• The journey was completely different, but here we are again in the month of June with the two teams favored to get to the NBA Finals set for a rematch the networks are salivating over. Six of the last eight NBA MVPs are in this series (LeBron James 4, Stephen Curry 2) and the hero vs. villain story is clear for America to follow.

    THE JOURNEY

    We have the Warriors, who broke the record for best regular season record in NBA history at 73-9. The playoffs were a different story. America’s darling MVP was hurt in round one, recovered in round two and struggled for most of the conference finals until Game 7. They don’t look exactly like the 73-win team at all times anymore, but the pieces are all there to rediscover that swagger, which they might just have. The Thunder had them on the ropes with a 3-1 series lead, but the Warriors found it within themselves to rally and flex their “best team in history” muscle to rattle off three straight wins. They have a player in Steph Curry who hits video game shots from weird distances and consistently hits circus shots to end quarters. He looks like a child, is the new NBA fad, has the cutest daughter who says the darnedest things, and well…isn’t LeBron.

    Meanwhile, the Cavs were 57-25 in the regular season and went through a lot of questions along the way. They fired their head coach David Blatt and replaced him with another rookie coach in Tyronn Lue. They traded for Channing Frye in February for added depth to stretch the floor. They ran through the first two rounds with sweeps of both the Pistons and the Hawks, resting plenty along the way. The Cavs allowed the Raptors to climb into the series at 2-2, but they were quickly dismissed in six games. More rest for Cleveland. They are healthy. They are hungry for revenge. They have a player in LeBron James who is criticized more than any player in NBA history, left his hometown city to chase championships with his all-star buddies, came back and desperately needs rings to enhance his legacy of going 2-4 in the NBA Finals.

    THIS ISN’T 2015

    So here we are again. There are a lot of drastic differences from a year ago. For the Warriors, the expectations have certainly increased. Their roster is almost identical to the championship squad (except they added Anderson Varejao, more on that later) but the experience is astronomical from an adversity standpoint. There was no pressure last season to accomplish anything. They started the 2015-16 season 24-0 and with each win came added pressure to win the next one. After their first loss to the Bucks on Dec. 12, the hype did not stop. They were chasing the 72-10 record from the ’96 Bulls until the final night of the regular season.

    Several comebacks, broken records and wild shots later, they climbed back to a rematch with the same team they beat in six games in June of 2015. Their lone transaction was to steal Varejao from LeBron, which makes for an interesting theory: will he provide inside information to the team as to how LeBron operates? Or is he a spy for the King? (I’ve been watching way too many episodes of Game of Thrones lately.)

    The Cavaliers are extremely different as far as personnel goes. They have two more all-stars in their lineup this time around in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Not only does that take immense pressure off of LeBron, but it increases team depth and gives the Cavs a plethora of more options than they had last year. Matthew Dellavedova was fun and will still be relevant in this series, but Kyrie is an all-world talent. The stretch four position for the Cavs is actually a thing this time around. Not only will Kevin Love park himself in the corner, but the Cavs acquired Channing Frye from Orlando to knock down open looks (he’s shooting an NBA-high 58.8 percent during these playoffs). The offseason signing of Richard Jefferson has also been key, as every deep team needs a savvy vet to play stints of energetic basketball and hit big shots. He was part of the best defensive lineup against the Raptors and could play a key role in the Finals to defend the Warriors with his size. This isn’t your one-year younger brother’s Cavs team.

    THE PREDICTION

    The Warriors are more seasoned, savvy, tested and have much more swagger than they did last June. They have faced every test imaginable, including three straight victories facing elimination. This series becomes the ultimate test: defending their title against a team desperate for revenge. I don’t think this series will lack any sort of drama and the Warriors won’t make quick work of the Cavs either. Here are some quick predictions that I would bet on:

    -You can expect the NBA to suspend Draymond Green for a “flagrant” just to make things interesting.

    J.R. Smith will have a bonkers three-point bonanza game for a Cavs win. Channing Frye will have a hand in that game too.

    -Kevin Love will be useless on defense and the Warriors pick-and-roll will force Lue to bench him.

    -Matthew Dellavedova will be a household name again. He will be on the ground divind more than he will be standing. Maybe he’s the one who sets Draymond off.

    -The Warriors and Cavs will break NBA Finals record for all things beyond the arc: attempts, makes, etc.

    SERIES PREDICTION: Warriors in 7. The Cavs would have no chance in a winner-take-all final game at the Roaracle, and you can’t convince me they beat the Warriors four out of six times.

    FINALS MVP: Steph Curry. Since Draymond will miss a game with an inevitable flagrant, so he won’t be in the mix. Klay Thompson was eliminated from the equation with LeBron’s defense last year. Andre Iguodala “stopped” LeBron to the tune of 35.8 ppg, 13.8 rpg, and 8.8 apg so I doubt he will outshine his teammates again. Sometimes the easy choice is the right choice. Don’t overthink it.

    Follow me on Twitter @RiazD. For the latest news and notes about everything basketball, follow us @HoopBallTweets on Twitter. Have an excellent hump day and enjoy a great NBA Finals.

Fantasy News

  • Luke Kornet
    PF-C, Chicago Bulls

    The Bulls have officially announced the signings of Luke Kornet and Shaquille Harrison.

    Kornet can provide threes and blocks as a backup big for the Bulls. He is currently behind Lauri Markkanen, Thaddeus Young and Wendell Carter Jr. but may be able to carve out some minutes for deep-league owners. Harrison will be fighting for minutes with the Bulls' plethora of point guards at the moment. If he can find some minutes during the season, he can be a source of steals as a player to stream or for deep leagues.

    Source: Bulls.com

  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
    SF, Toronto Raptors

    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Raptors.

    Hollis-Jefferson's deal was originally reported as a minimum contract however it is now a $2.5 million contract which comes out of the Raptors' non-taxpayer mid-level. He will likely play some minutes behind Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. He is capable of defending multiple positions and might be able to provide some deep-league value in rebounds, steals and blocks.

    Source: Jeff Siegel on Twitter

  • Mike Muscala
    PF, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Mike Muscala has signed with the Thunder on a two-year, $4.31 million deal with a player option.

    Muscala could step in with the Thunder to be their stretch four behind Danilo Gallinari or back up Steven Adams. He could potentially earn some minutes especially with Jeremi Grant no longer on the team. He averaged around 20 mpg in his last two seasons with the Lakers and Hawks, providing threes and blocks that were useful to deep-league owners.

    Source: OKC Thunder Wire

  • Russell Westbrook
    PG, Houston Rockets

    Mike D'Antoni "would be disappointed" if Russell Westbrook didn't improve his 3-point percentage this season.

    D'Antoni added, "I think we can do that. I think that just by knowing that that's kind of how we play and him having the green light to (shoot) and not worry about it." Westbrook shot just 29.0 percent from deep last season and has been under 30.0 percent in four of his last five campaigns, so there is definite room for improvement. It's possible that Westbrook will find more catch-and-shoot looks available next to James Harden, and moving away from pull-up threes could help him improve his efficiency, but we won't be able to tell for sure until we see the duo take the court in preseason. Improving his deep shooting would definitely help, but there are serious questions about the rest of Westbrook's stat set. Rebounds and assists may not be as available in a system that isn't specifically tailored to him, and free throws and turnovers still look like problem areas. It's not a bad on-court fit but Westbrook seems unlikely to return to his former top-30 glory.

    Source: Salman Ali on Twitter

  • J.J. Barea
    PG, Dallas Mavericks

    J.J. Barea (torn right Achilles) will be cautious in his recovery and will not play for Puerto Rico at the upcoming FIBA World Cup.

    Barea expects to be ready for September's training camp but has decided that rushing back to play high-level international hoops would be a step too far. The tournament opens less than eight months after Barea sustained the injury, and he will instead focus his attention on getting ready for another season in Dallas. With the additions of Delon Wright and Seth Curry, it's unlikely that Barea plays enough to be worth your time in fantasy.

    Source: Tim MacMahon on Twitter

  • Matt Thomas
    PG, Toronto Raptors

    The Raptors have officially signed shooting guard Matt Thomas.

    Thomas will join the Raptors on a three-year deal after emerging as one of Europe's top shooters with Valencia last season. The Iowa State product hit 48.5 percent of his 3-pointers last season and is at a clean 47 percent in his two seasons in Spain. He should factor into the shooting guard rotation with Danny Green gone and is someone to monitor in deeper formats for his 3-point potential.

    Source: Toronto Raptors

  • Tyson Chandler
    C, Houston Rockets

    The Rockets have announced the signing of Tyson Chandler.

    Chandler is looking like the backup to Clint Capela and could be called on more in certain matchups, though he doesn't figure to play enough to support any worthwhile fantasy value. It's possible that Chandler holds appeal in deeper leagues as a rebounding specialist but that should be about it.

    Source: Houston Rockets

  • Kostas Antetokounmpo
    PF, Dallas Mavericks

    The Raptors are planning to claim Kostas Antetokounmpo off waivers, per Eurohoops' Nikos Varlas.

    Blake Murphy of The Athletic reports that the Raptors were interested in adding Antetokounmpo last season, but had their plans dashed when Dallas took Antetokounmpo with the final pick in the draft. He's incredibly raw still, but has the physical build that the Raptors seem to love in their developmental projects.

    Source: Nikos Varlas on Twitter

  • B.J. Johnson
    PF, Sacramento Kings

    The Kings have waived B.J. Johnson.

    Johnson had a decent showing in Summer League but never seemed likely to last in Sacramento given the team's depth at forward. After making seven appearances on a pair of 10-day contracts with the Hawks last season, Johnson will look to find more concrete footing in the league this season.

    Source: Jason Jones on Twitter

  • Kostas Antetokounmpo
    PF, Dallas Mavericks

    The Mavs have waived Kostas Antetokounmpo, per Shams Charania.

    The youngest Antetokounmpo was Mr. Irrelevant in the 2018 draft but only appeared in two games with the Mavs last season. Dallas opens up a two-way contract slot and will likely find a more NBA-ready player on the market, while Antetokounmpo will look to latch on with another team for camp. Perhaps the 21-year-old can make it a family affair, with both of his older brothers playing in Milwaukee.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter