Posted on: October 13, 2010 3:07 pm
2010-2011 NBA Atlantic Division Preview
As the phrase has long been applied to life is recited: for every action there is a reaction. Three teams in this division were greatly affected by free agency this summer, even though they all ended up empty handed when it came to their pursuit of any of the prized free agents this July. Two of the teams, though, plotted for two years with hopes of landing LeBron James, only to be spurned as he left for the Miami Heat. Another one of the teams had one of the prized free agents, and his leaving for the Miami Heat left them in freelance as well. Meanwhile, the three-time defending Atlantic Champions lost in the NBA Finals and had to react promptly. The loss of Kendrick Perkins did not help either in the NBA Finals or at the start of this season, and the Celtics looked to add to their list of established veterans for what feels like one last run at a championship. And then there’s the Philadelphia 76ers. After years of being an afterthought in the league, one of the league’s most prominent cities is taking huge steps towards relevance again. They reached back and hired Doug Collins to return to Philadelphia to help advance this process and it will be interesting to see how those new players mesh.
All in all, the Atlantic Division had a lot of turnover on most of the rosters and could see significantly new change among the production of three of the worst teams from last season in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. With all three of those teams now positioning themselves for victory and with Boston continuing to add players primed for one last run, the change could be even more evident in the coming seasons. But even though there’s a reaction for every action, the Celtics reacted accordingly to last year’s NBA Finals loss to the Lakers, and are still the team to beat in the Atlantic Division.
1) Boston Celtics
Incoming Players: Avery Bradley, Luke Harangody, Semih Urden, Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal, Von Wafer, Delonte West
Outgoing Players: Rasheed Wallace, Tony Allen, Brian Scalabrine, Michael Finley, Shelden Williams
Team Report: The Celtics walk into this season as the clear favorites in the division and are among the favorites for an NBA Championship this season as well. The Celtics were up by 13 points in the 3rd quarter of last season’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals before conceding to the Lakers in a heartbreaking defeat. A lot has been made of their age in recent years, but they showed last postseason that they’re one of the few teams capable of flipping a switch on and off. Whether they would want to walk that tightrope again this season remains to be seen, but the players on the team don’t necessarily give any encouragement of a change of the times coming in Beantown.
Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal are the most high profile additions to the team. The two big men fit right into what the Celtics are looking for: smart, seasoned veterans willing to use what’s left of their ability to contribute to the ultimate goal of the team. Both come at an opportune time as well with the injury to Kendrick Perkins. Perkins injured his knee in Game 6 of last year’s NBA Finals and should be out until January. His loss will be greatly felt across the board in Boston, but the Celtics will hope it’s offset by the continued improvement from point guard Rajon Rondo. While it’s hard to argue that at least Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett aren’t more important to a championship for the Celtics, it’s also hard to argue that Rondo isn’t currently the team’s most talented player. Overall, the Celtics still enter this season with a chip on their shoulder and with a lot to prove. They also are the most stable of the rest of the teams in the division, and that’s why they’ll be winning the division title come next April.
2) New York Knicks
Incoming Players: Larry Fields, Andy Rautins, Jerome Jordan, Timofey Mozgov, Kelenna Azubuike, Patrick Ewing, Jr., Raymond Felton, Roger Mason, Jr., Anthony Randolph, Amar’e Stoudemire, Ronny Turiaf, Shawne Williams
Outgoing Players: Earl Barron, David Lee, Chris Duhon, Sergio Rodriguez, J.R. Giddens, Al Harrington, Jonathan Bender, Tracy McGrady, Eddie House
Team Analysis: The Knicks have been bad for years now, it seems. Since 2004, the Knicks have regularly been among the worst teams in the league. A fantastic city and fan base has really been negated by the lack of overall production on the court and the turmoil that occurred off of it. However, after Isaiah Thomas left New York, Donnie Walsh was hired to clean the mess. He hired Mike D’Antoni, rid himself of some of the ridiculous contracts on the team, and built towards the famed 2010 NBA Free Agent class. The Knicks have been telling their fans to accept defeat the last two seasons, a hard sell to New Yorkers, because a great star was on the horizon. After whiffing on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the team signed Amar’e Stoudemire to a big max contract this offseason instead. It still may be a hard sell to New Yorkers that he was worthy of being the light at the end of the tunnel.
But the Knicks made other moves this offseason to reshape the roster. They brought in the extremely promising Anthony Randolph over in a trade with Golden State and hope that he can partner up with Stoudemire to create the ideal frontcourt for head coach Mike D’Antoni. But, for the first time since D’Antoni was hired in 2008, the pressure is now on for him to win in New York. After being patient with a struggling team the last two seasons, the Knicks were told they would be much better in 2010. It’s fair to say they will be much better, but it’s debatable if they’re a lock to make the postseason. D’Antoni has h is work cut out for him, as do the rest of the Knicks franchise.
3) Philadelphia 76ers
Incoming Players: Evan Turner, Tony Battie, Craig Brackins, Spencer Hawes, Andres Nocioni, Darius Songaila
Outgoing Players: Samuel Dalembert, Rodney Carney, Willie Green, Jason Smith, Francisco Elson, Allen Iverson
Team Analysis: The Philadelphia 76ers traded Allen Iverson in 2006 and have been largely irrelevant since. Sure they’ve made the playoffs a couple times since that trade, but they’ve been no real threats among the NBA’s elite and the team really wasn’t in Iverson’s last years with the team either. So it seems a tad ironic now that the 76ers are building towards and selling hope; again at a time when Iverson is leaving. The 76ers brought Iverson back last season in an attempt to sell tickets and regain relevance, but it went for nothing as Iverson couldn’t stay on the court due to injuries and other factors and was a large non factor in the team’s horrendous 27-55 season. After only one season, Eddie Jordan was fired and the 76ers again went back to the drawing board.
The Sixers interviewed a lot of candidates and wound up with Doug Collins as the team’s new head coach coming into this season. Collins isn’t “new” by any means. He’s been a coach for three different franchises before and had mild success with all of them. His name is largely important because of his broadcasting gig with TNT moreso than what anyone remembers him doing as a coach. But Collins is a 76er at heart. He was drafted by Philadelphia and made an NBA Finals with the team in 1977. He wants, just as much as the rest of the city, for the 76ers to be relevant. How quickly that happens will largely land on the shoulders of second overall pick Evan Turner. Turner is a “do-it-all” type talent who led the Big 10 in scoring and rebounding last season. The Sixers will look to him to possibly spearhead a new era in Philadelphia. Andre Iguodala remains the man in Philadelphia, but for how long is anyone’s guess. How he and Turner mesh this season will go a long way towards determining how quickly Philadelphia can turn around in a shallow Eastern Conference. The 76ers are still a team with a lot of uncertainty, but they’ll take that as long as it can generate a lot of excitement.
4) New Jersey Nets
Incoming Players: Derrick Favors, Damion James, Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Troy Murphy, Travis Outlaw, Johan Petro, Joe Smith
Outgoing Players: Courtney Lee, Yi Jianlian, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Chris Quinn, Josh Boone, Trenton Hassell, Bobby Simmons, Keyon Dooling, Tony Battie, Jarvis Hayes
Team Analysis: The Nets were close to becoming, historically, the worst team in NBA history last season. A late season “surge” by the Nets helped them avoid the NBA’s futility mark and allowed the team to finish 12-70 last season. There wasn’t a lot to be happy about in Jersey last season, but at least there’s hope on the horizon for this upcoming season. The Nets have a new owner now in the hugely interesting and insanely rich Mikhail Prokhorov as their brand new owner, the impending move to Brooklyn (which seems like it’s been in the works forever) is finally going to happen by 2012, and they’ve introduced a new coach to the team in Avery Johnson. Johnson, who won an NBA Championship as a player with the Spurs and went to the NBA Finals as a coach for Dallas, will at least command the attention and respect of the young talent in New Jersey.
Speaking of that new talent, nobody is more promising on the team than the third overall pick in the draft: Georgia Tech PF Derrick Favors. Favors has drawn early comparisons to Dwight Howard in terms of body structure and athletic ability, but is still very raw and will be brought along slowly by the Nets. The team lacked a lot of fortitude last season, and it’s no guarantee that they’ll develop that toughness just from the presence of their new coach. But they will be better. Troy Murphy, Jordan Farmar, Travis Outlaw and Anthony Morrow all make great additions to the team. Will it be enough to make them a playoff team? Probably not. But after last season’s 12 win season, everything is looking up for New Jersey.
5) Toronto Raptors
Incoming Players: Ed Davis, Solomon Alabi, Leandro Barbosa, Linas Kleiza, Julian Wright
Outgoing Players: Chris Bosh, Hedo Turkoglu, Marco Belinelli, Rasho Nesterovic, Patrick O’Bryant, Antoine Wright
Play Analysis: Although the Knicks and Nets cut salary and lost games on purpose to be players this offseason, the Raptors signed and traded for talent to please one player who was going to be on the market: Chris Bosh. Bosh, however, never was going to stay in Toronto and he now resides in South Beach. The Raptors didn’t respond as harshly as Cleveland did with LeBron, but they’re going to move along with life after Bosh anyways. The talent that the team acquired last season did not gel at all, and with more turnover this season as well, chemistry will still be a huge problem with this Toronto team.
With the selection of Ed Davis in the first round, the Raptors hope to have found Bosh’s replacement immediately. Davis is a North Carolina product who is a very solid offensive talent. However, they can’t expect him to replace Bosh’s production right away. Andrea Bargnani should be primed for a huge break out year for Toronto, but I feel like that’s been said for about three straight seasons. But the talent gap between him and the next best player on the team is huge. The Raptors deserve credit for not going into complete firesale mode without Bosh and trying to still compete even though they lost their best player. But the moves they made this offseason won’t do much to help the team make the postseason. Coaching, chemistry and defense were the biggest problems last year; they’re still problems this season.
Tags: 76ers, Al Harrington, Andre Iguodala, Andrea Bargnani, Andres Nocioni, Andy Rautins, Anthony Morrow, Anthony Randolph, Antoine Wright, Avery Bradley, Bobby Simmons, Brian Scalabrine, Celtics, Chris Bosh, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Chris Duhon, Chris Quinn, Courtney Lee, Craig Brackins, Damion James, Darius Songaila, David Lee, Delonte West, Derrick Favors, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Ed Davis, Eddie House, Evan Turner, Francisco Elson, Heat, Hedo Turkoglu, J.R. Gidden, Jason Smith, Jerome Jordan, Joe Smith, Johan Petro, Jordan Farmar, Julian Wright, Kelenna Azubuike, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett, Keyon Dooling, Knicks, Leandro Barbosa, LeBron James, Linas Kleiza, Luke Harangody, Marco Belinelli, Nets, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Raptors, Raymond Feleton, Rodney Carney, Ronny Turiaf, Samuel Dalembert, Shawne Williams, Shelden Williams, Solomon Alabi, Spencer Hawes, Spurs, Timofey Mozgov, Tony Allen, Tony Battie, Tracy McGrady, Travis Outlaw, Troy Murphy, Von Wafer, Willie Green, Yi Jianlian
Posted on: May 28, 2010 12:13 pm
I figured since I didn't do a playoff preview this season for each team as I did last year, I'll do a fun little countdown to this year's draft, since that's where my team is going to be instead of the postseason. Mercifully, for some of you, this countdown is almost over. It's been a blast typing them up and it was fun looking at some of the way teams have fared in the draft and how well some players have panned out, regardless of where they were selected. We've covered a lot of ground the last decade. From the high schoolers taken abound in 2001 and 2004, to the new one and done rule in 2006, to the amount of foreign players taken in 2002, to the University of North Carolina setting a record with 4 players taken in the lottery in 2005, to now. Overall, this draft class has drawn comparisons to legendary classes of 1984 and 1996. It's changed the courses of franchises, may have put handcuffs on another's chance at a dynasty, and features players who will be at the top of the list when it comes to free agency this summer (since that's what everyone wants to talk about). But here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the number one draft on our countdown of the top ten drafts the last years. Coming in at number one is none other than the 2003 NBA Draft.
Tags: 76ers, Boris Diaw, Bucks, Bulls, Carlos Delfino, Carmelo Anthony, Cavaliers, Celtics, Chris Bosh, Chris Kaman, Clippers, Dahntay Jones, Darko Milicic, David West, Dwyane Wade, Grizzlies, Hawks, Heat, Hornets, James Jones, James Singleton, Jarvis Hayes, Jason Kapono, Jazz, Josh Howard, Keith Bogans, Kendrick Perkins, Kirk Hinrich, Knicks, Kyle Korver, Lakers, Leandro Barbosa, LeBron James, Luke Ridnour, Luke Walton, Magic, Marcus Banks, Marquis Daniels, Matt Bonner, Mavericks, Mickael Pietrus, Mo Williams, Nets, Nick Collison, Nuggets, Pacers, Pistons, Quinton Ross, Raptors, Sasha Pavlovic, Shaquille O'Neal, Spurs, Steve Blake, Steve Nash, Suns, T.J. Ford, Thunder, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, Travis Outlaw, Trevor Ariza, Udonis Haslem, Vince Carter, Warriors, Willie Green, Wizards, Zaza Pachulia
Posted on: January 23, 2009 4:21 pm
Edited on: January 23, 2009 6:17 pm
Entering 2007-2008, the spirit and excitement surrounding Phoenix had diminished as quickly as had been experienced in quite some time. This was not the look of a hungry team, aspiring to finally get over that hump and gain championship glory. Instead it was a beaten team, with spirits down and excuses aplenty. Mike D'Antoni's position as coach of that luck deprived team was not enviable. As a coach, there's only so many ways you can encourage your team to continue to play outside of their capabilities as they continue to receive short hand after short hand. This was a city and fan base starved for championship success and the Suns represented their best opportunity at achieving that. But after falling short three successive seasons, a lot of the blame went towards D'Antoni's style and basketball philosophy.
Who knows whether the fast break, 7 seconds or less style offense will ever be the catalyst for a team looking to gain the Larry O'Brien Trophy? Mike D'Antoni took a franchise with no direction and made it one of the most successful and exciting teams since the days of the Lakers three-peat. It was a team that played a style everyone who has played basketball could admire. But the fact that the anti-Suns, the San Antonio Spurs, had defeated the Suns in two out of the three postseasons where D'Antoni was at the helm created a lot of skepticism surrounding the system. Steve Nash had won two MVP awards and put up astounding numbers as a point guard, but was contiuously exposed by Tony Parker against the Spurs and with his age coming into question, many people wondered how much longer D'Antoni could play Nash heavy minutes, run that style of offense and still have likely aspirations to win a championship. It was believed that the window was closing on D'Antoni's team and panic was setting in. To try and win a championship, owner Robert Sarver took D'Antoni out of control of the front office and hired a former Spur, five time NBA Champion Steve Kerr, to run the franchise.
Kerr and D'Antoni immediately butted heads on how they believed the team was supposed to operate. Kerr wanted to stress size, a certain style of play and an emphasis on defense that seemed to be lacking in D'Antoni's style. Shawn Marion, although he continuously put up fantastic numbers in D'Antoni's system, repeatedly went to the press about how unhappy he was in Phoenix and as a result brought down the morale of the squad. As if the team had not yet recovered from the demoralizing loss to the Spurs, a locker room morale was so dangerously low that mediocrity seemed to be creeping back into the Phoenix franchise. The Suns, at the time of early February, were a 34-14 team but did not maintain that excitement and emotion that they possesed for the previous three seasons. So Steve Kerr traded the locker room question mark in Shawn Marion and brought in the player least fit for D'Antoni's system, former NBA MVP and three time champion Shaquille O'Neal
In his prime, Shaquille O'Neal was quite possibly the most dominant player in the NBA's history. He made his debut in the league at the time of the Patrick Ewing's, David Robinson's, and Hakeem Olajuwon's of the league and then carried that domination into the 21st century as one of the only true centers left in the league. His charisma, humor and overall talent left him as one of the most embracable and exciting players in the NBA's history. Shaq arriving brought a lot of questions, but ultimately brought a renewed excitement to the team. He immediately promised a championship ring, and promised that his age (35 years old) and lack of mobility (how agile could someone 7'1" and 325 pounds be) would not prevent Phoenix from continuing their style of play and that they could still gain a championship with him being the elephant in the room (no pun intended). Allowing Amar'e Stoudemire to move to power forward, it created a more realistic approach to the lineup for Phoenix but greatly altered their effectiveness on the offensive side of the ball. Many said this was a move for the postseason, so that they could counter the size of the Lakers and Spurs and that only then could we truly rate the move for Steve Kerr. The team went 18-11 with O'Neal in the lineup to finish the season and finished with 55 wins and the sixth seed in the NBA Western Conference. The team that held the 3rd seed: the San Antonio Spurs.
The excitement surrounding the Suns matchup with their bitter rivals, the team that they acquired Shaquille O'Neal to beat, was quickly lost when the Suns were demoralized in a classic game 1 in San Antonio. With the Suns maintaining a lead for the majority of the game, a big shot by Michael Finley and a monster game by Tim Duncan helped the Spurs shock the Suns in double overtime and quickly let the air out of the Phoenix Suns sail. The Suns fought hard but could not recover from the demoralizing game 1, and quickly bowed out in 5 games. An offseason of questions awaited.
Mike D'Antoni immediately voiced his displeasure with Steve Kerr and was given the opportunity to find a new job, which he found with the New York Knicks. Steve Kerry signed players such as Matt Barnes and a new head coach in Terry Porter looking to quickly shape the mentality and construction of this unit into more of a realistic lineup. It brought conventionality, but lacked excitement. To date, Steve Nash is having his worst year as a Phoenix Sun, players are unhappy with Terry Porter's approach and they boast a 23-17 record.
There are many reasons as to why the Phoenix Suns crashed as hard as they had risen in Arizona. Management could be the first place to point at, with their continuous questionable decisions. Bryan Colangelo left to run the team in Toronto, but left behind huge salary issues for coach Mike D'Antoni to deal with before Kerr's arrival. Players like Nate Robinson and Luol Deng were drafted by Phoenix, but quickly shipped out to create cap flexibility. Nate Robinson was traded with Quentin Richardson for Kurt Thomas, the player supposed to give the team a defensive inside presence. Thomas fit in greatly with the Suns and performed admirably against Duncan in the 2007 Conference Semifinals, but the team could no longer afford him and he was shipped to the then Seattle Supersonics for a 2nd Round draft pick and 8 million dollar trade exception. Huge contracts were given to Boris Diaw, who vastly underachieved when Stoudemire returned to the lineup and to Leandro Barbosa, who never took his game to that next level. They gave a huge contract to Stoudemire, who was undergoing career threatening arthroscopic knee surgery and let the draft rights to Luol Deng go for a first round draft pick and cash considerations. Rajon Rondo, the point guard for the NBA Champion Boston Celtics was also a draft pick by the Phoenix Suns but was also traded for a first round draft pick and cash. The Shaqille O'Neal trade could be involved here, but it wasn't really a bad trade, Just a mispalced player in D'Antoni's system. O'Neal brought new excitement to a depressed fan base and although he did not deliver, his effort and dedication has been tremendous in Phoenix and he should not be blamed for the team's decline. When you focus so much on free agency, it disallows a team to grow and also be secure in their future. When the players you have rapidly show their age, you have no other options and those questionable decisions that were made for the immediate "now" are why the team has such a questionable future.
For all that D'Antoni revolutionized in basketball, his coaching and coaching related decisions were brought into question continously in the postseason. When the team needed to get a crucial stop in a playoff environment, the team continuously failed to follow through and as a result focussed entirely on effeciency on the offensive side. In an 82 game season, that begins to wear on a team looking to maintain stability and win a championship. Not only does the system wear on the players, heavy minutes contribute to that. D'Antoni was notorious for not playing his bench players and as a result his teams would show decline in the postseason and also would remove themselves from almost any offseason activity to maintain legs for the regular season. D'Antoni's style of play was exciting, but watching his team fail brings to question whether that style of offense could ever win. As a result, we've seen a quick flirtation with the system dissapear this season with scoring coming back down after the way the Suns and Golden State Warriors failed.
Also brouht into question for the Phoenix Suns was their psychological strength. Crushing blows to the team at the hands of Amar'e Stoudemire's knee and also crushing losses to the San Antonio Spurs always seemed to give this team an excuse when they lost. When you become comfortable with losing it creates an environment that nobody wants to be associated with. The Phoenix Suns wanted to win, and losing undoubtedly bothered them, but they also were quick to point at other factors as to why they lost. As a result, accountability was absent in Phoenix and the team no longer was responsible for their performance on the court. D'Antoni's emotional state on the sidelines greatly affected this as the Suns became so paranoid, that every single call that went against them turned into reason for panic amongst the fan base and more crucially, the players. Shawn Marion's constant bickering about his role in the offense and lack of appreciation also created distractions for a team with bigger goals in mind than Marion's statistics. His lack of maturity in the team's crucial minutes was a huge factor in why the team declined in the 2007-2008 season and why they were forced to make the Shaquille O'Neal trade.
Amar'e Stoudemire's injury could be the sole reason for the Suns peaking so early and falling so quickly. In the 2004-2005 season, Phoenix relied heavily on Stoudemire at the center position and he responded with career numbers and fantastic dunks not seen or recognized by anyone up until that time. Given that he was only 21, many people saw a bright future ahead for Stoudemire. A knee injury took him out for the Suns surprising (and probably most successful) 2005-2006 campaign but his return brought hope that he was the missing piece in that trademark year for D'Antoni and Phoenix. Stoudemire returned with a solid 2006-2007 season, averaging over 20 points a game and displaying a brand new, highly effective 18 foot jump shot. Stoudemire, though, has seemingly reached his potential too early. The injury is probably the biggest reason for that, but his best season is still 2004-2005, and now, three full years after that injury, he still lacks the explosiveness that made him so effective and the mystique and fear some felt when matching up with him is gone. He's become a finesse player, also a locker room distraction, and looks destined to be this generation's Derrick Coleman, a player with so much untapped potential who will get by in his career simply with talent.
Age is another huge factor as to why Phoenix so rapidly declined. Last season, acquiring the way past his prime Shaquille O'Neal added to a team already full of players in their 30's, including crucial pieces such as Steve Nash, Grant Hill, and Raja Bell. Their reliance on players so deep into their careers undoubtedly contributed to the team's lack of energy in certain playoff games and, coupled with the heavy minutes, was reason for rapid decline in D'Antoni's system.
But all things considered, it's safe to say the San Antonio Spurs are solely responsible for the decline of the Phoenix Suns. Their style of play won two championships during D'Antoni's reign in Phoenix and three out of the four seasons that D'Antoni was in charge of Phoenix, the Spurs eleminated the Suns from the postseason. Tim Duncan and company continuously had answers for all offensive ideas and strategies that D'Antoni could possibly fathom and gave fans reason to focus on how to beat the Spurs, instead of how to win games on their own.
It remains in question whether D'Antoni will ever win a championship, although he's gotten the Knicks to overachieve midway through this season. But there's no doubt that his contributions to the Phoenix franchise will forever be remebered by fans and players alike as he was able to bring excitement back to basketball and also get the Suns to the most successful period of their franchise. A team's desparate desire for a championship can bring unecessary criticism when frustration sets in. The team's continued lack of toughness in critical situations and constant short handing at the hands of the league and fate provided plenty of reasons for frustration amongst a loyal fan base. This set in the panic moves such as bringing Steve Kerr in and forcing D'Antoni to leave despite his amazing winning percentage. It was nice to admire and watch during the time when it took place, but also creates a sad environment for Phoenix fans. The closest they've gotten to a championship since Charles Barkley's stay in Phoenix was ended by many factors and they remain a spectacle and topic of discussion for fans around the league. Phoenix may not be able to regain the success D'Antoni had the team become accustomed to but there will be success in Phoenix eventually, they always find a way to sustain a fine level of play in that franchise. But with Stoudemire's sudden lack of presence and with the team boasting players ready to turn a new leaf in their careers the team's future is blurred. Steve Kerr, brought in to help the team win a championship, is already on the hotseat and questions remain about whether he will be the guy at the helm to do the job in Phoenix.
Regardless of who's in charge, it's safe to say the D'Antoni era brought entertainment, joy and excitement to a franchise that had no direction. But as quickly as it happened, it left in those 2007 conference semifinals. The team flamed out and for that reason remain a fascinating story of how a team can quickly ascend, but how contributiong factors could make it increasingly difficult to maintain success in a system such as D'Antoni's.
Posted on: January 23, 2009 4:18 pm
Edited on: January 23, 2009 6:20 pm
For four years, few teams matched the excitement and mystique that surrounded when the Phoenix Suns were set to appear in a basketball game. Led by the innovative Mike D'Antoni and highly successful Steve Nash, the Suns resurrected a moribound franchise and turned the NBA upside down in the process. With quick cuts, fantastic slams around the basket, a plethora of three point baskets and with absolutely no defense (which in turn allows the other team to follow through with all of those aforementioned offensive attractions) the Phoenix Suns became the team for the casual NBA fan, and the team that most of us wanted to watch when we felt like being assured entertaining basketball. But funny things happen when you tinker with the system and bring things that people are not used to to the forefront. When you introduce basketball's version of the spread offense, success can be attained but only when you bring championships are your efforts truly respected. Many people passed off D'Antoni's philosophy on basketball and said that it could not win championships. That same criticism turned the greatest period in Phoenix Suns basketball upside down, and seemingly prolonged the franchise's now 40 year history.
It all started with a trade back in 2001, when the Suns traded future hall of fame point guard Jason Kidd for the insanely talented Stephon Marbury. This trade was supposed to be a nice swap of talented guards which would result in hardly a change for either squad. Instead, the Suns went to the lottery and the Nets went to the NBA finals. Stephon Marbury's frustrating first season in Phoenix resulted in a trip to the lottery for the Suns, which resulted in Amar'e Stoudemire being added to the team. With Stoudemire garnering rookie of the year honors and the team's quiet acquisition of guard Joe Johnson from the Boston Celtics, the Suns sneaked into the playoffs with the 8th seed and surprised the top ranked San Antonio Spurs in game 1 of their first round matchup. Shortly thereafter, though, the Spurs would emerge victorious and things took a turn for the better; eventually.
The 2003-2004 season started off with mediocre expectations for a seemingly dirrectionless Phoenix franchise. Then in midseason, amidst the team's struggles and inability to show any immediate progress, owner Robert Sarver steamheaded a complete reconstruction of the Suns. Both Jerry and Brian Colangelo went to work on putting the pieces in place for this team to fully take off. Frank Johnson was removed from the head coaching position and assistant coach and longtime European league coach Mike D'Antoni would be given the reigns. Also, in what would headstart a completely opposite direction for the two franchises, the Suns sent Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway to the New York Knicks for five players who would not finish the season as Phoenix Suns players in addition to two first round draft selections. Although the Knicks made the playoffs that season, nobody could have predicted the decline that would soon follow Stephon Marbury's fourth franchise. Then again, nobody could have predicted the ascension that awaited in Arizona.
In the offseason, the Suns quickly gave Mike D'Antoni a vote of confidence despite his 21-40 record finishing the season as Phoenix's head coach. The team's late surge, which was spurred by guard Joe Johnson, rookie guard Leandro Barbosa and now second year forward Amar'e Stoudemire could have been a huge factor in why D'Antoni was given a second chance. Once free agency started, the Suns made a big splash by signing free agent point guard Steve Nash and free agent forward Quentin Richardson. D'Antoni would move Stoudemire to center and insert forward Shawn Marion at the power forward position (a move Marion continuously complained about despite putting up the best numbers of his career) giving the team a ridiculously small lineup. What ensured was pure, utter, fast break basketball.
Steve Nash spearheaded a revolutionary style of play as the Suns quickly brought offense back to the forefront in the NBA. Gone where the days of walking a ball upcourt while your seven foot center could set up under the basket. With quick, athletic big men like Stoudemire and Marion and with an intelligent and talented point guard like Steve Nash leading the way, the Suns went on to average 110.4 points per game (although giving up 103.3 PPG) and posted an NBA best 62-20 record. Steve Nash shocked all by winning the NBA MVP award while D'Antoni and Colangelo were given the coach and executive of the year awards respectively. In the playoffs, guard Joe Johnson would succumb to an eye injury and the Suns would sorely miss his leadership and skillset. A sound defeat of the Memphis Grizzlies and a trouncing of the Dallas Mavericks set the Suns up with who would become the main reason for the Suns eventual decline: the San Antonio Spurs.
The San Antonio Spurs are basically the anti-Phoenix Sun. They don't dazzle you with fantastic athleticism or bombard you with a multitude of points, they systematically and soudnly defeat their opponents by way of Tim Duncan and a group of role players that are fine performing their tasks for the sake of the greater good: a Larry O'Brien Trophy. The Spurs two centers that year, Nazr Mohammed and Rasho Nesterovic, would probably not even get a sniff from D'Antoni yet wound up becoming productive players on championship teams. Was D'Antoni's emphasis on speed and offense neglecting all that you were tought growing up? Is a great offense truly better than a great defense? Can you win scoring 110 points instead of focusing on holding your opponents below 90? These all came to a head in this true battle of wits.
Amar'e Stoudemire would experience a coming out party against the Spurs, as San Antonio had no answer for the young player on his way to averages totaling over 30 PPG in the series. But the Spurs, with two championship trophies already to their credit, would be able to answer every trick Phoenix tried. Bruce Bowen was there to contain Steve Nash's explosiveness, Tony Parker was there to expose Nash's glaring defensive deffeciences, Tim Duncan was there to take care of Stoudemire's similar weaknesses, and the Spurs took the Suns out in 5 games, bringing end to the fantastic first season in the D'Antoni era.
Many people did not know what to expect for an encore in Phoenix. The gimmick offense was sure to be stopped when teams were given ample time to prepare for it. Expectations can always ruin a team not used to winning, and Joe Johnson and Amar'e Stoudemire would be gone, Johnson in a trade to the Atlanta Hawks and Stoudemire due to knee surgery. The Joe Johnson trade brought Boris Diaw, an afterthought in many instances and then the Suns shipped Quentin Richardson and the draft rights to Nate Robinson to New York for a center in Kurt Thomas that they believed would be able to counter Tim Duncan's effectiveness in a seven game series. The team also obtained guard Raja Bell, a player praised for his on the ball defensive prowress and three point effeciency. But the sky was not the limit this season, as, without Stoudemire, many expected the Suns to fail.
Stoudemire's absence meant wonderful things for Shawn Marion who turned in the best year of his career. Boris Diaw proved out to be a fantastic find by the Colangelo's, winning the NBA most improved player of the year award, and Steve Nash went on to win his second consecutive NBA MVP award after helping lead the Suns to a 54-28 record in the regular season. But the signs of the eventual decline already started to take shape. Bryan Colangelo was said to have major conflicts with owner Robert Sarver and bolted to take the General Manager position with the Toronto Raptors. Stoudemire received heavy criticism from the organization when he spent a majority of the season away from the squad while tending to his knee. And although the team managed to avoid the Spurs in the postseason, draining seven game series with both the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers took alout of Phoenix, as they simply had nothing left by the time they met the Dirk Nowitzki led Mavericks in a second consecutive Western Conference Finals.
The 2006-2007 season brought about great expectations for the Phoenix squad. With Boris Diaw teaming with Leandro Barbosa on the bench, the Suns were supposed to finally have that deep squad that would allow for D'Antoni to stray from his favored 7-man rotations and still provide the same innovative offensive schemes that had been prominent the previous two seasons. Phoenix struggled with chemistry some, including Stoudemire back into the lineup and it showed. The team, though, rebounded quickly to the tune of 61 victories and a No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
Elsewhere in the NBA, the 67 victory Dallas Mavericks had been upset by the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs in what would be largely noted as the greatest upset in playoff history, and the Utah Jazz would celebrate their return to the playoffs after a three year absence with a victory over the Houston Rockets, giving the Suns home court advantage, now, throughout the playoffs and seemingly the drivers seat to an elusive championship. After the Suns quickly dispatched of the Lakers for a second consecutive season, they saw themselves standing opposite the 3rd seeded San Antonio Spurs, and a fantastic conference semifinals ensued.
Bruce Bowen and Tony Parker quickly asserted physiciality into the already deeply rooted rivalry with the Spurs, as Steve Nash left game 1 with a bloodied nose recieved from Parker and could not finish the game, as the Spurs pulled out a close victory. This brought about major criticism as some felt it was unfair for the Suns to lose without their best player due to excessive blood loss, but the rules would stay and the Spurs maintained a 1-0 series lead. After taking game 2, Phoenix would head to San Antonio for one of the most controversial games in recent memory. Game 3 between the Spurs and the Suns was known for its excessive fouls called, constant whistles and annoying lack of gamesmanship in the contest. The Spurs would ride a questionable free throw advantage to the victory and then all hell broke loose. With Phoenix rebounding to take game 4, Robert Horry stepped in front of Steve Nash on a harmless drive down the baseline, and changed the Phoenix Suns forever.
With the series tied at 2 games apiece and heading back to Phoenix, all cards seemed to be in place for Phoenix to finally nudge past their nemisis and gain ground towards becoming NBA Champions. But Horry's flagrant foul on Steve Nash sent the Suns into a frenzy, which resulted in both Stoudemire and Diaw leaving the Suns bench and therefore forcing the NBA's hand in having to suspend those two players for a critical game 5 in Phoenix. Mike D'Antoni criticized the decision but his efforts went unnoticed as the suspensions stood. A game Phoenix crowd and shorthanded squad gave the Spurs trouble but eventually succumbed in a game 5 loss. The team returned to San Antonio demoralized, and could not take advantage of Stoudemire and Diaw's reintroduction into the lineup and would lose game 6 in San Antonio.
In effect, the Robert Horry foul gave Phoenix their first leigitmate gripe of the D'Antoni era. Being too inexperienced in 2005 and too tired in 2006, 2007 seemed a prime opportunity for Phoenix to grab the franchise's first championship. The Horry foul took away their best shot at putting a foot down on the rival Spurs' throats, and assured us all that there's always that one squad that prevents you from winning. For Phoenix, it was San Antonio. The Spurs went on to win the championship that season, and in the process demoralized alot of the Phoenix fan base. The same team would essentially return for 2007-2008 but the excitement, hunger and mystique surrounding the franchise had gone away. After posting a mediocre start to the season, new general manager Steve Kerr would make the move that effectively ended the D'Antoni era in Phoenix.
Tags: Amar'e Stoudemire, Boris Diaw, Bruce Bowen, Celtics, Clippers, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jazz, Joe Johnson, Knicks, Kurt Thomas, Lakers, Leandro Barbosa, Mavericks, Nate Robinson, Nazr Mohammed, Nets, Quentin Richardson, Raja Bell, Raptors, Rasho Nesterovic, Rockets, Shawn Marion, Spurs, Stephon Marbury, Steve Nash, Suns, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Warriors
Posted on: November 24, 2008 1:45 am
1. Los Angeles Lakers (1) - I really thought about dropping them behind Boston but I can't if they don't lose. They continue to get production out of a ton of players. Kobe Bryant may be having the quitest 20 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists start to any season.
5. Houston Rockets (8) - The Rockets turned out a solid week. Aaron Brooks continues to play amazing ball and Tracy McGrady just quietly hits big shots. In the regular season at least. Yao Ming missing a game is cause for concern and is something to keep an eye on.
6. Orlando Magic (5) - There's been a J.J. Reddick sighting. I don't know how this team wins but they do. Dwight Howard had a tough week and Rashard Lewis is struggling shooting the ball but they still churn out victories. That's impressive enough to keep them as high as they are.
8. Utah Jazz (9) - Andrei Kirilenko is playing some really good ball off the bench and C.J. Miles has looked great this week. They're going to get Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer back this week, and that alone keeps the team in the top ten. They need to get a solid, set rotation and start to gel and when they do they'll return to top Jazz form.
9. Portland Trail Blazers (12) - Portland is playing some great ball. Brandon Roy has picked up his all star form and even though Greg Oden's production has slipped the past couple of games, he's looked great off of the bench since returning from his injury. They're doing all this while LaMarcus Aldridge is in a shooting slump and when he returns to form it will only make them better.
11. Detroit Pistons (6) - That whoopin' they took at Boston ruined all momentum they had gained after the Allen Iverson trade. They followed that up by getting thrashed at home by Minnesota and the Pistons are back to square one. I don't doubt they'll climb out the hole, I just wish they wouldn't keep falling back in it. At least Rasheed Wallace has come to play, but Tayshaun Prince has cooled after his hot start and Richard Hamilton looks out of sync. It's still early, though, and this team is still the Pistons. You never can count them out.
15. Philadelphia 76ers (18) - Well Kareem Rush isn't going to single handedly make the Sixers a three point threat and they still can't shoot the long ball. There may not be a better rebounding team in the NBA, but with those jump shooters they get plent of opportunities. Elton Brand hasn't produced as he was expected to so far this season but he hit a big shot against his old team this week. He followed that up with a solid game today and we'll see if he builds off of that.
16. Milwaukee Bucks (19) - Andrew Bogut and Ramon Sessions are playing great basketball. They've played solid ball this season and all of it without Michael Redd for a majority of the season. Maybe he could be used as trade bait as I'm sure his value is still relatively high. They could get some nice building blocks for now and for the future in return for Redd, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (I spelled that without clarifying and I hope it's right) has been the most surprising rookie this season. What a find in the 2nd round!
17. New Jersey Nets (20) - Don't look now but Vince Carter is having a tremendous season so far. Devin Harris has been perfect in the sidekick role as well, and even though the rest of the team is so inconsistent, they find themselves at .500 for the season. Impressive job by Lawrence Frank.
18. Dallas Mavericks (25) - The Mavericks went undefeated this week so I probably should move them up higher, but I'm still relatively unimpressed after looking at their competition. Still, Dirk Nowitzki is playing tremendous basketball (what else is new) and Rick Carlisle finally has the team clicking on offense. They just are so bland as a franchise and organization, though. I doubt the Mark Cuban fiasco will be a distraction, but it has the potential to be.
22. Indiana Pacers (22) - They're losing tough games and they're missing Mike Dunleavy. Right now Danny Granger and Marquis Daniels are playing strong basketball but everyone else is a little inconsistent. Why is Jamaal Tinsley still on this payroll?
28. Los Angeles Clippers (28) - Chris Kaman has played just as strongly as he did last season but he and Zach Randolph have similar games. Both are good low post, back to the basket type players (although Kaman is much better) and I'm not sure how they'll fit together. I also don't know where this puts Marcus Camby in the rotation as well but I guess we'll have to watch it all unfold. I don't think there's any chance of Mike Dunleavy finishing this season.
29. Washington Wizards (27) - So irrelevant I almost forgot them. There's not much to be said about this team and there's not much of a chance Eddie Jordan sticks around. Not when Gilbert Arenas is already calling for a tank job and with the rest of the squad being worthy of a last place finish. They are awful to watch.
Tags: 76ers, Aaron Brooks, Acie Law, Al Harrington, Al Jefferson, Allen Iverson, Andrei Kirilenko, Andrew Bogut, Anthony Morrow, Anthony Parker, Ben Gordon, Bobcats, Brandon Roy, Brian Scalabrine, Bucks, Bulls, C.J. Miles, Carlos Boozer, Cavaliers, Celtics, Chauncey Billups, Chris Bosh, Chris Kaman, Chris Paul, Clippers, Corey Brewer, Cuttino Mobley, D.J. Augustin, Danny Granger, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Devin Brown, Devin Harris, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Eddie House, Elton Brand, George Hill, Gilbert Arenas, Grant Hill, Greg Oden, Grizzlies, Hawks, Heat, Hornets, J.R. Smith, Jamaal Tinsley, Jazz, Joe Johnson, John Salmons, Kareem Rush, Kenyon Martin, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Kevin Martin, Kings, Knicks, Kobe Bryant, Lakers, LaMarcus Aldridge, Larry Hughes, Leandro Barbosa, LeBron James, Leon Powe, Linas Kleiza, Lindsey Hunter, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Luol Deng, Magic, Manu Ginobili, Marc Gasol, Marcus Camby, Marquis Daniels, Marvin Williams, Mavericks, Michael Redd, Mike Dunleavy, Mo Williams, Morris Peterson, Nets, Nuggets, O.J. Mayo, Pacers, Peja Stojakovic, Pistons, Ramon Sessions, Randy Foye, Raptors, Rashard Lewis, Rasheed Wallace, Rasual Butler, Richard Hamilton, Rockets, Rudy Gay, Russell Westbrook, Shaquille O'Neal, Shawn Marion, Spurs, Suns, Tayshaun Prince, Thunder, Tim Thomas, Timberwolves, Tony Allen, Tracy McGrady, Trail Blazers, Tyson Chandler, Vince Carter, Warriors, Wizards, Yao Ming, Zach Randolph
Posted on: October 2, 2008 11:50 am
Edited on: March 21, 2009 1:22 am
Well with the season nearing and with all of the players basically signed up to play for the upcoming 2008-2009 NBA season, I'm going to throw my predictions out there (even if it is too early). Their playoff seeding will be by the team name.
2. Philadelphia 76ers (3) - Obviously the addition of Elton Brand was huge for this team but it will be interesting to see how he meshes with this up tempo type team. Andre Miller is getting up there in age and Andre Iguodala had an awful postseason so there's room for skepticism but for some reason everything just looks as if it will mesh. Maurice Cheeks will have pressure to get out of the first round and if he can't deliver then he may be gone by next season.
3. Toronto Raptors (6) - Picking up Jermaine O'Neal gave them virtually a Chris Bosh carbon copy as both have similar games. Still the addition of another big man will always help and if O'Neal can be healthy and man down the center position (two tall tasks), if Chris Bosh plays like he did in the olympics, and if Jose Calderon plays like he did last season then this team could surprise. Too many if's for me, though.
4. New Jersey Nets - Even though this team was virtually in firesale mode this offseason I really liked the moves that they made. They picked up Yi Jianlian and I think he's going to be a great player in the league. Devin Harris is coming into his own as a point guard and the additions of role players like Bobby Simmons, Jarvis Hayes, and Eduardo Najera will keep this team playing hard. Is it just me or does anyone else see Vince Carter having a great season this year?
5. New York Knicks - Mike D'Antoni's gimmick offense worked when it had talent on his team. People forget how "great" his offense was when Leandro Barbosa was running the point the year before Steve Nash arrived. I don't know how he's going to involve Zach Randolph, Eddy Curry and company but if the offensive genius can do it then he'll have to do it with Chris Duhon at point guard. Good luck with that.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (5) - The addition of Mo Williams was drastically overrated as his style doesn't look like it will match up with LeBron James. Maybe they know something I don't, though. It looks like a shoot first point guard who didn't really run an offense (Delonte West and Daniel Gibson) were already on the roster so it looks like he was brought in for his gaudy stats. Unless LeBron James truly can do it all and play center then this team will have no inside presence. Zydrunas Ilgauskas tries but he's too old to be a dominat presence. Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao don't deserve mention.
3. Indiana Pacers (8) - For the first time in a couple years I see the Pacers coming into the season with a direction. It may not be talented enough to make a huge splash but the playoffs are every bit a possibility. Mike Dunleavy finally came into his own last year and now the key is doing it on a good team. Danny Granger is as talented as they come and the additions of T.J. Ford and Rasho Nesterovic will help make this team better than it was last year when it fielded Jamaal Tinsley and Jeff Foster in those spots. Foster is better off the bench and the Pacers could be in position to make a legitimate run at the postseason.
4. Milwaukee Bucks - Scott Skiles was a huge addition for this team. He'll be able to get the pass-first point guards like Ramon Sessions and Luke Rindour get the ball into Andrew Bogut and Richard Jefferson. Michael Redd is still a one trick pony and any team with him as your best player is not going to go anywhere deep in the postseason so the key is to get Bogut going this season. Now's as good a year as any.
5. Chicago Bulls - Last year I had them in the confrence finals, this year they still haven't proven to me they've overcome last year's turmoil. I said it would be interesting to see how everyone responded to almost being traded for Kobe Bryant and sure enough they collapsed. Was last year just that or is that mental weakness and turmoil still in the clubhouse. Vinny Del Negro as your head coach is a head scratcher and who knows where this team is headed this season. I don't think it's the postseason. Joakim Noah should have an awesome season, though.
2. Washington Wizards (7) - Losing Gilbert Arenas and replacing him with Juan Dixon isn't a blueprint for success and neither is dedicating all your money to two players on a team who haven't gotten your team out of the first round the past few seasons. This is a team destined for mediocrity and even though I love the games of all three members of the big three, they just don't spell championship success for a team. Caron Butler is great and I think with Arenas missing most of the season he can lead this team to the postseason.
3. Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade has made me a believer. After watching him in the olympics I can't wait to see him do it for a whole season. Problem is it's not likely he'll do it for more than 65 games. This year, though, they have Shawn Marion and Michael Beasley to pull some weight but the lack of a point guard or center could definitely kill this team. Spoelstra is a great selection as coach, though.
4. Charlotte Bobcats - Larry Brown was a fine addition to this club and they finally have a legitimate head coach. They just don't have legitimate players on the club. Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace don't mesh well together and Emeka Okafor would be better serves as a power forward on a contender. He's a fine player who was wrongfully given great player expectations. The selection of D.J. Augustin over Brook Lopez makes me scratch my head but it goes to show how much they don't think of Raymond Felton. Adam Morrison and Sean May's production expectations are anyone's guess.
5. Atlanta Hawks - My how they've fallen. Say what you want to about Knight but when he was fired I mentioned how bad of a move it was. Next thing you know this team lets Josh Childress leave, horribly mishandles the Josh Smith contract situation and are going to throw out a frontcourt of Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, and Al Horford. An aging Mike Bibby and floundering Joe Johnson won't save this team from taking a humongous step back from last season's promising playoff appearance.
2. Houston Rockets (3) - The addition of Ron Artest is big and I really do look for Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming to have huge seasons. This team will mesh together very well and the flexibility off the bench with players like Shane Battier, Chuck Hayes, and Carl Landry (whose offer sheet I expect them to match) give this team a lot of depth and talent. But I still can't see a team with Raefer Alston at point guard winning a championship.
3. San Antonio Spurs (5) - The models for consistency are getting up there in age and with Manu Ginobili's health being in question coming into the season you have to wonder what, exactly, this team is going to do this upcoming season. Tim Duncan may have a couple more seasons like last year stored up but it's not guaranteed. You know what you're going to get out of Tony Parker but the rest of the team is open to interpretation. Roger Mason's a nice pickup, though, and this team is still a legitimate title contender with Tim Duncan on the roster.
4. Dallas Mavericks (7) - I stated last year that no team with Dirk Nowitzki as its best player would win a championship. The Mavericks tried to adress this by giving up Devin Harris for Jason Kidd and again (as properly predicted) it blew up in their face. Josh Howard has become a public relations nightmare and you have to wonder if this team as presently constructed can ever recover from that series with the Warriors two seasons ago.
5. Memphis Grizzlies - O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley Jr. and Rudy Gay are going to make this team exciting and if Marc Gasol lives up to expectations and Hakim Warrick plays as he did at the end of last season this team has the makeup and talent to be every bit as pesky and annoying as last year's Sacramento Kings team was. Their lack of a bench will keep us from taking them serious (unless you want to mention Antoine Walker and Darko Milicic, then again why would you?) but this is a team with a very good direction who could be good again in a couple years.
2. Portland Trail Blazers - Getting Greg Oden back is huge and Bradon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge are already legitimate. This team, though, still seems to be lacking somethign to take that last step. They're going to push for a postseason spot but last year this team thrived on everyone writing them off. They can't get caught up in the hype surrounding them or else they'll fail to live up to those expectations.
3. Denver Nuggets - Having a frontcourt of Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen isn't the sturdiest nor most dependable assembly of big guys in NBA history and that alone is the reason why the Nuggets will miss the playoffs for the first time in five years. Allen Iverson was denied a contract extension and will probably finish the year on someon else's team. J.R. Smith is a good player but you have to scratch your head at the contract he was given. Who knows how focused Carmelo Anthony is and if his head will ever match his skill out on the court.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder - Kevin Durant is the real deal. Everyone who said he had a bland year last season didn't really watch him play. He and Jeff Green are good cornerstones for this team and players like Desmond Mason, Joe Smith, and Nick Collison will make this team more competitive than last season's Supersonics. I'm surprised Carlesimo was retained but you can't blame him for last season's debacle of a team. Sam Presti has this team in the right direction and in a few years they're going to be great. Kudos to those great fans as well.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves - New logo, new power forward, same Kevin McHale, same Timberwolves. Trading O.J. Mayo for Kevin Love is confusing regardless of the influx of guards on the Timberwolves roster. Mike Miller is a fine player and Al Jefferson is the real deal, but why Randy Wittman is a head coach in this league I'll never know. It's tough for me to see this team being anything better than what was on the court last season.
2. Los Angeles Clippers (6) - Yes I put them above Phoenix. Even though chemistry may be a problem they put a talented team together and it's a team full of players who look like they will fit together. Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby are going to be deadly inside presences (if Kaman is focused for 82 games) and Baron Davis and Eric Gordon should light it up on the offensive end. They're not going to win championships but this team is very talented and if Mike Dunleavy can't get them to be legitimate this season then he's just not the coach we thought he was.
3. Phoenix Suns (8) - Signs of Steve Nash's decline are in place and even though Terry Porter is going to be good for this team you have to wonder if it's too late for the Suns to contend for their title. Shaquille O'Neal is light years past his prime but is still a legitimate center and a fantastic role player at this stage in his career: when he's motivated. That's the problem. Amare Stoudemire is a top ten player in this league and if he ever learns how to pass or play defense then he's going to be something special for years to come. But he's developed a fantastic mid range game to offset what he's lost with those knee surgeries. Problem is, though, this team is not built around Stoudemire. In due time, though.
4. Golden State Warriors - The Warriors, last year, were the toast of the town. Losing Baron Davis and trying to replace his scoring with Corey Maggette will show up in the box score but not in the leadership or win-loss column. After being burned by Elton Brand and Baron Davis and also losing Monta Ellis for the beginning of the regular season Warriors fans have to be wondering what's going to become of that promise that was there at the end of the 2006 season. Brandon Wright and Anthony Randolph are very good players to grow with but Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington are just like Corey Maggette and nobody knows who's going to run this team.
5. Sacramento Kings - After last season's surprising season this team will not sneak up on anybody this year. Kevin Martin looks like this generation's Reggie Miller; in other words he can score and try on defense but not much else. That's not a knock on him as I think he's better in that role than Michael Redd is and he's somebody good to build around. I just don't know if they'll win a championship with him as the guy on the team. Giving Beno Udrih that long term contract is quite the gamble but if he plays like he did last season it will pay off. If not he's going to just be on the roster for three years until they release him. This team is still talented and I still love Reggie Theus but the perception is they're not a playoff team, yet. And I agree.
Eastern Confrence First Round
2. Orlando Magic vs. 7. Washington Wizards - The Wizards string of seasons backing into the playoffs and losing in the first round will be continued this season as Dwight Howard destroys Brendan Haywood and the Magic advance.
3. Philadelphia 76ers vs. 6. Toronto Raptors - The matchup of Chris Bosh vs. Elton Brand will be hyped uncontrollably and this series should be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, though, the addition of Jermaine O'Neal gives no new result for the Raptors as they bow out in the first round again.
4. Detroit Pistons vs. 5. Cleveland Cavaliers - Rasheed Wallace and company help the Pistons overcome LeBron James despite a valiant effort from the Cavaliers. Will be the best matchup of the first round.
Eastern Confrence Semifinals
2. Orlando Magic vs. 3. Philadelphia 76ers - This will be a great matchup of last year's two surprising teams. Stan Van Gundy will try to bombard the Sixers with three pointers while the Sixers will struggle to make some. Elton Brand and company will give a valiant effort but the Sixers will lose in the semifinals.
Eastern Confrence Finals
Western Confrence First Round
2. New Orleans Hornets vs. 7. Dallas Mavericks - A rematch of last year's first round matchup proves the same result. Brandon Bass and Dirk Nowitzki will go nuts but Chris Paul will run circles around Jason Kidd and Peja Stojakovic and James Posey will shoot the Hornets past the Mavericks in six games.
3. Houston Rockets vs. 6. Los Angeles Clippers - This will, again, be a very interesting matchup. The Clippers will steal a game in Houston and everyone will panic and remind themselves Tracy McGrady has never gotten past the first round. But then when the series shifts to Los Angeles McGrady will take over and Rafer Alston will knock down big shots to help the Rockets win this series in six games.
4. Utah Jazz vs. 5. San Antonio Spurs - A fantastic matchup in the first round will take place but this series will only be for the old school fans. A lot of tough, inside, rough and tough, physical games will take place but that benefits the Spurs. Tim Duncan and Carlos Boozer will be a good matchup as will Tony Parker's speed vs. Deron William's strength but Manu Ginobili will out shoot Kyle Korver to help the Spurs advance.
Western Confrence Semifinals
2. New Orleans Hornets vs. 3. Houston Rockets - This will (until the Western Confrence Finals) be the best matchup of the playoffs as the Rockets size and strength will matchup against the Hornets finesse style of play. Yao Ming will dominate as the Hornets leave Tyson Chandler one on one against the 7'6" superstar. Peja Stojakovic will be smothered by Ron Artest and Luis Scola will do his best to stay in front of David West. The Hornets will panic but James Posey and Julian Wright will slow down Tracy McGrady and eventually Chris Paul and David West will run the pick and roll to perfection to advance in seven games.
Western Confrence F inals
Tags: 76ers, Adam Morrison, Al Harrington, Al Horford, Al Jefferson, Allen Iverson, Amar'e Stoudemire, Anderson Varejao, Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller, Andrew Bogut, Andrew Bynum, Anthony Randolph, Antoine Walker, Baron Davis, Ben Wallace, Beno Udrih, Bobby Simmons, Bobcats, Brandon Bass, Brendan Haywood, Brook Lopez, Bucks, Bulls, Carl Landry, Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony, Caron Butler, Cavaliers, Celtics, Chauncey Billups, Chris Andersen, Chris Bosh, Chris Duhon, Chris Kaman, Chris Paul, Chuck Hayes, Clippers, Corey Maggette, D.J. Augustin, Daniel Gibson, Danny Granger, Darko Milicic, David West, Delonte West, Deron Williams, Desmond Mason, Devin Harris, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Eddy Curry, Eduardo Najera, Elton Brand, Emeka Okafor, Eric Gordon, Gerald Wallace, Gilbert Arenas, Grant Hill, Greg Oden, Grizzlies, Hakim Warrick, Hawks, Heat, Hedo Turkoglu, Hilton Armstrong, Hornets, J.R. Smith, Jamaal Tinsley, Jameer Nelson, James Posey, Jarvis Hayes, Jason Kidd, Jason Richardson, Jazz, Jeff Foster, Jeff Green, Joakim Noah, Joe Johnson, Joe Smith, Jose Calderon, Josh Childress, Josh Howard, Josh Smith, Juan Dixon, Julian Wright, Kenyon Martin, Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love, Kevin Martin, Kings, Knicks, Kobe Bryant, Kobe Bryant, Kyle Korver, Lakers, Lamar Odom, LaMarcus Aldridge, Leandro Barbosa, LeBron James, Luis Scola, Magic, Manu Ginobili, Marc Gasol, Marcus Camby, Marvin Williams, Mavericks, Michael Beasley, Michael Redd, Mike Bibby, Mike Conley, Mike Dunleavy, Mike Miller, Mo Williams, Monta Ellis, Nets, Nick Collison, Nuggets, O.J. Mayo, Pacers, Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Peja Stojakovic, Pistons, Rafer Alston, Rajon Rondo, Ramon Sessions, Raptors, Rashard Lewis, Rasheed Wallace, Rasho Nesterovic, Ray Allen, Raymond Felton, Richard Hamilton, Richard Jefferson, Rockets, Roger Mason, Ron Artest, Rudy Gay, Sean May, Shane Battier, Shawn Marion, Spurs, Stephen Jackson, Steve Nash, Suns, T.J. Ford, Tayshaun Prince, Thunder, Tim Duncan, Timberwolves, Tony Parker, Tracy McGrady, Trail Blazers, Tyson Chandler, Vince Carter, Warriors, Wizards, Yao Ming, Yi Jianlian, Zach Randolph, Zydrunas Ilgauskas