Posted on: October 6th, 2014 by Eddie L. Bolden, Jr. Comments

 

Projected Record: 50-32 (4th in West)

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Wesley Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Robin Lopez, Nicolas Batum

Portland's balanced top 5 makes them a real threat in the West. (AP)

Head coach: Terry Stotts
2013-14 record: 54-28
2013-14 ORtg: 108.3 (5th)
2013-14 DRtg: 104.7 (16th)
Players in: Steve Blake, Chris Kaman, James Southerland, Diante Garrett
Players out: Mo Williams, Earl Watson
Projected Starting Lineup: Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez

In one storybook season, the Portland Trail Blazers went from bottom-dwellers in the Western Conference to a championship contender. Although they fell to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals, the Trail Blazers had officially arrived. Sure, it helps having two stars in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard at the forefront, but a supporting cast that can perform specific roles on a nightly basis is just as important too.


Wesley Matthews, rising scorer, Nicolas Batum, versatile wing, and Robin Lopez, inside man, play good basketball together and developed good chemistry alongside Lillard and Aldridge. Their starting five finished the season with a winning percentage of .667 and a plus/minus of 211. With the recent offseason acquisitions of Chris Kaman and Steve Blake, Portland’s production from the bench should improve. Last season, Portland’s bench averaged 23.6 points per game, the lowest in the league.

Much of the Trail Blazers' success last season relied on their ability to execute their offense at an efficient rate. Head coach Terry Stotts, an apprentice of veteran head coaches George Karl and Rick Carlisle, implemented the ‘flow’ offense, a steady motion of off-ball screens that leads to cuts and open shots. It is a component of team basketball and the philosophy helped the Dallas Mavericks win a championship in 2011, in which Stotts served as an assistant coach under Carlisle.

Just as Dirk Nowitzki flourished under the system, so has LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge had a breakout season in 2014, finishing as the team’s leading scorer and rebounder with 23.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. The development of his mid-range jump shot, especially from the left and right block, helped elevate his game to another level. Double-team coverage from opponents often resulted in perimeter opportunities for Matthews and Batum. Matthews connected on 37 field goals assisted by Aldridge and Batum connected on 58 field goals from Aldridge.

Entering his third season in the league, Damian Lillard is set for a breakout year. During his first playoff run, Lillard stunned the Houston Rockets with a game-winning, series-clinching, three point shot that electrified the city of Portland and put his name into the mix as one of the best point guards in the league. His ability to attack the rim and mix up the defense with his ball handling, passing, and shooting make him a constant threat on offense.

It will take more than the ‘one-two-punch’ of Aldridge and Lillard for Portland to climb the standings and finish as the number one seed in the West. Portland finished the season with a defensive rating of 107.4 and gave up 102.8 points per game which ranked 22nd in the league.

Last season, no one saw the Trail Blazers coming, and that’s what made their run special. This season, expectations will be high as they look to remain one of the most elite teams in the West.

Expect the Trail Blazers to finish among the top five teams in the Western Conference as they aspire for a championship.

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Posted on: October 6th, 2014 by Devin Kharpertian Comments

 

Projected Record: 49-33 (5th in West)

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Steve Kerr

New coach Steve Kerr has no shortage of weapons in Golden State. (AP)

Head coach: Steve Kerr
2013-14 record: 51-31
2013-14 ORtg: 105.3 (12th)
2013-14 DRtg: 99.9 (3rd)
Players in: Steve Kerr (coach), Aaron Craft, Jason Kapono, Shaun Livingston, Brandon Rush
Players out: Mark Jackson (coach), Hilton Armstrong, Steve Blake, Jordan Crawford, Jermaine O'Neal
Projected Starting Lineup: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Andrew Bogut

Not much has changed in Golden State... So it seems.

The biggest difference is at head coach. Gone is Mark Jackson, the famously demonstrative coach, former player, and TV analyst, and in his stead comes Steve Kerr, a less bombastic former player and TV analyst. Kerr, statistically the best three-point shooter in NBA history, inherits two of the best shooters ever: Stephen Curry (who ranks third all-time) and Klay Thompson (who ranks 17th), and the team later signed Jason Kapono, who ranks second behind Curry in three-point percentage among active players.

Seeing Curry & Thompson, you might think the Warriors made their bread-and-butter on their offense. You'd also be wrong. The Warriors, led by stalwarts Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala, actually ended last season with one of the best defenses in the league, and were only one of three teams to allow fewer than one point per possession last season.

It's hard to know what the Warriors will look like defensively with Kerr, a first-time coach, at the helm. But on the other end, they'll shoot a ton, and probably lead the league in three-point attempts, especially if Iguodala (35.4 percent shooting from 3 last year) and Harrison Barnes (34.7 percent) can continue to improve their long-range shooting. When they need to go inside, they'll look to David Lee; Lee, who developed a mid-range game with the New York Knicks, shot over 82 percent of his attempts from within 10 feet last season, his highest since joining the Warriors, and averaged 19.8 points per 36 minutes, second only to Curry on the roster.

Their depth is a concern. They did lose Jermaine O'Neal, a staple of their defense off the bench for 44 games last season, and they'll have to hope that Marreese Speights can make a leap forward defensively. They did bolster their backcourt by signing Nets fan favorite and longball maestro Shaun Livingston to a three-year deal to back up Curry & Thompson, but lottery pick Barnes hasn't improved in two seasons in Golden State, and outside of their top seven, there's not a lot of talent for Kerr to use.

They're also also betting on players who've struggled with injuries: Bogut hasn't played more than 70 games in a season since 2008, Stephen Curry endured ankle problems two seasons ago, and Iguodala has missed significant time in three of the last four seasons. If they run into injury troubles, they'll tumble down the ranks in a hotly contested Western Conference.

That said: if they're on, they're explosive. Curry is on pace to shatter Ray Allen's recently-set three-point record: he's hit 905 threes and averaged 2.7 three-pointers per game through age 25, both the best in NBA history, and he's an ironclad top option on a fast team. Thompson isn't far behind as a shooter, and Iguodala is one of the league's most underrated playmakers.

They'll win a ton of games on the talent of their top players alone. But unless they make some surprising leaps forward, it's hard to see them making a deep playoff run.

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Mikhail Prokhorov

Mikhail Prokhorov (AP)

Conflicting reports came out today about the current status of the Nets franchise. They were related to the possibility that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov may be looking to sell some or all of his stake in the franchise.

NetsDaily reported that Nets brass is in talks with the Los Angeles Dodgers' ownership group, Guggenheim Sports and Entertainment Assets, about merging assets.

NetsDaily stressed that this would not affect Prokhorov's role with the team.

"The first source emphasized that Prokhorov would continue to control the team as 'governor and controlling owner of the team 'for the foreseeable future.'"

NetsDaily's reporting also indicates that Brooklyn is being valued in the discussions at $1.7 billion with the arena coming in at $1.1 billion

Wow. That's quite a lot, huh?

So that seems all good and hunky-dory. The Nets matter and they're valuable. Where's the problem with that?

Well, the ubiquitous Adrian Wojnarowski was quick to follow NetsDaily's report with a link to his article from June about a possible Nets sale and describes Brooklyn as being "on the market."

Wojnarowski also quoted anonymous NBA executives who explain that the feeling around the association is that Prokhorov is on his way out. This is in contrast to NetsDaily's description of a situation where Prokhorov would remain the controlling owner.

NetsDaily sent out a tweet afterwards emphasizing that if Prokhorov really wanted to sell his stake in the team, he could have already done so.

However, Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated reported that the Guggenheim Sports merger talks could "evolve" into Prokhorov selling his stake completely.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN LA, who is always in tune with everything in Los Angeles sports, reported that a Dodgers source is saying that nothing is likely to come of these talks.

Shelburne also quotes Dodgers' chairman Mark Walter who says he hasn't even seen the Nets' franchise numbers.

That is information that someone who is looking to acquire an asset as large as the Nets would probably have seen at some point.

"I am the controlling owner of the Dodgers and I have no intention of selling the Dodgers. As for the Nets, I have not seen their numbers. They are a terrific franchise. I would be happy to look at their information and any proposal they wanted to make to me --- as I would with any proposal," said Walter.

It is important to note that Walter never said that he didn't have discussions, but only that he had not seen the numbers. He did not completely close the door on the possibility.

So what is going on here?

Where there's smoke, there's usually fire. Something that the reports have in common is that each is indicating that Prokhorov is soon going to own less of the Nets.

Is Prokhorov really going to be committed to this team for the "foreseeable" future or is this just a stepping stone to completely detaching himself from the team? Will this slow separation from the team affect the way the team is managed?

We can't yet speak to that, but the prospects of a partnership with the Dodgers is exciting if only because it could finally allow the Nets to use the Dodgers' iconic Brooklyn font that hasn't graced a pro-sports team in the borough since the days of Ebbets Field.

Should Prokhorov cut ties with Brooklyn, Nets fans could do a lot worse for ownership than Dodgers brass. MLB fans will know that the Dodgers have spent heavily on their club in pursuit of a championship.

There is surely more to come, but there is a lot less certainty in the Borough of Kings than there was to start the day.

Posted on: October 2nd, 2014 by Benny Nadeau Comments

 

Projected Record: 49-33 (6th in West)

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Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard, trying to stay fresh. (AP)

Head coach: Kevin McHale
Projected record: 49-33 (6th)
2013-14 record: 54-28
2013-14 ORtg: 108.6 (4th)
2013-14 DRtg: 103.1 (12th)
Players in: Jeff Adrien, Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela, Joey Dorsey, Alonzo Gee, Scotty Hopson, Nick Johnson, Kostas Papanikolaou, Ish Smith, rights to Alessandro Gentile
Players out: Omer Asik, Omri Casspi, Troy Daniels, Francisco Garcia, Jordan Hamilton, Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons
Projected Starting Lineup: Patrick Beverly, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Dwight Howard

RELATED: A Totally Real AIM Conversation Between Rockets GM Daryl Morey and Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban

Another season, another year chasing the Spurs. This is one of the best teams in the Western Conference, but will it be enough?

The Rockets are star-powered. James Harden and Dwight Howard should be able to power them through games against most Eastern Conference teams, and I fully expect Patrick Beverley to take a huge step forward in the absence of Jeremy Lin. But they've got no immediate, reliable help from the bench outside of Francisco Garcia: Nick Johnson looked great in preseason and Troy Daniels was Houston’s unsung hero in 2014, but that’s a whole lot of pressure and responsibility for a couple of kids with hardly any NBA experience.

Although Ariza’s first stint in Houston was mediocre in all senses of the word, his second stop may prove more successful. Having a reliable defensive presence on the floor should stop this from happening again anytime soon.

If the Rockets can snag Rajon Rondo from Boston, that trio might be enough to take down most teams on a given night. Unfortunately, that (or this) sharp-shooting, high-octane team will suffer from lack of depth come playoff time.

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Posted on: October 2nd, 2014 by Benny Nadeau Comments

 

Projected Record: 48-34 (7th in West)

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Spurs Mavericks Basketball

Dallas Mavericks fans know who their superstar is. (AP)

Head coach: Rick Carlisle
Projected record: 48-34 (7th)
2013-14 record: 49-33
2013-14 ORtg: 109.0 (T-2nd)
2013-14 DRtg: 105.9 (22nd)
Players in: Al-Farouq Aminu, Tyson Chandler, Eric Griffin, Richard Jefferson, Ivan Johnson, Jameer Nelson, Chandler Parsons, Greg Smith, rights to Emir Preldzic
Players out: Vince Carter, Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, Bernard James, Shane Larkin, Shawn Marion, rights to Tadija Dragicevic
Projected Starting Lineup: Jameer Nelson, Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler

RELATED: A Totally Real AIM Conversation Between Rockets GM Daryl Morey and Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban

As always, this team will live or die with Dirk Nowitzki. ... ">MORE →

Posted on: October 2nd, 2014 by Anthony Pignatti Comments

 

Projected Record: 47-35 (8th in West)

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Marc Gasol

A trimmer Marc Gasol holds down Memphis's frontcourt. (AP)

Head coach: Dave Joerger
Projected record: 47-35 (8th)
2013-14 record: 50-32
2013-14 ORtg: 103.3 (T-16th)
2013-14 DRtg: 102.1 (T-7th)
Players in: Jordan Adams, Vince Carter, Patrick Christopher, rights to Jarnell Stokes
Players out: James Johnson, Mike Miller, Ed Davis
Projected Starting Lineup: Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol

They didn’t make headlines this offseason, their key players are all returning and, to this point, are healthy.

The Memphis Grizzlies won 50 games in ‘13-’14 with last season’s reigning DPOY, Marc Gasol, missing 23 games due to a knee injury. Oh, and they did it playing in the West.

Understand this: they’re an exceptional team.... ">MORE →

Posted on: October 2nd, 2014 by Devin Kharpertian Comments

 

Projected Record: 44-38 (9th in West)

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Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Eric Bledsoe

Eric Bledsoe, Isaiah Thomas, and Goran Dragic are just three of Phoenix's talented guards. (AP)

Head coach: Jeff Hornacek
Projected record: 44-38 (9th)
2013-14 record: 48-34
2013-14 ORtg: 107.1 (8th)
2013-14 DRtg: 103.8 (13th)
Players in: Alec Brown, Tyler Ennis, Isaiah Thomas, Anthony Tolliver, T.J. Warren, rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic
Players out: Leandro Barbosa, Dionte Christmas, Channing Frye, Emeka Okafor, Ish Smith, rights to Alex Oriakhi
Projected Starting Lineup: Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris, Miles Plumlee

Just one year ago, ESPN analysts came to the overwhelming conclusion that the Phoenix Suns would be the worst team in the Western Conference.

This is the same Suns team that ended up winning 48 games and the hearts of League Pass subscribers everywhere. It's comical now that Ethan Strauss of ESPN.com called the 2013-14 Suns "boring" and "talent-deprived," but maybe he was onto something:... ">MORE →

Posted on: October 2nd, 2014 by Ryan Carbain Comments

 

Projected Record: 38-44 (10th in West)

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Kenneth Faried

After shining for Team USA, Kenneth Faried looks to break out this season. (AP)

Head coach: Brian Shaw
Projected record: 38-44 (10th)
2013-14 record: 36-46
2013-14 ORtg: 103.3 (T-16th)
2013-14 DRtg: 105.4 (21st)
Players in: Arron Afflalo, Erick Green, Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic
Players out: Aaron Brooks, Evan Fournier, Anthony Randolph, Jan Vesely
Projected Starting Lineup: Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Javale McGee

Last year, the Denver Nuggets lost their star GM, fired the incumbent Coach of the Year, and then went to assemble one of the most disparate rosters in the NBA. For their efforts, the team dropped 21 games in the standings.

The team's top-five rated offense fell out of the top ten, and a surprisingly above-average defense – rated 11th in the league – fell to 21st. Injuries hurt: Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, Javale McGee, and diminutive sixth man Nate Robinson missed roughly 200 games combined.

If you're a Nuggets fan, you're probably encouraged. Kenneth Faried, once a potential cut from the USA men's national basketball team, performed better in FIBA play than just about anyone not named Anthony Davis.

Better yet, the team expects to come to camp healthy.

The Nuggets took advantage of a penny-pinching Bulls franchise to swap the rights for their 12th pick, Doug McDermott, for two picks in on the deepest drafts in recent history, nabbing Bosnian center Jusuf Nurkic and former MSU shooting guard Gary Harris. They then reunited with Arron Afflalo, only parting with struggling prospect Evan Fournier and the team’s 56th overall pick, well below Afflalo's market value.

But still, the team does not make sense.

Their draft picks lack a chance to grow. Afflalo joins a loaded wing position that includes the returning Gallinari, multi-talented Wilson Chandler, and sharpshooting Randy Foye – likely burying Gary Harris. Nurkic stands behind McGee and Timofey Mozgov, two bonafide shot blockers, on the depth chart.

At power forward, the similarly skilled Faried and J.J. Hickson expect to share time, except Faried delivers far more than Hickson, for a fraction of the price.

Nate Robinson offers scoring punch off the bench but sits on the depth chart as a backup point guard, a position where he remains derelict at the required duties.

A starting five of McGee, Faried, Gallinari, Afflalo and Lawson seems balanced. The bench, in particular the versatile Wilson Chandler, has some talent. But, even if healthy, do you think this roster can crack the top-10 in an ultra-competitive Western Conference? Me neither.

They won’t always be an easy win; particularly off back-to-backs and extended road trips. This is a team that can run you off the floor with Faried and Lawson able to wreak the most havoc. (The team ranked 2nd and 3rd in terms of pace the past two seasons.)

Faried and Hickson can also feast from time-to-time on the offensive boards while visiting teams struggle to take in the thin Rocky Mountain air.

The team can space the floor: Gallinari, Afflalo, Foye, Lawson and Robinson are all respected beyond the arc. It has legitimate rim protection: McGee and Mozgov are both They have multiple players who can lead the team scoring on any given night.

But that's the best-case scenario. The team lacks a big respected from 18 feet and out, players like McGee, Hickson and Robinson are notorious for uneven play, and certain bench units will struggle. Lest we forget, they play out West.

The Brooklyn Game projects this team to compete, but with scant chance at the playoffs, putting them at 38-44. The record may dip some of the team decides to sell off some of its more attractive contracts. Look for Chandler, Mozgov, Afflalo and Foye on the block near the trade deadline. But with this team, 38 wins seems about right.

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Posted on: October 2nd, 2014 by Devin Kharpertian Comments

 

Projected Record: 38-44 (11th in West)

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Anthony Davis , Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis, Danny Granger, Darren Collison

Is Anthony Davis ready to take the leap? (AP)

Head coach: Monty Williams
2013-14 record: 34-48
2013-14 ORtg: 104.7 (13th)
2013-14 DRtg: 107.3 (T-25th)
Players in: Omer Asik, Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons, Russ Smith, Patric Young
Players out: Al-Farouq Aminu, Brendan Haywood, Anthony Morrow, Brian Roberts, Jason Smith, James Southerland, Greg Stiemsma, D.J. White, rights to Dwight Powell
Projected Starting Lineup: Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Anthony Davis, Omer Asik

Some teams have variance because of injuries. (Hello, Brooklyn!) Some teams have variance because of rookie head coaches. (Hello, Milwaukee!) But the New Orleans Pelicans have variance based almost exclusively on one factor: how far is Anthony Davis ready to climb?

Davis has already had an unprecedented stretch in his first two seasons. His player efficiency rating through his first two seasons of 24.4 is the highest of any player through the age of 20. That's higher than Shaquille O'Neal, higher than LeBron James, higher than Chris Paul, higher than everyone who's played that young. Davis put up a 20-10 season in just his second year and led the league in blocks, swatting away 2.8 shots per game. If his improvement from year 1 to year 2 is any indication, he could cement himself as the best big man in the game this season.

But he and the Pelicans still play in the Wild Wild West, where the Phoenix Suns won 48 games last year and still couldn't make the playoffs. It'll take more than Davis's heroics to vault the Pelicans, who have won fewer games in the last two seasons (61) than the Spurs did last season alone (62), into the best of the West.

They've got talent. Ryan Anderson is back after a scary neck injury that sidelined him for a full season, and the shooter that was once a throw-in by the Nets in a trade to shed Vince Carter's salary has become one of the league's best deep threats, hitting over 38 percent of his three-pointers in each of the last four seasons. Omer Asik is one of the league's preeminent interior defenders, and the Pelicans got him for a pick, meaning no immediate tradeoff on the floor. Jrue Holiday was an All-Star in the East and could develop some serious chemistry with Davis in the pick-and-roll, Eric Gordon can shoot, and Tyreke Evans is also a basketball player with some discernible skills.

But all five of those guys surrounding Davis have serious injuries in their past, and just one or two bad strokes of luck could torpedo their season.

If health permits, It'll all come back to Davis, who could develop into a top-3 player this season and catapult this roster into the playoffs. But beyond their talented front six, New Orleans's bench leaves much to be desired; Austin Rivers struggled mightily in his rookie season and didn't fare much better in the follow-up, Alexis Ajinca and Jeff Withey aren't cutting it as backup centers, and Jimmer Fredette and John Salmons will fight for the title of "biggest ballhog that once torpedoed Sacramento's offense."

It's easy to be high on their talent. If their top six guys can stay healthy all year, they could sneak into the bottom rung of the playoffs. But with so many talented teams in the West, it's an uphill climb for any team, and one with enough questions as New Orleans most likely won't make the cut.

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Embed

High Expectations For Kidd, Parker

For the first time since leaving the team, former Brooklyn Nets head coach Jason Kidd spoke a bit candidly about his departure from the team.

"Well, I think the business side takes place a lot of times," Kidd told Chris Broussard of ESPN. "We talk about the game, but sometimes the business gets in the way. Brooklyn thought that they could do better in the sense of Milwaukee having interest, and them okaying it, and then the two owners finding a way to make a deal."

That's a bit different than the reports, which indicate that Kidd went over general manager Billy King's head, seeking a presidential position in an attempt to usurp power from his boss after just one year of coaching. Kidd was reportedly rebuffed by the team's Russian ownership, and sought a job in Milwaukee after the Nets no longer wanted him around.

Kidd's version of events is that Milwaukee had the initial interest, and Kidd decided to pursue that thread once the Nets thought they could "do better."

The Nets let Kidd out of his contract in exchange for two second-round picks from the Bucks, and hired veteran head coach Lionel Hollins on the same day to a four-year contract. The Bucks fired Larry Drew to make room for Kidd.

 

Lionel Hollins

Lionel Hollins has a clear idea of what he wants to run in Brooklyn. (AP)

During a five-on-five drill at Nets practice, Deron Williams shot down the left side of the court, curling to the opposite block to set a screen for Nets guard Bojan Bogdanovic. After setting the screen, Williams curled upwards, brushed Brook Lopez's shoulder, caught a pass from guard Joe Johnson on the right wing, and buried a three-pointer nothing but net.

On the next play, Lopez posted up his defender about above the left elbow, about 19 feet from the basket. "Get down, Brook!" Williams yelled.

After the play -- which ended with an open Lopez jumper, created by a double-team Williams drew inside -- Williams instructed his teammate. "You can't do that," Williams said, before pointing him closer to the high post and giving him further advice on positioning.

There's a reason Williams already looks more comfortable than in years past. For one, he's healthy, after offseason surgery to remove bone spurs from his left ankle and loose a bone fragment in his right ankle. But just as important, he's been here before.
... MORE →