Tag:Mickael Pietrus
Posted on: October 21, 2010 12:42 am

2010-2011 NBA Southeast Division Preview

2010-2011 NBA Southeast Division Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: May 28, 2010 12:13 pm

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#1: 2003 NBA Draft:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: 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: June 1, 2009 1:13 pm
Edited on: May 3, 2010 2:43 am

Previewing The 2009 NBA Finals

After correctly predicting the NBA finals in my review of the conference finals, I find it important that I hurry aboard to try and keep up my good name by predicting the NBA Finals.  In all honesty, I couldn't be happier with this matchup.  Not only did I pick it, these, in my opinion, are the two best teams that the NBA could offer at this point.  Both of these teams have faced adversity.  Both have taken shots in the media and Stan Van Gundy and Pau Gasol have been the most critiqued figures in the media since the postseason started.  But how did they get here?

The Magic stumbled at the end of the season, coupling blowout losses with an injury to Hedo Turkoglu and really entered the playoffs on a sour note.  Furthermore, two of their first three games of the postseason they lose to the 76ers on fantastic last second shots by Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young.  However, with the team down 2-1 in Philadelphia and with the game tied, Hedo Turkoglu came through with the biggest shot this season for the Magic, nailing a three in the final seconds to tie the series at two apiece.  After Dwight Howard was suspended for game six in that series, the team really came together and played their most complete game of the postseason, winning and exiling Philadelphia in six games.  The defending champion Boston Celtics came next and the Magic, again, were dealt a crushing loss in game 4.  With the Magic up 2-1, just seconds away from taking a commanding 3-1 lead, Boston forward Glen Davis nails a terrific shot and the series is tied.  The Celtics went on to win game 5 and all looked lost for Orlando.  But display the stuff that champions are made of, Orlando took care of business at home in game 6 and then crushed Boston on their home court in game 7.  By the time the Conference Finals came around, the Magic had already seen everything anyone could throw at them.  So when the Cavaliers jumped out to 20 point leads three different times in this series, it should not surprise that Orlando came back in all of them because they've never displayed a lack of effort out on the court.  Thoroughly exposing and defeating the Cavaliers, Orlando now is making it's second finals appearance in franchise history but is looking for their first championship.

The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the most storried teams in history.  In the present tense, they're probably the most talented team in basketball.  That's what makes it so frustrating when you see how they coast from time to time out there on the court.  Now making their 30th appearance in the NBA finals in franchise history, the Lakers' road was just as rocky but was more publicly ridiculed than Orlando's.  After defeating the Jazz in five games, the Lakers faced off against the Houston Rockets in what turned out to be a brutal, physical battle.  After Yao Ming got injured and the Lakers took a 2-1 series lead, it looked like all was lost for Houston.  But the Lakers allowed the depleted Rockets to blow them out two more games before the Lakers took the series in seven games.  After letting Houston take them to seven, the Lakers were suddenly everyone's favorite team to hate and people wrongfully bashed them before their series with the Nuggets.  Aside from an embarassing game 4, the Lakers genuinely played good, complete basketball against the Nuggets, including an impressive game 5 and a mind blowingly convincing game 6 in order to get the team to the finals.  Kobe Bryant looks to win his fourth NBA Championship, his first without Shaquille O'Neal, and bring Phil Jackson his 10th, which would put Phil alone atop the list of coaches with championshp rings. 

How do these teams match up and who has the advantage in what area?  That will now be addressed.
Western Conference Champion: (1) Los Angeles Lakers (65-17) vs. Eastern Conference Champion: (3) Orlando Magic (59-23)

Why The Lakers Will Win: The Lakers hold the advantage of having the best player in the game on their side.  Kobe Bryant proved in the Denver series that he is still capable of going above and beyond the call of duty in order to ensure that his team wins that elusive championship.  With an extremely talented roster, the Lakers are capable of throwing many defenders at the Magic and are athletic enough and talented enough to give Orlando fits on defense, something that Philadelphia did but that Boston and Cleveland really couldn't.  In that lineup to guard Orlando, the Lakers could also score very efficently as all of the players on the court are capable of scoring from different spots on the floor.  The bench has been really hit or miss for Los Angeles, but usually either Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar or Luke Walton will come up big one game or another.  They usually have at least one player each game stand tall.  It would help if all of them could get on the same page, but the current formulat hasn't crippled them.  Trevor Ariza will be huge in this series, as he has been all postseason, because finally there is a player whom Orlando will face that can guard Rashard Lewis.  With Ariza being tall, athletic and even strong enough to stay in front of Lewis, Lewis may have a hard time.  Lewis has had a tendency to show up in spurts for Orlando and Ariza can really contain those spots.

Why The Magic Will Win: The Magic can't be criticized for a lack of effort or be accused of coasting at all this postseason because they're not talented enough to do that and they haven't faced competition where they can get away with it.  As a result, for nineteen excruciating games, the Magic have had to go out and battle for four quarters.  Public perception would tell us that means the Magic could be exhausted by this point but I truly believe that those battles are the best experience a team can have entering the NBA Finals.  Well prepared now for any situation they could possibly experience, the Magic have shown that they can jump out on you for a big lead, come back on you if you have a big lead, win close games, handle tough losses and still stand tall throughout all of it.  They have the most unguardable player in the series in Dwight Howard.  The Lakers don't play Andrew Bynum often and he's been such a foul machine all postseason that I can't imagine him getting more than 12-15 minutes a game in this series.  That leaves Pau Gasol in the game against Dwight more often than not.  When that happens, Gasol's lack of strength in addition to wanting to avoid foul trouble will allow Howard to have a field day down in the paint.  The Magic could run into trouble if Phil goes to foul Dwight whenever he's around the basket, and the Lakers have the bodies to do that, but Stan Van Gundy has been the best at adjustments in this postseason and he can find a way to have Dwight be quicker with decisions with the basketball.  When Howard kicks it out, all of the Magic shooters have proved capable of hitting big shots.  The Magic are lucky to have two terrific on the ball defenders in Mickael Pietrus and Courtney Lee, and if those two can give Kobe Bryant fits then the rest of the Lakers have not proven they can carry Kobe.  Kobe has carried this team all postseason long, and if the Magic can make Kobe struggle then they will reap the benefits.

Key Player for the Lakers: Lamar Odom is going to be huge for the Lakers.  Because the Magic play such a small lineup, he will find himself matched up with both Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis on both sides of the court throughout the game.  However, his versatility at the power forward position allows the Lakers to be able to match and still be effective against the Magic's unorhodox lineup.  He's been battling a back injury all postseason, but has shown flashes where he hustles, goes after loose balls and really makes it look effortless on the court.  At this level and with him being a player capable of going out to guard Lewis while still also being a force on offense, Odom cannot afford to revert back to his inconsistent quiet ways.  If he plays a huge series the Lakers will undoubtedly come out victorious.

Key Player for the Magic: Rafer Alston has been really hit or miss this entire postseason, as well, but when he's been on, the Magic have won.  Point guards have given the Lakers trouble all postseason and Alston isn't the most talented player at his position, but is a quick and smart player at the point guard position.  His shot has been really streaky and sometimes he takes ill advised chances on the offensive side of the basketball, but if can keep his head in the game and knock down open jump shots then he can be a huge difference maker for the Magic.  Derek Fisher has had a hard time on defense this postseason and has struggled with his jump shot, so this is a prime opportunity for Alston to take advantage of that and thoroughly outplay Fisher.  If he does that, then the Magic will have the advantage to the championship.

Prediction: Lakers in six.

Key As To Why They Will Win: Home court is huge here for Los Angeles.  In the 2-3-2 format, the road team has more of an opportunity than they have at any other level of the postseason.  However, although both teams have shown they're more than capable of winning big playoff games on the road, the Lakers role players play at a different level in Los Angeles.  As a result, the fact that they have more home games is crucial.  Kobe Bryant is going to be effective and consistent in this postseason, and having Trevor Ariza's versatility on both offense and defense this season will hide some of the holes that the team had in last season's finals with the Celtics.  Dwight Howard will severely take out Pau Gasol on both sides of the court, but Odom will be able to take advantage of either Lewis or Turkoglu's struggles on the ball defensively. 

Conclusion: This series is genuinely tough and could go either way.  I look at both squads and I'm happy that they're both here.  They're both experienced in tough situations and are the two most talented teams in the league.  The Magic get the bill as underdog just because the eleminated LeBron James and are facing the star studded Lakers, but they're not some cinderella team that is running on borrowed time.  Dwight Howard is going to be unstoppable in this series but his penchant for foul trouble is a reason why I went against Orlando.  With him being the only sure advantage for Orlando, he's going to be in high demand all series long and needs to be effective at all times.  If players drive it to the basket and get him in foul trouble, and if the Lakers continuously send him to the foul line, that's going to disrupt the Magic flow and really will take them out of this series.  Orlando's had a great run, but I feel as if the intelligence has finally caught up to the talent for the Lakers and I look for them to take advantage of being here for a second straight season.  I've picked them all year and I'll pick them now: the Los Angeles Lakers will be our 2009 NBA Champions.

Posted on: March 26, 2009 4:25 pm
Edited on: March 26, 2009 4:25 pm

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: Orlando Magic

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

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

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

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

The success of the Orlando Magic begins and ends with Dwight Howard.  He's easiley the best center in the league and his ability to move seamlessly across the court and finish around the basket forces opposing defenses to focus on the paint instead of where the Magic's biggest strength lies.  Because when you're focussed on stopping Howard from easy dunks at the basket, you leave Rashard Lewis, Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston and Hedo Turkoglu with fantastic looks from beyond the three point line.  Normally, you'd allow teams to beat you with jumpers but it's actually a preferred method of success for the Orlando Magic.  They have players in the starting lineup and options off of the bench in there specifically to knock down jump shots and they are very effecient doing so.  They lead the league in three pointers made and let that provide the fire for an explosive offense.  Furthermore, the Magic have different options as to who can run the offense and who can bring the ball up the court, so it adds a bit of unpredictability to who is going to start the play.  And with Lewis playing power forward, the Magic are normally much more athletic than their opposition.  With Howard being a freak of nature at the center position, it allows the Magic to couple their effecient shooting with fantastic movement and athleticism. 

Dwight Howard also provides an imposing force around the basket on the defensive end of the floor and that discourages a lot of the opposition from coming to the basket.  Couple that with the fact that Mickael Pietrus and Courtney Lee are more than capable man defenders, and the Magic are adequate on the defensive end as well.

Since it's fair to give Howard the brunt of the praise, it's only fair to note that the team's biggest criticism is that they can't score inside.  Dwight Howard is great around the basket, but is below average shooting anything four feet away from the basket.  In a seven game series, teams can clog the paint and rotate players around the basket, which may force Howard to step away from the basket.  He's not a fantastic passer either, so if he's not beating his opponent to the basket then the Magic may struggle to get points in the pain which would make for an overreliance on jump shots.  And the Magic shoot enough jump shots as it is.  Obviously, when you rely on the three point shot as much as Orlando does it's a "live by the three die by the three" scenario.  In games where the Magic can't hit them, teams can easily pull away from the Magic and force them into holes.  They're good at coming from behind, but you don't want to make it a habit in the postseason.

Also, even though the team is very effecient on offense, their lineup that exploits defensive mismatches puts them at a disadvantage on the defensive end of the floor.  The Magic lack interior toughness and whoever Turkoglu is guarding will give his team an advantage when the Magic are on defense.  Lewis, at 6'10", has the height to play the power forward position but isn't strong enough to guard an opposing team's power forward and also is less than stellar at rebounding the basketball.  And the bench doesn't provide any tough interior players that can come in and spell Dwight Howard or provide defense aside from Tony Battie.  And Stan Van Gundy isn't going to give Tony Battie many minutes in the postseason.

Why They Will Win It
Dwight Howard is the best center in the league, and when you have a great center you deserve to be in the conversation as far as the NBA championship is concerned.  The Magic are among the best teams in the league and have played at a high pace all season long.  You keep waiting for them to have a tough stretch shooting the basketball, and even though they'll have games where they struggle, they've been effecient beyond the three point line.  They're incredibly tough to stop on offense and are a great home team.  Dwight Howard alone will give this team a chance every single game because regardless of how much they are mistmatched on other areas of the floor, he creates the biggiest mismatch on either side of the basketball.

Why They Won't Win It
Dwight Howard, for all of his talent, may keep them in a game with his presence but doesn't command the ball in crunch time.  Hedo Turkoglu assumed the go-to guy role last season but this year his shooting percentage is down and the team shouldn't be as confident with him taking the big shots this year.  The team's lack of toughness is going to hurt them against teams like Boston and Cleveland, because every team has to be able to play gritty basketball when called upon.  Dwight Howard sometimes dissapears in tough situations and that's a problem for Orlando, as he's their only hope inside the paint.

The Magic are too overreliant on the three point shot to win a championship.  They can win a few playoff series but defeating Boston or Cleveland in a seven game series is an incredibly tall task for this team.  Dwight Howard, for all the talent he has, still lacks a killer instinct and until he develops that, the Magic will rely on three point shots in close games and that will plague this team deep in the postseason.  They deserve their record and whatever seed they receive, they just are undermanned against really physical teams and that's going to cripple them in a crucial game during a crucial series.

Coming up next: the Atlanta Hawks


Posted on: December 29, 2008 1:45 am

NBA Power Rankings Through December 28, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: December 1, 2008 4:02 pm
Edited on: March 21, 2009 1:26 am

NBA Power Rankings Through November 30, 2008

1. Los Angeles Lakers (1) - They've been number one all season long, and even though a part of me really wants to move them behind Boston, I simply can't.  They've been winning, they've been winning consistently and they've been winning with a new player stepping up every night (ironically, the same can be said about Boston).  They, though, have been great since the start of the season and I can't move them behind Boston.  Not yet.

2. Boston Celtics (2) - Kevin Garnett is having probably his quitest season.  Paul Pierce has been wildly inconsistent and Ray Allen's been a steady version of last year's diminished Ray Allen, yet this team continues to win.  Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo, the two unheralded starters, are giving this team quality starts and they compliment what the big three do so well.  Perkins' game has really improved this season.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (3) - I hear people asking "who have they beat", well they've only lost 3 times this season-all on the road.  A mark of a good team is winning games that you're supposed to win and that's what the Cavaliers are doing.  Charles Barkley is right in saying that LeBron James needs to shut it and start diverting all of his attention to the game and to his team, but a part of me believes that LeBron is more infatuated with the money and stardom than he is actual results on the court, which is why he'll always be a notch behind Kobe Bryant.

4. Denver Nuggets (4) - Even though they had a dissapointing loss at home to New Orleans on Thursday, this team continues to chug along with Chauncey Billups in the lineup.  This past week J.R. Smith really heated up and if he regains the form he had for much of last season then this team can only get better.  Chris Andersen coming back helps, but he can't be a savior for this frontcourt.

5. Orlando Magic (6) - Rashard Lewis is starting to play really good ball (even if you would like to see better rebounding numbers out of someone his size) and Dwight Howard is improving on his free throw shooting.  Losing Mickael Pietrus for three weeks will hurt but this team continues to do what they did last year, quietly win ball games.

6. Portland Trail Blazers (9) - I got some criticism putting them as high as I have the past couple of weeks but they proved me right this week.  Brandon Roy is one of the hottest players in the league and they're getting great production out of players like Travis Outlaw and Joel Przybilla.  They're deep and they're talented.

7. Houston Rockets (5) - They get Shane Battier back and now Tracy McGrady is having problems with his knee (he's looked dinged up all season, what with his shoulder and whatnot).  They are still winning, though, and they're doing it without any of their players playing consistently great ball.  Luther Head has stepped up the past couple of games, but Adelman's system allows this team to make up for whoever is struggling on that given night.  That's the sign of a good team.

8. Utah Jazz (8) - They had a bad loss to New Jersey but Deron Williams is slowly regaining some of the form he showed last season.  It's slow, but steady, progress.  Meanwhile, Paul Millsap has been outstanding in Carlos Boozer's absence and you have to believe he's going to see an amazing increase in minutes even when Boozer comes back.

9. Atlanta Hawks (10) - They're getting better play out of Mike Bibby (which is good because teams are starting to double Joe Johnson consistently) and they're surprisingly getting great contribution from Maurice Evans lately.  This team just continues to stay around.

10. Phoenix Suns (7) - I've had this team high all season but the intensity and execution they showed the first couple of games has worn off and the honeymoon period has already ended in Phoenix.  Amare Stoudemire is now complaining about coach Terry Porter's system and the team is searching for an identity all over again.  A tailspin may be in this team's future.

11. Detroit Pistons (11) - Allen Iverson is already missing practice and Rasheed Wallace continues to jack up three pointers.  Michael Curry was supposed to bring needed change in attitudes in Detroit but the players and player styles and attitudes continue to hold this talented team back.  They should be in better shape than they currently in.

12. New Orleans Hornets (12) - A good win at Denver and a quiet four game winning streak have gotten the Hornets back on track, but they still need some consistent ball out of anyone not named Chris Paul.

13. San Antonio Spurs (19) - Despite the loss to Houston, this team is above .500, they're getting good production out of their young players, and both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are back.  Those pesky Spurs just never go away.

14. New Jersey Nets (17) - People said I had them too high last week, I probably have them too high this week, but they're playing tremendous basketball.  Devin Harris has played tremendous basketball so far this season and he and Vince Carter have consistently been there every night.  They're supporting cast is hit and miss but they're getting a different person to contribute each and every night.

15. New York Knicks (14) - They need to get this Stephon Marbury situation over and done with, because it's clouding what's been a good season so far for the Knicks.  David Lee has played great and Tim Thomas has been lights out since coming over from Clipper land.  His best season came with D'Antoni in Phoenix, though, and his increase in production doesn't surprise me, and it won't surprise me when his production dips.

16. Dallas Mavericks (18) - There's not a hotter player in the NBA, currently, than Jason Terry and he's keeping this team afloat lately.  They still can't get consistent production out of the small forward position and aside from Terry they can't really get an answer at shooting guard either, but Jose Juan Barrera looks like a solid backup at the point guard position.

17. Toronto Raptors (21) - They turned a horrible last week into a solid week this week until they ran into the Lake show.  Chris Bosh has been outstanding this season and currently there's not a better big man in the league.  They're getting great play out of Andrea Bargnani lately which is very encouraging, though the injury to Jermaine O'Neal isn't.

18. Miami Heat (13) - The Heat have been wildly inconsistent this season and it has to be frustrating for any Heat fan to watch this team win one, and then lose the very next game but at the same time they have to be happy with Dwyane Wade's production.  This team is still relatively young and still has room to improve and should probably be around the playoff picture all season long.

19. Chicago Bulls (20) - All things considered, I believe Vinny Del Negro has done a solid job with this team.  They're slowly starting to get healthier (and will be better when Kirk Hinrich returns) but they still are an inconsistent bunch.  Drew Gooden has played well lately and Luol Deng is slowly returning to form as well. 

20. Philadelphia 76ers (15) - Andre Iguodala has played like a guy with a fat new contract, in other words he's definitely underperformed but I think with the offense having to adjust to the half court offense that Elton Brand flourishes in takes away from the strengths of both Iguodala and Andre Miller.  Maurice Cheeks needs to succeed this season if he wants to keep his job and it looks increasingly difficult for him to do.

21. Milwaukee Bucks (16) - They're struggling without Andrew Bogut but Richard Jefferson is quietly having a solid season.  Charlie Villanueva has put up good number this season but still hasn't brought it consistently like he should in a contract year.  He needs to develop a solid game and put that tremendous talent to use but he plays like a small forward and is too slow to play that position.  He should look at a player like David West and try to emulate a version of his game and then he can fully reach his potential.

22. Indiana Pacers (22) - The Pacers are puzzling because they just can't seem to get over that hump and win basketball games.  Danny Granger has been great, proving last year was no fluke, and Marquis Daniels has continued to play encouraging ball but they can't seem to get going as a unit.  Early in the season it was T.J. Ford playing while everyone else was struggling and now Ford has lot a step lately.  They need to get it together and I believe they will in the coming month.

23. Minnesota Timberwolves (25) - It feels weird putting them this high but I believe they're the best out of all of the lower tier teams.  Sebastian Telfair has been a steady force at point guard with Randy Foye and Mike Miller has had a couple of good games lately.  They won't make the playoffs, but winning nearly 30 games this season would be a huge step in the right direction for this squad.

24. Charlotte Bobcats (27) - Jason Richardson has returned and rumors are circling whether or not he will be shopped around.  Gerald Wallace has also been rumored to be out the door lately as well and this team looks to be in questionable shape.  D.J. Augustin has continued to play great and looks to be the best draft pick the team has made, which is ironic because he was not drafted at a position that needed filling and therefore his selection was criticized.

25. Golden State Warriors (24) - This team has been stuck in reverse all season long and they have to be hoping that when Monta Ellis returns they will make some progress this season because this team is young and in need of a step in the right dirction.  Andris Biedrins has cooled off lately and Jamal Crawford, though a need at guard, can't run the offense like they need someone to. 

26. Sacramento Kings (23) - This team is reeling and is doing so in a hurry.  Even with Mikki Moore's return, this team still needs Kevin Martin as he's not only their best player, he's the team's leader.  John Salmons will be a great running mate when Martin returns and if Beno Udrih plays as well as he has without Martin in the lineup then this team can take off.  Until then they will continue to struggle.

27. Memphis Grizzlies (26) - The team is slowly reaching irrelevance again and they're really struggling to find ways to win basketball games.  I don't think coach Marc Iavaroni has any chance to retain his job which is sad as he was once a promising candidate around the league.

28. Los Angeles Clippers (28) - Zach Randolph was a good acquisition and Al Thornton has played as well as he did last season but this team is missing something.  I don't know what it is, but I think this team would be making a horrible mistake in ridding themselves of Chris Kaman.  Even though he and Randolph don't mesh well, Kaman is a better player than Randolph and is a much better player than Marcus Camby.  They should find a way to keep him on this roster even though they could get a lot for him.  Eric Gordon has played great this week.

29. Washington Wizards (29) - As predicted last week, Eddie Jordan was fired but nothing has changed with this team.  They have Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and not much past those two players.  Because of the guaranteed contracts, this team is in such a deep hole that they're going to be stuck in this position for the next few seasons and may lose their best player (Butler) soon.

30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - The 14 game losing streak is over and Kevin Durant and Jeff Green have played great ball this week.  The offense looks a lot more fluid with Scott Brooks running the show.  Why is Earl Waton still starting and how many chances is this team going to give themselves to draft a productive center in the lottery?


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