Tag:Russell Westbrook
Posted on: September 2, 2011 11:58 am
 

UCLA is housing some NBA pickup games too

Posted by Royce Young



The Goodman, Melo and Drew Leagues are getting all the pub for good summer hoops featuring NBA players. But one hidden gem (or gym) to catch a number of NBA players getting in some run is at UCLA.

There's a catch though: At least one student has to play on each team.

It's kind of become a UCLA tradition with local stars popping into the student gym to play some hoops. No doubt the games are competitive, but it's not the glitz and glamor of Rucker Park or one of the now-famous pro-am leagues.

Still, this summer Ron Artest, Russell Westbrook, Elton Brand and Andre Miller, among many others, have popped in to play some pickup with the Bruin student body. Pretty cool.
Posted on: August 19, 2011 7:31 pm
Edited on: August 19, 2011 9:36 pm
 

The EOB Elite 100: 11-20: The power of forwards



By Matt Moore

This is the eighth segment of the CBSSports.com Eye on Basketball Elite 100, counting down the top-100 players in the NBA. 

Check out the earlier installments: 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-61 | 60-51 | 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21


Try ranking just the best power forwards in the league in your head. Really. Now go back and look at their numbers. Then go back and rerank them. Then factor in their team success. Then look at their ages and upside. 

The point is, this is not easy, and that's before you try and stick them in among the best players in the league at all the other positions. Power forwards are elite right now in this league. Trying to determine who's better is nearly impossible. But that's what we've tried to do in this list and this section gets to the hardest part. Zach Randolph dominated the playoffs. Tim Duncan is a Hall of Famer. LaMarcus Aldridge was just brilliant. Amar'e Stoudemire was an MVP candidate for a brief time. 

What do you do? 

In between we've got Steve Nash, one of the best point guards ever, Deron Williams who's at the top of his game, Russell Westbrook who everyone loves and hates at the same time, and you know, Melo. 


20. Steve Nash, G, age 37, Phoenix Suns
2011 Stats: 14.7 points, 11.4 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 49.2 FG%, 20.81 PER, 53.1 AST%
Composite rankings (random order): 25, 16, 18

The guy's 37. Thir-tee-sev-en. And yet last season Steve Nash averaged more assists per 36 minutes than he has in his career. He posted 53 percent of the Suns' assists. Which means if there was a bucket off a pass on the floor, more often than not it was Steve Nash making it. That's crazy production for his age. Nash continues to be a lightning rod as the Suns fall further and further away from contention. His defense has never been good due to a combination of physical limitations and a back condition that has forced him for years to lay flat on his stomach on the sideline. But his offense is showing signs of slowing down, despite all the slinging. Nash finally posted under 50 percent field goal shooting for the first time since he came to Phoenix last year, and shot under 40 percent from three for the first time since 1999. So he's "only" a 49 percent shooter, 39 percent 3-point shooter. But the bigger point is that Nash is starting to slip. 

This is why so many want Nash traded. His time is running out to be effective, though with his conditioning, it's easy to see him playing till he's 40. But for him to be effective as a starter, to hold a shred of "Nashness" in him, he's got to get moved to a contender soon. But if he doesn't, it wouldn't shock anyone to see him make a comeback year next season. 

19. Manu Ginobili, G, age 34, San Antonio Spurs
2011 Stats: 17.4 points, 4.9 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 43.3 FG%, 21.78 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 20, 15, 20

Manu Ginobili was a legit MVP candidate the first two months of the season. Being a legit MVP candidate for even a week should probably earn you a higher ranking than this, but such is the cost of a perceived slip as the season went on. At his best, Ginobili is a game-changer and one of the most reliable clutch performers in the game. His step-back elbow jumper is still deadly, and if that doesn't get you, the pump-fake will. Ginobili at full-health would probably have made a big difference in the Spurs' round-one loss to Memphis. (But given that he couldn't guard Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol, probably not enough of one.)

Ginobili's slide will only continue as age and injury slow him down. He says he has a few more years left in the league. But his craftiness will only take him so far, which is why he isn't higher on this list. But given how many years he's been near the top of this list, that's not a bad career. And in the meantime, he'll keep drawing fouls and hitting big shots as the Spurs continue to try and suck the life out of the remainder of their contending years. 

18. Kevin Love, F, age 22, Minnesota Timberwolves
2011 Stats: 20.1 points, 15.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 47.0 FG%, 24.39 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 15, 24, 13

Hello, power forwards. Kevin Love broke the record for consecutive double-doubles, had the first 30-30 game, showed terrific offensive range, dominated the glass, out-rebounded Dwight Howard and became an All-Star. And he's only the 18th best player on this list, and the fifth best power forward in this section!

Love's biggest liabilities are on the defensive end. He's still learning, so the hope is that he'll improve. Conditioning and health will both be important to that end with his frame, but neither are concerns with Love. With a coach that will hopefully appreciate him and a new system and point guard to work with, it's a good bet that Love will be in the top fifteen by the end of next season. His range makes him a versatile component, he's looking for his first big deal (good luck with that under the new CBA next season), and to boot, he's one of the most likeable players in the league. 

Odds are this is the last time he'll bethis low again. 

17. Tim Duncan, F, age 35, San Antonio Spurs
2011 Stats: 13.4 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.9 blocks, 50.0 FG%, 21.94 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 13, 19, 18

What loathesome thing age is, that robs us of our strength but not our integrity.  Tim Duncan wasn't the same player last year. I mean, he was, but he wasn't. This is the problem. For players of Duncan's greatness, there's no huge cliff they fall off, its'a slow decline. But they're also held to a different standard. And as a result, Duncan slides down this list. Most jarring was the absence of a dominant Duncan performance in the playoffs. The Grizzlies managed to harass, muscle, and frustrate Duncan to the point of limiting his effectiveness. And as Duncan goes, so do the Spurs. 

Duncan logged 76 games last season, missing just six games. The question is if he can have a bounce-back season after having a considerably healthy one in 2010-2011. The Spurs need a vintage Duncan performance all season long, but the reality may be that after so many playoff games early in his career, he may simply not have enough tread left on the tires. Why is he still this high? Because he's Tim Freaking Duncan, and he's earned the right for us to trust in him until the very end. 

16. Deron Williams, G, age 27, New Jersey Nets
2011 Stats: 20.1 points, 10.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 43.9 FG%, 21.19 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 22, 18, 9

Deron Williams, Coach Killer? Didn't see that coming. 

Williams had a good season. He did. 20 points, 10 assists, good PER, solid defense. The Jazz had a pretty decent start before the wheels came off. Then, you know, Williams may or may not have been the driving point behind Jerry Sloan deciding to pack it up after 25 seasons with the Jazz. Then, you know, Williams was traded to the Nets before he could hold the Jazz hostage like Melo did the Nuggets. Then, you know, he was a Net. Which causes trouble. 

Williams turned 27 in June, so he can no longer be considered a "young" point guard. There's only so much room for improvement at this point. And he's still very good, and will fetch a huge price on the market. But you have to wonder if 2010-2011 was a career marker for Williams and if that will make an impact on where he ends up. The good news? He gets into free agency in 2012. Either the Nets will build around him with top talent, or he'll have a chance for a mulligan at 28. 

15. Carmelo Anthony, F, age 27, New York Knicks
2011 Stats: 25.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 45.5 FG%, 21.82 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 17, 17, 13

You want to rank Carmelo Anthony in the 20-30 range? Fine. 30-40? You're getting out there. 1-10? We're not going to riot. You can spot Melo anywhere, it just depends on where your priorities lie. 

Is Melo's defense lacking? Absolutely. Is he often-times too inefficient to the point that it hurts his effectiveness? Yes. Is his attitude sometimes an issue in terms of the superstar approach? Yes, but it never impacts his play (through everything in Denver, he never missed a game or gave a half-effort). The reality is this. 

Carmelo Anthony still nets you 26 points per game, seven rebounds per game, will hit you a game winner more often than not, and can help win you games. He is not the most effective, most efficient, or most versatile. There is a lot that he needs to improve. But Carmelo Anthony is still an elite player in this league, and he needs to be ranked accordingly. He's here for now. If the Knicks keep building around he and Amar'e and if the two start working together better, he'll be among the best of the best. For now, we leverage his upside, his production, his efficiency, and his record. 

Then we docked him five slots for his reality show.

14. Russell Westbrook, G, age 22, Oklahoma City Thunder
2011 Stats: 21.9 points, 8.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 1.9 steals, 44.2 FG%, 23.63 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 16, 16, 11

I'd love to give you an in-depth analysis of Westbrook, but the polar opinions of him rend any attempt apart. 

Westbrook has a higher PER than Deron Williams. He's hyper-aggressive and can take games over. The comparison always made to him is Derrick Rose if he didn't have Kevin Durant needing the ball. But one, he's not as good as Derrick Rose, and two, he does have Kevin Durant needing the ball. Westbrook too often puts his head down and slams into the defender causing a turnover, too often is impatient with the offense and too often trusts his ability to dominate. Thing is, he can dominate more than half the time.

Westbrook's explosiveness and speed is top three in the league. His jumper's improved but hasn't made a phenomenal jump. The big question for next season will be what his role is with James Harden as more of a weapon and playmaker. Is Westbrook just a scoring point who can also provide some buckets, or can he use another weapon to be more efficient. It's a technical and mental adjustment that needs to be made. 

13. LaMarcus Aldridge, F, Portland Trail Blazers
2011 Stats: 21.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.2 blocks, 1.0 steals, 50.0 FG%, 21.57 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 12, 14, 14

Aldridge was arguably more important to his team than any of the players 12-10. He was huge in 2011. Aldridge is also the most versatile of any power forward in the league. Yeah, there, I said it. He's tough defensively, he's brilliant in the post, he's got great pick-and-pop ability, is a good rebounder (though if we're saying that, so is Amar'e Stoudemire, who has a 12.7 TRB percentage to Aldridge's 13.5). 

Aldridge was the anchor for the Blazers who kept them afloat among the injury sea they sailed last year. He's always been overlooked for Roy, but he's also never been a problem in the locker room. He plays smart, tough, and efficiently. Oh, and he plays defense. Nice rare quality in power forwards, that. 

12. Zach Randolph, F, Memphis Grizzlies
2011 Stats: 20.1 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 50.3 FG%, 22.67 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 17, 11, 11

Dominates the glass, puts the team on his back, shoots better than 50 percent from the field, creates more possessions, and delivers when his team needs him. That's a franchise player. And as good as Rudy Gay is, that's what Zach Randolph has shown himself to be for Memphis. His performance in the playoffs is what lands him above Aldridge, Love, and Duncan. A stats-only loser for so many years, Randolph not only found the playoffs last season, but owned them. His performance in both Grizzlies' series was out of this world. If making the Finals weren't a prerequisite, Randolph was arguably the playoffs MVP behind Nowitzki (which is probably why Nowitzki won the title). 

Randolph's defense is not good, but just like his athleticism, he manages to hide it with savvy. He brings smart help, and communicates well. Randolph's intangibles are almost as great as his numbers. He's a consumate leader, always picking up guys who fall to the floor, and being the emotional rock for a pretty emotional team. As unlikely as it is, Randolph's as valuable as it gets to any single team. 

He's getting older, so this is probably the last time he'll be this high. But it's been a fun ride for Randolph with the Grizzlies and he deserves the respect. 

11. Amar’e Stoudemire, F, New York Knicks
2011 Stats: 25.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.9 blocks, 50.2 FG%, 22.78 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 14, 12, 10

We don't blame you for gawking at this. I scored him a 12, truth be told, and even I am sick just thinking about it. Stoudemire is a pretty solid help defender, except no one will believe that. That's where those 1.9 blocks come from. Again, not good, but solid. But man-up? Bad. Really bad. Not good. At all. Stoudemire will never be confused for a defensive stalwart. His rebounding is sub-par. He's got knee concerns and an eye condition following a pretty horrific injury that required surgery. On his eye. 

But he's at this spot because Stoudemire can kill you from the elbow, and if you crowd him, he's going to the rim. He plays aggressively, efficiently, and can deliver. He lost his former-MVP point guard and still produced 25 points per game, and that's even after Melo came in a-gunning. He produces a world of offense and that still counts. As much as the statistical revolution and advanced analysis emphasizes defense, it tends to overlook offense, especially from bigs. The Knicks will never hurt for inside scoring as long as Stoudemire is on the floor. That shouldn't be overlooked. Neither should his defensive liabilities, but his offense out-performs it enough to land him here.

We think.
Posted on: August 17, 2011 8:34 pm
Edited on: August 17, 2011 10:47 pm
 

P. Diddy goes to UCLA with Davis, Love, Westbrook

Posted by Ben Golliverwestbrook-diddy

What's the only way to top having four NBA players, including two All-Stars, in your college class? By adding a hip hop mogul, of course.

On Wednesday, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Baron Davis and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love tweeted that hip hop legend Sean Combs, better known as P. Diddy, was attending summer school with them at UCLA.

"Another great day at school," Davis tweeted. "Recruited P. Diddy to our history class!! Good looking big bro."

"We recruited a new classmate," Love confirmed, attaching the picture shown to the right as proof.

As ESPN.com noted, Davis and Love are just half of the NBA contingent in this particular summer school classroom.  
In the meantime, Love is back on campus, taking a course on American popular culture. He said former Bruins and current NBA players Russell Westbrook, Baron Davis and Trevor Ariza are all in the same class. The four-credit class will make him a sophomore after he left UCLA following his freshman season in 2008. 

"I don't want the lockout to go to December or January but just in case I've signed up to be in class in the fall," Love said. "I'm excited to have the opportunity to do so but I'm hoping my fall classes get cut short."
According to CBSSports.com's UCLA RapidReports, Diddy was on campus because his son, a high school football player, is apparently getting a recruiting look from the Bruins. 

Back when the lockout went into effect, I promised my family that I would put away the snark in any post about NBA players going back to college to fulfill promises to their families. Working towards a degree is an admirable pursuit for anyone, and it's one of the smartest things a professional athlete can do given the relatively short career time frame and all the pitfalls that go with becoming extremely rich overnight.

But then P. Diddy had to get involved and it's pretty much impossible to write about him in 2011 without snark. So we'll just stop right here. Good times, though. Good times.

Image via Kevin Love on Twitter
Posted on: July 27, 2011 8:37 pm
 

NBA lockout threatens 2012 USA Olympics team?

Posted by Ben Golliver

team-usa-2008

A dozen of America's top athletes leaping for joy after securing an Olympics gold medal while the foreign opponent huddles together with heasd bowed consoling themselves. You don't have to sport a tattoo of the American flag on your bicep to get a rise out of that scene.

Unfortunately, the NBA lockout hangs over all of basketball these days. And Yahoo! Sports reports that if the league cancels the entire 2011-2012 season it could jeopardize NBA player participation in the 2012 Summer Olympics. In other words, the scene pictured above from Beijing in 2008 might not be repeated in London.
In the doomsday scenario, where labor strife causes the cancellation of the 2011-12 NBA season, and the work stoppage drags into June and then July, there’s little, if no chance, the great American players could play in the Olympics. Team USA is too tied to the NBA – too much of a David Stern production – for the players to break ranks and play. In the post 9-11 world, that’s a tricky subject PR-wise for the players, but several union, USA Basketball and agent sources believe this worst-case labor scenario would cost Team USA its NBA stars.

As the managing director of USA Basketball, Jerry Colangelo answers to Stern, and the league – along with its ATM machine, Nike – has immense impact on the coaching staff and roster. How could the NBA allow its coaches – Team USA assistants Nate McMillan and Mike D’Antoni – to coach NBA players during a lockout? Still, that’s the worst-case scenario, but it’s one that USA Basketball will have to consider should the labor dispute push deep into the NBA season. In this instance, Team USA would have to field a team of American players who’ve built careers overseas, as well as D-League players, and perhaps a superior college superstar or two.

That would obviously put the USA at a serious disadvantage, especially because foreign-born NBA players would almost certainly compete in the Olympics, lockout or not. Teams like Spain, France and Argentina, to name three, could put more raw talent on the court than a mish-mashed USA roster. For perhaps the first time ever, USA would be an unquestioned underdog entering the tournament. That would be a terrible nightmare.

Let's just not think about it. Assuming the lockout is resolved and NBA players are willing and able to compete for their country, here are the 12 names and seven potential alternates for the the roster.
The USA has tended to play versatile, small ball line-ups in recent international competitions. It's unlikely they would add multiple new big men unless one of the 2008 team members decided not to come back. When in doubt, the mantra seems to be, add shooting, which could favor younger guards like Curry and Gordon, who both played on the 2010 World Championships team.
Posted on: July 21, 2011 6:16 pm
Edited on: July 21, 2011 10:29 pm
 

2011 NBA All-Star likeability rankings

Posted by Ben Golliver.

wade-durant-bryant

It's one thing to be great on the court. It's one thing to be famous. It's one thing to be marketable. It's one thing to be respected. 

But how do we throw all those attributes together? How do we determine which of the NBA's brightest stars are the most well-rounded? How do we put our finger on which stars capture the imagination, drop jaws and tug on the heart strings? 

It's an impossible task, but that didn't stop the Eye On Basketball staff from trying. Over the last week, we pinpointed five characteristics that combine to make NBA players likeable: "Ballin' Ability" (how good a guy is as a player), "Winning Attitude" (how dedicated he is to the game), "Talking Softly" (how he comes across in public comments), "Commerical Appeal" (how visible he is in advertisements) and "Public Works" (charitable contributions and other character-defining achievements).

Our panel of four experts ranked every member of the 2011 All-Star teams on a 1-5 scale in each of these five categories. We then added up all the scores to get a ranking on a 1 to 100 scale. The higher the number, the more likeable the player. Pretty simple stuff. 

Without further ado, here are the CBSSports.com 2011 NBA All-Star likeability rankings, from worst (least likeable) to first (most likeable). 

24. Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks: Johnson’s unassuming personality and solid perimeter game don’t stand much of a chance here due to his relatively invisible national profile and his team’s lack of playoff success. Score: 44

23. Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks: Horford suffers from the same low-profile problem as Johnson but is perceived as more of a winner because he took home NCAA hardware at the University of Florida, and his game is predicated on doing whatever it takes to get the job done rather than jacking jumpers. Score: 48

22. Chris Bosh, Miami Heat: Bosh is intelligent, articulate and gentle off the court and a versatile talent on the court, so he should be prettychris-bosh-tears likeable, at least in theory. His goofiness -- the photo shoots, the secret wedding, the screaming at the preseason parade -- has become off-putting now that he’s teamed up with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. His status as the league’s most obvious punch line hurts him here. A lot. Score: 54

T-20. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: Still just a half-touch too far up the “might be crazy” scale to be totally likeable at this point in his career. Westbrook is still stuck in Kevin Durant’s shadow, although he showed with his fearless play in the 2011 postseason that he might one day eclipse KD in terms of sheer star power. Could be a fast riser in future renditions of these rankings, especially if he can cut down his turnovers and shake a developing reputation as a bit of a late-game ball hog. Saying something interesting after a game once in a while wouldn't hurt either. Score: 55

T-20. Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers: Much like the Lakers, Gasol took a step back in prominence this season when he didn’t show up as expected -- and as needed -- in the postseason. His gangly frame isn’t particularly marketable, at least not here in the United States, and while he is a true professional when it comes to the media, he’s known first and foremost as Kobe Bryant’s on-again, off-again punching bag. Score: 55

19. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics: More than anyone else on this list, Rondo genuinely doesn’t care what you think about him. He can come across as curt and moody, and doesn’t expend much energy playing the media game. His authenticity can’t be questioned, but it does keep casual fans at arm’s length. Score: 58

18. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs: An egoless star on an egoless team in an egoless organization in a relatively small market, Ginobili has never sought the bright lights. Even after all these years, the average fan doesn’t have much of a connection with him. There’s nothing not to like, but nothing that reaches out and grabs you either. Score: 59

17. Deron Williams, New Jersey Nets: Williams gets bonus points for his amazing annual dodgeball tournament and rose to a new level of renown this year thanks to a blockbuster trade and a trailblazing deal with Besiktas in Turkey. The rumored spats with Jerry Sloan that surfaced when the legendary Utah Jazz coach abruptly retired briefly painted a very unlikable picture, although that didn’t seem to bother him too much. Score: 61

16. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics: Beloved in Boston, Pierce’s personal likeability suffers a bit nationally because he’s almost always talked about as one of Boston’s Big Three, with Kevin Garnett usually getting top billing. He's a bit past his prime, which surely costs him some spots on this list. Score: 62

15. Ray Allen, Boston Celtics: Allen is pretty much in the same boat as Pierce, although he’s got an energetic mother (the ever-present Flo), a picture-perfect jump shot and an unforgettable silver screen performance (Jesus Shuttlesworth) to give him a bit of a boost. Score: 64

14. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves: Love is the anti-Rondo, fully embracing the media attention, putting his self-kevin-love-smiledeprecating humor to full display whenever possible. He’s blogged, starred in viral videos and, let’s not forget, put up mammoth statistics through sheer hard work amidst a dysfunctional mess of a team. All while remaining sane. No easy task. Score: 65

T-12. Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics: Thanks to his on-court bullying antics and incessant trash talk, Garnett is as polarizing as anyone in the league, save LeBron James. But his reputation as a winner was sealed by Boston’s title, he’s been a fixture on the national endorsement circuit for years and his overwhelming competitive desire helps cover up some of the ugliness. Score: 66

 T-12. Amar’e Stoudemire, New York Knicks: Near the top of his game and playing in a major media market, Stoudemire keeps the dunks and quotes coming, so everyone stays happy. The fact that he abandoned Steve Nash immediately following a Western Conference Finals playoff run to take more money without catching any flak for it is a testament to how he’s carved out a major place in the nation’s heart in his own, quirky way. Score: 66

11. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks: Anthony’s steady focus during a half-season-long free agency and trade whirlwind last year won him a lot of goodwill, as does the fact that he’s put millions of dollars into both Syracuse University and Baltimore. Based on talent alone, Anthony should probably be higher on this list, but wife LaLa and his lack of playoff success hold him back. Score: 68

10. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers: Griffin is still enjoying the “new-car smell” phase of his NBA fame. His audacious take-offs, explosive leaping and vicious finishing are so unique for a player his size that nobody much cares that he didn’t make the playoffs and still has a ways to go to fill out an all-around game. The centerpiece of All-Star Weekend in his very first visit, he’s got endorsements by the boatload and is arguably on the verge of over-exposure. He’s still a little stiff, but that seems to be fading. Once he gets a few playoff series wins under his belt, look for Griffin to be a perennial top-5 member on this list. Score: 71

9. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs: Duncan has been so good for so long -- and won so much -- that the respect factor afforded him is significant enough to make up for a bland, sometimes robotic, personality. Duncan can be subtly hilarious and occasionally sharp-tongued with the media. He is also unfailingly classy. Score: 72

8. LeBron James, Miami Heat: He should be No. 1 on every NBA list ever made given his otherworldly talent and global-marketinglebron-james-face-machine status, but James drops hard in terms of likeability due to his late-game failures in the 2011 NBA Finals, his out-of-touch comments towards fans following the Heat's eventual loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the self-unaware “Decision” and his overall child-star cockiness/obliviousness. Even given all of that, no one would be surprised if winning a title vaulted him to the top of this list next year. His talent is that absurd. Score: 74

7. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls: You might have heard: Rose is humble. The 2011 MVP has so much going for him: He’s won at an early age, he’s winning for his hometown team, he’s lived up to expectations, he’s taken responsibility for losses and shared credit for victories, he’s managed to be a scoring point guard without getting written off as “selfish,” and he kept a safe distance from all the free agency politicking that soured a lot of fans on many top-name players last summer. He continues to battle his “shy” public nature, which is the only thing holding him back from much, much greater fame. Score: 79

6. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets: Paul checks off virtually every box on the likeability list. He’s cutthroat on the court and cuddly off of it. He’s raised loads of money for Hurricane Katrina relief. He’s a devout man without being preachy. He comes across as a caring father and thoughtful citizen. He’s -- so far -- steered clear of hijacking his franchise by demanding a trade or threatening to walk in free agency. The touching story of his love for his deceased grandfather has become an indelible part of his identity. And he is team-first, always. There’s so much to like that you actually hope he finds a better situation, where he will be able to fill out his playoff reputation. Score: 81

5. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks: This is the top of the mountain for Nowitzki, both on and off the court. It simply doesn’t get any better than captaining a balanced team through a marathon playoff run that ended with the demolition of the league’s most hated team. The cherry on top is the fact that Nowitzki came through in the clutch time and again. He’s put an ugly past relationship totally behind him, moving forward with a new fiancé. His personality with the media is easy-going and honest. He plays with a childish love of the game and hits shots that make you marvel. It’s hard to imagine another seven-foot German man gaining this level of acceptance and respect in the United States. Ever. Also, he’s squashed the “soft” label that haunted him for years. Score: 84

4. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic: Howard has deftly positioned himself as the heir apparent to Shaquille O’Neal, one of the most likeable NBA stars in recent memory. His dominant two-way play serves as the basis for a superhero persona, and his active online presence and numerous endorsement deals make his zany personality inescapable. The fact that he hasn’t committed to the Magic and could be headed for a free agency bonanza could cost him points down the road, but right now he’s still the giant, lovable teddy bear who can swat shots back to half court. Score: 85

T-2. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat: It was a shocking scene when Wade joined James in mocking Nowitzki during the Finals for being sick: A very flat note for someone who has historically been pitch perfect. Throughout his career, Wade has been a Teflon Don, particularly charmed as a player and as an endorser. With a title under his belt and a megawatt smile, Wade has displayed a good sense of humor for years as a pitchman and also been a staple on NBA Cares commercials. Both James and Bosh lost points last summer for their decision to team up in Miami, but Wade came off as a big winner, the cool older-brother figure who pulled off the recruiting haul of a lifetime. Score: 87

kevin-durant-smile

T-2. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers: Colorado sure feels like a long, long time ago, doesn’t it? Bryant has made the most of the second half of his NBA career, winning rings by the fistful and growing his international popularity immensely. He’s played through pain, done things his way, taken a direct, often profane, tone with the media and become the closest thing to Jordan since Jordan. Age is slowly advancing, which has a way of humanizing people, and yet his ego and force of will push back equally hard, making it seem, at least for now, that his reign on top will last as long as he chooses. Right now, he’s the NBA’s most mythical figure. Score: 87

1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder: Surprised? You shouldn’t be. It’s virtually impossible to find fault with the NBA’s scoring champ. Durant combines Rose’s humble nature, Nowitzki’s impossible scoring touch, Griffin’s “new-car smell,” Howard’s technological accessibility and a Bryant-esque work ethic. He’s polite, he’s shown he has what it takes to win in the playoffs at a young age, he’s popular on an international stage already and the best is yet to come. He’s confident, but not cocky. He’s a gunner, but he comes off as unselfish. He’s team-first and loyal, much like Paul, and he’s locked in long-term so there’s no doubt or question about his future motives (at least not yet). Put it all together, and Durant is enjoying the ultimate honeymoon period with the NBA fans. We love potential, and Durant still has plenty of that. Also, he wears a backpack. Score: 88







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 4, 2011 12:05 pm
Edited on: July 5, 2011 9:37 am
 

Hard cap could mean hard times for small markets

Posted by Royce Young



NBA owners want a hard cap. It's probably one of the three biggest reasons we're stuck in a lockout right now. Owners want a hard cap, or at least one they're trying to disguise by calling it a "flex cap," and the union has basically said they will never, ever accept a hard cap.

And when the hard cap topic is brought up, people always wonder how a $55 million hard cap would affect a team like the Miami Heat. Between Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, those three soak up about $47 million on the Heat payroll. And that's just for 2011-12. In 2013-14, that number will be about $58 million, so even the suggested $62 million "flex cap" the league talked about would leave the Heat only $4 million to fill out their roster.

The super-together, we're-a-real-team Mavericks? Yeah, their total payroll added up to nearly $90 million last season, third highest in the league. That's about $30 million over the current salary cap but because it's a soft cap, it was fine. (Fine in the sense it didn't break any rules, but still, pretty outrageous.)

The feeling though with this hard-cap business is how much it'll affect teams like the Lakers, Heat, Bulls and Knicks. Now their greatest assets -- money and market -- don't mean as much because in a hard-cap system, signing multiple big contract stars just isn't an option. Victory for the small markets, right?

I'm not so sure about that.

I wonder about a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder, one of the smallest-market teams in the league. The feeling is that a hard cap would help smaller markets compete because talent would get distributed a bit more evenly throughout the league. With teams unable to pay a bunch of guys on the roster $15 million or go $30 million over the cap line, either players would have to take a serious pay cut or go somewhere else.

Except in the case of the Thunder, a straight hard cap would destroy them.

Kevin Durant just signed a five-year extension that will pay him around $16 million a year. Russell Westbrook, an All-Star point guard at the age of 22, is eligible for an extension and would probably have it if there weren't a lockout. He's probably a max player or close to it. So that would be another major mark on the cap for the Thunder. Then the other guys -- Serge Ibaka, James Harden, Eric Maynor -- are all eligible for extensions next summer.

If the league has a stiff cap of even $60 million, how can the Thunder dream of re-signing these guys and keeping the core intact?

Answer: They can't.

That has been Thunder GM Sam Presti's plan since Day 1, though. He wanted to draft a bunch of young guys and let them grow together. Let them progress, develop and become a team all together. And when they did, lock them all up long-term and have yourself a contender for the next decade. It has worked. The Thunder just went to the Western Conference finals with one of the youngest teams in the league and should be in the mix for at least the next five.

Unless of course they have to let a couple of their big pieces walk.

Last season the cap was set at $58.04 million and the Thunder were one of only five teams under that number. While a lot of smaller markets prefer not to bust into luxury tax territory, most likely OKC would be there after those key pieces were extended. So while they're under now, that probably wouldn't be the case in the future.

Reality is, a hard cap might have more of an affect on the little guys, which is who the league wants you to think it desperately wants to protect. But basically, with a hard salary cap system, building through the draft and letting a core grow together is no longer the way to go. Put together a roster with five good players that need extensions and you're out of room after three. Maybe you can get four, but how do you add another nine guys to fill out a 13-man roster?

What we might see is the Maverick Plan instituted as the way to win in the NBA. Now again, they totaled nearly $90 million, but I just mean the idea. Grab one star player and fill in the rest with a couple rookie-level contracts and a bunch of aging veterans willing to take $5 million or less. The Mavs had one star and everyone praised them for it. But in a hard-cap world, that might be best philosophy.

Because a team of Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka probably can't exist just as one of LeBron, Wade and Bosh can't. Doesn't exactly seem right, does it? The idea is a hard cap would help restore some competitive balance and the bigger markets wouldn't be able to just dwarf the small ones by going $30 million over the cap like the Mavericks did. The Thunder would never do that.

At the same time, while the playing field might be leveled in terms of payroll, it could come at the cost of breaking up the band and redefining how a small-market team must build.

Every team that's using the draft to build -- which is the sound and socially blessed way to structure a team -- would have to reconsider. The Cavaliers might've just committed 80 percent of their future cap to Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson if those two pan out. Same for the Jazz with Enes Kanter and Alec Burks. The future for those teams might be just enjoying the four years you get with them on their rookie contracts and then choose one to keep. I don't really think that's what the NBA has in mind, but that's going to be what happens. Small markets probably will take the brunt of a hard cap much harder than the big ones. Or at least the good small-market franchises that understand how to build.

Who knows what the NBA landscape will look like when the dust clears in this lockout mess. The players have taken a hard line on a hard cap and supposedly will refuse to back down. The owners though are committed in their efforts to get one. Yeah, it'll reduce salaries. Maybe the system will stay the same but just instead of Harden getting a $10 million-a-year extension, he would get $6 million. That's possible.

But this is the NBA and just because a new salary system is in place doesn't mean the league doesn't have impulsive general managers that are ready to snatch away a player like Harden and give him that $10 million a year simply because they know the Thunder can't go that high. That'll be the world teams operate in. One where the Thunder Way is no longer the blueprint for small-market building success.

Maybe the players have a point, huh?
Posted on: June 4, 2011 3:39 pm
Edited on: June 4, 2011 3:48 pm
 

Demps denies Westbrook for Paul rumor

Posted by Royce Young



The way the world turned on Russell Westbrook in the postseason was almost shocking. Actually, not "almost." It was completely, entirely stunning.

A player that during the regular season almost everyone agreed was maybe the real MVP of a 55-win division champion went from a blossoming superstar into a target that mediatypes zeroed in on. After the Thunder's exit in the Western Conference Finals to the Mavericks, there were actually debates and discussion that -- and I still can't believe this -- asked, "Should the Thunder trade Russell Westbrook?"

Yeah, trade a 22-year-old point guard that made the All-Star team and was named second-team All-NBA in his third season and is maybe just now starting to realize his potential. Yeah, trade the point guard that finished the season averaging 21.9 points and 8.2 assists per game with a PER of 23.6, which was eighth in the league and better than the MVP Derrick Rose. Yeah, trade the point guard that's part of Sam Presti's overall long-term plan that helped push one of the league's youngest rosters to the Western Finals, averaging 24 points, six assists and five rebounds a game.

Yeah, trade that guy.

Regardless, somehow a manufactured trade rumor surfaced that Westbrook for Chris Paul had potential. In reality, this deal was never anything more than pure speculation on the part of overreactive media members and emotional fans having a party with the Trade Machine, but it gained enough traction for Hornets general manager Dell Demps to address. Via the Times-Picayune:

“Sam Presti and I, our offices used to be right next to each other, so we still text each other all the time, and I can assure you that has not been a conversation we’ve had,” Demps said, reportedly while smiling as he talked.

And if you asked Sam Presti, he probably wouldn't even answer you about this fabricated rumor. (Actually knowing Sam Presti he'd be incredibly vague and say something like, "We always looking at options to improve and enhance our roster, but I'm not going to comment publicly about any discussions we've had with other teams. But Russell is definitely part of our long-term plans." Which is Presti saying, "No, you idiot.)

The fact this is even a story to the point Demps was asked about it is incredible. You can't slow down the monster that was created by people bashing Westbrook during the playoffs and it's gotten to the point where actual GMs are being quizzed. Oklahoma City isn't trading Russell Westbrook. He's almost assuredly getting an extension with the Thunder July -- likely for near the league maximum -- and is a key part of the Thunder's blueprint to build a winner.

Even if Kevin Durant is unhappy with his relationship with Westbrook, Presti isn't the type to overreact. These guys are young. They're growing together, experiencing things for the first time as a group. There were some tough moments in the playoffs. And if it came to Durant being ruffled about Westbrook, Presti isn't going to just give up right there. First, Westbrook's way, way too good and secondly, Presti understands these guys are young and still in a lot of ways, immature. There's a lot of time to move past any kind of chemistry hiccup.

Again, 22 years old. Twenty-two. Westbrook wants to be in OKC. The team wants him in OKC and its about to prove it by ponying up the dollars. Everyone loves a good swap and trade rumors are fun. But if the Hornets are looking to deal Paul for someone before he becomes a free agent in 2012, Demps need not call Presti. Because there's nothing to talk about.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com