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Tag:Eddie House
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: October 13, 2010 3:07 pm
 

2010-2011 NBA Atlantic Division Preview

2010-2011 NBA Atlantic Division Preview

As the phrase has long been applied to life is recited: for every action there is a reaction. Three teams in this division were greatly affected by free agency this summer, even though they all ended up empty handed when it came to their pursuit of any of the prized free agents this July. Two of the teams, though, plotted for two years with hopes of landing LeBron James, only to be spurned as he left for the Miami Heat. Another one of the teams had one of the prized free agents, and his leaving for the Miami Heat left them in freelance as well. Meanwhile, the three-time defending Atlantic Champions lost in the NBA Finals and had to react promptly. The loss of Kendrick Perkins did not help either in the NBA Finals or at the start of this season, and the Celtics looked to add to their list of established veterans for what feels like one last run at a championship. And then there’s the Philadelphia 76ers. After years of being an afterthought in the league, one of the league’s most prominent cities is taking huge steps towards relevance again. They reached back and hired Doug Collins to return to Philadelphia to help advance this process and it will be interesting to see how those new players mesh.

All in all, the Atlantic Division had a lot of turnover on most of the rosters and could see significantly new change among the production of three of the worst teams from last season in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. With all three of those teams now positioning themselves for victory and with Boston continuing to add players primed for one last run, the change could be even more evident in the coming seasons. But even though there’s a reaction for every action, the Celtics reacted accordingly to last year’s NBA Finals loss to the Lakers, and are still the team to beat in the Atlantic Division.

1) Boston Celtics
Incoming Players:
Avery Bradley, Luke Harangody, Semih Urden, Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal, Von Wafer, Delonte West
Outgoing Players: Rasheed Wallace, Tony Allen, Brian Scalabrine, Michael Finley, Shelden Williams
Team Report: The Celtics walk into this season as the clear favorites in the division and are among the favorites for an NBA Championship this season as well. The Celtics were up by 13 points in the 3rd quarter of last season’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals before conceding to the Lakers in a heartbreaking defeat. A lot has been made of their age in recent years, but they showed last postseason that they’re one of the few teams capable of flipping a switch on and off. Whether they would want to walk that tightrope again this season remains to be seen, but the players on the team don’t necessarily give any encouragement of a change of the times coming in Beantown.

Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal are the most high profile additions to the team. The two big men fit right into what the Celtics are looking for: smart, seasoned veterans willing to use what’s left of their ability to contribute to the ultimate goal of the team. Both come at an opportune time as well with the injury to Kendrick Perkins. Perkins injured his knee in Game 6 of last year’s NBA Finals and should be out until January. His loss will be greatly felt across the board in Boston, but the Celtics will hope it’s offset by the continued improvement from point guard Rajon Rondo. While it’s hard to argue that at least Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett aren’t more important to a championship for the Celtics, it’s also hard to argue that Rondo isn’t currently the team’s most talented player. Overall, the Celtics still enter this season with a chip on their shoulder and with a lot to prove. They also are the most stable of the rest of the teams in the division, and that’s why they’ll be winning the division title come next April.

2) New York Knicks
Incoming Players:
Larry Fields, Andy Rautins, Jerome Jordan, Timofey Mozgov, Kelenna Azubuike, Patrick Ewing, Jr., Raymond Felton, Roger Mason, Jr., Anthony Randolph, Amar’e Stoudemire, Ronny Turiaf, Shawne Williams
Outgoing Players: Earl Barron, David Lee, Chris Duhon, Sergio Rodriguez, J.R. Giddens, Al Harrington, Jonathan Bender, Tracy McGrady, Eddie House
Team Analysis: The Knicks have been bad for years now, it seems. Since 2004, the Knicks have regularly been among the worst teams in the league. A fantastic city and fan base has really been negated by the lack of overall production on the court and the turmoil that occurred off of it. However, after Isaiah Thomas left New York, Donnie Walsh was hired to clean the mess. He hired Mike D’Antoni, rid himself of some of the ridiculous contracts on the team, and built towards the famed 2010 NBA Free Agent class. The Knicks have been telling their fans to accept defeat the last two seasons, a hard sell to New Yorkers, because a great star was on the horizon. After whiffing on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the team signed Amar’e Stoudemire to a big max contract this offseason instead. It still may be a hard sell to New Yorkers that he was worthy of being the light at the end of the tunnel.

But the Knicks made other moves this offseason to reshape the roster. They brought in the extremely promising Anthony Randolph over in a trade with Golden State and hope that he can partner up with Stoudemire to create the ideal frontcourt for head coach Mike D’Antoni. But, for the first time since D’Antoni was hired in 2008, the pressure is now on for him to win in New York. After being patient with a struggling team the last two seasons, the Knicks were told they would be much better in 2010. It’s fair to say they will be much better, but it’s debatable if they’re a lock to make the postseason. D’Antoni has h is work cut out for him, as do the rest of the Knicks franchise.

3) Philadelphia 76ers
Incoming Players:
Evan Turner, Tony Battie, Craig Brackins, Spencer Hawes, Andres Nocioni, Darius Songaila
Outgoing Players: Samuel Dalembert, Rodney Carney, Willie Green, Jason Smith, Francisco Elson, Allen Iverson
Team Analysis: The Philadelphia 76ers traded Allen Iverson in 2006 and have been largely irrelevant since. Sure they’ve made the playoffs a couple times since that trade, but they’ve been no real threats among the NBA’s elite and the team really wasn’t in Iverson’s last years with the team either. So it seems a tad ironic now that the 76ers are building towards and selling hope; again at a time when Iverson is leaving. The 76ers brought Iverson back last season in an attempt to sell tickets and regain relevance, but it went for nothing as Iverson couldn’t stay on the court due to injuries and other factors and was a large non factor in the team’s horrendous 27-55 season. After only one season, Eddie Jordan was fired and the 76ers again went back to the drawing board.

The Sixers interviewed a lot of candidates and wound up with Doug Collins as the team’s new head coach coming into this season. Collins isn’t “new” by any means. He’s been a coach for three different franchises before and had mild success with all of them. His name is largely important because of his broadcasting gig with TNT moreso than what anyone remembers him doing as a coach. But Collins is a 76er at heart. He was drafted by Philadelphia and made an NBA Finals with the team in 1977. He wants, just as much as the rest of the city, for the 76ers to be relevant. How quickly that happens will largely land on the shoulders of second overall pick Evan Turner. Turner is a “do-it-all” type talent who led the Big 10 in scoring and rebounding last season. The Sixers will look to him to possibly spearhead a new era in Philadelphia. Andre Iguodala remains the man in Philadelphia, but for how long is anyone’s guess. How he and Turner mesh this season will go a long way towards determining how quickly Philadelphia can turn around in a shallow Eastern Conference. The 76ers are still a team with a lot of uncertainty, but they’ll take that as long as it can generate a lot of excitement.

4) New Jersey Nets
Incoming Players: Derrick Favors, Damion James, Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Troy Murphy, Travis Outlaw, Johan Petro, Joe Smith
Outgoing Players: Courtney Lee, Yi Jianlian, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Chris Quinn, Josh Boone, Trenton Hassell, Bobby Simmons, Keyon Dooling, Tony Battie, Jarvis Hayes
Team Analysis: The Nets were close to becoming, historically, the worst team in NBA history last season. A late season “surge” by the Nets helped them avoid the NBA’s futility mark and allowed the team to finish 12-70 last season. There wasn’t a lot to be happy about in Jersey last season, but at least there’s hope on the horizon for this upcoming season. The Nets have a new owner now in the hugely interesting and insanely rich Mikhail Prokhorov as their brand new owner, the impending move to Brooklyn (which seems like it’s been in the works forever) is finally going to happen by 2012, and they’ve introduced a new coach to the team in Avery Johnson. Johnson, who won an NBA Championship as a player with the Spurs and went to the NBA Finals as a coach for Dallas, will at least command the attention and respect of the young talent in New Jersey.

Speaking of that new talent, nobody is more promising on the team than the third overall pick in the draft: Georgia Tech PF Derrick Favors. Favors has drawn early comparisons to Dwight Howard in terms of body structure and athletic ability, but is still very raw and will be brought along slowly by the Nets. The team lacked a lot of fortitude last season, and it’s no guarantee that they’ll develop that toughness just from the presence of their new coach. But they will be better. Troy Murphy, Jordan Farmar, Travis Outlaw and Anthony Morrow all make great additions to the team. Will it be enough to make them a playoff team? Probably not. But after last season’s 12 win season, everything is looking up for New Jersey.

5) Toronto Raptors
Incoming Players:
Ed Davis, Solomon Alabi, Leandro Barbosa, Linas Kleiza, Julian Wright
Outgoing Players: Chris Bosh, Hedo Turkoglu, Marco Belinelli, Rasho Nesterovic, Patrick O’Bryant, Antoine Wright
Play Analysis: Although the Knicks and Nets cut salary and lost games on purpose to be players this offseason, the Raptors signed and traded for talent to please one player who was going to be on the market: Chris Bosh. Bosh, however, never was going to stay in Toronto and he now resides in South Beach. The Raptors didn’t respond as harshly as Cleveland did with LeBron, but they’re going to move along with life after Bosh anyways. The talent that the team acquired last season did not gel at all, and with more turnover this season as well, chemistry will still be a huge problem with this Toronto team.

With the selection of Ed Davis in the first round, the Raptors hope to have found Bosh’s replacement immediately. Davis is a North Carolina product who is a very solid offensive talent. However, they can’t expect him to replace Bosh’s production right away. Andrea Bargnani should be primed for a huge break out year for Toronto, but I feel like that’s been said for about three straight seasons. But the talent gap between him and the next best player on the team is huge. The Raptors deserve credit for not going into complete firesale mode without Bosh and trying to still compete even though they lost their best player. But the moves they made this offseason won’t do much to help the team make the postseason. Coaching, chemistry and defense were the biggest problems last year; they’re still problems this season.
Posted on: May 17, 2010 3:21 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 10

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.  With the draft lottery coming tomorrow, now seems to be the perfect time to evaluate each of the last ten drafts and rank them in terms of talent involved each season.  The first draft to make the list, is the 2000 NBA Draft which features a whole lot of wasted potential and overall dissapointment.  Let's dive in shall we?

Top Ten Drafts of the Last Ten Years
#10: 2000 NBA Draft

Round One:
1) New Jersey Nets - Kenyon Martin, PF, Cincinnati
2) Vancouver Grizzlies - Stromile Swift, PF, LSU
3) Los Angeles Clippers - Darius Miles, SF, East St. Louis High School
4) Chicago Bulls - Marcus Fizer, PF, Iowa State
5) Orlando Magic - Mike Miller, SG, Florida
6) Atlanta Hawks - DeMarr Johnson, SG, Cincinnati
7) Chicago Bulls - Chris Mihm, C, Texas (traded to the Cavaliers)
8) Cleveland Cavaliers - Jamal Crawford, SG, Michigan (traded to the Bulls)
9) Houston Rockets - Joel Przybilla, C, Minnesota (traded to the Bucks)
10) Orlando Magic - Keyon Dooling, SG, Missouri (traded to the Nuggets who traded him to the Clippers)

Not an impressive top ten obviously.  Martin is easily the best out of the bunch but knee injuries derailed what could have been a really solid career from him.  Players like Stromile Swift and Darius Miles were athletic hybrid players without true positions and it showed throughout their careers.  Neither are in the league anymore.  Fizer had the shortest tenture out of all of the players involved.  He never really made a solid impact in Chicago, and a lot of people feel had Tim Floyd (his former coach at Iowa State) not been coaching the Bulls, Fizer wouldn't have been picked that high.  Johnson was involved in a serious car accident two years into his career that nearly left him paralyzed although he had a brief return with the Denver Nuggets before eventually disappearing from the league.  Mihm and Przybilla were both solid centers in this league although neither were top ten pick worthy.  Mike Miller and Jamal Crawford are still solid players in this league, although unspectacular and Dooling is still playing as a back up for the Nets.  Overall, not a very star studded or overly impressive top ten here.

11) Boston Celtics - Jerome Moiso, PF, UCLA
12) Dallas Mavericks - Etan Thomas, C, Syracuse
13) Orlando Magic - Courtney Alexander, SG, Fresno State (traded to the Mavericks)
14) Detroit Pistons - Mateen Cleaves, PG, Michigan State
15) Milwaukee Bucks - Jason Collier, C, Georgia Tech (traded to the Rockets)
16) Sacramento Kings - Hedo Turkoglu, SF, Turkey
17) Seattle Supersonics - Desmond Mason, SG, Oklahoma State
18) Los Angeles Clippers - Quentin Richardson, SF, DePaul
19) Charlotte Hornets - Jamaal Magloire, C, Kentucky
20) Philadelphia 76ers - Speedy Claxton, PG, Hofstra

This group isn't overly impressive either, although it has a few really good names.  Turkoglu and Claxton contributed to some really successful Magic and Spurs teams, with Claxton winning a championship as the back up point guard for the 2003 San Antonio team.  Moiso, Alexander and Cleaves had very short stints in the NBA.  Cleaves, the more highly publicized of the three, was drafted as a hometown guy for the Pistons but he never caught on in the rotation.  Mason, Richardson and Magloire carved nice niches throughout their careers, although Richardson is the only one who is still producing in the league.  Etan Thomas was a solid player for the Wizards before heart problems derailed his career while Collier died during a practice before the 2005-2006 season while with Atlanta because of an enlarged heart.  Overall, not a really bad list of 11-20 but still nothing to look up at.

21) Toronto Raptors - Morris Peterson, SG, Michigan State
22) New York Knicks - Donnell Harvey, SF, Florida (traded to the Mavericks)
23) Utah Jazz - DeShawn Stevenson, SG, Washington Union High School
24) Chicago Bulls - Dalibor Bagaric, C, Croatia
25) Phoenix Suns - Jake Tsakalidis, C, Greece
26) Denver Nuggets - Mamadou N'Diaye, C, Auburn
27) Indiana Pacers - Primoz Brezec, C, Slovenia
28) Portland Trail Blazers - Erick Barkley, SG, St. John's
29) Los Angeles Lakers - Mark Madsen, PF, Stanford

Now the list takes a bit of a nosedive.  Out of all of these players, only Peterson had a somewhat decent NBA career while players like Stevenson and Madsen have found ways to bounce around rosters and stay in the league.  Picks 24 through 27 showed just how desperate some teams are for size as all of the difficult to pronounce centers had very short and very uneventful careers in the NBA.  Players like Harvey and Barkley were able to play for a couple years in the NBA before being weeded out as well.  Overall, 21-29 is pretty bad; especially if Peterson, who had some really solid years for Toronto, is your MVP of the bunch.

Round Two Notables:
30) Los Angeles Clippers - Marko Jaric, PG, Italy
37) Miami Heat - Eddie House, PG, Arizona State
38) Houston Rockets - Eduardo Najera, PF, Oklahoma (traded to the Mavericks)
43) Milwaukee Bucks - Michael Redd, SG, Ohio State

Not a lot of productive second round names to choose from, but a pretty solid bunch of guys here.  Jaric started for a few years with the Clippers and got a huge contract and may be expiring soon for some lucky team.  Plus, his marriage to the insanely attractive Adriana Lima has to land him somewhere on here.  Eddie House bounced around from team to team, finding a way to contribute for all of them while being only a shoot first point guard.  He eventually found a home in Boston where he was a key contributor on their 2008 championship team.  Najera is the poster child for what a second rounder usually is, a grappler, physical, hustle-type player who's managed to carve out a pretty nice career thus far.  Michael Redd is probably the best player out of the entire draft (which is saying something about the draft).  By his third year in the league, Redd had become a solid contributor for some mildly successful Milwaukee teams before signing a huge contract and then suffering unfortunate knee injuries.  He still won a Gold Medal for the 2008 USA Olympic Team and still can shoot, but his body may not allow him to do much more.

2001 Rookie of the Year: Mike Miller
All Stars From The 2000 NBA Draft: Kenyon Martin, Jamaal Magloire, Michael Redd

2000-2001 NBA All-Rookie First Team
Mike Miller
Kenyon Martin
Marc Jackson (who was originally drafted by the Warriors in 1997 before finally signing in 2000)
Morris Peterson
Darius Miles

2000-2001 NBA All-Rookie Second Team
Hedo Turkoglu
Desmond Mason
Courtney Alexander
Marcus Fizer
Chris Mihm

Posted on: April 21, 2010 4:59 pm
 

Top Ten Postseason Moments of the Decade

Watching the playoffs always brings up memories of what you used to watch and enjoy in postseasons past.  Only being 22, my earliest NBA Finals memory dates back to what I consider the greatest NBA Finals series I've ever seen, the New York Knicks vs. the Houston Rockets in 1994.  But my peak playoff observing years didn't really happen until around 1998 or 1999. so to give the best comprehensive list I can, I'm doing off the top of my head and putting in order the top ten postseason moments of the last decade.  Now this can be at any series (first round, semifinals, conference finals and NBA Finals) and I'll date them to allow for more clarity on certain topics.  Hopefully fans from all teams will remember in agony, remember in bliss or us fans who cheered for teams without much postseason memories of the decade can remember moments that, even though we had no emotional attachment, just made us say "wow."  So here it is, GoHornets21's Top Ten Postseason Moments of the Decade.

10. Boston Celtics comebacks (from 21 down against the New Jersey Nets in Game 3 of the 2002 Conference Finals and from 21 down against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals) - In 2002, the Celtics were making their first appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals since the glory days of the Larry Bird era in Boston.  Celtics fans were eager to see the team possibly match up against the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals that season and a matchup with the New Jersey Nets left many thinking that it could happen.  After splitting the first two games in New Jersey, the series shifted to Boston for a crucial game 3 in the Eastern Conference Finals.  However, the Nets took a commanding lead through three quarters and were up by 21 going into the 4th quarter.  Paul Pierce would take over in the 4th quarter and lead the Celtics to outscoring the Nets by a score of 41-16 in the 4th quarter which would equal the biggest comeback in the history of the NBA postseason.  The Celtics, though, would not win another game in that series.  Fast forward six years later (a very long six years for Boston fans) and the Celtics finally made the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.  With the Celtics holding on a 2-1 series lead, a crucial game 4 in Los Angeles looked destined to take a turn for the worst when the Lakers jumped all over Boston in the 1st quarter, taking a 35-14 lead at the end of the first.  But just as he did six years prior, Paul Pierce would take over and the Celtics would end the 3rd quarter on a 21-3 run to cut the lead down to 2 entering the 4th quarter.  With 4:00 left in the 4th quarter, Boston's Eddie House would hit a shot to give the Celtics their first lead of the game, and would give Boston the lead for the good.  The huge come from behind win was the biggest comeback in NBA Finals history and would all but clinch the Celtics first NBA Championship in two decades. 

9. Steve Kerr's Game 6 performance versus the Dallas Mavericks (Game 6 of the 2003 Western Conference Finals) - Famous for hitting the final shot in the 1997 NBA Finals that gave the Chicago Bulls their fifth NBA Championship, Kerr had won four championships already as a member of the Bulls and the Spurs when he was on the bench for the Spurs in the 2003 Western Conference Finals.  The Spurs were facing a young, upstart Dallas Mavericks squad that was in the Conference Finals for the first time in 15 years.  After taking a 3-1 series lead, the Spurs were at home in game 5 and looked to close out the seemingly overmatched Mavericks.  But after Dallas shocked the Spurs in game 5 with an upset victory in San Antonio, the series shifted back to Dallas for game 6.  Hoping to send the series to a game 7 where anything can happen, the Mavericks came out and looked fantastic for three quarters and looked to have the Spurs on the ropes.  But then the Spurs turned to Steve Kerr in the third quarter, and Kerr would hit four three point shots to overtake the Mavericks and give the Spurs the lead.  Shellshocked, the Mavericks would fall apart in the 4th quarter and the Spurs would clinch the series and go on to win the NBA Championship.

8. Refereeing Controversies (Sacramento Kings vs. Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals, Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat in Game 5 of the 2006 NBA Finals and Phoenix Suns vs. San Antonio Spurs in Game 3 of the 2007 Western Conference Semifinals) - Fans of three certain teams look at the postseason the last decade with great resentment.  Those fans are fans of the Mavericks, Suns and Kings.  In all three matchups, a crucial game would result ina  huge free throw disparity, questionable foul calls and create controversies that still exist to this day.  With the Kings up 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals against the two time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, a game 6 at Staples Center left the Lakers looking defeat in the eye.  With the Lakers at home, they would shoot 18 more free throws than the Kings in the fourth quarter for a four point victory and send the series back to Sacramento where the Kings would lose a game 7 in overtime.  Years later, former NBA official Tim Donaghy would suggest that the NBA fixed that game 6 to give another game in one of the best playoff series of all time.  A few years later, young NBA star Dwyane Wade would get superstar treatment during the NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.  With the Mavericks up 2-0 in the NBA Finals and up by 13 with 6 minutes left in the 4th quarter in game 3, the Heat would stage a great comeback to steal game 3 and stay alive in the series.  In game 5, though, with the series tied at 2 apiece, Dwyane Wade would make 21 free throws, including two on a very questionable call with 1.9 seconds left in overtime, to win the series.  For their conduct after the game, Dirk Nowitzki and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban would be fined $5,000 and $250,000 respectively for their actions.  The Heat would eventually win the series in the sixth game.  In 2007, the Suns and the Spurs met up in the NBA playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons and would engage in one of the most personal playoff series of the decade.  After Amar'e Stoudemire accused the Spurs of being a dirty team, the teams would match up in San Antonio for game 3 with the series tied at 1 game apiece.  With contraversial referee Tim Donaghy at the helm for the game, the Spurs would receive a plethroa of questionable calls in their favor as San Antonio shot 36 free throws and 3 Suns starters finished with at least 5 fouls in a tightly contested game 3 victory which would give the Spurs a 2-1 series lead.  All games have left fans from each respective team bitter even to this day.

7. Tayshaun Prince's block on Reggie Miller (Game 2 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals) - Making the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight season, the Detroit Pistons looked set to not squander another opportunity at an NBA Championship.  Matched up with the first seed Indiana Pacers, the Pistons were entering game 2 already having lost the first game in Indiana.  Looking to win a game at Conseco Fieldhouse, the Pistons were holding on to a slim lead in the final minute of game 2.  After receiving a fantastic outlet pass, Indiana Pacers legend Reggie Miller looked free for a laypu that would tie the game for the Pacers.  Out of nowhere, second year players Tayshaun Prince would catch up to Reggie and, seemingly at the last possible moment, reached out and swatter Miller's layup attempt and effectively gave the Pistons the game 2 victory.  The Pistons would eventually win the series after taking Game 2 jand Prince's block is the big reason why they did.

6. Robert Horry's Game 5 performance against the Detroit Pistons (2005 NBA Finals) - The 2005 NBA Finals, for anyone who watched it, was a terrific matchup of two of the most consistently successful teams of the decade in the San Antonio Spurs and the Detroit Pistons.  The Spurs had already won two championships in 1999 and 2003 and the Pistons were the defending NBA Champions when the two matched up in 2005, making for a tough, tightly contested matchup between two defensive minded teams.  When the series was tied at 2 games a piece entering a critical game 5 in Detroit, things looked to finally get heated after four blowouts in the first four games of the series.  What ensued was utter chaos.  In a tightly contested game that featured 18 ties and 12 lead changes, the Spurs looked to Robert Horry off the bench, who did not score his first basket until the final play of the third quarter.  Then Horry took over.  Highlighted by a fantastic slam dunk and shooting 5 of 6 from the three point line, Robert Horry's final shot would prove to be a crippling blow to Detroit.  With the Spurs down by 2 in overtime, Horry would inbounds the ball to Manu Ginobili, and Rasheed Wallace would leave Horry to double Ginobili in the corner.  When he sensed this, Ginobili passed it back to Horry, who drilled a three pointer to give the Spurs the 96-95 victory and a 3-2 series lead in the NBA Finals.  Scoring 21 points off the bench (19 in the 4th quarter and OT), Horry turned in one of the greatest single game performances in NBA Finals history. 

5. LeBron James' Game 5 performance against the Detroit Pistons (2007 Eastern Conference Finals) - Now in the Eastern Conference Finals for the fifth straight season, the Pistons were matched up with a young, upstart Cleveland Cavaliers team that was led by 23 year old phenom LeBron James.  With the Pistons widely expected to use their experience to overmatch Cleveland and take the series, the Cavs shocked a lot of people to tie the series at 2 apiece heading to The Palace at Auburn Hills for a critical game 5.  Still expected to come through when it mattered, the Pistons and Cavs battled it out until the 4th quarter, when LeBron James, criticized the first two games of that series for being too complacent, would take over the game and will his Cavaliers to victory.  LeBron James would score 48 points in game 5, including the Cavaliers' final 25 points.  Again, he scored his team's finals 25 points.  LeBron would score all 18 of Cleveland's overtime points, including a dunk to tie the game and second it to a second overtime, and would then hit a layup with 2 seconds left in the second overtime to give the Cavs the 109-107 victory.  LeBron's performance shocked Detroit and the Cavs would close out the Pistons in game 6 and make the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. 

4. Robert Horry's buzzer beater against the Sacramento Kings (Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals) - Going back to the 2002 Western Conference Finals, the two defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and their bitter rival Sacramento Kings would match up in one of the most memorable series in NBA history.  With the Kings taking the first two games in Sacramento, they would lose game 3 in Los Angeles but still be primed to take control of the series if they could pull off a game 4 victory in Staples Center.  The Kings led by as many as 24 points in the first half before watching the Lakers slowly chip away at the lead.  On the court for the final possession, Horry, one of the NBA's historically clutch players, would see Lakers superstars Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal miss consecutive shots to tie the game before Sacramento center Vlade Divac would hit the ball away from the basket, hoping for the clock to run out and allow the Kings to take the almost insurmountable 3-1 series lead.  Horry, though, was waiting and squared up, caught the ball and launched a three pointer that hit nothing but the bottom of the net to give the Lakers the 100-99 victory.  The Staples Center went nuts and the Kings looked shocked as Horry's shot tied the series at 2 games apiece.  The Lakers would eventually win the series in seven games, and his shot is the biggest reason why that happened. 

3. Golden State Warriors upset Dallas Mavericks (2007 Western Conference Quarterfinals) - After a heartbreaking defeat in the 2006 NBA Finals to the Miami Heat, the Mavericks claimed to be a team on a mission entering the 2007 season.  Reeling off an NBA best 67 victories, the Mavericks looked focussed, deep and talented enough to win the first championship in franchise history.  They were matched up in the first round with a Golden State Warriors team making their first appearance in 13 seasons and being led by former Mavericks head coach Don Nelson.  In a move that would beg largely criticized, Mavs coach Avery Johnson would try to match Nelson's small lineups instead of using his size advantage and the Warriors would take full advantage of it.  After losing the first game in Dallas, old skeletons of playoffs past would escape Dallas' closet and the Mavericks would enter a state of panic.  Despite winning games 2 and 5 in Dallas after a Warriors team led by Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson would implode and receive plenty of technicals, the Mavs could not win in Golden State, losing by a combined 47 points in those 3 games as the Warriors would shock the Mavericks and become the second 8th seed in NBA Playoff History to upset a first seeded team.  Johnson would eventually be fired the next year in Dallas and the Mavericks have still not removed the stigma from this series' lost (although they're looking to this season). 

2. Derek Fisher's shot with .4 left to beat the San Antonio Spurs (Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conferece Semifinals) - In the 2004 Western Conference Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antnio Spurs, winners of the NBA's last 5 Larry O'Brien Trophies, would match up in a very memorable series.  With the teams trading victories, the series would continue in San Antonio for a crucial game 5 tied at 2 apiece.  In a rough, physical, fantastic ball game, the Lakers took a 72-71 lead with 11 seconds remaining on a tough Kobe Bryant jumper.  The Spurs would get the ball back, and Tim Duncan would hit a falling fadeaway shot to give the Spurs the lead with 0.4 seconds left.  With 0.3 being the least possible amount of time for a team to get a shot off, the Lakers only had a catch and shoot option to try and pull off the victory in San Antonio.  With Gary Payton inbounding the ball, he would pass the ball in to Derek Fisher who somehow caught it, turned around and swished a fadeaway jumper at the buzzer to give the Lakers the 74-73 victory and giving the Lakers the 3-2 series lead.  With game 6 in Staples, the Lakers would end the Spurs hopes at a repeat and would win the series, and eventually the Western Conference Championship as a result of Fisher's miraculous shot.

1. Detroit Pistons upset Los Angeles Lakers (2004 NBA Finals) - Notice how in moment number two, I only mentioned that the Lakers won the Western Conference Championship, and that was because they were matched up with the Detroit Pistons in 2004.  The Pistons (see Tayshaun Prince's block) had their own moments to make the finals, but looked out of their league against a Lakers team that included Gary Payton, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Shaquille O'Neal; four future hall of famers.  Making their fourth NBA Championship in five years (winning the previous three) and having home court advantage, the Pistons looked to be fodder for a Lakers team that was finally playing its best basketball of the season.  But the Pistons, with a great lineup of Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Prince, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace, and led by legendary coach Larry Brown, would not be scared in their matchup against the Goliath Lakers.  The Pistons would shock the Lakers and steal game 1 in Staples Center with an 87-75 victory to take home court advantage in the series.  Although Kobe Bryant would lead the Lakers to a game 2 victory to tie the series at 1, when the series shifted to Detroit, the Pistons took control and dominated the Lakers by 20, 8 and 13 points respectively to win the NBA Finals 4-1.  In what is considered by many the greatest upset in NBA History, the Pistons not only beat the Lakers, but completely dominated them for much of the five games that they played, leaving no doubt that it was a convincing victory for the Pistons. 

Posted on: January 5, 2010 5:00 pm
 

GoHornets21's End of the Decade Awards

It all started with us running to wal mart to buy tuna fish and bottled water.  It ended with us cursing the Lakers and Cavaliers and those darn puppets.  The years 2000 to 2010 were full of exciting basketball, break through players and broken hearts.  Scandal erupted when it was discovered that an NBA official was found gambling on games that he was officiating.  Fans were dazzled for Michael Jordan's return to the NBA when he donned the Washington Wizards jersey.  A city was revived in 2008 when the Boston Celtics landed Kevin Garnett and returned to the NBA's elite.  With so much happening, it was pretty difficult to narrow down what awards I was going to give and who or what I would give them to.  But all in all, I'm pleased with it so here goes: GoHornets21's NBA End of the Decade Awards.

Player of the Decade - Tim Duncan - When the Spurs lucked out and drafted Tim Duncan in 1997, I'm sure few envisioned that the very next season the team would win its first championship in franchise history.  That's how special Tim Duncan is.  Entering the decade, Duncan suffered a hyperextension in his knees on the road to defending his championship in the 2000 season, and Greg Popovich made the controversial decision to rest Tim for the 2000 postseason and the Spurs quickly lost in the first round.  A move like that would probably be routinely criticized in today's scrutinizing age, but it allowed Duncan to rehab and heal on his own time and the Spurs reaped the benefits.  The team would never win less than 50 games, was able to bring in pieces and jettison players at a rapid rate while building completely around Duncan.  He won the NBA MVP award in 2002 and 2003.  He brought home three NBA Championships this decade and was named NBA Finals MVP for two of those championships, in 2003 and 2005.  He won a Bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics but always stayed loyal to his coach, to his team and to a city that adores him.  Last season's loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the first round was the Spurs first first round defeat since Duncan did not play in the 2000 postseason.  That's insane consistency and it's all because of the player of the decade, Tim Duncan.
2nd Place - Kobe Bryant
3rd Place - Shaquille O'Neal

Team of the Decade - Los Angeles Lakers - Let's face facts, the first champions of this decade were the 2000 Los Angeles Lakers.  The last champions of the decade?  The 2009 Los Angeles Lakers.  A lot happened in Lakerland this decade, from the initial three peat, to Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant's continued spats, to O'Neal being traded to Miami, to Phil Jackson retiring, to the tough losing season, to Phil returning, to the two consecutive first round exits, to Kobe pubicly demanding to be traded, to Pau Gasol winding up in their laps and culminating in last year's title.  It was a fantastic voyage for Los Angeles, who won four championships this decade in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2009, and the made the finals two other seasons in 2004 and 2008.  They routinely defeated the closest challenger for team of the decade, the San Antonio Spurs, when the team's would square off in the postseason, with Duncan and company only beating the Lakers in the 2003 semifinals.  Through it all, Kobe Bryant was celebrated, jeered, villifed and eventually dignified when he won a championship in 2009.  Through it all, the Lakers were always either the team you loved to hate, or the team that everybody was hitchin' their bandwagon to.  And that's why they win the team of the decade.
2nd Place - San Antonio Spurs
3rd Place - Detroit Pistons

Team of the Decade (in a season) - the 2007-2008 Boston Celtics - Entering the 2007 offseason, the Celtics were a team with a very storied past but with a rocky recent few seasons.  Coming off a ridiculously bad 2006-2007 season, Paul Pierce openly accepted the possibility of being traded from the only team he's ever played for, and Doc Rivers was viewed across the board as someone who just couldn't coach.  Looking at it now, those would stand as blasphemous statements now.  But that's was widely accepted percepetion then.  Then the team tried to pry Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were looking to trade their superstar to begin their rebuilding process.  Garnett initiall refused to go to Boston and the deal looked dead.  But when the Celtics pulled off a draft day trade to land Ray Allen in a Boston uniform, Garnett changed his mind, and Boston still had enough pieces to convince Minnesota to trade Garnett and the Big Three became the hysteria of the league.  Coming into the season with all kinds of expectations, the Celtics would fill their roster with unwanted veterans like James Posey, P.J. Brown, Sam Cassell and Eddie House and would start young, unproven players such as Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins at point guard and center to stand alongside the Big Three.  What happened was some of the best basketball of the decade.  The Celtics accepted all expectations and soon exceeded them.  They would start off the season hot and never look back.  With Garnett winning the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year award, the Celtics would be transformed into a defensive juggernaut, almost impossible to score against and extremely efficient on the offensive end.  They would survive a scare from the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the postseason and then survive an equally scary Cleveland Cavaliers team in the semifinals, before convincingly defeating their arch rivals all season long, the Detroit Pistons in the Conference finals and then the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. 
2nd Place - 1999-2000 Los Angeles Lakers
3rd Place - 2002-2003 San Antonio Spurs

Rivalry of the Decade - Los Angeles Lakers vs. Sacramento Kings - If you were alive during and thriving in basketball during the early portion of this decade, you were enthralled by the Lakers and Kings rivalry.  They had an Southern California vs. Northern California hatred for one another.  They were both finesse teams that could really play some exciting basketball.  They both had terrific coaches in Phil Jackson and Rick Adelman, and one team always beat the other.  The early Sacramento Kings, espcially the 2002 Sacramento Kings, are easily the best teams I've ever seen that didn't win a championship.  Led by Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic and Mike Bibby, there would be on court fights, off court ridicule and constant playoff matchups with the Lakers for the Kings that would eventually force Sacramento's hand in dismantling the team.  Whether it be the classic seven game 2002 Western Conference Semifinals, the classic slugfest between Doug Christie and Rick Fox or Shaq's classic boast that "Los Angeles is the new capital of California", this rivalry had everything you could ever want.  Not only was it two teams that detested eachother, it was two wonderfully talented teams that hated eachother and would routinely put on some of the best basketball of the decade.
2nd Place - San Antonio Spurs vs. Phoenix Suns
3rd Place - Detroit Pistons vs. Indiana Pacers

Fans of the Deace - the Portland Trail Blazers - The Rose Garden has always been an exciting place to watch an NBA Basketball game.  The fans in Portland truly embrace and love their franchise and have for a very long time.  When the Trail Blazers suffered early success in the beginning part of this decade, they truly were a fantastic group of fans who supported their team.  When things got rough with off court problems, the fans let their frustrations be known, and the Trail Blazers were eventually forced to follow public desire and shed the "Jail Blazers" monicker.  Through it all, the Rose Garden was routinely sold out and finally became the place to watch basketball again in 2007, when the new Brandon Roy led Blazers burst onto the scene.
2nd Place - Sacramento Kings
3rd Place - Utah Jazz

Upset of the Decade - the Detroit Pistons over the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals - Coming into the 2003-2004 season, the Lakers were a team that already had won three championships and had Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal manning down the roster.  In the offseason, the team added veterans Karl Malone and Gary Payton, both eager to win a championship and both future hall of famers as well.  A lot was made of the Lakers four eventual Hall of Famers on one roster, and the team overcame injuries and Kobe's sexual assault allegations to peak in the postseason and take their rightful spot in the NBA Finals.  Over in the Eastern Conference, a solid team with a coach who never could win the big one played solid basketball all season long, acquired Rasheed Wallace at midseason and looked poised to make a nice run in the postseason as well.  When they eventually made the NBA Finals, not a snowball's chance in the Devil's residence was given to Detroit to beat the Los Angeles Lakers.  What followed was one of the most convincing five game victories in NBA postseason history.  After taking game 1 in convincing fashion, the Lakers would need late game heroics by Kobe Bryant to steal game 2 away from the Pistons.  But when the series shifted to Detroit for the next three games, the fantastic Detroit fans and the cohesive Pistons unit routinely thumped the Lakers and would win all three games in Detroit to take the NBA Finals in five games.
2nd Place - Golden State Warriors over the Dallas Mavericks in the 2007 Western Conference First Round
3rd Place - Chicago Bulls over the Miami Heat in the 2007 Eastern Conference First Round

Playoff Series of the Decade - Los Angeles Lakers vs. Sacramento Kings in the 2002 Western Conference Finals - As documented earlier, the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings hated eachother.  Largely, the Kings were viewed as a soft team incapable of beating Los Angeles.  But they acquired Mike Bibby in the 2001 offseason and won home court advantage throughout the postseason and looked as poised as ever to finally defeat their arch nemisis.  After the Lakers shocked the Kings in game 1 at Arco Arena, all of the ghosts and skeltons came out of Sacramento's closets and things looked bad for the Kings.  But then the Kings would take back game 2 and then win game 3 at Staples Center in convincing fashion.  With a 2-1 lead, the Kings entered the pivotal game 4 focused and ready to take full advantage of the series.  With the lead late, the Lakers through up a myriad of attempts to take the lead but were unable to, when the ball was tipped out to Robert Horry who hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history at the buzzer to give the Lakers the win and to tie the series at 2-2.  Even with their spirits hurting, the Kings were resilient in winning game 5.  Game 6 will be forever covered in mystery over whether or not the referees intentionally gave the Lakers the victory as was hinted by Tim Donaghy, but the Lakers used those free throws to their advantage and took game 6 at home.  This set up the fantastic game 7 in Arco Arena, where the Kings had every opportunity to win the game but uncharacteristically missed free throw after free throw, allowing the game to go into overtime where the Lakers eventually won.  The Kings never reached the conference finals again that decade and eventually jettisoned Chris Webber, then Peja Stojakovic, then Mike Bibby before entering the rebuilding stage that they're in now.
2nd Place - Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers in the 2000 Western Conference Finals
3rd Place - San Antonio Spurs vs. Detroit Pistons in the 2005 NBA Finals

Steal of the Decade - Los Angeles Lakers receive Pau Gasol and a 2010 2nd Round draft pick from the Memphis Grizzlies for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, the rights to Marc Gasol and 1st Round draft picks in 2008 and 2010 - At the time of this trade, Lakers franchise center Andrew Bynum had just gone down to a knee injury and was done for the season.  After not making it out of the first round of the playoffs the previous three seasons, the Lakers looked stuck in mediocrity before they pulled off the trade of the decade.  Seeing Memphis desperate to unload Pau's contract and begin rebuilding.  The Lakers were all so eager to give the Grizzlies cap relief in Brown and McKie, a young guard in Crittenton and a promising prospect in Pau's brother Marc.  Along with some 1st round draft picks that will wind up being in the late 20s, the Lakers were able to get their second star to Kobe Bryant and immediately took off.  They have been to the NBA Finals both seasons with Gasol on the roster and are favored to do it again this year.
2nd Place - Boston Celtics receive Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, cash considerations and two 2009 1st Round Draft Picks
3rd Place - Portland Trail Blazers receive draft rights to Brandon Roy from Minnesota Timberwolves of the NBA for the draft rights to Randy Foye and also receive draft rights to LaMarcus Aldridge and a conditional 2nd Round Draft Pick from the Chicago Bulls of the NBA for Viktor Khryapa and the draft rights to Tyrus Thomas on the same night; 2006 Draft night

Blunder of the Decade - Chicago Bulls sign Ben Wallace to 4 year, 60 million dollar deal - (taken from my Worst Contracts of the Last Decade blog) A four time NBA Defensive Player of the Year award winner and even the reigning 2 time DPOY, Ben Wallace entered the 2006 offseason as the prize of a very weak free agent class.  A defensive specialist who was always known to give max effort at the center position, the Bulls, looking for a player to hold down the center position and take the team to the next level, gave all of their free cap space to Ben Wallace to lure him away from the Detroit Pistons.  Outside of his comfort zone in Chicago, and playing on a team that didn't preach defense like the teams in Detroit did, Ben Wallace severely struggled in Chicago.  His numbers went down across the board, his defense slipped and he was exposed big time.  Facing expectations for the first time his career, Ben Wallace crumbled under pressure.  He was eventually shipped to Cleveland where he started on some successful Cavaliers teams but was never the player he used to be, and the player he used to be had no business making that kind of money.  He was eventually traded to Phoenix last offseason and after being bought out by the Suns considered retirement, but Ben has rejoined the Pistons and has found some of his old youth in Detroit.  But Ben Wallace still tops the list of the ten worst contracts of the last ten years.
2nd Place - Indiana Pacers trade Ron Artest to the Sacramento Kings for Peja Stojakovic
3rd Place - Anything the New York Knicks did during Isiah Thomas' reign.

All Decade Teams
1st Team:
G:
Jason Kidd
G: Kobe Bryant
F: Kevin Garnett
F: Tim Duncan
C: Shaquille O'Neal
Coach: Phil Jackson

2nd Team:
G:
Steve Nash
G: Dwyane Wade
F: LeBron James
F: Dirk Nowitzki
C: Yao Ming
Coach: Greg Popovich

3rd Team:
G:
Allen Iverson
G: Tracy McGrady
F: Paul Pierce
F: Chris Webber
C: Ben Wallace
Coach: Rick Adelman

Anything I missed?  Anything anyone wants to add?  Anything people want to critique?  All conversation is welcome.

Posted on: May 18, 2009 12:36 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoffs: The Conference Finals

 After a passable second round, the playoffs look to get exceptionally exciting with two very tough matchups.  I will start off by saying that I really went back and forth on both series and can't get a good feel on either one, which speaks to how competitive these should be.  Let's get to it.

Eastern Conference Finals
(1)
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (3) Orlando Magic
Why The Cavaliers Will Win: The Cavaliers enter this series on a roll that is out of this world.  After winning their first eight games of the postseason, they've run an incredible wave of momentum right into this series.  Everyone across the board is contributing and they've gotten an absolutely magnificent showing from LeBron James so far this postseason.  I imagine they'll continue to get great production from LeBron but the defense will be key.  And if you're going to rely on defense, being the number one defensive squad in the league helps in that department. 
Why The Magic Will Win: The Magic look like a confident bunch.  No team has been scrutinized more, outside of Los Angeles, than this Orlando squad.  However, the coaching squad and players have responded to criticism and have shown the ability to win crucial games on the road (winning games 1 and 7 in Boston, and winning critical games 4 and 6 in Philadelphia).  Dwight Howard is a matchup problem for anybody in this league, but with the Cavaliers he should look to have his way around the basket.  Anderson Vareajo can't sporadically give him fits with his ability to draw chargers, but Ben Wallace hasn't received any playing time and I can't imagine him being fresh enough to check Howard.  Even if he is, the offensive holes with him in the game will be glaring.  When that happens, the Cavs become too one dimensional (go to LeBron and spot up). 
Key Player for the Cavaliers: Mo Williams hit some big shots in game 4 against the Hawks but he's struggled with his shot this postseason.  If he plays at the level he did during the first two series then Rafer Alston will be able to match him.  Williams needs to convincingly take Alston to the limit at that position in order for the Cavaliers to win this series.
Key Player for the Magic: Courtney Lee will go unsung, but his defense on Eddie House against the Celtics was huge.  He was big in the 76ers series and although he's lost his starting spot, he stopped a critical role player and I imagine he'll be asked to do the same against Delonte West.  West has had a very good postseason thus far and if he continues to excel it's a huge feather in the cap for the Cavaliers.  However, if Lee can have West struggle with his jump shot, it can further discourage this squad and have them defer to LeBron too often.
Prediction: Magic in seven
Key As To Why They Will Win: Dwight Howard will be the critical factor in this series and I imagine he's going to have a field day in the paint.  This was not a problem for the Cavs in earlier series, but a severely injured Al Horford and a three point friendly Rasheed Wallace aren't necessarily intimidating presences.
Conclusion: I had these two teams in the conference finals before the playoffs started, and I picked the Cavs to win it.  I have no reason to back away from that precition now.  However, I'm riding the Magic bandwagon and really feel as if this team plays great ball together.  I could really fall on my face with this pick as I've rode the Cavs bandwagon all year, but I'm jumping off for this series.  It's not a matter of what the Cavs can't do, they've proven they can play with anybody in the league.  This is all about what the Magic are doing.  They've blown teams out, won tough games, faced adversity and overcome obstacles.  The Cavs could be riding momentum, but no team should be as confident as the Magic are.  That convincing victory in Boston for game 7 should give the Magic the confidence to win a seventh and final game in Cleveland.

Western Conference Finals
(1)
Los Angeles Lakers vs. (2) Denver Nuggets
Why The Lakers Will Win: The Lakers are top to bottom the more talented team.  However, they have a tendency to let up and let Kobe Bryant do all of the work.  Pau Gasol is hit or miss in the paint but came up big in game 7.  Trevor Ariza will be able to guard Carmelo Anthony which should allow Kobe Bryant the freedom to opperate on offense.  The bench, the defense and Andrew Bynum were huge in a critical game against Houston, and that should give the team some confidence going forward.  Also, Dahntay Jones has done a good job against smaller guards, but he won't be able to check Kobe and J.R. Smith isn't a force on defense either.
Why The Nuggets Will Win: The Nuggets are playing the best basketball of anybody in the postseason.  Everyone top to bottom is contributing, playing tough defense, hitting open jump shots and taking it to the basket at will.  The Lakers soft inside should have the Nuggets licking their chops if they continue to play the game that they've been against the Hornets and MavericksChauncey Billups should continue to give the Lakers problems at the point guard position and should be able to continue to keep Derek Fisher a non factor.  Also, now that Kenyon Martin won't be busy guarding Kobe Bryant, he should be able to contain Pau Gasol and give him fits.
Key Player for the Lakers: Andrew Bynum was solid in the last two home games of the Houston series and if he can continue to be productive, even if at home, it will do wonders for the Lakers in the paint.  Nene struggled away from Denver against the Mavericks and that was without any kind of inside presence on Dallas.  If Bynum can play solid ball around the basket on both sides then the Lakers can take it.
Key Player for the Nuggets: The starting lineup is a toss up, but J.R. Smith can give the Nuggets something the Lakers haven't had this postseason, reliable, consistent production off of the bench.  Chris Andersen got into foul trouble a lot in the Dallas series, but Smith was still able to play and has looked great the entire postseason.  It feels as if everything he's letting go is going in.  It's important for him to continue to produce, because if he gets hot Kobe Bryant will have to guard him and that can take away from his relaxing on defense.
Prediction: Lakers in seven
Key As To Why They Will Win: The Houston Rockets did the Lakers all sorts of favors in their second round matchup and I'll tell you why.  The fact that they showed the Lakers they can't win simply by showing up should instill a sense of urgency for the Lake show against the red hot Nuggets.  If the Lakers are on their game they're the most talented team in the league.  Now that they're playing the best competition the West has to offer, I look for them to bring it every game.
Conclusion: This series was tough.  It was left undecided even as I typed this and I feel as if it could justifiably go either way.  The Nuggets should win the point guard and bench battles, but the Lakers should be able to match that at the wing spots and inside the paint.  The Nuggets have faced teams that were inferior to them and they exerted their authoritiy.  They won't be able to do that against the Lakers, and this is a series where a couple of losses could give the Nuggets some trouble.  They haven't faced adversity in the playoffs in years.  They've breezed through this postseason and were hardly in contention in previous years.  It's vital that they go back to Denver with at loss one win if they're going to win this series, and I think the Lakers will ride game seven into games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles.  That was the difference maker.

Posted on: April 16, 2009 11:45 pm
 

2008-2009 NBA Regular Season Awards

Rookie of the Year:
1) Derrick Rose, G, Chicago Bulls (81 Games, 16.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.9 RPG while shooting 78.8 FT Pctg., 47.5 FG Pctg.) - In a runaway for this award, Rose has emerged past his competition and led his team to the postseason. He was taken number one, proved to be the correct selection and has the Bulls in the playoffs. Nobody's even close.
2) O.J. Mayo, G, Memphis Grizzlies (82 Games, 18.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.1 SPG while shooting 87.9 FT Pctg., 38.4 3PT FG Pctg., 43.8 FG Pctg.) - Put up great stats all season long but had stretches where he really suffered. Time will tell if he's a game changer or not.
3) Brook Lopez, C, New Jersey Nets (82 Games, 13.0 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 1.0 APG while shooting 79.3 FT Pctg., 53.1 FG Pctg.) - Far exceeded any expectation given to him at the center position. He proved that he can really score the basketball and he proved to be a really good find for New Jersey.
4) Russell Westbrook, G, Oklahoma City Thunder (82 Games, 15.3 PPG, 5.3 APG, 4.9 RPG, 1.3 SPG while shooting 81.5 FT Pctg., 39.8 FG Pctg.) - When Kevin Durant went out this year, Westbrook took over and really elevated his game. He finished strong this year and he looks like a really good player. Whether he'll be a point guard his entire career or not, though, is to be determined.
5) Kevin Love, F, Minnesota Timberwolves (81 Games, 11.1 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.0 APG while shooting 78.9 FT Pctg., 45.9 FG Pctg.) - Put up really good numbers this year and was overlooked all season long. I don't know why people hate on his game so much. He's a nice shooter and a fantastic rebounder. He's not great, but he's a really good player.

Most Valuable Player:
1) LeBron James, F, Cleveland Cavaliers (81 Games, 28.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 7.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.1 BPG while shooting 78.0 FT Pctg., 34.4 3PT FG Pctg., 48.9 FG Pctg.) - What's left to be said that hasn't been said in regards to LeBron's run this season? He's taken the Cavs to the best record in the league and has been tremendous across the board in doing so.
2) Dwyane Wade, G, Miami Heat (79 Games, 30.2 PPG, 7.5 APG, 5.0 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 1.3 BPG while shooting 76.5 FT Pctg., 31.7 3PT FG Pctg., 49.1 FG Pctg.) - Wade had the best single season by anyone in the league. Unfortunately, his team isn't spectacular (though they're not as bad as people make them out to be) and Wade really carried the weight to get the team to the 5th seed. The most important statistic: 79 games played.
3) Chris Paul, G, New Orleans Hornets (78 Games, 22.8 PPG, 11.0 APG, 5.5 RPG, 2.8 SPG while shooting 86.8 FT Pctg., 36.4 3PT FG Pctg., 50.3 FG Pctg.) - Overlooked all season long, but Paul actually had a better year this year than he did last year. In the Hornet's tumultuous season, Paul was the main staple and did a fantastic job of holding this depleted Hornets squad together for 49 wins.
4) Brandon Roy, G, Portland Trail Blazers (78 Games, 22.6 PPG, 5.1 APG, 4.7 RPG, 1.1 SPG while shooting 82.4 FT Pctg., 37.7 3PT FG Pctg., 48.0 FG Pctg.) - Another overlooked player who does a little bit of everything for that Portland franchise, does it with class and really takes oveor in the clutch for Portland.
5) Paul Pierce, F, Boston Celtics (81 Games, 20.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.0 SPG while shooting 83.0 FT Pctg., 39.1 3PT FG Pctg., 45.7 FG Pctg.) - With the injuries on this Boston team, Pierce was the main staple in the rotation and had a fantastic statistical season. With all the time that Kevin Garnett has missed, the Celtics probably had no business winning 60 games and Pierce led the team in doing so.

Coach of the Year:
1) Nate McMillan, Portland Trail Blazers (54-28 Record) - McMillan did a fantastic job of managing this young team and rotating everyone in, giving everybody a share of the glory. Portland has a deep squad but it was really young and he handled injuries and minutes distribution well enough to have this team gelling at the right time.
2) Stan Van Gundy, Orlando Magic (59-23 Record) - Really helped the Magic take their game to a new level. He's preached to them a defensive philosophy this year as well and it's evident watching them play that they've grown a lot from last season.
3) Mike Brown, Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16 Record) - Mike Brown has done a fine job putting players in the right position to win. His commitment to defense has always made the Cavaliers better than their talent indicated, but when he finally got some players he led his team to 66 wins. Solid season.
4) Greg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs (54-28 Record) - With all the injuries the Spurs went through this year, it's amazing to see that everybody has forgotten about Greg Popovich. Pop has had to go with smaller, defensively deffecient squads to get the Spurs to the Southwest division crown and really deserves a lot of credit.

Executive of the Year:
1) Danny Ferry, Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16 Record) - Obviously the huge acquisition of Mo Williams was the biggest reason for the Cavaliers resurgence this season. Ferry had the guts to pull it off and worked it to perfection.
2) Kevin Pritchard, Portland Trail Blazers (54-28 Record) - Pritchard has just put together a fantastic squad over in Portland. They're deep, talented, young, they draft well; just a model organization.
3) Mark Warkentien, Denver Nuggets (54-28 Record) - When the team traded Marcus Camby for a trade exemption in the summer, Nuggets fans were up in arms. But cost cutting moves like signing Chris Andersen coupled with landing Chauncey Billups in a trade and now the Nuggets are the number 2 seed in all of the western conference.

Defensive Player of the Year:
1) Dwight Howard, C, Orlando Magic (79 Games, 13.8 RPG, 2.9 BPG, 1.0 SPG) - His presence around the rim and ability to change games with his shot blocking ability is the biggest reason why Howard is in here.
2) Chris Andersen, F-C, Denver Nuggets (71 Games, 6.2 RPG, 2.5 BPG) - The Birdman has returned from a very publicized, very ugly drug abuse problem and was 2nd in the league in blocks with only 20 minutes a game; a fantastic story.
3) Dwyane Wade, G, Miami Heat (79 Games, 2.2 SPG, 1.3 BPG) - Wade became one of the shortest players of all time to record 100 blocks, and that's the biggest reason why Wade sneaks into the DPOY category.
4) Chris Paul, G, New Orleans Hornets (2.8 SPG) - Paul's ability to steal the ball this year was highlighted by recording 103 consecutive games with a steal.

Sixth Man of the Year:
1) Jason Terry, G, Dallas Mavericks (74 Games, 11 Starts, 33.7 MPG, 19.6 PPG, 3.4 APG, 2.4 RPG, 1.3 SPG while shooting 88.0 FT Pctg., 36.6 3PT FG Pctg., 46.3 FG Pctg.) - He's not technically a sixth man, but by definition he is so Terry is going to run away with this award.
2) J.R. Smith, G, Denver Nuggets (81 Games, 18 Starts, 27.7 MPG, 15.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.0 SPG while shooting 75.4 FT Pctg., 39.7 3PT FG Pctg., 44.6 FG Pctg.) - He also falls moreso into the Jason Terry category, but J.R. Smith's scoring ability has been humongous off the bench for Denver this season.
3) Travis Outlaw, G-F, Portland Trail Blazers (81 Games, 6 Starts, 27.7 MPG, 12.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.0 APG while shooting 72.3 FT Pctg., 37.7 3PT FG Pctg., 45.3 FG Pctg.) - The truest sixth man to the sense of the word is Travis Outlaw. He comes into the game, is versatile enough to play three different positions, can knock down the three and play strong defense.
4) Eddie House, G, Boston Celtics (81 Games, 0 Starts, 18.3 MPG, 8.5 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.1 APG, 79.2 FT Pctg., 44.4 3PT FG Pctg., 44.5 FG Pctg.) - House was fantastic from beyond the arc this season and was the main staple for a Celtics bench that was depleted by injuries as well. He's probably the truest sixth man in this category.

Most Improved Player:
1) Tony Parker, G, San Antonio Spurs (72 Games, 22.0 PPG, 6.9 APG, 3.1 RPG while shooting 78.2 FT Pctg., 50.6 FG Pctg.) - Tony Parker was always a good player but this season he became a great player. He averaged career highs in points and assists and really carried the Spurs on his shoulders down the stretch.
2) Devin Harris, G, New Jersey Nets (69 Games, 21.3 PPG, 6.9 APG, 3.3 RPG, 1.7 SPG while shooting 82.0 FT Pctg., 29.1 3PT FG Pctg., 43.8 FG Pctg.) - Statistically speaking Harris is the most improved, but a tough finish and a continued run in with injuries are the lasting impression on Harris this year.
3) David Lee, F, New York Knicks (81 Games, 16.0 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.0 SPG while shooting 75.5 FT Pctg., 54.9 FG Pctg.) - Lee took his game to a new level in Mike D'Antoni's system, averaging a double double and becoming an attractive contribution for any team heading into free agency.
4) Nene, F-C, Denver Nuggets (77 Games, 14.6 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.3 BPG, 1.2 SPG while shooting 72.3 FT Pctg., 60.4 FG Pctg.) - The onus was on Nene to rebound from Testicular Cancer and be the Nuggets best big man this league, they had no other options, and Nene has really responded. He's done a great job avoiding injuries and really has posted fantastic numbers as the Nuggets main inside presence.

Posted on: March 25, 2009 11:33 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: Boston Celtics

Previous Previews:
Western Conference:
Los Angeles Lakers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14206197

Eastern Conference:
Cleveland Cavaliers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14152907

Well now that teams are clinching divisions and spots in the postseason I thought it would be cool to go ahead and preview each team that is going to be a part of the 2009 NBA Postseason. I will do one for each team as they clinch a playoff spot and since we already have teams that have clinched, we will start with them. Now we will continue with the team with the defending NBA champions: the Boston Celtics.

Strengths
Boston's obvious strength coming into the playoffs is the fact that they're the team looking to repeat as champions.  Any doubt you can have about this team's style of play can be quickly shot down with a quick flash of the hand by any member of the big three.  Experience is something that you can't really undervalue in the potseason, and after last season's dramatic run to a championship, the Boston Celtics endured every problem that you could fathom last year and turned it into an NBA championship.  Paul Pierce elevated his game to a new level in last year's postseason, and over one year developed a reputation as a clutch player.  He and Kevin Garnett lead the respective inside-outside games of the Boston Celtics and is the biggest reason why they are as good as they are.  A team like Boston is a team that systematically beats you down.  They can launch jump shots consistently from any angle on the court, and Kevin Garnett anchors an inside game that is as effecient as it comes on both sides of the basketball.  There's no real spot of attack in the system.

The Celtics defense, of course, is where you should really maintain focus.  Paul Pierce has developed into a fantastic man defender and Kevin Garnett isn't a slouch himself, seeing as how he won last year's defensive player of the year award.  Teams have to fight for every basket when they face up against Boston and that takes its toll over a 48 minute game.  The Celtics are a hard working squad, and they don't take possessions off on any side of the ball. 

Weaknneses
The Celtics do go through stretches where they struggle to score.  Rajon Rondo is an effective point guard for this team, but when he's called on to do too much he's really hit or miss.  Outside of him, they have nobody who can really run the point guard position seeing as how Stephon Marbury has been a horrendous flop and Eddie House is a horrible ball handler for the guard position.  Of course, that lack of depth was no problem last year.  House stepped in fine when Sam Cassell was ineffective, but it is a weakness on the squad.  Also, hunger will not be an issue for this team.  A team with Kevin Garnett on the roster will never lack any emotion or desire to win.  However, this isn't necessarily the same Celtics squad as last season.  Gone are James Posey and P.J. Brown.  In are Stephon Marbury and Mikki Moore.  That's an obvious decline in production and court savvy and that could pose a bit of a problem in a seven game series.

The loss of James Posey will really be felt in the potseason, as he gave Paul Pierce moments of rest and guarded the opposing team's best player and allowed Pierce to flourish on offense before taking over again for the end of the game.  Also, his knack for hitting big shots really helped mask what was an underwhelming postseason for Ray Allen.  The fact that all of the big three are unselfish also could be a problem, because if Pierce isn't knocking down the big shots, Garnett and Allen don't necessarily demand the ball in clutch situations.  Remember, in last season's game seven against Cleveland, P.J. Brown and Eddie House were helping Paul Pierce in that fourth quarter.

Why They Will Win It
The Celtics are a safe pick because we know that they can do it and we know that they have done it.  Kevin Garnett also will have this team playing at a high level and even though they won a championship last season, they still play that same blue collar style of ball.  None of the desire and grit that made last season's squad so embraceable is absent on this season's squad.  Paul Pierce is so terrific on both sides of the basketball that you can't really help but admire his determination, and everyone else has no problem stepping in and filling roles.  There's nothing to distract this squad, and honestly the only team that can shut the Celtics down is the Celtics.

Why They Won't Win It
However, they are capable of beating themselves.  Doc Rivers is very questionable with his rotations and sometimes gives undeserved minutes to players in opportune situations (look at Sam Cassell and Glen Davis last season).  A lack of a determined, confident second star that demands the basketball really puts a lot of pressure on Paul Pierce in critical situations.  He can more than handle it, but it'd be nice if they could go elsewhere to take teams off guard. 

Conclusion
The Boston Celtics enter this season's postseason in a tough spot because those crucial game 7's that were played in Boston last season may not be played in The Garden this year.  However, this team is effective anywhere in the league because their style of play isn't necessarily feuled by a crowd reaction.  They're an effective, systematic bunch and you can't question their heart or talent.  The injuries set them back a bit, but they'll be in the talk as the playoffs continue.  It's difficult to beat a physical team in a seven game series, and Boston is the epitome of a physical team.  There's no reason to say they definitely won't repeat this year.

Coming up next: the Orlando Magic

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