Tag:Utah Jazz
Posted on: July 19, 2011 5:16 pm
Edited on: July 19, 2011 5:54 pm
 

2011-12 schedule breakdown: 20 can't-miss games

Posted by Royce Young



With everything regarding "next season" in the NBA, you've got to add a disclaimer that the lockout could very well wipe out all of these games. So with the 2011-12 schedule being released, I suppose it's realistic that this might just evolve into the 2012-13 schedule if things go bad.

But if you're an optimist in these negotiations, you've got 2011-12's lineup, which means you have to start getting ready. Clearing your schedule on a holiday isn't really a challenge and you're most definitely not going to miss opening night, but what about the can't-miss, super-showdowns littered throughout the schedule? Here are 20 games you absolutely cannot miss.

Nov. 2: Cleveland at Boston
And thus kicks off top pick Kyrie Irving's NBA career. Too bad for him it comes in Boston against one of the best defensive teams in the league. It might not be a pretty start for young Kyrie, but it'll definitely be a learning experience. And a quick welcome-to-the-NBA moment.

Nov. 2: Houston at Sacramento
Jimmer Mania will finally get off to its NBA start and the league was kind enough to let it begin at home. You can be sure Sacto will be buzzing but not just over Jimmer. There could be a little optimism for the Kings are Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins and company might have a little something brewing this season.

Nov. 2: Atlanta at Minnesota
Before there was Jimmer Mania, there was Rubio Fever. Kevin Love will finally be able to believe what he sees as the floppy-haired Spaniard takes the floor with the Timberwolves for the first time against the Hawks.

Nov. 2: Memphis at Clippers
The Blake Show returns. Enough reason to be excited about this one.

Nov. 3: Orlando at Miami
The first showdown. It could be Dwight Howard's beginning to his farewell tour and one a few games against the Heat he has left. But there's never any love lost between these two Florida squads and with an early leg-up at stake, you can be sure this game will be intense.

Nov. 16: New York at Denver
Melo returns. It won't be near as monumental or should I say, angry, as LeBron's return to Cleveland, but you can be sure that Nugget fans will be ready for it. Carmelo made it very clear that he didn't want to be in Denver and I'm sure fans there don't appreciate that. Plus a bonus: Unlike the Cavs, the Nuggets shouldn't suck.

Nov. 18: Miami at Cleveland
LeBron returns, again. It's the third time he's played in Cleveland since "The Decision" and some of the sting certainly has worn off, at least in that fans won't be buying tickets ONLY to yell at LeBron. But you can be sure that an unusual amount of Maverick blue will be littered throughout Quicken Loans Arena.

Dec. 1: Miami at Boston
LeBron and Wade return to the scene of one of their greatest crimes. The Heat opened the season in Boston and took an embarrassing, humbling loss at the hands of the Celtics but got revenge in the postseason, besting the Celtics in five with the final game coming on the parquet. It's not exactly a rivalry, but the Heat don't enjoy the Celtics and the Celtics certainly don't enjoy the Heat.

Dec. 8: Lakers at Miami
I'm not totally sure, but I think Kobe is still in American Airlines Center shooting. Kobe loves beating LeBron and you know the feeling is mutual. Two of the league's biggest, most visible teams with the two biggest, most visible stars. If you aren't watching, I have to wonder what the heck you could possibly be doing.

Dec. 23: Oklahoma City at Miami
LeBron and Kevin Durant. Two of basketballs most enjoyable, explosive talents that are always easy on the eye. The Thunder have always been painted as the anti-Heat, but the young kids from OKC don't care about making a statement for the little guy. There may be a good storyline, but it's more about a really good Eastern team versus a really good Western team.

Dec. 27: Clippers "at" Lakers
By no means have the Clippers caught up to the Lakers, but there is a chance that this team could be pretty decent. After a horrific start to last season, the Clippers put together a solid last four months of the season. Some might be looking at this game as a changing-of-the-guard type of affair -- which it's not -- but the Clippers could definitely raise some eyebrows.

Dec. 29: Dallas at Oklahoma City
The first Thunder opportunity for payback and redemption comes almost two months into the season. It’s a long time to wait, but you can be sure the Arena Formerly Known As The Ford Center will be amped about this one. The last time the Mavericks were in Oklahoma City, they broke the Thunder’s heart with that ridiculous 15-point comeback. No way Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder fans have forgotten.

Jan 14: New Jersey at Utah
It'll certainly be more unceremonious as Melo's return to Denver which was more unceremonious as LeBron's return to Cleveland, but Deron Williams coming back to Utah will definitely have the attention of Jazz fans. There's some that still blame Jerry Sloan's retirement on Williams and that whole situation didn't sit well in Salt Lake. Williams will likely feel some anger from Jazz fans, even if it's not entirely deserved.

Jan 19: Chicago at Miami
A rematch of the Eastern Finals. Derrick Rose's last memory of the Heat is LeBron and Wade storming back in Chicago and stealing Game 5 when the Bulls had it all but won. These two teams will likely be the class of the East and with this being the first meeting of the season, somebody's going to make a statement.

Jan. 29: San Antonio at Dallas
The old champs versus the new ones provides a new twist to an old rivalry. These two Texas titans have never gotten along and have had some pretty awesome games over the past decade or so. You can be sure that for once, Dirk and the Mavs will have a bit more swagger in Dallas as the Mavs take the floor against Tim Duncan and the Spurs. Funny how a ring can do that.

Feb. 12: Chicago at Boston
It's the Thibodeau Bowl. The Celtics might be aging but you know they aren't going to just hand the East over. The Bulls are rising and you know they want to rub last year's triumph over the Celtics in the regular season in their face.

Feb. 17: New Orleans at New York
Take a good look at Chris Paul and wish, Knicks fans. You know he's a free agent in 2012 and you know he'd look pretty nice alongside Amar'e and Melo. But he's on the other side right now and there's a pretty good chance he's going to drive you crazy, at least on this night.

March 11: Boston at Lakers
It's the league's best rivalry, maybe sports' best rivalry. Every Celtics-Lakers game is an event. I don't think I even need to give you reasons why this game is huge.

April 1: Memphis at San Antonio
It was stunning at the time, but after watching the Grizzlies rip through the Spurs before bowing out to the Thunder in seven-game, it felt like we should've seen this coming. And this was with the Grizzlies missing their best scorer in Rudy Gay.

April 8: Lakers at Oklahoma City
The Lakers visit the Thunder Nov. 23 for the first time, but go almost four months between trips as they return with just a week left in the season. That’s a bummer, but there’s a chance this game could have major Western playoff seeding implications. The Lakers always bring out the best in Thunder fans, but if the stakes are raised, it’ll just be that much better.
Posted on: July 19, 2011 2:51 pm
Edited on: July 19, 2011 3:57 pm
 

2011-12 schedule breakdown: The big ones

Posted by Royce Young



With everything regarding "next season" in the NBA, you've got to put the disclaimer on it that the lockout could very well wipe out all of these games. So with the 2011-12 schedule being released, I suppose it's realistic that this might just evolve into the 2012-13 schedule if things go bad.

But if you're an optimist in these negotiations, you've got 2011-12's lineup. You can start planning your evenings around big games, TNT double-headers and of course, the NBA's showcase games which come on opening night, Christmas (only three games!) and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Let's take a look at those.

OPENING NIGHT
Chicago at Dallas (8:00 ET, TNT)
The champs will be handed their rings against the MVP and the Bulls to kick off the 2011-12 season. Honestly, the Mavs' ring ceremony may be better entertainment than the game. Mark Cuban has hinted at doing something bigger than just rings, so we'll see what he has in store, if anything. It'll be an emotional night in Dallas as the Mavs raise their first championship banner into the rafters as Dirk, Cuban and Jason Kidd all soak it in and get handed a ring.

Houston at Utah (9:00 ET)

Not a marquee game and it's really just kind of filler, but it'll be our first look at the remade Jazz with Enes Kanter and Alec Burks against the Rockets without Yao. Not necessarily a game full of stars, but it's two teams looking to get off to a good start on the path to a playoff push.

Oklahoma City at Los Angeles Lakers (10:30 ET, TNT)
The young Thunder travel to L.A. to take on the veteran Lakers to finish up opening night. It's Kendrick Perkins versus Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, Kevin Durant against Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook against whoever the Lakers try and stick on him. The Thunder and Lakers always play entertaining games as evidenced by their opening round series in 2010. Maybe there's a chance that either Durant or Kobe will catch fire and push Michael Jordan's opening night record of 54 points. At least that could be in play with these two terrific scorers facing off.

CHRISTMAS DAY

Boston at New York (12 ET, ESPN)
It's not Christmas Day basketball without the Knicks. Actually, I don't know if that's totally true, but it's somewhat of a tradition to kick things off after present opening wraps up with a day game at Madison Square Garden. This one features a rematch of the opening round of the playoffs last season with the Knicks hosting the Celtics. The Knicks have a bunch of star power and should be improved from last season. The Celtics are the Celtics and will be good. There's a chance that this game could reasonably feature two of the top three or four teams in the East. Which of course would make Christmas afternoon at MSG that much more fun.

Miami at Dallas (2:30 ET, ABC)

Feels like these two teams have a history or something. Did they play recently? The league loves to come back with a Finals rematch on Christmas and not only is this going to be a good game featuring two good teams, but these organizations really don't care a lot for each other. It's in Dallas which is an edge, but it'll be the first time LeBron steps on the floor with Dirk after the wrenching defeat in Miami in six games.

You can be sure that both teams will approach this game almost as if it were more important than just a late-December regular season game. It's bigger than that. Maybe just in terms of pride, but for two teams that aren't keen on each other that just finished up facing off for the title, Dallas against Miami on Christmas could be one of the NBA's premier games this season.

Chicago at Los Angeles Lakers (5:00 ET, ABC)
The reigning MVP taking on Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in what'll certainly be a majorly hyped showdown. Both teams will be at or near the top of their respective conference and both teams might be looking at the other as a potential Finals opponent. The Lakers have had a history of big letdowns on Christmas, but Kobe said emphatically last season that the Lakers need to get up more for those games. Well, here's another chance, this time against the suffocating Bulls and their MVP point guard.

MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY
Chicago at Memphis (1:00 ET, ESPN)

Completely fitting for the game to be in Memphis. Honestly, I think it should become league traditional that the showcase game in the afternoon happens there. But not only will it be a special day in Memphis, it'll have two pretty darn good teams. The surging Grizzlies will host the Bulls in a game featuring two terrific front courts and a couple of scrappy defensive teams.

Oklahoma City at Boston (8:00 ET, TNT)
Two contenders, yes, but the hook to this one honestly might be that it's Kendrick Perkins' return to Boston. He was adored by fans, coaches, player and the front office, so no doubt it'll be emotional. Then once that's out of the way, we'll have a game with two really good, fun teams.

Dallas at Los Angeles Lakers (10:30 ET, TNT)

One of the West's most underrated rivalry games closes it all out. Late last season, the Mavs and Lakers scuffled a couple of times which led people to assume the Mavericks were soft as the Lakers pounded them in an important game. Didn't matter obviously in the end, but no doubt the Mavs haven't forgotten.
Posted on: July 16, 2011 3:13 pm
Edited on: July 18, 2011 3:42 pm
 

Some teams are probably missing Summer League

Posted by Royce Young



The NBA's annual Vegas Summer League would be wrapping up right about now. Young players would be finishing up a week of gambling, partying and hopefully, at least for their coach, getting better.

Summer League has always been sort of approached by most as nothing more than a perk of July, just something to sort of help bridge the gap. Nobody really pays attention to it except for the hardest of hardcore fans, general managers, scouts and coaches. And bloggers. Summer League basically is blogger paradise, because it's something to write the crap out of for a couple of weeks in mid-July.

Except this summer, because of the you-know-what, there is no Summer League. No rookies to overhype because of a good, random game against a bunch of D-Leaguers. No second-year fringe players to latch onto and get excited about because of a quality week. And no players to completely write off because of a 2-12, five-turnover game. For shame. For damn shame.

And while most just write off what happens in Vegas as unimportant, any time players take the court and compete, there's something of value there for the players, the organization and the coaches. Basketball is about development. It's about getting better. Summer League is a vehicle for new draft picks to get a feel of pro basketball and a feel of playing with a couple of teammates. It's a place for guys to prove themselves a bit. In reality, it's kind of important, even if it's generally ignored by the general basketballing public.

But I can guarantee you a good number of teams were mighty disappointed when Summer League fell through because of the lockout. There's progress to be made, and a week in Vegas is an excellent place to start, especially for rookies. Some teams and players are going to feel the sting of missing out on the opportunity. Here are the ones I see feeling it most.

Minnesota Timberwolves
No team would've benefited more than Minnesota's young roster. First, it would've been the first look at Ricky Rubio on American soil. He would've played against NBA talent and had a chance to run the show for his new team.

It also would've given all of us a chance to rush to snap judgments about his game and, therefore, his career, based on a couple of Summer League games. It would've been great.

But on top of some run for Rubio, Derrick Williams, Wesley Johnson and a few other youngsters could've put away a week or so of games. Every second those guys play together, the better they'll get. They need time to develop, and Summer League is a place for that. Instead, it's going to have to happen on some private court without any coaches. Not the ideal situation for young players to learn and improve.

Cleveland Cavaliers
Pretty much the same scenario for the Cavs as it is for the Wolves, or any young team with talent. Kyrie Irving could've used the extra time on the floor, but not just because he could get a feel for offense or learn the pace of the NBA game or anything. For Irving, it's more that he just needs to play, period.

He only played in 13 games for Duke last season and after returning from his foot injury, played a couple of games in the NCAA tournament. He has barely played any competitive basketball at all in the last year. For a 19-year-old, that's not a good thing. The more play you get, the farther you move ahead.

Not to mention the No. 4 overall pick, Tristan Thompson, getting some play, too. Obviously, that would be great, but to me, it's more about Irving. It's his franchise now, and the objective in Cleveland now is moving him along. Something small like Summer League is one of the first steps forward in doing that.

Sacramento Kings
The Kings' inclusion really is more of a selfish reason. Because with Summer League, you know that every game with Jimmer Fredette woudl be a total experience. Vegas is close to BYU, and Jimmer has quite the following in the area. But, really, it could be in Maine and The Jimmer would walk in like a rock star.

The Kings do need him and Tyreke Evans, though, to get some experience playing together. Who's running point? Is it Jimmer? Is Reke going to handle those duties too? Are they going to tag-team it like Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry? These are some of the questions you can sort of at least start to find answers for, if only they were actually playing.

Oklahoma City Thunder
Despite reaching the Western Conference Finals, the Thunder really do have a ton of room to grow. The roster is extremely young with some pieces that need developing. Two of the most important being Cole Aldrich and this year's pick, Reggie Jackson.

With Aldrich, he simply needs to play a little. He spent most of his rookie season in the D-League with the Tulsa 66ers, and while that's good for development, Summer League gives him a chance to be a focus in a competitive setting as well as a primer for what he needs to work on heading to fall camp. Aldrich is far from a lost cause, and the Thunder are willing to stay patient. But part of that being patient comes because you think a guy is going to improve. And to do that, he's got to play.

With Jackson, Summer League could've helped signal a little where he might fit in. Is he a point guard? Shooting guard? Combo guard? Is he a scorer the Thunder want to use off the bench next season? Is he someone that even will challenge for minutes? The Thunder clearly liked Jackson enough to promise him a spot in the first round, but without him working out for anyone before the draft, he's still largely an unknown for everybody.

Miami Heat
Yes, seriously, the Heat. No doubt that for the most part, the roster is set. LeBron, Wade and Bosh handle pretty much all of the heavy lifting, and veterans Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem pick up the remaining slack.

But the Heat need to develop young talent. Players like Dexter Pittman need an opportunity to grow a bit. Where the Heat lacked most last season was having cheap, young talent to infuse with LeBron, Wade and Bosh. Instead, Pat Riley went with trying to work in guys like Mike Bibby, Juwan Howard, Eddie House and whoever else was willing to take the veterans minimum to chase a title.

A week in Vegas for Miami's youngsters like Pittman and rookie Norris Cole could go a long way to restructuring the role players on the roster. And on top of that, it's a chance to maybe scout three or four other unsigned guys to take a look at later on. Miami needs some young talent, and the Vegas Summer League is one of the best places to look.

Washington Wizards
John Wall is going to be a star. I don't have any doubt. But he's still raw and still has a whole lot to learn about running a team. I remember how much Summer League did for Russell Westbrook a couple of years ago as he was prepping for his second season. It helped Westbrook learn how to slow down a bit, learn when to look for a shot, when to look to set up and when to push. Wall would've been the best player in Vegas, much like Westbrook was always on another level when he was there. But it taught him how to play under control -- to a degree -- while also being able to run around anyone. That would've been a good lesson for Wall.

Then there's Jan Vesely, who is mostly a mystery as he prepares to maybe step in as Washington's new small forward. We know he can jump and dunk, but can he defend? Can he rotate over and help? Can he shoot? If Wall and Vesely are the offensive attack of the future for the Wizards, having them play together, if even for just a week, would be huge.

Utah Jazz
Even more than Kyrie Irving, Enes Kanter hasn't played competitive basketball in a long time. He was forced to sit out all of 2010-11 for Kentucky because of a NCAA violation, and while he's had some workouts and a little five-on-five action here and there, he hasn't been in a real game setting since he moved from Turkey to the United States. The Jazz liked him enough to take him fourth and maybe force a re-shuffling up front, so obviously they're invested in the young big man.

And on top of him, don't forget the Jazz had another lottery pick in wing Alec Burks, who could surprise a lot of people as an NBA-ready scorer. He was terrific at Colorado as he sort of came out of nowhere to climb into the lottery. A little burn for both him and Kanter could've gone a long way for the Jazz, who are committed to the youngsters in life after Deron.
Posted on: July 11, 2011 6:23 pm
Edited on: July 11, 2011 10:23 pm
 

What teams risk in a lockout: Northwest Division

A look at what is at stake for the NBA's Northwest Division if a whole season was lost due to the lockout. Posted by Ben Golliver.

ricky-rubio

Talk of losing an entire NBA season is a bit ridiculous. But it's a possibility. And with all this hardline talk going on, it seems like neither the players nor the owners are wanting to budge. There's incentive for teams to get a deal done and not just for the money, but because a year without basketball and more importantly, basketball operations, could greatly affect each and every NBA franchise.

Earlier this week, we took a look at the Southeast Division, the Atlantic Division, the Central Division and the Southwest Division. Let's continue with the Northwest Division.  

MINNESOTA Timberwolves


The NBA's worst team won just 17 games last year, had the league's seventh-worst home attendance and is generally mentioned at the top of the list of examples that "prove" the NBA's economic system is broken. That's because their local television, ticket and memorabilia revenue simply cannot compete with the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics of the world. Despite all of that, the Timberwolves might very well have more to lose than any other team in the Northwest Division if the league were to miss an entire season.

Let's start with 2009 lottery pick Ricky Rubio, who against all odds took the plunge and decided to finally join up with Minnesota. For multiple seasons, Rubio has represented hope, carrying Timberwolves fans through ugly winters and late-season collapses. The wait was excruciating. The uncertainty about whether he would or wouldn't stay in Europe further into the future made it worse. Now that he's on board, he's been greeted at an airport, introduced to his teammates, sold some jerseys and rallied the collective fan spirit a bit. To lose an entire season would make that interminable wait that much longer. It would also rob Rubio of a valuable development and acclimation year, which would be an absolute disaster. This is a point guard who needs to start on Day 1, entrusted with the full support of his coaching staff and allowed to make mistakes and build chemistry with his teammates while learning on the job. No season means no opportunity to do any of that.

Aside from Rubio, there are financial risks as well. That might be surprising, because the Timberwolves currently are the only team in the NBA that does not have anyone on their books for more than $6.3 million next season, a fairly astonishing accomplishment. Of course, there's a catch: All-Star power forward Kevin Love is on his rookie deal. Indeed, Love is heading into the last pure season of his rookie deal before Minnesota either must issue him a qualifying offer or sign him to an extension. Worse yet, it's possible that Love, one of the league's premier rebounders, will command a mini-max extension or close to it. The point here? He's set to make just $4.6 million next season, a bargain for his production. If the season is lost, the Timberwolves miss out completely on that outstanding value and are one year closer to biting the bullet on extending him without having reaped full benefits. That's tough.

Last but not least, a lost season is the perfect excuse for any franchise to delay tough decisions or to talk themselves into trying to make things work. With an imbalanced roster full of mixed and matched pieces, the Timberwolves, despite their accumulated talent, are going to struggle mightly again next season. The pains of those struggles, theoretically, could be enough to finally convince owner Glen Taylor to pull the plug on president David Kahn, a man who hasn't shown the ability to construct a team and outright wasted two second round draft picks on technical mistakes during the 2011 NBA Draft, by trading a hurt player (Jonny Flynn) and drafting someone who lied about his age (Tanguy Ngombo). A year without games, then, is a year without losses, which means another year for Kahn to preach patience and wiggle out of responsibility for this mess. The sooner Kahn is gone, the sooner this ship turns around. A lost season will make "sooner" feel like never.

OKLAHOMA CITY Thunder

While the Timberwolves need to get headed in the right direction, the Oklahoma City Thunder are already there. With the best designed roster in the league, two young All-Stars, an undisputed Northwest Division title and a Western Conference Finals appearance under their belt already, and a passionate fanbase that is guaranteed to provide 40+ home sellouts next season, the Thunder would happily start the season today. A lost season, then, would be a nightmare.

Name something, anything, and it's at risk for the Thunder. They lose the value of Russell Westbrook playing on a rookie deal. They lose the value of James Harden on a rookie deal. They lose the value of Serge Ibaka on a rookie deal. They lose one year of Kevin Durant's Hall of Fame playing career. They lose another season of playoff experience. They lose a very good chance at making a run at an NBA Finals. They lose a season of having their top eight players (Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefalosha, Nick Collison, Eric Maynor) all locked into affordable contracts. They lose the chemistry and momentum that goes with having an entire nucleus together for multiple years.

What's worse: they have nothing to gain from a work stoppage, other than perhaps the money that would come with increased revenue sharing. Without a single bad or untradeable contract on their books, there is no financial reason OKC would root for a year away from the game. In fact, any change to the Collective Bargaining Agreement that firms up the cap would make it more difficult for the Thunder to keep all this talent in house. That means they wouldn't get the chance to win now and their ability to win later could be compromised.

Usually, young teams that make a deep run through the playoffs can't wait to get back on the court for a second go-around. Multiply that feeling by about 10 and that's the situation facing OKC. 

PORTLAND Trail Blazers

lockoutYou might think the injury-plagued Trail Blazers would welcome some time off to lick their wounds and assess the damage, but missing an entire NBA season wouldn't necessarily be a good thing for this franchise. Really, it's a muddled picture.

The main benefit is clear: the Blazers have a very difficult cap situation next season, thanks to a mini-max contract for guard Brandon Roy, who is apparently no longer capable of reaching his previous All-Star level of play. Saving the $15 million owed to Roy, as well as the $10.5 million owed to aging center Marcus Camby, would be a tempting proposition for most small-market owners. Money aside, saving the miles on Roy's knees wouldn't hurt either.

Blazers owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, however, has dealt with serious health problems in recent years and is clearly in spend-big, win-now mode. He would cut a check tomorrow for five times his team's total salary cap if it meant a shot at the NBA Finals, no questions asked. It's difficult to imagine a financial enticement that would make it worth Allen's while to take a year off. 

Aside from Roy, the other big question is center Greg Oden. Missing an entire NBA season doesn't play in Oden's favor, as he hasn't taken the court for an NBA game since December 2009. A lost season means his layoff would extend nearly three full years to October 2012. That's a long, long time to be away from basketball. Complicating that further for the Blazers is the fact that Oden is a restricted free agent this summer. The Blazers would retain matching rights on Oden if a season was lost but they would be forced to offer him an extension without being able to see whether he recovers fully to be able to take the court and, more importantly, withstand injury once he's out there. Oden could command a mid-level type of offer on the open market, which would be a major investment for Portland, because the Blazers have already committed to nearly $80 million in salary for next season, with contracts to Roy, forwards LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace and guard Wesley Matthews already on the books into the future. Without another center on their roster who is in their long-term plans, though, the Blazers wouldn't have a choice. They'd have to pay up. Given that situation, you want as much information as possible; a lost season would mean no information.

Finally, the Blazers have a big question at the starting point guard position. His name is Raymond Felton, and he was acquired in a draft day trade for previous point guard Andre Miller. Felton is in a contract year and hasn't played meaningful minutes with any of his current teammates, except for a stint in Charlotte with Wallace. Felton will require a good-sized contract extension next summer as well and the Blazers would surely like to see how he gels with their core, particularly Aldridge, before they commit to him long-term. Without any starting quality options on the roster, they would again find themselves stuck in a corner, forced to do what it takes to retain Felton without a readily available back-up plan.

To boil it down: the Blazers have enough questions without a lost season. Missing a full season would simply create an array of complications and made some tough roster decisions that much more difficult and, potentially, costly. 

DENVER Nuggets

Sure, the Denver Nuggets lost franchise forward Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks, but they did an excellent job of stripping their roster down to allow for a quick bounceback rebuilding effort. The Nuggets, somewhat like the Thunder, are in a financial position where their salary cap situation makes it more advantageous for next season to take place unhindered. The Nuggets currently don't have a truly horrible contract on their books, although the mid-level deal for Al Harrington and the $15 million or so left to be paid to Chris Andersen over the next three years are regrettable. Indeed, the Nuggets have committed to less than $40 million in salary for next season, pending a potentially major financial commitment to big man Nene, who has decided to test the free agency waters, and a decision on guard J.R. Smith.

The biggest risks for Denver would be missing out on the value of point guard Ty Lawson on his rookie deal and managing whatever concerns might arise about Denver's ability to use its salary cap flexibility to continue work on its rebuilding situation. Most analysts believe teams with salary cap room will be in a position of strength, regardless of how the new CBA shakes out, so perhaps that uncertainty is more of an annoyance than a true concern. 

The Nuggets have a lot of questions. How will they spend their money? Who will they bring back? Who will they let go? Are the players under contract currently good enough to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference next year or is it better to continue slashing and burning for another season? These are good questions to have because they all point to one fundamental truth: The Nuggets have flexibility thanks to their young, cheap assets. The worst case scenario is that Nuggets fans have to wait a year to watch a promising, athletic upstart group entertain. That's not too bad. 
 
UTAH Jazz

If I'm the Jazz, I'm totally cool with taking a year off. A lost season means that Utah would save $14 million owed to Al Jefferson, $10.9 million owed to Mehmet Okur, $9.3 million owed to Devin Harris and $8.1 million owed to Paul Millsap. While Millsap is probably worth his number, the other three certainly aren't worth theirs, especially on a team that lost its foundational identity when it shipped franchise point guard Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets at the trade deadline.

Right now, Utah's finances are pretty tight, with $61.5 million already committed for 2011-2012. Look ahead just one year, though, and that number drops to $48.7 million. To make things even nicer, Jefferson, Harris and Millsap will all be expiring that season. The Jazz will be poised to take advantage of their new-found flexibility, keeping the parts that fit (probably only Millsap) and dispensing with the rest.

The biggest risk in a cancelled season for Utah would be the lost development for younger guys like Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward and 2011 first-round picks Enes Kanter and Alec Burks. In Favors, they have a potential franchise forward who needs to start enjoying a loose leash so he can blossom into the player the Jazz expect him to be. Forcing him to take a year off does him no good and, depending on how he responds, could do him some harm. Kanter, meanwhile, looks like an even bigger risk on paper because he was forced to sit out last year at Kentucky, his only year at the college level, due to eligibility issues and because he hasn't yet tasted the NBA game. A lost season would mean two full years away from competitive basketball, not an ideal situation for someone the Jazz selected with the No. 3 overall pick in this year's draft. As for Hayward and Burks, they are lesser concerns. Both have shown promise and clearly have room for improvement. Losing a year wouldn't be critical, but it would be better for them individually if it could be prevented.

On balance, the financial rewards seem to outweigh the development risks for the Jazz.

Salary numbers courtesy of StoryTeller's Contracts.
Posted on: July 6, 2011 12:53 pm
Edited on: July 6, 2011 7:30 pm
 

Former No. 2 overall pick Armen Gilliam dies

Posted by Royce Young and Ben Golliver.

Armen Gilliam, a former No. 2 overall pick of the Phoenix Suns in 1987, died Wednesday. He was 47.

Police say Gilliam collapsed of a heart attack while playing basketball at LA Fitness in Collier Township, Penn. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was declared dead.

Gilliam, nicknamed "The Hammer," starred at UNLV on the 1987 team that won a record 38 games and made it to the Final Four.

Over at CBSSports.com's Eye on College Basketball, Matt Norlander notes that he leaves a big legacy in Las Vegas.
At Vegas, Gilliam was the seventh-highest scorer in school history. He put up 1,855 points in his three-year career, and scored a still-standing record of 903 points in the Final Four season of 1986-87. The team was 93-11 while he was there. He averaged 17.3 points and 8.3 rebounds as a Runnin' Rebel.

"I'm all shook up," former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian told the Las Vegas Sun today. "He was such a great person. He would take the shirt of his back for you."

Besides the Suns, he also played for the Charlotte Hornets, Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, Milwaukee Bucks and Utah Jazz. He retired in 2000.

On Wednesday afternoon, Phoenix Suns president Lon Babby issued the following statement.
“On behalf of the entire Phoenix Suns family, I’d like to express our sadness at the news of the passing of Armen Gilliam and offer our condolences to his family.  Armen will always have a place in Suns history as only the second No. 2 overall pick for the franchise, but the rugged, tough enforcer known as ‘The Hammer’ on the court will be remembered by his former teammates and our fans for his easygoing nature off the court.”
Gilliam briefly ended his retirement, playing for the Pittsburgh Xplosion (Gilliam is from Pittsburgh), an expansion team in the American Basketball Association, in the 2005-2006 season. He was also the team's coach.
In his 13 NBA seasons, Gilliam, a 6-9 forward, averaged 13.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. He was always one of the most powerful, physical players in the league, hence the nickname "The Hammer." He was a strong dunker, and while he never really lived up to his draft position, he had a solid 13-year NBA career.

And finally, a did you know: Gilliam's first name was spelled Armon in college and first few years in the NBA, but he later changed it to Armen.

Posted on: June 27, 2011 2:16 pm
Edited on: June 27, 2011 3:16 pm
 

Derrick Williams is Rookie of the Year favorite

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Derrick Williams is the odds-on favorite to win 2011-2012 Rookie of the Year. Posted by Ben Golliver.

derrick-williams-large

Derrick Williams might have been the No. 2 selection in the 2011 NBA Draft, but he's sitting in the pole positon to win the 2012 NBA Rookie of the Year award. 

Bodog.com
has released its early odds for which member of the Draft Class of 2011 will take home the Rookie of the Year award. Williams, a dynamic combo forward out of Arizona, leapfrogged one-and-done Duke point guard Kyrie Irving, drafted by Cleveland Cavaliers, to claim the No. 1 spot. The No. 10 selection, BYU guard Jimmer Fredette, selected by the Sacramento Kings, also finished ahead of Irving.

Here's a look at the top 10. Strictly for entertainment purposes only.

Why does Irving slide? Two reasons. To win Rookie of the Year, you must be as NBA-ready as possible and have the opportunity to play boatloads of minutes so that you can accumulate stats.

In Irving's case, he missed a good chunk of his rookie season at Duke, raising questions about how ready he is to be an impact player in the NBA from Day One. Second, the Cavaliers have a muddled point guard position with Baron Davis, Ramon Sessions and Boobie Gibson hanging around. That will likely get sorted out before next season rolls around, but it will be difficult to trade Davis, who is sure to get some serious burn.

Williams, on the other hand, is arguably the best physical specimen in this year's class. The Timberwolves have nothing to lose and, while Michael Beasley is on the roster and has a similar game, Minnesota has every incentive to turn Williams loose. With Rubio in the fold, look for the Timberwolves to continue to play an up-tempo game, with Williams given the green light to shoot and attack as often as he likes. One possible area of concern: Williams and Rubio, by virtue of playing on the same team, could cancel each other out.

Fredette represents the dumb money on this list. With no limit on his shot attempts in college, he compiled absurd scoring numbers. While he enters Sacramento figuring to get plenty of minutes, Tyreke Evans will command a very large chunk of the team's possessions, as will emerging big man DeMarcus Cousins. If Fredette doesn't defer, he will be marginalized. Ownership might be infatuated with him, but winning over his teammates is far more important.

Kanter appears to be more NBA-ready than most, but he enters a very crowded frontcourt in Utah. Surely he will carve out a solid role. But will it be enough to put up real numbers?

One solid dark-horse candidate: Kemba Walker. While he might not start from Day One because of D.J. Augustin, Walker will find plenty of available minutes in Charlotte's torn-down backcourt. The Bobcats are entering Year One of a major rebuild and thus will have Walker's development as a top -- perhaps the top -- priority. He enters the NBA after three years in college, and he proved that he was a star on that level. 

Ultimately, I would expect this to boil down to a three-man race between Williams, Irving and Walker. Williams is a worthy early favorite.
Posted on: June 24, 2011 3:47 pm
Edited on: June 24, 2011 7:29 pm
 

Way too early Rookie of the Year contenders

Posted by Royce Young



When people say things like, "It's never too early to talk about..." what they really mean is, "It's way, way too early to talk about this but I'm trying to at least acknowledge that."

So... it's never too early to talk about next season's early contenders for Rookie of the Year (assuming there is a next year blah blah blah). Most everyone proclaimed last night's draft to be of the weak variety and while it very well may be, it's going to have a couple good players. Whether it's the top overall pick or a sleeper taken in the 20s, the 2011 NBA Draft won't go down as a total dud.

Who are the candidates to make a big rookie splash? There aren't a ton of franchise changing guys in this draft, but more a bundle of potential. Someone will be named Rookie of the Year and honestly, this might be one of the most wide open races in a long time. Derrick Williams isn't Blake Griffin. Kyrie Irving isn't Derrick Rose. From picks 1-15 really, there are a lot of guys that could contend. So here are my top five.

1. Kyrie Irving, PG, Cavaliers: If the No. 1 overall pick isn't a Rookie of the Year candidate, well, then his name must be Michael Olawakandi. It's hard to really know if Irving is going to step right in and start from day one or if the Cavs want to groom him behind Baron Davis -- don't laugh -- but he's going to get his minutes. This franchise is now his. He's the guy.

He's not John Wall or Derrick Rose, but that just means he's not as flashy. He makes plays everywhere, shoots the ball extremely well and is incredibly composed and mature. It's pretty easy to picture Irving averaging something along the lines of 15 points and five assists per game, which will likely be enough to win the award.

2. Derrick Williams, F, Timberwolves: I think Williams is a fantastic player. A 6-9 guy that's athletic and strong and shot 57 percent from 3? How could you NOT like him?

But I've got questions that almost made me leave him off the list. Where does he fit in with the Wolves? Is he their starting small forward? Does he fit alongside Kevin Love? Does Michael Beasley take too many shots and minutes from him? Does Williams play power forward and Love slide to center? Can Williams play power forward? Is he too much of a tweener, like Jeff Green?

If the Wolves are smart, and of course that's a whole other thing there, Williams sees minutes from day one and Beasley is shipped out so that Williams' growth is never messed with. I don't think the two can co-exist. Give the keys entirely to Ricky Rubio, Love and Williams and see what they can do. If that happens, I think he can put up pretty solid numbers and a few flashy highlights as well.  

3. Jan Vesely, SF, Wizards: Blake Griffin didn't win the Rookie of the Year last year just based off a bunch of crazy highlight dunks. But there's no denying that they certainly helped.

And Vesely is the prime candidate to be 2011-12's official YouTube Party candidate for Rookie of the Year. He has an incredible amount of athleticism, a bunch of flash and some skill to boot. He can score, play and dunk. If Vesely gets minutes, he's going to grab some attention. And in winning awards, sometime attention is all it really takes.

4. Jimmer Fredette, PG, Kings: I'm coming clean -- I'm a total Jimmer junkie. I think he's going to be a great pro. My philosophy is, if you're one of the best at your craft at the highest level you can play, you'll likely be good at the next level too. Adam Morrison excluded, of course.

And Jimmer can score. Yeah, his defense stinks. But I think that was more of a product of the system and structure he operated in at BYU more than anything. BYU's coach Dave Rose knew Fredette couldn't dare pick up a couple early fouls, so he was hidden in a 2-3 scheme and rarely moved his feet or went for a steal. I don't think that's just because Jimmer doesn't understand a simple defensive stance, but more that he was instructed, "Don't you think about picking up a foul." There were similar concerns about Blake Griffin's defense too, but at OU Jeff Capel employed the same mindset to Griffin's defense. And I think that worked out.

The Kings cleared out room for Jimmer to immediately start and run the show. If he's ready for it, he's going to have a chance to put up really nice numbers on an improving team. Is he going to look to score or pass? That's to be seen. But he's a smart guy, has a bunch of talent and knows how to play. He's going to be good.

5. Alec Burks, SG, Jazz: I live in Big 12 country so I'm a bit biased having seen Burks play most of his college games. But let me tell you, that dude tore up the conference. Inside, outside, defensively, rebounding -- he was a one-man team.

The Jazz are slowly transitioning and while Enes Kanter was the No. 3 pick, I think he's going to be brought along more slowly than Burks. There's not a whole lot standing in the way of Burks and playing time, while Kanter has to settle in somewhere around Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Mehmet Okur. I don't know what the future of Andrei Kirilenko is but I'm sure Utah isn't that worried about finding room for Burks to play. He's going to likely be in the rotation from the start and might even push C.J. Miles for the starting shooting guard spot.

Posted on: June 23, 2011 7:56 pm
Edited on: June 23, 2011 10:10 pm
 

NBA Draft: Jazz select Enes Kanter No. 3

Posted by Royce Young

In a lot of ways, the Jazz sort of held the keys to this draft. What direction were they going to go and where would the chips all fall behind them? Well, they went the direction of Enes Kanter and not Brandon Knight.

Not necessarily a surprise, but a month ago, that definitely wasn't a sure direction for Utah. Kanter is a true center, a 6-11 post player with soft hands and a good touch. Which is what they already have in Al Jefferson.

How does Kanter fit alongside Paul Millsap and Jefferson? We'll see. But it's hard to turn down a player of his caliber in that spot, especially when the Jazz had another pick to use in the lottery. Taking Knight made a lot of sense in a lot of ways, but now the Jazz can fill that spot later on down.

The Jazz are looking at a bit of a rebuild with this roster and in order to do that, you have to take talent. Kanter's got that. He's a bit of a mystery as he didn't play at all at Kentucky, but he was a top college recruit, was excellent in Turkey and by all accounts, will translate well to the NBA.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com