The Decade of Longevity: Where Hip-Hop & Football Align

Take Your Pick

Tupac or Biggie? Barcelona or Real Madrid?

Hip-hop and football (soccer) are two cultural spheres from which people form intimate relationships. One’s favorite rapper or footballer is formed based on a huge web of interconnected influences: where someone grew up, the values they were raised to hold, and the style of their favorite rapper or footballer, amongst others.

gettyimages-11278662841-1024x682.jpg

While everyone is entitled to having a favorite in anything, there is a collective understanding within any given cultural sphere of who is the best at what they do. The cream rises to the top, and those on top set the standard for everyone else to follow.

How Do We Know Who the Greatest Is?

Greatness consists of a powerful fusion of sentiment and statistics. Sentiment in hip-hop and football are measured based on subjectivity; the emotions evoked by someone’s ability, for example, are incalculable. Statistics in hip-hop and football, on the other hand, are strictly factual. In hip-hop, statistics can be how many streams, album sales, or Grammys a rapper has compiled. In football, statistics can be quantified by the number of goals, assists, or clean sheets a player has, as well as major titles or Ballon d’Ors a player has won.

kendrick-lamar1.jpg

While sentiment and statistics are polar opposites in nature, they combine to form a compelling argument about who the greats are, and in this case, who the greats in hip-hop and football are.

This Generation’s Greatest

We currently live in a unique cultural period, both in hip-hop and football. This era, which can be marked by the turn of the decade, can be defined by one word: longevity. The two greatest rappers of the 2010s are Kendrick Lamar and Drake, and the two greatest footballers of the 2010s are Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. What makes these four individuals so special is how long they’ve been performing at the highest level. It has rarely been seen in either sphere, making this past decade a special one.

Messi1.jpg

Interestingly enough, when you split the four men into groups of two, with the careers of Kendrick and Messi aligning in certain ways, as do those of Drake and Cristiano.

K Dot and La Pulga (The flea, Messi’s nickname)

Kendrick Lamar (Compton, California) and Lionel Messi (Rosario, Argentina) were born a week apart on June 17th and June 24th, 1987, respectively. Kendrick Lamar has lived in California his entire life, and Messi moved to Barcelona as a teenager, where he has lived for the majority of his life. Lamar and Messi are widely praised for their humility, coming from humble upbringings, letting their performances speak to their unparalleled talents.

They have taken on the occasional advertisement campaign or acting gig (Kendrick, briefly), but generally go unseen in the public eye or the tabloids. Perhaps this can be attributed in part to the fact that both men are in committed relationships to their high school sweethearts with whom they’ve had children. Regardless, the fact that folks can almost solely associate the two with their profession is a reflection of the dedication they’ve demonstrated in their careers.

Kendrick1

Of course, Lamar and Messi’s abilities have evolved over time, but all of the magic they’ve produced has been executed with the same underlying grace that has won them so many faithful fans. Their seemingly innate talent is considered to have a permeating effect, making those around them perform at a higher level, be it in the studio or on the pitch. It is due to this “effortless” ability that they are considered amongst the very best, if not the best, in the history of their respective crafts.

Drizzy and CR7

Drake (Toronto, Canada) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Madeira, Portugal) were born over a year apart on October 24th, 1986 and February 5th, 1985, respectively. Drake lived in Canada for some time before moving to Los Angeles, California, and Ronaldo has moved about throughout his career, initially leaving Portugal for Manchester, England as a teenager. These two also had humble upbringings, Ronaldo from poverty, and they have gone on to be the most marketable individuals in their respective crafts, taking on the persona of global ambassadors of sorts.

Drake and Ronaldo are constantly making noise in the press for one thing or another. Drake has come to be seen as the face of streaming giant Apple Music, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s business team has built a museum, a hotel, and underwear line all under Cristiano’s name, just to name a few business ventures. Their often excessive self-adoration, especially Ronaldo’s, has fueled much criticism over the years. Both men have had children with unknown mothers, irking the purest of fans, and both men have been accused of sexual assault. Although neither accusation was deemed true, it (understandably) holds an asterisk over their heads for some, cemented by the fact that the accusers in both cases were paid off.

Ronaldo1.jpg

Despite the negative image bestowed upon them by the public, Drake and Cristiano Ronaldo are seen as two of the most hard-working professionals of all time in their respective industries. They have evolved on numerous occasions, which has been the key to maintaining their longevity at the top. Drake started out mainly as a rapper, but went on to become arguably the biggest pop artist in the world, much to the disapproval of his hardcore rap fans. Ronaldo started out as a flashy winger, and upon moving to Real Madrid became the best goal scorer in the world, causing some fans to call him a boring player without the flair. Both have been accused of depending on the talent around them in reaching the point that they are at, but this is simply petty and unfounded.

Not Everything Was The Same…

Obviously, the aforementioned comparisons are subject to all kinds of rebuttal.

First and foremost, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are objectively two of the ten best footballers of all time, and arguably in the top five of all time. On the other hand, while a large population of hip-hop fans would put Kendrick Lamar in their top 10 all-time list, Drake seems unlikely to appear on that list. He has produced countless hits and helped further the careers of dozens of artists, but he does not have a To Pimp a Butterfly or a Good Kid M.A.A.D City. Drake’s Take Care and Nothing Was The Same are amazing bodies of work, but some say they lack the depth that lifts most albums into the tier of classic. In all, his cultural impact has been immense, but his societal impact has been modest, whereas Kendrick’s singular ability to narrate the black experience in America has transcended the rap game.

Drake1

Second, Messi’s story with Argentina remains a dismal one. Despite having reached the final in multiple tournaments with his national team (including in the 2014 World Cup), Messi has returned to his club duties empty handed after each of those occasions. Kendrick Lamar, on the other hand, was the first non-jazz or classical musician to win the Pulitzer Prize, which one could argue is even more impressive than winning the World Cup. A considerable crowd of football fans argue that it’s impossible for Messi to be the best ever because of his shortcomings with Argentina, but many say that Messi’s achievements at the club level balance his legacy out.

Third, I can imagine that many hip-hop fans could disagree with the notion that Kendrick Lamar and Drake are the two best hip-hop artists of this past decade. The only artist who fans can genuinely argue in favor of over one of those two is Kanye West, which is a valid argument. After all, many credit Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreaks as Drake’s inspiration in expanding his sound beyond the realm of rap, and Kanye’s most critically acclaimed album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, came out in late 2010. It’s important to note, though, that Kanye’s influence in hip-hop began as early as the 1990s when he started out as a producer for Roc-A-Fella Records before deciding to rap as well. Despite all of this, Drake’s musical success in the 2010s has been greater than Kanye’s.

Why?

Our world is interconnected in far more ways than we have been conditioned to perceive.

default

Being a massive fan of rap and football myself, it’s entertaining to think about the ways that these two massive cultural spheres overlap and bounce off of one another. Hip-hop and football are two entirely unique cultures, but they also have the power of creating community, both amongst like minded folks and amongst historically oppositional groups of people. These two art forms generate emotions, establish personalities, and set trends within our daily lives. Immortal memories and achievements have been made in both, and will continue to do so as long as we can figure out how to weather the impending climate catapult.

The more we push ourselves to recognize commonalities amidst more obvious differences, the more cohesive a global society we will live in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Premier League Top Four: The Contenders

September is almost here and the new Premier League season has finally kicked off. Several teams have strengthened their squad in the transfer window with hopes of securing a UEFA Champions League spot, awarded to the top four teams in the table. As time winds down, here is how competitive teams will stack up.

Fighting for a Spot in Europe

Leicester City: The Foxes’ competitiveness in 2020 all depends on how they will cope with the sale of Harry Maguire. The 2016 EPL champions made £80 million for the English international, a world-record fee for a center back. Still, Maguire’s presence on the back line was key to Leicester’s chances of breaking into the top four, but the Foxes have enough talent on their roster to change their identity following his departure. Leicester probably overpaid for attacker Ayoze Perez from Newcastle when they coughed up £30 million, but they know what they’re getting from the EPL regular. He will play behind Jamie Vardy in a supporting forward role upon Shinji Okazaki’s departure and Kelechi Iheanacho’s underwhelming performances.

ipanews_1efe5db3-fe35-4216-9894-f5d6033049a0_1.jpeg

Perhaps Leicester’s most important move of the summer was signing Belgian international Youri Tielemans to a long-term permanent deal after a successful loan spell at the King Power stadium in 2019. The midfielder was receiving interest from top clubs in England, but Leicester still managed to secure his signature. Ricardo Pereira proved himself to be one of the signings of last summer at the right back spot, and Ben Chilwell could be the future of England at the left back spot. Wilfred Ndidi is no Ngolo Kante, but has an extremely bright future as one of the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League, and showed his quality last weekend with a goal against Chelsea. The young James Maddison could be the club’s next maestro, as big clubs in England were looking to snatch him away from the King Power. Leicester has enough to finish in the upper half of the table, and could challenge for an even higher spot if a center back steps up in Maguire’s place.

Wolverhampton: After being promoted last season, Wolves put every team on notice with consistency in every position. Their heavy Portugese squad influence made headlines in last year’s transfer window, and the chemistry certainly paid dividends as they finished in the seventh spot and with a winning record against the EPL top six. They sealed the transfers of Leander Dendoncker and Raul Jimenez this summer, who both impressed in their loan spells last season. Jimenez, a Mexican international, is not flashy but loves to put the ball in the net at a consistent rate, while Dendoncker will likely start for the Belgian Red Devils in the future, being able to play as a center back and also as a defensive midfielder.

2019-04-24T210828Z_1482313414_RC1CA2B794E0_RTRMADP_3_SOCCER-ENGLAND-WLV-ARS-1-960x450

The biggest headline by far for Wolves has to be the signing of Patrick Cutrone for £23 million from AC Milan. The young Italian striker is about to enter the prime of his career, and showed high-level promise at the San Siro. At the age of just 21, Cutrone has already made 90 caps for Milan, scoring 27 times primarily as a substitute. Wolves should give him plenty of opportunities to shine, and this is just the type of signing that manager Nuno Espírito Santo needs in order to break into the top six. Wolves played very well against the Premier League’s best teams last season, and look to continue that form following a draw against Manchester United this past weekend.

West Ham United: Every transfer window, West Ham spends like a top European club and ends up finishing mid-table. This window, the Hammers decided to be a bit more selective on their transfers, while still spending money where they deem acceptable. Longtime strikers Marko Arnautovic and Andy Carroll have departed the club – while they would have done well to receive more than just £20 million for Arnautovic, the player was forcing the move and there was not much that could have been done. Luckily, West Ham quickly replaced the Austrian international with Sebastian Haller, who had a strong season for Frankfurt. The tall French striker played second fiddle to Luka Jovic in Germany, but still managed to score 15 times in 29 caps in 2019, also tallying nine assists. Only Robert Lewandowski had more goal involvement in Germany last season, so there are high hopes that Haller lives up to the £45 million price tag that the Hammers agreed to pay. Pablo Fornals joins West Ham from Villareal, and shows plenty of promise from the attacking midfield spot. He is still young and will take some time to develop, but adds another dimension to West Ham’s attack. West Ham is dangerous in 2020, coming off of stellar seasons from Felipe Anderson on the wing and Lukasz Fabianski in goal. If Issa Diop and Declan Rice continue developing, West Ham could be a serious threat. It will also be interesting to see what Andriy Yarmolenko does with a full season and if Jack Wilshere can break into the squad.

Everton: The other team in Liverpool has been threatening to spend big on a player that will take them to the next level this transfer window. Everton lost Idrissa Gueye to PSG for almost £30 million, who was one of their three best players last season, next to Lucas Digne and Richarlison, but replaced him with Manchester City veteran Fabian Delph and Mainz CDM Jean-Philippe Gbamin. Delph is certainly a downgrade, but brings championship pedigree and will potentially make a difference in changing the team’s mentality. While they know the consistency that they’ll be getting from Delph, Gbamin offers a ceiling that is close to Gueye’s, giving the Toffees some flexibility. Lucas Digne had a career-changing season at LB after failing to make a real impact in previous stints at PSG, Roma and Barcelona.

0_GettyImages-1168643410.jpg

Richarlison solidified himself as the real deal after an impressive year with Watford the season prior, scoring 13 times in the league with Everton in 2019. They look to provide some goal-scoring support for the Brazilian international, which will be further bolstered by additions of Moise Kean from Juventus and Alex Iwobi from Arsenal. After failing to secure Wilfried Zaha’s signature, Everton managed to buy Iwobi on deadline day to round out a dangerous front three that features Bernardo and Richarlison. Kean is an affordable and the smart long-term move, especially considering that the purchase did not include a buy-back clause. Everton solidified a permanent move for Andre Gomes from Barcelona, who had a successful loan spell for them last season. Losing Ademola Lookman to RB Leipzig definitely stung, but they made over a 200% profit on a player who only scored four times for them in 48 caps. The Toffees have made the signings that they need to give themselves a chance of breaking into a spot that ensures European football.

Chelsea: Like Arsenal, initial expectations of an uneventful transfer window have been transcended. Their activity has naturally been limited by transfer ban, but they managed to do as well as they could considering the circumstances. Mateo Kovacic signed on full-time for Chelsea after a decent loan spell last season; they may not have made this move permanent if they didn’t have the transfer ban, but the attacking midfielder showed promise all season. Christian Pulisic joins from Borussia Dortmund after Chelsea agreed to purchase him in January, following a loan move to finish the year at Dortmund. He has shown plenty of ability in preseason, but is far from a Hazard replacement. The club also extended Callum Hudson-Odoi after fighting off interest from Bayern Munich, which was key in solidifying the future of the club. The teenager was showing plenty of promise prior to suffering a long-term injury at the end of 2019. Still, the winger has plenty of time to recover and return to form.

0_GettyImages-1168777387.jpg

Perhaps the most successful signing came in the form of their manager, as Chelsea appointed former club legend Frank Lampard. This was a great managerial signing for the London giants, but it may have come a bit early, as they didn’t have the opportunity to find a Hazard replacement. Given Chelsea’s history of sacking managers after just one unsuccessful season, Lampard may have been unintentionally set up to fail. The club has good players, especially with the heaps of loanees on their books – but Lampard needs to decide on a striker following Gonzalo Higuain and Alvaro Morata’s departures. Olivier Giroud is a decent option, but would serve the club more efficiently by coming off of the bench. Michy Batshuayi has been very effective in the opportunities that he has been given, but has been shown little belief in his abilities by Chelsea. Lampard has expressed a desire to go with the young Tammy Abraham, who scored 25 goals in 37 caps playing for Aston Villa in the Championship last season. Former Derby attacker Mason Mount has been shown plenty of trust in Lampard’s time so far, given that the gaffer coached him last season. After initially receiving plenty of hate, he was praised for his performance against Leicester City this past weekend after scoring a tenacious goal in the opening ten minutes. The options are there, but without Hazard to bail Chelsea out this season, they are in danger of losing a top-six spot without an elite player on the roster (aside from Ngolo Kante).

Manchester United: In classic Manchester United fashion, the Red Devils were linked with pretty much every big player on the planet, with little to show for it. After being linked with Toby Alderweireld since January, United decided not to bid for the Tottenham defender while his release clause was only £25 million. After the release clause was nullified, United decided to look to Harry Maguire to rebuff their lacking defense. His quality is unquestionable, but Leicester requested a world-record fee for his services, making for extremely high expectations. Maguire was eager for a move to Manchester and will look to secure the captain’s band. Eric Bailly has once again been injured for an extended period of time, leaving United with Maguire and Victor Lindelof to fill out the back line. Backup options of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have proved unreliable, leaving some doubt over the team’s depth. The Red Devils were in talks with Paulo Dybala and Bruno Fernandes, and both would have been excellent signings. Dybala originally began talks with Tottenham over a transfer, but United quickly became the favorites to sign him after Juventus showed interest for a swap deal involving Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian striker looked set to leave United for Juve after just two seasons with the club, but eventually signed with Inter Milan on an expensive deal.

de7f1a0b40805e478ecec05656489acc

Their other successful transfers were Aaron Wan-Bissaka of Crystal Palace and Daniel James of Swansea. James showed plenty of promise in the Championship last season, but may not be ready for Premier League football just yet. His early-season goal may prove to be a curse, given that it should give him more playing time in too early of a stage in his career. Bissaka, on the other hand, put himself on the map last season as one of the world’s most promising right backs, and should come in immediately as a season-long starter. His £45 million is a little bit too steep for a player with only one good season under his belt, but has shown enough quality during the preseason for United fans to rest easy. Like Arsenal, their hopes to finish in a Champions League spot are hinged on how well their defense plays.

Guaranteed Top Six Finish

Arsenal: Arsenal’s transfer window started with an announcement that they would only have £40-45 million of spending money for the entirety of the summer, distressing Gunners fans around the world. Luckily, Arsenal’s board allocated them more funds, allowing them to seal a big money move for winger Nicolas Pepe for a club record fee of £72 million. Dani Ceballos joins the Gunners on a loan move from Real Madrid after he looked poised to join Tottenham on the other side of North London, and heavily impressed with a MOTM-caliber performance in his regular debut. They also signed promising center back William Saliba for £30 million. He will surely be a staple of the Arsenal defense for years to come, but returns to his previous club St. Etienne on a one-year loan deal to start. The French club likely would not have let the deal go through without the Gunners loaning him back, which spells bad news for their defense in 2020. Luckily, they secured David Luiz on a cheap signing; Luiz will look to make an impact in the starting lineup immediately, as the rest of their defensive options are comprised of Sokratis, Mustafi and Rob Holding. Their final signing of the transfer window came in the form of Celtic wingback Kieran Tierney, for whom they were negotiating during the entire summer. He should start immediately, but still needs to prove himself.

h_55405771

Captian Laurent Koscielny has moved on to Bordeaux, leaving the dressing room without their leader. Players will have to step up and show their love for the shirt in order to fill this spot. While Arsenal’s front three now looks elite, they needed to spend more on their main position of need. The glaring weakness in their roster could leave them susceptible to falling short of expectations, which could mean a finish outside of the top six. Still, this team is going to score plenty of goals, and looks like a much better squad than Chelsea or Manchester United after the first few games.

Manchester City: City’s roster depth is unprecedented in the EPL. Guardiola’s squad purchased Rodri from Atletico Madrid early into the transfer window, solidifying the deep-lying midfield position as Fernandinho and David Silva grow with age. They let Fabian Delph sign for Everton for £8.5 million, and although they could have gotten more money for the first-team regular, he was never in Guardiola’s long-term plans. Vincent Kompany has ended his long stint with the club as its captain, returning to his Anderlecht, his boyhood club, as player-manager. Bayern Munich tried to snatch Leroy Sane away from City for the entirety of the transfer window, and despite confidence from pundits in Germany, the deal never went through. Sane’s major injury in preseason likely played a large part in his lack of movement away from the club, but City will still miss his speed on the wing. The incumbent champions head into the new season as co-front runners with Liverpool to win both the EPL and the Champions League.

Liverpool: Liverpool’s roster features the EPL’s best wingers, wingbacks, goalkeeper and center back. They clearly did not need to edit their squad very much, and Jurgen Klopp had been quoted stating that they didn’t expect to make any big-money transfers during the window. The truth is that they didn’t need to. Sure, they would benefit from bringing on another center back to pair with Virgil van Dijk (young transfer Sepp van den Berg may not be ready), but Fabinho has shown plenty of ability to successfully fill that spot in worst-case scenarios. Selling Dominic Solanke in January for around £20 million was a revelation, given that he only scored once in a Liverpool shirt in 21 appearances as a striker, and they will look to make the same kind of unprecedented profit from selling Welshman Harry Wilson in the next window. With Daniel Sturridge’s contract coming to an end, the Reds opted to turn to Divock Origi as a backup for Roberto Firmino, who scored several important goals at the end of last season. His natural position probably falls on the wing, but his speed and tenacity work well within the Reds’ system. The Champions League winners are ready to compete with Manchester City for the title, and bringing back almost the same team from last season will pay off in regards to the team’s chemistry.

liverpool-19-20-home-kit-1.jpg

Tottenham: While Spurs have retained Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld at present, they still have plenty of work to do. Eriksen seemed destined for a big money move to a powerhouse club willing to splash the cash, but he found himself in an awkward position of not being any team’s primary target but also being too good for Spurs to accept any unsuitable offer. Alderweireld could have gone for as little as £25 due to a contractual short-term release clause, until that clause expired at the end of last week. Spurs now value the consistent CB between £40-45, and he seems more willing to re-sign than Eriksen. With one year left on each of their deals, Spurs must make it a priority to re-negotiate their contracts. If the Danish CAM continues to refuse signing an extension, they must consider selling him at a cut-price to avoid losing him for free.

Adding Tanguy Ndombele is surely viewed as a great success, given that he was on plenty of big clubs’ radars and that he was Tottenham’s premier transfer target. He provides the type of quality and creativity from a deeper-lying midfield position that Tottenham has been missing since Moussa Dembele’s departure, and even before then. However, it seems as though chairman Daniel Levy could be up to his same old tricks, refusing to financially commit himself towards moving Tottenham into the elite category. They missed out on top players like Wilfried Zaha and Paulo Dybala amid competition from Everton and Manchester United respectively, and lost to Arsenal on transfer targets like Dani Ceballos and William Saliba earlier in the window. Teams who cannot even promise Champions League football should not be winning the signatures of so many players who have an option to join Tottenham, but therein lays the issue.

TELEMMGLPICT000205626513-xxlarge_trans_NvBQzQNjv4Bq8Asj1eHb3tSpQqwok7bWexrbWN3CuVK8AntL72VRN5Q

Spurs supporters were sad to see Kieran Trippier leave for Atletico Madrid, but we all knew that he was not the long-term solution, especially after taking a step back last season. Kyle Walker-Peters is a much better wingback than people give him credit for, while Serge Aurier is quality on his day. Pochettino also fancies Juan Foyth in the right back spot, as he impressed from this position for Argentina in Copa America, and should see time at wingback upon his return from injury. Still, none of these players should adequately satisfy the side; Dani Alves was rumored with Tottenham in July, but chose to join Sao Paulo in Brazil. Spurs finally tied the knot on their seemingly inevitable transfers of Giovani Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon, but failed to sell Danny Rose, leaving Sessegnon with competition. Lo Celso needed to be signed to a permanent deal, but the club only managed to successfully agree on a loan move. Although their current squad would likely produce European competition in 2021, Spurs would have done well to finish the transfer window in aggressive fashion if they were hoping to catch City and Liverpool in the race for the title.

Table Prediction

  1. Manchester City
  2. Tottenham
  3. Liverpool
  4. Arsenal
  5. Wolverhampton Wanderers
  6. Everton
  7. Manchester United
  8. Leicester City
  9. Chelsea
  10. West Ham United
  11. Bournemouth
  12. Burnley
  13. Watford
  14. Crystal Palace
  15. Aston Villa
  16. Newcastle United
  17. Brighton
  18. Sheffield United
  19. Southampton
  20. Norwich City

 

2019-2020 NBA Regular Season Predictions

In a complete turnaround from the summer of 2016, the recent events of 2019 free agency has leveled the entire NBA out to foster some unpredictable competition. Super-teams laden with three or more All-NBA caliber players have been dissipated due to a combination of injuries and newfound resolves, from KD’s decision to team up with Kyrie in Brooklyn, to Kawhi’s steadfast aspiration to play at home. The NBA’s ratings are about to blow up, mostly because for the first time since before LeBron’s decision to take his talents to Miami in 2011, there is no clear championship favorite. NBA Draft Lottery changes responsible for Zion Williamson’s landing in New Orleans have limited the pool of tanking teams in 2019-2020, such that less than five teams in the league will look to prioritize development over making the playoffs. It’s a great time to follow the NBA, and here are my predictions on what the regular season standings will look like at the end of next April.

Eastern Conference

  1. Boston Celtics

Notable Additions: Kemba Walker, Enes Kanter, Romeo Langford
Notable Losses: Al Horford, Kyrie Irving, Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, Aron Baynes

As far as talent is concerned, the Celtics have undoubtedly worsened. Regardless, plugging Walker into Irving’s role will likely produce positive results, given that Kemba’s playing style involves his teammates more so than Kyrie’s style does. This will translate into Boston’s young talent being fully utilized – a synergy that the team hasn’t experienced since the 2018 playoffs. With a more defined go-to group in Jayson Tatum, Jalen Brown, Walker and a healthier Gordon Hayward, the Celtics should have more of a clear game plan and more of a unified locker room. They’re going all in on letting their players participate on Team USA, giving the Celtics their own unique training camp on the international stage. Their top seeding won’t necessarily translate into playoff success, though; this talented roster just screams second round elimination to me.

kemba2.jpg

  1. Philadelphia 76ers

Notable Additions: Al Horford, Kyle O’Quinn, Raul Neto, Josh Richardson, Trey Burke
Notable Losses: Jimmy Butler, JJ Redick, TJ McConnell, Boban Marjanovic

The Sixers did well to preserve some shooting by keeping Tobias Harris on a long-term deal, but the loss of Jimmy Butler could certainly put a stain on their championship aspirations. They did manage to snatch Al Horford away from Boston on a surprise deal, which should create major defensive problems for their opposition, while also solidifying their starting five as the tallest in the NBA. It will be interesting to see how Philadelphia stacks up against smaller lineups, and the loss of JJ Redick should be taken very seriously. Look for the Sixers to heavily recruit shooting talent throughout the season, and look for Ben Simmons to improve on his jump shot. Joel Embiid will be putting everything into this upcoming season, so 2020 will tell us a lot about the young stars of Philadelphia.

  1. Milwaukee Bucks

Notable Additions: Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews, Kyle Korver, Jon Leuer, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Dragan Bender, Frank Mason III
Notable Losses: Malcolm Brogdon, Nikola Mirotic, Tony Snell, Pau Gasol

Lots of NBA analysts see the Bucks continuing their regular season Eastern Conference dominance, but I see them sliding down the standings by a few spots. Losing Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic should prove to be challenging for the Bucks to deal with. Brogdon gave Eric Bledsoe a perfect simultaneous running mate and backup depending on how Milwaukee wanted to line up, and there will be plenty of pressure for Bledsoe (who is about to hit 30) to repeat a stellar defensive season. He will almost surely regress from his First Team All Defense status, while Mirotic gave them a great combination of size, shooting and defense. This team can prove me wrong if Giannis develops his shot at a faster rate than I would have expected, but I expect Milwaukee’s shooting core to streakily lose hold of many close games next season; there’s no way that Brooke Lopez has the same success from three next year, either. Their small market status forced them into handing Khris Middleton a sizable contract, and it’s hard to see this team stay atop the East when the rest of their competition (except for the Raptors) only got better.

  1. Brooklyn Nets

Notable Additions: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Garrett Temple, Wilson Chandler, Taurean Prince, David Nwaba
Notable Losses: D’Angelo Russell, DeMarre Carroll, Ed Davis, Jared Dudley, Shabazz Napier, Treveon Graham, Allen Crabbe, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

The Nets have built a roster that rivals the Clippers for the deepest roster in the NBA. They truly have an extensive rotation with over 10 players legitimately deserving of regular minutes, and Kevin Durant’s injury gives them a perfect opportunity to define their core. Expect Caris LaVert to take the step in his career that he was about to make last season before an injury put him on the sidelines and turned D’Angelo Russell into an All-Star. Kyrie Irving has adopted a public NBA image of being a difficult teammate and this season will show the fans that this has been yet another idea driven by the media and by a difficult situation in Boston. With so many players hoping to take a step in their career last year after a successful playoff run without Kyrie, the New Jersey native was doomed to fail in a scenario of having too many mouths to feed. Now, with an opportunity to make the team his own while Durant sits out and on a roster where players have openly accepted their roles, Irving is going to take Brooklyn by storm.

i.jpeg

  1. Indiana Pacers

Notable Additions: Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, TJ McConnell, TJ Warren, Justin Holiday
Notable Losses: Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Wesley Matthews, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, Kyle O’Quinn

In a season that was pretty much forfeited after Victor Oladipo had a season-ending injury, the Pacers turned heads by staying competitive. Sixth man of the year candidate Domantas Sabonis took a big step last season, and the team added some key future contributors in Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb. Lamb and TJ Warren slot in as perfect replacements for Bojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young, while Brogdon certainly provides Indiana with an upgrade at point guard. While they can still certainly bolster their depth on the wing, Indiana should be a team that competes on a nightly basis, with at least three players looking to elevate their game into All Star territory.

  1. Detroit Pistons

Notable Additions: Derrick Rose, Markieff Morris, Tony Snell, Sekou Doumbouya
Notable Losses: Wayne Ellington, Ish Smith, Glenn Robinson III, Jon Leuer

I am a huge fan of the Detroit Pistons in 2020. They may not have made any huge alterations to their roster, but each of their additions added a layer to their team that they certainly needed. Derrick Rose comes in to back Reggie Jackson up at the point guard position, which will push Jackson to take his game more seriously. Rose adds the kind of grit that Blake Griffin has been longing for out of his teammates, and it looks like Detroit got a steal when they selected Doumbouya late in the first round of the draft. This team will wear their opposition out for 48 minutes, and head coach Dwane Casey should be pushing his team toward success all season long.

D-V52tCW4AELzyb.jpg

  1. Toronto Raptors

Notable Additions: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson, Matt Thomas, Cameron Payne
Notable Losses: Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green

On one hand, these guys just won the NBA title, so who cares about the fact that they lost their Finals MVP? On the other hand, with big money owed to aging ex-All Stars like Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry, this team’s window may have closed for the near future. Toronto showed me enough when Kawhi was rested last year for me to believe that they will still find a way into the playoffs, with Fred Van Fleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby continuing to develop into NBA mainstays. However, the amount of noise they’ll be able to make will certainly be limited. This team shapes up as a worse version of the Conley-Gasol Grizzlies.

  1. Miami Heat

Notable Additions: Jimmy Butler, Meyers Leonard, Tyler Herro
Notable Losses: Josh Richardson, Hassan Whiteside, Ryan Anderson

Miami has been working towards softening the financial hole that they dug themselves into. They have made significant progress on this front, moving Hassan Whiteside and waiving Ryan Anderson. Granted, they still fall almost $6 million above the luxury tax bill, but managing to acquire Jimmy Butler in the midst of this situation is certainly a win. They should be continuing to work on a Goran Dragic trade to put them under the luxury tax threshold, but have built a competitive roster in the meantime. While Justise Winslow hasn’t completely lived up to his potential, he is still a solid contributor and the Heat is poised to benefit from a full season of Dion Waiters and a bigger role for Bam Adebayo. Miami got a steal in the draft in Tyler Herro, whose shooting will surely be coveted by Miami, giving him plenty of minutes. Miami should sneak into the playoffs after narrowly missing out last season.

Jimmy Butler.jpeg

  1. Atlanta Hawks

Notable Additions: Jabari Parker, Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter, Evan Turner, Damian Jones, Chandler Parsons, Allen Crabbe
Notable Losses: Vince Carter, DeWayne Dedmon, Omari Spellman, Miles Plumlee, Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince

Atlanta is poised to make a big jump this season, perhaps a bit more quickly than people may have expected. After a hugely successful draft in which their two top-ten picks translated into De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish, the Hawks have young talent at pretty much every position. They’ll miss Taurean Prince, but Trae Young showed All-Star ability in the second half of last season and John Collins is one of the league’s best up-and-coming big guys. Jabari Parker comes in with plenty to prove and nothing to lose, but the Hawks should fall just short of a playoff appearance. The team still needs a bit more, as they are taking the opportunity this year to collect more assets and take on large contracts since their best players are on their rookie deals. Atlanta should be this season’s Brooklyn Nets, as they gear up to compete at an even higher level in 2021.

  1. Orlando Magic

Notable Additions: Al-Farouq Aminu, Chuma Okeke
Notable Losses: Jerian Grant, Timofey Mozgov

Orlando continues to tread in no-man’s land, compiling mid-level talent in every position that isn’t a guard. Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic are nice complementary pieces, but putting them at the head of a team is a recipe for disappointment. The team did well to re-sign Vucevic and Terrence Ross, but may have paid too much to keep players that will get them a low seed in the playoffs at best. Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba remain promising prospects, but the team really needs a quality ball handler to take them to the next level. Orlando took on Markelle Fultz, gambling that he could potentially reach the prospective level that made him the number one overall pick, which was the right move considering the lack of attention that Orlando gets from big-name free agents. However, I would have loved to see them go harder after a player like Terry Rozier, who signed a contract with Charlotte. If Fultz gets good, they could surprise some people.

  1. Washington Wizards

Notable Additions: Isaiah Thomas, Ish Smith, Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Davis Bertans, CJ Miles, Jemerrio Jones, Jonathon Simmons, Rui Hachimura
Notable Losses: Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker, Trevor Ariza, Tomas Satoransky, Jeff Green, Dwight Howard

The Wizards just recently announced Tommy Sheppard as their new GM, which could explain the lack of direction shown from all of the moves that they have made prior to his appointment. Aside from Bradley Beal, Washington essentially lost every good thing that they had going for them to free agency. Portis, Ariza, Satoransky, Parker and Green were probably the five next best players on the team last season in that order, and they would have done well to at least keep two of them. On the bright side, Rui Hachimura is a promising upcoming rookie who should get plenty of minutes right away, and if Isaiah Thomas truly feels as good as he says he does, we could be looking at a dangerous backcourt tandem. It puzzles me that Washington went and signed players like Davis Bertans and CJ Miles, who are probably done developing and belong on a playoff-bound roster. Perhaps they are simply building up assets and plan to make some trade deadline deals to offload them for picks. Regardless, their financial flexibility is stunted by John Wall’s massive contract, who continues to make money for sitting on the bench due to his injury. The Wizards may need to consider trading Bradley Beal and pressing the reset button soon.

Isaiah_Thomas_admits_it_s__weird_to_say_that_I_am_a_Washington_Wizard_.jpg

  1. New York Knicks

Notable Additions: Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Bobby Portis, Elfrid Payton, Taj Gibson, Reggie Bullock, Wayne Ellington, Ignas Brazdeikis, Marcus Morris
Notable Losses: DeAndre Jordan, Mario Hezonja, Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Burke, Luke Kornet

The Knicks won’t be THAT bad in 2020. The future could certainly look brighter, but their rotation is deep and coach Fizdale will make sure that they’re fun to watch. At PG, Dennis Smith Jr. will get another chance to convert his athleticism into All Star ability with backup from the long Frank Ntilikina. At the two, RJ Barrett comes in with pundits brashly declaring him a surefire future All Star, with the fearless Alonzo Trier coming off the bench with something to prove. Last year’s top pick for the Knicks, Kevin Knox, will look to take a big leap while second round rookie sensation Iggy Brazdeikis hopes to solidify his spot in the league. At the four, the Knicks have a wealth of options, as Julius Randle looks to take his game to the next level, while having Taj Gibson provide veteran bench presence and having Bobby Portis play the sixth man role. DeAndre Jordan going across town to the Nets opens up more time for Mitchell Robinson at the five. Past these players, New York paid Marcus Morris after he had second thoughts about signing with the Spurs, which didn’t really make sense for the fit of the team, but made sense in regards to recruiting the best available talent. The Knicks’ season will likely be a better version of what they did last season, staggering minutes so that everybody gets a chance to shine, playing the hot hand on a night-to-night basis. This provides an opportunity for all of Fizdale’s players to grow, but also limits the time that certain players have to stand out. This team still needs a few years but I don’t know what everybody’s crying about – at least their money isn’t tied up in trash.

  1. Chicago Bulls

Notable Additions: Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky, Coby White, Luke Kornet
Notable Losses: Robin Lopez, Justin Holiday

The Bulls didn’t waste time adding any useless players this offseason. They signed Tomas Satoransky to a affordable multi-year deal in a move to give rookie Coby White some competition at the point guard position, which gives them some depth at every position. Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen round out their immediate rotation, giving Chicago a fun roster that could challenge opposing teams every night. Though Chicago is not yet ready to make a playoff push, this young team is certainly on its way up and could become a contender for free agents in 2020 if they show some promise this season.

thaddeus_young_swap.jpg

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers

Notable Additions: Kevin Porter Jr., Darius Garland
Notable Losses: David Nwaba, Marquese Chriss, Channing Frye, JR Smith

Cleveland still has plenty of bad contracts on its books from the LeBron era, and their lack of cap flexibility has kept them from adding any meaningful free agents in 2019. Their biggest additions come in the form of rookie talent, with two first round studs in Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr. Those two look to team up with a young core made up of Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman and Larry Nance Jr. in a race to lose as many games as possible. Even when the Cavs do indeed free up cap space, it will be difficult to recruit free agents to come to Cleveland, so their best chance is to trade Kevin Love at some point this year and continue to build their collection of assets. This team will likely own one of the top three picks in next year’s draft.

  1. Charlotte Hornets

Notable Additions: Terry Rozier, PJ Washington
Notable Losses: Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Frank Kaminsky, Tony Parker

The Hornets decided that giving Kemba a max deal and wallowing in mediocrity for the foreseeable future was not for them. There is little that Charlotte could have done to advance their roster, given that they have so much money tied up in players like Nicolas Batum, Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (almost $86 million). Surely none of them figure into their long-term plans, leaving the future of the franchise to a young trio of Rozier, Malik Monk and Miles Bridges. Charlotte would do well to tank their season away and contend for the a top spot in the draft lottery.

060815rozieronline1.jpeg

Western Conference

  1. LA Clippers

Notable Additions: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Maurice Harkless
Notable Losses: Garrett Temple, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Tyrone Wallace

There is about to be a war in Los Angeles. This team has few defensive shortcomings, with a core group of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Patrick Beverly and Montrezl Harrell. Reigning sixth man of the year Lou Williams adds some legitimate offensive firepower off the bench. Leonard and George have both confirmed that they will not be taking games off this season due to “load management”, so we can expect this team to bring a fully-loaded attack every night. The Clippers get the nod over the Lakers because of their depth and because their star players also shoot threes at a high clip. The Lakers may still top the Clippers come playoff time, but the regular season is almost undoubtedly theirs.

  1. LA Lakers

Notable Additions: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Danny Green, Troy Daniels, Jared Dudley, Quinn Cook, Avery Bradley, Kostas Antetokounmpo
Notable Losses: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Isaac Bonga, Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Jemerrio Jones, Mike Muscala, Reggie Bullock

The Lakers managed to do very well with the cap space that was left over after they signed Anthony Davis. DeMarcus Cousins may not currently be the player that he used to be, but there is star potential every time that he is on the basketball court. Danny Green is one of the best three-and-D players in the league, and they did well to bring Rajon Rondo back. This team will likely forfeit some games in the regular season in an effort to keep their stars rested, but will be firing on all cylinders come playoff time. If Kyle Kuzma makes a jump this year, it could make the difference in this team running away with an NBA title.

Screen Shot 2019-07-29 at 7.46.39 PM.png

  1. Utah Jazz

Notable Additions: Mike Conley Jr., Bojan Bogdanovic, Ed Davis, Jeff Green, Emmanuel Mudiay
Notable Losses: Ricky Rubio, Raul Neto, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, Grayson Allen, Derrick Favors

Donovan Mitchell suffered a bit of a sophomore slump in the first half of last season, but certainly picked up the pace at the end of the year. The young star is certainly on his way to superstardom, and there may be no better veteran point guard to guide him there than Mike Conley. Conley is notoriously underrated and certainly a step up from Ricky Rubio, and gives the Jazz a top five backcourt in the NBA. Bojan Bogdanovic had a sneakily good season in 2019 and provides shooting, size and defense on the wing in a lot of the same ways that Joe Ingles provides those things. Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay provide the Jazz with energy and athleticism off the bench, while Ed Davis comes in as a cheaper version of Derrick Favors. Not to mention that their starting center, Rudy Gobert, is coming off of his second DPOY trophy, capping off an elite defensive team roster.

  1. Houston Rockets

Notable Additions: Russell Westbrook, Tyson Chandler, Anthony Bennett, Ben McLemore
Notable Losses: Chris Paul, Iman Shumpert, Nene Hilario, Kenneth Faried

I think that this is going to work. Russell Westbrook has been through enough storylines to fill an entire career, and he has to be exhausted with the noise. He will look to put any accusations of stat padding away this year as he teams back up with James Harden, who started his career as a sixth man in Oklahoma City. My main concern for this team does not have to do with ball dominance, as the rest of the league seems to expect; this was the same concern that we had for the Rockets when they signed Chris Paul, and they seemed to do much fine. Westbrook knows Harden well, and will be willing to split duties of bringing the ball up the court accordingly. Rather, my concern lies with Westbrook’s openness to letting Harden be the number one guy. Harden is far and away the better scorer among the two, but in their last stint together, he was the third option. Westbrook must come to terms with the fact that Harden’s offensive game has surpassed his own, and that his main role on the team is as a distributor. Still, the intensity that Russ brings to the court every night is one of a kind and will be the key to pushing Houston over the hump that Chris Paul was never able to do. Paul is a great defender, but he gives up much more size than Westbrook does, and is about a quarter of the athlete that he is. The Rockets have great shooting, which Westbrook has never had from a supporting cast, and many of their shooters are also exceptional athletes. This Rockets team will undergo an adjustment period to start, but will be locked and loaded for the playoffs. They’re also my extra-early prediction to lead the Western Conference standings in 2021.

1157815530.jpg.0.jpg

  1. Denver Nuggets

Notable Additions: Jerami Grant, Bol Bol
Notable Losses: Isaiah Thomas, Trey Lyles

Denver hasn’t added many contributors in the offseason, but bring back the same exact core that took them to a second seed in the West last season. This young squad can only be optimistic as Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic get another offseason of development. They did well to sign Gary Harris and Jokic to extensions in 2017 and 2018 respectively, allowing them to ensure two of their three most important players long-term while not having to pay 2019’s inflated contractual norms. They also bolstered their young core through the draft by stashing a steal for the second consecutive year. Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol’s success in the NBA may be a mystery, but with one of the deepest rotations in the west, Denver has the luxury of being able to give them two of their 15 roster spots. They fall from second to fifth in the west, simply because of the competition.

  1. Golden State Warriors

Notable Additions: D’Angelo Russell, Glenn Robinson III, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alec Burks, Omari Spellman, Shabazz Napier, Treveon Graham
Notable Losses: Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, DeMarcus Cousins, Quinn Cook, Damian Jones, Jordan Bell, Shaun Livingston

Golden State will be lining up very differently from how they lined up this past season. I actually think that the Warriors did a decent job of recouping assets after Kevin Durant’s departure. This season marked the end of the Warriors dynasty for many core players like KD, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, with other promising players looking for new homes and expanded roles as well. Many NBA fans half-expect the Warriors to trade D’Angelo Russell elsewhere after Klay Thompson returns from injury, despite signing him to a max deal. In this scenario, Golden State has put together a roster that could compete in Thompson’s absence, still fielding three all-stars. Thompson signing his max deal means that the Warriors now have three guards under max contracts. They could theoretically deploy Thompson at the wing given his size, but that still leaves two ball-dominant guards and leaves no wiggle room to finance their frontcourt. Draymond Green will be expecting a payday at the end of the season, so it will be interesting to see how long D-Lo stays on this team. As for their regular season success – it seems to hinge on Steph Curry’s performance. Many expect the two-time MVP to put up video game numbers this year, which would surely merit a playoff spot. Regardless of ball dominance, D-Lo proved himself to be an elite shooter last season, which could amount to a new set of splash bros in the bay area.

Screen Shot 2019-07-09 at 1.44.15 AM.jpg

  1. Portland Trailblazers

Notable Additions: Hassan Whiteside, Mario Hezonja, Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver, Nassir Little, Pau Gasol
Notable Losses: Seth Curry, Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, Enes Kanter, Evan Turner, Jake Layman, Meyers Leonard

I love the moves that Portland made this offseason, but this team will take the brunt of the fact that the West is stacked. The only reason that this team isn’t higher in the standings is because of how good the other teams are. Portland is better than Denver, but it’s hard to play at Denver’s home court, so they’ll end with a better regular season record. I don’t expect there to be a huge gap between playoff team records in the West, so this is a deceptive seventh seed. Hassan Whiteside provides a high-level fill-in for Jusuf Nurkic as he recovers from injury, and it is good to finally see Portland move past their horrible wing depth. While Kent Bazemore’s contract is equally as bad as Evan Turner’s deal, at least it provides a fresh face and a more athletic skillset. Mario Hezonja showed flashes of promise in New York last season, and Pau Gasol is a perfect veteran to discipline Whiteside. They also got a steal in the draft in Nassir Little, and Anfernee Simons had an incredible Summer League. They’ll miss Seth Curry, but Rodney Hood can more than fill his role and it’s important that they got rid of so many players who are good enough to be in the rotation, but not good enough to contribute to winning. Portland is still one player away from contending for the Western Conference title, but they are definitely on the right track.

  1. San Antonio Spurs

Notable Additions: Trey Lyles, DeMarre Carroll
Notable Losses: Davis Bertans

The Spurs had a very Spurs-y offseason, which could translate to success in the regular season. We all expected Gregg Popovich to regress into retirement after his big three left San Antonio, but his resolve is as strong as ever. The DeMarre Carroll addition adds much needed shooting depth to the most mid-range-heavy roster in the NBA. The Spurs front office is also extremely eager to finally get Lonnie Walker IV and Dejounte Murray back from injury, as well. Murray was supposed to make a massive jump last year, so expect him to slot in as the second or third offensive option and one of the best defenders on the team. With a mix of veteran players like Rudy Gay and promising young players like Derrick White, continuity should play a large factor in this team’s success.

  1. New Orleans Pelicans

Notable Additions: Zion Williamson, Jaxon Hayes, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, JJ Redick, Derrick Favors, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Nicolo Melli
Notable Losses: Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, Solomon Hill, Stanley Johnson, Cheick Diallo

This team recouped their losses in the best way after Anthony Davis requested a trade. Their haul from the Lakers, coupled with their stellar draft night gives them a hyper-talented roster with several options at each position. Zion Williamson is obviously a generational talent, but people aren’t talking enough about Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, their other first round draft picks this past summer. They performed very well in Summer League, and will get a chance to continue their development alongside Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram. I’m a Lonzo believer; his perimeter defense is elite and his speed, vision and passing is also among the NBA’s best. Ingram is still 22, giving him plenty of time to keep filling out his body. Players like Derrick Favors, JJ Redick, Jahlil Okafor and Nicolo Melli provide plenty of high-level support, while Jrue Holiday is still a top-ten two-way guard in the NBA. This team will challenge for a playoff spot right away, but will need to build a bit more experience before they get over the hump.

getty-images-1155998084.jpg

  1. Sacramento Kings

Notable Additions: Trevor Ariza, DeWayne Dedmon, Corey Joseph, Richuan Holmes, Tyler Lydon
Notable Losses: Willie Cauley-Stein, Alec Burks

Sacramento improved in the offseason, but the problem is that so did the rest of the NBA. I would liken this 2020 roster to that of the LA Clippers last season; it’s not like they have an electric sixth man as their scoring focal point but what they do have is heaps of talented players who have something to prove. Much like the Clippers, the team will look to continue developing their core while staying competitive and making a playoff push. Players like De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley III, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Harry Giles can easily reach higher ceilings, especially with veterans like Harrison Barnes, Cory Joseph, Trevor Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon to direct them. Vlade Divac knew who he wanted early on in free agency, and decided to focus on lower-level free agents and secure them right away. This was a smart move, given that Sacramento would struggle to compete for the same level free agents as some of the bigger name NBA teams. This could mitigate their future cap space, but this team already has plenty of young talent to build around. The Kings will continue to show the energy and speed that they showed last season, as Fox continues to make his case as my favorite player in the NBA.

  1. Dallas Mavericks

Notable Additions: Delon Wright, Seth Curry, Boban Marjanovic
Notable Losses: Kostas Antetokounmpo

Lots of NBA analysts have the Mavs as their dark horse to sneak into the playoffs in 2020 with a late seed. I believe the hype that the duo of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are quietly attracting, but I think that they’re one year away from showing their talent. Porzingis won’t be his dominant self this upcoming season because he is still recovering from a torn ACL, and Luka’s supporting cast doesn’t have enough to support a playoff run. Seth Curry was a nice pickup after he solidified himself as a starting-caliber player in his time with Portland, and Jalen Brunson showed flashes of talent last season. Delon Wright’s contract gives Dallas a solid long-term backup for a good price, but their flexibility is limited because of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee’s contracts. They also didn’t need to pay Dwight Powell eight figures. Expect this team to show promise and expect Luka to take another step, but it could be a year until they start seriously competing.

usa_today_9905379.0.jpg

  1. Memphis Grizzlies

Notable Additions: Ja Morant, Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton, Solomon Hill, Miles Plumlee, Grayson Allen, Jae Crowder, Tyus Jones, Andre Iguodala
Notable Losses: Delon Wright, Mike Conley Jr., CJ Miles, Chandler Parsons, Avery Bradley

I am loving the project that is going on in Memphis. This team has been building a roster of gritty players that are tough to play against every single night. Despite being a few years away from contending, the Grizzlies will be very pesky on both ends of the floor and look poised to be that high-energy team that exceeds expectations. Jaren Jackson Jr.’s rookie season showed a ton of promise, and Jonas Valanciunas put up some of the most impressive late-season numbers in 2019 when he was shipped to Memphis in the Marc Gasol trade. They took low-risk high-reward gambles when they picked up Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton and Grayson Allen, and picked up some elite wing defenders in Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala. The Grizzlies want to trade Iggy, but will not buy him out, meaning there is a chance that he stays put. This rag-tag squad is rounded out by second overall pick Ja Morant, who has a chance to truly be special. I’m very excited to watch this team surprise people with their rapid ascension as 2020’s version of the 2019 Sacramento Kings.

  1. Phoenix Suns

Notable Additions: Ricky Rubio, Frank Kaminsky, Aron Baynes, Cameron Johnson, Dario Saric, Cheick Diallo
Notable Losses: Richuan Holmes, Troy Daniels, Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton, TJ Warren, Tyson Chandler, Dragan Bender

The Suns are getting there, but it’s taking much longer than Devin Booker would have hoped. Phoenix’s frontcourt is coming together, as DeAndre Ayton is expected to continue progressing, while Dario Saric opens up their spacing. They got Kelly Oubre Jr. back on a two-year deal, giving them a short-term solution on the wing. They still need more from that position, as good wing play has become a key to success in the NBA. Phoenix and Minnesota were expecting to fight over D’Angelo Russell before he surprised the league with a move to Golden State. This meant that they had to fall back on Ricky Rubio, who is nobody’s first option as a free agent pickup, but will – again – do the job. To make the playoffs in the West, the Suns need more than just guys who will sufficiently fill a space; they need dynamic contributors. With Booker inked to a max deal, the Suns are in no rush to win now, but would like to show some progress if they don’t want their young star to hand in a trade request.

rubio-primg.jpg

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves

Notable Additions: Jake Layman, Jarrett Culver, Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Bell
Notable Losses: Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Tyus Jones, Anthony Tolliver, Dario Saric

I believe that the success of this team depends on – Andrew Wiggins. We’ve been looking for Wiggins to take that leap his entire career, and we are still waiting. Despite his young age and room for development, Karl Anthony-Towns has convinced me that he will never be better than the third best player on a championship team, or the second best player on a playoff team. He has a diverse skillset, but his demeanor and approach to the game tells me that he cannot be a centerpiece. However, if Wiggins finally turns his career around and performs the way that he needs to, the Wolves can certainly compete for a late seed. Unfortunately, I don’t foresee this coming to fruition, given the lack of progress we have seen thus far from the 2014 top pick. Minnesota lost key contributors in Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Dario Saric, and failed to acquire a top-tier free agent. Robert Covington’s return is good news, but don’t expect this team to win many games in 2020.

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder

Notable Additions: Danilo Gallinari, Mike Muscala, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul
Notable Losses: Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Markieff Morris, Jerami Grant

This team isn’t nearly bad enough on paper to merit a last place finish in the Western Conference, but we also know that this team will not be staying together. There is never pleasure in losing two all-stars, but Sam Presti managed to generate double-digit returns in future first-round picks, giving OKC reason to be optimistic. The Thunder will look to trade Chris Paul’s lucrative contract for more assets, and as the team shows a lack of competitive ability, they will continue to trade their veterans. Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams are solid players, but they are also overpaid for their production and are likely to be traded as well. The one current bright spot on the roster is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who showed on the Clippers last season that he can play. This team gives him a better development opportunity than he had in LA, but don’t expect them to win many games. From a pure talent perspective, this roster is no worse than the Magic’s roster, but their placement in the stacked Western Conference doesn’t do them any favors.

Best Free Agents Still Available

Point Guard: Jerryd Bayless, Jeremy Lin, Jerian Grant, Shaun Livingston, Shane Larkin, Devin Harris, Jose Calderon, Raymond Felton, Chasson Randle
Shooting Guard: Iman Shumpert, Lance Stephenson, Vince Carter, Jamal Crawford, Jodie Meeks, Monta Ellis, Joe Johnson
Small Forward: Lance Thomas, Corey Brewer, Thabo Sefolosha, Carmelo Anthony, Justin Anderson, Luol Deng, Sam Dekker
Power Forward: Ryan Anderson, Kenneth Faried, Marquese Chriss, Luc Mbah a Moute, Jonas Jerebko, Dante Cunningham, Amir Johnson
Center: Timofey Mozgov, Nene Hilario, Joakim Noah, Zaza Pachulia, Amar’e Stoudemire

cut.jpg

There is plenty of veteran locker room leadership still available on the market, and many of these players are still serviceable on the court. Players like Shaun Livingston, Jamal Crawford and Iman Shumpert could provide any contending team with a strong rotation piece who knows his role, while players like Shane Larkin and Marquese Chriss still have the potential to develop their game. I’m also interested to see which NBA veterans successfully make a comeback to the league, with guys like Joe Johnson, Carmelo Anthony, Monta Ellis and Amar’e Stoudemire looking to revive their careers. NBA fans will also look forward to Vince Carter’s decision on where he wants to end his lengthy career.

The 2019 Yankees: Rolling with the Punches

The New York Yankees have won 14 of their last 19 games and are two games behind the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East. Who do they Yankees have to thank for their recent success? Aaron Judge? Giancarlo Stanton? Luis Severino?

Those are the players who you think of when the Yankees come to mind, but the team can thank players like Gio Urshela, DJ LeMahieu, Luke Voit, Clint Frazier and Brett Gardner for this spur of wins.

DJLeMahieu.jpg

Urshela, Voit and LeMahieu all stepped up in the Yankees road trip out West. The Yankees won six of nine games in their series against the Angels, Giants and Diamondbacks.

LeMahieu currently leads the team in batting average at .321 and Voit is leading the team in RBIs with 29.

54c89245-4f6f-4fc8-890b-529e058dfa50-yankssawx2.jpeg

Veteran pitching has come into play as the Yankees have won every start that CC Sabathia has made this season. In his 18th and last season, Sabathia continues to play a part on this young Yankees team.

Although the Yankees will ride these wins as long as they can, the timetables for return of their stars is up and down.

The Yankees activated Clint Frazier and Miguel Andujar from the injured list on Monday. Neither had a hit in their return, but bringing key components back to this team will continue to be a step in the right direction for the Bronx Bombers.

usa_today_12511988.0.jpg

This is a Yankees team that currently only has four opening day starters in the lineup that are healthy. The Yankees were happy to welcome back catcher Gary Sanchez who missed 11 games before returning.

The most notable players who continue to stay on the IL are Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Dellin Betances, Luis Severino, Aaron Hicks and Didi Gregorious. These are all major impact players who the Yankees are going to need going forward.

Their timetables of return range from June all the way until August. Stanton was on pace to be back this week, but is now nursing a shoulder injury. The upside for Stanton’s return is that his bicep strain is completely healed.

giancarlo-stanton_5fgvuowsj51q1w2m4qpui6v42.jpg

Judge’s injury is being treated very carefully at this point by the Yankees organization. There is currently no timetable for his return. Yankees manager Aaron Boone confirmed Judge’s injury was significant and little has been determined on when he can play again.

Betances and Severino are both having to deal with injuries to their throwing arms. Betances has been shut down since early April and Severino was scratched from his opening day start. He will make his return in June right now, but Severino will be sidelined until at least July.

luis-severino-injury-update-yankees-ace-scratched-with-right-shoulder-discomfort__341916_.jpg

Hicks enjoyed a large contract extension of seven years, $70 million this offseason but has not featured in a game this season. Hicks is dealing with back pain and currently is looking to return at some point in May.

Gregorious’s injury is a lot more fragile than a lot of these other injuries. He underwent Tommy John surgery after the Yankees lost in the AL Division series last September. Gregorious had been one of the most consistent players for the Yankees all last season. Depending on how he progresses, the Yankees will have to make a decision on when to bring him back.

yankees-didi-gregorius-heel-injury

The Yankees should enjoy this win streak as long as they can. Many players are having to step up for the team with all of these injuries. They hope to continue their success in a three-game series with the Mariners, which they started with a 7-3 win last night.

From Three Champions Leagues to Three Managers

While a contingency of Dutch football fans did predict that Ajax would pull off a massive upset at the Bernabeu on Tuesday night, only your neighborhood’s deluded Barca fan would have foreseen Real Madrid being humbled by a shock scoreline of 4-1 last week in the Champions League Round of 16.

36e7bfe26d3a464d97cf3a6f11e75460_18

It may be the last thing that Madridistas want to hear right now, but my cousin, a die-hard Real Madrid fan, said it best: “Tuesday’s drubbing at the hands of Ajax is the best thing that’s happened to Los Merengues since becoming the first side in history to win the Champions League in three consecutive seasons.”

This season started off in Real ugly fashion for a number of reasons (see what I did there?), culminating at the Camp Nou stomping by Barcelona in October by a score of 5-1. That thrashing cost Julen Lopetegui his job, as he got the ax the following day after just three months in charge.

In came Santiago Solari.

1582056.jpg

Solari was a different story from Lopetegui. A former Madridista himself, the Argentine was a decent footballer in his playing days, notably sending Roberto Carlos down the line in the buildup to Zidane’s masterful volley in the 2002 Champions League Final. Fast forward some years, and Lopetegui began working as an academy coach at Real in 2013.

With such strong family ties, Solari was always going to be well-received by the Real Madrid faithful. A former Real player like Zidane, he had a higher set of expectations for the future of the club. Plus, having previously worked with the youth teams (also like Zidane), he immediately injected young blood into the first team, most notably through his inclusion of teenage Brasilian phenom Vinicius Jr.

ad89b64e0bef7b1b5e3d1714b5d652ba.jpg

Results were mixed: a 3-0 away defeat in the league to Eibar and a 3-0 home Champions League defeat to CSKA Moscow were contrasted by a successful Club World Cup. Four months in, Solari got an impressive away 1-1 draw at Barcelona and an even more impressive 3-1 away win against Atletico Madrid. Results aside, Los Blancos seemed to be rediscovering an identity that had gone missing during Lopetegui’s short tenure in charge.

That February form didn’t last too long though. In a matter of seven days from February 27th to March 5th, that “rediscovered identity” went out the window.

Three consecutive home defeats proved to be too much for the Real Madrid hierarchy to bear. Real lost 3-0 to Barcelona in the Copa del Rey, and then again to their arch nemesis 1-0 in the league. Their horrific week then culminated with Real’s shock loss to Ajax, effectively ending their chances of winning an incredible fourth straight Champions League.

8d9XbJfpAS

Six days later, Solari was shown the door.

Welcome back, Zinedine Zidane.

The man needs no introduction. For those unfamiliar with the history of football, Zidane is the bald guy who headbutted an opponent in the biggest sports event in the world. To the football community, Zidane is one of the most talented and successful players in the history of the sport.

As of May 2018, Zidane is also the most successful coach in Champions League history, after winning three Champions League titles in less than three years as manager of Real Madrid. His re-hiring after only nine months away from the club came as a slight surprise, but nonetheless, it makes sense. Real Madrid needs silverware, and of the current coaches either in between teams or looking to start a new journey, Zidane is the most successful of the lot in the last five seasons.

5c86c971250000e603c8bdf4.jpg

World class players know that silverware goes a long way in cementing their legacy. Zidane knew what it took to win as a player, and he quickly demonstrated that same ability as a manager. The opportunity to play under someone with such a thoroughly-documented winning mentality is a difficult one to pass up, no matter the team that they’re currently a part of.

While Zidane would probably be capable of overperforming with this current squad, he knows that his roster is in need of new life.

Eden Hazard, who is entering the last year in his contract at Chelsea, seems like the most sensible major signing to make this summer. Hazard has made clear his interest in playing for Zidane at Real Madrid, and his success in England has made him worthy of running the show for Real. This would allow Gareth Bale, who has looked unhappy at various points throughout his time in Madrid, to finally leave.

255776-large.jpg

Beyond Hazard, players like Kylian Mbappé, Neymar, Mauro Icardi, Milan Škriniar, and N’Golo Kanté are just a few names who Zidane could potentially sign. There is enough money in the bank for Florentino Perez to sign at least two players of the highest caliber. No matter who Real Madrid signs, they’ll be happy to have a winner at the helm.

At the end of the day, Real Madrid fans have Ajax to thank for Zinedine Zidane’s return to the Bernabeu.

Only time will tell what magic Zizou conjures up this time around.

The Wonderlic and the NFL Combine

Every year at the NFL Scouting Combine, future NFL players showcase their strength and skills through various tests and exercises. One test has nothing to do with physical skills but is a part of the Combine to measure critical thinking – the Wonderlic test.

What is the Wonderlic?

The Wonderlic test is a timed 50-question cognitive ability test that must be completed within a 12-minute window. The test is typically used by Human Resource departments at companies during a job interview to determine if a candidate would be a good fit at their company, or to help narrow down a large number of applicants for a job opening.

Questions feature basic arithmetic, logical reasoning and verbal reasoning related questions. The questions on the test are not necessarily difficult, but with a time limit of only 14 seconds per question, it is difficult to answer all of the questions before time runs out. You can take a sample Wonderlic test to see how well you might do on an official test.

Screen Shot 2019-02-28 at 12.51.46 AM.png
Visit freewonderlictest.com to take a Wonderlic Test!

The Wonderlic has been around since the 1920s, where it was primarily used as a cognitive ability assessment test for people in the military and at educational institutions – basically a shorter and faster version of an IQ test.

The Wonderlic at the NFL Combine

It wasn’t until the 1970s that the Wonderlic became a part of the NFL. Legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry started asking college football players that he was scouting to take the Wonderlic test. Other football teams quickly adopted this, and the Wonderlic soon became one of many tests administered at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Unlike other tests at the combine, Wonderlic test scores are not released to the public. They are given to teams, but they somehow always manage to find their way to the media.

What is a Good Wonderlic Score?

The Wonderlic is a 50-question test, and each question is worth one point – a person who answers 25 questions correct would have a Wonderlic score of 25.

wonderlic2

The Wonderlic is designed so that the average score for the general public is 20. While that may sound low, it is important to remember that the questions are not easy, and they have to be answered extremely quickly. Less than 1% of people who take the Wonderlic are able to complete the test without guessing on questions.

This is intentional, as the test is not about one’s deep understanding of arithmetic, grammar, and logical reasoning, rather one’s ability to solve those types of questions quickly.

The following is a list of average Wonderlic scores when sorted out by player positions:leonard-williams-wig-jump

  • OT: 26
  • C: 25
  • QB: 24
  • G: 23
  • TE: 22
  • S: 19
  • LB: 19
  • CB: 18
  • WR: 17
  • RB: 17

Is the Wonderlic Effective at Predicting NFL Success?

There is a big debate regarding the effectiveness of the Wonderlic and whether it should be used at all to rank draft picks or to make any sort of draft day decisions.

While all players take the Wonderlic, scores from quarterbacks always get the most attention – largely due to implied necessary intelligence and quick thinking required to be a successful QB in the NFL.

There are many anecdotal examples of quarterbacks who scored well or scored poorly on the Wonderlic but went on to have both great and lackluster careers. For example, Terry Bradshaw scored a 15 on the Wonderlic, but went on to have a Hall of Fame career. Vince Young also scored a 15 and was still drafted as the 3rd overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft, but had a passer rating of 74.4 in the NFL. Here’s a huge list of NFL Wonderlic scores of both former and active NFL players.

images

Because success can be subjective and conclusions can vary based on what you are using to measure success, it could prove very difficult to compare results of the Wonderlic with the career of the player. Is it offensive yards? Passer rating? Number of starts? Playoff wins? Just like how there is no definitive list of greatest NFL quarterbacks, there’s no clear-cut way to measure success in the NFL.

The most famous study to evaluate if there is a correlation between quarterback success in the NFL and Wonderlic scores was a study conducted by Arthur J. Adams & Frank E. Kuzmits at the University of Louisville, where they did not find any connection between Wonderlic scores and NFL success.

However, another study conducted by Criteria Corp looked only at Wonderlic scores of quarterbacks who had over 1000 passing yards, to remove backup quarterbacks and quarterbacks with low sample sizes from the picture. They noticed something interesting when you look at quarterbacks who score higher than 27 on the Wonderlic (the median score for QBs) when compared to quarterbacks who scored lower than 27: “the QBs who scored below the median Wonderlic score (for QBs) of 27 averaged 5,202 passing yards and 31.2 TDs over their first four years, whereas those scoring above the median averaged 6,570 yards and 40.8 TDs over the same period.”

Why Keep Using the Wonderlic?

Because the Wonderlic has been used at the NFL Combine since the 1970s, there is a large amount of data that scouts can use at their disposal. The Wonderlic is designed so that the average score is 20, so Wonderlic scores from the 2019 draft class can accurately be compared to results from 20 years ago in the 1999 draft class.

Additionally, the format of the Wonderlic fits well with the overall structure of the NFL Combine. It is over in 12 minutes, and players can quickly move on to complete another test in their busy day.

In the end, most NFL scouts who have talked about the Wonderlic publicly have said that it is one of many factors that they value in evaluating a player before the draft. With the rise of advanced analytics, and more teams embracing data over gut feeling, the Wonderlic will likely be a part of the NFL Combine for the foreseeable future.

10 Trends to Keep an Eye on in the Second Half of the 2019 Premier League Season

1. Fullham’s Relegation Battle

Claudio Ranieri returned to the Premier League to take over as Fullham’s manager on November 14, 2018. Despite picking up a quick victory in his first match, Ranieri has amassed a total record of 2-3-7. While Fullham was just promoted, the footballing world expected the Lily Whites to compete right away, especially after spending £100 million this summer. Now, sitting in the 19th spot and seven points away from surviving relegation, it is time to panic for Fullham FC. It is difficult to imagine that any potential new January signings would provide a form-changing boost, though the Ryan Babel signing from Beşiktaş looks promising. Aleksandar Mitrović proved early into the season that he is a legitimate Premier League striker. Ryan Sessegnon must live up to his wonder-kid status, Jean Michaël Seri must live up to a price tag that had top six clubs looking for his signature this summer, and André Schürrle must show his Dortmund pedigree. Any hope of escaping relegation will depend on Ranieri’s ability to galvanize his group of talented players for the second half of the season.

jean-michael-seri-fulham-v-celta-vigo-pre-season-friendly_1atpeb526o3at1j5m0uqfvyr9h.jpg

2. Wolves’ Top 6 Challenge

Wolverhampton Wanderers have proven to be the most interesting team in the Premier League this season. In nine matches this season against the top six, they hold a 3-3-3 record, showing that they can compete with any other team in the league. They currently sit in 8th place, but could find their way out of a 12-point deficit from the top 6 with only four difficult fixtures left on their EPL schedule. Additionally, after defeating Liverpool in the FA Cup, they face an easy 4th round draw to move on in the competition. Manager Nuno Espírito Santo has effectively gotten all of his players on the same page after overhauling their roster coming into the Premier League, which is unsurprising given his Portuguese background combined with the eight Portuguese players that they have listed on their 24-man roster. This includes key contributors like Diogo Jota, Rúben Neves, Rui Patricio, João Moutinho and Hélder Costa. This unique combination of team chemistry and natural talent could make for a surprising run for the Wolves in 2019.

3. Homegrown Player Rule as a Factor for Less January Transfer Activity

In an effort to make the EPL more competitive for clubs that don’t have as many funds as the high rollers and in hopes of bringing up more homegrown talent, the Premier League mandates that a maximum of 17 non-“homegrown” players could be on a 25-man roster at a time. For a player to be considered homegrown, they must have spent a significant amount of time at an English or Welsh academy, and/or be English or Welsh. For example, players like Paul Pogba and Hector Bellerin spent two years in an English club’s academy, meaning they can be considered homegrown. This has proven harmful in transfer activity, as teams are able to take advantage of other clubs’ ability to pay large amounts and necessity for English talent. This past summer, Aston Villa tried making Tottenham overpay for Jack Grealish, which they were unwilling to do. This January, history is repeating itself as we see players like Callum Wilson of Bournmouth being labeled with a £40 price tag. Given the stingy nature that we have recently seen from teams like Spurs, Manchester United and Arsenal, we may be in for an uneventful transfer window.

912747880.jpg
Chelsea target Callum Wilson (right) has a far greater price tag than his play would dictate.

4. Manchester United’s Manager Sweepstakes

Caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s success since taking over has made it difficult to look elsewhere for a long-term manager solution. Names like Mauricio Pochettino, Zinedine Zidane, Massimiliano Allegri and Gareth Southgate have caught the attention of United’s front office, but how could they demote a manager with a perfect record after half a season of turmoil? Higher ups are likely looking for any reason to demote Solskjær, so we can only expect him to keep the reins if other candidates refuse or if he continues his unfounded streak. Given the club’s current success, the best course of action would be to wait and see how things play out.

5. Is Sarri the Answer for Chelsea?

Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri may have deflected his recent woes with the sale of Álvaro Morata and purchase of Gonzalo Higuaín, but it remains to be seen if Higuain has enough left in the tank to regularly contribute for a top-flight Premier League club. Sarri’s possessive footballing strategy has its drawbacks, and his lack of a consistent striker leaves him to rely offensively on Eden Hazard too frequently. While his fullbacks have quality, they lack the requisite pace to play on the wings simultaneously, which opens the pitch up for opposing wingers. A wide attacking team like Liverpool would surely expose Chealsea’s faults, which is why Antonio Conte played César Azpilicueta at the center-back position in his tenure as manager. Chelsea is trending downward, but Higuain’s arrival could hopefully change that. Please stop loaning Michy Batshuayi.

maurizio-sarri-190119.jpg

6. Manchester City’s Cup Involvement

It comes as no surprise that, aside from Liverpool, their biggest competition is themselves. Manchester City is still contending in the Carabao Cup, the FA Cup, the Champions League and the Premier League. While the prospect of winning four cups in one season seems exciting, its completion would surely take a toll on the fatigue of the club’s players. A deep run in the Champions League appears likely, but could impact the fitness of the team’s top players for the Premier League. City must keep winning domestic games to keep up with Liverpool, and this could prove difficult if Pep Guardiola doesn’t get his tactics right.

7. Liverpool’s Wonder Season could Still End as a Flop

Call me a pessimist, but I can’t help but think about the possibility of Liverpool finishing without any silverware this season. Liverpool have crashed out of both the FA Cup and Carabao Cup, leaving a Champions League matchup against a formidable (but Müller-less) Bayern Munich squad and a league lead of four points. A Champions League fallout would likely mean a strong domestic finish, so it is hard to believe that Liverpool will not walk away with ANYTHING at the end of May. Still, it could happen. The team has shown flashes of lacking defensive options, having had to sub in a teenager against Wolves after a Lovren injury, and having had to play Fabinho is the center back role in the following games. Still, a world-class front three, a top-three center back and goalkeeper and an electrifying manager should keep them in contention both domestically and in the Champions League.

Liverpool-vs-West-Brom.jpg

8. Tottenham’s Stadium Move

Dele Alli and Harry Kane are both out of commission until March, and Hueng Min Son is away on international duty. Lucas Moura is also dealing with an injury, leaving Spurs with very few attacking options at the moment. Fernando Llorente has scored more domestic goals for other teams this season than for Spurs, so they would do well to pick up an offensive threat before the January transfer deadline ends. However, it is difficult to expect Daniel Levy to reach into his pockets given the stingy attitude that he showed over the summer. The only hope for Tottenham’s next few months of fixtures is for their form to take a positive turn. This could take effect through a move to their new White Hart Lane, which has continuously pushed forward its grand opening date. Spurs have grown accustomed to calling Wembley their home over the past few seasons, but a move to their new stadium could provide the spark that Spurs need to continue challenging in all four levels of competition.

9. Özil’s Arsenal Involvement

Unai Emery’s squad is starting to show some life this season, but watching their play through 90 minutes makes it obvious that this team is missing the requisite creativity and flair in the middle of the pitch to take their team to the next level. The problem with fielding Mesut Özil as the playmaker of the team is that it often seems as though the team rides or dies with his performance. If Özil picks out the right pass for a goal off of the counterattack, the team will be successful. However, if he overthinks a simple ball, it could produce a costly turnover. This kind of make-or-break quality is shared by players like Paul Pogba who are involved on so many parts of the pitch that their level of play is integral. The truth is that Arsenal do not have the quality to finish in a Champions League spot without Özil’s influence in the middle, but if Unai Emery is unwilling to take that risk, he may very well find his team regressing in the final stretch of the season.

skysports-unai-emery-mesut-ozil_4389637

10. The VAR Discussion Escalates

Everybody knows that VAR will eventually be instituted in all high-level footballing competitions – the question is simple when. Managers like Antonio Conte, Mauricio Pochettino and Jose Mourinho have spoken out about different problems that they have with VAR, scaling from the extra time that should be given due to its implementation, to the effect that it would have on the emotion of the game. Other managers have expressed a disinterest or ambivalence in the subject, expressing their understanding for the technological development of sport. Some managers have even expressed their enthusiasm for its institution. While providing video review for key moments in matches would certainly increase the percentage of correct calls, it does indeed disrupt the flow of the game and present its own issues that some fans would have initial issues with. In light of recent calls in the Premier League, it will be interesting to see how soon its implementation will come.