The Filipinos loves watching NBA

It has been a long-standing and somewhat inexplicable love affair, Filipinos and basketball. Statistically, Filipinos are, per capita, probably the most passionate NBA fans in the world, whether it’s online, on television, on cable or in the sports pages. The most active SMS users in the world (second only in volume to China whose population is more than eleven times that of our little archipelago) also patronize the league actively in terms of mobile content.

 

For over three years, Rafe Bartholomew (now one of the most gifted talents of Grantland.com) studied the phenomenon on the ground. His being American and a skilled player helped open a lot of doors for him, and his humorous, voluminous study “Pacific Rims: Beermen Ballin’ in Flip-flops” actually became the third-best selling book in the Philippines in 2010. His tome was topped only by the “Twilight” series and “A Purpose Driven Life”. Consider the fact that the former was a multi-part series supported by movie tie-ins, and the latter a self-help set that had been around much longer, and you’ll realize how powerful that book on basketball was.

Still, a truly concrete explanation has yet to be found for this incongruous passion between a race whose males average about 5’8″ in height and a game which evolved into the playground of giants. Why is it that vertically challenged people like us are so doggedly determined to master a game played by behemoths?

First, even before the NBA was born, the United States used the educational system to ferry basketball into our bloodstream from the late 1800s onward. The young sport was originally snubbed as not being masculine enough – believe it or not – and was first played by girls here. In addition, many parents didn’t want their boys playing it, like the father of 1936 Berlin Olympian Jacinto Ciria Cruz, who hid all his son’s pants so he wouldn’t be playing hoops out in the street. Also, in the early days there were only two regulation courts in the entirety of what is now known as Metro Manila. One of them was at the old Manila YMCA, where SM Manila now stands.

Until the early 1990’s, US military facilities (particularly Clark Airbase in Pampanga), were the primary source of live NBA action. The faint, hazy early-morning signal emanating from the 800-foot elevation of their tower was water for thirsty roundball fans 90 kilometers away. Many of us lost a lot of sleep trying to keep track of Magic, Bird and Jordan just to get our fix. Some bought bootleg videotapes of NBA games just to have a tangible piece of the league.

The infiltration into schools gave the sport a good start, but other sports were introduced, too. So why did basketball become the passion of this nation? Aside from the fact that we naturally gravitate towards many things American, basketball appeals to the innate artistry of the Filipino, and the NBA is its highest art form. Older Filipinos used the words abilidad (natural talent) and diskarte (creativity) a lot. Even without much formal training, Filipinos latch onto the finer points of the game, particularly in terms of freelancing. We are probably the most inventive players of the game below the net, and dream of doing that above the rim, as well. That’s probably one reason why there is a very strong Boston Celtics Philippines club following.

Basketball may be a team sport, but it also allows for a “star” player to shine. Even in the Philippine music industry, bands reach a certain height of fame, but solo performers (many who come from those selfsame bands) skyrocket when they’ve left their bands. Basketball is like having a five-man band playing jazz, making things up as the go along, or it seems. Locally, we had pros who couldn’t dribble with their left hand, but survived because fans could relate to them.

And speaking of relatability, NBA players took advantage of their basketball gifts to get through school (well, most of them) and earn a very good livelihood. It is a dream of many of the impoverished in the Philippines as well. It’s like hitting the genetic lottery if you were born above six feet tall or able to drain three-pointers. Some call it the aspirational value. To the NBA’s credit, despite the supposed weaker buying power of the Philippines, the league has been very active in promoting itself and its stars in the country, from its NBA Madness to the NBA Asia Challenge and even player visits sponsored by athletic shoe brands Nike, adidas and Reebok. And Filipinos are very loyal fans.

But perhaps one little-known fact that almost all Americans are unaware of ties us into basketball and the NBA even more closely. The game was originally inspired by a children’s game very close to one of our own.

“Tumbang preso” is a street game that has been played by tens of millions of Filipinos for over a century. Basically, a bent tin can is placed in a target zone, and the goal is for one team to get past the defenses of another and knock the can down by flinging their rubber thing slippers at it. When James Naismith was looking for inspiration for the new winter sport he was asked to invent, he harked back to a Canadian cousin of tumbang preso he had grown up playing. It was called “duck on a rock”. The rules were similar. The difference was that the can was placed on an elevated place (a rock) and they used stones to knock it down. Naismith purposely wanted an elevated goal to avoid contact. Of course, he had no control over how the game would evolve now, did he?

So think about it. The shared history of millions of children in the Far East and North America, fused into a flowing, creative game originally invented as a winter escape. Maybe subconsciously, we know this, and that’s why we love basketball. And that’s why we love the NBA

Advertisements

Reyes praises Gilas resilience after vengeful win over Iran

TAIPEI – Smart Gilas-Pilipinas survived a couple of missed free throws down the stretch and the late surge by Iran to hack out a thrilling 77-75 win on Friday as it kept its championship bid alive in the 34thWilliam Jones Cup basketball tournament at the TPEC gym.

The Nationals botched four free throws in the final 31 seconds – including three in a row – and then held their collective breath as veteran Mehdi Kamrani missed a potential game-winning three-pointer in Iran’s final play before finally celebrating the hard-earned win.

“Hindi dapat dikit, but we missed two open lay-ups, and four free throws,” said an obviously relieved Gilas coach Chot Reyes.

The victory created a three-way tie at the top at 5-1 among the Filipinos, the defending champion Iranians, and the US team – a 77-66 winner over Jordan earlier – with two playing days left in the tournament being held in honor of the late former Fiba secretary-general.

The Nationals, who lost 91-72 to Lebanon in their previous outing, take on the host team on Saturday at 7 p.m., before capping their campaign with a 5 p.m. game against the Americans on Sunday.

The team with the best record after the tournament will emerge champion.

Marcus Douthit was back to his dominant self with a team-high 22 points and 10 rebounds, while the Rain or Shine pair of Gabe Norwood and Jeff Chan added 17 and 12, respectively, for the Nationals, who dealt the two-time defending champions their first loss of the tournament.

The Nationals enjoyed lead of as much as 63-51 early in the fourth and were protecting an 86-81 edge with 31 seconds to go when they began missing their free throws.

Douthit flubbed a bonus gift shot, Ranidel de Ocampo bungled two, and Chan only had a split, 77-75, with seven seconds to go that opened the door for a possible game-winning shot by Iran.

But Kamrani muffed a desperation three-pointer that sealed the Philippines’ second win in three Jones Cup meetings with Iran since last year’s 73-59 victory in the preliminaries.

“Tapos na sana ng maaga, but it’s really different when you’re playing with the name of the country on your jersey. That’s something we have to learn and get used to,” said Reyes, who finally won over the Iranians after losing to the same team then bannered by Hamed Hahhadi and coached by Rajko Toroman, 75-69, in the first round of the 2007 Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship in Tokushima, Japan.

Held to just three in the first half, Samad Bahrami exploded for 23 points in the last two quarters, including six in a row as Iran made it a 76-75 game.

“Iran is a tough team. They never die, very physical, and warriors. But we showed the heart of our team and how far we can go,” said Douthit.

For the second straight game, PBA commissioner Chito Salud watched and supported the Nationals from the gallery section, joined by chairman Robert Non, vice-chairman Mon Segismundo, Talk `N Text Board member Patrick Gregorio, and PBA media bureau chief Willie Marcial.

Lampard: Premier League ‘the best in the world’

The start to Frank Lampard’s 18th season in the Barclays Premier League could hardly have been better as the Chelsea midfielder converted a penalty in his side’s 2-0 victory at Wigan Athletic on Sunday.

 

The 34-year-old is the highest-scoring midfielder in the competition’s history, the only player to have managed double figures in goals in nine consecutive seasons and last season he became one of only six players to have passed 500 Premier League appearances.

Lampard is set to make his 523rd League appearance this evening at home to Reading as Chelsea look to build on their winning start to the campaign and attempt to add to the three League titles Lampard has helped them win.

The England international’s 2011/12 season was bookended with trophies. He won the Barclays Asia Trophy with Chelsea in July 2011, before lifting The FA Cup in May and then adding the one major club honour missing from his collection: a UEFA Champions League winner’s medal.

Speaking exclusively before the start of the 2012/13 season the 34-year-old looked back on the drama of last season’s campaign and modestly reflected on his legendary status in Premier League history.

He reveals how Chelsea became united to become European champions and how he almost left these shores to play abroad.

 

“”All the way down the League teams are improving

and have something to fight for”

Frank Lampard

 

Exciting finale

How exciting was it to be a part of last season?

Frank Lampard: It was amazing. If you wrote it as a movie script no one would believe it. It just shows how competitive the Premier League is.

What’s the footballer’s take on Sergio Aguero’s injury-time winner that sealed the title for Manchester City – are those last-ditch goals about guts or luck?

FL: You need a bit of luck – every team does. We had some at Chelsea last season, but you have to keep believing and Manchester City never gave up. They pushed and pushed and got the reward. Aguero is a class player and with strikers like that in your team things can happen for you any time in a match.

Was it the most competitive season you’ve played in?

FL: For me personally it wasn’t, because we weren’t where we wanted to be in the League. Not to be challenging for the title and focusing on the two cups we eventually won changed the emphasis at Chelsea. Six teams competing for the top places made it harder than ever and it will be tougher again next season. Manchester City will be strong, Manchester United are always the benchmark and you can’t underestimate teams like Arsenal or Liverpool. It’s great for the League to have so much strength.

 

Chelsea’s victory in the UEFA Champions League ensured England were the top performing European league for the fifth year in a row. What makes the League so strong?

FL: It’s tough as there’s no easy games, no simple three points as all the way down the League the teams are improving and have something to fight for. Other leagues in Europe have top teams but I feel we have more strength in depth and more top players from around the world.

What was the secret to Chelsea’s Champions League win?

FL: It’s common knowledge we had some shaky times last season, but once the managerial change came there was a fresh unity – like the Chelsea of old. We all felt part of the campaign again and we wanted it badly – we always have. Players that are used to winning things don’t give that up easily. It’s about big players and determination.

 

‘Best league in world football’

Last season was the Premier League’s 20th. You’ve played in 17 of them – what has changed on and off the pitch in that time?

FL: So much has changed in my time. The TV influence is huge and it has taken the English game to such new levels with interest around the world. This has allowed teams to grow and attract the best players and they have helped raise standards and training techniques, which now leave us with the most interesting and, for me, best league in world football.

How proud are you of what you have achieved in the Premier League?

FL: When I signed for Chelsea I wanted to win things for my club. Having done that, personal achievements are great to have – but they’re just stats. It’s all about trophies. I’m part of a team and if I can break records to help my team I’m doubly happy.

 

What is your most memorable experience in the Premier League?

FL: When I scored the two goals against Bolton that won Chelsea the League for the first time in 50 years. Wow, that was something, even thinking back to it now. The reaction of the fans was unreal.

 

Drogba great

We said goodbye to Didier Drogba at the end of this season. He has been a wonderful ambassador for the Premier League, but what are your memories of your long-time teammate?

FL: Didier is a great player and a great man and he will always be a friend. We get on really well. He’s a winner and a decent human being and he does such tireless work for charity.

What about the next generation of Frank Lampards? Do you think we will see more home grown players coming through Chelsea’s training ground?

FL: Cobham is a great facility and I feel we have a good, fresh generation of young coaches working with our players. Everything is set up for the youngsters and Chelsea and I hope we bring through lots of great players.

What will be your memories of being part of the Premier League’s history?

FL: I love playing in the Premier League. It’s no secret I nearly went to Italy with Jose [Mourinho] and I would have liked to have seen what it was like playing in a totally different league. But I’ve no regrets as the Premier League is watched all over the world and it’s great that people enjoy what we do. To play in the Roman Abramovich years at Chelsea has been incredible. He gave us the chance to challenge for all the honours and it’s been a real pleasure.

one of Azkal Players joins the 1st Division of German Bundesliga

 

Philippine national men’s football team member Stephan Schrock will be playing at the top echelon of German football after signing a three-year deal with Bundesliga first division squad TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, according to a report on the league’s official website.

The 25-year-old Azkals member had spent the past eight seasons as a member of the first team of SpVgg Greuther Fuerth, which currently sits atop the standings in the second division of the Bundesliga. Last month, Schrock helped the club make a Cinderella run to the semifinals of the DFB Pokal, Germany’s top Cup competition.

Ironically, Fuerth defeated Hoffenheim in the quarterfinals of that tournament.

Schrock missed Fuerth’s semifinal match against defending Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund due to injury.

“I’m very much looking forward to the challenge at 1899, who have made a name for themselves on their way to becoming an established side in the Bundesliga. I can take the next step in my career here,” Schrock told the Bundesliga site.

“Stephan Schrock was a prime transfer target of mine. He has all the qualities that a modern day defender needs to have. In signing him we have gained the necessary substance and will have more alternatives in our defensive department for the future,” said Hoffenheim coach Markus Babbel.

While Schrock is deployed as a defender in the Bundesliga, he played the midfield for the Azkals in three matches last year.

NCAA Standings: San Beda roars back to No. 1

1. San Beda Red Lions

(Overall record: 8-2; Last week: 2nd)

Entering the second round in a three-way tie for the top spot, the Red Lions were the only team that took care of business this week, pounding the Lyceum Pirates, 77-47, behind a season-high 16 assists from Baser Amer and 17 points from Jake Pascual.

Despite the loss to San Sebastian near the end of the first round, San Beda is starting to look like the steadier team. In their last three wins (against JRU, Letran and Lyceum), no team has come closer than 22 points. And that gives them the solo lead in the NCAA standings and great position moving forward in the second round.

2. Perpetual Help Altas

(Overall record: 7-3; Last week: 4th)

Perpetual got back to its winning ways against Saint Benilde this week, bouncing back from an upset loss to Arellano at the end of the first round. The Altas have had a lot of close calls against lower-ranked teams in their last few games, including this one where they let a 15-point third quarter lead dwindle down to one point with a minute and a half remaining.

That’s not a great sign for the Altas. But what is a good sign is that they got the ‘W’ – which puts them three victories ahead of their closest pursuer for the last spot in the final four.

3. San Sebastian Stags

(Overall record: 7-3; Last week: 1st)

San Sebastian suffered upset losses in two of their last three in games that probably say more about them than about their competition. There’s no doubt the Stags have a great on-court product, but one has to wonder about their motivation to continue competing at a high level at this point, especially reigning Most Valuable Player Calvin Abueva, who was drafted by the Alaska Aces in the PBA Draft last Sunday.

To top things off, they’ll have to deal with the surprise resignation of coach Topex Robinson, who will focus on his duties as part of the Aces’ coaching staff.

4. Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers

(Overall record: 7-3; Last week: 4th)

After closing out an impressive first round with losses only to San Beda and San Sebastian, JRU disappointed this week, falling to the Arellano Chiefs. The JRU defense, which held opponents to under 80 points in seven of their first eight games, has allowed 83 and 85 in the last two contests.

On the plus side, the scoring has been high of late – the Heavy Bombers are averaging 91.5 points in the two games since San Beda held them to a season-low 37 earlier this month – but they’ve had a lot of success keeping the scores low and it’s interesting to see how this plays out for them in the coming days.

5. Mapua Cardinals

(Overall record: 4-5; Last week: 5th)

The Cardinals stayed idle this week, but things are looking up for them after winning back-to-back games to close out the first round. Defense has been leading the way for the Cards in their current streak, holding San Sebastian and Arellano to 54 and 49 points, both season-lows for Mapua.

In fact, all four of their wins this season happen to be the games where they allowed the least amount of points. They lost all five games in which they allowed more than 63 points, and are 4-0 when allowing 63 or less.

6. Arellano Chiefs

(Overall record: 4-6; Last week: 7th)

Arellano picked up a big win this week, knocking off the favored JRU Heavy Bombers, 85-82, behind big performances from Rocky Acidre, Nard Pinto and James Forrester who all had 16 or more points.

The Chiefs have defeated higher-ranked Perpetual and JRU in two of their last three games, but they’ll have to defeat the teams in the lower half of the standings if they want to keep this run going. They’ll get the chance for that this week when they play EAC on Saturday’s playdate.

7. Letran Knights

(Overall record: 4-5; Last week: 6th)

The mysterious disappearance of center Raymond Almazan has apparently been solved with the 6-foot-7 Mythical Team member sitting behind the Letran bench in their game against San Beda and expressing a desire to suit up in the second round in spite of his going AWOL in the last six games.

His return will be a huge boost for the Knights’ campaign. They aren’t out of the final four race yet, but they do have a lot of ground to make up. And it’s unclear whether Letran coach Louie Alas will give Almazan his regular minutes back – or even whether he should.

8. Emilio Aguinaldo College Generals

(Overall record: 3-7; Last week: 9th)

The Generals pulled off the upset of the season when they toppled the powerhouse Stags, 77-67, behind strong efforts from Russell Yaya, Igee King and, of course, Noube Happi. Even more impressive? They did it without two of their guards, Francis Munsayac and Jorem Morada, and coach Gerry Espalana who were all out serving one-game bans.

Many have harped about their record not being indicative of how well they play because they’ve lost a bunch of games that could have easily gone either way. Looks like they’re out to prove that right now, and that deserves a small bump up the Power Rankings.

9. College of Saint Benilde Blazers

(Overall record: 3-7; Last week: 10th)

Carlo Lastimosa made his return to the Blazers this week, dropping 23 big points and leading a big fourth quarter run against the Altas, but it wasn’t enough as they fell to the Perpetual, 78-74. The suspensions to Joel Tolentino (three games) and Rhoel Maconocido (one game) hurt, as they could have used a little extra lift in what turned out to be a winnable game against a final four contender.

The Blazers have a long way to climb if they still want to make a run at the playoffs, but things are looking much more difficult after this tough loss.

10. Lyceum Pirates

(Overall record: 2-8; Last week: 8th)

The Pirates got trounced by 30 points this week, and though it’s tough to be too hard on them for that – it was San Beda, after all – the fact is they’re still in the middle of a five-game slide where only one has been in single-digits (an eight-point loss to San Sebastian).

Two of the losses were by 30 or more while the other two were by 10 and 14 points. They need to do a much better job staying in games if they want the opportunity to grab a win, like they did in back-to-back games against EAC and Mapua earlier this season. Otherwise, they could find themselves in this spot for a while.

Top 10 Muslim NBA players of all time

10  MEMO OKUR

This Turkish inside/outside workforce missed a bunch of games in the last few years because of his injuries but his stock started to grow when he played a wonderful backup role to Ben and Rasheed Wallace in the Detroit Pistons’ championship run in 2004. And then he signed with the Utah Jazz where he averaged 18.0 points per game and 9.1 rebounds per game in the 2005-06 NBA season.

9  HEDO TURKOGLU

Here’s another Turkish basketball juggernaut whose game resembles that of Toni Kukoc. Admittedly, I was a fan of Hedo when he played for the Sacramento Kings (his parents were born in Serbia) but it’s with the Orlando Magic that he became scoring threat – averaging 19.5 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game for the Magic in the 2007-08 NBA season.

8  WALT HAZZARD

This two-time NBA All-Star also represented the United States in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics (Filipinos know this as the Olympics where Anthony Villanueva won a silver medal in boxing). Hazzard had his best year while playing for the Seattle Supersonics (24.0 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game, and 6.2 assist per game) in the inaugural season in 1967. His number was retired by UCLA in 1996 but gave permission to let a standout newcomer use it. Perhaps he thought Kevin Love would become a successful player eventually. He would later change his name to Mahdi Abdul-Rahman and it stayed that way until his death on November 18, 2011.

7  SHAREEF ABDUL-RAHIM

When he joined the Sacramento Kings in the 2005-06 season and the Kings scored a playoff spot, Reef ended a dubious record of playing the most number of NBA games without a playoff appearance. Originally drafted by the Vancouver Grizzlies in the 1996 NBA Draft, Reef averaged 18.1 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game in a 12-year injury-plagued run. He also represented USA in the 2000 Sydney Olympics where he won a gold medal.

6 RASHEED WALLACE

One of the most popular and hated players of his time, Sheed was the fourth overall pick by the Washington Bullets in the 1995 NBA Draft. He was the leader of the terrorizing Portland Trail Blazers of the late 90’s but it is with the Detroit Pistons where he won a NBA title. The four-time NBA All-Star also had a dubious record of all-time technical fouls with 304. He never backs down when the going gets tough and can drain the rainmakers in awesome accuracy.

5  LARRY JOHNSON

If you’re not a New York Knicks fan back then, you’ll probably be annoyed the “L” gesture he does whenever he hits a trey. “Grandma” was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in 1991 and had an Alvin Patrimonio-type of career where he started out a ferocious power forward but ended his career as a deadshot outside shooter. He is a one-time All-NBA Second Team, a two-time NBA-All Star, a former Rookie of the Year, and played alongside Shaquille O’Neal and Reggie Miller on Dream Team 2. He also the only player to have his talent get crapped at by the Looney Tunes.

4  JAMAAL ABDUL-LATEEF WILKES

Alongside Bill Walton and Coach John Wooden, “Smooth as Silk” would stir UCLA to a lot of championships. In the NBA, his winning streak continued where he won a title with the Golden State Warriors and three plums with the Los Angeles Lakers. He averaged 17.7 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game in a 12-year career. A three-time All-Star and the 1975 Rookie of the Year, he received his highest citation by being inducted in the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2012. He is a valuable teammate to many and even if he got dethroned by James Worthy at his spot in his later years, he managed to do his best despite limited minutes.

3 SHAQUILLE O’NEAL

In some ways, I find it hard to believe that I’m writing this. This is the same jolly guy who cracks jokes, does a lot of wacky endorsements, and says things without thinking. I am a fan of Shaq but I was thinking on whether or not inserting Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and taking him off the list is a good idea. Fact is, Shaq’s dad is a Muslim. In an interview he told everyone that Hakeem Olajuwon is his brother and he’d like the idea of him and Hakeem going to Mecca together. And oh yeah – Shaq is a one-time MVP, multiple time All-NBA First, Second, and Third Team member, a 15-time All-Star, an Olympic Gold Medalist, a Rookie of the Year winner, and a future Hall of Famer.

2   KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR

Shocked? Oh do tell. The former Lew Alcindor was undoubtedly the best college player in time of the 1968 Mexico Olympics but he didn’t want to do anything with the United States as objection for the country’s participation to the Vietnam War. And then, he changed his name because he wanted to latch on his heritage and that he wants to educate the black people that they came from a positive culture. But then he also sued Miami Dolphins’ running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar after the former UCLA standout (same school as Kareem) twisted his name and used the number 33 (same number as Kareem) as sort of milking off his popularity. Nonetheless, Kareem is the most decorated NBA player ever with six MVPs, 10 First Teams, five Second Teams, two Finals MVPs, 19 All-Star citations, and a Hall of Fame ring.

1  HAKEEM OLAJUWON

Yes, I said it. This Hall of Famer is my top choice for my best. Kareem should have been here but then I thought that I wanted my Best Player to combine his skills with his devotion to his religion. I am not saying that most in the list aren’t devout Muslims but the climb to the NBA must be different for Olajuwon. As a kid growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, he was raised to follow the teachings of Islam ardently. That would have been trying especially when he made the trip to US where the sins of success are at its height. Because he didn’t understand the American ideals, he would go into fights with his teammates and this all changed with him becoming an even more devout Muslim. Even with the frustrating NBA schedule, The Dream remains unfazed in practicing the ideals of his religion. In 1995, he was named NBA Player of the Month even though Ramadan began on February 1 of that year. Olajuwon won a gold medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and finished his career as a 1-time MVP, a multiple-time All-NBA Team member, the only player to win the MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Finals MVP in one season, and the all time leader in blocks.

Yes, Miami actually got better

The transactions are still trickling in, but barring an unforeseen blockbuster, we can just about put a wrap on our offseason transactions. Using NBAPET, my system for projecting, evaluating and tracking the league, I’ve entered all transactions through the weekend and created a wins forecast for every team.

 

I’ve also compared the wins forecast to last season’s total of Pythagorean wins per 82 games for each team, which is the record each team should have had based on its point differential. This gives us an idea of how teams have moved up and down the NBA ladder since the Heat wrapped up the championship a couple of months ago.

 

With ESPN.com’s Summer Forecast upon us, let’s take a look at just how close these projections are to what our expert panel predicted. The first number for each team is projected wins, the second is how many games better (or worse) the team should be than it was in 2011-12.

 

1. Miami Heat: 60.5 | 2.6 
With the Bulls likely to take a big step back this season, the Heat should be able to land the East’s top seed with little difficulty, something it has gone without the last two years despite winning a pair of conference titles. Miami projects to be a top-five team on each end of the floor, displaying the most balance of any team in the league.

Lakers pushing OKC for top spot

The transactions are still trickling in, but barring an unforeseen blockbuster, we can just about put a wrap on our offseason transactions. Using NBAPET, my system for projecting, evaluating and tracking the league, I’ve entered all transactions through the weekend and created a wins forecast for every team.

 

I’ve also compared the wins forecast to last season’s total of Pythagorean wins per 82 games for each team, which is the record each team should have had based on its point differential. This gives us an idea how teams have moved up and down the NBA ladder since the Heat wrapped up the championship a couple of months ago.

 

1. Oklahoma City Thunder: 57.9 wins, 0.3 games worse
Oklahoma City’s projected age (weighted by game minutes) for this season is 25.8 years, which ranks 22nd in the league. To give some context, the teams just behind the Thunder are Sacramento, Toronto and Washington. In other words, OKC sports a collective age typical of a franchise in rebuilding mode, yet the Thunder are coming off a Finals appearance.

Thunder lock up Ibaka with reported four-year extension

The Oklahoma City Thunder took a big step toward sticking around as an NBA championship contender.

The Thunder and general manager Sam Presti still face difficult decisions in the team’s quest to remain a title threat for the long haul after reaching the NBA Finals last season, but reaching a contract extension with blocks leader Serge Ibaka is certainly a good start.

Ibaka came to terms on the deal on Saturday as the Thunder locked up another key member of their nucleus while also putting into question whether the small-market team can afford to keep Sixth Man of the Year James Harden beyond next season.

Ibaka posted on Twitter that he was happy for the chance to play for the Thunder for five more years. Presti didn’t provide details of the contract, citing team policy, but Yahoo! Sports first reported that the deal is for four additional years and $48 million.

“At 23 years old (by the time next season starts), we really do expect his best basketball to be in front of him,” Presti said in a conference call, hours before his wedding.

Presti dismissed the notion that Ibaka’s signing means that Harden’s departure is inevitable. But with more than $50 million committed per season to All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and starting center Kendrick Perkins, there is not much room left in the budget for Harden, who earned a spot on the US Olympic team that won gold in London.

Ibaka played for Spain’s silver-medal winning Olympic team. Both he and Harden were eligible for extensions to their rookie contracts for the first time this summer and were set to become free agents after next season.

“We’re going to continue our conversations with James. We very much value him,” Presti said. “We want him to be a part of our organization moving forward. We’re excited that he’s a member of the Thunder and we’re hopeful that he’ll be with us for years moving forward.”

To make that happen, Oklahoma City would likely have to go over the salary cap – set at about $58 million for next season – and pay a luxury tax or make other moves, such as using the amnesty clause to erase Perkins’ contract.

The Thunder have already let veteran free agents Nazr Mohammed and Royal Ivey sign elsewhere, and Derek Fisher remains unsigned. Backup point guard Eric Maynor, who missed most of last season due to a knee injury, also would become a free agent after next season.

“There’s still a commitment for us to try to find a way to make it work for everybody, but we know there’s going to be some difficult decisions that have to be made,” Presti said. “We’re looking forward to trying to figure those things out, and having Serge in place is certainly a benefit for our organization moving forward knowing that we have another core player that will be with us for the foreseeable future.”

Ibaka was the No. 24 pick in the draft in 2008, the same year Presti selected Westbrook. A native of the Republic of Congo, Ibaka remained overseas for a year before joining the Thunder and developing into a defensive stopper.

He led the NBA with 198 blocks in the 2010-11 season and finished second in the voting for Defensive Player of the Year last season after recording a league-best 241 – a franchise record 3.65 per game.

“He’s come a long way in a short amount of time, but I’ve seen a lot of hard work that’s gone into that on his behalf, and that gives us confidence that he’s going to continue to work at it,” Presti said.

Ibaka has steadily improved his offensive game, adding a mid-range jumper while starting to develop effective post moves. But he’s best known for his defensive impact, particularly after blocking at least 10 shots in three games last season – once as part of a triple-double.

“I think with Serge, he does so many things,” Presti said. “Obviously, his shot-blocking is a statistic that’s most pointed to because it’s objective, because it’s measurable, but there’s a lot of things he does for us in terms of just, I would say, deterring shots.

“He really helps our pick-and-roll defense and bails us out a lot of times.”

The Big 3 has chosen at PBA pick draft

June Mar Fajardo, flanked by No. 3 pick Alex Mallari (left) and second pick overall Calvin Abueva, is only the third Cebuano to be made No. 1 pick overall after Apet Jao in 1990 and Kelly Williams in 2006.

JUNE Mar Fajardo’s PBA dream is now a reality.

Described by one veteran coach as a “man among boys,” Fajardo was as expected made the top pick overall by Petron in a rookie draft that witnessed its share of surprises at a jampacked Robinsons Midtown Mall in Ermita, Manila.

Fajardo became head of a 39-man draft class that was one of the most talented in years as he became the first player with Cebu roots to be named No. 1 pick since Kelly Williams in 2006 – and the first homegrown Cebuano to become the top pick since Apet Jao in 1990.

The youngest in the batch at 22, he was also the 21st big man to head a rookie class since the draft was instituted in 1985.

“Watching him during the tryouts is like watching a man going up against the boys,” B-Meg coach Tim Cone gushed in describing the 6’9” Fajardo. “Actually, I feel like watching Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) coming out of the draft.”

Alaska’s bid to rebuild its fabled team after a woeful season got a big boost when the Aces picked NCAA scoring and rebounding monster Calvin Abueva at second overall, but the drafting took a surprising turn from there when Petron took Alex Mallari instead of a more heralded Fil-American, Cliff Hodge, with its second pick in the first round.

Mallari starred for PBA D-League Foundations Cup runner-up Big Chill, averaging 12 points and 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals. His versatility easily makes the Boosters a tournament favorite in the 38th season opening on September 30.

Hodge instead fell on the lap of the Meralco Bolts, but another surprise pick emerged at No. 5 when the Barako Bull chose Far Eastern University product Aldriche Ramos, who barely 10 minutes would be packaged in a trade for Sean Anthony and B-Meg’s second-round pick and 12th overall.

On the other hand, Barangay Ginebra utilized the sixth and eighth pick by selecting two explosive Fil-Ams in Chris Ellis and Keith Jensen.

The biggest surprise involved longtime amateur star Chris Tiu, a consensus Top Four pick who was shunned by both Ginebra and Petron and ended up sliding all the way down to No. 7 when he was picked by Rain or Shine.

B-Meg traded its no. 9 pick and forward Val Acuna to newcomer Global Port, who in turn gave up forward Sean Anthony to the Llamados.

Batang Pier went on to make one-time D-League MVP Vic Manuel the no. 9 pick, while adding Fil-Am Jason Deuchman for its 10th pick to close the first round.

Air21 opened the second round by selecting former Mapua slotman Yousi Taha, while Barako Bull used the 12th pick it got from the B-Meg trade to draft former San Beda standout Dave Marcelo.

B-Meg selected former NU Bulldog banger Jewel Ponferada as the no. 13 pick, while Global Port got for its 14th pick, 5’11” playmaker Alfred Mandani, who saw action for Blackwater in the D-League.

Barako Bull continued to shore up its backcourt by tapping former Adamson point guard Lester Alvarez along with ex-Ateneo guard Emman Monfort with the 15th and 16th pick.

Meralco got to pick Fil-Am Kelly Nabong at No. 17 after trading its 2015 second-round right to Rain or Shine.

Rounding out the second-round draftees were Woody Co (Barako Bull), former UE guard Raphy Reyes (Alaska) and Jaypee Belencion (Talk ‘N Text).

Rookie hopefuls selected in the third round were Simon Atkins (Air21), Karl Dehesa (Alaska), Ryan Boado (Barako Bull), Janus Lozada (Meralco), Mark Sarangay (Petron), Mark Acosta (Global Port), Raymund Austria (Rain or Shine), Jerick Canada (Barangay Ginebra), Gian Chiu (B-Meg) and Jason Escueta (Talk ‘N Text).

In the fourth round, Alaska, Air21, Petron and Talk ‘N Text decided to pass, while Barako Bull chose Joseph Hermosisima, Meralco tapped Eric Suguitan, Rain or Shine selected Jewel Palomique, Barangay Ginebra chose Paul Zamar and B-Meg took in Ramon Mabayo.

The fifth round only had two picks – Virgilio Serios went to Global Port, while Virgil Buensuceso was drafted by Barangay Ginebra. The draft proceedings ended in the sixth round with Elliot Tan going to the Gin Kings as well.