Monday, February 19, 2018

2017-18 NBA Midseason Power Rankings

1.Golden State Warriors (44-14):
Houston is currently 1 game ahead of them in the lost column, but I can't in good conscience say they're a better team than Golden State right now. The Warriors continue to be the most well-rounded team in the league and it's going to take a colossal effort to keep them from winning their 3rd championship in 4 seasons.

2.Houston Rockets (44-13):
It's honestly shocking to see a Mike D'Antoni-coached team play this much defense. Offseason additions Chris Paul, P.J. Tucker and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute have given Houston a tough, consistent presence on the defensive end of the floor without sacrificing the deadly uptempo, let-it-fly-from outside offense made them so successful a year ago. If the CP3/James Harden experiment doesn't implode in the high-intensity environment of the playoffs, their two-way proficiency gives them a legitimate shot to bump the Warriors from their throne.

3.Toronto Raptors (41-16):
While it's justifiable to be apprehensive about Toronto's current top standing in the Eastern Conference considering their shaky postseason track record over the past five years, something about their current team feels different from their past iterations. The sudden emergence of their 2nd unit paired with their established corps' (Demar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valuncinas) willingness to add new facets to their respective games gives them a level of versatility that they've never had in the past. It'll be interesting to see if the Raptors will be able to parlay their new playing philosophy into the lengthy playoff run that's alluded them since Dwane Casey took over as head coach in the 2011-12 season.

4.Boston Celtics (40-19):
The Celtics potential Cinderella season in the wake of Gordon Hayward's devastating ankle injury has hit some snags in recent weeks with their lockdown defense completely fading away and just about every key player on their roster going through their worst shooting slumps of the season. While their problems with rebounding and finding consistent scoring options behind Kyrie Irving are unlikely to be fixed at this juncture, the Celtics have enough resilient, high-effort players (Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, Aron Baynes) on their roster to reaffirm their standing as a defensive powerhouse and subsequently return to the high level of play they displayed from early November through mid-January.

5.Cleveland Cavaliers (34-22):
The first few months of Cleveland's season was plagued by internal dysfunction, questionable effort and a weathered-looking defense that would make members of the New York Nationals hang their heads in shame. Of course, none of these potential red flags will matter now that King James got the front office to make a series of moves to acquire the new supporting cast he wanted (George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr.) at the trade deadline. While it's too early to tell if the dominant level of play the Cavs flashed in the 2 games since they made these trades is sustainable or simply a quick bust of energy fueled by the addition of some new blood to an aging roster, it's hard to argue that the 4th straight trip to the NBA Finals that looked like an unattainable delusion at beginning of this month is now completely conceivable.

6.San Antonio Spurs (35-24):
Watching Gregg Popovich work his magic without Kawhi Leonard for much of the season has been a treat. They've had some rough performances against the league's best teams and there's no denying that they miss Leonard's 2-way dominance, but this scrappy roster led by a resurgent LaMarcus Alridge is still in contention in the hotly-contested Western Conference thanks to Pop's brilliant coaching.

7.Minnesota Timberwolves (36-25):
As expected, Jimmy Butler has helped Minnesota make the leap from promising young team on the playoff bubble to a serious contender. Butler's presence in their starting lineup has taken some weight off of budding 22-year old star Karl Anthony-Towns' shoulders and along with fellow new additions point guard Jeff Teague and power forward Taj Gibson, has helped install some veteran poise to a young corps that regularly blew late-game leads last season. Tom Thibodeau's absurd usage of his starters (average of just over 35 minutes per game) could cause some fatigue problems moving forward, but as of right now, this squad looks locked-in and ready to conquer the latter stages of the season.

8.Oklahoma City Thunder (33-26):
The building of chemistry and establishment of a consistent offensive rhythm took much longer than expected, but this revamped Oklahoma City team have looked like a potential dark horse contender since Christmas. Paul George's outside shooting and quick hands on defense, Carmelo Anthony's secondary scoring and dominant around-the-rim play from 7-foot bruiser Steven Adams have given the Thunder the supporting cast around top dog Russell Westbrook that they sorely lacked a season ago.

9.Washington Wizards (33-24):
No good, but not great team in the league is more averse to change than Washington. This organization flat-out refuses to stray from the "play down to your level of competition" mentality or fix the depth issues that have prevented this wildly talented team from rising into the upper-echelon of the league over the past half-decade. I'd imagine Wizards fans are already thrilled about yet another Conference Semifinals exit this May.

10.Denver Nuggets (32-26):
Unless you're a purist that demands defensively-sound basketball or snuffs their nose at teams that aren't in the championship mix, Denver has been an absolute joy to watch this season. They move the ball around like crazy, jack up a ton of 3's and have a roster full of the most exciting, unheralded young talent in the league (Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray). The impending return of versatile veteran bigman Paul Millsap to the lineup should only make this unselfish, well-spaced offense even more of a pain in the ass to defend.

11.Portland Trail Blazers (31-26):
Aside from their surprising improvements on the defensive end, it's been as business as usual with Wizards West... I mean Portland. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are probably the best shooting backcourt outside of Golden State, their post-dominant frontcourt is a throwback to the good ol' days of the NBA and they have that pesky tendency of in turning shit performances against bad teams and playing brilliantly against the great ones. Even when you factor in the almost-universal continuity of their playing style and roster, they're in better shape than they were at this point last year and I wouldn't be remotely shocked if this slightly better standing going into the final 24 games of the season resulted in them securing a decent playoff seed.

12.Indiana Pacers (33-25):
Indiana's relatively strong first half has been a huge surprise in a season that has otherwise lacked them. Victor Oladipo's monster breakout season, strong productivity from their bench and an excellent rapport between the players on this largely-overhauled roster have helped the Pacers ease the sting of losing perennial All-Star Paul George last June.

13.Milwaukee Bucks (32-25):
It's hard to ignore that Milwaukee has been a slight disappointment thus far. While Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to be a force of nature and Khris Middleton is regularly pouring in the 20+ points per game that's asked of him as a secondary scoring option, their poor 3-point shooting and bench play has prevented them from emerging as one of the league's best teams. The effectiveness of Jabari Parker, who returned to the floor in a limited capacity on February 2nd, down the stretch could be critical in determining whether or not this team can finally take that next step in their evolution.

14.Philadelphia 76ers (30-25):
With Ben Simmons finally hitting the floor after missing all of last season with a broken foot, "The Process" is starting to come to fruition. The lack of discipline that inevitably occurs when you have roster dominated by youth has led to a fair amount of blown leads and regular foul trouble, but the overwhelming amount of playmaking ability their young stars (Joel Embiid, Simmons, Dario Saric) exude when they're all clicking makes up for the sloppy, unsound basketball they sometimes play.

15.Utah Jazz (30-28):
It took them a while to find their footing after losing go-to guy Gordon Hayward in free agency, but after ripping off 11 straight wins leading into the All-Star break, Utah looks like they're on the cusp of returning to the playoffs this season. Rookie of the Year favorite Donovan Mitchell has given this team a much-needed offensive weapon and Quin Snyder continues to do an excellent job of maximizing the production of every player on the roster. If they can maintain their current level of strong two-way play and physicality through April, this underrated team is going to be a very undesirable matchup for any of the West's top contenders.

16.Miami Heat (30-28):
Erik Spolestra's latest unsung Miami team limped into the All-Star Break losing 9 of their last 12 games. However, there's enough chemistry, defensive tenacity and outside shooting prowess on this true superstar-less team for me to believe that the Heat will bounce back and return to the playoffs after their bullshit tiebreaker-induced snub last season.

17.Los Angeles Clippers (30-26):
The sudden trade of Blake Griffin to Detroit on January 29th completely altered the trajectory of the 2017-18 Clippers. This drastic midseason move indicated that the Clippers didn't believe he could lead this team moving forward, despite giving him a max deal last summer, and immediately put a rebuild into motion. With Griffin out of the equation and their playoff hopes likely coming to an end, the final stretch of this adversity-filled season for the Clippers is going to serve as an audition for what players are going to remain on this roster long-term and answer the question of whether or not Doc Rivers is wiling to remain with a team that isn't going to contend for a championship anytime soon.

18.New Orleans Pelicans (31-26):
Because the basketball gods seem intent on constantly punishing DeMarcus Cousins, Boogie went down with a torn Achilles pretty much as soon as New Orleans started to really click in late January. Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and newly-acquired Nikola Mirotic should continue to play their assess off and give this seemingly cursed team a shot at making the playoffs, but the sad reality is that the Pelicans crippling lack of depth has become even more evident without Boogie in the picture.

19.Detroit Pistons (28-29):
It seems like its been an entirety since Detroit started 14-6 and was alongside Boston, Toronto, Washington and Cleveland at the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Since early December, they've struggled to generate an offensive rhythm to match their pretty strong defensive effort and as a result, now find themselves 1.5 games behind Miami for the #8 seed. Thankfully for the Pistons, newly-acquired star bigman Blake Griffin and the impending return of starting point guard Reggie Jackson from a grade 3 ankle sprain that's kept him out since late December gives them a pretty good of reestablishing the offensive proficiency they need to battle back into the East's playoff field.

20.Charlotte Hornets (24-33):
Charlotte honestly might be the most anonymous team in the NBA right now. They're not bad enough to be in contention for the top pick in the draft nor good enough to be taken seriously as a potential playoff team. My advice to Hornets fans would be to enjoy the high-flying theatrics of Kemba Walker while he's there because there's almost no chance that he's still on this team after next season.

21.Chicago Bulls (20-37):
Fred Hoiberg deserves a ton of credit for the job he's done with a Chicago team that's only 8 months removed from blowing up pretty much their entire roster. He's brought this largely inexperienced group back from a horrific 3-20 start by giving young players the substantial minutes they need to grow as players and establishing a strong sense of camaraderie that simply wasn't there under his veteran-lead teams in the past. It also helps that Finnish sharpshooter Lauri Markannen is far more polished than anyone expected to be as a rookie, offensive sparkplug Zach LaVine has been on a warpath (16.9 PTS in just over 25 minutes a game) since returning from an ACL injury in January that many feared would take away the explosive athleticism that defined his game and Kris Dunn has blossomed into a pretty promising young floor general after a rough rookie campaign in Minnesota last year. They clearly have long odds of reaching the playoffs this season, but the team's long-term outlook is far brighter than anyone would've expected at this point.

22.Los Angeles Lakers (23-34):
The 2017-18 Lakers season has had enough up-and-downs to fill a dozen mediocre Hollywood rise-and-fall biopics. On the tragic side, Lonzo Ball's shooting has been abysmal, Luke Walton can't figure what the hell to do with Julius Randle and controlling owner Jeanie Buss is shelling out $18 mil for Luol Deng to sit on his couch. On the plus side, Brandon Ingram has vastly improved his efficiency as a shooter in his 2nd season,  surprising rookie breakout Kyle Kuzma's bruising, strong offensive game has brought a much-needed burst of energy to their bench and above all, they were also able to get Jordan Clarkson's awful contract off their books at the trade deadline and clear the necessary cap space to potentially bring in a pair of superstars this summer. The only goal for this team for the rest of the 2017-18 is to play well enough to lure a LeBron James or Paul George here in free agency, which is definitely attainable if their young corps continues to play hard and the suddenly volatile Isaiah Thomas doesn't come in and shit over the locker room culture like he (allegedly) did in Cleveland.

23.New York Knicks (23-36):
In their 1st season without primitive bozo Phil Jackson running the personnel department, New York managed to be the same below-average, Jekyll-and-Hyde team they've been over the past several years. Every strong performance that made it seem like this team's was rebuilding was finally gaining traction was seemingly always followed by a porous one that left you completely hopeless about their future. In the wake of Kristaps Porzingis' devastating torn ACL, it'll be interesting to see how Jeff Hornacek goes about distributing playing time between their non-essential veterans (Jarret Jack, Kyle O'Quinn, Lance Thomas) and underutilized young players (Frank Ntilikina, Luke Kornet, newly-acquired Emmanuel Mudiay) for the rest of the season.

24.Brooklyn Nets (19-40):
While their record might not show it, this new Brooklyn regime continues to make the best of the post Paul Pierce/KG trade asset mess they inherited. Veteran forward DeMarre Carroll has given them the reliable 3-and-D player they desperately need in their rotation and the handful of young players they've been able to acquire over the past few years (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Jarret Allen) have all put forth pretty substantial contributions this season. Once D'Angelo Russell shakes the rust off after missing over 2 months with a knee injury, this feisty young Nets squad could emerge as a late-season spoiler for the East's plethora of bubble playoff teams.

25.Memphis Grizzlies (18-38):
Mike Conley's season-ending heel injury effectively ruined Memphis' bid to clinch their 8th consecutive playoff berth. In Conley's absence, the Grizzlies have showed their age and embarrassing lack of depth/reliable offensive options behind Marc Gasol by ranking near the bottom of the league in every notable metric. Barring a miraculous post All-Star break turnaround, a long-overdue rebuild looks imminent for this former pillar of consistency in the Western Conference.

26.Dallas Mavericks (18-40):
The 2nd year of Dallas' rebuild has been just as painful as the 1st. Some nice contributions from their more seasoned players (Harrison Barnes, Dwight Powell, J.J. Barea) and Rick Carlisle's solid coaching have prevented them from completely bottoming out, but they've yet to demonstrate any truly encouraging signs for the future.

27.Atlanta Hawks (18-41):
Atlanta punted on the 2017-18 season with their offseason moves, which has made this a painful but necessary rebuilding season for this organization. Despite their relative lack of talent, Mike Budenholzer has this veteran role player-heavy roster playing hard every night and rookie John Collins is an explosive athlete with a deft shooting touch that could very well end up being the 1st significant building block of this new-look Hawks team.

28.Orlando Magic (18-39):
Orlando turned a lot of heads with their 8-4 start which included impressive wins over San Antonio and Cleveland. That "surprise team of the year" bid quickly went up in flames once their offense fell back down to earth and the team has won just 10 games since then. While they have some talented players (Aaron Gordon, Evan Forunier, Nikola Vucevic) that can put together dominant performances on any given night, their lack of consistency (particularly on the defensive end of the floor), clear identity and a true superstar continues to prevent this team from taking their next step forward in the rebuilding process.

29.Sacramento Kings (18-40):
Sacramento's bizarre mix of young players and relics has yielded the poor results you'd probably expect. On the bright side, rookie De'Aaron Fox has flashed serious potential as a 2-way player and Buddy Hield, the lone piece from last year's Boogie Cousins trade that's still with the team, is starting to look like the 3-point specialist he was pegged to be when he was drafted 6th overall in 2016.

30.Phoenix Suns (18-41):
No one makes uninspired basketball look like an artform quite like the Phoenix Suns. The lack of hustle, chemistry and discipline they show on a nightly basis is borderline comical to behold. If they want to escape the hardcourt purgatory they've been since the end of the Nash/Stoudemaire/D'Antoni-era, they're going to need to bring in a new head coach this offseason that can drastically shift the culture and develop the abundance of raw young players (Dragan Bender, Marquise Chriss, Josh Jackson, Tyler Ulis) they currently have playing alongside long bright spot Devin Booker.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Best and Worst of Chadwick Boseman

"The Best and Worst of" series chronicles the career highlights and lowlights of an actor starring in one of the week's new theatrical releases. This week, I take a look at the filmography of "Black Panther" star Chadwick Boseman.

Films starring Chadwick Boseman that I've seen:
Draft Day
Get on Up
Gods of Egypt
Captain America: Civil War
Message from the King

Best Performance: Get on Up (2014)
While his strong portrayal of Jackie Robinson in 42 got me very intrigued about Boseman's potential as an actor, his stunning performance in Get on Up convinced me that he was a rare talent. Boseman's award-worthy, warts-and-all embodiment of soul of funk/R&B legend James Brown in this refreshingly unconventional biopic was utterly mesmerizing to watch.  

Worst Performance: Message From the King (2017)
Boseman's relatively short time as a prominent Hollywood actor has been a stirring collection of scene-stealing, standout performances. Then Z-grade Netflix action thriller Message From the King came along and ruined his flawless track record. Rocking a Black Panther-esque accent and a homemade barbed wire bat that he rarely uses, Boseman ends up being the least magnetic regular-guy-turned-revenge-fueled-killer in the history of vigilante movies.

Best Film: Draft Day (2014)
I understand why many people dismissed this as a dull, formulaic inspirational sports film, but Draft Day was essentially porn for football nerds like myself that are fascinated by the process of how teams handle the soap opera that is the NFL Draft behind-the-scenes. Plus Kevin Costner is fantastic in the lead role and I find the prospect of a world where the Cleveland Browns made multiple intelligent personnel moves in the same season to be very charming.

Worst Film: Message From the King (2017)
Vigilante movies usually contain a very simple setup that goes a little something like this: 1.Bad people kill innocent person due to them seeing or discovering something they weren't supposed to,  simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, etc. 2.Loved one seeks to avenge their death. Message from the King decides to stray from this easy-to-follow formula by adding a ridiculous, convoluted backstory involving a secret criminal society full of high-society professionals (Alfred Molina, Luke Evans, several others) as an explanation for the murder of a South African taxi driver's (Boseman) estranged sister in Los Angeles. This film further declares war on the vigilante genre with its disgusting combination of an overly serious tone and sparse, almost gore-free action sequences.  Fabrice du Welz could very well be a capable filmmaker, but he should NEVER step into the B-action realm ever again.  

Thank you for reading this week's installment of "The Best and Worst of". The next victim of my praise and ire will be "Annihilation" star Oscar Issac. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Post NBA Trade Deadline Reaction

by John Nygren

The NBA trade deadline is crazy. It's the ultimate "shit or get off the pot" scenario. Thousands of people around the world were constantly refreshing Twitter last Thursday, neglecting their jobs/teachers/children while they waited for the first plop, and boy-oh-boy it was a bomb. It fell around 1 p.m. EST and fortunately for Cleveland fans, general manager Koby Altman decided to completely blow it up.

Given the Cavs history of making moves when LeBron openly expresses his frustration with the makeup of the team, we all knew this was coming. Their pre-deadline roster was filled with old, slow and unenthusiastic players who seemed content to sleepwalk into May with the 3rd seed in the East. Now that the perceived deadweight is gone (they shipped out six players and brought in four in their deadline deals), the Cavs are immediately back in contention in the razor-thin Eastern Conference. Here are my reactions to all of the notable deadline trades that occurred in Cleveland and elsewhere around the league.

Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr.
Los Angeles Lakers receive: Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, Cavs 2018 1st round pick
A lot of people were shocked by this move. Isaiah Thomas, the 2-time All-Star that Cleveland just received in the Kyrie Irving trade last August that was supposed to be the second scoring option behind LeBron, gets dealt to LA for two bench guys? Hello? What? After 15 games you're going to give up on a guy whose proven he can be a top-tier scorer in the NBA?

What it really boils down to is that Isaiah was never going to really fit in Cleveland. On the court, he looked completely lost. In Brad Stevens' high pick-and-roll system in Boston, Thomas thrived making quick decisions off the dribble. In Cleveland, he wasn't the primary ballhandler and as a result, he struggled to create his own shot and get into a rhythm. Not to mention he is still recovering from a major hip injury that's preventing him from playing the fast-paced, physical style that he's used to.

Despite his on-court struggles, I believe that off-court problems were the reason that the Isaiah-era in Cleveland ended so abruptly. Over the past month, he's publically called out the effort of his teammates, strategy of  his coaches and was reportedly at the center of the heated "players only" meeting where multiple players accused Kevin Love of quitting on the team after he left the January 21st game against Oklahoma City early with an alleged sickness. This perfect storm of problems combined with his impending free agency relegated Thomas to "expiring contract trade throw-in" status for the Cavs.

For Cleveland, Larry Nance Jr. may be the biggest plus in the deal, even though that won't necessarily show up on the stat sheet every night. He's long (6'9), crazy athletic and brings a lot of energy every time he hits the floor. Most importantly, he's capable of playing the 5, which should provide a huge boost for a team that had previously struggled to fill that spot when Tristian Thompson wasn't on the floor. With Nance Jr. still playing under his rookie deal, this is a guy that should easily outperform his contract for the next year and a half before the Cavs have to make a decision about whether or not they want to sign him long-term when he becomes a restricted free agent in the summer of 2019.

Jordan Clarkson was considered a longshot to be moved at the deadline. The Lakers signed Clarkson, who is an offensively-gifted role player that consistently averaged around 15 points and 3 assists off the bench, to an insane 4 year/$50 mil extension last summer and given the cap spike that's coming over the next two seasons, the team was desperate to get his bloated contract off their books. At one point, the Lakers were offering one of their OWN 1st-round picks to any team that was willing to absorb Clarkson's sizable cap number. Luckily for the Lakers, they found a suitor for Clarkson without having to give up a valuable asset to do so.

Awful contract aside, Clarkson is a very good fit for Cleveland's system. He's a flat-out baller who can take anyone 1-on-1 and score at will when he gets into a grove offensively. Like every pure shooter that's teamed up with LeBron in the past, Clarkson is sure to see a bump in his shooting percentage as well as his minutes played.

From what I've read after their blowout 124-99 win on Sunday over Boston, a lot of people now think the Cavs' overhauled roster has set them up for another cakewalk through the East. I'm not in that camp. I need to some consistency from this Cleveland team before I put them ahead of Toronto, whose been a force to be reckoned with all season long and Boston, who despite their recent struggles and history of playing poorly against LeBron-led teams, is a resilient, defensively-stout squad that should be a tough out come playoff time.

As for the Lakers, I think Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson deserve a ton of credit for getting this deal done. If you're the Lakers, you only have one goal in mind and that's signing a big free agent (*cough cough LeBron cough cough*) this summer. With Clarkson out of the equation, the Lakers now have the cap space to sign two players to max deals. This financial flexibility makes the Lakers glamorous  sales pitch (Nightlife! Warm weather! Hollywood! Iconic franchise! Get to hangout with Magic Johnson!) even more appealing to any stars that are looking to build the next superteam to try and contend with the Warriors. Even if you can only land one max-level guy this summer, you have the possibility of signing someone else in the loaded 2019 free agent class headlined by Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and Kevin Love. That additional 1st-round pick also allows the Lakers to add another player to their promising young corps of Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball or flip it for a valuable veteran player in an offseason trade.

This trade also gives Isaiah Thomas an opportunity to redeem himself. Luke Walton should allow Thomas to make a last-ditch effort to convince someone to back up the Brinks truck for him when he hits free agency by letting him return to the ball-dominant role he's comfortable with. If Thomas can maintain the level of production he displayed during his impressive debut (22 points and 6 assists in 31 minutes) versus Dallas last Saturday night and they fail to land his arch nemesis LeBron in free agency, it's possible that the Lakers can convince him to return to the team at a discounted rate.

                                                  Overall Trade Grade:
                                                     Cavaliers: B-
                                                     Lakers: A

Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Rodney Hood, George Hill
Sacramento Kings receive: Joe Johnson, Iman Shumpert, 2020 2nd-round pick
Utah Jazz receive: Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose

If I'm a fan of any these teams, I can get behind this deal.  If you're a Sacramento fan, you freed up some cap space by buying out Joe Johnson so he can go chuck up a bunch of 3's in Houston and nabbed another pick to stash to aid your seemingly endless quest to rebuild. Shumpert, a strong perimeter defender who played a significant role on the past three Cavs teams that went to the Finals, is surprisingly going to stay with the Kings instead of demanding a buyout to go sign with a contender. Cavs GM Kolby Altman repeatedly praised Shumpert's positive, team-first attitude this season while he recovered from knee/foot injuries and that sense of selflessness should have a huge impact on the culture of this bad young Kings team. Learning from your mistakes and how to play hard on a consistent basis may seem small from the outside looking in, but for a locker room full of millionaires in their early 20's, it can be everything.

I think Utah  probably made out the worst here. They sent away a very talented scorer in Rodney Hood, who was averaging just under 17 points per game and shooting 42.6% from the field this season, and received more of a 3-and-D player (Jae Crowder) in return.  Despite the offensive spark he provided when he was on the floor, Hood's constant injuries (he's missed over 20 games in all but one of his four seasons in the NBA) and the explosion of rookie Donovan Mitchell at the 2 made him an expendable asset for a Jazz team that's looking to build for the future.

Crowder is coming off a miserable stint in Cleveland, but I think that Quin Snyder can get a lot out of him. Snyder's system that relies on a 10-man rotation resembles the one Crowder thrived in during his three seasons in Boston and like Brad Stevens, he's an intelligent young coach that tends to get the most out of his players.

Although the Cavs seem to have upgraded at both guard positions for the style of basketball they want to play, it does not come without serious risk. Both Hood and George Hill have troubling injury histories, missing 78 and 39 games respectively over the past three seasons. Hill has also been playing through a nagging toe ailment that is believed to be partially responsible for his horrific defensive play this season. However, it's completely conceivable that Hill's poor defensive effort was caused by playing on a talent-deprived young team that lacks an identity and that he'll go back to being the lockdown defender he was prior to his stint in Sacramento now that he's back on a contending team.

                                                      Overall Trade Grades:
                                                      Cavaliers: A-
                                                      Jazz: B-
                                                      Kings: B

Miami Heat receive: Dwyane Wade
Cleveland Cavaliers receive: Protected future 2nd-round pick
This is a great deal for both sides. Even though Wade is LeBron's best friend, it was reported that he had some choice words for LeBron during the aforementioned "players only" meeting, which is a surefire way to get your ass traded away from Cleveland. Aside from beefing with LeBron, Wade also didn't fit in with the Cavs current plans. The Cavs needed less headaches and more W's and this move helped make that goal attainable. And I mean if we're being honest, Wade should've never left Miami in the first place. Pat Riley completely botched the contract situation when he was a free agent in 2016, which resulted in Wade inking a 2-year/$40 mil deal with Chicago and that bad blood lasted until the pair made amends at Wade's former agent's funeral last month. While it was made possible by a weird set of circumstances, this reunion was destined to happen and I'm sure both parties are glad that their incredibly successful professional relationship didn't end on such a sour note.

                                        Overall Trade Grade:
                                         Cavaliers: A-
                                         Heat: A

Phoenix Suns receive: Elfrid Payton
Orlando Magic receive: 2018 2nd-round pick

This is a lower-level deal that kind of fell under-the-radar. With Payton's contract up at the end of the year, it makes a lot of sense why the Magic, who've changed front offices since Payton was drafted in 2014, would want to move on from him. Even though he can't shoot past 12 feet, Payton has a lot of tools (excellent speed, good passer, decent defender) in his arsenal. The Suns got great value for a former lottery pick that has the potential to blossom into a solid point guard in this uptempo system and they should be able to re-sign for a decent contract if they so desire.

                                                  Overall Trade Grade:
                                                   Suns: B+
                                                   Magic: C-

There were some additional smaller moves made before the deadline, but the only other one worth mentioning is that Dallas went out and got Dougie McBuckets from New York. McBuckets, otherwise known as Doug McDermott, will be on his 4th team in the last calendar year and as a hyped-up stretch-4 who has failed to live up to the hype since he was drafted 11th overall in 2014, this could be his last stop in the NBA. In the same deal, the Knicks acquired Emmanuel Mudiay from Denver, which is great value for a player that was just drafted in the top-10 in 2015. It'll be interesting to see how Jeff Hornacek goes about splitting the minutes between Mudiay, veteran journeyman Jarrret Jack and 2017 1st-round pick Frank Ntilkina (aka Franky Nicotine) for the rest of the year.

Of course, there was also some losers that stayed quiet at the deadline. Boston, Toronto and Washington all sat out while the Cavs went out and pulled off their annual roster overhaul to help solidify their title chances. All of these teams might regret not making a move to get an extra piece (DeAndre Jordan, Tyreke Evans, Avery Bradley, any of the Hawks veterans that were reportedly available) that could've helped them get through the brick wall that is LeBron in the playoffs. It must be difficult to stick to your guns while the Cavs fortified their roster for another title push, but these teams clearly didn't want to mortgage their future for potential short-term success. It'll be interesting to see how the teams that stood pat fare in the playoffs and if the Cavs added enough horses to their roster to overtake the Warriors (or any dark horse team that upsets them) in the Finals.    

Monday, February 12, 2018

Concert Review: Machine Head-- Boston, MA-- February 10th, 2018

Lineup: Machine Head ("An Evening with Machine Head"/Catharsis World Tour)
Venue: Paradise Rock Club, Boston, MA
Date: February 10th, 2018

Machine Head: My excitement level for this show slipped a little bit over the past month. Their new LP Catharsis is a pretty suspect effort that put an abrupt stop to a four album run of brilliance for the  Bay Area groove metal stalwarts and since I'm a cynical asshole, I was concerned the general lack of inspiration that surrounded this record was going to bleed into their live show. However, the fact that they are currently touring on an underwhelming record didn't prevent their latest run of "An Evening with Machine Head" from being yet another powerful showcase for their substantial gifts as performers.

The beauty of these "An Evening With" shows is that you get to see Machine Head play an extended headlining set in a setting that is tailor-made for their strengths as a band. Getting to spend over two hours with them in a rowdy venue that accentuates the power of their signature chug riffs and places every audience member within 20-30 feet of the stage is a dream scenario for any fan of theirs.

The consistent effectiveness of Machine Head's live shows starts with the efforts of lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Robb Flynn. While there's no denying that he's a cornball that dispenses some of the most cringe-inducing, angst-ridden banter to ever come out of a human being's mouth, Flynn is an exceptional frontman that tears down every stage he steps foot on. He's a maestro at working crowds into a constant state of chaos and at almost 51 years old, his vocals are (remarkably) still pristine. As long as Flynn continues to deliver at this level in a live setting, I'm willing to overlook all of the douchey shit that flies out of his mouth.

Per usual, the high quality of Machine Head's set was solidified by some terrific song selections. This setlist was so well-assembled that not even the presence of Catharsis' two biggest stinkers ("Bastards" and "Is Anybody Out There?") could halt the momentum. The majestic 10-minute epic "Clenching the Fists of Dissent" from 2007's The Blackening was a beautiful surprise opener to the show, the long-time staples ("Davidian", "Imperium", "Ten Ton Hammer", "Bulldozer") were perfectly distributed throughout the set and fan favorite "Halo" remained in the coveted finale spot that it rightfully deserves. A little more variety in terms of the old songs they play (more rarely-played tunes like "None but My Own" from Burn My Eyes would be dope) wouldn't kill them, but that's a relatively small/borderline petty complaint for an otherwise spectacular set.

In short, this was about as satisfying as an over two hour-performance can possibly be. The crowd was consistently into it, every member of the band was spot-on technically and above all, I was completely immersed in the show the entire time they were on stage (except for when they were playing the aforementioned poopfests from their new record). While it's probably not realistic considering the ever-changing landscape of the music industry, I'm completely on-board with Machine Head doing these support-free, career-spanning performances in intimate venues for the rest of their career.

Machine Head 9.5/10

Clenching the Fists of Dissent 
Now We Die
Beautiful Mourning
The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears
Phil Demmel Guitar Solo
Darkness Within
From This Day
Ten Ton Hammer
Is There Anybody Out There?
Drum Solo
Killers & Kings
Behind a Mask
None but My Own 
Aesthetics of Hate
Game Over

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Best and Worst of Margot Robbie

"The Best and Worst of" series chronicles the  career highlights and lowlights of an actor starring in one of the week's new theatrical releases. This week, I take a look at the filmography of "Peter Rabbit" star Margot Robbie.

Films starring Margot Robbie that I've seen:
About Time
The Wolf of Wall Street
The Big Short
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
The Legend of Tarzan
Suicide Squad
I, Tonya

Best Performance: I, Tonya (2017)
This year's Academy Awards features an absolutely LOADED group of Best Actress nominees and while there honestly isn't a bad choice in the bunch, Robbie would get my vote if I was fortunate enough to have one. Her performance as embattled figure skater Tonya Harding is spellbinding, emotionally-varied and completely unforgettable. 

Worst Performance: The Legend of Tarzan (2016)
At about the halfway point of The Legend of Tarzan, Robbie's Jane Porter, wife of Tarzan, utters the line "You want me to a scream? Like a damsel?" after being kidnapped by the dastardly villain Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz). Despite this proclamation, that's EXACTLY what Robbie was in this colossal turd of a movie. Relegating an elite young actor to a role this thankless is boneheaded, laughable and undeniably insulting.  

Best Film: I, Tonya (2017)
I, Tonya is exactly what every biopic should strive to be. It approaches its subject matter through an objective lens, has a smart, fearless script that provides a ton of insight about who the person its profiling truly was beneath all the headlines and above all, remains fascinating throughout. I'm honestly surprised and disappointed that this failed to secure a Best Picture nod at this year's Oscars.

Worst Film: The Legend of Tarzan (2016)
Call me a purist, but I can't get behind a sophisticated, white-collar version of Tarzan. Tarzan was meant to be swinging from vines with his primate family, not having high-stakes political meetings with members of the British government. In addition to how jarring it is to watch THE KING OF THE JUNGLE hobnob with members of high society before making his obligatory return home to stop a mustache-twirling Belgian solider/ diamond miner (Christoph Waltz) from enslaving the people of the Congo, The Legend of Tarzan also happens to be an absolute fucking snooze. Watching this plodding political saga come to fruition is pure, relentless torture-especially when you consider that this film is aspiring to be an Indiana Jones-esque adventure. I'll take a million messy, harmless blockbusters in the mold of The Dark Tower or Tom Cruise's The Mummy over soulless bores like this any day of the week for the rest of time.   

Thank you for reading this week's installment of "The Best and Worst of". The next victim of my praise and ire will be "Black Panther" star Chadwick Boseman.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Movie Review: The Cloverfield Paradox

Netflix caused quite the frenzy earlier this week when they unveiled a teaser for The Cloverfield Paradox, a long-delayed title they acquired from Paramount a few weeks ago, during the Super Bowl then made it available to watch immediately following the conclusion of the game. This aggressive marketing tactic allowed the streaming giant to provide near-instant gratification to its subscribers in an age that pretty much demands it while also continuing the mystique that has surrounded the Cloverfield universe since its inception a decade ago. In a not particularly shocking development, the inventive release rollout is one of the only noteworthy things about this clusterfuck of a semi-sequel.

The Cloverfield Paradox plays out like a feature-length sci-fi grab bag. You want a space station setting? You got it. Some parallel universe talk? No problem. A little bit of Alien-inspired body horror? BAM! Strange plot twists? Done deal. How about some clarification on the franchise's previously unanswered questions as a cherry on top of this sloppy intergalactic sundae? Sounds divine. This overwhelming collection of moving parts makes for a viewing experience that is relatively entertaining at times, but is often insane, puzzling and flat-out dumb. If nothing else, this pile of manic space gobbledygook made me develop a deeper appreciation for the tense, straightforward storytelling of the other Cloverfield films.

A popular theory as to why this film failed to hit its intended target is due to its limited connections to Cloverfield, which is a take that I don't agree with at all. 10 Cloverfield Lane featured even fewer connections to the 2008 original yet still managed to be a brilliantly-executed thriller. The Cloverfield Paradox's issue is that unlike its predecessors, it largely lacks tension or intrigue. It's a lot harder to get invested in a mysterious sc-fi tale when the stakes hardly escalate and the director fails to mine any intensity out of a claustrophobic setting. Outside of a few cool, interesting explanations to events from prior films, The Cloverfield Paradox adds nothing to the cannon and I can't really fault Paramount for wanting to get this middling piece of fan service off their books.  

Grade: C+

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Concert Review: Brockhampton-- Boston, MA-- February 5th, 2018

Lineup: Brockhampton ("Love Your Parents Tour")
Venue: House of Blues, Boston, MA
Date: February 5th, 2018

Brockhampton: Unlike the Dow Jones, Brockhampton's stock in the music world keeps rising and is currently displaying no signs of slowing down. Thanks to the overwhelming success of last year's Saturation trilogy, this hip-hop collective has developed a passionate, rapidly growing fanbase within a year of entering the national spotlight. That rabid following they've earned and the vibrant, distinct music that drew them in was apparent during their wild sold-out performance at the Boston stop of their "Love Your Parents" tour on Monday night.

If there was any doubt about Brockhampton ability to sustain the tidal wave of buzz that's surrounding them at the moment, their live show eviscerates it. The room was full of the type of intense sing-a-longs, constant jumping around and visible enthusiasm that is typically reserved for acts that have been around for several years, if not decades. Just about every song they played during their nearly two hour set received a strong reaction and that constant wave of energy created a raucous, party-like atmosphere that was awesome to be a part of.

Brockhampton's live show also does a good job of showcasing how much they treasure and buy into the concept of being a true group. These guys attack every song as a unit and despite their immense individual talents, no member tries to command the spotlight for themselves (not even de facto leader Kevin Abstract, whose previously enjoyed success as a solo artist). As much as I love hip-hop's abundance of big personalities, it's cool to see a group of gifted artists put an emphasis on team success over individual accomplishments. I firmly believe that the authentic sense of family these guys possess and way each member's distinct style/personality complements one another has played a crucial, underrated role Brockhampton's in breakout stardom.

There was a handful of rough patches from a technical standpoint (particularly on "GUMMY", "SWEET" and "ZIPPER") sprinkled throughout the set and the gimmick of repeatedly playing "STAR" to close out their shows because it's their favorite song to play live really grated on me, but this was mostly a polished, fun performance from one of hip-hop's most promising young acts. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing them again at Boston Calling on Memorial Day weekend.

Brockhampton 8/10