by Julian Spivey & Preston Tolliver
#1. LeBron James
Steph Curry may have won the last two MVP awards and the most recent of those two unanimously, but King LeBron James proved to the world during last season’s NBA Finals that he was still the best basketball player alive. The 2016-17 season could easily be James’ fifth MVP season with the Warriors studs taking votes from each other. He could also be scarier than ever with absolutely nothing to lose having now won three titles and doing so last year with his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. JS
#2. Stephen Curry
Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry is not only, without a doubt, the greatest shooter in the NBA, but he very well could be the greatest pure shooter to ever grace the hardcourt. His scoring is likely to go down a bit this season with the addition of Kevin Durant, another top five player in the league, and he’s almost assuredly not going to be able to threepeat as MVP with the talent that starting lineup will have, but nobody in their right mind could argue he’s not one of the two best players in the game right now – even with his struggles in big NBA Finals games over the last two seasons. JS
#3. Russell Westbrook
Over the last few years, while Kevin Durant was out with his injuries, Russell Westbrook made a habit of carrying the Oklahoma City Thunder when he needed to. He was iffy with his shot selection at times, but he was still consistent enough to give his team a shot at a deep playoff run. This year, though, expect Westbrook to go full Rambo – and not like “First Blood” Rambo who was kind of timid and didn’t want to kill anyone. He’s going to pull a “Rambo 4” and basically roll up in a truck and start blasting arms and legs off with a giant ass machine gun. PT
#4. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant’s going to have to learn to go from the number one guy on a team to a number two or three guy. It’ll be an adjustment, but the way the Golden State Warriors will be spacing defenses, expect him to just rain threes. PT
#5. Kawhi Leonard
Kahwi Leonard might be the best two-way player in the NBA. He’s the reigning two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, which isn’t an easy feat for a small forward. He’s also turned himself into quite the offensive threat averaging more than 20 points a game on a team that doesn’t always need him to do that with LaMarcus Aldridge, who just narrowly missed this list, and Pau Gasol. JS
#6. Kyrie Irving
Sorry Chris Paul, but you’ve been surpassed as one of the three best point guards in the NBA (although you’re probably still the best natural one because you still know how to pass the ball). You’ve been replaced by Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers who rode an incredible NBA Finals performance last season to this high spot on this list. It didn’t seem like Irving could miss anything in the Finals and that has to have done a lot for his confidence. If he wasn’t a teammate of LeBron James I think we’d be looking at a potential MVP this season. JS
#7. Chris Paul
Chris Paul is quickly becoming the NBA’s saddest story. Sure, he’s young, but he’s already falling into that Allen Iverson/Karl Malone/John Stockton category of guys who never won who should’ve. The Los Angeles Clippers have always had a decent team, but have never been serious contenders. Expect Chris Paul to look to give the Clippers that push over the edge that they need this season. PT
#8. Klay Thompson
There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that Klay Thompson is the second best pure shooter in the NBA, but with Steph Curry as his teammate in Golden State he’s not even the best shooter on his own team. Thompson might have some struggles this season on the court, but it won’t be due to his abilities, but rather because Kevin Durant has joined the team and he’s going to lose the most shot attempts as result. Thompson might have to go from All Star to role player and it might not sit well for him. The Warriors likely win a title, but Thompson knows he’s the best player on more than half of the teams in the league and he might want that shot before too long. JS
#9. Draymond Green
Draymond Green is arguably the second-to-fourth best player on a team that includes Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. That’s nothing to scoff at, and neither is his stat line from last year: 14 points per game, 7.4 assists, 9.5 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.5 steals. PT
#10. James Harden
James Harden might be one of the top 10 players in the NBA, but that doesn’t mean I respect him. The Houston Rockets star shooting guard might lead the NBA in scoring this season, as he did the last averaging 29 points a game, but he’s not a complete player and it’s really not even close. It seems Harden is allergic to playing defense and he’s a piss poor leader, as well. He can enjoy his top 10 selection on this list, because it’s about the only accolade he’s going to be receiving this season as his team likely fails to make the playoffs. JS
#11. Paul George
Last year was Paul George’s comeback year after a grueling injury that left him sidelined for about a year. He came back from recovering from a broken leg to a depleted team that looked nothing like it had during the Indiana Pacers’ glory days just two years earlier, and he still managed to get his team into the playoffs. Sure, it was an early exit, but now with point guard Jeff Teague there to help, Paul George will be sure to get the Pacers back into the postseason. PT
#12. Damian Lillard
Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is one of the most exciting, young players in the NBA. His two most important statistical categories – scoring and assists – were both at career highs last year and it seems like his ceiling might continue to rise. His team isn’t a real threat to go deep into the postseason, but put some more talent on the roster and Lillard could be the next Steph Curry. JS
#13. Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony for me is just an older version of James Harden. He’s a fantastic scorer, but don’t ever expect him to win a championship unless he goes searching for one through one of the free agency superteams that are so popular these days. He still scores enough and has a big enough name to make this list, but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it. JS
#14. DeMarcus Cousins
Say what you will about his attitude off the court, DeMarcus Cousins’ play on the hardwood earns him a spot on any top 20 list. Last year, he averaged 26.9 points and 11.5 rebounds, and with the Sacramento Kings looking desperate for some leadership on the court, it’s a safe bet he’ll start easing into that role soon, provided he can get past some of his maturity issues. Regardless, he’s easily one of the top three centers in the league. PT
#15. Kyle Lowry
The Toronto Raptors are going to come into this season with a chip on their shoulder. They went deep in the playoffs last year, losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to the eventual champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers. This year, Lowry, along with DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas, will look to prove everything wrong about how far the North with LeBron’s juggernaut in front of them. PT
#16. Anthony Davis
Are you tired of seeing Anthony Davis make top five NBA player lists, too? Than you might be happy that we only have him at No. 16 on this one. He might have the talent to be much higher on these lists, as he has before, but he hasn’t done a thing yet and he can’t keep himself on the court. His offensive and defensive numbers might both look nice, but you can’t bank on him to play more than 60 games a season. His team has never even finished higher than dead last in its division since he joined the team. JS
#17. Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin has been one of the most popular players in the NBA since he joined the league, primarily because he’s a human highlight reel. He’s also largely been a disappointment. The Los Angeles Clippers have had teams over the last few seasons that have looked like borderline All Star teams and have done absolutely nothing. A lot of this goes on the back of Griffin who’s caused chemistry issues with his attitude. He might be one of the most exciting players in the league, but I wouldn’t want him on my team. JS
#18. Al Horford
Not only does Al Horford have a new city, but he has decades of Bostonian legacy to live up to. Horford will join point guard Isaiah Thomas on the Boston Celtics, who will likely be feeding the big man and helping him make waves on the scoreboard. With both Horford and Thomas leading the charge, the Celtics are looking at being a major player in the east this season. PT
#19. Marc Gasol
Marc Gasol’s career is winding down. He spent a spell out with injury last year, and the Memphis Grizzlies are looking like they’re going to be in rebuilding mode within the next couple years. That means we’re about to see the last hoorah of Gasol, and don’t expect him to fade out quietly. PT
#20. Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki is the last of an old breed, but of the four players from the 1998 draft who are still active (along with Paul Pierce, Vince Carter and Nazr Mohammed), he’s the only one who will start for his team this year. That’s because he’s the only one who’s consistently carried his team through the years, without seeing a significant decline in production. Last year, Nowitzki averaged 18.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. With the Dallas Mavericks stretched thin and Dirk headed into what will possibly be his last season, you can count on more of the same. PT
by Julian Spivey
After 20 seasons and more than 1,600 baseball games Turner Field, home of Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves, is hosting its final baseball game today as the Braves play the Detroit Tigers at 2:10 p.m.
Twenty years isn’t exactly a long life for a professional baseball stadium, but the stadium originally built to host the 1996 Summer Olympics and then Braves baseball has never been an optimum home for the Braves ownership, who site traffic problems in downtown Atlanta and lack of public transportation around the area as factors to why the team often struggles in ticket sales. The Braves have always had kind of fair-weather local fans, anyway, even when they were in the middle of winning 14 straight division titles.
Turner Field is a special place to me, even though I’ve only been to three games at the location. Not only has it been the home of my favorite baseball franchise for the majority of my life, but it’s where I attended my first ever Major League Baseball game – a key moment in any baseball fan’s life. For that reason, I wish Turner Field, named after former Braves owner Ted Turner, could stand forever. But, they tore the House That Ruth Built down in New York, so nobody is exactly going to save a 20-year old ballpark that didn’t really have any special significance in the history of the game beyond the Braves franchise.
I’m sure Sun Trust Park, that just doesn’t sound right, the Braves new ballpark being built in the nicer suburbs of Cobb County will be a nice home for my favorite franchise and will surely pack in loads of fans at least in its first season of operation, which begins next April. But, I’m not sure it’ll ever mean as much to me as Turner Field, the somewhat boring cookie cutter park that was partially built to please a terrific rotation consisting of now hall of famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Sun Trust Park will never see a Bobby Cox ejection, it’ll never see a Chipper Jones home run, it’ll never see a Maddux, Glavine or Smoltz strikeout, or a dazzling Andruw Jones defensive play or a number of other things. One of the things I’ll miss most about Turner Field isn’t even at Turner Field, but outside in one of the parking lots where they have a monument commemorating the spot where Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record at the old Fulton County Stadium in 1974. They will probably demolish that with the field, but I hope not. Most importantly it’ll never be the first place my parents took me and my brothers to see our first Major League game, all the way from Arkansas.
That’s us in the photo attached to this piece - I’m the one in blue. It was August 2, 1998 and the Braves were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals, a team I was quite familiar with listening to on the radio in Arkansas. The Braves mascot, Homer, looks like a meth addict – luckily he’s cleaned up his act today. Seriously, my parents probably shouldn’t have allowed us around that dude.
I don’t think I’m a normal person. I don’t really remember a whole lot of things from my childhood. I remember plenty of sporting events and moments I’ve seen, but not a lot of lived in things – things I did or experienced. I remember that day well. I remember Kevin Millwood was the starting pitcher for the Braves. I’ve attended six Braves games in my lifetime and not once did I see Maddux, Glavine or Smoltz start a game. I hate that. I remember Mark McGwire went 0-for-4 for the Cardinals and this was just a month before he’d break Roger Maris’ single season home run record that we all know now was bogus. I remember the Braves won 4-3 and they did so on a RBI double by Greg Colbrunn, who started that day in place of the Braves usual first baseman Andres Galarraga. I think Colbrunn means more to me from this one at-bat than he does to most anybody who ever saw him play. This would be the only time I ever saw the Braves win at Turner Field. I’ve seen them win twice at the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Maybe I should just stay close to home and watch them win?
The second time I went to Turner Field was during a family reunion in the summer of 2001. They would go on to lose to the New York Mets and we’d have to leave before the last out because my brother couldn’t keep down an overpriced ballpark hot dog, but the best part about this trip was we got to take a tour of the stadium. I stepped foot on the same field that my childhood heroes did. I even got to sit in the same dugout they did. I don’t believe my family has photos of this. I wish they did.
My third and final time at Turner Field was in the summer of 2005 when they got beat pretty badly by the Oakland A’s in an interleague game. This was more than a decade before now and I had no way of knowing this would be my final trip to The Ted, as many affectionately or sarcastically depending on the person call it. I so badly wanted to go to Atlanta this season and wish it farewell, but life is too busy and that never happened. Seeing a game here or there on television this season showed me that many, even those much closer than I am to the ballpark, must’ve had the same thing happen.
I’m going to watch the game this afternoon and I hope the Braves win one final time at Turner Field. As previously mentioned, there was really nothing too significant about the ballpark. At the same time, it holds an awful lot of significance to me.
by Preston Tolliver
I didn’t start really paying attention to basketball until 2009.
Sure, I have memories of sitting at my grandma’s house with everyone while we watched the Jordan Bulls keep Stockton and Malone from entering the Naismith Hall of Fame with rings on their fingers. But I didn’t really pay attention. I’m pretty sure I just played in the floor with my wrestling toys.
I would keep up with little tidbits here and there. I knew Allen Iverson was pretty good, that LeBron James was some sort of basketball prodigy and that there was something about Kobe that was impressively unlikeable. But I wasn’t paying attention.
Then, sometime in the 2008-2009 season, I started paying attention. I’m not sure what the exact sequence of events were, but the gist of it was that before moving off for college, I lived with my brother, he sometimes watched games and I sometimes watched them too. I knew I needed a team, and I particularly enjoyed watching the Boston Celtics, who were coming off a championship season. Everything between that is hazy, but a few months later in June 2009, I was forcing discussions about the NBA Finals with customers who were unfortunate enough to come through my checkout lane at Hastings (the Lakers would go on to beat the Celtics that year). The next year, my brother took me to see the Celtics play in Dallas, which was my first professional basketball game. I’ve been to seven games since.
There were probably several things that held my interest in basketball, but in the beginning, four players specifically gave me reason to tune in: Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. Allen effectively retired two years ago, Garnett announced his retirement last Friday, Pierce announced on Monday that this will be his final season, and Rondo, who will play this season for the Chicago Bulls, has what I’m pretty sure is the basketball equivalent of the Benjamin Button disease.
Truthfully, I don’t know a lot about Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett’s basketball ability. I came in when they were still pretty good, but not at peak performance. Most of what they’d proven on the court had come to pass by 2009. I did know that Kevin Garnett was kind of a jerk to other players (I cannot stress enough how much I love that), that he was great in the post and that he was pretty funny when he ridiculed Craig Sager for his suits. I knew that Paul Pierce was clutch AF, could shoot threes, wore headbands pretty well and was good at being a person Nate Robinson did flips over.
Nevertheless, they’ll always be two of my all-time favorites (Allen doesn’t get this distinction after pulling a Judas and going to Miami in 2012).
I won’t say I was devastated when Garnett announced his retirement Friday. That would be dramatic. But something was amiss. Something that I had grown to love would no longer include one of the people responsible for me loving it. I had a similar feeling again Monday when Paul Pierce announced his farewell tour. Admittedly it wasn’t as bad a feeling as the day the two were traded to the Brooklyn Nets (a fate we can all agree is worse than death, let alone retirement), but both Friday and Monday were pretty bummer days because of it.
What I appreciate most about the two, though, will never be what they did on the court, but what they did for me, because mostly I’m selfish. Pierce and Garnett, along with Allen and Rondo, brought me an interest that’s done more for me in the last seven years than some of my best friends ever could. Because of that interest, I’ve logged hours playing basketball – both through video games and actually playing, like outside, like on a court – with family and friends. I’ve also won two fantasy league championships, which is still two more championships than Karl Malone or John Stockton ever won. More importantly, though, basketball also gave me an outlet following my mother’s death (I think I made four trips between Oklahoma City and Memphis to watch games that year). And for someone whose default when feeling overwhelmed by life is to get drunk, play video games and eat Doritos, that meant something.
I have a lot of people to thank for that interest. Pierce and Garnett aren’t the only reasons I watch basketball. But they were pretty influential in getting me there, and right now, I’m thanking them.