Tag:Josh Smith
Posted on: October 21, 2010 12:42 am
 

2010-2011 NBA Southeast Division Preview

2010-2011 NBA Southeast Division Preview

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: May 26, 2010 3:07 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 3

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.  Well we're getting down to the nitty gritty now in terms of the countdown.  With only three drafts remaining, I went into a lot of due diligence to research and review each draft before putting in this submission.  I feel as if I was wrong in a few of my early seedings in this draft and I wanted to really try as hard as possible to make the top five as acurate as I feel it could be.  I think I've done that now.  Coming in at number 3 in our countdown is the 2004 NBA Draft which actually featured a hot pre-draft debate on who would be drafted number one and a pretty good group of players in general.  So here goes it loyal readers, number 3 on our countdown!

Top Ten Drafts of the Last Ten Years
#10: 2000 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21869382

#9: 2007 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21895619

#8: 2006 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21928696

#7: 2001 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21957208

#6: 2002 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21979856

#5: 2009 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22042511

#4: 2008 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22065028

#3: 2004 NBA Draft:

Round One:
1) Orlando Magic - Dwight Howard, C, Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy
2) Charlotte Bobcats - Emeka Okafor, C, UConn
3) Chicago Bulls - Ben Gordon, SG, UConn
4) Los Angeles Clippers - Shaun Livingston, PG, Peoria High School
5) Washington Wizards - Devin Harris, PG, Wisconsin (traded to the Mavericks)
6) Atlanta Hawks - Josh Childress, SF, Stanford
7) Phoenix Suns - Luol Deng, SF, Duke (traded to the Bulls)
8) Toronto Raptors - Rafael Araujo, C, BYU
9) Philadelphia 76ers - Andre Iguodala, SF, Arizona
10) Cleveland Cavaliers - Luke Jackson, SG, Oregon

Not a bad group of guys coming in at the top ten.  Going into the draft, it was largely rumored that Orlando would take established college star Emeka Okafor and that the expansion Charlotte Bobcats would take high schooler Dwight Howard and they'd grow as a franchise and player together.  However, Orlando felt Dwight's talents were too good to pass up and they eventually made the right choice.  Howard has become an perennial all star in this league and is already a two time Defensive Player of the Year award winner and already the best center in the league.  Okafor, meanwhile, has turned out a nice little defensive career himself, although he's nowhere near the caliber player that Howard is.  Ben Gordon took the league by storm his rookie season, showing explosive offensive talents and eventually becoming the first rookie in NBA history to win the Sixth Man of the Year award.  Livingston was viewed as some to be the "next Magic Johnson" when he was coming out of high school.  A great athlete with fantastic court vision, Livingston actually struggled to put together consistent stretches of success before severely injuring his knee in his third season in the league.  After going up for a routine layup, Livingston landed awkwardly and tore the ACL, PCL and the lateral meniscus while badly spraining his MCL and dislocating his patella and tibia-femoral joint.  He has struggled to stay in the league since, but he showed some late signs this season in Washington and will probably get another look there next season.  Harris was a lightning quick guard out of college and became a nice change of pace for Dallas during the year they went to the NBA Finals.  He eventually struggled over a definitive role in Mavericks coach Avery Johnson's system, and he was eventually traded to the Nets where he became an all star.  Childress was a really solid player for his four years in Atlanta, and started a short fad in the 2008 offseason that consisted of average NBA players going to play overseas for big money.  He may return to the NBA in due time, though.  Luol Deng has shown a lot of promise in his short career with the Bulls, but injuries and inconsistencies haven't allowed him to truly take that next step, and there's still some resentment towards the Bulls management giving him a big contract instead of Gordon, who eventually left to go play for the rival Detroit Pistons.  Aaraujo was a horrible bust from the very beginning, as Toronto was criticized for drafting by need and reaching for a player who was projected as a mid to late first round pick.  Araujo was lost out on the court and was out of the league by 2007.  The same can be said for Luke Jackson, a really solid scorer in college who was looked to be a coveted three point shooter for Cleveland.  However, Jackson couldn't do much other than shoot and never got on the court.  He last played in the NBA in 2007 as well.  The Sixers found a nice player at 9 in Iguodala.  A freakish athlete in college, he's been able to develop a semblance of a jump shot (even if he relies way too much on it) and is the current face of the 76ers franchise. 

11) Golden State Warriors - Andris Biedrins, C, Latvia
12) Seattle Supersonics - Robert Swift, C, Bakersfield High School
13) Portland Trail Blazers - Sebastian Telfair, PG, Lincoln High School
14) Utah Jazz - Kris Humphries, PF, Minnesota
15) Boston Celtics - Al Jefferson, PF, Prentiss High School
16) Utah Jazz - Kirk Snyder, SG, Nevada
17) Atlanta Hawks - Josh Smith, SF, Oak Hill Academy
18) New Orleans Hornets - J.R. Smith, SG, St. Benedict's Prep
19) Miami Heat - Dorell Wright, SF, South Kent Prep
20) Denver Nuggets - Jameer Nelson, PG, Saint Joseph's (traded to the Magic)

As you can tell, by this draft, the whole concept of jumping from high school to the pros had become quite the phenomenon, as by the top 20, eight players that were drafted were high school seniors.  Biedrins, not being one of them, has become a nice player for Golden State, fitting in perfectly with their system although he seemed to take a major step back this season due to some serious confidence issues.  But he has the ability to overcome those.  Robert Swift continued Seattle's trend of "draft a center and see what happens," and nothing happened.  He was constantly injured and never showed much promise when on the court in the first place.  Telfair was a lauded prospect coming out of school and his family ties to Stephon Marbury and friendship with LeBron James created a stir over his potential talents.  However, he's never been able to stay in a rotation and has struggled thus far in his NBA career.  Humphries has managed to stay in the league as a nice hustle player and is currently playing for hte Nets.  Al Jefferson showed some promise in Boston and was eventually the centerpiece in the trade that brought Kevin Garnett to the Celtics.  He's become a great scorer for the Timberwolves but not much more and has suffered with injuries of his own the last two years.  Snyder was a fantastic athlete who had a good year with the Hornets following his rookie season with the Jazz, but fizzled out of the league by 2008 and is now serving a three year jail sentence for a home invasion.  Josh Smith took awhile to put all of his talents together, but the hometown Atlantan has become one of the most exciting players in the league and a nice building block of the future for Atlanta.  J.R. Smith had a terrific second half to his rookie season in New Orleans, but quickly clashed with coach Byron Scott and was traded to Chicago for Tyson Chandler.  Chicago then immediately traded him to Denver, where he's shown flashes of being a terrific scorer but is still every bit the immature head case he was for his two years with the Hornets.  It's taking awhile, but Wright just may be coming into his own as a nice reserve rotation player for the Heat.  Nelson, meanwhile, was the college player of the year and his story of falling down in the draft clashed with the number of high school players that were being chosen.  Nelson eventually ended up with Orlando where he became their starting point guard and has since emerged into an all star player. 

21) Utah Jazz - Pavel Podkolzin, C, Russia (traded to the Mavericks)
22) New Jersey Nets - Victor Khryapa, SF, Russia (traded to the Trail Blazers)
23) Portland Trail Blazers - Sergei Monia, SG, Russia
24) Boston Celtics - Delonte West, PG, Saint Joseph's
25) Boston Celtics - Tony Allen, SG, Oklahoma State
26) Sacramento Kings - Kevin Martin, SG, Western Carolina
27) Los Angeles Lakers - Sasha Vujacic, SG, Slovenia
28) San Antonio Spurs - Beno Udrih, PG, Slovenia
29) Indiana Pacers - David Harrison, C, Colorado

It was pretty cool to see three consecutive Russian players drafted in the first round.  However, not one of the Russians turned out memorable careers.  Podkolzin only played six games in two seasons with the Mavericks and was out of the league by 2006 while Khryapa and didn't fare much better.  Khryapa became a starter in Portland by his second season, but was then traded to Chicago and was out of the league by 2008.  Monia continued the hat trick and only played 26 games in the NBA before expressing a desire to return overseas after not cracking a rotation in the NBA.  West and Allen became nice players for Boston during their short time there.  West showed a penchant for coming up in clutch situations and his versatility at either guard position has allowed him to become a nice role player for Cleveland.  Meanwhile, Allen's defense and athletic ability have allowed him to stay in Boston (even through their bad years where they got rid of, almost, everybody) and he's become a great reserve for a solid team this season.  Martin was an explosive scorer in college and has become the exact same in the NBA, although injuries have limited his effectiveness the last two seasons.  Vujacic was a wild shooter who struggled his first three seasons in the leauge, finally put it all together in 2008 (a contract year) and was resigned to a big deal, and has now gone back to struggling.  Udrih struggled to stay on the court for San Antonio and eventually wound up in Sacramento, where he's found a home as the team's starting point guard the last seasons.  Harrison was another really talented prospect, but his off the court issues and immaturity were a theme for some troubled Pacers teams at the time and he was out of the league by 2008.

Round Two Notables:
30) Orlando Magic - Anderson Varejao, PF, Brazil (traded to the Cavaliers)
37) Atlanta Hawks - Royal Ivey, PG, Texas
38) Chicago Bulls - Chris Duhon, PG, Duke
43) New York Knicks - Trevor Ariza, SF, UCLA

A couple of really solid second rounders here.  Varejao has become a really popular player in Cleveland and, even if overpaid, is an important rotation player for some successful Cleveland teams the last few seasons.  Ivey is a defensive point guard who's managed to stay in the league thus far and even started some for Atlanta.  Duhon was a great back up in Chicago but struggled when given starter's minutes in New York.  His future in the league is uncertain.  Meanwhile, Ariza struggled to stay on the court in New York and Orlando due to injuries and inconsistency, but was eventually traded to the Lakers where he struggled with injuries again before becoming the team's starting small forward when they won the championship in 2009.  He parlayed that into a nice contract with the Houston Rockets, where he's currently their starting small forward.

Notable Undrafted Players
Damien Wilkins, SF, Georgia - Signed with the Seattle Supersonics

I mention Wilkins because he's managed to stay in the league thus far.  Nephew of NBA Legend Dominique Wilkins, Damien has stuck in the rotation for some playoff teams in Seattle and is still playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves today. 

2004-2005 NBA Rookie of the Year: Emeka Okafor
All Stars from the 2004 NBA Draft: Dwight Howard, Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson

2004-2005 NBA All-Rookie First Team
Emeka Okafor
Dwight Howard
Ben Gordon
Andre Iguodala
Luol Deng

2004-2005 NBA All-Rookie Second Team
Nenad Krstic (who was originally drafted by the Nets in 2002 before finally signing in 2004)
Josh Smith
Josh Childress
Jameer Nelson
Al Jefferson

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

Worst Teams In The NBA Of The Last Decade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted on: November 19, 2009 12:28 pm
 

The 2010 Sweepstakes: High Reward of High Risk?

We all know the big phrase for every team that has a losing record ten games into the season.  "Let's trade this bad contract for this guy with an expiring contract."  These kind of moves have been made for the past two seasons all with anticipation of this upcoming offseason: the big 2010 free agent class.  Teams are shedding payroll like Rex Ryan sheds tears in hopes of being able to afford the plethora of superstars available this upcoming July.  Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, Amar'e Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki and, of course, LeBron James headline the class this summer and have every team in the league hoping to changes its fortunes in quick fashion.  Out of the mentioned prospects, Nowitzki is the only player almost guaranteed to stay with his current team.  The rest are all targeted players for that team looking to return to glory, for that team trying to establish a glorious rotation or just for a team looking to make a little bit of a profit with some ticket sales.  But I'm here to tell you that shedding all that salary cap is probably more of a risk than some are mentioning.

The New York Knicks have been bad for awhile.  They were the league's most consistent and glorious franchise in the 1970s and in the 90s into the early part of this new millenium, they were able to remain competitive and even had two Eastern Conference Championships to show for it.  But ever since 2002 the Knicks have fallen on very hard times.  They've had one playoff appearance since then, a crazy amount of bad contracts, displeased fans and one of the worst win-loss records in the league during that span.  But the Knicks, even at 2-9 today, will sell to you that they're a team on the rise.  Why?  Not because of any young talent on the team (although Danilo Gallinari and David Lee are nice, young players) but because they're going to land one of the big free agents in 2010.  Playing in the most famous arena in the world, Madison Square Garden, in the biggest market in the league, the Knicks are always formidable players in the free agent spending department (look at the contracts they were able to give to Allan Houston, Jared Jeffries, Jerome James and Eddy Curry).  They've just never spent the time to focus on spending on talented players. 

But at least they can sell you that they're New York and that's why you should play there.  The other team that's been building for 2010 for a few seasons now is the New Jersey Nets.  The Nets have had more success than the Knicks in recent history and made the NBA Finals two seasons in a row back in 2002 and then in 2003.  But after this season, they will have missed the postseason for three consecutive seasons.  They do have Devin Harris, Brook Lopez and Courtney Lee, but even with all that young talent on board, they play in an immensely small market, in an old stadium and in front of some of the most lackluster crowds east of the Clippers.  Even with young talent in place, it's hard to sell to a potential star how important it is to sign with New Jersey.  Until they get their ownership and the impending relocation to Brooklyn in order, the Nets will struggle to build as a franchise.  And that includes playing any role in this offseason.

But those teams assume the risks of this offseason and do so with high hopes.  They've put all of their eggs in the 2010 basket, but how reliable is that really?  The Knicks have a city desperate for success and that's used to being at least remotely competitive.  Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni were to turn things around but decided bringing in established superstars was the route to go.  Fans have been patient for two seasons and even though the Knicks have fielded fun teams, they have not fielded successful teams nor do they bear any resemblance of a team on the rise.  Unless they get that big piece.  But what happens if you don't?  That could be killer for this New York franchise.  When you're a team like the Knicks and the Nets, if you swing and miss this offseason it's fatal for your franchise.  The Nets are trying hard to sell a relocation and trying to bring on board an owner who's committed to winning, those will be even harder sells if the team that is currently 0-12 boasts no superstar power after this offseason.  They all want LeBron James and LeBron has teased everyone involved, but let's not forget that Cleveland will still be able to give him the most money.  When you resign your own players, it does not matter how big the contract is.  Sure it goes against your payroll, but the NBA does not charge cap penalties when you improve within the organization.  That's why Cleveland, even while spending 50 million dollars on Anderon Vareajo back in the summer, can offer LeBron the most money to get him to stay.  It's his hometown, they've been a consistently good team for the past five seasons.  They're on the verge of becoming a championship team.  His best chance to win is in Cleveland.  Sure LeBron has done nothing to disassociate himself from the notion that he's all about the money, but at the end of the day if you have a franchise that can give you the Benjamins and Franklins and still guarantee you an opportunity at the Larry O'Brien Trophy, you think he'll easily turn his nose up at that as opposed to a team that may become a formidable player with him on the roster?  Look at how long it took the Cavaliers to build around LeBron.  A player of his skill set is easy to surround with players, but to find a formidable roster that can win with one person controlling the ball a majority of the time is very difficult.  Look at the problems the Heat are having now with Dwyane Wade.  Look at the problems the Hornets are having with Chris Paul.  Look at the Cavaliers during LeBron's first years in the league.  It's hard to run a one dimensional offense, and if you spend all of your money on LeBron James that's what you'll have. 

Fans have been patient in New York because they feel as if it's their God given right to have a superstar sign in 2010.  Amar'e Stoudemire and Chris Bosh are likely candidates to switch jerseys this offseason because neither of their teams have been successful as of late and neither seems very commited to their organization.  But are either of those guys going to be centerpieces for a championship?  Don't you think that if they were, their teams would be better than they are now?  Some team will overspend on Bosh or Stoudemire this offseason because the market will be so high on them.  But that team better hope that those players mature and develop into something that they're currently not, or else they're looking at limited cap space and medicore results (see the Washington Wizards). 

It's always attractive to look at good players and wonder what they'll do if they get to your team.  But look at how the Hawks built around Joe Johnson.  They have Josh Smith, Mike Bibby, Al Horford and a franchise on the rise.  Look at Dwyane Wade.  He's won a championship, has a lot of young, growing pieces in Miami and a franchise and city that adores him.  Same goes for Dirk Nowitzki (minus the championship part).  It's a hard sell to look a player in the eye and say "trust me" than it is to say "look what we've done for you."  When you cut this much space, you're basically putting all your cards and chips on the table.  In the New York Metropolitan area, you better hope that river card turns up a LeBron or a Wade.  Because if it doesn't, years of futility will follow and the backlash will be catastrophic for the franchise.
Posted on: September 29, 2009 2:19 pm
Edited on: May 3, 2010 2:45 am
 

NBA 2009-2010 Southeast Division Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


2. 
Atlanta Hawks – Pigs may not be able to fly.  Dogs may not able to speak English and Tony Romo may not be able to win a playoff game.  But another miracle is taking place right before our eyes, consistency is residing in the Atlanta Hawks franchise.  Not that they hadn’t been consistent before; if you include consecutive last place finishes consistency.  But with Mike Woodson entering his fifth year at the head coaching spot and with the Hawks fresh off not only their second straight postseason appearance but their first playoff series victory in ten years, the Hawks display promise, direction and, dare I say it, consistency.  The acquisition of Joe Johnson has a lot to do with that, as he’s given the Hawks a solid first option for the last four seasons and has stepped up continuously when the team has needed it.  The acquisition of Mike Bibby also has done a lot, as it’s given the Hawks leadership and experience when they had none of it outside of Johnson prior to Bibby arriving.  But, when you show promise expectations arrive, and now it’s time for the Hawks to start showing that they can take a new step in the right direction.  Al Horford really proved to be key for the Hawks last year, and there’s no doubt that his injury played a big factor in why the Hawks were so outmatched against Cleveland in the Semifinals.  He needs to stay healthy and continue to improve his game as the Hawks are a much better team when he’s being assertive and looking for possessions.  The Hawks also missed Marvin William in the postseason, as the guard and forward was beginning to play a huge role in the team’s development.  But his injury also derailed the team’s momentum. 

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

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


3. 
Washington Wizards – Last season was disastrous in our nation’s capital.  Washington had injuries to everyone on the roster outside of Antawn Jamison, got their coach fired and watched an abysmal season get worse until it mercifully ended with 63 losses.  But there’s a new feeling of refreshment in Washington and it has everything to do with players on the team getting healthy, and not the turnover from last season’s squad.  Gilbert Arenas has played all of 15 games the last two seasons and his scoring and ability to give the team options in the clutch was sorely missed last season.  He had another knee surgery after signing his big free agent contract last offseason, but the Wizards seem determined to give him, Caron Butler and Jamison one more run at a championship.  The biggest setback to this is that the Wizards never showed any kind of elite potential when all three were on the court together in the first place, and Butler, himself, has missed an average of 19 games a year since arriving to Washington.  But the Wizards are still optimistic and the arrival of Flip Saunders should help fuel that optimism.

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

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


4. 
Miami Heat – It’s amazing, but it seems so long ago that Shaquille O’Neal was manning down the center position in Miami and the Heat were winning championships.  Amazingly, it’s only been three seasons.  But the Heat hit bottom hard when the injury bug bit start guard Dwyane Wade and they seemed to be a franchise heading nowhere in a hurry.  Wade stayed healthy last season, though, and followed up his spectacular play in the Summer Olympics with an MVP-Caliber season and leading the Heat to a postseason appearance.  The biggest problem in Miami, though, was that Wade seemed to be doing it all by himself.  Michael Beasley took a long time to develop and then crumbled this offseason.  Mario Chalmers was solid all season as a starting point guard, even as a second round rookie, but still heard rumors about being replaced all offseason.  Even a flirting session with free agent Allen Iverson didn’t seem to do much to give Wade hope that help was on the horizon, so it’s hard to imagine the Heat believing they can be any better than they were last season. 

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

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


5. 
Charlotte Bobcats – The Charlotte Bobcats are a hard team to figure out.  They have one of the greatest coaches in NBA history on the bench.  They have the best player to play the game as an executive and talent scout, and they have a solid bunch of role players, veterans and young players on the squad to really make up a solid team.  However, there just seems to be no reason for excitement in Charlotte.  The environment there didn’t change much this offseason when the Bobcats traded Emeka Okafor to the Hornets for Tyson Chandler.  Chandler has a long history of injuries and inconsistent play, although he’s just as good as Okafor at the center position.  If he can stay healthy, it will really do wonders for this squad and it’s ability to run the floor.  But chances are he won’t be able to do that.  In order to make a run at the postseason, the Bobcats acquired veteran role players Raja Bells, Boris Diaw, Vladimir Radmonovic, and DeSagana Diop.  But it didn’t pay off as the team narrowly missed the postseason and is now stuck with bloated contracts from all four players. 

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

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

Posted on: March 27, 2009 1:05 am
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: Atlanta Hawks

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

Boston Celtics - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14220509

Orlando Magic - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14229507

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 a team that is now making its second consecutive postseason appearance: the Atlanta Hawks.

Strengths
When you think of the Atlanta Hawks, you don't really think of a flashy team or a team filled with huge superstars.  They don't dazzle you with spectacular athletic displays (though Josh Smith gives his fair share), they don't bombard you with an array of 3 pointers (although Flip Murray and Mike Bibby will take a good amount of them), but somehow they are one of four Eastern Conference teams to clinch a playoff spot.  Considering the other three are the Cavaliers, Celtics and Magic, it makes you wonder what exactly Atlanta is doing right.  And that is what they're doing right.  The face of their franchise is Joe Johnson, a role player in Phoenix who was heavily criticized for taking a max deal to come to Atlanta, and now has led this team into the playoffs for the second straight season after a horrendous eight year drought that saw the franchise hit rock bottom on numerous occasions.  But the fact that this team has been built through the draft and through little acquisitions here and there gives them a continuity that a lot of teams lack.  Chemistry is no problem with this Atlanta squad, and that was evident when they pushed last season's champions, the Boston Celtics, to a seven game series despite being heavily undermanned against a fantastic Boston squad.

With Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Mike Bibby in the offense, the Hawks have three fantastic passers who are also fantastic with the ball in their hands with the intent of scoring.  Mike Bibby has been given the Hawks some stability at point guard position, providing a great presence for a spot that was left vacant in Atlanta since Mookie Blaylock's departure.  On offense, they have an impressive amount of options.  None of the names overwhelm you, but Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby, Al Horford, Flip Murray, Josh Smith and even Marvin Williams or Maurice Evans are capable of taking over and having a big game on a given night.  Their cohesiveness is a huge reason why they've been able to grow and continue progressing into one of the better teams in an improved Eastern Conference. 

As we saw in last season's playoffs, the Hawks are a dangerous team at home in the postseason.  Their crowd hasn't really continued that into the regular season this year, but you have to imagine they'll come out in numbers and in emotion when the postseason comes around, and the Hawks will again play their best basketball at home.

Weaknesses
Because the Hawks have so many options and so many selfless players, they really struggle to develop a groove as a unit.  Joe Johnson has been hot as of late, Mike Bibby is off and on on a game by game basis, and right now, because of Marvin Williams injury, one of their only two difference makers off of the bench (Maurice Evans) is having to start, which takes away from a second unit that is behind as it is.  Even though they have a good amount of players that can help keep the offense fluent, they have zero depth at point guard.  Acie Law was supposed to take a step forward this season, but looks strikingly similar to last season's player who barely got into the game.  Bibby struggled in last year's playoffs, and he's not going to stop shooting anytime soon.  When he's on, he's a fabulous asset at the point guard position (especially in an offense that relies on everyone to feed off of Johnson rather than Bibby) but more often than not he's struggled with his shot.

Zaza Pachulia is a solid big man off the bench, but he is it as far as frontcourt options off the bench are concerned.  Depth is a major issue for Atlanta and foul trouble for anybody is reason for concern, and in a game by game basis that could come back to bite you.  They don't have a true power forward, although Josh Smith does his best at the position.  Neither he nor Marvin Williams are really able to be classified at either forward position, but as the two starters they give up a lot to bigger teams.  Josh Smith is usually busy guarding the opposing teams best wing player, which leaves Marvin Williams to guard a big man and that is cause for concern in the paint. 

Speaking of Marvin Williams, he was really starting to come into his own as a player before falling to the back injury, and the fact that the Hawks struggle with depth doesn't help matters.  They're obviously not rushing him back, but that also may be because his injury isn't healing as quickly as they assumed it would.  Without him, they will really struggle to win a playoff series.

Why They Will Win It
The Hawks bring solid starters at every position and really can attack you from all angles.  Their offense is fun to watch when it's on and they are more than capable on defense.  They don't dazzle you in any one area, but they're solid in every category across the board.  Mike Woodson has them team playing hard on both sides of the floor and they have a lot to build off of in regards to last season's postseason appearance.  Overall, if Joe Johnson hits a hot stretch in the playoffs, he's really tough to guard and he can carry the Hawks for stretches based off of his will and determination alone.

Why They Won't Win It
Outside of Johnson, and he's had his moments too, every player on this team really struggles with consistency.  Some of them will look fantastic at times and others they'll look very inept.  Depth is a huge problem for the Hawks, especially in the frontcourt, and they can't seem to get everyone on the same page.  They also struggle away from Atlanta, and to win a championship you have to put up some sort of fight away from home. 

Conclusion
The Hawks are in prime position to get home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and that could help the Hawks get out of the first round for the first time since 1999.  They can score, they're not bad on defense and they really are a beast in Atlanta.  They've beaten many good teams at home and if they can lock up the 4th seed, they should be able to get out of the first round.  That would be another step forward for this developing team and franchise, but it's too much to expect a championship from them this year.  They're in the right direction but aren't going to take home the gold this year.

The next team to clinch will be covered in the next preview.

Posted on: December 8, 2008 1:30 am
Edited on: March 21, 2009 1:15 am
 

NBA Power Rankings Through December 7, 2008

1. Boston Celtics (2) - And with the Lake show's loss to Indiana this week, the Celtics now have the best record in the league and the top spot in the power rankings (couldn't have come sooner for you devout Boston fans).  Rajon Rondo has played like a beast this season and has an outside shot at making the all star team.

 

 

2. Los Angeles Lakers (1) - A loss at Indiana knocks them down but they're still rolling along at 17-2 (that record matches the Lakers' best 19 game start in team history).  Nobody on this team is really starring, similar to Boston, even though they have the best records in the league, but Pau Gasol's play deserves recognition.  He's a perfect match for that offense and even moreso now that he gets to play his more natural power forward position.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (3) - The Cavaliers continue to win games and are currently undefeated at home.  They're getting good minutes out of J.J. Hickson lately which is encouraging for what is perceived as a weak frontline.  Daniel Gibson has been lights out this season, which is nice to see even though he received a new contract in the offseason.

4. Orlando Magic (5) - Even though they got blown out at Boston Friday night, this team has been steady all season long.  Jameer Nelson is back now and they're rolling as steadily and as quietly as they did last season. 

5. Denver Nuggets (4) - J.R. Smith and George Karl aren't even on speaking terms which is sad because this is now the second coach that has gotten fed up with Smith's antics.  You hate to see that kind of talent go to waste because of an attitude and he's crucial to the team's ultimate success.  It's something to keep an eye on.

6. Portland Trail Blazers (6) - Even though they're not getting the best minutes out of Greg Oden this team still continues to chug along.  Brandon Roy is currently playing like a top five or ten player in the league.  He's doing a little bit of everything and they're getting solid production out of a young bench as well.  This team's progression should be fun to watch and whether or not the maturation continues to a level that allows them to make the playoffs is something to keep track of. 

7. Houston Rockets (7) - Even without Tracy McGrady, the Rockets continue to chug along.  Rafer Alston has stepped up in McGrady's absence and Yao Ming has been dominant in the post this week.  They need McGrady ultimately (of course) but currently his injury won't rock this team too hard.

8. Atlanta Hawks (9) - Getting Josh Smith back was huge for this team but Al Horford's injury is something to keep an eye on.  This team continues to hover around the top ten regardless of everyone waiting for them to fall off the face of the Earth.  Mike Woodson has done a great job so far this season.

9. New Orleans Hornets (11) - The Hornets have quietly won six of their last seven and are starting to get production out of Peja Stojakovic.  They still lack that solid chemistry they had last season but they're starting to play the same, exciting, brand of basketball they displayed last season.

10. Utah Jazz (8) - Even though Paul Millsap is playing out of his mind, this team still misses Carlos BoozerMatt Harpring and Andrei Kirilenko are coming back from injuries and this team still needs to get fully healthy before we can critique their wildly inconsistent start to the season.

11. San Antonio Spurs (13) - Don't look now, but the Spurs are relatively healthy and the offense looks fluent.  Tim Duncan is playing solid basketball but that should come as a surprise to no one.  Surprisingly, this team is getting great production out of Matt Bonner and Bruce Bowen is finding himself deeper on the bench as the games go on.  You have to wonder how much he may have left in the tank at his age.

12. Dallas Mavericks (16) - The Mavericks are surging and (as mentioned on last week's rankings) Jose Juan Barea is looking great with an increase in minutes.  I'm not positive that the team's season long search for a starting shooting guard ends with Barea, as a lineup starting he and Jason Kidd in the backcourt is extremely small, but it's working for the moment. 

13. New Jersey Nets (14) - This team is still playing a fun, inspiring brand of basketball and Devin Harris continues to play out of his mind, even with the increase in recognition lately.  They are missing Eduardo Najera and when he gets back he will bring even more grit and determination to the league's hardest working team.

14. Detroit Pistons (11) - This is going to sound harsh, but Rasheed Wallace is the biggest waste of talent in recent memory.  He is an incredibly gifted player but his lack of motivation and intensity holds him back and this season it's holding this Pistons squad back.  Allen Iverson is doing what he can (and he's not the problem) but this team lacks a serious frontcourt and as a result they're getting taken advantage of on the defensive side of the ball, which isn't normal for a Pistons squad.

15. Phoenix Suns (10) - For the first time this season, the Suns fall out of the top ten and they do it with a thud.  The team seems dysfunctional and so far, even though their record is better than it probably should be, the players have already turned on Terry Porter.  Steve Kerr has disrupted this organization.  They would never have won a championship with D'Antoni's gimmick offense but at least they were fun, productive and marketable.  They're tough to watch, follow and get a grip on this season.

16. Miami Heat (18) - They finally turn out a consistent week and they get a nice rise up in the rankings this week.  I like the move of Michael Beasley to the bench and I'm surprised Mario Chalmers is every bit as productive in his rookie season as Beasley has been this season.

17. New York Knicks (15) - Al Harrington has put up good numbers since coming over but this team still will take a couple of weeks before they hit the stride that's going to carry them the rest of this season.  Chris Duhon hasn't been all that bad of an acquisition, even though the signing was widely ridiculed (even by myself).

18. Chicago Bulls (19) - Larry Hughes has been amazing off of the bench this season since returning from his injury, but he's always been wildly inconsistent with his jump shot (that he loves more than he should) and I look for his production to dip slightly in the coming weeks.  As long as Ben Gordon is playing as well as he is, I look for him to stay in the starter's role but, ultimately, he should wind up back as the team's 6th man.

19. Toronto Raptors (17) - Teams are starting to swarm and hound Chris Bosh and as a result his numbers were down this week.  Jermaine O'Neal's return from injury may help but he's not the player he once was, and ultimately this team looks like a mismatch of players.  I don't think Sam Mitchell, as incompetent as he may have seemed, was the reason for this team's failures and I believe he was a scapegoat by the team and the fans who didn't want to blame Bryan Colangelo and the players for the team underacheiving.  We'll see if Triano does any better.

20. Philadelphia 76ers (20) - The team got a solid victory at Detroit without Elton Brand and have to be happy with the Lou Williams sightings we've had this week.  Andre Iguodala played more like Andre Iguodala without Elton Brand in the lineup and you have to wonder if the catering to Brand is keeping this team from running the offense they're better suited to.

21. Milwaukee Bucks (21) - Michael Redd returned today after missing the final 14 games against the Lakers and it will take some time for him to get reacclimated to the team's flow.  I'm not sure what his return brings as this team's chemsitry has been off this season.  Overall, they may be better without Redd in the lineup.

22. Indiana Pacers (22) - This Pacers team boasts victories now over both the Lakers and Celtics but still lack the consistency that should keep them in the playoff race.  The loss of Mike Dunleavy keeps this team from being fairly judged but I'm surprised they've waited around this long for his arrival this season.

23. Charlotte Bobcats (24) - The Bobcats were burried in these very rankings two weeks ago but they've played a very fun brand of basketball here lately.  This team should look for a center around the deadline which would allow Emeka Okafor to play at a more productive power forward position. 

24. Golden State Warriors (25) - The Warriors continue to find new ways to lose but they've been competitive in a majority of the games they've played this season.  Stephen Jackson has been tremendous this season but you have to wonder how long he's going to maintain his composure even as the losses pile up.  Brandan Wright has responded well with the increase in minutes here as of late.

25. Minnesota Timberwolves (23) - Kevin Love has played encouraging ball this week and has shown some of the promise that prompted Kevin McHale to trade O.J. Mayo for him.  Overall, the trade probably won't work in their favor but that doesn't mean Love won't be a productive player.  I just don't see how he and Jefferson are going to work together.

26. Memphis Grizzlies (27) - O.J. Mayo has been tremendous this season and Rudy Gay hasn't lost a step from his breakout season last year, but this team still lacks a great player that could put them into contention for a low seed in the western confrence.  The money they've spent on players like Darko Milicic and that is being wasted on Marko Jaric and Antoine Walker could be put to better use and I think that's reason enough to have high hopes for the future in Memphis.

27. Los Angeles Clippers (28) - Don't look now but the Clippers got a victory with Zach Randolph in the lineup.  Baron Davis's return home has been extremely underwhelming and honestly this team lacks any sort of identity; other than that of a team that loses each and every year regardless of talent on the team, people running the show or whatever personnel changes that are being made.

28. Sacramento Kings (26) - This team has been dreadful to watch lately and rumor has it that Reggie Theus' job is on the line.  I don't see how he could be the one to blame because, after all, this team isn't very talented.  He got the most out of a bad squad this season and with the injuries and whatnot this season he's done what he can with a lackluster bunch.  I'd like to see him stay but coaches being made into scapegoats is a prominent theme in sports at the moment.

29. Washington Wizards (29) - The offense looks more fluent under Ed Tapscott and lately they've gotten good production out of the inconsistent Andray Blatche.  There's still not much worth getting excited in our nation's capital, despite the insane amount of money that's going to show up on that payroll.

30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - Russell Westbrook took the starting job and put in a very good week for the Thunder.  Players like Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox will most likely be moved but neither of those is worth a lot in return, so the Thunder may be looking at more mediocrity for the foreseeable future as well.

Posted on: November 17, 2008 12:56 am
Edited on: March 21, 2009 1:22 am
 

NBA Power Rankings Through November 16th, 2008

1) Los Angeles Lakers (1) - Even though the Lakers lost their first game this season Friday night at home to Detroit, they looked impressive in a back to back at Dallas and New Orleans and still field the team's best record at 7-1 and it's best player in Kobe Bryant.  It's tempting to drop them with that loss to Detroit fresh in our memories but honestly, who deserves to be above them?

2) Boston Celtics (2) - This is another team I'm encouraged to drop but a slip up at home to Denver (a real testament to how better Denver is with Chauncey Billups in the lineup) but the team rebounded in a hostile game at Milwaukee and still is playing with that hunger, determination and intensity that made last season's team so fun to watch.  Ray Allen has found his groove and Paul Pierce has played tremendous ball this season. 

3) Cleveland Cavaliers (7) - The Cavaliers are the hottest team at the moment and LeBron James is playing the best ball of his career at this point.  Mo Williams has settled into his role as the team's second option and Ben Wallace is showing some command on the boards again.  With options like Daniel Gibson, Anderson Varejao and Wally Szczerbiak performing well off the bench this season the team looks prime to be Boston's best opposition for the Eastern Confrence crown.

4) Phoenix Suns (6) - It's fun to watch Shaquille O'Neal playing the best ball I've seen him play since his first season in Miami.  With Steve Nash struggling and with Amare Stoudemire being unable to do it all by himself, O'Neal has been asked to do a lot and has answered the challenge.  It's doubtful he'll play at this level the rest of the season but Phoenix fans have to be encouraged.

5) Orlando Magic (8) - Orlando has yet to look very vulnerable after their slow start, and the victory at Charlotte is impressive with the team playing without Dwight Howard for a majority of the game.  Rashard Lewis had a big week and when Hedo Turkoglu regains last year's form this team will continue to be a fixture atop the Eastern Confrence.

6) Detroit Pistons (9) - OK so maybe the team wouldn't go winless without Allen Iverson, and I still don't think they're a championship team with him in the lineup, but they had a very impressive game at Los Angeles Friday night.  Rodney Stuckey came back tonight after being absent a couple of games but the play of Aaron Afflalo gives this team more options off of an already solid bench and continues to add to the promise for the future of this team.  Overall it has be an encouraging week in Motown after the flack they've received since the Iverson trade.

7) Denver Nuggets (15) - This may seem a bit high or premature but this team has gone 5-1 with Chauncey Billups in the lineup and they are playing an all around better style of ball with a true point guard in the lineup.  Nene has looked great this year with the demanding role he's been given and Carmelo Anthony is spending more time around the rim and has improved his rebounding considerably.  Mix that in with an impressive win at Boston and this team deserves the jump in the rankings.

8) Houston Rockets (10) - Something still doesn't seem quite right about this team.  A dominating performance against New Orleans on Saturday is overshadowed by the dreadful performance in San Antonio the previous night and this team, after a fantastic first week, looks a little stagnant in its development.  Overall, though, their defense has been superb and will only improve when Shane Battier returns. 

9) Utah Jazz (5) - After starting the season 5-1 without Deron Williams in the lineup, the team surprisingly looked sluggish in his three games back (post a 1-2 record) before he sat out the loss at Cleveland.  Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur are hurting as well and Utah has to weather the storm though the play of Kosta Koufos has been fine in relief of Okur and Carlos Boozer is playing like an MVP candidate. 

10) Atlanta Hawks (3) - Josh Smith's injury hurt this team and after an impressive 6-0 start, they've lost their last three games.  They've all been by close distances, though, and Joe Johnson continues to play all star-caliber ball.  All this team needs is a little consistency but they've played like a team that should be in the playoff race at the end of the season.

11) New Orleans Hornets (4) - The Hornets, similar to Utah, have played sluggish ball this week and although they still boast a 5-4 record, they don't intimidate teams like they did at the end of last season.  Consistency off the bench and in the execution of their offense will need to be addressed this week if they want to regain the form that they showed the first week of the season.

12) Portland Trail Blazers (14) - After again looking sluggish in his first game back, Greg Oden has averaged 12 points and 9.5 rebounds in relief in his last two appearances.  If he can put up about those same numbers, he can help Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge drive this team to its first postseason appearance since 2004.

13) New York Knicks (12) - The Knicks came back down to Earth this week but Zach Randolph sure hasn't.  Mike D'Antoni continues to amaze me with how much he's getting out of this squad.  Wilson Chandler is putting up great numbers as well and this team is able to stay in the top half of the NBA this week.

14) Toronto Raptors (11) - This team is so hard to read but it's plain to see how thin they are at point guard.  Past Jose Calderon this team has nothing and even though Chris Bosh is playing amazing basketball and Jermaine O'Neal has showed comfort in his new role, this team has yet to blow me away yet.  They may be stuck in the "average" label all season long.

15) San Antonio Spurs (26) - After the horrid 1-5 start (the team's worst in over a decade), Tim Duncan, even still at this point in his career, has taken this team on his back and carried them to a 3-1 record this week.  Michael Finley has shown flashes of his old self and Roger Mason continues to look like a guy who just seems like a "Spur fit".  Tim Duncan is playing good ball, though, and if this team is around .500 when Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili come back then the rest of the league will have to watch another run by those pesky Spurs.

16) Chicago Bulls (16) - Derrick Rose continues to play at a phenomenal level and Ben Gordon is playing out of his mind at the moment.  All of these things hide the fact that the Bulls had to sign Lindsey Hunter even though they have an influx of guards on the roster.  Injuries to the backcourt have hurt this team but you wouldn't notice it in their play. 

17) Miami Heat (13) - Dwyane Wade still continues to play amazing ball but the rest of the team is a nightly question mark.  Shawn Marion looks so uncomfortable out there and Michael Beasley is going to be a rookie all season (meaning the inconsistency is going to be there).  Udonis Haslem is playing good ball (as is Chris Quinn and Daequan Cook off the bench) but it's still too early to get a good read of this team.

18) Philadelphia 76ers (22) - I burried this team last week and even though Elton Brand, Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala are all still underacheiving, Thaddeus Young and Willie Green have powered a nice little three game winning streak in Philadephia.  They have been two different teams this season but we'll look to see a little consistency (either way) as time goes on with them.

19) Milwaukee Bucks (19) - Impressive showings against the Spurs and Celtics (including a win against San Antonio) show that this team is more than capable even without Michael Redd in the lineup.  Andrew Bogut is playing aggressive ball and Ramon Sessions needs to see an increase in minutes right now.  Scott Skiles continues to get the most out of what he has on his roster.

20) New Jersey Nets (23) - Devin Harris has been amazing in his return from injury and the team has followed suit.  They look like a much different team with him in the lineup and Ryan Anderson is playing very productive ball off of the bench.  This team has played strong, energized ball so far this season and it's nice to see a team give that much effort after being burried all offseason.

21) Sacramento Kings (17) - This team has played admirable without Kevin Martin and even though Beno Udrih and John Salmons have kept the team in games with out Martin, they've lost almost all of the games without him in the lineup.  His contributions go beyond the boxscore for this young team but you have to be impressed by the effort they show even when undermanned.

22) Indiana Pacers (20) - This team has been tough to figure out this season but I think with Mike Dunleavy yet to play a game this season, it's important that you don't completely judge what they're doing on the court.  Brandon Rush is seeing an increase in minutes and an increase in production has followed.  T.J. Ford has also continued his stellar play so far this season.

23) Golden State Warriors (25) - Stephen Jackson and Andris Biedrins have been amazing this season and slowly this team is getting a little bit of direction to them.  I think once they address the Al Harrington situation (and we see what they get in return) we could see this team become a pesky counterpart for any team during the rest of the season.

24) Charlotte Bobcats (24) - They're still wildly inconsistent but at least Gerald Wallace is showing a bit of a return to form these past few games.  Rumor has it that he's on the trading block, though, and with the play of Adam Morrison I can't say I'm surprised.  But if they get anything other than a offensive frontcourt option then Michael Jordan will again have dropped the ball.  This team is incredibly bland, though, and could be looking at a new owner in the next few years already.  This organization is in dire need of success and I just don't see it on the horizon.

25) Dallas Mavericks (21) - After the tumultous offseason, Josh Howard has played encouraging ball.  Jason Kidd, though, looks out of his element in this lineup and I think this team is better suited to a half court offense.  I think they need to get back to what Avery preached but the problem is that Avery's no longer on the sidelines.  Carlisle is rooted in defense, though, and I don't understand why he's not doing more to stress that side of the ball.  This team has talent but needs to get Brandon Bass more minutes and needs to become dedicated to the defensive side of the ball again.

26) Memphis Grizzlies (18) - I praised the team last week and they fell back down to Earth this week.  O.J. Mayo has been amazing so far but they are going to be wildly inconsistent as a team all season.  Iavaroni probably won't make it past this year (if he makes it the entire year) but the team still has a good young nucleus intact.

27) Washington Wizards (28) - JaVale McGee and Nick Young have played admirable ball so far this season but this team still lacks a true identity and they just don't seem to play inspired ball.  A coaching change may take place by the end of December in our nation 's capital.

28) Los Angeles Clippers (27) - Same old Clippers although they're starting to get relatively healthy again.  This team still has yet to gell so far this season and with as many egos and personalities that they have on that roster it may be tough to do so.  The fact that Baron Davis and Mike Dunleavy are already at odds, too, doesn't bode well for Dunleavy's job security.

29) Minnesota Timberwolves (29) - Aside from Al Jefferson and Randy Foye, does this team really have anything on its roster?  Mike Miller has looked awful this year and moral victories are all that you have to look at this season.  Randy Wittman doesn't deserve to be a coach in this league anymore than Dwayne Casey did. 

30) Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - Jeff Green finally showed some life this week but the Thunder still continue to lose.  Kevin Durant looks to be in the same rhythym he was last season, in other words getting his 20 points with a low 40's percentage shooting the ball and without much either rebounding or dishing the ball.  He needs to develop his game a little bit more and this team has to show some signs of life if we're going to take any encouragement from this promising squad.

 

 

 

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