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This blog focuses on the National Basketball Association. Everything from outlook on rumors, transactions, and projections to recaps from a student of the game's P.O.V.

So, it's official. The NBA game is different.

We have heard the old guys (yes, I'm talking about you, Charles Barkley) say for years that the game is soft, now. As young fans, we argued that statement. We refused to accept the fact that not only the way the game is regulated has gone cotton-soft, but that the players themselves are soft. Well in the words of Kobe Bryant, " You (expletive) soft like Charmin, out this (expletive)!" I have given up the argument. I don't even think it is worth fighting, anymore.

You can blame LeBron James all you want, but the fact of the matter is....he isn't the cause. Want your culprit? Well look no further than the Amateur Athletic Union. AAU basketball is nothing new. Hell, my parents even played AAU ball. However, their AAU and the millennial AAU are completely different. Many of today's AAU teams are sponsored by the world's largest sportswear brands, like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour. The brands run the summer circuit.

Brand reps are team coaches and scouts. First, they find the kids. Then, they put them on their teams, giving the players maximum exposure through the brand's tournaments and events. And where do the kids go from there? Most likely transferring from their local school to a private school, sponsored by the SAME brand. Coincidence? I think not. These brands dictate what moves the players make.

Back in the day, the best players from their respective neighborhoods, carried their teams to prominence and competed against each other. Nowadays, all the best players are stacked on one maybe two teams in each region. True fans, no matter the sport, would agree that half of the passion for the game comes from the love for competition. However, it seems that competition no longer drives the passion. AAU basketball destroyed that. 

Players form friendships, even brotherhoods with the guys that they play with, year-round. From summer ball, to the classroom, to school ball, and brand-sponsored combines, these guys are spending a lot of time together. How could they not become close? And although they still have to play against each other from time to time, when they do, it's more so like friendly competition. The type where you may hug or dap-up your opponent before tipoff. No longer is it that nasty competitiveness. The kind where you don't really know the guy, but you hate him, anyway, just because he has on a different jersey. That trash-talking, physical, grimy game is gone, and it left with the last player to bring that mentality to the NBA game; Kobe Bryant. Well, maybe he isn't the last guy.

At 27 years of age, Russell Westbrook is the last of the Mohicans. He plays the game with an intensity unparalleled to his peers. Westbrook plays the game with a chip on his shoulder and a competitive edge, almost as if he belongs in the 80's. I assume the chip on his shoulder came from not starting on his high school varsity roster until he was a junior, or not receiving his first recruiting letter until his senior season. It could probably have to do with the fact that he received his UCLA scholarship offer, only after Jordan Farmar declared for the NBA Draft. It could be one, the other, or a combination of all. But I would bet that the chip on his shoulder is more like a boulder after his longtime Thunder teammate, Kevin Durant, bolted on him for the NBA's golden boy, Stephen Curry, and his mob.

When asked how he feels about Durant's decision to leave the Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors, whom they had down 3-1 in their Western Conference Final best of seven series that they eventually lost, Russell Westbrook seems unphazed. If anything, I think that he is relieved. He looks forward to the challenge to silence his critics and prove the doubters wrong, similar to Kobe after Shaq's departure in Los Angeles. He doesn't want to run. Westbrook wants to lead his team to glory, help or no help.

Can he win alone? Is he only as good as Durant's sidekick? Is he a leader? These are all questions that will soon be answered. But one thing for sure, Russell Westbrook is nothing like the rest of today's NBA. He is the last of a dying breed.

© 2016 All rights reserved. Interactive One Millennial
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After coming under the radar as an eighth grader, it seems like the hype revolving around Thon Maker has died down, considerably. Once known in only basketball circles, as a the most versatile seven-footer we have ever seen, at just 14 years-old, Thon then became a YouTube sensation obliterating the one million view mark on multiple of his highlight videos. The name Thon Maker no longer was known to only hoops junkies.

Strangely enough, when Maker declared for the 2016 NBA Draft, upon his high school graduation, the responses were not what one would expect. Instead of praise for the second coming of some sort of Kevin Garnett-Kevin Durant hybrid, fans only saw his declaration as a mistake. Even mock drafts have him going in the second round.

In 2005, after the year's draft, the league's collective bargaining agreement changed rules for draft eligibility. To keep things simple, all players must be at least nineteen years of age within the draft year, or one year removed from high school. We have seen players the likes of Brandon Jennings and Emmanuel Mudiay option to become international professionals rather than the traditional college route. But since the 2005 NBA Draft, Thon Maker will be the first player to make the jump from prep to pro.

For years, it was very common to see high school players get drafted. 30 of the 43 NBA players drafted from high school, since 1962 were selected in the first round. These players were highly coveted for their young age, talent, and high-ceilings! What has changed?

Both Kevin Garnett (left) and Kobe Bryant (right) were first round draft picks, out of high school.

Dwight Howard (left) and LeBron James (right) were, as well.

According to Mike Schmitz of Draft Express, Maker has three major weaknesses being his "feel for the game, offensive polish, and strength". I do agree that Thon Maker is a bit raw in some aspects of the game, but he is ONLY NINETEEN and has too much potential to be overlooked as a prospect. The kid is 7'1" 220 lbs and has the ability to play positions 3-5. His game features good ball-handling, athleticism, great foot speed, and a smooth jump shot. Not to mention he has a 7'3" wingspan and a 9'3" standing reach.

Many players that are drafted are projects, or seen as a couple years away from impacting the NBA game. This could be the case for Maker, but he is a project worth betting on. Year after year, we see front offices take their chances on European players with high upside, and a lot of them, we never see or hear much of in their careers. Yet, in this year's draft, teams in the top five of the lottery are looking to gamble on Dragan Bender, who no one has seen enough of to determine if he'll be a bust or not. Bender has a similar style to Maker, but did not play much for Maccabi Tel Aviv. What is it that makes Thon different?

If this screams, "high-lottery" I am confused.

Even the fourth pick in the 2015 draft, Kristaps Porzingis, was seen as a project-player, a couple years away from being the prospect New York thought he could be. Porzingis proved otherwise, becoming a star-rookie, ranking fourth in league jersey sales and second in Rookie of the Year voting. That's just a little proof of how worth the risk some high-reward prospects can be.

New York Knicks star, PorzinGOD.

With the new revolution of the NBA underway, Thon Maker makes the ideal stretch big. He can handle the rock, step out beyond the three-point arc and has the length and quickness to guard multiple positions. Position-less players, while not always popular, are now becoming a league commodity. Players of this kind are invaluable to their franchises and are not common to come across.

Thon Maker can be an NBA star, and should not be subject to anything lower than late-lottery. But, if teams don't buy into the hype, they will regret it later when Thon makes believers of them all.

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Kevin Durant looking to score against San Antonio's David West.

I know it's not too common, these days, but the old saying, "money ain't everything," means something to Kevin Durant. Recently, Kevin spoke on Western Conference opponent, David West, and his decision on taking a hefty pay cut to play for a contender rather than choosing more money. “I respect it,” Durant said. “Money isn’t everything in this life. I know we tend to think about taking care of your family, being financially stable. But from the outside looking in, it looks like he said, ‘Well, I’ve been blessed to make X amount and I’ll be chasing something that’s the grand prize in this league.’ So I respect him for it. A lot of guys wouldn’t have done it.”

Beginning July 1st, Durant is expected to explore his options, when the NBA Free Agency Period opens. Los Angeles, Golden State, Boston, Washington, as well as other teams have been rumored to be on his radar, but don't be surprised if Durant opts to stay in his second-home of Oklahoma City, instead.

Since bursting into NBA superstardom, Durant has been refreshing for many fans. For one, we've never seen a 7-footer (yes, I'm aware that he is listed as 6'9", but let's be real) with the ball-handling and shooting skills of an elite guard. But also, for one to be considered one of the game's best players, he is as humble as your last guy on the bench.

Kevin Durant is 'genuine', 'real', and as someone that has met Durant on numerous occasions, at local gyms in our hometown of Prince George's County, Maryland, even if you don't know him, personally, his personality is always warm and makes you feel comfortable and relatable. My fellow DMV residents could attest to that. And a feeling like that from a superstar is as rare as his talent.

In 2007, Kevin Durant was drafted to the Seattle Supersonics, and after his rookie season, the franchise relocated to Oklahoma City, rebranding itself as the 'Thunder'. The city of Oklahoma City is a mirrored image of Durant, himself, ironically. Residents are mostly blue-collar, hardworking, and humble. But, the 'Thunder' reflects his partner-in-crime, Russell Westbrook.

Since 2008, Kevin and Russell have formed a brotherhood. We've seen them grow from just two hungry young guys, to superstars in the game, all side-by-side. From the 2012 Finals run to injuries and missed playoffs to their late-game battles over the last shot, we have witnessed it all.

Like brothers, Kevin and Russell are known to defend each other, at all times.

When Durant won the 2014 NBA MVP Award, he gave a legendary speech. It soon flooded the internet and social media with "You the real MVP," memes. But for a small chunk of his lengthy, heartfelt speech, he spoke on Russell Westbrook.

"I know you guys think I forgot Russ, but I can speak all night about Russell. An emotional guy who will run through a wall for me. I don't take it for granted. There's days where I want to just talk with you and tell you to snap out of it sometimes, but I know there's days where you want to do the same thing with me. I love you, man. I love you. A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player, and I'm the first to have your back, through it all. Just stay the person you are, everybody loves you here. I love you. I thank you so much, man. You made me better. Your work ethic, I always wanted to compete with you. I always wanted to pull up to the parking lot of the arena or practice facility, I always wanted to outwork you. You set the bar, you set the tone. Thank you so much, man. You got a big piece of this, you're an MVP-caliber player. It's a blessing to play with you, man. I thank all you guys. I know we have a bigger goal in mind, and we have a tough game tomorrow. But this means the world to me that you guys are here celebrating with me. Thank you, thank you, I can't express it enough."

In his speech, Kevin also expressed his love for the Oklahoma City fans. "We want to win a championship for you guys," Durant said. I believe that he truly does want to win a ring with the franchise, and wouldn't part ways with the organization if he did. The time is now. The Oklahoma City Thunder lead the San Antonio Spurs, 3-2, in the second round of the Western Conference Semi-Finals. The Spurs were the second-best team, record-wise, in the regular season and were favored by many to challenge the Golden State Warriors for the Western Conference title. But, in this series, the Durant-Westbrook duo has out-powered its opponent, and the Thunder look like the better team.

Oklahoma City could close out the series, tonight, at home, leaving only two foes left to defeat before capturing the franchise's first championship, since moving to Oklahoma.

It isn't everyday that a player can play with someone that he considers "a brother", and if that isn't enough to keep Kevin Durant, winning a championship definitely is. For Kevin, "Money isn't everything in this life," and quite frankly, the Thunder don't need the largest offer sheet to keep him.

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