teaching assistant Ben Billman with Sherif Mansour, a healthcare consultant in Ohio and Sport Digest reader, about the NBA.

Ben Billman to Sherif Mansour

Hey Sherif.  The NBA Finals finished a couple weeks ago, and the draft was just held last week.  Free agency officially starts on July 1st.  It is an exciting time to not only look back on the 2016-17 season, but also to look forward to 2017-18.  I do wonder what your opinions are of the Warriors beating the Cavs in 5 games.  I thought game 3 was the clincher for the Warriors.  If the Cavs could have won that game, the series would have been 2-2 heading back to Oakland for game 5.  It would have been a toss-up at that point, especially with the way LeBron was playing.  He was unstoppable throughout the series, and I think he would have taken his game up another notch if games 5 through 7 would have mattered.

In the end, the Warriors won.  Kevin Durant was able to shake off some of the “hate” he received from leaving Oklahoma City.  What are your thoughts on how this past year transpired for Durant?  Should he have received so much vitriol?  The Warriors look to be in really good shape for years to come.  As long as they avoid injuries and keep the core four (Curry, Durant, Green, Thompson) together, they will become a dynasty.  Do you see any teams having any chance at beating Golden State in, let’s say, the next five years?

The draft occurred last week, and there were some interesting picks.  The Lakers got their guy in Lonzo Ball.  I love the pick, and I think he has a sixth sense when it comes to basketball.  It is hard to explain to those that don’t know the game, but certain guys have that “it” factor.  I wonder how his dad, Lavar, is going to act now that his son is in the NBA.  Where do you stand on Lavar and how he has been portrayed in the media?  I thought the rest of the draft went well.  Minnesota is the big winner by trading for Jimmy Butler.  Boston improved by drafting Jayson Tatum.  Philadelphia should take a huge step forward with Markelle Fultz and last year’s #1 pick, Ben Simmons, both joining the team this year.

Looking ahead to next season, I still like the Warriors, but I think Boston could take a huge step forward with the right moves in free agency.  Is next year LeBron’s last year in Cleveland?  What is the general opinion of fans in the area as to his future with the team?

Sherif Mansour to Ben Billman

Ben, welcome to the bleak winter of the Sports Calendar. Basketball is all done, and free agency hasn’t even started yet. Football is weeks away. And baseball hasn’t quite gotten serious yet. Thank goodness we are nerdy enough to discuss what has happened with the same relish we might discuss what is happening.

The NBA playoffs. How boring, right? One game away from a historic 16-0. And about 130 seconds away from a good series. If the Cavs don’t go cold in the waning minutes of game 3, I really think we have a different series. That being said, I couldn’t help but notice that this Kevin Durant guy is really good at basketball. He’s 6’11 with a high release point on his shot, which by the way is smooth like chocolate. Add to that great court vision and above average defense. I sure wish the Cavs would have beaten the Warriors so he could sign with us next year.

Here’s the problem with these Super Teams – the NBA, and all major sports leagues really, are designed on the basis that every player will typically go where the most dollars are offered. Location matters a bit, the ability to win matters a bit, but at the end of the day, you don’t turn down a big money contract to chase a ring IN YOUR PRIME! Yet that is exactly what happened, and not just with Durant. LeBron and Bosh took significantly less money to make a Super Team in Miami. That is really what got this particular ball rolling. And now Cleveland is hoping to add CP3 (traded to Houston in a deal that puzzles me, though I put my trust in Daryl Morey), and hoping to add Melo (won’t be bought out now that Phil Jackson is hopefully headed wherever old basketball men go when they clearly don’t have it anymore). Not to mention a deal with the Pacers (and Nuggets??) to bring Paul George to Cleveland and ship out poor Kevin Love. None of which will happen, but, we’re Clevelanders, so we love to hope.

Which leads me to your next point – no one but the Cavs has a shot at beating Golden State. The Spurs are good, but lack star power beyond Leonard. The Rockets get a bit better, but not enough better to challenge the Dubs (check back in with me if they also manage to rent Paul George for a year). The Celtics look like they have an incredible young nucleus, as do the 76ers and the Timberwolves. But for the next season, it’s Cavs and Warriors barring injury. The Cavs have a time limit, it seems, because of the rumors that LeBron is going to leave after this year (but where is he going to go? Maybe Golden State to form a MEGA TEAM?). After that, it’s probably the Celtics turn to wax again, though the Wizards are good, and the 76ers should theoretically be good (I trust the process). But, young players take time to mature, no matter how good they are, including Lonzo Ball.

I believe(d) in Lonzo Ball so much that I picked the Bruins to win the NCAA tournament. He let me down with a limp performance against Kentucky. And then I was introduced to his father. Man, do I LOVE to HATE Lavar Ball! He is the worst! I was actively rooting for the Lakers to not draft Lonzo just because I knew that it would disappoint Lavar. I think that he has a good grasp on how to get the most juice from his turn squeezing the orange, but I can’t imagine he lasts long term. Though I plan on actively deriding anyone I see wearing the big baller brand.

All in all, this off-season has actually proven more interesting than a rather insipid regular season, and a bland post season. Super Teams make for great, record shattering stats, but they don’t make for inspired basketball. Maybe Steph’s deal with the devil to strengthen his glass ankles will expire next year, and we can get some parody. My question is, have we seen LeBron’s ceiling yet, or is he just going to keep getting better every year? It has to end eventually, right? I am glad I’m alive to watch him play though.

Ben Billman to Sherif Mansour

This is by far the dullest time of the year in sports.  We were fortunate last year that the Olympics were going on.  Next summer is the World Cup, so that will grab my attention.  I like to take this time to recharge for the return of college football and the NFL.  There is another short lull right after the Super Bowl in February when football is over, the NBA is still in mid-season, and college basketball is a couple weeks away from the tournament.  Other than now and February, I am following something in sports all the time.

There was so much hate for Kevin Durant, and I don’t understand it at all.  He left a good, not great, Oklahoma City team to play with a great, not good, Golden State team.  There were obviously issues between him and Russell Westbrook, and he wanted to go to a team where he would have fun, enjoy the guys he played with, and win.  I use the analogy of a young technology geek.  This geek is the smartest person in the field of computer technology, but he works at a company that is lagging behind the competition and is holding him back from creating the technology he is capable of.  He decides to move to Apple, where he will be on the cutting edge and will be more visible and well known.  Would anyone question that move?  Would this geek be vilified in the technology industry for ditching a lesser company for the spotlight of Apple?  I don’t think so.  Leave KD alone!  I love the mobility players have in the NBA.  They can build a brand and go where they feel comfortable.  Super teams are fun to watch, and they make the playoffs so much more interesting.

I agree with you that we are on another collision course with the Warriors and Cavs.  CP3 will help Houston, but let’s be honest, they are still a long way from contending in the Western Conference.  Unless the Cavs can somehow draw a couple big free agents, I see LeBron jumping ship and going somewhere with better management and a brighter future.  He has three good years left, and we may have just seen the peak of his career.  The Cavs have the worst ownership and management in the league.  They sold out on their 10 year future by bringing in Kevin Love and trading Andrew Wiggins.  They have one more year to contend, and then the team will blow up.  Have fun watching that.  You will have a front row seat.

My opinion of Lavar Ball changes daily, and that is no joke.  One minute I see him teaching kids how to play basketball in his back yard, then I see him insulting women on sports radio.  He supports his sons and his ailing wife, and then goes on WWE and looks foolish.  I will say this though, it does seem that his boys are unfazed by his antics.  If they can come out of that house with a stable lifestyle, they will succeed in whatever they do.  I think Lonzo will be a game-changer for the Lakers.  If he isn’t though, it could set Los Angeles back in luring key free agents.  There has to be a winning mentality, and it comes down to Lonzo.  That is a lot to put on his shoulders, but Lavar put the weight there, and Lonzo seems okay with it.  I only see two possibilities.  First, Lonzo is a dud and never performs at a high level.  The Lakers trade him or move him to the bench and start over.  Second, Lonzo turns out to be the second coming of Magic Johnson and leads the Lakers back to the top of the league.  There is no middle ground in my opinion.

By the way, I can’t believe you picked UCLA to win the national title.  That was the toughest bracket in the tournament with North Carolina and Kentucky looming in the regionals.  I am genuinely disappointed the Sacramento Kings did not select both De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk.  They got Fox and then passed on Monk.  Watching two former Kentucky players who were deeply saddened after losing in the elite eight playing for vengeance in the NBA would have been exciting.  It would have filled a lot of seats too.  At this point, 25 of the 30 teams in the league are just trying to fill seats.  Speaking of filling seats, did you see what the Atlanta Hawks are doing?  They are building a courtside bar for season holders who have no interest in the game but want to get drunk and mingle with other rich folks.  Is this the direction the NBA is headed, especially with teams who have no shot at a title in the near future?  It sickens me.

Sherif Mansour to Ben Billman

Ohh, the World Cup. The best sporting event in the world every four years. I’d rather watch one world cup than four years of any pro-sports playoffs. You know what else is starting Saturday that is a good time? The Tour de France. It’s an odd competition with lots of games within the main race, but I find it fascinating. The only real issue is how long each day of racing is, even when condensed for television. But, the announcers are phenomenal, the drama is real, and the danger is palpable.

Listen, anyone moving to LA, NYC, SF, Miami, etc., from the middle of the country, is going to take heat. In the old WWF, they used to have an “I Quit” match, where essentially, the wrestlers would go on, until one of them said, “I Quit.” KD said, “I Quit.” And no American is going to respect that. I didn’t like it, I don’t respect it, but I didn’t give him that much grief, but only because OKC doesn’t deserve Seattle’s team. If the Sonics were still in Seattle, and KD left to join the Warriors, I would be much more upset. As it is, if you steal another city’s team, you deserve nothing but the worst.

Oh yeah, Super Teams are great for the product. Look how interesting the playoffs were. Look at all the important games and moments. What a joke.

I agree that the Andrew Wiggins deal was suspect at the time. However, the Cavs won a championship, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. The Cavs would have been more competitive for a longer period, but there is no guarantee of that ring without Love. No regrets.

The thing with Lavar is that he is clearly smart. He knows how to push buttons, and draw attention to himself. And he believes in press, whether positive or negative. I give the man props. Dealing with him should make his sons mentally strong, if not stable. But we shall see. Lonzo has to be good, to live up to the hype. I do think his shot is going to give him issues in the NBA – his release point is too low. And he will need to be able to shoot, because his speed won’t be as dramatic when compared to the NBA players, as opposed to college. He will now go to be a boy amongst men, and that transition is, inevitably, difficult. Not to mention the extreme spotlight that goes on anyone playing in LA for the Lakers.

UCLA played a good schedule, and I believe that Ball would be a difference maker. I was wrong. To your point about teaming up Fox and Monk – I don’t understand why more NBA teams don’t try to do that. Chemistry and fit are two qualities that are constantly discussed – why not make a point to draft as many guys from the same AAU or college team, fill them out with role players, and see where you ended up. Wouldn’t that group at least play together better because of their shared history? Wouldn’t they start the season with a leg up on other rosters full of rookies and incoming free agents?

So, I like going to baseball games. It’s like a picnic. I buy a hotdog, maybe nachos, an obscenely large Mountain Dew, and walk around. The game is almost secondary to the social aspect of the game. Sure, I watch, especially when the Tribe is batting, but not too closely. Basketball, on the other hand, is the best sport to attend in person. The action is continuous, the stars are very close, and highlights can come at any moment. But the Hawks idea to build a court-side bar is one aimed, not at fans, but at rich folk who buy courtside seats to hobnob with other rich folk, and to show off their social status. It’s a whole different ballgame, so to speak.

By Ben Billman and Sherif Mansour


Ben Billman is currently a doctoral teaching assistant at the United States Sports Academy.  He lives in Mobile, Alabama with his wife Jennifer and son Derrick.  He is originally from Indiana, and therefore has a deep love for the game of basketball.  Reach him at bbillman@ussa.edu.

Sherif Mansour is an out of work teacher, currently posing as a healthcare consultant. He lives near Cleveland, Ohio with his wife Karla and two daughters. He is an immigrant, originally from Egypt, but calls Northeast Ohio home. He is a huge Ohio State homer, and gets red in the face when people bad mouth Jim Tressel.

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