Tag:Matt Barnes
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 21, 2010 1:46 pm
Edited on: May 21, 2010 1:50 pm

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 6

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.  Would I be called a woman if I let you all know that I'm a little indecisive again?  After writing out an analyzing yesterday's submission, I kind of fell in love with that draft and wanted to immediately swap with this one at #6.  This is only the second time (out of five freakin' submissions) that I've wanted to switch something, right?  Not too bad?  Anyways, coming in at #6 on our countdown is the 2002 NBA Draft which features one of the most hyped foreign projects of all time, one of the greatest colleigate players of all time and a draft that, overall, followed 2001's trend and set a record with 17 international picks.  So here's numer six on our countdown.

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

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

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

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

#6: 2002 NBA Draft:

Round One:
1) Houston Rockets - Yao Ming, C, China
2) Chicago Bulls - Jay Williams, PG, Duke
3) Golden State Warriors - Mike Dunleavy, Jr., SF, Duke
4) Memphis Grizzlies - Drew Gooden, PF, Kansas
5) Denger Nuggets - Nikoloz Tskitishvili, C, Georgia (the country)
6) Cleveland Cavaliers - Dajuan Wagner, SG, Memphis
7) New York Knicks - Nene Hilario, C, Brazil (traded to the Nuggets)
8) Los Angeles Clippers - Chris Wilcox, PF, Maryland
9) Phoenix Suns - Amar'e Stoudemire, PF, Cypress Creek High School
10) Miami Heat - Caron Butler, SF, UConn

Overall, not a bad list of top ten players here at all.  It's not overwhelming, but it's pretty good.  Yao Ming came in with a lot of hype surrounding his 7'6" frame and the fact that he was from China.  He immediately took the league by storm, appearing in plenty of commercials and starting in the All Star game (because the fans in China voted for him of course) and has eventually become a great player for the Houston Rockets, although he's shown a tendency to be injury prone the last six years and may never play again because of feet injuries.  Jay Williams was such a terrific college player and you had to see him to understand how good he was.  He had a very inconsistent rookie season in Chicago before nearly losing his life in the offseason during a motorcycle crash (which voided his contract) that resulted in him shattering his pelvis, severing a main nerve in his leg and three torn ligaments including the ACL.  The Bulls were very classy about it and continued to pay him even though he was in direct violation of his contract by riding the bike.  Eventually, though, they released him the next season and Williams, although he tried, has never played in the NBA since.  Dunleavy has always been a good, never great, player that was run out of Golden State for his inconsistencies and has been the same inconsistent player in Indiana.  Gooden has managed to be a nice player in the league although he's already been with eight teams in his career.  Tskitishvili is one of the biggest busts in draft history and was just a horrible player on the court, only lasting four years in the league.  Wagner showed a lot of promise his rookie season as being an explosive scorer but suffered from ulcerative colitis and then had his entire colon removed before finally finding himself out of the league.  Nene was traded to the Nuggets and was instantly a very fun player to watch.  He's had problems with injuries his whole career but has still managed to be an effective and efficient player in the league.  Wilcox, meanwhile, has showed some promise but has never, ever put it together on the court.  He's still in the league, though.  Stoudemire was a big risk for Phoenix but he stepped in and showed a lot of potential right away.  He's now one of the big prized free agents in 2010.  Caron Butler, meanwhile, probably had the best rookie season out of all of them on a bad Miami team.  Butler's managed to become a really good player in this league as well. 

11) Washington Wizards - Jared Jeffries, PF, Indiana
12) Los Angeles Clippers - Melvin Ely, C, Fresno State
13) Milwaukee Bucks - Marcus Haislip, PF, Tennessee
14) Indiana Pacers - Fred Jones, SG, Oregon
15) Houston Rockets - Bostjan Nachbar, SF, Slovenia
16) Philadelphia 76ers - Jiri Welsh, SG, Czech Republic (traded to the Warriors)
17) Washington Wizards - Juan Dixon, SG, Maryland
18) Orlando Magic - Curtis Borchardt, C, Stanford (traded to the Jazz)
19) Utah Jazz - Ryan Humphrey, PF, Notre Dame (traded to the Magic)
20) Toronto Raptors - Kareem Rush, SG, Missouri (traded to the Lakers)

This is where the draft takes a horrible turn for the worse.  There isn't one good thing I can say about this entire bunch, except that Juan Dixon was a great colleigate player who, like Williams, you had to see to understand how good he was.  Jeffries and Dixon joined Washington as experienced college players after Washington was so criticized for the Kwame Brown selection the year prior.  However, they showed that experience isn't everything as Jeffries struggled to find a place in the league and eventually would up in New York on a very publically criticized contract.  Dixon, meanwhile, bounced around the league as a shooting specialist but is now no longer employed by the NBA.  Melvin Ely was lauded as being a great low post scorer but he couldn't do much more and he's no longer in the league.  Haislip has bounced in and out of the NBA his whole career and even had a stint with the Spurs this year before being cut.  Fred Jones participated in and won the 2004 Slam Dunk Contest, but that became the highlight of his career.  He's no longer in the league either.  Nachbar had some good years with the Nets and Hornets before going back to play overseas in 2008.  Welsh had his cup of tea as a shooter before fizzling out of the league by 2006.  Both Humphrey and Borchardt were traded for eachother, and neither team got anything out of them.  Borchardt and Humphrey both were out of the league by 2005 and showed absolutely nothing but his size.  Meanwhile Rush was seen as a three point specialist and has found a way to poke his head in and out of the league because of it but hasn't been a consistent rotation player since 2008 and is currently a free agent.

21) Portland Trail Blazers - Qyntel Woods, SF, Northeast Mississippi Community College
22) Phoenix Suns - Casey Jacobsen, SG, Stanford
23) Detroit Pistons - Tayshaun Prince, SF, Kentucky
24) New Jersey Nets - Nenad Krstic, C, Yugoslavia
25) Denver Nuggets - Frank Williams, PG, Illinois (traded to the Knicks)
26) San Antonio Spurs - John Salmons, SG, Miami (FL) (traded to the 76ers)
27) Los Angeles Lakers - Chris Jefferies, SF, Fresno State (traded to the Raptors)
28) Sacramento Kings - Dan Dickau, PG, Gonzaga (traded to the Hawks)

Save for a couple solid names, this draft, again, takes a huge turn for the worst.  Woods received a lot of Tracy McGrady comparisons but his legal problems only contributed to the "Jail Blazers" monicker and he was evnetually out of the league by 2006.  Jacobsen could do absolutely nothing but shoot and, as a result, was out of the league by 2005.  Tayshaun Prince has managed to become a consistent, steady defensive player.  He was eventually named a starter in his second year in the league where he won an NBA Championship with Detroit and has even won a Gold Medal with the 2008 USA Olympic Team.  Krstic showed a lot of promise in New Jersey before leaving to play overseas in 2008.  However, he came back just a few months later with the Oklahoma City Thunder and is now their starting center.  Frank Williams was involved in the draft night trade that brought Nene to Denver but Williams didn't have any success in New York and was out of the league by 2005.  Salmons has managed to become a really good player in the league, adding a three point shot to his ability to finish around the rim and has made a nice name for himself.  Conversely, Chris Jefferies had no success in Toronto, barely cracking the rotation and was gone by 2004.  Dickau being traded on draft night started a trend for him as he was traded eight different times (having his best season with that awful 2005 Hornets team) in his career but didn't get the hint and managed to stay in the league until 2008.

Round Two Notables:
30) Chicago Bulls - Roger Mason, Jr., SG, Virginia
33) Milwaukee Bucks - Dan Gadzuric, C, UCLA
34) Cleveland Cavaliers - Carlos Boozer, PF, Duke
40) Washington Wizards - Juan Carlos Navarro, PG, Spain
41) Milwaukee Bucks - Ronald Murray, SG, Shaw
45) Memphis Grizzlies - Matt Barnes, SF, UCLA
49) Boston Celtics - Darius Songaila, PF, Lithuania (traded to the Kings)
52) Miami Heat - Rasual Butler, SG, La Salle
55) San Antonio Spurs - Luis Scola, PF, Argentina

The second round, meanwhile, brings a bunch of names that probably trumps anything outside of Tayshaun Prince or Salmons drafted from 11-28.  Mason bounced around the league a little bit before finding a home in San Antonio last season.  However, he regressed this season and his future with the team is unknown.  Gadzuric has become an object of scorn in Milwaukee for his contract but, alas Bucks fans, the contract is expiring at the end of next season.  Boozer meanwhile had a great second season in Cleveland, was allowed out of his contract so that he could sign for a big deal with the Cavaliers, but then signed a bigger deal with the Utah Jazz, shocking the entire city of Cleveland.  Watch out y'all; he's a free agent this summer too.  Juan Carlos Navarro did not arrive in the NBA until 2007 and by then his rights were traded to the Memphis Grizzlies.  He made the NBA All-Rookie Second Team that year but didn't like it in the NBA, took a buyout and went back overseas.  Ronald "Flip" Murray has managed to bounce around the league as a good sixth man option and has been a good scorer for some decent playoff teams.  Matt Barnes took awhile to stick in the NBA but finally made himself a name in Golden State in 2007 and has, since, been a solid rotation player in the league.  Songaila had some good years with the Kings and a really good one year in Chicago before signing a huge deal with Washington.  He's still a solid rotation player; now with the Hornets.  Butler eventually became a three point specialist and cracked the starting rotations in Miami, New Orleans and with the Clippers.  Scola, meanwhile, was involved in a tricky buyout situation with his Euroleague team.  After the team continued to ask for ridiculous amounts of money, the Spurs eventually traded Scola's rights to Houston where he's now become a solid starter for a couple of good Rockets teams.

Notable Undrafted Players:
D.J. Mbenga, C, Republic of Congo - Signed with the Dallas Mavericks in 2004
J.R. Bremer, PG, St. Bonaventure - Signed with the Boston Celtics
Devin Brown, SG, UTSA - Signed with the San Antonio Spurs
Reggie Evans, PF, Iowa - Signed with the Seattle Supersonics
Udonis Haslem, PF, Florida - Signed with the Miami Heat in 2003
Jannero Pargo, PG, Arkansas - Signed with the Los Angeles Lakers
Smush Parker, PG, Fordham - Signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers

Not a bad list of eligible players who went undrafted in 2002 either.  Mbenga has managed to stay in the league because of his size, and I put him on the list for all of my loyal readers who are Lakers fans.  Just to tease all my loyal readers that are Lakers fans, I also decided to include Smush Parker's name although he's no longer in the league.  He managed to start a couple seasons for some Lakers squads that made the postseason.  Devin Brown eventually became a solid rotation player in San Antonio and won a championship with the Spurs in 2005.  Since then, he's bounced around the league but is still on Chicago's roster.  Reggie Evans became known for his rebounding, tenacity and hustle and that allowed him to be a solid role player in this league.  He's currently with the Toronto Raptors.  Udonis Haslem struggled with his weight before signing on with the Heat in 2003.  Eventually, he became a starter on the Heat team that won the 2006 NBA Championship.  Jannero Pargo, meanwhile, made a name for himself with the New Orleans Hornets but then went to play overseas in 2008.  He's since come back and is now on the bench for the Chicago Bulls.  Meanwhile Bremer managed to make the NBA All-Rookie Second Team but did absolutely nothing of note after that and was out of the league by 2004.

2002-2003 NBA Rookie of the Year: Amar'e Stoudemire
All Stars from the 2002 NBA Draft: Yao Ming, Amar'e Stoudemire, Caron Butler, Carlos Boozer

2002-2003 NBA All-Rookie First Team
Yao Ming
Amar'e Stoudemire
Caron Butler
Drew Gooden
Nene Hilario

2002-2003 NBA All-Rookie Second Team
Manu Ginobili (who was originally drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in 1999 before finally signing in 2002)
Gordan Giricek (who was originally drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 1999 before finally signing with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2002)
Carlos Boozer
Jay Williams
J.R. Bremer

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

NBA 2009-2010 Southeast Division Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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