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Tag:Memphis Grizzlies
Posted on: September 20, 2011 1:44 pm
 

Year of the Grizzlies



By Matt Moore


To say that every franchise has "that year" that changes everything is just not true. Most franchises take time to develop, to blossom from fledgling to regular to up-and-comer to contender to powerhouse. There are titanic events that shape franchises, to be sure, almost always involving the NBA draft. The Spurs, for example, nabbed Tim Duncan to go along with a recovering David Robinson. That was a game-changer for them, literally. But the Spurs had been a playoff team for years, had been contenders in the ABA and NBA, a team that had developed over time. The Miami Heat had the 2006 year when everything came together, but they had also grown in legitimacy through the Alonzo Mourning era. 

But the Grizzlies?

The Grizzlies are having a year that could remake their franchise as a whole. Okay, maybe it's two years. 

It started with re-signing Rudy Gay in free agency for a max deal. The Grizzlies took a world of flak for the decision, since Gay wasn't considered a max player at the time, nor is he now. But it was a shift for the Grizzlies. It was a change in owner Michael Heisley's previous approach, in that it showed he was willing to spend, and spend heavy, in order to compete. Heisley had taken on water as being cheap since trading Pau Gasol (the last player he gave a significant contract to). There were questions of whether the young, talented roster the Grizzlies had been developing together since that Gasol trade would stay together. Heisley breaking out the wallet signified that if nothing else, Heisley was good to his word. He said he wanted to compete, and that if the team competed, he would spend. Re-signing Gay gave them the opportunity to do so.

Heisley followed that up with what I thought was one of the worst contracts in franchise history, and what turned out to be one of the shrewdest moves in frachise history by extending Mike Conley before he could enter restricted free agency. In doing so, not only did he continue to show he would spend to keep the core together, but he also got Conley for a good value relative to his ability, as the young point guard matured into a floor general and reliable playmaker.

When Gay went down in February, the team had already started to rise. That's what's forgotten in the talk that Gay's injury was the cause for the Grizzlies's surge. the Grizzlies had been playing better since January 1st, going 11-6 in January. They had started to gel before Gay's injury and had Gay stayed healthy, it's not like he was keeping a difference maker off the floor. His minutes were absorbed by second-year player Sam Young, who contributed on both ends of the floor, but wasn't in any way better for the overall team structure than Gay, offensively or defensively.

The Grizzlies made a deadline deal to acquire Shane Battier, dumping franchise dead weight and first-round bust Hasheem Thabeet and an additional pick. They nearly made another deal, but fitting the pattern of good fortune, their deal to trade O.J. Mayo to Josh McRoberts fell through. The result was Mayo sticking around and being a huge part of the Grizzlies' playoff run. At the time, though, it seemed more like the kind of thing the Grizzlies tend to screw up as a habit. 

Nonetheless, the Grizzlies then went on one of the best runs in franchise history, even if the numbers don't bear it out. Consider this. The Grizzlies went 9-5 in March. Not great, but good, right? Here's who they played in March of 2011: Spurs, Hornets, Mavericks, Thunder, Knicks, Heat, Clippers, Knicks, Pacers, Jazz, Celtics, Bulls, Spurs, Warriors. That's eleven playoff teams out of fourteen opponents, with the others the wacky Warriors, the Jazz, and Blake Griffin. To survive that schedule around .500 would have been an achievement. To romp through it with success was what put them over the top and into the playoffs, creating a buffer wide enough to hold off the surging Rockets for the eighth spot.

Then, despite tanking to play the four-time champion San Antonio Spurs coming off one of their best regular seasons in years, the Grizzlies pulled one of the most impressive upsets in NBA history, not only beating the top seed but looking impressive doing it. The first franchise playoff win came in their first playoff game of the season, on the road, on the back of a Shane Battier three.  The Grizzlies would go on to push the mighty and revered Thunder to seven games, proving that the young argonauts were mortal after all. Though the Grizzlies fell, it was in the most respectable manner possible, with the real turning point being a triple-overtime thriller that was decided mostly due to various Grizzlies stars fouling out and not having enough energy left for the rest of the series. 

So that's a pretty great year, right? Except things continue to get better. During the playoff run, Heisley also paid Zach Randolph. Keeping the All-Star of the team on the roster has its ups and downs, considering his later-contract-year money vs. age, but it also provides them with the consistency Randolph's shown for years in being a 20-10 guy, and now a team leader.

But most importantly, this lockout, while harmful towards the franchise's momentum in terms of fan support which has always been tepid in Memphis, could be the best thing of all. A revised CBA could allow for the Grizzlies to keep costs down, stabilizing the franchise's financials and eliminating one of the biggest disadvantages to their efforts, the market inequality that has kept them out of free agency conversations. A revised revenue sharing system would do wonders for the Grizzlies whose television deal pays them a fraction of the larger markets', and even the possibility of shortening the years on existing contracts could help with their long-term financials and flexibility.

There are drawbacks, of course. A hard cap implemented immediately would have devastating impacts on the Grizzlies considering the money they've already shelled out, much less the money necessary to re-sign restricted free agent Marc Gasol. But it's just as likely that a new system could come out favoring the Grizzlies' as much as any team in the league, from a financial and competitiveness standpoint.  

The final piece of the puzzle is Gasol. Re-signing one of the best young centers in the league, who has stated openly his desire to return to Memphis where he went to high school, cementing this core of players that genuinely enjoys playing with one another, could be the component that changes the Grizzlies from newly-respectable to consistent contender, at least for the playoffs. It gives the fans a reason to buy in, a group of players worth getting behind (as the elder Gasol's Grizzlies team never was), and could get owner Michael Heisley off the punchline lists around the league.

There is, naturally, the concern from fans and analysts of the extreme opposite, however. Once the Grizzlies finished their playoff run, my first thought was to wonder if this was similar to the Clippers' 2006 run. The Clippers made a strong showing in the playoffs, advancing to the second round and a close series with the run-and-gun Suns. But the year after, Elton Brand went down and everything tanked. The Clippers became the Clippers again. This is what seems to happen to franchises in the NBA. You're either "there" or you're not. Then again, we thought the latter about the Mavericks for decades until everything changed. Now look at them.

2010-2011 was a good year for the Grizzlies, a great year. 2011-2012 could wind up being the best yet. From ticket sales to on-court performance to the emergence of Gay as a superstar to being respected and feared as a contender, this could wind up being the point in time where the Grizzlies changed the course of franchise history, and forever altered the face of professional basketball in Memphis.  
Posted on: September 13, 2011 11:08 pm
Edited on: September 13, 2011 11:50 pm
 

NBA lockout news sweeps through Las Vegas gym

Posted by Ben Golliver

sebastian-telfair-waiting

LAS VEGAS -- A giant banner spans the entire baseline and rises some 20 feet into the air at Impact Basketball's Competitive Training Series. In full color, it depicts a player holding a basketball and screams a simple message in all capital letters: "POWER TO THE PEOPLE."

Given the news out of New York City on Tuesday, a day that saw labor talks between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association go nowhere, the "people" in Las Vegas, the dozens of professional basketball players assembled here to train and go through organized, five-on-five scrimmages, felt fairly powerless.

The news from New York spread throughout the gym rapidly via text message and tweets shortly after the games began, and it was met with frustration, anger and nervousness from some of the players present. Others maintained appearances and downplayed the day's events, but word that no progess had been made and that there was no immediate next step in the talks definitely hit with a thud at Impact.

"It sucks," said free agent point guard Sebastian Telfair bluntly. "[I'm feeling] sadness and frustration. This is our lives, our livelihoods, this is how we make our living. Guys are not going to be able to play basketball. We all love to play basketball, we all like to compete. Everyone likes to go out there and try to play for the gold. Right now, we're not getting the opportunity to do that."

Telfair, who is 26 years old and played for the Minnesota Timberwolves last season, heard about the news via text message from his agent just minutes after stepping off the court. He said Tuesday that he badly wants to catch on with a contender next season but knows that can't happen until the proper compromises are reached. "I was hoping for something," Telfair said. "At least move and agree on some things and then the things that the NBA and the Players Association don't agree on, then we can argue about that. But I think the first step for the lockout is for us to agree on something."

The worst part is that Telfair seems to feel a bit trapped. A natural communicator and ever vocal on the court, calling defensive assignments and yelling encouragement to himself, Telfair struggled for words when asked to lay out what he can do to prepare himself in the event that the lockout leads to a work stoppage.

"There's not too many ways you can prepare yourself," Telfair said. "Either you can go take a job overseas or other than that… you sit and wait. I don't really have the other answers. Just stay in shape. Sit and wait. And when they do make an agreement, just be ready."

While he admitted that a work stoppage now seems like a "legit possibility," Telfair clearly would prefer a resolution sooner rather than later, calling the waiting game "brutal."

"We've got a lot of free agents, like myself, all that business is on hold right now," Telfair explained. "A lot of guys don't know what team they're going to be playing with or what. We need to get this thing jumping off fast."

Isaiah Thomas, a 22-year-old second round pick in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings who has yet to sign a contract officially, couldn't agree more. Thomas admitted that the lack of progress on Tuesday, which he heard about on Twitter, is starting to make him "a little bit" nervous. 

"I'm mad, angry, because it feels like I'm still in college right now," Thomas said. "I made that decision [to skip his senior season] and I got drafted but nothing has changed. I've got to just patiently wait. Keep it in God's hands and hopefully it works out. Time is ticking. I've been patiently waiting. Hopefully if the time comes, I can get an NBA paycheck and be able to play and put on an NBA uniform." 

Knowing what to expect from next season and having a contract in hand would seem to ease some of the frustration that Telfair and Thomas are describing. Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen, for example, raised his voice and picked at his toes while discussing the league's ongoing labor talks, but was clear that he is not frustrated.

"We just riding under Billy Hunter right now," Allen said, expressing support for the Executive Director of the NBPA. "We're just hoping the league can negotiate with us and we can get this thing back going."

If not frustration, though, Allen, 29 and signed through next season and one more, did admit to feeling some "urgency."

"I know they need to get it done," Allen, a key member of a Grizzlies team that knocked off the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference playoffs, said. "I ain't here to say who is right and who is wrong but I am here to say, considering the run the Memphis Grizzlies had, I hope we get it back started soon. Keep our momentum going. We definitely put winning in our franchise this year, and having a lockout kind of put a dent in things. ... I understand commissioner David Stern and our player rep Billy Hunter both know what they want, but at the end of the day both sides have to agree to something. That's where we are at right now."

If only it were that simple. But there was one calm, steady voice among the group: Indiana Pacers forward and player representative Dahntay Jones.

With the media chatting and gossiping over the doom and gloom scenarios being floated in the wake of comments made by NBA commissioner David Stern and NBPA president Derek Fisher, Jones kept a relaxed, straight face, and made it clear that the frustration was understandable, but not all that meaningful.

"It's a part of negotiations," Jones, 30, said. "Any negotiation is going to get frustrating... We're happy with our representation at the meetings. We're prepared for the situation. We're prepared for what could possibly happen. We've been ready for it. It's not [anything] new. We know what the worst and the best outcome could be. We're waiting patiently."

He dismissed the most hysterical reactions as an unavoidable byproduct of the attention given to these negotiations and the level of investment that so many people feel towards the league.

"That's the media in general," Jones explained. "You can't believe everything you hear. Everything is spun off. That's just what happens with word of mouth, when stories get shared between people, things get changed sometimes. No media is in the meetings so they really can't give us everything that's going on."

Jones said he would get a full, accurate rundown of the current state of the talks on Thursday, when the players are set to meet at an undisclosed location in Las Vegas. He said he expects that meeting, like previous meetings, to be an informational status report and nothing more.

"Business as usual," Jones said. "There's no need for emotion in a situation like this... Every time we have a meeting, it's a business meeting."

Business meeting or not, time is ticking and alternate plans are being made. Telfair said he is "bound to the USA" and will only go overseas as a very last resort. Thomas said he has enrolled in three classes at the University of Washington and will work out in Seattle if there's a prolonged lockout. Jones would only say that he would "evaluate" his options as the process continues. Allen, like Telfair, wants to stay stateside.

"My audible is just to stay over here," he said. "I love the American game. I been doing that for the last seven years. [The wait] ain't got boring. That's my job. I don't know who could get tired of playing, doing something they love. I love playing basketball, that's why I'm out here playing right now."

The love of the game was a common theme among all the players, but surely it's alright to love getting paid to play the game too, right?

"I don't play for the money, I play for the love," Allen declared, finally and forcefully, ice packs taped to his left knee and right ankle. "Whenever I start playing for the wrong reasons, I know that's when it's time to quit."

The rest of the NBA's players, at least those who haven't already bolted for overseas, would do well to adopt Allen's philosophy, at least for the time being. They might as well.

Because power comes from leverage which, in turn, comes from options. And the people just don't have many good ones right now.

Posted on: September 8, 2011 8:46 pm
 

Gunman gets 97 years for shooting Antonio Burks

Posted by Ben Golliverantonio-burks

Back in 2009, former Memphis Grizzlies guard Antonio Burks was shot while shooting dice.

On Thursday, the Associated Press reports that Darquan Lynneral Swift, a 20-year-old man accused of shooting and attempting to rob Burks, was sentenced to nearly a century in prison for the crime.
A man has been sentenced to 97 years in prison for shooting Memphis Grizzlies guard Antonio Burks. 

Burks testified at Swift's trial that Swift shot him in the stomach and then tried to shoot him in the head but the gun jammed. He said he will remember Swift's face for the rest of his life.

The Memphis Commercial-Appeal reported at the time that Burks was shot in the "lower torso" and that the shooting left him in critical condition. He was immediately hospitalized following the incident and underwent surgery for his wounds.

Burks is a native of Memphis and stayed home to play his college ball at the University of Memphis, where he was named Conference USA Player of the Year in 2004. His NBA career lasted just 81 appearances over two seasons with the Grizzlies: 2004-2005 and 2005-2006. Burks averaged 2.3 points and 1.3 assists in 9.7 minutes per game for his career.
Posted on: September 8, 2011 12:08 pm
 

Conley organizes Grizzlies workouts

By Matt Moore

The number of ways Mike Conley has impressed me since I torched him upon his signing a $40 million extension continues to grow. I've been wrong about some things. Today. And, well, every day. But I do my best to try and recognize it and adjust accordingly. And Mike Conley continues to bury a knife into my early season criticism of him last year. In short, I look like a moron consistently. Case in point: Conley has taken the lead in organizing team workouts in Memphis during the lockout to work on conditioning, in-game situations, and chemistry. From the Memphis Commercial-Appeal:
Mike Conley decided not to wait for an end to the NBA lockout to direct the Grizzlies.

The point guard took charge and mobilized his teammates for a mini-camp in Memphis this week.

Conley, Rudy Gay, Tony Allen, O.J. Mayo, Zach Randolph, Xavier Henry and Sam Young reunited at a local gym early Tuesday. Ish Smith and second-round draft pick Josh Selby were expected to join the group Wednesday.

"I've been prepared all summer to do this," Conley said. "It's my job as the point guard. I want to be one of the leaders on the team. And guys did a great job of keeping their word and coming in on time ready to work.
via Mike Conley organizes workouts for Memphis Grizzlies » The Commercial Appeal

If you were around the Grizzlies at any point last season even for a game, you'd see Conley's influence as a leader. He stayed the longest at practice most days, he was constantly talking with coach Lionel Hollins, and he was almost always in a position to make sure his teammates were prepared. There were times when his late-game execution and decision making was confusing, but then, he also made some huge plays in those key situations. He's still growing into his role in the NBA and with the Grizzlies, but this is a tremendous example of taking the next step in terms of leadership. Being the guy to get everyone together, to instill discipline, that puts him at another level. 

The roster of those attending is interesting. Randolph had said he wanted to help organize such a workout. Tony Allen coming just shows his commitment. Gay has been active in getting back into his role with the team as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Sam Young is in need of constant coaching to improve his knowledge of where to fit in on the floor. Then there are the others. 

O.J. Mayo electing to join the team is notable in and of itself, after Mayo was nearly traded at the deadline following a short suspension for a banned substance and was involved in a fight with Tony Allen. Mayo recovered and acted professionally on the floor throughout the year, and came through for Memphis in the playoffs. He's also a restricted free agency when the season resumes. But Mayo has spoken about the comfort level he has with this team and it shows. 

Then there's Xavier Henry. Henry was a highly touted lottery pick, who suffered a knee injury, then vanished from the active roster. He was invisible during the playoffs and there have been concerns over his relationship with Lionel Hollins. His working out with the team is a good sign, as he could use some time among the veterans in Memphis, as could Josh Selby, another Jayhawk the Grizzlies drafted. Selby plummeted to the second round after being considered a lottery pick over character and attitude questions. But Selby has also been in good company this summer, playing alongside NBA stars like LeBron James through his connection to Carmelo Anthony's Team Melo, as well as his work at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas. 

Conley is still not an elite point guard in this league and likely will never be. But his consistency and work ethic, along with this kind of leadership shows why that extension wasn't just at good market value, it was probably a steal. If you need me, I'll be in the corner staring at the wall until my detention is up.  
Posted on: September 5, 2011 11:41 pm
Edited on: September 5, 2011 11:55 pm
 

Knicks F Renaldo Balkman headbutts opponent

Posted by Ben Golliverrenaldo-balkman-1

New York Knicks forward Renaldo Balkman, representing Puerto Rico, headbutted Memphis Grizzlies guard Greivis Vasquez, representing Venezuela, during a Monday game at the FIBA Americas tournament in Argentina.

The act was retaliation for a hard foul and led to an extended skirmish, requiring Puerto Rico's coach Flor Melendez to intervene and calm down Balkman, before the player was ejected. The foul occurred with 5:37 remaining and Puerto Rico leading, 85-62.

The exchange began with Balkman driving the ball towards the rim with Vasquez defending him from behind. Balkman turned the corner and there was no help defense on teh weakside, so Vasquez slapped down across Balkman's arm to prevent the lay-up. Balkman reacted immediately, turning to confront Vasquez, who had raised his arm to signal that the foul was his, and then lowered his head -- headband, dreadlocks and all -- into Vasquez's cheek, making clear contact. The action did not provoke a response from Vasquez but did lead his teammates to shove Balkman to the ground, and referees and coaching staff members entered the fray to separate the combatants. 

Balkman's act was not the first bit of on-court violence from an NBA player this summer. Minnesota Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley pushed a fan in the face during an exhibition game in New York City and Los Angeles Lakers forward Matt Barnes punched an opponent during a pro-am game in the Bay Area.

Puerto Rico held on to beat Venezuela, 94-82, and is scheduled to face Canada on Tuesday. Because of the headbutt, Balkman has been suspended for that game according to FIBAAmericas.com.

Here's the video of Renaldo Balkman headbutting Greivis Vasquez during a FIBA Americas game in Argentina courtesy of YouTube user dewel2011



Top image via the video.

Hat tip: SportingNews.com.
Posted on: September 5, 2011 1:14 pm
Edited on: September 5, 2011 1:42 pm
 

Realigning the NBA

Posted by Royce Young



Conference realignment has sort of taken over the world the past few weeks. Texas A&M pretty much put the nail in the coffin for the Big 12 by bolting for the SEC and because of it, a whole new chain of events have tipped over. The landscape of college football could look a whole lot different in a few months. Or in a few weeks. Or even tomorrow.

But you know what else could use a little realigning? The NBA's divisions. They're kind of a mess. It's not going to be as a result of some $300 million network, recruiting ties or competitive advantages. Nope. For the NBA, it's more just about common sense. Geographically, the divisions are kind of a mess. In 2011 that's not as huge a deal as it was in 1981 because travel is much easier. You can go from Portland to Oklahoma City in just a few hours.

However, chartered travel is experience. Fuel is very pricey. And with the NBA and teams supposedly losing so much money, why not exhaust every option to cut costs and realign the divisions so they make a lot more sense? Why not group teams together that are hundreds, not thousands, of miles apart?

Plus, it just makes a lot more sense to have structured regions. Grouping teams together based on geography does more to forge rivalries, gives fans a chance to commute between games if the want to and gives the players less travel and more days of rest. All good, right?

So if you're going to spend all this time restructuring a new collective bargaining agreement, why not fix the divisions too? Here's how they should look:

WESTERN CONFERENCE

SOUTHWEST
Dallas
San Antonio
Houston
Phoenix
Oklahoma City

The NBA's new Southwest division is the American League East, the SEC West, of the league. It's a group of five teams that are all pretty good. Things change though and in 15 years, this could be the weakest division in the league. But for now, it'd be pretty good.

And it just makes sense. Dallas and Oklahoma City are about three hours via car away from each other. San Antonio, Dallas and Houston are in the same state. And OKC and the Texas teams and Phoenix just have one state separating them, which is a whole lot better than five.

MIDWEST
Memphis
Minnesota
Denver
Utah
Milwaukee

Clearly the division that needed the biggest overhaul is the Northwest, mainly because of the Sonics transformation into the Oklahoma City Thunder. When the team was in Seattle, the division made a lot more sense. Now it doesn't. That's why a midwestern division with makes a lot more sense.

That creates somewhat of a problem in the Northwest though. There's not a great fit. So for the sake of the argument, the Northwest has to make the Big 12 and peace out. No more Northwest, but instead the new Midwest.

The new Midwest is still a bit spread out, but all the teams are at least located somewhat centrally in the country. A trip from Utah to Milwaukee won't be quick, but the Jazz, Nuggets and Timerwolves have been oddballs in the Northwest. It's not an ideal division with teams right next door to each other, but it makes a lot more sense than the current setup.

PACIFIC
Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles Clippers
Sacramento
Golden State
Portland

Moving Phoenix away from the Lakers is a bummer, because those two teams are historical rivals that have always competed in the same division. But if A&M and Texas can separate, I think we can live with the Suns and Lakers moving apart.

The Pacific now features five teams that are actually next to the Pacific Ocean, which seems like it should count for something. Plus having the Blazers and Lakers together makes up for separating the Suns and Lakers.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

CENTRAL
Chicago
Detroit
Indiana
Cleveland
Toronto

Really, the new Central was the inspiration for this. Why aren't the Raptors in this division? Look at how close those teams are to each other. I think you could almost ride your bike between arenas. The old Central was really good too -- maybe better -- but the Bucks have to move. So it's the Raptors who replace them and the solid geographic setup remains.

ATLANTIC
Boston
New York
Philadelphia
Washington
New Jersey

Nothing too radical here. Five cities that you can transport between using a train. Old rivalries are preserved and the Wizards are added, which frankly, makes a lot of sense.

SOUTHEAST
Miami
Orlando
Atlanta
Charlotte
New Orleans

Two teams would swap conferences with the Bucks moving back to the West and the Hornets heading to the East. Not that this would upset the competitive balance of the league or anything, but it just makes a lot more sense for the Hornets to be placed in a division with Orlando, Charlotte, Atlanta and Miami.

And let me add this: If college football has no issue tossing tradition and historical rivalries out the window, why not just eliminate conferences all together? It would be a radical move, but what's the point of the East and West, other than just that's the structure of the playoffs? If it were one unified "super" conference, that would finally solve the issues of a 50-win Western team missing the postseason while a 37-win Eastern team slips into the eight-seed.

You could even just build the league into three 10-team divisions. Combine the Southwest and the Pacific, the Midwest and the Central, and the Atlantic and the Southeast. There are your super-divisions. Now you can keep teams playing more in their division than anything else and cut down on long road trips. It would make a West coast road trip for the Mavericks a whole heck of a lot more interesting.

Basically, we'd be looking at a league with three sub-conferences and once the playoffs started, seeding would just be based from that. Almost like the NCAA tournament, you could set two regions and seed from there. Head-to-head tiebreakers, division records and all that stuff would separate any identical records. Just an idea while we're brainstorming, you know?

(Note: I don't really love that idea, quite honestly. But I was just throwing it out there. One of those things that probably makes sense, but wouldn't ever happen. Much like Bill Simmons' terrific "Entertaining As Hell Tournament." Really, a unified conference makes it easier to implicate the tournament too.)

Let's face it: The West has kind of sort of dominated the past decade. Sports operate in cycles, but if there's a way to prevent that, should we? The West compiled a record of 2,257-1,643 against the East from 1999-2008 and over the last 13 seasons has represented 10 champions. That's pretty dominant. That'll change eventually, but what really is the point of the conferences, other than the standard, "that's just the way it's always been done" answer? 

All that is after the fact though: Divisional realignment is the start. Fixing the structure of the postseason would be the ideal next step. It's kind of like a plus-one for college football. Maybe a pipe dream, but something that's really in the best interest of the game. But if anything's to be done, it's to realign the divisions so they at least make a little more sense. Preserve rivalires, start new ones, save money, cut down on travel and hopefully, help the league grow a little bit more.

Picture via Jockpost
Posted on: September 1, 2011 10:21 pm
 

The top NBA defensive systems



By Matt Moore



Stop me if you've heard this one before. Defense wins championships. That's not actually true, as some of the best defenses never win titles because their offense can't muster enough points to outscore a college team. But it's certainly vital. You'll never find a modern NBA team win with terrible defense. But who have the best systems? We know who the great defenders are, but how much are they a product of the system, and how much is the system a product of them? We sought to answer those questions with our own form of the defensive system power rankings. 


1. Chicago Bulls:
There's a reason Tom Thibodeau is considered a defensive genius. Look no further than the fact that the Bulls were the defensive icon of the league despite considerable injuries last season and the fact that Carlos Boozer was a heavy-minutes starter. The key to Thibodeau's system is help and precision attack. There's no anticipation of meeting the player at the point of field goal attempt, the initial penetration is deterred by a series of help defenders cutting off multiple options. It's a system that masks individual defensive weaknesses. That's why players like Omer Asik, Boozer, and C.J Watson suddenly become strengthpoints.

An interesting component is that the Bulls are so focused on preventing scores, they manage to avoid fouling. They had the 22nd lowest free throw rate in the league. Compare that with Boston's 10th rating, and you find a much cleaner defense. That's partially attributable to the different personnel but it's also indicative of the Bulls' approach. They attack the dribble, cut off the lane, and contain, contain, contain.

Their cohesion is nearly perfect, their communication is nearly perfect, their approach is nearly perfect. Guarding LeBron James nailing long-range threes? You've got be perfect to beat that.

2. Boston Celtics: The ugly older brother of the Bulls' defense. The Celtics use the same help mechanisms to deter penetration and attack the rim, but are far more willing to commit to a club to the head to make their point. Intelligent design matched with brute force. Another key difference is their reliance on their individual personnel. Kevin Garnett is of course the field general, and its his willingness to commit to any assignment or range that fuels the system. But Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo are all equally essential along with the rest of the team. The problem is that the central reliance on personnel gives way to vulnerability. Eventually age catches up with the Celtics.

What bolsters them, though, is a philosophical dedication. The Celtics are willing to do the hard job, no matter how tough. It's not just a matter of professional dedication, its a prideful philosophy, an extension of the family unity they've tried to instill in the team. That's really what separates the Celtics, their almost militaristic dedication to the defensive discipline they try and execute for 48 minutes.

The Celtics' defense is only going to continue to slide as the players' abilities downgrade with age. But until then, they're still stocked with the most experience, ability, and knowledge of their system of any team in the league.

...

Again, with the LeBron thing.

3. Miami Heat: If the Celtics and Bulls both rely on system built on systemic fundamentals and philosophy, then the Heat's concept is a bit different, if nearly as effective. Their strengths begin with their talent. Having three of the most athletic players in the league gives you a basis. LeBron James' ability to play on the perimeter, on the wing, in the post, and battle for rebounds gives them versatility. Chris Bosh is never going to win anyone's heart over with toughness, but guarding those stretch fours in a league where they can torch you is important, and Bosh does it well. Dwyane Wade still gambles more than he should, but he also makes plays more often than you want if you're facing him.

This isn't to say the rest of the Heat are schlubs. Udonis Haslem is a big, tough, difficult defender who has the savvy to arm wrestle a weapon to the proverbial ground. The Heat have veteran players who don't lack for experience, and it helps tremendously.

The most interesting wrinkle in their defensive system, though, is one of their anticipation. Consider that the Bulls and Celtics both react to where the ball goes. They're always playing a game of stop what's in front of them. It's a very Eastern-philosophy, "stay in the moment" kind of mindset. But the Heat look to anticipate. They run to the corner shooter before the ball arrives. They play on a string, but not just in terms of shutting down one option and then reacting, but getting ahead of the offense to prevent the quick open look opportunity. The result is a load of shot clock violations.

The problem is personnel. They have neither the wing stopper they can commit at the cost of offense, nor the body in the paint at center to defend the rim. There's a reason why Shane Battier and Eddy Curry reportedly top the Heat's list of targets in free agency. A few better options defensively in terms of personnel might have won them two more games in the Finals, which was all that stood in their way of vindicating all that premature boasting.

4. Orlando Magic: It's good to have the best. Dwight Howard makes more of an impact defensively than any other player in the league, the reason he's the defending Defensive Player of the Year (again), and why he was an MVP candidate last season. If you don't believe me, watch just the Orlando Magic defensively some time. A team with Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu in prominent roles was a top five team defensively last season, and that impact begins and ends with Dwight Howard. Howard reacts to the baseline, swats the weak side, covers both the ball handler and roll man on the pick and roll, and is big and tall and super-athletic. He's a freak of nature, and one that's learned to be smarter on defense every year.

But to say that it's all Howard does a disservice to Stan Van Gundy's work. Van Gundy, after all, is the coach that has brought Dwight Howard to the defensive level he's at, making it a priority for the young big man since 2007. And it's Van Gundy who manages to pull this kind of defensive effort out of a team with that roster. That Van Gundy is able to generate cohesive defensive efforts with Brandon Bass, Jameer Nelson, and Jason Richardson in key roles along with the others speaks volumes of what SVG is capable of.

His biggest weakness is that personnel, which has gotten worse each season since 2009. Howard's hit his ceiling defensively. Unless SVG gets better supporting talent, there's only so many rabbits he can pull out of his hat.

5. Los Angeles Lakers: It's good to be tall.

The Lakers' defensive system is a question mark as Mike Brown takes over. But if we look at what the Lakers have done well in the past, it's pretty simple. Be tall, be active, apply pressure. The Lakers will talk about experience and veteran savvy, but their biggest asset is the fact that Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum combine to create a redwood forrest down low through which passes cannot flow. The result is a lot of perimter passing just to get the ball to the other side, or wild looping cross-court volleys. Combine that with Derek Fisher's ability to counter his slowness with pestering opposing point guards into personal fouls, and Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest's proficiency in perimeter defense, and you have quite the set.

Honestly, this roster probably has a lot of upside in defense, still. Jackson was too busy handing out novels and waxing poetic on what other player or coach he was degrading that week to really focus defensively other than to talk about, well, focus. The Lakers with Brown could be the best defensive unit in the NBA next season. Whenever that is.

Also considered:

Milwaukee Bucks: Skiles continues to struggle with offense, but his teams always attack the ball and stay disciplined. It's sloppy at times, but Skiles' grinding approach is a proven tactic.

Dallas Mavericks: Rick Carlisle talked in the Finals about "defending with five guys" and that's the best part of the Mavericks. They use any and all weapons at their disposal. Their defense isn't why they won the NBA championship, but it was why they won the Finals. Versatility combined with determination and good chemistry with sound principles made them formidable enough to compromise teams enough for their offense to do the rest.

Memphis Grizzlies: Unconventional is the word, here, as the Grizzlies run counter to every defensive tradition in the NBA. They don't play position, they attack the ball. They don't focus on misses, they swarm for steals. They don't deny layups, they pester and pressure until the offense collapses. Out of nowhere, Lionel Hollins turned one of the worst defenses in the league into one of the best. Tony Allen's influence helps, so does Shane Battier's, but it's Memphis' adoption of the blue collar ethic of the town that helped them make their playoff run.

Posted on: August 23, 2011 12:41 pm
Edited on: August 23, 2011 5:31 pm
 

Dealer: Zach Randolph 'snatched' pot over price

Posted by Ben Golliverzach-randolph

On Sunday night, we noted reports that Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph allegedly hosted a party at his Oregon home that ended with a marijuana dealer being hospitalized after he was beaten with pool cues by Randolph's friends.

While Randolph is still not a suspect in the assault, the picture just gets uglier and uglier as details continue to emerge in the case and.

KGW.com reports that the admitted marijuana dealer, James Beasley, says Randolph personally took the marijuana from him prior to the alleged beating that left him bloodied. Why? Because Randolph allegedly didn't want to pay $200.

"[Randolph] got upset about the price. He thought the price was too high," Beasley explained. "He snatched the weed out of my hands, like, aggressively, he snatched it like basically saying, 'I'm taking your weed.'"

4-7 people -- but not Randolph -- then allegedly participated in the beating.

"My face was covered up in blood, my clothes were covered in blood," Beasley told the television station. "They hit me upside the head. Split my eye open with a pool stick."

Beasley's brother, Robert, told KGW that Randolph allowed the beating to commence without intervening.

"I am very, very disappointed," said Robert. "Zach was there and should have stopped it. He could have stopped it.'"

"They beat him up and left him out there," Robert told KOINLocal6.com. "They robbed my brother. They basically beat him, bust him in his head with a pool stick and left him on a dark road by himself for dead." 

KOIN also reported that the family claims the beating left Beasley with "a concussion, stitches and brain swelling."

Beasley's mother, Shikego, told the station that her son had a long-standing relationship with Randolph. 

"It's not like he was your groupie, Zach," she said. "You've been knowing my child. You've been partying with my child."

 
 
 
 
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