Tag:Boris Diaw
Posted on: October 21, 2010 12:42 am

2010-2011 NBA Southeast Division Preview

2010-2011 NBA Southeast Division Preview

There is no tried and true formula to winning in the NBA.  Most people, my foolish self included, believe in the sanctity of building through the draft and through cost effective moves in free agency to build around those great players you drafted.  However, it’s becoming increasingly evident that the most successful formula, is to stack your team to the best of your abilities and then follow by adding in a bunch of older players willing to take a veterans salary to contribute to a championship team (or coattail their way to a championship, if you will).  There’s been no more glaring example of stacking your team than what happened in Miami this offseason.  The Heat stayed away from improving their team through free agency for most of the last two years, traded away players this offseason with the sole hope of free agency and then watched it all pay off as both LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami to form one of the most controversial rosters in NBA history.  Whether or not this pays off is yet to be determined.

Meanwhile, teams like Orlando and Atlanta, the division’s two best teams the past two seasons, went the traditional route of building on their success by focusing on player development and keeping the core intact.  Orlando, already possessing one of the best players in the league in all world center Dwight Howard, were exposed in the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston, and whispers of the team being soft were as loud as ever.  Meanwhile, those whispers against Orlando were shouts against Atlanta, as a second straight season ended in them being swept out of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  They’ve now dedicated a ton of money to a roster that many feel have already peaked, and this may be Atlanta’s last year to be seen as contenders in the East. 

Meanwhile, Washington drafted their hopeful superstar this past June in John Wall.  Lucking into the number one overall selection, Washington chose Wall and decided to ask questions later.  It’s still a mystery as to how Wall and Gilbert Arenas will play on the court together and Arenas’ insistence on not being seen as a distraction has already directly caused a distraction for the team.  And Charlotte, after buying big time to make the playoffs last year, got swept in their first postseason appearance in franchise history and kept the team together in hopes that they improve. 

So which method of management is best conducive to an NBA Championship?  We’ve seen both methods in the last few years, but the better bet is on Miami this year.  Ultimately, though, we’ll see come June which blueprint is truly the most successful.

1) Miami Heat
Incoming Players:
Dexter Pittman, Da’Sean Butler, Patrick Beverly, Chris Bosh, Eddie House, Juwan Howard, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, LeBron James, Mike Miller
Outgoing Players:
Quentin Richardson, Jermaine O’Neal, Michael Beasley, Dorell Wright, Yakhouba Diawara, Daequan Cook
Team Analysis:
Easily the most hyped team in recent NBA memory (including the 2008 Boston Celtics), the Heat enter this season as a captivating story, polarizing figures and, most of all, a pretty solid basketball team.  Although not your traditional eight deep, in sync roster that you’d come to expect from many of the league’s greatest, the Heat feature three of the best players in the league in their starting lineup and did so after a humongous free agent coup by Pat Riley this offseason.  When the team did everything from passing up on free agents, trading away draft picks and letting players walk in order to clear the cap space for this summer, it was pretty evident that team president Pat Riley had gone all in and was gambling the franchise’s future on this offseason alone.  But his gambles paid off when Dwyane Wade resigned, Chris Bosh came over in free agency and then two time defending NBA MVP LeBron James, in a not so subtle manner, announced he was taking his talents to South Beach as well.

What sets these guys apart from previous players who teamed up to take over the league is that all of these guys are in their prime.  From a historical standpoint, most fans were upset to see three players in their prime basically take the “easy route” and join up to win championships.  But from a basketball standpoint, it’s a bold move that should pay off for the Heat.  After trading away Michael Beasley in order to resign Udonis Haslem and add Mike Miller in free agency, the Heat had every who’s who of past-their-prime role players knocking on the door to try and get that elusive championship before retirement.  Former all stars Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Juwan Howard were among the first to join the team and will probably be among the team’s most important reserves in the frontcourt.  Take that for what it’s worth.

The rest of the roster isn’t shaping up as anything beautiful but, honestly, they don’t need to be incredibly deep.  The talent gap between the third best player on the team and the fourth best player on the team is humongous, and therein lies the question of how this team is really going to perform this season if an injury is to happen, if one of the players struggles in adapting to a limited role or if dare the other starters like Mario Chalmers or Joel Anthony to beat them.  At the end of the day, the Heat will rely heavily on Miller and Haslem to bolster the big three and, if they stay healthy and perform to their capabilities, it could be more than enough for the Heat to reign as champions.  But with players like Wade, Miller and Bosh all having a history with injuries, the room for error is really thin.  There’s no doubt that just as Pat Riley was this offseason, this Heat roster better be all in to win a championship this season, or else the critics will be as loud as ever.

2) Orlando Magic
Incoming Players:
Daniel Orton, Stanley Robinson, Malik Allen, Chris Duhon, Quentin Richardson
Outgoing Players:
Matt Barnes, Adonal Foyle, Anthony Johnson
Team Analysis:
Lost in some of the hoopla surrounding this offseason was the 2009 Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic.  After making the NBA Finals in 2009, the team was bounced from the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010 in convincing fashion by the Boston Celtics.  Although the team had strong performances from Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson, the rest of the team faltered as the Celtics closed out the Magic in six games.  Despite his strong performance, however, all of the criticism remained on Dwight Howard and his inability to will his team to victory.  Due to his frustration with the criticism, with teams playing him very physical and with consistently being in foul trouble during last year’s postseason, Howard is said to be a man on a mission this offseason, working with 2008 Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon on his still developing offensive repertoire and promising to cut down on the fan friendly, childish actions that most fans have associated him with.  If Howard is able to continue to progress offensively to already meet his fantastic defensive presence and capabilities, then the Magic could soon posses the most dominant player in the league.  But his development is key to how far Orlando goes this season.

Players like Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis struggled with consistency last season after huge years in 2009.  There’s no doubt that the team as a whole performed much better when Nelson played at a high level and struggled when he did, and his attempts to regain his early form of the 2009 season will be huge for Orlando if he’s to reach that level.  However, numerous offseason attempts to move Nelson to improve the roster probably don’t bode well for the team’s hope of him doing so.  Lewis on the other hand is finally being criticized for his ludicrous salary as his production, while never fully meeting his paycheck before, became a detriment to the team last season when his offensive numbers fell across the board.  A move back to his more natural Small Forward position would probably suit Lewis well, but the offense that Orlando runs gels better when Lewis is at the Power Forward spot shooting a high percentage from outside.  The team’s lineup, ultimate success and even fiscal future could depend a lot on how Lewis plays this year.

As far as the role players that surround the team’s most central figures, Quentin Richardson enters after Matt Barnes left to join the Lakers.  He can probably replace Barnes’ offensive production, but he will struggle to match Barnes’ importance on the defensive end.  Therefore, more will be asked of Mickael Pietrus this season in Orlando, and you have to wonder if he’ll be up to the task for a full season and postseason.  The team matched Chicago’s offer sheet for J.J. Redick, giving them three of the highest paid reserves in the league in Redick, Marcin Gortat and Brandon Bass.  Bass, who barely played at all last year, is more of a traditional PF and his strong postseason play may result in a more traditional lineup at times for Orlando.  But whether Stan Van Gundy commits to him or Ryan Anderson as the back-up PF depends on whether or not he wants to abandon the system the team has ran the past two seasons.  Whether or not the system they’ve ran has run its course is still to be seen, and will play a large factor into whether or not the team returns to the NBA Finals this season.

3) Washington Wizards
Incoming Players:
John Wall, Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Hamady N’diaye, Hilton Armstrong, Kirk Hinrich, Yi Jianlian

Outgoing Players:
Shaun Livingston, Mike Miller, Fabricio Oberto, Cartier Martin, James Singleton, Cedric Jackson, Quinton Ross, Randy Foye, Earl Boykins
Team Analysis:
Two years ago, Washington did very much the same thing that Atlanta did this offseason.  Even though the team had made the postseason four consecutive years, they had only one playoff victory in those four years to show for it and many felt the team had reached its peak.  Instead, the Wizards committed a combined 161 million dollars over 6 and 4 years, respectively, to franchise players Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison.  Arenas has played only 34 games in the two seasons since signing that contract while Jamison was traded to Cleveland at last season’s trade deadline in a moment where the Wizards decided to rebuild the roster.  Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood were all traded at last season’s deadline, but Arenas’ contract looks immovable, and the team will put him on the court again; at least for this season.  But after committed a huge chunk of cash to what many felt was an above average cast, the Wizards saw injuries and suspensions ruin the team’s reputation and overall winning percentage, as the Wizards have combined for 55 victories in the two seasons that followed that spending spree to keep the team intact.  And although 2009’s 19 win season was ugly, it hit rock bottom last year after Arenas was suspended for supposedly drawing a gun out towards a teammate in an argument over a card game in the team’s locker room.  What followed was a largely upsetting season where the team only won 26 games. 

But the team’s luck may eventually be turning around.  After the death of owner Abe Polin last year, the team was successfully sold to Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, they scored the number one overall pick in the draft and used it on Kentucky point guard John Wall, and had impressive second half performances from big men Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee after the trade deadline, giving the team a semblance of hope this upcoming season.  In John Wall, the Wizards immediately have a new face of the franchise and cornerstone player around whom the team plans to build.  Wall won almost every collegiate award in his freshman season at Kentucky and hopes to follow in Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans’ shoes as point guards under former college coach John Calipari who went on to win the Rookie of the Year award.  Rose and Evans have won the last two respectively.  That would be a welcome change of pace for Washington, who are trying to reunite with their fan base and shake the problems that hurt the team on and off the court the last two seasons. 

Gilbert Arenas has already caused problems.  Most media outlets are talking about his stern expressions, reluctance to give interviews and unwillingness to show any emotion as an act more so than a turning of the leaf, and he’s already been fined by the league for faking an injury to allow guard Nick Young more playing time this preseason.  How he reacts to this year plays a large role in how the team ultimately does.  Blatche performed very well as the go to guy in the second half of last season and McGee had an impressive showing at this year’s summer league and followed it up by being one of the final players cut from the final roster for the USA’s World Championship team.  If those two players team up with Wall to show a consistent production this year, then the Wizards, at the very least, will have something to build around for the future.  They could be one of the surprise teams in the league this year.  But a lot of that depends on whether or not Gilbert Arenas buys into the system, and also whether or not he can regain some of the magic he showed on the court prior to his first knee injury late in the 2008 season.

4) Atlanta Hawks
Incoming Players:
Jordan Crawford, Pape Sy, Josh Powell, Etan Thomas
Outgoing Players:
Randolph Morris, Mario West, Joe Smith,
Team Analysis:
For eight straight seasons, the Atlanta Hawks were a dependable team in terms of NBA Futility.  They routinely finished among the worst teams in the league, underwent numerous head coaching and regime changes and couldn’t convince any star player to capitalize on their infinite cap space.  Joe Johnson changed all that when he left for Atlanta in the middle of that run in 2005, and by his third season with the team, Atlanta had returned to the NBA playoffs and pushed the eventual champion Boston Celtics to seven games in the first round in 2008.  Two Eastern Conference Semifinals appearances followed, but both were convincing sweeps at the hands of Cleveland and Orlando.  Instead of figuring that the roster had reached its peak with those two consecutive embarrassing exits, the Hawks instead figured it to be head coach Mike Woodson, who oversaw a gradual improvement with the Hawks from 13 wins in his first season in 2004 to the 53 wins the team achieved last season.  Stepping into his place will be longtime assistant coach Larry Drew, who wants to run a more motion based offense instead of the isolation game that Woodson preferred.  Fully believing that it was Woodson, and not the roster, that had held the Hawks back, Atlanta committed six years and 129 million dollars to Joe Johnson this offseason in hopes that he can continue to lead the Hawks as they try and improve upon their past success.  Whether or not that contract eventually spells an early fall from grace or an eventual rise to glory is largely debatable. 

But Johnson’s not the only important player on the team.  The Hawks still have hope that Josh Smith, coming off a very impressive season last year, will continue his ascension among the most exciting players in the league.  Graced with natural athleticism and starting to finally develop a better feel for the game, Smith had his best year last year with new head coach Drew working directly with him.  His development could mean wonders for Atlanta.  The team does have two more contract situations to work out.  Reigning sixth man of the year Jamaal Crawford is asking for an extension as is All Star center Al Horford.  As of yet, neither have reached deals and Crawford has asked to be traded if he doesn’t reach an extension with the team.  With rookie Jordan Crawford capable of playing a similar role, there’s a good chance that Jamaal doesn’t finish the year with the team.  But we’ll see with how those contracts are worked whether or not the Hawks are truly committed to keeping this team intact.  And we’ll see in due time if that was the correct decision to make. 

5) Charlotte Bobcats
Incoming Players:
Sherron Collins, Kwame Brown, Matt Carroll, Shaun Livingston, Dominic McGuire, Eduardo Najera
Outgoing Players:
Raymond Felton, Theo Ratliff, Tyson Chandler, Larry Hughes, Stephen Graham, Alexis Ajinca
Team Analysis:
Ever since head coach Larry Brown came to Charlotte in 2008, the team has seen a plethora of bold moves made by team president and eventual team owner Michael Jordan in an attempt to remove Charlotte from the sea of mediocrity it had been in for the majority of its existence.  Those bold moves finally resulted in a playoff appearance last season, although the Bobcats were quickly swept by Orlando in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.  But because of the major moves Charlotte made to become winners: namely taking on the contracts of big men DeSagana Diop and Nazr Mohammed, and also taking on the contracts of productive wing players Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson, the Bobcats reverted back to seller mode this offseason.  Since Brown came to the team in 2008, only Gerald Wallace remains from the team that Brown inherited, and the team has made so many moves that it reacquired Matt Carroll, a player the team traded in 2009, in an offseason trade that rid themselves of Tyson Chandler’s big salary.  Therefore, it could be said that the Bobcats won’t be afraid to wheel and deal again this season, although early indications would be that the team will be more in seller mode this season.

True to that, the team let Raymond Felton walk in free agency and the biggest question surrounding the Bobcats is who will play the point guard position.  2008 first round draft pick D.J. Augustin looks to be the early favorite, although he’s been pushed by former lottery pick Shaun Livingston for the job.  Neither are Earth shattering candidates to run the point, so we may see a lot of the offense being run through Stephen Jackson.  It’s fair to call Wallace the best player on the Bobcats team, but it’s no coincidence that Jackson’s midseason acquisition coincided with a run that got the team to its first ever playoff appearance.  More may be asked of Jackson this year, who saw his numbers dip a little bit last year after leaving Golden State’s offense.  He and Wallace are easily the team’s best players, and Wallace is still the face of the franchise, having remained with the team since its inception in 2004. 

The Bobcats downgraded the team in terms of talent when they traded disappointing center Tyson Chandler to Dallas for Erick Dampier’s non guaranteed contract and mainly hustle players in Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera.  Najera has been a fan favorite wherever he’s gone, but his skill set is better suited for a more talented team.  Carroll had his best years in Charlotte, and may assume a bigger role with the team this season than he had while in Dallas.  Dampier was quickly cut, leaving the center position about as uninspiring as the team’s outlook at point guard, with Diop and Mohammed being the early options at that position.  The Bobcats are a tough team to get a grip on, as they should be looked at as a team on the rise given their first postseason appearance in franchise history occurred last season, but the team is largely made up of veterans, and not all of those veterans are in the peak of their careers anymore.  In fact, it’s arguable that Wallace is the only one still in his peak.  So while the Bobcats built something last year, it’s hard to envision them building on that this season.

Posted on: May 28, 2010 12:13 pm

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 1

I figured since I didn't do a playoff preview this season for each team as I did last year, I'll do a fun little countdown to this year's draft, since that's where my team is going to be instead of the postseason.  Mercifully, for some of you, this countdown is almost over.  It's been a blast typing them up and it was fun looking at some of the way teams have fared in the draft and how well some players have panned out, regardless of where they were selected.  We've covered a lot of ground the last decade.  From the high schoolers taken abound in 2001 and 2004, to the new one and done rule in 2006, to the amount of foreign players taken in 2002, to the University of North Carolina setting a record with 4 players taken in the lottery in 2005, to now.  Overall, this draft class has drawn comparisons to legendary classes of 1984 and 1996.  It's changed the courses of franchises, may have put handcuffs on another's chance at a dynasty, and features players who will be at the top of the list when it comes to free agency this summer (since that's what everyone wants to talk about).  But here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the number one draft on our countdown of the top ten drafts the last years.  Coming in at number one is none other than the 2003 NBA Draft.

Top Ten Drafts of the Last Ten Years
#10: 2000 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/

#9: 2007 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/

#8: 2006 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/

#7: 2001 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/

#6: 2002 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/

#5: 2009 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/

#4: 2008 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/

#3: 2004 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/

#2: 2005 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/

#1: 2003 NBA Draft:

Round One:
1) Cleveland Cavaliers - LeBron James, SF, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School
2) Detroit Pistons - Darko Milicic, C, Serbia and Montenegro
3) Denver Nuggets - Carmelo Anthony, SF, Syracuse
4) Toronto Raptors - Chris Bosh, PF, Georgia Tech
5) Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade, SG, Marquette
6) Los Angeles Clippers - Chris Kaman, C, Central Michigan
7) Chicago Bulls - Kirk Hinrich, PG, Kansas
8) Milwaukee Bucks - T.J. Ford, PG, Texas
9) New York Knicks - Michael Sweetney, PF, Georgetown
10) Washington Wizards - Jarvis Hayes, SF, Georgia

Obviously, this top ten features a couple of franchise players, four olympic gold medalists, two NBA MVPs, one NBA Championship, one NBA Finals MVP, a ton of all star appearances; so on and so forth.  Cleveland's relevance in the NBA was changed forever when they got the number one pick and took it on heavily heralded star LeBron James.  Going to school at nearby St. Vincent-St. Mary, LeBron entered the league with a plethora of expectations and it was unknown how we would handle the fame and responsibilities, given that he was fresh out of high school.  But LeBron immediately took the league by storm.  He's won two NBA MVPs and led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in only his fourth year in the league.  He's not been able to return the team to the finals since then and has drawn criticism for that, but there's no denying that LeBron is already the best player in the game, and that Cleveland one hundred percent made the right decision.  And then Darko; Darko Milicic.  Just his name along makes blood ooze out of the ears of the citizens of the state of Michigan.  Darko was just as highly heralded a prospect as LeBron, seen as a big, talented player that was only 18, but could already run the floor, block shots, score from inside and outside and could play solid defense.  However, Darko never got on the court in Detroit and their passing on the next three players on this list probably halted what, at the time, was two straight NBA Finals appearances and one NBA Championship.  Denver was equally irrelevant at the time of the 2003 draft, and when they took Carmelo Anthony, the reigning NCAA Tournament MVP, they made the playoffs for the first time in ten years.  Denver is now a regular in the playoffs, having made it all seven of Carmelo's seasons in the league, and even made the Conference Finals in 2009.  Carmelo is still progressing as a player, and is already one of the best offensive talents the league has.  Toronto seemed to have reached for Bosh, who was considered a raw prospect out of Georgia Tech.  However, he showed flashes his rookie season and by the time Vince Carter was traded by Toronto during that rookie season, Bosh became the face of the franchise in Toronto.  He's emerged into a 20 point, 10 rebound threat every night and was a member of the 2008 USA Olympic Team that won the Gold Medal.  Another plalyer on that team, jonining LeBron, Bosh and 'Melo, was Dwyane Wade.  An NCAA Tournament darling, who led Marquette to the Final Four, Dwyane Wade was seen as a hybrid without a true position in the league and who may struggle with his jump shot in the pros.  But Wade entered the league and led the Heat to the playoffs his rookie season, and then led them to the Conference Semifinals.  After acquiring Shaquille O'Neal following his rookie season, Dwyane Wade would eventually lead the Heat to the 2006 NBA Championship and be named the 2006 Finals MVP.  Kaman was another who made a name for himself during the tournament, but has made the most out of his time in the league.  One of those rare "long term Clippers" players, Kaman's been with the franchise for his entire career.  He manned down the center position for the team's 2006 Conference Semifinals run and has been named an NBA All Star over his career.  Kirk Hinrich was drafted just one year removed from the Chicago Bulls drafting point guard Jay Williams.  After Williams motorcycle crash, it was entirely evident that he would not be playing, at least for the near future, and Hinrich was Chicago's pick.  Hinrich showed a defensive toughness and an outside stroke that endeared himself to the Chicago fans, and he showed a tendency to step up his game in the postseason.  He's regressed offensively the last three seasons, inexplicably, but is still a favorite among some Chicago circles and is still a starter on the Bulls team.  T.J. Ford was the reigning Naismith Player of the Year when Milwaukee traded up to get him to play point guard.  It took him awhile to adapt to the NBA game, and some freakish neck injuries halted that progress, but Ford eventually became a starter on some playoff teams in Milwaukee and Toronto.  He's regressed some due to injuries the past few seasons, so it's unsure how effective his career will be going forward.  Michael Sweetney was immediately just a bad pick.  He struggled with his weight right away and consistently came into camp in bad shape.  He played two years in New York and two years in Chicago before being out of the league by 2007.  Hayes, meanwhile, has managed to become a solid, steady rotation player for the duration of his career and, while not overly productive, he has been productive for the duration of his seven years in the league. 

11) Golden State Warriors - Mickael Pietrus, SF, France
12) Seattle Supersonics - Nick Collison, PF, Kansas
13) Memphis Grizzlies - Marcus Banks, PG, UNLV (traded to the Celtics)
14) Seattle Supersonics - Luke Ridnour, PG, Oregon
15) Orlando Magic - Reece Gaines, SG, Louisville
16) Boston Celtics - Troy Bell, PG, Boston College (traded to the Grizzlies)
17) Phoenix Suns - Zarko Cabarkapa, PF, Serbia and Montenegro
18) New Orleans Hornets - David West, PF, Xavier
19) Utah Jazz - Sasha Pavlovic, SG, Serbia and Montenegro
20) Boston Celtics - Dahntay Jones, SG, Duke (traded to the Grizzlies)

At this point, the draft takes a pretty big step backwards, although that had to be expected with the sheer awesomeness and insanity of the top five.  Pietrus has actually become a very good player in the league, starring on some Golden State and Orlando teams that made nice postseason runs.  He's managed to become a defensive and three point specialist in the NBA, carving out a nice career for himself.  Collison has created a nice career of his own for the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder.  He missed his entire rookie season due to injury, but was part of an exciting 2005 postseason run for Seattle.  He's managed to stay in the rotation for his entire career.  The best player out of the Grizzlies and Celtics draft night trade out of the top 20 happened to be Dahntay Jones.  Marcus Banks was seen as a potentially explosive scorer out of college, but he's struggled to get off the bench in the league.  He's still a member of Toronto's roster, but has played in only 345 games in seven seasons.  Troy Bell equally struggled in the league, not having a true, defined position and he was out of the league by 2007.  He was fantastic at Boston College, though.  Meanwhile, Jones equally struggled for a few seasons but made a name for himself during the 2009 Conference Finals run by the Denver Nuggets as a defensive specialist and was given a long term contract by Indiana this past offseason.  Contrary to Banks and Bell, Ridnour was a classical point guard in ever sense of the word.  He, too, was part of that exciting 2005 Conference Semifinals Seattle Supersonics team.  Ridnour has managed to either start or be the first guard off the bench for his entire career and is still producing, now in Milwaukee.  Reece Gaines struggled right away in Orlando and couldn't get on the court in Houston or Milwaukee either, and was out of the league by 2006.  Cabarkapa suffered a back injury his rookie season.  For that reason, coupled with ineffectiveness when on the court, he only made it one season with Phoenix before being traded to Golden State.  He didn't last there, either, and was out of the league by 2006.  David West was a true diamond in the rough, a four year colleigate senior who had a very nice career at Xavier but fell due to questions about his ability to be tough enough to play the power forward position.  West has turned in an all star career for New Orleans and has managed to stay with the team for his entire career thus far.  In the process, since I always rib other fan bases for their love for certain players, he's managed to become the object of my CBSSportsline man crush affection.  Pavlovic had a nice stay in Cleveland after being traded there from Utah.  He started on the team that went to the 2007 NBA Finals and was a nice outside shooter that could help spread the floor.  He's tailed off since then, but is still on Minnesota's roster as of right now. 

21) Atlanta Hawks - Boris Diaw, PF, France
22) New Jersey Nets - Zoran Planinic, SG, Croatia
23) Portland Trail Blazers - Travis Outlaw, SF, Starkville High School
24) Los Angeles Lakers - Brian Cook, PF, Illinois
25) Detroit Pistons - Carlos Delfino, SG, Argentina
26) Minnesota Timberwolves - Ndudi Ebi, SF, Westbury Christian High School
27) Memphis Grizzlies - Kendrick Perkins, C, Ozen High School (traded to the Celtics)
28) San Antonio Spurs - Leandro Barbosa, SG, Brazil (traded to the Suns)
29) Dallas Mavericks - Josh Howard, SF, Wake Forest

The bottom half of the draft actually produced quite a few signifcant role players in the NBA today.  Diaw, depending on who you talk to, can either be one of the most versatile and talented forwards in the game, or can be a passive bum who shoots too many jump shots.  But his ability to play multiple positions on offense and his skill set make him one of the most versatile players in the league.  Planinic never did adapt to the NBA game.  He struggled mightily on the court, except for a 77 foot buzzer beater during a 2006 game against the Utah Jazz in 2006 (youtube it).  However, he was out of the league by 2006 as you have to be able to score consistently closer to the basket.  Outlaw took a long time to get going in Portland, but really burst onto the scene last season.  Injuries limited his effectiveness this season and he's now playing for the Clippers.  Brian Cook was the object of much scorn during his time with the Lakers.  He was a big man who loved to shoot from outside, and that's all he did (in addition to getting hurt).  He fell out of the Lakers rotation and was traded to Orlando in the trade that got them Trevor Ariza.  Delfino has managed to become a solid, if unspectacular, rotation player for his entire career.  He just had the best year of his career this season with the Milwaukee Bucks.  Minnesota took a chance on Ebi fresh out of high school, and almost immediately regretted it.  They actually begged the league to let them send him to the NBDL, but at the time the league would only accept players who had been on an NBA roster for at least three seasons.  Ebi never saw a third season in the league, as he was done by 2005.  Perkins took a long time to get acclimated in Boston, but has eventually become a defensive stalwart and a staple in Boston's starting line up.  He was the team's starting center when they won the 2008 NBA Championship.  Barbosa burst onto the scene with his quickness and explosive scoring ability in his rookie season in Phoenix.  After the Suns signed Steve Nash in 2004, Barbosa went to the bench where he excelled in that role.  He won the 2007 Sixth Man award and has played his entire career with Phoenix.  Josh Howard was another four year colleigate senior who didn't blow people away, but immediately contributed for Dallas.  He became one of the best young players in the game by 2006, where he was a starter on a Dallas team that went to the NBA Finals.  However, injuries, inconsistencies and maturity issues have derailed his production.  His future productivity in the NBA is largely uncertain.

Round Two Notables:
31) Cleveland Cavaliers - Jason Kapono, SF, UCLA
32) Los Angeles Lakers - Luke Walton, SF, Arizona
38) Washington Wizards - Steve Blake, PG Maryland
41) Seattle Supersonics - Willie Green, SG, Detroit Mercy (traded to the 76ers)
42) Orlando Magic - Zaza Pachulia, C, Georgia
43) Milwaukee Bucks - Keith Bogans, SG, Kentucky (traded to the Magic)
45) Chicago Bulls - Matt Bonner, PF, Georgia Tech (traded to the Raptors)
47) Utah Jazz - Mo Williams, PG, Alabama
49) Indiana Pacers - James Jones, SF, Miami (FL)
51) New Jersey Nets - Kyle Korver, SG, Creighton (traded to the 76ers)

A solid group of guys selected here in the second round as well.  Kapono has won three three point shootouts in his career but hasn't yet become a steady rotation player in the league, even with his beautiful jump shot.  Luke Walton has been in and out of Los Angeles' starting line up for the duration of his career, but is a player with a ton of intangibles who has managed to stay a steady part of the Lakers team.  Blake was a local product when the Wizards took him at the 38th pick.  A true point guard, Blake has managed to stay in rotations for his entire career; first with Washington and now with Portland.  Willie Green eventually became the starting shooting guard in Philadelphia and is still one of the most productive players on the team.  Zaza Pachulia is from the country Georgia (not the state), but eventually made a name for himself as a productive bench player for the Atlanta Hawks.  Keith Bogans hasn't really stuck in any rotation anywhere he's gone, but he's managed, with his defense, to stay in the league thus far and even started a majority of his games this season with the San Antonio Spurs.  Speaking of the Spurs, Matt Bonner, the three point shooting specialist, became a fan favorite in both Toronto and San Antonio, and is still a productive player for the Spurs today.  Mo Williams only lasted one year in Utah before going to Milwaukee, where he signed a big contract after some very good seasons.  However, in 2008, he was traded to Cleveland where he became an all star point guard and part of some successful regular season teams for the Cavaliers.  James Jones is another three point shooter and scorer who has managed to stay a steady rotation player for both Indiana and Miami.  Korver, meanwhile, immediately made an impact his rookie season in Philadelphia with his terrific three point shot, but is now a regular and a fan favorite with the Utah Jazz.

Notable Undrafted Players:
Marquis Daniels, SG, Auburn - Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
Quinton Ross, SF, SMU - Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2004
James Singleton, PF, Murray State - Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2005

Marquis Daniels had an absolutely terrific rookie season in Dallas and was rewarded with a long term, six year deal.  However, he's struggled with consistency and injuries since then and didn't get off the bench this season in Boston due to the same problems.  His future productivity in the league is uncertain.  Quintin Ross was signed by the Clippers and became a starter for the team during its 2006 Conference Semifinals run.  Effective for his terrific on ball defense, he's currently playing with the Washington Wizards.  Singleton hasn't really done much in his career, but has managed to stay on the rosters of NBA Teams since he came into the league and is also currently with the Washington Wizards.

2003-2004 NBA Rookie of the Year: LeBron James
All Stars from the 2003 NBA Draft: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Chris Kaman, David West, Josh Howard, Mo Williams

2003-2004 NBA All-Rookie First Team:
Carmelo Anthony
LeBron James
Dwyane Wade
Chris Bosh
Kirk Hinrich

2003-2004 NBA All-Rookie Second Team:
Josh Howard
T.J. Ford
Udonis Haslem (who went undrafted in 2002 before signing with the Miami Heat in 2003)
Jarvis Hayes
Marquis Daniels

Posted on: December 2, 2009 5:38 pm
Edited on: December 3, 2009 6:52 pm

Worst Teams In The NBA Of The Last Decade

0-17.  That's right; 17 straight losses to begin an NBA Season.  The New Jersey Nets have done the unthinkable and joined an elite list in the NBA's illustrious history.  Three franchises, only three in the entire history of the NBA, have started off a season with 17 straight losses.  No team has lost 18 straight.  While the Nets record indicates they'd be among the worst this decade, it's hard to see where they fall with teams of the past few years.  So I thought it'd be fun to do a little research and come up with my own list of the ten worst NBA teams of the last decade.  Beginning in the 2000-2001 season and concluding last season (which technically only  makes it 9 seasons), all teams were candidates for this list.  The ten that made it had problems with youth, problems with injuries, problems with coaching, problems with talent, problems with attendance and, obviously, problems with winning.  So without further adieu, here's the Ten Worst NBA Teams of the Last Decade.

10. 2006/2007 Boston Celtics (24-58) and the 2007/2008 Minnesota Timberwolves (22-60)
Head Coaches - Boston Celtics: Doc Rivers.  Minnesota Timberwolves: Randy Wittman
Leading Scorers - Boston Celtics: Paul Pierce .  Minnesota Timberwolves: Al Jefferson
Years In Review  - The reason I group these teams together is because at least a handful of players found themselves on both squads as a result of the Kevin Garnett trade.  After injuries to Paul Pierce, Tony Allen and company in 2007, frustration fully showed its face in the Boston Garden.  After finishing the season with a 24-58 record in 2007 and then missing out on the top pick, which would have londed Boston Greg Oden , the Celtics traded five of their players in order to obtain one from Minnesota: franchise player Kevin Garnett.  The players included in that deal (Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes , Sebastian Telfair , Gerald Green and Theo Ratliff ) would go to Minnesota and carry the same amount of inconsistency and agonizing defeat to Minnesota.  Jefferson and Gomes are clearly good players, but they're not capable of taking a team and leading it to any kind of respectability.  And since more than a handful of players carried the same amount of problems into Minnesota in 2007 that they had developed in Boston, these two teams will forever be joined in terms of NBA ineptitude since the turn of the century.

9. 2008/2009 Washington Wizards (19-63)
Head Coaches - Eddie Jordan (1-10) and Ed Tapscott (18-53)
Leading Scorer - Antawn Jamison
Year in Review - After investing over 100 million dollars to retain star point guard Gilbert Arenas , the Wizards, who were coming off of a 43 win season the year before. looked, at the best, destined to be regulars in the Eastern Conference Playoffs each season.  An impressive trio of Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler were supposed to lead the Wizards to success in the Eastern Conference, even though the team had shown no such promise before investing that much money to Jamison and Arenas.  Only a few months after handing Arenas that six year contract, the Wizards received word he would be undergoing another knee surgery and would miss, basically, the entire season.  Arenas played two games and another of the big three, Caron Butler, also struggled to stay healthy; missing 15 games during the season.  Additionally, starting center Brendan Haywood was only available for 6 games that season and things looked bad all season for the Wizards.  Having to rely on very raw big men (Andray Blatche , JaVale McGee and Dominic McQuire), very young guards (Nick Young and Javaris Crittenton ) and career journeymen (Darius Songaila , Mike James and Juan Dixon), it's no surprise that the Wizards stumbled their way to an ugly 19 win season.  They had the talent of a playoff team, but when you lose your best players, you see just how bad things can get.  The Wizards were exhibit A of a top heavy team.

8. 2000/2001 Washington Wizards (19-63)
Head Coaches - Leonard Hamilton
Leading Scorer - Richard Hamilton
Year in Review - In the late 90s, the Wizards were a team with a lot of money invested in a few players but were getting few in return in terms of the win/loss column.  After only one playoff appearance (in 1996/97), the Wizards looked ready to shake things up.  For a few seasons they were an old, mediocre team.  In 2000/2001, they became a team that imploded.  Rod Strickland, Mitch Richmond and Juwan Howard all began the year as a big three for Washington, but Strickland and Howard ended the year in different locations.  The team was led by a head coach, Hamilton, who was a personal hire for then head of basketball operations Michael Jordan.  Hamilton could barely control the roster, famously being cussed out by Tyrone Nesby when Hamilton took Nesby out of the game.  The Wizards were an ugly display of basketball on the court all season long and, the very next  year, Michael Jordan would take off the sport coat and put on the cape.  When the consecutive 37 win seasons that followed were considered a success, it shows how bad things had gotten in Washington; concluding with this 2000/2001 team.

7. 2005/2006 New York Knicks (23-59)
Head Coach - Larry Brown
Leading Scorer - Stephon Marbury
Year in Review - Trying desperately to recapture respectability, the Knicks handed Isiah Thomas the keys to the franchise in 2008.  He followed that up by making a plethora of moves to bring in all kinds of new players in an attempt to shake up the New York franchise.  While it initially ended in a playoff appearance for the Knicks in 2004, the Knicks quickly looked like a makeshift team thrown together in an attempt at a quick fix with no real plans for the future.  Isiah then pulled out the ace of spades and hired the coach who would take the Knicks back to respectability: Larry Brown.  With Brown at the helm, pundits and fans alike immediately predicted big improvements for a Knicks franchise that looked very discombobulated the year before.  What ensued was an insanely ugly season in the city that never sleeps.  Brown immediately clashed with Stephon Marbury and the Knicks actually regressed, losing eleven more games than they had the previous year.  Brown bashed the team publicly, looked very uninterested as the season wore on and would eventually be fired in the offseason.  With insane money being given to a recently retired Alan Houston (20 million), Stephon Marbury (17 million), Jalen Rose (16 million), Steve Francis (14 million), Maurice Taylor (9 million),  Eddy Curry (8 million), Quentin Richardson (7 million), Jerome James (5 million), Jamaal Crawford (7 million), and Malike Rose (7 million), the Knicks were officially a severely bad NBA team that was spending an insanely bad amount of money. 

6. 2007/2008 Miami Heat (15-67)
Head Coach - Pat Riley
Leading Scorer - Dwyane Wade
Year In Review - When your leading scorer for the season only plays 51 games, things are more than likely going to be tough for your franchise.  The fact that this team was only two years removed from an NBA championship made things incredibly worse.  Entering the season with the duo of Wade and Shaquille O'Neal still on the roster, few could have predicted the futility and agony that would be bestowed upon Miami Heat fans the next season.  With starters Udonis Haslem , Jason Williams , Wade and O'Neal missing a major amount of time early in the season, the Heat were immediately far behind schedule in terms of success.  To make matters worse, because big things were anticipated for the Heat that season, they were regulars on national television and fans were forced to watch the putrid display of basketball put on by the squad.  Even when the Heat traded O'Neal for Shawn Marion , a player who had stayed relatively healthy his entire career, even if caught the injury bug and missed a majority of his time with the Heat.  At the end of the year, only Ricky Davis played in all 82 games for Miami.  But with Davis, Mark Blount , Daequan Cook and Chris Quinn becoming regulars in Miami's rotation, the losses piled up.  Mercifully, Wade would be healthy the next season and Miami would make the playoffs.  But that season remains a painful one to observe for NBA fans alike.

5. 2000/2001 Golden State Warriors (17-65)
Head Coach - Dave Cowens
Leading Scorer - Antawn Jamison
Year in Review - Entering the year with really past their prime players like Mookie Blaylock and John Starks still on the roster, Golden State was quickly becoming a regular among the bottom of the NBA.  Things would peak, though, in the 2000/2001 season for the Warriors in terms of futility.  Antawn Jamison was still a young player, currently in his third season, but the rest of the team around him was not producing at all.  Midseason trades for Larry Hughes and Bob Sura were made with intentions fo building for the future, but things were really bad all season long.  With Blaylock, Adam Keefe, Erick Dampier , Adonal Foyle , Chris Porter and Vonteego Cummings **** becoming regulars in the Golden State rotation, things were tough for the fans in the Oracle.  Things would eventually get bright in Golden State for a couple of seasons, but unfortunately for one of the better fan bases in the NBA, things are tough again in San Francisco.

4. 2002/2003 Denver Nuggets (17-65)
Head Coach - Jeff Bzdelik
Leading Scorer - Juwan Howard
Year in Review - Similar to the situation above, the Nuggets were a consistently mediocre NBA franchise by the time the 2002/2003 season came along.  Similar to the situation above, things peaked in a negative way in 2003 when the Denver Nuggets only won 17 games.  After a trade in the offseason for Marcus Camby and rookie Nene Hilario, the Nuggets were expected to make more of a push towards respectability than had previously been experienced in Denver.  However, injuries to Camby quickly followed and the Nuggets became a really bad team really fast.  Players like Mark Bryant, Junior Harrington, Ryan Bowen, Rodney White, Donnell Harvey, Nikoloz Tskitishvilli and Vincent Yarbrouugh (I had to look that up) were receing heavy minutes in Denver's rotation.  Top to bottom, this is a tough looking roster that really could not score (84.2 PPG).  Carmelo Anthony would follow, however, and the Nuggets luck would change just one season later.

3. 2004/2005 New Orleans Hornets (18-64)
Head Coach - Byron Scott
Leading Scorer - Lee Nailon
Year in Review - Going into the 2004 season, the Hornets had been a regular in the NBA postseason.  Although they were entering the Western Conference, they had been to the finals 7 of their previous 8 years.  However, it was becoming increasingly evident that the team as constructed was not going to win a championship.  For Hornets fans, the incredibly bad 2004/2005 season began.  With new head coach Byron Scott and general manager Jeff Bower leading the way, the Hornets underwent an incredibly swift rebuilding process and shed contracts of Baron Davis , David Wesley, Darrell Armstrong and Jamal Mashburn along the season.  The Hornets other all star player, Jamaal Magloire , was only available for 26 games.  As a result of all the trades, the team was regularly led by Lee Nailon, Bostjan Nachbar, Dan Dickau, Casey Jacobsen, Chris Andersen , Jackson Vroman, Maciej Lampe and a rookie J.R. Smith .  Not surprisingly, wins weren't regular in the Crescent City.  P.J. Brown was the only Hornet to play in all 82 games and the Hornets consistently played in front of some of the smallest crowds in recent memory.  In the offseason, Hurricane Katrina would hit New Orleans and things could have gotten much worse for the franchise.  But they drafted Chris Paul , got David West healthy and made a quick turnaround to respectability. 

2. 2004/2005 Atlanta Hawks (13-69)
Head Coach - Mike Woodson
Leading Scorer - Al Harrington
Year in Review - The Hawks were regulars at the bottom of the league every year at the beginning of the decade.  It was a slow, painful process and things looked bleak for many years in Atlanta.  After hiring new coach Mike Woodson, drafting Josh Childress and Josh Smith , and trading for Al Harrington, the Hawks were now looking for plan A, B, C, D or E at the time to try and turn things around.  It didn't work.  Harrington responded with career highs in scoring and rebounding, but the team was completely bad, losing games by an average of 10 PPG.  The Hawks would acquire Tyronn Lue during the season and subtract Jon Barry, Kevin Willis and Kenny Anderson during the year but the defeats remained.  In the offseason, the Hawks would acquire Joe Johnson for Boris Diaw and would start the process to becoming the much better team that they are now.  But for those few years, and especially this season, the Hawks were regulars among the worst teams in the NBA.

1. 2002/2003 Cleveland Cavaliers (17-65)
Head Coach - John Lucas (8-34), Keith Smart (9-31)
Leading Scorer - Ricky Davis
Year in Review - As is regular in this countdown, Cleveland was a consistently bad franchise for a number of years entering the 2002/2003 NBA season.  Things weren't promising at all entering the 2002 season for the Cavs, but they did get worse really fast in Cleveland.  With Davis and Zydrunas Ilgauskas leading the way, the Cavaliers consistently turned the ball over, got blown out, played horrid defense and played in front of some horribly empty crowds at the Gund Arena.  No transactions were really made throughout the season, no real rebuilding moves were made, a coaching change happened but the same team produced the same bad results all season long.  Rookie Dajuan Wagner showed some promise but only played in 47 games.  Meanwhile, rookie Carlos Boozer , Jumaine Jones, Darius Miles, Smush Parker, Chris Mihm and Milt Polacio got heavy minutes in Cleveland and none of them were capable of changing pace.  The season was awfully bad but was quickly forgotten when Cleveland landed the number one pick and drafted LeBron James in the offseason.  But that season was a horrible one to watch for Cleveland fans and one that's only forgotten because of the talent of James. 

Posted on: September 29, 2009 2:19 pm
Edited on: May 3, 2010 2:45 am

NBA 2009-2010 Southeast Division Preview

The NBA: where amazing happens.  Don’t believe me?  Well then you get watch the propaganda spewed out by David Stern with his commercials during the NBA Playoffs.  Or, if you want more concrete evidence, watch the Orlando Magic’s meteoric rise to the NBA Finals last season.  Given no credit during preseason predictions last season, the Magic went from being an “above average” team to now being the defending Eastern Conference Champion.  But the Magic did not make it without problems.  The credibility of their coach came into question at the first quotable reference from Shaquille O’Neal.  The offensive game of Dwight Howard was critiqued at every level.  Hedo Turkoglu was criticized, loved, and then all but disowned by the Magic fan base and organization.  So even though the Magic are the defending division and conference champion, they enter this year with new players, a new mentality but with the same goal as everyone in this division: win the NBA Championship.

The southeast division isn’t the most star studded division to take the court but they’re a solid bunch all with hopes of duplicating Orlando’s success from last season.  Miami went from winning 15 games, to riding Dwyane Wade back to the postseason last year.  Washington, playing all of last year without Gilbert Arenas, will look to do the same thing this season.  Meanwhile, a team like Atlanta hopes to take the big step forward that Orlando took last season while a team like Charlotte is full of talent, but still trying to find its identity in hopes of making the first postseason appearance in franchise history. 

With new players, returning players and everything in between, this division has a whole new feel to it.  However, as solid as it is, it’s not crowded at the top.  Orlando enters this season as the team to beat in this division but you have four hungry and capable teams rounding out the division.  From two to five, the division is really tight and could really fluctuate.  There should be no doubt, however,  that this is Orlando’s division to lose. 

This is how I predict the Southeast Division will turn out for the 2009-2010 season.

1. Orlando Magic – Last season’s run for Orlando was a sight to behold.  Dwight Howard captured hearts and accolades with his performance all year and is now established as the unquestioned best center in the league.  Things looked bleak as far as a run in the playoffs was concerned when Jameer Nelson was lost for the season.  But the Magic pulled off a terrific trade for Rafer Alston and made the NBA Finals.  Stan Van Gundy was mentioned as one of the best coaches in the NBA, but when he got into a public exchange of words with Shaquille O’Neal, he was accused of being a “master of panic” and immediately Van Gundy was under intense scrutiny.  Every mistake, every play was overly scrutinized in the postseason and every time that Van Gundy’s Magic lost a game, he was immediately blamed for it.  Even Marcin Gortat, the backup center for the team, came out and criticized the coach in a newspaper published in his native country during the postseason.  Somehow, Van Gundy was still able to rally his troops to upset victories in series against the defending champion Boston Celtics and the indestructible Cleveland Cavaliers before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers (another loss he was blamed for).

The Magic enter this season without Hedo Turkoglu, who has been the big floor manager for them for both seasons of the Van Gundy regime.  Once he left for the money in Toronto, the Magic jettisoned the often criticized Rafer Alston, backup big man Tony Battie and promising rookie Courtney Lee to bring in Florida native Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson.  This gives the Magic a new dimension that Turkoglu really couldn’t bring and that’s athleticism.  Now, not only will the team be able to shoot the long distance shot, they can also run the floor better and really push it out in transition.  A healthy Jameer Nelson and the NBA return of Jason Williams, signed to be a backup here in Orlando, will also help matters in terms of pushing the tempo.  The Magic are blessed with solid depth at every position across the board and should use that to their advantage all season long.  With the new addition of Matt Barnes, they can start he or Mickael Pietrus at the three and Vince Carter at the two.  Barnes and Pietrus both give the Magic incredible defensive effort and three point shooting, so either can be used for different matchups.  With big men like Brandon Bass and Marcin Gortat on the bench, the Magic are one of the few teams that has premium big men at their disposal.  This may help Rashard Lewis avoid having to play bigger men for extended minutes during the game. 

All in all, the Magic enter this season with a swagger that was missing going into last season’s Eastern Conference Champion team.  Time will tell if the addition of Vince Carter is an upgrade over Hedo Turkoglu or if the chemistry will be missing with Turkoglu gone.  But there’s no denying that the talent is there, the experience is there and the mentality is there.  Now they just need to take that last step to get the job done.

Atlanta Hawks – Pigs may not be able to fly.  Dogs may not able to speak English and Tony Romo may not be able to win a playoff game.  But another miracle is taking place right before our eyes, consistency is residing in the Atlanta Hawks franchise.  Not that they hadn’t been consistent before; if you include consecutive last place finishes consistency.  But with Mike Woodson entering his fifth year at the head coaching spot and with the Hawks fresh off not only their second straight postseason appearance but their first playoff series victory in ten years, the Hawks display promise, direction and, dare I say it, consistency.  The acquisition of Joe Johnson has a lot to do with that, as he’s given the Hawks a solid first option for the last four seasons and has stepped up continuously when the team has needed it.  The acquisition of Mike Bibby also has done a lot, as it’s given the Hawks leadership and experience when they had none of it outside of Johnson prior to Bibby arriving.  But, when you show promise expectations arrive, and now it’s time for the Hawks to start showing that they can take a new step in the right direction.  Al Horford really proved to be key for the Hawks last year, and there’s no doubt that his injury played a big factor in why the Hawks were so outmatched against Cleveland in the Semifinals.  He needs to stay healthy and continue to improve his game as the Hawks are a much better team when he’s being assertive and looking for possessions.  The Hawks also missed Marvin William in the postseason, as the guard and forward was beginning to play a huge role in the team’s development.  But his injury also derailed the team’s momentum. 

Josh Smith enters the season with no contract problems, no questions about his game, this is going to be his team sometime in the near future.  He’s still prone to taking too many jump shots, but Smith has really evolved his game the last few seasons and stepped up his performance in the postseason.  That was crucial to the Hawks winning that playoff series against Miami.    Coming off the bench, the Hawks have two solid big men in Zaza Pachulia and free agent signee Joe Smith.  Gone is Flip Murray from last season’s squad, but they upgraded the sixth man-combo guard role with the acquisition of Jamal Crawford.  Crawford, if he openly accepts this diminished role, should flourish being the first option off the bench with no other assignment other than to score.  He and Maurice Evans are a solid offensive duo on any squad and really give the Hawks options past the starting five. 

It’s hard to tell if any further progression will be made in Atlanta this season, but the seeds are in place for this team to grow and evolve.  Staying healthy and staying hungry are huge keys for the team and how they start the season will speak wonders about what should be on the horizon in Atlanta.

Washington Wizards – Last season was disastrous in our nation’s capital.  Washington had injuries to everyone on the roster outside of Antawn Jamison, got their coach fired and watched an abysmal season get worse until it mercifully ended with 63 losses.  But there’s a new feeling of refreshment in Washington and it has everything to do with players on the team getting healthy, and not the turnover from last season’s squad.  Gilbert Arenas has played all of 15 games the last two seasons and his scoring and ability to give the team options in the clutch was sorely missed last season.  He had another knee surgery after signing his big free agent contract last offseason, but the Wizards seem determined to give him, Caron Butler and Jamison one more run at a championship.  The biggest setback to this is that the Wizards never showed any kind of elite potential when all three were on the court together in the first place, and Butler, himself, has missed an average of 19 games a year since arriving to Washington.  But the Wizards are still optimistic and the arrival of Flip Saunders should help fuel that optimism.

Although his reputation has taken a beating, Flip Saunders really has shown an ability to exceed during the regular season, something the Wizards must first do before approaching any talks of winning a championship.  He has a sound feel for the game on the offensive side of the ball and should be able to find a way to maximize the talent on the roster.  Having options like Randy Foye and Mike Miller on the bench should only help matters in Washington, as their thin bench last year became almost laughable.  Nick Young will either settle into the starting two guard role or will go back to the bench this year, something that will also help with the depth of this squad.  Brendan Haywood also is returning from injury this year for Washington, and he and newly acquired Fabricio Oberto give the Wizards solid big man depth as well. 

The pieces are in place in Washington for another postseason run by the Wizards.  Healthier players, new players and a new coach have helped ease the memory of last season’s disaster.  The optimism is legit, as the prospects of a playoff appearance are good for the Wizards.  But talks of a championship, or a run at the Finals, seem a bit premature.  Especially with all the growing they’ll have to do this year.

Miami Heat – It’s amazing, but it seems so long ago that Shaquille O’Neal was manning down the center position in Miami and the Heat were winning championships.  Amazingly, it’s only been three seasons.  But the Heat hit bottom hard when the injury bug bit start guard Dwyane Wade and they seemed to be a franchise heading nowhere in a hurry.  Wade stayed healthy last season, though, and followed up his spectacular play in the Summer Olympics with an MVP-Caliber season and leading the Heat to a postseason appearance.  The biggest problem in Miami, though, was that Wade seemed to be doing it all by himself.  Michael Beasley took a long time to develop and then crumbled this offseason.  Mario Chalmers was solid all season as a starting point guard, even as a second round rookie, but still heard rumors about being replaced all offseason.  Even a flirting session with free agent Allen Iverson didn’t seem to do much to give Wade hope that help was on the horizon, so it’s hard to imagine the Heat believing they can be any better than they were last season. 

One reason for optimism is that Wade is in the prime of his career and all the young players (and head coaches) on the team are a year older.  Last season’s run at the playoffs did a lot for the franchise but they did nothing to truly expand on it.  Jermaine O’Neal is still going to be the team’s starting center and will have his first full year with Miami while doing it.  But his inconsistent play and continued battle with injuries don’t do much to ensure he’ll be there for the entire ride.  And instead of improving the backup big men on the team, the Heat opted to resign both Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire.  Daequan Cook and Chris Quinn give the team three point shooters off the bench and Udonis Haslem continues to man down the power forward position for this squad, but there wasn’t much excitement last year even during the team’s postseason push.  All of the attention and praise went to Dwyane Wade and his MVP Chase.

If the Heat are to take any steps forward, the maturation process with Chalmers and Michael Beasley will really have to take fruition.  Or else they’ll be stuck in the middle of the pack just as they were last year.  Having to do everything by himself could cause Wade to burn out and that could only spell doom for Miami.

Charlotte Bobcats – The Charlotte Bobcats are a hard team to figure out.  They have one of the greatest coaches in NBA history on the bench.  They have the best player to play the game as an executive and talent scout, and they have a solid bunch of role players, veterans and young players on the squad to really make up a solid team.  However, there just seems to be no reason for excitement in Charlotte.  The environment there didn’t change much this offseason when the Bobcats traded Emeka Okafor to the Hornets for Tyson Chandler.  Chandler has a long history of injuries and inconsistent play, although he’s just as good as Okafor at the center position.  If he can stay healthy, it will really do wonders for this squad and it’s ability to run the floor.  But chances are he won’t be able to do that.  In order to make a run at the postseason, the Bobcats acquired veteran role players Raja Bells, Boris Diaw, Vladimir Radmonovic, and DeSagana Diop.  But it didn’t pay off as the team narrowly missed the postseason and is now stuck with bloated contracts from all four players. 

They recently brought back Raymond Felton, who watched his job go to rookie guard D.J. Augustin.  Augustin did a lot off the bench for the Bobcats before fading down the stretch last season.  With some proper conditioning, he can really give the Bobcats hope to be that point guard of the future.  Gerald Wallace looks to have a bounce back season after struggling with injuries all of last season.  With Okafor gone, Wallace is now the only original Bobcat on the squad and is the unquestioned leader of the team.  If he can stay healthy it’d do wonders for the team on the court and in the locker room.  The addition of Ronald Murray will do a lot of the Bobcats as he can be the team’s sixth man and help alleviate some of the pressure off of Augustin coming off of the bench.  Nazr Mohammed teams up with Diop to combine a solid big man trio in Charlotte giving them pretty good depth at basically every position.

It’s hard to explain the problems in Charlotte.  Looking at the roster, there may not be any.  But the organization still has a long way to go in terms of creating a positive environment that players will want to compete in, and believe they can win in.  That’s on the horizon but not quite there in Charlotte. 

Posted on: January 23, 2009 4:21 pm
Edited on: January 23, 2009 6:17 pm

The Rise and Fall of the Phoenix Suns (Part 2)

Entering 2007-2008, the spirit and excitement surrounding Phoenix had diminished as quickly as had been experienced in quite some time.  This was not the look of a hungry team, aspiring to finally get over that hump and gain championship glory.  Instead it was a beaten team, with spirits down and excuses aplenty.  Mike D'Antoni's position as coach of that luck deprived team was not enviable.  As a coach, there's only so many ways you can encourage your team to continue to play outside of their capabilities as they continue to receive short hand after short hand.  This was a city and fan base starved for championship success and the Suns represented their best opportunity at achieving that.  But after falling short three successive seasons, a lot of the blame went towards D'Antoni's style and basketball philosophy.

Who knows whether the fast break, 7 seconds or less style offense will ever be the catalyst for a team looking to gain the Larry O'Brien Trophy?  Mike D'Antoni took a franchise with no direction and made it one of the most successful and exciting teams since the days of the Lakers three-peat.  It was a team that played a style everyone who has played basketball could admire.  But the fact that the anti-Suns, the San Antonio Spurs, had defeated the Suns in two out of the three postseasons where D'Antoni was at the helm created a lot of skepticism surrounding the system.  Steve Nash had won two MVP awards and put up astounding numbers as a point guard, but was contiuously exposed by Tony Parker against the Spurs and with his age coming into question, many people wondered how much longer D'Antoni could play Nash heavy minutes, run that style of offense and still have likely aspirations to win a championship.  It was believed that the window was closing on D'Antoni's team and panic was setting in.  To try and win a championship, owner Robert Sarver took D'Antoni out of control of the front office and hired a former Spur, five time NBA Champion Steve Kerr, to run the franchise.

Kerr and D'Antoni immediately butted heads on how they believed the team was supposed to operate.  Kerr wanted to stress size, a certain style of play and an emphasis on defense that seemed to be lacking in D'Antoni's style.  Shawn Marion, although he continuously put up fantastic numbers in D'Antoni's system, repeatedly went to the press about how unhappy he was in Phoenix and as a result brought down the morale of the squad.  As if the team had not yet recovered from the demoralizing loss to the Spurs, a locker room morale was so dangerously low that mediocrity seemed to be creeping back into the Phoenix franchise.  The Suns, at the time of early February, were a 34-14 team but did not maintain that excitement and emotion that they possesed for the previous three seasons.  So Steve Kerr traded the locker room question mark in Shawn Marion and brought in the player least fit for D'Antoni's system, former NBA MVP and three time champion Shaquille O'Neal

In his prime, Shaquille O'Neal was quite possibly the most dominant player in the NBA's history.  He made his debut in the league at the time of the Patrick Ewing's, David Robinson's, and Hakeem Olajuwon's of the league and then carried that domination into the 21st century as one of the only true centers left in the league.  His charisma, humor and overall talent left him as one of the most embracable and exciting players in the NBA's history.  Shaq arriving brought a lot of questions, but ultimately brought a renewed excitement to the team.  He immediately promised a championship ring, and promised that his age (35 years old) and lack of mobility (how agile could someone 7'1" and 325 pounds be) would not prevent Phoenix from continuing their style of play and that they could still gain a championship with him being the elephant in the room (no pun intended).  Allowing Amar'e Stoudemire to move to power forward, it created a more realistic approach to the lineup for Phoenix but greatly altered their effectiveness on the offensive side of the ball.  Many said this was a move for the postseason, so that they could counter the size of the Lakers and Spurs and that only then could we truly rate the move for Steve Kerr.  The team went 18-11 with O'Neal in the lineup to finish the season and finished with 55 wins and the sixth seed in the NBA Western Conference.  The team that held the 3rd seed: the San Antonio Spurs.

The excitement surrounding the Suns matchup with their bitter rivals, the team that they acquired Shaquille O'Neal to beat, was quickly lost when the Suns were demoralized in a classic game 1 in San Antonio.  With the Suns maintaining a lead for the majority of the game, a big shot by Michael Finley and a monster game by Tim Duncan helped the Spurs shock the Suns in double overtime and quickly let the air out of the Phoenix Suns sail.  The Suns fought hard but could not recover from the demoralizing game 1, and quickly bowed out in 5 games.  An offseason of questions awaited.

Mike D'Antoni immediately voiced his displeasure with Steve Kerr and was given the opportunity to find a new job, which he found with the New York Knicks.  Steve Kerry signed players such as Matt Barnes and a new head coach in Terry Porter looking to quickly shape the mentality and construction of this unit into more of a realistic lineup.  It brought conventionality, but lacked excitement.  To date, Steve Nash is having his worst year as a Phoenix Sun, players are unhappy with Terry Porter's approach and they boast a 23-17 record.

There are many reasons as to why the Phoenix Suns crashed as hard as they had risen in Arizona.  Management could be the first place to point at, with their continuous questionable decisions.  Bryan Colangelo left to run the team in Toronto, but left behind huge salary issues for coach Mike D'Antoni to deal with before Kerr's arrival.  Players like Nate Robinson and Luol Deng were drafted by Phoenix, but quickly shipped out to create cap flexibility.  Nate Robinson was traded with Quentin Richardson for Kurt Thomas, the player supposed to give the team a defensive inside presence.  Thomas fit in greatly with the Suns and performed admirably against Duncan in the 2007 Conference Semifinals, but the team could no longer afford him and he was shipped to the then Seattle Supersonics for a 2nd Round draft pick and 8 million dollar trade exception.  Huge contracts were given to Boris Diaw, who vastly underachieved when Stoudemire returned to the lineup and to Leandro Barbosa, who never took his game to that next level.  They gave a huge contract to Stoudemire, who was undergoing career threatening arthroscopic knee surgery and let the draft rights to Luol Deng go for a first round draft pick and cash considerations.  Rajon Rondo, the point guard for the NBA Champion Boston Celtics was also a draft pick by the Phoenix Suns but was also traded for a first round draft pick and cash.  The Shaqille O'Neal trade could be involved here, but it wasn't really a bad trade,  Just a mispalced player in D'Antoni's system.  O'Neal brought new excitement to a depressed fan base and although he did not deliver, his effort and dedication has been tremendous in Phoenix and he should not be blamed for the team's decline.  When you focus so much on free agency, it disallows a team to grow and also be secure in their future.  When the players you have rapidly show their age, you have no other options and those questionable decisions that were made for the immediate "now" are why the team has such a questionable future.

For all that D'Antoni revolutionized in basketball, his coaching and coaching related decisions were brought into question continously in the postseason.  When the team needed to get a crucial stop in a playoff environment, the team continuously failed to follow through and as a result focussed entirely on effeciency on the offensive side.  In an 82 game season, that begins to wear on a team looking to maintain stability and win a championship.  Not only does the system wear on the players, heavy minutes contribute to that.  D'Antoni was notorious for not playing his bench players and as a result his teams would show decline in the postseason and also would remove themselves from almost any offseason activity to maintain legs for the regular season.  D'Antoni's style of play was exciting, but watching his team fail brings to question whether that style of offense could ever win.  As a result, we've seen a quick flirtation with the system dissapear this season with scoring coming back down after the way the Suns and Golden State Warriors failed.

Also brouht into question for the Phoenix Suns was their psychological strength.  Crushing blows to the team at the hands of Amar'e Stoudemire's knee and also crushing losses to the San Antonio Spurs always seemed to give this team an excuse when they lost.  When you become comfortable with losing it creates an environment that nobody wants to be associated with.  The Phoenix Suns wanted to win, and losing undoubtedly bothered them, but they also were quick to point at other factors as to why they lost.  As a result, accountability was absent in Phoenix and the team no longer was responsible for their performance on the court.  D'Antoni's emotional state on the sidelines greatly affected this as the Suns became so paranoid, that every single call that went against them turned into reason for panic amongst the fan base and more crucially, the players.  Shawn Marion's constant bickering about his role in the offense and lack of appreciation also created distractions for a team with bigger goals in mind than Marion's statistics.  His lack of maturity in the team's crucial minutes was a huge factor in why the team declined in the 2007-2008 season and why they were forced to make the Shaquille O'Neal trade.

Amar'e Stoudemire's injury could be the sole reason for the Suns peaking so early and falling so quickly.  In the 2004-2005 season, Phoenix relied heavily on Stoudemire at the center position and he responded with career numbers and fantastic dunks not seen or recognized by anyone up until that time.  Given that he was only 21, many people saw a bright future ahead for Stoudemire.  A knee injury took him out for the Suns surprising (and probably most successful) 2005-2006 campaign but his return brought hope that he was the missing piece in that trademark year for D'Antoni and Phoenix.  Stoudemire returned with a solid 2006-2007 season, averaging over 20 points a game and displaying a brand new, highly effective 18 foot jump shot.  Stoudemire, though, has seemingly reached his potential too early.  The injury is probably the biggest reason for that, but his best season is still 2004-2005, and now, three full years after that injury, he still lacks the explosiveness that made him so effective and the mystique and fear some felt when matching up with him is gone.  He's become a finesse player, also a locker room distraction, and looks destined to be this generation's Derrick Coleman, a player with so much untapped potential who will get by in his career simply with talent.

Age is another huge factor as to why Phoenix so rapidly declined.  Last season, acquiring the way past his prime Shaquille O'Neal added to a team already full of players in their 30's, including crucial pieces such as Steve Nash, Grant Hill, and Raja Bell.  Their reliance on players so deep into their careers undoubtedly contributed to the team's lack of energy in certain playoff games and, coupled with the heavy minutes, was reason for rapid decline in D'Antoni's system. 

But all things considered, it's safe to say the San Antonio Spurs are solely responsible for the decline of the Phoenix Suns.  Their style of play won two championships during D'Antoni's reign in Phoenix and three out of the four seasons that D'Antoni was in charge of Phoenix, the Spurs eleminated the Suns from the postseason.  Tim Duncan and company continuously had answers for all offensive ideas and strategies that D'Antoni could possibly fathom and gave fans reason to focus on how to beat the Spurs, instead of how to win games on their own. 

It remains in question whether D'Antoni will ever win a championship, although he's gotten the Knicks to overachieve midway through this season.  But there's no doubt that his contributions to the Phoenix franchise will forever be remebered by fans and players alike as he was able to bring excitement back to basketball and also get the Suns to the most successful period of their franchise.  A team's desparate desire for a championship can bring unecessary criticism when frustration sets in.  The team's continued lack of toughness in critical situations and constant short handing at the hands of the league and fate provided plenty of reasons for frustration amongst a loyal fan base.  This set in the panic moves such as bringing Steve Kerr in and forcing D'Antoni to leave despite his amazing winning percentage.  It was nice to admire and watch during the time when it took place, but also creates a sad environment for Phoenix fans.  The closest they've gotten to a championship since Charles Barkley's stay in Phoenix was ended by many factors and they remain a spectacle and topic of discussion for fans around the league.  Phoenix may not be able to regain the success D'Antoni had the team become accustomed to but there will be success in Phoenix eventually, they always find a way to sustain a fine level of play in that franchise.  But with Stoudemire's sudden lack of presence and with the team boasting players ready to turn a new leaf in their careers the team's future is blurred.  Steve Kerr, brought in to help the team win a championship, is already on the hotseat and questions remain about whether he will be the guy at the helm to do the job in Phoenix.

Regardless of who's in charge, it's safe to say the D'Antoni era brought entertainment, joy and excitement to a franchise that had no direction.  But as quickly as it happened, it left in those 2007 conference semifinals.  The team flamed out and for that reason remain a fascinating story of how a team can quickly ascend, but how contributiong factors could make it increasingly difficult to maintain success in a system such as D'Antoni's.

Posted on: January 23, 2009 4:18 pm
Edited on: January 23, 2009 6:20 pm

The Rise And Fall of the Phoenix Suns (Part 1)

For four years, few teams matched the excitement and mystique that surrounded when the Phoenix Suns were set to appear in a basketball game.  Led by the innovative Mike D'Antoni and highly successful Steve Nash, the Suns resurrected a moribound franchise and turned the NBA upside down in the process.  With quick cuts, fantastic slams around the basket, a plethora of three point baskets and with absolutely no defense (which in turn allows the other team to follow through with all of those aforementioned offensive attractions) the Phoenix Suns became the team for the casual NBA fan, and the team that most of us wanted to watch when we felt like being assured entertaining basketball.  But funny things happen when you tinker with the system and bring things that people are not used to to the forefront.  When you introduce basketball's version of the spread offense, success can be attained but only when you bring championships are your efforts truly respected.  Many people passed off D'Antoni's philosophy on basketball and said that it could not win championships.  That same criticism turned the greatest period in Phoenix Suns basketball upside down, and seemingly prolonged the franchise's now 40 year history. 

It all started with a trade back in 2001, when the Suns traded future hall of fame point guard Jason Kidd for the insanely talented Stephon Marbury.  This trade was supposed to be a nice swap of talented guards which would result in hardly a change for either squad.  Instead, the Suns went to the lottery and the Nets went to the NBA finals.  Stephon Marbury's frustrating first season in Phoenix resulted in a trip to the lottery for the Suns, which resulted in Amar'e Stoudemire being added to the team.  With Stoudemire garnering rookie of the year honors and the team's quiet acquisition of guard Joe Johnson from the Boston Celtics, the Suns sneaked into the playoffs with the 8th seed and surprised the top ranked San Antonio Spurs in game 1 of their first round matchup.  Shortly thereafter, though, the Spurs would emerge victorious and things took a turn for the better; eventually.

The 2003-2004 season started off with mediocre expectations for a seemingly dirrectionless Phoenix franchise.  Then in midseason, amidst the team's struggles and inability to show any immediate progress, owner Robert Sarver steamheaded a complete reconstruction of the Suns.  Both Jerry and Brian Colangelo went to work on putting the pieces in place for this team to fully take off.  Frank Johnson was removed from the head coaching position and assistant coach and longtime European league coach Mike D'Antoni would be given the reigns.  Also, in what would headstart a completely opposite direction for the two franchises, the Suns sent Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway to the New York Knicks for five players who would not finish the season as Phoenix Suns players in addition to two first round draft selections.  Although the Knicks made the playoffs that season, nobody could have predicted the decline that would soon follow Stephon Marbury's fourth franchise.  Then again, nobody could have predicted the ascension that awaited in Arizona.

In the offseason, the Suns quickly gave Mike D'Antoni a vote of confidence despite his 21-40 record finishing the season as Phoenix's head coach.  The team's late surge, which was spurred by guard Joe Johnson, rookie guard Leandro Barbosa and now second year forward Amar'e Stoudemire could have been a huge factor in why D'Antoni was given a second chance.  Once free agency started, the Suns made a big splash by signing free agent point guard Steve Nash and free agent forward Quentin Richardson.  D'Antoni would move Stoudemire to center and insert forward Shawn Marion at the power forward position (a move Marion continuously complained about despite putting up the best numbers of his career) giving the team a ridiculously small lineup.  What ensured was pure, utter, fast break basketball.

Steve Nash spearheaded a revolutionary style of play as the Suns quickly brought offense back to the forefront in the NBA.  Gone where the days of walking a ball upcourt while your seven foot center could set up under the basket.  With quick, athletic big men like Stoudemire and Marion and with an intelligent and talented point guard like Steve Nash leading the way, the Suns went on to average 110.4 points per game (although giving up 103.3 PPG) and posted an NBA best 62-20 record.  Steve Nash shocked all by winning the NBA MVP award while D'Antoni and Colangelo were given the coach and executive of the year awards respectively.  In the playoffs, guard Joe Johnson would succumb to an eye injury and the Suns would sorely miss his leadership and skillset.  A sound defeat of the Memphis Grizzlies and a trouncing of the Dallas Mavericks set the Suns up with who would become the main reason for the Suns eventual decline: the San Antonio Spurs.

The San Antonio Spurs are basically the anti-Phoenix Sun.  They don't dazzle you with fantastic athleticism or bombard you with a multitude of points, they systematically and soudnly defeat their opponents by way of Tim Duncan and a group of role players that are fine performing their tasks for the sake of the greater good: a Larry O'Brien Trophy.  The Spurs two centers that year, Nazr Mohammed and Rasho Nesterovic, would probably not even get a sniff from D'Antoni yet wound up becoming productive players on championship teams.  Was D'Antoni's emphasis on speed and offense neglecting all that you were tought growing up?  Is a great offense truly better than a great defense?  Can you win scoring 110 points instead of focusing on holding your opponents below 90?  These all came to a head in this true battle of wits.

Amar'e Stoudemire would experience a coming out party against the Spurs, as San Antonio had no answer for the young player on his way to averages totaling over 30 PPG in the series.  But the Spurs, with two championship trophies already to their credit, would be able to answer every trick Phoenix tried.  Bruce Bowen was there to contain Steve Nash's explosiveness, Tony Parker was there to expose Nash's glaring defensive deffeciences, Tim Duncan was there to take care of Stoudemire's similar weaknesses, and the Spurs took the Suns out in 5 games, bringing end to the fantastic first season in the D'Antoni era. 

Many people did not know what to expect for an encore in Phoenix.  The gimmick offense was sure to be stopped when teams were given ample time to prepare for it.  Expectations can always ruin a team not used to winning, and Joe Johnson and Amar'e Stoudemire would be gone, Johnson in a trade to the Atlanta Hawks and Stoudemire due to knee surgery.  The Joe Johnson trade brought Boris Diaw, an afterthought in many instances and then the Suns shipped Quentin Richardson and the draft rights to Nate Robinson to New York for a center in Kurt Thomas that they believed would be able to counter Tim Duncan's effectiveness in a seven game series.  The team also obtained guard Raja Bell, a player praised for his on the ball defensive prowress and three point effeciency.  But the sky was not the limit this season, as, without Stoudemire, many expected the Suns to fail.

Stoudemire's absence meant wonderful things for Shawn Marion who turned in the best year of his career.  Boris Diaw proved out to be a fantastic find by the Colangelo's, winning the NBA most improved player of the year award, and Steve Nash went on to win his second consecutive NBA MVP award after helping lead the Suns to a 54-28 record in the regular season.  But the signs of the eventual decline already started to take shape.  Bryan Colangelo was said to have major conflicts with owner Robert Sarver and bolted to take the General Manager position with the Toronto Raptors.  Stoudemire received heavy criticism from the organization when he spent a majority of the season away from the squad while tending to his knee.  And although the team managed to avoid the Spurs in the postseason, draining seven game series with both the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers took alout of Phoenix, as they simply had nothing left by the time they met the Dirk Nowitzki led Mavericks in a second consecutive Western Conference Finals.

The 2006-2007 season brought about great expectations for the Phoenix squad.  With Boris Diaw teaming with Leandro Barbosa on the bench, the Suns were supposed to finally have that deep squad that would allow for D'Antoni to stray from his favored 7-man rotations and still provide the same innovative offensive schemes that had been prominent the previous two seasons.  Phoenix struggled with chemistry some, including Stoudemire back into the lineup and it showed.  The team, though, rebounded quickly to the tune of 61 victories and a No. 2 seed in the playoffs.

Elsewhere in the NBA, the 67 victory Dallas Mavericks had been upset by the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs in what would be largely noted as the greatest upset in playoff history, and the Utah Jazz would celebrate their return to the playoffs after a three year absence with a victory over the Houston Rockets, giving the Suns home court advantage, now, throughout the playoffs and seemingly the drivers seat to an elusive championship.  After the Suns quickly dispatched of the Lakers for a second consecutive season, they saw themselves standing opposite the 3rd seeded San Antonio Spurs, and a fantastic conference semifinals ensued. 

Bruce Bowen and Tony Parker quickly asserted physiciality into the already deeply rooted rivalry with the Spurs, as Steve Nash left game 1 with a bloodied nose recieved from Parker and could not finish the game, as the Spurs pulled out a close victory.  This brought about major criticism as some felt it was unfair for the Suns to lose without their best player due to excessive blood loss, but the rules would stay and the Spurs maintained a 1-0 series lead.  After taking game 2, Phoenix would head to San Antonio for one of the most controversial games in recent memory.  Game 3 between the Spurs and the Suns was known for its excessive fouls called, constant whistles and annoying lack of gamesmanship in the contest.  The Spurs would ride a questionable free throw advantage to the victory and then all hell broke loose.  With Phoenix rebounding to take game 4, Robert Horry stepped in front of Steve Nash on a harmless drive down the baseline, and changed the Phoenix Suns forever.

With the series tied at 2 games apiece and heading back to Phoenix, all cards seemed to be in place for Phoenix to finally nudge past their nemisis and gain ground towards becoming NBA Champions.  But Horry's flagrant foul on Steve Nash sent the Suns into a frenzy, which resulted in both Stoudemire and Diaw leaving the Suns bench and therefore forcing the NBA's hand in having to suspend those two players for a critical game 5 in Phoenix.  Mike D'Antoni criticized the decision but his efforts went unnoticed as the suspensions stood.  A game Phoenix crowd and shorthanded squad gave the Spurs trouble but eventually succumbed in a game 5 loss.  The team returned to San Antonio demoralized, and could not take advantage of Stoudemire and Diaw's reintroduction into the lineup and would lose game 6 in San Antonio.

In effect, the Robert Horry foul gave Phoenix their first leigitmate gripe of the D'Antoni era.  Being too inexperienced in 2005 and too tired in 2006, 2007 seemed a prime opportunity for Phoenix to grab the franchise's first championship.  The Horry foul took away their best shot at putting a foot down on the rival Spurs' throats, and assured us all that there's always that one squad that prevents you from winning.  For Phoenix, it was San Antonio.  The Spurs went on to win the championship that season, and in the process demoralized alot of the Phoenix fan base.  The same team would essentially return for 2007-2008 but the excitement, hunger and mystique surrounding the franchise had gone away.  After posting a mediocre start to the season, new general manager Steve Kerr would make the move that effectively ended the D'Antoni era in Phoenix.

Posted on: January 5, 2009 1:07 am
Edited on: April 16, 2009 11:56 pm

NBA Power Rankings Through January 4th, 2009

1. Los Angeles Lakers (4) - Rejoice, Los Angeles!  The beloved Lakers have reclaimed their top position.  The hottest team in the NBA is boasting one of its hottest players in Kobe Bryant.  As of late, Kobe and Pau Gasol have elevated their play to around the level they were at around the postseason last year.  The bench is getting good production even with Jordan Farmar missing time with his injury.  I don't believe adding another point guard is critical for the moment but it wouldn't hurt if they could land one for cheap.

2. Atlanta Hawks (5) - The Hawks suffered a crushing loss with a near halfcourt heave at the buzzer from Vince Carter at New Jersey.  That was only their second loss in twelve games.  Victories over Cleveland, Denver, Houston and Detroit highlight that stretch and prove that this team is not a flash in the pan.  I'm sure they won't maintain this level of competition all season long as the team is largely unproven, but don't try to dispute what they've accomplished so far this season.  Not only is this team legitimate, they're talented. 

3. Boston Celtics (2) - And just like that, with a loss to a depleted Portland team and to a bad New York team (coming off a week in which they lost their first game in forever in addition to a loss to a bad Golden State team) and the Celtics all of a sudden look vulnerable.  I'm not going to jump off of the bandwagon and say that they're cooked, it's not a matter of if but when this team rights the ship and gets back to playing the defense that made them impossible to beat through November and December.  Kevin Garnett has slowed a bit so far this season and Paul Pierce has had to carry this unit for basically the whole season.  The role players have also slowed a tad, which is the main reason for the team's struggles but they'll get it back together and they'll still be there in the end.

4. Orlando Magic (3) - Something doesn't quite seem right with Hedo Turkoglu this season.  All of his statistics have dropped from last season and his field goal percentage is at a laughable 38 percent.  That's either meaning he's struggling to do too much in a contract year, or maybe last season was more of an aberration for the turkish born star.  Overall, the Magic have been solid all season long and if he captures the form he showed last season then they'll be right up there at the top of the eastern confrence.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers (1) - Rejoice, Cavs haters!  Zydrunas Ilgauskas has gone down to injury and the Cavaliers dropped two games this week, including an embarassing defeat at the hands of Washington today.  For at least a week anyways, the team looked like last season's team, which relied entirely too heavily on LeBron James.  What's happened to Wally Szczerbiak this season?  He's the definition of a non factor, and with his expiring contract, if he showed any bit of production they could get a really good player in return for Wally World.  But so far his value is worth about the same as Eric Snow's.

6. San Antonio Spurs (6) - Manu Ginobili had a huge week for the Spurs.  Greg Popovich has done a fine job with his roster and has seemingly settled on a nice rotation.  Tim Duncan is having the best year he's had in the past two or three and Tony Parker is currently playing like their best player.  They're a dangerous unit and they're going to be there in the end, regardless of their difficult start. 

7. Denver Nuggets (7) - Carmelo Anthony played hero on two separate occasions for the Nuggets this season, even if they were underwhelming in barely defeated Oklahoma City and blowing a 26 point lead at home to New Orleans.  An injury to Nene for the Oklahoma City game showed no immediate hamper on the Nuggets, but if he misses any prolonged period of time they're in bad shape.  They lack serious depth in the frontcourt.

8. New Orleans Hornets (9) - They still lack the consistency that they showed for so much of last season but Chris Paul is playing the best ball of any player in the NBA.  The fact that he's not up there with Kobe Bryant in all star voting is unbelievable and truly speaks to the knowledge of the average NBA fan.  David West has really picked up his game as of late and don't look now, but the Hornets rank among the league's best at the defensive side of the ball. 

9. Detroit Pistons (15) - I've ridden no team as hard this year as I have the Pistons, but Rodney Stuckey has resurrected what was a dead season for Detroit after the Allen Iverson trade.  The readdition of Antonio McDyess is as much a factor as any in the team's current winning streak and even though they may not be blowing teams out, victories are victories and the Pistons are winning ball games.

10. Portland Trail Blazers (8) - Playing without Brandon Roy hurt this team this week as they looked bad against New Orleans and the Lakers.  Overall, they managed to pull out a victory against Boston and they're still playing hard even without Roy in the lineup.  McMillan will never let this team play a weak game but they can't win without their all star guard in the lineup.

11. Dallas Mavericks (11) - Today's loss at Memphis was embarassing but Dirk Nowitzki has carried the Mavericks to a very strong season thus far.  They're a team of wing players and that will doom them in the playoffs, but they will exceed any expectations they were given this season.  Rick Carlisle has done a really good job with the Mavericks this season.

12. Phoenix Suns (13) - Shaquille O'Neal is having his best year since his last year in Los Angeles for Phoenix and the team is maintaining a steady play so far this season.  Jason Richardson hasn't added much since his addition, but the team continues to win so his presence alone must be enough for the Suns to get by. 

13. Utah Jazz (12) - Word of Carlos Boozer now needing surgery has to demoralize this squad even with Paul Millsap playing as fantastic as he has this season (I forgot to mention him in my most improved players list last week).  The C.J. Miles experiment has worked well with him playing so steady this season.  He's never going to be more than an average starter in this league but he's solid enough to where the Jazz can continue to use Andrei Kirilenko on the bench, which has worked very well for them so far this season.

14. Miami Heat (14) - An injury to Shawn Marion has thrusted Daequan Cook into the starting lineup and I think with a shipping of Marion and his expiring contract at the deadline, that can be a nice spot for Cook.  Michael Beasley has been underwhelming so far this season but has shown flashes of being a nice player in this league.  It's safe to say that he was a tad overhyped coming into the draft, though.

15. Houston Rockets (10) - Tracy McGrady's play this season has been absolutely pathetic.  He's beyond bad at this moment and Yao Ming is shooting a percentage in the low 40s the past few games as well.  With Ron Artest in and out of the lineup as well, this team is currently in a great deal of turmoil and it's evident when you watch them out on the court.  Aaron Brooks has tailed off considerably since his start this season but the talent is still there for this team to turn it around.  You just have to wonder if their players are tough enough to do it.

16. New Jersey Nets (16) - They're incredibly inconsistent and continue to be without a victory when Devin Harris is out of the lineup, but the Nets still, week after week, find themselves in the picture in the NBA.  Vince Carter has had his fair share of last second theatrics this season and that's been a major reason for the Nets' position at the moment.  They have to wonder if a postseason appearance is worth a possible run at a championship in the next two or three seasons when it comes to Carter, but we'll see what it is they're offered for Vince.

17. Milwaukee Bucks (17) - The Bucks are a team that's so difficult to put a finger on, because they have no player who's consistently great every night and they don't really scare you in any facet of their play.  Yet they've been near .500 all season long and they're still in the playoff race thus far.  That speaks wonders for Scott Skiles, even though I'm confused at his reluctancy to give Ramon Sessions big minutes.  I've seen an increase in Tyronn Lue as of late and I don't believe he's better than Sessions.

18. Toronto Raptors (23) - Two weeks ago the Raptors were left for dead, and since then they've had a very impressive past two weeks.  Chris Bosh has found the form he displayed earlier this season and the team is winning ball games without Jermaine O'Neal and Jose Calderon in the lineup.  Anthony Parker has been a steady player at the shooting guard position and the Raptors have found themselves back in the discussion as far as the playoffs are concerned.  It's a nice turnaround for a team that I wrote off just two weeks earlier.

19. Philadelphia 76ers (19) - If you were to look up the word "bland" in the dictionary, you would see this team's photo right beside it.  Their play hasn't inreased without Elton Brand (even though I thought it would) and maybe they are what they are, a below .500 team that can't score and that isn't even that special on the defensive side of the ball.  It seems like the two years of momentum that was built up by this squad was ruined with possibly unfair expectations with the Elton Brand acquisition.

20. Chicago Bulls (18) - A loss at home to Minnesota highlights a woeful week for the Bulls which was heightened even further with a horrible showing by Derrick RoseBen Gordon deserves serious all star consideration this season beyond the three point shootout and he's been the team's steadiest, most consistent option thus far.  That probably is why they're down here at 20, but he deserves a little bit of credit after the way he was blasted and treated this offseason.  He may, yet, see his big payday this offseason.

21. Indiana Pacers (25) - Mike Dunleavy is set to debut this week for the Pacers and that should help a team that still is looking to make a run at sneaking into the last playoff spot.  Danny Granger has been tremendous this season even in the dissapointing year for the Pacers and Jarrett Jack has been tremendous since being inserted into the starting lineup as of late.  T.J. Ford has done fine off of the bench but you have to wonder if he's the type of player that would be content with coming off of the bench.

22. Charlotte Bobcats (22) - I still can't speak enough for Boris Diaw's play since coming over from Phoenix.  This Bobcats team has raised its level of play since that trade and currently has shown that they can be a pesky bunch to put away.  Adam Morrison, on the other hand, is now officially ready to be labeled as a bust.  He was a horrible selection as a 3rd overall draft pick (don't even get me started on Sean May).  Little known Matt Caroll is better at what Morrison does than Morrison is and that's why Morrison scored for the first time in six games Saturday night.  I still remember when Dick Vitale said we were all stupid for saying J.J. Reddick and Morrison wouldn't be great in the NBA.

23. Memphis Grizzlies (20) - Darius Miles made his debut this week for the Grizzlies and Steve Francis may be set to dress up anytime soon.  It's amazing that those two players found their way onto the Grizzlies roster, but it's safe to say both are in dire need to prove that their careers aren't over in the NBA. 

24. New York Knicks (24) - The Knicks have lost all of the good will they built up with a strong opening to the season, but still continue to play hard for coach D'Antoni.  Al Harrington off of the bench has payed huge dividends as of late, including a victory today over Boston.  David Lee has been tremendous this season and if they package him with a contract of Jerome James or Eddy Curry they can get another building block for the rebuilding of this proud franchise.

25. Minnesota Timberwolves (28) - The Timberwolves got back to back victories for the first time all season and got Mike Miller back from injury.  Still, though, a lot is left to be done in Minnesota in order to get this team back to respectability.  Kevin Love has been inconsistent in his performance this season and doesn't look like a great acquisition by Kevin McHale (and nobody honestly believed he would be) but I think, with the investment they made in him, that he needs to be shown more minutes as the season progresses. 

26. Los Angeles Clippers (26) - Baron Davis, in addition to his pathetic displays on the court this season, caused controversy with a recent report of his wanting to return to the team he shafted just five months earlier.  His homecoming has been nothing short of brutal but the team has got to be happy with the play of Marcus Camby and Eric Gordon as of late.  They look like a team capable of hanging in tough games as long as Davis doesn't continue to shoot them out of ball games.

27. Washington Wizards (29) - The Wizards, with a run over Cleveland today, move out of the bottom two for the first time all season.  Getting Caron Butler back this week has been good for the Wizards and the increase in minutes for Javaris Crittenton is a solid move by coach Tapscott.  Andray Blatche has been a nice spot for what's been a dreadful season thus far and the Wizards are now starting to play harder each and every night.  It's not going to amount to any kind of success this year, but it's a far cry from the team that regularly would get beat by 20 every night just a couple months prior.

28. Golden State Warriors (21) - With Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette now publicly speaking about trade requests the horrid season for the Warriors has now reached rock bottom.  The dissapointing performance has taken a back seat to the fact that the group of players that they've assembled has now made the franchise one without any kind of positive direction.  It's tough to be a loyal Warrior fan, and this season is a perfect explanation of why that's so.

29. Sacramento Kings (27) - Kevin Martin came back this season and looked fantastic in his return and Brad Miller has been a steady force all season for Sacramento, but they still continue to lose.  This team looked like a team with a direction this season, but so far this season hasn't shown anything other than that they're a team without much talent or direction.  It's tough to see what the future holds for this franchise.

30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - The Thunder are really playing good basketball as of late and I wanted to move them out of the last spot for the first time all season, but can't justifiably do so.  Jeff Green, this season, has looked like a player that was worthy of the draft slot they used on him and Kevin Durant have played at a very high level as of late.  They're playing with more intensity than they did earlier in the season and have showed signs of a team that's on the right path as of late.  That's good for that loyal fan base.


Posted on: December 29, 2008 1:45 am

NBA Power Rankings Through December 28, 2008

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (2) - The Cavaliers rallied for an impressive win against Miami today and remain the only team this season to be undefeated at home.  They hold home court admirably and they also are getting fantastic play out of Mo Williams lately.  This team is playing a consistent brand of basketball, and although the assortment of players and the list of victories doesn't blow you away, they are the hottest team so far this season and they play fantastic defense and win basketball games at home.  Those are three qualities of great teams.

2. Boston Celtics (1) - I know with two losses this week you could make arguments about them falling behind either Orlando or the Lakers, but they still have the best record in the league and last week people were questioning when exactly this team was going to lose.  They had a tough western swing but the Celtics are still the best team in the league.  I think it would be entirely irrational to drop them too far down the list.

3. Orlando Magic (3) - The Magic are the second hottest team in the league right now and are frequently blowing teams out of the arena.  That performance against New Orleans on Christmas day was impressive.  Getting Mickael Pietrus back from injury is going to help this team immensely in the near future.  They continue to perform at a high level regardless of doubts concerning their ability to consistently perform at this level.  Currently, they're at this level so I can't drop them.

4. Los Angeles Lakers (4) - The Lakers gained an emotional and emphatic triumph over Boston on Christmas day in one of the most anticipated regular season games in recent memory.  Kobe Bryant, as of late, has been playing near his MVP level from last season and the Lakers have to love what they're getting out of players like Sasha Vujacic as of late.  They've seemed to turn the corner on the difficult stretch that they seemingly were having and inner turmoil over their defense had to be addressed with that performance against Boston.  They clearly are the best current team in the Western Confrence.

5. Atlanta Hawks (6) - Joe Johnson is playing at an amazing level currently and this Hawks team is clicking on both sides of the basketball.  Their quick start has proved to not be a fluke as they continue to play great basketball even going into January.  The team may lack true depth at the point guard position, but Johnson runs the offense so much that it masks that problem.  Overall, Mike Woodson has this team playing at an unbelievable level.

6. San Antonio Spurs (10) - Tony Parker has elevated his game to an unbelievable level this season.  His offensive game is as polished as any point guards in the league.  That shot from Roger Mason was huge on Christmas day and Tim Duncan is quietly having an unbelievable season.  Matt Bonner has really slowed as of late, and as a result I look for the Spurs to look for some inside scoring around the trade deadline.  Knowing them, they'll find a team to give them an outcast and I look at Eddy Curry (don't laugh) as being someone who could fit in good with the Spurs.  But they need another force in the paint to take some pressure off of Tim Duncan.

7. Denver Nuggets (9) - The team played great basketball without Carmelo Anthony in the lineup and then carried it over with a big win at Madison Square Garden today when Carmelo returned.  This team continues to stay around the top and are getting fantastic production out of J.R. Smith as of late.  Kenyon Martin has shown flashes of the player we all loved in New Jersey as of late but it's a shame that a lot of his explosiveness has limited him.  He had the potential to be a really, really good player in his career.

8. Portland Trail Blazers (7) - They're getting production out of Brandon Roy, but they have to love the contributions they're getting night in and night out from players like Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw and Joel Przybilla as those types of role players are what help a team become a consistent threat night in and night out. 

9. New Orleans Hornets (5) - Their performances against Los Angeles and Orlando revealed they still have not yet turned that corner and become a really good team.  They're still playing maddingly inconsistent basketball but Peja Stojakovic and Antonio Daniels returned this week and that is reason enough for optimism in New Orleans.

10. Houston Rockets (8) - Ron Artest has been great off of the bench since his return from injury and I look for the Rockets to continue to play him at that spot.  Tracy McGrady has been really inconsistent this season and continues to be in and out of lineups with nagging injuries.  It's a shame he could indirectly ruin the best chance the Rockets have had at a championship since Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen were wearing Rockets uniforms. 

11. Dallas Mavericks (12) - The Mavericks are playing tremendous basketball as of late and have gotten past that slow start to develop into a fun, cohesive unit.  That suspension for Dirk Nowitzki is laughable but it didn't stop them from being the lowly Clippers.  I know Jason Kidd's numbers are down, and he's not the player he once was, but I feel as if he's delivering so far this season for Dallas.  No he's not the player that Devin Harris is but he's done a fine job keeping this team together this season and they're slowly getting healthy as well.  The Mavericks have played above expectations so far this season and it'll be intersting to see them continue to try and do so. 

12. Utah Jazz (11) - Injuries to Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams, Ronnie Price, Mehmet Okur and Paul Millsap have held this team back and they've still yet to field a consistent and healthy squad for an extended period of time so that we can fairly evaluate the legitimacy of this Utah squad this season.  Overall, I believe Jerry Sloan has done a fantastic job keeping this unit at where they're at even though they can't get continuity in the lineup.

13. Phoenix Suns (13) - The Suns had one game this week and lost it but they played strongly against the Spurs on Christmas day.  They're winning games and at this rate will put up a soild record for the season but they don't seem to have any sort of spark to them this season that makes them feel like a legitimate threat to a team in a seven game series.  Amare Stoudemire, for all the talent that he posseses, is becoming a quiet 20 point 8 rebound guy and you never want to fall into that category.

14. Miami Heat (14) - A tough loss at Cleveland is the only problem the Heat have experienced the past couple of weeks.  Their defense keeps them in every single game and they find ways to hang around and win ball games.  Jamaal Magloire would be a nice boost to this team if he could ever get consistently healthy but I don't know if that's in his capabilities any longer.

15. Detroit Pistons (15) - The Pistons found ways to beat bad teams this week and it's still a step in the right drection.  They've been around .500 since acquiring Allen Iverson but they've still got time to right the ship and become a threat come the postseason.  But looking at the energy of this squad, you have to wonder if they will. 

16. New Jersey Nets (18) - The Nets still refuse to go away.  Devin Harris and Vince Carter, night in and night out, carry this squad and keep them playing at a competitive level.  Brook Lopez has done a fine job and has settled in nicely at the starting center position but I think this team still lacks the overall talent to stay in the playoff race all season long.  But they've exceeded expecations so far this season so it's not outside of the realm of possibility for this team to stay at this level.

17. Milwaukee Bucks (17) - The Bucks continue to stick around regardless of a lack of fanfare or consistency.  Michael Redd has struggled a tad this season and Richard Jefferson's game has dropped a bit as of late but Andrew Bogut has done a great job keeping this team afloat.  I'd also like to give some kudos to Charlie Villanueva for being voted the world's sexiest bald man, giving the Bucks their first player to win an award in the past couple of decades.  Congratulations!

18. Chicago Bulls (16) - This squad, much like the team in Utah, continues to deal with inconvenient injuries and have not yet fielded a consistently healthy squad.  Everyone can't seem to get cohesive on this team because of the injury problems.  Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon have done a great job of keeping this team together but overall they are a perimeter based squad and unfortunately, when shots don't fall they have no shot of victory and that won't hold up all season long.

19. Philadelphia 76ers (19) - I've been wanting to say it the past few weeks so I will give credit this week, Marreese Speights has done a great job this season, especially in the recent absence of Elton BrandAndre Iguodala has shown flashes of the player that he was last season but overall he and this squad have vastly underacheived this season. 

20. Memphis Grizzlies (23) - I wonder what happened to Marc Gasol to see his minutes being reduced as the season has progressed.  Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo are nightly constants for this young squad and they finally have a sense of direction in Memphis for the first time since the first season they made the playoffs in 2003-2004. 

21. Golden State Warriors (24) - The Warriors had a very impressive victory over Boston this week that was quickly forgotten after their performance against the Lakers tonight.  Stephen Jackson has been playing better as of late but this team still misses Monta EllisCorey Maggette was a questionable addition when he signed with Golden State and word is the Warriors are listening to offers for the swingman.  His contract may make it hard for him to be moved, but I don't believe it's going to work for him in Golden State.

22. Charlotte Bobcats (25) - Emeka Okafor has played great as of late, giving the Bobcats a consistent threat at the center position that they've lacked majorly this season.  Boris Diaw gives him a body to work with down in the paint and Raja Bell has finally picked up his play after being traded from Phoenix.  They're playing good, hard basketball at the moment and still have time to salvage the season by making a late season push for the playoffs.

23. Toronto Raptors (26) - The Raptors, mainly spearheaded by Jermaine O'Neal, responded in a big way this week after that dreadful previous couple of weeks that they played.  This team still is a question mark as to whether or not they're going to right things this year but there's no denying how tough it's been to get a grip on this team.

24. New York Knicks (20) - The Knicks were never known for their defense even before the arrival of Mike D'Antoni, but the laziness on the defensive side of the ball has quickly spread in that locker room and has since grown to become a laughable ailment for this team.  The team doesn't even try to guard you, which is what keeps them from pulling potential upsets over better squads.

25. Indiana Pacers (22) - The Pacers have yet to really get it together this season and after spending all season waiting for them to do so, I've finally come to the conclusion that it just may not happen.  Mike Dunleavy has started to become more active after missing all season due to injury but I believe it's outside of his capabilities to turn this season around in Indiana.  I said Brandon Rush would be a rookie to look out for this season and in turn he's played very underwhelming basketball this season. 

26. Los Angeles Clippers (21) - The Clippers are such a Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hide squad.  You have no idea if they're going to be competitive or susceptible to being blown out.  They've recently given minutes to raw project DeAndre Jordan as of late and you have to wonder what that spells for oft injured but extremely talented center Chris Kaman with the now recently crammed frontcourt in Clipper land.

27. Sacramento Kings (27) - Their offense is so anemic without Kevin Martin in the lineup and I'm tired of waiting for him to come back and make this team competitive again.  It has to be dissapointing that after such a strong season last year this team has played at the level it has this season, but injuries and inconsistency within the organization can derail a team on the rise and that's exactly what's happened to this identity-less team.

28. Minnesota Timberwolves (28) - The Timberwolves finally got a victory for coach Kevin McHale this week but still lack any true power on their squad.  Rashad McCants and Ryan Gomes are two pieces of this team that would truly flourish on better squads but they basically serve no purpose for this horrible team.  If you look at the current roster, you can't even say that they're rebuilding.  They don't have any young projects in place aside from Al Jefferson.  They're just an assortment of bad players.

29. Washington Wizards (29) - Now that Caron Butler is injured (and we all saw that coming), Antawn Jamison is all alone now as far as options for the Wizards.  He was good enough for a victory over Oklahoma City but there's not much more he can do for this squad.  He's played unbelievable basketball but it will and should go largely unnoticed around the league because this franchise is so poorly operated.

30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - I looked at the Thunder playing Joe Smith at the center position with concern but after looking at the level of center play around the league, I guess it's a gamble for the worst roster in the league.  Nick Collison's injury obviously doesn't help matters but for the most part it really doesn't matter.  I don't see Joe Smith (who would be a nice fit in San Antonio) or Desmond Mason finishing February in Oklahoma City jerseys.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com